Save The Oil: Petroleum Hegemony (Revelation 6:6)

The Middle East oil/nuclear puzzle

oil-iran
Pepe Escobar
Published time: March 17, 2015 16:03
Reuters

US Secretary of State John Kerry may be starting to enjoy the brinkmanship, as he says it’s “unclear” whether the US and Iran would reach a political framework nuclear deal before the end of this month.
Loud applause may be heard in corridors ranging from Tel Aviv to Riyadh.

As negotiations resume in Lausanne, the fact is a potential nuclear agreement between Iran and the P5+1 (US, UK, France, BRICS members Russia and China, and Germany) is bound to open the possibility of more Iranian oil exports – thus leading oil prices to fall even further. As of early this week, Brent crude was trading at $54.26 a barrel.

Assuming the US and the EU nations that are part of P5+1 really agree to implement the suspension of UN sanctions by the summer (Russia and China already agree), not only will Iran be exporting more energy – that should take a few months – but also OPEC as a whole will be increasing its oversupply.

The EU badly wants to buy loads of Iranian energy – and invest in Iranian energy infrastructure. Beijing, a key yet discreet member of the P5+1, is also watching these developments very carefully.
Whatever happens, for China this is a win-win situation, as Beijing keeps actively building up its strategic petroleum reserves profiting from low prices. And even as oil prices also remain under pressure from the strong US dollar – which makes oil way more expensive if you are paying with a different currency – that’s certainly no problem for China, with its mammoth US dollar reserves.
The oil price war essentially unleashed by Saudi Arabia has hit Iran with a bang. The country may be down, but not out. There were no good options for Tehran except to try to keep its market share by offering the same discounts – especially to Asia – the Saudis are offering.

Tehran has been under a tsunami of nasty Western sanctions for years, which limit its ability to export oil and increase production. It’s extremely difficult for the Iranian governments to reduce the gap of the expected revenue based on previous high oil prices.

Now the name of the game among major oil producers is to keep market share at all costs. Iran can’t escape it – as it needs to keep in check at all times the fear of oversupply and its desire to increase production. Some oil producing countries are definitely keeping upcoming oil supplies out of the market. The result is Iran will have serious trouble going for more production and more exports while trying to regain its pre-sanctions market share.

While a sort of undeclared “oil war” is still far from reaching an endgame, the nuclear front promises some eye-popping breakthroughs.

Powerful – if sometimes conflicting – ‘Empire of Chaos’ factions in Washington are actively entertaining the dream of transferring US military assets from the Middle East to Europe to keep ratcheting up the pressure on Russia, under the pretext of the “aggression” on Ukraine.

That might happen only after “control” of the Middle East is somewhat shared between Turkey, Iran, and to a much lesser extent, the House of Saud. For the notoriously wobbly “Don’t Do Stupid Stuff” Obama administration’s foreign policy, this development would be a key rationale behind the push for a successful P5+1 nuclear deal with Iran to be reached this summer.

Iran has already cultivated – and blossomed – its own sphere of influence. It’s the Turkey-Saudi case that is way more complicated.

As much as Ankara is well aware of the fierce catfight for regional power between Tehran and Riyadh, it tries to maintain good relations with both.

Crucially it’s in Syria that Ankara and Riyadh are almost on the same “Assad must go” page. Almost – because in fact a pro-Muslim Brotherhood Turkey-Qatar alliance has found itself for four years in direct competition with a Salafi-boosting House of Saud.

Anyway, when Turkey’s President, also known as ‘Sultan’ Erdogan, visited the new Saudi King Salman in early March, they reached an understanding; they will both turbo-charge “support” – weaponized and otherwise – for the Syrian opposition. Problem is there is no credible Syrian opposition; virtually everyone that knows how to fight has migrated to the fake Caliphate of ISIS/ISIL/Daesh.

What this means in a nutshell is once again a Sunni against Shi’ite set up; a classic Divide and Rule gambit that is the perennial House of Saud priority.

The ’Empire of Chaos’, in theory, should but be pleased. But it’s not. The Obama administration’s objective – on the record – is“[prioritizing] the Islamic State, not Assad.”

But that may also change in a heartbeat. New Pentagon supremo Ashton Carter has just admitted, “the forces that we train in Syria, we will have some obligation to support them after they’re trained.” But that would also “include the possibility that, even though they’re trained and equipped to combat ISIL, they could come into contact with forces of the Assad regime.”

No wonder Damascus is weary, and will wait for US “actions” before any possible negotiation with Washington. One day Kerry says talks with Damascus are necessary to end the Syrian civil war. The next day he repeats, “Assad must go.”

As for a no-fly zone over northern Syria – heavily pushed by Erdogan, and a wet dream of neo-cons in Washington – it won’t fly. One extra reason for Ankara to stay away from this new Saudi anti-Iran push.
To complicate things further, power within the House of Saud remains diffused. Both the CIA and BND – German intelligence – agree, and there have been constant rumblings in Washington that the House of Saud eventually should go.

The House of Saud still has not understood that Syria is not the main “threat” against them. They are freaking out about their border with Iraq – as well as their borders with Yemen and Bahrain. On top of it they picked a fight with Russia via the oil price war. The Saudis say they are pumping only 9.5 million barrels of oil a day out of their 12.5 million barrels a day; Moscow is essentially saying they are pumping their entire capacity.

If the oil price war delights the Russia-demonizing ‘Masters of the Universe’, they are at the same time deeply enraged because it is decimating the US shale oil “revolution”. What’s left for masses of unemployed US workers? Find a job in Saudi Arabia. Still one more reason for the ‘Masters of the Universe’ to dump the House of Saud anytime they feel like it.

Predictably, House of Saud paranoia remains the norm. Former Saudi intelligence capo di tutti i capi (and former great pal of Osama bin Laden), Prince Turki, is on overdrive, charging Iran with being “a disruptive player in various scenes in the Arab world, whether it’s Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Palestine or Bahrain”; accusing Iran of “expanding its occupation of Iraq”; insisting “the enemy” is both Assad and ISIS/ISIL/Daesh; and last but not least unequivocally blasting any possible nuclear deal with Iran.

What’s even more worrisome is that King Salman brought Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to Riyadh – rushing to meet him at the airport – to confirm a key strategic, secret nuclear agreement before any Iran/P5+1 deal is clinched. The bottom line: the House of Saud does not trust the American nuclear umbrella anymore. They are making their own nuclear power play with the help of nuclear power Pakistan. The connection does exist, but remains extremely mysterious.
No need to outline the upcoming maze of ominous consequences. Demented nuclear Wahhabis, anyone?

Mosul Residents Anxiously Await Antichrist’s Return (Rev 13)

Mosul waits for battle against Islamic State with hope and anxiety

The offensive to retake Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit from Islamic State jihadis is being closely monitored by those in nearby Mosul, as Tikrit's fate may determine Mosul's destiny as well. (Associated Press)
The offensive to retake Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit from Islamic State jihadis is being closely monitored by those in nearby Mosul, as Tikrit’s fate may determine Mosul’s destiny as well. (Associated Press)

– – Monday, March 16, 2015
BAGHDAD — Despite living under the brutal reign of the Islamic State jihadis since June, residents of Mosul are watching the battle to liberate nearby Tikrit with a mixture of hope and dread.

They know they’re next.

As Iraqi forces pounded Islamic State fighters in Tikrit and said they expected to reach the center of late dictator Saddam Hussein’s hometown in a few days, some Mosulites yearned for the offensive to end the Islamic State’s reign of terror in their city, the second-largest in the country.

“Life under the Islamic State’s rule is like a big prison,” said Umi Ali, a professor at Mosul University who recently escaped to Baghdad after enduring the Islamic State’s harsh interpretation of Shariah law since the militants seized much of northern Iraq this summer. “People in Mosul, they want to end this tragedy.”

Others were also nervous about the prospect of the Iraqi army’s mostly Shiite soldiers and Iran-backed Shiite militias running roughshod over the Sunni Muslim majorities who live in Mosul and most of the other towns now under the Islamic State’s control.

“People are afraid of revenge acts,” said Abu Ahmed, who lives in Mosul. “People are scared of a prolonged, big battle that might demolish the entire city, leading to a human catastrophe. I am with the army as long as it is not sectarian.”

The long-awaited offensive against the Islamic State that started this month in Tikrit is the first step in a campaign slated to reach a climax with an assault on Mosul that could begin as early as next month. (A Pentagon briefer in February all but predicted the Mosul operation would begin by April or May, a disclosure new Defense Secretary Ashton Carter has said was a mistaken disclosure of “military secrets.”)

On Monday, Iraqi forces were solidifying their chokehold around Tikrit while clearing the land mines and sniper nests that the Islamic State — also known as ISIS or ISIL — had put in their path downtown. “We have sealed them off from all the directions,” said Abbas Al Maliki, a Shiite militia leader. “They have no option — they die or surrender.”

The Iraqi forces, both regular troops and militias, greatly outnumber the Islamic State fighters believed to be holding Tikrit, but there was a slight lull in the offensive that Iraqi officials attributed to the need to call up reinforcements and to allow civilians to clear out before the final push to take the city.

“We want to give the people of Tikrit the chance to evacuate their areas in order to save their lives, and also to try as much as possible to preserve the infrastructure of the city,” Mohammed Salem al-Ghabban, Iraq’s interior minister, said in an interview on the state television channel Al Iraqiya.

Waves of anxiety

But reports that Shiite fighters burned Sunni homes around Tikrit last week cast a shadow over those gains — and sent fresh waves of anxiety through the residents of Mosul. After news of the burnings emerged, Iraqi Sunni preacher Sheik Abdel Sattar Abdul Jabbar urged Iraqi military leaders to restrain the Shiite militias acting under the banner of the so-called Popular Mobilization, a group that includes around 40 Iranian military advisers.

“We ask that actions follow words to punish those who are attacking houses in Tikrit,” Abdul Jabbar said during his Friday sermon in Baghdad, the AP reported. “We are sorry about those acting in revenge that might ignite tribal anger and add to our sectarian problems.”

Similarly, the Peace Brigade, a militia linked to the Mahdi Army, founded by Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to fight the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq, made a point of issuing a statement to calm Iraqi Sunnis after its leaders announced their fighters would be marching north to Tikrit to join the Shiite militias working with the Iraqi army.

Spokesman Ali al-Mousawi said Peace Brigade militiamen would fight alongside Tikrit’s Sunni tribes to free the city. “It’s them who should lead this fight, since Tikrit is where their homes and families are,” he told reporters in Baghdad.

Still, Mosul residents said they feel like they are in the impossible position of choosing between the certainty of living under the harsh Islamic State regime or the uncertainly of another potentially unfriendly occupying force that treats them not as victims but as the militants’ co-religionists. Unhappiness with the Shiite-dominated government of former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was widely blamed for the ease with which the Islamic State was able to expand across Iraq’s Sunni-dominated regions last summer so quickly.

The Mosul unease is only fueled by the fear of being caught in a war zone for days, weeks or months. New Kurdish accusations that the Islamic State used chlorine gas as a weapon have magnified those fears exponentially.

“They are all afraid of the Islamic State reaction,” said Mr. Ali, the professor. “The militants might have booby-trapped the entire city. They are afraid of militias too, who are trying to depict all the people of Mosul as ISIS members, which is not true for a city with 1.7 million people.”

Making matters more complicated, a massive influx of pro-Islamic State Iraqis from throughout the region has flooded into Mosul in recent months. It’s not clear how the Iraqi army and Shiite militias will root them out of the city if they seek to blend in with the rest of the population. But their presence could give battle-hardened Shiite fighters an excuse not to distinguish between Sunni Muslim civilians and Islamic State fighters.

“Those who are with the Islamic State are either supporting them ideologically, or they are getting commercial benefits from them,” said Mr. Ahmed. “They do not want the Islamic State to leave.”

The Shi’a, Iran, And The Mahdi (Revelation 13:11)

What do Iraqis think of Iran?

Moqtada and Hussein

Pictures of Imam Hussein (top and right) and Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr (left) on the blood-stained shirt of an Iraqi Shiite man taking part in Ashura rituals in Baghdad’s Sadr City. Photograph: Ahmad al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images

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In relatively multicultural Baghdad, a sectarian mosaic of communities tells of the divisive attitudes locals have towards Iran. You can see it just by moving between different neighbourhoods, says journalist Kholoud Ramezi. “The Shiite people like Iran and the Sunnis look toward Saudi Arabia, or even towards Isis,” Ramezi says. “If you visit Sunni areas of Baghdad you won’t see any Iranian products, like milk, water, cheese or even Iranian cars and clothes. But all of these are everywhere in the Shia areas.”

According to Iraqi journalists, Iran’s influence in the country’s war against Isis is split the same way the country is: dependent on the ethnic or sectarian make up of the population in each place. 
“Iran has the most influence over the ordinary person in the street,” says Ramezi, an editor with Iraqi current affairs website, Niqash.org, when asked which nation has been most popular with Iraqis during this crisis.

Ramezi lives in Baghdad but travels regularly to Karbala, a mostly Shiite city, to see her family. She also makes frequent trips to Sulaymaniyah in Iraq’s Kurdish north, where the biggest political party has strong Iranian links. “I am often talking with people there,” she says. “The popular perception among the majority of Shia is that Iran supports them. Iran supports virtually all the Shia militias and people see Iran sending fighters to protect their sacred places.”

Baghdad-based journalist Mustafa Habib explains popular Sunni perceptions of the Iran-backed Shiite militias fighting against Isis: “The Sunni population in those areas do not welcome the Shia militias, considering them potentially more violent than Isis,” says Habib. “Many politicians as well as educated or secular Iraqis also reject Iran’s role. They don’t want the Shiite militias to protect them at all costs either.”

Habib, who has good contacts inside the Iraqi military, says that Iraq’s Sunni are more inclined toward the US. The United States uses its strong links inside the Sunni tribes to get information on Islamic State positions for aerial bombardments, he says. “And the US wants to make the Sunni tribes the ground troops in the Sunni areas, rather than having the Shiite militias enter them.”
“While Sunni tribal leaders are divided among themselves as to who is in charge of what, and this is slowing down the fight against Isis, most of the tribes and armed Sunni factions are against any Iranian role.”

As for the nine Iraqi provinces mostly populated by Shiite Muslims, Habib agrees that they certainly prefer Iran over anyone else. Additionally he notes that, “Shiite politicians and fighters who are part of large pro-Iran Shiite parties have tried to mobilise popular opinion against the US. For example, Shiite militia leaders have spread rumours that US planes that were supposed to attack Isis have been hitting Shiite militias instead. The nine Shiite provinces in Iraq are looking more and more like southern Lebanon, like some kind of Iranian protectorate.”

For Kurdish people, at the grassroots level, the country with the most influence right now is the United States, says Zanko Ahmad, an editor with Kurdish current affairs magazine, Shar and the Sharpress website, based in the northern city of Sulaymaniyah. The Kurdish people see the US as a saviour, especially after Isis came so close to Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, and because of the United States support to the Syrian-Kurdish city Kobani. “However, I believe that Iranian influence is growing in the region every day and it will only get stronger after the fight with Daesh is over,” Ahmad says.

Perhaps because they are journalists, and possibly more liberal simply by dint of their profession, all of those interviewed for this story say they would prefer to see more tolerance in Iraq rather than external interference with sectarian motivation.

“The game Iran plays in Iraq has regional dimensions,” says Saleh Elias, a freelance journalist who escaped the northern city of Mosul when extremists from the Islamic State took over. “And Iraqis must be allowed to build a better future for themselves,” he insists. “But it’s also true that Shiites prefer Iran while Kurds and Sunnis prefer the US.”

“The US isn’t always here,” adds Qassim Khider, a journalist in Iraqi Kurdistan who runs the German government-funded Media Academy Iraq in Erbil. “But Iran is always here, whether you like it or not. Because Iran is a neighbour and they know that whatever happens here, will influence them.”

Saudis Will Be Nuclear, But Not With Pakistan (Dan 7&8)

Pakistan Declines to Join Saudi Arabia’s Anti-Iran Alliance

Saud-sharif
Pakistan won’t help guard Saudi Arabia’s border with northern Yemen, which is controlled by Iranian-backed Houthi Shiite forces.

March 16, 2015
By: Bruce Riedel, Contributor for Al-Monitor
Al-Monitor

Saudi Arabia’s campaign to build a broad Sunni alliance to contain Iran has apparently suffered at least a setback from Pakistan. Islamabad has opted, at least for now, to avoid becoming entangled in the sectarian cold war between Riyadh and Tehran.

Earlier this month, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was invited to the kingdom for urgent talks with King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud and his advisers. The king met Sharif at the airport to underscore the importance of the talks. The main topic was Iranian aggression in the Arab world and the impending deadline for the P5+1 negotiations on Iran’s nuclear project. The king wanted firm assurances from Sharif that Pakistan would align itself with Saudi Arabia and its Sunni Arab allies against Iran, especially in the proxy war now underway in Yemen.

Salman specifically wanted a Pakistani military contingent to deploy to the kingdom to help defend the vulnerable southwest border with Zaydi Houthi-controlled north Yemen and serve as a trip-wire force to deter Iranian aggression. There is precedent for a Pakistani army expeditionary force in Saudi Arabia. After the Iranian Revolution, Pakistani dictator Mohammad Zia ul-Haq deployed an elite Pakistani armored brigade to the kingdom at King Fahd’s request to deter any threats to the country. In all, some 40,000 Pakistanis served in the brigade over most of a decade. Today only some Pakistani advisers and experts serve in the kingdom.

According to Pakistani sources, Sharif has reluctantly decided not to send troops to Saudi Arabia for now. Sharif promised closer counterterrorism and military cooperation but no troops for the immediate future. Pakistan also declined to move its embassy in Yemen from Sanaa to Aden as the Saudis and the Gulf Cooperation Council states have done to distance themselves from the Houthis.

The Pakistanis are arguing their military is already overstretched facing the traditional enemy, India, and the increasing threat from the Pakistani Taliban. Pakistan has its own serious sectarian tensions and violence. About 20% of Pakistanis are Shiite and sectarian violence has been intensifying in recent years. Groups linked to al-Qaeda such as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi have targeted Shiite mosques and schools for suicide bombings. Iran also has proxies in Pakistan that have attacked Sunni targets in the past. Faced with these difficulties at home, Sharif is telling Salman not now for troops.

Sharif is by nature a cautious man and a very deliberate decision-maker. He is carefully leaving open the option of deploying troops to the kingdom in the future if the security situation gets worse. He will also be clear with the king that Pakistan remains a close Saudi ally. The ambiguous and mysterious Pakistani nuclear connection with Saudi Arabia will remain in the background.

The king has doubled down on his Egyptian connection this month. Crown Prince Muqrin pledged $4 billion in investment in Egypt at the Sharm el-Sheikh conference this week, and Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates each pledged the same. But Egypt, too, is reluctant to send troops, especially for operations around Yemen. Egyptians still have bitter memories of their disastrous intervention in Yemen in the 1960s. Ironically, the Egyptians then were fighting Saudi-backed Zaydi royalists.
So for now Saudi Defense Minister Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the king’s son, will have to plan on dealing with Houthi threats on the border alone with Saudi troops. They have not fared well in past clashes with the Houthis.

Bruce Riedel is director of the Intelligence Project at the Brookings Institution. His most recent book is “What We Won: America’s Secret War in Afghanistan, 1979-1989.”

The Saudi Nuclear Threat (Daniel 7:7)

Saudi Prince Warns Iran Deal Could Spark Mideast Nuclear Race

saudi-arabia-peaceful-nuclear-plan

A senior member of the Saudi royal family said Monday that whatever arrangement U.S.-led negotiators reach with Iran over its nuclear program, Saudi Arabia would want to enjoy the same benefits.

That, in turn, could deteriorate into a regional nuclear race, Prince Turki al-Faisal told the BBC.
“I’ve always said whatever comes out of these talks, we will want the same,” said the prince, who previously served as Saudi Arabia’s intelligence chief and as ambassador to the U.S.

“So if Iran has the ability to enrich uranium to whatever level, it’s not just Saudi Arabia that’s going to ask for that,” Turki told the BBC.

“The whole world will be an open door to go that route without any inhibition, and that’s my main objection to this P5+1 [negotiation] process,” he added.

Reuters noted that while Turki is no longer serving in government, “his comments are widely understood to reflect the thinking at senior levels of the Al Saud ruling family.”

The BBC reported that Saudi Arabia last week signed a cooperation agreement with South Korea to study the possibility of building two nuclear plants in the Persian Gulf country.

The prince’s warning came on the heels of editorials published in the Saudi media lambasting President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry over their “naivete” about the potential deleterious outcome of the deal currently being discussed with Iran, which according to reports would not demand an outright stop to its nuclear development.

Tariq Al-Homayed wrote in the London-based Saudi daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat last week that Obama was “leading the entire region into real disaster.”

“I believe that Netanyahu’s conduct will serve our interests, the people of the Gulf, much more than the foolish behavior of one of the worst American presidents,” Ahmad Al-Faraj wrote in the pro-government Saudi daily Al-Jazirah, offering rare Saudi praise for the Israeli prime minister.

Kerry was in Riyadh earlier this month to try to allay Saudi fears of the emerging nuclear deal with Iran.

Based on the prince’s remarks, Kerry’s mission did not succeed in placating the Persian Gulf kingdom which is also concerned about the spread of Iranian influence in neighboring states.

“Iran is already a disruptive player in various scenes in the Arab world, whether it’s Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Palestine or Bahrain,” Turki said. “So ending fear of developing weapons of mass destruction is not going to be the end of the troubles we’re having with Iran.”