The Shia-Sunni rivalry is old and goes back centuries. Iran assumes itself to be the leader of the world Shias and the promotion of their interests is a foundation of the Islamic republic’s ideology.
Similarly, Saudi Arabia is the custodian of the two holiest mosques and is a bastion of Sunni Islam. Recently, the rivalry had taken an ugly turn. The Shia cleric Nimr al Nimr was among the 47 execution on January 2, 2016. Nimr’s execution had resulted in Shia protests in several countries of the region. He was a fierce critic of the Saudi rulers and had once even advocated the establishment of a separate Shia state in the Eastern province of Saudi Arabia which had a large Shia population. Iran had quickly promised revenge for the execution and so did the Shia Houthis in Yemen. After the execution of Nimr protesters in Tehran responded by torching part of the Saudi Embassy. On January 3, 2016, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir announced Saudi Arabia was severing ties with Iran. Bahrain had also announced it will sever ties with Iran. Both Bahrain and Saudi Arabia were close U.S. allies. Sudan and the UAE also joined in though the UAE’s action was limited to downgrading diplomatic relations.
What does this all mean?
These executions signal Saudi Arabia’s increasing anxiety over instability. The Saudi monarchy faced challenges from several directions, including economy. The Kingdom faced a high deficit of $98 billion in 2015 and also a drop in foreign exchange reserves from $728 billion to $640 billion.
Iran and Saudi Arabia are rivals for influence in the region and are engaged in a proxy war stretching across the region, they are increasingly competitive over the leadership of Islam itself. Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran’s rivalry goes back centuries to the rivalry of Shia and Sunni Islam. In the contemporary period the Saudi Kingdom was an important Western ally and was supported by successive Western governments. Saudi Arabia had vast oil wealth and was a reliable customer of Western goods, including military equipment. The Saudi-Iran row is going to get worse very soon. How can the tension be reduced to avoid a real crisis in the making? Is a sectarian conflict going to get worse now? Who is to be blamed for the recent problems?
Yet it is a fact that Saudi Arabia is the source of most of the recent problems between the two sects…The latest round of provocations from the Saudis stems from the successful conclusion of talks to limit and monitor Iran’s development of its nuclear capacity. The melting of the pack ice between the West and Tehran, in which this agreement was the first and most crucial step, was taken badly in Riyadh, and the ratcheting up of tensions stems from that event. The pitiless war waged by a Saudi-led coalition against Shia Houthi rebels in Yemen is only its most brutal manifestation…. But the Saudis need to be made aware that if they are to survive, they must mend their ways. In particular, the bloody provocations initiated by King Salman since his enthronement one year ago must cease.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia was also commanding an Arab coalition in Yemen against Houthi rebels supported by Iran. Nearly 6,000 people had been killed since the Saudi-led coalition began bombing Yemen in March 2015, about half of them civilians. Undoubtedly, the war was an ill-conceived adventure of the Saudis and the Gulf States. After all, their strategic partner and strong ally Pakistan did not join the coalition to the utter surprise and dismay of their Gulf Arab brothers. The war in Yemen has caused large destruction in the country and had had resulted in grave human rights violations, as per international watchdog agencies and the United Nations. Tragically, it has ravaged the poorest Arab country, even further.
Others blame Iran for the troubles and point out the Iranian fingerprints over many incidents of terrorism. For example, the Hezbollah had conducted an attack on the United States Air Force personnel in 1995 in which 19 Americans were killed. The Hezbollah group in Saudi Arabia was connected to the parent Hezbollah in Lebanon. Iran supports the Hezbollah in Lebanon.
In a policy brief Henderson “Saudi-Iranian Diplomatic Crisis Threatens U.S. Policy” Simon Henderson argued on January 4, 2016 that the US needed “to move quickly to prevent a full-scale diplomatic confrontation with military dimensions” US appeared to its Gulf allies of “indecision and unwillingness to confront Iran, as well as ineffectiveness”. In December 2015 Saudi Arabia had announced the formation of a grand coalition of Muslim states to fight the Islamic State (IS). The Saudi move “fits U.S. thinking that a Sunni Muslim force is the best way of confronting and ultimately destroying IS. With U.S. logistical and intelligence support”.
Saudi Arabia had been assisting fighters trying to overthrow the Assad regime in Syria. But now the U.S.-Saudi bilateral relationship was under “considerable strain and perhaps reconsideration, at least in Riyadh”. The US “must act swiftly to defuse the tension in the Gulf. Deterring Iranian troublemaking more openly and vigorously should reassure Saudi Arabia of Washington’s support — even if this support is sometimes mixed with criticism — against the Islamic State and the challenge represented by Iran”.
And of course there has been no real U.S. pushback against Iran for its support for the Assad regime in Syria which is guilty of crimes against humanity — the kind of crimes that United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power has spent her career denouncing. Nor does the U.S. inflict any kind of cost on Iran for holding five Americans hostage, or for the rather hostile habit that Ayatollah Khameini and other Iranian leaders have of regularly chanting “Death to America.” Whenever Iran acts up, the U.S. looks the other way. This is particularly egregious given the fact that Iran has not actually received its sanctions relief yet. Soon — possibly in a matter of weeks — Iran will get access to over $100 billion in frozen oil assets. Until that happens all of the leverage is on the American side. Iran should be on its best behavior until it gets its payoff for signing the nuclear deal. But that’s not the way Tehran sees it. The Iranian regime knows that President Obama is so desperate to implement the JCPOA that Iran can get away with murder and not suffer any consequences. So that is precisely what Iran is doing. This is creating a very dangerous precedent for the future. The devastating loss of American credibility means that a future president, even if he or she is so inclined, will have a hard time restoring our deterrent power and convincing Iran not to secretly pursue its nuclear ambitions. It also means that the value of American security guarantees continues to erode, which helps to explain why allies such as Saudi Arabia are pushing back against the Iranian threat in their own crude fashion, e.g., by bombing Houthi rebels in Yemen and by executing a Shiite rabble rouser. In sum, it means that the Middle East (and indeed the rest of the world) will continue to become more dangerous and more hostile to American interests — hard as that may be to believe.
In reality both must be blamed for the troubles. Saudi Arabia is a medieval kingdom trampling human rights and Iran is a theocratic state also trampling human rights. The Shia government has persecuted Sunni Baluchis bordering Afghanistan and Pakistan. Over the decades the Islam regime in Iran has also persecuted the Kurds bordering Turkey. Iran has also supported Shia proxies in various places like Lebanon, Iraq, Bahrain and Pakistan. In Pakistan it has supported the Shia Tehrani Nifas i Fiqah i Jafria (TNFJ) which has opposed Sunni majority interpretation of Islam. On the other hand, the Saudi rulers have supported the extremist Sunni entities fighting the Shia extremists. The proxy war has lasted for decades.
In sum, neither of the two are any models of good governance, rule of law, or upholders of human rights. Meanwhile, the US is seemingly reluctant to intervene despite calls for taking sides with the Saudi against the Iranian regime. It is best to engage with both to defuse tensions. The United States, along with Turkey and Pakistan, act quietly behind the scenes to defuse tension. It would be inappropriate for the Obama administration to come out openly against Iran or to even openly support the Saudis. A cautious approach is required. In sum, the proper role of the United States would be to stay neutral officially and to try facilitate a rapprochement between the two rivals through back channel diplomacy.
Iran’s Dangerous Game in Iraq Could Lead to Deep Quagmire
Citizens of Baghdad continue to fight against the current regime after over a month of protests reached a fever pitch with over 300 dead and thousands wounded. The social unrest that has shaken Iraq—though not the first time since the US overthrew Saddam Hussein—remains a tense and fragile situation that could be a turning point for the country.
The protests, as they have in the past, started over claims of corruption, graft, and government inefficiency that have left a large number of Iraqis unemployed, the country’s economy stagnant, and offer little hope of a better future. Entrenched political elites have also made it difficult to combat these problems at a root level, resisting any real anti-corruption efforts and even removing from power those that would pose a significant threat.
After days of rising unrest on the streets, the protests hit a bloody climax when militias deployed snipers to quell the demonstrations. All told, the anti-protest efforts resulted in hundreds of deaths and injuries, as well as serious questions being asked. After it was revealed the snipers were deployed by Iran-backed groups, concerns have once again come to light about Iran’s dealings in Iraq, as well as what such meddling could mean in the long run.
Pouring Gasoline on the Fire
Violence at protests is nothing new in Iraq—violent protests in Basra in 2018 were dispersed when security forces opened fire on them—but this year’s clashes have tipped the scales. The shooting was initiated by Iran-backed militias that were supporting Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi’s regime. The groups placed snipers across the city, and assaulted protesters with gunfire, grenades, and tear gas, resulting in a total of over 300 dead and many injured.
The protests—a response to growing inequality and a lack of hope for prospects—have been more persistent than in the past, and even government guarantees and assurance of plans to combat poverty have fallen on deaf ears. Iraqis have contended with an economy that has less than 50% labor force participation, and unemployment rates that have remained near 10% for years.
Even so, the introduction of Iran into the equation adds a complex layer that could severely worsen an existing powder keg situation. Iranian influence in the country is nothing new, as it remains Iraq’s third-largest trade partner, and the political party Fata Alliance—known Iran loyalists—controls 48 seats in parliament. Moreover, Prime Minister Mahdi’s regime is largely backed by powerful Iran-supported armed militias and political alliances.
The government has claimed that the groups acted without government approval, but the fact remains that Iran-backed gunmen violently quelled a protest that left over 100 Iraqis dead. That these groups retaliated so swiftly to keep their vested interest in power shows the depths of Iran’s influence, but also the dangers inherent in the game Tehran seems to be playing. Iran has relished the power that comes from being Iraq’s only real source of vital utilities including water, electricity, and energy. More broadly, Iraq is a crucial pivot point for both Iran and the US as the former attempts to bolster its reach in the region amid tensions with the White House.
Until recently, Iran has had little care for how it entrenches its roots in Iraq. Tehran has been open about deepening Iraq’s reliance, and has not hesitated to flex its muscle to protect key allies in the fledgling democracy. Some of its tactics have even been emulated by the Iraqi government, which cut access to the internet at the height of the protests (a move that, ironically, worsened the very economic conditions being protested). However, this tightening grip has not been without repercussions in the public sphere. Iraqi citizens have long decried Tehran’s influence in their country, which they blame for a large portion of their problems and governmental quagmire.
Indeed, protesters have a case to make that Iran’s influence has led to stagnation. The current Tehran-backed administration has already shown a lack of action in its one year in power, failing to meet any campaign promises of combatting corruption. Additionally, many powerful Iraqi factions have spoken out against Iran’s influence in the country. Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the country’s highest religious authority, has spoken out against Tehran, as has Muqtada al-Sadr, an influential leader of the largest coalition in parliament.
No Good Outcomes
Perhaps most crucially, continued interference in the Iraqi political process by Iran threatens the country’s already precarious stability. More than a decade after Saddam Hussein was ousted from power, Iraq’s political and socio-economic situation has remained concerning at the best of times. The current wave of unrest and protests are a direct result of years of corruption and mismanagement and have more momentum behind them than any in recent memory.
Iran is now playing a dangerous game in attempting to maintain its power base in the country. As Iraqis take to the streets and protest both Iraq and its reliance on Iran, having the latter sponsor extra-governmental killings of hundreds of protestors as well as tighten its grip on the political process is a sure recipe for disaster. By continuing to harm the natural evolution of democracy, Iran threatens to keep Iraq stagnant, and make its own position more untenable.
Soleimani in Iraq
The current presence of Qassem Alì Soleimani, leader of the Al QudsForce of the “Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps” in Iraq is strategically significant.
Certainly, according to the Iranian press, Soleimani was the sole responsible for the destruction of the so-called “Caliphate” of Al Baghdadi, whohas recently been eliminated by the US Special Forces, upon probable Turkish pressure.
It is not entirely false: the various Shiite forces from Iran and Iraq have made about 3,000 military operations against Al Baghdadi’s network.
Soleimani also remains the strategic holder of the Lebanese stability – if we can say so – even with the robust presence of Hezbollah in Saad Hariri’s Lebanese government that resigned on October 29 last, in spite of the pressure from a great Christian friend of Iran and Syria, namely Michel Aoun. President of the Lebanon and, as Maronite, certainly not disliked in Iran and Syria.
The idea that the government of Saad Hariri – a friend of the naive West and of the Sunni monarchies of the Gulf, but in fact in the hands of Hezbollah and Amal, two Lebanese Shiite and Iranian movements – could survive the economic crisis that persists even after the 11 million US dollars lent by the Sunni monarchies and the USA, and after the Shiite riots in Beirut and in the South of the country, was completely unfounded.
If the Lebanon collapses, Iran shall strengthen Iraq, and vice versa. It is obvious if we study the political structures of both countries and their role for Israel and the USA.
In Syria, however, the Russian Federation – and not Iran – has won, but it is equally true that the Shiite Republic, also thanks to Qassem Soleimani, is currently able to fight well in Syria, thus maintaining such a level of hostility as to minimize the possibility of retaliation against Iranian forces both in Syria and at home.
Iran has now stably penetrated the informal and official Syrian defence structures and its goal is both to support Hezbollah and the Shiite forces that will replace it, for an attack southwards, namely against Israel, and the definitive exclusion of US forces or US allies from the whole region of the Syria-Iraq axis.
Nevertheless the trump card that counts for the internationalization of the Syrian crisis is still in Russian hands only.
Furthermore, the territorial and operational limitation of the Russian forces in Syria, above all on the Golan Heights, is a further strategic aim of Iran in Syria and Jordan, as well as obviously in Iraq.
Qassem Alì Soleimani, however – often associated to Rahbar, the Supreme Leader Alì Khamenei, in the iconography of the Iranian regime – is considered the military leader closest to the ideas and opinions of Rahbar himself.
He has always been a myth for the Iranian public because he has quickly risen to the top ranks, among Iran’s 13 Major Generals, starting from a humble job as mason in Kirman, Southern Iran, and he is currently the only senior officer of the Armed Forces who speaks directly with the Supreme Leader.
Jointly with some of the most powerful representatives of the Sunni regimes in the Emirates and in the Saudi Kingdom, Soleimani and the Rahbar are organizing a new policy of negotiations with Saudi Arabia and with the whole Sunni world of Egypt and Jordan.
Currently the Al Quds Force led by Soleimani is organizing alone – with at least 12 commercial jet planes never entered into any register – import-export operations in its favour and in favour of the Iranian regime, while millions of Iraqi, Afghan, Pakistani, Azerbaijani and Bahraini refugees in Iran have quickly obtained – through the Al Quds Force – citizenship in the Republic founded by Ayatollah Khomeini.
An Iranian passport is always ready -through Soleimani’s Force – also for many Lebanese, Pakistani (20% of the Pakistani inhabitants are Shiite) and Bahraini citizens.
These are the future strengths of Iran’s destabilization, which uses the Shiite minorities, but not only them.
Soleimani also manages a network of special envoys of the Shiite Republic of Iran throughout the Middle East that report directly to him who then transfers data directly to the Supreme Leader’s Office.
Currently Soleimani’s parallel and military diplomacy is the real axis of the Iranian power projection in the Greater Middle East and reaches as far as India and the West.
As Ayatollah Yatani said about a month ago: “Nowadays, thanks to General Soleimani, we directly control four Arab capitals, namely Beirut, Damascus, Baghdad and Sana’a”.
This is not entirely true, but certainly Soleimani’s network is effective and credible, at least to back the business that supports the Al Quds Brigade and hence also its political operations of infiltration and control of the local political systems.
Certainly Qassem Soleimani’s power is not as relevant as the Iranian propaganda suggests, but it is however true that, in Iraq, the role played by the General and his Al Quds Force is really important and decisive.
Iraq has a border of 1,559 kilometres with Iran and the great country that was Saddam Hussein’s absolute dominion has always hosted a vast Shiite majority, the second in the world after Iran and India. It is also the majority in the country.
In fact, it has just been reported that General Qassem Alì Soleimani has reached Iraq by helicopter and has settled in Baghdad, taking direct control of the Shiite armed forces and their autonomous security services.
Certainly, the most important sign to define this Iranian decision was the attack on the Iranian Consulate in Karbala, the Shiite holy city. The attack launched on November 3 last caused the death of three people.
The demonstrators carried the Iraqi flags and cried out “Karbala is free, Iran out, out!” – one of the many signs of growing intolerance, not only by Sunnis, towards Iran’s strong interference in Iraqi politics and economy.
On November 11 last, Al-Sistani, the Great Shiite Iraqi Ayatollah, gave the Iraqi government a two-week deadline to find out which “undisciplined elements” – as the Iraqi government of Adel Abdul Al Mahdi euphemistically called them- had used snipers to shoot some demonstrators.
Iraqi Prime Minister Mahdi declared three days of mourning for the victims of the demonstrations in Karbala and elsewhere.
The toll was terrible. At least 110 Iraqi citizens were killed in the demonstrations; over 6,000 were injured in demonstrations in Baghdad, Karbala and the South of the country. The death toll includes at least six elements of government security forces.
The US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo ,asked the Iraqi Prime Minister for maximum repression of demonstrations, which, however, are becoming increasingly “harsh”.
Abdul Al Mahdi immediately announced his 13-point plan for reforms, with economic subsidies and free housing for poor people, while a special session of the Iraqi Parliament opened on October 8, with meetings between the government and the Speaker of the Iraqi Council of Representatives, Mohammed Al Haboulsi, and between them and the tribal leaders.
On the same day, the Head of the State Grain Buying Agency in Baghdad, Naeem Al Maksousi, was removed and immediately replaced by Mahdi Elwan.
Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov had arrived in Baghdad as early as October 7 to negotiate with the Iraqi government and curb the protests, which are potentially destructive both for the Russian equilibria in Syria and for the sensitive relationship that the Russian Federation has with Iran, between Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.
If Iraq becomes viable for all the destabilization operations that currently pass through the Greater Middle East, the Russian successes in Syria, the stability of Assad’s regime in Syria, the penetration of the Sunni jihad from Afghanistan into Iran, and finally the destabilization of Jordan, will become not only possible, but likely.
In this case it is not only a matter of “bread riots”, as those described by Manzoni in his book The Betrothed, but of a political equilibrium between Iraqi ethnic groups, tribes and international relations, which today is inevitably breaking.
However, as mentioned above, on October 30 last a helicopter transported Qassem Alì Soleimani from Baghdad airport to the fortified Green Zone around the Iraqi capital.
In a meeting called by him in the office of the Iraqi Prime Minister, Soleimani also discussed the issue of the protests mounting in the capital city and, above all, in the Shiite Southern Iraq.
Soleimani is now the de facto Prime Minister of the Republic of Iraq, especially with reference to the actions taken to keep the protest under control.
“We in Iran know how to control these situations. They also happened in Iran and we quickly put them under control”. According to many sources, he reportedly said so to the Iraqi political leaders.
Hence a real Iranian coup d’état took place in Iraq, because of or with the pretext of the often bloody riots that occurred particularly in the last fortnight.
But there is also another weakness that has emerged for Iran in a traditionally friendly country like Iraq.
Soleimani and his Brigade were not able to organize Hezbollah and its network in the Lebanon, especially to prevent Saad Hariri – a Lebanese President who is a friend of Iran, but connected to the Saudi banks that hold him in their hands – from resigning together with all his government, including the various, and often powerful, Ministers chosen by Hezbollah itself.
Hariri’s resignation has also made a future technocratic solution for the Lebanese government more likely – a solution that would certainly diminish the grip of the Shiite movement Hezbollah, always trained by the “Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps”a Lebanese movement that was the “right eye” of Imam Khomeini.
If Iran loses also Iraq, its area of influence will be so much reduced as to allow a possible penetration of its own territory.
However, despite the presence of Soleimani, the Iraqi Prime Minister intends to leave power.
Therefore, while a “friendly” government for Iran resigns in the Lebanon, another “friendly” government in Iraq is floundering in a structural crisis. This is the rationale underlying Soleimani’s presence in the Iraqi capital.
It should be noted that on the border between Iran and Iraq, on both sides of the line, the Kurds live and they are a real human shield against massive military penetration from Iran into Iraq.
Sunni and Shiite Arab-Iranian tribes are also straddling the border line, and all the parties involved on the border between the two countries – both with a Shiite majority – have vast reserves of oil at their disposal, which they control almost entirely on their own.
Not to mention the various rivers of the region and, above all, the Shatt-el-Arab.
Let us see, however, who Qassem Alì Soleimani really controls in Iraq.
Firstly, there is the Asaib al-Haq network, as well as the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) and finally what remains of the old Al Badr Brigades.
Asaib al-Haq, the “League of the Righteous”, also known as the Khazali Network, heavily operated also during the last war in Syria.
In the Iraqi war, after Saddam Hussein’s fall, it was responsible for at least 6,000 attacks against the US and coalition forces.
At the time, the “Widowers’ House”, where the Sunni jihadist “martyrs” – also those who hit Italy’s military in Nassiriya – passed at the end of their journey towards death, was placed in Syria.
It was from there that a young Sunni “martyr”, of Moroccan origin, who initially worked in a halal butcher shop on the Catalan coast moved to the Mosque of Viale Jenner, in Milan, and finally to Syria, to hit Italy’s soldiers in Camp Mittica, Nassiriya.
We were informed of it by the Spanish Guardia Civilthat – as always happens in these cases – had received some DNA found on the body of the “martyr” who killed our soldiers.
Asaib al-Haq, that is also an Iraqi political party, is under direct orders of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and, in any case, is institutionally part of the old network of the Popular Mobilization Forces.
It is estimated that the militants and operatives of the Asaib network and of the Popular Mobilization Forces are currently worth about 15,000 elements, all well-trained, both in Iraq and Iran.
Asaib was born as a splinter group of the old Army of the Mahdi, led and founded by Muqtada al-Sadr (and exactly in the old “rationalist” Sadr City, ferocious clashes between the “rebels” and the Iraqi police forces have taken place very recently).
The working style of the militia group among the population – that is to provide aid to poor people through a “religious welfare”, the same policy of Hezbollah in the Lebanon – is, however, a significant cost for Iran.
Hezbollah in the Lebanon, however, is supported by a system of private funding from rich local Shiites; companies, also Sunni ones, that operate in the areas or with Iranian customers; income from investment and from the usual private donations.
Between 1983 and 1989 Iran has given directly to Hezbollah as many as 450 million US dollars.
Currently – and, however, this does not include operational military support and training for Hezbollah men and women in the Lebanon – there is talk of at least 650 million US dollars a year, from Iran directly to the Southern district of Beirut, where the operational centre of the Lebanese and Shiite “Party of God” is located.
Hezbollah also gets money from the often powerful Shiite minorities outside the Middle East, such as those in West Africa, in the USA and also in the very important area of the “tripartite border” between Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil.
As shown by international agencies’ data, there are also operations that demonstrate how and to what extent the business network of the “Party of God” also deals – for significant amounts – with the illegal trafficking of tobacco and, often, with international drug trafficking.
Currently news about Iran’s financial commitment in Iraq tells us of at least 16 billion US dollars to train, support and organize Shiite militias in Iraq.
Moreover the expansion of the Shiite militias in these areas is recent and will follow Soleimani’s presence in Iraq, like Banquo’s ghost in Shakespeare’s Macbeth.
The Popular Mobilisation Forces are currently a complex organization born in 2014 to fight against the so-called Al Baghdadi’s “Caliphate”.
In September 2019, upon order of the Shiite Iraqi leader, Abu Mahdi Al Muhandis,the network of the Shiite PMF separated from the rest of the Iraqi Armed Forces. This Iran’s political choice stems from a series of air bombings that the PMF bases have suffered in Iraq over the last three months.
The Shiite network has accused Israel, which has neither confirmed nor denied the charge.
But there is no guarantee that this Shiite network is now also opposed to many of the sectarian forces operating on Iraqi soil, between Sunnis and Kurds.
However, the great Shiite military alliance, under the umbrella of the Popular Mobilisation Forces, was born in 2014 from a fatwa of the Great Ayatollah al Sistani that indicated to the young Iraqis the duty to “be part of the security forces” to save the country from the danger of the so-called Al Baghdadi’s “Caliphate”.
Despite various decrees enacted by the Iraqi government, both by Nouri al Maliki and the current President, the structure of the Popular Mobilisation Forces has not given their weapons to the Iraqi army and the PMF have never subjected their chain of command to the Iraqi hierarchy of the Armed Forces.
Recently, the Shiite network in Iraq has increased from the 4,500 armed militants, who had been identified in 2011, to well over 81,000 ones, with a significant increase that has occurred only over the last six months.
The network of the Popular Mobilisation Forces is also useful for Iran to create a second front – more difficult to control – of missile launch against Israel, operated solely from the Iraqi territory.
Also the Hashd al Shaabi movement in the Lebanon was born in 2014, like the new PMF. It is a movement connected – from the very beginning -to the Iraqi brigades of the Popular Mobilisation Forces, as well as to the Badr Brigade and the new Asaib al-Haq network, always linked to the presence of the Brigades of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and hence to Soleimani’s Al Quds Brigade.
Now this network, under Qassem Alì Soleimani’s direct control, currently counts at least 130,000 armed militants.
In other words, Iran is replacing its proxies in Iraq and the Lebanon with a view to avoiding the enemy penetration and staking – with new organizational and military models – a very heavy claim to regimes, between the Lebanon and Iraq, which are obviously at the end of their pathway.
Trump’s support for Erdogan’s plans in Syria gives the green light to potential Turkish genocide of the Kurds
When the Turks are “just passing through” a territory, sometimes they stay 500 years. Just ask the Bulgarians, who spent 500 years under violent Ottoman rule. And let’s not forget the Turkish genocide against the Armenians in the First World War that the Turkish state continues to vehemently deny to this day.
That’s why when I heard the news that US president Donald Trump had let Turkey’s Erdogan enter the Kurdish parts of northern Syria, I was deeply concerned. This is genuinely bad news.
The decision is an American betrayal of the Kurds who carried the battle against Islamic State on their shoulders. As close American allies (until recently) in the fight against this tumor, the Kurds don’t deserve this, particularly after the Kurds dismantled their defenses on the border with Turkey to redirect all forces to the battle with IS fighters under the promise that the Kurds would be protected by the US against possible Turkish attacks. That’s why the decision leaves Kurdish commanders absolutely puzzled at the moment.
By all means, what Erdogan has planned will not be a peaceful resettlement of Syrians “going back home.” Under the pretext of resettling refugees back in Syria – but note, in the northern Kurdish territories – Erdogan’s forces are expected to wipe out chunks of the Kurdish population, fighters and civilians alike.
Erdogan has waved his finger at Kurdish fighters in Syria, more than once, calling them terrorists. Trump’s decision to give Erdogan the green light to act is in a stark contrast with his previous promises and statements that the US will protect the Kurds. As recently as January this year, Trump promised to destroy Turkey’s economy if they attacked the Kurds.
What has caused this 180-degree U-turn – and if this abrupt decision is related to Trump’s impeachment inquiry – is anybody’s guess at this point. A US withdrawal has certainly been in the cards but has so far been resisted up – until now. So, the question remains about what Turkey offered Trump at this point, in the middle of heated impeachment calls.
The US is sending allies across the Middle East – and elsewhere in the world – the wrong message, and it is clear to all “we will use you until you’ve done your part and then we will throw you at the wolves.” This harms American credibility in the Middle East and its global leadership at large.
Another message being read from this decision is that US foreign policy can change overnight, on a whim.
It is my prediction that we are witnessing the beginning of a Turkish genocide on the Kurds. Trump will be, in part, to blame. That’s just not how you do foreign policy.
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