Monday, 30 June 2014

ISIS and Iraq: The Lethal Proxy War for Resources and Power in the Middle East


With the prospect of a looming sectarian clash between ISIS forces and Shi'ite militias not subject to Iraqi state control in areas close to Baghdad, it would be better to see it as part not of a 'civil war' but more accurately considered as part of a “regional war complex”.

ISIS clearly has sought to create a new Caliphate that transcends the borders of Syria and Iraq and which could be spread into other zones where Sunni insurgents have fought against state power: there is evidence of ISIS gaining recruits in the fight against Egypt and Israel on the Sinai Peninsula.

ISIS was able spread and surge deep into Iraq because Sunni tribes in and around places such as Tikrit, those with no stake in a political system dominated by Shi'ite Muslims and Kurdish politicians, rose up and joined the jihad as a means of forcing Maliki to stand down.

That is why Washington, though concerned about ISIS and the potential threat to global oil prices and the borders with its Gulf ally Saudi Arabia, has send military advisors and armed drones. The Obama administration only wanted to contain ISIS but it is not necessarily opposed to Sunni opposition to Baghdad.

A significant US military intervention in Iraq, one rejected by Washington since it pulled out of Iraq in 2011 and pusrued a 'hands off approach' , would have only worsened the situation by giving the impression that the longed for Caliphate was being destroyed by an 'alliance' of the Americal Infidels and Shia apostates.

Washington would like Maliki to go in order to take Iraq out of Iran's sphere of influence and in order to align itself with Saudi Arabia. John Kerry in Riyadh in his meeting with King Abdullah wanted Saudi Arabia to seek out 'moderate' Sunni insurgents in Syria and the hope is that could be done in Iraq too.

The Obama administration's $500 million request to Congress for funds to covertly back 'moderate' Sunni insurgents in Syria is intended to act as a signal that Sunni militias and their leaders in Iraq could stand to benefit if they are prepared to contain both ISIS and Iran.

The leaders of Sunni tribes already have positioned themselves as potential 'moderates' that have no necessary alignment to ISIS any more, in fact, than the Free Syria Army did when it was ranged alongside ISIS in Syria back in 2013 in their struggle against Kurdish separatists.

Sunni leaders such as Ali Hatem Suleimani made plain that his forces are marching alongside ISIS only in order to remove Maliki and that “We can fight Isis and al-Qaeda whenever we want to”. Kurdish leaders want Sunni Arabs to increase their presence in government so as to reduce Shi'ite power.

The reason is Erbil has sought more control over its oil revenues in disputes over the sale of oil via Turkey to global markets. Intelligence experts claim the Kurds could have given the nod to ISIS to surge southwards towards Baghdad in order to pursue a strategy that would reduce Shia and Iranian influence.

To that extent, the insurgency in Iraq is not centrally about ISIS. True, the group has murdered and killed civilians but this is mere collateral damage in a ruthless proxy war between Iran's Shi'ite 'axis of influence' and Saudi Arabia and Qatar's strategy of building a 'Sunni shield'.

The US, Britain and France support Saudi Arabia's and Qatar's strategy of backing Sunni jihadists for geopolitical and energy reasons. The US depends upon Saudi Arabia for 17% of its crude oil imports. Britain and France back Qatar and Turkey because they proposed in 2009 a gas pipeline to the west.

What neither the US and Saudi Arabia nor Qatar and Britain and France want is a Shi'ite pipeline from the Gulf via Syria to the Eastern Mediterranean. Russia backs Assad because it already has a strong presence in the region and would like a stake in controlling east-west energy flows.

The crisis in Iraq and Syria is crucially connected to energy geopolitics and the overdependence of the West on fossil fuels from the Middle East as well as the broader collapse of civilisation stemming from the impact of global warming, drought, diminished agricultural yields and overpopulation. 

In the longer term from global warming is set to make regional conflicts such as that in Syria-Iraq intractable. For as the Tigris and Euphrates rivers dry out, declining wheat and rice production means only those with control over oil revenues would be able to survive and that means joining militias that could guarantee it.


Sunday, 29 June 2014

The US and Iran have no Alliance in the Struggle Against ISIS

US and Iranian military involvement in Iraq against ISIS does not amount to an 'alliance'. Both powers find themselves temporarily aligned against the spread and threat of ISIS for different reasons. For Iran it is about maintaining the Sh'ite 'axis of resistance' against Sunni insurgents in Syria and Iraq.

For the US, its deployment of drones and military advisors is mostly about helping check ISIS so that it could not threaten Baghdad or the south where attacks by ISIS could threaten global oil prices and even to blowback into the land of its main ally in Saudi Arabia.

It was Saudi Arabia, along with Qatar, that in 2012 and throughout 2013 supported and bankrolled the most effective Sunni insurgents in Syria and created the space within which ISIS could gain ground and control over oil installations to fund its activities.

Throughout 2014 Saudi Arabia has moved away from the policy under pressure from Washington and the obvious fact the policy failed in so far as ISIS broke with the Free Syria Army it had previously been aligned with back in 2013 in its struggle against Kurdish seperatists.

That allowed Assad to roll back the FSA from Damascus, leading the Syrian National Council and some intelligence observers to start claiming he had been funding ISIS himself through buying oil from them. But that, of course, would not change the fact that most past funding for came from donors in the Gulf states.

In turn, due to the threat of blowback Saudi Arabia and Qatar sought to accuse each other of backing the wrong sort of Sunni jihadists. One senior Qatari official stated, “ISIS has been a Saudi project.”. Other GCC members have been critical of Qatar for 'playing with fire' and continuing to back Islamist groups with links to Al Qaida.

So even if Iran and the US are seen to be in 'alliance', they are not. Iran's regional policy would be in ruins if Iraq fell into the hands of Sunnis as it was under Saddam Hussein. The construction of a Shi'ite gas pipeline via Iraq and Syria, agreed on back in 2011, would be impossible.

Likewise, the US, along with Qatar and Saudi Arabia, are not going to stop opposing that plan by supporting Sunni insurgents in Syria against Assad. Qatar wants a Qatar-Turkey pipeline that would supply European markets and that is backed especially by Britain and France.

Iran is already under sanctions and the last thing Washington would like would be a lucrative gas pipeline through which it could export gas to the Eastern Mediterranean, interests it has in common which Russia which is backing Assad so as ensure gas supplies are controlled by it and its regional the US, partners.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

The Spread of ISIS and the Possibility of Regional Sectarian War in the Middle East.

'The solution to the threat confronting Iraq is not the intervention of the Assad regime. In fact, it’s the Assad regime and the terrible violence they perpetrated against their own people that allowed (Isis) to thrive in the first place'.
President Obama's spokesman, Joshua Earnest's statement that the administration has “no reason to dispute” the reports of Syrian airstrikes in Iraq is one designed to provide a pretext for air strikes against Assad should Washington become concerned that Iranian influence is growing.

One other reason is that Washington needs to deflect the blame for what has happened in Iraq away from Saudi Arabia and Qatar and place it wholly on to Assad and his Shi'ite allies now that Tehran has taken more of a belligerant stance in wanting to shore up Maliki with military assistance and drones.
 
The growth and spread of ISIS has less to do with Assad than with the bulk of the past funding for Sunni jihadist groups being provided from private donors in Gulf states allied with the US and Britain such as Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Qatar with those states tacit backing.

The reason for that is that both Qatar and Saudi Arabia were vying throughout 2013 to back the most effective jihadist factions fighting with the Free Syria Army against Assad and in competition with each other. ISIS was aligned to the FSA in 2013 in their fight against Kurdish separatists.

From a tactical perspective, this backing of Sunni jihadists has backfired because ISIS turned against the FSA and, in effect, enabled Assad to roll back the FSA in and around Damascus much to the annoyance of the 'Friends of Syria Group which met in London in May 2014.

In his speech John Kerry stated 'Assad may think that today he is doing better and this process is somehow going to come to a close with him sitting pretty – but we are not going away". After all, Assad had not agreed to a political settlement in which his own arrest and trial would be a precondition.

The stakes in this geopolitical game are regional influence and energy interests. Britain and France even more than the US have been at the forefront of the demand that Assad must go because their ally Qatar announced plans in 2009 to build a Qatar-Turkey pipeline that would provide gas to the EU.

This pipeline has become all the more important with the danger posed by the expansion of Russia's influence both over the Black Sea region after the annexation of Crimea and in Syria and the Levant where it signed a lucrative deals with its client Assad to exploit gas reserves off the Syrian coast in December 2013

Hence the prospect of a Qatar-Turkey gas pipeline has been set back by Assad remaining in power and announcing in 2011 it would not be built and agreeing to alternative plans for a 'Shi'ite pipeline' from the South Pars gasfield Iran shares with rival Qatar via Iraq and Syria to the Eastern Mediterranean.

Both Britain and France were itching for the US to launch airstrikes against Assad in the summer of 2013 to assist the Sunni insurgents in overthrowing him and, therefore, to check both Iran, whose participation in the Geneva Conference has been rejected because Qatar and Saudi Arabia were against it.

ISIS represents a form of 'blowback' from the strategy of using Sunni jihadist fanatics to get rid of Assad. In surging towards Baghdad it posed both a threat but also an opportunity for Britain and the US to make support and assistance to President Maliki conditional on moving away from Tehran.

The Syrian opposition is keen to play on what are reported to be Assad's airstrikes against ISIS across the border in Iraq because they support their Gulf allies foreign policy and would like to see Shi'ite influence in Iraq reduced. Months before in January 2014 they had accused Assad of backing ISIS.

The reason for that was ISIS had tied up the FSA in northern Syria. Now that ISIS is 'objectively' posing a threat to Shi'ite axis, Al Qaida affiliated groups in Syria such as Al Nusra, that were bankrolled by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, have decided that ISIS is not so extreme after all and pledged allegiance.

Part of the decision is, of course, ideological as Al Qaida is wanting a showdown with the Shi'ites and Iran is a colossal sectarian war. But over the long term this clash is a deadly consequence of the Gulf powers foreign policy, one aided and abetted by the US and Britain.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

The Persecution of Christians, the British Left and the "War on Muslims"

The plight of Christians being persecuted is something that should be of as much interest to 'progressives' whom journalist Owen Jones believes are wary of taking up their plight through 'fear' of being seen to be on the side of 'Muslim bashers' on the far right, something that would indicate that they are somewhat craven.

Jones, however, seems blithely unaware that the dominant propaganda thrust of the anti-war activists he associates with through the Stop the War Coalition is that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were, as George Galloway claims, part of a 'war on Muslims'. 

The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were, of course, no more a 'war on Muslims' than the NATO attack on Serbia in 1999 was part of a war on Orthodox Christians. The Afghanistan and Iraq Wars were wars to gain geopolitical advantages mingled with fervent hopes of installing democracy.

So the reason why Christians are largely of no concern is that their persecution cannot be said to fit into the crude propaganda narrative that 'Western Imperialism' is pitted against all Muslims everywhere both at home and abroad, one that seeks to harness 'Muslim outrage' to boost anti-government sentiments.
'It is, unsurprisingly, the Middle East where the situation for Christians has dramatically deteriorated in recent years. One of the legacies of the invasion of Iraq has been the purging of a Christian community that has lived there for up to two millennia'.
True, but in Syria it is the legacy of Saudi Arabia and Qatar funding and backing Sunni jihadists as a way of overthrow Assad that has done much to assist groups dedicated to persecuting and murdering Christians to flourish and gain ground as part of a proxy war against Shi'ite Iran.

Anti-war activists have not had a 'consistent line' on the Middle East since sectarian wars have spread across the Middle East as the violence has shifted across the Syria-Iraq border and and put Iran and Presidents Maliki and Assad in direct confrontation with Sunni Islamist insurgents.

Consequently, the propaganda line, as put forth by Seumas Milne for example, has changed into the idea that the invasion and occupation of Iraq itself caused sectarian divisions because it was the intention of the US and Britain to set Sunni against Shia in order to maintain control, colonial 'divide and rule' as a plan.

In fact, the invasion removed a secular dictator and the occupation authorities did not put into effect any plan to use Shi'ite miltias against Sunni ones opposed to Baghdad until the civil war stage of the insurgency broke out after the 2005 elections.

The invasion of Iraq was a catastrophic decision without which the sectarian conflicts could not have broken out and Christians would not have been persecuted. But as Syria after 2011 shows, those sectarian tensions exist and could end in violence irrespective of Western intervention.

In Syria, it is true the US and Britain's alliance with Qatar and Saudi Arabia has meant aligning with regional powers intent on backing and bankrolling Sunni jihadists against Assad who is supported by the Allawi Shia and by many Christians only through fear they would be killed if Assad was removed.

But its a propaganda myth that the US somehow is the 'imperial master' in the Middle East along with Britain. In reality the US has tended to back off from involving itself in the Middle East after 2011 and tends to give tacit backing to Saudi Arabia because of its oil.

Saudi Arabia and Qatar follow their regional interests against Iran by whatever means they think 'effective'. Britain and France have been far more aggressive in wanting the US to involve itself in removing Assad because of their dependence upon Qatar and its liquefied natural gas.

In Britain anti-war activists would be better off understanding that the killing and mayhem in Iraq and Syria, and the threat of ISIS, is partly the cost of Britain being overdependent upon Qatar for energy and the use of its petrodollars to invest in propping up its ailing rentier economy.

Unless Britain finds alternatives to fossil fuels, then there is going to be no end to the prospect of it being dragged into conflicts or effectively backing unsavoury jihadists because ultimately the stability of its high octane consumer economy depends heavily on access to oil and gas.

This is something the left often shirks confronting. Wars for oil or about oil are considered to be about corporate profits and the political elites benefitting. While that's true, the unpleasant fact remains that the living standards of the majority of citizens are heavily tied to cheap oil and gas.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Egypt : The Military Crackdown and the Threat of ISIS.

The fate of the three al-Jazeera journalists jailed in Egypt is bound up in Egypt's attempt to clamp down on the Doha based new station because it is seen as favourable to the Muslim Brotherhood backed by Qatar after 2011 in rivalry with Saudi Arabia which supports the military state.

Washington, in turn, remains a stalwart ally of Saudi Arabia in its attempt to create a wall of Sunni Arab states in the Middle East to deter Iranian influence in the region. This is a goal broadly shared by the US which in 2013 accounted still for 17.2 % of its total crude oil imports.

General Sisi's crushing of dissent and imprisonment of political opponents is the unfortunate cost to be paid for 'stability' in Egypt as it faces the increased threat of radical Sunni jihadist violence from those angry about the coup against Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood supporters.

More ominously, an insurgency on the Sinai Peninsula has attracted radicalised jihadists from Syria fighting for groups such as Ansar Beit al-Maqdis and heeding the call from Al Qaeda and ISIS to go and take the battle to Egypt, the homeland of Al Qaida's leader Ayman al-Zawahri.

But the attempt by Sisi's regime to yoke Al Qaida together with the Muslim Brotherhood is as much about shoring up its own domestic legitimacy as it is about pleasing its Saudi sponsors who after the coup offered $5billion in aid to help support Egypt's tanking economy.

When President Morsi was in power, Saudi Arabia feared the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood could embolden Islamists at home. But it has been in competition with Qatar both in Egypt and in Syria where both powers have vied for political control over the anti-Assad Sunni militias.

The geopolitical energy dimension to this struggle for regional influence is that while both Qatar and Saudi Arabia have a joint interest in overthrowing Assad, to prevent an Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline, they are at variance on Qatari attempts to build a gas pipeline from the Gulf which could circumvent Saudi Arabia.

Yet in competing for influence in Syria by backing the most effective Sunni jihadists on the ground and fracturing the unity of the Free Syrian Army, by 2013 Saudi Arabia and Qatar had enabled Al Qaida affiliated groups and ISIS to gain a strong foothold and for blowback into Egypt.

There are already jihadist organisations with connections to ISIS operating on the Sinai Peninsula which is said to be 'fertile ground' for the group to expand. Israeli-Egyptian cooperation to crush the jihadist insurgency in Sinai has resulted in large numbers of civilian casualties and surging support for the jihadists.

Washington's decision to release a $650m aid package to Egypt and continued military assistance, including Apache helicopters, is connected to the need to keep in check the threat of jihadist blowback caused by Syrian and Libyan conflicts and the military's coup and cack handed crackdown on Sinai.

Scores of civilans have continued to get killed in the cross fire in Sinai in villages said to be contain jihadist groups and Muslim Brotherhood supporters along with the use of torture centres, mass arrests and arbitrary imprisonment in a region where the government has made it difficult for journalist to enter.

Washington may not like the Egyptian states's imprisoning and suppression of journalism but it is a necessary consequence of the shoddy and failed foreign policies of its Gulf allies and which has contributed towards the havoc, mayhem and death spreading across the Middle East.

Monday, 23 June 2014

ISIS: Britain's Lethal Embrace of Qatar and the Threat of Blowback

'Why Cameron should want to elevate, indeed almost romanticise, that menace is a mystery. The only security against this violence is from policing and from targeted intelligence. The only security against this violence is from policing and from targeted intelligence'-Simon Jenkins, Isis is no Threat to Britain, The Guardian, 22nd June 2014.
The reason both Cameron and Fox want to ramp up the threat of ISIS as one that could be directed against Britain is that the British government has backed Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar in their geopolitical struggle and use of Sunni jihadists in Syria and Iraq against Iran and its allies in Syria and Iraq.

There is a need, therefore, to pretend that ISIS is simply another 'more extreme' version of Al Qaida, another evil which has arisen as though out of the void caused by the collapse of authority in Iraq which is blamed almost wholly on Maliki in Baghdad ruling in a sectarian way.

Yet the fear is one of 'blowback' from Syria and the possibility both northern Syria and Iraq could become similar to Afghanistan, another land where Sunni jihadists backed primarily by Britain and America's Gulf allies gained a foothold and that ended up creating Al Qaida.

While Saudi Arabia has backed off from supporting Sunni jihadists such as Al Nusra, because of a certain amount of pressure from Washington, Kuwait has continued as a source of funding and Qatar made in plain in March 2014 that it would continue to back the toughest Sunni jihadists in Syria.

Foreign Minister Khaled al-Attiyah said in a speech in Paris "The independence of Qatar's foreign policy is simply non-negotiable...Qatar is to take decisions, and follow a path, of its own." Backing Sunni jihadists is considered essential to advancing its regional interests.

Removing Assad is considered crucial in order to advance the prospect of building a Qatar-Turkey pipeline that would pump Qatari gas towards lucrative EU markets and enable it to avoid having to depend on exporting LNG via the Iranian controlled Straits of Harmuz in the Persian Gulf.

Britain is a key backer of Qatar and unwilling to criticise Qatar's regional ambitions because as North Sea gas has depleted, the importance of imported Qatari LNG has become vital. In 2011 it was reported that it provided all but two cargoes of the product shipped to the UK.

Hague's obsession that 'Assad must go' is connected to energy security and backing Qatar no matter the potential threat of jihadist blowback. Britain is overdependent upon gas from Qatar but Russia, the only power that has more of the globe's gas than Qatar, is regarded as as a threat to its interests.

Russia, of course, has backed Assad and gained a foothold in exploiting the Levant Basin, a field of offshore oil and gas in the Eastern Mediterranean. Yet Russia also, through the annexation of Crimea and the advance of pro-Russia separatists in Eastern Ukraine, could control energy flows in the Black sea region.

As Russia exerts greater influence over regions considered strategically vital for the flow of oil and gas into the EU, Britain has shown readiness to court favour in Doha. Qatar owns 20% of the London Stock Exchange, invests 10bn pounds annually in the UK and has helped shore up London's property boom.

Britain is increasingly overdependent upon Qatar to prop up its ailing rentier economy and provide it with up to 90% of its LNG which, in turn, provides around a quarter of the UK's gas supply and 59.3 % of the total gas supplied to British homes. Britain's economic recovery after the financial crash of 2008 depends heavily on Qatar.

Britain, therefore, backed Qatar in its proxy war against Iran in Syria after 2011 so as to forestall the possibility of the Iran-Iraq-Syria gas pipeline that would transport gas from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea in order to supply Europe and that could bypass Turkey and sink Qatar's proposed alternative.

The consequence of this brutal geopolitical proxy conflict is that is has opened up space for ISIS to operate no matter that Britain and the US is trying to use its intelligence services to redirect assistance to Sunni jihadists it can control in order to contain those that could pose the threat of blowback.

This 21st century will see greater conflicts over access to oil and gas in a world of increased demand and competition caused by global industrialisation and high octane consumerism, one described by the American academic and writer Michael Klare in his aptly titled Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet: The New Geopolitics of Energy. 

It is in preparation for those resource conflicts and the threat of terrorist blowback that politicians such as Liam Fox argue for increased levels of state surveillance over 'extremists' in our midst and, by implication, over the entire populace in Britain as part of a messianic 'ideological battle' that is set to 'go on for a long time'

Postscript.

How Dependent is Britain upon Qatar ? 

It is possible to argue that  LNG is not a particulary predominant section of Britain's energy portfolio and that is is not 'dependent' upon Qatar. While it's true that domestic production of gas and Norwegian supplies made up the bulk of it in 2013, this is not the entire story.

Britain's North Sea gas is rapidly depleting and Russia is held to pose a threat to the energy interests of other EU nations and the expansion of NATO power, something evident in Rasmussen's attempt to claim that anti-fracking activists were being funded by Moscow.

The only reason why demand for more LNG declined in 2013 was the mild winter which allowed stocks not to be used up, which is fortunate as LNG is becoming more expensive due to high Asian demand, especially from Japan in the wake of the Fukashima nuclear power plant disaster.

LNG is a crucial component of Britain's domestic gas market and the need for politicians to keep prices lower rather than higher accounts for the interest in a Qatar-Turkey pipeline which would run via Syria and prevent gas having to get to Europe via tanker on the Straits of Hormuz.

Support for Qatar and opening London to its lucrative investments is one reason why Qatar is prepared to divert LNG supplies west even when the price does not fall so much in Asia as as would justify that on the profits it could have otherwise made from its sale in the east.

The boost to Britain's economy provided by Qatari capital from gas exports should not be underestimated. In February 2014 it was reported that Qatar was going to boost investment in Barclays Plc
(BARC) and J Sainsbury Plc after aquiring stakes in both.


Ahmad Al-Sayed, chief executive officer of the sovereign wealth fund,claimed, on visiting London, "Britain is one of the main destinations for investment...You’ve great systems, great regulations. We’re happy to invest more when the opportunity is coming.”

The UK is the main destination in Europe for Qatari investments, amounting to $33.8 billion. By any standards, that's a huge amount and its a prime driver of London's property market boom which is blamed for creating the 'wrong kind of growth' and a bubble economy.

Britain has depended upon Qatar to assist in getting it out of the economic recession caused by the finacial crash of 2008 and out of austerity in readiness for the 2015 elections. It is prepared to invest in infrastructure projects from nuclear reactors to London's sewers.

The cost of that dependence is that Britain, led as a 'Global Player' by Cameron and Hague, is support for its foreign policy in Syria no matter the potential consequences of terrorist blowback, as part of the 'warm bilateral relationship' both countrties

LNG is not the only reason why Britain is so beholden to Qatar but is important along with its huge investments and large market for British weapons and military assistance which even led in April 2014 to plans for the UK to have a military base in the region.

As Defence Minister Phillip Hammond put it,
"The UK and Qatar enjoy a very strong and multi-faceted bilateral relationship, which embraces defence and security issues, trade and investments, and is getting stronger all the time. We are building the momentum to strengthen the relationship and we are conscious of the need to sustain that momentum,"

Friday, 20 June 2014

Iraq: ISIS, Turkey and Western Oil and Gas Interests

President Obama's decision to send 300 “military advisers” to help Iraq's army to drive back ISIS is primarily concerned with preventing the Sunni jihadists from advancing too far into Iraq and endangering the interests for which the US invaded Iraq in 2003, most obviously the oil.

No Great Power has an interest in ISIS menacing the oil fields in and around Baghdad or to the south in the highly unlikely event that ISIS would be able to overthrow the Maliki government. But the surge southwards of ISIS was made possible by the tacit acquiescence of the Kurdish militias and other Sunni groups.

The reason is that the authorities in the Kurdish region wanted to seize Kirkuk and hasten the break up of Iraq into three separate regions the better to control its great oil wealth. This policy has been backed by Turkey which has connived with the Kurds to sell crude oil without Baghdad’s authorisation.

As for the Sunni tribes in the north and east of Iraq, they are prepared to use any means of getting rid of a Shi'ite government viewed not only as apostates in league with Iran but of monopolising the oil wealth and revenues of an Iraqi state they have had no particular interest in defending.

The capture of Mosul and Tikrit by ISIS could only have been possible not only with a nod from the Kurdish militias but from Sunni militants and the tribes that supported Saddam Hussein. Yet back in January 2014 the US was advocating 'restrained approach' towards ISIS when it took Fallujah.

One reason is the Obama administration started to see the benefits of greater Kurdish autonomy from Baghdad and so lobbied and showed support for a new oil deal that would allow the Kurds to export 300,000 barrels a day along pipelines leading from the Kurdish region through Turkey.

When Washington and London calls for Maliki to rule in a 'non-sectarian' manner as a condition for military assistance, the unspoken agenda is to push Baghdad towards scrapping the de-Baathification program and to be reach out to those who supported Saddam Hussein.

From that perspective, the surge of ISIS provided an opportunity for the US and its Turkey to push for greater Kurdish autonomy and crude oil exports not only to US oil refineries but also to Israel which all sales of oil to are officially banned by the Iraqi government.

Despite accusations that Turkey turned a blind eye to ISIS, in so far as it has caused havoc for a Shi'ite government supported by Iran it has proved beneficial in furthering a reapprochement between Ankara and the Kurds after decades of hostilities with the Kurds now regarded as 'our Iraqi brothers'.

Apart from the flow of oil through Turkey and on to Europe, Turkey has profited from growing construction and trade links in Kurdistan and Erdogan announced he is "open to a divided Iraq" and his advisers claim that ISIS is a 'product' of Maliki's sectarianism as opposed to it and its Sunni allies foreign policies.

While Washington and London claim that ISIS could threaten not only Iraq but also the US and Britain, the fact is that both the Obama administration and the Cameron government were prepared to view Sunni jihadist groups as also somewhat useful in checking Iranian regional interests.

The truth that the public in Britain and the US are not being told is that whatever terrorist threat ISIS poses is a consequence of Washington and London ignoring its allies Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar bankrolling it in Iraq against Shi'ite militias and Sunni jihadists in Syria to overthrow Assad.

The reason for this failed foreign policy and the threat of terrorist blowback is the pathological struggle for control over oil and gas export routes. The tacit backing for Sunni jihadist fanatics in Syria from Washington and London lies ultimately in energy geopolitics. 

The readiness to support Sunni jihadists in northern Syria against Assad in a way that spawned ISIS's power base has its origins not in the policy of containing Iran but of removing a government prepared to co-operate with Russia in the exploitation of the gas of the Levant basin. 
 
In December 2013, Russia’s SoyuzNefteGaz signed a $90 million deal to support Syria’s first offshore drilling attempt. Not only did that outrage the Syrian opposition but it also poses a threat to the interests of their backers and US and Britain's allies- Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and Jordan.

Turkey took Ukraine's side after Russia's annexation of the Crimea which threatens its role as a predominant NATO power in the Black Sea region. In turn, this has driven Iran closer to Moscow and led to fears of a Russia-Syria-Iraq-Iran axis of influence to rival Western alliances in the Middle East.

While ISIS's surge south raises nightmare concerns of a global oil price spike, its threat offers the opportunity for the US and Turkey to detach the Kurdish region further from Iranian influenced Baghdad, though Washington has so far pulled short of demanding Maliki's departure as the condition for military assistance.

The US is hardly likely to want to join Iran in rolling back the threat of ISIS even if domestic hawks are demanding greater military action and the need to remove Maliki. Such a policy could only be enforced by committing itself to increased military intervention that could draw it into conflict with Tehran.

On the other hand, if Iran commits to a military intervention, then Turkey would be bound to back Sunni militants and its Kurdish allies as a counter measure and with the support of Qatar and Saudi Arabia which have both warned the US to stay out of Iraq and that shoring up Maliki would be seen as a 'hostile act' against Sunni muslims.

The appalling danger of the Syria and Iraq conflict is that it is is drawing in the regional powers further into a clash  which could drag in those global power players that are vying for access to the oil and gas that drives their economies and is causing collisions of interest and growing insecurity.


Wednesday, 18 June 2014

ISIS and an 'Extreme Islamist Regime'

'I'd disagree with those people who think this is nothing to do with us and if they want to have some sort of extreme Islamist regime in the middle of Iraq that won't affect us – it will"
ISIS is very much 'to do' with Britain and the US having backed its Gulf allies and their foreign policy. The bulk of past funding for ISIS came from Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Qatar both when ISIS was a force fighting the Shi'ite militias in Iraq but also when it was aligned with the Free Syria Army.

As recently as 2013 ISIS was fighting with ISIS against the Kurdish militias. Al Qaida broke with ISIS because its interests were better served by remaining with affiliated groups that both Britain and the US have assisted in their struggle against Assad by backing Saudi and Qatari policy.

Cameron's use of the word 'extreme Islamist' is a slight improvement on Tony Blair's use of the soundbite 'jihadi extremist' which implies there may well be 'jihadi moderates'. If 'extremist' is taken to mean ISIS, then Al Qaida affilated groups such as Al Nusra brigades could be correspondingly 'moderate'.
"The people in that regime, as well as trying to take territory, are also planning to attack us here at home in the United Kingdom. So the right answer is to be long term, hard-headed, patient and intelligent with the interventions that we make'
When Cameron uses the words 'that regime' it could be taken to imply that there could be a military intervention not only against ISIS but also against Assad of the sort he was itching for in the summer of 2013. ISIS is a jihadi group but it is not a government nor a 'regime' in any conventional sense
'..the most important intervention of all is to make sure that these governments are fully representative of the people who live in their countries, that they close down the ungoverned space, and they remove the support for the extremists.
If that were British foreign policy, then the emphasis would have to be upon being more forceful with Qatar and Saudi Arabia which have been at the forefront of backing militant Sunni jihadists in Syria. But , on the whole, both Britain and the US have tended to turn a blind eye to this.
"our engagement with the Saudi Arabians, with Qataris, with Emiratis and others is all on the basis that none of us should be supporting those violent terrorists or extremists'
This means that London and Washington have tried to dissuade Qatar and Saudi Arabia from backing Sunni jihadists through fear of 'blowback'. But Qatar has actually made it plain it does not care. The Qatari foreign minister stated in March 2014 ;"The independence of Qatar's foreign policy is simply non-negotiable".

The reason Britain's 'engagement' with Qatar has not meant preventing them from supporting Al Qaida affiliated groups is that Cameron's government has been forthright in courting Qatar as a major source of investment in Britain, important to prop up its ailing rentier economy, and of gas.

With instability in Ukraine and the need to diversify sources of gas away from dependence upon Russia, notable both Cameron and Johnson have been banging the drum for increased bilateral ties with Qatar, a power lauded by Johnson as a "dynamic friend'.

Britain has grovelled before Qatar because its domestic supplies of North Sea gas have been depleting in recent years. An essential reason for Britain supporting Qatar's policy of backing jihadists in Syria is to get rid of Assad and secure the contruction of the Qatar-Tukey gas pipeline.

Britain has been prepared to align with Qatar in such as way as to provide the space within which groups such as ISIS can flourish because it wanted to remove Assad and prevent a 'Shi'ite gas pipeline' running from Iran's part of the South pars gasfield through Iraq and Syria to the Easterm Mediterranean.

Monday, 16 June 2014

ISIS, Kurdistan and the Geopolitical Stakes for the US and Britain in Syria and Iraq.

"The evidence is there for all to see what happens in the absence of cooperation. It leaves a political and military opening for extremists."- William Hague
With Washington said to be ready to intervene militarily along with Iran to roll back the threat posed to Bagdhad by the ISIS, it is vital to remember that the Obama administration has claimed it is prepared to use air strikes against it both in Syria and Iraq.

As ISIS has its main base in Raqqah, it owes its surge deep into Iraq through Mosul and Tikrit not merely to the continued chaos that has not gone away aftermath of the Iraq War but also due to the fact that the US and Britain have been tacitly backing fanatical Sunni jihadists in Syria.

That is why Obama and Hague focused solely on the failings of the Shi'ite government of al Maliki in Baghdad as a way of diverting attention away from the fact that ISIS were fighting with the Free Syria Army as recently as 2013, a force backed by Britain and the US as a means to overthrow President Assad.

ISIS was not only able to develop due to the way Sunni jihadists groups have become progressively more brutal in northern Syria. The group owed the bulk of its past funding to donors in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait where it was regarded in Iraq as a means to combat Shi'ite militias and Iran's influence.

Hagues' propaganda use of the flexible cant word 'extremist' means 'jihadists not under our control' or else not objectively on the side of Britain's Gulf allies in Saudi Arabia and Qatar, both of which have been vying for influence in any post-Assad Syria by promoting the most effective .i.e. ruthless jihadists.

The absurdity of the geopolitical situation in Syria and Iraq is such that Britain and the US are effectively backing Al Qaida affiliated groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra by funnelling weapons to the FSA which only in the course of 2014 has been fighting against ISIS.

One reason is that whereas the FSA and ISIS had a common interest in fighting Kurdish separatists, ISIS wanted to surge into Iraq and the Kurdish separatists were prepared to do a deal with ISIS to allow them to march southwards and link up with Baathists opposed to the Shi'ites in Baghdad.

The reason is that Kurdish separatists in Syria and the autonomous region of Iraq wanted to seize Kirkuk which they consider the ancient ( and oil rich ) capital city of Kurdistan. By having ISIS put pressure on Baghdad and fight against the FSA they could increase their reach and power over their territory and oil

The US and Britain would be prepared to shore up al Maliki's Shi'ite government only upon certain conditions so it can continue to exert influence in Baghdad and to prevent Iran from increasing its role in Iraq through sending troops , signing lucrative arms deals and shipping weapons to Assad.

Hence the other reason-apart from the potential threat to the oil producing regions south of Baghdad- for military intervention by the US, with British intelligence assistance, is to reduce ISIS so as to effectively back up the FSA's struggle  and ensure the goal of 'regime change' in Damascus is furthered.

Generally, ISIS is an offshoot and product of the increased radicalisation and competition for control amongst Sunni jihadists and, as such, a product of Saudi and Qatari foreign policy backed by Britain and the US. But it is seen as a threat because it has allowed Assad to regain the military initiative.

Throughout 2014 Assad has been rolling back the FSA from positions around Damascus and the strategically vital land between the Syrian capital to the Mediterranean coast, the route through which arms are supplied to the government and that connects to Hizbollah's base in Lebanon.

ISIS poses a threat because it has divided the Sunni jihadists in Syria and allowed Assad and hence Russia-which backs Assad and has an interest in blocking Qatar's and Turkey's plan for a gas pipeline that would rival its supply to Europe-to gain the upper hand in the Middle East.

On the other hand, the fact that ISIS has been able to collude with the Kurdish militias to threaten the Iraqi capital provides an opportunity for Washington and London to make any military assistance conditional on moving away from Tehran ( that's what Hague really means by the 'need for cooperation' in Iraq ).

Ultimately, US and British foreign policy is about energy geopolitics and siding with key regional allies which provide them with oil ( as Saudi Arabia does to the US ) and with the large and increasing quantities gas which Qatar provides to Britain and France, thus allowing it to diversify supply away from Russia.

ISIS, Iraq and Syria: The Geopolitical Stakes

It is not clear in the latest media reports on the new Iraq crisis whether the Obama administration is considering air strikes designed only to take out ISIS targets or if the existence of ISIS in Syria and Iraq is to act as the pretext to try and take out President Assad's military assets in Syria.

From the beginning of 2014, Assad's forces have rolled back the Sunni insurgent forces from the area around the capital Damascus, partly because ISIS started only this year to engage militarily with both the Free Syria Army and Kurdish separatists in northern Syria

Previously, in 2013, ISIS  was a staunch jihadist ally of the Free Syria Army in attacking the forces of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) of Kurdistan. As a consequence of rivalries with the Free Syria Army and its desire to align with forces within Iraq opposed to Baghdad, ISIS broke away from the FSA.

Whereas the FSA and its Western and Gulf allies backers have accused Assad of backing ISIS as a means to draw their forces into a diversionary war, Kurdish militias in northern Iraq may have colluded with ISIS in order to weaken the Maliki government in Baghdad because of disputes over the export of oil.

The danger is that Washington is going to use accusations that Assad has backed ISIS, as opposed to simply having not attacked them through realising they could fight the the FSA, to launch the air stikes it was prepared to launch in August 2013 after the Syrian military's alleged gas attack on Ghouta.

Of course, ISIS has been regarded by Western intelligence reports leaked to the media as an offshoot of Al Qaida that Assad may have abetted. Certainly, there have been defections as the competition for control over oil supplies has ensured the survival of the most brutal and pathologically violent groups.

However, even if Assad has played a murky double game with the Sunni jihadists and foreign fighters forming ISIS, the vast majority of the funding and provision of the weapons that has created this situation of increasing 'radicalisation' is from Saudi Arabia and Qatar, both of which are competing to get the most effective jihadist group fighting for their interests.

What Washington and London fear is that Assad has outplayed the West by turning its use of jihadi assets in Syria as a means of thwarting the plan, mostly backed by Qatar, to use Al Qaida affiliated groups such as the Al Nusra Front and Ahrar al-Sham to overthrow him.

Qatar has resisted forthrightly any attempt to change that foreign policy, one that has led to quarrels with Saudi Arabia which had previously supported Al Nusra but has started to fear jihadi influence spreading back home and preferred to bankroll more 'moderate' jihadi groups such as Jaysh al-Islam.

Saudi Arabia has attempted to persuade Washington to lift restrictions on supplying this new 'improved' jihadi group with anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles to give it the edge over Al Qaida affiliated groups ( still backed by Qatar ) and, of course, the Muslim Brotherhood.

Washington could regard the deep incursion into Iraq by ISIS as too good an opportunity to miss in using it as a pretext to roll back Assad in Syria and to make saving Maliki's Shia government in Iraq through effective use of air power, conditional on breaking its arms deals with Iran and trying to reach out to Iraqi sunni Muslims.

By so doing, Washington could decisively scupper any potential realisation of the proposed 'Islamic pipeline' between Iran, Iraq and Syria that would allow Tehran to export gas to the Eastern Mediterranean and thwart the preferred Qatar-Turkey pipeline that is proposed from the South Pars fieldb both Gulf powers share.

Apart from the benefits of hemming in Iran as part of a broader attempt to encircle and destroy the regime in Tehran through sanctions, Washington would be able to decisively set back Russia's plans to control the gas supply to Europe from the Eastern Mediterranean.

Friday, 13 June 2014

US Foreign Policy on Iraq: Breaking the Shia Alliance in From Syria to Iran.

The US is unlikely to intervene militarily in Iraq again unless the Kurdish region were threatened or if Baghdad were to fall under an an attack by ISIS and revived Baathist forces, thus opening the way for the major oil producing regions in the south to be menaced.

For the Obama administration the threat from ISIS presents an opportunity to put pressure on Maliki not to allow Iraq to be used as either a land bridge for Iran's support for President Assad or for its air space to be used to transport weapons to Lebanon's Hizbollah.

It has been a continued aim of the foreign policy of Clinton from 2011 onwards as Secretary of State and then, as potential presidential candidate, that 'Assad must go'. Washington is concerned at the possibility that Assad has looked like stronger in Syria and that Baghdad is moving too close to Tehran.

Not only has Iraq signed a $195m arms deal with Iran, the threat of the 6,000-kilometer "Islamic Pipeline' from the South Pars gas field to the Eastern Meditteranean would become closer to realisation, thus angering Qatar with whom Iran shares the huge reserves of gas in the Gulf.

Qatar has bankrolled and funded Sunni jihadists, some in groups that are affiliated to Al Qaida, as a means of both removing Assad and furthering the rival plan to build a gas pipeline to Turkey and thence on to European markets, one reason why Britain and France have allied with Qatar.

One reason for the speed and scale of ISIS's surge from northern Syria into central Iraq, and Al Qaida's break with ISIS, is that Assad was cunning enough to have left it alone, realising it would fight against the other jihadists and tie up both the FSA and Kurdish separatists in the north.

ISIS was able to operate and spread because in 2013 Qatar was prepared to finance and arm the most fanatical jihadists such as Ahrar al-Sham and Turkey was prepared to allow ISIS to develop so as to fight alongside the FSA as a means of countering the threat of Kurdish irredentism.

Until 2014, ISIS was a staunch ally of the Free Syria Army until it became apparent that by attacking the Kurds, they were allowing Assad down south in Damascus the freedom to roll back the FSA from its positions outside the Syrian capital ( leading to accusations Assad was funding ISIS ).

In fact, the chaos and the rise of ISIS is more to do with the FSA being riven with factional struggles between those backed by Qatar and those by Saudi Arabia, both of which are vying to impose their leadership on the Sunni insurgent forces should Assad be overthrown.

Saudi Arabia has been wary that Qatar's preparedness to back the Muslim Brotherhood which is a traditional enemy and hostile to the Wahhabite state. But it has been more concerned with rivalling Qatar with Salafists that would do their bidding such as the Jabhat Al Nusra Front.

The upshot of this sordid power politics is that ISIS has grown into a major threat because of the way Syria has acted as a cockpit for backing the most ruthless Sunni jihadists so as to get rid of Assad and advance energy interests with the tacit backing of the US and Britain.

As a consequence of a shoddy realpolitik, the entire region has become even more unstable and Iraq more so than at any time since the sectarian warfare that erupted after the US invasion of 2003. ISIS is regarded by Maliki in Iraq as part of a Saudi plot; Assad is blamed by the FSA for supporting it.

Saudi Arabia clearly could have an interest in seeing Iraq descend into sectarian warfare. ISIS would engage the Shia government in Iraq and thwart Iran's plans to extend its interests westwards. The US would only intervene if the Kurdish oil fields or those in south Iraq were threatened.

Washington would be quite content to see Iran checked by having Maliki's government embroiled in a struggle against ISIS as it could then make military intervention to shore up his government conditional on moving away from Tehran and abandoning such plans as the Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline.

Back to Iraq: The Syrian Conflict and Jihadist Blowback.

The capture of Mosul and Tikrit by ISIS-and the potential military intervention of the US in Iraq once more being considered-is a consequence of the 'blowback' created by Western geostrategy in Syria and the continued chaotic aftermath of the US and British invasion of Iraq in 2003.

One of the unintended consequences of Bush and Blair's invasion was that it has empowered the Shi'ites whose militias were needed to defeat the threat of Sunni militias and the remnants of Saddam's army which are now clearly involved in the retaking of the old Iraqi dictator's home city.

The US and Britain have been concerned since the Syrian Civil War broke out in 2011 that should President Assad and his Alawite Shia government not be overthrown, that Maliki's Iraq would form a land bridge between Syria and Iran through which weapons and men could be sent to Lebanon's Hizbollah.

ISIS has been gaining ground throughout 2014 and so brutal and successful has it proved in battle, that both Saudi Arabia and Qatar,along with their ally the US, have been secretly backing jihadist groups in Syria in their opposition to ISIS which was considered 'al-Qaeda's most extreme wing'.

However, it is a fact that one of the jihadist groups fighting ISIS is the Jabhat Al Nusra Front. This organisation is funded and supplied with arms by Saudi Arabia as a means to bolster the power of Salafists against the Shia and also as a rival to the power of the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood ( backed by Qatar).

Saudi Arabia and Qatar are aligned in opposition to the power of Assad in Syria and Maliki in Iran as both are Shi'ite administrations. However, the Sunni insurgents in Syria are divided between those backed by either regional power and that has weakened the military opposition to Assad.

Saudi Arabia opposes the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood and went as far as labelling it 'a terrorist organisation' recently because Saudi Arabia has always feared Muslim Brotherhood ideas as subversive and because it Qatar is trying to assert its leadership over the Free Syrian Army.

With ISIS being rejected by Al Qaida for being 'too extreme', the absurdity is that Saudi Arabia , and by extension the US, are going to be effectively backing groups such as the Al Nusra Front, an Al Qaida affiliate, to fight against ISIS and bring the jihadist movement back 'under control'.

Moreover, ISIS's success in northern Syria threatens to destroy the military opposition to Assad from the Free Syrian Army that the US and Britain have tacitly backed through supporting Saudi Arabia and Qatar as well as Turkey which had intitially allowed ISIS to operate along its borders.

This colossal mess is a consequence of Qatar and Saudi Arabia using Syria as a proxy war battleground against both Iran and Iraq, a strategy aided and abetted by the US and Britain. Baghdad has remained close to its Shia neighbour to the east as has, of course, Assad.

Both Qatar and Saudi Arabia fear a Shi'ite axis stretching from the Gulf to the Eastern Mediterranean.Qatar has been allowed to 'play with fire' because it is a major supplier of liquified natural gas to Britain and France and a huge source of investment in both London and Paris.

In addition, Qatar and its allies in Britain and France has wanted Assad to go because they fear Iran could use its influence in Iraq and Syria, should the Free Syria Army be defeated, to construct an 'Islamic pipeline' which would allow gas from the South Pars field ( shared with Qatar) to flow west.

With ISIS poised to strike at Baghdad, the US would be clearly wary of Iraq being taken over by fanatical jihadists, even if both it and Saudi Arabia could see it as a chance to use the potential threat  as a means of getting a less militantly Shia and pro-Iranian government in Iraq.

Even so, ISIS would be poised to capture important oil installations in Kirkuk and threaten the Kurdish regions of Iraq, where the US and Britain have been at the forefront of vying for oil exploration contracts, and so affect global oil prices which are already running at a three month high.

More ominously, ISIS is believed to contain at least 20 British nationals in it as well as jihadists from across the world being trained in the art of terror and machine gunning and beheading civilians at random. The threat of terrorists coming back to Western capitals could increase.

Western foreign policy has clearly failed as far as the publicly declared aim of 'countering extremism'. The reason is that it has been too closely associated with backing the irresponsible policies of Qatar and Saudi Arabia because of the hold they have over the US, France and Britain as regards energy and finance.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

The Iraq War : Predicting Bloody Chaos.

'The catastrophic results of the Iraq invasion are often portrayed as having been impossible to predict, and only inevitable with the benefit of hindsight. If only to prevent future calamities from happening, this is a myth that needs to be dispelled. The very fact that the demonstration on that chilly February day in 2003 was the biggest Britain had ever seen, is testament to the fact that disaster seemed inevitable to so many people.'( Owen Jones, We anti-war protesters were right: the Iraq invasion has led to bloody chaos, Owen Jones, Guardian June 10 2014)
The problem, however, is that the demonstration in February 2003 did not prove many foresaw how the invasion would become the disaster it did. Obviously, there were informed experts on the Middle East who foresaw that an invasion could fragment the nation along sectarian lines and so were against it.

Yet few leading anti-war activists trying to ramp up opposition to Tony Blair mentioned this at the time. Tariq Ali made no mention of a resurgence of sectarian warfare. Nor did John Rees, George Galloway, Lindsey German or Andrew Murray foresee that or write about it.

The reason was because they were not interested. The war was by definition wrong because all wars launched by the imperialist US and Britain would be wrong because all state violence for them is wrong unless it is being used by revolutionaries to terrorise enemies into submission.

So the reason people marched against the war may have been ideological , taking a stance against an 'imperialist' war. For others, the invasion was just an attack on a Muslim nation. Others believed it was wrong because they thought the official justifications hid other more obvious motives.

There were many who saw George Bush's administration were intent on invading Iraq without having first proved Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and, rightly, that this provided the pretext for removing the dictator and securing US and British control over Iraqi oil.

But for leading members of the Stop the War Coalition, such as Ali, the war was a 'threat to peace', a blitheringly obvious statement as a war by definition means the end of peace, unless the argument is that Saddam Hussein's Iraq was less a threat to peace than the US. As he put it,
'The pretext not only failed to convince but served rather to fuel a broad-based opposition as millions now saw the greatest threat to peace coming, not from the depleted armouries of decaying dictatorships, but from the rotten heart of the American empire and its satrapies, Israel and Britain'.
Even so, the invasion of Iraq removed Saddam fairly quickly and it only became clear a year later that Iraq would, in fact, fragment into a religiously sectarian forms of warfare aimed not only at the occupation forces but at others vying for control over Iraq and its oil wealth.

Ali was, in fact, extolling some largely mythical Iraqi national 'resistance' force, 'the Iraqi Army did not disintegrate at the first shot; there was little sign of widespread popular gratitude for the invasion but rather more of guerrilla resistance and....increasing anger in the Arab world'.

Evidently, the reality in Iraq has been far worse than anti-war activists had imagined in 2003.Yet few, if any of them-as opposed to Middle East experts who warned Blair about the probability of sectarian warfare and were ignored-knew or cared about Iraq's sectarian divisions back then.

On the contrary, many anti-war activists seemed more concerned the US and Britain might have been successful in invading Iraq and fervently wanted it to be defeated by 'the guerilla resistance' and for collaborators to 'meet the fate of Nuri Said' i.e. to be murdered and the corpse dug up, burnt and mutilated.

The demonstrations of 2003 acheived nothing nor has the 'anti-war movement' and one reason for that is that the STWC was dominated by sinister ideologues in the Socialist Workers Party and creepy apologists for dictatorships such as Galloway who discredit what should have been a good cause.

Monday, 9 June 2014

The Strategic Value of Afghanistan to the US in the New Great Game.

With the prisoner exchange of a US soldier for five top Taliban commanders, there has been a lot of talk about whether Bergdahl was a deserter, if trading him for five seasoned 'terrorists' could be worth it and whether they could possibly pose a threat to the US and US citzens.

One thing that remains uncontested is the claim that Obama is committed to withdrawal of  the US military presence by 2016. This is quite clearly not the case.

Obama is only winding down the conventional US military forces in Afghanistan. But many US contracted mercenaries are set to stay. in 2013 it was estimated that out of 110,404 contractors still working in Afghanistan, some 33,444 are American. Hence the use of the term 'drawdown'.

The US is not withdrawing from Afghanistan until its geopolitical ambitions to create a state stable enough to ensure the construction of the TAPI pipeline is ensured. As outlined in visits to Central Asia and India in 2011 by Hillary Clinton, the New Silk Road strategy is considered a vital US interest.

The construction of the TAPI pipeline is essential if Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India are to be integrated into an economic community of interest and aligned to the US more than towards global competitors such as China and regional powers that threaten US interests such as Iran.

The value of the TAPI pipeline is that it would supply gas from Turkmenistan to Pakistan and India as a substitute for Iran's rival IP pipeline. The war aims of the US in Afghanistan dovetail with the policy of isolating and imposing sanctions upon Iran so as to curtail its influence in both Asia and the Middle East.

Though 'nation building' was dropped in around 2011, the emphasis has shifted towards trying to forge a deal between the Taliban and Kabul so as to facilitate the removal of US ground troops and push forward the New Silk Road strategy (the TAPI could not be built if the Taliban threatened it ).

The prisoner swap reflects the new calculation that if the Taliban continues to offer a threat to US interests in Afghanistan, then drones can be used against them and US troops are going to be removed from Afghanistan anyway and replaced with US trained Afghan troops.

One reason the Obama administration has focused on getting Bergdahl and US soldiers home is that it does not want to be seen as doing deals with the Taliban, a group often conflated with Al Qaida so as to provide a justification for 'staying the course' in Afghanistan as part of the global 'war on terror'.

The war in Afghanistan was never only about counter-terrorism and for the best part of the last decade it was about realising other war aims that have never been clearly outlined in public. But only the credulous believe that the US fought the war for the official reasons given or that it won't retain a military presence.

In fact, as part of the new Pivot to Asia strategy, the US is bound to preserve a substantial military presence in Afghanistan so as to counter China's rival new Silk route strategies. With China now rejecting the IP pipeline and backing TAPI, there is the danger that it could increase its influence in the 'AfPak' zone.

China's 'march west' indicates a strategy of being the dominant power on the Eurasian 'World Island' so as to gain access to energy and as a counter to the US Pivot To Asia which is mostly concerned about controlling the sea lanes and oil tanker routes from the Middle East to China.

With the US finding problems finding a base in Central Asia ( Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan have not wanted US bases in recent years), Afghanistan, with its "supersized" Bagram Air Base, will continue to be vital to check China's plans to expand its influence west.

Enclosed within Bagram, US and NATO service personnel should be relatively safe and the drones would be doing the work in attacking targets and monitoring the region from the Bagram, Kandahar, Jalalabad and Salerno bases, ones that the US has no intention of closing.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Ukraine: President Poroshenko and the Road to Outright Civil War.

"Citizens of Ukraine will never enjoy the beauty of peace unless we settle down our relations with Russia. Russia occupied Crimea, which was, is, and will be Ukrainian soil"-President Poroshenko of Ukraine.
Ukraine needed a conciliatory president but Poroshenko has set back the prospect of there being a peace process and continued down a political path that can only end in open civil war. There is no realistic possibility of Ukraine regaining Crimea from Russia militarily and NATO would not help.

Federalisation would have been the only way to contain the rebels in the eastern regions. By failing to distance himself from far right Ukrainian nationalists in positions of power-or remove them-and by deciding on a military solution to defeating the eastern militias the civil war is set to continue.

With the Ukrainian air force using non guided rockets to attack the regional administrative building in Luhansk, killing eight civilians, attitudes are starting to polarise with opinion in the eastern regions hardening against Kiev. With no constitutional settlement, Kiev is determined to use force to crush 'separatists'.

The next mistake Poroshenko made is to go ahead with signing the economic part of an association agreement with the European Union. All membership of western economic and military organisations should have been off the table until the new constitutional position of the eastern regions was agreed.

Miners and workers in the Donbass region know that IMF and EU reforms could mean the destruction of their livelihoods and a break with the economic ties with Russia that provide guaranteed markets would mean penury and being thrown on the scrapheap.

The reason why the referendum on independence for the Donbass was rushed through in May 2014 was in response to the fear that Kiev was trying to ram through 'reforms' without their consent and without considering the economic interests of the workers in the east.

The double standards are plain. Whereas the western regions of Ukraine, where far right nationalists rule, were able in February 2014 to gain a measure of regional autonomy when it feared Kiev was not pursuing policies in its interests, any such autonomy for the east in a federal Ukraine is rejected.

Poroshenko by trying to move Ukraine decisively into the west -and the EU-is only going to alienate eastern Ukrainians even more as it seems that western Ukrainian ultra-nationalists are pandered to but those whose economic interests are connected to Russia are not important in any 'new' Ukraine.

As Anatol Lieven puts it, since Ukraine became an independent state after the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991 it was obvious that 'Ukraine contains different identities, and cannot be ruled unilaterally by one of them alone, or pulled in a single geopolitical direction, without risking the breakup of the country itself'.

Since the Odessa Massacre, in which Right Sector paramilitaries played a role, and the growing determination of Kiev throughout April and May to use military means to crush eastern militias, it has become apparent that a good number of eastern civilians would not tolerate a Ukraine defined as only pro-West and anti-Russian.

President Poroshenko has as yet failed to get rid of senior officials in Ukrainian National Security and Defence Council such as Andriy Parubiy or Right Sector's Dmytro Yarosh. Without that, civilians in the eastern regions are not going to feel that a Ukrainian army would not be one of occupation.

Should the Ukrainian army kill scores more eastern civilians, then the possibility of the majority of civilians in the Donbass wanting to remain as part of a federal Ukraine could evaporate and the demand for independence gain traction. Then the way would be open to a Yugoslavian scale civil war.

Friday, 6 June 2014

Ukraine: The Path Towards Civil War Continued

The election of President Poroshenko has not seen any moves that would need to be taken if Ukraine is to avoid the nascent civil war in the east developing further. In fact, on May 26th 2014 the Secretary of Ukraine's National Security and Defence Council, Andriy Parubiy visited NATO headquarters.

The failure to remove Parubiy, a far right politician with a paramilitary background who has stated his intention to send paramilitary forces east from Kiev, was a clear indication that the game plan remains one of crushing all opposition by military means.

The decision to ram through IMF austerity measures and the clear attempt to use the crisis to pull Ukraine decisively into western military and economic structures could only intensify the resentment towards Kiev in the eastern regions where civilian casualties have steadily mounted.

The Ukrainian air force's non-guided rocket attacks on the regional administration building in eastern Ukraine’s Luhansk was reported to have killed eight civilians on June 2. As one witness put it, “This isn’t an antiterror operation...It’s a terror operation against their own people.”

One reason Kiev has not shown restraint is that the political elites have regarded the overthrow as a unique opportunity to remake Ukraine in a way that decisively rolls back the power of the eastern regions. Eastern Ukraine also has copious reserves of shale gas in the Dnieper-Donets basin.

Washington was advancing its energy interests in Ukraine before the mass protests broke out in November 2013. Victoria Nuland gave a speech on December 13th at a conference sponsored by Chevron which urged Ukrainian elites to force through IMF reforms.

The intensity of the geopolitical tug of war over Ukraine reflects the competition to control the shale gas reserves and the oil off the Crimean coast that Chevron, Shell, ExxonMobil had all coveted. To be worthy of support, Kiev has to demonstrate it can retain the 'territorial integrity' of Ukraine.

Both the Kiev elites and Western governments fear that eastern Ukraine and its strategically vital territory which lies on the east to west transit route for oil and gas could be drawn into a breakaway semi-state. That would thwart NATO's ambition to control the entire Black Sea region.

The preservation of Ukraine as a territorial state would be made possible only if NATO entry was decisely ruled out. Not only do two thirds of Ukrainian not support it, it is opposed by many more those industrial and mining regions with close economic ties with Russia who regard it as 'western imperialism'.

The danger as Mark Almond points out is this- 'If Kiev were to assert its authority by deploying troops or the new paramilitary National Guard (necessarily drawn from western Ukraine) it could look like a “foreign” occupation to local Russians who have not taken part in the protests'.

The way to avert civil war would be for Kiev to outline a new constitutional settlement which proposes greater regional autonomy for the Donbas, equal federalisation across Ukraine and not to make Russia surrendering Crimea a precondition for diplomatic negotiations between the Great Powers.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

A Note on Blair and Trotsky: The Prophets Outcast.

'Many voters stopped listening to Mr Blair because of the Iraq war. For some, he no longer has standing at all; for others, although they may approve of his views on Europe, his standing remains overshadowed by Iraq...' ( Tony Blair, Standing Room Only, Guardian,  June 3 2014 )
It's actually important to listen to Blair because every time he stries to 'take a stance' on foreign policy he is trying to get people to see his decision to launch a pre-emptive war against Iraq as a visionary one that attempted to propel the Middle East through a historical transition towards democracy.

In that sense, Blair has continually tried to stake out the position that had the US and Britain not invaded Iraq then Saddam's state would have fallen anyway, as it has in neighbouring Syria, with far more bloodshed. It's always interesting to see how obsessive Blair is about safeguarding his legacy.

Contrary to what some claim, Blair is not a sociopath but he's a man with a conscience who needs people to keep the faith with him and to believe that the decision he took to invade Iraq shall be justified in the larger historical scheme of things.

That does not mean Blair is a "tragic" figure as the novelist Robert Harris claimed yesterday. Narcissistic and with a messiah complex, Blair might well be flattered by that description; he seems to be heavily influenced by the fate of Trotsky as outlined in Isaac Deutscher's Prophet Trilogy.

Blair now fancies himself as 'The Prophet Outcast' warning of the steady and sinister approach of a global Islamist threat looming ominously upon the horizon and which statesmen are ignoring, as they did in 'appeasing fascism' in the 1930s. That was the thrust of his Bloomberg Speech.

To a certain extent the influence of Trotsky is genuine. Blair believed that a revolutionary foreign policy, using force as the midwife of history, could bring about an ineluctable spread of liberal democracy in the Middle East, a process yet still emerging from out of the current chaos and carnage.

The fact is that no such order has emerged on a durable basis in Iraq and that neighbouring states, such as Syria, have collapsed into civil war and bloodshed without any prospect of peace. Blair has to try to see this as the birth pangs of a new order otherwise he and his 'moral cause' is lost.