28.10.2017 Author: Viktor Mikhin

What awaits the Middle East Region?

Journal NEO Collage 8790

The writing is on the wall that if not today, then tomorrow, DAISH will meet its end as a terrorist group, and the Arab world and other peoples of the Middle East will again be faced with the question of their future. At the very least, at a meeting with the Head of State of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Russian President Vladimir Putin stated that the necessary conditions have actually been created for ending the fratricidal war in Syria, the final destruction of the terrorists and return of the Syrians to a peaceful life. According to the Russian leader, this is an absolutely fundamental thing that is important not only for the Syrian people and the region, but for the world as a whole. Roughly the same situation exists with the defeat of the terrorists on Iraqi territory, which is gradually going under the control of the central government in Baghdad.

Under these circumstances, everyone is interested in the issue of the return of Syria and Iraq to their former state borders, and whether there will be any new entities in which the Kurds in Syria or Iraq will play a major role. This is particularly true of Iraq, where a difficult situation has arisen between the Arabs and the Kurds, with the potential for a military explosion and the outbreak of civil war. Erbil, for example, has stated that he views the military operation of Iraqi forces in the province of Kirkuk as a declaration of war.

The obvious reality is that the dispute centers on the ownership of the Kirkuk oilfields, although there is also a whole complex of oil and gas processing facilities. So far, there has been no question of establishing control over the whole complex. It is likely that there will be a positional struggle concerning the economic and political bargaining over the ownership of the main oil infrastructure by the government in Baghdad or the Kurdistan government in Erbil. However, the events of recent days have developed in such a way that the Iraqi army and the Shiite armed forces have managed to enter Kirkuk practically without a fight. Here, as the Iraqi media has noted, the clan factor has played a huge role: the Sulaymaniyah Kurds have refused to fight for Masoud Barzani: they do not recognize him, and do not approve of the very idea of independence under his banner. And the Kurds of Kirkuk understood that this was not their city, and that the captured houses would have to be returned to the owners. The same television channel Al-Jazeera claims that the main winner in the retreat of the Kurdish self-defense detachments of the “peshmerga” from Kirkuk was DAISH. Its militants, who have recently been suffering defeat after defeat, have been able to occupy several villages without a fight.

The government in Baghdad, which has branded the Kurdish referendum a failure, is so confident in its forces that it has even called on the British transnational oil and gas company, BP, to assist in the development of the oilfields in the Kirkuk province. According to reports, Baghdad is attempting to double its oil production in Kirkuk to more than 1 million barrels per day.

However, a strong negative element in the region is the shameless policy of the United States, which, as usual, is trying to set one nation against another. Washington, which has a very well-defined sympathy for the Iraqi Kurds, has always embarked on a different course; one time encouraging the Kurds, the next time putting pressure on them. This was amply demonstrated in connection with the referendum on the independence of Iraqi Kurdistan: if, before it was conducted, Washington kept talking about the right of peoples to their independence, even citing a number of “historical” examples, then, the closer the deadline for the polling approached, the more rigid the American policy towards the Kurds became, to the extent that, ultimately, the American administration advised to refrain from referendum.

After the referendum, in which the Iraqi Kurds unanimously voted for their right to establish an independent Kurdish state, official Washington generally preferred to adopt a tacit position. However, the US soon responded with sharp warnings to Baghdad, although via statements made by individual senators. Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee John McCain even stated that Iraqi forces are using US weapons inappropriately to attack a “valuable” American partner, and opposed the fact that “Iraqi and Iranian forces became parties to the assault on Kirkuk.”

It should be recalled that, starting in the summer of 2014, the US deployed 5,000 soldiers to Iraq, with another 500 commandos illegally arriving in Syria. But now that the terrorist threat has been largely repelled, the United States Administration, as noted by the American media, needs to develop a diplomatic and strategic road map to maintain the United States military presence in Iraq and Syria. It is only natural that the fall of the Syrian Raqqa and the impending collapse of DAISH raise a number of questions about the future engagement of the United States military, including the question of whether to start combating the pro-Iranian armed groups located on the Syrian and Iraqi territories. “This is a widely discussed issue. So far, a conrete diplomatic path has not been worked out. The military does not want to undertake this task without a clear diplomatic plan,” remarked retired Marine Corps intelligence officer Ben Connable, who is involved in these cases.

Of course, there is no guarantee of a reasonable shift in the American strategy, writes the Iranian Kayhan, of the transition from reckless interventionism to diplomacy, restraint and regional self-reliance for reconciliation, which in turn will lead to immediate stability or an end to terrorism in Iraq and Syria. Such a shift could ensure that the resources of US taxpayers will be freed and can be used to protect vital national interests that are narrowly defined rather than scattered at costly and often counterproductive missions thousands of miles away from the United States coastline. It will also provide the regional powers with an incentive to manage their own future, and the United States a chance to reinvest in its own security and prosperity, avoiding further confusion abroad and contributing to the peaceful resolution of various conflicts in the Middle East region.

As for Russia, then, as Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov noted, they will continue encouraging the parties to agree on how to proceed, taking into account all the aspects of this situation, including those concerning the region, since the Kurdish problem is a matter of direct concern to not only Iraq, but also Iran, Syria and Turkey.

But what is needed now is not general words, but concrete initiatives and actions. And the nearest possible future will reveal who will be having these, and who can offer an effective method of resolving all the difficult moments in the Middle East.

Victor Mikhin, a corresponding member of RANS, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.

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