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Turkey prepares military operation against Syrian Kurds as Iraqi Kurds surrender

Iraq’s Kurds have agreed to meet Iraq’s reasonable demands, while Turkey eyes direct confrontation with US backed Kurdish militants in Syria.

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Many Syrians were worried that Turkey’s large scale operation in Idlib would be a repeat of the disastrous Operation Euphrates Shield, which brought considerable instability to Syria at a time when many parts of western Syria were still contending with large-scale onslaughts from al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups, including Turkish backed jihadists who preferred to fly under the ever fluid FSA banner.

However, while Syria’s outright disdain for Turkey is more than understandable, as a friend of Syria, I was pleased to say that the Turkey of Autumn 2017 had vastly different regional goals and diametrically different geo-strategic partners and corresponding priorities, than the Turkey of the Summer of 2016.

The rapidity of Turkey’s pivot has left many thinking that no country can change the trajectory of its goals so much–so soon. But the combination of US/EU hostility towards Turkey and the very economic and security real incentives offered by Russia, Iran and China, has indeed forced a Turkish pivot which I contend is sincere. This pivot is based on self-interest, which is often the most reliable motivating factor for both geo-political as well as personal realignments.

When Turkey announced its “troop surge” in Idlib, it immediately differed from Euphrates Shield, insofar as while Euphrates Shield was totally illegal according to international law, Turkey’s present movements in Idlib are widely thought to be sanctioned by the latest Astana Agreement which was co-signed by Russia and Iran (two long term allies of Syria). Damascus itself was present at the signing of the agreement to establish a largely Turkish policed “de-escalation zone”. While Syria publicly stated that Turkey has no right to be in the country, this is now a question of how one interprets Turkey’s mandate under the Astana Agreement. Of course, Syria has the ultimate legal right to ask any country to leave its territory at anytime. But because of the nature of Astana, what was once a black and white question of Turkey’s illegal presence in Syria, is now something of a grey area, one which Russia is almost certainly managing behind the scenes, in order to avoid any profound crises.

IDLIB: Where sectarian wars, proxy wars and international cooperation collide

Whatever one’s views on Turkey and President Erdogan, one must acknowledge that Turkey’s present operations in northern Syria are fundamentally different than previous incursions. Whereas in Euphrates Shield, Erdogan was after regime change in Damascus, with an added bonus of containing Kurdish ethno-nationalists in Syria, today’s operations are entirely about not only containing, but also sending a direct warning to Syrian Kurds. The warning was made loud and clear by President Erdogan when he claimed that the Idlib operation was more or less finished after a few shorts weeks. Instead, Turkey will now turn its attention to Afrin, a hot bed of Kurdish militants or as many in both Syria and Turkey would say, terrorists. Another major difference between today’s Turkish operations and Euphrates Shield is that while during Euphrates Shield, Erdogan wanted the US to do more to bolster Sunni supremacist regime change in Syria, now, Erdogan admonishes the US for backing what Ankara considers to be Kurdish terrorists.

During a detailed speech before his AK Party loyalists, Erdogan stated,

“The Afrin issue lay ahead of us. We want everyone to know this. We will not make any concessions. We can come suddenly at night. We can suddenly hit at night”.

This is as much of a warning to Kurdish YPG militants as it is to the United States, a country very much included in Erdogan’s “everyone” category.

He continued, referencing the infamous images of Kurdish militants standing beside a giant photo of terrorist PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, in the smouldering city of Raqqa that has been effectively wiped off the map after a US carpet bombing campaign. Erdogan further slammed the US for what he felt were unsatisfactory answers to the now overt issue of a YPG/PKK alliance.

Erdogan stated,

“They (the US) say ‘It’s not PKK.’ How will America explain that the giant posters of the secessionist terrorists organisation are hanging in Raqqa? We did not believe when it was spoken, but it’s on TV screens and photos”.

Turning to the unsatisfactory response from the US about how it does not consider Ocalan “worthy of comment”, Erdogan stated,

“What kind of remark is that? Does this suit a country like you? Well, you have been the cradle of democracy”.

Erodgan then stated that while the US is lax about PKK terrorism, it is “only bold enough to issue arrest warrants for my 13 security guards, most of whom have never seen America before”.

This is a reference to altercations between Erdogan’s private security contingent, who got into scuffles with agitators in the US during Erdogan’s recent visit to Washington.

Beyond Afrin, new information has emerged that Turkey intends to capture the Kurdish militant hotbed of Manbij. Al-Masdar reports that leaflets have been distributed to Turkish proxy fighters in Aleppo saying that Manbij will be taken, “no matter what the cost is”.

Turkey has always stated that it will not tolerate any Kurdish statelet forming on its borders. In continually backing Kurdish proxies, the US has called Erdogan’s bluff, only to find out that he is entirely serious.

This helps explain why Iraqi Kurds who just days ago called for hard reprisals against the “war” which they claimed Iraqi forces waged by restoring control over northern Iraq, have today engaged in a profound climb-down.

Today, an entirely different tone has been offered by the Kurdish regime in Iraq, one which contrasts sharply with earlier calls for “revenge” on both Iraqi and so-called Iranian forces in the country. According to a statement from the Iraqi Kurdish capital of Erbil,

“The dangerous situation and tension that faces Iraq and Kurdistan forces all of us to live up to the historical responsibility and to not allow the situation to lead to further war and confrontation between the Iraqi forces and the Peshmerga.

The aggression and the confrontation between the Iraqi forces and the Peshmerga since October 16, 2017 has caused damage to both sides. It may also result in continued bloodshed and result in cutting the social relations between the Iraqi components.

It is a fact that a war between the two sides will not have a winner. It will instead lead both sides to great damages in all aspects of life. That is why, from the perspective of our responsibility towards the people of Kurdistan and Iraq, we propose the following to the government of Iraq, the Iraqi public opinion, and to the world:

The immediate cessation of fighting and every kind of military operations in the Kurdistan Region.

Freezing the outcome of the referendum that was held in the Iraqi Kurdistan.

Beginning an open dialogue between the Kurdistan Regional Government and the federal government on the basis of the Iraqi constitution”.

This statement effectively gives Baghdad everything it has asked for. Baghdad’s demands which were always legal and reasonable, were previously rejected by Iraqi Kurds, but today’s about-face demonstrates a de-facto surrender wherein Kurds admit that secession is unrealistic and that they will work with Iraq to return to the status quo of autonomy in constitutionally defined regions.

While Iraqi Kurds have traditionally had better relations (in recent decades) with Turkey than their Syrian counterparts, Turkey threatened to cut off all economic activity in and out of Iraq’s Kurdish regions while refusing to rule out military intervention.

The message from Turkey was loud and clear. It boiled down to the fact that neither the US nor Israel could resupply Iraqi Kurds, even if such a will existed. Increasingly, Kurds have found that such a will did not exist in any meaningful way and instead acquiesced to Iraq’s reasonable demands rather than face a Turkish military onslaught.

In Syria, where the Kurdish YPG has known links to the PKK, links which are now being openly flaunted, things are going to be much more tense. While the US has launched proxy wars in Syria and Iraq for years, now America’s own proxies are in the sights of the Turkish army. It remains to be seen how much the US is willing to fight for their own proxies. If they are in fact willing to do so, it would be an open confrontation with Turkey, a country which is still technically a member of NATO.

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Foreign Banks Are Embracing Russia’s Alternative To SWIFT, Moscow Says

Given its status as a major energy exporter, Russia has leverage that could help attract partners to its new SWIFT alternative.

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Via Zerohedge


On Friday, one day after Russia and China pledged to reduce their reliance on the dollar by increasing the amount of bilateral trade conducted in rubles and yuan (a goal toward which much progress has already been made over the past three years), Russia’s Central Bank provided the latest update on Moscow’s alternative to US-dominated international payments network SWIFT.

Moscow started working on the project back in 2014, when international sanctions over Russia’s annexation of Crimea inspired fears that the country’s largest banks would soon be cut off from SWIFT which, though it’s based in Belgium and claims to be politically neutral, is effectively controlled by the US Treasury.

Today, the Russian alternative, known as the System for Transfer of Financial Messages, has attracted a modest amount of support within the Russian business community, with 416 Russian companies having joined as of September, including the Russian Federal Treasury and large state corporations likeGazprom Neft and Rosneft.

And now, eight months after a senior Russian official advised that “our banks are ready to turn off SWIFT,” it appears the system has reached another milestone in its development: It’s ready to take on international partners in the quest to de-dollarize and end the US’s leverage over the international financial system. A Russian official advised that non-residents will begin joining the system “this year,” according to RT.

“Non-residents will start connecting to us this year. People are already turning to us,”said First Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Russia Olga Skorobogatova. Earlier, the official said that by using the alternative payment system foreign firms would be able to do business with sanctioned Russian companies.

Turkey, China, India and others are among the countries that might be interested in a SWIFT alternative, as Russian President Vladimir Putin pointed out in a speech earlier this month, the US’s willingness to blithely sanction countries from Iran to Venezuela and beyond will eventually rebound on the US economy by undermining the dollar’s status as the world’s reserve currency.

To be sure, the Russians aren’t the only ones building a SWIFT alternative to help avoid US sanctions. Russia and China, along with the European Union are launching an interbank payments network known as the Special Purpose Vehicle to help companies pursue “legitimate business with Iran” in defiance of US sanctions.

Given its status as a major energy exporter, Russia has leverage that could help attract partners to its new SWIFT alternative. For one, much of Europe is dependent on Russian natural gas and oil.

And as Russian trade with other US rivals increases, Moscow’s payments network will look increasingly attractive,particularly if buyers of Russian crude have no other alternatives to pay for their goods.

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US leaving INF will put nuclear non-proliferation at risk & may lead to ‘complete chaos’

The US is pulling out of a nuclear missile pact with Russia. The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty requires both countries to eliminate their short and medium-range atomic missiles.

The Duran

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Via RT


If the US ditches the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), it could collapse the entire nuclear non-proliferation system, and bring nuclear war even closer, Russian officials warn.

By ending the INF, Washington risks creating a domino effect which could endanger other landmark deals like the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) and collapse the existing non-proliferation mechanism as we know it, senior lawmaker Konstantin Kosachev said on Sunday.

The current iteration of the START treaty, which limits the deployment of all types of nuclear weapons, is due to expire in 2021. Kosachev, who chairs the Parliament’s Upper House Foreign Affairs Committee, warned that such an outcome pits mankind against “complete chaos in terms of nuclear weapons.”

“Now the US Western allies face a choice: either embarking on the same path, possibly leading to new war, or siding with common sense, at least for the sake of their self-preservation instinct.”

His remarks came after US President Donald Trump announced his intentions to “terminate” the INF, citing alleged violations of the deal by Russia.

Moscow has repeatedly denied undermining the treaty, pointing out that Trump has failed to produce any evidence of violations. Moreover, Russian officials insist that the deployment of US-made Mk 41 ground-based universal launching systems in Europe actually violates the agreement since the launchers are capable of firing mid-range cruise missiles.

Leonid Slutsky, who leads the Foreign Affairs Committee in parliament’s lower chamber, argued that Trump’s words are akin to placing “a huge mine under the whole disarmament process on the planet.”

The INF Treaty was signed in 1987 by then-President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. The deal effectively bans the parties from having and developing short- and mid-range missiles of all types. According to the provisions, the US was obliged to destroy Pershing I and II launcher systems and BGM-109G Gryphon ground-launched cruise missiles. Moscow, meanwhile, pledged to remove the SS-20 and several other types of missiles from its nuclear arsenal.

Pershing missiles stationed in the US Army arsenal. © Hulton Archive / Getty Images ©

By scrapping the historic accord, Washington is trying to fulfill its “dream of a unipolar world,” a source within the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

“This decision fits into the US policy of ditching the international agreements which impose equal obligations on it and its partners, and render the ‘exceptionalism’ concept vulnerable.”

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov denounced Trump’s threats as “blackmail” and said that Washington wants to dismantle the INF because it views the deal as a “problem” on its course for “total domination” in the military sphere.

The issue of nuclear arms treaties is too vital for national and global security to rush into hastily-made “emotional” decisions, the official explained. Russia is expecting to hear more on the US’ plans from Trump’s top security adviser, John Bolton, who is set to hold talks in Moscow tomorrow.

President Trump has been open about unilaterally pulling the US out of various international agreements if he deems them to be damaging to national interests. Earlier this year, Washington withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on the Iranian nuclear program. All other signatories to the landmark agreement, including Russia, China, and the EU, decided to stick to the deal, while blasting Trump for leaving.

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Converting Khashoggi into Cash

After two weeks of denying any connection to Khashoggi’s disappearance, Riyadh has admitted that he was killed by Saudi operatives but it wasn’t really on purpose.

Jim Jatras

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Authored by James George Jatras via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


The hazard of writing about the Saudis’ absurd gyrations as they seek to avoid blame for the murder of the late, not notably great journalist and Muslim Brotherhood activist Jamal Khashoggi is that by the time a sentence is finished, the landscape may have changed again.

As though right on cue, the narrative has just taken another sharp turn.

After two weeks of denying any connection to Khashoggi’s disappearance, Riyadh has ‘fessed up (sorta) and admitted that he was killed by Saudi operatives but it wasn’t really on purpose:

Y’see, it was kinda’f an ‘accident.’

Oops…

Y’see the guys were arguing, and … uh … a fistfight broke out.

Yeah, that’s it … a ‘fistfight.’

And before you know it poor Jamal had gone all to pieces.

Y’see?

Must’ve been a helluva fistfight.

The figurative digital ink wasn’t even dry on that whopper before American politicos in both parties were calling it out:

  • “To say that I am skeptical of the new Saudi narrative about Mr. Khashoggi is an understatement,” tweeted Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. “First we were told Mr. Khashoggi supposedly left the consulate and there was blanket denial of any Saudi involvement. Now, a fight breaks out and he’s killed in the consulate, all without knowledge of Crown Prince. It’s hard to find this latest ‘explanation‘ as credible.”
  • California Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement that the new Saudi explanation is “not credible.” “If Khashoggi was fighting inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, he was fighting for his life with people sent to capture or kill him,” Schiff said. “The kingdom and all involved in this brutal murder must be held accountable, and if the Trump administration will not take the lead, Congress must.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan must think he’s already died and gone to his eternal recreation in the amorous embraces of the dark-eyed houris. The acid test for the viability of Riyadh’s newest transparent lie is whether the Turks actually have, as they claim, live recordings of Khashoggi’s interrogation, torture, murder, and dismemberment (not necessarily in that order) – and if they do, when Erdogan decides it’s the right time to release them.

Erdogan has got the Saudis over a barrel and he’ll squeeze everything he can out of them.

From the beginning, the Khashoggi story wasn’t really about the fate of one man. The Saudis have been getting away with bloody murder, literally, for years. They’re daily slaughtering the civilian population of Yemen with American and British help, with barely a ho-hum from the sensitive consciences always ready to invoke the so-called “responsibility to protect” Muslims in Bosnia, Kosovo, Libya, Syria, Xinjiang, Rakhine, and so forth.

Where’s the responsibility not to help a crazed bunch of Wahhabist head-choppers kill people?

But now, just one guy meets a grisly end and suddenly it’s the most important homicide since the Lindbergh baby.

What gives?

Is it because Khashoggi was part of the MSM aristocracy, on account of his relationship with the Washington Post?

Was it because of his other, darker, connections? As related by Moon of Alabama: “Khashoggi was a rather shady guy. A ‘journalist’ who was also an operator for Saudi and U.S. intelligence services. He was an early recruit of the Muslim Brotherhood.” This relationship, writes MoA, touches on the interests of pretty much everyone in the region:

“The Ottoman empire ruled over much of the Arab world. The neo-Ottoman wannabe-Sultan Recep Tayyip Erdogan would like to regain that historic position for Turkey. His main competition in this are the al-Sauds. They have much more money and are strategically aligned with Israel and the United States, while Turkey under Erdogan is more or less isolated. The religious-political element of the competition is represented on one side by the Muslim Brotherhood, ‘democratic’ Islamists to which Erdogan belongs, and the Wahhabi absolutists on the other side.”

With the noose tightening around Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MbS), the risible fistfight cock-and-bull story is likely to be the best they can come up with. US President Donald Trump’s having offered his “rogue killers” opening suggests he’s willing to play along. Nobody will really be fooled, but MbS will hope he can persuade important people to pretend they are fooled.

That will mean spreading around a lot of cash. The new alchemy of converting Khashoggi dead into financial gain for the living is just one part of an obvious scheme to pull off what Libya’s Muammar Kaddafi managed after the 1988 Lockerbie bombing: offer up some underlings as the fall guys and let the top man evade responsibility. (KARMA ALERT: That didn’t do Kaddafi any good in the long run.)

In the Saudi case the Lockerbie dodge will be harder, as there are already pictures of men at the Istanbul Consulate General identified as close associates of MbS. But they’ll give it the old madrasa try anyway since it’s all they’ve got.Firings and arrests have started and one suspect has already died in a suspicious automobile “accident.” Heads will roll!

Saving MbS’s skin and his succession to the throne of his doddering father may depend on how many of the usual recipients of Saudi – let’s be honest – bribery and influence peddling will find sufficient pecuniary reason to go along. Saudi Arabia’s unofficial motto with respect to the US establishment might as well be: “The green poultice heals all wounds.”

Anyway, that’s been their experience up to now, but it also in part reflects the same arrogance that made MbS think he could continue to get away with anything. (It’s not shooting someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue, but it’s close.) Whether spreading cash around will continue to have the same salubrious effect it always has had in the past remains to be seen.

To be sure, Trump may succeed in shaking the Saudi date palm for additional billions for arms sales. That won’t necessarily turn around an image problem that may not have a remedy. But still, count on more cash going to high-price lobbying and image-control shops eager to make obscene money working for their obscene client. Some big American names are dropping are dropping Riyadh in a sudden fit of fastidiousness, but you can bet others will be eager to step into their Guccis, both in the US and in the United Kingdom. (It should never be forgotten how closely linked the US and UK establishments are in the Middle East, and to the Saudis in particular.)

It still might not work though. No matter how much expensive PR lipstick the spinmeisters put on this pig, that won’t make it kissable. It’s still a pig.

Others benefitting from hanging Khashoggi’s death around MbS’s neck are:

  • Qatar (after last year’s invasion scare, there’s no doubt a bit of Schadenfreude and (figurative) champagne corks popping in Doha over MbS’s discomfiture. As one source close to the ruling al-Thani family relates, “The Qataris are stunned speechless at Saudi incompetence!” You just can’t get good help these days).

Among the losers one must count Israel and especially Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu. MbS, with his contrived image as the reformer, was the Sunni “beard” he needed to get the US to assemble an “Arab NATO” (as though one NATO weren’t bad enough!) and eliminate Iran for him. It remains to be seen how far that agenda has been set back.

Whether or not MbS survives or is removed – perhaps with extreme prejudice – there’s no doubt Saudi Arabia is the big loser. Question are being asked that should have been asked years ago. As Srdja Trifkovic comments in Chronicles magazine:

“The crown prince’s recklessness in ordering the murder of Khashoggi has demonstrated that he is just a standard despot, a Mafia don with oil presiding over an extended cleptocracy of inbred parasites. The KSA will not be reformed because it is structurally not capable of reform. The regime in Riyadh which stops being a playground of great wealth, protected by a large investment in theocratic excess, would not be ‘Saudi’ any longer. Saudia delenda est.”

The first Saudi state, the Emirate of Diriyah, went belly up in 1818, with the death of head of the house of al-Saud, Abdullah bin Saud – actually, literally with his head hung on a gate in Constantinople by Erdogan’s Ottoman predecessor, Sultan Mahmud II.

The second Saudi state, Emirate of Nejd, likewise folded in 1891.

It’s long past time this third and current abomination joined its antecedents on the ash heap of history.

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