US seeks Iran 'reset,' Middle East turmoil grows
BY NAOMI CRAINE
The Barack Obama administration's strategy of relying on drone attacks, special forces and local allies in its war to roll back Islamic State, al-Qaeda and other Islamist forces blew up in the president's face in Yemen. Washington evacuated 125 special forces troops as Houthi militia, backed by Iran and forces loyal to deposed dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh, drove the pro-Washington government of Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi out of Sanaa, the capital, and were advancing south.
Obama faces multiple challenges to his foreign policy throughout the region: a tacit alliance with Iran in combating Islamic State in Iraq, and a similar alliance with the regime of Bashar al-Assad in fighting this group in Syria; growing strength of Kurdish fighters throughout the region; efforts to reach an accommodation with Iran on its nuclear program; a disgruntled reaction from Saudi Arabia and Egypt; and opposition to his course from the reelected government of Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv.
As Washington pulled its forces out of Yemen, Saudi Arabia, backed by a number of other predominantly Sunni, Middle Eastern regimes, launched airstrikes against Houthi forces in Yemen March 26. Egypt sent warships and threatened the use of ground forces.
At the same time, President Obama sought to take the mantle of a war president, ordering massive bombing of Islamic State positions in the city of Tikrit, Iraq. His hope is this will make it easier to counter criticism if he can reach a "reset" with Iran, trading relief from economic sanctions for an agreement where Iran will not develop nuclear weapons for the foreseeable future.
Saleh, who had ruled Yemen for 33 years, was forced out of power by mass popular protests in early 2011 as part of the "Arab Spring." Hadi, vice president under Saleh, became president in February 2012 in an election where he was the only candidate.
Washington worked with both the Saleh and Hadi governments in operations against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. AQAP controls areas in central and southern Yemen and has used the country as a base for attacks around the world. Since 2009 the CIA and Pentagon have carried out dozens of drone strikes and special operations raids against al-Qaeda forces in Yemen, often killing civilians and bystanders, earning the anger of many residents.
The Houthis, who are Shiite Muslims based in northern Yemen, have waged a rebellion for years, first against Saleh and then Hadi. In recent months they allied with Saleh and have received arms and advisers from Tehran. In January the Houthis took over Sanaa. Hadi fled to Saudi Arabia as Houthi forces advanced on Aden March 25.
Worried about growing Iranian influence in Yemen, Syria and the region, as well as Obama's efforts to reach a quid pro quo with Iran, the Sunni Muslim Gulf monarchies of Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, as well as the governments of Jordan, Morocco, Pakistan, Sudan and Turkey, backed the Saudi assault. A summit of Arab government officials in Egypt announced they were forming a joint military force to intervene in the region.
Washington is now providing targeting information from surveillance flights over Yemen, as well as bombs and aerial refueling.
Saudi-led naval ships blockaded Yemeni ports March 30 and Saudi planes reportedly hit a camp for displaced civilians, killing at least 29, reported the Wall Street Journal. Even before the recent fighting, the United Nations reports 334,000 people have been driven from their homes in Yemen.
Obama's 'reset' with Iran
Intervention in Yemen by the rulers of Saudi Arabia and other Sunni monarchies is in part a reaction to Obama's attempts to carry out a "reset" of Washington's relations with Tehran.
"Saudi Arabia simply cannot allow Iran under any scenario to use its 'near status' as a nuclear power to expand its influence and prestige," wrote Nawaf Obaid, a former adviser to several Saudi government officials, in an op-ed in the March 27 Washington Post. "Whatever deal the Iranians get, the Saudis will pursue an equivalent program to reach nuclear parity."
The White House is still in what some media outlets call a "Bibi panic," using the nickname of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, over his recent election victory and his scathing March 3 speech to the U.S. Congress denouncing the negotiations with Iran. Getting a deal with Tehran is a centerpiece of Obama's foreign policy strategy.
The U.S.-Iran negotiations now involve top officials from France, Britain, Germany, the European Union, Russia and China. The March 31 deadline has been pushed back while talks continue.
With the blowing up of his strategy in Yemen, and the Iran deal under fire, Obama is more prone to lashing out unpredictably to try to show that he is capable of defending U.S. interests by any means necessary. That's what is behind what observers described as U.S. "carpet bombing" in Tikrit.
Washington has been in a tacit alliance with Iranian-backed Shiite militias, who have a long record of sectarian violence against Sunni villagers throughout Iraq, in the battle against Islamic State there. U.S. officials said the Iraqi army should take the lead in the battle for Tikrit and that they wanted the militias to pull back. But Baghdad has neither the forces nor the fighting spirit for street-to-street fighting.
Leaders of the Shiite militias initially said they would withdraw in opposition to the U.S. involvement in Tikrit. Most have not left, however, and intend to resume fighting.
White House pushes Iran deal in face of wide opposition
BY NAOMI CRAINE
President Barack Obama is working overtime to sell the draft nuclear agreement reached in negotiations between officials of Iran and the U.S., along with Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China. Announcing the deal April 2, Obama said it would "prevent [Iran] from obtaining a nuclear weapon" and "make our country, our allies, and our world safer."
The tentative deal faces a firestorm of opposition, including from Israel, Saudi Arabia and other governments in the Middle East, Republicans and some Democrats in Congress.
It registers further unraveling of the imperialist order that has dominated in the Mideast for decades. The result is increasing instability and war, which will continue and deepen regardless of whether the agreement with Tehran goes ahead, until a working-class leadership capable of charting a way forward in the interests of the toilers is forged.
The talks did not end in a signed agreement, but rather with a list of "parameters" for an accord to be negotiated over the next three months. According to a White House press release, these include Iran's agreement to reduce the number of uranium enrichment centrifuges from 19,000 to 6,104 for the next 10 years; to not enrich uranium beyond the level used to generate nuclear energy for 15 years; and to reduce its stockpile of enriched uranium. This is supposed to increase the time it would take Tehran to produce the material for a nuclear bomb to one year, from Washington's current estimate of two or three months.
In addition, Iran's underground Fordow nuclear production facility would be converted to a research and development center, and the Arak reactor would be rebuilt to preclude production of weapons-grade plutonium.
The imperialist-imposed sanctions that have increasingly strangled Iran's economy over the last decade, with devastating effects on workers and farmers there, remain in place while the talks continue. U.S., U.N. and European Union nuclear-related sanctions — which have crippled everything from oil exports and auto production to food imports — would be suspended once the International Atomic Energy Agency certifies that Tehran has taken the steps agreed to. They would "snap back into place" if Tehran did not comply.
And "U.S. sanctions on Iran for terrorism, human rights abuses, and ballistic missiles will remain in place," according to the White House statement.
'Obama doctrine' riles allies
Since his 2008 election, Obama has sought to reduce Washington's military "footprint" around the world and cut back on arms spending. He looks to replace them with "diplomatic and moral persuasion," the Wall Street Journal said last year, seeking "resets" with Moscow, Syria and Iran.
New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman interviewed Obama April 4, asking him if there is "an Obama Doctrine," marked by the belief that "engagement is possible."
Obama made it clear that if things go sour, he is prepared to strike out, saying "engagement" must be combined with "a sense that we are powerful enough to test these propositions without putting ourselves at risk."
His course with Iran has been consistent with his belief that he can bring peace to the world by finding other "intelligent" leaders to have a dialogue with. This view is shared by like-minded academics, staffers of nongovernmental organizations and similar meritocratic social layers in the U.S., Europe and elsewhere, including those who awarded Obama the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009.
This stands in stark contrast to social relations in a world where a crisis of capitalist trade and production is intensifying economic rivalries, political instability and social crises across the globe.
The sharp objections to negotiations with Iran by longtime U.S. allies in the region and in Congress are more than partisan bickering. The governments of Israel and Saudi Arabia are not only concerned about the possibility of Tehran developing a nuclear weapon but also the expanding economic, political and military role of Iran in the region, including its backing of Shiite-based militias in a number of countries.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the agreement could "threaten the survival of Israel." In an April 3 speech he cited an Iranian paramilitary leader as saying, "The destruction of Israel is non-negotiable." Tehran is "accelerating the arming of its terror proxies to attack Israel," said Netanyahu.
The rulers of Saudi Arabia also fear expansion of Tehran's reach. Riyadh helped organize a meeting in Egypt March 26 where Arab League leaders initiated a regional rapid-response military force.
The Saudi monarchy is pressing its war against Iranian-backed Houthi forces that recently toppled the pro-U.S. government in Yemen. A dairy factory where 39 workers were killed April 1 was one of the targets of the Saudi-led bombardment, as well as other factories, medical facilities and a refugee camp. In addition to the airstrikes, which are backed by Egypt, Turkey and most of the Sunni Gulf state monarchies, there have been ground skirmishes on the border between Saudi troops and Tehran-backed rebel forces.
The Houthi militias, which are allied with military units loyal to Yemen's former dictator, Ali Abdullah Saleh, have taken control of parts of the port city of Aden, not far from the strategic Bab al-Mandab Strait, a major shipping channel. Washington has assisted the Saudi assault with intelligence information, but is not involved in the air assaults.
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which operates in central Yemen, has taken the opportunity to expand the area it controls.
Meanwhile, Iraqi government forces and Iranian-backed Shiite militias claimed victory April 1 over the Islamic State in the city of Tikrit. Washington has been in a tacit alliance with Tehran in fighting Islamic State in Iraq. As has happened in other predominantly Sunni areas, the capture of Tikrit has been accompanied by looting and burning of homes and attacks against residents by Shiite militia forces.
Iran accord: Obama tries to stabilize region for imperialism
BY BRIAN WILLIAMS
U.S. and Iranian officials announced July 14 they had reached a nuclear agreement. Getting such a deal has been a major focus of the Barack Obama administration's foreign policy over the last months, part of efforts by the U.S. rulers to advance their interests throughout the Middle East in face of the coming apart of the imperialist order in place there for decades.
The administration aims to make possible a closer political alliance with Tehran, especially in the fight against Islamic State. The Iranian-backed Hez-bollah militia is a major point of support for the Bashar al-Assad dictatorship in Syria, and Tehran is funding and training Shiite militias fighting alongside government forces in Iraq.
The accord between Tehran and the governments of the U.S., the United Kingdom, France, China, Russia and Germany sets limits on the Iranian government's nuclear activities for 10 years. These include reducing the number of centrifuges for enriching uranium; limiting the level of enrichment to 3.67 percent, far below weapons grade; and cutting stockpiles of low enriched uranium, ostensibly extending to one year the time it would take for Iran to acquire enough fissile material for a weapon.
Intrusive inspections of Iran's uranium mines, military facilities and manufacturing plants that "few other countries have ever agreed to" will be conducted by the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency, the Wall Street Journal reported.
In exchange, financial and economic sanctions — some of which began in 2006 — that imperialist powers and the U.N. had imposed on Iran would be lifted as soon as its government is declared in compliance with the restrictions, expected to take at least six to nine months. These sanctions hit working people the hardest and have led to increased joblessness, declining wages and rising food prices. A ban on conventional arms sales and on trading ballistic missiles and parts will remain in effect another five to eight years.
The agreement will now be debated in Congress over the next 60 days. Obama has said he would veto any measure to block it.
Once both sides have ratified the pact, the Iranian government would gain access to about $100 billion in frozen assets that the imperialist powers has seized under the sanctions, and oil sales can increase.
The agreement has strained Washington's relations with longtime allies in the region, from Israel to Saudi Arabia. "Israel is not bound by this deal with Iran because Iran continues to seek our destruction," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters July 14.
Kurdish advance worries Turkish gov't
The agreement with Tehran comes as tensions are heating up between Kurdish fighters making advances against Islamic State in Syria and Turkey's rulers, who are increasingly alarmed about the prospect of the Kurds establishing their own self-ruled territory.
In a June 26 speech Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that his government will "never allow" the Kurds to establish a state "in the north of Syria." Ankara has increased its military presence along Syria's border, deploying tanks and anti-aircraft missiles as well as additional troops.
Gen. John Allen, U.S. special envoy for the coalition against the Islamic State, visited Ankara July 7 to meet Turkish officials over speculation that Turkey might launch a military intervention inside Syria. Turkey has been at odds with Washington for not joining the U.S.-led "coalition" and for demanding a buffer zone be established inside Syrian territory where refugees would live under Turkish military control.
The Iranian government backs Ankara in preventing establishment of a Kurdish state in Syria. Iran's ambassador to Turkey, Ali Reza Bikdeli, said both governments have agreed to preserve "the unity" of Syrian territory, reported ARA News.
Some 30 million Kurds in Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria have been battling against national oppression and a homeland denied to them by the imperialist division of the region put in place following World War I by London and Paris with Washington's backing.
The capture of the strategic town of Tel Abyad on Turkey's border last month by Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) gives Kurdish groups in northern Syria control of most of the nearly 250 miles of territory adjacent to Turkey stretching from Kobani to the Syria-Iraq border. Islamic State fighters have also been driven out of one-third of the province of Raqqa.
A statement issued by the YPG General Command July 10 noted that over the past 65 days its fighters successfully liberated 4,250 square miles of territories from the reactionary Islamic State. "Relying on the will and ability of our forces, they can defeat Daesh [Islamic State]," the statement said, despite "how low our forces resource might be, and the lack of support in the area of weapons and ammunitions." Fearing the rising fight for Kurdish sovereignty, Washington, while conducting some airstrikes in the area, has refused to provide YPG with needed heavy equipment to more effectively combat IS.