Iranian Militias in Iraq's Parliament: Political Outcomes and U.S. Response

NOTE: One question is whether it is wise to sanction fifteen new Iraqi members of parliament at the moment. Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX), author of the passed House amendment, recently told Al-Monitor that the U.S. government needs to ascertain whether “the political wing constitutes an affiliate or entity controlled by Asaib Ahl al-Haq.” Although this distinction may help avoid a potential clash with a powerful bloc in Iraq’s parliament, it is a slippery slope and could prove counterproductive.

Ahl al-Haq and similar groupsAs Washington mulls sanctions on Asaib Ahl al-Haq and similar groups, it should mind the volatility of Baghdad’s near-term political situation and the questionable efficacy of ‘wing’ distinctions.  

Among the winners in Iraq’s May 12 parliamentary elections was Asaib Ahl al-Haq (AAH), the fastest-rising faction in a powerful coalition of Iranian-allied Iraqi parties.

In the days that followed, U.S. legislators passed an amended defense authorization bill that paved the way for the Treasury Department to impose heavy financial sanctions on the group and other accused Iranian proxies. Although this is the right step, any sanctions need to be carefully crafted and timed to avoid an anti-American backlash during Iraq’s already-chaotic government formation process.

BREAKDOWN OF IRAN’S COALITION

AAH is part of the Fatah (Conquest) Alliance, a coalition that won between forty and forty-seven seats last month, enough for second place among all contenders (pending the outcome of Iraq’s planned recount). AAH won between thirteen and fifteen of these seats, or nearly 30 percent of the alliance’s total.

Fatah is led by Hadi al-Ameri of the Badr Organization, arguably the oldest, largest, and most important of the Iraqi Shia groups ideologically, politically, and religiously subservient to Iran. The alliance is primarily made up of groups modeled on the militia/party model that Hezbollah has long used in Lebanon. In addition to comprising the core of al-Hashd al-Shabi (Popular Mobilization Forces, or PMF), these groups also function as the most powerful elements of direct Iranian influence in the Iraqi political sphere.

Fatah’s latest electoral gains include the following:  

Sanctions Threat Fails To Frighten Russian S-400 Missile Defense System Buyers

The United States efforts to dissuade its allies and partners from buying large defense systems from Russia using the Countering America's Adversaries through Sanction Act (CAATSA) seems to be running into a brick wall with India, Turkey and Saudi Arabia likely to go ahead with S-400 missile defense systems purchase from Moscow. Sanctions Threat Fails To Frighten Russian S-400 Missile Defense System Buyers

The CAATSA requires that the countries that have significant defense cooperation with Russia can be sanctioned by the US for no fault of theirs except that they have entered into a commercial buyer-seller agreement with a Russian defence industry entity.

“We have discussed CAATSA with the Government of India just as we have discussed with a number of others who might be potentially contemplating purchase of large defense systems from Russians. We want to work with all of our partners to help them identify and avoid engaging in any potentially sanctionable activity,” Tina Kaidanow, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs, who returned from India recently was quoted as saying by the Hindu Saturday.

Although, the US official makes it clear the section 231 of CAATSA can be applied to any third-nation firm or individual can face penalty if it engages in a significant transaction with Russian defense or intelligence sectors, at this point of time, it is certainly not working according to the US plans.

“In all our engagements with the US, we have clearly explained how India and Russia's defense cooperation has been going on for a long time and that it is a time tested relationship.

We have mentioned that CAATSA cannot impact the Indo-Russian cooperation,” Indian Defense Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman said in a press conference last Thursday.

India plans to buy five S-400 Triumf air defense systems for an approximate $4.5 billion. Besides India, Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia are also eyeing to buy S-400 systems. Turkey has rejected the US demand for cancellation of the purchase of S-400 units from Russia. For now, the US efforts seem to be targeting countries that have signed up to buy the S-400 system. Significantly, the Trump administration has been silent on sanctioning China, which is the first country to actually receive its first lot of S-400

U.S. Sanctions Russian Businesses, Executives Over Cyberattacks

U.S. Sanctions Russian Businesses, Executives Over Cyberattacks” … Mnuchin said the Trump administration is “committed to aggressively targeting any entity or individual working at the direction of the FSB whose work threatens the United States and will continue to utilize our sanctions authorities … to counter the constantly evolving threats emanating from Russia. …”

The Treasury Department on Monday added five Russian companies and three Russian individuals to its sanctions list for supporting Moscow’s global campaign of cyberattacks.

The sanctioned firms provided “material and technological support” to the FSB, Russia’s main security agency, according to the department. The move freezes any assets the businesses and executives have in the U.S. and bans Americans from doing business with any of them.

“The entities designated today have directly contributed to improving Russia’s cyber and underwater capabilities through their work with the FSB and therefore jeopardize the safety and security of the United States and our allies,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.

The targeted firms include

N. Korea State Media Says Trump Agreed To Lift Sanctions: Frames Summit With U.S. As A Win, Dubs It 'Meeting Of The Century'

N. Korea State Media Says Trump Agreed To Lift SanctionsThe North's state media framed Tuesday's summit as a win for Pyongyang, dubbing it “the meeting of the century” on the front page of its official party newspaper.

Trump expressed his intention to halt U.S.-South Korea joint military exercises, offer security guarantees to the North and lift sanctions against it as relations improve, according to a report by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

The U.S. president had said in a press conference on Tuesday he would like to lift sanctions against North Korea but it would not happen immediately. “Kim Jong Un and Trump had the shared recognition to the effect that it is important to abide by the principle of step-by-step and simultaneous action in achieving peace, stability and denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” KCNA said.

There was little else mention of denuclearisation of North Korea in the statement, which mainly focused on stopping hostilities between North Korea and the United States.

“North Korea seems to be highlighting this as one of Kim Jong Un's greatest feats yet and lauding itself for keeping the North Korean regime from collapsing while succeeding in shaking up the U.S.-South Korean alliance,” said Moon Seong-mook, a former South Korean military official and current head of the Unification Strategy Center in Seoul.

“For North Korea, they got exactly what they wanted. They had a summit as a nuclear state with Kim on equal turf with Trump, got the United States to halt

Shin Bet Arrests Terror Cell Planning to Assassinate PM Netanyahu and Jerusalem Mayor

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, Photo, Associated PressIsraeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, Photo, Associated Press

JERUSALEM, Israel – The Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) arrested a 3-member terror cell led by a Syrian-based terrorist targeting Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat.

Details of the arrests, which took place in April, were cleared for publication Tuesday.  Mayor Barkat released a statement praising the Shin Bet and saying the agency kept him updated throughout the process. “I could trust them and sleep quietly and safely,” he said in a statement.

According to the Shin Bet's report, Israeli authorities arrested Muhammad Jamal Rashdeh, 30, a resident of the Shuafat neighborhood in eastern Jerusalem. The suspect, who holds an Israeli ID card, has served time for terror-related offenses. An Israel identification card allows its owner freedom of movement throughout the country.

During interrogation, Rashdeh admitted he received his orders from “foreign-based terrorists” and planned to carry out “significant attacks” against Israeli leaders.

The Shin Bet further revealed that Rashdeh planned attacks on the US consulate building (now the US Embassy) in Jerusalem as well as on members of a Canadian delegation tasked with training Palestinian Authority forces in Judea and Samaria (also known as the West Bank).

To advance several of the attacks, cell members reportedly planned to bring a Jordanian terrorist to Israel. Rashdeh said his Syrian handler instructed him to gather intelligence on prospective targets to advance the terror cell's operations.

The Shin Bet's arrest and interrogation of the two other cell members verified the agency's suspicions, thwarting the attacks it was planning. The suspects were indicted this past Sunday, May 27.

The US Embassy Move to Jerusalem: What it Means Politically and Prophetically

Political and Prophetic Implications of the US Embassy Move. The Christian Broadcast Network (CBN) has ramped up Israel-related coverage in the past few years. They produce regular Jerusalem Dateline segments and have an “Inside Israel” page on their website. As a Christian organization that supports Israel, they are leading the media charge in taking up issues specific to Israel.

Gordon Robertson, president of CBNGordon Robertson, president of CBN, was present and spoke at last week’s ICEJ/ACLI Summit in Washington DC, committing to continue efforts to put Israel positively in the news.

Recently, CBN produced The Embassy Move to Jerusalem:  encourage you to take time to view the 22-minute report (Click here to watch) I encourage you to take time to view the 22-minute report that includes Robertson’s comments at the Summit, VP Mike Pence’s comments at the Israeli Embassy in Washington DC, and an interview with the Guatemalan Ambassador to Israel following the opening of their embassy two days following the US Embassy.

Also, as you know, US Ambassador David Friedman now has a new address. As the United States Ambassador to Israel, Friedman represents the interests of America to Israel, and became the first ambassador to occupy an official embassy in Jerusalem when, on May 14, the US officially moved the embassy from Tel Aviv.

The quiet-spoken, level-headed ambassador reflected on the move in a recent interview with the Christian Broadcast Network (CBN). As we get used to diplomats moving into embassies in Jerusalem, it is no small matter that the US was the first to take the leap.  As the “new” wears off and the embassy staff continues to take the necessary steps to stand with Israel, will you pray for Ambassador Friedman and his staff. Pray God’s richest blessings upon them, and that God’s divine wisdom will guide their plans. Blessings to the ambassador, and blessings to you!

U.S. Ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback said he believes the North Carolina pastor, Rev. Andrew Brunson will be released from Turkey

“This administration is deeply engaged on religious freedom,” Brownback said in an exclusive interview with CBN's National Security Correspondent Erik Rosales.

U.S. Ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom Sam BrownbackBrownback Sworn in as Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom “I do believe Andrew Brunson will be brought home. It doesn't make any sense what the Turkish government is doing. There is no factual basis for these charges,” Brownback also said in the exclusive interview.

Brownback said President Donald Trump is doing all he can to free the pastor who sits in one of Turkey's worst prisons. “The Turks are using this at a high level, and it's hurting the relationship between the United States and Turkey. The people needs to keep praying for him and the people of Turkey,” said Brownback.

Brownback attended the hearing weeks ago, where Brunson, a Protestant pastor from Black Mountain, NC was barred from presenting witnesses in his defense during the hearing held by a judge in Turkey. He faces up to 35 years in prison. Brownback said he's seen the case against him and “it's nothing.”

In March 2018, Turkish authorities indicted Brunson, of allegedly helping to arrange a July 2016 coup that threatened Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's leadership. The 62-page indictment also charges Brunson, who has been a Christian pastor in Turkey for the past 23 years, of committing an act of terrorism by spreading the Christian faith in the majority-Muslim country,

North Korea: How Jews and Christians Survive In The World's Most Anti-Judeo-Christian Nations

From the late 19th century until the Korean War, North Korea was a Christian stronghold – and Pyongyang was considered the “Jerusalem of the East.”

he World'S Most Anti-Judeo-Christian Nation“Life is extremely difficult for all North Koreans, but Christians and the rare Jew face an even tougher road,” Jeff King, president of International Christian Concern told Fox News.

While it is now anything but friendly to the faithful, activists claim Christianity is still burgeoning in the deeply tyrannical country. Despite efforts to eradicate Christians, the Church of Christ in North Korea is actually growing. They know only God is powerful enough to break through the darkness of the most oppressive regime on earth.

For 16 years, North Korea has been ranked the “most oppressive place in the world for Christians,” and this week the U.S. State Department re-asserted it as one of the world’s worst religious persecutors – torturing and executing those even suspected of worshipping God. But that still hasn’t stopped an estimated 36 percent of the population – around 9 million – from practicing Christianity.

“Christians are accused of being imperialists seeking to overthrow the government and those who are caught practicing their faith are arrested, horrendously tortured, imprisoned and [sometimes] immediately put to death.”

So how do these brave devotees do it in the most closed country on earth?

On the surface, Christianity does exist in North Korea. Its constitution on paper vows to protect religious freedom and forbids discrimination based on one’s faith. Thus, the capital, Pyongyang, is currently host to five state-controlled churches – the Protestant Bongsu, Chilgol and Jeil Churches, the Catholic Jangchung Cathedral and the most recent being the Orthodox Holy Trinity Russian Church. Yet all are deemed to be little more than fraudulent showpieces for visiting officials and tourists.

Foreign visitors are routinely paraded around these sites, in which aptly dressed church officials clutch Bibles and bow at the altar. But Chad O’Carroll, managing director of the Seoul-based news and analysis firm Korea Risk Group, told Fox News that these are generally just hand-picked state workers whose vocation is to feign religion.

Saudi Arabia Issues First Driving Licenses to Women

Saudi Arabia Issues First Driving Licenses to WomenFor the first time in decades, Saudi Arabia has begun issuing driver's licenses to women as it prepares to lift its ban on female drivers on June 24.

The government released a statement saying that 10 women were issued the licenses on Monday. A flood of more applications is now expected. Expectations are that next week an additional 2,000 women will join the ranks of licensed drivers in the kingdom,” the statement said.

However, this move is overshadowed by the arrest of a number of women who campaigned for the right to drive.

“It's absolutely welcomed that the authorities have begun issuing driving licenses to women,” Samah Hadid, from Amnesty International, told the Los Angeles Times. “But unfortunately, this comes at a price where the very women who campaigned for the right to drive are behind bars instead of behind the wheel.”

Saudi prosecutors have not publicly identified the women. However, state-backed media accused them of betraying the country. The lift on the driving ban comes at a time when the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has pushed for efforts to modernize the country.

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