Great Game

Biden's first air-strikes: the Great Game in Syria

In the first air-strikes on Syria under the Joseph Biden administration, US warplanes on Feb. 26 struck positions of Iran-backed militia forces at Imam Ali airbase outside al-Bukamal, Deir ez-Zor province, near the Iraqi border in the country's desert east. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the strikes "destroyed multiple facilities at a border control point used by a number of Iranian-backed militant groups," including Kataib Hezbollah and Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada. It was also a Tehran-backed paramilitary formation that claimed responsibility for last week's missile attack on al-Harir airbase outside Erbil, in northern Iraq, which is used by US forces. Biden's strikes are clearly retaliation for that attack—which was itself undertaken to avenge the killing of Qassem Soleimani and an allied militia commander in the US drone strike on the Baghdad airport a year earlier. Reports put the number killed in the new strikes at 17, presumably all militia fighters. Imam Ali airbase is overseen by Iran's Revolutionary Guards, whose commanders are also said to be among the slain. (France24, CNN, Middle East Eye, EA Worldview, Al Jazeera, Israel Hayom)

Libya: Blackwater CEO trafficked arms to Russia-backed warlord

Erik Prince, former CEO of the notorious private military company Blackwater, violated the UN arms embargo on Libya with a clandestine pipeline to a rebel warlord, according to a confidential report to the Security Council obtained by the New York Times. The report found that in 2019 Prince deployed a force of foreign mercenaries and weapons to renegade military commander Khalifa Haftar, who has been fighting to depose the UN-recognized Libyan government. The $80 million operation, dubbed "Project Opus," included a shipment of aircraft from South Africa. It also included plans to form a hit squad to hunt down and kill Libyan commanders opposed to Haftar. The accusation exposes Prince to possible UN sanctions, including a travel ban. Prince did not cooperate with the UN investigation, and his lawyer declined to comment to the Times. (Al Jazeera, Daily Sabah)

Turkey, Iran in synchronous attacks on Iraqi Kurdistan?

Iraqi Kurdistan saw simultaneous air attacks Feb. 15—from Turkish warplanes on a mountain supposedly harboring PKK guerillas, and (in a far more audacious move) from an Iran-backed militia on the regional capital Erbil. In the latter attack, a barrage of rockets targetted a US airbase outside Erbil's airport. A foreign "civilian contractor" was killed, and nine others, including US personnel, were wounded. It is being called the worst attack in a year on the US-led military coalition in Iraq. A nearby apartment complex and market were also damaged, and some reports indicate the Chinese consulate was hit by either a stray rocket or debris.

Can Iran nuclear deal be salvaged?

President Joe Biden's pledge to rebuild the Iran nuclear deal is already deteriorating into a deadlock—a testament to the effectiveness of the Trump-era intrigues that sabotaged the agreement, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). On Feb. 7, Biden and Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei each traded "You Go First" statements. Biden was asked on Face the Nation, "Will the US lift sanctions first in order to get Iran back to the negotiating table?" He replied, "No." He was then asked, "They have to stop enriching uranium first?" Biden nodded. On that same day, Khamenei told military commanders and staff: "If they want Iran to return to its JCPOA commitments, the US should remove all sanctions in action. After they have done this, we will check if the sanctions have truly been removed. Once this is done, we will resume our JCPOA commitments." (EA Worldview)

Taiwan & Puerto Rico: forbidden symmetry

In Episode 63 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg draws a parallel between the self-determination struggles in Taiwan and Puerto Rico. Each is an island nation in the "backyard" of a great imperial power, struggling for its independence. Taiwan is de facto independent from China, with a movement to make it official. Puerto Rico is a de facto colony (officially "unincorporated territory") of the United States, with a movement for independence. Taiwan is being particularly threatened at this moment by the imperial power that covets it; Puerto Rico particularly fucked over at this moment by the imperial power that controls it. Yet the emergence of Taiwan-Puerto Rico solidarity is held back by the fact that their respective imperial metropoles are rivals on the geopolitical chassboard—another illustration of how a global divide-and-rule racket is the essence of the state system.

US forces sent back in to northern Syria?

On Jan. 22, two days after President Biden's inauguration, a large convoy of US military vehicles reportedly entered northern Syria from across the Iraqi border. The convoy, consisting of some 40 trucks and armored vehicles accompanied by helicopters, was reported by Syrian state news agency SANA, citing sources on the ground. (i24News, Israel) The putative sighting has raised speculation that Biden is reversing the withdrawal of US troops from northern Syria, which had been ordered by Trump in October 2019.

Crisis-hit Iraq mortgages oil to China

Iraq has won an up-front $2 billion infusion from a state-owned Chinese oil company, as it continues to struggle amid the pandemic-triggered collapse in energy prices. After numerous bids to Iraq's State Organization for Marketing of Oil (SOMO), the deal was clinched by ZhenHua Oil Co, a subsidiary of state-owned China North Industries Group Corp (Norinco). The deal marks the first in which Iraq has sought a pre-payment for crude, with oil effectively used as security for a loan. According to Bloomberg, SOMO is to supply some 130,000 barrels a day of crude for five years. Norinco is primarily a defense company, with investments in oil and minerals in several countries.

Did China plan 'false flag' attacks in Afghanistan?

India's Hindustan Times reported Dec. 25 that Afghanistan has busted a conclave of 10 Chinese espionage agents that was supposedly "operating a terror cell" in Kabul. Citing unnamed diplomats and security officials, the account claims Beijing has been trying to persuade the government of President Ashraf Ghani to hush up the case. The spies, said to be working for China's Ministry of State Security, were reportedly arrested by Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security (NDS) on Dec. 10. At least two were said to be in contact with the Haqqani Network, now the inner core of the Taliban insurgency. Arms, ammunition and a quantity of ketamine were seized in the raids.  One of the detained, identified as Li Yangyang, was said to have been gathering information about the activities of Uighur militants in Kunar and Badakhshan provinces. The latter province includes Afghanistan's eastern "panhandle" that extends to the border with China's Xinjiang region, and has been named before as a stronghold of Uighur militancy. Again citing unnamed sources, the account states: "One view within the Afghan security establishment is that the detainees were creating a fake East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) module in Afghanistan to entrap ETIM operatives in Afghanistan." ETIM is the supposed Uighur network blamed by Chinese authorities for sporadic armed attacks within the People's Republic over the past generation, although there is skepticism that it actually exists in any organized sense.

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