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France, Czechs, & Other US Allies Exit Iraq Over COVID-19 Fears

By Tyler Durden – Zero Hedge – 03/27/2020

The United States has shown itself willing to both keep up its ‘maximum pressure’ campaign on Iran and its proxies while riding roughshod over Iraqi sovereignty by remaining in the country even as Baghdad leaders and the broader population demand a final exit.

But in another sign Europe is ready to divorce itself from US aims in the region, France has abruptly withdrawn its forces from the country after being there for five years. Interestingly the prime reason given was troop safety concerns over the coronavirus outbreak, but we imagine European leaders likely now see an opportunity to make a swift and easy exit without provoking the ire of their US counterparts.

International correspondents say this includes French withdrawal from six bases, with a small contingent of about 100 troops remaining in the country. The Czech Ministry of Defense also announced the exit of its forces Wednesday, which followed a large contingent of British forces leaving last week, also on fears of coronavirus exposure during the mission.

“British, French, Australian and Czech troops who were coaching Iraqi counterparts were being temporarily sent home as Baghdad had put a hold on training operations to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” reports the AFP this week.

All had been there to support coalition anti-ISIL operations led by Washington. But as the US mission to defeat the Islamic State has lately become less relevant given the demise of the terror group, Washington’s focus became Iranian influence inside Iraq – far beyond the original mission scope.

The US itself had been reportedly drawing down from certain bases, but is not expected to ultimately depart given the current high state of tensions with Iran-backed militias in the country.

But Iran and Iraq’s ‘counter-pressure’ campaign is only set to continue, as on Thursday two rockets slammed into the Iraqi capital’s high-security Green Zone early in the morning, in an incident that’s become almost a monthly occurrence. There were no reports of injuries.

Middle East regional correspondent and analyst Elijah Magnier observes of the rapid draw down: “Coronavirus is offering an opportunity for the world to detach itself from US dominance and reshuffle alliances.”

Indeed this will likely be the outcome in geopolitical hot spots and even economies around the globe.

March 29, 2020 Posted by | Illegal Occupation | , , | 4 Comments

Pompeo and Netanyahu paved a path to war with Iran, and they’re pushing Trump again

By Gareth Porter | The Grayzone | March 20, 2020

Though it narrowly averted war with Iran this January, the Trump administration is still pushing for all-out military conflict. The architects of the drive to war, Mike Pompeo and Benjamin Netanyahu, have relied on a series of cynical provocations to force Trump’s hand.

The US may escape the most recent conflict with Iran without war, however, a dangerous escalation is just over the horizon.  And as before, the key factors driving the belligerence are not outraged Iraqi militia leaders or their allies in Iran, but Trump’s secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has long sought to draw the US into a military confrontation with Iran.

Throughout the fall of 2019, Netanyahu ordered a series of Israeli strikes against Iranian allies in Iraq and against Lebanese Hezbollah units. He and Pompeo hoped the attacks would provoke a reaction from their targets that could provide a tripwire to outright war with Iran. As could have been expected, corporate US media missed the story, perhaps because it failed to reinforce the universally accepted narrative of a hyper-aggressive Iran emboldened by Trump’s failure to “deter” it following Iran’s shoot-down of a U.S. drone in June, and an alleged Iranian attack on Saudi oil facility in September.

Pompeo and John Bolton set the stage for the tripwire strategy in May 2019 with a statement by national security adviser John Bolton citing “troubling and escalatory indications and warnings,” implying an Iranian threat without providing concrete details. That vague language echoed a previous vow by Bolton that “any attack” by Iran or “proxy” forces “on United States interests or on those of our allies will be met with unrelenting force.”

Then came a campaign of leaks to major news outlet suggesting that Iran was planning attacks on U.S. military personnel. The day after Bolton’s statement, the Wall Street Journal reported that unnamed U.S. officials cited “U.S. intelligence” showing that Iran “drew up plans to target U.S. forces in Iraq and possibly Syria, to orchestrate attacks in the Bab el-Mandeb strait near Yemen through proxies and in the Persian Gulf with its own armed drones…”

The immediate aim of this campaign was to gain Trump’s approval for contingency plans for a possible war with Iran that included the option of sending as many as 120,000 U.S. troops into region.  Trump balked at such war-planning, however, complaining privately that Bolton and Pompeo were pushing him into a war with Iran. Following Iran’s shoot-down of the U.S. drone over the Strait of Hormuz on June 20, Pompeo and Bolton suggested the option of killing Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani in retaliation. But Trump refused to sign off on the assassination of Iran’s top general unless Iran killed an American first, according to current and former officials.

From that point on, the provocation strategy was focused on trying to trigger an Iranian reaction that would involve a U.S. casualty.  That’s when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu interjected himself and his military as a central player in the drama. From July 19 through August 20, the Israeli army carried out five strikes against Iraqi militias allied with Iran, blowing up four weapons depots and killing as many Shiite militiamen and Iranian offcers, according to press accounts.

The Israeli bombing escalated on August 25, when two strikes on the brigade headquarters of a pro-Iranian militia and on a militia convoy killed the brigade commander and six other militiamen, and a drone strike on Hezbollah’s headquarters in south Beirut blew the windows out of one of Hezbollah’s media offices.

Netanyahu and Pompeo sabotage Trump and Macron’s attempt at diplomacy

Behind those strikes was Netanyahu’s sense of alarm over Trump toying with the idea of seeking negotiations with Iran. Netanyahu had likely learned about Trump’s moves toward detente from Pompeo, who had long been his primary contact in the administration. On August 26, French President Emanuel Macron revealed that he was working to broker a Trump-Rouhani meeting. Netanyahu grumbled about the prospect of U.S.-Iranian talks “several times” with his security cabinet the day before launching the strikes.

Two retired senior Israeli generals, Gen. Amos Yadlin and Gen. Assaf Oron, criticized those strikes for increasing the likelihood of harsh retaliation by Iran or one of its regional partners. The generals complained that Netanyahu’s attacks were “designed to prod [Iran] into a hasty response” and thus end Trump’s flirtation with talking to Iran. That much was obviously true, but Pompeo and Netanyahu also knew that provoking an attack by Iran or one of its allies might cause one or more of the American casualties they sought. And once American blood was spilled, Trump would have no means to resist authorizing a major escalation.

Kataib Hezbollah and other pro-Iran Iraqi militias blamed the United States for the wave of lethal Israeli attacks on their fighters. These militias responded in September by launching a series of rocket attacks on Iraqi government bases where U.S. troops were present. They also struck targets in the vicinity of the U.S. Embassy.

The problem for Netanyahu and Pompeo, however, was that none of those strikes killed an American. What’s more, U.S. intelligence officials knew from NSA monitoring of communications between the IRGC and the militias that Iran had explicitly forbidden direct attacks on US personnel.

Netanyahu was growing impatient. For several days in late October and early November, he met with his national security cabinet to discuss a new Israeli attack to precipitate a possible war with Iran, according to reports by former Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren. Oren hinted at how a war with Iran might start. ‘[P]erhaps Israel miscalculates,” he suggested, “hitting a particularly sensitive target,” which, in his view, could spark “a big war between Israel and Iran.”

But on December 27, before Netanyahu could put such a strategy into action, the situation changed dramatically. A barrage of rockets slammed into an Iraqi base near Kirkuk where U.S. military personnel were stationed, killing a U.S military contractor. Suddenly, Pompeo had the opening he needed. At a meeting the following day, Pompeo led Trump to believe that Iranian “proxies” had attacked the base, and pressed him to “reestablish deterrence” with Iran by carrying out a military response.

In fact, U.S. and Iraqi officials on the spot had reached no such conclusion, and the investigation led by the head of intelligence for the Iraqi federal police at the base was just beginning that same day. But Pompeo and his allies, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Chairman of Joint Chiefs Gen. Mark A Milley, were not interested in waiting for its conclusion.

A deception brings the US and Iran to the brink of war

The results of a subsequent Iraqi investigation revealed that the rocket barrage had been launched from a Sunni area of Kirkuk with a strong Islamic State presence, and that IS fighters had carried out three attacks not far from the base on Iraqi forces stationed there in the previous ten days. US signals intercepts found no evidence that Iraqi militias had shifted from their policy of avoiding American casualties at all cost.

Kept in the dark by Pompeo about these crucial facts, Trump agreed to launch five airstrikes against Kataib Hezbollah and another pro-Iran militia at five locations in Iraq and Syria that killed 25 militiamen and wounded 51. He may have also agreed in principle to the killing of Soleimani when the opportunity presented itself.

Iran responded to the attacks on its Iraqi militia allies by approving a violent protest at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad January 31. The demonstrators did not penetrate the embassy building itself and were abruptly halted the same day. But Pompeo managed to persuade Trump to authorize the assassination of Qassem Soleimani, Iran’s second most powerful figure, presumably by hammering on the theme of “reestablishing deterrence” with Iran.

Soleimani was not only the second most powerful man in Iran and the main figure in its foreign policy; he was idolized by millions of the most strongly nationalist citizens of the country. Killing him in a drone strike was an open invitation to the military confrontation Netanyahu and Pompeo so desperately sought.

During the crucial week from December 28 through January 4, while Pompeo was pressing Trump to retaliate against Iran not just once but twice, it was clear that he was coordinating closely with Netanyahu.  During that single week, he spoke by phone with Netanyahu on three separate occasions.

What Pompeo and Netanyahu could not have anticipated was that Iran’s missile attack on the U.S. sector of Iraq’s sprawling al-Asad airbase in retaliation would be so precise that it scored direct hits on six U.S. targets without killing a single American. (The US service members were saved in part because the rockets were fired after the Iraqi government had passed on a warning from Iran to prepare for it). Because no American was killed in the strike, Trump again decided against further retaliation.

Towards another provocation

Although Pompeo and Netanyahu failed to ignite a military conflict with Iran, there is good reason to believe that they will try again before both are forced to leave their positions or power.

In an article for the Atlantic last November, former Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren, channeled Netanyahu when he declared it would be “better for conflict [with Iran] to occur during the current [Trump] administration, which can be counted on to provide Israel with the three sources of American assistance it traditionally receives in wartime,” than to “wait until later.”

Oren was not the only Israeli official to suggest that Israeli is likely to go even further in strikes against Iranian and Iranian allies targets in 2020. After listening to Israeli army Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi speak in late December, Haaretz military correspondent Amos Harel reported that the Israeli army chief conveyed the clear impression that a “more serious confrontation with Iran in the coming year as an almost unquestionable necessity.” His interviews with Israeli military and political figures further indicated that Israel would “intensity its efforts to hit Iran in the northern area.”

Shockingly, Pompeo has exploited the Coronavirus pandemic to impose even harsher sanctions on Iran while intimidating foreign businesses to prevent urgently needed medical supplies from entering the country. The approaching presidential election gives both Pompeo and Netanyahu a powerful reason to plot another strike, or a series of strikes aimed at drawing the US into a potential Israeli confrontation with Iran.

Activists and members of Congress concerned about keeping the US out of war with Iran must be acutely aware of the danger and ready to respond decisively when the provocation occurs.

March 20, 2020 Posted by | Deception, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Wars for Israel | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

U.S. Forces Withdraw From Key Base Near Syrian Border. More Rocket Attacks On U.S. Targets In Iraq

South Front | March 18, 2020

Late on March 17, at least three rockets struck the area near the US embassy in Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone. This was the fourth such attack in the span of a week. A day earlier, a pair of rockets struck the Besmaya base south of Baghdad. This military facility is the second largest military base operated by the US-led coalition in Iraq after Camp Taji.

The threat of rocket attacks already forced the US military to announce that it is evacuating some of its bases in the country. The al-Qaim base, near the Syrian-Iraqi border, is among them. The al-Qaim facility has been an important logistical and operational hub employed by US forces for operations in western Iraq and eastern Syria. Its presence there, as well as in Syria’s al-Tanf, has allowed the US to project its power along the Syrian-Iraqi border more effectively and to support Israeli military actions against Iranian-backed forces in the area.

Al-Qaim is located on the highway between the Iraqi capital of Baghdad and the Syrian city of Deir Ezzor. The town of al-Bukamal, which Israeli and US media often label as a stronghold of Iranian-backed forces, is located on the Syrian side of the border.

The withdrawal from al-Qaim is a signal that the US has been forced to admit that its attempts to cut off the land link between Syria, Iraq and Iran have failed. Washington was seeking to prevent a free movement of troops, weapons and other supplies from one country to another.

Meanwhile in Syria, the Idlib zone remains the main focus of tensions. Idlib armed groups and their supporters continue blocking efforts to create a security zone along the M4 highway in southern Idlib, as had been agreed by Turkey and Russia. These actions are accompanied by a fierce war propaganda campaign against the Damascus government, Iran and Russia. If the situation develops in this direction and further, the only remaining option to implement the new de-escalation deal and neutralize the terrorist threat will be a new military operation.

March 18, 2020 Posted by | Illegal Occupation, Wars for Israel | , , , | 1 Comment

US-Led Coalition Closing Several Bases in Iraq Following Rocket Attacks – Reports

Sputnik – March 16, 2020

The US-led coalition against Daesh is departing from several of its smaller bases in Iraq after several recent rocket attacks against them, CNN reported on Monday citing a statement it obtained from the coalition.

“As a result of the success of Iraqi Security Forces in their fight against Daesh, the Coalition is re-positioning troops from a few smaller bases,” the coalition said as quoted by CNN. “These bases remain under Iraqi control and we will continue our advising partnership for the permanent defeat of Daesh from other Iraqi military bases.”

Earlier this month, two rocket attacks hit coalition troops near Baghdad, killing two American soldiers and a British servicewoman. It prompted massive strikes against the local Shia militants by the US-led coalition.

The attacks against the coalition forces came after the US had announced that it would move air and missile defence systems into Iraq to defend against ballistic missile and drone threats. Washington blamed the attacks on Iranian-backed militants but Tehran has rejected the accusations.

Iraq has warned the US and other foreign forces against using attacks on the coalition troops as a pretext for unauthorised military action in the country. The US command claimed they had consulted with Iraqi authorities about the “defensive” strikes but it was not clear if Baghdad had approved it.

March 16, 2020 Posted by | Illegal Occupation | , , | 1 Comment

Iraq military demands foreign forces swiftly withdraw following US air raids

Press TV – March 14, 2020

The Iraqi military has called for an immediate withdrawal of all American and foreign troops from the country in accordance with a parliamentary resolution passed earlier this year, and in light of a string of airstrikes carried out by the United States against multiple locations of the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), better known by the Arabic name Hashd al-Sha’abi.

On Saturday, the military asked all US-led forces to act within the resolution and pull out of Iraq.

Iraqi lawmakers unanimously approved a bill on January 5, demanding the withdrawal of all foreign military forces led by the United States from the country following the assassination of Lieutenant General Qassem Soleimani, the commander of the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, along with the deputy head of the PMU, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, and their companions in US airstrike authorized by President Donald Trump near Baghdad International Airport two days earlier.

Later on January 9, former Iraqi prime minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi called on the United States to dispatch a delegation to Baghdad tasked with formulating a mechanism for the move.

According to a statement released by his office at the time, Abdul-Mahdi “requested that delegates be sent to Iraq to set the mechanisms to implement the parliament’s decision for the secure withdrawal of (foreign) forces from Iraq” in a phone call with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

The 78-year-old politician said that Iraq rejects violation of its sovereignty, particularly the US military’s violation of Iraqi airspace in the airstrike that assassinated General Soleimani, Muhandis and their companions.

Iraqi MP: We demand immediate withdrawal of US forces

Meanwhile, an Iraqi lawmaker from the Fatah (Conquest) alliance has called for the “immediate” pullout of American-led forces from the country through diplomatic means.

“Our fellow countrymen and women have become fully convinced that whatever has happened or happens in our country over the past 16 years is due to foreign interference in general, and the American interventions in particular in Iraq’s domestic affairs,” Ahmed al-Kinani said in a press release.

He added, “I would like to refer to repeated attacks on the sovereignty of Iraq by the occupying US forces, including the bombing of the headquarters of our security forces, army and the PMU, which led to their martyrdom and injury besides destruction of civilian facilities.”

“Such repeated attacks do not show that US forces have good intentions, and that they must leave our land as demanded by the government, the parliamentary resolution and the Iraqi nation, who took part in a million-march demonstration and called for their immediate departure,” Kinani pointed out.

‘Next Iraqi PM must be someone who can stop US recklessness’

Another Iraqi legislator lambasted US airstrikes as blatant violation of the Arab country’s sovereignty.

Nada Shaker Jawdat said that the country’s next prime minister must be someone who can firmly act against the US recklessness and its utter disdain for Iraq’s national sovereignty.

Attack on Camp Taji cannot serve as pretext for foreign ops: Baghdad

The Iraqi military also cautioned the US and other foreign forces on Saturday against taking any military action in Iraq without the government’s approval, emphasizing that recent missile strikes against the Camp Taji can’t serve as a pretext for unauthorized actions.

The military noted in a statement that 33 Katyusha rockets had been launched on the military base, which is located approximately 27 kilometers (17 miles) north of the capital Baghdad and houses US-led troops, and that the attack critically injured several Iraqi air defense servicemen.

The statement added that the military found seven rocket launchers and 24 unused rockets in the nearby Abu Izam area.

The Iraqi Interior Ministry’s Security Media Cell announced in a statement that “at 01:15 local time on Thursday (2215 Wednesday) an American aerial bombardment struck headquarters of Hashd al-Sha’abi, emergency regiments as well as commandos from the 19th Division of the army.”

The statement added that the airstrikes targeted positions in Jurf al-Nasr town, located about 60 kilometers southwest of the capital Baghdad, Musayyib town in the central province of Babil, the holy shrine city of Najaf as well as the ancient central city of Alexandria.

The US military did not estimate how many people in Iraq may have been killed in the strikes, which officials said were carried out by piloted aircraft.

US Defense Secretary Mark Esper, in a Pentagon statement detailing the strikes, cautioned that the United States was prepared to respond again, if needed.

“We will take any action necessary to protect our forces in Iraq and the region,” Esper said.

Separately, an Iraqi official said an airstrike had hit an airport under construction in Karbala, located about 100 kilometers (62 miles) southwest of Baghdad.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Arabic-language al-Sumaria television network on Friday that US military aircraft fired three missiles at the airport building, which is located in al-Haidariya district and near the border with neighboring Najaf province.

He added that the air raid killed a worker, and left great material damage at the site.

Meanwhile, CNN, quoting a US military official, reported that the airstrikes were carried out against five weapons storage facilities.

The early Friday US airstrikes were carried out about 24 hours after at least 18 PMU fighters were killed in air raids targeting an area southeast of the city of al-Bukamal in eastern Syria and near the border with Iraq.

That deadly attack was conducted hours after the US-led military coalition purportedly fighting the Daesh Takfiri terrorist group announced that three of its personnel – two Americans and one Briton – had been killed in a rocket attack on Iraq’s Taji military camp, located some 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) north of Baghdad.

March 14, 2020 Posted by | Illegal Occupation | , | Leave a comment

Iraqi military confirms attack on Taji base, says it shouldn’t be pretext for foreign ops on its soil

RT | March 14, 2020

A military base in Iraq housing US troops has been targeted in a rocket attack that severely injured Iraqi soldiers, the nation’s military confirmed. It also warned that the strike does not warrant a retaliation by foreign powers.

As many as 33 Katyusha rockets have been launched at the Taji base north of the Iraqi capital, Baghdad. The strike left several Iraqi air defense soldiers “critically injured,” according to the military statement. It is unclear if any US personnel have been affected.

The military urged all foreign forces to implement the national parliament’s resolution, passed after the US killing of Iranian top general Qasem Soleimani, and withdraw troops from Iraq.

The incident comes two days after the US launched its own airstrikes against an Iranian-backed Shia militia in Iraq, which it blames for the previous assault on a base where Western forces are stationed. The attack claimed the lives of three soldiers, two American and one British.

The move sparked angry reaction in Baghdad, which said it would file a complaint to the UN Security Council over the issue while the targeted militia called it a violation of Iraq’s sovereignty.

March 14, 2020 Posted by | Illegal Occupation | , | Leave a comment

Syria Debacles Epitomize Perpetual Perfidy of U.S. Foreign Policy

By James Bovard | Future of Freedom Foundation | March 6, 2020

Turkey is ratcheting up its invasion of Syria and trying to drag NATO into Erdogan’s personal rehabilitation scheme. Threats and counter-threats are flying as thickly as the bombs and bullets. It remains to be seen whether U.S. policymakers will blunder deeper into this quagmire.

Last October, the Washington establishment was aghast when President Trump appeared to approve a Turkish invasion of northern Syria. The U.S. was seen as abandoning the Kurds, some of whom had allied with the U.S. in the fight against ISIS and other terrorist groups. But the indignation over the latest U.S. policy shift in the Middle East is farcical considering the long record of U.S. double-crosses. Rather than the triumph of American idealism, recent U.S. policy has been perpetual perfidy leavened with frequent doses of idiocy.

Almost none of the media coverage of the Turkish invasion and flight of Kurdish refugees mentioned that President George H. W. Bush had urged the Kurds and other Iraqis to “take matters into their own hands and force Saddam Hussein, the dictator, to step aside” during the U.S. bombing campaign in 1991 in the first Gulf War. After it became clear that the U.S. military could not protect the Kurds from Saddam’s backlash, U.S. policymakers basically shrugged and moseyed along. As a CNN analysis noted in 2003, “Bush refrained from aiding Kurdish rebels in the north, although he finally sent troops and relief supplies to protect hundreds of thousands of fleeing Kurds who were in danger of freezing or starving to death. Bush has never regretted his decision not to intervene.” George H.W. Bush’s abandonment and betrayal of the Kurds did nothing to deter the media and political establishment from posthumously sainting him after he died in late 2018.

U.S. meddling in the Middle East multiplied after the 9/11 attacks. Even though most of the hijackers were Saudis who received plenty of assistance from the Saudi government, the George W. Bush administration seized the chance to demonize and assault Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi regime. President Bush portrayed his invasion of Iraq as American idealism at his best. In his May 1, 2003 “Mission Accomplished” speech abroad the USS Abraham Lincoln, Bush hailed “the character of our military through history” for showing “the decency and idealism that turned enemies into allies.” Speaking three weeks later at a Republican fundraiser, Bush bragged, “The world has seen the strength and the idealism of the United States military.” Washington Post columnist David Ignatius declared in late 2003 that “this may be the most idealistic war fought in modern times.” The torture scandal at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere in Iraq has not been permitted to deter the recent semi-canonization of George W. Bush by the establishment media.

The Bush administration and their media allies produced one smokescreen after another to sanctify the war. Almost all the pre-invasion broadcast news stories on Iraq originated with the federal government. PBS’s Bill Moyers noted that “of the 414 Iraq stories broadcast on NBC, ABC and CBS nightly news, from September 2002 until February 2003, almost all the stories could be traced back to sources from the White House, the Pentagon, and the State Department.” A 2008 report by the Center for Public Integrity found that “in speeches, briefings, interviews and other venues, Bush and administration officials stated unequivocally on at least 532 occasions that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction or was trying to produce or obtain them or had links to al-Qaida or both.” The report concluded that the “false statements – amplified by thousands of news stories and broadcasts” created “an almost impenetrable din for several critical months in the run-up to war.” Bush’s falsehoods on Iraq proved far more toxic than anything in Saddam’s arsenal. But the exposure of the official lies did not deter Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld from equating criticizing the Iraq war with appeasing Adolph Hitler in 2006.

The chaos from the 2003 invasion of Iraq was still spiraling out of control when the Bush administration began seeking pretexts to attack Iran, which Bush had designated part of the “Axis of Evil” in his 2002 State of the Union address. Bush officials and subsequent administration chose to champion the Iranian terrorist group, Mujahideen-e-Khalq (MEK). That organization sprang up in the 1960s and proceeded to kill Americans in the 1970s and to kill large numbers of Iranians in the subsequent decades. A 2004 FBI report noted that MEK continued to be “actively involved in planning and executing acts of terrorism.” NBC News reported in early 2012 that MEK carried out killings of Iranian nuclear scientists and that it “financed, trained and armed by Israel’s secret service.”

That was the same year that a stampede of Washington hustlers took huge payoffs to publicly champion de-listing the MEK as a terrorist organization. As Trita Parsi noted in the New York Review of Books, MEK “rented office space in Washington, held fundraisers with lawmakers, or offered US officials speaking fees to appear at their gatherings. But the MEK did this openly for years, despite being on the US government’s terrorist list.” Federal law prohibited taking money from or advocating on behalf of any designated terrorist group. But, as a 2011 Huffpost headline reported, “Former U.S. Officials Make Millions Advocating For Terrorist Organization.” Former FBI boss Louis Freeh, former CIA boss Porter Goss, co-chair of the 9/11 Commission Lee Hamilton, former attorney general Michael B. Mukasey, former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge pocketing $30,000 or more for brief speeches to pro-MEK events. Glenn Greenwald rightly scoffed that the advocacy for MEK “reveals the impunity with which political elites commit the most egregious crimes, as well as the special privileges to which they explicitly believe they — and they alone — are entitled.” Greenwald pointed that average people were scourged by the same law the pooh-bahs brazenly trampled: “A Staten Island satellite TV salesman in 2009 was sentenced to five years in federal prison merely for including a Hezbollah TV channel as part of the satellite package he sold to customers.”

Thanks in part to the torrent of insider endorsements, the Obama administration canceled the MEK’s terrorist designation in 2012. While Washington poohbahs continue portraying the group as idealistic freedom fighters devoted to democracy, a simple online search shows that the Farsi translation of the group’s name is “holy warriors of the people,” as Ted Carpenter noted in his new book, Gullible Superpower. Trump administration officials have gurgled about MEK’s possible role in ruling Iran after the current government is toppled. But MEK remains odious to the Iranian people regardless of the group’s PR successes inside the Beltway.

The prior pratfalls of U.S. Middle East policy did nothing to stymie the outrage over Trump asserted that he was withdrawing U.S. troops from eastern Syria. Congress showed more indignation about a troop pullback than it had shown the loss of all the American soldiers’ lives in pointless conflicts over the past 18 years. The House of Representatives condemned Trump by a 354 to 60 vote, and Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, proclaimed, “At President Trump’s hands, American leadership has been laid low, and American foreign policy has become nothing more than a tool to advance his own interests.” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said he felt “horror and shame” over Trump’s action. Boston Globe columnist Stephen Kinzer aptly described Congress’s protest as “a classic example of ‘buffet outrage,’ in which one picks and chooses which horrors to condemn.”

President Barack Obama had promised 16 times that there would be no “U.S. boots on the ground” in Syria; when Obama betrayed that promise, Congress did nothing. Trump’s plans to have fewer U.S. boots on the ground in Syria — or at least in part of it — somehow became the moral equivalent of giving Alaska back to Russia. Pundits attacked politicians who supported the troop pullback as “Russian assets” – i.e., traitors.

Syria offers another reminder that “material support of terrorism” is a federal crime unless you work for the CIA, State Department, Pentagon, or White House. After President Barack Obama, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and former Secretary of State John Kerry all publicly declared that Syrian president Assad must exit power, the U.S. armed terrorist groups to topple Assad. The Obama administration’s beloved, non-existent “moderate Syrian rebels” achieved nothing. The Kurdistan Workers’ Party, the PKK, a prime beneficiary of the U.S. occupation, has been considered a terrorist group by the U.S. government since 1997. Evan McMullin, a 2016 presidential candidate, admitted on Twitter: “My role in the CIA was to go out & convince Al Qaeda operatives to instead work with us.” Such absurdities spurred Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, to introduce The Stop Arming Terrorists Act in 2017 to prohibit any U.S. funding of terrorist groups. Gabbard’s bill was mostly ignored and never enacted though her outspoken criticism of U.S. policy did spur Hillary Clinton and others to vilify her.

Prominent politicians and much of the media blamed Trump for the attacks on civilians that followed the Turkish invasion, carried out mainly by groups allied with the Turkish government. U.S.-armed terrorist groups involved in the Turkish invasion have freed Islamic State prisoners. A Turkish think tank analyzed the violent groups committing atrocities in Syria after the start of the Turkish invasion; “Out of the 28 factions, 21 were previously supported by the United States, three of them via the Pentagon’s program to combat DAESH. Eighteen of these factions were supplied by the CIA.” A prominent Turkish journalist observed after his government invaded Syria: “The groups that were educated and equipped by the United States west of the Euphrates are now fighting against the groups east of the Euphrates that have been also educated and equipped by the United States.” This is nothing new: in 2016, Pentagon-backed Syrian rebels have openly battled CIA-backed rebels in Syria. A prominent Assad opponent who organized a conference of anti-Assad groups financed by the CIA was denied political asylum in 2017 because he provided “material support” to the Free Syrian Army, which meant he had “engaged in terrorist activity,” according to the Department of Homeland Security. A press backlash spurred a reversal on that decision but the media mostly ignored the other contradictions in U.S. policy in Syria.

Members of Congress were indignant that Syrian civilians suffered as the result of Trump’s troop pullback. But both Congress and most of the American media ignored the Syrian women, children, and men who died as a result of U.S. policies that intensified and prolonged that nation’s civil war. This is typical inside the Beltway scoring: the only fatalities worthy of recognizing are those that are politically useful.

Despite Trump’s sporadic declarations on Syria, the U.S. continues to have more than 50,000 troops deployed in the Middle East. The sooner those troops come home, the less likely that our nation will be dragged into another quagmire. The perennial follies and frauds of Middle East policy provide one of the strongest arguments for the United States to mind its own business.

March 8, 2020 Posted by | Illegal Occupation, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Wars for Israel | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Iraq’s parliament fails to approve cabinet, Prime Minister-designate resigns, rockets hit Green Zone

Press TV – March 1, 2020

Iraq’s Prime Minister-designate Mohammad Tawfiq Allawi has withdrawn his candidacy after the parliament failed to approve his new government.

Allawi asked the Iraqi presidency to excuse him from forming a new government in a speech on Sunday.

He added that he made the decision after seeing that “certain political factions are not yet ready reform” and that continuing his tenure under such circumstances would run contrary to his promises to the Iraqi people.

Allawi’s withdrawal comes a few hours after Iraq’s parliament failed to reach a quorum necessary to hold a vote-of-confidence session for Allawi’s new government for a third time in a week.

Allawi was tasked early February with forming a new government after former Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi resigned in the wake of unprecedented anti-government protests which accused the former government of corruption and mismanagement.

The demonstrations, which started in early October last year, have since regularly turned violent amid reports of foreign intervention.

Several hundred people, including security forces, have lost their lives in the violence.

Rockets hit Green Zone

A few hours after the resignation was announced in the early hours of Monday, media reports claimed that two blasts were heard from rockets targeting “US assets” in the Iraqi capital’s “Green Zone”.

The Green Zone is home to several Western embassies and government offices including the parliament, the prime minister’s office, and the presidency.

In recent months the fortified zone has been repeatedly targeted by Katyusha rockets by unknown parties.

March 1, 2020 Posted by | Illegal Occupation | , | Leave a comment

US Imposes Sanctions on Entities in Russia and China Over ‘Support of Iran’s Missile Programme’

Sputnik – February 25, 2020

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has announced that Washington is imposing sanctions on 13 entities in Russia, China, Iraq, and Turkey for “supporting Iran’s missile programme.”

He further added that sanctions against individuals and entities in those countries were “consistent with our efforts to use all available measures” to slow Iranian missiles.

In particular, five Chinese and Turkish entities and individuals have been included in the sanctions list.

The decision was made in accordance with the Iran, North Korea, and Syria Non-proliferation Act, which provides for sanctions for “the transfer of equipment or technology having the potential to make a material contribution to the development of weapons of mass destruction or cruise or ballistic missile systems” to those countries.

Addressing a large meeting on the occasion of celebrating the 40th anniversary of victory of the Islamic Revolution at Tehran’s Azadi (Liberty) Square earlier this month, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani stated that Tehran hadn’t asked and would not ask “a permission from anybody to manufacture various types of missiles, including anti-tank missiles, air-to-air, ground-to-ground or sea-to-sea missiles. We will continue our way [of development] of military force”.

February 25, 2020 Posted by | Wars for Israel | , , , , | 1 Comment

Trudeau government deepens ties to repressive Kuwaiti monarchy

By Yves Engler · February 24, 2020

As many parents have warned their children, real friends do not encourage stupid, embarrassing, or life-threatening behaviour.

But because of our “friend” to the south, Justin Trudeau’s government has deepened ties to a repressive 250-year old monarchy in Kuwait and pursued other questionable policies.

After participating in the recent African Union Summit in Ethiopia Trudeau jetted off to meet the Emir of Kuwait, which has been part of the coalition bombing Yemen. The prime minister’s visit marked the most high-profile step in a bevy of diplomatic activity with a government where questioning the Emir or Islam is punishable with a significant prison sentence. During their meeting, notes the official press release, Trudeau “welcomed the long-standing friendship between Canada and Kuwait and thanked the Government of Kuwait for its support of our CAF [Canadian Armed Forces] personnel stationed in Kuwait as part of Operation IMPACT. The two leaders discussed recent developments in the region and agreed on the importance of working towards long term stability and security.”

Before the PM’s visit defence minister Harjit Sajjan had traveled to Kuwait City twice since December 19. In April Sajjan also met Prime Minister and Defence Minister Sheikh Nasser Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah “to bolster and consolidate bilateral ties.” Three months earlier Governor General Julie Payette visited the Emir in Kuwait City. In November Payette sent a cable to the Emir to wish him well after an illness and the next month Assistant Deputy Minister of Global Affairs Peter McDougall met a Kuwaiti counterpart “to strengthen bilateral relations.” In August 2018 the two countries signed a memorandum of understanding on establishing regular consultations between senior officials.

At the Munich Security Conference last week foreign minister Francois-Philippe Champagne met his Kuwaiti counterpart Ahmad Nasser Al-Mohammad Al-Sabah. At an event in the Canadian Embassy on Monday Kuwait’s deputy foreign minister Khaled Al-Jarallah described the “distinguished … ties between the two countries” and “continuous communication and common interests.” On Thursday Minister of Veterans Affairs and Associate Minister of National Defence Lawrence MacAulay attended a celebration at Kuwait’s Embassy in Ottawa for Canadians who fought in the 1991 Iraq war.

The inaugural Kuwait and Canada Investment Forum took place in April. Finance minister Bill Morneau and parliamentary secretary Omar Alghabra participated. At the time Alghabra wrote, “let’s celebrate and continue our efforts to grow the relationship between Canada and Kuwait in investments, trade and defence.”

So, why the budding romance?

Relations with Kuwait are important to Ottawa because of the Canadian Forces base there. About 300 Canadians are stationed in Kuwait to support the Canadian special forces deployed to Iraq as well as two intelligence and one Canadian air-to-air refuelling aircraft. Alongside 200 highly skilled special forces, there’s a Canadian tactical helicopter detachment, intelligence officers and a combat hospital in Iraq. Despite being labeled a “training” mission, the Canadians called in US airstrikes, provided up-to-date battle intelligence and repeatedly engaged the enemy. A Canadian even killed someone with a record-breaking 3.5-kilometre sniper shot. The Canadian Forces backed Kurdish forces often accused of ethnic cleansing areas they captured. Canadian special forces supported a multi-month battle to dislodge ISIS from Mosul that left thousands of civilians dead in 2017.

Alongside the special forces and air support operations, Canada assumed command of the NATO Mission Iraq in November 2018. A Canadian commands 580 NATO troops, including 250 Canadians. They train instructors at three military schools and advise Iraq’s defence ministry.

The Liberals failed to properly explain why Canada took on a second mission in Iraq. But, it was likely tied to weakening the influence of the Iranian aligned Popular Mobilization Forces, Shia militias that helped defeat ISIS. According to Scott Taylor, “Canada agreed to take command of the NATO-led training mission in Iraq because the Liberal government knew it could not sell the Canadian public on sending troops back into the war in Afghanistan. That is where the NATO leaders wanted Canadians, which seems an incredibly ironic twist in that we originally agreed to go into Afghanistan because it was not Iraq.”

Trudeau and Sajjan’s recent missions to Kuwait are part of the fallout from Washington’s decision to assassinate Iranian general Qasem Soleimani and Iraqi Shia militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. After the January 3 killings some Canadian forces in Iraq were withdrawn to the base in Kuwait. Iraq’s parliament passed a resolution demanding foreign soldiers leave the country and Iran threatened to retaliate against US troops in the region.

The flurry of recent diplomatic activity is likely designed to reassure Kuwaiti officials of Canadian backing and to ensure Kuwait doesn’t back out of the base arrangement. The Trudeau government has happily deepened ties to a repressive monarchy to support US policy in Iraq.

To maintain foreign troops in Iraq the Trudeau government has also pushed back against the Iraqi parliament’s call for foreign troops to leave. After the country’s parliament passed a resolution calling for foreign troops to go, defence minister Harjit Sajjan sought to convince his Iraqi counterpart of the importance of Canada’s presence. Last week Sajjan celebrated Iraqi leaders willingness to keep Canadian troops. Additionally, Middle East Eye reported on Iraqi and US military officials holding a secret meeting “in the private residence of the Canadian ambassador to Jordan in Amman” to discuss pulling back US troops from Iraq.

Makes one wonder what else the Trudeau government has done or will do to support US policy in Iraq?

February 24, 2020 Posted by | Illegal Occupation | , , , , | Leave a comment

Iraq regime needs to be changed again, argues ex-aide for Cheney and Bolton… referring to something he helped to install

RT | February 21, 2020

Baghdad’s ruling class is beyond saving, so it’s time to scrap it in its entirety, believes a neocon pundit who served in the Bush administration. What was the saying about doing the same thing and hoping for different results?

Things are really bad in Iraq these days. There are mass protests, where young people demand democracy, an end to corruption and that Iranians go back to their country. But Iranians have been “imperially usurping the authority of Iraq’s elected leaders,” and now “the rot of Iranian penetration” has rendered the entire Iraqi ruling class beyond saving. They need to go, and the US has things to do.

That’s the premise of an op-ed published by Foreign Policy magazine under the title ‘Iraq Needs Regime Change Again’. The author is John Hannah, a neoconservative pundit with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. During the George W Bush era, Hannah worked as an aide to mustached arch-hawk John Bolton before moving to the team of Vice President Dick Cheney. A few years ago, he was part of Donald Trump’s transition team.

With credentials like these, Hannah’s position is unsurprising, but his line of reasoning gives a good insight into the kind of gaslighting and wishful thinking feeding US Middle East policy.

Take, for example, his description of events leading to the US’s assassination of Iran’s General Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy commander of the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF). PMF launched rocket attacks against facilities hosting US forces and killed a US contractor, thus “crossing an unambiguous red line.” After the US retaliated, the Iraqi government allowed “a mob” to “lay siege” to the US embassy in Baghdad, where “heavily armed but outnumbered US Marines steeled themselves to repel a potential assault a la Tehran in 1979 or Benghazi in 2012.” And then the US was “forced into the position of droning convoys on major Baghdad highways carrying senior Iraqi and Iranian military commanders openly conspiring to attack US interests.”

So, Washington is pretty much a victim here! Never mind, for instance, Israeli airstrikes at PMF bases in Iraq, which have been killing Iraqis since July 2019. Or the fact that the embassy ‘siege’ resulted in zero casualties on the American side.

Hannah’s plan for the proposed new regime change doesn’t seem to include any Shock and Awe-style action. Instead, Washington should “invest less in the Iraqi government and more in the [anti-government] protest movement”. The protesters are “an historic challenge to all that Iran has perpetrated in Iraq”, he argues, and while they “have no love lost for an America that they blame for saddling them after 2003 with a botched occupation and a failed political system,” they are secretly somewhat pro-American.

“After the targeted killings of Soleimani and Muhandis, the protesters did make a point of coupling their standard chant of ‘No, no Iran’ with ‘No, no America.’ But talk to them confidentially and they will admit that including the United States is largely a means of reducing the risk of being attacked by Iran’s unforgiving proxies,” he wrote. Or, to cite Hannah’s former boss, “My belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators.”

The big goal for Hannah is “banishing Iraq’s current crop of corrupt rulers, Islamist parties, and Iranian toadies to the political margins”. But wasn’t that exactly what the US did to Iraq after Saddam Hussein’s rule? And the chaos created afterwards brought about the rise of various insurgency and terror groups, including the Islamic State.

And last, but not least: Hannah’s big argument in favor of toppling the Iraqi government again is that it has been perpetrating violence against its own people and is beyond redemption. Assuming this is true, and Iran’s puppets are waiting for an excuse to unleash tanks on democratic protests… An almost 3,000-word suggestion to use the demonstrators as a patsy to stick it to Tehran and publishing it in a leading US magazine doesn’t seem like a far-sighted thing to do.

February 21, 2020 Posted by | Illegal Occupation, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , | 2 Comments

Pentagon expects US public to buy lame excuse about missing weapons sent to Syria, Iraq

‘We weren’t keeping inventory’

By Nebojsa Malic | RT | February 20, 2020

US weapons worth some $715 million dollars were warehoused poorly and soldiers handling them did not keep receipts or records, so it’s impossible to tell how many, if any, ended up in wrong hands, the Pentagon says.

Supply units in Kuwait and elsewhere “did not maintain comprehensive lists of all equipment purchased and received” or “stored weapons outside in metal shipping containers, exposing the equipment to harsh environmental elements, such as heat and humidity.”

This is according to the partially redacted report by the Department of Defense’s inspector general (IG), of an audit into the “Counter Islamic State of Iraq and Syria Train and Equip Fund” (CTEF), dated February 13 and published this week.

That is not to say that $715 million worth of US weapons, intended for the Iraqi military and “Vetted Syrian Opposition” – as the euphemism for US-allied militia goes – has gone missing, as some reports may have suggested. In Pentagon-speak, there was “a lack of a central repository for accountability documentation.” Once you cut through the obtuse verbiage, the IG report basically says there’s no way of figuring any of that out, because the troops charged with running the program did not maintain records or receipts.

The audit was commissioned because the DOD has requested $173.2 million for weapons, ammunition, vehicles, and other CTEF-S equipment for the current fiscal year, which began in October. Without accurate records, the Pentagon risks buying stuff it doesn’t need and “further overcrowding” the warehouses in Kuwait, which is what caused the pricey hardware to be stored outside in the first place.

Even though the Trump administration declared Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) defeated back in March 2019, ensuring the “enduring defeat” of the terrorists apparently requires that the weapons and equipment must flow. While the US taxpayers don’t have a choice in footing the bill, expecting them to swallow the explanation – that their noble men and women in uniform are just too stupid, lazy or incompetent to keep a ledger – sounds a bit rich.

Washington has a notoriously spotty record of pouring weapons into Syria and Iraq. At one point in 2015, the Pentagon admitted the failure of its program to train and equip “Vetted Syrian Opposition” (also known as “moderate rebels”). Having spent $2 million per fighter, the US saw them defect to the Al-Qaeda affiliate group Al-Nusra, bringing the US-supplied weapons and kit along.

So the Pentagon doubled down in 2016, spending untold millions to train “dozens” of rebels in Turkey. It is unclear how many of those “moderates” took part in last year’s assault on areas held by US-allied Kurdish militias.

As late as September 2016, Al-Nusra commanders openly talked about getting US weapons, both “directly” and via third countries, such as Saudi Arabia. The Syrian government has since dealt the militants one defeat after another, and currently advances on their last remaining strongholds in the Idlib province.

While the US government and media have objected to these operations – and NATO member Turkey actually sent troops and tanks to Idlib in an attempt to halt them – a spokesman for the anti-IS coalition has just openly admitted Idlib is a nest of terrorists.

February 20, 2020 Posted by | Deception | , , | 1 Comment