The Rush for Mosul

Merve Şebnem Oruç writes

I was in Iraq at the dawn of the Mosul operation that started five days ago. I went to Irbil and Kirkuk, two cities of Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraqi Kurdistan, and Bashiqa town in the Mosul district of the Nineveh Governorate in Northern Iraq.

The main subject in almost every conversation was which parties would be a part of the Mosul operation, as it has been among the state leaders involved in the fight against Daesh.

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The US is trying to get back in the Middle East ‘game’ through Mosul

So far the most notable aspect of the new Mosul campaign, apart from the suddenness of its announcement, is an explicit display of anti-Turkism. Why is this the case? If we answer this question, we can understand the immediate causes of this new campaign.

It is clear that the US is coordinating the various elements taking part in the Mosul operation against Daesh/ISIL, including the Pershmerga, the various militias and the Iraqi army, such as it is, explains Yahya al-Qubeissi in an al-Jazeera interview. The Pentagon may only have 500 people involved, but they are running the show. It is clear that any announcements about military deployments in Northern Iraq at the moment would come from the Pentagon.

So if the Pentagon is dead against Turkish involvement, and is clearly behind the Iraqi government’s demand that Turkey withdraw from the Ba’shiqa camp where it also has some 600 personnel, mostly trainers for Pershmerga forces and a local militia, why is this the case? It is excluding Turkey from the air war against Deash, although this is being coordinated from Incirlik.

The Pentagon is smarting from the failure of the 15 July coup in Turkey, which was run from Incirlik airbase by some accounts. It is also aggrieved by  Turkey’s collaboration with Russia and the establishment without US knowledge of a safe zone in Northern Syria for the Free Syrian Army (FSA) by the post-coup Turkish military to the detriment of the advance of the US allies amongst the Syrian Kurds. So the Pentagon is deliberately sidelining Turkey from the Mosul operation.

As a result of poor policy-making, the Pentagon is now excluded now from any settlement in Northern Syria, and has essentially lost the battle for Aleppo. This is why it is trying to gain a foothold in Mosul, and this requires distancing Turkey, because Turkey opposes the use of Shi’a militias in Sunni regions, while these very militias have now become the weapon of choice for the Pentagon.

In fact, given that its policy under the Obama doctrine is proxy warfare, this doesn’t bode well for future events in Northern Iraq once Daesh/ISIL is defeated and the Shi’a militias get a free rein over the area. On no occasion whether at Fajulla, Ramadi, Samarraa, or Tikrit did the US raise any complaints about atrocities and human rights abuses committed by the Shi’a militias, against Sunnis. They wouldn’t, because the Shi’a militias have become US proxies, just like the PYD in Northern Syria.

As an aside, we can also say that the ‘switch’ of the US military strategy away from backing Sunni jihadi militants and towards Shi’a militias to effect its goals is the very contradiction in foreign policy, which has defeated it in Syria. This meant they were pursuing a pro-Assad and an anti-Assad policy at the same time. There never has been much joined-up thinking in the US Middle East strategy.


RIP US Hegemony

The last post below projects the end of US dominance over the Middle-East. Now even part of the Syrian opposition is being converted to the concept of aiding the Russian aim of re-establishing a multi-polar world.

As the US rushes towards an attack on Mosul pushing from behind the Iraqi government, Obama and the Democratic establishment hope for a quick victory to ensure Clinton’s success at the polls. However, like all of the short-sighted measures of US foreign policy, the wide licence given to the Iraqi government, including the chiding of the Turks in their wish to be part of the Mosul settlement, is simply reinforcing Iran in Iraq, and in Syria through its deployment of Iraqi militias.

Ali Mamlouk’s visit to Cairo confirms Egyptian alignment with Russian/Iranian axis in the Middle-East

The visit of Syrian intelligence chief Ali Mamlouk to Egypt isn’t the first, but its official nature now highlights the long-standing support of Assad on the part of the Sisi’s régime. 

The recent diplomatic break with Saudi-Arabia and the revelation that Iraq is prepared to replace Saudi oil supplies, together with recent military exercises carried out with Russian forces confirms Egypt’s position now as an integral part of the Russian/Iranian axis.

This Al-Jazeera report covers the implications of Ali Mamlouk’s visit to Egypt.

It should be added that Obama’s foreign policy created the void in Syria which permitted Russia to install itself, through Iraqi auspices (so Iranian influence) at the UN, as a major player in the Middle-East. Israel would seem to be acquiescing to this new security architecture in the Middle-East, while at the very same time acquiring massive sums of money from the US as ‘compensation’ for agreeing to the Iran nuclear deal.

The contradictions in US foreign policy are removing the very few options left the US may have to stand up against this new regional security architecture in the Middle-East. US support of the Syrian Kurds against Turkey, is driving even this NATO member to reorganise its own security with the help of the Russians. US acquiescence to the Iranian use of Shi’a militias against Sunni jihadi groups in both Iran and Iraq effectively wipes out its allies and proxy instruments in the region.

By the time DAESH/ISIL will have been deal with, the US will effectively have lost the Middle-East, and we shall be living in a multi-polar world.

Turkey insists it will be part of the settlement after the battle for Mosul is over

Erdoğan insisted today, speaking at the International Law Congress held in Istanbul, that Turkey will take part in operations to liberate Mosul from Daesh/IS, and that it will be at the diplomatic table in the aftermath.

Irrespective of previous declarations by Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi, Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmuş confirmed that some 3,000 Turkish trained forces are participating in Mosul operation.

No Syrian peace, and turning a blind eye to Iraq’s Shi’a militias

Recently, Qasim Suleimani, head of the Iranian Quds Force, personally supervised the transfer to Damascus of one of the plethora of Iraqi Shiite militias which report directly to Khamenei’s personal office in Tehran. This helped taxidermists to stuff more straw into Assad’s corpse and Russia to continue its Middle-Eastern expansion based on the ‘legitimate invitation’ of the puppet régime, which continues to enjoy a UN seat.  The permanence of the strategically vital Russian airbase at Khmeimim depends on this official sanction. 

The 1000 fighters from Akram al-Qa’bi’s Harakat Al Nujaba al Shi’iyya al Iraqiyya landing at Damascus airport in troop transport planes, joined other Iraqi militias operating in Syria since 2012: Asa’ib Ahlulhaq, Liwa’a Thulfiqar, Liwa’a Abul Fadl Al Abbas, and Kata’eb Hezbullah. Kata’eb Hezbullah isn’t to be confused with the Lebanese Hezbullah also helping to prop up Assad.

The Syrian army having more or less been decimated over the past 5 years, these are now the effective core of Assad’s ground troops. The loss of 60,000 soldiers by the Syrian Army has been interpreted by many as a sign of the ferocity of the onslaught by Sunni fighters on the Assad régime. However, it is more accurate to say that the death of some 400,000 civilians and the displacement of 15 million people (4.8m of them refugees) is a testament of the ferocity of the attack by the régime on its own people. It is this aggression which elicited the creation of a veritable multitude of local opposition groups, only some of which have been drawn into alliance with nationwide groups, such as Jabhat al-Nusra, funded by Sunni regional powers.

If Iraqi and Lebanese Shi’a militias therefore represent the ‘boots on the ground’ that are keeping the régime in place, the blood they have shed in Syria is considerable, and this included Qasim Suleimani’s deputy, Hossein Hamadani. This in turn has led Iran to recruit new militias his personnel from Shi’a outside Iraq, as far afield as Afghanistan

Peace conferences on Syria have come and gone, the latest in Lausanne, Switzerland, involving all parties involved in the conflict aside from Syrians themselves, ended with a whimper. There are many problems with achieving any political solution in Syria.

Firstly, the Higher Negotiating Committee (HNC) set up by Saudi Arabia this year to represent the opposition in negotiations with the régime  fails to include the most powerful Sunni forces on the ground in Syria; namely Jabhat al-Nusra, now known as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, and its allies Ahrar al-Sham. The US has failed to create a replacement ‘moderate’ force for these elements, ever since 2012 Hillary Clinton dismissed the Syrian National Council as a waste of time and a ‘talking-shop‘, which non-plussed its participants at the time, given that they were actually supposed to provide a political solution to the Syrian problem.

Secondly, the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) representing the Syrian Kurds refuses to join the HNC, just as they earlier refused to join the Syrian National Council (SNC) in 2012, when initial negotiations with the régime in Damascus were being envisaged. The PYD is angling for its own state. The People’s Protection Units (YPG), the military arm of the PYD went, like Jabhat al-Nusra, gone through a process of rebranding to  the ‘Syrian Democratic Forces’ (SDF), to make their nation-building project more palatable. However, this fig leaf quickly fell apart, as a leader of the Sunni Arab contingent of the SDF, Abdel-Karim el-Obeid, explained in a recent interview. El-Obeid, who has now left the SDF, explains how decision-making was concentrated in the hands a small clique of Kurdish YPG elements in collaboration with US special forces. 

Thirdly, Iran is now so deeply ensconced in Damascus that any UN or international negotiations on Syria, which aimed as a serious political resolution would uncover the extraordinary fragility of the Assad régime, and would bring into question the continuance of Shia militias and Quds force personnel located in Syria. This is situation which both Russia and Iran want to avoid. 

The Question of Israel’s Change of Attitude

The one important thing to try to explain is why the Israelis might want to support this new Russian/Iranian status quo. Netanhayu has been remarkably quiet over the occupation of Damascus by what are, presumably, Israel’s deadliest enemies: Iran and the Lebanese Hezbullah.

Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCOPA) had been the subject of considerable friction between Netanyahu and Obama. Perhaps the fact that Netanyahu’s visit to the US Congress to appeal against Obama’s policy on Iran backfired, or perhaps the fact that the bitter Iranian pill was sweetened with a record-breaking military package, made all the difference. Nevertheless, JCOPA does mean that serious confrontation with Iran on the part of the US, unless a flagrant breach of the terms of the agreement occurs, is inconceivable. Furthermore, the outcome of this whole process has also put Israel in the novel position of being pushed by the UN to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty

Obama’s Syrian policy on the other hand, left a void which gave Russia the opening to establish what is now the unshakeable and unmistakable presence of the Khmeimim airbase, which changed the balance of power in the Middle East as soon as Russia deployed the S-400 anti aircraft system there. As one peace conference after another over Syria between the US and Russia fails, Russia digs its heels in, transferring yet more advanced weaponry to the naval base at Tartus, while Russian-Israeli relations in the region develop in new directions.

While a joint mechanism of “de-confliction” was set up to prevent mistaken air and ground clashes, this has not prevented Russian warplanes and drones infiltrating Israel at least 10 times in the past year testing and reporting on Israeli defences. When the Russians did the same in Turkey, after 11 warnings, the Turks shot a Russian fighter plane down. The Israelis, by contrast, held their fire. The arming of Khmeimim with the S-400, and Tartus with the S-300 solicited little comment from the Israel government, although Israeli media was quick to point out the consequent significant change in regional security architecture.

But that wasn’t all. When Russia finally agreed to deliver on its long-standing promise to supply the S-300 to the Iranians to deploy around the Fordow nuclear base, which has been a major bone of contention between Israel, the US and Russia since 2005, the Israeli government said nothing, although the US said ‘it was concerned’.

Since August 2015, Netanyahu has visited and phoned Putin more than any other world leader. Clearly, Russia’s arrival in Syria on the tail of Obama’s abdication required a new pragmatic attitude, especially when it came to Israel’s plans to export gas from the Leviathan field through Turkey to Europe. These Netanyahu declared were crucial to Israel’s future, and required that Israel acquiesce to the new Russian suzerainty over the region.

The matter of the Shi’a militias 

Reflecting the plethora of rebel groups in Syria, Iran has seemingly created innumerable militias in Iraq reporting directly to the al-Quds force and Khamenei’s office. But where the Syrian rebel groups represent a groundswell of popular rebellion in different localities against oppression, the Iranians have created competing groups under their control to ensure no one group becomes too powerful to achieve their battlefield objectives informally. Other than Ali al-Sistani’s Al-Housa al-Diniyya Fil Najaf al-Ashraf , and Muqdata al-Sadr’s Saraya al-Salam, which espouse Iraqi nationalism, the over 50 other Shi‘a militias in Iraq report directly to Iran.

While the US is clearly antagonistic towards the Assad régime, little criticism of Iranian policy in Syria and of the Shi’a militias, either on the Syrian or the Iraqi battlegrounds, is forthcoming. Particularly striking, in the context of Iraq, has been the Iraqi government’s aggressive denunciations in regard to 600 Turkish troops stationed at Camp Ba’ashiqah and the consonant disclaimer by the US that Turkey has a role to play in the battle for Mosul.

Such a position clearly turns blind eye to heavy involvement of Iran in Iraqi militias, while trying to deny Turkey a say in the eventual settlement in Northern Iraq, which it feels it is owed in view of the potential backlash on its own security of Iraqi Shi’a militias riding roughshod over Sunni populations in Northern Iraq, and creating a new exodus of refugees toward Turkish borders.  

Dabiq falls ahead of the Battle of Mosul – a sign?

It took a mere 72 hours for the Free Syrian Army (FSA) backed by Turkish forces to clear the area in and around Dabiq of DAESH/IS elements, despite the apocalyptic terms in which that particular battle had been pictured in the media. The move to al-Bab by the FSA is likely to be equally trouble free. It’s clear that DAESH/IS is withdrawing to concentrate its future effort on the battles of Raqqa and Mosul and its potentially surprising responses thereto.

The battle for Mosul  is under way, although at the moment it is only the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) Peshmerga, trained one might add by Turkish forces at Camp Ba’ashiqah, who are engaged in clearing the villages north of the city, at the moment. While the Coalition air force is operating from Incirlik unhindered over Mosul skies, there are still questions about the prospects for the Iraqi army, given that the Iraqi government is divided and lacking some 5 ministers in senior cabinet posts, and given that there is considerable unrest in the streets of Baghdad at present over its record on corruption.

Recent high levels of political rhetoric on the part of the Iraqi, KRG, and Turkish governments highlight the importance each entity attaches to the eventual political settlement in what used to be Iraq’s second city. The destruction of the public records office on two occupations, by Shia militias during the US occupation and then by DAESH/IS bodes ill for potential demographic restructuring.

Mirriam Seddiq founds the American Muslim Women Political Action Committee

American Muslim Women Political Action Committee

Mirriam Seddiq is an attorney-at-law in Washington DC who has taken the bit between the teeth and founded AMWPAC. The political action committee’s goals, according to its website, are to connect and empower Muslim women to effect change through political and social means. It believes in actively building and contributing to a world where Islamic values create thriving communities.

Americans come in all colors, shapes, and creeds. The US political process is not limited to one faith, one ideology or one gender.

AMWPAC’s mission is to bring awareness to and influence issues important to American Muslim women. These are mothers, daughters, sisters and wives. They are lawyers and doctors and teachers and bakers. Their political viewpoint is one that has been largely silent. Some even believe that it is our culture or our religion that forces us to be silent.

AMWPAC is created to dispel that myth. AMWPAC operates in order to elect leaders who support our mission.