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US “struggles” to convince Iraq to cut ties with Iran

By John Lee.

US Energy Secretary Rick Perry spent the last two days trying to convince the Iraqi government that it’s in its best interest to cut energy ties with Iran.

But according to a report from Washington Examiner, his efforts have had limited success.

Perry tweeted:

“In bilateral meetings with Iraqi President @BarhamSalih, Prime Minister Abdul-Mahdi, and Speaker Mohammed Al-Halbousi I reaffirmed that the U.S. stands ready to assist the Iraqi people in transitioning from Iranian energy dependence to using their full domestic energy potential.”

Iran is Iraq’s neighbor and an important supplier of the natural gas that fuels the nation’s electric grid, which is crucial to Iraq’s economy and oil industry.

More here.

(Source: Washington Examiner)

Iraq buys Grain from US, considers Russia

By John Lee.

Iraqi trade minister Mohammed Hashim has reportedly signed a deal on Thursday to import wheat and rice from the United States.

According to Reuters, the agreement covers the first half of 2019.

Meanwhile, Kurdistan 24 reports that a Russian delegation visited Baghdad this week to discuss exporting wheat to Iraq.

(Sources: Reuters, Kurdistan 24)

Iran proceeds with Rail Link to Syria via Iraq

By Adnan Abu Zeed for Al Monitor. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

As the United States enacts sanctions on Iran, Iran is increasing its influence in Iraq with plans for a railway that could work around US restrictions.

The state-owned Islamic Republic of Iran Railways (RAI) revealed details Nov. 12 about its project to build a railway connecting Iran’s Shalamcheh border crossing to the port of Basra in southeast Iraq.

Maziar Yazdani, RAI’s deputy head of infrastructure and technical affairs, said the Shalamcheh-Basra leg of the project will require only 20 miles of new track at a cost of about $52,000. With the new addition, the rail system will span Iraq to reach Syria’s Mediterranean port city of Latakia.

Click here to read the full story.

(Picture Credit: Tasnim, under Creative Commons licence)

Prison for Bribery in Iraq War Contracts

A former business partner of a U.S. military contractor was sentenced today to 18 months in prison for his role in a years-long scheme to bribe U.S. Army contracting officials stationed at a U.S. military base in Kuwait during the Iraq War.

Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Special Agent in Charge Matthew J. DeSarno of the FBI’s Washington Field Office’s Criminal Division, Director Frank Robey of the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command’s Major Procurement Fraud Unit and Special Agent in Charge Robert E. Craig Jr. of the Defense Criminal Investigative Service’s (DCIS) Mid-Atlantic Field Office made the announcement.

Finbar Charles, 62, a citizen of Saint Lucia most recently residing in Baguio City, Philippines, was sentenced by Chief U.S. District Judge Karon O. Bowdre of the Northern District of Alabama.  Chief Judge Bowdre also ordered Charles to forfeit $228,558 in illicit gains.  Charles pleaded guilty in July 2018 to one count of bribery of a federal official.

According to admissions made in connection with his guilty plea, Charles was a business partner of a former U.S. military contractor, Terry Hall.  As Hall’s business partner, Charles admitted that he facilitated Hall and others in providing millions of dollars in bribes in approximately 2005 to 2007 to various U.S. Army officials in exchange for preferential treatment for Hall’s companies in connection with Department of Defense (DOD) contracts to deliver bottled water and construct security fencing to support U.S. troops stationed in Kuwait and Iraq.

As part of his role in this criminal conspiracy, Charles admitted that he managed bank accounts in Kuwait and the Philippines that he used to receive Department of Defense payments and transfer illegal bribes to various U.S. Army contracting officials, including Majors Eddie Pressley, James Momon, and Chris Murray.

All of those individuals, as well as at least 10 other coconspirators, have pleaded guilty or been convicted of crimes relating to this scheme.  Charles admitted that he falsified loan and consulting agreements to conceal the true nature of the bribe payments to the Army officers, and that he personally received over $228,000 in illicit gains as a result of his participation.

This case was investigated by the DCIS, the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command, the FBI and the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction.  The Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs provided substantial assistance in this matter.  The case was prosecuted by Trial Attorneys Peter N. Halpern and Robert J. Heberle of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section.

(Source: US Dept of Justice)

Iran-Iraq Relations in light of US Sanctions

By  for Al Monitor. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News

The reimposition of US secondary sanctions has compelled Tehran to look for ways to reduce their negative impact.

According to Iranian officials, one of the strategies is to increase trade and interaction with its neighbors.

This is not new to Iran, as the country has pursued a policy of improving relations with immediate neighbors including investments in increased energy interdependency. Yet the past rationale for regional policy was more focused on security considerations.

This time, the rationale has been expanded to include trade and economic reasons. However, this strategy is facing challenges on multiple fronts, most importantly due to the existing tensions between Iran and her southern Arab region.

Click here to read the full story.

(Picture Credit: Tasnim, under Creative Commons licence)

Iran Worries about Losing Ground in Iraq

By Ali Mamouri for Al-Monitor. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

With rising US pressure, Iran worries about losing ground in Iraq

Iraqi President Barham Salih met with Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Ali Khamenei Nov. 17 in Tehran, where Khamenei underlined that Iraq must retain its Popular Mobilization Units (PMU). Khamenei stated that the PMU were among Iraq’s major achievements in the past few years.

Khamenei has reiterated this stance in previous meetings with Iraqi officials, including former Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, which shows how important this matter is for Iran.

Meanwhile, the Donald Trump administration has insisted on the disarmament and disbanding of pro-Iran military factions in Iraq as part of the 12 conditions that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo proposed to sign a new agreement with Iran instead of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which the United States exited this year.

Click here to read the full story.

Convictions in $600m Dinar Fraud

The co-owners and chief operating officer of one of the largest Iraqi dinar exchangers in the United States were convicted last month by a federal jury following a five-week trial.

Tyson Rhame, James Shaw, and Frank Bell were each convicted of mail and wire fraud conspiracy, as well as multiple counts of mail and wire fraud. Rhame and Bell were also convicted of making false statements to federal law enforcement agents.

“These executives engaged in a lengthy campaign to defraud investors by spreading lies about the investment potential of the Iraqi dinar,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Kurt R. Erskine. “These convictions resulted from years of investigation, which included dozens of electronic and physical search warrants, hundreds of witness interviews, and extensive financial analysis.”

“The conviction of these three defendants is the result of an extensive effort by the government to protect investors from those who make unsubstantiated claims about the potential revaluation of a foreign currency,” said Chris Hacker, Special Agent in Charge of FBI Atlanta. “Their greed led them to steal the hopes of unsuspecting investors and ultimately led them to their demise. The FBI and its partners make it a priority to root out and punish anyone who preys on investors for their own selfish desires.”

“This was a trial about fraudulent inducements, conspiracy, investment fraud and outright greed,” said Thomas J. Holloman, Special Agent in Charge, IRS-Criminal Investigation. “Rhame, Shaw, and Bell saw an opportunity to build their personal net worth and business position in the currency market by seizing on investors’ desire for high returns on their investments. At the end of the trial, the jury agreed with the government and found the Sterling Currency Group co-owners and chief operating officer guilty of the conspiracy and the underlying frauds. Despite the challenges these complex cases present, IRS-CI is committed to working with our partners at the FBI, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office to show white-collar fraud is still an investigative priority.”

According to Acting U.S Attorney Erskine, the charges, and other information presented in court: Rhame and Shaw owned and operated the Sterling Currency Group, which was once one of the country’s largest sellers of the Iraqi dinar. Bell was Sterling’s chief operating officer. Between 2010 and June 2015, Sterling grossed over $600 million in revenue from the sale of the Iraqi dinar and other currencies, while Rhame and Shaw received over $180 million in distributions.

The evidence at trial established that the defendants took steps to make investors believe they would get rich by investing in the Iraqi dinar. At one point, Rhame posted information on Sterling’s website falsely suggesting that the dinar was about to revalue. At other times, Rhame and Bell falsely claimed that Sterling would cash out investors at airports around the country following a dinar “revaluation.” The defendants also paid substantial sums of money to third parties who in turn spread false information about the dinar on conference calls and Internet chat rooms.

Tyson Rhame, 53, and James Shaw, 55, both of Atlanta, Georgia, and Frank Bell, 55, of Decatur, Georgia, were convicted of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and multiple mail and wire fraud counts. Rhame and Bell were also convicted of making false statements to federal agents regarding Sterling’s operations. The jury acquitted the defendants of money laundering charges. A fourth defendant, Terrence Keller, was acquitted of all charges at trial.

(Source: US Dept of Justice)

US Music Fellowship Opportunity for Young Musicians

OneBeat brings together musicians from all over the world to the U.S. for an exhilarating month of performances, discussions, and interactive music-making events. OneBeat grew out of a notion that musical collaboration is a powerful way to connect people across political and cultural differences.

Applications for ONEBEAT 2019 are open from November 19 through December 21, 2018.

ONEBEAT is a U.S. government-sponsored fellowship that uses music as a tool to promote dialogue, creativity, and personal engagement among musicians from around the world. Applicants must be musicians aged 19-35 who can demonstrate musical talent, leadership skills, entrepreneurial spirit, and a strong commitment to building more cohesive communities at home.

The ONEBEAT program takes place in the United States over four weeks in September-October 2019. Two weeks are spent in a musical residency, and two weeks on a performance tour.  During the residency, participants form small musical ensembles, create original material, and develop workshop ideas.

While on tour, fellows give public performances in various U.S. cities and lead workshops with youth and community groups. ONEBEAT fellows will have their travel, room, and board costs covered.  Applicants must demonstrate basic English proficiency.  Interested musicians can apply directly via the OneBeat website http://1beat.org/apply .

(Source: US Embassy in Baghdad)

New Mission to Develop Iraq’s Defense Institutions

NATO Leads New Mission to Develop Iraq’s Defense Institutions

A new NATO-led mission in Iraq will work to further develop Iraq’s security institutions and structures, British Army Maj. Gen. Christopher Ghika told Pentagon reporters here today.

American and Turkish troops conduct a convoy during a joint patrol in Manbij, Syria, Nov. 8, 2018. Army photo by Spc. Zoe Garbarino

The mission is expected to be established by early next year, said Ghika, who declined to specify which NATO nations and the number of personnel would be involved.

Ghika, deputy commander of strategy and information for Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve, spoke during a video teleconference from Baghdad today.

The nature of the mission will be noncombat, he said. It will consist of advisors working closely with officials of the Iraqi Ministry of Defense and the Office of the National Security Advisor “to help Iraq build a more effective, sustainable, inclusive and transparent defense sector.”

The focus of those efforts will be on institutional education in the National Defense University, the Joint Forces Staff College, and some of the schools which are building military capability in areas such as engineering and infantry, he said. The advisors will focus on training the Iraqi instructors.

Ghika also provided an update on coalition efforts to counter the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and provide aid to civilians impacted by the fighting.

Coalition Efforts in Syria

Last week provided for the safe delivery of critical humanitarian aid to the Rukban internally displaced person’s camp near At-Tanf Garrison, Syria, on the border with Jordan in the deconfliction zone, Ghika said.

Leading that effort were the Maghaweir al Thowra, a fighting force native to southern Syria and a partner of CJTF – OIR, the United Nations and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, a humanitarian nonprofit organization. Maghaweir al Thowra was previously called the New Syrian Army.

Supplies delivered included 10,475 food parcels, clothes for 18,000 children, 10,000 hygiene kits, as well as newborn baby kits for about 1,200 children, he said.

Also, the U.N. conducted an emergency vaccination campaign to protect around 10,000 children against measles, polio and other potentially deadly diseases.

Currently, the coalition and Syrian Democratic Forces partners are fighting ISIS in the last physically held terrain in the Middle Euphrates River valley around the town of Hajin in eastern Syria, Ghika said.

“This is a hard fight. Indeed, we have witnessed some of the most intense fighting since ISIS was defeated in Raqqa, [Syria,] and Mosul, [Iraq]. The ultimate outcome is not in doubt. ISIS will be defeated in the Middle Euphrates River valley,” he said.

On Nov. 8, U.S. and Turkish forces conducted their second combined joint patrol in the vicinity of the town of Manbij, Syria, on the west bank of the Euphrates, about 19 miles from Turkey. “This is a critical part of the coalition’s efforts to prevent the resurgence of ISIS there and enable the voluntary return of refugees and internally displaced people,” Ghika said.

Coalition Efforts in Iraq

Iraqi security forces continue to target ISIS fighters who are attempting to regroup and regain a foothold in the small pockets of the Anbar Desert area of Iraq. Those efforts, called Operation Last Warning, are broadening to the entire country, he said.

Additionally, Iraqi forces are shoring up the border with Syria to prevent ISIS fighters from fleeing to Syria, reinforcing efforts of the SDF, he said.

In Saladin province in northern Iraq, the ISF and the Iraqi counterterrorism service, supported by the coalition, conducted multiple strikes on an ISIS senior leader meeting, killing a significant number of ISIS militants and key leaders, Ghika said.

Progress in Battling ISIS

“I’m struck by the immense progress that’s been made by Iraqi security forces and Syrian democratic forces partnering against the evil of ISIS,” said Ghika, noting that this is his second CJTF – OIR tour, the first as deputy commander of the coalition’s land component command in 2014 to 2015.

A recently published U.N. report on atrocities and mass graves in territories formerly controlled by ISIS documents 202 mass grave sites and the U.N. estimates these sites contain 6,000 to 12,000 bodies, he said.

“This is a stark reminder of why the coalition to counter ISIS was established and why nations across the globe have been willing to send their fighting men and women here,” Ghika said.

(Source: US Dept of Defense)