Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Turkey's Role in the Syrian Conflict.-'Ankara tries to recast war on terror'

The geopolitical stakes for the west's NATO ally in Turkey seldom get discussed in connection with the risky power game Recep Tayyip Erdogan's authoritarian government has been playing in its attempt to hijack the insurgency against Assad for its own political ends.

When Putin backs insurgents in Ukraine as part of a reassertion of Russian regional power he gets demonised and punitive sanctions get imposed. Putin's Russia is labelled a neo-Soviet threat. Where Erdogan has tried on a similar 'neo-Ottoman' strategy there is little public media criticism.

One difference is while Erdogan is trying to use its backing for Sunni Arab militants to prevent ethnic-nationalist secessionism from the Kurds of Syria-dominated by the YPD-Putin appeared to have encouraged it by championing Russophone Ukrainians in the south and east of its neighbour.

However, as threats to global security are concerned Erdogan's position is that ISIS is less a problem than the Kurdish militants. But the reason for Erdogan's previous backing for Sunni jihadists, in alignment with Qatar, was spelt out in this piece for Gulf News. Seyed Hossein Mousavian, an Iranian diplomat and Princeton University scholar wrote,

' energy, a factor in many global conflicts, plays a role in the Syrian conflict. The European Union is in desperate need of diversifying its gas supplies, especially in the wake of the Ukrainian crisis. The EU is worried about its dependence on Russian gas and is looking for alternative sources of supply. As a result of Turkey’s geographical position — located between large energy producers and the EU market — Turkey can play a substantial role in contributing to Europe’s energy security. The overthrow of Al Assad would put an end to the proposed Iran-Iraq-Syria natural gas pipeline running from the Iranian-Qatari South Pars/North Dome field towards Europe via Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. This would provide Turkey with a unique position acting as a European energy hub.

A pro-Turkish, Muslim Brotherhood-dominated Damascus government could potentially have closer relations with Hamas and would thus expand the influence and role of Turkey in the so-called Middle East peace process. Meanwhile, a like-minded Muslim Brotherhood government in Damascus would, regarding regional politics, weaken the role of Iran and Russia’s alliance on the one hand and the Gulf Cooperation Council countries’ on the other.
Iran and Syria have been the main corridor for Turkey’s export to the Arab-rich Middle Eastern countries. Given that Iran is viewed as a regional competitor by Turkey, disconnecting Syria from Iran and establishing a Muslim Brotherhood government in Syria would afford a secure trade passage for the export of Turkish goods to the Arabian Gulf and Middle Eastern countries as a whole....

Erdogan’s economic successes distorted his and his party’s perception of Turkish capabilities. Coupled with the religious and ultra-nationalist vision he subscribes to, this overestimation encouraged adventurist policies. Such overreaches have been motivated by the desire to curb Iran’s role and influence in the region and rebuild a new version of Ottoman Empire presumably linked to the ebb and flow of conflict between Ottoman Turks and the Safavid Persians in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Turkish policy is actually not so dissimilar from that being put forward by Putin, a policy better termed 'neo-Tsarist' in its attempt to reassert Russian influence in regions once part of the Russian Empire and then, after that, part of the Soviet Union until 1991 when it collapsed.

However, while both powers are up to pretty much the same, only Russia is singled out for criticism and condemnation. This is not only a question of mere 'politics' but of conflicts over access to resources and control over supply routes which threatens to become more psychopathological.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Answers to Some Questions: Energy Geopolitics in the Eastern Mediterranean

Why is Turkey not doing more to fight ISIS ?

Turkey under Erdogan has a neo-Ottoman strategy and so is more concerned with Assad remaining in power than it is with ISIS. Erdogan fear Kurdish irredentism as a force in northern Syria spilling over into southern Turkey as well as the fact Assad poses as an ally of the Azeris in its northern neighbour. Erdogan is fixated on Assad being overthrown not merely because he is portrayed as a threat to Turkey ( Syria having also had expedient ties across the borders with the PKK as far back as the 1980s during the Cold War ). The collapse of the Baathist dictatorship also presented the opportunity to back the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood and those forces which would back a Qatar-Turkey pipeline which would assist in recreating Turkey as a regional power and east-west energy transit hub.

The west backs that vision as the EU states want to reduce dependency upon Russian gas,  especially in the light of the Ukrainian crisis and the war in the east of that country. In fact, the instability in Ukraine has all the more raised the stakes in Syria for Turkey which at all costs wants Assad to be deposed no matter the threat of ISIS which it sees as a lesser problem than the Syrian leader and Iran's rival bid for regional influence in the Levant in potential alliance with Russia. Putin backs Assad because it has had he right to explore its Eastern Mediterranean gas reserves since December 2013 , much to the outrage of Sunni rebel oppositionists. Turkey, however,  has to tread carefully with Russia, however, as it supplies a lot of Turkey's gas and holds a potentially decisive role in the Eastern Mediterranean in regards to backing the gas pipeline routes from Israel either towards Turkey or via Cyprus ( by-passing Turkey altogether ).

Is the Cyprus Conflict going to be resolved ?

The Cyprus conflict was on course for being resolved but the potential for conflict has been rekindled since 2010 with the discovery of huge reserves of gas off the Cypriot coast ( the Aphrodite field ). Turkey under Erdogan fancies itself as a neo-Ottoman regional power and east-west energy transit hub. So it is set to quarrel over Greek Cypriot claims and even threatened naval action to prevent it. One reason is Israel is looking towards Cyprus as the route to export its gas westwards in a move that would by-pass Turkey completely. So these new geopolitical rivalries are cutting across the old Cold War alliances and it explains why Turkey has been so critical of Israel over Gaza and why it has sought to depose Assad in Syria: the stakes are a lucrative gas pipeline connecting the Persian Gulf and Qatar's gas directly with the Eastern Mediterranean and hence EU markets.

But don't the discovery of oil and gas reserves also increase the potential benefits of co-operation ?

While energy interests can bind nations together, there is always the potential for them to lead to intractable conflicts where they are bound up with unresolved ethnic enmities. These are clear across all those areas now in the throes of conflict from Syria to Iraq and those in danger from being affected by the spill over of these wars such as Lebanon and. maybe, even Cyprus. These ethnic and sectarian tensions were sharpened by the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after World War One, kept at bay by the creation of secular dictatorships which have now collapsed and so led to a resurgence of older hostilities and renewed geopolitical rivalries that go back to the age of empires before 1914.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

The Dangers of Turkey's Neo-Ottoman Strategy: The Kurdish Question and the 'Islamic State'

“They want to cut off Kobani’s connection with the rest of the world....Turkey is not allowing in fighters or weapons, but they send aid at Mursitpinar. The Islamic State wants to destroy this gate so that we will be completely trapped here.”- 'Dicle'-commander for the YPG, the Syrian Kurdish militia
“The PYD is for us, equal to the PKK. It is a terror organisation. “It would be wrong for the United States with whom we are friends and allies in Nato to talk openly and to expect us to say ‘yes’ to such a support to a terrorist organisation.”-President Erdogan of Turkey
“Iraq is our main effort, and it has to be, and the things that we’re doing right now in Syria are being done primarily to shape the conditions in Iraq.”-General Lloyd Austin, the commanding officer of US Central Command
Turkey has made plain that it would not be prepared to allow US arms arms transfers to Kurdish fighters who are fighting  Islamic State (ISIS) militants in the Kurdish held town of Kobani in northern Syria. This, as US planes have steeped up air strikes against ISIS fighters, underscores US-Turkish divisions over strategy.

While the creation of an Islamic State has led to the idea the West is at war with it, there remain two separate conflicts against it in Iraq and Syria over which the West and Turkey are increasingly divided as Turkey is not onside in the determination to destroy ISIS in Syria.

The war against IS is primarily one to protect Iraq from collapsing and not only about destroying IS as a terror threat. This is why US air strikes are regarded as part of a Third Iraq War which follows in continuity with the previous  US war and occupation in Iraq that started in 2003 and ended in 2011.

IS was not considered a major threat to US interests until it destroyed the Sykes-Picot borders between Iraq and Syria. This border, drawn up in 1916 is detested by ISIS as a symbol of an evil western imperialist plot to divide Sunni Arabs from living in one state.

As Malise Ruthven points out the Sykes-Picot border 'stands near the beginning of what many Arabs view as a sequence of Western betrayals spanning from the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire in World War I to the establishment of Israel in 1948 and the 2003 invasion of Iraq'.

Though depicted as a more brutal successor to Al Qaida, Islamic State gained traction because enough Sunni Arabs have rallied to it as means to carve out a viable oil state in opposition to the Shi'ites in both Syria and Iraq, supported by Iran, and the Kurdish militias which are also intent on a Kurdish state.

Sunni Arabs remain outraged that while Kurdish designs have received a certain degree of sympathy from the west, what is deemed appropriate for them is not seen as possible for Sunni Arabs. The restoration of the caliphate has a cultural resonance for those who feel they have been dealt a humiliation

Part of the problem is that Sunni Arabs remain stuck within two western created states where they are cut off from having any real stake in the oil wealth in either. The US tacitly allowed Shi'ite militias to ethnically cleanse Sunni Arabs as means to defeat the insurgencies against them.

The US colluded in having the Shia in positions of power the better to extricate itself from the Iraqi quagmire in 2011 and have the oil of the southern regions protected. But the price of that strategy was that as the Syrian civil war became more protracted, more Sunni Arabs felt more victimised.

Despite the propaganda value of having Western Sunni jihadists supporting IS, it is mostly an extreme Sunni Arab Islamist movement tinged with Arab ethnic supremacy over those standing in the way of control over oil; the Kurds are Sunnis but are seen as tools of the US and Israel

Syria is only important for the US in so far as it is a base for ISIS in Iraq. Thee ISIS threatens Baghdad and, potentially, the present and future of Iraqi oil supplies to the global economy. The US only intervened militarily in August when it was clear ISIS could menace Baghdad and the oil rich Kurdish regions.

Turkey, with NATO's second largest army after the US, would not be prepared to back the US in having a military role in Syria that would destroy IS while leaving Assad in power in Damascus and so potentially enhancing the power of the Kurdish YGP militias.

Turkey has no interest in destroying IS if the cost of that would be that Assad's Alawi dominated state survives and where it could revive its geopolitical support for the PKK in northern Syria and southern Turkey. Turkish air strikes on PKK positions in the border regions demonstrated its open hostility to it.

One reason is that the PKK stands in open opposition to what Norman Stone and Mark Almond call Ankara's neo-Ottoman policy of backing Sunni Islamist fighters against Damascus and so opening up the way for Syrian space to be controlled by those favourable to a Qatar to Turkey gas pipeline.

Mark Almond emphasises that the Justice and Development Party (AKP) ' has its roots in an Islamic reaction to the tide of secularism that swept the country after Ataturk abolished the Ottoman caliphate 90 years ago'. So AKP leader Recep Tayip Erdogan wants to reorient Turkey 'eastwards' once more,

In Almond's view, Erdogan wants to recast Turkey away from the secular nation state created by Ataturk and after becoming President in August 2014 he 'has achieved a political dominance unparallelled since Ataturk’s death in 1938 while being 'the antithesis of modern Turkey’s father-figure'.
'Ataturk wanted to distance the new Turkey from the Ottoman Empire’s involvement with Arabs and Muslims. Europe is the future, forget the past was his motto. Yet neo-Ottomanism is the grand name of Erdogan’s foreign policy today. Although AKP leaders have publicly remained loyal to Turkey’s application to join the EU, the lure of religious solidarity with Sunni Arab movements from Hamas in Gaza to the Muslim Brothers of both Egypt and Syria has had a stronger emotional pull'.
This policy has backfired completely because the policy of arming and training Sunni jihadists has led, in a form of 'combat Darwinism' to the survival of the most brutal militants in in ISIS. It regards not only the west and the Kurds as enemies but also Turkey for having abolished the caliphate in 1924.

As ISIS has ethnically cleansed Kurdish land in Syria and sent 200,000 Kurds across the border, Turkey's botched policy has had the unintended effect of increasing demands for a Greater Kurdistan from the Eastern Mediterranean through to the Iranian border.

The movement for that is feared in Ankara not only because Turkey would cease to have the borders created in 1923 with a huge part of the south east detached, it would also have a potentially richer oil state  and regional power rival. For Turkey imports most of its energy from Russia.

The entire purpose of Erdogan's Syria and Iraq policy was to keep the Kurds disunited while drawing closer Barzani's Iraqi Kurdistan into an energy partnership, That would have seen Turkey directly exporting Kurdish oil and gas without it having to be transported through the Iranian controlled Straits of Hormuz.

Turkey wanted to include Kurdish northern Iraq into its new state back in 1919 but were opposed by Britain which wanted oil revenues and a strategic mountainous frontier to their protectorate. The danger in 2014 is that the plight of the Syrian Kurds of Rojeva could lead to greater demands for one Kurdish state.

With Turkey failing to protect the Syrian Kurds and even attacking the PKK, which provides most of the fighting power of the YGP in Syria, it could be faced with a full scale Kurdish uprising which would make it difficult for those in oil rich Kurdish Iraq to disown without angering their own support base.

There is also the fact that rivalry over the gas of the Eastern Mediterranean and pipeline routes has since 2010 set Turkey increasingly against Israel. Tel Aviv is alone in blatantly supporting independence for Iraqi Kurdistan as a means to thwart both Turkey and Iran's regional strategy in Iraq and Syria.

Given that it is the Kurdish peshmerga which is going to provide the bulk of the ground force to repel ISIS, it is hardly surprising that Turkish strategy is going to be increasingly at odds with that of the US which does not want to be dragged back into Iraq or forced into Syria to get rid of Assad.

Yet in 'degrading ISIL', the beneficiary is Assad. If Turkey invaded Syria to save Kobani it would risk war and conflict with ISIS which could then provide an opportunity for it to get the apocalyptic war with the west it craves. If Turkey does nothing it would face a full scale Kurdish insurgency.

If Turkey went into Syria, to drive back ISIS, which it would be threatened by if Kobani fell anyway, and it would incur the hostility of those who regard Syria's inviolable sovereignty under the rule of Assad as an essential regional interests: Russia backs Assad because it wants access to offshore gas.

Western foreign policy is hopelessly contradictory because the Near East is riven by geopolitical rivalries that cut across the old convenient Cold War alliances. The west would prefer assistance to the Kurds not least because Turkish inaction makes a mockery of the idea of 'humanitarian intervention'.

Turkey regards Kurdish irredentist movements as a mortal threat to their plans to recreate Turkey as an east-west energy hub. The Sunni enemies of Assad do not want a Kurdish state craved out in Syria which would potentially include the oil rich Rumalian fields and leave the Sunni Arabs with little of value.

Pushing Turkey into taking a lead role in defeating IS would be a preferred option in the West but for Turkey it could set off unpredictable and dangerous consequences for the region if Turkey tried to use smashing ISIS as a pretext for then taking out Assad in Damascus.

Without diplomacy to try to bring together all the contending regional and global players with interests in Syria, especially Iran and Russia, Turkish involvement in Syria could create greater tensions and the prospect of even more protracted wars across the region even reaching into a NATO member state.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

The Significance of the Battle for Kobani in Syrian Kurdistan.

“There’s growing angst about Turkey dragging its feet to act to prevent a massacre less than a mile from its border. After all the fulminating about Syria’s humanitarian catastrophe, they’re inventing reasons not to act to avoid another catastrophe. This isn’t how a Nato ally acts while hell is unfolding a stone’s throw from their border.”-Unnamed US official, quoted in the New York Times.
“Turkey is determining what larger role they’ll play broadly as a part of the coalition moving forward, and that conversation is ongoing,”-State Department spokeswoman, Jen Psaki,
Turkey's military stance, in doing little or nothing to assist the Syrian Kurds fighting in Kobani, the symbolic stronghold of Rojava ( Syrian Kurdistan ), is one determined by the fact Erdogan and Davutoglu regard the Kurdish Workers Party ( PKK ) and ISIS both equally as official terrorist threats.

Unnamed officials within the Obama administration in the US may voice criticism of Turkey failing to act to prevent a massacre but this is 'public diplomacy'. The Turkish position on the Kurdish cause in Syria is nothing new nor it its previous preferntial backing for Sunni jihadist groups against Assad.

The US does not want the humanitarian pretext for intervention used to justify air strikes in Iraq to prevent the Yazidis and Kurds from being slaughtered to be shown up as hollow by Turkish inaction in Syria. But the fact remains that US military intervention in Iraq was mostly about protecting oil supplies.

Syrian Kurdistan is nowhere as nearly rich in oil as the Kurdish autonomous region of Iraq. As the power of the Free Syria Army crumbled and became limited to the far north west of Syria bordering Turkey, the north east has become essentially a battleground between the Kurds and ISIS.

Turkey has no interest in either the Kurdish YGP or Islamic State winning out and controlling the contested Rumelian oil fields of the far north east, the largest oil reserves in Syria. The YGP is dominated by the PKK, an organisation which is on the US list of official terrorist groups.

Until April 2014, when ISIS was clearly ascendent in both Sunni Arab parts of Syria and Iraq, the Sunni militant group Al Nusra was not even on the Turkish list of proscribed terrorist organisations. So the attempt to prevent Turkish Kurds fighting to protect Kobani has led to violent outrage at the double standards.

The riots against Turkish border forces and the clashes that left 14 Kurds dead could well lead to the militant Kurdish factions dominated by the PKK to threaten an insurgency against Turkey. The fact the Turkish security state collaborated with Sunni militants has led to accusations it directly backs ISIS.

The fate of Kobani is being used as a political chess piece in the proxy conflict between warring militias in Syria and the geopolitical ambitions Turkey has in alliance with Qatar in overthrowing Assad. The Turkish backed Syrian National Council would not tolerate the Kurds dominating Syrian oil reserves.

This is why Ankara has tried to strike a deal in which the YGP would have to fight with the FSA if military assistance were to be given from Turkey. This would mark a complete reversal from the situation in 2013 when the FSA was aligned with ISIS in fighting against the Kurds.

Despite the Kurdish YGP wanting freedom from Damascus, it was prepared to make an informal truce with Syrian government forces so that the FSA would be fighting on two fronts against Assad to the west and south of Syria and in the north and west. So Turkey and Qatar upped the aid to the Sunni militants.

The consequence of all this shoddy realpolitik is that Turkey faces the ultimate nightmare of being in a position where the only way of avoiding being in the firing line against ISIS is to use the threat to cajole the Kurds into supporting an FSA that colluded in 2013 with those wanting to exterminate them in 2014.

Ankara is anxious that if it assisted the Syrian Kurds it would give impetus towards the movement for a Greater Kurdistan. Yet if the Kurdish region of Rojava is completely taken by ISIS it would mean the IS caliphate would be within clear striking distance from the southern border of a NATO state.

Moreover, if an Islamic State is created contiguously with the Turkish border with the Kurds ethnically cleansed, not only would there be the threat to Turkey from ISIS. Kurdish militants would resume their campaign against Ankara. The PKK leader Abdullah Ocelan made that plain in a message from prison.

If the Kobani is allowed to fall, the YGP could even align with Damascus: the PKK had a history during the Cold War of allying with Hafez al-Assad and these links were once more cultivated after the Syrian Civil War broke out in 2011 as a check upon Turkey's support for Sunni Arab militants.

For ISIS the stakes are no less important: if it were to control most Syrian oil and moved towards the Turkish border, it would keep open the supply lines for Sunni militants crossing and also the revenues from the illicit sale of oil, most of which is smuggled in across the long 640 km long border.

Turkish forces are still having a huge task closing down these pipelines from Syria into Turkey where most of ISIS's oil is channelled ( despite Cameron's claim that it is Assad funding ISIS through buying its oil ). It is thought certain corrupt members of Turkey's 'deep state' profit from these sales.

If ISIS plants itself on the southern flank of NATO, the consequences could be that Turkey faces a Kurdish insurgency and attempted ISIS attacks which would then mean, in accordance with Article 5 of the NATO charter, that all the western member states would be drawn in to defend Turkey.

While NATO and Turkey insist there are contingency plans in place to prevent ISIS attacking the southern border by creating a security zone in the border zones,  this could well be menaced by ISIS whose apocalyptic ideology has it that the west and its regional allies are in a cosmic struggle with 'true' Islam.

The prospect of sucking the entire west into the Syrian quagmire is going to be tempting for ISIS. The Turkish Defence Minister İsmet Yılmaz already invoked NATO's  collective responsibility 'If there is an attack on Turkey, Nato will bring about the provisions of Article 5 of the Washington Convention."

Sunday, 5 October 2014

The Kurdish Question and the New Great Game for Oil and Gas in the Near East.

The siege of the Kurdish city of Kobani in northern Syria demonstrates the futility of thinking air strikes alone could decisively make a difference to the war on the ground. Sunni jihadists are advancing as opposed to retreating in the absence of any coordinated political response to defeating 'Islamic State'.

The US was prepared to launch air strikes in Syria because it regards defeating 'ISIL' in Iraq as the overriding priority. Britain, however, has been reluctant to because, far more than Washington, London is very anxious about pleasing Qatar and so its main regional ally in Turkey.

The US is mostly concerned with ensuring Iraq does not collapse because that would endanger Saudi Arabia and Kuwait as well as defeating the main strategic aim and gain of the Second Iraq War in ensuring increased Iraqi oil production, stable oil prices and relatively cheap consumer goods imported from Asia.

While most western states share US energy interests in this regard, Britain and France are far more beholden to Qatari-Turkish geopolitical strategies which seek to rival Russia and Iran in Iraq and especially Syria where there is competition for influence over the gas reserves of the Eastern Mediterranean.

Discovered in 2009-2010, the Levant basin has led to renewed regional rivalries which cut across the old Cold War lines and led Turkey into increased hostility towards Greek Cypriot claims to the Aphrodite gas fields lying off the coast of Cyprus as well as the enmity shown towards Israel.

Turkey has clashed with Israel over its wars against the Sunni Palestinian Muslims of Gaza, one which is crucially concerned with protecting Israeli gas interests as well as over the way Israel has shown interest in cooperating with Russia to exploit its gas and pipe it via Cyprus and so by pass Turkey completely.

Turkey and Qatar from the outset of the conflict in 2011 between Assad and Sunni rebel groups backed the latter so as to realise such designs such as a Qatar-Turkey gas pipeline and to exert more control over the development of Syria's offshore gas against Russian influence and domination.

Turkey has developed what Norman Stone calls a 'neo-Ottoman' policy, one in which Sunni Arab and Sunni Muslim interests are courted by Erdogan to win domestic support and that of regions with the oil and gas resources Turkey lacks and would like to control from Lebanon to Syria and into Iraqi Kurdistan.

Yet Ankara, in fact, has shown reluctance to be involved in any military effort to defeat ISIS that would empower the Kurdish YGP fighters in Syria. Yet it is courting Barzani's Kurdish autonomous region in Iraq so as to draw it into an economic partnership based on Turkey becoming an major energy export route.

The double game played by Erdogan is about benefiting from Kurdish oil while trying to keep a lid on moves for independence to the west in Syria, where the YGP is in battle with ISIS over border regions with oil, and southern Turkey, where there is little oil and every benefit in unifying with regions which have it in abundance.

The worst scenario for Turkey would be that their support for Barzani in Iraqi Kurdistan and the fate of the Kurds in Syria fighting ISIS along with the US could lead to demands for a Greater Kurdistan, one reason Erdogan and Turkish government officials have compared the terrorist threat of ISIS with that of the PKK.

Kurdish Iraq with its capital Erbil has become one of the globe's most lucrative oil regions and the increased wealth it has developed and its ability to defend itself against ISIS is bound to be regarded as an indication of the sort of security and prosperity the Kurds in Syria and Turkey could have as well.

Already Kurdish Iraq is moving ever closer towards independence from Baghdad and wanting something in return for hosting western multinational oil corporations such as Exxon Mobil and beating back ISIS from the Mosul Dam and so saving the Iraqi state from potential destruction.

The Kurds consist of up to thirty million people spread across the Middle East from Turkey, through Syria and Iraq into the western parts of Iran. They could well be regarded as the world's largest ethnic group without a state in an age when the West has supported self-determination in places such as Kosovo.

As the states of Iraq and Syria created after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire during the First World War by France and Britain disintegrate, Turkey has moved towards asserting its influence in both in opposition to ISIS which has countered the neo-Ottoman strategy with its own version of the Caliphate.

While Turkey's claims as a regional power depend upon retaining a 'state-nation' based on ethnic and religious diversity, ISIS detests the Ottoman Empire as a fake usurper of the caliph's position which became an office absorbed into the Sultan's power when it the 'real' Islamic empire was essentially a Sunni Arab one.

The Caliphate was abolished in 1924 but for Sunni Arabs in Iraq who lost out to the Shia and the Kurds after Saddam Hussein was deposed in 2003, the symbol of lost unity and the fact ISIS is using oil revenues to fund welfare for Sunni Arabs in Syria and Iraq is giving it some appeal.

Saddam's regime was one dominated by the Sunni Arabs. ISIS is ruled and run by former members of the secular Baath Party who converted to radical jihadi-Islamist in American prisons where the Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdad was also detained. In a sense, ISIS is the expression of a radical Sunni Arab nationalism.

The Kurds are Sunni Muslims but would prefer the promise of self determination to be realised in their case as one of the USA's most steadfast allies in the region, one reason Israel as a non-Arab state has gone further than America in calling for Kurdistan to be a made an independent republic.

Turkey, however, has little interest in supporting any western military effort that would end up empowering the Kurds in Syria such as arming or training their troops. Arming them would mean the weapons could be turned against Turkey. But Kurdish fighters are the only force that could defeat ISIS in northern Syria.

The Free Syria Army is, as Patrick Cockburn has pointed out, nothing more that a CIA led group since Sunni militants splintered off from it to fight against both it and Assad and the Kurds. The idea it could act as a 'third force' to destroy ISIS or Assad's military is a piece of abstract geopolitical fiction.

The only way to defeat ISIS has to involve a truce between Assad and the FSA and Syrian National Council or else, by default, ISIS and Sunni militants such as Al Nusra are bound to be the only powerful ground force in northern Syria apart from the Kurds whose fighters are deeply distrusted by Turkey.

Indeed, in the summer of 2013 the FSA and ISIS were aligned in fighting against the Kurds as the YGP had gained strength from Assad's decision to withdraw government forces from the north as part of a strategy to divert Sunni forces away from advancing on to Damascus-and it worked.

Consequently, the YPG and the FSA regard each other as enemies. The Syrian National Council and its backers regard all oil and gas resources in Syria as theirs to develop. They have no interest in either the Kurds or ISIS gaining the Rumelian oil field both are battling to control.

Moreover, neither Qatar nor Turkey have any interest in ISIS being destroyed if Assad benefits because of the ongoing proxy conflict between them and Iran because it seeks a rival pipeline route from the Persian Gulf to the Eastern Mediterranean and then on to global markets to export gas.

Britain and France, the two foremost military powers in the EU, would still prefer Assad to be overthrown. They have lucrative arms deals with Qatar and would benefit from a gas route which avoided the export of LNG via the Iranian controlled Straits of Hormuz and reduced EU dependence upon Russia gas.

That threat of dependence has increased since the fall of Tripoli in Libya into the hands of Islamist militants. It was increased also by the Russian annexation of Crimea and the potential break away of the eastern regions of Ukraine which has removed from potential western control a major east-west transit zone.

Turkey's attempt to become a southern energy corridor, now that Ukraine has descended into conflict is, however, endangered by a similar problem of ethnic irredentism among the Kurds who are fleeing into Turkey in large numbers from Syria as ISIS drives them from their villages and towns.

The Kurds are growing increasing outraged at Ankara's double standards in having allowed jihadists as violent and fanatical as those fighting for Al Nusra to enter Syria from Turkey but trying to prevent Turkish Kurds fighting in support of those being menaced by ISIS in Kobani. This has caused riots on the border

So the west is hamstrung by Turkey being a NATO member which has no interest in the Kurds gaining the upper hand in Syria over ISIS. At the same time it remains the only military force in practice which could repel the jihadists back away from the border with southern Turkey.

One reason why Turkey created a 20km security zone in Syria was to protect a NATO border from Sunni Islamist militants and be in a position to defend the highly symbolic tomb of Osman I, the founder of the Ottoman Empire, from being destroyed by ISIS which have threatened it several times.

However, Kurdish factions, especially the PKK with whom Turkey had a conflict with from the 1980s until recently, regards the Turkish security measures as an attempt to create a 'buffer zone' between Turkey and the Islamic state at the expense of the Kurdish people who they are allowing to be ethnically cleansed.

As a consequence, if the Kurdish enclaves fall, not only would NATO and the west be seen as 'doing nothing' about the slaughter of Kurds in northern Syria while arming them in Iraq. ISIS could well advance up to the border with Turkey and try to provoke the ground jihad with the west they want in Syria and Iraq.

The sad reality is the suffering of civilians in Syria has always been a secondary consideration to geopolitical energy interests on all sides in this conflict. The emergence of ISIS would have led all external powers to unite in defeating it if a ruthless geopolitical competition over access to resources were not at stake

All these factors have made for a protracted multi-faceted conflict in which the most brutal and effective force can win out if it controls Syria's resources and finance itself to get the weapons and recruits that it needs to have towards fighting towards that end. There is no end to the bloodshed in sight.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

The Third Iraq War: Syria, Turkey and the Kurdish Condundrum.

Britain's decision to join the US in bombing ISIS would appear belated and token. The US started bombing back in August 2014 yet ISIS is reported already to have come within a mile or so of the Iraqi capital Baghdad. Whether for or against military intervention, experts consider air power alone as insufficient.

Britain's contribution of only six Tornado jets to attack ISIS positions is more about demonstrating that Britain remains at the forefront of combating terror in the Middle East and defending against the potential threat ISIS poses to the oil producing regions of Iraq from Kurdistan down towards Kuwait.

The aim of  'degrading and ultimately defeating' ISIS is about preventing the phantom caliphate from consolidating its position in Iraq and Syria through the exploitation and sale of the oil which it could use to fund its military operations and greater expansion in the region.

Having started with the mission to take on and destroy 'ISIL' in a long war or a 'generational struggle' against a 'global threat' that is mostly regional and confined to the Middle East, politicians such as Cameron seem intent in giving ISIS the sort of global power status the 'Islamic State' has sought out.

The dangers of 'mission creep' are inherent in the rhetoric about 'ISIL' since it is considered an organisation with which no accommodation can be made and so once the war has started, it follows that it would have to be finished or else the initial and costly bombing campaign would have been to no avail.

The main problem is not even the supposed 'allies' in the Greater Middle East are acting in concert because of shadowy geopolitical interests and the fact Qatar and Turkey are as concerned ( in fact pathologically obsessed ) with overthrowing President Assad in Syria as they are with defeating ISIS.

Qatari and Turkish intransigence on Assad's position in Syria remains one reason why there could not have been a negotiated political settlement between the Free Syria Army and Damascus and, as a consequence, why ISIS remains entrenched in its capital Raqqa as the most powerful 'third force' opposed to them both.

Without a truce between Syrian government forces and the FSA, ISIS, even if defeated in Iraq and rolled back from Sunni Arab regions through the action of Iranian backed Shi'ite militias and the Kurdish peshmerga, would always be able to to retreat and regroup in Syria before attacking once more.

While the US and Britain were prepared to engage diplomatically with Iran over the ISIS threat to Iraq, Qatar and Turkey would be hostile to any attempt to do a deal with an Iranian backed Assad which would affect their regional geopolitical interests. But without it, ISIS in Syria would be difficult to defeat.

Qatar and Turkey would remain reticent about any attempt to roll back ISIS in Syria that would entrench Assad and both Iranian and Russian influence. The Syrian National Council opposed Russian involvement in exploiting Syria's offshore gas in the Eastern Mediterranean and an Iran-Iraq-Syria 'Shi'ite' gas pipeline.

Turkey, a main backer on Sunni Muslim opposition to the Alawi administration of Assad, would like to become an east-west energy hub. A Qatar-Turkey gas pipeline would reposition it in a stronger position against Russia which would prefer to retain its predominance as Turkey's main source of gas.

Turkey has held back from joining in the military effort against ISIS because it President Erdogan wants to make that conditional upon the west renewing its pressure upon Assad to be replaced by a Sunni dominated government led by the Syrian National Council that would ensure Syria's territorial integrity.

Far from being the eastermost outpost of the west through NATO membership, a Cold War hangover, Turkey under Erdogan has reimagined its role as a 'neo-Ottoman' regional power and maintained an open border policy with Syria so as to facilitate the formation of Sunni militant forces.

Turkey was half-hearted about supporting the battle against ISIS at the Paris talks because it remains concerned arming the Kurds in Iraq could stimulate a wider Kurdish irredentist movement in Kurdish Syria and across the border where the PKK has had an uneasy peace with Ankara after a decades old conflict.

Erdogan has sought to draw Kurdish regions closer in the Turkish sphere of influence but not so far as to lead to calls for a separate state enjoining Kurds in southern Turkey, northern Syria and the already autonomous region of Kurdistan in Iraq, a valued special partner as it has the oil riches Turkey lacks.

Turkey has an oil pipeline stretching from Iraqi Kurdistan in Kirkuk to the port of Ceylan that it would like to make fully operational and has lucrative construction contracts with Erbil. Yet, at the same time, it opposes the wishes of those Kurdish groups in Syria and Turkey with far lessoil wanting to join it as part of one state.

On the contrary, there is reason to think Ankara would prefer these regions as a buffer between it and ISIS, one reason a motion in the Turkish parliament to create a 20km buffer zone in Syria between Turkey and Syria to secure passage for both foreign troops and for Turkish troops to secure Syrian-Kurdish enclaves.

While Turkey would be prepared to intervene militarily to secure its borders from ISIS, it would be more unwilling to contribute towards defeating ISIS without Assad being removed because that would free up the Kurdish fighters in Syria to demand an independent state that could stretch into southern Turkey.

Part of US-British strategy to relieve the Kurds in north-west Iraq from the onslaught of ISIS ( Tornados are bombing ISIS positions to this end ) and arming the peshmerga has already led to demands for the same for those Kurds being cleared from northern Syria and military action to defend Kobani.

While Turkey is a staunch ally of Barzani's KNC in Iraq it is concerned about arms falling into the hands of the 'wrong' Kurdish rebels of the PKK which is a major fighting faction of the YPG. Ankara's attempts to block Kurdish refugees from entering and Kurdish fighters from entering Syria has caused riots

As Turkey has no real interest in assisting the fight against ISIS if it would mean a greater impetus towards Kurdish secession in Turkey itself there have been accusations that Ankara could be in league or plotting with ISIS in order to use it as a tool to keep the Kurds divided and ruled from elsewhere-including Iran.

That Iran backs Assad as a Shi'ite co-religionist and a client prepared to accede to grand designs for a gas pipeline through Iraq and Syria to be completed by 2016 is seen as a direct threat to the Qatar-Turkey scheme for a Sunni axis of influence and one reason why Assad was plotting with the Kurds of Syria.

None of the contending regional powers in Syria has any interest in any one of the contending forces with military power gaining the upper hand. As that by default allows the most brutal warring Sunni militant force to win out, the danger is that the failure to destroy ISIS could lead eventually to greater western intervention.

The western states could hardly intervene to assist the Kurds against ISIS in Syria where Turkey regards the the PKK, the largest and most militant faction in YPG struggling against ISIS, as a threat to its territorial integrity of Turkey and one that is growing angry at Ankara's attempt to stop Turkish Kurds fighting in Syria.

The double standard is resented by the Kurds because prior to April 2014, fighters going to assist the Free Syria Army, even the most militant Al Qaida affiliated groups such as Al Nusra, had been facilitated and tolerated throughout 2012 and 2013 before ISIS turned its guns against the Sunni states and the west.

The battle between ISIS and the YPG is critical because, despite Prime Minister Cameron's claim that ISIS makes money from sales of oil to Assad, most of the Islamic State's revenues come from illicit sales of oil across the long Turkish border, a strategic area through which foreign Sunni militants are recruited.

More than that, the borderlands with Turkey contain some of Syria's richest oil reserves such as the Rumeilan oil fields to the east of Serekaniye which are mostly in Kurdish hands: who control these resources also controls the illegal fuel trade which runs through pipelines built during the sanctions on Saddam in the 1990s.

From Ankara's perspective it benefits its security if neither the YPG nor ISIS could win definitive control over these oil resources with which to buy weapons because it regards both the YPG and ISIS as both dangerous terrorist threats and, if anything, the PKK as far more dangerous to it than ISIS.

Turkey's conflict with the PKK date back to 1984 and they were aligned with Assad's Syria: even in 22013 the Kurds of Syria were in league with Damascus because Assad wanted to divert the Free Syria Army northwards away from the capital and both they and the Kurds squabbled over the oil reserves.

The reticence of the Syrian Kurds to either want the restoration of rule from Damascus or to remain within a Sunni Arab dominated Syria being fought for by the Free Syria Army or, of course to an insane degree by ISIS and Al Nusra, means it is highly unlikely either Turkey or Qatar could get their way in Syria.

Yet it is precisely just such a foreign policy which is bound to provoke the Kurds in Syria into further resistance that makes a political settlement difficult to acheive : if the Kurds are thwarted in their quest for autonomy they would align even with Assad against Turkey meaning it would back Sunni militants against it.

Third Iraq War : Framing the Case for Global Wars on "Extremism"

'...the third Iraq war, endorsed by parliament on the eve of the Tory conference (the deficit again no object) is itself a lurch backwards into the failures and disasters of the war on terror launched by Bush and Blair 13 years ago'.-Seumas Milne, The Guardian October 2, 2014
The obsessive drive to intervene militarily against ISIS by the Cameron government in Britain is justified not by a 'reactionary' agenda: on the contrary, the 'war on terror' is a militant progressive cause which pits 'liberal democracy' against 'Islamist extremism', a force on the 'wrong side of history.

Cameron is cloning the Blair's government's rhetoric about ISIS being a 'global threat' and potentially having weapons of mass destruction “within a few hours’ flying time of our country” ( May ) because it is useful in framing all regional violent jihadi-Islamist groups as part of one single threat to the west.

While a minority of Islamists within Britain, and those who clearly sympathise with them because they have an insecure adolescent hatred for 'the west' ,would like to believe they are part of a global movement for revolutionary change, the reality is quite different.

The use of the myth of the single global threat of ISIS works for both western governments and the jihadists alike. Jihadi-Islamists need to seek confrontation with first the Hypocrites in the region and then the Infidel who is portrayed as the root cause of all the problems everywhere in 'the Muslim World'.

For Blair and Cameron the myth acts to simplify complicated regional conflicts into one 'threat against us' and so legitimises any military intervention designed to secure supplies of oil and gas upon which a high octane consumer economy such as Britain's increasingly needs from far off lands.

When Cameron copies Blair in his insistence these threats 'directly affect us' the subtext is that they do because of the threat to oil and gas. Indeed, disparate jihadi groups from the Maghreb to Central Africa and the Middle East aim at sabotaging the pipelines and oil infrastructure or to capture it.

In a democracy dominated by media image and spin, the need is for a simplistic mock heroic narrative in which the jihadists are simply one cosmic force of evil transcending national boundaries and so in need of being combated at home as much as it must be abroad.

The reason is the voters cannot be told the military interventions are about geopolitical strategies they would not understand, as in Afghanistan, or , as in Iraq, about securing the present and future oil supplies needed to maintain stable or falling oil prices and so the lifestyle consumers feel entitled to expect as a right.

The Third Iraq war is clearly dominated by concerns over the threat that ISIS poses to the region and oil supplies. However, the call of the Caliphate applies across to lands elsewhere such as Nigeria where corrupt regimes are battling legions of impoverished fanatics uprooted by the impact of global warming.

Milne is no different from the political establishment he belongs to in portraying the military interventions since 9/11 according to a simplistic propaganda template: he merely inverts the humanitarian narrative and claims the real motive is 'imperial domination' of Muslims which is bound to be 'resisted'.

The reality is that military intervention is supposedly justified ( when it is not based on the global terror threat) in accordance with 'Democratic Geopolitics' in which the aim is to spread liberal democracy and help 'moderate rebels' overthrow dictators and protect their lands from 'extremists'.

The problem with this idea, as was clear in both Libya and Syria, is that the alternative to the dictator is often, in the context of war and the breakdown of government, civil war and violent Islamist jihadism with 'moderate' democratic Islamists not counting for much on the ground.

The flexible cant words 'extremist' and 'moderate' are Orwellian euphemisms for 'bad and not useful' and 'good and useful' in what is really a power struggle over resources. The insistence that Sunni jihadists in the FSA were 'moderates' in 2013 was because they were useful in removing Assad.

The fact is that Qatar was an ally pumping billions into Britain's ailing debt ridden rentier and consumer economy but backing jihadi fanatics. So the fiction of the 'moderate rebels' had to be maintained. Now that strategy has led to jihadists joining ISIS and turning against Qatar and the west, they are now 'extremists'.

So there is, as a consequence, an absurd power game in within Britain in which Islamist groups are classified as 'extremist' according to the shoddy criteria of political expediency as much as their perceived threat. The only way out of this repetitive idiocy is to search for alternatives to oil and gas dependency.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Why Cameron is Prepared to Extend British Air Strikes into Syria.

“There is nothing token about this, quite the contrary. They need our help, not just with the Tornados flying daily from Cyprus, but also from the surveillance equipment overhead – to add to the operations of the Iraqi and Kurdish forces. We need to think about how we beat IS. IS is based in Syria and IS needs to be defeated in Syria as well as in Iraq.” -Defence Minister Michael Fallon
“If there was the need to take urgent action, for instance to prevent the massacre of a minority community or a Christian community, I would order that and come to the House to explain immediately afterwards.”
'I have said we support what the Americans and the five Arab nations have done in Syria. We have a Syria strategy which is to build up the Free Syrian Army [and] the Syrian National Coalition to achieve a political transition in Syria'-Prime Minister David Cameron
Cameron would prefer to extend British strikes into Syria to help overcome the humiliation of the summer of 2013 when Parliament rejected Cameron's desired war to take out Assad over the alleged chemical gas attack on Ghouta. The geopolitical strategy remained unchanged since then.

Cameron backed Qatar and Turkey's plan to train and back Sunni jihadists to overthrow Assad just as he had led with Hollande in pushing for the NATO intervention to back the insurgents in Libya and get rid of Gaddafi. The ambition was a democratic Libya amenable to French and British energy interests.

Syria after 2011 was no different with France and Britain supporting Qatari policy in backing the SNC and so turning a blind eye to Doha's support for Sunni jihadists as a means justifying the end of removing the 'brutal dictator' and thus securing western influence in the Levant.

Energy interests and the special relationship with Qatar were paramount no matter how risky the strategy was. In common with Turkey, both Britain and France want Assad to go so that the offshore gas reserves would not be conceded to Russia as they subsequently were in December 2013.

Russia upped the stakes after it concluded a 25 year deal with Assad to develop Syria's gas. These lie in an offshore field 850 square miles of Syria's Exclusive Economic Zone in an area called Block 2 which is positioned the coastal cities of Banias and Tartous where Russia has a naval base.

These reserves of the Levant were discovered in 2010. Turkey subsequently backed the opposition to Assad as part of its neo-Ottoman strategy as a means to increase its influence in Syria and benefit from the fossil fuel reserves it lacks in partnership with gas rich Qatar by backing Sunni militant forces.

With Putin copying Turkish tactics in backing insurgents across its borders in Ukraine to advance geopolitical ambitions in the Black Sea region and successfully gain control over energy transit routes, the need to knock out ISIS and then Assad to check Russian influence in the Eastern Mediterranean has intensified.

Cameron made plain that he support the Gulf states interests, no matter their support for terrorism, by accusing Iran and Assad of doing the same. Indeed, Cameron recycled SNC and Qatari propaganda in Parliament on Friday 26th about Assad being the main sponsor of ISIS through buying its oil.

In fact, the oil revenues accrued by ISIS are mostly from sales of oil via Turkey, Britain's stalwart NATO ally through channels and illegal pipelines set up for the export of black market oil dating back to the 1990s when Saddam was firmly in charge in Baghdad. Officials in Turkey's deep state are said to be profiting.

ISIS funds mostly come from Turkey and not from Damascus which has no interest in funding an organisation based in Syria in a nation where 60% of the population is Sunni, if not Sunni Arab, and his own government is dominated by Alawis and supported by minorities wanting protection from Sunni militants.

Cameron's insistence on supporting the SNC and FSA as an alternative to Assad and ISIS simply is not credible. Nor is it meant as anything other than a determination to continue with the foreign policy of backing Qatar and its strategies no matter the risks because the stakes are access to oil and gas.

Cameron's ambition is to see ISIS destroyed and to then use the renewed pretext for intervention in Syria to erase the humiliation of his thwarted quest to remove Assad in 2013. This is far more a vital interest for Britain ( and France ) than it is for the US for a number of reasons.

Firstly, Qatar and Turkey sought the removal of Assad to get a Qatar-Turkey gas pipeline from the south Pars gas field through to the Mediterranean where it would then by exported through to EU markets. Even before the Ukraine conflict, energy diversification away from Russia was a geopolitical goal.

Secondly, Qatar is set to become a major exporter of LNG to Britain as North Sea gas declines. This was made plain by energy minister Michael Fallon in 2013 when he lauded both that an the 10 billion pounds investment Qatar was due to make in upgrading the UK's infrastructure.

Cameron was prepared to engage diplomatically with Iran's Rouhahi over Iraq but he demonstrated repellent hypocrisy in emphasising Iran's support for terrorism as one reason it unlike Qatar which backs Sunni jihadists across the region ( including the Taliban ) could be no an ally. Assad is regarded as a pariah.

The reason has all to do with fawning on Qatar so as to strike up a special relationship whereby Britain assists in asserting its regional interests militarily and in being pledged to defend its interests so as to get LNG and lucative arms deals. Hammond has even talked up the possibility of a military base in Qatar.

With Libya having fallen into chaos and the conflict in Eastern Ukraine going on, the Eastern Mediterranean and Persian Gulf are regions where Britain and France could source extra supplies of energy. The spread and surge of ISIS and the need to fight them as a 'global threat' are a consequence of energy geopolitics.

The so called 'moderate rebels' are miniscule and the FSA in September 2014 is, as Patrick Cockburn points out, little more than a CIA led outfit awaiting funds and new recruits to make it some third force between Assad and ISIS ( which is absurdly unrealistic and futile ).

Cameron seems intent on persisting with this mythical moderate Sunni force because of energy interests. It's both ruthless and inept as a foreign policy strategy but, then again, those two adjectives define Cameron and his neoconservative government.

Britain and the Third Iraq War: Strategy and Geopolitical Ambitions and Interests.

Richard Williams, a former commanding officer of the SAS who served in Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan, wrote in the Independent on Sunday the deployment of RAF bombers was a “military sugar rush” that “risks looking fearful and half-cocked”.The Observer, Sunday 28 2014
Cameron's decision to deploy air strikes against ISIS is largely a political decision to make the Prime Minister look 'tough on terror'. ISIS realises that Cameron is a media obsessed politicians intent on grabbing the right headlines as opposed to the wily and shrewd diplomat that could defeat them.

The use of six Tornados and Britain's 'military prowess' is designed to send the message that Britain values the US led war against ISIS and wants to retain 'credibility' as a 'global player' leading at the forefront of a war on terror. All that despite the fact Britain did nothing while the Scottish referendum was going on.

Cameron prioritised domestic politics instead of the war against ISIS because it was more important for his government and as the US was leading the war anyhow. These air strikes would not make any difference apart from exploiting the fears of an ignorant populace about ISIS posing a direct threat to them.

ISIS is predominantly a regional threat and global in the sense it could use its power base in Syria to surge through Iraq and menace the present and future security of oil supplies of the Kurdistan and southern Iraq. These supplies are vital to ensure stable or falling oil prices and global economic recovery after the 2008 crash.

Britain has an interest in protecting both regions in Iraq because of the oil exploration and the interests BP have there. Qatar is a major Gulf ally partner which has been brought back into aligning with Saudi Arabia under western leadership in fighting ISIS whereas before there had been enmity between them.

Britain's role in bombing ISIS is firmly concerned with protecting resources far more than it is about protecting Britons from terrorist attacks at home. Had that been the main concern, Britain would not have been prepared to turn a blind eye towards Saudi Arabia and Qatar backing Sunni jihadists in Syria

ISIS would pose a threat to Qatar should it entrench itself in Iraq and launch attacks on the rest of Iraq and the Gulf States. In July 2014, ISIS made plain its intention of bombing the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, the power which bore responsibility for creating the ISIS threat in its proxy war against Iran.

Britain is bound to regard any threat to Qatar as a threat to its interests. Qatar is a major supplier of liquefied natural gas to the domestic gas market. Michael Fallon, who last week predicted a 'new Battle of Britain' against ISIS, was energy minister before being shifted into the MoD.

Fallon made plain the increased dependency on Qatari gas was going to be part of a mutually beneficial partnership. Qatar would step up its LNG exports to Britain as imports increased. In return, Qatar would invest 10bn pounds in Britain's infrastructure as well as London's real estate and other projects.

The need to protect Qatar and energy supplies as North Sea gas depletes rapidly is one interests as is being bound to support geopolitical strategies that would check Iranian influence in the region such as holding out for the eventual removal of Assad once ISIS is 'degraded and destroyed'.

This is one reason Philip Hammond made clear Britain wanted to establish a permanent military base in one of the Gulf states, either Bahrain or most likely Qatar because ' we have to think through how we will train our forces in desert warfare, in hot-conditions’ combat in the future'.

While Cameron has sought to engage Iran in diplomacy to maintain a stable Iraq, he has made it clear that there is going to be no change in the failed and risky strategy that created ISIS in the first place. Assad is not to be drawn into a peace process in Syria because the aim is still to overthrow him.

Cameron claimed that ISIS' made profit from oil sold to Assad, so yoking together the threat of terror with the secular dictator. In fact, the evidence shows the oil from ISIS is coming via Turkey and was supported until ISIS turned its guns against Turkey.  Cameron repeated Gulf state propaganda.

So, apart from being dishonest about where ISIS had been selling its oil, Cameron is insistent upon continuing the strategy of backing the foreign policy of Qatar which played a major role in causing the chaos that allowed ISIS to gain ground in Syria and become the 'global' threat they would become.

ISIS poses a threat but the current determination of Britain to participate in air strikes is primarily about a policy determined by the geopolitics of energy. The attempt to insinuate Assad in in league with ISIS by buying their oil suggests he could never be negotiated with because he is effectively backing terrorists.

Yet it would only be through a ceasefire between Damascus and the Free Syria army and SNC that ISIS could be decisively defeated and a political solution to ISIS found in Syria other than continued war and the possibility and risks of external military intervention over the longer term.

The reason for Cameron's intransigence is partly ideological. Neoconservative ideology holds that dictatorship and terrorism are two peas from the same pod: remove the dictator and democracy and freedom and the rule of law shall flourish and terrorism would be curtailed and defeated.

Apart from the gross oversimplification of the complex realities of the Middle East that Cameron, following Blair, seems to understand little, this worldview comes in handy when demanding dictators from Saddam to Gaddafi and Assad are removed who are not favourable to Britain and its Gulf allies interests.

Despite the benefits of a negotiated truce between Assad and the FSA, Cameron is intent upon fawning upon Qatar because of the business interests and to the detriment of Britain's security and any real chance of peace in Syria. Qatar wants Assad gone and a Sunni government amenable to its designs.

Both Qatar and Turkey want a Qatar-Turkey pipeline which would avoid Qatari LNG having to be exported through the Persian Gulf and the strategic and Iranian held chokepoint of the Straits of Hormuz. It would also contain and offset rival plans for an Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline to the Eastern Mediterranean.

When Cameron uses luring language to depict a 'terrorist caliphate' on the Mediterranean built by ISIL, he is not just conjuring up an image of 'terrorist' with a sea coast popularly associated in the British mind with continental beach holidays in places from Spain to Cyprus and Turkey.

On the contrary, the very use of the acronym 'ISIL' reflects the fact Cameron regards Islamic State as a threat to geostrategic interests in the Eastern Mediterranean, not least the prospect of the gas in the Levant being taken out of Assad and Russia's clutches and put back into the hands of the SNC and 'the rebels'.

Far from being a mere global terror threat, the spectre of "ISIL' provides the opportunity not just to bolster the security of the oil supplies from Kurdistan and Shi'ite regions but also to establish the precedent to bomb Syria, knock out ISIL and then move on to those considered to be backing it.

Given that Cameron is portraying the Assad regime as being in league with ISIS ( one of the most preposterous propaganda claims given that Assad is one its main enemies and targets in the region ), it would appear he has learnt nothing from recent failed 'humanitarian interventions' elsewhere after 2003.

British and French leaders are not that stupid that they would fulfil the definition of insanity in trying to repeat the same policies again and againwhile expecting a different result to the chaos that has been the consequence of the overthrow of Saddam and then Gaddafi after the NATO backed war of 2011.

On the contrary, it is far more disturbing because it is a sign of the strategic deperation over the security of future supplies of oil and gas in regions lying those regions affected by the crumbling of states through sectarian and ethnic enmities heightened and sharpened by political anarchy and resource struggles

In preparing for the 'long war' or 'generational struggle', Cameron means not only the fact ISIS would take a long time to defeat. It is also part of a campaign of 'public diplomacy' softening up British opinion for a continued war over energy transit routes lying within regions where there are ample oil and gas reserves.

It's about time people woke up to this and fast.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

The Third Iraq War: Enter Britain

Nothing was more predictable than Cameron waiting until after the Scottish referendum to try to reunite Britain behind him and pose as a 'global player' once more by joining in with air strikes again 'ISIL'. There is now even messianic rhetoric about a 'new battle of Britain' from Defence Minister Michael Fallon.

However, given that the US has been targeting ISIS for a month from the air, it is hard to see what real difference Britain would bring apart from the usual need to 'stand shoulder to shoulder' with the US. Instead of rushing into military action, Britain should try to retain an independent position.

For a start it is hardly wise to be straying into Syrian air space to attack ISIS without any attempt to engage Assad's government because the reality is that the Free Syria Army is merely a front for a CIA assembled coalition of Sunni forces without any real power on the ground.

ISIS is primarily a regional threat first and foremost to Iraq and then to those Gulf states which had been prepared to allow funding and arms to go to Sunni militant groups such as the Al Nusra Brigades. Qatar and Saudi Arabia were largely responsible for this because they wanted to overthrow Assad.

The fact Saudi Arabia and Qatar are now part of the coalition against ISIS is farcical given the fact both powers ratcheted up the conflict in Syria by backing their own favoured Sunni jihadists the better to get their sway in Damascus in any post-Assad future.

Both Gulf powers created the conditions in Syria for the more brutal jihadists to flourish and gain ground. So Hugh Robertson turns truth on its head when he states “The fact is, our failure to take action promptly and effectively then did create in part the conditions that have led to the crisis we face today'
“There is no doubt that many of our allies across the Gulf saw that as a sign of weakness. Now, I’m absolutely delighted that the Labour party has woken up to what I believe needs to be done and I accept that they and many others had doubts about what was happening a year ago.
This is dangerous nonsense and if Robertson is typical of Britain's military high command there is reason to be concerned. Had the US and Britain gone into Syria to help remove Assad in 2013, the situation would have replicated what happened in Libya after the failed military adventure of 2011.

Had Assad been removed ( and probably murdered in a similar gory way to Gaddafi's brutal lynching, torture and butchery ), a war between the Sunni factions would have no doubt resulted in ISIS holding Damascus and causing ethnic cleansing and sectarian murder on a far vaster scale.

Joining in the air strikes just to flaunt 'military powess' is largely futile unless there is a longer term plan to draw in Assad and Iran into a regional political initiative. If there is not and ISIS is rolled back, it still could regroup because the conflict in Syria would be continued by other Sunni militants.

The Free Syria Army and 'moderate rebels' are largely non-existent as a real military force and would not be able to beat both ISIS and Assad. The idea that they ought to is pure wish thinking that accords with the sort of absurd and unrealistic strategy pursued between 2011 to 2013.

To defeat ISIS, there has to be a diplomatic initiative for a ceasefire between the Free Syria Army and Assad's forces. Saudi Arabia and Qatar would have to be pressured further into desisting from any policy allowing funds to go to Sunni militants. Turkey would be made to clamp down on illegal oil sales.

The foreign policies of Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar were as dangerous, in fact far more so, than the much maligned Iran, their Gulf rival which is hypocritically accused of sponsoring terrorism abroad when, by any definition, that is precisely what Britain's Gulf allies have been doing on a far more dangerous basis.

The reason why Britain turned a blind eye to this was it hoped the strategy would remove Assad and check the possibility of an Iranian-Iraqi-Syrian gas pipeline towards the Eastern Mediterranean in favour of an alternative Qatar-Turkey pipeline. Assad's departure would lessen Russian influence too.

The entire role of energy security in this shabby and sinister debacle needs far more attention than it usually gets. ISIS is the consequence of a shoddy strategy to assert the hegemony of the Gulf states over its energy export rival in Iran and against Russian influence over the offshore gas reserves of the Levant.

In Iraq, its expansion from a threat in Syria to a 'global threat' is largely due the threat it poses to present and future oil production in Kurdistan and the Shi'ite south. This supply is needed to keep oil prices stable and so keep a global economy of cheap Chinese manufactures and hence profligate western consumerism afloat.

Britain's role is not just about backing the US and Gulf allies. It is about buying influence, protecting both its economic interests in the region and asserting control over the global oil supplies that is needed to retain western military and political hegemony against that of other global powers

Both Syria and Iraq, as lands separating the Eastern Mediterranean from the Persian Gulf, are the site for a regional proxy war between contending powers vying for control over resources and energy transit routes between the Middle East and the West against rival schemes backed by Iran, Russia and China.

In the longer term, there need to be significant geopolitical and economic shifts in the West away from over dependence upon imported oil and gas to drive the economy. Globalisation has made the world economy ever more reliant on a constant or falling oil supply but it is going to come from lands riven with conflicts.