Friday, January 13, 2017

Shifting Middle East alliances

"....The de facto collaboration of Washington and Tehran in the battle for Mosul is an example of what the U.S. imperialist rulers hoped to gain from the nuclear accord the Barack Obama administration reached with the Iranian government in 2015."

Capitalist alliances shift amid Mideast wars, conflict

Vol. 81/No. 4      January 23, 2017

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim met with his Iraqi counterpart, Haider al-Abadi, in Baghdad Jan. 7. He then traveled to Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, for talks with Massoud Barzani, president of the regional government there. The result? Agreement by all three to drive the Kurdistan Workers Party of Turkey (PKK), which is banned in its home country, out of the Sinjar area in northwestern Iraq.

Iranian officials said Tehran, a major backer of the regime in Baghdad, welcomed the deal between the Turkish and Iraqi governments, because they also agreed to eventually end the presence of Turkish troops in northern Iraq. Yildirim told the press he and Abadi would resolve that dispute “in a friendly manner.”

These moves are part of political shifts underway in the Middle East as the capitalist rulers in each country look for alliances and other initiatives to advance their competing interests. They highlight the growing influence of Tehran in the region, as well as the hostility of the ruling classes in Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey to the Kurdish national struggle.

Washington is deeply involved with both Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government in organizing the military campaign to defeat Islamic State in Mosul, just 50 miles west of Erbil. In addition to its massive air power, Washington boosted its troops on the ground in Iraq to around 6,000, the highest number in years.

In addition to the Iraqi army and Kurdish peshmerga fighters, militias organized and trained by both Tehran and Ankara are fighting around Mosul. The Iranian-backed Shiite militias are part of the extension of the Iranian ruling class’s reach in a region extending from the Pakistan-Afghanistan border through Iraq and Syria to the coast of Lebanon.

The agreements on moves against the PKK in Sinjar, 80 miles west of Mosul, are part of competition for control in the areas being liberated from Islamic State. In November 2015, Kurdish forces drove Islamic State out of Sinjar, ending 15 months of brutal rule, especially directed against the Yazidi religious minority. That victory was won by combined forces of the Kurdistan Regional Government peshmerga, the Turkish PKK and the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).

The Turkish government, which is carrying out a war against the PKK and the Kurdish population inside Turkey, is demanding the group vacate Sinjar. The ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party in Erbil, whose government has diplomatic and trade ties with Ankara, also opposes the PKK’s presence there. PKK leaders have said they will withdraw once a Yazidi force capable of defending the area is in place.

At the same time Ankara is pressing its military campaign inside Syria, directed especially against the YPG, which it claims is part of the PKK. As part of growing relations between Ankara and Moscow, Russian warplanes carried out a week of airstrikes in support of the Turkish-led push to take al-Bab, Syria, from Islamic State. Ankara’s offensive is aimed at keeping the YPG from uniting the two regions they control.

Tearing up Iran deal ‘not going to happen’

The de facto collaboration of Washington and Tehran in the battle for Mosul is an example of what the U.S. imperialist rulers hoped to gain from the nuclear accord the Barack Obama administration reached with the Iranian government in 2015. President-elect Donald Trump has criticized “the horrible Iran deal,” but any sudden shift in U.S. policy is unlikely.

“Tearing it up at the front end, in my opinion, is not going to happen,” Bob Corker, the Republican chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters Jan. 6. Doing so would “create a crisis” at a time when Washington has “lots of challenges to deal with around the world.”

Uncertainty over the course of the incoming Trump administration comes in the lead up to Iran’s May elections, where President Hassan Rouhani is seeking a second term. The death of former President Hashemi Rafsanjani Jan. 8 is potentially a destabilizing factor.

Rafsanjani was a prominent figure in the government that came to power following the overthrow of the hated U.S.-backed shah in a massive popular revolution in 1979. The capitalist rulers carried out a counterrevolution through a government dominated by Islamic clerics to tame the rebellion of workers, peasants, oppressed nationalities and women. Over the next decade they imposed strict curbs on free speech, used military force to suppress the Kurdish people and persecuted communist and opposition organizations.

Rafsanjani later concluded that restrictions they imposed on democratic rights went too far and could backfire. He spoke out against the police crackdown on a wave of protests accusing then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of stealing the election in 2009 and backed Rouhani over Ahmadinejad in 2013.

Rafsanjani played a significant role in pushing through the 2015 deal with Washington.

At the massive funeral for Rafsanjani, some people chanted for an end to the house arrest of leaders of the 2009 protests.

So far Rouhani faces no substantial challenger in the elections. Ahmedinejad had floated the idea of running, but was told not to by top cleric Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

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