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Iraq Once More at the Precipice

With the sudden resignation of Iraq’s preeminent cleric and political leader, Moqtada al-Sadr, Iraq is once more plunged into ruin.

We’ve seen this time and again. A country torn apart by conflict begins to get back on it’s feet — and somebody, somewhere, makes the brilliant decision to have the leading figure in that country step down in order to ‘create a more democratic body politic’ — as if creating a functioning democracy out of years of chaos can be done as easily as baking a cake. My God, people! That’s never worked and it never will.

But what did occur instantly and with utter predictability was thousands of Iraqis converging on the centre of Baghdad upset over the loss of the one politician who assiduously worked for them, with two-dozen protesters killed by Iraqi security forces on the first day, the Iraqi Army announcing a dusk-to-dawn curfew later in the day, and a milieu of opinions on both sides beginning to form inside a gaping power vacuum.

Almost every conflict in history began on account of the power vacuum created by the (sudden) assassination or (sudden) natural death of a country’s leader, or from the (sudden) resignation of a powerful, populist, moderate leader, like Moqtada al-Sadr.

The mise en scène in Iraq today is every bad thing put together. The removal of Moqtada al-Sadr from political power in Iraq is as big as anything that’s happened there since Adam and Eve left ancient Mesopotamia, and there’s no one, not one person in the country, big enough to fill al-Sadr’s shoes.

It’s a catastrophe in the making. 


Day Two: (Now, Private Citizen) Moqtada al-Sadr, Calls on Protesters to Quit

And as soon as al-Sadr asked, the protesters left, and within a few hours the Iraq Army rescinded their hastily-enacted curfew.

How many Iraqi private citizens can claim that kind of power? For that matter, how many Iraqi clerics or politicians can claim that kind of power? The answer is: None.

There’s no one else in the country who could’ve saved the day and thereby prevent hundreds, or thousands, of needless deaths.

If there were such people, they would’ve used their legitimate political or religious reins of power and caused the protesters to disperse. Listen to the silence.


Day Three: al-Sadr Still Out of Power, Curfew Gone, Protesters Gone, but Widespread Sense of Unease in Iraq

All that won’t last for long. By about Tuesday of next week, the Iraqis will have talked themselves into (fill in the blank) and it won’t be good, because that’s human nature. Desperate people do desperate things.

But when they have a trusted leader, it’s simply a case of the protesters and non-protesters formulating their complaints and delivering them to that leader for his/her consideration. They know that he/she will care about their issues and that leader has about 60-days to show positive result on their issues.

Which is why, for the last year, we haven’t heard much from Iraq. Lots of issues being brought to Moqtada al-Sadr, lots of issues being dealt with.

What more can citizens ask of their politicians than that?


How Can the West be Part of the Solution for Today’s Iraq?

The Western media is an amazing powerhouse for good (or potentially, evil) depending how it’s used by Western governments.

There was a time (the interwar period between 1918 and 1939) that ‘the media’ couldn’t heap enough praise on communism (especially in the UK) and was the prime cheerleader for the trade union movement of the ’60’s and ’70’s, and popularized the idea of legalization for LSD and other powerful opioids.

Since then, the media has become more responsible, and it looks for every opportunity to be part of the solution instead of part of the problem in today’s world.

Let’s not forget that the media did many good things in the postwar era, such as extremely courageous reporting during the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, countless tiny Cold War conflicts, they broke the Watergate Scandal, they helped America fight the War on Drugs, the War on Terror, and later, the War on Crime, and now the global effort to reduce CO2 emissions which is sometimes combined with informing us about the progress towards social equality leading to social equity. (Let’s hope)

Although policymakers are elected to set policy, they can’t control public opinion. Neither can the media.

But how the media reports a story can inform the public in a way that helps to create an informed narrative, one that policymakers can’t easily detour around while they try to install their particular ideology (on a foreign country, for example).


Oh, Western Media; Please Help Prevent a Catastrophe in Iraq!

We need a major recap of recent Iraq history on our TV screens over the next days and weeks — and it should begin with George H. W. Bush’s ‘Coalition of the Willing’ which set the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein on his ear in 1990.

They weren’t able to remove him from power, but they did remove his power to destroy the Middle East, which seemed to be his plan. Not that the Middle East at the time was free of problems, far from it. But it was a work-in-progress, and seemed to be getting better with each passing year.

For the record, all countries are a ‘work-in-progress’ let’s not flatter ourselves, overly much.

Then on to the 2003 American-led invasion of Iraq, the apparent end of Saddam Hussein, Iraq torn apart by war, and millions of Iraqi refugees fleeing the country, many still haven’t returned to Iraq.

Interestingly, the United States and Sweden took in the largest number of Iraqi citizens when measured on a per capita basis. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis still live in Sweden to this day. Very generous and honourable of both countries to do so, IMHO.

And more reporting is due on the departure of coalition forces from Iraq exactly one year ago, along with subsequent developments in Iraq, complete with every salient statistic and infographic from 1990 through to the present, including: annual GDP progression/regression, conflict deaths, other casualty counts, refugees, refugees who haven’t returned, birth rate, life expectancy, the economic cost of corruption, the economic cost of the war inside Iraq, the economic cost of the war to the countries surrounding Iraq, the economic cost to the global economy, the environmental cost of all that oily smoke billowing up into the sky, and fewer anecdotal (tearful, one person, or one family) stories, we’ve seen enough of that kind of reporting. It’s just too difficult to bear, and consequently, people turn off their televisions for a few months. (True, that).

We mustn’t forget how Moqtada al-Sadr became a household name in the West.

Remember when the coalition forces began to depart Baghdad? It occurred that they had forgotten to leave a security force around the American coalition control centre (called the Baghdad Green Zone) and Paul Bremner and his small contingent of diplomats and advisors were left inside, completely unguarded!

When an unruly mob (is there any other kind?) formed just outside of the Green Zone Headquarters with no good intent in their minds, it was the unarmed Moqtada al-Sadr who walked right through the middle of the mob, leading his armed escorts who then took up defensive positions in and around the compound in a valiant effort to protect Bremner and his staff. And it’s a good thing they were successful or history would’ve taken a horrible course change.

It was only one week in Iraq’s history, but it prevented an unfathomable catastrophe for Iraq — and America’s reputation as the leader of the free world and leader of the coalition still operating in, but preparing to leave Iraq at the time, was preserved.


“We’re Here to Protect You”

When Mr. al-Sadr first entered the Green Zone Headquarters office, the diplomats thought that he could be there to kill them or take them hostage. In the inner compound offices, they had no idea that their US Army guards had left and hadn’t yet been replaced by a fresh contingent of US soldiers — and that they were sitting ducks for anyone who wanted to enter the compound and do them harm.

Such was the cachet of the unarmed cleric, Moqtada al-Sadr, that the mob parted for him and allowed him to pass unmolested into the Green Zone, and he walked unescorted right into Paul Bremner’s office and spoke politely to him, assuring Bremner that al-Sadr’s own security force would protect everyone inside the Green Zone compound!

However, the scene at the entrance to the compound did later turn ugly and Moqtada’s small protection force did suffer several deaths (including close relatives of al-Sadr) due to attack from the outside mob.

From that day forward, al-Sadr’s reputation as a stabilizing force in Iraq became known in the West because the Western media did a good job on reporting this heroic deed by the cleric and his men.

These are the kinds of stories the Western media needs to refresh our memories with — and with other stories about the horrors of war — which (wars) are always caused by power vacuums of one kind or another.

Therefore, the opposite of peace is *political power vacuum* which is merely another term for eventual war.


How Can We Support the Voices of Moderation in Iraq?

That’s what we want to do, because any other course will take us backwards to conflict, and ultimately, drag the coalition back into Iraq to re-stabilize the situation there, or so the conventional thinking goes.

It didn’t work the first time, why would it work now…

As Moqtada al-Sadr is the most powerful moderate voice in Iraq, it behooves us to support him, and if it makes some policymakers nervous because al-Sadr wants to have decent diplomatic relations with surrounding countries, they need to get over it.

It’s not al-Sadr’s fault that Iran is a powerful country that borders Iraq’s entire eastern boundary. It’s not al-Sadr’s fault that Iran’s army could take on and defeat THREE Iraq armies at it’s present state of capability. It’s not al-Sadr’s fault that the coalition didn’t meet all it’s goals in Iraq. Far from it! Moqtada al-Sadr risked his own life, lost family members protecting Green Zone diplomats, powerfully worked to quell viral rumour mills, unrest, provocations, and protests large and small throughout Iraq during and after the war.

Let us also be part of the solution, instead of part of the problem in Iraq — not by dropping bombs — but by constantly rewarding those who do ‘good’ and by ‘withholding’ money, assets, and political power from those whose goals in Iraq are anarchy or war. We need to be on this every day of the year.

The Western media is powerful in this regard. Although they don’t have the capability to make policy, they’re the ones who care to, and want to, inform us about the state of affairs inside today’s Iraq.

Which, along with a quick Iraq history refresher course on TV, can help everyone, including politicians to understand the today situation there… instead of everyone remaining ‘behind the curve’ and ‘drifting into war’ as has occurred many times over the past 110-years on planet Earth.

 

Written by John Brian Shannon

How a Pipeline From Iran to Syria Could Bring Peace

by John Brian Shannon

It’s no surprise the wheels are coming off in Syria, and in the absence of an agreement between the various parties regarding Syria at the upcoming Munich Security Conference, things are certain to deteriorate further and at an increased pace.

Therefore, the pressure is on all sides to arrive at a solution to prevent further bloodshed among the civilian population in Syria and to prevent an escalation between the various military groups operating in the region.


Good Intentions Gone Awry

There was at one time, a completely plausible plan for the region that has gone off the rails — not because any side opposed it — but because there was no oversight to bring the plan to fruition.

In between President Obama’s ‘Pivot to Asia’, the Arab Spring, and the U.S. elections that brought Donald Trump to the White House, the Syrian situation was left unguided and (no surprise!) it therefore deteriorated.

Major powers are now bombing each other’s troops and shooting down each other’s aircraft (and who knows what else is going on that isn’t reported) which makes escalation a foregone conclusion in the absence of leadership and implementation of the original plan.


The Forgotten Plan

Prior to the Syrian conflict the plan for the region was to bring Iranian #2 (sweet) crude oil and Iraqi #3 (semi-sweet) crude oil via a proposed pipeline across the northern part of those countries and across very northern Syria to the Mediterranean for export to Europe, Turkey, and Israel.

Not only would Iranian and Iraqi crude oil be transported by the proposed pipeline, pumping stations along the route would allow Syrian #3 (semi-sweet) crude to be carried by the new pipeline.

Iran’s #2 sweet is highly prized by refineries around the world because it requires much less refining than sour crude oil and it allows a relaxed maintenance schedule for refineries so they can operate continuously for many years before requiring a mandatory and hugely expensive maintenance protocol.

For example, Iran’s #2 sweet oil can be used to blend very sour oil (such as Canadian tar sands oil which is rated at #4.75 sour) to bring it up to a standard where it is acceptable to an oil refinery.

Further on the Canadian example which is very roughly comparable to the problem facing other refineries around the world, Canadian refineries presently purchase huge volumes of Saudi #3 semi-sweet in order to blend with Canada’s toxic #4.75 oil — but access to Iranian sweet would allow Canadian companies to meet refinery standards with much less foreign oil.

In rough terms, a certain refinery in eastern Canada receives one Saudi supertanker per week to blend with Canadian tar sands oil — otherwise the refinery would never agree to process that sour Canadian oil — but if they switched up from Saudi #3 semi-sweet to Iranian #2 sweet it would allow that same refinery to purchase only one supertanker per month to blend with the sour Canadian oil.

It would be a win for Canadian oil producers, a win for the refinery, and a win for consumers as purchasing fewer (expensive) foreign tanker loads leads to lower prices at the gas pump.

The situation is only slightly different in the United States.

Texas still has a small production of #3 sweet crude, while Pennsylvania (where the modern oil business began) has none left whatsoever. Refineries in Texas have for decades gladly accepted #3 Saudi semi-sweet to blend with their #4 sour so they can blend it to meet their target of #3.25 semi-sweet before it hits the refinery — thereby saving the refinery millions of maintenance dollars per year and saving American consumers money at the gas pump.

Even refineries in Europe and Russia benefit from blending sweet or semi-sweet with their oil allowing them to bring their most sour crude to a standard that is acceptable to refineries. Otherwise, all that sour crude would be left in the ground forever.


Enter ISIS and the Kurds

Prior to the Arab Spring, few had heard of the Kurds other than seeing 30-second video clips of their troops helping coalition forces during the Iraq War, and even fewer knew about ISIS.

Buoyed by their participation with the Americans during the Iraq War, the Kurds were also recipients of generous non-American foreign aid. The Kurds (who have some negative ‘history’ with Turkey) decided the proposed pipeline route should be ‘protected’ by their troops as the security situation in northern Iraq was then at an all-time low.

It’s completely logical from their perspective to want to secure those areas and make them part of their traditional Kurdish territory, and this was seen as a ‘minor good’ by Washington and its allies. No doubt the Kurds would have been recipients of even more foreign aid, many pipeline jobs, and they would have been in charge of security along the part of the proposed pipeline corridor that would run through their territory.

ISIS saw the opportunity to steal the default option from the Kurds and fired the first shot.

Hence we now have Americans fighting ISIS and sometimes using the Kurds to do it. We have Turkey and the Kurds fighting each other. We have the Russians helping Syria. And we have various other countries supporting those or other groups operating in the region. Finally, we have the long-term and largely stalemated situation that exists between Israel and Syria.

A recipe for disaster, if ever there were one.


Vision, Leadership and Management – the Only Solution to This Problem

Instead of a Munich Security Conference that degenerates into shouting match, all sides should return to the forgotten plan and concentrate on making that plan the new reality.

Bringing Iranian sweet crude oil, Iraqi semi-sweet crude oil and Syrian semi-sweet to the Mediterranean via a new pipeline system through traditional and newly created Kurdish territories across northern Iraq and very northern Syria while continuing to finish off ISIS and working to mitigate Turkish concerns about the Kurds is the only real way forward.

Iran, Iraq, Syria, Turkey map.

Internationally recognized Kurdish territories span northern Iraq and northern Syria which could allow a direct Iran, Iraq, Syrian oil pipeline to the Mediterranean to bring high quality Iranian #2 sweet crude oil to Europe, Turkey, Israel and even to North America. Image courtesy of Iran Review.

Whether the parties agree to redirect their energies now, or at a later date, it’s the only option that solves everyone’s problems in the region.

The plan depends on the extinction of ISIS and that seems as worthy a goal as ever while accommodating the Kurds is simply an extension of what’s already been happening.

Solving the security concerns of Turkey is paramount to bring the plan forward.

The world needs that high quality oil and it’s in the interest of the parties to get that pipeline system built and operational as soon as possible.

The UK government can play as honorable a part as any country to bring this ongoing political disaster to a successful conclusion by promoting the Iran / northern Iraq / northern Syria pipeline that would span old and newly created Kurdish territory to bring exceptionally high quality oil to Europe, Turkey, Israel and even North America.

It’s time to stop looking at the problem and begin working on the solution.

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