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Tuesday 29th of October 2019

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Macro Thoughts

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Aristotle Onassis's yacht was a floating Xanadu that seduced them all Telegraph

A yacht is never just a yacht. For Aristotle Onassis, the Christina
was a palace of seduction, a place to broker deals, a celebrity
honeytrap and the most conspicuous symbol of his successful shipping
empire. On a visit with Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton acknowledged
in one sentence both the generosity of his host and his blatant
self-indulgence. “I don’t think there is a man or woman on earth,” he
said, “who would not be seduced by the pure narcissism shamelessly
flaunted on this boat.”
Ari, who would deploy his wolfish charm on Maria Callas, Jacqueline
Kennedy and numberless other women there, saw no edge in the remark.
“I have found that to be so,” he replied.
Every big boat owner, puffed out with the romance of the sea and his
rightful place upon it, likes to think he has created a legend.
Aristotle Onassis, the Greek shipping magnate, truly did.
The opulent Christina, a decommissioned warship that he bought for
scrap in 1954 and spent £4 million converting, became a floating
Xanadu to some of the most important figures of the 20th century. She
is up for sale again this week – asking price, £21 million.
In 1968 Onassis married President Kennedy’s widow, Jackie, on board,
close to his private island of Skorpios: the ultimate trophy wife on
the ultimate trophy ship. Monaco’s Prince Rainier and his film star
wife Grace Kelly were favoured guests.
Egypt’s dethroned King Farouk, who had a bauble or two himself, called
the yacht “the last word in opulence”. Winston Churchill, in white
Panama hat and cruising suit, was aboard for eight cruises between
1958 and 1965.
John F Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, Greta Garbo, Liza
Minnelli, Eva Peron, John Wayne, Rudolf Nureyev, and a fistful of
Rothschilds and Rockefellers all swept down the onyx and silver
staircase, swam in a marble pool that at the touch of a button rose to
become a dance floor and could sit at a bar – Ari’s Bar – on stools
upholstered with the foreskin of the minke whale. There was a Renoir,
a Di Chirico and two fake Goyas that Onassis enjoyed letting his
guests think were real. These were the post-austerity Fifties. There
had been nothing like it.
The barstools allowed Onassis to indulge regularly in one of his poor
jokes. “Madame,” he would say to female guests. “You are sitting on
the largest penis in the world.” Ari was not subtle. The man who began
work as a £12-a-week telephone operator in Buenos Aires and became a
friend of prime ministers felt no need to be.
Once under sail, lavish amounts of Dom Perignon and caviar helped
disperse any misunderstanding, and the two men struck up a friendship.
A year later, Churchill asked Ari to introduce him to a promising
young senator from Massachusetts, John F Kennedy. He and Jackie were
invited for pre-dinner drinks. “There is something provocative about
that lady,” Onassis remarked as they left. “She has a carnal soul.”
“The more beautiful a woman is,” he observed, “the more money it takes
to keep her interested.”

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Caliph closure: 'He died like a dog' @asiatimesonline's Pepe Escobar
Law & Politics

“He died like a dog.” President Trump could not have scripted a better
one-liner as he got ready for his Obama bin Laden close-up in front of
the whole world.
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, fake caliph, ISIS/Daesh leader, the most wanted
man on the planet, was “brought to justice” under Trump’s watch.
The dead dog caliph is now positioned as the ultimate foreign policy
winning trophy ahead of 2020 reelection.
The climatic scenes of the inevitable-as-death-and-taxes movie or
Netflix series to come are already written. (Trump: I “watched it like
a movie.”)
Cowardly uber-terrorist cornered in a dead-end tunnel, eight
helicopter gunships hovering above, dogs barking in the darkness,
three terrified children taken as hostages, coward detonates a suicide
vest, tunnel collapses over himself and the children.
A crack forensic team carrying samples of the fake caliph’s DNA
apparently does its job in record time. The remains of the
self-exploded target – then sealed in plastic bags – confirm it: it’s
Baghdadi. In the dead of night, it’s time for the commando unit to go
back to Irbil, a 70-minute flight over northeast Syria and northwest
Cut to Trump’s presser. Mission accomplished. Roll credits.
This all happened at a compound only 300 meters away from the village
of Barisha, in Idlib, rural northwest Syria, only 5km from the
Syria-Turkish border. T
The compound is no more:  it was turned to rubble so it would not
become a (Syrian) shrine for a renegade Iraqi.
The caliph was already on the run, and arrived at this rural back of
beyond only 48 hours before the raid, according to Turkish
A serious question is what he was doing in northwest Syria, in Idlib –
a de facto cauldron-like Donbass in 2014 – which the Syrian army and
Russian airpower are just waiting for the right moment to extinguish.
There are virtually no ISIS/Daesh jihadis in Irbil, but lots of Hayat
Tahrir al-Sham, formerly Jabhat al-Nusra, as in al-Qaeda in Syria,
known inside the Beltway as “moderate rebels,” including hardcore
Turkmen brigades previously weaponized by Turkish intel.
The only rational explanation is that the Caliph might have identified
this Idlib backwater near Barisha, away from the war zone, as the
ideal under-the-radar passport to cross to Turkey.
Russians knew?
The plot thickens when we examine Trump’s long list of “thank yous”
for the successful raid. Russia came first, followed by Syria –
presumably Syrian Kurds, not Damascus – Turkey and Iraq.
In fact, Syrian Kurds were only credited with “certain support,” in
Trump’s words. Their commander Mazloum Abdi, though, preferred to
extol the raid as a “historic operation” with essential Syrian Kurd
intel input.
In Trump’s press conference, expanding somewhat on the thank yous,
Russia again came first (“great” collaboration) and Iraq was
“excellent”: the Iraqi National Intelligence Service later commented
on the break it had gotten, via a Syrian who had smuggled the wives of
two of Baghdadi’s brothers, Ahmad and Jumah, to Idlib via Turkey.
There’s no way US Special Forces could have pulled this off without
complex, combined Turkish, Iraqi and Syrian Kurd intel.
Additionally, President Erdogan accomplishes one more tactical
masterpiece, juggling between performing the role of dutiful, major
NATO ally while still allowing al-Qaeda remnants their safe haven in
Idlib under the watchful eye of the Turkish military.
Significantly, Trump said, about Moscow: “We told them, ‘We’re coming
in’ … and they said, ‘Thank you for telling us.’” But, “they did not
know the mission.”
They definitely didn’t. In fact, the Russian Defense Ministry, via
spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov, said it had “no reliable
information about US servicemen conducting an operation to ‘yet
another’ elimination of the former Daesh leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi
in the Turkish-controlled part of the Idlib de-escalation zone.”
And on Trump’s “we told them,” the Russian Defense Ministry was
emphatic: “We know nothing about any assistance to the flight of US
aircraft to the Idlib de-escalation zone’s airspace in the course of
this operation.”
According to ground sources in Syria, a prevalent rumor in Idlib is
that the “dead dog” in Barisha could be Abu Mohammad Salama, the
leader of Haras al-Din, a minor sub-group of al-Qaeda in Syria. Haras
al-Din has not issued any statement about it.
ISIS/Daesh anyway has already named a successor: Abdullah Qardash, aka
Hajji Abdullah al-Afari, also Iraqi and also a former Saddam Hussein
military officer.
There’s a strong possibility that ISIS/Daesh and myriad subgroups and
variations of al-Qaeda in Syria will now re-merge, after their split
in 2014.
Who gets the oil?
There’s no plausible explanation whatsoever for Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi,
for years, enjoying the freedom of shuttling back and forth between
Syria and Iraq, always evading the formidable surveillance
capabilities of the US government.
Well, there’s also no plausible explanation for that famous convoy of
53 brand new, white Toyota Hi-Luxes crossing the desert from Syria to
Iraq in 2014 crammed with flag-waving ISIS/Daesh jihadis on their way
to capture Mosul, also evading the cornucopia of US satellites
covering the Middle East 24/7.
And there’s no way to bury the 2012 US Defense Intelligence Agency
(DIA)  leaked memo that explicitly named “the West, Gulf monarchies,
and Turkey” as seeking a “Salafist principality” in Syria (opposed,
significantly, by Russia, China and Iran – the key poles of Eurasia
That was way before ISIS/Daesh’s irresistible ascension. The DIA memo
was unmistakable: “If the situation unravels there is the possibility
of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist principality in
eastern Syria (Hasaka and Der Zor), and this is exactly what the
supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the
Syrian regime, which is considered the strategic depth of the Shia
expansion (Iraq and Iran).
True, the fake caliph has been proclaimed definitely dead at least
five times, starting in December 2016. Yet the timing, now, could not
be more convenient.
The facts on the ground, after the latest ground-breaking
Russia-brokered deal between the Turks and the Syrian Kurds,
graphically spell out the slow but sure restoration of Syria’s
territorial integrity.
There will be no balkanization of Syria. The last remaining pocket to
be cleared of jihadis is Irbil.
And then, there’s the oil question. The “died as a dog” movie
literally buries – at least for now – an extremely embarrassing story:
the Pentagon deploying tanks to “protect” Syrian oilfields.
This is as illegal, by any possible interpretation of international
law, as is, for that matter, the very presence in Syria of US troops,
which were never invited by the government in Damascus.
Persian Gulf traders told me that before 2011, Syria was producing
387,000 barrels of oil a day and selling 140,000 – the equivalent of
25.1% of Damascus’s income. Nowadays, the Omar, al-Shadaddi and
Suwayda fields, in eastern Syria, would not be producing more than
60,000 barrels a day.
Still, that’s essential for Damascus and for “the Syrian people” so
admired within the Beltway – the legitimate owners of the oil.
The mostly Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) did in fact take
military control of Deir er-Zor when they were fighting ISIS/Daesh.
Yet the majority of the local population is Sunni Arab. They will
never tolerate any hint of a longtime Syrian Kurd domination – much
less in tandem with a US occupation.
Sooner or later the Syrian army will get there, with Russian air power
support. The Deep State might, but Trump, in an electoral year, would
never risk a hot war over a few, illegally occupied oilfields.
In the end, the “died as a dog” movie can be interpreted as a victory
lap, and the closure of a historical arc languishing since 2011.
When he “abandoned” the Syrian Demoratic Forces Kurds, Trump
effectively buried the Rojava question – as in an independent Syrian
Russia is in charge in Syria – on all fronts. Turkey got rid of its
“terrorism” paranoia – always having to demonize the Syrian Kurd PYD
and its armed wing YPG as a spin-off of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party
(PKK) separatists inside Turkey – and this may help to settle the
Syrian refugee question. Syria is on the way to recover all its
The “died as a dog” movie can also be interpreted as the liquidation
of a formerly useful asset that was a valued component of the gift
that keeps on giving, the never-ending Global War on Terror. Other
scarecrows, and other movies, await.

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Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, ISIS Leader Known for His Brutality, Is Dead at 48 @nytimes @rcallimachi
Law & Politics

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the cunning and enigmatic black-clad leader of
the Islamic State who transformed a flagging insurgency into a global
terrorist network that drew tens of thousands of recruits from 100
countries, has died at 48.
His death was announced on Sunday by President Trump, who said
al-Baghdadi detonated a suicide vest during a raid this weekend in
northwestern Syria by United States Special Forces. Mr. Trump said
preliminary tests had confirmed his identity.
There was no immediate confirmation from the Islamic State’s media
arm, which typically is quick to claim attacks but generally takes
longer to confirm the deaths of its leaders.
The son of a pious Sunni family from the Iraqi district of Samarra,
al-Baghdadi parlayed religious fervor, hatred of nonbelievers and the
power of the internet into the path that catapulted him onto the
global stage.
He commanded an organization that, at its peak, controlled a territory
the size of Britain from which it directed and inspired acts of terror
in more than three dozen countries.
Al-Baghdadi was the world’s most-wanted terrorist chieftain, the
target of a $25 million bounty from the American government. His death
followed a yearslong, international manhunt that consumed the
intelligence services of multiple countries and spanned two American
presidential administrations.
Al-Baghdadi evaded capture for nearly a decade by hewing to a series
of extreme security measures, even when meeting with his most-trusted
“They even made me remove my wristwatch,” recounted Ismail al-Ithawy,
a top aide who was captured last year. He spoke from a jail in Iraq,
where he has been sentenced to death.
After being stripped of electronic devices, including cellphones and
cameras, Mr. al-Ithawy and others recalled, they were blindfolded,
loaded onto buses and driven for hours to an unknown location. When
they were finally allowed to remove their blindfolds, they would find
al-Baghdadi sitting before them.
Meetings lasted between 15 and 30 minutes and the ISIS chief would
leave the building first. His visitors were required to stay under
armed guard for hours after his exit.
Then they were once again blindfolded and driven back to their
original point of departure, according to aides who saw him in three
of the past five years.
“Baghdadi’s concern was always: Who will betray him? He didn’t trust
anyone,” said Gen. Yahya Rasool, a spokesman of the Iraqi Joint
Operation Command.
Much of the world first learned of al-Baghdadi in 2014, when his men
overran one-third of Iraq and half of neighboring Syria and declared
the territory a caliphate, claiming to revive the Muslim theocracy
that ended with the fall of the Ottoman Empire.
The move distinguished the Islamic State from Al Qaeda, the older
Islamist terrorist group under whose yoke al-Baghdadi’s men had
operated for nearly a decade in Iraq before violently breaking away.
Although Osama bin Laden, the Qaeda leader, had dreamed of restoring
the caliphate, he was reluctant to declare one, perhaps fearing the
overwhelming military response that eventually cost al-Baghdadi his
Yet it took five years before troops seized in March the last acre of
land under al-Baghdadi’s rule. And in the interim, the promise of a
physical caliphate electrified tens of thousands of followers who
flocked to Syria to serve his imagined state.
At its peak, the group’s black flag flew over major population
centers, including the Iraqi city of Mosul, with a population of 1.4
Its territory spread east into the plains of Nineveh, the biblical
city where the extremists turned centuries-old churches into bomb
factories. It reached north into the mountains of Sinjar, whose women
were singled out for sexual enslavement. It extended south to the
Syrian oil fields of Deir al-Zour and the majestic colonnades of
Acting under the orders of a “Delegated Committee” headed by
al-Baghdadi, the group known variously as ISIS, ISIL and Daesh imposed
its violent interpretation of Islam in these territories.
Women accused of adultery were stoned to death, thieves had their
hands hacked off, and men who had defied the militants were beheaded.
While some of those medieval punishments are also meted out in places
like Saudi Arabia, the Islamic State shocked people around the world
by televising its executions. It also offended Muslims by inventing
horrific punishments that are not mentioned in Islamic scripture.
A Jordanian pilot was burned alive in a scene filmed by overhead
drones. Men accused of being spies were drowned in cages, as
underwater cameras captured their last tortured gasp. Others were
crushed under the treads of a T-55 tank, or strung up by their feet
inside a slaughterhouse and butchered like animals.
But in addition to brutality, the group also meted out services,
running a state that was recognized by no one other than themselves,
but which in certain categories outperformed the one it had usurped.
The Islamic State collected taxes and saw to it that the garbage was
picked up. Couples who got married could expect to receive a marriage
license printed on Islamic State stationery.
Once children of those unions were born, their birth weight was duly
recorded on an ISIS-issued birth certificate. The group even ran its
own D.M.V.
For a group intent on re-establishing a theocracy from the Middle
Ages, the Islamic State was very much a creature of its time.
The militants harnessed the internet to connect with thousands of
followers around the globe, making them feel as if they were virtual
citizens of the caliphate.
The message of these new jihadists was clear, and many of those on
whose ears it fell found it emboldening: Anyone, anywhere, could act
in the group’s name.
That allowed ISIS to multiply its lethality by remotely inspiring
attacks, carried out by men who never set foot in a training camp.
In this fashion, ISIS was responsible for the deaths of thousands of
people around the world. A shooting at an office party in San
Bernardino, Calif. An attack on a Christmas market in Germany. A truck
attack in Nice, France, on Bastille Day. Suicide bombings at churches
on Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka.
In many instances, the attackers left behind recordings, social media
posts or videos pledging allegiance to al-Baghdadi.
“Baghdadi was central to giving voice to ISIS’ project in a manner
that achieved startling resonance with vulnerable individuals
globally,” said Joshua Geltzer, who was senior director for
counterterrorism at the National Security Council until 2017.
“He will remain a singular figure in the group’s emergence and
evolution,” Mr. Geltzer said.
‘Sheikh Ibrahim’
Born Ibrahim Awad Ibrahim Ali al-Badri, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi began
life in a dry and desolate plain in the village of Al Jallam in
central Iraq. He was one of five sons and several daughters of a
conservative Sunni man who eked out a living selling sheep.
Neighbors described the family as average, and the area as unremarkable.
But one detail stands out in al-Baghdadi’s early story, and it would
later become a key element in his claim to be a caliph or religious
ruler: Al Jallam is populated by members of the al-Badri tribe, which
traces its lineage to the Quraysh people of the Arabian Peninsula —
the tribe of the Prophet Muhammad.
A hereditary connection to the Quraysh is regarded as a prerequisite
for becoming a caliph, and pamphlets published by ISIS exhorting
Muslims to pledge allegiance to al-Baghdadi trace his ancestry from
the Badri community in Al Jallam to Fatima, the youngest daughter of
the prophet.
By the time al-Baghdadi began elementary school, the family had moved
to the nearby city of Samarra. He was a mediocre student. His high
school transcript shows that his highest grade was in art (95 out of
100), while in core subjects like algebra, he mustered scores in the
low 50s.
In interviews with 17 people who knew al-Baghdadi, including friends,
classmates, neighbors, teachers and former pupils, he was described as
“shy,” “reserved,” “isolated” and “quiet.” He found his place, they
said, at the local mosque, where his father enrolled him in a Quranic
memorization class.
“Yes, he had a spiritual gift,” said the owner of the Ahmed Ibn Hanbal
mosque, Khalid Ahmed Ismael, adding, “His soul was connected to the
Mr. Ismael recalled how, without being prompted, al-Baghdadi — a nom
de guerre he adopted when he became a militant — would lead the other
boys in cleaning the house of worship, dragging the carpets outside,
hosing them down and placing them on the roof to dry.
And he quickly outdid the other boys in the memorization and
recitation of scripture. By the time he was in high school,
congregants began asking for the boy to lead the prayer in the imam’s
“That’s how sweet his voice was,” Mr. Ismael said. “It was so sweet
that you could feel the sweetness and it would attract others into the
But already there were signs that al-Baghdadi saw his conservative
approach to faith as one that should be imposed on others.
When a neighbor got a tattoo of a heart on his arm, al-Baghdadi
lectured him. Tattoos, the neighbor, Younes Taha, recalled him saying,
are forbidden under Islamic law. Soon, he even felt comfortable
reproaching his mentors.
“When you stand up and recite the prayer, the smell of your breath
will make the angels fly away,” he reportedly told Mr. Ismael when the
mosque owner began smoking.
At age 20, in 1991, he enrolled in the Shariah college of Baghdad
University, according to school records obtained by The New York Times
from Iraq’s intelligence agency.
He earned a bachelor’s degree and then enrolled at Saddam University,
an institution dedicated to Islamic studies where he earned a master’s
degree and a doctorate in topics related to Islamic scripture.
To pay for his studies, he taught Quranic classes at al-Haj Zaidan
Mosque in the Topchi neighborhood of Baghdad, where his pupils
referred to him as “Sheikh Ibrahim.”
Those who interacted with him described him as taciturn and reserved,
a quality that impressed his students.
 “When I asked him, ‘Sheikh Ibrahim, I have a question for you,’ he
would answer just the question and nothing more,” said the mosque’s
current imam, Ahmed Rajab, who was al-Baghdadi’s pupil in the early
2000s. “We would try to get him to talk to us. He didn’t gossip. His
reserve came from his self-discipline.”
But outside the mosque, some began to be bothered by his proselytizing.
On weekends, he coached a youth soccer team, using practices as an
opportunity to hand out pamphlets advocating the ultraconservative
Wahhabi strain of Islam.
“We were like: ‘Why? We’re here to play soccer.’ I just took it and
threw it away,” recalled Faisal Ghazi Taih, one of the former players.
His parents pulled him off the team when they found out, he said.
In 2003, as military jets sliced the sky over Baghdad and the American
invasion to topple Saddam Hussein began, al-Baghdadi told his students
at the mosque in Topchi that he was heading home.
Less than a year later, Mr. Taha was watching TV when he suddenly
recognized his former neighbor in footage showing detainees arrested
by American forces. They were lined up in orange jumpsuits, the same
color that Western hostages of ISIS would later be forced to wear in
their execution videos.
Security officials say that al-Baghdadi was arrested near Falluja at
the home of his in-laws in January 2004.
The target of the raid was al-Baghdadi’s brother-in-law, who had taken
up arms against the American occupation. Al-Baghdadi was swept up in
the raid, considered little more than a hanger-on at that point,
officials said.
He spent 11 months in a detention center at Camp Bucca, according to
declassified Pentagon records.
Some analysts have argued that it was his time in American custody
that radicalized him. Those who were imprisoned alongside him,
however, say he was already committed to violence when he entered the
sprawling prison camp.
Talib al-Mayahi, now 54, met al-Baghdadi inside the tent where they
were both assigned at Camp Bucca. Al-Baghdadi was in his 30s and went
by the nom de guerre “Abu Dua,” recalled his fellow detainee, who is
under a form of witness protection in Iraq and was interviewed in the
presence of intelligence agents.
The prisoners inside the camp were beginning to organize, appointing
secret “emirs” of each tent, Mr. al-Mayahi said, and al-Baghdadi was
chosen to lead his.
He immediately set to work driving Shiite prisoners from the tent,
leaning on a gang of fellow Sunni prisoners, armed with shanks made
from the metal mined from the camp’s air-conditioning units, Mr.
al-Mayahi said.
Hatred of the Shiites was a hallmark of the insurgency that was
sweeping across Iraq. Their places of worship began to be targeted in
a move that was criticized even by Al Qaeda.
Later, it would become a hallmark of the Islamic State, whose
followers began targeting the sect throughout the world, dispatching
suicide bombers to Shiite sites in Lebanon, Afghanistan, Iran and
“It got to the point where Shiite prisoners would ask to be
transferred to another tent,” Mr. al-Mayahi said. “Then when there
were no Shiite left, he began threatening fellow Sunnis: Why are you
smoking? How come you didn’t show up to prayer? Why is your beard so
The Hunt
Pentagon records indicate that al-Baghdadi was released in late 2004,
a failure of intelligence that would come to haunt American officials.
“It’s hard to imagine we could have had a crystal ball then that would
tell us he’d become head of ISIS,” a Pentagon official told The Times
a decade later.
For years, he disappeared from view. Then in 2009, security forces
recovered a cache of documents in a safe house used by the militants
and found the name “Abu Dua” on the group’s personnel list.
His clout inside the terrorist group did not become clear until months
later, when security forces captured a senior leader of the
insurgency, said Abu Ali al-Basri, the director general of Iraqi
At a checkpoint in Baghdad in March of 2010, Iraqi agents arrested
Manaf al-Rawi, believed to be one of the executioners of an American
contractor, Nick Berg, whose videotaped beheading was posted on the
Under interrogation, Mr. al-Rawi named “Abu Dua,” as one of the
group’s coordinators, tasked with passing secret messages between the
“I directly sent word to the prime minister with the names of three
people we deemed important based on the interrogation of Manaf
al-Rawi,” Mr. al-Basri said. “One of the three was Baghdadi.”
Not long after, in May of 2010, the insurgents announced their new
leader: It was Abu Dua, who now introduced himself to the world as
“Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.”
The meaning of the new nom de guerre was not lost on his future
followers: Abu Bakr was the first caliph after the Prophet Muhammad’s
death in ancient Arabia and is credited with the wave of Islamic
expansion that followed.
For the next three years, Mr. al-Basri’s agents hunted al-Baghdadi,
setting up at least six stings to arrest him.
There were numerous near-misses, he claims, saying they came close to
catching him in the Baghdad district of Mansour, then in Adamiya,
where he was spotted driving. On another occasion, they got a tip that
he was driving to the town of Ghazaliya to meet with a Qaeda
And in Topchi, near the mosque where his voice used to call the
faithful to prayer, they laid an ambush. Somehow, he managed to get
“At that point, he was more lucky than he was smart,” Mr. al-Basri said.
But with each close call, al-Baghdadi became more circumspect, more
obsessed with security and more untrusting. He is believed to have
stopped using cellphones more than a decade ago, relying exclusively
on hand-delivered messages, Mr. al-Basri said.
In 2014, when he ascended the marbled pulpit of a mosque in Mosul to
declare the caliphate, it was the first time a video appeared that
showed his face uncovered.
Al-Baghdadi’s reclusiveness fed rumors of his demise, with many news
outlets carrying speculative reports of his death, all of which proved
to be untrue.
Each time, he resurfaced in audio recordings, and later videos,
thumbing his nose at the world.
American officials who worked in the Obama administration say that for
all of 2014, 2015 and 2016 there was not a single time when they
believed they had solid intelligence about al-Baghdadi’s whereabouts,
even as numerous other senior Islamic State leaders were hunted down
and killed, including al-Baghdadi’s No. 2.
But unlike Osama bin Laden, al-Baghdadi was no recluse.
Bin Laden walled himself off from the world in a compound in Pakistan
in an effort to avoid detection and operated as a distant manager.
Al-Baghdadi, by contrast, was directly involved in some of his group’s
most notorious atrocities, including the organized rape of women
considered to be nonbelievers.
One of them was D, who was just 15 years old when she was kidnapped
alongside other Yazidi women and girls from her village at the foot of
Mount Sinjar a few weeks after the declaration of the caliphate.
Interviewed after her escape, she asked to be identified by only her
first initial because of the stigma of rape, and described how the
women and girls were transported to a building in Raqqa, which acted
as a viewing gallery for the men wishing to enslave them.
The first man to come in was al-Baghdadi, she said, information that
was confirmed by two other girls who were held at the same facility.
“I noticed right away that he was important — everybody stood up when
he walked in,” D said.
She and the other girls he chose were moved from house to house,
eventually ending up in the same villa as 26-year-old American aid
worker Kayla Mueller of Prescott, Ariz.
All of them were taken out and raped by al-Baghdadi, including Ms.
Mueller, who returned to their shared room sobbing unconsolably,
according to the account of survivors that was confirmed by American
officials and Ms. Mueller’s mother.
Al-Baghdadi took pleasure in brutality, the women held captive said.
One day in August 2014, D was summoned to see him. Fearing she was
about to be raped again, she was surprised when al-Baghdadi took her
into the living room, not the bedroom, and asked her to sit next to
him on a couch.
“He had a big, black laptop,” she said, recalling how he hit “play” on
a video on the screen. It showed the execution of an American
journalist, James Foley.
“He told us, ‘We killed this man today,’” she said. “He was laughing
at our reaction.”
Some who knew al-Baghdadi the longest wondered if it was his very
nature that accounted for his ability to evade capture for so long,
and not just his extreme security measures.
Hussam Mehdi, an ISIS member who first met al-Baghdadi at Camp Bucca
and is now in jail in Baghdad, said his enduring memory of the man who
would become one of the world’s most powerful terrorists was of him
walking back and forth along the fence line — by himself.
“It’s something I have wondered about: a man who was totally alone, a
person who doesn’t socialize, just ‘salaam alaikum,’ and then moves
on,” Mr. Mehdi said. “I wonder if it’s because he likes to be alone
that isolation came easily to him.”
Mr. Mehdi thought back to the men who had come before al-Baghdadi at
the helm of the Islamic State.
“Abu Musab was killed,” he said. “Abu Omar was killed. But Abu Bakr lasted.”

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28-OCT-2019 :: From Russia with Love
Law & Politics

President Putin, whom I amongst others believe moved the Needle
sufficiently to put Trump into the White House.Putin's  assets range
from Marine Le Pen to  the Movimento 5 Stelle in Italy and if there
are Barbarians at the gates of Fortress Europe, they do belong to
Vladimir. His Syrian Intervention on behalf of Bashar Assad has lasted
48 months so far and the Optics of US Military vehicles departing [in
a hail of tomatoes] and Russian Military vehicles patrolling precisely
the same area a few minutes later sums it up.
Last week Putin made his ''late cycle'' Play for Africa hosting a
Russia Africa Summit in the Black Sea resort of Sochi. “Late to the
Party: Russia’s Return to Africa.” tweeted @pstronski.
Putin in an interview with state-run news service Tass, said
 “Indeed, interest in developing the relations with African countries
is currently visible not only on the part of Western Europe, the US
and [China], but also on the part of India, Turkey, the Gulf states,
Japan, the Republic of Korea, Israel and Brazil.
“This is not accidental, as Africa increasingly becomes a continent of
These opportunities include natural resources, infrastructure
development and increasing consumer demand from a growing population,
Putin specified. But, he said, Russia was going to be a different kind
of superpower, one that does not engage in “pressure, intimidation and
blackmail” to “exploit” sovereign African governments.
“Our African agenda is positive and future-oriented. We do not ally
with someone against someone else; and we strongly oppose any
geopolitical games involving Africa.”
Putin's linguistics are an Art Form and I imagine he buttressed the
above points by discreetly showing his Visitors a Photo of a dead
Gaddafi and maybe he dwelled a little on the bottle and then a Photo
of a spritely Bashar Assad and would surely not even have had to ask
the question; what's the difference?
Between 2006 and 2018 Russia's trade with Africa increased by 335%,
more than both China's and India's according to the  Espresso
Economist. Russia is now Africa's leading supplier of arms. According
to the Swedish think tank SIPRI, between 2012 and 2016 Russia had
become the largest supplier of arms to Africa, accounting for 35
percent of arms exports to the region, way ahead of China (17
percent), the United States (9.6 percent), and France (6.9 percent).
Exports of Russian-made weapons and military hardware to Africa amount
currently to  $4.6 billion annually, with a contract portfolio worth
over $50 billion. Russian arms trade with Africa doubled compared with
2012.  Russia is the world’s largest wheat exporter and will surely
ramp up its supplies of grain and fertiliser to meet demand that is
rising in step with Africa’s booming population.
Russia’s clout on African soil runs on many tracks, and its expansion
is geared primarily towards hybrid activities. In Moscow’s offer for
Africa are mercenaries, military equipment, mining investments,
nuclear power plants, and railway connections.
“Russia regards Africa as an important and active participant in the
emerging polycentric architecture of the world order and an ally in
protecting international law against attempts to undermine it,” said
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov back in November 2018
The Spokesman for the Egyptian Presidency gushed ''Russia has white
hands in Africa''
Recently we have seen Russian interventions in the Central African
Republic (CAR.
In July this year, a three-minute animated video appeared on YouTube.
Called Lionbear, the cartoon was aimed at children and told the story
of a brave but beleaguered Central African lion, who was fighting a
losing battle against a pack of hungry hyenas. Luckily the lion had a
friend who came to the rescue — the strong Russian bear. The bear
fights off the hyenas, brings peace to the land and everyone lives
happily ever after. The video was produced by Lobaye Invest, a Russian
mining company with links to the Wagner Group. Lobaye runs a radio
station in the CAR, and organised a Miss CAR pageant.
But, as a CNN investigation reported this year, Lobaye also funds the
250 Russian mercenaries who are stationed in the country. “The
dividend for Lobaye Invest: generous concessions to explore for
diamonds and gold in a country rich in mineral wealth,” it reported.
The Russian mercenaries are officially there to train the CAR’s
national army. But their activities in the country are shrouded in
secrecy, and when three Russian journalists travelled there to
investigate they were murdered.[Mail and Guardian Simon Allison]
I would argue Putin's timing is exquisite and optimal and his Model
has an exponential ROI. The Warsaw Institute headlined its article
Russia in Africa: Weapons, Mercenaries, Spin Doctors. Russia’s clout
on African soil runs on many tracks, and its expansion is geared
primarily towards hybrid activities. In Moscow’s offer for Africa are
mercenaries, military equipment, mining investments, nuclear power
plants, and railway connections.
Andrew Korybko writes
Moscow invaluably fills the much-needed niche of providing its
partners there with “Democratic Security”, or in other words, the
cost-effective and low-commitment capabilities needed to thwart Color
Revolutions and resolve Unconventional Wars (collectively referred to
as Hybrid War). To simplify, Russia’s “political technologists” have
reportedly devised bespoke solutions for confronting incipient and
ongoing Color Revolutions, just like its private military contractors
(PMCs) have supposedly done the same when it comes to ending
Once we look through the Optics of  two nuclear-capable supersonic
bombers belonging to the Russian Air Force landing in Pretoria for the
aircraft’s first ever landing on the African continent and, according
to an embassy official, only the second country in which it has made a
public appearance outside of Russia. The first was Venezuela. Then we
need to see this move for what it is.
It is meaningful. Where Xi is fed up and speaks about the ''The End of
Vanity'' because the ROI [outside Commodities and Telecoms for China]
is negative, Putin has created a hybrid Model with an exponential ROI.
I would imagine he is on Speed Dial.

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Lebanon Needs Solution in Days to Avoid Economic Crisis, Says Central Bank Governor @bpolitics
Law & Politics

Lebanon’s central bank governor warned on Monday that a political
solution was needed within “days” to avoid economic collapse and
restore public confidence after 12 days of anti-government protests
that have forced banks to close.
In an interview with CNN, Riad Salameh said that a change in
government was needed to restore confidence and ensure that financial
inflows -- which have already slowed this year -- do not dry up.
''It’s a matter of days because the cost is heavy on the country but
more important we’re losing every day confidence, more and more
confidence. And finance and economy is all about confidence,” Salameh
Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s trying “to get consensus on a new
government or changes in the present government in a way to satisfy
the people of Lebanon and to regain a certain trust. For the time
being, there is no progress.”
Hundreds of thousands of protesters have been on the streets for over
a week, demanding the resignation of the political elites they blame
for endemic corruption and falling living standards. The country has
been paralyzed as protesters block major highways, forcing banks,
schools and many businesses to shut down.
Hariri has hinted that some change to the cabinet lineup was being
considered and has said he was ready to submit to popular demands for
early elections. However, the pro-Iranian Hezbollah group, which has
immense sway over Lebanese politics, opposes both moves.
The armed group has accused the demonstrators of receiving foreign
funds and its supporters scuffled with anti-government protesters last
week in the capital.
The Association of Banks in Lebanon has said lenders will not reopen
their doors until a political solution is found to the crisis but the
closures have increased uncertainty and fed worries that an financial
crisis is looming.
The government unveiled last week an emergency package of measures
that seeks to reduce the budget deficit to zero and expedite reforms
that could unlock billions of dollars in much-needed international
aid. But the measures were dismissed as too little too late by
protesters who insist the government resigns.
In separate comments to Reuters, Salameh said there was no plan into
impose capital controls and the central bank remained committed to a
U.S. dollar peg in place since 1997.
To keep its lenders stable and defend the dollar peg, Lebanon relies
on inflows from the millions of Lebanese living abroad. However,
capital inflows needed to finance the large current account and fiscal
deficits -- including non-resident deposits -- have slowed as
confidence has dwindled.
The growth in banks’ deposit base broadly stagnated throughout
September, according to the Institute of International Finance. The
dollarization of deposits “may have increased to as much as 79% of
total deposits in recent weeks,” the IIF said.
The shortage has forced importers to buy dollars from exchange bureaus
leading to the emergence of a parallel rate that is hovering around
1,650 per U.S. dollar compared to the official rate of 1,507 to the

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Currency Markets at a Glance WSJ
World Currencies

Euro 1.0939
Dollar Index 97.795
Japan Yen 108.98
Swiss Franc 0.9947
Pound 1.2855
Aussie 0.6856
India Rupee 70.721
South Korea Won 1165.24
Brazil Real 3.9906
Egypt Pound 16.1282
South Africa Rand 14.5530

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Super Mario: The Euro's Saviour September 10, 2012
World Currencies

What Draghi has done is remove the tail risk from the Euro Area. Last
year, Ben Bernanke was asked why people hold gold and he said “As
protection against what we call tail risks: really, really bad
outcomes,” he answered.
I do not expect a sharp rebound in the Euro area yet but the downside,
the vortex risk has been back stopped and thats a major achievement.


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Ancestral home of modern humans is in Botswana, study finds @guardian

Scientists claim to have traced the ancestral home region of all
living humans to a vast wetland that sprawled over much of modern day
Botswana and served as an oasis in an otherwise parched expanse of
The swathe of land south of the Zambezi River became a thriving home
to Homo sapiens 200,000 years ago, the researchers suggest, and
sustained an isolated, founder population of modern humans for at
least 70,000 years.
The group remained in the region until a shift in the climate, driven
by changes in the Earth’s tilt and orbit, brought rains to the
north-east and south-west, producing lush green corridors that allowed
the early humans to spread into new territories, the scientists say.
“We have known for a long time that modern humans originated in Africa
and roughly 200,000 years ago, but what we hadn’t known until this
study was where exactly,” said prof Vanessa Hayes, a geneticist and
senior author on the study at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research
in Sydney.
The conclusions, which have raised eyebrows among some experts, are
based on an analysis of 1,217 samples of mitochondrial DNA, the
genetic material in tiny battery-like mitochondria found in most
cells. All of the DNA used in the study came from people living in
southern Africa today, including the Khoisan, a hunter-gatherer
population who speak with “click” consonants.
Hayes and her colleagues used the mitochondrial DNA, which is passed
down exclusively from mother to child, to map out the oldest known
maternal line of humans alive today. According to their report in the
journal Nature, the so-called L0 lineage and its sub-branches point
back to an “ancestral home” that spreads from Namibia across Botswana
and into Zimbabwe.
The researchers next turned to geological, archaeological and fossil
evidence to glean details about the climate and broader ecosystem in
the region at the time. They found that a body of water the size of
New Zealand, called Lake Makgadikgadi, once dominated the area, but
had started to break up into a massive wetland 200,000 years ago. “It
would have been very lush and it would have provided a suitable
habitat for modern humans and wildlife to have lived,” Hayes said.
According to the DNA analyses, the L0 lineage split 130,000 years ago
when some of the founder population moved north-east along a green
vegetated route that opened up as rains drenched the arid land. A
second wave of migration headed south-west about 20,000 years later as
rainfall also increased vegetation in that direction. Those who headed
north-east gave rise to farming populations, while those who went
south became coastal foragers, the scientists believe. “Essentially,
these ancestors were the first human explorers,” Hayes said.

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Q2 Results: Bharti Airtel's Africa Unit Posts Biggest-Ever Operating Profit @BloombergQuint @soumeet_sarkar

Bharti Airtel Ltd.’s Africa unit reported its highest ever operating
profit in the quarter ended September because of higher revenue,
improved operating leverage and cost cuts. Operating profit of the
continent’s second-largest mobile operator rose 12.4 percent
year-on-year to $372 million during the period, according to the
company’s statement on its website. Its margins expanded 100 basis
point points to 44.1 percent.
The Africa unit’s revenue and earnings before interest, tax,
depreciation and amortisation, in constant currency terms, rose a
little more than 11 percent each during the quarter. Its free cash
flow—the cash a company can generate after accounting for capex—jumped
nearly twofold to $166 million, aided by a fall in interest payment as
debt reduced, lower working capital and a rise in operating profits
That’s despite a 39 percent increase capital expenditure incurred by
the company for network modernisation and rollout of additional sites.
“These figures underline the strength of our ability to consistently
deliver growth across voice, data and mobile money,” Raghunath
Mandava, chief executive officer at Airtel Africa, said in the
statement. “This is the seventh quarter of double-digit growth.”
Airtel Africa’s net debt fell to $3.2 billion from $4 billion in the
preceding three months. That’s because proceeds from its initial
public offer were used to repay debt. The company mopped up nearly
$670 million from investors through its maiden issue. The shares were
issued at $1.01 apiece and are trading over 29 percent lower on the
London Stock Exchange.
While the Africa unit’s average revenue per user remained flat, its
total customer base rose to 103.9 million from 94.1 million last year.
The company’s board also declared an interim dividend of 3 cent
Goldman Sachs has a ‘buy’ rating on the stock and expects the growth
momentum to drive a rerating over the next 12 months. The global
research firm also expects the company’s operating profit to grow at
an annualised rate of 10 percent over FY19-24.

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IMF's Abebe Aemro Selassie had an engaging and constructive dialogue with President Uhuru Kenyatta in Nairobi today. #IMFAfrica @StateHouseKenya @IMFNews

They discussed the economic outlook for sub-Saharan Africa and how the
IMF can support #Kenya’s growth agenda.

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IMF (Austerity experts) on Kenya: Our view is that debt on current policies is sustainable Bloomberg @moneyacademyKE

IMF (Austerity experts) on Kenya: Our view is that debt on current
policies is sustainable, but to have more room for public investments,
govt should raise tax collections, increasing the ratio of revenue to
GDP by about 0.5% to 1% over three to four years --Bloomberg

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Kenyan government is in the process of transferring its 20% stake in Mumias to Kakamega County government @business @moneyacademyKE

Relinquishing stake aimed at giving the county government
representation in decisions concerning the company: Star -- Via

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@vivoenergykenya gets green light to acquire fast food chain @kfc @citizentvkenya

The Competition Authority of Kenya (CAK) has approved Vivo Energy’s
proposed acquisition of KUKU Foods which operates American fast food
chain Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) in the country.
The authority, in a statement released on Monday, stated that the
transaction between the two parties had met the threshold for a merger
since their combined turnover for the preceding year was over Ksh.1
CAK also stated that despite Vivo Energy being an oil importer and
marketer while KUKU Foods is a restaurant franchise, the two parties’
business activities do not overlap.
“…the lines of business are complimentary in nature since fast food
outlets can be set up in petroleum retail outlets, providing
convenience to motorists who frequent the strategically-located
stations,” read the statement.
KFC – which is the third leading fast food chain in Kenya with a 15%
market share, behind Innscor (16%) and Java (34%) – has at least 24
outlets across major towns in the country.
According to the authority, the proposed transaction will not have an
impact on the market share of the merged entity and will unlikely
raise competition concerns.

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by Aly Khan Satchu (www.rich.co.ke)
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October 2019

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