Kurds Step Up

Note:  This post was a draft for the time before the Kurds have their independence vote….but the news is not good for them in Syria which will play in Iraq and Turkey as well…..so I jumped the gun……

Today is 01 September….not a big deal except to the Kurds.

You see this month the Kurds will be voting on an independence referendum….a vote as the first step to an independent Kurdistan in the Middle East.

For over a century the Kurds feeling betrayed by the Sykes-Picot Agreement, have longed for their own homeland…but there is more to it than that, right?

Iraqi Kurdistan’s upcoming independence referendum on Sept. 25, 2017 will determine, among other things, the borders of an emerging Kurdish state in that region. With this determination would likely come border conflicts for an independent state squeezed between several volatile flashpoints.

Presently, the borders of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region are not clear-cut. Baghdad and Erbil both lay claim to “disputed territories.” Under Article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution, a referendum should conclusively resolve the status of these territories. Yet Iraq never implemented this article and has stalled on doing so for a decade.

Source: An Independent Kurdistan Would Begin With a Clash | War Is Boring

There are Kurds in Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Iran…but the referendum is only being voted on in Iraq.

It seems to be popular in Iraq but not so much in Iran, who has a substantial Kurd population….

International bodies, regional powers and Baghdad are not alone in objecting to Iraqi Kurdistan’s independence project. Feylis, who are Shiite Kurds, are also fundamentally opposed to Kurdistan’s possible secession from Iraq.

Immediately after the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) on June 7 announced its intention to hold a referendum on independence, most of the parties and forces concerned about Iraqi developments expressed their opposition, in part out of concern that it will lead to an escalation of regional crises. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi laid out the Iraqi government’s official position June 18, stating, “The Kurdistan Regional referendum on secession is illegal, and the federal government will not support it, fund it or participate in it.” The United States and Iraq’s neighbors, including Turkey, Iran and Syria, oppose the country’s territorial division.

Middle East–One Day At A Time

I have neglected my reports on the Middle East because the sideshow in DC these days is just too damn entertaining to ignore…..I shall try to rectify my oversight.

The wars in Iraq and Syria against the arch enemy ISIS are wearing down….ISIS has all but lost the Iraqi city of Mosul and in Syria they are losing ground faster than a speeding bullet.

The ISIS bunch will be digging in and fighting a more traditional guerilla war in and around Mosul….

Islamic State militants began reinventing themselves months before U.S.-backed Iraqi forces ended their three-year reign of terror in Mosul, putting aside the dream of a modern-day caliphate and preparing the ground for a different fight.

Intelligence and local officials said that, a few months ago, they noticed a growing stream of commanders and fighters flowing out of the city to the Hamrin mountains in northeast Iraq which offer hideouts and access to four Iraqi provinces.

Source: After Mosul, Islamic State digs in for guerrilla warfare

What is really the future for the ISIS held territories?

Can we cheer the defeat of ISIS in Syria and Iraq?

What really matters is the even the “defeat” of ISIS will not bring about a peaceful region……

The fight against the Islamic State appears to be going well. On July 9, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi declared victory in Mosul after the city was finally retaken. The same day, the United States and Russia agreed to a cease-fire in southwestern Syria, ostensibly giving government forces and Syrian rebels a freer hand in fighting the Islamic State – not that the rebels have ever fought IS. Then on July 10, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told Reuters that Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was dead, as had been rumored a month ago.

These are welcome developments for the enemies of the Islamic State. But the fight is far from over.

Source: What Really Matters in the Middle East – Geopolitical Futures

The one thing we can say for certain is that the “defeat” of ISIS will give Trump a positive talking point…..something he has needed for months now….

Trump will be able to make the Middle East anew….something in his image….(now that is a scary thought for NO one has any idea what that image would be)….and toss in a little history and maybe an idea will make an appearance…(but do not hold your breath)……

President Trump got excited over a Saudi-Israeli scheme to combat Iran, but Trump’s cooperation with Russian President Putin on Syria goes in a profoundly different direction.

In the early 1920s, an ambitious young British official, Harry Philby, urged a Saudi leader (not then a king) to be bold: He could seize the leadership of the Arab world (using fired-up, Wahhabist forces), and become a true “king.” But first, it was absolutely essential he win British government support for his project; and secondly, the Saudi leader would need to change the image of his peripatetic, mounted marauders – the murderous Ikhwan. Abdul Aziz (in the West, often called Ibn Saud, the first king of Saudi Arabia) succeeded in both (though the latter, he simply had murdered by the British).

Source: Trump and the New Mideast Paradox – Consortiumnews

The Middle East is about to become more volatile than in the past (and you thought that was not possible)……

Messy will be the best description from today forward.

The Middle East Next War

ISIS is sliding from the headlines (for now)……Assad is still fighting rebels (for lack of a more accurate term)…..Turkey is fighting anyone not a Turk but especially the Kurds….Iran is propping up anyone not a friend of Saudi Arabia…..so when the guns of ISIS fall silent….what will be next?

There are a few things that needs to be known before any declaration of victory is announced…..

With the retaking of Mosul in northern Iraq, the Islamic State (ISIS) could soon be a thing of the past. But the defeat of ISIS and the demise of its self-proclaimed Iraqi-Syrian caliphate won’t bring peace to the Middle East, or even an end to the Syrian tragedy. Rather, it is likely to open a new chapter in the region’s bloody and chaotic history – one no less dangerous than the previous chapters since the fall of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I.

The continuation of this violent pattern seems almost certain because the region remains unable to resolve internal conflicts on its own, or to create anything like a resilient framework for peace. Instead, it remains trapped somewhere between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Western powers are hardly blameless for the Middle East’s woes. Any mention of the Sykes-Picot Agreement, by which Great Britain and France partitioned the post-Ottoman territories, still incites such rage in the Arab world that it seems as if the plan, devised in secret in 1916, had been conceived only yesterday.

Source: The Middle East’s Next War by Joschka Fischer – Project Syndicate

And there is another thing that needs to be known before there are too many smiles of victory……ISIS is a group…terrorism is an idea that cannot be be beat with guns…..

The short response is yes. Crime forever? Also, yes. Turbulence, terror, pestilence, famine, love, procreation, taxes, families, sunsets, rain, shine, etc.—all are components of the human condition. There is no arc toward perfection in human nature.

The jihadists will remain our mortal enemy; no negotiations or deterrence theories will alter their murderous intent. Unlike in the case of the Vietnam War, there is no strong, unified domestic political opposition to waging a low-level war against terrorists. The mainstream press acknowledges that the jihadists are abhorrent. We are at war against Islamist terrorists. As Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis has repeatedly said, the goal should be their annihilation.

Source: The Middle East: Terrorism Forever? | RealClearDefense

Just of couple of things to keep in mind while we pat ourselves on the back because we defeated ISIS and its minions.

How Depressing Can Syria Become?

The forces of darkness (depending on where you stand geopolitically) are turning Syria into the death watch for ISIS….Russia is aiding Assad….the US is aiding the “rebel” factions…..Turkey is in it for themselves….the Kurds…who f*cking knows?

But as ISIS winds down what to look for in the near future…..

Ongoing fighting between two rival jihadist factions, Ahrar al-Sham and Tahrir al-Sham continues to rage in northwestern Syria’s Idlib Province, with small skirmishes turning into bigger gunbattles and more dramatic large-scale deployments into the area.

While so far it’s been a fairly limited exchange, compared to some of the past ones, there are growing concerns that this build-up could quickly lead to a full-scale explosion of the rebel-packed province, leading to more bloodshed and humanitarian crises.

While Tahrir al-Sham is already drawing on much of its leadership, al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front, the Ahrar al-Sham faction is trying to get more of its fighters into the same areas as tensions rise, with Turkey sending around 150 of their allied rebels into the area to fight alongside Ahrar al-Sham.

Ideologically there is limited difference between the two groups, as the Nusra Front is literally an al-Qaeda affiliate, while multiple Ahrar al-Sham leaders have pledged loyalty to al-Qaeda’s leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri.  The fighting appears largely related to them both being largely stuck within the Idlib Province, having lost most of their other territory, and each side wanting to dominate that last region at all costs.

(antiwar.com)

Of course anything that happens in Syria will be watched by Israel……plus who knows how far these interlopers have gone in Syria….if anyone can destroy a chance it would be Israel.

Israel has made no secret of not liking the southern Syria ceasefire, negotiated between the US and Russia, complaining in particular that it doesn’t keep the Syrian government, and its Iranian allies, totally barred from that part of the country, which they see as tantamount to letting Iran be too close to the Israeli border.

Israeli Maj. Gen. Yaakov Amidror is the latest to step up the ever-growing series of threats against Iran over the matter, attending a briefing with foreign correspondents today and warning that if the US and Russia don’t resolve Israel’s complaints, the Israeli military will “intervene and destroy every attempt to build infrastructure in Syria.”

Maj. Gen. Amidror went on to say that Israel “will not let the Iranians and Hezbollah be the forces which will win” the Syrian war. This comes less than a day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu admitted to a live microphone that Israel had attacked Iranian targets in Syria dozens of times.

Israel has always been keen on military confrontation with Iran, and this position is in keeping with repeated comments from Israeli officials that they would prefer ISIS to gain control over Syria, because Iran is always “the main enemy.”

(antiwar.com)

Israel has always worried about Iran….but they should worry about Russia as well…hwy?  Russia and Iran are allies in the Syrian thing…..and a new deal will keep Russia in Syria for awhile after the shooting has stopped….

The Federation Council (upper house) of the Federal Assembly of Russia just ratified relevant legislation which after Presidential approval will enshrine into a law an agreement to maintain a presence of Russian forces in the Syrian Arab Republic for 49 years.

The measure allows for an extension of the agreement for a further 25 years.

Russia has maintained a naval base in Tartus in western Syria since 1971, the year after President Hafez al-Assad, the current President’s father came to power in what was known as the Corrective Movement.

Russia has been a long time Syrian ally and today’s announcement ensures a partnership which will extend throughout the better part of the 21st century.

You, my reader, should keep in mind that the US under Trump is stopping the weapons and cash for the “rebel” factions…..

Despite a solid eight months of stories about President Trump considering ending the CIA program to arm Syrian rebels, yesterday’s announcement that he’s ending that program have the rebels claiming they were totally “blindsided” and never expected such a move.

Needless to say, they’re outraged by the decision, saying that the lack of US arms shipments would quickly lead to the collapse of the “moderate” Free Syrian Army, to the benefit of jihadist factions closely aligned with al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front.

This is a surprising claim, particularly for the Free Syrian Army to make, since one of the big knocks on them for years has been how closely aligned they themselves have been with Nusra, with claims that Nusra effectively had been using FSA as a cover to secure US arms.

The “moderate” Syrian rebels, to the extent they ever existed, was largely sidelined much earlier in the war, and as fighting in Idlib recently demonstrates, the real factions of influence left are all jihadists of various stripes. Indeed, a big part of why the US froze the CIA arms program earlier this year was that too many of the weapons were being used by jihadist groups against one another.

The US has held several position on Syria….Assad must go….Assad can stay….the newest move with the rebels sort of hints at his remaining the leader of Syria….and if that is true then Assad will need to worry about the many militias and factions in Syria…

Over the past six years, the Syrian regime has delegated a large swath of its powers to loyal militias, entrusting them with preserving security, representing the regime and handling the day-to-day affairs of local communities. Today, it seems almost impossible for the state to recover its authority. In addition to the weakness of the Syrian state and its increasing failure to provide key citizen services, militias have gained so much ground that the state cannot restrain them and exert sole control over weapons and violence, even if it wishes to do so.

Source: Assad and His Militias: Disentangling the Syrian State | World Affairs Journal

The fighting is far from over….even with the defeat of ISIS…..the shooting will continue……

I pause here to give you a moment…….. to give you time to take in all the evidence and offer up an analysis….

Iraq: The War To End A War

The last “big” story out of Iraq was that the Iraqi military has called the battle for Mosul as won….that all that is left of ISIS is some wandering bands of fighters looking for leadership……

If indeed ISIS is defeated then we should expect a peace to now prevail, right?

Only an uneducated dolt would think that the conflict in Iraq is coming to an end.  Believe me there is a wealth of uneducated “experts” when it comes to foreign policy.

Now we wait to see if Iraq can win the peace……or an op-ed in USA Today is saying……

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Abadi waved his national flag in a devastated Mosul last week and with good reason. He was celebrating the hard-fought victory of his U.S.-supported troops over the stubborn Islamic State terrorists who held Iraq’s third-largest city for more than three years. But Abadi was candid about the challenge going forward: “We have another mission ahead of us — to create stability.”

Source: Winning the peace in Mosul

Stability?  Really?  Sounds like spin to me.

ISIS has been routed from the Iraqi city of Mosul. Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi has declared that this signals “the end and the failure and the collapse” of ISIS.

But according to two Iraq War veterans writing in a paper published by the Small Wars Journal in April, the victory in Mosul will be short-lived.

Source: Iraq War Veterans Warn: Mosul Victory Is Prelude to Iraqi State Failure | Alternet

September will be the start of the after conflict conflict…..why September?

That is when the Kurds have scheduled a vote of an independence referendum.

Depending on the outcome…I do not see that as an event that will bring peace.

This has the possibility of becoming uglier and a lot more messy before there is an end to these hostilities.

The Qatar Crisis–Update

The mash-up between the Saudis and the Qataris are still going full blast….the “demands” by the Saudis have been toned down a bit…but they are still demanding some unreasonable things from Qatar…

The US has their largest military base in the Middle East in Qatar and the Saudi coalition has been trying to persuade the US to close it down and move it elsewhere…..

The latest in a series of moves by President Trump that appeared to throw a wrench into State Department efforts to calm the Qatar blockade situation saw him telling the Saudi King today that the US could well just abandon their largest military base in the Middle East, the al-Udeid Airbase in Qatar.

Officials from the blockading states have previously suggested that the US ought to consider finding an alternative to the Qatar base, as State and Pentagon officials express concern the protracted blockade could start impacting US wars in the region, which are run out of the base.

This is a hugely important base for the US, and that’s a big part of why State Department officials have been so desperate to try to resolve the dispute. President Trump, however, has treated this base with relative ambivalence, and in his talk with King Salman today said he was confident other countries in the region would “gladly” build the US a replacement base if they abandoned Qatar.

(antiwar.com)

This seems like a bit of an overreach by the Saudis…..they want that cash from the US and will do whatever it takes to see the base closed….even helping in the hack that started this whole affair….at the time Qatar said they were hacked and the accusations were untrue…..and then they were vindicated….

In a stunning turn of events, the Washington Post is quoting US intelligence officials as saying that the “fake news” hack which started the Qatar blockade was actually the product of a plot concocted by top leaders of the United Arab Emirates, one of the blockading states.

The officials say US intelligence agencies were able to confirm a May 23 meeting by UAE leaders discussing the plan, and that the very next day, a Qatari state media outlet was hacked, and false quotes attributed to the Qatari Emir were planted there. The quotes praised Hamas and talked up Iran as an “Islamic Power,” and fueled an immediate backlash from Saudi Arabia, as well as its allies.

Qatari officials were quick to note the hack at the time, and brought in the FBI to help. At the time, there was speculation in the media that the US involvement meant Russia was suspected of involvement, though there was never any plausible reason why this might be the case.

The UAE, however, has long-standing grievances with Qatar, as do the other three blockading states, as all object to Qatari media outlets’ coverage offering more conflicting viewpoints than is common within the Middle East.

(antiwar.com)

Pres. Trump has been ignoring the evidence to make the Saudis happy….why?

While it is true that Qatar allows some factions to run an office out of their territory…

It wasn’t accidental, or surprising. Qatar has historically been very open to allowing controversial foreign factions to run offices out of their cities, with groups like Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood finding a welcome in Qatar that simply doesn’t exist elsewhere.

This is also a big part of the foreign blockade against Qatar, as more restrictive nations like Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the Egyptian junta don’t take kindly to Qatar playing host to their (often banned) opposition parties, and treat their permission to operate as tantamount to Qatari “support.” With openness to dissenting opinions also pervasive in Qatari media, but literally nowhere else in the Middle East, it’s turned them into something of a pariah.

Another thing to consider is that during the “Arab Spring”…while the more restrictive countries like Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and UAE were scrambling to protect their authoritarian rule, Qatar was often on the side of the protesters….thus began their fall from grace among the “kingdoms”.

For this reason should put the US squarely on the side of the Qataris……that is if we truly stand for democracy and freedom…but it appears that the opposite is becoming the norm under the Trump admin.

Time to make a stand!

Defeat Of ISIS–What Then?

It appears that ISIS is all but defeated in Iraq and it is not looking good in Syria…..so when the end arrives…..what then?

The Islamic State appears to be nearly ousted in the Iraqi city of Mosul, and now US-backed forces have the last 2,500 ISIS holdouts trapped in the group’s other stronghold of Raqqa, Syria, reports the New York Times. The militants are cut off from supplies, though the final battle to defeat them promises to be a difficult one that plays out building by building. ISIS leaders already have fled the city, and the group maintains control over smaller towns in both Syria and Iraq. Related developments:

  • The plan? Once ISIS is routed from Syria and Iraq, then what? The Los Angeles Times reports that the US doesn’t seem to have a clear strategy yet for the aftermath, one that takes into account factors such as Iran, Russia, reconstruction, safe zones, troop numbers, etc. Without “rules of the road,” it’s “a dangerous situation,” says one analyst.
  • Assad’s role: One particularly thorny problem for the US is whether to try to keep Syria’s Bashar al-Assad in check as he seeks to reclaim territory abandoned by ISIS. The AP has an analysis.
  • ‘Mom, I’m exhausted’: What’s it like for civilians still in Raqqa? “Mom, I’m exhausted and the situation is horrible, I can’t bear this life anymore,” writes a 23-year-old daughter to her mom. CNN takes a look at WhatsApp messages.
  • A leader emerges: Iraq’s success in Mosul has turned the spotlight on Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. In a profile, the Wall Street Journal reports that the 65-year-old former electrical engineer has emerged as a genuine leader after three years, to pretty much everyone’s surprise.
  • Premature? But at BuzzFeed, Nancy A. Youssef writes that Abadi and other Iraqi leaders may have made a mistake in declaring the end of the ISIS caliphate last week. Too much fighting remains, in Mosul and elsewhere.
  • Abuses in Iraq:Human Rights Watch says it has reports of Iraqi soldiers beating and executing unarmed men fleeing Mosul.

The better plan is to start planning for ISIS 2.0……..it will be back and back with a vengeance…..

Lt Gen Stephen Townsend told the BBC Iraqis needed to unite to ensure IS was defeated across the rest of Iraq.

He also urged the government to reach out to the Sunni Arab minority.

“If we’re to keep… ISIS 2.0 from emerging, the Iraqi government is going to have to do something pretty significantly different,” he said.

“They’re going to have to reach out and reconcile with the Sunni population, and make them feel like their government in Baghdad represents them.”

Source: Mosul: US commander says Iraq must stop Islamic State 2.0 – BBC News

With the defeat…..does anyone know what ISIS thinks of the future?

In a conversation I had with a fellow university student in Damascus in 2000, he made curious remark. “Ana mubayie,” he said. The sentence, which translates into “I owe a pledge of fealty”, was a reference to a supposed secret oath he made to Mullah Omar, then the emir of the Taliban in Afghanistan. In a secular country like Syria, the lack of context for young students meant nobody made much of it beyond observing its oddity.

When I wrote about the anecdote for The National three years ago, ISIL’s announcement of a “caliphate” was widely dismissed as comic and a delusional ambition. Many hoped that ISIL’s military campaign soon would be reversed once the Iraqi army recovered from the initial shock. Even more than the military challenge, moreover, it was harder for politicians, clerics and observers to grasp the implications of the declaration on the region and the world, and the subsequent evolution of ISIL from a local insurgent group into a global organisation.

Source: What ISIL really thinks about the future – The National

The consensus seems to be that ISIS may be beaten but it is not yet defeated…..plans should be drawn up now that has an approach that will prevent a repeat of the last 4 years.

With the battles of Mosul and Raqqa dislodging the Islamic State (ISIS) from its strongholds in Syria and Iraq, and the Syrian civil war becoming a war of attrition, the Middle East’s most acute conflicts are evolving fast. But that doesn’t mean they will soon be resolved.

ISIS’s self-proclaimed caliphate was never a state that could be driven to unconditional surrender, meaning that the battles of Mosul and Raqqa were never going to be decisive, even if they did eliminate ISIS sanctuaries. As ISIS’s spread into Libya and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula underscores, there are plenty of loosely controlled areas available to be penetrated.

Source: The next phase of Middle East conflict | The Strategist

But with everything said maybe there is a rule of thumb they should adhere to……one question they should ask after the debacles of Syria and Libya……

Source: Is It Ever a Good Idea to Arm Violent Nonstate Actors? | RealClearDefense

Then what about all those “terrorists” that did not die defending the “caliphate”?  What will become of them?

The fall of Mosul and the likely fall of Raqqa won’t be the end of the Islamic State. The group has already reverted to its insurgent roots in some of the areas that have been lost. It also still controls some territory. The Islamic State will continue to function as a guerrilla army, despite suffering significant losses. In May, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) assessed that even though it was losing significant ground, the Islamic State “will likely have enough resources and fighters to sustain insurgency operations and plan terrorists [sic] attacks in the region and internationally” going forward. Unfortunately, I think ODNI’s assessment is accurate for a number of reasons, some of which I outline below. I also discuss some hypothetical scenarios, especially with respect to returning foreign fighters or other supporters already living in Europe or the U.S.

Source: The Terrorist Diaspora: After the Fall of the Caliphate | RealClearDefense

We will see….the world is watching…….