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The operation to free ISIS-held Mosul has stalled

As predicted in The Duran ISIS has not abandoned Mosul but is resisting fiercely whilst the US led Iraqi coalition offensive to recapture the city has stalled. If Mosul is not recaptured from ISIS before Inauguration Day in January, then it will be open for US President Trump and Russian President Putin to agree a joint plan for its recapture.

Alexander Mercouris




On 21st October 2016, I wrote an article for The Duran in which I expressed my doubts that the recapture of Mosul from ISIS would take place as quickly as many expected.

At that time there was a widespread view that a deal had been struck in secret between the US and ISIS whereby ISIS would quickly withdraw from Mosul – allowing the US and its Iraqis allies to capture the city before the US Presidential election – and would redeploy to Syria, where it would attack the Syrian army as part of the US’s plan for regime change in Syria.

One month later it is clear this project has gone awry. Far from abandoning Mosul, ISIS is vigorously defending itself in the city. Russian media reports have claimed that the US/Iraqi offensive was making little real progress. Now even the British journalist Patrick Cockburn – quite possibly the most experienced Western war reporter in the Middle East – admits that the attack on Mosul has stalled.

The question is why is this so?

Firstly, as I discussed in my article of 21st October 2016, there are strong indications that there actually was some sort of deal done between the US and local ISIS commanders for ISIS to withdraw from Mosul. A violent purge of ISIS commanders in Mosul in October confirmed as much.  In other words, the rumours of a deal between the US and ISIS commanders for ISIS to withdraw from Mosul were not fanciful or invented. They were almost certainly true.

However, as I said before, it was a certainty that ISIS’s leader Ibrahim Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, who calls himself the ‘Caliph Ibrahim’, would fiercely resist any proposal to abandon Mosul, where his Caliphate was declared.  Quite simply, Al-Baghdadi’s prestige and authority, and quite possibly his leadership position within ISIS and even his very life, would not survive a withdrawal from Mosul.

The fact that a purge of ISIS commanders who had been open to the deal to abandon Mosul to the Iraqis and Americans had taken place proved that Al-Baghdadi’s authority still prevailed amongst the ISIS fighters in the city.  That was sufficient to wreck the plan for ISIS’s withdrawal.

Most reports placed Al-Baghdadi in far away Raqqah, Syria.  More recent reports from the Kurdish militia claim that he is actually physically present in Mosul or in the countryside just outside it.  These reports, like all reports of Al-Baghdadi’s whereabouts, cannot be confirmed.  However, given the importance of Mosul to Al-Baghdadi and his movement, they may be true, in which case the physical presence of their Caliph in the city explains the fanatical ferocity with which the ISIS fighters are defending it.

ISIS’s determination to resist the recapture of Mosul can be the only reason why the operation has stalled.

In my previous article I said that the very large forces the US and the Iraqi government have assembled to recapture the city have a distinctly ramshackle look, being made up of a mixture of hurriedly trained and equipped Iraqi regular troops and various Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish militia, which do not necessarily get along with each other.

As might be expected, such a disorganised and ramshackle force is finding it difficult to prevail against the fanatical determination of the ISIS fighters.  Instead, it appears to have got bogged down on the outskirts of the city, and to be suffering heavy losses.

A further reason for this force’s lack of success is almost certainly the hasty way in which the whole operation to recapture Mosul was cobbled together. The whole operation has a look of being rushed, with a large force put together in a hurry to take Mosul before the US election on the assumption that ISIS would not resist it.

The contrast with the careful and incremental way in which the Syrians and the Russians have acted in Aleppo is striking. There, before any attempt is made to storm the Al-Qaeda held eastern districts of the city, the Syrian army with the support of the Russians has fought a careful and methodical campaign first to secure the army’s own supply lines, then to encircle the Jihadis in the eastern districts of the city, then to repulse the Jihadi counter-attacks intended to break the siege, and to drive the Jihadis out of the countryside around Aleppo, isolating the Jihadis in the eastern districts even further.

The result is that when the attack on the Jihadis in eastern Aleppo does come – and all the indications now are that it will come very soon – the ability of the Jihadis to resist it will be limited.

In some respects the approach of the US and the Iraqi army outside Mosul reminds me of the operation the Ukrainian army conducted against the Donbass in 2014.  That operation, like the one to recapture Mosul, was run by reference to the calendar – in that case the objective being to capture Donetsk and Lugansk before Ukrainian Independence Day at the end of August.

Instead of taking a methodical and incremental approach, the Ukrainians let themselves get bogged down after launching ill planned frontal attacks intended to storm the two cities of Donetsk and Lugansk in a hurry.

Since US officials are believed to have been involved in planning the Ukrainian assault on the Donbass in 2014, it would be interesting to know if they are the same officials who have been involved in planning the Mosul operation.

The US and the Iraqis obviously failed – as I predicted – to recapture Mosul before the Presidential election.  Hillary Clinton was indeed denied her ‘October Surprise’.

As things stand it is not even clear that Mosul can be recaptured before Trump’s inauguration on 20th January 2017.  If it is still in ISIS hands by that date, then a joint plan with Russia for its recapture could be at the top of the agenda when Trump and Putin meet.  Latest reports suggest that the meeting will now happen in January directly after Trump’s inauguration, and that contrary to my expectations – it will take place in Russia.

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Brexit Withdrawal Agreement may lead to Theresa May’s downfall (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 151.

Alex Christoforou



The Brexit Withdrawal Agreement has been published and as many predicted, including Nigel Farage, the document is leading to the collapse of Theresa May’s government.

During an interview with iTV’s Piers Morgan, remain’s Alistair Campell and leave’s Nigel Farage, were calling May’s Brexit deal a complete disaster.

Via iTV

Alastair Campbell: “This doesn’t do remotely what was offered…what is the point”

“Parliament is at an impasse”

“We have to go back to the people” …”remain has to be on the ballot paper”

Nigel Farage:

“This is the worst deal in history. We are giving away in excess of 40B pounds in return for precisely nothing. Trapped still inside the European Union’s rulebook.

“Nothing has been achieved.”

“In any negotiation in life…the other side need to know that you are serious about walking away.”

“What monsieur Barnier knew from day one, is that at no point did Theresa May intend to walk away.”

“Fundamental matter of trust to the electors of our country and those who govern us.”

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss Theresa May’s Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, and why the deal is a full on victory for the European Union and a document of subjugation for the United Kingdom.

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Coming in at 585 pages, the draft agreement will be closely scrutinized over the coming days but here are some of the highlights as outlined by Zerohedge

  • UK and EU to use the best endeavours to supersede Ireland protocol by 2020
  • UK can request extension of the transition period any time before July 1st, 2020
  • EU, UK See Level-Playing Field Measures in Future Relationship
  • Transition period may be extended once up to date yet to be specified in the text
  • EU and UK shall establish single customs territory and Northern Ireland is in same customs territory as Great Britain

The future relationship document is less than seven pages long. It says the U.K. and EU are seeking a free-trade area with cooperation on customs and rules: “Comprehensive arrangements creating a free trade area combining deep regulatory and customs cooperation, underpinned by provisions ensuring a level playing field for open and fair competition.”

The wording might raise concerns among Brexiters who don’t want regulatory cooperation and the measures on fair competition could amount to shackling the U.K. to EU rules.

As Bloomberg’s Emma Ross-Thomas writes, “There’s a clear sense in the documents that we’re heading for a customs union in all but name. Firstly via the Irish backstop, and then via the future relationship.”

Separately, a government summary of the draft agreement suggests role for parliament in deciding whether to extend the transition or to move in to the backstop.

But perhaps most importantly, regarding the controversial issue of the Irish border, the future relationship document says both sides aim to replace the so-called backstop – the thorniest issue in the negotiations – with a “subsequent agreement that establishes alternative arrangements for ensuring the absence of a hard border on the island of Ireland on a permanent footing.”

On this topic, recall that the U.K.’s fear was of being locked into the backstop arrangement indefinitely in the absence of a broader trade deal. The draft agreement includes a review process to try to give reassurance that the backstop would never be needed. Basically, the U.K. could choose to seek an extension to the transition period – where rules stay the same as they are currently – or opt to trigger the backstop conditions. In fact, as Bloomberg notes, the word “backstop,” which has been a sticking point over the Irish border for weeks, is mentioned only once in the text.

As Bloomberg further adds, the withdrawal agreement makes clear that the U.K. will remain in a single customs area with the EU until there’s a solution reached on the Irish border. It’s what Brexiteers hate, because it makes it more difficult for the U.K. to sign its own free-trade deals, which they regard as a key prize of Brexit.

Predictably, EU Commission President Juncker said decisive progress has been made in negotiations.

Meanwhile, as analysts comb over the documents, Jacob Rees-Mogg, chairman of the European Research Group, has already written to Conservative lawmakers urging them to vote against the deal. He says:

  • May is handing over money for “little or nothing in return”
  • The agreement treats Northern Ireland differently from the rest of the U.K.
  • It will “lock” the U.K. into a customs union with the EU
  • It breaks the Tory election manifesto of 2017

The full document…

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4 resignations and counting: May’s government ‘falling apart before our eyes’ over Brexit deal

The beginning of the end for Theresa May’s government.

The Duran



Via RT

Four high profile resignations have followed on the heels of Theresa May’s announcement that her cabinet has settled on a Brexit deal, with Labour claiming that the Conservative government is at risk of completely dissolving.

Shailesh Vara, the Minister of State at the Northern Ireland Office was the first top official to resign after the prime minister announced that her cabinet had reached a draft EU withdrawal agreement.

An hour after his announcement, Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab – the man charged with negotiating and finalizing the deal – said he was stepping down, stating that the Brexit deal in its current form suffers from deep flaws. Esther McVey, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, submitted her letter of resignation shortly afterwards. More resignations have followed.

Labour’s shadow Cabinet Office minister, Jon Trickett, predicted that this is the beginning of the end for May’s government.

The government is falling apart before our eyes as for a second time the Brexit secretary has refused to back the prime minister’s Brexit plan. This so-called deal has unraveled before our eyes

Shailesh Vara: UK to be stuck in ‘a half-way house with no time limit’

Kicking off Thursday’s string of resignations, Vara didn’t mince words when describing his reservations about the cabinet-stamped Brexit deal.

Theresa May’s EU withdrawal agreement leaves the UK in a “halfway house with no time limit on when we will finally become a sovereign nation,” his letter of resignation states. Vara went on to warn that the draft agreement leaves a number of critical issues undecided, predicting that it “will take years to conclude” a trade deal with the bloc.

“We will be locked in a customs arrangement indefinitely, bound by rules determined by the EU over which we have no say,” he added.

Dominic Raab: Deal can’t be ‘reconciled’ with promises made to public

Announcing his resignation on Thursday morning, Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab tweeted: “I cannot in good conscience support the terms proposed for our deal with the EU.”

Raab claimed that the deal in its current form gives the EU veto power over the UK’s ability to annul the deal.

No democratic nation has ever signed up to be bound by such an extensive regime.

Former Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith said that Raab’s resignation as Brexit secretary is “devastating” for May.

“It sounds like he has been ignored,” he told the BBC.

Raab’s departure will undoubtedly encourage other Brexit supporters to question the deal, political commentators have observed.

Esther McVey: Deal ‘does not honor’ Brexit referendum

Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey didn’t hold back when issuing her own letter of resignation. According to McVey, the deal “does not honour” the result of the Brexit referendum, in which a majority of Brits voted to leave the European Union.

Suella Braverman: ‘Unable to sincerely support’ deal

Suella Braverman, a junior minister in Britain’s Brexit ministry, issued her resignation on Thursday, saying that she couldn’t stomach the deal.

“I now find myself unable to sincerely support the deal agreed yesterday by cabinet,” she said in a letter posted on Twitter.

Suella Braverman, MP Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Department for Exiting the EU © Global Look Press / Joel Goodman
Braverman said that the deal is not what the British people voted for, and threatened to tear the country apart.

“It prevents an unequivocal exit from a customs union with the EU,” she said.

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Five Saudis Face Death Penalty Over Khashoggi Killing; Crown Prince Cleared

According to the Saudi prosecutor, five people charged are believed to have been involved in “ordering and executing the crime.”



Via Zerohedge

Saudi Arabia public prosecutor Sheikh Shaalan al-Shaalan said on Thursday that the kingdom will seek the death penalty for five suspects among the 11 charged in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, confirming suspicions that members of the murder squad purportedly sent to “interrogate” Khashoggi will now themselves face beheadings as the Saudi Royal Family closes ranks around the Crown Prince, per the FT.

As for Mohammed bin Salman who runs the day to day affairs of the world’s top oil exporter and is the de facto head of OPEC, the prosecutor said had “no knowledge” of the mission, effectively absolving him of any domestic suspicion, if not international.

The charges were handed down after the kingdom dismissed five senior intelligence officers and arrested 18 Saudi nationals in connection with Khashoggi’s disappearance. The Saudi insider-turned-dissident journalist disappeared on Oct. 2 after entering the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul to pick up documents that would have allowed him to marry his fiance. Khashoggi was a legal resident of Virginia.

According to the Saudi prosecutor, five people charged are believed to have been involved in “ordering and executing the crime,” according to CNN.

The prosecutor said that the former Saudi deputy intelligence chief, Ahmed al-Assiri, ordered a mission to force Khashoggi to go back to Saudi Arabia and formed a team of 15 people.

They were divided into three groups, the Saudi Public Prosecutor said: a negotiation team, an intelligence team and a logistical team.

It was the head of the negotiating team who ordered the killing of Khashoggi, the prosecutor said.

The Saudis stuck by latest (ever changing) narrative that the Washington Post columnist was killed after a mission to abduct him went awry. The deputy chief of intelligence ordered that Khashoggi be brought back to the kingdom, Shaalan said. The team killed him after the talks failed and his body was handed to a “collaborator” in Turkey, he said.

Asked whether Saud al-Qahtanti, an aide to Prince Mohammed, had any role in the case, Shaalan said that a royal adviser had a coordinating role and had provided information. The former adviser was now under investigation, the prosecutor said, declining to reveal the names of any of those facing charges.

Al-Shaalan did reveal that a total of 21 suspects are now being held in connection with the case. Notably, the decision to charge the 5 comes after National Security Advisor John Bolton repudiated reports that a recording of Khashoggi’s murder made by Turkish authorities suggested that Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman was behind the murder plot.

But as long as OPEC+ is planning to do “whatever it takes” to boost oil prices, the US’s willingness to give the Saudis a pass could always be tested if crude prices again turn sharply higher.

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