A section of the Middle East states is generously paid for by Arab monarchies and European democracies
Written by Evgeny Satanovskiy; Originally appeared at VPK, translated by Olya Kay exclusively for SouthFront
The current situation in the Middle East is as constant – with everyone against everyone, as it is changing –– countries, personalities and circumstances change. The attention of the world media, as a rule, is focused on the highest ranked individual and/or area. Meanwhile, many of the region’s events stay out of sight, and those who notice what’s happening “on the surface” are not too oriented in real politics.
Let’s consider some of the situations, which are given little coverage or which are completely ignored by the press, by relying on the works of experts from the Institute of Middle East, A. Bystrov: P. Ryabov and Yu. Scheglovin.
Fezzan without vendetta
During the Haff, there is an evident calm in Libya. However, it is not related to the recent agreement between the commander-in-chief of the House of Representatives in Tobruk, H. Haftan and the Premier of the Government of National Accord (GNA) F . Sarajem, on the formation of a common governing body for the country. Recall that this agreement was mediated by the UAE two months ago and came into force recently. Prospects for peaceful coexistence between Tobruk and Tripoli are doubtful, not only due to ambitions of both leaders, but also due to the varied approaches of their major foreign sponsors (not only through Qatar and the UAE-Egyptian link) to Libya’s political management models.
In Libya, France and Italy are competing for the supremacy of their creations (Paris supports Haftar, while Rome supports Saraj) and for their growing influence in Fezzan. This region, unlike Cyrenaica and Tripolitania, which were the colonies of Italy, was within France’s zone of interest. Rome’s attempts to block Paris’ attempts of control through Haftar, raises the question of possible intra-European struggles for domination in Libya. Paris whose main architect of Libyan politics is the head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs J.-I. Le Drian, is on the loosing side of this struggle.
In mid-August, the Italians managed to revive the “Rome Pact”. In March, the two main tribal formations of Fezzan, Aulad Suleiman and Tuba reached an agreement on the formation of the Border Guards, which, with appropriate funding, equipment and training provided by Italy, should provide a buffer on the southern border of the country, preventing illegal migration from Africa via Libya to Europe. After the agreement between Ankara and the EU on migration, the African transit bears the main burden of migration. Up to 70 percent of migrants fall into the Old World along this route.
Later, with efforts of the French agents, the tribe of the Aulad Suleiman began having problems with the implementation of the agreement: tribes began to demand additional financing from Rome, mutual accusations of blood feuds arose, etc. The fate of the “Roman Pact”, the realization of which made Italians key players in the south of Libya, was unclear. In August, Rome managed to localize this problem. At a meeting in the Eternal City on August 26, representatives of the Aulad Suleiman and Tuba (Tuareg attended as observers) agreed to abandon their mutual claims and vendettas, which allowed the possibility of joint patrols of the Libyan border and the Sahel zone. To achieve this, Italy provided financial guarantees of direct compensation to “families and relatives of victims” of inter-tribal clashes.
Rome is developing an official mechanism for bribing tribal entities in southern Libya. Two special accounts are opened in the Central Bank of Libya. These accounts will facilitate a transfer of money to the tribes through Saraj’s representative in Fezzan, A Kazhaman. These accounts are needed as a permanent guarantee to the tribes. Money will flow directly to the tribal sheiks. Subsequently, such operations will allow for direct financial subsidy from the Saraj government (i.e. Rome) “to the municipalities of Fezzan to combat illegal migration.” Domination in Fezzan allows Italians to guarantee the safety of their companies in the oil and gas fields in this part of Libya.
Rome took an important step in their fight against Paris in Libya. France in turn used the aid of the Egyptian Gaddafists. On August 21, former Libyan Ambassador to Chad and curator of the Libyan special services in Fezzan during Gaddafi’s time – G.S. Gren, went to N’Djamena to meet with Chadian President – I. Deby. He was accompanied by a representative of the tribal elite of the Warfall – Al-Mabruk Yunus and the Libyan special services of the former Jamahiriya. Debi is a supporter of Haftar, his fighters are on the side of the Field Marshal in Libya. The subject of the meeting was the establishment, under the auspices of the French, of the interaction between the Warfall tribes and the Tuba in the border area and along the perimeter of the Chad-Libyan border. Debi through ministers – ethnic Tuba, must guarantee the consent of the tribal sheiks to this scheme. Paris is trying to create an analogue of the “Border Guards” in Fezzan, and to tear Tuba from their alliance with the Aulad Suleiman and bury the “Roman Pact”.
Kurdistan and its debts
On the eve of the referendum on independence, the government of the Iraqi Kurdistan (IK) systematically conducted actions to settle financial problems with foreign companies, which specialize in the extraction and transportation of hydrocarbons. They want to restructure and repay debts of Erbil, which became one of the main reasons for the actual freezing of activities of foreigners in the IK in the last two years.
The Ministry of National Resources of the Kurdish Autonomy reached an agreement on the restructuring and partial repayment of debts with a consortium of Pearl Petroleum, representing Austrian and German capital. Pearl Petroleum required $26.5 billion arising from unplanned production activities, deferred implementation of the project and unpaid government accounts. As a result, compensation amounted to 2.2 billion. Erbil agreed to pay 600 million immediately, and to pay another 400 million through investments. $1.2 billion will be offset by the transfer to the consortium, within a limited period of time, revenue from Erbil’s gas sales. Pearl Petroleum will obtain a license to develop two promising fields. In the long term, Perl Petroleum will become the second gas producer in Iraq and is expected to increase its extraction and sale by 160 percent. The contract with the consortium was extended until 2049.
In August, Erbil agreed to restructure the debt with the Turkish companies DNO and Genel Energy by reducing the share of profits obtained by the government of the Iraqi Kurdistan. Along with an active campaign to resolve problems with foreign firms, Erbil is trying to attract Rosneft and Gulf Keystone Petroleum to its hydrocarbon market. In the latter case, we are talking about fulfilling obligations to the Arab monarchies, primarily the UAE, to repay their financing efforts for the upcoming referendum.
Kurdish autonomy did not produce very successful results in the past year in the hydrocarbon market. There are many reasons for this: volatility of oil prices, unsettled financial disputes with the foreigners and reduction of the projected hydrocarbon reserves in one of the largest deposits of Tak-Tak, the operator of which is Pearl Petroleum. In addition, from the 600,000 barrels of oil a day produced in the IK, a large part comes from the Kirkuk deposit, which Baghdad does not consider to be part of the jurisdiction of Erbil. This area, which Iraqi Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds count as theirs, will soon become a hotbed of internal confrontation.
The actions of Erbil on the formation of the hydrocarbon market are connected with the upcoming September 25 referendum on independence, which apparently, will be supported by all of the main parties of the Iraqi Kurdistan. Apparently, the Goran party, which previously sought to boycott the results of the vote, changed its position after M. Barzani and all of his closest relatives promised not to nominate themselves for the “head of the region” position. Kurdish leadership is attempting to resolve their debts with foreign companies to create an amiable attitude towards the referendum among European and Turkish business communities which are the main players in the hydrocarbon market. So far this seems ineffective given that EU and Ankara talks of “the need to preserve the unity of Iraq”. However, through compromise with foreign companies and the resuscitation of extraction and export of hydrocarbons, Erbil is trying to strengthen its position in negotiations with Baghdad on recognizing the results of the referendum. Similar attempts failed when efforts were made in the beginning of August, to agree with the central authorities of Iraq.
The idea of Kurdish independence is not shared by any of the leading international political forces (including the United States), except for the UAE, who are only supporting this cause to create problems for Turkey. The independence of the Kurds will have to be dealt with in Baghdad, but Bagdad is not inclined to discuss it. Weak state machinery, technical and geographic restrictions on the export of oil and gas and low military potential are all the reasons why Erbil cannot achieve the financial self sufficiency and guarantees of security that are required.
The flight of the “lawful president” of Yemen, A.M. Hadi, scheduled for August 31 from Riyadh to Aden, was postponed half an hour before its departure.The presence of Hadi in Aden was one of the conditions of the deal reached by the Saudis and the UAE on the preservation of the Arabian coalition.The crisis erupted about two months ago, when forces under the command of Hadi Nasser’s son tried to take control of Aden airport, but were thrown back by the South Yemeni formations with the help of helicopters from the UAE Air Force.Then Abu Dhabi demanded that Riyadh withdraw Hadi’s forces from the key positions in Aden. In return, they promised to support the Muslim Brotherhood and activists of the local Islakh Party and to smuggle Ukrainian weapons through the airport terminals.Abu Dhabi stimulated the creation of a “national government” in Aden, which was the last warning for the Saudi Arabia regarding the withdrawal of the UAE from the Arabian coalition with the organization of a new state formation in the territory of the former People’s Democratic Republic of Yugoslavia.
The parties held talks in June and early July in their efforts to reach a compromise, which was achieved with great reputational losses of Riyadh, who did everything possible to preserve union in Yemen. The condition, which motivated UAE to soften its demands for “unconditional withdrawal” of Hadi was an ultimatum to Qatar: Riyadh had to do this to maintain an alliance with Abu Dhabi. To return Hadi and his government to Aden, Saudi Arabia had to agree to start negotiations with former President of the country A.A. Saleh. At the same time, the Saudi contingent who arrived in Aden last week to guard the complex of government buildings could not take positions in the area and at the last moment signaled to Riyadh that the operational situation “does not facilitate” the return of Hadi and his ministers. Hence the hasty delay of the flight of the “lawful president” of the country.
The UAE does not respect the terms of the compromise, hence, the prospects for its implementation are questionable. Abu Dhabi started to train and equip the loyal South Yemeni militia, for which they hired several dozen former Iraqi officers, which began work in two training camps in Aden and Hadramaut. Many are wanted by the 2003 decree of the head of the US occupation administration, P. Bremer. Among them there are those who fought in the detachments of the “Islamic state” (IS), a terrorist organization currently banned in the Russian Federation. In this case, the structures of the private security company E. Prince continue to carry out similar functions in Aden. A significant part of the Sudanese expeditionary corps in Yemen passed under the command of the military from the UAE, although the initiator of their direction to Yemen was initially Saudi Arabia.
It is also difficult to agree with Saleh about his withdrawal from the alliance with the Houthis. A mass rally held on the anniversary of the founding of the party of the General People’s Congress in Sana’a on August 24, which cost the former president four million dollars, was meant to show Saleh’s potential to the Saudis and the UAE. But this did not please the Houthis: on August 31, their detachments blocked Saleh’s residence in Sanaa along with him and his entourage while his loyal Republican Guard was far away. It is unclear what happened to the 30 thousand guardsmen, whom Saleh allegedly pulled into the capital to guard the rally. The former president is under house arrest and is trying to persuade the Houthis that they misunderstood him. Hence his statement that “he is completely committed” to fighting foreign invaders – Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
Let’s pay attention to the fact that the Saudi Air Force which for the last two years hunted Saleh to liquidate him, is “silent”. They even utilized American “bunker bombs”, which Saudi pilots used to destroy save heavens in Saleh’s native village and his residence in Sana, while he was hiding in a converted bunker in a complex of buildings at the U.S. Embassy. (American diplomats were evacuated from Sana after the active phase of the civil war). Now Saleh does not need to hide. He is sitting at his residence and no one bombs him. This means that negotiations between him and Riyadh took place and were fruitful. In addition, the blocking of Saleh’s residence occurred after the Houthis received information that he ordered his units to stand down and to hand their positions over to the forces of the Arabian coalition (This happened in Taizi). So, the prospects for an alliance between the Houthis and Saleh are still vague.
Syrian canals and niches
After withdrawal of the IS militants from the Lebanese district of Ersal, the Pentagon accused Moscow of violating its “obligations for a joint battle with IS.”Meanwhile, Washington continuously refused to cooperate with Moscow in the past in the fight against the IS, despite numerous initiatives made by the Russians.Earlier, the US silenced or welcomed such deals, if they facilitated military operations for Americans and their allies.An example of such politics is the release of militants from Rakki in the direction of Deir ez Zora a month ago, when the actions of Russian military security services managed to minimize damage to the besieged garrison of government forces in Deir ez Zor.Moscow, Damascus and Beirut employed Washington’s tactics against them, which is a correct algorithm of coexistence with the US in Syria.It implies prioritization of one’s own interests. Russia and Iran have more leverages to complicate the US positions in Syria.The Americans and their allies are pragmatists, and evacuation of militants from Ersal to Bu-Kemal will create a necessary shift in favor of adopting more distinct forms of relations with Russia. In this evacuation, the Lebanese and Syrians acted wiser than the Americans and Kurds, releasing Islamists from Rakki.They sent a column of 17 buses, where 300 militants were traveling with their families.The presence of women and children limits the possibility for the US Air Force to strike at the convoy. Thus, it was impossible to blame the Syrians and Russia for its bombing.So, the Lebanese and Syrians have found a “pressure point” of the United States.
This is important, since the confessional exchange of the population is becoming a universal means of achieving a truce in Syria. Except for the Yugoslavian conflict, such schemes were not utilized in prior local conflicts. This is an asset for Moscow and Damascus along with the development of mechanisms used for reconciliation with local tribal sheikhs and field commanders and creation of de-escalation zones. In comparison, US utilizes half-measures. International coalition headed by the US delivered a pre-emptive strike, to prevent entry of IS supporters from Lebanon to Syria. In actuality, such actions cannot prevent the movement of militants, especially considering that the Syrian government forces do no obstruct them.
Bu-Kemal is a strategic point for Americans. Its control allows them to prevent the movement of IS supporters from Syria to Iraq and back, while preserving their channels of logistical operations in the important Syrian region of Deir ez Zor. A year ago, the US attempt to establish control over Bu-Kemal but all their controls failed. The forces of the Arab militia, which was trained in Jordan, retreated to avoid being surrounded. Then the Americans conducted an amphibious operation, which also failed. Nevertheless, one must be ready for their reciprocal, asymmetric actions.
Firstly, one should anticipate negative reaction of Baghdad. The Iraqi Prime Minister H. Al-Abadi condemned the evacuation of militants. However, the presence of Iranian lobby in Iraq means that this reaction is just a formality. The transfer of militants under the Bou Kamal will force Iraqi army to take control of the border with Syria, an action that meets the interests of Moscow and Tehran, especially if the Shiite militias participate. Secondly, the United States can freeze the support of the Lebanese army. M. Aoun, the new presidential appointment in Lebanon supports Hezbollah, this along with new appointments in the army and security services, gave Lebanese army and Shiite troops an offensive dynamic, which is evident from the outcomes of their battles. Pentagon denies it, but will most likely cut off its support for the Lebanese army. This, opens the door for Russia to the Lebanese arms market niche.
President of the Middle East Institute
Published in issue number 34 (698) of September 6, 2017