Friday, April 29, 2016

Rival eastern oil company in Libya tries to ship oil illegally

The Al-Thinni government of the Tobruk-based House of Representatives (HoR) is planning to export 650,000 barrels of crude that were pumped from the Messia and Sarir oil fields at Hariga port in Tobruk.

According to Omran al-Zwai of the Arabian Gulf Oil Co. tanker Distya Ameya is due to sail on April 25 to Malta. The cargo was sold to DSA Consultancy FZC, a company that is based in the United Arab Emirtates (UAE) according Nagi Elmagrabi, who heads the breakaway National Oil Company in the east. The internationally recognized National Oil Company is based in Tripoli and is cooperating with the UN-brokered Government of National Accord (GNA). International traders such as Glencore deal with it.
Three of the main oil ports in the east are guarded by the Petroleum Forces Guard led by Ibrahim Jodhran. He supports the GNA and would export through the Tripoli-based NOC. He does not control the Hariga port however. General Haftar the commander in chief of the Libyan National Army of the Al-Thinni government, no doubt wants the HoR to export oil so as to provide funds for the Al-Thinni government. Funds can be deposited in a separate branch of the Central Bank of Libya under control of the HoR. Ironically, Jodhran himself has tried to illegally ship oil by a tanker called the Morning Glory and also supported the eastern oil company before deciding to support the GNA and Tripoli NOC. He is a bitter foe of General Haftar.
A few days ago, the Tripoli NOC issued a statement on the situation saying that they had notified the Presidency Council of the GNA of the attempt by the Al-Thinni administration to illegally ship oil: Musfafa Sanalia NOC chairman said:“Agoco, our subsidiary in the east, was instructed yesterday by a Beyda official to load a ship at Marsa el-Hariga, I notified Prime Minister Serraj and the Presidency Council, who understood immediately the seriousness of the issue and took the necessary steps to stop the vessel from loading. Agoco employees and port officials understood this was a political attempt to divide the country, and I am very proud that they resisted the pressure to load this vessel. This had the potential to be a very ugly incident and I am pleased that it has been resolved peacefully without injury to anybody or loss of revenue or damage to the integrity of NOC or the country.”
Sanalia pointed out that the attempted export breached United Nations Security Council resolution 2278.
Sanalia said the NOC had been in contact with the captain of the ship and informed him that he is breaching the UN resolution. The NOC asked him to leave Libyan waters immediately. In response the captain turned off the ship's tracking system. It seems that the ship may be loaded and ready to set sail. A recent tweet says: "Chairman of NOC East confirms 1st crude oil shipment from #Tobruk's Hraiga port. distant pic of the tanker". It is quite possible that the tanker may be intercepted by the US or Italian navy.
Before the 2011 overthrow of Gadaffi, Libya pumped about 1.6 million barrels of oil a day. It now produces only 361,000 barrels a day.
The illegal export of the oil is a serious challenge to the UN and the GNA. The eastern branch of the Libyan National Bank is also planning to print its own banknotes. A recent article by Richard Galustian in the Times of Malta, suggests that Libya could be headed for a breakup between the west and the east. Significantly, Russia has refused to recognize the GNA until a vote of confidence from the HoR. There could be a conflict developing between western supporters of the GNA and supporters of Haftar and the HoR including Egypt, the UAE, the Arab League and now it seems Russia.

Libyan General Haftar receives large shipment of vehicles and ammunition

Authorities said to be loyal to General Khalifa Haftar, commander-in-chief of the Libyan National Army (LNA) have received a large shipment of vehicles, armored vehicles and ammunition according to security sources at Tobruk port.

According to the Libya Observer, sources said the shipment was aboard a Saudi steamship and came from countries that are Haftar allies, and that also support his Operation Dignity against Islamists including those that were allies with the former Salvation government and General National Council (GNC). The shipment was said to have been taken to a supply camp in southern Tobruk. The UN Security Council unanimously approved in March a resolution extending the arms embargo on Libya originally imposed back in 2011. The embargo appears to be regularly broken with no penalties. As well as arms coming to Libya in this manner, no doubt others come with the Special Forces from several countries such as the UK, US, France, Italy and Jordan who are already operating in the country.
While some sources say that the new equipment will be used for a drive against the Islamic State in Sirte, others see them being used to take over control of the oil ports many of which are guarded by the Petroleum Facitities Guards(PFG) whose leader, Ibrahim Jodhran, is a foe of Haftar. Jodhran supports the GNC and its National Oil Company rather than the breakaway eastern National Oil Company. Ironically, in the past it was Jodhran who attempted to ship oil illegally and who kept ships with contracts with the Tripoli-based National Oil Co. from loading oil. There are numerous tweets from partisan observers both in favor of and opposing Haftar. Here is an example suggesting Haftar's plans:Mohamed Eljarh ‏@Eljarh #Libya - Prez Council says G loyalists in neighboring countries are helping to facilitate/plan attacks on oil terminals. Doesn't sound good.
The HoR government of PM Al-Thinni has complained of "illegal institutions in Tripoli" using threats and intimidation to prevent it from selling oil.The NOC in Tripoli has always had a monopoly on selling oil even under the GNC Salvation government. It now is cooperating with the GNA. The HoR has yet to give a vote of confidence in the GNA hence the HoR is calling it illegal. Official spokesperson for the Thinni government, Hatem Oraibi, made the statement after employees of the Arabian Gulf Oil Company (AGOCO) prevented attempts at the export of more than half a million barrels of oil from Tobruk's Hariga terminal. What has happened since is still not clear. The ship involved is from Sharjah and is said to be flying an Indian flag.
The Oil Facilities Guard (OFG) spokesperson, Ali Al-Hassi, claimed that the Islamic State retreat from Derna is nothing more than a deal between the Islamic State and Haftar to create another front so the Haftar army can obtain more success on the ground and serve as a hindrance to the GNA and increase his popularity. Haftar has had recent successes in Benghazi. Al-Hassi said: "The deal is used to manifest that the so-called Libyan army leadership is right in its call for securing the oil fields if IS triumphed over the OFG force on Saturday.” The statement also claims that when IS retreated in a convoy of vehicles that they passed through security checkpoints at Martubah, Al-Hila, Al-Nawar, and Al-Mikhil. The LNA provides a different narrative claiming to have destroyed a number of vehicles. What is certain is the the OFG had absolutely no support from the LNA and Haftar when they wererecently attacked south of Brega.
There are now many reports of Haftar airstrikes on Derna since the Islamic State has been forced out. Accounts differ as to whether it was Haftar's Libyan National Army or the Shura Council of Derna Jihadists who are responsible for the Islamic State retreat. Probably both were involved but it appears as if Haftar intends to control more territory around Derna and continue attacks on the city. The Libya Herald reports on what it calls "unconfirmed air strikes" in Derna. The Libya Observer gives more detail, noting that there have now been three separate series of airstrikes on Derna since the Islamic State retreated. At least three civilians are reported killed. The Council contains some fighters associated with Al Qaeda. Haftar can simply claim he is fighting terrorism.
There is no word yet as to whether the HoR will meet on Monday to vote on the GNA. The international community so far appears to be ignoring the threat posed by Haftar to the success of the GNA. If Haftar tries to take control of the oil ports from the PFG surely the UN and the GNA will be forced to take notice.

GNA State Council takes over headquarters and offices of rival General National Assembly

Abdulrahman Sewehli, president of the State Council of the UN-brokered Government of National Accord (GNA), has taken over control of the Rixos Hotel complex including the conference hall used by the General National Congress (GNC).

He also took control of buildings across the street that were used as accommodation and offfices by the president of the GNC, Nuri Abusahmain. The takeover shows the power of the GNC and the associated Salvation Government has been reduced to almost nothing. The State Council had met in Tripoli in early April, declaring itself the GNC. After passing a resolution in support of the GNA and amending the constitutional declaration of 2011, it dissolved the GNC supposedly and then met as the State Council. Sewehli was elected president. The president of the GNC was not present. The actual GNC met later at its headquarters and denounced the rival meeting. However, it appears that the GNC might as well have been actually dissolved since it appears to have no power and has now lost its headquarters without any resistance.
There were militia loyal to Abusahmain guarding the buildings. However, they put up no resistance and the road between the two buildings is now open. Abusahmain's whereabouts are not known but he is thought to be still in Tripoli. Abusahmain made a statement condemning the takeover. He said militia loyal to Sewehli arrived at the headquarters early Friday morning. The defenders allowed them to seize the complex because they wanted to avoid bloodshed, according to Abusahmain. The head of security at the Rixos facilities, Omar Al-Ramli gave a similar account of events.
Other events show the continuing decline of the power of the Salvation government and the GNC. Already several ministries have been handed over to the GNA. The Transport Ministry has now been handed over to the PC of the GNA. Labour, Religious Endowments, Education, Housing, Utilities, Youth and Sports, and Social Affairs ministries have all been transferred to the Presidential Council. The Libyan Central Bank is cooperating with the GNA. If the employees at the ministries expect to be paid, they are much better off associating with the GNA. The transfers are taking place in spite of the fact that the GNA has never been given a vote of confidence by the House of Representatives. Under the regulations of the Libyan Political Agreement its term has not yet even begun. However, the GNA has bypassed any vote so far and has regarded a meeting of the Libyan Political Committee and a letter from an alleged majority of the HoR approving the GNA as a green light to start operations and even move to Tripoli. Although foreign affairs and interior ministries have not been turned over officially they are said to be already being run by Mohamed Siala and Arif Khojia respectively, who were appointed to run them.
The Libyan news agency LANA which was formerly loyal to the GNC Salvation government now supports the GNC and the PC. The ministers will be sworn in once all ministries are under GNA control. According to the Libya Herald the State Council considers itself now the country's legislature:Meanwhile, in a move that is likely to be the cause of future conflict, the State Council, likewise yet to be approved by the House of Representatives, has taken over the former General National Congress buildings, presenting itself as the country’s legislature.According to the terms of the LPA the House of Representatives (HoR) is the sole legislative body of the GNA. The State Council is primarily an advisory body. That the State Council should claim legislative powers is in contradiction to the agreement. Members of the HoR will be outraged by this claim if it is true.

Haftar planes continue to attack Derna after Islamic State retreats

After the Islamic State retreated from the outskirts of Derna, warplanes of Khalifa Haftar's air force are still carrying out strikes on the city.

The Libya Observer reports that three have been killed and others injured as the planes hit civilian targets according to a source within the city. Two airstrikes were conducted on Saturday, one hitting a brick factory and a second the southern entrance to the city. On Friday warplanes carried out a total of eight airstrikes on different locations occupied by revolutionaries. Derna is ruled by the Shura Council of Derna Jihadists.The group is largely responsible for driving the Islamic State out of Derna although the LNA did engage against the IS before they retreated. Pro-LNA and Haftar sources, often repeated by mainstream media, attribute the success to the LNA. There is no mention of the fact that the revolutionaries drove out IS from most of the city ages ago. The problem for western media is that the Council includes members associated with Al Qaeda so they must be bad guys. However, the former rival "Salvation" government in Tripoli were allies to the Council as they were with the Council in Benghazi. Some members of the GNA have the same perspective on events. The Observer claims that this is the third time that Haftar-associated warplanes have targeted revolutionary locations since Derna was freed from IS militants.
It may be that Haftar may be intending to move his own troops into the suburbs of Derna just abandoned by the Islamic State. Consider this tweet:: "Khalifa Haftar militias give 24h to Fatayah residents in Derna to leave before destroying the region by airstrikes." Most western media are paying no attention to what is happening. All attention is on an attack by the Islamic State south of Brega.
Even Reuters manages to have a report on the attack. The attack was south of the Brega oil terminal. One guard was killed and five others injured including Ibrahim Jathran, leader of the Petroleum Facilities Guard (PFG), according to security and medical sources. The article notes that the PFG is one of the groups supporting the UN-brokered Government of National Accord (GNA). The article fails to mention that Jathran is also at odds with General Haftar who does not support the GNA as yet. Basheer Bu Thefeirah, commander of the Ajdabia border sector, said that the attackers came from both the east and the west and were attempting to storm Brega but were blocked by the PFG. Note that the Haftar's Libyan National Army and warplanes did not help against the Islamic State. They were busy attacking newly-liberated Derna.

US lawmakers angry that information on how much surveillance data on Americans is collected not being released

A group of lawmakers from both parties are unhappy that they are being asked to reauthorize two key surveillance programs without the Obama executive branch answering how much data is being gathered on innocent Americans.

The two programs authorized by Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, are PRISM and Upstream. Prism is described by Wikipedia as follows:
PRISM is a clandestine[1] surveillance program under which the United States National Security Agency (NSA) collects internet communications from at least nine major US internet companies.[2][3][4] Since 2001 the United States government has increased its scope for such surveillance, and so this program was launched in 2007.
The major companies include Facebook, Yahoo, and Skype. Upstream collection involves four different surveillance programs: In a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) order from October 3, 2011, it's said that the Upstream collection accounts for approximately 9% of the total number of 250 million internet communications which NSA collects under the authority of section 702 FAA every year. During the first half of 2011, NSA acquired some 13.25 million internet communications through Upstream collection. "The program is unable to exclude domestic communications due to technical difficulties. The government refuses to tell politicians how much data is collected from Americans.
Fourteen members of the House Judiciary Committee sent a letter to James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, asking for at least a rough estimate of the number. The letter said: “In order that we may properly evaluate these programs, we write to ask that you provide us with a public estimate of the number of communications or transactions involving United States persons subject to Section 702 surveillance on an annual basis.” Senator Rony Wyden has been aksing for the number since 2011. The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board also asked in 2014. More than 30 privacy groups have also asked for the number.
Elizabeth Goiten, co-director of the Brennan Center's Liberty and National Security Program said:“House Judiciary Committee members have lent their voices to the growing chorus demanding hard facts about how foreign intelligence surveillance affects Americans,The NSA will soon be asking Congress to reauthorize the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and it will repeat its past claims that any collection of Americans’ communications is merely ‘incidental. We still don’t have this basic information.”
The United States is a member of the so-called Five Eyes. agreement. The agreement includes Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States. The five agree to co-operate in signals intelligence. During the 2013 NSA leaks on internet spying "the surveillance agencies of the "Five Eyes" have been accused of intentionally spying on one another's citizens and willingly sharing the collected information with each other, allegedly circumventing laws preventing each agency from spying on its own citizens."

Thursday, April 28, 2016

UN's Martin Kobler praises the work of the Constitutional Drafting Committee in Libya

The Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Martin Kobler has issued a press release welcoming the progress made on the latest draft constitution agreed upon in a meeting in Bayda on April 19.

The Constitution Drafting Assembly(CDA) met in Bayda after previous meetings in Oman. Kobler said:
“I applaud the diligent effort, courage and commitment of all members of the Constitution Drafting Assembly in trying to forge agreement on a draft constitution that can serve as the basis moving Libya beyond the transition period, and building a new modern Libyan state, anchored in the principles of democracy and separation of powers, rule of law, and respect for human rights, including equality for all, and guaranteeing the rights of women and all components of the Libyan national identity."
He encouraged all the members of the Assembly, including those not participating in the meetings over the last few months, to work together to uphold "the higher national interest of Libya." Kobler said: “Boycotting is not an option, boycotters should join the assembly and defend their opinion”.Whether Kobler likes it or not, there are a number of people boycotting the meetings of the CDA. Kobler said:“Any future referendum on the constitution must be an opportunity for the Libyan people to demonstrate their clear and unequivocal support of the fundamental pillar that will govern their country. This must be the cornerstone principle guiding the constitution making process.”As usual, Kobler leaves many important aspects of the situation out of his release, especially those that contradict his rosy outlook.
There were several meetings of the CDA in Oman. I wrote an article at the time which noted that there did not seem to be enough members present to pass any resolutions. A number of representatives had been boycotting the meetings and others objected to going to Oman when there could have been meetings in Libya. All Kobler has to say about this is that boycotting is not an option. It appears that it is not an option because the CDA has just rewritten the rules.
An article in the Libya Observer reports that a number of the boycotting members claim all the CDA meetings held in Oman and in Bayda "are illegal and a sheer violation of the constitutional declaration as well as the internal regulations of the CDA." A statement by the group said: “The CDA does not have the right or the authority to amend the quorum whatsoever because the amendment is one of the jobs of the legislative authority.” The Observer explains what happened:Over the last period, a number of CDA members have been holding consultation meetings in Oman, after which they announced an agreement on some of the disputed issues. Then, the CDA members came back and held a session in Al-Bayda, where they amended the internal regulations to allow lessening the quorum required for passing any item in the draft.This is just one more example where the UN sanctions breaking of the rules when there are difficulties preventing what they want done.
There have been many problems with the CDA. Kobler fails to mention any. The draft has been criticized by members of the Libyan judiciary. The chairperson an American was disqualified. Representatives of some tribes have also left the CDA. The UN will go ahead anyway.

Obama says that the U.S. will be in Iraq for a long haul

At a press conference during his visit to Saudi Arabia, President Barack Obama said the U.S. will continue its presence in Iraq over the longer term. He cited the country's political instability as showing that the U.S. needs to remain involved.

The U.S. has been increasing its military involvement in Iraq for some time, with 200 more troops sent recently. The number of U.S. troops in Iraq is now more than the cap imposed by the Iraqi government.
The political situation in Iraq is chaotic. Prime Minister Hader Abadi has been trying to have a reform cabinet of technocrats approved. The Shia mullah Moqtada al-Sadr has led huge demonstrations demanding reform. There have been fist-fights on the floor of the parliament. The speaker was sacked. The parliament has been suspended until further notice. In an attempt to force the parliament to act quickly, Obama said that increased funding for Iraq would be based on the ability of the government to get a cabinet in place. Obama said he was concerned that Abadi's hold on power was not very strong. Abadi is facing strong resistance from party members who prefer the old corrupt system which gives them more power and influence. For once, the fiercely anti-American al-Sadr and the Americans agree on something. However, Sadr is opposed to more U.S. ground troops in Iraq.
While visiting Saudi Arabia, Obama appealed to the Saudis and Gulf states to provide more financial aid for Iraq. However, the budgets of the rich oil producers are stretched by the steep decline in oil prices. The Sunni nations are not anxious to provide funds for their mainly Shia neighbor under in those circumstances. They also want the political situation to improve and Iraq to better integrate its Sunni minority into the government. Even Obama said:“Right now in Baghdad, there’s some big challenges. Until that’s settled, I think it’s important for us to make sure that any additional stabilization dollars that we put in are going to be effectively spent.”Obama has not been able to wind down U.S. involvement in the Middle East or Afghanistan, as conflicts continue. Many of Obama's Middle East allies are concerned that Obama is willing to make a peace deal in Syria that would leave Assad in power. Obama noted that the ceasefire seems to be breaking down.

New battery can be charged more than 200,000 times with no loss of power

Researchers at the University of California Irvine have developed a nanowire-based battery material that can recharged several hundred thousand times without breakdown or loss of energy.

Nanotechnology is described as follows:
Nanotechnology ("nanotech") is manipulation of matter on an atomic, molecular, and supramolecular scale.The earliest, widespread description of nanotechnology[1][2] referred to the particular technological goal of precisely manipulating atoms and molecules for fabrication of macroscale products, also now referred to as molecular nanotechnology.The field may result in many new materials that can be used in such new areas as nanomedicine, nanoelectronics, as well as energy production, and consumer products. Some analysts worry about the toxicity of new nanomaterials and their possible effects on the environment. A nanometer is a metric measure, one billionth of a meter.
A nanowire is thousands of times thinner than a human hair. It is highly conductive of electricity and also has a large area of its surface capable of storage and transfer of electrons. Batteries with the new nanowire could lead to commercial batteries that will have greatly increased lifespans, in computers, smartphones, appliances, cars, and even spacecraft.
Scientists have long been using the nanowires in batteries. However, the wires are very fragile and cannot stand up after repeated charging and recharging or cycling as it is called. In a typical lithium-ion battery they expand and eventually grow brittle and crack. The University of California Irvine (UCI) researchers were able to solve this problem "by coating a gold nanowires in a manganese dioxide shell and encasing the assembly in an electoryte made of a Plexiglas-like gel. The leader of the researchers doctoral candidate Mya Le Thai recharged the electrode up to 200,000 times without any detectable loss of capacity or power. The nanowires did not fracture either.
As well as hard work, the discovery depended in part on accident. According to the senior author of the study, Reginald Penner, chair of the UCI chemistry department: "Mya was playing around, and she coated this whole thing with a very thin gel layer and started to cycle it, She discovered that just by using this gel, she could cycle it hundreds of thousands of times without losing any capacity."Penner noted that usually the devices fail after 5 to 7 thousand cycles at most. The researchers think that the gel gives the metal oxide in the battery more flexibility. Thai said: "The coated electrode holds its shape much better, making it a more reliable option. This research proves that a nanowire-based battery electrode can have a long lifetime and that we can make these kinds of batteries a reality."Much work is being done to improve lithium ion batteries. Using silicon-based rather than a carbon base can double or even triple the storage capacity of the batteries.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Alleged majority of HoR meet and issue a statement supporting the GNA but with conditions

The Libya Herald reports that a majority of the members of the HoR met in a hotel separately from the regular HoR meeting rooms. In a statement the group said it supports the UN-brokered Government of National Accord.
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However, it also said it wants Article 8 deleted. Actually as I have pointed out there are two articles numbered 8. One is in the main text of the Libyan Political Agreement signed in Skhirat, Morocco, on December 17. The other is in the additional provisions. The text of the Skhirat agreement is available in Engllsh here. I have talked about the two sections many times including here. The Libya Herald reports the HoR members as wanting section 8 in the additional provisions deleted:
 However, they also said they wanted the controversial Article No. 8 of the LPA’s additional provisions to be deleted. Under it, the Presidency Council is supposed to appoint or reappoint heads of major military, security and civilian posts within 20 days of the LPA being signed. Many see the article as an anti-Hafter move.
While what the Herald article says is true, it leaves out what is even more significant — namely that Haftar was supposed to lose his job as of the signing of the agreement. This is from page 20 of the text: All powers of the senior military, civil and security posts stipulated in the Libyan legislations and laws in force shall be transferred to the Presidency Council of the Council of Ministers immediately upon signing this Agreement. :In other words, Haftar lost his job back on December 17 but everyone ignores this including the press. The other section 8 is in the main text and would see Haftar lose his job as soon as the GNA becomes operative. This is supposed to be after a vote of confidence in the HoR. However, the GNA declared itself up and running and moved to Tripoli some time back on the basis of a statement from a majority of the HoR that it supported the GNA and a supposed green light from Libyan Dialogue members. So Haftar should have been removed by now according to that provision as well. The Presidency Council remains mum on this even though it contains some members who are opposed to Haftar. The State Council has said nothing either.
The Herald report said that there were some 100 members who declared their support at the meeting. However a tweet with a photo shows many less: "32 memb of HOR hide scary in hotel restaurant amendment #skhirat agreement." The group condemned their colleagues for not allowing a formal meeting and said that the GNA remained the only way out of the crisis.
The Herald reports that the day had started out with effort to hammer out a compromise by members from the two groups. This may be the committee of six from each side that had been struck the day before. Apparently the meeting became chaotic with both sides engaging in a shouting match. First and second deputy Emhemed Shouaib and Ahmaid Huma, both supporters of the GNA then left. They then reassembled at another hotel where they released their statement. They did not take a formal vote to approve the LPA or GNA: Instead, the supporters called for the HoR to endorse the LPA, adding that the latter should take its oath of office before parliament no later than the end of next week. This should at a venue to be determined by the office of the HoR presidency, they said.Presumably, they meant the HoR should take an oath of office as members of the GNA legislative assembly.
An HoR official told the Herald that 102 members had declared their support for the GNA while those opposed were between 55 and 60. Martin Kobler, Special Representative of the Secretary General (SRSG) issued a press release critical of those who prevented the vote. He regretted that what he called a clear majority were unable to exercise their intrinsic democratic right to vote and his release concludes:Taking note of the GNA supporters’ declaration, he paid tribute “to the spirit and courage of parliamentarians who gathered in Tobruk over the past few days”. He urged them to “remain faithful to their constituents” and to carry out their responsibilities “without obstruction, threat or intimidation”.Notice that he makes no mention of the fact that the majority statement also demands that section 8 be deleted. Kobler never notices things like that. Of course, he also fails to mention that the spoilers might have some connections with General Khalifa Haftar.
Ageela Salah, the speaker of the HoR, gave his opinion of the situation to the Libya Observer.. He said that a meeting could be held only with the attendance of the Speaker.

U.S. bill to allow Saudis to be sued meets resistance

The Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act introduced in the U.S. Senate would allow the possibility of lawsuits against any foreign nations found to be involved in funding a terrorist attack on U.S. soil.

The text of the act explicitly mentioned the 9/11 attacks in 2001. The bill appears to target Saudi Arabia in particular, a feature that has angered the Saudis. Saudi Foreign Minister, Adel Jubeir is said to have told the U.S. administration that if the bill was passed, Saudi Arabia would immediately sell $750 billion in US treasuries. This could cause interest rates to spike, damaging the US dollar and the U.S.economy.
Almost immediately, the White House was threatening to veto the bill and Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina a co-sponsor of the bi-partisan bill put a hold on the bill saying that it could come back to bite us. The president arrived in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday April 20 for a meeting with King Salman and officials.
The State Department and the White House warned that U.S. citizens abroad could face retaliatory lawsuits.The bill has brought Democratic Senator, Chuck Schumer, into conflict with the Obama administration. Schumer said: "If Saudi Arabia participated in terrorism, of course they should be able to be sued. This bill would allow a suit to go forward and victims of terrorism to go to court to determine if the Saudi government participated in terrorist acts. If the Saudis did, they should pay a price."Josh Earnest, the White House spokesperson, claimed the bill would jeopardize "international sovereignty" and would put the U.S. at risk should other countries adopt a similar law. He said it was difficult to imagine a scenario in which President Obama would sign the bill. The bill would prevent Saudi Arabia and other countries from invoking their sovereign immunity in federal courts.
The House is awaiting Senate action before it goes ahead with its own bill introduced by Peter King, a New York Republican. Paul Callan, a CNN legal analyst pointed out that the law could result in countries retaliating against U.S. drone attacks. Callan said: "Which is why for almost 200 years, international law has recognized this concept of sovereign immunity that countries shouldn't really allow individual courts to sue other countries. It shall be worked down as a matter of foreign relations."While Saudi Arabia has not been implicated in the 9/11 attacks, there have long been suspicions that the Saudi royal family were involved. These suspicions have even been increased by the failure so far for the Obama administration to release 28 pages of an investigation into foreign involvement in the attacks.
There is no similar resistance to allowing a suit against Iran to go forward for a terror attack on marine barracks in Beirut. The US Supreme court ruled that Iran must pay nearly $2 billion from frozen assets to more than 1,000 Americans. The ruling relates to a 1983 bombing of U.S. Marine barracks that killed 241 Marines, as well as other attacks. In 2012 Congress passed a law that directed assets of Iran's Markazi bank be turned over to the families who were suing. Democrats and Republicans in Congress, and the Obama administration as well supported the families in this case.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Septuagenarian able to disrupt meetings of the Libyan House of Representatives

Locals talk of Faraj Al-Obaidi, in his seventies, as the unelected member of the Tobruk-based House of Representatives. He can roam at will in the parliament halls without any restrictions.

Al-Obaidi claims that the Dar Al-Salam Hotel, which is used as the meeting place for the HoR, is his, since it was built on his land. Al-Obaidi is known as one of the senior elders in the eastern area of Libya known as Cyrenaica. He appears able to disrupt meetings at any time, but members welcome him because of his influence and followers in Tobruk. Al-Obaidi is a strong supporter of General Khalifa Haftar, commander of the Libyan National Army (LNA).
He has often interfered in meetings as can be seen on this video, from November 2015. This was a debate on signing the draft of the Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) which would eventually be signed on December 17th as the Skhirat agreement. The HoR did not sign it. Faraj threatened to gun down MP's if they signed the agreement. Other Tobruk elders managed to calm him down and remove him.
This Monday Faraj was at it again, threatening force if members approved the GNA. The Monday meeting did not result in a vote and there was no vote on Tuesday either. The Libya Observer notes that tribalism has deep roots in Libya politics. Tribal elders have considerable influence on politics. The paper notes that last week Al-Tayeb Al-Safi, who was a Gaddafi henchmen, returned to Tobruk from exile and immediately was protected by his tribe. In January, spokesperson for Haftar and the Dignity Operation, Mohammed Al-Hijazi defected and was highly critical of Haftar. Haftar has not moved against him as he is protected by his tribe.
After Tuesday's meeting a committee of six from each side met to work out an agreement. It was thought that there could be an agreement and meeting as early as today but a tweet indicates it will not happen: "Tobruk Parliament was unable to meet Thursday due to spoilers."
A cartoon and statue featuring Obaidi can be found here. The appended video shows a demonstration against LPA signed in Skhirat on December 17th. The caption saying the LPA was agreed to by the two parliaments is wrong. Neither parliament signed, just unauthorized members of each. The demonstration was on December 19th.
It is puzzling that this old man with a cane is able to disrupt meetings of the HoR in the face of over a hundred members supposedly anxious to vote for the GNA. Given that the HoR cannot even meet safely in Tobruk what will happen when it moves to Tripoli as the legislature of the GNA?

Islamic State forces driven from their positions on the outskirts of city of Derna

Quite different accounts are emerging of recent fighting on the outskirts of Derna. According to the Libya Observer, fighters from the Shura Council drove the Islamic State fighters out of their base in the nearby Fatayah mountains.

Media reports claim the militants retreated under heavy fire from the fighters with many being killed. The Shura forces were hunting down any remaining Islamic State fighters in the area. The Senior commander of the Derna Shura Council forces, Mohammed Dango claimed that the entire Fatayah region was under their full control. Derna has long been under the control of the council with the Islamic State still on the outskirts and nearby mountain areas. There is no mention of the Libyan National Army (LNA) that was also attacking the Islamic State in the area.
The Libya Herald gives a quite different account. It reports that the LNA has finally cleared the Islamic State out of the Derna area. Abdulkarim Sabra, spokesperson for the LNA Operations Room covering the Derna area said the army had taken control of Derna's south eastern suburb of Fatayah or District 400 at the far east end of Derna. The area was taken after a ground and air offensive codenamed "Death Pledge."
Sabra claimed the Islamic State fighters managed to escape and had retreated on express orders of Abu Al-Baghdadi, the Islamic State caliph. He said they retreated towards Sirte in 32 vehicles. He said they had fueled up at a petrol station before destroying it. GIven that there is all this knowledge of the IS movements how is it that air action was not taken to destroy the convoy? Apparently it was left to continue to Sirte. Sabra claimed two soldiers had been killed and one injured in fighting. The Herald mentions that there have been local clashes between Derna jihadists and the IS. The Herald says that there is unofficial collaboration between the LNA and the Derna Council.
Within Derna, the Herald says anti-Haftar critics claimed that IS was forced out solely by the Council fighters, not the LNA. The Herald reports LNA helicopters were still targeting Fatayah in the afternoon and evening. Given that the area is now claimed to be controlled by the 102 brigade of the LNA it is strange that there would still be helicopter attacks. On Twitter there are numerous exchanges about what is happening with some claiming that Haftar forces are now attacking areas controlled by the Shura council. One tweet said: Col. Manfur, commander of #Benina airbase confirmed they carried the air raid on #Derna, after #ISIS was defeated.
#Libya @UNSMILibya
Here is a short sample of tweets showing the divergent views on what is happening: Mohamed Eljarh ‏@Eljarh
@W_Lacher Without cutting supply lines, restricting movement by taking up positions around Derna,Airstrikes it would not have been possible.
Wolfram Lacher ‏@W_Lacher 12h12 hours ago
@Eljarh "LNA" cut off supply lines to those fighting IS in Darna over the past weeks. According to army officers leading forces in Darna.
@W_Lacher @Eljarh Did you listen to Hiftar forces in Ain Marrah leaked audios threatening people of Derna? Lol what an National Army
In Derna itself, people took to the streets to celebrate the defeat of IS. The Shura Council of Revolutionaries contains groups said to have links to Al Qaeda. Those in control of Derna oppose the House of Representatives government and even more the commander in chief of the Libyan National Army, Khalifa Haftar.

United States to send more troops to Iraq

- The United States is to send more troops to Iraq. The troops will be put closer to the front lines of the battle against the Islamic State.

Most of the troops will serve as advisers for Iraqi forces who are advancing towards Mosul, the main city in Iraq still held by the Islamic State. In an interview with CBS news U.S. president Barack Obama said: "As we see the Iraqis willing to fight and gaining ground, let's make sure that we are providing them more support, My expectation is that by the end of the year, we will have created the conditions whereby Mosul will eventually fall." Earlier, Obama had been saying that Mosul would fall this year.
The advisers will be accompanying Iraqi units of about 2,500 troops moving closer to the front lines of the battle for Mosul. Until now the advisers have been with larger units far behind the lines The move could leave U.S. advisers more vulnerable to enemy mortar and artillery fire. Without mentioning the increased danger of casualties U.S. Defense Secretary, Ash Carter, said: "This will put Americans closer to the action. Their whole purpose is to be able to help those forces respond in a more agile way."
Another source claims the Pentagon said the U.S. would send 217 more ground troops, along with attack helicopters, and that they were heading for the front lines near Mosul. The new deployment makes the violation of the agreement with Iraq to cap U.S. troop numbers in Iraq quite clear:The deployment is the formal point at which the US will be violating its deal with the Iraqi government, wherein US ground troops were to be capped at 3,870. The Pentagon has admitted having almost 5,000 troops in Iraq for months, but didn’t count many, listing them as “temporary” even though they have no end date for their deployment. Today’s move will put the “official” figure at over 4,000.During previous escalations Ash Carter pressed for Apache attack helicopters to be sent but this was alway rejected by the Iraqi government.
The U.S. move could add even more problems to those faced by Iraq PM Abadi who is under pressure not to allow further US ground troops in Iraq. Abadi hopes to gain approval of a cabinet of technocrats to avoid the corruption and graft of the present system. Cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has held huge demonstrations demanding reform. If the government allows in more U.S. troops this could lead to even more unrest as Al-Sadr is opposed to more U.S. ground troops.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Libyan Air Force chief criticizes Defence-Minister designate of Government of National Accord

The chief of the Libyan Air Force, Saqir Al-Jroushi, claims that the Defence Minister-designate of the UN-brokered Government of National Accord (GNA) could be arrested after visiting foreigners in Tunisia without permission of his commander-in-chief.

Al-Mahdi Al-Barghathi, is the Defence Minister-designate. Although he is involved with Haftar's Operation Dignity designed to rid Libya of Islamists including those who supported the rival General National Congress (GNC) in Tripoli, he is not liked by General Khalifa Haftar, the commander in chief of the Libyan National Army (LNA). Both Haftar and Al-Jroushi were named to be subject to EU sanctions last July but there was no action taken even though both reject the GNA. At the same time, Abdulrahman Suweihli, a Misrata businessman, was also to be sanctioned. Now, he heads the State Council, but since he supports the GNA now he need not worry about sanctions. Apparently, Haftar and Al-Jroushi need not worry either since they have too much power.
On Ainabaa TV, Al Jroushi said that Al-Barghathi would be apprehended if he passed through any checkpoints in Benghazi since he has abandoned the LNA and Haftar: "Nominating Al-Barghathi for the defense minister post is aimed at cracking the firmly united army in Benghazi. He will not be able to return to Benghazi again and his fate will be like that of Mohammed Al-Hijazi, the former Dignity Operation spokesman.”Al-Jroushi also noted that a key Gaddafi-era figure, Al-Tayeb Al-Safi, had met with Khalifa Hatar on Saturday at his headquarters in Marj and spoke out in support of Haftar and the army. He said he would encourage people to join Operation Dignity. Al-Jroushi said: “Al-Tayeb Al-Safi has got problems in Tripoli that date back to February revolution times, but he is now in his country and among his people, and it is possible that he goes on trial after the state of Libya is established.”
Al-Jroushi said of the PM of the GNA, Faiez Serraj, that if he treats the army incorrectly he could be considered a terrorist but: "He will be welcomed with open arms if he supported the “army” with weapons and if he reactivated the exportation of oil." Al-Jroushi said the situation in Tripoli the political situation is back to square one after Al-Swelhi was elected head of the State Council. He claimed to be contact with individuals in Tripoli who are opposed to Swelhi and loyal to Haftar who are receiving money and arms support.
Tomorrow, the House of Representatives (HoR) is to meet to give a vote of confidence in the GNA and also amend the constitutional declaration of 2011. According to the Libya Herald, there is a third item on the agenda, a statement condemning the EU sanctions against the HoR president Ageela Saleh. There is no mention of article 8 of the Libyan Political Agreement that takes away the position of commander in chief from Haftar and assigns it to the presidency council. Nor is there any mention of a meeting of the Political Dialogue Committee to discuss the recent formation of the State Council. Given the attitude in the east to the UN-brokered GNA of Haftar and his loyal supporters, there could be fireworks when the HoR meets tomorrow.
UPDATE: The Libya Observer reports that some Haftar forces tried to apprehend Al-Barghathi at Lebreq airport but his guards managed to fend them off.

U.S. may change plans about cutting troop strength in Afghanistan

Commander of the US forces in Afghanistan General John Nicholson claims there is a shift in the relationship of the Taliban to Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. He claims this is complicating anti-terrorism efforts.

Nicholson claims the closer relationship has developed since the death of the former Taliban leader Mohammad Omar, who was replaced by Mullah Akhtar Mansour. Nicholson says that Mansour cultivated the closer relationship as a means of winning support in a leadership battle. This development could influence plans to cut US troops in Afghanistan. The presence of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan has all along been the reason for U.S. and NATO forces to go into Afghanistan in the first place even though for some while the numbers of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan were not large. A perceived resurgence of the group could be a justification for the U.S. not cutting their forces or even increasing them even though the U.S. combat role in Afghanistan is supposedly ended.
Nicholson said: "You see a more overt cooperation between the Taliban and these designated terrorist organizations. Our concern is that if the Taliban were to return, that because of their close relationships with these groups, that they would offer sanctuary to these groups."Nicholson is reviewing a plan that would see U.S. troop numbers in Afghanistan cut in half to 5,500 by 2017. Some U.S. politicians and Afghan commanders are requesting that Washington reconsider its plans. Nicholson would not comment on the review which is to be presented this June. The warning about Al Qaeda is rather suspicious given that U.S. officials estimates that there are just 100 to 300 Al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan although some claim the estimate is low.
It is the Taliban who are still the main threat to the US-supported Afghan government. It numbers its fighters in the thousands and has retaken swaths of territory in the southern province of Helmand, and even took over the northern city of Kunduz for a short period. A recent attack on Kunduz has been repulsed with more than 50 Taliban reported killed but the Taliban remain on the outskirts where they took over some military outposts. The Taliban just announced their spring offensive.
U.S. operations in Afghanistan have already picked up since the Islamic State in Khorasan has been designated as a terrorist group this January. In just the first 3 months of this year the U.S. has carried out nearly 100 strikes against the group mainly in the province of Nangarhar in eastern Afghanistan. The Islamic State and the Taliban are enemies with the IS attacking the Taliban as well as the government. Another source gives slightly different figures about the number of attacks: In the three months since the Obama Administration gave forces in Afghanistan authority to strike ISIS even when they don’t pose a direct threat, the Pentagon says some 70-80 such airstrikes have been launched, with 70% to 80% of them in Nangarhar Province.General Charles Cleveland said that airstrikes had been quite effective in that at one point the Islamic State controlled six to eight districts but now controls only two to three. Before this announcement, the U.S. had not officially confirmed that the IS controlled any territory in Afghanistan. Cleveland estimates that there are around 1,000 Islamic State fighters in Afghanistan, considerably more than Al Qaeda.
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Pastafarianism wedding takes place in New Zealand

The Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM) is the deity of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster otherwise known as Pastafarianism.

The FSM was first described in a letter by Bobby Henderson in 2005 written to protest the decision of the Kansas State Board of Education to allow the teaching of intelligent design as an alternative to evolution in public school classes:
 In that letter, Henderson satirized creationism by professing his belief that whenever a scientist carbon-dates an object, a supernatural creator that closely resembles spaghetti and meatballs is there "changing the results with His Noodly Appendage." Henderson argued that his beliefs were just as valid as intelligent design, and called for equal time in science classrooms alongside intelligent design and evolution.[11] After Henderson published the letter on his website, the Flying Spaghetti Monster rapidly became an Internet phenomenon and a symbol of opposition to the teaching of intelligent design in public schools.[12]
The Church is a legally recognized religion in Poland and also in the Netherlands and New Zealand. In New Zealand, Pastafarian representatives have been authorized to celebrate weddings. In the U.S. on the other hand, a federal judge has ruled that Pastafarianism is not a real religion. The Church has its own gospels. Its creation myth is as follows:The Gospel begins with the creation of the universe by an invisible and undetectable Flying Spaghetti Monster.[13] On the first day, the Flying Spaghetti Monster separated the water from the heavens; on the second, because He could not tread water for long and had grown tired of flying, He created the land—complemented by a beer volcano.[19] Satisfied, the Flying Spaghetti Monster overindulged in beer from the beer volcano and woke up hungover.[22] Between drunken nights and clumsy afternoons, the Flying Spaghetti Monster produced seas and land (for a second time, accidentally, because he forgot that he created it the day before) along with Heaven and a "midgit",[23] which he named Man.[24] Man and an equally short woman lived happily in the Olive Garden of Eden for some time until the Flying Spaghetti Monster caused a global flood in a cooking accident.[19]
In New Zealand, Toby Ricketts and Marianna Young, were the first to tie the noodly knot. The ceremony was carried out by an ordained "ministeroni" on a chartered vessel decorated as a pirate ship with attendees dressed in pirate costumes at the scenic south island town of Akaroa. Instead of vows there are "terms of engagement." Young said that she did not want to get married any other way as a conventional marriage did not appeal to her. Karen Martyn, who was the ministeroni, was pleased that the ceremony constituted a formal recognition that the pastafarians were a church. While many of the practices involve humor and parody, they deny that they are purely satirical and are campaigning as a legitimate religion. Martyn said that many more pastafarian weddings were planned in New Zealand including some with same sex couples. Jeff Montgomery, Registrar-General of Births, Deaths and Marriages in New Zealand said that his role was solely to apply relevant legislation: "That is one of the things that we celebrate in New Zealand is the great diversity of people who live here and the openness we have to different viewpoints." The FSM group has its own website.

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Facebook loses more users in Europe last quarter but is growing elsewhere

Facebook finds its user base had gone down in Europe the company reported as it announced its third-quarter earnings. This is the second qu...