Archive | Iraq

Yazidi sex slaves: Our stain and legacy in Iraq

by: Kelley Beaucar Vlahos

A year and a half ago I heard former ISIL sex slave Nadia Murad speak before a packed crowd at the Doha Forum in Qatar. At that time, the soft-spoken but steely Nobel Peace Prize winner reported that there were some 3,200 Yazidi women and girls still in ISIL captivity. Sadly, as the Yazidi diaspora commemorates the 2014 massacre of their people in Iraq this month, reports indicate that number has barely budged, with around 2,800 still suspected in ISIL’s hands today.

The Doha audience for Murad in December 2018 was rapt, some tearful and many, like myself, looking a bit ashamed that there had been no government-wide attempts to find the victims. That included the United States government, which had all but created the conditions for the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq, leading to the obliteration of Yazidi villages, the outright slaughter of thousands, and the displacement of some half a million people in 2014. Murad herself had watched her six brothers and mother killed before she was taken to be repeatedly raped and beaten in an ISIL-held house in Mosul. She managed to escape to tell her story.

This is the failure of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East in stark relief: Washington’s unilateral invasion of Iraq in 2003 without comprehending nor preparing for what came next, then its complete disregard for the human pieces scattered everywhere when it left at the start of the Obama administration in 2011.

When ISIL began devouring Iraqi territory after the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, killing, kidnapping and subjugating villages, President Obama sent troops and airpower back in to help the Iraqi government. This included the Aug. 7, 2014 airstrikes on Mount Sinjar to save the Yazidis trapped there after the massacres began. The United States air-dropped aid afterwards, but that was it. The American people were weary of war, and Obama promised limited engagement.

The Yazidis are an ancient ethno-religious sect and considered heretics by Iraq’s Muslim population, though they have lived alongside one another for centuries. Unfortunately, the Yazidis were easy prey for ISIL and found little safe harbor from their Muslim, mostly Kurdish neighbors, as ISIL rampaged across northwestern Iraq in 2014. Only about 15 percent have returned to their homes in recent years, only to find burned out buildings, crumbling infrastructure, and crushing poverty.

The only real effort to rescue the kidnapped women and children has been from privately funded organizations that are in many cases paying ransom for their release. To be fair, through 2018 there were reports of coordination between the Kurdistan Regional Government and intelligence services in Turkey to locate and extract thousands of Yazidi victims who were smuggled there or had ended up in Turkish refugee camps. But recent news yields very little on the subject beyond lamentation over the 2,800 still out there, with hope dwindling as the years go by.

Meanwhile, after sparking the war that touched off a wave of human displacement over the last 18 years, the United States has all but closed its doors to refugees, leaving many victims of the violence wasting away in refugee camps. According to The Washington Post,the United States admitted 1,524 Iraqi Christians and 417 Yazidis from Iraq and Syria in 2016. In 2018, that number shrank to 26 Iraqi Christians and five Yazidis. The total continued to hover around single digits in early 2019, mostly because of the Trump administration’s crackdown on refugee admissions overall.

Unfortunately, even if the international community put 100 percent effort behind rescuing the captive Yazidis, there are serious complications standing in the way of these women healing and the community moving forward in any way one would call “becoming whole again.”

For example, last April, Yazidi faith leaders declared that while Yazidi women who were raped and forced into Islamic State marriages can return in acceptance to their villages, the children born of those rapes will not be recognized by the sect. This has caused a divide within the community, many of whom have been fighting for the women’s right to reunite with their families in peace and security.

Nadia Murad weighed in at the time, saying there were women in refugee camps who were afraid to come home because they did not know if their children would be rejected. She has counseled them to return anyway, and urges religious leaders to set the tone for acceptance. Meanwhile she has worked to hold the perpetrators of crimes accountable, again, to little avail.

The “status quo is destroying our community” and international inaction is enabling ISIL remnants to “accomplish their goal of eradicating the Yazidis from Iraq,” she said this month. Murad and human rights lawyer Amal Clooney addressed the United Nations Security Council last year in an ongoing attempt to open an International Criminal Court enquiry to try the Islamic State for its crimes. “No progress has been made,” Clooney said.

Also, in a joint statement the women said there “is no concerted attempt to search for or rescue over 2,800 women and children who remain missing and in captivity in Iraq and Syria.”

For the United States, the “status quo” seems to be breaking things and then walking away. In 2018, Vice President Mike Pence was able to direct $100 million in aid to religious minorities, including the Yazidis, in Iraq — a nod to religious liberty advocates who had been lobbying his office hard for attention. That was commendable and welcome, but what if he were to use that same power of the office to put muscle behind these stilted rescue efforts — particularly as some believe that many of the lost Yazidi women and children are now victims of even broader human trafficking networks?

It wouldn’t address all of the Yazidis’ current problems, but it would certainly line up with the Trump administration’s call to assist victims of religious persecution, and go the extra mile to change the perception that we are a nation unwilling to pay for what we break and leave behind.

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What Trump’s troop withdrawal from Iraq means for ending America’s endless wars

by: Trita Parsi

The Wall Street Journal scoop on the details of the Trump administration’s troop withdrawal from Iraq is welcome news. Reportedly, President Donald Trump is cutting U.S. troop levels by one- third, to about 3,500 troops from 5,200. This move would bring force levels back to where they were in 2015, at the height of the war against ISIL, which in and of itself demonstrates how unnecessary the troop level increases have been mindful of the decimation of the Islamic State.

Yet, the Journal — and the media narrative around this in general — frames this solely as a decision born out of political pressures in Iraq and the United States. The Iraqi public wants the United States to leave — as demonstrated by the Iraqi parliament voting to expel U.S. troops earlier this year – and Trump seeking to deliver on his campaign promise to end the endless wars.

“But both governments have faced political pressures at home from critics who have complained that the U.S. may be engaged in an open-ended mission,” the Journal reports.

While political pressures for bringing American service members home certainly exist — a poll conducted by the Charles Koch Institute last month revealed that three-quarters of the public support bringing the troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan —the media is mistaken in presenting this decision solely as a populist move devoid of a compelling strategic rationale. Indeed, America’s global military domination and endless wars are the baselines; it’s the decision to end wars and bring troops home that faces scrutiny, not deciding to wage war in perpetuity.  

In reality, the strategic rationale for a withdrawal from Iraq is arguably the stronger card. After all, the withdrawal should take place even if public support for it was absent.

First, rather than fighting ISIL — which was the original rationale for the troop deployment in 2014 — Washington’s unhealthy obsession with Iran keeps the American military stuck in Iraq and Syria. (Incidentally, there is no congressional authorization for Trump’s flirtation with war with Iran). The Iran obsession, in turn, has taken resources and attention away from the fight against ISIL.

“The threat against our forces from Shiite militant groups has caused us to put resources that we would otherwise use against ISIS to provide for our own defense and that has lowered our ability to work effectively against them,” U.S. Central Command head Gen. Kenneth McKenzie said at an U.S. Institute for Peace event this month. “Over the last seven or eight months, we have had to devote resources to self-protection that we would otherwise devote for the counter-ISIS fight.”

Moreover, the Iraqis insist that they don’t even need the U.S. active military’s help against ISIL in the first place. “We definitely don’t need combat troops in Iraq, but we do need training and capacity enhancement and security cooperation,” Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi told reporters in Washington last week following a White House meeting with President Trump.

Nor are U.S. troops needed to check Iran’s influence in Iraq. That is, first of all, an Iraqi problem and American service members should not be put in harm’s way to resolve regional quarrels that have little bearing on U.S. national security. Secondly, as my QI colleagues and I wrote in a report released this past summer:

“Rather than expanding Iranian influence in Iraq, the withdrawal of American troops will likely provide more room for Iraqi nationalism to unite Iraqi political factions against an outsized Iranian influence in the country. Currently, America’s military presence tempers this natural desire for greater independence from Iran, as many political factions view Iran as a necessary partner to balance and contain America’s military influence in Iraq.”

Indeed, keeping U.S. troops in Iraq appears to prolong and expand Iran’s influence in Iraq while our obsession with Iran is turning Iraq into the battlefield between Washington and Tehran in a confrontation that neither serves U.S. interests nor Iraqi or regional stability. 

U.S. troops in Iraq are practically sitting ducks. Contrary to Trump’s claims, the assassination of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani has not deterred Iran, as evidenced by rocket attacks against U.S. bases in Iraq by Iran-aligned paramilitary groups on January 15, March 11, June 13, July 27 and August 15. Instead, the American troop presence has only put the U.S. one rocket attack away from a full-scale war with Iran. 

Trump may very well be solely motivated by showcasing his base that he is ending the endless wars. But it still lies in America’s national interest to bring the troops home.

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Statement on Male Violence and Sexual Harassment in Kurdish Studies

Statement on Male Violence and Sexual Harassment in Kurdish Studies

By : Jadaliyya Reports

[This letter was issued in English and Kurdish by a group of anonymous women within the field of Kurdish studies. When asked for background and context, they shared the following via email: This letter is written by a group of women in Kurdish Studies. We would like to call attention to the long-time neglected issues of male violence (both direct and indirect forms) and sexual abuse in academia. We express our support for women who have been targeted and harassed by anyone speaking from the position of power. Kurdish women are underrepresented in academia and we hope that this letter opens a venue for further discussion on why this is the case and how it can be changed towards the better.]

Male Violence and Sexual Harassment in Kurdish Studies

Women are sexually and physically abused every day. Male violence and sexual harassment can be physical, psychological, verbal or online. Any behavior of sexual, psychological and physical nature targeting women’s integrity is extremely stressful and life-threatening. Although the definition of male violence and sexual harassment is clear in universities’ policy documents, violations of the policy are neglected and normalized as part of the unequal power relations existing in academia. Both male violence and sexual harassment are systemic problems.

We, a group of women scholars, students, and researchers in Kurdish Studies, condemn any form of male violence and sexual harassment. We stand up against male violence and sexual harassment and remind everyone that none of us are alone anymore.

The abusers silence women in multiple ways:

  1. they re-victimize the survivors by invalidating the violence as slander and by twisting the boundaries of consent and coercion;
  2. they ostracize and shame women for being abused, and
  3. they call for the support of the senior members (women & men) to legitimize the violence.

Bureaucratic tools are often used to (re)produce abusive sexual relations. The police and the academic structures are often misogynistic and patriarchal.

We extend our support to our brave colleagues who struggle against any form of male violence and sexual harassment.

We condemn any form of disrespectful actions of our colleagues. We also condemn anyone who gives support to the perpetrators. It is easier to talk about sensitive topics when there is no risk for one’s self. But genuine support means standing with women who have been targeted by those in positions of power.

We are stronger together. We say it loud one more time: Women in Kurdish Studies act in solidarity!

Signed anonymously by a group of women in Kurdish Studies

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Arrest of Shi’ite Militias in Iraq Is Part of Iranian-US Proxy Struggle

By Paul Antonopoulos

New Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kazemi faces many challenges to his authority, including from powerful pro-Iranian Shi’ite militias like Kata’ib Hezbollah. On June 26, 14 militiamen of Kata’ib Hezbollah, commonly known as the Iraqi Hezbollah, were apprehended by Iraqi security forces under government orders. This is a significant event as it is the first time that members of a Shi’ite militia have been formally arrested by the federal authorities in Iraq.

Since Saddam Hussein’s accession to power in 1979, the Shi’ite Muslims of Iraq were marginalized despite forming a majority in the country. Although officially a secular society, Saddam Hussein favored Sunni Muslims as this was the sect of Islam he belonged to. The eventual fall of Saddam Hussein following the American invasion of Iraq in 2003 gave more power to the Shi’ites of Iraq, not just politically, but also militarily. With sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shi’ites reaching a peak in 2006-2009, Iranian-backed militias rose to prominence. They would however rise to even greater prominence between 2014 and 2017 as the Iraqi state struggled to contain the rapidly expanding power of ISIS.  Shi’ite militias were the only force who could successfully resist and challenge ISIS as the Iraqi army fled in panic, most notably in Mosul in June 2014 when 1,500 jihadists routed more than 20,000 Iraqi soldiers and police officers.

The Shi’ite militias growth in power and the government’s reliance on them for security has resulted in much more assertive political ambitions on the part of the militia leaders, many of whom are now full-fledged politicians, especially as each Shi’ite militia has its own political party that do participate in elections. Their operations can be described as a state within a state. However, as each militia has their own political party, it demonstrates that there are rivalries within Iraq’s Shi’ite community. These divisions have significantly contributed to making Iraq an ungovernable country. The five months prior to al-Kazemi accession on May 7 saw Iraq leaderless. The Prime Minister inherited a highly unstable situation because of a struggling economy and the fight for dominance in Iraq between Iran and the US. Both Iran and the US yield much influence in Iraq, politically and militarily.Iraqi PM Rejects US “Boots On Ground” As Shiite Militias Pledge To Kill US Soldiers

Baghdad is trying to use what remains of its strategic partnership with the US to try and contain expanding Iranian influence that is being increasingly criticized by large segments of the population. The arrest of Iraqi Hezbollah fighters is part of Baghdad’s new policy in trying to curtail strong Iranian influence in its affairs. However, the 14 militiamen arrested spent only three days in prison before being released on June 29. This demonstrates that al-Kazemi has only limited influence and power as he cannot directly confront the power of the militias, whether it be politically or militarily.

Challenging these militias could signal a political death for anyone who attempts to stop them. Unable to face them head-on, a near miracle is needed to resolve the problem of integrating these numerous and extremely powerful factions, into the national Iraqi army. The main reason is that the economically strangled state struggles to pay its own soldiers. Better remunerated, these fighters often choose to join a Shi’ite militia.

As long as the Iraqi state does not have structural reforms, non-state actors like the Shi’ite militias will maintain very important influence, especially as Iran backs them and will continue supporting them. The problem therefore seems insoluble for the new government that is struggling to contain a strong rivalry between the US and Iran that is spilling over on its territory. This could create a crisis as al-Kazemi is close to the US. Despite the eventual outcome of the federal operation to arrest the 14 militiamen, the central state may have launched its first step in the reclamation of security power in Iraq.

This creates a dangerous precedence as we know Iraq is a battleground, militarily and politically, between the US and Iran. In response to a US drone strike that killed Iranian Major General Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad on January 3, Iran launched Operation Martyr Soleimani in revenge. On January 8, barrages of missiles launched by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard’s Corp targeted US bases at the Ayn al-Asad airbase in Al Anbar Governorate and an airbase in Erbil. Although the US denied any of their soldiers were killed or wounded, they later admitted that 110 soldiers were diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries. Iran claimed scores of American soldiers were killed.

By targeting Shi’ite militias, al-Kazemi is attempting to show Washington that he is willing to confront these Iranian-groups. It is unlikely that Iran will allow al-Kazemi to strip away the special status and privileges of these militias, which has the potential to reignite hostilities between the US and Iran. These militias are a strategic, military and political leverage for Iran, and therefore Tehran will not be willing to allow them to absorb into the Iraqi state so long as the US continues to have influence in Baghdad.

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How Washington intends to triumph

by Thierry Meyssan

During the quarter of Western lockdown, the map of the Middle East was profoundly transformed. Yemen has been divided into two separate countries, Israel is paralysed by two Prime Ministers who hate each other, Iran openly supports NATO in Iraq and Libya, Turkey occupies northern Syria, Saudi Arabia is close to bankruptcy. All alliances are being called into question and new dividing lines are appearing or rather reappearing.

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In 2001, Donald Rumsfeld and Admiral Arthur Cebrowski defined the Pentagon’s objectives in the era of financial capitalism. The staff then drew up this map of the partition of the Greater Middle East. However, in 2017, Donald Trump opposed (1) border changes (2) the creation of states governed by jihadists (3) the presence of US troops in the region. From then on, the Pentagon reflected on how to continue the destruction of state structures without questioning the countries and to the satisfaction of the White House.

For two decades Washington has been trying to “reshape” the “Greater Middle East”, an arbitrarily defined region stretching from Afghanistan to Morocco. However, over the last three years two strategies have clashed: on the one hand the Pentagon, which wants to destroy the state structures of all the countries in the region, whether friends or enemies, and on the other President Trump, who intends to dominate the region commercially without military occupation.

When lockdown was declared to prevent the Covid-19 outbreak, we warned that profound changes were taking place in the region and that it would no longer look like the one we had before. We started from the observation that Washington had given up on destroying the state in Syria, now a Russian reserved area. So the main question was, on the one hand, what the Pentagon’s next target in the region would be. There were two possible answers: Turkey or Saudi Arabia, both of which are allies of the United States. And, secondly, what markets the White House would try to open.

This analysis was shared by all those who interpret the last twenty years as the implementation of the Rumsfeld/Cebrowski strategy for the destruction of state structures in the Greater Middle East. It was, on the contrary, rejected by those who, refusing to take international factors into account, naively interpret events as a succession of civil wars (Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Yemen and perhaps soon Lebanon) with no link with each other.

Yet three months later, Turkey is militarily supported by Iran in Libya, while Saudi Arabia has disappeared from the radar, particularly in Yemen, and the Emirates are becoming the pole of regional stability. The regional shift has started to benefit Ankara and Abu Dhabi and to the detriment of Riyadh. The most radical transformations are the turnaround of Iran on the side of NATO, the easing of US-Turkey relations and the rise of the United Arab Emirates. So we were right, and those who give credit to the narrative of civil wars have become self-intoxicated. Of course, they will not recognize it and will need several months to adapt their erroneous discourse to the realities on the ground.

It goes without saying that each actor will have to adjust his or her position, so our observations are valid only for today. But the region is changing very quickly and those who think too long to react will automatically lose out; a point that is particularly valid for Europeans. Finally, this new situation is very unstable and will be called into question by Washington if President Trump does not succeed himself, or by Moscow if President Putin does not manage to retain power at the end of his presidential term, or by Beijing if President Xi persists in building sections of the Silk Roads in the West.

In the greatest media silence, the United Arab Emirates disassociated itself from Saudi Arabia on the Yemeni battlefield. They supported tribes that excluded Saudi troops from their country. Together with the British, they occupied the island of Socotra, taking control of the Strait of Bab el-Mandeb at the outlet of the Red Sea. They operated a de facto partition of Yemen, taking over the Cold War borders between North Yemen and South Yemen [1].

Iran, in spite of its border dispute with the Emirates and the war that they have just fought through Yemeni intermediaries, has been satisfied with this outcome, which allows the Shiite Houthis to obtain a semblance of peace, but not yet to defeat the famine. Finally accepting that Donald Trump had been elected president of the United States, Tehran renewed contact with Washington three years late. Spectacularly, the government of Hassan Rohani announced military support for the el-Sarraj government in Libya [2]. In practice, this means that it supports the Muslim Brotherhood (as in the 1990s in Bosnia-Herzegovina), Turkey and NATO (as during the regime of Shah Reza Pahlevi). Under these conditions, we no longer see what Iran is doing in Syria where it is supposed to fight against its new allies, the jihadists, Turkey and NATO.

Of course, it must be borne in mind that Iran, like the new Israel, is two-headed. The statements of the Rohani government may not commit the Guide of the Revolution, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Be that as it may, the reversal of this centrepiece puts Lebanese Hezbollah in a bad position. It now appears that it was indeed the United States that deliberately provoked the collapse of the Lebanese pound with the help of the governor of the Central Bank, Riad Salamé. Washington is now trying to impose on Beirut a US law (Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act) forcing it to close the Lebanese-Syrian border. To survive, Lebanon would be forced to form an alliance with the only other power with which it shares a land border: its former colonizer, Israel [3]. Certainly, the arrival in power in Tel Aviv of a two-headed coalition, combining the supporters of the former British colonial project and those of the nationalism of the third generation of Israelis, no longer allows for an invasion of Lebanon. But this coalition is extremely fragile and a return to the past remains possible, if not probable. The only solution for Lebanon is therefore not to apply US law and to turn not to the West, but to Russia and China. This is what Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah dared to say publicly. He considers that Iran – despite its rapprochement with Turkey (present in the North of Lebanon with the Muslim Brotherhood [4]) and with NATO (present behind Israel) – remains culturally the intermediary between China and the West. Throughout antiquity and the Middle Ages, one spoke not the multiple local languages along the Silk Road, but Persian.

Historically, Hezbollah was created on the model of the Bassij of the Iranian Revolution, whose flag it shares. However, until the Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon in 2005, its armament came from Damascus and not from Tehran. It will therefore have to choose between its two sponsors, either for ideological reasons or for material reasons. Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah is a supporter of the Syrian secular model, while his deputy, Sheikh Naïm Qassem, is an unconditional supporter of the Iranian theocratic model. But the money is in Tehran, not Damascus.

In any case, the Lebanese may be on the wrong track. They fail to understand why Washington is overwhelming them because they do not consider that the United States and Russia have decided to implement the regional Yalta that they negotiated in 2012 and that Hillary Clinton and François Hollande have blown up. In that case, Beirut may have been included in the Russian zone of influence without their knowledge.

Once again, and consistently for centuries, the interests of the Western powers have certainly been moving in the direction of secularism, but their strategy to dominate the region leads them inexorably to rely on the religious people against the nationalists (with the sole and brief exception of the USA in 1953).

Syria, encircled by US allies, has no choice but to source its supplies from Russia, something its ruling class has been reluctant to do for the past six years. This will only become possible with the resolution of the conflict between President Bashar al-Assad and his distant cousin, the billionaire Rami Makluf, and beyond, with all the Syrian oligarchs. This quarrel owes nothing to the family affair described by the Western media. It must be compared to the takeover of the Russian oligarchs by President Vladimir Putin during the 2000s, which enabled him to erase the errors of the Yeltsin period. Seventeen years of embargoes against Damascus have only delayed this inevitable showdown. It is only once this conflict has been resolved that Damascus will be able to consider recovering its lost territories, the Golan Heights occupied by Israel and Idleb occupied by Turkey [5].

Iraq was the second country – after the Emirates – to have understood the Iranian change. It immediately reached an agreement with Washington and the new Tehran to appoint the head of its secret service, Mustafa al-Kadhimi, as prime minister, despite the fact that he has been violently accused during the last six months by the former Tehran of having actively participated in the assassination in Baghdad of the Shiite hero Qassem Soleimani [6]. Iraq should therefore no longer fight the resurgence of its jihadist groups (mercenary organizations of the Anglo-Saxons and now supported by Iran), but negotiate with its leaders.

Israel, the only state in the world that is now governed by two prime ministers, will no longer be able to play the role of an extension of the Anglo-Saxon powers, nor will it be able to become a nation like the others. Its entire foreign policy is paralysed at the very moment when Lebanon is weakened and represents for it a prey of choice. For the supporters of the colonial project, united behind Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and now losing momentum, Iran’s change is already visible in Iraq and Libya. There is an urgent need to invent a new iconic enemy in order to maintain itself. On the contrary, for the Israeli nationalists, united behind Second Prime Minister Benny Gantz, it is advisable not to throw stones at anyone and to negotiate cautiously with Hamas (i.e. with the Muslim Brotherhood) [7].

Egypt remains focused on its food problem. It only manages to feed its population with Saudi aid and plans its development with Chinese aid. For the moment it is paralysed by the Saudi retreat and the anti-Chinese US offensive. However, it is continuing to rearm.

Libya, at last, no longer exists as a state. It is divided in two like Yemen. Due to NATO’s victory in 2011 and the absence of US troops on the ground, it is the only place in the region where the Pentagon can pursue the Rumsfeld/Cebrowski strategy without obstacles [8]. The recent military successes of the el-Sarraj (i.e. Muslim Brotherhood) government – supported by Turkey and now also by Iran – should not be an illusion. The government of Marshal Haftar -supported by the Emirates and Egypt- is resisting. The Pentagon intends to prolong the conflict as long as possible to the detriment of the entire population. It supports both sides at the same time as it did during the Iraq-Iran war (1980-88) and will always come to the aid of the loser, whom it will abandon the next day.

The two big losers of the new situation remain: China and Saudi Arabia.

The Chinese influence stops in Iran. It has just been stopped by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Israel. Beijing will not build the largest desalination plant in the world and its projects at the ports of Haifa and Ashdod are doomed to failure despite the huge investments already made. No one will dare to eliminate the 18,000 Chinese jihadists at the Syrian-Turkish border [9] so that it will always remain unstable, closing the possibility of the northern passage of the Silk Road. There will thus remain only the hypothesis of the Southern passage, through the Egyptian Suez Canal, but this will remain under the control of the Westerners.

No one knows where Saudi Arabia stands. In three years, Prince Mohamed Ben Salmane (MBS) has managed to arouse wild hopes in the West and to alienate all the powers in the region by hanging and dismembering his opponents followed by dissolving their bodies with acid. His country had to retreat in Yemen, where it had recklessly ventured, and give up its great works, notably the construction of the free zone that was to house the world’s billionaires, Neom [10]. Its gigantic oil reserves are no longer objects of speculation and have lost most of their value. The greatest military power of the region is only a colossus with feet of clay about to die in the desert sands where it was born.

In the end, President Donald Trump is achieving his goal: he has defeated the Pentagon’s plan to give a state to a terrorist organization, Daesh, and then managed to get all the states in the region back into the US economic zone except Syria, which has already been lost since 2014. At the same time, however, the Pentagon also triumphed in part: it succeeded in destroying the state structures of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Yemen. Its only failure was in Syria, certainly because of the Russian military intervention, but above all because the Syrians have embodied the concept of the state since the dawn of time.

The annihilation of Afghan state structures, according to the Pentagon’s plan, and the withdrawal of US troops, which will be effective on the day of the US presidential election, according to the will of President Trump, could have marked the alliance between these two forces. However, this is not the case. The Pentagon tried in vain to impose martial law in the United States in the face of the Covid-19 epidemic [11], then it gave covert assistance to the “Antifas” that it had already supervised in Syria [12] to coordinate supposedly “racial” riots. Russia, which has never wavered in its position, is wisely waiting to reap the laurels of its commitment in Syria.

[1] “First NATO-ME War Overturns Regional Order”, by Thierry Meyssan, Translation Roger Lagassé, Voltaire Network, 24 March 2020.

[2] “Iran openly backs NATO in Lybia”, Voltaire Network, 17 June 2020.

[3] “Hassan Nasrallah says US wants to cause famine in Lebanon”, Voltaire Network, 17 June 2020.

[4] “Turkey and demonstrations in Lebanon”, Voltaire Network, 13 February 2020.

[5] “Turkey’s de facto annexation of Syria”, Voltaire Network, 18 June 2020.

[6] “Washington, Tehran place one of Soleimani’s assassins in power in Iraq”, Voltaire Network, 16 May 2020.

[7] “The Decolonization of Israel has Begun”, by Thierry Meyssan, Translation Roger Lagassé, Voltaire Network, 26 May 2020.

[8] “Preparing for a new war”, by Thierry Meyssan, Translation Roger Lagassé, Voltaire Network, 7 January 2020.

[9] “The 18,000 al-Qaeda Uighurs in Syria”, Translation Roger Lagassé, Voltaire Network, 21 August 2018.

[10] “Egypt contributes part of its own territory for Plan Neom”, Translation Anoosha Boralessa, Voltaire Network, 8 March 2018.

[11] “Putchists in the Shadow of the Coronavirus”, by Thierry Meyssan, Translation Roger Lagassé, 31 March 2020. “The Pentagon against President Trump”, Voltaire Network, 12 June 2020.

[12] “NATO’s Anarchist Brigades”, by Thierry Meyssan, Translation Pete Kimberley, Voltaire Network, 12 September 2017.

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How American Cities Were Reduced to Esper’s “Battlespace”: From Fallujah to Minneapolis

By: Prof. Juan Cole

The Bush administration’s war of aggression on and military occupation of Iraq that began in 2003 shifted the United States to a militaristic society. Some 2.7 million Americans have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, an astonishing number. The Bush administration began the practice of sending to civilian police departments military equipment no longer needed in Iraq– everything from Kevlar vests to armored vehicles. Community policing in some towns and cities gave way to the spectacle of militarized police, heavily armed and armored, and inevitably separated from the public they were supposed to serve and protect.

The Bush administration spent trillions on the unprovoked and worthless Iraq War, money that could have been used to train and finance minority university students and entrepreneurs. At the same time, it cut taxes on the wealthy, which is a way of saying that it cut government services for the middle and working classes.

I grew up in a military family, had uncles who fought in WW II, and have nothing but respect for Veterans and active duty service personnel. When I’ve been privileged to address US military audiences, I’ve felt honored to do so. So in this column I am not putting them down in any way. I am, however, putting down their civilian bosses.

The Secretary of Defense, Mark Esper, was a civilian bureaucrat during those wars (though he had served with distinction as an infantry officer in the Gulf War). As a Bush administration official (deputy assistant secretary of defense for negotiations policy), he breathed in the atmosphere of illegality created by the 2003 war of aggression. On Monday, he told the nation’s governors that

“I think the sooner that you mass and dominate the battlespace, the quicker this dissipates and we can get back to the right normal.”

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley was present on the call with the governors, during which Trump threatened to violate Posse Comitatus by sending in the US army to the states to do law enforcement over the heads of the governors. Milley has a duty to say that he will not obey such an illegal order. Actually in 1958 Congress specified a two-year prison term for anyone who acted as Trump said he would act.9/11: The Beginning of the End of the US Empire Project

Then Esper and Milley accompanied Trump on his Great March from the White House to St. John’s Episcopal Church after Bill Barr ordered military police illegally to attack peacefully assembled protesters from Lafayette Square.

Esper had no business being involved in the march on on St. John’s church, where Trump had had military police tear-gas clergymen.

James Miller, himself a former undersecretary of defense for policy, resigned from the Defense Advisory Board in protest over Esper’s involvement, which he called a violation of Esper’s oath of office.

But above all Gen. Milley should resign for having been present during an unconstitutional act of repression. Milley gives evidence of being what is called in the trade a “weasel,” of giving his superior whatever he wants. We may well have a constitutional crisis in the beginning of November, and citizens of the American Republic have a right to know that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is above the partisan fray and loyal to the Constitution. After Monday’s events, I don’t think we have that assurance.

Where did this way of thinking even come from?

In 2003 when Bush aggressively made war on Iraq and militarily occupied the city, initially a lot of Iraqis were on the fence. In the city of Fallujah, then about the population of Miami, Fl., people gradually turned against the Occupation. The US military took over a school as a base, and parents complained that it would ever after make their children a target. The US colonels wouldn’t listen. There were crowd protests. Someone used the demonstration as a pretext and opportunity to fire on US service personnel. They fired back. From that incident things spiraled out of control. People in Fallujah were Sunni Arabs and were religiously conservative. They sympathized with Palestinians and knew that US was backing Ariel Sharon in his efforts to repress them. People became increasingly radicalized. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s Tawhid terrorist organization gained a foothold. In the spring of 2004, 4 contractors were killed, infuriating George W. Bush.

After his reelection, Bush was determined to make Fallujah safe for patrolling US soldiers. I am not sure it ever really was.

He launched a major invasion of the city. We are told that the US Air Force played an important role through “precision bombing.” Rebecca Grant writes, “For several weeks before the main assault, air strikes and artillery fire targeted key sites in the city as they were identified. The hunt for insurgents evolved into battlespace shaping.”

What isn’t said is that most of Fallujah’s residents ended up being displaced, many living in tents in the desert, and much of the city was reduced to rubble. That is “battlespace shaping” for you.

Esper clearly thinks of Cleveland and Oakland as “Fallujahs,” as “battlespaces” departing from the “right kind of normal.” People in Fallujah had resented being invaded and ruled by foreigners who reduced them to 65% unemployment. Some 40 million Americans just lost their jobs, in part because of the ineptitude of the administration of which Esper forms a part (South Korea is better governed and did not close down, using large scale testing, contact tracing, and mask-wearing instead).

A significant part of the American elite was shaped by Bush’s wars to think about dissidence as the equivalent of insurgency and to see challenges to the status quo as illegitimate.

The International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg concluded,

“War is essentially an evil thing. Its consequences are not confined to the belligerent states alone, but affect the whole world. To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”

Bush’s war of aggression contained within itself the accumulated evil of the whole, and now that evil is spreading out to turn us all into Fallujans.

Posted in USA, IraqComments Off on How American Cities Were Reduced to Esper’s “Battlespace”: From Fallujah to Minneapolis

Towards a Baghdad-Moscow Axis? Russia’s Massive Oil Projects in Iraq

By: South Front

In Iraq, a seldom mentioned and noteworthy oil cooperation is carried out between Baghdad and Moscow. Russian companies, namely Rosneft and Lukoil have developed new oil fields in Iraq.

A notable project is Lukoil’s West Qurna-2.

West Qurna-2 field is located in the southern part of Iraq, 65 kilometers north-west of Basra, a major seaport city, and is one of the world’s largest fields. The field’s initial recoverable reserves come to around 14 billion barrels. Its total geological reserves sit at 35 billion barrels of oil.

On December 12, 2009 the consortium of PJSC LUKOIL and Statoil, a Norwegian company, was awarded a contract for the development of West Qurna-2 field, one of the world’s largest fields. On January 31, 2010, a services contract was signed for the development and production at West Qurna-2. The contract was ratified by the Cabinet of Ministers of the Republic of Iraq.

A supplement agreement to the contract was signed in January 2013 that outlined the target contractual production (1.2 million barrels of oil per day) for the target production period of 19.5 years, and a 25-year extension of the contract term.

It has been producing oil since March 29th, 2014.

This was a result of short-term and large-scale field development. This included mine clearance, drilling of 48 production wells, preparation of 5 well sites and construction of large production facilities: oil treatment plants with a capacity of more than 400 thousand barrels per day, a gas turbine power plant with a capacity of 126 MW , water intake on the Euphrates River, an export pipeline of 102 km in length, additional reservoirs at the oil terminal with a total volume of about 200 thousand cubic meters, as well as numerous infrastructure facilities, including a shift camp for 1000 people, access roads, infield pipelines, a security perimeter and more.

Russia's Massive Oil Projects In Iraq

In total for 2014-2020. More than 120 million tons of oil were produced. 120 production wells and 48 injection wells were drilled. The current production level is 400 thousand barrels per day from the Mishrif reservoir.

The current level of production is 400 thousand barrels per day from the Mishrif formation, which is almost 10% of Iraqi oil exports.

Since the start of the Service contract, LUKOIL has invested about $ 9 billion in the project.

In 2019, LUKOIL commenced drilling of new production wells as part of the second development phase. The Сompany concluded contracts to drill 57 production wells, including 54 wells at Mishrif formation and 3 wells at Yamama formation. The drilling campaign will ramp up production at West Qurna-2 from the current level of 400 thousand barrels per day to 480 thousand barrels per day in 2020.

75% of the project is under Lukoil’s ownership. The other 25% are owned by the North Oil Company (NOC), a state-owned company being a part of the Iraqi Oil Ministry. Notably, NOC does not incur any costs receiving only its share (25%) in the remuneration.

Another notable oil field developed and discovered by Russia is the Salman oilfield in Block 12 in Iraq.

Russia's Massive Oil Projects In Iraq

This happened in May 2018.

Bashneft International B.V., a Rosneft subsidiary, has discovered a new oil field named Salman, following the drilling of the first exploration well in Block 12 in the Republic of Iraq.

The exploration well was successfully drilled to the depth of 4,277 meters resulting in an oil flow that allows counting on discovering commercial reserves.

The Company considers this discovery an important landmark in upstream projects abroad.

Block 12 is located in the southwest Iraq, in an unexplored area of the Arabian Plate, approximately 80 km to the south of the city of As-Samawah and 130 km to the west of the city of Nasiriyah. It has an area of 7,680 sq km. Bashneft International B.V. is an operator of the project.

Bashneft International B.V.  owns 70% of the project. Premier Oil (30%) and South Oil Company also participate in the project.

A contract for exploration, development and production at Block 12 was signed in November 2012.

The compulsory geological exploration program at Block 12 included 2D seismic surveys in the amount of 2,000 km and drilling 1 exploration well.

Upon confirmation of commercial stocks, the contract will be valid for 20 years. The premium for produced oil will be $5 per barrel.

Russia's Massive Oil Projects In Iraq
Russia's Massive Oil Projects In Iraq

The interest Russian companies have in working in Iraq dates even before the Saddam Hussein era.

The first company to return to post-Saddam Iraq was LUKOIL, which did not lose interest in projects in this country both during the Iraqi sanction period (1990-2003) and after the overthrow of the regime of Saddam Hussein.

The biggest project it involved itself in was the above-described West Qurna-2.

Obviously, despite the risks remaining in Iraq, LUKOIL’s strategy was designed for the long term. This is due to the expansion of LUKOIL’s activities when, in 2012, the company, together with the Japanese INPEX CORPORATION, acquired the right to exploration and subsequent development of Block 10.

In 2017, LUKOIL and INPEX successfully completed the tests of the first exploratory well, Erisu 1 at Block 10.

The company is now striving to increase production at West Qurna-2 from the current 400,000 to 480,000 barrels per day in 2020. The contractual framework for LUKOIL’s work in Iraq is being updated on a mutually beneficial basis between the government and the company. So, in 2013, the contract was extended until 2035.

In January 2010, the Russian company Gazprom Neft received the status of the operator of a large Badra field, winning a tender in a consortium with Kogas (Korea), Petronas (Malaysia), and TRAO (Turkey).

However, in addition to this, Gazprom Neft has fields and in Iraqi Kurdistan the company acts as the operator of two projects in Iraqi Kurdistan – Jackal and Garmian. The Garmian block also includes the development of the Sarkal field, in which Gazprom Neft plans to increase oil production.

As described above, Bashneft developed Block 12 in the provinces of Musanna and Najaf. Nevertheless, with the growing political interest of Russia in the region, the positions of Russian energy companies, including Rosneft, were strengthened. In this context, in 2017, within the framework of the 21st St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, Rosneft entered into an Investment Agreement with the Government of Iraqi Kurdistan (according to open sources, the deal amounted to $4 billion).

In addition to the fields in the oil-bearing Kirkuk, which at that time were controlled by the Kurds, Rosneft also switched over the significant oil infrastructure of Iraqi Kurdistan.

The key was the acquisition by Rosneft of the status of operator and ownership of 60% of the Kirkuk-Ceyhan oil pipeline, which had already been modernized and increased throughput from 700 thousand to 950 thousand barrels per day.

In 2018, exploration was announced and Rosneft began operations in Iraqi Kurdistan at the Batil, Zawita, Qasrok, Harir-Bejil and Darato fields, each of which is 80% owned by a Russian company.

Russia's Massive Oil Projects In Iraq

The visit of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in October 2019 to Iraq was the first in 5 years. Together with Lavrov, the head of Soyuzneftegaz Yuri Shafranik, the director of Gazprom Neft Alexander Dyukov, representatives of Rosneft and Technopromexport went to Baghdad and Erbil.

However, no major transactions were announced.

This appeared as a slowdown in Russia-Iraqi relations. Despite this, during Sergey Lavrov’s visit, a number of memorandums of cooperation were signed, which could become the basis for further building up the Russian presence in Iraq.

Reportedly, according to Russian officials, Russian companies could potentially invest up to $45 billion in Iraq by 2035.

The key Russian private companies and state corporations, whose leaders are members of the Russian ruling elite, are represented in Iraq.

These same elites determine the importance of projects in this country for the Russian decision makers.

At the same time, in Iraq itself, Russia interacts with both Erbil and Baghdad. In the event of a conflict, Russian companies demonstrate flexibility and manage to maintain their position.

Posted in Iraq, RussiaComments Off on Towards a Baghdad-Moscow Axis? Russia’s Massive Oil Projects in Iraq

Have We All Forgotten About the Iraq War?


The Blowback podcast reaches deep into the memory hole and pulls the Iraq War back up into the sunlight. It’s vital listening for anyone who is hazy on the specifics of how the US ended up invading Iraq, killing at least half a million people, and sparking bloody, never-ending conflicts throughout the Middle East.

President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice meet in the President’s Emergency Operations Center after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, in Washington, DC. (David Bohrer / US National Archives via Getty Images)

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Review of the podcast Blowback (Stitcher Premium), hosted by Noah Kulwin and Brendan James.

For seven weeks in the spring of 2003, the number one song on the Billboard country music chart was Darryl Worley’s “Have You Forgotten?”

The music video began with footage of the antiwar protests that had broken out across the country and the world, over which Worley sang, “I hear people saying we don’t need this war / But I say there’s some things worth fighting for.” The camera cut to old photos of soldiers who’d fought in wars past. “What about our freedom and this piece of ground? / We didn’t get to keep ’em by backing down.”

And then the chorus: “Have you forgotten how it felt that day / To see your homeland under fire and her people blown away? / Have you forgotten when those towers fell? / We had neighbors still inside going through a living hell / And you say we shouldn’t worry about bin Laden / Have you forgotten?”

Worley claimed that it was not a pro-war song, only a pro-America and pro-military song, even though the second chorus affirmed that “we vowed to get the ones behind bin Laden,” and later in the song he sang, “Some say this country’s just out looking for a fight / Well, after 9/11, man, I’d have to say that’s right.” The song was reported to have brought tears to Donald Rumsfeld’s eyes — perhaps tears of relief that Americans were such easy marks.

When this song was playing on country radio I was living in Texas, and maudlin nationalism of this sort was ubiquitous. I was ostensibly against the war, but being fourteen lacked the basic grounding in history or current affairs to be able to articulate my case. That year, a classmate overheard me saying something vaguely antiwar and confronted me in front of a crowd at a party. He accused me of being an apologist for terror in front of everybody, and I was intimidated into silence.

And truth be told, I never really learned how to make an informed and precise argument against the Iraq War, only a nebulous moral one. When it started, I was too young to follow and comprehend what was going on. Later on, I always felt I was entering in media res, the plot too thick and convoluted to latch onto. Over time, the position that the Iraq War was a horrendous mistake became more or less common sense, and the need to proactively make an antiwar case regarding Iraq dissipated. Hindsight now does the trick.

If you were older than me, you were able to construct a picture of the events as they unfolded. If you were younger, you were off the hook for events of which you were completely unconscious. But I’ve found that lots of Americans in their late twenties and early thirties feel the same way I do: hazy on the specifics of the lead-up to and rollout of the Iraq War, and troubled by that blind spot, guilty of incomplete understanding.

Blow by Blow

That’s why the forthcoming podcast series Blowback is so valuable. Blowback is a thoroughly contextualized, fully explained, blow-by-blow account of how and why the United States government ginned up a case for war in Iraq — all the junk intelligence, media manipulation, and diplomatic arm-twisting — and what happened when our military got there.

The ten-part podcast series reaches deep into the memory hole and pulls the Iraq War back up into the sunlight. And in the process it holds not just the Bush administration to account but also their erstwhile opposition. Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden: Blowback gives them full credit for the positions they took.

Blowback is hosted by Noah Kulwin, a reporter who’s written for New York Magazine, VICE, and the Outline, and Brendan James, the former producer of the podcast Chapo Trap House. The podcast is both extensively researched, making heavy use of primary audio and accompanied by episode source lists, and entertaining, punched up with funny asides and movie dialogue.

But most importantly for my own purposes, it’s chronological. This is something I desperately needed: people who see the world roughly the way I do to tell me what the hell happened, in order, and offer some top-line analysis on why it did.

Below is an indicative excerpt from Blowback. It’s from Episode 3, which documents the shift from Osama bin Laden and Afghanistan to Iraq and weapons of mass destruction. This comes after two expository episodes establishing the historical backdrop of the US invasion of Iraq, starting with the 1958 Iraqi revolution and running through the Gulf War to all the way to the doorstep of 9/11. At the beginning of the third episode, the towers fall.

Brendan James: I think to most normal people 9/11 was a snuff film broadcast live and rerun on TV for months and months on end. But to some other people, it represented a lot of opportunities.

George W. Bush: This is a day when Americans from every walk of life unite in our resolve for justice and peace. America has stood down enemies before, and we will do so this time.

Brendan James: For the Bush administration and the cabinet, sometimes dubbed the Vulcans — Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Condi Rice — it was a chance to correct America’s Vietnam syndrome. You know we talked in Episode 2 about the end of history after the Cold War and how America was then going to be unopposed, and first among equals in a new neoliberal utopia. But you can tell for a lot of these people up top, particularly in the Bush administration, that whole idea was pretty boring. 9/11 got their blood flowing again. It gave them an adversary. It gave them a challenge. It gave them moral clarity.

Richard Perle: Good and evil is about as effective a shorthand as I can imagine. It isn’t a war on terror, it’s a war on terrorists who want to impose an intolerant tyranny on all mankind. An Islamic universe in which we are all compelled to accept their beliefs and live by their lights. In that sense, this is a battle between good and evil.

Brendan James: And it gave them a foreign policy. It gave them an agenda.

George W. Bush: Our war is against networks, groups, people who coddle them, people who try to hide them, people who fund them. This is our calling.

Brendan James: It’s easy to forget that in 2000, when Bush was actually running for president, he didn’t really talk about terrorism. He actually said he was against America becoming world cop.

George W. Bush: Yeah, I’m not so sure the role of the United States is to go around the world and say this is the way it’s gotta be. I think one way for us to end up being viewed as the ugly American is for us to go around the world saying we do it this way, so should you.

Brendan James: The neocons didn’t like him. They wanted John McCain to win. But after 9/11 he was reborn with a purpose.

George W. Bush: It is both our responsibility and our privilege to fight freedom’s fight. [applause]

Brendan James: That was the ideological side of it. Beneath that, for the same people and of course many many others, it represented a new chance to plunder, a new chance to expand, a new chance for new markets. [music kicks in] What followed was a national psychosis.

Blowback is a necessary resource for anyone who feels they don’t have the full story, who has struggled to find a foothold in a storyline populated by characters who can’t be trusted. I suspect it’s also entertaining for people who are fully knowledgeable and want to hear two informed and funny journalists take a stab at telling the entire saga.

For my part, listening to Blowback is the closest I’ve come to understanding why Darryl Worley was brought on to sing “Have You Forgotten?” on the Today show. And why seventeen years later hundreds of thousands of people are dead.

Posted in USA, Human Rights, IraqComments Off on Have We All Forgotten About the Iraq War?

Occupation at sixes and sevens as resistance gathers pace in Iraq

Damned if they do and damned if they don’t: US rulers face dilemma about how to proceed as their forces face escalating fire.

Lalkar writers

As a result of increasing fire on their facilities, the US occupiers have had to withdraw from four bases across Iraq, consolidating their presence in the remaining two. How long they can hold out in those as a new wave of resistance gathers pace remains to be seen.

For 17 years, British and US soldiers have been in occupation of Iraq. At first, this occupation was openly acknowledged. Later, it was presented as offering security to the US-sponsored regime, which in turn ‘invited’ the troops to stay on.

Gradually, successive Iraqi governments, acting under popular pressure, have sought to set deadlines for the troops’ departure – but the army never quite managed to find the exit.

As things stand, there are still about 7,500 coalition grunts squatting on Iraqi soil, of whom 5,000 are from the US. Needless to add, this conservative estimate does not include the huge army of contractors, mercenaries and other camp-followers who buttress the occupation.

Now, though, with the imperialist proxy war against Syria collapsing in disarray, national resistance in Yemen gathering pace, and Iran acting as a powerful pole of attraction for anti-imperialist struggle across the middle east, patriotic Iraqis are growing ever more vocal in their demands that the continuing de facto occupation must end forthwith.

In January, Iraq’s parliament demanded that the troops should finally pack their bags, making it plain that the writing is on the wall for the occupation.

The murder in January, by US drone, of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, right in the middle of Baghdad airport, brought matters to a head. Initial retaliation by the resistance took the form of a missile strike on a US base, followed soon after by further attacks.

In February, one British and two US soldiers were killed when the Taji military base was rocketed, and the retaliatory airstrikes that followed only triggered more punishment for the occupying forces as the base drew further attacks.

These bases, intended by the US as launchpads for aggression against Iraq’s neighbour Iran, are starting to look more like sitting ducks for Iran-backed militias. Consequently, in March, bases at Kirkuk, Qaim and Qayyarah were closed down, and, in April, al-Taqaddum airbase was shuttered too, and the keys turned over to the Baghdad government, along with $3.5m worth of equipment.

British, French and Czech contingents began to melt away from as early as February, their departure hastened by fears of Covid-19.

The official line to explain the base closures was the laughable assertion that the task of training up the Iraqi military to combat terrorists had been ‘successfully completed’, rendering the presence of coalition forces superfluous.

Brigadier General Vincent Barker, speaking for the grandly titled Operation Inherent Resolve, assured the public that the Iraqis have “proven capability to bring the fight to Isis”, and no longer need American troops beside them. (Downsizing, but no departure: US military leaves another base in Iraq, RT, 4 April 2020)

The reality is that the coalition mission was never really about getting rid of Isis, but all about the US push for full-spectrum dominance in the region, culminating in war against Iran. Patriots in Iraq’s armed forces who are serious about fighting terrorists are cooperating with the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), Iraqi militias supported by neighbourly assistance from Iran.

For the PMF themselves, the fight against terrorists is inseparable from the fight against the imperialist sponsors of terrorism.

Splits within US imperialism

However, it is too early to hang out the bunting for a full US retreat. The plan appears to be to decant the troops from the abandoned bases into two major facilities – one in Baghdad and the other at an airbase about 100 miles to the west of Baghdad, Ayn al-Assad, where a new airport is under construction and regular patrols operate in the vicinity.

This move is open to interpretation: it could be seen as a retreat or as a consolidation. And this ambiguity is reflected in radically contradictory signals coming from the National Security Council (NSC), the Pentagon, the state department, and the top commander in Iraq concerning policy over Iraq and Iran.

In March, a classified internal military directive issued by the Pentagon was leaked to the press. The directive ordered commanders in the field to draw up plans for an escalation of US combat in Iraq, targeting in particular one of the PMF militias, Kata’ib Hezbollah, credited with having originated some of the most impressive attacks on the occupying forces.

But a leaked memo from the most senior military commander in Iraq, Lt Gen Robert P White, warned in blunt terms that such a campaign would need thousands more US troops and would be bloody and counterproductive. White’s memo pointed out that such a campaign would divert resources from what was ostensibly the primary mission: training Iraqis to fight Isis. (Whether even he really believes this hoary propaganda line is hard to credit.)

The New York Times reported recently that secretary of state Mike Pompeo and national security adviser Robert C O’Brien “have been pushing for aggressive new action against Iran and its proxy forces, and see an opportunity to try to destroy Iranian-backed militia groups in Iraq as leaders in Iran are distracted by the pandemic crisis in their country”.

Meanwhile, defence secretary Mark T Esper and chairman of the joint chiefs of staff General Mark A Milley are said to be “wary of a sharp military escalation” that could “further destabilise the middle east”.

Pressed for clarification of the US war plans, the Pentagon spokesman (ludicrously still claiming that the US is in Iraq ‘at the invitation of the Iraqi government’, despite it having been given its marching orders back in January), flannelled hopelessly, bristling that “We are not going to discuss hypotheticals or internal deliberations.” (Pentagon order to plan for escalation in Iraq meets warning from top commander by Mark Mazzetti and Eric Schmitt, 27 March 2020)

In short, US imperialism is having the greatest difficulty in deciding what to do about either Iraq or Iran. It is too scared to leave Iraq for fear of losing face, but if it just lingers on like a bad smell then, sooner rather than later, patriotic forces in Iraq will find a way to fumigate their homeland.

Yet if it tries to regain the offensive by extending its attack on patriotic Iraqi militias into open hostilities against Iran, it will surely be digging its own grave.

These are the unsavoury ‘hypotheticals’ between which the US must now choose.

Posted in IraqComments Off on Occupation at sixes and sevens as resistance gathers pace in Iraq

Iraq Will be Hit Harder by Falling Oil Prices Than COVID-19 or ISIS


Photograph Source: L.C. Nøttaasen – CC BY 2.0

The shadowy figures of well-armed Isis gunmen can be seen making an attack in the plains of northern Iraq on an outpost held by paramilitary fighters loyal to the Iraqi government.

Some four of the latter are killed by a roadside bomb. Isis specialises in publicising its successful military actions online to show that it remains a force to be feared, despite the destruction of the so-called caliphate and the killing last year of its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

The appalling atrocities committed by Isis at the height of its power ensure that any sign that the movement is back in business creates a thrill of horror at home and abroad. But, while it is true that Isis has been launching an increased number of pin-prick guerrilla actions in Iraq and Syria in recent months, the effect of these can be exaggerated. The assaults are still very limited compared to what happened in the years leading up to Isis’s capture of Mosul in 2014, along with much of western Iraq and eastern Syria. Without the advantage of surprise this time around and with no military vacuum to fill, it is unlikely that Isis can resurrect itself.

Coronavirus appears to pose another dangerous threat to Iraq with its ramshackle public health system and millions of potential victims packed together. Iraq shares a long common border with Iran where Covid-19 is rife. Perhaps it is only a matter of time and the pandemic may yet devastate Iraq, but it has not done so for reasons that are obscure, but may include a young population and  stringent curfews.

This focus on Isis and coronavirus as the prime threats to Iraq diverts attention from an even greater danger that faces the country, as it does other Middle East oil exporters. In Iraq the threat is at its most acute because its 38 million people are only just emerging from 40 years of crisis and war.

Iraqis remain deeply divided and have the ill luck to live in a country that is the arena where the US and Iran have chosen to fight out their differences. It feels like a bygone era, but it was only in January that the US assassinated the Iranian general Qasem Soleimani with a drone at Baghdad airport and came close to war with Iran.

The problem for Iraq is simple but insoluble: it is running out of money as its oil revenues fall off a cliff, following the collapse in the oil price brought about by the cataclysmic economic impact of coronavirus. It derives 90 per cent of government revenues from the export of crude oil, but in April it earnt just $1.4bn when it needed $5bn to cover salaries, pensions and other state expenditure.

It cannot pay the 4.5 million people on the government payroll and another four million receiving a pension. This may not seem like exciting news compared to an uptick in Isis killings or the potential ravages of Covid-19, but it may prove more profoundly destabilising than either.

“The government has not paid pensions so far this month, though it keeps promising it will do so in a couple of days,” says Kamran Karadaghi, an Iraqi commentator and former presidential chief of staff. “They don’t have the cash.” Rumours are spreading in Baghdad that state salaries will be cut by 20 or 30 per cent. Immediate disaster can be fended of by borrowing and drawing down reserves, but there is a limit to how long these can replace lost oil revenues.

Iraq – and other oil exporters in the Middle East – will not get much sympathy internationally in a world suffering from lockdown and unprecedented economic turmoil. The future may be particularly bleak in Iraq, but the other oil states producers are under similar pressures. Indeed, the era of the super-rich oil producers that began with the great oil prices in the first half of the 1970s may be coming to an end.

The problem is that reliance on oil exports displaces most other forms of economic activity: everybody wants to work for the government because that is where the best jobs are. Private business becomes parasitic on a corrupt state to make money. Everything is imported and nothing is produced locally. A corrupt elite monopolises wealth and power.

Iraq has just acquired a new government headed by Mustafa al-Khadimi, a former intelligence chief who was a long-term opponent of Saddam Hussein, and who will now have to grapple with horrendous financial problems. One former Iraqi minister told me several years ago, that the only time he had seen an Iraqi cabinet really panic was not when Isis was battering at the gates of Baghdad, but when the price of oil had fallen more than usually sharply. This time around, the decline in the price is much worse than ever before from the point of view of the producers, and though the price has rallied from its nadir in April, there is little chance of its full recovery

Protests started in Baghdad in October last year when demonstrators demanded jobs, an end to corruption and better public services, such as electricity and water. At least 700 protesters were killed and 15,000 wounded. People did not believe they were getting a fair share of the economic cake then, and the cake is about to get considerably smaller.

The same anger is felt against predatory elites in resource-rich states from Angola to Saudi Arabia, but the elites are not alone in benefiting from the present system whereby anybody with the right connections – family, sect, ethnicity, political party – can get a job. Ministries become the cash cows of different interests. It would not take much for the protests to start again.

Isis is not the threat to Iraq that some imagine and a young population may not be vulnerable to coronavirus, but the knock-on effect of a prolonged drop in the price of oil brought about by the pandemic will be profoundly destabilising for the Middle East as a whole.

Posted in IraqComments Off on Iraq Will be Hit Harder by Falling Oil Prices Than COVID-19 or ISIS

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