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Foreign States Interventions in Syrian Conflict

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Foreign interventions in Syria started in March 2011 after the furious people of Dara predominantly Sunni Muslims city in Syria cited as (cradle of revolution) came down to the street to demonstrate against Bashar Assad. Demanding the government to improve fundamental services in the country, soldier reacted the protests by shooting and killed several civilian among them children, young and women.

This fueled the demonstrations and more people came down to the street to participate and the slogan against Bashar Assad was raised, anti- government protests started in all cities in Syria including Damascus the capital of the country.  In a short period, most of the Syrian cities rose up against Bashar Al-Assad. In contrast to all other states in the Region, demonstrations led up to internal fighting and civil war throughout Syrian cities. Governments such as Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya toppled under the pressure of their population. But the case about Syria was different. Bashar Al- Assad reacted with an armed attack on demonstrators, consequently, the people were compelled to take up arms aiming at defending themselves and deterring the regime to kill more civilian people. Regional states such as Saudi, Qatar, and Turkey on one side and Iran on the other side intervened in Syria. Each of them was inciting their proxy groups inside the country, over time the situations in Syria entered into the large scale civil war. Over course of time, international powers such as United States and Russian Federation joined the conflicts. The aim of this article is to explore the factors behind the interventions of regional and international powers in Syrian conflicts. Foreign interventions could be multidimensional, there are political, economic, cultural, and religious and trade aspects perceived in the context of the Syrian crises. There were three main elements that induced foreign powers to interfere in Syria’s internal conflicts, firstly the geopolitical impetus secondly Balance of power in the Middle East and, thirdly ambition of pipeline construction.

Geopolitical factors

The Syrian geopolitical is considered one of the most strategic location in the Middle East.  Syria is the only country which competes Turkey for its strategic location in the Mediterranean.  Therefore eyes of regional and international powers are in Syria, it is a strategic location for Russia too that helps Moscow to access to Mediterranean. Iran too, has not access to Mediterranean, therefore, keeping Assad on power as its ally is in its interest. Due to long standing relations and historical ties in terms of politics and religion, Tehran exerts utmost effort to prevent regime change in the interest of Istanbul. Turkey in the north through straits of Bosporus and Dardanelle connects east Europe to west-Europe, and from the south, through Mediterranean connects Asia and Africa to Europe. Thanks to its location have been dominating decision making in the Middle East. Turkey is the intersection among extractive and transformative nations, it means raw materials and manufactured goods through straits of Turkey enters into west and vice versa.  Access to Mediterranean has been a subject of interest regional and international powers from old times until now, therefore all states scramble for obtaining sea power. Alfred Mahan a geopolitical scholar has once said that ‘’national greatness inextricably associated with the sea power’’ the dominance over sea leads to ascending as a super power. The old Empires such as Britain and France were fighting each other for dominance over Mediterranean, they were perceiving that Mediterranean was a focal point in international politics and believed that without control over Mediterranean, Empires cannot survive. Historically all superpowers have been originating their might in the dominance of Middle East, and have been defeated there too. Through exploring the history, it is sensed that most of the powers have started to take up sea harbor so as to control other countries activities for example England had hegemony over all Sea straits from Malacca Strait in Singapore to Cape of hope in South Africa which through these all Sea movements that was controlled by Great Britain. Sea power through history demonstrated that Sea hegemony will give rise to dominate over other countries. Due to Tartu’s port and Mediterranean in Syria, regional and international powers intervened in there. War on Syria will continue in many years to come and potentially that extends to neighbor countries in the near future.

Balance of powers

 Regional powers in the Middle East are fighting for equilibrium strategy that dragged Syria in a quagmire which made the country a hell for its population. Turks according to most Syrian and Shia militant groups has logistically assisted ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) aiming at capitalizing on them as a means of pressure in the region. Turkey hopes to be a transit country for oil and gas in the region, and preventing Syria to play this role. Ankara in the trees of guarantee that Turkey stays from north and south as an only corridor for energy transport to European markets.  And at the same time impeding Moscow to use gas as a pressure against West Europe as Putin did in 2008 which threatened Europe by cutting gas in flowing to their markets. Erdogan’s dream in the region is to be a leading gas transporter to Europe and aims to dominate all the region through making Ankara as an energy hub. Turks so far in this respect have been extremely successful by helping Daesh (Islamic State) and Sunni states in the region to counterbalance the Shia expansion on one side and cutting Russia’s role in the region on the other hand. ISIS hegemony expansion in the region was a major threat to Iran, Russia, and the USA, therefore all of them, in this case, were unified to fight against ISIS. Sunni Militia groups were the main supporter to Ankara through their role could impede the Kurdish development in Syria and at the same time disallowing Iranian expansion. The most important is cutting the Shia crescent which has been an Iranian dream for a long time that connected Shia from Mazar Sharif in Afghanistan to the coasts of Lebanon which could be helpful for Iran to bring Shia from Afghanistan to Lebanon to fight and Vis versa. But Turks cut this line by entering Al- Bab city in Syria.Iran in need of Syria to unify the Shia in the region and establish free movement among Shia states in the region from Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen. Turkey on the other side wanted to topple Bashar regime and institute Sunni regime in Damascus aiming at uniting Sunni countries under its umbrella. Geopolitical importance of Syria made Damascus a center of confrontations among regional powers. Showdowns still continue, who will win the time to come will tell us what will happen with Syria .but most of the signals tell us that due to the importance of the location the conflict will continue many years ahead. Both of Ankara and Tehran exerts their utmost efforts to prevent tilt of balance in the region against their own will and interests.

Pipeline construction

World eyes are on the south Iranian gas deposits, the existence of huge amounts of gas in Arabian Gulf that locates between Qatar and Iran which both of them intended to export it to European markets. On the other hand, Russia owns huge amounts of gas which intend to export it to Europe too. Clash of interests among gas producers and gas consumers dragged Syria into an international conflict. Ankara and Tehran were two major powers that wanted to dominate gas route through Syria. Pipeline construction divided the region and the world powers into two competing sides, each of them was trying to steadfast their foothold in Syria. Qatar approached Damascus to build Arab gas pipeline and on the other hand, Tehran asked for construct Iran-Iraq-Syria project pipeline. Due to historical and religious affinity Damascus gave a positive response to Iranian offer and by supporting Iran plan, Qatar-Saudi Arab pipeline was revoked. For Syria pleasing Iran as a historical ally was more important than Turkey or Qatar, moreover, Russia as an ally to Damascus was preferring Iran pipeline over Turkey-Saudi- Qatar project. Moscow believed that treating with Tehran is better than Doha in the gas market. Pipeline construction gave rise to intensify rift and conflict among regional and international powers. Turkey as a transit country of oil and gas to Europe faced by Syria. When Syria’s leader Bashar Assad in 2009 declared Four Seas Strategy (Caspian Sea, Mediterranean, Gulf and the Black Sea), aiming at making Syria a hub of energy. Bashar was planning to fill the revenue gap that inflicted the economy of Syria by the financial crisis, and Damascus like other states, its budget faced a deficit. In 2010 Bashar Assad convened an agreement with Baghdad and Tehran to build oil pipe line from south Iran through Iraq to Mediterranean in Syrian ports to resolve this financial deficiency.  China and Russia sided with the plan but United State of America and Turkey rejected this idea.

 Conclusion

The war in Syria resulted to destabilize the whole Middle East, thousands of inhabitants in Syria for the sake of protecting their lives from internal fighting were compelled to leave their homeland and resorted to other countries. The demographic situation in Syria changed in a way that cannot be repaired in the near future, and this laid the volatile foundation to future generations. The most important motivation behind the regional and international powers involvement, were geopolitical factors, the balance of power and pipeline construction. These elements were considered as a leading cause of foreign interventions. A war in Syria tends to continue for many years to come and its implications will potentially spill over to other countries in the region. Syrian crisis resolution is emanated from inside the country, by waiving bigotry and tolerating each other. Prospects in Syrian internal showdowns heralding evil for all ethnic groups in the region and collapsing of the state system in the Middle East is inevitable. 

References;

1)            John, Hannah, Foreign policy, Does Trump intend to thwart Iran’s Thwart Iran’s ambition in Syria, August 24, 2017.Web. http://foreignpolicy.com/2017/08/24/does-trump-intend-to-thwart-irans-ambitions-in-syria/

2)            Milad, Jokar, Huffington post, War in Syria, Geopolitics of the conflict, Web.

 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/milad-jokar/war-in-syria-geopolitics-_b_2378683.html

3)            Reva,Goujon ,  Worldview Stratfor ,The Geopolitics of the Syrian Civil War ,August 4,2015,Web. https://worldview.stratfor.com/weekly/geopolitics-syrian-civil-war

4)            Nafeez ,Ahmed, Middle East Eye ,The US-Russian Gas Pipeline War could destabilize Putin, Friday 30 October 2015, Web.

http://www.middleeasteye.net/columns/us-russia-gas-pipeline-war-syria-could-destabilise-putin-103505758

5)            Joe Hood and Alia Dharssi, National post, Balance of power; How Russia’s entrance into Syria has altered the geopolitical calculus of the Middle East, October 2,2015, Web.

http://nationalpost.com/news/world/balance-of-power-how-russias-entrance-into-syria-has-altered-the-geopolitical-calculus-of-the-middle-eaat

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Kavala Case as a Cause for Dıplomatıc Crısıs

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Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s recent statement about the Osman Kavala declaration of the envoys of 10 countries has been dominating both domestic and foreign policy agenda. Erdoğan  on October  25 slammed the envoys of 10 countries over their statement on the ongoing case of businessman Osman Kavala.

Osman Kavala was arrested on  November 1, 2017. Businessman Osman Kavala who was arrested as part of the investigation of the Gezi Park events, the 17-25 December plots of the Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETÖ) and the July 15 coup attempt is accused of being the manager and organizer of the Gezi Park events. Kavala is still in prison. Besides his businessman identity, Kavala is also known as a critical human rights activist.

 It is known that, the European Court of Human Rights requested that Kavala be released. This request has been ignored by Turkey, and can be seen as one of the reasons leading to recent diplomatic crisis. Previously, Kavala has been tied to billionaire George Soros after he helped to found the Turkish branch of Soros’ Open Society Foundations. That branch ceased operations in 2018 after Erdogan accused Soros of attempting to undermine the Turkish government.

The Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers and the Strasbourg Court found that Osman Kavala’s extended detention had an “ulterior purpose, namely to reduce him to silence as an NGO activist and human rights defender, to dissuade other persons from engaging in such activities and to paralyse civil society in the country” .

Not only European Court of Human Rights, but also American officials addressed Kavala imprisonment as well.  The United States State Department spokesman Ned Price in February 2021 stated that “The specious charges against Kavala, his ongoing detention, and the continuing delays in the conclusion of his trial, including through the merger of cases against him, undermine respect for the rule of law and democracy.”

According to Kavala’s attorneys, the courts’ actions during the process of merging have been intended to keep Kavala in prison.  Kavala was kept in prison despite the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) earlier decision stating that he should be released immediately. In such an environment, the ambassadors of 10 countries — US, Canada, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Germany, and France – issued a statement about Kavala’s imprisonment. After the statement, President Erdoğan noted that Turkey must declare the ambassadors, as “persona non grata” According to Erdoğan no nation can interfere in Turkey’s internal affairs. Erdoğan said: “I gave the necessary order to our foreign minister and said what must be done. These 10 ambassadors must be declared persona non grata at once. You will sort it out immediately.” After Erdoğan’s remarks, explanations were made by these countries. While the US, Canada, New Zealand and Netherlands embassies made a statement on their Twitter accounts that they would comply with the 41st article of the Vienna Convention, which includes the principle of “non-interference in internal affairs”, Germany, France, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland retweeted the US Embassy’s statement.

Kavala Case has been an issue of human rights debate in Turkey. Most of the information about Kavala focuses on his alleged involvement in the Gezi Park protests and his involvement in the 2016 military coup attempt.  The European Court required Turkey to release Kavala and noted that any continuation of his detention would prolong the violations of the Convention. Despite these developments, the statement of the ten ambassadors cannot be accepted because this move is a direct action of the interference in internal affairs. Erdoğan’s decisive stance about this issue has made the countries retreat, however Kavala issue still stands as one of the critical issues that has the potential to shape Turkey’s position in international relations.

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Saudi Arabia and Iran want to be friends again

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Eventually the ice-cold relationship between Iran and Saudi Arabia began to melt. The two countries sat at the negotiating table shortly after Biden came to power. The results of that discussion are finally being seen. Trade relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia have already begun to move. Although there has been no diplomatic relationship between the two countries since 2016, trade relations have been tense. But trade between Iran and the two countries was zero from last fiscal year until March 20 this year. Iran recently released a report on trade with neighboring countries over the past six months. The report also mentions the name of Saudi Arabia. This means that the rivalry between the two countries is slowly normalizing.

Historically, Shia-dominated Iran was opposed to the Ottoman Empire. The Safavids of Persia have been at war with the Ottomans for a long time, However, after the fall of the Ottomans, when the Middle East was divided like monkey bread, the newly created Saudi Arabia did not have much of a problem with Iran. Business trade between the two countries was normal. This is because the rulers of Saudi Arabia and Iran at the time were Western-backed. That is why there was not much of a problem between them. But when a revolution was organized in Iran in 1979 and the Islamic Republic of Iran was established by overthrowing the Shah, Iran’s relations with the West as well as with Saudi Arabia deteriorated. During the revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini called for the ouster of Western-backed rulers from the Middle East. After this announcement, naturally the Arab rulers went against Iran.

Saddam Hussein later invaded Iran with US support and Saudi financial support. After that, as long as Khomeini was alive, Saudi Arabia’s relations with Iran were bad. After Khomeini’s death, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatemi tried to mend fences again. But they didn’t get much of an advantage.

When the Bush administration launched its invasion of Iraq in 2003, Iran’s influence in Shiite-majority Iraq continued to grow. Since the start of the Arab Spring in 2011, Iran’s influence in the region has grown. Saudi Arabia has been embroiled in a series of shadow wars to reduce its influence. It can be said that Iran and Saudi Arabia are involved in the Cold War just like the United States and the Soviet Union. Behind that war was a conflict of religious ideology and political interests. Diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran came to a complete standstill in 2016. Iranians attack the Saudi embassy in Tehran after executing Saudi Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimar al-Nimar.  Since then, the two countries have not had diplomatic relations.

Finally, in April this year, representatives of the two countries met behind closed doors in Baghdad. And through this, the two countries started the process of normalizing diplomatic relations again. The last direct meeting between the two countries was held on September 21.

Now why are these two countries interested in normalizing relations? At one point, Mohammed bin Salman said they had no chance of negotiating with Iran. And Khomeini, the current Supreme Leader of Iran, called Mohammed bin Salman the new Hitler. But there is no such thing as a permanent enemy ally in politics or foreign policy. That is why it has brought Saudi Arabia and Iran back to the negotiating table. Prince Salman once refused to negotiate with Iran, but now he says Iran is our neighbor, we all want good and special relations with Iran.

Saudi Arabia has realized that its Western allies are short-lived. But Iran is their permanent neighbor. They have to live with Iran. The United States will not return to fight against Iran on behalf of Saudi Arabia. That is why it is logical for Iran and Saudi Arabia to have their ideological differences and different interests at the negotiating table. Saudi Arabia has been at the negotiating table with Iran for a number of reasons. The first reason is that Saudi Arabia wants to reduce its oil dependence. Prince Salman has announced Vision 2030. In order to implement Vision 2030 and get out of the oil dependent economy, we need to have good relations with our neighbors. It is not possible to achieve such goals without regional stability, He said.

Saudi Arabia also wants to emerge from the ongoing shadow war with Iran in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Lebanon to achieve regional stability. The war in Yemen in particular is now a thorn in the side of Saudi Arabia. The Saudis are unable to get out of this war, nor are they able to achieve the desired goal. Saudi Arabia must normalize relations with Iran if it is to emerge from the war in Yemen. Without a mutual understanding with Iran, Yemen will not be able to end the war. That is why Saudi Arabia wants to end the war through a peace deal with the Houthis by improving relations with Iran.

Drone strikes could also have an impact on the Saudi Aramco oil field to bring Saudi Arabia to the negotiating table. Because after the drone attack, the oil supply was cut in half. The Saudis do not want Aramco to be attacked again. Also, since the Biden administration has no eye on the Middle East, it would be wise to improve relations with Iran in its own interests.

Iran will benefit the most if relations with Saudi Arabia improve. Their economy has been shaken by long-standing US sanctions on Iran. As Saudi Arabia is the largest and most powerful country in the Middle East, Iran has the potential to benefit politically as well as economically if relations with them are normal.

While Saudi Arabia will normalize relations with Iran, its allies will also improve relations with Iran. As a result, Iran’s political and trade relations with all the countries of the Saudi alliance will be better. This will give them a chance to turn their economy around again. The development of Iran’s relations with Saudi Arabia will also send a positive message to the Biden administration. It could lead to a renewed nuclear deal and lift sanctions on Iran.

Another reason is that when Saudi Arabia normalizes relations with Iran, it will receive formal recognition of Iran’s power in the Middle East. The message will be conveyed that it is not possible to turn the stick in the Middle East by bypassing Iran. Relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran need to be normalized for peace and stability in the Middle East.

But in this case, the United Arab Emirates and Israel may be an obstacle. The closeness that Saudi Arabia had with the UAE will no longer exist. The UAE now relies much more on Israel. There will also be some conflict of interest between Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Prince Salman wants to turn Saudi into a full-fledged tourism and business hub that could pose a major threat to the UAE’s economy and make the two countries compete.

Furthermore, in order to sell arms to the Middle East, Iran must show something special. Why would Middle Eastern countries buy weapons if the Iranian offensive was stopped? During the Cold War, arms dealers forced NATO allies to buy large quantities of weapons out of fear of the Soviet Union. So it is in the Middle East. But if the relationship between Iran and Saudi Arabia is normal, it will be positive for the Muslim world, but it will lead to a recession in the arms market.

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Turkey and Iran find soft power more difficult than hard power

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The times they are a changin’. Iranian leaders may not be Bob Dylan fans, but his words are likely to resonate as they contemplate their next steps in Iraq, Iraqi Kurdistan, Lebanon, and Azerbaijan.

The same is true for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The president’s shine as a fierce defender of Muslim causes, except for when there is an economic price tag attached as is the case of China’s brutal crackdown on Turkic Muslims, has been dented by allegations of lax defences against money laundering and economic mismanagement.

The setbacks come at a time that Mr. Erdogan’s popularity is diving in opinion polls.

Turkey this weekend expelled the ambassadors of the US, Canada, France, Finland, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, and Sweden for calling for the release of philanthropist and civil rights activist Osman Kavala in line with a European Court of Human Rights decision.

Neither Turkey nor Iran can afford the setbacks that often are the result of hubris. Both have bigger geopolitical, diplomatic, and economic fish to fry and are competing with Saudi Arabia and the UAE as well as Indonesia’s Nahdlatul Ulama for religious soft power, if not leadership of the Muslim world.

That competition takes on added significance in a world in which Middle Eastern rivals seek to manage rather than resolve their differences by focusing on economics and trade and soft, rather than hard power and proxy battles.

In one recent incident Hidayat Nur Wahid, deputy speaker of the Indonesian parliament, opposed naming a street in Jakarta after Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the general-turned-statemen who carved modern Turkey out of the ruins of the Ottoman empire. Mr. Wahid suggested that it would be more appropriate to commemorate Ottoman sultans Mehmet the Conqueror or Suleiman the Magnificent or 14th-century Islamic scholar, Sufi mystic, and poet Jalaludin Rumi.

Mr. Wahid is a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood-linked Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) and a board member of the Saudi-run Muslim World League, one of the kingdom’s main promoters of religious soft power.

More importantly, Turkey’s integrity as a country that forcefully combats funding of political violence and money laundering has been called into question by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an international watchdog, and a potential court case in the United States that could further tarnish Mr. Erdogan’s image.

A US appeals court ruled on Friday that state-owned Turkish lender Halkbank can be prosecuted over accusations it helped Iran evade American sanctions.

Prosecutors have accused Halkbank of converting oil revenue into gold and then cash to benefit Iranian interests and documenting fake food shipments to justify transfers of oil proceeds. They also said Halkbank helped Iran secretly transfer US$20 billion of restricted funds, with at least $1 billion laundered through the US financial system.

Halkbank has pleaded not guilty and argued that it is immune from prosecution under the federal Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act because it was “synonymous” with Turkey, which has immunity under that law. The case has complicated US-Turkish relations, with Mr.  Erdogan backing Halkbank’s innocence in a 2018 memo to then US President Donald Trump.

FATF placed Turkey on its grey list last week. It joins countries like Pakistan, Syria, South Sudan, and Yemen that have failed to comply with the group’s standards. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) warned earlier this year that greylisting would affect a country’s ability to borrow on international markets,  and cost it an equivalent of up to 3 per cent of gross domestic product as well as a drop in foreign direct investment.

Mr. Erdogan’s management of the economy has been troubled by the recent firing of three central bank policymakers, a bigger-than-expected interest rate cut that sent the Turkish lira tumbling, soaring prices, and an annual inflation rate that last month ran just shy of 20 per cent. Mr. Erdogan has regularly blamed high-interest rates for inflation.

A public opinion survey concluded in May that 56.9% of respondents would not vote for Mr. Erdogan and that the president would lose in a run-off against two of his rivals, Ankara Mayor Mansur Yavas and his Istanbul counterpart Ekrem Imamoglu.

In further bad news for the president, polling company Metropoll said its September survey showed that 69 per cent of respondents saw secularism as a necessity while 85.1 per cent objected to religion being used in election campaigning.

In Iran’s case, a combination of factors is changing the dynamics of Iran’s relations with some of its allied Arab militias, calling into question the domestic positioning of some of those militias, fueling concern in Tehran that its detractors are encircling it, and putting a dent in the way Iran would like to project itself.

A just-published report by the Combatting Terrorism Center at the US Military Academy West Point concluded that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) faced “growing difficulties in controlling local militant cells. Hardline anti-US militias struggle with the contending needs to de-escalate US-Iran tensions, meet the demands of their base for anti-US operations, and simultaneously evolve non-kinetic political and social wings.”

Iranian de-escalation of tensions with the United States is a function of efforts to revive the defunct 2015 international agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program and talks aimed at improving relations with Saudi Arabia even if they have yet to produce concrete results.

In addition, like in Lebanon, Iranian soft power in Iraq has been challenged by growing Iraqi public opposition to sectarianism and Iranian-backed Shiite militias that are at best only nominally controlled by the state.

Even worse, militias, including Hezbollah, the Arab world’s foremost Iranian-supported armed group, have been identified with corrupt elites in Lebanon and Iraq. Many in Lebanon oppose Hezbollah as part of an elite that has allowed the Lebanese state to collapse to protect its vested interests.

Hezbollah did little to counter those perceptions when the group’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, threatened Lebanese Christians after fighting erupted this month between the militia and the Lebanese Forces, a Maronite party, along the Green Line that separated Christian East and Muslim West Beirut during the 1975-1990 civil war.

The two groups battled each other for hours as Hezbollah staged a demonstration to pressure the government to stymie an investigation into last year’s devastating explosion in the port of Beirut. Hezbollah fears that the inquiry could lay bare pursuit of the group’s interests at the expense of public safety.

“The biggest threat for the Christian presence in Lebanon is the Lebanese Forces party and its head,” Mr. Nasrallah warned, fuelling fears of a return to sectarian violence.

It’s a warning that puts a blot on Iran’s assertion that its Islam respects minority rights, witness the reserved seats in the country’s parliament for religious minorities. These include Jews, Armenians, Assyrians and Zoroastrians.

Similarly, an alliance of Iranian-backed Shiite militias emerged as the biggest loser in this month’s Iraqi elections. The Fateh (Conquest) Alliance, previously the second-largest bloc in parliament, saw its number of seats drop from 48 to 17.

Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi brought forward the vote from 2022 to appease a youth-led protest movement that erupted two years ago against corruption, unemployment, crumbling public services, sectarianism, and Iranian influence in politics.

One bright light from Iran’s perspective is the fact that an attempt in September by activists in the United States to engineer support for Iraqi recognition of Israel backfired.

Iran last month targeted facilities in northern Iraq operated by Iranian opposition Kurdish groups. Teheran believes they are part of a tightening US-Israeli noose around the Islamic republic that involves proxies and covert operations on its Iraqi and Azerbaijani borders.

Efforts to reduce tension with Azerbaijan have failed. An end to a war of words that duelling military manoeuvres on both sides of the border proved short-lived. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, emboldened by Israeli and Turkish support in last year’s war against Armenia, appeared unwilling to dial down the rhetoric.

With a revival of the nuclear program in doubt, Iran fears that Azerbaijan could become a staging pad for US and Israeli covert operations. Those doubts were reinforced by calls for US backing of Azerbaijan by scholars in conservative Washington think tanks, including the Hudson Institute and the Heritage Foundation.

Eldar Mamedov, a political adviser for the social-democrats in the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament, warned that “the US government should resist calls from hawks to get embroiled in a conflict where it has no vital interest at stake, and much less on behalf of a regime that is so antithetical to US values and interests.”

He noted that Mr. Aliyev has forced major US NGOs to leave Azerbaijan, has trampled on human and political rights, and been anything but tolerant of the country’s Armenian heritage.

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