In Shadow of Mosul fight, Iran Establishes Nineveh Foothold: Susannah George and Qassim Abdul-Zahra, Washington Post, May 29, 2017— While Iraq’s conventional military has been slowly clearing the Islamic State group from inside Mosul’s complex urban terrain…
U.S. Sees a Vital Iraqi Toll Road, but Iran Sees a Threat: Tim Arango, New York Times, May 27, 2017 — The highway from Baghdad to Amman, Jordan, cuts through the insurgent badlands of the western Iraqi desert, and these days any truck driver risks confrontation with roving bands of gunmen.
Jordan Intensifies Anti-Israel Rhetoric Despite Security Challenges: Noah Beck, IPT News, June 1, 2017 — Jordan, a country that has had a formal peace treaty with Israel since 1994, has seen an uptick in anti-Israel hostility.
Is Jordan's Muslim Brotherhood Still the Loyal Opposition?: Nur Köprülü, Middle East Quarterly, Spring 2017— The Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, the key Islamist movement in the country, has had a long-standing symbiotic relationship with the monarchy and, until recently, was not considered a threat to the survival of the Hashemite Kingdom.
Death Toll Rises After ISIS Attack in Baghdad: New York Post, May 30, 2017
Ex-Islamic State Fighters Face Justice in Mosul: Marta Bellingreri, Al-Monitor, May 31, 2017
Iraq's Christians Demand Reconstruction of Religious Sites: Wassim Bassem, Al-Monitor, May 21, 2017
Can ISIS Survive the Caliphate's Collapse?: Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, Middle East Forum, May 16, 2017
Susannah George and Qassim Abdul-Zahra
Washington Post, May 29, 2017
While Iraq’s conventional military has been slowly clearing the Islamic State group from inside Mosul’s complex urban terrain, Iraq’s Iran-backed Shiite paramilitary forces have been working their way through less glamorous territory: vast deserts west and south of the city that run along and across Iraq’s border with Syria. The territory, dotted with small villages and dusty roads, is home to key supply lines into neighboring Syria and connecting Iraq’s north to the capital Baghdad. Control of the Iraqi-Syrian border would be a key strategic prize for the mostly Shiite paramilitary forces and their backer Iran, who also supports the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
One division of the Iraqi government-sanctioned paramilitary group known as the Popular Mobilization Forces first reached Iraq’s border with Syria on Monday after securing a string of small villages west of Mosul and south of Sinjar, according to Ahmed al-Asadi, the group’s spokesman. “This will be the first step to the liberation of the entire border,” he said.
The PMF began Monday’s operation by pushing IS militants out of the center of the town of Baaj, some 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the Syrian border. Once the town was retaken a unit was dispatched to secure the village of Um Jrais along the border. “This victory will also be an important incentive for the Syrian Arab Army to secure the entire border from the Syrian side,” al-Asadi said, referring the Assad’s government forces. As the PMF secure more of the border region, they plan to “erect a dirt barricade and dig a trench,” said Sheikh Sami al-Masoudi, a paramilitary group leader. Iraq’s border with Syria has long been a haven for smugglers and insurgent activity.
The Nineveh foothold would give the paramilitary forces considerable leverage politically and militarily in Iraq after the fight against IS is concluded, according to Maria Fantappie, the senior Iraq researcher for the International Crisis Group, a non-governmental research firm. “The Iranians have been prioritizing something that the U.S. has overlooked: control over strategic roads, rather than control of the Sunni communities,” Fantappie said explaining that the U.S.-led coalition’s fight against IS has largely focused on retaking cities while the PMF have instead focused on transit and supply lines.
Control of roads and borders also allows the paramilitary forces to divide Iraq’s Sunni community geographically and politically, Fantappie said. “They have been trying to bisect Iraq and prevent a unified Sunni block from emerging,” she said. More than 150 kilometers (93 miles) away from the PMF’s border advance, Iraqi military and police forces are slowly closing in on the last pockets of IS control in Mosul’s Old City. Iraqi commanders say the grueling fight that is now in its eighth month is in the final stage, an operation that the United Nations warns will likely put the more than 100,000 civilians still trapped by IS inside Mosul at severe risk.
In Syria, Assad’s forces and their allies have also been on the offensive, moving toward the Iraqi and Jordanian border, but are still far from reaching it. U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, IS militants and Syrian rebels are also fighting for territory in an increasingly messy battle space. On May 18, a U.S. airstrike hit pro-Syrian government forces that the U.S.-led coalition said posed a threat to American troops and allied rebels operating near the border with Jordan. The attack was the first such close confrontation between America troops and fighters backing Assad.
The Islamic State group traces its roots to the insurgency that grew in Iraq after the 2003 toppling of Saddam Hussein, but the group rose to power under the leadership of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in Syria following the 2011 uprising against Assad. In early 2014, IS began driving Iraqi government forces out of the country’s western Anbar province and that summer overran Mosul and large swaths of Iraq’s north. At the height of the group’s power IS controlled nearly a third of Iraq, but with aid, training and weapons from Iran and then the U.S.-led coalition, Iraqi forces have retaken more than half of the land the extremists once held.
After securing the Iraqi side of the border with Syria, Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces are ready to move inside Syrian territories to assist Assad, said Hashim al-Mousawi, a leader with the powerful al-Nujaba militia that falls under the PMF umbrella. Before the PMF was sanctioned by the Iraqi government al-Nujaba fighters openly fought inside Syria, helping prop up the Assad regime during the early days of the uprising against his government. But, now al-Mousawi said crossing into Syria to fight would require the approval of the Iraqi government in Baghdad.
New York Times, May 27, 2017
The highway from Baghdad to Amman, Jordan, cuts through the insurgent badlands of the western Iraqi desert, and these days any truck driver risks confrontation with roving bands of gunmen. In the future, though, the United States envisions the road as something like the New Jersey Turnpike, with service stations, rest areas, cafes and tollbooths. As part of an American effort to promote economic development in Iraq and secure influence in the country after the fight against the Islamic State subsides, the American government has helped broker a deal between Iraq and Olive Group, a private security company, to establish and secure the country’s first toll highway.
This being Iraq, though, the project has quickly been caught up in geopolitics, sectarianism and tensions between the United States and Iran, which seems determined to sabotage the highway project as an unacceptable projection of American influence right on its doorstep. Already, Iraqi militia leaders linked to Iran, whose statements are seen as reflective of the views of Tehran, have pledged to resume attacks against American forces if the Trump administration decides to leave troops behind to train the Iraqi military and mount counterterrorism missions, as appears likely. And the militia leaders have specifically singled out the highway project for criticism.
At the center of the tensions is Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who has promoted the highway deal and positioned himself closer to the United States at a time when Iran’s influence has become more prominent in Iraq. A prominent Shiite leader and former lawmaker here, Izzat Shahbander, has become a leading voice of opposition to the highway project. Asserting that the Iranian-backed militias here are more powerful than the Iraqi Army, Mr. Shahbander said he believed Iran could ultimately seek to remove Mr. Abadi from power should the project be finalized.
For American diplomats in Iraq, the deal is seen as serving two purposes. One would be promoting economic development in Anbar Province, a vast Sunni-dominated area whose citizens have felt marginalized by the Shiite-led central government and where Iran’s militias currently operate. Another would be pushing back on the influence of Shiite Iran, whose growing power in Iraq has alarmed important Sunni allies of the United States like Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
Mr. Abadi has awarded the development project to Olive Group, although the final details are still being worked out. The project would include repairing bridges in western Anbar Province; refurbishing the road, known as Highway 1; and building service stations, rest areas and roadside cafes. It would also include mobile security by private contractors for convoys traveling the highway. In a recent speech, Mr. Abadi denounced the “mafias” that operate on the road, a reference to militias and insurgent groups that currently terrorize drivers and extract bribes for safe passage. “This is an investment. It’s about rehabilitating the road,” Mr. Abadi said. “Neither the central government nor the local government will pay anything. We will get profits instead.”
The deal would last for 25 years and is known as a concession agreement, meaning the Iraqi government would put no cash upfront. The multimillion-dollar investment by Olive Group, in theory, would be recouped by tolls, a cut of which would also go to the Iraqi government. And there is talk of eventually setting up three other toll highways in Iraq that would also be managed by American companies: from the Saudi Arabia border, through Karbala to Baghdad; from the port city of Basra to Baghdad; and from the Syrian border to Baghdad.
Filtered through the prism of Iraq’s many media outlets that are linked to militias supported by Iran, the highway deal has become seen here as a conspiracy by the United States and Israel to occupy the country. One report claimed that the American security company involved in the highway “belongs to the Zionist Mossad.” A statement from one powerful militia invoked the Sykes-Picot accord, the World War I-era deal by colonial powers to divide the Middle East, as it called the highway a plot by the United States to divide Iraq.
Playing on painful memories and fears of Iraqis, news outlets have also run false reports that Blackwater — the private security firm that acted with impunity in the early days of the American occupation and gunned down innocent Iraqis in Baghdad’s Nisour Square in 2007 — had taken on the project. “The politics of this country are challenging,” said Christian Ronnow, executive vice president of Constellis, the parent company of Olive Group, a private security firm that has worked for years in Iraq. Mr. Ronnow added, “We hope the Iraqi people and the Jordanian people will see this for what it is — an economic lifeline.”
In prosperous and safe times, the highway from Baghdad to Amman was an important conduit of commerce — with close to 1,500 trucks moving back and forth each day, accounting for about $1 billion in trade per month, Mr. Ronnow said. In dangerous times, as these recent years have been, the official border crossing with Jordan has been closed, even though truckers have continued to use the road, taking their lives into their own hands.
While the major cities in western Anbar Province, like Ramadi and Falluja, have been freed from the Islamic State, the surrounding deserts to the west on the way to Jordan and Syria remain dangerous and ungoverned spaces, where Islamic State militants are still able to move freely. The project is expected to bring thousands of jobs in construction and security to beleaguered Anbar, and tribal leaders have lined up to support it. “We are very happy with this project,” said Sheikh Ahmed Taha Alwan, an important tribal leader in Anbar. “There is big hope that this project will benefit the province in two important ways, security and economically.”
IPT News, June 1, 2017
Jordan, a country that has had a formal peace treaty with Israel since 1994, has seen an uptick in anti-Israel hostility. Last month, Jordan condemned the killing of a Jordanian-Palestinian attacker who was filmed stabbing an Israeli policeman multiple times before he was shot, calling it "a heinous crime." In September, Israeli police killed a Jordanian tourist who attacked with a knife. Jordan described this act of self-defense as a premeditated and "barbaric act of the army of the Israeli occupation." Israeli analysts disagree whether Jordan's rhetoric is a cause for concern.
Since the second Palestinian Intifada broke out in 2000, Jordan's public statements often contradict private behavior, said Elad Ben-Dror, a Bar-Ilan University Middle Eastern Studies senior lecturer. Publicly, "the Jordanian parliament and press are fierce in their denunciation of Israel… Beneath the surface, however, there is a strong link and security cooperation between the two countries, especially with regard to the war on terrorism."
Jordanian demographics drive the public vitriol, said Tel Aviv University Contemporary Middle Eastern History Chair Eyal Zisser. Palestinians comprise half the Jordanian population, "and because the population is conservative and very much Islamic, the regime lets the public…express anti-Israeli sentiments as a way to vent and reduce…pressure on the regime." So "cheap shots" like condemning the shooting of a terrorist in the act of trying to kill are "aimed at showing the Palestinians in Jordan [that] the Hashemites have not abandoned them," said Oded Eran, a senior research fellow at Israel's Institute for National Security Studies. "The King expects the Israeli government" to ignore such statements. And for the most part, Jerusalem does.
But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently took exception. "It is outrageous to hear the Jordanian government's speaker support the terror attack which occurred today in Jerusalem's Old City," a statement released by Netanyahu's office said. "It's time Jordan stopped playing both sides of the game. Just like Israel condemns terror attacks in Jordan, Jordan must condemn terror attacks in Israel. Terror is terror."
Moreover, some anti-Israel hostility by Jordan goes beyond mere statements. In March, Jordan released Ahmed Daqamseh, a former soldier who murdered seven Israeli schoolgirls as they visited his country. His tribe gave him a hero's welcome and he called for Israel's destruction on Al-Jazeera TV. Many lawmakers and politicians had reportedly lobbied to set him free, and doing so may have been a populist move. Jordan also hosts "Al-Quds," the official TV station of Hamas, the Gaza-based terror group committed to Israel's destruction.
Some experts think Israel should stop turning the other cheek. "Israel is assisting Jordan economically, providing it with fresh water and [helping] in many other areas. It is entitled and even obligated to insist that Jordan moderate its criticism and certainly that it not support anti-Israeli terrorism," Ben-Dror said. Israel should "slowly alter the rules of the game" by insisting that Jordan's monarch condemn Palestinian violence, said Bar-Ilan political scientist Hillel Frisch. "Israel has to make him sweat a little but not, of course, at the expense of his throne."
"I'm glad that Netanyahu rebuked him over the attempted murder of the policeman," Frisch said. "I'd like to see more rebukes in the future, especially regarding the Waqf guards' role in incitement on Har Habayit." Under the terms of Israel's peace treaty with Jordan, the Jordanian-run Waqf Islamic religious trust administers the Temple Mount, but has been leading efforts to deny and erase any Jewish connection to the site. Last July, three members of the Islamic Waqf attacked a group of archeologists at the site. The harassment continued in January, when Islamic guards tried to remove an Israeli tour guide for calling the area the "Temple Mount," insisting that he use the Islamic term "Haram al-Sharif."
While King Abdullah might have an unspoken understanding with his "Arab Street" that requires regular condemnations of Israel, the sustainability of such an arrangement remains a concern. The same Islamist forces to which he panders could eventually hobble his policy objectives, or worse. Last October, a grassroots campaign was launched by Jordanian activists to turn off the lights to protest Jordan's gas deal with Israel. The "lights-out action came on the heels of a protest march [recently] in downtown Amman that attracted an estimated 2,500 demonstrators, making it one of the largest protests in Jordan in recent years," the Jerusalem Post reported. The protests reportedly included chants against both the gas deal and Jordan's peace with Israel.
Reflecting popular opposition, the lower house of Jordan's Parliament overwhelmingly opposed the 2014 gas deal. The opposition includes leading Jordanian trade unions, Islamists, and secularists.
By indulging public opinion with anti-Israel rhetoric, Abdullah risks encouraging and popularizing the type of movement that could eventually topple him. Jordanian Islamists recently murdered a prominent Christian writer who faced legal charges for sharing a "blasphemous" anti-ISIS cartoon that outraged Muslim groups. Honor killings are increasing in Jordan. Last November, Jordan's highest religious authority slammed as "false and insignificant" an Israeli bill to ban the Muslim call to prayer via loudspeakers during sleeping hours throughout Israel. The Israeli bill would apply to the sound systems of all houses of worship, not only mosques, and countries like India and Egypt have enacted similar limitations…
[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]
Middle East Quarterly, Spring 2017
The Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, the key Islamist movement in the country, has had a long-standing symbiotic relationship with the monarchy and, until recently, was not considered a threat to the survival of the Hashemite Kingdom. But the rise and fall of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the growth of militant Islamist groups such as the Islamic State (ISIS) have alarmed the monarchy and led to a drastic shift in the nature of its relations with the Brotherhood from coexistence to persecution. Will the Jordanian regime be able to contain the Islamists and, in turn, will the Brotherhood choose to challenge the throne rather than to acquiesce in its continued suppression?
Probably the foremost Islamist movement in the Middle East, the Muslim Brotherhood was founded in 1928 in Egypt. From there, it spread to other parts of the region including Jordan (1946) where it was incorporated into the kingdom's social and political fabric with some of its members even serving in cabinet. The group reciprocated by refraining from challenging the regime as had its founding organization in Egypt. Bilateral relations warmed substantially during King Hussein's long reign (1952-99) when the Brotherhood often functioned as a bulwark against anti-Hashemite forces. This was particularly evident during the heyday of pan-Arabism when Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser—who politically opposed the Egyptian Brotherhood—repeatedly sought to subvert the Hashemite monarchy.
The Muslim Brotherhood provided support to the Jordanian monarchy during the 1970 Black September uprising when the regime's existence was threatened by Palestinian guerrillas like these seen here near Amman. The Brotherhood also provided support to the monarchy during the 1970 Black September events when the regime's existence was threatened by the Palestinian guerrillas encamped on its territory. And although political parties were banned between 1957 and 1992, the Brotherhood was able to function and attract new recruits since it was registered under the law of charitable clubs and associations. With the legalization of political parties in 1992, the organization established its political wing, the Islamic Action Front (IAF).
This close relationship between the Brotherhood and the monarchy prevented secular and leftist parties from challenging the kingdom's policies. The lack of any other previously organized mass party and the weakness of the secular ideological platforms helped the IAF function as the key ideological and political actor in Jordanian politics. This position was reinforced by the Brotherhood's strategic bond with the monarchy, which contributed to its reputation as a moderate, nonviolent group, distinct from its Islamist counterparts throughout the Middle East. In the words of German scholar Gudrun Krämer, Jordan “provides one of the few cases of an Arab government and Islamic movement pursuing a non-confrontational political strategy over an extended period. Traditionally, the Muslim Brotherhood has played not so much the role of opposition, but of virtual ally and, at times, of client to the king.”
This symbiotic relationship prevailed into the 2000s regardless of occasional frictions emanating from domestic and regional vicissitudes. The 1994 Jordanian-Israeli peace treaty, for example, triggered a heated debate between the "hawks" opting to confront the regime over the issue and "doves" urging conciliation yet failed to fracture the Brotherhood's overall relationship with the monarchy. Likewise, the organization remained aloof vis-à-vis the post-9/11 measures taken by King Abdullah II—who had succeeded his father two years earlier—against the kingdom's militant Salafist movement urging the overthrew of the "infidel" monarchy. Unlike the Salafists, the Jordanian Brotherhood and its political arm, the IAF, have never had an overtly militant wing despite its organic link with and support for Hamas, the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood branch…
[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]
Death Toll Rises After ISIS Attack in Baghdad: New York Post, May 30, 2017—A massive bombing by the Islamic State group outside a popular ice cream parlor in central Baghdad and a rush hour car bomb in another downtown area killed at least 31 people on Tuesday, Iraqi officials said.
Ex-Islamic State Fighters Face Justice in Mosul: Marta Bellingreri, Al-Monitor, May 31, 2017—In the Assyrian-Christian city of Hamdaniya, which its inhabitants call Qaraqosh, 30 kilometers (19 miles) southeast of Mosul, a big house belonging to a Muslim family temporarily hosts a terrorism court as part of the Iraqi Criminal Court, where provincial trials are held.
Iraq's Christians Demand Reconstruction of Religious Sites: Wassim Bassem, Al-Monitor, May 21, 2017—A new era has started in the northern Ninevah Plains, known for its ethnic and religious diversity, following the expulsion of the Islamic State (IS). IS took over the area in June 2014 and forced the Christians living there — estimated at more than 100,000 — to abandon their farms and towns and head to the neighboring Kurdistan Region and other areas in the country, or to leave Iraq altogether.
Can ISIS Survive the Caliphate's Collapse?: Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, Middle East Forum, May 16, 2017—The Arabic word baqiya ("remaining") is one of the most common adjectives associated with the Islamic State (aka ISIS), dating back to its earliest incarnation that claimed to be a state: namely, the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI).