The Two Shia Horns of Prophecy (Daniel 8:3)

 

Iran Deal Is Shaping the Iraq War
 
12 AUG 19, 2015 11:54 AM EDT
By Noah Feldman

Iraq’s prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, is taking severe steps to rid himself of his troublesome predecessor, Nuri al-Maliki. On the heels of a government shakeup, the latest move is a parliamentary report blaming Maliki and many of his political and military leaders for the fall of Mosul to Islamic State last summer. The report is going to be referred to a public prosecutor — which means Abadi may be plotting a criminal prosecution. Maliki is fighting back, issuing a public statement repudiating the report.

Given that Maliki had more domestic support than Abadi when the U.S., with grudging Iranian acquiescence, forced Maliki out of office, it’s no surprise that Abadi would like to consolidate his authority by purging Maliki completely.

But beyond an interest in the Byzantine manipulations of Iraqi politics, why should the rest of the world care about Abadi’s move or Maliki’s displacement?

The answer lies in the effects of the U.S.-Iran deal, which is now before Congress but is being treated by regional actors as a fait accompli. Abadi’s move on Maliki reflects, through a glass darkly, the realignment of regional politics in light of the Iran deal. Where once Maliki was perceived as pro-Iran by Iraqi Sunnis and the U.S., today Abadi is pursuing a new approach in which, he is betting, U.S. and Iranian interests will be closely aligned, and maintaining a multi-sectarian, unified Iraq is no longer an inviolable goal. And the Iranians, having abandoned Maliki to his fate, seem to be on board.

To see what’s going on, consider the challenge that Maliki faced, and failed at, in dealing with Islamic State. The fall of Mosul is emblematic. The Iraqi army, a mixed Shiite-Sunni force, collapsed disastrously, as the parliamentary report emphasizes.

The reason for that failure was more than technical. Shiites in the army might have been loyal to Maliki, but they didn’t relish the idea of dying in defense of the mostly Sunni city. As for Sunnis in the army, they’d become so disillusioned by the impression that Maliki was running Iraq on Iran’s behalf that they were unwilling to stand and fight against Sunni attackers from Islamic State. In the end, the failure to defend Mosul was a failure of Maliki’s leadership, and of his plan to keep Iraq unified under Shiite control.
 
To be sure, Abadi hasn’t yet done any better than Maliki in resisting the jihadists. In May, under Abadi’s prime ministership, Ramadi fell, just as ignominiously and easily as Mosul the previous year. But Abadi seems to be contemplating a different way of addressing the problem than that adopted by Maliki. His strategy appears to have two prongs, both of them premised on growing U.S.-Iran cooperation.

First, Abadi embraces the deployment of Iranian-trained and -led Shiite militias supported by U.S. air strikes against Islamic State. It’s been a slow process getting the Americans and the Iranians on the same page, given the mutual distrust. But Abadi seems to think, with some reason, that the U.S.-Iran nuclear deal makes cooperation more likely. In June, Abadi went to Iran to urge Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to continue supporting the fight against Islamic State — and he also went to the G-7 meetings in Austria to lobby Barack Obama for more support. He’s urged the U.S. to do more to train Iraqi army units, and welcomed the deployment of U.S. advisers, who might even coordinate with Iranian-led forces.

It’s optimistic to think that combined U.S. and Iranian efforts would actually defeat Islamic State in Iraq. That can’t be done without Sunni Arab ground troops, and Abadi has no clear way to create such a force.

But Abadi, unlike Maliki, plans to avoid taking the blame if the fight against the jihadists falters — because he is striving to show both sides, the U.S. and Iran, that he’s trying to get them all to help him in the war. In other words, Abadi, hedging against continuing failure to beat Islamic State, is relying on a deepening alignment of U.S.-Iranian interests.

Abadi has another thing Maliki lacked: a fallback strategy for what to do if Islamic State is here to stay in the medium-term in Iraq. Abadi is signaling to Iraqi Shiites, as well as to Iran and the U.S., that he can govern a rump state of Iraq, one that effectively excludes the jihadist-controlled Sunni areas and recognizes the de facto autonomy of Iraqi Kurdistan.

Abadi’s reform efforts of the last few weeks, in which senior Sunni politicians lost their positions, signaled as much. The position of vice-president of which there were three — including Maliki himself — was eliminated. The parliamentary report assigning blame for the fall of Mosul named two more prominent Sunni politicians, Saadoun al-Dulaimi, the acting defense minister under Maliki, and Atheel al-Nujaifi, the former governor of the Nineveh province and brother of Osama al-Nujaifi, one of the fired vice-presidents.

The message is that Abadi is done with Maliki’s strategy, adopted under intense U.S. pressure, of incorporating Sunni leaders into the central Iraqi government. This change may anger the U.S., since it’s hard to see how else to placate Sunnis and keep them committed to holding the country together. But it makes sense if Iraq is acknowledged as divided already by the presence of Islamic State in the Sunni-majority areas of the country.

In the past, an Iraqi prime minister might have worried about how the U.S. would feel about a Shiite-dominated rump Iraq, which would be something close to an adjunct of Iran. Abadi must be calculating that, having made its own deal with Iran, the U.S. can live with this result as the least-bad outcome — because it’s less threatened by Iran after the nuclear deal.

The U.S. would like to defeat Islamic State, and we assume Iran would, too. The big change, however, is that the U.S. may no longer be as committed to a multi-denominational, unified Iraq as a buffer against Iran. That’s the result of a regional change – brought about by the nuclear deal between the U.S. and Iran.

Babylon The Great Expands The Shi’a Horns (Daniel 8)

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Washington’s Two Air Wars: With Iran In Iraq, With Saudis (Against Iran) In Yemen
By Juan Cole
26 March, 2015
Initially, the US sat out the Tikrit campaign north of the capital of Baghdad because it was a largely Iran-directed operation. Only 3,000 of the troops were regular Iraqi army. Some 30,000 members of the Shiite militias in Iraq joined in– they are better fighters with more esprit de corps than the Iraqi army. Some of them, like the Badr Corps of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, have strong ties to Iran. The special ops unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, the Jerusalem Brigade, provided tactical and strategic advice, commanded by Qasem Solaimani.
The campaign deployed tanks and artillery against Daesh in Tikrit, but those aren’t all that useful in counter-insurgency, because they cannot do precise targeting and fighting is in back alleys and booby-trapped buildings where infantry and militiamen are vulnerable.
US air intervention on behalf of the Jerusalem Brigades of the IRGC is ironic in the extreme, since the two have been at daggers drawn for decades. Likewise, militias like Muqtada al-Sadr’s “Peace Brigades” (formerly Mahdi Army) and League of the Righteous (Asa’ib Ahl al-Haqq) targeted US troops during Washington’s occupation of Iraq. But the fight against the so-called “Islamic State group” or Daesh has made for very strange bedfellows. Another irony is that apparently the US doesn’t mind essentially tactically allying with Iran this way– the reluctance came from the Shiite militias.
Not only US planes but also those of Jordan and some Gulf Cooperation Council countries (Saudi Arabia? the UAE? Qatar?) will join the bombing of Daesh at Tikrit, since these are also afraid of radical, populist political Islam. But why would they agree to be on the same side as Iran? Actually, this air action is an announcement that Iraq needs the US and the GCC, i.e. it is a political defeat for Iranian unilateralism. The US and Saudi Arabia are pleased with their new moxie in Baghdad.
Then in Yemen, Saudi Arabia has begun bombing the positions of the Shiite Houthi movement that has taken over northern and central Yemen and is marching south. One target was an alleged Iranian-supplied missile launcher in Sanaa to which Saudi Arabia felt vulnerable. That isn’t a huge surprise. The Saudis have bombed before, though not in a while. The big surprise is that they have put together an Arab League anti-Houthi coalition, including Egypt, Jordan, Sudan, and the GCC. Even Pakistan has joined in. (Sudan and Pakistan are a surprise, since they had tilted toward Iran or at least had correct relations with it formerly). The US State Department expressed support for this action and pledged US logistical and military support. It remains to be seen if this coalition can intervene effectively. Air power is unlikely to turn the tide against a grassroots movement.
About a third of Yemenis are Zaidi Shiites, a form of Shiism that traditionally was closer to Sunni Islam than the more militant Iranian Twelver or Imami branch of Shiism. But Saudi proselytizing and strong-arming of Zaidis in the past few decades, attempting to convert them to militant Sunnism of the Salafi variety (i.e. close to Wahhabism, the intolerant state church of Saudi Arabia) produced the Houthi reaction, throwing up a form of militant, populist Zaidism that adopted elements of the Iranian ritual calendar and chants “Death to America.” The Saudis alleged that the Houthis are Iranian proxies, but this is not likely true. They are nativist Yemenis reacting against Saudi attempts at inroads. On the other hand, that Iran politically supports the Houthis and may provide them some arms, is likely true.
The Houthis marched into the capital, Sanaa, in September, and conducted a slow-motion coup against the Arab nationalist government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. He came to power in a referendum with 80% support in February, 2012, after dictator Ali Abdallah Saleh had been forced out by Yemen’s youth revolution of 2011-12. Hadi recently fled to the southern city of Aden and tried to reconstitute the nationalist government there, with support from 6 southern governors who, as Sunni Shafi’is, rejected dictatorial Houthi Zaidi rule (no one elected the Zaidis).
But the Houthis, seeking to squelch a challenge from the south, moved south themselves, taking the Sunni city of Taiz and attracting Sunni tribal allies (Yemeni tribes tend to support the victor and sectarian considerations are not always decisive). Then Houthi forces neared Aden and Mansour Hadi is said to have fled. The nationalist government appears to have collapsed.
The other wrinkle is that elements of the old nationalist Yemen military appear to be supporting the Houthis, possibly at the direction of deposed president Ali Abdallah Saleh. So in a way all this is a reaction against the youth revolution of 2011, which aimed at a more democratic nationalist government.
The US support for the Saudi air strikes and the new coalition makes the Yemen war now the second major air campaign supported by the US in the region. But the one in Iraq is in alliance with Iran. The one in Yemen is against a group supported in some measure by Iran. This latter consideration is probably not important to the US. Rather, the US is afraid that Houthi-generated chaos will create a vacuum in which al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula will gain a free hand. AQAP has repeatedly targeted the US. The US also maintains that in each instance, it is supporting the legitimate, elected government of the country.
A lot of the online press in Yemen appears to have been knocked offline by the turmoil, by the way.