Salman Khaled has already lived through Baghdad’s sectarian disintegration; with Iraq now splintering into Shi’ite, Sunni Arab and Kurdish regions, he says this time the survival of the country is at stake.
“Things are really tense and it could get worse,” said the 23-year-old Sunni Muslim student. “If the politicians continue as they are doing now, we are on the path to separation.”
When Khaled’s father was shot dead by Shi’ite gunmen at the height of Baghdad’s religious bloodshed seven years ago, his family took shelter in a Sunni neighbourhood of the capital.
They made their flight as violence forced apart communities that once mingled in the city. Today the family lives in the Adhamiya district, close to the Abu Hanifa mosque where one of Sunni Islam’s most influential theologians is buried.
At his home on an unpaved street, Khaled says he still feels secure in Adhamiya but he rarely goes to the rest of Baghdad where blast walls and security checkpoints hint at the fate of a fractured Iraq.
Iraq’s latest – and gravest – crisis erupted when mostly Sunni fighters swept through the north last month. Now the jihadist black flag flies over of most of the country’s Sunni Arab territory.
Kurdish forces, exploiting the chance to take another step towards independence, seized the city of Kirkuk and nearby oilfields, leaving the Shi’ite-led government controlling only the capital region and the mainly Shi’ite south.
The government is trying to reverse this de facto, three-way split of the country, but its reliance on Shi’ite militia and volunteers rather than the ineffectual national army has deepened sectarian mistrust without pushing the rebels back.
Across Baghdad a Sunni living in the Shi’ite area of Maalef, cut off from the rest of the city by a checkpoint where non-residents are turned back, said life there had become unbearable for those who do not belong to the majority Shi’ite community.
“The Sunnis all want separation now,” said the 37-year-old electrician, who asked not to be named for his security. “Facts on the ground tell you this will be the final result. On both sides now you have extremists who don’t want to get along”.
DIVIDED INTO THREE STATES
Kurdish politician Hoshiyar Zebari, who still staunchly advocates Iraqi unity, described the new geography. “The country is divided literally into three states: the Kurdish state; the black state (under Sunni insurgents) and Baghdad,” he said.
Iraq’s political elite and world powers have concentrated on the formation of a new government as the best way to save the country, but such a push may come too late.
“It’s probably the most serious crisis that Iraq has faced since its inception as a country,” said Ali Allawi, a minister in two governments after the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003. “It’s the first time that the territorial integrity of the state as a whole is in question.”
This could further destabilise an already tumultuous region. Neighbouring Syria also faces disintegration, with most of its eastern areas under Islamist rebels for more than a year.
Iraq’s heritage stretches back to early civilization on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, but the modern state is a colonial fusion of the Ottoman provinces of Basra, Baghdad and Mosul that followed the empire’s disintegration after World War One.
Sunni and Shi’ite Arabs have little to unite them, Allawi said, while for most Kurds, non-Arabs who were persecuted under Saddam, the idea of an Iraqi nation is even more fanciful.
“Iraq is a failed state,” said Masrour Barzani head of the Kurdish region’s National Security Council. “It is a fabricated state. It has never been a state by choice by the people or the components of this country. They were forced to live together”.
Barzani blamed Baghdad for failing to keep Iraq united, and defended Kurdish aspirations for independence. “I don’t think any rational person in the world would expect the Kurds to live and accept being partners in a country with a terrorist organisation,” he said, referring to Islamic State militants.
BATTLE LINES ENTRENCHED
The long delay in forming a government after parliamentary elections in April and the eclipse of army units last month by better disciplined and motivated Shi’ite militias have revealed the fragility of national institutions.
In Samarra, 110 km (70 miles) from Baghdad and one of the most northerly cities under government control, a Reuters photographer saw Shi’ite militiamen on patrol rather than army troops.
“We are better than the army because we are fighting for our beliefs,” said lawmaker Hakim Zamili, who supervised deployment of the Mahdi Army’s “Peace Brigades” militia around Samarra.
The government’s inability throughout the first half of 2014 to recapture the Sunni city of Falluja, just 50 km (30 miles) west of Baghdad, from the Islamic State underlines how ill equipped it is to reverse far greater militant gains since then which have displaced more than a million people.
“One possibility is that these territories remain outside government control for a long period of time. That would lead to a sort of de facto partition,” said Fanar Haddad, an academic and author on Iraq.
If it is to have any chance of turning the tide, the government must lure minority Sunnis away from the radicals now threatening to encircle Baghdad.
The Islamic State, a relatively small vanguard, has exploited Sunni disgruntlement with Shi’ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to assert itself in the predominantly Sunni regions.
Eight years ago when the U.S. army faced a similar challenge from the Islamic State in Iraq – an al Qaeda group from which the Islamic State emerged – it persuaded Sunni tribal leaders to switch sides, offering millions of dollars as incentive.
This time, that’s not an option. Maliki, who distrusted the Sunni paramilitary forces, halted their payments years ago, leaving them embittered and unlikely to fight a second time for the central government.
“Unless Maliki makes some very significant concessions to the Sunni Arabs it will be very difficult to peel them away from the Islamic State,” said Robert Ford, a former senior U.S. diplomat and resident scholar at the Washington Institute.
Ford, who served in Baghdad between 2004 and 2006, said the Islamic State’s absolutist dogma would lead it eventually into confrontation with its Sunni allies. However, for the time being Sunni factions were united in their opposition to Maliki.
Critics accuse Maliki of marginalising Sunni and Kurdish factions during his eight years in power. Even some fellow Shi’ite politicians oppose granting him a third term although his State of Law emerged as the largest parliamentary list in the April election.
WARRING STATELETS OR CONFEDERATION?
A U.S. military official who served in Iraq predicted four “warring statelets” could emerge, based around Shi’ite power south of Samarra, Kurdish control in the northeast, and separate Sunni power centres on the Tigris and Euphrates.
Many parts of central Iraq are mixed Sunni and Shi’ite regions, and any such partition would probably leave a million Sunnis in those areas stranded under Shi’ite control.
“Iraq doesn’t fall apart easily. There is no such thing as soft partition, because these borders are not clearly defined,” said Emma Sky, a British political adviser to the commander of the U.S.-led international forces in Iraq between 2007 and 2010. “Partition of any type requires a horrible level of killing and ethnic cleansing.”
Maliki has urged Iraqis to resist moves towards separation, which he said would mark the disintegration of the nation, but many of his critics say he himself is a divisive force.
“This crisis is not about ancient hatreds, it is a massive failure of leadership. And it has been obviously a failure of Western, U.S. policies,” Sky said by phone from northern Iraq. “With leadership they can pull this situation round.”
Sunni politicians have offered few solutions to the crisis, partly because their own influence is so limited in Sunni regions compared with the Islamic State and tribal fighters’.
The mainly Sunni Arab provinces in the west and north may be eying the same autonomy enjoyed by the three Kurdish provinces of the northeast, but even to start negotiations towards such a deal, which Baghdad would almost certainly block, requires “a new political mix” in the capital, Haddad said.
It would also need the defeat of the Islamic State. “We’ve been hearing about Iraq breaking up and Iraq unravelling since 2003,” he said. “But I never thought that Arab Iraq was breaking up. Today I think the prospects for a united Iraq, even if it’s just Arab Iraq, are fading quickly.”
(Vatican Radio) Cardinal Leonardo Sandri on Sunday said “no religion can accept to kill God’s children in the Name of the same God.” He was speaking during a homily at the Chaldean Cathedral of St. Peter in San Diego, California.
Cardinal Sandri, the Prefect for the Congregation for the Eastern Churches, is this month visiting Eastern-Rite Catholic communities in California.
Most of the members of the Chaldean Church come from Iraq, and Cardinal Sandri spoke about the current persecution of Christians in the country, especially at the hands of the Islamist ISIS group which has driven the once-large Catholic community out of the city of Mosul.
“I recall with you the psalm: by the rivers of Babylon we sat in tears (137,1) …without songs of joy.. And today, two thousands years later, we wonder in pain: will there be no more joyful songs of the Christian liturgy in Mosul?” asked Cardinal Sandri. “Should our harps, hung on the trees of that beautiful land, wait too long before they resound again?”
The Cardinal insisted Christians have a vital role to play in the Middle East.
“But also the future of Mankind is foreseen as a nuptial feast, at which all human beings must take part,” he said. “As we gaze at such a beautiful future of humanity, we wonder whether there will be a place for Christians of Iraq, Syria and Palestine to celebrate their wedding feasts. Accordingly, there will be no future, no wedding, and no feast in the Middle East without the presence and the contribution of Christians.”
The full text of the homily of Cardinal Sandri is below:
Cardinal Leonardo Sandri’s homily at the Chaldean Cathedral in san Diego (CA) – USA
on Sunday, July 27, 2014 (readings: 2 Cor 1,8-14: Luke 14, 1-14)
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I felt compelled to be here today, joining this Christian Diaspora to pray in union with Pope Francis, for the Oriental Churches in these difficult days. His Holiness contacted by phone both the Chaldean and Syriac Patriarchs encouraging all Christians of Iraq and Syria to persevere strong in faith and hope. And so, we are gathered with Mar Sarhad Jammo, Bishop of this Eparchy of Saint Peter the Apostle in San Diego, Mar Bawai Soro, titular Bishop of Foraziana his Protosyncellus, Mar Elias Zaidan, Maronite Bishop of Los Angeles, and all the faithful, especially Chaldean and Syriac of California, to proclaim that the Crucified Lord has risen, and He is always with us, despite all tribulations of history. With the same hope our hearts go to Palestinian, Egyptian and Ukrainian Christians who are also enduring violent conflicts.
The readings of the Chaldean Liturgy of this Sunday sound as if they were written for those suffering communities: “Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened, that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again” (2 Cor 1,9-10).
These words, filled with hope, bestow on us a heavenly consolation, which we pray it reaches the souls of those in a so cruel distress.
I recall with you the psalm: “by the rivers of Babylon we sat in tears” (137,1) …without songs of joy.. And today, two thousands years later, we wonder in pain: will there be no more joyful songs of the Christian liturgy in Mosul? Should our harps, hung on the trees of that beautiful land, wait too long before they resound again?
But, we believe that the harp of the Holy Spirit resounds the praise of a resurrected Lord while the powers of death pretend to have the final word on history!
Today’s gospel compares the salvation of mankind to a wedding feast, fulfilled in Jesus Christ. We are confident that, despite our sinfulness, the Divine Bridegroom, in his mercy, will welcome and wait on us in the Eternal Jerusalem, his Bride.
But also the future of Mankind is foreseen as a nuptial feast, at which all human beings must take part. As we gaze at such a beautiful future of humanity, we wonder whether there will be a place for Christians of Iraq, Syria and Palestine to celebrate their wedding feasts. Accordingly, there will be no future, no wedding, and no feast in the Middle East without the presence and the contribution of Christians.
In fact, Patriarch Louis Sako said that “for the first time in the history of Iraq, Mosul is now empty of Christians…but the blood of Christians has been mixed with that of Muslims, as it was shed in the defense of their rights and lands. Together they built a civilization, cities, and a heritage. It is truly unjust now to treat Christians by rejecting them and throwing them away, considering them as nothing… It is obvious that this would have disastrous consequences on the coexistence between the majority and the minorities, even among Muslims themselves, in the near and long term. Hence, Iraq is heading to a humanitarian, cultural, and historical disaster”.
As an echo of this claim, a civil personality adds speaking about Christian and Muslims in Iraq: “We will all either die together or we will live together with dignity”.
Also, the Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Bechara Boutros Rai has called for dialogue telling those who are persecuting Christians: “Humanity is the only thing we share with you. Come let’s talk and reach an understanding on this basis” And he asked: “What have the Christians in Mosul and Iraq done in order for them to be treated with such hatred and abuse? You rely on the language of arms, terrorism, violence and influence, but we rely on the language of dialogue, understanding and respect for others”.
Those Christians are seen as the blind, the crippled, the lame, and the poor who had no place at the wedding banquet of History. But Christ addresses his invitation to these specific categories of people, with whom he intends to build the future of humanity. We, Christians of the world, must be their voice and strongly defend their rights.
No religion can accept to kill God’s children in the Name of the same God.
Now we offer for the Oriental Christians the silence of our prayer, that is not similar to that of the indifference, because it takes vigor from the silence of Christ on the cross that was full of eternal love. And nothing shall separate us from that love, nor life nor death! (cf Rom 8,38-39).
Although they may not be capable of repaying us, we will be repaid by the Lord Himself for our prayers, solidarity and charity at the resurrection of the righteous.
In that day we could understand the promise of Christ: “…all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Lc 14,11) which is so true for the persecuted Christians.
May the Most Blessed Mother of God, the Apostles and all the Martyrs of the Oriental Churches of the past and of the present intercede to God on behalf of those brothers and sisters. Amen.
The Jeddah Municipality, the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI) and the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA) will organize an entertainment festival for four days during Eid Al-Fitr following the success of the Ramadan festival in old Jeddah, which attracted 800,000 visitors throughout the holy month, said Yasser Maddah, the festival’s director and head of public relations for the initiative. The festivals are organized under the aegis of Makkah Gov. Prince Mishaal bin Abdullah and Jeddah Gov. Prince Mishaal bin Majed. The Eid festival will be held under the slogan “Eidna kida” (This is how we celebrate Eid) a traditional and entertaining way of Eid celebrations. Jeddah’s downtown historic area, slated to enter into UNESCO’s list of world heritage sites, was decorated with lights and abuzz with shops, games and entertainment venues throughout Ramadan. The organizers of this year’s festivals are planning to set up a comedy theater during Eid. Saudi artists came up with these plays to give audiences a glimpse of the old days and to educate the city’s residents about the issues faced by different segments of society today. The comedy show will run from the second day of Eid and will have four shows between 5 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. every day for a period of four days. One of these shows will last at least an hour and a half and will entertain children and families alike, said the organizers. Festival-goers will also be able to enjoy musical programs for children, along with children’s theatrical performances, traditional Hijazi dances, folk songs and poetry. Zaki Hassanein from Benchmark, one of the festival’s main organizers, said that the event provides a pivotal opportunity for the younger generation to understand their culture and traditions. Stand-up comedians from Jeddah’s comedy club are also slated to give performances during the festival. The theatrical performance for families and children will run at 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., while stand-up comedians, targeting young Saudi men, will perform between 9:30 p.m. and 11 p.m. every day for four days during the program. “The street theater will be equipped with the latest equipment and facilities and will have seating arrangements for 500,” he said. Tickets for the theater performance are available in front of the Faris restaurant in the old area, at Panda supermarkets and at major malls, such as the Roshan, Andalus, Arab and Aziz malls in Jeddah, in addition to Munch bakery branches throughout the city and at the gate of the downtown area theater.
WW1 historian launches ‘The Knutsford Lads Who Never Came Home’ at heritage centre
7:00am Saturday 26th July 2014 in News
WW1 historian launches ‘The Knutsford Lads Who Never Came Home’ at heritage centre
THE official launch of a book remembering the 270 Knutsford men who lost their lives in WW1 will take place on August 5 – 100 years and one day after Britain declared war on Germany.
Tony Davies, the Guardian’s Accidental Historian, will be holding the launch of his book ‘The Knutsford Lads Who Never Came Home’ at Knutsford Heritage Centre on Tuesday.
Capturing the naivety, courage and valour, ‘The Knutsford Lads Who Never Came Home’ shares the horrors of the Western Front to the barren, disease-ridden deserts of the Middle East.
Tony, a retired policeman from Tabley, said: “I believe it is important that we remember the sacrifice these young lads made not just in this centenary year but always.
“They had no idea of what they were to face but when they did they face it with courage and fortitude. I am proud of each and every one of them.”
Tony received funding for the project through the Manchester Airport Community Trust Fund and this funding allowed Tony delve through war records and travel across the country meeting families of the soldiers who lost their lives.
Manchester Airport Community Trust is a registered charity which allocates money donated for the benefit of the surrounding communities.
Tina Large, community relations officer for Manchester Airport, said: “The Trustees chose the book because they are very keen to support applications that have a rich heritage connection and, with the First World War commemorating the centenary this year, they wanted to be a part of it.”
Tony will be at the heritage centre from 11am on Tuesday August 5. Tony will also be launching his ‘Great Budworth’ book on the day and is available for signings.
Faced with declining sales, Montblanc International CEO Jerome Lambert explains how he hopes to bring the historic pen maker forward in the digital age.
On a mission to visit every single one of Montblanc’s 400 boutiques, CEO Jérôme Lambert, has paused his tour for a whistle-stop trip to New York to mark the 90th anniversary of Meisterstück, the iconic writing instrument.
The event marks a transformational year for the luxury accessory maker, which is undergoing a restructuring exercise in light of falling sales.
Among Lambert’s first initiatives at the helm of the German luxury good maker was the Meisterstück Heritage collection released in January, which was taken from concept to delivery in less than six months, and features pieces designed and priced to appeal to a wider audience.
“It’s important to be value-oriented for our clients,” he explains, looking remarkably fresh faced after the star studded cocktail and dinner party the night before.
“We’re moving forward and expressing what we can do in terms of expertise with these new lines. It will definitely bring new clients to Montblanc.”
Despite the challenge he faces, the CEO paints a confident picture, explaining in his thick German accent, dotted with French phrases, how he has enjoyed “readdressing new priorities and a new vision” since taking the top job in July last year.
Lambert is no newcomer to the luxury accessory industry, having joined Montblanc from Swiss watch and clock maker Jaeger-LeCoultre, where he became CEO aged just 33.
In his 15 years at the helm of the Le Sentier, France-based firm, which is also owned by Montblanc parent Richemont, the business tripled in size and joined the premier league of watchmakers.
WRITING ON THE WALL
The Montblanc chief says he has carried with him several important lessons from his previous role, including the need for charisma in leadership and maintaining constant contact with his team, all rounded off with a sense of fun and positivity.
“Even the most rational messages cannot go through if they are not carried by charisma,” he says.
These lessons could prove valuable in improving Montblanc’s performance, which has been impacted by lower sales and reorganisation costs. The company’s sales fell five per cent to 730 million euros in its FY2014 from 766 million euros in FY2013.
“Strength in the jeweler and specialist watch segments offset the softness of certain fashion maisons and Montblanc,” noted Yves- André Istel, chairman of Montblanc’s parent company Richemont, in announcing its FY2014 financial results.
Montblanc is an altogether bigger beast than Jaeger-LeCoultre, spread across four sites in three countries including extremely bespoke operations like Velleret, which produces around 50 handmade watches each year.
Lambert’s task includes overseeing changes in the way Montblanc has done business till now. Among them, a reduction of wholesale points of sale to upgrade the company’s positioning and a global restructuring to integrate Richemont distribution platforms and shared services, states the FY2014 report.
The global tour, which saw him stop off at Montblanc’s new Abu Dhabi store earlier this year, has helped him get better reacquainted with the company’s operations as he helps undertake this shift.
“It’s a maison that is more than 100 years old with different product categories. It takes time to try to understand and feel it the right way,” Lambert asserts.
But the Montblanc chief admits that keeping such a classic brand moving forward is not without its hurdles. “One of the biggest challenges is to create a good consistency between the different activities and ensure they reinforce one another,” he says.
Turning around Montblanc’s fortunes could mean turning, at least to some extent, away from its legacy.
It was in 1906 when German businessmen Alfred Nehemias and August Eberstein returned from a trip to the US fascinated by the invention of the fountain pen and decided to make one of their own – beginning a chain of events that would see Montblanc rise to the pinnacle of writing instruments.
Now, some 108 years later, the world is a different place, with the fountain pen becoming less relevant in a digital age of PCs, laptops, tablets and smartphones.
When Lambert’s appointment was announced, some in the industry feared the watch veteran would shift the company’s emphasis away from writing instruments, which still make up around 45 per cent of Montblanc sales. And it was acknowledged that more sustainable long-term growth would come from developing Montblanc’s capabilities in watches and leather accessories.
But Lambert stresses that the greater role other product categories are set to play would not reduce the importance of writing instruments to Montblanc’s identity.
“The writing instrument is the DNA of the maison, in terms of creativity, time and recognition,” he says.
That the Meisterstück collection features no less than five models, from the 149,Classique and LeGrand Fountain pens to a Rollarball and Ballpoint, should also go some way in quelling any doubts. Clearly, the success of this line will be watched closely in the months ahead.
“We are focused on Meisterstück, from the writing instrument to watches and leather. On the other end, we are looking at introducing these lines into the different markets in a global approach,” says Lambert.
CHINA SLOWING, MIDDLE EAST RISING
Among the factors impacting Montblanc’s sales has been a slowing down of the luxury market in China where, in addition to Europe, the company has a strong reliance on domestic clientele. It comes as little surprise therefore that that Lambert is looking to boost Montblanc’s position in other markets including the Middle East.
“The whole region is very profitable and successful,” he says. “The leadership of the region, in terms of trade and activities, is reinforcing itself and we intend to strengthen our presence and create an original hub.”
The more personal shopping style preferred by wealthy locals in the region also fits in well with the emotional connection Montblanc likes to create with customers. “It’s not about selling, it’s about the long relationship, positive reputation and impact,” Lambert argues.
This approach has already netted Montblanc very high-end clients and collectors in the region, he says, and there could be more potential for the company.
Montblanc has historically made fewer sales from tourists, relying on local customers in both established and new markets. However, luxury-focused international shopping options now available in the likes of Dubai and Abu Dhabi could help change this.
“We see the dynamism of the region, in terms of tourism; it brings us a lot of new clients,” explains Lambert, highlighting the role Middle East will have to play in helping the Montblanc chief bring the company back to form.
Residents of Kenya’s Lamu Island awoke on July 7 to find leaflets emblazoned with the insignia of Somalia’s al-Shabaab Islamist militancy. Locals said the message was clear: If you are Christian, get off our land.
“We warn Christians and Kenyan government to stop oppressing our Muslim brothers,” read a flier seen by The Wall Street Journal.
Most of the Christians in predominantly Muslim Lamu county received land…
(Vatican Radio) The Patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church in Iraq has written to the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon asking him to put pressure on international community to step up assistance to Iraq’s Christians and minorities targeted by Islamic militants.
Below the text of the Patriarch’s letter
I am writing to you about the current situation in Iraq and the Middle East, which is of big concern to me and I know it is for you and the United Nations. Let me also take this opportunity to thank you and the United Nations Security Council on the issued statement of condemnation against ISIS. The instability in Iraq threatens the entire region. Diplomatic pressure is sought to address the growing instability in the Middle East. The instability in the region is worrisome because of the increasing attacks mounted on Christians and minorities.
We, as the Christian community, appeals to the United Nations to put political pressure on the international community, the Security Council cannot stand by and be a witness to the ongoing atrocities committed against Christians. We were happy when your statement acknowledged that the crimes committed against Christians constitute crimes against humanity, we therefore urge you to put pressure on all to respect human rights.
Excellency, we Christians are peace-loving citizens caught up in the middle of a clash between Sunnis and Shiites, as well as attacks from Military groups. Our community has suffered a disproportionate share of hardship caused by sectarian conflicts, terrorist attacks, migration and now even ethnic cleansing: the militants want to wipe out the Christian community.
We appeal urgently to the United Nations to pressure the Iraqi government and put into practice every effort to protect the ethnic and religious minorities. The new government, once established, should engage in the protection of minorities and the fight against extremism.
We urge the United Nations to accelerate humanitarian assistance, ensuring that aid reaches those communities and those vulnerable groups who are in need of urgent help. In view of the current situation, this need for assistance might take longer than a year. The displaced Christian community needs water, medicines and basic services.
We urge the United Nations to develop a plan or strategy to protect and preserve our heritage, looted and burned by the militants. They continue to burn churches and ancient monasteries. The old churches and monasteries will be difficult to rebuild.
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