Twitter and email info

Monday, September 14, 2015

Blatent militia involvement in kidnapping of Turkish workers in Baghdad exemplifies the struggle for authority.

Link: Militia releases video of kidnapped Turkish workers.

A previously unknown Shi'a militia identifying itself as "Death Squads" has taken responsibility for the kidnapping of eighteen Turkish workers on September 2, and released a video of the captives.  In all likelihood, this new group is a recently concocted cover for Kata'ib al-Hezbollah, the Shi'a militia which was strongly suspected from the beginning of being responsible for the kidnappings. In the video, the kidnappers demand a number of concessions on behalf of Turkey, in order to secure the release of the eighteen construction workers who were in Baghdad to complete the building of a new sports stadium.  The "Death Squad" is demanding that Turkey "seize gunmen" who are transiting through Turkey to Iraq.  Turkey is also required to halt the transfer of "stolen oil" from Iraqi Kurdistan through Turkey.  The Shi'a militias and Iran are opposed to the Iraqi Kurds having access to oil and using it to develop an economy, as this might help legitimize and Kurdish claim to statehood.  The last demand was the most interesting from my perspective.  The kidnappers are demanding that the Turkish government end all support for Jaysh al-Fatah, a Syrian rebel coalition led by Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra.  Recently, Jabhat al-Nusra has dealt a number of staggering military defeats on Syrian regime forces.  In fact, in northwest Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra is expected to begin an offensive soon that will sweep down to the strategic al-Ghab Plain and put pressure on the Alawite community and Assad's hometown of Qardaha.  In the past six months, Nusra has become much more effective at combating regime forces than the handful of other anti-regime military groups, which explains why the militias, who are directed from Tehran, would demand that Turkey stop aiding Nusra.  I have yet to see direct proof that Turkey is aiding Jabhat al-Nusra, but it is possible, given Turkish President Erdogan's personal obsession with removing the Assad family from power in Syria.

The government has very little it can do to rescue the kidnapped workers.  Most Special Police Units are fighting outside Ramadi, and the militias present a difficult target.  Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi can take solace in the continued support from Iraqi and Shi'a cleric the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who has ordered the kidnappers to release their hostages, making note of the damage being done to the authority of the state, by those who are pledged to protect Iraq.  Little good it did, as the kidnappers  pray to the Ayatollahs sitting in Qom, Iran, not Najaf, Iraq.  But Sistani's continued aggressive support of Abadi provides valuable bona fides to the reform movement in the eyes of the Iraqi Shi'a.  It also puts other Shi'a leaders on the spot.  For instance, Moqtadah al-Sadr, who is the titular head of the Mahdi Army, one of the larger Shi'a militias, has called for the government to immediately take action to free the hostages.  During his public comments on the kidnapping issue, Sadr referred to some of the Shi'a groups as "brazen militias" that should be boycotted by the Popular Mobilization Committee.  Sadr is no friend to Abadi or the reform movement, so he must either be feeling some pressure regarding the kidnapping, or he is using this opportunity to remove Nouri al-Maliki from the scene altogether.  Its quite possible that Sadr, who has definite visions of future power and grandeur, considers Maliki a threat because of Maliki's previous good relationship with the Iranians.

These developments give us an opportunity to examine the animosity between Turkey and Iran, two militarily powerful Muslim nations who share a common border.  Erdogan is aggravated to no end by Iran's use of Hezbollah in Lebanon as a proxy to provide extensive military support to Bashir al-Assad.  The Iranians have always considered the Turks to be tainted through their historic and military ties to the United States, and in the 1990s, when the Turkish Armed Forces started conducting joint military maneuvers with the Israelis, you could just sense the Imams and Ayatollahs in Qom chewing on their turbans and crashing their flying carpets in to the walls.  Now that the Russians have decided, very late in the game, that Assad is worth saving, Iran has an ally on the  battlefields of Syria besides Hezbollah and the regime forces.  The pro-Assad groups are relatively easy to distinguish, but the rest is one big stew of different names, individual ideologies, loyalties, intentions, and complaints.  I'm not sure where Nusra fits in as opposed to the Syrian Kurds.  And what about the free Syrian Army?  And then there exists a handful of smaller groups, operating on their own agenda, including groups of former U.S. servicemen who have volunteered to go back to Mesopotamia to fight ISIS.  Turkey may very well end up playing a large role in how this drama eventually plays itself out.  Outside of Syria and Iraq, they have the most serious security concerns because of the conflict.  If the Turks made the decision to commit themselves totally, they could probably destroy ISIS in Syria in a matter of weeks, although no guarantees about collateral casualties.  Its the one question which troubles me the most: since everyone recognizes ISIS for the real threat to world peace that they hope to become, then why haven't we committed ourselves militarily to their rapid and total destruction?  Heck, the Turks, Iranians, and even the Israelis could join the party.  For now we watch developments in Iraq, to learn if the Abadi regime can survive both an assault by the anti-reform militias, and the possible failure of the Anbar offensive.  

No comments:

Post a Comment