Iraq ‘out of neck of the bottle’ by end of 2017: political analysts

Iraqi government forces hold a large version of their national flag as they flash the sign for victory during their graduation ceremony in the Jurf al-Sakher area, some 50 kilometres south of Baghdad on April 9, 2015. (AFP)
Updated 23 December 2017
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Iraq ‘out of neck of the bottle’ by end of 2017: political analysts

This year was a much better one for Iraqis, who have suffered severe security, economic and political conditions during the past three years after Daesh militants overran the northern and western parts of the country and seized almost a third of its territories, killing tens of thousands of people and displacing millions.
All this was accompanied by a quasi-bankrupt treasury and a drain on the country’s financial and human resources because of the war on the militants, but the situation is much improved and Iraq has finally come out of the “neck of the bottle,” according to analysts.
“It is certainly a year of achievements and an end to most of the crises that have strangled Iraq over the past years,” Abdulwahid Tuama, a political analyst told Arab News.
“Liberating the Iraqi territories, ending the war against Daesh, lifting the long-term economic sanctions imposed on Iraq, the rise in oil prices and the significant improvement of the Iraqi-regional relationship are all major breakthroughs achieved in 2017,” Tuama said.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Abadi on Dec. 9 declared the end of the three-year-long war against Daesh and the liberation of the Iraqi territories. A day earlier, the UN Security Council unanimously voted on Iraq’s exit from Chapter VII and ended 26 years of economic sanctions imposed on the country since Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1991.
The battle to liberate Mosul, the largest populated Iraqi city-seized by Daesh, was the fiercest, the biggest and the longest in the campaign waged by Iraqi forces and its backers against the radical organization.
More than 100 000 Iraqi troops, backed by US-led military coalition air forces and the Shiite-dominated Popular Mobilization troops, fought for almost nine months to regain control of the city, which included the most important and largest strongholds of the militants, the headquarters of control and command and the biggest weapons depots of the organization in Iraq.
By the end of the battle on Feb. 19, more than 25,000 militants had been killed, military officers said.
“The battle to retake Mosul is the most important one, because it broke the backbone of the organization and completely paralyzed it (Daesh) and ended its military capacity,” Retired Gen. Emad Allow, a EU adviser on terrorism, told Arab News.
“This battle also witnessed a significant development in the combat skills of the Iraqi security forces, as the fighting was fierce and house-to-house because of the nature of the city,” Allow said.
Baghdad has been immersed in its war against terrorism in recent years. This has encouraged the regional government of the Kurdish region, semi-autonomous since the 1970s, to extend its control over the disputed areas which lie outside the 2003-constitutionally approved part of the region.
The northern oil hub city of Kirkuk and its lucrative oil fields are at the core of the disputed areas between Baghdad and Kurdistan since 2003. The Kurdistan regional government held a controversial referendum on independence in late September.
“Holding the referendum (on independence) was like an earthquake that hit the political process in Iraq. It was no less a force in its impact than the (2014) fall of the three provinces into the hands of Daesh,” political analyst Joma’ah Al-A’atoani told Arab News.
“Actually it (the referendum) was even more dangerous because, under the umbrella of national slogans calling for freedom of self-determination, Iraq almost entered a dark corner and it paved the way to cut off a large area of its territory,” A’atoani said.
Baghdad has responded by launching a huge military campaign to drive the Kurdish forces out of Kirkuk, its oil fields and most of the disputed areas. It has imposed a series of punitive measures on the region, including the banning of international flights to and from airports and the closing down of border crossings with Turkey and Iran.
“Gaining back control over the disputed areas and oil fields, shutting down the airports and crossing borders in the region is a major achievement and proved that the Iraqi government is capable of confronting anything that threatens the unity of the country and affects its sovereignty,” A’atoani said.
The year was not limited to military and political achievements. The policy of non-interference in the affairs of other countries in the region, which Abadi has adopted since he became prime minister, has also begun to bear fruit.
The Iraqi-regional relationship has significantly improved in 2017. Abadi has made several regional and international rounds during the past two months, culminating in the signing of several economic, security and military agreements with Turkey, France, Iran, Jordan and other countries.
The most important breakthrough for Iraqis was the improvement of relations between Baghdad and Riyadh, which had been fluctuating for the past three decades.
In February this year, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir was the first senior Saudi official to visit Baghdad since 2003.
Al-Jubeir’s visit was followed by a visit from Abadi to Saudi Arabia in June and another one in October to end the boycott between the two countries.
The visits opened the door for the countries to exchange visits and sign joint agreements, particularly in the oil, reconstruction, transport and anti-terrorism sectors. Last month, Saudi Arabia appointed Abdul Aziz Al-Shimari as the new ambassador to Iraq.
“Saudi-Iraqi rapprochement will ease the sectarian strife inside Iraq and deprive the Iraqi rival parties of playing the sectarian card,” Abdulwahid Tuama said.
“Also, it (rapprochement) will bring much economic gain to both countries. Iraq is looking to reach the ports of the Red Sea to export its oil, in return it can offer significant investment opportunities for Saudi companies and goods in many areas and sectors,” Tuama said.


Turkey, Russia discussing Idlib airspace control: Sources

Updated 23 September 2018
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Turkey, Russia discussing Idlib airspace control: Sources

  • Turkey has set up observation posts in Idlib in a bid to prevent clashes between rebels and government forces
  • After a meeting on Sept. 17 between Putin and Erdogan, agreed to create a de-militarized zone in Idlib by Oct. 15

ANKARA: The partial transfer of control of the airspace over the de-escalation zone in Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib from Moscow to Ankara is being discussed by the two sides, Russian sources said. 

The aim is to enable Turkey to conduct an aerial campaign against Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS), which Ankara recently designated a terrorist organization. 

A former Al-Qaeda affiliate, HTS is the strongest armed group in Idlib, the last stronghold of Syrian anti-government rebels. 

In February, HTS claimed responsibility for the downing of a Russian warplane in Idlib using a surface-to-air missile.

Russia, Turkey and Iran are monitoring the de-escalation zone in the province as part of a trilateral agreement. 

Turkey has set up observation posts in Idlib in a bid to prevent clashes between rebels and government forces.

“Discussions are ongoing about the details of this transfer (of airspace control). I guess it will be limited to the buffer zone in Idlib for now,” Yury Barmin, an analyst at the Russian International Affairs Council, told Arab News.

“If Russia is taking steps to allow Turkey to use Idlib’s airspace, it will give Turkey more room for maneuver in the region.”

But airstrikes by Ankara against HTS might create another refugee influx into Turkey, which already hosts more than 3 million Syrian refugees, Barmin said. 

Idlib is home to more than 1 million displaced Syrians, and its population exceeds 3 million. Turkey is concerned that the creation of a humanitarian crisis near its border would further swell its own refugee population. 

After a meeting on Sept. 17 between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the two countries agreed to create a de-militarized zone in Idlib by Oct. 15.

The deal requires that all radical groups, including HTS, withdraw from the area and that all heavy weapons be removed.

Russian and Turkish troops will conduct coordinated patrols to ensure that all armed groups respect the deal.

Emre Ersen, a Syria analyst at Marmara University in Istanbul, said a transfer of airspace control would mean that Ankara and Moscow are determined to implement their latest agreement regarding Idlib. 

“Until now, Idlib’s airspace has been fully controlled by Russia, which weakened Turkey’s hand in trying to convince rebel groups in the region to abandon their arms,” he told Arab News.

Transferring airspace control “would give Ankara additional diplomatic leverage in its dealings with HTS,” he said. 

“If Ankara fails to persuade HTS to comply with the Putin-Erdogan deal regarding Idlib, it’s almost certain that Russia and Syrian government forces will start a military operation in the region.”

So Turkey is sending a message to HTS that if carrots do not work, it has some sticks at its disposal, Ersen said.