US wants to continue support for Arab coalition in Yemen

The US is encouraging the Yemeni government, backed by the Saudi-led coalition, and the Iran-aligned Houthi militia to fully engage in peace talks taking place in Sweden, said Lenderking. (File/AFP)
Updated 09 December 2018

US wants to continue support for Arab coalition in Yemen

  • The US believes that the Yemen that emerges from civil war should not contain any Iranian-backed threat to Saudi Arabia and the UAE
  • The US is encouraging the Yemeni government, backed by the Saudi-led coalition, and the Iran-aligned Houthi militia to fully engage in peace talks

ABU DHABI: The United States wants to continue support to the Arab coalition in Yemen’s war and will remain engaged in efforts to combat Iranian influence and Islamist militancy in the Arab state, a State Department official said on Sunday.

Since the Oct 2. murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi at the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate, the US administration has come under pressure at home over the nearly four-year-old conflict.

The Senate last month voted to advance a resolution to end US military support, which includes arms sales and intelligence sharing, for the Western-backed Sunni Muslim coalition that intervened in 2015 against the Iranian-aligned Houthis to restore the internationally recognized government.

“There are pressures in our system ... to either withdraw from the conflict or discontinue our support of the coalition, which we are strongly opposed to on the administration side,” said Timothy Lenderking, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Arabian Gulf Affairs.

“We do believe that the support for the coalition is necessary. It sends a wrong message if we discontinue our support,” he told a security forum in the UAE.

The US official’s reassurances of continued support comes as Sweden hosts the first UN-led peace talks in two years between the warring parties and as Gulf Arab leaders hold an annual summit in Riyadh on Sunday, expected to discuss the war.

Containing Iran

Lenderking said peace talks launched last week were a “vital first step” in ending the conflict that has killed tens of thousands of people and left millions facing starvation.

He said there were no illusions the process would be easy, but that there were signs of constructive talks and that Washington wants concrete results from the meetings focused on confidence-building measures and a transitional governing body.

“Looking down the road we seek a stable and unified Yemen that fosters rather than drains regional and global stability.”

“There is no place in a future Yemen for an Iranian-backed threat to Saudi Arabia, the UAE and vital international economic quarters,” he said, adding that the coalition was also combating al Qaeda and Islamic State militants in Yemen.

The Arabian Peninsula country lies beside the southern mouth of the Red Sea, one of the most important trade routes in the world for oil tankers.

The conflict, seen largely in the region as a proxy war between Riyadh and Tehran, pits the Houthi movement against other Yemeni forces loyal to the government of Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi backed by the coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

The Houthis, who have fired missiles on Saudi cities, control the capital Sanaa, after ousting Hadi’s government from there in 2014, and the most populous areas of the country. Hadi’s government has a base in the southern port of Aden.

Lenderking said that experts forecast there could be 1 million former combatants that need to be disarmed once a peace deal is reached, requiring security sector reform as well as restoring crippled infrastructure and shoring up the economy.

“Early recovery efforts are underway but full-scale reconstruction can only occur in a peaceful environment. For that reason, we want to close the space for malign Iranian influence.”


Iraqi PM tightens government grip on country’s armed factions

Updated 17 September 2019

Iraqi PM tightens government grip on country’s armed factions

  • The increasingly strained relations between the US and Iran in the region is casting a large shadow over Iraq

BAGHDAD: Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi is putting increased pressure on the nation’s armed factions, including Shiite-dominated paramilitary troops and Kurdish guerrillas, in an attempt to tighten his control over them, Iraqi military commanders and analysts said on Monday.

Military commanders have been stripped of some of their most important powers as part of the efforts to prevent them from being drawn into local or regional conflicts.

The increasingly strained relations between the US and Iran in the region is casting a large shadow over Iraq. 

Each side has dozens of allied armed groups in the country, which has been one of the biggest battlegrounds for the two countries since 2003. 

Attempting to control these armed factions and military leaders is one of the biggest challenges facing the Iraqi government as it works to keep the country out of the conflict.

On Sunday, Abdul Mahdi dissolved the leadership of the joint military operations. 

They will be replaced by a new one, under his chairmanship, that includes representatives of the ministries of defense and interior, the military and security services, the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) and the Ministry of Peshmerga, which controls the military forces of the autonomous Kurdistan region.

According to the prime minister’s decree, the main tasks of the new command structure are to “lead and manage joint operations at the strategic and operational level,” “repel all internal and external threats and dangers as directed by the commander-in-chief of the armed forces,” “manage and coordinate the intelligence work of all intelligence and security agencies,” and “coordinate with international bodies that support Iraq in the areas of training and logistical and air support.”

“This decree will significantly and effectively contribute to controlling the activities of all combat troops, not just the PMU,” said a senior military commander, who declined to be named. 

“This will block any troops associated with any local political party, regional or international” in an attempt to ensure troops serve only the government’s goals and the good of the country. 

“This is explicit and unequivocal,” he added.

Since 2003, the political process in Iraq has been based on political power-sharing system. This means that each parliamentary bloc gets a share of top government positions, including the military, proportionate to its number of seats in Parliament. Iran, the US and a number of regional countries secure their interests and ensure influence by supporting Iraqi political factions financially and morally.

This influence has been reflected in the loyalties and performance of the majority of Iraqi officials appointed by local, regional and international parties, including the commanders of combat troops.

To ensure more government control, the decree also stripped the ministers of defense and interior, and leaders of the counterterrorism, intelligence and national security authorities, and the PMU, from appointing, promoting or transferring commanders. This power is now held exclusively by Abdul Mahdi.

“The decree is theoretically positive as it will prevent local, regional and international parties from controlling the commanders,” said another military commander. 

“This means that Abdul Mahdi will be responsible to everyone inside and outside Iraq for the movement of these forces and their activities.

“The question now is whether Abdul Mahdi will actually be able to implement these instructions or will it be, like others, just ink on paper?”

The PMU is a government umbrella organization established by former Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki in June 2014 to encompass the armed factions and volunteers who fought Daesh alongside the Iraqi government. Iranian-backed factions such as Badr Organization, Asaib Ahl Al-Haq and Kataib Hezbollah represent the backbone of the forces.

The US, one of Iraq’s most important allies in the region and the world, believes Iran is using its influence within the PMU to destabilize and threaten Iraq and the region. Abdul Mahdi is under huge external and internal pressure to abolish the PMU and demobilize its fighters, who do not report or answer to the Iraqi government.

The prime minister aims to ease tensions between the playmakers in Iraq, especially the US and Iran, by preventing their allies from clashing on the ground or striking against each other’s interests.

“Abdul Mahdi seeks to satisfy Washington and reassure them that the (armed) factions of the PMU will not move against the will of the Iraqi government,” said Abdullwahid Tuama, an Iraqi analyst.

The prime minister is attempting a tricky balancing act by aiming to protect the PMU, satisfy the Iranians and prove to the Americans that no one is outside the authority of the state, he added.