Tag: Maliki

AS O. FIDDLES: AS IRAQ CIVIL WAR LOOMS, IRAN IS SUDDENLY A “SAVIOR” — IN ISRAEL, HAMAS’ STUDENT KIDNAPPING IS END OF “P.P.”

We welcome your comments to this and any other CIJR publication. Please address your response to:  Rob Coles, Publications Chairman, Canadian Institute for Jewish Research, PO Box 175, Station  H, Montreal QC H3G 2K7 – Tel: (514) 486-5544 – Fax:(514) 486-8284; E-mail: rob@isranet.org

 

UPDATE ON THE ABDUCTED ISRAELI TEENS: SEARCH FOR KIDNAPPED BOYS ENTERS FIFTH DAY, IDF ARRESTS 41 (Nablus) —The IDF arrested some 40 Palestinian suspects, most of them Hamas members, in Nablus overnight Tuesday, expanding its operation to retrieve three abducted Israelis northwards from Hebron. On the fifth day of Operation Brothers's Keeper, a thousand soldiers launched raids in Nablus's Balata and Awarta areas. A total of 200 suspects have been arrested since the start of the operation. In addition to the arrests, soldiers on Tuesday seized handguns, explosives, and grenades. A security source said a large quantity of weapons was recovered during the arrests, describing the raids as a large-scale counter-terrorism clean-up operation. "Everything linked to Hamas is being targeted," the source stated, adding that this includes civilian organizations linked to the terrorist organizations, municipal figures, and the organization's military wing. (Jerusalem Post, June 17, 2014)

 

Contents:

 

The Men Who Sealed Iraq's Disaster With a Handshake: Fouad Ajami, Wall Street Journal, June 13, 2013— Two men bear direct responsibility for the mayhem engulfing Iraq: Barack Obama and Nouri al-Maliki.

Obama’s Iraq: Max Boot, Weekly Standard, June, 2014— Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, has long been hard for the central government to control because of its combustible mix of Arabs and Kurds.

America's Middle East Delusions: Flynt Leverett & Hillary Mann Leverett, National Interest, June 15, 2014— The explosive ascendance of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) underscores the thoroughgoing failure of America’s political class to devise an effective and sustainable strategy for the U.S. after 9/11. 

War-Weariness As an Excuse:  William Kristol, Weekly Standard, Mar. 24, 2014 — Are Americans today war-weary?

 

On Topic Links

 

On Decision to Leave No Troops in Iraq, Hillary Clinton Points to Bush: Patrick Goodenough, CNS News, June 12, 2014

The Speech Obama Should Have Given About Iraq: Michael Goodwin, New York Post, June 15, 2014

Iraq: Barack Obama’s Self-Regarding Goodness is Bad News For the Rest of Us: Charles Moore, Daily Telegraph, June 13, 2013

Obama Fiddles While the World Burns: Shmuley Boteach, Algemeiner, June 16, 2014       

                                               

THE MEN WHO SEALED IRAQ'S DISASTER WITH A HANDSHAKE              

Fouad Ajami                                                                                                                    

Wall Street Journal, June 13, 2014

 

Two men bear direct responsibility for the mayhem engulfing Iraq: Barack Obama and Nouri al-Maliki. The U.S. president and Iraqi prime minister stood shoulder to shoulder in a White House ceremony in December 2011 proclaiming victory. Mr. Obama was fulfilling a campaign pledge to end the Iraq war. There was a utopian tone to his pronouncement, suggesting that the conflicts that had been endemic to that region would be brought to an end. As for Mr. Maliki, there was the heady satisfaction, in his estimation, that Iraq would be sovereign and intact under his dominion. In truth, Iraq's new Shiite prime minister was trading American tutelage for Iranian hegemony. Thus the claim that Iraq was a fully sovereign country was an idle boast. Around the Maliki regime swirled mightier, more sinister players. In addition to Iran's penetration of Iraqi strategic and political life, there was Baghdad's unholy alliance with the brutal Assad regime in Syria, whose members belong to an Alawite Shiite sect and were taking on a largely Sunni rebellion. If Bashar Assad were to fall, Mr. Maliki feared, the Sunnis of Iraq would rise up next.

 

Now, even as Assad clings to power in Damascus, Iraq's Sunnis have risen up and joined forces with the murderous, al Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), which controls much of northern Syria and the Iraqi cities of Fallujah, Mosul and Tikrit. ISIS marauders are now marching on the Shiite holy cities of Najaf and Karbala, and Baghdad itself has become a target. In a dire sectarian development on Friday, Iraq's leading Shiite cleric, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, called on his followers to take up arms against ISIS and other Sunni insurgents in defense of the Baghdad government. This is no ordinary cleric playing with fire. For a decade, Ayatollah Sistani stayed on the side of order and social peace. Indeed, at the height of Iraq's sectarian troubles in 2006-07, President George W. Bush gave the ayatollah credit for keeping the lid on that volcano. Now even that barrier to sectarian violence has been lifted. This sad state of affairs was in no way preordained. In December 2011, Mr. Obama stood with Mr. Maliki and boasted that "in the coming years, it's estimated that Iraq's economy will grow even faster than China's or India's." But the negligence of these two men—most notably in their failure to successfully negotiate a Status of Forces Agreement that would have maintained an adequate U.S. military presence in Iraq—has resulted in the current descent into sectarian civil war.

 

There was, not so long ago, a way for Mr. Maliki to avoid all this: the creation of a genuine political coalition, making good on his promise that the Kurds in the north and the Sunnis throughout the country would be full partners in the Baghdad government. Instead, the Shiite prime minister set out to subjugate the Sunnis and to marginalize the Kurds. There was, from the start, no chance that this would succeed. For their part, the Sunni Arabs of Iraq were possessed of a sense of political mastery of their own. After all, this was a community that had ruled Baghdad for a millennium. Why should a community that had known such great power accept sudden marginality?

 

As for the Kurds, they had conquered a history of defeat and persecution and built a political enterprise of their own—a viable military institution, a thriving economy and a sense of genuine national pride. The Kurds were willing to accept the federalism promised them in the New Iraq. But that promise rested, above all else, on the willingness on the part of Baghdad to honor a revenue-sharing system that had decreed a fair allocation of the country's oil income. This, Baghdad would not do. The Kurds were made to feel like beggars at the Maliki table. Sadly, the Obama administration accepted this false federalism and its façade. Instead of aiding the cause of a reasonable Kurdistan, the administration sided with Baghdad at every turn. In the oil game involving Baghdad, Irbil, the Turks and the international oil companies, the Obama White House and State Department could always be found standing with the Maliki government. With ISIS now reigning triumphant in Fallujah, in the oil-refinery town of Baiji, and, catastrophically, in Mosul, the Obama administration cannot plead innocence. Mosul is particularly explosive. It sits astride the world between Syria and Iraq and is economically and culturally intertwined with the Syrian territories. This has always been Mosul's reality. There was no chance that a war would rage on either side of Mosul without it spreading next door. The Obama administration's vanishing "red lines" and utter abdication in Syria were bound to compound Iraq's troubles.

 

Grant Mr. Maliki the harvest of his sectarian bigotry. He has ridden that sectarianism to nearly a decade in power. Mr. Obama's follies are of a different kind. They're sins born of ignorance. He was eager to give up the gains the U.S. military and the Bush administration had secured in Iraq. Nor did he possess the generosity of spirit to give his predecessors the credit they deserved for what they had done in that treacherous landscape. As he headed for the exits in December 2011, Mr. Obama described Mr. Maliki as "the elected leader of a sovereign, self-reliant and democratic Iraq." One suspects that Mr. Obama knew better. The Iraqi prime minister had already shown marked authoritarian tendencies, and there were many anxieties about him among the Sunnis and Kurds. Those communities knew their man, while Mr. Obama chose to look the other way. Today, with his unwillingness to use U.S. military force to save Syrian children or even to pull Iraq back from the brink of civil war, the erstwhile leader of the Free World is choosing, yet again, to look the other way.

 

Contents
                                  

OBAMA’S IRAQ

Max Boot                                                                                                    

Weekly Standard, June, 2014

 

Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, has long been hard for the central government to control because of its combustible mix of Arabs and Kurds. The first time I visited Mosul was in August 2003 when a tenuous calm was maintained by the 101st Airborne Division. Its commander, a then-obscure two-star general named David Petraeus, had on his own initiative opened the Syrian border to trade, struck deals with Syria and Turkey to provide badly needed electricity, restored telephone service, and held elections to elect local leaders. Along the way he also managed to kill Saddam Hussein’s poisonous offspring Uday and Qusay.

 

This kept militants at bay, but they returned with a vengeance after the 101st pulled out in 2004, to be replaced by a smaller American unit whose officers were less attuned to the demands of civic action. Mosul became a hotbed of Saddamist and Islamist militants, as I saw for myself in February 2008 when, during another visit, the U.S. Army convoy in which I was riding was hit by a “complex ambush”: The Humvee in front of mine hit a bomb concealed in a big puddle, and insurgents opened machine gun fire from the left. Luckily no one in our unit was hurt, but a bystander had his arm sliced off by a flying piece of the Humvee’s engine. Mosul was the last major city to be pacified by the successful “surge.” It took until at least 2010 before it was secure. But now that achievement has been undone. Black-clad fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), as Al Qaeda in Iraq has rebranded itself, stormed into Mosul last week and seized control. Dispirited Iraqi soldiers ran away rather than fight. Many were so eager to escape that their discarded uniforms littered the streets. ISIS freed more than 2,000 of its fighters from prisons and seized copious stocks of money, ammunition, and weapons—many of the latter provided by the United States to Iraqi forces.

 

This was only the latest and most alarming advance for this extremist group, which has risen out of its grave to display dismaying strength in recent years. In January, ISIS seized Fallujah and holds it still—a loss that, like Mosul, is particularly painful to American veterans who sacrificed so much to wrest control of those cities from militants. Following up on their success in Mosul, ISIS fighters advanced south to seize, at least temporarily, Tikrit, Saddam -Hussein’s hometown, and Baiji, home to Iraq’s largest oil refinery, which supplies Baghdad with much of its electricity. Their next targets are certain to be Baqubah and Baghdad. In the capital, ISIS has already inflicted devastating casualties with a series of car bombings. Iraq Body Count calculates that some 9,500 people were killed in Iraq last year, the highest total since 2008. Worse is surely yet to come as Shiite militant organizations such as Asaib Ahl al-Haq and Kataib Hezbollah respond to Sunni atrocities with atrocities of their own.

 

This is not just a problem for Iraq. ISIS, as the name implies, has spread across the border into Syria, where it has been showing increasing strength amid the chaos of the Syrian civil war, in no small part because the United States has done so little to aid the non-jihadist opposition to Bashar al-Assad. ISIS is well on its way to carving out a fundamentalist caliphate that stretches from Aleppo in northern Syria to Mosul in northern Iraq. The post-World War I borders of the Middle East seem to be unraveling. Syria is being split into two entities, one controlled by Sunni Islamists, the other by Hezbollah and the Iranian Quds Force and their Alawite proxies. Iraq is being split into three, with a prosperous and stable Kurdish state, a fundamentalist Sunni Triangle state controlled by ISIS, and the Shiite portions of the country under the sway of militants backed by Iran. Iran is directly involved in the fighting in both countries: It has already sent Quds Force troops to Syria and now reportedly to Iraq as well. The only thing that remains to be determined is whether Shiite or Sunni extremists will control the capital—the new battle for Baghdad, which has already begun, is likely to be even bloodier than the previous installment from 2003 to 2008.

 

It is hard to exaggerate how much of a disaster this is, not only for Syria and Iraq and their neighbors, but for the United States. Rising oil prices (crude oil rose to over $112 a barrel last week), which could torpedo a weak economic recovery, are just the start of it. Senior intelligence officials have testified recently that they fear Syria could become a launching ground for attacks against the United States. Similar concerns now must extend to Iraq. Certainly, the track record of Islamist militants suggests that whenever they control a piece of terrain—whether Afghanistan before 2001 or Mali in 2013—they immediately set up training camps for foreign jihadists, some of whom then filter back to their home countries to commit atrocities. At the least, neighboring states such as Jordan and Saudi Arabia will be destabilized by the growing strength of ISIS; at the worst, the American homeland and Americans overseas will be threatened.

 

How did this disaster come about and what can be done about it? Critics of the Iraq war affix blame to President George W. Bush’s decision to invade in 2003. But there is no guarantee that, even absent American intervention, Saddam Hussein would have had any more luck staying in power than other Arab despots. A civil war might well have broken out in Iraq anyway, as has been the case in Syria and Libya. It is true that Bush’s mismanagement from 2003 to 2007 aggravated the situation, especially his foolish decisions to disband the Iraqi Army without sending enough U.S. troops to fill the vacuum and to purge Baathists from the government in a process that was hijacked by Shiite militants such as Ahmad Chalabi. This created the lawless conditions out of which both Sunni and Shiite extremists arose. The “surge,” however, turned the tide and created an opening for a more stable and democratic Iraq. Al Qaeda in Iraq was decimated in 2007-08. As a result Shiite militias such as Moktada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army lost their rationale of protecting Shiites from Sunni terrorism. Violence fell by more than 90 percent, and Iraqi politics began to function. But that tenuous calm started to unravel the minute that U.S. troops pulled out at the end of 2011. Freed of effective American oversight, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki gave full vent to his Shiite sectarian tendencies by persecuting senior Sunni politicians and many of the Sunni commanders who, as part of the American-backed Sons of Iraq, had once fought against al Qaeda…    

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]

 

Contents
                                  

AMERICA'S MIDDLE EAST DELUSIONS                                                              

Flynt Leverett & Hillary Mann Leverett                             

National Interest, June 15, 2014

 

The explosive ascendance of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) underscores the thoroughgoing failure of America’s political class to devise an effective and sustainable strategy for the United States after 9/11.  The failure cuts across Democratic and Republican administrations, with the most self-damaging aspects of each administration’s policies roundly endorsed by the opposing party in Congress. Both sides deny responsibility for unfolding catastrophe in Iraq:  Republicans criticize Obama’s marginal modulations of Bush’s approach to the Middle East while Democrats blame Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.  (Republicans also criticize Maliki, but not so much that it might exculpate Obama.)  Foreign policy elites also ignore a more urgent and ongoing flaw in America’s post-9/11 Middle East policy that is directly linked to Iraq’s current crisis—Washington’s recurrent partnership with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab states to arm, fund, and train Sunni militias.      

 

America’s turn to jihadi proxies did not start with Bush’s strategic malpractice in Iraq.  It was born on July 3, 1979, when President Carter signed the first directive to arm jihadists in Afghanistan, before Soviet forces invaded the country.  For U.S. policymakers, collaborating with Riyadh to launch transnational jihad in Afghanistan seemed a clever way to undermine the Soviet Union—by goading it into a draining occupation of Afghanistan, which Carter’s national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, hoped to make Moscow’s Vietnam.  Ultimately, Red Army garrisoning of Afghanistan contributed only marginally (if at all) to the Soviet Union’s dissolution.  But U.S. support for the mujahideen and cooperation with Riyadh contributed critically to al-Qa’ida, the Taliban, and 9/11—which opened the door for Republican neoconservatives and Democratic fellow travelers to unite behind attacking Iraq.      

 

America’s invasion-cum-occupation of Iraq was not just badly implemented, as many of its non-Republican champions self-servingly lament; it was an irredeemably bad idea from the start.  Certainly, U.S. action destroyed the Iraqi state.  But, just as fatefully, the political displacement of Iraqi Sunnis by decisively larger Shi’a and Kurdish communities attracted powerful patrons—e.g., Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab states—determined to help Iraqi Sunnis, including segments of Saddam’s disbanded army, fight to regain a disproportionate share of political power.  Such were the roots of the insurgency that erupted within months of the U.S. invasion in 2003—stoked by an externally-facilitated influx of non-Iraqi Sunni fighters (including a substantial number from neighboring Syria), many coalescing into the Jordanian Abu Musab az-Zarqawi’s nascent Al-Qa’ida in Iraq.

 

Increasingly desperate to coopt a critical mass of these fighters, Bush disregarded 9/11’s lessons and chose to gamble on arming and training 80,000 Iraqi Sunni “tribesmen” as part of General David Petraeus’ 2007-2008 “surge.”  Bush turned to Sunni proxies in the vain hope of eliciting Sunni acquiescence to a post-Saddam order inevitably dominated by Shi’a Islamist and Kurdish parties representing the overwhelming bulk of Iraqis.  Washington also wanted to check what it considered the unacceptable growth of Iranian influence in Iraq (Tehran had supported Iraq’s leading Shi’a Islamist and Kurdish parties in exile for twenty years) and regionally.  The surge temporarily paid off enough Sunni fighters to let American commanders and politicians claim that violence was coming down.  But it also gave Iraqi Sunnis greater material and organizational wherewithal with which—once U.S. forces were gone—to attack what were bound to be non-Sunni-dominated central governments…  

 

U.S.-armed Sunnis needed a catalyst for resurgence, however.  In the first two years of Obama’s presidency, they grudgingly co-existed with central governments grounded in coalitions of Shi’a Islamist and Kurdish parties.  The Islamic State of Iraq—formed in 2006 from Zarqawi’s Al-Qai’da in Iraq—seemed on the wane.  Then, in spring 2011, Obama decided to support largely Sunni militias and forces willing to collaborate with them in trying to overthrow incumbent leaders in Libya and Syria.  This was motivated partly by dysfunctional aspects of Washington’s strategic co-dependency with Riyadh, and partly by a longstanding delusion that America could orchestrate a de facto axis of Saudi Arabia and other “moderate” Sunni states with Israel to check Iran’s rise and bolster a pro-U.S. regional order under threat from the Arab Awakening.  But, by reigniting the flames of Sunni militancy, the decision proved profoundly inimical to American interests…   

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.]                                                             

                                                          Contents
                            

WAR-WEARINESS AS AN EXCUSE                                                    

William Kristol

Weekly Standard, Mar 24, 2014

 

Are Americans today war-weary? Sure. The Iraq and Afghanistan wars have been frustrating and tiring. Are Americans today unusually war-weary? No. They were wearier after the much larger and even more frustrating conflicts in Korea and Vietnam. And even though the two world wars of the last century had more satisfactory outcomes, their magnitude was such that they couldn’t help but induce a significant sense of war-weariness. And history shows that they did. So American war-weariness isn’t new. Using it as an excuse to avoid maintaining our defenses or shouldering our responsibilities isn’t new, either. But that doesn’t make it admirable.

 

The March 5 Wall Street Journal featured a letter from Heidi Szrom of Valparaiso, Indiana. She was responding to an earlier letter defending President Obama’s foreign policies against a powerful critique in the Journal by the historian Niall Ferguson (“America’s Global Retreat”). The first letter writer noted Ferguson’s statement that more people may have died violent deaths in the Greater Middle East in the Obama years than under Bush, but excused Obama: “True, but it is also equally certain that fewer Americans have died violent deaths in the Greater Middle East during this presidency than during the previous one, and this is what matters more now to a war-weary American public.”

 

To which Ms. Szrom responded: “According to pundits, the president and letter writers, America is “war weary.” Every time I hear this, I wonder: Did you serve? Did you volunteer to fight oppression in foreign lands? Did your son or brother or husband? If so, then I understand and sympathize with your complaint .  .  . unlike most of those who utter this shopworn phrase. Perhaps the country’s weariness stems from a reluctance to face unpleasant truths—one of which is that power, like nature, abhors a vacuum. .  .  . History tells us it will only be a temporary reprieve. Our current defense cuts ensure that we will be woefully unprepared to face the next test. We are so weary that we are falling asleep.”

 

Well said. If only Republican elected officials were half as clear-minded and nearly as courageous as Ms. Szrom in taking on the claim that we all need to defer to, to bow down to, our own war-weariness. In fact, the idol of war-weariness can be challenged. A war-weary public can be awakened and rallied. Indeed, events are right now doing the awakening. All that’s needed is the rallying. And the turnaround can be fast. Only 5 years after the end of the Vietnam war, and 15 years after our involvement there began in a big way, Ronald Reagan ran against both Democratic dovishness and Republican détente. He proposed confronting the Soviet Union and rebuilding our military. It was said that the country was too war-weary, that it was too soon after Vietnam, for Reagan’s stern and challenging message. Yet Reagan won the election in 1980. And by 1990 an awakened America had won the Cold War.

 

The next president will be elected in 2016, 15 years after 9/11 and 5 years after our abandonment of Iraq and the beginning of the drawdown in Afghanistan. Pundits will say that it would be politically foolish to try to awaken Americans rather than cater to their alleged war-weariness. We can’t prove them wrong. Perhaps it would be easier for a Republican to win in 2016 running after the fashion of Warren Gamaliel Harding in 1920 rather than that of Ronald Wilson Reagan in 1980. But what would such a victory be worth? The term “war-weary” (actually “war-wearied”) may have first appeared in Shakespeare. In Henry VI, Part 1 (Act IV, Scene 4), the Earl of Somerset, for reasons of domestic political calculation, resists the entreaty of Sir William Lucy to go to the aid of his fellow English lord, “the over-daring Talbot,”

 

Who, ring’d about with bold adversity//Cries out for noble York and Somerset//To beat assailing death from his weak legions: And whiles the honourable captain there//Drops bloody sweat from his war-wearied limbs, And, in advantage lingering, looks for rescue, You, his false hopes, the trust of England’s honour,    Keep off aloof with worthless emulation…Somerset fails to rescue Talbot, but grandly states: If he be dead, brave Talbot, then adieu! To which Lucy replies: His fame lives in the world, his shame in you.

 

Can Republicans do no better than shamefully to emulate Somerset and Obama (“I assure you nobody ends up being more war-weary than me”)? Will no brave leader step forward to honorably awaken us from our unworthy sleep?

On Decision to Leave No Troops in Iraq, Hillary Clinton Points to Bush: Patrick Goodenough, CNS News, June 12, 2014

The Speech Obama Should Have Given About Iraq: Michael Goodwin, New York Post, June 15, 2014

Iraq: Barack Obama’s Self-Regarding Goodness is Bad News For the Rest of Us: Charles Moore, Daily Telegraph, June 13, 2013

Obama Fiddles While the World Burns: Shmuley Boteach, Algemeiner, June 16, 2014       

 

                               

 

                            

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Contents:         

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DEEPENING IRAQ CRISIS: SUNNI ISLAMIST GROUP ISIS CONQUERS MOSUL & NORTH — U.S. M.E. POLICY IN CRISIS; JORDAN, TURKEY, IRAN, & NATO INVOLVED

We welcome your comments to this and any other CIJR publication. Please address your response to:  Rob Coles, Publications Chairman, Canadian Institute for Jewish Research, PO Box 175, Station  H, Montreal QC H3G 2K7 – Tel: (514) 486-5544 – Fax:(514) 486-8284; E-mail: rob@isranet.org

 

BREAKING NEWS: IRAQ FRACTURES DEEPEN AS KURDS TAKE AN OIL TOWN— Iraq’s fracturing deepened on Thursday as Kurdish forces poured into the strategic northern oil city of Kirkuk after government troops fled. Sunni militants, who seized two other important northern cities this week, moved closer to Baghdad and issued threats about advancing into the heavily Shiite south and destroying the shrines there, the holiest in Shiism. The rapidly unfolding developments came as Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s entreaties for emergency powers stalled because of inaction by Parliament, which seemed paralyzed over the worst crisis to confront the country since it was convulsed by sectarian mayhem at the height of the American-led invasion nearly a decade ago. The inability or unwillingness of Mr. Maliki’s armed forces to hold their ground only compounded the crisis. The American government’s apparent rejection of Mr. Maliki’s requests for airstrikes on the Sunni militants reflected a deep reluctance by the Obama administration to re-entangle the U.S. militarily in Iraq…(New York Times, June 12, 2014)

 

Contents:

 

Jihadists Put Iraq at Risk of Syria-Style Anarchy: Matthew Fischer, Canada.com, June 11, 2013— The last time I was in Mosul a mortar exploded as I was walking across a U.S. army base with New York Times photographer Tyler Hicks.

Iraq War III Has Now Begun: Michael Knights, Foreign Policy, June 11, 2014— Images emerging from Mosul, Iraq's embattled northern city, present a familiar scene to fans of zombie movies.

While Obama Fiddles: Daniel Henninger, Wall Street Journal, June 11, 2014— The fall of Mosul, Iraq, to al Qaeda terrorists this week is as big in its implications as Russia's annexation of Crimea.

Iraq Veteran: This is Not What My Friends Fought and Died For: John Nagl, Washington Post, June 12, 2014— For a veteran of the fighting there—and proponent of the counterinsurgency strategy that provided a chance for the country to stabilize—watching the recent unraveling of Iraq has been disheartening but not surprising.

 

On Topic Links

 

The Beginning of a Caliphate: The Spread of ISIS, in Five Maps: Elias Groll, Foreign Policy, June 11, 2014

ISIS Threatens to Invade Jordan, 'Slaughter' King Abdullah: Khaled Abu Toameh, Gatestone Institute, June 12, 2013

Militants Storm Turkish Consulate in Iraqi City, Taking 49 People as Hostages: Ceylan Yeginsu, New York Times, June 11, 2014

Iran Deploys Forces to Fight al Qaeda-Inspired Militants in Iraq: Farnaz Fassihi, Wall Street Journal, June 12, 2014

Iraq Wants America Back to Fight Insurgents With Air Strikes: Eli Lake, Daily Beast, June 11, 2014

 

JIHADISTS PUT IRAQ AT RISK OF SYRIA-STYLE ANARCHY                   

Matthew Fischer                                                                                                               Canada.com, June 11, 2014

 

The last time I was in Mosul a mortar exploded as I was walking across a U.S. army base with New York Times photographer Tyler Hicks. Mosul wasn’t safe then. It certainly isn’t safe now, despite having been the intense focus of years of U.S. support that ended when President Barack Obama brought home all American troops from Iraq two years ago. Iraq’s second-largest city was overrun on the weekend by Sunni extremists styling themselves representatives of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. This is a potentially ominous development for Iraq and the region, and ultimately for all of us.

 

The insurgency has links to al-Qaida, although the groups had a falling out earlier this year because al-Qaida found the ISIL too extreme. Like the parent organization and its late leader, Osama bin Laden, its ambition is to create a caliphate — an Islamic religious empire. These jihadis have already captured a large swath of northeastern Syria and northwestern Iraq and are now marching — more accurately, driving — on Baghdad in the Mad Max-style pickup trucks that they used to storm Mosul. On Wednesday they captured Tikrit, which was Saddam Hussein’s home town and power base, and were reported to be only about 100 kilometres from the capital, Baghdad. They were also moving toward Kirkuk, which has immense oil and gas fields. Meanwhile, what has happened in Mosul has triggered an exodus of half a million refugees, fleeing east into quasi-independent Kurdistan.

 

Until now the jihadis, a large number of whom are Syrians, have made quick progress. Rather than fight, Iraqi police officers and soldiers have abandoned their posts en masse. But if the black-garbed Islamists close on Baghdad or Kirkuk, that will likely change. Iraq’s Shia majority, whose Iran-backed militias are now likely to grow, will not surrender. Nor will Iraq’s large Kurdish minority, which has a famously tough, formidable army — the pesh merga — and which considers Kirkuk its cultural capital. Sunni insurgents in Iraq gained a lot of experience fighting U.S. forces after ISIL was created in 2004. They are well-armed and well-financed, especially after sacking Mosul’s armouries. Many images have been transmitted of them driving U.S.-supplied Humvees amid persistent Iraqi media reports that they had helped themselves to nearly half a billion dollars from Mosul’s central bank. If so, this would make them the wealthiest terrorist group on the planet.

 

For all these reasons the potential is very real in Iraq for the kind of mayhem and anarchy that has ripped Syria apart for two years. The rise of these ultra-conservative religious zealots and the convulsions they’re causing in Iraq poses another challenge to Obama and American leadership. One of Obama’s biggest foreign blunders was to draw a line over the use of chemical weapons that he ordered Syria to not cross. When it did the president did nothing, raising hackles in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, and made a lot of would-be militants think they had been given a green light to do anything they pleased. Obama probably prolonged Syria’s civil war by not attacking Bashar Assad last year. With Assad unchallenged and making territorial gains, Syria’s jihadis appear to have concluded it is easier to create their cherished caliphate by going through Baghdad rather than Damascus.

 

Obama has not done any better on most of his other foreign files lately. The president has been flummoxed by Russia’s seizure of Crimea and its machinations in eastern Ukraine, and by Chinese bellicosity in the East China and South China seas. The Obama doctrine, as articulated in a confusing speech that the president gave at West Point last month, was that the U.S. will only use force if it is direct peril. In other words, Washington will sit this one out. And the next one, too….The most recent developments in Iraq present the president with a stark choice. He can give Prime Nouri al-Maliki’s army more and better weapons and equipment and run the risk of having them end up in the hands of bin Laden’s disciples, as has happened in Mosul. Or he can resist this temptation and risk Iraq’s total dismemberment. One of the imponderables is whether the insurgents can hold Mosul. Al-Maliki has made loud noises about a counter-offensive. But the Iraqi leader said the same thing about Fallujah — where the U.S. marines spent so much blood and money — after it fell five months ago. Since then Iraq’s security forces have barely made an effort to make good on al-Maliki’s promise.

 

What is most likely is that a coalition of Kurdish pesh merga and Iraqi special forces will try to reverse the fundamentalists’ gains. It is even possible that the U.S. will end up having to quietly co-operate with Syria’s Assad, who in turn continues to be beholden to Iran. It must make many who live in the Middle East pine for the less complicated days when Saddam ruled supreme.

 

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IRAQ WAR III HAS NOW BEGUN

Michael Knights

Foreign Policy, June 11, 2014

 

Images emerging from Mosul, Iraq's embattled northern city, present a familiar scene to fans of zombie movies. Burned-out military vehicles are clustered together on empty streets. At every intersection there is evidence of desperate last stands. Strewn uniforms lay abandoned outside gutted police stations. Hundreds of thousands of civilians have fled for their lives. Mosul is a ghost town where only looters and stray dogs hazard the streets.

 

But this isn't a zombie movie. It is Iraq's second-largest city, the thriving political and economic capital of the country's Sunni Arab community. In a matter of days between June 6 and 9, the city of 1.8 million people was overrun by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), the al Qaeda affiliate that broke away in April 2013 to fight its own war and which has come perilously close to achieving its dream of a caliphate that reaches from the Mediterranean coast of Lebanon to Iran's Zagros Mountains. The scenes from Mosul are now being replayed in a dozen other northern cities that have fallen to ISIS and other insurgent elements.

 

How did ISIS achieve this coup? Working from a secure base in Syria's Raqqa province, ISIS seems to have carefully prepared operations in Mosul and a range of other cities as the opener to this year's Ramadan offensive — a twisted annual tradition in Iraq since 2003, timed to coincide with the Islamic holy month that spans the length of July this year. The well-publicized ISIS takeover of Fallujah in January 2014 was opportunism, with the movement exploiting missteps by the Iraqi government to move in. In stark contrast, the Mosul assault appears calculated and deliberate, an attempt to collapse government control in northern Iraq and leave ISIS as the last man standing. So far, ISIS has been successful.

 

Formerly known as al Qaeda in Iraq, ISIS is an Iraqi-led militant group that draws its suicide operators primarily from international volunteers, its foot soldiers from Iraq and Syria, and its money chiefly from a mix of local organized crime rackets. ISIS has used the Syrian conflict to build its strength and assert its independence from al Qaeda's senior leadership in Pakistan, which disavowed it in February 2014. But the movement's real ambitions rest in Iraq. The majority of ISIS's leadership and rank and file are Iraqi, including its emir, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Control of western Mosul would place ISIS in charge of the political and economic capital of Sunni Iraq, a prize of tremendous propaganda value.

 

ISIS used battle-hardened fighters from the Syrian and Iraqi theaters to smash their way — in a matter of hours — into Mosul's western neighborhoods from the Jazira, the Syrian-Iraqi desert between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The Iraqi government's weak grasp on the Jazira gave the movement the capacity to surge hundreds of fighters from Iraq and Syria into the battle of Mosul. Even so, the ISIS attack force does not appear to have been large, numbering between 400 and 800 fighters by various estimates. Surprise and aggression allowed the movement to crumble the morale of Iraq's paramilitary police and army forces in Mosul in three days of hard fighting.

 

The 20 government security battalions in Mosul city seemed to dissolve completely on June 8-9, with significant video evidence of wholesale abandonment of positions by troops who ditched their vehicles and posts, took off their uniforms, and deserted. One photo shows a discarded police brigadier-general's uniform. The two main security headquarters in Mosul were both overrun and looted by ISIS, as were the provincial governor's offices. The Mosul branch of Iraq's Central Bank has reportedly been looted and the historic Assyrian church set aflame. The Iraqi army logistics depot was abandoned to ISIS, who are reported to have burned over 200 U.S.-provided Hummers, trucks, and engineering vehicles. Mosul's international airport and military airfield also fell to ISIS, with Iraqi helicopters reported destroyed on the ground and armored vehicles being quickly taken to Syria as war booty.

 

A desperate race has now commenced for control of Mosul. ISIS has achieved its basic aim of shattering any rival political or military institutions on the predominately Arab side of Mosul west of the Tigris River. Now it will try to rapidly reinforce the city using its open road across the desert to Syria and other Iraqi districts connected via the western desert. With the government's control shaky all the way to Baghdad's northern suburbs, ISIS has a shot at causing so much disruption that Baghdad will not be able muster the forces to retake Mosul for months. The Iraqi government has no choice but to try to liberate Mosul, due to its symbolic and geographic importance. Atheel al-Nujaifi, the Mosul-based governor of Nineveh province, took to the streets on June 9 when he narrowly escaped the ISIS takeover of his offices. Carrying an assault rifle alongside his security detail, he sought to rally Mosul men to form self-defense militias at the neighborhood level. But such militias do not seem to have mobilized. All across northern Iraq, the Sunni citizenry will need to see the government return in force before they risk being pounded by ISIS car bombs, which would be the movement's first recourse if local resistance were to emerge.

 

With shattered Iraqi military units rallying as far away as Taji, a base on Baghdad's suburbs some 200 miles south of Mosul, the government's counteroffensive could be slow in coming. Baghdad's soldiers now have to fight their way through a belt of lost cities and districts between the capital and Mosul, creating plenty of potential distractions, which will drain strength away from the government riposte. Special forces and air units are reportedly rapidly becoming exhausted as they are shuffled from crisis to crisis. The only military force in Iraq that is not presently overcommitted is the peshmerga, the Kurdish fighters controlled by the Kurdistan Regional Government, but relations between Baghdad and the Kurdish region are particularly strained.

 

Seeking the overthrow of Bashar al-Assad, the United States has been forced to walk a fine line with jihadist groups in Syria. ISIS was only confirmed as a U.S.-designated terrorist movement in February 2014. But while there may be a strategic use for hard-line Islamist militants in Syria, in Iraq the issue is simple: ISIS is winning the war and they must be stopped. Washington must act if the United States wants to stop ISIS from becoming the only cohesive military and political force in Iraq's Sunni districts. On June 10, Osama al-Nujaifi, Iraq's parliamentary speaker and most senior Sunni politician, requested greater military support for Mosul under the auspices of the 2011 U.S.-Iraq Strategic Framework Agreement, the treaty that governs relations between the two countries. Behind closed doors, multiple Iraqi government officials relayed to me, the Iraqi government has insistently requested U.S. air strikes on ISIS along the Syrian border and the outskirts of Iraqi cities, which are the launch pads for ISIS takeovers. For the U.S. administration this has been seen as a step too far. Instead, the U.S. government has been engaged in internecine diplomacy — using its good offices to prod Iraq's factions towards a national reconciliation effort that could give Sunni Arabs faith in a nonviolent resolution to their complaints of discrimination by the Shiite government. Reconciliation could also lay the groundwork for Sunni Arab cooperation in stabilizing Mosul and other lost areas, such as Fallujah. This is vital work — but with ISIS forces capturing city after city, Washington has to do more (and quickly) to prevent the loss of government in Iraq. Intensified U.S. on-the-ground mentoring of Iraqi military headquarters and perhaps U.S. air strikes might also be needed to reverse the collapse of Iraq's military.

 

The Obama administration is determined to honor its campaign pledge to end the wars. To that end, the White House withdrew U.S. combat troops in 2011. However there is an increasingly strong case that Iraq needs new and boosted security assistance, including air strikes and a massively boosted security cooperation initiative to rebuild the shattered army and mentor it in combat. The Middle East could see the collapse of state stability in a cross-sectarian, multiethnic country of 35 million people that borders many of the region's most important states and is the world's fastest-growing oil exporter. Any other country with the same importance and the same grievous challenges would get more U.S. support, but the withdrawal pledge has put Iraq in a special category all on its own. Washington doesn't have the luxury of treating Iraq as a special case anymore. ISIS has moved on since the days of the U.S. occupation and they have a plan. Washington should too.

 

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WHILE OBAMA FIDDLES

Daniel Henninger

Wall Street Journal, June 11, 2014

                                                  

The fall of Mosul, Iraq, to al Qaeda terrorists this week is as big in its implications as Russia's annexation of Crimea. But from the Obama presidency, barely a peep. Barack Obama is fiddling while the world burns. Iraq, Pakistan, Ukraine, Russia, Nigeria, Kenya, Syria. These foreign wildfires, with more surely to come, will burn unabated for two years until the United States has a new president. The one we've got can barely notice or doesn't care.

 

Last month this is what Barack Obama said to the 1,064 graduating cadets at the U.S. Military Academy: "Four and a half years later, as you graduate, the landscape has changed. We have removed our troops from Iraq. We are winding down our war in Afghanistan. Al Qaeda's leadership on the border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan has been decimated." That let-the-sunshine-in line must have come back to the cadets, when news came Sunday that the Pakistani Taliban, who operate in that border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan, had carried out a deadly assault on the main airport in Karachi, population 9.4 million. To clarify, the five Taliban Mr. Obama exchanged for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl are Afghan Taliban who operate on the other side of the border. Within 24 hours of the Taliban attack in Pakistan, Boko Haram's terrorists in Nigeria kidnapped 20 more girls, adding to the 270 still-missing—"our girls," as they were once known. Then Mosul fell. The al Qaeda affiliate known as ISIS stormed and occupied the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, population 1.8 million and not far from Turkey, Syria and Iran. It took control of the airport, government buildings, and reportedly looted some $430 million from Mosul's banks. ISIS owns Mosul. Iraq's army in tatters, ISIS rolled south Wednesday and took the city of Tikrit. It is plausible that this Islamic wave will next take Samarra and then move on to Baghdad, about 125 miles south of Tikrit. They will surely stop outside Baghdad, but that would be enough. Iraq will be lost.

 

Now if you want to vent about " George Bush's war," be my guest. But George Bush isn't president anymore. Barack Obama is because he wanted the job and the responsibilities that come with the American presidency. Up to now, burying those responsibilities in the sand has never been in the job description. Mosul's fall matters for what it reveals about a terrorism whose threat Mr. Obama claims he has minimized. For starters, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) isn't a bunch of bug-eyed "Mad Max" guys running around firing Kalashnikovs. ISIS is now a trained and organized army. The seizures of Mosul and Tikrit this week revealed high-level operational skills. ISIS is using vehicles and equipment seized from Iraqi military bases. Normally an army on the move would slow down to establish protective garrisons in towns it takes, but ISIS is doing the opposite, by replenishing itself with fighters from liberated prisons. An astonishing read about this group is on the website of the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War. It is an analysis of a 400-page report, "al-Naba," published by ISIS in March. This is literally a terrorist organization's annual report for 2013. It even includes "metrics," detailed graphs of its operations in Iraq as well as in Syria.

 

One might ask: Didn't U.S. intelligence know something like Mosul could happen? They did. The February 2014 "Threat Assessment" by the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency virtually predicted it: "AQI/ISIL [aka ISIS] probably will attempt to take territory in Iraq and Syria . . . as demonstrated recently in Ramadi and Fallujah." AQI (al Qaeda in Iraq), the report says, is exploiting the weak security environment "since the departure of U.S. forces at the end of 2011." But to have suggested any mitigating steps to this White House would have been pointless. It won't listen. In March, Gen. James Mattis, then head of the U.S. Central Command, told Congress he recommended the U.S. keep 13,600 support troops in Afghanistan; he was known not to want an announced final withdrawal date. On May 27, President Obama said it would be 9,800 troops—for just one year. Which guarantees that the taking of Mosul will be replayed in Afghanistan.

 

Let us repeat the most quoted passage in former Defense Secretary Robert Gates's memoir, "Duty." It describes the March 2011 meeting with Mr. Obama about Afghanistan in the situation room. "As I sat there, I thought: The president doesn't trust his commander, can't stand Karzai, doesn't believe in his own strategy and doesn't consider the war to be his," Mr. Gates wrote. "For him, it's all about getting out." The big Obama bet is that Americans' opinion-polled "fatigue" with the world (if not his leadership) frees him to create a progressive domestic legacy. This Friday Mr. Obama is giving a speech to the Sioux Indians in Cannon Ball, N.D., about "jobs and education." Meanwhile, Iraq may be transforming into (a) a second Syria or (b) a restored caliphate. Past some point, the world's wildfires are going to consume the Obama legacy. And leave his successor a nightmare. 

                                                         

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IRAQ VETERAN: THIS IS NOT WHAT MY

FRIENDS FOUGHT AND DIED FOR

John Nagl

Washington Post, June 12, 2014

 

For a veteran of the fighting there—and proponent of the counterinsurgency strategy that provided a chance for the country to stabilize—watching the recent unraveling of Iraq has been disheartening but not surprising. My unit arrived in Anbar province in September of 2003, as the Sunni population there began to support in earnest an insurgency against the American occupation of the country. Young soldiers were killed by snipers and roadside bombs as their officers struggled to understand the political climate in which the fighting was taking place. We left after a hard year that cost the lives of 22 fine young men but accomplished little on the ground. A captain made coffee mugs that proclaimed sourly, “we were winning when I left”.

 

I returned to a Pentagon that was in denial, but I found a few who believed that a new strategy of building Iraqi forces to take over the fight could eventually succeed. We struggled to provide trainers and equipment and to find ways to partner with our Iraqi comrades but managed to succeed in the nick of time, pulling Iraq into a possible win. That was the surge. Then, by declining to provide a long-term security assistance force to an Iraq not yet able to handle the fight itself, we pulled defeat from the jaws of victory and increased the peril our Iraqi friends would face. By not training and equipping Syrian freedom fighters in the summer of 2012, we provided an opportunity for al-Qaeda to rebuild strength in the region. The renewed Sunni insurgency in Iraq joined with the worst of the anti-Assad forces in Syria present a threat greater than the fragile Iraqi government can handle on its own.

 

We are reaping the instability and increased threat to U.S. interests that we have sown through the failure of our endgame in Iraq and our indecisiveness in Syria. There is a clear lesson here for those contemplating a complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Having given al-Qaeda a new lease on life in the Middle East, will we provide another base where it began, in Afghanistan and Pakistan? This is not the end state my friends fought for and died for.

 

The Spirit of Mahal Lives On: Smoky Simon, Jerusalem Post, Feb. 27, 2014For me, at the age of almost 94, this evening presents an outstanding opportunity to express my profound gratitude for the many blessings that have been bestowed upon me along my life’s journey.

Stanley Medicks – The Man Behind the Mahal Memorial: Elana Overs, Jerusalem Post, June 27, 2013Stanley Medicks, who died in England earlier this month at the age of 82, was a commander in Mahal (Volunteers from Abroad) during the War of Independence and later served as chairman of British and Scandinavian Mahal.

The Next Arab-Israeli War Will Be Fought with Drones: Yochi Dreazen, New Republic, Mar. 26, 2014 hortly after 7 a.m. on a chilly morning at the Rosh Hanikra military base in northernmost Israel, Lieutenant Colonel Yogev Bar Sheshet was already on his third Diet Coke.

5 Most Innovative Weapons the IDF Has to Offer (That We Can Tell You About): IDF Blog, Apr. 20, 2014 The IDF is one of the most technologically advanced armies in the world. Check out our five most innovative weapons, (at least the ones that we can tell you about) which help IDF soldiers in the battlefield every day.

                               

 

                            

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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IRAN IN THE SHADOWS: DESPITE A HOPEFUL ELECTION, IRAQ’S ARMY STYMIED BY MILITANT SUNNI ISLAMISTS

We welcome your comments to this and any other CIJR publication. Please address your response to:  Rob Coles, Publications Chairman, Canadian Institute for Jewish Research, PO Box 175, Station  H, Montreal QC H3G 2K7 – Tel: (514) 486-5544 – Fax:(514) 486-8284; E-mail: rob@isranet.org

 

Why Iraq Is Moving Closer to Full-Scale Sectarian War: Kimberly Kagan, Wall Street Journal, May 5, 2014—  Initial reports of high turnout and relative security during Iraq’s parliamentary elections have buoyed optimism that things might not be so bad there after all.

Iraq’s Elections May Accelerate its Descent: Washington Post, May 1, 2014 — Iraq’s best days in the past decade have been its elections, and somewhat surprisingly, Wednesday was one of them.

Fledgling Iraqi Military Is Outmatched on Battlefield: Matt Bradley & Ali A. Nabhan, Wall Street Journal, May 1, 2014 — Even as an al Qaeda-linked militant group celebrated a major victory in Western Iraq last month, militants from the same jihadist group launched another operation clear across the country.

Getting Rid of National Borders in the Middle East Won’t End Sectarian Warfare: Lee Smith, Tablet, Apr. 30, 2014— If you didn’t know any better, you might think that democracy was flowering all over the Middle East.

 

On Topic Links

 

While We Weren’t Looking, Hope Sprung in Iraq: Amir Taheri, New York Post, May 3, 2014

Iraq-Afghanistan Veterans Give Obama Poor Grades: Adam O’Neal, Real Clear Politics, Mar. 30, 2014

Why do the Troops Think So Little of Obama?: Jennifer Rubin, Washington Post, Mar. 31, 2014

Iraqi Election Could Lead to Partition: Mustafa al-Kadhimi, Al-Monitor, Apr. 30, 2014

ISIS Shifts Tactics in Fallujah: Mushreq Abbas, Al-Monitor, Apr. 26, 2014

 

 

WHY IRAQ IS MOVING CLOSER TO

FULL-SCALE SECTARIAN WAR                                      

Kimberly Kagan

Wall Street Journal, May 5, 2014

                                     

Initial reports of high turnout and relative security during Iraq’s parliamentary elections have buoyed optimism that things might not be so bad there after all. Unfortunately, a smooth election and even the formation of a new government are not likely to reverse the negative security trends that are bringing Iraq ever closer to full-scale sectarian war.

 

The Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS) has established havens in Anbar, Diyala, and southern Baghdad in many of the locations from which al-Qaeda in Iraq, its ancestor, threatened the capital in 2006. ISIS drove the Iraqi Security Forces from Fallujah in January. The Iraqi army has operated from the city’s outskirts but lacks the urban warfare capability to clear its interiors. It is shelling the city. Nearly 73,000 Iraqi families from Anbar have fled their homes, according to United Nations figures on internally displaced persons.

 

ISIS has been advancing on Baghdad since January. The gunmen who have controlled the Fallujah dam have twice flooded areas between Fallujah and Baghdad. ISIS destroyed an oil pipeline near the Tigris in ways that contaminated the capital’s water supply. Shi’a militias have mobilized to counter the growing threat from ISIS and to serve the political parties with which they are affiliated. Militias have engaged in retaliatory executions and sectarian killings in several provinces. Some militias have forcibly displaced residents of Sunni villages; they have razed Sunni homes in Diyala province. Sunni families in remote areas have fled their villages en masse.

 

Cooperative relationships exist between Shi’a militias and the Iraqi Security Forces. These conditions do not bode well for any Iraqi government. Should Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki win a third term, he would do so having lost a province to terrorists and having entrusted terrain to militias. Meanwhile, competitors for power have organized militias with which to engage Mr. Maliki and one another.

 

The Iraqi people have shown their extraordinary resiliency in the face of danger. Iraqis voted in large numbers despite terrorist and militia violence in 2006 and 2010. But American troops were in Iraq then to ensure that the millions of Iraqis could overcome their terrorist foes. Without American support, it is far from clear that the terrorists won’t win this time.

 

                                                                       

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IRAQ’S ELECTIONS MAY ACCELERATE ITS DESCENT              

Washington Post, May 1, 2014

 

Iraq’s best days in the past decade have been its elections, and somewhat surprisingly, Wednesday was one of them. Though the country is sliding into civil war — the United Nations reported that 750 people were killed by political violence in April — about 12 million people went to the polls to vote in the first parliamentary elections held without the presence of U.S. troops. The turnout, a reported 58 percent, was higher than in most U.S. presidential elections. Iraqis remain eager to practice democracy, even if their rulers are not.

 

Unfortunately, the voting appears more likely to accelerate than arrest Iraq’s descent into the mass bloodshed and disintegration that has overtaken neighboring Syria. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki , in office eight years, appears confident that his Shiite party will win a plurality of votes, allowing him to continue what has been an increasingly authoritarian and sectarian rule. With heavy backing from Iran, Iraq’s strongman hopes to corral dissident Shiite parties and perhaps Kurds into a new coalition, though that process could take months. Even if he fails, Mr. Maliki’s opponents may lack the muscle to remove him from office.

 

The Baghdad government and its U.S.-trained Army, meanwhile, are losing control over much of the country. Mr. Maliki built support among Shiites before the election by launching a military campaign against Sunni tribes in Anbar province; the result was the takeover of Fallujah by al-Qaeda and waves of bombings against Shiites in Baghdad. Without U.S. support, the army appears to lack the means to recapture Fallujah and other Sunni-populated areas, though Mr. Maliki, like Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, has resorted to using Iranian-backed Shiite militias. The prosperous, autonomous Kurdistan region, with its own oil reserves, has become a de facto independent state.

 

At least some of this trouble could have been avoided had the Obama administration managed Iraq better. Eager to withdraw all U.S. forces during his first term, Mr. Obama backed Mr. Maliki following the 2010 election even after it became clear his coalition had been brokered by Iran. Just as the absence of U.S. military advisers and trainers has contributed to the Iraqi army’s loss of effectiveness, the absence of U.S. political brokers — generals as well as diplomats — has accelerated the sectarian crumbling of the American-built democratic system.

 

Most Americans may share Mr. Obama’s readiness to dismiss this mess. But Iraq’s failure will do more than reverse the gains won by the hundreds of thousands of Americans who served there over nine years. Al-Qaeda and its affiliates are close to consolidating control of a wide swath of territory extending across western Iraq and northern Syria. U.S. intelligence chiefs have told Congress that the extremists, who have attracted thousands of recruits from around the Middle East and Europe, aspire to launch attacks against the U.S. homeland. The Obama administration may hope that a new Iraqi government can eliminate this threat; the odds are that it will not.

                                                                                   

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FLEDGLING IRAQI MILITARY

IS OUTMATCHED ON BATTLEFIELD                                                     

Matt Bradley & Ali A. Nabhan                                                          

Wall Street Journal, May 1, 2014

 

Even as an al Qaeda-linked militant group celebrated a major victory in Western Iraq last month, militants from the same jihadist group launched another operation clear across the country. In coordinated predawn attacks, gunmen blew up two bridges in a village outside the eastern town of Qara Tepe. They detonated a fuel tanker at a police base close to nearby Injana, shot 12 soldiers and incinerated their bodies. By afternoon, militants had attacked four other police and army checkpoints.

 

Instead of bolstering their ranks, some police and military checkpoints simply packed up and left. Lacking protection, hundreds of villagers fled their homes for larger towns. "The security forces are weak, and they are putting the responsibility for their weakness on us," says Aziz Latif, a farmer who fled the village of New Sari Tepe after it was attacked on March 21. "They are not professional."

 

More than two years after the last U.S. troops left Iraq, as the country prepares for its first post-occupation parliamentary elections on Wednesday, its demoralized, underequipped military is losing the fight against Islamist militants, who are better armed, better trained, and better motivated, according to Iraqi and American generals, politicians and analysts. "You can see how terrorism is eating our flesh. We're almost helpless," says Staff General Mohammed Khalaf Saied Al Dulaimi, commander of 12th division of the Iraqi army based in the northern city of Kirkuk. "We're facing a good, well-trained enemy. The attacks in this area were huge." The insurgents are able to launch surprise raids, seize urban ground and hold their positions for days, weeks or even months, even far beyond their strongholds in the west. The growing disorder and violence threaten to open the country to interference by its neighbors and dash what little hope remains that ordinary Iraqis might benefit from their oil wealth.

 

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has said he and the Iraqi army have the upper hand in the fight against terrorism. His spokesman said in an email that militant groups are "surrounded in certain areas, but the process of ending such battles does not happen easily." Wednesday's vote is expected to extend Mr. Maliki's divisive eight-year tenure, which has alienated some of Iraq's already disparate ethnic and sectarian groups.

 

The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS, a militant group that grew out of al Qaeda but has broken with it, has declared voting stations and voters as targets, particularly in Baghdad. ISIS, which is expanding, has already staked out positions on the capital's outskirts. "I see them gunning for Baghdad," says Jessica Lewis, research director for the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War and a former U.S. military intelligence officer. Mr. Maliki, a Shiite, has proved unable to resolve the gridlock among the country's three main political blocs: Arab Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds. With his army unprepared to handle the fallout, foreign diplomats, politicians and analysts say Mr. Maliki is governing over a state that is failing in slow motion. "Partnership failed in Baghdad," says Fouad Hussein, chief of staff to Kurdistan's regional president, Massoud Barzani. "After the election, if we cannot work together as three groups—Sunnis, Shias and Kurds—then Iraq is headed toward collapse."

 

Parliament hasn't met for nearly a month because of walkouts over a budget dispute between Mr. Maliki's allies and the Kurdish north. Iraq's Sunni minority, meanwhile, is accusing Mr. Maliki's military of ethnic cleansing under the guise of the fight against terrorism—a claim that has fueled Sunni calls for an autonomous region. As stresses build, Mr. Maliki appears to be expanding his own writ as part of his push for a third term. Last month, he threatened to use a pliant judiciary to declare the gridlocked parliament constitutionally illegitimate. That would grant him sole authority to control the country's nearly $150 billion budget by presidential decree.

 

The latest violence began in late December when Mr. Maliki ordered security forces to disperse an anti-Maliki protest camp in Ramadi that he claimed was an incubator for al Qaeda. The raid was akin to batting a hornet's nest. Thousands of well-armed Islamist militants rose up in early January in the surrounding province of Anbar and seized Ramadi, the provincial capital, and Fallujah, a restive city less than an hour from Baghdad. ISIS's massive, sophisticated weapons arsenal suggested that the group had been importing weapons from Syria, says Gen. Dulaimi. The militants displayed the kind of battle acumen lacking in Iraq's troops. Many ISIS fighters have returned battle-hardened from the conflict in neighboring Syria. "The security forces were surprised that the militants were better equipped than the security forces themselves," says Gen. Dulaimi. "Our soldiers don't have anything more than AK-47s."

 

Iraq is still reeling from the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority's decision in May 2003 to disband ousted President Saddam Hussein's army. The military had long acted as an adhesive bonding together young Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds. The move created a bitter underclass of well-trained young Iraqi men. Now, the leadership of the militias is populated by veteran generals from that disbanded army. Despite nearly a decade of training from U.S. troops, the Iraqi army remains, by comparison, poorly equipped and far less motivated, say Iraqi politicians, Gen. Dulaimi and Hisham Hashemi, an Iraqi researcher on armed groups who is in regular touch with militants in Anbar…

 

Gen. Dulaimi blames Iraq's losses on the U.S. Had Washington delivered Apache helicopters Baghdad has been requesting for several years, the army could have quickly ended the skirmish in which he was caught up, he says. Iraq's few armed helicopters aren't even outfitted with directed missiles—an anachronism in a modern fighting force, he says. Requests for ammunition and sophisticated air power have gone unanswered, he says. Thirty-six F-16 jet fighters ordered in 2011 and last year—Iraq has no jet fighters in its tiny air fleet—have yet to be delivered, in part because of congressional objections to supporting the Maliki regime…

 

American soldiers who helped train the Iraqi military say that Iraqis abandoned the organizational and educational infrastructure U.S. forces had hoped would perpetuate a professional military. "The whole concept of developing a professionalized security force just stopped right there with the [end of the] U.S. presence," says Lieutenant General Robert Caslen, who was the chief of the U.S. military's Office of Security Cooperation in Iraq, which is in charge of training troops, from September 2011 until May 2013.

Gen. Caslen and his predecessors helped build and run an Iraqi military academy to feed trained personnel into Iraq's officer corps. On a visit about a year after U.S. troops left in December 2011, Gen. Caslen says, the academy was all but vacant…

[To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link –Ed.]

 

Contents

GETTING RID OF NATIONAL BORDERS IN THE MIDDLE EAST

WON’T END SECTARIAN WARFARE                        

Lee Smith

Tablet, Apr. 30, 2014

 

If you didn’t know any better, you might think that democracy was flowering all over the Middle East. Syria has a presidential election scheduled in June; today, Lebanon’s Parliament will have a second round of voting to choose a new president, while Iraqis are heading to the polls to choose a parliament that will in turn be responsible for selecting a prime minister. But in reality, all three countries are in danger of coming apart at the seams. Syria is in the midst of a protracted and vicious civil war that has, in turn, added to Lebanon’s own instability. Iraq, now free of American influence, has gone from being an authoritarian state under Saddam Hussein’s nominally secular control to an authoritarian state under the auspices of Nouri al-Maliki, who will almost certainly be given a third term as premier, having cemented his control by pursuing openly sectarian policies favoring Shiites and targeting Sunni Muslims.

 

Thus, Maliki has enlisted Iraq in the larger regional conflict between Sunnis and Shiites being fought in Syria and, increasingly, in Lebanon, where Iran and its proxies are squared off against Saudi Arabia and its own allies. More than three years after the Arab Spring, Arabs throughout the Middle East are now plainly more beholden to their confessional sects or tribes than they are to the larger, national polities they inhabit—that is, to their states. The obvious question, then, is whether the Arab state system, established nearly a century ago in a secret deal between the British and the French, is falling apart. Have the borders imposed on the Arabic-speaking Middle East in 1916 by the French diplomat François George-Picot and his British counterpart Mark Sykes amid the demolition of the Ottoman Empire by World War I outlived their usefulness?

 

The mythology surrounding the Sykes-Picot lines is rich. The essential case against them is that they are artificial boundaries that served, and continue to serve, the interests of the Great Powers but are consequently bad for the actual people whose citizenship, and identity, is supposed to be contingent on them. Indeed, many argue that the Sykes-Picot agreement is the primary cause of Middle Easterners’ woes. Frontiers randomly separating parcels of land, families, tribes, and most important, it now seems, confessional sects have not only divided the Arabs and kept them politically weak, but set them murderously at each other’s throats. That’s the assessment offered by a number of regional experts as well as journalists. It’s a narrative premised on a number of dubious assumptions—primarily, that the Arabs were once long ago in the misty past a nation united. The legend of Arab nationalism holds that it was only foreign conquerors and occupiers who neutralized the Arabs by dividing them, starting with the Mongols in their 1258 invasion of Baghdad.

 

The reality of course is somewhat different. Shiite and Sunni jurists and clerics have conducted a long-running rhetorical war against each other, characterized by slurs and pamphleteering, that is evidence of sectarian conflict that long predates the Mongols, let alone the British or the Americans. Indeed, tribal warfare in the region predates the advent of Islam, the spread of which was partly encouraged to put an end to tribal conflict by uniting the Arabic-speaking tribes, from the Arabian peninsula to the Fertile Crescent, under the banner of a tribe designated not by its blood but its faith in one God, Allah, and his prophet Muhammad.

 

But just because tribe or faith often resonate more plangently than secular citizenship for Middle Easterners doesn’t mean that states, or their borders, don’t matter any more. Indeed, it is because many of these states have relied on tribal and religious affiliation to build legitimacy that national identities today register, sometimes deeply. For instance, one of the titles of the king of Saudi Arabia is guardian of the two Holy Shrines, which, by asserting sovereignty over Mecca and Medina, ties the modern kingdom to the origins of Islam. Syrian borders may have been drawn by the European powers, but Syria, what Arabs call Bilad al-Sham, or “country of the north,” is also revered as the capital of the first Arab empire, the Umayyad caliphate of 661 to 750, and hence the historical heartland of Sunni Arabism. Conversely, Baghdad, long a rival of Damascus, was the seat of the Abbasid empire, from 750 to 1258, and that history in turn confers legitimacy on modern Iraq.

 

Indeed, even those jihadists who would seem to be least invested in the Arab state system have a stake in preserving the borders drawn by the despicable infidels. Sunni extremist groups in Syria, such as Jabhat al-Nusra and Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, may be content for the time being to have wrested some cantons from the regime of Bashar al-Assad and his allied forces. However, the war they are waging against what in their opinion is a heretical regime is not simply for the purpose of imposing sharia law in selected hamlets in the Syrian desert. What they want is Sykes-Picot Syria—that is to say, Syria as we know it today, with Damascus as the capital.

 

This is true even of the one regional nation-state that has done most to upset the Westphalian order: the Islamic Republic of Iran. The wars Tehran fights are typically waged through clandestine means and most often through terrorist organizations like Hezbollah, its long arm in Lebanon. But the reality is that the Islamic Resistance is incapable of functioning without Lebanese institutions. Not only does Hezbollah help itself to parts of the country’s budget through various schemes and ministries its members and allies hold. It has also infiltrated the Lebanese Armed Forces—which it tasks with performing delicate functions, like arresting and firing on Sunnis, for which the party of God wants plausible deniability.

 

But what Hezbollah can’t possibly live without—and, accordingly, what matters to its patron state Iran—are Lebanon’s borders and the status they confer in international forums. Imagine if Hezbollah, governing its own little statelet on the eastern Mediterranean, fired a barrage of rockets on Israel: The Israeli Air Force would turn Hezbollahstan into a parking lot in a matter of minutes. What prevents Israel from doing so now is the rest of Lebanon—the more than 3 million people who are effectively captives of Hezbollah. Borders aren’t moving. Rather, populations are moving to accommodate borders. We all know about the exodus of Arab refugees from Israel in 1948 and 1967, as well as the often forced emigration of Jews from Arab lands to Israel in the years after the Jewish state was established—but Christians have been in flight from Lebanon since that country’s 15-year-long civil war, from 1975 to 1990, and the subsequent Syrian occupation, from 1990 to 2005, one of the aims of which was to disempower the Christian community. In Iraq, Assyrian Christians fled in large numbers after the fall of Saddam, largely to Syria, and then on to the West.

 

But the Christians’ trail of tears pales in comparison to the departure of Sunnis from Syria. Conservative estimates show that there are more than half a million refugees now in Turkey and Jordan and nearly a million more in Lebanon, which is still home to another 450,000 Palestinian refugees from 1948 and 1967. It’s not difficult to imagine how this crisis may come to shape the region. Take Lebanon: With roughly one-third of Lebanon’s population now made up of Syrian refugees, the vast majority of whom are Sunnis, the country’s sectarian balance between Shiites, Christians and Sunnis is now tipped in favor of the Sunnis, perhaps irrevocably. That in turn may force Hezbollah to move in the other direction, from what is certain to be a Sunni-majority Lebanon to a Syria or Iraq ruled by Shiites. Even if, or when, Assad falls, the Syrian conflict hasn’t erased borders. What it’s done is destroy homes and families—and confessional communities with longstanding and in some cases ancient ties to the lands they’re now leaving. The real Middle East crisis isn’t about the failure of democracy in its nation-states, but the private disasters its citizens are facing.

 

While We Weren’t Looking, Hope Sprung in Iraq: Amir Taheri, New York Post, May 3, 2014—In one of those ironies of history, with President Barack Obama’s foreign policy in disarray, some relatively good pieces of news are coming from places that Obama turned his back on.

Iraq-Afghanistan Veterans Give Obama Poor Grades: Adam O’Neal, Real Clear Politics, Mar. 30, 2014 —Just 32 percent of military veterans who served in Iraq or Afghanistan approve of the job Barack Obama is doing as president, according to a new poll from the Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Why do the Troops Think So Little of Obama?: Jennifer Rubin, Washington Post, Mar. 31, 2014—In the flood of polling we see every week there is occasionally some eye-popping nugget of data that washes up on the political landscape.

Iraqi Election Could Lead to Partition: Mustafa al-Kadhimi, Al-Monitor, Apr. 30, 2014—Today, with the country locked in a fateful election, the parties to Iraq's conflict are using the issue of partition to threaten their opponents — and the electorate.

ISIS Shifts Tactics in Fallujah: Mushreq Abbas, Al-Monitor, Apr. 26, 2014—Three months after the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) decided to avoid public appearances and maintain a low profile in Fallujah, the group put on a military parade in the center of the city to showcase its strength. The move signaled the start of an armed conflict to control the city.

 

 

                               

 

                            

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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IRAQ: OIL RELATED INSTABILITY – GROWING TENSIONS: INTRA-SHI’ITE, BETWEEN SHI’ITE AND SUNNI, & BETWEEN ARABS & KURDS

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(Please Note: articles may have been shortened in the interest of space. Please click link for the complete article – Ed.)

 

Sadr and Maliki Battle Over Iraqi Oil: Ali Abdel Sadah, Al-Monitor, Jan 3, 2013—At long last, the political rivalry between the Dawa Party — led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki — and the Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr has been renewed.

 

Will Kurdistan’s Energy Wealth Lead to the Next Iraq War?: Jay Newton-Small, Time World, Dec. 18, 2012—Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was infuriated when Kurdistan began inking its own oil contracts – including some in disputed areas — with Exxon, France’s Total, Russia’s Gazprom and Chervron.

 

Iraq Could Dissolve Parliament in 48 Hours, Sources Say: Paul D. Shinkman, US News, January 4, 2013—In a move that could draw Iraq back into the throws of religious infighting and potential civil war, the fledgling Baghdad government may be on the brink of dissolving parliament within days, a source tell U.S. News.

 

On Topic Links
 

 

Sadr Allies With Sunnis in Challenge to Maliki: Mushreq Abbas, Al-Monitor, Jan 6, 2013

The Redacted Iraqi Jews: Nabil Al-Hadairi, Gatestone Institute, Dec 27, 2012

The Steep Price of American Disengagement: Max Boot, Commentary, Dec. 1, 2012

Both Sides Have Too Much to Lose in Arab-Kurd Rivalry: Ranj Alaaldin, The National, Dec 7, 2012

Iraq Needs Inclusive Governance: Editorial, Gulf News, Dec 28, 2012

Kurdistan’s Vast Reserves Draw Oil Majors: Guy Chazan, Financial Times, Jan 7, 2013

32 Pilgrims Killed by Bombings in Central Iraq: Yasir Ghazi & Christine Hauser, New York Times, Jan 3, 2013

China’s Oil Quest Comes to Iraq: J. Michael Cole, The Diplomat, Dec 2, 2012

 

 

SADR AND MALIKI BATTLE OVER IRAQI OIL

Ali Abdel Sadah

Al-Monitor, Jan 3, 2013

 

At long last, the political rivalry between the Dawa Party — led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki — and the Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr has been renewed. This comes against the backdrop of the prime minister rejecting a proposal made by Sadr’s followers in parliament which called for the insertion of a clause into the 2013 budget that would distribute a portion of the surplus from oil revenues as cash dividends to Iraqi citizens.

 

Baha al-Araji, head of the Sadr-affiliated Ahrar Bloc in parliament, was visibly upset at a news conference in early December 2012, due to the lawsuit Maliki won against the oil surplus dividends clause. That day he said, "Maliki is responsible for starving the Iraqis." He also expressed his support for the proposal of his leader, Muqtada al-Sadr, which included providing $233 to every citizen and around 40,000 jobs for unemployed youth. Immediately following the decision, Sadr’s supporters took to the streets protesting against Maliki in the capital city of Baghdad, as well as in Najaf — Sadr's stronghold — and cities in the central and southern Euphrates regions. The Sadrists chanted angrily condemning Maliki, saying that he is attacking their leader. Those scenes churned up old memories of the long quarrel that had formerly persisted between the two sides.

 

There are marked differences between the Dawa Party and the Sadrist Movement. The majority of Sadr’s followers have considered Maliki an enemy ever since he led the 2008 Charge of the Knights, which was the harshest security crackdown the country had seen against the Mahdi Army — Sadr’s armed wing — and killed hundreds of his followers and imprisoned many more. Ever since the clampdown, which took a heavy toll on the city of Basra, the relationship between the two sides has taken on a vengeful dimension.

 

The fierce competition for leadership of the Shiites brings an additional dimension to their rivalry. For whereas the Dawa Party has successfully remained in power and presents an institutionalized model of leadership, the Sadrist Movement continues to increase in influence due to the widespread support it enjoys among the poor, unemployed youth whose zealous opposition to Maliki grows increasingly radical….

 

The Sadrist public is preoccupied with the religious details concerning Shiite leadership and authority; meanwhile the political elite of the Sadrist Movement are still considering taking a swing at Maliki.

The movement has demands it describes as final and necessary if the dispute with Maliki is to be resolved. It makes note of the dozens of Sadr’s followers in government prisons, in addition to ambitious demands to gain access to sensitive positions in the security apparatus. Sadr still carries the bad memories of 2008 with him and strives to rein in Maliki, sooner or later.

 

Sadr has also been subjected to significant political shake-ups, which are almost to be expected given his broad base of supporters. One especially controversial shake-up occurred after the 2010 elections, when his Sadrist Movement granted Maliki voting powers in parliament in order to receive a comfortable majority with which to form a government….

 

Past volatility ensures that any alliance between Sadr and Maliki will always be shaky, but they have not permanently separated either. Ministers from the Sadrist Movement still work with Maliki. Both sides are motivated to bury the hatchet because of their entrenched historical interest to keep Shiites at the helm. Fears over the collapse of the Shiite alliance, which would benefit the Sunnis, trouble Sadr and Maliki equally. In fact, these fears among the Shiite leaders, as the sect which acquired power after Saddam Hussein, force Maliki and Sadr to — if only temporarily — put aside their differences and maintain unity among the Shiites, lest the Sunnis depose them.

 

But within this coalition there is still hitting below the belt, which has begun to take on a variety of shapes with the approaching provincial elections scheduled for April 2013. The latest manifestation of which was the controversy surrounding the oil surplus dividends. The row over the oil surplus dividends began back in September 2011, when Sadr told Maliki’s government that he would postpone his followers’ mass demonstration against the poor quality of utilities if Maliki promised to distribute 25% of the surplus revenues to Iraqis and to create at least 50,000 jobs for the unemployed.

 

In February 2012, Iraq's parliament approved the budget, worth about $100 billion. Two days before the voting session, on Feb. 23, the Sadrist Movement said it would withdraw its vote unless the clause authorizing the dividends proposal was included. Over the past year, information has been scarce as to the size of the surplus. However, Araji related in his press conference that — according to Finance Minister Rafi al-Issawi — it is estimated to be around $20 million.

 

Meanwhile, statistics concerning benefits for the retired and job opportunities for the youth are beginning to appear that reek of electoral pandering. The latter may be an attempt to prevent bringing real development to the service sectors. Iraqi civil society activists are finding that the rivalry between political forces impedes legislation that would pump money into Iraq’s vital sectors upon which people’s lives depend.

 

Study of the evolution of the story surrounding the dividends proposal leads one to conclude what Haider al-Abadi — a leader in the Dawa Party and head of the Finance Committee in parliament — concluded when he said that the distribution of dividends depends on the consent of the ministries of finance and planning. He made this statement to journalists in May, three months after the Sadrist Movement’s announcement of the legislative approval of the proposal. Abadi had said, “There are those who want to advance special interests at the expense of citizens, manipulate the emotions of the masses, and character assassinate political figures for their own purposes." His message seemed to be directed at the Sadrists. With campaigning bound to start soon, the bitterness and scope of the rivalry within the alliance is plain to see…..

 

Ali Abdel Sadah, a writer and journalist from Baghdad, is a contributing writer for Al-Monitor’s Iraq Pulse. 

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WILL KURDISTAN’S ENERGY WEALTH LEAD TO THE NEXT IRAQ WAR?

Jay Newton-Small

Time World, Dec. 18, 2012

 

Playing tourists in one of the world’s most dangerous cities is not how we imagined we’d end up spending Tuesday[Dec 11], but there we were atop Kirkuk’s ancient citadel admiring – and mourning – the crumbling ruins of the five mosques that once occupied the plateau overlooking the contested city. “See, look,” says Akam Omar Osman, pointing to the north. “You see how in Kurdish areas we pick up the trash, we have services. And then how in the south,” he says, swinging around, “you have nothing.” Osman is the translator provided by the Peshmerga Kurdish forces who brought us here.

 

The north does look to be relatively bustling, while storm clouds gather over the quieter southern areas of the city, filled with banks of trash. This pivotal oil city, home to Iraq‘s main pipeline and numerous refineries, is part of the disputed territories between Iraqi Kurdistan and the Iraqi central government. And Kirkuk is now on the frontlines of a two-week old military stand-off. After a December shootout between Iraqi police and Peshmerga in another disputed city, Tuz Khormato, left one dead and several injured, both the Peshmerga and the Iraqi Army have ringed Kirkuk.

 

But the tensions are far greater than just a single firefight. Baghdad recently created a new command overseeing security forces in the disputed areas, angering the country’s ethnic Kurds. The Kurds were further incensed when Lt. Gen. Abdul-Amir al- Zaidi, who has been linked to Saddam Hussein‘s genocide of hundreds of thousands of Kurds in 1988′s Anfal campaign, was placed in charge of the Iraqi forces at their doorstep.

 

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was infuriated when Kurdistan began inking its own oil contracts – including some in disputed areas — with Exxon, France’s Total, Russia’s Gazprom and Chervron. Not to mention a deal under way to build a pipeline between Turkey and Kurdistan, allowing the Kurds a route that did not have to cross the rest of Iraq to export the 45 million barrels believed to be beneath Kurdish lands. Maliki argues that the regional government doesn’t have the authority to sign such contracts.

 

On Tuesday morning in Erbil, Kurdistan’s capital, we met with the Minister for Peshmerga Sheikh Jafar Mustafa, before heading down to see what we thought were the front lines. “It is illegal for Baghdad to use the Iraqi Army to settle provincial disputes,” Jafar says. “They make the same words — use the same words — as Saddam.”…

 

If it were to come down to violence, there’s a big question who’d win the fight. The Iraqi Army is better equipped, thanks to the Americans, but the Kurds have passion and knowledge of the treacherous mountains on their side. The ill-equipped Kurds, after all, succeeded in tormenting Saddam’s powerful army for decades. And it’s not clear how many Iraqi Army minority forces — Sunni and Turkmen — would want to fight their allies and friends. (The Iraqi army is predominantly Shi’a.)

 

About half way into the hour’s drive, Osman asks us if we’d like to see Kirkuk. Ivor doesn’t have a visa to enter Iraq – the Kurds grant Americans and Europeans instant 10-day visas upon arrival that are only good for their territory, whereas Iraq requires a lengthy application process accompanied by a certified HIV blood test – but Osman says that’s not a problem because Kirkuk is part of their territory, a point they’re clearly keen to highlight. As to our concerns about danger, he waves them away: “With us, you’re perfectly safe,” he says, pointing at his gun. “And, besides, it’s safe, you’ll see.” We probably wouldn’t have gone in if I hadn’t heard from Western diplomats the night before that they travel to Kirkuk all the time and the areas controlled by the Kurds are, indeed, quite safe.

 

Kurdistan is the safest part of Iraq these days. Travelers do not need to move in secured convoys or with bodyguards. Electricity, still unreliable to the south after more than $20 billion in investment, is stable in Kurdistan. The economy is booming: cranes building 30-floor five-star hotels dot Erbil’s skyline, road and tunnel construction is everywhere and foreign business and tourism are flourishing.

The Kurds have extended much of that stability to northern Kirkuk. The bazaar here is bustling. Every one I interview tells me they want to live in an independent Kurdistan, even the Arabs. “Barazani,” Hadji Subiq, 80, tells me with a toothless grin, referring to Kurdish President Massoud Barzani, “if he’s alive then we’re all alive. If he’s dead then we’re all dead.”

 

At first I think they’re only saying nice things about the Kurds given that I’m flanked by three heavily armed Peshmerga as I approach people. But soon, Osman and I sit down for a tea at a cafe and a crowd of 30 or more surrounds us, all eager to talk about how much they hate Maliki and love the Kurds.

 

By Thursday [Dec 13] the central government and the Kurdish regional authorities had come to an agreement to deescalate the troops, though no timetable for withdrawal was set and the two sides did not solve any of the underlying issues. In the meantime, tens of thousands of troops – by some estimates as many as 60,000 – are facing off in other locations, some as close as 100 meters to each other. “With two armed groups in close proximity, the danger is that accidents do happen and things blow  and you get an inadvertent war,” says Harry Schute, a former U.S. Army colonel who led U.S. forces into Kurdistan in 2003 and has come back in his retirement to advise the Kurds on security.

 

Both sides have an incentive to find a solution. Maliki faces provincial elections in six months and a populace sick of sectarian violence, political saber-rattling and bureaucratic bumbling. And the Kurds place a high premium on stability. “We hope it doesn’t come to war, we know that there’s a lot to be lost with this fight,” says Falah Mustafa Bakir, Kurdish minister of Foreign Relations. “Safety and security is essential to our growth, the growth that we want to continue and expand. Kurdistan is open for business.”

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IRAQ COULD DISSOLVE PARLIAMENT IN 48 HOURS, SOURCES SAY

Paul D. Shinkman

US News, January 4, 2013

 

In a move that could draw Iraq back into the throws of religious infighting and potential civil war, the fledgling Baghdad government may be on the brink of dissolving parliament within days, a source tell U.S. News. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who leads the Shiite majority government, has used strong-arm tactics to marginalize opponents, mostly among minority Sunnis, says an official at private intelligence company Stratfor. These actions, along with some spill-over from the civil war in Syria, have lead to violent protests in Iraq in recent days.

 

The Iraq government may dissolve the parliament in as soon as 48 hours, according to Iraqi sources and media reported by Stratfor. This was first reported by Arabic news service Al Arabiya. "It seems like there is enough momentum built up now where the resolution may be in dissolving parliament and holding fresh elections," says Kamran Bokhari, vice president of Middle Eastern and South Asian Affairs for Stratfor.

 

Regional instability has contributed to the fragility of the Iraqi parliament, leading to deadly demonstrations in recent days. "[Al-Maliki] is seen by the Iranians and the Iraqi Shiite allies as jeopardizing their communal interests," he says. "Given the way things are heating up in Syria and the rise of Sunnis over there, I think the Sunnis in Iraq are being energized by the phenomenon across the border."

 

Dissolving the parliament before the next elections in early 2014 is further complicated by the absence of much of the presidency council, which would participate in the temporary caretaker government. Iraqi President Jalal Talabani is currently in Germany for treatment following a stroke, and one of the two vice presidents, Tariq al-Hashemi, is currently in exile following murder charges.

 

"Right now I doubt the Maliki government is easily accepting the idea there should be a caretaker government to come in in the interim and take over the elections," says Bokhari. "If that's the position of this government, and you return to sectarian fault lines, we could easily see this descending into violence if there is gridlock that continues for a long time."

 

He also points to al Qaida operatives in Syria trying to exploit the chaotic situation there. A new sectarian fight in Iraq might prove another "fertile ground for jihadists," Bokhari says. A State Department spokeswoman declined to comment on the reports. When asked about the protests in Iraq, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Friday the U.S. ambassador meets weekly and sometimes daily with top Iraqi leaders.

 

"We have had contacts with the Iraq government," she said. "Our ambassador in Iraq has meetings with all the key leaders, encouraging them to work with each other, to settle issues that they have through dialogue, to protect and preserve the basic tenets of the Iraqi constitution."

 

Two Iraqi officials told Bloomberg Businessweek they did not call for dissolving the parliament, but did not deny that it could happen.

 

When asked if the prime minister's State of Law bloc had issued the statement, lawmaker and member of the bloc Khalid al-Asadi told Bloomberg, "It's not true. The State of Law didn't ask to dissolve the parliament," he said. "But when any party asks for dissolving the parliament and dissolve the government and call for early election, we will not stand against it."

 

Maliki senior aide Izzat al-Shahbender told Bloomberg "this was one of options we discussed in the National Iraqi Alliance, which we have raised long ago, but we didn't issue a statement."

 

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Sadr Allies With Sunnis in Challenge to Maliki: Mushreq Abbas, Al-Monitor, Jan 6, 2013—No one in Iraq had ever imagined that a popular and political alliance would one day bring together Muqtada al-Sadr and the Sunni Arabs. The two parties participated in an excruciating civil war (2006-2008) that resulted in thousands of casualties on both sides.

 

The Redacted Iraqi Jews: Nabil Al-Hadairi, Gatestone Institute, Dec 27, 2012—The recent Conference of Religions and Sects in Sulaymaniyah, organized under the supervision of Iraq's president, Jalal Talabani, was an important milestone: The first such conference to take place in Iraq that seriously covered the defense of religions and sects after the collapse of the dictatorial regime of Saddam Hussein.

 

The Steep Price of American Disengagement: Max Boot, Commentary, Dec. 1, 2012—It is hardly surprising to read that the flow of Iranian arms continues to reach Syria via Iraqi airspace. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had promised the Obama administration that he would inspect aircraft overflying his country, but his promise has proved hollow. 

 

Both Sides Have Too Much to Lose in Arab-Kurd Rivalry: Ranj Alaaldin, The National, Dec 7, 2012—The threat of war is hanging over Iraq. In recent months, Arabs and Kurds have gone head to head over long-standing disputes centred on land, oil and power.

 

Iraq needs inclusive governance: Editorial, Gulf News, Dec 28, 2012—The sectarian drift of the Iraqi government, headed by Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki, needs to be reversed. Al Maliki is a leading Shiite politician, but in his position as the head of a government, he needs to serve the entire Iraqi population and his government must work to be inclusive of all Iraqis.

 

Kurdistan’s Vast Reserves Draw Oil Majors: Guy Chazan, Financial Times, Jan 7, 2013—For decades, the rugged hills of northern Iraq were the sole preserve of sheep herders and the Kurdish militia known as peshmerga. Now they play host to some of the largest oil and gas companies in the world, drawn by its estimated 45bn barrels of oil.

 

32 Pilgrims Are Killed by Bombings in Central Iraq: Yasir Ghazi & Christine Hauser, New York Times, Jan 3, 2013—Attackers killed at least 32 pilgrims in Iraq on Thursday, the police said, in what appeared to be a spate of sectarian-motivated violence as the country continued to struggle with a political crisis in its fractured government.

 

China’s Oil Quest Comes to Iraq: J. Michael Cole, The Diplomat, Dec 2, 2012—A lot of attention has been paid in recent years to energy-hungry China’s billion-dollar bids on oil fields in Canada and the Asian giant’s reliance on oil from countries like Iran and Sudan to fuel its growing economy. 

 

 

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