28east

Politics, religion, and culture where East meets West

Posts Tagged ‘Iraq

They meant well

with one comment

A long definition of "futility."

A long definition of “futility.”

One of the takeaways from Peter Van Buren’s We Meant Well is that billions of dollars were willfully wasted in the chronically short-sighted “Reconstruction” of Iraq. Though for the most part Van Buren is unable to account for where much of that money goes, there are some hints. Here’s one of my favorites, echoing not only Joseph Heller’s Milo Minderbinder, but also a prior post (pp. 66–67):

The Engineer confirmed that the plant processed no sewage, though he and his twenty-eight workers remained on the payroll. He showed us the Korean Daewoo TV and Dell laptop a US Army unit had given him. He watched the TV all day but was not sure what to do with the laptop, so it was unplugged and dusty. He had left the filmy plastic in place on everything, even the TV screen. It made the devices look sad.

Although no redevelopment had been done, the Belgian and Japanese money was still sitting in an account somewhere. However, the Belgian and Japanese governments were not interested in visiting the sewage plant. The Belgians had no embassy in Iraq and seemed a little surprised the project was still on the table. The Japanese rarely left their tidy enclave in the Green Zone and certainly were not coming out to a sewage plant no one remembered promising to pay for in 2004. The Belgian and Japanese engineering companies, on the other hand, were still interested in making money, though neither cared to send any staff to Iraq and instead were soliciting bids from local Iraqis to do the work. The Engineer was confident they would do a good job, because most of the Iraqi companies bidding were fronts for Turkish construction firms, who would bring in Arabic-speaking engineers from Jordan. Proud of this Coalition of the Willing, the Engineer noted that few Iraqis would have an important role on the project. We Americans would help by being the eyes and ears on the ground for the Belgian and Japanese governments, at least until we closed down our ePRT in line with the military drawdown. Bids would arrive in a few months, followed by a three-week evaluation period. (Many of the companies bidding were fronts for the same company in Turkey and would file dummy bids against themselves. The Engineer would try to figure out which bids came from the same company and would then use that information to get the lowest price.) As per the 2004 agreement, the companies would leave behind all of the trucks and heavy construction equipment imported to do the work. The Engineer planned to sell these items to raise money for maintenance.

. . .

Overall, the book would make a good read for your next long commute. Especially enjoyable for those with a darker sense of humor.

Advertisements

Written by M. James

July 26, 2013 at 11:54 pm

Posted in Turkey

Tagged with , ,

Turkey: sectarian leanings?

leave a comment »

As Turkey becomes the leader in a newly-democratized Sunni-majority Middle East, events like this may become more common (here):

Iraq’s fugitive Sunni vice president, who was sentenced to death on charges of masterminding the murder of rivals, has said the Turkish foreign minister has assured him that he stands by him after the sentencing.

“[Ahmet] Davutoğlu called me and said, ‘Don’t worry, I’m with you’,” Tariq al-Hashemi told Turkish Habertürk TV in an interview on Tuesday. “I will never forget this,” the vice president added.

Hashemi fled to Turkey after Iraq’s Shiite-led government issued the charges against him in December, the day after US troops withdrew from the country. He would receive a retrial if he agrees to return to Baghdad, but the vice president has refused, saying he will never get a fair hearing in a Baghdad court.

The next day, NINA reported that Iraq responded by hitting Turkey where it hurts:

Baghdad / NINA /– Trade Ministry announced stopping giving permission or licenses for Turkish companies and stopped enrolling in the registration of its subsidiaries.

But if all goes well, Turkish construction companies—well-represented in Iraq—will soon have plenty of contracts to rebuild from the rubble in post-revolution Syria.

Written by M. James

September 13, 2012 at 4:17 am

Fighting Iran with Kurds

leave a comment »

What follows is a must-read analysis of Turkey’s new Kurdish problem by M. K. Bhadrakumar. With a few crucial twists and turns, it all boils down to the U.S.-Iran conflict—with Turkey as a beneficiary. Read the whole article (here):

U.S., Turkey, and Iraqi Kurds join hands
M. K. Bhadrakumar; Asia Times Online; Apr. 23, 2012

The tensions between Turkey and Iraq have been steadily building up, and of late they have sharply escalated. The “crisis in Iraq” referred to in the Turkish statement is Maliki’s ongoing political battle with Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, which has taken a sectarian Shi’ite-Sunni dimension. In sum, Turkey has waded into Iraq’s sectarian politics and is positioning itself on the side of the Sunnis and the Kurds.

Conceivably, Washington and Ankara are acting in tandem and there is close coordination of the US and Turkish policies toward Syrian and Iraqi Kurds. For both, the ultimate objective is to weaken Iran’s regional influence. The Obama administration hopes that Turkey’s efforts against the PKK are successful and is providing intelligence support for the military operations.

Written by M. James

April 23, 2012 at 7:10 pm

The new Kurdish problem

leave a comment »

Regarding Turkey and the [d]evolution of Syria, I recently posted:

[The Turks] have also been undoubtedly fearing one particular result of regime collapse in Syria.

Kurds.

The problem, of course, is that the Kurds are being excluded, or excluding themselves, from the SNC—effectively excluding themselves from the future of Syria. The suggestion is that they have something else in mind. All things being equal, this should worry the Turks, who have been dealing with the “Kurdish problem” since the beginning of the Republic.

This new problem has not escaped the columnists at Today’s Zaman. Here, to begin, is a brief history:

The Kurds were unable to develop a major political movement until the late 1950s. There was no major problem between Arabs and Kurds then either. Yet, with the emergence of the Baathists as a dominant force in 1956, tension broke out between Arabs and Kurds and has continued to today. Arab nationalism had a negative effect on the relations between the Kurds and the political regime, driving the Kurds away from the military. Kurdish lands were redistributed under land reform policies, beginning with the Agricultural Relations Law, Kurdish geographical names were changed and various Arab clans were deployed from other parts of the country to the Kurdish regions to create an Arab zone.

When Hafez al-Assad of Syria started to support the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Syria’s Kurdish issue became somewhat connected to Turkey’s. Siding with Iran during the war between Iran and Iraq, Syria did not refrain from cooperating with Iraqi Kurds against Saddam Hussein. Thus, by supporting the PKK and establishing relations with Iraqi Kurds, Syria managed to divert the political potential of Syrian Kurds to these areas.

And here is an outline of the new problem:

This much is clear: As in Iraq, the Syrian crisis is potentially giving birth to a Kurdish autonomous region. That will be historically critical for all other states. It is time to realize that the Arab Spring has a strong inner Kurdish Spring effect. The Kurdish question is before regional states like Turkey, Iraq and Syria. If the Kurds gain the ability to have two regional governments, the traditional strategy of “solution within the nation-state” may fall forever. There is another major development: Despite their differences on other issues, Turkey, Syria and Iran were united on the Kurdish issue. Such a coalition no longer exists. Forty years ago, Iraq was part of this nation-state coalition against the Kurds. Iraq was dismissed in the 1990s. Syria can be similarly dismissed.

A second Kurdish autonomous region will bring Kurdish politics to a final phase: nation building. One need not be a genius to see that such a development may cause border changes some time in the future. Then the final questions will be these: Shall we have several autonomous Kurdish regions? Shall we have them be part of a regional state like Turkey or Iraq? Or, shall we have an independent Kurdish state to unite all these autonomous Kurdish regions?

Then again, is an autonomous Kurdish state really a problem for Turkey? It depends on a number of factors, of course, but a new, accountable Kurdish state could be exactly what Turkey needs in order to put an end to Kurdish separatism.

Written by M. James

April 10, 2012 at 12:45 am

The currency war in Iran

leave a comment »

To reinforce my claims in a prior post, here is William Clark on “The Real Reasons Why Iran is the Next Target”—from 2004:

The Iranians are about to commit an ‘offense’ far greater than Saddam Hussein’s conversion to the euro of Iraq’s oil exports in the fall of 2000. Numerous articles have revealed Pentagon planning for operations against Iran as early as 2005. While the publicly stated reasons will be over Iran’s nuclear ambitions, there are unspoken macroeconomic drivers explaining the Real Reasons regarding the 2nd stage of petrodollar warfare – Iran’s upcoming euro-based oil Bourse.

Candidly stated, ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom’ was a war designed to install a pro-U.S. puppet in Iraq, establish multiple U.S military bases before the onset of Peak Oil, and to reconvert Iraq back to petrodollars while hoping to thwart further OPEC momentum towards the euro as an alternative oil transaction currency.

Similar to the Iraq war, upcoming operations against Iran relate to the macroeconomics of the `petrodollar recycling’ and the unpublicized but real challenge to U.S. dollar supremacy from the euro as an alternative oil transaction currency.

But despite the fall from prominence of the Euro since the publication of the above article, Iran continues, to this day, to evade the dollar (Wikipedia outlines it well enough). For example, Iran is now “said to seek yen oil payments from India.”

Yet in the face of new sanctions, which include a ban on trading gold and silver with Iran (no surprise if this is a currency war), Iran has not yet dollarized. However, the rial’s ominous inflation rate does not bode well for its future. From Jeffrey Lewis, just yesterday (here):

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad raised interest rates on Iranian bank deposits to up to 21 percent on January 23rd, according to the official Iranian news agency IRNA. Iran’s central bank also urged Iranians to buy U.S. Dollars only if they were traveling abroad and not to hoard them as a hedge against economic uncertainty.

The move by the Iranian central bank exacerbated the already steep plunge in the Iranian Rial, which has lost more than 50 percent of its value against the price of U.S. Dollars in the open market over the last month.

The ominous slide in the Rial began in April when the Iranian central bank decided to cut rates to a range of between 12.5 to 15.5 percent in April, prompting people to put their money in safe havens like precious metals and the U.S. Dollar. Inflation in Iran is currently running at 20 percent.

For more on the dollarization of Iran in its current context, see here.

Written by M. James

February 3, 2012 at 5:06 pm

Why Syria?

leave a comment »

The Department of History, United States Military Academy.

In 333 B.C., Alexander the Great laid siege to the Mediterranean port of Tyre. It was early in the young Macedonian king’s campaign in Asia, and besieging an island fortress for several months wasn’t in the playbook. But Tyre simply couldn’t be ignored. It was the last Persian port in the Mediterranean—and leaving a Persian navy in the Mediterranean was not an option (as the Peloponnesian War demonstrated).

Which is why he sacrificed time, troops, and manpower building a kilometer-long stone causeway to the walls of the city, complete with siege towers and naval support. After more setbacks than he could have anticipated, Alexander breached the walls and concluded the siege, ending Tyre’s service as a Persian port and securing the Mediterranean from Persian naval power.

A few hundred miles up the coast and a couple thousand years later, the Syrian port city of Latakia faces a similar predicament—sans siege towers and brilliant generals. Latakia is the new Persian Empire’s (Iran’s) attempt at a naval base on the Mediterranean, and while it may not be as well-established, defensible, or suitable for a large naval presence (yet), it’s a port. Much to Israel’s chagrin, as you can see. Take away Iran’s Syrian port at Latakia and the new Persian Empire will have a hard time projecting power in the Mediterranean. Cue an unstable Syria.

But first, there’s more:

The Russians are willing to contribute towards the Iranian port’s defenses and looking forward to cooperation between the Russian, Iranian and Syrian fleets in the eastern Mediterranean opposite the US Sixth Fleet’s regular beat.

Tyre, Lebanon (A); Latakia, Syria (B); Tartus, Syria (C)

If anyone knows the value of a Mediterranean port, it’s Russia. Historically denied access to warm-water ports, Russia has never been granted legroom in the world’s oceans. Even now, Russia’s shipping industry relies on Turkish cooperation in the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles. But what Russia does have is a Mediterranean naval port. It’s in Tartus, Syria—just south of Latakia. Considerably better developed and defended (complete with Russian surface-to-air missile system), Russia’s port in Tartus will not be given up easily—at least that’s what Admiral Kuznetsov says.

So, what this all adds up to is two NATO antagonists with ports in one unstable country. If the Syrian regime falls, it’s a probable BOGO for NATO and anyone who wants unilateral security (in the form of U.S. Nimitz-class supercarriers) in and around the Med. If Bashar stays, the George H.W. Bush might have to do more than “experience the rich history and culture of France”  the next time it’s in the 6th Fleet AOR.

But it isn’t just naval geopolitics driving foreign pressure against the Syrian regime, either. This is, after all, the Middle East, and no story would be complete without a sprinkling of sectarianism. Or, in this case, several helpings.

From the U.S. Department of State’s Jeffrey D. Feltman (here):

Iran continues to be complicit in the violence in Syria, providing material support to the regime’s brutal campaign against the Syrian people. Cynically capitalizing on the Syrian government’s growing alienation from its Arab neighbors, Iran is seeking to increase its influence in Syria and help Assad remain in power as a vital conduit to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The problem is that, with the recent U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, Iran will be filling in the political and military void. And if Iran retains al-Assad’s Syria as a close ally—well—look at the map.

This map.

The only thing stopping the new Persian Empire from expanding its Shia-powered influence—continuously—from Iran to the Mediterranean (and to Israel’s doorstep), is a new, unfriendly Sunni government in Syria. All of the relevant actors know this. And if you ask Bashar al-Assad, they’re all doing their best to bring about that Sunni government as quickly as possible.

Which leads us to the next question: If sanctions, attempts to undermine the Syrian army, and foreign assistance (training and weapons) for the Free Syrian Army don’t weaken the Iran-friendly regime (or empower the resistance) enough, who will be the first to step in? Turkey certainly stands out for being the loudest, but if it is as the Turks say, havlayan köpek ısırmaz (a barking dog doesn’t bite).

So we wait.

Written by M. James

December 14, 2011 at 6:11 pm

PKK a tool of “certain powers”

leave a comment »

Turkish ground troops have entered northern Iraq (with significant air support) in response to recent attacks by PKK militants. Erdoğan has, of course, taken the opportunity to lay blame on nebulous “powers.” (AJE)

“The PKK are subcontractors used by other forces and other powers, trying to provoke Turkish society.” [CSM]

Speaking about Israel in September, Davutoglu said that the PKK has turned into a tool for anyone who wants to harm Turkey. “Every time someone wants to bother Turkey he uses the PKK,” he said. “It is important that our Kurdish brothers pay attention to this.” (Haaretz)

But Davutoğlu probably wasn’t just referring to Israel here. More likely is that he thinks that several groups aside from Israel really have been trying to “bother Turkey” with help from the PKK.

Which would help to explain the PKK’s seemingly endless supply chain.

Written by M. James

October 19, 2011 at 6:50 pm

Posted in News, Politics, Turkey

Tagged with , ,