Abadi faces US wrath at U-turn on Iran sanctions

An intended visit to Tehran was canceled and Abadi’s office denied that the visit had even been planned. (REUTERS)
Updated 15 August 2018
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Abadi faces US wrath at U-turn on Iran sanctions

  • Iran has maintained close ties to Iraq's government since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein, Tehran's archenemy
  • The administration says the renewed sanctions are meant to pressure Tehran to halt its alleged support for international terrorism

BAGHDAD: Failure by Iraq to comply fully with tough new US economic sanctions against Iran would be insane, analysts told Arab News on Tuesday.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Abadi risked incurring US wrath after contradicting himself in the space of a few hours over whether his country would comply.
Amid diplomatic maneuvers, as he negotiates for a second term in office after divisive and contested elections, Abadi offended both Tehran and Washington with conflicting statements on the US sanctions, which were reimposed last week.
First, the prime minister said that while Iraq disapproved of the new sanctions, it would reluctantly comply. “We don’t support the sanctions because they are a strategic error, but we will comply with them,” he said.
“Our economic situation is also difficult and we sympathize with Iran. But. at the same time, I will not make grand slogans that destroy my people and my country just to make certain people happy.”
His position provoked anger in Iran. An intended visit to Tehran on Tuesday to discuss the issue was canceled, and Abadi’s office denied that the visit had even been planned.
There was also criticism inside Iraq, especially from groups close to Tehran, such as the Asaib Ahl Al-Haq and Badr paramilitary movements.
Within hours, however, Abadi had reversed his position. “I did not say we abide by the sanctions, I said we abide by not using dollars in transactions. We have no other choice,” Abadi told a news conference in Baghdad.
Asked if Baghdad would stop imports of commodities, appliances and equipment by government companies from Iran, he said the matter was still being reviewed. “We honestly have not made any decision regarding this issue until now,” he said.
Michael Knights, the Lafer Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told Arab News: “Iraq can’t afford to be cut off from the dollar-based global financial system, so it makes sense to avoid sanctioned Iranian financial entities. Iraq should also protect its dollar reserves.
“These are the only sane options for a country that desperately needs international investment.”
Iraq is the second-largest purchaser of Iranian non-oil exports, and bought about $6 billion worth of goods in 2017. It also buys Iranian-generated electricity to deal with chronic power cuts that have been a key factor sparking mass protests in recent weeks.
On Tuesday, the British renewable energy investor Quercus became the latest major company to pull out of Iran as a result of the new sanctions.
It halted construction of $570 million solar power plant in Iran, which would have been the sixth-largest in the world.


Syria Kurd autonomy under threat after Daesh 'caliphate' falls

Updated 23 March 2019
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Syria Kurd autonomy under threat after Daesh 'caliphate' falls

  • The Kurdish forces helped in the fight against Daesh
  • The Kurds in the area are demanding for an international observer force

BEIRUT: Now the Daesh group's "caliphate" has fallen, the hard-won limited autonomy of Syria's Kurds will be left in peril if their key US ally goes ahead with its announced pullout.
On Saturday, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces announced the end of the proto-state that the Sunni Arab extremist group declared across large parts of Syria and neighboring Iraq in 2014.
The Kurds have largely stayed out of Syria's eight-year civil war, instead building their own institutions in a third of the country under their control.
But a planned US military pullout has left them exposed to an attack by Turkey and in need of protection from Damascus, in a massive blow to their dreams of self-rule.
"The Kurds have been caught between a Syrian rock and a Turkish hard place," Syria expert Fabrice Balanche said.
Kurdish fighters have spearheaded the fight against Daesh since late 2014, but neighboring Turkey views them as "terrorists".
The presence of American troops in areas held by Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) had acted as a shield against any Turkish offensive.
But US President Donald Trump in December shocked Washington's allies by announcing a full withdrawal of all 2,000 US troops from Syria as Daesh had been "beaten".
"The Kurds are facing an uncertain future. The most urgent threat appears to be from Turkey," analyst Mutlu Civiroglu said.
After his announcement, Trump attempted to ease tensions by speaking of a 30-kilometre "safe zone" on the Syrian side of the border.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said his country would establish the "security zone" itself if it took too long to implement.
The Kurds have rejected any Turkish implementation, especially since any such buffer would include their major cities.
They are demanding instead the deployment of an international observer force.
"Kobane, Tal Abyad, Darbasiya, Qamishli, Dehik, Derbassiye -- most of the Kurdish cities are on the border line," Civiroglu said.
Turkey and its Syrian rebel proxies have led two previous offensives inside Syria, most recently seizing the northwestern enclave of Afrin from the Kurds last year.
Syria's civil war has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since it started in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.
It has since spiraled into a complex conflict, with rebel backer Turkey and regime ally Russia emerging as key powerbrokers.
Beyond American approval, Civiroglu said Turkey would likely need a green light from Russia before any Turkish offensive in Syria.
"Russia's position is going to be very important, because Russia has a strong power over Turkey," he said.
President Bashar al-Assad's regime now controls two-thirds of Syria thanks to Russian military backing since 2015, and its seems determined to also return to oil-rich northeastern Syria.
To protect themselves, the Kurds have dispatched delegations to Washington and Moscow.
And in ongoing talks, they have scrambled to mend ties with Damascus.
After decades of marginalization, the Kurds have developed their own political system in northeast Syria -- holding elections, collecting taxes and running schools teaching the Kurdish language.
"In a war-torn country, the Kurdish system is working fine," Civiroglu said.
"The Kurds want this to be recognized."
They want "Kurdish education to be offered officially", he said, after decades of an effective ban on their mother tongue.
But talks so far have failed to bear fruit, and Balanche warns the Kurds are in a weak position.
"The regime is demanding an unconditional surrender. Damascus does not want to let them retain any autonomy," he said.
Syrian Defense Minister Ali Abdullah Ayoub said Monday that the government would recapture all areas held by the SDF "in one of two ways: a reconciliation agreement or... by force".
Although the end of the Daesh "caliphate" has been declared, Daesh is still present in eastern Syria's vast Badia desert.
The US Defense Department has warned that without sustained pressure on the extremists, they could resurge in Syria within months.
In the end, the future of the Kurds mainly depends on the United States, says analyst Nicholas Heras of the Center for a New American Security.
"Every other actor in Syria cannot make a move until there is greater clarity on what the United States ultimately decides to do," he said.
And after any troop pullout, the United States could still stay on with a paramilitary force, he added.
"The best hope for the SDF is for the Americans and the coalition to stick it out in Syria for the long haul."
The White House has said that around 200 American "peace-keeping" soldiers would remain in northern Syria indefinitely.
Acting Pentagon chief Patrick Shanahan said he would be discussing with NATO partners the potential to establish an "observer force" in the area.