Middle East: 2015-08-07 Friday

Turkey’s deception.  Jonathan Spyer explains:

The strikes against Islamic State by the Turkish air force, and the decision to grant the US Air Force permission to use the Incirlik base near Adana constitute a feint.

Ankara’s stated intention of using its air power to create a 90-km. wide area of control between Jarabulus and Marea along the Syrian-Turkish border is directed against the ambitions of the Kurds, not those of Islamic State.

Why, then, has Erdogan decided to move against the Syrian Kurds?

Since January, Kurdish political stock has been steadily rising in the West. …

Read the rest at the link.  Here’s Michael Totten:

The Turkish government is finally allowing the United States to use Incirlik Air Base, just 70 miles from the Syrian border, to launch air strikes over ISIS-held territory—but only if American air power is not used to support Kurdish militias.

The United States, at this late date, is not really interested in helping anyone in Syria aside from the Kurds. All other factions fighting ISIS and the bankrupt Assad regime are Sunni Arab Islamists.

The Kurds are the only American option. But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will only allow American planes taking off from Incirlik to provide air cover for the so-called Army of Conquest, an Islamist movement backed by the Turks and the Qataris. …

Go read the rest here.

Rudaw: Turkey’s aim is to divide.

While the details of the proposed zone have not been sorted out between Washington and Ankara, some analysts believe that Turkey’s motive for wanting such an enclave is to ensure that the three Kurdish cantons declared by the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) remain territorially separated from one another.

The Turkish aim is to eventually abort the emergence of another autonomous Kurdish entity, similar to the autonomous Kurdistan Region of Iraq.

“I think the Turkish objective is to make sure there is a wedge so that the Kurds do not control the whole border,” David Pollock, the Kaufman fellow at The Washington Institute, told Rudaw. “I think the United States does not really care about that aspect of it, but it’s willing to accept it as the price for more coordination from Turkey for Incirlik,” he added.

USA / Iran:  Schumer opposes Iran deal; anti-Israel Democrats respond.  Senior Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer (NY) stated that he will oppose Obama’s deal with Iran.

Israel / Iran:  Israel could resume eliminating Iranian nuclear experts.  Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Israel ‘bears no responsibility’ for safety of Iranian nuclear scientists.

Turkey, the Kurds, and Islamic State

Business Insider: Turkey – IS links called ‘undeniable’.

A US-led raid on the compound housing the Islamic State’s “chief financial officer” produced evidence that Turkish officials directly dealt with ranking ISIS members, Martin Chulov of the Guardian reported recently.

The officer killed in the raid, Islamic State official Abu Sayyaf, was responsible for directing the terror army’s oil and gas operations in Syria. The Islamic State (aka ISIS, ISIL, or Daesh) earns up to $10 million a month selling oil on black markets.

Documents and flash drives seized during the Sayyaf raid reportedly revealed links “so clear” and “undeniable” between Turkey and ISIS “that they could end up having profound policy implications for the relationship between us and Ankara,” senior Western official familiar with the captured intelligence told the Guardian.

Radio Free Liberty / Radio Europe: Turkey seeks to stop Kurdish autonomy.

Plans by Turkey and the United States to create an “Islamic State-free zone” in northern Syria along the Turkish border will serve Ankara’s aims of stopping Kurdish militias from advancing in the area, analysts and Kurdish political leaders say.

The plan follows significant gains by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units militia (YPG) against the IS militant group in northern Syria. …

The YPG’s gains against IS have caused consternation bordering on hysteria in Ankara, which fears Kurdish autonomy.

Rudaw: Kurds angered at Turkish attacks on PKK, accuse Obama of betrayal.

Kurds took to social media to express their frustrations at Turkish air strikes on its Kurdish opposition, with many accusing Washington of giving Ankara the green light for attacks in return for use of a strategic air base.

In online postings, Kurds accused US President Barack Obama of allow Turkey to bomb the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in return for use of the Incirlik airbase in Diyarbakir for the war against the Islamic State (ISIS) group.

Rudaw posted a question on its Facebook page on Tuesday, asking if there is a connection between the PKK bombardment that Turkey has carried out since Friday, and permission to the US to use Incirlik. The question generated nearly 200 responses from Kurds and Americans who believe Obama betrayed the Kurds, while the Americans apologized on behalf of their country to the Kurds.

Richard Fernandez at the Belmont Club has more.

Interestingly, the Turks did not appear bent on annihilating ISIS with their planned strikes, simply hurting them enough to keep them on their best behavior. The Institute for the Study of War continued its description on how the planning proceeded.

The successful conclusion of these negotiations following months of talks likely came as a product of the intensifying security concerns facing the Turkish government. Turkey had previously avoided overt confrontation with ISIS and other militant groups transiting through its territory in order to apply indirect pressure to both the Syrian regime and the Syrian Kurdish YPG, which the Turkish government views as an offshoot of the PKK. This stance also enabled Turkey to limit the potential for violent terrorist attacks within its borders by providing an incentive for ISIS and other extremist groups to avoid jeopardizing their supply routes through Turkey by disrupting the status quo.

What really alarmed the Turks was that the Kurds were holding their own against ISIS.  This, plus the decline of Assad, may have pushed them into getting directly involved.

Read the whole thing at the link.

Ba’ath Roots of Daesh

Denise Natali at Al-Monitor explores the nexus between Islamic State and Iraq’s Ba’ath Party:

How could Iraqi Baathists, known for their secular ideology, find common ground with radical Salafist groups? While the presence and strength of former Baathist officers in IS appears contradictory it reflects the influence of the Jaysh Rijal al-Tariq al-Naqshbandi (JRTN), a group of Saddam’s former officers and Sunni Arab tribes that formed in reaction to the post-2003 Iraqi order. Led by Izzat al-Douri, Saddam’s former vice president and deputy chairman of the Iraqi Revolutionary Command Council (proclaimed to be killed in a recent battle in Tikrit), the JRTN represents a fusion of Islam, Sunni Arab identity and Iraqi nationalism.

This fusion can be traced to the early 1990s, when Saddam commenced his Islamic faith campaign to consolidate Baath Party power. The campaign reflected geopolitical challenges and Iraqi security priorities after the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1989) and Saddam’s attempts to control the “Zoroastrian” Iran and Persian-Shiite threat. It involved the Baath Party’s direct control of all religious policies and institutions in Iraq, creating Islamic structures, recruiting networks of spies and Islamic activists to work for the regime, and embedding Baath Party structures, members and security organs into religious circles.

By the late 1990s a “religious deep state” had emerged in Iraq, whereby most Sunni Islamic leaders and institutions that were created, co-opted and/or controlled by the regime were now inside the state. One of these institutions was the Islamic University of Baghdad, attended by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, current leader of the so-called IS caliphate. …

Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri was reported killed in a security operation, although Iraqi authorities are unable to confirm the identity of the body.

Read Natali’s article at the link.  It follows Spiegel’s revelation of secret files recovered from Samir Abd Muhammad al-Khlifawi, alias Haji Bakr.

The former colonel in the intelligence service of Saddam Hussein’s air defense force had been secretly pulling the strings at IS for years. Former members of the group had repeatedly mentioned him as one of its leading figures. Still, it was never clear what exactly his role was.

But when the architect of the Islamic State died, he left something behind that he had intended to keep strictly confidential: the blueprint for this state. It is a folder full of handwritten organizational charts, lists and schedules, which describe how a country can be gradually subjugated. …

This is a good place to mention Michael Totten’s review of ISIS:  Inside the Army of Terror by Michael Weiss and Hassan Hassan.

ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror, by Michael Weiss and Hassan Hassan, paints a gripping and disturbing picture of this new “caliphate” in the Levant and Mesopotamia. In the most comprehensive account to date, the authors chronicle ISIS’s roots as the Iraqi franchise of al-Qaeda under its founding father, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, its near defeat at the hands of Americans and Iraqi militias in Anbar Province, its rebirth during the Syrian civil war, and its catastrophic return to Iraq as a conquering army last summer. …

Go read the rest at the link, and I recommend getting the book.

World Today: 2015-04-26 Sunday

Nepal:  Earthquake kills more than 1800. Nepal ramped up efforts on Sunday to rescue people trapped in the rubble of collapsed buildings after an earthquake devastated the heavily crowded Kathmandu valley, killing at least 1,832, and triggered a deadly avalanche on Mount Everest.’

Iraq / Jordan:  Daesh car bombs hit border post, kill four.  ‘Three suicide car bombs exploded at a border crossing between Iraq and Jordan on Saturday, killing four soldiers, a witness and an Iraqi border police source said, in an attack claimed shortly afterwards by Islamic State. …’

Iraq:  Daesh captures base, dam in Thar Thar.  ‘The Islamic State seized control of a dam and overran a military barracks in the Thar Thar area in western Iraq over the past several days. Over 120 Iraqi soldiers and a senior general were killed during the Islamic State offensive.’

Israel:  Vehicular attack in eastern Jerusalem injures three.  According to police, “A Skoda car drove from the direction of the Mount of Olives cemetery to the Mukased Hospital. At the Salman al-Farsi junction it drove onto the pavement and hit three policemen. Shots were fired at the car, that kept on driving down Salman al-Farsi. The area was combed and the car that struck the policemen was located. The search continues for the terrorist.”  This follows Saturday’s stabbing attack in Hevron.

Russia / USA:  Hackers viewed Obama’s unclassified emails – NYT.  ‘Russian hackers who penetrated sensitive parts of the White House computer system last year read President Barack Obama’s unclassified emails, the New York Times reported on Saturday, quoting U.S. officials.’  The article added that the President’s email account itself was not breached, and that the compromised messages may have included ‘email exchanges with diplomats, exchanges about personnel moves and legislation, presidential schedules and discussion about policy.

Samir Abd Muhammad al-Khlifawi: The Brains of Islamic State

Just in case you haven’t seen it yet, this article in Spiegel reveals a startling discovery about the origins and plans of Daesh (Islamic State, or Isis):

Samir Abd Muhammad al-Khlifawi was the real name of the Iraqi, whose bony features were softened by a white beard. But no one knew him by that name. Even his best-known pseudonym, Haji Bakr, wasn’t widely known. But that was precisely part of the plan. The former colonel in the intelligence service of Saddam Hussein’s air defense force had been secretly pulling the strings at IS for years. Former members of the group had repeatedly mentioned him as one of its leading figures. Still, it was never clear what exactly his role was.

But when the architect of the Islamic State died, he left something behind that he had intended to keep strictly confidential: the blueprint for this state. It is a folder full of handwritten organizational charts, lists and schedules, which describe how a country can be gradually subjugated. SPIEGEL has gained exclusive access to the 31 pages …

Go to the article for the rest.

On the Rocks

I wrote before that Kurdistan has experienced enormous economic growth in recent years.  And that’s true, but it’s also true that the conflict with Daesh (Islamic State, or ISIS) over the past year has halted that growth for the time being.

I spent today taking a day trip out of town.  My driver, host, and tour guide was a young man named Saleh, recently graduated with a degree in English.  He filled me in on a few things.

Many new buildings are being built, but many others stand unfinished.  Unfinished roads and half-built overpasses litter the landscape.  The latter are a casualty of the government budget:  Erbil is entirely dependent on Baghdad for its revenue, and Baghdad has defaulted on payments to the Kurds.  (Remember, the Kurdistan region is still officially part of Iraq.)  As for the private sector, some foreign investors were scared off by Daesh; there was also the problem of foreign laborers absconding with their advance pay and fleeing to Turkey.

The Daesh attacks further strained relations between Arabs and Kurds, too, leading to Arab families being delayed and harassed at Kurdish checkpoints and vice versa.  This doesn’t do anything to make Korek an attractive destination for a family from Baghdad.

Saleh took me to the Korek Mountain Resort where we took the Teleferic (aerial tram) for a magnificent, though cloudy, view from the mountains.  (A word of caution:  if dangling hundreds of feet over rocky terrain isn’t your idea of a good time, you might want to skip this.)  It looked like a mountain resort anywhere in America, and a year ago it was packed, he told me.  But now it’s almost completely deserted.

Not for the faint of heart.
Not for the faint of heart.
Peshmerga training camp, junior division.
Peshmerga training camp, junior division.

We also stopped at Bekhal, a waterfall where you can take off your shoes and climb several sets of very slippery, wet stone steps to view the source of the mountain spring.  I made the climb, somehow overcoming my fear of slipping and breaking my neck.  The mountain tram was exciting enough, but the climb at Bekhal was absolutely terrifying.  And this site, too, looked like it was built for huge crowds who had simply forgotten to show up.


The most dangerous thing I did in the Middle East.
The most dangerous thing I did in the Middle East.

I think things are starting to take a turn for the better.  Foreign businesses are starting to realize that the Kurdish territory is, after all, very safe; just now Lufthansa has announced that it is resuming flights to Erbil.

We’re still in the off-season, so maybe things will pick up there soon.  I hope so.  And I hope the good times return soon for Kurdistan.