20 November 2017
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ISIS just lost its last town in Iraq Friday, 17 November 2017 21:39

In 2014, ISIS controlled around 34,000 square miles of territory in Iraq and Syria. As of Friday, ISIS lost its last stronghold in Iraq.

That’s because on Friday morning Iraqi troops and US-led coalition forces retook Rawa — a small town in northwestern Iraq — after about five hours of fighting. ISIS has now effectively lost all of its territory in Iraq, even though some of the group’s militants still operate in the country’s western rural areas near the border with Syria.

Now that Iraq’s flag hangs over Rawa once more, Brett McGurk, President Donald Trump’s diplomatic envoy for the US-led coalition, congratulated the Iraqi fighters on Twitter and announced that the “days of [ISIS’s] phony ‘caliphate’ are coming to an end.” Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi also praised his forces, noting how quickly they retook the town.

The Pentagon says the US has around 5,300 troops tasked with helping the Iraqi military fight ISIS, usually by training its troops, gathering intelligence, and conducting airstrikes.

It’s a big moment for Iraq, as retaking Rawa has essentially ended ISIS governance in its country after three long and brutal years of fighting. But that doesn’t mean that anyone can relax just yet. If anything, the ISIS threat is morphing.

ISIS isn’t defeated yet

It’s more than likely that ISIS will continue to plague Iraq, Syria, and much of the world, even as it loses land.

Just a day ago, when asked about ISIS, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said that “anyone who thinks they're down is premature.”

Hassan Hassan, a Middle East security expert at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, wrote in the National on November 15 that ISIS is already beginning to redefine itself. The group is shifting from governing territory to quickly striking Iraqi towns and cities. The strategy, Hassan notes, is to begin “a war of attrition to deplete its enemy through a ceaseless and incessant campaign of terror and hit-and-run attacks.”

ISIS may carry this strategy forward into Syria, too. The group lost the capital of its so-called caliphate, Raqqa, in October, but it still controls parts of urban areas in eastern Syria. As the US-led coalition tries to remove ISIS from that territory, it could use terror tactics to try to ward off the US-led coalition.

As my colleague Yochi Dreazen notes, ISIS may turn into more of an idea as it loses more territory. That idea may continue to inspire ISIS followers in various countries to stage attacks — especially in Europe and the United States. The attack in New York City this month, which killed eight people and injured 11, was believed to have been inspired by ISIS. It only underlined how hard it will be to prevent similar attacks by an individual encouraged by ISIS propaganda.

So while it’s worth celebrating the military defeat of ISIS in Iraq, it doesn’t mean the fight against the group is over.

Source: Vox

Proposed changes to Iraq’s personal status law caused protests because they drop the legal age of marriage to 9. Even worse, the changes come at the same time as an ongoing erosion in women’s status in Iraqi society.

 On October 30, Iraq’s parliament made a decision that stirred up much anger around the country. They agreed to make amendments to the country’s personal status law in principle. The proposed changes have been a subject of controversy for years but this time it seems that politicians may finally be getting their way.

In many Muslim countries, issues like divorce, custody of children and marriage are ruled by religious law, or Sharia. However in 1959, the Iraqi government passed a new personal status law, based on the law of the land that treated all sects and ethnicities equally. This is Law Number 188 and it is still in effect today, with rulings on related issues made by government-run courts.

As Germany’s Heinrich Boell foundation has reported, the current Iraqi law is based on religious rules but it took a more liberal approach.

“It restricts child marriages (by setting the legal age of marriage at 18 years), bans forced marriages and restricts polygamy; it curtails men’s prerogatives in divorce, expands women’s rights in divorce, extends child custody to mothers, and improves inheritance rights for women,” the foundation has stated. “It remains one of the most liberal laws in the Arab world with respect to women’s rights.”

The latter quality is something that many modern Iraqis have been proud of. Hence the uproar when news broke about the agreement to amend the personal status law.

Those amendments have been a long time coming. Shortly after the regime headed by former Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein, was removed by a US-led invasion, the new Iraqi government stated its intention to change Law 188 and to reinstate religious courts on a sectarian basis – that is, cases would be heard by either a Sunni or Shiite Muslim court, depending on the sect of those using the law. Ever since 2004, protests by civil society organisations have managed to prevent this.

But it seems that this time the politicians may be able to make the changes they have sought for so long – even though it seems that any actual amendments will be a far longer time coming.

“There are serious constitutional and legal violations in this desire of the Islamic parties to amend the law,” one Iraqi MP, Shuruq al-Abaji, told NIQASH.

She points out that Article 41 of the Iraqi Constitution guarantees that Iraqis are free to choose personal status according to their religious beliefs, sects or other choices. Before the amendments can be made to the personal status law, this article would need to be changed, al-Abaji insists.

And there is another legal issue, the politician notes. The proposed new personal status law would refer issues of marriage, divorce, custody and inheritance to the religious endowment authorities – these are the bodies tasked with running and maintaining Shiite or Sunni mosques and shrines and they are very important institutions within their own sectarian communities. But, as al-Abaji argues, that violates not just the principle of the separation of powers but also human rights and international laws around women’s rights.

“The organization of these issues should be the responsibility of the courts and not the executive branch of Sunni or Shiite religious orders,” al-Abaji concludes.

Iraq’s original personal status law and the proposed amendments could not be more different. The first one grants mothers the right to custody and gives wives the right to inherit their husband’s estate. Meanwhile religious jurisprudence tends to say the custody of children is a matter for the father and that women do not have the right to inherit real estate or land.

However these were not even the issues that really riled Iraqis up. The change that most angered locals was the one related to legal marriageable age. Civil law says a couple should be aged at least 18 in order to marry. Meanwhile religious law says puberty means a female is of marriageable age. In some cases, this is considered to be nine years old, in others 12 years old.

“The newly proposed law encourages the marriage of minors and reminds us most of the way that the [extremist group] Islamic State behaved with young girls, how the organisation forced them to marry group members when they were in control in Mosul and Raqqa,” says MP Rizan al-Sheik Daleer.

Once again, civil society and women’s rights organisations rallied around to protests the changes in the law. Many Iraqis on social media used the hashtag #NoToUnderageMarriages and a number of Facebook pages were created to organize the protests and garner support.

The change in law also comes at a time when women’s rights appear to be being eroded in Iraq, many of the activists believe.

“Islamic parties’ attempts to pass this new personal status law comes at the same time as a decline in the female role in Iraqi politics,” states Hanaa Edwar, the influential head of the Al Amal (Hope) civil society organization. “In 2004 women occupied a fair few of the positions in government but their numbers have decreased dramatically over the past 10 years. It’s a serious indication that male chauvinism is on the rise in Iraq.”

In the first Iraqi government after the fall of Saddam Hussein, there were six female ministers. Currently there are only two – the minister of health and the minister of housing. There were eight deputy ministers in 2005 but in 2013, only one.

When the Iraqi parliament elected a new oversight commission for elections last month, for the first time ever there was no woman on it. In 2005, when the commission was first formed there were two.

At one stage the staffs of the ministries of finance, education and health were around half female. But their numbers have dropped a lot over the past few years. Three months ago parliament refused to vote on measures impacting the Federal Public Service Council, which regulates the affairs of the federal public service, including appointment and promotion, because of the fact that the president and deputy are independent women, according to Edwar. Male MPs have also refused to vote on a bill on domestic violence for years, she added.

All of this should be a wakeup call, Edwar argues, when it comes to the role of Iraqi women in their own society.

“Men occupy all the high-ranking positions and they reject the laws that might support women,” Edwar notes. “If there were no quotas in place that require that females make up 25 percent of parliament and provincial councils, things would be even worse.”

Source: Globalresearch.ca

Iran’s Greatest Challenge is Homegrown Tuesday, 07 November 2017 18:43

The prospect of potential domestic unrest has hit a raw nerve in Iran.

Iran has long been a formidable regional force. It has projected its power by backing Shia militias, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon or Hashd al-Shaabi in Iraq, or Sunni groups such as Hamas in Palestine, thereby engaging in a proxy war strategy throughout the Middle East. However, since the independence referendum held in Iraqi Kurdistan on September 25, Iran has become decidedly more explicit in flaunting its involvement in attempting to control the latest regional tensions developing in Iraq between Baghdad and Erbil.

The flash point of this conflict began in Kirkuk when Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Iranian Quds force (the foreign wing of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, IRGC), made his presence there public in October, defiantly demonstrating Iran’s influence in Iraq to America. Following the capture of Kirkuk by Shia militias and Iraqi forces, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei’s photo was promptly displayed in the newly deposed governor’s office. In a final show of defiance, after US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told Shia militants in Kirkuk to “go home,” Qais al-Khazali, leader of Iran-funded Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia, told America to prepare to withdraw its troops from Iraq.

Two particular events that directly targeted the Iranian regime’s weak spot and potentially destabilizing factor — popular unrest at best and uprising at worst — triggered Tehran’s increasingly assertive and confrontational stance. Iran fears domestic unrest because, while it has successfully spread its power abroad by empowering Shia parties and militias, internally it has achieved control through severe repression of both its ethnic minorities and dissident political voices.

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The first event came in the form of President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speeches at the UN General Assembly in September, in which both made overtures to the Iranian people. Trump spoke of “the Iranian regime’s longest-suffering victims: its own people.” Netanyahu declared to the “people of Iran: You are not our enemy; you are our friends.” He then put on a full charm offensive and repeated his advance in Farsi: “Shoma doosteh ma hasteed” (You are our friends). He went on to say that “One day, my Iranian friends, you will be free from the evil regime that terrorizes you, hangs gays, jails journalists, tortures political prisoners… .” Both speeches were accompanied by warnings of Iran’s growing power that must be curbed. This insinuates an interesting strategic change of policy that involves targeting the Iranian regime’s fear of destabilization through internal revolt.

The second event was the unexpected mass support of the Iranian Kurds for Iraqi Kurds’ independence referendum that caught most off guard. Before the results were even announced, the sheer number and speed at which hundreds of thousands of Kurds gathered throughout the Kurdish cities of Iran to celebrate was astonishing. Iranian Kurds defied a repressive regime in a way that had not occurred since the Islamic Revolution. The crackdown was prompt, with anti-riot forces and tanks being sent into Kurdish cities, and over 700 civilians detained. The Mahabad Republic of 1946 — the first attempt at an independent Kurdish state — still haunts the Iranian regime, which is now alarmed by the unity Iran’s Kurds have demonstrated with their Iraqi neighbors. What is more, this civilian outpouring if support was followed by political solidarity from the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDKI) and Komala, as well as military support from Kurdistan Freedom Party (PAK, Iran’s Kurdish militia) that has been fighting in Iraqi Kurdistan in post-referendum confrontations.

The events that occurred in the Kurdish regions of Iran received scant media attention, and when they did, they were demonstratively downplayed. This was the case during a panel discussion organized by The Washington Institute at the end of September, during which it was suggested that only 1,000 people protested, and that the demonstration was fairly irrelevant and easy to contain. The reality on the ground was conspicuously different, and Tehran’s heavy-handed response is an indication of the regime’s angst regarding its minorities.

Iran will go to great lengths to suppress the Kurds, as, despite being an ethnically diverse country in which 40% to 50% of the population is non-Persian, its minorities have been historically repressed. The repression faced by ethnic and religious minorities is widespread, ranging from discrimination, persecution and economic and cultural marginalization, to torture and mass executions in front of relatives after show trials lasting no more than 15 minutes. At times, this has led to unrest. For instance, in 2006, the Azeri minority held large protests and burned down government buildings after a cartoon portrayed them as cockroaches, with hundreds of protestors were arrested as a result.

More recently, in early September 2017, large protests erupted in Kurdish cities following the killing of two Kurdish men by Iranian security forces at the border. These protests were met with tear gas and gunfire, with hundreds arrested.

The Kurds are becoming increasingly restive, threatening the status quo. It is important to bear in mind that the extent of the repressions, executions and silencing that the Kurds face in Iran is such that they are known as the “forgotten Kurds.” It is therefore a common error to underestimate the threat they represent in the eyes of the Iranian regime as their discontent rises.

SIMMERING DISCONTENT

Trump’s recent decision to decertify the Iran nuclear deal and to introduce sanctions against the IRGC under a terrorism financing executive order has received significant media attention and is undeniably part of the reason why Iran is reacting in open defiance to America by showing that it ultimately holds sway over Iraq — an undoubtedly bitter pill for the US to swallow. However, it seems that the recent external and internal tribulations have hit a raw nerve in Tehran.

Indeed, whilst many in Iran do support the regime, many do not. For example, in response to the IRGC designation as a terrorist organization, Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif launched a Twitter call of national unity with the IRGC, which was not a resounding success. The social media response demonstrated that many Iranians view the IRGC as an organization that terrorizes its own people. It is noteworthy that many Iranian voices that dissented on Twitter are based inside Iran and not just in the wider diaspora, which is in itself a significant sign of defiance to the regime.

In its attempt to rally popular support behind the IRGC, the regime attempted to create a semblance of overt national cohesion in response to outside pressures precisely because it knows very well that a large proportion of its population does not endorse the regime. Suffice to remember the 2009 Green Movement that erupted in mass protests after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s contested reelection. The repression was brutal, but it was also a clear indication of simmering discontent throughout Iranian society.

Activists from ethnic minorities were also involved in the Green Movement but were soon disenchanted as the leaders were reluctant to support minority rights, which are viewed as having separatist undertones. Ironically, President Hassan Rouhani was elected on the joint promise of achieving a nuclear deal and civil rights reform, including fair trials for ethnic minorities and Green Movement leaders. Yet today the human rights situation in Iran has deteriorated even further past the levels of Ahmadinejad’s presidency, according to Ahmed Shaheed, former UN special rapporteur. Consequently, domestic tensions and discontent may well continue to rise as Rouhani’s promises of reforms are not being met.

Iran knows that its most concerning weakness and challenge lies in domestic, not foreign, destabilization. It has therefore resorted to taking a much more openly aggressive stance in asserting its power in the region as its long-term challengers — Israel, America and its own Kurdish minority — have apparently turned to more openly seeking to gaud Iran’s weakest point.

Source: Fair Observer

What Next For Kurdistan? Friday, 03 November 2017 09:46

The independence referendum in the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) of Iraq has resulted in a tumultuous aftermath that recalls the old adage that the Kurds have no friends but the mountains. Reaction by all neighbors, including the central Iraqi government in Baghdad, has been harsh. Iraqi, Iranian, and Turkish-backed forces have occupied Kurdish areas in the month following the referendum. KRG president Masoud Barzani is stepping down. But the referendum has brought attention to the Kurdish cause and exposed the machinations of neighbors with large Kurdish populations, particularly Iran.  It may lead, unexpectedly, to U.S. recognition that an independent Kurdistan is actually a plus for stability and American interests in the region.

Barzani decided on June 7 to hold an independence referendum to secede from Iraq. Almost all political parties in the KRG supported the referendum decision except for the change movement (Gorran) and Kurdistan Islamic Group (Komal). The referendum was held on September 25th despite objections from Baghdad, the neighbors, and the rest of the international community including the United States and Britain. In fact, the only country that supported the referendum openly was Israel. Despite such opprobrium and attempts to halt the vote, independence was favored by 92.7 percent of the electorate.

The central government of Baghdad all along was threatening the Kurdistan regional government, as did Turkey, Syria, and in particularly Iran. These neighboring countries have large and significant Kurdish populations and fear that if the Kurdistan region of Iraq becomes independent, their Kurdish population would demand the same.

What Iran Fears

Iran fears an independent Kurdistan, because it might influence its 7 million Iranian Kurds to aspire to secede from Iran. Before the referendum took place, Iran tried to persuade the KRG to postpone the referendum, and when that did not work, they tried hard to divide the Kurdish house.

In July, they invited to Tehran Jalal Talabani, the former president of Iraq who died just eight days after the referendum, and still then the leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), one of the two most powerful political parties in the KRG. The Iranians called the visit friendly, although Talabani had had a stroke, was hospitalized for more then five years, and lost the ability to communicate. Second, Iran invited the PUK politburo to Tehran to persuade them to support the idea of postponing or canceling the referendum. That attempt did not worked either; the deputy PUK leader Kosrat Rasul refused the request.

Plainly, Iran fears Kurdish unity. In 2014, for example, ISIS attacked Iraqi Kurdistan and Kurds all around the Middle East fought side by side to defend Kurdish homelands including Iranian Kurdish peshmerga forces of the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDKI) and Komala (two main Kurdish political opposition in Iran). Iran demanded that these Iranian peshmerga forces would not be allowed to fight ISIS and gain battle experience. Because of the sensitivity of the situation, KRG agreed and did not allow the PDKI peshmerga to help them in the fight against ISIS. Afterwards, in spring 2016 the PDKI decided to send back their peshmerga forces to Iranian Kurdistan, and other Iranian Kurdish political parties followed with their peshmerga forces. Several clashes have occurred between these peshmerga forces and the Iranian Quds forces, with casualties on both sides.

Before the referendum, Iranian officials argued that Iranian Kurds would not behave like the Iraqi Kurds because they were treated equally with other Iranian people and that the Islamic Republic of Iran did not distinguish between different groups of people in Iran. On the referendum day and the following day, thousands of Iranian Kurds took to the streets in different cities in Iranian Kurdistan and celebrated the Iraqi Kurdistan referendum. They shouted that they are with their brethren in Iraqi Kurdistan and that freedom will come soon to them as well. Iranian police forces arrested several celebrators because they had waved the Kurdish flag, and the Internet was shut down for several days.

PDKI leader Mustafa Hijri, in an interview with Al Jazeera, reaffirmed not only his party’s support for an independent Iraqi Kurdistan, but his belief that an independent Iraqi Kurdistan will have a positive impact on Iranian Kurdistan. He believes that once the people of Iraqi Kurdistan achieve their freedom, Iranian Kurds will also realize that they could go on the same path as their brethren in Iraqi Kurdistan.

This, of course, is precisely what Tehran fears. Iranian officials have tried to downsize the importance of the KRG referendum on their Kurdish population. Recently, Iranian president Hassan Rouhani dismissed the connection between the referendum and their own Kurdish population: “We will in no way count the political mistakes of some people in the Kurdistan Region [KRG] on you. You are part of the great Iranian nation. You are a loyal nation. You are among Iran’s oldest nations in the region. You have always stood by the Islamic revolution and stood by the Iranian nation in the imposed war with Iraq.” Mr. Rouhani’s statement was in fact a threat towards his own Kurdish population. He is trying to tell Iranian Kurds, if you demand anything more then what you have today, there is no one who can protect you.

Iran’s attitude toward the KRG independence vote is more clearly expressed in how it has influenced the Baghdad government, and what it has done militarily on the ground.

Iran’s Influence On Iraq

The key to understanding the current mess in Iraqi Kurdistan is the outsized influence of Tehran in post-Saddam Iraq. The 2005 constitution, significantly shaped by the U.S. occupiers, was meant to resolve the sovereignty of the disputed areas around oil-rich Kirkuk, but serious talks have never been convened. At the same time, the Shia-dominated central government in Baghdad has for years treated Sunni Arabs harshly (giving rise to ISIS) and Kurds with neglect. The Shia-dominated army and militias collapsed in the first encounters with ISIS, leaving the Kurds (backed by Iran and U.S. air power) as the only effective counter to the Islamic States’ bloodthirsty assaults. Despite that failure, Iran has exceptional influence on the Iraqi state.

The dominance of the Shia in Baghdad is occasioned by the 60 percent majority the sect has in Iraq. Iran, officially Shia, not only influenced Baghdad as co-religionists but also because so many in Baghdad leadership were exiled in Iran during Saddam’s reign. With less U.S. presence in the country since the formal withdrawal of troops in 2011, Iranian influence has increased. It is common that visitors in Baghdad can encounter pictures of the ayatollahs Khomeini and Khamenei, unthinkable before the 2003 occupation and a striking symbol of this influence.

Tehran is guiding Baghdad on the assault in Kurdistan. The commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Quds Force, Qasem Suleimani, has served as an adviser to Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi and has been neck deep in the Kurdish crisis, blamed by Iraqi Kurdish officials for masterminding the attack on the disputed areas between Kurdistan and Iraq. Other Iranian forces allegedly involved — the Iranian Hashed Al-Shabi forces, other Revolutionary Guard units, and Hezbollah — were able to move into Kirkuk and the KRG with little resistance from the Peshmerga because Suleimani elegantly divided the Kurdish house. He forged an agreement between Iran and some factions of PUK officials who were dissatisfied with Barzani’s leadership, alarmed by the broad opposition to the referendum in the international community, and sought a deal that would benefit them in all ways.

After the clashes between the Iranian-led forces and the Kurdish peshmerga forces, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has said that Iran acting (meaning attacking) in Kurdistan prevented the birth of a second Israel in Middle East. The Iranian, Turkish, and Iraqi charge that the idea of an independent Kurdistan was initiated by Israel and some Kurdish leaders (mainly Barzani), despite the fact Barzani’s late father Mustafa Barzani was fighting for an independent Kurdistan before the establishment of the state of Israel. This tarnishing of Kurdish aspirations is a typical ploy of the Islamic Republic, again masking the worries about its restive Kurdish population.

An Independent Kurdistan And The U.S.

In recent days, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that the Iranian forces must leave Iraq after the fight against ISIS is over. This request was quickly dismissed not only by Iran but also by Iraq. Tillerson’s statement is an acknowledgement that the American policy of containing and rolling back gains by Iran in the region is weak. Some of this vulnerability is tied to Iran’s demonstration of power in the Kurdish crisis.

Washington strongly opposed the Kurdistan referendum and told Kurdish officials that the timing was wrong. When the Kurds asked when the proper time would be, there was no proper answer. The Kurds in Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey are all connected, part of a greater Kurdistan, a national identity. The fact that Kurdish aspirations for a state have been betrayed repeatedly by regional and global powers constitutes a moral case for independence.  But there is also a strategic rationale that should appeal to Washington.

Iran will continue to present problems for peace and stability in the region, as does Syria, a corrupt and unstable Iraq, and the potential rise of another ISIS before long. Turkey, the most prominent ally of the United States in the region (besides Israel), has drifted away from the Western alliance under the erratic and belligerent President Erdogan. Not only did Turkey refuse U.S. armed forces the use of their military base Incirlik twice during the wars in Iraq, but also refused to help against ISIS at crucial moments. Turkey is cultivating closer ties to Iran and Russia, a process that has NATO leaders alarmed.

As a result of Turkey’s unreliability and the continuing chaos in the Middle East, an independent Kurdistan should appear increasingly attractive to American policy makers. Independence for the KRG is not only the right thing to do for the Kurdish people, but could provide several possibilities for a stabilizing U.S. presence in the region. Kurdish people are favorably inclined toward the United States, and welcome a U.S. military presence.  Such a “presence” need not be a large enterprise, nor should a Kurdish state become an expensive security sink for the United States. But it’s worth considering if the Pentagon can design, possibly with other major NATO partners, an all-purpose mission, including readiness for humanitarian and peacekeeping tasks, to be stationed there.

Before that can happen, the Kurds in Iraq must move decisively to end internal divisions, corruption, and anti-democratic habits. This is primarily the responsibility of the KDP, but must be inclusive of all political players. It is an enormous challenge, and one that current leadership is incapable of carrying out. Kurdish cousins in surrounding countries need to support such a cleansing. Then diplomatic efforts with the Baghdad government, under the provisions of the constitution, should move assertively forward toward confederation as a logical next step. 

None of these steps is easy or inevitable. But the conventional wisdom that the referendum was a terrible mistake can be turned on its head. Paradoxically, the referendum “disaster” may shake up the status quo enough to move players in the right direction. With American backing, the long-held hope of a Kurdish state is visible and advisable.

Source: Huffpost

For those of us who have suffered and warned of the Obama administration doctrine, which has allowed Iran to roam freely in our midst and interfere unimpeded in our domestic affairs from the GCC states to the Mediterranean and brag about controlling four Arab capitals under Obama’s watch, the newly declared Trump administration strategy announced in the middle of last month, decertifying Iran’s nuclear agreement, sanctioning Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and doubling down on Iran’s mischief, rogue state behaviour and ballistic missiles testing, was music to the ears.

What was refreshing for us in the GCC states to hear was US President Donald Trump’s new approach of not limiting the terrorist groups to the Sunni extremist groups, which the US administration focused on, but expanding the focus to include Iran and its supported and funded Shiites groups, as a long-term threat.

  The Washington Post in a recent article titled, The US is on collision course with Iran in the Middle East, said: “The launch of the [Trump] strategy signalled an important shift in US Middle East policy away from an almost exclusive focus on fighting Daesh [the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant] to an effort that also pushes back against years of Iranian expansion in the region. But the strategy offers no specifics for how to confront Iran’s pervasive presence on the ground in Iraq, Syria and beyond, raising questions about how easy it will be to push back against Iranian influence without triggering new conflicts…”

Even US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Baghdad called for Iraqi-backed Iranian militias to go home. That represents a major shift in the US position which coordinated with the Iran-supported Popular Mobilisation Forces in the fight against Daesh. This US change of heart, annoyed Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi. Qais Al Khazali, one of the Popular Mobilisation Forces leaders, even went further, insisting the “US should go home.”

In a blistering speech laying out his new strategy, Trump insisted “The Iranian regime continues to fuel conflict, terror, and turmoil throughout the Middle East and beyond. Importantly, Iran is not living up to the spirit of the [Iranian nuclear deal].” Although Trump did not walk out of the Iran nuclear deal, he nevertheless decertified it and left it to Congress to deal with it.

Trump kept repeating, even as a candidate, the Iran deal was “one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the US has ever entered into.” Moreover, Trump in announcing his new strategy vis-a-vis-Iran threatened to act “with the US’ allies to counter the regime destabilising activities… And vowed that “the agreement will be terminated,” if the Congress fails to act on the nuclear agreement.

As Trump has a laundry list of US’ grievances against Iran: “Its support for militant groups like Hezbollah, alarm over its testing of ballistic missiles, and fundamental mistrust of its repressive, theocratic leadership… This regime has fuelled sectarian violence in Iraq, and vicious civil wars in Yemen and Syria. In Syria, the Iranian regime has supported the atrocities of Bashar Al Assad’s regime and condoned Al Assad’s use of chemical weapons against helpless civilians, including many, many children. Those are all fair hits: Iran really is destabilising the Middle East in a whole host of ways….”

Trump kept referring through his speech to the regime, and not Iran... “The regime remains the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, and provides assistance to Al Qaida, the Taliban, Hezbollah, Hamas, and other terrorist networks. It develops, deploys, and proliferates missiles that threaten American troops and our allies. It harasses American ships and threatens freedom of navigation in the Arabian Gulf (it drove Iran nuts) and in the Red Sea. It imprisons Americans on false charges. And it launches cyberattacks against our critical infrastructure, financial system, and military. Trump accused the “regime of harbouring high-level terrorists in the wake of the September 11 attacks, including Osama Bin Laden’s son. In Iraq and Afghanistan, groups supported by Iran have killed hundreds of American military personnel…” These accusations have not been levelled against Iran by any US president.

Trump, never mentioned Iran as “government of Iran”, but referred in one of the harshest speeches by a US president, as a dictatorship, fanatical, and rough regime.

“Trump’s new strategy looks bold and tough on Iran, and is a refreshing departure from Obama’s destructive appeasement.”

Although, Trump strategy insisted as he described it “The regime remains the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, and provides assistance to Al Qaida, the Taliban, Hezbollah, Hamas and other terrorist networks.” He even went as far as accusing Iran of colluding with North Korea: “There are also many people who believe that Iran is dealing with North Korea.” Trump rebuked Iran’s rogue behaviour, announced a tougher stance against Iran, upped the ante and ended Obama appeasement policy and threatened to impose new sanctions against Iran, which the US Congress enthusiastically embraced, and did not waste any time to pass legislation slapping sanctions against Iran and its proxy Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Iran President Hassan Rouhani in a rebuttal speech accused Trump of delivering insults and baseless accusations in his speech and claimed “the US is more isolated than ever, and could not unilaterally change the deal.”

Trump’s new strategy looks bold and tough on Iran, and is a refreshing departure from Obama’s destructive appeasement, which subordinated and tolerated Iran’s meddling and destabilising activities to reach the nuclear agreement at any cost to serve his legacy, it gave Iran by design or inadvertently a green light to advance its project and emboldened Iran to stage a major offensive to be the hegemon of the region, empowering its proxies and allies, supporting the brutal and thuggish regime of Bashar Al Assad in Syria, and undermining the US allies in the GCC states.

But it does seem the Iranian intervention that upset the stability and security of the region pushed Obama to rethink his flawed strategy.

The hardline approach by Trump will be a major victory if it succeeds in deterring Iran, arrests its malignant interventions, forces its allies to change its destabilising behaviour and shenanigans and act more like a normal state, rather than a permanent revolutionary regime, bent on exporting its brand of revolutionary zeal, sectarian militias and hegemonic behaviour.

Source:

By Abdullah Al Shayji, Special to Gulf News
Published: 18:19 October 30, 2017

 

BAGHDAD: With the Daesh group driven from nearly all of Iraq, US officials have suggested that the thousands of mainly Shiite paramilitary fighters who mobilised against the Sunni extremists three years ago lay down their arms.

But Abu Mahdi Al Muhandis, who once battled US troops and is now the deputy head of the state-sanctioned Popular Mobilization Forces, says they are here to stay.

 “The future of the (PMF) is to defend Iraq,” he told The Associated Press in his first extensive interview with a Western media outlet. “The Iraqi army and Iraqi police say they cannot operate without the support of the Hashd,” he added, using a shortened Arabic term for the paramilitary force.

In the years after the 2003 US-led invasion, Al Muhandis led the Hezbollah Brigades, a feared Shiite militia with close ties to Iran and the Lebanese militant group of the same name. His real name is Jamal Jaafar Ebrahim, but he’s still better known by his nom de guerre, and his rise to the top ranks of Iraq’s security apparatus reflects the long, slow decline of US influence over the country.

He participated in the bombing of Western embassies in Kuwait and the attempted assassination of that country’s emir in the early 1980s, for which he was convicted in absentia and added to the US list of designated terrorists. But like many Shiite militants, he returned to Iraq after the 2003 US-led invasion. Two years later, he was even elected to parliament, before being forced to step down under American pressure.

In 2009, the State Department linked him to the elite Quds Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, calling him a “threat to stability” in Iraq, and as recently as last week it referred to him as a terrorist.

But in the summer of 2014, when Daesh swept across northern Iraq, and the US-trained and funded army collapsed, his and other Shiite militias mobilised in defence, halting the extremists on the outskirts of the capital. The mostly Iran-backed militias remained separate from the US-led coalition, but over the next three years they helped Iraq’s reconstituted military to drive Daesh out of most of the country.

Today, Al Muhandis, in his mid-60s, is among the most powerful men in Iraq, splitting his time between the front lines, Iran and his home and office in Baghdad’s heavily-guarded Green Zone. He describes the PMF as a “parallel military” that will help keep the peace once Daesh is gone.

Al Muhandis “demonstrates that Iran has a direct venue with which to influence Iraqi politics, and a powerful one at that,” said Phillip Smyth, an expert on Shiite militias at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

“It’s no secret,” Al Muhandis said of his close relationship with Iran, the country where he spent decades in exile and underwent military training. He said he personally seeks spiritual and moral guidance from the country’s leadership, but that the PMF only gets material support from Tehran.

Earlier this month, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson demanded that Iran-backed militiamen in Iraq return to their homes, integrate into the Iraqi army or leave the country.

Al Muhandis casually dismissed the appeal. “Tillerson is asleep,” he said.

“Iran was the only country that supported Iraq from the beginning of the Daesh crisis,” he said, referring to the Daesh blitz in 2014. “It’s like when you’re in a hospital and you need blood. The Americans would be the one who would show up with the transfusion when it was too late.”

As to whether the Americans should remain in Iraq, Al Muhandis said: “We follow the Iraqi government despite our personal opinions, and our personal opinions are well known, so I won’t repeat them here.”

The PMF sprang into action again earlier this month, when federal forces retook the northern city of Kirkuk and other disputed areas from Kurdish forces in response to the Kurds’ vote for independence in September. The military action, which caused few casualties and was celebrated as a victory by the country’s Arab majority, gave a further boost to the paramilitary forces.

“What happened in Kirkuk is a success for the Iraqi government and the Iraqi forces,” Al Muhandis said, adding that his forces had helped coordinate the Kurdish withdrawal to minimise clashes and casualties. “We want a brotherhood with the Kurds,” he said, referring to their shared struggle against Saddam Hussain in the 1980s.

The fighting nevertheless displaced thousands of people, according to the United Nations and Amnesty International, which documented the looting and destruction of “hundreds” of properties near Kirkuk.

International rights groups alleged widespread violations by the militias throughout the campaign against Daesh and said the government had failed to hold them accountable. Al Muhandis and other commanders say any abuses were isolated incidents, and that perpetrators have been brought to justice.

Al Muhandis rarely speaks to reporters, but his image is pervasive on social media, where he can be seen wearing olive fatigues and surveying front-line positions from Iraq’s northern border to the western Anbar province, where troops and militiamen are battling Daesh in the last pocket under its control. He’s often standing beside General Qassem Sulaimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, and a key adviser to the PMF. Music videos shared online praise Al Muhandis’ humility and fearlessness.

He can also be seen in photos attending strategy meetings chaired by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi. The PMF are officially an “independent military formation” under the prime minister’s command.

Al Muhandis holds a “pivotal” position in Iraq’s political and security hierarchy, said Nathaniel Rabkin, managing editor of Inside Iraqi Politics, a political risk assessment newsletter.

“It’s a source of concern in and outside Iraq,” Rabkin said. “If you have elements of the armed forces or the security forces loyal to a particular political party you’re creating a setup where it will be very difficult to have free, fair and competitive elections that don’t descend into violence.”

Iraq is set to hold parliamentary elections next year. When asked if his forces would participate in politics, Al Muhandis laughed, saying: “Don’t mention it or you’ll scare off all the politicians.” He added that PMF fighters would be free to run for office, but must first leave the paramilitary organisation.

Smyth, the militia researcher, doubts such rules would be enforced, noting the long history of militia commanders cycling in and out of political office.

Whether they run or not, Al Muhandis said the PMF are “the biggest force that can influence the upcoming elections.”

Source: Gulf News

BEIRUT, Lebanon — It may not be politically popular to raise concerns about the human rights of Islamic State fighters and their families. But the International Committee of the Red Cross, which has monitored the treatment of the wounded, prisoners and civilians in wartime for a century and a half, sought to do just that in a strongly worded statement on Thursday.

The organization is concerned about rhetoric that “dehumanizes” and “demonizes” the enemy or suggests that a particular adversary is “outside the bounds of humanity” and can be treated “as if humanitarian law doesn’t apply,” the group’s deputy director for the Middle East, Patrick Hamilton, told reporters via a telephone conference call.

Language that could appear to justify or encourage war crimes and illegal treatment of detainees has become more common on all sides of the sprawling conflicts in Syria and Iraq, Mr. Hamilton said, to the point that the Red Cross felt it necessary to remind all combatants that international law requires due process and humane treatment of detainees “with no exceptions.”

His comments come as the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, ISIL and Daesh, is surrendering more territory to an array of government and militia forces. Several Western officials have said that it would be best if their citizens who have fought with the Islamic State died in combat.

The Red Cross has a longstanding policy of not singling out governments or groups for criticism, because it seeks to preserve access to all sides in order to carry out missions such as monitoring the treatment of detainees and prisoners. The organization said its warning was directed at all combatants as well as countries that might receive returning Islamic State fighters.

“It’s not that we are going to name no one,” Mr. Hamilton said of his warning against inflammatory rhetoric. “We name everyone.”

France’s defense minister, Florence Parly, said last week that if Islamic State fighters “perish in this fight, I would say that’s for the best.” Rory Stewart, a British government minister, said of British ISIS members that “unfortunately the only way of dealing with them will be, in almost every case, to kill them.”

And Brett McGurk, the American envoy to the anti-ISIS coalition, said the mission was to make sure foreign fighters “die here in Syria.” Earlier this year, Trump administration officials referred to “annihilating” ISIS.

To be sure, none of those statements called for extrajudicial killings or any other war crime. But in an already tense and dangerous atmosphere — punctuated by atrocities carried out by insurgent and militia groups in the past — all parties need to “de-escalate their language,” Mr. Hamilton said.

“These are emotive, difficult issues but the law does provide a sober mechanism for dealing with all of this,” he said, noting that the Red Cross has been advising governments on handling detainees and civilians through 154 years of conflicts and world wars. “These events are not without historical precedent.”

The Red Cross has visited 44,000 detainees in Iraq this year, and is currently providing humanitarian assistance to 1,300 women and children from around 20 nationalities, detained near Mosul as suspected relatives of Islamic State fighters. The Red Cross also is seeking to expand access to detainees throughout the region.

Risks of violations are increased by the complexity of the fight, with more than 20 states involved and often in partnerships with nonstate militia groups, which Mr. Hamilton said had created “a diffusion of responsibilities” for following the laws of war.

Another risk arises from the enormous humanitarian crises spawned by recent battles, with millions of people affected and chaotic scenes as people flee across deserts.

Little is known about the numbers and conditions of Islamic State members detained in the Syrian city of Raqqa as the American-backed Syrian Democratic Forces took over last week. Nor has any information surfaced about the many people who had long been held prisoner in Raqqa by Islamic State and have not been found.

Source: The New York Times

 

Iraq Now an Iranian Colony Sunday, 29 October 2017 16:02

The recent takeover of Kirkuk by the Iranian backed militias and Iraqi army clearly illustrates that now Iran is calling the shots in every important decision of Iraq. This whole operation and withdrawal of PUK Peshmerga, without resistance to advancing Iraqi forces was planned by Iran Quds force commander Major General Qassem Soleimani. The extent of involvement by the Iraq Prime Minister’s office in this whole episode is still unclear, but one thing is certain -- decisions were made in Tehran and Baghdad.

Geopolitical observers are now criticizing Iraqi Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi, for being too quick to resort to force against Kurds at the behest of Iran rather than engaging in talks with Erbil, who had helped Baghdad in the fight against ISIS. There are a number of ways in which Iran gains from this current crisis. Not only does the conflict undermine Kurdish unity, it also boosts the role of Iranian backed Shia militias such as Hashid al-Shaabi in Iraq and makes them look like guardians of national unity rather than sectarian actors. But as a nation, Iraq is at loss, as it has sparked anger against the federal government among its sizeable Kurdish minority.

The fall of Kirkuk clearly showcases the extent to which Iraq today is an Iranian controlled territory. And it demonstrates the currently unparalleled efficacy of the Iranian methods of revolutionary and political warfare, as used by Iran Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) throughout the Arab world to promote Iran geopolitical interests. Iran’s influence in Iraq is not just ascendant, but diverse extending to almost every walk of life. Let’s have a look at various areas where Iran is dominating the Iraqi arena.

Politics- During Saddam Hussein’s rule, Iran granted asylum to a number of Iraqi opposition parties and part of its ability to greatly affect Iraqi political theatre today is linked to the fact that the individuals comprising a significant portion of the Iraqi political map formerly resided in Iran. Politically, Iran has a large number of allies in Iraq’s Parliament who can help secure its goals. Even the most senior Iraqi cabinet officials take instructions from Iran’s leadership.

Military- Tehran has been the principal backer of mainly Shiite Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) formed to fight the Islamic State and now formally absorbed into the Iraqi military. Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRCG) overseas arm.  The Quds Force provides the bulk of logistical support and advice to Popular Mobilisation Forces. In turn, Iran uses the PMF to exert military leverage over the Iraqi government to wrestle power on behalf of Iran, much like Hezbollah did in Lebanon.

Economy- Trade between these two nations is primarily unidirectional in favour of Iran.  Years of sanction and internal conflicts have rendered Iraq dependent on Iranian imports. The only place outside Iran where the Iranian currency the “Rial” is used as a medium of exchange is southern Iraq. Iran is dumping cheap, subsidized food products and consumer goods into Iraqi markets and is undercutting its neighbour’s agricultural and manufacturing sectors.

Natural Resources- Iran’s damming and diversion of rivers feeding the Shatt al-Arab waterway has greatly undermined the Iraqi agriculture sector in the south and hindered efforts to revive Iraq’s marshlands. Iran has withheld water flows of the Kalal River, which flows into Wasit province, and of the Karun and Karkha rivers, which flow into Basra province.

Religion- Iran has been pursuing a long-term strategy to expand its religious authority in Iraq in many ways. For example they use financial and political leverage to ensure the primacy of clerics trained in the Iranian seminary of Qom and loyal to the Iranian ideology, over clerics trained in the relatively non-political tradition of the Najaf seminary. Then, by reconstructing the Shiite shrines in Iraq, they consequently take control of their management in the long run. Lastly, they take control of pilgrimages in Iraq’s shrine cities, notably the Arbaeen procession, which attracts millions of devotees every year to Karbala.

Despite this great degree of Iranian influence on the Iraqi nation still there is a ray of hope. The current Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has the potential to be pulled out of Iran’s influence and act as an independent figure. This is especially true as he has stood in the face of Iran’s pressures on some occasions.

Even so, al-Abadi government officials must prove their allegiance to the Iraqi people and not to the Iranian regime. For example, the Iraqi judiciary is also heavily under Tehran’s influence. This was seen specifically in the country’s Supreme Court last October when they blocked al-Abadi’s judicial reform package. Efforts must clean up the judiciary and make it independent.

Current Iraqi leadership should also work to bridge the gulf with its Sunni and Kurdish minorities by establishing an equal method of governance across the country. Not all Iraqi Shiites are pro-Iranian puppets in fact, many are fervently nationalistic. Prime Minister Abadi can tap into Iraqi nationalism to combat further sectarian division. 

Source: NRT

Oct. 24 (UPI) -- The interference of the Iranian terrorist commander Qasem Soleimani in the internal affairs of Iraq has reached scandalous proportions that should sound alarm bells in the West.

It has emerged that the general, who commands the terrorist Quds Force, responsible for foreign operations by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, orchestrated the reoccupation of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk and many other Kurdish regions in Northern Iraq.

 Kirkuk and other disputed areas bordering Kurdistan had been held by the Iraqi Kurds for the past two years after the Kurdish Peshmerga military force successfully ousted the Islamic State. The Americans recently listed the IRGC as an international terrorist organization; the Quds Force has been on terrorist blacklists for years.

The Iraqi federal government had been reeling from the apparent takeover of Kirkuk by the Kurds. There was also increasing tension and splits within Kurdistan itself, with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, one of the two main parties controlling the KRG and the main opposition to Barzani's ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party.

It now seems that some of the leaders of the PUK, close allies of the Iranian regime, met with Soleimani in the city of Sulaimania the day before the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi ordered Iraqi military forces and pro-Iranian militias, such as Hashd al-Shaabi, to reoccupy Kirkuk. Barzani, his party and many Kurdish leaders and parties have accused some of the leaders of the PUK of betraying Kirkuk and the martyrs who died rescuing the city from IS.

Many of the PUK's senior officials and members of the Peshmerga have condemned those leaders who have betrayed them.

Soleimani had issued repeated warnings to Barzani to withdraw the Peshmerga from Kirkuk or face a fierce Iraqi government offensive. That an Iranian general can so blatantly interfere in the internal affairs of a neighboring country has served to expose the vice-like and malevolent control that the clerical regime has now wrought over Iraq. It has emerged that Soleimani had visited Kurdistan at least three times this month, allegedly telling the PUK leadership that his brutal, pro-Iranian Shi'ite militias would drive the entire Kurdish population into the mountains if they ignored his advice to abandon Kirkuk.

These were not empty threats from a terrorist commander with a reputation like Soleimani. The Iranian general has personally supervised some of the worst atrocities committed in Syria, where more than 70,000 mostly young Afghan refugees, have been sent by the mullahs' regime to bolster Bashar al-Assad in his blood-encrusted civil war.

Soleimani has also advised the vicious Houthi rebels in Yemen and the terrorist Hezbollah in Lebanon. But his primary efforts have been directed against the Sunni population of Iraq, where the ruthless militias under his command have waged a genocidal campaign of ethnic cleansing in Fallujah, Ramadi and Mosul.

Such is Soleimani's growing influence as a key pillar in the Iranian regime's aggressive expansionist policy in the Middle East, that he now reports directly to the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, bypassing the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Abadi is now like a rabbit caught in the Iranian regime's headlights, watching helplessly as control of Iraq's armed forces has been almost entirely conceded to the clerical regime.

Now, with the reoccupation of Kirkuk orchestrated and commanded by Soleimani, it appears as if Iran has struck a deal with elements of the PUK to further their interests in Iraqi Kurdistan. This inevitably will sow fresh seeds of conflict in an area already torn by tension and division.

But Kurdistan is fertile ground for Soleimani. Fomenting civil conflict has been his core strategy in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and Iraq. The mullahs have become experts in stepping over the corpses of tens of thousands to plant the Iranian regime's flag in increasing parts of the Middle East.

It is perhaps significant that only a few days after the IRGC was designated as an international terrorist organization by the U.S. Treasury, creating huge problems for the Iranian regime where the Revolutionary Guards control over 70 percent of the economy, that Soleimani launched his bid to orchestrate the reoccupation of Kirkuk. His show of strength in Kirkuk represents an outright provocation to the Americans, who must now prove to the world that Soleimani and his terrorist force cannot be allowed to subvert the rule of law.

Source. UPI

PRESS RELEASE
For Immediate Release 24th October 2017
 
The Terrorist Commander Behind Iran’s Middle East Expansion Now Meddling In Iraq



The interference of the Iranian terrorist commander Qasem Soleimani in the internal affairs of Iraq has reached scandalous proportions that should sound alarm bells in the West. It has now emerged that the General, who commands the terrorist Quds Force, responsible for foreign operations by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), orchestrated the re-occupation of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk and many other Kurdish regions in Northern Iraq. Kirkuk and other disputed areas bordering Kurdistan had been held by the Iraqi Kurds for the past two years after the Kurdish Peshmerga military force successfully ousted Daesh. The Americans recently listed the IRGC as an international terrorist organisation; the Quds Force has been on terrorist blacklists for years.
 
The Iraqi federal government had been reeling from the apparent takeover of Kirkuk by the Kurds. There was also increasing tension and splits within Kurdistan itself, with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), one of the two main parties controlling the KRG and the main opposition to Barzani’s ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). It now seems that some of the leaders of the PUK, close allies of the Iranian regime, met with Qasem Soleimani in the city of Sulaimania the day before the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi ordered Iraqi military forces and pro-Iranian militias, such as Hashd al-Shaabi, to re-occupy Kirkuk. Barzani, his party and many Kurdish leaders and parties have accused some of the leaders of the PUK of betraying Kirkuk and the martyrs who died rescuing the city from Daesh. Many of the PUK’s senior officials and members of the Peshmerga have condemned those leaders who have betrayed them.
 
General Qasem Soleimani had issued repeated warnings to Barzani to withdraw the Peshmerga from Kirkuk or face a fierce Iraqi government offensive. That an Iranian General can so blatantly interfere in the internal affairs of a neighbouring country has served to expose the vice-like and malevolent control that the clerical regime has now wrought over Iraq. It has emerged that Soleimani had visited Kurdistan at least three times this month, allegedly telling the PUK leadership that his brutal, pro-Iranian Shi’ite militias would drive the entire Kurdish population into the mountains if they ignored his advice to abandon Kirkuk.
 
These were not empty threats from a terrorist commander with a reputation like Soleimani. The Iranian General has personally supervised some of the worst atrocities committed in Syria, where more than 70,000 mostly young Afghan refugees, have been sent by the mullahs’ regime to bolster Bashar al-Assad in his blood-encrusted civil war. Soleimani has also advised the vicious Houthi rebels in Yemen and the terrorist Hezbollah in Lebanon. But his primary efforts have been directed against the Sunni population of Iraq, where the ruthless militias under his command have waged a genocidal campaign of ethnic cleansing in Fallujah, Ramadi and Mosul.
 
Such is Soleimani’s growing influence as a key pillar in the Iranian regime’s aggressive expansionist policy in the Middle East, that he now reports directly to the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, by-passing the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. The Iraqi President, Haider al-Abadi, is now like a rabbit caught in the Iranian regime’s headlights, watching helplessly as control of Iraq’s armed forces has been almost entirely conceded to the clerical regime.
 
Now, with the re-occupation of Kirkuk orchestrated and commanded by Soleimani, it appears as if Iran has struck a deal with elements of the PUK to further their interests in Iraqi Kurdistan. This inevitably will sow fresh seeds of conflict in an area already torn by tension and division. But Kurdistan is fertile ground for Qasem Soleimani. Fomenting civil conflict has been his core strategy in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and Iraq. The mullahs have become experts in stepping over the corpses of tens of thousands to plant the Iranian regime’s flag in increasing parts of the Middle East.
 
It is perhaps significant that only a few days after the IRGC was designated as an international terrorist organisation by the US Treasury, creating huge problems for the Iranian regime where the Revolutionary Guards control over 70% of the economy, that Soleimani launched his bid to orchestrate the re-occupation of Kirkuk. His show of strength in Kirkuk represents an outright provocation to the Americans, who must now prove to the world that Soleimani and his terrorist force cannot be allowed to subvert the rule of law.
 
STRUAN STEVENSON
 

Struan Stevenson is President of the European Iraqi Freedom Association (EIFA). He was a member of the European Parliament representing Scotland (1999-2014), president of the Parliament's Delegation for Relations with Iraq (2009-14) and chairman of Friends of a Free Iran Intergroup (2004-14). He is an international lecturer on the Middle East.

ISIS just lost its last town in Iraq Friday, 17 November 2017 21:39

In 2014, ISIS controlled around 34,000 square miles of territory in Iraq and Syria. As of Friday, ISIS lost its last stronghold in Iraq.

That’s because on Friday morning Iraqi troops and US-led coalition forces retook Rawa — a small town in northwestern Iraq — after about five hours of fighting. ISIS has now effectively lost all of its territory in Iraq, even though some of the group’s militants still operate in the country’s western rural areas near the border with Syria.

Now that Iraq’s flag hangs over Rawa once more, Brett McGurk, President Donald Trump’s diplomatic envoy for the US-led coalition, congratulated the Iraqi fighters on Twitter and announced that the “days of [ISIS’s] phony ‘caliphate’ are coming to an end.” Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi also praised his forces, noting how quickly they retook the town.

The Pentagon says the US has around 5,300 troops tasked with helping the Iraqi military fight ISIS, usually by training its troops, gathering intelligence, and conducting airstrikes.

It’s a big moment for Iraq, as retaking Rawa has essentially ended ISIS governance in its country after three long and brutal years of fighting. But that doesn’t mean that anyone can relax just yet. If anything, the ISIS threat is morphing.

ISIS isn’t defeated yet

It’s more than likely that ISIS will continue to plague Iraq, Syria, and much of the world, even as it loses land.

Just a day ago, when asked about ISIS, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said that “anyone who thinks they're down is premature.”

Hassan Hassan, a Middle East security expert at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, wrote in the National on November 15 that ISIS is already beginning to redefine itself. The group is shifting from governing territory to quickly striking Iraqi towns and cities. The strategy, Hassan notes, is to begin “a war of attrition to deplete its enemy through a ceaseless and incessant campaign of terror and hit-and-run attacks.”

ISIS may carry this strategy forward into Syria, too. The group lost the capital of its so-called caliphate, Raqqa, in October, but it still controls parts of urban areas in eastern Syria. As the US-led coalition tries to remove ISIS from that territory, it could use terror tactics to try to ward off the US-led coalition.

As my colleague Yochi Dreazen notes, ISIS may turn into more of an idea as it loses more territory. That idea may continue to inspire ISIS followers in various countries to stage attacks — especially in Europe and the United States. The attack in New York City this month, which killed eight people and injured 11, was believed to have been inspired by ISIS. It only underlined how hard it will be to prevent similar attacks by an individual encouraged by ISIS propaganda.

So while it’s worth celebrating the military defeat of ISIS in Iraq, it doesn’t mean the fight against the group is over.

Source: Vox

Proposed changes to Iraq’s personal status law caused protests because they drop the legal age of marriage to 9. Even worse, the changes come at the same time as an ongoing erosion in women’s status in Iraqi society.

 On October 30, Iraq’s parliament made a decision that stirred up much anger around the country. They agreed to make amendments to the country’s personal status law in principle. The proposed changes have been a subject of controversy for years but this time it seems that politicians may finally be getting their way.

In many Muslim countries, issues like divorce, custody of children and marriage are ruled by religious law, or Sharia. However in 1959, the Iraqi government passed a new personal status law, based on the law of the land that treated all sects and ethnicities equally. This is Law Number 188 and it is still in effect today, with rulings on related issues made by government-run courts.

As Germany’s Heinrich Boell foundation has reported, the current Iraqi law is based on religious rules but it took a more liberal approach.

“It restricts child marriages (by setting the legal age of marriage at 18 years), bans forced marriages and restricts polygamy; it curtails men’s prerogatives in divorce, expands women’s rights in divorce, extends child custody to mothers, and improves inheritance rights for women,” the foundation has stated. “It remains one of the most liberal laws in the Arab world with respect to women’s rights.”

The latter quality is something that many modern Iraqis have been proud of. Hence the uproar when news broke about the agreement to amend the personal status law.

Those amendments have been a long time coming. Shortly after the regime headed by former Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein, was removed by a US-led invasion, the new Iraqi government stated its intention to change Law 188 and to reinstate religious courts on a sectarian basis – that is, cases would be heard by either a Sunni or Shiite Muslim court, depending on the sect of those using the law. Ever since 2004, protests by civil society organisations have managed to prevent this.

But it seems that this time the politicians may be able to make the changes they have sought for so long – even though it seems that any actual amendments will be a far longer time coming.

“There are serious constitutional and legal violations in this desire of the Islamic parties to amend the law,” one Iraqi MP, Shuruq al-Abaji, told NIQASH.

She points out that Article 41 of the Iraqi Constitution guarantees that Iraqis are free to choose personal status according to their religious beliefs, sects or other choices. Before the amendments can be made to the personal status law, this article would need to be changed, al-Abaji insists.

And there is another legal issue, the politician notes. The proposed new personal status law would refer issues of marriage, divorce, custody and inheritance to the religious endowment authorities – these are the bodies tasked with running and maintaining Shiite or Sunni mosques and shrines and they are very important institutions within their own sectarian communities. But, as al-Abaji argues, that violates not just the principle of the separation of powers but also human rights and international laws around women’s rights.

“The organization of these issues should be the responsibility of the courts and not the executive branch of Sunni or Shiite religious orders,” al-Abaji concludes.

Iraq’s original personal status law and the proposed amendments could not be more different. The first one grants mothers the right to custody and gives wives the right to inherit their husband’s estate. Meanwhile religious jurisprudence tends to say the custody of children is a matter for the father and that women do not have the right to inherit real estate or land.

However these were not even the issues that really riled Iraqis up. The change that most angered locals was the one related to legal marriageable age. Civil law says a couple should be aged at least 18 in order to marry. Meanwhile religious law says puberty means a female is of marriageable age. In some cases, this is considered to be nine years old, in others 12 years old.

“The newly proposed law encourages the marriage of minors and reminds us most of the way that the [extremist group] Islamic State behaved with young girls, how the organisation forced them to marry group members when they were in control in Mosul and Raqqa,” says MP Rizan al-Sheik Daleer.

Once again, civil society and women’s rights organisations rallied around to protests the changes in the law. Many Iraqis on social media used the hashtag #NoToUnderageMarriages and a number of Facebook pages were created to organize the protests and garner support.

The change in law also comes at a time when women’s rights appear to be being eroded in Iraq, many of the activists believe.

“Islamic parties’ attempts to pass this new personal status law comes at the same time as a decline in the female role in Iraqi politics,” states Hanaa Edwar, the influential head of the Al Amal (Hope) civil society organization. “In 2004 women occupied a fair few of the positions in government but their numbers have decreased dramatically over the past 10 years. It’s a serious indication that male chauvinism is on the rise in Iraq.”

In the first Iraqi government after the fall of Saddam Hussein, there were six female ministers. Currently there are only two – the minister of health and the minister of housing. There were eight deputy ministers in 2005 but in 2013, only one.

When the Iraqi parliament elected a new oversight commission for elections last month, for the first time ever there was no woman on it. In 2005, when the commission was first formed there were two.

At one stage the staffs of the ministries of finance, education and health were around half female. But their numbers have dropped a lot over the past few years. Three months ago parliament refused to vote on measures impacting the Federal Public Service Council, which regulates the affairs of the federal public service, including appointment and promotion, because of the fact that the president and deputy are independent women, according to Edwar. Male MPs have also refused to vote on a bill on domestic violence for years, she added.

All of this should be a wakeup call, Edwar argues, when it comes to the role of Iraqi women in their own society.

“Men occupy all the high-ranking positions and they reject the laws that might support women,” Edwar notes. “If there were no quotas in place that require that females make up 25 percent of parliament and provincial councils, things would be even worse.”

Source: Globalresearch.ca

Iran’s Greatest Challenge is Homegrown Tuesday, 07 November 2017 18:43

The prospect of potential domestic unrest has hit a raw nerve in Iran.

Iran has long been a formidable regional force. It has projected its power by backing Shia militias, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon or Hashd al-Shaabi in Iraq, or Sunni groups such as Hamas in Palestine, thereby engaging in a proxy war strategy throughout the Middle East. However, since the independence referendum held in Iraqi Kurdistan on September 25, Iran has become decidedly more explicit in flaunting its involvement in attempting to control the latest regional tensions developing in Iraq between Baghdad and Erbil.

The flash point of this conflict began in Kirkuk when Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Iranian Quds force (the foreign wing of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, IRGC), made his presence there public in October, defiantly demonstrating Iran’s influence in Iraq to America. Following the capture of Kirkuk by Shia militias and Iraqi forces, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei’s photo was promptly displayed in the newly deposed governor’s office. In a final show of defiance, after US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told Shia militants in Kirkuk to “go home,” Qais al-Khazali, leader of Iran-funded Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia, told America to prepare to withdraw its troops from Iraq.

Two particular events that directly targeted the Iranian regime’s weak spot and potentially destabilizing factor — popular unrest at best and uprising at worst — triggered Tehran’s increasingly assertive and confrontational stance. Iran fears domestic unrest because, while it has successfully spread its power abroad by empowering Shia parties and militias, internally it has achieved control through severe repression of both its ethnic minorities and dissident political voices.

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The first event came in the form of President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speeches at the UN General Assembly in September, in which both made overtures to the Iranian people. Trump spoke of “the Iranian regime’s longest-suffering victims: its own people.” Netanyahu declared to the “people of Iran: You are not our enemy; you are our friends.” He then put on a full charm offensive and repeated his advance in Farsi: “Shoma doosteh ma hasteed” (You are our friends). He went on to say that “One day, my Iranian friends, you will be free from the evil regime that terrorizes you, hangs gays, jails journalists, tortures political prisoners… .” Both speeches were accompanied by warnings of Iran’s growing power that must be curbed. This insinuates an interesting strategic change of policy that involves targeting the Iranian regime’s fear of destabilization through internal revolt.

The second event was the unexpected mass support of the Iranian Kurds for Iraqi Kurds’ independence referendum that caught most off guard. Before the results were even announced, the sheer number and speed at which hundreds of thousands of Kurds gathered throughout the Kurdish cities of Iran to celebrate was astonishing. Iranian Kurds defied a repressive regime in a way that had not occurred since the Islamic Revolution. The crackdown was prompt, with anti-riot forces and tanks being sent into Kurdish cities, and over 700 civilians detained. The Mahabad Republic of 1946 — the first attempt at an independent Kurdish state — still haunts the Iranian regime, which is now alarmed by the unity Iran’s Kurds have demonstrated with their Iraqi neighbors. What is more, this civilian outpouring if support was followed by political solidarity from the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDKI) and Komala, as well as military support from Kurdistan Freedom Party (PAK, Iran’s Kurdish militia) that has been fighting in Iraqi Kurdistan in post-referendum confrontations.

The events that occurred in the Kurdish regions of Iran received scant media attention, and when they did, they were demonstratively downplayed. This was the case during a panel discussion organized by The Washington Institute at the end of September, during which it was suggested that only 1,000 people protested, and that the demonstration was fairly irrelevant and easy to contain. The reality on the ground was conspicuously different, and Tehran’s heavy-handed response is an indication of the regime’s angst regarding its minorities.

Iran will go to great lengths to suppress the Kurds, as, despite being an ethnically diverse country in which 40% to 50% of the population is non-Persian, its minorities have been historically repressed. The repression faced by ethnic and religious minorities is widespread, ranging from discrimination, persecution and economic and cultural marginalization, to torture and mass executions in front of relatives after show trials lasting no more than 15 minutes. At times, this has led to unrest. For instance, in 2006, the Azeri minority held large protests and burned down government buildings after a cartoon portrayed them as cockroaches, with hundreds of protestors were arrested as a result.

More recently, in early September 2017, large protests erupted in Kurdish cities following the killing of two Kurdish men by Iranian security forces at the border. These protests were met with tear gas and gunfire, with hundreds arrested.

The Kurds are becoming increasingly restive, threatening the status quo. It is important to bear in mind that the extent of the repressions, executions and silencing that the Kurds face in Iran is such that they are known as the “forgotten Kurds.” It is therefore a common error to underestimate the threat they represent in the eyes of the Iranian regime as their discontent rises.

SIMMERING DISCONTENT

Trump’s recent decision to decertify the Iran nuclear deal and to introduce sanctions against the IRGC under a terrorism financing executive order has received significant media attention and is undeniably part of the reason why Iran is reacting in open defiance to America by showing that it ultimately holds sway over Iraq — an undoubtedly bitter pill for the US to swallow. However, it seems that the recent external and internal tribulations have hit a raw nerve in Tehran.

Indeed, whilst many in Iran do support the regime, many do not. For example, in response to the IRGC designation as a terrorist organization, Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif launched a Twitter call of national unity with the IRGC, which was not a resounding success. The social media response demonstrated that many Iranians view the IRGC as an organization that terrorizes its own people. It is noteworthy that many Iranian voices that dissented on Twitter are based inside Iran and not just in the wider diaspora, which is in itself a significant sign of defiance to the regime.

In its attempt to rally popular support behind the IRGC, the regime attempted to create a semblance of overt national cohesion in response to outside pressures precisely because it knows very well that a large proportion of its population does not endorse the regime. Suffice to remember the 2009 Green Movement that erupted in mass protests after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s contested reelection. The repression was brutal, but it was also a clear indication of simmering discontent throughout Iranian society.

Activists from ethnic minorities were also involved in the Green Movement but were soon disenchanted as the leaders were reluctant to support minority rights, which are viewed as having separatist undertones. Ironically, President Hassan Rouhani was elected on the joint promise of achieving a nuclear deal and civil rights reform, including fair trials for ethnic minorities and Green Movement leaders. Yet today the human rights situation in Iran has deteriorated even further past the levels of Ahmadinejad’s presidency, according to Ahmed Shaheed, former UN special rapporteur. Consequently, domestic tensions and discontent may well continue to rise as Rouhani’s promises of reforms are not being met.

Iran knows that its most concerning weakness and challenge lies in domestic, not foreign, destabilization. It has therefore resorted to taking a much more openly aggressive stance in asserting its power in the region as its long-term challengers — Israel, America and its own Kurdish minority — have apparently turned to more openly seeking to gaud Iran’s weakest point.

Source: Fair Observer

What Next For Kurdistan? Friday, 03 November 2017 09:46

The independence referendum in the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) of Iraq has resulted in a tumultuous aftermath that recalls the old adage that the Kurds have no friends but the mountains. Reaction by all neighbors, including the central Iraqi government in Baghdad, has been harsh. Iraqi, Iranian, and Turkish-backed forces have occupied Kurdish areas in the month following the referendum. KRG president Masoud Barzani is stepping down. But the referendum has brought attention to the Kurdish cause and exposed the machinations of neighbors with large Kurdish populations, particularly Iran.  It may lead, unexpectedly, to U.S. recognition that an independent Kurdistan is actually a plus for stability and American interests in the region.

Barzani decided on June 7 to hold an independence referendum to secede from Iraq. Almost all political parties in the KRG supported the referendum decision except for the change movement (Gorran) and Kurdistan Islamic Group (Komal). The referendum was held on September 25th despite objections from Baghdad, the neighbors, and the rest of the international community including the United States and Britain. In fact, the only country that supported the referendum openly was Israel. Despite such opprobrium and attempts to halt the vote, independence was favored by 92.7 percent of the electorate.

The central government of Baghdad all along was threatening the Kurdistan regional government, as did Turkey, Syria, and in particularly Iran. These neighboring countries have large and significant Kurdish populations and fear that if the Kurdistan region of Iraq becomes independent, their Kurdish population would demand the same.

What Iran Fears

Iran fears an independent Kurdistan, because it might influence its 7 million Iranian Kurds to aspire to secede from Iran. Before the referendum took place, Iran tried to persuade the KRG to postpone the referendum, and when that did not work, they tried hard to divide the Kurdish house.

In July, they invited to Tehran Jalal Talabani, the former president of Iraq who died just eight days after the referendum, and still then the leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), one of the two most powerful political parties in the KRG. The Iranians called the visit friendly, although Talabani had had a stroke, was hospitalized for more then five years, and lost the ability to communicate. Second, Iran invited the PUK politburo to Tehran to persuade them to support the idea of postponing or canceling the referendum. That attempt did not worked either; the deputy PUK leader Kosrat Rasul refused the request.

Plainly, Iran fears Kurdish unity. In 2014, for example, ISIS attacked Iraqi Kurdistan and Kurds all around the Middle East fought side by side to defend Kurdish homelands including Iranian Kurdish peshmerga forces of the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDKI) and Komala (two main Kurdish political opposition in Iran). Iran demanded that these Iranian peshmerga forces would not be allowed to fight ISIS and gain battle experience. Because of the sensitivity of the situation, KRG agreed and did not allow the PDKI peshmerga to help them in the fight against ISIS. Afterwards, in spring 2016 the PDKI decided to send back their peshmerga forces to Iranian Kurdistan, and other Iranian Kurdish political parties followed with their peshmerga forces. Several clashes have occurred between these peshmerga forces and the Iranian Quds forces, with casualties on both sides.

Before the referendum, Iranian officials argued that Iranian Kurds would not behave like the Iraqi Kurds because they were treated equally with other Iranian people and that the Islamic Republic of Iran did not distinguish between different groups of people in Iran. On the referendum day and the following day, thousands of Iranian Kurds took to the streets in different cities in Iranian Kurdistan and celebrated the Iraqi Kurdistan referendum. They shouted that they are with their brethren in Iraqi Kurdistan and that freedom will come soon to them as well. Iranian police forces arrested several celebrators because they had waved the Kurdish flag, and the Internet was shut down for several days.

PDKI leader Mustafa Hijri, in an interview with Al Jazeera, reaffirmed not only his party’s support for an independent Iraqi Kurdistan, but his belief that an independent Iraqi Kurdistan will have a positive impact on Iranian Kurdistan. He believes that once the people of Iraqi Kurdistan achieve their freedom, Iranian Kurds will also realize that they could go on the same path as their brethren in Iraqi Kurdistan.

This, of course, is precisely what Tehran fears. Iranian officials have tried to downsize the importance of the KRG referendum on their Kurdish population. Recently, Iranian president Hassan Rouhani dismissed the connection between the referendum and their own Kurdish population: “We will in no way count the political mistakes of some people in the Kurdistan Region [KRG] on you. You are part of the great Iranian nation. You are a loyal nation. You are among Iran’s oldest nations in the region. You have always stood by the Islamic revolution and stood by the Iranian nation in the imposed war with Iraq.” Mr. Rouhani’s statement was in fact a threat towards his own Kurdish population. He is trying to tell Iranian Kurds, if you demand anything more then what you have today, there is no one who can protect you.

Iran’s attitude toward the KRG independence vote is more clearly expressed in how it has influenced the Baghdad government, and what it has done militarily on the ground.

Iran’s Influence On Iraq

The key to understanding the current mess in Iraqi Kurdistan is the outsized influence of Tehran in post-Saddam Iraq. The 2005 constitution, significantly shaped by the U.S. occupiers, was meant to resolve the sovereignty of the disputed areas around oil-rich Kirkuk, but serious talks have never been convened. At the same time, the Shia-dominated central government in Baghdad has for years treated Sunni Arabs harshly (giving rise to ISIS) and Kurds with neglect. The Shia-dominated army and militias collapsed in the first encounters with ISIS, leaving the Kurds (backed by Iran and U.S. air power) as the only effective counter to the Islamic States’ bloodthirsty assaults. Despite that failure, Iran has exceptional influence on the Iraqi state.

The dominance of the Shia in Baghdad is occasioned by the 60 percent majority the sect has in Iraq. Iran, officially Shia, not only influenced Baghdad as co-religionists but also because so many in Baghdad leadership were exiled in Iran during Saddam’s reign. With less U.S. presence in the country since the formal withdrawal of troops in 2011, Iranian influence has increased. It is common that visitors in Baghdad can encounter pictures of the ayatollahs Khomeini and Khamenei, unthinkable before the 2003 occupation and a striking symbol of this influence.

Tehran is guiding Baghdad on the assault in Kurdistan. The commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Quds Force, Qasem Suleimani, has served as an adviser to Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi and has been neck deep in the Kurdish crisis, blamed by Iraqi Kurdish officials for masterminding the attack on the disputed areas between Kurdistan and Iraq. Other Iranian forces allegedly involved — the Iranian Hashed Al-Shabi forces, other Revolutionary Guard units, and Hezbollah — were able to move into Kirkuk and the KRG with little resistance from the Peshmerga because Suleimani elegantly divided the Kurdish house. He forged an agreement between Iran and some factions of PUK officials who were dissatisfied with Barzani’s leadership, alarmed by the broad opposition to the referendum in the international community, and sought a deal that would benefit them in all ways.

After the clashes between the Iranian-led forces and the Kurdish peshmerga forces, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has said that Iran acting (meaning attacking) in Kurdistan prevented the birth of a second Israel in Middle East. The Iranian, Turkish, and Iraqi charge that the idea of an independent Kurdistan was initiated by Israel and some Kurdish leaders (mainly Barzani), despite the fact Barzani’s late father Mustafa Barzani was fighting for an independent Kurdistan before the establishment of the state of Israel. This tarnishing of Kurdish aspirations is a typical ploy of the Islamic Republic, again masking the worries about its restive Kurdish population.

An Independent Kurdistan And The U.S.

In recent days, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that the Iranian forces must leave Iraq after the fight against ISIS is over. This request was quickly dismissed not only by Iran but also by Iraq. Tillerson’s statement is an acknowledgement that the American policy of containing and rolling back gains by Iran in the region is weak. Some of this vulnerability is tied to Iran’s demonstration of power in the Kurdish crisis.

Washington strongly opposed the Kurdistan referendum and told Kurdish officials that the timing was wrong. When the Kurds asked when the proper time would be, there was no proper answer. The Kurds in Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey are all connected, part of a greater Kurdistan, a national identity. The fact that Kurdish aspirations for a state have been betrayed repeatedly by regional and global powers constitutes a moral case for independence.  But there is also a strategic rationale that should appeal to Washington.

Iran will continue to present problems for peace and stability in the region, as does Syria, a corrupt and unstable Iraq, and the potential rise of another ISIS before long. Turkey, the most prominent ally of the United States in the region (besides Israel), has drifted away from the Western alliance under the erratic and belligerent President Erdogan. Not only did Turkey refuse U.S. armed forces the use of their military base Incirlik twice during the wars in Iraq, but also refused to help against ISIS at crucial moments. Turkey is cultivating closer ties to Iran and Russia, a process that has NATO leaders alarmed.

As a result of Turkey’s unreliability and the continuing chaos in the Middle East, an independent Kurdistan should appear increasingly attractive to American policy makers. Independence for the KRG is not only the right thing to do for the Kurdish people, but could provide several possibilities for a stabilizing U.S. presence in the region. Kurdish people are favorably inclined toward the United States, and welcome a U.S. military presence.  Such a “presence” need not be a large enterprise, nor should a Kurdish state become an expensive security sink for the United States. But it’s worth considering if the Pentagon can design, possibly with other major NATO partners, an all-purpose mission, including readiness for humanitarian and peacekeeping tasks, to be stationed there.

Before that can happen, the Kurds in Iraq must move decisively to end internal divisions, corruption, and anti-democratic habits. This is primarily the responsibility of the KDP, but must be inclusive of all political players. It is an enormous challenge, and one that current leadership is incapable of carrying out. Kurdish cousins in surrounding countries need to support such a cleansing. Then diplomatic efforts with the Baghdad government, under the provisions of the constitution, should move assertively forward toward confederation as a logical next step. 

None of these steps is easy or inevitable. But the conventional wisdom that the referendum was a terrible mistake can be turned on its head. Paradoxically, the referendum “disaster” may shake up the status quo enough to move players in the right direction. With American backing, the long-held hope of a Kurdish state is visible and advisable.

Source: Huffpost

For those of us who have suffered and warned of the Obama administration doctrine, which has allowed Iran to roam freely in our midst and interfere unimpeded in our domestic affairs from the GCC states to the Mediterranean and brag about controlling four Arab capitals under Obama’s watch, the newly declared Trump administration strategy announced in the middle of last month, decertifying Iran’s nuclear agreement, sanctioning Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and doubling down on Iran’s mischief, rogue state behaviour and ballistic missiles testing, was music to the ears.

What was refreshing for us in the GCC states to hear was US President Donald Trump’s new approach of not limiting the terrorist groups to the Sunni extremist groups, which the US administration focused on, but expanding the focus to include Iran and its supported and funded Shiites groups, as a long-term threat.

  The Washington Post in a recent article titled, The US is on collision course with Iran in the Middle East, said: “The launch of the [Trump] strategy signalled an important shift in US Middle East policy away from an almost exclusive focus on fighting Daesh [the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant] to an effort that also pushes back against years of Iranian expansion in the region. But the strategy offers no specifics for how to confront Iran’s pervasive presence on the ground in Iraq, Syria and beyond, raising questions about how easy it will be to push back against Iranian influence without triggering new conflicts…”

Even US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Baghdad called for Iraqi-backed Iranian militias to go home. That represents a major shift in the US position which coordinated with the Iran-supported Popular Mobilisation Forces in the fight against Daesh. This US change of heart, annoyed Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi. Qais Al Khazali, one of the Popular Mobilisation Forces leaders, even went further, insisting the “US should go home.”

In a blistering speech laying out his new strategy, Trump insisted “The Iranian regime continues to fuel conflict, terror, and turmoil throughout the Middle East and beyond. Importantly, Iran is not living up to the spirit of the [Iranian nuclear deal].” Although Trump did not walk out of the Iran nuclear deal, he nevertheless decertified it and left it to Congress to deal with it.

Trump kept repeating, even as a candidate, the Iran deal was “one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the US has ever entered into.” Moreover, Trump in announcing his new strategy vis-a-vis-Iran threatened to act “with the US’ allies to counter the regime destabilising activities… And vowed that “the agreement will be terminated,” if the Congress fails to act on the nuclear agreement.

As Trump has a laundry list of US’ grievances against Iran: “Its support for militant groups like Hezbollah, alarm over its testing of ballistic missiles, and fundamental mistrust of its repressive, theocratic leadership… This regime has fuelled sectarian violence in Iraq, and vicious civil wars in Yemen and Syria. In Syria, the Iranian regime has supported the atrocities of Bashar Al Assad’s regime and condoned Al Assad’s use of chemical weapons against helpless civilians, including many, many children. Those are all fair hits: Iran really is destabilising the Middle East in a whole host of ways….”

Trump kept referring through his speech to the regime, and not Iran... “The regime remains the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, and provides assistance to Al Qaida, the Taliban, Hezbollah, Hamas, and other terrorist networks. It develops, deploys, and proliferates missiles that threaten American troops and our allies. It harasses American ships and threatens freedom of navigation in the Arabian Gulf (it drove Iran nuts) and in the Red Sea. It imprisons Americans on false charges. And it launches cyberattacks against our critical infrastructure, financial system, and military. Trump accused the “regime of harbouring high-level terrorists in the wake of the September 11 attacks, including Osama Bin Laden’s son. In Iraq and Afghanistan, groups supported by Iran have killed hundreds of American military personnel…” These accusations have not been levelled against Iran by any US president.

Trump, never mentioned Iran as “government of Iran”, but referred in one of the harshest speeches by a US president, as a dictatorship, fanatical, and rough regime.

“Trump’s new strategy looks bold and tough on Iran, and is a refreshing departure from Obama’s destructive appeasement.”

Although, Trump strategy insisted as he described it “The regime remains the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, and provides assistance to Al Qaida, the Taliban, Hezbollah, Hamas and other terrorist networks.” He even went as far as accusing Iran of colluding with North Korea: “There are also many people who believe that Iran is dealing with North Korea.” Trump rebuked Iran’s rogue behaviour, announced a tougher stance against Iran, upped the ante and ended Obama appeasement policy and threatened to impose new sanctions against Iran, which the US Congress enthusiastically embraced, and did not waste any time to pass legislation slapping sanctions against Iran and its proxy Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Iran President Hassan Rouhani in a rebuttal speech accused Trump of delivering insults and baseless accusations in his speech and claimed “the US is more isolated than ever, and could not unilaterally change the deal.”

Trump’s new strategy looks bold and tough on Iran, and is a refreshing departure from Obama’s destructive appeasement, which subordinated and tolerated Iran’s meddling and destabilising activities to reach the nuclear agreement at any cost to serve his legacy, it gave Iran by design or inadvertently a green light to advance its project and emboldened Iran to stage a major offensive to be the hegemon of the region, empowering its proxies and allies, supporting the brutal and thuggish regime of Bashar Al Assad in Syria, and undermining the US allies in the GCC states.

But it does seem the Iranian intervention that upset the stability and security of the region pushed Obama to rethink his flawed strategy.

The hardline approach by Trump will be a major victory if it succeeds in deterring Iran, arrests its malignant interventions, forces its allies to change its destabilising behaviour and shenanigans and act more like a normal state, rather than a permanent revolutionary regime, bent on exporting its brand of revolutionary zeal, sectarian militias and hegemonic behaviour.

Source:

By Abdullah Al Shayji, Special to Gulf News
Published: 18:19 October 30, 2017

 

BAGHDAD: With the Daesh group driven from nearly all of Iraq, US officials have suggested that the thousands of mainly Shiite paramilitary fighters who mobilised against the Sunni extremists three years ago lay down their arms.

But Abu Mahdi Al Muhandis, who once battled US troops and is now the deputy head of the state-sanctioned Popular Mobilization Forces, says they are here to stay.

 “The future of the (PMF) is to defend Iraq,” he told The Associated Press in his first extensive interview with a Western media outlet. “The Iraqi army and Iraqi police say they cannot operate without the support of the Hashd,” he added, using a shortened Arabic term for the paramilitary force.

In the years after the 2003 US-led invasion, Al Muhandis led the Hezbollah Brigades, a feared Shiite militia with close ties to Iran and the Lebanese militant group of the same name. His real name is Jamal Jaafar Ebrahim, but he’s still better known by his nom de guerre, and his rise to the top ranks of Iraq’s security apparatus reflects the long, slow decline of US influence over the country.

He participated in the bombing of Western embassies in Kuwait and the attempted assassination of that country’s emir in the early 1980s, for which he was convicted in absentia and added to the US list of designated terrorists. But like many Shiite militants, he returned to Iraq after the 2003 US-led invasion. Two years later, he was even elected to parliament, before being forced to step down under American pressure.

In 2009, the State Department linked him to the elite Quds Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, calling him a “threat to stability” in Iraq, and as recently as last week it referred to him as a terrorist.

But in the summer of 2014, when Daesh swept across northern Iraq, and the US-trained and funded army collapsed, his and other Shiite militias mobilised in defence, halting the extremists on the outskirts of the capital. The mostly Iran-backed militias remained separate from the US-led coalition, but over the next three years they helped Iraq’s reconstituted military to drive Daesh out of most of the country.

Today, Al Muhandis, in his mid-60s, is among the most powerful men in Iraq, splitting his time between the front lines, Iran and his home and office in Baghdad’s heavily-guarded Green Zone. He describes the PMF as a “parallel military” that will help keep the peace once Daesh is gone.

Al Muhandis “demonstrates that Iran has a direct venue with which to influence Iraqi politics, and a powerful one at that,” said Phillip Smyth, an expert on Shiite militias at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

“It’s no secret,” Al Muhandis said of his close relationship with Iran, the country where he spent decades in exile and underwent military training. He said he personally seeks spiritual and moral guidance from the country’s leadership, but that the PMF only gets material support from Tehran.

Earlier this month, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson demanded that Iran-backed militiamen in Iraq return to their homes, integrate into the Iraqi army or leave the country.

Al Muhandis casually dismissed the appeal. “Tillerson is asleep,” he said.

“Iran was the only country that supported Iraq from the beginning of the Daesh crisis,” he said, referring to the Daesh blitz in 2014. “It’s like when you’re in a hospital and you need blood. The Americans would be the one who would show up with the transfusion when it was too late.”

As to whether the Americans should remain in Iraq, Al Muhandis said: “We follow the Iraqi government despite our personal opinions, and our personal opinions are well known, so I won’t repeat them here.”

The PMF sprang into action again earlier this month, when federal forces retook the northern city of Kirkuk and other disputed areas from Kurdish forces in response to the Kurds’ vote for independence in September. The military action, which caused few casualties and was celebrated as a victory by the country’s Arab majority, gave a further boost to the paramilitary forces.

“What happened in Kirkuk is a success for the Iraqi government and the Iraqi forces,” Al Muhandis said, adding that his forces had helped coordinate the Kurdish withdrawal to minimise clashes and casualties. “We want a brotherhood with the Kurds,” he said, referring to their shared struggle against Saddam Hussain in the 1980s.

The fighting nevertheless displaced thousands of people, according to the United Nations and Amnesty International, which documented the looting and destruction of “hundreds” of properties near Kirkuk.

International rights groups alleged widespread violations by the militias throughout the campaign against Daesh and said the government had failed to hold them accountable. Al Muhandis and other commanders say any abuses were isolated incidents, and that perpetrators have been brought to justice.

Al Muhandis rarely speaks to reporters, but his image is pervasive on social media, where he can be seen wearing olive fatigues and surveying front-line positions from Iraq’s northern border to the western Anbar province, where troops and militiamen are battling Daesh in the last pocket under its control. He’s often standing beside General Qassem Sulaimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, and a key adviser to the PMF. Music videos shared online praise Al Muhandis’ humility and fearlessness.

He can also be seen in photos attending strategy meetings chaired by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi. The PMF are officially an “independent military formation” under the prime minister’s command.

Al Muhandis holds a “pivotal” position in Iraq’s political and security hierarchy, said Nathaniel Rabkin, managing editor of Inside Iraqi Politics, a political risk assessment newsletter.

“It’s a source of concern in and outside Iraq,” Rabkin said. “If you have elements of the armed forces or the security forces loyal to a particular political party you’re creating a setup where it will be very difficult to have free, fair and competitive elections that don’t descend into violence.”

Iraq is set to hold parliamentary elections next year. When asked if his forces would participate in politics, Al Muhandis laughed, saying: “Don’t mention it or you’ll scare off all the politicians.” He added that PMF fighters would be free to run for office, but must first leave the paramilitary organisation.

Smyth, the militia researcher, doubts such rules would be enforced, noting the long history of militia commanders cycling in and out of political office.

Whether they run or not, Al Muhandis said the PMF are “the biggest force that can influence the upcoming elections.”

Source: Gulf News

BEIRUT, Lebanon — It may not be politically popular to raise concerns about the human rights of Islamic State fighters and their families. But the International Committee of the Red Cross, which has monitored the treatment of the wounded, prisoners and civilians in wartime for a century and a half, sought to do just that in a strongly worded statement on Thursday.

The organization is concerned about rhetoric that “dehumanizes” and “demonizes” the enemy or suggests that a particular adversary is “outside the bounds of humanity” and can be treated “as if humanitarian law doesn’t apply,” the group’s deputy director for the Middle East, Patrick Hamilton, told reporters via a telephone conference call.

Language that could appear to justify or encourage war crimes and illegal treatment of detainees has become more common on all sides of the sprawling conflicts in Syria and Iraq, Mr. Hamilton said, to the point that the Red Cross felt it necessary to remind all combatants that international law requires due process and humane treatment of detainees “with no exceptions.”

His comments come as the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, ISIL and Daesh, is surrendering more territory to an array of government and militia forces. Several Western officials have said that it would be best if their citizens who have fought with the Islamic State died in combat.

The Red Cross has a longstanding policy of not singling out governments or groups for criticism, because it seeks to preserve access to all sides in order to carry out missions such as monitoring the treatment of detainees and prisoners. The organization said its warning was directed at all combatants as well as countries that might receive returning Islamic State fighters.

“It’s not that we are going to name no one,” Mr. Hamilton said of his warning against inflammatory rhetoric. “We name everyone.”

France’s defense minister, Florence Parly, said last week that if Islamic State fighters “perish in this fight, I would say that’s for the best.” Rory Stewart, a British government minister, said of British ISIS members that “unfortunately the only way of dealing with them will be, in almost every case, to kill them.”

And Brett McGurk, the American envoy to the anti-ISIS coalition, said the mission was to make sure foreign fighters “die here in Syria.” Earlier this year, Trump administration officials referred to “annihilating” ISIS.

To be sure, none of those statements called for extrajudicial killings or any other war crime. But in an already tense and dangerous atmosphere — punctuated by atrocities carried out by insurgent and militia groups in the past — all parties need to “de-escalate their language,” Mr. Hamilton said.

“These are emotive, difficult issues but the law does provide a sober mechanism for dealing with all of this,” he said, noting that the Red Cross has been advising governments on handling detainees and civilians through 154 years of conflicts and world wars. “These events are not without historical precedent.”

The Red Cross has visited 44,000 detainees in Iraq this year, and is currently providing humanitarian assistance to 1,300 women and children from around 20 nationalities, detained near Mosul as suspected relatives of Islamic State fighters. The Red Cross also is seeking to expand access to detainees throughout the region.

Risks of violations are increased by the complexity of the fight, with more than 20 states involved and often in partnerships with nonstate militia groups, which Mr. Hamilton said had created “a diffusion of responsibilities” for following the laws of war.

Another risk arises from the enormous humanitarian crises spawned by recent battles, with millions of people affected and chaotic scenes as people flee across deserts.

Little is known about the numbers and conditions of Islamic State members detained in the Syrian city of Raqqa as the American-backed Syrian Democratic Forces took over last week. Nor has any information surfaced about the many people who had long been held prisoner in Raqqa by Islamic State and have not been found.

Source: The New York Times

 

Iraq Now an Iranian Colony Sunday, 29 October 2017 16:02

The recent takeover of Kirkuk by the Iranian backed militias and Iraqi army clearly illustrates that now Iran is calling the shots in every important decision of Iraq. This whole operation and withdrawal of PUK Peshmerga, without resistance to advancing Iraqi forces was planned by Iran Quds force commander Major General Qassem Soleimani. The extent of involvement by the Iraq Prime Minister’s office in this whole episode is still unclear, but one thing is certain -- decisions were made in Tehran and Baghdad.

Geopolitical observers are now criticizing Iraqi Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi, for being too quick to resort to force against Kurds at the behest of Iran rather than engaging in talks with Erbil, who had helped Baghdad in the fight against ISIS. There are a number of ways in which Iran gains from this current crisis. Not only does the conflict undermine Kurdish unity, it also boosts the role of Iranian backed Shia militias such as Hashid al-Shaabi in Iraq and makes them look like guardians of national unity rather than sectarian actors. But as a nation, Iraq is at loss, as it has sparked anger against the federal government among its sizeable Kurdish minority.

The fall of Kirkuk clearly showcases the extent to which Iraq today is an Iranian controlled territory. And it demonstrates the currently unparalleled efficacy of the Iranian methods of revolutionary and political warfare, as used by Iran Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) throughout the Arab world to promote Iran geopolitical interests. Iran’s influence in Iraq is not just ascendant, but diverse extending to almost every walk of life. Let’s have a look at various areas where Iran is dominating the Iraqi arena.

Politics- During Saddam Hussein’s rule, Iran granted asylum to a number of Iraqi opposition parties and part of its ability to greatly affect Iraqi political theatre today is linked to the fact that the individuals comprising a significant portion of the Iraqi political map formerly resided in Iran. Politically, Iran has a large number of allies in Iraq’s Parliament who can help secure its goals. Even the most senior Iraqi cabinet officials take instructions from Iran’s leadership.

Military- Tehran has been the principal backer of mainly Shiite Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) formed to fight the Islamic State and now formally absorbed into the Iraqi military. Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRCG) overseas arm.  The Quds Force provides the bulk of logistical support and advice to Popular Mobilisation Forces. In turn, Iran uses the PMF to exert military leverage over the Iraqi government to wrestle power on behalf of Iran, much like Hezbollah did in Lebanon.

Economy- Trade between these two nations is primarily unidirectional in favour of Iran.  Years of sanction and internal conflicts have rendered Iraq dependent on Iranian imports. The only place outside Iran where the Iranian currency the “Rial” is used as a medium of exchange is southern Iraq. Iran is dumping cheap, subsidized food products and consumer goods into Iraqi markets and is undercutting its neighbour’s agricultural and manufacturing sectors.

Natural Resources- Iran’s damming and diversion of rivers feeding the Shatt al-Arab waterway has greatly undermined the Iraqi agriculture sector in the south and hindered efforts to revive Iraq’s marshlands. Iran has withheld water flows of the Kalal River, which flows into Wasit province, and of the Karun and Karkha rivers, which flow into Basra province.

Religion- Iran has been pursuing a long-term strategy to expand its religious authority in Iraq in many ways. For example they use financial and political leverage to ensure the primacy of clerics trained in the Iranian seminary of Qom and loyal to the Iranian ideology, over clerics trained in the relatively non-political tradition of the Najaf seminary. Then, by reconstructing the Shiite shrines in Iraq, they consequently take control of their management in the long run. Lastly, they take control of pilgrimages in Iraq’s shrine cities, notably the Arbaeen procession, which attracts millions of devotees every year to Karbala.

Despite this great degree of Iranian influence on the Iraqi nation still there is a ray of hope. The current Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has the potential to be pulled out of Iran’s influence and act as an independent figure. This is especially true as he has stood in the face of Iran’s pressures on some occasions.

Even so, al-Abadi government officials must prove their allegiance to the Iraqi people and not to the Iranian regime. For example, the Iraqi judiciary is also heavily under Tehran’s influence. This was seen specifically in the country’s Supreme Court last October when they blocked al-Abadi’s judicial reform package. Efforts must clean up the judiciary and make it independent.

Current Iraqi leadership should also work to bridge the gulf with its Sunni and Kurdish minorities by establishing an equal method of governance across the country. Not all Iraqi Shiites are pro-Iranian puppets in fact, many are fervently nationalistic. Prime Minister Abadi can tap into Iraqi nationalism to combat further sectarian division. 

Source: NRT

Oct. 24 (UPI) -- The interference of the Iranian terrorist commander Qasem Soleimani in the internal affairs of Iraq has reached scandalous proportions that should sound alarm bells in the West.

It has emerged that the general, who commands the terrorist Quds Force, responsible for foreign operations by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, orchestrated the reoccupation of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk and many other Kurdish regions in Northern Iraq.

 Kirkuk and other disputed areas bordering Kurdistan had been held by the Iraqi Kurds for the past two years after the Kurdish Peshmerga military force successfully ousted the Islamic State. The Americans recently listed the IRGC as an international terrorist organization; the Quds Force has been on terrorist blacklists for years.

The Iraqi federal government had been reeling from the apparent takeover of Kirkuk by the Kurds. There was also increasing tension and splits within Kurdistan itself, with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, one of the two main parties controlling the KRG and the main opposition to Barzani's ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party.

It now seems that some of the leaders of the PUK, close allies of the Iranian regime, met with Soleimani in the city of Sulaimania the day before the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi ordered Iraqi military forces and pro-Iranian militias, such as Hashd al-Shaabi, to reoccupy Kirkuk. Barzani, his party and many Kurdish leaders and parties have accused some of the leaders of the PUK of betraying Kirkuk and the martyrs who died rescuing the city from IS.

Many of the PUK's senior officials and members of the Peshmerga have condemned those leaders who have betrayed them.

Soleimani had issued repeated warnings to Barzani to withdraw the Peshmerga from Kirkuk or face a fierce Iraqi government offensive. That an Iranian general can so blatantly interfere in the internal affairs of a neighboring country has served to expose the vice-like and malevolent control that the clerical regime has now wrought over Iraq. It has emerged that Soleimani had visited Kurdistan at least three times this month, allegedly telling the PUK leadership that his brutal, pro-Iranian Shi'ite militias would drive the entire Kurdish population into the mountains if they ignored his advice to abandon Kirkuk.

These were not empty threats from a terrorist commander with a reputation like Soleimani. The Iranian general has personally supervised some of the worst atrocities committed in Syria, where more than 70,000 mostly young Afghan refugees, have been sent by the mullahs' regime to bolster Bashar al-Assad in his blood-encrusted civil war.

Soleimani has also advised the vicious Houthi rebels in Yemen and the terrorist Hezbollah in Lebanon. But his primary efforts have been directed against the Sunni population of Iraq, where the ruthless militias under his command have waged a genocidal campaign of ethnic cleansing in Fallujah, Ramadi and Mosul.

Such is Soleimani's growing influence as a key pillar in the Iranian regime's aggressive expansionist policy in the Middle East, that he now reports directly to the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, bypassing the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Abadi is now like a rabbit caught in the Iranian regime's headlights, watching helplessly as control of Iraq's armed forces has been almost entirely conceded to the clerical regime.

Now, with the reoccupation of Kirkuk orchestrated and commanded by Soleimani, it appears as if Iran has struck a deal with elements of the PUK to further their interests in Iraqi Kurdistan. This inevitably will sow fresh seeds of conflict in an area already torn by tension and division.

But Kurdistan is fertile ground for Soleimani. Fomenting civil conflict has been his core strategy in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and Iraq. The mullahs have become experts in stepping over the corpses of tens of thousands to plant the Iranian regime's flag in increasing parts of the Middle East.

It is perhaps significant that only a few days after the IRGC was designated as an international terrorist organization by the U.S. Treasury, creating huge problems for the Iranian regime where the Revolutionary Guards control over 70 percent of the economy, that Soleimani launched his bid to orchestrate the reoccupation of Kirkuk. His show of strength in Kirkuk represents an outright provocation to the Americans, who must now prove to the world that Soleimani and his terrorist force cannot be allowed to subvert the rule of law.

Source. UPI

PRESS RELEASE
For Immediate Release 24th October 2017
 
The Terrorist Commander Behind Iran’s Middle East Expansion Now Meddling In Iraq



The interference of the Iranian terrorist commander Qasem Soleimani in the internal affairs of Iraq has reached scandalous proportions that should sound alarm bells in the West. It has now emerged that the General, who commands the terrorist Quds Force, responsible for foreign operations by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), orchestrated the re-occupation of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk and many other Kurdish regions in Northern Iraq. Kirkuk and other disputed areas bordering Kurdistan had been held by the Iraqi Kurds for the past two years after the Kurdish Peshmerga military force successfully ousted Daesh. The Americans recently listed the IRGC as an international terrorist organisation; the Quds Force has been on terrorist blacklists for years.
 
The Iraqi federal government had been reeling from the apparent takeover of Kirkuk by the Kurds. There was also increasing tension and splits within Kurdistan itself, with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), one of the two main parties controlling the KRG and the main opposition to Barzani’s ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). It now seems that some of the leaders of the PUK, close allies of the Iranian regime, met with Qasem Soleimani in the city of Sulaimania the day before the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi ordered Iraqi military forces and pro-Iranian militias, such as Hashd al-Shaabi, to re-occupy Kirkuk. Barzani, his party and many Kurdish leaders and parties have accused some of the leaders of the PUK of betraying Kirkuk and the martyrs who died rescuing the city from Daesh. Many of the PUK’s senior officials and members of the Peshmerga have condemned those leaders who have betrayed them.
 
General Qasem Soleimani had issued repeated warnings to Barzani to withdraw the Peshmerga from Kirkuk or face a fierce Iraqi government offensive. That an Iranian General can so blatantly interfere in the internal affairs of a neighbouring country has served to expose the vice-like and malevolent control that the clerical regime has now wrought over Iraq. It has emerged that Soleimani had visited Kurdistan at least three times this month, allegedly telling the PUK leadership that his brutal, pro-Iranian Shi’ite militias would drive the entire Kurdish population into the mountains if they ignored his advice to abandon Kirkuk.
 
These were not empty threats from a terrorist commander with a reputation like Soleimani. The Iranian General has personally supervised some of the worst atrocities committed in Syria, where more than 70,000 mostly young Afghan refugees, have been sent by the mullahs’ regime to bolster Bashar al-Assad in his blood-encrusted civil war. Soleimani has also advised the vicious Houthi rebels in Yemen and the terrorist Hezbollah in Lebanon. But his primary efforts have been directed against the Sunni population of Iraq, where the ruthless militias under his command have waged a genocidal campaign of ethnic cleansing in Fallujah, Ramadi and Mosul.
 
Such is Soleimani’s growing influence as a key pillar in the Iranian regime’s aggressive expansionist policy in the Middle East, that he now reports directly to the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, by-passing the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. The Iraqi President, Haider al-Abadi, is now like a rabbit caught in the Iranian regime’s headlights, watching helplessly as control of Iraq’s armed forces has been almost entirely conceded to the clerical regime.
 
Now, with the re-occupation of Kirkuk orchestrated and commanded by Soleimani, it appears as if Iran has struck a deal with elements of the PUK to further their interests in Iraqi Kurdistan. This inevitably will sow fresh seeds of conflict in an area already torn by tension and division. But Kurdistan is fertile ground for Qasem Soleimani. Fomenting civil conflict has been his core strategy in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and Iraq. The mullahs have become experts in stepping over the corpses of tens of thousands to plant the Iranian regime’s flag in increasing parts of the Middle East.
 
It is perhaps significant that only a few days after the IRGC was designated as an international terrorist organisation by the US Treasury, creating huge problems for the Iranian regime where the Revolutionary Guards control over 70% of the economy, that Soleimani launched his bid to orchestrate the re-occupation of Kirkuk. His show of strength in Kirkuk represents an outright provocation to the Americans, who must now prove to the world that Soleimani and his terrorist force cannot be allowed to subvert the rule of law.
 
STRUAN STEVENSON
 

Struan Stevenson is President of the European Iraqi Freedom Association (EIFA). He was a member of the European Parliament representing Scotland (1999-2014), president of the Parliament's Delegation for Relations with Iraq (2009-14) and chairman of Friends of a Free Iran Intergroup (2004-14). He is an international lecturer on the Middle East.

ISIS just lost its last town in Iraq Friday, 17 November 2017 21:39

In 2014, ISIS controlled around 34,000 square miles of territory in Iraq and Syria. As of Friday, ISIS lost its last stronghold in Iraq.

That’s because on Friday morning Iraqi troops and US-led coalition forces retook Rawa — a small town in northwestern Iraq — after about five hours of fighting. ISIS has now effectively lost all of its territory in Iraq, even though some of the group’s militants still operate in the country’s western rural areas near the border with Syria.

Now that Iraq’s flag hangs over Rawa once more, Brett McGurk, President Donald Trump’s diplomatic envoy for the US-led coalition, congratulated the Iraqi fighters on Twitter and announced that the “days of [ISIS’s] phony ‘caliphate’ are coming to an end.” Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi also praised his forces, noting how quickly they retook the town.

The Pentagon says the US has around 5,300 troops tasked with helping the Iraqi military fight ISIS, usually by training its troops, gathering intelligence, and conducting airstrikes.

It’s a big moment for Iraq, as retaking Rawa has essentially ended ISIS governance in its country after three long and brutal years of fighting. But that doesn’t mean that anyone can relax just yet. If anything, the ISIS threat is morphing.

ISIS isn’t defeated yet

It’s more than likely that ISIS will continue to plague Iraq, Syria, and much of the world, even as it loses land.

Just a day ago, when asked about ISIS, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said that “anyone who thinks they're down is premature.”

Hassan Hassan, a Middle East security expert at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, wrote in the National on November 15 that ISIS is already beginning to redefine itself. The group is shifting from governing territory to quickly striking Iraqi towns and cities. The strategy, Hassan notes, is to begin “a war of attrition to deplete its enemy through a ceaseless and incessant campaign of terror and hit-and-run attacks.”

ISIS may carry this strategy forward into Syria, too. The group lost the capital of its so-called caliphate, Raqqa, in October, but it still controls parts of urban areas in eastern Syria. As the US-led coalition tries to remove ISIS from that territory, it could use terror tactics to try to ward off the US-led coalition.

As my colleague Yochi Dreazen notes, ISIS may turn into more of an idea as it loses more territory. That idea may continue to inspire ISIS followers in various countries to stage attacks — especially in Europe and the United States. The attack in New York City this month, which killed eight people and injured 11, was believed to have been inspired by ISIS. It only underlined how hard it will be to prevent similar attacks by an individual encouraged by ISIS propaganda.

So while it’s worth celebrating the military defeat of ISIS in Iraq, it doesn’t mean the fight against the group is over.

Source: Vox

Proposed changes to Iraq’s personal status law caused protests because they drop the legal age of marriage to 9. Even worse, the changes come at the same time as an ongoing erosion in women’s status in Iraqi society.

 On October 30, Iraq’s parliament made a decision that stirred up much anger around the country. They agreed to make amendments to the country’s personal status law in principle. The proposed changes have been a subject of controversy for years but this time it seems that politicians may finally be getting their way.

In many Muslim countries, issues like divorce, custody of children and marriage are ruled by religious law, or Sharia. However in 1959, the Iraqi government passed a new personal status law, based on the law of the land that treated all sects and ethnicities equally. This is Law Number 188 and it is still in effect today, with rulings on related issues made by government-run courts.

As Germany’s Heinrich Boell foundation has reported, the current Iraqi law is based on religious rules but it took a more liberal approach.

“It restricts child marriages (by setting the legal age of marriage at 18 years), bans forced marriages and restricts polygamy; it curtails men’s prerogatives in divorce, expands women’s rights in divorce, extends child custody to mothers, and improves inheritance rights for women,” the foundation has stated. “It remains one of the most liberal laws in the Arab world with respect to women’s rights.”

The latter quality is something that many modern Iraqis have been proud of. Hence the uproar when news broke about the agreement to amend the personal status law.

Those amendments have been a long time coming. Shortly after the regime headed by former Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein, was removed by a US-led invasion, the new Iraqi government stated its intention to change Law 188 and to reinstate religious courts on a sectarian basis – that is, cases would be heard by either a Sunni or Shiite Muslim court, depending on the sect of those using the law. Ever since 2004, protests by civil society organisations have managed to prevent this.

But it seems that this time the politicians may be able to make the changes they have sought for so long – even though it seems that any actual amendments will be a far longer time coming.

“There are serious constitutional and legal violations in this desire of the Islamic parties to amend the law,” one Iraqi MP, Shuruq al-Abaji, told NIQASH.

She points out that Article 41 of the Iraqi Constitution guarantees that Iraqis are free to choose personal status according to their religious beliefs, sects or other choices. Before the amendments can be made to the personal status law, this article would need to be changed, al-Abaji insists.

And there is another legal issue, the politician notes. The proposed new personal status law would refer issues of marriage, divorce, custody and inheritance to the religious endowment authorities – these are the bodies tasked with running and maintaining Shiite or Sunni mosques and shrines and they are very important institutions within their own sectarian communities. But, as al-Abaji argues, that violates not just the principle of the separation of powers but also human rights and international laws around women’s rights.

“The organization of these issues should be the responsibility of the courts and not the executive branch of Sunni or Shiite religious orders,” al-Abaji concludes.

Iraq’s original personal status law and the proposed amendments could not be more different. The first one grants mothers the right to custody and gives wives the right to inherit their husband’s estate. Meanwhile religious jurisprudence tends to say the custody of children is a matter for the father and that women do not have the right to inherit real estate or land.

However these were not even the issues that really riled Iraqis up. The change that most angered locals was the one related to legal marriageable age. Civil law says a couple should be aged at least 18 in order to marry. Meanwhile religious law says puberty means a female is of marriageable age. In some cases, this is considered to be nine years old, in others 12 years old.

“The newly proposed law encourages the marriage of minors and reminds us most of the way that the [extremist group] Islamic State behaved with young girls, how the organisation forced them to marry group members when they were in control in Mosul and Raqqa,” says MP Rizan al-Sheik Daleer.

Once again, civil society and women’s rights organisations rallied around to protests the changes in the law. Many Iraqis on social media used the hashtag #NoToUnderageMarriages and a number of Facebook pages were created to organize the protests and garner support.

The change in law also comes at a time when women’s rights appear to be being eroded in Iraq, many of the activists believe.

“Islamic parties’ attempts to pass this new personal status law comes at the same time as a decline in the female role in Iraqi politics,” states Hanaa Edwar, the influential head of the Al Amal (Hope) civil society organization. “In 2004 women occupied a fair few of the positions in government but their numbers have decreased dramatically over the past 10 years. It’s a serious indication that male chauvinism is on the rise in Iraq.”

In the first Iraqi government after the fall of Saddam Hussein, there were six female ministers. Currently there are only two – the minister of health and the minister of housing. There were eight deputy ministers in 2005 but in 2013, only one.

When the Iraqi parliament elected a new oversight commission for elections last month, for the first time ever there was no woman on it. In 2005, when the commission was first formed there were two.

At one stage the staffs of the ministries of finance, education and health were around half female. But their numbers have dropped a lot over the past few years. Three months ago parliament refused to vote on measures impacting the Federal Public Service Council, which regulates the affairs of the federal public service, including appointment and promotion, because of the fact that the president and deputy are independent women, according to Edwar. Male MPs have also refused to vote on a bill on domestic violence for years, she added.

All of this should be a wakeup call, Edwar argues, when it comes to the role of Iraqi women in their own society.

“Men occupy all the high-ranking positions and they reject the laws that might support women,” Edwar notes. “If there were no quotas in place that require that females make up 25 percent of parliament and provincial councils, things would be even worse.”

Source: Globalresearch.ca

Iran’s Greatest Challenge is Homegrown Tuesday, 07 November 2017 18:43

The prospect of potential domestic unrest has hit a raw nerve in Iran.

Iran has long been a formidable regional force. It has projected its power by backing Shia militias, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon or Hashd al-Shaabi in Iraq, or Sunni groups such as Hamas in Palestine, thereby engaging in a proxy war strategy throughout the Middle East. However, since the independence referendum held in Iraqi Kurdistan on September 25, Iran has become decidedly more explicit in flaunting its involvement in attempting to control the latest regional tensions developing in Iraq between Baghdad and Erbil.

The flash point of this conflict began in Kirkuk when Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Iranian Quds force (the foreign wing of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, IRGC), made his presence there public in October, defiantly demonstrating Iran’s influence in Iraq to America. Following the capture of Kirkuk by Shia militias and Iraqi forces, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei’s photo was promptly displayed in the newly deposed governor’s office. In a final show of defiance, after US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told Shia militants in Kirkuk to “go home,” Qais al-Khazali, leader of Iran-funded Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia, told America to prepare to withdraw its troops from Iraq.

Two particular events that directly targeted the Iranian regime’s weak spot and potentially destabilizing factor — popular unrest at best and uprising at worst — triggered Tehran’s increasingly assertive and confrontational stance. Iran fears domestic unrest because, while it has successfully spread its power abroad by empowering Shia parties and militias, internally it has achieved control through severe repression of both its ethnic minorities and dissident political voices.

YOU ARE OUR FRIENDS

The first event came in the form of President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speeches at the UN General Assembly in September, in which both made overtures to the Iranian people. Trump spoke of “the Iranian regime’s longest-suffering victims: its own people.” Netanyahu declared to the “people of Iran: You are not our enemy; you are our friends.” He then put on a full charm offensive and repeated his advance in Farsi: “Shoma doosteh ma hasteed” (You are our friends). He went on to say that “One day, my Iranian friends, you will be free from the evil regime that terrorizes you, hangs gays, jails journalists, tortures political prisoners… .” Both speeches were accompanied by warnings of Iran’s growing power that must be curbed. This insinuates an interesting strategic change of policy that involves targeting the Iranian regime’s fear of destabilization through internal revolt.

The second event was the unexpected mass support of the Iranian Kurds for Iraqi Kurds’ independence referendum that caught most off guard. Before the results were even announced, the sheer number and speed at which hundreds of thousands of Kurds gathered throughout the Kurdish cities of Iran to celebrate was astonishing. Iranian Kurds defied a repressive regime in a way that had not occurred since the Islamic Revolution. The crackdown was prompt, with anti-riot forces and tanks being sent into Kurdish cities, and over 700 civilians detained. The Mahabad Republic of 1946 — the first attempt at an independent Kurdish state — still haunts the Iranian regime, which is now alarmed by the unity Iran’s Kurds have demonstrated with their Iraqi neighbors. What is more, this civilian outpouring if support was followed by political solidarity from the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDKI) and Komala, as well as military support from Kurdistan Freedom Party (PAK, Iran’s Kurdish militia) that has been fighting in Iraqi Kurdistan in post-referendum confrontations.

The events that occurred in the Kurdish regions of Iran received scant media attention, and when they did, they were demonstratively downplayed. This was the case during a panel discussion organized by The Washington Institute at the end of September, during which it was suggested that only 1,000 people protested, and that the demonstration was fairly irrelevant and easy to contain. The reality on the ground was conspicuously different, and Tehran’s heavy-handed response is an indication of the regime’s angst regarding its minorities.

Iran will go to great lengths to suppress the Kurds, as, despite being an ethnically diverse country in which 40% to 50% of the population is non-Persian, its minorities have been historically repressed. The repression faced by ethnic and religious minorities is widespread, ranging from discrimination, persecution and economic and cultural marginalization, to torture and mass executions in front of relatives after show trials lasting no more than 15 minutes. At times, this has led to unrest. For instance, in 2006, the Azeri minority held large protests and burned down government buildings after a cartoon portrayed them as cockroaches, with hundreds of protestors were arrested as a result.

More recently, in early September 2017, large protests erupted in Kurdish cities following the killing of two Kurdish men by Iranian security forces at the border. These protests were met with tear gas and gunfire, with hundreds arrested.

The Kurds are becoming increasingly restive, threatening the status quo. It is important to bear in mind that the extent of the repressions, executions and silencing that the Kurds face in Iran is such that they are known as the “forgotten Kurds.” It is therefore a common error to underestimate the threat they represent in the eyes of the Iranian regime as their discontent rises.

SIMMERING DISCONTENT

Trump’s recent decision to decertify the Iran nuclear deal and to introduce sanctions against the IRGC under a terrorism financing executive order has received significant media attention and is undeniably part of the reason why Iran is reacting in open defiance to America by showing that it ultimately holds sway over Iraq — an undoubtedly bitter pill for the US to swallow. However, it seems that the recent external and internal tribulations have hit a raw nerve in Tehran.

Indeed, whilst many in Iran do support the regime, many do not. For example, in response to the IRGC designation as a terrorist organization, Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif launched a Twitter call of national unity with the IRGC, which was not a resounding success. The social media response demonstrated that many Iranians view the IRGC as an organization that terrorizes its own people. It is noteworthy that many Iranian voices that dissented on Twitter are based inside Iran and not just in the wider diaspora, which is in itself a significant sign of defiance to the regime.

In its attempt to rally popular support behind the IRGC, the regime attempted to create a semblance of overt national cohesion in response to outside pressures precisely because it knows very well that a large proportion of its population does not endorse the regime. Suffice to remember the 2009 Green Movement that erupted in mass protests after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s contested reelection. The repression was brutal, but it was also a clear indication of simmering discontent throughout Iranian society.

Activists from ethnic minorities were also involved in the Green Movement but were soon disenchanted as the leaders were reluctant to support minority rights, which are viewed as having separatist undertones. Ironically, President Hassan Rouhani was elected on the joint promise of achieving a nuclear deal and civil rights reform, including fair trials for ethnic minorities and Green Movement leaders. Yet today the human rights situation in Iran has deteriorated even further past the levels of Ahmadinejad’s presidency, according to Ahmed Shaheed, former UN special rapporteur. Consequently, domestic tensions and discontent may well continue to rise as Rouhani’s promises of reforms are not being met.

Iran knows that its most concerning weakness and challenge lies in domestic, not foreign, destabilization. It has therefore resorted to taking a much more openly aggressive stance in asserting its power in the region as its long-term challengers — Israel, America and its own Kurdish minority — have apparently turned to more openly seeking to gaud Iran’s weakest point.

Source: Fair Observer

What Next For Kurdistan? Friday, 03 November 2017 09:46

The independence referendum in the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) of Iraq has resulted in a tumultuous aftermath that recalls the old adage that the Kurds have no friends but the mountains. Reaction by all neighbors, including the central Iraqi government in Baghdad, has been harsh. Iraqi, Iranian, and Turkish-backed forces have occupied Kurdish areas in the month following the referendum. KRG president Masoud Barzani is stepping down. But the referendum has brought attention to the Kurdish cause and exposed the machinations of neighbors with large Kurdish populations, particularly Iran.  It may lead, unexpectedly, to U.S. recognition that an independent Kurdistan is actually a plus for stability and American interests in the region.

Barzani decided on June 7 to hold an independence referendum to secede from Iraq. Almost all political parties in the KRG supported the referendum decision except for the change movement (Gorran) and Kurdistan Islamic Group (Komal). The referendum was held on September 25th despite objections from Baghdad, the neighbors, and the rest of the international community including the United States and Britain. In fact, the only country that supported the referendum openly was Israel. Despite such opprobrium and attempts to halt the vote, independence was favored by 92.7 percent of the electorate.

The central government of Baghdad all along was threatening the Kurdistan regional government, as did Turkey, Syria, and in particularly Iran. These neighboring countries have large and significant Kurdish populations and fear that if the Kurdistan region of Iraq becomes independent, their Kurdish population would demand the same.

What Iran Fears

Iran fears an independent Kurdistan, because it might influence its 7 million Iranian Kurds to aspire to secede from Iran. Before the referendum took place, Iran tried to persuade the KRG to postpone the referendum, and when that did not work, they tried hard to divide the Kurdish house.

In July, they invited to Tehran Jalal Talabani, the former president of Iraq who died just eight days after the referendum, and still then the leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), one of the two most powerful political parties in the KRG. The Iranians called the visit friendly, although Talabani had had a stroke, was hospitalized for more then five years, and lost the ability to communicate. Second, Iran invited the PUK politburo to Tehran to persuade them to support the idea of postponing or canceling the referendum. That attempt did not worked either; the deputy PUK leader Kosrat Rasul refused the request.

Plainly, Iran fears Kurdish unity. In 2014, for example, ISIS attacked Iraqi Kurdistan and Kurds all around the Middle East fought side by side to defend Kurdish homelands including Iranian Kurdish peshmerga forces of the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDKI) and Komala (two main Kurdish political opposition in Iran). Iran demanded that these Iranian peshmerga forces would not be allowed to fight ISIS and gain battle experience. Because of the sensitivity of the situation, KRG agreed and did not allow the PDKI peshmerga to help them in the fight against ISIS. Afterwards, in spring 2016 the PDKI decided to send back their peshmerga forces to Iranian Kurdistan, and other Iranian Kurdish political parties followed with their peshmerga forces. Several clashes have occurred between these peshmerga forces and the Iranian Quds forces, with casualties on both sides.

Before the referendum, Iranian officials argued that Iranian Kurds would not behave like the Iraqi Kurds because they were treated equally with other Iranian people and that the Islamic Republic of Iran did not distinguish between different groups of people in Iran. On the referendum day and the following day, thousands of Iranian Kurds took to the streets in different cities in Iranian Kurdistan and celebrated the Iraqi Kurdistan referendum. They shouted that they are with their brethren in Iraqi Kurdistan and that freedom will come soon to them as well. Iranian police forces arrested several celebrators because they had waved the Kurdish flag, and the Internet was shut down for several days.

PDKI leader Mustafa Hijri, in an interview with Al Jazeera, reaffirmed not only his party’s support for an independent Iraqi Kurdistan, but his belief that an independent Iraqi Kurdistan will have a positive impact on Iranian Kurdistan. He believes that once the people of Iraqi Kurdistan achieve their freedom, Iranian Kurds will also realize that they could go on the same path as their brethren in Iraqi Kurdistan.

This, of course, is precisely what Tehran fears. Iranian officials have tried to downsize the importance of the KRG referendum on their Kurdish population. Recently, Iranian president Hassan Rouhani dismissed the connection between the referendum and their own Kurdish population: “We will in no way count the political mistakes of some people in the Kurdistan Region [KRG] on you. You are part of the great Iranian nation. You are a loyal nation. You are among Iran’s oldest nations in the region. You have always stood by the Islamic revolution and stood by the Iranian nation in the imposed war with Iraq.” Mr. Rouhani’s statement was in fact a threat towards his own Kurdish population. He is trying to tell Iranian Kurds, if you demand anything more then what you have today, there is no one who can protect you.

Iran’s attitude toward the KRG independence vote is more clearly expressed in how it has influenced the Baghdad government, and what it has done militarily on the ground.

Iran’s Influence On Iraq

The key to understanding the current mess in Iraqi Kurdistan is the outsized influence of Tehran in post-Saddam Iraq. The 2005 constitution, significantly shaped by the U.S. occupiers, was meant to resolve the sovereignty of the disputed areas around oil-rich Kirkuk, but serious talks have never been convened. At the same time, the Shia-dominated central government in Baghdad has for years treated Sunni Arabs harshly (giving rise to ISIS) and Kurds with neglect. The Shia-dominated army and militias collapsed in the first encounters with ISIS, leaving the Kurds (backed by Iran and U.S. air power) as the only effective counter to the Islamic States’ bloodthirsty assaults. Despite that failure, Iran has exceptional influence on the Iraqi state.

The dominance of the Shia in Baghdad is occasioned by the 60 percent majority the sect has in Iraq. Iran, officially Shia, not only influenced Baghdad as co-religionists but also because so many in Baghdad leadership were exiled in Iran during Saddam’s reign. With less U.S. presence in the country since the formal withdrawal of troops in 2011, Iranian influence has increased. It is common that visitors in Baghdad can encounter pictures of the ayatollahs Khomeini and Khamenei, unthinkable before the 2003 occupation and a striking symbol of this influence.

Tehran is guiding Baghdad on the assault in Kurdistan. The commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Quds Force, Qasem Suleimani, has served as an adviser to Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi and has been neck deep in the Kurdish crisis, blamed by Iraqi Kurdish officials for masterminding the attack on the disputed areas between Kurdistan and Iraq. Other Iranian forces allegedly involved — the Iranian Hashed Al-Shabi forces, other Revolutionary Guard units, and Hezbollah — were able to move into Kirkuk and the KRG with little resistance from the Peshmerga because Suleimani elegantly divided the Kurdish house. He forged an agreement between Iran and some factions of PUK officials who were dissatisfied with Barzani’s leadership, alarmed by the broad opposition to the referendum in the international community, and sought a deal that would benefit them in all ways.

After the clashes between the Iranian-led forces and the Kurdish peshmerga forces, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has said that Iran acting (meaning attacking) in Kurdistan prevented the birth of a second Israel in Middle East. The Iranian, Turkish, and Iraqi charge that the idea of an independent Kurdistan was initiated by Israel and some Kurdish leaders (mainly Barzani), despite the fact Barzani’s late father Mustafa Barzani was fighting for an independent Kurdistan before the establishment of the state of Israel. This tarnishing of Kurdish aspirations is a typical ploy of the Islamic Republic, again masking the worries about its restive Kurdish population.

An Independent Kurdistan And The U.S.

In recent days, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that the Iranian forces must leave Iraq after the fight against ISIS is over. This request was quickly dismissed not only by Iran but also by Iraq. Tillerson’s statement is an acknowledgement that the American policy of containing and rolling back gains by Iran in the region is weak. Some of this vulnerability is tied to Iran’s demonstration of power in the Kurdish crisis.

Washington strongly opposed the Kurdistan referendum and told Kurdish officials that the timing was wrong. When the Kurds asked when the proper time would be, there was no proper answer. The Kurds in Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey are all connected, part of a greater Kurdistan, a national identity. The fact that Kurdish aspirations for a state have been betrayed repeatedly by regional and global powers constitutes a moral case for independence.  But there is also a strategic rationale that should appeal to Washington.

Iran will continue to present problems for peace and stability in the region, as does Syria, a corrupt and unstable Iraq, and the potential rise of another ISIS before long. Turkey, the most prominent ally of the United States in the region (besides Israel), has drifted away from the Western alliance under the erratic and belligerent President Erdogan. Not only did Turkey refuse U.S. armed forces the use of their military base Incirlik twice during the wars in Iraq, but also refused to help against ISIS at crucial moments. Turkey is cultivating closer ties to Iran and Russia, a process that has NATO leaders alarmed.

As a result of Turkey’s unreliability and the continuing chaos in the Middle East, an independent Kurdistan should appear increasingly attractive to American policy makers. Independence for the KRG is not only the right thing to do for the Kurdish people, but could provide several possibilities for a stabilizing U.S. presence in the region. Kurdish people are favorably inclined toward the United States, and welcome a U.S. military presence.  Such a “presence” need not be a large enterprise, nor should a Kurdish state become an expensive security sink for the United States. But it’s worth considering if the Pentagon can design, possibly with other major NATO partners, an all-purpose mission, including readiness for humanitarian and peacekeeping tasks, to be stationed there.

Before that can happen, the Kurds in Iraq must move decisively to end internal divisions, corruption, and anti-democratic habits. This is primarily the responsibility of the KDP, but must be inclusive of all political players. It is an enormous challenge, and one that current leadership is incapable of carrying out. Kurdish cousins in surrounding countries need to support such a cleansing. Then diplomatic efforts with the Baghdad government, under the provisions of the constitution, should move assertively forward toward confederation as a logical next step. 

None of these steps is easy or inevitable. But the conventional wisdom that the referendum was a terrible mistake can be turned on its head. Paradoxically, the referendum “disaster” may shake up the status quo enough to move players in the right direction. With American backing, the long-held hope of a Kurdish state is visible and advisable.

Source: Huffpost

For those of us who have suffered and warned of the Obama administration doctrine, which has allowed Iran to roam freely in our midst and interfere unimpeded in our domestic affairs from the GCC states to the Mediterranean and brag about controlling four Arab capitals under Obama’s watch, the newly declared Trump administration strategy announced in the middle of last month, decertifying Iran’s nuclear agreement, sanctioning Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and doubling down on Iran’s mischief, rogue state behaviour and ballistic missiles testing, was music to the ears.

What was refreshing for us in the GCC states to hear was US President Donald Trump’s new approach of not limiting the terrorist groups to the Sunni extremist groups, which the US administration focused on, but expanding the focus to include Iran and its supported and funded Shiites groups, as a long-term threat.

  The Washington Post in a recent article titled, The US is on collision course with Iran in the Middle East, said: “The launch of the [Trump] strategy signalled an important shift in US Middle East policy away from an almost exclusive focus on fighting Daesh [the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant] to an effort that also pushes back against years of Iranian expansion in the region. But the strategy offers no specifics for how to confront Iran’s pervasive presence on the ground in Iraq, Syria and beyond, raising questions about how easy it will be to push back against Iranian influence without triggering new conflicts…”

Even US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Baghdad called for Iraqi-backed Iranian militias to go home. That represents a major shift in the US position which coordinated with the Iran-supported Popular Mobilisation Forces in the fight against Daesh. This US change of heart, annoyed Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi. Qais Al Khazali, one of the Popular Mobilisation Forces leaders, even went further, insisting the “US should go home.”

In a blistering speech laying out his new strategy, Trump insisted “The Iranian regime continues to fuel conflict, terror, and turmoil throughout the Middle East and beyond. Importantly, Iran is not living up to the spirit of the [Iranian nuclear deal].” Although Trump did not walk out of the Iran nuclear deal, he nevertheless decertified it and left it to Congress to deal with it.

Trump kept repeating, even as a candidate, the Iran deal was “one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the US has ever entered into.” Moreover, Trump in announcing his new strategy vis-a-vis-Iran threatened to act “with the US’ allies to counter the regime destabilising activities… And vowed that “the agreement will be terminated,” if the Congress fails to act on the nuclear agreement.

As Trump has a laundry list of US’ grievances against Iran: “Its support for militant groups like Hezbollah, alarm over its testing of ballistic missiles, and fundamental mistrust of its repressive, theocratic leadership… This regime has fuelled sectarian violence in Iraq, and vicious civil wars in Yemen and Syria. In Syria, the Iranian regime has supported the atrocities of Bashar Al Assad’s regime and condoned Al Assad’s use of chemical weapons against helpless civilians, including many, many children. Those are all fair hits: Iran really is destabilising the Middle East in a whole host of ways….”

Trump kept referring through his speech to the regime, and not Iran... “The regime remains the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, and provides assistance to Al Qaida, the Taliban, Hezbollah, Hamas, and other terrorist networks. It develops, deploys, and proliferates missiles that threaten American troops and our allies. It harasses American ships and threatens freedom of navigation in the Arabian Gulf (it drove Iran nuts) and in the Red Sea. It imprisons Americans on false charges. And it launches cyberattacks against our critical infrastructure, financial system, and military. Trump accused the “regime of harbouring high-level terrorists in the wake of the September 11 attacks, including Osama Bin Laden’s son. In Iraq and Afghanistan, groups supported by Iran have killed hundreds of American military personnel…” These accusations have not been levelled against Iran by any US president.

Trump, never mentioned Iran as “government of Iran”, but referred in one of the harshest speeches by a US president, as a dictatorship, fanatical, and rough regime.

“Trump’s new strategy looks bold and tough on Iran, and is a refreshing departure from Obama’s destructive appeasement.”

Although, Trump strategy insisted as he described it “The regime remains the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, and provides assistance to Al Qaida, the Taliban, Hezbollah, Hamas and other terrorist networks.” He even went as far as accusing Iran of colluding with North Korea: “There are also many people who believe that Iran is dealing with North Korea.” Trump rebuked Iran’s rogue behaviour, announced a tougher stance against Iran, upped the ante and ended Obama appeasement policy and threatened to impose new sanctions against Iran, which the US Congress enthusiastically embraced, and did not waste any time to pass legislation slapping sanctions against Iran and its proxy Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Iran President Hassan Rouhani in a rebuttal speech accused Trump of delivering insults and baseless accusations in his speech and claimed “the US is more isolated than ever, and could not unilaterally change the deal.”

Trump’s new strategy looks bold and tough on Iran, and is a refreshing departure from Obama’s destructive appeasement, which subordinated and tolerated Iran’s meddling and destabilising activities to reach the nuclear agreement at any cost to serve his legacy, it gave Iran by design or inadvertently a green light to advance its project and emboldened Iran to stage a major offensive to be the hegemon of the region, empowering its proxies and allies, supporting the brutal and thuggish regime of Bashar Al Assad in Syria, and undermining the US allies in the GCC states.

But it does seem the Iranian intervention that upset the stability and security of the region pushed Obama to rethink his flawed strategy.

The hardline approach by Trump will be a major victory if it succeeds in deterring Iran, arrests its malignant interventions, forces its allies to change its destabilising behaviour and shenanigans and act more like a normal state, rather than a permanent revolutionary regime, bent on exporting its brand of revolutionary zeal, sectarian militias and hegemonic behaviour.

Source:

By Abdullah Al Shayji, Special to Gulf News
Published: 18:19 October 30, 2017

 

BAGHDAD: With the Daesh group driven from nearly all of Iraq, US officials have suggested that the thousands of mainly Shiite paramilitary fighters who mobilised against the Sunni extremists three years ago lay down their arms.

But Abu Mahdi Al Muhandis, who once battled US troops and is now the deputy head of the state-sanctioned Popular Mobilization Forces, says they are here to stay.

 “The future of the (PMF) is to defend Iraq,” he told The Associated Press in his first extensive interview with a Western media outlet. “The Iraqi army and Iraqi police say they cannot operate without the support of the Hashd,” he added, using a shortened Arabic term for the paramilitary force.

In the years after the 2003 US-led invasion, Al Muhandis led the Hezbollah Brigades, a feared Shiite militia with close ties to Iran and the Lebanese militant group of the same name. His real name is Jamal Jaafar Ebrahim, but he’s still better known by his nom de guerre, and his rise to the top ranks of Iraq’s security apparatus reflects the long, slow decline of US influence over the country.

He participated in the bombing of Western embassies in Kuwait and the attempted assassination of that country’s emir in the early 1980s, for which he was convicted in absentia and added to the US list of designated terrorists. But like many Shiite militants, he returned to Iraq after the 2003 US-led invasion. Two years later, he was even elected to parliament, before being forced to step down under American pressure.

In 2009, the State Department linked him to the elite Quds Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, calling him a “threat to stability” in Iraq, and as recently as last week it referred to him as a terrorist.

But in the summer of 2014, when Daesh swept across northern Iraq, and the US-trained and funded army collapsed, his and other Shiite militias mobilised in defence, halting the extremists on the outskirts of the capital. The mostly Iran-backed militias remained separate from the US-led coalition, but over the next three years they helped Iraq’s reconstituted military to drive Daesh out of most of the country.

Today, Al Muhandis, in his mid-60s, is among the most powerful men in Iraq, splitting his time between the front lines, Iran and his home and office in Baghdad’s heavily-guarded Green Zone. He describes the PMF as a “parallel military” that will help keep the peace once Daesh is gone.

Al Muhandis “demonstrates that Iran has a direct venue with which to influence Iraqi politics, and a powerful one at that,” said Phillip Smyth, an expert on Shiite militias at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

“It’s no secret,” Al Muhandis said of his close relationship with Iran, the country where he spent decades in exile and underwent military training. He said he personally seeks spiritual and moral guidance from the country’s leadership, but that the PMF only gets material support from Tehran.

Earlier this month, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson demanded that Iran-backed militiamen in Iraq return to their homes, integrate into the Iraqi army or leave the country.

Al Muhandis casually dismissed the appeal. “Tillerson is asleep,” he said.

“Iran was the only country that supported Iraq from the beginning of the Daesh crisis,” he said, referring to the Daesh blitz in 2014. “It’s like when you’re in a hospital and you need blood. The Americans would be the one who would show up with the transfusion when it was too late.”

As to whether the Americans should remain in Iraq, Al Muhandis said: “We follow the Iraqi government despite our personal opinions, and our personal opinions are well known, so I won’t repeat them here.”

The PMF sprang into action again earlier this month, when federal forces retook the northern city of Kirkuk and other disputed areas from Kurdish forces in response to the Kurds’ vote for independence in September. The military action, which caused few casualties and was celebrated as a victory by the country’s Arab majority, gave a further boost to the paramilitary forces.

“What happened in Kirkuk is a success for the Iraqi government and the Iraqi forces,” Al Muhandis said, adding that his forces had helped coordinate the Kurdish withdrawal to minimise clashes and casualties. “We want a brotherhood with the Kurds,” he said, referring to their shared struggle against Saddam Hussain in the 1980s.

The fighting nevertheless displaced thousands of people, according to the United Nations and Amnesty International, which documented the looting and destruction of “hundreds” of properties near Kirkuk.

International rights groups alleged widespread violations by the militias throughout the campaign against Daesh and said the government had failed to hold them accountable. Al Muhandis and other commanders say any abuses were isolated incidents, and that perpetrators have been brought to justice.

Al Muhandis rarely speaks to reporters, but his image is pervasive on social media, where he can be seen wearing olive fatigues and surveying front-line positions from Iraq’s northern border to the western Anbar province, where troops and militiamen are battling Daesh in the last pocket under its control. He’s often standing beside General Qassem Sulaimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, and a key adviser to the PMF. Music videos shared online praise Al Muhandis’ humility and fearlessness.

He can also be seen in photos attending strategy meetings chaired by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi. The PMF are officially an “independent military formation” under the prime minister’s command.

Al Muhandis holds a “pivotal” position in Iraq’s political and security hierarchy, said Nathaniel Rabkin, managing editor of Inside Iraqi Politics, a political risk assessment newsletter.

“It’s a source of concern in and outside Iraq,” Rabkin said. “If you have elements of the armed forces or the security forces loyal to a particular political party you’re creating a setup where it will be very difficult to have free, fair and competitive elections that don’t descend into violence.”

Iraq is set to hold parliamentary elections next year. When asked if his forces would participate in politics, Al Muhandis laughed, saying: “Don’t mention it or you’ll scare off all the politicians.” He added that PMF fighters would be free to run for office, but must first leave the paramilitary organisation.

Smyth, the militia researcher, doubts such rules would be enforced, noting the long history of militia commanders cycling in and out of political office.

Whether they run or not, Al Muhandis said the PMF are “the biggest force that can influence the upcoming elections.”

Source: Gulf News

BEIRUT, Lebanon — It may not be politically popular to raise concerns about the human rights of Islamic State fighters and their families. But the International Committee of the Red Cross, which has monitored the treatment of the wounded, prisoners and civilians in wartime for a century and a half, sought to do just that in a strongly worded statement on Thursday.

The organization is concerned about rhetoric that “dehumanizes” and “demonizes” the enemy or suggests that a particular adversary is “outside the bounds of humanity” and can be treated “as if humanitarian law doesn’t apply,” the group’s deputy director for the Middle East, Patrick Hamilton, told reporters via a telephone conference call.

Language that could appear to justify or encourage war crimes and illegal treatment of detainees has become more common on all sides of the sprawling conflicts in Syria and Iraq, Mr. Hamilton said, to the point that the Red Cross felt it necessary to remind all combatants that international law requires due process and humane treatment of detainees “with no exceptions.”

His comments come as the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, ISIL and Daesh, is surrendering more territory to an array of government and militia forces. Several Western officials have said that it would be best if their citizens who have fought with the Islamic State died in combat.

The Red Cross has a longstanding policy of not singling out governments or groups for criticism, because it seeks to preserve access to all sides in order to carry out missions such as monitoring the treatment of detainees and prisoners. The organization said its warning was directed at all combatants as well as countries that might receive returning Islamic State fighters.

“It’s not that we are going to name no one,” Mr. Hamilton said of his warning against inflammatory rhetoric. “We name everyone.”

France’s defense minister, Florence Parly, said last week that if Islamic State fighters “perish in this fight, I would say that’s for the best.” Rory Stewart, a British government minister, said of British ISIS members that “unfortunately the only way of dealing with them will be, in almost every case, to kill them.”

And Brett McGurk, the American envoy to the anti-ISIS coalition, said the mission was to make sure foreign fighters “die here in Syria.” Earlier this year, Trump administration officials referred to “annihilating” ISIS.

To be sure, none of those statements called for extrajudicial killings or any other war crime. But in an already tense and dangerous atmosphere — punctuated by atrocities carried out by insurgent and militia groups in the past — all parties need to “de-escalate their language,” Mr. Hamilton said.

“These are emotive, difficult issues but the law does provide a sober mechanism for dealing with all of this,” he said, noting that the Red Cross has been advising governments on handling detainees and civilians through 154 years of conflicts and world wars. “These events are not without historical precedent.”

The Red Cross has visited 44,000 detainees in Iraq this year, and is currently providing humanitarian assistance to 1,300 women and children from around 20 nationalities, detained near Mosul as suspected relatives of Islamic State fighters. The Red Cross also is seeking to expand access to detainees throughout the region.

Risks of violations are increased by the complexity of the fight, with more than 20 states involved and often in partnerships with nonstate militia groups, which Mr. Hamilton said had created “a diffusion of responsibilities” for following the laws of war.

Another risk arises from the enormous humanitarian crises spawned by recent battles, with millions of people affected and chaotic scenes as people flee across deserts.

Little is known about the numbers and conditions of Islamic State members detained in the Syrian city of Raqqa as the American-backed Syrian Democratic Forces took over last week. Nor has any information surfaced about the many people who had long been held prisoner in Raqqa by Islamic State and have not been found.

Source: The New York Times

 

Iraq Now an Iranian Colony Sunday, 29 October 2017 16:02

The recent takeover of Kirkuk by the Iranian backed militias and Iraqi army clearly illustrates that now Iran is calling the shots in every important decision of Iraq. This whole operation and withdrawal of PUK Peshmerga, without resistance to advancing Iraqi forces was planned by Iran Quds force commander Major General Qassem Soleimani. The extent of involvement by the Iraq Prime Minister’s office in this whole episode is still unclear, but one thing is certain -- decisions were made in Tehran and Baghdad.

Geopolitical observers are now criticizing Iraqi Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi, for being too quick to resort to force against Kurds at the behest of Iran rather than engaging in talks with Erbil, who had helped Baghdad in the fight against ISIS. There are a number of ways in which Iran gains from this current crisis. Not only does the conflict undermine Kurdish unity, it also boosts the role of Iranian backed Shia militias such as Hashid al-Shaabi in Iraq and makes them look like guardians of national unity rather than sectarian actors. But as a nation, Iraq is at loss, as it has sparked anger against the federal government among its sizeable Kurdish minority.

The fall of Kirkuk clearly showcases the extent to which Iraq today is an Iranian controlled territory. And it demonstrates the currently unparalleled efficacy of the Iranian methods of revolutionary and political warfare, as used by Iran Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) throughout the Arab world to promote Iran geopolitical interests. Iran’s influence in Iraq is not just ascendant, but diverse extending to almost every walk of life. Let’s have a look at various areas where Iran is dominating the Iraqi arena.

Politics- During Saddam Hussein’s rule, Iran granted asylum to a number of Iraqi opposition parties and part of its ability to greatly affect Iraqi political theatre today is linked to the fact that the individuals comprising a significant portion of the Iraqi political map formerly resided in Iran. Politically, Iran has a large number of allies in Iraq’s Parliament who can help secure its goals. Even the most senior Iraqi cabinet officials take instructions from Iran’s leadership.

Military- Tehran has been the principal backer of mainly Shiite Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) formed to fight the Islamic State and now formally absorbed into the Iraqi military. Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRCG) overseas arm.  The Quds Force provides the bulk of logistical support and advice to Popular Mobilisation Forces. In turn, Iran uses the PMF to exert military leverage over the Iraqi government to wrestle power on behalf of Iran, much like Hezbollah did in Lebanon.

Economy- Trade between these two nations is primarily unidirectional in favour of Iran.  Years of sanction and internal conflicts have rendered Iraq dependent on Iranian imports. The only place outside Iran where the Iranian currency the “Rial” is used as a medium of exchange is southern Iraq. Iran is dumping cheap, subsidized food products and consumer goods into Iraqi markets and is undercutting its neighbour’s agricultural and manufacturing sectors.

Natural Resources- Iran’s damming and diversion of rivers feeding the Shatt al-Arab waterway has greatly undermined the Iraqi agriculture sector in the south and hindered efforts to revive Iraq’s marshlands. Iran has withheld water flows of the Kalal River, which flows into Wasit province, and of the Karun and Karkha rivers, which flow into Basra province.

Religion- Iran has been pursuing a long-term strategy to expand its religious authority in Iraq in many ways. For example they use financial and political leverage to ensure the primacy of clerics trained in the Iranian seminary of Qom and loyal to the Iranian ideology, over clerics trained in the relatively non-political tradition of the Najaf seminary. Then, by reconstructing the Shiite shrines in Iraq, they consequently take control of their management in the long run. Lastly, they take control of pilgrimages in Iraq’s shrine cities, notably the Arbaeen procession, which attracts millions of devotees every year to Karbala.

Despite this great degree of Iranian influence on the Iraqi nation still there is a ray of hope. The current Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has the potential to be pulled out of Iran’s influence and act as an independent figure. This is especially true as he has stood in the face of Iran’s pressures on some occasions.

Even so, al-Abadi government officials must prove their allegiance to the Iraqi people and not to the Iranian regime. For example, the Iraqi judiciary is also heavily under Tehran’s influence. This was seen specifically in the country’s Supreme Court last October when they blocked al-Abadi’s judicial reform package. Efforts must clean up the judiciary and make it independent.

Current Iraqi leadership should also work to bridge the gulf with its Sunni and Kurdish minorities by establishing an equal method of governance across the country. Not all Iraqi Shiites are pro-Iranian puppets in fact, many are fervently nationalistic. Prime Minister Abadi can tap into Iraqi nationalism to combat further sectarian division. 

Source: NRT

Oct. 24 (UPI) -- The interference of the Iranian terrorist commander Qasem Soleimani in the internal affairs of Iraq has reached scandalous proportions that should sound alarm bells in the West.

It has emerged that the general, who commands the terrorist Quds Force, responsible for foreign operations by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, orchestrated the reoccupation of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk and many other Kurdish regions in Northern Iraq.

 Kirkuk and other disputed areas bordering Kurdistan had been held by the Iraqi Kurds for the past two years after the Kurdish Peshmerga military force successfully ousted the Islamic State. The Americans recently listed the IRGC as an international terrorist organization; the Quds Force has been on terrorist blacklists for years.

The Iraqi federal government had been reeling from the apparent takeover of Kirkuk by the Kurds. There was also increasing tension and splits within Kurdistan itself, with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, one of the two main parties controlling the KRG and the main opposition to Barzani's ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party.

It now seems that some of the leaders of the PUK, close allies of the Iranian regime, met with Soleimani in the city of Sulaimania the day before the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi ordered Iraqi military forces and pro-Iranian militias, such as Hashd al-Shaabi, to reoccupy Kirkuk. Barzani, his party and many Kurdish leaders and parties have accused some of the leaders of the PUK of betraying Kirkuk and the martyrs who died rescuing the city from IS.

Many of the PUK's senior officials and members of the Peshmerga have condemned those leaders who have betrayed them.

Soleimani had issued repeated warnings to Barzani to withdraw the Peshmerga from Kirkuk or face a fierce Iraqi government offensive. That an Iranian general can so blatantly interfere in the internal affairs of a neighboring country has served to expose the vice-like and malevolent control that the clerical regime has now wrought over Iraq. It has emerged that Soleimani had visited Kurdistan at least three times this month, allegedly telling the PUK leadership that his brutal, pro-Iranian Shi'ite militias would drive the entire Kurdish population into the mountains if they ignored his advice to abandon Kirkuk.

These were not empty threats from a terrorist commander with a reputation like Soleimani. The Iranian general has personally supervised some of the worst atrocities committed in Syria, where more than 70,000 mostly young Afghan refugees, have been sent by the mullahs' regime to bolster Bashar al-Assad in his blood-encrusted civil war.

Soleimani has also advised the vicious Houthi rebels in Yemen and the terrorist Hezbollah in Lebanon. But his primary efforts have been directed against the Sunni population of Iraq, where the ruthless militias under his command have waged a genocidal campaign of ethnic cleansing in Fallujah, Ramadi and Mosul.

Such is Soleimani's growing influence as a key pillar in the Iranian regime's aggressive expansionist policy in the Middle East, that he now reports directly to the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, bypassing the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Abadi is now like a rabbit caught in the Iranian regime's headlights, watching helplessly as control of Iraq's armed forces has been almost entirely conceded to the clerical regime.

Now, with the reoccupation of Kirkuk orchestrated and commanded by Soleimani, it appears as if Iran has struck a deal with elements of the PUK to further their interests in Iraqi Kurdistan. This inevitably will sow fresh seeds of conflict in an area already torn by tension and division.

But Kurdistan is fertile ground for Soleimani. Fomenting civil conflict has been his core strategy in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and Iraq. The mullahs have become experts in stepping over the corpses of tens of thousands to plant the Iranian regime's flag in increasing parts of the Middle East.

It is perhaps significant that only a few days after the IRGC was designated as an international terrorist organization by the U.S. Treasury, creating huge problems for the Iranian regime where the Revolutionary Guards control over 70 percent of the economy, that Soleimani launched his bid to orchestrate the reoccupation of Kirkuk. His show of strength in Kirkuk represents an outright provocation to the Americans, who must now prove to the world that Soleimani and his terrorist force cannot be allowed to subvert the rule of law.

Source. UPI

PRESS RELEASE
For Immediate Release 24th October 2017
 
The Terrorist Commander Behind Iran’s Middle East Expansion Now Meddling In Iraq



The interference of the Iranian terrorist commander Qasem Soleimani in the internal affairs of Iraq has reached scandalous proportions that should sound alarm bells in the West. It has now emerged that the General, who commands the terrorist Quds Force, responsible for foreign operations by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), orchestrated the re-occupation of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk and many other Kurdish regions in Northern Iraq. Kirkuk and other disputed areas bordering Kurdistan had been held by the Iraqi Kurds for the past two years after the Kurdish Peshmerga military force successfully ousted Daesh. The Americans recently listed the IRGC as an international terrorist organisation; the Quds Force has been on terrorist blacklists for years.
 
The Iraqi federal government had been reeling from the apparent takeover of Kirkuk by the Kurds. There was also increasing tension and splits within Kurdistan itself, with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), one of the two main parties controlling the KRG and the main opposition to Barzani’s ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). It now seems that some of the leaders of the PUK, close allies of the Iranian regime, met with Qasem Soleimani in the city of Sulaimania the day before the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi ordered Iraqi military forces and pro-Iranian militias, such as Hashd al-Shaabi, to re-occupy Kirkuk. Barzani, his party and many Kurdish leaders and parties have accused some of the leaders of the PUK of betraying Kirkuk and the martyrs who died rescuing the city from Daesh. Many of the PUK’s senior officials and members of the Peshmerga have condemned those leaders who have betrayed them.
 
General Qasem Soleimani had issued repeated warnings to Barzani to withdraw the Peshmerga from Kirkuk or face a fierce Iraqi government offensive. That an Iranian General can so blatantly interfere in the internal affairs of a neighbouring country has served to expose the vice-like and malevolent control that the clerical regime has now wrought over Iraq. It has emerged that Soleimani had visited Kurdistan at least three times this month, allegedly telling the PUK leadership that his brutal, pro-Iranian Shi’ite militias would drive the entire Kurdish population into the mountains if they ignored his advice to abandon Kirkuk.
 
These were not empty threats from a terrorist commander with a reputation like Soleimani. The Iranian General has personally supervised some of the worst atrocities committed in Syria, where more than 70,000 mostly young Afghan refugees, have been sent by the mullahs’ regime to bolster Bashar al-Assad in his blood-encrusted civil war. Soleimani has also advised the vicious Houthi rebels in Yemen and the terrorist Hezbollah in Lebanon. But his primary efforts have been directed against the Sunni population of Iraq, where the ruthless militias under his command have waged a genocidal campaign of ethnic cleansing in Fallujah, Ramadi and Mosul.
 
Such is Soleimani’s growing influence as a key pillar in the Iranian regime’s aggressive expansionist policy in the Middle East, that he now reports directly to the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, by-passing the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. The Iraqi President, Haider al-Abadi, is now like a rabbit caught in the Iranian regime’s headlights, watching helplessly as control of Iraq’s armed forces has been almost entirely conceded to the clerical regime.
 
Now, with the re-occupation of Kirkuk orchestrated and commanded by Soleimani, it appears as if Iran has struck a deal with elements of the PUK to further their interests in Iraqi Kurdistan. This inevitably will sow fresh seeds of conflict in an area already torn by tension and division. But Kurdistan is fertile ground for Qasem Soleimani. Fomenting civil conflict has been his core strategy in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and Iraq. The mullahs have become experts in stepping over the corpses of tens of thousands to plant the Iranian regime’s flag in increasing parts of the Middle East.
 
It is perhaps significant that only a few days after the IRGC was designated as an international terrorist organisation by the US Treasury, creating huge problems for the Iranian regime where the Revolutionary Guards control over 70% of the economy, that Soleimani launched his bid to orchestrate the re-occupation of Kirkuk. His show of strength in Kirkuk represents an outright provocation to the Americans, who must now prove to the world that Soleimani and his terrorist force cannot be allowed to subvert the rule of law.
 
STRUAN STEVENSON
 

Struan Stevenson is President of the European Iraqi Freedom Association (EIFA). He was a member of the European Parliament representing Scotland (1999-2014), president of the Parliament's Delegation for Relations with Iraq (2009-14) and chairman of Friends of a Free Iran Intergroup (2004-14). He is an international lecturer on the Middle East.

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