Archive for the ‘Iraq’ Category

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Geopolitics makes strange bedfellows

July 3, 2014

The steady success of ISIL in carving out a secure territory in Syria and Iraq is upsetting some old geopolitical equations.  Iran, seen by some as the likely “savior” of Iraq (or, at least, of its current government), is lobbing threats at the Kurds.  Turkey, meanwhile, long fearful of a Kurdish state, now considers embracing an independent Kurdistan to serve as a buffer against Iraqi violence and Iranian power.   The offshore power broker – the US – does not know what to do, because what might turn out to the best choice is also unthinkable:  Iran is currently the greatest threat to American interests in the region, and the force most likely to take the fight to the Iranians and to halt their geostrategic progress is, in fact, ISIL.  ISIL is closely (if complexly) affiliated with the al Qaeda organization with which the US has been at war since 9/11/2001 (and, arguably, for much of the decade prior to that as well).  It would be a nearly impossible sell to the American public – especially to the veterans and their families who have sacrificed so much for the last decade and a half – but at some point it may well be in America’s best interest to throw its support behind ISIL in order to thwart Iran.

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Al Qaeda’s cross-border geopolitics in Iraq and Syria

March 12, 2014

Konstantinos Zarras has published an analysis (link opens pdf file) of the efforts of al Qaeda’s Iraqi affiliate to expand its operations into Syria and create a de facto Islamic State along the middle regions of the Euphrates River valley.  Calling themselves the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), they declared statehood in January of this year and are at once the most active insurgent group against the government of Bashir al Assad and the greatest cause of disunity among the would-be coalition of anti-government forces.  ISIS is in open warfare with the official al Qaeda affiliate in Syria, and is even suspected of assassinating the personal envoy of global al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawihiri.

Success by ISIS in creating their Caliphate on the Euphrates would not be an altogether bad thing for the US, at least not in the near term.  Our failure in Iraq has created a weak state there which does not aid in containing Iran.  ISIS, however, would be a Sunni dominated state opposed to Shi’a Iran.  Combined with the emerging Greater Kurdistan to the north and the coalition of rich Gulf Arab states to the south, this would effectively do the work of the “Sunni Wall” that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq represented.

In the longer term, of course, a Salafist state would be a constant and ongoing threat to initiate state-supported terror operations against Western targets, but in the moment, Iran looms as the larger threat in the region.

The area in red represents the territory currently under control of ISIS

The area in red represents the territory currently under control of ISIS

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The Wars of the Kurdish Unification

September 6, 2013

The more I think about it, the more I believe that future generations will come to call the early 21st century wars in Southwest Asia the Wars of the Kurdish Unification.

The US led Iraq War was the First War of Kurdish Unification, creating a de facto autonomous Kurdish state within the dysfunctional Iraq.

There is a very good chance that the  Syrian Civil War will result in a partial dissolution of that nation, with the Allawite and Kurdish regions forming their own mini-states.  This will be known as the Second War of Kurdish Unification.

The Third and Fourth Wars will involve Turkey and Iran (one or both of these will also spill over into Armenia and Azerbaijan).   Turkey is in the most difficult spot, with an active Kurdish opposition combined with a demographic time bomb – regions of majority Turkic ethnicity have declining birthrates while regions of mainly Kurdish ethnicity have growing birthrates.

That leaves Iran, which has a heavy Kurdish minority of its own, primarily in its eastern provinces.

The first two of these wars have already encompassed a full decade of sporadic warfare; the final two will take even longer, but it is very likely that a child born anywhere in Greater Kurdistan today could celebrate its 25th birthday as a citizen of the new State of Kurdistan.

Greater Kurdistan and the (former) nations of its constituent parts

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The disarticulation of Syria?

January 10, 2013

There are indications that the Alewite dominated Assad regime may be making preparations for a retreat to their traditional homelands to continue the fight, perhaps even hoping to secede from greater Syria.  Whether this is a likely outcome or not,Israeli scholar Itamar Rabinovich examines the potential that the Syrian civil war could result in a break up of that nation (link opens  a pdf file).  Rabinovich details Syria’s history, especially its history under the French colonial mandate, to show that a four way sectarian separation is actually within living memory in the nation.

french ruled Syria

Even if such a breakup occured, a modern disarticulated Syria would not look like this 1930s era map.  The large Kurdish population of the north would certainly demand their own state – perhaps even joining with their fellows in Iraq and Turkey to carve a larger state out of  all three nations.  This would be a messy business all around and would undoubtedly draw Turkey and possibly more powers into the war.  However, the Kurds are growing in demographic power throughout the region and could end up being the dominant faction in both Turkey and Syria by century’s end, so it might be in their best interest to take any opportunity to grant them their own state, rather than seeing them struggle for – or even seize – power in 2 or 3 existing nations.

 

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Exxon Mobil becomes first supermajor to sign deal with Kurdistan

November 11, 2011

The central government of Iraq has a fractious relationship with the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region to the north, so much so that the central government forbids any oil company doing business in the south and central regions from also doing business in Kurdistan.

Exxon Mobil has a very large contract developing the West Qurna field in Basra.  The West Qurna field is highly productive, delivering over 2.8 million barrels per day.  Nonetheless, ExxonMobil has chosen to risk losing that contract by signing a huge deal with the Kurdistan government to explore and develop six large oil blocks in the northern region.

So, the question is:  does Exxon Mobil believe the potential of these blocks are greater than the highly productive field that the Iraqi government is poised to take away, or do they believe that the central government will back down and allow them to keep both that contract and the Kurdistani deals?

The ramifications here are huge.  Due to years of poor governance under the Hussein regime and the near-decade long period of war and insurrection that begin with the US invasion in 2003, Iraq’s oil potential has never been systematically explored.   Although it’s proven reserves are already among the largest in the world, only about 20% of the known fields have been developed.  It is conceivable that, once a full exploration and development regime is instituted, Iraq could have more oil than even Saudi Arabia.  At the end of the day, this is what will make the US invasion of Iraq worthwhile – not US firms getting the oil, but any firm or combination of firms that is able to unleash that potential and pump that oil onto the world market would deliver instant price relief around the globe.

There are still important issues to resolve – the aforementioned relationship between Kurdistan and the central government, settling on a hydrocarbon law, and developing export capacity (which already bottlenecks even current production levels).  But, this announcement is a big development in getting Iraq’s oil capacity flowing.

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The Obama Dominoes

August 1, 2011

I wrote over the weekend how the situation in Iraq is suddenly crumbling while the (what should have been) certain victory in Libya is also slipping away.   The Obama Administration is preparing the ground for a withdrawal from Afghanistan.  The Arab Spring has swept away our longtime ally Hosni Mubarak in Egypt.  Turkey is turning its back on secularism, and casting eyes toward our rivals Russia and China in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.  With American power and prestige in the region in obvious decline, even the linchpin of American strategy in the region – stalwart ally Saudi Arabia – is seeking an entente with our regional nemesis, Iran.  From Stratfor lst month:  Something extraordinary, albeit not unexpected, is happening in the Persian Gulf region. The United States, lacking a coherent strategy to deal with Iran and too distracted to develop one, is struggling to navigate Iraq’s fractious political landscape in search of a deal that would allow Washington to keep a meaningful military presence in the country beyond the end-of-2011 deadline stipulated by the current Status of Forces Agreement. At the same time, Saudi Arabia, dubious of U.S. capabilities and intentions toward Iran, appears to be inching reluctantly toward an accommodation with its Persian adversary.

Is this the end of the American Era in the Greater Middle East, or can the decline be reversed – or at least halted – by a renewed focus by the current Administration?   Perhaps, after being frustrated and dominated by the Republicans in Congress (and with domestic policy making hamstrung by the stagnant economy), the White House will seek to make a mark in foreign policy.    This is a pivotal moment for a United States that has been operating without a coherent grand strategy for half a decade.  Let’s hope the Administration siezes the opportunity before any more dominoes fall.
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Iraq security situation crumbling; Libya operation failing

July 30, 2011

via BBC:

A top US adviser on Iraq has accused the US military of glossing over an upsurge in violence, just months before its troops are due to be withdrawn.

Iraq is more dangerous now than a year ago, said a report issued by the US Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, Stuart W Bowen Junior.

He said the killing of US soldiers and senior Iraqi figures, had risen, along with attacks in Baghdad .

The report contradicts usually upbeat assessments from the US military.

It comes as Washington is preparing to withdraw its remaining 47,000 troops from Iraq by the end of the year, despite fears that the Iraqi security forces might not be ready to take over fully.

“Iraq remains an extraordinarily dangerous place to work,” Mr Bowen concluded in his quarterly report to Congress. “It is less safe, in my judgment, than 12 months ago.”

The report cited the deaths of 15 US soldiers in June – the bloodiest month for the American military in two years – but also said more Iraqi officials had been assassinated in the past few months than in any other recent period.

I though as recently as a month ago that Barack Obama would be able to campaign in 2012 as the president who got Bin Laden, who deposed Gaddafi, and who presided over the last act of a minor victory in Iraq.   Today, it looks like only the first is a sure thing.  The Libya operation, which should have been a certain victory of grinding attrition, is on the cusp of failure  (see also here, here, here and here)- an unbelievable outcome that seems to require almost willful mismanagement.    Suddenly, the Obama 2012 campaign looks to running on the rails of debt and defeat.   Given the structural advantage of the Democrats in the Electoral College, the powers of incumbency, and the very large Obama war chest, I had long assumed that re-election was inevitable.  As inevitable as a victory in Libya, perhaps?  But there is nothing so certain that it cannot be lost by an incompetent executive.