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Is Iraq’s al-Sadr going Saudi?

Saudi Arabia’s feting of influential Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has raised eyebrows across the region.

Andrew Korybko

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Shiite Leader In The Sunni Kingdom

Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr is known to the Western audience as the man who led part of the anti-occupation resistance against the US during the high tide of the country’s civil-liberation war. At the time, he was painted by the Mainstream Media as one of Iran’s most important anti-American proxies in the country, but this simplified and misleading description glossed over his cross-sectarian nationalist appeal within Iraq. After falling out of the limelight in recent years, al-Sadr is now back in the news because of his curious trip to Saudi Arabia, where he’s being feted as a high dignitary by the country’s royal elite.

Russian analyst Polina Tikhanova wrote about this for ValueWalk in her article “Saudi Arabia Finds Solution To Shia-Sunni Dilemma In Iraq”, where she understood his visit in the context of “Saudi Arabia…looking to inject some of its influence right in the heart of Iraq in order to contain Iran’s growing control over Iraq.” She also drew attention to the Kingdom’s need to bolster the international perception that it treats Shiites with equal respect, especially considering the latest crackdown against its own Shiite minority in the oil-rich eastern part of the country. Her article provides a thought-provoking review of the situational background leading up to al-Sadr’s trip to Saudi Arabia, but it doesn’t answer the question about whether or not the Iraqi Shiite cleric is switching his geopolitical loyalty.

“Assad Must Go!”

The reason why this is a question in the first place is because it’s so unprecedented and surprising that Saudi Arabia would host such a man as al-Sadr, particularly in the context of the Ummah-wide sectarian competition between the Kingdom and Iran. The very fact that al-Sadr paid a visit to his country’s southern neighbor is reason enough to speculate about what might really be going on behind the scenes, but there’s another urge to do so as well when considering the significance of the militia leader’s controversial statement about Syria just a few months ago.

In the beginning of April and just a few days after the US launched a cruise missile barrage against the Syrian Arab Army, al-Sadr made headlines all across the Mideast when he said that he “[thought] it would be fair for President Bashar al-Assad to offer his resignation and step down in love for Syria, to spare it the woes of war and terrorism …and take a historic, heroic decision before it is too late.” A lot of analysts were taken aback by this statement because they hadn’t expected any Shiite leader, let alone one who had led anti-occupation resistance against the US for years, to break ranks with their co-confessional political leaders and echo what the US itself had been demanding for years already.

This in and of itself gave rise to the talk that al-Sadr might be switching sides by abandoning Iran in favor of Saudi Arabia, and his trip to the latter just a few months after this symbolic statement only added fuel to the fire. It’s clear that Saudi Arabia tacitly approved of al-Sadr’s message and is overly happy to host him because of the uncomfortable reaction that Iran is bound to experience, but there might be more going on in the background than is publicly let on, and the cleric might not be pivoting towards the Kingdom in the manner that some may believe that he is. Instead of a full-on reorientation from Iran to Saudi Arabia, which would be very difficult to swiftly do for sectarian-political reasons, al-Sadr could be engaging in three mutually inclusive strategies for the betterment of his country.

Making Sense Of The Seemingly Insensible

Détente:

The first possibility is that al-Sadr’s trip to Saudi Arabia might be a sign that the Kingdom is entering a slow-moving and sensitive détente with Iran, just like Ali Hashem from Al Monitor wrote in his article “Saudi engagement with Iraqi Shiites stirs talk of opening with Iran”. If true, then this could indicate that al-Sadr is behaving as a discrete intermediary between the two sides and helping to further the goal of regional peace. Of course, this is only a speculative conclusion at this point, but it shouldn’t be discounted because it would make sense for Iraq – the middle ground country Saudi Arabia and Iran – to play a role in brokering a strategic de-escalation between the Gulf’s two feuding Great Powers. Under such a scenario, al-Sadr might be the only one in Iraq who the Iranians trust enough to bestow this responsibility to, in spite of his recent anti-Assad statement.

National Unity:

Another explanation could be that al-Sadr is proactively engaging with the Saudis in order to preempt what he believes will be a forthcoming revival of the Sunni separatist movement in Iraq following the Kurds’ apparently imminent independence. Should the Kurds opt to secede from the country, whether peacefully through the ballot or backed up by force, then it would leave the Sunni and Shiite populations lumped together in the rump state, which could lead to explosive consequences given their history of violence against one another. Therefore, with a prudent eye on the future, al-Sadr could have correctly calculated that the wisest thing for him to do in the interests of a united post-Kurdish Iraq would be to reach out to the Saudis in order to dissuade them from supporting a renewed round of Sunni separatism.

If he could win the trust of their decision makers by convincing them to see him as more of an Arab/Iraqi nationalist than a sectarian militiaman, then he might be able to make some productive progress on this front. Saudi Arabia might wager that it’s better to deal with a “moderate” Shiite leader who is now re-emphasizing his nationalist credentials, particularly when it comes to having the “bravery” to break ranks with Iran on Syria, than to pass up this chance only to see a “hardliner” ascend in the Shiite community who would be impossible to work with. In that case, it would be all but certain that the Saudis would support Sunni separatism and further the prospects of yet another bloody round of civil war in Iraq, despite having comparatively less resources to allocate to yet another sectarian war on their periphery and questionable competencies in potentially annexing a broad swath of territory to their Kingdom.

For these reasons, it’s better for Saudi security at this moment to see the post-Kurdish Sunni-Shiite rump state of Iraq remain unified for the time being, which necessitates maintaining positive contact with influential Shiite leaders such as the “moderate” al-Sadr, someone who’s apparently willing to work equally with Saudi Arabia and Iran due to his prevailing ideology of Arab/Iraqi Nationalism superseding his sectarian affiliation and presumed affinity for Iran. If al-Sadr can present himself in such a way and successfully play to the national security expectations of the Saudis, then he might be able to preserve Iraqi unity after the Kurdish secession, though this could come at the expense of the previously excellent ties that his country currently enjoys with Iran if Tehran eventually comes to see him as unreliable.

Balancing:

This brings the analysis to the final possible explanation for al-Sadr’s recent warming up to the Saudis, and it’s that he plans to put his Arab/Iraqi Nationalism into practice by exploiting Iraq’s geostrategic pivot position between two Great Powers in order to balance between them for the supreme benefit of his country. This would be extraordinarily difficult to do in any case and would require Tito-like skills to pull off, but if this is indeed what al-Sadr has in mind, then it would answer a lot of the lingering questions about his latest behavior. For example, his echoing of the “Assad must go” mantra and intriguing inroads with the Saudis could then be seen necessary moves in order to preempt Riyadh’s support for post-Kurdish Sunni secessionism, as well as internationally recognized moves of strategic independence vis-à-vis Iran.

Instead of relying on one potential benefactor for his state, he might be betting that it’s better to balance between two, especially given the divisive sectarian optics of relying on only one of them. Again, it can’t be emphasized enough just how challenging it would be for al-Sadr to do this, but it does seem at this point like he is working hard to strike a balance between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and this provides the best explanation as to why he’s attempting to execute such a policy. The bottom line is that al-Sadr probably isn’t switching sides so much as he’s seeking to diversify away from his perceived erstwhile strategic dependency on Iran, which itself might have been a misleading presumption predicated solely on his Shiite affiliation, and that he now wants to embrace his Arab/Iraqi Nationalist side in order have his country balance between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

DISCLAIMER: The author writes for this publication in a private capacity which is unrepresentative of anyone or any organization except for his own personal views. Nothing written by the author should ever be conflated with the editorial views or official positions of any other media outlet or institution.

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Why did Trump recognize the Golan Heights as Israeli territory?

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 116.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris examine the reasons behind US President Trump’s sudden recognition of the Golan Heights as Israeli territory.

Following Trump’s statements as US President, acting Israeli Foreign Minister is saying that Trump will make it official and sign an executive order to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Syrian border territory on Monday.

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Via DW

Israel says White House officials are preparing an official document to codify support for Israel’s sovereignty of the Golan Heights, which will be signed by US President Donald Trump on Monday.

The signing of the decree will be witnessed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during talks with Trump at the White House, Israel’s acting foreign minister, Israel Katz (pictured), said in a Tweet.

“Tomorrow, President Trump, in the presence of PM Netanyahu, will sign a decree recognizing Israel’s sovereignty on the Golan. Israel-US ties are closer than ever,” Katz said.

Israel seized the strategic plateau from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war, subsequently annexing it in 1981 in a move never recognized by the international community.

Trump’s tweet annoys allies

Trump broke with decades of US Middle East policy when he posted a Tweet on Thursday that said it was time to accept Israel’s widely-contested claim to the border territory.

The decision has been criticized by many US allies — Germany, Britain, France and the EU have all said they still consider the Golan Heights to be “occupied” by Israel.

Syria and other states in the region said the recognition, if confirmed, would violate international law.

Netanyahu has long pushed for Washington’s endorsement, and many analysts see Trump’s comments as a campaign gift ahead of Israel’s April 9 election.

In 2017, Trump drew condemnation throughout the Middle East when he recognized the disputed city of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

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Russia Gives US Red Line On Venezuela

Political force is out. Military force is out. Respect international law and Venezuela’s sovereignty. That’s Russia’s eminently reasonable ultimatum to Washington.

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Authored by Finian Cunningham via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


At a high-level meeting in Rome this week, it seems that Russia reiterated a grave warning to the US – Moscow will not tolerate American military intervention to topple the Venezuelan government with whom it is allied.

Meanwhile, back in Washington DC, President Donald Trump was again bragging that the military option was still on the table, in his press conference with Brazilian counterpart Jair Bolsonaro. Trump is bluffing or not yet up to speed with being apprised of Russia’s red line.

The meeting in the Italian capital between US “special envoy” on Venezuelan affairs Elliot Abrams and Russia’s deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov had an air of urgency in its arrangement. The US State Department announced the tête-à-tête only three days beforehand. The two officials also reportedly held their two-hour discussions in a Rome hotel, a venue indicating ad hoc arrangement.

Abrams is no ordinary diplomat. He is a regime-change specialist with a criminal record for sponsoring terrorist operations, specifically the infamous Iran-Contra affair to destabilize Nicaragua during the 1980s. His appointment by President Trump to the “Venezuela file” only underscores the serious intent in Washington for regime change in Caracas. Whether it gets away with that intent is another matter.

Moscow’s interlocutor, Sergei Ryabkov, is known to not mince his words, having earlier castigated Washington for seeking global military domination. He calls a spade a spade, and presumably a criminal a criminal.

The encounter in Rome this week was described as “frank” and “serious” – which is diplomatic code for a blazing exchange. The timing comes at a high-stakes moment, after Venezuela having been thrown into chaos last week from civilian power blackouts that many observers, including the Kremlin, blame on American cyber sabotage. The power grid outage followed a failed attempt by Washington to stage a provocation with the Venezuelan military over humanitarian aid deliveries last month from neighboring Colombia.

The fact that Washington’s efforts to overthrow the elected President Nicolas Maduro have so far floundered, might suggest that the Americans are intensifying their campaign to destabilize the country, with the objective of installing US-backed opposition figure Juan Guaido. He declared himself “acting president” in January with Washington’s imprimatur.

Given that the nationwide power blackouts seem to have failed in fomenting a revolt by the civilian population or the military against Maduro, the next option tempting Washington could be the military one.

It seems significant that Washington has recently evacuated its last remaining diplomats from the South American country. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo commented on the evacuation by saying that having US personnel on the ground “was limiting” Washington’s scope for action. Also, American Airlines reportedly cancelled all its services to Venezuela in the past week. Again, suggesting that the US was considering a military intervention, either directly with its troops or covertly by weaponizing local proxies. The latter certainly falls under Abrams’ purview.

After the Rome meeting, Ryabkov said bluntly: “We assume that Washington treats our priorities seriously, our approach and warnings.”

One of those warnings delivered by Ryabkov is understood to have been that no American military intervention in Venezuela will be tolerated by Moscow.

For his part, Abrams sounded as if he had emerged from the meeting after having been given a severe reprimand. “No, we did not come to a meeting of minds, but I think the talks were positive in the sense that both sides emerged with a better understanding of the other’s views,” he told reporters.

“A better understanding of the other’s views,” means that the American side was given a red line to back off.

The arrogance of the Americans is staggering. Abrams seems, according to US reporting, to have flown to Rome with the expectation of working out with Ryabkov a “transition” or “compromise” on who gets the “title of president” of Venezuela.

That’s what he no doubt meant when he said after the meeting “there was not a meeting of minds”, but rather he got “a better understanding” of Russia’s position.

Washington’s gambit is a replay of Syria. During the eight-year war in that country, the US continually proffered the demand of a “political transition” which at the end would see President Bashar al Assad standing down. By contrast, Russia’s unflinching position on Syria has always been that it’s not up to any external power to decide Syria’s politics. It is a sovereign matter for the Syrian people to determine independently.

Nearly three years after Russia intervened militarily in Syria to salvage the Arab country from a US-backed covert war for regime change, the American side has manifestly given up on its erstwhile imperious demands for “political transition”. The principle of Syrian sovereignty has prevailed, in large part because of Russia’s trenchant defense of its Arab ally.

Likewise, Washington, in its incorrigible arrogance, is getting another lesson from Russia – this time in its own presumed “back yard” of Latin America.

It’s not a question of Russia being inveigled by Washington’s regime-change schemers about who should be president of Venezuela and “how we can manage a transition”. Moscow has reiterated countless times that the legitimate president of Venezuela is Nicolas Maduro whom the people voted for last year by an overwhelming majority in a free and fair election – albeit boycotted by the US-orchestrated opposition.

The framework Washington is attempting to set up of choosing between their desired “interim president” and incumbent Maduro is an entirely spurious one. It is not even worthy to be discussed because it is a gross violation of Venezuela’s sovereignty. Who is Washington to even dare try to impose its false choice?

On Venezuela, Russia is having to remind the criminal American rulers – again – about international law and respect for national sovereignty, as Moscow earlier did with regard to Syria.

And in case Washington gets into a huff and tries the military option, Moscow this week told regime-change henchman Abrams that that’s a red line. If Washington has any sense of rationale left, it will know from its Syria fiasco that Russia has Venezuela’s back covered.

Political force is out. Military force is out. Respect international law and Venezuela’s sovereignty. That’s Russia’s eminently reasonable ultimatum to Washington.

Now, the desperate Americans could still try more sabotage, cyber or financial. But their options are limited, contrary to what Trump thinks.

How the days of American imperialist swagger are numbered. There was a time when it could rampage all over Latin America. Not any more, evidently. Thanks in part to Russia’s global standing and military power.

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With RussiaGate Over Where’s Hillary?

Hillary is the epitome of envy. Envy is the destructive sin of coveting someone else’s life so much they are obsessed with destroying it. It’s the sin of Cain. She envies what Trump has, the Presidency.

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Authored by Tom Luongo:


During most of the RussiaGate investigation against Donald Trump I kept saying that all roads lead to Hillary Clinton.

Anyone with three working brain cells knew this, including ‘Miss’ Maddow, whose tears of disappointment are particularly delicious.

Robert Mueller’s investigation was designed from the beginning to create something out of nothing. It did this admirably.

It was so effective it paralyzed the country for more than two years, just like Europe has been held hostage by Brexit. And all of this because, in the end, the elites I call The Davos Crowd refused to accept that the people no longer believed their lies about the benefits of their neoliberal, globalist agenda.

Hillary Clinton’s ascension to the Presidency was to be their apotheosis along with the Brexit vote. These were meant to lay to rest, once and for all time, the vaguely libertarian notion that people should rule themselves and not be ruled by philosopher kings in some distant land.

Hillary’s failure was enormous. And the RussiaGate gambit to destroy Trump served a laundry list of purposes to cover it:

  1. Undermine his legitimacy before he even takes office.
  2. Accuse him of what Hillary actually did: collude with Russians and Ukrainians to effect the outcome of the election
  3. Paralyze Trump on his foreign policy desires to scale back the Empire
  4. Give aid and comfort to hurting progressives and radicalize them further undermining our political system
  5. Polarize the electorate over the false choice of Trump’s guilt.
  6. Paralyze the Dept. of Justice and Congress so that they would not uncover the massive corruption in the intelligence agencies in the U.S. and the U.K.
  7. Isolate Trump and take away every ally or potential ally he could have by turning them against him through prosecutor overreach.

Hillary should have been thrown to the wolves after she failed. When you fail the people she failed and cost them the money she cost them, you lose more than just your funding. What this tells you is that she has so much dirt on everyone involved, once this thing started everyone went along with it lest she burn them down as well.

Burnin’ Down da House

Hillary is the epitome of envy. Envy is the destructive sin of coveting someone else’s life so much they are obsessed with destroying it. It’s the sin of Cain

She envies what Trump has, the Presidency.

And she was willing to tear it down to keep him from having it no matter how much damage it would do. She’s worse than the Joker from The Dark Knight.

Because while the Joker is unfathomable to someone with a conscience there’s little stopping us from excising him from the community completely., even though Batman refuses.

Hillary hates us for who we are and what we won’t give her. And that animus drove her to blackmail the world while putting on the face of its savior.

And that’s what makes what comes next so obvious to me. RussiaGate was never a sustainable narrative. It was ludicrous from the beginning. And now that it has ended with a whimper there are a lot of angry, confused and scared people out there.

Mueller thought all he had to do was lean on corrupt people and threaten them with everything. They would turn on Trump. He would resign in disgrace from the public outcry.

It didn’t work. In the end Paul Manafort, Michael Cohen and Roger Stone all held their ground or perjured themselves into the whole thing falling apart.

Andrew Weissman’s resignation last month was your tell there was nothing. Mueller would pursue this to the limit of his personal reputation and no further.

Just like so many other politicians.

Vote Your Pocketbook

With respect to Brexit I’ve been convinced that it would come down to reputations.

Would the British MP’s vote against their own personal best interests to do the bidding of the EU?

Would Theresa May eventually realize her historical reputation would be destroyed if she caves to Brussels and betrays Brexit in the end?

Always bet on the fecklessness of politicians. They will always act selfishly when put to the test. While leading RussiaGate, Mueller was always headed here if he couldn’t get someone to betray Trump.

And now his report is in. There are no new indictments. And by doing so he is saving his reputation for the future. And that is your biggest tell that HIllary’s blackmail is now worthless.

They don’t fear her anymore because RussiaGate outed her as the architect. Anything else she has is irrelevant in the face of trying to oust a sitting president from power.

The progressives that were convinced of Trump’s treason are bereft; their false hope stripped away like standing in front of a sandblaster. They will be raw, angry and looking for blood after they get over their denial.

Everyone else who was blackmailed into going along with this lunacy will begin cutting deals to save their skins. The outrage over this will not end. Trump will be President when he stands for re-election.

The Wolves Beckon

The Democrats do not have a chance against him as of right now. When he was caving on everything back in December it looked like he was done. That there was enough meat on the RussiaGate bones to make Nancy Pelosi brave.

Then she backed off on impeachment talk. Oops.

But the Democrats have a sincere problem. Their candidates have no solutions other than to embrace the crazy and go full Bolshevik. That is not a winning position.

Trump will kill them on ‘socialism.’

The Deep State and The Davos Crowd stand revealed and reviled.

If they don’t do something dramatic then the anger from the rest of the country will also be palpable come election time. Justice is not done simply by saying, “No evidence of collusion.”

It’s clear that RussiaGate is a failure of monumental proportions. Heads will have to roll. But who will be willing to fall on their sword at this point?

Comey? No. McCabe? No.

There is only one answer. And Obama’s people are still in place to protect him. I said last fall that “Hillary would indict herself.” And I meant it. Eventually her blackmail and drive to burn it all down led to this moment.

The circumstances are different than I expected back then, Trump didn’t win the mid-terms. But the end result was always the same. If there is no collusion, if RussiaGate is a scam, then all roads lead back to Hillary as the sacrificial lamb.

Because the bigger project, the erection of a transnational superstate, is bigger than any one person. Hillary is expendable.

Lies are expensive to maintain. The truth is cheap to defend. Think of the billions in opportunity costs associated with this. Once the costs rise above the benefits, change happens fast.

If there is any hope of salvaging the center of this country for the Democrats, the ones that voted against Hillary in 2016, then there is no reason anymore not to indict Hillary as the architect of RussiaGate.

We all know it’s the truth. So, the cheapest way out of this mess for them is to give the MAGApedes what they want, Hillary.

And hope that is enough bread and circuses to distract from the real storm ahead of us.

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