Asking Questions About “Kurdistan” Causes War

[Turkey has been taking advantage of the free-for-all in Syria to force the world to finally answer the question of the Kurds. Are they a displaced nation or merely wandering gypsies? The US has already decided this issue for the world and are building a Kurd base in Northern Syria. Turkey is determined to dismantle this pseudo-state, while Syria/Russia are intent upon restoring the region to “Syria”.

My question is–

“Why cannot the Kurdish question be asked, without starting wars and “wars upon wars”?

Every human has a right to a home (“shelter”), aren’t the Kurds just as “human” as everyone else?  The human race is an immature childish species if it cannot even ask reasonable questions without starting fights and wars.  This great issue should be discussed openly and resolved peaceably at the “United Nations”, if such a peacemaking institute even existed.]

Russia and the Kurds Could push the Middle East toward a Wider War

Michael R. G. Lyons

Iraqi Kurdish people carry fire torches up a mountain, as they celebrate Newroz Day, a festival marking their spring and new year, in the town of Akra, Iraq March 20, 2018. REUTERS/Ari Jalal
Image: Iraqi Kurdish people carry fire torches up a mountain, as they celebrate Newroz Day, a festival marking their spring and new year, in the town of Akra, Iraq March 20, 2018. REUTERS/Ari Jalal​

The Kurdish people of Iraq, independent in all but law, have clamored continuously for full independence and statehood—a pursuit that could impact stability in the Middle East.

In addition to consolidating their hold on the territory of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, they also claimed by right of conquest two oil fields in July 2016, the Bai Hassan field and the Kirkuk oil field, the seizing of which led to a further deterioration of relations between Erbil and Baghdad. These areas had previously been defended by Iraqi forces, which retreated in the face of the advancing Islamic State. The fields remained under control of the KRG for years, up until the KRG held an independence referendum, which passed overwhelmingly, thereby granting further legitimacy to KRG officials’ calls for independence. Less than a month later, Iraqi forces, supported by Shi’ite militias backed by Iran launched an offensive to retake the oil fields at Kirkuk. In attempt to avoid any blood spilled between Erbil and Baghdad, and under pressure from the United States, Kurdish forces retreated, allowing Baghdad to reclaim the oil fields once held by the Islamic State. It is also important to note that the oil fields were not included in the KRG’s stated territory at the time of the independence referendum, but they could have provided an extremely value revenue stream for the KRG.

Since retaking the oil fields in October of last year, Baghdad’s Ministry of Oil has finalized an agreement with British Petroleum in the hopes of increasing production capacity. Instead of utilizing the pipeline that used to send crude from Kirkuk to Turkey through the Kurdistan region, this plan opted for trucking the oil from Iraq through Iran. Many people have suggested that the KRG’s efforts to take the oil fields deprived Islamic State militants profits from the sale of oil—one of their primary financing efforts during their reign of terror.

To further complicate the international situation, Dmitry Zhdannikov recently reported that while Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was begging the KRG to halt its calls for independence, Igor Sechin, head of Rosneft the Russian state owned oil major, was penning a deal with KRG officials. Zhdannikov further reported that Sechin delivered a letter to the oil ministry in Baghdad which criticized Baghdad’s, “lack of constructive position and interest,” and in lieu of cooperating with Baghdad, Rosneft would prefer to strengthen ties with the KRG who held “a higher interest to expand strategic cooperation.” During the Kurdish independence crisis last year, while the United States and European Union sought to halt the Kurds and reassure Baghdad, Russian economic interests sought to strengthen ties with the KRG at the expense of Baghdad.

But make no mistake, Igor Sechin is not just the CEO of a major player in the oil industry. He is also the former deputy prime minister of the Russian Federation, a former intelligence officer of the KGB, and close confidant of Russian president Vladmir Putin. A Stratfor report once described him as commanding the loyalty of the FSB and representing “the FSB’s hand in the Russian energy sector.” Sechin has been referred to as the most powerful man in Russia, second only to Putin, and has regularly featured on U.S. sanctions lists for his role in the Crimean annexation. A business associate of former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson during his time at ExxonMobil, Sechin’s work at Rosneft has made him the point-person for wielding Russia’s sizeable Energy hand throughout the world. Rosneft is undoubtedly a tool of Russian foreign policy and Sechin forms the tip of that spear. For example, in Hungary, through Sechin’s hand, Surgutneftegas, a Russian state-owned enterprise, acquired a large share of Mol, Hungary’s largest oil company. This episode was not just a normal development in the international energy market; it was an example of Russian power politics played through Sechin. Leaked U.S. cables published in a Newsweek article stated that during the acquisition, Igor Sechin threatened the CEO of Mol by saying that he was, “not only fighting with Surgutneftegas, but with the Russian state, which has tools that companies do not have.” The implicit threat aside, what Sechin’s behavior displays is the dynamic role he plays on behalf of the Kremlin. He may formally be a representative of the Russian petro-giant, but informally he is Russia’s second foreign minister acting on behalf of Kremlin interests.

With the rise of a second Cold War, the fear is that many of the strategies and methods promulgated during the last global bipolar conflict are returning in the digital age—an age of asymmetric warfare and aggressive information operations. Complex issues and international crises can be co-opted and retooled to fit the larger games of power play between the competing poles. Once such complex issue that could become co-opted is the quest for Kurdish independence, which involves complex issues. The growing interest Russia has shown with building bridges between Moscow and Erbil could exacerbate that issue. It is clear that Sechin does not only act on behalf of the board of Rosneft, but on the interests of the Kremlin. Increasing influence over Erbil, and the larger Kurdish issue, could become a big problem in the years to come.

The Kurdish people of Iraq, independent in all but law, have clamored continuously for full independence and statehood. This effort has been stymied by conflicting U.S. efforts to implement a plan for a territorially stable and viable Iraq. However, Kurdish calls for independence can only be met with the answer “now is not the time” for so long. At some point those dismissed efforts may not be made so peacefully. As the Kurdish issue is inherently a transnational one that impacts virtually every bordering state in the region, considering the contingents of the Kurdish diaspora residing within their territory, any escalation between Baghdad and Erbil has the potential to escalate and threaten an already unstable region. Kurdish militias backed by the U.S. are being attacked by Turkish forces in Syria while simultaneously fighting against the Assad regime. Nationalist Kurdish terrorist organizations have been a thorn in Ankara’s side from within, and an autonomous Kurdish corridor in Northern Iraq is vociferously demanding independence from an unstable government in Baghdad. The last thing, U.S. policymakers want to see is a Russia co-opting the Kurdish struggle to challenge American interests in the region. Sowing discord has become a Russian specialty in the new Cold War, and Iraq could become a viable target for those operations.

If the U.S. approach is to continually delay Erbil’s calls for independence, then the KRG may in turn seek to cut some of their ties to the United States because of “a lack of constructive interest” and could seek out partnerships with countries that show “a higher interest to expand strategic cooperation.” If the KRG abandons its reliance on Washington for a partner that encourages their aspirations for statehood, then the Syrian Civil War may not be the only conflict in the region that helps the new Cold War take form.

Michael R. G. Lyons is a DC-based researcher, who has focused on Security issues in Europe and the Middle East.

 

Syrian air defenses intercept and destroy two Israeli missiles near Damascus

Syrian air defenses intercept two Israeli missiles and destroy them in al-Kisweh

 

Damascus countryside, SANA – The Syrian air defenses intercepted and destroyed two Israeli missiles in Damascus countryside on Tuesday.

A military source told SANA that the Syrian air defenses confronted on Tuesday night two Israeli missiles and destroyed them in al-Kisweh area in Damascus countryside.

A medical source in Daraa said that a man and his wife from the locals of Sheikh Miskin were martyred due to the explosion caused by intercepting the Israeli missiles near al-Kisweh area on Damascus-Daraa highway.

On April 9th, the Syrian air defenses confronted an Israeli missile attack carried out by Israeli F-15 fighter jets on the T-4 Airport in Homs’ eastern countryside.

The air defenses also intercepted on April 14th the aggression launched by the US, France, and Britain on a number of Syrian positions.

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Did CIA Director Nominee Gina Haspel Give Khalid Sheikh Mohammed As A Job Referrence?

Gina Haspel hearing: 9/11 ‘mastermind’ asks to share information

Gina Haspel at her Senate Intelligence Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, May 9, 2018Image copyright EPA

 

The self-proclaimed mastermind of the 9/11 attacks has asked for permission to share information about Gina Haspel, nominee for CIA director, at her confirmation hearing on Wednesday.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who is held at Guantanamo Bay, has asked a judge if he can share six paragraphs of information, the New York Times says.

Mr Mohammed was tortured by the CIA following his capture in 2003.

It is not clear if the request has been allowed.

Ms Haspel’s nomination is facing opposition over her role at a secret CIA prison in Thailand where detainees were waterboarded in 2002.

As the Senate confirmation hearing got under way, Ms Haspel promised that under her leadership the agency would not restart a secret detention and interrogation programme under which suspects were tortured.

She told members of the Senate intelligence committee that, in retrospect, “it is clear … that CIA was not prepared to conduct a detention and interrogation programme”.

“Having served in that tumultuous time, I can offer you my personal commitment, clearly and without reservation, that under my leadership the CIA will not restart such a detention and interrogation programme,” she added.

The request by Mr Mohammed to supply information to the intelligence committee has been submitted to army judge Col James Pohl, according to one of Mr Mohammed’s lawyers, Lt Col Derek Poteet.

The request includes an attachment called “Additional Facts, Law and Argument in Support”, which includes the six paragraphs, the New York Times reported. Col Poteet said he was not able to describe the information.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who is of Pakistani origin but was born in Kuwait, was captured in Pakistan in 2003 and transferred to Guantanamo, in Cuba, in 2006.

CIA documents confirm that he was subjected to waterboarding – simulated drowning – 183 times.

Ms Haspel, who is President Donald Trump’s choice to replace now Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, is facing a tough hearing in the Senate where the narrow Republican majority makes her confirmation uncertain.

Many Democrats have spoken out against her nomination.

She is a career intelligence officer with more than 30 years of experience but controversially ran a prison in Thailand where suspected al-Qaeda members were subjected to waterboarding in 2002. Correspondents say she was known for her harsh views.

The so-called “black sites”, where the CIA carried out “enhanced interrogation” techniques, were closed by former US President Barack Obama.

However, President Trump has since spoken out in favour of the harsh interrogation of suspects.

How Fast Could Iran Now Build a Nuclear Bomb?

[Trump to Iran: America’s Word is Worthless]

How Fast Iran Could Build a Nuclear Bomb

Iranian officials have said they could start enriching uranium within days, but U.S. officials are skeptical they would risk doing so

Iranian women walk past a portrait of the late revolutionary founder Ayatollah Khomeini in Tehran, Iran, on Monday. Experts differ on how long it would take Iran to build a nuclear bomb.
Iranian women walk past a portrait of the late revolutionary founder Ayatollah Khomeini in Tehran, Iran, on Monday. Experts differ on how long it would take Iran to build a nuclear bomb. Photo: VAHID SALEMI/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Iran could quickly ramp up its nuclear activities now that President Donald Trump pulled out of the 2015 international agreement designed to curtail them. But experts and former officials differ over how long Tehran would need to build a bomb.

Some, pointing to Iran’s slow past progress and independent analyses, believe Iran would need several years to produce a nuclear weapon. Others think Tehran could build one in little over a year.

Iranian officials have said they could accelerate nuclear activities and start enriching uranium within days.

President Trump announced Tuesday that the U.S. will withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal and reinstate sanctions on Tehran. He called the deal “defective” and said it didn’t do enough to stop the country from developing nuclear weapons. Photo: Getty Images

Separate from the technical question is the political one. U.S. officials have voiced skepticism that Iran would quickly return to work on a bomb.

“Iran wasn’t racing to a weapon before the deal,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told lawmakers last month. “There is no indication that I’m aware of that if the deal no longer existed that they would immediately turn to racing to create a nuclear weapon today.”

Many observers believe Iran has incentives not to expand its nuclear activities or expel international inspectors even if the U.S. exits the deal.

Iranian officials hope to maintain trade with Europe—which is mainly supportive of the pact—and an outright return to nuclear activities would likely stop that. Attempting to relaunch its nuclear program secretly would slow Iran’s path significantly and carry major risks.

Iran worked on three aspects of a nuclear program—enriching uranium, obtaining plutonium and trying to acquire the know-how to build a nuclear weapon—before the 2015 deal, which lifted most international sanctions in exchange for strict but temporary limits on its program. Tehran says its nuclear program was always for peaceful purposes.

Iran had amassed a large stock of low-enriched uranium and produced nuclear fuel enriched to 20% purity. That is several steps from producing weapons-grade uranium enriched to 90% purity. Still, U.S. officials said in 2015 that Iran was just two or three months from amassing enough fuel for a bomb.

Iran was also building a plutonium reactor at Arak, in its northwest. When completed, it could have produced material for a couple of nuclear weapons annually, U.S. officials say.

The International Atomic Energy Agency concluded in 2015 that Tehran— despite denials—pursued a concerted weaponization program until 2003 and continued some of that work until 2009.

The 2015 agreement was structured around restrictions to ensure Iran would need at least 12 months to gather enough nuclear fuel for a bomb.

Most experts believe that the accord largely ensured that by removing roughly 98% of Iran’s enriched uranium stockpile, mothballing two-thirds of its uranium-spinning centrifuges, limiting research and development, and removing the core of the Arak reactor.

It’s also unclear how much Iran knows about assembling a bomb. The IAEA in 2015 concluded that Iran’s weaponization work “did not advance beyond feasibility and scientific studies” and knowledge of “certain relevant technical competences and capabilities.”

The report was controversial. The IAEA spoke to some scientists and experts but not at length. Access to key sites was limited.

But it’s also unclear whether Iran​ has the technical ability to reliably deliver a nuclear warhead with its existing missile technology.

Last month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his country had obtained 100,000 pages of documents from a secret location in Tehran showing Iran had safeguarded its nuclear know-how. He said the material showed Tehran intended to resume its activities. Israeli leaders have vowed to stop Iran from getting the bomb.

While no new information has emerged publicly from that archive, the IAEA has called out Iran for seeking to erase possibly crucial work at the sprawling military site of Parchin. The agency said in 2015 that Iran’s explanation for its activities didn’t add up.

Iran is believed to have carried out work there on high explosives—materials that detonate very quickly. Mr. Heinonen said these could have been “an important step in the design and mock-up of a nuclear weapon.”

Jeffrey Lewis, a non-proliferation expert at the Middlebury Institute of  International Studies, said Iran was “quite far along” on its weaponization work with access to sophisticated designs from abroad. Stopping that effort was one reason why concluding the 2015 deal made sense, he argued.

“What we don’t know is how well they [the Iranian efforts] would work on a first test,” he said.

Nuclear Checks

Iran’s main nuclear sites

Write to Laurence Norman at laurence.norman@wsj.com