Category Archives: The Middle East

Grinding towards peace in the Middle East

As I wrote in February the Middle Eastern powers (Russia, Turkey, and Iran) are setting the terms for Middle Eastern peace at Astana, with the US, the effective cause of the calamities over the past thirty years, acting as an observer.

Today’s meetings between Lavrov and Tillerson will provide the formal US agreement over 4 safe zones. This is important because obviously the US have forces on the ground in Syria (N.B. the cautious US statement at the end of video ref. Iran).

Vital to all of this has been Turkey’s containment of the Syrian rebels, who have been deeply troubled (it seems like the US) by the fact that Iran is a co-guarantor. Although this led Mohamed Alloush to leave the negotiating table, he is now back, Turkey having convinced his followers that Iran’s role here is vital for the very reason that it is distrusted by them. It is a learning curve for the rebels.

The four safe zones to be established in Syria will be closed for flights by US-led coalition warplanesREAD MORE: https://on.rt.com/8arn

Posted by RT Play on Friday, 5 May 2017

Russia is picking up all the scattered chess pieces in Middle East

In true capitalist fashion Russia is multiplying the numbers of private contractors being used across the Middle East. Giving backing to ex-CIA asset renegade general Khalifa Hiftar in Libya is just one of the many loose ends left by the Obama administration Putin looks to tie up. Also backing junta leader Sisi in Egypt, and PYD Kurdish leader Salih Muslim in Northeastern for instance allows these US creations the latitude to look gift horses in the mouth, making US foreign policy in the Middle East much harder and less predictable, while reinforcing the dominance Russia has gained from its bases in Syria.

The news coming in from Libya is that the Benghazi Defense Brigade (BDB) took over the oil ports of Ras Lanuf and Es Sidr with their refineries from Hiftar’s forces in a stealth attack this last weekend on 5th March. Apparently, they have handed the ports over to the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA). The balance of power in Libya will now shift in the GNA’s favour away from the House of Representatives (HoR) ensconced in Tobruk (which had hired Hiftar to do its heavy lifting), and this will strengthen the position of beleaguered UN-approved prime minister Fayez al-Sarraj. After these events, Russia now appears to see the need to back its contractors in Libya by sending in élite special forces.

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.

Grinding towards peace in the Middle East

It’s early 2017 and there’s a chance for peace in Syria, but it’s complicated. One regional superpower and two regional powers in the Middle East – Russia, Turkey and Iran – have agreed a trilateral monitoring commission to monitor the Syrian ceasefire at Astana in Kazakhstan. The UN is in attendance, but the US absent, apart from the formality of the presence of the local US Ambassador.

Surely, this is a historic state of affairs, especially since the absence of the US isn’t the choice of the new isolationism of a Trump administration; it is outcome of the abject failure of Obama’s globalism in the face of Russian opportunism, long-term Iranian strategy, and the reaction by Turkey to its changed circumstances.

But the Middle East isn’t just Syria; another war grinds on in Yemen. However, the increasingly unwinnable nature of this conflict contributes at great cost to the Yemeni people to growing stability in the rest of the Middle East. Read full article here

A new security architecture for the northern Middle-East

Iran, Russia, and Turkey meet to shape a new peace arrangement in Syria, following the increasing absence of the Western powers from the Middle-East, as a result of their disastrous policies since the Iraq War. This has signalled, as I explained in July this year,  the trend towards the consolidation of an entirely new security architecture directed by the three major powers in the region. The Iranian sensibilities which have slowed down the evacuation of Aleppo, have been accommodated by Russia and Turkey not only from an immediate need to complete the evacuation, but also from an overall understanding that there are, despite everything, overall common interests.

The interconnected interests of the three powers effectively means that Western influences will be squeezed out of the region, despite the fact that the US is using the fight against DAESH/ISIL  to try to stay in the game. The Iranian backing of Shia militias, if they are contained and do not attempt to move into Tel A’far or into the countryside around Idlib, is increasingly seen by Turkey and Russia as a valid strategy by Iran to counter the unfortunate proclivity of Sunni jihadis to accept Western aid, which is given to them either directly or through Saudi Arabia despite the fact that they are demonised in the Western media.

The new security architecture is strengthened, not weakened, by the different approaches and occasionally sharp disagreements of the three powers over their local interests, simply because of the overall danger posed by the covert interference of Western powers. The most important example of this is Turkey’s acceptance of the Russian insistence on the permanence of the Assad régime (and Assad personally when it comes to the Iranians), which has come about because of the fact that Western intelligence agencies continue to back deep state operators in the country in order to sow terror even after their attempt to overthrow of the Turkish government failed.

Future US policy towards the region is complicated by the fact that Trump seeks an alliance with Russia while inconsistently demonising Iran and that Trump’s pro-Russian stance itself may fail to become effective as a result of the objections of the US deep state. As the Turkish government consolidates its gains after foiling the July 15 coup attempt, it is clear that rather than achieve the objective of turning Turkey into a client state that could be used to undermine and encircle Russia, the actions of the Western intelligence agencies have of late driven the two powers together. It doesn’t take much imagination to understand what the strategy of the Western intelligence-media conglomerate is, and it is precisely this Cold War mentality which increasingly cements the cooperation of the three rival powers in the northern Middle-East.

Qatar, a close ally of Turkey, has effectively underwritten the new political settlement in Syria, in view of its massive investment through Qatar Investment Authority and Glencore (in which it is majority investor) into Rosneft. It is this move in particular which encouraged Putin to stick his neck out to seek a peaceful resolution to the Syrian crisis at the planned summit in Astana, Kazakhstan. The rapprochement between Qatar and Russia will put pressure on Syrian rebels to change their attitude and accept a political settlement which includes Assad.

In fact, Russia had tried and failed to form alliances within Syrian rebels groups in the past to bolster its interests on the ground. Within the past twelve months it had resumed pursuing diplomatic efforts in this regard.

The belated US attempt to get back into the Great 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.

 

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 severed Saudi oil supplies to Egypt, together with the 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. Furthermore, 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. Given the inane nature of US foreign policy, Israel, like Egypt, will get US Aid whether it does what the US wants or not.

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.