New call from ISIL head Baghdadi: Crisis brewing in Washington? | Sunday Observer

New call from ISIL head Baghdadi: Crisis brewing in Washington?

Arab and Muslim majority capitals were buzzing last week over an audio message circulated on the internet supposedly from ISIL leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, even as many of these same capitals reacted angrily to the US’ halt to the bulk of government aid to Palestine. President Donald Trump, however, was busy dealing with multiple criminal probes encircling his 15-month presidency.

West Asian news media reported that the audio message, put on the Net by ISIL-linked websites, urged ISIL followers worldwide to continue their mission to establish a global caliphate and to persist in the armed campaign. This was the first such message purporting to be from the self-proclaimed ‘Caliph’ in a whole year since the IS was driven out of its West Asian urban centres by a combination of offensives by Russian-backed Syrian government forces and US-backed Syrian Kurd rebels.

The Russian government claimed in late 2017 that Baghdadi had likely been killed in a Russian Air Force bombing raid on a north Syrian IS rebel sanctuary, but Western governments doubted the claim. Baghdadi is generally believed to be under cover shuttling from one IS rebel hide-out to another in the remote desert hills on the eastern border between Iraq and Syria. These are the last IS-held pockets of territory after the collapse of the IS ‘Caliphate’ administered from the major urban centres it earlier captured and held in both Syria and Iraq.

The UN estimates that up to 20,000 ISIL fighters, many of them foreigners, yet remained in these hide-outs and also under cover in urban centres across Syria and Iraq.

While no one has so far been able to confirm the identity of the speaker in the recording, news media quote experts as saying the voice seemed to be the same as the voice in all previous Baghdadi recordings. The rebel leader, who may have been crippled or severely injured in the Russia air strike last year (he had also reportedly been injured earlier while based in Mosul), condemned the several thousand IS fighters who surrendered and ceded vast amounts of territory during the recently successful Syrian government offensives. The Basher Al-Assad regime has now dislodged IS from most of the areas it had earlier controlled.

Meanwhile, Washington last week announced that it was lopping a hefty US$ 200 million from its annual aid package to the Palestine government. Together with another US$ 65 million earlier cut by USAID, the American overall cut in funding now withholds the bulk of aid committed by the US government in earlier peace deals negotiated by previous Washington administrations.

West Asian analysts, noting the new call by Baghdadi, see the American move as one that can only further radicalise politically angry Arabs and Muslims and propel them toward IS-type militancy.

Washington is, however, pre-occupied with a brewing domestic political crisis over the emerging possibility that the US President himself broke election laws on the one hand and, worse, may have been personally linked to a conspiracy with Russian agents. Analysts across the world are now speculating as to ‘when’ and not ‘if’ Donald Trump would be thrown out of the White House.

The political storm the previous week arising from revelations of White House internal affairs by sacked presidential aide and African American activist Omarosa Manigault-Newman was last week overtaken by a series of serious legal developments that could directly incriminate the American President. This is the first time an American head of state has been linked with criminal offences since President Richard Nixon was brought down in connection with the Watergate conspiracy.

The Omarosa episode following her summary sacking earlier this month, was but the latest of embarrassing revelations made about Donald Trump’s personal behaviour and actions after the furore that broke out over his alleged illicit sexual affairs with two showbiz women. The row over the salacious revelations made about, and by, porn star Stormy Daniels and ‘Playboy’ magazine model Karen McDougal has plagued Trump from the start of his presidency.

It was this sex scandal and cover-up that prompted the federal special investigator probing the Russian subversion of the 2016 presidential election and, possible Trump campaign collaboration, to extend the probe into the dealings of Trump associates involved in the sex scandal cover-up. That led to criminal prosecution of long-time Trump associate and legal trouble-shooter Michael Cohen who last week shocked the world by not only pleading ‘guilty’ to election-law violations committed in that cover-up but also directly named a ‘candidate for federal office’ (Trump) as his ‘co-conspirator’.

Cohen is now reported to be co-operating with federal investigators probing further into these scandals and covert doings and possible criminal liability, including liability by Donald Trump.

Last week, also saw an even worse development enveloping the Trump presidency: a close friend and business ally, as well as the most senior executive in his family business, both engaged with the federal investigation to provide information – in effect, against him. The federal probe, headed by former FBI head and war veteran Robert Mueller, has granted both these people immunity from prosecution to enable them to co-operate with the investigation.

One is David Pecker, proprietor of the National Enquirer mass circulation gossip magazine. It was this magazine that famously bought up the publishing rights of interviews they did with illicit Trump lovers Daniels and McDougal just before the 2016 elections. Both of them were paid for the interviews which were then withheld from publication in a deliberate suppressing of this information that may have swayed voters away from Trump. It was lawyer Cohen who was the ‘fixer’ of these two cover-up deals.

Both women are now fighting for their right to publish their salacious stories. I won’t be surprised if films (and teledramas and books) are made about these illicit sexual episodes, their equally shady cover-up deals, their later exposure, legal battles and, the criminal prosecutions.

The crucial effect on the Presidency is that Donald Trump now stands implicated in the cover-up deals which likely involve misuse of campaign resources – a violation of election law. Even if the Trump supporters argue that this is still a ‘minor crime’, his critics are angrily pointing to the deliberate and massive misleading of the voters by means of the cover-up. “Subverting democracy” is the cry mounting, especially, among the political opposition.

The other person granted immunity by the FBI is the elderly Chief Financial Officer of the Trump Organisation, Allen Weisselberg. Weisselberg began his career in the Trump family business under Trump’s father (who founded the real-estate business) and then, after becoming the company’s financial controller, remained in the post under Trump. Weisselberg is considered the most powerful person in the Trump business empire after Trump and his three older children, Ivanka, Donald Jr., and Eric Trump.

Since he knows why and where and how and when the Trump corporate money was spent or allocated or hidden away and also of all major corporate transactions, Weisselberg is expected to be of immense help to the FBI special probe. He would know much about the campaign finance and sex cover-up issues but, more importantly, also about the much bigger dimension of the long-time Trump Organisation role in channelling investments by Russian business ‘oligarchs’ into the USA.

It is this link between these oligarchs, most of them close allies of Russian leader Vladimir Putin, that has given much credence to the belief that Donald Trump is ‘compromised’ by his link with barely legal money-laundering of Russian black money and the Russian mafia. When the US intelligence agencies picked up evidence that Russian agents were working with Trump election campaign executives, it was the previous history of Trump links with the Russian oligarchs that bolstered suspicions that the President-elect may have been dragged into a deeper conspiracy by the Russian government to influence American politics at the highest level.

The momentum of these criminal probes is clearly increasing and the political tension likewise rises as America prepares for the mid-term congressional elections in November with much expectation and speculation over the impact of all this on the voter.

For the first time since the Nixon constitutional crisis, America now faces a similar crisis and this time it includes the shadowy involvement of a foreign rival power.