Connect with us

World

America is ignoring Iraq’s protests at its peril: security experts

Published

on

A demonstrator carries an Iraqi flag during ongoing anti-government protests in Baghdad, Iraq November 4, 2019.

Thaier Al-Sudani | Reuters

Iraq is descending into its most violent days since the battle against ISIS concluded in late 2017 — and the world is completely underestimating its significance, regional experts told CNBC at the Middle East’s premier oil and gas conference this week.

The second-largest OPEC producer has seen protests every summer for the last several years over economic grievances, met time and time again with empty government promises of reform that go unfulfilled. But this year’s demonstrations are different, spilling over into demands for a full-on political overhaul and attracting elements like Iranian-backed forces and other extremists that threaten to hijack the protest movement and potentially bring the U.S. into deeper involvement.

“From a security perspective, I would say that the Iraq story is the most under-covered story in the region right now,” Amos Hochstein, former special envoy for international energy affairs under the Obama administration, told CNBC on Wednesday.

“Because the forces that are outside, the external forces that have decades of interest (in Iraq) are not going to go away quietly. They will affect the economics of the region potentially, and they can affect the security beyond the region of Europe and eventually the United States.”

Some 300 people have been killed and more than 2,000 injured as protests rocking the country of 38 million draw a harsh response from state security forces and other unidentified entities. Authorities have taken extreme measures like shutting down the internet and using live ammunition against protesters in an attempt to crack down on the uprising.

Amnesty International has described the government response as “nothing short of a bloodbath.”

Protesters report plainclothes snipers shooting and killing civilian demonstrators, with many Iraqis pointing to Iranian-backed paramilitary fighters or “anonymous thugs” as some of the forces sowing further violence and confusion.

What we do know is that our adversaries, both groups like ISIS, al-Qaeda or Iran, thrive in chaos and a vacuum. What we’re seeing in Iraq today is vacuums being created and then occupied.

Amos Hochstein

fmr U.S. special envoy for international energy affairs

Iraqis across the country, particularly in Baghdad and cities of the country’s oil-rich south, are angry over grievances that lie at the heart of protests similarly taking place in Lebanon and Algeria: rampant state corruption, high unemployment, and a lack of basic services provision.

Iraqi cities regularly suffer power cuts, garbage is left uncollected and there is a broad consensus that the state serves the interests of the elites, not the people — and all this in a country that is a major crude oil producer, sitting on the world’s fifth-largest proven oil reserves and pumping nearly 5 million barrels per day. Its southern Basra province, afflicted with some of the worst poverty and lack of public services in the country, hosts international oil hegemons like Exxon, BP and Total.

Rocket attacks on US forces?

The comments come just days after 17 Katyusha rockets were fired at an Iraqi military base south of Mosul that houses U.S. troops. Some 5,000 American troops remain in the country, providing training and security assistance and supporting a U.S.-led coalition fighting what remains of ISIS.

Responsibility for the rocket attack has not been claimed and no casualties have been reported, but commodities expert and former CIA analyst Helima Croft sees this as a dangerous risk that could bring the U.S. into further confrontation with Iran. Hardline Iranian-backed Iraqi militias regularly threaten to attack Americans inside the country.

“If they hit that base and if you had dead U.S. servicemen, that would certainly be a red line where we could be hitting something in Iran, could we be bombing (Iranian port) Bandar Abbas? Potentially,” Croft said. “Iraq is where I think this whole thing comes to a head.”

The rocket attack, and protester anger at the corruption bred in a government system the Americans helped set up, is a sobering reminder that 16 years after its invasion, the U.S. remains tethered to the turbulent story of Iraq.

‘If you break it, you own it’

The protesters in Iraq are also fed up with foreign influence in their country’s affairs — many protest signs and chants say “No America, no Iran.” Observers say this presents a threat to Iran’s deeply held influence in the country, something that Tehran is not likely to take lightly.

“You have a battle for who is going to win the proxy war in the Middle East,” Croft said. “Think about Lebanon and Iraq, these two places where Iran has a strong foothold. The question is, are they going to want to surrender their foreign policy and strategic influence? I don’t think they will.”

For Hochstein, who opposed the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, the U.S. has a serious responsibility — and the Donald Trump administration is ignoring it.

“There is a basic rule of if you break it, you own it,” Hochstein said. “It was us who broke it. And the consequences of that, we are living through today.”

Demonstrators run as Iraqi security forces use tear gas during a protest after lifting of the curfew, following four days of nationwide anti-government protests turned violent, in Baghdad, Iraq October 5, 2019.

Thaier Al-Sudani | Reuters

The solution, the former diplomat believes, is engagement — but that doesn’t need to be boots on the ground.

“We have come to this dichotomy now, we’ve come to this extreme where it’s either we have to be involved, meaning troops, or the alternative is nothing. And that is not the case here. What we’re seeing now is that during the Trump administration, we’re seeing no troops and no diplomacy.”

Hochstein stressed the need for American engagement to “at least put the path of dialogue on the table so that you can see a horizon for solutions, versus a total absence from the scene that allows the protests and the violence to take on a life of its own.”

“And then you don’t know where it ends. And what we do know is that our adversaries, both groups like ISIS, al-Qaeda or Iran, thrive in chaos and a vacuum. What we’re seeing in Iraq today is vacuums being created and then occupied. And the more we retreat, both militarily and diplomatically, the more vacuums we’re creating to be occupied by our opponents.”

‘All of them out’

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, speaking at the Abu Dhabi International Petroleum Exhibition & Conference (ADIPEC) this week, told CNBC, “We certainly have a responsibility in Iraq.”

“The Iraqi situation is one I have great sadness for because I think the Iraqis have a chance to govern wisely. Unfortunately they’ve not really delivered the services the people expect, the jobs people expect,” she said.

Rice was a leading proponent of the 2003 Iraq invasion, and remains a controversial figure from the Bush administration. Critics of the Iraq War say the former diplomat remains responsible for the chaos and violence that engulfed the country as a result.

Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, who came to power only a year ago, has promised more public sector jobs and limited economic reforms, but the pledges have failed to satisfy popular anger. The U.S. embassy in Baghdad on Sunday called for new elections, but Iraqis protesting say that will only result in the same faces reappearing in power. The leaderless movement has seen demands ranging from a new generation of leaders to a return to military dictatorship.

“It reminds me of what we saw in Lebanon — protester demands have morphed into ‘all of them out’,” Croft said, referring to the mass protests sweeping neighboring Lebanon where citizens are calling for the removal of the entire political class. She noted the same happening in Algeria, where popular protests have endured since last spring.

“‘All of them out’ seems to be a movement sweeping across the region. And I think this is an under-reported story,” Croft said. “A movement sweeping across the Middle East.”

Source link

World

Market volatility expected to continue in the week ahead with Presidential debate and jobs report

Published

on

Continue Reading

World

Dow rallies more than 300 points on Friday as tech shares bounce, cutting losses for the week

Published

on

The Fearless Girl statue is seen outside the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York City, New York, U.S., June 11, 2020.

Brendan McDermid | Reuters

U.S. stocks rose on Friday, recovering some of their losses for the week, as tech shares clawed back some of their big September declines. 

The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed 358.52 points higher, or 1.3%, at 27,173.96. The S&P 500 climbed 1.6% to 3,298.46. The Nasdaq Composite popped 2.26% to 10,913.56. It was the best day for the major averages since Sept. 9.

Shares of Amazon rose 2.5% and Facebook gained 2.1%. Apple advanced 3.8% and Microsoft climbed 2.3%. Netflix closed 2.1% higher. The S&P 500 tech sector jumped 2.4% and for its best day since Sept. 9, when it popped 3.4%.

Cruise operators also contributed to Friday’s gains. Carnival, Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean were up 9.7%, 13.7% and 7.7%, respectively, after an upgrade from a Barclays analyst

The “sell-off has stabilized a bit over the last few days, but there are still no real signs of strength,” said Mark Newton, managing member at Newton Advisors, in a note. “Thus, the trend remains bearish and not much to bet on a rebound.”

Both the Dow and S&P 500 posted four-week losing streaks, their longest slides since August 2019, despite Friday’s rally. The Dow lost 1.8% this week and the S&P 500 closed 0.6% lower week to date. The Nasdaq Composite had its first weekly gain in four weeks, rising 1.1% over that time period. 

That mixed weekly performance followed concerns around the state of the U.S. economic recovery as well as uncertainty around a new fiscal stimulus bill. 

House Democrats are preparing a $2.4 trillion relief package that they could vote on as soon as next week, a source familiar with the plans told CNBC. The bill would include enhanced unemployment benefits and aid to airlines, but the overall price tag remains well above what Republican leaders have said they are willing to spend. 

The major averages have had a tough month, with the S&P 500 falling 5.8% in September. The Dow has dropped 4.4% over that time period and the Nasdaq is down 7.3% month to date. 

Much of September’s losses have been concentrated in megacap tech stocks, which carry a heavy weight in the indexes. Shares of Apple — the largest publicly traded company in the U.S. by market cap — have dropped 13% this month. Microsoft, Alphabet, Netflix, Amazon and Facebook are all down at least 7.9% over that time period. 

“After a buoyant and hopeful summer, financial markets are cooling in the face of reality,” strategists at MRB Partners said in a note. “High-flying tech and tech-related stocks are in a full-blown correction, and weakness has recently spread to broader indexes, with a distinct smell of risk-off in the air. We had expected a gradual, albeit choppy, economic recovery, but it appears that some investors were not prepared for setbacks along the way.”

Russ Koesterich, managing director and portfolio manager at BlackRock, said on CNBC’s “Closing Bell” on Thursday that his team took profits in some high-flying tech stocks at the end of August and then were buying more cyclical stocks during the recent drop for the market. 

“What we’ve been trying to do in recent weeks is take the cyclical exposure up a little bit … it’s not that we think tech is going to roll over. We still like the themes. But on a shorter-term tactical basis, we’re comfortable with the economy, we think we’re going to continue to see improvement, and we’re looking for names that are levered to that improvement,” Koesterich said. 

—CNBC’s Jacob Pramuk contributed to this story. 

CORRECTION: A previous headline for this report was updated to note that Dow futures were higher, rather than the Dow Jones Industrial Average itself.

Source link

Continue Reading

World

Trump is expected to nominate Amy Coney Barrett to fill Ginsburg Supreme Court vacancy

Published

on

Judge Amy Coney Barrett

Matt Cashore | Notre Dame | Reuters

President Donald Trump is expected to nominate Judge Amy Coney Barrett to fill the vacancy left by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court, sources familiar with the matter tell NBC News. 

Trump is expected to make the announcement at an event planned for 5 p.m. ET Saturday. 

Barrett is a 48-year-old federal appeals court judge favored by social conservatives and the religious right. Her confirmation to replace Ginsburg, a feminist icon who sat on the bench for 27 years, would solidify a 6-3 majority for Republican appointees on the bench for the foreseeable future. 

Trump’s announcement will come just 38 days before voters will decide whether he will hold the White House for a second term, and is bound to have profound reverberations on all three branches of government. 

Barrett’s expected selection will come just a week after Ginsburg died from complications due to cancer found on her pancreas. She will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery next week. 

Ginsburg, who had in the past publicly sparred with the president, said in a statement issued while she was dying that it was her “most fervent wish” that she not be replaced until after Election Day. 

That comment, and the precedent Republicans set in 2016 when they opposed former President Barack Obama’s nominee to the bench, prompted a battle between Democrats and Republicans over whether a vote on a new nominee would take place before Nov. 3. 

Barrett has long been anticipated as a potential nominee to the Supreme Court, and it came as a surprise to some when Trump passed over her in favor of Justice Brett Kavanaugh to fill the seat vacated by Anthony Kennedy. Trump reportedly said at the time that he was saving Barrett for Ginsburg. 

Trump has repeatedly pressed for a vote ahead of Election Day, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said there is more than enough time to do so, despite his 2016 posture that prohibited a vote on Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland. 

Democratic nominee Joe Biden and his allies in Congress have blasted the president’s decision to nominate a justice. During a speech in Philadelphia, Biden said of Ginsburg that “we should heed her final call to us, not as a personal service to her, but as a service to the country, our country, at a crossroads.”

But it appears Republicans will have the votes they need. Two moderate Republican senators, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, came out in opposition to holding a vote, but failed to attract other defectors. McConnell needs just 50 of the Senate’s 53 Republicans to stay in line, given Vice President Mike Pence’s ability to cast a tie breaking vote. 

Any selection Trump could have made was likely to be contentious, but Barrett could prove especially so. 

Barrett, whom Trump appointed to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, has already started to spur a cultural battle over the place of religion on the high court, and the future of abortion rights in the United States. 

Democrats are worried that Barrett’s deeply held Catholic faith will bias her in cases that could cause the court to revisit Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 case that legalized abortion. 

They have pointed to Barrett’s comments to students suggesting that their legal careers were a means to “building the kingdom of God,” and a 1998 paper in which Barrett explored whether orthodox Catholic judges should recuse themselves from cases concerning the death penalty. In the paper, Barrett referred to aborted fetuses as “unborn victims.” 

Barrett wrote in the article, co-authored with a professor while in law school, that the Catholic church’s opposition to the death penalty provided a reason for federal judges to recuse themselves in capital cases. She wrote that the same logic did not apply to abortion or euthanasia.

“We might distinguish between executing criminals and killing the aged and the unborn in this way: criminals deserve punishment for their crimes; aged and unborn victims are innocent,” she wrote.

Meanwhile, Barrett’s path to confirmation is bolstered by support among social conservatives, who accuse Democrats of attempting to put a “religious test” in the way of the Supreme Court vacancy. 

Barrett has only considered two cases touching on abortion as a federal appeals court judge, in both cases voting to reconsider rulings that struck down abortion restrictions. 

In both appeals, Barrett signed onto opinions authored by another judge, rather than independently outlining her thinking, making an assessment of her abortion jurisprudence more complicated. 

‘The dogma lives loudly within you’

One comment in particular from Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., to Barrett energized conservatives and became something of a rallying cry. 

During Barrett’s confirmation hearing in September of 2016, Feinstein said she had concerns related to past statements about religion. 

“I think in your case, professor, when you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you, and that’s of concern,” Feinstein said.

Conservatives promptly put versions of the statement on merchandise as a sign of protest. “‘The Dogma Lives Loudly Within You’; Now It Lives Loudly On Your T-Shirt,” read one headline in The Daily Wire, a conservative outlet. 

Democrats are likely to choose their words carefully in any potential Barrett confirmation hearings, but whether she will make decisions based on her faith is expected to be a prominent line of inquiry. 

Membership in People of Praise

Barrett has also courted controversy with her membership in a small, primarily Catholic organization called People of Praise. Members of the group swear to uphold so-called “covenants” and are held accountable to advisors. 

Female advisors were referred to as “handmaidens” until the term was introduced into popular culture by the dystopian television show, Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” based on the Margaret Atwood novel. 

Critics of the group have called it a “cult,” and said the idea of a justice on the Supreme Court being accountable to a spiritual leader crossed the typical bounds defining the separation between church and state. 

As with Feinstein’s comments during Barrett’s confirmation, the controversy over Barrett’s membership in People of Praise similarly led to a conservative backlash against what some saw as anti-Catholic bigotry.  

Conservatives deny that the group is a cult, and have criticized Democrats and newspapers like The New York Times for what they say are unfair attacks on religion. Conservative writer David French wrote in The National Review that “parachurch” organizations such as People of Praise are misunderstood.

“It betrays fundamental ignorance about the way millions of American Christians live their lives,” he wrote, noting that groups like People of Praise are common places where religious people seek advice on issues like dating, marriage, careers, and child-rearing. Words like “covenant,” he said, were very common. 

Members of the organization have also pointed out that it is open to both Republicans and Democrats. 

Source link

Continue Reading

Trending