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The Middle East: War, Peace, and SNAFU, TARFU, and FUBAR
Topic: The Middle East: War, Peace, and SNAFU, TARFU, and FUBAR (Read 140750 times)
The Baraq-Clinton-Kerry strategy in action
Reply #850 on:
November 19, 2016, 01:24:04 AM »
Iraqi Kurdistan on the Cusp of Statehood
Reply #851 on:
December 06, 2016, 09:49:35 AM »
Food for thought.
See map: https://www.nybooks.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Caryl-Kurdistan-2-col-120813.jpg
The Kurds Are Nearly There
Christian Caryl DECEMBER 8, 2016 ISSUE
From Tribe to Nation: Iraqi Kurdistan on the Cusp of Statehood
a report by Amberin Zaman
Wilson Center, 31 pp., available at
The Kurds: A Modern History
by Michael M. Gunter
Markus Wiener, 256 pp., $68.95; $26.95 (paper)
Invisible Nation: How the Kurds’ Quest for Statehood Is Shaping Iraq and the Middle East
by Quil Lawrence
Walker, 386 pp., $17.00 (paper)
Kurdistan Rising? Considerations for Kurds, Their Neighbors, and the Region
by Michael Rubin
American Enterprise Institute, 139 pp., available at
The battle for Mosul has begun. For the past two years, Iraq’s second-largest city has languished under the harsh rule of the Islamic State (ISIS). Now a combined force of Iraqi army troops, Shiite militias, and Kurdish fighters, backed up by a US-led coalition of more than sixty nations, is pushing forward to retake the city. The stakes are high. Dislodging ISIS from the city where its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, declared his “caliphate” in 2014 promises to be a formidable undertaking, given the ferocity of resistance so far. But if the coalition manages to restore Iraqi government control over Mosul, it will certainly count as a major blow to the ambitions of the jihadists—even if final victory over them is still a long way off.
So far the campaign appears to be going well. Yet its initial successes—to be expected, perhaps, in a situation where the attackers outnumber the defenders by more than twenty to one—cannot conceal the fact that the members of the anti-ISIS forces in Iraq have strikingly divergent interests. The United States and its Western allies are concerned above all with thwarting the Islamic State’s ability to stage terrorist attacks against them. Preserving the territorial integrity of Iraq, while important, is a secondary aim. The Iraqi prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, is intent on restoring his government’s sovereignty over the country as a whole and reasserting, along the way, the dominance of the Shiite majority over a restive Sunni minority that, at least for a time, saw the Islamic State as a protector of its interests.
And then there are the Kurds. For the past twenty-five years, since a crucial intervention following the first Gulf War by the United States to protect them from Saddam Hussein’s killings, the 5.5 million Kurds of northern Iraq have been quietly running their own affairs. Currently some 40,000 Kurdish troops are taking active part in the effort to retake Mosul, and dozens have died since the operation began. But the peshmerga, as the Iraqi Kurdish militias are known, are not fighting to preserve Iraq. They are fighting to remove a major threat to their own homeland, the three northern provinces that make up the Kurdish Region of Iraq. The Islamic State, which is dominated by Salafist Sunni Arabs, has always regarded the Kurds as mortal enemies, and when the jihadists staged their surprise attack on Mosul in the summer of 2014, the momentum of their offensive brought them within just a few miles of the Iraqi Kurdish capital of Erbil. It took a series of hasty American air strikes to stop the jihadists from going further.
Since then the Kurdish region has shared an uneasy thousand-mile border with the territory controlled by the Islamic State to its south, and the Kurds are determined to put an end to this lingering security threat. There is an urgency to their mission. For the continued existence of the ISIS caliphate is, in effect, the last remaining obstacle between the Iraqi Kurds and their fondest wish: the creation of the first independent Kurdish state.
There are more than 30 million Kurds scattered across the Middle East, most of them in the four countries of Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria—a circumstance that helps to explain the label they are often given—“world’s largest people without a nation.” The Kurds in all of these countries have endured various forms of persecution. And yet, as the Turkish journalist Amberin Zaman notes in her report “From Tribe to Nation,” “The Iraqi Kurds have endured far greater horrors and betrayal than any of their brethren across the borders.” The government of Saddam Hussein repeatedly subjected his Kurdish population to acts of genocidal violence, including, most notoriously, the use of chemical weapons against Kurdish communities in 1988. Every Iraqi Kurd has long and searing tales of trauma: childhoods spent in refugee camps, relatives dispatched to the anonymity of mass graves, villages razed to the ground.
The dream of a national homeland is one that all Kurds share, no matter where they currently live. For the past century—ever since World War I brought about the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the subsequent creation of new nation-states that excluded Kurdish aspirations—they have yearned in vain. Yet now circumstances have conspired to bring the Kurds—or some of them, at least—closer to achieving a workable state than at any other time in recent memory.
To be sure, not all of the Kurds are equally well positioned to take advantage. The Kurds of Iran, who briefly enjoyed a self-governing state under Soviet tutelage after World War II, seem the least likely to strike out on their own, given the strength of the Tehran government and the relative weakness of the Kurdish nationalist movement. In southeastern Turkey, the goal of self-determination has long been pursued with particular ferocity by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has carried on a four-decade-long insurgency against the government in Ankara. After years of effectively denying the existence of the roughly 15 million Kurds within its borders, the Turkish state embarked on a policy of cautious rapprochement that culminated in the launching of peace negotiations in 2013. Last year, however, the war flared up again, prosecuted on the Turkish side by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who had, for a time, pursued the peace process with more determination than any of his predecessors. The return to war, amid scenes of extraordinary destruction in Kurdish communities, makes the attainment of any sort of independence for the Turkish Kurds—a long shot under the best of circumstances—even less likely.
The situation in Syria, at least on the surface, offers more grounds for hope. The outbreak of the civil war in 2011 led to the weakening of government control over the Kurdish regions in the country’s northeast corner, and the Kurds there were quick to seize their chance. Over the past five years the Syrian Kurds have steadily built up formidable institutions of self-rule. In contrast to Iraq’s Kurdish region, however, the regions currently controlled by their Syrian counterparts contain large populations of Arabs and other minority groups, and their presence might well complicate an aggressive push for independence.
Even so, it is hard to overestimate the degree of international goodwill that the Syrian Kurdish forces have managed to acquire thanks to their muscular prosecution of the war against the Islamic State. Since the Assad government doesn’t seem especially keen on confronting the caliphate, the Kurdish-dominated forces have been supplying most of the fighters on the Syrian front of the war against ISIS. It is precisely for this reason that the Obama administration has recently begun directly supplying the Syrian Kurds with weapons. This would amount to an extraordinary departure from past practice, since providing arms would implicitly bolster the Kurds’ control over their part of Syria, and potentially bring them closer to independence—a prospect of which Washington policymakers have long been leery, since it would entail a fundamental redrawing of the borders of the Middle East.
Such caution is understandable. Yet US policy toward the Kurds will face a crucial test in the next few years—and it will almost certainly come from the Kurds of Iraq, who believe that their twenty-five-year experiment in self-government is approaching its logical culmination. The leaders of the Kurdistan Regional Government, based in Erbil, have explicitly declared that they have independence in their sights. Masoud Barzani, president of the Kurdish Region of Iraq, has announced plans to conduct a referendum on statehood once the threat from ISIS has abated. Washington, meanwhile, doggedly maintains that nothing can be allowed to compromise Iraq’s territorial integrity, periodically warning its Kurdish allies not to test its resolve. In view of the long history of thwarted Kurdish aspirations, one has to wonder: When the day finally comes, will the Kurds really be willing to wait for permission?
As a people, the Kurds are magnificently contradictory. They have a sharply formed sense of identity, and yet their ethnic self-understanding allows for a dizzying diversity. Most Kurds adhere to the beliefs of Sunni Islam, yet there are also Kurds who profess Shiism, Christianity, Judaism, and radical secularism—not to mention ancient sects such as the Yazidis and the Shabaks. Moreover, millions of Kurds have, over the years, fled oppression at the hands of the nations in which they lived, creating a vast global diaspora. There are some 800,000 Kurds in Germany alone. (The largest concentration of Kurds in the United States is a population of some ten thousand in Nashville, Tennessee.)
Kurdish identity often delineates itself along linguistic lines. The Kurdish tongue—based on three rather distinct dialects—belongs to the Indo-Iranian language family, giving the Kurds a degree of cultural kinship with Iran. (Unlike the Turks and Arabs, the Kurds observe Newroz, the traditional Persian New Year.) Geography is also an important source of Kurdish self-understanding. The core Kurdish population has long been centered on the spine of mountains that reach from southeastern Turkey across northern Iraq and into the northwestern corner of Iran.
Some Kurds trace their origins back to the Medes, an ancient people who built an empire in what is now Iran and Iraq. Historians are inclined to doubt this, but it seems clear enough that Kurds have had a long presence in their region. Saladin, the leader of the Muslim armies who defied the invading Crusaders in the twelfth century, was a Kurd—though he gained fame as a religious and military leader, not as a representative of his ethnic group. The Ottomans recognized the Kurds as a distinct minority, even coining the term “Kurdistan.” The Kurds engaged in periodic uprisings against Ottoman rule, but their rebellions were almost always cloaked in the language of religious discontent. Like so many other peoples of the Middle East, they were relative latecomers to the modern idea of ethnic nationalism.
The collapse of the Ottoman Empire seemed, at first, to offer a perfect opening for a Kurdish state. The victorious Allies originally planned to carve a Kurdish homeland out of the old Ottoman territories, a Kurdish delegation having pleaded its case at the Paris Peace Conference. But the Turkish nationalist leader Kemal Atatürk had other ideas. His victory in the Turkish War of Independence thwarted the West’s plans for the partition of Anatolia, and the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, which endorsed his new Turkish Republic, scotched the idea of a Kurdish state by including a large chunk of Kurdish-populated territory within the new Turkish borders.
This amounts to one of the great ironies of history. As Michael Gunter writes in The Kurds, Atatürk had originally envisioned his new state as a mutual homeland for both Turks and Kurds, and Kurdish fighters had formed a large part of his forces. The first Turkish parliament included seventy-five Kurdish deputies. As the years went on, however, Atatürk began to narrow his vision of the new republic to a mono-ethnic state for Turks alone. Ankara’s policies became correspondingly repressive. Within a few decades merely acknowledging the existence of a Kurdish minority had become a criminal offense.
The Kurds in the new post-Ottoman state of Syria had it somewhat better, at least at first. But as Syrian democracy withered, to be replaced by the Arab national socialist ideology of Baathism, the state’s tolerance for ethnic difference evaporated. During the 1960s, the government came up with a novel approach to making its Kurdish problem go away: it simply denied citizenship to many Kurds.
To the east, the post–World War I settlement had created yet another new state, called Iraq, which had been cobbled together from three Ottoman provinces, to be ruled under a British mandate between 1920 and 1932. The British soon found themselves facing a major threat from the Kurds of the north, who launched a full-blown jihad against their colonial masters under the leadership of a charismatic chieftain named Sheikh Mahmud Barzanji.
One of his deputies, Mullah Mustafa Barzani, would go on to become a central figure in the twentieth-century history of the Kurds—a career that ran from an old-fashioned tribal revolt to a cold war–style national liberation struggle. In the mid-1940s Barzani found himself turning for help to the Soviet Union, which became his patron during his brief period as defense minister of the short-lived Kurdish republic in Iran in 1946. When it collapsed, Moscow granted him asylum until he was finally able to return to Iraq a decade later, where he continued the struggle against the increasingly intransigent regimes in Baghdad in the 1960s and 1970s. Despite these contortions, Barzani never quite managed to live down his origins as a traditional tribal leader. The organization he created in Iraq, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), remains to this day very much under the spell of the Barzani family.
Other claimants to leadership of the Kurdish independence movement soon appeared. Within Iraq, critics of the KDP’s ascendancy—many of them members of the rival Talabani clan—formed in 1975 a party of their own, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), setting the stage for a tortuous relationship that has, on occasion, been known to explode into outright warfare.
In Turkey, the increasingly harsh oppression of the Kurdish minority under successive military governments prompted the rise of another resistance leader, Abdullah Öcalan, who founded the PKK in 1978. Unlike its Iraqi counterparts, who remained beholden to their clannish origins, the PKK started off as a classic Marxist-Leninist party but with strong nationalist claims. Öcalan ran his party along rigidly authoritarian lines, and like so many of his revolutionary predecessors, he pursued and eliminated rival Kurds with even greater ruthlessness than he attacked his enemies in the Turkish military. His claim to ultimate leadership of the global Kurdish community invariably brought him into conflict with the Iraqi Kurdish parties—a feud that continues to shape the Kurdish question today. (Öcalan, captured in 1999, is still held in a Turkish prison.)
The Kurds became deeply enmeshed in cold war politics, something that had a great deal to do with the fateful geography of their homeland. Both Turkey (with one of NATO’s biggest armies) and Iran, vital US allies, shared borders with the Soviet Union; Iraq, increasingly controlled by its own particularly virulent strain of Baathism, found a natural ally in Moscow. The PKK accordingly received active support from various revolutionary regimes around the Middle East. It sent its fighters to train in East Bloc–sponsored camps in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley alongside a hodgepodge of other terrorist groups.
The United States was just as happy to exploit the Kurds for its own purposes—most infamously in the 1970s, when Secretary of State Henry Kissinger backed the Shah of Iran, Washington’s most important regional client, in sponsoring an Iraqi Kurdish rebellion against the Iraqi government, by then well on its way to becoming a Soviet client state. Once the rebellion had achieved the Iranian aim of extracting concessions from Baghdad, the Shah, and Kissinger, cut off support for the insurgents, leaving them to face the full wrath of their enemies. Thousands of Kurds died in the reprisals that followed. It wasn’t the first time the Kurds were betrayed by their ostensible friends; nor was it the last. Their own propensity for factionalism didn’t help their cause. For much of the cold war they appeared powerless to break the curse of history.
The turning point came from an unexpected quarter. President George H.W. Bush, an old-school foreign policy realist, had no intention of supporting Kurdish self-determination when he set out to defeat Saddam Hussein in the first Gulf War in 1990. But in the war’s aftermath, his administration confronted an appalling humanitarian crisis in northern Iraq, where hundreds of thousands of Kurds were fleeing retribution from Saddam’s forces. (Bush himself had called upon the Kurds and Shias to bring down Saddam’s regime, but then failed to offer the rebels air cover, leaving them at the mercy of Baghdad’s air force.)
The images of women and children suffering amid the snowy peaks excited a public outcry, and in April 1991 the United States, the UK, and France agreed to create a safe haven for the Iraqi Kurds. Operation Provide Comfort, as it came to be called, imposed a no-fly zone north of the 36th parallel, effectively preventing Saddam’s planes and helicopters from killing Kurds, and enabling the Kurdish militias to push Iraqi troops back out and reassert control.
They have never relinquished it. “The Kurdish safe haven was supposed to serve Washington’s Iraq containment strategy, a launching pad for the harassment of Saddam Hussein,” as Quil Lawrence writes in Invisible Nation:
But there was an unintended consequence: one of the most successful nation-building projects in American history. The Kurds held elections, set up their own social services, and started educating their children in Kurdish, not Arabic. They banned the Iraqi flag and the currency with Saddam’s face on it.
This nation-building effort continued apace after the US-led invasion in 2003. Ironically, Ankara’s refusal to allow US troops to cross Turkish territory on the way to Iraq compelled the Americans to seek other options for the northern prong of the campaign; the Kurds were only too happy to offer their support. Throughout the war the Kurds proved themselves conspicuously loyal allies of the US. While the rest of Iraq descended into a frenzy of war and sectarian chaos, the Kurdish region became for the coalition a secure and reliable hinterland (with a relatively stable economy). The Kurds are rightfully proud that the US military didn’t lose a single servicemember on Kurdish territory during the war. This goes a long way to explaining why the Iraqi Kurds have managed to build strong bipartisan support in both houses of Congress over the past fifteen years, which could prove useful when the issue of independence comes to a head.
Even so, Iraqi Kurds will need more than congressional goodwill if they want to turn their region into a state. Though they can probably defy the Iraqi government in a pinch, achieving independence with Baghdad’s acquiescence would certainly be more desirable than the alternative. They may already be on their way to getting it. Amberin Zaman, one of the sharpest observers of Kurdish issues, observes that the Kurdistan Regional Government and the Iraqi government have already created two committees to discuss the details of a possible divorce. She also points out that Baghdad and Erbil have worked out a resource-sharing agreement for the rich oilfields in the region around the disputed city of Kirkuk—just the sort of compromise that could accompany Iraqi Kurdistan’s separation from Iraq.
But what about the neighbors? Given their own restive Kurdish minorities, would the Turks, Syrians, and Iranians be prepared to tolerate a Kurdish proto-state on their borders? In fact, current indications are that Turkey, and to some extent Iran, may be willing to accept just this possibility. Much depends on the factional fault line that still divides the Kurds themselves. During the past decade, the Turkish government, fully aware of the bad blood between its own Kurdish rebels and their Iraqi rivals, has seen the wisdom of cultivating good relations with the Iraqi KDP as a way of undermining the Turkish PKK.1 There are also sound economic reasons for such a partnership, since Turkey has benefited hugely by serving as the main conduit for Iraqi Kurdish oil to global markets. An independent Iraqi Kurdistan, given its landlocked position, is unlikely to prove economically workable without some sort of access to global markets—but the Iraqi Kurdish leaders in Erbil have already signed long-term agreements with the Turks to ensure just this sort of access.
If all this sounds far too optimistic, Michael Rubin, in Kurdistan Rising?, has good reasons for pessimism, pointing to the many obstacles to Kurdish statehood—whether restricted to an Iraqi enclave or incorporating larger swathes of the regional Kurdish population. For all its successes, he writes, the Kurdish region of Iraq remains plagued by deep-seated pathologies. The collapse of global oil prices, coupled with the costs of prosecuting the war against ISIS and the influx of a huge number of refugees (1.8 million at last count, more than a third of the population), have sent the economy into a tailspin. Corruption remains pervasive at every level of government. Factional differences between the KPD and the PUK affect every level of administration, including the peshmerga themselves, who still answer to their respective party leaders rather than to the Kurdish government.2 The Kurds’ hard-earned reputation for relatively democratic governance has been undermined by the extension of emergency powers to President Barzani, who, citing the exigencies of the war, has remained in office long beyond his legally set term—much to the anger of the other parties in the Erbil parliament.
Rubin has a novel suggestion for future sources of Kurdish money. He suggests that the Kurds issue a symbolic currency “equivalent in value to the US dollar or European euro. In this, there is precedent in Panama and Timor-Leste, which utilize the US dollar as their currency for all practical purposes.” When it comes to the idea of a future Kurdish state achieving recognition by its neighbors, however, Rubin remains deeply skeptical—a view he shares with many other outside experts.
Rubin is entirely right to scrutinize these potential pitfalls. Creating a new Kurdish state is likely to be a highly complex affair in the best of cases. Yet it is also true that some new countries have started life under even less auspicious circumstances. As Zaman points out, Kurds have been waiting for a state of their own for a century—and they’re unlikely to go on waiting until conditions are optimal. “The ‘we are not ready’ camp cites the economic crisis, corruption, the lack of unity, and opposition from Iran and Turkey as the main obstacles to Iraqi Kurdish statehood,” she writes. “Yet, many of these issues will not be resolved by remaining part of Iraq.” The Kurds are already on the march. Their friends in the rest of the world—including the next US president—will soon have to decide whether they want to keep up.
Last Edit: December 06, 2016, 09:52:10 AM by DougMacG
Re: The Middle East: War, Peace, and SNAFU, TARFU, and FUBAR
Reply #852 on:
December 06, 2016, 12:05:54 PM »
Perhaps he has been lurking here
Peter Galbraith: Time to cut a deal with Russia
Reply #853 on:
December 06, 2016, 12:22:31 PM »
TOWNSHEND, Vt. — The civil war in Syria is over. Now it is time to stop the fighting.
Aided by Russia, Iran, Shiite militias and Hezbollah, the government of President Bashar al-Assad is on the verge of taking Aleppo, once Syria’s largest city. Supported by its powerful allies, the Syrian Army will then move to eliminate the remaining pockets of resistance, notably around the northern city of Idlib. While Iran has been Mr. Assad’s most important military ally, the Syrian regime would still want to have Russian airpower to finish its reconquest of the country’s populous west.
The Assad regime has prevailed through tactics of unspeakable brutality — barrel bombs, starvation, the targeting of hospitals and rescue workers and the suspected use of chemical weapons — but it has prevailed. Samantha Power, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, has rightly focused attention on these war crimes, but these denunciations will make no difference to the situation on the ground.
There is an absolutely counterproductive idea favored by Washington’s foreign policy elites of both parties, recycled recently by President Bill Clinton’s secretary of state Madeleine K. Albright and Stephen J. Hadley, national security adviser to President George W. Bush, for providing additional military support to the moderate Syrian opposition. Such aid cannot possibly now change the trajectory of the war, but will certainly get more people killed.
Though the outcome is clear, how the war ends matters greatly. The United States has an interest in a result that allows as many Syrians as possible to go home, that ensures the total defeat of the Islamic State and other extremist groups, and that safeguards the Syrian Kurds, who have been America’s principal ally against the Islamic State.
Achieving these goals will require close collaboration with Russia, whose intervention enabled Mr. Assad to turn the tide of the war. Fortunately, Russia shares many of America’s objectives, even if its Syrian ally does not.
The United States and Russia could start by negotiating terms that would end the fighting between the regime and the moderate opposition. The terms might include an amnesty for the rebels, the right of Syrian refugees to return and equal access to reconstruction assistance. It could even include some promises of basic political freedoms, international monitoring and the removal of Syrian officials (not including Mr. Assad) responsible for the worst crimes.
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The Russians have considerable leverage with a Syrian government that wants Russian backing for mopping-up operations. The United States, with less leverage, will have to persuade the non-Islamist opposition that a negotiated surrender is better than total destruction.
European countries have a strong interest in creating conditions to encourage refugees in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey to return to Syria rather than heading west. America should work to ensure the diplomatic engagement of European allies to bring an end to hostilities, as well as their financial support for reconstruction in Syria.
In eastern Syria, Kurdish forces supported by the United States Air Force and special forces are battling the Islamic State in a largely separate conflict. On a recent trip to the Kurdish areas, I traveled to within 15 miles of Raqqa, the capital of the Islamic State. Kurdish fighters feel confident that they can take the city, but their leaders understand that they’re not in a position to govern a large Arab city. Since there is no viable Arab alternative to the Syrian government, this will mean transferring control of Raqqa to the regime in Damascus.
Finally, the United States must provide long-term guarantees to the Syrian Kurds, who now control a large territory, not all of which is Kurdish. For now, the Syrian Army is in no position to take on the Kurdish forces, but eventually, Mr. Assad will surely try to recreate the centralized Arab state he inherited from his father. He will also want to use Syria’s oil resources — much of which are now under Kurdish control — to finance reconstruction.
One option is to establish an American-protected Kurdish safe area in northeastern Syria similar to the one created in northern Iraq after the first gulf war. That expensive option is complicated by the inability of the United States to use Turkish air bases to enforce it. (Turkey regards the Kurds as its leading enemy in Syria.) The less costly alternative is to co-sponsor a Russian plan for an autonomous Kurdish area within a federal Syria.
However, Russia’s leverage with Mr. Assad will diminish as the opposition crumbles in Syria’s west and Russian airpower becomes less important. At that point, the opportunity to extract concessions will disappear, and the field will belong to Mr. Assad and Iran.
President-elect Donald J. Trump has stated his intention to work with Russia and Mr. Assad to defeat the Islamic State. The sooner America reaches out to Russia, ideally before January’s handover of administration, the better.
Peter W. Galbraith is a former United States ambassador to Croatia.
Israeli minister caught lurking on our forum
Reply #854 on:
December 13, 2016, 10:53:41 PM »
The Shia Axis
Reply #855 on:
December 16, 2016, 12:22:32 PM »
Be the first of your friends to like this.
Recent sweeping gains by the pro-Assad alliance in Aleppo signal the rise of an emboldened Iranian-led radical Shi'ite axis. The more this axis gains strength, territory, weapons, and influence, the more likely it is to threaten regional and global security.
Ideologues in Iran have formulated a Shi'ite jihadist vision which holds that the Iranian Islamic revolution must take control of the entire Muslim world. Losing the Assad regime to Sunni rebels, many of them backed by Tehran's Gulf Arab state archenemies, would have represented a major setback to Iran's agenda.
This same ideological agenda also calls for the eventual annihilation of Israel, the toppling of Sunni governments, and intimidating the West into complying with Iran's schemes.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and Tehran's military elites, in the form of the Islamic Republican Guards Corps (IRGC), use the current regional chaos to promote these goals.
In Syria, Iran has mobilized tens of thousands of Shi'ite militia fighters from all over the Middle East, as well as those from Hizballah in Lebanon, and sent them to do battle with Sunni rebel organizations to help save the Assad regime.
As the Shi'ite axis wages a sectarian war against Sunnis moderate groups and jihadists, it mobilizes and arms its proxies, and moves military assets into Syria, gaining a growing influence that can be used for bellicose purposes in the not too distant future.
The conquest of east Aleppo is a victory for the wider, transnational Iranian-led alliance, of which the Damascus regime is but one component. The Assad regime is composed and led by Syria's minority Alawite population, which makes up just 11 percent of Syrians (Alawites are seen as an offshoot of Shia Islam).
A look at the order of battle assembled in Aleppo reveals that the war in Syria is not a civil conflict by any measure. In addition to Assad regime forces sent to fight Sunni rebels, such as the Fourth Division, Syrian army special forces, and paramilitary units, there is also the Iranian-backed Hizballah, which has transformed itself into a regional Shi'ite ground army, deployed across Syria and Lebanon.
These are joined by Shi'ite Iraqi Kataib Hizballah militia, Afghan Shi'ite militia groups, and Iranian military personnel on the ground in Syria, all of whom receive the assistance of massive Russian air power.
The large scale, indiscriminate airstrikes and shelling in places like Aleppo resulted in mass slaughter and ethnic cleansing of many Sunni civilians, producing the largest humanitarian catastrophe and refugee crisis in the 21st century. Such extreme war crimes will be sure to produce a new generation of radical recruits for ISIS and al-Qaida.
The IRGC's Quds Force, under the command of Qassem Suleimani, orchestrates the entire ground war effort. Suleimani is very close to the Iranian supreme leader.
The Quds Force uses Syria as a transit zone to traffic advanced weapons from Iranian and Syrian arms factories to the Hizballah storehouses that pepper neighboring Lebanon.
Hizballah has amassed one of the largest surface to surface rocket and missile arsenal in the world, composed of over 100,000 projectiles, all of which are pointed at Israeli cities.
According to international media reports, Israel recently launched two strikes in the one week, targeting attempts to smuggle game-changing weapons to Lebanon.
Syrian dictator Basher Assad owes his survival to Iran and Hizballah, and their military presence in Syria should continue and expand further.
Assad regime and Hizballah representatives boast of this fact in recent statements highlighted by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI).
"The power-balances will change not only in Syria but in the entire region," said Hizballah Executive Council Chairman Hashem Safi Al-Din.
"Syria's steadfastness, and the support from its allies, have shifted the regional and international balance [of power], said Assad political adviser Bouthaina Sha'aban. "The recent developments in the international arena are bringing the countries of the region face to face with a new world.
If it takes western Syria with Russian air support, the Shi'ite axis victors will likely turn their sights on seizing southern Syria, near the Israeli border. To accomplish that, they will need to do battle with an array of Sunni rebels that now control that area (groups that include ISIS-affiliates). If successful, the axis could be tempted to build bases of attack throughout Syria against Israel, a development that would certainly trigger Israeli defensive action, as has reportedly occurred in the past.
The same pattern repeats itself in Iraq, where Iran-backed militias are moving in on Mosul, and could later be used to threaten Iraq's Sunnis, and in Yemen, where Iranian-armed Houthi rebels control large swaths of the country, and are currently at war with a Saudi-led military coalition. The Houthis also threaten international oil shipping lanes and have fired on the U.S. Navy using Iranian-smuggled missiles.
In this way, the fundamentalist Iranian coalition gains a growing foothold.
Iran's ballistic missile program, which is developing long-range strike capabilities that could place Europe in range, and its temporarily dormant nuclear program, represents investments that would make the Shi'ite axis more powerful than any Sunni Islamist camp.
Defense officials in Israel and in pragmatic Sunni states will watch for the danger that Iran will use its presence, proxies, and bases in Syria and Iraq to wage a Shi'ite jihad that extends well beyond the battlegrounds there.
The Iranian coalition can also lure armed Sunni groups into its orbit as well, as it has done in the past with the Palestinian Hamas terrorist regime in Gaza.
While the Israeli defense establishment has no desire to be dragged into Syria's conflict, Jerusalem has indicated that it would act to remove any Iranian-Hizballah base it detects in Syria that is designed to launch attacks on Israel, and would not tolerate the trafficking of advanced weapons to Hizballah.
Few events illustrate more clearly how an ascendant Shi'ite jihadist axis is redrawing the map of the region than a recent military parade held by Hizballah in the western Syrian town of Al-Qusayr, which it conquered from the rebels in 2013.
According to an assessment by the Tel Aviv-based Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, that parade featured Soviet-made tanks, American armored personnel carriers, artillery guns, anti-aircraft guns, and powerful truck-mounted rocket launchers with an estimated range of between 90 to 180 kilometers. "It is clear that state-owned capabilities, some of them advanced, were delivered to Hizballah, which is a terrorist organization," the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center said in its report.
Hizballah, like the Assad regime and armed groups in Iraq and Yemen, is a component of an international axis whose battles against ISIS have managed to dupe some decision makers into believing that they are stabilizing forces. In actuality, the Shi'ite jihadists are as radical as their Sunni jihadist counterparts – albeit more tactically prudent – and are far better armed and better organized.
Yaakov Lappin is a military and strategic affairs correspondent. He also conducts research and analysis for defense think tanks, and is
the Israel correspondent for IHS Jane's Defense Weekly. His book, The Virtual Caliphate, explores the online jihadist presence.
ISIS burns two Turkish soldiers to death
Reply #856 on:
December 23, 2016, 05:56:22 PM »
Re: The Middle East: War, Peace, and SNAFU, TARFU, and FUBAR
Reply #857 on:
December 23, 2016, 06:12:50 PM »
The JV team. What kind of sick monsters do we have to tolerate. I was for the war against Saddam because I could not stand the terror coming out of Iraq from him and his sons. I thought Bush did a humanitarian thing to rid them of that monster. Instead the void simply gets filled with even worse monsters. What is wrong with Muslims. Yes they should be ashamed.
Those poor men. The damn cruelty of this world!
WaPo: Aleppo and American Decline
Reply #858 on:
December 24, 2016, 08:11:37 PM »
No US carrier now in the ME
Reply #859 on:
December 29, 2016, 12:09:34 AM »
poth: It's Putin's problem now
Reply #860 on:
January 01, 2017, 08:30:20 AM »
Middle East War, the loving families of Jihad, 7yo suicide bomber
Reply #861 on:
January 03, 2017, 03:08:06 PM »
Coming to a theater near you, this is the last story I read this morning before showing a rental to a peaceful, recent immigrant family, unvetted from that region.
What does the seven year old daughter - suicide bomber - do with the hundred virgins waiting, play dolls?
Am I reading this wrong, is this an unreliable source, they have it on video. As Larry Elder says about his microphone, is this thing on? Do they cover this kind of thing in American media?
Re: The Middle East: War, Peace, and SNAFU, TARFU, and FUBAR
Reply #862 on:
January 03, 2017, 06:34:47 PM »
"Do they cover this kind of thing in American media?"
No here the MSM is too interested in covering the real evil scourge of the Earth - Republicans and the fascist evil nazi authoritarian Trump.
WSJ: Near Misses between Ruski and American aircraft
Reply #863 on:
January 09, 2017, 11:53:01 AM »
By Michael M. Phillips and
Jan. 9, 2017 11:16 a.m. ET
One night this past fall, a U.S. radar plane flying a routine pattern over Syria picked up a signal from an incoming Russian fighter jet.
The American crew radioed repeated warnings on a frequency universally used for distress signals. The Russian pilot didn’t respond.
Instead, as the U.S. plane began a wide sweep to the south, the Russian fighter, an advanced Su-35 Flanker, turned north and east across the American plane’s nose, churned up a wave of turbulent air in its path and briefly disrupted its sensitive electronics.
“We assessed that guy to be within one-eighth of a mile—a few hundred feet away—and unaware of it,” said U.S. Air Force Col. Paul Birch, commander of the 380th Expeditionary Operations Group, a unit based in the Persian Gulf.
A Russian Su-35 Flanker fighter shadows U.S. F-15s as they refuel over Syria in September. The photo, taken by a camera on one of the American planes, shows the Russian pilot far closer than the three-mile safety limit set in a 2015 U.S.-Russian agreement.
The skies above Syria are an international incident waiting to happen, according to American pilots. It is an unprecedented situation in which for months U.S. and Russian jets have crowded the same airspace fighting parallel wars, with American pilots bombing Islamic State worried about colliding with Russian pilots bombing rebels trying to overthrow Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. Russian warplanes, which also attack Islamic State targets, are still flying daily over Syria despite the recent cease-fire in Moscow’s campaign against the anti-Assad forces, according to the U.S. Air Force.
The U.S. and Russian militaries have a year-old air safety agreement, but American pilots still find themselves having close calls with Russian aviators either unaware of the rules of the road, or unable or unwilling to follow them consistently.
“Rarely, if ever, do they respond verbally,” said Brig. Gen. Charles Corcoran, commander of the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing, who flies combat missions in a stealth fighter. “Rarely, if ever, do they move. We get out of the way. We don’t know what they can see or not see, and we don’t want them running into one of us.”
Complicating the aerial traffic jam, the Russian planes don’t emit identifying signals, flouting international protocols.
The Russian Ministry of Defense didn’t respond to written requests for comment on the actions of Russian pilots over Syria.
The aerial anxiety adds to bilateral tensions between the U.S. and Russia, already rising over Moscow’s increasingly assertive role in propping up Mr. Assad, its alleged interference in the U.S. presidential campaign and its earlier seizure of Crimea. In this environment, American commanders worry that a collision could become a flash-point.
“If an aircraft crashes, it is statistically more likely that it’s some type of mechanical problem that caused that crash, rather than someone shooting down an airplane,” said U.S. Air Force Col. Daniel Manning. “But in the fog and friction of war, people will be predisposed to conclude there’s some type of malign activity that took down that aircraft.”
In 2015, U.S. and Russian commanders signed a four-page memorandum of understanding intended to keep their warplanes from crashing into each other or shooting each other down.
Now senior military officials at the Pentagon are pushing to boost the communications and coordination between the two militaries. Under the proposal, three-star generals at the Pentagon would routinely discuss Mideast operations with their counterparts in Moscow. One impetus for the Pentagon effort is the belief that President-elect Donald Trump may want to increase cooperation with Moscow in the region, senior military officials say.
For the moment, day-to-day efforts to avoid a midair catastrophe go through Col. Manning, a Russian speaker who works out of Al Udeid air base in Qatar. Col. Manning has three scheduled calls a week with his Russian counterpart, a colonel based in Syria, to clear airspace for both militaries’ operations. Most weeks they have impromptu talks daily. When combat operations are especially intense, the two colonels might talk 10 times a day, as they did last month, when U.S. aircraft destroyed 168 tanker trucks delivering oil for Islamic State.
In addition, a senior Pentagon civilian leads a video teleconference on Syria every six to eight weeks with her Russian counterpart.
One of the most serious mishaps so far was caused by the U.S. In September, an American airstrike intended to hit Islamic State militants in Deir Ezzour, Syria, killed dozens of Syrian government troops instead.
The incident highlighted vulnerabilities in the colonel-to-colonel hotline. The day of the strikes, Col. Manning was away from the Qatari base that houses the American air operations center. After the strikes began, a Russian officer called on the hotline and asked to speak to another U.S. colonel he knew. That American wasn’t available. The Russian hung up, and 27 minutes passed before the Russians called back to warn the Americans they were bombing the wrong target, according to U.S. defense officials.
At the time, the Russian military issued a statement saying: “If the airstrike was caused by erroneous coordinates of targets, it is a direct consequence of the stubborn unwillingness of the American side to coordinate with Russia [on] its actions against terrorist groups in Syria.”
Col. Manning said the current coordination efforts are making the war safer.
“We continue to assess that the Russian have no intent to harm coalition forces in the air or on the ground,” he said. “Because we believe there is no malign intent towards the coalition forces, we’re able to de-conflict.”
But things look different from the cockpit, and U.S. pilots say the Russians sometimes seem to be pushing the limits just to see if they can get away with it.
It’s a situation further complicated by the soup of aircraft conducting combat missions, including Americans, Russians, Syrians, Australians, Britons, Danes, Turks, Emiratis, Saudis and Jordanians. On any given day, there are usually 50 to 75 manned and unmanned coalition aircraft over Raqqa, the Islamic State stronghold in Syria, and another 150 or so over heavily contested Mosul, Iraq, according to one U.S. radar officer. The 64-member coalition—Russia is not a member—had conducted more than 51,500 sorties against Islamic State, two-thirds of them by U.S. aircraft, as of mid-December.
The 2015 agreement between the U.S. and Russia led to negotiation of what Americans call the “rule of threes.” Pilots should keep at least three nautical miles of separation horizontally, or 3,000 feet vertically. Should they get closer, they’ll remain for no more than three minutes.
“We’ve agreed to coexist peacefully,” said Gen. Corcoran.
But the Russians are prone to ignoring the conventions of air safety, according to the American pilots. Planes world-wide carry transponders that emit a four-digit code allowing air-traffic controllers to identify them, a practice called squawking. Russian planes over Syria don’t squawk, and they appear as an unidentified bleep to allied radar installations.
Nor do the Russians usually answer “guard calls,” urgent summons on a common emergency radio frequency. In one eight-hour shift on Dec. 11, for instance, the crew of a U.S. radar plane, called an AWACS, made 22 such calls to some 10 Russian planes and received not a single response. A few of the Russians approached within five miles of allied aircraft.
The controller aboard the AWACS scattered U.S. planes to keep them clear of the Russians. “We’ve had several co-altitude incidents,” the officer said, referring to planes flying too close together.
Russian pilots have sometimes broken their silence when contacted by a female air-traffic controller.
In early September, a female U.S. air-surveillance officer spotted an unidentified plane approaching allied aircraft over Syria. “You’re operating in the vicinity of coalition aircraft,” she warned the pilot.
A heavy Russian accent emerged through the static: “You have a nice voice, lady. Good evening.”
“Some of the closest calls I’m convinced they don’t know we’re there,” said Gen. Corcoran.
That’s not always the case. In September, an Su-35 shadowed an American F-15 fighter as it ended a bombing run over Syria and pulled up to a tanker plane to refuel. The U.S. pilot filmed the Russian running alongside the American planes, about a mile-and-a-half away, said Col. Birch.
At times, Russian planes plow through tightly controlled groupings of allied aircraft over Raqqa. Russian bombers, flying to Syria via Iran, have crossed Iraq and disrupted allied flight patterns over the battlefields of Mosul.
Lt. Col. August “Pfoto” Pfluger, a stealth-fighter pilot, witnessed such an incident over Iraq in August. He compared the Russians’ behavior to jumping out of the stands at a professional football game and bolting onto the field.
“You just don’t do that,” he said.
—James Marson and Noam Raydan contributed to this article.
Obama pretends to consider arming Kurds
Reply #864 on:
January 18, 2017, 10:49:47 AM »
Mattis goes to work on ISIS
Reply #865 on:
January 22, 2017, 08:49:27 PM »
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