Category Archives: Iraq

Syria and Iraq and the Arabs: the New Iranian-Turkish Regional Rivalry………….

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President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad calls for dialogue between the Syrian government and the opposition and urges the government to respect people’s rights. “We are of the opinion that that nations and governments should resolve their problems with each other (through dialogue),” Ahmadinejad tells Portugal’s Radiotelevisao Portuguesa when asked about Iran’s position toward uprisings in Syria. Ahmadinejad adds, “Governments and nations should respect rights and freedom.”……….Mehr News Agency (Iran)

Iran criticizes Turkey for agreeing to host NATO’s missile defense system, saying Iran does not expect Turkey as a neighbor and friendly country to adopt policies that would create tension in the region. “We expect our friendly countries and neighbors to show more vigilance and by considering the region’s security interests do not pave the way for policies that create tension that will definitely lead to ‘complicated consequences’,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast says. Turkey has recently agreed to host an early warning radar as part of NATO’s missile defense system which is allegedly aimed to counter missile threats by Iran. Mehmanparast says Iran believes the deployment radar system in Turkey will not serve “regional stability and security” even for the host country………. Mehr News Agency

These two news items from Iran reflect newly reshuffled cards in the game of musical chairs in our region. There is no doubt now that the Iranians are bracing for change in Syria. Even if the protests in Syrian cities are crushed, regimes like the Ba’ath one in Syria are considered an anomaly now (as are other regimes, but that is for another post). Change is coming and not just in Syria, but whether it is ‘change you can believe in’ depends on your view and your politics.
The Iranians have looked at the players in Syria and probably decided to get ready for any eventuality. It is likely that they have decided to adopt their own Syrian faction: everyone else seems to have their own “Islamist” factions in Syria these days. Sect is not an issue when it comes to politics: the Iranian mullahs are not as ‘pure’ as the Wahhabi potentates in Saudi Arabia, or maybe they can’t afford to be that pure given the demographics of most countries in the region by sect. They may be getting ready to throw the secular Ba’ath regime under the bus, hoping for another “Hamas”. What favors this tack is that the mullahs also know that they have one important card in Syria no matter who comes to power in Damascus: the Golan Heights. The Likud or Kadima will never give up the Golan, which means any new Damascus regime will probably keep its Iranian (and hence its Lebanese) options open. The Iranians invented the game of chess and that is how they play the regional politics, yet they are not immune to the unrest.
Then there is Turkey, which had been sympathetic to the Iranian position on the nuclear issue. Until now. The Arab Spring has reshuffled the regional cards and created new opportunities, and it is not done yet. Silent and latent rivalries, dating back to the Persian-Ottoman struggle over Arab territories like Iraq, are warming up. This is exacerbated by the total paralysis of the Arab system and the inability of the Arab oligarchs to shape events in the region. Despite the billions spent on weapons and on international networking, the region’s fate is still determined by three non-Arab parties and the West. Egypt may regain its pre-Mubarak role as a major regional player, as “the” Arab player, but that depends on how things develop in Cairo. The Iranian-Turkish rivalry in Iraq is more commercial than political since the Iranians seem to have an overwhelming political and cultural and geographic advantage. The Iranian hand in Iraq has been strengthened by the loud disapproval of some Arab regimes of the new order in Iraq.
Syria is another matter: it is a smaller and poorer country. But Syria also has its own issue with Turkey: the small region of Alexandretta that the Syrians claim should be theirs.
When the dust settles on this new Arab Spring, and that may be a few years from now, what we shall see will most likely be quite different from what we now expect.
This also includes developments inside Iran.
Cheers
mhg



m.h.ghuloum@gmail.com

Iraqi Politics: Strange Leadership, Passing the Buck Iraqiya Style………

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Iraqiya Slate said that it has submitted to the Presidency names of its nominees for the post of Defence Minister. Iraqiya’s spokeswoman, Maysoun al-Damaluji told NINA on Thursday, Sep. 1, “Iraqiya Slated submitted to the Presidency the names of 9-10 nominees for the post of Defence Minister to put an end to the argument and put an end to the issue. But she did not announce the names and whether they are new or include previous nominees. She pointed out that all the names mentioned by the media are not true, they reflect their opinion…….

The Iraqiya bloc (of Allawi and former Ba’athists) submitted TEN names as candidates for Defense Minister. Imagine being asked for “a” and candidate and submitting TEN! What a fucked-up system of leadership decision-making is that? This only means the al-Iraqiya bloc could not decide who to nominate: they handed the problem up to the prime minister. If they can’t decide whom to nominate, how did they expect to rule Iraq?
(Iraqi politics are odd, odder than even the Republican Tea Party politics in America).

Cheers
mhg



m.h.ghuloum@gmail.com

Petro- Elections of Pakistan and Elsewhere……..

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KARACHI: ISI asked Saudi Arabia not to fund Nawaz Sharif for his election campaign, a secret cable of 2008 revealed. According to WikiLeaks, National Security Adviser Tariq Aziz told Asif Zardari that after being elected as a prime minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi could challenge his authority, as Zardari was considering Qureshi as a PPP candidate for prime minister. Aziz told US Ambassador Anne Patterson on February 15 that Saudi Arabia has provided heavy funds to Nawaz Sharif for his election campaign in order to defeat Pakistan Peoples’ Party. In the same meeting, he also told Patterson that ISI requested Saudi Ambassador to stop funding Nawaz Sharif. ………..” Pakistan is a huge country, population wise. The Saudis must have spent multiple what they spent (and still do) in Lebanon and Iraq and other places for election and coup campaigns. Reports indicate they outspent the Iranians, actually swamped them, in terms of spending in the last Lebanese elections (they did get to control the parliament, briefly). I bet they will have to spend much more in Egypt in the coming elections. Then there is Libya, whenever it ever gets to elections (NTC promises to hold them in 2013), and Syria if it ever gets to having elections. Of course there is still Saudi Arabia (aka Arabian Peninsula): if they ever decide to hold opsn elections, sometime on the other side of doomsday……
Cheers
mhg



m.h.ghuloum@gmail.com

Ayad Allawi: How the U.S. Can Help me Again? Harold Stassen of Iraq………..

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As the Arab Spring drives change across our region, bringing the hope of democracy and reform to millions of Arabs, less attention is being paid to the plight of Iraq and its people. We were the first to transition from dictatorship to democracy, but the outcome in Iraq remains uncertain. Our transition could be a positive agent for progress, and against the forces of extremism, or a dangerous precedent that bodes ill for the region and the international community. Debate rages in Baghdad and Washington around conditions for a U.S. troop extension beyond the end of this year. While such an extension may be necessary, that alone will not address the fundamental problems festering in Iraq. Those issues present a growing risk to Middle East stability and the world community. The original U.S. troop “surge” was meant to create the atmosphere for national political reconciliation and the rebuilding of Iraq’s institutions and infrastructure. But those have yet to happen. ……..
He closes his piece with this: Ayad Allawi, a former prime minister of Iraq, leads the largest political bloc in Iraq’s Parliament… If this was true, why isn’t he the prime minister?
 
Mr. Allawi is ‘hinting’ that if he were PM, the SOFA would be extended, perhaps strengthened, even as he says it is not the ‘main’ issue. Mr. Allawi is inviting the West, especially the USA, to intervene even more deeply in Iraqi politics again. He is inviting the West to intervene in Iraq for his benefit. He even talks of the Arab Spring, even as his “Arabian” patrons are busy with their counter-revolution against the Arab Spring. Spoken like a true self-serving Ba’athist, if only a former Ba’athist.
Mr. Allawi should just go away, spend more of his time visiting his patrons, flying between Abu Dhabi, Manama, Riyadh, Amman, Damascus, and Cairo (sorry, scratch Damascus and Cairo). He is becoming the Harold Stassen (look him up) of Iraqi politics.

(This is definitely not an endorsement of the current Iraqi government or parliament. It is barely less corrupt than most Arab potentates. That corruption also includes Allawi’s political allies in Iraq).
Cheers
mhg



m.h.ghuloum@gmail.com

Petroleum Rivalries Turning OPEC Upside Down……….

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Saudi Arabia’s government spending, flat since the last oil boom in the 1970s, is now rising at 10 percent or more annually. And it will rise faster still: The House of Saud’s survival instinct in the wake of the initial Arab revolutions led King Abdullah to announce $130 billion of largesse in February and March. The resulting increases in government employment and salaries can be cut only at the cost of more discontent. And that’s only what the kingdom is spending on its “counterrevolution” at home. Saudi Arabia will pay the lion’s share of the pledged $25 billion of Gulf Cooperation Council aid to Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, and Oman. With Iraq, Syria, and Yemen likely flashpoints yet to come, the bill will only increase. Already, nearly a third of the Saudi budget goes toward defense, a proportion that could rise in the face of a perceived Iranian threat. Meanwhile, fast-growing domestic demand poses a serious threat to oil-export revenues. The kingdom is one of the world’s least energy-efficient economies: With prices fixed at $3 per barrel for power generation and $0.60 per gallon of gasoline, Saudi Arabia needs 10 times more energy than the global average to generate a dollar of output. Subsidized natural gas, too, is in short supply, undermining an economic diversification drive focused on petrochemicals. As much as 1.2 million barrels per day (bpd) of oil are burned for electricity to meet summer air-conditioning demand, yet Jeddah, Saudi Arabia’s second-largest city, still suffers frequent power cuts………This combination of higher spending and lower exports shortens Saudi Arabia’s time horizon. Usually considered, on shaky evidence, to be a “price moderate” within OPEC, the kingdom now requires $85 per barrel to balance its budget. That figure will rise to $320 by 2030………

The problem
for the Saudis is that long before the year 2030, both Iran and Iraq would have resumed full control of their oil fields. Iraqi and Iranian outputs have been disrupted by thirty years of war and revolution and Western sanctions, but that era of instability will end soon. Both countries threaten to overtake Saudi Arabia as OPEC’s main producer and possibly as ‘swing’ producers. Both have huge untapped resources and unconfirmed reserves (thirty years of instability takes its toll). Then there is Venezuela, which OPEC recently declared now has the largest oil reserves, surpassing Saudi Arabia. It is almost certain that within a decade from now the heavy weights in OPEC will be three ‘ornery’ republics in addition to the Kingdom without Magic.

Cheers
mhg



m.h.ghuloum@gmail.com

Syria Divided: Arab Spring, Arab Toothpaste………….

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On one of the city’s main streets, families have still gathered every night on the sidewalks and in the medians for nighttime picnics. Vendors crowd around selling hookahs, popcorn, sandwiches and coffee. Traffic moves slowly as people park cars by the sidewalk and open doors and windows to let music stream out to entertain the crowds……. But Aleppo’s reluctance to join the revolution goes beyond any alleged cowardice. As a financially stable city, Aleppo was already less likely to revolt, and since the nationwide unrest erupted in mid-March, residents have by turns been made complacent by government enticements and scared by the overwhelming presence of security agents and spies. Whereas Damascus is the capital and administrative hub of Syria, Aleppo is the economic center where much of the money flows, said Ammar Abdulhamid, a Syrian opposition activist and dissident in the United States. Many of the country’s factories, textile plants and pharmaceutical companies are in the city………….

The regime in Syria, just like those in Libya and Yemen, just like all Arab regimes whether dictatorships or monarchies, clings to power. As a Ba’ath Party regime, it is more willing to kill its own people than say, even the Mubarak regime in Egypt. The Ba’ath Party has had a specially dark and bloody history, in both Iraq and Syria. It started as an imitator of Europe’s Fascist “Nationalist” parties, but later acquired socialists pretensions after the expansion of Soviet power. Yet it soon descended, especially in Iraq, to a basically tribal power center (tribal in the literal sense and in the broader sense of a clan or a sect). In that, the Ba’ath rule became no different from any dictatorship or absolute monarchy; only it was bloodier than both other cases because of the mutual mistrust with the people. Neither Nasser nor Sadat or Mubarak in Egypt were ever nearly as repressive as the Ba’ath, nor were most Arab monarchies with one exception (some would say two exceptions).
No doubt the Syrian toothpaste is out of the tube. Yet the shape of the future is unknown. Arab despots are very creative in bargaining with their people and clinging to their power under different, new, guises. And the outside world (especially the West) does not like any change not of its own making. That is why the overall verdict on the so-called Arab Spring is undecided, yet.
Cheers
mhg




m.h.ghuloum@gmail.com

On Iraq Sanctions, Iran Sanctions, Cuba Sanctions, Smart Sanctions, Asinine Sanctions, ………….

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Economic sanctions rarely hurt a disfavored regime or its powerful supporters, at least in the short run. They hurt those at the bottom of the ladder. This is a point that we Westerners, with our addiction to the imposition of sanctions to punish bad behavior, should take more seriously than we do………..  This has always been the problem with the West’s sanction addiction. Sanctions nip at those whose lives are already marginal…….. Dictators everywhere try to control the economy, to funnel resources to their friends……… In the case of Iran, the sanctions are manifestly failing, unless their point was to force the government to redistribute the wealth. The regime is proceeding with its nuclear weapons development, and may even be picking up the pace. Western experts differ on how close the regime is to completing its research. The head of Israeli military intelligence recently estimated that Iran may have the capacity to build at least one nuclear explosive device by next year. Things may change. The Iranian regime may give up its nuclear dreams, making the world that much safer, and, incidentally, handing the Obama administration a much-needed foreign-policy victory. But no matter the result in Iran, let us remember, the next time we debate the imposition of sanctions on a rogue state, exactly whom we are really punishing…………

It is highly unlikely that the ruling Iranian mullahs (or any replacement regime) will suddenly give up their nuclear program anytime soon.
As for the forces behind economic sanctions: they are more complex than the writer notes. The famous sanctions against Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath regime in Iraq did not harm the dictatorship or its elites: it hurt the ordinary people. But these were broad wartime sanctions, not as selective or nuanced as what Iran “supposedly” faces currently. Then there are so-called smart sanctions that are as almost dumb as other sanctions, but maybe not as dumb as asinine sanctions. One reasonable definition of asinine sanctions is that they are the kind that neoconservatives usually prefer. A good example of asinine sanctions are those no one believes in but they are kept in place out of political fear or expediency, like the sanctions against Cuba. In fact, the American sanctions against Cuba are some of the most asinine in history.
Take the sanctions against Iran: they are only partly driven by IAEA requirements, but their depth and scope also reflect the influence of domestic American political pressure groups. These groups include the Israeli lobby (AIPAC, etc), as well as defense hawks on the right (and some on the left). These sanctions are also partly driven by a regional rivalry for domination between the United States (directly and/or through its proxy allies) and Iran. In summary, the scope of the sanctions is the result of domestic American politics as much as Iranian “infractions”. Then there is the ego of some regional allies that the U.S. administration needs to massage, in this case the Israelis, the Saudis and possibly the UAE potentates (there is oil and huge contracts at stake). Then there is the need of some in both Israel and the USA to inflate the Iranian threat and its urgency in order to divert attention away from the urgent need to resolve the issue of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Among other things………
(Personally, I believe the only “smart” sanctions are those that target weapons and individuals, not institutions. Targeting large institutions almost always tends to harm many ordinary people).

Cheers
mhg




m.h.ghuloum@gmail.com

Mystery of the Missing Iraq Money: do I hear 6, do I Hear 18……..

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In 2004, the Bush administration flew twenty billion dollars of shrink-wrapped cash into Iraq on pallets. Now the bulk of that money has disappeared. The funds flown into the war zone were made up of surplus from the UN’s oil-for-food program, as well as money from sales of Iraqi oil and seized Iraqi assets. Recent estimates had the amount of missing money at about $6.6 billion, but according to Al Jazeera, Iraqi Parliament Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi says the figure is closer to three times that amount. Officials were supposed to distribute the money to Iraqi government ministries and U.S. contractors tasked with the reconstruction of Iraq, but it now appears that the bulk of the cash was stolen in what may be one of the largest heists in history. The Iraqi government argues that U.S. forces were supposed to safeguard the cash under a 2004 agreement, making Washington responsible for the money’s disappearance. Pentagon officials claim that given time to track down the records they can account for all of the money, but the U.S. has already audited the money three times and no trace of what happened to it can be found……….

I would rather accept the US$ 6 billion figure and forget the US $ 18 billion. I wouldn’t take the word of Osama al-Nujaifi. Exaggeration as an ‘art’ was probably invented in the Middle East, most likely in Iraq, especially in Mosul which Mr. al-Nujaifi controls with his clan. Still, $ 6 billion is a lot of money. As to who took it all, I would say all of the above: Iraqis and Americans, possibly contractors from other countries as well. Many American officials and contractors probably got a good education in the Middle eastern ways of lining the pocket, some of them got very rich in the process.
Cheers
mhg




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On Iran, Egypt, Arab Revolutions, and Military Power……….

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Iran’s Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi told the media that restoring relations between his country and Egypt has been going slow because Iran “understands” the immense pressures being put on Egypt. He said Egyptians seem to need more time because of those external pressures. Relations were expected to resume quickly but seem to have been delayed after an intense campaign both private and public by Saudi (and UAE) authorities on Egypt. It is possible that the U.S administration also has had a hand through its close ties with Egypt’s ruling military junta. Egypt has been trying to walk a fine line between a desire to resume relations with Tehran and a natural inclination of its military rulers to maintain close ties with the Saudis. Saudi Arabia announced a US$ 4 billion aid package for Egypt a few weeks ago, and the country aspires to attract much investment from the Gulf GCC states.
Clearly Egyptian authorities are worried about the economy as tourism took a hit during the early stages of the revolution. The revolution itself may not be over in Egypt, depending on how much power the military junta decides to keep. It is wise for the young and others who flocked to Tahrir Square to remain alert: a revolution needs its owners to speak up and assert control of it, otherwise others, like the fundamentalist Islamists or the military or a combination of the two, will take over. In the case of Iran (1979) the mullahs were clever enough to liquidate the Shah’s military officer corps before turning their attention to their political rivals. They paid a price for liquidating the Shah’s military during the first year of the Iraqi invasion.
In the Middle East, especially in Arab states, the military has traditionally been aggressive in usurping political power during pre-revolutionary times. Even the bloodthirsty Ba’athists came to power on top of tanks in both Iraq (1963, 1968) and Syria (1963). Even though the Communist Party of Iraq traditionally had much more support, the Ba’ath managed to take power because it had so many Ba’athists from Takrit and points west in the military. Actually, the Shi’a Hawza in Iraq inadvertently helped the Ba’ath gain power through attacks on the communists whom it saw as the real threat in Iraq. As it turned out, the real threat were the Ba’athists who clung to power for 35 years, provoked two major wars, and were dislodged by American (and British) forces in 2003.
Cheers
mhg




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GCC Expansion: Jordan, Morocco, Pakistan, Malaysia……….

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Pakistan today stressed the importance of re-enforcing trade and defense relations with Bahrain, as well as in labor and work fields. The Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari held talks with the commander of the national guard in Bahrain Shaikh Mohammed Bin Issa Bin Salman Al Khalifa in which they discussed regional developments and cooperation in defense and regional matters…….…

Pakistan is effectively a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council, GCC. The Pakistani military, retired or on active duty, have for years operated the armed forces of some Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. Pakistani military and police personnel have been important in the repression of the people of Bahrain. Bahraini officials fly regularly to Pakistan to hire more ‘security’ agents even as they deny security jobs to most Bahraini citizens. Top Saudi princes like Bandar Bin Sultan Bin al-Yamama Bin BAE Systems Bin Commission is reported to have flown to Pakistan to make deals on stationing or preparing Pakistani forces to defend the regime if and when needed. Reports also indicate the same can be said of Malaysia: its government officials recently expressed willingness to send forces to defend the regime in Bahrain.
Now on the Arab side, the GCC has sought to form alliances with the monarchies of Jordan and Morocco. The last GCC summit made a surprise announcement of welcoming membership for Jordan and Morocco. Now we have the nucleus of a new group of states: the GCC, Jordan, Morocco, Malaysia, and Pakistan. That means the rich GCC states and three or four poor relations that are far away enough (Morocco, Malaysia, Pakistan) or small enough (Jordan) to be manageable. Clearly the potentates of Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and others, are looking for cheap bodies, impoverished mercenaries willing to do what it takes. The UAE is ahead of the game: the al-Nahayan are forming foreign legion of Latin Americans, Australians, disgruntled white Africans and others to keep the people at bay.
I was going to suggest that the GCC look at closer countries, like Iraq which is a Gulf country, and perhaps Yemen which is close enough ad has had deeper cultural, ethnic, and other ties (as does Iraq). Then there are Turkey and Iran, both closer than Malaysia and Pakistan and Burma or WTF. What about Egypt? Then I remembered: with none of these excluded countries can the al-Saud rule the roost. They would be dominated rather than dominate.
Cheers
mhg




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