August 28, 2014

Updates On Iraq [8:28.14] Washington Tries To Rally Same Allies That Propped Up ISIS To Defeat ISIS; Iran Puts Its Weight Behind Western-Backed Al-Abadi; EU Changes Its Policy

1. An excerpt from, "Islamic State: Arab leaders reluctant to heed US call for 'allies against Isis': Saudi Arabia, UAE and Jordan know dangers of Isis but tribal ties and fears of boosting Syria's Assad are prompting caution" by Ian Black, The Guardian, August 27, 2014:
No one is falling over themselves to respond to Barack Obama's quest for a new "coalition of the willing" to attack the jihadis of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria – least of all, it seems, the Arab governments that are most immediately threatened by its brutal, border-demolishing agenda. 

The dangers are not in doubt: Jordan has been suffering the jitters since Islamic State (Isis) fighters took the northern Iraqi city of Mosul in June. This week it announced the arrest of 40 alleged extremists as a "precautionary measure".
"Each of these states, whether they like it or not, is bound to Iraq and Syria's warring factions by tribal links, religion and history," said Wehrey. "Their rulers are still sensitive to public opinion and especially the pockets of pro-Isis sympathy among certain segments, some of them wealthy and influential."

Another worry is that fighting Isis will inevitably mean strengthening Assad, as western calls for tacit cooperation with him suggest is already happening. Bombing the Arab Sunni heartlands of Iraq and Syria is not the same as action against the universally despised Muammar Gaddafi in Libya in 2011.
So the barbaric liver-eaters in ISIS are well-liked, while Gaddafi, who built up Libya from a tribal hellhole to a proud African country, is hated by Gulf Arabs? There's the problem right there. The Sunni rulers who run Qatar, UAE, and Saudi Arabia are beyond stupid. ISIS will finish them, and many powerful people in these countries actually want that to happen.

2. An excerpt from, "Resurgent Iraq?" Conflicts Forum, published on August 25, 2014:
Al-Abadi’s perfect English (which Maliki did not have) and his western links may not have been perceived as a ‘disqualifier’ in Iran, but rather the reverse. And this is significant. It says much about how Iran is approaching the Iraqi crisis. Beyond the very clear statements of support for Abadi from all quarters in Iran, the Iranian foreign minister particularly emphasized, in a phone call to his Italian counterpart, the need for the new Iraqi government to be broadly inclusive.

That Iran favours an inclusive government in Iraq is nothing new – it has been urging this on Maliki (fruitlessly) and the Shi’i political leadership for a long time – but the thrust of all these Iranian statements is important: Despite the failure in the P5+1 ‘initial phase’ talks, Iran remains open to international diplomacy on the crisis in Iraq, and in resolving the challenge from Da’ish (ISIS). Iran takes ISIS very seriously (perhaps more seriously than anyone else in the region, or beyond). Iran then, manifestly has lent its full-support to an English-speaking Iraqi leader, who like Iran’s own foreign minister, can interact effectively with the West. This is a clear signal: Iran clearly is reacting – not with escalation against the West (post P5+1) – but with statesmanship.

It is self-interest, too, of course: Iran clearly has set as a priority the need for the Baghdad government to woo as many of the Sunni tribal leaders away from ISIS as possible, and to bind the Kurds too (in their now weakened and vulnerable state) back into the Iraqi state.

The first question is whether America will read these signals correctly. They are pretty clear: Iran is not escalating against western interests, but is open to co-operation on issues on which mutual interests intersect (defeating ISIS and stabilizing Iraq and Syria). This should not be seen as a signal of weakness, or that Iran is ready to collude militarily with US – it is not.

More significantly than the question of whether the Iranian signals will be correctly read however, is whether the West is able to react positively to them. We have argued before that – the bursting onto the scene of a radical Sunni jihadist movement that really does threaten the Saudi hand that conjured them out from the magic lantern – represents an overturning of decades of western policy. The West has come to be heavily dependent on the belief that Saudi Arabia somehow could manage radical Sunnism in both its interest and that of the West. Now that hypothesis stands as tragically mistaken.
In all, it is not promising. There seems to be a considerable element of wishful thinking in the general expectation that the appointment of al-Abadi – in itself – can pull together an inclusive, strong and competent government of Sunnis, Shia and Kurds working concertedly in Baghdad. The government will continue to be weak and corrupt. ISIS looks set to be around for a while yet – and the Sunni ‘state’ will become the ‘wedge’ struck into the heart of the Muslim world – breaking apart the post-WWII order for good.
The U.S. and Iran have been, if not on the same page, then at least in the same book, when it comes to Iraq's political destiny since the U.S. invasion in 2003. Behind the scenes they have different strategies but their public statements about Iraq and its desired direction moving forward are the same. The U.S. State Department might as well be the mouthpiece for the Ayatollah regime. Both countries vouch for al-Abadi, who comes from the same party as Maliki, and has pretty much the same political views. It's crazy to think he can fix a state that has been broken to pieces.

3. An excerpt from, "EU's policy shift on Syria, Iraq" by Peter Custers, Prothom Alo, August 28, 2014:
Is this one of those rare occasions where policymakers self-critically correct a gigantic blunder? Or is it a cold turn-about guided by pure self-interest?

On 15 August, the foreign ministers of EU countries gathered in Brussels and decided that each would henceforth be free to supply arms to Kurdish rebels fighting Sunni extremists of ISIS in the North of Iraq.

The decision of Europe’s foreign ministers may surprise some, for barely a year and four months ago, in April of 2013, the European Union had lifted a previously instituted ban on all imports of Syrian oil. 

Moreover, the lifting of this boycott was quite explicitly intended to facilitate the flow of oil from areas in the North-East of Syria, where Sunni extremist rebel organisations had established a strong foothold, if not overall predominance over the region’s oil fields. ISIS was not the only Sunni extremist organisation disputing control over Syrian oil fields. Yet there is little doubt but that the fateful decision the EU took last year has helped ISIS consolidate its hold over Syrian oil resources and prepare for a sweeping advance into areas with oil wells in the North of Iraq.

The outcome of the recent Brussels’ meeting thus appears to over-turn a disastrous previous decision. To underline the point, it is useful to briefly describe the extent to which Sunni extremist rebels have meanwhile established control over oil extraction and production in both Syria and Iraq.
The world was not even aware that the EU had an Iraq policy so it can be easily forgiven for inadvertently strengthening a terrorist group that also threatens Europe's security, as Assad had warned them three years ago. Plus, it is never too late to correct a mistake.