Monday, December 7, 2015

War in the Middle East: It is Going to Get Even Bigger

NBC broke away from the pregame of its Sunday Night Football telecast long enough for Obama to say nothing new from the Oval Office about international and domestic terrorism, gun ownership and the war in Syria. I suppose this is a good thing. I was half expecting the president, whose legacy (long after the Affordable Care Act has been scrapped) will be to have relaunched a not so Cold War with Russia and overseen the disintegration of the Middle East, to use the Sunday national television platform to blame Putin for last week's husband-&-wife terrorism attack in San Bernardino.

Thankfully, Cold Warrior Obama restrained himself. What the viewers out in TV Land got was more of the same, particularly as it relates to the war in Syria:
Well, here's what I want you to know. The threat from terrorism is real, but we will overcome it. We will destroy ISIL and any other organization that tries to harm us. Our success won't depend on tough talk or abandoning our values or giving into fear. That's what groups like ISIL are hoping for. Instead, we will prevail by being strong and smart. Resilient and relentless. And by drawing upon every aspect of American power. Here's how. 
First, our military will continue to hunt down terrorist plotters in any country where it is necessary. 
In Iraq and Syria, air strikes are taking out ISIL leaders, heavy weapons, oil tankers, infrastructure. Since attacks in Paris, our closest allies including France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, have ramped up their contributions to our military campaign which will help us accelerate our effort to destroy ISIL. 
Second, we will continue to provide training and equipment to tens of thousands of Iraqi and Syrian forces fighting ISIL on the ground so that we take away their safe havens. In both countries, we're deploying special operations forces who can accelerate that offensive. We've stepped up this effort since the attacks in Paris and will continue to invest more in approaches that are working on the ground. 
Third, we're working with friends and allies to stop ISIL's operations to disrupt plots, cut off their financing, and prevent them from recruiting more fighters. Since the attacks in Paris, we've surged intelligence sharing with our European allies. We're working with Turkey to seal its border with Syria and we are cooperating with Muslim majority countries and with our Muslim communities here at home to counter the vicious ideology that ISIL promotes online. 
Fourth, with American leadership, the international community has begun to establish a process and timeline to pursue cease-fires and a political resolution to the Syrian war. Doing so will allow the Syrian people and every country, including our allies but also countries like Russia, to focus on the common goal of destroying ISIL. A group that threatens us all. This is our strategy to destroy ISIL. It is designed and supported by our military commanders and counterterrorism experts together with 65 countries that have joined an American-led coalition. We constantly examine our strategy to determine within additional steps are needed to get the job done. That's why I've ordered the departments of State and Homeland Security to review the visa waiver program under which the female terrorist in San Bernardino originally came to this country.
The issue of ISIS funding itself from sales of black-market oil, Obama's first point, was brightly illuminated last week. A must-read story, "ISIS Oil," by Vijay Prashad appeared in CounterPunch. In it Prashad argues quite plainly that Turkey is working with ISIS to move oil by tanker truck from fields around Mosul in Iraq to the Turkish port of Ceyhan where it is shipped to Malta and then transshipped to buyers in Israel:
On December 2, Russia’s Deputy Minister of Defense Anatoly Antonov made a strong statement about Turkish complicity with ISIS. The charge sheet is long and detailed. It mentions many aspects, but the most incendiary is the accusation about “ISIS oil.”
ISIS controls Iraqi oil fields near Mosul. They have been making millions of dollars each day by selling oil from these fields. How does ISIS get the oil from the fields in Mosul to the market?
What ISIS has done is to use the old networks that have smuggled oil from the Kurdish Regional Government without any consideration given to Baghdad’s sovereignty over that oil. This had been a point of contention for decades, since the Kurdish region began to exercise autonomous control of the north. Kurdish oil was sold to smugglers who would cart them in tankers across the border into Turkey. In Turkey the trucks would run the length of the country to the Mediterranean port of Ceyhan. From Ceyhan, which is a port run by the Turkish government, the oil is purchased by transporters whose ships go to Malta, where the oil is transshipped to destinations such as Ashdod (Israel). This has long been a bone of contention between the Iraqi government, the Kurdish Regional Government and the Turkish government. It was documented by Tolga Tanış in his book Potus ve Beyefendi (2015). Tanis accuses Berat Albayrak, son-in-law of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, of involvement in this illegal scheme. ISIS has merely replaced the Kurdish Regional Government in the new arrangement.
That the Russians have made these allegations will only increase tensions between Ankara and Moscow. Indeed, on December 3, Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested that retaliation for the downed jet has not yet come. The tempo of threats has risen.
Stunningly Ceyhan Port is a few hours drive from the Incirlik Air Base, from where the US jets have been hitting targets in Syria. It is literally under the noses of the US planes that the ISIS oil has been transported. For the fourteen months that the US has been hitting ISIS targets, it has avoided striking at the oil tankers. US officials say that they did not strike ISIS oil tankers for fear of “collateral damage.” In fact, when the US did hit the oil tankers last month, they did so after warning the drivers by leaflets. This was a very noble gesture, but also out of character. The US generally does not warn its targets. It only began to hit the oil tankers after Russian jets struck them. Did the US begin its strike on the tankers so as not to be shown up by the Russians? When I put this question to a US state department official, she demurred. She said that the US was merely building up intelligence on the tanker routes and it was now prepared to hit the convoys. That it came after the Russian bombings of the tankers, she said, is mere coincidence.
. . . The Turkish government’s demand for a “buffer zone” is of interest to the Europeans. They believe it is for refugees. But it could just as well be to protect the tankers from the Russian bombing raids. It is precisely what makes Corbyn’s demand so important – to hold a through investigation of the ISIS oil pipeline. Such an inquiry must ask the following questions:
1) Who is carting the oil from Mosul to the Turkish border? Who owns those trucks? 
2) Who is carting the oil from the Turkish border to Ceyhan? Who owns those trucks? 
3) How does ISIS oil go through Ceyhan, a port owned by the Turkish government? 
4) Who owns the ships that cart the ISIS oil out of Turkey and to ports afield? 
5) What banks handle the transaction between the sale of ISIS oil and the foreign buyers? Should they also be implicated in the smuggling of ISIS oil? 
An investigation along these lines is overdue. It is not enough to accept or dismiss the Russian accusations. These should be used as an opportunity to clarity the actual pipelines for ISIS funding. Bombing the Omar fields in Syria – as the UK has done today – might not be sufficient. It might dust over the evidence of much greater complicity in ISIS oil.
The gist of Prashad's account was confirmed on Friday when Turkey moved additional troops and artillery to a training base outside of Mosul. As noted on the Moon of Alabama blog yesterday, "Erdogan Moves to Annexes [sic] Mosul":
On Friday a column of some 1,200 Turkish soldiers with some 20 tanks and heavy artillery moved into a camp near Mosul. The camp was one of four small training areas where Turkey was training Kurds and some Sunni-Arab Iraqis to fight the Islamic State. The small camps in the northern Kurdish area have been there since the 1990s. They were first established to fight the PKK. Later their Turkish presence was justified as ceasefire monitors after an agreement ended the inner Kurdish war between the KDP forces loyal to the Barzani clan and the PUK forces of the Talabani clan. The bases were actually used to monitor movement of the PKK forces which fight for Kurdish independence in Turkey.
The base near Mosul is new and it was claimed to be just a small weapons training base. But tanks and artillery have a very different quality than some basic AK-47 training. Turkey says it will increase the numbers in these camps to over 2000 soldiers.
Should Mosul be cleared of the Islamic State the Turkish heavy weapons will make it possible for Turkey to claim the city unless the Iraqi government will use all its power to fight that claim. Should the city stay in the hands of the Islamic State Turkey will make a deal with it and act as its protector. It will benefit from the oil around Mosul which will be transferred through north Iraq to Turkey and from there sold on the world markets. In short: This is an effort to seize Iraq's northern oil fields.
This story is backed up by The New York Times' Tim Arango, "Iraqi Officials Angered by Influx of Turkish Troops":
ISTANBUL — Turkey has sent more troops, along with armored vehicles and tanks, to northern Iraq to support a longstanding mission to train Kurdish and Sunni Arab forces in the fight against the Islamic State, touching off an uproar in Baghdad, where officials called the move a violation of Iraqi sovereignty.
The troop movements on the outskirts of Mosul apparently came in recent days and were done in coordination with the autonomous Kurdish government in northern Iraq, but not with the central government in Baghdad. They prompted the Iraqi foreign ministry to summon the Turkish ambassador in protest on Saturday and demand that the forces withdraw from Iraq.
In a statement, the foreign ministry called the Turkish troop movements a hostile act and said they had been made “without the knowledge of the Iraqi central government,” adding, “This is considered a violation and a breach of the sovereignty of the country.” Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and President Fuad Masum also voiced objections.
Days earlier, Mr. Abadi, who came to power last year with the strong support of the United States, made a similarly tough statement in reaction to the United States’ plans to deploy Special Operations forces to Iraq to conduct raids against Islamic State targets. He wrote on Facebook, “Iraq doesn’t need foreign ground troops,” and added, “This will be considered an act of aggression.” 
The reactions of the Iraqi authorities to the growing military role of the United States and Turkey inside Iraq highlighted Mr. Abadi’s weakness as he seeks to balance his relationships with the West and Iran, which backs powerful militias in Iraq. Some of the leaders of those militias are popular on the Iraqi street and have sought to undermine Mr. Abadi, saying they will fight any foreign troops on Iraqi soil. 
In an interview on Saturday, Hakim al-Zamili, the head of Parliament’s security committee and a Shiite militia leader, said the Iraqi military, if necessary, should strike the Turkish positions in the north.
What we have here is a world war in the Middle East, something that should have been obvious when Turkey shot down the Russian Sukhoi the day before Thanksgiving. Pepe Escobar in "How Russia is Smashing the Turkish Game in Syria" describes a "4+1 alliance" -- Russia, Iran, Iraq and Syria, along with Hezbollah -- against NATO and the GCC.

Reading Arango's story one is certainly reminded of June 2014 when Mosul fell to ISIS and the Iraqi Kurds took Kirkuk in what was clearly a case of coordination. At the time, the U.S. position was that Iraq's prime minister Nouri al-Maliki was to blame and had to go, which he did. Now there is a whisper campaign underway to do the same to his replacement, Haider al-Abadi. Note the conclusion to Arango's story:
Baghdad has been aware of Turkey’s presence but chose to publicly challenge it only now — underscoring, analysts say, the increasing pressure Mr. Abadi is facing from Iran and its proxies, including Iraq’s former prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. In a report published last month, Ayham Kamel, the director for the Middle East and North Africa at the political risk firm Eurasia Group, predicted that Mr. Abadi would likely be ousted sometime next year.
In the case of the United States, American officials say they negotiated with Mr. Abadi about the new deployments of Special Forces and believe his recent comments in defense of Iraqi sovereignty were made for domestic political reasons. 
Still, Mr. Abadi’s increasingly weak position in the face of Iranian pressure complicates matters for the United States as it considers increasing its military presence in Iraq to fight the Islamic State. 
While the deal reached by the West and Iran to curb Iran’s nuclear program raised hopes that Washington and Tehran could more closely coordinate campaigns against the Islamic State in Iraq, that now appears unlikely. The heads of powerful Iranian-backed militias have said they are willing to fight any new American troops in Iraq, as they did during the long American occupation after 2003. 
Rather than the United States’ and Iran’s becoming partners in the fight against the Islamic State, Iran’s presence in Iraq is seen as a constraint on the American military’s role there. 
Kirk H. Sowell, an analyst based in Amman, Jordan, and editor of the newsletter Inside Iraqi Politics, wrote in an email, “The sending of ground forces to Iraq in any appreciable numbers would almost certainly open a new front in the war, with U.S. troops fighting Shia militias instead of Islamic State.”
This is what we are looking at in Iraq and Syria -- more war, much more war -- not less. Even if ceasefires are negotiated in New York next week as peace talks on Syria reconvene, there is zero indication that the U.S. has changed its position. It is still fronting for its Islamist allies.

Take the example of Russia's claim that Turkey is trading ISIS oil. According to Neil MacFarquhar's "Russia and Turkey Hurl Insults as Feud Deepens":
Although the United States has expressed frustration with the Turks for not doing more to control a roughly 100-mile stretch of border that faces territory controlled by the Islamic State, Washington has rejected the accusation that Ankara is acting in league with the militants.
What is bizarre about this is even Hillary Clinton in the last Democratic debate acknowledged that Turkey was up to no good. It has been widely reported in The New York Times that oil moves from the caliphate into Turkey, and the jihadists and weapons move from Turkey to the caliphate.

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