EsadeGeo Daily Digest, 18/11/2019

The New York Times – Tim Arango, James Risen, Farnaz Fassihi, Ronen Bergman & Murtaza Hussain / The Iran cables: secret documents show how Tehran wields power in Iraq

  • Leaked Iranian documents offer a detailed portrait of how aggressively Tehran has worked to embed itself into Iraqi affairs. The unprecedented leak exposes Tehran’s vast influence in Iraqi society, detailing years of painstaking work by Iranian spies to co-opt the country’s leaders, pay Iraqi agents working for the Americans to switch sides and infiltrate every aspect of Iraq’s political, economic and religious life.
  • According to one of the leaked document, current Iraqi President Abdul Mahdi, who in exile worked closely with Iran while Saddam Hussein was in power in Iraq, had a “special relationship” with the Islamic Republic of Iran when he was Iraq’s oil minister in 2014. Accordingly, no Iraqi politician can become prime minister without Iran’s blessing, and Mr. Mahdi, when he secured the premiership in 2018, was seen as a compromise candidate acceptable to both Iran and the United States.
  • Iran’s rise as a power player in Iraq was in many ways a direct consequence of Washington’s lack of any post-invasion plan after the start of the Iraq War. The early years following the fall of Saddam Hussein were chaotic, both in terms of security and in the lack of basic services. Among the most disastrous American policies were the decisions to dismantle Iraq’s armed forces and to purge from government service or the new armed forces any Iraqi who had been a member of Saddam Hussein’s ruling Baath Party

Haaretz – Yossi Verter / Netanyahu and Gantz moved on from the blame game. Now they’re playing chicken

  • Netanyahu called a potential minority government headed by Gantz – with the support of the Arab Joint List from the outside – a “historical national terror attack” that would, he said, spur celebrations in the Gaza Strip, Ramallah and Tehran.
  • As of Sunday, President Reuven Rivlin’s plan for a national unity government is losing the altitude it once had. Now, among the four-man “cockpit” of Kahol Lavan leaders, there is a consensus that Netanyahu cannot be a partner to a gentlemanly agreement. During the negotiations between his Likud party and Kahol Lavan, he refused to commit to any deadline for stepping down, should he be indicted in the corruption cases pending against him. He refused to give any guarantee that he wouldn’t seek immunity.
  • The most interesting item of news on Sunday hailed from Tel Aviv, where Lieberman and Netanyahu were meeting. Thereafter, the two released a joint announcement that their discussion had been “practical and good” regarding progress toward a unity government. There will be another meeting, apparently today, Monday.
  • Haaretz / All eyes on Lieberman as Gantz, Netanyahu show no sign of compromise

The Guardian – Kim Willsher / Gilets jaunes mark anniversary of first protest

  • The Gilets jaunes held a second consecutive day of demonstrations in Paris on Sunday to mark a year since the protest movement was founded. The interior ministry said 28,000 people took part in protests across France on Saturday, 4,700 of them in Paris. The gilets jaunes claimed 44,000 took part, nonetheless.
  • A day after black-clad youths engaged in battles with the police and rampaged around one of the city’s main squares on the 53rd Saturday of yellow vest action, protesters gathered across France to mark the anniversary.
  • The gilets jaunes movement began in the autumn of 2018 in protest at fuel tax rises and quickly spread to encompass wider grievances with the liberal president, Emmanuel Macron, and his government. At its height, around 280,000 protesters would gather for demonstrations across the country. Many were peaceful but there were outbreaks of violence in cities where the protests were reportedly hijacked by extreme elements.
  • Al-monitor / Reduction in Iran’s gasoline subsidy sparks anti-government protests
  • Deutsche Welle / Prague: Anti-government protests mark Velvet Revolution anniversary

Euractiv – Sharon Lecocq / Arab uprisings: spring time continues

  • Analysts and policy makers alike contemplate that it may be time to move beyond the Arab Spring discourse and consider it a failed attempt. After all, this is almost a decade ago. However, the spring fever is as vivid and visible today. Just like in 2011, 2019 has seen a recurrence of wide scale popular protests, this time in Sudan, Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon and Iraq. There are many differences between the countries and peoples in the wider Middle East and North Africa, yet the protesters decry grievances that are shared throughout the region.
  • A common explanation for the lack of democratic governance in the Middle East and North Africa is ‘Arab exceptionalism’. The notion points to the many layers of ethnic and religious identities in the region and implies assumptions about the inability of Muslims to separate religion and government. These are argued as reasons for the failure to copy the secular nation-state identities from the West. Yet protesters shout out their cause for Sudan, for Algeria, for Lebanon, for Iraq, transcending differences.
  • The EU’s response to the new wave of uprisings is as reluctant as to the former. It consists of statements that acknowledge the events and call for peaceful resolution and stability, underlining the countries’ sovereignty and political independence. A restraint in meddling is understandable and a degree of humility commendable. However, other players will gladly fill this void and determine outcomes through high politics.

The selected pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Javier Solana and EsadeGeo. The summaries above may include word-for-word excerpts from their respective pieces.

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