Age Islam Edit Bureau
16 June 2017
Some Iranian Kurds Have Joined Daesh Against Iran
By Marc Martinez
Debate over US-Saudi Arms Sales
By Fahad Nazer
Magic Wand for France?
By Anders Aslund
behind Political Campaign against Civilians in Iraq
By Adnan Hussein
Qatar Prolonged the Syrian Crisis
By Hassan Al Mustafa
Iraq-Syria Highway Is Vital To Daesh
By Mohamed Hineidi
By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
Some Iranian Kurds Have Joined Daesh against Iran
15 June 2017
A few days after the first successful
terrorist operation in Iran by Daesh, authorities revealed the identities of
the five gunmen involved. To the surprise of many, at least four of them were
Officials admitted that fellow Iranians had
targeted two potent symbols of the Islamic Republic: The Imam Khomeini
mausoleum, the final resting place of its founder; and Parliament, the symbol
of Iran’s vibrant yet imperfect democracy. The attack left at least 17 people
dead, some 53 wounded and the country traumatized.
Soon after, Intelligence Minister Syed
Mahmoud Alavi announced the killing of the alleged mastermind of the operation,
who was tracked down in Iraq, where the five attackers had fought alongside
Daesh in its Mosul stronghold. He also announced the arrest of 50 suspects in
an attempt to crush “terrorist cells” across Iran. But security and
intelligence services have understandably focused their efforts on Iranian
Kurdistan, where operations continue.
The region, called Rojhalat by some Kurds,
is spread over Iran’s western provinces of Kordistan, Kermanshah and parts of
West Azerbaijan and Ilam. It is an underdeveloped mountainous region that has
been a hotbed of separatist tendencies for decades.
The long history of distrust between Kurds
and the central government in Tehran stems from the short-lived Republic of
Mahabad. On Jan. 1, 1946, Kurdish leader Qazi Mohamed sided with the Soviet
Union, which had occupied northern Iran since 1941, to declare an independent
Kurdish state. But a few months later, under US pressure, the Soviet Union
withdrew its troops from Iran and abandoned Mahabad to the shah’s ruthless
Several Marxist and agnostic political
parties, such as the Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI) and the Komala,
continued the fight for the region’s independence. Iran’s repression of the
Kurds was supported by the US as part of a global fight against the spread of
The 1979 Islamic Revolution did not stop
the oppression; it added the sectarian factor as the mullahs despised and distrusted
the majority-Sunni Kurds. Iran has since imposed severe restrictions on Kurdish
expression of their religion, language and tradition. The intelligence service
forced Komala and the KDPI into submission by assassinating several of their
leaders in Europe.
But the discrimination against the Kurds,
and the lack of economic development in the region, led to the emergence of a
more radical leftist organization, PEJAK, which launched indiscriminate attacks
against civilians. This led to waves of repression that proved successful from
the government’s point of view.
While Komala, the KDPI and PEJAK continue
to support a degree of autonomy and engage in regular low-level skirmishes with
local forces, they have failed to mobilize support for the communist ideology.
Even in Iranian Kurdistan, there exists a
sense of belonging to Persian culture, and an increasing number of Iranians see
the region as integral to the country’s history. The city of Kermanshah, for
example, holds many pre-Islamic historical sites, such as the multilingual
Behistun inscription dated circa 500 BC and the Taq-e-Bostan, a series of large
rock reliefs commissioned by the Sassanid kings who ruled part of West Asia
between 226 and 650 AD, before the Islamic conquests.
The emergence of a nationalist movement
that sees pre-Islamic Zoroastrian Persia as the glue binding Iranians has
prevented centrifugal forces opposed to the religious revolution imposed in
1979 from destroying the country.
Far from being politically disengaged,
Kurds rejected Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s 2009 re-election as president, and
participated in the Green Revolution that followed. The vast majority of Kurds
backed Hassan Rouhani in the 2013 presidential race. And despite a growing
sense of frustration shared by many Iranians regarding Iran’s slow economic
revival, more than 60 percent of Kurds voted for him again in 2017.
However, Iranian authorities have observed
with great concern increasing signs of religious radicalization in the Kurdish
provinces, which were previously marked by Marxism, feminism and agnosticism.
The recent terrorist attacks gave substance to this fear, and while authorities
will continue to blame Saudi Arabia for allegedly providing financial support
to Sunni extremists, they will need to find a local solution.
Most of the estimated 8 million Kurds seek
cultural, linguistic and religious rights, as well as a degree of political
autonomy within Iran. Separatist movements have failed and are no longer
perceived as a viable option. Iranian Kurds feel they enjoy relative security
compared to Kurds in Turkey, Syria and Iraq. But the ongoing absence of
economic perspective, as well as the porous border with Iraq, constitute the
perfect substrate for extremism.
The government and even the Islamic
Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) have been engaged in a new policy to win
Kurdish hearts and minds through the creation of jobs and social welfare. Yet
the recent attacks, as well as security forces’ reaction, could disturb the
fragile equilibrium in Iranian Kurdistan. The end of a moderate policy and the
start of indiscriminate repression could push many Kurds into the arms of
terrorist organizations such as Daesh.
To stop Iranian Kurdistan and its Iraqi
rear base from turning into terrorist havens, Tehran needs to continue
implementing Rouhani’s policies, use the region’s proximity to Iraq to ensure
its transformation into a logistics hub, and support local socio-economic
But while Kurds are the third-largest
ethnic group in Iran, they are only one minority among many. The challenges
Iran faces today with the Kurds could metastasize to other groups such as the
Baluchs, Arabs and Azeris, endangering the country’s national fabric.
Saudi Arabia lives in a dangerous
neighbourhood. To its north, Iraq is in the midst of a military campaign to
wrest control of territory that was lost to the terrorist group Daesh over the
past two years. To its south, the internationally recognized government of
Yemen is trying to regain control of its capital Sanaa, which was seized by
force by Houthi rebels in late 2014.
On the domestic front, Daesh has vowed to
create division and instability by targeting Saudi and foreign citizens and
institutions. In addition, militants in the Eastern Province have attacked
police stations and patrols over the last few years. Across the Arabian Gulf,
Iran has done all it can to heighten these threats to Saudi security by
supporting a diverse list of terrorist groups and militants.
No wonder the Kingdom spends a significant
percentage of its budget annually on defending its borders and waters, and on
securing its critical installations. To meet their security needs, Saudi Arabia
and other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states have often looked to the
US as the military partner of first resort. The US has provided Saudi Arabia
with advanced weapons and training programs going back to the 1940s.
According to some accounts, the Kingdom bought
more American weapons than any other developing nation between 2008 and 2015 —
$93.5 billion worth. This happened at a time when its relations with the US
under President Barak Obama were not as close as it had been under previous
During his visit to the Kingdom last month,
President Donald Trump announced that the two countries had concluded military
deals worth $110 billion. While some of the agreement had been in the pipeline
for a long time and some are in their early stages, there is little doubt that
the Trump administration appreciates the importance of this aspect of the
relationship for more than one reason.
For starters, Trump and previous US
administrations have repeatedly urged their allies and partners in the region
and elsewhere to share more of the burden in terms of maintaining peace and
stability. Saudi Arabia has demonstrated in word and deed that it is fully
committed to playing a leading role in helping bring stability back to a region
that has been ravaged by political violence and terrorist activities since
To that end, the Kingdom is supporting the
internationally recognized Yemeni government as it tries to regain control of
Sanaa and other territories captured by Iran-backed Houthi rebels and their
allies, including supporters of ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Saudi Arabia also established an Islamic
Military Coalition Against Terrorism in late 2015, which seeks to defeat
terrorist groups such as Daesh by utilizing the varied capabilities of those
who have suffered the most from terrorism: Muslim-majority countries.
Since his inauguration in January, Trump
and his administration have lauded Saudi leadership in the Arab and Muslim
worlds. The White House has also praised the multidimensional bilateral relationship,
including economic cooperation, trade and investment. In that regard, Trump in
Riyadh reminded Americans that the arms sales agreed to in the Saudi capital
will create “thousands” of jobs in the defence industry in the US.
Saudi officials ensured that many of the
agreements will also create jobs in the Kingdom, and that they will advance the
transfer of technological knowhow. As far as the US and Saudi political
leaderships are concerned, the weapons sales are a win-win for both sides.
But not everyone in the US Congress agrees
with this assessment. Earlier this week, a measure introduced by Republican
Sen. Rand Paul opposing the sale of over $500 million worth of precision-guided
munition kits to the Kingdom was narrowly defeated by a vote of 47-53. Members
against the sale said their opposition stems from concerns over how the Saudi
military campaign in support of the Yemeni government has been conducted.
On the morning of the vote, a hearing in
front of the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs titled “Challenges and
Opportunities for the US Saudi Relationship” ended with a heated exchange
between committee member Ted Lieu and former US Ambassador to Yemen Gerald
Feirstein over the Saudi war effort.
The exchange highlighted the wide
disconnect between the impressions of some observers who mischaracterize the
conflict as a Saudi war against Yemen, and those who understand that it is a
Yemeni civil war with regional actors involved and no easy answers.
Saudi and US officials, and all interested
parties who believe that US-Saudi relations have been mutually beneficial, must
continue to correct misperceptions of casual observers, and to remind them that
bilateral ties have not continued to strengthen and broaden over the past eight
decades by happenstance.
Magic Wand For France?
Last month, Emmanuel Macron pulled the
proverbial rabbit from the electoral hat. Against the odds, the independent
centrist won the French presidency by a decisive margin, beating the far-right
populist Marine Le Pen — and vanquishing the old guard of the French
establishment along the way. Now, for his latest trick, Macron looks set to
secure a huge majority in the French National Assembly.
But whether Macron, a political newcomer,
is more than an electoral wizard will depend on the success, or failure, of the
economic program that his government enacts.
Friends of France, and of a united Europe,
were no doubt relieved by Macron’s victory. And in the early days of his
presidency, the French public is behind him, too; recent polling puts his
approval rating at 62 percent. Yet goodwill can dissipate quickly, which is why
Macron must move to capitalize on his early mandate by implementing reforms of
fiscal policy, taxation, the labor market and education, to name but a few
areas where change is long overdue.
France’s most immediate problems are anemic
growth and inadequate job creation. For the last 12 years, France’s gross
domestic product (GDP) has increased by barely 1 percent a year, less than the
mediocre uptick in the EU as a whole, while unemployment currently hovers just
above 10 percent. Only five EU countries — Croatia, Italy, Cyprus, Spain and
Greece — have higher unemployment rates.
During Macron’s first five-year term,
therefore, he should focus on raising France’s GDP growth to an average of at
least 2 percent a year, and reducing unemployment to below 6 percent. The
easiest way to achieve both goals would be to focus on where France is
underperforming relative to other EU countries.
Part of the unemployment challenge is tied
to hidden costs. France has some of the highest labour costs for hourly
employees in the EU, and a natural consequence is tepid hiring. With inequality
also growing, many French are rightly upset that labour is taxed much more than
capital gains. Indeed, France’s payroll taxes amount to 19 percent of GDP — far
exceeding the EU average of 13 percent. This is a particularly pernicious tax,
because only employers are affected by it. It should therefore be the first tax
Macron moves to cut.
Likewise, government spending, at 57
percent of GDP, is the highest in the EU, where the average is 47 percent. This
burden is excessive, and significantly hinders economic growth. The government
should work to reduce these expenditures (its bloated social-protection
programs in particular) by at least one percentage point a year.
Corporate taxes are another area ripe for
reform. With its rate of 33 percent, France has one of the highest profit taxes
on corporations in Europe. But its revenues from these taxes, 2.6 percent of
GDP, are in line with the EU average. France could afford to reduce its profit
tax rate to 25 percent, as Macron has proposed, without losing significant tax
On nearly every fiscal metric, France is an
outlier (along with Finland and Belgium, which have also underperformed in
recent years). And given that France, it now seems clear, has not benefited
from loose policy, Macron should be able to forge a consensus on cutting taxes
and expenditures. Indeed, reducing the fiscal burden on the economy will be the
key to turning things around.
But France also needs more complex
structural reforms, the most urgent one being liberalization and simplification
of the country’s complex labor code, which makes it too difficult to hire and
lay off workers. The most vulnerable are often those who are the least
integrated into the economy, especially the young and immigrants. Most European
countries suffer from this problem, but France’s youth unemployment rate, at 26
percent, is significantly higher than the EU average of 19.6 percent. The
simplification of the labor code should be negotiated with social partners to
mitigate or even avoid strikes and protests.
Finally, France’s education system needs
major attention. The Organization of Economic Development and Cooperation
(OECD) rates French high school students as just about average among the
world’s developed economies. France, like many other European countries, has
much room for improvement in preparing its young people for the job market.
The situation appears even worse for French
universities. According to the Times Higher Education Supplement, which ranks
universities worldwide, France’s top university, the Ecole Normale Superieure,
ranks just 66th in the world. Without reform of higher education, France cannot
be remotely competitive with British and American institutions.
The French government can carry out all of
these reforms unilaterally, without the EU. But the EU could help France’s
economy by promoting various markets. Free trade in services is one of the
original four EU freedoms; today, however, the single market for services works
poorly. France has much to gain from further liberalization in its domestic
services market. And the EU’s digital market is a bonanza waiting to be won,
though France’s participation is surprisingly limited. Improved access to
venture capital, which liberalization of financial services would facilitate,
Macron’s victory — and the likely
parliamentary landslide for his La Republique En Marche! (LREM) — has presented
France with a great opportunity. But, given the scope and scale of the needed
reforms, the president’s political honeymoon will be short. He must deliver
results quickly, or his magic will soon fail him — and French voters will make
Influential political Islamist parties who
are part of the authority in Iraq are under greater pressure these days
particularly those emanating from the civil movement. They have been pressured
since protests erupted in February 2011 demanding reform and calling for
fighting corruption and providing better services.
This pressure has increased since the end
of August 2015 as the second wave of protests erupted and it has now increased
as we begin the countdown for elections next year. These groups do not hesitate
to fabricate accusations against civilians and the civil movement. They accuse
them of “executing American and Zionist agendas” and of being “atheists.”
The situation seemed to have worsened for
Islamists when Faiq Al Sheikh Ali, a Member of Parliament who represents the
civil movement, spoke about Islamist parties’ role – particularly Shiite ones –
in imposing illegal tax on gambling halls, pubs, night clubs and liquor stores
Ali made this statement in October last
year after the Parliament passed a municipal fee law in which Islamist Members
of Parliament slipped an article in it. The article was not present in the
draft law and was not read or discussed during the first and second meetings.
The added article banned selling of alcohol.
He also said that as Islamist MPs were busy
in secretly adding this article, some armed Shiite Islamic parties have been
providing protection to gambling halls, nightclubs, pubs and liquor stores in
the capital, adding that most of these places are not licensed. According to
Ali, these groups provided protection in exchange for illegal tax.
Ali did not alter the facts and he did not
defame anyone. What he said is the truth. Many people know that very well.
Those who doubt his statements can go ahead and ask the ministries of culture
and tourism. Those with suspicions can request for information from the
national intelligence apparatus or the national security apparatus as they must
know the truth well.
There are more than 1,500 night clubs,
pubs, gambling halls and liquor stores in Baghdad and most of them are not
licensed. Therefore, they do not pay taxes to the state. The Islamist groups,
which Ali referred to, had taken matters into their own hands and provided
protection to these shops in exchange of huge sums of money. Ali said that one
party alone received $0.5 million in one month.
When people asked how come these shops were
allowed to operate without licenses, the former minister of tourism, who is
from the Sadrist Movement, reportedly said that it was prohibited to issue
licenses to these places. Public managers and the ministry’s officials have
also echoed this response. Political armed parties thus filled the vacuum and
began to collect illegal taxes.
Have you now realized the secret behind the
escalating Islamic-political campaign against civilians? This is part of the
Hassan Al Mustafa
Less than a year after the first spark of
the Arab Spring developments, I was in a closed door meeting with a Gulf
minister. He resentfully talked about Qatar’s foreign policy and described how
they were involved in what he called “Qatari loitering”.
According to him, they do not only pose a
threat to his country but also to the entire region because they support
“political Islamist” groups and negatively play on contradictions.
This opinion and other similar statements
were a result of Doha’s violation of the policy agreed upon among the parties,
which support the opposition in Syria. These parties had agreed on a specific
and official channel that is internationally supervised to train and support
fighters from among “the moderate opposition” and whom the Free Syrian Army is
The “joint operations’ room” in the
Jordanian capital Amman, and its other branch in Turkey, were a small cell that
included military and intelligence officers and political representatives from
the US, Britain, France and Arab countries that included Saudi Arabia, the UAE,
Qatar and Jordan in addition to Turkey. These representatives met periodically
while officers continuously worked in rotation.
This room’s major tasks were training on
martial arts and special operations and supplying the opposition with military
equipment, gathering information and coordinating among fighters.
The room operated based on a specific
agenda, which hoped that the moderate opposition controls areas which the
Syrian regime troops withdraw from so they do not fall in the hands of
fundamental groups like ISIS and al-Nusra Front.
A Saudi official who follows up on Syrian
developments once told me: “We’ve seen the repercussions of the September 11,
2001 twin attacks and how they led to a crisis with the US due to a bunch of
extremist terrorists. We do not want this crisis to happen again.”
He added that Saudi Arabia made a clear and
frank decision not to support “extremist Islamic groups” in Syria. But was
Riyadh’s anger over Doha the result of what happened next?
This same Saudi official said that instead
of committing to the agreement reached between countries that support the
Syrian opposition, Qatar began to fund, arm and support groups outside the
context of “the operations’ room.” Certain parties coordinated this support
sometimes while at other times they simply overlooked it.
The Qatari representative used to evade
questions or “work on his phone” or just “keep silent” when he was confronted
with truth or with proof that his government armed “fundamentalist” groups in
This is not limited to one or two incidents
but happened frequently. This made Riyadh take a clear position, suspending its
participation in the operations’ room back then.
This was one of the reasons behind the
problem between Saudi Arabia and Qatar in Syria. The Saudis believe that Doha
is playing a “destructive” role that has prolonged the conflict in Syria, which
is helping fundamentalist, making them stronger than other moderate factions.
This poses threat to the entire Middle East region.
June 15, 2017
Much has been made recently of the events
unfolding in southern Syria, near the border with Iraq and Jordan, and also
further north, in the area straddling the Syrian-Iraqi frontier where Daesh
still operates. Much of the hype is a result of the US airstrikes on May 18,
June 5 and June 8 against "Iranian-directed" forces loyal to Syrian
President Bashar Al Assad, which were closing in on Syrian rebel positions near
Al Tanf is a southern town on the highway
connecting Syria and Iraq, a route that until recently was not used by Iraqis,
as it was under the control of Daesh on the Iraqi side. The highway, which goes
all the way to Damascus, is essential for Iran to maintain a contiguous land
corridor from Baghdad to Damascus, and from there on to southern Lebanon. In
fact, this has been one of the fundamental reasons behind Iran's support for
the Syrian government.
The US airstrikes on the pro-Assad forces
approaching Al Tanf, therefore, were aimed at preventing Iran, and its Syrian
and Iraqi allies, from controlling those areas in southern Syria, from where
land route can be established and consolidated. The Syrian government, despite
having won a strategic victory along the central spine connecting Damascus,
Homs, Hama, and Aleppo, still does not control any of the border points with
Iraq. This explains the recent military movements east of Sweida and south of
There are four highways connecting Iraq to
Syria: The aforementioned highway bypassing Al Tanf, dubbed Highway 11; the
highway near the Iraqi border town of Al Qaim further north, which is
controlled by Daesh on both sides of the border; the northern highway passing
through the Rabia border crossing just south of Turkey, controlled by Syrian
and Iraqi Kurds on both sides; and the strategic Highway 47, used by Daesh to
storm Mosul in 2014.
This is where the Iraqi Popular
Mobilisation Units (PMUs) enter the fray. With three of the four crossings
controlled by either the Syrian rebels, Kurdish groups, or Daesh, recent
offensives by Iraqi militias on Highway 47 succeeded where their fellow
militias failed on the Syrian side of the border further south in Al Tanf.
The PMU successes potentially open up one
of the four routes for Iranian supplies to reach Assad, and its other allies in
Syria. The highway passing through the Rabia border crossing is controlled by
well equipped, albeit different, Kurdish forces on both sides of the border,
with whom the Iranian and Syrian governments have no quarrel. It is expected,
therefore, that Iran and the Syrian government will manoeuvre to control the
three remaining land corridors linking the two countries. If one fails, the
other two remain. So far, it seems the US is preventing this plan from being
realised on the highway bypassing Al Tanf, Washington's pretext of "defending
local allies" from pro-government forces notwithstanding.
The battle for Syria's western and central
heartland, often referred to as "useful" Syria, is practically over.
And with the recent agreement on de-escalation zones signed by Russia, Turkey,
and Iran having freed up Syrian army forces to be redeployed across frontlines
in the Homs desert and Euphrates valley, clashes between the Syrian government
and opposition forces in areas across southern Syria, where Daesh was recently
defeated, are expected to increase. Even the Syrian government and rebel
patrons, Moscow and Washington, respectively, recently signed an agreement to
boost co-ordination in order to avoid incidents - a testament to the
increasingly crowded battleground in the eastern Syrian desert.
What does this mean for a final peace
agreement? The next phase of the Syrian war has already begun, where regional
nations that have invested people, money, arms, or all three, will seek to
consolidate their gains in order to secure their strategic objectives. An
enduring peace agreement will likely not materialise until Turkey achieves an
acceptable outcome regarding the Kurds, Russia cements its hold on Syria, and
Iran secures its land corridor to the Mediterranean coast.
Washington understands that even if it
opposes Assad the way it says it does, it can do nothing now to unseat him,
unless it is prepared to face the Syrian president's Russian patron. Instead,
the US may attempt to take measures to thwart Iran's long-term ambitions, such
as blocking access to the highways mentioned above, and limiting the transfer
of strategic weapons to Hezbollah. In post-Daesh Iraq and Syria, the regional
and international chess game that characterised the Syrian crisis will look
clearer, with the players making their final moves for a checkmate.