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The Shi’a pilgrimage to Karbala: An Iraqi success story

The other Muslim pilgrimage – Speaking Freedom in Iraq

Catherine Shakdam




An excess of 14 million men, women, and children gathered this November in the holy city of Karbala (Iraq) to mark Islam’s other pilgrimage – the largest to ever have taken place in History … and yet we seldom discuss it.

Every year, regardless of the many grave dangers pilgrims have had to face: might it be the threat posed by Daesh militants, one former President Saddam Hussein, or the intolerance of a bigoted elite, Shia Muslims have flocked to Karbala to speak and reaffirm  Islam’s proudest tradition – Freedom in the face of Tyranny.

If under Daesh black banner the world has learnt of Islam but intolerant bigotry and de-contextualised  fanaticism, Shia Islam has held to its principle of pluralism and its hunger for  justice. It is such sentiments in fact which saved Iraq from oblivion. If not for Ayatollah Ali Sistani’s religious edict back in June 2014, which edict called for all “Citizens to defend the country, its people, the honor of its citizens, and its sacred places,” it is likely Iraq would have been overtaken by Terror’s armies, fragmented along its ethnic and sectarian lines.

A revered scholar of Shia Islam, Ayatollah Sistani broke away from his usual ‘political neutrality’ to return Iraq to all Iraqis, so that all who inhabit its land would unite before oppression. In doing so, Ayatollah Sistani arguably saved not just his nation, but he single handedly reaffirmed Iraq sovereignty through resistance.

As it happens, the pilgrimage of Arbaeen speaks of such a stand!

Arbaeen, which translates as forty in Arabic, marks the end of the mourning of Imam Hussain’s martyrdom. The third Imam of Islam, and grandson to the Prophet Muhammad, Hussain ibn Ali was killed in plains of Karbala as he defied the tyranny of Yazid ibn Muawiya – a man whose taste for blood and debauchery very much mirrors that of Daesh.

13 centuries on Imam Hussain’s name, and the legacy he bore, commands to its banner communities of men across faiths, ethnicities, and all manners of differences.

This year Arbaeen has rung  of Iraq’s victory against the cancerous dogma Daesh clerics have been so intent on affirming as normative.

“The Daesh terrorist group’s presence in Iraq has effectively come to an end following the liberation of the city of Rawa in the western Anbar province,” Interior Minister Qasim al-Araji told the press on November 17.

One must admit that for a country such Iraq to have managed to flush Daeh  armies out of its territories is no small feat; especially if we consider just how many roadblocks the nation had to face before it could find its political footing again.

One Terror occupation and a failed secession attempt later and Iraq found itself a new lease of life.

Many have argued that Iraq’s victory lies in the momentum which animated its popular mobilization forces, and its military;  that same momentum which, 13 centuries ago, compelled 72 warriors to stand by their Imam before an army of several thousands: a desire to stand dignified and free of oppression.

It is not without a certain poetry … and maybe irony that the very land which saw so much bloodshed and sectarian wranglings over the decades, and even centuries, sits today center stage to the best humanity has to offer.

Every year, for several weeks, and that for over 13 centuries, the holy city of Karbala has let go of all pettiness to host Imam Hussain’s pilgrims, and to the tune of its people generosity fed, sheltered, nursed, and comfort millions upon millions … never to ask anything but the promise to carry such message of brotherly compassion.

Karbala now dwarfs Mecca and the Hajj pilgrimage by an estimated 10 million pilgrims. And while from a religious standpoint it bears of little consequence, one must note that Karbala has succeeded where Mecca could not.

When Mecca has become synonymous to religious oppression – every year Shia pilgrims and other minorities have suffered the brutalities of Al Saud’s powerful clergy, Karbala has risen a symbol of religious cohesion and tolerance.

One could argue that the pilgrimage of Arbaeen is at the image of its hosts: kind, proud, brave, free!

And yet such brilliant testament to Freedom, such commitment to pluralism, remain lost to our prejudiced political discourse.

There is life beyond Terror … Iraq proved beyond all measure that Freedom can indeed inspire men to victory.

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4 resignations and counting: May’s government ‘falling apart before our eyes’ over Brexit deal

The beginning of the end for Theresa May’s government.

The Duran



Via RT

Four high profile resignations have followed on the heels of Theresa May’s announcement that her cabinet has settled on a Brexit deal, with Labour claiming that the Conservative government is at risk of completely dissolving.

Shailesh Vara, the Minister of State at the Northern Ireland Office was the first top official to resign after the prime minister announced that her cabinet had reached a draft EU withdrawal agreement.

An hour after his announcement, Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab – the man charged with negotiating and finalizing the deal – said he was stepping down, stating that the Brexit deal in its current form suffers from deep flaws. Esther McVey, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, submitted her letter of resignation shortly afterwards. More resignations have followed.

Labour’s shadow Cabinet Office minister, Jon Trickett, predicted that this is the beginning of the end for May’s government.

The government is falling apart before our eyes as for a second time the Brexit secretary has refused to back the prime minister’s Brexit plan. This so-called deal has unraveled before our eyes

Shailesh Vara: UK to be stuck in ‘a half-way house with no time limit’

Kicking off Thursday’s string of resignations, Vara didn’t mince words when describing his reservations about the cabinet-stamped Brexit deal.

Theresa May’s EU withdrawal agreement leaves the UK in a “halfway house with no time limit on when we will finally become a sovereign nation,” his letter of resignation states. Vara went on to warn that the draft agreement leaves a number of critical issues undecided, predicting that it “will take years to conclude” a trade deal with the bloc.

“We will be locked in a customs arrangement indefinitely, bound by rules determined by the EU over which we have no say,” he added.

Dominic Raab: Deal can’t be ‘reconciled’ with promises made to public

Announcing his resignation on Thursday morning, Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab tweeted: “I cannot in good conscience support the terms proposed for our deal with the EU.”

Raab claimed that the deal in its current form gives the EU veto power over the UK’s ability to annul the deal.

No democratic nation has ever signed up to be bound by such an extensive regime.

Former Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith said that Raab’s resignation as Brexit secretary is “devastating” for May.

“It sounds like he has been ignored,” he told the BBC.

Raab’s departure will undoubtedly encourage other Brexit supporters to question the deal, political commentators have observed.

Esther McVey: Deal ‘does not honor’ Brexit referendum

Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey didn’t hold back when issuing her own letter of resignation. According to McVey, the deal “does not honour” the result of the Brexit referendum, in which a majority of Brits voted to leave the European Union.

Suella Braverman: ‘Unable to sincerely support’ deal

Suella Braverman, a junior minister in Britain’s Brexit ministry, issued her resignation on Thursday, saying that she couldn’t stomach the deal.

“I now find myself unable to sincerely support the deal agreed yesterday by cabinet,” she said in a letter posted on Twitter.

Suella Braverman, MP Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Department for Exiting the EU © Global Look Press / Joel Goodman
Braverman said that the deal is not what the British people voted for, and threatened to tear the country apart.

“It prevents an unequivocal exit from a customs union with the EU,” she said.

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Five Saudis Face Death Penalty Over Khashoggi Killing; Crown Prince Cleared

According to the Saudi prosecutor, five people charged are believed to have been involved in “ordering and executing the crime.”



Via Zerohedge

Saudi Arabia public prosecutor Sheikh Shaalan al-Shaalan said on Thursday that the kingdom will seek the death penalty for five suspects among the 11 charged in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, confirming suspicions that members of the murder squad purportedly sent to “interrogate” Khashoggi will now themselves face beheadings as the Saudi Royal Family closes ranks around the Crown Prince, per the FT.

As for Mohammed bin Salman who runs the day to day affairs of the world’s top oil exporter and is the de facto head of OPEC, the prosecutor said had “no knowledge” of the mission, effectively absolving him of any domestic suspicion, if not international.

The charges were handed down after the kingdom dismissed five senior intelligence officers and arrested 18 Saudi nationals in connection with Khashoggi’s disappearance. The Saudi insider-turned-dissident journalist disappeared on Oct. 2 after entering the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul to pick up documents that would have allowed him to marry his fiance. Khashoggi was a legal resident of Virginia.

According to the Saudi prosecutor, five people charged are believed to have been involved in “ordering and executing the crime,” according to CNN.

The prosecutor said that the former Saudi deputy intelligence chief, Ahmed al-Assiri, ordered a mission to force Khashoggi to go back to Saudi Arabia and formed a team of 15 people.

They were divided into three groups, the Saudi Public Prosecutor said: a negotiation team, an intelligence team and a logistical team.

It was the head of the negotiating team who ordered the killing of Khashoggi, the prosecutor said.

The Saudis stuck by latest (ever changing) narrative that the Washington Post columnist was killed after a mission to abduct him went awry. The deputy chief of intelligence ordered that Khashoggi be brought back to the kingdom, Shaalan said. The team killed him after the talks failed and his body was handed to a “collaborator” in Turkey, he said.

Asked whether Saud al-Qahtanti, an aide to Prince Mohammed, had any role in the case, Shaalan said that a royal adviser had a coordinating role and had provided information. The former adviser was now under investigation, the prosecutor said, declining to reveal the names of any of those facing charges.

Al-Shaalan did reveal that a total of 21 suspects are now being held in connection with the case. Notably, the decision to charge the 5 comes after National Security Advisor John Bolton repudiated reports that a recording of Khashoggi’s murder made by Turkish authorities suggested that Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman was behind the murder plot.

But as long as OPEC+ is planning to do “whatever it takes” to boost oil prices, the US’s willingness to give the Saudis a pass could always be tested if crude prices again turn sharply higher.

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U.S. May Impose Sanctions Against Turkey Over S-400 “Threat” To F-35

The United States continues to consider the S-400 air defense system a threat to its F-35 fifth generation stealth fighter platform.

The Duran



Authored by Al Masdar News:

Turkish officials have repeatedly insisted that Ankara’s purchase of the advanced Russian air defense system poses no threat whatsoever to the NATO alliance. Last month, the Turkish defense ministry announced that delivery of S-400s to Turkey would begin in October 2019.

The United States continues to consider the S-400 air defense system a threat to its F-35 fifth generation stealth fighter platform, and may impose sanctions against Ankara, Turkey’s Anadolu news agency has reported, citing a high-ranking source in Washington.

“I can’t say for certain whether sanctions will be imposed on Ankara over the S-400 contract, but the possibility is there. The US administration is not optimistic about this issue,” the source said.

While admitting that Turkey was a sovereign state and therefore had the right to make decisions on whom it buys its weapons from, the source stressed that from the perspective of these weapons’ integration with NATO systems, the S-400 was “problematic.”

The source also characterized the deployment of S-400s in areas where US F-35 fifth-generation stealth fighters are set to fly as “a threat,” without elaborating.

Emphasizing that negotiations between Washington and Ankara on the issue were “continuing,” the source said that there were also “positive tendencies” in negotiations between the two countries on the procurement of the Patriot system, Washington’s closest analogue to the S-400 in terms of capabilities.

Designed to stop enemy aircraft, cruise and ballistic missiles at ranges of up to 400 km and altitudes of up to 30 km, the S-400 is currently the most advanced mobile air defense system in Russia’s arsenal. Russia and India signed a ruble-denominated contract on the delivery of five regiments of S-400s worth $5 billion late last month.

Last week, the Saudi Ambassador to Russia said that talks on the sale of the system to his country were ongoing. In addition to Russia, S-400s are presently operated by Belarus and China, with Beijing expecting another delivery of S-400s by 2020.

Washington has already slapped China with sanctions over its purchase of S-400s and Su-35 combat aircraft in September. India, however, has voiced confidence that it would not be hit with similar restrictions, which the US Treasury has pursued under the 2017 Counter America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).

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