28 abril, 2020

Just Leave Iraq


United States military bases in the Middle East.

The United States has been militarily present in Iraq for the better part of this century: 14 years out of 20 (2003-2011 and 2014-2020). This extended presence included the involvement in a war, in a counter-insurgency, in another war and presently in another counter-insurgency/war of attrition, at a staggering cost of 2 trillion Dollars and the loss of 4487 military personnel.

The initial intentions of toppling Saddam Hussein’s regime, implementing a democracy in Iraq and unveiling weapons of arms of mass destruction (which were nowhere to be found), gradually unravelled under the mismanagement of the occupation, the insurgency of Iraqi Iranian proxies, the fight of the Iraqi branch of Al Qaeda and the increasing sectarianism, eventually mitigated by the 2007 Surge approved by President George W. Bush and led by the General David Petraeus.

Barack Obama’s decision to withdraw from Iraq in 2011 was the equivalent to handing Iraq to Iran in a wrapped paper. The void left in the wake of the American withdrawal was quickly filled by Tehran, either directly through the Islamic Republican Guard (IRGC) Quds Force, or indirectly through the plethora of Iraqi militias loyal to Iran (Badr Organisation, Ketaib Hezbollah, Asaib Ahl Al-Haq, among others). Concurrently, has Iran also increased her influence over the powers that be, including the Iraqi government led by Nouri Al Maliki. Speaking of whom, Al Maliki’s power grew with Tehran’s backing and with it came an increasing sectarianism and persecution of the Sunni citizens that paved the way for the following Islamic State onslaught.

Fast forward to 2014, the United States is drawn back to Iraq because of the establishment of the Caliphate by the Islamic State (IS) in large swaths of Iraq and Syria. The United States’ intervention, plus her allies and the support given to the collapsing Iraqi army, were instrumental in the defeat of the Islamic State.

The USA remained in Syria and in Iraq, under the pretext of continuing to fight the remains of the IS and, in the case of Iraq, also to provide training to her security forces. In Iraq there are an estimated 5200 American troops spread by 5 bases, down from the 9 they had at the beginning of this year. The reason to deliver some bases to the Iraqi military is the need to consolidate, but the increase in rocket attacks on American bases and the need to upgrade the bases’ defence capabilities obviously have played a role in the decision.

Given the long American history in Iraq, its financial cost, its human toll and the scant political and geopolitical gains, it is high time to consider if the United States should persist in her Iraqi quest, or should she just call it a day, fold the bases, the equipment and make the troops go home?

The mainstream opinion is that the USA should stick to Iraq. Actually, it argues that the USA should upgrade her involvement in Iraq, helping the country to attain the capability to fend off threats from neighbours like Iran or Turkey, to prop up Iraq’s economy, to help establishing a standard of good governance and to finish off the vicious circles of endless corruption and bloody sectarianism. On top of these, the USA should also accomplish the feat of brushing aside 15 years of Iranian public and covert influence over Baghdad’s political apparatus, plus putting an end to Iran’s control over countless powerful proxy militias, not to mention her direct military and security involvement in Iraq.

My personal conviction is that the United States is over and done in Iraq and she is actually overstaying there. There are at least seven reasons to substantiate it.

1- The past 15 years abundantly proved that the United States is not able to quash Iran’s influence and ascendant over Iraq. The US has extended a decisive contribution to root out the Islamic State threat and power and yet, after its demise, Iran went back to show her prominence as influencer-in-chief in Baghdad. The American bases in Iraq have been frequently attacked by Iran’s proxy militias. Regardless, the Iraqi parliament approved a non-binding resolution to expel all American troops in Iraq. This, by itself, speaks volumes as to who really calls the shots from behind the scenes.

2- The degree of suggested American involvement in Iraq would entail another huge investment, on the military-security level, on the financial and infra-structure level, on the political and diplomatic level. And all for what? Been there, done that, as they say. The odds that this plan would pan out are diminutive, given the well-established and time-tested Iranian pervasive influence in Baghdad.

3- The American citizenry is increasingly fed up of the excessive US military involvement in the Middle East, of the human toll endured and of the financial burden, as well. As time goes by and the results do not match the investments, the animosity towards the endeavour in Iraq will only grow.

4- Unlike the mainstream conviction, I do not buy into the idea that having a close relationship with Iraq is of crucial national interest to the United States. Besides the unlikelihood of Iraq switching sides, the fact is that the USA would not gain a significant new leverage in the Middle East if she could co-opt Iraq. Although keeping Iraq under Iran’s wing will enable the latter an extended influence in the region, thus preserving the Shiite Arch Iran-Iraq-Syria-Lebanon, there is no reason to believe that it would translate into an overarching and threatening clout across the Middle East.

 Iran’s Shiite Arch stretching from the Arabian Sea and the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean, crossing Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.
in “STRATFOR” at www.stratfor.com

 5- Actually, in this Shiite Arch scenario, Iran will be bracing with severe challenges in the mid-term if not before. Iran would find herself struggling to manage and control a group of countries who are themselves ensnared in multiple problems of epic proportions. Iraq, Syria and Lebanon are all mired in sectarian conflicts, in terrorist and militia warfare, subject to multiple foreign meddling (Turkey, Russia, USA, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, United Arab Emirates), undergoing severe economic crises and coping with widespread infrastructure destruction due to warfare, in the case of Syria and Iraq. If one thinks of the strained conditions of the Iranian economy due to foreign adventurism, sanctions, bad management and corruption, it is not difficult to figure that Iran would be utterly incapable of rescuing her allies and proxies.

6- What about an eventual Islamic State resurgence or any other insurgency by existing or new terrorist organisations, be them Sunni or Shiite? Well, on the one hand, it is unlikely that the IS would be able to return to the level of power and impetus it displayed in 2014/15 and the same applies to any other terrorist or insurgent group. On the other hand, if Iraq faces renewed threats from any such organisation, guess who would have to carry the burden of rescuing the Iraqi government? Yes, that will be Iran.

7- Last but not least, the United States faces other challenges that are much more relevant to her national interest and which request much more attention and commitment. Namely, the rising military power and geopolitical ambitions of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Having 70.000 troops allocated to the Middle East plus the large amount of sea, air and land equipment deployed is a bit of a waste when there is an insufficient military presence in the West Pacific. The USA should not and will not withdraw from the Middle East, but she should have a lighter footprint and terminate the useless and vulnerable land deployments, such as those in Iraq and Syria.

It is quite surprising to see that there is still a cohort of analysts and experts who keep pressing Washington to engage in never-ending nation-building endeavours in spite of the successive failures in previous attempts. It is also bewildering that these same people seem to think that the United States should have a very close relationship with any country, even if they are of little or none geopolitical relevance and/or if the large required investment and the expectable small return clearly do not pay off the costs and risks involved.

No suggestion is being made fore the US to leave the Middle East and bases like the Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar and the Naval Support Activity in Bahrain, among others, are absolutely vital for American power projection and its presence in the region and the adjacent seas.

However, if the United States aims to retain her role as the most important  world power, she has to drop world micromanagement and to focus on the real game changing challenges which, at present, mostly involve the Asia-Pacific region in general and the PRC in particular.
China’s outrageous maritime claims.
in “STRATFOR” at www.stratfor.com

24 abril, 2020

Implosão do Iémen


A pulverização do Iémen mostrada neste mapa parcial da divisão territorial.

No dia 10 de Abril foi identificado o 1º caso de corona vírus no Iémen. No dia 11 de Abril, a Arábia Saudita e os seus aliados anunciaram um cessar-fogo unilateral na Guerra do Iémen para facilitar o combate à doença. Dias depois, o Ansar Allah, aka Houthis, que controla o Norte e o Oeste do Iémen incluindo a capital Sanaa, rejeitaram o cessar-fogo como sendo um estratagema dúbio da Coligação e prosseguiram com as suas acções armadas. No dia 17 de Abril, a coligação liderada pela Arábia Saudita retomou os ataques aéreos no Iémen, com o foco em Sanaa.

Poder-se-á concluir que pouco mudou no Iémen desde que o último post sobre o país foi publicado em Tempos Interessantes há 5 anos. Na verdade, o estado de guerra, as inúmeras baixas, a pobreza, a fome e a insegurança, mantêm-se imutáveis, mas o conflito evoluiu significativamente ao longo dos anos.

Desde logo, o fornecimento de mísseis balísticos e de drones do Irão aos Houthis, que reforçaram a capacidade do grupo atingir alvos na Arábia Saudita, demonstrada pelo lançamento de um míssil sobre Rhiyadh em Novembro de 2017. No mesmo mês, a coligação dos Houthis e das forças do ex-Presidente Ali Abdullah Saleh rompem a aliança que durava desde 2015 e Saleh acaba sendo morto em combate.

Em Agosto de 2019 dá-se nova ruptura, desta vez na coligação que promovia o governo legítimo do Iémen, liderado por Abbuh Mansour Hadi. O movimento separatista Southern Transitional Council (STC), apoiado pelos Emiratos Árabes Unidos (EAU) tomou controle da importante cidade portuária de Aden. Assim, o governo de Hadi, depois de ter sido expulso da capital Sanaa, foi também afastado de Aden, capital do extinto Iémen do Sul.

O ano de 2019 foi o segundo mais letal da Guerra com mais de 23.000 mortes e o primeiro trimestre de 2020 também se caracterizou por violentos combates.

O que se pode esperar do futuro próximo? O passado recente e o presente não auguram nada de bom.

O Ansar Allah/Houthis registou ganhos territoriais nos últimos meses o que lhes dá margem para elevar o nível de exigências: retirada de todas as tropas estrangeiras do território iemenita e levantamento do bloqueio naval e terrestre. “The Houthis see a ceasefire as more than just a halt to military activities," Aljazeera quoted. Tal significa que estão confiantes e seguros e só aceitarão compromissos que lhes sejam bastante vantajosos.

A Arábia Saudita parece cansada de uma guerra que se arrasta no tempo bem mais do que esperaria. Após uma fase inicial da Guerra em que registou significativos progressos, a partir de 2017/18 os ventos da guerra mudaram e os Houthis, apoiados pelo Irão, começaram a ameaçar os ganhos anteriores e a lançar mísseis sobre território saudita. A Arábia Saudita enfrenta um dilema complexo:

* Está enfraquecida pela saída dos EAU da coligação em Agosto de 2019, que redundou em combates entre forças patrocinadas pela Arábia Saudita e o STC apoiado pelos EAU. Note-se que os EAU eram o 2º parceiro mais relevante da coligação.

* Está pressionada pela queda brutal dos preços e da procura de petróleo, o que reduz a sua margem de manobra financeira.
* Tem vontade de encerrar este capítulo, mas não o quer fazer sem salvar a face e não quer que o Irão estabeleça um baluarte na Península Arábica e ainda menos num país contíguo com o Reino.

O Iémen e os diversos agentes envolvidos no conflito estão presos num círculo de violência e orgulho que vai inviabilizando qualquer solução que leve ao término da Guerra. O mais provável é que a situação se arraste com o seu lastro de morte, fome e violência na vã esperança que a situação e os dilemas se resolvam por eles próprios.