David Petraeus, the former commander of coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan and former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, said in an interview in The Washington Post Friday that Iran and its proxy militias in Iraq are a greater regional threat than ISIS. “The #1 long term threat to Iraq’s equilibrium – and the broader regional balance – is not the Islamic State…The most significant long term threat is that posed by the Iranian-backed Shiite militias.” He underscored, “The current Iranian regime is not our ally in the Middle East. It is ultimately part of the problem, not the solution. The more the Iranians are seen to be dominating the region, the more it is going to inflame Sunni radicalism and fuel the rise of groups like the Islamic State.” As for the leader of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) Quds Force, Qassem Suleimani, Petraeus said, “I have several thoughts when I see pictures of him, but most of those thoughts probably aren’t suitable for publication in a family newspaper.”
Iraqi forces, substantially bolstered by Iranian-backed Shiite militias that are commanded by Suleimani, launched an offensive on March 2 to capture the Iraqi city of Tikrit from ISIS. Tikrit is a predominantly Sunni city and the hometown of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. According to Pentagon officials, the offensive has stalled as the battle has digressed into street fighting and the Iraqi forces face logistical issues.
Iraqi forces and Shiite militias have reportedly carried out atrocities in Tikrit, murdering and torturing their prisoners and posing with their severed heads. Houses in the village of Albu Ajil, outside of Tikrit, have been burned down, allegedly by the Iran-backed Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia. The Shiite militias’ brutality is not new: they have been accused of massacring 72 unarmed Sunnis in the village of Barwanah in January. An ABC News story last week detailed some of the crimes that have been committed by Iraqi forces and militias, including massacres of civilians, executions, and torture. Human Rights Watch reported on Wednesday that Iranian-backed militias destroyed thousands of Sunnis’ houses after capturing the Iraqi town of Amerli from ISIS last summer. James Jeffrey, former U.S. ambassador to Iraq, estimated that Iranian-backed militias were responsible for up to one-quarter of American casualties during the Iraq War.
In addition to Iraq, Iran has also expanded its influence in Syria, by actively backing Bashar al-Assad in a conflict that has claimed more than 210,000 lives, and in Yemen, through the Houthi militia, which overthrew the U.S.-allied Yemeni government in February. Iran appears to be preparing a front along the Israeli border on the Golan Heights, where it has assisted Hezbollah in building terror infrastructure.
Over 360 members of the House of Representatives, including majorities of both parties, signed a letter notifying the White House that Congress won't enact permanent sanctions relief for Iran unless representatives are convinced that the terms of the nuclear deal being negotiated will "foreclose any pathway to a bomb."
According to The Hill the letter, which was written by Rep. Eliot Engel (D - N.Y.), read, in part:
Should an agreement with Iran be reached, permanent sanctions relief from congressionally-mandated sanctions would require new legislation.
In reviewing such an agreement, Congress must be convinced that its terms foreclose any pathway to a bomb, and only then will Congress be able to consider permanent sanctions relief.
According to The Hill, Engel's call is not for preemptive legislative action, but rather for Congress to vote on a deal after it is concluded. In remarks before a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing yesterday, Engel, the ranking member of the committee, explained the rationale behind the letter:
Make no mistake: Congress will play an important role in the evaluation of a final deal. Again, I want to say that I will not stand by and allow Congress to be marginalized. Any permanent repeal of sanctions is, by law, Congress’s discretion. And before we do that, we must be completely convinced that this deal blocks all of Iran’s pathways to a nuclear bomb.
The Associated Press reported yesterday that a leaked draft of the deal showed that the agreement being negotiated would leave Iran with most of its nuclear infrastructure intact.
Street Capture’s one-off furniture made from graffiti pays homage to Tel Aviv’s old-school craftsmen and young street culture. From their studio in South Tel Aviv’s Florentin neighborhood, industrial designers and best friends Ariel Zuckerman and Eran Shimshovic watched as month by month, more carpenters were closing shop permanently amid the changing character of Florentin. Zuckerman and Shimshovic realized they could combine the vanishing world of furniture-makers with the emerging vibrancy of street artists.
Street Capture, their resulting line of high-end, one-of-a-kind furniture, is a hit in Israel and abroad. “Taking something two dimensional from the public space and make it into a three-dimensional piece of furniture for your house preserves both the craft and the culture,” Zuckerman tells ISRAEL21c. They began by attaching blank wooden boards to the walls of Florentin’s alleyways, knowingly supplying a clean canvas for graffiti artists. Some of the boards got stolen, but most of them were soon covered in bold graphics. They then took the boards to their studio. The artwork is protected with acrylic and fused onto HDF, a dense, smooth fiberboard that can be cut, drilled, painted or processed.
“The first product was a dresser we called Zerifin 35, which is the street address where we hung the wooden board. Then we did a cocktail table,” says Zuckerman. “Then, as people started finding out about what we were doing, street artists asked us how they could participate,” he explains. “So now we are doing collaborations with street artists…they are free to paint what they like — all in one day. We pay them and give them the credit.” (via Israel21c)