Monday, August 10, 2020

Hunter is not going away

 Joe Biden thinks he is gong to slide and glide into the White House.  I would not be so sure.  He has a million and one scandals and the one about Urkaine is just not going to go away.  Gerald Sussman (COUNTERPUNCH) reports:

Biden’s role in the Ukraine regime change, as Nuland put it, was to “midwife” the new government into existence and thereby incorporate another eastern European satellite into America’s orbit. This is what the neocons call “democracy promotion.” His efforts in Ukraine, however, proved disastrous.

Two years after the coup, Yatsenyuk, caught up in a corruption scandal and about to receive a vote of no-confidence, was forced to resign as prime minister. Later in 2016, after Poroshenko’s name was listed as one of the businessmen with offshore accounts hidden in the Panama tax haven, his trust rating sank to 13.7%, according to a poll by the Kiev International Institute of Sociology. Biden’s boys were busted. One can only imagine his reaction if Vladimir Putin had been involved in such a financial scandal and with such a low approval rating.

Poroshenko was well-known within the State Department for corruption as well as being a regular informant to the US embassy in Kiev years before he was put up for president. His dirty reputation didn’t trouble Biden at all, as the vice president had his own family business deals to sow, with Poroshenko as an accomplice. Two months after the Maidan coup and his anointment as president, Poroshenko’s repayment was to shepherd Biden’s son, Hunter, onto the board and as head of legal affairs at Ukraine’s largest gas producer, Burisma Holdings, run by the oligarch and former head of the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources, Mykola Zlochevsky.

Just two months after being booted out of the US Navy for cocaine use, Hunter was deemed fit to operate in Ukraine’s political culture, which for many Ukrainians must have been a grave insult. It is more to Joe Biden’s discredit, however, that he encouraged his son to be part of a regime that was ranked in 2015 the most corrupt country in Europe, and, according to Ernst & Young, has the highest level of fraud of 41 countries they surveyed (2017) and ranked second in the world in bribery and corruption (2017).

Burisma’s owner was notorious for using his high political position to convert privatized state assets into his personal coffers. The year and month young Biden was hired, April 2014, Zlochevsky came under the investigation of the government’s Serious Fraud Office for money laundering, tax evasion, embezzlement, and corruption, including his stashing of $23.5 million in his London companies and money laundering operations in Cyprus and Latvia.

Zlochevsky was also investigated for handing out oil and gas licenses during his time as minister to companies that he then owned. According to a Reuters report, while acting as legal advisor to the company, Hunter Biden failed to give any legal help to Zlochevsky during the shakeup. Zlochevsky fled the country and was last known to be living in the Riviera.

Biden used his position as vice president to coerce Poroshenko into firing his prosecutor general, Viktor Shokin, as a condition for a US underwriting of an IMF $1 billion loan to Ukraine, in addition to assuring Biden that Ukraine was putting through the unnamed political and economic reforms demanded by the US and the IMF, including raising tariffs on Russian gas imports. This was captured in series of leaked phone calls between the then vice president and Poroshenko.

During a visit to Ukraine in December 2015, Biden told the Ukraine president, “I’m going to be leaving here in six hours. If the prosecutor’s [Shokin] not fired, you’re not getting the money.” Poroshenko, who owed his position to the Obama administration, followed orders. Biden later said triumphantly, “Well, son of a bitch, he got fired.” It was the height of imperial swagger.

Biden’s defenders claim that the demand for Shokin’s sacking was simply to clean up the Ukraine government. However, a French documentary produced by the anti-corruption blog Les Crises indicates through extensive interviews with Ukrainian political leaders that Shokin, an experienced lawyer and respected by many within the country’s political circles for honesty, was the only state prosecutor who had actively investigated high-level corruption. Two months before he was fired, Shokin had the house of Zlochevsky raided and confiscated.

Biden and Zlochevsky desperately wanted him out not for incompetence, as Biden claimed, but because of the embarrassing details Shokin was discovering about Burisma’s bribery and financial chicanery until Poroshenko ordered him to shut down the investigation. Shokin’s replacement was Yuri Lutsenko, who prior to his appointment had been sentenced in 2012 to 4 years (serving 3) in prison for forgery and abuse of office.

In one of their phone calls, Poroshenko is heard asking permission from Biden to put Lutsenko in the prosecutor’s office. Biden tells him he wants to “huddle with my team” before giving approval. Three months into office, Lutsenko dropped the case against Zlochevsky.

Hunter Biden is an ongoing series of scandals.  There is this:

Hunter Biden, son of presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, had a tax lien filed against him in July for $453,890, only for it to be released just six days later when – according to the D.C. Office of the Chief Financial Officer – the issue was “resolved,” the Washington Free Beacon reported.

He reportedly owed hundreds of thousands of dollars in state income taxes to the DC government. The lien was placed on July 9 and released on July 15 even though Biden once claimed he was broke and had failed to turn over financial records in a child custody case where Biden eventually agreed to make child support payments.

The Office of the Chief Financial Officer did not confirm that Biden paid the amount in full, only that the "tax issue was resolved," but tax expert Harvey Bezozi told the Free Beacon that this can only happen if a lien is paid off in full or the lien is proven to have been erroneously filed.

Mr. Biden is not a sure thing.  This is C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot" for today:

 Monday, August 10, 2020.   Corruption continues in Iraq, the people continue to suffer, Moqtada's 100 day threat is due to expire this week, and much more.


Hundreds of Iraqi protesters yesterday stormed Dhi Qar Governorate building in the centre of Nasiriyah province to protest against poor public services and corruption, the Anadolu Agency reported.

The agency quoted eyewitnesses as saying that tribes in the Al-Fahd district organised the protest, accusing officials of corruption and mismanagement.

Thousands of Iraqis and displaced persons suffer from poor public services, especially access to electricity.

Iraq is not a poor country struck with famine.  It's an oil rich country and, certainly, various politicians have used their office to embezzle money.  While the people suffered, various Iraqi leaders have gotten rich.  Former prime minister and forever thug Nouri al-Maliki is only one example of someone who used the office to enrich himself and his family at the expense of the Iraqi people.  And the corruption has led to the current situation.  All of this comes as Baghdad hit a new record for all time highest temperature on Saturday.   Natalie O'Neill (NEW YORK POST) noted

Folks in Iraq aren’t hot on this weather trend.

Temperatures soared to a scorching 126 degrees in Baghdad last week — the hottest ever recorded in the city, according to a report.

The sweltering heat, which comes during the country’s hottest summer ever, sparked power outages that forced locals to endure the weather without air conditioning, Bloomberg News reported.

Shakthi Vadakkepat Tweets:

IRAQ'S HEAT WAVE: Temperatures in Baghdad last week reached 52°C (126 °F). Here's how local kids are keeping cool as power blackouts mean no air conditioning during the #coronavirus lockdown

How does an oil rich country struggle with something as basic as energy production?  Supposedly, the US war for oil did not beneift the US.  S&P GLOBAL PLATTS maintains:

Iraq's energy ties with the US, which were supposed to yield oil deals following the 2003 invasion, have been whittled down to waivers to OPEC's second biggest producer to import Iranian electricity and gas, and avoid a political meltdown of the fragile Baghdad government, according to analysts.

US energy companies did not benefit much from the rule of the Coalition Provisional Authority -- the US-appointed entity that governed Iraq post the 2003 invasion until 2004 -- and they seem unlikely to gain a foothold in the oil sector of a country fighting a resurgent Islamic State, grappling with protests and facing financial collapse from low oil prices.

"The expectations of US policy-makers in the early years was that US companies would enjoy competitive advantage in a liberalized Iraqi oil and gas sector," said Raad Alkadiri, senior director at the BCG Center for Energy Impact.

"Iraq's sector has remained state-owned and state-guided, and US companies have been forced to compete in open licensing rounds. Various efforts by US Administrations (including the current Trump Administration) to engineer bilateral negotiations and to promote US company interests have come to naught."

The benchmarks imposed by the US -- and agreed to by Iraq -- included privatizing the oil.  And, it should be noted, the US was never supposed to benefit from the war -- multi-national companies were supposed to benefit -- and many have.  

Meanwhile, Iraq's Prime Minister, Mustafa al-Kadhimi, is scheduled to meet with US President Donald Trump shortly. Friday afternoon, the White House issued the following announcement:

President Donald J. Trump will welcome Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi of the Republic of Iraq to the White House on August 20, 2020.  The visit comes at a critical time for both the United States and Iraq as we continue our collaboration to ensure the enduring defeat of ISIS and address the challenges from the coronavirus pandemic.  As close partners, the United States and Iraq will look to expand our relations across a range of issues, including security, energy, health care, and economic cooperation.

Saturday,   Omar Sattar (AL-MONITOR) observed:

The heat wave in Iraq has raised the ire of citizens in the central and southern areas, pushing many to take to the streets once again. The popular protests in the squares had settled down due to the coronavirus pandemic, but the searing hot weather and declining hours of electricity supply have forced the new government to once again face the protesters.

Mustafa al-Kadhimi’s government was only formed less than three months ago and is now in the middle of the process of activating electricity interconnection agreements with Gulf countries and speeding up the cooperation agreement with Germany's Siemens AG.

Although he inherited a mess, and is taking action to fix it, there is no quick fix and the political blocs opposed to Kadhimi have tried to harness the protests to undermine his government and drag it into a bloody confrontation with the protesters, especially in Baghdad, Dhi Qar and Basra.

Clashes between protesters and security forces have resulted in three deaths and 21 injuries, according to the Iraqi Human Rights Commission.

The same prime minister who can't protect the protesters is now demanding that Christians return to Iraq.  

Iraqi Prime Minister urges Christians to return to #Iraq

AMN reports:

On Sunday, the Iraqi Prime Minister, Mustafa Al-Kazemi, called for the return of Iraqi Christian immigrants to their country, especially after the defeat of the Islamic State [. . .].

Al-Kazemi received on Sunday, Patriarch Saint Louis Raphael I Sako, the Chaldean Catholic Patriarch, and a number of bishops in Baghdad.

While Mustafa insists that the Christians should return to Iraq, it was just last week that Emma Reeves (PERSECUTION) noted:

The defeat of ISIS in Iraq came at the cost of strengthening militias. The pandemic has given many regional governments an opportunity to centralize authority. But Iraq’s militias have resisted similar attempts by Baghdad. For those observing this dynamic, it brings memories of a past filled with hardship and history of increased persecution.

During the early 2000s, these militias were at the forefront of Christian persecution, prompting the first immigration wave. “Christian immigration passed through three main stages,” explained a former resident of Baghdad to ICC. “The first was from 2005-2007, [the] second was in 2010 when some extremists attacked [a] church during Sunday mass and the third stage was in 2014 when ISIS attacked [the] Nineveh Plain.”

Will there be a fourth stage? Many hope not, but recent militia tension brings memories of the early 2000s.

Recently, Iraq’s Counter-Terrorism Services conducted an unprecedented raid on a militia in Baghdad. The next day, the militia threatened retaliation. One militia member threatened Prime Minister al-Khadami, who ordered the raid, reportedly saying “you are smaller than attacking an office of our militia.”

The prime minister remains new to his office, after militia interference in the political system delayed the process for months. Untangling the web of militia control is a struggle and dangerous endeavor, but the prime minister’s early policies seem to indicate this is a priority. This has left Christians unsettled and skeptical of the prime minister’s ability to actually break down militia control.

I can’t believe what al-Khadami is pretending to do. If you look back at previous prime ministers, al-Abadi or Abdul Mahdi, you will find similarity on the decisions, but none turn to actions,” said Ehab, a Christian from Baghdad.

He continued, “both Abadi and Abdul Mahdi took strict decision about militias having weapons, but again [nothing] came to reality. Having that history tells me not to believe al-Khadami and that all he is doing [will] not exceed a show.”

It is well-known across Iraq that the federal government has no power, and that the militias actually control the country with the support of neighboring Iran, a Shia country.

When assaults and massacres targeted Christians in Baghdad, many began moving to what city?  Mosul.  The first seriously targeted by ISIS.  When ISIS was routed out of Mosul, the persecuted were now the victims of the militias.  Last February, Xavier Bisits (AMERICA: THE JESUIT REVIEW) noted:

In the Nineveh Plains, near Mosul, Iraq, some 32,000 Christians live in areas controlled by Iran-backed militias. As tensions between the United States and Iran continue, Nineveh Christians hope for an end to the influence of Iran in their day-to-day lives.

With the liberation of parts of Iraq from ISIS in 2017, Iraq’s Syriac and Chaldean Christians returned home to two unwelcome developments. First, unsurprisingly, their homes had been burned, looted or destroyed by ISIS. Second, Iran-backed groups who helped defeat ISIS—known as Popular Mobilization Forces—now controlled the towns their ancestors had inhabited for more than a millennia.

Today, the largest Christian town, Baghdeda as it is called by Christians—it is also known as Qaraqosh—is surrounded by an Iran-funded militia. The second-largest town, Bartella, is controlled by such a militia. Both are around 20 minutes from Mosul, where Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had declared the doomed ISIS caliphate in 2014.

This picture is complicated by a demographic shift also taking place in these communities—once largely Syriac Christian and now Shabak Muslim. The Shabak are primarily a Shiite minority who, like Christians and Yazidis, were persecuted by ISIS.

This demographic shift is most pronounced in Bartella, which sits on the crucial artery road between Erbil and Mosul. As recently as 2003, Bartella was 95 percent Christian. In the space of a decade, it has become majority Shabak, and members of this religious and ethnic community now control the town’s government and checkpoints into the city through their wing of the P.M.F., the Shabak Militia. Today, this militia receives arms, vehicles and money from Iran.

Amjad, 33, a Syriac worker in an electricity shop, complained of treatment as a second-class citizen by this militia. “Frankly speaking, if they had the chance, they’d take everything from us,” he said of the Shabak Militia. “If they have the chance to attack, they’d do more damage than ISIS did.”

Having done nothing to secure the safety of Iraqi Christians, Mustafa now insists that they return.  On the topic of the militias, there's more shameful behavior but this time from a news outlet.  Friday,   THE INDEPENDENT published a major article written by Ghufran Younes.  But?  They only published it on their Arabic website.  They refuse to publish this major report in English.  Younes reports that the area near Falluja is infamous for its number of missing people -- missing as a result of the militias liquidation operations in Anbar Province.  In June of 2016, Faiz al-Rikan explains, approximately 735 residents were abducted.  A man whose three sons, ages 16 to 26, were abducted speaks of his sadness over his missing children.  They are among The Disappeared.  Since 2017, the High Commission for Human Rights has received complaints of at least 8,615 Iraqis being disappeared. Professor Anas Akram Muhammed sits on that commission and states that  a national database is needed to track the disappeared and their numbers.  The Commission works with the United Nations Development Program.  The Iraqi Center for Documenting War Crimes' Omar al-Farhan states that Iraq is the top ranked in the world when it comes to the number of people who have been disappeared by government forces (including the militias).

In other news, ASHARQ AL-AWSAT reports on the escalating tensions between the protesters and one time movement leader Moqtada al-Sadr:

Tensions were high in Iraq’s Nasiriyah city between anti-government protesters and supporters of the Sadrist movement, led by cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

According to activists, tensions broke out between protesters, who have been present at Al Habobi square for months, and Sadrists who arrived at the scene.

Activist Raad Mohsen said quarrels erupted between the two sides after Sadrists raised a poster of the movement’s leader during a demonstration demanding to bring the killers of protesters to justice, starting with Gen. Jamil Al Shammari.

Mohsen, speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, confirmed that the protesters are used to holding at least one demonstration a week to reaffirm their demands, which include holding the killers of demonstrators accountable.

The raising of Sadr’s poster at the square prompted tensions, with activists explaining that images of party and religious leaders are prohibited at the square.

RUDAW's Lawk Ghafrui Tweeted:

Huge crowd of Iraqi protesters in Habubi Square in Nasiriyah city tonight are demanding justice for the killed protesters. Tonight protesters in Nasiriyah city are chanting “Hey Muqtada [Muqtada al-Sadr] you trash, you are the leader of the Pickpockets”. #IraqProtests #العراق
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Though not noted by the press, or taken very seriously, this week will mark the end of the 100 days Motada al-Sadr gave Mustafa to fix everything.   May 11th, Moqtada gave Mustafa 100 days to implement his promises.  That 100 days ends this week.