Tag Archives: Iran

Trump ain’t seen nothing yet, Iran to top agenda

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani registers to run for a second four-year term in the May election, in Tehran, Iran, April 14, 2017. President.ir/Handout via REUTERS

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
April 22, 2017

Donald Trump’s first rounds on the international putting green have not been a great success.

His firing of 59 cruise missiles at a Syrian airfield after telling the Russians – and therefore the Syrians – what was about to happen had the flavour of a farcical diversionary tactic. Too much attention for comfort was being paid at home to the part Russian leader Vladimir Putin and his people played in Trump’s election campaign, and to Trump’s business links to Russia in general.

Trump said it was his outrage at the use of toxic gas against civilians by the Damascus government of President Bashar al-Assad that pushed him into attacking the airfield. But there is no basic difference between Assad’s occasional use of chemical weapons and his far more common use of barrel bombs – oil drums packed with shrapnel and explosives – against rebel civilians. Both are crimes against humanity, and it would be foolish to debate whether a child is better off being killed by poison gas or shrapnel.

That little episode reinforced the already solidifying judgement on Trump. He is a man without vision or strategic purpose for the United States. He lashes out in response to immediate events. His only interest is being the centre of attention and to ensure that he will say whatever outlandish thing comes into his head, whether or not it is true or makes sense.

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As then-U.S. Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump at a campaign roundtable event in Manchester, New Hampshire, U.S., October 28, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri/File Photo

That verdict was strengthened a few days later as North Korea test fired long range missiles as the country prepared to mark the 105th anniversary of the regime’s founder, Kim Il-sung. In an obvious response, the Trump regime dropped a 9,800 kg (9.6 tons) Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb – better known as MOAB or “Mother Of All Bombs” – on what was claimed to be an Islamic State group (ISG) hideout in tunnels in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan. Afghan authorities who inspected the site later say over 90 ISG fighters were killed.

The dropping of the MOAB came as Trump warned North Korean leader Kim Jong-un that he would not be allowed to develop a serviceable nuclear weapon and a missile capable of launching it at the U.S.

But if Trump and the Pentagon wanted to suggest that the MOAB is the sort of weapon Washington has that can knock out Kim’s nuclear program, they were wrong. MOAB is not a high penetration bomb that could make its way into the underground and mountain caverns where Kim has his bombs and missiles hidden. Short of using nuclear weapons and turning North Korea into a parking lot, there is no simple military sanction, which is why Kim feels emboldened to carry on developing his nuclear weapons system. MOAB is an anti-personnel bomb pure and simple. It explodes well above ground level and kills people below either by incinerating them, or by suffocating them because the massive explosion sucks all the oxygen out of the air over a considerable area.

And again, Trump’s bluster became farce when it turned out that what he called a “very powerful” aircraft carrier battle group, led by the USS Carl Vinson, was not heading for North Korean waters as a warning to Kim as he and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson claimed. Instead it was weaving its way through the Indonesian archipelago en route to Australia.

Thus Trump and Tillerson’s bumptious bluster that in dealing with Pyongyang “the era of strategic patience is over” flopped like a deflated balloon. Instead of striking out on a new, manly and robust policy towards North Korea, Trump is adopting exactly the same “strategic patience” approach taken by Barrack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. That policy is based on the hope that at some point the Chinese regime in Beijing will get uncomfortable enough with Kim’s nuclear program to rein him in.

Trump is going to have to up his game if he wants to be taken seriously on the world stage and regarded as anything more than a gormless and dangerously unpredictable Vaudeville act.

His opportunity is looming as Iran, its nuclear development program and its involvement in Middle East conflicts in Syria, Yemen and Iraq, bubble to the top of the Trump agenda.

During the election campaign, Trump called “disastrous” the 2015 deal by which Tehran limited its nuclear development to electricity generation in return for the lifting of economic sanctions. He went on to pledge to “rip up” the deal, for which he blamed Obama.

But the 2015 deal was not a U.S.-Iran bilateral agreement. It was an agreement Washington reached with Tehran in partnership with China, Russia, France, Britain and Germany (representing the European Union). All six countries negotiated with Tehran on behalf of the United Nations, which approved the deal.

So Trump can pull the U.S. out of the agreement if he wants. However, that won’t change the fact that Iran and the international community have a pact by which Tehran agrees to have its nuclear program limited and monitored in return for being allowed back into the community of nations.

Farce again slipped into the Trump regime’s international affairs discourse this week when, on Tuesday April 18, Tillerson and his department published a regular update on the Iran deal and “certified” that Tehran was keeping to its part of the bargain. It quickly occurred to Tillerson that that was not what he was meant to say. On Wednesday he strode out with an approved bellicose statement that the deal “only delays (Tehran’s) goal of becoming a nuclear state,” and does not address Iran’s “alarming ongoing provocations” in the Middle East.

Yet, with elections coming in Iran on May 19 and persistent reporting that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is ailing fast, it is going to take far more dexterity that the Trump administration appears to possess to manage a functional Iran policy.

Iran’s Guardian Council, which vets candidates for elected office for their religious and general moral worthiness, has picked six men from over 1,200 people who applied to run for president in next month’s election. At the moment, the favourite is incumbent President Hassan Rouhani, who is reputed to be a moderate, but in the context of Iran’s theocracy that is a relative term.

And assuming for the moment that Rouhani is re-elected, that will have only marginal affect on the issues around Iran’s involvement in the wars in Yemen, Iraq and Syria. Iran’s President and his administration run foreign policy only in name. The real power in Iran’s foreign policy is Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei through his control over the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), and especially the Quds Force, the foreign expeditionary arm of the IRGC. The Quds Force is led by Maj.-Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who is devoutly loyal to Ayatollah Khamenei and who has been described as the most powerful single figure in the Middle East today.

At this moment, Soleimani is conducting three wars. He is overseeing his proxy Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon as they work with Russia to confront Syrian rebels and keep Assad in power. In Yemen he is backing Shia Houthi rebels, who now control most of the country and are battling a coalition led by Tehran’s arch rival, Saudi Arabia. And in Iraq, where Soleimani has great influence because of his affinity with the majority Shia Muslim sect, he is aiding in the battle against the ISG terrorists, who still control large areas of north-western Iraq and across into eastern Syria.

U.S. forces are also operating against the ISG in this part of Iraq. Some kind of arrangements have been made to ensure that U.S. forces and Soleimani’s Quds Force keep a safe distance from one another. It may be the same kind of soldier-to-soldier arrangement the U.S. forces have with the Russian military in Syria.

Washington has understood for a long time Soleimani’s importance as a political influence, and consummate military commander and strategist. After the September 2001 al Qaida attacks on New York and Washington, U.S. officials made contact with Soleimani and tried to make some sort of pact with him as a Shia leader against Osama bin Laden and his followers, who belonged to the Sunni sect. There are credible reports that Soleimani gave some assistance to the U.S. forces in identifying al Qaida targets in Afghanistan. But any chance of the relationship developing further came to a screaming halt in January 2002 when President Bush said in a speech that Iran was part of an “axis of evil,” along with Iraq and North Korea.

If Trump and Tillerson really want to confront Tehran they are going to have to work out a strategy for pushing back against Soleimani, the Quds Force and the Revolutionary Guards Corps.

As Trump has already made clear, he doesn’t do strategy. It smacks of long-term planning and vision, and that’s not his shtick. Even so, there are some suggestions floating around Washington about how to attempt to rein in Tehran’s operations in Yemen, Syria and Iraq. One element is to declare the Revolutionary Guards a terrorist organization, and subject them to sanctions, which could blunt their activities. Coupled with that could be using the U.S. Navy to board ships taking arms and equipment to Iran’s client fighters, and impound the cargoes.

That would almost inevitably lead to conflict. The Iranians have shown themselves very adept at countering the U.S. Navy and they would quickly devise tactics that would embarrass and enrage Trump.

Another option for Washington is to copy Tehran’s tactic of using proxies to do the fighting. This would mean giving more military assistance to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States both for the war in Yemen and to support rebels in Syria. This seems to be the favourite tack at the moment. Defense Secretary James Mattis was in the Riyadh this week and promised Washington will not desert the Saudi Arabian government and its allies. Mattis told Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, who is also the Defence Minister, he and Trump recognize the importance of co-operating and boosting Saudi security in order to “reinforce Saudi Arabia’s resistance to Iran’s mischief.”

A hundred days into Trump’s presidency, what is emerging is that he is getting pulled day-by-day into the swamp of Middle Eastern politics and wars, something as a candidate he vowed to avoid and which he said was none of Washington’s business.

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2017

Contact Jonathan Manthorpe, including for queries about syndication/republishing: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

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Correction: This article was changed April 22 to correct a typo in the date of the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center.

Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. He is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan,” and has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

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Iranians close in on Aleppo, not Mecca

A boy rides a bicycle near rubble of damaged buildings in the rebel held al-Maadi district of Aleppo, Syria, August 31, 2016. REUTERS/Abdalrhman Ismail

A boy rides a bicycle near rubble of damaged buildings in the rebel held al-Maadi district of Aleppo, Syria, August 31, 2016. REUTERS/Abdalrhman Ismail

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
September 10, 2016

 

There will be no Iranians this year among the two million Muslims who make the hajj pilgrimage to the holy sites at Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia that starts on Sunday, September 11.

About 60,000 Iranians joined the pilgrimage last year, but now they are barred as part of the increasingly sharp-edged struggle for power in the Middle East between Tehran and Saudi Arabia.

But at least this religious embargo is a relatively peaceful, diplomatic skirmish. Sixteen hundred kilometres to the north of Mecca in the Syrian city of Aleppo the contest between Iran and Saudi Arabia is being fought street by street. It is a war of barrel bombs, gas attacks, targeted hospitals, artillery barrages, and the threat of snipers lurking on every roof top and in the dark behind every shattered window. As always, civilians are the main casualties in the bloody urban warfare being waged in large part by proxy armies for Riyadh and Tehran.

Iranians may be suffering the embarrassment of being barred from the hajj this year, but on the battlefield it is Tehran’s senior military officers and their allies fighting for Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad who are poised for victory against the Saudi-backed Syrian rebels in the five-year civil war.

The prelude to a cease fire announced on Friday by United States Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov offers a slim sliver of hope. But the central strand of the Washington/Moscow accord is an agreement to co-ordinate their own attacks on the terrorist Islamic State group and the Nusra Front, which is allied to al-Qaida. It is not immediately obvious what benefits the deal offers the Assad regime and its Iranian backers or the Saudi-supported moderate rebels. Even less apparent is what pressure either Moscow or Washington can put on their factions to enforce a cease fire.

The rebel hold on Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and commercial hub, began to slip a year ago when Russia intervened on Assad’s side and backed the regime’s ground forces with its airforce. Since then the Saudi-backed rebel forces and Aleppo’s remaining civilian population have suffered slow strangulation as one after another of the supply routes into the city were cut off by the encircling regime troops.

This week the pro-Assad forces captured the Alramousa Road, the last supply route into the rebel-held areas of Aleppo. It is clear the regime’s coalition is preparing for a final assault on the city, and it seems highly unlikely that the rebels will be able to hold out.

The recapture of Aleppo by the pro-Assad forces will not be the end of the five-year civil war. Rebels still hold other territory, the Kurds control large areas along the northern border with Turkey and the terrorists of the Islamic State group are still well entrenched in the desert regions on both side of the eastern border with Iraq. But the collapse of the rebellion in Aleppo will put most of the Syrian economic heartland – or what remains of it – back in the regime’s hands and almost ensure that Bashar al-Assad himself survives whatever ceasefire process finally ends this calamity.

And Iran’s reputation, influence and power in the Middle East will rise along with Assad’s survival. Saudi Arabia will suffer the ignominy of failure to adequately support the Syrian rebels at a time when it is also bogged down in the civil war in Yemen. The intervention in Yemen ordered by Saudi Arabia’s young heir to the throne and defence minister, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, is not going well. The Saudi forces have failed to roll back the advance by Houthi rebels, who are backed by Iran. The partition of Yemen now seems likely.

Iran signalled on Tuesday that it feels confident that it has the upper hand over Saudi Arabia. Several Middle Eastern news outlets published pictures of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani inspecting pro-Assad forces in and around Aleppo during the preparations for the assault on the last rebel hold-outs in the city.

Gen. Soleimani is among the most potent military commanders in the Middle East at the moment. He is the leader of Iran’s elite foreign operations troops, the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, which is the mainstay of the regime of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

There has been a significant change in the make-up of the forces under Gen. Soleimani’s command in recent months after the Quds Force suffered significant losses, especially among officers, who take pride in leading their troops from the front. To counter rising public indignation in Iran at the death toll, more reliance is being put on Iran’s allied and proxy forces. Among the many thousands of troops under Gen. Soleimani’s command are large contingents of fighters of Hezbollah, the Iranian trained and funded militias from neighbouring Lebanon. He also has about 8,000 fighters from Harakat al Nujaba from Iraq, and others from even further afield. There are contingents from the Afghan Fatemiyoun and the Pakistani Zeynabiyoun.

Some military analysts see in this multi-national composition of the Quds Force the development of a foreign legion by Iran that it may use widely throughout the Middle East to serve its perceived interests. It is evident that since Tehran signed an agreement last year with the United Nations and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council – the United States, China, Russia, France and the United Kingdom – plus Germany to open its nuclear development program to inspection it has become more active in the region. The removal of economic sanctions and the lifting of diplomatic isolation have given Tehran the confidence and assets to pursue its interests without fear of serious diplomatic repercussions, especially from Washington.

What all the Quds Force militias have in common with Iran as well as with the Assad regime is that they are followers of the Shia faction of Islam. Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, is the leader of the orthodox Sunni branch of Islam, which it regards as the only legitimate interpretation of the religion. While this religious divide is undoubtedly a powerful motivator among supporters of both interpretations of Islam, it is also often a convenient distraction from the essentially worldly thrust for power in both the Iranian and Saudi regimes.

The current outbursts on the religious front from both Tehran and Riyadh stem from a deadly stampede during the hajj last year in which about 2,300 foreign pilgrims were killed, including nearly 470 Iranians. Iranian leader Ayatollah Khamenei has been highly critical of the Saudi authorities, saying the hajj was badly organized. He also lambasted Riyadh for showing insufficient remorse for the deadly incident, as well as lack of resolve in trying to find out who was directly responsible.

Matters came to a head on January 2 when Saudi Arabia executed the imprisoned prominent Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr. Nimr had been in custody since 2011, accused of leading a protest movement among the Shia minority in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province.

Riyadh tried to dull the impact of its killing of the esteemed cleric by at the same time executing three other Shia protesters and 43 militants from the al-Qaida terrorist group. It didn’t work. Angry crowds stormed and gutted Saudi Arabia’s embassy in Tehran, and on January 3 diplomatic relations between the two were cut.

They remain severed, hence the inability of Iranians to join this year’s hajj. But the rhetoric has not dimmed. On Monday, Iranian leader Khamenei published a diatribe against the Saudi monarchy calling the Riyadh regime a “small and puny Satan” that has politicised Islam in order to maintain its relationship with Washington.

“The world of Islam, including Muslim governments and peoples, must familiarise themselves with the Saudi rulers and correctly understand their blasphemous, faithless, dependent and materialistic nature,” he wrote in a statement on his website.

The Saudi royal family has shown itself unqualified to act as custodians of Islam’s holy sites in Mecca a Medina, or to administer the hajj, he said. “The world of Islam must fundamentally reconsider the management of the two holy places and the issue of the hajj,” wrote Khamenei.

Saudi Arabia’s leading cleric, Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Al al-Sheikh, responded on Tuesday, saying he was not surprised at Khamenei’s comments.

“We have to understand that they are not Muslims,” he said, adding that Iranian leaders are sons of “magus”, a reference to Zoroastrianism, the dominant belief in Persia until the Muslim Arab invasion of the region that is now Iran 13 centuries ago.

The Saudi regime and its Sunni clerics usually try to hide their disdain for the Shia and believe that they are not true Muslims. But as the power play in the Middle East gathers pace, all courtesies will be abandoned.

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2016

Contact, including queries about syndication/republishing: jonathan.manthorpe@gmail.com

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Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. He is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan,” and has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.

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Iran’s elite guards gain regional, economic power

Members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Navy march during a parade to commemorate the anniversary of the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88), in Tehran September 22, 2011. REUTERS/Stringer

Members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Navy march during a parade to commemorate the anniversary of the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88), in Tehran September 22, 2011. REUTERS/Stringer

By Parisa Hafezi
January, 2016

A member of Iran's Revolutionary guard stands at attention during an anti-U.S. ceremony in Azadi (freedom) Square in Tehran April 25, 2010. REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl

A member of Iran’s Revolutionary guard stands at attention during an anti-U.S. ceremony in Azadi (freedom) Square in Tehran April 25, 2010. REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl

ANKARA (Reuters) – Iran’s Revolutionary Guards did well under international sanctions, and the elite military force is destined to become still richer now they’ve been lifted.

Iran’s clerical rulers have supported economic growth of the Guards, rewarding the group for sanctions-busting as well as suppressing dissent at home and helping Tehran’s allies abroad – notably Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Now the country is expecting an economic boom in the post-sanctions era and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), will be a beneficiary. Likewise, the leadership will ensure it is well funded to continue the effort in the regional crisis, including the Syrian civil war.

The Guards aren’t entirely off the hook, even though the United States, European Union and United Nations lifted most sanctions on Saturday under a deal with world powers where Tehran agreed to curbs on its nuclear programme.

Washington has noted that “U.S. statutory sanctions focused on Iran’s support for terrorism, human rights abuses, and missile activities will remain in effect”, and these will be enforced against certain members and actions of the Guards.

But the Guards have long proved successful in defending their economic interests, including in recent years when the sanctions were at their tightest, effectively excluding Iran from the global financial and trading system.

“Even under very difficult economic circumstances, the funds for the IRGC’s activities, whether domestic or overseas, remained intact,” said a former official close to the government of pragmatist President Hassan Rouhani.

Created by the Islamic Republic’s founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Guards first secured an economic foothold after the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s when the clerical rulers allowed them to invest in leading Iranian industries.

Their economic influence grew particularly after former guardsman Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected president in 2005.

Members of the revolutionary guard attend the anniversary ceremony of Iran's Islamic Revolution at the Khomeini shrine in the Behesht Zahra cemetery, south of Tehran, February 1, 2012. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi

Members of the revolutionary guard attend the anniversary ceremony of Iran’s Islamic Revolution at the Khomeini shrine in the Behesht Zahra cemetery, south of Tehran, February 1, 2012. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi

HELPING YOUR FRIENDS

Iran – the dominant Shi’ite Muslim power which is in rivalry with Saudi Arabia and the United States’ other Sunni Arab friends – has fought decades of sectarian proxy wars in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen.

Tehran is not about to end these activities just because its relations with the West have thawed with the nuclear deal. On the contrary, it hopes the economy, freed from the sanctions, will create new wealth that can be used for these ends.

One senior security official signalled financing would grow for the Guards and its overseas arm, the Qods force.

“The IRGC and the Qods Force are Iran’s key assets in the region, where we are determined to back our allies and those oppressed nations,” said the official. “All parts of the establishment have reached a consensus on this. If you are a rich person, you can help your friends more, right?”

Iran has already spent billions of dollars propping up Assad and in recent months provided elite teams to gather intelligence and train Syrian forces. Its casualties are rising, with several commanders killed, and foreign experts believe Tehran may have as many as 3,000 troops there.

A member of Iran's Revolutionary guard aim with an anti-personnel gun as he takes part in a war game in the Hormuz area of southern Iran April 24, 2010. REUTERS/Mehdi Marizad/Fars News

A member of Iran’s Revolutionary guard aim with an anti-personnel gun as he takes part in a war game in the Hormuz area of southern Iran April 24, 2010. REUTERS/Mehdi Marizad/Fars News

FLOURISHING ECONOMY, STRONGER GUARDS

Another senior official confirmed that a flourishing economy, which is currently 60 percent dependent on oil exports, would mean extra cash for the Guards’ foreign activities.

“It is very clear that our leaders will not hesitate to allocate more funds to the IRGC when needed. More money means more funds for the IRGC,” said the official. “We don’t want any conflicts but we will continue to help our allies.”

Away from the battlefield, Tehran credits the Guards with helping the domestic economy to survive under the sanctions that Washington first imposed after the 1979 Islamic Revolution and which expanded and tightened over the years.

One Western diplomat who follows Iran closely estimated last year that business activities controlled by the Guards had an annual turnover of $10-12 billion.

Iran refuses to reveal their market share. But an Economy Ministry official said the Guards have been involved in a wide range of industries, including energy, tourism, auto production, telecommunications and construction.

“There are many IRGC-affiliated companies that are involved in various sectors. The Guards helped different sectors to resist the unfair sanctions imposed on Iran for decades.”

The Guards were also rewarded with major contracts after suppressing pro-reform protests that followed Ahmadinejad’s disputed re-election in 2009. A company affiliated to the IRGC bought the state-run telecoms company for about $8 billion.

The Guards’ construction branch, Khatam Al-Anbia, has also won a $1.2 billion contract to build a line on the Tehran metro.

“There was no chance to compete with the Guards-affiliated companies. Most of the time, they were offered contracts without even entering a bid,” said an Iranian trader based in a Gulf country who does business with some IRGC-affiliated firms.

As the U.S. and EU sanctions on Iran’s oil and finance sectors in 2012 started to bite, the Guards responded by setting up complex operations involving the likes of Dubai and Turkey.

“The IRGC started to buy hundreds of small and medium-size companies around the country to use as front companies,” said a trader involved in importing parts for the oil industry. “These companies partnered with some foreign companies to bypass sanctions. Most of the time cash was delivered to a foreign account in a neighbouring country.”

Tehran also asked the Guards to take over energy projects vacated by Western oil companies due to the sanctions, with Khatam Al-Anbia leading development of the giant South Pars gas field.

However, this exposed the limits to their expertise. “The IRGC had the loyalty but its affiliated companies lacked the technology and knowledge and ability to carry out projects,” said a hardline former official.

A member of Iran's Revolutionary guards sits in front of a picture of a soldier at a war exhibition to commemorate the anniversary of Iran-Iraq war (1980-88), at a park in southern Tehran September 26, 2007. REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl (IRAN)

A member of Iran’s Revolutionary guards sits in front of a picture of a soldier at a war exhibition to commemorate the anniversary of Iran-Iraq war (1980-88), at a park in southern Tehran September 26, 2007. REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl (IRAN)

ANYTHING BUT MONOLITHIC

Faced with such difficulties, top IRGC commanders have publicly backed the nuclear deal, which in any case would have been impossible to reach without the full support of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The IRGC is loyal to Khamenei.

Analysts say the IRGC is anything but monolithic. Like many hardliners, some senior Guards have been wary of reaching a deal with Iran’s arch foe, the United States, or of the prospect of the economy opening up as Iran’s international isolation ends.

“Some remained more sceptical about dealing with the enemy. But once the system made the decision that the deal is expedient, they fell in line,” said Ali Vaez, Senior Iran Analyst at Washington-based International Crisis Group.

“In the aftermath of the deal, some segments of the IRGC see opportunities in an open market, while others only see threats.”

Among the opportunities, Iran should now be able to get hold of the equipment and expertise it needs to complete the South Pars project. Shortly before the sanctions were lifted, oil minister Bijan Zanganeh said South Pars, the world’s largest gas field, is expected to be developed by 2017.

Iran will also have access to billions of dollars of its frozen assets overseas. Some analysts say the cash will be mainly used to import goods and technology to develop various sectors.

The IRGC-affiliated front companies have benefited the establishment’s support through lower insurance, shipping and banking commission costs when importing equipment and technology.

And as foreign firms enter the Iranian market, they will need a local partner – which for large-scale projects will often mean a firm controlled by the Guards.

(editing by David Stamp)

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Verbatim: Canada court blocks Zahra Kazemi suit against Iran

October 10, 2014

A lawsuit against Iran by the son of journalist Zahra Kazemi, who died after an alleged beating, rape and torture in an Iranian prison, hit a wall Friday in Canada’s top court. 

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Kazemi’s son Stephan Hachemi could not sue Iran’s government and key officials for $17 million Canadian for his mother’s suffering and death, because they are protected under Canada’s State Immunity Act.

Kazemi was a freelance photojournalist born in Iran in 1948, educated at the University of Paris, and who emigrated to Canada. She retained her Iranian passport and was using it to travel in Iran at the time of her death.

Zahra Kazemi in 2003. File photo

Zahra Kazemi in 2003. File photo

Kazemi, who sold her work to magazines and a European photo agency, was detained outside Evin Prison in June, 2003 while taking photos of protesters. She died shortly afterward, on July 11, 2003, in Iran’s Baghiyyatollah al-Azam Military Hospital. Iran refused to ship her body to her son in Canada for burial.

The case sparked a diplomatic quarrel between Canada and Iran, intervention by Amnesty International and other human rights and press groups, and at one point the arrest by Iran of several Intelligence Ministry officials. The autumn after she died, an Iranian parliamentary commission reported that Kazemi had been under the jurisdiction of the Iranian judiciary when she was beaten. Iran’s official response to her death wrapped up in July, 2004, when an Iranian court acquitted intelligence agent Mohamed Reza Aqdam Ahmadi, on the grounds there was insufficient evidence, said the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Hachemi launched his suit in the province of Quebec in 2006, against  the Islamic Republic of Iran, its head of state, the Chief Public Prosecutor of Tehran and the former Deputy Chief of Intelligence of the prison where Kazemi died.

The case, Kazemi Estate v. Islamic Republic of Iran, took eight years to wind its way through Canada’s slow and complex court system.

Friday’s final Canadian ruling upholds a verdict by Quebec’s top court, which essentially ruled that because Kazemi was not injured in Canada, Canada’s State Immunity Act renders the defendants immune.

Six Supreme court justices agreed with the Quebec court; only one, Rosalie Abella, dissented. “The State Immunity Act is constitutional and prohibits civil law suit against a foreign country,” said the Supreme Court. The defendants “are immune from the jurisdiction of Canadian courts.”

Abella disagreed, writing in her lone dissent “They are not immune from the jurisdiction of Canadian courts and the claims against them should be allowed to proceed.”

The court referred the issue to Canada’s political system. “A foreign state and its functionaries cannot be sued in Canadian courts for acts of torture committed abroad. This conclusion does not, however, freeze state immunity in time. Parliament has the power and the capacity to change the current state of the law on exceptions to state immunity, just as it has done in the past,” said the majority.

– Deborah Jones

Excerpts of the Supreme Court of Canada ruling:

K, a Canadian citizen, visited Iran in 2003 as a freelance photographer and journalist. She was arrested, detained and interrogated by Iranian authorities. During her detention, she was beaten, sexually assaulted and tortured. She later died as the result of a brain injury sustained while in the custody of Iranian officials. Despite requests made by K’s son, H, that her remains be sent to Canada for burial, she was buried in Iran. Although a report commissioned by the Iranian government linked members of the judiciary and the Office of the Prosecutor to K’s torture, only one individual was tried. That person was acquitted following a trial marked by a lack of transparency. In short, it was impossible for K and her family to obtain justice in Iran.

In 2006, H instituted civil proceedings in Quebec seeking damages on behalf of himself and his mother’s estate against the Islamic Republic of Iran, its head of state, the Chief Public Prosecutor of Tehran and the former Deputy Chief of Intelligence of the prison where K was detained and tortured. H sought damages on behalf of K’s estate for her physical, psychological, and emotional pain and suffering as well as damages for the psychological and emotional prejudice that he sustained as the result of the loss of his mother. Both H and the estate also sought punitive damages. The Iranian defendants brought a motion in Quebec Superior Court to dismiss the action on the basis of state immunity….

…. At issue in this appeal is whether the Islamic Republic of Iran, its head of state and the individuals who allegedly detained, tortured and killed K in Iran are entitled to immunity by operation of the SIA . The resolution of that issue rests on the scope of the SIA , the impact that the evolution of international law since the SIA ’s adoption might have on its interpretation, and whether the Act is constitutional. An overarching question, which permeates almost all aspects of this appeal, is whether international law has created a mandatory universal civil jurisdiction in respect of claims of torture, which would require Canada to open its courts to the claims of victims of acts of torture that were committed abroad. Moreover, this Court is asked to determine whether torture may constitute an official act of a state and whether public officials having committed acts of torture can benefit from immunity.

…. State immunity is not solely a rule of international law, it also reflects domestic choices made for policy reasons, particularly in matters of international relations. Canada’s commitment to the universal prohibition of torture is strong. However, Parliament has made a choice to give priority to a foreign state’s immunity over civil redress for citizens who have been tortured abroad. That policy choice is not a comment about the evils of torture, but rather an indication of what principles Parliament has chosen to promote.

H seeks to avail himself of the “personal or bodily injury” exception to state immunity set out at s. 6 (a) of the SIA . If H’s psychological suffering is captured by the personal injury exception to state immunity set out at s. 6 (a), his claim would be allowed to proceed. However, when the words of s. 6 (a) are examined in conjunction with the purpose of the Act, it becomes apparent that the exception applies only where the tort causing the personal injury or death has occurred in Canada. It does not apply where the impugned events, or the tort causing the personal injury or death, did not take place in Canada. Accordingly, H’s claim is barred by the SIA because the alleged tort did not “occur in Canada”. His claim is also barred by the SIA on the further ground that the “personal or bodily injury” exception does not apply where the injury allegedly suffered by the plaintiff does not stem from a physical breach of personal integrity. Only when psychological distress manifests itself after a physical injury will the exception to state immunity be triggered. In the present case, H did not plead any kind of physical harm nor did he claim to have suffered an injury to his physical integrity…

…Parliament has given no indication whatsoever that Canadian courts are to deem torture an “unofficial act” and that a universal civil jurisdiction has been created allowing foreign officials to be sued in our courts. Creating this kind of jurisdiction would have potentially considerable impact on Canada’s international relations. This decision is to be made by Parliament, not the courts.

Further reading:

The Supreme Court of Canada ruling.  
Wikipedia page for Zahra Kazemi   
Committee to Protect Journalists page for Zahra Kazemi 
Reporters without Borders compiled releases about Zahra Kazemi 
Amnesty International page for Zahra Kazemi  

 

 

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Will Islamic State zealots bring U.S. and Iran together?

Relations between Iran and the United States have been ice cold since 1979. The terrorist attack of 9/11 could have been one opportunity for  a thawing, but “among the plethora of murderously stupid things former United States President George W. Bush did was to shut that door by including Iran in his “axis of evil” speech in 2002,” writes International Affairs columnist Jonathan Manthorpe

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James Foley. Photo © Jonathan Pedneault, courtesy of FreeJamesFoley.org

But now, the common threat posed by the Islamic State extremists — in the news this week for their grotesque murder of journalist James Foley — may finally open channels of communication. An excerpt of Manthorpe’s new column, Washington and Tehran find common cause against Islamic State:

It’s always a bit of a shock when the stern clerics that run Iran display an impish sense of humour.

So when Iran’s Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, was quoted today as offering to help the West’s campaign against the Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq in return for the lifting of crippling sanctions against Tehran, the natural inclination was to chuckle at his gall and turn the page.

But not so fast. A close reading of Zarif’s remarks shows that he was not being whimsical. He was entirely serious and while his suggestion is not feasible at the moment, it reflects the reality that there is a growing convergence of interests in the Middle East between Iran on one side and the United States and its European allies on the other.

That convergence has been brought into focus by the rise of the fanatical Sunni Muslim group, the Islamic State (IS) …  read Washington and Tehran find common cause against Islamic State. (Log in first; subscription required*)

Click here for Jonathan Manthorpe’s columnist page or here to subscribe or purchase a $1 site day pass

Facts and Opinions is a boutique for slow journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, sustained entirely by readers: we do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes.  Why? We appreciate your interest and support:  for $2.95 (the price of a cheap brew) you can subscribe to F&O for a month. If that breaks your budget, a one-day pass is $1. A subscription is required for most F&O original work.

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Saudi Prince who Charmed and Smarmed is Sacked

International affairs analyst Jonathan Manthorpe has reported on the doings of Prince Bandar bin Sultan, Saudi Arabia’s intelligence chief, since the prince was a fixture in the American administrations of Ronald Reagan and both Bushes. “Many saw him as a pernicious influence on these Republican administrations,” writes Manthorpe in today’s column — especially in the hours after 9/11. His new column examines why the prince’s career finally hit the skids — and the role of Syria. An excerpt:

The sacking of Saudi Arabia’s intelligence chief, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, is public acknowledgement that the strategy for ousting Syrian President Bashar Assad has not only failed, but spawned a new generation of skilled Islamic terrorists.

The departure of Prince Bandar on Wednesday was announced in a brief statement from the royal palace of Saudi King Adbullah, the prince’s uncle. It is the end of a career that has been a major influence on relations with the United States and Washington’s approach to the Middle East for several decades.

For 22 years until 2005, Prince Bandar was the Saudi ambassador to Washington. He charmed and smarmed his way into close relations with both President Ronald Reagan and both presidents George Bush. Indeed, he became such a fixture in the retinues of those administrations that he was often called “Bandar Bush.”

Log in to read today’s column: Saudi Arabia sacks troublesome intelligence chief Prince Bandar. (Subscription or day pass required*)

Click here for Jonathan Manthorpe’s page, with all of his columns for F&O.

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Iran’s President on a High Wire

Manthorpe B&WInternational affairs analyst Jonathan Manthorpe writes in today’s column that Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani is performing a dangerous high wire act. An excerpt:

As talks resume in Vienna today for a deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program, it is increasingly apparent that only political and social reform will deliver the ultimate guarantee that Tehran does not build atomic weapons.

And that outcome depends almost entirely on the skills of Iran’s new President Hassan Rouhani. He undoubtedly has reformist instincts and has the support of many Iranians who want to see a lifting of the political and social repression orchestrated by the conservative and puritanical religious Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, backed by the security apparatus of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

For the moment, Rouhani has the backing of Khamenei and the Revolutionary Guards. They see him as the best man available to do a deal over the nuclear program that will get crippling international sanctions lifted, and someone who can restore Iran’s stature among nations after it was made a laughing stock by the embarrassing antics of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

So Rouhani needs a deal on the nuclear program, and all that flows from that, in order to get the leeway to pursue reforms and the loosening of Iran’s social and political straightjacket.

And what is more, and more evident as negotiations proceed during the six months slated for doing a deal, is that success will ultimately depend on political evolution in Iran that produces administrations whose word can be trusted.

Log in to read today’s column: In Iran, nuclear deal and social reform are intertwined. (Subscription or day pass required*)

Click here for Jonathan Manthorpe’s page, with all of his columns for F&O.

 

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F&O Weekend

F&O has a veritable treasure trove of new work for your weekend reading:

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The Cuban Five

The Cuban Five

In 1998 Fidel Castro had his good friend Gabriel García Márquez, the Nobel prize-winning Colombian novelist, carry a top secret message to American President Bill Clinton. It revealed a terrorist plot against Cuba, devised on American soil. What happened next led to the arrests of the Cuban agents, the myth-making of heroes, and a tale of stunning intrigue and complexity. In THINK/Magazine, F&O is pleased to publish an excerpt of Stephen Kimber’s book about The Cuban Five. (Public access)

Drought, and the price of water

Never let it be said that F&O Natural Security columnist Chris Wood is anyone’s tame journalist, or “sides” with the easy left or the easy right. In his previous column Wood tackled favoured causes of the ‘left’ including  nuclear energy and GMO foods; now, he argues in THINK/Commentary that the growing crisis of drought will only be solved by pricing water. (Subscription)

Iran’s Backlash and Afghanistan’s Reckoning

International affairs columnist Jonathan Manthorpe has two new pieces this week. In an examination of the backlash in Iran against closer ties with the international community, Manthorpe notes an upsurge in executions amid hardliner’s fears for the Islamic regime. And in a piece on Afghanistan’s Reckoning he notes that soon that country, and the world, will determine whether the bloodshed, treasure and agony since the invasion has been worthwhile. (Subscription)

American Civil War, 150 years on

CSS HunleyJim McNiven, author of Thoughtlines, toured America’s south early this year with the 150th anniversary of the Civil War on his mind. His new column,  Sesquicentennial Rumbles Blues, reflects on political posturing, how entrenched partisans have swapped positions over time, and on the powerful ideas that endure. (Subscription)

We also have two new public access pieces from ProPublica this week:

Journalism’s new Golden Age? Not so fast

A thoughtful new column in THINK/Commentary is a speech  to young journalists by one of America’s most senior veterans, ProPublica chief Paul Steiger, on the Golden Ages of American journalism.

PTSD afflicts civilians

And in DISPATCHES, ProPublica journalist Lois Beckett reports on how the incidence of  PTSD amongst victims of violence has reached the levels suffered by injured soldiers in some violent-prone neighbourhoods.

Enjoy — and have a good weekend.

— Deborah Jones

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Executions and backlash loom over Iran rapprochement

Money is flowing into Iran again, but there are signs the reformist movement is being stymied by hardliners, including a dramatic upsurge in executions for “enmity against God” and “threatening national security.”  An excerpt of international affairs columnist Jonathan Manthorpe’s new column:

As Iran this week received $550 million from eased sanctions in return for curbing its nuclear program, it is evident that resistance is stiffening among hardliners in Tehran to rapprochement with the international community.

At its core, this apprehension appears to be fear that any restrictions on Iran’s ability to make nuclear weapons or slackening of its defensive posture against the outside world will bring down the Islamic regime of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, which has ruled the country since 1979.

The target of the hardliners, who may include Khamenei himself, is President Hassan Rouhani, who won managed elections last year and who is usually described as a reformist.

It was initiatives by Rouhani in the first months of his tenure, including a ground-breaking telephone conversation with United States President Barack Obama, which led to a framework agreement in November on Iran’s nuclear development program.

Please log in* to read Iran’s “reformist” Rouhani faces hardliner backlash at home.

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Analysis: Iran and United States join forces against common foes

International affairs columnist Jonathan Manthorpe writes on the sea-change in the Middle East as Tehran and Washington find common cause and turmoil grows in Iraq and Syria. Excerpt:

As al-Qaida-linked groups hijack the anti-government insurgencies in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere, Washington is finding itself making common cause with its old enemy, Iran, and exciting the anger of its traditional ally, Saudi Arabia.

This tectonic shift in Middle Eastern alliances stems from two decisions made by the administration of President Barack Obama in the closing months of last year.

Washington is now finding itself in the previously unthinkable position of leaning more towards the Shiite factions of Islam, led by Iran, and turning away from the purist Sunni factions led by Saudi Arabia.

The first of Obama’s decisions that propelled this shift was his response after United Nations investigators claimed the forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad, an ally of Iran whose followers belong to the Shiite Alawite sect, had used chemical weapons against rebel insurgents and civilians.

Log in to read the column, Common enemies draw Washington and Tehran closer, here.*

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