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Of impassioned distinctions and lines traced on maps

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- in which the muj from Khorasan talk even more about the erasing of national boundaries than the soldiers of the IS caliphate ]
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Before there were maps, there was terrain, some of it populated, and various populations spoke various languages and identified themselves and each other in various complex ways. And then there were maps.

Heinrich Bunting, world map with Jerusalem at the center, naturally, 1581

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Maps certainly have a logic to them, but it is not always the logic of the populations who actually live, think, and care in the terrain depicted.

In this post, I am going to explore various writings on national boundaries and the recently-announced and mapped caliphate, starting with the mildest, and building in a crescendo to the opinions of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the Mujahideen in Khurasan.

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Owen Bennett-Jones writes in The London Review of books:

As for borders, it is no longer outlandish to consider the possibility of an Alawite redoubt in western Syria and of Kurdish self-rule: a de facto independence that would change not only Iraq but also Turkey, Syria and Iran. Israel and the Western powers are already voicing concern about what might happen in Jordan. No doubt they will all resist demands to recognise any attempted changes to national boundaries. But that may lead to a growing divergence between the international system regulating relations between states and the reality on the ground.

This seems a bit pallid to me, for reasons you’ll uderstand when you read a Taliban writer pon the same topic below.

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The topic is also apparently a live one for scholars. The University of Southern California and the Project on Middle East Political Science have just issued a Call for Proposals for participants in their Rethinking Nation and Nationalism Workshop, to be held at USC, February 6, 2015:

The Arab uprisings of 2011 have shown that questions of physical boundaries and national identities long seen as resolved may in fact be open to reconfiguring. Insurgencies spanning Syria and Iraq and the (re)assertion of regionalism in Libya are only the most violent of the processes currently underway challenging long-established physical national frontiers. Embattled regimes have produced new national narratives to legitimate their rule, while sectarian and Islamist movements have taken on new manifestations. Refugee movements triggered by these conflicts and longer-standing processes of migration within, into, and out of the region have led to large communities of nationals established outside the countries of their citizenship.

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Col. Pat Lang, a warrior with a feel for the region — he introduced the study of Arabic at West Point — just today posted On identity and the state in the Middle East, his response to a friend’s off-blog comment:

I think what you (Origin) miss in this is that these countries are not really post Treaty of Westphalia nation-states. They were created by the colonial powers in the image of European countries that more resemble that model. In fact, these Middle East countries are inhabited by disparate groups of people who self-indentify within their group or perhaps withing several groups they belong to. These peoples do not identify with the state in which they live unless they happen to be run it. Thus, the Kurds feel no actual loyalty to the thing the British called “Iraq.” They are quite willing to cooperate with other Sunni people, in this case Sunni Arab tribes who are also indifferent or hostile to the government in Baghdad now that it is run by their ancestral enemies, the Shia Arabs. The Kurds would not lift a finger to help “Iraq” if they were left alone in their mountains. What they yearn for first last and always is Kurdish independence. The same situation exists in Jordan a country that is in essence a “reservation” for Sunni Arabs. It has been that since it was created by the Brits in payment of a World War One obligation to the Hashemits Emir Abdullah. This obligation originated in Abdullah’s support for the British during the war. When Iraq was under Sunni rule Jordan supported Iraq. Shia run “Iraq” means nothing to Jordan. The same this is true around the region.

IS is different from all these states. It does not recognize the legitimacy of the notion of countries at all and seeks a world wide theocratic state beginning in the Middle East.

The mozaic of all these groups that exists on the ground in the Middle East does not fit the boundaries of the Sykes-Picot world created after WW1. Come to grips with that.

Now that’s “getting warmer” as kids say in a game of hide and seek.

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And the Caliphate?

They simply and eloquently bulldoze frontiers:

Residents near the border with Syria, where ISIL has exploited civil war to seize wide tracts of that country’s east, watched militants bulldozing tracks through frontier sand berms – as a prelude to trying to revive a medieval entity straddling both modern states.

The words of their Amirul-Mu’minin Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi are quoted in the caliphal magazine Dabiq, issue 1 p. 7:

O Muslims everywhere, glad tidings to you and expect good. Raise your head high, for today – by Allah’s grace – you have a state and Khilafah, which will return your dignity, might, rights, and leadership.

It is a state where the Arab and non-Arab, the white man and black man, the easterner and westerner are all brothers.

It is a Khilafah that gathered the Caucasian, Indian, Chinese, Shami, Iraqi, Yemeni, Egyptian, Maghribi (North African), American, French, German, and Australian. Allah brought their hearts together, and thus, they became brothers by His grace, loving each other for the sake of Allah, standing in a single trench, defending and guarding each other, and sacrificing themselves for one another.

Their blood mixed and became one, under a single flag and goal, in one pavilion, enjoying this blessing, the blessing of faithful brotherhood.

If kings were to taste this blessing, they would abandon their kingdoms and fight over this grace. So all praise and thanks are due to Allah.

and again on p. 8:

Whoever was sleeping must now awaken. Whoever was shocked and amazed must comprehend. The Muslims today have a loud, thundering statement, and possess heavy boots. They have a statement that will cause the world to hear and understand the meaning of terrorism, and boots that will trample the idol of nationalism, destroy the idol of democracy and uncover its deviant nature.

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Finally, we come to another set of jihadis who identify themselves in their magazine Azan as the Mujahideen in Khurasan — whose own Amir al-Mumineen is Mulla Umar.

One Muhammad Qasim devotes and entire article to the issue of nation states vs the Ummah in Azan, issue 5 pp 12-15. It is titled Destroying the Country Idol and subheaded:

Consequences of adopting the Nation-State Concept:

• Destruction of Unity
• Creation of Nationalistic Armies

Curiously, the second section focuses on Clausewitz (1832?) rather than Westphalia (1648) — but I’ll leave discussion of that question to our historians.

Qasim begins by quoting two Qur’anic ayat:

Truly! This Ummah of yours is one Ummah, and I am your Lord, so worship Me (Alone). [21:92]

and

hold fast, all of you together, to the Rope of Allah (i.e. this Quran), and be not divided among yourselves .. [3:103]

and suggests:

The “nation state” has destroyed the unity of the Ummah and split it into bits and pieces, entirely vulnerable to the plans of the Kuffar. The great Mujahid leader, Shaykh Dr. Ayman Al-Zawahiri (HA) sums up the Muslim loss in a few impeccable words:

My free and honorable brothers, who are eager to help Islam and liberate Palestine! We must read history and comprehend its lessons. Palestine was lost when the Khilafah fell and we were dominated by secularism and territorial nationalism which has torn us apart and continues to tear us apart.

The body of his article then continues:

One of the fundamental interests of the West and the Zionists, and indeed, one of the necessities of their existence, is that they divide us by spreading the principles of the secular nationalist nation state and homeland among us, so that we become crumbs that they can easily devour. As a result of this ethnic and territorial nationalism, we broke apart after the fall of the Khilafah into more than fifty helpless vassal states.

The reviver of Jihad, Shaykh Abdullah Azzam (RA) said:

Sykes and Picot created borders for us. They said to us, Jordan ends here at ar-Ramtha, and Syria begins after Ar-Ramtha, and Jordan begins after Harat Ammar. And Kuwait? Here it is! The city of Kuwait, the “state” of Kuwait… And the state of Qatar is a single city. And so is the state of Bahrain. And Lebanon? Here it is… the size of a coin. That’s the state of Lebanon. And here is Syria. Listen, this is your land and your birthplace, and love of one’s homeland is part of faith. And so on… And so we have begun to think in an “Islamic way” which is in truth not an Islamic way but rather, a territorial way of thinking daubed with Islam.

The Jordanian in Ar-Ramtha sees the resident of Dara’a [across the Syrian border] being slaughtered in front of him by the Nusayrites; yet, he does not even bat an eyelid, move a muscle, or take an extra heartbeat; nor is he prepared to open the borders. Why? Because Islam ends at Ar-Ramtha; and he has nothing to do with Islam in Dara’a. But when a Jordanian in Al-‘Aqaba winces in pain, you’ll find the same person (from Ar-Ramtha) up in arms, although the distance between Al-‘Aqaba and Ar-Ramtha is more than 600 km, while the difference between al-Ramtha and Dara’a is less than 6 km.

This isn’t an Islamic attitude; this isn’t the attitude of ”Truly! This Ummah of yours is one Ummah, and I am your Lord, so worship Me (Alone).” [21:92]

This isn’t the global outlook of Islam which says:

India is ours and China is ours
And the earth is ours and all is ours
Islam has become our religion
And the entire world is our homeland
The constitution of Allah is our religion
And we have made our hearts its home

All Muslims are united upon true faith in Allah (swt), His Messenger (pbuh) and His Final Book. However, these false lines have been etched upon us on the basis of which entire political, military, economic and cultural institutions have been established that seek division between the Pakistani and the Indian, between the Egyptian and the Turk, between the Chechen and the Uzbek. There is no reality in these divides. As has been emphasized earlier in the article, in Islam, divide between humanity is upon faith, upon love for Allah (swt) and His Messenger (pbuh). So, we as an Ummah must take practical steps to defeat this divided mentality and erase these map lines physically that indoctrinate the Ummah into believing in this false separation.

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It’s impressive iMO to see those whose loyalty is to Mullah Omar publishing in greater detail on this topic than those whose loyalty is to the self-proclaimed caliph of IS. Maybe they’ll submit their article as a proposal for that conference at the University of Southern California, you think?

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Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones 2: a Christian perspective

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- on the godliness of collateral child slaughter, viewed from the perspective of "turn the other cheek" ]
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Suffer the little children to come unto me, Lucius Cranach the Elder

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At this point I would like to turn directly to our psalm, and specifically to its use and interpretation in my own tradition, that of Anglican Christianity: I hope to provide a further post on its Judaic context and understanding shortly.

Psalm 137 is the one that begins, in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer translation:

By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept *
when we remembered thee, O Sion.
As for our harps, we hanged them up *
upon the trees that are therein.
For they that led us away captive required of us then a song, and melody, in our heaviness *
Sing us one of the songs of Sion.
How shall we sing the Lord’s song *
in a strange land?

The question here is of the relation of music to grief: How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?

Tomás Luis de Victoria set the Latin of this portion of the psalm to ethereal music, as we hear in this perormance of Super Flurmina Babylonis by Harry Christophers and The Sixteen:

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The Psalm in question is a lamentation, a cry of despair, as one can easily tell from the tone of the Anglican setting sung by the choir of King’s College, Cambridge, below — and yet its ending contains what I can only call a vindictive edge — remembering that vindictive, before it gains any other meaning, has a meaning that is cognate with vindication:

If I forget thee, O Jerusalem *
let my right hand forget her cunning.
If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth *
yea if I prefer not Jerusalem in my mirth.
Remember the children of Edom, O Lord, in the day of Jerusalem *
how they said, Down with it, down with it, even to the ground.
O daughter of Babylon, wasted with misery *
yea, happy shall he be that rewardeth thee, as thou hast served us.
Blessed shall he be that taketh thy children *
and throweth them against the stones.

With the words at your disposal, I invite you to listen closely to this austere and beautiful rendering of the whole psalm by the choir of King’s:

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The freshly-minted Anglican Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Rev Nick Bains, blogged just a few days ago:

Psalm 137 is not a comfortable song; nor is it a song for the comfortable. It ends with a shrill cry of pain and hatred: “God, I wish you’d take the children of my enemies and smash their heads against the rocks.” But, it isn’t there to justify an ethic. It isn’t there to suggest it is right to think such awful things of other people’s children. It is there for two reasons: first, to confront us with the reality of how deep our own human hatred can go, and, secondly, to tell us not to lie to God (thinking he can’t handle that reality or the depths of human despair).

Cranmer — the blogger who takes his name from the martyred Protestant Archbishop of Canterbury whose great gift to the English language was precisely the language of the Book of Common Prayer — quoted Bishop Bains, and had this to say of Psalm 137:

Such laments take us to the depths of helplessness and forsakenness. They are cries of distress when there is nowhere to turn: God has abandoned us and our enemies mock and scorn – or terrorise, persecute and murder. Impulsively but genuinely we want their children to be fatherless and their wives to become widows (Psalm 109:8f). And we hope to God that their bastard offspring don’t grow up to be another generation of murderous devils.

But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven (Mt 19:14).

Those who are taught resentment and loathing will not easily find Jesus or enter the kingdom. Violence breeds violence and hate engenders hate. The way of Christ is peace. In our secular polis this may seem like sheer folly. But it is a choice we make in the hope and anticipation that God’s love will finally prevail through the way of the cross, despite our inability to see how this may be possible when warring hearts are filled with grievances and pain.

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As I prepare to turn from Christian to Judaic consideration of this psalm in my final post in this series, I would like to quote the words of the rabbi, Jesus — himself surely an appropriate transitional figure between Judaism and Christianity:

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous….

In saying these things, is Jesus teaching a distinctly Christian doctrine, or preaching as a Jewish teacher among Jews?

It’s a fine question. The book of Proverbs 25.21 reads: “If your enemy is hungry, give him bread, if he be thirsty, give him water… — and the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia comments on Jesus’ remark that it might better be translated thus, in line with Jewish teaching:

Ye might deduce from this verse that thou shalt love thy neighbor and hate thine enemy, but I say to you the only correct interpretation is, Love all men, even thine enemies.

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Rape as Strategy: Gaza and London

Thursday, July 24th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- at least three ways of looking at a pair of tweets ]
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If there can be Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird, there are at least three or four ways of looking at these two tweets:

The similarities are eerie, the differences are enormous.

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You could, I suppose, look at it as an Israel to London comparison, although I don’t think that approach would be particularly insightful. Or gang-members vs academics, which might be a little more interesting. I’d suggest, however, that the first way many people will read the comparison above will be as a statement about the Israeli-Palestinian situation: London fades into the background, a professor’s (from my POV intermerate) statement of a seemingly intractable problem gets equated with an actual gangland threat and praxis:

On that reading, the juxtaposition is an indictment of the Israeli side in the current Gaza conflict. And that’s a huge pity, because the professor’s words were specifically not about “what should be done” but about “what it would take” to do the job — in this case, of getting suicide bombers to refrain from killing themselves and others.

So from my POV the second reading, which critiques the first (IMO appropriately) is of a comparison between what in my diagram I’ll call “thought experiment” and “threat, tactic” — the latter word indicating that the threat is one that is carried out in practice, ie in the form of selective, vengeful, punitive rape of the daughters and sisters of enemies:

Here is a little more of the context — note the professor’s disclaimer, “I’m not talking about what we should or shouldn’t do. I’m talking about the facts”:

“The only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped.” This assertion was made by Middle East scholar Dr. Mordechai Kedar of Bar-Ilan University about three weeks ago on an Israel Radio program. “It sounds very bad, but that’s the Middle East,” added Kedar, of Bar-Ilan’s Department of Arabic. [ .. ]

“You have to understand the culture in which we live,” said Kedar. “The only thing that deters [Hamas leaders] is a threat to the connection between their heads and their shoulders.” When presenter Yossi Hadar asked if that “could filter down” the organization’s ranks, Kedar replied: “No, because lower down the considerations are entirely different.

Terrorists like those who kidnapped the children and killed them — the only thing that deters them is if they know that their sister or their mother will be raped in the event that they are caught. What can you do, that’s the culture in which we live.”

When Hadar said, “We can’t take such steps, of course,” Kedar continued: “I’m not talking about what we should or shouldn’t do. I’m talking about the facts. The only thing that deters a suicide bomber is the knowledge that if he pulls the trigger or blows himself up, his sister will be raped. That’s all. That’s the only thing that will bring him back home, in order to preserve his sister’s honor.”

Now, is that a valid disclaimer — or a slippery slope?

Mileages, I fear, will differ greatly on the answers to that question.

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But wait.

What if you’re not a partisan of the Palestinian or Israeli side, but of a humanity long weary of wars but seemingly woven into them by nature and nurture — warp and woof on the loom of history?

What if you’re a woman?

I’m not a woman, and it is only through the promptings of friends like Elizabeth Pearson and Cheryl Rofer that I eventually get around to looking at this particular juxtaposition — and other analytic complexities as appropriate — with an eye to gender differences.

Here the picture may overlay one or both of the previous ones — or obliterate their carefully-drawn distinctions completely. The picture is this:

Wives, of course, too, aunts, nieces — wherever it hurts, whoever the adversary is honor-bound to protect.

And some will say, that’s the nature of war! — and not be entirely wrong.

What a world. And in it, across time, the minds and hearts that gave us the books of Isaiah and Job, the masses of Bach and Beethoven, the Mezquita of Cordoba and the Taj Mahal, Abhinavagupta and Chuang Tzu, Gell-Mann and Francis Crick

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Sources:

  • Guardian: Gangs draw up lists of girls to rape as proxy attacks on rivals
  • Haaretz: Israeli professor’s ‘rape as terror deterrent’ statement draws ire
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    Jihad for Dummies

    Thursday, July 10th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- as Karl Sharro notes, the Guardian piece "says it all" ]
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    The Guardian article linked in that tweet contains the following para:

    Their path to radicalisation involved inspiration from material from Osama bin Laden’s mentor, Abdullah Azzam, online material, and using the internet to chat with extremists overseas. As part of their preparations they ordered books online from Amazon, including titles such as Islam For Dummies, the Koran For Dummies and Arabic For Dummies.

    Gotcha.

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    Here are two other paras of interest:

    School friends Yusuf Sarwar and Mohammed Ahmed, both 22, pleaded guilty to terrorism offences before their trial could start at Woolwich crown court.

    Police did not know the men had travelled to Syria, where they spent eight months, until one of their mothers contacted detectives in May last year, shortly after the pair had left. She had found a note written by her son saying he had gone to fight and wished to “die as a martyr”.

    My comment here? My own frequent focus is on the importance of religious drivers in contemporary terrorism — and that’s present here too, but as what is distinctly a secondary theme.

    More to the point, the two were “school friends” — supporting Marc Sageman’s contention in Leaderless Jihad and Understanding Terror Networks that bonds of friendship play an important role in recruitment. Also of note, it was once again [this example is from the UK, link is to US data] the support of the Muslim community that gave police the heads up that lead to these arrests.

    **

    As to wanting to “die as a martyr” — perhaps obtaining a deeper understanding of Islam than Islam for Dummies can present would be advisable first. Ordering a copy of Arabic for Dummies makes sense, perhaps — but Martyrdom for Dummies is strictly for dummies.

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    Sir Richard Dearlove speaks — and the caliphate responds?

    Wednesday, July 9th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- a nasty piece of news to come across after listening to Dearlove's RUSI speech ]
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    Here is Sir Richard Dearlove, Master of Pembroke College, Cambridge, and former chief of the British Secret Intelligence Service, speaking on Terrorism and National Security: Proportion or Distortion? at the Royal United Services Institute, yesterday:

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    Sir Richard’s thrust was that 9-11 has overshadowed our thinking about intelligence resources, and we (which means the Brits, here, but with wider possible application) should cut back on CT and focus more on Russia, China, and other non-jihad-driven threats. In his view, we have seen CT through the lens of 9-11 as jihadists vs the west, naturally enough, when in facty it is becoming clearer and clearer that the “real” ME issue is the ancient rivalry of Sunni vs Shia.

    However, and notably for my purpose here, he had one qualification to add to that overall assessment:

    In one important respect I need to add a qualification to my argument. I’m surprised that some of the more chilling threats that we did worry about, and should still probably worry about, have not materialized. And I’m of course referring to the possibility of CBRN, chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear attacks. A single successful urban attack using any of these methods would probably have far-reaching consequences. It would represent an escalation that could fundamentally change — in the opposite direction from what I’m saying — how we do counterterrorism, and destroy my argument about proportionality.

    However, with the exception of a possible radiological contamination event, I think that this threat is more latent than actual. The technology bottleneck is a narrow one. Chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons are largely state developed and controlled, and unless an ISIS-type movement were to rest control on aspects of a state program, we should have the means to exercise surveillance and control of that bottleneck.

    This transcript is partially my own work, partially drawn from JustSecurity.org‘s abridged but helpful version.

    **

    That was yesterday, July 7th 2014.

    Today, an AP bulletin caught my eye:

    Iraq says ‘terrorists’ seize chemical weapons site

    UNITED NATIONS (AP) – Iraq has informed the United Nations that the Islamic State extremist group has taken control of a vast former chemical weapons facility northwest of Baghdad where 2,500 chemical rockets filled with the deadly nerve agent sarin or their remnants were stored along with other chemical warfare agents.

    Iraq’s U.N. Ambassador Mohamed Ali Alhakim said in a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon circulated Tuesday that “terrorist” groups entered the Muthanna site June 11 and seized weapons and equipment from the protection force guarding the facility.

    He singled out the capture of bunkers 13 and 41 in the sprawling complex, which according to a 2004 U.N. report also contained the toxic agent sodium cyanide, which is a precursor for the chemical warfare agent tabun, and artillery shells contaminated with mustard gas.

    For obvious reasons, that had a lot of folk concerned. The current version at the same link begins:

    Iraq: ‘Terrorists’ seize ex-chemical weapons site

    UNITED NATIONS (AP) – The Islamic State extremist group has taken control of a vast former chemical weapons facility northwest of Baghdad, where remnants of 2,500 degraded chemical rockets filled decades ago with the deadly nerve agent sarin are stored along with other chemical warfare agents, Iraq said in a letter circulated Tuesday at the United Nations.

    The U.S. government played down the threat from the takeover, saying there are no intact chemical weapons and it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to use the material for military purposes.

    Iraq’s U.N. Ambassador Mohamed Ali Alhakim told U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in a letter that “armed terrorist groups” entered the Muthanna site on June 11, detained officers and soldiers from the protection force guarding the facilities and seized their weapons. The following morning, the project manager spotted the looting of some equipment via the camera surveillance system before the “terrorists” disabled it, he said.

    The Islamic State group, which controls parts of Syria, sent its fighters into neighboring Iraq last month and quickly captured a vast stretch of territory straddling the border between the two countries. Last week, its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, declared the establishment of an Islamic state, or caliphate, in the land the extremists control.

    Alhakim said as a result of the takeover of Muthanna, Iraq is unable “to fulfil its obligations to destroy chemical weapons” because of the deteriorating security situation. He said it would resume its obligations “as soon as the security situation has improved and control of the facility has been regained.”

    Alhakim singled out the capture of bunkers 13 and 41 in the sprawling complex 35 miles (56 kilometers) northwest of Baghdad in the notorious “Sunni Triangle.”

    The last major report by U.N. inspectors on the status of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction program was released about a year after the experts left in March 2003. It states that Bunker 13 contained 2,500 sarin-filled 122-mm chemical rockets produced and filled before 1991, and about 180 tons of sodium cyanide, “a very toxic chemical and a precursor for the warfare agent tabun.”

    The U.N. said the bunker was bombed during the first Gulf War in February 1991, which routed Iraq from Kuwait, and the rockets were “partially destroyed or damaged.”

    It said the sarin munitions were “of poor quality” and “would largely be degraded after years of storage under the conditions existing there.” It said the tabun-filled containers were all treated with decontamination solution and likely no longer contain any agent, but “the residue of this decontamination would contain cyanides, which would still be a hazard.”

    CBRN would be the game-changer…

    And I’m not quite sure yet, whether to feel relieved again or not.

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