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Who the Winners Are from America’s Destruction of Iraq and War Against Iran

Eric Zuesse

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Americans are unfortunately severely reluctant to disbelieve the lies that normally spew forth from the U.S. Government about foreign countries and especially about foreign countries that it invades or wants to invade. Consider, for examples, the lies that were told against Iraq when Saddam Hussein ruled it, or about Libya when Muammar Gaddafi ruled it, or about Iran right now. But Americans widely believe their Government’s lies, nonetheless.

On Friday, January 3rd, the Republican Fox ‘News’ channel headlined “Rose McGowan, John Cusack bash killing of Iran’s Soleimani, slam Trump”, and reported the two actors’ opposition to the Republican U.S. President Trump’s violation of Iraqi sovereignty that day, and to his assassination at the Bagdad airport of Iran’s #2 leader, General Qasem Soleman, as well as Trump’s murders there of some Iraqis, and of some other Iranians.

To judge from the “Best” (most-liked) reader-comments at that ‘news’-report, Trump will have at least that Republican audience behind him regarding this action by him, though what he did there could spark World War III, and though the beneficiaries of his Republican predecessor George W. Bush’s 20 March 2003 invasion of Iraq haven’t been ordinary people such as those thousands of Republican commenters are, but instead have been, and are, billionaires from around the world who invested in the privatization of Iraq’s oil, which resulted from that invasion. For a far-right audience such as that — people who cannot distinguish between nationalism and patriotism, and who know only nationalism — the most-liked comment was “Rose [McGowan], you do realize that in Iran, if you had worn that dress made of nothing but chains, you would have been stoned to death? Congratulations on being the new Jane Fonda.” That person, “JanWub1,” didn’t think, at all, about the U.S. Government’s lies that had persuaded the American public to boost their approval of George W. Bush from 57% immediately before the invasion to 71% immediately after his lie-based international war-crime in invading Iraq, and that person and everyone who clicked “Like” on it had obviously learned nothing from that historical example, nor did the individual commenter even so much as just mention the possibility of Trump’s having sparked WW III on that occasion, but instead “JanWub1” personalized the issue to that commenter’s contempt and hatred of an actress who had opposed that 2003 international war-crime against Iraq by the USA, and transferred that hatred against her onto the present two thespians, who oppose this President’s illegal invasion and murders.

So: how do we know who actually benefitted from that international war-crime — the invasion and military occupation of Iraq?

Back on 15 April 2013, a rare entirely honest CNN news-report about Iraq was published online, from the independent journalist Antonia Juhasz, who headlined “Why the war in Iraq was fought for Big Oil”. She wrote that:

In 2000, Big Oil, including Exxon, Chevron, BP and Shell, spent more money to get fellow oilmen Bush and Cheney into office than they had spent on any previous election. Just over a week into Bush’s first term, their efforts paid off when the National Energy Policy Development Group, chaired by Cheney, was formed, bringing the administration and the oil companies together to plot our collective energy future. In March, the task force reviewed lists and maps outlining Iraq’s entire oil productive capacity.

Planning for a military invasion was soon under way. Bush’s first Treasury secretary, Paul O’Neill, said in 2004, “Already by February (2001), the talk was mostly about logistics. Not the why (to invade Iraq), but the how and how quickly.”

In its final report in May 2001 (PDF), the task force argued that Middle Eastern countries should be urged “to open up areas of their energy sectors to foreign investment.” This is precisely what has been achieved in Iraq. …

Juhasz made clear that all of the bombs and the corpses were done for investors in large international oil companies — not only for U.S. companies, but for the benefit of mega-oil investors from all countries. Apparently, George W. Bush was a libertarian, who believed in the gospel of economic competition as being what the world needs more of — and not just more of American oil. She noted:

The new contracts lack the security a new legal structure would grant, and Iraqi lawmakers have argued that they run contrary to existing law, which requires government control, operation and ownership of Iraq’s oil sector.

But the contracts do achieve the key goal of the Cheney energy task force: all but privatizing the Iraqi oil sector and opening it to private foreign companies.

They also provide exceptionally long contract terms and high ownership stakes and eliminate requirements that Iraq’s oil stay in Iraq, that companies invest earnings in the local economy, or hire a majority of local workers.

Iraq’s oil production has increased by more than 40% in the past five years to 3 million barrels of oil a day (still below the 1979 high of 3.5 million set by Iraq’s state-owned companies), but a full 80% of this is being exported out of the country. …

The oil and gas sectors today account directly for less than 2% of total employment, as foreign companies rely instead on imported labor.

In just the last few weeks, more than 1,000 people have protested at ExxonMobil and Russia Lukoil’s super-giant West Qurna oil field, demanding jobs and payment for private land that has been lost or damaged by oil operations. The Iraqi military was called in to respond.

The Iraqi government serve as gendarmes for foreign oil companies, and for foreign oil workers. The profits, and the jobs, go abroad. The destruction of Iraq was done for those oil companies — it was done for the investors who own them.

Saddam Hussein was killed for refusing to cooperate with this type of plan for his country.

On 1 January 2020, 24 international oil giants were extracting and selling Iraq’s oil, and only ExxonMobil was American-based. Five years earlier, back on 20 March 2015, 28 were, and 6 of them were American: Chevron, ExxonMobil, Heritage, Hunt, Marathon, and Occidental. Perhaps Iraq’s Government, during the past five years, has been increasingly trying to free itself from the grip of the U.S. regime, and maybe that’s the reason why five of the six U.S. firms that were in Iraq in 2015 have left.

Also on January 1st of 2020, Abbas Kadhim, of the nonprofit NATO public relations arm the Atlantic Council, headlined “New low in US-Iraq relations: What’s next for 2020”, and he opened by saying that, “In early 2019, I predicted that US forces would remain in Iraq this past year despite calls in parliament to pass a law mandating their withdrawal. My prediction was right. My prediction for 2020 is that no US forces will remain in Iraq by the end of the year. As someone who firmly believes in the importance of robust US-Iraq ties and works hard to help both sides improve and strengthen the relationship, I am saddened at this recent deterioration and am concerned about the future.”

Donald Trump had tweeted just the day before, on December 31st, “Iran killed an American contractor, wounding many. We strongly responded, and always will. Now Iran is orchestrating an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Iraq. They will be held fully responsible. In addition, we expect Iraq to use its forces to protect the Embassy, and so notified!”

Later on, that day, he tweeted, “Iran will be held fully responsible for lives lost, or damage incurred, at any of our facilities. They will pay a very BIG PRICE! This is not a Warning, it is a Threat.”

Whether or not Iran had had anything to do with the attacks which had precipitated Trump’s “Threat” against Iran isn’t known, any more than it was known, when we invaded Iraq on 20 March 2003, whether or not there were any WMDs in Iraq after the U.N. had destroyed all of them in 1998. Everything that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney and Condoleezza Rice, etc., had said about that were lies, which the U.S. ‘news’-media refused to expose as being  lies from the Government. Donald Trump is just as much a liar as they were, and as Barack Obama was; so, when Trump followed through on his “Threat” against Iran, inside Iraq, on January 3rd, one can’t reasonably assume that it would be any more justifiable than our invasion of Iraq was, or than our conquest of Ukraine by means of a bloody coup in 2014 was, or than our participation in the destruction of Libya in 2011 was, or than our destruction of Syria is, or than our assistance to the Sauds’ destruction of Yemen is, or than our destruction of Bolivia for its lithium is.

All of that has been simply fascism, American-style. America’s Republicans apparently like it, but perhaps America’s Democrats won’t like it in this instance (since its from a Republican), and maybe even the independents won’t. (However, the reader-comments at Zero Hedge, a non-mainstream, independent libertarian news-site, are unconcerned with the sheer psychopathy and enormous danger of Trump’s murders in Iraq on January 3rd, and are concerned almost only with whether or not what he did will be of benefit to Americans; so, perhaps independents will turn out to be largely favorable toward what Trump did here. Also: viewer-comments at a January 3rd youtube “Pakistan: Soleimani killing sparks outrage among Shia community” were rabidly hostile against the demonstrators, like a typical comment there, “feel American power, infidels,” is. This is today’s supremacist America. It’s not just the Republican Trump’s “Make America Great Again”; it is also the Democrat Obama’s “The United States is and remains the one indispensable nation.” Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, etc. — all other nations than the U.S. — are “dispensable,” according to Americans in both Parties. Hello, Hitler, here?) 

Trump has started off the U.S. Presidential s‘election’ year of 2020 with a bang, and he’s well-supported by America’s Republican billionaires, but it’s still doubtful whether he will get anything like the 14% boost in approval-rating that Bush did by raping Iraq for global oil-investors, on 20 March 2003. Time will quickly tell. However, already on January 3rd, the leader of Democrats in the U.S. Senate, Charles Schumer, said on the Senate floor, that “No one should shed a tear over his [Soleimani’s] death.” (Schumer objected only that he had not received “any advance notification or consultation” about the assassination and murders.) Some of the Democratic Presidential candidates have refused to condemn Trump’s action. Everyone will be looking at the polling-numbers. And those will reflect the result of what America’s billionaires’ (or “the mainstream”) ‘news’-media present about this matter, to their respective publics. It is conceivable that Trump could achieve bipartisan support for entirely needlessly starting WW III. This could be the way that today’s Americans are.

Later in the day of January 3rd, Reuters headlined a news-report that, if true, is historically significant about all of this matter, “Inside the plot by Iran’s Soleimani to attack U.S. forces in Iraq”. Written by “Reuters staff,” it opened:

In mid-October, Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani met with his Iraqi Shi’ite militia allies at a villa on the banks of the Tigris River, looking across at the U.S. embassy complex in Baghdad.

The Revolutionary Guards commander instructed his top ally in Iraq, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, and other powerful militia leaders to step up attacks on U.S. targets in the country using sophisticated new weapons provided by Iran, two militia commanders and two security sources briefed on the gathering told Reuters.

The strategy session, which has not been previously reported, came as mass protests against Iran’s growing influence in Iraq were gaining momentum, putting the Islamic Republic in an unwelcome spotlight. Soleimani’s plans to attack U.S. forces aimed to provoke a military response that would redirect that rising anger toward the United States, according to the sources briefed on the gathering, Iraqi Shi’ite politicians and government officials close to Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi.

Soleimani’s efforts ended up provoking the U.S. attack on Friday that killed him and Muhandis, marking a major escalation of tensions between the United States and Iran. …

Obviously, if  that report is true, then Trump had cause to do on January 3rd what he did. Even his having not given anyone in Congress advance-notice about it would have been justifiable as this action’s being an emergency opportunity and in accord with his Commander-in-Chief powers to do in order to protect the Embassy. It wouldn’t justify the psychopathically pro-U.S.-regime reader-comments earlier that day on January 3rd about what Trump had done, because all of recent American history is full of lies by the U.S. Government in order to ‘justify’ its invasions against countries that neither threatened nor perpetrated invasion of the United States. However, if that Reuters report is true, then what Trump had done on January 3rd was done as an authentic U.S. national-security matter, in response to what Soleimani and his colleagues were doing. This isn’t necessarily to say that what Soleimani and his colleagues were doing there would have been unjustified. The United States, ever since its 1953 coup against Iran, has been an oppressive foreign power — Iran’s enemy — and the U.S., since at least its 2003 invasion against Iraq, is also Iraq’s enemy. Neither Iran nor Iraq ever endangered the national security of the United States. All of the aggressions have instead been by the United States. However, if  this Reuters report is true, then the appropriate response by the Governments of U.S., Iraq, and Iran, would be as follows:

Trump would announce that he is herewith cancelling sanctions against Iran and restoring U.S. participation in the Iran nuclear agreement, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which in 2015 was signed by China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, United States, Germany, and then the entire European Union. Iran would then announce that it is willing to discuss with all of the signatories to that agreement, if a majority of them wish to do so, international negotiations regarding possible changes (amendments) to be made to that agreement. The United States would then offer, separately, and on a strictly bi-lateral U.S.-Iran basis, to negotiate with Iran a settlement to all outstanding issues between the two nations, so that they may proceed forward with normal diplomatic relations, on a peaceful instead of mutually hostile, foundation.

Trump also would announce that he is seeking negotiations with Iraq about a total withdrawal from Iraq and closure of the U.S. Embassy there, to be replaced by a far smaller U.S. Embassy.

Trump would initiate this as a package-deal confidentially offered by him to Khamenei — all steps of it — in advance of any carrying-out of the steps, and initiated by him soon enough to ward off any retaliatory action by Iran, so as to avoid further escalation of the hostilities, which otherwise would likely escalate to a widespread and possibly global war. In other words, this direct communication between the two should already have been sought by Trump. (If the Reuters article is true, this should have been planned by him at the very moment he started seeking an opportunity to assassinate Soleimani.)

I do not expect Trump to do any of that, not even the first step, and not even the offer to Khamenei; and Iran is in no position to make the first step, in any case (since the U.S. had started the mutual hostilities between the two nations in 1953). However (assuming the gtruthfulness of the Reuters article), if Trump does, at least make the offer and then do the first step (ending sanctions), then I think that he will easily win re-election, regardless of whom the Democratic nominee will be. If he can re-establish friendly relations with Iran, then that will be a diplomatic achievement of historic proportions, the best and most important in decades. No one would then be able to deny it. He would, in fact, then deserve to win the Nobel Peace Prize (which Obama never deserved to win, though he did win it). But I don’t expect any of that to happen, because it would be exactly contrary to the way that any recent U.S. President has behaved, and because many in power in the United States would be furious against him if he did do it.

Furthermore, the Reuters report might be a lie, like so many other U.S.-and-allied ‘news’-reports are.

In any case, however: The answer to the headline-question “Who the Winners Are from America’s Destruction of Iraq and War Against Iran” is: the owners of U.S.-and-allied international oil and gas corporations. They were served when the U.S. regime in 1953 overthrew Iran’s democratically elected progressive Government and installed the brutal Shah to end Iran’s democracy and to control the country, and when he then privatized the National Iranian Oil company and cut American-and-allied aristocrats in on the profits from sales of Iranian oil. The founding members of that privatization in 1954 were British Petroleum (40%), Royal Dutch Shell 14% (Shell now), French Compagnie Française des Pétroles (CFP) 6% (Total now), Gulf Oil 8% (Now Chevron), and the four American partners of Aramco 32% (8% each). And they were served, yet again, when George W. Bush did the same to Iraq by means of an outright invasion (instead of like Eisenhower’s 1953 method, coup) in 2003.

America’s international oil (and other international extractions) corporations — and not only America’s ‘defense’ contractors — need to be nationalized, so that these ceaseless “regime-change wars” by the U.S. regime will be able to cease. Otherwise, the world will self-destruct by war, if not subsequently by global burnout (which is likely only over a much longer time-frame).

Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010

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Will Gulf States Learn From Their Success in Handling the Pandemic?

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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The economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic for Gulf states has done far more than play havoc with their revenue base and fiscal household. It has propelled massive structural change to the top of their agenda in ways that economic diversification plans had not accounted for.

Leave aside whether Gulf states can continue to focus on high-profile, attention-grabbing projects like Neom, Saudi Arabia’s $500 billion USD 21st century futuristic city on the Red Sea.

Gulf rulers’ to do list, if they want to get things right, is long and expensive without the burden of trophy projects. It involves economic as well as social and ultimately political change.

Transparency and accurate and detailed public reporting go to the core of these changes.

They also are key to decisions by investors, economists, and credit rating companies at a time when Gulf states’ economic outlook is in question. Many complain that delays in GDP reporting and lack of easy access to statistics complicates their decision-making.

Nonetheless, if there is one thing autocratic Gulf governments have going for themselves, beyond substantial financial reserves, it is public confidence in the way they handled the pandemic, despite the fact that they failed to initially recognize crowded living circumstances of migrant workers as a super spreader.

Most governments acted early and decisively with lockdowns and curfews, testing, border closures, repatriation of nationals abroad, and, in Saudi Arabia, suspension of pilgrimages.

To be sure, Gulf countries, and particularly Saudi Arabia that receives millions of Muslim pilgrims from across the globe each year, have a long-standing history of dealing with epidemics. Like Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan, they were better prepared than Western nations.

History persuaded the kingdom to ban the umrah, the lesser Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, in late February, days before the first case of a Covid-19 infection emerged on Saudi soil.

Beyond public health concerns, Saudi Arabia had an additional reason to get the pandemic right. It offered the kingdom not only an opportunity to globally polish its image, badly tarnished by human rights abuses, power grabs, and the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, but also to retain religious influence despite the interruption in the flow of pilgrims to the kingdom.

“Saudi Arabia is still a reference for many Muslim communities around the world,” said Yasmine Farouk, a scholar of Saudi Arabia at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

It also allowed Saudi Arabia to set the record straight following criticism of its handling of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in 2012 when the kingdom became the epidemic’s epicenter and in 2009 when it was hit by the H1N1 virus.

Saudi Arabia is also blamed for contributing to a public health catastrophe in Yemen with its frequent indiscriminate bombings.

A country in ruins as a result of the military intervention, Yemen has grappled for the past four years with a cholera epidemic on the kingdom’s borders.

Trust in Gulf states’ handling of the current pandemic was bolstered by degrees of transparency on the development of the disease in daily updates in the number of casualties and fatalities.

It was further boosted by a speech by King Salman as soon as the pandemic hit the kingdom in which he announced a raft of measures to counter the disease and support the economy as well as assurances by agriculture minister Abdulrahman al-Fadli that the crisis would not affect food supplies.

Ms. Farouk suggested that government instructions during the pandemic were followed because of “trust in the government, the expertise and the experience of the government [and] trust in the religious establishment, which actually was following the technical decisions of the government.”

To be sure, Ms. Farouk acknowledged, the regime’s coercive nature gave the public little choice.

The limits of government transparency were evident in the fact that authorities were less forthcoming with details of public spending on the pandemic and insight into available medical equipment like ventilators and other supplies such as testing kits.

Some Gulf states have started publishing the daily and total number of swabs but have yet to clarify whether these figures include multiple swabbings of the same person.

“It is likely that publics in the Middle East will look back at who was it that gave them reliable information, who was it who was there for them,” said political scientist Nathan Brown.

The question is whether governments will conclude that transparency will be needed to maintain public confidence as they are forced to rewrite social contracts that were rooted in concepts of a cradle-to-grave welfare state but will have to involve greater burden sharing.

Gulf governments have so far said little about burden sharing being allocated equitably across social classes nor has there been transparency on what drives investment decisions by sovereign wealth funds in a time of crisis and changing economic outlook.

Speaking to the Financial Times, a Gulf banker warned that the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman “needs to be careful what he spends on . . . Joe Public will be watching.”

Headed by Prince Mohammed, the kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund has gone on a $7.7 billion USD shopping spree buying stakes in major Western blue chips, including four oil majors: Boeing, Citigroup, Disney, and Facebook. The Public Investment Fund is also funding a bid for English soccer club Newcastle United.

The banker suggested that Saudi nationals would not appreciate “millionaire footballer salaries being paid for by VAT (value added tax) on groceries.” He was referring to this month’s hiking of sales taxes in the kingdom from five to 15 percent.

The fragility and fickleness of public trust was on display for the world to see in Britain’s uproar about Dominic Cummings, a close aide to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who violated lockdown instructions for personal reasons. Mr. Johnson is struggling to fight off demands for Mr Cummings’ dismissal.

To be sure, senior government officials and business executives in the Gulf have cautioned of hard times to come.

A recent Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry survey of CEOs predicted that 70 percent of the United Arab Emirates’ companies would go out of business in the next six months, including half of its restaurants and hotels and three-quarters of its travel and tourism companies.

Saudi Finance Minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan warned earlier this month that the kingdom would need to take “painful” measures and look for deep spending cuts as a result of the collapse of oil prices and significantly reduced demand for oil.

Aware of sensitivities, Mr. Al-Jadaan stressed that “as long as we do not touch the basic needs of the people, all options are open.”

There was little transparency in Mr. Al-Jadaan’s statements on what the impact would be on employment-seeking Saudi nationals in a labor market where fewer migrant workers would be available for jobs that Saudis have long been unwilling to accept.

It was a missed opportunity considering the 286 percent increase in the number of Saudis flocking to work for delivery services.

The increase was fueled by an offer by Hadaf, the Saudi Human Resources Development Fund, to pay drivers $800 USD a month, as well as a newly-found embrace of volunteerism across the Gulf.

The surge offered authorities building blocks to frame expectations at a time when the kingdom’s official unemployment rate of 12 percent is likely to rise.

It suggested a public acknowledgement of the fact that well-paying, cushy government positions may no longer be as available as they were in the past as well as the fact that lesser jobs are no less honorable forms of employment.

That may be the silver lining as Gulf states feel the pressure to reinvent themselves in a world emerging from a pandemic that potentially will redraw social, economic, and political maps.

Author’s note: This story was first published in Inside Arabia

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Foreign intervention in Libya

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Since the ouster of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Tripoli has transformed into an appalling sight of consistent injustice, rising fundamentalism and morbid law and order situation. Amidst the whirlwind of fractured institutions and failed socio political system in Libya, foreign countries have also found a suitable battleground for fighting their proxy wars. Currently, there are two governments operating in libya, each claiming to reflect the genuine mandate of Libyan people. The United Nations backed government of National Accord, under the leadership of President Fayaz al serraj is being supported by Turkey, Qatar, Italy and publically by all western democracies. Whereas, a shadow government, is being maneuvered from the eastern city of Tobruk. It enjoys the support of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, France and the United Arab Emirates.

In 2012, less than a year after NATO intervention, Libyans turned to polls, in the pursuit of voting for an efficient leadership. As a result of elections, the General National Congress or GNC came into power. It was tasked with devising a constitution within the next eighteen months. Despite, it’s full capacity, the government failed to deliver on time due to evident disorganization and post-gaddafi mayhem, which was still at large. However, Libyans again went to vote in 2014, electing a House of Representatives or HoR in power, this time. These elections were repudiated and their result was declared illegitimate by GNC, on the claims of low voter turnout and series of violence which engulfed the entire electoral process, across the country. Rejection to form government, forced HoR to flee Tripoli and establish itself in Tobruk, where they aligned themselves, with Libya’s strong man, commander Khalifa Haftar and his Libyan National Forces.

Haftar had remained a part of Libya’s political arena for as long as Muammar Gaddafi had, he joined the military in 1961 and served in its ranks until, the Chad misadventure of 1987, which not only made him fall out with Gaddafi, but also enforced him into exile in the United States. Nonetheless, Haftar returned to Libya after the war and started rebuilding his former network of loyalists who worked with him decades ago, and ended up establishing the Libyan National Forces. His forces launched “Operation Dignity”[1]in 2014, with the official intentions of relieving Libya from local militias, radical nationalism and religious fundamentalism.

Amidst the chaos of political deterioration and significant power vacuum, foreign countries started to manipulate the Libyan crisis for their own interests. Turkey is a regional player, and is severely concerned about their maritime trade route. For, being surrounded by hostile neighbors, Turkey finds it hard to trade through any other channel smoothly, except Mediterranean which it shares with Libya. Thus, it is actively vouching for a friendly government in Tripoli. Turkey’s parliament has recently passed the controversial law that has permitted the deployment of Turkish troops on Libyan soil, in order to support al Serraj’s government. Meanwhile, states like Italy and France are  interested in Libya’s oil resources, and are also supporting respective governments as per their interests. International oil companies such as Italian Eni, French Total and Russian Taftnet, along with British Petroleum are on and off, getting exploration and management contracts to tap oil resources, with the Libyan National oil corporation. Where Russian mercenaries are fighting on ground with Haftar’s forces, France has also provided covert logistical support to his forces, each interested in their own share of resources.

Furthermore, the United Arab Emirates, Cairo and Kingdom of Saudi Arabia are eagerly backing Haftar’s LNA for the sake of preventing another wave of Arab spring, to reach their borders. UAE has conducted airstrikes on Benghazi in 2014, from an Egyptian base in Libya, in order to support Haftar’s operation Dignity. They have also recently established their own base in eastern province of Al-Khadir, to support further LNA’s advances. Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has also pledged it support to Haftar under the crown prince, Muhammad Bin Salman. As, just before Haftar’s Tripoli offensive,  Riyadh promised him millions to buy tribal leader’s loyalties and to financially support the fighters in LNA.

Another reason behind Arab countries ardent sponsorship is, the question of muslim brotherhood. LNA has vowed to eliminate all the elements of religious extremism, including the muslim brotherhood. Cairo, UAE and KSA are known for their crack down on the brotherhood, while Turkey and Qatar are assumed to support the political activities of organization. Such difference in approaches has also led these countries into a state of perennial proxy war with each other.  

Recent Moscow talks and Berlin conference, in the beginning of this year, has indeed provided an opportunity for all the parties in conflict to come on the negotiating table, and draw out strategies for adherently following the Libyan arms embargo of 2011, for effective ceasefire. Yet, without a proper policy in place, which can prevent foreign interventions in Libyan domestic crisis. It will create a potential environment for Tripoli to transcend into a turmoil similar to Syria and Yemen. War in Libya, has already incited an endless cycle of unnecessary fighting, uncountable deaths and a vicious void of ills like; human trafficking and smuggling. From, exponential worth of 53.2 billion dollars in 2012 to 4.6 billion dollars in 2016, Libya’s natural revenues have shrunken conspicuously over the last decade. In addition to that, with global coronavirus pandemic still out and loose, conflicts like one in Libya have a higher potential of turning into a major confrontation. It’s a textbook example of how precarious the situation might get, if not taken sensibly, by international community.


[1] Anderson, Jon Lee. “The unravelling.” The New Yorker 23 (2015).

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The Coronavirus and Conflicts in the Middle East

Aleksandr Aksenenok

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The question of the political and socioeconomic consequences the COVID-19 pandemic will have for global development has prompted heated analytical discussions among leading politicians, economists and political scientists. The range of opinions is staggering, varying from “the world will never be the same” (Henry Kissinger) to “the pandemic will accelerate history rather than reshape it” (Richard Haass). Should we, therefore, expect radical shifts in the global leaders’ thinking or will the dangerous inertia of the last two decades ultimately come out on top?

The only thing most people agree on is that the coronavirus has plunged the world into a global, multidimensional crisis. This crisis is made particularly acute and unpredictable by the developments that predated it: the slowdown of global economic growth, the collapse of oil prices, socioeconomic differentiation, the rapid increase in military spending, protracted “unresolvable” conflicts and the growing threat of losing control amid geopolitical rivalry. There are new nuclear missiles, cyber- and biotechnologies, “hybrid wars,” and the consequences of all these trends are not yet entirely clear, which makes this rivalry far more dangerous than the USSR-US confrontation.

Thus far, it is difficult to say confidently what direction these developments will take and whether they will become a turning point. In any case (and here Russian and Western analysts agree), the statesmanship, competency and acumen of all world leaders will be put to the test, as will their ability for reasonable compromise. This “test” will be particularly relevant for those states in the greater Middle East that are involved in various conflicts and for their leaders, whose ambitions are, at this historical juncture, under powerful pressure from both within and without; this test may be even more relevant there than in other parts of the crumbling, yet interconnected world.

“Old” internal conflicts in Syria, Libya and Yemen, new-type protest movements demanding a change of the ruling elites (the “everyone means everyone” slogan) in Algeria, Lebanon and Iraq, balancing on the brink of an armed conflict in the Persian Gulf – this chronic instability constantly feeds into mutual enmity, the preference for solutions by force, and overall thinking along the lines of “winner takes all.” Regional wars remain a sore point on the Russia-West global agenda, which is already overburdened with many acute problems. At the same time, it has become apparent that domestic driving forces increasingly trump extra-regional influences such as the geopolitical rivalry between Russia and the US, between Western states (France, Italy, Germany, Greece), including Turkey, as is happening in Libya, between the regional powers themselves (Saudi Arabia, Iran, the UAE, Qatar) in Yemen, or between all of them in Syria.

The pandemic has affected Libya, Syria and Yemen to a lesser degree than the US and West European states. At the same time, the number of cases is still growing and is gradually approaching the limits of their capacities as these countries are exhausted by protracted wars and external aggressions. In that sense, they have much in common, which causes concern to the UN’s specialised agencies, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and non-governmental humanitarian organisations. The ICRC has warned in a press release that “it will be nearly impossible to fight COVID-19 in countries already devastated by conflict unless a concerted response by states and humanitarian organisations is launched immediately.”

Despite appeals from the UN Secretary-General, from Russia, the US, several leading European states and other members of the international community, military hostilities are still raging in the region; they periodically abate and then flare up again. It takes a strong state, suppressing political violence, and a legitimate authority to succeed in combating the consequences of military conflicts in the Middle East in the middle of the pandemic. In the meantime, these three regional conflict centre have still not restored their territorial integrity, the principal criterion of national sovereignty, and the prospects for a final settlement appear quite vague.

The fight for territories continues. Local administrations of those states’ constituent parts largely depend on non-state actors, various militias, including those of a terrorist persuasion. International humanitarian aid is either inaccessible in many areas or is used for political purposes. Healthcare systems have been completely destroyed or significantly undermined, transport and commercial communication lines have been interrupted, while, according to the UN, about 38.4 million people (25 million in Yemen, 11 million in Syria and 2.4 million in Libya) are in need of humanitarian aid. Until recently, the World Health Organisation had no information about Huthi-controlled areas of Yemen, including the number of COVID-19 cases. Overcrowded city centres, prisons and camps for refugees and displaced persons are seen as the source of the infection.

Syria is a special case in the general picture of Middle Eastern conflicts amid the coronavirus pandemic. The outcome of the internal confrontation will have far-reaching consequences. If compromise solutions are found, a settled Syrian conflict might serve as a precedent for the global community and as a model and a key for resolving other conflicts. Alternatively, if Damascus fails to learn the lessons of 2011, this conflict might become a powder keg under the prospects of Syria’s stable domestic development. Not should we rule out the possibility of the country being split into areas of influence with socioeconomic rehabilitation in each area carried out by external sponsors (mostly with the help of Russia, Iran and China in Damascus-controlled lands, by Turkey in the northwest, and with the support from the US and some Gulf states in the east). The latter variant, though, appears the least probable.

At the extended meeting of the government in early May, President Assad made a powerful statement similar to the one made in the summer of 2015, when the Syrian regime was on the verge of collapse, and the President acknowledged publicly for the first time the dearth of domestic military resources, emphasising the need to “preserve useful Syria.”[1]  This time, now that the regime appears to have bolstered its positions thanks primarily to Russia, Assad has again warned the Syrian public and the global community that, if the coronavirus cases spike, Syria would face a “real catastrophe.” The current relatively low level of infection (there were 47 cases at that time), he said, did not mean Syria had avoided the danger. The World Health Organisation lists Syria among high-risk countries.

The President had more than enough reasons to make this statement. In late 2019, only 64% of the country’s hospitals and 52% of its medical outposts were still operating, while about 70% of healthcare workers found themselves among refugees and displaced persons. The geographical distribution of the medical institutions that are working is highly uneven: two-thirds of them are in Damascus, in the provinces of Latakia and Tartus, while there are none in Deir ez-Zor in the country’s east. According to the Brookings Institution, there are 1.4 medical workers per 10,000 people and a grand total of 100 ventilators in Idlib. Immediately after the first coronavirus cases were recorded, food and medication prices went up 20–40% on top of the existing inflation.

Since the first coronavirus cases were recorded on 22 March, Syria’s government has been mobilising its internal capabilities in three areas:

First: preventing the spread of the infection within the area under its control. In Syria’s northeast (Afrin, Idlib), similar measures are being introduced by local authorities that are under the influence of Turkey and several groups that have been declared terrorists, and by the Kurdish administration in inner Syria east of the Euphrates. The announced administrative and legislative measures envisaged even harsher steps than international standards suggested. A curfew was imposed immediately, external borders were closed, control was stepped up over transport between provinces and between the cities within them. This was a vital step for Syria, with its close commercial ties and cross-border contacts with Lebanon, Jordan and Iran (Syria has particularly intensive contacts with the latter). As of late April, Iran accounted for 79.1% of all coronavirus cases in the Middle East; Arab states of the Persian Gulf accounted for 12.1%, and other states for 8.8%. Territorial fragmentation, however, stands in the way of coordinating the fight against the coronavirus throughout the country. It is creating serious difficulties in handing out the international aid that is coming into Syria.

Second: mitigating the socioeconomic consequences for the regime, especially because surges in protests have been recorded since last spring, including in regions with predominantly Alawite population. The government imposed state price regulation, primarily for food, medications and essential goods. Fuel subsidies were maintained and bread stamps were introduced for people in particular need. At the same time, a set of solutions was introduced to remove administrative and bureaucratic procedures for import contracts on essential goods. Syrian importers working with such goods were offered preferential currency exchange rates. The government’s emergency decisions also included exempting individual types of business from taxes for April and gradually (since the first ten days of May) lifting restrictions on work in industrial and service sectors.

Third: concentrating the fragmented financial resources within the inner circle of the President’s power. This could mean transitioning to a policy of centralised distribution of the reduced state revenues, which means the authorities intend to be more decisive in fighting corruption and the “shadow economy” (between 2010 and 2017, GDP fell from USD 60.2 bn. to USD 17 bn.). The experience of many states, including European ones, shows that enhanced financial discipline is a must at a time of crisis, especially in collecting taxes and combating illegal economic activities.

Yet, as regards Syria, Arab and Western media focused rather on looking for sensations than on providing a balanced analysis of the situation with a view to helping find ways out of the crisis that had been compounded by the threat of the coronavirus pandemic. Regrettably, the media show the latest economic steps undertaken by the Syrian government through the lens of the conflict between the President and his cousin, Syria’s wealthiest businessman, multibillionaire Rami Makhlouf.

His business empire does, indeed, span a range of key economic sectors: telecommunications, oil and gas, banking, construction, real estate, commerce, etc. The rise of Rami Makhlouf began soon after Assad came to power, during the short period of liberal economic reforms. During the war, his standing in Syria’s economy was consolidated significantly by the preferences given in exchange for charitable activities and financing militias loyal to the government. Now is the time to pay the bills and some of his assets have been frozen. The conflict peaked when the Syrian oligarch decided to publicise the economic dispute about paying Syriatel’s taxes totaling USD 180 m. He did this at a juncture that was critical for the country. Consequently, the conflict was broadly politicised and resulted in rumourmongering about a split in the presidential elites similar to the late 2017 events in Saudi Arabia (Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman had several members of the royal family temporarily detained on allegations of large financial claims against them).

Incidentally or otherwise, precisely in April and May, the western and Arab media were inundated with various speculations concerning Russia-Syria relations. Distorted interpretations were given to those articles in the Russian media and on Russian social networks that contained benign criticism of Damascus’ inflexible policies in political settlement and of the widespread corruption getting in the way of reconstruction and handling the most pressing socio-economic problems. These articles were presented as allegedly reflecting the Russian political elites’ discontent with President Assad personally.

Deliberately fake news affected even the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC), whose expert materials always contain objective analysis and verified facts, whether people like it or not. At the instigation of Syrian opposition sources, citing some RIAC paper, fake news was disseminated about Russia, the US and Turkey (with possible participation by Iran) having some plan about removing Assad from power and establishing a “transitional government” consisting of representatives of the “Syrian regime,” the opposition and “Kurdish militias.” Even more regrettable is the excessively emotional response by some “members of the public” in Damascus itself, expressed in the spirit of the ideological rhetoric of the past, of the outdated black-and-white foreign policy notions. They classify members of the Russian expert community (journalists serving purely corporate interests do not count) as “those in favour” and “those against,” into “pro-Western” and “patriotic.” The former naturally strive to “undermine the allied relations” between Russia and Syria.

Meanwhile, despite the many barriers dividing the world, cooperation in fighting the coronavirus pandemic, this “common enemy” as Antonio Guterres called it, is being gradually established, but things are far more complicated in the Syrian conflict.

Besides the WHO, the International Red Cross and some other international organisations, real external aid to Syria’s government is provided only by Russia, China and, to a lesser degree, Iran, with limited aid coming from some European and Arab states. With the start of the coronavirus outbreak, Russia launched humanitarian deliveries to Syria, bringing in face masks, coronavirus testing systems, and other medications and medical equipment. Food aid has been no less important for Syrians. In April, Russian grain, which had previously been in short supply on the market, was delivered to the port of Tartus.

Although the European Union expressed its support for the UN Secretary General’s appeal to lift the sanctions off several states, including Syria, so that the needed medical and humanitarian aid could be provided, in practice, Europe’s contribution is doubtful. First, EU member states have no consensus on Syria and, second, European companies are, as in the case of Iran, extremely wary of secondary US sanctions.

The stance of the Trump Administration is, like that on several other foreign political issues, rather ambiguous, not to say hypocritical. On the one hand, they introduce all kinds of “exceptions,” “authorisations” and “special licences” for providing humanitarian aid to Syria and some other states during the fight against COVID-19. This procedure is detailed in a relevant paper by the US Department of the Treasury dated 16 April 2020 (Department of the Treasury, Washington DC, Office of foreign control, Fact Sheet: Provision of Humanitarian Assistance and Trade to Combat COVID-19). On the other hand, the US is putting “maximum pressure” on Syria, stepping up its verbal threat campaign against President Assad personally and warning those countries, including Arab states, that are willing to provide Syria with the necessary financial and material support, about the consequences. European experts believe that, even if Syria agreed to use the offer of exemptions from the sanctions, this would hardly produce any results because of the large number of duplicate sanctions imposed over the last 20 years and also the “bewildering” bureaucratic procedures.

Many statements made by official US representative for Syria Engagement James Jeffrey in recent months are just as contradictory and confused. One day, he says the US does not want to overthrow the Syrian regime and supports the launch of the Constitutional Committee; another day, he says that Assad is utterly unacceptable, which can be understood to mean that he is unacceptable even as a presidential candidate at the elections to be held under Resolution 2254. Statements about his contacts with Russian partners and unwillingness to intervene in Russia-Syria relations do not jibe with his words that the purpose of the US is to let Russia get bogged down in Syria. As for jointly fighting international terrorism, there is a certain slyness there, as well, concerning Hay’At Tahrir al-Sham, which apparently cannot really be considered quite terrorist since it has never carried out terror attacks outside Syria and only fights the Assad regime.

The reality is that the coronavirus pandemic caught Syria in the midst of an unsettled conflict and social tensions, a destroyed infrastructure, limited internal reserves and financial resources. We need to understand that in this emergency the way out of the crisis or the simple act of meeting the urgent needs of the people, regardless of their political preferences, is closely linked to the integral progress in several areas: mobilising internal economic resources and creating conditions equally favourable for the work of public-private partnerships and foreign investors; providing a safe environment for refugees to return; creating an atmosphere conducive to national reconciliation; what is required politically is for these efforts to be enshrined through specific steps taken in compliance with UN Security Council Resolution 2254, largely spearheaded by Russia.

 [1] See: A. Aksenenok. “The Syrian Crisis: A Thorny Journey from War to Peace” [in Russian] // Valdaiskie zapiski [Valdai Memoranda] No. 104, Valdai Discussion Club. P. 11.

From our partner RIAC

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