U.S. Defense Secretary Mattis to talk Islamic State, Syria in Middle East



On his first trip as U.S defense secretary to parts of the Middle East and Africa, Jim Mattis will focus on the fight against Islamic State and articulating President Donald Trump’s policy toward Syria, officials and experts say.

His trip may give clarity to adversaries and allies alike about the Trump administration’s tactics in the fight against Islamic State militants and its willingness to use military power more liberally than former President Barack Obama did.

One of the main questions from allies about Syria is whether Washington has formulated a strategy to prevent areas seized from militants from collapsing into ethnic and sectarian feuds or succumbing to a new generation of extremism, as parts of Iraq and Afghanistan have done since the U.S. invaded them.

U.S.-backed forces are fighting to retake the Islamic State strongholds of Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria, and questions remain about what will happen after that and what role other allies such as Saudi Arabia, can play. There are signs that Trump has given the U.S. military more latitude to use force, including ordering a cruise missile strike against a Syrian air base and cheering the unprecedented use of a monster bomb against an Islamic State target in Afghanistan last week.Administration officials said the U.S. strategy in Syria — to defeat Islamic State while still calling for the removal of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad — is unchanged, a message Mattis is expected to reinforce.

Arriving in the region on Tuesday, his stops include Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Qatar and Israel.

“Particularly with the Saudis and the Israelis, part of the discussion will be clarifying for them what our strategy is towards Syria in light of the strike,” said Christine Wormuth, a former number three at the Pentagon.

Islamic State has lost most of the territory it has held in Iraq since 2014, controlling about 6.8 percent of the nation.


The United States also is considering deepening its role in Yemen’s conflict by more directly aiding its Gulf allies that are battling Houthi rebels who have some Iranian support, officials say, potentially relaxing a U.S. policy that limited American support.

“The Saudi concern is strategically Iran… The near-term Saudi concern is how they send a message to the Iranians in Yemen, and they would like full-throated American support,” said Jon Alterman, head of the Middle East program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank in Washington.

The review of possible new U.S. assistance, which includes intelligence support, would come amid evidence that Iran is sending advanced weapons and military advisers to the Houthis.

Congressional sources say the Trump administration is on the verge of notifying Congress of the proposed sale of precision-guided munitions to Saudi Arabia. Some U.S. lawmakers have expressed concern about civilian casualties in Riyadh’s campaign in Yemen.

Experts say Egyptian officials are likely to seek more support from Mattis, a retired Marine general, for fighting militants in the country’s Sinai peninsula.

Islamic State has waged a low-level war against soldiers and police in the Sinai for years, but increasingly is targeting Christians and broadening its reach to Egypt’s heart.

“They would also like more American support in fighting terrorism in the Sinai peninsula and they like more American confidence that they are doing it the right way,” said Alterman.

Mattis also will be visiting a U.S. military base in Djibouti, at the southern entrance to the Red Sea, where operations in Yemen and Somalia are staged, and just miles from a new Chinese installation.

The White House recently granted the U.S. military broader authority to carry out strikes against al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab militants in Somalia.

Last week the Pentagon announced that a few dozen U.S. troops had been deployed to Somalia to train members of the Somali National Army.

(Editing by John Walcott and Alistair Bell)


Emirates Abadi , an eagerness to invest in Iraq


Emirates Abadi, an eagerness to invest in Iraq
one hour ago

Twilight News / met with Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on Monday Ambassador of the United Arab Emirates to Baghdad, Hassan Ahmed Al Shehhi.

The Iraqi government said in a statement that Abadi, Iraq’s desire to develop bilateral relations between the two countries in various fields and follow-up between him and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates, Mr. Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, during a meeting in Amman during the Arab summit conference last month.

The statement said that the UAE ambassador thanked Abadi for the opportunity to meet with him and deliberating on issues of common interest, including in particular keenness on developing relations in the political and economic fields and stimulate investment movement in Iraq.




World Bank expects the Iraqi economy shrink by 3% this year



The World Bank predicted on Monday, a contraction in the Iraqi economy as a result of reducing its oil production up to 180 thousand barrels per day, stressing that it is expected that oil production and exports back to levels in 2016 during 2018 and 2019.

The World Bank said in a report seen by the “Economy News”,  that “GDP will shrink by 3% in 2017 due to an expected drop of 6% in oil production as a result of the agreement of OPEC members in November 2016 cut output by 1.2 million barrels per day” stressing that ” the decline in oil production could lead to a decline in volume of exports by 5% in 2017″.

He added that “it is expected that oil production and exports back to levels in 2016 during 2018 and 2019,” stressing that “it is expected to reach the Iraqi oil export prices on average 47.4 in the current year.”


Erbil, Baghdad locked in tussle over vacant ministerial posts


By Rudaw 12 hours ago

Erbil, Baghdad locked in tussle over vacant ministerial posts
AP file photo of a meeting of the previous Iraqi government cabinet.

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region  — Nearly 1.5 years after Iraq’s Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi started to reshuffle his embattled cabinet, dozens of top positions in his administration still remain vacant including 23 posts earmarked for officials from the Kurdistan Region, according to Kurdish lawmakers in Baghdad.
High Kurdish positions within the Iraqi ministry of finances including the minister and his deputy, the Iraqi Army Chief of Staff, Deputy of the interior ministry and Director of the Iraqi Intelligence which were previously held by Kurdish officials are still vacant, some since August 2015.

But by far the most important Kurdish position in Abadi’s cabinet is the ministry of finances previously held by Hoshyar Zebari from the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) who was removed from office after a controversial vote of no-confidence in the Iraqi parliament last September.
The KDP has been reluctant to name a candidate to replace Zebari in the finance ministry despite pressure from Abadi who struggles to restore trust in his cabinet amid ongoing popular protests in Baghdad demanding his resignation along with the resignation of the parliament and the presidency.

“I don’t think Abadi will wait for ever. If the KDP chooses not to name a candidate, then the prime minister will fill the vacant posts by himself,” said Arez Abdulla a lawmaker from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK).

Iraq has been governed by consensus governments since 2003 in which nearly all political parties in the country are granted cabinet positions in agreement with a quota system.
The Kurdistan Region’s five main parties are entitled to 17 percent of all high offices in the Iraqi capital apart from the posts of the country’s president and deputy of the parliament speaker.

According to KDP lawmaker Shakhawan Abdulla, Abadi has recently asked Kurdish President Masoud Barzani to name a candidate for the post of the finance ministry.
“President Barzani has not responded to the call yet and the KDP has no candidate to offer for the position,” Abdulla told Rudaw.

The young Shiite cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, with considerable influence both in the parliament and among his underprivileged Shiite supporters in the streets, has called on Abadi to carry out “fundamental reforms.”

Sadr has warned that he would “intervene” if reforms fail to bring about change and has already staged several violent sit-in protests inside the fortified Green Zone where most government offices are located.

– See more at: http://www.rudaw.net/mobile/english/kurdistan/17042017#sthash.T2xuwy0N.dpuf


Saudi Arabia, Iraq, And Kuwait Holding Out For $60 Barrel


Oil Rig

OPEC officials told The Wall Street Journal last week that the bloc’s biggest members are hoping for a $60 barrel from their oil supply rebalancing efforts that are currently underway.

The anonymous sources said that Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Kuwait would support an extension of the cartel’s existing 1.2-million-barrel per day production cut during the summit in Vienna next month.

$60 barrel prices would allow for additional investment in the international energy sector, without allowing the United States’ shale producers too much additional financial leverage to undo the effects of the output cuts.

“Iraq wants prices to rise to $60. This our aim,” Iraq’s oil minister Jabbar al-Luaibi told WSJ in an interview. Other sources corroborated Saudi Arabia and Kuwait’s support of Iraq’s stated goal, which will barely generate enough revenues to sustain Baghdad’s ongoing war with the Islamic State in Mosul.

The countries that are a part of OPEC control 40 percent of the world’s oil exports, meaning that their actions hold large sway in the direction of the oil price. Still, major disturbances in Chinese oil demand, Russian output, or other aspects of geopolitics can overpower the effects of the bloc’s efforts.

Kuwait needs the price hike to fill a $26 billion hole in its national budget. For Saudi Arabia, a $60 barrel would serve as a healthy price for the much-awaited initial public offering of Saudi Aramco in 2018.

Some of the recent attempts at valuing Aramco have placed the company’s total worth at somewhere between US$400 billion and US$1 trillion, according to various assumptions about the tax rate, the cost of capital, ability to generate cash flow, oil price projections, and potential political sensitivity for future investors.

But Saudi officials maintain that the company should be valued at roughly $2 trillion, which if true, would make it the largest IPO in recent history.

By Zainab Calcuttawala for Oilprice.com



The end of Daesh and the future of Iraq



As the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) militant group loses the last of its territory in Iraq, an existential danger is subsiding — but an equally urgent task looms ahead. To consolidate battle field victories, Iraq needs military prowess and deft crisis management in tandem with forward-looking political leadership that will improve the governance practices and, by extension, the lives of ordinary citizens. Standing in the way is an entrenched culture of political dysfunction, in which many leaders appear focused on enriching their party and battling their rivals at the expense of working toward a more functional government. As Iraqi citizens have shown, in protest after protest, they want to flip this broken paradigm on its head. The upcoming challenges demand no less.

Countering extremism Even though IS militants are losing terrain, they are also adapting. In Diyala and Salahaddin provinces especially, IS cells have begun re-embracing many of the brutal guerrilla tactics previously utilized by al-Qaida in Iraq. The threat of a new insurgency means that Iraq, now more than ever, needs well trained and professional security forces supported by the local populations they are protecting. One key factor will be the extent to which security forces populate their ranks with members of the communities where they are deployed. That, in turn, depends on a larger question of the structure of Iraq’s military.

The future of the al-Hashid al-Shabi program Many politicians have optimistically suggested that the Hashid program can evolve into a kind of National Guard. Indeed, in many areas of Iraq, it has provided a useful structure through which the government has armed and organized fighters to combat the IS group. But there is also a danger, in that some Hashid elements appear to be more loyal to a particular party than to the Iraqi state. As elections approach, political leaders face the temptation of exploiting the popularity of the Hashid to gain electoral clout, and to wield the groups as their personal paramilitaries. If the Hashid program can be assimilated into Iraq’s security apparatus, it could conceivably benefit from the ongoing efforts to train and reform Iraq’s army and police forces. If, however, the Hashid program becomes entrenched as a competing security apparatus with politicized chains of command, it could erode trust in the state — especially among Iraqis who find themselves outside the political majority.

Reversing the resource curse In areas formerly occupied by IS, lasting security depends on reconstruction. If residents have direct incentives to support their local and national governments — if they feel a direct stake in Iraq’s success — they will be more inclined to give crucial support to police, and help root out extremists. But building an economy filled with opportunity is no easy project. For years, Iraq has depended overwhelmingly on oil — an industry that generates large revenues for the state but few jobs for its citizens. As a result, the easiest route to financial security is joining the government’s bloated payroll. This economic dysfunction is a major driver of political dysfunction. Elected officials face pressure to funnel the wealth of the state toward their constituents, rather than use it to build a foundation — consisting of security, infrastructure, and rule of law — that can support a thriving and diverse private sector. Going forward, one bellwetherof Iraq’s future will be the status of infrastructure in areas liberated from IS. Wherever displaced residents have been able to resettle, they have shown a determination to rebuild. If the government does its part to stimulate the commerce needed for reconstruction — by investing in roads, electricity, and services, while also maintaining security — then there is hope of capitalizing on this Iraqi ingenuity and resilience. Another key indicator will be the government’s investment outside of the oil sector. In 2016, just 5 percent of the government’s spending went toward non-oil investments. As the country recovers its financial footing, there will be an opportunity to diversify and modernize the economy.

The prospect of an independent Kurdistan Leaders in Kurdistan have made no secret of their desire to declare an independent state. These ambitions add even greater urgency to the vexing issue of how to draw Kurdistan’s southern border. Each side would like to see billions of barrels of oil end up on their side of the line. So far, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has employed a strategic silence as the Kurdistan government has taken control of oil resources that used to be operated by the federal North Oil Company in Kirkuk province. The clear priority was to foster high-level political and military cooperation that would be necessary to defeat Daesh. The question ahead is whether Iraqi leaders can build on this spirit of cooperation, even without the motivation of a common foe.

Click to access ior-special-edition-mar2017.pdf

A security expert: Daesh ended military Mosul Ayman

History of edits:: 2017/4/17 21:0942 times readable

{Baghdad: Euphrates News} said security expert Jassim Hanoun on Monday that Daesh terrorist gangs ended militarily in the right side of the city of Mosul.
He said Hanoun, told {Euphrates News}, that ” the priority today go towards the liberation of citizens and get them out of the theater of military operations, as it has taken Daesh measures in the West Coast {right} contrary to the coast left where they take from the government buildings, mosques, schools and the headquarters of her, but in the Sahel It is right to take the homes of citizens and residents headquarters shields a human. ”
He stressed that “Daesh ended militarily in those places, and is now based in the densely populated and landmarks of symbolic areas.”
He predicted the security expert, said that future operations will be after the liberation of Ayman Mosul, a “one operation in the south – west of Kirkuk , in Hawija, and Salah yen in the district Sharqat, as well as existing and curse Rawa areas, and will be one process.”
He noted that “Daesh can not open more than one front in that one” .anthy
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