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The Kurds gained nothing with their vote for independence

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Back in June, the president of the Kurdish region of Iraq, Massoud Barzani, scheduled a referendum for Kurdish independence. This was the fulfillment of various stillborn attempts to advance the cause of Kurdish independence. They held the vote on September 25, and unsurprisingly, the result was 93 percent “yes” to independence.

They thought it would buy them a place at the table with the Baghdad government, but they were sold the Brooklyn Bridge by the Barzanis, who have autocratically ruled the region for several years.

Now, Iranian tanks have rolled up to the Iraqi border, as Iraq’s government puts a stranglehold on the region. And its people suffer. These are some of the U.S.’s best friends in the war against ISIS. We warned them that any vote would not be recognized, and exactly as we said, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson declared that the U.S. finds the vote illegal and illegitimate.

All the vote has done is bring Hezbollah, Iran, and Iraq more into alignment as the power players in the region, able to get the United States to do their bidding, while Iran thumbs its nose from behind a Russian shield on IAEA inspections. It’s complicated in the Middle East.

Perspectives

KRP: Kurdistan people disappointed by Tillerson’s statement on referendum

“The people of Kurdistan, who have consistently and enthusiastically supported the United States, especially more recently in its fight against ISIS and Saddam Hussein, are deeply disappointed in the statement by Secretary Tillerson on Friday,” read a statement from the Presidency.

Hezbollah says Kurdish vote a step toward wider Mideast partition | Reuters

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-kurds-referendum-hezbo/hezbollah-says-kurdish-vote-a-step-toward-wider-mideast-partition-idUSKCN1C50RKBEIRUT (Reuters) – The powerful Lebanese group Hezbollah said on Saturday that an Iraqi Kurdish independence vote marked a first step toward the partition of the Middle East, warning that this would lead to “internal wars” and must be opposed.

Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, head of the Iran-backed group, said events in northern Iraq, where Kurds overwhelmingly voted for independence on Monday, were a threat to the whole region and not just Iraq and neighboring states with Kurdish populations.

“It will open the door to partition, partition, partition,” Nasrallah said. He added that “partition means taking the region to internal wars whose end and time frame is known only to God”.

Iranian Tanks Roll Up to The Iraqi Border As Embargo of Kurds Expands – The Drive

http://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/14798/iranian-tanks-roll-up-to-the-iraqi-border-as-embargo-of-kurds-expandsIran has moved tanks and artillery up to the border with Iraqi Kurdistan, close enough to the boundary that they are visible from the other side. The move is the latest in a string of increasingly threatening responses to the semi-autonomous region’s decision to vote in favor of independence, which has drawn widespread condemnation from national governments in the region and failed to win unequivocal support from many of the Kurd’s powerful western allies, including the United States.

On Oct. 2, 2017, the Iranian forces appeared along the Iran-Iraq border, reportedly as part of a previously announced combined drill with Iraqi national forces and militia in retaliation for the independence vote. Authorities in Tehran had already kicked off military exercises near the boundary on Sept. 24, 2017 a day ahead of the poll in Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region, ostensibly as part of the annual Sacred Defense Week to commemorate the Iran-Iraq War. More than 3.3 million people there, more than 70 percent of registered voters, turned out on Sept. 25, 2017 to cast their ballots, with more than 90 percent voting in favor an independent Kurdistan.

After the Vote, Does the Kurdish Dream of Independence Have a Chance?

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/30/world/middleeast/kurds-iraq-independence.html?mcubz=0&_r=0A healthy democratic government might weather the storm. “We don’€™t have rule of law,€” we have a monarchy,” said Rabbon Marof, a member of the Kurdish Parliament and a leader of the “No for Now”€ movement that opposed the vote. The region’€™s president, Massoud Barzani, remains in power two years after his term expired.

Final thoughts

Independence is a wonderful concept, but the Kurdish people would be far from free as an independent state. They would be under the thumb of the Barzanis, who have ruled like kings or dictators. The U.S. was correct in rejecting the legitimacy of this vote. However, we should recognize what the vote accomplished. The Kurdish people deserve self-determination. Right now, their choice is between the Barzanis and the Iraqis.

The U.S. should be doing the yeoman’s work in bringing the Kurds to the table, but that isn’t likely to happen with the Barzanis in control. Then again, it’s not America’s role to dictate who should run other nations. This was a very difficult situation–again we warned the Barzanis what would happen, but they went ahead anyway.

All this vote did was make America’s work harder to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear state. When that happens, the Kurds will have lost any chance of freedom. They never should have taken this vote.

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Palestinian Authority payments to terrorists in 2018

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Palestinian Authority payments to terrorists in 2018

The detailed Palestinian Authority budget for 2018 that was published recently has new details about the allocations to arrested terrorists and the families of those who died or were wounded in the context of the “struggle against Zionism:”

 The detailed Palestinian Authority budget for 2018 that was published recently has new details about the allocations to arrested terrorists and the families of those who died or were wounded in the context of the “struggle against Zionism:”

The total PA budget is $5 billion. The amount that supports prisoners is $155 million, out of which $147 million are spent on transfers to the prisoners. These include salaries to 5,000 prisoners, paying Israeli fines for 1,200 prisoners, grants to 1,500 prisoners upon their discharge, grants for 1,200 unemployed released prisoners, delayed payments to 1,000 prisoners, salaries for 5,500 released prisoners, unspecified amounts to released prisoners who spent more than 10 years in jail, canteen expenditures for 6,000 prisoners, and clothing allocations for 5,000 prisoners.

The PA budget for supporting the families of “martyrs” and the wounded is $185 million. This sum is used to make sure that 24,000 families of “martyrs” and wounded who reside inside the “homeland” get a monthly allowance, 13,500 such families who reside outside the “homeland” get a monthly allowance, 375 families get special monetary assistance, 28,000 families get health insurance, and monthly allowances are paid to the victims of the 2014 conflict in Gaza. On top of all this, the budget is used to finance a variety of benefits to the family members (such as going on pilgrimages and exemptions from education tuition).

Additional, unspecified amounts are included in the budget of the PA security forces and are used for paying salaries to members of the security forces who are under arrest for carrying out terror attacks, and to the families of terrorists who died or were injured while they were members of the PA security forces.

The overall PA welfare budget is $212 million, which is used for assistance to 118,000 families, each of which receives $200–480, on top of a variety of benefits, including exemption for tuition to 80,000 pupils, help with health insurance and emergency assistance, food allocations, and more.

Dedicating around $340 million to arrested Palestinian terrorists and “martyrs,” which forms 7 percent of the overall annual budget for 2018, reflects the prominence the Palestinian Authority and its leadership give to incentivizing terror. Palestinian law considers terrorists as the “fighting sector of Palestinian society.” As U.S. and Israeli pressure increases on the Palestinian Authority to cease paying these incentives and revoke the law upon which they are paid, Mahmoud Abbas has insisted repeatedly that he will not do so. “Even if we are left with one penny, we are going to use it for paying the salaries to the Martyrs and prisoners of war,” he declared.

These details also refute once more the occasional Palestinian claims that the payments of salaries to the terrorists are a sort of welfare. It is evident that welfare payments are paid separately and are far smaller than the salaries and other benefits paid to the arrested terrorists.

The U.S. Taylor Force Act, passed in March 2018, prevents the United States from aiding the PA budget as long as the payment of stipends to terrorists continues. The law has already led to the cessation of American aid to the Palestinian Authority, except for support to the Palestinian security forces. As a result, the Palestinian Authority lost more than $200 million.

An Israeli law (known as the Stern Law) was approved in July 2018 and is supposed to be implemented for the first time in January 2019. It mandates that the Israeli government deduct on a monthly basis one-twelfth of the sum given to support terrorists and their families from the taxes and tariffs Israel collects and transfers to the Palestinian Authority based on the amount distributed in the previous year – in this case, in 2018. This may mean that about $21 million will be withheld monthly and kept in an escrow account, or even used to compensate victims of Palestinian terror.

The economic impact of these sanctions is going to be considerable, and more international donors may take similar steps. The Palestinian leadership will probably continue to resist the pressure in the beginning, but if these pressures persist, the Palestinians may have to reconsider their policy.

Palestinian Authority’s Direct Expenditure in Support of Terrorists and Their Families

Year 2016 2017 2018
Salaries to Terrorists (Yearly in NIS) NIS 488 million (NIS 530 million total incl. admin.) NIS 552 million (NIS 580 million total incl. admin.) NIS 550 million (NIS 580 million total incl. admin.)
$129 million $153 million $147 million
($155 million)
Payments to Martyr’s Families (Yearly) NIS 663 million NIS 690 million NIS 691 million
$175 million $192 million $185 million
Total Support to Terrorists and Martyrs NIS 1.1 billion NIS 1.3 billion NIS 1.3 billion
$303 million $353 million $340 million
Percentage of total budget 6.90% 7.10% 7%
Percentage of foreign aid 29.6% 50.9% 44%
Total PA budget NIS 16.6 billion NIS 17.8 billion NIS 18.1 billion
$4.4 billion $4.9 billion $5 billion
Total Foreign Aid NIS 3.9 billion (2.9 billion current budget, 956 million development) NIS 2.5 billion (1.9 billion current budget, 546 million development) NIS 2.8 billion (2.2 billion current budget, 630 million development)
$1 billion $693 million $775 million
Money Transfers from PA to PLO NIS 873 million NIS 943 million
$230 million $262 million

Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser is Director of the Project on Regional Middle East Developments at the Jerusalem Center. He was formerly Director General of the Israel Ministry of Strategic Affairs and head of the Research Division of IDF Military Intelligence.

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Pence aide out of running to be Trump’s next chief of staff

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Pence aide out of running to be Trumps next chief of staff

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump’s top pick to replace chief of staff John Kelly, Nick Ayers, is no longer expected to fill the role.

Ayers, who is chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence, was seen as the favorite for the job when Trump announced Saturday that Kelly would leave around year’s end. But a White House official said Sunday that Trump and Ayers could not reach agreement on Ayers’ length of service and that he would instead assist the president from outside the administration.

Ayers confirmed the decision in a tweet Sunday, thanking Trump and Pence for giving him the opportunity to work in the White House. “I will be departing at the end of the year but will work with the #MAGA team to advance the cause,” he said.

It was not immediately clear whether Trump had a new favorite for the post. The official was not authorized to discuss the personnel issue by name and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Ayers and Trump had discussed the job for months. The new hire was to be key to a West Wing reshuffling to shift focus toward the 2020 re-election campaign and the challenge of governing with Democrats in control of the House.

Trump wants his next chief of staff to hold the job through the 2020 election, the official said. Ayers, who has young triplets, had long planned to leave the administration at the end of the year, and had only agreed to serve in an interim basis through next spring.

Ayers will run a pro-Trump super PAC, according to a person familiar with his plans who was not authorized to discuss them by name.

Trump said Saturday that he expected to announce a replacement for Kelly in a day or two.

With Ayers out of the running, Trump is considering four candidates for the post, including Office of Management and Budget director Mick Mulvaney, according to a person familiar with the president’s thinking. He is to make a decision by the end of the year, said the person, was not authorized to discuss the personnel issue by name.

Kelly, whose last day on the job is set to be Jan. 2, had been credited with imposing order on a chaotic West Wing after his arrival in June 2017 from his post as homeland security secretary. But his iron first also alienated some longtime Trump allies, and over time he grew increasingly isolated, with an increasingly diminished role.

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Associated Press writer Jill Colvin contributed to this report.

Follow Miller on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ZekeJMiller

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White House chief of staff John Kelly to leave at year’s end

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White House chief of staff John Kelly to leave at years end

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump said Saturday that chief of staff John Kelly will leave his job by year’s end amid an expected West Wing reshuffling reflecting a focus on the 2020 re-election campaign and the challenge of governing with Democrats reclaiming control of the House.

Nick Ayers, Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, is Trump’s top choice to replace Kelly, and the two have held discussions for months about the job, a White House official said. An announcement was expected in the coming days, the president told reporters as he left the White House for the Army-Navy football game in Philadelphia.

Kelly had been credited with imposing order on a chaotic West Wing after his arrival in June 2017 from his post as homeland security secretary. But his iron fist also alienated some longtime Trump allies, and he grew increasingly isolated, with an increasingly diminished role.

Known through the West Wing as “the chief” or “the general,” the retired Marine Corps four-star general was tapped by Trump via tweet in July 2017 from his perch atop the Homeland Security Department to try to normalize a White House riven by infighting and competing power bases.

“John Kelly will leaving — I don’t know if I can say retiring — but he’s a great guy,” Trump said. “John Kelly will be leaving at the end of the year. We’ll be announcing who will be taking John’s place — it might be on an interim basis. I’ll be announcing that over the next day or two, but John will be leaving at the end of the year. … I appreciate his service very much.”

Kelly had early successes, including ending an open-door Oval Office policy that that had been compared to New York’s Grand Central Station and instituting a more rigorous policy process to try to prevent staffers from going directly to Trump.

But those efforts also miffed the president and some of his most influential outside allies, who had grown accustomed to unimpeded access. Kelly’s handling of domestic violence accusations against the former White House staff secretary also caused consternation, especially among lower-level White House staffers, who believed Kelly had lied to them about when he found out about the allegations.

Lauding Kelly, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said the country was “better for his duty at the White House.” He called Kelly “a force for order, clarity and good sense.”

Trump and Ayers were working out terms under which Ayers would fill the role and the time commitment he would make, the White House official said. Trump wants his next chief of staff to agree to hold the job through the 2020 election. Ayers, who has young triplets, had long planned to leave the administration at the end of the year, but he has agreed to serve in an interim basis through the spring of 2019.

The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive personnel matters.

Word of Kelly’s impending departure comes a day after Trump named his picks for attorney general and ambassador to the United Nations, and two senior aides shifted from the White House to Trump’s campaign.

In any administration, the role of White House chief of staff is split between the responsibilities of supervising the White House and managing the man sitting in the Oval Office. Striking that balance in the turbulent times of Trump has bedeviled both Kelly and his predecessor, Reince Priebus.

White House aides say Trump has developed confidence in Ayers, in part by watching the effectiveness of Pence’s largely independent political operation. Ayers also earned the backing of Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, the president’s daughter and son-in-law and senior advisers, for taking on the new role, White House officials said.

The Georgia native’s meteoric rise in GOP politics included a successful stint at the Republican Governors Association, time as campaign manager for former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s failed White House bid and consultant work for dozens of high-profile Republicans, including Pence.

Ayers, 36, would be the youngest chief of staff since 34-year-old Hamilton Jordan served under Jimmy Carter. Kelly is 68.

Trump had discussed replacing Kelly on multiple occasions, including following the negative publicity surrounding Kelly’s handling of domestic violence accusations against then-White House staff secretary Rob Porter. Some lower-level White House staffers believed Kelly had lied to them about when he knew of the allegations and when he made clear to Porter that he’d have to leave.

Trump had often tossed around potential replacements, but sensitive to charges that his administration has been marked by record turnover, he said in July that he would keep Kelly in the job through 2020.

But inside the White House, it was viewed largely as an attempt to clamp down on speculation about Kelly’s fate during the midterm elections, rather than a true vote of confidence.

Kelly, too, made no secret of the trials of his job, and often joked about how working for Trump was harder than anything he’d done before, including on the battlefield. In private, Kelly, whom friends said took the job out of a sense of duty to his country, cast himself as safeguarding the public from an impulsive and mercurial president. Reports of those conversations infuriated the president, who is especially sensitive of attacks on his competence and perceptions he is being managed.

At an event celebrating the 15th anniversary of the Department of Homeland Security, Kelly joked that he missed everyone in the department “every day,” offering a deadpan eye roll and smile that drew laughs and applause.

“At six months, the last thing I wanted to do was walk away from one of the great honors of my life, being the secretary of Homeland Security, but I did something wrong and God punished me, I guess,” he joked.

Kelly, who had threatened to quit on several occasions, told friends he would be happy if he lasted until his one-year anniversary: July 28.

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Associated Press writers Michele Salcedo and Catherine Lucey contributed to this report.

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Follow Miller on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ZekeJMiller and Colvin at https://twitter.com/colvinj

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