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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




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


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.


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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Clinton-Yeltsin docs shine a light on why Deep State hates Putin (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 114.

Alex Christoforou



Bill Clinton and America ruled over Russia and Boris Yeltsin during the 1990s. Yeltsin showed little love for Russia and more interest in keeping power, and pleasing the oligarchs around him.

Then came Vladimir Putin, and everything changed.

Nearly 600 pages of memos and transcripts, documenting personal exchanges and telephone conversations between Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin, were made public by the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Dating from January 1993 to December 1999, the documents provide a historical account of a time when US relations with Russia were at their best, as Russia was at its weakest.

On September 8, 1999, weeks after promoting the head of the Russia’s top intelligence agency to the post of prime minister, Russian President Boris Yeltsin took a phone call from U.S. President Bill Clinton.

The new prime minister was unknown, rising to the top of the Federal Security Service only a year earlier.

Yeltsin wanted to reassure Clinton that Vladimir Putin was a “solid man.”

Yeltsin told Clinton….

“I would like to tell you about him so you will know what kind of man he is.”

“I found out he is a solid man who is kept well abreast of various subjects under his purview. At the same time, he is thorough and strong, very sociable. And he can easily have good relations and contact with people who are his partners. I am sure you will find him to be a highly qualified partner.”

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss the nearly 600 pages of transcripts documenting the calls and personal conversations between then U.S. President Bill Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin, released last month. A strong Clinton and a very weak Yeltsin underscore a warm and friendly relationship between the U.S. and Russia.

Then Vladimir Putin came along and decided to lift Russia out of the abyss, and things changed.

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Here are five must-read Clinton-Yeltsin exchanges from with the 600 pages released by the Clinton Library.

Via RT

Clinton sends ‘his people’ to get Yeltsin elected

Amid unceasing allegations of nefarious Russian influence in the 2016 presidential election, the Clinton-Yeltsin exchanges reveal how the US government threw its full weight behind Boris – in Russian parliamentary elections as well as for the 1996 reelection campaign, which he approached with 1-digit ratings.

For example, a transcript from 1993 details how Clinton offered to help Yeltsin in upcoming parliamentary elections by selectively using US foreign aid to shore up support for the Russian leader’s political allies.

“What is the prevailing attitude among the regional leaders? Can we do something through our aid package to send support out to the regions?” a concerned Clinton asked.

Yeltsin liked the idea, replying that “this kind of regional support would be very useful.” Clinton then promised to have “his people” follow up on the plan.

In another exchange, Yeltsin asks his US counterpart for a bit of financial help ahead of the 1996 presidential election: “Bill, for my election campaign, I urgently need for Russia a loan of $2.5 billion,” he said. Yeltsin added that he needed the money in order to pay pensions and government wages – obligations which, if left unfulfilled, would have likely led to his political ruin. Yeltsin also asks Clinton if he could “use his influence” to increase the size of an IMF loan to assist him during his re-election campaign.

Yeltsin questions NATO expansion

The future of NATO was still an open question in the years following the collapse of the Soviet Union, and conversations between Clinton and Yeltsin provide an illuminating backdrop to the current state of the curiously offensive ‘defensive alliance’ (spoiler alert: it expanded right up to Russia’s border).

In 1995, Yeltsin told Clinton that NATO expansion would lead to “humiliation” for Russia, noting that many Russians were fearful of the possibility that the alliance could encircle their country.

“It’s a new form of encirclement if the one surviving Cold War bloc expands right up to the borders of Russia. Many Russians have a sense of fear. What do you want to achieve with this if Russia is your partner? They ask. I ask it too: Why do you want to do this?” Yeltsin asked Clinton.

As the documents show, Yeltsin insisted that Russia had “no claims on other countries,” adding that it was “unacceptable” that the US was conducting naval drills near Crimea.

“It is as if we were training people in Cuba. How would you feel?” Yeltsin asked. The Russian leader then proposed a “gentleman’s agreement” that no former Soviet republics would join NATO.

Clinton refused the offer, saying: “I can’t make the specific commitment you are asking for. It would violate the whole spirit of NATO. I’ve always tried to build you up and never undermine you.”

NATO bombing of Yugoslavia turns Russia against the West

Although Clinton and Yeltsin enjoyed friendly relations, NATO’s bombing of Yugoslavia tempered Moscow’s enthusiastic partnership with the West.

“Our people will certainly from now have a bad attitude with regard to America and with NATO,” the Russian president told Clinton in March 1999. “I remember how difficult it was for me to try and turn the heads of our people, the heads of the politicians towards the West, towards the United States, but I succeeded in doing that, and now to lose all that.”

Yeltsin urged Clinton to renounce the strikes, for the sake of “our relationship” and “peace in Europe.”

“It is not known who will come after us and it is not known what will be the road of future developments in strategic nuclear weapons,” Yeltsin reminded his US counterpart.

But Clinton wouldn’t cede ground.

“Milosevic is still a communist dictator and he would like to destroy the alliance that Russia has built up with the US and Europe and essentially destroy the whole movement of your region toward democracy and go back to ethnic alliances. We cannot allow him to dictate our future,” Clinton told Yeltsin.

Yeltsin asks US to ‘give Europe to Russia’

One exchange that has been making the rounds on Twitter appears to show Yeltsin requesting that Europe be “given” to Russia during a meeting in Istanbul in 1999. However, it’s not quite what it seems.

“I ask you one thing,” Yeltsin says, addressing Clinton. “Just give Europe to Russia. The US is not in Europe. Europe should be in the business of Europeans.”

However, the request is slightly less sinister than it sounds when put into context: The two leaders were discussing missile defense, and Yeltsin was arguing that Russia – not the US – would be a more suitable guarantor of Europe’s security.

“We have the power in Russia to protect all of Europe, including those with missiles,” Yeltsin told Clinton.

Clinton on Putin: ‘He’s very smart’

Perhaps one of the most interesting exchanges takes place when Yeltsin announces to Clinton his successor, Vladimir Putin.

In a conversation with Clinton from September 1999, Yeltsin describes Putin as “a solid man,” adding: “I am sure you will find him to be a highly qualified partner.”

A month later, Clinton asks Yeltsin who will win the Russian presidential election.

“Putin, of course. He will be the successor to Boris Yeltsin. He’s a democrat, and he knows the West.”

“He’s very smart,” Clinton remarks.

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New Satellite Images Reveal Aftermath Of Israeli Strikes On Syria; Putin Accepts Offer to Probe Downed Jet

The images reveal the extent of destruction in the port city of Latakia, as well as the aftermath of a prior strike on Damascus International Airport.



Via Zerohedge

An Israeli satellite imaging company has released satellite photographs that reveal the extent of Monday night’s attack on multiple locations inside Syria.

ImageSat International released them as part of an intelligence report on a series of Israeli air strikes which lasted for over an hour and resulted in Syrian missile defense accidentally downing a Russian surveillance plane that had 15 personnel on board.

The images reveal the extent of destruction on one location struck early in attack in the port city of Latakia, as well as the aftermath of a prior strike on Damascus International Airport. On Tuesday Israel owned up to carrying out the attack in a rare admission.

Syrian official SANA news agency reported ten people injured in the attacks carried out of military targets near three major cities in Syria’s north.

The Times of Israel, which first reported the release of the new satellite images, underscores the rarity of Israeli strikes happening that far north and along the coast, dangerously near Russian positions:

The attack near Latakia was especially unusual because the port city is located near a Russian military base, the Khmeimim Air Force base. The base is home to Russian jet planes and an S-400 aerial defense system. According to Arab media reports, Israel has rarely struck that area since the Russians arrived there.

The Russian S-400 system was reportedly active during the attack, but it’s difficult to confirm or assess the extent to which Russian missiles responded during the strikes.

Three of the released satellite images show what’s described as an “ammunition warehouse” that appears to have been completely destroyed.

The IDF has stated their airstrikes targeted a Syrian army facility “from which weapons-manufacturing systems were supposed to be transferred to Iran and Hezbollah.” This statement came after the IDF expressed “sorrow” for the deaths of Russian airmen, but also said responsibility lies with the “Assad regime.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also phoned Russian President Vladimir Putin to express regret over the incident while offering to send his air force chief to Russia with a detailed report — something which Putin agreed to.

According to Russia’s RT News, “Major-General Amikam Norkin will arrive in Moscow on Thursday, and will present the situation report on the incident, including the findings of the IDF inquiry regarding the event and the pre-mission information the Israeli military was so reluctant to share in advance.”

Russia’s Defense Ministry condemned the “provocative actions by Israel as hostile” and said Russia reserves “the right to an adequate response” while Putin has described the downing of the Il-20 recon plane as likely the result of a “chain of tragic accidental circumstances” and downplayed the idea of a deliberate provocation, in contradiction of the initial statement issued by his own defense ministry.

Pro-government Syrians have reportedly expressed frustration this week that Russia hasn’t done more to respond militarily to Israeli aggression; however, it appears Putin may be sidestepping yet another trap as it’s looking increasingly likely that Israel’s aims are precisely geared toward provoking a response in order to allow its western allies to join a broader attack on Damascus that could result in regime change.

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“Transphobic” Swedish Professor May Lose Job After Noting Biological Differences Between Sexes

A university professor in Sweden is under investigation after he said that there are fundamental differences between men and women which are “biologically founded”



Via Zerohedge

A university professor in Sweden is under investigation for “anti-feminism” and “transphobia” after he said that there are fundamental differences between men and women which are “biologically founded” and that genders cannot be regarded as “social constructs alone,” reports Academic Rights Watch.

For his transgression, Germund Hesslow – a professor of neuroscience at Lund University – who holds dual PhDs in philosophy and neurophysiology, may lose his job – telling RT that a “full investigation” has been ordered, and that there “have been discussions about trying to stop the lecture or get rid of me, or have someone else give the lecture or not give the lecture at all.”

“If you answer such a question you are under severe time pressure, you have to be extremely brief — and I used wording which I think was completely innocuous, and that apparently the student didn’t,” Hesslow said.

Hesslow was ordered to attend a meeting by Christer Larsson, chairman of the program board for medical education, after a female student complained that Hesslow had a “personal anti-feminist agenda.” He was asked to distance himself from two specific comments; that gay women have a “male sexual orientation” and that the sexual orientation of transsexuals is “a matter of definition.”

The student’s complaint reads in part (translated):

I have also heard from senior lecturers that Germund Hesslow at the last lecture expressed himself transfobically. In response to a question of transexuallism, he said something like “sex change is a fly”. Secondly, it is outrageous because there may be students during the lecture who are themselves exposed to transfobin, but also because it may affect how later students in their professional lives meet transgender people. Transpersonals already have a high level of overrepresentation in suicide statistics and there are already major shortcomings in the treatment of transgender in care, should not it be countered? How does this kind of statement coincide with the university’s equal treatment plan? What has this statement given for consequences? What has been done for this to not be repeated? –Academic Rights Watch

After being admonished, Hesslow refused to distance himself from his comments, saying that he had “done enough” already and didn’t have to explain and defend his choice of words.

At some point, one must ask for a sense of proportion among those involved. If it were to become acceptable for students to record lectures in order to find compromising formulations and then involve faculty staff with meetings and long letters, we should let go of the medical education altogether,” Hesslow said in a written reply to Larsson.

He also rejected the accusation that he had a political agenda – stating that his only agenda was to let scientific factnot new social conventions, dictate how he teaches his courses.

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