Policy-Shaping Power in the Middle East (I)

BAGHDAD/ERBIL/BERLIN | | irak

BAGHDAD/ERBIL/BERLIN (Own report) - With its military intervention in Syria and Iraq, Germany is emerging as a "policy-shaping power in the Middle East," according to a government advisor of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP). The intervention in Syria, decided last week, could, therefore, last ten years and could be accompanied by "long-term" efforts to "politically reorganize" the entire region, with the cornerstone being military units, equipped and trained by the German government, serving as ground troops for the war against the "Islamic State" (IS/Daesh). In Iraq, the militia of the Kurdish Regional Government in northern Iraq could take on this role, whereas Berlin only provides minimal support to the Iraqi government's armed forces. Whereas the government in Baghdad has good relations with Iran and Russia, the Kurdish Regional Government in northern Iraq is seen as loyal to the West. Having illegally remained in office beyond the August deadline in an insidious coup, the Regional Government's President Masoud Barzani, with whom German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier met yesterday, is responsible for the brutal repression of civil protests. Ultimately - and with Berlin's military aid for his Peshmerga - Barzani may be able to proclaim "Iraqi Kurdistan's" statehood.

Reorganization Through Warfare

With its military intervention in Syria, including reconnaissance flights over Iraq, Germany is emerging as a "policy-shaping power in the Middle East," according to Markus Kaim from the Research Division International Security of the German chancellery-financed Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP). The Bundeswehr's mission will not be a brief intervention, but is designed to last "for several years," writes Kaim; German Foreign Minster Frank-Walter Steinmeier (SPD) speaks of "ten years." In any case, "strategic patience" is required. These military operations are accompanied by efforts at an "ultimate political reorganization" of the region. Germany has assumed the obligation, "in cooperation with other countries" of a "protracted military, but above all political" operation in the region. It is a "novelty in German policy" for Berlin to apply a "reorganization concept" in protracted intervention, writes Kaim, "something we have yet to know."[1]

Local Ground Troops

In an interview published last week, Kaim pointed out the cornerstones of Berlin's "concept to reorganize" the Middle East. The international military alliance against the "Islamic State" (IS, Daesh) will not be effective "without ground troops." The deployment of western forces is out of the question, Kaim explains, obviously forgetting that some special forces units are already operating in the war on IS/Daesh. Even though "a joint army under the Arab League's leadership" would be "conceivable," it cannot be materialized, in this concrete case, because of disagreements in the Arab world over Syria's future. "Arming local forces" is the only option left open - "on the Syrian, side the Kurds and moderate insurgents and on the Iraqi side, the Kurds and Sunni militia."[2] Kaim does not mention Syrian and Iraqi government forces.

Unequal Assistance

The German government is operating accordingly. Following Defense Minister von der Leyen's visit to Iraq, in late October, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier toured that country over the past few days and, like his cabinet colleague, von der Leyen, he also first visited the government in Baghdad, to then visit the northern Iraqi Kurdish regional government in Erbil, promising a continuation of German support. However, in fact, Berlin provides an unequal assistance. Whereas the northern Iraqi Kurdish regional government is being extensively supplied military hardware and receiving comprehensive training for its militias (the "Peshmerga"), the Iraqi government is only receiving a limited amount of protective gear for the official armed forces. That the Shiite predominated government in Baghdad, cannot be trusted is the excuse being given. This discrepancy in treatment has provoked protests in the capital. In mid-November, Iraqi officials grounded two of the Bundeswehr's Transall transporter planes allegedly because of falsified cargo documents. The planes, making a stopover enroute to Erbil, were carrying cash and military material. These Iraqi measures led to a hefty diplomatic dispute.

Geostrategic Disagreements

These discrepancies in treatment are the results of geostrategic disagreements. The Iraqi government maintains good contacts to Iran, as well as to Russia. In late September, a spokesperson for the Iraqi government announced that, in their fight against the IS/Daesh, the intelligence services of Iraq, Iran, Russia and Syria would be more closely cooperating in the future. Data of the intelligence services will be shared and analyzed in a joint committee.[3] German diplomats have been quoted saying that the cooperation of the intelligence services is "to a much smaller extent" than Russia would have preferred. However, Iraq's Foreign Minister, Ibrahim al Jaafari, officially confirmed to his German counterpart, Tuesday, that, should the western powers refuse to intervene in the current conflict over Turkey's unauthorized stationing of its armored vehicles on Iraqi territory, Baghdad would turn to Russia for assistance.[4] On the other hand, the Barzani Clan, which dominates the northern Iraqi Kurdish regional government in Erbil, is willing to cooperate any time with the West. It receives, in exchange, Berlin's comprehensive support. In his talks with Masoud Barzani, President of the Regional Government, Foreign Minister Steinmeier announced that Germany would continue its military support. "We are determined, to continue the cooperation with you and the Peshmerga."[5]

An Insidious Coup

This is noteworthy for two reasons: On the one hand, Masoud Barzani, to whom Steinmeier promised yesterday a continuation of German support, has been confronted with hefty protests since some time. Actually, he should have stepped down as regional president in 2013, at the end of two regular administrations. In August 2013, the regional parliament granted a one-time extension of his term of office - until August 2015. However, Barzani insists on continuing in office even beyond this deadline. In October, large-scale protests were held against him and his Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), in which six people were killed. Since October 12, Yusif Mohammed Sadiq, President of the Northern Iraqi Kurdish Regional Parliament has been banned from entering Erbil, because he publicly criticized Barzani's unauthorized assumption of office. In Berlin, over the past few days, he had been seeking "assistance for the democratization and establishment of rule of law in Iraqi Kurdistan."[6] Observers are not ruling out the possibility that the controversy in northern Iraq's Kurdish autonomous region could escalate. It has been reported that many of the region's residents are "reminded of the period leading up to the Kurdish Civil War in the 1990s."[7] If an armed conflict does erupt, given the situation, it would be waged with German weapons - in a region, where, with Berlin's support, the president is illegally holding on to power by means of an insidious coup.

Statehood

On the other hand, in spite of all declarations to the contrary, the Barzani Clan and the regional government in Erbil have never ceased their pursuit of secession from Iraq and statehood. Even though, during his talks yesterday with Barzani, Foreign Minister Steinmeier publicly called for the national unity of Iraq to be maintained, behind the scenes in Berlin other accents are heard. The Kurdish-speaking population of northern Iraq "already enjoys more freedoms and autonomy than the Iraqi Constitution provides for," explains Günter Seufert, an SWP expert on Turkey and the Near East. "They are not going to back-pedal." Their "statehood" will "develop decisively further in the next ten years."[8] This is already taking place, not only in the military sphere, in close collaboration with Berlin, Erbil's long-time supporter. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[9]) The loyalty of a new "Iraqi Kurdistan" nation can be expected accordingly.

Other reports and background information on this theme can be found here: Troop Supplier to Syria, and The New Barbarians.

[1], [2] "Deutschland wird zur Gestaltungsmacht im Nahen Osten". www.zeit.de 02.12.2015.
[3] Russland schließt Geheimdienstbündnis mit Irak, Iran und Syrien. www.zeit.de 27.09.2015.
[4] Majid Sattar: Ein ganz schmaler Grat. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 08.12.2015.
[5] Steinmeier stellt Hilfe in Aussicht. www.fr-online.de 08.12.2015.
[6] Kurdischer Parlamentspräsident bittet um mehr Waffen. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 08.12.2015.
[7] Inga Rogg: Kurden protestieren gegen Barsani. www.taz.de 19.10.2015.
[8] Syrien-Konflikt: Interview mit Nahost-Experte Günter Seufert. www.swp.de 04.12.2015.
[9] See (Irakisch) Kurdistan, From Baghdad to Erbil (I), Middle East Partnership Cultivation and From Kurdistan to Alawitestan.