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Iraq’s new war: The Battle of Kirkuk intensifies as Iraqi troops make new gains

Iraqi forces continue to push further into Kirkuk in spite of Kurdish opposition.

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According to local reports, Iraqi troops and Iraq’s volunteer Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) have been engaged in fierce clashes with Kurdish Peshmerga fighters in the northern city of Kirkuk. Iraqi troops have been driving deep into Kirkuk for just over a week, where they have successfully re-established control over key parts of the city.

Kirkuk has been largely controlled and occupied by Kurdish forces since 2014 as part of the ongoing northern Iraqi battle against ISIS terrorists. However, in March of 2017, the Kurds provocatively raised their flag over Kirkuk’s city hall, as well as nearby oil fields. In another provocative move, Kirkuk was included in the unapproved 25 September secession referendum, in spite of Kirkuk never being part of northern Iraq’s Kurdish autonomous region.

Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the troop movements into Kirkuk as a security operation to re-assert Iraq’s legal sovereignty over a key oil rich city. He stated that the move is simply about securing Kirkuk and went out of his way to say that Iraqi troops and PMFs have been ordered not to engage in clashes with Kurdish Peshmerga, but should instead try and secure their cooperation.

However, things have become heated over the last 24 hours. Iraqi social media uses have posted scenes of Peshmerga retreating as Iraqi forces and PMFs advance.

Meanwhile, official Iraqi state media has played down the extent of the clashes, while Kurdish outlets have already begun referring to the movement of Iraqi troops into Kirkuk o a “war”. The powerful Kurdish propaganda machine is firmly in anti-Iraqi overdrive.

In spite of this, the biggest story is that which is not being reported from the ground. Iraq’s advance to re-claim Kirkuk has seen local Sunni Arabs rally to a common cause with Shi’a volunteer units who are bolstering the regular Iraqi Army (which itself is majority Shi’a). Furthermore, many local Turkomen who are ardently opposed to Kurdish secession in northern Iraq, have also largely rallied behind the Iraqi flag.

In an Iraq where even the battle against ISIS took on an internal sectarian character, the unity behind a common Iraqi flag among Sunni and Shi’a Arabs as well as Turkomen, is quite remarkable. It is an undeniably positive development in an otherwise dangerous situation.

While for the moment, the operation is being conducted purely by Iraqis, a report that there are PKK fighters in Kurdish regions of northern Iraq, will not go unnoticed in Turkey. While the Syrian Kurd YPG and Iranian Kurd PJAK, are known to have strong ties to the Turkish Kurd PKK, Iraq’s Peshmerga are traditionally unfriendly to the PKK, which is proscribed as a terrorist group both in Turkey and internationally.

However, as Kurds in northern Iraq continue to provoke both the majority of Arab Iraqis and local Iraqi Turkomen, many have feared that Iraq’s Kurds could form alliances with rival Kurdish groups from other states. While the Kurdish regime in northern Iraq denies this charge, there is mounting evidence that a Peshmerga-PKK alliance is emerging.

Iraq has been conducting joint drills with both Turkey and Iran ever since the illegal Kurdish secession referendum was held. Each country has vowed not to allow the establishment of a Kurdish statelet in the region, with Turkey being the most outspoken about resisting such a development.

From the perspective of a wider regional and even global conflict, two things are immediately clear.

1. In spite of Iraq’s more than generous overtures aimed at de-escalating the situation, continued Kurdish aggression aimed at Baghdad, is symptomatic either of Kurds being prideful to the point of foolishness or more likely, they have some guarantee of protection/forthcoming aid from a non-bordering power. As US troops maintain many bases in Iraq, this ‘foreign’ aid could actually be delivered quite easily. However, if the US came out in favour of Kurdish secessionists or worse yet, aided the Kurds against Iraqi troops in Kirkuk, what little confidence Baghdad has in the US would ultimately be shattered.

Iraqi Kurds’ unwillingness to negotiate with Baghdad, indicates they are banking on foreign support

2. Following on from the previous point, it is becoming equally clear that just as the sectarian wars in Iraq were proxy battles between pro-Iranian Shi’a volunteers and Iraq’s Shi’a dominated army versus Takfiri terrorist groups like ISIS who are funded by Washington’s Gulfi Arab allies, so too would an Iraq versus Kurdish war, constitute an American attempt at dragging Iran into a new conflict on Iraqi soil.

While it is still conventional wisdom that the US is aware that an invasion of Iran would be a suicide mission for Washington, the US has for years, provoked Iran on Iraqi soil. A new Kurdish conflict would simply be a new phase of an ongoing phenomenon.

The proxy-war against Iran is under way in Iraq and has just entered a new phase

While Iran has every right to aid Iraq, especially in light of  the recent singing of a military and security pact with Baghdad, the country that ought to take the lead in such a battle is Turkey.

Turkey has already positioned itself on the Iraqi border, with President Erdogan saying in no uncertain terms that military action against Kurdish secessionists could begin at any moment. Because Ankara and Baghdad have been cooperating in respect of Kurdish provocations, it is likely that Turkish intervention would be welcomed by Iraq, given the severity of the circumstances.

A Turkish intervention has several distinct advantages over an Iranian one. The United States has its sights set on Iran, as Donald Trump make perfectly clear in his recent speech wherein he announced the US will de-certify the JCPOA (Iran nuclear deal). Anything, that Iran does in Iraq could trigger the US to attempt a proxy war inside Iran’s borders, possibly one which could see the arming of Iranian Kurdish terrorists with US supplies coming from Iraq. This would be made all the more easy for the US, if Iraq’s Kurdish regions which border Iran, were fully occupied by US troops. This is certainly a headache that Iran does not need.

By contrast, Turkey is a NATO member, albeit one engaged in increasingly tense disputes with the United States. Still, Turkey is not America and Israel’s primary boogie-man, that remains Iran. Because the US is struggling to redefine its narrative on Turkey, as Ankara pivots its policy to a more Eurasian and less western position, Ankara is well placed to come to Iraq’s aid should such a thing be requested.

Furthermore, while the US would almost certainly not hesitate to fire on Iranian troops or volunteers in Iraq (or anywhere else for that matter), it would be very difficult for US troops to engage NATO Turkey’s troops on the battlefield. Such a thing could spell the beginning of the end of NATO as we know it.

Of course, any foreign intervention would only be necessary if Iraq felt that this was the case. With reports just coming in of Iraq re-establishing control over Kirkuk’s main airbase  in addition to re-establishing control over other vital positions in the region, the idea of foreign intervention may become redundant. Iraq’s troops may be desperate for peace, but they are equally battle hardened.

As one look at Iraqi social media will indicate, Iraq is not about to kowtow to pro-Israel Kurds after years of struggling against Takrifi terrorism. If this remains the case, the US will have found itself clandestinely on the side of yet another losing battle in the Middle East.

UPDATE I: Iraqi forces are no in control of the North Oil Company of Kirkuk.

UPDATE II: Iraqi forces have now retaken control of Kirkuk’s main airport.

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Russian Il-20 downed by Syrian missile. Russia blames Israel. Israel blames Syria (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 110.

Alex Christoforou

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The unthinkable has happened in Syria.

The world now teeters on the brink of all out war in Syria as a Russian Il-20 was downed by Syrian missile after Israeli F-16s used it as cover during attack, according to statements made by the Russian Ministry of Defense.

President Vladimir Putin, answering a reporter’s question during a press conference with Hungarian PM Viktor Orban, said the downing of the Russian Il-20 plane looks like “a chain of tragic circumstances.” 

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss the tripwire triggered that has the potential to tip the fragile balance in Syria towards conflict between Russia, Iran and Israel.

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The Russian military says an Israeli raid on Syria triggered a chain of events that led to its Il-20 plane being shot down by a Syrian S-200 surface-to-air missile. Moscow reserves the right to respond accordingly.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said…

“Israel did not warn the command of the Russian troops in Syria about the planned operation. We received a notification via a hotline less than a minute before the strike, which did not allow the Russian aircraft to be directed to a safe zone.”

The statement by the Russian Defense Ministry said that four Israeli F-16 fighter jets attacked targets in Syria’s Latakia after approaching from the Mediterranean.

The Israeli warplanes approached at a low altitude and “created a dangerous situation for other aircraft and vessels in the region.”

The statement further said that 15 Russian military service members have died as a result…

“The Israeli pilots used the Russian plane as cover and set it up to be targeted by the Syrian air defense forces. As a consequence, the Il-20, which has radar cross-section much larger than the F-16, was shot down by an S-200 system missile.”

According to reports from RT, the Russian military said that the French Navy’s frigate ‘Auvergne,’ as well as a Russian Il-20 plane were in the area during the Israeli operation.

Map of the incident on September 17 in Syria provided by the Russian defense ministry.

The Russian ministry said the Israelis must have known that the Russian plane was present in the area, but this did not stop them from executing “the provocation.” Israel also failed to warn Russia about the planned operation in advance. The warning came just a minute before the attack started, which “did not leave time to move the Russian plane to a safe area,”the statement said.

The statement gives a larger death toll than earlier reports by the Russian military, which said there were 14 crew members on board the missing Il-20. It said a search and rescue operation for the shot-down plane is underway.

A later update said debris from the downed plane was found some 27km off the Latakia coast. The search party collected some body parts, personal possessions of the crew, and fragments of the plane.

Meanwhile Israel has come out to blame the Syrian government for the downing of the military plane, according to an IDF statement.

Israel said that it “expresses sorrow for the death of the aircrew members” of the Russian plane. However, it stated that the government of Bashar Assad “whose military shot down the Russian plane,” is “fully responsible” for the incident.

Israel further blamed Iran and Hezbollah for the incident.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) explained that its jets were targeting a Syrian facility “from which systems to manufacture accurate and lethal weapons were about to be transferred on behalf of Iran to Hezbollah in Lebanon.”

Israel claimed that the weapons were “meant to attack Israel.”

Via RT

The IDF assumed that the Syrian anti-air batteries “fired indiscriminately” and didn’t “bother to ensure that no Russian planes were in the air.” The Israelis said that when the Syrian military launched the missiles which hit the Russian plane, its own jets were already within Israeli airspace. “During the strike against the target in Latakia, the Russian plane that was then hit was not within the area of the operation.”

According to the Israeli military, both IDF and Russia have “a deconfliction system,” which was agreed upon by the leadership of both states, and “has proven itself many times over recent years.” The system was in use when the incident happened, the IDF stated. The IDF promised to share “all the relevant information” with Russia “to review the incident and to confirm the facts in this inquiry.”

The military presented a four-point initial inquiry into events in Latakia. It insisted that “extensive and inaccurate” Syrian anti-aircraft fire caused the Russian jet “to be hit and downed.”

The Russian Il-20 aircraft, with 15 crew on board, went off radar during an attack by four Israeli jets on Syria’s Latakia province late Monday. Later on Tuesday the Russian Defense Ministry said that an Israeli raid on Syria triggered a chain of events that led to its plane being shot down by a Syrian S-200 surface-to-air missile.

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Trump Orders Immediate Release Of All Text Messages, Carter Page FISA Application From Russia Investigation

Trump has ordered the DOJ to release all text messages related to the Russia investigation with no redactions.

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Via Zerohedge

President Trump has ordered the Department of Justice to release all text messages related to the Russia investigation with no redactions, of former FBI Director James Comey, his deputy Andrew McCabe, now-fired special agent Peter Strzok, former FBI attorney Lisa Page and twice-demoted DOJ official Bruce Ohr.

Also released will be specific pages from the FBI’s FISA surveillance warrant application on former Trump campaign aide Carter Page, as well as interviews with Ohr.

The statement reads in full:

“At the request of a number of committees of Congress, and for reasons of transparency, the President has directed the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Justice (including the FBI) to provide for the immediate declassification of the following materials: (1) pages 10-12 and 17-34 of the June 2017 application to the FISA court in the matter of Carter W. Page; (2) all FBI reports of interviews with Bruce G. Ohr prepared in connection with the Russia investigation; and (3) all FBI reports of interviews prepared in connection with all Carter Page FISA applications.

In addition, President Donald J. Trump has directed the Department of Justice (including the FBI) to publicly release all text messages relating to the Russia investigation, without redaction, of James Comey, Andrew McCabe, Peter Strzok, Lisa Page, and Bruce Ohr

***

As we reported last Monday, Trump had been expected to release the documents any time – with specific attention to the Page documents and the “investigative activities of Justice Department lawyer Bruce Ohr” – who was demoted twice for lying about his extensive relationship  with Christopher Steele – the former MI6 spy who assembled the sham “Steele Dossier” used by the FBI in a FISA surveillance application to spy on Page.

Republicans on the House Intelligence and Judiciary committees believe the declassification will permanently taint the Trump-Russia investigation by showing the investigation was illegitimate to begin with. Trump has been hammering the same theme for months.

  • They allege that Bruce Ohr played an improper intermediary role between the Justice Department, British spy Christopher Steele and Fusion GPS — the opposition research firm that produced the Trump-Russia dossier, funded by Democrats. (Ohr’s wife, Nellie, worked for Fusion GPS on Russia-related matters during the presidential election — a fact that Ohr did not disclose on federal forms.)
  • And they further allege that the Obama administration improperly spied on Carter Page — all to take down Trump. –Axios

Ohr, meanwhile, met with Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska in 2015 to discuss helping the FBI with organized crime investigations, according to The Hill‘s John Solomon. The meeting with the Putin ally was facilitated by Steele.

Last month Trump called Ohr a disgrace, while also tweeting: “Will Bruce Ohr, whose family received big money for helping to create the phony, dirty and discredited Dossier, ever be fired from the Jeff Sessions  “Justice” Department? A total joke!”

Trump’s threat came one day after two tweets about Ohr, noting a connection to former FBI agent Peter Strzok, as well as a text sent by Ohr after former FBI Director James Comey was fired in which Ohr says “afraid they will be exposed.”

According to emails turned over to Congressional investigators in August, Christopher Steele was much closer to Bruce Ohr and his wife Nellie than previously disclosed.

Steele and the Ohrs would have breakfast together on July 30, 2016 at the Mayflower Hotel in downtown Washington D.C., days after Steele turned in installments of his infamous “dossier” on July 19 and 26. The breakfast also occurred one day before the FBI formally launched operation “Crossfire Hurricane,” the agency’s counterintelligence operation into the Trump campaign.

“Great to see you and Nellie this morning Bruce,” Steele wrote shortly following their breakfast meeting. “Let’s keep in touch on the substantive issues/s (sic). Glenn is happy to speak to you on this if it would help.”

“After two years of investigations and accusations from both sides of the aisle about what documents indicate, it is past time for documents to be declassified and let the American people decide for themselves if DoJ and FBI acted properly,” Freedom Caucus chairman Mark Meadows told Axios earlier Sunday.

In early August, journalist Paul Sperry tweeted that Trump may use his presidential authority to declassify “20 redacted pages of a June, 2017 FISA renewal, “and possibly” 63 pages of emails and notes between “Ohr & Steele,” and FD-302 summaries of 12 interviews.”

President Trump threatened to declassify documents two weeks ago – one day after the New York Times allegedly published an anonymous Op-Ed claiming to be from a White House official claiming to be part of an unelected “resistance” cabal within the Trump administration.

“The Deep State and the Left, and their vehicle, the Fake News Media, are going Crazy – & they don’t know what to do,” Trump tweeted earlier this month, adding: “The Economy is booming like never before, Jobs are at Historic Highs, soon TWO Supreme Court Justices & maybe Declassification to find Additional Corruption. Wow!”

Trump’s threat comes as calls by frustrated GOP legislators to release the documents have hit a fevered pitch. Spearheading the effort are Republican Reps. Meadows, Jim Jordan, Matt Gaetz and Lee Zeldin – who have repeatedly asked Trump to declassify more of the heavily redacted FISA surveillance warrant on former Trump campaign aide Carter Page in late 2016.

In June, Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee asked President Trump to declassify key sections of Carter Page’s FISA warrant application, according to a letter obtained by Fox News.

Carter Page, the DOJ/FBI’s person of interest, weighed in on the matter in late August, tweeting: “The Corrupt DOJ, co-conspirators in the DNC and their high-priced consultants correctly believed they had American democracy and the FISA Court over a barrel in 2016.”

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De-Dollarization Tops Agenda at Russia’s Eastern Economic Forum

The Eastern Economic Forum (EEF) was held in Vladivostok on Sept.11-13. Founded in 2015, the event has become a platform for planning and launching projects to strengthen business ties in the Asia-Pacific region.

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Via Strategic Culture

This year, the EEF brought together delegations from over 60 countries to discuss the topic “The Far East: Expanding the Range of Possibilities”. A total of 100 business events involving over 6,000 participants were held during the three days.

1,357 media personnel worked to cover the forum. Last year, the number of participants was 5,000 with 1,000 media persons involved in reporting and broadcasting. The EEF-18 gathered 340 foreign and 383 Russian CEOs. Nearly 80 start-ups from across South-East Asia joined the meeting.

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This year, a total of 175 agreements worth of 2.9 trillion rubles (some $4.3 billion) were signed. For comparison, the sum was 2.5 trillion rubles (roughly $3.7 billion) in 2017.

They included the development of the Baimsky ore deposits in Chukotka, the construction of a terminal for Novatek LNG at Bechevinskaya Bay in Kamchatka and the investment of Asian countries in Russia’s agricultural projects in the Far East.

Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), Mail.Ru Group, Megafon and Chinese Alibaba inked an agreement on establishing AliExpress trade joint venture. Rosneft and Chinese CNPC signed an oil exploration agreement.

The Chinese delegation was the largest (1,096 people), followed by the Japanese (570 members). The list of guests included the president of Mongolia and prime ministers of Japan and South Korea.

It was also the first time Chinese President Xi Jinping attended the event to meet his Russian counterpart. The issue of de-dollarization topped the agenda. Russia and China reaffirmed their interest in expanding the use of national currencies in bilateral deals.

During the forum, Kirill Dmitriev, the head of RDIF, said the fund intends to use only national currencies in its transactions with China starting from 2019. It will cooperate with the China Development Bank.

This “yuanification” is making visible progress with Shanghai crude futures increasing their share of oil markets up to 14 percent or even more. China has signed agreements with Canada and Qatar on national currencies exchange.

READ MORE: Eastern Economic Forum opens new chapter in US-Russia dialogue

De-dollarization is a trend that is picking up momentum across the world. A growing number of countries are interested in replacing the dollar. Russia is leading the race to protect itself from fluctuations, storms and US-waged trade wars and sanctions.

Moscow backs non-dollar trade with Ankara amid the ongoing lira crisis. Turkey is switching from the dollar to settlements in national currencies, including its trade with China and other countries. Ditching the US dollar is the issue topping the BRICS agenda. In April, Iran transferred all international payments to the euro.

The voices calling for de-dollarization are getting louder among America’s closest European allies. In August, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas called for the creation of a new payments system independent of the US.

According to him, Europe should not allow the United States to act “over our heads and at our expense.” The official wants to strengthen European autonomy by establishing independent payment channels, creating a European Monetary Fund and building up an independent SWIFT system.

Presenting his annual program, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker called on Sept. 12 for the European Union to promote the euro as a global currency to challenge the dollar.

According to him, “We must do more to allow our single currency to play its full role on the international scene.” Mr. Juncker believes “it is absurd that Europe pays for 80 percent of its energy import bill – worth 300 billion euros a year – in US dollars when only roughly 2 percent of our energy imports come from the United States.” He wants the raft of proposals made in his state of the union address to start being implemented before the European Parliament elections in May.

70% of all world trade transactions account for the dollar, while 20% are  settled in the euro, and the rest falls on the yuan and other Asian currencies. The dollar value is high to make the prices of consumer goods in the US artificially low. The demand for dollars allows refinancing the huge debt at low interest rates. The US policy of trade wars and sanctions has triggered the global process of de-dollarization.

Using punitive measures as a foreign policy tool is like shooting oneself in the foot. It prompts a backlash to undermine the dollar’s status as the world reserve currency – the basis of the US economic might. The aggressive policy undermines the US world standing to make it weaker, not stronger.

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