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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on June 15th, 2014
by Pincas Jawetz (pj@sustainabilitank.info)

 

The Second Iran-Iraq War and the American Switch

By Juan Cole, Informed Comment

13 June 14

 

SEE ALSO: Obama ‘Urgently’ Considering Air Assault on Targets in Syria and Iraq

ran has decided to intervene directly in Iraq and has already sent fighters to the front, according to the Wall Street Journal, based on Iranian sources. It is alleged that Iranian special forces have helped the Iraqi army push back in Tikrit, the birth place of Saddam Hussein that was overrun earlier this week by ISIS, which captured the city’s police force. These reports come on the heels of President Hassan Rouhani’s pledge on Thursday that Iran would not stand by and allow terrorists to take over Iraq. The hyper-Sunni Islamic State of Iraq and Syria fighters are closing in on a major Shiite shrine in Samarra and have pledge to take Baghdad, the capital, itself.

Iran has allegedly supplied small numbers of advisers and even hired Afghan fighters to the Syrian regime, and encouraged Lebanon’s Hizbullah to intervene in Syria to prevent the fall of Homs to Sunni extremists. These Iranian interventions in Syria did shore up the al-Assad regime and reverse rebel momentum. Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps may believe it can use the same tactics to roll back ISIS in Iraq. Iran is largely Shiite and has a Shiite religious ideology as the basis of the state. Iraq is 60% Shiite and the ruling government since 2005 has come from that community. Sunni Arabs in Iraq are probably only 17% or so, but had been the elite for most of Iraq’s medieval and modern history, until George W. Bush overthrew the predominantly Sunni Saddam Hussein regime and allowed the Shiites to come to power.

Iraqi Shiites predominate in Baghdad and parts south. Shiites are more like traditional Catholics in venerating members of the holy family and attending at their shrines. Contemporary Salafi Sunni Islam is more like the militant brand of Protestantism of the late 1500s that denounced intermediaries between God and the individual and actually attacked and destroyed shrines to saints and other holy figures, where pleas for intercession were made. The shrine in Samarra is associated with the 12th in the line of vicars of the Prophet Muhammad, called Imams in Shi’ism, Muhammad al-Mahdi, a direct descendant of the Prophet himself. Shiites have a special emphasis on a millenarian expectation that the Twelfth Imam will soon return to restore justice to the world (rather as Christians believe in the return of Christ). When the Samarra shrine was damaged by Sunni militants in 2006, it threw Iraq into civil war, in which 3000 civilians were being killed every month. Baghdad was ethnically cleansed by 2008 of most of its Sunnis, becoming a largely Shiite capital. ISIS wants to reverse that process. Baghdad was founded by the Abbasid caliphate, who claimed to be vicars of the Prophet, in 762 AD and is a symbol of the glories of early Islam. ISIS leaders are threatening also to destroy the shrine of Ali in Najaf and the shrine of Husain in Karbala (Najaf for Shiites is the equivalent of the Basilica of St. Peter for Catholics).

The specter of Iranian troops on Iraqi soil can only recall the first Iran-Iraq War.

From September of 1980, when Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi army invaded Iran’s oil-rich Khuzistan Province, until summer 1988 when Ayatollah Khomeini finally accepted an armistice, Iran and Iraq fought one of the Middle East’s longest and bloodiest wars. Its trench warfare and hidden naval encounters recalled the horrors of World War I, as did the Iraqi Baath government’s deployment of mustard gas against Iranian soldiers at the front and sarin gas against Kurdish civilians suspected of pro-Iranian sentiments.

The Reagan administration in the United States largely backed Iraq from 1983, when Reagan dispatched then Searle CEO Donald Rumsfeld to shake Saddam’s hand. This, despite Iraq being the clear aggressor and despite Reagan’s full knowledge of Iraqi use of chemical weapons, about which George Schultz at the State Department loudly complained until he was shushed. Then, having his marching orders straight, Schultz had the US ambassador to the UN deep-six any UN Security Council resolution condemning Iraq for the chemical weapons deployment. The US navy fought an behind the scenes war against Iranian ships in the Persian Gulf, becoming a de facto appendage of the Baath military.

Just because the Reagan administration was so Machiavellian, it also gave some minor support Iran in the war. Reagan stole anti-tank and anti-aircraft weaponry from the Pentagon storehouses and illegally sold them to Khomeini despite Iran being on the US terrorism watch list. He then had Iran pressure the Shiite militiamen in Lebanon to release American hostages. Reagan sent the money received from Iran to death squads in Nicaragua fighting the people’s revolution there against a brutal American-installed dictatorship. This money was sent to Nicaragua in defiance of the Boland Amendment passed by Congress forbidding US monies to go there. Ollie North, whom you see prevaricating on Fox News these days, was a bag man for the operation.

They may as well have broken into the National Archives Nick Cage style, broken out the original copy of the constitution, and put it through a shredder several times in a row till small confetti pieces were all that were left.

It is unclear how many people Saddam’s bloody war killed off. A quarter of a million on each side seems plausible. So many young men were part of a “missing generation” that the Iranian regime had to let women into the workforce and universities in very large numbers despite its preference for them to remain home and secluded. In Iraq, there were many widows, and some were forced to become low-status second wives, or single heads of household, or, among Shiites, temporary wives. Iraq depleted its currency reserves in the war and went into debt with Kuwait among others, then in 1990 invaded and tried to annex Kuwait. Saddam dealt with his creditors the way organized crime might deal with its.

In the looming second Iran-Iraq War, the US will be de facto allied with Iran against the would-be al-Qaeda affiliate (ISIS was rejected by core al-Qaeda for viciously attacking other militant vigilante Sunni fundamentalists in turf wars in Syria). The position of the US is therefore 180 degrees away from what it was under Reagan.

In fact, since ISIS is allegedly bankrolled by private Salafi businessmen in Kuwait and elsewhere in the Oil Gulf, the US is on the opposite side of all its former allies of the 1980s. In some ways, some of the alleged stagnation of US policy in the Middle East may derive from a de facto US switch to the Iranian side on most issues, at the same time that US rhetoric supports Iran’s enemies in Syria and elsewhere in the region.

It is possible that a US-Iran alliance against al-Qaeda-like groups in Iraq and Syria could clarify their budding new relationship and lead to a tectonic shift in US policy in the Middle East. The Indeed, Reuters says Iranian officials are offering the possibility of security cooperation with the us. One things seems clear. Without Iran, the US is unlikely to be able to roll by al-Qaeda affiliates and would-be affiliates in the Fertile Crescent, who ultimately could pose a danger to US interests.

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Oil strikes nine-month peak on Iraq violence.

MENAFN – AFP – 13/06/2014

 
 

(MENAFN – AFP) Global oil prices surged to fresh nine-month high points on Friday as traders eyed worsening violence in OPEC’s second biggest crude exporter Iraq.

Brent crude for July delivery soared to 114.69 per barrel in morning deals, touching the highest level since September 2013. It later stood at 113.57 in London afternoon deals, up 55 cents from Thursday, as traders booked profits.

US benchmark West Texas Intermediate for July added 42 cents to 106.95 a barrel.

“Prices are still being driven up by the events in Iraq, where militants from the Sunni terrorist group ISIL have seized further territory and are now said to be just a few kilometres away from the capital, Baghdad,” said Commerzbank analyst Carsten Fritsch.

“The US is now considering air strikes by way of supporting the Iraqi armed forces in their fight against the ISIL. The Iraqi government increasingly appears to be losing control of the country.”

– Jihadists near Baghdad –

The Iraqi government bolstered Baghdad’s defences on Friday as jihadists pushed towards the capital and President Barack Obama said he was exploring all options to save Iraq’s security forces from collapse.

Predominantly Shiite Muslim Iran will combat the “violence and terrorism” of Sunni extremists who have launched an anti-government offensive in neighbouring Iraq, President Hassan Rouhani warned.

“This is an extremist, terrorist group that is acting savagely,” Rouhani said, without elaborating on what steps Tehran would take to thwart a bid by fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) to push toward Baghdad after seizing several cities and towns to the north.

The International Energy Agency meanwhile cautioned that oil supplies from Iraq may not be at immediate risk.

Iraq is the second biggest oil exporter in the 12-nation Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) after kingpin Saudi Arabia.

– IEA plays down impact –

“Concerning as the latest events in Iraq may be, they might not for now, if the conflict does not spread further, put additional Iraqi oil supplies immediately at risk,” the Paris-based IEA said in its monthly oil market report on Friday.

It pointed out that Iraq’s relatively small output from the north of the country has been off the market since March due to violence while output from the south has been on the rise and production has hit a 30-year high.

However the IEA, the energy monitoring and policy arm of the OECD group of advanced nations, pointed to the long-term importance of Iraq for the global energy market.

It calculated that “roughly 60 percent of the growth in OPEC crude production capacity for the rest of this decade will come from Iraq”.

The 12-nation oil cartel, which pumps one third of the world’s crude, earlier this week decided to hold their collective production target at 30 million barrels per day (bpd), where it has stood since late 2011, as they said the oil market was stable.

Oil producing nations have expressed their satisfaction with prices above 100 a barrel — where they have been for most of this year — as it brings them in sufficient revenue while appearing not to crimp growth in consuming nations.

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FURTHER ON THE OIL MARKET:

NPR NEWS

Militants’ Advance In Iraq Agitates Oil Markets

by

When Sunni militants began seizing broad swathes of territory across northern Iraq last week, global oil markets shrugged it off. After all, instability in Iraq is nothing new.

But that all changed on Wednesday, when the insurgents swept into the oil refinery town of Baiji, says Robert McNally, president of the Rapidan Group, an energy consulting firm. The price of oil climbed nearly 4 percent in just a few short days.

“This jaw-dropping blitz assault … and the threat it posed to the Baiji refinery, the Baiji electrical power plant, and really the stability of Iraq itself, just caused the market to panic,” McNally says.

Insurgents surrounded the refinery, but were not able to seize it. For now, it remains under government control, guarded by Iraqi special forces. The refinery is the largest in Iraq, but it’s used only for domestic purposes.

The real concern for the global markets — and the entire global economy — is about securing the flow of crude oil out of Iraq’s main oil fields. They are clustered around the city of Basra, in the far south of the country at the tip of the Persian Gulf. It’s a relatively long way from militant positions now.

But Amrita Sen, chief oil market analyst with Energy Aspects in London, says that distance doesn’t provide much relief, for two reasons.

“One, the militants are progressing towards the south very, very quickly,” Sen says. “And two, the Iraqi army’s complete inability to stop them … The fear factor is huge in the market at the moment.”

There’s also concern the Sunni militants’ all-out charge through Iraq could spark widespread sectarian violence, possibly pulling in regional players, says McNally.

“The specter now is one of a sort of broad fragmentation and disintegration in Iraq, which eventually could spill over to the south and to Iraq’s oil exports,” he says.

Jim Burkhard, head of global oil market research at IHS, says militants don’t have to occupy the oil fields; they can simply launch small attacks on the pipelines, much as they’ve done on export pipelines in the northern city of Kirkuk. But Burkhard says global oil markets would feel the pinch if anything happened to Iraqi exports.

“This summer we estimate the world will have about 2 to 2.5 million barrels per day of spare crude oil production capacity,” he says. “That’s the oil markets’ shock absorber. That’s how much we have to call on in case there’s a disruption. … Iraq exports about 2.5 million barrels per day, so that’s why the market is particularly sensitive to these fast-moving developments in Iraq right now.”

Iraq has the potential to double the amount of oil it exports each day, but the industry has been plagued with problems despite investment from western companies. Burkhard says the escalating violence not only adds to Iraq’s woes, it’s part of a broader geopolitical story that’s unfolding.

“The situation between Russia and Ukraine is not settled … Libya is in a very desperate situation right now; oil production is just a trickle,” Burkhard says. “There’s also concerns about Nigeria and Venezuala as well.”

President Obama said on Friday that if there are disruptions in Iraq’s oil supply, other producers in the Gulf are able to pick up the slack. But that will do little to calm market jitters that are driving up prices.

 

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