Healing the Nations – Book Now!

The Next Century Foundation’s 
Healing the Nations
Summer Conference

 

The Next Century Foundation is holding a ten-day online conference over the end of July and the first week of August.

Events will be taking place covering all of the Foundation’s key nations and areas.

 
CLICK HERE FOR FULL DETAILS

To book, contact ncfmepp@aol.com with details of which sessions you are planning to attend.
 
Sessions will run in the mode of the NCF’s successful weekly meetings, mixing input from knowledgeable speakers and key players with both breakout room and round table discussions.

This conference provides a unique opportunity to take stock of the geopolitical situation in the Middle East and beyond, and gain on-the-ground insights simply unavailable in mainstream reporting.

We would be honoured if you would join us in confronting the key issues in these countries and working towards peace and positive change through constructive discussions – just have as we have for the last three decades.
 

Conference Sessions
(London BST)
   

Thursday 30 July 
11.20 am US/UK 
3 pm Lebanon

Friday 31 July
3 pm Palestine 

Saturday 1 August
3 pm Libya

Sunday 2 August
3 pm China

Monday 3 August
11.30 am Afghanistan 
3 pm Iran 

Tuesday 4 August
11.30 am Iraq
3 pm Syria 

Wednesday 5 August
11.30 am Kashmir 
3 pm Yemen

Thursday 6 August
11.30 am Israel 
3 pm Sudan

Friday 7 August
3 pm Bahrain

Saturday 8 August
3 pm Conclusions
 
 

Image: Sunrise in San’a, Yemen taken by yeowatzup / CC BY

Reflections on Iraq

Iraq needs a Premier

Since the failure of Mohamed Tawfiq Allawi to form a government things in Iraq have been going nowhere. Technically the President has a 15 day window, a breathing space in which to find a new premier. The name currently being touted is that of Iraq’s Intelligence Chief, Dr Mustafa Al-Kazemi – but is anyone willing to take on this poisoned chalice? To hear the Next Century Foundation’s Secretary General’s podcast on the subject click here.

This is the most dangerous time in Iraq’s history since 2003. Some suggest that the risk is that there might be a Shiite – Shiite civil war (presumably between forces led by Hadi al Amri and forces led by Muqtada Sadr) and that the aftermath of that might lead to a dictatorship. It seems there is no interest in making Iraq a better place, no pressure or incentive whatsoever to work toward better managing (reducing) divisions that could erupt into violence. Some say that Baghdad has become a place of competing warlords.

Iraq is a failed state. It’s a conundrum. Partitioning is one proposition but that is unlikely to ever happen. Too many see it as breaking the country apart.

Whomever is premier is held hostage to the political parties. Mohamed Tawfiq Allawi’s ideas about a quasi independent government to satisfy the demands of the demonstrators might have worked from a man more willing to at least listen to advice.

Iraq needs a transformation of governance, not just a change of government that amounts to no more than changing one’s clothes.

Adel Abdul-Mahdi had to go whether or not Ayatollah Sistani called for him to go. He presided over the corrupt system that the protesters wanted gone, with good reason.

But a new beginning is needed.

And now nobody really wants the job of Premier. Indeed with oil at $25 a barrel because of the ongoing oil price race to the bottom between Russia and Saudi Arabia, the job of premier of Iraq has become a true poisoned chalice. Iraq needs $70 a barrel to balance the budget.

However the real conundrum is that the corruption will not end with a simple change of government.

What the protesters have been calling for, with widespread support among virtually all ethnic and religious communities, is the transformation of governance, not a mere change in government.

Life goes on and as long as national revenue is shared with the governorates and KRG, life will be managed to some extent at the provincial and regional levels.

Iraq has become the 4th highest of 96 oil-producing countries. After 17 years, the national government can very well deliver oil but it hasn’t even delivered clean water to the people of Basra.

 

Iraq’s premier designate struggles to get approval for his cabinet

Iraq’s Premier designate, Mohamed Tawfiq Allawi, is struggling to gain approval for his cabinet. He claims to be struggling to keep his team independent to satisfy the demands of the demonstrators. Both the Kurds and some of the Sunnis stand against him. And now he has also managed to lose the support of some key Shiites. Initially he gave parliament a Monday deadline to assemble and approve his team. This was first extended to Thursday and has now been extended to Saturday. One close friend of the NCF comments:

How can progress be made in an environment where the real political power is outside the government, not inside, especially when that’s the way folks with real political power like it and want it to remain? They are the chairmen of the board who have power over the company executives they appoint.

Independents like Adil Abdulmahdi cannot do the job expected by the general public. What real power would Kurds have in Baghdad if they do not demand an appropriate share of what is likely to happen – no systemic change, just a change of clothes.

Adil Abdulmahdi had no backing/militia/group support. Sistani who is outside the government called for him to resign and the next day he does. Barham Salih has no real political power, even the few cogs in the government machinery he can turn are dependent on the cogs that are turned by those outside government. The Iraqi parliament is impotent, just another set of cogs in a machine run by outsiders.

Iraq is a failed state. No one I’ve chatted with can see a way out, especially with Iran in real control and having no interest in Iraq becoming the stable and prosperous country it could and should become, and especially with the US trying to squeeze the last drop of toothpaste out of the Iranian tube. Only the Kurds and Sunnis can begin to act independently of that strong dominating force.

What do we have to add to our armchair prognostications other than time – Trump losing the November election, the US conditionally lifting the Trump sanctions on Iran, the US with European backing engaging Iraq politically, diplomatically, and effectively, which at this time I am incapable of imagining.

Last evening, I watched a documentary on Netflix “Sergio” based on Samantha Power’s book that I read about 10 years ago. The situation in Iraq requires a Sergio who can work with ruthless folks to resolve a severely intractable situation. But even a Sergio could be incapable of cutting through such a conundrum. Iraq is where Sergio was killed. The UN is more impotent than ever, look at Syria!

For the NCF Secretary General’s position on this issue see this podcast:

https://www.buzzsprout.com/529801/2807467-iraq-goes-down-to-the-wire

 

 

So who Created ISIS?

William Morris, the Next Century Foundation’s Secretary General, addressed lecturers at Takrit University in Northern Iraq as a precursor to discussions the subject of which was, at Takrit University’s behest, the role of Iran and America respectively in Iraq. This podcast was made in the aftermath of that meeting and reflects salient points from that discussion. Podcast from NCF Secretary General William Morris on this link

The following observation and associated note for clarification is relevant and comes from our senior member in Iraq, Stafford Clarry:

Following the drone assassination of two top military commanders – one Iranian and the other Iraqi, an Iranian military strike against US military forces in Iraq, and the Iraqi Parliament passing a non-binding resolution for withdrawal of US forces, the US-led coalition and Iraqi military have since resumed joint operations against ISIS. In addition, the US is negotiating to install defensive Patriot missiles in Iraq. Further, the US is urging a review of the SFA.

To clarify:

In 2008, the US and Iraq entered into two binding agreements.

  • One, the Strategic Framework Agreement (SFA), covered the overall political, economic, and security relationship.
  • The other, the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), required all US combat forces to withdraw from major populated areas by end-June 2009 and for all US forces to withdraw from Iraq by end-December 2011.

These binding agreements were decided and signed during the White House administration of President George W. Bush. They were publicly endorsed by both Iraq’s President Jalal Talabani and US President George W. Bush in December 2008 in Baghdad.

Thus, contrary to misinformation, President Obana DID NOT decide to withdraw US forces from Iraq. In 2014, in reaction to the ISIS onslaught, however, upon the invitation of the Iraqi government, President Obama DID decide to send US combat forces back into Iraq.

President Obama used the 2001 Authority for Use of Military Force (AUMF) against al-Qaeda and other associate militant groups that was passed by the US Congress on 14 September 2001 and signed into law by President George W. Bush on 18 September 2001.

 

Former US presidential envoy speaks candidly about Iraq and Iran

Brett McGurk, a senior national security adviser to three presidents, left the Trump Administration after the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria. Our Senior NCF member in Iraq, Stafford Clarry, shared this fascinating insight from Andrew Dyer of the San Diego Union Tribune datelined Jan. 23. It is of particular interest because the NCF is partnering with Takrit University’s Department of Peace Studies and for our first guest lecture, this Thursday, they have asked us to talk to students on the involvement of the USA and Iran in Iraq. For the original text see this link:
https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/military/story/2020-01-23/former-presidential-envoy-to-defeat-isis-coalition-talks-about-iraq-iran-conflict-at-sdsu

SAN DIEGO — A former national security advisor under three presidents, including President Donald Trump, described the administration’s current Middle East policy as “aimless” and flawed during a recent talk at San Diego State University.

Brett McGurk, who resigned in December 2018 as special presidential envoy to the coalition to defeat ISIS, described his experiences in the region, from when he first arrived as an adviser to the early Iraq provisional government, set up under then-President George W. Bush, until he left shortly after Defense Secretary James Mattis resigned and Trump ordered the withdrawal of American troops from Syria.

McGurk said during his talk that Trump’s decisions in the Middle East over the last three years — such as pulling out of the Iran Nuclear Deal, pulling U.S. forces out of Syria and assassinating Iran’s top general — were indicative of a poorly thought-out strategy.

“I just don’t think the Trump Administration has thought this through,” he said.
McGurk said that withdrawing from the Iran Nuclear Deal has resulted in a series of consequences that effectively leaves the U.S. in a “strategic trap” with Iran.

“(The Iran deal) was an arms control deal — it wasn’t designed to change the Middle East,” McGurk said. “It was designed to put this horrible problem at least on the back burner (so) we can deal with other things in other ways, and that makes strategic sense.”

Trump criticized the international deal, which lifted sanctions on Iran in exchange for certain limits on the country’s nuclear program, during his 2016 campaign. In May 2018, Trump announced the U.S. withdrawal from the deal and reimposed sanctions on the country.

In 2019 Iran-backed militias in Iraq, which had been U.S. allies in the fight against ISIS, began targeting U.S. facilities in the country. In December, the U.S. struck back at some of those militias in Iraq and Syria with airstrikes.

In retaliation, militia supporters broke into and set fire to part of the U.S. embassy compound in Baghdad, leading to Trump’s decision to assassinate Iranian General Qassem Soleimani in a January drone strike.
Days later, Iran launched missiles at two Iraqi bases that house U.S. troops and, during the strikes, also shot down a Ukrainian airliner after it took off in Iran, killing all 176 people aboard.

Trump then announced new sanctions on Iran. Sanctions aren’t the solution, McGurk said.

“(The Trump Administration) thinks sanctions will fundamentally change Iran’s behavior, but there’s no evidence of that at all,” McGurk said.
“It makes their behavior worse. Everything is going the wrong way.”

Another consequence of the Soleimani strike — which occurred at the Baghdad airport — was a vote in Iraq’s parliament to kick the U.S. out of the country.

While McGurk said he felt a sense of justice in Soleimani’s death, “elementary errors” by the Pentagon in the immediate aftermath — such as the drafting of a letter announcing the U.S. would comply with the country’s parliament and withdraw entirely from Iraq — did not paint the U.S. in the best light in the region and among our allies, he said.

“It makes people think we don’t know what we’re doing,” McGurk said.

The talk at SDSU, which was hosted by the nonpartisan nonprofit San Diego Diplomacy Council and the university’s Fowler School of Business, attracted more than 120 people. McGurk took questions from attendees about a broad array of U.S. policies in the Middle East — especially on the fight against ISIS.

McGurk addressed the controversial decision by Obama not to order air strikes in Syria after President Bashar al-Assad’s regime was credibly accused of using chemical weapons in 2013. Obama was on record as saying the use of such weapons was a “red line” Assad could not cross.

McGurk said he didn’t think U.S. airstrikes would have been effective in that instance. He cited strikes ordered by Trump in response to more chemical weapons use by Syria in 2018.

“I am skeptical of the view that had Obama enforced the red line, that that would have been the end of Assad,” McGurk said. “Trump has done two series of air strikes against the Assad regime after the use of chemical weapons, and it made no strategic difference in the conflict at all.”

After his talk, McGurk spoke with the Union-Tribune about why it’s important for the U.S. to maintain a presence in Iraq and Syria, because of potential Russian involvement there.

“We built a force of 60,000 Syrians, and it gave us some leverage against Russia, and President Trump gave it up overnight,” he said.
“I thought that was a big disaster. But if we can’t stay in Iraq, then we also can’t stay in that chunk of Syria we’re still in…. The vacuum will be filled by ISIS and by Iranian-backed militias. And the great power that will come in to fill our space is Russia. So we need to stay. “

McGurk currently serves as the Frank E. and Arthur W. Payne Distinguished Lecturer at Stanford University.

 

Stumbling toward war: Why?

The following sequence of events was recorded by Stafford Clarry, one of our senior members in Iraq. He covers most everything in his list, except the key rocket strike on the Saudi oil field on September 14th, which, though never publicly admitted, was, we are led to believe, launched from Iraq by an Iran backed militia group.

Recent militaristic events in Iraq and Iran clearly demonstrate how situations can rapidly go out of control to a point verging on another war with devastating consequences on all sides and beyond.

In Iraq, most everyone has suffered through a lifetime of conflict – battles and bombings during the 1960s and 1970s; chemical weapon attacks, disappearances, community destruction, political detention, torture, and forced dislocation during the 1980s; effects of the 1980-1988 Iraq-Iran War and the 1961 Gulf war; 13 years of severe economic sanctions (1990-2003); the 2003 war followed by vicious sectarian conflict; the 2014-2018 ISIS war with its savagery; and even more violence in between.

At the country level, those who are more inclined to wage war (the hawks) tend to treat the land and its leadership as essentially separate from the countless families who want what families everywhere want: the opportunity to live peaceful and prosperous lives.

Keeping in mind there are no winners in war, and notably keeping in mind the purposes/intentions of the Vietnam and 2003 Iraq wars, let’s help ourselves get a better grip on what’s been recently happening in Iraq and Iran, its consequences and impact. We are where we are, but it could be much worse.

Discussions continue about the how, why, short-term consequences, and long-term impact of recent incidents. It begins with the JCPOA (nuclear agreement). Very briefly, here’s the sequence of relevant main events:

14 Jul 2015

  • JCPOA agreed, negotiated by six leading countries (P5+1/EU3+3) against one country (Iran) to halt Iran’s movement toward developing nuclear weapons. UN and EU sanctions were terminated/suspended. US sanctions for human rights abuses, missiles, and support for terrorism remain in operation.

8 May 2018

  • Unilateral US withdrawal from JCPOA.

4 Nov 2018

  • Unilateral re-imposition of severe pre-JCPOA sanctions.

27 Dec 2019

  • Rocket attack on K-1 Iraqi military base near Kirkuk (Iraq) where US military personnel were located, with casualties, one fatal. This followed earlier attacks on various locations that occurred without casualties.

29 Dec 2019

  • Airstrikes on five Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) sites in Iraq and Syria. PMF are independently formed and operated (private) militia groups that are included as official security forces of the Iraqi government, which funds and provides weaponry, including equipment received from the US-led international coalition against ISIS. Some PMF units are also backed and perhaps supervised/directed by Iran.

31 Dec 2019

  • US Embassy in Baghdad attacked by PMF supporters/sympathizers. No casualties.

3 Jan 2020

  • Suleimani (Iranian) and Muhandis (Iraqi), both senior government officials, assassinated.

8 Jan 2020

 

Iraq para military in Anbar hit by unidentified aircraft

There are stories of another “anonymous” strike in Iraq in Anbar province on “Iran backed” militia – In other words one of Iraq’s para military units. This follows a recent alleged similar attack (though as yet unconfirmed) near the Iraq border in Eastern Syria – allegedly by Saudi warplanes. Meanwhile speculation continues that the missile strikes on Saudi originated in Iraq. See NCF Secretary General’s comment on Hala London Radio:
Also see this from a senior NCF member in Iraq who comments on the missile strikes on Saudi:
The NYT, WaPo, and WSJ, among others, with all their investigative talents and skills, and with all their credible contacts in the US Government, have yet to confirm the launch sites.  This is, indeed, most amazing. This strongly suggests they may very well know, but for some reason(s) they choose not to publish it. At the same time, none of the powers that be, nor the credible main stream media, as far as I’ve seen, are pointing fingers toward Iran as the launch site.
The public view seems to be swinging back toward Iraq, despite Zarif’s clear denial. Only Middle East Eye (MEE) has reported, as I’ve seen so far, the launch site(s) as being from Iraq. <https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/exclusive-iranian-drones-launched-iraq-carried-out-attacks-saudi-oil-plants>  It’s curiously interesting that NYT, WaPo, and WSJ, and others of the “free” press, apparently, have not picked up on this and taken it further.
The Haaretz article that is one of the sources of news of the latest attack is below. Please note however that Iraq’s PMU have denied as of today that this attack ever took place. They also denied that the attack by alleged Saudi warplanes last week took place:

Unidentified aircraft strikes base of Iran-backed militia in Iraq

An unidentified aircraft struck on Sunday a military base near an airfield west of Iraq’s Anbar province, Lebanese television network Al-Mayadeen quoted Iraqi sources as saying.

The sources added that the military base serves an Iranian-backed militia. No casualties were reported in the alleged strike.

On Wednesday evening, drones attacked a company of Iranian-backed Popular Mobilization Forces fighters in Syria near the border with Iraq, Iraqi sources as saying.

Sky News in Arabic cited an Iraqi security source as saying that five people were killed in the attack, and nine more were wounded.

The attack targeted militias that were operating near the Syrian city of Al Bukamal, the source said.

Following the attack, the troops dispersed to avoid further assaults on them, the source added; they also moved ammunition to hidden places to make it more difficult to strike them from the air.

This is the third time in two weeks that sites run by Shi’ite militias are attacked in this area. Last Monday, there were reports in Iraq of a strike on weapon storage facilities run by militias affiliated with Iran. Iraq’s Afaq TV attributed the attack to Israel, and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that 10 Iran-backed fighters died.

Recently, Israel has been accused of carrying out a series of strikes in Iraq — some of them in the country’s west, near the Syrian border. The strikes targeted Iran-backed, Shi’ite militias and its convoys that were smuggling weapons into the area. While Israel did not confirm it carried out the strikes, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has hinted on several occasions that he Israel will not hesitate to extend the borders of the fight against Iran.

 

 

So who was it?

The word is quietly awash with conspiracy theories.

But what is the truth? Hard to know but this is a series of Hala London Radio broadcasts from NCF Secretary General William Morris on some of the issues. The conclusions reached do not represent the view of the Next Century Foundation or its trustees. If you do not wish to listen to the background the third in the series stands alone adequately and covers the main points:

On Kuwait

https://www.buzzsprout.com/529801/1735933-untitled-episode

 

Background

https://www.buzzsprout.com/529801/1736191-untitled-episode

 

So who did it?

https://www.buzzsprout.com/529801/1736134-untitled-episode

On minorities in Iraq – and what we should do

This first broadcast in a series of three on minorities in Iraq was prepared as a radio broadcast for the Hala London radio station. It is on the Yezidis. William Morris talks on Hala London radio with Mizgîn Êzîdî on Yezidi religious beliefs – click on this link:

Yezidi Religion

This second is a video in the series and is on Christians in Iraq:

Finally this third broadcast is on the Western response: