Iran: What To Do?

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June 8, 2017: The government is facing a more aggressive United States and is unsure how to deal with it. Moreover,  increased aggressiveness by the Americans has emboldened the Arabian oil states to be more bold. This is being seen in Yemen and especially in the recent actions against GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council, the Arab oil states in the Persian Gulf) member Qatar. In Syria the Americans are working with the rebels, Russians and Israelis to block Iran from expanding its power and establishing a Syrian version of Hezbollah in Syria. Iran has not moved aggressively against this American interference in eastern Syria. But across the border in Iraq it has its pro-Iran Shia militias declaring they will cross the border into Syria to help take Raqqa. The U.S. has persuaded the Iraq government to forbid that. While the Iraq government is dominated by Shia Arabs most Iraqis (including most Shia Arabs) oppose Iranian domination and control. That’s why the Americans are still around. This puts Iran in a difficult situation. For decades Iran has been blaming the United States for all their woes and regularly organizing massive rallies where Iranians (not all of them very enthusiastically) shout “death to America.” But Iran has avoided direct military confrontations with the United States. The few that have occurred ended badly for the Iranians. But here they are again. What to do? No one knows and that apparently includes the Iranians.

Syria

Iran is losing this war with Israel and is seeking a way to change that by establishing a pro-Iranian base in Syria. This is important inside Iran where the government has long publicized victories (usually invented) over Israel. Highly visible defeats by Israel, as are happening in Syria, do little to prop up the unpopular religious dictatorship that has been running the country since the 1980s. Another embarrassment is the success of Russian air power and ground forces (mainly special operations and artillery) in helping the Assad forces win back territory. Until 2016 Iranian forces were seen as the key to Assad survival and the Assads were not shy about praising their Iranian saviors. But that changed in 2017 as the Iranian alliance with Turkey and Russia began to come apart. Iran blames this on Israel which, in this case, is partially correct. Israel knows that Iran wants to establish a pro-Iranian militia in Syria similar to Hezbollah in Lebanon. The Assads know this would mean they would have to share power in Syria with Iran. Most Syrians don’t care for this, just as most Lebanese don’t care for the Hezbollah presence since the 1980s. No one, including Russia, Turkey and Israel, wants another Hezbollah established in Syria. Iran will not back down on this and that has damaged their relationships with their allies.

Iran continues to suffer embarrassing setbacks throughout Syria. For example, in eastern Syria (Deir Ezzor province) Iran backed Shia mercenaries (mostly from Iraq and Afghanistan) are coming as close as they can to the Tanf border crossing and the U.S. backed rebels who control it. The pro-Assad mercenaries tried to reach Tanf on the 20th but were turned away by an American airstrike and the threat of more of that is apparently all that is keeping the Iranian forces away. Iran wants to seize border crossings in order to clear a road from Damascus (the Syrian capital in the southwest) to border crossings controlled by pro-Iran forces. In the last week the U.S. dropped nearly 100,000 leaflets on pro-Iran Syrian militias near Tanf warning them that they will be treated as a hostile force if they again enter one of the “de-confliction” zones the U.S. and Russia agreed would be controlled by U.S. backed rebels who operate out of training bases in Jordan and near the Iraq border. Iran has made it clear that it is not bound by such agreements with the United States and this puts Russia into an uncomfortable position. Iran likes to do stuff like that but this time the Americans are fighting back and that is a problem for Iran.

There are currently two major border crossings between Iraq and Syria that have been cleared of ISIL forces. One at Tanf and another to the north (in Hasakah province). Either of these would make it possible for Iran to move personnel and supplies by road from Iran to Assad controlled territory and then into Hezbollah controlled southern Lebanon. That only works if pro-Iran (or at least neutral or bribable) forces control each side. The U.S. and Israel are determined to prevent this “Iran to Lebanon” highway. Technically Russia backs Iran in this endeavor but Russia also has an understanding with Israel and Turkey to prevent Iran from establishing a permanent military presence in Syria. At the moment Russia is giving verbal backing to Iranian efforts at Tanf but is not making any moves to provide military assistance.

The Turks have refused to take part in the Raqqa battle and the Assads and their Iranian sponsors are certainly not welcome. So it’s basically up to the U.S. backed SDF (Kurdish led secular rebel coalition) and various local tribal militias that have been increasingly at war with ISIL since 2015. SDF has agreed to turn Raqqa over to the locals once ISIL is forced out. For the moment that’s the plan. Nobody in Syria trusts plans much.

Iraq

The battle west of Mosul for Tal Afar was fought largely by the Iran-backed Shia militia and those mi;litias are now on the Syrian border. With the main road from Mosul to Raqqa now blocked it is more difficult but not impossible to travel between Syria and Mosul. While the militias have established heavily armed checkpoint on the main roads, vehicles can still travel on dirt roads or cross country. The militias have not got the manpower to provide garrisons for all the towns in the area between Mosul and Syria so the fighting has consisted of lots of heavily armed patrols looking for the many small groups of ISIL men still around. The militias are largely pro-Iran and thus refuse to work with American advisors or air support. But with about half the thousand ISIL fighters left in Mosul and surrounding Nineveh province cornered in about one percent of west Mosul, the rest of those ISIL men have to be chased down. The army, and particularly the Iraqi special operations troops can now be sent west of Mosul to deal with the remaining ISIL forces in Tal Afar and surrounding areas. The Iraqi army has air support and more specialists.

Yemen

The Shia rebels are stalling efforts to negotiate a peace deal. This is seen as an example of Iranian influence because it’s the sort of tactic Iran has often used for a long time. In this case Iranian advisors have convinced Yemeni Shia rebel leaders is that their best chance of coming out of all this intact is to hang on for a bit longer. Waiting for exactly what is a mystery, at least to the public.

Some secrets have been revealed. For example Iran has quietly put several hundred Iranian and Lebanese (Hezbollah) advisers and technical experts into Shia controlled northwestern Yemen since early 2015. In that time about fifty of these Iranian personnel have been killed or captured. But the rest have been very effective. But this has not stopped the government forces from advancing although it has slowed them down.

In the north government forces are now within 20 kilometers of the rebel held national capital Saana. Living conditions in Saana continue to decline and in April there was an outbreak of cholera (that is spread by infected water and food). This is because the rebels have not put a priority on maintaining the quality of the water supply and now there have been nearly 10,000 cases of cholera with over a hundred deaths so far. Iran blames the people fighting the rebels, especially Saudi Arabia.

While the Iran-backed Shia rebels in Yemen have not surrendered they are very much in retreat. Iran won’t admit that but the fact that Iran calls for more ceasefires and peace talks in Yemen says otherwise. None of these ceasefires or peace talks have worked but the UN calls for another round of ceasefire negotiations have ceased for the moment because Ramadan (the Moslem holy month) began on May 27th and it is considered bad manners to negotiate during Ramadan. Fighting and Islamic terrorism are another matter. The UN also steadfastly refuses to address the corruption that triggered the civil war in the first place and continues to make it difficult to deliver essential food and other aid or halt the delivery of Iranian weapons to the rebels (who were supposed to be the champions against corruption). It’s the proverbial “elephant in the room” no one wants to acknowledge much less try to eliminate.

Iran believes it is on the winning side, and not just for religious reasons (the thousand year old Shia-Sunni dispute). The Iranians have dominated the region for thousands of years and see Arabs as inferior in just about every way. The Iranians are smart enough to be subtle about this but the Arabs have understood the Iranian attitude for a long time. They also understand that historically the Iranians usually prevail in a dispute, be it commercial, diplomatic or military. Thus when Iran says they are winning in Syria, Iraq and Yemen most people are inclined to believe them, even if all those realists in the Middle East will not admit it (at least not in public). This attitude infuriates Arabs but Yemen seems to be following the Iranian script, not the Arab one.

Israel

Iranian efforts to cultivate an alliance with the Palestinians is not working out so well. Since 2011 Arab governments have been more open with their criticism of the Palestinians. This process accelerated after 2016 when the Arab Gulf states admitted they could no longer trust Hamas (or Fatah either) and are put off by the recent Iranian announcement that it was still subsidizing Hamas, which has run Gaza and its nearly two million Palestinians since 2005. Iran supported Hamas early on. There were recently more rumors that Iran had stopped supporting Hamas. Iran decreased its support for a while, in large part because of the sanctions and low oil prices but never cut off Hamas completely. Although Sunni Hamas sometimes persecutes Shia, Iran supports energetic Hamas efforts to attack Israel. Hamas also supports Islamic terrorists active in Egypt and that has turned Egypt completely against Hamas and helped put Egypt firmly into the anti-Iran Sunni coalition. The Iran link makes Hamas an enemy as far as most Sunni Moslem nations are concerned. Hamas has made a lot of bad decisions since 2005 and the Iran link is seen as one of the worst. In response to Arab states who have cut aid to Gaza and the West Bank Palestinian leaders have quietly told the reluctant Arab donors that if they do not increase aid there will be violent Palestinian protests (in Gaza, West Bank and Jerusalem) against the Arab donors as well as Israel. These Arab donors (mainly Saudi Arabia, UAE and Kuwait) have lost patience with the Palestinians and not only cut donor aid (which was being stolen or misused by corrupt Palestinian leaders) but also openly allied themselves with Israel against Iran. The Arab world still technically backs the Palestinians and their effort to destroy Israel but have lost confidence in the Palestinians.

Israel has also managed to interfere with the Iranian alliance with Russia in Syria. Russia realized it had some unique opportunities here. Israel considers Iran its major military threat and for that reason is actively involved opposing Iran in Syria. Iran’s allies there, Russia and Turkey, are not backing Iranian efforts to destroy Israel once ISIL is destroyed in Syria. Russia is quite open about its good relationships and cooperation with Israel while Turkey is making it clear that if pressed to choose sides, they would prefer Israel to Iran. Nevertheless Turkey is still run by an Islamic political party that is highly critical of Israel, and the West in general. But that’s another problem.

June 7, 2017: There was a rare ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) attack in the capital as six ISIL men armed with firearms and explosive vests attacked the parliament (in central Tehran) and a shrine to religious leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (who established the current religious dictatorship) south of Tehran. All six attackers were killed but not before seven other people died and 43 wounded. Some damage was done to the Parliament building and the Khomeini Shrine. It turned out all six of the attackers were Iranian. Only about six percent of Iranians are Sunni (ISIL is a VERY Sunni organization) and most of them are Kurds (who tend to avoid Islamic terrorist beliefs) or Baluchis (who are more into the Islamic terrorist thing). IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps) leaders blamed Saudi Arabia for the rare ISIL attack but that was not likely because if there’s one thing Iran and the Saudis agree on is the need to destroy ISIL. That’s because while ISIL is the most extreme of Sunni Islamic terror group out there it makes a point of considering all other Islamic terrorists imposters and religious dictatorships like Iran and Saudi Arabia run by heretics and in need of new leadership. The need for new leadership is certainly true but most Iranians and Saudis are seeking an end to the corruption and general misrule they suffer under, not embracing ISIL ideas. The religious leaders in both countries would rather not dwell on that and instead concentrate on imposing their brand of Islam on their powerful rivals across the Gulf.

That said every country in the region, especially Iran, has offered sanctuary to hostile (to Iran) groups who were also eager to attack Iranian enemies. Thus Iran has provided sanctuary to Taliban and al Qaeda members since 2001, even though both of these groups have (and continue to) murder Shia at every opportunity. But the ancient rule is if you can behave in your sanctuary y0u are free to operate elsewhere. ISIL won’t abide by those rules and therefore has no sanctuary anywhere. But any terror attacks in Iran are typically blamed on foreign powers. America and Israel have long been the usual evil instigator of local misfortune but of late Saudi Arabia has achieved evil instigator status because Iranian religious leaders are pushing the radical idea that Shia should replace Sunnis as the guardians of Moslem shrines in Saudi Arabia and Iraq, not to mention the nearby oil wealth. This goal is not popular in Iran if it involves more poverty and violence inside Iran. Most Iranians agree with the idea that Iran is best suited to run things in the region but times and technology have changed and leaders have to pay more attention to public opinion in an age of universal mass communication that, so far, seems immune to government control. Or at least enough government control to prevent bad news from spreading and causing popular unrest against government misbehavior. In this case it involves years of expensive (in terms of lives and economic growth) overseas wars in places like Lebanon, Syria, Yemen and so on.

June 5, 2017: In eastern Syria (Deir Ezzor province) an American airstrike hit a positions occupied by Iran backed Shia mercenaries headed too near the Tanf border crossing. This was the second such attack since late May and carried out after repeated warning (to the Russians, mainly) to remove those forces from the area. The first airstrike (May 20) was carried out because a convoy had entered a “de-confliction” zone the U.S. and Russia had agreed would be controlled by U.S. backed rebels who operate out of training bases in Jordan and near the Iraq border. The Iranian militia did not try to advance again for a while. But recently some did move forward and establish a camp within the zone. Iran backed Syrian Army forces have advanced to within 20 kilometers of Tanf and the U.S. wants to keep Iran backed forces away from the Iraq border to prevent Iran from established a road link from Iran through Syria and into Lebanon. An American backed Sunni tribal militia (Maghawir a Thawra or MAT) controls the Tanf crossing and an Iraqi tribal militia controls the Iraqi side. By March these two tribal militias have opened and maintained the border crossing for all non-military traffic. Vehicles are searched for explosives and the MAT militia admit they have American air power on call if they encounter any problems. MAT charges a fee for most cargo passing through and does not care where the cargo is going (to Assad or ISIL controlled territory). Apparently MAT will contact the Americans if they encounter vehicles that are clean but may be Iranians. Naturally vehicles carrying cargoes of weapons are not allowed.

In a surprising move Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE (United Arab Emirates) and Bahrain cut diplomatic, economic and military relations with Qatar. Ambassadors were expelled, borders were closed and Qatar was made to feel very unwelcome. Yemen and several other Moslem nations followed the suit. In addition Qatar was expelled from the coalition that sent forces into Yemen in early 2015. Qatar contributed about a thousand troops, apparently with the understanding that they would not be required to do any heavy fighting. Thus the Qatari troops have been stationed in the north, to guard a usually quiet portion of the border with Saudi Arabia and only reported six of their troops wounded (or injured) during their time in Yemen.

The expulsion comes after years of criticisms over Qatari support for Islamic terrorism and the perception among Arab states that Qatar could not be trusted. Cutting ties with Qatar is partly retaliation against the Qatar based and subsidized al Jazeera satellite news network which often reports on real or imagined (depending on who you ask) bad behavior by Sunni Arab governments and their security forces, including the Arab coalition bombing campaign in Yemen and Egyptian efforts against Islamic terror groups in Sinai where troops often murder civilians and try to pass that off as a clash with Islamic terrorists. While that happens, al Jazeera also gives sympathetic treatment to Islamic radical and terrorist groups, especially in Egypt and Syria, that hardly anyone else (Moslem or otherwise) has much sympathy for. Qatar also openly supports Palestinian terror group Hamas, although Qatar recently ordered some senior Hamas leaders to leave Qatar for another sanctuary. Al Jazeera reporters have a hard time avoiding arrest (or worse) in Egypt and other Moslem states but they are often abused by Islamic terror groups as well.

Qatar is also seen as siding with Iran in the current struggle between Shia Iran and the Sunni Arab nations led by Saudi Arabia. This sort of behavior is not uncommon in the region and the small Arab Gulf states like Qatar, Kuwait and the member states of the UAE have survived for centuries using these methods. One could say Qatar has been too successful and the current unpleasantness is the price of that success. As is the local custom secret meetings will be held, demands discussed and agreements made. How long this takes will depend on how long Qatar can last without its usual providers of all the food and just about everything else. The expulsion cut off half of that immediately and a naval blockade would be disastrous. About 40 percent of imports came via Saudi Arabia.

The Gulf Arab states have a long history coping with Iran and other hostile outsiders. The solution has always been to seek unity and outside allies. Qatar is seen as violating this ancient and sacred tradition by stirring up trouble inside other Arab states (with al Jazeera) and getting to cozy with Iran. Qatar is the only GCC member to maintain diplomatic relations with Iran. Qatar has long been the most open Gulf Arab state when it came to doing business with anyone. That includes gangsters throughout the region (and beyond). Qatar will even cater to the needs of Islamic terror groups, most of whom operate like criminal gangs and often evolve into purely criminal organizations eventually. Even Israel found they could quietly do some kinds of business in Qatar. That sort of attitude has its limits and the current ISIL and Iran threat to the Saudis and the GCC was seen as too dangerous to ignore. Qatar refused to cooperate with its neighbors and even went ahead and paid a billion dollar ransom to al Qaeda and Iraqi Shia militias recently to obtain the release of 26 prominent Qataris kidnapped in southern Iraq at the end of 2015. The Qataris were there legally on a falcon hunt and appeals to Iran and Iraq to help resolve the issue failed. So the Qataris made a deal, mainly because eleven of the captives were members of the Qatari royal family. As part of the deal Iran did persuade their forces in Syria to release a number of al Qaeda captives. Most of the ransom money went to Iran or pro-Iranian Shia groups.

A lesser factor in the break with Qatar was a recent hack of Qatari government news agency and distribution of fake message from the Qatari monarch praising Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah and criticizing the new U.S. government. Where that hack came from is still a mystery.

Qatar has turned to Iran and Turkey to quickly replace traditional suppliers of essentials (like food and water) and assured the United States that the American bases and troops in Qatar were safe. Turning to Iran was obvious but Turkey is a more interesting case. Turkey is establishing a military base in Qatar to support Turkish peacekeeping and efforts in Africa and relations with the Arabian states. Turkey is less eager to get too close to Iran. Qatar is expected to get the message and make suitable apologies and reparations to its Arabian neighbors. Like everything else in this part of the world negotiations are necessary because the Arabian coastal states have a long tradition of working things out that way.

The most recent chapter in this tradition became in the 19th century when the Arabian coastal emirates (city states that depended on trade, pearls, and fishing) allied themselves with Britain, for protection against the Turks (who controlled what is now Iraq), Iran (always a threat to the Arabs), and the interior tribes of Arabia. Britain was interested in suppressing pirates (which often operated out of the emirates) and halting Turkish expansion. Then came oil wealth no one ever expected. There were changes. In 1971, seven of the emirates formed a federation: the UAE. There were immediate disputes with Saudi Arabia about where the land and water borders should be. Some of those disputes are still unresolved. The Saudis consider themselves the leader of Arabia, but many in Yemen, Kuwait, Oman, and the UAE often disagree. There is lots of friction. Nevertheless, in 1981, the Gulf Cooperation Council was formed by Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. The UAE was the chief organizer of the council and has constantly quarreled with Saudi Arabia over leadership issues.

But when it comes to outside threats, especially the Iranians, there is less quarrelling and a lot more cooperation. It's uncertain if this will be enough to thwart the Iranians. Only an actual war will reveal the reality of the situation. Qatar has become the most accommodating of the coastal entities and been very successful at it. In doing so they have caused disputes with their traditional Arab allies and these disputes showed how you can only ignore them for so long. Locals don’t see this action against Qatar as victory for Iran but a sign of Arab strength and ability to adapt and unite to face an external threat (namely Iran).

In the Gulf Islamic terrorism is really a separate issue because it is tied to the nature of Islam, which is unique among the major world religions in that explicitly condones and encourages violence against non-Moslems and provides scriptural justification for all sorts of misbehavior. Since there is no central authority to change the Islamic scriptures it is more difficult to achieve an end to over a thousand years of religious warfare.

June 2, 2017: In northwest Iraq several hundred members of an Iran-backed Shia militia crossed into Syria despite assurances by the Iraqi government that these pro-Iran militias would not enter Syria. Another problem was that the Iraqi militiamen entered an area (Hasakah province) that has largely been under Kurdish control since 2012 and the Syrian Kurds warned Iraqis to stay out. This incursion apparently has more to do with the Iranian goal of establishing a safe (for Iranian arms shipments) land route from Iran to Lebanon. A major highway crosses the border in the area where the Iraqi Shia militia are operating, now on both sides of the border. The Iraqis did not advance far and most returned to Iraq.

May 27, 2017: In the northwest (Kurdistan) border guards clashed with a group of Iranian Kurds belonging to PJAK, which usually hides out in northern Iraq but also has ties with the Turkish PKK. Two border guards were killed and five wounded before the firefight ended. Kurds are about ten percent of the Iranian population and most live in the northwest near the Iraq and Turkish borders. The PJAK separatists have been active for a long time and have links to similar groups in Turkey (PKK) and Iraq (where the Kurdish minority in the north has been autonomous since the early 1990s). Most of the 2,000 armed PJAK members are in northern Iraq, where local Kurdish government tolerates their presence. There has been more clashes between PJAK and the IRGC since Saddam Hussein was taken down in 2003.

In northern Iraq (West of Mosul near the Syrian border) another IRGC officer was killed while advising (or leading) Iraqi Shia militiamen. Iran has sent hundreds of IRGC officers, most of them from the Quds Force. Dozens of senior IRGC officers have been killed in Syria and Iraq since 2012.

In the southeast Iranian troops fired five mortar shells into Pakistan (Baluchistan) killing one Pakistani civilian.

May 22, 2017: The Iranian army revealed it had managed to refurbish and restore to service twelve elderly (at least 40 years old) American helicopters that had all been grounded since about 2010 because of the sanctions. What these helicopters needed to be flyable again was components and tools unavailable because of growing economic sanctions. But those sanctions were largely negotiated away in 2015 and now Iran, which is still short of cash because of low oil prices and corrupt officials, can at least import needed items to get aircraft and other sidelined vehicles operational.

May 21, 2017: In the southeast Iranian troops fired ten mortar shells into Pakistan (Baluchistan). There were no casualties but Iran had warned Pakistan that if they did not cooperate in curbing Iranian Baluchi Sunni rebels hiding out in Pakistan, there would be repercussions. Iran now believes these Iranian rebels are one of the Islamic terrorist groups secretly supported by the Pakistani military.

May 20, 2017: In eastern Syria (Deir Ezzor province) an American airstrike hit a convoy of Iran backed Shia mercenaries headed for the Tanf border crossing. After the American aircraft fired on them the convoy turned around and headed west. Iran reported that the airstrike killed one of their men and wounded six.

Russian officials revealed the United States told them recently that they were in Syria mainly to remove the Assads from power and destroying ISIL was a means to that end not the main reason they were. The Americans also told the Russians that the U.S. would operate in Syria as it believed necessary to accomplish its mission and that American military commanders now had a lot more freedom to do what they through best without first waiting to have their decisions scrutinized, and sometimes modified or blocked officials and advisors back home. The U.S. Department of Defense (now led by a retired marine general) can set troop levels in Iraq and Syria. Officially there are currently 5,800 (nine percent in Syria) inside Syria and Iraq but the real number may be about 40 percent higher if you count contractors and allies. The Russians and Syrians are in Syria to keep the Assads in power and destroying ISIL is part of that. Fighting with the Americans is apparently not something Russia or Iran want do in Syria.

May 18, 2017: In Iraq (Baghdad) two policemen died during a clash with pro-government Shia militia. Exactly what happened was unclear. There has been more of this violence in Baghdad this year. Over half the 100,000 or so Shia militia on the government payroll are loyal to Shia politicians and clergy who support establishing a religious dictatorship in Iraq. These leaders have been able to get their followers into the police and armed forces and increasingly the pro-democracy and pro-religious dictatorship factions have been confronting each other in Baghdad, and that regularly leads to violence. One reason for the growing violence is many members of their Iran supported militias are losing confidence in Iran.

May 17, 2017: A small forces of Western (U.S., British, Norwegian) special operations troops has been sent to eastern Syria to block Iranian efforts to clear a path for their Iran-to-Syria road. Iraq will not block Iranian air or ground traffic and the Assads encourage it.

May 15, 2017: In Iraq the government is under domestic and foreign pressure to curb senior Shia clergy who are openly calling Iraqi Christians infidels and urging Shia to do whatever they can to drive the remaining Christians out of Iraq. This is not official government policy but it is still what many Shia and Sunni religious leaders openly and frequently preach. While ISIL atrocities against religious minorities gets some publicity, and recognition as war crimes, the similar atrocities by Iran backed Iraqi Shia militias in Iraq have gone largely unpublicized. That is changing but not fast enough to slow down the killings. The United States and most European governments had adopted the attitude that Christians in Iraq have not been singled out for attack but now the growing mountain of evidence has led a more Western leaders admitting that Christians and other non-Moslems are under heavy attack from Iraqi Shia (usually sponsored by Iran) militias as well. In 2014 ISIL atrocities against religious minorities like the Yazidis and Christians was noticed by the world media but that attention was temporary and the plight of Christians in Syria and Iraq was largely ignored. Atrocities against Christians is again newsworthy because the Iraqi Shia militias are increasingly attacking Christians in Baghdad. The militias are trying to drive all Christians out of Baghdad and Iraq. The militias are also out to make some money as they systematically seize the homes, businesses and other assets of the departed Christians and sell them off or trade them for something they need. The Iraqi government does nothing save for an occasional press release condemning this behavior. These press releases are to placate foreign aid donors who threaten to reduce aid if the atrocities do not stop. So far few aid donors have acted on these threats. In Baghdad the Shia militia want to emulate ISIL, which has, for the first time in history, killed or driven all Christians from Mosul

At the same time the number of Shia religious and militia leaders who openly support Iran is declining. More Iraqi Shia are doubting Iranian intentions towards Iraq and believe Iran ultimately wants to control the Iraq government or even partition Iraq and annex the largely Shia (and oil rich) south. At the same time Iranian efforts to discourage Iraqi Kurds from obtaining more autonomy are unwelcome with many Arab Iraqis who see this as another example of Iran treating Iraq like a subordinate, not an ally.

Adding to the fears are reports that Iran backed (and sometimes led, officially or otherwise by Iranian officers) Shia militia are ignoring earlier promises and entering liberated areas of Mosul and seeking “disloyal” civilians who can be arrested and perhaps murdered. Now there is fear that Iraqi Shia militia will ignore earlier agreements and cross into Syria when they get the chance.

May 14, 2017: The U.S. accuses Russia of colluding with Iran, or Iranian arms smugglers, to supply the Taliban with weapons. Apparently Russia is again trying to destabilize the Afghan government so that they, and their ally Iran, will have more influence. This has been going on since the 1800s. But for over a thousand years before that warlords in Iran and northern India fought to control parts of Afghanistan, especially those areas that were part of the “Silk Road” between the Middle East (and Europe) and China (as well as stops along the way, like India and Iran.)

Russia further complicates the issue by currently hosting Afghanistan peace talks that involve leaders from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, and China but not the United States. Even many of the invited participants point out that this makes no sense. But for Russian leaders the idea that most problems in Russia and with Islamic terrorism worldwide are the work of the United States is important to maintain. This makes the Afghan peace effort pointless because the non-Russian participants know nothing will work without American participation.

May 8, 2017: Off the West coast Saudi warships discovered some naval mines. Upon closer examination it was determined that these mines were locally made contact mines.

May 4, 2017: Russia, Turkey and Iran agreed to establish four de-escalation zones in Syria and maintain them for at least six months. The largest zone contains all of Idlib province and portions of adjacent Hama, Aleppo and Latakia provinces. The other three zones are in northern Homs province, the Ghouta suburbs 15 kilometers east of Damascus and an area along the Jordan border. The final map for these zones will be agreed to by June 4th. Russia, Turkey and Iran will supply troops to police these zones and supervise the zones to ensure movement of foreign aid and civilians. The problem is that most rebels do not agree with this arrangement, nor does the United States.

May 3, 2017: The pro-Assad coalition of Russia, Turkey, Iran and the Assad government began two days of peace talks with each other about how to settle the Syrian mess. This took place in the Central Asian city of Astana (the capital of Kazakhstan). This time some rebel factions were there as well but the rebels soon left because they described the Astana talks had nothing to do with peace but everything to do with how to defeat the rebels. The rebels refused to attend the last round of talks in March and were enticed back with assurances that things would be different during the May talks. That was not true. The rebels see the decision by Russia, Turkey, Iran and the Assad government to establish “de-escalation” zones in rebel held areas as a ploy to make it easier to defeat the rebel forces there. By the terms of this the zones would be “no-fly” zones for all aircraft except those from Russia, Turkey and Syria. The Assads and their supporters (Russia, Iran and Turkey) would establish checkpoints around the zones to control ground access. This would, in theory, allow emergency aid to get in (or be blocked) and eliminate air attacks on civilians. But the rebels point out that in previous ceasefire agreements the Russians and Assads ignored the terms and attacked rebels and civilians claiming they were reacting to rebel violence. In the case of the four de-escalation zones that’s exactly what happened.

 


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