Yesterday, the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson attempted to broker a meeting between Iraqi and Saudi officials in Riyadh during which he expressed American frustrations over Iran’s assistance to Iraq in the fight against terrorism.
“Iranian militias that are in Iraq, now that the fight against … ISIS is coming to a close, those militias need to go home.
The foreign fighters in Iraq need to go home and allow the Iraqi people to regain control”.
This admonition from the United States was met by a defiant statement from the office of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi which stated that all troops fighting in Iraq, including the Popular Mobilisation Forces, are Iraqis and that furthermore, any assistance provided by foreign powers (including Iran) is welcomed and done with the consent of Iraq.
Below is a translation of the full statement, first posted on Facebook:
“A very close source expressing the strangeness of the statements attributed to the American Foreign Secretary.
A source close to Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi expressed his surprise at the statements attributed to the United States Secretary of state about the Popular Mobilisation Forces.
According to the source, the combatants of the Popular Mobilisation Forces are Iraqi nationals who have made enormous sacrifices to defend their country and the Iraqi people and answer to Iraqi leadership by the law of the house of representatives.
The source said that no party has the right to interfere in Iraqi matters.
The source confirmed that Iraqis were fighting on Iraqi territory and there were no foreign fighters in Iraq.
The source explained that the presence of the international coalition forces in Iraq or any other state was limited in preparation for training, logistical and air support and not for fighting on Iraqi territory”.
What is curious about the remarks from Tillerson and al-Abadi is that such statements took so long to be voiced in public. Iraq is unique in the world in that it counts Iran as a neighbouring ally while Iraq also cooperates with the United States. Technically, the US is in fact an Iraqi ally, even though most Iraqi citizens and even most Iraqi politicians hold Iran in much higher regard than the US. This is the case for the simple reason that all adult Iraqis have vivid memories of the destruction the US caused to Iraq starting in 2003 and furthermore, Iraq’s majority Shi’a government looks for both political and spiritual guidance to the Islamic Republic of Iran.
It was only a matter of time before the US, whose previous financing of Sunni extremists in Iraq was designed to thwart Iran’s influence in Iraq, would transform into an open political crisis in the aftermath of the defeat of most Takrifi jihadists on Iraqi soil. The fact that Iran’s assistance to Iraqi troops played a large part in the professionalisation of and moral boost too the Iraqi armed forces, has only served to further enhance Iran’s prestige in Iraq.
I previously stated that the stubborn attempts by Iraqi Kurds to carry through with a secession referendum and then insist on occupying parts of Iraq, like Kirkuk, which are not even part of the legally designated autonomous Kurdish region of Iraq, were due to a combination of arrogance from the Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani as well as tacit US approval and encouragement of Kurdish provocations.
To this end, I have also stated that continued US attempts to meddle in Iraq and maintain a large military presence in Iraq are part of a multifaceted proxy war against Iran which thus far has been fought on Iraqi and Syrian soil, as the US is not yet mad enough to attack Iran directly.
However, in all of this, the US miscalculated the following points which are now starkly clear in the aftermath of Iraq’s rapid and mostly bloodless victories over Kurdish forces.
1. Kurdish Peshmerga militants are not as apt a fighting forces as many suspected. This indeed gives further credence to reports that rather than engage ISIS in battle, many Peshmerga leaders simply brokered deals with ISIS so that Kurds could move in to once ISIS occupied terrorises and unharmed ISIS fighters could go elsewhere in Iraq.
2. The Iraqi armed forces are more professional, loyal and more buoyant with morale than had previous been thought.
3. Iraqi Arab Sunnis and Shi’as as well as Sunni Iraqi Turkomen all united around the Iraqi flag in Kirkuk and neighbouring regions, in one of the most profound displays of Iraqi unity since prior to 2003.
4. Turkey would not stand by and allow Kurdish secession to take place in Iraq (or elsewhere) without making preparations to intervene, including militarily, in order to stop it. This point was in fact easy to anticipate, but nevertheless, the US acted either as though it did not know or did not care about this point.
The US cannot realistically re-supply Iraqi Kurds for a would-be rematch with Iraq forces, without taking on the Iraqi armed forces directly. This would clearly end what little good will remains between Baghdad and Washington. Alternatively, the US could violate the Turkish no fly-zone which has been established over northern Iraq with the cooperation of Baghdad. This option would have an even uglier result for the US.
Therefore, because the US has few realistic (even by US standards) military options at its disposal to foment further proxy wars against Iraq and its Iranian ally, the US has resorted to open threats, which in reality amount to little more than begging Iraq to sever ties with what is today, a natural ally.
Iraq said no to the US, in a sign that Iraq is finally emerging from the shadows of 21st century western colonialism and is looking to re-establish its dignity and sovereignty. It must be said that as a large neighbouring ally, Iran has in fact played an important role in achieving this.
In a formal sense, the US has been checkmated out of Iraq, even while its personnel are still very much inside the country.
The US proxy wars against Iran and others which are currently winding up in both Iraq and Syria is however, not going to end anytime soon. It is simply going to enter an even more devious phase. The anti-Kurdish alliance which includes Iraq, Iran and Turkey, is now a supreme target for US proxy aggression. Syria, an ally of both Iran and Iraq, can for strategic purposes, also be included in this new alliance (in spite of having no relations with Turkey at present), as Syria shares the common enemy of Kurdish nationalists whose loyalty largely belongs to the US and Israel. Each country is now invested in maintaining the territorial unity of the other countries. This is a far more sound foundation for an alliance than ideology or worse yet, ambition.
Turkey is in many ways, the strongest among the aforementioned countries and with Takfiri jihadism on the wane, so far as military strength is concerned, all eyes will be on Turkey as the most ardently anti-Kurdish state in the region and the one most vigorously opposed to Kurdish ethno-nationalism in the region.
As I wrote earlier,
“In Iraq, Kurdish provocations backfired, as Iraq was emboldened to take the necessary steps to fully reinstate its legal control over its own territory, including Kirkuk, a city and region which has never been part of the Kurdish autonomous zone in northern Iraq, in spite of a three year period of Kurdish occupation which Iraq has now ended.
In Syria, would be ethno-nationalist Kurds could be in for an even more difficult time than their Iraqi brethren. While the Kurdish factions in Iraq historically have poor relations with the Turkish PKK, Syria’s YPG is often seem by Turkey, as little more than a regional offshoot of the PKK. The Turkish narrative has been backed up by YPG forces celebrating the US reduction of Raqqa by hoisting large photos of jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan over the smouldering remains of the city.
This will be viewed in Ankara as a direct threat to Turkish security and unlike Iraq, Turkey already has a number of troops in Syria territory, including that which is claimed by Kurds. In this sense, the equivalent of the Iraqi push-back of Kurds could be even more resounding in Syria, not least because Turkey, in spite of its non-relations with Damascus, would likely do the heavy fighting.
However much the US wants to use Syrian Kurds to divide, occupy or even annex parts of Syria, the truth of the matter is that without fighting Turkey, the US will have hit a brick wall. With Turkey all but ejected from the position of a US ally, many pragmatists (by US standards) in Washington will urge caution before openly defying the stated security concerns of a large and powerful longtime NATO member. In the short term, these voices of caution will likely win the argument in the Pentagon.
Because of this, the US will almost certainly try and use both Kurdish and Takfiri terrorists to try and slow the progress of Syria and her allies in liberating the remaining 15% of the country that is not back under government protection. Beyond this, the US and Israel are caught between a rock and a hard place. Both Israel and the United States would like nothing more than a Kurdish puppet state in Syria, but both know that taking on Turkey is a step too far, even by their aggressive standards.
The remaining danger is therefore that the US could pivot its jihadist proxy war against Turkey. Although Turkey has its own share of jihadist proxies in Syria who typically fly under the largely meaningless FSA banner, it is not beyond the realm of possible, that the US could use other jihadist proxies to create attacks and disturbances on Turkish soil. Some in Turkish media have attested that recent jihadist attacks in Turkey are a result of shadow US proxies, althoguh others argue that it is merely the phenomenon of jihadist blow-back from disgruntled former Turkish proxies.
Even more importantly in respect of upsetting Turkey’s internal political situation, with US links to the illegal terrorist organisation of Fethullah Gulen becoming ever clearer, the possibility of Washington using Gulenists to destabilise Erdogan’s Turkey is also very much on the table. Turkey continues to blame Gulenists with deep US connections for the failed 2016 coup against Erdogan and recent events, such as the US willingness to de-facto defend consular employees arrested by Turkey for being Gulenist terrorists, serve to bolster Erdogan’s version of events.
It is not without precedent for the US to wage war of one kind or another against a former or even current “ally”. Saddam Hussein’s Iraq worked closely with the west during the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s. Likewise, Panama’s leader Manuel Noriega was on the CIA payroll before the US deposed and imprisoned Noriega.
An even better example of the phenomenon of the US working to undermine a so-called ally can be seen in the last several decades of America’s relationship with Pakistan. While the US considers Pakistan an ‘ally’, the US has constantly worked to undermine the security situation in Pakistan. Even more worryingly, the US has contradicted Pakistan’s concerns in neighbouring Afghanistan, while the US continues to provide India with heavy weapons. Furthermore, the US continually meddles in Pakistan’s important and very real alliance with China. These are just the most strident examples of how the US works to undermine Pakistan all while calling Islamabad an “ally”. The popularity of anti-American parties and movements in Pakistan, is a testament to the fact that many ordinary Pakistanis are fully fed up with Washington’s abuse of Pakistan.
The future of US-Turkey relations could begin to look very similar. While the US does not want to fully alienate Turkey or Pakistan, it is doing everything it can to do so, albeit with a “lead from behind strategy”. Just as Pakistan’s relationship with China and now Russia also, has only been strengthened due to Islamabad’s frustrations with the US, the same now holds for Turkey’s new partnerships with Russia, Iran and also China.
The US cannot stop Turkey from exercising its security prerogative in the region, but the US can work to undermine Turkey while pretending to still be an ally. For anyone who thought that Ankara’s relationship with Russia and Iran was not sincere, events on the ground have made such a relationship even more than sincere: they have made it inevitable and necessary”.
Thus, while Iraq moves closer to Iran, the US will simply pivot its proxy war against Iran to new and uncharted territory, all while trying its hardest to encourage havoc in the places that have long been home to US led proxy wars.