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Westlake Legal Group > Posts tagged "Syria"

These Syrian Women Rarely Left the House. Then the Men Disappeared.

Westlake Legal Group 23syria-women1-facebookJumbo These Syrian Women Rarely Left the House. Then the Men Disappeared. Women and Girls Syria Social Conditions and Trends Marriages Latakia (Syria) Aleppo (Syria)

ALEPPO, Syria — The women of eastern Aleppo were rarely visible before the war, but now they shape the bitter peace. In the poor, conservative districts of Syria’s ancient commercial capital, many women seldom used to leave the house, and only with their husbands if they did; the men not only won the bread, but also went out to buy it.

Then came the civil war.

Eight years and counting of bloodshed have condemned a generation of Syrian men to their deaths, to prison or to precarious lives as refugees. Now, with most of the country once again under government control, yet ruptured beyond recognition, moving forward is up to the women left behind: part survivors, part mourners, part mop-up crew.

Grandmothers are raising orphaned grandchildren. Single women worry they will never find husbands. Widows are supporting families gutted by losses that once seemed unendurable, and that the world now treats as routine.

In many cases, women are leaving the house on their own and working for the first time, old customs succumbing to the extremities of war and an economy in collapse — nothing new in large cities like Damascus, the capital, but a swift transformation for some of the more traditional corners of this socially and religiously conservative country.

“Before, women were afraid of everything,” said Fatima Rawass, 32, who opened a beauty salon for veiled women in May, three years after her husband died in the war. “But now, there’s nothing to be afraid of.”

Ms. Rawass had never met a man outside her immediate family when, at 19, she found out she was engaged to a cousin, she says. No one had consulted her. Born stubborn, with a barbed tongue that would later win her a reputation as a neighborhood brawler, she informed her parents she wasn’t interested.

“You can say ‘no’ if you don’t like him,” her mother was finally hounded into saying. Then her fiancé started calling her three times a day. By the time they married, she was in love.

After they settled in east Aleppo, Ms. Rawass said, she left the house so infrequently that she could wear high heels under her abaya — the long black robelike gown worn by many conservative Muslim women — all day. It was much the same as in other conservative parts of Syria, which is mostly Sunni Muslim, marbled with religious minorities: Her husband did the grocery shopping and the errands. She minded the children.

Ms. Rawass had begged to flee, but her husband insisted on staying to guard his carpentry workshop. He refused to join the rebels, who eventually threw him in prison.

Fifteen days later, the children were hungry, and, with trepidation drumming in her veins, Ms. Rawass resolved to go out to buy some milk for what would be her first time. Government bombs and shells were falling outside, some targeting hospitals; snipers stalked the streets. It was, she recalled later, “a very long, hard walk” — the first of many.

To pay her husband’s way out of jail, she sold everything she could, took in sewing work and borrowed.

“I hope I die before you,” she remembered him telling her one day in July 2016, after his release, “because you’re stronger than I am.”

The next day, they heard explosions. When he ran outside, flying shrapnel killed him on the spot.

Ms. Rawass said she soon discarded the heels she had worn even during the war.

She walked to the store through still-unfamiliar streets, dodging the glances of male strangers. She walked to the doctor who treated her for exhaustion and depression and to the beauty school where she eventually started taking classes. She saved up and got a loan from the Red Crescent. And in May, she opened a salon in her partly ruined upstairs room and hung up a sign with her name on it.

“When you work, you don’t have to ask anyone for anything,” she said. “Women who need things can be taken advantage of.”

She offered makeup, eyebrow and hair services to veiled women like her. They continued to attend to appearances, despite everything (“Should we die after our husbands die?”).

Although she had grown up cutting hair for friends and family, her father never let her make money from it, saying employment would expose her to the predations of men. Now, her parents wanted her to quit and come live with them. She refused.

Ms. Rawass had fallen in love again, she said, but she dared not defy her father’s prohibition against remarrying; he believed a widow should devote herself to her children, and her children only. If she disobeyed, he could take them away.

If only she were childless, she sometimes thought. Then she would have to worry only about herself.

What she had was work. It helped her forget.

“It’s only at night,” she said, “that I remember all the bad things that happened.”

A few hours south of Aleppo, in the coastal city of Latakia, Lekaa al-Shaekh and her fiancé were being photographed inside the ancient Egypt-themed wedding hall where they had met, and where — finally! — they would be married. They posed on a white sofa bathed in neon-pink light and crowned with fake white flowers, a fluorescent bridal fantasia.

“I’ve been waiting so long to sit on this couch,” she said, rolling her eyes.

She and her friends used to expect a great deal from future husbands. Traditionally, Syrian grooms paid a bride-price: a car, a house and cash in Latakia; a kilogram of gold jewelry in Aleppo.

Then the fighting came, and Latakia, an area dominated by President Bashar al-Assad’s Alawite minority religious sect, sent thousands of young men to battle. All over Syria, the economy buckled. Ms. al-Shaekh, 34, decided she could not afford prewar standards.

“There are so few men; that’s the problem now,” she explained. “Some of my friends are waiting for men to give them everything, but it’s tough. We’re in a war, after all.” (Not, she hastened to add, that she had compromised in choosing her fiancé, a soldier she described as kind, handsome and responsible.)

She had advised single friends to make concessions to the emergency, yet many remained disappointed. Some had resorted to adding eligible-looking strangers on Facebook, a stratagem unheard-of before the war. It had even worked for a few.

It was rare to find a single woman who did not survey the field with some despair.

“There are no men in Syria,” said Afraa Dagher, 36, a Latakian who said she had many friends in the same, perpetually solo boat. “At my age, they’re all martyrs or soldiers.”

How did she meet men now?

“I don’t know,” she said, with a brief, tired smile. “Leave it to God.”

Paro Clothes’s business card proclaimed the Aleppo garment workshop “different & fashionable,” and its owner was both. Paro Manoukian, 44, was an Armenian Christian and a woman in a male-dominated industry. In her windowless basement headquarters, the June heat had bargained her down to a red tank top, red lipstick, red nails and a profusion of gold jewelry.

Ms. Manoukian opened the workshop after getting divorced in 2011. Half her all-female work force had surrendered husbands, brothers or sons to the war. A few dozen toiled at home, applying furbelows to garments; three more worked in the back, shielded from male eyes by a teal plastic curtain.

“I asked for the divorce, but I’m sure if I got married now, my husband would want a divorce because I work all day,” Ms. Manoukian said, laughing throatily.

In the back, three employees chatted about their troubles — money, men, children — as their fingers disciplined the cloth. They tried not to talk too much about the people they had lost.

Hayat Kashkash’s husband had forbidden her to work, but after his government salary fell behind rising prices last year, Ms. Kashkash, 53, got hired without asking permission.

“I found a job,” she told him. “I’m going to work.”

“O.K.,” he said. “Go.”

This was sometimes as much burden as triumph.

“Now you have to cook, wash, clean and take care of the kids, plus work,” she said. “Before you leave the house, you have to clean it. After work, you go home and cook.”

But with two sons conscripted into the army, she wanted to keep busy.

“I come to escape,” she said.

“I’m here to escape my kids,” put in Fatima Kelzy, who was hot-gluing pom-poms onto a T-shirt, a cigarette dangling from one corner of her flashing smile. Everyone laughed. She was the joker, the one who got up and danced when they needed a pick-me-up.

Married at 11, she had never imagined any career but housewife. Now, at 44, she was a working widow with six unmarried daughters to feed.

“Actually, I’m working for my kids,” she said, serious now, “because I’m both mom and dad.”

The streets around Paro Clothes were wallpapered with signs recruiting female tailors.

Muhammad Dagher, 38, was surprised to be swarmed by calls from widows seeking employment when he reopened his factory three years ago. Now several women labored there in a curtained-off section, snipping extra threads, checking stitching.

But he paid them less than men, judging them too inexperienced to sew. Why?

“They’re slow, they’re weak,” he said. “It’s new for them.”

Reading his audience, he course-corrected.

“The women are becoming equal to men,” he declared. added. “They work just as hard.”

Samia Hanuf, 39, was not brought up to work. She left school at 15 and married at 19, settling in Latakia. Three children followed before a sniper’s bullet killed her husband, a government soldier, in 2013.

She still talked to his photo all the time, telling him everything: about how, without child care options when she started shifts at a dairy factory, she would make breakfast for the children, lock them in and hope for the best; about accidentally buying spoiled vegetables on her very first grocery run.

As soon as they finished school, she vowed, their daughters would work.

“I don’t want them to be like me,” she said, “not being able to take care of themselves.”

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

John Baron: The UK should mediate between Iran and the United States

John Baron is MP for Basildon and Billericay.

The world, and especially those in the Middle East, tensely awaits the consequences of the killing of General Soleimani. Some fear that the region is on the brink of open conflict between the United States and the Islamic Republic, with Iraq as the battlefield and with the potential to allow Daesh and its affiliates to regroup as attention swings elsewhere. Whether or not these fears turn out to be justified, it is concerning for the British Government that the strike came as much as a surprise to Number 10 and the FCO as it evidently did to General Soleimani.

The Prime Minister is right in his statement that we should not lament the General’s passing. Over many years he has been the architect of much of Iran’s military and foreign policy, which has violently interfered in the internal affairs of many countries. Many of the IEDs which maimed and killed British soldiers in southern Iraq were made in his bomb factories, and the Shia militias which caused our diplomats and soldiers so many problems were almost certainly trained and supplied on the General’s orders. The conflicts in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen have certainly been the bloodier and more protracted because of his involvement.

However, we must recognise that there are very few ‘clean hands’ in the Middle East. A large cast of countries, the United Kingdom and United States included, have chosen to involve themselves, to a greater or lesser extent, in the multiple conflicts across the region over the past decades. The wars in Syria and Yemen in particular have become the battlefields for proxy wars between different blocs – the former especially with overtones of Cold War one-upmanship with the strong Russian support for President al-Assad, and with the various Gulf states contending with each other too. Turkey, for its part, senses an opportunity with its Syrian and Libyan involvements. Israel also is not without guilt given its interventions in the region.

Whether the United States was justified in killing General Soleimani is an open question, given the President’s apparent reliance on secret intelligence to justify the strike. Supporters of the decision cite a rumoured plot to kill US diplomats, as well as an extensive list of Iranian or Iranian-backed provocations, from the downing of a US drone to the large-scale attack on Saudi oil infrastructure – which the US chose not to respond to. However, it seems the incursion into its Embassy in Baghdad proved to be a tipping point, Donald Trump probably recalling the damage done to Barack Obama – and to Hilary Clinton in her 2016 election campaign – when the US Ambassador to Libya was killed in 2012.

Whatever the justification, killing such a major figure will have consequences – as indeed it would if the Iranian Government assassinated the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Iranians feel honour-bound to respond, and we will all have to brace ourselves for this. Hopefully this was carefully considered by the President as he took the decision to authorise the strike, and no doubt the British Government would have counselled against such a move had it been informed in advance of his intentions. The fact that no US allies appear to have been forewarned of this attack is concerning, not least because all Western forces in the region will probably be viewed by Tehran as ‘fair game’.

Although Trump has a claim to be a war dove rather than a war hawk – a large part of his campaign in 2016 was ending endless foreign entanglements – there is no doubt he has a blind spot when it comes to Iran. Relations between the US and Iran are complicated, with grave faults on both sides over the decades. However, some of these differences were being resolved by the nuclear deal agreed between Iran and the international community in 2015. This is the deal the US President has very publicly torn up, which inevitably complicates trying to find a diplomatic solution to the current crisis.

However, such diplomatic steps must be attempted, with other countries mediating between the US and Iran – we need to remember that diplomatic solutions tend to be more enduring than military ones. Here is an area where Britain could play a role, with both a close relationship with Washington and a reasonably cordial one with Tehran, despite our similarly complicated history. A wider or more protracted conflict is in no-one’s interests, and the international community should remind the Americans and Iranians alike of this fact – especially when other countries, like Iraq and Syria, will likely prove the arena.

Britain’s viewpoint would certainly carry more weight if it were bolstered by greater resources. Our diplomatic and military capabilities have suffered in recent years, often seen as easy targets for spending cutbacks. This has resulted in a dilution of diplomatic expertise and a reduction in our military heft, sending the unhelpful signal to friends and potential adversaries alike that we are retreating from the international stage. This should be quickly addressed by the new Government, and if done correctly might give the US President pause for thought the next time such a situation comes around.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

U.S.-Led Coalition Halts ISIS Fight as It Steels for Iranian Attacks

Westlake Legal Group 05dc-isis-facebookJumbo U.S.-Led Coalition Halts ISIS Fight as It Steels for Iranian Attacks United States Defense and Military Forces Terrorism Syria Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) Iraq Iran Defense and Military Forces

WASHINGTON — The American-led coalition in Iraq and Syria halted its yearslong mission of attacking the Islamic State and training local forces in both countries Sunday as United States troops braced for retaliation from Iran after a strike that killed a powerful Iranian commander, military officials said.

In a statement, the American command said that after repeated attacks on Iraqi and American bases in past weeks, one of which killed an American contractor on Dec. 27, “we have therefore paused these activities, subject to continuous review.”

The move comes after the death last week of Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, an Iranian security and intelligence commander responsible deaths of hundreds of troops over the years. About 5,200 troops in Iraq and several hundred in Syria are now focused on fortifying their outposts instead of pursuing remnants of the Islamic State.

The cessation of American operations against the Islamic State is likely to allow what remains of the terrorist group to reconstitute itself in the ungoverned spaces it flourishes in, much as it did when Turkey invaded northern Syria in October.

Helene Cooper and Rukmini Callimachi contributed reporting.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Rashad Ali: In Syria, Iraq and, yes, Iran, there is rejoicing at the death of Solemani – terrorist and war criminal

Rashad Ali is a counter terrorism practitioner. He is a Senior Fellow at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD).

Qasim Solemani, the commander of the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), has been killed by US forces in Iraq, along with a number of other high ranking militia leaders.

His death comes at a time of heightened escalation in the region: Solemani had sent proxies to storm the US embassy; a US contractor was killed last week, and a US military drone has been shot down by the Iranians. Over the last decade, we have seen a steady drip-feed of American soldiers being attacked and killed by Iranian proxies in the Levant – 603 is the number claimed by the US.

But the significance of Solemani’s death lies in his unique and central role in the Iranian theocratic regime. He was a military leader, but not one whose primary role was as part of Iran’s regular army. Rather, as the leader of the Quds Force, he was effectively the head of the militia and global terrorist arms of Iran. Both the IRGC and Solemani himself were designated as terrorists by the US. He is said to have been the man who took Bin Laden’s children to Friday prayers when Iran was sheltering al-Qaeda.

The Quds Force has played a central role in suppressing the Syrian people in their millions. In practice, that has meant starving and slaughtering entire cities and towns, and repressing those Iraqis protesting against Iranian presence in their country.

Amnesty International has reported that more than 500 people have been killed by Solemani and his proxies. Indeed, he died while in transit from Lebanon, where he had been strategising with Hezbollah on the best way to suppress the large uprisings there which, like those that have taken place in Iraq over the last few months, have been overtly non-sectarian.

It is for this reason that the reaction among the Syrians, Iraqis and even Iranians who can freely speak has been one of welcoming his unexpected decline. Syrians have started to say they can finally wish people Happy New Year. Iraqis are rightly scared of what Solemani’s death may mean in terms of retaliation, but point out that there is a proxy conflict already going on and that they are hosting it, whether they like it or not.

Some argue that this action could lead to war.  But as Syrians and those following the region rightly reply, the Khomeinist regime is already at war there. Indeed, Solemani was the man who travelled to secure Russian involvement in the current genocide unfolding in Syria. What’s happening in that country is not a civil war. It is a war on civilians that has cost more than half a million lives, and displaced millions in and outside the country.

The death toll that can be laid at the feet of Solemani has been far greater than that attributable to ISIS and Al Qaeda. Solemani’s death has been welcomed in much the same manner as Baghdadi’s and Bin Laden’s for this reason.

However, it would be mistaken to regard the killing of Solemani as merely a symbolic measure. Certainly, the symbolism is powerful. The man who, within US political circles, was nicknamed “Supermani” and was regarded as a larger than life figure in the region is dead.

But we should also recognise the death of Solemani as tactically significant. The military leader to whom the Iranian regime would have turned to craft, strategise and implement the response to an event like this is no more. The strategic vacuum that his death leaves should not be underestimated.

It is likely that Iran will now seek to translate the threats of Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader, into concrete responses – most likely through proxies. We should not forget that Iran has military assets throughout the world, in particular in Germany, who could be deployed in such a response. Let us also not forget the stash of explosives discovered earlier this year in London. However, following the killing of Solemani, Iran’s ability to respond in an effective manner has been weakened.

His killing also sends a message – one which the previous administration in the US spectacularly failed to communicate. Actions have consequences. Lines in the sand must not be crossed. Over the last few years, successive Israeli strikes against Iranian regime assets in Syria have demonstrated two facts.

First, that military strikes against Iranian proxies in the region do not result in disastrous consequences.

Second, that in the battle against Iran’s attempt to achieve regional hegemony, it is essential to be taken seriously as a military power. The killing of Solemani now means that the reaction of the US must be taken into account by Iran, when planning its next step in the region.

This is uncharted territory. Clumsy analogies are poor guides to a decent understanding of politics in the Levant. We should be wary of commentators blaming the US for escalation, or criticising the US for taking out a terrorist, a war criminal, and responding to a genocidal regime threatening global integrity and regional sovereignty. Appeasement of genocidal totalitarian regimes has never worked out well.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

American Airstrikes Rally Iraqis Against U.S.

Westlake Legal Group 30iraq-facebookJumbo American Airstrikes Rally Iraqis Against U.S. United States Politics and Government United States International Relations United States Defense and Military Forces United States Trump, Donald J Syria Sistani, Ali Al- Sadr, Moktada Al- Military Bases and Installations Mahdi, Adel Abdul Kataib Hezbollah Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Iraq Iran Doha (Qatar) Demonstrations, Protests and Riots Defense and Military Forces

Iraq has been caught for years in a tug of war between its two most powerful patrons, the United States and Iran. In recent months, public opinion began to tilt against Iran, with street protests demanding an end to Tehran’s pervasive influence.

But American airstrikes that killed two dozen members of an Iranian-backed militia over the weekend have now made Washington the focus of public hostility, reducing the heat on Tehran and its proxies.

Iraqi leaders accused the United States on Monday of violating Iraq’s sovereignty and expressed fear that increasing tensions between the United States and Iran could escalate into a proxy war on Iraqi soil.

Even the tenor of the street protests has shifted, as anti-Iranian slogans have given way to anti-American ones. Demonstrators and others attacked what they deemed to be America’s disproportionate response — the killing of 24 militiamen on Sunday in retaliation for the death of an American contractor on Friday.

By day’s end there were calls to end the “American occupation” and demands for the American military to leave Iraq.

For Iran, the reversal comes at an opportune moment, as it has faced pushback around the region and unrest and economic distress at home.

The American airstrikes on the militia’s bases in Iraq and Syria on Sunday wounded 50 people in addition to those killed, the militia, Kataib Hezbollah, said Monday.

The United States said the strikes were a reprisal for the more than 30 rockets Kataib Hezbollah launched against an Iraqi military base near Kirkuk on Friday, killing the American contractor and wounding four American and two Iraqi servicemen.

“What we did is take a decisive response that makes clear what President Trump has said for months and months and months,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Sunday, “which is that we will not stand for the Islamic Republic of Iran to take actions that put American men and women in jeopardy.”

Despite the American justification, Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi called the airstrikes “a violation of Iraqi sovereignty and a dangerous escalation and threat to the security of Iraq and the region.”

Iraq’s chief Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, condemned the American attack and warned that the government must “ensure that Iraq does not become a field for settling regional and international scores.”

Even if the American attack was “retaliation for illegal actions,” he said, the Iraqi authorities should deal with them, not the Americans.

Iraq’s Iranian-backed militias have increasingly posed a problem for both Iraq and the United States.

The militias arose to help defeat the Islamic State, a battle they effectively fought on the same side as the Americans. They now represent a powerful faction in Iraq, both militarily and politically, controlling a large bloc in Parliament.

While they are technically under the supervision of the Iraqi security forces, some have strong ties to Iran and operate with significant independence. As the Trump administration has imposed crippling economic sanctions on Iran, the militias have increasingly struck at American targets.

An American official said Sunday that the militias had carried out 11 attacks over the past two months on Iraqi bases and facilities housing American contractors and service members.

The group the United States accused of carrying out the deadly attack on Friday, Kataib Hezbollah, denied responsibility for it, a spokesman, Mohammed Muhi, said Monday.

And while the militia is closely tied to Iran, many Iraqis see it primarily as an Iraqi force and were angered by an attack on it by an outside power.

“We are talking about a foreign force attacking an Iraqi force,” said Maria Fantappie, the senior adviser on Iraq for the International Crisis Group.

While there has been some criticism of the militias’ attacks on Iraqi bases where Americans are stationed, most objections are now being leveled at the United States. The populist cleric Moktada al-Sadr, for instance, urged the militias to abandon “irresponsible actions,” saying he would work with them to use legal and political means to kick out the Americans.

Analysts also said the scale of the American attack — on five sites in two countries with two dozen people killed — made it likely that Kataib Hezbollah would feel compelled to respond and could rally anti-Americanism.

“Is that deterrence, or is this really risking the whole of the U.S. presence in Iraq?” asked Emma Sky, a senior fellow at the Yale Jackson Institute for Global Affairs.

The United States may have been trying to send a message that killing Americans was a red line not to be crossed, said Ranj Alaaldin, director of the Proxy Wars Initiative at the Brookings Institution in Doha, Qatar. But the toll of its attack was likely to yield “more intense and expanded operations” against Americans.

“What the U.S. intended and what the U.S. will get could be two very different things,” he said.

The militia, Kataib Hezbollah, which is separate from the Hezbollah movement in Lebanon, vowed unspecified “retaliation,” and Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Seyed Abbas Mousavi, said the United States “must accept full responsibility for the consequences of this illegal action.”

How Iran may respond is difficult to predict. If it chooses to escalate, it or its proxies could strike an array of American targets in Iraq, where there are troops on the ground and other Americans living and working.

The United States accused Iran this month of exploiting the chaos in Iraq to build up a hidden arsenal of short-range ballistic missiles there.

Iran could also work with its partners to attack American allies elsewhere in the region as it has tried to do in the past. Such targets have included Saudi Arabia, Israel and ships crossing the Persian Gulf. Iran’s Revolutionary Guards seized a ship in the Persian Gulf on Monday, the official IRNA news agency reported. The report did not say which country the ship belonged to.

Over the last several months, Iranian-backed militias have repeatedly poked at the Americans in Iraq, firing rockets into the Green Zone that were apparently aimed at the United States Embassy. The militias have also hit several Iraqi bases where Americans were billeted, including in Gayara, just south of Mosul, and in western Iraq near Al Asad Air Base.

“I think Iran was reading that Trump really wants out of the region and is not willing to respond militarily,” Ms. Sky said. So the Iranians have been “trying to figure out how far they could go.”

Until Friday, the militias had never killed an American.

A senior administration official in Washington, speaking on condition of anonymity according to White House rules, said that the airstrikes were intended to restore deterrence. The official said that Iran’s policy has been to conduct deniable attacks, a fiction that the United States would no longer allow.

The Trump administration placed economic sanctions on three militia leaders this month, including the leader of Kataib Hezbollah. The United States accused those militias of participating in an unprovoked attack on anti-government protesters that killed 15 people.

The American strikes in Iraq hit near a town on the Syrian border. The strikes in Syria were in the country’s eastern desert, where Iran supports forces fighting on behalf of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria’s civil war.

Analysts said that the American message was clear, but that it may have been overshadowed by the high death toll.

“That puts the ball back in Iran’s court,” said Mr. Alaaldin of Brookings. “But make no mistake, that ball will, for now, be played in Iraq’s political arena, where the United States is much weaker. Iran has a strategic game plan on the ground in Iraq aimed at protecting and enhancing its influence in Iraq. The Americans do not.”

Farnaz Fassihi, Falih Hassan and Michael Crowley contributed reporting.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

American Airstrikes Rally Iraqis Against U.S.

Westlake Legal Group 30iraq-facebookJumbo American Airstrikes Rally Iraqis Against U.S. United States Politics and Government United States International Relations United States Defense and Military Forces United States Trump, Donald J Syria Sistani, Ali Al- Sadr, Moktada Al- Military Bases and Installations Mahdi, Adel Abdul Kataib Hezbollah Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Iraq Iran Doha (Qatar) Demonstrations, Protests and Riots Defense and Military Forces

Iraq has been caught for years in a tug of war between its two most powerful patrons, the United States and Iran. In recent months, public opinion began to tilt against Iran, with street protests demanding an end to Tehran’s pervasive influence.

But American airstrikes that killed two dozen members of an Iranian-backed militia over the weekend have now made Washington the focus of public hostility, reducing the heat on Tehran and its proxies.

Iraqi leaders accused the United States on Monday of violating Iraq’s sovereignty and expressed fear that increasing tensions between the United States and Iran could escalate into a proxy war on Iraqi soil.

Even the tenor of the street protests has shifted, as anti-Iranian slogans have given way to anti-American ones. Demonstrators and others attacked what they deemed to be America’s disproportionate response — the killing of 24 militiamen on Sunday in retaliation for the death of an American contractor on Friday.

By day’s end there were calls to end the “American occupation” and demands for the American military to leave Iraq.

For Iran, the reversal comes at an opportune moment, as it has faced pushback around the region and unrest and economic distress at home.

The American airstrikes on the militia’s bases in Iraq and Syria on Sunday wounded 50 people in addition to those killed, the militia, Kataib Hezbollah, said Monday.

The United States said the strikes were a reprisal for the more than 30 rockets Kataib Hezbollah launched against an Iraqi military base near Kirkuk on Friday, killing the American contractor and wounding four American and two Iraqi servicemen.

“What we did is take a decisive response that makes clear what President Trump has said for months and months and months,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Sunday, “which is that we will not stand for the Islamic Republic of Iran to take actions that put American men and women in jeopardy.”

Despite the American justification, Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi called the airstrikes “a violation of Iraqi sovereignty and a dangerous escalation and threat to the security of Iraq and the region.”

Iraq’s chief Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, condemned the American attack and warned that the government must “ensure that Iraq does not become a field for settling regional and international scores.”

Even if the American attack was “retaliation for illegal actions,” he said, the Iraqi authorities should deal with them, not the Americans.

Iraq’s Iranian-backed militias have increasingly posed a problem for both Iraq and the United States.

The militias arose to help defeat the Islamic State, a battle they effectively fought on the same side as the Americans. They now represent a powerful faction in Iraq, both militarily and politically, controlling a large bloc in Parliament.

While they are technically under the supervision of the Iraqi security forces, some have strong ties to Iran and operate with significant independence. As the Trump administration has imposed crippling economic sanctions on Iran, the militias have increasingly struck at American targets.

An American official said Sunday that the militias had carried out 11 attacks over the past two months on Iraqi bases and facilities housing American contractors and service members.

The group the United States accused of carrying out the deadly attack on Friday, Kataib Hezbollah, denied responsibility for it, a spokesman, Mohammed Muhi, said Monday.

And while the militia is closely tied to Iran, many Iraqis see it primarily as an Iraqi force and were angered by an attack on it by an outside power.

“We are talking about a foreign force attacking an Iraqi force,” said Maria Fantappie, the senior adviser on Iraq for the International Crisis Group.

While there has been some criticism of the militias’ attacks on Iraqi bases where Americans are stationed, most objections are now being leveled at the United States. The populist cleric Moktada al-Sadr, for instance, urged the militias to abandon “irresponsible actions,” saying he would work with them to use legal and political means to kick out the Americans.

Analysts also said the scale of the American attack — on five sites in two countries with two dozen people killed — made it likely that Kataib Hezbollah would feel compelled to respond and could rally anti-Americanism.

“Is that deterrence, or is this really risking the whole of the U.S. presence in Iraq?” asked Emma Sky, a senior fellow at the Yale Jackson Institute for Global Affairs.

The United States may have been trying to send a message that killing Americans was a red line not to be crossed, said Ranj Alaaldin, director of the Proxy Wars Initiative at the Brookings Institution in Doha, Qatar. But the toll of its attack was likely to yield “more intense and expanded operations” against Americans.

“What the U.S. intended and what the U.S. will get could be two very different things,” he said.

The militia, Kataib Hezbollah, which is separate from the Hezbollah movement in Lebanon, vowed unspecified “retaliation,” and Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Seyed Abbas Mousavi, said the United States “must accept full responsibility for the consequences of this illegal action.”

How Iran may respond is difficult to predict. If it chooses to escalate, it or its proxies could strike an array of American targets in Iraq, where there are troops on the ground and other Americans living and working.

The United States accused Iran this month of exploiting the chaos in Iraq to build up a hidden arsenal of short-range ballistic missiles there.

Iran could also work with its partners to attack American allies elsewhere in the region as it has tried to do in the past. Such targets have included Saudi Arabia, Israel and ships crossing the Persian Gulf. Iran’s Revolutionary Guards seized a ship in the Persian Gulf on Monday, the official IRNA news agency reported. The report did not say which country the ship belonged to.

Over the last several months, Iranian-backed militias have repeatedly poked at the Americans in Iraq, firing rockets into the Green Zone that were apparently aimed at the United States Embassy. The militias have also hit several Iraqi bases where Americans were billeted, including in Gayara, just south of Mosul, and in western Iraq near Al Asad Air Base.

“I think Iran was reading that Trump really wants out of the region and is not willing to respond militarily,” Ms. Sky said. So the Iranians have been “trying to figure out how far they could go.”

Until Friday, the militias had never killed an American.

A senior administration official in Washington, speaking on condition of anonymity according to White House rules, said that the airstrikes were intended to restore deterrence. The official said that Iran’s policy has been to conduct deniable attacks, a fiction that the United States would no longer allow.

The Trump administration placed economic sanctions on three militia leaders this month, including the leader of Kataib Hezbollah. The United States accused those militias of participating in an unprovoked attack on anti-government protesters that killed 15 people.

The American strikes in Iraq hit near a town on the Syrian border. The strikes in Syria were in the country’s eastern desert, where Iran supports forces fighting on behalf of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria’s civil war.

Analysts said that the American message was clear, but that it may have been overshadowed by the high death toll.

“That puts the ball back in Iran’s court,” said Mr. Alaaldin of Brookings. “But make no mistake, that ball will, for now, be played in Iraq’s political arena, where the United States is much weaker. Iran has a strategic game plan on the ground in Iraq aimed at protecting and enhancing its influence in Iraq. The Americans do not.”

Farnaz Fassihi, Falih Hassan and Michael Crowley contributed reporting.

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Congress Wants to Force Trump’s Hand on Human Rights in China and Beyond

Westlake Legal Group 26dc-humanrights1-sub-facebookJumbo Congress Wants to Force Trump’s Hand on Human Rights in China and Beyond Vetoes (US) United States Politics and Government United States International Relations Uighurs (Chinese Ethnic Group) Turkey Syria Saudi Arabia Presidential Election of 2020 Law and Legislation Human Rights and Human Rights Violations Embargoes and Sanctions China

WASHINGTON — In a rare show of bipartisan unity, Republicans and Democrats are planning to try to force President Trump to take a more active stand on human rights in China, preparing veto-proof legislation that would punish top Chinese officials for detaining more than one million Muslims in internment camps.

The effort comes amid growing congressional frustration with Mr. Trump’s unwillingness to challenge China over human rights abuses, despite vivid news reports this year outlining atrocities, or to confront such issues globally.

To press Mr. Trump into action on China, lawmakers plan to move ahead with legislation that would punish Beijing for its repression of ethnic Uighur Muslims, with enough supporters to compel the president to sign or risk being overruled by Congress ahead of the 2020 election. A version of the legislation, known as the Uighur Human Rights Policy Act, passed both the House and Senate this year, but its path to the White House was stalled this month by a procedural process.

Human rights causes draw rare bipartisan support in Congress, and many Republican lawmakers have broken from Mr. Trump on the matter, even as they move in lock step with the president on nearly every other issue, including defending him against impeachment.

“There’s been a sense by some that the administration hasn’t prioritized human rights in its broader foreign policy,” said Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida. “I don’t think that’s necessarily accurate — but that sense has grown. There’s been a sense that Congress needs to step up.”

Last month, Congress passed legislation by unanimous consent supporting the Hong Kong protests, forcing Mr. Trump to sign the bill. Mr. Trump, who had previously said he was “standing with” Xi Jinping, the Chinese leader, risked being overruled by Congress and criticized as weak on China if he vetoed the measure. Still, when Mr. Trump signed the bill the night before Thanksgiving, he issued a statement saying he would “exercise executive discretion” in enforcing its provisions.

Lawmakers this year also passed legislation recognizing the 1915 killings of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians as a genocide over the objections of Mr. Trump. And they approved a resolution calling for the end of American military support of the war in Yemen, in which a Saudi Arabia-led coalition is bombing civilians. Mr. Trump vetoed the measure.

In October, after Mr. Trump withdrew American forces just inside Syria’s border, paving the way for a Turkish military operation against Kurdish forces, lawmakers voted to rebuke the administration for the decision and show support for the Kurds, a persecuted group in the Middle East that has fought with American troops against the Islamic State.

In the coming months, Congress is expected to try to pass legislation that would punish Turkey and Saudi Arabia for human rights abuses, though it is unclear whether those efforts would have a veto-proof majority. The effort includes a package of Turkey sanctions sponsored by Senator Robert Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, and Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina. The legislation, which would penalize those who commit human rights abuses in Syria, was approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in December.

Some human rights issues draw greater bipartisan support than others. China hawks have become ascendant across Congress and in the administration, and many Americans increasingly see China as a threat.

Although Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have criticized China on the persecution of Muslims, Mr. Trump has said nothing. In July, Jewher Ilham, the daughter of Ilham Tohti, a Uighur professor whom China sentenced to life in prison in 2014, joined other victims of religious persecution to meet with Mr. Trump in the Oval Office. When she tried to explain the camps to Mr. Trump, he appeared ignorant of the situation and simply said, “That’s tough stuff.”

“It’s hard to find evidence of genuine personal interest,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. “On China, at a minimum, President Trump should stop describing an authoritarian, abusive leader as a ‘terrific guy’; doing so gives Chinese authorities the opportunity to choose between that characterization and the far tougher ones offered up by other senior U.S. officials.”

Mr. Trump, who has criticized China over its economic practices, has refrained from imposing sanctions on Chinese officials responsible for the camps for fear of jeopardizing the chances of reaching a trade deal. Many top aides and lawmakers from both parties have pushed for sanctions, but the Treasury Department has opposed the penalties. The Uighur act, which had Mr. Rubio and Representative Christopher H. Smith, Republican of New Jersey, as sponsors, would compel Mr. Trump to impose sanctions on Chen Quanguo, the top Communist Party official in Xinjiang, where the camps are.

In October, the Trump administration placed a few Chinese businesses and security organizations on a commercial blacklist because of their suspected roles in Muslim abuses, but many analysts considered that a weak punishment.

Other countries are more complicated. Saudi Arabia has been a traditional American ally, and Iran hawks in Congress, who are generally Republican, argue Riyadh is a regional bulwark against Tehran. And Mr. Trump’s positive declarations about President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia have spurred a gradual shift from the anti-Russia views previously held by Republican politicians, conservative voters and right-wing news organizations.

Mr. Trump expresses open admiration for many authoritarian leaders, even those condemned by senior officials in his own administration for some of the world’s worst atrocities. They include Mr. Xi, Mr. Putin, Kim Jong-un, the leader of North Korea, Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt, Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary, and President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil.

“He’s celebrating the leaders who are the worst human rights abusers,” Senator Christopher S. Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut, said in an interview. “It almost seems like the president’s support for you is directly proportional to how brutal you are to your citizenry.”

This month, the Trump administration blocked a move by members of the United Nations Security Council to discuss the human rights situation in North Korea for the second year in a row. Mr. Trump has expressed warmth for Mr. Kim of North Korea and has engaged in personal diplomacy, meeting him at two summits to try, without success, to end North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

“The Trump administration has sent a clear message to Pyongyang and to the rest of the world that this administration doesn’t consider starvation, torture, summary executions and a host of other crimes to be a priority,” said Louis Charbonneau, United Nations director at Human Rights Watch.

On other prominent issues this year, Mr. Trump used his executive power to reject measures that would have either punished countries for human rights abuses or simply affirmed the abuses were happening.

Mr. Trump vetoed a bipartisan resolution that would have punished Saudi Arabia for its air war in Yemen and the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and permanent resident of the United States. Mr. Khashoggi’s death last year — a grisly killing that American intelligence officials have said was ordered by Prince Mohammed — reignited a long-simmering effort among a small group of lawmakers to cut off American support for the Saudi-led bombings in Yemen that have helped create the world’s worst man-made humanitarian crisis.

Four of the six vetoes Mr. Trump has issued in his presidency overturned legislative attempts to penalize the kingdom. In May, Mr. Trump and Mr. Pompeo sparked bipartisan fury by declaring an emergency over Iran that allowed the United States to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan, bypassing a congressional hold on the sales. This fall, in closed door negotiations, the White House blocked similar language from making it into the final version of the annual defense policy bill, a must-pass package of legislation.

“I’m a big fan of the president on many fronts, but on this, someone has to stand up,” Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky and a proponent of withdrawing the United States from wars, said in a floor speech in June before voting to cut off arms sales to the kingdom.

In another recent instance that privately confounded Republican lawmakers, the White House recruited multiple Republican senators to block attempts to pass legislation formally recognizing the Armenian genocide. The administration argued the timing of the bill would upend diplomatic relations with Turkey, including when Mr. Trump received Mr. Erdogan at the White House in November. Mr. Trump insisted on holding that meeting over the objections of some Republicans who have criticized Turkey, a NATO ally, for attacking the Kurds in Syria.

The legislation finally passed this month, days after the Senate advanced a package of sanctions related to Mr. Erdogan’s invasion of northern Syria and his purchase of a sophisticated Russian surface-to-air missile system.

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U.S. Resumes Large-Scale Operations Against ISIS in Northern Syria

By

MANAMA, Bahrain — United States troops have resumed large-scale counterterrorism missions against the Islamic State in northern Syria, military officials say, nearly two months after President Trump’s abrupt order to withdraw American troops opened the way for a bloody Turkish cross-border offensive.

American-backed operations against ISIS fighters in the area effectively ground to a halt for weeks despite warnings from intelligence analysts that Islamic State militants were beginning to make a comeback from Syrian desert redoubts even though their leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, had been killed during an American raid on Oct. 26.

On Friday, American soldiers and hundreds of Syrian Kurdish fighters — the same local allies the Trump administration abandoned to fend for themselves against the Turkish advance last month — reunited to conduct what the Pentagon said was a large-scale mission to kill and capture ISIS fighters in Deir al-Zour province, about 120 miles south of the Turkish border.

“Over the next days and weeks, the pace will pick back up against remnants of ISIS,” Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie, the commander of the military’s Central Command, told reporters on the sidelines of the Manama Dialogue security conference in Bahrain on Saturday.

The resumption of extensive counterterrorism operations capped a tumultuous two months in which many of the nearly 1,000 American troops in northeastern Syria flew or drove out of the country under Mr. Trump’s withdrawal order. Separately, several hundred other troops, some with armored Bradley fighting vehicles, arrived from Iraq and Kuwait under a subsequent order from Mr. Trump to protect Syria’s eastern oil fields from ISIS, as well as from the Syrian government and its Russian partners.

When the dust settles on all of the troop movements, General McKenzie said he would have about 500 American forces, or half of what he had before Mr. Trump’s directives, operating in an area east of the Euphrates River and Deir al-Zour, north to al-Hasakah and into Syria’s far northeast along the border with Iraq.

American commandos and their Syrian Kurdish partners conducted some low-level missions after the withdrawal order. But now that Americans and Kurds had regrouped their joint operations in the much smaller area, General McKenzie said, they could resume bigger missions against ISIS.

ImageWestlake Legal Group 25dc-isis2-articleLarge U.S. Resumes Large-Scale Operations Against ISIS in Northern Syria United States Politics and Government United States International Relations United States Defense and Military Forces Trump, Donald J Terrorism Syria Politics and Government Kurds Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) Defense Department Defense and Military Forces

Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie said on Saturday that relations between the United States and the Kurds were now “pretty good.”Credit…Mazen Mahdi/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“What we’re talking about are the pockets of people who represent the wreckage that followed in the wake of the caliphate,” General McKenzie said in describing what was left of ISIS’s religious state that at its peak was the size of Britain. “They still have the power to injure, still have the power to cause violence.”

The operation on Friday in Deir al-Zour province against several ISIS compounds killed or wounded “multiple” ISIS fighters and resulted in the capture of more than a dozen others, according to a statement from the American military coalition in Baghdad, which oversees the operations in Syria.

After the American withdrawal from the border, Vice President Mike Pence reached a deal with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that accepted a Turkish military presence in a broad part of northern Syria in exchange for a cease-fire. The deal amounted to a near-total victory for Mr. Erdogan, as thousands of Syrian Kurds were forced to flee south, often battling with ill-disciplined Turkish proxy forces as they went.

The United States considers the Syrian Kurds a pivotal partner in the fight on the ground against ISIS, but Turkey views them as terrorists, a distinction that has repeatedly put Washington in a difficult position.

Syrian Kurds who counted the United States as a friend and an ally accused Washington of betrayal immediately after the withdrawal from the border and the Turkish offensive. Army Green Berets who had fought alongside the Kurds and praised them for their valor said they felt ashamed at how the United States had treated the Kurds.

General McKenzie insisted that relations between the two sides were now “pretty good.” He did not say, however, how long American troops would stay in northern Syria. “We don’t have an end date,” he said twice during an interview with reporters on Saturday.

With a mercurial president who has twice in 10 months ordered all American troops out of Syria immediately — only to reverse himself twice after aides implored him to reconsider — other senior commanders say the Pentagon has to be ready for another no-notice message on Twitter that American troops are leaving, oil or not.

It was a message that Mr. Pence, on an unannounced pre-Thanksgiving visit to Iraq, repeated on Saturday even as he sought to reinforce the administration’s support for the Kurds and the mission of protecting the oil fields. “President Trump is always going to look for opportunities to bring our troops home and to take these men and women out of harm’s way,” Mr. Pence said.

The immediate fight may be on again against ISIS, but General McKenzie said that protecting the oil fields might ultimately draw a larger challenge from Syrian Army troops west of the Euphrates. “I’d expect at some point the regime will come forward to that ground,” General McKenzie said in a separate interview before the security conference.

The last time pro-Syrian government forces threatened American troops near the oil fields, in February 2018, the United States unleashed an artillery and aerial bombardment that left 200 to 300 of the attacking fighters dead. Most of that American air power is still nearby.

At the security conference in Manama on Saturday, several top European and Middle Eastern officials urged their counterparts to continue applying unrelenting pressure on ISIS, which is also called Daesh, in northern Syria.

“ISIS leaders have been killed and territory reclaimed, but the profound crisis of governance that made Daesh’s emergence possible is still there,” said France’s minister of armed forces, Florence Parly. “France’s aircraft will continue to strike relentlessly, and French forces will continue to train and equip partner forces.”

Ayman Safadi, Jordan’s minister of foreign affairs, added that ISIS also posed “an ideological challenge with which we are also having to deal and which, frankly, only us in the region can take the lead in this fight.”

“We need to expose terrorists for the thugs that they are,” he added.

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U.S. Resumes Operations Against ISIS in Northern Syria

By

MANAMA, Bahrain — United States troops have resumed large-scale counterterrorism missions against the Islamic State in northern Syria, military officials say, nearly two months after President Trump’s abrupt order to withdraw American troops opened the way for a bloody Turkish cross-border offensive.

American-backed operations against ISIS fighters in the area effectively ground to a halt for weeks despite warnings from intelligence analysts that Islamic State militants were beginning to make a comeback from Syrian desert redoubts even though their leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, had been killed during an American raid on Oct. 26.

On Friday, American soldiers and hundreds of Syrian Kurdish fighters — the same local allies the Trump administration abandoned to fend for themselves against the Turkish advance last month — reunited to conduct what the Pentagon said was a large-scale mission to kill and capture ISIS fighters in Deir al-Zour province, about 120 miles south of the Turkish border.

“Over the next days and weeks, the pace will pick back up against remnants of ISIS,” Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie, the commander of the military’s Central Command, told reporters on the sidelines of the Manama Dialogue security conference in Bahrain on Saturday.

The resumption of extensive counterterrorism operations capped a tumultuous two months in which many of the nearly 1,000 American troops in northeastern Syria flew or drove out of the country under Mr. Trump’s withdrawal order. Separately, several hundred other troops, some with armored Bradley fighting vehicles, arrived from Iraq and Kuwait under a subsequent order from Mr. Trump to protect Syria’s eastern oil fields from ISIS, as well as from the Syrian government and its Russian partners.

When the dust settles on all of the troop movements, General McKenzie said he would have about 500 American forces, or half of what he had before Mr. Trump’s directives, operating in an area east of the Euphrates River and Deir al-Zour, north to al-Hasakah and into Syria’s far northeast along the border with Iraq.

American commandos and their Syrian Kurdish partners conducted some low-level missions after the withdrawal order. But now that Americans and Kurds had regrouped their joint operations in the much smaller area, General McKenzie said, they could resume bigger missions against ISIS.

ImageWestlake Legal Group 25dc-isis2-articleLarge U.S. Resumes Operations Against ISIS in Northern Syria United States Politics and Government United States International Relations United States Defense and Military Forces Trump, Donald J Terrorism Syria Politics and Government Kurds Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) Defense Department Defense and Military Forces

Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie said on Saturday that relations between the United States and the Kurds were now “pretty good.”Credit…Mazen Mahdi/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“What we’re talking about are the pockets of people who represent the wreckage that followed in the wake of the caliphate,” General McKenzie said in describing what was left of ISIS’s religious state that at its peak was the size of Britain. “They still have the power to injure, still have the power to cause violence.”

The operation on Friday in Deir al-Zour province against several ISIS compounds killed or wounded “multiple” ISIS fighters and resulted in the capture of more than a dozen others, according to a statement from the American military coalition in Baghdad, which oversees the operations in Syria.

After the American withdrawal from the border, Vice President Mike Pence reached a deal with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that accepted a Turkish military presence in a broad part of northern Syria in exchange for a cease-fire. The deal amounted to a near-total victory for Mr. Erdogan, as thousands of Syrian Kurds were forced to flee south, often battling with ill-disciplined Turkish proxy forces as they went.

The United States considers the Syrian Kurds a pivotal partner in the fight on the ground against ISIS, but Turkey views them as terrorists, a distinction that has repeatedly put Washington in a difficult position.

Syrian Kurds who counted the United States as a friend and an ally accused Washington of betrayal immediately after the withdrawal from the border and the Turkish offensive. Army Green Berets who had fought alongside the Kurds and praised them for their valor said they felt ashamed at how the United States had treated the Kurds.

General McKenzie insisted that relations between the two sides were now “pretty good.” He did not say, however, how long American troops would stay in northern Syria. “We don’t have an end date,” he said twice during an interview with reporters on Saturday.

With a mercurial president who has twice in 10 months ordered all American troops out of Syria immediately — only to reverse himself twice after aides implored him to reconsider — other senior commanders say the Pentagon has to be ready for another no-notice message on Twitter that American troops are leaving, oil or not.

It was a message that Mr. Pence, on an unannounced pre-Thanksgiving visit to Iraq, repeated on Saturday even as he sought to reinforce the administration’s support for the Kurds and the mission of protecting the oil fields. “President Trump is always going to look for opportunities to bring our troops home and to take these men and women out of harm’s way,” Mr. Pence said.

The immediate fight may be on again against ISIS, but General McKenzie said that protecting the oil fields might ultimately draw a larger challenge from Syrian Army troops west of the Euphrates. “I’d expect at some point the regime will come forward to that ground,” General McKenzie said in a separate interview before the security conference.

The last time pro-Syrian government forces threatened American troops near the oil fields, in February 2018, the United States unleashed an artillery and aerial bombardment that left 200 to 300 of the attacking fighters dead. Most of that American air power is still nearby.

At the security conference in Manama on Saturday, several top European and Middle Eastern officials urged their counterparts to continue applying unrelenting pressure on ISIS, which is also called Daesh, in northern Syria.

“ISIS leaders have been killed and territory reclaimed, but the profound crisis of governance that made Daesh’s emergence possible is still there,” said France’s minister of armed forces, Florence Parly. “France’s aircraft will continue to strike relentlessly, and French forces will continue to train and equip partner forces.”

Ayman Safadi, Jordan’s minister of foreign affairs, added that ISIS also posed “an ideological challenge with which we are also having to deal and which, frankly, only us in the region can take the lead in this fight.”

“We need to expose terrorists for the thugs that they are,” he added.

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Garvan Walshe: Iran’s theocrats hunker down as protests mount

Garvan Walshe is a former National and International Security Policy Adviser to the Conservative Party. He Runs TRD Policy

In 2015, I visited a refugee camp near Sulaymaniah in northern Iraq where we were given an audience with Sunni clan leaders who had fled there. Our Kurdish hosts translated that they were fleeing from Daesh — the original Arabic initials for ISIS — but I remembered just enough Arabic to pick out that they were also, or even primarily, fleeing from “al-Hashd al-Sha’bi”, the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), a Shia militia working for the Iraqi government, but backed by Iran.

The brutal PMF are one of a series of proxies or militias under the sway of Tehran’s Revolutionary Guards that fight in Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, and which have been used to project Iranian power across the middle east. The spearhead of an expeditionary Iranian policy, they support Tehran’s influence in Lebanon and keep Israel on wary guard; helped Assad hold on until the Russians could supply him the firepower to retake rebel cities he had lost; supply and train the Houthi rebels running rings around Saudi forces in Yemen; and turned Iran into the arbiter of Iraqi politics.

These missions have been crucial to Iranian politics. They bring prestige and opportunities for graft to the Guards’ personnel, in particular their commander, General Qasem Soleimani. The networks they establish open holes in American sanctions. They show how hardliners can bring tangible benefits to the state and Iran’s security position.

They have, however, begun to turn sour. In the last month, Lebanon has been rocked by huge protests against Hezbollah’s dominance of the political system there. Meanwhile, in Iraq some 150 people have been killed in anti-government disturbances by Shia Iraqis against their Iranian coreligionists.

On Friday protests erupted in Iran itself, apparently in up to 40 cities. Their seriousness can be judged by the severity of the crackdown. Amnesty International reports more than 100 dead in 21 cities. To stop the protesters organising and to limit foreign coverage, the government has shut down the internet. Only four per cent of connections are still, apparently, active. Eyewitnesses say the repression is more severe than that which followed the 2009 “Green Revolution” uprising. Next Friday, when the authorities will have to cope with mass gatherings occurring under the guise of weekly prayers, will be a crucial test of the system’s strength.

The proximate cause of the uprising is a cut in petrol subsidies, instigated in response to the effects of American sanctions. In what is actually good practice, the across-the-board subsidies are to be replaced by help targeted at the poorest. But in reality the regime (which is composed of a mix of autocratic and more or less democratic institutions) faces a crisis of legitimacy and these protests have built up following months of dissent.

During the revolution itself, and the Iran-Iraq war that followed it, the regime was able to rally people around revolutionary nationalism and the now familiar trio of enemies – the United States, Great Britain and Israel – and their programme of “westoxification”. This trick was repeated with Ahmadinejad, who won his first term as president by campaigning against the North Tehran liberal elite (despite the actual elite being the decidedly illiberal Ayatollah Khamenei), and his second with some creative result-counting. This rigging sparked the mass protests of the 2009 revolution. Though it was to be the most serious internal challenge the regime has faced, it never took root outside the middle classes.

These protests are different. They take place, not against a hardline president whose agenda aligns with the Supreme Leader and the Revolutionary Guards, but against a moderate, Hassan Rouhani, who has been unable to deliver the economic improvements he promised.

If this failure might once have been directed at the United States (and Trump deserves his share of the blame), it’s now a majority of Iran’s population have grown up knowing nothing but the Islamic Republic. A weak president, constrained by an ageing clerical establishment, is no longer enough for them. They chafe at theocratic repression (videos of Iranians berating clerics who try and force women to cover up are often smuggled out), and have become increasingly angry at the economic hardship produced directly through sanctions, and indirectly, through its sheer cost by the foreign policy of an Iran in the grip of a military-religious complex run amok. You can’t eat the hashd al-sha’bi or fill your car up with Hezbollah.

Supreme Leader Khamene’i is now 80. Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who maintained a balance between hardline and reforming factions, is dead. The regime is due a generational change, and the Assembly of Experts, which will elect his successor, will have a reformist majority at least until 2024. All the more reason, the regime leadership evidently thinks, to snuff this rebellion out as quickly as possible.

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