Middle East update: October 28-29 2017


You don’t have Barzani to kick around anymore (sort of):

The president of Iraq’s self-ruled northern Kurdish region, Masoud Barzani, dissolved his powers as president Sunday, distributing them between the Kurdish prime minister, Parliament and the judiciary, a Kurdish official told The Associated Press.


Barzani also informed parliament that he will not seek an extension of his term which is set to expire Nov. 1, Barzani’s senior assistant, Hemin Hawrami said.

Barzani may–it’s not clear at this point–remain in office until the next Kurdistan regional elections, which have been indefinitely postponed amid tensions with Baghdad. Also, he’s not leaving politics and can be expected to remain a very powerful figure even after he finally leaves office, for example as the head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party. If Kurdish politics devolve back into the old KDP-PUK rivalry, party bosses might well yield more actual power than whoever winds up as KRG president. But all that said, this is as close to an admission as you’re likely to get from Barzani that his independence referendum was, in technical political science terms, a massive fuck up.

Speaking of which–Iraqi and Kurdish negotiators are continuing talks over the deployment of Iraqi forces throughout all the disputed areas that were included in the referendum and at Kurdistan’s international border crossings.


At least 11 civilians were killed on Sunday in government bombings of Damascus’s rebel-held Eastern Ghouta suburb.

The Syrian army is increasing the intensity of its operations in Deir Ezzor city. Though the army has long since secured most of the city and moved on east toward the Iraqi border, it has been trying for a couple of weeks now to clean up the last remaining pockets of ISIS’s presence in the city. There are still about 1500 civilians believed trapped in the final ISIS pocket in the city’s Hay al-Umal neighborhood. However, while that’s happening, things to the east aren’t going so well:

While the Syrian army appeared to make more gains inside Deir al-Zor city, the militants made a surprise offensive in the last 24 hours that pushed back pro-government and Iranian-backed militias from Albu Kamal, the last border post on the Syrian Iraqi border still in militant hands.


The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and former residents said the jihadists recaptured the strategic towns of al Qwaira and Makhan on Saturday in several deadly ambushes that inflicted heavy casualties on pro-government and Iranian Shi‘ite militias.


The latest jihadist assault pushed back the army to the city of Mayadeen, further north along the Euphrates river that the militants lost earlier this month.


“The Islamic State was able to push back the regime and its Iranian-backed militias to the heart of the city of Mayadeen,” said Amer Huweidi, an activist from the city in touch with locals and residents.

The setback isn’t a huge issue in the sense that it’s only delaying the inevitable, but it’s not great news in that it’s going to allow ISIS fighters more time to filter out of the real danger area in eastern Deir Ezzor province and out into Syria’s Badiyat al-Sham desert. When I’ve talked about the eastern Deir Ezzor/western Anbar province operation being complicated because of how easy it can be for ISIS fighter to simply disappear into the countryside, this is what I mean. It will be almost impossible to hunt down these fighters once they get into the desert, and they can use the desert as a base from which to continue a guerrilla/terrorist campaign against both Iraq and Syria. Assuming there’s no end to Sunni resentment in Iraq or civil war-related bad blood in Syria, they’ll undoubtedly be able to continue finding sympathizers in both countries.


A UAE-backed Yemeni special forces unit captured the town of Mahfad on Sunday. Mahfad sits on a major Yemeni highway and has been one of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s main bases.

Gunmen in Aden murdered a Salafist imam on Saturday, the latest in a spate of such killings. It’s not clear who killed him or why, but the murder could be related to the southern Yemeni secessionist movement.


Two Egyptian police officers were killed on Sunday when their vehicle was attacked by a roadside bomb and gunmen in northern Sinai. At least 10 other police officers were wounded in the attack.


Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani gave an interview to 60 Minutes Sunday night on the Saudi-led blockade against his country. I haven’t seen the interview yet because I made the mistake of watching the Penguins, but among other things Tamim talked about his interest in participating in American-led mediation efforts, warned the Saudis and their allies against taking military action, and accused them of trying to engineer regime change in Doha.

If the fact that Tamim is arguing his case in the US media isn’t enough to convince you that this situation isn’t improving, then maybe the fact that the Bahrainis are now openly calling for Qatar to be booted from the Gulf Cooperation Council will be.


On a visit to Tehran on Sunday, International Atomic Energy Agency boss Yukiya Amano spoke pretty much directly to Donald Trump via the media:

“Since January 2016, the IAEA has been monitoring and verifying the nuclear related commitments made by Iran under the JCPOA. The IAEA believes that the JCPOA is a significant gain for verification. The IAEA can state that the nuclear-related commitments made by Iran under the JCPOA are being implemented,” he added.



“The most important thing is to be factual,” Amano said. “I have always been factual since I became director general of the IAEA. Sometimes I have to report bad news but I also report the good news. It is very important to stick to the rules and I will continue to do so.”

Prior to meeting with Amano, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani addressed parliament and declared that Iran will not give up its missile development program despite American sanctions. If there’s one thing Trump’s Iran policy is likely to achieve above all else, it’s the decimation of moderate/reformist politics inside Iran. Which is by design, because it’s easier to be At War with Iran when Iran is clearly being run by hardliners.

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