Are the Isis jihadis behaving any differently than the Hagana and the Irgun? You are – rightfully – horrified at the so-called Islamic state in Iraq yet you argue that a Jewish state has ‘the right to exist.’ Do you not know how Israel was founded?

Kurdish Independence: Harder Than It Looks

The first is the Obama administration, which does not want to see Iraq break up and could try to block further sales of Kurdish oil. The US is seeking to contain the conflict between the country’s competing ethnic and religious groups within the national borders established almost a hundred years ago. Thus Washington is now pushing for a truly inclusive power-sharing government in Baghdad that could be supported by Iran. (For this, the next prime minister would have to be a Shia Islamist, like Maliki.) If such a national compact can be reached and upheld—that holy grail of the post-2003 US enterprise in Iraq—the Kurds will have to play an essential part in it.

It is therefore more likely that, rather than making a beeline for an independence that neither the US nor Turkey seems to support, the Kurds will find themselves negotiating again in Baghdad, but this time with a significantly stronger card in their hands: their control of Kirkuk oil. As long as they are hitched to Iraq, the Kurds will demand guarantees for the timely and full delivery of the region’s annual budget allocation, the right to export and sell Kurdish oil, and Baghdad’s acquiescence to their permanent stewardship of Kirkuk and its resources. Of course, these are conditions that in and of themselves would advance their march toward independence, with their own oil-produced income gradually replacing the budget allocations derived from southern oil, and any would-be Iraqi leader who agrees to them could be committing political suicide. Negotiations toward a new government will therefore be hard and difficult.

Another obstacle to the Kurds’ quest for Kirkuk is the unresolved matter of the location of the future independent entity’s boundary. This is where oil deposits become pivotal, especially in an economy where a single commodity accounts for over 90 percent of national income (in both Iraq and the Kurdish region).

Finally, having taken over Mosul and other cities in northern Iraq, Islamist militants are facing off with the Kurds along a line the length of the Kurdish region. In Kirkuk, the jihadists are virtually at the city gates. For now, their attention is trained on the Shias in Baghdad, but this could change. Already, there have been deadly clashes near Khanaqin, in the far eastern sector of the disputed territories on the Iranian border. Other areas with a mix of population groups, such as Tuz Khurmatu, will be equally susceptible to lethal confrontations. The threat posed by these groups suggests that, for the moment, Baghdad and the Kurds need each other.

What is required—now more than ever—is an inclusive national pact, hammered out by all major Iraqi parties, including the Kurds, that would bring Sunnis back into the government, allow for Kirkuk to be shared and to retain its multicultural character, and to settle the paramount question how Iraqi hydrocarbons are to be managed and revenues distributed. The alternative could be unending conflict, however strong the Kurds may seem today.

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Battle for Baghdad

‘The army is still dissolving,’ Dhia’a al-Assadi said a month after the disaster at Mosul. ‘It is dysfunctional and so is the police force.’ A brief counteroffensive towards Tikrit to boost Maliki’s political fortunes had petered out. Sistani’s fatwa had produced many volunteers, and officers from Iran’s Revolutionary Guard are trying to build up a military force parallel to the army, drawing on their experiences in Syria. The government has asked the Americans for drone and air strikes on Isis’s convoys of trucks: the trucks are packed with fighters skilled at waging guerrilla war, suddenly attacking and withdrawing, since experienced fighters are never used to hold captured territory. Isis describes the strategy as ‘moving like a serpent through rocky ground’. Not that they are short of recruits: Safa Hussein told me studies showed that where Isis takes over an area it can recruit five or ten times the number of its original force, so if it starts out with a hundred men it will soon field five hundred or a thousand. These wouldn’t be experienced fighters, and some would simply want to protect their families, but with its large new recruiting grounds Isis is rapidly expanding its forces. A hope in Baghdad is that Isis is simply the fanatical edge of a more moderate Sunni revolt. This comforting argument holds that one day tribal and other leaders, having used their extremist allies to defeat the Baghdad government, will turn on them as they did in 2006-7. On the other hand, the world’s cemeteries are full of people who thought they could use extremists for their own ends and then dispose of them. Isis has taken measures against betrayal, insisting that other armed groups in Mosul lay down their arms and pledge allegiance to its new caliphate, the Islamic State. It isn’t going to implode.

Iraq now has a political crisis and a military crisis, neither of which is likely to be resolved soon. In Baghdad, a failed prime minister and his government cling to power. Sunni representatives who don’t dare visit their own cities and towns vie for posts in the capital. Kurds have an expanded and quasi-independent state. Isis has no plans other than to defeat its enemies on the battlefield. People in the capital wonder apprehensively when the battle for Baghdad will begin. When an American military delegation came to review the capital’s defences, a senior Iraqi official told them ‘to look to see which ministers had put fresh sandbags around their ministries. Those that have done so like myself will stay and fight; where you see old sandbags it means the minister doesn’t care because he is intending to run.’

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Calculated Caliphate

The move is bold and unprecedented. The caliphate is a form of government associated with early Islam and with the successive Islamic empires that dominated the Muslim world until the early 1920s. While most Muslims today view the caliphate as a thing of the past, jihadis see it as an ideal form of government that ought to be reinstated. Still, jihadis have thus far viewed the caliphate as a utopia—much like Marxist groups viewed the perfect communist society—because the Islamic legal conditions for establishing a caliphate are difficult to meet in the modern international system. For decades, restoring the caliphate has been the declared end objective of all jihadi groups, but none of them has had the audacity to declare one—until now.

For “old” jihadi groups like al-Qaida, ISIS’s move is utterly preposterous. The veterans see themselves as having spent a lifetime fighting superpowers, all the while holding back on declaring a caliphate—only to see a bunch of newcomers come in from the sidelines and steal the trophy. Adding insult to injury, ISIS is now demanding that the veterans submit to the authority of a young, obscure (at least until yesterday) caliph. That demand comes because in theory, the leader of a caliphate rules all Muslims and has supreme executive authority in military matters. All this while ISIS supporters taunt the old guard on social media with comments such as: “If Al-Qaida and al-Taliban could not establish khilafah [caliphate] with all their power and territory for all these years, how can we expect them to suddenly unite upon haqq [truth] now? Al-Khilafah does not need them, rather, they need al-khilafah.”

As J.M. Berger has pointed out, ISIS’s strategy is a risky one. There is a very real chance that they will emerge from this verbal fistfight heavily bruised. A number of the world’s most senior jihadi ideologues have already come out against ISIS on the caliphate question, and the criticism from supporters of al-Qaida and groups like Jabhat al-Nusra, the al-Qaida-anointed jihadi group in Syria, has been scathing. Meanwhile, ISIS has so far only received the pledge of allegiance (bay’a) from a small number of minor clerics, dissidents from al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and groups in the Syrian-Iraqi theater that were at risk of being swallowed by ISIS anyway. To be sure, ISIS has also seen many declarations of support from grassroots sympathizers around the world, but it is unclear whether these are newly won adherents or people who were cheering on ISIS already. As Berger put it in another article, it looks like “ISIS threw a party and nobody came.”

It is admittedly still early to draw conclusions about the effects of the declaration, because we do not know exactly how the jihadi grassroots will respond or what the U.S. role in the Iraqi counteroffensive will be. However, at this point it looks like the declaration made a marginally positive difference to ISIS’s situation.

How good that situation is depends on the reference point. Judged by the standards of transnational jihadi groups, ISIS is doing exceptionally well. Never before has an Islamist group this radical had so much territory, so much money, and so many Western recruits. Even if ISIS was literally decimated—that is, reduced to a tenth of its current size—it would still be one of the largest jihadi groups in the world. However, by the standards of national insurgencies, ISIS is in some trouble. Further expansion—to Baghdad, Saudi Arabia, or Jordan—is highly unlikely given the obstacles in their way. They may preserve much of their territorial gains in Iraq in the next few months, but within a year the Iraqi government should, with U.S. assistance, be able to push them back to where they were in early 2014. In the longer term, ISIS may face governance strain in its remaining areas as locals tire of strict moral policing and economic stagnation. In addition, they face a broad alliance of intelligence services thatknows more and more about them. Three years from now, ISIS will probably be substantially weaker than it is today, but for reasons other than the caliphate declaration.

The bottom line is that business in the jihadi world will largely continue as usual after the declaration. Over time, the new caliphate will come to be seen as just another militant group, albeit a very presumptuous one. In the meantime, it is probably wise for Western governments to let the internal jihadi debate run its course. Premature military intervention will give the caliphate a jump start it does not deserve.

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The geopolitics of the Islamic state

Several months ago, two intelligence agencies in the Arab region had confirmed that ISIS is a genuine threat, not a manufactured distraction from the war in Syria. Many of those associated with the rebellion in Syria had suggested that ISIS was egged on by the government of Bashar al-Assad to allow his preferred framing of the Syrian war — that his is a war against terrorism and not against a civic rebellion. While it is true that Assad’s government released a number of jihadis in 2011, there is no evidence to suggest that he created ISIS. ISIS is a product of the U.S. war on Iraq, having been formed first as al-Qaeda in Iraq by the Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Deeply sectarian politics, namely an anti-Shia agenda, characterised al-Qaeda in this region. Funded by private Gulf Arab money, ISIS entered the Syrian war in 2012 as Jabhat al-Nusra (the Support Front). It certainly turned a civic rebellion into a terrorist war. Political support from the West and logistical support from Turkey and the Gulf Arab states allowed it to thrive in Syria. It became a hub for international jihad, with veterans from Afghanistan and Chechnya now flocking to al-Baghdadi’s band of fellows. By the start of 2014, ISIS held two major Iraqi cities (Ramadi and Fallujah) and two Syrian cities (Raqqa and Deir Ezzor). Their push to Mosul, then Baghdad was on the cards for at least a year.

The West has been consistently naive in its public assessment of events in West Asia. U.S. policy over Syria was befuddled by the belief that the Arab Spring could be understood simply as a fight between freedom and tyranny — concepts adopted from the Cold War. There was a refusal to accept that the civic rebellion of 2011 had morphed quite decisively by late 2012 into a much more dangerous conflict, with the radical jihadis in the ascendancy. It is of course true, as I saw first-hand, that the actual fighters in the jihad groups are a ragtag bunch with no special commitment to this or that ideology. They are anti-Assad, and they joined Jabhat al-Nusra or Ahra¯r ash-Sha¯m because that was the group at hand with arms and logistical means. Nevertheless, the fighters did fight for these groups, giving them the upper hand against the West’s preferred, but anaemic, Free Syrian Army. The Islamic State’s breakthrough in Iraq has inspired some of these men to its formations in Syria. They want to be a part of the excitement.

Meanwhile, sectarian lines are being hardened in the region. The battle now does not revisit the ancient fight at Karbala. This is not an age-old conflict. It is a modern one, over ideas of republicanism and monarchy, Iranian influence and Saudi influence. Shadows of sectarianism do shroud the battle of ordinary people who are frustrated by the lack of opportunities for them and by the lack of a future for their children. What motivates these fights is less the petty prejudices of sect and more the grander ambitions of regional control. Al-Baghdadi has announced that his vision is much greater than that of the Saudi King or the government in Tehran. He wants to command a religion, not just a region. Of such delusions are great societies and cultures destroyed.

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Are the Sykes-Picot Borders Being Redrawn?

Framing this in terms of a sweeping challenge to the borders drawn by Sykes and Picot and of an overarching Sunni-Shia sectarian divide overstates the threat to existing nation-states and over-simplifies the social dynamics behind emerging political challenges, offering a poor guide to appropriate policy responses.

In the first instance, far from being general, the challenge is very localized. The one serious challenge to the map drawn by Sykes and Picot comes from the growing autonomy of the Kurds. The deployment of the Kurdish Regional Government’s army—the pesh merga—into the strategic oil-rich city of Kirkuk in northern Iraq on June 12 fulfils a longstanding objective and takes the Kurds closer to full independence. Whether or not this is reached anytime soon, it enhances the autonomy of Syria’s Kurds, although the differences in political agendas and social constituencies between the Kurdish Democratic Party of Iraq and the dominant Democratic Union Party of Syria may prevent unification of the Kurdish regions of both countries.

In the meantime, the only border that appears to have been erased so far lies between eastern Syria and western Iraq, where local Arab clans, traders and smugglers, and armed groups have moved in both directions for years. But even here, political and social dynamics in eastern Syria are not wholly interchangeable with those of western Iraq, and few fight in each other’s wars, despite the emergence of a swathe of Salafist and jihadist militancy.

Clans on the Syrian side of the border, for example, align mainly with the Assad regime or with rebel groups, including Al-Qaeda’s affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, whose struggle for power focuses entirely on Syria. Even when clans declare allegiance to ISIS, they do so to counter their local rivals, but their material interests and long-term political calculations still center on relations with provincial capitals and with Damascus. On the other side of the border, the insurgent Iraqi clans and other militias similarly have their sights set firmly on relations with the national capital, Baghdad.

Iraq may suffer de facto partition between Sunni and Shia regions as the outcome of the current fighting, but this is unlikely to be stable or lasting. Significant political parties and religious leaders in both communities still insist on coexistence and integration, while those who seek regional autonomy insist on winning a share of key assets—the capital and oil—and therefore will be compelled to reach mutually acceptable compromises with other communities. 

And despite frequent dire predictions, the Syrian conflict is unlikely to end in formal partition, even if societal reconciliation and national reconstruction prove painfully difficult and slow. In contrast to the Sunni Arab inhabitants of Mosul, for example, who have always looked to Aleppo in Syria and southeast Turkey for their socio-cultural and economic ties and may now prefer autonomy within a federal Iraqi state, their counterparts in Aleppo have never ceased to see themselves solely within the context of a unitary Syrian state.

Even ISIS, which operates as a truly cross-border movement, remains heavily focused on Iraq, where it first appeared. In Syria it has been unable to hold on to any territory west of Aleppo, nor to put down genuine roots in the areas it controls in the eastern provinces of Raqqah, Deir az-Zor, and al-Hasakeh. ISIS is moreover limited geographically to the Iraqi-Syrian border. It has no presence in Lebanon and Jordan so far, and little prospect of gaining a significant local constituency in either country. This is partly due to the social and sectarian composition of Lebanon and the strength of state institutions in Jordan, but it also reflects the reaction of local populations to the spectre of violence next door and to the massive influx of Iraqi and Syrian refugees over the past decade.

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Remembering A Baghdad Elsewhere: An Emotional Cartography

"The planes that were arranged to transport Iraqi-Jews to #Israel uprooted millennia of life in Babylon, leading to a new diasporic existence. Overnight, we were no longer Iraqis, but Israelis; a new citizenship coupled with a strict poetic national-culture meter. The Israeli-Arab conflict formulated a new grammar of belonging where Arabness and Jewishness composed a mutually exclusive syntax, in excess of each other. Upon their arrival in Israel, my grandparents did not speak Hebrew and never learned it until their last day. My parents, while becoming more fluent in Hebrew, persisted to speak it with a heavy Iraqi accent, unable to erase the traces of their “Bilad al-Rafidein” (Mesopotamia) birthplace. 

My father and his friends, during their first days as construction workers, communicated among themselves in Arabic but were disdainfully ordered by their Euro-Israeli boss to “Stop speaking Arabic! We are not in an Arab country.” Arabic, needless to say, was the language of the enemy. A Jew could not speak it, and a Jew could certainly not claim it as an identity marker. “In Iraq,” my parents often lamented, “we were Jews. In Israel, we are Arabs.””

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Iraq, Afghan wars will cost to $4 trillion to $6 trillion, Harvard study says

The U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq will cost taxpayers $4 trillion to $6 trillion, taking into account the medical care of wounded veterans and expensive repairs to a force depleted by more than a decade of fighting, according to a new study by a Harvard researcher.

Spending borrowed money to pay for the wars has also made them more expensive, the study noted. The conflicts have added $2 trillion to America’s debt, representing roughly 20 percent of the debt incurred between 2001 and 2012.


This shows that austerity is a total joke. The best way to end the debt and go into surplus is to cut all the war spending and have a functional health care system. The reason why there are so many austerity measures everywhere except for in military spending is because the purpose of budget cutbacks is to harm the poor and create precarious social conditions which would allow more labor exploitation to happen.

- Jahanzeb 

(Source : Washington Post)

Turkey and Syria: The Kurdish dilemma

As the civil war in Syria continues to spread Turkey is faced with a new dimension to its long-standing Kurdish problem. For decades, modern Turkey has been battling a bloody insurgency in southeastern Turkey, led by the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) that has left some 40,000 people dead on both sides.

After having virtually squashed the insurgency in a 16-year long war, however, Turkey found the reality on the ground change fundamentally with the emergence of a Kurdish state-in-waiting in northern Iraq, following the imposition of a US-led no fly zone there in 1991 and the toppling of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Turkey embraced that new fact by forging close ties with the Iraqi Kurdish leadership and investing heavily in the autonomous Iraqi Kurdish region in a bid to prevent it from fostering Turkish Kurdish demands for greater autonomy or moving towards full independence. The takeover of Syrian Kurdish towns along the border with Turkey by armed Kurds of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the Syrian wing of the PKK, confronts Turkey with a similar dilemma for which, unlike in Iraq, it has no ready answers.

Syrian Kurdish assertiveness raises the question whether Turkey can sustain its opposition to the aspirations of the Kurds on its borders, or whether it would be better served by embracing a pro-active Kurdish policy that would turn Kurdish nationalism across West Asia to its advantage, as it did in Northern Iraq? Turkish opposition to Kurdish aspirations, moreover, despite its support for the Sunni Muslim opposition in Syria, risks putting Turkey alongside China and Russia in the camp of those opposed to the emergence of a post-Assad Syria that is more democratic and pluralistic.

Risking military intervention

Turkish leaders have so far given no indication that they are reading the writing on the wall despite debate in the media about the need to bite the Kurdish bullet. That would involve granting Turkish Kurds full democratic rights of political and cultural expression that would bring the PKK into the fold and extending its approach in Iraqi Kurdistan to Kurdish communities in Syria and eventually in Iran. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan however has warned: ”We will not allow a terrorist group to establish camps in northern Syria and threaten Turkey. If there is a step which needs to be taken against the terrorist group, we will definitely take this step.”

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davitoglu has urged the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) to ensure that a post-Assad Syria remains united. In a rare joint declaration Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan warned that they would confront any threat from a violent group or organization that exploits the power vacuum in Syria. The warning addressed to the PKK without identifying it by name came as Turkey launched a military exercise just across the border from Kurdish-controlled Syrian towns.

These moves may persuade the PKK to refrain for now from attacking Turkey from Syrian territory but are unlikely to resolve the increasing challenge Kurds pose to Turkish policy at home and in the region. For the PKK, attacks against Turkey from Syria would be a double-edged sword. Turkish military retaliation against Syrian Kurdish targets in Syria would constitute foreign intervention in the country’s civil war; it could accelerate Assad’s downfall but would strengthen the hand of PKK’s nemesis, Turkey.

Turkish fears of Syrian Kurdish areas developing into a springboard for attacks on Turkey have also revived discussion of creating a buffer zone on the Turkish-Syrian border to counter Syrian Kurdish moves. For now Syrian Kurds are hedging their bets. Their takeover of Syrian Kurdish towns while remaining on the side lines of the effort to topple Assad, gives them leverage irrespective of who emerges victorious from the battle for the future of Syria.

So far Turkish warnings have only a limited impact. The PDY is one of two alliances of Syrian Kurdish groups, the People’s Council for Western Kurdistan (PCWK), that are backed by Iraqi Kurdish leaders and have refused to become part of the SNC because of its rejection of Kurdish aspirations, its alignment with Turkey and the role of the Muslim Brotherhood in the council. Syrian Kurdish fighters have so far successfully rebuffed attempts by the rebel Free Syrian Army to enter Syrian Kurdish areas.

The Turkish military and Iraqi Kurdish leaders moreover have been unable to dislodge PKK bases established in the remote Kandil mountains in northern Iraq. The leaders have long counseled their Syrian Kurdish brethren, who account for some 12 per cent of the Syrian population, to remain on the side lines of the conflict in Syria until either the opposition recognizes Kurdish rights or facts on the ground that warrant a Kurdish move.

The Kurds’ time has come

That time appears to have come. In a post-Assad Syria that will probably remain volatile and unstable with ethnic and religious groups fighting one another, Syrian Kurds are likely to learn from the success of Iraqi Kurds in carving out a relatively stable enclave of their own while the rest of Iraq tore itself apart. In preparation, Iraqi Kurdish forces have already started training Syrian Kurdish fighters. With Syrian Kurds pushing for greater rights and self-rule rather than independence, Turkey is likely to sit on the side lines as long as it is not attacked from Syrian territory.

The emergence of a second autonomous Kurdish region along its border not only calls into question Turkey’s fundamental policy towards the Kurds, it makes more necessary than ever a revision of policy that would put Turkey at the forefront of developments in the region and cement its role as a leader at a time of geopolitical change.

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The 10 Lessons of the Iraq war by the Foreign Policy Journal

                      “… the real lesson of Iraq is not to do stupid things like this again.”

So the biggest lesson from Iraq is that it was a stupid war. For American intellectuals, Iraq was not a war which was wrong and immoral, but just a stupid war that cost the US too much money. In capitalist America, it’s all about money. Clearly there are no lessons to be learnt from the fact that the US destroyed an entire country, killed more than a million people, used depleted uranium to deform thousands of children (the cancer rate in Fallujah is higher than Nagasaki and Hiroshima) and made thousands women into widows. The US didn’t learn anything from Vietnam and it’s the same with this war. This is because the US refuses to look at itself in the mirror. If the US goes on like this, then there is nothing that can stop this criminal, terrorist and racist empire.

 - Jahanzeb Hussain


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Note on the 9th anniversary of the Iraq war

 There are many people who oppose the invasion of Iraq but at the same time support the Afghan war as the “good war”. On top of that, they also support bombing Iran, deny Palestinians their rights and were in favor of NATO’s mission in Libya. They also back the drone bombings in Pakistan. Some of them are part of the Kony2012 crowd as well. These bandwagoners need to get a fucking life.

- Jahanzeb Hussain

9 years of Iraq War

When the American troops began to invade Iraq, there was this one question on our minds: Who’s next? Are we next? I was a 14 year-old kid at that time. For me, the Iraqi child that I saw dying on tv could very well have been me. What’s the difference after all? For the Empire, we are all one and the same. They could have blown my house up and destroyed my city - Karachi - just as easily as they were bombing Baghdad. Where was I and where were the Iraqi children? We were all the same. And we are still the same.

- Jahanzeb Hussain