Iran-linked kidnapping of 3 Americans in Iraq said to threaten Obama administration warming efforts

Iranian-backed militias were behind the kidnapping of three Americans in Baghdad on January 16, according to U.S. intelligence and Iraqi police quoted by a range of outlets this week, potentially upsetting the warming of U.S. and Iranian ties. The Wall Street Journal reported late Monday that the three groups currently being entertained as potential suspects – Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq (AAH), Kata’ib Hezbollah, and the Badr Corps – have all received financing, weapons, and training from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which is tasked with preserving the Iranian revolution at home and exporting it abroad.

The three Americans have reportedly been taken to Sadr City, a stronghold of AAH. Max Boot, a foreign policy analyst at the Council on Foreign Relations, and Michael Pregent, a senior Middle East analyst at the Hudson Institute, wrote in The Washington Post on Sunday that the AAH is a “wholly owned subsidiary of Iran’s Quds Force. It is inconceivable that it could kidnap and hold Americans…without at least the acquiescence, and probably the active support, of Tehran.” Scott Modell, an Iran expert and former CIA official, told the Journal,  “No group has been more vocal in its threats to U.S. forces in Iraq than Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, and none more steadfast in its loyalty to IRGC hardliners.”

The incident has the potential to undermine increasingly open administration efforts at warming relations with Iran. Former U.S. officials “have voiced concerns that the Obama administration’s hopes for improved relations with Tehran weren’t being matched by Iranian actions in the region,” according to a story on the recent abductions by Jay Solomon of The Wall Street Journal. The story cited additional recent provocations such as Iran’s two recent ballistic missile tests, the firing of an unguided rocket within 1,500 yards of a U.S. aircraft carrier, and the detention of 10 American sailors.

A State Department source told CBS News that the U.S. embassy in Iraq had received information that an Iranian-backed militia was planning on kidnapping Americans. American officials hoped that Iran would be able to rein in the militia during negotiations that led to the release of five Americans in return for the release of seven Iranians accused of sanctions-busting, and the dropping of 14 further Iranian individuals from Interpol’s red list.


Hundreds of anti-Israel protesters disrupted a Shabbat service and reception held by an Israeli LGBTQ organization at a conference for gay activism in Chicago, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported on Sunday.Guests and organizers at the reception by A Wider Bridge, a group devoted to building closer ties between gay communities in North America and Israel, were shouted down with calls for the destruction of Israel and charges of “pinkwashing.” The term is meant to criticize alleged efforts by Israel to showcase its positive record on gay rights as a means of downplaying accusations that it mistreats Palestinians.

The entrance to the event, which was held during the National LGBTQ Task Force’s annual Creating Change conference, was restricted by protesters who yelled anti-Israel slogans, including, “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” The chant refers to the establishment of a Palestinian state in the territory from the Jordan river to the Mediterranean sea, in place of Israel.

Some protesters also entered the reception, took over the stage, and prevented members of Jerusalem Open House, an Israeli gay activist organization, from speaking.

“Last night the values of free speech and respectful communication that we all value and that should be the hallmark of the Creating Change conference were replaced by a disgraceful authoritarian-like action that seeks to silence the voices of anyone the protesters feel don’t adhere to their rigid dogma,” said A Wider Bridge in a statement. “Lies and gross distortions about A Wider Bridge and Israel were being repeated throughout the conference and at the protest. We look forward to working with the leadership of the Task Force to ensure that Creating Change can be a welcoming and safe space for LGBT people, Jews and non-Jews, who care about Israel.”

The National LGBTQ Task Force originally decided to cancel A Wider Bridge’s Shabbat event under pressure from anti-Israel activists, but later reversed its decision after facing a major public backlash.

Jamie Kirchick wrote in Tablet Magazine that the event’s initial cancellation reflected a capitulation by the Task Force to calls by a small group of extremists to engage in anti-Semitic discrimination:

“We canceled the reception when it became clear to us it would be intensely divisive rather than the community-building, social atmosphere which is the norm for Friday night at the conference,” Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey said in an emailed statement. Tyler Gregory, Deputy Director of A Wider Bridge, told the Washington Blade that the Task Force “recommended we either cancel [the] event, or ensure that our event speakers condemn the Israeli government in their remarks,” though which aspects of Israel’s government the Task Force expected A Wider Bridge—which receives no Israeli government funding—to “condemn” were left vague. Refusing to comply with either demand, A Wider Bridge was forced to move its event to a different hotel.


Carey’s contention that the happening—announced months ago—would be “intensely divisive” appears to rest on complaints registered by just three people: Dean Spade, a transgender professor at the Seattle University School of Law and a self-described “trans south Asian performance art duo” named Dark Matter. These, at least, were the only individuals named in the Blade story as having made public statements egging on the Task Force to engage in what is effectively an act of anti-Semitic prejudice and segregation.


And let there be no confusion: A non-compulsory Shabbat dinner and discussion of the Israeli LGBT experience is “divisive” in the way that the presence of a gay man in a locker room is “divisive.” It only “offends” the sensibilities of bigots. When a white person refuses to sit at a lunch counter next to a black person, or a straight football player refuses to play alongside a gay one, we have a word for that: discrimination. Nonetheless, a group ostensibly committed to fighting discrimination and that holds a conference so inclusive of the world’s many diversities that it provides “scent-free” areas for individuals highly sensitive to smell, bowed to those wanting to make it Jew-free as well.

Benjamin Weinthal, a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, recently noted that an LGBT film festival organized by a Palestinian gay rights organization, Aswat-Palestinian Gay Women, is scheduled to be held this year in the Israeli city of Haifa, rather than in any area under the Palestinian Authority’s control.

In The Persistent Progress of Israel’s LGBT Community, which was published in the April 2015 issue of The Tower Magazine, Corinne Berzon discussed the advances LGBT individuals in Israel have made in gaining mainstream societal acceptance, and the challenges their community continues to face. (via


The Moovit crowd-powered transit app is already making public transportation a more accessible option for millions of commuters in cities across the globe. It gives users real-time info on which bus or train will get them to their destination and when it is due to arrive at their station. Now the green-thinking Tel Aviv company has added another weapon in its anti-pollution arsenal: a bike-sharing feature available to users in 130 locations around the world. Launched January 11, Moovit’s Version 4.8 for Android and iOS works like this: Find your preferred location on the map and you’ll see the number of available rental bikes noted on the map icon. Tap the icon to review the available bikes or to see how many empty slots are open to return your bike at the location. Tap “Get Directions” and Moovit will guide you step-by-step to your bicycle. “You know those days when you’re sitting in traffic, watching pedestrians walk by faster than your bus is inching along? For days like this, and also when you’d rather enjoy the nice weather out than sit on a bus, or you’re in the mood for a little extra exercise, Bike Sharing in Moovit will help you get around,” a Moovit blogger explains. (via Israel21c)

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