IRAQ AT “CROSSROADS” AFTER DEFEAT OF I.S., KURDISH INDEPENDENCE VOTE, & IRAN’S INCREASING ENTRENCHMENT Posted on October 18, 2018 Iraq Has A New Government. Now What?: Seth Frantzman, Jerusalem Post, Oct. 04, 2018— The country has faced uncertainty and protests since elections in May. In September, a Sunni Arab Speaker of Parliament was finally chosen. Murders of Four Trailblazing Iraqi Women Spark Fear of Traditionalist Backlash: Ammar Karim, Times of Israel, Oct. 2, 2018— Over the last few weeks, four go-getting Iraqi women have separately met premature deaths — two falling victim to men firing automatic weapons into their vehicles. Despite Independence Referendum, Kurds Lack Clout, International Backing to Carve Out Own State: Carlo Muñoz, Washington Times, Oct. 3, 2018— President Trump caused a stir across the Middle East last week with his lavish praise for the Kurds’ role in defeating Islamic State in Iraq and Syria… Kurds Remain First in Iran’s Firing Line: Ben Cohen, JNS, Sept.14, 2018— Iran’s regime is defying the newly found U.S. resolve to counter its malign influence with whatever means it has at its disposal. On Topic Links Iraq’s New Leaders Seen as Technocrats, in a Break From Sectarian Politics: Ben Hubbard and Falih Hassan, New York Times, Oct. 2, 2018 Assassination of Iraq’s Feminists: Beauty Queen Flees to Jordan After Threat, String of Deaths: National Post, Oct. 9, 2018 A Strong Kurdistan Region is Good for US in Iraq: Seth J. Frantzman, The Hill, Oct. 16, 2018 It is Time for the U.S. to Help Liberate the Kurds: Qanta Ahmed, Jerusalem Post, October 3, 2018 IRAQ HAS A NEW GOVERNMENT. NOW WHAT? Seth Frantzman Jerusalem Post, Oct. 04, 2018 The country has faced uncertainty and protests since elections in May. In September, a Sunni Arab Speaker of Parliament was finally chosen. On Tuesday, Barham Salih, a Kurdish member of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan Party, was selected to become the new president. Now Adel Abdul Mahdi will likely become the next prime minister as he seeks to shore up a coalition. Abdul Mahdi has a difficult task ahead of him. In Iraq, the prime minister holds the most important and powerful post. The presidency, held by Kurdish leaders since the creation of a new constitution after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003, is largely ceremonial. However, many Iraqis celebrated the appointment of Salih, who previously served as deputy-prime minister and was a prime minister of the autonomous Kurdistan Region from 2009-2012. Salih was chosen after the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) and PUK struggled to settle on a single Kurdish choice for the presidency. His election has been positively received in Washington, from where anti-ISIS envoy Brett McGurk tweeted congratulations. Salih is seen as being close to the UK and US. Iraq is at a crossroads. Having liberated most of the country from ISIS last year, it is now in the midst of US-Iran tensions. The Kurdistan region in northern Iraq voted for independence last year. But Baghdad, under former prime minister Haider al-Abadi, sent tanks into Kirkuk to push the Kurds out and closed airports in the north to punish the autonomous region. Meanwhile, Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias have continued their entrenchment in the country in 2018. In May, Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shi’ite cleric who was once anti-American but has become increasingly nationalist and hostile to Iran, polled first in the elections, ahead of second-place Hadi al-Amiri, head of one of the largest militias. Abadi, who Washington hoped would be a strongman savior of Iraq, came in third. Now Abadi has congratulated Abdul Mahdi and appears willing to go quietly into the shadows. He graciously exited with a tweet, wishing the new prime minister “success in shaping and choosing who best to fill the government.” Abdul Mahdi is seen as a pragmatist who will focus on the country’s economy. Since May, massive protests fueled by anger at failed infrastructure and polluted water, have swept southern Iraq. These protests have become increasingly anti-Iranian. Abdul Mahdi will be called upon to thread the needle between Iran’s interests, Washington’s and Iraq’s new connections to Saudi Arabia, and a multiplicity of other problems. For instance, Turkish troops are stationed in northern Iraq fighting the Kurdistan Workers Party, and last month Iran fired ballistic missiles at Kurdish groups in northern Iraq. Iran has also fired missiles over Iraq at Syria, apparently without informing Iraqi authorities. This makes Baghdad feel that Iraq lacks basic sovereignty. Supporters of Abdul Mahdi see him as less ideological than other candidates for the job. He was once a secular communist, but later become a supporter of Iran’s Islamic revolution. What does this mean for Iraq in general? Can Abdul Mahdi manage the security forces and rein in the militias? Can he bring in the donors to support rebuilding Mosul and other former ISIS-held cities? Can he use the security forces, who have suffered attrition over the years, to defeat a new ISIS insurgency? Iraq faces major hurdles. For the moment many are hopeful that the new president and his team can help heal wounds and bring the country some momentary peace after decades of conflict. Contents MURDERS OF FOUR TRAILBLAZING IRAQI WOMEN SPARK FEAR OF TRADITIONALIST BACKLASH Ammar Karim Times of Israel, Oct. 2, 2018 Over the last few weeks, four go-getting Iraqi women have separately met premature deaths — two falling victim to men firing automatic weapons into their vehicles. The deaths have sparked fear among women who dare to break the mold and visibly achieve in the conservative country. The latest to die was 22-year-old social media influencer and model Tara Fares. Her bloody demise at the wheel of a white Porsche convertible in Baghdad on Thursday has sparked as much debate as her racy photos. Fares had built an Instagram following of 2.7 million people thanks to edgy fashion shoots, assertive missives, and eye-catching, colorful hairstyles. She also posted publicly about a violent ex-husband and a fiance who died after being attacked in Istanbul. But while Fares’ fearless embrace of social media inspired many young Iraqis, it upset traditionalists. Fares was the target of a deluge of online insults over her perceived lack of modesty, in a society where many adhere to hardline interpretations of Islam. It was this darker side of online platforms that forced the outspoken Fares to quit living in her native Baghdad and spend much of her time in comparatively liberal, secular Iraqi Kurdistan. Fares is not the only Iraqi fashion and beauty entrepreneur to have met her death in recent weeks. In August, the managers of Baghdad’s two most high-profile aesthetic and plastic surgery centers died in mysterious circumstances. The first was Rafif al-Yassiri, whose nickname was Barbie — the same name as her business venture. A week later Rasha al-Hassan, founder of the Viola Beauty Center, was also found dead. Both were found at their homes, and despite ongoing investigations, the causes of their deaths remain undetermined. But the rumor mill has churned up plenty of theories: Drugs, heart attacks, and murder. On Tuesday this week, two days before Fares was shot dead, came the first officially confirmed murder among the spate of suspicious deaths. In circumstances that foreshadowed the social media star’s assassination, activist and businesswoman Soad al-Ali was shot several times while travelling in a car in the southern city of Basra. Police opened an investigation and pointed the finger at her ex-husband, who is on the run. While motivations for the two confirmed murders are far from officially established, women’s rights group Amal is deeply concerned. “Armed groups, tribes, criminal gangs… all these control positions” within the state and security forces, Hanae Edwar told AFP at the NGO’s Baghdad office. The recent assassinations are “threatening messages sent to activists in particular, but also to the whole of society,” she said. “Attacking women who are public figures is a bid to force them to shut themselves away at home,” Edwar added. The authorities have tried to distance themselves from the deaths and provide reassurance. But Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi appeared to draw a link between the events in Baghdad and Basra, ordering elite intelligence units to investigate. In a statement, Abadi cited “evidence suggesting that there is a plan formulated by organized parties to undermine security under the pretext of fighting against depravity.” Safaa Nasser, a stylist speaking under an assumed name who until recently organised fashion shows, said she had already changed her behavior. “The last few days, my daughters and I go out less and I stay away from the fashion world,” she said. “There are people who don’t want Iraq to develop, or for women to be visible. They want to take us backwards.” She urged security forces to investigate the deaths, saying an “organized network” was behind the “premeditated” actions. “The women I know are saying that their turn will come” to be targeted,” she said. Chillingly, Fares, Yassiri, and Hassan all died on Thursdays. “Every time, this repeats itself,” said 29-year-old Hawa Walid, shopping in Baghdad. “Now, every Thursday, the stress rises.” Contents DESPITE INDEPENDENCE REFERENDUM, KURDS LACK CLOUT, INTERNATIONAL BACKING TO CARVE OUT OWN STATE Carlo Muñoz Washington Times, Oct. 3, 2018 President Trump caused a stir across the Middle East last week with his lavish praise for the Kurds’ role in defeating Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, but just over a year after Iraqi Kurdistan’s ill-fated independence referendum, the Kurds remain even further from statehood in Iraq while the situation for their ethnic counterparts across the region continues to falter. At a press conference during his week of diplomacy at the U.N. General Assembly last week, Mr. Trump praised Iraq’s Kurds for the prominent role they played in ousting the Islamic State from the country’s north. He pledged Washington’s support for Iraqi Kurdistan as Baghdad cobbles together a unity government. “We do get along great with the Kurds. We’re trying to help them a lot. Don’t forget, that’s their territory. We have to help them,” Mr. Trump said in response to a question from a Kurdish reporter. “I want to help them.” But the president’s gratitude is running up against the realities of the Middle East, where the Kurds form a significant minority in Syria, Iraq, Iran and Turkey but lack the clout and international backing to carve out a state of their own — despite their outsized contribution to the U.S.-led war on terror groups in the region. Officials from the U.S.-led coalition battling Islamic State said Tuesday that top commanders are in regular contact with their government counterparts in Iraqi Kurdistan and military partners in the Kurdish militia known as the peshmerga. “We’re in contact with them almost daily … and told them that we’re here to support [them], and that’s what we plan on doing,” Col. Sean Ryan, coalition spokesman, told reporters at the Pentagon in a briefing from Baghdad. U.S. and allied commanders battling Islamic State have repeatedly included their Kurdish counterparts in large-scale operations designed to prevent the terrorist group from re-emerging in northern Iraq, Col. Ryan said. U.S. military advisers are also looking to strengthen ties between the peshmerga and Iraqi Security Forces and working to create a joint command center to integrate and streamline counterterrorism and security operations by both forces, he said. But the Sept. 25, 2017, Kurdish referendum in support of greater autonomy appears to have backfired by failing to get support from Baghdad and resulting in a leadership shake-up among the Kurds. Support for independence was overwhelming — 93 percent — which only seems to galvanize other forces in Iraq and the region to resist the independence demand. The State Department and Pentagon have been focused in recent months far more on the political maneuvering over the formation of a new Iraqi government, with Kurdish priorities largely sidelined. The wrangling after May’s national elections appears to have ended this week with the formation of a ruling coalition, a compromise prime minister and the naming of longtime moderate Kurdish politician Barham Salih to the largely ceremonial post of president — traditionally reserved for a Kurd in Iraqi political practice. “With the government still not formed, things are just taking time right now [in Iraqi Kurdistan] because that’s the No. 1 priority,” Col. Ryan said as a coalition deal was coming together this week. But Kurds complain that Trump administration promises of political and especially military support to Iraqi Kurdistan have fallen flat in the year after Irbil’s fateful decision to press for independence. The effort is unlikely to gain further momentum despite Mr. Trump’s rhetoric last week. “Most people who have worked on U.S. foreign policy would argue that a strong American relationship with the KRG should be an essential pillar of U.S. strategy toward Iraq and the broader Middle East,” said John Hannah, a specialist in Middle East affairs who served as a security adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney. “I think that the narrow focus on defeating ISIS, as well as a lack of bandwidth, limited the [Trump] administration’s ability to think strategically about Iraq’s future in ways that came back to bite us,” particularly in the case of Iraq’s Kurds, said Mr. Hannah, now a senior counselor at the Washington-based Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. As a result, “the dream of an independent Iraqi Kurdistan has been put on hold indefinitely,” he said. It’s a far cry from the scene just a year ago, when the streets of Irbil were filled with Iraqi Kurds reveling in the historic independence referendum. Many saw the vote as the precursor to an eventual autonomous Kurdish state. But those hopes were quickly dashed by a swift and heavy-handed response from then-Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, a close ally of Washington who deployed government forces to secure control over key areas within Iraqi Kurdistan. Iraqi government forces and Shiite paramilitary units trained and equipped by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps rapidly recaptured critical territories in northern Iraq’s Kirkuk and Sinjar governorates in the weeks after the referendum. “The referendum was not worth doing because we lost Kirkuk,” Kayfi Adil, an Irbil taxi driver, told the Agence France-Presse news agency last month. “I believe it was not a good idea to hold the referendum because we did not benefit from it.” In the end, KRG President Masoud Barzani was forced to abandon the push for independence and Kurdish leaders in Irbil found themselves fighting for political relevance among Baghdad’s Shiite and Sunni power brokers. “This has been the Kurdish Regional Government’s annus horribilis,” Mr. Hannah said, adding that Iraqi Kurdish leaders badly miscalculated U.S. support for their cause…[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.] Contents KURDS REMAIN FIRST IN IRAN’S FIRING LINE Ben Cohen JNS, Sept.14, 2018 Iran’s regime is defying the newly found U.S. resolve to counter its malign influence with whatever means it has at its disposal. On Sept. 8, seven missiles were launched against the headquarters of an Iranian Kurdish rebel group in Koysinjaq, close to the border with Iraq, claiming the lives of at least 15 people—a death toll that the mullahs in Tehran found most satisfying. The attack on the Kurds was carefully designed to send the region a message. “With a range of 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles), our missiles endow the Iranian nation with a unique ability to fight against arrogant foreign powers,” Maj.-Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), told the semi-official ISNA news agency. “All those that have forces, bases and equipment within a 2,000-kilometer radius of Iran’s sacred borders should know that (our) missiles are highly accurate,” Jafari continued pointedly. (Tel Aviv, of course, lies 1,900 kilometers to the west of Tehran.) “Our recent vengeance upon terrorists,” he went on, using the official regime term for Iranian Kurds seeking autonomy, “had a very clear message for enemies, especially superpowers who think they can bully us.” The message is that Iran is not afraid to resort to military force, either through its ongoing ballistic-missile program or through interventions on the ground carried out by Iran’s own forces or their local proxies. As the missile attack on the Kurds demonstrated, that is not idle talk. It is the Kurds, in fact, whose experiences over the last year are the best—and therefore, the grimmest—evidence of what happens when Iran occupies your territory. The latest ordeal facing this nation of 25 million—by far the largest stateless nation in the Middle East, but receiving only a fraction of the media coverage enjoyed by the 5 million Palestinians—was conceived in Tehran after the independence referendum of September 2017 in the Kurdish region of Iraq. That vote resulted in a 93 percent majority favoring independence, but what should have been a cause for celebration for their Kurds and their allies ended up as a disaster. Many countries, especially those with Kurdish populations, issued barely veiled threats of invasion before the vote even took place. Turkey, Iran and the Iranian-backed Iraqi government all denounced the vote as an attempt to create a “second Israel” in the region, with the term “fifth column” frequently deployed in the media to describe the alleged status of the Kurds within Israel’s strategic calculations. An Iranian-backed military offensive, involving Iraqi government forces and the Hashd al-Shaabi paramilitary organization—the Iraqi equivalent of Lebanon’s Hezbollah—smashed through Kurdish-controlled areas of Iraq throughout October and November. That operation was directed by Gen. Qassem Soleimani, head of the IRGC’s “Quds Force,” the notorious military agency that co-ordinates Iran’s regional interventions in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. By the time the offensive ended, more than 50 percent of the territory liberated from ISIS by Kurdish Peshmerga fighters, including the city of Kirkuk, lay in the hands of the Iraqi government in Baghdad and Hashd al-Shaabi. “This attack, waged by the Iraqi government, Hashd al-Shaabi and forces associated with the Headquarters of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards’ Quds force, is in retaliation against the people of Kurdistan who have asked for freedom,” a Peshmerga statement declared at the height of the fighting. Yet the outside world remained shamefully disinterested in the Iraqi Kurdish plight last year. That is a key reason why Iran now believes it can make an example of its own 7 million Kurds with impunity. “We have always considered Iran a danger to us,” Mustafa Muludi, the General Secretary of the Kurdistan Independence Party of Iran (KDPI) told the Kurdish news outlet Rudaw after the Sept. 8 missile attacks. “This bombardment has made our fear stronger.” Their fear should be our alarm bell. The sorry record of international betrayal of Kurdish aspirations dates back to the end of the First World War, and frankly, betrayal remains at the heart of our policy. The Iranian-led assault last year used artillery and armored vehicles supplied by the U.S. government to the Iraqi government. Our response, as the Iranians openly mocked us by using American-made weapons to attack one of our closest regional allies, was to have the State Department confirm its “One Iraq” policy, effectively closing the door on the Kurdish bid for national sovereignty. Only Israel came out of last year’s disgrace with any honor, as the one country to warmly welcome the referendum result, and to express the hope that the Kurds would join the Jews as a free nation in the Middle East. Yet as much as Israel has covertly aided the Kurdish national movement over the years, it is not in a position to fight on their behalf. As Kurdish leaders repeatedly state, the task of allies is to ensure that their own seasoned warriors can do that for themselves. Last year, sadly, the Trump administration helped to tie the Kurds’ hands by equivocating over the referendum and the Iranian onslaught that followed. Iran now seeks to test our resolve by continuing its campaign against the creation of a Kurdish state that would be far more open, far more democratic and far more pacific than any of its neighbors. As yet, there is no sign that our shameful policy is changing. Contents On Topic Links Iraq’s New Leaders Seen as Technocrats, in a Break From Sectarian Politics: Ben Hubbard and Falih Hassan, New York Times, Oct. 2, 2018—For nearly five months, Iraqi politicians have wrangled over the shape of their new government. The bloc led by Moktada al-Sadr, the former Shiite militia leader and longtime American enemy, won the most votes in the May election. He had rebranded himself as an “Iraq First” populist, vowing to fight corruption, opposing both American and Iranian intervention, and promising a new nonsectarian politics. Assassination of Iraq’s Feminists: Beauty Queen Flees to Jordan After Threat, String of Deaths: National Post, Oct. 9, 2018—A former Miss Iraq beauty queen has fled the country following a spate of killings of high-profile women. Shimaa Qasim Abdulrahman said she left for Jordan after receiving death threats from a man purporting to be an Islamic State member who told her, “You’re next”. A Strong Kurdistan Region is Good for US in Iraq: Seth J. Frantzman, The Hill, Oct. 16, 2018—Over 200 publishing companies from 35 countries converged on northern Iraq on Oct. 10 to showcase their work at the city’s 13th annual Erbil International Book Fair. Leading officials came to see the ribbon cutting to open the fair in the Kurdistan region’s capital. It was a symbol of the normality that has swept the region more than a year after ISIS was defeated in Mosul, an hour’s drive northwest of the city. It is Time for the U.S. to Help Liberate the Kurds: Qanta Ahmed, Jerusalem Post, October 3, 2018—Marking the one-year anniversary of the Kurdish referendum this week, the moral obligation to support Kurdish independence for more than 36 million Kurds hangs heavily. While the will of the Kurdish people was clear in a 73% turnout in the vote last September, 93% voted for independence from Iraq. It seemed the world – including the US – ignored the referendum and then, worse, showed remarkable contempt by dismissing the desires of the largest stateless nation of peoples in the world, with a population less than those of Canada and Australia.