Jared Kushner, ex-White House senior advisor to former President Donald Trump, plans to move away from politics and start an investment firm, according to a Reuters report on Wednesday.
Sources close to the matter told the news outlet that Kushner is finalizing the launch of Affinity Partners, an investment company that will be headquartered in Miami. The firm is still in its planning stages and is expected to launch in the coming months, according to the sources.
Kushner is also aiming to open an office in Israel, which would establish regional investments between the country and India, North African and Gulf nations, sources told Reuters.
Since leaving the White House in January, Kushner has been out of the public spotlight and moved to Florida with his wife, Ivanka Trump, and their two children.
He has spent the past six months writing a book about his time working for Trump, according to Reuters. Kushner secured the book deal with Broadside Books, a conservative imprint of HarperCollins. Trump was reportedly envious of the seven-figure advance that Kushner received for the memoir, according to a CNN report in June.
The New York Times reported last month that Kushner has told some of Trump’s closest advisors that he wants to have a “simpler relationship” with his former boss and father-in-law. As Trump remains in the political sphere, hosting rallies and endorsing GOP candidates for the 2022 midterms, Kushner has largely been absent from his circle.
Trump’s fixation on the 2020 election has driven Ivanka and Kushner away, CNN reported in June. Although the couple resides in Miami, not too far from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort, they’ve been visiting him less and less frequently, the report said.
Kushner previously served as chief executive of his father’s real estate firm, Kushner Companies, before he resigned in 2017 to work for the Trump administration.
In his White House role, Kushner particiapted US negotiations in the Middle East. He later assisted with the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Iran’s hard-line judiciary chief won the country’s presidential election in a landslide victory Saturday, propelling the supreme leader’s protege into Tehran’s highest civilian position in a vote that appeared to see the lowest turnout in the Islamic Republic’s history.
Initial results showed Ebrahim Raisi won 17.8 million votes in the contest, dwarfing those of the race’s sole moderate candidate. However, Raisi dominated the election only after a panel under the watch of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei disqualified his strongest competition.
His candidacy, and the sense the election served more as a coronation for him, sparked widespread apathy among eligible voters in the Islamic Republic, which has held up turnout as a sign of support for the theocracy since its 1979 Islamic Revolution. Some, including former hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, called for a boycott.
In initial results, former Revolutionary Guard commander Mohsen Rezaei won 3.3 million votes and moderate Abdolnasser Hemmati got 2.4 million, said Jamal Orf, the head of Iran’s Interior Ministry election headquarters. The race’s fourth candidate, Amirhossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi, had around 1 million votes, Orf said.
Hemmati offered his congratulations on Instagram to Raisi early Saturday.
“I hope your administration provides causes for pride for the Islamic Republic of Iran, improves the economy and life with comfort and welfare for the great nation of Iran,” he wrote.
On Twitter, Rezaei praised Khamenei and the Iranian people for taking part in the vote.
“God willing, the decisive election of my esteemed brother, Ayatollah Dr. Seyyed Ebrahim Raisi, promises the establishment of a strong and popular government to solve the country’s problems,” Rezaei wrote.
Raisi’s blowout win came amid boycott calls and widespread voter apathy
The quick concessions, while not unusual in Iran’s previous elections, signaled what semiofficial news agencies inside Iran had been hinting at for hours: That the carefully controlled vote had been a blowout win for Raisi amid the boycott calls.
As night fell Friday, turnout appeared far lower than in Iran’s last presidential election in 2017. At one polling place inside a mosque in central Tehran, a Shiite cleric played soccer with a young boy as most of its workers napped in a courtyard. At another, officials watched videos on their mobile phones as state television blared beside them, offering only tight shots of locations around the country – as opposed to the long, snaking lines of past elections.
Balloting came to a close at 2 a.m. Saturday, after the government extended voting to accommodate what it called “crowding” at several polling places nationwide. Paper ballots, stuffed into large plastic boxes, were to be counted by hand through the night, and authorities said they expected to have initial results and turnout figures Saturday morning at the earliest.
“My vote will not change anything in this election, the number of people who are voting for Raisi is huge and Hemmati does not have the necessary skills for this,” said Hediyeh, a 25-year-old woman who gave only her first name while hurrying to a taxi in Haft-e Tir Square after avoiding the polls. “I have no candidate here.”
Iranian state television sought to downplay the turnout, pointing to the Gulf Arab sheikhdoms surrounding it ruled by hereditary leaders, and the lower participation in Western democracies. After a day of amplifying officials’ attempts to get out the vote, state TV broadcast scenes of jam-packed voting booths in several provinces overnight, seeking to portray a last-minute rush to the polls.
But since the 1979 revolution overthrew the shah, Iran’s theocracy has cited voter turnout as a sign of its legitimacy, beginning with its first referendum that won 98.2% support that simply asked whether or not people wanted an Islamic Republic.
Voter apathy also has been fed by the devastated state of the economy and subdued campaigning amid months of surging coronavirus cases. Poll workers wore gloves and masks, and some wiped down ballot boxes with disinfectants.
Whoever wins will likely serve two four-year terms and thus could be at the helm at what could be one of the most crucial moments for the country in decades – the death of the 82-year-old Khamenei. Speculation already has begun that Raisi might be a contender for the position, along with Khamenei’s son, Mojtaba.
Both sides eventually agreed to a ceasefire on May 20, after 11 days of the bloodiest fighting seen in the region in seven years.
The conflict drew widespread international attention, not just to the chaos of the situation, but also to websites run by the group’s armed wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, WSJ said. Heightened interest led to increased donations that are facilitating its operations.
“There was definitely a spike” in bitcoin donations, the Hamas official told the Journal. “Some of the money gets used for military purposes to defend the basic rights of the Palestinians.”
It isn’t clear when Hamas began receiving crypto donations. But its designation as a terrorist group by Israel, the United States, the European Union and Britain means that it had to turn away from the global financial system to rely on other complex networks for funding.
The group has especially benefited from the anonymity of crypto transactions, WSJ said. Last year, US federal authorities seized $1 million in cryptocurrencies tied to the group’s armed wing. A previous investigation by the Journal found al-Qassam converted most of its bitcoin into cash, or gift cards, aided by two Turkish intermediaries.
The Hamas official didn’t mention the amount of cryptocurrency it had received, but said overall revenue has been rising. It has also been collecting other forms of donations from supporters.
In one instance, a branch of the Iranian armed forces sent more than $200 million to the group between 2015 and 2019, the WSJ said, citing data from the US Treasury. Iran does not recognize the legitimacy of Israel as a state. Its supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, called the predominantly-Jewish state “not a country, but a terrorist base” last month.
For the Palestinian organization, cryptocurrencies offer an easier method of making sure transactions go undetected as they are untraceable.
“Our fundraising strategies keep on evolving as more restrictions are being placed on us,” the Hamas representative said.
Trump derailed the UK government’s coronavirus planning at a crucial moment in March last year after former he asked the UK to “join a bombing campaign in the Middle East,” members of the UK parliament have been told.
Dominic Cummings, the former chief adviser to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, said that ministers and key aides had been forced to delay COVID-19 meetings on a key day in March after “national security people ” arrived in Downing Street and announced that “Trump wants us to join a bombing campaign in the Middle East tonight.”
The prime minister had been scheduled on March 12 to convene COBRA, the government’s emergency response committee, to discuss potential measures to try and contain coronavirus, which was in the early stages of spreading across the country, he said.
Cummings added: “So everything to do with COBRA that day [on March 12] on COVID was completely disrupted because you had these two parallel sets of meetings. You had the national security people running in and out, talking about, are we going to bomb the Middle East? And we had the COVID meeting being delayed, trying to figure out, are we going to do household quarantine?”
Cummings said Trump on March 12 wanted the UK to join a bombing campaign in Iraq, but the UK government declined to participate. The Pentagon on March 12 confirmed that the US carried out airstrikes on weapons facilities run by an Iranian-backed militia after a rocket attack killed two US soldiers and one British soldier near Baghdad.
Eventually, Johnson would announce on March 15 that people should practice social distancing, but he would later be criticized for failing to introduce stricter measures, including the cancellation of mass sports events and the closure of pubs and restaurants.
Cummings said that key aides and scientific advisers gradually realized that the government’s “plan A” would result in up to 500,000 deaths, forcing them to change approach later in March and introduce a national lockdown.
The UK has one of the highest coronavirus death tolls per capita in the world, with more than 125,000 have died within 28 days of a positive COVID-19 test, according to government figures.
Nearly 1,000 Apple employees have signed an internal letter to CEO Tim Cook urging the company to issue a public statement in support of the Palestinian people, The Verge reported Thursday.
“We are frustrated and disappointed because once more, many of those in positions of power and influence – who boldly stand for human rights in so many other just causes – either choose to remain silent or release ineffectually neutral ‘both sides’ statements with regards to the Palestinian situation,” wrote the letter’s authors, who are members of the Apple Muslim Association, according to The Verge.
Apple taking a “both sides” approach, they wrote, “would feel to us as the equivalent of ‘all lives matter’ – a minimization of the disproportionately larger pain and suffering of the Palestinian people.”
Apple did not respond to a request for comment on this story.
The letter follows a wave of violence in Gaza, where Israeli military forces have killed at least 232 Palestinians, including 65 children and 39 women, and the militant group Hamas has killed around a dozen Israelis.
The letter to Cook is the second high-profile instance of a large number of Apple employees criticizing the company over ethical concerns in the past week alone – a rare occurrence at Apple.
Last week, The Verge reported more than 2,000 employees signed a letter slamming Apple for hiring Antonio García Martínez, citing “misogynistic” and racist past comments. Hours later, Apple said García Martínez had left the company (García Martínez claimed Apple fired him).
Jerusalem and the West Bank are in a state of unrest, and the current violence between Palestinians, Israeli security forces, and Jewish settlers are the worst in years.
A spike in settler and revenge attacks, the advent of significant but politically sensitive dates, and an upcoming verdict on Palestinian evictions from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood have all contributed to an atmosphere of chaos.
Dramatic footage of recent protests, clashes, and killings offers a window into the reality of the worsening conflict.
On May 5, a 16-year-old Palestinian boy was shot and killed by an Israeli soldier. Saeed Odeh’s killing followed Palestinians in Beita hurling Molotov cocktails towards IDF soldiers, Sky News said. Large crowds attended the funeral.
Three Palestinian gunmen shot at Israeli border police based in the occupied West Bank early on Friday, Reuters reported. Israeli fire killed two of the Palestinians and critically wounded the third, the news agency said.
Israel’s Supreme Court will decide on upholding a ruling that would see several Palestinian families in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, known in Hebrew as Shimon Hatzadik, removed from their homes.
The controversial case has sparked protests, violent clashes, and unrest in the holy city.
On Thursday, Palestinians and Israeli settlers hurled rocks and chairs at each other in Sheikh Jarrah before Israeli police separated them, AP said.
Several buses carrying religious pilgrims on the way to Jerusalem for one of Ramadan’s holiest nights – Laylat al-Qadr – were held up at a police checkpoint on Saturday, The Washington Post reported. Many began walking to Jerusalem on foot instead, according to local media.
-Louis Fishman لوي فيشمان לואי פישמן (@Istanbultelaviv) May 8, 2021
On Saturday night, over 90,000 Muslims gathered at the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Following prayers, many Palestinians gathered at the Damascus Gate in the Old City of East Jerusalem. Palestinian protesters hurled stones at the police, according to the BBC. This led to clashes with Israeli security who used tear gas, rubber bullets, and stun grenades, The National’s senior correspondent Joyce Karam said on Twitter. Palestinian medics said 90 Palestinians were wounded, while Israeli police said at least one officer was hurt.
After a week of violent and sometimes deadly clashes between Jewish settlers, the Israeli military, and Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, tensions and enmity are boiling over.
But the situation is only set to worsen, with several historically significant but politically sensitive dates forecast to add fuel to fuel the fire.
The advent of Jerusalem Day, Nakba Day, and the end of Ramadan – all taking place in the coming days – has prompted the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) to bolster troop deployments in anticipation of further violence, The Times of Israel said.
And an upcoming Supreme Court hearing on Monday regarding the eviction of Palestinian families in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood threatens to exacerbate the tensions and add to the worst turmoil the region has seen in years.
Tensions have been rising during Ramadan
The Islamic month of Ramadan has been fraught with conflict in Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank. Violent clashes in the city have become a nightly occurrence during the holy period, the Associated Press reported in April.
The placement of barricades outside the Damascus Gate entrance to Jerusalem’s Old City – a popular nightly gathering point with local Palestinians after the end of the Ramadan fast – resulted in a confrontation with Israeli police and more than 100 Palestinian injuries on April 22, Insider reported.
On the same night, Israeli police blocked supporters of a far-right Jewish group, Lehava, as they marched through the Jerusalem streets towards the Damascus Gate. Some of the followers of the group chanted “death to Arabs,” CNN said.
One of the authors of the report, Michael Lynk, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967, spoke to Insider about the motivations behind the attacks.
“There’s a very entrenched belief that’s probably shared by most settlers that this land is theirs that it has been historically and biblically granted to them,” Lynk told Insider. “Therefore, what they are carrying out is righteous violence in the name of both religion and nationalism.”
A week of violence – the timeline
The start of May has seen a string of violent clashes, arrests, and killings. Below is a comprehensive – but not exhaustive – list of recent events.
On May 2, an Israeli soldier shot a 60-year-old Palestinian woman who tried to carry out a knife attack, the Israeli military said. She later died of her wounds, Reuters reported. Footage of the incident shows the woman slowly approaching soldiers with a sharp weapon before being fired at.
After the drive-by shooting, the Israeli Defense Forces searched the occupied West Bank village of Beita for the suspect and Palestinians throwing Molotov cocktails at Israeli soldiers who responded with live fire, The Jerusalem Post reported. Several Palestinians were injured and at least 19 were arrested, the Israeli newspaper said.
Overnight, extremist Jewish settlers vandalized property and hurled stones in the West Bank village of Jalud, according to human rights groups.
On May 3, settlers attacked two Palestinians and vandalized properties in three separate incidents in the West Bank, according to The Jerusalem Post.
On May 5, a 16-year-old Palestinian boy was shot and killed by an Israeli soldier. The killing followed Palestinians in Beita, hurling Molotov cocktails towards IDF soldiers, Sky News said. “The troops responded according to open-fire protocols, including firing towards the suspects. The incident is being investigated,” an IDF spokesperson told the media outlet. A second Palestinian was shot in the back and is being treated in hospital, according to Reuters.
Three Palestinian gunmen shot at Israeli border police based in the occupied West Bank early on Friday, Reuters reported. Israeli fire killed two of the Palestinians and critically wounded the third, the news agency said.
Israeli-Palestinian clashes have broken out nightly ahead of a Monday court hearing that could see Palestinian families evicted from Sheikh Jarrah – an East Jerusalem neighborhood.
More than 200 Palestinian worshippers were injured after clashing with Israeli police outside the al-Aqsa mosque, a significant holy site that is sacred to Muslims and Jews, on Friday night, Insider reported.
At least 90 people were injured as Palestinians and Israelis clashed in Jerusalem again on Saturday night, CNN said.
Several significant dates threatening a new wave of violence
The IDF has already beefed up its forces in anticipation of a week fraught with conflict, The Jerusalem Post said. An additional battalion and special forces are to be deployed to the occupied West Bank, the paper reported.
“We have dates that offer some sort of warning that there might be a rise in violence,” Oded Revivi, the mayor of the Efrat settlement in the occupied West Bank, a community of Jewish settlers that is considered to be illegal under international law, told Insider.
One of these dates is Jerusalem Day, which starts on Sunday evening and lasts through Monday. It is an Israeli national holiday commemorating the capture and consequent establishment of Israeli control over the Old City in the aftermath of the 1967 Six-Day War.
The holiday observed by thousands of religious Zionists is controversial to secular Jews and many Arabs.
As part of the Jerusalem Day celebrations, an annual “Dance of Flags” parade sees participants walk through the Old City while waving Israeli flags.
This year, taking into account the rising tensions, Jerusalem’s police chief has asked for the parade to be re-routed to avoid passing through the Muslim quarter of the city.
“The passage of the parade in these two sensitive areas in the last week of Ramadan fasting, when all warnings relate to a possible flare-up due to events related to Jerusalem would be irresponsible and could claim human lives,” Israel Police’s Jerusalem District Chief Doron Turgeman told The Jerusalem Post.
It could incite a “violent outbreak” in other parts of the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip, Turgeman added.
Jerusalem Day also happens to fall on the same date as a highly-anticipated verdict by Israel’s Supreme Court on a toxic property dispute between Jews and Arabs.
The Supreme Court will decide on upholding a ruling that would see several Palestinian families in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, known in Hebrew as Shimon Hatzadik, evicted from their homes in favor of right-wing Jewish settlers that assert a historic claim to the land.
The upcoming ruling has been a flashpoint for nightly protests and violence.
On Thursday, Palestinians and Israeli settlers hurled rocks at each other in Sheikh Jarrah before Israeli police separated them, AP said.
But Amit Gilutz, a spokesperson for the Jerusalem-based human rights organization B’Tselem, told Insider that the situation in Sheikh Jarrah is just one example of the mistreatment of Palestinians.
“Settler violence rampaging all over the West Bank, a racist parade marching through Jerusalem’s Old City, and the Supreme Court granting permission to expel more Palestinian families from their homes and hand the property to settlers; all these take place with the backing and encouragement of the state,” Gilutz said.
Tensions relating to the upcoming Sheikh Jarrah verdict have also prompted threats from the leader of a Palestinian terrorist group – the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades. “This is our final warning,” Mohamed Deif, the head of Hamas’ military wing, said on Wednesday. “We will not stand idly by, and the occupation will pay a heavy price.”
Ohad Zemet, a spokesperson for the Embassy of Israel in London, has accused Hamas and the Palestinian Authority of politicizing the upcoming legal decision for personal gain.
“The Israeli judicial system is independent and will reach a just legal conclusion based on the law and the facts. It is unfortunate that the Palestinian Authority and the Hamas terrorist organization try to use this case for their own political purposes and in a bid to incite violence,” said Zemet.
Thousands of Muslims had gathered at the holy site to observe the last Friday of Ramadan. Israeli police say the clashes begun after worshippers threw rocks, according to CNN. Videos of the event show people running as Israeli forces shot rubber bullets and stun grenades.
Over 90,000 Muslim worshippers prayed at the Al-Aqsa Mosque to mark the holy night of Laylat al-Qadr on Saturday, Reuters said.
Nearby, outside the Old City’s Damascus Gate, Palestinian protesters pelted Israeli police officers with rocks and water bottles and set barricades alight, the Associated Press reported. Officers responded by firing stun grenades and periodically firing a water cannon, the news agency said. Around 64 Palestinians were wounded, according to the AP.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abba accused Israel of “sinful attacks.”
These dates may play a part in further violence
In addition to the Sheikh Jarrah verdict and Jerusalem day, two other dates could provide the backdrop to more violence.
Nakba Day, which takes place next Saturday, is an annual Palestinian commemoration of the Nakba, or the so-called “Palestinian catastrophe.” It mourns the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, and, in the past, the day has been marked by bloodshed.
In 2011, protesters attempted to breach Israel’s borders from the occupied Palestinian Territories, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, and Jordan. At least 12 Palestinians were killed and hundreds wounded due to shootings by the Israeli Army, AFP reported.
Eid al-Fitr is the feast marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on Wednesday.
Israel’s Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtaiheld has order commanders in the Jerusalem area to “significantly” boost their forces ahead of the Ramadan celebrations, The Times of Israel said.
The international community is appealing for de-escalation
The international community has appealed for an end to the violence.
A US State Department spokeswoman told reporters that Washington was “deeply concerned about the heightened tension.”
The EU followed suit, with a spokesperson calling on authorities to “act urgently to de-escalate the current tensions” in Jerusalem. “Violence and incitement are unacceptable and the perpetrators on all sides must be held accountable,” the EU spokesperson said in a statement.
The UN’s rights office has urged Israel to call off the evictions in Sheikh Jarrah, Al Jazeera reported.
But according to Lynk, the UN’S Special Rapporteur, these types of statements aren’t enough. “I’ve called for the international community to speak louder and more forcefully,” he said.
Multiple Israeli media outlets, including Haaretz, claimed that the blackout was caused by an Israeli cyberattack on the eve of Israel’s independence day. On Sunday night, embattled Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to security chiefs, such as Mossad head, Yossi Cohen, asking them to “continue in this direction, and to continue to keep the sword of David in your hands.”
If Israel is responsible, the act threatens to continue to heighten regional tensions between Iran and America’s ally. Netanyahu also met with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Sunday along with his Dfeense Minister, Benny Gantz.
The blackout came hours after the facility began to operate new centrifuges that can enrich uranium more quickly.
Salehi did not expand on how the blackouts had affected the atomic facility but said that the country plans to “seriously improve” its nuclear technology while trying to also lift international sanctions. Nuclear spokesperson Behrouz Kamalvandi told Iranian state television that “there was no casualty or damage and there is no particular contamination or problem”
Iran has long maintained its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.
Earlier this week, an Iranian cargo ship that was connected to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard off the coast of Yemen was hit by an explosion. Iran has blamed Israel for the blast, which occurred in a hot zone near the conflict between Saudi Arabian forces and the Iranian- aligned Houthis in Yemen. The Wall Street Journal reported that Israeli cover operations are responsible for over a dozen oil tanker attacks in recent years.
Aman was imprisoned following a backlash against him for helping set up a two-hour-long Zoom chat between Israelis and Palestinian peacemakers, Insider’s Anthony L. Fisher reported in April 2020.
He was one of over 200 people on both sides of the Israel-Gaza divide who participated in the English-language Zoom chat initiated by Aman’s organization – the Gaza Youth Committee.
Following a campaign on Facebook by a Palestinian journalist to shame those who attended and the subsequent social media outrage online, Aman was charged with the crime of “normalization” with Israel.
His former wife was also arrested, the Associated Press reported.
After Aman’s arrest on April 9, 2020, he said that he was interrogated and tortured. He claims he was blindfolded, taken to a prison cell, and was forced to sit in a tiny child’s chair for days or weeks on end, according to AP.
He was referred to by his prison number, only allowed to remove his blindfold for bathroom breaks, and could only leave his seat to be interrogated or pray, AP reported.
During his imprisonment, a police officer reportedly told him that it would be “better” if he proceeded with a divorce. He resisted the request for months, AP said.
In August, an Islamic judge asked him whether he felt coerced into separation. Aman said yes but the judge, the activist told AP, refuted this. “How are you being forced? Do you see me carrying a gun?” he says the legal official told him.
Aman, 39, eventually signed divorce documents, expecting to be released, but remained imprisoned for two more months.
“The deplorable treatment of Rami Aman by Hamas authorities reflects their systematic practice of punishing those whose speech threatens their orthodoxy,” Omar Shakir, Israel-Palestine director at Human Rights Watch, told AP.
His ex-wife, who has been deported to Egypt, confirmed to the Associated Press that she was forced into the divorce and wants to reunite with Aman.
Aman is now banned from leaving Gaza and security officials are still holding onto his laptop, computer, and phone, the news agency said.
He is in frequent communication with human rights organizations, lawyers, and Hamas officials, AP reported.
But his priority is to be reunited with his lover.
“Now I have my personal battle: return to my wife,” the activist told the news agency.
The United States will engage in a “strategic dialogue” with Iraq this month, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said last week. The key agenda item, she explained, was the US combat deployment there.
How or whether to extend the operation should not be part of the discussion. Nailing down details of the withdrawal should.
The 3,500 US troops currently in Iraq serve no purpose related to American national security. They don’t have a militarily attainable mission which could be recognized and signal the end of the deployment. The only benefactor is the government in Baghdad and even they are ready to show America the exit.
Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi told reporters in Iraq he is approaching April’s dialogue with Washington as a chance to push for the withdrawal of American troops. He cited what he considered a positive outcome from the June 2020 strategic dialogue with the US in which Iraq “succeeded in reducing the size of the US combat forces in Iraq by 60%.”
In this upcoming meeting, al-Kadhimi added, he will seek the complete “redeployment of [US] forces outside of Iraq.” The administration, however, appeared interested in cooling such talk.
At the recent press briefing, Psaki sought to “further clarify that coalition forces are in Iraq solely for the purpose of training and advising Iraqi forces to ensure that ISIS cannot reconstitute.” If the troops are not officially engaged in direct combat, some believe, the deployment will be more palatable to the American people.
There is little evidence the US population cares about the nuance, however. Upward of 75% want the troops to return home. Such views are well-founded, as the troops no longer provide even nominal support for US security interests.
The reason troops are in Iraq at all today is because President Barack Obama sent them to help Baghdad fend off the rise of ISIS in the summer of 2014.
When President Donald Trump assumed office, he beefed up the military presence and gave them the mission of helping the Iraqi military (and later Syrian Democratic Forces in Syria) retake the territory ISIS had captured. That mission was completed in Iraq in November 2017 and in Syria in March 2019.
Today ISIS has been driven underground, as is the case with numerous other violent insurgent groups in the Middle East. Though ISIS poses a potential terror threat – as literally scores of other radical groups do – the threat they pose is limited and in any case is not diminished by having a few thousand troops on the ground in either Iraq or Syria.
Lt. Gen. Paul Calvert, commander of the US-led counter-ISIS mission in Iraq and Syria, told Defense One that ISIS’s “ability to reemerge is extremely low right now.”
What does concern Calvert, however, are the volatile cultural and political conditions in both countries. “It’s clear to me and people that I’ve talked to [in Iraqi government],” Calvert said, “there’s a significant amount of concern in terms of the possibilities of an internal Shia civil war.” Things in Syria are even worse.
American troops have sometimes narrowly avoided armed clashes with Russian combat troops, Syrian troops, and even its NATO-ally Turkey. In somewhat of an understatement, Calvert said the “level of complexity in Syria is immense and is probably one of the most complex environments I have seen in the 33 years that I’ve been serving.”
Whatever incremental security benefit may exist with US troops being deployed in Iraq and Syria, they are dwarfed by the strategic risk we incur every minute we remain on the ground there.
We are in a sea of civil conflict in Syria and in danger of semi-regular rocket attacks in Iraq. Our military presence cannot influence the political outcome in either country.
The best thing Biden can do for the security of the United States and to preserve the lives of our service members from unnecessary risk at the security dialogue with Baghdad is to withdraw our troops, in full, from both Iraq and Syria as soon as possible.
Daniel L. Davis is a senior fellow for Defense Priorities and a former lieutenant colonel in the US Army who deployed into combat zones four times. He is the author of “The Eleventh Hour in 2020 America.” Follow him @DanielLDavis1.