B.J. Bethel

A view of the world from Ohio

The next U.S. war could be against Iraq

In October, the Iraqi military with assistance from Iranian militias, began taking over Kirkuk and other territory that was previously held by the KRG, or the Kurdistan Regional Government. The Iraqi army moved into Kirkuk, a city the Kurds had held since it was taken from the Islamic State last year. An effort the Kurds served bravely, and fought en masse. The Kurds were there to push IS out of Kirkuk and Mosul. It was the Kurds with the U.S. military that pushed IS back across the Euphrates, an effort significant in symbolism and more as an accomplishment.

Iraq no longer has the Mosul dam disaster on its mind, thanks to the Kurds. The Iraqis no longer have IS sitting just a few hours drive from Baghdad, inhabiting enough of Iraq and Syria that it could claim an ’empire’ larger than Great Britain.

For these achievements, the Kurds held more territory than ever, and as some officials put it to Rudaw Media, “have dealt with Arabs and Turkmen” in keeping Kurdistan functional, its finances, services running and just having food for everyone.

As if to deliver a slap to the faces of everyone who stepped in Iraq to deliver it from authoritarianism, sectarianism and later jihadism the last 15 years, Iraq announced yesterday it would begin shipping oil from the Kirkuk field and to Iran. The move coincides with Iraq stripping all Kurds of any official government office or law enforcement position.

Iraqi Oil Minister Jabbar al-Luaibi said on Friday in a statement that 30,000-60,000 barrels of oil a day would be exported to Iran’s Kermanshah province.

Over the course of a year, the Iraqis will be selling 11 to 22 million barrels of oil from Kirkuk alone.

To push IS out of Iraq, the U.S. military trained a platoon of 10-15,000 soldiers to take on the jihadists. The U.S. provided air support. The Kurds fought from the North, fought bravely, and the wobbly alliance between Syrian rebels, Iraqi’s government, Iranian militias, Kurds and the U.S. held long enough to push the Islamic State back into the corners of Syria.

The end result, Iraq is now selling (maybe giving) up to $3 billion in oil to Iran. With such provocations, it’s not surprising the even stranger bedfellows of the Jordanians, the Saudis, Israel and the Al-Nusra Front (Al Qaeda in the Levant) have been drilling Iran-sponsored Hezbollah in Lebanon. Israel has flown missions to Syria for years, knocking out a potential nuclear facility, and then bombing potential deadly targets during the country’s civil war.

Unsurprisingly the Trump administration has been quiet at this attack on the Kurds, who along with Israel are our two greatest allies in the region. Trump’s decision to withdraw the U.S. from the world stage when possible means the Kurds are on their own.

Why Iraq is so openly operating with Iran? Could be Donald Trump’s threats to end the P-5 plus  1 nuclear deal with Iran, which wouldn’t actually end the deal but terminate the Americans involvement. It could also be the usual taunting Trump voices when regarding with any foreign policy situation, treating it like a middle school insult contest.

So openly working with the Iraqis, making deals for oil that were freed from Saddam Hussein and later IS, could be a response to Trump’s threats about the nuclear deal, or his regular taunting on social media. It could also be a move to take advantage of the local power vacuum, or to shore up its finances and have another connection for energy if the U.S. were to to someday be sucessfull in reinstate sanctions.

Most likely it’s a response to a more active Saudi Arabia, who under the leadership of Crown Prince Salman, has fought graft and corruption within its own country – which has funded terror groups with billions for decades, including Osama Bin Laden and elements of Islamic State. A Salman who says – at least – he wants to modernize Saudi Arabia, and is now working jointly with Israel, Jordan and the Al Nusra Front to pound on Iran-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon and perhaps make a run at Syria.

Iraq retook Rawa on November 17, the the city located in the Anbar province and the last held by the Islamic State in Iraq. The assault to retake the city received U.S. support.

Iran and Iraq’s push out of the Kurds out of Kirkuk led to the KRG refusing aid from an Iranian militia after an earthquake struck the town of Darbandikhan in the Kurdistan mountainous region. Meanwhile, according to the regional newswebsite Rudaw, Kurdish members of Iraqi parliament have called for the Iraqi Prime Minster Haider al-Abadi to stop Shiite militia groups from attacking and raiding Kurdish towns such as Tuz Khurmatu. This occurred hours after Kurdish representatives left parliament to halt a vote to punish the Kurds for an independence vote.

So where does the U.S. stand? Friday U.S. envony Brett McGurk met with Kurdish security advisors in Erbil, according to Rudaw, with McGurk pledging that Kurdistan remain a constitutional entity unto itself inside Iraq proper.

Meanwhile, with Trump’s wavering on the nuclear deal and Iran’s provocations and sock-puppeting of Iraq, the Saudis and Israelis are forming a coalition against Iran and one that makes direct reference to Trump.

In a historic interview, the chief of Israeli Defense Forces talked to Saudi Arabia’s Elaph newspaper and gave the following quote.

With President Donald Trump, there is an opportunity for a new international alliance in the region and a major strategic plan to stop the Iranian threat. We are ready to share intelligence (with Riyadh). There are common interest between us. Iran seeks to take control of the Middle East creating a Shia crescent from Lebanon to Iran, tand then from the Gulf  to the Red Sea. We must prevent this from happening.

As CNBC stated, his public interview in a government sanctioned newspaper, with a public admission of allegiance between former sworn enemies. This is a dicier proposition in Saudi Arabia, especially with Salman’s ascendance and Wahhabist sects which would surely fight any coexistence or collaboration with Israel.

The U.S. is now in a spot of Trump decrying the P5+1 treaty, Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Nusra Front collaborating militarily and strategically, and Iraq acting as a proxy for Iran.

Trump could easily find himself back at war – with Iraq. The country has a parliament and elections, but has been under the thumb of Iran since the day of its liberation. Iranian influence has continued after 2003 and through the Obama administration as both Bush and Obama weren’t cognizant of the actions that were happening in the country and their importance.

Trump can’t fight Iran directly; an invasion would take an effort larger than D-Day, against a country that would then have no reason to hold back on its nuclear program. Iran is a geographically diverse and more modern country with a stronger military, and an invasion would be beyond complicated.

There would be no easy base of military incursion, except from the Afghani side, if their government were to cooperate, which would probably not happen.

Fighting a proxy war against Iraq would be more in the cards if things were to fall apart. There would be more support for the U.S. in a war with Israel on its side. And Iraq would be at a large disadvantage since so much of its military expertise comes from American guidance. This is unlikely to happen, but if Iraq makes moves to back Iran in any conflict, the U.S. must choose its battles and its sides, and the only one to choose currently would be Iraq, Syria and Hezbollah.

It’s rotten news, but it goes back to just how badly the Iraq invasion was planned in 2003, how little state department involvement led to many of these problems and how this situation could turn into one worse than was imaginable at the time.



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