Category Archives: The Middle East

A serial liar and cheat, Israel now pays a catastrophic strategic price for its arrogance

 

Data captured by Russia’s S-400 system at Hmeimim proves Israeli jets were responsible for the downing of the Russian plane and the killing of 15 personnel, according to the Russian Defense Ministry’s latest announcement today. Significantly, the data showed that the Syrian missile changed its course shortly before hitting the Il-20. Despite Israel’s frantic fabrications, it is clear then that the Syria missile had been fired at the Israeli F-16s, and that Israeli pilots ducked into the shadow of the Russian Il-20 at the last minute.

Putin may have initially softened the harsh tone of Russian Defence Ministry Staff over the shoot down, but the eventual official response was devastating. The S-300 had been promised to the Assad régime to update its air defence capabilities but, on his multiple trips to Moscow, Netanhayu had secured a promise from Putin that it would not be delivered. This decision is now reversed, and the S-300 will be handed over within two weeks. It will be accompanied by advance automated air defence management systems. Finally, electromagnetic jamming systems are to be installed in the area around the Russian military bases in Tartus and Hmeimim to suppress satellite navigation, onboard radar systems and communications of warplanes attacking targets on Syrian territory from the Mediterranean.

This is a spectacular victory for Iran, as its puppet Syrian régime is now enabled with an effective air defence capability. This will cow the Israeli air force, which has so far been able to campaign with relative impunity over Syrian airspace. Even with the old S-200 system, Syrian forces were able to shoot down an Israeli F-16. It is important, however, to take into account that these events are taking place as Hezbollah in Lebanon, through its leader Hassan Nasrallah, makes a point of announcing its possession of advanced ballistic missile systems targeting Israel.

It is expected that either Hezbollah or the Lebanese authorities themselves will announce within weeks that violations of Lebanese airspace by Israel will be met with an immediate missile defense response. This will be the culmination of a standoff between the two countries over oil and gas rights at sea. What is abundantly clear is that Israel’s relentless aggression against its neighbours, rather than cowing them, has produced a military response on a number of levels that it never would have expected. US politicians recognise that with this decision by Russia, Israel’s dominance over Middle Eastern skies draws to a close.

The future now beckons a free Idlib, while US Kurdish proxies move against Iran

As this site has predicted for some time, Erdoğan convinced Putin of the need to de-escalate military threats in Idlib, through a combination of arming opposition forces, reinforcing Turkey’s positions,  and organising a major diplomatic offensive to bring Western powers behind Turkish policy. The presidents of Russia and Turkey may have agreed yesterday to create a “demilitarised zone” around Idlib, but this outcome was far from obvious after the Tehran summit broke up on September 7th.

Putin’s sudden cooperative stance at Sochi, and his emphasis now on the importance of Russian trade relations with Turkey, means that he had not fully taken into consideration the extent to which Turkey was willing to go to support the opposition to Assad and the dangers that posed to the Syrian régime if an assault on Idlib had led to counter-attacks in Aleppo and Hama, widening the war once again and exposing the régime’s threadbare nature. The survival of Assad is essential for the presence of Russian bases in Syria, and so is the continuation of the myth spun by Russian media that he has somehow won the war, even if he controls less than 50% of Syrian territory, all of it an economic basket-case.

The economic burden that Assad’s Syrian region poses for Russia is clear from the unsuccessful road show Putin recently promoted in Western capitals for the reconstruction of Syria. If Idlib had caused a Russo-Turkish split once again, not only would the Assad victory myth be fatally undermined but Russian economic plans in Turkey would also have to be put on hold; whether Turkstream, the Akkuyu power plant, or the wider project for dedollarisation of Russian trade in general that its currently good relations with Turkey is making possible.

The same kind of scenario holds for Iran. Its latest supportive announcement in favour of the Russian-Turkish deal, follows the relief felt by the Iranian government over the Turkish rejection of anti-Iranian US sanctions. It also perceives the economic opportunities offered by Turkish trade and Turkey’s centrality to the dedollarisation project as crucial to its national interest. Iran also helped to sway the balance of forces away from an assault on Idlib, and encourage the withdrawal of Syrian régime forces. It is also clear to Iran, with the unprecedented Western-backed Israeli attacks on Syria taking place, that the real threats to its national security have little to do with Idlib or indeed Turkey.

The agreement between Russia and Idlib is extremely important for the survival of the political rather than military solution to Syria’s future. Much of the pro-Russian media and assorted liberal commentators have always argued for the military option, for the crushing of the opposition to Assad, and now they maintain that Assad is merely biding his time. That is false. Assad would have come off the worse for a confrontation with Turkey, even with Russian air cover. The new Russo-Turkish agreement is turning point for the Arab Spring, a revival of the hopes for which is now making liberal commentators furious.

The details of the Sochi agreement are that a 15-20km wide buffer zone in Idlib jointly policed by Russian and Turkish forces is to come into force by 15 October, involving the “withdrawal of all radical fighters” including the ex-al-Qaeda Hay’at Tahrir el-SHAM (HTS). Erdoğan and Putin also agreed on the withdrawal of “heavy weaponry from this zone,” including tanks, multiple launch rocket systems, and rocket launchers, much of which had recently been supplied by Turkey anyway, in preparation for the upcoming attack. Now all this will be withdrawn to Turkish territory once again, and the radical groups moved to the Jarablus region of Syria, on the border with Syrian Kurdistan. Turkish intelligence (MİT) has now bought time to sift through the individuals in all those groups to be able weed out the foreign fighters and more dangerous elements during relocation.

War drums in Iraq: While the US makes agreeable noises about this new Russo-Turkish agreement, it is hardly overjoyed at the strengthening of those relations and of the Turkish position in northern Syria. The idea that there is any active US backing for a ceasefire in Idlib and a political solution in Syria is further misdirection from liberal commentary. US belligerence is merely taking a new turn, as tensions in the region now shift from Northern Syria to Northern Iraq, where Iran is facing increasing military pressure from US proxies.

It has become clear that US control in Syrian Kurdistan is viewed by the Pentagon as a launchpad for the re-taking of Northern Iraq with the help of the alphabet-soup of various Kurdish proxies. US Special Presidential Envoy Brett McGurk’s presence in Irbil during the negotiations for the formation of the next Iraqi government is evidence enough. Current US-backed Iraqi prime minister Abadi, whose future in those negotiations is uncertain as a result of his soaring unpopularity in the Iraqi street, is trying to curry favour with the US during this process by acting to bolster Kurdish positions in Iraq against Turkish incursions targeting the PKK.

The OIC in Istanbul: when a cat screeches…

Times are changing, and most reporting on the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) is stuck in the past. The OIC was founded when a group of Israeli extremists started a fire at al-Aqsa mosque on 21 August 1969 with the hope of destroying it. It is based in Saudi-Arabia (and its current Secretary-General is Saudi: Yousef bin Ahmad Al-Othaimeen), and so in the past proceedings have predictably been dominated by Saudi politics.

It has, therefore, invariably issued fairly lame statements in reaction to Israeli infractions and atrocities, with little action ever displayed. The image that comes to mind is of an old Arab proverb said to originate with Imam Shafi’i: the dogs bark but the caravan moves on – الكلاب تنبح والقافلة تسير (which actually rhymes in Turkish it ürür, kervan yürür), where the caravan is the Israeli colonial project (and you know who the dogs are).

This year, however, the Presidency happened to be held by Turkey, and Erdoğan, who rarely misses a trick, took the opportunity of convening an emergency meeting of the OIC to Istanbul to respond to Trump’s outrageous infraction of international law in his unilateral US announcement of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel: 48 states responded to Erdoğan’s call within 7 days. The change of venue seems to have brought with it a change of mood. Dogs are second class citizens in Turkey – Turks, and Istanbulites in particular are crazy about cats. The metaphor of the barking dog therefore no longer applies. Erdoğan’s performance was more like a cat screeching. So what happens when a cat screeches?

Aside from Turkey leading the OIC conference to officially declare East Jerusalem the capital of Palestine, the Turks vowed to establish an embassy to Palestine there. Erdoğan is also using these declarations as the beginning of a major initiative in the UN both to support Palestinian rights and to sideline the US from any involvement in future Middle East peace talks. Mahmoud Abbas surprisingly echoed this demand, despite the normally supine attitude of the Palestinian Authority towards the US.

But there were a number of extremely important subtexts to the meeting, entirely missed or misunderstood by both Western and Arabic media. Iranian President Rouhani was grinning like a Cheshire cat, pleased that Turkey is in the front like diplomatically on this matter, whilst the overt confrontation in the Middle East is between the Trump administration and his country. The unprecedentedly close relationship between Turkey and Iran forged in the course of the Astana peace process was gaining even more oxygen.

The Trump administration’s irrationality in regard to the Jerusalem declaration has all but scuppered  US diplomatic credibility in the Middle East, irrespective of its purported ties to the Saudi and Emirati regimes. Now, its collapsing relations with Turkey (after the YPG problem and the Zarrab case, the Jerusalem declaration was the straw that broke the camel’s back) means that any hope of putting any kind of regional pressure on Iran, military or otherwise, is totally out of reach.

Some reporters pointed to the absence of the Saudi King at the OIC meeting, tarring the whole enterprise and the conference proceedings with the old ‘dogs barking’ brush. Mahmoud Abbas spent the day before with King Salman, who, under Trumpist influence, tried to bully him into withdrawing from the conference. It’s a surprise Salman’s son (MbS) didn’t try to kidnap Abbas, to force him to do his bidding, as he did recently in the case of a number senior Saudi royals, and the Lebanese Prime Minister Saad el-Hariri. But Abbas left promptly and backed Erdoğan’s call.

This in fact forced Salman’s hand. He couldn’t as Guardian of the Two Holy Mosques (Mecca and Medina) find himself at odds with the OIC decision, so he pre-empted it, by announcing his backing for the idea of East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine. Abbas revelled in announcing this fact to the OIC conference. Some Arab reporters accused him of being undignified in – as it were – carrying Salman’s message for him. However, what Abbas in fact did was to highlight the impotence of the Saudi King before the determination of the other members of the OIC conference. It is a deep stain on the al-Saud that they didn’t attend, and yet still had to go along with the decisions of the conference.

What is worse for the Saudi King, is that Jordan’s King Abdulla, a long-time Saudi ally, took an independent line like Abbas. He also visited Salman prior to the OIC conference, was bullied just like Abbas, and wasn’t kidnapped by MbS. In his speech at the conference, Abdulla confirmed the Hashemite dynasty’s commitment to the protection of the Islamic Holy Places, and in doing so, upstaged the al-Saud. Abdulla’s Hashemite ancestors had traditionally been the guardians of the shrines in Mecca and Medina, only for the British to put the al-Saud in charge instead. Abdulla’s speech, quiet and balanced as it was, finally ripped apart the Islamic credentials of the Saudi upstarts.

So when a cat screeches… a bloody scratch follows

 

Trump just gave a massive gift to Iran: the Arab autocrats should fear their street

 

Until now Iran had lost its credibility on the Arab Street, because of its rescue of the Assad regime. All will now be forgiven as the penny drops. The Iranians were perhaps right to support Bashar, despite his despicable character and his Neanderthal régime.

Trump’s move is -woefully, blatantly – in contempt of international law and UNSC resolutions, which the UNSC itself didn’t fail to point out to its US representative. The US has lost it’s position as a fair arbiter in the Middle East process – some say it has finally shown its hand – and now its international reputation is as sullied as Israel’s.

Liberal Jewish groups in the US see this danger clearly. The Union of Reform Judaism stated: ‘… any relocation of the American Embassy to West Jerusalem should be done in the broader context reflecting Jerusalem’s status as a city holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims alike…the White House should not undermine these efforts by making unilateral decisions that are all but certain to exacerbate the conflict.’

J- Street released a statement saying that a Palestinian capital must also be established in the East Jerusalem: ‘… the effect of moving the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem or of declaring that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital prior to a negotiated agreement will be to anger key Arab allies, foment regional instability and undermine nascent US diplomatic efforts to resolve the larger conflict.’

New Israel Fund also criticized the decision in a statement: ‘President Trump many not understand what’s at stake here, but we do. Moving the embassy risks igniting the tinderbox of anger, frustration and hopelessness that already exists in Jerusalem. Throwing…balance off with this unilateral gesture could have grave consequences.’

The US has either been sowing discord or waging war directly in the Middle East for 35 years. So far Iran won the 1980-88 Iraq-Iran war, the 2003-9 Iraq war, and the 2011-7 Syrian war. Let’s see what happens in the next war. Ali Abdulla al-Saleh supporter and funder of violence and militancy across the board is dead. Yemen is open. What will the Arab autocrats, who are the allies of the US, do apart from buy paintings by Leonardo for $450m, and yachts for $500m, all the while mistreating former Gulf allies?

Saudi Arabia’s formal statement denouncing the Trump decision belies their co-operation with him over this new roughing-up of the Palestinians. It smells of fear and double-dealing. The news from Jerusalem is being “managed” by Saudi authorities.

Hopefully, the liberal voices in America above will help undo Trump’s idiocy and the influence of the Christian right on US Middle East policy. Turkey’s efforts to create international consensus against this move will definitely help to keep the pressure on. Erdoğan calling the OIC to a conference on the matter of Jerusalem is a symbolic move, although welcome of course. What people don’t recognise, on the other hand, is the crucial importance of Turkey’s position as the energy transit hub for Mediterranean gas, offering the cheapest route to Europe, which Israel is banking on for its future.

Certainly Abbas has kicked the so-called peace process into the long grass. He doesn’t look too phased by the events and Mike Pence will be disappointed if he thinks he can restart peace talks on his visit to Israel next month.

Although the Palestinian Authority has continually disappointed in the prime task of keeping the Palestinians united and resisting pressure, Abbas has shown more mettle recently in taking Israel to the ICC.

 

The collapse of the Hariri “mansion”

Madawi al-Rasheed writes about the uneasy post-civil war truce between the ‘mansions’ of the various sectarian leaders in Lebanon, in an allusion to the familial structures of medieval Italian city states, and the explosive potential of the mysterious departure to Saudi Arabia and subsequent resignation from the post of Lebanese Prime Minister of the Sunni leader, Saad el-Hariri.

“Today the famous central “Solidaire” area is a dying hub of finance and entertainment beyond the means of most Lebanese. The Solidaire Park is a legacy of the vision of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri (Saad’s father) who represented the Sunnis in Lebanon, as a dual national of both Saudi Arabia and Lebanon, while at the same time nurturing his Saudi Arabian interests. Under post-civil war reconstruction efforts, he emerged as a financial tycoon who, in the neoliberal vein, wiped out small traders and businessmen in favour of global capitalism.

With his assassination in 2005, his son Saad became the face of Sunni power in Lebanon, albeit that this power declined in the face of the rise of Hezbollah. Money earned in Saudi Arabia was translated into philanthropy in Lebanon. Patron-client relations became the core of the Sunni za’amat, leadership, like other sectarian leadership.

Saudi Arabia seems to have lost its historical importance in Lebanon as Iran consolidated its presence there. So the last card Saudi Arabia can play to snub Iran was to summon Saad Hariri, its man in Beirut, to Riyadh where he surprisingly and unexpectedly read his resignation letter on the same night that Mohammed bin Salman started his anti-corruption purge.” Read full article here.

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.

 

 

Lesson number six: do not try to reconcile with those who hate you, because you will lose either way

David Hearst writes: Corbyn has much in common with the forces that led the Arab Spring: both represent the poor and the working classes; both emerged from the fringes of the political spectrum; both surprised the establishment; both had the overwhelming majority of the media against them; and both were the frequent targets of attempted coups.

The military coup in Egypt succeeded, but the same counter revolutionary forces funded by the Gulf dictatorships that unseated Morsi also tried a coup in Tunisia, Turkey and latterly in Qatar. The right wing of the Labour Party and the most senior members of the parliamentary party openly and repeatedly tried to unseat their party leader.

Corbyn was trailing 20 points in the polls behind the Conservatives, having just lost massively in local elections. His fortunes changed once his manifesto appeared. Why? Because for the first time in a generation, it offered voters a genuine alternative.There is another lesson here for the forces of the Arab Spring: public opinion is volatile and no war is ever won or lost in a battle. The counter-revolutionary forces of absolute monarchs and military dictators have squandered billions of dollars selling the notion that the Arab Spring is dead and that everyone who took part in it should pack up and go home. Corbyn proves there is life after death.

Lesson number one: never give up. Lesson number two: know your constituency. Lesson number three: never allow anyone to get between you and it. Lesson number four: create your own media. Lesson number five: construct a programme that helps the working class. Lesson number six: do not try to reconcile with those who hate you, because you will lose either way.

Whatever the future holds for him, Corbyn has changed the landscape of British politics – which is more than can be said for a host of Labour leaders before him. Arab states do not need yet another traditional leader. They need a transformation. That can only be done from the inside, from the youth upwards. No outside power is going to help them. Read full article

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.

 

 

G-4 mulling Qatar’s negative response to their ultimata

 

The G-4 group of the world’s TOP Tyrannical Nations (TTN) (Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt, Bahrain) have received Qatar’s response to their ultimata. Note that they blinked first. When they initially received no response, they unilaterally extended their deadline by 48 hours.

Qatar refuses to shut down Al-Jazeera. It has the backing of most of world on this. A link is now provided at the top of this page for all those who wish to watch Al-Jazeera LIVE either in English or in Arabic. The TV and news network is riding high on current events, as the world takes note of the self-inflicted discomfort these events are causing the G-4 TTN.

If Al-Jazeera stays, so does the Turkish military base, which the G-4 sought to unwind, in the event that a Bahrain-type intervention by Saudi Arabia would be in the offing. In Qatar, unlike Bahrain, Saudi forces would have to confront a military response, rather than merely unarmed protestors. The Turks pushed forward the agenda for supplying new troops to the base as soon as the G-4 announced their siege of Qatar.

The Turkish base became part of an urgent discussion between Javad Zarif and Erdoğan  which took place in Ankara at the request of the Iranians immediately the siege started.

Thirdly, in its only concession, Qatar announced it would be willing to sever relations with Iran, if the UAE and Bahrain did so as well. Saudi has already severed relations. The Qataris are fully aware that this is a matter of severe disagreement between Mohamed bin Zayed (MbZ) and the Maktoum family in Dubai. Dubai’s success as a marketplace is largely due to its massive trade links with Iran. Sever these and Dubai goes into decline. MbZ maintains that he rescued Dubai during the financial crisis, and therefore has a right to set the foreign policy of the UAE. Nevertheless, the UAE will not end up severing ties with Iran. Besides, to keep its lights on, Dubai needs Qatari gas, which Qatar astonishingly continues to supply despite the UAE’s ridiculous behaviour.

In any event the intelligence agencies of the G-4 TTN are meeting in Cairo to plan their response to Qatar’s refusal to bend. It is clear that a covert war will now be launched against Qatar, since there are no other possible routes for them to take, given the stance taken by Turkey and Iran. As the Qatari response, delivered by the Emir of Kuwait says ‘there are no Iranian Revolutionary Guards in Qatar’. However, Iran’s missile capability is not far away and communications between the Turkish base and the Iranians have been set up. It is in Iran’s vital interest to protect Qatar, since the two countries share the North Dome/South Pars gas field (the largest in the world).

Moody’s have downgraded Qatar, although quite why this is necessary given it is a surplus nation that doesn’t require borrowing, is not clear. However, the G-4 will seek to launch cyberattacks and media storms against Al-Jazeera, and to hound its journalists and bar them from entering diverse countries around the world which cow-tow to Saudi Arabia and the UAE (the Comoros Is and the Maldives come to mind). There will also be a financial war launched against Qatari global assets, which is possibly what Moody’s is worried about. International banking groups will suddenly have to take sides, which will make for turbulent financial markets. Already the Qatari Rial has been suspended from trading in many outlets.

The G-4 TTN cannot stand the light that Al-Jazeera regularly shines on their dysfunctional nations, although its reporting is always balanced. Talking heads from all sides are invariably included in their broadcasts. Everybody gets a chance. Its just that the arguments put forward by those defending the policies of the G-4 TTN more often than not, embarrassingly, fail to hold water. Al-Jazeera is key to Qatar’s response to the covert war that is about to start. It can raise or lower the temperature of its broadcasts as time goes on and as circumstances dictate. For closed tyrannical nations existing in a satellite and internet dominated world, the propaganda of their state media, whether it be through Sky News Arabia, Al-Arabiyya TV, OnTV, or whatever, can never achieve the ratings of Al-Jazeera with their own locals.

From another perspective, the Qatar debacle is yet another victory for Iranian domination of the Gulf, and signals the end of any Trumpian dream to create some kind of Sunni front against Iran. Saudi Arabia is in fact up for grabs in the medium to long term.