• Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Syria and Europe Part I (November 2015)

    Date: 2015.11.26 | Category: in english | Tags: ,,,

    The translation is owed to loukas so all the kudos go to him. I’m -as always- responsible for all the mistakes 🙂


    Though I always enjoy strolling between various worldviews, I’m very often forced to return to the views of the Braudelist school of thought because they have the tendency to be proven time and again accurate.

    Braudelists are some eccentric guys who believe, for example, that speaking for the first and second world wars like they are different situations is completely ridiculous. They also view Europe and Middle East as one and the same historical continuity.

    Against the, somewhat naïve, narratives about The Class of Civilizations, Braudelists try to make a zoom out and differentiate from the myopic and self-centered (not to say self-gratifying) Eurocentric approach and to wonder how, for example, a Chinese would evaluate the last 5000 years.

    Someone has to be a complete fool not to recognize that, from the times of the ancient Egypt on, the geographic space of Europe and the Middle East is the place of a constant dialogue. Sometimes quite bloody but you can’t have ancient Greece without Persia and it was not by chance that the most rich and dynamic part of the Roman Empire was always the Eastern one (that’s why the emperors moved the capital to Constantinopolis).

    To say nothing about the luxurious bazaars of the east, the crusades, Islam as a continuity of Judeocristian faith, the Ottoman Empire, colonialism, etc. Only halfjoking the Braudelists refer to Europe as the far west and to the Middle East as the west (as from the eyes of an Asian).

    The prologue was perhaps a little long but completely necessary. That’s because, in the confused world we live in, where bullshiting is part of the prevalent narrative, it’s very easy to be misinterpreted. So to the point:




    Daash, aka ISIS, aka IS

    For starts, I will make a prophecy. …Things are getting fuzzy… the green dragon of revelation is upon me…it’s coming to me… It came!! The days of the Islamic State are numbered.

    How I came to this conclusion? Well, from some news that always get little to no attention. The Islamic State, this Al Qaeda spin off, owns its existence to some players outside of Syria/Iraq, beginning with the strong support of Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Turkey has taken on the logistical support of this operation exactly in the same way Saudi money were going to the Afghanistan’s mujahidin, way of Pakistan, in the same period where Rambo 3 was being produced, back in the ‘80s.

    So these days the last remaining border passage between Turkey and IS is under threat. This summer, when the Syrian Kurds closed the second last remaining border passage in Tal- Abyad, Turkey decided to attack the Kurds, starting a low intensity civil war which gave the parliamentary majority back to AKP in the elections of November. Now, if Erdogan’s obsession starts to seriously hurt Turkey that’s something we will find out sometime in the future. For the moment let’s stay to the IS.

    A second player who indirectly supported the IS where the US, hoping that the islamists would take care not only of Assad in Syria but also of Maliki in Iraq whom they considered too pro-Iran for their taste. The clearer example of this support was the occupation of Ramadi in Iraq. The US army was claiming that a sandstorm prevented their planes from flying above the area only to be refuted the next day by the jihadists’ celebrating photos with a clear blue sky as a background.

    The Russian engagement in the Syrian affair was aiming rather to expose the US’s double game, and to score some PR points with the Europeans, than to radically change the military situation. It is known that air superiority alone doesn’t add too much. If someone has to take credit for the last successes of the Syrian army this is no other than Hezbollah and the Iranians who, by the looks of things, are very actively engaged. At least that has been indicated by the photos of their dead troops published by rebel supporters (that have multiplied the last weeks).

    The new mobility in the front against the IS from the now de facto allies of Iran, Iraq, Syria, Hezbollah and Russia is essentially a huge strategic defeat for the US who, for the past fifteen years, were trying to prevent exactly this kind of alliance.

    And the PR impact of the Russian intervention in the west was so large that it forced the US to hastily build a rival point of attention, using the Kurds as the main component (I speak of the SDF, Syrian Democratic Forces). They mobilized themselves to such an extent that for the first time, a few days ago, they bombed the tankers that sell IS’s oil, a job the russians have already taken on. Earlier, they had refrained from such actions claiming they wished e afraid to avoid collateral damage. An excuse which, when we talk about the US, (the country that discovered and legalized the term collateral damage) moves beyond the boundary of trolling.

    Another important news that passed almost unnoticed is an offensive in the IraqiSyrian border. The Iraqi Kurds (not to be confused with the Syrian YPG) occupied the strategic city of Sinjar. The importance of this city issignificant because the highway that connects Al-Raqqah (the de facto capital of IS on Syria) and Mosul (perhaps the most important city of IS) runs through it . On the other side of the border in Hasakah, the Syrian Kurds occupied their first oil well.

    To see the Iraqi Kurds move their asses and undertake offensive actions, means that the condition of IS is really poor. The Iraqi Kurds, in contrast to their Syrian cousins, have for the last 2 years shown no inclination to fight the IS and have maintained a static front line, a situation reminiscent of World War I.

    The Iraqi Kurds, having their areas secured and would only make a move to a new area if and when they see that its success is guaranteed. Obviously that is what they are seeing right now (and we believe them).

    The attack in Paris was the icing on the cake for the US who from now on will find it very difficult to turn a blind eye next time the Saudis order a few tens of thousands of anti-tank missiles because their warehouses were magically emptied. And this is reflected on the diplomatic level where the Iranian / Russian proposals seem to be accepted with relief by the jittery Europeans.

    In essence, we see a shift in the fortunes of the Islamic State, not so much because of something they did, but because their usefulness to the players in the region decreases. Their main supporters are in trouble for their own reasons (more on that later) and, at the same time, those who indirectly supported it have less and less reasons to continue to do so. That is why I say that we see their end approaching -despite the fact that the end of the Islamic state (like the beginning of it) will not solve many problems in the region. Especially in western Iraq where after 12 years of continuous war, even a semblance of a return to normality looks quite unlikely.





    The war in Yemen started with the idea that it will be quick and victorious. Or, at least, that’s what the Saudis believed when they started it. As it is usually the case with such ideas, they quickly realized that not only the Houthis and their allies in the government are hard nuts to crack, but now the whole destabilization may be spilling over in Saudi Arabia herself. Not only because the border towns are becoming targets of Houthi attacks, but because the reactions within the country by the rising number of dead, are becoming more pronounced.

    It’s also the first war undertaken directly by Saudi Arabia, unlike their usual tactic of outsourcing them which they kept using for 35 years now. A war that goes very poorly, partly because the abysmal morale of the Saudi army (not to speak about its competence level) .

    The war goes so wrong, that the soldiers of the UAE decided to board their ships and return home. And how did the Saudis respond to this problem? They started renting soldiers from elsewhere. From neighboring Sudan to the distant Colombia.
    In this very good article we can find the details of the new / old strategy Saudis use to win the war in Yemen. The aforementioned strategy will probably not work so much, as the mercenaries who came to replace the regular invaders don’t have that much incentive to be efficient. Especially when their opponents are hardened mountain dwellers.

    In essence this is Saudi Arabia’s way to lose the war without ever declaring defeat. That of course will cost some thousands of civilians their lives, as the war will draw on with no particular goal and the dollars will continue to pour in the pockets of the mercenaries.





    This summer, when soultan Erdogan started this low-intensity civil war with the Kurds in Syria and Turkey, he was taking a big risk. The closing (by the Syrian Kurds) of the border crossing to the IS, north of ar-Raqqah (in Tal-Abyad), was definitely important because the road was part of the logistics network established in recent years by Turkey, but certainly not so important as to start a war at both the border and within the country. But the fact is that for some years now soultan Erdogan has reached the limits of his Sultanic greatness and thus he probably considered that the benefits would be greater than the dangers.

    On the one side he hoped that violence and turbulence would convince his fellow citizens to give his party (AKP) the majority on the elections of the 1st of November. A few months -and 2 bombs by the Turkish secret services- later, the Sultan won. Not only did the AKP win a majority vote, but the pro-Kurdish HDP also lowered its percentages, quite close to the marginal 10% (10% is the limit for a party to enter the Turkish parliament ).

    But this is only one side of the coin. The other side is that Turkey has completely lost the bet she placed in 2012 to actively intervene in Syria. The Sultan’s wet dream was none other than Aleppo and a 60 kilometers buffer zone inside Syrian territory which would not only ensure a common border with IS (huge source of revenue for Turkey), but would also eradicate from the map the Syrian Kurds as an autonomous political entity.

    As we see now, none of this will be achieved. This project started going south with the persistent defense of Kobani by the Syrian Kurds. And, as if that were not enough, the US is now “forced” to support more actively the Kurdish YPG in Syria at the same time that they consider the -YPG’S almost brother organization- PKK a terrorist entity. Anyway, US/Turkey relations are not going through their best period of the last few years, while the Americans seem to think that Turkey has become too autonomous and no longer a stable and guaranteed ally.

    In short Caliph Erdogan risked the future of Turkey as a united country in order to win an election. And from now on, he will have fewer opportunities to act as the de facto facilitator of the guerrillas in Syria. And if indeed Assad and company manage to close the border, then Turkey will practically have to manage tens of thousands of jihadis that would hide in her territory.





    By all appearances Assad’s army ows its latest victories more to Hezbollah and the Iranians than to their own forces. They [Hezbollah and the Iranians] seem responsible for both ending of the blockade of Kweires airport at the east of Aleppo, and for the occupation of the important Hadher city west of Aleppo, a fact verified by many rebels’ testimonies too.

    The above seems to be confirmed by the first public (in many years) speech of Hezbollah’s leader Nasarllah, who stated, more or less, that the war in Syria must be won at all costs. Nasrallah, though quite wordy, is one of the few leaders in the world whose speeches make sense and are also informative.

    In contrast, the situation in the north of Homs seems to be leaning toward the guerrillas and at the same time the Islamic State is trying to cut off the, quite narrow, supply route between Damascus and Aleppo. In the other fronts, the situation seems quite stable as the local militias on the ground are rarely willing to operate far from their own villages.

    If there is a clear success in this alliance of Russia, Iran, Iraq, Assad and Hezbollah in Syria, this appears to be the de facto division of the rebels. For about a year now, the Al-Nusra front had taken control of most guerrilla forces in Syria” . Al Nusra is actually the Levantine al-Qaeda in the west and the Islamic State wages the war in the east. But both Russia’s air attacks and the attacks in Paris have forced many of the guerrillas to reconsider their alliances.

    All information converges that the FSA umbrella (free Syrian army) is nothing more than a fax machine somewhere in Turkey and some loose alliances in Syria. But the Russians often refer to themselves, in their diplomatic overtures, as de facto allies of the non-existent non-Islamist Syrian opposition. Indeed in the case of Kweires airport they went so far as to say that the information of some rebel groups helped them to strike Isis targets in the region. Be that truth or a lie, it’s of no great importance.

    What is important is that the Russians are looking for a political ploy to break what -somewhat misleadingly- appears on the maps as areas occupied by the rebels, using the existing divisions within the rebels themselves. If some of them would be persuaded to freeze the conflict and wait for the, supposedly agreed, elections, it will effect a major split within the rebels as Al-Nusra would definitely not accept such a possibility.

    The Syrians, unlike the Iraqis of western Iraq, seem to not be so warm to the idea of ​​implementing a kind of Islamic polity and this seems to be the focal point of the above strategy. To break as much as possible the bonds between the jihadis and the locals and to push the former to retreat towards Turkey in order to avoid having to fight them to the last one.

    That also explains the whole approach between Russia and Jordan, on the basis of which the Jordanians will stop supporting the insurgents south of Damascus. Besides, we are practically speaking of a widely recognized as a CIA training camp, which has trained both Islamists and more secular rebel groups.

    The situation is still quite fluid, but it seems like ISIS, Nusra and their friends have lost the initiative.