Iraqi premier’s US-Iran mediation credited for averting ‘hell’ of war

US President Donald Trump, left, and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. (AP)
Updated 20 May 2019

Iraqi premier’s US-Iran mediation credited for averting ‘hell’ of war

  • Iraqi leaders fear that if war broke out, Iraq would be ‘the first point of confrontation’ between US and Iran

BAGHDAD: Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi’s mediation between the US and Iran amid current military tensions was on Friday credited for averting the “hell” of war.
During the past few weeks the premier has been acting as a “postman” for Washington and Tehran, two of Abdul-Mahdi’s advisers told Arab News.
However, Shiite leaders and the commanders of two armed factions linked to Iran have told Arab News that short-range rockets have been handed to two Iraqi groups over the past fortnight “to be ready to strike US targets inside Iraq if the United States were to strike Iran.”
Tensions between the Americans and Iranians have been rising since the US withdrew from a nuclear agreement and imposed tough economic sanctions on Iran, moves which prompted veiled Iranian threats to chokepoint shipping lanes in the region.
The dispute reached a peak over recent days following attacks on four tanker ships and two Saudi oil installations, all blamed on Iranian-backed militia groups.
Iraq has been a major US-Iran battleground since 2003. Iran has significant influence in Iraq and controls dozens of Shiite, Sunni, Christian and Kurdish armed factions it has helped form, fund, train and equip. These fighting forces have been operating as Iran’s proxies in Iraq and Syria, and most of the US’s interests in both countries are located within the range of their rockets.

Mediation role
“(US Secretary of State Mike) Pompeo asked Adel Abdul-Mahdi to be a back channel of communication between them (the US) and the Iranians to convey some messages, and the Iranians agreed to that,” one of the Iraqi premier’s advisers said.

Playing the role of mediation, is a decision taken by the Iraqi leadership to avoid the outbreak of war between the two sides.

Iraqi premier’s adviser

“We will not wait until the gates of Hell open. Transferring messages between the two parties and playing the role of mediation, is a decision taken by the Iraqi leadership to avoid the outbreak of war between the two sides. Iran has agreed also to allow Iraqis to intermediate between the two sides,” the adviser added.
Pompeo made a brief visit to Baghdad two weeks ago, during which he passed on the first US message to the Iranians.
The second of Abdul-Mahdi’s advisers said: “Pompeo asked Abdul-Mahdi to take back the rockets of the armed factions and to tell the Iranians to leave US bases and camps in Iraq out of their calculations and to distance them from what is happening in the Gulf. Pompeo said that targeting any of the American interests inside Iraq would be answered (by hitting targets) deep inside Iran.”
Iran relies mainly on its proxies in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen to hit the interests of its rivals in the region. Intelligence reports have proved that the targeting of four ships in the port of Fujairah early this week by drones, were carried out by Yemeni militias with Iranian encouragement.

Point of confrontation
Iraqi leaders fear that if war broke out, Iraq would be “the first point of confrontation” between the US and Iran. More than 5,000 US troops are deployed in joint camps and military bases with Iraqi forces across the country, which has the largest US Embassy in the world, two consulates in Irbil and Basra, as well as dozens of US oil companies and hundreds of workers in various sectors.
At least three prominent Shiite leaders and the commanders of two armed factions linked to Iran told Arab News that short-range rockets had been handed over to two Iraqi groups over the past two weeks “to be ready to strike US targets inside Iraq if the United States were to strike Iran.”
They added that “a list of US strategic targets in Iraq and the region has been prepared to be within the range of rockets of these factions when needed.”

FASTFACT

 

• Tensions between the Americans and Iranians have been rising since the US withdrew from a nuclear agreement and imposed tough economic sanctions on Iran, moves which prompted veiled Iranian threats to chokepoint shipping lanes in the region.

• Iran relies mainly on its proxies in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen to hit the interests of its rivals in the region.

• More than 5,000 US troops are deployed in joint camps and military bases with Iraqi forces across the country.

A commander of an armed faction linked to Iran, told Arab News: “The message carried by Abdul-Mahdi to the Iranian side has temporarily changed the direction of the battle.” He said fighters had been ordered to remain calm, show restraint, and not to hit any foreign targets inside Iraq “until further notice.”
The commanders revealed that Gen. Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, met with a number of leaders of the Shiite factions in Baghdad two days before the start of the month of Ramadan, and discussions focused on the latest developments in the region and the available options for dealing with US pressure on Iran.
“We will rely on short-range missiles to strike US interests in Iraq if the United States began the war, these are the directives,” another commander said. “The factions have not received any long-range missiles from Iran.”
Kata’ib Hezbollah-Iraq, one of the most anti-US Shiite armed groups, which carried out deadly attacks on American troops in Iraq in 2007-2011, and Harakat Hezbollah Al-Nujaba (HHN), an offshoot of Asa’ib Ahl Al-Haq (AAH), would “spearhead” any attacks launched by Iran on US interests in Iraq and Syria in the event of war, commanders said.
Rockets were handed to both groups, but AAH and other paramilitaries linked to Iran would only be used as backup during any confrontation, the commanders added.


What shapes the Middle East’s migration patterns

Updated 20 February 2020

What shapes the Middle East’s migration patterns

  • An estimated 29 million people have migrated from Arab countries since 1990, according to UN data
  • Political crises and civil conflicts have blurred the lines between voluntary and forced migration

ABU DHABI: Less than two months since an unhappy year for the Arab region’s migrants and refugees came to an end, the omens of things to come are far from good.

According to the latest “Situation Report on Migration in the Arab Region,” prepared by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in collaboration with various UN agencies, displacement and migration are two prominent trends at the beginning of 2020. Particularly — and unsurprisingly — in countries withongoing wars.

An overwhelming majority of Arab countries endorsed the Global Compact for Migration (GCM) at the UN General Assembly in December 2018, voting to adopt its principles in national legislatures.

Subsequently, the number of migrants and refugees crossing the Mediterranean Sea was found to have plunged in 2018 to almost a tenth of what it was in 2015.

However, the reality of the region’s migrant and refugee situa- tion belies the hopes raised by the adoption of the GCM.

In Libya, for example, there was a steep deterioration last year in the living conditions of migrants and refugees stranded in the unstable North African country.

FASTFACTS

29m - An estimated 29 million people have migrated from Arab countries since 1990.

1/2 - Almost half of the people who migrated stayed within the Arab region.

9.1m - Refugees who have sought protection in the Arab region include 3.7 million under the mandate of the UN Refugee Agency and 5.4 million registered with UNRWA.

14.5% - The number of migrant workers in 18 Arab countries stood at 23.8 million in 2017, representing 14.5 percent of all migrant workers globally.

?The country’s protracted civil conflict has not only caused massive displacement within its borders, but also means it has become a dangerous place for economic migrants from sub-Saharan Africa wishing to travel to Europe. World leaders have just pledged in Berlin not to interfere in Libya’s civil conflict and to uphold a UN arms embargo, but only time will tell if that promise will be honored.

In Syria, meanwhile, the human- itarian situation in Idlib — the last stronghold of opposition forces and a safe haven for millions of internally displaced persons (IDP) — remains shaky as Russian- backed regime forces press on, despite mounting civilian casualties.

In Yemen, a peace opportunity was missed in early 2019, and there has been no let-up since in the fighting between government forces and the Houthi militia, who control the capital Sanaa and the northern highlands. The country currently hosts between 2 million and 3.5 million IDPs and another 1.28 million returnees, in addition to 279,000 migrants and refugees — almost exclusively from Somalia and Ethiopia — for whom the country is a short-term way station, not a final destination.

Lebanon is in the grip of a wide- ranging crisis, too. People at the bottom of the economic ladder, including 1.5 million Syrian refugees and almost 500,000

Palestinian refugees, supple- ment their meager incomes with handouts from aid agencies. Even before the protests erupted in Lebanon in October last year, a UN vulnerability assessment report for refugees in the country, carried out in early 2019, made grim reading.

It said about 73 percent of Syrian refugees in Lebanon were living below the poverty line — up from 69 percent the year before, and considerably higher than the estimated 28 percent of Lebanese in the same situation.

Of course, migration and displacement have long shaped the Arab region, with countries simultaneously acting as points of origin, transit and destination.

However, in recent years, the distinction between voluntary and forced migration has become blurred as political crises and civil conflicts — viewed as the chief causes of human displace- ment — have proliferated. “The challenge today is to put in place policies that will ensure successful and true integration while benefiting both the countries of residence and origin,” Laura Petrache, a senior adviser at Migrant Integration Lab, told Arab News.

According to UN reports, the number of migrants and refugees originating from the Arab region reached 29 million in 2017. Almost half of them remained in the region. Overall, the number of migrants and refugees as a propor- tion of the total population of the Arab region has risen steadily over the past three decades.

In 2018, around 80 percent of the region’s refugees originated in the Levant, mostly on account of the Syrian conflict.

Caption

 

Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Syria and Sudan are among the top 10 Arab destinations for migrants and IDPs owing to conflicts in the neighborhood. Apart from Lebanon, all of those countries have witnessed an increase in the number of refugees and migrants within their borders since 2015.

After Turkey, Jordan was the second-most-popular destination country for refugees and migrants from the region, with Lebanon, 

Saudi Arabia and the UAE also reporting significant numbers. Iraq was the only country that saw its national refugee and migrant population decrease.

What the latest reports confirm is that migration in the Arab world not only has multiple drivers — socio-economic pressures, political instability and environmental degradation — but also complex patterns and trends.

Take the Gulf and the Levant regions. They attract different kinds of migrants because their levels of stability, security and development are not comparable. While Libya, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen are plagued by conflict, violence, corruption and divisions in both society and polity, GCC member countries are leading the way in groundbreaking ideas and investments, building cities of the future and attracting talent from across the world.

The migrant population in the GCC countries swelled from 8.2 million in 1990 to 28.1 million in 2017 — a substantial rise compared with figures for other parts of the Arab region.

Around 27 percent of global remittance outflows in 2017 reportedly came from the Arab region, estimated at $120.6 billion, and almost all of that (98.9 percent or $119.3 billion) came from GCC countries. According to the IOM’s report, the top remittance-sending countries were the UAE (at $44.3 billion) and Saudi Arabia (at $36.1 billion).

Under the circumstances, it is difficult to see meaningful, positive change for migrants happening any time soon in the Arab region, with the possible exception of the GCC.

“Migration policy making should move away from assimila- tionist frameworks,” Petrache, of the Migrant Integration Lab, told Arab News. “Instead, the policy emphasis should be on working with countries of origin to achieve sustainable integration — and re-integration in the case of return immigration.

“The policies should take into consideration the potential for win-win solutions using and developing the capability of the migrants to make a positive contri- bution to local host communities,” Petrache said.