MESOPOTAMIA NEWS HISTORY : Qasem Soleimani’s life: Secrets of his role with Turkey, Russia, Syria

Iran’s former defense minister on how Soleimani confronted “Zionists,” ISIS and helped persuade Russia on the importance of Syria. “He was more than a commander: he was a diplomat and administrator.

By SETH J. FRANTZMAN   FEBRUARY 17, 2020 15:23 – JERSALEM POST

Hajj Qasem, as Qasem Soleimani is fondly remembered by his friends from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, came into his role at a unique time. In an interview with Iranian media, a former senior IRGC air force officer and former Iranian defense minister recalled the life of Soleimani. It is forty days since he was killed in a US air strike, and Iranian pro-government media is full of stories about his life. They emphasize how he helped the Kurdish region in Iraq against ISIS in 2014 and how he conducted himself across the Middle East. Memories by former defense minister Hossein Dehghan shed light on Soleimani’s role in Syria and with the Russians.

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MESOPOTAMIA NEWS – Exclusive: Pompeo to Asharq Al-Awsat: US Committed to Preventing Iran From Acquiring Weapons

Sunday, 16 February, 2020 – 11:15  – Washington- Heba El-Koudsy – SHARQ AL AWSAT

Before landing in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday, Feb 19, US Secretary of state Mike Pompeo underscored the importance of the US-Saudi partnership, saying it is critical as the two countries work to confront Iran’s destabilizing behavior in the region.

Pompeo’s visit to Saudi Arabia is tied to a score of hot topics and coincides with major ongoing events. It comes as Washington continues its efforts to find a solution to the conflict in Syria, cooperates with NATO in combating terrorism, assists Iraqi forces with training and intelligence, and continues to crack down on Iran, especially after the killing of the commander of the “Quds Force” General Qassem Soleimani.

In this short interview with Asharq Al Awsat newspaper, Pompeo, stressed that the United States is committed to ensuring that Iran is not able to buy and sell weapons and to renew the UN Security Council arms embargo and restrictions on arms transfers to Tehran, which expires on October 2020.

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MESOPOTAMIA NEWS : Escalation: Nujaba’s Kaabi and the February 16 rocket attack on US forces in Iraq

MECRA – MIDDLE EAST CENTER FOR REPORT AND ANALYSIS

A photo from the December 31protest at the US embassy gate in Baghdad. (U.S. Army Photo by Maj. Charlie Dietz, Task Force-Iraq Public Affairs))

A rocket attack directed at a Coalition base near the US embassy on the night of February 15-16 raises concerns about recent threats to US forces in Iraq coming from various pro-Iranian groups. The attack was first reported in the early hours of February 16.

Video was posted near the embassy compound in the Green Zone where sirens could be heard. Reports indicated that several rockets had “targeted the US embassy inside the Green Zone in Baghdad, specifically the Union 3 base, which is inside the US embassy, US official confirms.”

The Union III base is the location of the joint operations centre for the US-led Coalition. Nafiseh Kohnavard of BBC noted on January 26 during a sunset that it was ” beautiful sight for the many returning NATO forces that I’ve spoken to recently.” Kohnavard had been at the same site on January 26 during a rocket attack. “‘Seek shelter’: We are still advised to take cover in Union III, just across the road from theUS embassy in Green Zone Baghdad. A few rockets allegedly hit nearby. I didn’t hear any explosions as we were in hard cover.”

It is also the same location where US Army Soldiers from 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division, Task Force-Iraq, were photographed on December 31 at “Forward Operating Base Union III, Baghdad, Iraq.” These soldiers had been doing overwatch during the embassy protests that day that targeted the gate of the US embassy compound. Union III was the site of an armistice day event on November 11. US Defense Secretary Mark Esper visited the base on October 23.

US Marines flew to the embassy compound on January 1 with Osprey helicopters while AH-64 Apaches protected the embassy. US CENTCOM General Kenneth McKenzie visited Iraq on February 4 and went Assad base. The US had been seeking a way to send Patriots and air defense to Iraq in late January.

The targeting of this base where US forces have conducted overwatch of the embassy compound shows the deliberate attempt to fire rockets increasingly close to where US forces are present, instead of random shelling of the large embassy compound itself. This is part of a pattern of increasing attacks that are also increasingly precise, but which have largely not resulted in casualties to US forces.

The previous attacks May to December 2019

The attacks fit a pattern of a dozen rocket attacks between October and December that resulted in the death of a US contractor at K-1 base in Kirkuk on December 27. That resulted in US airstrikes on Kataib Hezbollah two days later, the embassy protests and the US airstrike on IRGC (الحرس الثوري الإيراني) commander Qasem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. Iran responded with a ballistic missiles targeting Ayn al-Assad base and Erbil on January 8.

A list of the recent attacks notes the following rocket incidents leading up to the

May 19: Near Green Zone

June 16: Balad

June 17: Taji

September 23: Green Zone

October 28: Taji

October 29 Baghdad Diplomatic Support Center

October 30: East of Union III

November 8: Q-West

November 17: Near US embassy

November 22: South of Union III

December 3: Al Asad

December 5: Balad

December 27 attack : Kirkuk K-1

The post-December 27 attacks appear to be a rising series of threats against US forces as pro-Iranian groups consider how to respond.

January 4: Balad and Baghdad. “Two rocket attacks occurred near bases in Baghdad & Balad—13 total attacks in past 2 months,” the US says.

January 8: Near the embassy: “The military Coalition confirms small rockets impacted near Baghdad’s International Zone, Jan. 8 at 11:45 p.m.”

Ballistic missiles fired from Iran strike Assad base and near Erbil. (video)

On January 14: Taji: “No Coalition troops were affected by this small attack at Taji Base,” the Coalition said.

On January 20 three rockets fall near the embassy, two in the large compound and one nearby. A launcher is found in the Zafaraniyeh district. Here the sirens at this link.

The Janaury 21 rocket launcher, Baghdad.

January 26: Dining facility at Union III hit by rockets.

February 10: A convoy south of Baghdad is slightly damaged by an IED.

On February 13 near K-1: “The military Coalition confirms 1 small rocket impacted the Iraqi base hosting Coalition troops in Kirkuk (K1), Feb. 13 at 8:14 p.m. (Iraq Time).”

The February 13 rocket launcher used to fire on K-1 (Coalition)

After the February 13 K-1 attack a launcher was found. The Coalition noted “the military Coalition confirms 1 small rocket impacted the Iraqi base hosting Coalition troops in Kirkuk (K1), Feb. 13 at 8:14 p.m. (Iraq Time). No casualties or damage to facilities.”

The February 16 attack

Ghafuri notes that “multiple Katyusha rockets landed inside Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone in the early hours of Sunday, with at least one falling inside the Union III base, the military facility hosting US-led coalition troops near the US embassy.”

The Coalition said “The Coalition confirms small rockets impacted the Iraqi base hosting troops in the International Zone, Feb. 16 at 3:24 a.m. (Iraq Time).”

The launcher used on February 16

A rocket launcher was also found.

The rocket launchers found after each attack appear similar in design to fire 107mm rockets. Not all of them are the same though. Others found in 2019 included rockets that could be fired from the back of a truck or even single rocket launchers found prior to the US-Iran May 2019 tensions. The PMU became proficient at making these during the battles with ISIS.

A rocket launcher found on January 22, 2020 (Right) and one photographed on December 20, 2015 with the PMU.

Other rocket launchers have been found in the past, in 2016 used to target Camp Liberty or huge trucks full of launchers used by ISIS. The design of the recent launchers points to groups within the PMU. These could include Kataib Hezbollah, Badr, Asaib Ahl al-Haq, Saraya Khorasani, or Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba.

The Nujaba statement and threats

The day priors to the attack Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba (حركة النجباء) had threatened the US. Akram al-Kaabi (اكرم الكعبي), head of Nujaba, stood with Hamas’ Khalid al-Qaddumi and an Islamic Jihad member named Naser Abu Sharif, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s representative in Iran. They unveiled a new surveillance details about US drones accordng to Nujaba’s channel. He was with IRGC deputy commander Ali Fadawi ( العميد فدوي).

Nujaba said “The axis of resistance has moved from defensive to offensive mood.” The countdown to removing the US from Iraq was beginning. Kaabi indicated that US forces were being watched at Assad, Taji, Baghdad airport and K-1, referencing attacks there. He indicated that Nujaba was “ready to take a severe revenge for the blood of Soleimani & Mohandis.”

On February 15 Nasral Shammari, spokesman of Nujaba, tweeted a photo of a US armored vehicle at night near Assad base noting “we are closer than you think.” He noted that the countdown to remove the US had begun. Kaabi was also photographed in Iran showing a map of US drone flights. Another Nujaba video, taken and edited from a US video, from February 14 showed an aerial view of t he US embassy.

Kaabi’s work to unify the “resistance” The US has identified Kaabi for his long-term role against US forces and involvement in terrorism. He was one of the first to meet the new IRGC Quds Force leader Esmail Ghaani on January 6. Kataib Hezbollah had said on January 5 to Al-Mayadeen that “they need to consult with allies before launching their operations.” Nujaba said the same thing on January 5. “Awaiting orders for zero hour against the occupiers [US].” His threats build on a long career of threatening and fighting against the US.

Kaabi was in Lebanon in 2018 to support Hezbollah. He had been photographed with Soleimani, Muhandis and Asaib Ahl al-Haq in 2016. The US Pentagon notes: “Kabi, a former senior figure in Asa’ib Ahl al Haq, a pro-Iran militia known for high-profile attacks against U.S. forces prior to 2011, split from the group in 2012 to form al Nujaba, a small militia created in support of Iran’s efforts to prop up the Syrian regime. In 2014, al Nujaba joined the PMF, but continued to focus its efforts in Syria. In 2015, al Kabi stated he would overthrow the Iraqi government if ordered by Iran’s Supreme Leader and in 2018 threatened to target U.S. forces in Iraq. The United States designated him as a terrorist in 2018.”

He has worked closely with Badr, Asaib, Sadr and KH since early January to create a united front against the US. For instance on January 13 he met with other “resistance” factions, ncluding Muqtada al-Sadr, Abu Alaa from the Brigades of the Master of the Martyrs, and Laith al-Khazali, on the authority of Asa’ib al-Haqq. Also, Abu Doaa al-Issawi and Abu Yasser were the leaders in the Peace Corps (Saraya al-Salam) in Qom. Hezbollah has sent Mohammad al-Kawtharani to Iraq to aid the Hashd al-Shaabi, of which many of these groups are a part. Recent statements by IRGC Aerospace commander Amir Ali Hajizadeh and Hezbollah’s Nasrallah point to a growing chorus urging at attack on the US after the 40th day of mourning for Soleimani passed on February 14. That appeared to be the “countdown” that Nujaba was referencing.

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Military Intelligence Directorate Recommends Stepping Up Attacks on the Iranians in Syria — A Different View

MESOPOTAMIA NEWS “DECISION” : THE INSTITUTE FOR NATIONAL SECURITY  STUDIES (ISRAEL)

עברית Share –   Shmuel Even –  INSS Insight No. 1259, February 13, 2020

The probability of an outbreak of war as a result of deterioration and escalation is not low and also depends on Israel—that is the implication of the annual intelligence assessment of the Military Intelligence Directorate (MID). Nevertheless, the MID’s recommendation to the government is to increase IDF attacks against Iranian forces in Syria, in order to exploit the elimination of Soleimani to drive them out of the country. This article analyzes the recommendation and reaches a different conclusion: Israel must not increase its attacks on the Iranians in Syria, beyond what is necessary for its clearly strategic needs, such as countering the supply of strategic weapons and thwarting Iran’s military entrenchment, which could endanger Israel.

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MESOPOTAMIA NEWS : TODAYS MEMRI DISPATCH – February 13, 2020 Special Dispatch No. 8560

‘The Turkish Nation Should… Begin Planning Now To Enter Damascus’ – Turkish Politicians And Media React To Fighting Between Turkish And Syrian Militaries In Idlib

Leading Turkish politicians, including President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli, and many journalists have made statements and commented on the recent fighting in Idlib between the Turkish military and Turkish-backed jihadi factions on one side and the Syrian military on the other. Devlet Bahçeli has since 1997 been leader of the Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi (MHP), which is part of the Cumhur İttifakı (“People’s Alliance”), a political coalition formed in February 2018 comprising the MHP and President Erdoğan’s ruling AKP.

Turkey’s Defense Ministry published four press releases on February 3 describing an exchange of fire that day between Syrian government forces and Turkish forces in Idlib. The statements reported that seven Turkish soldiers and one civilian as well as 76 Syrian government “soldiers and personnel” were killed in the exchange. President Erdoğan said the same day that “30-35 regime elements had been neutralized” and that “of course there will be consequences for the [Syrian] regime.”

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MESOPOTAMIA NEWS SPECIAL:  Operation “Shahid Soleimani”: Iran’s Revenge

By Uzi Rubin February 13, 2020  – Uzi Rubin

Uzi Rubin was founding Director of the Israel Missile Defense Organization, which managed the Arrow program. He is now a senior research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. Email: urubin1@012.net.il

Mideast Security and Policy Studies Paper #170

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Operation Shahid Soleimani, the Iranian revenge attack for the killing of Qassem Soleimani, was less spectacular than the Iranian attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities last September and was apparently controversial even within Iran’s top leadership. Still, Israel can learn lessons from it: that Iran’s regime is willing to take extraordinary risks when it feels humiliated; that in certain scenarios precision missiles can be as effective as combat aircraft; that even a few precision missiles can disrupt the operation of modern air bases; and that good public diplomacy is crucial for crisis management.

 

View pdf full text

https://besacenter.org/mideast-security-and-policy-studies/iran-soleimani-revenge/

 

 

MESOPOTAMIA NEWS ANALYSIS : Turkey’s Options for Pressuring Russia in Idlib Are Limited

Soner Cagaptay Also available in العربية  – POLICY WATCH  3260  – February 11, 2020 – Soner Cagaptay is the Beyer Family Fellow at The Washington Institute and author of Erdogan’s Empire: Turkey and the Politics of the Middle East.

Weighty domestic concerns and geopolitical fears will likely keep Erdogan from pushing too hard against the current Russian-Syrian campaign, but the parties may yet broker a temporary deal to carve the province in half.

Besides sending hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing to the Turkish border, the ongoing military campaign against rebels and civilians in Idlib is undermining agreements reached between Presidents Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Previously, they had envisioned the Turkish military and the Syrian rebel factions it backs coexisting in the province with Russian and Syrian forces. Yet Putin and Bashar al-Assad’s renewed military push has raised doubts about whether Erdogan can prevent them from seizing most or all of the territory. On February 4, the Turkish leader warned that “he would not allow Syrian forces to advance,” but his options for following through on this ultimatum are limited by a host of strategic and political factors.

ERDOGAN NEEDS TO GET ALONG WITH PUTIN

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MESOPOTAMIA NEWS TODAYS FOCUS: – Is Washington Investing in the Moscow-Ankara Dispute?

Wednesday, 12 February, 2020 – 12:15 Washington- Elie Youssef – Asharq al Awsat  MONITOR – Does the military escalation between the Turkish forces and the Syrian regime’s forces in Idlib indicate that the bridges that Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Erdogan have been burned all at once?

This question has been posed in Washington with the fighting escalating and more Turks being killed. The Turkish forces responded by extensively bombing Syrian military bases while the latter appears to be continuing to execute a decisive Russian decision according to US special representative to Syria, James Jeffrey. Washington, which has reaffirmed its support for Turkey according to several officials from the Trump Administration, has apparently decided to take advantage of the crack in the wall of the Turkish-Russian relations to bring Ankara back into its regional camp, especially in Syria.

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Putin Has Painted Russia Into a Syrian Corner

MESOPOTAMIA NEWS TODAYS OPINION BY SETH J. FRANTZMAN

The battle for Idlib is the most severe test of Moscow’s effort to be all things to all protagonists in Syria. By Seth J. Frantzman  – 11. Februar 2020, 16:46 MEZ  BLOOMERG

Seth J. Frantzman covers Middle East affairs for the Jerusalem Post. He is the author of “After ISIS: America, Iran and the Struggle for the Middle East” and executive director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis.

Russia has been unusually circumspect as a crisis in northern Syria simultaneously threatens to undermine its relations with Turkey and calls into question its support for Bashar al-Assad’s dictatorship in Damascus. The Russian air force has been actively supporting the regime offensive that has displaced hundreds of thousands in Idlib, in northwestern Syria. Turkey, which supports the Syrian opposition to Assad, has been striking at regime targets in Idlib.

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MESOPOTAMIA NEWS “LET’S GO TO BERLIN!” : LATEST BATTLE FOR IDLIB COULD SEND ANOTHER WAVE OF REFUGEES TO EUROPE

 
by Fabrice Balanche  – PolicyWatch 3259 – February 10, 2020

Various displacement scenarios may unfold as the fighting escalates, each carrying a high risk of negative humanitarian and economic consequences even if the parties live up to their promises.

The battle for Idlib province, the last stronghold of Syrian rebel forces, is heating up again. As Turkish troops clash with Assad regime forces and displaced civilians continue piling up along the border, various foreign and domestic players are considering moves that could send hundreds of thousands of refugees to other parts of Syria, northern Iraq, or Europe.

EUROPE’S FEARS, TURKEY’S LEVERAGE

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