In Iraq, the recent crisis the government found itself in and the Iran-U.S. showdown have opened new chapters for the country. The killing of the Iranian general Qasem Soleimani and the Iraqi commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis on Jan. 3 left Iraq in uncertain waters. In fact, it destabilized the positions of all parties involved in Iraq, both the U.S. and Iran. The forming of a new government in Baghdad, the situation of the mostly Shia militia group of Al-Hashd Al-Sha’abi as well as the future of the U.S. military presence all depend on coordination between those different parties.
The Trump administration is bent on turning Iraq into a frontline or bulwark against Iran. For this reason, the Iraqi parliament’s decision to evacuate U.S. military bases from Iraqi territory was met with threats from Washington. No government formed under the current circumstances can be strong enough to face American threats. Iraq is like tempered glass that has been shattered, its pieces are very hard to maintain together.
Meanwhile, Iran is doing what it can to force U.S. forces to withdraw from Iraq. Sub-groups from the Al-Hashd Al-Sha’abi like the Kata’ib Hezbollah have targeted U.S. bases. Yet aside from Sunni Muslims and Kurds, many Shias also consider the American presence as an effective way to counterbalance Iran. As reflected by the protests that took place in November, resentment against Iranian hegemony has grown over time. Those protests ultimately led to the resignation of the Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi. Arm-wrestling between the two competing powers hijacked efforts to form a national government.
President Barham Salih nominated Tawfik Allawi to form the government, but to no avail. Adnan al-Zurfi was then nominated, but as al-Zurfi carried a U.S. passport, he was seen as a “US agent” and was vetoed by the Shia parties. Sunnis and Kurds did not endorse him either. Shia groups mostly agreed on the Intelligence Chief Mustafa al-Kazimi, who did not expect it. On Thursday, the Iraqi President ended up nominating Kazimi, though he carries a British passport. While it did not want al-Zurfi in power and has kept its distances from Kazimi, Iran had little say in the process.
During this process, Iran sought to convince Shia parties to coordinate and agree on a joint candidate. Ali Shamkhani, the Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council met with several Shia representatives in Baghdad on March 7. Shia parties then formed a seven-member committee to determine a joint candidate. Nothing came of it.
Al-Kazimi can balance out the U.S. and Iran. Yet in the chaos of Iraq, the will and intentions of the Prime Minister alone amount to little. The Prime Minister’s ability to enact change lies in his capacity to coordinate groups. If al-Kazimi is able to form a government, he will inevitably fall prey to the Iranian-U.S. proxy war. Pressures for the US to withdraw from the country won’t abate, and neither will objections against Iranian influence.
Washington awaits the formation of the new government to strike a strategic deal. It will come forward in all its might when the time is ripe. Until it finds itself at the negotiation table, the U.S. will continue to seek to deter Iran and even destroy the most active elements of the Al-Hashd Al-Sha’abi.
While the U.S. believes that its assassination of Soleimani marked a turning point and disrupted Iran’s activities in the region, it is in fact the Americans’ position that has been destabilized. This is the main reason why the military bases have strategically changed. The U.S. is also planning an operation to wipe out Al-Hashd Al-Sha’abi. But it in the meantime, Washington intends to lower its overall number of military bases and bolster its remaining ones with Patriot and C-RAM. Most importantly, it plans to shift the center of its military deployment to Kurdistan.
Since it launched its fight against ISIS in 2014, the U.S. has deployed 14 bases across the country. Only in the past month, they have vacated five of these bases. It is likely that they will withdraw from two additional bases. According to some unconfirmed information, three bases are to be built in the Kurdish cities of Erbil, Sulaymaniyah and Halabja.
While the U.S. sees its overall position in Iraq weakening, it takes Kurdistan for granted. Besides, its shift to Kurdistan is in line with their policy to pressure Iran. Washington’s sustained presence in Syria depends its capacity to form a base in Kurdistan.
Another aspect of this overhaul is that the shift of the U.S. towards Sulaymaniyah as it is known as Iran’s stronghold in Kurdistan. If the U.S. has long worked with the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), it is now opening the way to push the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (KYB) away from Iran. Lahur Talabani, the co-leader of the KYB, has been working closely with the Americans since its aid campaign for Kobani in 2014. Still, both sides in Kurdistan do not seek a strategy to alienate Iran. In its relations with the US, Kurdish political actors seek a balancing out of external powers.
Though it is frequently argued that Iran is currently consumed by its economic woes, its battle against the coronavirus, it is too early to make such judgments.
In short, the U.S.-Iran showdown will either expose Iraq, including Kurdistan, to re-design military operations or usher in a return to the unprecedented cooperation that had allowed the country to tackle several issues in the wake of the 2003 invasion. A third option is the Iraqis fully recovering their sovereignty, though this prospect remains distant for now.
The Russian strategy in Syria has entered a new phase, which is the combination of the hard reality on the field and the deceptive perception that there is hope for withdrawal. Moscow wants to couple its military gains with economic advances and the achievement of a political solution. While one could have anticipated how Russia […]
While displaying empathy with regards to Turkey’s sensitivities, Russia is realizing that it will not be able to find a sustained solution in Syria without winning over the Kurds. This is a point on which Turkey opts to be shortsighted.
Erdoğan is now threading the road the Arab regimes did during the 1960s and 1970s. His superior services to the Israeli and U.S. interests provide an immunity to the special agenda “print out” centered on Palestine.
Now, the majority of Arab countries believe that the Palestinian cause has turned into a tool for Turkey and Iran to penetrate into the region. For many of them, Palestine is a burden anyway. More than a couple of them are ready to let go of the cause if there is no pressure from the street.
It is difficult to estimate how the U.S.’s Syria policy will look after the U.S. presidential elections, but, for the moment, oil is a factor that extends the stay of U.S. troops. Despite Trump's back-and-forth positions, the Kurds are the most important base for this framework.
This step involving the Hagia Sophia has totally destroyed the deception that Turkey has preserved its multi-religious, multicultural and multi-identity features as a country. Since we have passed the expiry date of lies, what is next now? Is there another topic of victimization left?
Even though Sisi always said they would not just watch Turkey increase its involvement, it was believed that he would avoid a military adventure. The major fear of Sisi is that in the event that Islamist forces win in Libya, there is a possibility that Muslim Brotherhood, which he toppled in a 2013 coup, may have the chance to take revenge.
While the ENKS and the PYD agree on certain topics, a deep gap remains between the two groups. And the American and French pressure will do little to close that gap. Moreover, Barzani’s ties with Turkey limit his capabilities. Given the KDP and the PKK were fighting each other in the Qandil mountains, how could the two movements unite on the Syrian front?
Several signs have emerged from Russia indicating that the Putin administration is growing weary of Damascus. For instance, Pravda.ru recently published a piece which claimed that al-Assad’s cousin Rami Mahluf controlled 60 percent of the country’s economy. Al-Assad is criticized for feeding his relatives with state resources.
The restructuring of Idlib entails Turkey’s dispersing of opponent groups and the formation of its own militias. Alongside this, Ankara plans to attack the Syrian army and defend itself from it. Turkey wants to turn its proxies into a parallel army that is affiliated to its national army.
Relinquishing its vocation to be a social state, the Turkish government is now providing us with its bank details amid the coronavirus pandemic. What this shows is that the Turkish state does not intend to give a helping hand to citizens during tough times. Despite that, it is not ready to give up on its endless wars in Syria and Libya.
Turkish President Erdoğan rides at full speed as if he has unlimited resources. There is an overflowing domestic mass he can address through the martyrs. However, this course of events requires serious resources and support. It puts Turkey into the position of a “proxy state” in Syria in the eyes of Syria’s enemies, starting with Israel.
HTS was supposed to have been eliminated with the Sochi Agreement. But HTS swept the groups Turkey was supporting and formed its own emirate in Idlib. They have now reunited with the “revolutionary” spirit of pre-2015. The story is this clear. This is the profile of Turkey's ally in the field.
The U.S. support for Turkey amid attacks from the Syrian regime came as something of a surprise. The reason for this is that while Washington is unlikely to intervene further in the Syrian theater, it is likely to use Turkey to carry out its objectives.
Every venture led by Erdoğan has benefited Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Amid this circle of fire, Turkey can hardly take on a potent role to push for peace. For the destructive choices it has made in recent years have taken their toll on constructive diplomacy.
Russia having a say in Libya is a sign of the strengthening of its position in the Mediterranean and an increase in relations in northern Africa, just as it means that they will be able to look at Europe from the south. After a similar trip to Damascus, this is now the equivalent of a jaunt to Tripoli wearing Ottoman boots.
Putting oil at the center of the Syrian crisis may affect the direction and feature of the war. The shooting of oil tankers at Al Bab and Jarabukus on Nov. 26 by unidentified planes was a pre-reminder of the oil war.The oil file is an unfulfilled desire for Turkey but at the same time it is a burning one.
Whether it be the U.S., Russia, Iran or the Syrian regime, all seem to want to re-settle the Syrian Kurds. While American’s policy is open-ended, it is also murky. Damascus is calling on troops within the SDF to join the national army. In other words, it does not recognize the SDF. The Kurds want to assess what Russia is capable of doing.
ISIS finding space for itself in Idlib will make it harder for Turkey to maintain its stance of obstructing operations in the region. It will also cause Turkey to be openly blamed. Then it will come to organizations Turkey is openly protecting. Turkey is quickly adding more pages to its crime folder because of the militia forces it sees as substitutes to Turkish army.
Ultimately, this agreement requires Erdoğan to coordinate himself with the Syrian government, which he calls illegitimate. In this setting, the next step would have him shake hands with Damascus. It is thus the first time Russia has been able to turn its wish into a written commitment.
How far will the US go to end its partnership with the SDF? According to the statement from the White House, the US will neither support Turkey's offensive nor protect the Kurds. Yet will it prevent the heavy weapons it gave the SDF from being used?
At the Turkish opposition's conference on Syria, it was openly stated that the path to peace passes through dialogue with Damascus. However, certain basic dilemmas should be overcome if an alternative way out is to be developed. The opposition should not fall into the trap laid by the government.
The Astana trio, made up of Russia, Turkey and Iran met in Ankara this week. Again, the event consecrated the failure of Turkey's Syrian strategy.