Iraq: Momentary Gains for a Jihadist Group


Video Transcript:

The Islamic State in Iraq and the Sham, ISIS, an al Qaeda-related group that is a principal extremist actor in the Syrian civil war and ongoing Iraqi insurgency, seized parts of Ramadi and Fallujah in Iraq on Jan. 3. Rather than viewing this as a fundamental power shift between ISIS and Baghdad’s security forces, however, it should be seen as a temporary victory.
Tensions between Baghdad and the Sunni tribes of Anbar province have been simmering through most of last year and boiled over on Dec. 30 when President Maliki ordered a Sunni protest camp to be dismantled by security forces. The arrest of a local senior Sunni politician led to clashes severe enough to prompt Maliki to withdraw security forces from the region in an effort to de-escalate the situation. It was this security vacuum that ISIS used to seize territory in both cities.
It is one thing to grab territory, especially if it is predominantly uncontested, and quite another to hold it against a concerted military operation mounted by the Iraqi security forces. Sources in Iraq claim that roughly 300 ISIS fighters remain in Ramadi while 800 or so are entrenched in Fallujah. While the urban terrain will give ISIS fighters a serious combat boost as the established defenders against the better equipped Iraqi security forces, they won’t have the numbers or ability to hold indefinitely.
ISIS survives in Iraq by being an insurgent group, avoiding direct confrontation and hiding and moving through the population. This territory grab in Ramadi and Fallujah gives them an address, alleviating the Iraqi security forces of one of their most difficult missions of just finding ISIS. Now they can actually concentrate force, and if executed correctly, degrade sizable chunks of combat power in detail.
The withdrawal of U.S. troops and their allies at the end of 2011 and the outbreak of the Syrian civil war next door has given ISIS the ability to rebound into a capable regional actor, but at the same time their aggressiveness has them overcommitted, outgunned and alienated on multiple fronts. Other rebel groups in Syria have started serious infighting with ISIS recently after they became disillusioned with their actions and have attacked several units despite the advantage this gives to the Assad regime.
This leaves the recent Fallujah and Ramadi seizures likely to be temporary at best. The only serious complicating factor for the Iraqi security forces is moderating their use of force so as not to antagonize the Sunni tribes further. While these tribes might covertly support ISIS or turn a blind eye to their actions against the Maliki government, they do not want to be drawn into an open civil war. Many of the tribes in Anbar have already come out in support of the government forces, with just a few throwing their lot in with ISIS.
ISIS’s ultimate goal is to destabilize Iraq to the point where they can accomplish their ultimate aim of a regional Islamic Emirate. They can only accomplish this if they can unite a sizable portion of the Sunni population into a sectarian civil war through their own actions or by provoking the Shiite government into actions that accomplish the same. Without this, they will come up short.

U.S.: Obama To Host Gulf Leaders

U.S.: Obama To Host Gulf Leaders

April 17, 2015 | 14:13 GMT

President Barack Obama will host leaders from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) at the White House and Camp David from May 13-14, Reuters reported April 17. The summit will provide an opportunity for Obama to discuss the ongoing nuclear negotiations with Iran and the conflict in Yemen with GCC leaders. Reperesentatives from Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are expected to attend.

New York Times: Swiss Franc Soars After Central Bank Drops Cap




In Geneva, lines formed outside a currency exchange office. Credit Martial Trezzini/European Pressphoto Agency


PARIS – Switzerland stunned the markets on Thursday by abandoning a crucial part of its effort to hold down the value of its currency, concluding that the strategy was too risky and too costly given the enormous forces pushing in the other direction.

The move underscores the turbulent state of the global economy. Around the world, smaller economies are grappling with how to navigate the aggressive monetary activism of major central banks like the Federal Reserve in the United States and the European Central Bank.

The Swiss central bank had been trying to cap the value of its currency, the franc, against the euro, with nervous investors fleeing the market tumult and seeking the relative safety of Switzerland. But the euro’s decline has been particularly steep – and the rout may accelerate.

The European Central Bank is expected to announce a major new stimulus program next week to pump money into the region’s troubled economy, which is creating downward pressure on the euro. That pressure is particularly marked against the dollar, which is rising in part because of a strong United States economy and plans by the Fed to raise interest rates.

If the Europeans undertake such an effort, it would make it that much more expensive for the Swiss to buy enough euros to maintain the value of the franc. So the Swiss leaders’ abandonment of its target was taken as a bet that easier money from the European Central Bank is on the way, and potentially on a vast scale.

“Recently, divergences between the monetary policies of the major currency areas have increased significantly – a trend that is likely to become even more pronounced,” the Swiss central bank said in the announcement.

The abrupt decision on Thursday sent the value of the Swiss franc soaring, as the country’s stocks broadly plummeted. The shares of exporters, in particular, got slammed over fears that the rising currency would weigh on profit.

“Words fail me!” Nick Hayek, the chief executive of the Swiss watchmaker the Swatch Group, said in a statement distributed to news media, adding that today’s action “is a tsunami: for the export industry and for tourism, and finally for the entire country.”

The move hit some traders especially hard. FXCM, an online currency trading house based in New York City, said that the “unprecedented volatility” had led to significant losses by clients. The company said it had a negative equity balance of about $225 million. As a result, FXCM said it “may be in breach of some regulatory capital requirements.”


The Swiss policy dates to September 2011, near the height of the sovereign debt crisis in Europe.

As panic set in, investors and savers dumped euros in favor of the Swiss franc and other safe havens. The rising value of the Swiss franc, however, could contribute to pushing the country into deflation and create problems for the country’s exporters, which suddenly found their products less competitive overseas. Switzerland’s economy is heavily dependent on such companies.

So the Swiss monetary authorities instituted a policy to try to keep the euro to a floor of 1.20 francs. Only last month, it reiterated a pledge to continue to support that floor by buying the euro in “unlimited quantities” if needed.

The Swiss central bank’s strategy, which involves selling francs on the open market in exchange for euros, has been controversial at home. Many exporters had welcomed the decision to hold down the franc.

But as the central bank’s balance sheet grew by several hundred billion euros, the central bank came under fire from opponents. In a December referendum, those critics tried to force the central bank to convert much of its foreign exchange holdings into gold. That initiative failed.


On Thursday, the central bank surrendered to the market dynamics, saying in a statement that it was giving up the minimum exchange rate.

“This exceptional and temporary measure protected the Swiss economy from serious harm,” the central bank said in a statement. “While the Swiss franc is still high, the overvaluation has decreased as a whole since the introduction of the minimum exchange rate. The economy was able to take advantage of this phase to adjust to the new situation.”

Phyllis Papadavid, foreign exchange strategist at BNP Paribas in London, said after the Swiss central bank action that monetary authorities were “still sensitive” to the overvaluation of the franc, but that they had adapted to changed conditions – particularly the dollar’s recent rise – by changing course.

“They haven’t given up,” Ms. Papadavid said. “They’re clearly going to continue watching it.”

As it scrapped the cap, the Swiss central bank simultaneously cut interest rates, already in negative terrain, hoping to offset some of the damage in foreign exchange markets. It changed the rate on deposits to minus 0.75 percent from minus 0.25 percent, tripling what it costs lenders to park money at the central bank.

But that was too little to stop the tide, and the franc jolted 15 percent higher against the euro. Swiss stocks plummeted in value as investors hastened to sell equities priced in francs.

Shares of Swatch, the global watch brand, fell 16 percent, leading the Swiss Market Index nearly 9 percent lower. But the decline was broad-based, including Nestlé, the food manufacturer; Holcim, the giant cement maker; and the chemical company Syngenta.

“We can only guess at what was in their minds,” Carl B. Weinberg, chief global economist at High Frequency Economics, said of the Swiss central bank’s move. “Maybe they are afraid that the euro is coming on some hard times, and they didn’t want to be tied to a sinking ship.”

Mr. Weinberg said it was hard at the moment to tell what the fallout would ultimately be, but that it would mainly be “micro effects, rather than macro effects.”

“A lot of people were borrowing in Swiss francs because they were cheap,” Mr. Weinberg said. “Well, anyone who borrowed in francs now owes something like 15 percent more than they did yesterday.”

“But anyone who has Swiss assets is a little bit richer today,” he added. “Net, there are winners and losers.”

David Jolly reported from Paris and Neil Irwin from Washington.

Russia: Gazprom Will Sell Foreign Currency Reserves

December 22, 2014 | 14:57 GMT

Russian energy company Gazprom will heed the request of Russian President Vladimir Putin and will sell its foreign currency reserves on the domestic market, Reuters reported Dec. 22. The move is meant to help stabilize the ruble, which is down some 45 percent against the dollar so far this year.



Russia’s Economy Will Test the Strength of Its Leader

December 19, 2014 | 16:50 GMT




Russia’s deteriorating economic situation has struck another blow to Russian President Vladimir Putin and his ability to maintain a firm hold on the country and the government. Uncertainty in the Russian economy continued for another day Dec. 17 as the Russian government was forced to step in to stabilize the ruble after the currency plummeted 20 percent the previous day. The fall in the ruble’s value came after the Central Bank of Russia raised interest rates from 10.5 percent to 17 percent — the largest interest hike since the devastating 1998 financial crisis that led to Russia’s massive defaults. These developments in what was already a weakening economy increased pressure on and within the Kremlin, spawning rumors throughout Russia about the cause of this instability and about what could come next.

Before the past few frantic days, the Russian economy was already in a sharp decline caused by several factors. Russian industrial growth and production began stagnating in 2013, and the Russian-supported conflict in Ukraine had soured investor sentiment and prompted economic sanctions from the West. Moreover, oil prices fell below the government budget’s forecast of $93 per barrel for 2014 and $80 per barrel for 2015.

Fissures and disagreements have formed within Putin’s top team on how to manage the current economic crisis, just as Putin is already losing the confidence of Russia’s security chiefs. Because of the failure to predict a change in Ukraine, Putin has already purged factions within the Federal Security Service. Moreover, in recent weeks, Nikolai Patrushev — head of the Russian Security Council and former Federal Security Service chief — has faced public criticism and allegations of corruption from opposition factions led by Alexei Navalny. This could signal even greater pressure among Russia’s security elite, one of Putin’s primary sources of power and stability. With his supporting factions in disarray, Putin is facing another test of his ability to retain the confidence of the people and those inside the Kremlin.

With Ruble in Free Fall, the U.S. Pushes Putin to the Edge

December 17, 2014 | 00:54 GMT




Tuesday marked a difficult day for Russia President Vladimir Putin on both the economic and foreign policy fronts. In the early hours of Dec. 16, the Russian Central Bank announced an increase of its benchmark interest rate from 10.5 percent to 17 percent — the largest such hike since 1998. While this decision helped the ruble strengthen for a few hours, the currency then went into a free fall, at one point losing 20 percent of its value and hitting record lows at 80 rubles to the dollar. The ruble finally stabilized in the afternoon, likely due to a Central Bank intervention, and toward the end of the day it strengthened in value, indicating a possible second monetary intervention. Though the escalating economic crisis in Russia puts Putin’s government in a precarious position, it could pose strategic challenges for the United States and Europe as well.

The ruble had been gradually weakening for months before its dramatic decline on Tuesday, with the currency losing about half its value since the beginning of the year due to Western sanctionslower oil prices and declining market confidence. Should Tuesday’s interest rate increase fail to stabilize the currency in the short term, the Central Bank could implement additional interest rate hikes, currency interventions or even capital controls to stem the ruble’s decline.

What is a Geopolitical Diary? George Friedman Explains.

On the surface, the Kremlin has worked to present a calm and organized reaction to the ruble’s collapse. Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, assured the public that the Central Bank is acting independently and that Putin did not plan to hold any new or extraordinary meetings on the topic that day. Minister for Economic Development Alexei Ulyukayev — following a meeting with Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev, Central Bank chief Elvira Nabiullina and other top policymakers — reported that Russia’s leadership is not considering capital controls to ameliorate the crisis. A video shown on Russian television, reminiscent of a Hollywood-style movie trailer, promoted an upcoming press conference by Putin on Dec. 18 highlighting Russia’s strength and defiance of the West. Russian state media also largely minimized the ruble fall. Nevertheless, the impact of the ruble’s fall could be felt as Russian banks saw increased demand for foreign currency and cash, while some businesses — such as Russia’s online Apple store — temporary stopped sales.

Meanwhile, the White House announced Tuesday that U.S. President Barack Obama will sign the Ukraine Freedom Support Act of 2014, which passed Congress over the weekend. The bill lays the groundwork for possible additional sanctions on Russia and includes provisions for military support to Ukraine later this week. The president’s move will initiate the deadlines for the separate sanction elements of the bill. The act is structured in a way that gives Obama great flexibility in whether to implement all or only some of the sanctions, but it requires the president to apply sanctions on the Russian defense and energy sectors. Sanctions on Gazprom are also possible if the company significantly decreases natural gas supplies to NATO members, Ukraine, Georgia or Moldova.

The most severe of the defense sector sanctions (depending on how many of the act’s optional elements Obama decides to implement) would still only have a limited effect on the Russian defense industry, since it does not depend on business or banking inside the United States. Meanwhile, the energy sector sanctions could have more significant effects on the activities of U.S. oil majors involved in projects inside Russia. The act may directly target their ability to conduct business if they continue their activities in Russia. Other sanctions targeting Russian energy companies that rely on equipment imported from the United States are optional.

Overall, the act gives Obama tools to target specific parts of the Russian economy, though apart from some areas of the energy sector, most of these would have only limited effects on the country. Nonetheless, the act is noteworthy because the United States has decided to move on the bill just as Russia experienced its worst financial day in several years. Washington is making a point that rather than easing tensions by relaxing existing sanctions, it has the capability to increase pressure on Moscow. The message here is clear: The United States has Putin on the edge, and it can push him over if it so desired.

However, the United States knows that it can be dangerous to push Russia too far. A collapse of the Russian economy would be felt throughout Europe’s economy and those of the rest of the former Soviet space (including countries like Ukraine that are dependent on Western financial assistance). It could have security implications as well. Indeed, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stated in an interview Dec. 15 that Moscow has the right to deploy nuclear weapons in Crimea. This statement came a week after a U.S. deputy secretary of defense, speaking at a U.S. Senate hearing, floated the idea of deploying tactical nuclear weapons in Europe. While both Russia and the West have escalated their rhetoric over the Ukraine crisis, the United States and the European Union certainly do not want the standoff to reach the point where action or buildups on the nuclear front become realistic, particularly at a time when Moscow feels under attack by the West.

It is still too soon to gauge the extent of the damage of Russia’s current financial crisis. But Putin is well aware of the impacts of major economic crises on past Russian governments, as it was Russia’s 1998 financial crisis that ushered in the downfall of former Russian President Boris Yeltsin and facilitated Putin’s own rise to power. At the same time, the United States and the European Union understand that a pushing a nuclear-armed country as large and powerful as Russia toward full-scale collapse can have serious unintended consequences, and such an aim ultimately may not be in their interest, despite the standoff over Ukraine. Thus, both Putin and the West will have to grapple with the dilemmas posed by Tuesday’s events in order to avoid a larger crisis.

Russian ruble falls to historic lows, while pressure increases on Putin

Russia: Crash Of Ruble Is A Critical Situation, Official Says

Russia: Crash Of Ruble Is A Critical Situation, Official Says

December 16, 2014 | 16:04 GMT

The rapid decline of the ruble — about 13 percent in one day — is a critical situation and the central bank of Russia will react with additional measures soon, the bank’s first deputy chairman Sergei Shvetsov said Dec. 16. “We could not imagine this in our worst nightmare a year ago,” Shvetsov told Interfax. The bank hiked its key interest rate to 17 percent overnight, but despite the rate increase, the ruble continued to fall sharply throughout the day, declining by 20 percent in the span of only a few hours before stabilizing a bit. Shvetsov expressed optimism that the country would survive the crisis but said the situation would be comparable to the worst period of 2008.

Turkey: Ankara Starts Buying Iraqi Crude

Turkey: Ankara Starts Buying Iraqi Crude

December 11, 2014 | 17:02 GMT

Turkey’s sole oil refiner Tupras has started purchasing Iraqi crude oil, Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said, Reuters reported Dec. 11. Yildiz added that a combined 550,000 barrels of oil per day will flow to Turkey from Iraq’s national government and from the Kurdistan Regional Government. The KRG reached an agreement with Iraq’s federal government in early December on oil exports.

“Expected to increase the value of the Iraqi dinar “

Translated article



Economic expert is expected to increase the purchasing value of the Iraqi dinar

taking advantage of the economic strength of the dollar


Economic expert is expected to increase the purchasing value of the Iraqi dinar taking advantage of the economic strength of the dollar

The Iraqi Economic Information Center, said thegrowth in dollar prices of natural and foreseeable result of lower oil prices, a result of the strengthening of the US economy and growth of the market as the largest consumer of oil in the world, which determines the growth path in the direction of the oil market.  The US dollar rose to its highest level in the world five years against a basket of currencies supported by the growth of American jobs.  Jumped dollar index, which tracks the US currency’s value against a basket of six major currencies to its highest level since March 2009.

The head of the Center lion Muhammad Ali in a press statement I followed (news agency, media / INA), said that “the Iraqi currency pegged to benefit relatively from the economic strength of the dollar and the rising value of purchasing, but the losses resulting from the decline in oil prices is much greater than the gains of the Iraqi economy Limited, which earned its currency strengthened this partial growth rates the dollar. ”  He noted that “growth indicators this will not last long in the light of the current swing in oil prices and the prospect of rising from their lows currently registered,” stressing the need to take advantage of this relatively high dollar contract prices relatively less, especially with countries that dropped their currencies relative to the dollar.

The number of US jobs in November rose to the highest pace in nearly three years and increased wages, which could enhance the motives of the Federal Reserve (the US central bank) to raise interest rates.  The US Department of Labor last Friday, said that the number of jobs in non-agricultural sectors increased 321 thousand jobs last month, the highest increase since January 2012.  The unemployment rate unchanged at 5.8 percent, its lowest level in six years, also participate in the labor force – or percentage of Americans rate settled in the working age who have a job or looking for a job – at 62 percent.

AP Interview: US troops have immunity in Iraq

AP Interview: US troops have immunity in Iraq


Thursday, December 4, 2014

BAGHDAD (AP) – Washington has an agreement with Baghdad on privileges and immunities for the growing number of troops based in Iraq who are helping in the fight against the Islamic State group, the new US ambassador said Thursday.

In an exclusive interview with The Associated Press, Stuart Jones said Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has given assurances that US troops will receive immunity from prosecution. Under Iraq’s former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, that issue was a major sticking point, ultimately leading to the decision to withdraw all remaining US troops in late 2011.

“That was a different situation and those troops would have had a different role,” Jones said.

“We have the assurances that we need from the government of Iraq on privileges and immunities,” he said. “It’s in the basis of our formal written communications between our governments and also based on the strategic framework agreement that is the legal basis of our partnership.”

The House was expected to vote Thursday on a proposed $ 5 billion expansion of US military operations against the Islamic State group in Iraq, part of a broader $ 585 billion defense policy bill for Iraq and Syria. Last month, Obama authorized the deployment of up to 1,500 more American troops to bolster Iraqi forces, which could more than double the total number of US forces to 3,100. That’s in addition to the 5,000 people working for the US mission in Iraq.

The US-trained and equipped Iraqi military has struggled to recover from its collapse in June, when the Islamic State group captured the country’s second largest city, Mosul, and swept over much of northern and western Iraq. Iraqi commanders fled, pleas for more ammunition went unanswered, and in some cases soldiers stripped off their uniforms and ran. The US began launching airstrikes in Iraq on Aug. 8, and now heads a coalition backing Iraqi and Kurdish ground forces from the air.

US advisory teams, which were previously based in Baghdad and the Kurdish regional capital Irbil, are now fanning out to other locations in the country, including the highly volatile Anbar province in western Iraq, where US troops fought some of the heaviest battles of the eight -year conflict.

This time the troops are operating far from the front lines. “What we’re doing is airstrikes,” Jones said. “What we’re doing is sharing intelligence. We’re doing advise and assist and we’re doing training – and that’s all we’re doing. “

Part of the plan to boost Iraqi forces includes training, equipping and paying Sunni tribesmen to join in the fight against the Islamic State group, reminiscent of the Sunni Sahwa, or Awakening movement, which confronted al-Qaeda in Iraq starting in 2006. The Pentagon plans to buy a range of arms for Iraq’s tribesmen, including 5,000 AK-47s, 50 rocket-propelled grenade launchers, 12,000 grenades and 50 82-mm mortars. The arms supply, described in a document that will be sent to Congress for its approval, said the estimated cost to equip an initial Anbar-based force of tribal fighters is $ 18.5 million, part of a $ 1.6 billion request to Congress that includes arming and training Iraqi and Kurdish forces.

However, recruiting the tribes has been a challenging process since many of the Sunni tribes involved in the Sahwa campaign felt a breach of trust after the American and Iraqi governments’ commitment to the program waned.

“What I say to the tribes is you’ve got to be integrated with security forces to get the benefit of the airstrikes,” Jones said. “We can play a facilitating role but it’s only that.”

He declined to address whether US ground troops will be needed to defeat the Islamic State group, instead pointing to recent successes by Iraqi security forces in retaking territory, including the town of Beiji and the country’s largest oil refinery, as well as Jurf al-Sakher , south of Baghdad.

Iraq’s Shiite militias, or Popular Mobilization Forces, played a central role in those victories. They have also been accused by rights groups of abducting, torturing and killing scores of Sunni civilians in reprisal attacks.

“Let’s be frank: they play an important role in the security of Iraq,” Jones said of the Iran-supported militias. “They have been an effective fighting force and they have greatly assisted Iraqi security forces in some of these military victories … .Now, they need to really be brought under the supervision and control of the armed forces.”

The ambassador did not address reports by Pentagon officials this week that Iran has launched airstrikes against the Sunni militant group in eastern Iraq, but acknowledged the important role Iran plays independently in the fight against the Islamic State group.