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Overplaying Their Hand: The Kurds’ Referendum Debacle

The Iraqi Kurds have just announced that they're freezing the results of their independence referendum, which is bureaucratese for saying that they don't intend to act on it. Which, in turn, is another way of offering a ceasefire to the government troops that have displaced them from Kirkuk and environs. The Kurds gambled and lost. It seems they'd hoped that their western allies would come to their aid, but none did. This, despite loud protestations by sympathetic commentators in the West that the Kurds' loss was a victory for Iranian hegemony over Iraq—in particular, a victory for Iran's IRGC commander in the region, Qasim Suleimani. And even though the State Department denied any Iranian participation, it's unlikely that without Tehran's concrete intervention the Iraqis had the capability to overcome the Peshmerga so swiftly.

Mysterious Circumstances Surrounding Russian Murders, Deaths

When Vitaly Churkin, Russia's top United Nations envoy, collapsed suddenly from an apparent heart failure recently, it triggered widespread and predictable murmuring about possible foul play. With so many sudden and mysterious deaths at the upper levels of the Russosphere during the Putin years, chiefly among his opponents, it's no surprise that rumors abound even when a stalwart loyalist like Churkin dies. The actual causes of many of the untimely deaths, like those of Alexander Litvinenko and Boris Nemtsov cases, however, have been considerably less mysterious. Clear assassinations of that kind naturally leave a cloud of suspicion over seemingly innocent but abrupt deaths—and, there have been an inordinate number. Indeed, I noted in a recent column that five prominent Kremlin-linked deaths have occurred in the UK—including Litvinenko, and Alexander Perepilichny whose demise seemed inexplicable until a mysterious Himalayan poison was found in his stomach tissue as this article in The Atlantic explains.

Ankara Assassination Puts Erdogan at Putin’s Feet

The assassination in Ankara should come as no surprise amid the security chaos of Recep Erdogan's Turkey and the internal conflicts he has sown. In my last blog, I pointed out how Erdogan himself has stoked the confusion with his U-turns and mixed signals. First Israel is the great enemy, now the indispensable ally. Then Moscow gets the same treatment. Currently, it's NATO's turn in the sin bin, for allegedly abetting the failed coup in July. On the domestic front, the cleric Fethullah Gulen's profile went from silent partner to all-purpose terror master. Military officers and police brass and intelligence personnel can't tell who's friend or foe from one day to the next. No wonder, then, that all manner of armed individuals and groups with affiliations to various dark currents now coursing through Turkey appear to operate unimpeded.

Erdogan in a Corner After Blunders and Bluster

Turkey's President Erdogan has put himself in a geostrategic corner with almost no options. Having publicly railed against the US for allegedly supporting the failed coup at least tacitly, he has roused popular feeling against Turkey's NATO alliance. His quarrels with the EU have created similar divisions. Meanwhile he has made loud overtures to the West's rivals. Turkish media reports that Erdogan conducted several lengthy conversations with Vladimir Putin. Envoys have travelled back and forth to Iran. Officials from his AK party raised the possibility that Turkey might join the Shanghai Co-operation Organization while others floated again the prospect that Ankara would buy Russian or Chinese missiles. His efforts have yielded little for him or his country other than palpable proof of his impotence as a regional player.

The Politics of the Battle for Mosul

The battle for Mosul is as much a political endeavor as its post-conflict status will be. The entire venture pivots on the trust between the allied factions: the Kurds, the Christians, the Yazidis, and the Iraqi army which has its own Shia-Sunni divisions—not to mention the Turks hovering on the horizon threatening to join the hunt. For the ground war to work the factions need to believe that they share a common goal for the long-term future of Mosul. That's a tall order because the major players have divergent, even opposing, agendas.

I was in Iraq five times for various stretches, up to and beyond the Surge, reporting mostly for the Wall Street Journal's editorial pages. At first, I spent a good deal of time with the Turkmen in the north and on the Syria border and then often with Ahmad Chalabi around Baghdad.

Georgia's Election Matters as Putin's Global Threat Looms

Vladimir Putin's global offensive began in 2008 when Russian forces invaded Georgia. This week on October 8, the imperial resurgence Putin launched could receive its first serious setback when Georgians go to the polls to elect a new parliament. Pro-Western parties could retake power but polls indicate a virtual dead heat. It will be near-run thing. It shouldn't be and wouldn't be but for America's neglect of the region—really since the invasion—alongside the EU's passionless embrace. Should we care if Georgia drifts further back into Moscow's orbit? I reported on the invasion for the Wall Street Journal and, yes, we should care. It matters a lot. To understand why, we need a brief history excursion.

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