Bringing Back the Palestinian Refugee Question

Prepared by: Crisis Group

Executive Summary
The Palestinian refugee question, like the refugees themselves, has been politically marginalised and demoted on the diplomatic agenda. Yet, whenever the diplomatic process comes out of its current hiatus, the Palestinian leadership will be able to negotiate and sell a deal only if it wins the support or at least acquiescence of refugees – because if it does not, it will not bring along the rest of the Palestinian population. Refugees currently feel alienated from the Palestinian Authority (PA), which they regard with suspicion; doubt the intentions of Palestinian negotiators, whom they do not believe represent their interests; and, as one of the more impoverished Palestinian groups, resent the class structure that the PA and its economic policies have produced. As a result of their isolation, refugees in the West Bank and Gaza are making demands for services and representation that are reinforcing emerging divisions within Palestinian society and politics. There arguably are ways to address refugee needs, both diplomatic and practical, that are not mutually exclusive with core Israeli interests. This report examines what could be done on the Palestinian side to mitigate the risk that the Palestinian refugee question derails a future negotiation.
The Palestinian refugee question, since its emergence in the late 1940s, has first and foremost been a national question. Because the establishment of Israel – in what Palestinians call the Nakba(catastrophe) – transformed the vast majority of Palestinians into refugees, the contemporary Palestinian national movement is largely a product of their desire to reverse their dispossession. The issue retained its salience after the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) formally endorsed two states in 1988 as well as after the Oslo agreements starting in 1993, because its fair resolution was considered crucial to legitimate any two-state settlement. Today, the reduced international visibility of refugee affairs notwithstanding, the issue retains its place in Palestinian national consciousness. For Palestinian leaders to do anything that smacks of abandoning refugees, and especially of renouncing their claims, is to cross a redline that touches at the core of national identity.
Though Palestinians disagree on whether the refugee question can be resolved within a two-state framework, the failure of negotiations has rendered this debate largely theoretical. For a time after the beginning of the Oslo process, it seemed to Palestinian elites that a basic trade was in the making: in exchange for a full Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders, including from settlements and Arab East Jerusalem, Palestinians would sacrifice unrestricted return to their former homes – the traditional Palestinian conception of the right to return; instead, it seemed, they would accept a compromise, “just solution” based on UN General Assembly Resolution 194, permitting the return to Israel of only a small portion of the overall refugee population.
Twenty years later, this formula has unravelled, and with it, in the eyes of many Palestinians, the premise of the two-state framework. In the 1990s, the refugee question was a lightning rod in Israel largely because it was thought to threaten the Jewish majority; today, Israel’s final status positions have hardened, its objections to refugee return as much principled as statistical. When coupled with the Israeli demand for recognition as the nation-state of the Jewish people, Palestinians believe that, instead of being offered a just solution, they are being asked to renounce what they see as an inalienable right in exchange for less than their irreducible minimum on other final status issues. When compared to the deal the PLO originally foresaw in 1993, they are being asked to concede more on refugees in exchange for less on everything else.
Many factors lie behind this shift. The second intifada, inter alia, shifted mainstream Israeli political thinking toward the right, which puts greater emphasis on the Jewish narrative. On the Palestinian side, the national movement’s centre of gravity moved, after Oslo, from the diaspora to the Occupied Territories, and more recently has been circumscribed to the West Bank. While refugees continued to be well represented in the power structure – indeed, PA President Mahmoud Abbas himself is one – refugee affairs are less prominent. With the Palestinian people increasingly fragmented, both politically and geographically, each of its constituent groupings has become relatively isolated and ever more consumed by its own problems.
For the Palestinian leadership, the main priority must be to reclaim representation of the majority of refugees, for without their acquiescence it will be exceedingly difficult to implement any comprehensive agreement with Israel; this therefore should be a concern of all who seek one. The growing chasm between the political elites and the refugees also portends greater instability, particularly should refugees or their advocates, despairing of the diplomatic process, seize the political initiative. But stability in and of itself is no answer: the marginalisation of refugees within their host societies has left them with little choice other than to fantasise about returning to their former homes in Israel.
This will be a significant challenge, especially since an ever-dwindling number of Palestinians – refugees or not – support the leadership’s political agenda. Nevertheless, much can and should be done:
Calcified refugee camp leadership committees ought to be renewed, whether by election or selection. While their predicament is largely a reflection of the dysfunction of the overall political system, the relative isolation of the camps could facilitate a more representative local leadership. Particularly given the limited resources of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and the PLO/PA, credible local leadership is needed. While some, particularly in Israel and among entrenched Palestinian elites, might see empowered local leadership as a threat, the risks of instability absent such structures are far greater.
Donors should continue to fund UNRWA. Its support cannot solve the refugee predicament, but the precipitous decline of services could exacerbate it and provoke regional instability.
The Palestinian political elites could undertake measures to improve daily life for refugees and ensure that ongoing economic reforms in the Occupied Territories benefit rather than further marginalise them. Development done properly, in consultation and coordination with camp leaders, can overcome suspicions among refugees that its purpose is, as often charged, the “liquidation of the refugee question”.
Palestinian elites, in the camps and beyond, and particularly in the West Bank, should combat the notion that refugee political claims can be maintained only through the relative isolation of camps from the broader social fabric. Refugees increasingly have come to realise that socio-economic deprivation is not the only way to maintain identity; reinvigorating the political structures to nurture it and further their aspirations would be more effective and humane.
The current suspension of negotiations should be used as an opportunity to reconstruct the Palestinian national movement on a genuinely inclusive and representative basis. Crucial for reaching a two-state agreement, it is particularly important for the refugee question: individual refugees, in any foreseeable reality, will not all be afforded the unrestricted possibility to return to their original homes and villages. But they can be afforded a voice in their movement’s positions on the refugee question. With significant contradictions between the traditional Palestinian approach to the refugee question and the two-state paradigm, this is perhaps the only mechanism for identifying a compromise approach. Given the gap between private PLO negotiating positions and popular opinion, concessions on the refugee question, without bringing the public along, could prove fatal to the leadership’s weakened credibility.
These palliative and preparatory steps focus on the Palestinian side, not Israel, despite the fundamental role that it would play in any resolution of the refugee question. Like the report as a whole, they address what the Palestinian leadership and international community can do now, not only to improve the lives of refugees but also to prepare for eventual final status negotiations. Many of these measures cannot be undertaken without Israeli acquiescence, so Israelis seeking to advance a resolution of the refugee question – some options for which are touched upon in the report, but which of course will require refinement once talks begin – should seriously consider the steps proposed herein.
This report is one in a series by Crisis Group arguing that the peace process requires a fundamental re-conceptualisation, one that would begin with each of the two sides, as well as the mediator, re-evaluating and altering its own approach before resuming talks. Necessary steps include involving and addressing the needs of neglected constituencies; building a more effective Palestinian strategy, in which refugee agendas would play a clear role; and promoting a more diverse and capable mediation architecture. It behoves the three main sets of stakeholders – the Palestinian leadership, the Israeli government and the international community – to understand that their current approach, especially to the refugee question, is a recipe not only for failure and strife, but for undermining the two-state solution.

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This Is The ISIS Mastermind Responsible For The Group’s Advance Through Western Iraq


Daveed Gartenstein-Ross is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and an adjunct assistant professor at Georgetown University.

He recently published an article entitled “The Islamic State’s Anbar Offensive And Abu Umar Al-Shisahni” in War on the Rocks that documented the Islamic State’s (ISIS) ongoing Anbar offensive and the role of one of its lead commanders.

I interviewed Gartenstein-Ross in order to shed more light on this insurgent leader and the Islamic State’s strategy and tactics in Iraq and Syria. He can be followed on Twitter at DaveedGR.

You just wrote this great piece about the Islamic State’s (ISIS) Anbar offensive and focused on one its commanders, Abu Omar al-Shishani. Can you explain a little bit about his background?

Omar al-Shishani is of Chechen origin. He was actually born in Georgia, in the Pankisi Valley. He served in the Georgian army, and took part in the 2008 conflict with Russia. He was in an intelligence unit serving near the frontline, where he spied on Russian tank columns and relayed their coordinates to Georgian artillery units. Shishani had to leave the military after he was diagnosed with tuberculosis.


He got into some legal trouble, as he was imprisoned for fifteen months for illegally harboring weapons, seemingly in support of militant groups in Chechnya. Then, as soon as Shishani was released, he left Georgia, only to resurface in 2013 in Syria where he was leading a militant group called the Army of Emigrants and Partisans.

One of the interesting things you talked about in your article was that IS ISis launching this big offensive in Anbar, and they’re trying to take Kobane in Syria, while not seemingly focusing upon Baghdad right now. It seems like they have all these conflicting priorities that sometimes serve their purposes and sometimes don’t. Could you explain that a little bit?

I think Baghdad is important to them. Islamic State leader Abu Omar al-Baghdadi would love to roll in and take Baghdad, but it’s a question of capabilities. Baghdad is a very difficult target to take. As to their tactics, they differ from one area to another, primarily based upon who their commanders are.

But Shishani is somewhat unique among ISIS’s commanders. Shishani is fighting like an insurgent. He’s using a complex style in Anbar, relying on a very small force, compared to the units trying to take Kobane. Shishani’s forces emphasize speed and agility.

They’ll hit multiple targets on the same day, and engage in harassing attacks to try to draw out the enemy, the Iraqi Security Forces or the Sahwa. Then he loves trapping the people he’s able to draw out that are in pursuit of him.

In contrast, in Kobane ISIS is fighting a very conventional war, nothing even resembling insurgent tactics. They have committed more and more men in an effort to take the city. It’s been incredibly costly to the Islamic State. In general, I think ISIS has made a lot of mistakes, but if you look at Shishani, he’s made very few errors. I think he’s a pretty remarkable commander.

Why do you think the Islamic State is spending so much time and effort on Kobane when it doesn’t seem to be a strategic city? It has a large Kurdish population. It’s right on the Turkish border. It’s putting a lot of pressure on Ankara, which has turned a blind eye to ISIS because it’s more concerned about the Assad government. It seems like Kobane is doing more harm than good to ISIS. Why do you think they’re going after this city?

ISIS Commander Omar Al Shishani Chechen
Omar al-Shishani appears in this image made from an undated video posted on an ISIS social media account in late June.

I think it’s a mistake for ISIS to do so, but they have gained some concrete things from their advance on Kobane. For one thing, the advance on Kobane has been a PR victory for them — although that’s changing: as time passes and ISIS remains unable to capture Kobane, its assault is being transformed from a symbol of strength to one of weakness. A lot of ISIS’s business model is based on constantly winning.

They’re dependent upon both drawing in fighters from overseas and also preventing defections from their ranks. A good portion of their current manpower came from people who defected to them in Syria because of ISIS’s apparent strength.

But if ISIS starts losing on the battlefield, the group could end up losing a lot of manpower — something I think will ultimately happen. On the other hand, in terms of a geographic location, Kobane is pretty out of the way. ISIS has taken a lot of damage in their attempt to capture it.

As they’ve gone in to try to take Kobane, Turkey has put its military on the border, which makes it extraordinary difficult for ISIS to build off of any victory it might achieve. So I think that Kobane doesn’t gain them much, even if they do capture it. It’s not a strategic advance.

In contrast, they have gained quite a bit from Shishani’s advance in Anbar.

Do you have any predictions about how ISIS is going to progress in the next couple months. What kinds of targets they might go after, etc.?

It’s hard to say. Clearly they’ve been making some moves toward Baghdad. Before that happens, they’re going to try to take Ramadi. The key question is whether they’re going to be put under serious military pressure.

If coalition forces undertake an offensive against Mosul, for example, that could put IS on their back foot: It could cause them to play defense rather than claim new territory.

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US investing in junk armies

William Astore, a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF),

The foreign armies that the US invests so much money, time, and effort in training and equipping don’t act as if America’s enemies are their enemies.
Why American efforts to create foreign armies fail

In June, tens of thousands of Iraqi Security Forces in Nineveh province north of Baghdad collapsed in the face of attacks from the militants of the Islamic State (IS), abandoning four major cities to that extremist movement. The collapse drew much notice in our media, but not much in the way of sustained analysis of the American role in it. To put it bluntly, when confronting IS and its band of lightly armed irregulars, a reputedly professional military, American-trained and -armed, discarded its weapons and equipment, cast its uniforms aside, and melted back into the populace. What this behaviour couldn’t have made clearer was that US efforts to create a new Iraqi army, much-touted and funded to the tune of $25 billion over the 10 years of the American occupation ($60 billion if you include other reconstruction costs), had failed miserably.

Though reasonable analyses of the factors behind that collapse exist, an investigation of why US efforts to create a viable Iraqi army (and, by extension, viable security forces in Afghanistan) cratered so badly are lacking. To understand what really happened, a little history lesson is in order. You’d need to start in May 2003 with the decision of L. Paul Bremer III, America’s proconsul in occupied Iraq and head of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), to disband the battle-hardened Iraqi military. The Bush administration considered it far too tainted by Saddam Hussein and his Baathist Party to be a trustworthy force.

Instead, Bremer and his team vowed to create a new Iraqi military from scratch. According to Washington Post reporter Tom Ricks in his bestselling book Fiasco, that force was initially conceived as a small constabulary of 30,000-40,000 men (with no air force at all, or rather with the US Air Force for backing in a country US officials expected to garrison for decades). Its main job would be to secure the country’s borders without posing a threat to Iraq’s neighbors or, it should be added, to US interests.

Bremer’s decision essentially threw 400,000 Iraqis with military training, including a full officer corps, out onto the streets of its cities, jobless. It was a formula for creating an insurgency. Humiliated and embittered, some of those men would later join various resistance groups operating against the American military. More than a few of them later found their way into the ranks of IS, including at the highest levels of leadership. (The most notorious of these is Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, a former general in Saddam’s army who was featured as the King of Clubs in the Bush administration’s deck of cards of Iraq’s most wanted figures. Al-Douri is now reportedly helping to coordinate IS attacks.)

IS has fought with considerable effectiveness, quickly turning captured American and Syrian weaponry, including artillery pieces, Humvees, and even a helicopter, on their enemies. Despite years of work by US military advisers and all those billions of dollars invested in training and equipment, the Iraqi army has not fought well, or often at all. Nor, it seems, will it be ready to do so in the immediate future. Retired Marine Corps General John R. Allen, who played a key role in organizing, arming, and paying off Sunni tribal groups in Iraq the last time around during the “Anbar Awakening,” and who has been charged by President Obama with “coordinating” the latest American-led coalition to save Iraq, has already gone on record on the subject. By his calculations, even with extensive US air support and fresh infusions of American advisers and equipment, it will take up to a year before that army is capable of launching a campaign to retake Mosul, the country’s second largest city.

What went wrong? The US Army believes in putting the “bottom line up front,” so much so that they have even turned the phrase into an acronym: BLUF. The bottom line here is that, when it comes to military effectiveness, what ultimately matters is whether an army — any army — possesses spirit. Call it fire in the belly, a willingness to take the fight to the enemy. The Islamic State’s militants, at least for the moment, clearly have that will; Iraqi security forces, painstakingly trained and lavishly underwritten by the US government, do not.

This represents a failure of the first order. So here’s the $60 billion question: Why did such sustained US efforts bear such bitter fruit? The simple answer: for a foreign occupying force to create a unified and effective army from a disunified and disaffected populace was (and remains) a fool’s errand. In reality, US intervention, now as then, will serve only to aggravate that disunity, no matter what new Anbar Awakenings are attempted.

Upon Saddam’s overthrow in 2003 and the predictable power vacuum that followed, score-settling ethno-religious factions clashed in what, in the end, was little short of civil war. In the meantime, both Sunni and Shiite insurgencies arose to fight the American occupiers. Misguided decisions by Bremer’s CPA only made matters worse. Deep political divisions in Iraq fed those insurgencies, which targeted American troops as a foreign presence. In response, the US military sought to pacify the insurgents, while simultaneously expanding the Iraqi constabulary. In military parlance, it began to “stand up” what would become massive security forces. These were expected to restore a semblance of calm, even as they provided cover for US troops to withdraw ever so gradually from combat roles.

It all sounded so reasonable and achievable that the near-impossibility of the task eluded the Americans involved. To understand why the situation was so hopeless, try this thought experiment. Imagine that it is March 1861 in the United States. Elected by a minority of Americans, Abraham Lincoln is deeply distrusted by Southern secessionists who seek a separatist set of confederated states to protect their interests. Imagine at that moment that a foreign empire intervened, replacing Lincoln with a more tractable leader while disbanding the federal army along with state militias due to their supposed untrustworthiness and standing up its own forces, ones intended to pacify a people headed toward violent civil war. Imagine the odds of “success”; imagine the unending chaos that would have followed.

If this scenario seems farfetched, so, too, was the American military mission in Iraq. Not surprisingly, in such a speculative and risky enterprise, the resulting security forces came to be the equivalent of so many junk bonds. And when the margin call came, the only thing left was hollow legions.

A kleptocratic state produces a kleptocratic military

In the military, it’s called an “after action report” or a “hotwash” — a review, that is, of what went wrong and what can be learned, so the same mistakes are not repeated. When it comes to America’s Iraq training mission, four lessons should top any “hotwash” list:

1. Military training, no matter how intensive, and weaponry, no matter how sophisticated and powerful, is no substitute for belief in a cause. Such belief nurtures cohesion and feeds fighting spirit. IS has fought with conviction. The expensively trained and equipped Iraqi army hasn’t. The latter lacks a compelling cause held in common. This is not to suggest that IS has a cause that’s pure or just. Indeed, it appears to be a complex mélange of religious fundamentalism, sectarian revenge, political ambition, and old-fashioned opportunism (including loot, plain and simple). But so far the combination has proven compelling to its fighters, while Iraq’s security forces appear centred on little more than self-preservation.

2. Military training alone cannot produce loyalty to a dysfunctional and disunified government incapable of running the country effectively, which is a reasonable description of Iraq’s sectarian Shiite government. So it should be no surprise that, as Andrew Bacevich has noted, its security forces won’t obey orders. Unlike Tennyson’s six hundred, the Iraqi army is unready to ride into any valley of death on orders from Baghdad. Of course, this problem might be solved through the formation of an Iraqi government that fairly represented all major parties in Iraqi society, not just the Shiite majority. But that seems an unlikely possibility at this point. In the meantime, one solution the situation doesn’t call for is more US airpower, weapons, advisers, and training. That’s already been tried — and it failed.

3. A corrupt and kleptocratic government produces a corrupt and kleptocratic army. On Transparency International’s 2013 corruption perceptions index, Iraq came in 171 among the 177 countries surveyed. And that rot can’t be overcome by American “can-do” military training, then or now. In fact, Iraqi security forces mirror the kleptocracy they serve, often existing largely on paper. For example, prior to the June IS offensive, as Patrick Cockburn has noted, the security forces in and around Mosul had a paper strength of 60,000, but only an estimated 20,000 of them were actually available for battle. As Cockburn writes, “A common source of additional income for officers is for soldiers to kickback half their salaries to their officers in return for staying at home or doing another job.”

When he asked a recently retired general why the country’s military pancaked in June, Cockburn got this answer:

“‘Corruption! Corruption! Corruption!’ [the general] replied: pervasive corruption had turned the [Iraqi] army into a racket and an investment opportunity in which every officer had to pay for his post. He said the opportunity to make big money in the Iraqi army goes back to the US advisers who set it up ten years ago. The Americans insisted that food and other supplies should be outsourced to private businesses: this meant immense opportunities for graft. A battalion might have a nominal strength of six hundred men and its commanding officer would receive money from the budget to pay for their food, but in fact there were only two hundred men in the barracks so he could pocket the difference. In some cases there were ‘ghost battalions’ that didn’t exist at all but were being paid for just the same.”

Only in fantasies like J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings do ghost battalions make a difference on the battlefield. Systemic graft and rampant corruption can be papered over in parliament, but not when bullets fly and blood flows, as events in June proved.

Such corruption is hardly new (or news). Back in 2005, in his article “Why Iraq Has No Army,” James Fallows noted that Iraqi weapons contracts valued at $1.3 billion shed $500 million for “payoffs, kickbacks, and fraud.” In the same year, Eliot Weinberger, writing in the London Review of Books, cited Sabah Hadum, spokesman for the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior, as admitting, “We are paying about 135,000 [troop salaries], but that does not necessarily mean that 135,000 are actually working.” Already Weinberger saw evidence of up to 50,000 “ghost soldiers” or “invented names whose pay is collected by [Iraqi] officers or bureaucrats.” US government hype to the contrary, little changed between initial training efforts in 2005 and the present day, as Kelley Vlahos noted recently in her article “The Iraqi Army Never Was.”

4. American ignorance of Iraqi culture and a widespread contempt for Iraqis compromised training results. Such ignorance was reflected in the commonplace use by US troops of the term “hajji,” an honorific reserved for those who have made the journey (or hajj) to Mecca, for any Iraqi male; contempt in the use of terms such as “raghead,” in indiscriminate firing and overly aggressive behaviour, and most notoriously in the events at Abu Ghraib prison. As Douglas Macgregor, a retired Army colonel, noted in December 2004, American generals and politicians “did not think through the consequences of compelling American soldiers with no knowledge of Arabic or Arab culture to implement intrusive measures inside an Islamic society. We arrested people in front of their families, dragging them away in handcuffs with bags over their heads, and then provided no information to the families of those we incarcerated. In the end, our soldiers killed, maimed, and incarcerated thousands of Arabs, 90 percent of whom were not the enemy. But they are now.”

Sharing that contempt was Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who chose a metaphor of parent and child, teacher and neophyte, to describe the “progress” of the occupation. He spoke condescendingly of the need to take the “training wheels” off the Iraqi bike of state and let Iraqis pedal for themselves. A decade later, General Allen exhibited a similarly paternalistic attitude in an article he wrote calling for the destruction of the Islamic State. For him, the people of Iraq are “poor benighted” souls, who can nonetheless serve American power adequately as “boots on the ground.” In translation that means they can soak up bullets and become casualties, while the US provides advice and air support. In the general’s vision — which had déjà vu all over again scrawled across it — US advisers were to “orchestrate” future attacks on IS, while Iraq’s security forces learned how to obediently follow their American conductors.

The commonplace mixture of smugness and paternalism Allen revealed hardly bodes well for future operations against the Islamic State.

What next?

The grim wisdom of Private Hudson in the movie Aliens comes to mind: “Let’s just bug out and call it ‘even,’ OK? What are we talking about this for?”

Unfortunately, no one in the Obama administration is entertaining such sentiments at the moment, despite the fact that IS does not actually represent a clear and present danger to the “homeland.” The bugging-out option has, in fact, been tested and proven in Vietnam. After 1973, the US finally walked away from its disastrous war there and, in 1975, South Vietnam fell to the enemy. It was messy and represented a genuine defeat — but no less so than if the US military had intervened yet again in 1975 to “save” its South Vietnamese allies with more weaponry, money, troops, and carpet bombing. Since then, the Vietnamese have somehow managed to chart their own course without any of the above and almost 40 years later, the US and Vietnam find themselves informally allied against China.

To many Americans, IS appears to be the latest Islamic version of the old communist threat — a bad crew who must be hunted down and destroyed. This, of course, is something the US tried in the region first against Saddam Hussein in 1991 and again in 2003, then against various Sunni and Shiite insurgencies, and now against the Islamic State. Given the paradigm — a threat to our way of life — pulling out is never an option, even though it would remove the “American Satan” card from the IS propaganda deck. To pull out means to leave behind much bloodshed and many grim acts. Harsh, I know, but is it any harsher than incessant American-led bombing, the commitment of more American “advisers” and money and weapons, and yet more American generals posturing as the conductors of Iraqi affairs? With, of course, the usual results.

One thing is clear: the foreign armies that the US invests so much money, time, and effort in training and equipping don’t act as if America’s enemies are their enemies. Contrary to the behaviour predicted by Donald Rumsfeld, when the US removes those “training wheels” from its client militaries, they pedal furiously (when they pedal at all) in directions wholly unexpected by, and often undesirable to, their American paymasters.

And if that’s not a clear sign of the failure of US foreign policy, I don’t know what is.

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AMERICAN WAY OF GOING JIHADI: FBI: Denver girls may have tried to join jihadis

The FBI said Tuesday that it’s investigating the possibility that three teenage girls from the Denver area tried to travel to Syria to join Islamic State extremists.

An FBI spokeswoman says agents helped bring the girls back to Denver after stopping them in Germany. Spokeswoman Suzie Payne says they’re safe and have been reunited with their families.

The girls are two sisters, ages 17 and 15, and a 16-year-old from another family, said Glenn Thompson, bureau chief of the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Department, whose officers took missing persons reports on the girls Friday. Their families told deputies they had left home without giving any indication of where they were headed, Thompson said.

The sisters had stayed home from school sick, and the 16-year-old never reported to school, which alarmed her family, Thompson said. The families reported no prior problems with the girls.

“Neither reported any knowledge of where they might have gone,” he said. “The deputies just took a report.”

They returned to the home Sunday to close the case after they learned the girls had been returned.

The announcement comes one month after 19-year-old Shannon Conley of Arvada, Colorado, pleaded guilty to charges that she conspired to help militants in Syria.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Denver declined to comment on the latest cases. It’s unclear whether the girls will face charges.

Crimes committed by juveniles are treated as acts of “delinquency” in the federal system and are not handled the same way as crimes committed by adults.

Authorities have not said how they think the girls became interested in helping the Islamic State militants. In Conley’s case, she told agents she wanted to marry a suitor she met online who said he was a Tunisian man fighting with the Islamic State in Syria.

Conley said she wanted to use her American military training with the U.S. Army Explorers to fight a holy war overseas, authorities said. If she could not fight with the extremists, she told agents, she would use her training as a nurse’s aide.

Agents, who had been overtly trying to stop Conley, arrested her in April as she boarded a flight she hoped would ultimately get her to Syria. She could face up to five years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine when she is sentenced in January.

Foreign fighters from dozens of nations are pouring into the Middle East to join the Islamic State group and other terrorist organizations. U.S. officials are putting new energy into trying to understand what radicalizes people far removed from the fight, and into trying to prod countries to do a better job of keeping them from joining up.

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The social picture by Matteo Anastasi
Libya is lying in a situation of social chaos. The absence of a central, strong and legitimized power has brought back some dynamics which were meant to be disappeared in the post Qaddafi era (1969-2011). In order to better understand the current social environment is necessary to focus on two intertwined internal dimensions – that is the role respectively covered by the clans/tribes and by non-governmental actors (specifically, the militias) which undoubtedly exercise an influence on the already complex regional socio-political situation.
When we talk about a tribe we refer to a typical social unit of a traditional society. A Tribe is composed of group of families or simply refers to a community sharing a system of values and norms. Throughout the Libyan history, the role of tribes – and, particularly, the chiefs’ attitude to power – passed through ups and downs. During the Senussi monarchy, the power was given to Idris I while the heads of the clans were appointed as counselors and had a direct role with the former. When Qaddafi took the power on September 1969, he abolished the aforementioned patronage system. Following to the ‘green revolution’, a new system of power was defined in the country. The charismatic leader, appointed as in a postmodern Caesarism, detained the power while the sole tribes of Warfalla and al- Magharba were allowed to have a say in the political domain.
The end of the Qaddafi era – determined, firstly, by the tribes’ revolt against the regime – signed a turning point: it coincided with the institutionalization of the clans’ participation to the country’s politics. Indeed, the first democratic elections were held in 2012. Although during the 20th century and during the first years of the new millennium the clans’ political role was not that clear, they maintained their re-distributive function though. In fact, the government has always remitted to the clans the function of redistributing to the people the money obtained from the oil exportation. In a future perspective, it is arguable that the Libyan tribes may continue to play a fundamental role – owed to the citizens’ nationalism which makes them identify with specific tribes: not only the clans and the tribes would preserve stability but also they would cover the eventual power gaps that would create in the meantime. As for the current picture, there are some major tribes to be mentioned: al-Rijban Awlad Busayf, al-Zintan e Warfalla in Tripolitania; al-Abaydat, al-Awagir, al-Barasa, al- Fawakhir, al-Majabra, al-Zuwayya and Drasa in Cyrenaica; al-Guwaid Syrte, al-Haraba, al- Hassawna, al-Hutman, al-Magharba, al-Qaddadfa, al-Riyyah, al-Zuwaid, Toubou and Tuareg in Fezzan.
When talking about the militias, we must not forget to make reference also to the clans, as the two are tightly connected. For this very reason, the former refused to give back the weapons they used during the civil war against Qaddafi. The link to the tribes is indeed the reason why the militias refused to integrate with the newly formed national military which is consequently still embryonic. Indeed, there is another relevant factor to mention. A substantial part of the government funds to the military for the latter’s development and empowerment is specifically provided by the Ministry of Defense with the sole aim of keeping the military forces under control. Unfortunately, the system of state funding allows the military to reinforce itself and to manipulate the politicians at the same time. The main militias are nowadays the well knows COLR (Cell for Operations of Libyan Revolutionaries); the February 17th Martyrs Brigade, which has 12 battalions at its disposal and a wide arsenal obtained through the management of several barracks in Cyrenaica; the Abu Salim Martyrs Brigade, mainly composed of former Jihadist fighters, the Zintan Military Council, with four thousand men forming five brigades. On the contrary, the Militias of Misrata – an administrative entity, as a sort City-State, where two brigades emerge: the Sadun al-Suwayli Brigade and Ansar al-Sharia. The latter is fully integrated with the international jihadism and is tightly linked with the whole regional terroristic network: from the Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) to the Tunisian homonym Ansar al-Sharia. Therefore, bearing in mind what mentioned above, the government must quickly solve the militias’ issue, unless the brigades will take upon the power in the close future – which is something we cannot exclude.
At the regional level, the current social situation is deeply conditioned by the relationship with the main entities within this area. As for Egypt, following to the rapprochement of relations thanks to the affinities with the Morsi government and with the Justice and Construction Party, the situation changed with the advent to power of General Al-Sisi in 2013. Nowadays, Cairo is very concerned with the improvement of the links between the Libyan and Egyptian Islamists, the latter finding more and more often harbor in Cyrenaica.
In the meanwhile, Libya has been signing several economic and security-based pacts with Tunisia, which is also attempting to abolish the old elites’ logics and to open up a new page in its history. The establishment an entente between Tripoli and Tunisia is likely to modify the geopolitical equilibrium in North Africa, resulting in a damage for Algeria: the latter’s relationship with Libya has been frozen especially since 2011, owing to the alleged support that the country gave to Qaddafi during the revolution. Similarly to what Egypt did, Tunisia also declared its concern regarding the Libyan instability, being the latter menaced by some radical groups coming from the North-western border.

The situation of the military by Marcello Ciola
Soon after Qaddafi’s removal, around almost 200.000 armed people gathered around the streets and the squares of Libya for celebrating the end of the regime. The rebel militias were supposed to be integrated within the new Libyan military, through the compulsory conscription and the voluntary quittance of weapons. Indeed, someone believed that the jihadists, who also played a significant role in the overthrow of the Jamahiriya (‘State of the Masses’ or People’s Republic), would be then pushed back to the desert. Even better, they thought that the jihadists could be defeated by the new Libyan state with the (purported) support of the US or of the EU.
Unfortunately, things did not go on as the National Transitional Council of Libya expected. As a result, the current government is now facing an unprecedented crisis – especially due to the lack of territorial control owing, indeed, to the chaotic situation within the military domain.
Which actors are involved, for better or for worse, consciously or not, in this chaotic situation? Which links put them together and which are the points of conflict? Which relationships exist between the above mentioned ones and the institutions, both national and international? What is the current military scenario in Libya and which are the instruments that the international and Italian political actors can adopt to this regards?

In the next paragraphs, we will be trying to answer these few questions in order to better understand the central relevance of the Libyan ‘issue’ for the Mediterranean and European politics.
A conspicuous number of actors is active on the Libyan territory. We can group them in three macro areas but, still, it would be very hard to make precise distinctions as it not that unusual to have sometimes militias responding to Libyan institutions – like those asking for the defense of the 2011 revolution against the fundamentalist groups – or that are directly financed by these institutions. At the same time, it is not often clearly comprehensible how far these groups are from the jihadists’ ideas. In brief, the government forces and the paramilitary formations are the extremities of a continuum which has essentially two factors in common: the loyalty to the current Libyan institutions and the ‘degree of Islamization’.
At one extreme of this continuum, we can find the Libyan army which counts around 35.000 units, mainly former deserters of the foregoing army of Jamahiriya and groups of rebel militias that after the revolution of 2011 have abandoned their weapons for pursuing their activity within the Libyan institutions framework. Thus, the Libyan military apparatus still detains some remnants of the former Libyan army’s equipment, which was mainly bought from the USSR, but also from Italy, the US, China and others.
Parallel to the army, there is also a special force of 5.000 units, including in particular paramilitary organizations, called Al-Saiqa. This elitist group has rebelled to the Qaddafi regime and played a central role both in causing the fall of the Qaddafi’s regime and in the defense of Benghazi in summer 2013 and for all the 2014 as well.

The Al Saiqa’s establishment is much more ancient than 2011: in fact, it dates back to the 90s’ when it helped to prevent the rebellion of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG). Its role has determined the current rivalry with the fundamentalist groups connected to Al- Qaeda e AQIM. Not only Al-Saiqa has been perpetually clashing with the qaedist forces, but also its relationship with the police has been complicated. The latter, in fact, has not accepted that Al-Saiqa plays a role replicating the police’s, particularly in the fight against terrorism, and overcoming – thanks to its effectiveness – the Security National Direction’s. Furthermore, although Al-Saiqa’s forces are inferior in number, their training and equipment is better than the others’. Both Al-Saiqa and the Libyan army had frictions with the Libyan Shield Force (LS), a rather numerous organization, divided into brigades, of Islamic inspiration and distributed along the northern stripe of the Libyan coast.
The LS is a border-line organization between pro-governmental and pro-qaedist and fundamentalist groups. Sometimes its formations stood on the Libyan government’s side while, others, with the jihadists, in particular with Ansar al-Sharia and the brigades of Misrata. In collaboration with the latter, it contributed to the establishment of the Islamic emirate of Benghazi after days of violent clashes with the Al-Saiqa forces.

Among the other forces under governmental control, we can count the anti-crime unit, the Special Deterrence Force of Tripoli (the SDF, which had several problems with the local population); Joint security operations room and the Petroleum Facilities Guard (PFG). The latter is a militia of masterpiece importance: it is formally controlled by the Ministry of Petroleum and financed by the Ministry of Defense; it includes at around 20.000 units of which only a little part – one tenth – has been trained by the Libyan army, while the others belong to the Ibrahim Al-Jathran militias (which is also a notorious political leader in Cyrenaica).
The latter, being the ‘tutor of the oil production’, obtained from the government the authorization to create his own oil company, ‘the Libyan Oil and Gas Corporation’. Al- Jathran did not hesitate to use the energy weapon for influencing the state politics and foreign companies working in the energy resources domain, in particular of ENI which is forced to stand the PFG’S vagaries.
Among the revolutionary militias which we have mentioned so far, we can find the Libya Revolutionaries Joint Operations Room (LRJOR), founded in 2013 thanks to an executive order the President of the Libyan Parliament, Nouri Abusahmain, with the aim of protecting the public order in Tripoli. Officially, these militias should respond to the Ministry of Defense; nonetheless, they have always acted independently: in fact, they have also been involved in the attempted coup d’état of 2013, which was followed their removal.
After a few weeks, the LRJOR came back to Tripoli and also to Benghazi in order to continue defending the revolution with the army. However, although it tried to ‘normalize’ the militias, refused to recognize the LRJOR’s role of tutor of the public order, especially for what concerns its brigade in Benghazi.
Among the above mentioned Islamic militias, we must also mention the Brigade of Al- Qaqaa which counts around 18.000 men and which is considered as one of the most important in Libya; the Al-Sawaiq Brigade, being very close to the Libyan army as well as the jihadist Rafallah al-Sahati. There is one difference: while As-Sawaiq has remained very faithful to the government during the disorders of the last months, Al-Sahati allied with the jihadists which took Bengasi. Tightly connected to the qaedist group of Ansar Al-Sharia, there is also the Omar Al-Mukhtar Brigade, inspired by the resistance of the homonym Libyan hero during the Ital-Turkish war of 1911-1912 and during the Italian colonization operations of 1935-1936.
During the last years, among the western block, leaded by NATO, some military bodies of several Member states to the Atlantic Pact gave assistance and trained the Libyan military. In the forefront there was the US, followed by the UK, France, Italy and Turkey. The greatest part of the training took place in Bulgaria at the end of 2013. Unfortunately, the training program did not obtain the expected results as the independence that some militias revenged face the central government triggered the instability within the army.
Thus, NATO did not have enough time for reinforcing the defense and anti-terrorism capacities of the Libyan military body. Therefore, the government control on the militias fell and, together with the almost inexistent political authority, it provoked the increase in political relevance of the jihadist/qaedist forces.
Resulting from the defeat of the forces of Al-Saiqa in Benghazi, which turned out in the worsening of the internal political situation, the international actors moved their personnel to Tunisia or brought it back home. The western military involvement in Libya, after its initial support to the rebels against Qaddafi, ended up as a negative sum game: who expected a huge advantage following to the regime’s fall (especially the US and France), had to face actually a undesirable situation due to the military instability especially around Tripoli and Benghazi, which affects also and in particular the border of the Libyan state where the commerce of weapons with the militias and the terrorist groups is concentrated. While the western (and Mediterranean) powers are seemingly losing the Libyan match, Qatar, on the contrary, seems winning.
Last June, General Khalifa Haftar accused the Qatar’s government of financing the rebel groups for avoiding the Libyan state to become strong once again. Moreover, the General stated that the position of Sudan with regard to Libya is not clear while Egypt Chad, Niger, Mali, Algeria and Tunisia are collaborating with the government (elected on June 25th but not installed yet).
On one hand, The Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ms. Federica Mogherini, underlined the importance of a stable installment of the Libyan Government, on the other, the Undersecretary of State, Mr. Marco Minniti, asked for the international community’s intervention. Also Mr. Matteo Renzi, Italy’s Prime Minister, shared the latter’s claim, and addressed for this purpose the UN attaché to whom he suggested, indeed, the establishment of a Roma-Cairo axis to solve the military (besides economics, political and humanitarian) emergence.
According to the data, arming the Libyan army and supporting the establishment of a western-oriented democratic government could not be sufficient for the stability purpose: this system, founded on diplomatic and soft power means, triggered the military ‘egoisms’ of the clans and tribes affiliated to various jihadist groups or militias (a similar effect was obtained in the past in Somalia). The paradox is that, in order to provide the sought stability to the country, it would be necessary to give the power to another Qaddafi (like in Egypt, where Al-Sisi took the power as a new ‘Mubarak’).
Italy does not have, unfortunately, the diplomatic, economic and military means for changing this Somali-like path in Libya. However, Italy could ask for the establishment of an internationally-funded, Mediterranean task force which would take charge of the stability in Libya and, therefore, of the whole Mediterranean area. The chances of success of this solution highly depend on the timing of the intervention: we cannot wait any longer as the European and Mediterranean stability highly depends on the (lack) of military stability in Libya.

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Digital Jihad: Inside Islamic State’s Savvy PR War

Islamic State’s methods may be medieval, but the group’s propaganda is second to none. The Islamists target their professionally produced videos at specific audiences — sometimes to spread a specific message, sometimes merely to terrify.

Last Monday, the now weekly Islamic State television show pronounced its verdict on Barack Obama’s latest speech about the group: “Disappointingly predictable,” the anchorman intoned. “America is good, the Islamic State is bad,” he said, parodying the US president’s strategy. “And they will be defeated using aircraft and a motley collection of fighters on the ground.

The article you are reading originally appeared in German in issue 41/2014 (October 06, 2014) of DER SPIEGEL.

US allies in the Free Syrian Army, he went on, were an “undisciplined, corrupt and largely ineffective fighting force.” The Islamic State, the anchorman intoned, “welcome meeting Obama’s under-construction army.”
The speaker, pale and thin but bathed in professional lighting as he sat calmly at a table like a real anchorman, is a hostage. “Hello there,” his show began, “I’m John Cantlie, the British citizen abandoned by my government and a long-term prisoner of the Islamic State.” The cameras changed perspective frequently, from a frontal view to a lateral one, and zoomed in on his unshaven face. Cantlie, in effect, was speaking for his life. After about six minutes, he closed: “Until next time.”

The weekly videos featuring Cantlie, in which he argues on behalf of those who likely intend to kill him, are among the most perfidious productions created by the terrorist group Islamic State. Indeed, not long after Cantlie’s latest episode, Islamic State released another video, allegedly showing the beheading of Cantlie’s countryman Alan Henning, a 47-year-old taxi driver and aid organization worker who was kidnapped in Syria nine months ago. He is the fourth Western hostage that Islamic State has decapitated.

In recent months, Islamic State has become known for its adept video production and its fighters are widely present on all manner of social media sites, including Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, YouTube, Instagram and SoundCloud. If their accounts get closed down, they just register under new names.

But the group’s marketing gurus do much more than simply repeat the same message ad infinitum on different platforms. They design each video and each message to correlate exactly to the target audience. For Western observers, they are cool, clean and coherent. For locals, they are bloody, brutal and fear-inducing.

Bringing People Together

When it works to their advantage, they exaggerate their own massacres. Sometimes they falsify the identity of their victims. The thousands of fellow Sunnis they killed in Syria were branded simply as “godless Shiites” on television. They even market themselves to kids, manipulating popular video games such as Grand Theft Auto V so that Islamic State fighters and the group’s black flag make an appearance.

In short videos from the series “Mujatweets,” an apparently German fighter talks about his supposedly wonderful life in the Caliphate. Such scenes, depicting the multicultural Islamic State brotherhood, are clearly meant for Muslims in the West. “Look here,” the message is, “everyone is equal here!” The images suggest that jihad has no borders; that it brings people together and makes them happy. Other blogs include women gushing about family life in wartime and the honor of being the widow of a martyr.

Islamic State’s propaganda offers something for every demographic — it is so professionally produced that al-Qaida looks old-fashioned by comparison. It is, as the New York Times recently dubbed it, “jihad 3.0.”

Their strategy is best illustrated by two almost simultaneously released videos from several weeks ago. One was produced to publicize the killing of American journalist James Foley, who had been kidnapped in November 2012. The second was likely never intended for a Western audience.

In the first, Foley’s captors had him deliver a message to the world. In the soft light of morning, Foley — dressed in Guantanamo orange — blamed the US for his death, expressed his regret at having been born American and absolved his murderers of all guilt. After he finished speaking, the masked Islamist standing next to him placed his knife on Foley’s throat and began moving it back and forth as the picture went dark.

There isn’t a single drop of blood to be seen in the video, making it seem as though his on-camera beheading was merely simulated. Experts have puzzled over the meaning of the staging, given the captors later show Foley’s bloody and detached head lying on his body. The most plausible explanation is that the video was designed to be tolerable for Western viewers — its most important message isn’t the murder itself, but Foley’s statement and that of his murderer just prior to the beheading. Those who attack Islamic State, the hooded killer threatens, must bear the consequences. He speaks English with a British accent.

‘Look At the Knife’

The second video couldn’t be more different. Heavily pixelated, it depicts Islamic State fighters murdering a group of rebellious clan members not far from the Syrian town of Deir ez-Zor. It is difficult to find adequate words to describe the 11-minute movie. The victims are lying on the ground, staring upwards with eyes full of fear, before their throats are slit one after the other and their heads are chopped or torn from their torsos. Their butchers laugh as they kill, saying things like “Hey, he’s really got some meat on his cheeks!” or “Hey you, you should look at the knife when I cut your head off!” The killers speak Arabic with Moroccan and Egyptian accents.

This video is aimed at a different audience, people living in the regions under Islamic State control, particularly those who might dare to resist — such as the men from the al-Sheitaat tribe that were massacred on camera. According to various sources, up to 700 tribesmen were killed in the slaughter. And the message appears to have been heard: The tribe’s sheikh responded by begging Islamic State for forgiveness and mercy.

For those against whom Islamic State is fighting, the message is always the same: Be afraid! The panicked fear they spread has become a real weapon for the jihadis, in light of the fact that they are often outnumbered by their opponents. It has worked well in many Syrian and Iraqi towns and villages. At the beginning of August, for example, Kurdish Peshmerga fighters abandoned almost all of their positions in the face of advancing Islamic State fighters.

To spread panic even further, Islamic State often exaggerates its own bloody excesses. After the battles between June 11 and 14, when Islamic State took control of Sunni areas in northwest Iraq, the group’s PR division released videos of its atrocities. They claimed the clips showed Islamic State jihadists killing 1,700 pro-government Shiite soldiers in Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit, a number that quickly found its way into international media reports.

But the videos, brutal as they were, showed the murder of a few dozen captured soldiers at most. People visited several large Iraqi cities on the search for evidence of the massacre, but no mass funerals or mourning ceremonies were observed. Activists from Human Rights Watch studied high-resolution satellite photos for fresh excavation sites that could indicate mass graves. They found evidence of two mass graves, and their initial study concluded that the number of dead was between 160 and 190. The group suspects that other mass graves exist, but no proof for a higher number of casualties has yet been found.

The West has tended to take Islamic State claims of barbarity at face value, primarily because it seems so unlikely that anyone would exaggerate one’s own cruelty. But the Islamic State was likely trying to reap benefits from its own seeming exaggerations.

‘The Law of the Jungle’

The jihadists’ PR experts are adept at altering reality to best fit the message it is attempting to propagate — either by overstating its murderousness or by changing the identities of its victims. Islamic State claims to be protecting and representing the interests of Sunni Muslims. Nevertheless, the jihadists in Syria have killed thousands of Sunnis who refused to submit to their ruthless claims to power. So as to stay on message, Islamic State propagandists simply claimed in video text that those killed were “Shiite soldiers of Assad’s.”

From a technical perspective, the group’s digital jihad has “exponentially improved” in the last year and a half, says Christoph Günther, an Islam expert at the University of Leipzig. Since 2007, he has been monitoring the group’s PR strategy. At the beginning — before it adopted the megalomaniacal name “Islamic State” and proclaimed the establishment of a “Caliphate” — its presentation was modest. “Earlier, the image quality of their videos was terrible,” Günther says. Often, hours-long speeches in Arabic were simply uploaded to the Internet.

Today, he says, the situation has changed significantly, thanks partly to the companies that Islamic State now operates in the territories under its control. The improvements have also stemmed from the influx of foreign fighters who can now spread the group’s propaganda in English, French, German and other languages.

One thing, however, remains unclear: What is Islamic State’s religious message? Osama Bin Laden and his followers made an effort to justify their deeds both before and after Sept. 11, 2001, says Fawaz Gerges, a terrorism expert at the London School of Economics. “They came up with theological justifications, they pointed to the suffering of the Palestinians or they claimed they were defending Muslims.” For Islamic State, though, he says, justifications hardly play any role at all. Its only message is violence and it is aimed even at their own fellow Sunnis. “There is nothing,” Gerges says. “It’s an intellectual desert.”
For years, Gerges has been monitoring the man who claims to be Islamic State’s “official spokesman.” He calls himself Abu Mohammed al-Adnani and the US State Department added his name to its terrorist list on August 18. Adnani, from the northern Syrian town of Binnish, is thought to be around 37 years old and is among the earliest members of Islamic State. He is one of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s closest confidants and was among those sent to Syria in 2011 to gain a foothold there. Today, Adnani is considered to be the right-hand man of al-Baghdadi’s, the self-proclaimed Caliph. A speech he delivered after coalition air strikes against Islamic State began — in which he called US Secretary of State John Kerry an “old uncircumcised geezer” — was translated into seven languages.

One anecdote about Adnani is particularly insightful, Gerges says. Two years ago, Gerges relates, representatives from various Islamist groups met near Aleppo to talk about conflicts among their groups. The others agreed that a religious council should be founded to solve the conflicts in accordance with Islamic law. But the Islamic State spokesman, so the story goes, merely looked at them disdainfully. He then said: “The only law I believe in is the law of the jungle.”

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When the Petrodollars Run Out


Oil and gas prices are falling through the floor. And some countries are woefully unprepared for the drop.
It’s good to be Vladimir Putin these days. The Russian president can jerk most European countries around without fearing the consequences, thanks to their dependence on his natural gas. Meanwhile, Putin’s customers are probably dreaming of the day when they can tell him to piss off. But when they can finally live independently of his resources, international influence won’t be the only thing that crumbles for Russia and other petrostates.
I’m not talking about the kind of energy independence that the United States may gain from fracking, or Brazil by exploiting its deep-sea oil reserves. I’m talking about the day when oil and gas are no longer used as fuel for vehicles and heating homes. For governments that depend on petroleum revenue, like Russia’s does, it could be a day of reckoning. Recent fluctuations in the demand and prices for oil and gas are just a sneak preview.
Heating and motor vehicles are arguably the two biggest uses for petroleum that are vulnerable to technological change in the years to come. Right now, the United States still uses about two-thirds of its petroleum for gasoline and heating. The rest goes for jet fuel, propane, plastics, and other products that won’t necessarily be replaced by electric cars, solar panels, and wind power. As demand for gasoline and oil-and-gas-based heating drop, crude and natural gas prices will probably fall as well. But then those other petroleum-based products will become cheaper and people will buy more of them, adding back some demand for oil and gas. And of course, the emerging economies growing fastest today will contribute some demand as well.
Nevertheless, it’s fair to assume that revenue from selling oil and gas will decline within a few decades in countries that are unlikely to find much in the way of new reserves, like Nigeria and Saudi Arabia. Other industries linked to petroleum, such as chemicals and refining, may suffer as well.
What will this mean for the future of the petrostates? In many of them, the governments are dependent on revenues from oil and gas. Two years ago, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) published a paper on budgeting with extractive industries that included a version of the following graph:

(Azerbaijan data are from 2010)
Resource revenue as % of GDPResource revenue as % of total revenue Nigeria Created with Datawrapper
Nigeria10Resource revenue as % of total revenue2030405060708090KuwaitBruneiTimor-LesteSaudi ArabiaOmanAngolaIraqLibyaAzerbaijan*Republic of CongoEquatorial GuineaUAEAlgeria22Bahrain85QatarTrinidad/TobagoChadYemenIran
Source: IMF Get the data

Twenty countries depend on petroleum for at least half of their government revenue, and another 10 are between half and a quarter. These countries are clearly vulnerable to big changes in the price and quantity of oil and gas that they might sell. But which ones would have the hardest time coping?
One factor that will affect them is the diversification of their economies. In countries where petroleum is responsible for a lot of revenue but not much of overall economic output, there is at least the possibility of broadening the tax base. Starting with Qatar in the graph above, all the countries depend on petroleum for less than a fifth of gross domestic product. But some of them are lousy at collecting taxes, which is the revenue they’ll rely on when earnings from oil and gas decline.
According to estimates compiled for 2005 to 2007 by Andreas Buehn of the Utrecht School of Economics and Friedrich Schneider of the Johannes Kepler University of Linz, the shadow economy — or black market — may make up more than half of Nigeria’s GDP, and more than 40 percent in Chad, Russia, Myanmar, and Ivory Coast. (Of course, this may be part of the reason why petroleum revenue accounts for so much of their governments’ budgets.) Recovering from a dent in government revenue would be especially tough for any of them.
Moreover, several of the countries that depend so heavily on petroleum do a poor job of providing public services even with the revenue it brings. Of the five countries with the narrowest tax bases, four — Chad, Ivory Coast, Myanmar, and Nigeria — rank in the bottom 20 percent globally for government effectiveness in the World Bank’s Worldwide Governance Indicators.
Were oil and gas prices to dip sharply, these countries might well collapse altogether.
Were oil and gas prices to dip sharply, these countries might well collapse altogether.
That’s also the verdict of the Fragile States Index published annually by Foreign Policy, especially for Chad, which ranks as the sixth most fragile state in the world. Ivory Coast is 14, Nigeria is 17, and Myanmar is 24.
So what can these countries do to bolster themselves for the future? For one thing, they might try to use their petroleum revenues to diversify their economies. Yet there’s little precedent for that actually happening. In the three decades from 1983 to 2012, no country that ever got 20 percent of its GDP from oil and gas — according to the World Bank’s figures, which differ slightly from the IMF’s — substantially reduced those resources’ share of its economy. The shares typically rose and fell with prices; there were no long-term reductions.

Share of GDP from petroleum Percent of GDP from gas and oil rents, 1983-2012. Estimates based on sources and methods described in “The Changing Wealth of Nations: Measuring Sustainable Development in the New Millennium” (World Bank, 2011). 2012010203040506070801984’86’88’90’92’94’96’98’00’02’04’06’08’102012Congo, Rep.Saudi ArabiaGabonVenezuela, RBQatarUnited Arab EmiratesAlgeriaEcuadorNigeriaEgypt, Arab Rep. Created with Datawrapper Source: World Bank Get the data

The least diversified countries at the moment, with at least 40 percent of GDP from oil and gas, are the Republic of Congo, Kuwait, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Gabon, Angola, and Oman. (East Timor may also be among them, according to the IMF figures, but the World Bank has no data on it.) For most of the Arab Gulf states, this may not be too worrisome; their sovereign wealth funds are copious, so they have some room to maneuver if energy prices dip. But for the others, there is little flexibility:

If Chad, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, and Myanmar are vulnerable in the short term to fluctuations in energy prices, then Republic of Congo, Gabon, Angola, and Iraq are looking at potential trouble in the long term. It won’t be easy for them to transform their economies for a post-petroleum world. The sooner they can get started, the better.

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COUNTRY NAME Overall Rank Regional Rank Mean
Haiti 2 1 66.08
Peru 65 2 45.65
Suriname 68 3 44.94
Ecuador 69 4 45.34
Uruguay 72 5 32.18
Colombia 73 6 51.72
Paraguay 74 7 46.77
Venezuela 75 8 53.66
Bolivia 76 9 49.83
Guyana 77 10 53.80
Dominican Republic 79 11 46.94
Chile 89 12 29.48
Brazil 94 13 38.63
El Salvador 95 14 43.37
Guatemala 101 15 48.49
Mexico 107 16 47.60
Nicaaragua 108 17 49.81
Honduras 110 18 58.94
Argentina 122 19 32.34
Jamaica 124 20 43.91
Trinidad and Tobago 133 21 42.14
United States 134 22 18.12
Barbados 135 23 36.77
Canada 144 24 10.69
Panama 145 25 43.65
Costa Rica 146 26 32.85
Cuba 149 27 55.68

Asia, Europe, Russia and Eurasia, Sub-saharan Africa, The Middle East and North Africa
It is estimated that 3.78% of the estimated total 29.8 million people in modern slavery are in the Americas.

The relative wealth of Canada and the United States, their demand for cheap labour and relatively porous land borders, makes them prime destinations for human trafficking, as reflected in the underlying prevalence estimates. However, both countries score very low on overall risk, reflecting in large part very strong measures on slavery policy.

Aside from the United States and Canada, Nicaragua, Argentina and Brazil have the lowest (best) rankings on slavery policy, and Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados and Cuba have the highest (worst) rankings on this sub-issue.

The countries of the Caribbean basin show a lower level of risk of enslavement and other violations of rights than most Latin American countries. Haiti, however, is a special case within the region, with the highest average risk in the regional grouping. The long history of poor government, a strong legacy of slavery and exploitation, and an ongoing environmental crisis has pushed its population into extreme vulnerability to enslavement.

Mexico is a critical transit country for South and Central Americans seeking to enter the United States, one result of this is a highly developed criminal economy that preys on economic migrants, trafficking and enslaving them.

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Here is a perspective by Dr Peter Hammond:

Dr Hammond”s doctorate is in Theology. He was born in cape town in 1960, grew up in Rhodesia and converted to Christianity in 1977.
Adapted from Dr Peter Hammond”s book: Slavery, Terrorism and Islam: The Historical Roots and Contemporary Threat:

Islam is not a religion, nor is it a cult. In its fullest form, it is a complete, total, 100% system of life
Islam haigious, legal, political, economic, social, and military components. The religious component is a beard for all of the other components.

Islamization begins when there are sufficient Muslims in a country to agitate for their religious privileges.

When politically correct, tolerant, and culturally diverse societies agree to Muslim demands for their religious privileges, some of the other components tend to creep in as well..

Here’s how it works:

As long as the Muslim population remains around or under 2% in any given country, they will be for the most part be regarded as a peace-loving minority, and not as a threat to other citizens. This is the case in:

United States — Muslim 0..6%
Australia — Muslim 1.5%
Canada — Muslim 1.9%
China — Muslim 1.8%
Italy — Muslim 1.5%
Norway — Muslim 1.8%

At 2% to 5%, they begin to proselytize from other ethnic minorities and disaffected groups, often with major recruiting from the jails and among street gangs.

This is happening in:

Denmark — Muslim 2%
Germany — Muslim 3.7%
United Kingdom — Muslim 2.7%
Spain — Muslim 4%
Thailand — Muslim 4.6%

From 5% on, they exercise an inordinate influence in proportion to their percentage of the population.
For example, they will push for the introduction of halal (clean by Islamic standards) food, thereby securing food preparation jobs for Muslims.
They will increase pressure on supermarket chains to feature halal on their shelves — along with threats for failure to comply.

This is occurring in:

France — Muslim 8%
Philippines — 5%
Sweden — Muslim 5%
Switzerland — Muslim 4.3%
The Netherlands — Muslim 5.5%
Trinidad & Tobago — Muslim 5.8%

At this point, they will work to get the ruling government to allow them to rule themselves (within their ghettos) under Sharia, the Islamic Law. The ultimate goal of Islamists is to establish Sharia law over the entire world.

When Muslims approach 10% of the population, they tend to increase lawlessness as a means of complaint about their conditions.
In Paris, we are already seeing car-burnings. Any non Muslim action offends Islam, and results in uprisings and threats, such as in Amsterdam , with opposition to Mohammed cartoons and films about Islam.
Such tensions are seen daily, particularly in Muslim sections, in:

Guyana — Muslim 10%
India — Muslim 13.4%
Israel — Muslim 16%
Kenya — Muslim 10%
Russia — Muslim 15%

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