Power maps are being redrawn in the region after ISIS. It is necessary to look carefully at the geopolitical changes during this period when the power maps are being redrawn and the struggle to reconstruct and control natural resources and transportation / supply lines appears. The struggle for power between states takes on a different dimension when the struggle changes the nature and common tools of the concept of sovereignty.
The lines that provide the transfer of commodities and energy called the nervous system of the world and on which many sovereignty wars have been fought since ancient times have always been on the agenda of international relations. States have a desire to control these lines in order to access the resources they need to establish power. A state controlling the transportation lines will have complete strategic independence as it takes over the monopoly of accessing resources.17 Jakub J. Grygiel, Great Powers and Geopolitical Change, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006, p. 26.
Iraq, which has been struggling for sovereignty over the years within itself, as a country in the middle of the transfer of commodities and energy, faces a serious struggle for the lines within its borders. Highway 1 stands at the heart of a struggle for domination in terms of the importance of its geostrategic dimension.
The countries of the region, on the one hand, and overseas countries on the other hand are taking steps to redraw the power maps on the mentioned highway and in the adjacent regions, the regional effects of which are well known.
The center of gravity of the power map: Highway-1
Highway 1, which is the longest highway project of Iraq and the region with a length of 1,250 km, connects the commercial potential of the Basra province, which includes the commercial center of the Persian gulf, to the inland by crossing the Anbar province from east to west. This road, which almost extends over three countries form one end to the other with its extensions in neighboring countries, is at the center of the sharpest domination struggles of recent years over both crossing lines and exit points.
Highway 1, with its connections and extensions in Iraq and neighboring countries, is in the middle of a prominent center of gravity with a transportation and shipping line that starts from the Persian Gulf and passes through Anbar, an area which has been considered as the most risky region of Iraq since the US invasion.
A part of the highway, which stretches from the Persian Gulf to the northwest and extends from Iraq’s capital, Baghdad, to the west, extends, on one hand, to Amman, the capital of Jordan, and the Gulf of Aqaba leading from there to the Red Sea, and on the other hand, it passes through the Tanf region, which is the intersection point of Iraq – Jordan – Syria borders, and reaches Damascus, the capital of Syria, and the Eastern Mediterranean ports via Homs.
The transition areas as well as the commercial hinterland that this line reaches make Highway 1 important. The route, which starts from the Persian Gulf and passes through the southern suburbs of Baghdad, crosses two cities, Fallujah and Ramadi, which have had a politically and militarily deep influence in the recent history of Iraq, and cuts the Anbar province right through the center, where Iraq’s Sunni population is concentrated.
When evaluated in the light of this information, the power, which dominates the highway, most part of which passes through Iraq, and its surroundings, will have taken over the center of gravity of a line stretching from the Persian Gulf to the Eastern Mediterranean and the Red Sea.
A critical point in the global defense network of the USA
After the ISIS was relatively cleared from the border areas in 2017, it was decided to open the border gate between Iraq and Jordan.18 https://www.voanews.com/middle-east/jordan-iraq-reopen-main-border-crossing-baghdad-amman-highway Both countries needed to revive their economies exhausted by wars, and the opening of the Tureybil border gate meant a revival of the trade flow.19 To take a look at Iraq’s war-afflicted economic situation, see: http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/771451524124058858/pdf/125406-WP-PUBLIC-P163016-Iraq-Economic-Monitor-text-Spring-2018-4-18-18web.pdf However, security on the highway extending from the capital of Jordan, Amman, to Baghdad was not yet fully established.20 Country of Origin Information Report: Iraq Security Situation, European Asylum Support Office, p.59-64, March 2019
Jared Kushner, son-in-law and adviser to US President Donald Trump, paid a visit to Iraq in April 2017. During this visit, it was understood that through the mediation of Kushner, the security and reconstruction job of the Amman-Baghdad highway was decided to be given to a private US based security company named Olive Group21 The Olive Group, one of the components of a US-based Constellis umbrella company, offers a service as a private security company similar to that of Blackwater company. The Olive Group started the merger negotiations with Constellis in 2015 and then continued its activities under the roof of Constellis. which provided mercenary services.22 http://arabcenterdc.org/policy_analyses/the-strategic-implications-of-reopening-the-baghdad-amman-highway/ Although this agreement was apparently aimed at mutual economic development, when the geopolitical developments in region are evaluated, it is possible to see that another stage was completed in the global defense system network of the USA.
The global defense system of the USA, which went through a restructuring process after September 11, is based on creating a network of old and new bases. Within this network, there are three types of base structures: Main Operation Bases, Advanced Operation Positions, Joint Security Zones. The type that is of our interest in terms of our topic and Iraq in particular is the Joint Security Zones.23 Ryan Henry, “Transforming the US Global Defense Posture”, Reposturing the Force US Overseas Presence in the Twenty-First Century, p. 43. The management of these regions, where the presence of US troops is very low and shaped as non-permanent bases, is carried out by private mercenary companies.24 Public War, Private Fight? The United States and Private Military Companies, Deborah C. Kidwell, pp. 39-65 The executives of these companies are usually retired US officers. The companies officially declare that they are in the country for business in order to conceal the fact that they are working with the US army. In this way, the tension that would result from the presence of the US armed forces in a foreign country is eliminated.
It is possible to evaluate entrusting the task of ensuring the security of Highway 1 in Iraq to the Olive Group within the context of the activities of the United States to create a Joint Security Zone. The Olive Group is one of the companies within Constellis Group of Companies, a security supplier company. According to the agreement signed between the Iraqi government and the Olive Group in 2017, the security procurement work for the Baghdad-Amman part of Highway 1 extending from the Persian Gulf to the Aqaba Gulf was given to the US company for 25 years.25 https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/27/world/middleeast/iraqi-toll-road-national-highway-iran.html The Olive Group’s biggest partner in this project was a security supplier company named Axiant, the general manager of which was a former soldier named Dave Cain who served 20 years in the U.S. Air Force.26 Pre-Feasibility Study, “Route One Toll Road Project Jordan to Baghdad”, 2017 (feasibility report prepared during talks between Baghdad government and Olive Group) – To look at the company site http://axianta.com/about/dave-cain/
In an environment where its military presence in Iraq is questioned the most and the opposition about this issue is rising within the country, it can be considered as a logical step for the USA to choose to maintain the base networks within the Joint Security Zones through private mercenary companies rather than keeping permanent bases. A a matter of fact, by keeping the security of Highway Number 1 under control through the Olive Group, the USA will in fact have taken the control of the Anbar region, the borders with Jordan and Saudi Arabia and Iran’s transition to Syria. In doing so, it will continue its “indirect” military presence along this line under the pretense of a private company for 25 years.
While holding the Baghdad-Amman line under its control through the Olive Group and Axianta companies, the USA delivered the security of the Basra part of Highway No. 1 to a company newly established by the former owner of the Blackwater company, which has a bad reputation. Erik Prince, who had a bad reputation for killing 14 civilians in Nisur Square in Iraq in 2007 and who was the owner of the Blackwater mercenary company, which was on the list of banned companies in Iraq, returned to Basra with the company named the Frontier Services Group. While Hong-Kong provided the financial resources for Erik Prince’s company, the mentioned company concentrated its activities in Africa within the scope of China’s “One Zone One Route” project. But it turned out that Prince’s company had signed an agreement with the Iraqi Ministry of Transport for the security of the Basra region in February 2018.27 https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/rosalindadams/blackwater-erik-prince-frontier-services-group-iraq
In the light of this information, through the Olive Group, Axianta and the Frontier Services Group, the USA seems to have also established the link between the Joint Operation Zones, which constitute an important place in the network of bases.
Considering all these data together with the evaluations regarding the presence of the US troops in Iraq and Trump seeing Iraq as a point of surveillance of Iran, it is possible to say that the USA will continue its existence in Iraq through relatively civilian companies without an official military identity. In fact, with this agreement, the USA obtained the legitimate excuse for maintaining its existence for 25 years along the the Baghdad-Amman route, hence the route between the Persian Gulf and the Aqaba Gulf.
Control over Anbar and security triangle
The part of the motorway in question that extends from Baghdad to Amman passes through the Anbar province, which constitutes one third of Iraq in terms of surface area. The Anbar province also includes three border gates opening to Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. USA’s control of the highway and adjacent regions through the Olive Group means that it takes control of all commercial, military and humanitarian flows occurring with these three countries..
When evaluated in this context, it can be stated that as a result of the US’s move in the region, Iran lost Basra and the rich hinterland behind it, and its physical contact with Syria through Tanf became seriously difficult. Moreover, it is important for the USA to keep this region under control with an instrument such as Olive Group in terms of control of political and military developments caused by the sociological foundations of the Anbar province.
Another point that makes the Anbar province important in the eyes of the USA is that it is a region where the rural Sunni population of Iraq is densely populated. The control of Anbar, which is the human resource of the anti-U.S. Sunni rebellion during the invasion and the aftermath, also allows the US to achieve several strategic goals at the same time. Objectives such as keeping the “Sunni awakening” in the region constantly alive but not allowing a development like ISIS and thereby eliminating the threat of Iran’s plan of transition to Syria on the borders of Saudi Arabia and Jordan make Highway 1 and Anbar region the center of gravity in the region.
The U.S. has two military bases on the eastern axis of the Anbar province, which were used for both the occupation period and post-occupation and ISIS operations periods: Habbaniye base between Ramadi and Fellujah, and Ayne’l Esad base in Baghdadi on the axis extending from Ramadi to Kaim on the Syrian border. However, in the area assigned to the Olive Group, the H3 base located at the point of separation of the Syria and Jordan lines of Highway 1 appears as a military asset that quietly strengthens the presence of the USA in the depths of Anbar.
The practice of the military presence that the US embarks through the Olive Group also carries the risk of conflict with non-state elements in the region.. It seems likely that the Hashd al-Shaabi forces, who settled in the Anbar region as part of the fight against ISIS, can clash with the US as a result of being triggered by Iranian and / or Iran-backed political centers. On the other hand, the people of Anbar, who have a Sunni character, claim that even though ISIS was cleared from the area, the Hashd al-Shaabi forces still did not leave the region and that the people who had left their homes because of the war are not allowed to return to their homes.28 https://iraq.liveuamap.com/en/2018/13-march-iraqi-anbar-source-iraqi-pmu-hashd-is-refusing-to These developments indicate that the tension and the struggle for domination through local forces will be continuous and violent in Anbar.
The counter maneuver of Iran: Railway from the Persian Gulf to the mediterranean
As a response to the attempt of the USA to completely control the border with Jordan in the west of Iraq and partially control the shortest route to Damascus, the capital of Syria, a very effective alternative project move over Iraq came from Iran.
With new highways and railroad construction projects that will connect Damascus, the capital of Syria with its coast to the East Mediterranean, Tehran, and Baghdad to each other, Iran is trying keep its continental continuity and domination plans alive against the USA.
On April 12, 2019, the Iraqi Transport Minister and his Syrian counterpart held a meeting in Damascus. There was a much more important result of the meeting, where the reconstruction and activation of the railway line between Akasat-Tanif-Huneyfis were discussed. Talib al-Husayni, director of the Iraqi Railways Company, who made a statement after the meeting, said that they were planning to build a railway line between Iraq, Iran and Syria that will connect the capitals and the Persian Gulf to the Eastern Mediterranean. 29 https://bit.ly/2v3rgnf
This initiative of Iran, which targets the Anbar region where the US is deployed and controlled the highway to create a sovereignty area and the Tanf military base of the US in the southeast of Syria, is not a new project.. Iran’s railway project that stretches from the Persian Gulf to the Eastern Mediterranean30 Hussein el Nadeem, “Iran, Iraq, and Syria to Connect Their Rail Networks”, EIR Vol 27, No. 30, August 4, 2000. is a project whose preliminary works were completed in the early 2000s within the scope of New Silk Road project, but it was disrupted due to the occupation of Iraq by the USA, the overthrowing of the Saddam regime, Syrian War and ISIS attacks. Although Iraq was occupied by the USA, the Saddam regime was overthrown, due to the war in Syria and ISIS attacks.
When the USA decided to withdraw from Iraq, Iran expanded its military influence within Iraq by using the Shia militia network organized by taking advantage of the internal conflicts in Iraq and Syria and succeeded in turning this tool into a political and economic asset. Thanks to the military and political sovereignty clusters it has acquired over Iraq, Iran has accelerated its efforts to revive projects aimed at reaching the Eastern Mediterranean and breaking the US domination in the past year.
The railroad project, which will extend from Tehran to Basra, from there to Damascus via Akasat and Tanf on the Syrian border, and lead to a sovereignty war in Anbar with the US for the Mediterranean route, is mainly a consolidation project. Within the scope of the project, which aims to unify the commercial railways of the three countries, Iran State Railways announced on 12 November 2017 that a railway line would be built to connect Iran’s Selamçe border gate and Iraq’s Basra port. Iran will have a railway network that will extend to the port of Latakia in Syria, when this new line is merged with the line spreading into Iraq.31 https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2018/11/iran-iraq-syria-railway.html
While Iran realizes all its projects, it cooperates with the two other important rivals of the USA, Russia and China.. The railway line that will connect Iran to the Eastern Mediterranean is within China’s “One Belt, One Road” project. Ultimately, these roads are planned to merge with the railway lines of China and Russia in later stages.32 I.B.I.D
Iran, with its military-political dominant presence in Iraq and Syria, is trying to strengthen this project with partners such as China and Russia in order not to be alone in the war for terrestrial domination against the USA. Within this effort, during the visit of Bashar Asad to Iran in February 2019, it is important that the operation rights of the port of Latakia were given to Iran. The possibility that the Latakia port will be turned into an energy distribution center in the future means that Iran, which is wanted to be suppressed through US sanctions, opens an important door to energy-dependent Europe. It also makes the port of Latakia a candidate for being one of the important ports within the scope China’s New Silk Road project.
China also supports the construction of land or rail transport and transportation lines that will connect Iran-Iraq-Syria, which form its hinterland in the Middle East, to have access to the Mediterranean by land.