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Iraqi Kurdish leader Barzani to step down

Masoud Barzani claims he will resign on the 1st of November but it is still unclear what this “resignation” would amount to.

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In the wake of Iraq reestablishing its legal control over areas of northern Iraq formerly occupied by Kurdish militants and with the Kurdish secession referendum of 25 September, succeeding only in uniting all major regional and global powers (except Israel) against Kurdish ethno-nationalists, Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani will resign from his leadership position on the 1st of November.

However, it is not entirely clear what a “resignation” would constitute in the case of Barzani.  According to Reuters who carried one of the first international reports on the situation,

“A plan to divide up the president’s powers was outlined in a letter Barzani sent to the Kurdish parliament on Saturday, the official told Reuters. The plan asks parliament to distribute the president’s powers among the government, parliament and judiciary.

Barzani’s current term was set to expire in four days, the same date that presidential and parliamentary elections were due to be held. However, those elections were delayed indefinitely last week, amidst an escalating regional crisis”.

Reuters further reports,

“Barzani’s letter will be discussed by parliament on Sunday, though the government official said it was unclear whether ministers would need to vote the plan into action during the session”.

Thus, the matter of a “resignation” isn’t as simple in Barzani’s case as conventional interpretations of such announcements would indicate. Indeed, Barzani’s legal mandate expired in 2015, but he remains in power to this day, nevertheless.

If he does indeed relinquish power on the 1st, it is still not clear if this will mean a formal exit from his office or whether he will continue to hold an interim leadership position in autonomous Kurdish regions of Iraq, until a new power structure is devised. Because devising a new power structure could take a considerable about of time, given the fact that recent events have thrown the power balance among Iraqi Kurdish factions into flux, while exposing fractious political disagreements, Barzani could for all intents and purposes, still hold power for the foreseeable future.

Furthermore, because it would appear that Barzani and his compatriots seeks to restructure the leadership base of autonomous Kurdish regions in Iraq, he may be leaving open the possibility of returning to a leadership role, perhaps as a kind of supreme leader figure who would preside over the de-centralised new structure.

As I wrote recently, Barzani’s rise and current fall is typical of many strongmen who have ruled Iraq or parts of the country. The only question remaining is: how will he ultimately fall?

Another Iraqi strongman is about to fall: Barzani’s days are officially numbered

“With the exception of the moderate Ba’athist President Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr (1963, 1968-1979), every major strongman or strongly positioned Iraqi leader has met a gruesome end.

From Faisal II who was deposed and executed during the 14 July Revolution of 1958 to his republican successor Abd al-Karim Qasim who was killed during the pro-Ba’athist Ramadan revolution in 1963 and more recently, the violent execution of Saddam Hussein in 2006: being a powerful leader in Iraq, has in modern history, usually correlated with a cataclysmic demise.

Today’s government in Baghdad is surprisingly collective, some would say to a fault. Rather than a single strong leader, there are several key individuals each whom answer to various political bases. But this does not mean Iraq itself is free of strongman rule.

Ironically, the place in Iraq that western mainstream media often paints as the most ‘democratic’ part of Iraq, is in reality, the most dictatorial. This is the Kurdish autonomous region in northern Iraq.

Ever since the fall of the short lived Soviet ally Republic of Mahabad, a Kurdish state established in post-war Iran in 1946, the Barzani family have been the leading rulers of Iraqi Kurds. Masoud Barzani, the current ruler of Iraqi Kurds whose formal decree expired in 2015, is the son of Mustafa Barzani who was the de-facto leader of Iraqi Kurds from 1946 up to to his death in 1979.

While Mustafa returned to Iraq from exile in the USSR in 1958, he again fled in 1974, this time to pre-revolutionary Iran, after rejecting Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr’s proposed Kurdish autonomy agreement. After Mustafa’s death, the current Iraqi Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani took charge of his father’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP).

However, beginning in 1975, a more left-leaning Kurdish faction, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan became a leading force of Kurdish agitation in Iraq. One of the primary figures in the (PUK) was Jalal Talabani, who became Iraq’s President in 2005. His Presidency ended in 2015, while his death took place in early October of 2017.

In spite of the PUK’s increased success over the years, after the 1990 Gulf War, Masoud Barzani returned from Iran to Iraq. While Barzani had good relations with both Pahlavi Iran and early Islamic Revolutionary Iran, this arrangement was merely one of convenience. Barzani’s Kurdish militants sided with Iran during the Iran-Iraq War, in the hopes of weakening Saddam Hussein’s Presidency of Iraq.

During the 1990s, the Barzani clan strengthened its control over Kurdish regions of northern Iraq. It was at this time that Kurdish regions in northern Iraq gained considerable autonomy even during the last full decade of Saddam Hussein’s Presidency in Baghdad. Since the illegal US/UK invasion of Iraq in 2003, an autonomous Kurdish region was formally established according to Iraq’s 2005 constitution, a document largely written by the US with input from mostly Shi’a Iraqi Arabs and Iraqi Kurds, including the PUK’s Jalal Talabani.

While most figures in post-2003 Baghdad, de-facto accepted the primacy of the Barzani clan in post-Ba’athist Iraqi politics (in respect of Kurdish regions), many have grown increasingly unhappy with Barzani’s autocratic rule which PUK figures have criticised as heavy-handed and dictatorial, dating back to the 1970s.

With both Baghdad and Kurdish spokesmen calling for de-escalation after Iraq’s bloodless re-establishment of authority in Kurdish occupied Kirkuk, the one sore point in the situation is the figure of Barzani himself.

It was Barzani’s decision not to allow Kirkuk to be returned to Iraqi authorities after ISIS was largely defeated in northern Iraq. This is crucial as Kirkuk has never been part of any legally defined Kurdish autonomous region of Iraq.

Furthermore, in holding a secession referendum before the penultimate defeat of ISIS and doing so with the inclusion of Kirkuk on a map of a would-be Kurdish state, Barzani showed his dictatorial tendencies and Iraq felt both angered and betrayed.

Even under Saddam Hussein, Iraqi Kurds enjoyed levels of autonomy that are globally unique among a self-defined nationalistic minority. This is especially unique when one considered that the origin of Kurds is that of nomads. Nowhere for example, are the Romani people (often called Gypsies) given such specific autonomy, let alone in an oil rich region.

Throughout all of this, Iraq has acted fully within the framework of national and international law. What’s more is that Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, has issued multiple calls for calm, stating that Iraqi troops and volunteer Popular Mobilisation Forces, have no desire to fire on Kurdish Pershmerga militias. Al-Abadi even stated that he hoped Peshmerga would cooperate in helping Iraq to restore its legal authority in northern regions.

While the Battle of Kirkuk has revealed a unity among Iraqis that had not been seen in decades, with Sunni and Shi’a Arabs as well as Sunni Turkomen rallying behind the Iraqi flag, the same battle has exposed disunity among Kurdish groups. In Barzani’s capital of Erbil, fingers are being pointed internally, while Kurds have adopted the standard US-Israeli propaganda line which blames Iranfor any and all misery which befalls Iraq.

Slandering Shi’a Iraqi regulars as well as Shi’a Popular Mobilisation Forces as ‘Iranian’ is also a tactic that was used by ISIS in Iraq. Furthermore, in Syria, ISIS, al-Qaeda and the FSA referred to all of their secular, Shi’a, Druze and Christian opponents as “Iranians”.

I have previously written that the crisis in Iraq, caused by overzealous Kurdish leaders, Barzani in particular, has been an opening salvo in a US-Israeli proxy war against Iran. Because the US in particular, is well aware that a war on Iran in Iran would be a suicide mission, Washington has merely pivoted from a strategy of using Takfiri jihadists to attempt and undermine Iran’s position in Iraq and Syria, to one where the US is allying with Kurds to do so.

In respect of Syria, there is a very real possibility that the US will continue to illegally occupy Syria and will do so while working with local Kurds, in an attempt to achieve the next best thing (from the warped perspective of Washington and Tel Aviv) to regime change: the Balkanisation of Syria.

In Iraq, something similar has been attempted in respect of Israel’s public backing of Kurdish secession and Tel Aviv’s strong support for the Barzani regime. However, in both cases, the biggest stumbling bloc to this policy aimed and harming Arab territorial unity and Iran’s alliances in the Arab world, ironically comes from grudging NATO member Turkey.

Turkey has vowed to oppose any would-be Kurdish state wherever it may arise, including both Iraq and Syria. With both Turkey, Iran and Iraq vowing to physically and economically cut off a Kurdish statelet in Iraq, something that would amount to little more than a ‘Barzanistan’ having no source of revenue or even basic supplies, the US would ostensibly need to fight its technical Iraqi ally, its fledgling ally that is Turkey, as well as Iran, in order to establish a Kurdish state in Iraq. This, even by wily American standards, is a ‘mission impossible’.

While desperately trying to foment Kurdish unity in order to disrupt the burgeoning alliance between Iraq, Iran and Syria, with the added component of a separate alliance in the works between Iran, Turkey and Iraq, the United States has ultimately only strengthened both alliances many fold.

When Takfiri terrorists are decisively defeated in Syria, it is still not beyond the realm of the possible, that Damascus and Ankara too could put aside their enmity, in order to contain nationalistic Kurds and in doing so, fusing each of the aforementioned alliances. Here, the US could therefore find itself confronted by two insurmountable roadblocks in both Iraq and Syria.

In spite of public statements from the US calling for de-escalation between ‘two allies’, the Iraqi government and the Kurdish regime in northern Iraq, I personally have little doubt that actors in the US military, CIA and also of course, actors in Israel, have encouraged an intransigent attitude among the Barzani regime. However, in failing to realise the logistical difficulties facing the US and Israel in bolstering such a position, Barzani has undermined his own interests and instead destroyed the legitimacy of his own regime, even among many of his followers.

While the US has been tactful in calling for calm, Barzani took the bait without realising that there may be no light at the end of the tunnel. This is not the first time a leader in Iraq, took the Americans on their word without exploring the more nuanced realities on the ground. In the 1980s, Saddam Hussein was strongly supported by the US during his war on Iran. Furthermore, it later emerged that April Gillespie, a diplomat in  the administration of George H.W. Bush, told Saddamthat the US would not militarily oppose Iraq’s intervention in Kuwait. The promise was just one of many US broken promises in respect of Iraq.

In this sense, Barzani found himself in a position of mistaking what many assume to be covert signs of US support, for a genuine promise of more meaningful action in favour of the Kurds. With Barzani’s star now in tatters, in spite of what his powerful propaganda machine tells the world, Barzani may be yet another strongman in Iraq to fall in what could be deeply grim circumstances. If Barzani has any ounce of self-preservation, he ought to simply resign, knowing that prolonging his leadership cannot have a happy ending at this point in time”.

In this sense, Barzani, in taking American statements at face value, failed to understand something about American policies in the Middle East that was once articulated by Egypt’s President Gamal Abdel Nasser:

“The genius of you Americans is that you never make clear-cut stupid moves, only complicated stupid moves which make the rest of us wonder at the possibility that we might be missing something”.

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FBI recommended Michael Flynn not have lawyer present during interview, did not warn of false statement consequences

Flynn is scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 18.

Washington Examiner

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Via The Washington Examiner…


Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, who arranged the bureau’s interview with then-national security adviser Michael Flynn at the White House on Jan. 24, 2017 — the interview that ultimately led to Flynn’s guilty plea on one count of making false statements — suggested Flynn not have a lawyer present at the session, according to newly-filed court documents. In addition, FBI officials, along with the two agents who interviewed Flynn, decided specifically not to warn him that there would be penalties for making false statements because the agents wanted to ensure that Flynn was “relaxed” during the session.

The new information, drawn from McCabe’s account of events plus the FBI agents’ writeup of the interview — the so-called 302 report — is contained in a sentencing memo filed Tuesday by Flynn’s defense team.

Citing McCabe’s account, the sentencing memo says that shortly after noon on Jan. 24 — the fourth day of the new Trump administration — McCabe called Flynn on a secure phone in Flynn’s West Wing office. The two men discussed business briefly and then McCabe said that he “felt that we needed to have two of our agents sit down” with Flynn to discuss Flynn’s talks with Russian officials during the presidential transition.

McCabe, by his own account, urged Flynn to talk to the agents alone, without a lawyer present. “I explained that I thought the quickest way to get this done was to have a conversation between [Flynn] and the agents only,” McCabe wrote. “I further stated that if LTG Flynn wished to include anyone else in the meeting, like the White House counsel for instance, that I would need to involve the Department of Justice. [Flynn] stated that this would not be necessary and agreed to meet with the agents without any additional participants.”

Within two hours, the agents were in Flynn’s office. According to the 302 report quoted in the Flynn sentencing document, the agents said Flynn was “relaxed and jocular” and offered the agents “a little tour” of his part of the White House.

“The agents did not provide Gen. Flynn with a warning of the penalties for making a false statement under 18 U.S.C. 1001 before, during, or after the interview,” the Flynn memo says. According to the 302, before the interview, McCabe and other FBI officials “decided the agents would not warn Flynn that it was a crime to lie during an FBI interview because they wanted Flynn to be relaxed, and they were concerned that giving the warnings might adversely affect the rapport.”

The agents had, of course, seen transcripts of Flynn’s wiretapped conversations with Russian then-ambassador Sergey Kislyak. “Before the interview, FBI officials had also decided that if ‘Flynn said he did not remember something they knew he said, they would use the exact words Flynn used … to try to refresh his recollection. If Flynn still would not confirm what he said … they would not confront him or talk him through it,'” the Flynn memo says, citing the FBI 302.

“One of the agents reported that Gen. Flynn was ‘unguarded’ during the interview and ‘clearly saw the FBI agents as allies,'” the Flynn memo says, again citing the 302.

Later in the memo, Flynn’s lawyers argue that the FBI treated Flynn differently from two other Trump-Russia figures who have pleaded guilty to and been sentenced for making false statements. One of them, Alexander Van der Zwaan, “was represented by counsel during the interview; he was interviewed at a time when there was a publicly disclosed, full-bore investigation regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election; and he was given a warning that it is a federal crime to lie during the interview,” according to the memo. The other, George Papadopoulos, “was specifically notified of the seriousness of the investigation…was warned that lying to investigators was a ‘federal offense’…had time to reflect on his answers…and met with the FBI the following month for a further set of interviews, accompanied by his counsel, and did not correct his false statements.”

The message of the sentencing memo is clear: Flynn, his lawyers suggest, was surprised, rushed, not warned of the context or seriousness of the questioning, and discouraged from having a lawyer present.

That is all the sentencing document contains about the interview itself. In a footnote, Flynn’s lawyers noted that the government did not object to the quotations from the FBI 302 report.

In one striking detail, footnotes in the Flynn memo say the 302 report cited was dated Aug. 22, 2017 — nearly seven months after the Flynn interview. It is not clear why the report would be written so long after the interview itself.

The brief excerpts from the 302 used in the Flynn defense memo will likely spur more requests from Congress to see the original FBI documents. Both House and Senate investigating committees have demanded that the Justice Department allow them to see the Flynn 302, but have so far been refused.

In the memo, Flynn’s lawyers say that he made a “serious error in judgment” in the interview. Citing Flynn’s distinguished 30-plus year record of service in the U.S. Army, they ask the judge to go along with special counsel Robert Mueller’s recommendation that Flynn be spared any time in prison.

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Macron offers crumbs to protestors in bid to save his globalist agenda (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 36.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris take a quick look at French President Macron’s pathetic display of leadership as he offers protestors little in the way of concessions while at the same time promising to crack down hard on any and all citizens who resort to violence.

Meanwhile France’s economy is set for a deep recession as French output and production grinds to a halt.

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Via Zerohedge


As if Brussels didn’t have its hands full already with Italy and the UK, the European Union will soon be forced to rationalize why one of its favorite core members is allowed to pursue populist measures to blow out its budget deficit to ease domestic unrest while another is threatened with fines potentially amounting to billions of euros.

When blaming Russia failed to quell the widespread anger elicited by his policies, French President Emmanuel Macron tried to appease the increasingly violent “yellow vests” protesters who have sacked his capital city by offering massive tax cuts that could blow the French budget out beyond the 3% budget threshold outlined in the bloc’s fiscal rules.

Given the concessions recently offered by Italy’s populists, Macron’s couldn’t have picked a worse time to challenge the bloc’s fiscal conventions. As Bloomberg pointed out, these rules will almost certainly set the Continent’s second largest economy on a collision course with Brussels. To be clear, Macron’s offered cuts come with a price tag of about €11 billion according to Les Echos, and will leave the country with a budget gap of 3.5% of GDP in 2019, with one government official said the deficit may be higher than 3.6%.

By comparison, Italy’s initial projections put its deficit target at 2.4%, a number which Europe has repeatedly refused to consider.

Macron’s promises of fiscal stimulus – which come on top of his government’s decision to delay the planned gas-tax hikes that helped inspire the protests – were part of a broader ‘mea culpa’ offered by Macron in a speech Monday night, where he also planned to hike France’s minimum wage.

Of course, when Brussels inevitably objects, perhaps Macron could just show them this video of French police tossing a wheelchair-bound protester to the ground.

Already, the Italians are complaining.  Speaking on Tuesday, Italian cabinet undersecretary Giancarlo Giorgetti said Italy hasn’t breached the EU deficit limit. “I repeat that from the Italian government there is a reasonable approach, if there is one also from the EU a solution will be found.”

“France has several times breached the 3% deficit. Italy hasn’t done it. They are different situations. There are many indicators to assess.”

Still, as one Guardian columnist pointed out in an op-ed published Tuesday morning, the fact that the gilets jaunes (yellow vest) organizers managed to pressure Macron to cave and grant concessions after just 4 weeks of protests will only embolden them to push for even more radical demands: The collapse of the government of the supremely unpopular Macron.

Then again, with Brussels now facing certain accusations of hypocrisy, the fact that Macron was pressured into the exact same populist measures for which Italy has been slammed, the French fiasco raises the odds that Rome can pass any deficit measure it wants with the EU now forced to quietly look away even as it jawbones all the way from the bank (i.e., the German taxpayers).

“Macron’s spending will encourage Salvini and Di Maio,” said Giovanni Orsina, head of the School of Government at Rome’s Luiss-Guido Carli University. “Macron was supposed to be the spearhead of pro-European forces, if he himself is forced to challenge EU rules, Salvini and Di Maio will jump on that to push their contention that those rules are wrong.”

While we look forward to how Brussels will square this circle, markets are less excited.

Exhausted from lurching from one extreme to another following conflicting headlines, traders are already asking if “France is the new Italy.” The reason: the French OAT curve has bear steepened this morning with 10Y yields rising as much as ~6bp, with the Bund/OAT spread reaching the widest since May 2017 and the French presidential election. Though well below the peaks of last year, further widening would push the gap into levels reserved for heightened political risk.

As Bloomberg macro analyst Michael Read notes this morning, it’s hard to see a specific near-term trigger blowing out the Bund/OAT spread but the trend looks likely to slowly drift higher.

While Macron has to fight on both domestic and European fronts, he’ll need to keep peace at home to stay on top. Remember that we saw the 10Y spread widen to ~80bps around the May ’17 elections as concerns of a move toward the political fringe played out in the markets, and the French President’s popularity ratings already look far from rosy.

And just like that France may have solved the Italian crisis.

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Watch: Democrat Chuck Schumer shows his East Coast elitism on live TV

Amazing moment in which the President exhibits “transparency in government” and shows the world who the Democrat leaders really are.

Seraphim Hanisch

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One of the reasons Donald Trump was elected to the Presidency was because of his pugnacious, “in your face” character he presented – and promised TO present – against Democrat policy decisions and “stupid government” in general.

One of the reasons President Donald Trump is reviled is because of his pugnacious, “in your face” character he presented – and promised TO present – in the American political scene.

In other words, there are two reactions to the same characteristic. On Tuesday, the President did something that probably cheered and delighted a great many Americans who witnessed this.

The Democrats have been unanimous in taking any chance to roast the President, or to call for his impeachment, or to incite violence against him. But Tuesday was President Trump’s turn. He invited the two Democrat leaders, presumptive incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, and then, he turned the cameras on:

As Tucker Carlson notes, the body language from Schumer was fury. The old (something)-eating grin covered up humiliation, embarrassment and probably no small amount of fear, as this whole incident was filmed and broadcast openly and transparently to the American public. Nancy Pelosi was similarly agitated, and she expressed it later after this humiliation on camera, saying, “It’s like a manhood thing for him… As if manhood could ever be associated with him.”

She didn’t stop there. According to a report from the New York Daily News, the Queen Bee took the rhetoric a step below even her sense of dignity:

Pelosi stressed she made clear to Trump there isn’t enough support in Congress for a wall and speculated the President is refusing to back down because he’s scared to run away with his tail between his legs.

“I was trying to be the mom. I can’t explain it to you. It was so wild,” Pelosi said of the Oval Office meet, which was also attended by Vice President Pence and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). “It goes to show you: you get into a tinkle contest with a skunk, you get tinkle all over you.”

This represented the first salvo in a major spin-job for the ultra-liberal San Francisco Democrat. The rhetoric spun by Mrs. Pelosi and Chuck Schumer was desperate as they tried to deflect their humiliation and place it back on the President:

With reporters still present, Trump boasted during the Oval meeting he would be “proud” to shutdown the government if Congress doesn’t earmark cash for his wall before a Dec. 21 spending deadline.

Pelosi told Democrats that Trump’s boisterousness will be beneficial for them.

“The fact is we did get him to say, to fully own that the shutdown was his,” Pelosi said. “That was an accomplishment.”

The press tried to characterize this as a “Trump Tantrum”, saying things like this lede:

While “discussing” a budgetary agreement for the government, President Donald Trump crossed his arms and declared: “we will shut down the government if there is no wall.”

While the Democrats and the mainstream media in the US are sure to largely buy these interpretations of the event, the fact that this matter was televised live shows that the matter was entirely different, and this will be discomfiting to all but those Democrats and Trump-dislikers that will not look at reality.

There appears to be a twofold accomplishment for the President in this confrontation:

  1. The President revealed to his support base the real nature of the conversation with the Democrat leadership, because anyone watching this broadcast (and later, video clip) saw it unedited with their own eyes. They witnessed the pettiness of both Democrats and they witnessed a President completely comfortable and confident about the situation.
  2. President Trump probably made many of his supporters cheer with the commitment to shut down the government if he doesn’t get his border wall funding. This cheering is for both the strength shown about getting the wall finished and the promise to shut the government down, and further, Mr. Trump’s assertion that he would be “proud” to shut the government down, taking complete ownership willingly, reflects a sentiment that many of his supporters share.

The usual pattern is for the media, Democrats and even some Republicans to create a “scare” narrative about government shutdowns, about how doing this is a sure-fire path to chaos and suffering for the United States.

But the educated understanding of how shutdowns work reveals something completely different. Vital services never close. However, National Parks can close partly or completely, and some non-essential government agencies are shuttered. While this is an inconvenience for the employees furloughed during the shutdown, they eventually are re-compensated for the time lost, and are likely to receive help during the shutdown period if they need it. The impact on the nation is minimal, aside from the fact that the government stops spending money at the same frenetic pace as usual.

President Trump’s expression of willingness to do this action and his singling out of the Dem leadership gives the Democrats a real problem. Now the entire country sees their nature. As President Trump is a populist, this visceral display of Democrat opposition and pettiness will make at least some impact on the population, even that group of people who are not Trump fans.

The media reaction and that of the Democrats here show, amazingly, that after three years-plus of Donald Trump being a thorn in their side, they still do not understand how he works, and they also cannot match it against their expected “norms” of establishment behavior.

This may be a brilliant masterstroke, and it also may be followed up by more. The President relishes head-to-head conflict. The reactions of these congress members showed who they really are.

Let the games begin.

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