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US art dealer agrees to pay $3 million and hand over stolen Iraqi artefacts

US arts and crafts dealer Hobby Lobby must pay a fine and hand back artefacts stolen from Iraq during its long war.

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The US arts and crafts dealer Hobby Lobby was sued by the US government over the smuggling of looted Iraqi artefacts into the United States.

In the matter of The United States of America v. Approximately Four Hundred Fifty (450) Ancient Cuneiform Tablets; and Approximately Three Thousand (3,000) Ancient-Clay Bullae, the Oklohoma based art dealers whose owners are named as the Green family, were forced to hand back 5,000 original Iraqi artefacts some of them which date back to ancient Babylonia.

Hobby Lobby paid $1.6 million to attain the loot in 2010. The artefacts were smuggled into the US via companies in the United Arab Emirates and Israel. However, US officials raised red flags when on the customs paperwork, the ancient treasures were listed as mere “ceramic tiles”.

This triggered an investigation which ultimately led to the lawsuit.

The owners of Hobby Lobby claimed that they planed not to sell the loot but instead to display it in their “Museum of The Bible”.  This was taken into consideration by the court, thoguh the importation of the stolen goods was still considered to be unlawful.

As part of the settlement reached between Hobby Lobby’s owners and the US government, a fine of $3 million must be paid and all of the goods must be returned to Iraq.

This case sheds light on the hidden side of the war and chaos which has been wrought upon Iraq ever since 2003. Where under Ba’athist rule, Iraq’s museums drew international visitors to view ancient art and artefacts in a safe setting, today many of these treasures have either been looted or destroyed.

Indeed, entire architectural wonders of the ancient world have been destroyed in Iraq. The ancient Assyrian cities of Nimrud and Nineveh near Mosul in northern Iraq were entirely destroyed by ISIS.

In the last weeks, the Great Mosque of al-Nuri in Mosul has also been destroyed by retreating ISIS terrorists.

Of course, the monuments of human dignity are the first and last victims of wars like those which have befallen Iraq ever since the illegal US-UK invasion in 2003, but the sad fact of any unnecessary war is that ancient wonders get looted, pillaged and destroyed. The theft of cultural heritage is in many ways far more tragic than the theft of utilitarian resources like oil.

Iraq’s integrity as a state remains deeply threatened by the ongoing series of conflicts that have gripped the once united nation ever since 2003. Although Mosul is now largely free of ISIS occupation, the killing and torture of civilians by Iraqi forces as well as the total destruction of the city’s civilian population centres and infrastructure by the US Airforce may mean that Mosul like Iraq might never recover.

As I previously wrote in The Duran,

“While it is obvious that Iraqis should want to celebrate the symbolic victory, ISIS is far from defeated in Iraq. What’s more is that Iraq was the tumultuous cradle of ISIS and will continue to be for the foreseeable future.

In this sense, Syria can actually defeat ISIS whose ideology is completely foreign to the modern Syrian experience. Iraq by contrast will have a much more difficult time.

America and Britain’s illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003 was a disaster from which Iraq has not recovered. After the imperialist invaders illegally deposed the legitimate government of Iraq, the occupiers then conspired to totally disenfranchise anyone seen as tied to the government, even when in actual fact such people were often not connected to the government.

This quickly spilled into a divide and conquer technique wherein the imperialists sought to turn Shi’a against Sunni in a country that had always had some lingering tensions, although the Ba’ath Party did wonders in minimising these tensions, as Ba’athism is an explicitly anti-sectarian ideology both in theory and practice.

The inane so-called ‘de-Ba’athification’ process that the occupiers executed was little more than a social genocide of Iraqi Sunnis. At the same time, Shi’a Iraqis were equally enraged at the illegal conquering of their nation, although for different reasons. At the same time, Christian Iraqis were subject to a total genocide. Those who survived fled, often to Ba’athist Syria where they were welcomed without hesitation by the government of President Bashar al-Assad. Even in the years of Saddam Hussein’s often fraught Presidency, the government and civil service of Iraq saw Sunnis, Shia’s and Christians of all major denominations in positions of distinction and importance.

Sunni Iraqis were consequently driven to any ideology, any movement and ultimately any group that could give them some sort of agency in the new post-Sunni Iraq. Many such people were for the first time in their previously secular existence, driven to the ideology of al-Qaeda. As foreign al-Qaeda fighters flooded into a country that had under the Ba’ath party been among the most anti-al-Qaeda places on earth, many local Sunnis joined their ranks for the sad reason that their ranks were among the only that would have them.

Al-Qaeda in Iraq was born. Eventually al-Qaeda in Iraq would become the Islamic State of Iraq. Shortly thereafter they broadened their horizons and sought to expand becoming the Islamic State of Iraq and The Levant. This in turn formally became the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and finally today it calls itself The Islamic State, though it is sill generally known in English speaking countries by the acronym ISIS.

The fact that Sunni Iraqis are still being tortured, still being associated with terrorists even when they are not associated with terrorism, still being treated with suspicion, means that the divide and conquer attitude which the imperialist powers instilled on a once united Iraqi nation, are still omnipresent in today’s Iraq.

So long as the conditions which allowed ISIS to foment are present in Iraq, so long will the threat of ISIS, irrespective of what it might call itself in the future, continue to haunt Iraq”.

While Iraq’s future remains uncertain and its immediate tasks of rebuilding and reconciliation remain fraught with peril, there is still no justification for looting what treasures remain in an ancient land whose soil has frequently been awash with the blood of the innocent.

The Hobby Lobby case sets an important precedent for preserving the cultural integrity of nations even as they are rife with war and sorrows.

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BREXIT chaos, as May’s cabinet crumbles (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 18.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris take a quick look at the various scenarios now facing a crumbling May government, as the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement is forcing cabinet members to resign in rapid succession. The weekend ahead is fraught with uncertainty for the UK and its position within, or outside, the European Union.

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If Theresa May’s ill-fated Brexit Withdrawal Agreement is eventually rejected this could trigger a vote of no confidence, snap elections or even a new referendum…

Here are six possible scenarios facing Theresa May and the UK (via The Guardian)

1 Parliament blocks Theresa May’s draft withdrawal agreement and political declarations

May faces an enormous task to win parliamentary approval, given that Labour, the SNP, the DUP and 51 Tories have said they will not vote for it.

If the remaining 27 EU member states sign off the draft agreement on 25 November, the government will have to win over MPs at a crucial vote in early December.

If May loses the vote, she has 21 days to put forward a new plan. If she wins, she is safe for now.

2 May withdraws the current draft agreement

The prime minister could decide that she will not get the draft agreement through parliament and could seek to renegotiate with the EU.

This would anger Tory backbenchers and Brussels and would be seen as a humiliation for her government. It might spark a leadership contest too.

3 Extend article 50

May could ask the European council to extend article 50, giving her more time to come up with a deal that could be passed by parliament – at present, the UK will leave on 29 March 2019.

Such a request would not necessarily be granted. Some EU governments are under pressure from populist parties to get the UK out of the EU as soon as possible.

4 Conservative MPs trigger a vote of no confidence in the prime minister

If Conservative MPs believe May is no longer fit for office, they could trigger a no-confidence vote.

Members of the European Research Group claim that Graham Brady, the chair of the powerful 1922 Committee, will receive the necessary 48 letters this week.

A vote could be held as soon as early next week. All Tory MPs would be asked to vote for or against their leader. If May wins, she cannot be challenged for at least 12 months. If she loses, there would be a leadership contest to decide who will become prime minister.

5 General election – three possible routes

If May fails to get support for the current deal, she could call a snap general election.

She would table a parliamentary vote for a general election that would have to be passed by two thirds of MPs. She would then set an election date, which could be by the end of January.

This is an unlikely option. May’s political credibility was severely damaged when she called a snap election in 2017, leading to the loss of the Conservative party’s majority.

Alternatively, a general election could be called if a simple majority of MPs vote that they have no confidence in the government. Seven Tory MPs, or all of the DUP MPs, would have to turn against the government for it to lose the vote, triggering a two-week cooling-off period. May would remain in office while MPs negotiate a new government.

Another route to a general election would be for the government to repeal or amend the Fixed-term Parliaments Act which creates a five-year period between general elections. A new act would have to be passed through both the Commons and the Lords – an unlikely scenario.

6 Second referendum

May could decide it is impossible to find a possible draft deal that will be approved by parliament and go for a people’s vote.

The meaningful vote could be amended to allow MPs to vote on whether the country holds a second referendum. It is unclear whether enough MPs would back a second referendum and May has ruled it out.

 

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Brexit Withdrawal Agreement may lead to Theresa May’s downfall (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 151.

Alex Christoforou

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The Brexit Withdrawal Agreement has been published and as many predicted, including Nigel Farage, the document is leading to the collapse of Theresa May’s government.

During an interview with iTV’s Piers Morgan, remain’s Alistair Campell and leave’s Nigel Farage, were calling May’s Brexit deal a complete disaster.

Via iTV

Alastair Campbell: “This doesn’t do remotely what was offered…what is the point”

“Parliament is at an impasse”

“We have to go back to the people” …”remain has to be on the ballot paper”

Nigel Farage:

“This is the worst deal in history. We are giving away in excess of 40B pounds in return for precisely nothing. Trapped still inside the European Union’s rulebook.

“Nothing has been achieved.”

“In any negotiation in life…the other side need to know that you are serious about walking away.”

“What monsieur Barnier knew from day one, is that at no point did Theresa May intend to walk away.”

“Fundamental matter of trust to the electors of our country and those who govern us.”

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss Theresa May’s Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, and why the deal is a full on victory for the European Union and a document of subjugation for the United Kingdom.

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Coming in at 585 pages, the draft agreement will be closely scrutinized over the coming days but here are some of the highlights as outlined by Zerohedge

  • UK and EU to use the best endeavours to supersede Ireland protocol by 2020
  • UK can request extension of the transition period any time before July 1st, 2020
  • EU, UK See Level-Playing Field Measures in Future Relationship
  • Transition period may be extended once up to date yet to be specified in the text
  • EU and UK shall establish single customs territory and Northern Ireland is in same customs territory as Great Britain

The future relationship document is less than seven pages long. It says the U.K. and EU are seeking a free-trade area with cooperation on customs and rules: “Comprehensive arrangements creating a free trade area combining deep regulatory and customs cooperation, underpinned by provisions ensuring a level playing field for open and fair competition.”

The wording might raise concerns among Brexiters who don’t want regulatory cooperation and the measures on fair competition could amount to shackling the U.K. to EU rules.

As Bloomberg’s Emma Ross-Thomas writes, “There’s a clear sense in the documents that we’re heading for a customs union in all but name. Firstly via the Irish backstop, and then via the future relationship.”

Separately, a government summary of the draft agreement suggests role for parliament in deciding whether to extend the transition or to move in to the backstop.

But perhaps most importantly, regarding the controversial issue of the Irish border, the future relationship document says both sides aim to replace the so-called backstop – the thorniest issue in the negotiations – with a “subsequent agreement that establishes alternative arrangements for ensuring the absence of a hard border on the island of Ireland on a permanent footing.”

On this topic, recall that the U.K.’s fear was of being locked into the backstop arrangement indefinitely in the absence of a broader trade deal. The draft agreement includes a review process to try to give reassurance that the backstop would never be needed. Basically, the U.K. could choose to seek an extension to the transition period – where rules stay the same as they are currently – or opt to trigger the backstop conditions. In fact, as Bloomberg notes, the word “backstop,” which has been a sticking point over the Irish border for weeks, is mentioned only once in the text.

As Bloomberg further adds, the withdrawal agreement makes clear that the U.K. will remain in a single customs area with the EU until there’s a solution reached on the Irish border. It’s what Brexiteers hate, because it makes it more difficult for the U.K. to sign its own free-trade deals, which they regard as a key prize of Brexit.

Predictably, EU Commission President Juncker said decisive progress has been made in negotiations.

Meanwhile, as analysts comb over the documents, Jacob Rees-Mogg, chairman of the European Research Group, has already written to Conservative lawmakers urging them to vote against the deal. He says:

  • May is handing over money for “little or nothing in return”
  • The agreement treats Northern Ireland differently from the rest of the U.K.
  • It will “lock” the U.K. into a customs union with the EU
  • It breaks the Tory election manifesto of 2017

The full document…

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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

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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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