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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

By Matthew Schofield, McClatchy Foreign Staff

BERLIN — Two months after the Islamic State laid claim to much of Iraq, European nations are reacting, driven in part by the fact that there are already thousands of European boots on the ground in this conflict — fighting on the Islamic State side.

France on Wednesday officially announced it was delivering weapons to help the Kurds in their fight against the Islamic State, Britain has agreed to transport some of those weapons, and the German minister of defense is arguing that her country should consider providing weapons to the Kurds as well.

The actions are a direct reaction to pleas from Kurds in the north of Iraq that they need arms to hold off the Islamic State. To date, Kurdish militia have been relying on airstrikes from the United States to stop the advances, and even put the Islamic State into retreat.

But the European actions also are driven by a growing concern not only about the instability in Iraq and the region, but by the large numbers of Europeans now fighting in Syria and Iraq, so called “jihadi tourists.” National intelligence agencies from around the continent have estimated at least 2,000 and as many as 3,000 European Muslims have made their way into the region to join the fight, and the estimate is that about 1,500 remain at this time.

The primary fear expressed by security experts is that these citizens, once trained in the art of war and bomb making, will return to their former homes to carry out attacks.

An opinion poll in the United Kingdom by The Times of London indicated that 80 percent of the British believe international terror is now a local threat, and 40 percent favor British bombing of Islamic State forces, while 36 percent are opposed, with others being undecided.

The office of French President Francois Hollande posted a statement on its official website calling for other nations to follow France in ramping up aid to the Kurds.

“The catastrophic situation facing the population in the Kurdistan region of Iraq requires the continuation and amplification of the mobilization of the international community,” the statement read. “France intends to play an active role in providing … all necessary assistance.”

The concern in Europe since the Syrian conflict began in 2011 has been the large number of mostly young Europeans who’ve joined in what was then a civil war. There are no solid estimates of how many are fighting for the Islamic State in Iraq, though there have been news media reports of Islamist brigades made up entirely French or English or German speakers.

This summer there have been two reported suicide bombing attacks in Iraq by Germans, including one by a former Frankfurt resident and German citizen who reportedly drove a car bomb into a building near Ramadi and killed 20. The other involved a young man from the small German town of Ennepetal, who allegedly killed at least 27 during a July 19 attack in Baghdad.

German Minister of Defense Ursula von der Leyen this week urged the German Parliament to reconsider its position on aid to Iraq. German law prevents shipping arms to crisis areas, but officials this week have said there can be exceptions.

“All parts of the German forces are presently looking into how to efficiently and swiftly support the Iraqis,” von der Leyen said, and she urged that that support include “armored vehicles, minesweepers, body armor, helmets and medical supplies.”

She also said Germany should be open to the idea of supplying weapons. She told Der Spiegel magazine: “If it is about preventing genocide, then we in Germany have to reconsider the situation.”

Thomas Hegghammer, director of terrorism research at the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment, said that Norway recently went into high alert because of what was considered to be a specific terror threat involving fighters either returning from Syria or Iraq, or traveling on Norwegian passports.

He said that European intelligence services have been tracking the growth of those heading to join the fight from the beginning, but that defense officials across the continent remain unsure of the proper reaction.

“I don’t think anyone yet is talking about taking out (the Islamic State), or eliminating their safe haven in the region,” he said. “Does anyone really think that they can eliminate them without a massive military reaction? If we don’t, do we really want to get involved in a war we can’t win?”

Aram Shakaram, a director with Save the Children, wrote Wednesday in England’s The Daily Telegraph that the focus on Iraq for now must be the humanitarian crisis. He wrote such aid is “desperately needed to keep people alive,” referring to those who have been driven into the Iraqi mountains and from their homes and villages by the Islamic State.

He predicted, however, that the crisis won’t end in just weeks.

“The road ahead is long and the international community needs to step up now to save Iraq before it falls beyond repair,” he wrote.

AFP Photo/Amer Al-Saedi


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Mark Meadows

Donald Trump’s White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows wanted a presidential pardon. He had facilitated key stages of Trump’s attempted 2020 coup, linking the insurrectionists to the highest reaches of the White House and Congress.

But ultimately, Meadows failed to deliver what Trump most wanted, which was convincing others in government to overturn the 2020 election. And then his subordinates, White House security staff, thwarted Trump’s plan to march with a mob into the Capitol.

Meadows’ role has become clearer with each January 6 hearing. Earlier hearings traced how his attempted Justice Department takeover failed. The fake Electoral College slates that Meadows had pushed were not accepted by Congress. The calls by Trump to state officials that he had orchestrated to “find votes” did not work. Nor could Meadows convince Vice-President Mike Pence to ignore the official Electoral College results and count pro-Trump forgeries.

And as January 6 approached and the insurrection began, new and riveting details emerged about Meadow’s pivotal role at the eye of this storm, according to testimony on Tuesday by his top White House aide, Cassidy Hutchinson.

Meadows had been repeatedly told that threats of violence were real. Yet he repeatedly ignored calls from the Secret Service, Capitol police, White House lawyers and military chiefs to protect the Capitol, Hutchinson told the committee under oath. And then Meadows, or, at least White House staff under him, failed Trump a final time – although in a surprising way.

After Trump told supporters at a January 6 rally that he would walk with them to the Capitol, Meadows’ staff, which oversaw Trump’s transportation, refused to drive him there. Trump was furious. He grabbed at the limousine’s steering wheel. He assaulted the Secret Service deputy, who was in the car, and had told Trump that it was not safe to go, Hutchinson testified.

“He said, ‘I’m the f-ing president. Take me up to the Capitol now,’” she said, describing what was told to her a short while later by those in the limousine. And Trump blamed Meadows.

“Later in the day, it had been relayed to me via Mark that the president wasn’t happy that Bobby [Engel, the driver] didn’t pull it off for him, and that Mark didn’t work hard enough to get the movement on the books [Trump’s schedule].”

Hutchinson’s testimony was the latest revelations to emerge from hearings that have traced in great detail how Trump and his allies plotted and intended to overturn the election. Her eye-witness account provided an unprecedented view of a raging president.

Hutchinson’s testimony was compared to John Dean, the star witness of the Watergate hearings a half-century ago that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon for his aides’ efforts to spy on and smear Democrats during the 1972 presidential campaign.

“She IS the John Dean of the hearings,” tweeted the Brooking Institution’s Norman Eisen, who has written legal analyses on prosecuting Trump. “Trump fighting with his security, throwing plates at the wall, but above all the WH knowing that violence was coming on 1/6. The plates & the fighting are not crimes, but they will color the prosecution devastatingly.”

Meadows’ presence has hovered over the coup plot and insurrection. Though he has refused to testify before the January 6 committee, his pivotal role increasingly has come into view.

Under oath, Hutchinson described links between Meadows and communication channels to the armed mob that had assembled. She was backstage at the Trump’s midday January 6 rally and described Trump’s anger that the crowd was not big enough. The Secret Service told him that many people were armed and did not want to go through security and give up their weapons.

Trump, she recounted, said “something to the effect of, ‘I don’t f-ing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the mags [metal detectors] away. Let the people in. They can march to the Capitol from here.

As the day progressed and the Capitol was breached, Hutchison described the scene at the White House from her cubicle outside the Oval Office. She repeatedly went into Meadows’ office, where he had isolated himself. When Secret Service officials urged her to get Meadows to urge Trump to tell his supporters to stand down and leave, he sat listless.

“He [Meadows] needs to snap out of it,” she said that she told others who pressed her to get Meadows to act. Later, she heard Meadows repeatedly tell other White House officials that Trump “doesn’t think they [insurrectionists] are doing anything wrong.” Trump said Pence deserved to be hung as a traitor, she said.

Immediately after January 6, Hutchinson said that Trump’s cabinet discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to remove a sitting president but did not do so. She also said that Meadows sought a pardon for his January 6-related actions.

Today, Meadows is championing many of the same election falsehoods that he pushed for Trump as a senior partner at the Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI), a right-wing think tank whose 2021 annual report boasts of “changing the way conservatives fight.”

His colleagues include Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer who pushed for Trump to use every means to overturn the election and leads CPI’s “election integrity network,” and other Republicans who have been attacking elections as illegitimate where their candidates lose.

Hutchinson’s testimony may impede Meadows’ future political role, as it exposes him to possible criminal prosecution. But the election-denying movement that he nurtured has not gone away. CPI said it is targeting elections in national battleground states for 2022’s midterms, including Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

Trump did not give Meadows a pardon. But in July 2021, Trump’s “Save America” PAC gave CPI $1 million.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

Tina Peters

YouTube Screenshot

A right-wing conspiracy theorist who was indicted in March on criminal charges of tampering with voting machines to try to prove former President Donald Trump's lies of a stolen 2020 presidential election on Tuesday lost the Republican primary to run for secretary of state of Colorado, the person who oversees its elections.

With 95 percent of the vote counted, Tina Peters, the clerk and recorder of Mesa County, Colorado, was in third place, trailing the winner, fellow Republican Pam Anderson, 43.2 percent to 28.3 percent.

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