The Crisis over the Downed Russian Plane: What Next? By Amos Yadlin, Zvi Magen, Vera Michlin-Shapir – INSS Insight No. 1095, September 27, 2018

MESOPOTAMIA NEWS FOCUS : INSS – INSTITUTE FOR NATIONAL SECURITY (ISRAEL)

The downing of the Russian Il-20 plane by the Syrians on the night of September 17, 2018 has become one of the most complex incidents in the framework of Russia-Israel relations, at least since the start of Russia’s intervention in Syria in October 2015. Following an Israeli attack in the Latakia region, a Syrian SA-5 anti-aircraft battery struck a Russian reconnaissance plane, which crashed into the sea, killing its crew of 15. Although it was Syria that failed to identify the Russian plane, Russia chose to blame Israel for the incident. However, it appears that both Russia and Israel still have a fundamental interest in continuing the good relations between them and maintaining their understandings in Syria.

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The Dirty, Dark Side of the Kurdistan Region Parliament Election – By Aras Ahmed Mhamad: 25 Sept 2018 – Kurdistan tribune

MESOPOTAMIANEWS : KURDISTAN REGIONAL ELECTIONS

Voting to elect a new Kurdistan region parliament will begin at 8am on September 30, 2018 and it will end at 6pm the same day. There are 3,085,461 eligible voters in the four cities of Hewlêr (Erbil), Slêmanî, Duhok, and Halabja distributed among 1260 polling stations, according to The Independent High Elections and Referendum Commission. 773 candidates are racing for 111 parliament seats; 30 percent is allocated to females by law.

As usual, ballot fraud, vote rigging, and other irregularities are highly expected. Another problem is voting hours that will be extended surely like all the previous elections. When ISIS captured parts of Syria and Iraq, refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs) rushed to the Kurdistan region seeking for shelter. A number of these refugees and IPDs have not returned to their hometowns yet and the then opposition parties claim that they are registered by the KDP and PUK to vote in this election.

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MESOPOTAMIA NEWS : ANALYS BY SOUFAN CENTER – IRAN-US TENSIONS ESCALATE IN IRAQ

SOUTH KURDISTAN (IRAQ)

Bottom Line Up Front:
  • Iraq continues to be an important frontier in the growing conflict between Iran and the Trump Administration.
  • Recent Iranian actions and U.S. threats, set the stage for potential escalation as President Donald Trump prepares to chair a September 26 U.N. Security Council meeting that he has said will focus primarily on Iran’s regional destabilizing activities.
  • Iranian weapons shipments and actions by its proxies in Iraq increase the potential for tensions between Tehran and Washington.
  • Iran’s provision of short-range ballistic missiles to its Shia militia allies provides the mullahs with a growing ability to project power against U.S. interests throughout the Middle East.
  • The strength of Iran’s proxies in Iraq will enable Tehran to exert influence in the country even if the Baghdad government remains aligned with the United States.
The potential for U.S.-Iran competition to flare into outright hostilities increased significantly this month. It was reported in early September that Iran had supplied short-range ballistic missiles to Kata’ib Hezbollah, enabling Iran to project power through its proxies against regional nemesis Saudi Arabia, as well as U.S. forces in eastern Syria if necessary. And, in mid-September, in actions reminiscent of the 2003-2011 period, Iran-backed Shia militias launched rockets apparently targeting U.S. diplomatic facilities in Baghdad and Basra—actions that the State Department blamed specifically on Iran. The weapons deliveries and militia actions were likely an effort by Tehran to demonstrate it can counter the Trump administration’s campaign of broad economic, political, and military pressure. However, the actions prompted strong warnings by Secretary of State Michael Pompeo that the United States might act militarily against Iran for such provocative actions, and not necessarily only against the local proxies.

Iraq is emerging as a potential flashpoint in the broadening conflict between the United States and Iran, especially as the latter has undertaken increasingly bold steps to use its Arab neighbor as an instrument to counter U.S strategy in the region. U.S.-Iran competition in Iraq has been a hallmark of the relationship between the two countries since the American intervention in Iraq in 2003. That intervention led to a multi-year occupation and poorly-planned stabilization efforts. One major unintended consequence was the accession to power of pro-Iranian Shia parties.

The so-called Islamic State’s capture of substantial portions of Iraqi territory in 2014 led Iran to send arms, military advisors, and funds to the beleaguered Baghdad government. Iran sent about 1,000 of its elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – Qods Force (IRGC-QF) to help Iraq fend off the Islamic State challenge, and quintupled its military aid to Iraq to about $1 billion. Much of Tehran’s efforts were devoted to expanding and training several pro-Iranian Shia militias, including the Badr Organization, Kata’ib Hezbollah (Hezbollah Brigades), and Asa’ib Ahl al Haq (League of the Family of the Righteous)—factions that Iran had long supported against Saddam Hussein’s regime and against U.S. forces in Iraq. The collapse of the caliphate will benefit Iran, which is likely to tout its assistance to Iraq and remind the leadership of just how valuable Iranian training and equipment was to Baghdad’s victory over IS.

But the years of strengthening militia groups is now leading directly to other issues. The militias not only have since resisted government efforts to fold into the national security structure, but their commanders and political allies also prospered in the May 2018 national elections. The political clout of these militias ensures that Iran will have significant influence in Iraq even if Prime Minister Hayder al-Abadi, whose faction underperformed in the May elections, is returned to his post when a new government is eventually finalized. The Trump administration is exerting extensive pressure on Iraqi politicians to retain Abadi as Prime Minister, to serve as a counterweight to Iranian and Iran-backed militia influence, but also to protect U.S. interests in a country that 4,500 U.S. military personnel died trying to stabilize.

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MESOPOTAMIA NEWS “STATEMENTS RUSSIA & ISRAEL” : A PUTIN &NETANJAHU AGREEMENT

WEST KURDISTAN (SYRIA) – 25 Sept 2018 – MESOP / AGENCIES – On Monday, Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu said the long-delayed delivery of S-300 anti-air defenses to the Assad regime will finally be completed: In 2013 on a request from the Israeli side we suspended the delivery to Assad regime of the S-300 system, which was ready to be sent with Assad’s crews trained to use it. The situation has changed, and not due to our fault.  Delivery of Russia’s S-300 to Syria will also stop Western coalition from carrying out uncontrolled attacks on Syrian territory.

But the Kremlin later added an assurance to Israel abot limits on the S-300’s use:

It should be obvious to everyone that Russia’s actions aimed at ensuring security for its troops are necessary. This is why in this case, Russia is guided solely by these interests, these actions are not directed against third countries, they are meant to protect our own troops.

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MESOPOTAMIA NEWS : FRIEND OR FOE ? SYRIA – ISRAEL – RUSSIA

Charles Lister‏Verified account @Charles_Lister 2h2 hours ago  24 Sept 2018

The irony in this #Russia claim is extraordinary. The true danger to civilian aircraft is posed by #Moscow’s failure to provide “friend-foe” tech to AD/SAM sales. #Assad’s missiles have been flying blind all this time, which is truly shocking.

Michael A. HorowitzVerified account @michaelh992

But the fact that Syria is using anti-aircraft systems (delivered by Russia) without the Identify Friend or Foe system is fine, I am guessing https://twitter.com/SputnikInt/status/1043778660459794432  …

🇷🇺 in Israel To me, this looks like messaging more than a truly dramatic change in reality/dynamics: – S-300s already deployed in #Syria. – #Israel (& US) uses encrypted radar/GPS; less vulnerable to counter-measures – #Russia has been “jamming” for 2+ yrs. – #Israel fires most from Med.

Russia  – 🇷🇺 in IsraelVerified account @israel_mid_ru

#Russia will jam satellite navigation,on-board radars and communication systems of combat aircraft,which attack targets in the Syrian territory,in the regions over waters of the Mediterranean Sea bordering with #Syria, read…

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MESOPOTAMIA NEWS : PUTIN FAVORS ERDOGAN – 24 Sept 2018 – AL MONITOR SAMPLER /ALL RESSOURCE PERSONS

Putin grants Erdogan last chance to end Idlib quagmire on Turkey’s terms

Putin gives Erdogan a win on Idlib

 Last week in Sochi, Russian President Vladimir Putin backed off on his support for an all-out assault on Idlib in order to give Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan one last chance to solve Idlib on Erdogan’s terms.

“The Sochi deal indicates that Putin considers it a priority to keep Erdogan on board in the Syrian theater,” writes Cengiz Candar. “The aim of such a strategy is to invest in the growing tensions between Turkey and the United States over the Kurdish presence to the east of the Euphrates. For Putin, not alienating Erdogan takes priority over launching an offensive to deliver Idlib to Assad. … Erdogan, during the joint press conference in Sochi, as if confirming Putin’s implicit game plan, drew attention to the areas east of the Euphrates and said terrorist activity is not confined to Idlib. The biggest threat to Syria’s future lies in the nests of terror to the east of the Euphrates, he said, naming the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and the Democratic Union Party (PYD), both US allies in the fight against the Islamic State, as terrorist groups that must be brought down.”

Putin understood that Erdogan needed a win. At a summit in Tehran on Sept. 7, the Russian president sarcastically shot down Erdogan’s call for a cease-fire during a live press conference, an embarrassing loss of face for the Turkish leader. “In Sochi, Erdogan almost completely reversed the humiliation he experienced during the Tehran summit,” writes Candar. “Putin and Erdogan displayed an unusual warmth at the end of their two-hour meeting on Sept. 17 [in Sochi]. The two men smiled, and Erdogan affectionately squeezed Putin’s right hand between his own. Following the meeting, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced there would be no new military operation against Idlib by Syrian government forces and their allies.”

The two agreed that a demilitarized buffer zone will be in place by Oct. 15. The arrangement in Sochi offers little new on how Erdogan — who has been trying, without success, to disarm and isolate the al-Qaeda-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham since the beginning of the Astana process in May 2017, when Idlib was designated as one of the four deconfliction zones — will be able to succeed this time.
Following his meeting with Putin, Erdogan said, “The opposition will remain where they are, but the [radical] groups that we will determine jointly with Russia won’t be allowed to operate. The boundaries of the demilitarized zone will be supervised jointly.”

“The question,” Metin Gurcan writes, “is how this comprehensive plan will be implemented in one month. Less than two weeks ago, at a meeting in Tehran, Putin had objected to Erdogan’s call for a cease-fire, saying, ‘Hayat Tahrir al-Sham [HTS] and other radicals aren’t at the [negotiating] table. We cannot give guarantees on their behalf.’… In return for the one month it gained at Sochi, Ankara is giving those guarantees on behalf of radical groups in Idlib. Perhaps Moscow has realized it couldn’t cope with a humanitarian tragedy at Idlib and wants to guarantee the security of its military presence in northern Syria, notably Khmeimim air base, with Ankara’s assurances.”

“Now the most argued critical issue is, how can Ankara assure Moscow that Idlib radicals will agree to a demilitarized zone and removal of their heavy weapons?” adds Gurcan. “One likely answer is that Ankara will rely on its military power and its substantial influence on the armed opposition groups to convince them.”

As we have reported in this column the past two weeks, HTS and its Salafi brothers-in-arms, which control 60% of Idlib, have nowhere to go. Idlib is now a terrorist enclave on a par with Mosul or Raqqa prior to the US-led coalition operations that liberated those cities from the Islamic State. HTS is unlikely to disarm and demobilize to join the Turkish-backed National Liberation Front, except as a temporary tactic to live to fight another day for Islamic law in Syria. In the meantime, HTS and the Salafi armed gangs are already employing their tried and true tactics of using the people of Idlib as human shields, as well as detaining and torturing “traitors” to undermine accommodation by civilians and moderate opposition groups.

“There are also restraints on Ankara’s military capabilities at Idlib, most notably the absence of air superiority,” writes Gurcan. “The Sochi summit didn’t refer to air superiority, which shows the limits of Moscow’s confidence in Ankara. Moscow supports Ankara’s efforts for de-militarization, but doesn’t favor the idea of a no-fly zone and wants to hold on to Russia’s dominance in the air over Idlib. Russia’s monopoly also means that, should clashes escalate around Idlib and Turkish troops are caught in the middle, Ankara will have to rely on Moscow for air evacuation and close-air support for those troops.”

“The Idlib operation, instead of being a high-paced, short-term operation, will drag on for eight to 10 months at a low tempo with occasional targeted attacks while negotiations continue,” Gurcan concludes. “Ankara now faces two important risks. The first risk is the security of Turkish troops serving around Idlib. The second, and probably more important, risk is the possibility that armed radical groups that resent Ankara’s mediation efforts will punish Turkey by launching terror attacks in Turkey. No doubt Ankara will be on high alert for such an eventuality.”

Did Syria help nab Reyhanli terrorist?

Fehim Tastekin speculates that “amid the military buildup at the Syrian border, the resurfacing of the Reyhanli file makes one question whether the Turkish people are being psychologically prepared for a possible ‘adventure’ in Idlib.”

“While moving military reinforcements to the Syrian border amid lingering tensions over Idlib, Turkey conducted an intriguing intelligence operation,” Tastekin reports. “On Sept. 12, Ankara announced that Yusuf Nazik, the accused mastermind of a 2013 twin car bombing in Reyhanli that claimed 53 lives, had been captured in the Syrian province of Latakia and brought to Turkey by the National Intelligence Organization (MIT). Public broadcaster TRT initially claimed that Nazik, a Turkish national, had been captured in a joint operation with Syrian intelligence. The channel removed the claim from its ensuing bulletins, while the state-run Anatolia news agency emphasized that the operation was accomplished entirely with national resources.”

Does Erdogan have Ocalan option in Syria?

Amberin Zaman reports on the potential role imprisoned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan might play in Erdogan’s plans for Syria.

“Syria,” writes Zaman, is the “immediate incentive for the [Turkish] government to seek Ocalan’s cooperation. With a showdown looming in Idlib … might Turkey feel compelled to co-opt the Kurds before the Syrian strongman does? The YPG has hinted that it might help the regime tackle al-Qaeda-backed militants in Idlib in exchange for the regime helping it drive Turkey and its Free Syrian Army [FSA] allies out of Afrin.”

“Turkey captured the Kurdish-dominated enclave of Afrin with Russia’s blessings in March,” Zaman explains, “dealing a severe blow to the retreating YPG’s morale and prestige. The group is waging a low-intensity counter-insurgency in Afrin amid allegations that the Turkish army is overseeing ethnic cleansing and abuse of local Kurds by its proxies. The YPG’s victims are mainly FSA rebels, however, which can only sharpen the Kurdish-Arab divide. As ever, the Syrian regime benefits the most.”

“Turkey gains as well, and pressure remains its favored approach,” Zaman continues. “It may be no coincidence that Erdogan is threatening to revive the death penalty, which was slapped on Ocalan at the end of his courtroom trial but later commuted in line with Turkey’s now-stalled bid to join the European Union. Some wonder whether the intent is to strong-arm Ocalan and the PKK into getting the YPG to submit to Turkey’s will, a tactic attempted (unsuccessfully) during the last round of peace talks. In practice, this means a full withdrawal of all PKK fighters from Turkey and leaving their weapons behind. The other Turkish hope is for the YPG to disavow the PKK — even as Ankara insists, with some merit, that they are one and the same — and to share power with Turkey-backed Syrian Kurds in the Iraqi Kurdistan-based Kurdistan National Council.”

 

 

MESOPOTAMIA NEWS : Will the PKK use drones very soon ? – By Michael Rubin September 20, 2018 | Washington Examiner

Get ready: The Kurds might soon use drones against TurkeyIn 2013, after months of secret negotiations between imprisoned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan and Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s representatives, Turkey and the PKK agreed to a cease-fire, one condition of which was the departure of PKK fighters from Turkey. As part of that agreement, many entered Syria where they augmented the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the most successful indigenous force first in the fight against the al Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front and then in the battle against the Islamic State.

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MESOPOTAMIA NEWS TODAYS “MUST READ” : The Underground Caliphate

 ISIS Has Not Vanished. It Is Fighting a Guerrilla War Against the Iraqi State. – September 16 2018, 3:00 p.m. BY SIMONA FOLTYN – THE INTERCEPT

The knock came one night late last year, a persistent bang on the metal door. The family inside shuddered as the sound echoed through the sparsely furnished farmhouse. Officially, their village had been liberated from the so-called Islamic State in October 2017, along with the nearby town of Hawija. But the military campaign had been hasty. The militants had sought refuge in the nearby mountains, leaving Iraqi forces to sweep through the area unchallenged.

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MESOP EXCLUSIVE : Full text of Turkey-Russia memorandum on Idlib revealed

Exclusive: Document calls for the reopening of routes between Aleppo and regime-held areas

The document, obtained exclusively by The National, lists a 10-point plan to avoid an offensive in the northwestern Syrian province. Aside from the demilitarized zone, which would go “15-20 kms deep in the de-escalation area”, the document grants the Iranian-Russian-Turkish coordination centre a role in implementing the ceasefires. The centre was established under Astana talks.

“Effective measures will be taken for ensuring sustainable ceasefire regime within the Idlib de-escalation area. In this regard, the functions of the Joint Iranian-Russian-Turkish Coordination Center will be enhanced,” it said.

Both the Assad government and Iran welcomed the agreement on Tuesday.

The document also declares that transit traffic “on the routes M4 (Aleppo-Latakia) and M5 (Aleppo-Hama) will be restored by the end of 2018.”

These routes have not been active since 2014, but have become viable again after the government, backed by Russia and Iran, recaptured Aleppo in December 2016. Those routes would help resume trade between neighboring Turkey and regime-held areas. The document says these steps are a way “to ensuring free movement of local residents and goods and restoring trade and economic relations”.

It indicates that more work needs to be done for a full agreement on the 15 km demilitarised zone. It says that “the delineation of exact lines of the demilitarised zone will be determined through further consultations”. It also adds that “the two sides reiterated their determination to combat terrorism in Syria in all forms and manifestations”.

The document has been already sent to the United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres and current President of the Security Council, US Permanent Representative to the United Nations Nikki Haley.

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MESOPOTAMIA NEWS TODAYS FOCAL OPINION : THE SMART WAY TO SANCTION IRANIAN-BACKED MILITIAS IN IRAQ

by Michael Knights, Barbara Leaf, Matthew Levitt, and Phillip Smyth

PolicyWatch 3018 September 17, 2018 –  Timing is everything, so Washington should coordinate its designations with Baghdad to avoid upsetting the government formation process or throwing Iran a lifeline.

On September 19, the House of Representatives will introduce the “Iranian Proxies Terrorist Sanctions Act,” which calls for imposing U.S. sanctions on two Iranian-controlled Iraqi militias, Asaib Ahl al-Haq (AAH) and Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba (HHN). If passed, the legislation will also require the State Department to maintain a public list of armed groups funded, controlled, or influenced by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

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