Leaked Cables Show Depth of Iranian Influence in Iraq After U.S. Invasion “Shattered” the Country

Image Credit: The Intercept

An unprecedented leak of secret intelligence reports from inside the Iranian government has shed new light on how Iran has taken control of much of the Iraqi government in the wake of the 2003 U.S. invasion. The documents from Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security were leaked to The Intercept, which then partnered with The New York Times on reporting the story. The leak includes 700 pages of intelligence documents from 2014 to 2015. The documents reveal that a number of Iraqis who once worked with the CIA went on to work with Iranian intelligence.

NYT: Pentagon Readies Plan to Deploy 120,000 Troops as U.S.-Iran Tensions Mount

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As tensions continue to mount between the United States and Iran, the New York Times reports the Pentagon has drawn up a plan to send as many as 120,000 troops to the Middle East if President Trump decides to take military action against Iran.

The U.S. recently deployed a carrier strike group and a bomber task force to the region claiming there was a “credible threat by Iranian regime forces.”

Meanwhile the European Union is urging the Trump administration to show “maximum restraint” following a meeting Monday between Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and EU diplomats in Brussels. Iran has announced it will stop complying with parts of the landmark 2015 nuclear deal if others signatories of the deal do not take action to shield Iran’s oil and banking sectors from U.S. sanctions.

We’ll have more on Iran after headlines.

Pompeo to Discuss Iranian “Threats” in Europe as U.S. Ramps Up Military Presence

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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has canceled a visit to Moscow today and is instead heading to Brussels to meet with European leaders to discuss “recent threatening actions and statements” from Iran, according to the State Department. The nature of the threats has not been specified but the U.S. announced it is sending additional bombers and an aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf to act as a “deterrent.” The European Union reiterated today its continued support for the Iran Nuclear Deal in the face of mounting tensions with the U.S.

Meanwhile, Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani is calling for internal unity as the nation faces sanctions that could have worse consequences than war with Iraq in the 1980s and that he said amount to “a war unprecedented in the history of our Islamic revolution.”

Pentagon: US carrier sent to Middle East on credible Iran threat

The acting US defence secretary says carrier, bombers sent to region due to indications of ‘credible threat’ by Iran.
The US Navy aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln departs from Naval Station Norfolk before Hurricane Florence in Norfolk, Virginia, on September 11, 2018 [Handout/Navy/Stacy M Atkins Ricks/Reuters]
The US Navy aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln departs from Naval Station Norfolk before Hurricane Florence in Norfolk, Virginia, on September 11, 2018 

Acting US Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan said on Monday that he had approved sending a carrier strike group and bombers to the Middle Eastbecause of indications of a “credible threat by Iranian regime forces”.

“[It] represents a prudent repositioning of assets in response to indications of a credible threat by Iranian regime forces,” Shanahan said on Twitter.

“We call on the Iranian regime to cease all provocation. We will hold the Iranian regime accountable for any attack on US forces or our interests,” he added.

Shanahan in his tweet provided no details on the threat.

US National Security Adviser John Bolton said on Sunday that the United States was deploying the Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group and a bomber task force to the Middle East to send a message to Iran.

Keyvan Khosravi, spokesman for Iran’s supreme national security council, said on Monday that Bolton’s statement was “a clumsy use of an out-of-date event for psychological warfare”.

Tasnim news agency quoted Khosravi as saying that Iranian armed forces had observed the carrier entering the Mediterranean Sea 21 days ago.

Bolton “lacks military and security understanding and his remarks are mostly meant to draw attention to himself”, Khosravi added.

Three US officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told Reuters News Agency on Monday that “multiple, credible threats” picked up by intelligence were primarily against US forces in Iraq by Iran and its proxy forces. They said there was also concern about US forces in Syria and in the waters nearby.

One of the officials said the intelligence was specific enough that it detailed the locations of potential attacks against US forces and the timeframe within which it could occur. The official added that the threat was not only against US forces in Iraq but those coming in and out of the region. There are currently about 5,200 US troops in Iraq and under 2,000 American forces in Syria.

Increased pressure

The US action marked the latest in a series of moves by President Donald Trump‘s administration aimed at ratcheting up pressure on Iran in recent months.

WATCH

How will Trump’s Iran oil gamble affect the global economy?

The Trump administration’s efforts to impose political and economic isolation on Tehran began last year when it unilaterally withdrew from the nuclear deal it and other world powers negotiated with Iran in 2015.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, speaking in Finland where he was attending the Arctic Council meeting, said on Monday the United States has seen activity from Iran that indicated a possible “escalation”, one day after the United States said it would send a carrier strike group to the Middle East to counter a “credible threat by Iranian regime forces.”

Last month, Trump announced the US will no longer exempt any countries from US sanctions if they continue to buy Iranian oil, a decision that primarily affects the five remaining major importers: China and India and US treaty allies Japan, South Korea and Turkey. The US also recently designated Iran’s Revolutionary Guard as a “terrorist group”, the first ever for an entire division of another government.

Iran sanctions explained

In response, Iran said it has mobilised all its resources to sell oil in a “grey market”.

Amir Hossein Zamaninia, Iran’s deputy oil minister, told state media on Sunday that Iran would continue to export oil despite the US sanctions, which he said were neither just nor legitimate.

“We have mobilised all of the country’s resources and are selling oil in the ‘grey market’,” state news agency IRNA quoted Zamaninia as saying.

“We certainly won’t sell 2.5 million barrels per day as under the [nuclear deal],” he said. “We will need to make serious decisions about our financial and economic management, and the government is working on that.”

Meanwhile, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called for the country to “resist and unite” against US pressure in what he called a “war on hope” waged against the Islamic Republic.

“America will only let go of this game when it realises it cannot achieve anything. We have no way but to resist and unite,” Rouhani said in a televised speech on Saturday.

“Our war today is the war on hope. They want to break our hope, and we have to break their hope.”

Trump, Putin discuss nuclear weapons and Venezuela in phone call

US President Donald Trump tweets he ‘had a long and very good’ phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin arrive for a joint news conference after their meeting in Helsinki, July  2018 [File: Grigory Dukor/Reuters]
US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin arrive for a joint news conference after their meeting in Helsinki, July 2018

US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke for more than an hour on Friday, discussing the possibility of a new nuclear accord, North Korean denuclearisation, Ukraine and the political situation in Venezuela, the White House said.

“Had a long and very good conversation with President Putin of Russia,” Trump said in a post on Twitter, noting they had discussed trade, Venezuela, Ukraine, North Korea, nuclear arms and Special Counsel Robert Mueller‘s investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential campaign.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters that the call was an “overall positive conversation”.

Mueller report

Sanders said the two men, who last chatted informally at a dinner of world leaders in Buenos Aires on December 1, briefly talked about the report Mueller report that concluded Trump did not collude with Russia during his 2016 presidential campaign.

Nadler gives Barr Monday deadline to produce full Mueller report

The Mueller probe discussion was “essentially in the context of that it’s over and there was no collusion, which I’m pretty sure both leaders were very well aware of long before this call took place,” Sanders said.

The Kremlin confirmed the two leaders talked and highlighted in its statement that the call was initiated by Washington.

It said the two leaders agreed to maintain contacts on different levels and expressed satisfaction with the “businesslike and constructive nature” of the conversation.

Venezuela

With the United States concerned about a Russian military presence in Venezuela at a time when Washington wants Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to leave power, Trump told Putin “the United States stands with the people of Venezuela” and stressed he wanted to get relief supplies into the country, Sanders said.

Tension grows between US and Russia over Venezuela standoff

Putin told Trump that any external interference in Venezuela’s internal business undermines the prospects of a political end to the crisis, the Kremlin said.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo by phone on Wednesday that further “aggressive steps” in Venezuela would be fraught with the gravest consequences, the Russian ministry said.

The US State Department said Pompeo urged Russia on the call to stop supporting Maduro. He also “stressed that the intervention by Russia and Cuba is destabilising for Venezuela and for the US-Russia bilateral relationship,” it said.

New START treaty

Sanders told reporters Trump and Putin talked about the possibility of a new multilateral nuclear accord between the US, Russia and China, or an extension of the current US-Russia strategic nuclear treaty.

She did not say which arms control agreement Trump and Putin discussed, but the Russian state news agency Tass reported that they talked about the New START treaty, the last major arms-control treaty remaining between the US and Russia.

The 2011 New START treaty expires in February 2021 but can be extended for five years if both sides agree. Without the agreement, it could be harder to gauge each other’s intentions, arms control advocates say.

‘Huge mistake’: Fears of arms race as US, Russia suspend INF pact

The New START treaty required the US and Russia to cut their deployed strategic nuclear warheads to no more than 1,550, the lowest level in decades, and limit delivery systems – land- and submarine-based missiles and nuclear-capable bombers.

It also includes extensive transparency measures requiring each side to allow the other to carry out 10 inspections of strategic nuclear bases each year; give 48 hours notice before new missiles covered by the treaty leave their factories; and provide notifications before ballistic missile launches.

Trump has called the New START treaty a “bad deal” and “one-sided”.

“They discussed a nuclear agreement, both new and extended, and the possibility of having conversations with China on that as well,” Sanders said.

The Kremlin said the two sides confirmed they intended to “activate dialogue in various spheres, including strategic security”.

Trump earlier pulled the plug on a decades-old nuclear arms treaty with Russia. Trump accused Moscow of violating the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) with “impunity” by deploying missiles banned by the pact. Moscow denies violating it and has accused Washington of being in non-compliance.

Ukraine

Sanders also said the two leaders discussed Ukraine.

US, Canada, EU hit Russia with fresh sanctions over Ukraine

Trump cancelled a summit meeting with Putin late last year after Russia seized three Ukrainian Navy ships on November 25 and arrested 24 sailors. Putin also told Trump that the new leadership in Ukraine should take steps to solve the Ukrainian crisis, the Kremlin said.

North Korea

Trump also raised with Putin the issue of getting North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes. Trump has met twice with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un but Kim has yet to agree to a disarmament deal.

Kim and Putin: Challenging the US role in denuclearisation

Sanders said Trump mentioned several times “the need and importance of Russia stepping up and continuing to put pressure on North Korea to denuclearize.” The Kremlin said both leaders highlighted the need to pursue denuclearisation of the region.

During an April summit with Kim in Vladivostok, Putin expressed Russian support for a gradual process of trading disarmament for sanctions relief.

Trump Administration Says It May Go to War to Oust Venezuelan President

MAY 02, 2019
H2 pompeo military action us venezuelaFox Business Network

In Venezuela, government security forces clashed with anti-government protesters in the streets of Caracas Wednesday, one day after Venezuelan opposition leaders launched a failed bid to overthrow the government of President Nicolás Maduro. Speaking to a massive crowd of supporters outside the presidential palace of Miraflores, Maduro said Wednesday that President Trump—and his national security adviser John Bolton—were directly involved in the attempted coup d’état.

President Nicolás Maduro: “The coup that was attempted yesterday, this coup skirmish, was personally directed from the White House, from John Bolton. I denounce it.”

In Washington, the National Security Council held a principals’ meeting on Wednesday to discuss Venezuela. The Washington Post reports the staff of national security adviser John Bolton clashed with a top general during the meeting for not presenting sufficient military options on Venezuela. Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the Fox Business channel the Trump administration is ready to go to war in Venezuela.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo: “The president has been crystal clear and incredibly consistent. Military action is possible. If that’s what’s required, that’s what the United States will do.”

After headlines, we’ll go to Caracas, Venezuela, for the latest.

Venezuelan President Says U.S.-Backed Coup Attempt Has Been Defeated

MAY 01, 2019

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Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro says he’s defeated a coup attempt launched by opposition leader Juan Guaidó, the president of the Venezuelan National Assembly. On Tuesday morning, Guaidó appeared in an online video standing among heavily armed soldiers, calling for the military to oust Maduro, but the Venezuelan military appears to have remained largely behind Maduro. During the day, clashes broke out between backers of Guaidó and the Venezuelan government. There are reports of one death and more than 100 people injured. On Tuesday night, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro gave a televised address and denied claims by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that he had prepared to flee the country.

President Nicolás Maduro: “The skirmish in Venezuela has been defeated, and Mr. Trump set off a thousand expletives and lies. My god, how far are the men in the United States government willing to go?”

Maduro and Guaidó have both called on supporters to take to the streets today. We’ll have more on Venezuela after headlines.