• Groundhog Day in Iraq? Nope, Worse

    June 23, 2017 // 31 Comments »

    petraeus-crocker-sons-of-iraq


    It’s a helluva question: “Tell me how this ends.”

    It was a good question in 2003 when then Major General David Petraeus asked it as the United States invaded Iraq, an ironic one in 2011 when the US withdrew, worth revisiting in 2014 when the US reinvaded Iraq, and again in 2017 as Islamic State appears to be on its way out. Problem is we still don’t have a good answer. It could be Groundhog Day all over again in Iraq, or it could be worse.



    Groundhog Day

    The Groundhog Day argument, that little has changed from 2003 until now, is quite persuasive. Just look at the headlines. A massive Ramadan car bomb exploded not just in Baghdad, but in Karada, its wealthiest neighborhood, during a holiday period of heightened security, and all just outside the Green Zone were the American Embassy remains hunkered down like a medieval castle. Islamic State, like al Qaeda before it, can penetrate the heart of the capital city, even after the fall of their home base in Fallujah (2004, 2016.) Meanwhile, Mosul is under siege (2004, 2017.) Iranian forces are on the ground supporting the Baghdad central government. The Kurds seek their own state. American troops are deep in the fighting and taking casualties. The Iraqi Prime Minister seems in control at best only of the Shia areas of his country. Groundhog Day.

    But maybe this time around, in what some call Iraq War 3.0, we do know how it ends.


    Not Groundhog Day

    It seems unlikely anyone will be able to get the toothpaste of Kurdish independence back into the tube. A functional confederacy since soon after the American invasion of 2003, Kurdish national forces have linked with Kurdish militias, albeit with American help, across the width of northern Iraq, from the Iranian border in the east into Turkey and Syria in the west. This is in large part the land mass traditionally thought of as Kurdistan.

    The Trump administration is for the first time overtly arming Kurdish militias in Syria (some of whom the Turks consider terrorists) to fight Islamic State, without much plan in mind about how to de-arm them when they turn towards the Turks who hold parts of their ancestral homeland. That may not even be a valid question; the ties that bound the United States and Turkey during Iraq War 2.0 appear significantly weakened following Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan’s coup. His authoritarian government seems far less a valued NATO partner in 2017 than it was even a few years ago. Though the US may require the Kurds to maintain some sort of fictional relationship with the country of “Iraq” to preserve the illusion of a unified nation for American domestic consumption, the key question is whether the Kurds will go to war with Turkey somewhere in the process, and whether the US will choose a side.

    Any reluctance on the part of the United States during Iraq War 2.0 to act as a restraining force on the Shia central government’s empowering of militias (gifted the Orwellian name of Popular Mobilization Units) disappeared when the Iraqi National Army dropped its weapons and ran from Islamic State in 2014. Those militias — only loosely allied with one another, and even less tied to the central government — now carry the bulk of the responsibility for the fight against Islamic State. Many owe their primary allegiance to Iran, who helps arm them, command them, and by some accounts supplements their efforts with special forces dispatched from Tehran. These militias, empowered by the Iranian help now offered openly as America shrugs its shoulders at expediency, are unlikely to be interested in any kind of Sunni-Shia unified Iraq post-Islamic State. It will be near impossible to demobilize them. Indeed, holding them back from committed a Sunni genocide will be the likely challenge in the near future.

    The Iraqi government “victories” over Islamic State in Sunni strongholds like Ramadi and Fallujah have left little for those not sent off as internal refugees. Large swathes of Sunni territory lay in ruins, with no clear plan to rebuild in sight. A political officer at the American Embassy would likely tell you the problem is that neither the U.S. nor Iraq will have the funds anytime in the foreseeable future. A Sunni tribal leader would likely spit on the ground and explain the Shia central government wouldn’t spend a dime if it had a dollar, and will settle for a slow-motion genocide of the Sunni people if the Americans won’t allow a quick one at Shia gunpoint. No matter; the desolation of Sunni areas is severe, regardless of the cause.

    Iraq will be a Shia nation with extraordinary ties to Iran. With no small amount of irony, the price Iraq and Iran will be forced to pay for America, and Israel, titularly accepting this will likely be permanent American military bases inside Iraq (don’t laugh until you remember Guantanamo in Soviet-dominated Cuba, or Hong Kong nestled in Communist China), mostly out of sight way out west with more interest in Syria than Iran. America has wanted those bases since the early days of Iraq War 2.0, and Iran has nothing to gain by picking a fight with the United States. They get the rest of Iraq, after all.

    What happens to the bulk of Iraqi Sunnis is less certain, though the menu is all bad news. World media optics suggest it is in everyone’s interests that any mass slaughter be avoided; Iran in particular would have no interest in giving President Trump or an angry Congress an excuse to get more involved in Iraq’s internal affairs. With the US bases most likely to be located in western Iraqi Sunni homelands, it may be that the tribes find themselves the unofficial beneficiaries of American protection. Those permanent American bases, and the safety they provide, might also keep the successor to Islamic State from moving into a power vacuum the way Islamic State did when al Qaeda found it had outstayed its welcome among the Sunni population.

    This is the End

    Tell me how this ends? A defacto divided Sunni-Shia-Kurd “Iraq” with stronger ties to Iran than the United States. The only unanswered question will be if the value of that ending is worth the cost of some 14 years of American combat, close to 4,500 American dead, and trillions of taxpayer dollars spent.

     

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    Posted in Iran, Iraq

    Whither Turkey?

    July 15, 2016 // 15 Comments »

    A friend of the blog passes on these comments:

    I have just been watching the “Breaking News” about the military coup in Turkey and have been appalled at the historical ignorance of what all of these talking heads, Wolf Blitzer, et al are telling the American people.

    Not a single anchorperson has referred to the Turkish military’s traditional role as the protector of Kemal Ataturk’s original 1920’s military coup to make Turkey a modern sectarian state rather than an Islamist Ottoman oligarchy. This was just following Turkey’s defeat in WWI and the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire, which was aligned with Germany during the war.

    All of the anchors keep referring to the coup using the phrase “the coup is attempting to overthrow the democratically elected government of Erdogan.” Not a single one has appended that statement with the explanatory note that Erdogan, whose Party is the Islamist Party in Turkey, has used his term in office to slowly restrict free speech, crackdown on a free press, suppress opposition parties, and wage endless wars against the Kurds while tacitly supporting Jihadist groups in Syria who are aligned with ISIS. His aim was to become a permanent ruler in an Islamist state.


    Another interesting sideline that our MSM carefully stays away from is analyzing the potential conflicts within the U.S. government which this coup presents.

    On one hand there must exist very close ties between the U.S. military and Turkish military, since we jointly use Incirlik air base for operations. Then there is the State Department, who is probably having kiniptions over the deal that we signed with Erdogan for Turkey to hold hundreds of thousands of Iraqi-Syrian refugees from entering Europe.

    There still is very testy question of how we can do any business with a coup government that has overthrown a NATO member government. Of course our morals on that are very loose since we helped the Egyptian military overthrow their government, but they didn’t belong to NATO.

    My feeling is that this coup is long overdue and the outcome can be positive for returning Turkey to a more open society. Turkey, under Erdogan and his party, were aligned with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf regressive kingdoms so a sectarian Turkey may cut that tie. A little light in an otherwise dismal outlook.



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    Kurd Fighter in Iraq Destroys U.S.-Made Turkish Helo With Russian-Model Missile

    May 16, 2016 // 18 Comments »

    pkk

    There’s no past in Washington. There is no sense that actions taken today will exist past today, even though in reality they often echo for decades.


    A video making the rounds online shows a fighter from a Kurdish group known as Kurdish Workers Party, or, more commonly, the PKK. Using what appears to be a Russian model shoulder fired portable air-to-air missile, the fighter is shooting down a Turkish military, American-made Cobra attack helicopter.

    The attack helo is made by the United States and supplied to NATO ally Turkey;

    The missile is of Russian design but could have been made and could have come from nearly anywhere in Eastern Europe. However, such weapons were flooded into the Middle East after the United States deposed Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi. Many such weapons simply entered the black market when the Libyan army more or less dissolved, but many appear to have been sent into the Middle East by the CIA as part of a broader anti-ISIS strategy. Some say one of the functions of the CIA station overrun in Benghazi was to a facilitate that process.

    Turkey and the United States official consider the PKK a terrorist organization. Many believe the U.S. surreptitiously supplies the PKK weapons in their fight against Islamic State. Turkey is a U.S. NATO ally who is engaged in active war against PKK.

    The U.S. supports Kurdish forces in their fight against Islamic State. The PKK is not officially supported, but anyone who believes the PKK and the “official” Kurdish militias are not coordinated parts of the same entity is either a fool or works in Washington. Or both; the Venn diagram is nearly two overlapping circles.

    The primary motivator of the Kurdish fight against ISIS is to push them out of northern Iraq and Syria to help create an independent nation of Kurdistan. This would dissolve the nation now known as Iraq. One of America’s stated goals is to preserve a unified Iraq.

    The U.S. supports NATO ally Turkey in a fight against Islamic State. Turkey allows the U.S. to fly drones and other aircraft out of its air bases, but also allows ISIS foreign fighters to cross its border into Syria one way, and ISIS oil to reach market by crossing the border the other way.


    If you can understand how all of those things can be simultaneously both true acts of the foreign policy of the United States, you are not a fool and you do not work in Washington. Or both; the Venn diagram is nearly two overlapping circles.




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    Stopping ISIS: Follow the Money

    November 17, 2015 // 10 Comments »

    ISIS-Oil

    Wars are expensive. The recruitment and sustainment of fighters in the field, the ongoing purchases of weapons and munitions, as well as the myriad other costs of struggle, add up.

    So why isn’t the United States going after Islamic State’s funding sources as a way of lessening or eliminating their strength at making war? Follow the money back, cut it off, and you strike a blow much more devastating than an airstrike. But that has not happened. Why?


    Donations

    Many have long held that Sunni terror groups, ISIS now and al Qaeda before them, are funded via Gulf States, such as Saudi Arabia, who are also long-time American allies. Direct links are difficult to prove, particularly if the United States chooses not to prove them. The issue is exacerbated by suggestions that the money comes from “donors,” not directly from national treasuries, and may be routed through legitimate charitable organizations or front companies.

    In fact, one person concerned about Saudi funding was then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who warned in a 2009 message on Wikileaks that donors in Saudi Arabia were the “most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.”

    At the G20, Russian President Vladimir Putin said out loud what has otherwise not been publicly discussed much in public. He announced that he has shared intelligence with the other G20 member states which reveals 40 countries from which ISIS finances the majority of its terrorist activities. The list reportedly included a number of G20 countries.

    Putin’s list of funders has not been made public. The G20, however, include Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the United States of America, and the European Union.



    Oil

    One source of income for ISIS is and has robustly been oil sales. In the early days of the air campaign, American officials made a point to say that the Islamic State’s oil drilling assets were high on the target list. Yet few sites have actually been targeted. A Pentagon spokesperson explained that the coalition has actually been trying to spare some of ISIS’s largest oil producing facilities, “recognizing that they remain the property of the Syrian people,” and to limit collateral damage to civilians nearby.

    The U.S. only this week began a slightly more aggressive approach toward the oil, albeit bombing tanker trucks, not the infrastructure behind them. The trucks were destroyed at the Abu Kamal oil collection point, near the Iraqi border.

    Conservative estimates are that Islamic State takes in one to two million dollars a day from oil sales; some see the number as high as four million a day. As recently as February, however, the Pentagon claimed oil was no longer ISIS’ main way to raise money, having been bypassed by those “donations” from unspecified sources, and smuggling.


    Turkey

    One of the issues with selling oil, by anyone, including ISIS, is bringing the stuff to market. Oil must be taken from the ground using heavy equipment, possibly refined, stored, loaded into trucks or pipelines, moved somewhere and then sold into the worldwide market. Large amounts of money must be exchanged, and one to four million dollars a day is a lot of cash to deal with on a daily basis. It may be that some sort of electronic transactions that have somehow to date eluded the United States are involved.

    Interestingly, The Guardian reported a U.S.-led raid on the compound housing the Islamic State’s chief financial officer produced evidence that Turkish officials directly dealt with ranking ISIS members, including the ISIS officer responsible for directing the terror army’s oil and gas operations in Syria.

    Turkey’s “open door policy,” in which it allowed its southern border to serve as an unofficial transit point in and out of Syria, has been said to be one of ISIS’ main routes for getting their oil to market. A Turkish apologist claimed the oil is moved only via small-diameter plastic irrigation pipes, and is thus hard to monitor.

    A smuggled barrel of oil is sold for about $50 on the black market. This means “>several million dollars a day worth of oil would require a very large number of very small pipes.

    Others believe Turkish and Iraqi oil buyers travel into Syria with their own trucks, and purchase the ISIS oil right at the refineries, transporting themselves out of Syria. Convoys of trucks are easy to spot from the air, and easy to destroy from the air, though up until now the U.S. does not seem to have done so.



    So as is said, ISIS’ sources of funding grow curious and curiouser the more one knows. Those seeking to destroy ISIS might well wish to look into where the money comes from, and ask why, after a year and three months of war, no one has bothered to follow the money.

    And cut it off.




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    Turkey May Invade Syria, but to Stop the Kurds, Not IS

    June 30, 2015 // 4 Comments »

    1 jeysh torki



    Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan may be planning to invade northern Syria to prevent Kurds from forming their own state there.



    Turkey to Invade Syria

    In a speech last Friday, Erdogan vowed that Turkey would not accept a move by Syrian Kurds to set up their own state in Syria following gains against Islamic State (IS). “We will never allow the establishment of a state on our southern border in the north of Syria,” Erdogan said. “We will continue our fight in that respect whatever the cost may be.” He accused Syrian Kurds of ethnic cleansing in Syrian areas under their control.

    Reports are Erdogan will send the Turkish army into Syria. Up to 18,000 soldiers would take and hold a strip of territory up to 20 miles deep and 60 miles long that currently is held by IS. It stretches from close to the Kurdish-controlled city of Kobani in the east to an area further west held by the Free Syrian Army and other rebel groups, beginning around the town of Mare. The “Mare Line” is to be secured with Turkish ground troops, artillery and air cover.



    Why This Matters

    — Turkey is entering the fighting in a big way. Turkey, a NATO country, is unilaterally and under dubious “defensive” standards invading another nation. Yeah, it’s 2015 that kind of thing happens pretty much all the time now, but it is still sort of worth noting.

    — Turkey is fighting the Kurds, a group whom the U.S. arms and supports as an anti-IS force. Anything Turkey does to weaken the Kurdish forces is in opposition to U.S. policy, may strengthen IS in the long run and may provoke some sort of political mess between Turkey and the U.S.

    — Turkish troops could easily get caught up in the general fighting now going on among IS, the Kurds and Syrian government troops, stepping smartly thus into the Syrian quagmire. Retaliation attacks by IS and/or Kurdish militants on Turkish territory may follow.

    — Kurdish forces supported by the U.S. elsewhere in Iraq may move against Turkey. This will weaken their efforts against IS in Iraq (a U.S. goal) and place additional pressure on the U.S. over whether or not to further arm, train and support them with air power.

    — NATO troops operating U.S.-supplied Patriot missiles near the Syrian border to shield member country Turkey against air attacks from Syria will be forced to either stand down completely, or try and discriminate in shooting back at an increasing crowded sky full of ambiguous good guys and bad guys.

    — Short version: a very messy situation will be getting worse.



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    Seven Worst-Case Scenarios in the Battle With the Islamic State

    October 20, 2014 // 6 Comments »

    petraeus-crocker-sons-of-iraq


    You know the joke? You describe something obviously heading for disaster — a friend crossing Death Valley with next to no gas in his car — and then add, “What could possibly go wrong?”

    Such is the Middle East today. The U.S. is again at war there, bombing freely across Iraq and Syria, advising here, droning there, coalition-building in the region to loop in a little more firepower from a collection of recalcitrant allies, and searching desperately for some non-American boots to put on the ground.

    Here, then, are seven worst-case scenarios in a part of the world where the worst case has regularly been the best that’s on offer. After all, with all that military power being brought to bear on the planet’s most volatile region, what could possibly go wrong?

    1. The Kurds

    The lands the Kurds generally consider their own have long been divided among Turkey, Iraq, Syria, and Iran. None of those countries wish to give up any territory to an independence-minded ethnic minority, no less find a powerful, oil-fueled Kurdish state on their borders.

    In Turkey, the Kurdish-inhabited border area with Iraq has for years been a low-level war zone, with the powerful Turkish military shelling, bombing, and occasionally sending in its army to attack rebels there. In Iran, the Kurdish population is smaller than in Iraq and the border area between the two countries more open for accommodation and trade. (The Iranians, for instance, reportedly refine oil for the Iraqi Kurds, who put it on the black market and also buy natural gas from Iran.) That country has nonetheless shelled the Kurdish border area from time to time. 

    The Kurds have been fighting for a state of their own since at least 1923. Inside Iraq today, they are in every practical sense a de facto independent state with their own government and military. Since 2003, they have been strong enough to challenge the Shia government in Baghdad far more aggressively than they have. Their desire to do so has been constrained by pressure from Washington to keep Iraq whole. In June, however, their military, the Peshmerga, seized the disputed, oil-rich city of Kirkuk in the wake of the collapse of the Iraqi army in Mosul and other northern cities in the face of the militants of the Islamic State (IS). Lacking any alternative, the Obama administration let the Kurds move in.

    The Peshmerga are a big part of the current problem. In a near-desperate need for some semi-competent proxy force, the U.S. and its NATO allies are now arming and training them, serving as their air force in a big way, and backing them as they inch into territory still in dispute with Baghdad as an expedient response to the new “caliphate.”  This only means that, in the future, Washington will have to face the problem of how to put the proverbial genie back in the bottle if the Islamic State is ever pushed back or broken.

    Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city and now under the control of the Islamic State, is the most obvious example. Given the woeful state of the Iraqi army, the Kurds may someday take it. That will not go down well in Baghdad and the result could be massive sectarian violence long after IS is gone. We were given a small-scale preview of what might happen in the town of Hassan Sham. The Kurds took it back last month. In the process, some Shia residents reportedly sided with their enemies, the Sunni militants of IS, rather than support the advancing Peshmerga.

    Worst-case scenario: A powerful Kurdistan emerges from the present mess of American policy, fueling another major sectarian war in Iraq that will have the potential to spill across borders. Whether or not Kurdistan is recognized as a country with a U.N. seat, or simply becomes a Taiwan-like state (real in all but name), it will change the power dynamic in the region in ways that could put present problems in the shade. Changing a long-held balance of power always has unintended consequences, especially in the Middle East. Ask George W. Bush about his 2003 invasion of Iraq, which kicked off most of the present mess.

    2. Turkey

    You can’t, of course, talk about the Kurds without discussing Turkey, a country caught in a vise. Its forces have battled for years against a Kurdish separatist movement, personified by the PKK, a group Turkey, NATO, the European Union, and the United States all classify as a terrorist organization. Strife between the Turks and the PKK took 37,000 lives in the 1980s and 1990s before being reduced from a boil to a simmer thanks to European Union diplomacy. The “problem” in Turkey is no small thing — its Kurdish minority, some 15 million people, makes up nearly 20% of the population.

    When it comes to taking action in Syria, the Turks exist in a conflicted realm because Washington has anointed the Kurds its boots on the ground. Whatever it may think it’s doing, the U.S. is helping empower the Kurdish minority in Syria, including PKK elements arrayed along the Turkish border, with new weapons and training.

    The Turkish ruling party has no particular love for those who run the Islamic State, but its loathing for Syrian ruler Bashar al-Assad is such that its leaders have long been willing to assist IS largely by looking the other way. For some time, Turkey has been the obvious point of entry for “foreign fighters” en route to Syria to join IS ranks. Turkey has also served as the exit point for much of the black-market oil — $1.2 to $2 million a day — that IS has used to fund itself. Perhaps in return, the Islamic State released 49 Turkish hostages it was holding, including diplomats without the usual inflammatory beheading videos. In response to U.S. requests to “do something,” Turkey is now issuing fines to oil smugglers, though these have totaled only $5.7 million over the past 15 months, which shows the nature of Turkey’s commitment to the coalition.

    The situation in the IS-besieged town of Kobani illustrates the problem. The Turks have refused to intervene to aid the Syrian Kurds. Turkish tanks sit idle on hills overlooking the hand-to-hand combat less than a mile away. Turkish riot police have prevented Turkish Kurds from reaching the town to help. Turkish jets have bombed PKK rebels inside Turkey, near the Iraqi border.

    American bombs can slow IS, but can’t recapture parts of a city. Short of destroying Kobani by air to save it, U.S. power is limited without Turkish ground forces.

    On the other hand, Washington’s present policy essentially requires Turkey to put aside its national goals to help us achieve ours. We’ve seen how such a scenario has worked out in the past. (Google “Pakistan and the Taliban.”) But with Kobani in the news, the U.S. may yet succeed in pressuring the Turks into limited gestures, such as allowing American warplanes to use Turkish airbases or letting the U.S. train some Syrian rebels on its territory. That will not change the reality that Turkey will ultimately focus on its own goals independent of the many more Kobanis to come.

    Worst-case scenario: Chaos in Eastern Turkey’s future, while the sun shines on Assad and the Kurds. An influx of refugees are already taxing the Turks. Present sectarian rumblings inside Turkey could turn white hot, with the Turks finding themselves in open conflict with Kurdish forces as the U.S. sits dumbly on the sidelines watching one ally fight another, an unintended consequence of its Middle Eastern meddling. If the buffer zone comes to pass, throw in the possibility of direct fighting between the U.S. and Assad, with Russian President Vladimir Putin potentially finding an opening to reengage in the area.

    3. Syria

    Think of Syria as the American war that never should have happened. Despite years of calls for U.S. intervention and some training flirtations with Syrian rebel groups, the Obama administration had managed (just barely) to stay clear of this particular quagmire. In September 2013, President Obama walked right up to the edge of sending bombers and cruise missiles against Assad’s military over the purported use of chemical weapons. He then used an uncooperative Congress and a clever Putin-gambit as an excuse to back down.

    This year’s model — ignore Assad, attack IS — evolved over just a few weeks as a limited humanitarian action morphed into a fight to the finish against IS in Iraq and then into bombing Syria itself. As with any magician’s trick, we all watched it happen but still can’t quite figure out quite how the sleight of hand was done.

    Syria today is a country in ruins. But somewhere loose in that land are unicorns — creatures often spoken of but never seen — the Obama administration’s much publicized “moderate Syrian rebels.” Who are they? The working definition seems to be something like: people who oppose Assad, won’t fight him for now, but may in the meantime fight the Islamic State, and aren’t too “fundamentalist.” The U.S. plans to throw arms and training at them as soon as it can find some of them, vet them, and transport them to Saudi Arabia. If you are buying stock in the Syrian market, look for anyone labeled “moderate warlord.”

    While the U.S. and its coalition attacks IS, some states (or at least wealthy individuals) in that same band of brothers continue to funnel money to the new caliphate to support its self-appointed role as a protector of Sunnis and handy proxy against Shia empowerment in Iraq. Vice President Joe Biden recently called out some of America’s partners on this in what was billed as another of his famous gaffes, requiring apologies all around. If you want to see the best-case scenario for Syria’s future, have a look at Libya, a post-U.S. intervention country in chaos, carved up by militias.

    Worst-case scenario: Syria as an ungoverned space, a new haven for terrorists and warring groups fueled by outsiders. (The Pakistani Taliban has already vowed to send fighters to help IS.) Throw in the potential for some group to grab any leftover chemical weapons or SCUD-like surface-to-surface missiles from Assad’s closet, and the potential for death and destruction is unending. It might even spread to Israel.

    4. Israel

    Israel’s border with Syria, marked by the Golan Heights, has been its quietest frontier since the 1967 war, but that’s now changing. Syrian insurgents of some flavor recently seized border villages and a crossing point in those heights. United Nations peacekeepers, who once patrolled the area, have mostly been evacuated for their own safety. Last month, Israel shot down a Syrian plane that entered its airspace, no doubt a warning to Assad to mind his own business rather than a matter of military necessity.

    Assumedly, the Obama administration has been in behind-the-scenes efforts, reminiscent of the 1991 Gulf War when Iraqi SCUDS began raining down on Israeli cities, to keep that country out of the larger fight. It is not 1991, however. Relations between the U.S. and Israel are far more volatile and much testier. Israel is better armed and U.S. constraints on Israeli desires have proven significantly weaker of late.

    Worst-case scenario: An Israeli move, either to ensure that the war stays far from its Golan Heights frontier or of a more offensive nature aimed at securing some Syrian territory, could blow the region apart. “It’s like a huge bottle with gas surrounded by candles. You just need to push one candle and everything can blow up in a minute,” said one retired Israeli general. Still, if you think Israel worries about Syria, that’s nothing compared to how its leadership must be fuming over the emergence of Iran as an ever-stronger regional power.

    5. Iran

    What can go wrong for Iran in the current conflict? While in the Middle East something unexpected can always arise, at present that country looks like the potential big winner in the IS sweepstakes. Will a pro-Iranian Shia government remain in power in Baghdad? You bet. Has Iran been given carte blanche to move ground forces into Iraq? Check. Will the American air force fly bombing runs for Iranian ground troops engaged in combat with IS (in a purely unofficial capacity, of course)? Not a doubt. Might Washington try to edge back a bit from its nuclear tough-guy negotiations? A likelihood. Might the door be left ajar when it comes to an off-the-books easing of economic sanctions if the Americans need something more from Iran in Iraq? Why not?

    Worst-case scenario: Someday, there’ll be a statue of Barack Obama in central Tehran, not in Iraq.

    6. Iraq

    Iraq is America’s official “graveyard of empire.” Washington’s “new” plan for that country hinges on the success of a handful of initiatives that already failed when tried between 2003-2011, a time when there were infinitely more resources available to American “nation builders” and so much less in the way of regional chaos, bad as it then was.

    The first step in the latest American master plan is the creation of an “inclusive” government in Baghdad, which the U.S. dreams will drive a wedge between a rebellious and dissatisfied Sunni population and the Islamic state. After that has happened, a (re)trained Iraqi army will head back into the field to drive the forces of the new caliphate from the northern parts of the country and retake Mosul.

    All of this is unrealistic, if not simply unreal. After all, Washington has already sunk $25 billion dollars into training and equipping that same army, and several billion more on the paramilitary police. The result: little more than IS seizing arsenals of top-notch Americans weaponry once the Iraqi forces fled the country’s northern cities in June.

    Now, about that inclusive government. The United States seems to think creating an Iraqi government is like picking players for a fantasy football team. You know, win some, lose some, make a few trades, and if none of that works out, you still have a shot at a new roster and a winning record next year. Since Haider al-Abadi, the latest prime minister and great inclusivist hope, is a Shia and a former colleague of the once-anointed, now disappointed Nouri al-Maliki, as well as a member of the same political party, nothing much has really changed at the top. Really, what could possibly go wrong?

    As for the Sunnis, American strategy rests on the assumption that they can be bribed and coerced into breaking with IS, no matter the shape of things in Baghdad. That’s hard to imagine, unless they lack all memory. As with al-Qaeda in Iraq during the American occupation years, the Islamic State is Sunni muscle against a Shia government that, left to its own devices, would continue to marginalize, if not simply slaughter, them. Starting in 2007, U.S. officials did indeed bribe and coerce some Sunni tribal leaders into accepting arms and payments in return for fighting insurgent outfits, including al-Qaeda. That deal, then called the Anbar Awakening, came with assurances that the United States would always stand by them. (General John Allen, now coordinating America’s newest war in Iraq, was a key figure in brokering that “awakening.”) America didn’t stand. Instead, it turned the program over to the Shia government and headed for the door marked “exit.” The Shias promptly reneged on the deal.

    Once bitten, twice shy, so why, only a few years later, would the Sunnis go for what seems to be essentially the same bad deal? In addition, this one appears to have a particularly counterproductive wrinkle from the American point of view. According to present plans, the U.S. is to form Sunni “national guard units” — up-armored Sunni militias with a more marketable name — to fight IS by paying and arming them to do so. These militias are to fight only on Sunni territory under Sunni leadership. They will have no more connection to the Baghdad government than you do. How will that help make Iraq an inclusive, unitary state? What will happen, in the long run, once even more sectarian armed militias are let loose? What could possibly go wrong?

    Despite its unambiguous history of failure, the “success” of the Anbar Awakening remains a persistent myth among American conservative thinkers. So don’t be fooled in the short term by media-trumpeted local examples of Sunni-Shia cooperation against IS. Consider them temporary alliances of convenience on a tribe-by-tribe basis that might not outlast the next attack. That is nowhere near a strategy for national victory. Wasn’t then, isn’t now.

    Worst-case scenario: Sunni-Shia violence reaches a new level, one which draws in outside third parties, perhaps the Sunni Gulf states, seeking to prevent a massacre. Would the Shia Iranians, with forces already in-country, stand idle? Who can predict how much blood will be spilled, all caused by another foolish American war in Iraq?

    7. The United States

    If Iran could be the big geopolitical winner in this multi-state conflict, then the U.S. will be the big loser. President Obama (or his successor) will, in the end, undoubtedly have to choose between war to the horizon and committing U.S. ground forces to the conflict. Neither approach is likely to bring the results desired, but those “boots on the ground” will scale up the nature of the ensuing tragedy.

    Washington’s post-9/11 fantasy has always been that military power — whether at the level of full-scale invasions or “surgical” drone strikes — can change the geopolitical landscape in predictable ways. In fact, the only certainty is more death. Everything else, as the last 13 years have made clear, is up for grabs, and in ways Washington is guaranteed not to expect.

    Among the likely scenarios: IS forces are currently only miles from Baghdad International Airport, itself only nine miles from the Green Zone in the heart of the capital. (Note that the M198 howitzers IS captured from the retreating Iraqis have a range of 14 miles.) The airport is a critical portal for the evacuation of embassy personnel in the face of a future potential mega-Benghazi and for flying in more personnel like the Marine Quick Reaction Force recently moved into nearby Kuwait. The airport is already protected by 300-500 American troops, backed by Apache attack helicopters and drones. The Apache helicopters recently sent into combat in nearby Anbar province probably flew out of there. If IS militants were to assault the airport, the U.S. would essentially have to defend it, which means combat between the two forces. If so, IS will lose on the ground, but will win by drawing America deeper into the quagmire.

    In the bigger picture, the current anti-Islamic State coalition of “more than 60 countries” that the U.S. patched together cannot last. It’s fated to collapse in a heap of conflicting long-term goals. Sooner or later, the U.S. is likely to once again find itself alone, as it eventually did in the last Iraq war.

    The most likely outcome of all this killing, whatever the fate of the Islamic State, is worsening chaos across Iraq, Syria, and other countries in the region, including possibly Turkey. As Andrew Bacevich observed, “Even if we win, we lose. Defeating the Islamic State would only commit the United States more deeply to a decades-old enterprise that has proved costly and counterproductive.” The loss of control over the real costs of this war will beg the question: Was the U.S. ever in control?

    In September, Syria became the 14th country in the Islamic world that U.S. forces have invaded, occupied, or bombed since 1980. During these many years of American war-making, goals have shifted endlessly, while the situation in the Greater Middle East only worsened. Democracy building? You’re not going to hear that much any more. Oil? The U.S. is set to become a net exporter. Defeating terrorism? That’s today’s go-to explanation, but the evidence is already in that picking fights in the region only fosters terror and terrorism. At home, the soundtrack of fear-mongering grows louder, leading to an amplified national security state and ever-expanding justifications for the monitoring of our society.

    Worst-case scenario: America’s pan-Middle Eastern war marches into its third decade with no end in sight, a vortex that sucks in lives, national treasure, and Washington’s mental breathing room, even as other important issues are ignored. And what could possibly go wrong with that?




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    Terror Alert! Teenager Arrested for Online Jihadi Romance

    July 9, 2014 // 4 Comments »




    Sleep soundly America, because rough men stand ready on those walls to protect you… against a confused 19 year old girl.

    The FBI arrested a Colorado teenager on suspicion of attempting to support al Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The young woman was busted at the Denver International Airport as she attempted to board a plane for Frankfurt with an onward ticket to Turkey. Germany and Turkey are members of NATO, and allies of the United States. It is not a crime to fly there.

    Love Online

    The FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force investigated the girl (pictured above) for roughly eight months before arresting her. Her crime? Supposedly she met a man online who identified himself as a 32 year old Tunisian terrorist associated with ISIL and with whom she built a romantic relationship. He encouraged her to travel to Syria to fight alongside him, because of course everyone you meet online is exactly who they say they are and especially guys who meet girls online never lie to them (there is at least some evidence that this whole thing jihad thing is just a trick to lure vulnerable foreign women into prostitution.)

    The FBI’s “investigation” of all this included meeting with the young woman in person on a near-weekly basis for six months. The FBI also met with her parents, warning them of their daughter’s “radical beliefs.” When none of these sophisticated techniques were able to prevent the terror thingie, the feds moved in for the arrest. If convicted of whatever the hell she did, the girl could face up to 15 years in prison, a $250,000 fine or both.

    The whole investigation started thanks to an alert Citizen. Law enforcement began looking into the terror girl after a security guard and pastor at the Faith Bible Chapel in Arvada, Colorado contacted police to report the girl had been wandering the campus taking notes. The girl also became “confrontational” with church staffers when they asked to see her notes. The guard thought she was suspicious and that she seemed to be “visiting the church in preparation for an attack.” It is unclear how whatever the woman was doing appeared to be in preparation for an attack.

    Seriously?

    Here’s the serious part: The girl was interviewed by an FBI special agent, at which point she said she was training in military tactics through a non-profit youth group called the U.S. Army Explorers and that she hoped to share what she learned with Islamic jihadi fighters. A few weeks later, she told the FBI agent she would be “ready to wage jihad in a year.” The suspect told the FBI, however, that her knowledge of Islam and jihad was based solely on her own research that she conducted on her laptop using Google.

    The U.S. Army Explorers, where the girl was seeking training to enable her to survive on the battlefields of the MidEast alongside hardened terrorists, describes itself as a program that “exposes cadets to what career opportunities in the military are like, and provide them first hand knowledge and experience in the many military occupational skills… Our program is a part of the Learning for Life Explorer program with the Boy Scouts of America.” The group accepts cadets as young as age 13. It costs $85 to join, but that includes an ID card and uniform patches. The girl also told the FBI she planned to use her Army Explorer skills to “train Islamic Jihadi fighters in U.S. military tactics.”

    The Price of Freedumb

    So, in what was likely the worst online dating story of the year, the FBI launched an eight month investigation leading to an airport takedown. In between they spoke numerous times to the suspect, and her parents, and no doubt must have come to the conclusion that her chances of waging jihad were about the same as her chances of finding true love on the web.

    But instead of advising her parents to take back their credit card, or wishing the young girl luck in her career at some truck stop, they bust her for basically planning to travel to Turkey– suspicion of attempting to support al Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (technically the charge was conspiracy to provide material support to terrorism.)

    The really sad part, absent wrecking this girl’s already pathetic life, is that this case will no doubt now be counted among the many other stupid examples of how the government is protecting us from the terrorists in our midst.

    BONUS: The fear-mongering idiots at ABC news described Turkey as “just hours away from the Syrian border.”




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    Things Fall Apart: Iraq

    June 27, 2014 // 24 Comments »




    The mistakes of U.S. foreign policy are mostly based on the same flawed idea: that the world is a chessboard on which the U.S. makes moves, or manipulates proxies to make moves, that either defeat, counter or occasionally face setbacks from the single opponent across the table.

    The game held up for a fair amount of time; the U.S. versus the Nazis (D-Day = checkmate!), the U.S. versus Japan (Lose an important piece at Pearl Harbor, grab pawns island by island across the Pacific, and so forth). Most of the Cold War seemed to work this way.

    And so into Iraq in 2003. The Bush administration seemed to believe they could invade Iraq, topple Saddam and little would be left to do but put away the unused chessmen and move on to the next game. In reality, world affairs do not (any longer?) exist in a bipolar game. Things are complex, and things fall apart. Here is a quick tour of that new form of game in Iraq.

    Iran

    — Iranian transport planes are making two daily flights of military equipment into Baghdad, 70 tons per flight, to resupply Iraqi security forces.

    — Iran is flying Ababil surveillance drones over Iraq from Al Rashid airfield near Baghdad. Tehran also deployed an intelligence unit to intercept communications. General Qassim Suleimani, the head of Iran’s paramilitary Quds Force, visited Iraq at least twice to help Iraqi military advisers plot strategy. Iran has also deployed about a dozen other Quds Force officers to advise Iraqi commanders, and help mobilize more than 2,000 Shiite militiamen from southern Iraq.

    — As many as ten divisions of Iranian military and Quds Force troops are massed on the border, ready to intevene if Baghdad comes under assault or if important Shiite shrines in cities like Samarra are threatened, American officials say.

    — Suleimani was a presence in Iraq during the U.S. Occupation and helped direct attacks against American troops. In particular, Iraqi Shiite militias under the tutelage of Suleimani attacked American troops with powerful explosive devices supplied by Tehran. These shaped charges were among the very few weapons used toward the end of the U.S. Occupation that could pierce U.S. armor, and were directly responsible for the deaths of Americans.

    — General Suleimani is also the current architect of Iranian military support in Syria for President Bashar al-Assad. The U.S. calls for Assad to give up power, and was steps away from war in Syria to remove Assad only months ago.

    — Should America conduct air strikes in Iraq (some claim they are already stealthily underway), those strikes would be in direct support of Iranian efforts, and perhaps Iranian troops, on the ground.

    — The United States has increased its manned and unmanned surveillance flights over Iraq, and is now flying about 30 to 35 missions a day. The American flights include F-18s and P-3 surveillance planes, as well as drones.

    ISIS

    — ISIS, currently seen as a direct threat to both Iraq, Syria and the Homeland, is a disparate group of mostly Sunni-affiliated fighters with strong ties to Syria. The U.S. is now at war with them, though it appears that as recently as 2012 the U.S. may have had Special Forces arming and training them at a secret base in Safawi, in Jordan’s northern desert region. There are reports that the U.S. also trained fighters at locations in Turkey, feeding them into the Syrian conflict against Assad.

    — ISIS has been funded for years by wealthy donors in Kuwait, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia, three supposed U.S. allies. “The U.S. Treasury is aware of this activity and has expressed concern about this flow of private financing. But Western diplomats’ and officials’ general response has been a collective shrug,” a Brookings Institute report states.

    — ISIS itself is a international group, though added 1,500 Sunni Iraqis it liberated from a Shia prison near Mosul. A senior U.S. intelligence official said there are approximately 10,000 ISIS fighters — roughly 7,000 in Syria and 3,000 in Iraq. There are between 3,000 and 5,000 foreign fighters who have been incorporated into ISIS ranks.

    Turkey

    — The New York Times reports Turkey allowed rebel groups of any stripe easy access across its borders to the battlefields in Syria in an effort to topple President Bashar al-Assad. An unknown number of Turks are now hostages in Iraq, and Turkey continues its tussles with the Kurds to (re)fine that border.

    — “The fall of Mosul was the epitome of the failure of Turkish foreign policy over the last four years,” said Soli Ozel, a professor of international relations at Kadir Has University in Istanbul. “I can’t disassociate what happened in Mosul from what happened in Syria.”

    Iraq

    — With the official Iraqi Army in disarray, Prime Minister Maliki is increasingly reliant on Shiite militias primarily loyal to individual warlords and clerics, such as the Madhi Army. Despite nine years of Occupation, the U.S. never defeated the Madhi Army. Prime Minister Maliki never had the group surrender its weapons, and now, with the Baghdad government too weak to disarm them, they exist as the private muscle of Iraq’s hardline Shias. Once loosed onto the battlefield, Maliki will not be able to control the militias. The Mahdi Army has also sworn to attack American “advisors” sent to Iraq, believing them to be a vanguard for a second U.S. occupation. Many of the most powerful militias owe their ultimate loyalty not to the Iraqi state, but to anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Sadr has much blood on his hands left over from the Occupation.

    Syria and Israel

    — Syrian government aircraft bombed Sunni targets inside Iraq on Tuesday, killing at least 57 civilians and wounding 120. Syrian warplanes also killed at least 12 people in the eastern Iraqi city of Raqqa Wednesday morning. A U.S. official said it was not clear whether the Iraqi government requested or authorized Syrian air strikes in Iraqi territory.

    Israeli warplanes and rockets struck targets inside Syria the same day as Syria struck Iraq.


    Checkmate

    It should be clear that there is no such thing as simply “doing something” in this crisis for the U.S. As with the 2003 invasion itself, no action by the United States can stand alone, and every action by the United States will have regional, if not global, repercussions apparently far beyond America’s ability to even understand.

    A chess game? Maybe, of sorts. While American interest in Iraq seems to parallel American interest in soccer, popping up when world events intrude before fading again, the other players in Iraq have been planning moves over the long game. In the blink of an eye, U.S. efforts in Syria have been exposed as fully-counterproductive toward greater U.S. goals, the U.S. has been drawn back into Iraq, with troops again on the ground in a Muslim war we thought we’d backed out of. The U.S. finds itself supporting Iranian ground forces, and partnering with militias well outside of any government control, with Special Forces working alongside potential suicide bombers who only a few years ago committed themselves to killing Americans in Iraq. What appears to be the U.S. “plan,” some sort of unity government, belies the fact that such unity has eluded U.S. efforts for almost eleven years of war in Iraq.

    In such a complex, multiplayer game it can be hard to tell who is winning, but it is easy in this case to tell who is losing. Checkmate.



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    Whither Iraq? What’s Happening Had to Happen

    June 13, 2014 // 17 Comments »




    The events unfolding now in Iraq are inevitable. They are the latest iteration of all the good we failed to do from day one of America’s ill-fated invasion in 2003.

    Some History

    Iraq before our invasion was three separate pseudo-states held together by a powerful security apparatus under Saddam. If you like historical explanations, this disparate collection was midwifed by the British following WWI, as they drew borders in the MidEast to their own liking, with often no connection to the ground-truth of the real ethnic, religious and tribal boundaries.

    That mess held together more or less until the U.S. foolishly broke it apart in 2003 with no real understanding of what it did. As Saddam was removed, and his security regime dissolved alongside most of civilian society, the seams broke open.

    The Kurds quickly created a de facto state of their own, with its own military (the pesh merga), government and borders. U.S. money and pressure restrained them from proclaiming themselves independent, even as they waged border wars with Turkey and signed their own oil contracts.

    Sunni-Shia Rift

    The Sunni-Shia rift fueled everything that happened in Iraq, and is happening now. The U.S. never had a long game for this, but never stopped meddling in the short-term. The Surge was one example. The U.S. bought off the Sunni bulk with actual cash “salaries” to their fighters (the U.S. first called them the Orwellian “Concerned Local Citizens” and then switched to “Sons of Iraq,” which sounded like an old Bob Hope road movie title.) The U.S. then also used Special Forces to assassinate Sunni internal enemies– a favored sheik need only point at a rival, label him al-Qaeda, and the night raids happened. A lull in the killing did occur as a result of the Surge, but was only sustained as long as U.S. money flowed in. As the pay-off program was “transitioned” to the majority Shia central government, it quickly fell apart.

    The Shias got their part of the deal when, in 2010, in a rush to conclude a Prime Ministerial election that would open the door to a U.S. excuse to pack up and leave Iraq, America allowed the Iranians to broker a deal where we failed. The Sunnis were marginalized, a Shia government was falsely legitimized and set about pushing aside the Sunni minority from the political process, Iranian influence increased, the U.S. claimed victory, and then scooted our military home. Everything since then between the U.S. and Iraq– pretending Maliki was a legitimate leader, the billions in aid, the military and police training, the World’s Largest Embassy– has been pantomime.

    Post-America Iraq

    But the departure of the U.S. military, and the handing over of relations to the ever-limp fortress American embassy, left Iraq’s core problems intact. Last year’s Sunni siege of Fallujah only underscored the naughty secret that western Iraq had been and still is largely under Sunni control with very little (Shia) central government influence. That part of Iraq flows seamlessly over the artificial border with Syria, and the successes of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in a war zone that now takes in both countries should not be a surprise.

    The titular head of Iraq now, Nuri al-Maliki, is watching it all unravel in real-time. He has become scared enough to call for U.S. airstrikes to protect his power. It is highly unlikely that the U.S. will comply, though covert strikes and some level of Special Forces action may happen behind the scenes. That won’t work of course. What the full weight of the U.S. military could not do over nine years, a few drone killings cannot do. It’s like using a can opener to try and catch fish.

    What Might Happen Next

    Things are evolving quickly in Iraq, but for now, here are some possible scenarios. The Kurds are the easy ones; they will keep on doing what they have been doing. They will fight back effectively and keep their oil flowing. They’ll see Baghdad’s influence only in the rear-view mirror.

    The Sunnis will at least retain de facto control of western Iraq, maybe more. They are unlikely to be set up to govern in any formal way, but may create some sort of informal structure to collect taxes, enforce parts of the law and chase away as many Shias as they can. Violence will continue, sometimes hot and nasty, sometimes low-level score settling.

    The Shias are the big variable. Maliki’s army seems in disarray, but if he only needs it to punish the Sunnis with violence it may prove up to that. Baghdad will not “fall.” The city is a Shia bastion now, and the militias will not give up their homes. A lot of blood may be spilled, but Baghdad will remain Shia-controlled and Maliki will remain in charge in some sort of limited way.

    The U.S. will almost certainly pour arms and money into Iraq in the same drunken fashion we always have. Special Forces will quietly arrive to train and advise. It’ll be enough to keep Maliki in power but not much more than that. Domestically we’ll have to endure a barrage of “who lost Iraq?” and the Republicans will try and blast away at Obama for not “doing enough.” United States is poised to order an evacuation of the embassy, Fox News reported, but that is unlikely. “Unessential” personnel will be withdrawn, many of those slated to join the embassy out of Washington will be delayed or canceled, but the embarrassment of closing Fort Apache down would be too much for Washington to bear. The U.S. will use airstrike and drones if necessary to protect the embassy so that there will be no Benghazi scenario.

    What is Unlikely to Happen

    The U.S. will not intervene in any big way, absent protecting the embassy. Obama has cited many times the ending of the U.S. portion of the Iraq war as one of his few foreign policy successes and he won’t throw that under the bus. The U.S. backed off from significant involvement in Syria, and has all but ignored Libya following Benghazi, and that won’t change.

    The U.S. must also be aware that intervening to save Maliki puts us on the same side in this mess as the Iranians.

    Almost none of this has to do with al Qaeda or international terrorism, though those forces always profit from chaos.

    The Turks may continue to snipe at the Kurds on their disputed border, but that conflict won’t turn hot. The U.S. will keep the pressure on to prevent that, and everyone benefits if the oil continues to flow.

    The Iranians will not intervene any more than the Americans might. A little help to Malaki here (there are reports of Iranian Revolutionary Guard in the fighting), some weapons there, but Iran is only interested in a secure western border and the Sunni Surge should not threaten that significantly enough to require a response. Iran also has no interest in giving the U.S. an excuse to fuss around in the area. A mild level of chaos in Iraq suits Iran’s needs just fine for now.

    Lost

    There are still many fools at loose in the castle. Here’s what Fawaz Gerges of the London School of Economics said: “There is hope… that this really scary, dangerous moment will serve as a catalyst to bring Iraqis together, to begin the process of reconciliation.”

    Brett McGurk, the State Department’s point man on Iraq, brought out a tired trope, on Twitter no less: “The U.S. has a permanent Strategic Framework Agreement with Iraq. We have suffered and bled together, and we will help in time of crisis.”

    The war in Iraq was lost as it started. There was no way for America to win it given all of the above, whether the troops stayed forever or not. The forces bubbling inside Iraq might have been contained a bit, or a bit longer, but that’s about all that could have been expected. Much of the general chaos throughout the Middle East now is related to the U.S. invasion of Iraq and how that upset multiple balances of power and uneasy relationships. The Iraq war will be seen as one of the most significant foreign policy failures of recent American history. That too is inevitable.



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    Guess Whose Embassies Get Attacked the Most?

    February 4, 2013 // 22 Comments »

    While disappointing to many that last week’s Turkish suicide bomber was not a Muslim, just a crazy Marxist, there seems to be something of a pattern. Despite its near-constant bleating that the U.S. is a force for good and sparkle pony of democracy and all, it just seems others never seem to agree. In fact, the U.S. holds the undisputed top place among all nations in number of attacks on our diplomatic institutions worldwide.

    Indeed, in her farewell address to the State Department, Hillary Clinton said “I am more convinced than ever in the strength and staying power of America’s global leadership and our capacity to be a force for good around the world.” Every president since Lincoln has said something similar.

    Unfortunately, as pretty as that sounds, it does not seem to be believed by anyone but the speakers. The Pew Global Attitudes Project shows us that after a wave of positivity for Obama in 2009 because he was not George Bush (the same wave got him a Nobel Peace prize in 2009, which must really piss the Nobel folks off now that they have sobered up), opinions of America have declined; in Europe, where we are not currently bombing and drone assassinating, America’s stock fell 15 percent. In Muslim countries, the fall was 19 percent (figure minus those Muslims killed by the U.S. between 2009-2012 of course.)

    On the other side of the mirror, some clever crowd-sourcing over at Wikipedia tells the tale.

    The U.S. leads the world in attacks on our embassies and consulates with a recorded 32. The only other nation even in double digits is France, with 10. And those numbers are actually misleading, given some of the whoppers the U.S. has experienced, say Tet in Vietnam in 1968, the embassy takeover in Tehran in 1979, the massive Nairobi bombing of 1998 and of course Benghazi 2012. The list also excludes the near-constant attacks against the U.S. mission in Iraq 2003-2011 and in Afghanistan, considering those parts of the wars and not “attacks” per se.

    It is hard to reconcile the image the U.S. holds of itself with the reality of how the very symbols of that same country are treated abroad. It is almost… almost… as if foreigners don’t see us as we see ourselves, almost as if our leaders knavishly sell us a vision of the United States that is removed from reality. Nah, couldn’t be.



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    Ryan Crocker, Please Shut Up

    April 17, 2012 // 4 Comments »

    America’s superhero Ambassador in Afghanistan, Ryan Crocker (pictured left with his senior adviser) just keeps the hits coming. After manfully mocking the Taliban for pulling off coordinated attacks all over the country, including just outside his own office windows, Crocker now turns his insightful gaze toward the future of terrorism.

    But first, a very brief history of our war in Afghanistan. 9/11 happened, with almost all of the terrorists being Saudi, using money from Saudi Arabia and having obtained their visas in Saudi Arabia courtesy of the US Department of State (not their fault, they did not have social media then). Following the Saudi-led horrors of that day, the US attacked a different country, Afghanistan, because the Saudi citizen behind some of 9/11 moved there (many other Saudi plotters went to Pakistan, which we did not attack). The stated purpose of invading Afghanistan was to find Osama bin Laden and deny al Qaeda a homey place to live and train. You can look that up on Wikipedia or something.

    So it is, well, curious, to read this quote from Crocker:

    Al-Qaeda is still present in Afghanistan. If the West decides that 10 years in Afghanistan is too long then they will be back, and the next time it will not be New York or Washington, it will be another big Western city. Al-Qaeda remains a potent threat despite suffering setbacks. We have killed all the slow and stupid ones. But that means the ones that are left are totally dedicated.


    Yeah, like, totally.

    The good news from Crocker is that he somehow knows that New York and DC will be safe next time. The bad news is that after almost eleven years of war, 100,000 troops deployed, some 2,000 dead Americans, trillions of dollars plus who knows how many dead Afghans, as well as the fact that the war has spread into Pakistan, the US has not accomplished much at all. We are in fact, Crock says, pretty much where we started and all that effort and all those American lives did nothing but lop off the slow and stupid bad guys.

    Afghans (Heart) Crocker

    Crocker also seems to have hit the executive minibar one too many times. When told by a reporter that “Some Afghans even argue that the US presence has done more harm than good in Afghanistan,” Crocker parried:

    The greatest concern that Afghans with whom we have regular contact express about the US military presence isn’t that we’re here but that we may be leaving. So it’s simply not the case that Afghans would rather have US forces gone. It’s quite the contrary.

    Of course the mind spins, wondering if the masses of Afghans upset over the US burning Quarans, peeing on their dead and of course turning wedding parties in red mush with “unfortunate” drone attacks really would love the Americans to stay– please– just a little bit longer. Maybe Crocker could put his theory to the test with a series of homestays in the homes of typical Afghans, asking each if they would like him in the particular to stay around longer? Everyone knows that foreigners want nothing more than an American Occupying Army to sit on them.

    Turks (Heart) Crocker

    In that same interview, just for laffs, Crocker also fired off a threat to the Iranians, saying mirthfully that:

    The Iranians would be making a terrible mistake to push Turkey too hard. Turkey definitely knows how to push back very, very effectively, and I think the Iranians are smart enough to understand that they had better stay within some pretty careful limits or they will pay a price they won’t like, shall we say.

    Yes, them Turks are bad asses, shall we say. Problem is in between Turkey and Iran lies Crocker’s out vacation home in Iraq, which would need to be overflown by the Turks when they go off huntin’ Iranian butt. Yeah, it’ll be cool. Crock’s got your back.

    Crocker, it is a bad idea to taunt people with weapons, especially when it is other people who will bear the burden of defending your taunts against the inevitable response.

    Maliki (Hearts) Crocker

    Lastly, Crocker wows his audience with a completely wrong retelling of reality, speaking now about Iraqi autocrat Maliki:

    Turkey knows better than anyone the deep divisions between Iraq and Iran in the aftermath of that awful eight-year ground war. Again, you understand that, as many in my country do not, that simply because the government is now led by a Shiite prime minister does not mean that he takes his direction from Tehran — quite the opposite. He is a very proud Arab and a proud Iraqi nationalist.


    Of course Crocker wouldn’t know that Maliki spent most of the eight years of the Iraq-Iran war in exile in Iran, and that Maliki owes his Prime Minister job to the Iranian-brokered deal with the Sadrists that concluded the March 2010 sham elections nine months after the voting ended. Crocker’s version of Iraq-Iran history also ends in 1990 and omits two US invasions of Iraq that followed.

    So, once again, Ryan Crocker, would you please just shut up?




    (Thanks to Ryan Crocker fan blogger Random Thoughts for the story idea)




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    In Iraq, war is the continuation of diplomacy by other means…

    January 18, 2012 // Comments Off on In Iraq, war is the continuation of diplomacy by other means…

    Only a day after Iraqi government officials summoned Turkey’s ambassador, complaining that comments made by Turkish officials amounted to meddling in its internal affairs, and warning that Turkey will “suffer,” a rocket hit the Turkish embassy compound in Baghdad.

    Indeed, at least two rockets were fired from a vehicle at the embassy in northern Baghdad, outside the heavily fortified Green Zone complex. “There were two Katyusha rockets. The first one hit the embassy blast wall, and the second one hit the second floor of an adjacent bank,” the official said.

    Maliki’s verbal attack on Turkey came after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan urged him to reduce tensions in the war-torn country, regarding a series of bombings in Baghdad. Erdoğan spoke to Maliki on the phone and said his actions are moving Iraq away from democracy, referring to an arrest warrant last month for Sunni Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi. Turkey has been trying to play a mediator role in Iraq between the rival Shiite and Sunni sects in the government.

    The rocket attacks on the Turkish Embassy in Baghdad are the equivalent of the Mafia leaving a bloody horse’s head in your bed, capice?



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    It Begins: Apre US le Deluge?

    October 26, 2011 // Comments Off on It Begins: Apre US le Deluge?

    Iraq has arrested at least 240 former members of Saddam Hussein’s banned Baath Party and ex-military officers over what some senior officials described as a plot to seize power after U.S. troops withdraw at year’s end.

    BUT…

    The crackdown will further alienate Sunnis, many of whom are deeply suspicious of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s Shi’ite-led government. The Iraqiya political bloc, a secularist group that is supported by many Sunnis and has joined Maliki’s coalition government, condemned the arrest campaign.

    BUT…

    On October 23, Ahmadinejad laid out Tehran’s strategy to CNN: “The government of Iraq, the parliament, we have a very good relationship with all of them… And we have deepened our ties day by day.”

    AND…

    And the person deepening those ties day by day? Likely Qods Force Commander, Qassem Soleimani, the man responsible for all of the Iranian regime’s covert activities in Iraq. He oversees Tehran’s relations with its militant proxies there, as well as Hezbollah and Hamas in neighboring states. He reports directly to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, and his budget comes directly from the Supreme Leader’s office.

    MEANWHILE…

    Turkish tanks entered northern Iraq‘s Kurdistan border areas to attack a camp of the anti-Ankara Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in the area on Monday, according to Turkish security sources on Tuesday. The Turkish tanks entrance into the area took place in the background of an attack by PKK forces that killed 24 Turkish soldiers last week.

    SO…

    The Kurdish government today donated one million dollars to Turkey to help in the recovery effort following the quake, official sources said today.

    AND OF COURSE…

    A number of persons have been killed or injured in a Katyusha rocket attack targeting the headquarters of the Baghdad Police Academy on Monday, a security source reported. “A number of Katyusha rockets fell on Monday afternoon on the headquarters of the Police Academy, close to the Interior Ministry building east of Baghdad, killing and wounding several people,” the security source told Aswat al-Iraq news agency.




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    It’s Complicated: Turkey, Iraq, Iran, NATO and the Sleeping US

    October 20, 2011 // Comments Off on It’s Complicated: Turkey, Iraq, Iran, NATO and the Sleeping US

    Relationships are sooooo complicated, especially when third parties get involved.

    So, like the US invaded Iraq in 2003, for freedom, and occupied the country, spent trillions on the war and reconstruction, killed 100,000 Iraqis and saw 4478 Americans give their lives… for something.

    The US did not, however, resolve any of Iraq’s relationship “issues:” the relationship between Sunnis and Shias, the relationship between Arabs and Kurds, the relationship between urban and rural areas, the relationship between those who have oil underfoot and those who don’t, the relationship between Iraq and Iran and the relationship between the Kurds and Turkey. Despite eight years and all those lives, we just did not have time to get into all those things.



    It goes w-a-y back in time, like before the Junior High Homecoming, that Turkey and the Kurds have not been friends. The Kurds are not even really part of anything to do with Iraq, but had most of their turf lopped into “Iraq” when the British, obviously drunk off their asses on absinthe and rum cocktails, hilariously drew modern Iraq’s borders. So, some Kurd stuff ended up inside the lines, and some outside the lines. Neither the Kurds nor the Turks can agree where those lines are. Same thing for the other end of Kurd-land, the border with Iran.

    So, like any other unresolved serious relationship problem, the Kurds and the Turks and the Iranians are fighting it out.

    In fact, Turkish warplanes attacked 60 targets in the mountains and border areas of northern Iraq early Thursday in pursuit of Kurdish separatist rebels suspected of responsibility a day earlier for a deadly quadruple bombing ambush on a military convoy in southeast Turkey.

    The Kurdish officials in northern Iraq also reported shelling of a Kurdish village near the border with Iran, apparently by Iranian forces, which have periodically lobbed artillery at suspected members of an Iranian Kurdish rebel group known as PJAK that operates in Iran but takes refuge in Iraq.

    It was unclear whether the Iranian shelling was a coincidence (hah hah, right).

    The Turkish airstrikes followed an artillery barrage by Turkish forces targeting 168 locations in northern Iraq, which military intelligence showed were frequented by the P.K.K., or Kurdistan Workers Party, the insurgent group that has been fighting for autonomy in Turkey’s southeast since the early 1980s.

    A bunch of people got killed, nothing was determined and more fighting will take place. Turkey is a NATO member, covered under NATO’s collective defense. That means “if a NATO Ally is the victim of an armed attack, each and every other member of the Alliance will consider this act of violence as an armed attack against all members and will take the actions it deems necessary to assist the Ally attacked.” It’s even on NATO’s website ya’ll!

    Despite this, I can’t find any public statement from NATO about Turk v. Kurd.

    Despite the US being a NATO member, and caretaker of Iraq for the past eight years (officially recognized by the UN as an occupying power even!), I can’t find any public statement from the US about Turk v. Kurd.

    Despite Obama blathering about US strategic interests in the Middle East, I can’t find any public statement from him about Turk v. Kurd.

    Despite the US having the World’s Largest Embassy (c) in Baghdad, and a very large Consulate in Kurdistan (they must have heard, right?), I can’t find any public statement about Turk v. Kurd. Not even on da’ Twitter.


    If NATO member Germany, say, attacked Outer Carjackistan today over some ancient border dispute, you’d think maybe the US would comment.

    So Obama, what does matter any more in Iraq? What’s left that we care about? Bases? Trainers? Military sales?

    Seems a damn shame to have spent 4478 young American lives for this. And man, wasn’t Jennifer Aniston freaking hot on “Friends”?



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    Erosion of main pipeline stops Iraq’s oil exports through Turkey

    September 29, 2011 // Comments Off on Erosion of main pipeline stops Iraq’s oil exports through Turkey

    The Neocon script for Iraq was clear that the flood of crude oil out of a free Iraq would pay for the war, both in actual costs and as a reward for having the courage to invade. Yeah, I know, that did not work out.

    I wrote previously about twelve reasons why Iraq will not be a major oil exporter anytime soon. Let’s have another look at reason no. 7:

    Oil Guy said the pipeline to Syria was built “back in the day” and looks like Swiss Cheese, full of holes (and a Scooby snack for the allusion!) The pipeline into Turkey is a bit better but can only handle about twenty percent of the oil, and has not had a full pressure test since 1991. That means eighty percent has to be piped down to the one deep water port Iraq has and shipped out through the Gulf by tanker. Somebody (such as Oil Guy) needs to first build all the piping and terminals and shipping stuff which are not there right now. Of course, that builder needs to be careful, because most of the countries in the neighborhood get their fresh water via desalinization plants that draw from the Gulf. An oil spill in an Iraqi port hastily thrown together would create an ecological and political disaster across the entire region that would make the BP Louisiana Gulf fiasco seem like just more spilled milk no one should cry over…


    Unfortunately, today’s news confirms the sad state of Iraq’s oil infrastructure:

    Iraq’s oil exports through the main oil pipeline, carrying Iraqi crude through Turkey, have stopped entirely, due to leakage, caused by erosion of the of the main line close to Salahal-Din Province, a source at Iraq’s North Oil Company in Kirkuk reported on Thursday. “Oil exports stopped from Kirkuk since Wednesday morning, across the Iraq-Turkey oil pipeline, because of a case of leakage of crude oil from the main line,” the source told Aswat al-Iraq news agency.


    This is not the only recent incident.

    An explosion at Iraq’s biggest oil field earlier in September sparked a massive fire that partially halted crude production. The blast, which left at least 15 people injured, occurred at a gas compressor at the Rumaila oil field, which runs along Iraq’s border with Kuwait. A maintenance team was changing equipment on the compressor when the explosion happened, causing the fire.


    Still wondering why Iraq’s oil output in 2011 is roughly the same as it was in 2003? Best read the entire article.



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    Nothing to See Here, in Iraq

    August 29, 2011 // Comments Off on Nothing to See Here, in Iraq

    Sorry to interrupt the Mission Accomplished celebrations over Libya and the apocalypse now fun with Hurricane Irene, but there is nothing to see going on in Iraq. Honest. The US continues to beg Iraq to allow us to keep troops there past 12/31/2011 because without those troops Iraq will descend in chaos or have a lot of hurricanes or something.

    For fun, here’s a listing of articles for the past few days from news site Aswat al Iraq that show nothing much going on there in Iraq:

    29 people were killed in a suicide bombing attack in a Sunni mosque in western Baghdad late Sunday. At least 37 others were wounded in the attack. A Sunni member of Parliament, Khalid al-Fahdawi, was among the dead.
    8/28/2011

    Cop killed, four wounded in Ninewa
    8/28/2011 5:37 PM

    Terrorist network arrested in Baghdad
    8/28/2011 5:32 PM

    Rockets launch gang arrested
    8/28/2011 5:23 PM

    Ministry of Women condemns Iranian-Turkish attacks on Kurdistan border areas
    8/28/2011 2:58 PM

    5 civilians injured in two Baghdad explosions
    8/28/2011 1:56 PM

    2 civilians injured in Falluja explosion
    8/28/2011 1:04 PM

    Four persons, including 2 policemen, injured, women killed in Baghdad attack
    8/28/2011 11:14 AM

    Two rocket-launching pads dismantled in Baghdad
    8/28/2011 10:44 AM

    Three civilians injured in Baghdad blast
    8/28/2011 10:37 AM

    South Kirkuk’s Tuz Khurmatu Intelligence Chief escapes assassination
    8/28/2011 10:08 AM

    Seven wanted persons for killing Babel official detained in Babel
    8/28/2011 9:53 AM

    Five Iraqi soldiers, policeman, civilian, injured in Mosul blasts
    8/28/2011 9:04 AM

    Six civilians, 2 soldiers, injured in Mosul blast
    8/28/2011 8:51 AM

    Under construction house bombed in Mosul
    8/27/2011 7:06 PM

    12 wanted arrested in Mosul
    8/27/2011 6:51 PM

    Iraqi Security Official assassinated in Diala Province
    8/27/2011 2:58 PM

    Turkish warplanes cease air raids, shelling continues
    8/27/2011 2:11 PM

    Majority of bus passengers perish in Kirkuk bus accident
    8/27/2011 11:07 AM

    Three persons killed, 4th injured from single family in Babel
    8/27/2011 10:28 AM

    Five wanted men, including leader in “Islamic State of Iraq,” detained in Mosul
    8/27/2011 10:12 AM

    Armed man killed in Mosul explosion
    8/27/2011 9:42 AM

    5 arrested in Mosul
    8/26/2011 6:27 PM

    Rockets directed at Pokka Prison, not Kuwait
    8/26/2011 2:55 PM

    5 killed, 20 wounded in Basra explosion
    8/26/2011 12:56 PM

    Iraq’s 7th Army Division Commander escapes assassination attempt
    8/25/2011 4:06 PM

    Iraqi soldier killed in Mosul explosion
    8/25/2011 3:36 PM

    Iraqi Naval Captain’s body, killed by his own family, found in his house garden in Basra
    8/25/2011 12:52 PM

    Iraqi Kurdistan’s Parliament holds session to discuss Turkish bombardment
    8/25/2011 12:29 PM

    Seven policemen killed, 3 others, 2 civilians injured in Ramadi
    8/25/2011 10:59 AM

    Iraqi soldier killed, 2 injured in Falluja, west Iraq
    8/25/2011 10:47 AM

    9 arrested in Babel
    8/24/2011 7:39 PM

    Civilian assassinated in Ninewa
    8/24/2011 6:17 PM

    2 armed gangs arrested in Basra
    8/24/2011 5:07 PM

    2 women injured in west Mosul
    8/24/2011 5:02 PM

    Over 50 Kurdish families desert their homes
    8/24/2011 1:05 PM

    Iraqi Police officer, his bodyguard, injured in assassination attempt in Baaquba
    8/24/2011 11:03 AM

    Pro-government Sahwa element killed in Baaquba
    8/24/2011 10:37 AM

    Four killed, 3 injured in explosion against immigrant family in Diala
    8/24/2011 10:29 AM

    40 million dinars stolen in attack on officer’s house in Kut city
    8/24/2011 10:17 AM

    Cop killed in Mosul
    8/23/2011 5:36 PM




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    Twelve Reasons Why Iraq Will Not Be a Major Oil Exporter, Part Two

    May 7, 2011 // Comments Off on Twelve Reasons Why Iraq Will Not Be a Major Oil Exporter, Part Two

    See Part One if you missed it…

    The Clampetts Strike Oil
    7. Export
    Oil Guy said the pipeline to Syria was built “back in the day” and looks like Swiss Cheese, full of holes (and a Scooby snack for the allusion!) The pipeline into Turkey is a bit better but can only handle about twenty percent of the oil, and has not had a full pressure test since 1991. That means eighty percent has to be piped down to the one deep water port Iraq has and shipped out through the Gulf by tanker. Somebody (such as Oil Guy) needs to first build all the piping and terminals and shipping stuff which are not there right now. Of course, that builder needs to be careful, because most of the countries in the neighborhood get their fresh water via desalinization plants that draw from the Gulf. An oil spill in an Iraqi port hastily thrown together would create an ecological and political disaster across the entire region that would make the BP Louisiana Gulf fiasco seem like just more spilled milk no one should cry over…



    8. Infrastructure
    Umm Qasr is Iraq’s only deep water port. It represents the door in for the massive amount of heavy equipment needed to extract the oil and the door out for the oil on its way to the world. The place is in terrible condition, reported to be the worst port in the Middle East. Umm Qasr is now prioritized for grain imports, needed to feed the population. Grain unloading will need to stop before oil equipment can be moved through the limited terminal space. Iraq charges some of the world’s highest port fees as well, close to $8000 for services that cost no more than $1000 anywhere else on the planet. Bribery and corruption are rumored to be nasty business (the use of the word “rumored” here by Oil Guy means “absolutely taking place.”) The Ministry of Oil is supposedly trying to negotiate a deal to bring in the extraction gear overland through Kuwait, but given that Kuwait is an oil competitor and cranky about Iraq invading it in 1991 (and still not having paid its reparations), that may not work out well. Of course the future is always bright, as Iraq has big plans to build a new port at the town of Fao; construction has only just started.



    9. Water
    You’d think oil and water don’t mix, and they don’t. However, one good way to get oil out of the ground is to pump fresh water under it, forcing the oily goodness upward. Turns out, said Oil Guy, that you need fresh water to do this because salt water clogs up the sand and does not work as well. Iraq or Oil Guy will need to build whopper-sized desalinization plants, because the supply of fresh water is decreasing as Syria, Turkey and Iran build dams that choke off the Tigris, Euphrates and other rivers that supply Iraq with its fresh water. If the oil companies decide to go with salt water, then lengthy pipelines and pumping stations which use a lot of electricity are needed instead. These would take a few years to construct.



    10. Electricity
    Iraq has an acute shortage of electricity, and a shaky, inefficient grid to move the power around. Oil work, especially all the pumping needed to shoot the oil from the extraction site to the port, needs megawatts of power that currently do not exist in Iraq and will need to be found. Everybody argues over the numbers, but we’ll go with Iraq being able to generate 4500 megawatts on demand in 2002, 4000 megawatts after the invasion, down to 3600 megawatts at present as the infrastructure degrades. Whatever the exact numbers, the curve is downward, while demand increases require it to trend upward for any hope of success. Iraq’s Minister of Electricity resigned in June 2010, a move prompted by several days of violent demonstrations in the south spurred by electricity shortages. His acting replacement, The Minister of Oil, has so far failed to achieve any growth in domestic electrical output. He has, however, increased the import of electricity, seventy-eight percent of which is now coming from Iran.



    11. Time
    Most of Iraq’s oil is in so-called “green” virgin fields, untapped. No one has done the thorough geological work that is needed, plus test wells, delineation wells (Snack!) and the like. This will take two or three years. The rest of the infrastructure needs Bob the Builder time as well so it might be four or five years before the oil starts to flow. Even some of the smaller “brown” fields that have been tapped since the 1920’s will need several years’ of work to bring into flower.



    12. OPEC
    OPEC was founded in Baghdad in September 1960 and Iraq served in a leadership role for the group until the 1990 invasion of Kuwait. Sentimentality, however, counts for little in the oil world. As Iraq cranks up its oil production, it stands to rival Saudi Arabia as a supplier to the world (US and China). More oil typically means lower prices (capitalism again) and it is possible OPEC, to include Iran, is not going to be happy to see the market flooded and oil prices drop so Iraq can be a happier place. Iraq will argue it should be allowed to over produce to make up for lost time, and the US would welcome the extra production to negate loses on the world market caused by its Iranian sanctions, but it is unclear Iraq’s neighbors will be so generous, especially as mini-revolutions spark up around the region; not a good time to mess with the economy. In December 2009 Iran may have been testing out a preemptive warning shot when it sent troops across the border to briefly occupy an Iraqi well head in Fakka. Given the naughty role other OPEC neighbors such as Syria and Saudi Arabia even now play in the shadows of Iraqi politics and security, this might turn out badly (violence).

    One pundit argues that the war was all about oil, so much so that the original name was Operation Iraqi Liberation (OIL), only later changed to Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). Only his argument is that the goal was to seize and then sideline Iraq’s reserves to keep the market price high for a barrel of that sweet, sweet black gold.

    Kuwait is already lining up for a fight. Kuwait will attempt to seize Iraqi oil assets abroad when international legal protections end on June 30 – a move that will create problems for the international oil companies that are paid by Iraq in crude in lieu of (unavailable) hard currency. Kuwait seeks to enforce a 2006 British Court ruling against Iraqi Airways, for stealing $1.2 billion worth of equipment during the first Gulf War. Good times ahead.

    So given all these things to do before they get totally oil drunk rich, you’d think Iraq would be out there getting crazy on oil work, staying up late and working weekends. They are not.

    In 2009 the Ministry of Oil spent only $391 million dollars out of an allocated budget of $1.4 billion. Capital spending on oil represented twenty-seven percent of the country’s budget, not bad until you see that even the “Other” category in the budget was twenty-one percent. The Ministry of Finance is having a hard time coordinating all this money, having been suicide bombed three times since August 2009. Oil Guy said he had been to their most recent temporary offices (a brave man, and another Scooby snack!) and they had plastic garbage bags filled with unpaid invoices piled up. They were months behind on accounting and have no idea what their revenues and expenses might be. The country is run literally on paper ledger-based accounting systems. To make things worse, oil output in June 2010 actually fell over the previous month’s total. Fast forward: In March 2011, Iraq’s oil exports dropped two percent compared to the previous month.

    So who cares, right? Iraq has gotten along being poor for awhile now and while it has not been pretty, it has remaining stable. We in the West have all mumbled along without Iraqi oil for like, dude, forever, and drive rainbow-powered Prius’ and have solar powered iPads. Cool, we don’t need the oil. But Iraq does. It really needs the oil really badly because Iraqis continue to have babies.

    Iraq has a population of about thirty million people, with a median age of twenty years old. The population growth rate is 2.5 percent (neighbor Iran by comparison has a population growth rate of less than one percent). Iraq is going to see a huge population bulge and needs to create some 250,000 jobs a year every year for awhile to accommodate all these people. The oil industry is not labor intensive; oil can produce enormous wealth but not so many jobs. Iraq’s financial future is based on becoming something of an oil welfare state, using the oil revenues to fund education (the last comprehensive budget allotted only four percent to education), infrastructure and jobs for its growing population. People without work tend to drift, and in a country where the oil deposits are not equally distributed and where folks seemingly join up with insurgent groups like we patronize drive-throughs for burgers, that is a bad recipe.



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