Category Archives: Iraq

The rout of Barzani’s KDP continues as PMM-backed Yazidi group retakes Sinjar

As Masoud Barzani’s independence gambit lies in tatters, and the Peshmerga continue their retreat, the Iraqi Yazidi group Lalesh, affiliated with Iraq’s Iran-backed PMM (Al-Hashd al-Shaabi), takes over the Yazidi capital in Northern Iraq, Sinjar.

The Iraqi federal government’s Joint Operations Command said that Iraqi forces have been redeployed, aside from Sinjar and other areas in the Nineveh plains, across Khanaqin and Jalawla in Diyala province, as well as Makhmur, Bashiqa, and the Mosul dam, Sinjar.

Calls for Barzani’s resignation are coming in now from all quarters of the Kurdish community.

The third act of the Iraqi Saga: Iraq coming together under Abadi

The final act of the Iraqi gambit launched  by G. W. Bush/A. Blair gambit to “reshape the Middle-East” is underway, and may have a surprising outcome. After the 2003 US invasion and subsequent withdrawal, the US proceeded to gradually reinstate itself in Northern Iraq (and Syria) through it alliance with the Kurds, in what is ostensibly a campaign against DAESH/ISIS, the spread of which, however, there is now ample documentation to prove, the US had earlier helped to promote as part of a strategy to destabilise and remove the Assad régime in Damascus, and sever the bridge between Iran and Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon.

The US had also helped the Iraqi army reorganise after its defeat in Mosul 2014, given that Daesh/ISIS was threatening the whole of Iraq at the time, and the Iraqi army would be necessary boots on the ground for a difficult campaign against a widely spread opponent. Ultimately, it was the reorganised Iraqi army, with a few US advisers, but nevertheless under Haidar el-Abadi’s leadership, that cut its teeth, and lost much blood, in retaking Mosul. Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi was, until now, veering towards an alliance with the US against the rigidly pro-Iranian sections (e.g. Nouri al-Maliki) of the Iraqi political scene.

All this was before KRG referendum on independence and Trump’s speech decertifying the  Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action  (JCPOA) P5+1+EU Iran Nuclear Deal, and his thinly veiled threats against the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Together these spelled a potential reigniting of US ambitions to sever the bridge now between Iran and Syria (Assad having survived) with a Kurdish entity under its aegis. Furthermore, with a Kurdish population in Iran, a KRG-US alliance could potentially provide the US with direct and effective lever to undermine the Iranian régime. It was hardly likely that Iran, with its deep involvement in Iraq, and its need to keep the direct link with Syria would stand idly by and allow that situation to be realised.

Abadi’s reliance on the US to bolster his own position will now melt away, as he will build on his reputation as the conqueror of Mosul. This requires his continued campaigning to keep control over the Iraqi army forces, which have now become the foundation of his rule. The Iraqi PMM militia (el-Hashd el-Shaabi) represents a potential competitor, supported directly by Iran’s IRGC, that he needs to keep on a tight leash in all future conflict. This he can only do by keeping it marginalised as a force secondary to his own.  Trump’s speech will have pushed the IRGC to increase its investment in the PMM hugely to ensure the KRG/Peshmerga’s defeat (besides the effect it is having in raising the IRGC’s stock within Iran) . The US will continue to supply Abadi, irrespective of what he does, because he is their only potentially ally in Baghdad, while Abadi himself will focus on his race against these various mounting pressures.

The KRG’s independence referendum presented a opportunity that answered Abadi’s political needs. The US can now only sit and watch as tensions mount between two of its allies. Trump’s speech made this outcome inevitable. Abadi is on the road to turning himself into a indispensable political force in Iraq as he commits to marginalising the KRG by retaking the Kirkuk oil fields and thus the major source of its revenue. This, it would appear, he has begun to do as the Peshmerga retreat from Kirkuk. The revenue itself is of little import to a government in Baghdad that produces ten times as much oil in its southern provinces. The whole point is to render the KRG’s independence gambit cashless.

Given that the Peshmerga forces that abandoned their positions in Kirkuk belong to the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) faction, it would appear that a deal has been struck between Baghdad and the PUK to unseat Barzani and Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) in Irbil. Bafel Talabani, the son of PUK leader, the late Jalal Talabani, had opposed the referendum and had warned the Kurds were heading for disaster. Two large oil fields a bit further west of Kirkuk, Bai Hassan and Avana Dome, are as of writing, still under Kurdish management although the Peshmerga have now left. Temporary shutdown of oil production at the two field appears to have been reversed as the Iraqi government threatened to remove the management.

Kirkuk has been a bone of contention between Baghdad and the KDP Irbil since the very beginning of the functioning of the new Iraqi constitution. The Kurds had benefitted from US patronage ever since Bill Clinton’s no-fly zone. When the new constitution was written, the KRG was given special autonomy, but without Kirkuk which is only one-third Kurdish in demographic terms. However, it was KDP policy to change that situation by bussing Kurdish populations into Kirkuk, changing, in a phase made famous by the Israelis, “facts on the ground”. This led to bad relations with the Federal Government in Baghdad, whose leaders eventually stopped paying the KRG bureaucracy’s salaries. The referendum was only to go ahead because of the personal intervention of Kirkuk’s hawkish Kurdish governor, Najmeddin Karim. Now he has been stripped of all his powers.

What is helping Abadi to reach his goal is the fact that the US has managed to so undermine its relationship with Turkey, with its Kurdish alliances, that the Turks are now opening new direct border connections with Iraq that bypass its erstwhile KRG. This has led to the complete regional isolation of the KRG, given that Iran is also now effectively closing its own border points with the Kurdish enclave at Haji Omaran, Parwezkhan and Bashmaq. Thus under total siege, KRG’s president Masoud Barzani’s position is unenviable. Time and history is on Abadi’s side, and potentially a military triumph in Kirkuk will mean the survival of Iraq as a nation and its astonishing retreat from the brink of partition.

This will also give hope to Sunnis in Iraq, as a post-campaign consolidation of Abadi’s power vis-à-vis Iranian elements in Iraq, will require that he brings Sunnis under his political tent. This outcome would need to involve a rebalancing of the post-war sectarian régime in Baghdad with its lack of governing capability, but is likely to occur as a result of the new tripartite interaction between Turkey, Iran and Iraq at multiple economic, political and security levels and the need to satisfy the broad range of interests all this entails.

What is now abundantly clear is that the G. W. Bush/A. Blair gambit to “reshape the Middle-East” has failed, and since the beginning of the Astana process, regional powers are consolidating their hold on the region’s security, and sidelining the US. It is remarkable that, unlike Syria, which is now merely a de juro entity, Iraq looks like it will regain its sovereignty. The defeat of the KDP, will bring the KRG back as a player within the Baghdad political scene, while the clear need to include Sunnis in the process will likely be answered by Abadi, for his own political reasons, quite besides it being part of a regional settlement. It all may collapse again, but this is unlikely.

Muqtada al-Sadr’s various attacks on the Federal government over the past two years, has made it clear that there is a strong current in Shia politics in favour of an Iraqi nationalist stance, independent of Iran which Abadi can rely on, and which he can now invest in virtue of his new stature since in success in Mosul, and in Kirkuk (although this last success has something also to do with negotiations between the PUK/Talabani clan and the IRGC’s Qasim Suleimani that took place in Suleimaniya during the KRG’s referendum). A democratic federated Iraq may slowly be emerging, and the era of ethno-nationalisms fading.

 

 

A Tale of Two Independence Referenda

Catalonia and the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) are instances of the central government behaving badly in Spain’s case and the regional entity behaving badly in the other. The fallout in the case of Spain will be ongoing instability, which will have a Europe-wide impact, and in the case of the KRG, contrary to all prognostications, will have a stabilising effect on the Middle East, as Barzani is forced to climb down from the tree he is sitting on.

Spain felt some of the worst effects of the financial crash in Europe and really hasn’t recovered since, except as far as the country’s manipulated national accounts are concerned. Youth unemployment officially at 39%, unofficially much higher, is foreshadowing a lost generation. The effects of all this on Catalan national feeling in the face of an unpopular government of austerity that keeps coming back into power in Madrid, cast the die.

Moreover, this north-eastern region of Spain was granted autonomy under the 1978 constitution. However, a fraught relationship between the political classes in Madrid and Barcelona began in 2010 when extra powers granted to Catalonia in 2006 were unilaterally rescinded by Spain’s Constitutional Court. An unofficial vote on independence in November 2014 showed 80% support for secession, after which the Catalan Regional Government (CRG) decided to launch the current referendum (which seems to have achieved a 90% yes vote of 2.2m people, on a 42% turnout).

Unlike the KRG, the CRG has the administrative wherewithal to make success of independence, and the democratic structures to make independence about all the residents of the region. The reaction of the central government in Madrid will cost it dear in terms of credibility. Without Catalonia, Spain as an entity may shrink, but as a geographical entity, Catalonia isn’t going anywhere, and there is no reason for either economy to suffer anymore than they have already. In fact, shaking moribund Spanish political structures is what is needed for the future.

International opinion has swung the way of Catalonia even as Madrid pummels its people into submission. Nevertheless, the EU has determined their referendum to be illegal, which now presumably makes a mockery of its decision to allow Kosovo to separate from Serbia and continue life as a failed state. The Spanish King read out the script handed to him by the Madrid government, which will reinforce Catalan resistance. The strange thing is that although a part of the Catalan population is opposed to leaving Spain, it is still wholly united with the nationalists when it comes to maximum devolution. Perhaps that is message that needs to be understood.

Barzani’s KRG on the other hand, where the independence referendum passed with over 90% of the vote, is an entity without democratic structures. It is run by the Barzani clan (politically embodied in the Kurdish Democratic Party -KDP) that decided on the referendum precisely because of the pressure it was under from rival groups (the Talabani clan represented by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Gorran movement). None of these parties meet in a parliamentary setting: their role is purely and simply to carve out and rule different pieces of Northern Iraq.

Without the support of Turkey, the KRG wouldn’t have survived its problems with a dysfunctional Iraqi government in Baghdad over the last few years. It doesn’t have the wherewithal to make independence a reality, essentially launching both the Kurdish and non-Kurdish populations of the area into the unknown. Arab and Turkmen residents in the area will fear for their lives, while even Kurds are unlikely to benefit from a system that is socially just. But Barzani is under fire now from his own followers for a gross political miscalculation, and his future is in doubt.

Ironically, however, Barzani’s rash move seems to have strengthened the hand of the Astana trio (Russia-Turkey-Iran). This would not have been predicted by Barzani’s CIA and Mossad advisers. After Putin’s visit to Ankara, Russia is likely to trade its support of Turkey against the KRG referendum in exchange for Turkey’s support for the Russian solution in Syria. This will effectively reinforce the structures of cooperation that have been forged regionally at Astana over the Syria question, and extend them into the Iraqi political quagmire, to provide a framework within which the Iraqi government can be encouraged to reform without facing new potentially existential questions.

Part of what will be driving these developments is the perception by all parties that behind Barzani’s asinine decision lies a US-Israeli axis that will seek co-opt Saudi Arabia and the UAE into exploiting the Kurdistan referendum to start another round of proxy wars in the area. There is no doubt that military manoeuvres on KRG borders by Iranian and Turkish forces together with the Iraqi army reflect an urgent sense of preparing for the worst.

The neocon philosophy dominating the thinking of Barzani’s foreign advisers is typically always linear and always fails to understand the principle of reaction. Not only can Iran and Turkey see them coming, but these regional players now have the power jointly to do something about it, especially if Russia sees it is in its interest to come off the fence.

Iran in particular sees any Kurdistani project as a potential cordon sanitaire that will have the effect of cutting it off from Lebanon, to try to achieve the results that the botched war against Assad never could. So, contained in Hassan Nasrallah’s warnings to Israel and the US over coming conflicts is a promise to take the war to the occupied territories in that  event.

 

The US is “disappointed” (but clearly not surprised) that Barzani went for the referendum

The state Department is by far the largest most complex part of American bureaucracy. But even so, the size of the new US “consulate” in Irbil, the capital of Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), is astonishing. It will cost $600 million, and  be built on 200,000 square meters on the Irbil-Shaqlawa Road. This structure will be second in size only to the actual US Embassy in Baghdad which cost $750 million, and was built on 420,000 square-meters, an area the size of the Vatican.

There are currently 30 consulates, six honorary consulates, and six foreign trade offices in Irbil. The latest to open in Kurdistan was the Japanese consulate on Jan. 11. None anywhere near the size of the US project. Iran’s view was expressed by IRGC Brigadier General Mohammad Hossein Rajabi when he said that ” the opening more than 30 consulates is not normal”. The upgrading of the size of the US presence in Irbil, followed by the confidence with which KRG President Masoud Barzani went ahead with the referendum, has in diplomatic speak “absolutely nothing to do with US plans to control the dominance of Iran in Iraq” (the unintended consequence of the 2003 war).

Turkey is an ally of the KRG but has taken a harsh stance on the referendum together with Iran and the Iraqi government. Nevertheless, Masoud’s nephew, and KRG Prime Minister, Nechirvan Barzani, is dismissive of the idea that Turkey’s stance is anymore than a negotiating position on their relationship. This view appears to be be in line with the typical pragmatism of Erdogan’s government, reflected in the equally relaxed attitude of his Economy Minister, Nihat Zeybekci.  However, as the KRG begin intense negotiations to regain Turkey’s confidence, they may be underestimating both their clout, and the events of the referendum on the geopolitical situation.

Keeping the Harbur border crossing open isn’t what it seems. Firstly, Turkey’s main practical problem currently is how to trade directly with Baghdad, both given the change of control at the Iraq border, and given that trade with the Iraqi government is worth three times more than Turkish trade with the KRG.  Secondly, unintended consequences being a big political feature of our new 21st century, it looks inevitable that Turkey will continue to keep its military on full alert and present in large numbers on the Iraqi/KRG border.

Barzani’s gamble to save his own political future will have lit 100 fires, and as yet the KRG is still just a large tribal organisation run by a traditional blood clan. At the moment it looks like Turkey together with Iran will work to freeze Barzani’s ambitions. Russia’s position will be to trade its backing for the Turkish-Iranian position in exchange for Turkish backing for the status quo in Syria. This has now been clearly signalled since Putin’s visit to Ankara.

 

 

Extraordinary Saudi visit to Baghdad confirms new geopolitical realities

In my last article on the Middle East peace process, the potential success of the Astana talks was explored. The conflicting priorities between the main players – Russia, Turkey and Iran – were described, despite all the difficulties, as ultimately supportive of a new stable solution in the region. Saudi Arabia, it was clarified was silently supportive of the process, resigning itself to its withdrawal from the Syrian scene. This surprise visit by Jubeir to Baghdad, clearly heralds a new positive rather than disruptive approach to the Iraqi scene, and is a strong confirmation that the factors in favour of the Astana process are consolidating rather than dissipating. The visit will  help the Saudi-Iranian relationship (something the Russians are pushing hard), but will also encourage the Iraqi government to move on from the bunker mentality adopted by al-Maliki during his rule – a potentially very positive prospect.

This is an important development in the light of the difficulties expected after the battle for Mosul is over

The Road after Mosul

Mosul post- DAESH risks becoming the new vortex of instability in the Middle East with Iranian, U.S. and Kurdish forces vying for control of the area. It will be interesting to see how Gen. Mattis can hope shape a new strategy in his visit to Baghdad. Likely as not, the U.S. will seek to use the marginalisation of the Sunni sector to increase its profile.

So far the Iraqi government has deliberately avoided agreeing to a formula which will empower the Sunni Arabs in Mosul in the post-DAESH era and it intends to restore the regime which was in place before the DAESH takeover in 2014. Iran will use its influence with Iraqi groups, especially with the followers of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, to restore Mosul’s pre-DAESH administrative regime. This will give Iran safe land access to Syria so as to complete its Shiite Crescent design for the Middle East. However, this plan will eventually clash with the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) desire to maintain its control in the newly gained territories in Mosul’s predominantly Kurdish districts. This Iranian-inspired policy in Mosul is also contrary to the Sunni Arabs’ plan for self-rule in the province, especially with the plan of the Mutahidoun bloc of Osama al-Nujaifi.

The issue of the participation of the Hashd al-Shabi (Popular Mobilization Units or PMU) was a serious complicating factor in the preparations for the battle for Mosul. While the U.S. and non-Shiite groups wanted to exclude the PMU from the Mosul operation, Iran and Iraqi Shiite groups within the government insisted on their participation. The PMUs maintain between 60,000 and 90,000 men under arms on a rotating basis. Indeed, the concept of al-Hashd al-Shaabi was launched not by the state but by a so-called al-wajib al-kifai fatwa issued in June 2014 by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s most influential Shiite leader. The Popular Mobilization Committee was headed by Jamal Jaafar Mohammad, better known by his nom de guerre Abu Mahdi al-Mohandis, a former Badr commander. Mohandis is now the right-hand man of Qasem Soleimani, head of the Quds Force, which is highly influential in shaping Iraq’s regional future.

The reaction to U.S. involvement in the Mosul operation by forces outside the Iraqi government has already made itself felt even under Obama. As soon as al-Abadi had agreed terms with Obama, al-Maliki launched the Islah (Reform) bloc to exert pressure not just on al-Abadi, but also on Kurds, and Sunni Arabs. In addition, Iranian backed militias made numerous threats against the U.S.. Qais Khazali, the leader of Asaeb Ahlul Haq, and Muqtada Sadr, the head of Sarayah Selam militias, stated that U.S. troops in Iraq are legitimate targets for attack. Militia commanders, including Hadi al- Ameri, who is the leader of the powerful Badr group, issued many statements openly defying the views shared by al-Abadi and the U.S. on the participation of the Hashd al-Shaabi in the Mosul operation.

It is very likely that there will also be further confrontations between the central government and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) over the control of the disputed territories in the northern and eastern parts of the province. On July 30, 2016, Barzani had staked his claim: “Liberating Mosul is impossible without the Peshmerga”. He added that although the Peshmerga will take part in the operation, they would not enter the city of Mosul. It was then that he proposed that 50,000 Peshmerga would participate in the battle. Ultimately though only 10,000 Peshmerga turned up . Almost immediately (by August 25), there were acrimonious exchanges between al-Abadi and Kurdish leaders. Karim Nouri, a top commander of the Badr forces, demanded the total withdrawal of Kurds after the battle, while Shaikh Jafar, a political bureau member of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and top military commander, responded by categorically refusing to bow to this pressure.

It is expected that the Iraqi central government will emerge from the battle against DAESH victorious, thus gaining much military and political power on the ground in and around Mosul. If the past is any guide, the centralising character of this régime will determine events, with all the negative consequences that can be expected to ensue from this. The only factor that could possibly help this situation is the complex multi-level Turkish-Iranian relationship. This could bring a balance of interests between the Sunnis, Kurds and the Iraqi government. In fact, only in the context of a broad give-and-take between the two regional powers could the looming disputes over the control of Kirkuk’s oil resources be resolved without naked conflict.

However, the way the cards will fall will partly depend on whether the US (Gen Mattis) will seek to implement a palliative (strictly anti-ISIS/DAESH) or disruptive (anti-Russian) strategy. Judging from the navel-gazing going on in Washington, although the Pentagon will try to secure a ‘Sunnistan’ base for itself in the region, it will not be expansionist. Also, if the factors that are uniting regional players around the Astana process continue, despite its presence on the ground, the US will be marginalised.

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 the 3,000 Turkish trained forces of the Nineveh Brigades, who are all Sunni fighters from the local area, are participating directly in the Mosul operation. Furthermore, Turkish artillery and air power will provide cover for the south-westerly Peshmerga advance, which would be seriously compromised without this backing.

Abadi’s pronouncements denouncing the Turkish presence were driven by the power-play for influence within the Shia bloc with Nouri al-Maliki, who announced bluntly that Mosul should be taken ‘in the same manner’ as Damascus, Sana’a, and Beirut were taken, leaving little to the imagination.

False talk of peace: the US turning a blind eye to the activities of 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 yet more straw into Assad’s corpse, and Russia to continue its Middle-Eastern expansion based on the ‘legitimate invitation’ of a régime which not only continues to enjoy the official ‘Syrian’ UN seat unchallenged, but seems to enjoy also a complicity of UN bodies without which it couldn’t have survived.  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 which is also helping to prop up Assad régime.

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, therefore, Shi’a militias organised by Iran represent the ‘boots on the ground’ that are keeping the régime in place, the blood they have shed in Syria is considerable, and these losses included Qasim Suleimani’s own second in commend in the Quds Force, Hossein Hamadani. This in turn has led Iran to recruit new militias his personnel from Shi’a outside Iraq, as far afield as Afghanistan, to form separate militias such as Liwa al-Fatimiyyun to fight alongside the Iraqis and Lebanese in Syria.

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, the creation of the innumerable militias in Iraq reporting directly to the Quds Force and thus to Iranian leader Khamenei’s office are an important tool of asymmetric warfare for Iran. 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, and are not present in Syria, the over 50 other Shi‘a militias in Iraq report directly to Iran. But where the multitude of Syrian rebel groups represent a groundswell of popular rebellion in different localities against oppression, the large number of Iranian militias represent a mobilisation of competing groups to ensure enduring the direct Iranian control of the battlefield. 

While the US is clearly antagonistic towards the Assad régime, little criticism of Iranian policy in Syria and of the Shi’a militias, either in Syria or Iraq is forthcoming at present. Particularly striking, in the context of Iraq, has been the Iraqi government’s aggressive denunciation in regard to the 600 Turkish troops stationed at Camp Ba’ashiqah, with which it had previously been in agreement. In fact, the camp has been invested by the Turks at Iraq’s invitation. It is pretty clear that this is in response to Iranian pressure as the potential Iraqi seizure of Mosul opens up new strategic considerations in northern Iraq.

WhileTurkey has been giving military training to Kurdish peshmerga forces loyal to Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) President Massoud Barzani and certain Sunni Arab tribes, called Hashd al-Nineveh, Iran has been backing Jalal Talabani, Barzani’s main opponent, and explicitly supporting Hashd al-Shaabi or Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), which is currently headed for Tal A’far to try to create a bridge for Iranian forces with its Syrian contingents.

The inclusion by the US of Turkey in the air campaign whilst trying to media between Turkey and Iraq demonstrates the difficult predicament the US finds itself in, as a result of its contradictory foreign policies.

The battle has been called at short notice by the US, as a response to its abject defeat in northern Syria by the Russians, in an attempt to re-establish itself in the Middle East ‘game’. But the battle for Mosul is merely a precursor, although an important one, for a further battle, this time in Syria, for Raqqa. While the US still plays a role in Iraqi politics, its position in Syria is non-existent as a result of Russian intervention. This last battle for the Syrian stronghold of DEASH/ISIL, therefore, will be last opportunity for the US to re-establish a position in Syria, and in this effort, the help of the Turkish army will be essential. Hence US ambivalence about the Turkish position in Iraq.

Nevertheless, the US turning a blind eye to the heavy involvement of Iran in Iraq and Syria through its militias is problematic. It is a policy not at all dissimilar to its covert support for Sunni jihadi fighting groups ever the covert campaign against the Russians in the 1980s, and can only lead to further chaos.

Iraqi parliament deliberates under double occupation

İlnur Çevik writes

Our neighbor Iraq is unfortunately under occupation.

Some parts of Northern Iraq is under the occupation from PKK militants waging a terrorist war against Turkey. The PKK has settled in the Qandil Mountains of northeastern Iraq for decades and no one has been able to dislodge these terrorists. In recent years the PKK has used the pretext of “fighting Daish” to move to the northwestern areas of Sinjar province near the Syrian border.

President of the Iraqi Kurdish Administration (KRG) Masoud Barzani has been raising hell trying to tell the PKK to vacate Sinjar and go back to Qandil but his words have remained in the air. The central government of Iraq, which is supposed to be the sovereign power of Iraq, is completely incapable of even addressing the issue and says “those areas are beyond our control.” So much for Iraq’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.

But that is not all. The militant force of Daish has carved out nearly half of the country and is controlling Mosul. The areas were left to Daish on a golden plate when the forces of the central government fled the region leaving behind their heavy arms. Now the central government is trying to take back Sunni Mosul with a Shiite army, which is a massive mistake.

To add to the humiliation of the central government in Baghdad and the Iraqi parliament the country has now fallen into the hands of Iran. Iranian generals and revolutionary guards are trying to bolster the Iraqi army but to no avail. The American occupation has been replaced by a de factor Iranian occupation.

Meanwhile the Americans with the pretext of arming and training the Iraqi army have crawled back into Iraq. Yet another occupation.

Now with all these examples on how Iraq’s sovereignty has been and is being violated when the Iraqi parliament comes up with a motion calling on Turkey to withdraw its forces from Iraq it sounds more like a joke rather than a political move that should be taken seriously. The Iraqi parliament should show more concern for the presence of Daish and PKK terrorists on their land than the presence of Turkish soldiers. Our forces are in Iraq to help these people fight Daish.

However, that is not all. The PKK launches terrorist attacks inside Turkey from Iraq and as the Iraqis cannot prevent this then Turkey has to take matters into its own hands. Turkey had to intervene to halt the Daish assault on Iraq and save the occupation of Irbil and Kirkuk. Where was the Iraqi army at the time? Where was the Iraqi parliament at the time?

Now the Iraqi parliament is saying the Turkish forces in Bashiqa and other training camps in Northern Iraq are not welcome. They are being perceived as an occupation force. Yet on Thursday the Kurdish leadership announced that the central government in Iraq was fully informed of the presence of Turkish forces in the region and they did not oppose this at the time.

It is strange that a junior American officer said Turkey is not a part of the coalition against Daish in Iraq and thus its presence is unwanted. The U.S. knows well and appreciates the importance of the Turkish presence in Iraq and knows well what would happen if Turkey were sidelined and allowed events to take their natural course