Skip to main content

Home/ International Politics of the Middle East/ Group items tagged militia

Rss Feed Group items tagged

Ed Webb

A Thousand Hezbollahs: Iraq's Emerging Militia State - Newlines Institute - 1 views

  • This intelligence briefing provides extensive, never before reported details on how Iran-linked Iraqi militias are creating a new order to dominate a strategic region of the country that connects Iraq and Syria. Iranian-linked militia groups are taking advantage of the vacuum caused by the collapse of ISIS’s caliphate to begin building security, social, political, and economic structures to dominate this strategic area of Iraq.
  • Local and provincial politicians cooperate with some of the militias
  • get their preferred academics put in charge of some of the more important colleges
  • ...13 more annotations...
  • demographic engineering
  • Militia fighters from central and southern Iraq have registered as residents of Ninewa Plain and Mosul in order to legitimize the seizure of property there
  • took control of more than 72 oil fields in the Qayyarah area south of Mosul that ISIS had previously controlled, and the factions pilfer around 100 tanker trucks of crude oil daily
  • hundreds of thousands of dollars every day through extortion at illegal checkpoints they have set up across the country.
  • The January 2020 U.S. decision to assassinate a top leader of the PMF, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, along with the top Iranian commander, Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani – the architect of the Iran’s Iraqi Shiite proxy network – did strike a major blow to these militias but also emboldened them, and as a result they remain deeply rooted in the country. 
  • infiltration into police and security forces has allowed militias to control Iraqi citizens’ movements, trade, occupation, and other aspects of private life
  • context for future conflict and disorder
  • Iran moved to cultivate Shiite militias as a key instrument through which it could transform a state that represented a threat into a one that is weak and subordinate to its wishes
  • Through the critical role it played in the dismantling of the ISIS caliphate in Iraq, the Shiite militia coalition known as the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) established itself as a major force. By 2017, and as a consequence of its heavy involvement in the liberation of areas that had been taken over by ISIS, the Shiite militia alliance emerged as a power center rivaling Baghdad and a threat to human security in the country
  • this report shows how these nonstate actors have become a parallel state by creating their own political economy, which is riddled with corruption. Additionally, these Shiite militias have coerced their way into Iraq’s national security apparatus and have been recipients of official state funds
  • Frictions have escalated among the militias: between the militias loyal to Iran and those loyal to the Iraqi shrines, and between the Shiite militias and the Sunni and tribal militias, who receive fewer positions of authority and less effective weaponry and equipment than their Shiite counterparts
  • these militias have also begun to threaten Turkish forces trying to project influence into northern Iraq
  • consolidating their grip in northwestern Iraq and are enabling Iran’s broader regional strategy extending through the Levant to the Mediterranean
Ed Webb

Iran Using Iraqi Kurdistan Against the U.S. and Turkey - Newlines Institute - 0 views

  • A series of rocket strikes in Iraqi Kurdistan’s capital, Erbil, on Feb. 15 are the latest in a string of “resistance axis” activity that has undermined Iraq’s security, endangered civilians, rendered the central state weak and incapable, and added the possibility of a larger regional escalation between Iran-aligned groups and their rivals. The attacks sent a warning message to the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), the federal government of Iraq, and foreign actors including the U.S. and Turkey.
  • The Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) are an umbrella of Iraqi state-sponsored armed groups and militias under the command of Iraq’s prime minister. The PMF have incorporated within their ranks some of the most notorious Shiite militias, namely Asaib Ahl al-Haq and Kataib Hezbollah, which have been involved in human rights violations and organized crime. These militias overtly object to U.S. presence in Iraq in all forms and have boasted about attacking U.S. interests, referring to themselves as “the resistance” They answer to Iran despite being part of the Iraqi state’s security apparatus.
  • The attacks were designed to convey a clear message to both the U.S. and the Iraqi federal government: No corner of Iraq, however populated or secure it may seem, is safe from militia interference. 
  • ...8 more annotations...
  • while Iran denied the attack and its proxy militias have remained silent, Iran-linked militias like the Islamic Resistance Zulfiqar Forces endorsed the strikes.
  • Political and military elements of the resistance are looking to carve out further influence in Iraq, particularly ahead of parliamentary elections in October and pressure from Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi.
  • For Iran-aligned groups, attacks on urban centers like Erbil are a vehicle to weaken governmental control, exacerbating tensions between regional governments, imposing fear among citizens, and creating distrust in Baghdad’s ability to rein in “rogue” groups that threaten Iraqi security.
  • the first month of the Biden administration shattered Tehran’s hope for short-term sanctions relief, with President Joe Biden asserting that the U.S. would require Iran’s return to the negotiating table before Washington turned back the dial on sanctions. In the absence of an immediate shift in Washington, Iran turned back to its former strategy, twisting the coalition’s arm in Iraq through successive strikes on its positions and assets in an effort to pressure an American withdrawal and create leverage in nuclear negotiations.
  • Turkey, too, was a target audience of the Erbil attack. Coordinating with its campaign for influence in northern Syria, Ankara has sought to project influence in Iraqi Kurdistan through a series of military operations against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and by strengthening political and economic relations with the KRG. While Iran and Turkey have engaged in limited cooperation in countering Kurdish insurgents in the Qandil Mountains along the Iraqi-Turkish-Iranian border, the countries have divergent aims in Iraq.
  • The strikes in Erbil are an opportunity for Washington to recognize it is without a policy, let alone a long-term strategy, in Iraq. While the administration has vowed to continue coalition efforts against ISIS and re-approach the Iran nuclear deal, it has not constructed a comprehensive plan for Iraq. Reviving the policy of compartmentalizing security priorities – a tendency of the Obama administration – will fail to address the malign activity of these groups.
  • the U.S. should seek to work with the KRG and the Iraqi government to publicly spotlight these groups’ connections through investigations that can reduce their plausible deniability. By collecting evidence that links resistance militias to Tehran and attacks, the U.S. can wield significant leverage in future negotiations on the nuclear deal and compel Iran to reconsider its malign activities.  
  • The new pattern of militia behavior indicates that Iraqi Kurdistan – once widely thought of as the safest region in Iraq – will likely be the target of more strikes at the direct or indirect instruction of Tehran, complicating Washington’s strategy in Iraq, Ankara’s designs in Ninewa province, and Baghdad’s and Erbil’s ability to impose control.
Ed Webb

Libyans march against militias after attack - 0 views

  • Some 30,000 people filled a broad boulevard as they marched along a lake in central Benghazi on Friday to the gates of the headquarters of Ansar al-Shariah. "No, no, to militias," the crowd chanted, filling a broad boulevard. They carried banners and signs demanding that militias disband and that the government build up police to take their place in keeping security.
  • Residents of another main eastern city, Darna, have also begun to stand up against Ansar al-Shariah and other militias. The anti-militia fervor in Darna is notable because the city, in the mountains along the Mediterranean coast north of Benghazi, has long had a reputation as a stronghold for Islamic extremists. During the Gadhafi era, it was the hotbed of a deadly Islamist insurgency against his regime. A significant number of the Libyan jihadists who travelled to Afghanistan and Iraq during recent wars came from Darna. During the revolt against him last year, Gadhafi's regime warned that Darna would declare itself an Islamic Emirate and ally itself with al-Qaida. But now, the residents are lashing out against Ansar al-Shariah, the main Islamic extremist group in the city. "The killing of the ambassador blew up the situation. It was disastrous," said Ayoub al-Shedwi, a young bearded Muslim preacher in Darna who says he has received multiple death threats because has spoken out against militias on a radio show he hosts. "We felt that the revolution is going in vain."
  • Tribal leaders in Benghazi and Darna announced this week that members of their tribes who are militiamen will no longer have their protection in the face of anti-militia protests. That means the tribe will not avenge them if they are killed.
  • ...3 more annotations...
  • Militiamen have been blamed for a range of violence in Darna. On the same day Stevens killed in Benghazi, a number of elderly Catholic nuns and a priest who have lived in Darna for decades providing free medical services, were attacked, reportedly beaten or stabbed. There have been 32 killings over the past few months, including the city security chief and assassinations of former officers from Gadhafi's military.
  • "We don't want the flag of al-Qaida raised over heads," he added, referring to Ansar al-Shariah's black banner.
  • "We will talk to them peacefully. We will tell them you are from us and you fought for us" during the civil war against Gadahfi. But "if you say no (to integrating into the) police and army, we will storm your place. It's over."
Ed Webb

They can't sail for Europe - so what's happening to migrants trapped in Libya? | Middle... - 0 views

  • the group were first taken to an official centre in Zawiya. “There were 1,200 of us, stacked in hundreds in each room,” she says. “We were so tight that we could not lie down, we had to take turns to sleep."
  • “Once we were inside the detention centre, they started to blackmail us. They used the phones they had taken away to contact our friends in Libya and ask for money in exchange for our release or else directly called our relatives, threatening to kill us if they did not find a way to send money."
  • Libya has become the preferred destination for migrants and refugees heading for Europe. In the first half of 2017, at least 2,030 people died or went missing while crossing the Mediterranean for southern Europe. The greatest number set off from Libya.
  • ...11 more annotations...
  • armed Libyan groups are receiving payoffs to stop boats leaving Libya, in exchange for aid, aircraft hangars and money
  • Laura Thompson of the International Organisation for Migration told AFP on Wednesday that there “are somewhere around 31 or 32 detention centres, and around half are controlled by, or are in the areas controlled by, the government”. She said that nobody knew how many people were being kept in the facilities, where conditions were "extremely bad”.
  • illegal facilities, directly run by armed militias involved in human trafficking and fuel smuggling, often with the complicity of members of the coastguard service
  • Male captives are frequently beaten until they can somehow get relatives to send more money to Libya, or else set to work in factories or oil refineries. Women may end up being trafficked sexually.
  • a UNICEF report released in February, "detention centres run by militias are nothing but forced labour camps, armed robbery prisons. For thousands of migrant women and children, prison is a hell of rape, violence, sexual exploitation, hunger, and repeated abuses."
  • "Europeans think the problem in Libya is politics,” he says, “but we cannot build a government of national unity without a national army."
  • “When the centres are overflowing, migrants are taken out, there is no money to feed them all,” Ibrahim says. “Some guards are good people, but some of them are corrupt.”He hints at the tangled relationship which exists between centre personnel, smugglers, militia and human traffickers, which pass desperate migrants between themselves like a resaleable human commodity.The guards at detention centres may take money from the traffickers, then hand the migrants over.Or smugglers tip off the coastguard when their migrants are due to sail to Europe so that they will be captured and passed to militias.Or militias will seize migrants in the streets on the grounds that they do not carry the necessary documentation, a requirement in Libya. “They pretend to arrest illegal migrants and then keep them in their centres without food and water, take their money, exploit them, abuse women,” Ibrahim says.
  • The coastguard has repeatedly denied that its members are involved in the people-trafficking trade.But a UN report has found that:"Abuses against migrants were widely reported, including executions, torture and deprivation of food, water and access to sanitation. The International Organisation for Migration also reported enslavement of sub-Saharan migrants. Smugglers, as well as the Department to Counter Illegal Migration and the coastguard, are directly involved in such grave human rights violations."
  • Happiness and Bright's mother - I am never told her name - took all the money that their families could spare, then crossed the Sahara, reached the Libyan coast and paid smugglers to take them to Europe. It was then they were captured and brought to Surman.Happiness says that her friend became ill after Bright was born but received no medical aid. “Now her body is in the nearby hospital. It can’t be sent back to her family. She lost her documents at sea, and her family does not have the money to send the corpse.”
  • “They use us as slaves, and when we are no longer needed, they throw us away,” he says. "Humanitarian organisations do not come here. Sometimes some locals come to us with soap and bread. But no international."
  • She too crossed the Sahara, this time to escape Boko Haram. She was determined that her children would not grow up afraid, fearing every day that they would die."I do not care if they [the coastguards] have stopped me, I will try again," she says, looking at her newborn children. "I know it's dangerous. Nigeria is also dangerous. If war does not kill you, hunger will kill you, and here we are prisoners, the same hell. It's worth trying to cross the sea again.”Princess has yet to learn: she will be lucky to escape Libya.
Ed Webb

US arms sold to Saudi Arabia and UAE end up in wrong hands - 0 views

  • Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners have transferred American-made weapons to al Qaeda-linked fighters, hardline Salafi militias, and other factions waging war in Yemen, in violation of their agreements with the United States, a CNN investigation has found.
  • The weapons have also made their way into the hands of Iranian-backed rebels battling the coalition for control of the country, exposing some of America's sensitive military technology to Tehran and potentially endangering the lives of US troops in other conflict zones.
  • The revelations raise fresh questions about whether the US has lost control over a key ally presiding over one of the most horrific wars of the past decade, and whether Saudi Arabia is responsible enough to be allowed to continue buying the sophisticated arms and fighting hardware
  • ...11 more annotations...
  • Some terror groups have gained from the influx of US arms, with the barrier of entry to advanced weaponry now lowered by the laws of supply and demand. Militia leaders have had ample opportunity to obtain military hardware in exchange for the manpower to fight the Houthi militias. Arms dealers have flourished, with traders offering to buy or sell anything, from a US-manufactured rifle to a tank, to the highest bidder. And Iran's proxies have captured American weapons they can exploit for vulnerabilities or reverse-engineer for native production.
  • these shops don't just take individual orders, they can supply militias -- and it's this not-so-hidden black market that in part is driving the demand for hi-tech American weapons and perpetuating the cycle of violence in Yemen
  • Once the intellectual heart of the country, Taiz is now a tinder box that set off a war within a war last year, when the various militias backed by the Saudi-led coalition turned their guns on each other. Amid the chaos of the broader war, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) made its way to the frontlines in Taiz in 2015, forging advantageous alliances with the pro-Saudi militias they fought alongside. One of those militias linked to AQAP, the Abu Abbas brigade, now possesses US-made Oshkosh armored vehicles, paraded in a 2015 show of force through the city. Abu Abbas, the founder, was declared a terrorist by the US in 2017, but the group still enjoys support from the Saudi coalition and was absorbed into the coalition-supported 35th Brigade of the Yemeni army.
  • In October 2015, military forces loyal to the government boasted on Saudi- and UAE-backed media that the Saudis had airdropped American-made TOW anti-tank missiles on the same frontline where AQAP had been known to operate at the time. Local officials confirmed that the airdrop happened, but CNN's attempts to conduct further interviews were blocked and the team was intimidated by the local government. A local activist joked that the weapons had probably been sold on.
  • Recipients of US weaponry are legally obligated to adhere to end-use requirements which prohibit the transferring of any equipment to third parties without prior authorization from the US government. That authorization was never obtained.
  • "The United States has not authorized the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates to re-transfer any equipment to parties inside Yemen," Pentagon spokesman Johnny Michael told CNN. "The US government cannot comment on any pending investigations of claims of end-use violations of defense articles and services transferred to our allies and partners."
  • MRAPs like these, captured on the battlefield, have been probed by Iranian intelligence, according to a member of a secret Houthi unit backed by Iran known as the Preventative Security Force. The unit oversees the transfer of military technology to and from Tehran.
  • Iranian and Hezbollah advisers have already gotten their hands on the armored vehicles and other US military hardware
  • The flood of US weaponry is fueling a conflict that has killed tens of thousands -- among them children on school buses and families fleeing violence -- and pushed millions more to the brink of famine.
  • too many powerful political figures and key armed actors in the region have been prospering greatly from the conflict and, as a result, they lack the incentives to agree to a peace process that would threaten their financial gain
  • The US is by far the biggest supplier of arms to both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and its support is crucial to the Saudi coalition’s continuing war in Yemen.
Ed Webb

A Libyan Revenant | Newlines Magazine - 0 views

  • After detaining the men for more than a month, the Saudis returned them to Libya, but not to the internationally recognized government in Tripoli, the Government of National Accord or GNA — as they were required to do by international law. Instead, they dispatched them to a rival and unrecognized administration in eastern Libya, aligned with the anti-Islamist militia commander Gen. Khalifa Haftar, who was backed by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates. It was not a repatriation, then, but a rendition. And the Saudis likely knew full well what lay in store for the men at the hands of their bitter foe.In the months ahead, the two Libyans, who hailed from the seaside town of Az Zawiyah west of Tripoli, were incarcerated in eastern Libya’s most notorious prisons, where they were allegedly tortured by pro-Haftar militias
  • Released from captivity a year and half later after pledging support to Haftar, one of the men, a militia commander named Mahmud bin Rajab, reneged on his promise and played a role in thwarting Haftar’s plan in April 2019 to quickly seize Tripoli — a scheme that Saudi Arabia had promised to bankroll and that received military support from the UAE and Egypt, among other countries
  • For the Saudis and their autocratic Arab allies, the saga of the Zawiyans’ captivity was but one blunder in their larger Libyan misadventure, which has handed their rival Turkey uncontested influence over much of western Libya
  • ...13 more annotations...
  • the Middle East’s proxy wars and ideological rivalries have spilled across borders, ensnaring both the innocent and not so innocent — and perpetuating Libya’s vicious cycles of retribution
  • The Emiratis had been flying hundreds of drone sorties in support of Haftar since the start of his attack, and the resulting psychological impact on the GNA forces had been severe. The twisted remains of Toyota trucks at the Naqliya Camp were evidence of this. Fearing the drones, none of the GNA fighters slept in their trucks anymore, and hardly anyone used them for movement on the battlefield.
  • It would be another three months before the arrival of Russian mercenaries from the so-called Wagner Group would shift the momentum in Haftar’s favor by improving the precision of his artillery, and then another two months before a larger Turkish intervention, including drones and Syrian mercenaries, would arrive to save the embattled GNA and turn the tables once again
  • a breezy display of military jargon, one that I’d often encountered among Libya’s young militia commanders. Like many of them, bin Rajab’s military experience was gained through battles during and after the revolution. He rose through dint of charisma, patronage, and social ties rather than formal training
  • In Libya alone, countless citizens have lost their lives to the direct actions of foreign states like Emirati drone strikes, or indirect interference like the continued foreign backing of Libyan militias who murder and torture with impunity. Recently, there are signs of a softening of these harmful regional enmities, such as the end of the Saudi-led embargo of Qatar and Ankara’s quiet engagement with Cairo, Riyadh, and Abu Dhabi. But the damage caused by years of foreign interventions has yet to fully mend.
  • The massacre of up to a thousand Morsi supporters from the Muslim Brotherhood left Libyan Islamists fearing similar suppression in their own country. For their part, Libyan anti-Islamists were emboldened by the ascent of al-Sisi’s friendly regime next door
  • Libya was now split into two warring political camps: the anti-Haftar and Islamist factions in Tripoli, who called themselves “Libya Dawn,” and Haftar’s Operation Dignity based in the east. Foreign powers quickly joined, sending arms and advisers and conducting airstrikes. Egypt, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Russia, and France backed Haftar’s side, while Turkey and Qatar backed his opponents.
  • On the evening of their departure, an ambulance took the men to the runway at Jeddah’s international airport. During the drive, a Saudi doctor in a white coat asked bin Rajab questions about his health and took his blood pressure. As he exited the vehicle, someone was filming him with a camera. The Libyan consul, whom bin Rajab was told would be present, was nowhere to be seen. Bin Rajab tried to stall, but a Saudi military officer muscled him onto a Libyan military cargo plane. Inside, the Libyan soldiers who bound his mouth with tape spoke in the dialect of eastern Libya, the territory controlled by Haftar.
  • For over a year, Haftar had denied holding the three prisoners, causing GNA officials to suspect they were still in Saudi Arabia. It was not until Haftar’s LAAF swapped a prisoner with the GNA that an eyewitness, a fellow detainee in Benghazi, provided the first confirmation of their incarceration in eastern Libya. Then, in the spring of 2019, a delegation of elders from Az Zawiyah visited Haftar at his base outside Benghazi, who agreed to release the prisoners, reportedly under pressure from the Saudis. Bin Rajab told me that protests by the men’s friends and families in front of Saudi diplomatic facilities in Istanbul, Geneva, and London played a role, as did growing international scrutiny on the Kingdom in the wake of the Jamal Khashoggi killing. Human rights organizations and foreign diplomats were also raising the Libyans’ case with the Saudi government.
  • By mid-2020, Turkish-backed GNA fighters had forced Haftar’s LAAF out of western Libya and compelled him to accept a U.N.-brokered cease-fire.
  • The civil war erupted in May 2014, when Haftar and his militia allies launched a military campaign called Operation Dignity in Benghazi, framed as an effort to eliminate the city’s Islamists, including radical jihadists, and restore security. In fact, the operation was the first step in Haftar’s bid for national power. His public threats to expand his military campaign to Tripoli triggered a countermove by anti-Haftar and Islamist armed groups in western Libya.
  • Libyans have often told me that their fates are being decided abroad and that Libyan elites have all but surrendered their country’s sovereignty to their foreign patrons
  • Libyans still have agency to derail the best-laid plans of foreign capitals
Ed Webb

How quarrel over tobacco sent Libya into darkness - 1 views

  • In the past, Libya generated surplus electricity, which it exported to Tunisia and Egypt. Today, it has a power generation deficit of about 75% of its domestic needs, according to some officials. It also has no central government to protect the provision of power it does generate
  • On Dec. 17, a group of young men from Zawiya were taken hostage by Warshefana militias because a cargo of shisha — smoking tobacco — belonging to a Warshefana trader was confiscated. To pressure the government and local authorities into helping free the men, another local militia from Zawiya shut down the pipeline supplying gas to almost every power station in western and southern Libya. Members of the Zawiya militia later appeared in a video explaining what had happened. This episode is not unusual in lawless Libya, where local authority does not exist and what central government there is cannot enforce law and order. In November, an incident involving the antics of a pet monkey and a girl's headscarf sparked one of the worst rounds of violence in Sabha, in southern Libya, leaving some 20 people dead and scores injured.
  • It took the mediation of numerous officials and local tribal leaders to secure the release of the hostages, ensure the return of the tobacco shipment and restore electricity generation to its previous capacity, thus reinstating the “regular” blackout hours prior to the incident — between five and nine hours a day.
  • ...2 more annotations...
  • Every Libyan city, big and small, is by now accustomed to blackouts during certain hours almost every day of the week. The situation in recent months, however, has become unbearable, with the blackouts becoming longer and less predictable, making it difficult for hospitals and individuals with special needs to cope and carry out their daily routines. Some people have bought generators for personal use during blackouts, but the majority of people cannot afford them and access to cash through the banking system is severely restricted due to the banks' chronic liquidity problems.
  • Power cuts coupled with economic difficulties are exacerbating the fragility of the UN-backed Government of National Accord, which has little authority over the country, including Tripoli, where it is seated. It has been little more than a year since the Libyan Political Agreement was signed in Morocco on December 15, 2015, and nearly a year since the government it established installed itself in Tripoli. Little, however, has changed for the better in terms of daily life. In fact, the security situation and economic situation, including rising prices and lack of access to cash, are getting worse.
Ed Webb

The Israel-Hezbollah Channel - 0 views

  • Israel and Lebanon have a long history of tension: officially, they have been at war without interruption since 1948, and they have not agreed on an officially demarcated border—nor, after several wars, have they formally agreed to a cease-fire. Nevertheless, a strange forum for conflict management has grown up between them. Since 2006, when UNIFIL was reauthorized by UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1701, peacekeepers have presided over more than one hundred tripartite meetings, which bring together officers from Israel, Lebanon, and UNIFIL to manage disputes and technical issues along the Blue Line.5 The primary belligerents along the border are Hezbollah and the Israeli military, but the Lebanese military serves as Hezbollah’s interlocutors in what has become known as the Tripartite Process.
  • In a region rife with standing conflicts between belligerents who have little or no direct channels of communication, UNIFIL provides a rare example of conflict management in an extremely unstable and opaque environment. Its track record offers some suggestions of promising approaches to manage and mitigate conflict, while avoiding unwanted escalation. But it also offers stark warnings of the limitations of a narrow and indirect approach in the absence of enduring cease-fires, treaties, or other more robust conflict-resolution mechanisms
  • its newly muscular force with strong international political backing created perhaps the only sustained, regular, and efficacious channel of communications between Middle East belligerents in an active conflict
  • ...29 more annotations...
  • UNIFIL makes a precarious model for conflict management. Despite its successes, both Israel and Hezbollah routinely attack UNIFIL’s legitimacy in public. The population of southern Lebanon expresses widespread skepticism about the peacekeeping mission’s intentions and loyalties, despite the benefits they reap from UNIFIL, which not only reduces conflict but serves as the area’s largest employer.11 Many residents of southern Lebanon and supporters of Hezbollah believe that UNIFIL serves Israeli and American interests and is unlikely to act to protect civilians during future conflicts
  • The original UNIFIL mission deployed in 1978 with three missions: to confirm Israel’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon, to restore “international peace and security,” and to restore the authority of the government of Lebanon in the border region. None of these missions were achieved. Israel never fully withdrew, and in 1982 extended its occupation deeper into Lebanese territory. On the Lebanese side, state authority no longer existed, as the nation was riven by the 1975–90 civil war. A quisling militia eventually known as the South Lebanon Army served as an Israeli proxy.13 Hezbollah formed in 1982 in response to the Israeli occupation, and over the following decade grew into the dominant local force fighting Israel. Lebanon’s national army was reconstituted after the Taif Agreement of 1989 paved the way for an end to the country’s civil war. Even as other militias disbanded or had their fighters absorbed into the regular military, Hezbollah alone maintained an autonomous militia. Israel still occupied about one-tenth of Lebanon’s territory, along the southern border, and Hezbollah continued to lead the armed resistance. In 2000, Israel finally withdrew from most of Lebanese territory, but continued to occupy high ground on the mountain of Jabal al-Sheikh, known as Shebaa Farms, as well as the village of Ghajar, which contains critical water sources.14 Later, it also claimed some Lebanese territorial waters in an area where underwater oil and gas exploration is underway.15 Citing Israel’s continuing occupation, as well as the Israeli air force’s daily overflights of Lebanon, Hezbollah spurned calls from some of its Lebanese rivals to disarm or integrate into the national army.16 Tensions regularly flared along the border, and finally boiled over into war in July 2006.
  • Initially, Hezbollah preferred a UN resolution that would leave it sovereign in southern Lebanon. But Lebanon’s government, and significant quarters of Lebanese public opinion, wanted to reassert state sovereignty in the zone of southern Lebanon that hitherto had been solely under Hezbollah’s control. Israel and the United States, by contrast, entered the cease-fire negotiations with unrealistic hopes that they could achieve through peacekeeping what they had failed to do through violence: disarm Hezbollah
  • UNSCR 1701, which led to a cessation of hostilities on August 14, 2006
  • Immediately upon implementing the cease-fire, UNIFIL peacekeepers initiated a process that was not specified in the new mandate but which has become, in the eleven years since the cessation of hostilities until the time of this writing, the most successful element of the mission: the standing, direct negotiations between the Israeli and Lebanese militaries, under UN auspices
  • this somewhat informal mechanism has now met more than one hundred times without a single walkout from either side. It appears to be the only place where Israeli and Lebanese officials formally and directly interact
  • In the context of the Middle East, this forum is especially remarkable. Most of the region’s running conflicts lack even tactical communication between adversaries. Relatively straightforward arrangements such as temporary cease-fires, prisoner exchanges, or safe passage for civilians have been tortuous and at times virtually impossible in regional conflicts. Belligerents often refuse to recognize each other even on a most basic level. If Israel and Lebanon (and, by extension, Hezbollah) have managed to build a rudimentary channel despite their history and the political obstacles to communication, then perhaps—using a similar approach—other belligerents in the region might also inaugurate conflict-­management channels or CBMs.
  • Its approximately 10,500 troops generate economic activity for southern Lebanon; after the Lebanese government, UNIFIL is the largest employer in the area.
  • Hezbollah is a regional military power, operating in tandem with Iran as infantry or trainers in Iraq, Yemen, and possibly elsewhere. In Syria, Hezbollah has played perhaps the most critical military role on the government’s side. Inside Lebanon, Hezbollah has moved from being a strong faction to being the strongest, today holding the balance of power domestically, with the ability to dominate the complex political negotiations that determine who holds the presidency. In 2013, the European Union as a whole joined Israel, the United States, and some individual European governments in listing Hezbollah’s “armed wing” as a terrorist group. (Hezbollah itself denies it has any separate armed wing, making such a designation tantamount to naming the entire organization.)
  • UNIFIL’s best direct relationship is with the Lebanese Army. It cannot officially communicate with Hezbollah, and its channels to the Israeli military, while stronger than before 2006, are still limited
  • On one hand, Hezbollah and Israel have both benefited from UNIFIL’s core functions: development projects for poor denizens of the border region; demarcation of the Blue Line; deconfliction, de-escalation, conflict management, and communication between belligerents; intelligence gathering; and a unique forum in which armies from two nations at war routinely meet for direct talks and resolve technical issues even as the political conflict between their governments continues unabated. On the other hand, both belligerents routinely have undermined UNIFIL, attacking its legitimacy and performance in public forums while praising it in private; engaging in prohibited military operations; and refusing to extend any political support to the negotiations that they joined at a military level.
  • “It’s a conflict-management institution, not a conflict-resolution institution,” observed Timur Goksel, a UNIFIL veteran who worked with the mission over the course of two decades and has been based in both Israel and Lebanon. “It offers adversaries a way out. They can use UNIFIL as an excuse. It opens a way out of major conflict. This is what UNIFIL is all about.”
  • The disputed village of Ghajar, which has long been a flashpoint between the two sides, exemplifies the limits of the existing channels of communication and negotiation. The Blue Line passes directly through the village. Its inhabitants are Alawites who previously lived under Syrian rule on territory that today is claimed by Lebanon.36 Israel currently controls the entire village. Israeli presence in the northern half of Ghajar entails a permanent violation of the Blue Line. The situation is further complicated by the lack of pressure from the village’s residents, who appear content to operate as part of Israel. Israel has committed in principle to withdrawing from the northern portion of the village, but the details of how to do that have eluded all parties.37
  • Hezbollah operates in southern Lebanon with full independence. It might defer to the Lebanese Army or UNIFIL in order to avoid embarrassment or minor mishaps, but it can freely circumvent even the most symbolic of checks
  • Hezbollah continues to hold sovereign power of arms and operates without limitation from the government of Lebanon, UNIFIL, or any other force
  • Hezbollah has greatly increased its military capacity since joining the Syrian war as a pivotal combatant in 2012. The Lebanese nonstate actor has emerged as the premier urban combat and infantry force on the side of the Syrian government. It has engaged in wide-scale maneuver warfare, and has engaged in integrated warfare, involving air force support, with professional forces from Iran, Russia, and Syria. Hezbollah has helped form new militias and has led coordinated assaults with militia support involving groups and fighters from Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Syria, and elsewhere.45 Reports suggest that Hezbollah has also acquired a new arsenal of long-range missiles and land-to-sea missiles, which greatly increases its deterrent capacity against Israel and could enable it to threaten more Israeli targets than it could in 2006
  • With the Syrian war potentially entering a closing phase, from which Hezbollah and the Syrian government will emerge victorious, several analysts have refocused their attention on the latent Israel-Hezbollah conflict
  • Israel and Lebanon are formally still at war, and no closer to a permanent cease-fire than they were when UNSCR 1701 came into force on August 14, 2006. Whereas the Israeli government and military are unitary actors on one side of the Blue Line, the other side has a bedeviling array of potential belligerents with competing interests. These possible participants include but are not limited to Hezbollah, the Lebanese government, Palestinian factions, the Syrian government, and possibly some Syrian rebel factions, although most Syrian rebels in the Golan have either cooperated with Israel or remained neutral. UNIFIL can call the Lebanese Army to settle a crisis, but then must rely on the Lebanese Army, itself strained by pressures stemming from the war in Syria, to make effective contact with other players
  • Whether technical talks and a bare-bones conflict-management channel can, in fact, shift the political opportunities is precisely the question raised by UNIFIL’s record since 2006. UNIFIL’s example suggests that military-military talks have utility but are unlikely to drive political resolution. The UNIFIL model may be a promising approach for conflicts between belligerents with strained or nonexistent diplomatic relations, but it is a model for managing conflict and avoiding unintended escalations, not for resolving conflict and reversing escalations that are intentional or are based on mistrust and miscalculation
  • “It’s the only mission that speaks to two countries that are still at war,” noted one UNIFIL official. “This works if parties don’t want to go to war. It can’t prevent a war from happening.”
  • Unless a government or nonstate actor has openly and expressly deputized a military channel to negotiate a political resolution, there is no evidence that technical talks will prompt a political dialogue—simply because some participants hope for it to do so—much less a resolution
  • UNIFIL’s record as an arbiter or honest broker does not appear to have changed any policy position on the part of Hezbollah or the government of Israel. A technical channel cannot create a new political climate
  • UNIFIL’s conflict-management paradigm may, paradoxically, increase risks by leaving political problems unresolved. “There is no doubt the UNIFIL mission has acted as shock absorber for local tensions and maintained a negative peace, that is, it has prevented the escalation of minor incidents into large-scale conflict,” the researcher Vanessa Newby concluded after conducting fifty interviews of UNIFIL officials and others who deal with the mission.54 “But its presence appears to be sustaining the conditions of conflict more than it is resolving them.”
  • successfully bolstered the Lebanese military’s function and standing as a state institution
  • If either Hezbollah or Israel shifted its cost-benefit calculus and decided it was more preferable to go to war than maintain the status quo (as Israel had in advance of the summer of 2006), then UNIFIL’s mechanisms would provide almost no peacemaking or conflict-avoidance potential
  • Many of the Middle East’s conflict areas are plagued with similar problems and thus are ripe for UNIFIL-like channels, managed by neutral third parties that can avoid accidental escalations, act as a clearing house for airing grievances and seeking technical solutions to relatively small technical problems, and potentially manage aspects of open conflict if it emerges. Such channels could pave the way for delivering humanitarian aid in Yemen or exchanging prisoners in Syria. The model is for a standing body that is not ad hoc nor of limited duration, and thus can establish trust over multiple iterations of dialogue and conflict management.
  • the UNIFIL case illustrates the broader problem with applying a military (or security, or conflict-management) paradigm to inherently political problems. Such a forum can be an effective long-term intermediary, but only for tactical matters. The conflict between Israel and Hezbollah is a political one
  • The field of critical security studies has pushed the field of academic political science to incorporate political concerns into its definition of security, but minimized the hard security concerns that make life dangerous in conflict zones.55 The balance of security and politics is not merely a theoretical concern; it drives the persistence of deadly conflict in the Middle East. Both hard security and political grievance must be addressed, even if unfairly, in order to resolve a conflict. A similar dynamic shapes the need to address process as well as policy. A satisfactory forum is required for belligerents to talk at all. Forums like UNIFIL, or the Madrid Peace Conference (where parties to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict met in 1991), create the space and relationships that are a precondition for any substantial negotiation. Yet process does not suffice if no common policy framework can be reached on the central matters of dispute. No amount of tripartite meetings at the UNIFIL headquarters will compel the political leadership in Israel or Hezbollah to reformulate their core goals
  • The Middle East needs more UNIFILs, but it is crucial to keep in mind the limitations of a conflict-management approach if such forums are to be useful for advancing long-term security. They are no substitute for politics.
Ed Webb

Why Biden's Airstrikes on Iran Militias Matter | Newlines Magazine - 0 views

  • hitting Iranian proxies in Syria was not as much of an eye roll-worthy operation as has been argued. For one thing, Biden has signaled he’s learned from President Barack Obama’s past failures of acquiescing to Iranian belligerence in an effort to curry diplomatic favor with Tehran, which the Iranians correctly viewed as a license to carry on without fear of material consequence
  • helpfully spotlighted an awkward question for armed groups created to defend Iraq from foreign occupiers, and which are now legally bundled into Baghdad’s central security apparatus: What are they doing in Syria in the first place?
  • Starting in late 2012, Iraqi Shiite fighters were sent by the thousands to Syria. Some came as volunteers on what they believed was a mission from God to “defend” the Sayyida Zaynab Shrine south of Damascus. Others desired adventure. Still others wanted a paycheck. Whatever the motive, for Iran this mass recruitment and deployment had but one strategic objective: Save the then-embattled regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from a protest movement-turned-incipient Sunni insurgency. By 2016, over 20 organizations were used to mobilize and deploy, at a minimum, 10,000 to 15,000 Iraqi Shiite fighters.
  • ...8 more annotations...
  • open recruitment of Iraqi Shiites to fight in Syria has significantly ebbed, particularly following the cessation of Iraqi operations to crush the Islamic State in Mosul in 2017
  • The Iraqi groups that still operate in Syria are primarily centered in Damascus or in areas of eastern Syria near Deir ez-Zor. In fact, this zone has become a major geostrategic hotbed for Iranian activity in the Middle East because it is where the so-called land bridge linking Tehran to the Mediterranean is to be constructed
  • Among the hardcore groups deployed there are Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba, Kataib Hezbollah (one of the militias targeted Thursday), Saraya al-Jihad, Lebanese Hezbollah, as well as an Iranian-run Afghan and Pakistani faction
  • they’ve even reportedly offered payments to local Sunnis to join their paramilitaries or even convert to Shiism
  • Kataib Hezbollah, in particular, is a central spoke in Tehran’s wheel of aggression in Iraq and therefore a source of enormous resentment among Iraqis. To the Pentagon, it’s one of the most notorious terrorist outfits in Iraq.
  • The other named group targeted by U.S. forces on Thursday, Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada, is simply a splinter from Kataib Hezbollah. It was formed in early 2013, ostensibly due to a leadership dispute within the ranks of its parent organization. Since then, Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada has posted candidates for Iraqi parliament in national elections and recruited thousands of fighters for combat in Iraq and Syria, all while remaining completely under Iranian control
  • Iran has always understood that its real power rested with its proxy groups across the region. It’s a smart assumption, predicated on the historical fact that Iran was able, in the last half decade, to extend its influence well beyond its borders with impunity, counting on America’s desperation for a nuclear deal. In other words, it got to do much of what it wanted a bomb to do, without the benefit of a bomb. 
  • The Middle East is greatly transformed from what it was before Trump became president. Turkey has emerged as a major interventionist power, one increasingly at odds with Iran in northern Iraq. Gulf states, meanwhile, have normalized their relations with Israel in either de jure or de facto manners. And with the destruction of ISIS’s “caliphate” in Syria and Iraq has come a new slate of socioeconomic grievances aimed at central governments and the non-state or para-state structures keeping them afloat. Containing Iran, in short, means undermining the militias, and it seldom matters where along the Soleimani “land bridge” one finds them, as the Israelis know all too well
Ed Webb

Is Iran expanding its influence in Iraq? - 0 views

  • Well-known Iranian activist and journalist Roohollah Zam was captured Oct. 14 in Iraq and deported to Iran. The details surrounding his arrest and deportation have raised questions about the magnitude of Iran’s influence in Iraq. BBC Persian, Saudi-funded Alarabiya and many other Persian and Arabic media outlets reported that Zam had been captured by the Iraqi National Intelligence Service on an arriving flight from France at the Baghdad airport and immediately handed to Iranian agents, who sent him to Tehran the same day.
  • the Iraqi National Intelligence Service has been widely known for being independent from Tehran's influence in Iraq
  • Al-Monitor has learned from a senior adviser for the Iraqi National Security Council that Zam was actually arrested by Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq, a pro-Iranian Shiite military faction in the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) and handed to the Iranians at the Baghdad airport. The source said the Iraqi National Security Council had been in contact with Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq and the Iranians about the arrest and had facilitated the operation for Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq. Zam, who has been critical of Iran in his journalistic works, was kept in the airplane until all the passengers had disembarked and then transferred to another airplane for transport to Tehran. It would appear that Persian and Arabic media were incorrect in attributing the Zam operation to the Iraqi National Intelligence Service instead of the Iraqi National Security Council.
  • ...5 more annotations...
  • The Zam arrest indicates that Iranian influence now extends beyond the pro-Iranian militias and parliamentary blocs and has established a foothold in the security organizations of the Iraqi government. It also seems that there is a clear conflict between bodies in the Iraqi government that are pro-Iran and others seeking to remain independent of Iranian influence.
  • Anti-Iran slogans were prevalent at the latest protests.
  • Iraqi President Barham Salih has expressed support for the protesters and criticized the forces that have targeted demonstrators and that have arrested journalists and activists. Salih described these forces — which he did not specifically identify — as “enemies of Iraq” and outlaws. He said the Iraqi government has not ordered its forces to shoot protesters
  • Reuters has quoted anonymous Iraqi security officers supporting the position of Salih and Sistani that the snipers belong to a militia close to Iran, working under the PMU umbrella but acting separately from the Iraqi government. The PMU consists of a number of military factions, including pro-Iranian militias, that are supposed to be under the command of the prime minister.
  • All this suggests that Iranian influence has penetrated deep inside the Iraqi government, which is still confronting challenges in the institutions established under the US occupation, including the army and the Counter-Terrorism Service. The dismissal of popular Counter-Terrorism Service commander Abdel-Wahab al-Saadi was one of the factors that ignited the protests. It appears what are supposed to be independent Iraqi bodies are being targeted and weakened by and in favor of Iranian proxies behind the scenes.
Ed Webb

The Gulf's Charities - By William McCants | The Middle East Channel - 0 views

  • Pundits in the West are quick to blame the Gulf countries for fueling the sectarian conflict but the governments of Kuwait, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar have shied away from backing the Salafi militias in Syria -- the most sectarian factions in the conflict. Instead, they have either focused on humanitarian relief or backed their own non-Salafi proxies like the more moderate Muslim Brotherhood or more secular factions like those linked to Saad Hariri in Lebanon. Nevertheless, the Gulf monarchies have not been able or willing to stem the tide of private money their citizens are sending to the Salafi charities and popular committees. Kuwait in particular has done little to stop it because it lacks an effective terror financing law and because it cannot afford politically to infuriate its already angry Salafi members of parliament. Qatar and Saudi Arabia have tried to crackdown on fundraising for the Salafi militias but their citizens just send their money to Kuwait.
  • Salafi militias like Ahrar use the money to buy weapons and the humanitarian aid to build popular support.
  • The State Department and responsible religiously-oriented aid organizations have an uphill battle in Syria but it is worth the fight. Failing to do so leaves governance to the militants, especially those who have the best financing like the Salafi groups. Indeed, Salafi militias have set up Islamic courts in captured territory where they dispense their conservative brand of justice as well as public goods. Entrenching themselves in this manner will ensure the country's sectarian divide endures long after the end of hostilities.
  • ...1 more annotation...
  • organizations also advance a sectarian agenda at home. For Sunni-led countries like Bahrain and Kuwait that have large Shiite populations seeking greater political rights, domestic anti-Shiite activism threatens to spark a conflict that would quickly rage out of control
  •  
    Non-state actors are crucial players in shaping the Syrian conflict.
Ed Webb

Picking up the pieces - 0 views

  • Syrians have shown relentless ingenuity in adapting to every stage of a horrendous conflict, salvaging remnants of dignity, solidarity and vitality amid nightmarish circumstances
  • The decimation of Syria’s male population represents, arguably, the most fundamental shift in the country’s social fabric. As a generation of men has been pared down by death, disability, forced displacement and disappearance, those who remain have largely been sucked into a violent and corrupting system centered around armed factions
  • 80 of the village’s men have been killed and 130 wounded—amounting to a third of the male population aged 18-50. The remaining two-thirds have overwhelmingly been absorbed into the army or militias
  • ...29 more annotations...
  • “If you want to protect yourself and your family, you join a militia,” remarked a middle-aged man in the Jazmati neighborhood. “The area is infested with crime associated with the National Defense militias. Each group has control over a certain quarter, and they sometimes fight each other over the distribution of spoils. Shop owners must pay these militias protection. One owner refused, and they torched his store.”
  • Another resident of the same area explained that he and his family could scrape by thanks to his two sons’ positioning in the Iran-backed Baqir Brigade—which provides not only monthly salaries, but also opportunities to procure household items through looting.
  • Most who can afford to leave the country do so; others benefit from an exemption afforded to university students, while another subset enjoys a reprieve due to their status as the sole male of their generation in their nuclear family. Others may pay exorbitant bribes to skirt the draft, or confine themselves within their homes to avoid being detected—making them invisible both to the army and to broader society. Some endure multiple such ordeals, only to remain in an indefinite state of limbo due to the contingent and precarious nature of these solutions
  • An industrialist in Aleppo put it simply: “I talk with factory owners and they say they want to reopen their factories, but they can’t find male workers. When they do find them, security services or militiamen come and arrest those workers and extort money from the owners for having hired them in the first place.” With no large scale returns on the horizon for local industries, this economic impasse will take years to resolve.
  • Although virtually every problem that sparked Syria’s 2011 uprising has been exacerbated, society has been beaten down to the point of almost ensuring that no broad-based reformist movement will be able to coalesce for a generation to come
  • the unraveling of Syria’s productive economy, and its replacement by an economy of systematic cannibalization in which impoverished segments of Syrian society increasingly survive by preying upon one another
  • a new term—taafeesh—to describe a practice that goes far beyond stealing furniture to include extremes such as stripping houses, streets and factories of plumbing and electrical wiring
  • active surveillance, intimidation and repression are not the only contributors to this leaden atmosphere. A pervasive exhaustion has settled over Syrians ground down and immiserated by war, disillusioned with all those who purport to lead or protect them, and largely reduced to striving for day-to-day subsistence
  • I returned to my apartment just to retrieve official documents and some hidden pieces of gold. I did so, and then destroyed my own furniture and appliances because I don’t want these people making money at my expense. I was ready to burn down my own apartment, but my wife stopped me—she didn’t want me to cause harm to other apartments in the building.
  • micro-economies in their own right—from the recycling of rubble to the proliferation of taafeesh markets, where people buy second-hand goods stolen from fellow Syrians. Many have no choice but to use these markets in order to replace their own stolen belongings
  • Syrians also dip into precious resources to pay officials for information, for instance on disappeared relatives or their own status on Syria’s sprawling lists of “wanted” individuals. For those wishing to confirm that they won’t be detained upon crossing the border to Lebanon, the going rate is about 10 dollars—most often paid to an employee in the Department of Migration and Passports.
  • This cannibalistic economy, which encompasses all those who have come to rely on extortion for their own livelihoods, extends to the cohort of lawyers, security officials and civil servants who have positioned themselves as “brokers” in the market for official documents such as birth, marriage and death certificates
  • Today, even the most senior lawyers in our practice are working as document brokers. A well-connected broker makes 30 to 40,000 pounds [60 to 80 dollars] per day; this roughly equals the monthly salary of a university-educated civil servant. As a result, many government employees resign and work as brokers to make more money.And this truly is a business, not a charity: Every broker takes money, even from his own brothers and sisters. Last week a colleague brought me his brother-in-law. I asked him why he needed me, when he could make all the papers himself. He explained that he can’t take money from his own brother-in-law, but I can do so and then give him half.
  • “I watched uniformed soldiers using a Syrian army tank to rip out electrical cables from six meters underground,” remarked a fighter with a loyalist Palestinian faction, who was scrambling to retrieve belongings from his apartment before it could be pillaged. “I saw soldiers from elite units looting private hospitals and government offices. This isn’t just looting—it’s sabotage of essential infrastructure.”
  • Syria’s predatory wartime economy is slowly but surely turning into a predatory economy of peace
  • As some Syrians put it, Damascus has been particularly effective in reconstructing one thing amidst the immeasurable destruction: the “wall of fear” which characterized the regime before 2011 and which momentarily broke down at the outset of the uprising
  • Multiplying forms of predation have accelerated the outflow of Syria’s financial and human capital, leaving behind a country largely populated by an underclass that can aspire to little more than subsistence
  • At one level, the war has wrenched open social and economic fractures that existed long before the conflict. The city of Homs stands as perhaps the starkest microcosm of this trend. A Sunni majority city with sizable Christian and Alawi minorities, Homs was the first major urban center to rise up and the first to devolve into bitter sectarian bloodletting
  • While vast swathes of Syria’s Sunni population feel silenced and brutalized, Alawi communities often carry their own narrative of victimhood, which blends legitimate grievances with vindictive impulses vis-à-vis Sunnis whom they regard as having betrayed the country
  • crude divisions based on sect or class fail to describe a complex and fluid landscape. Some fault lines are less dramatic, all but imperceptible except to those who experience them first-hand. Neighbors, colleagues, friends and kin may have come down on opposing sides, despite having every social marker in common. Each part of the country has its own web of tragic events to untangle.
  • Many Islamic State fighters swapped clothes and joined the [Kurdish-led] Syrian Democratic Forces to protect themselves and their families. But they haven’t changed; those people are bad, and will always be bad. There will be vengeance. Not now, while everyone is busy putting their lives together. But eventually, everyone who suffered under ISIS, whose brother was killed by ISIS, will take revenge.
  • A native of a Damascus suburb remarked: “Charities typically want to help those who fled from elsewhere. So, when I go to a charity, I say I’m displaced.”
  • The divide between conservative and more secular Sunnis has calcified, manifesting itself even in differential treatment at checkpoints. “I have an easier time driving around because I don’t wear the hijab,” remarked a woman from the Damascus suburbs. “If you veil, security assumes you’re with the opposition.”
  • While dialogue is sorely needed, some Syrians warn against emphasising dialogue for its own sake—even at the cost of burying the most substantive issues at stake. A businessman from Damascus described his own abortive experience with talks proposing to link disparate elements of Syria’s private sector: “There’s this whole industry around ‘mediation,’ including between sides that don’t actually disagree on anything. Meanwhile, all the problems that caused the uprising have gotten worse.”
  • Just as Syrians are forced to be more self-reliant, they have also come to depend evermore on vital social support structures. Indeed, extreme circumstances have created a paradox: Even as society has splintered in countless ways, the scale of deprivation arguably renders Syrians more closely interdependent than ever before.
  • remittances from relatives who live abroad
  • The country’s middle and upper classes have long extended vital forms of solidarity to their needier compatriots, with Syria’s merchant and religious networks playing a leading role. What is unique, today, is the scale of hardship across the country, which is so vast as to have changed the way that Syrians conceptualize the act of receiving charity. A businessman from central Syria noted the extent to which dependency, which once demanded some degree of discretion, has become a straightforward fact of life. “People used to hide it when they were reliant on charity. Not anymore. Today you might hear workers in a factory wondering, ‘Where is the manager?’ And someone will say that he’s out waiting for his food basket. The whole country is living on handouts.”
  • People still do charity the Islamic way, based on the premise that you must assist those closest to you. If there’s someone you should help—say, a neighbor—but you’re unable, then it’s your responsibility to find someone else who can. These circles remain very much intact, and the entire society lives on this. Seven years of war didn’t destroy that aspect of Syrian culture, and that’s something Syrians are proud of.
  • There will be no nationwide recovery, no serious reform, no meaningful reconciliation for the foreseeable future.
Ed Webb

Military audit confirms US tanks ended up with Iran-backed militias - 0 views

  • As many as nine US tanks provided to Iraq’s military for the fight against the Islamic State (IS) have ended up in the hands of Iranian-backed militants, a government audit revealed on Monday.The latest quarterly inspector general report for the US mission in Iraq and Syria confirms a string of on-the-ground reports that M1 Abrams battle tanks and other lethal equipment provided by the US government have ended up with the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU). The news adds credence to recent reporting by Iraq’s Al-Ghad news agency that Abrams manufacturer General Dynamics has suspended maintenance support for 160 of its tanks amid allegations that the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) broke an agreement on their use.
  • In 2015, Iraqi Hezbollah brigades showed up in YouTube videos driving American-made M1 Abrams tanks, armored personnel carriers, Humvees and Canadian MRAP all-terrain vehicles, sparking concerns from Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz
  • The State Department gave Iraq’s military $3.8 billion from 2015 to 2017 as it cleared out IS strongholds such as Mosul, Tal Afar and Fallujah. Iraq’s military now possesses more than 250 battle tanks and 1,000 armored personnel carriers. But even as support to Iraq’s military increased to root out IS in urban centers, the Defense Department has had limited “direct insight” into how effective more than 120,000 US-trained troops in Iraq will be, according to the inspector general report. That’s “mainly because the US military relied on Iraqi information and self-reporting to determine the skill and readiness of ISF troops,” the report found.
Ed Webb

Italy Caused Chaos in Libya by Mismanaging Migration Policy - 0 views

  • Over three days in May 2017, the Italian secret service—masquerading as a humanitarian nongovernmental organization—summoned to Rome two dozen delegates from the southern edge of the Sahara desert. The pretext was to promote a peace deal for their war-torn region; the real goal was to bring them on board with an Italian plan to curb migration.
  • the pitfalls of a foreign policy that conflates peace and development with migration control
  • The Tuareg, the Tebu, and the Awlad Suleiman—the groups represented at the summit—are the gatekeepers of the desert crossed by those hoping to reach the Libyan coast to embark on a sea journey to Europe.
  • ...24 more annotations...
  • Migration, however, was never much of a concern for the inhabitants of the Sahara. For the most part, they move freely across borders, and their economies depend heavily on the transit of people and goods.
  • What was meant to be “A dialogue on peace, development, security and human rights in the trans-border regions of Libya, Chad, and Niger,” according to the government’s agenda, became a failed attempt to co-opt some of the poorest people on the planet in a fight against migration from which they had little to gain.
  • The interior ministers of the three countries attended the gathering, as well as one vice president of the GNA—hardly a typical NGO summit. The summit was ostensibly organized by the Ara Pacis Initiative, a group that claims to be an “international not for profit organization based in Rome, dedicated to the human dimension of peace.” Its peculiar inspiration, according to its website, is the altar of peace built in Rome by emperor Augustus. The founder and sole active member of Ara Pacis is Maria Nicoletta Gaida, an Italian American former actress with little background in the humanitarian sector
  • The mysterious man with the ponytail started off with an offer meant to capture the goodwill of his audience: “We will ask for Italy’s commitment to immediately establish cultural identity centers for the trans-border tribes,” he said. Italy would staff these centers with teachers “that will keep alive the history and the culture of these great people.” He also promised health clinics connected via webcam to Italian hospitals. “These are small things,” he said, “for the seed from which the plant grows is always small.”
  • “After peace,” he said, “comes security and development.” The delegates should “deal with the issue of immigration and terrorism through border control mechanisms based on the optimization of reception centers that already exist in your countries.”
  • “My minister is ready to support any of your requests,” he said at one point. In return, he asked for the tribes’ backing in curbing migration: That would “give him the strength to go to Europe and defeat our enemies,” he said, without clarifying who those enemies might be.
  • At roughly the same time as the meeting near Rome, the Italian intelligence services reportedly brokered a multimillion-euro payment to Libyan militias involved in trafficking to enlist them as a coast guard force, a claim that Italy denies.
  • The International Organization for Migration manages one key pillar of the EU’s migration policy in Libya, namely the so-called voluntary repatriation of stranded migrants.
  • these agencies have repeatedly proved useless when it comes to defending the human rights of migrants in Libya. Indeed, the Associated Press revealed last month that the EU’s humanitarian spending has often been diverted to militias and traffickers—sometimes with the knowledge of U.N. officials.
  • Sergio De Caprio, known by the public as Capitano Ultimo, became a legend in Italy after arresting the godfather of the Sicilian mafia Totò Riina in 1993. His exploits inspired novels and a TV series. In 2016 and 2017, he was transferred to the secret service. While his anti-mafia record is legendary, his foreign-policy credentials are unknown. His appointment affirmed the Italian government’s belief that migration is essentially a criminal problem, and that smuggling rings can be fought in the same way as mafia organizations.
  • “The social components of southern Libya are many more than just Awlad Suleiman, Tebu, and Tuaregs,” he argued. Moreover, he said, “their representatives know their identity and history well and are perfectly able to preserve their traditions.”
  • “Rather than cultural centers,” he said, “let’s open factories, so that the youth can have a hope, an alternative to joining criminal gangs.”
  • Although the south of the Sahara is rich in oil, gold, and uranium, local populations suffer abject poverty. The Saharan delegates laid out their priorities: Negotiating peace was their main aim—and supposedly the reason they had flown all the way to Rome. They saw Italy as having a European mandate to mediate peace in Libya by virtue of its old colonial ties. But still the war raged on
  • if a border force was what Europe really wanted, the tribes could welcome military equipment. The United Arab Emirates, the Tuareg leader reminded De Caprio, had lent their helicopters and pilots for border patrol after just one meeting, and this was already their fifth visit to Italy.
  • There is no accountability for Europe’s multibillion-euro spending spree on projects to curb migration. In vast regions such as southern Libya that are inaccessible to diplomatic missions, let alone humanitarian agencies, officials are able to pocket the money for themselves. Migration spending thus ends up fostering corruption, rather than development.
  • when the Libyans sought ambitious development projects they were offered handicraft workshops instead
  • Humanitarian catastrophe looms over the wider Sahara region as Islamist insurgencies in the bordering Sahel region displace 4.2 million people. The Libyan war has escalated into an international conflict
  • The parties in the Libyan conflict store weapons “in close proximity” to migrant detention centers, according to the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, so these become a target of the bombing
  • Italy and Europe’s credibility has been severely undermined by their single-minded pursuit of migration control when dealing with Libya and other African countries
  • At least 36,000 people have been returned to Libya as they attempted to leave the country since 2017 by a Libyan coast guard that Europe funded and equipped. Unsurprisingly, given the way they were recruited, coast guard officers have been found to be involved in such crimes as detaining and extorting ransoms from migrants, whipping shipwreck survivors, shooting migrants, sinking their dinghies, and ignoring distress calls
  • For several years the Community of Sant’Egidio, a Catholic organization of which Giro is a prominent member, had been mediating peace among the Saharan peoples. The association is involved in several conflict resolution initiatives around the world and has been credited with ending a bloody civil war in Mozambique in 1992.
  • Europe’s “migration obsession … a sickness that has infected all 28 EU countries
  • Mogherini’s tenure as EU foreign-policy chief will be remembered for its unprecedented callousness toward the plight of migrants and refugees; she now co-chairs a newly formed U.N. High-Level Panel on Internal Displacement
  • “Do you realize what it would mean if Libya fell into Turkish and Russian hands, at the expense of Europe? We would lose everything.” What would we lose? I asked him. “Everything! Control over migration, political control, economic control, the oil. … Eventually, we would lose it all.”
Ed Webb

In Libya, the U.N. and EU Are Leaving Migrants to Die as Civil War Rages - 0 views

  • a seemingly endless series of scandals across a network of detention centers ostensibly run by the Libyan Department for Combating Illegal Migration, which is associated with the U.N.-backed, Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA). In reality, many of the detention centers are controlled by militias.
  • Tens of thousands of refugees and migrants have been locked up indefinitely in Libyan detention centers over the past two and a half years, after they were intercepted by the Libyan coast guard trying to reach Italy across the Mediterranean Sea. Since 2017, the Libyan coast guard has been supported with equipment and training worth tens of millions of dollars by the European Union. This money comes from the Trust Fund for Africa—a multibillion-dollar fund created at the height of the so-called migration crisis, with the aim of preventing migration to Europe by increasing border controls and funding projects in 26 African countries
  • EU’s deal with Libya—a country without a stable government where conflict is raging—has been repeatedly condemned by human rights organizations. They say the EU is supporting the coast guard with the aim of circumventing the international law principle of non-refoulement, which would prohibit European ships from returning asylum-seekers and refugees to a country where they could face persecution
  • ...11 more annotations...
  • In January, dozens of migrants and refugees were sold directly to human traffickers from the Souq al-Khamis detention center in Khoms, soon after they were delivered there by the Libyan coast guard.
  • Since the latest conflict began in Tripoli in April, after eastern Gen. Khalifa Haftar ordered his self-styled Libyan National Army to advance on the capital, refugees and migrants say their lives have become even worse. Detainees in five detention centers told Foreign Policy they have been forced to assist GNA-associated militias by loading or moving weapons, cleaning military bases on the front lines, and even—in a few cases—fighting with guns.
  • In July, at least 53 detainees were killed in the Tajoura detention center, in eastern Tripoli, when a bomb dropped by Haftar’s forces directly hit the hall they were locked in, close to a weapons store. Survivors accused the GNA government of using them as “human shields.”
  • while UNHCR and IOM do some important work, they are actively involved in whitewashing the devastating and horrific impacts of hardening European Union policy aimed at keeping refugees and migrants out of Europe. “They are constantly watering down the problems that are happening in the detention centers,” said one aid official. “They are encouraging the situation to continue. … They are paid by the EU to do [the EU’s] fucking job.”
  • While UNHCR has helped 1,540 refugees leave Libya in 2019, this is only a small percentage of those stuck in a cycle between detention centers, smugglers, and the Libyan coast guard, some of whom have waited years to be considered for evacuation. In May alone, nearly as many refugees (1,224) were returned from the Mediterranean Sea and locked up in detention
  • While the United Nations Support Mission in Libya and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights have been pointedly critical, UNHCR and IOM regularly thank the EU for funding through their social media accounts, without mentioning that the EU plays a central role in sending refugees and migrants to detention centers in the first place
  • According to Crisp, the problems include: “dependence on EU funding and inability to change EU policy; a government that is supported by both the UN and EU; weak government institutions that are closely linked to militias; desperate refugees who don’t understand why UNHCR can’t do more for them; irregular and limited access to the refugees; concerns over staff safety and security,”
  • it was clear the U.N. is “totally overwhelmed” with the situation, yet it has management who are always “on the defensive.” 
  • “In almost every country where there is an emergency there are always complaints, there are always issues and critics, but what we see in Libya is a complete mess,”
  • When asked about the European Union’s role in facilitating the exploitation, torture, and abuse of thousands of refugees and migrants in Libya, EU spokespeople regularly point to the presence of the U.N. in detention centers, saying the EU is trying to improve conditions through these means and would like the centers closed.
  • the bombing survivor said he has lost hope in UNHCR and is ready to return to smugglers. “I will try the sea again and again. I’ve got nothing to lose,” he said, adding, “I want the world to know how people are suffering in Libya, because many people die and lose their minds here.”
Ed Webb

Protests in Lebanon and Iraq Show That Iran Is Losing the Middle East Through Bad Gover... - 0 views

  • For the Shiite communities in Iraq and Lebanon, Tehran and its proxies have failed to translate military and political victories into a socioeconomic vision; simply put, Iran’s resistance narrative did not put food on the table.
  • Today, Iran seems to be winning the long game. Its proxy in Lebanon prevailed in last year’s parliamentary elections. In Syria, Iran managed to save its ally, President Bashar al-Assad. In the past several years, Iran has also gained a lot more power in Baghdad through its proxies, including the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), the Shiite militias created to fight the Islamic State.
  • Hezbollah’s costly involvement in the Syrian war and pressure from U.S. sanctions on Iran have forced the party to cut salaries and services, widening the gap between the rich and the poor within its own community. Meanwhile, the party also drafted mostly Shiites from poor neighborhoods to go fight in Syria, while its officials benefited from the war riches, causing much resentment.
  • ...5 more annotations...
  • all these victories failed to translate into public well-being. Iran might have benefited, but Shiites in Lebanon got more isolated than ever. That is why it is so meaningful that the Shiite community, by joining the protests, is now attempting to claim its Lebanese identity rather than the religious one that has, so far, failed it
  • tens of thousands of Iraqis in Baghdad and other Shiite-majority parts of southern Iraq came out in protest over the failures of the Iraqi political class to provide basic services and reduce unemployment and corruption. The crackdown was swift and aggressive, resulting in the deaths of more than 100 protesters. Reuters published a story more than a week into the protests confirming that Iran-backed militias had deployed snipers on Baghdad rooftops to deliberately kill protesters
  • Some Sunnis and Kurds in Iraq have expressed support for the Shiite protesters but have hesitated to get involved in order to avoid having the protesters labeled as members of the Islamic State, an excuse that Iran has used in both Iraq and Syria to attack uprisings.
  • Hezbollah will try not repeat the Iraqi PMF’s mistake of responding with violence. That’s why its military units have been training a number of non-Hezbollah members to join what it calls the Lebanese Resistance Brigades. The role of these brigades is precisely to deal with domestic challenges and allow Hezbollah to deny responsibility. Already, in an attempt to create a counter-revolution, hundreds of young men carrying the flags of Amal and Hezbollah attacked the protesters in a number of cities. So far, the Lebanese Army has stopped them from getting too close to the protests, but they have managed to physically hurt and terrorize people outside Beirut, mainly in Shiite towns and cities
  • Shiism does not belong to Iran
Ed Webb

Iraqi security forces take control of Iranian dissidents' camp | World news | guardian.... - 0 views

  • Iraqi security forces have taken control of the base camp of an exiled Iranian militia group, after a two year campaign by Tehran to persuade Baghdad to expel them.Police officers used water cannons and tear gas to seize the base, known as Camp Ashraf and pledged today to evict up to 3,500 people living there. All are members of the Mojahedin-e-Khalq (MEK) militia, which has in the past been prescribed by the United States and the European Union as a terrorist group.
Ed Webb

The Libyan Civil War Is About to Get Worse - 0 views

  • Yet another clash between the two main Libya camps is now brewing, and events in recent weeks suggest that the fighting will be more devastating than at any time before—and still may not produce a definitive victory for either side.
  • Facing stiff resistance from disparate militias nominally aligned with the government, the LNA has failed to breach downtown Tripoli. On top of this, the marshal’s campaign, while destructive, has been hampered by gross strategic and tactical inefficiency. The resulting war of attrition and slower pace of combat revealed yet another flaw in his coalition: Few eastern Libyan fighters wish to risk their lives for Haftar 600 miles away from home.
  • the UAE carried out more than 900 air strikes in the greater Tripoli area last year using Chinese combat drones and, occasionally, French-made fighter jets. The Emirati military intervention helped contain the GNA’s forces but did not push Haftar’s objectives forward. Instead, it had an adverse effect by provoking other regional powers. Turkey responded to the UAE by deploying Bayraktar TB2 drones and several dozen Turkish officers to carry out roughly 250 strikes in an effort to help the GNA resist Haftar’s onslaught. The stalemate also inspired Russia to increase its own involvement in Libya.
  • ...14 more annotations...
  • In September 2019, a few hundred Russian mercenaries joined the front-line effort near Tripoli in support of Haftar’s forces
  • forced a desperate GNA to sign a controversial maritime accord that granted Ankara notional gas-drilling rights in the eastern Mediterranean in return for Turkey launching a full-blown military intervention in support of the anti-Haftar camp
  • According to open-source data analyzed by aircraft-tracking specialist Gerjon, the Emiratis, since mid-January, have flown more than 100 cargo planes to Libya (or western Egypt, near the Libyan border). These planes likely carried with them thousands of tons of military hardware. Other clues suggest that the number of Emirati personnel on Libyan soil has also increased. All of this indicates that Haftar’s coalition and its allies are going to try, once again, to achieve total victory by force.
  • Few international actors are willing to contradict the UAE, and while the GNA’s isolation grows, no Western government wants to exert any meaningful pressure on Haftar
  • During January and February, at least three cargo ships from Turkey delivered about 3,500 tons’ worth of equipment and ammunition each. The Turkish presence on Libyan soil currently comprises several hundred men. They train Libyan fighters on urban warfare with an emphasis on tactics to fend off armored vehicles. Against attacks from the sky, Ankara relies on electronic-warfare technology and a combination of U.S.– and indigenously developed air defense systems. Similar protection has been set up at the air base of Misrata, a powerful anti-Haftar city to the west of Sirte, which the LNA took on Jan. 6.
  • Notwithstanding its attempt to tap underwater hydrocarbons in the Mediterranean, Ankara has no intention of renouncing its commercial interests in Libya or its wider geopolitical aspirations in the rest of Africa.
  • To counter Turkey’s new intervention, the pro-Haftar government in eastern Libya formalized its alignment with the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad, allowing the LNA to purchase technical advice from Damascus using material and diplomatic rewards. A few hundred Syrian contractors hired from pro-Assad militias are now reportedly in Libya, on Haftar’s side
  • Because Turkey’s presence and its arsenal have made it difficult for the UAE to fly its combat drones anymore, the LNA and its allies have begun a relentless shelling campaign using Grad rockets and other projectiles. Such salvos on Tripoli don’t just hit legitimate military targets—they also hit civilians. Unguided rockets are inherently indiscriminate, and the pro-GNA camp can do almost nothing to prevent this kind of attack
  • a philosophy of collective punishment
  • the pro-Haftar camp has been imposing a $1.5 billion-a-month oil blockade on Libya since mid-January. Fuel shortages may soon become more widespread as a result. Suppression of the nation’s only dollar-generating activity is also a means of cutting off the internationally recognized Central Bank in Tripoli and potentially supplanting it with an LNA-friendly alternative where all oil-export proceeds would be captured going forward
  • Moscow’s intervention in Libya is far more mercurial. In the last three months of 2019, Kremlin-linked paramilitary company Wagner shifted the balance of the conflict by joining the fight alongside Haftar. Then, in early January, several days before President Vladimir Putin took part in a request for a Libyan ceasefire, the Russian contingent on the Tripoli front line suddenly became less active.
  • The dynamic between Ankara and Moscow is as much rooted in their common disdain for Europe as it is in mutual animosity. That means Russia could tolerate Turkey a while longer if it feels its interests would be better served by doing so. Such an ebb-and-flow approach amplifies Moscow’s influence and could eventually push the Europeans out of the Libyan theater altogether. Russia may just as easily change its mind and invest into helping the LNA deliver a resounding defeat to Erdogan
  • since late December, more than 4,000 Turkish-backed Syrian mercenaries have arrived in Tripoli and its surrounding area. Most of them are battle-hardened Islamist fighters who belong to three large anti-government militias. Turkey is also busy upgrading its fleet of combat drones scattered across northwest Libya
  • the UAE has sought to bring about the emergence in Tripoli of a government that is void of any influence from political Islam writ large. Because of this, Abu Dhabi will not accept a negotiated settlement with Erdogan’s Islamist government. Making matters worse, neither the United States nor any EU country is willing to use its own regional clout to stand in the Emiratis’ way. Therefore, regardless of whether that endangers a great number of civilian lives, the Libyan war is likely to continue escalating before any political resolution is seriously explored.
Ed Webb

After Soleimani | Newlines Magazine - 0 views

  • The Trump administration assassinated Soleimani to compel change in Iran’s behavior and to throw a wrench in the gears of Iran’s expansive regional influence. Twelve months is too short a period to measure its impact in the realms of longstanding policy and force posture. Outside of some signs of disunity among some of Iraq’s Shiite militias, not much has changed. The impact of Soleimani’s death is therefore impossible to accurately gauge. What we can say is that his death unleashed an emotional and political wave that has surged from his legacy. It is driven almost entirely by his benefactors in Tehran and clients across the region and it is fueled by their desire to shape the memory of the man, myth and legend they helped create.
  • To some, his death was small justice, an emphatic ending to the life of a man who served as the backbone of Assad’s brutal war against the Syrian people and facilitated the empowerment of corrupt, coercive militias in Yemen, Iraq, and Lebanon. To others, particularly his supporters and patrons, Soleimani was a hero: a leader in the war against ISIS and a champion of the Shiite Muslim minority.
  • To appreciate the complexity threaded throughout varying perceptions of Soleimani, it’s essential to understand what he symbolizes to Iran, to his military, and to the foreign groups he worked so closely with.
  • ...20 more annotations...
  • The 1979 revolution was fueled by both desperate frustration and an abundance of hope. Across the various ideologies and sentiments that shaped the revolutionary movement, there was a common desire to break Iran’s subservience to foreign powers. This desire is often described as anti-Americanism or even anti-imperialism, and while that accurately reflects the language used by the revolutionaries at the time, it is also a reductive view.
  • under the stewardship of Khomeini, the architect of Iran’s theocracy and first supreme leader, justice was perceived much more broadly. It was primarily about two things: establishing an Islamic system at home and overturning the U.S. dominated status quo in the region, with an emphasis on countering Israel.
  • Prior to the revolution, the Shah had situated Iran as a bulwark to the Soviet Union and the spread of communism. Iran’s regional relations were driven by Cold War considerations and by the Shah’s desire to transform Iran into the predominant power in the Persian Gulf.
  • The 1953 coup d’etat was just one in a string of indignities that had been eroding the Iranian national character since the 18th century. It also marked the United States’ entrance into the Middle East, and the beginning of the love-hate relationship between Washington and Tehran.
  • When war came to Iran, IRGC units were among the first to deploy. With little training and spare resources, their response was sporadic and innovative.What they lacked in capabilities and training, they compensated with zeal and fearlessness. Eventually the IRGC began to use the tactic of “human wave” assaults that showcased those qualities on the battlefield. IRGC forces would charge en masse into Iraqi defenses, overwhelming the defenders by being able to absorb mass casualties without relenting the advance. Iraqis fired until they ran out of ammunition and then were forced to retreat. The IRGC used this tactic to impressive effect, winning battle after battle and eventually forcing a full-scale Iraqi retreat in the summer of 1982
  • Whereas much of the region and foreign powers were supporting Iraq, Iran was virtually alone in fighting the war, with only Syria providing it any meaningful political support. The war ended as a stalemate in 1988. Iran saw itself as up against the world and it could not overcome the vast amount of support buttressing Saddam Hussein’s Iraq
  • as Khamenei’s main support base, the IRGC grew into a formidable political actor within Iran, and the primary strategic arm of the regime. Many of the young men who joined the IRGC during the war also rose to become commanders and officers with it. This included Soleimani, who became a rising star in the IRGC’s Quds Force division, which was responsible for all foreign activities and operations
  • the IRGC shot down a passenger jet, killing everyone on board. The narrative of the assassination was instantly overtaken by the grief and shock of the everyday Iranians who struggled to make sense of a preventable tragedy. Iran’s leaders attempted to skirt blame and cover up the IRGC’s catastrophic error. Family members who spoke out and demanded answers were cruelly silenced. Soleimani’s image was everywhere, yet justice was nowhere to be seen.
  • Iran knew that both Israel and the United States had to factor in potential attacks by Hezbollah were they ever to strike Iran, and Syria was the lynchpin for Iran’s sustained influence on the Lebanese organization. Syria was therefore key to Iran’s larger deterrence strategy vis-à-vis the United States and Israel
  • The irony of Soleimani’s successes in Syria and Iraq is that they prepared the ground for the rise of ISIS. The Islamic State’s explosion into Iraq should have been recognized as the product of Soleimani’s myopic view of Iraq and Syria as simply battlegrounds for Iran’s advancement. Yet, Soleimani and the IRGC seized the moment and self-consciously rebranded their enterprise. Iran was the first outside state to support Iraq’s war against ISIS, and Soleimani let the whole world know of his role. What appeared on social media as authentic and spontaneous pictures of Soleimani on the frontlines with Iraqi troops and commanders, was actually a deliberate effort by the IRGC to recast Soleimani’s image. He was no longer a shadow commander, but a MacArthur-esque figure almost single-handedly fighting the dark forces of ISIS. A national hero in Iran, and the savior of Iraq and Syria.
  • He was killed because he was important. He was killed because Iran was important.
  • The IRGC increased their investment in Soleimani after his death, using his persona to rebrand themselves and the regime to a new generation. Soleimani became the archetype of the Islamic Republic’s self-conception. His figure symbolizes how the regime desires to be seen by the Iranian people and by the world. Soleimani has been cast as brave, selfless and humble; a warrior, a believer and a patriot. His is a transnational community that connects Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen with Iran. He justifies Iran’s regional activities by casting them as an essential part of Iranian patriotism and national identity. To be Iranian in the narrative promoted by the regime is to be part of a larger Islamic enterprise. Not the umma or global Islamic community, but rather, the resistance: the militant groups and personalities who share the Islamic Republic’s enemies and its political aspirations.
  • mythologizing of Soleimani has not only been aspirational, it has also been driven by concerns within the IRGC that the regime is losing support and legitimacy among the Iranian people. This is particularly true for the younger generations, which know nothing of the Shah’s brutality, the sense of injustice that enveloped Iran during its war with Iraq, or the hope that accompanied President Khatami’s reformist platform in the 1990s. Instead, what they know is Iran’s 21st century experience, which has been one of near-constant antagonism and increasing privation.
  • the explosion of protests across Iran in 2018 and 2019. Iran has experienced episodic protest movements in the past, but these protests were different
  • The IRGC confronted the protests head-on and with unrelenting brutality. Using machine guns, tanks, and direct fire to murder Iranian youths in the streets and hunt them down in alleyways.
  • There was indeed something personal about Soleimani’s death. No matter what he represented, he was an Iranian. That he was singled out and murdered by a foreign power sat uncomfortably with most of his compatriots, regardless of their politics
  • It wasn’t until the U.S.-led 2003 invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq that Iran was provided an opportunity to change its regional position. Soleimani, who had by then become the leader of the IRGC’s Quds Force, saw opportunity and peril in the U.S. occupation of Iraq. Iran’s allies benefited from the end of the Baathist regime, but a longstanding U.S. military presence in Iraq was also a threat to Iran. Soleimani championed a policy that sought to exploit both the political landscape and the shadows of the new Iraqi frontier. He encouraged political participation of Iran’s Shiite allies while also developing an insurgent network that waged war against the U.S. and coalition forces, killing or maiming hundreds of servicemembers in the process. The effort was largely effective. When U.S. forces departed Iraq in late 2011, Soleimani’s clients were among the most powerful political actors in Iraq and Iran was the most influential outside power in the country.
  • Just as Apple carried on without Steve Jobs, the IRGC will retain the ability to manage its proxies and exert influence beyond Iran’s borders without Soleimani at the helm. The law of inertia also applies. Unless the IRGC and its proxies are challenged directly, momentum will carry them forward.
  • Both Lebanon and Iraq have been hit by intense protest movements over the last year, with much of the anger of the younger generations being aimed at the political elite and their foreign backers. Even though Iran’s influence has helped empower Shiite elites in each country, an increasing number of younger Shiites appear to have soured on Iran and blame it for their country’s morass. This is especially true in Iraq, where young Shiites make up the vast majority of the protest movement that has railed against government corruption and the political power of Iran-backed militias
  • while Soleimani helped expand Iranian influence in the region, that influence rests on shaky ground. The height of Iran’s influence — at least as presently expressed through the IRGC — has probably passed.
1 - 20 of 106 Next › Last »
Showing 20 items per page