Odierno Floats UN Peacekeepers, Not US Troops, for Post-War Iraq

Odierno Floats UN Peacekeepers, Not US Troops, for Post-War Iraq

By: David Dayen

US troops in Iraq have lowered to 77,500, their lowest number in years. By the end of August, the status of forces agreement negotiated by President Bush calls for the removal of all combat troops, with a residual force of about 50,000 left over until the end of 2011.

But as Juan Cole notes, a troop withdrawal will not signal a thriving democracy between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. In fact, continued struggles for power and sectarian strife reveal Iraq to look closer to a failed state than a democracy. Reuters reports on a firefight between Iraqi and Kurdish forces:

Iraqi soldiers and Kurdish peshmerga fighters exchanged punches and some gunfire along the volatile frontline between minority Kurds and Iraq’s majority Arabs, Iraqi officials said on Monday.

The confrontation in Qarah Tappah in Diyala province came on Sunday as U.S. Vice President Joe Biden held talks with Iraqi leaders in Baghdad, providing a reminder of the flashpoints that Iraq still has to resolve as U.S. troops prepare to withdraw.

U.S. military leaders fear that long-running disputes between Kurds and Iraqi Arabs over land, oil and power could lead to Iraq’s next major conflict as the sectarian bloodshed unleashed after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion recedes.

It’s amusing to place this in the context of the cries of war defenders that Kurdistan appreciated the US invasion, making the whole enterprise worth the cost.

The sectarian clashes have led Ray Odierno, the current US commander, to float the idea of UN peacekeepers after the American exit. That alone represents progress. Odierno has, at various points, suggested a slackening of the deadline for withdrawal, and larger residual forces. But this is something else entirely: UN peacekeepers, which would have a mandate to prevent civil and sectarian strife. Most countries in the world could get behind such a measure, particularly if it had a Muslim component. Most importantly, it would replace and not add to US forces, which truly are leaving. This was part of Biden’s message this past week, Cole notes:

Biden’s mission to Iraq over the Fourth of July weekend was intended to accomplish four things. He wanted to reassure Iraqi nationalists that the US is indeed ending its military occupation of the country on schedule. He wanted to reassure US clients in Iraq, such as the Kurds and some pro-American Arabs, that the US is not abandoning the country altogether, but will remain willing to help with its development. He wanted to deliver a strong message to Iraqi political factions that they must form a government soon or risk instability. And, he wanted to work against Iranian hegemony over Iraqi affairs as the US becomes less potent in Baghdad. He should have had a fourth goal, of Arab-Kurdish reconciliation before the US loses its leverage, but that issue appears not to have been central to this trip.

Biden wanted to reassure those nationalist Iraqis suspicious of US motives that Washington fully intended to abide by its time line for troop withdrawal– that is, the era of US military occupation of Iraq is drawing to a close. He said, “I hope you know we’ve kept our commitment so far, and on August 31st, we will change our military mission by drawing closer to all of you, not further apart.” There are now only 77,500 US troops in Iraq, the lowest number since the war was launched in 2003, and both Biden and Gen. Ray Odierno are affirming that the number will fall to 50,000 by September 1. That is, an average of a about 2,500 troops will be withdrawn every week until September. (And yes, the civilian contractors supporting the military will come out as well).

Under a McCain Presidency, you could absolutely envision him reacting to clashes between Iraqis and Kurds or other acts of violence by ripping up the status of forces agreement and digging in for a long-term commitment. This will not happen, because as unstable as Iraq remains, without a government since March, there’s a recognition that our presence does little to promote that stability. We can remain engaged in Iraq with respect to development and diplomacy without a large commitment of military troops there.

Furthermore, if preventing terrorist attacks is the major 21st-century national security goal, we’d be wise to increase the FBI counter-terrorism budget instead of bogging down in foreign occupations that do not serve that purpose. So-called “safe havens” in Western countries represent a far greater threat than those in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Oil convoys to Iran drive through US sanctions

Oil convoys to Iran drive through US sanctions


July 10, 2010

Fuel tankers loaded with oil from Iraqi Kurdistan wait near the Iranian border to illegally export fuel in Penjwin, Iraq. <i>Photo: Ayman Oghanna/The New York Times</i>Fuel tankers loaded with oil from Iraqi Kurdistan wait near the Iranian border to illegally export fuel in Penjwin, Iraq. Photo: Ayman Oghanna/The New York Times

EVEN as the United States imposes new sanctions on Iran, one of the biggest gaps in the US strategy is on full display here in Iraq.

Hundreds of millions of dollars in crude oil and refined products are being smuggled over the scenic mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan every year.

Day after day, without formal authorisation from Baghdad, more than 1000 tankers snake through this town on Iraq’s border with Iran, not only undercutting recent US sanctions but worsening tensions with Baghdad over how to divide the country’s oil profits.

The scale and organisation of the trade has raised concerns among US officials who fear the proceeds could be flowing to corrupt Iraqi politicians and benefiting the Iranian government. At the same time, the Obama administration has approved unilateral sanctions against Tehran, penalising foreign entities that sell it refined petroleum products.

A senior Kurdish official said the ”elaborate” and ”huge” business benefited the region’s two governing parties and affiliated companies. Officials and politicians in Baghdad were involved as well, he said.

”The people are being scammed, but by whom, we do not know,” said Hamid Mohammed, an Iraqi tanker truck driver waiting to enter Iran recently.

The Kurds have long been allied with the US. Since the first Persian Gulf war, American and NATO forces had imposed a flight exclusion zone over Kurdish territory, protecting the Kurds from Saddam Hussein and helping them to build a semi-autonomous region.

Smuggling of oil and other commodities along Iraq’s porous borders thrived in the 1990s, when Iraq was under international sanctions. But the semi-official nature of the latest trade underscored how business interests trumped the messy politics of Iraq and the region.

The stream of tankers into Iran continued during an Iranian military campaign last month against Iranian Kurdish separatists operating at the border. Hundreds of tankers, each with a capacity of at least 226 barrels, enter Iran every day from border posts in Iraqi Kurdistan, Kurdish officials say.

Although much of the refined product is used in Iran, which sorely lacks refinery capacity, the crude oil is trucked all the way down to Persian Gulf ports, where it is emptied into reservoirs or loaded onto ships, according to drivers.

The trade is supported by an estimated 70 mini-refineries,the Kurdistan region’s oil minister, Ashti Hawrami, said. They are dotted around Kurdistan and Kurdish-controlled areas, and many are unlicensed.

Iraq’s deputy oil minister for production, Abdul-Karim al-Luaibi, said he was unaware of oil exports to Iran from the Kurdistan region, and all the mini-refineries were illegal.

”They bear responsibility for this,” said Mr Luaibi, referring to Kurdish authorities.

Analysts say the Kurdish region’s oil trade with Iran provides revenue it does not have to share with Baghdad, at least for now, diminishing its reliance on exports to Turkey. It also grants the region leverage in oil and internal border disputes with Baghdad.

”They can negotiate from a position of strength,” says Ruba Husari, an oil specialist and founder of Iraqoilforum.com. ”They are running their own oil kingdom.”


Balancing the ethno-social political triangle

[The Kurdish wild card has yet to be fully played.  Once the question comes-up for international resolution, especially in relation to American and Israeli ability to control the Kurds, the true allegiances of the key players will be revealed.]

Balancing the ethno-social political triangle

Iraq’s Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki meets with Iraq’s former Prime Minister and head of the Iraqiya coalition Iyad Allawi in Baghdad June 29, 2010. REUTERS/Mohammed Ameen

By Bashdar Pusho Ismaeel
The Kurdish Globe

The critical government-forming process has been given added bite with the expected withdrawal of U.S. combat forces by the end of August.

Four months after the much-anticipated national elections in Iraq that were supposed to foster the first all-encompassing government in Baghdad, Iraqi politicians continue to jockey, debate, and pursue tense negotiations on assembling the required majority to form a government. Giving the Iraqi track record, a lengthy period of government forming is hardly surprising. However, the process was exasperated with contentious delays to the election itself, controversy over banned politicians on the eve of political campaigning, and then bitter disputes over the final election results.

In many ways, Iraq has made a lot of progress since the previous elections marred by Sunni boycotting, not least on the security and sectarian front. However, as the democratic process has become stalled in recent weeks, this has afforded insurgents a chance to relay the road of instability and sectarianism.

The critical government-forming process has been given added bite with the expected withdrawal of U.S. combat forces by the end of August. While the departing of foreign forces may have been a welcome sight for many Iraqis, the presence and influence of the U.S. all too often masked political and security cracks, and this has now become more evident than ever.

At critical times over the past several years, Washington has used its substantial sway on Iraqi politics to ensure the Iraqi democratic bandwagon rolled on. Stability and success in Iraq shortly after the nightmare that ensued post-2003 became an American obsession. After all, in such an aftermath, anything short of peace, relative democracy, and stability in Iraq would have catastrophic consequences, especially with neighboring predators already circling with intent.

U.S. military presence will drop significantly from a peak of 170,000 just a few years ago. While the sheer U.S. military expenditure and involvement in Iraq may have been taken for granted in recent years, as the democratic journey continues to remain frail, the readiness, loyalty, and impartiality of Iraqi security forces will be put to a firm test.

Government shaping has been further complicated with the lack of a clear winner at the polls. Although Ayad Allawi’s al-Iraqiya group won the most seats, it was marginally ahead of incumbent Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law coalition, and debate continues to rage on the party that has the legal jurisdiction to attempt to form government. Although Maliki did not win, he strengthened his claim to form government with an alliance with the religious-based Shiite Iraqi National Alliance, meaning that his party was only seats away from attaining the majority needed to form a new government.

The Kurds, who continue to hold a key card in the formation of the new government, have taken their time over the selection of any alliance this time and aim to seek written guarantees on nationalistic issues before committing to bring another power in Baghdad. The natural and preferred alliance of the Kurds will be to work once more with their Shiite counterparts. However, persistent foot dragging on key Kurdish interests by Maliki put doubt in the minds of many a Kurd, especially as Maliki’s dominance and political standing solidified. However, the predominantly Sunni umbrella of Allawi is hardly the tonic that weary Kurds seek either. Al-Iraqiya was direct in competition to the Kurds in the tense, oil-rich province of Kirkuk, and has often voiced its intent against Kurdish attempts to annex disputed territories.

If Kurds do join the mainly Shiite coalition of Maliki, there is a danger that they may not receive their first choice of government posts, as may have been the case a few years ago. However, more critically, a Kurdish-Shiite alliance without the key Sunni parties and the ultimate victor of the polls, Allawi, will sew a new chapter of democracy in Iraq on shaky foundations. After all, it was the sidelining of Sunnis after their decades of near dominance that triggered Iraq to the brink of civil war. For years Baghdad and particularly the U.S. have sought to appease Sunnis and bring national reconciliation in Iraq.

While in theory U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s comments this week that Iraqi politics was «not a lot different» from other countries may speak true on the surface, unlike some other countries, democracy in Iraq produces brittle results. This is owed to the ethnic and sectarian disparity of Iraq. Regardless of election results, Kurds, Sunni, or Shiites will still demand power in government. The “triangle” cannot always be massaged based on election results. Shiites will always form a majority in Iraq, and Sunnis will always refuse to succumb to all-out Shiite dominance, especially with the proviso of a strong Tehran hand in Baghdad. At the same time, Kurd will never submit to Arab dominance and influence, due to their autonomous existence, history, and national interests.

This means that key posts must be divided carefully regardless of the election outcome. The sidelining of any major group will only spell trouble. The elections themselves are generally formulaic–Kurds will always vote for Kurds, Shiites for Shiites, and so on, even if the elections this time around swayed from a sectarian underpinning compared to before.

The triangle became more interesting in recent weeks with the thawing of relations between Allawi and Maliki, raising the prospect of what seemed an unlikely political marriage. A coalition of such proportions may seem a dramatic gain for democracy, but this may also mean that key positions such as President and Prime Minister will go to Shiites. Furthermore, this has raised anxiety in Kurdistan that they lose political sway and key posts in Iraq to Arab coalitions.

The U.S. has largely stayed out of political manoeuvring this time around. However, Biden’s visit was a clear indicator that Washington is getting itchy feet. While their forces may withdraw, their high stakes in Iraq will not dwindle. Stability and prosperity in Iraq has become a keynote health gauge of the Middle East.

As for the political process itself, it is still better to endure more months of protracted progress and frustrations in hope of genuine gains than short-term achievements under U.S. pressure as witnessed too often, which may lead to shaky coalitions and more fundamental Iraqi issues being swept under the political rug.

It is these real issues such as oil-sharing, broadly represented security forces, federalism, and resolving disputed territories that often become sidelined for the sake of progress on the surface. Any new government must make firm commitments to these aforementioned principles and critically to the implementation of the Constitution that is, after all, meant to be the blueprint of the democratic existence in Iraq.

Azerbaijani FM Makes Optimistic Statement, Refuted By Armenian Deputy FM

Azerbaijani FM Makes Optimistic Statement, Refuted By Armenian Deputy FM

BAKU/YEREVAN. July 9, 2010: On the eve of the upcoming round of the negotiations with his Armenian counterpart , Elmar Mammadyarov, the Azerbaijani foreign minister said  the liberation of Lachin and Kelbajar regions would be discussed at the session of the Council of Foreign Ministers of OSCE member-states in Almati.  The liberation of the occupied territories around the Mountainous Garabagh would begin immediately after the signing of the peace agreement, Mammadyarov said. Mammadyarov said his meeting with the Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian could take place on July 16-17. However, the Armenian side refuted the Azerbaijani foreign minister right away. “Azerbaijan’s Foreign Minister wants to present his wish as a reality,” saidArmenia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Shavarsh Kocharian commenting on Elmar Mammadyarov’s statement that during the meeting of Foreign minister in Almati on July 17 the question of returning Lachin and Kelbajar regions toAzerbaijan would be discussed.  “There cannot be any talk about withdrawal of Karabakh forces from any region, until Azerbaijan recognizes status of Karabakh in accordance with the will of the Karabakh people,” Kocharian said(Turan).

Armenian Parliamentarian Claims Aliyev Turning EU Resolution Into Path To War

Aliyev impudent hypocrite, Armenian MP says

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev has used the EU Resolution on the South Caucasus for issuing threats of war, stated Naira Zohrabyan, Co-Chairperson of the Armenia-EU parliamentary commission.

The Azeri leader is trying to deceive the public by presenting the European Parliament’s Resolution “EU Strategy for the South Caucasus” as a resolution on Nagorno-Karabakh.

“A few days ago the Azeri President made one more provocative statement, referring to the EU Strategy for the South Caucasus by the European Parliament. The Armenian legislative and executive bodies pointed out the inconsistency of the resolution. Unfortunately, our forecasts that the resolution would be used against the peaceful process are coming true,” Zohrabyan said. “He keeps on threatening to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in a military way,” she said. With barefaced lie, rephrasing certain points of the resolution, Aliyev claimed it contained proposals for a settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

She pointed out that the Azeri leader’s statement runs counter to a number of most important points of the resolution. First, they condemn the idea of a military resolution of the conflict. The resolution also contains an appeal for observing the ceasefire, and underlines the importance of security guarantees as one of the most important components of each solution. “As regards the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the resolution welcomes the intensification of negotiations as a result of the six Armenian-Azerbaijani presidential meetings on the basis of the Moscow statement of 2008,” Zohrabyan said.

The Council of Europe is consistently supporting the OSCE Minsk Group’s activities, as well as the l’Aquila statement, whereas Aliyev’s statements run counter to the letter and spirit of the resolution, Zohrabyan said.

Surprising is the fact that President Aliyev is ignoring the point dealing with human rights in Azerbaijan, particularly an appeal for releasing the bloggers, and is using the resolution for military propaganda.

The Armenian parliamentarian called on her colleagues in the council of Europe to condemn Aliyev’s manner of misusing the name of the Council of Europe and make a political assessment of the Azeri leaders’ threats and provocations.

Afghan president ‘resists’ US village defence plan

Afghan president ‘resists’ US village defence plan

Posted: 10 July 2010 1652 hrs

David Petraeus

WASHINGTON : Top US military commander in Afghanistan General David Petraeus has met sharp resistance from President Hamid Karzai to a US plan to assist Afghan villagers in fighting the Taliban on their own, The Washington Post reported Saturday.

The Post said the first meeting last week between the new commander and the Afghan president turned tense after Karzai renewed his objections to the plan to assist the villagers.

The idea of recruiting villagers into local defense programs is a key part of the US military strategy in Afghanistan, and Karzai’s stance poses an early challenge to Petraeus, the report said.

Senior US officials say the United States would like to expand the program to about two dozen sites across Afghanistan and are hoping to overcome Karzai’s concerns, the paper noted.

But the issue is delicate to many who fear that such experiments could lead Afghanistan further into warlordism and out-of-control militias, The Post said.

Petraeus formally took over command of the Afghan war last week after President Barack Obama sacked General Stanley McChrystal over an interview to Rolling Stone magazine in which he and his staff made disparaging comments about Vice President Joe Biden and other senior administration figures.

Last December, Obama announced he was sending an extra 30,000 soldiers to Afghanistan in an effort to regain the upper hand against a resurgent Taliban, and said he would begin withdrawing from the country in mid-2011.

The Spectre Haunting Obama–A Global Political Awakening

The global political awakening

By Zbigniew Brzezinski

A new president is assuming office in the midst of a widespread crisis of confidence in America’s capacity to exercise effective leadership in world affairs. That may be a stark thought, but it is a fact.

Though U.S. leadership has been essential to global stability and development, the cumulative effects of national self indulgence, financial irresponsibility, an unnecessary war and ethical transgressions have discredited that leadership. Making matters worse is the global economic crisis.

The resulting challenge is compounded by issues such as climate, health and social inequality – issues that are becoming more contentious because they have surfaced in the context of what I call “the global political awakening.”

For the first time in history almost all of humanity is politically activated, politically conscious and politically interactive. Global activism is generating a surge in the quest for cultural respect and economic opportunity in a world scarred by memories of colonial or imperial domination.

This pertains to yet another fundamental change: The 500-year global domination by the Atlantic powers is coming to an end, with the new pre-eminence of China and Japan. Waiting in the wings are India and perhaps a recovered Russia, though the latter is very insecure about its place in the world.

In this dynamically changing world, the crisis of American leadership could become the crisis of global stability. Yet in the foreseeable future no state or combination of states can replace the linchpin role America plays in the international system. Without a U.S. recovery, there will be no global recovery. The only alternative to a constructive American role is global chaos.

It follows that the monumental task facing the new president is to regain U.S. global legitimacy by spearheading a collective effort for a more inclusive system of global management. Four strategically pregnant words define the essence of the needed response: unify, enlarge, engage and pacify.

To unify pertains to the effort to re-establish a shared sense of purpose between America and Europe. To that end, informal but frequent top-level consultations are badly needed, even though we are all aware that there that there is no such thing yet as a politically unified Europe. The only practical solution is to cultivate a more deliberate dialogue among the United States and the three European countries that have a global orientation: Britain, France and Germany.

For many years, Europeans have complained they are excluded from decision-making, yet they are perfectly willing to let the United States assume the burdens of implementation. Differences over Afghanistan are but the latest example of that dilemma. It is to be hoped that the new U.S. president will make a deliberate effort to revitalize the U.S.-European dialogue.

To enlarge entails a deliberate effort to nurture a wider coalition committed to the principle of interdependence and prepared to play a significant role in promoting more effective global management. It is evident, for example, that the G-8 has outlived its function. Accordingly, some formula for regular consultations ranging in composition from G-14 to G-16 should be devised to bring together countries with geopolitical significance as well as economic weight.

To engage means the cultivation of top officials through informal talks among key powers, specifically the U.S., the European Triad, China, Japan, Russia and possibly India. A regular personal dialogue, for example, between the U.S. president and the Chinese leader would be especially beneficial to the development of a shared sense of responsibility between the only superpower and the most likely next global power. Without China, many of the problems we face collectively cannot be laid to rest.

Admittedly, China is economically nationalist, but it is also a fundamentally cautious power. It was Deng Xiaoping who best articulated how China defines its international approach: “Observe calmly; secure our position; cope with affairs calmly; hide our capacities and bide our time; be good at maintaining a low profile; and never claim leadership.”

This underlines a significant distinction with Russia. Like Beijing, Moscow wishes to revise international patterns, but it tends to be impatient, frustrated and sometimes even threatening. Nonetheless, it is in the interest of the United States and of Europe to engage Russia. In so doing, America should seek agreements that enhance global stability, promote nuclear weapons reduction and deal with such regional problems as Iran.

America and Europe will have to find a way of reaffirming their commitment to the integrity of Ukraine and Georgia while conveying to Russia that their interest in these two states relates to the gradual construction of a larger democratic Europe and is not designed to threaten Russia itself.

To pacify requires a deliberate U.S. effort to avoid becoming bogged down in the vast area ranging from Suez to India. Urgent decisions need to be made, with Europe’s help, on several potentially interactive issues.

The Israeli-Palestinian peace process needs to be a priority. The new president should state on the record that a peaceful accommodation between the two parties must: first, involve a demilitarized Palestinian state, perhaps with a NATO presence to enhance Israel’s sense of security; second, the territorial settlement has to be based on the 1967 lines with equitable exchanges permitting Israel to incorporate the more heavily urbanized settlements on the fringes of the ’67 lines; third, both parties have to accept the fact that Palestinian refugees cannot return to what is now Israel, though they should be provided with some compensation and assistance for settling preferably in the independent Palestinian state; and last, the Israelis will have to accept the fact that a durable peace will require the genuine sharing of Jerusalem as the capital of two states.

The United States will also have to undertake seriously reciprocal negotiations with Iran. That means abandoning the current U.S. posture that Tehran make a one-sided concession as a precondition to talks.

Finally, America’s strategy regarding Afghanistan and Pakistan needs a basic reassessment. The emphasis should be shifted from military engagement to a more subtle effort to seek a decentralized political accommodation with those portions of the Taliban who are prepared to negotiate. A mutual accommodation should involve Taliban willingness to eliminate any Al Qaeda presence in return for Western military disengagement from the pertinent territory. The process should be accompanied by intensified reconstruction.

Let me conclude on a parochial note: Unfortunately, the American public is woefully undereducated about the wider world. Barack Obama will have to strive to make Americans understand the novel dimensions of global realities. Without sounding overly partisan, I believe that he has unique intellectual and rhetorical gifts for doing just that.

So let me end my remarks by asserting simply, “Yes, we can.”

Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser, is trustee and counsellor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). This article is based on his 2008 John Whitehead lecture at Chatham House, London. The complete text will be published in the January issue of International Affairs (London).