Saturday, August 29, 2015

Two days of Libyan peace talks take place without one rival government sending representatives

Bernardino Leon, the UN Special Envoy to Libya resumed talks on forming a Government of National Accord in Skhirat Morocco even though one of two rival governments did not show up.
The talks are set to finalize what is now called the Libyan Political Agreement, that includes agreeing on the structure and main officials in a Government of National Accord. The GNC informed Leon that they would not attend the present round of talks. The GNC claimed that it needed to reconstruct its negotiating team after two of its members resigned. The GNC said that it was still committed to the dialogue process and would participate in the next session. Leon said that the UN Support Mission in Libya would intensify its contacts with stakeholders in the coming days to help create the final push towards peace.
A Reuters report suggests that there could be little prospect of progress without one of the main sides in the conflict present. This may not be true as the Tobruk government could discuss with other its choices for the prime minister and one deputy. The GNC could also submit names for the other deputy to be chosen by it and also its position on other issues in the annex. Leon insists that he thinks that he would be in a position to have a final agreement by Sept. 10. Delegates told the Libya Herald that the job of choosing the leaders of a new government would go on whether the GNC team was present or not. The president of the GNC had sent Leon a letter demanding that amendments suggested by the GNC be included in a final draft. Leon claims the draft cannot be amended since it has been initialed by other participants but that concerns of the GNC can be addressed during discussion of the annexes to the agreement. While the GNC rejected that route in earlier talks with Leon, it seems that it must now be reconsidering that stance as it has said that it will attend later rounds of the dialogue after it restructures it negotiating team.
This final push will no doubt include further threats against any who dare refuse to cooperate in implementing a non-agreement that only one of two rival governments accepted in the first place. There is no mention by Leon of the parallel military dialogue between forces loyal to the GNC Tripoli-based government and those of the Tobruk internationally-recognized government commanded by former CIA-asset Khalifa Haftar. Libya Dawn the main forces associated with the GNC reject the agreement. Even more ominously, Haftar also rejects the agreement even though his government accepts it. You would think this would result in an immediate firing of Hafter but any attempt to do this could result in a military coup. In fact, Haftarwould like Libya to be run by a military council. He rejects any ceasefire or negotiations with the Tripoli whom he regards as terrorists. Leon does not mention details such as this. His job is to push for formation of a unity government whose purpose is to legitimize foreign intervention in Libya.
The resignation of Saleh Makhzoum as head of the GNC delegation is reported by the Libya Herald the result of disagreement with president Nuri Abu Sahmain over the continued participation in the dialogue. The pro-GNC Libya Observer said no reason was given for the resignation although it was accepted by president Sahmain. Last week the First Deputy Speaker Abdul-Sadiq said that the GNC had decided to boycott the talks until Leon had ensured that the GNC proposed amendments would be included in the final draft. Even though the GNC decided it did not have that assurance and boycotted these talks it nevertheless claims that it will attend the next round. While all this goes on the Arab league is extending military aid to the Tobruk government and Khalifa Haftar, a subject of EU sanctions, signs a military aid agreement with Jordan. Without Haftar sidelined no political agreement is feasible but he continues on with help from Egypt, the UAE, and now Jordan.

Saudi-led bombing in Yemen exacerbates the humanitarian disaster

Hodeida - White House National Security Council spokesperson Alistair Baskey said that the US is very concerned over recent Saudi-led air strikes on the Yemeni port city of Hodeida in Yemen.
The port is used by the UN as a key entrance to deliver aid to areas of Yemen controlled by the Houthi rebels. The strikes that are supposedly aimed at the Houthi rebels in control of Hodeida, reportedly killed dock workers and damaged infrastructure needed for the port to function properly. Baskey said:"We are deeply concerned by the August 18 attack on critical infrastructure at the port of Hodeida in Yemen.The port is a crucial lifeline used to provide medicine, food and fuel to Yemen's population."Saudi bombing has before interfered with delivery of aid. In the capital the runway at the Sanaa airport was bombed to prevent an Iranian aid plane from landing. The Saudis suspected the plane carried military equipment. However, the bombing prevented UN aid planes from landing as well.
The bombing of Hodeida has been criticized also by the EU and the UN. A UN aid official told the UN Security Council that the attacks were 'in clear contravention of international humanitarian law'. Stephen O'brien who is head of UN aid said that the raids could severely impact an already deepening humanitarian crisis in Yemen. Almost 80 percent of Yemen's population of 26 million are now in need of aid with more than a million forced to leave their homes because of the conflict. After more than 150 days of conflict, nearly 4,500 have been killed since the Saudi-led air campaign began. Hospitals and rescue teams have been targeted making it too dangerous in some instances for medical aid agencies to help. At the same, medical facilities lack critical supplies. Even in Aden, recently retaken by forces loyal to the Hadi government-in-exile the situation is so bad that the Red Cross has withdrawn its personnel because of the security situation. Part of Aden is now under control of fighters from Al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula.
The UN health agency notes that nearly half of Yemen's health facilities have simply shut down leaving wounded civilians fewer and fewer places to receive treatment. In contested areas such as the central city of Taiz the situation is drastic. Dr. Ahmed Shadout of WHO said: “In Taiz, the ongoing crisis has led to the closure of many health facilities and access to health facilities for the injured civilians and doctors is almost becoming impossible; shortages of basic and lifesaving medicines, medical supplies, laboratory reagents in the health facilities are fast dwindling with limited access for replenishing,”Funds for WHO operations are meagre with the organization receiving only $25 million of $132 million it had requested.
The Saudis have targeted residential areas in some instances most recently in Taiz and Hodeida.The Saudis have also been accused of using cluster bombs in some bombing attacks. While there is an international treaty banning their use, neither the US nor Saudi Arabia have signed on to the treaty. A Pentagon official told US News that "the US is aware that Saudi Arabia has used cluster munitions in Yemen". The US considers the bombs a legitimate military weapon.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Al Qaeda in Arab Peninsula occupying parts of Yemeni port of Aden

A week ago, officials from exiled president's Mansour Hadi's government, claimed that Aden had been taken from Houthi rebels and that it would be the temporary capital for five years while the rest of the country was retaken from Houthi rebels.
So far, the Hadi government is still mainly located in Ryadh Saudi Arabia. Saudi-led bombing and supply of ground forces loyal to Hadi have forced the Houthis out of much of southern Yemen. The Houthis still control the capital Sanaa and many other areas. However, there has been an ominous development in Aden as Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula(AQAP) has taken control of a western sector of the port city. What is even more surprising is that there were no reports of any major battles with the group. AQAP has raised its flag over a number of government buildings including the port complex. A CBC report indicates that AQAP controls important areas of the city according to local officials:Fighters took Tawahi district, home to a presidential palace and Aden's main port, and were patrolling the streets flying black banners, the officials said Saturday. The militants also took parts of Crater, Aden's commercial centre, and parts of the town of Dar Saad, just north of Aden, including an army base that their fighters turned into a training camp, they added.
The officials from the military spoke anonymously. A Yemeni government spokesperson refused to comment. In Tawahi, AQAP destroyed the main security building on Saturday a site they have been trying to destroy for years. A high-ranking military official claimed that authorities in Aden had given weapons supplied by the Saudis and allies to AQAP in March and April during the drive to oust the Houthis from Aden. AQAP also captured many weapons as they have taken more territory.
While the US has continued drone attacks against AQAP, neither the Saudis nor their allies have fought with AQAP in any significant way. AQAP has been one of the most effective forces countering the Houthi advance, often in alliance with local tribes. They have taken control of a large swath of territory during the civil war, taking the port of Mukalla, the capital of Hadrahmut province east of Aden. While the US makes battling AQAP a priority, the Hadi government and the Saudis appear to see them as allies in the fight against the Houthis first and foremost, even though when in power his government faced constant attacks from AQAP as they waged guerilla warfare against his regime..

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Libyan peace dialogue to resume on Thursday August 27

Bernardino Leon, UN special envoy for Libya, who directs the peace dialogue, has said, after two days of talks earlier in Geneva, that he wants to reach agreement on the fifth draft of a peace agreement by the end of August.
The Libya Observer, that favours the Tripoli-based General National Council(GNC) government and the Libya Herald that usually favours the internationally-recognized House of Representatives(HoR) based in Tobruk both report that talks, scheduled to start on Monday 24, will instead begin this Thursday 27 in Skhirat Morocco.
Apparently the dialogue was postponed until Thursday after a request from the HoR to hold further discussions on the agreement and Government of National Accord or unity government. According to the Libya Observer, Leon met on Saturday with a 12 member delegation from the HoR to review the formation of the proposed government. Leon reaffirmed his view that international military support to Libya could only be done through the unity government proposed in the peace agreement. Several countries are already planning intervention in Libya and are just waiting to obtain permission from the new government that is supposed to unify the country. Earlier, Leon tried to form the government without one of the two rival governments signing the peace agreement. However, before the Geneva talks he was able to convince the GNC to attend with promises that the final agreement would incorporate amendments they suggested and deal with GNC concerns.
After the GNC delegates returned and discussed Leon's proposed mechanism for dealing with their concerns the GNC vowed not to attend the new talks unless they received written assurances that their amendments would be incorporated in the final draft. It is clear that so far Leon and the HoR take the position there can be no amendments. The dialogue is to go ahead on the basis of the draft that the GNC has consistently rejected since back in July. The fifth draft removes powers given to the GNC by the fourth draft. Amendments were made without the knowledge or approval of the GNC but as demanded by the HoR.
It appears that Leon, as before, might be going ahead without the GNC signing on to the process. He is meeting in Cairo with the 12 Tobruk delegates and also the Egyptian Foreign Minister, Sameh Shourky. Egypt is a big supporter of Khalifa Haftar the former CIA asset who now heads the Tobruk armed forces. The Egyptian foreign ministry voiced its support for the peace agreement after the July talks which ended in parties initialling the agreement in the absence of the GNC delegates. The ministry claimed that it showed the positive attitude of those who initialled the agreement. To me it showed that the foreign powers who call the shots want a unity government to go ahead whether a main party to the dispute agrees or not.
Another important diplomat is in Cairo taking part in all these talks US State Department Special Envoy for Libya Jonathan Winer. Winer will discuss coordination between Egypt and the US to solve issues related to Libya including fighting terrorism and combating illegal immigration. Libya (HoR) government and Egypt have been pressing the UN to lift the arms embargo on Libya, and also impose a naval blockade on areas not controlled by the HoR, also to help build the Libyan army commanded by General Haftar.
Haftar may be a thorn in the side of the plans for a unity government. The planned unity government would see him sidelined as commander in chief of the armed forces. Haftar rejects the agreement and has said numerous times that he would never talk to or sign a ceasefire with the Tripoli militia whom he regards as terrorists. The Tripoli militia also reject the agreement. Leon stresses that there must be a military agreement parallel to the political agreement but gives no reports on what he is doing if anything on that issue.
Haftar and his air force chief have been named by the EU as subject to sanctions for their actions against the peace process. Haftar laughed the sanctions off. Well he should as he just recently signed a military agreement with Jordan as one of the moves by the Arab League to help Libya fight terrorists. For Haftar terrorists are not just the Islamic State but also the forces of the rival Tripoli government. Apparently Leon does not know what is going on when he claims that military support for Libya can only be through the proposed unity government. This is pure fantasy to accompany rhetoric of support for the process emanating from his bosses. In reality military support is going to Libya but only to the Haftar forces courtesy of some Arab League countries including Jordan and Egypt. It is going to a commander who is sanctioned by the EU. The US and EU can stand back and pat themselves on the back and claim they are not choosing sides in the civil war. This is pure poppycock.
I just received a message from a Facebook friend in the UK whose father is active in Libyan politics. Apparently there have been exchanges of messages between the president of the GNC Nouri Abusahmain and Leon. The president said that he "appreciates the smooth flow of increasing numbers of letters" between the two. He noted that the letters say how important the dialogue is but still are not addressing the concerns that the GNC had brought forth in an earlier meeting in Algiers. Thanks to my friend for translating part of the letter from the Arabic.It remains to be seen if as in the last dialogue round the GNC is convinced to go at the last minute by Leon.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Turklsh president Erdogan risks civil war in hopes of winning majority in elections

While Turkey is facing huge economic problems and increasing civil strife, President Recep Erdogan seems intent on creating more conflict in order to boost his chance of forming a majority in an election that is expected to be called soon.
According to an article in the Independent, Erdogan is being encouraged by his prime minister:Egged on by a delusion of neo-Ottoman grandeur, created by his former foreign minister and now prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, Erdogan has been intent on creating what many see as his own caliphate, but was blocked in the June election by the Kurdish HDP (Peoples’ Democratic Party).
While Turkey recently agreed to join the battle against the Islamic State and has allowed the US to use a Turkish base for bombing raids into Syria and Iraq, at the same time Erdogan has mounted an offensive against the Kurdish Worker's Party(PKK) in Iraq and also Turkey as described in a recent Digital Journal article.
The HDP achieved a breakthrough in June elections winning 80 of the 550 seats in the Turkish parliament and depriving Erdogan of the votes needed to amend the Turkish constitution so as to give the president more executive power. Erdogan has been trying unsuccessfully to form a coalition government. It appears now that he will instead try to ramp up nationalist sentiment to ensure that he has a majority in elections that may be called in November.
Erdogan has completely changed his direction on the Kurdish question. In 2005 Erodgan was the first Turkish leader to openly acknowledge that there was a Kurdish problem in Turkey. Secret talks were held between Turkish intelligence and the PKK regarded in Turkey as a terrorist organization. The imprisoned leader of the PKK called for a ceasefire two years ago. There was even a ten-point peace plan agreed to by the government and the PKK the end of February this year. Yet, by mid-March Erdogan was again claiming Turkey never had a Kurdish problem and in July after the election he turned his back on the agreement. Now with recent bombings and revenge attacks by the PKK the whole peace process is in tatters.
While Erdogan resides in luxury in his new palace the Turkish economy is going down the drain. The Turkish lira is daily hitting new lows against the US dollar as confidence in the government wanes as it becomes clear that Erdogan will not form a coalition government and intends to ramp up the battle against the Kurds in order to discredit the Kurdish party that thwarted his ambition to change the constitution. Erdogan is willing to foster civil strife in the hopes that Turkish nationalist sentiment will rise giving him the majority he wants in the next elections. None of this impresses potential investors in Turkey, who want stability now and a solution to the Kurdish problem.
Violence and conflict between the Turkish government and the PKK has been escalating. At the Dolmabahce Palace in Istanbul assailants tossed a grenade at a guard and then opened fire sparking a gun battle in the middle of Turkey's largest city. In another attack in a southeastern province 8 soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb. The attack was blamed on the PKK.
In another development the PKK announced that it has formed a democratic autonomous region in Dersim province. It established checkpoints on the main road in the province last Tuesday. The group released a video showing PKK fighters controlling the road and searching vehicles. In the video, a PKK fighter claims that under the right of self-defense the group had declared democratic autonomy for the region. Warfare has already begun in Silopi, a remote southeastern city as masked militants and Turkish security forces join battle in the city. Silopi is on a border where Turkey, Syria, and Iraq meet. The majority of the estimated 15 million Kurds in Turkey live mostly in cities throughout southeastern Turkey. Militants are taking the battle from attacks on remote military outposts to urban neighbourhoods in Kurd majority areas creating a situation that begins to look more and more like a civil war in some areas. The lust for power has changed Erdogan from being a reformer who appeared to be leading Turkey forward to become a stable, democratic, inclusive country into an autocrat willing to risk creating chaos and ethnic strife with the sole purpose of creating more political power for himself and his cronies. The appended video gives the Russian view on the situation.


Friday, August 21, 2015

German firm takes over 14 privatized Greek airports

The Greek government gazette reveals that a German company Fraport AG has been given the rights to operate 14 regional airports. Fraport AG also runs the Frankfurt airport in Germany among others.
This is just the first of many expected privatization moves as agreed to as part of the bailout deal. Syriza the major party in the Greek coalition government had opposed such privatizations during the election campaign but now has agreed to an extensive program that will be overseen by technical staff from the lenders. Several of the airports are on popular tourist islands.
The deal represents the first privatization decision since the signing of Greece's third bailout deal worth 86 billion euros. Far from being able to repeal the austerity conditions and privatization programs of the earlier bailout deals, the new deal contains an even more extensive and more controlled privatization program than the first two deals and imposes even harsher austerity conditions. Rather than face a bankruptcy and a possible Grexit, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras agreed to almost every bailout condition that he had earlier opposed. The airport deal will yield 1.23 billion euros or about $1.37 billion US. Several of the airports are on islands that are popular tourist destinations.
The bailout deal needs approval in a number of Europeans countries. It has already been approved in Spain and Estonia. Germany approved the deal by a vote of 454 in favour, 113 against, and 18 abstentions. The bailout agreement will release 13 billion euros just a day before Greece must pay 3.2 billion euros to the European Central Bank. Much of the bailout money will simply be recycled back to the lenders as loan payments. When the agreement was announced on August 11th the Greek stock market rallied. Last Friday, when Tsipras was able to have the agreement ratified in parliament dozens of Syriza party members voted against the deal. Tsipras may call for a vote of confidence in the government this week.
While many economists and the IMF believe that the deal is not workable unless there is further debt relief including a possible write down of some Greek debt, in the short term the provisions will provide ample opportunity for private corporations, many outside of Greece, to buy public assets at fire sale prices. Assets for sale include the national lottery, the port of Piraeus, and large land areas on islands such as Corfu. Privatizing assets such as the national lottery will generate a one time cash injection into government coffers but deprive the government of a reliable and constant revenue stream in the future. That revenue stream will enrich whatever corporation purchases the port.

Tripoli-based General National Congress government to boycott scheduled Libya peace talks

The Tripoli-based General National Congress(GNC) government has decided that it will not attend upcoming dialogue talks that will be held to further implementation of an agreement on the formation of a Government of National Accord.
The dialogue process has been directed by the UN special envoy to Libya, Bernardino Leon. Two days of dialogue last week brought all the parties together after the GNC had received assurances from Leon that its suggested amendments to the draft agreement would be incorporated in any final agreement. While the meetings ended on a positive note with no parties leaving until the end, the GNC remains unconvinced that its proposed amendments will be included in any final draft. Until Leon provides such assurance, the GNC will boycott upcoming meetings to further the implementation of the agreement.
The latest fifth draft of the agreement is an amended version of the fourth draft and includes amendments supported by the internationally recognized House of Representatives(HoR) government based in Tobruk. The amendments remove powers that the GNC had in the earlier draft. Even though the changes caused the GNC to walk out of dialogue talks, Leon went ahead and had others including the HoR initial the agreement in July. So far Leon has not agreed to any further amendments and has tried to convince the GNC that its concerns can be met during discussion of the annexes to the agreement that involve formation of the government and implementation of the agreement. Earlier in meetings with Leon the GNC had rejected that approach. First Deputy President of the GNC, Awad Abdul-Sadiq, said:"The GNC has made a lot of concessions to stop bloodshed and solve the crisis, if the UNSMIL head Leon didn't give a chance for inclusion of all GNC amendments, I would hold the UNSMIL and its chief responsible for the failure of the dialogue which then will not be binding."
There is supposed to be a parallel military dialogue alongside the political dialogue. The UN envoy often reports little or nothing as to what is happening. There is nothing on the United Nations Support Mission in Libya(UNSMIL) site about the GNC refusal to participate in upcoming meetings. There is nothing about when the meetings will be held either. They will probably be held in Skhirat Morroco, the site of earlier meetings. On the military dialogue there is complete silence even though without agreement of the Tripoli militia Libya Dawn and the armed forces of the HoR government commanded by CIA-linked General Khalifa Haftar, no political agreement can be implemented. Haftar calls the Tripoli militia terrorists and will not negotiate with them or agree to a ceasefire. Both he and the Libya Dawn militia have rejected the peace agreement. The HoR government has accepted it.
There is no reporting on what is happening with the dialogue process. Press attention is all on the Islamic State(IS) and its supposed threat. However, IS has recently suffered a huge setback in the loss of its first and main base in the city of Derna. They were driven out by rival Islamists into the surrounding area. While IS occupies Sirte, it is hardly expanding its territory after recent gains and is now plagued by uprisings by Sirte citizens, which it put down with great brutality apparently. The issue of what is happening in the dialogue has disappeared from press radar for now. There could be some fanfare should Leon reconvene the dialogue participants without the GNC delegates. The best that could happen now is that Leon is able to find a way to accommodate GNC concerns so that all the participants gather in Skhirat. Leon hopes to finalize the agreement by the end of this month.

Fierce fight in Yemen for key city of Taiz as Houthi rebels lose ground

Although early reports claimed forces loyal to the Yemen government-in-exile had retaken Taiz, it appears only parts of the city are under their control.
Taiz is the third largest city in Yemen and has been called "the gateway to Sanaa," the capital which is still occupied by the Houthi rebels. An entire 24 hours of fighting has killed at least 81 people, 50 Houthis and 31 loyal to the Saudi-based government-in-exile of President Hadi. The civilian toll in the fighting is unknown. The loyalists are backed by Saudi air strikes. The city has been contested for some time.
Recent reports indicate the loyalist forces captured intelligence headquarters in the city and also command a mountaintop nearby that they had captured earlier. However, Houthis and their allies are said to still occupy two military bases in the city. With the advance of the Saudi-supported forces throughout the south following the capture of Aden, the country increasingly looks to be divided between a north held by Houthis and their allies and the south that is held by forces loyal to the Hadi government. Many of the local militia in the south fighting the Houthis belong to the Southern Movement that will demand more autonomy or even independence for the south. In the past the south was a separate state the Republic of South Yemen with unification taking place in May 1990. The Saudi-led coalition has provided forces supporting Hadi modern heavy equipment, including tanks and armoured personnel carriers. Some Yemeni soldiers have been trained in Saudi Arabia.
The governor of the recaptured southern port city of Aden said that the city would be declared the capital of Yemen for the next five years. He also said it would be the focus of reconstruction in that period. This declaration has led some analysts to wonder if the Hadi government considers that it may take a half decade to regain control of the northern areas and the capital. The southern movement may attempt to convince the Hadi government that the south should be independent again. When in power, Hadi had been in conflict with the southern movement. The southern movement militia may not have the same agenda as the Hadi government-in-exile.
So far the civil war has killed more than 4,300 people, many civilians. It has spread disease and hunger throughout the country creating a humanitarian disaster. Recent bombings have resulted in more civilian casualties.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Baghdad and Kurdish autonomous zone in Iraq feuding over oil again

In spite of a deal with the Iraqi government last December, the Kurdish autonomous government in Iraq is selling oil independently of the Baghdad government.
Last year, when the Kurds sold oil independently of the central government, the federal government froze all payments to the Kurdish autonomous government. The Baghdad government also took legal action resulting in a tanker anchored off Galveston, Texas for months waiting to unload only to leave after a court found in favour of the Baghdad government's claim to the oil.
The Baghdad government has been very slow and stingy in disbursement of funds from exported oil to the Kurdistan government. With lower oil prices both governments are strapped for cash. The Kurds insist they must export their own oil because of the huge costs of fighting the Islamic State and the lack of funds coming from Baghdad. Jordan Perry, lead Iraq consultant with Verisk Maplecroft a UK-based risk consultancy firm said: “It’s quite a provocative step. Baghdad will not look kindly on that, and it’s entirely possible that it could return to the kind of legal challenges that we have seen in the past year.”
In the December deal, the central government agreed the Kurds could ship up to 550,000 barrels a day through a pipeline that connects the autonomous region with the Turkish port of Ceyhan. The Kurds expected this to yield them about $1 billion (US) a month. However, with the price of oil continuing to fall, payments have never been more than $450 million a month. While the Kurds recognize that Baghdad has its own financial problems they complain that the central government has not been transparent and open about the basis for its disbursements. The Kurds have become more and more irritated and frustrated with Baghdad. Falah Bakir, the Kurdistan Autonomous Region's(KRG) minister of foreign relations said: “If Baghdad has problems, then it has to be transparent and open with the KRG. What hurts the region is if Baghdad unilaterally decides to cut [payments] without any consultation.”
The dispute with the central government will encourage those within Kurdistan who want to create an independent state in areas that Kurds control in the north. Kurdistan is now exporting about 600,000 barrels of oil a day itself. This amount was confirmed Turkish Minister of Natural Resources, Taner Yildiz,in a recent interview. Yildiz predicted that exports would soon reach one million barrels per day. One of the achievements of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi had been to improve relations with the Kurds after years of acrimony by reaching the oil deal. Now with the collapse of the deal the two governments are again in conflict.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Planned Syrian Safe Zone still not clearly defined

Ever since the U.S. and Turkey announced an agreement that would see Turkey fight the Islamic State(IS) and grant the U.S. use of a Turkish air base to launch attacks, there has also been talk of a "safe zone" in northern Syria along the Turkish border.
The zone is to be a little more than 60 miles long. Now many weeks later it is still not clear who will be in power in the zone, how it can be kept safe, or even how it can happen given that both Turkey and the U.S. have ruled out using ground troops. Rebel groups will be the proxy force used to capture and run the zone. However, Al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front has ruled out any cooperation with the plan and announced it will withdraw from its front lines with IS in the area. The Front is angry at the continued U.S. bombing of its positions. It has also attacked U.S.-trained rebels who now have refused to fight back against the group. Many rebel groups are incensed that the U.S. attacks the Front. It is not only battling with IS but also contributes key fighters against Assad in many areas.
Originally it was thought the zone would include a lot of IS territory but more recently suggestions are that more of the safe zone will border areas controlled by Kurds. This seems incongruous because Kurds are fighting the IS and Kurdish-controlled areas are relatively peaceful. There seems no need for a buffer zone between their areas and Turkey. Such a safe zone would become part of the Turkish battle against the Kurds. It is not clear that the U.S. would cooperate in creating such a zone. Many local people in areas rumoured to be in the "safe zone" regard talk of the zone as empty promises that will not work. They see a continued bombing campaign.
Analyst Yezid Sayigh of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut agrees with the locals: “I don’t think we will see anything approaching what even resembles a safe zone. If you’re going to have significant numbers of people sheltering in the zone, you’ll need various things — like electricity, fuel, water tanks, piping, clinics.” Neither Turkey nor the U.S. are drawing up plans for these large humanitarian and reconstructions projects. Instead they are launching a PR campaign for what he claims is an unworkable project.
According to international law safe zones are neutral areas where civilians are guaranteed protection. American officials envision a zone 68 miles long and 40 miles deep that would reach the outskirts of Aleppo. It would be a staging area for US-backed rebels to attack the Islamic State. This would obviously not be a safe zone as ordinarily understood. The plan also ignores that there are few US-backed rebels left. Most rebel groups receive no U.S. aid and are not on good terms with the US since the rebels main aim is not to fight IS or the Nusra Front but Assad forces.
The U.S. officials said the zone would not be declared a protected area. Turkey wanted the zone to serve as a refuge for Syrian refugees and prevent the continued influx of refugees into Turkey itself. If rebel attacks are being launched from the zone refugees would hardly be safe from attack.
Turkey wants part of the zone to be policed by a radical Islamist group, Ahrar al-Sham, that cooperates with the Nusra Front. The U.S. is unlikely to agree to this. Aaron Stein of the Atlantic Council Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East says:“The plan is nebulous. The area is huge; it’s not well-defined. There may be local governance structures set up” in the zone but it’s not a textbook safe zone.”Given that the area will be a staging ground for attacks on IS, the role of organizations providing aid to refugees will be complicated. Refugees will no doubt continue to flood into Turkey to avoid what will be a battle zone. The appended video has U.S. officials denying there is even any agreement on the zone in contrast to reports from Turkey.
The outlines of the zone have been talked about since late in July. The original plan involved driving the IS out of a 68-mile-long area west of the Euphrates River into the province of Aleppo. The area would come under control of the Syrian opposition. Clearly it is not a "safe zone." The area would not be a no-fly zone but the US has already announced that it will attack any group that attacks US-trained rebel groups. However, those troops are few in number at present and obviously other rebel groups would be required to control the area. The plan would result in IS losing control of all border crossings into Turkey and help stop the influx of foreign fighters. The plan could also bring the U.S. in direct conflict with Assad forces should the US defend the area against Assad bombing or other attacks.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Geneva Libya dialogue talks end on positive notes with all sides present

After meeting for two days at the UN offices in Geneva, participants in the latest round of the Libyan Political Dialogue concluded discussions yesterday. Bernardino Leon, the UN special representative to Libya, presided over the talks.
At first, it appeared the dialogue would take place without the presence of one of the main rival governments, the General National Congress(GNC) government located in Tripoli. At the last moment, the GNC decided to send delegates after Leon assured them in a letter that the amendments they wanted in the draft would be considered at the meeting. The main purpose of the meeting originally was to deal with annexes to the draft that other parties have initialed. Leon, to his credit, was able to hold two days of talks without any party leaving in a huff, as often has happened in the past.
As often is the case, the UN news release radiates optimism:The talks were held in a positive atmosphere, with the different parties emphasising the need to set aside partisan agendas and uphold Libya’s higher national interests. The parties reiterated their conviction that there can be no alternative to peace in Libya outside this dialogue process, which sets the framework for a comprehensive political settlement that is achieved through consensus.The parties have a target date of concluding the dialogue process within the next three weeks. This would lead to the parties adopting what is being called the Libyan Political Agreement. The release said that this would be followed by "its formal endorsement at the beginning of September." Typically, the release does not give the critical information as to who is required to give formal endorsement. Is it the two rival parliaments as the GNC understands it or just the internationally-recognized HoR government in Tobruk, as the HoR side understands and in accordance with the terms of the draft agreement as it is now?
The news release notes the importance of what is called the security track of the dialogue. The only progress so far has been Leon meeting with some Misrata military commanders without notifying or getting the approval of the Tripoli general staff. This appears a clear attempt to split the Tripoli military. He was also to meet with unspecified members of the Tobruk forces in Cairo. He never reported back. The news release fails to note that Libya Dawn the main Tripoli militia rejected the agreement as did the Tobruk head of the armed forces Khalifa Haftar and the head of the air force. Haftar has often said that the Tripoli militia are terrorists and that he will not sign a ceasefire with them or even talk to them. The EU has named Haftar and his air force commander along with several associated with Tripoli to be sanctioned. Haftar claims not to care. The parties are now told they should ensure their military officials "commence consultations with the United Nations Support Mission in Libya and provide their inputs on ways of operationalizing the security arrangements outlined in the Libyan Political Agreement." Given that the armed forces of both governments do not even accept the agreement it is not clear how the politicians can do this. If either legislature tries to fire those military commanders opposed to the agreement the end result could be a military coup.
Although the GNC has insisted that there should be amendments to the draft before they would consider the annexes and choosing of prime minister and two deputies, the Libya Observer, a pro-Tripoli news outlet, has now used rather different language.The head of GNC dialogue team Saleh Al-Makhzoom told reporters following the talks that his team had received a formal letter from the head of UNSMIL Bernardino Leon explaining a mechanism for inclusion of GNC amendments in the UNSMIL draft.
"Our team will return to Tripoli to discuss this mechanism."
There was no mention of amendments in the UNSMIL release. The Observer also takes the annoying tack of not explaining what this mechanism might be. Before the UN had suggested that GNC concerns could be incorporated in discussing the annexes. The GNC had rejected that idea. The obvious mechanism for incorporating amendments into a draft is through amending the draft. However, the HoR and others are against that. The pro-Tobruk Libya Herald insists there will be no amendments and that the GNC was told that by Leon.
There are three main concerns of the GNC according to the Herald. First, are the decisions of the HoR since it began in August of last year. These decisions include the naming of Haftar as commander of the HoR armed forces. There is no way the GNC or many other would accept Haftar as the commander of the armed forces. The agreement does not envision this in any case but if all HoR decisions are legal there would be a conflict that the HoR could decide in favor of Haftar and no doubt if things get that far Haftar would insist on this. The GNC is also concerned about the appointment of rival heads of the neutral sovereign institutions, the National Oil Company and the Central Bank of Libya. Finally, the GNC would like to see the State Council in which the GNC would have a majority to have some real power in the new government. Its role under the present draft is advisory but under the earlier legislation HoR legislation could be blocked by a majority vote against it in the State Council. The Libya Herald sums up the situation as follows:According to other delegates in Geneva yesterday, it had been given assurances by Leon that its concerns could be addressed in the annexes to the Draft, still to be worked out.The GNC team returns to Tripoli today, armed with a letter from Leon, to explain the situation and await a vote on whether it can rejoin the next set of talks, to be held again in the Moroccan resort of Skhirat.These will work out and approve the annexes that will also contain the names of the new prime minister, two deputy prime ministers and other members of the government.
Leon tried before to convince the GNC that its concerns could be addressed through discussion of the annexes to the agreement. The GNC had rejected this and according to reports had demanded amendments in a letter to Leon and had been assured they would be incorporated in the final draft. Now it seems that there indeed will be no amendments to the final draft but some "mechanism" by which they will be incorporated. It remains to be seen if this "mechanism" will meet the approval of the GNC government and convince them to continue in the talks to resume soon in Skhirat, Morocco.

US-trained rebels in Syria refuse to fight against Al-Qaeda-linked Al Nusra Front

Most Syrian rebel groups have as their first priority defeat of the Assad government. However, they will defend themselves against other more radical Islamist rebel groups if they are attacked which has happened with the Islamic State and Al Nusra front.
The US policy has been to emphasize first and foremost the battle against the Islamic State in Syria. The result is not only outright tension between US trained and supported groups but even attacks on them by other rebels. The most recently trained group of rebels was attacked and routed by the Al Nusra front. The US program to train and equip rebels to fight IS began in May. Early on in the U.S.-led bombing campaign against IS back in November of 2014 the Al-Qaeda-linked Al Nusra Front has been a target as well with disastrous results as far as US relationships with other rebel groups is concerned. The US has continued this policy even though the Al Nusra Front itself has fought against IS and is also a key force fighting Assad in areas such as Aleppo.
The rebels trained by the US are now refusing to fight back against the Al Nusra front insisting they were told that they were to fight IS. Fighting against the Front not only exposes them to the type of devastating attack they have just recently suffered but will bring down the wrath of other rebel groups upon them. The US view must be that whoever pays the piper calls the tune.
Back in May, Al-Nusra leader Abu Al-Golani said that the Front had no plans to target the West but said its options were open should the Americans continue attacks against them. Every group he noted has the right to defend themselves. He described the rebels supported by the US as "the arms" of the US government in Syria. The recent attack caused the US supported group not only to abandon their base but, as mentioned, to refuse to fight back. In recent months the Front defeated two other Western-back rebel groups forcing them to disband. The US push to form an effective proxy force on the ground to battle IS is in complete disarray.
The US has recently upped its involvement in Syria by declaring that they will bomb any group whether Assad or rebel forces that attack US-backed rebels. This is unlikely to have any effect except to turn the vast majority or rebel forces even more against the US. The US first bombed Al-Nusra front last September causing outrage among almost all rebel groups. The Nusra Front has taken further steps to complicate US policy in Syria by withdrawing its forces fronting the Islamic State in areas that Turkey and the US plan to be a "safe zone" on the border with Turkey. The Front said the decision was taken to avoid cooperating with the US-Turkish plan to create a safe zone in northern Aleppo province along the Turkish border.

US angry at Turkish bombing of PKK Kurds in Iraq

Recently relations between the U.S. and Turkey seemed greatly improved as Turkey joined the battle against the Islamic State and allowed U.S. planes to use a Turkish air base to launch operations against the Islamic State.
However, at the same time as Turkey joined the battle against the Islamic State, it also began attacks against the Kurdish Kurdistan Workers' Party(PKK) group in northern Iraq and within Turkey. A ceasefire between the PKK and Turkey is shattered and Turkey now faces attacks within Turkey from both the PKK and the Islamic State as well as other radical groups.Turkey has been in conflict with the PKK since the early 1980s but is also attacking a different Kurdish group in northern Syria, the YPG.
A Turkish pro-Kurd party did very well in recent Turkish elections and President Recep Erdogan's party lost its majority. Erdogan is now using the internal attacks and the battle against IS and the PKK as a means of building up support. Polls show the strategy to be working as he is building up enough support to again win a majority government should he call a snap election. So far he has been unable to form a coalition government. However, Erdogan risks plunging Turkey into a period of increasing unrest and violence as well as creating tension with allies such as the United States.
U.S. military leaders are very worried about the Turkish military strikes against Iraqi Kurdistan. There are U.S. forces in the area who are training Kurdish Peshmerga. The bombing can only strain relations between the U.S. and the Kurds who are key allies in the U.S. battle against the Islamic State. The U.S. refuses to tell Turkey exactly where its troops are in Kurdistan but has listed large areas the Turks should avoid bombing. However, Turkey has responded by giving the U.S. 10 minutes advanced notice when its planes are headed into the area, warning them to get out of the way. A Turkish strike on July 24th in Iraq caused concern in the Combined Air and Space Operation the allied headquarters in the war against the Islamic State as they had such short notice of what would happen.
Although there are growing international calls to return to the ceasefire with the PKK that lasted for two years, Erdogan has stepped up attacks with 17 different strikes the other day. PKK leaders recently expressed support for a return to the ceasefire. Erdogan however said Turkey will continue a relentless war until there is not one Kurdish terrorist left in the country. There is almost no chance of that happening. What Erdogan really hopes for is another majority government in the near future. He can continue his authoritarian and counter-productive crackdown on opposition forces as well as complicate relations with Turkish allies.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Former president of anti-nuclear Iran group resigns and supports deal

Dr. Gary Samore, president of United Against Nuclear Iran(UANI), a lobby and education group whose aim is to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, has resigned as he now supports the deal.
The UANI describes itself as: "..a non-profit, non-partisan education and advocacy group aimed at preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. An outspoken and tireless advocate for implementation of a robust sanctions regime against Iran, UANI has been at the vanguard of efforts to ensure that any U.S. agreement with Iran is solidly in the national security interests of the United States and precludes Tehran's efforts to develop nuclear weapons. "Dr. Samor believed the UANI should support the new deal but take on the role of monitoring its implementation to ensure Iran is in compliance with its terms.
This position was obviously not acceptable to the group and sponsors such as Sheldon Adelson, a billionaire funder of the organization. Adelson insists the U.S. should get tougher on Iran. At one time he said: "You pick up your cell phone and you call somewhere in Nebraska and you say 'OK, let it go' and so there’s an atomic weapon goes over, ballistic missiles in the middle of the desert that doesn’t hurt a soul, maybe a couple of rattlesnakes and scorpions or whatever." This is all meant to show the U.S. is serious about Iran not producing nuclear weapons. He suggested the US even threaten to drop a nuclear bomb on Iran.
To replace Dr. Samore, the UANI has appointed former US Senator Joseph Lieberman to serve as chair of the group. Lieberman is expected to play a key role in pointing out the shortcomings in the deal with Iran. Lieberman has long been an avid supporter of Israel and also was one of the signatories to a letter to the Obama administration outlining weaknesses in an earlier version of the nuclear deal with Iran. UANI CEO, Mark Wallace, said: "Senator Lieberman's foreign policy and national security expertise is highly respected and renowned around the world. We could have no better leader as the American people consider this flawed Iran agreement."Wallace was ambassador to the UN under the G.W. Bush administration.
Samore will remain as part of the UANI advisory board. Wallace praised his earlier work for the UANI and claimed that he still remained a friend of the group:"We thank Gary for his commitment, service, and leadership, both during his tenure at UANI and as President Obama's Coordinator for Arms Control and Weapons of Mass Destruction. Gary has been one of the premier experts skeptical of Iran's willingness to forgo a nuclear weapons capability, and his analysis has advanced the discourse on the challenge of preventing a nuclear-armed Iran."Wallace noted however that Dr. Samore supported the new agreement.
Dr. Samore was equally gracious given the situation:"I am proud to have been a part of UANI from its inception and the essential work UANI has done on the Iran nuclear issue, particularly in the area of sanctions and economic pressure. In these partisan times, UANI has been a bipartisan and thoughtful voice on these issues. If the nuclear agreement goes forward--as I believe it should--UANI will continue to play a critical role monitoring implementation and helping to maintain non-nuclear sanctions until Iran changes its behavior in these other areas."The UANI will go forward with continuing criticism of the deal under leadership that appears to be more aligned with hard line rejection of the agreement more in keeping with the Israeli position on the issue.

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