Author Topic: The Middle East: War, Peace, and SNAFU, TARFU, and FUBAR  (Read 321256 times)

Crafty_Dog

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GPF: The divided Kurdistan Regional Government
« Reply #1351 on: January 31, 2021, 07:56:03 PM »

    
The Kurdistan Regional Government: Divided and Dysfunctional
Recent protests are a sign of the growing anger in the region.
By: Hilal Khashan

In a 17th-century poem titled “Mem and Zin,” renowned Kurdish poet Ahmad Khani wrote: “If only there were harmony among us, if we were to obey a single one of us … we would perfect our religion, our state, and would educate ourselves in learning and wisdom.” Khani’s work, which inspired many modern-day Kurdish nationalist writers and activists, was often critical of the ever-present fractiousness within Kurdish communities. His warnings about the dangers of division are nowhere more applicable than the Kurdistan Regional Government.

Established in 1992, the autonomous region in northern Iraq was once a beacon of hope for Kurdish groups in other countries that had yet to achieve similar levels of self-governance. But tribal loyalties continue to dominate in Iraqi Kurdistan, where Kurds are increasingly frustrated by an ongoing economic crisis and their leaders’ lack of action.

Turbulent Path to Autonomy

The path to Kurdish autonomy in Iraq was not an easy one. During the First World War, the British promised Kurdish leader Sheikh Mahmud Barzanji independence for the Kurds in exchange for his cooperation against the Ottoman Empire. They reneged on their promise but instead appointed Barzanji governor of Sulaymaniyah province in 1921, hoping to use the Kurds as a buffer between Iraq and the Ottomans. He then took advantage of the 1920 Iraqi revolt and British preoccupation with pacifying the country, declaring himself the king of Kurdistan in 1922. The British unseated him in 1924, and his futile uprisings ended in 1931.

The center of the Kurdish movement shifted to Iran during the Second World War, especially after the Soviet army occupied northern Iran in 1941. In 1946, Qazi Muhammad announced the creation of the Mahabad Republic in Soviet-controlled Iran. Mustafa Barzani, who had become a prominent Iraqi Kurdish leader, relocated to Mahabad and became minister of defense. The Iranian army crushed the fledgling republic immediately after the Soviets pulled out of Iran – less than a year after its formation. Before fleeing to the Soviet Union, however, Barzani established the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP).

After a 1958 military coup overthrew the Hashemite monarchy, Iraqi Prime Minister Abd al-Karim Qasim invited Barzani to return to Baghdad. Qasim, who was unpopular among Iraq’s Sunnis, shortsightedly armed the KDP and dragged the Kurds into an intra-Arab rivalry. In 1959, Barzani allowed his militia to quell the anti-Qasim Mosul rebellion, which engendered an enduring perception among Sunni and Shiite Iraqi Arabs that the Kurds are undependable partners.

Realizing that Kurdish statehood was unattainable, the KDP started an insurgency that lasted from 1961 until 1970, when the Iraqi government and Barzani signed an autonomy agreement. The deal soon collapsed because the Iraqi government refused to include oil-rich Kirkuk, Khanaqin and Sinjar regions in the agreement. With Iranian encouragement and military assistance, the Kurds in 1974 resumed their attacks on the Iraqi army. However, a 1975 agreement between Iran and Iraq on the Shatt al-Arab waterway ended the shah’s support for the Kurds, which led to the end of the insurgency.

Its defeat led to the defection of Jalal Talabani, who then established the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) in Syria with like-minded, secular Kurdish intellectuals. Toward the end of the 1980-88 Iraq-Iran War, and in response to the PUK’s alliance with Iran, the Iraqi military launched the Halabja chemical attack, which killed 8,000 Kurdish civilians. Talabani traveled to Washington in 1990 and offered to join the U.S.-led coalition against Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.

Fractured Government

The 1991 Gulf War once again gave Iraqi Kurds hope that independence was within reach. Iraq’s defeat in the war triggered two simultaneous uprisings: one led by Shiites in the south and another led by Kurds in the north. Regime forces crushed both within a month. Backed by the U.S., which imposed a no-fly zone over northern Iraq, PUK and KDP fighters joined forces in a rare show of unity and seized control of most Kurdish-populated areas. Aware that neither Turkey nor Iran would tolerate a Kurdish state next door, the U.S. urged the Kurds to limit their self-determination demands to autonomy.

In 1992, Iraqi Kurdistan held its first parliamentary elections. Both the PUK and KDP claimed they won a majority, and to avoid a conflict, they split the 100 seats reserved for Kurdish voters equally. The parliament then founded the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), the official governing body in Iraqi Kurdistan, which is composed of four provinces. The PUK controls Sulaymaniyah province and is an urban party that leans toward social democracy; the KDP prevails in Dohuk and Irbil provinces and is mainly a rural and tribal party. Geography has influenced their regional affiliations: The KDP maintains close relations with Turkey, and the PUK is on good terms with Iran.

Kurdish Groups in Iraq
(click to enlarge)

Relations between two have been contentious and, until recently, even bloody. (They fought a civil war between 1994 and 1997.) Their leaders have continuously failed to cooperate, and their rank and file refuse to associate with each other.

In 2017, KRG President Masoud Barzani called a nonbinding independence referendum, despite warnings from Baghdad. After 93 percent of voters voted for independence, the Iraqi army launched an offensive that seized 40 percent of KRG territory, including Kirkuk, and nearly half its oil fields. Barzani resigned, and the presidency was left vacant for 18 months. In keeping with the KDP’s history, Barzani’s nephew, Nechirvan, became KRG president and his son, Masrour, became prime minister.

Financial Crisis

In addition to its other challenges, the KRG is in the midst of a financial crisis, which has left the government unable to pay public employees. Kurdish officials blame low oil prices and declining transfers from Baghdad, but there are also serious underlying causes for the region’s economic woes.

Despite the influx of vast amounts of oil money, the KRG failed to launch a single project aimed at employing Kurdish youth. (Estimates suggest that more than 1 million young people will enter the job market over the next few years.) Sulaymaniyah province saw a series of violent protests in December that targeted the KRG – but they echoed similar protests that have erupted in Baghdad, Basra and Nasiriyah. Ordinary Iraqis, irrespective of their ethnicity or ideology, are frustrated with the country’s economic condition and the lack of action from political parties claiming to represent them.

In the KRG, however, these frustrations have been directed at the KDP and PUK, which monopolize the regional government’s resources. They have failed to introduce political and administrative reforms that could modernize the KRG political system. They have also closely guarded their hold on power and failed to implement measures that would increase accountability and transparency. Kurds have viewed with indignation the lavish spending of government officials and the elite class in the capital, Irbil. The ostentatious lifestyles of the nouveau riche business class, who partnered in joint ventures with neo-tribal party officials, were a stark contrast to impoverished Kurds who were not paid their salaries.

Betrayed

The protests in Sulaymaniyah last month were a result of these long-simmering tensions. Protesters attacked the offices of all the parties active in the region – not just the PUK, which dominates Sulaymaniyah – sending a forceful message that politicians from every party had failed to defend the interests of their constituents.

In the 2018 KRG parliamentary elections, the PUK won 21 seats, three more than its 2013 total but 29 fewer than it had won in the KRG’s first elections in 1992. The Movement for Change, also known as Gorran, lost five seats in 2018 (for a total of 12) compared to 2013, while the Islamic parties gained two (also for a total of 12). The KDP, meanwhile, increased its total from 34 to 45.

It’s unlikely, however, that the KDP will hold on to its gains given the deep economic crisis facing the KRG. The party’s 2018 result was probably related to the referendum on independence, which is popular among the Kurds. As the recent protests show, the Kurds feel betrayed by the PUK and KDP after generations of suffering war, abuse, discrimination and ethnic cleansing. They see their politicians as reactionary feudal chiefs masquerading as Western-minded nation-builders.

Kurdish leaders, meanwhile, have accused the region’s enemies of stirring dissension to sabotage Kurdish prospects for statehood. The truth is that the leaders themselves have failed to set aside their own interests to build on the autonomy the region won in 1992. Some PUK representatives recently even called for creating a Kurdish political entity in Sulaymaniyah province separate from the KRG. While waging fratricidal wars, they have lost sight of centuries of struggle.

Crafty_Dog

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DougMacG

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Re: The Middle East: War, Peace, ISIS re-emerging
« Reply #1353 on: February 14, 2021, 11:18:04 AM »
A recent United Nations Security Council report concluded that ISIS currently controls more than 10,000 fighters, organized in small cells in Syria and Iraq.
https://www.gatestoneinstitute.org/17023/isis-return-biden

After Trump, we barely have a thread anymore for Middle East war.

Here we go again...

Crafty_Dog

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Biden's feckless middle east policy enables Russia
« Reply #1356 on: February 18, 2021, 03:11:53 PM »
By: Geopolitical Futures

Background: Russia’s strategy in the Middle East involves active balancing between actors including Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Israel. It often uses the leader of the Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov, as a mediator in relations with the Muslim world. Kadyrov is an ideal candidate because of his Muslim background and deep ties with the Kremlin.

What Happened: Kadyrov traveled on Thursday to the United Arab Emirates, where he met with the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and passed on a message from Russian President Vladimir Putin. Putin reportedly hailed the “productive and multifaceted” relations between Russia and the UAE, and thanked the Emirates for supplying the North Caucasus with personal protective equipment to deal with the pandemic. Kadyrov highlighted the role of Emirati projects in developing Chechnya and discussed other areas of cooperation.

Bottom Line: A visit of this nature between these two figures means Putin wants something from the Arab world. It’s notable that the visit came on the heels of a meeting between Russia, Turkey and Iran on the Syrian peace process. Essentially, Russia continues to engage multiple sides to strengthen its influence. As long as the basic structure of the nascent Israel-Arab coalition remains unstable, conditions will be favorable for Moscow to advance its diplomatic strategy.



Crafty_Dog

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GPF: No peace for the Middle East
« Reply #1359 on: Today at 04:09:56 AM »
No Peace for the Middle East
The Arab-Israeli normalization deals are unlikely to bring stability to the fractured region.
By: Hilal Khashan

The Middle East’s location has long made it an arena for great power competition. Over the past few centuries, the region has seen conflict between the Ottoman and Iranian empires, and Russian and Western meddling in its affairs. The Anglo-French establishment of the Middle East state system in the 20th century failed to bring stability. Iran and Turkey went on to build the foundations of a modern state on their own, and the newly rising Arab states, divided as they are, have not managed to come to terms with the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine. The Egyptian and Jordanian peace treaties with Israel also failed to spread peace and stability throughout the region.

Today, the recent normalization deals between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco once again promise to open a new chapter in Middle East relations. But its complex problems and diverse political landscape mean peace is still out of reach for this fractious region.

Relying on the West

When former U.S. President Donald Trump visited Saudi Arabia in May 2017 to attend the Riyadh summit, he announced the formation of the Middle East Strategic Alliance, a kind of security partnership that would help fill the power vacuum in the region. He wanted to create a unified defense mechanism and common economic and energy platform that would prevent China and Russia from filling the void. Both Turkey and Iran boycotted the summit, believing that it was part of an effort to undermine their influence. Either way, the MESA never materialized because Egypt, Jordan and Qatar did not see Iran as a security threat, and Kuwait and Oman preferred to mostly stay out of the region’s explosive conflicts.

In fact, most Arab countries, with the exception of Saudi Arabia, did not take the MESA seriously, believing it would turn them into pawns rather than allies. The project was never likely to stem the region’s chronic instability as it ignored the local issues – state repression and regime intolerance of peaceful opposition – that so often cause it.

But the U.S.-brokered plan was emblematic of a larger problem: Arab countries have been largely unable to cooperate with each other and often prefer to rely on a Western mediator. The Arab League’s 1950 Joint Defense and Economic Cooperation Treaty collapsed because Egypt and Saudi Arabia feared domination by Iraq’s Hashemites. The Joint Arab Command, established in 1964 as a platform from which to confront Israel, quickly became defunct, making Israel’s stunning victory in the 1967 Six-Day War even easier.

When Egypt made peace with Israel in 1978, the Arabs held a summit in Baghdad and decided to establish the Eastern Front between Syria and Iraq to make up for the loss of Egypt. But the project failed because of the personal rivalry between Hafez Assad and Saddam Hussein. In 1991, right after the end of Operation Desert Storm, the Gulf Cooperation Council states signed the Damascus Declaration with Syria and Egypt, both of which agreed to provide troops to help support Arab security, but the agreement was later scrapped because the Saudis preferred to rely on Washington’s support instead .

For many in the Middle East, the ideal scenario would be for Saudi Arabia to establish an alliance with Israel and Turkey as a countervailing force against Iranian regional ambitions. This makes sense: Israel is eager to partner with the larger Gulf countries such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and Turkey has of late tried to befriend Arab countries. But such an alliance is still beyond reach. Ankara has had little success in wooing Arab states, with the exception of Qatar and Libya’s beleaguered Government of National Accord. And the Saudis are paranoid about trusting their fellow Arabs, believing they're only interested in Saudi money and in subverting Riyadh's rule. But with the Biden administration scaling back ties with Saudi Arabia, Riyadh will need to rethink its hesitancy.

Emerging Israel-UAE Alliance

For the UAE, its rapprochement with Israel is about more than just normalizing relations. It believes their relationship can evolve into an economic and military alliance. Abu Dhabi has strategic needs that it believes Israel can help meet in areas such as agricultural technology, food self-sufficiency, cybersecurity, tourism, high-tech and commerce. It sees itself and Israel as having modern economies and efficient armed forces that can change the shape of the region. Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan wants to transform the UAE into an economic empire safeguarded by a strong military and a network of relations with strategic partners, chief among them the U.S. and Israel. (Notably, China had a mixed response to the Israeli-UAE peace accord. It issued a vague but measured response that warned against ignoring the Palestinian question and further radicalizing the region.)

Israel and the Arab League
(click to enlarge)

Israel and the UAE have different expectations of the normalization deal. Abu Dhabi’s crown prince has delusions of grandeur and thinks Israel needs him to legitimize its existence. As a hub for air transport, education, culture and media, the UAE believes it can link Israel to the region and thus to the rest of the world. Israel, on the other hand, wants to build an alliance against Iran. It’s unlikely that the UAE would go along with such a project, especially since the Biden administration is pursuing a diplomatic path to solving the Iran nuclear issue, and the UAE would not join an alliance that brings with it the risk of war without U.S. backing.

Their prospects for economic cooperation are also limited. The UAE’s economic development hinges on its ability to maintain domestic stability, which goes hand in hand with Sheikh Mohammed’s policy of fostering good relations with military dictators such as Egypt’s Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, Libya’s Khalifa Haftar and Sudan’s Abdel-Fattah Burhan, and ambitious leaders like Saudi Arabia’s Mohammad bin Salman. A potential armed conflict with Iran is therefore out of the question.

Indeed, in many ways, their economic interests don’t align. Israel plans to link its Haifa Port to the Maritime Silk Road component of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative. The project bypasses the Persian Gulf, to avoid the volatile Strait of Hormuz, and will effectively reduce the significance of the UAE’s Jebel Ali Port, currently the largest in the Middle East.

China's Silk Road in the Middle East
(click to enlarge)

It’s therefore unlikely that the UAE-Israeli entente will go beyond security cooperation, which was already in the works between Israel and several Arab states for years, including with Jordan since 1948, Egypt since the Camp David agreement, and the Gulf countries since the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative. In the Middle East, alliances with Israel are difficult to build because Israel inevitably emerges as the leading force and its Arab allies the junior partners. The balance of power tilts decisively in Israel’s favor.

Russo-Turkish-Iranian Triangle

The two major Middle East players left out of the emerging Arab-Israeli alliance are, of course, Turkey and Iran – both of which have complicated relationships with an external power that often looms over many regional conflicts, Russia. To some extent, Russia, Turkey and Iran seem to have more bringing them together than pulling them apart. Russia and Turkey’s total trade rose from $4.5 billion in 2000 to $25.7 billion in 2018. The balance of trade favors Russia because of Turkey’s import of Russian oil and gas. Turkey also has a negative trade balance with Iran because of its imports of Iranian energy. U.S. sanctions on Iran, however, have hurt trade between the two countries – which shrank from $25.7 billion in 2013 to $3.4 billion in 2020. Turkey hopes to increase trade with Russia to $100 billion and with Iran to $30 billion.

However, the ideological and historical differences among the three countries, as well as their rivalry as regional powers, rule out any chance of them becoming close allies. Russia and Turkey have different agendas in Syria, and Ankara’s intrusion into the South Caucasus, especially in support of Azerbaijan in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, irritates Moscow.

Turkey’s relationship with Iran is also complex. The two countries need each other economically and are keen on keeping channels of communication open despite their sharp political divisions. In the absence of a unified Arab world, competition between Turkey and Iran is likely to eventually escalate as they seek to dislodge each other in their near abroad, especially in Syria and Iraq.

Syria gives Iran access to the Mediterranean, Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Israeli border. For Turkey, Syria provides land access to Lebanon, Jordan and the Arabian Peninsula. As for Iraq, it was for centuries a battleground between the Ottoman Empire and Persia. Saddam Hussein’s ouster in 2003 made Iran the dominant force in Iraq, but Turkey is also trying to establish a foothold there – which could revive their historical rivalry in the country. With proven oil reserves totaling 115 billion barrels, which could rise to 215 billion once the rest of the country is explored, Iraq will be a major focus for Turkey in the future.

For now, however, Turkey’s reliance on Iran (and Russia) for oil and gas is the main factor preventing tensions from escalating. But Ankara is also seeking alternative sources. It already has a stake in the Caspian Sea’s oil reserves through the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan Pipeline, the Trans Adriatic Pipeline, the Trans Anatolian Pipeline and the land-based component of China’s BRI. It’s also drilling for gas in the Eastern Mediterranean, though many countries have expressed concern about its operations there.

Real peace in the Middle East remains elusive. Trump’s MESA project did not take off, and the Israel-UAE alliance is unlikely to lead to any concrete changes. Turkey and Iran may find it challenging to get over their past disagreements and concentrate on potential economic cooperation.

The one remaining factor is China. It has succeeded in establishing economic ties with U.S. allies in the region, especially Israel, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, without compromising its business links to Iran and Turkey. But its investments will not bring prosperity to the Middle East. The Chinese project requires regional stability and willingness to cooperate, both of which are woefully absent in the Middle East. What’s more, China has become increasingly authoritarian. Its Social Credit System is an attempt to control all aspects of people’s lives in China and could be spread to other parts of the world as part of the BRI. In a region that remains gripped by violence and factiousness, China’s rise will not bode well.