24 November 2017
English Arabic

A top United Nations official Thursday called on the Iraqi government to speed up investigations into allegations of human rights violations committed by security forces during the fight against the Islamic State group and to make the results of those probes public.

Since 2014, the U.S.-backed Iraqi forces' fight against the Sunni militant group has been mired in violations committed by government forces and paramilitaries that international human rights groups have decried as war crimes, ranging from extrajudicial killings of IS suspects to forced displacement and detention of civilians.

On Friday, Iraqi forces drove IS militants from the last Iraqi town near the Syrian borders more than three years after the militant group stormed nearly a third of Iraqi territory, keeping the militants scattered in a wide desert area to the west and north of Baghdad.

Concluding an official visit to Iraq, Agnes Callamard, the U.N.'s special investigator on extra-judicial executions, stressed to the Iraqi officials on "the importance of translating the military defeat over ISIS into victories for accountability and over impunity." ISIS is another acronym for IS.

Callamard told reporters in Baghdad that Iraq's new "transition phase" presents "both opportunities and challenges" and that the government should "respond effectively and impartially to allegations of violations in order to build and strengthen confidence."

The Iraqi government has previously acknowledged some of the allegations, but insisted that these were "individual acts" and promised to investigate them and punish the perpetrators. No outcomes have been published by the government on these investigations.

Callamard discussed with officials from the government and Shiite-dominated paramilitary troops known as Popular Mobilization Forces, "six or seven large scale allegations," including disappearances around Fallujah west of Baghdad and the killing of some prisoners before the June 2014 IS onslaught. She didn't divulge more details on other allegations, expecting to receive the results within "a week or two."

She said that "investigations have already taken place, but the problem is that there is not transparent reporting on the outcomes of those investigations."

Also on Thursday, the Iraqi Army and PMF launched a new military operation to clear the al-Jazeera area from IS militants, said a statement. The area is in a swath of desert between Salahuddin, Anbar and Ninevah provinces north of the capital. During his weekly news conference on Tuesday, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said that chasing down IS militants in the al-Jazeera area and the western desert will be the last stage before declaring the final victory over IS.

Source: abc News


European Iraqi Freedom Association (EIFA)

 

 

Iran’s Support for

Islamic Fundamentalist Groups

 

 Relations With al-Qaeda & Sunni Extremists Under Scrutiny


 

“The fact that Iran has consistently supported and nurtured proxy extremist Shiite groups is not a matter of dispute; less clear are Tehran’s relations with Sunni extremists.”

-         Struan Stevenson, EIFA President

 

November 2017

Report in PDF:



 

 

Table of Contents:

 

Introduction ……………………………………………………………………..............………….………… 4

New revelation on Iran’s ties with Al-Qaeda ………………………..............……….……….. 4

Some features of Islamic Fundamentalism ………………………………..................……..... 7

Islamic fundamentalism after the 1979 Revolution in Iran …..............…….………..... 9

Supporting “Liberation Movements”.........………………….................………….………... 10

Promoting Islamic fundamentalism ……………………………...............………................. 11

Ideological aspects …………………………………….......................................................... 12

Some organisations involved in recruiting Islamists ………….................................. 12

Sponsoring Shiite and Sunni extremist groups …………………………..............…………. 13

Tehran’s strategic harmony with al-Qaeda and ISIS ………….................................. 13

Special role of Lebanese Hezbollah ………………...................................................... 15

Iran and al-Qaeda after 9/11 and US invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq ............... 16

Requests from US to swap opposition members with al-Qaeda leaders .............. 20

U.S. acknowledgement of Iran - al Qaeda relationship in recent years ................ 20

Al-Qaeda in Iraq and relations with Tehran .......................................................... 22

Conclusion and Policy Recommendations ............................................................ 23

 

Introduction

From early on the regime in Tehran was based on the dual pillars of internal crackdown and the export of terrorism and reactionary religious beliefs. The policy of exporting Islamic fundamentalism and extremism has been an explicit aspect of state strategy, pursued at the highest levels of the regime, for the past 38 years. 

Henry Kissinger, the former US Secretary of State and National Security Advisor wrote on 31 July 2006 that Iran leaders should decide “whether they are representing a cause or a nation.”[1] And insofar as the regime represents a hard line Islamist cause, there is a further question about the types of alliances it is willing to maintain in service of that cause.

The fact that Iran has consistently supported and nurtured proxy extremist Shiite groups is not a matter of dispute. What is less clear are Tehran’s relations with Sunni extremists.

On one hand, the disputes between Shiite and Sunnis are so significant that many believe Iran will not and cannot pursue relations with its Sunni competitors and has actually acted as a de facto ally of the West in confronting Sunni extremists, albeit on rare occasions.

But others believe that despite the differences between Shiite and Sunni extremist groups, they have much more in common than it may seem. On this view, Iran is able to look past sectarian differences in the interest of acting as the epicentre of Islamic fundamentalism in general.

Subsequent to the recent revelation of another batch of documents obtained by the US during the raid on the residence of Osama bin Laden on 2 May 2011, there is a more imperative need to review and understand the Iranian regime’s ties with Sunni extremist groups in general and with al-Qaeda and ISIS (Daesh) in particular. [2]

 

New revelation on Iran’s ties with Al-Qaeda

The newly declassified documents from the Osama bin Laden compound at Abbottabad in Pakistan included a 19-page report by a senior al-Qaeda official. [3]

The document says that an al-Qaeda operative named Abu Hafs al-Mauritani negotiated the arrangement for some al-Qaeda operatives to enjoy safe haven in Iran after the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan following the attacks in the US on 11 September 2001.

The document, which was written in Arabic and has been translated for this report, reads in part:

“These pages include a number of brotherly recommendations from our elders and friends as to how our fellow Mujahideen brothers treated the regime of the Rafidis (Shiites) in Iran, and how they see it now and in future...

Great shock, confusion and distraction:                                                        

There is no doubt that the consequences and reverberations of the September 11 attacks were very big and beyond the imaginations of a majority of the people…

…And large numbers went to Iran, and I will explain in the second part how the situation developed.

The enmity between Iran and America is real:

Yes, the enmity between Iran and America is enmity between reality and truth, and whoever thinks differently and says that whatever hostility and war of words is going on between them is play-acting and a show, he is ignorant and does not know the facts!

The Iranians are Shiite Muslims, believe in 12 Imams, their religion and beliefs regarding Sunni Muslims and particularly regarding us, as Salafi Muslims, is known; so is their aspiration to control the whole of Islamic world and to take over its leadership. Their belief in sectarianism which is based on their imaginations as well as their slogans are all very well known to us…However, they are ready to cooperate even with most Salafists and Wahhabis where they believe that this cooperation would achieve something for them, though cooperation will be temporary and will end at a suitable time.

- Any person who wants to hit America, Iran is ready to support him and help him with money, weapons, and whatever else, openly and clearly… They are working very hard on the United States, but they are afraid of leaving any evidence and therefore are very diligent to leave no clues of their work!!

-For example, they offered money, arms and everything they needed to some of our Saudi brothers who supported them, and offered them training in Hezbollah camps in Lebanon, in return for striking America's interests in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf!!

I will refer to this later.

-They offered, and still offer support to a group of Uzbeks, with money and weapons and safe passage to and from Iran and whatever else they need, in return for targeting United States’ targets in Uzbekistan. I have other examples, but I am content with what I have said for now.

You may wonder how Shiite Iranians could have supported Salafists or Wahhabis to strike America!!

One who does not understand this situation, or doubts it, is due to his lack of knowledge and nothing else, otherwise the situation is clear for whoever understands it!!

 As an example, and in order to get it fixed in minds, I can say that in current circumstances, Iran would be ready to support and help Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (i.e. the founder of Wahhabism) if he was alive with whatever needed to target the United States.

After the fall of Islamic government in Afghanistan, and the withdrawal of our Mujahideen brothers, both Arab and others, most of them went to Pakistan and some to Iran…

I personally went to Waziristan and from there to Karachi and stayed there for about 3 months, and then we got the orders from our brothers to go to Iran. Many of our brothers did not like the idea but this was the order from our leadership, both al-Qaeda and other fighters. A large number of our brothers went to Iran, some with official visas, which we got from the Iranian consulate in Karachi, and some without visas…

The first person who went to Iran from the leadership was Abu Hafs al-Mauritani…

The mandate of Abu Hafs was to establish an understanding with the Iranians to allow our brothers to cross the border and to stay in the country.

What I leaned later from brothers who were close to Abu Hafs in the early days of their stay in Iran was that they were very welcomed, and in practice they agreed on some issues with him, and they were dealing with him as the person in charge of the group. One of the Iranians’ conditions was that since the Americans monitor all their communications they must refrain from use of telephone completely and stay in the houses they rent, and they should not have any kind of activities or gatherings which may draw attention… These were all security conditions.

Abu Hafs and other brothers agreed with them.

 

Abu Hafs al-Mauritani

Treatment of our brothers by the Iranian intelligence people and others was not only good, but they were showing affection towards them and calling them heroes, obviously we do not know whether they were being honest or just pretending?? Or anything else? God knows…

What became clear for me was, as far as the Intelligence and Basiji personnel and ordinary people were concerned, they were honest with their feelings towards our brothers, and were looking at them as heroes who had hit United States…

We found Shiites who loved us and respected us very much. Our brothers stayed in Iran, most of them in the city of Zahedan, the capital of Sistan and Baluchestan.

However, brothers gradually went to different Iranian cities: Many, including my people, to Tehran and Isfahan, Shiraz, Mashhad and Bandar-Abbas and other places.

How did the Iranians deal with those brothers whom they arrested, and how were they asked to leave?

They treated brothers very respectfully. When they took the brothers, they treated them as respectable brothers; they apologized to the brothers and always told them: We have to arrest you for our benefit and for your benefit, we are under great pressure, as you know, and we love you and so on…!!. : The treatment was very respectable. No beating or insulting and not a word of distress, and otherwise, O God something rare.

However, we said what is very secret, but wrote it out of necessity,

Dated: 1/1428 Hijri  (January 2007).

 

Some features of Islamic Fundamentalism

Islamic extremism emerged some 40 years ago as an aggressive and destabilizing force in the region with growing impact, injecting itself into geo-political equations and gradually evolving as the main threat to the international community. 

 

The great majority of the world’s 1.7 billion Muslims are Sunnis. Shiites make up only 10-15 percent. The rift between the two branches appeared first after the demise of the Prophet Mohammad during the disputes over his succession.

 

Despite their differences and verbal hostilities, both Shiite and Sunni extremists adhere to the same underlying ideology in the most basic elements of their beliefs and behaviour:

 

  • Seeking to establish a dreadful tyranny under the name of the government of God

The announced objective of Islamic fundamentalism is to implement Sharia law by force. This is the common denominator of Shiite mullahs’ rule in Iran and that of the Sunni caliphates of ISIS in other areas. One describes it as “velāyat-e faqīh,” [absolute rule of clergy], another dubs it a caliphate.

  • Continuous Aggression

The pivotal tactic of Islamic fundamentalism is never-ending crimes against humanity. This belligerence is not fundamentally the product of power; in fact it results from this entity’s weakness in responding to the real necessities of modern society, specifically, in regards to the theocracy ruling Iran, the tactic of continuous aggression is practiced to fill the void of social isolation, lack of political-spiritual legitimacy, and profound contradiction of Tehran’s theocratic state with the advanced demands of Iran’s educated and civilized society, being a deeply disenchanted population.

  • War of Destiny

Islamic fundamentalism views this battle as a war of fate/destiny. It never accepts any kind of ceasefire, limitation, or moderation because this is against its raison d’être. To the final day of its survival it will continue its war and expansion.

  • Non-Recognition of Geographic Limits

Proponents of an Islamic caliphate view it as a global prophecy recognizing no political or geographic borders. Their mission of jihad spans the globe.

  • Unbridled cruelty

This horrendous force bows to no limits in viciousness and savagery, recognizing no such thing as a red line. Crimes associated with Islamic fundamentalism include the massacre of 30,000 political prisoners in Iran in 1988, splashing acid into the eyes and faces of women, beheading Western citizens in Syria, forced migration of Christians, ethnic cleansing and genocide by militants associated with the Iranian regime in Iraq, burning an entire city in Nigeria, setting prisoners ablaze, bombing sacred sites, and conducting group executions in public.

In his book, Islamic Government, written before seizing power in Iran in 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of Islamic Republic in Iran, formulated this ruthless approach as “an effort to uproot the numerous sources of corruption that are harmful to society.”[4] 

  • Misogyny

Contempt for women is a vivid characteristic of Islamic fundamentalism. ISIS forced women into slavery as war booty, Boko Haram has kidnapped more than 200 schoolgirls in Nigeria, and Taliban brutally repressed women. Iran and other countries in the region have instituted numerous legal and social restrictions on women.

  • Deception and Demagoguery

Resorting to deception and demagoguery, especially to provide religious pretexts to resort to violence, is yet another feature of this viewpoint of Islam.

 

Islamic fundamentalism after the 1979 Revolution in Iran  

Islamic fundamentalism came into existence in modern times with Ayatollah Khomeini ascending to power in Iran in 1979 following the fall of the US-backed Shah dictatorship. Iran became the first country in recent history to have a theocratic regime.

The impact and direct result of the formation of an Islamic fundamentalist regime in a country as large as Iran, having an unprecedented position in the Islamic World, was that it allowed Tehran to become the political, substantial, spiritual and strategic sponsor of all Islamic fundamentalists across the globe, even if they had differences with the regime. The mere establishment of a theocracy in a country as enormous as Iran provided such a capacity and prospect to Islamic extremist groups – previously marginalized with no expectation or outlook of political power – to rise as a destructive political force.

Regardless of any political and material bond between these types of groups and the Iranian regime, what is important is the presence of a ruling fundamentalist State – Iran – as a role model and inspiration for the formation of all fundamentalist groups and cells. Without the existence of such a State, there would be no intellectual, ideological and political atmosphere, nor a central base to rely on for the birth and growth of these groups.

As a counterterrorism analyst of the US government put it: “In 1979, Iran became the first modern Islamic republic, as Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini overthrew Iran's secular regime and established a new order in which shari'a became law. Suddenly, Islamism was no longer an ideology of movements. It had inspired a State.”[5]

Tehran’s active and systematic policy, in line with recruiting and using its proxy groups, intensified this process significantly. The ayatollahs ruling Iran sought to become the epicentre for exportation of fundamentalism to the Islamic World; what they overtly described as the ‘mother’ of the Islamic World.

Tehran calls for a global Islamic State both in its constitution and other texts and instructions. Khomeini, and the current leader Ali Khamenei, very openly considered themselves leaders of all Muslims around the world, and not just Shiites.

This very concept was engraved in the constitution of the theocracy ruling Iran. [6]  It states:

“The constitution, given the Islamic characteristics of Iran’s revolution – being a move for the victory of all the weak people over dictators – provides the grounds for the growth of this revolution inside the country and abroad; especially in the expansion of international relations, it strives with other Islamic and popular movements to pave the path for the establishment of a unified people across the globe, and continue the struggle to save the deprived nations and those under cruelty across the globe.

“The army of the Islamic republic and Revolutionary Guards are established in line with the above-mentioned objective, and not only to protect the borders, but also with the mission to carry out jihad in the path of God and the struggle to expand the state of God’s rule in the world.”

- In the mullahs’ constitution, the export of fundamentalism under the pretext of “unsparing support for the weak people of the world” or “unity of the Islamic world” is underscored in Principles 3, 11, and 154.

Principle 11 states, “All Muslims are one nation and the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran is obligated to base its general policy on the foundation of a coalition and union of Islamic nations, and make utmost efforts to realize political, economic and cultural unity in the Islamic World.”

- In his will, Khomeini called for the overthrow of all States ruling Muslim countries and expulsion of their rulers. He encouraged all Muslims to “rally all under the honourable flag of Islam, and rise against the enemies of Islam and the deprived people of the world; and go on to advance towards an Islamic State with free and independent republics”.

 

Supporting “Liberation Movements”

From the regime’s inception in exporting terrorism and fundamentalism, Tehran did not make a demarcation based on religious differences. This became evident from the wide range of groups that were nurtured and supported by the clerical regime.

Javad Mansouri (the first commander of the IRGC and the deputy minister of foreign affairs in 1981) said in an exclusive interview on 20 June 2016: "Assistance to the movements (i.e. terrorist and extremist groups) had begun in 1979, and they would occasionally go to Mr. Rafighdoost, who headed the IRGC's logistics unit, and would get money, weapons, and location.”[7]

He added: "In April 1981, the Office of the Movements was officially established in the IRGC... In 1981, martyr Rajai was the head of the Foreign Ministry and I was his deputy and we had regular meetings. At one of the meetings, I told him that there are eight entities that receive money from the government for the export of revolutionary activities. You gather the officials of these eight institutions and appoint one person and tell him I will give the budget to this person and he will divide it and everyone must be accountable to him."

And to this effect, Tehran’s tentacles were extended throughout the Islamic world.

In a report to Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, the designated heir to Khomeini in early 1980s, Mehdi Hashemi, who was in charge of “Liberation Movements Unit” of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) specified in great details the regime’s activities to identify, establish, nurture, and support fundamentalist groups in Palestine, Egypt, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Morocco. (In Iranian regime’s terminology, these terrorist and extremist groups are dubbed ‘liberation movements’.)[8]

Tehran had dispatched units of the IRGC to Lebanon since 1982. This led to the establishment of Hezbollah as the main entity of Tehran’s terror apparatus outside of Iran.  Tehran’s slogan was “conquering Quds (Jerusalem) via Karbala”. This was not just a mantra but a comprehensive policy that Tehran pursued by various means.

All of these activities indicated that although Tehran is a theocracy based on Shiite beliefs, in contrast to simplistic impressions, it is very seriously pursuing its strategy and does not limit itself to any Sunni-Shiite boundaries.

In the authoritative book, Islamic Fundamentalism: The New Global Threat [9]published in 1993, Mohammad Mohaddessin, Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman of the democratic opposition coalition, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI)[10], described how subsequent to the Iranian regime’s defeat in the 1980-88 war with Iraq, Tehran stepped up spreading its recipe for Islamic fundamentalism through the Middle East, the Caucasus and Mid-Asia region, all the way to North Africa.  Mohaddessin - himself the son of a renowned ayatollah in the city of Qom, the epicentre of Iran’s fundamentalism – pointed out that this was done to compensate for the military defeat and to bring Iraq under its control. For this purpose, Iran organized all its government bodies to carry out internal crackdowns and spread terrorism abroad.

 

Promoting Islamic fundamentalism

Iran is probably the only state that has established organizations and institutions tasked with exporting and promoting Islamic fundamentalism in different forms. As such, Tehran has specific bodies to influence and recruit Shiite groups and figures, along with specific entities to influence and recruit Sunni groups and personalities.

The apparatus pursues a two-pronged approach:

  • Setting up religious and cultural centres, seminaries, and recruiting preachers to prepare ideological indoctrination aimed at attracting and recruiting Islamic extremists.
  • Recruiting, sponsoring, and nurturing extremist groups by providing funds, weapons, logistics and training. 

 

Ideological aspects

Throughout the years, Tehran has made this strategy and establishment of an Islamic caliphate with its heart beating in Tehran more institutionalized.  All matters related to realizing this objective have been determined and finalized at the highest level of this regime, namely Supreme Leader Khamenei.

In a letter to the then President Ali Khamenei, on 5 September 1988, Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi acknowledged this reality. He wrote “extraterritorial operations take place without the knowledge and orders of the administration. We get informed of a hijacking after it has happened. We find out about machine guns firing in the streets of Lebanon after it has occurred and its noise has been heard all over the world. I found out about confiscation of explosives from our pilgrims in Jeddah during Haj (in 1986) after they were confiscated.”[11]

Ali Khamenei has been a key person in this respect from the inception of the regime. In a letter to Ayatollah Montazeri, Mehdi Hashemi stipulated that Khamenei received the reports of extremist groups in Egypt before Hashemi’s office, which was supposedly in charge of these activities. Hashemi underscored that actually it was Khamenei who provided him with the report of the Egyptian extremists.[12]

Based on credible intelligence, the international relations section of Khamenei’s office is the main body pursuing fundamentalism amongst Shiites and Sunnis.

In particular, Khamenei’s special office (also known as the special operations office) chaired by Mullah Mohammad Hejazi, is the main organ behind terrorism. Its headquarters consists of commanders of the Quds Force, the Minister of Intelligence, and the head of the IRGC Intelligence Organization.

 

Some organisations involved in recruiting Islamists 

The ‘World Forum for the Proximity of Islamic Schools of Thought’[13] is a body focused on rallying Sunnis under Iran’s banner. The ‘Ahl Al-Bayt World Assembly’ is responsible for recruiting and using Shiites in various countries.[14] Both entities enjoy massive budgets. Scores of other bodies are also involved in recruiting Islamists. They include: 

- Imam Aid Committee: Active in Islamic countries providing aid to people and groups they believe can be recruited for the IRGC’s foreign wing, the Quds Force.

- Shaheed (martyr) Foundation: Recruiting troops for the Quds Force through providing financial aid to the families of those killed in countries where the Quds Force is active.

- Al-Mostafa Society: Accepting religion students from various countries into the city of Qom, providing training and finally dispatching them back to their countries to advertise and rally support for fundamentalism.

 

Sponsoring Shiite and Sunni extremist groups

The Quds Force, established a quarter of a century ago as the IRGC’s foreign arm has been the main tool in the policy of exporting fundamentalism, with nine branches each targeting a country or specific region.[15] The Quds Force has specific headquarters for various strategically significant countries including Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Syria, and Yemen. It is carrying out its activities in these countries overtly and publicly, and in some cases under various front entities.

It is interesting to note that the Quds Force supports a wide range of Sunni groups as well as Shiites.

Among Shiites, Lebanese Hezbollah stands out. It was founded by Tehran in 1982. It conducts its terrorist and extraterritorial activities under the command of the Quds Force. All its affairs, including expenses and policies, are under the supervision of Khamenei’s office. Other groups include dozens of Iraqi Shiite extremist bodies such as the Badr Organization, Katai’b Hezbollah, and Asa’ib Ahl- Haq.

Among Sunnis, the Quds Force and the Iranian regime support organisations such as Islamic Jihad, Hamas, the Taliban and many others. Islamic Jihad is totally dependent on Tehran for finances and political directions.

               

Tehran’s strategic harmony with al-Qaeda and ISIS

Iran’s relationship with al-Qaeda and ISIS is actually more complex than it seems at first glance.

What is clear is that groups such as al-Qaeda and ISIS are not similar to Lebanese Hezbollah or Shiite militant groups in Iraq, that directly receive their orders from Tehran, like Asa’ib Ahl- Haq and Katai’b Hezbollah. But they are not adversaries either.  Rather, Iran and Sunni extremist groups, while having their differences, actually have much more in common. Their most important common denominator is their enmity towards the West, especially the US, and towards the Arab states.

In line with this strategy, the Iranian regime has never shied away from aiding and providing active cooperation, support, and logistics for Sunni fundamentalists such as al-Qaeda and ISIS, wherever and whenever it served Tehran’s interests. 

According to some assessments, al-Qaeda was established around 1988, stationed in Pakistan and the Afghan border area in the 1990s. With the Taliban’s rise to power in Afghanistan, it relocated its headquarters to Afghanistan.

Iran has collaborated with al-Qaeda covertly and often by proxy due to the latter's notorious reputation. This covert cooperation began in the early 1990's in Sudan, continued after al-Qaeda relocated to Afghanistan, and even manifested itself on Iranian soil before, during, and after the September 11 attacks.

The 9/11 Commission Report, the official report of the events leading up to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, has a section devoted exclusively to investigating Iranian ties to al-Qaeda.[16] It explains:

In late 1991 or 1992, discussions in Sudan between al-Qaeda and Iranian operatives led to an informal agreement to cooperate in providing support—even if only training—for actions carried out primarily against Israel and the United States. Not long afterward, senior al-Qaeda operatives and trainers travelled to Iran to receive training in explosives. In the fall of 1993, another such delegation went to the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon for further training in explosives as well as in intelligence and security. Bin Laden reportedly showed particular interest in learning how to use truck bombs such as the one that had killed 241 U.S. Marines in Lebanon in 1983. The relationship between al-Qaeda and Iran demonstrated that Sunni-Shiia divisions did not necessarily pose an insurmountable barrier to cooperation in terrorist operations.

The report pointed out:

Intelligence indicates the persistence of contacts between Iranian security officials and senior al-Qaeda figures after Bin Laden’s return to Afghanistan. Khallad (Tawfiq bin Attash) has said that Iran made a concerted effort to strengthen relations with al-Qaeda after the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole, but was rebuffed because Bin Laden did not want to alienate his supporters in Saudi Arabia. Khallad and other detainees have described the willingness of Iranian officials to facilitate the travel of al-Qaeda members through Iran, on their way to and from Afghanistan. For example, Iranian border inspectors would be told not to place telltale stamps in the passports of these travellers. Such arrangements were particularly beneficial to Saudi members of al-Qaeda.

The 9/11 Commission Report stated that evidence “suggested 8 to 10 of the 14 Saudi ‘muscle’ operatives travelled into or out of Iran between October 2000 and February 2001.”[17]

“In sum, there is strong evidence that Iran facilitated the transit of al-Qaeda members into and out of Afghanistan before 9/11, and that some of these were future 9/11 hijackers,” the report established.[18]

It is very telling that the report concluded that the relationship of Iran and Hezbollah with al-Qaeda and those who were implicated in 9/11 attack “requires further investigation by the U.S. government.”

 

Special role of Lebanese Hezbollah

The Lebanese Hezbollah has played a unique role in the Iranian regime’s terror apparatus. It has been useful not only in exporting the Islamic Republic's revolutionary ideology but also in providing Iran with a convenient terrorist proxy through which to operate with impunity.

For instance, in dealing with al-Qaeda, in some cases Iran was able to limit the risks of direct cooperation by engaging al-Qaeda through Hezbollah.

In 1992, bin Laden met Imad Mughniyeh, who was in charge of Hezbollah’s military affairs and was the mastermind of the 1983 bombing of the US barracks in Beirut. Apparently, that was the prelude to a meeting between bin Laden, Mughniyeh and IRGC Brigadier General Mohamad Bagher Zolghadr who was the Chief of Staff of the IRGC in Sudan in 1993. According to NCRI, that created the roadmap of cooperation between al-Qaeda and Hezbollah under the control of Tehran.

In the mid-1990s, senior al-Qaeda operatives negotiated a secret relationship between Osama bin Laden and Iran that allowed many al-Qaeda members safe transit through Iran to Afghanistan. Iranian border guards were instructed not to stamp their passports, presumably to prevent their home governments from suspecting that they had travelled to Afghanistan.[19]

Prior to the September 11 attacks, Iran, primarily through Hezbollah, provided al-Qaeda with critical training, explosives and logistical support.

 

U.S. Embassy in Nairobi-after the 1993 bombing

 

For the first time, on 7 August 1998, al-Qaeda successfully employed Iran-Hezbollah terrorist tactics to devastating effect. Al-Qaeda carried out two simultaneous suicide truck bombings outside the U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, killing 223 people and injuring thousands more.

On 28 November 2011, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia found that the bombings would not have been possible without “direct assistance” from Tehran as well as Sudan. “The government of Iran,” Judge John D. Bates wrote in his 45-page decision, “aided, abetted and conspired with Hezbollah, Osama bin Laden, and al-Qaeda to launch large-scale bombing attacks against the United States by utilizing the sophisticated delivery mechanism of powerful suicide truck bombs.” [20] The judgment added: “Prior to their meetings with Iranian officials and agents, bin Laden and al-Qaeda did not possess the technical expertise required to carry out the embassy bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. The Iranian defendants, through Hezbollah, provided explosives training to bin Laden and al-Qaeda and rendered direct assistance to al-Qaeda operatives.” [21]

The Council on Foreign Relations wrote on 6 June 2012: “Intelligence officials and terrorism experts also say that al-Qaeda has stepped up its cooperation on logistics and training with Hezbollah, a radical, Iran-backed Lebanese militia drawn from the minority Shiite strain of Islam.”[22]

 

Iran and al-Qaeda after 9/11 and US invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq

While Iran has constantly maintained contacts and relationships at various levels of Sunni extremist groups, it has also tried to conceal its relationship in order to prevent any liability. This became a more systematic modus operandi subsequent to 9/11 and the rising international concern and anxiety regarding extremism by Sunni groups.

In some cases, while Tehran played a key role in instigating terror and extremism, it also presented itself as a solution or meditator in the conflict. It is an undeniable fact that in Iraq the Iranian regime and ISIS were engaged in conflicts in various areas. However, by exaggerating and hyping these conflicts due to political objectives, the Iranian regime sought to depict itself as an ally of the West in the fight against ISIS, while Tehran’s main objective remained to strengthen and expand its sphere of influence in various parts of Iraq.

Regarding al-Qaeda, after the international community made the dissolution of al-Qaeda a top priority, Iran downplayed its ties to the organization and at times portrayed itself as al-Qaeda's enemy. On some occasions Iran even claimed that it would put the al-Qaeda members who were given sanctuary in Iran on trial. Not only did this not happen, but Iran never specified which members of al-Qaeda it was hosting.

It is a known fact that a large number of al-Qaeda leaders fled to Iran in 2001 after the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan. That included a number of bin Laden’s immediate family members and some of the most senior figures of al-Qaeda.  

The Iranian regime, via the IRGC's elite Quds Force, provided key members of al-Qaeda's leadership with safe haven to continue their terrorist operations and avoid arrest by international authorities.

Among those who went to Iran were the head of al-Qaeda’s Security Committee, Saif al-Adel and the head of al-Qaeda’s Training Sub-Section, Ahmad Abdallah Ahmad (alias Abu Muhammad al-Masri), Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah (CFO of al-Qaeda) and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (future Chief of al-Qaeda in Iraq). The group also came to include Osama bin Laden’s two sons Hamza and Saad bin Laden. Adel, described by some security analysts and experts on al-Qaeda as a “founding father,” is listed on the F.B.I.’s Most Wanted Terrorist list, and was indicted for the 1998 United States Embassy bombings in East Africa. Al-Qaeda operatives have described him as the organization’s operational boss.[23]

Ostensibly Iran held these al-Qaeda operatives under "house arrest," but in reality, al-Qaeda was using Iran as a base of operations under the protection of the Quds Force. One al-Qaeda member noted that there were several stages of restrictions, but in the end, it was “not really house arrest but rather a hospitality.”[24] Over the years, the Iranian regime would permit al-Qaeda use of its territory to plan terrorist attacks abroad as well as transit money, arms and fighters across the region.

According to U.S. and European intelligence officials, the Quds Force maintained ties with the al-Qaeda terrorist network since the early 1990s. According to these officials bin Laden's second-in-command, Ayman Zawahiri, used his decade-old relationship with IRGC Brigadier General Ahmad Vahidi, then commander of the Quds Force, to negotiate a safe haven for some of al-Qaeda's leaders who were trapped in the mountains of Tora Bora, Afghanistan, in 2001.[25]

The Quds Force is "a state within a state, and that is why they are able to offer protection to al-Qaeda," one European intelligence analyst said. “The Force's senior leaders have long-standing ties to al-Qaeda, and, since the fall of Afghanistan, have provided some al-Qaeda leaders with travel documents and safe haven."[26]

In a report that was published by “The Atlantic” on 11 November 2017, Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark established that al-Qaeda has rebuilt itself with the help of Iran.[27]

The conclusion was based on new evidence, including interviews with senior al-Qaeda members and Osama bin Laden’s family, gathered by the authors over the past five years. 

The report detailed how on 19 December 2001, Mahfouz Ibn el Waleed, an Islamic scholar from Mauritania, boarded a bus in Quetta, in the Pakistani province of Baluchistan, heading for Taftan, the official border crossing into Iran. At Osama bin Laden’s side for a decade prior to 2001, Mahfouz had become a pivotal figure on al-Qaeda’s leadership council and the head of its sharia (legal) committee. When he began his journey to Taftan, he was on the UN Security Council’s sanctions list, and was wanted by the FBI for questioning about his involvement in managing the logistics for the 1998 attacks on U.S. embassies in East Africa. Mahfouz hoped, as his bus headed for the Iranian border, to persuade Iranian agents to offer a more permanent sanctuary to al-Qaeda’s leaders and bin Laden’s family. Mahfouz had been to the Persian Gulf before, sent there by bin Laden in 1995 to win military support for al-Qaeda. Mahfouz had first visited Iraq, where Saddam Hussein had rejected his request; however, in Iran, according to Mahfouz, the Quds Force was sympathetic. On the table was an offer of advanced military training, with al-Qaeda fighters invited in 1995 to attend a camp run by Hezbollah and sponsored by the Iranian Quds force in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley.

On 20 December 2001 Mahfouz, travelling with a forged document was greeted on the Iranian side by agents from the Ansar ul-Mahdi Corps, an elite cell within the Quds Quds Force.  He eventually won an audience in Tehran with Qasem Soleimani. [28]

The Quds Force gave a green light to the sanctuary plan in 2002. The Mauritanian contacted the remnants of al-Qaeda’s council in Baluchistan, Pakistan. The first to be sent over were al-Qaeda wives and daughters, along with hundreds of low-level volunteers who were escorted to Tehran.

The next wave came early in the summer of 2002, when high-ranking al-Qaeda leaders arrived in Iran intending to stay and galvanize the outfit. They were marshalled by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who would form al-Qaeda in Iraq, the forerunner to ISIS. The first to come was Saif al-Adel. He was accompanied by fellow Egyptian and al-Qaeda council member Abu Mohammed al-Masri—whose papers identified him as Daoud Shirizi—a former professional soccer player who was also wanted by the FBI for involvement in the 1998 embassy attacks. Joining them was Abu Musab al-Suri, one of the most important strategic voices in the movement. Immediately, a re-formed al-Qaeda military council planned its first attack from within Iran, according to Mahfouz, striking three residential compounds, housing foreign workers in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, which killed 35 people, including nine Americans, on 12 May 2003.[29]

Senior US officials said the US had intercepted communications strongly suggesting that a cell of al-Qaeda leaders in Iran directed the attack. [30]

A senior US official told the New York Times on 21 May 2003 that the United States had ''rock-hard intelligence'' that at least a dozen Qaeda members, had been ''directing some operations from Iran.'' [31]

Mahfouz, certain the pact was holding, then called for bin Laden’s family.

By 2006, the outfit had rebounded, and bin Laden’s family decided to try to reach him, wherever he was hiding in Pakistan, against the wishes of the Iranians.[32]

Over the years Iran gradually dispatched the al-Qaeda senior officials to Iraq and other Arab countries to launch terrorist factions. Scores of these individuals ended up in Syria and Iraq leading extremist groups.

In 2015 Iran released five senior members of al-Qaeda, including Saif al-Adel who apparently stepped in to serve as the group’s interim leader immediately after Osama bin Laden’s death and who is the subject of a $5 million bounty. Iran’s release of the five men was part of a prisoner swap in March with al-Qaeda’s branch in Yemen, the group holding an Iranian diplomat, Nour Ahmad Nikbakht. Nikbakht was kidnapped in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa in July 2013.[33]

CNN reported on 11 March 2013, “… For al-Qaeda's operatives, life in Iran was more secure than for many of their colleagues in Pakistan who risked capture by Pakistani forces working with the CIA or death by CIA drones.”[34]

Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal, former intelligence chief and ambassador to the United States, in a piece published by al-Sharq al-Awsat on 12 January 2015 pointed out that subsequent to the 9/11 attack and the invasion of Afghanistan, the Iranian regime allowed various al-Qaeda leaders to flee to Iran and provided them with a safe haven. In 2003 the Iranian regime allowed a number of al-Qaeda leaders to go from Iran to Iraq where they formed ‘al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia’.[35]

According to Seth G. Jones, writing in Foreign Affairs on 29 January 2012: “Over the past several years, al Qaeda has taken a beating in Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, the Horn of Africa, and North Africa… But the group's outpost in Iran has remained almost untouched for the past decade…. Around October 2001, the Government dispatched a delegation to Afghanistan to guarantee the safe travel of operatives and their families to Iran…. By 2002, al-Qaeda had established in Iran its ’management council,’ a body that bin Laden reportedly tasked with providing strategic support to the organization’s leaders in Pakistan. According to Jones’ assessment “Perhaps more disturbing, Iran appears willing to expand its limited relationship with al-Qaeda,” and “today, Iran is still an important al-Qaeda hub.”[36]

Bin Laden’s letters also shed light on the group’s ties to Iran.

On 20 May 2015, and 1 March 2016, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) released a number of documents that were obtained during the raid on bin Laden’s home in Abbottabad in 2011. Among the documents, there was a 2007 letter by bin Laden to a terrorist named “Karim.” In it bin Laden explained the group’s relationship with Iran.  “Iran is our main artery for funds, personnel, and communication, as well as the matter of hostages…There is no need to fight with Iran unless you are forced to,” bin Laden wrote. He strongly advised against any attack on Iran.

Another bin Laden letter explains how al-Qaeda members sought refuge in Iran after 9/11. In a message to Sheikh Abu Muhammad he says, “Following the September 11 attacks…they entered Iran swiftly through various routes and not through the official gates. A month later, other brothers joined with their families…[37]

 

Requests from US to swap opposition members with al-Qaeda leaders

During a May 2003 meeting between senior Iranian officials and their American counterparts, the Iranians proposed exchanging al-Qaeda leaders for leaders of the main Iranian opposition group, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) who were in Camp Ashraf, Iraq under US protection.  Zalmay Khalilzad, the former US Ambassador to Iraq, Afghanistan, and the UN, was in the meeting and explained in his book, that Iranians aired the possibility “of a direct exchange — MEK leaders for al-Qaeda leaders.”[38]

A former senior US intelligence official who spoke on condition of anonymity told to NBC News on 24 June, 2005 “several general offers were made through third parties, not all of them diplomatic.”[39]

The US administration rejected the notion and then shut down the diplomatic channel that month after it linked the terrorist attack in Riyadh to al-Qaeda leaders in Iran.

 

U.S. acknowledgement of Iran - al Qaeda relationship in recent years

  • On 28 July 2011, the U.S. Department of the Treasury “announced the designation of six members of an al-Qaeda network headed by Ezedin Abdel Aziz Khalil, a prominent Iran-based al-Qaeda facilitator, operating under an agreement between al-Qaeda and the Iranian government. Today’s action, taken pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13224, demonstrates that Iran is a critical transit point for funding to support al-Qaeda’s activities in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This network serves as the core pipeline through which al-Qaeda moves money, facilitators and operatives from across the Middle East to South Asia.”[40]

 

  • At the same time, the US Treasury provided evidence of an extensive fund-raising operation that draws from donors in Persian Gulf countries such as Kuwait and Qatar and uses Iran-based al-Qaeda operatives. Six al-Qaeda members were sanctioned for overseeing this network. The U.S. offered up to a $10 million reward for information leading to Khalil.
  • On 16 February 2012, the US Treasury announced the designation of the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS), Iran's primary intelligence organization, for its support of terrorist groups as well as its central role in perpetrating human rights abuses against the citizens of Iran and its role in supporting the Syrian regime as it continues to commit human rights abuses against the people of Syria.[41]

“Today we have designated the MOIS for abusing the basic human rights of Iranian citizens and exporting its vicious practices to support the Syrian regime’s abhorrent crackdown on its own population,” said Under-Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen. “In addition, we are designating the MOIS for its support to terrorist groups, including al Qa’ida, al Qa’ida in Iraq, Hezbollah and Hamas, again exposing the extent of Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism as a matter of Iranian state policy.”[42]

 

  • On 18 October 2012, the US Treasury further exposed the Iran-based al-Qaeda network, designating Adel Radi Saqr al-Wahabi al-Harbi (al-Harbi), a key member of an al-Qaeda network operating in Iran under the leadership of Muhsin al-Fadhli (al-Fadhli).  The Treasury Department underscored that Iran continued to allow al-Qaeda to operate a core pipeline that moves money and fighters through Iran to support al-Qaeda activities in South Asia.  This network also sends funding and fighters to Syria. David S. Cohen said the Iran-based funding and facilitation network was critically important for al-Qaeda.[43]

 

  • The U.S. government again revealed Iran’s collaboration with al-Qaeda on 20 July 2016.  The Treasury Department blacklisted three members of al-Qaeda living in Iran, saying they had helped the group. The US Treasury found that Yisra Muhammad Ibrahim Bayumi had mediated with Iranian authorities as of early 2015 and helped al-Qaeda members living in Iran. Bayumi has been residing in Iran since 2014 and had been able to facilitate al-Qaeda financial transfers in 2015, suggesting he had some freedom to operate since moving to Iran. Abu Bakr Muhammad Ghumayn had control of the group’s financing and organization inside Iran as of 2015.[44]

 

  • In its 2015 “Country Reports on Terrorism “the U.S. State Department wrote that “Iran remained unwilling to bring to justice senior al-Qa’ida (AQ) members it continued to detain and refused to publicly identify the members in its custody. Iran previously allowed AQ facilitators to operate a core facilitation pipeline through Iran since at least 2009, enabling AQ to move funds and fighters to South Asia and Syria.”[45]

Al-Qaeda in Iraq and relations with Tehran

Following the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, Iran also provided a safe haven to al-Qaeda operative Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who went on to establish al-Qaeda in Iraq, an al-Qaeda offshoot that would later evolve into ISIS. 

Zarqawi, a terrorist who gained notoriety for his unmatched brutality and ruthlessness, was a close associate of bin Laden. He initially operated under the protection of the IRGC and its elite Quds Force. After spending some time in Iran, with the help of Iran in general and the Quds Force in particular, he went to Iraq and established al-Qaeda in Iraq.

IRGC support for al-Qaeda in Iraq included money, weapons, and most importantly leaving the borders open for operatives passing from Iran to Iraq. According to intelligence officials, the time Zarqawi spent in Iran was crucial for rebuilding his network before relocating to Iraq.

In a 125-page report dated 6 September 2004, the German Federal Criminal Investigation Bureau (BKA) described how in early 2002, Zarqawi set up new camps and safe houses in Zahedan, Isfahan and Tehran with the knowledge of Iranian authorities. Iran thus became a hub in Zarqawi's fast-growing network stretching from the northern Caucasus to Syria, Turkey and into Europe, with forged passports, money and fresh instructions channelled in all directions.[46]

According to intelligence obtained by the network of the Iranian opposition, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran in 2005, Zarqawi had several highly secure safe houses in Iran including one in the Nivaran area of northern Tehran.  That area had very tight security.

Zarqawi also maintained multiple phone numbers under assumed names, for use in different areas of the country.

Zarqawi was killed on 7 June 2006 in an airstrike by the coalition forces. His work led to the establishment of the Islamic State, currently led by Ibrahim Awad Ibrahim al-Badri, widely known as Abu Bakr al Baghdadi.

In an interview on November 2015 John Kerry, then US Secretary of State, said: “ISIS was created by Assad releasing 1,500 prisoners from jail and Maliki releasing 1,000 people in Iraq who were put together as a force of terror… as an effort to help Assad, so that he could say, ‘It’s me or the terrorists.’” [47] This happening as both Maliki and Assad were under Tehran’s complete control, indicates the fact that points squarely at Tehran’s role in the establishment of ISIS.

 


 

Conclusion and Policy Recommendations

While Iran’s role in consistently supporting and nurturing extremist Shiite proxies has been established, there is also growing evidence that Tehran has been actively and systematically supporting Sunni terrorist groups.

While differences between Sunnis and Shiites are indisputable, Tehran has not allowed these to affect its policies but has established specific entities to accommodate the needs of these groups in line with the regime’s ominous goals. The IRGC Quds Force is the key instrument of these objectives and Lebanese Hezbollah contributes to them as well, being under the control of the IRGC.

Tehran has pursued its objectives cunningly over the years, at times depicting itself as a “partner” in combating terror, even while it remains the key instigator of the same.

Although it has been little noticed, al-Qaeda has maintained relations with Tehran and the IRGC Quds Force since the early 1990s. Tehran’s role in providing support and safe havens to al-Qaeda expanded after 11 September 2001. This support has been a key factor in helping al-Qaeda to rebuild itself. 

New evidence suggests that Tehran’s role in supporting and enabling al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda in Iraq (the forerunner of ISIS) has been under-estimated.

In other words, it is becoming evident that the policy of exporting extremism has been a matter of statecraft for Tehran, which has made itself the epicentre of Islamic fundamentalism. This policy has been established and developed at the highest levels of the Iranian regime, with the support of all political factions.

Given the prominence of terrorist sponsorship in the Iranian regime’s objectives, more efforts must be made to challenge it. The following policy recommendations may help:

 1.      World powers that are combating Islamic extremism and the terrorism that emanates from it should emphasize the peculiar role of the Iranian regime. This has to be articulated and addressed publicly without any political consideration.

2.      Expansive sanctions should be imposed on the IRGC in its entirety and on Hezbollah. There has to be a comprehensive campaign to identify, expose, and punish all trading partners of the IRGC and Hezbollah throughout the world.

 3.      The U.S., Europe and all civilized states should act in unison to expel all of the Iranian regime’s agents of terror from their territory.

 4.      The IRGC, Hezbollah and all other Tehran proxies should be removed from countries in the region, in particular from Syria.

 


European Iraqi Freedom Association (EIFA)

Founded on 4 April 2014, EIFA is a non-governmental and non-profit organisation based in Brussels           

President: Struan Stevenson, was a member of the European Parliament representing Scotland (1999-2014), President of the Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with Iraq (2009-14) and Chairman of Friends of a Free Iran Intergroup (caucus) (2004-14). He is an international lecturer on the Middle East.

Members of the board: Giulio Terzi, Former Foreign Minister of Italy; Ryszard Czarnecki, Vice-President of the European Parliament; Alejo Vidal-Quadras, Former Vice President of the European Parliament (1999-2014); Stephen Hughes, Former Vice-President of S&D Group in European Parliament (2009-2014); Lord Carlile of Berriew, QC; Paulo Casaca, Middle East Expert, former MEP (1999-2009); Kimmo Sasi, former President of the Nordic Council (Finland);

Honorary Members: Tariq al-Hashimi, former Vice President of Iraq; Sid Ahmed Ghozali, Former Prime Minister of Algeria

 

 eu-iraq.org                                                      /EuIraq                                                           @EuIraq

 



[1] Henry Kissinger, “The Next Steps With Iran”, The Washington Post, 31 July 2006

[2] On 1 November 2017, the CIA released to the public nearly 470,000 additional files recovered in the May 2011 raid on Osama Bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Documents included new information on the relations between Iran and al-Qaeda.

[3] The trove of documents recovered from Bin Laden’s compound in 2011 that was released to the public by the US Government on 1 November 2017 included one never-before-seen 19-page document containing assessment of the group’s relationship with Iran by a senior official of al-Qaeda. Here is a link to the original document in Arabic that was provided by longwarjournal.org. Short link: goo.gl/sHLnwV

 

[4]Hokumat-i Eslami” or “Islamic Government”, is a book by Khomeini where he set the theoretical basis of the regime he later established in Iran. The book originated in a series of lectures given at Najaf, Iraq between 21 January and 8 February 1970. He articulated the concept of velāyat-e faqīh, or the absolute rule of the clergy in the book.

[5] Jonathan Schanzer, “At war with whom? A short history of radical Islam”, Middle East Forum, Spring, 2002 Schanzer was a counterterrorism analyst for the Office of Intelligence and Analysis at the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

[7] Exclusive interview of Javad Mansouri (the first commander of the IRGC in 1979 and the deputy minister of foreign affairs in 1981) with the Quarterly Journal of Ramze Obour, 20 June 2016

[8] Undated 9-pages long hand-written letter of Mehdi Hashemi, to Ayatollah Montazeri, on the official letterhead of the Islamic Republic of Iran-Global Islamic Movement. The letter was written in early 1980s. Hashemi fell from the grace later on and was sentenced to death by a Special Clerical Court. He was executed in Tehran in September 1987.

[9] Mohammad Mohaddessin, “Islamic Fundamentalism, The New Global Threat”, Seven Locks Press, Washington, DC, 1993.

[10] The National Council of Resistance of Iran, the coalition of Iranian democratic opposition: www.ncr-iran.org

[11] Letter of PM Mir Hossein Mousavi, to President Ali Khamenei on 5 September 1988. Excerpts of the letter has been translated for this report. The letter was the attachment of Mousavi’s letter of resignation. This letter in which Mousavi explains his reasoning for resignations, was not public. It was disclosed at a later date. Khomeini rejected Mousavi’s resignation and asked him to stay at his post.

[12] Ibid. Letter of Mehdi Hashemi, to Ayatollah Montazeri

[15] “Islamic Fundamentalism, the New Global Threat”, was one of the first places that the existence of the Quds Force was exposed. In this book, Mohaddessin stated that the Quds Force, as an “International Islamic Army” was incepted in 1990 and included the Guards Corps’ most experienced commanding officers and personnel.

[17] Opcit

[18] Opcit

[19] Matthew Levitt and Michael Jacobson, “The Iran-al-Qaeda Conundrum”, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 23 January 2009

[20] Marc Thiessen, “Iran responsible for 1998 U.S. embassy bombings,” The Washington Post, 8 December 2011

[23] Rukmini Callimachi and Eric Schmitt, “Iran released top members of Al Qaeda in a trade,” The New York Times, 17 September 2015

[24] “Al Qaeda Alliance against the US”, United Against Nuclear Iran

[25] Dana Priest and Douglas Farah, “Iranian force has long ties to Al Qaeda,” The Washington Post, 14 October 2003

[26] Opcit

[27] Adrian Levy and Cathy scot-Clark, “Al-Qaeda has rebuilt itself- With Iran’s help,” The Atlantic, 11 November 2017

[28] Opcit

[29] Opcit

[30] Justine Blau “Iran A Safe Haven For Al Qaeda?”, CBS, 18 May 2003

[31] Douglas Jehl and Eric Schmit, “US suggests a Qaeda cell in Iran directed Saudi bombings,” The New York Times, 21 May 2003

[32] Adrian Levy and Cathy scot-Clark, “Al-Qaeda has rebuilt itself- With Iran’s help,” The Atlantic, 11 November 2017

[33] Rukmini Callimachi and Eric Schmitt, “Iran released top members of Al Qaeda in a trade,” The New York Times, 17 September 2015

[34] Peter Bergen, “Strange bedfellows -- Iran and al Qaeda?”, CNN, 11 March 2013

[35] Turki al-Faisal, Pan Arabic daily, Asharq Al-Awsat, 12 January 2015

[36] Seth G. Jones, “Al Qaeda in Iran, Why Tehran is Accommodating the Terrorist Group”, Foreign Affairs, 29 January 2012

[37] Catherine Philp, “Bin Laden’s letter saved Tehran from Isis terror” The Times, 8 June 2017

[38] Michael Gordon, “U.S. conferred with Iran before Iraq invasion, book says,” The New York Times, 6 March 2016

[39] Robert Windrem,  “al-Qaeda finds safe haven in Iran”, Dateline NBC, 24 June 2005

[40] Treasury Targets Key Al-Qa’ida Funding and Support Network Using Iran as a Critical Transit Point, US Department of Treasury, 28 July 2011

[41]  Treasury Designates Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security for Human Rights Abuses and Support for Terrorism, US Department of the Treasury, 16 February 2012

[42] Opcit

[43] Treasury Further Exposes Iran-Based Al-Qa'ida Network, US Department of the Treasury, 18 October 2012

[44] Treasury Designates Three Senior Al-Qaida Members, US Department of the Treasury, 20 July 2016

[45] Country Reports on Terrorism 2015, State Sponsors of Terrorism Overview, US Department of State

[46] Urs Gehriger, “Abu Musab al-Zarqawi: From green man to guru”, signandsight.com, 11 September 2005

[47] John Kerry interview with Gregory Palkot of Fox News, US State Department, 17 November 2015

 

ISIS just lost its last town in Iraq Friday, 17 November 2017 21:39

In 2014, ISIS controlled around 34,000 square miles of territory in Iraq and Syria. As of Friday, ISIS lost its last stronghold in Iraq.

That’s because on Friday morning Iraqi troops and US-led coalition forces retook Rawa — a small town in northwestern Iraq — after about five hours of fighting. ISIS has now effectively lost all of its territory in Iraq, even though some of the group’s militants still operate in the country’s western rural areas near the border with Syria.

Now that Iraq’s flag hangs over Rawa once more, Brett McGurk, President Donald Trump’s diplomatic envoy for the US-led coalition, congratulated the Iraqi fighters on Twitter and announced that the “days of [ISIS’s] phony ‘caliphate’ are coming to an end.” Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi also praised his forces, noting how quickly they retook the town.

The Pentagon says the US has around 5,300 troops tasked with helping the Iraqi military fight ISIS, usually by training its troops, gathering intelligence, and conducting airstrikes.

It’s a big moment for Iraq, as retaking Rawa has essentially ended ISIS governance in its country after three long and brutal years of fighting. But that doesn’t mean that anyone can relax just yet. If anything, the ISIS threat is morphing.

ISIS isn’t defeated yet

It’s more than likely that ISIS will continue to plague Iraq, Syria, and much of the world, even as it loses land.

Just a day ago, when asked about ISIS, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said that “anyone who thinks they're down is premature.”

Hassan Hassan, a Middle East security expert at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, wrote in the National on November 15 that ISIS is already beginning to redefine itself. The group is shifting from governing territory to quickly striking Iraqi towns and cities. The strategy, Hassan notes, is to begin “a war of attrition to deplete its enemy through a ceaseless and incessant campaign of terror and hit-and-run attacks.”

ISIS may carry this strategy forward into Syria, too. The group lost the capital of its so-called caliphate, Raqqa, in October, but it still controls parts of urban areas in eastern Syria. As the US-led coalition tries to remove ISIS from that territory, it could use terror tactics to try to ward off the US-led coalition.

As my colleague Yochi Dreazen notes, ISIS may turn into more of an idea as it loses more territory. That idea may continue to inspire ISIS followers in various countries to stage attacks — especially in Europe and the United States. The attack in New York City this month, which killed eight people and injured 11, was believed to have been inspired by ISIS. It only underlined how hard it will be to prevent similar attacks by an individual encouraged by ISIS propaganda.

So while it’s worth celebrating the military defeat of ISIS in Iraq, it doesn’t mean the fight against the group is over.

Source: Vox

Proposed changes to Iraq’s personal status law caused protests because they drop the legal age of marriage to 9. Even worse, the changes come at the same time as an ongoing erosion in women’s status in Iraqi society.

 On October 30, Iraq’s parliament made a decision that stirred up much anger around the country. They agreed to make amendments to the country’s personal status law in principle. The proposed changes have been a subject of controversy for years but this time it seems that politicians may finally be getting their way.

In many Muslim countries, issues like divorce, custody of children and marriage are ruled by religious law, or Sharia. However in 1959, the Iraqi government passed a new personal status law, based on the law of the land that treated all sects and ethnicities equally. This is Law Number 188 and it is still in effect today, with rulings on related issues made by government-run courts.

As Germany’s Heinrich Boell foundation has reported, the current Iraqi law is based on religious rules but it took a more liberal approach.

“It restricts child marriages (by setting the legal age of marriage at 18 years), bans forced marriages and restricts polygamy; it curtails men’s prerogatives in divorce, expands women’s rights in divorce, extends child custody to mothers, and improves inheritance rights for women,” the foundation has stated. “It remains one of the most liberal laws in the Arab world with respect to women’s rights.”

The latter quality is something that many modern Iraqis have been proud of. Hence the uproar when news broke about the agreement to amend the personal status law.

Those amendments have been a long time coming. Shortly after the regime headed by former Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein, was removed by a US-led invasion, the new Iraqi government stated its intention to change Law 188 and to reinstate religious courts on a sectarian basis – that is, cases would be heard by either a Sunni or Shiite Muslim court, depending on the sect of those using the law. Ever since 2004, protests by civil society organisations have managed to prevent this.

But it seems that this time the politicians may be able to make the changes they have sought for so long – even though it seems that any actual amendments will be a far longer time coming.

“There are serious constitutional and legal violations in this desire of the Islamic parties to amend the law,” one Iraqi MP, Shuruq al-Abaji, told NIQASH.

She points out that Article 41 of the Iraqi Constitution guarantees that Iraqis are free to choose personal status according to their religious beliefs, sects or other choices. Before the amendments can be made to the personal status law, this article would need to be changed, al-Abaji insists.

And there is another legal issue, the politician notes. The proposed new personal status law would refer issues of marriage, divorce, custody and inheritance to the religious endowment authorities – these are the bodies tasked with running and maintaining Shiite or Sunni mosques and shrines and they are very important institutions within their own sectarian communities. But, as al-Abaji argues, that violates not just the principle of the separation of powers but also human rights and international laws around women’s rights.

“The organization of these issues should be the responsibility of the courts and not the executive branch of Sunni or Shiite religious orders,” al-Abaji concludes.

Iraq’s original personal status law and the proposed amendments could not be more different. The first one grants mothers the right to custody and gives wives the right to inherit their husband’s estate. Meanwhile religious jurisprudence tends to say the custody of children is a matter for the father and that women do not have the right to inherit real estate or land.

However these were not even the issues that really riled Iraqis up. The change that most angered locals was the one related to legal marriageable age. Civil law says a couple should be aged at least 18 in order to marry. Meanwhile religious law says puberty means a female is of marriageable age. In some cases, this is considered to be nine years old, in others 12 years old.

“The newly proposed law encourages the marriage of minors and reminds us most of the way that the [extremist group] Islamic State behaved with young girls, how the organisation forced them to marry group members when they were in control in Mosul and Raqqa,” says MP Rizan al-Sheik Daleer.

Once again, civil society and women’s rights organisations rallied around to protests the changes in the law. Many Iraqis on social media used the hashtag #NoToUnderageMarriages and a number of Facebook pages were created to organize the protests and garner support.

The change in law also comes at a time when women’s rights appear to be being eroded in Iraq, many of the activists believe.

“Islamic parties’ attempts to pass this new personal status law comes at the same time as a decline in the female role in Iraqi politics,” states Hanaa Edwar, the influential head of the Al Amal (Hope) civil society organization. “In 2004 women occupied a fair few of the positions in government but their numbers have decreased dramatically over the past 10 years. It’s a serious indication that male chauvinism is on the rise in Iraq.”

In the first Iraqi government after the fall of Saddam Hussein, there were six female ministers. Currently there are only two – the minister of health and the minister of housing. There were eight deputy ministers in 2005 but in 2013, only one.

When the Iraqi parliament elected a new oversight commission for elections last month, for the first time ever there was no woman on it. In 2005, when the commission was first formed there were two.

At one stage the staffs of the ministries of finance, education and health were around half female. But their numbers have dropped a lot over the past few years. Three months ago parliament refused to vote on measures impacting the Federal Public Service Council, which regulates the affairs of the federal public service, including appointment and promotion, because of the fact that the president and deputy are independent women, according to Edwar. Male MPs have also refused to vote on a bill on domestic violence for years, she added.

All of this should be a wakeup call, Edwar argues, when it comes to the role of Iraqi women in their own society.

“Men occupy all the high-ranking positions and they reject the laws that might support women,” Edwar notes. “If there were no quotas in place that require that females make up 25 percent of parliament and provincial councils, things would be even worse.”

Source: Globalresearch.ca

Iran’s Greatest Challenge is Homegrown Tuesday, 07 November 2017 18:43

The prospect of potential domestic unrest has hit a raw nerve in Iran.

Iran has long been a formidable regional force. It has projected its power by backing Shia militias, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon or Hashd al-Shaabi in Iraq, or Sunni groups such as Hamas in Palestine, thereby engaging in a proxy war strategy throughout the Middle East. However, since the independence referendum held in Iraqi Kurdistan on September 25, Iran has become decidedly more explicit in flaunting its involvement in attempting to control the latest regional tensions developing in Iraq between Baghdad and Erbil.

The flash point of this conflict began in Kirkuk when Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Iranian Quds force (the foreign wing of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, IRGC), made his presence there public in October, defiantly demonstrating Iran’s influence in Iraq to America. Following the capture of Kirkuk by Shia militias and Iraqi forces, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei’s photo was promptly displayed in the newly deposed governor’s office. In a final show of defiance, after US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told Shia militants in Kirkuk to “go home,” Qais al-Khazali, leader of Iran-funded Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia, told America to prepare to withdraw its troops from Iraq.

Two particular events that directly targeted the Iranian regime’s weak spot and potentially destabilizing factor — popular unrest at best and uprising at worst — triggered Tehran’s increasingly assertive and confrontational stance. Iran fears domestic unrest because, while it has successfully spread its power abroad by empowering Shia parties and militias, internally it has achieved control through severe repression of both its ethnic minorities and dissident political voices.

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The first event came in the form of President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speeches at the UN General Assembly in September, in which both made overtures to the Iranian people. Trump spoke of “the Iranian regime’s longest-suffering victims: its own people.” Netanyahu declared to the “people of Iran: You are not our enemy; you are our friends.” He then put on a full charm offensive and repeated his advance in Farsi: “Shoma doosteh ma hasteed” (You are our friends). He went on to say that “One day, my Iranian friends, you will be free from the evil regime that terrorizes you, hangs gays, jails journalists, tortures political prisoners… .” Both speeches were accompanied by warnings of Iran’s growing power that must be curbed. This insinuates an interesting strategic change of policy that involves targeting the Iranian regime’s fear of destabilization through internal revolt.

The second event was the unexpected mass support of the Iranian Kurds for Iraqi Kurds’ independence referendum that caught most off guard. Before the results were even announced, the sheer number and speed at which hundreds of thousands of Kurds gathered throughout the Kurdish cities of Iran to celebrate was astonishing. Iranian Kurds defied a repressive regime in a way that had not occurred since the Islamic Revolution. The crackdown was prompt, with anti-riot forces and tanks being sent into Kurdish cities, and over 700 civilians detained. The Mahabad Republic of 1946 — the first attempt at an independent Kurdish state — still haunts the Iranian regime, which is now alarmed by the unity Iran’s Kurds have demonstrated with their Iraqi neighbors. What is more, this civilian outpouring if support was followed by political solidarity from the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDKI) and Komala, as well as military support from Kurdistan Freedom Party (PAK, Iran’s Kurdish militia) that has been fighting in Iraqi Kurdistan in post-referendum confrontations.

The events that occurred in the Kurdish regions of Iran received scant media attention, and when they did, they were demonstratively downplayed. This was the case during a panel discussion organized by The Washington Institute at the end of September, during which it was suggested that only 1,000 people protested, and that the demonstration was fairly irrelevant and easy to contain. The reality on the ground was conspicuously different, and Tehran’s heavy-handed response is an indication of the regime’s angst regarding its minorities.

Iran will go to great lengths to suppress the Kurds, as, despite being an ethnically diverse country in which 40% to 50% of the population is non-Persian, its minorities have been historically repressed. The repression faced by ethnic and religious minorities is widespread, ranging from discrimination, persecution and economic and cultural marginalization, to torture and mass executions in front of relatives after show trials lasting no more than 15 minutes. At times, this has led to unrest. For instance, in 2006, the Azeri minority held large protests and burned down government buildings after a cartoon portrayed them as cockroaches, with hundreds of protestors were arrested as a result.

More recently, in early September 2017, large protests erupted in Kurdish cities following the killing of two Kurdish men by Iranian security forces at the border. These protests were met with tear gas and gunfire, with hundreds arrested.

The Kurds are becoming increasingly restive, threatening the status quo. It is important to bear in mind that the extent of the repressions, executions and silencing that the Kurds face in Iran is such that they are known as the “forgotten Kurds.” It is therefore a common error to underestimate the threat they represent in the eyes of the Iranian regime as their discontent rises.

SIMMERING DISCONTENT

Trump’s recent decision to decertify the Iran nuclear deal and to introduce sanctions against the IRGC under a terrorism financing executive order has received significant media attention and is undeniably part of the reason why Iran is reacting in open defiance to America by showing that it ultimately holds sway over Iraq — an undoubtedly bitter pill for the US to swallow. However, it seems that the recent external and internal tribulations have hit a raw nerve in Tehran.

Indeed, whilst many in Iran do support the regime, many do not. For example, in response to the IRGC designation as a terrorist organization, Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif launched a Twitter call of national unity with the IRGC, which was not a resounding success. The social media response demonstrated that many Iranians view the IRGC as an organization that terrorizes its own people. It is noteworthy that many Iranian voices that dissented on Twitter are based inside Iran and not just in the wider diaspora, which is in itself a significant sign of defiance to the regime.

In its attempt to rally popular support behind the IRGC, the regime attempted to create a semblance of overt national cohesion in response to outside pressures precisely because it knows very well that a large proportion of its population does not endorse the regime. Suffice to remember the 2009 Green Movement that erupted in mass protests after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s contested reelection. The repression was brutal, but it was also a clear indication of simmering discontent throughout Iranian society.

Activists from ethnic minorities were also involved in the Green Movement but were soon disenchanted as the leaders were reluctant to support minority rights, which are viewed as having separatist undertones. Ironically, President Hassan Rouhani was elected on the joint promise of achieving a nuclear deal and civil rights reform, including fair trials for ethnic minorities and Green Movement leaders. Yet today the human rights situation in Iran has deteriorated even further past the levels of Ahmadinejad’s presidency, according to Ahmed Shaheed, former UN special rapporteur. Consequently, domestic tensions and discontent may well continue to rise as Rouhani’s promises of reforms are not being met.

Iran knows that its most concerning weakness and challenge lies in domestic, not foreign, destabilization. It has therefore resorted to taking a much more openly aggressive stance in asserting its power in the region as its long-term challengers — Israel, America and its own Kurdish minority — have apparently turned to more openly seeking to gaud Iran’s weakest point.

Source: Fair Observer

What Next For Kurdistan? Friday, 03 November 2017 09:46

The independence referendum in the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) of Iraq has resulted in a tumultuous aftermath that recalls the old adage that the Kurds have no friends but the mountains. Reaction by all neighbors, including the central Iraqi government in Baghdad, has been harsh. Iraqi, Iranian, and Turkish-backed forces have occupied Kurdish areas in the month following the referendum. KRG president Masoud Barzani is stepping down. But the referendum has brought attention to the Kurdish cause and exposed the machinations of neighbors with large Kurdish populations, particularly Iran.  It may lead, unexpectedly, to U.S. recognition that an independent Kurdistan is actually a plus for stability and American interests in the region.

Barzani decided on June 7 to hold an independence referendum to secede from Iraq. Almost all political parties in the KRG supported the referendum decision except for the change movement (Gorran) and Kurdistan Islamic Group (Komal). The referendum was held on September 25th despite objections from Baghdad, the neighbors, and the rest of the international community including the United States and Britain. In fact, the only country that supported the referendum openly was Israel. Despite such opprobrium and attempts to halt the vote, independence was favored by 92.7 percent of the electorate.

The central government of Baghdad all along was threatening the Kurdistan regional government, as did Turkey, Syria, and in particularly Iran. These neighboring countries have large and significant Kurdish populations and fear that if the Kurdistan region of Iraq becomes independent, their Kurdish population would demand the same.

What Iran Fears

Iran fears an independent Kurdistan, because it might influence its 7 million Iranian Kurds to aspire to secede from Iran. Before the referendum took place, Iran tried to persuade the KRG to postpone the referendum, and when that did not work, they tried hard to divide the Kurdish house.

In July, they invited to Tehran Jalal Talabani, the former president of Iraq who died just eight days after the referendum, and still then the leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), one of the two most powerful political parties in the KRG. The Iranians called the visit friendly, although Talabani had had a stroke, was hospitalized for more then five years, and lost the ability to communicate. Second, Iran invited the PUK politburo to Tehran to persuade them to support the idea of postponing or canceling the referendum. That attempt did not worked either; the deputy PUK leader Kosrat Rasul refused the request.

Plainly, Iran fears Kurdish unity. In 2014, for example, ISIS attacked Iraqi Kurdistan and Kurds all around the Middle East fought side by side to defend Kurdish homelands including Iranian Kurdish peshmerga forces of the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDKI) and Komala (two main Kurdish political opposition in Iran). Iran demanded that these Iranian peshmerga forces would not be allowed to fight ISIS and gain battle experience. Because of the sensitivity of the situation, KRG agreed and did not allow the PDKI peshmerga to help them in the fight against ISIS. Afterwards, in spring 2016 the PDKI decided to send back their peshmerga forces to Iranian Kurdistan, and other Iranian Kurdish political parties followed with their peshmerga forces. Several clashes have occurred between these peshmerga forces and the Iranian Quds forces, with casualties on both sides.

Before the referendum, Iranian officials argued that Iranian Kurds would not behave like the Iraqi Kurds because they were treated equally with other Iranian people and that the Islamic Republic of Iran did not distinguish between different groups of people in Iran. On the referendum day and the following day, thousands of Iranian Kurds took to the streets in different cities in Iranian Kurdistan and celebrated the Iraqi Kurdistan referendum. They shouted that they are with their brethren in Iraqi Kurdistan and that freedom will come soon to them as well. Iranian police forces arrested several celebrators because they had waved the Kurdish flag, and the Internet was shut down for several days.

PDKI leader Mustafa Hijri, in an interview with Al Jazeera, reaffirmed not only his party’s support for an independent Iraqi Kurdistan, but his belief that an independent Iraqi Kurdistan will have a positive impact on Iranian Kurdistan. He believes that once the people of Iraqi Kurdistan achieve their freedom, Iranian Kurds will also realize that they could go on the same path as their brethren in Iraqi Kurdistan.

This, of course, is precisely what Tehran fears. Iranian officials have tried to downsize the importance of the KRG referendum on their Kurdish population. Recently, Iranian president Hassan Rouhani dismissed the connection between the referendum and their own Kurdish population: “We will in no way count the political mistakes of some people in the Kurdistan Region [KRG] on you. You are part of the great Iranian nation. You are a loyal nation. You are among Iran’s oldest nations in the region. You have always stood by the Islamic revolution and stood by the Iranian nation in the imposed war with Iraq.” Mr. Rouhani’s statement was in fact a threat towards his own Kurdish population. He is trying to tell Iranian Kurds, if you demand anything more then what you have today, there is no one who can protect you.

Iran’s attitude toward the KRG independence vote is more clearly expressed in how it has influenced the Baghdad government, and what it has done militarily on the ground.

Iran’s Influence On Iraq

The key to understanding the current mess in Iraqi Kurdistan is the outsized influence of Tehran in post-Saddam Iraq. The 2005 constitution, significantly shaped by the U.S. occupiers, was meant to resolve the sovereignty of the disputed areas around oil-rich Kirkuk, but serious talks have never been convened. At the same time, the Shia-dominated central government in Baghdad has for years treated Sunni Arabs harshly (giving rise to ISIS) and Kurds with neglect. The Shia-dominated army and militias collapsed in the first encounters with ISIS, leaving the Kurds (backed by Iran and U.S. air power) as the only effective counter to the Islamic States’ bloodthirsty assaults. Despite that failure, Iran has exceptional influence on the Iraqi state.

The dominance of the Shia in Baghdad is occasioned by the 60 percent majority the sect has in Iraq. Iran, officially Shia, not only influenced Baghdad as co-religionists but also because so many in Baghdad leadership were exiled in Iran during Saddam’s reign. With less U.S. presence in the country since the formal withdrawal of troops in 2011, Iranian influence has increased. It is common that visitors in Baghdad can encounter pictures of the ayatollahs Khomeini and Khamenei, unthinkable before the 2003 occupation and a striking symbol of this influence.

Tehran is guiding Baghdad on the assault in Kurdistan. The commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Quds Force, Qasem Suleimani, has served as an adviser to Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi and has been neck deep in the Kurdish crisis, blamed by Iraqi Kurdish officials for masterminding the attack on the disputed areas between Kurdistan and Iraq. Other Iranian forces allegedly involved — the Iranian Hashed Al-Shabi forces, other Revolutionary Guard units, and Hezbollah — were able to move into Kirkuk and the KRG with little resistance from the Peshmerga because Suleimani elegantly divided the Kurdish house. He forged an agreement between Iran and some factions of PUK officials who were dissatisfied with Barzani’s leadership, alarmed by the broad opposition to the referendum in the international community, and sought a deal that would benefit them in all ways.

After the clashes between the Iranian-led forces and the Kurdish peshmerga forces, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has said that Iran acting (meaning attacking) in Kurdistan prevented the birth of a second Israel in Middle East. The Iranian, Turkish, and Iraqi charge that the idea of an independent Kurdistan was initiated by Israel and some Kurdish leaders (mainly Barzani), despite the fact Barzani’s late father Mustafa Barzani was fighting for an independent Kurdistan before the establishment of the state of Israel. This tarnishing of Kurdish aspirations is a typical ploy of the Islamic Republic, again masking the worries about its restive Kurdish population.

An Independent Kurdistan And The U.S.

In recent days, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that the Iranian forces must leave Iraq after the fight against ISIS is over. This request was quickly dismissed not only by Iran but also by Iraq. Tillerson’s statement is an acknowledgement that the American policy of containing and rolling back gains by Iran in the region is weak. Some of this vulnerability is tied to Iran’s demonstration of power in the Kurdish crisis.

Washington strongly opposed the Kurdistan referendum and told Kurdish officials that the timing was wrong. When the Kurds asked when the proper time would be, there was no proper answer. The Kurds in Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey are all connected, part of a greater Kurdistan, a national identity. The fact that Kurdish aspirations for a state have been betrayed repeatedly by regional and global powers constitutes a moral case for independence.  But there is also a strategic rationale that should appeal to Washington.

Iran will continue to present problems for peace and stability in the region, as does Syria, a corrupt and unstable Iraq, and the potential rise of another ISIS before long. Turkey, the most prominent ally of the United States in the region (besides Israel), has drifted away from the Western alliance under the erratic and belligerent President Erdogan. Not only did Turkey refuse U.S. armed forces the use of their military base Incirlik twice during the wars in Iraq, but also refused to help against ISIS at crucial moments. Turkey is cultivating closer ties to Iran and Russia, a process that has NATO leaders alarmed.

As a result of Turkey’s unreliability and the continuing chaos in the Middle East, an independent Kurdistan should appear increasingly attractive to American policy makers. Independence for the KRG is not only the right thing to do for the Kurdish people, but could provide several possibilities for a stabilizing U.S. presence in the region. Kurdish people are favorably inclined toward the United States, and welcome a U.S. military presence.  Such a “presence” need not be a large enterprise, nor should a Kurdish state become an expensive security sink for the United States. But it’s worth considering if the Pentagon can design, possibly with other major NATO partners, an all-purpose mission, including readiness for humanitarian and peacekeeping tasks, to be stationed there.

Before that can happen, the Kurds in Iraq must move decisively to end internal divisions, corruption, and anti-democratic habits. This is primarily the responsibility of the KDP, but must be inclusive of all political players. It is an enormous challenge, and one that current leadership is incapable of carrying out. Kurdish cousins in surrounding countries need to support such a cleansing. Then diplomatic efforts with the Baghdad government, under the provisions of the constitution, should move assertively forward toward confederation as a logical next step. 

None of these steps is easy or inevitable. But the conventional wisdom that the referendum was a terrible mistake can be turned on its head. Paradoxically, the referendum “disaster” may shake up the status quo enough to move players in the right direction. With American backing, the long-held hope of a Kurdish state is visible and advisable.

Source: Huffpost

For those of us who have suffered and warned of the Obama administration doctrine, which has allowed Iran to roam freely in our midst and interfere unimpeded in our domestic affairs from the GCC states to the Mediterranean and brag about controlling four Arab capitals under Obama’s watch, the newly declared Trump administration strategy announced in the middle of last month, decertifying Iran’s nuclear agreement, sanctioning Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and doubling down on Iran’s mischief, rogue state behaviour and ballistic missiles testing, was music to the ears.

What was refreshing for us in the GCC states to hear was US President Donald Trump’s new approach of not limiting the terrorist groups to the Sunni extremist groups, which the US administration focused on, but expanding the focus to include Iran and its supported and funded Shiites groups, as a long-term threat.

  The Washington Post in a recent article titled, The US is on collision course with Iran in the Middle East, said: “The launch of the [Trump] strategy signalled an important shift in US Middle East policy away from an almost exclusive focus on fighting Daesh [the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant] to an effort that also pushes back against years of Iranian expansion in the region. But the strategy offers no specifics for how to confront Iran’s pervasive presence on the ground in Iraq, Syria and beyond, raising questions about how easy it will be to push back against Iranian influence without triggering new conflicts…”

Even US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Baghdad called for Iraqi-backed Iranian militias to go home. That represents a major shift in the US position which coordinated with the Iran-supported Popular Mobilisation Forces in the fight against Daesh. This US change of heart, annoyed Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi. Qais Al Khazali, one of the Popular Mobilisation Forces leaders, even went further, insisting the “US should go home.”

In a blistering speech laying out his new strategy, Trump insisted “The Iranian regime continues to fuel conflict, terror, and turmoil throughout the Middle East and beyond. Importantly, Iran is not living up to the spirit of the [Iranian nuclear deal].” Although Trump did not walk out of the Iran nuclear deal, he nevertheless decertified it and left it to Congress to deal with it.

Trump kept repeating, even as a candidate, the Iran deal was “one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the US has ever entered into.” Moreover, Trump in announcing his new strategy vis-a-vis-Iran threatened to act “with the US’ allies to counter the regime destabilising activities… And vowed that “the agreement will be terminated,” if the Congress fails to act on the nuclear agreement.

As Trump has a laundry list of US’ grievances against Iran: “Its support for militant groups like Hezbollah, alarm over its testing of ballistic missiles, and fundamental mistrust of its repressive, theocratic leadership… This regime has fuelled sectarian violence in Iraq, and vicious civil wars in Yemen and Syria. In Syria, the Iranian regime has supported the atrocities of Bashar Al Assad’s regime and condoned Al Assad’s use of chemical weapons against helpless civilians, including many, many children. Those are all fair hits: Iran really is destabilising the Middle East in a whole host of ways….”

Trump kept referring through his speech to the regime, and not Iran... “The regime remains the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, and provides assistance to Al Qaida, the Taliban, Hezbollah, Hamas, and other terrorist networks. It develops, deploys, and proliferates missiles that threaten American troops and our allies. It harasses American ships and threatens freedom of navigation in the Arabian Gulf (it drove Iran nuts) and in the Red Sea. It imprisons Americans on false charges. And it launches cyberattacks against our critical infrastructure, financial system, and military. Trump accused the “regime of harbouring high-level terrorists in the wake of the September 11 attacks, including Osama Bin Laden’s son. In Iraq and Afghanistan, groups supported by Iran have killed hundreds of American military personnel…” These accusations have not been levelled against Iran by any US president.

Trump, never mentioned Iran as “government of Iran”, but referred in one of the harshest speeches by a US president, as a dictatorship, fanatical, and rough regime.

“Trump’s new strategy looks bold and tough on Iran, and is a refreshing departure from Obama’s destructive appeasement.”

Although, Trump strategy insisted as he described it “The regime remains the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, and provides assistance to Al Qaida, the Taliban, Hezbollah, Hamas and other terrorist networks.” He even went as far as accusing Iran of colluding with North Korea: “There are also many people who believe that Iran is dealing with North Korea.” Trump rebuked Iran’s rogue behaviour, announced a tougher stance against Iran, upped the ante and ended Obama appeasement policy and threatened to impose new sanctions against Iran, which the US Congress enthusiastically embraced, and did not waste any time to pass legislation slapping sanctions against Iran and its proxy Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Iran President Hassan Rouhani in a rebuttal speech accused Trump of delivering insults and baseless accusations in his speech and claimed “the US is more isolated than ever, and could not unilaterally change the deal.”

Trump’s new strategy looks bold and tough on Iran, and is a refreshing departure from Obama’s destructive appeasement, which subordinated and tolerated Iran’s meddling and destabilising activities to reach the nuclear agreement at any cost to serve his legacy, it gave Iran by design or inadvertently a green light to advance its project and emboldened Iran to stage a major offensive to be the hegemon of the region, empowering its proxies and allies, supporting the brutal and thuggish regime of Bashar Al Assad in Syria, and undermining the US allies in the GCC states.

But it does seem the Iranian intervention that upset the stability and security of the region pushed Obama to rethink his flawed strategy.

The hardline approach by Trump will be a major victory if it succeeds in deterring Iran, arrests its malignant interventions, forces its allies to change its destabilising behaviour and shenanigans and act more like a normal state, rather than a permanent revolutionary regime, bent on exporting its brand of revolutionary zeal, sectarian militias and hegemonic behaviour.

Source:

By Abdullah Al Shayji, Special to Gulf News
Published: 18:19 October 30, 2017

 

BAGHDAD: With the Daesh group driven from nearly all of Iraq, US officials have suggested that the thousands of mainly Shiite paramilitary fighters who mobilised against the Sunni extremists three years ago lay down their arms.

But Abu Mahdi Al Muhandis, who once battled US troops and is now the deputy head of the state-sanctioned Popular Mobilization Forces, says they are here to stay.

 “The future of the (PMF) is to defend Iraq,” he told The Associated Press in his first extensive interview with a Western media outlet. “The Iraqi army and Iraqi police say they cannot operate without the support of the Hashd,” he added, using a shortened Arabic term for the paramilitary force.

In the years after the 2003 US-led invasion, Al Muhandis led the Hezbollah Brigades, a feared Shiite militia with close ties to Iran and the Lebanese militant group of the same name. His real name is Jamal Jaafar Ebrahim, but he’s still better known by his nom de guerre, and his rise to the top ranks of Iraq’s security apparatus reflects the long, slow decline of US influence over the country.

He participated in the bombing of Western embassies in Kuwait and the attempted assassination of that country’s emir in the early 1980s, for which he was convicted in absentia and added to the US list of designated terrorists. But like many Shiite militants, he returned to Iraq after the 2003 US-led invasion. Two years later, he was even elected to parliament, before being forced to step down under American pressure.

In 2009, the State Department linked him to the elite Quds Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, calling him a “threat to stability” in Iraq, and as recently as last week it referred to him as a terrorist.

But in the summer of 2014, when Daesh swept across northern Iraq, and the US-trained and funded army collapsed, his and other Shiite militias mobilised in defence, halting the extremists on the outskirts of the capital. The mostly Iran-backed militias remained separate from the US-led coalition, but over the next three years they helped Iraq’s reconstituted military to drive Daesh out of most of the country.

Today, Al Muhandis, in his mid-60s, is among the most powerful men in Iraq, splitting his time between the front lines, Iran and his home and office in Baghdad’s heavily-guarded Green Zone. He describes the PMF as a “parallel military” that will help keep the peace once Daesh is gone.

Al Muhandis “demonstrates that Iran has a direct venue with which to influence Iraqi politics, and a powerful one at that,” said Phillip Smyth, an expert on Shiite militias at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

“It’s no secret,” Al Muhandis said of his close relationship with Iran, the country where he spent decades in exile and underwent military training. He said he personally seeks spiritual and moral guidance from the country’s leadership, but that the PMF only gets material support from Tehran.

Earlier this month, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson demanded that Iran-backed militiamen in Iraq return to their homes, integrate into the Iraqi army or leave the country.

Al Muhandis casually dismissed the appeal. “Tillerson is asleep,” he said.

“Iran was the only country that supported Iraq from the beginning of the Daesh crisis,” he said, referring to the Daesh blitz in 2014. “It’s like when you’re in a hospital and you need blood. The Americans would be the one who would show up with the transfusion when it was too late.”

As to whether the Americans should remain in Iraq, Al Muhandis said: “We follow the Iraqi government despite our personal opinions, and our personal opinions are well known, so I won’t repeat them here.”

The PMF sprang into action again earlier this month, when federal forces retook the northern city of Kirkuk and other disputed areas from Kurdish forces in response to the Kurds’ vote for independence in September. The military action, which caused few casualties and was celebrated as a victory by the country’s Arab majority, gave a further boost to the paramilitary forces.

“What happened in Kirkuk is a success for the Iraqi government and the Iraqi forces,” Al Muhandis said, adding that his forces had helped coordinate the Kurdish withdrawal to minimise clashes and casualties. “We want a brotherhood with the Kurds,” he said, referring to their shared struggle against Saddam Hussain in the 1980s.

The fighting nevertheless displaced thousands of people, according to the United Nations and Amnesty International, which documented the looting and destruction of “hundreds” of properties near Kirkuk.

International rights groups alleged widespread violations by the militias throughout the campaign against Daesh and said the government had failed to hold them accountable. Al Muhandis and other commanders say any abuses were isolated incidents, and that perpetrators have been brought to justice.

Al Muhandis rarely speaks to reporters, but his image is pervasive on social media, where he can be seen wearing olive fatigues and surveying front-line positions from Iraq’s northern border to the western Anbar province, where troops and militiamen are battling Daesh in the last pocket under its control. He’s often standing beside General Qassem Sulaimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, and a key adviser to the PMF. Music videos shared online praise Al Muhandis’ humility and fearlessness.

He can also be seen in photos attending strategy meetings chaired by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi. The PMF are officially an “independent military formation” under the prime minister’s command.

Al Muhandis holds a “pivotal” position in Iraq’s political and security hierarchy, said Nathaniel Rabkin, managing editor of Inside Iraqi Politics, a political risk assessment newsletter.

“It’s a source of concern in and outside Iraq,” Rabkin said. “If you have elements of the armed forces or the security forces loyal to a particular political party you’re creating a setup where it will be very difficult to have free, fair and competitive elections that don’t descend into violence.”

Iraq is set to hold parliamentary elections next year. When asked if his forces would participate in politics, Al Muhandis laughed, saying: “Don’t mention it or you’ll scare off all the politicians.” He added that PMF fighters would be free to run for office, but must first leave the paramilitary organisation.

Smyth, the militia researcher, doubts such rules would be enforced, noting the long history of militia commanders cycling in and out of political office.

Whether they run or not, Al Muhandis said the PMF are “the biggest force that can influence the upcoming elections.”

Source: Gulf News

BEIRUT, Lebanon — It may not be politically popular to raise concerns about the human rights of Islamic State fighters and their families. But the International Committee of the Red Cross, which has monitored the treatment of the wounded, prisoners and civilians in wartime for a century and a half, sought to do just that in a strongly worded statement on Thursday.

The organization is concerned about rhetoric that “dehumanizes” and “demonizes” the enemy or suggests that a particular adversary is “outside the bounds of humanity” and can be treated “as if humanitarian law doesn’t apply,” the group’s deputy director for the Middle East, Patrick Hamilton, told reporters via a telephone conference call.

Language that could appear to justify or encourage war crimes and illegal treatment of detainees has become more common on all sides of the sprawling conflicts in Syria and Iraq, Mr. Hamilton said, to the point that the Red Cross felt it necessary to remind all combatants that international law requires due process and humane treatment of detainees “with no exceptions.”

His comments come as the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, ISIL and Daesh, is surrendering more territory to an array of government and militia forces. Several Western officials have said that it would be best if their citizens who have fought with the Islamic State died in combat.

The Red Cross has a longstanding policy of not singling out governments or groups for criticism, because it seeks to preserve access to all sides in order to carry out missions such as monitoring the treatment of detainees and prisoners. The organization said its warning was directed at all combatants as well as countries that might receive returning Islamic State fighters.

“It’s not that we are going to name no one,” Mr. Hamilton said of his warning against inflammatory rhetoric. “We name everyone.”

France’s defense minister, Florence Parly, said last week that if Islamic State fighters “perish in this fight, I would say that’s for the best.” Rory Stewart, a British government minister, said of British ISIS members that “unfortunately the only way of dealing with them will be, in almost every case, to kill them.”

And Brett McGurk, the American envoy to the anti-ISIS coalition, said the mission was to make sure foreign fighters “die here in Syria.” Earlier this year, Trump administration officials referred to “annihilating” ISIS.

To be sure, none of those statements called for extrajudicial killings or any other war crime. But in an already tense and dangerous atmosphere — punctuated by atrocities carried out by insurgent and militia groups in the past — all parties need to “de-escalate their language,” Mr. Hamilton said.

“These are emotive, difficult issues but the law does provide a sober mechanism for dealing with all of this,” he said, noting that the Red Cross has been advising governments on handling detainees and civilians through 154 years of conflicts and world wars. “These events are not without historical precedent.”

The Red Cross has visited 44,000 detainees in Iraq this year, and is currently providing humanitarian assistance to 1,300 women and children from around 20 nationalities, detained near Mosul as suspected relatives of Islamic State fighters. The Red Cross also is seeking to expand access to detainees throughout the region.

Risks of violations are increased by the complexity of the fight, with more than 20 states involved and often in partnerships with nonstate militia groups, which Mr. Hamilton said had created “a diffusion of responsibilities” for following the laws of war.

Another risk arises from the enormous humanitarian crises spawned by recent battles, with millions of people affected and chaotic scenes as people flee across deserts.

Little is known about the numbers and conditions of Islamic State members detained in the Syrian city of Raqqa as the American-backed Syrian Democratic Forces took over last week. Nor has any information surfaced about the many people who had long been held prisoner in Raqqa by Islamic State and have not been found.

Source: The New York Times

 

Iraq Now an Iranian Colony Sunday, 29 October 2017 16:02

The recent takeover of Kirkuk by the Iranian backed militias and Iraqi army clearly illustrates that now Iran is calling the shots in every important decision of Iraq. This whole operation and withdrawal of PUK Peshmerga, without resistance to advancing Iraqi forces was planned by Iran Quds force commander Major General Qassem Soleimani. The extent of involvement by the Iraq Prime Minister’s office in this whole episode is still unclear, but one thing is certain -- decisions were made in Tehran and Baghdad.

Geopolitical observers are now criticizing Iraqi Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi, for being too quick to resort to force against Kurds at the behest of Iran rather than engaging in talks with Erbil, who had helped Baghdad in the fight against ISIS. There are a number of ways in which Iran gains from this current crisis. Not only does the conflict undermine Kurdish unity, it also boosts the role of Iranian backed Shia militias such as Hashid al-Shaabi in Iraq and makes them look like guardians of national unity rather than sectarian actors. But as a nation, Iraq is at loss, as it has sparked anger against the federal government among its sizeable Kurdish minority.

The fall of Kirkuk clearly showcases the extent to which Iraq today is an Iranian controlled territory. And it demonstrates the currently unparalleled efficacy of the Iranian methods of revolutionary and political warfare, as used by Iran Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) throughout the Arab world to promote Iran geopolitical interests. Iran’s influence in Iraq is not just ascendant, but diverse extending to almost every walk of life. Let’s have a look at various areas where Iran is dominating the Iraqi arena.

Politics- During Saddam Hussein’s rule, Iran granted asylum to a number of Iraqi opposition parties and part of its ability to greatly affect Iraqi political theatre today is linked to the fact that the individuals comprising a significant portion of the Iraqi political map formerly resided in Iran. Politically, Iran has a large number of allies in Iraq’s Parliament who can help secure its goals. Even the most senior Iraqi cabinet officials take instructions from Iran’s leadership.

Military- Tehran has been the principal backer of mainly Shiite Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) formed to fight the Islamic State and now formally absorbed into the Iraqi military. Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRCG) overseas arm.  The Quds Force provides the bulk of logistical support and advice to Popular Mobilisation Forces. In turn, Iran uses the PMF to exert military leverage over the Iraqi government to wrestle power on behalf of Iran, much like Hezbollah did in Lebanon.

Economy- Trade between these two nations is primarily unidirectional in favour of Iran.  Years of sanction and internal conflicts have rendered Iraq dependent on Iranian imports. The only place outside Iran where the Iranian currency the “Rial” is used as a medium of exchange is southern Iraq. Iran is dumping cheap, subsidized food products and consumer goods into Iraqi markets and is undercutting its neighbour’s agricultural and manufacturing sectors.

Natural Resources- Iran’s damming and diversion of rivers feeding the Shatt al-Arab waterway has greatly undermined the Iraqi agriculture sector in the south and hindered efforts to revive Iraq’s marshlands. Iran has withheld water flows of the Kalal River, which flows into Wasit province, and of the Karun and Karkha rivers, which flow into Basra province.

Religion- Iran has been pursuing a long-term strategy to expand its religious authority in Iraq in many ways. For example they use financial and political leverage to ensure the primacy of clerics trained in the Iranian seminary of Qom and loyal to the Iranian ideology, over clerics trained in the relatively non-political tradition of the Najaf seminary. Then, by reconstructing the Shiite shrines in Iraq, they consequently take control of their management in the long run. Lastly, they take control of pilgrimages in Iraq’s shrine cities, notably the Arbaeen procession, which attracts millions of devotees every year to Karbala.

Despite this great degree of Iranian influence on the Iraqi nation still there is a ray of hope. The current Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has the potential to be pulled out of Iran’s influence and act as an independent figure. This is especially true as he has stood in the face of Iran’s pressures on some occasions.

Even so, al-Abadi government officials must prove their allegiance to the Iraqi people and not to the Iranian regime. For example, the Iraqi judiciary is also heavily under Tehran’s influence. This was seen specifically in the country’s Supreme Court last October when they blocked al-Abadi’s judicial reform package. Efforts must clean up the judiciary and make it independent.

Current Iraqi leadership should also work to bridge the gulf with its Sunni and Kurdish minorities by establishing an equal method of governance across the country. Not all Iraqi Shiites are pro-Iranian puppets in fact, many are fervently nationalistic. Prime Minister Abadi can tap into Iraqi nationalism to combat further sectarian division. 

Source: NRT

A top United Nations official Thursday called on the Iraqi government to speed up investigations into allegations of human rights violations committed by security forces during the fight against the Islamic State group and to make the results of those probes public.

Since 2014, the U.S.-backed Iraqi forces' fight against the Sunni militant group has been mired in violations committed by government forces and paramilitaries that international human rights groups have decried as war crimes, ranging from extrajudicial killings of IS suspects to forced displacement and detention of civilians.

On Friday, Iraqi forces drove IS militants from the last Iraqi town near the Syrian borders more than three years after the militant group stormed nearly a third of Iraqi territory, keeping the militants scattered in a wide desert area to the west and north of Baghdad.

Concluding an official visit to Iraq, Agnes Callamard, the U.N.'s special investigator on extra-judicial executions, stressed to the Iraqi officials on "the importance of translating the military defeat over ISIS into victories for accountability and over impunity." ISIS is another acronym for IS.

Callamard told reporters in Baghdad that Iraq's new "transition phase" presents "both opportunities and challenges" and that the government should "respond effectively and impartially to allegations of violations in order to build and strengthen confidence."

The Iraqi government has previously acknowledged some of the allegations, but insisted that these were "individual acts" and promised to investigate them and punish the perpetrators. No outcomes have been published by the government on these investigations.

Callamard discussed with officials from the government and Shiite-dominated paramilitary troops known as Popular Mobilization Forces, "six or seven large scale allegations," including disappearances around Fallujah west of Baghdad and the killing of some prisoners before the June 2014 IS onslaught. She didn't divulge more details on other allegations, expecting to receive the results within "a week or two."

She said that "investigations have already taken place, but the problem is that there is not transparent reporting on the outcomes of those investigations."

Also on Thursday, the Iraqi Army and PMF launched a new military operation to clear the al-Jazeera area from IS militants, said a statement. The area is in a swath of desert between Salahuddin, Anbar and Ninevah provinces north of the capital. During his weekly news conference on Tuesday, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said that chasing down IS militants in the al-Jazeera area and the western desert will be the last stage before declaring the final victory over IS.

Source: abc News


European Iraqi Freedom Association (EIFA)

 

 

Iran’s Support for

Islamic Fundamentalist Groups

 

 Relations With al-Qaeda & Sunni Extremists Under Scrutiny


 

“The fact that Iran has consistently supported and nurtured proxy extremist Shiite groups is not a matter of dispute; less clear are Tehran’s relations with Sunni extremists.”

-         Struan Stevenson, EIFA President

 

November 2017

Report in PDF:



 

 

Table of Contents:

 

Introduction ……………………………………………………………………..............………….………… 4

New revelation on Iran’s ties with Al-Qaeda ………………………..............……….……….. 4

Some features of Islamic Fundamentalism ………………………………..................……..... 7

Islamic fundamentalism after the 1979 Revolution in Iran …..............…….………..... 9

Supporting “Liberation Movements”.........………………….................………….………... 10

Promoting Islamic fundamentalism ……………………………...............………................. 11

Ideological aspects …………………………………….......................................................... 12

Some organisations involved in recruiting Islamists ………….................................. 12

Sponsoring Shiite and Sunni extremist groups …………………………..............…………. 13

Tehran’s strategic harmony with al-Qaeda and ISIS ………….................................. 13

Special role of Lebanese Hezbollah ………………...................................................... 15

Iran and al-Qaeda after 9/11 and US invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq ............... 16

Requests from US to swap opposition members with al-Qaeda leaders .............. 20

U.S. acknowledgement of Iran - al Qaeda relationship in recent years ................ 20

Al-Qaeda in Iraq and relations with Tehran .......................................................... 22

Conclusion and Policy Recommendations ............................................................ 23

 

Introduction

From early on the regime in Tehran was based on the dual pillars of internal crackdown and the export of terrorism and reactionary religious beliefs. The policy of exporting Islamic fundamentalism and extremism has been an explicit aspect of state strategy, pursued at the highest levels of the regime, for the past 38 years. 

Henry Kissinger, the former US Secretary of State and National Security Advisor wrote on 31 July 2006 that Iran leaders should decide “whether they are representing a cause or a nation.”[1] And insofar as the regime represents a hard line Islamist cause, there is a further question about the types of alliances it is willing to maintain in service of that cause.

The fact that Iran has consistently supported and nurtured proxy extremist Shiite groups is not a matter of dispute. What is less clear are Tehran’s relations with Sunni extremists.

On one hand, the disputes between Shiite and Sunnis are so significant that many believe Iran will not and cannot pursue relations with its Sunni competitors and has actually acted as a de facto ally of the West in confronting Sunni extremists, albeit on rare occasions.

But others believe that despite the differences between Shiite and Sunni extremist groups, they have much more in common than it may seem. On this view, Iran is able to look past sectarian differences in the interest of acting as the epicentre of Islamic fundamentalism in general.

Subsequent to the recent revelation of another batch of documents obtained by the US during the raid on the residence of Osama bin Laden on 2 May 2011, there is a more imperative need to review and understand the Iranian regime’s ties with Sunni extremist groups in general and with al-Qaeda and ISIS (Daesh) in particular. [2]

 

New revelation on Iran’s ties with Al-Qaeda

The newly declassified documents from the Osama bin Laden compound at Abbottabad in Pakistan included a 19-page report by a senior al-Qaeda official. [3]

The document says that an al-Qaeda operative named Abu Hafs al-Mauritani negotiated the arrangement for some al-Qaeda operatives to enjoy safe haven in Iran after the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan following the attacks in the US on 11 September 2001.

The document, which was written in Arabic and has been translated for this report, reads in part:

“These pages include a number of brotherly recommendations from our elders and friends as to how our fellow Mujahideen brothers treated the regime of the Rafidis (Shiites) in Iran, and how they see it now and in future...

Great shock, confusion and distraction:                                                        

There is no doubt that the consequences and reverberations of the September 11 attacks were very big and beyond the imaginations of a majority of the people…

…And large numbers went to Iran, and I will explain in the second part how the situation developed.

The enmity between Iran and America is real:

Yes, the enmity between Iran and America is enmity between reality and truth, and whoever thinks differently and says that whatever hostility and war of words is going on between them is play-acting and a show, he is ignorant and does not know the facts!

The Iranians are Shiite Muslims, believe in 12 Imams, their religion and beliefs regarding Sunni Muslims and particularly regarding us, as Salafi Muslims, is known; so is their aspiration to control the whole of Islamic world and to take over its leadership. Their belief in sectarianism which is based on their imaginations as well as their slogans are all very well known to us…However, they are ready to cooperate even with most Salafists and Wahhabis where they believe that this cooperation would achieve something for them, though cooperation will be temporary and will end at a suitable time.

- Any person who wants to hit America, Iran is ready to support him and help him with money, weapons, and whatever else, openly and clearly… They are working very hard on the United States, but they are afraid of leaving any evidence and therefore are very diligent to leave no clues of their work!!

-For example, they offered money, arms and everything they needed to some of our Saudi brothers who supported them, and offered them training in Hezbollah camps in Lebanon, in return for striking America's interests in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf!!

I will refer to this later.

-They offered, and still offer support to a group of Uzbeks, with money and weapons and safe passage to and from Iran and whatever else they need, in return for targeting United States’ targets in Uzbekistan. I have other examples, but I am content with what I have said for now.

You may wonder how Shiite Iranians could have supported Salafists or Wahhabis to strike America!!

One who does not understand this situation, or doubts it, is due to his lack of knowledge and nothing else, otherwise the situation is clear for whoever understands it!!

 As an example, and in order to get it fixed in minds, I can say that in current circumstances, Iran would be ready to support and help Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (i.e. the founder of Wahhabism) if he was alive with whatever needed to target the United States.

After the fall of Islamic government in Afghanistan, and the withdrawal of our Mujahideen brothers, both Arab and others, most of them went to Pakistan and some to Iran…

I personally went to Waziristan and from there to Karachi and stayed there for about 3 months, and then we got the orders from our brothers to go to Iran. Many of our brothers did not like the idea but this was the order from our leadership, both al-Qaeda and other fighters. A large number of our brothers went to Iran, some with official visas, which we got from the Iranian consulate in Karachi, and some without visas…

The first person who went to Iran from the leadership was Abu Hafs al-Mauritani…

The mandate of Abu Hafs was to establish an understanding with the Iranians to allow our brothers to cross the border and to stay in the country.

What I leaned later from brothers who were close to Abu Hafs in the early days of their stay in Iran was that they were very welcomed, and in practice they agreed on some issues with him, and they were dealing with him as the person in charge of the group. One of the Iranians’ conditions was that since the Americans monitor all their communications they must refrain from use of telephone completely and stay in the houses they rent, and they should not have any kind of activities or gatherings which may draw attention… These were all security conditions.

Abu Hafs and other brothers agreed with them.

 

Abu Hafs al-Mauritani

Treatment of our brothers by the Iranian intelligence people and others was not only good, but they were showing affection towards them and calling them heroes, obviously we do not know whether they were being honest or just pretending?? Or anything else? God knows…

What became clear for me was, as far as the Intelligence and Basiji personnel and ordinary people were concerned, they were honest with their feelings towards our brothers, and were looking at them as heroes who had hit United States…

We found Shiites who loved us and respected us very much. Our brothers stayed in Iran, most of them in the city of Zahedan, the capital of Sistan and Baluchestan.

However, brothers gradually went to different Iranian cities: Many, including my people, to Tehran and Isfahan, Shiraz, Mashhad and Bandar-Abbas and other places.

How did the Iranians deal with those brothers whom they arrested, and how were they asked to leave?

They treated brothers very respectfully. When they took the brothers, they treated them as respectable brothers; they apologized to the brothers and always told them: We have to arrest you for our benefit and for your benefit, we are under great pressure, as you know, and we love you and so on…!!. : The treatment was very respectable. No beating or insulting and not a word of distress, and otherwise, O God something rare.

However, we said what is very secret, but wrote it out of necessity,

Dated: 1/1428 Hijri  (January 2007).

 

Some features of Islamic Fundamentalism

Islamic extremism emerged some 40 years ago as an aggressive and destabilizing force in the region with growing impact, injecting itself into geo-political equations and gradually evolving as the main threat to the international community. 

 

The great majority of the world’s 1.7 billion Muslims are Sunnis. Shiites make up only 10-15 percent. The rift between the two branches appeared first after the demise of the Prophet Mohammad during the disputes over his succession.

 

Despite their differences and verbal hostilities, both Shiite and Sunni extremists adhere to the same underlying ideology in the most basic elements of their beliefs and behaviour:

 

  • Seeking to establish a dreadful tyranny under the name of the government of God

The announced objective of Islamic fundamentalism is to implement Sharia law by force. This is the common denominator of Shiite mullahs’ rule in Iran and that of the Sunni caliphates of ISIS in other areas. One describes it as “velāyat-e faqīh,” [absolute rule of clergy], another dubs it a caliphate.

  • Continuous Aggression

The pivotal tactic of Islamic fundamentalism is never-ending crimes against humanity. This belligerence is not fundamentally the product of power; in fact it results from this entity’s weakness in responding to the real necessities of modern society, specifically, in regards to the theocracy ruling Iran, the tactic of continuous aggression is practiced to fill the void of social isolation, lack of political-spiritual legitimacy, and profound contradiction of Tehran’s theocratic state with the advanced demands of Iran’s educated and civilized society, being a deeply disenchanted population.

  • War of Destiny

Islamic fundamentalism views this battle as a war of fate/destiny. It never accepts any kind of ceasefire, limitation, or moderation because this is against its raison d’être. To the final day of its survival it will continue its war and expansion.

  • Non-Recognition of Geographic Limits

Proponents of an Islamic caliphate view it as a global prophecy recognizing no political or geographic borders. Their mission of jihad spans the globe.

  • Unbridled cruelty

This horrendous force bows to no limits in viciousness and savagery, recognizing no such thing as a red line. Crimes associated with Islamic fundamentalism include the massacre of 30,000 political prisoners in Iran in 1988, splashing acid into the eyes and faces of women, beheading Western citizens in Syria, forced migration of Christians, ethnic cleansing and genocide by militants associated with the Iranian regime in Iraq, burning an entire city in Nigeria, setting prisoners ablaze, bombing sacred sites, and conducting group executions in public.

In his book, Islamic Government, written before seizing power in Iran in 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of Islamic Republic in Iran, formulated this ruthless approach as “an effort to uproot the numerous sources of corruption that are harmful to society.”[4] 

  • Misogyny

Contempt for women is a vivid characteristic of Islamic fundamentalism. ISIS forced women into slavery as war booty, Boko Haram has kidnapped more than 200 schoolgirls in Nigeria, and Taliban brutally repressed women. Iran and other countries in the region have instituted numerous legal and social restrictions on women.

  • Deception and Demagoguery

Resorting to deception and demagoguery, especially to provide religious pretexts to resort to violence, is yet another feature of this viewpoint of Islam.

 

Islamic fundamentalism after the 1979 Revolution in Iran  

Islamic fundamentalism came into existence in modern times with Ayatollah Khomeini ascending to power in Iran in 1979 following the fall of the US-backed Shah dictatorship. Iran became the first country in recent history to have a theocratic regime.

The impact and direct result of the formation of an Islamic fundamentalist regime in a country as large as Iran, having an unprecedented position in the Islamic World, was that it allowed Tehran to become the political, substantial, spiritual and strategic sponsor of all Islamic fundamentalists across the globe, even if they had differences with the regime. The mere establishment of a theocracy in a country as enormous as Iran provided such a capacity and prospect to Islamic extremist groups – previously marginalized with no expectation or outlook of political power – to rise as a destructive political force.

Regardless of any political and material bond between these types of groups and the Iranian regime, what is important is the presence of a ruling fundamentalist State – Iran – as a role model and inspiration for the formation of all fundamentalist groups and cells. Without the existence of such a State, there would be no intellectual, ideological and political atmosphere, nor a central base to rely on for the birth and growth of these groups.

As a counterterrorism analyst of the US government put it: “In 1979, Iran became the first modern Islamic republic, as Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini overthrew Iran's secular regime and established a new order in which shari'a became law. Suddenly, Islamism was no longer an ideology of movements. It had inspired a State.”[5]

Tehran’s active and systematic policy, in line with recruiting and using its proxy groups, intensified this process significantly. The ayatollahs ruling Iran sought to become the epicentre for exportation of fundamentalism to the Islamic World; what they overtly described as the ‘mother’ of the Islamic World.

Tehran calls for a global Islamic State both in its constitution and other texts and instructions. Khomeini, and the current leader Ali Khamenei, very openly considered themselves leaders of all Muslims around the world, and not just Shiites.

This very concept was engraved in the constitution of the theocracy ruling Iran. [6]  It states:

“The constitution, given the Islamic characteristics of Iran’s revolution – being a move for the victory of all the weak people over dictators – provides the grounds for the growth of this revolution inside the country and abroad; especially in the expansion of international relations, it strives with other Islamic and popular movements to pave the path for the establishment of a unified people across the globe, and continue the struggle to save the deprived nations and those under cruelty across the globe.

“The army of the Islamic republic and Revolutionary Guards are established in line with the above-mentioned objective, and not only to protect the borders, but also with the mission to carry out jihad in the path of God and the struggle to expand the state of God’s rule in the world.”

- In the mullahs’ constitution, the export of fundamentalism under the pretext of “unsparing support for the weak people of the world” or “unity of the Islamic world” is underscored in Principles 3, 11, and 154.

Principle 11 states, “All Muslims are one nation and the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran is obligated to base its general policy on the foundation of a coalition and union of Islamic nations, and make utmost efforts to realize political, economic and cultural unity in the Islamic World.”

- In his will, Khomeini called for the overthrow of all States ruling Muslim countries and expulsion of their rulers. He encouraged all Muslims to “rally all under the honourable flag of Islam, and rise against the enemies of Islam and the deprived people of the world; and go on to advance towards an Islamic State with free and independent republics”.

 

Supporting “Liberation Movements”

From the regime’s inception in exporting terrorism and fundamentalism, Tehran did not make a demarcation based on religious differences. This became evident from the wide range of groups that were nurtured and supported by the clerical regime.

Javad Mansouri (the first commander of the IRGC and the deputy minister of foreign affairs in 1981) said in an exclusive interview on 20 June 2016: "Assistance to the movements (i.e. terrorist and extremist groups) had begun in 1979, and they would occasionally go to Mr. Rafighdoost, who headed the IRGC's logistics unit, and would get money, weapons, and location.”[7]

He added: "In April 1981, the Office of the Movements was officially established in the IRGC... In 1981, martyr Rajai was the head of the Foreign Ministry and I was his deputy and we had regular meetings. At one of the meetings, I told him that there are eight entities that receive money from the government for the export of revolutionary activities. You gather the officials of these eight institutions and appoint one person and tell him I will give the budget to this person and he will divide it and everyone must be accountable to him."

And to this effect, Tehran’s tentacles were extended throughout the Islamic world.

In a report to Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, the designated heir to Khomeini in early 1980s, Mehdi Hashemi, who was in charge of “Liberation Movements Unit” of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) specified in great details the regime’s activities to identify, establish, nurture, and support fundamentalist groups in Palestine, Egypt, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Morocco. (In Iranian regime’s terminology, these terrorist and extremist groups are dubbed ‘liberation movements’.)[8]

Tehran had dispatched units of the IRGC to Lebanon since 1982. This led to the establishment of Hezbollah as the main entity of Tehran’s terror apparatus outside of Iran.  Tehran’s slogan was “conquering Quds (Jerusalem) via Karbala”. This was not just a mantra but a comprehensive policy that Tehran pursued by various means.

All of these activities indicated that although Tehran is a theocracy based on Shiite beliefs, in contrast to simplistic impressions, it is very seriously pursuing its strategy and does not limit itself to any Sunni-Shiite boundaries.

In the authoritative book, Islamic Fundamentalism: The New Global Threat [9]published in 1993, Mohammad Mohaddessin, Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman of the democratic opposition coalition, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI)[10], described how subsequent to the Iranian regime’s defeat in the 1980-88 war with Iraq, Tehran stepped up spreading its recipe for Islamic fundamentalism through the Middle East, the Caucasus and Mid-Asia region, all the way to North Africa.  Mohaddessin - himself the son of a renowned ayatollah in the city of Qom, the epicentre of Iran’s fundamentalism – pointed out that this was done to compensate for the military defeat and to bring Iraq under its control. For this purpose, Iran organized all its government bodies to carry out internal crackdowns and spread terrorism abroad.

 

Promoting Islamic fundamentalism

Iran is probably the only state that has established organizations and institutions tasked with exporting and promoting Islamic fundamentalism in different forms. As such, Tehran has specific bodies to influence and recruit Shiite groups and figures, along with specific entities to influence and recruit Sunni groups and personalities.

The apparatus pursues a two-pronged approach:

  • Setting up religious and cultural centres, seminaries, and recruiting preachers to prepare ideological indoctrination aimed at attracting and recruiting Islamic extremists.
  • Recruiting, sponsoring, and nurturing extremist groups by providing funds, weapons, logistics and training. 

 

Ideological aspects

Throughout the years, Tehran has made this strategy and establishment of an Islamic caliphate with its heart beating in Tehran more institutionalized.  All matters related to realizing this objective have been determined and finalized at the highest level of this regime, namely Supreme Leader Khamenei.

In a letter to the then President Ali Khamenei, on 5 September 1988, Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi acknowledged this reality. He wrote “extraterritorial operations take place without the knowledge and orders of the administration. We get informed of a hijacking after it has happened. We find out about machine guns firing in the streets of Lebanon after it has occurred and its noise has been heard all over the world. I found out about confiscation of explosives from our pilgrims in Jeddah during Haj (in 1986) after they were confiscated.”[11]

Ali Khamenei has been a key person in this respect from the inception of the regime. In a letter to Ayatollah Montazeri, Mehdi Hashemi stipulated that Khamenei received the reports of extremist groups in Egypt before Hashemi’s office, which was supposedly in charge of these activities. Hashemi underscored that actually it was Khamenei who provided him with the report of the Egyptian extremists.[12]

Based on credible intelligence, the international relations section of Khamenei’s office is the main body pursuing fundamentalism amongst Shiites and Sunnis.

In particular, Khamenei’s special office (also known as the special operations office) chaired by Mullah Mohammad Hejazi, is the main organ behind terrorism. Its headquarters consists of commanders of the Quds Force, the Minister of Intelligence, and the head of the IRGC Intelligence Organization.

 

Some organisations involved in recruiting Islamists 

The ‘World Forum for the Proximity of Islamic Schools of Thought’[13] is a body focused on rallying Sunnis under Iran’s banner. The ‘Ahl Al-Bayt World Assembly’ is responsible for recruiting and using Shiites in various countries.[14] Both entities enjoy massive budgets. Scores of other bodies are also involved in recruiting Islamists. They include: 

- Imam Aid Committee: Active in Islamic countries providing aid to people and groups they believe can be recruited for the IRGC’s foreign wing, the Quds Force.

- Shaheed (martyr) Foundation: Recruiting troops for the Quds Force through providing financial aid to the families of those killed in countries where the Quds Force is active.

- Al-Mostafa Society: Accepting religion students from various countries into the city of Qom, providing training and finally dispatching them back to their countries to advertise and rally support for fundamentalism.

 

Sponsoring Shiite and Sunni extremist groups

The Quds Force, established a quarter of a century ago as the IRGC’s foreign arm has been the main tool in the policy of exporting fundamentalism, with nine branches each targeting a country or specific region.[15] The Quds Force has specific headquarters for various strategically significant countries including Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Syria, and Yemen. It is carrying out its activities in these countries overtly and publicly, and in some cases under various front entities.

It is interesting to note that the Quds Force supports a wide range of Sunni groups as well as Shiites.

Among Shiites, Lebanese Hezbollah stands out. It was founded by Tehran in 1982. It conducts its terrorist and extraterritorial activities under the command of the Quds Force. All its affairs, including expenses and policies, are under the supervision of Khamenei’s office. Other groups include dozens of Iraqi Shiite extremist bodies such as the Badr Organization, Katai’b Hezbollah, and Asa’ib Ahl- Haq.

Among Sunnis, the Quds Force and the Iranian regime support organisations such as Islamic Jihad, Hamas, the Taliban and many others. Islamic Jihad is totally dependent on Tehran for finances and political directions.

               

Tehran’s strategic harmony with al-Qaeda and ISIS

Iran’s relationship with al-Qaeda and ISIS is actually more complex than it seems at first glance.

What is clear is that groups such as al-Qaeda and ISIS are not similar to Lebanese Hezbollah or Shiite militant groups in Iraq, that directly receive their orders from Tehran, like Asa’ib Ahl- Haq and Katai’b Hezbollah. But they are not adversaries either.  Rather, Iran and Sunni extremist groups, while having their differences, actually have much more in common. Their most important common denominator is their enmity towards the West, especially the US, and towards the Arab states.

In line with this strategy, the Iranian regime has never shied away from aiding and providing active cooperation, support, and logistics for Sunni fundamentalists such as al-Qaeda and ISIS, wherever and whenever it served Tehran’s interests. 

According to some assessments, al-Qaeda was established around 1988, stationed in Pakistan and the Afghan border area in the 1990s. With the Taliban’s rise to power in Afghanistan, it relocated its headquarters to Afghanistan.

Iran has collaborated with al-Qaeda covertly and often by proxy due to the latter's notorious reputation. This covert cooperation began in the early 1990's in Sudan, continued after al-Qaeda relocated to Afghanistan, and even manifested itself on Iranian soil before, during, and after the September 11 attacks.

The 9/11 Commission Report, the official report of the events leading up to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, has a section devoted exclusively to investigating Iranian ties to al-Qaeda.[16] It explains:

In late 1991 or 1992, discussions in Sudan between al-Qaeda and Iranian operatives led to an informal agreement to cooperate in providing support—even if only training—for actions carried out primarily against Israel and the United States. Not long afterward, senior al-Qaeda operatives and trainers travelled to Iran to receive training in explosives. In the fall of 1993, another such delegation went to the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon for further training in explosives as well as in intelligence and security. Bin Laden reportedly showed particular interest in learning how to use truck bombs such as the one that had killed 241 U.S. Marines in Lebanon in 1983. The relationship between al-Qaeda and Iran demonstrated that Sunni-Shiia divisions did not necessarily pose an insurmountable barrier to cooperation in terrorist operations.

The report pointed out:

Intelligence indicates the persistence of contacts between Iranian security officials and senior al-Qaeda figures after Bin Laden’s return to Afghanistan. Khallad (Tawfiq bin Attash) has said that Iran made a concerted effort to strengthen relations with al-Qaeda after the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole, but was rebuffed because Bin Laden did not want to alienate his supporters in Saudi Arabia. Khallad and other detainees have described the willingness of Iranian officials to facilitate the travel of al-Qaeda members through Iran, on their way to and from Afghanistan. For example, Iranian border inspectors would be told not to place telltale stamps in the passports of these travellers. Such arrangements were particularly beneficial to Saudi members of al-Qaeda.

The 9/11 Commission Report stated that evidence “suggested 8 to 10 of the 14 Saudi ‘muscle’ operatives travelled into or out of Iran between October 2000 and February 2001.”[17]

“In sum, there is strong evidence that Iran facilitated the transit of al-Qaeda members into and out of Afghanistan before 9/11, and that some of these were future 9/11 hijackers,” the report established.[18]

It is very telling that the report concluded that the relationship of Iran and Hezbollah with al-Qaeda and those who were implicated in 9/11 attack “requires further investigation by the U.S. government.”

 

Special role of Lebanese Hezbollah

The Lebanese Hezbollah has played a unique role in the Iranian regime’s terror apparatus. It has been useful not only in exporting the Islamic Republic's revolutionary ideology but also in providing Iran with a convenient terrorist proxy through which to operate with impunity.

For instance, in dealing with al-Qaeda, in some cases Iran was able to limit the risks of direct cooperation by engaging al-Qaeda through Hezbollah.

In 1992, bin Laden met Imad Mughniyeh, who was in charge of Hezbollah’s military affairs and was the mastermind of the 1983 bombing of the US barracks in Beirut. Apparently, that was the prelude to a meeting between bin Laden, Mughniyeh and IRGC Brigadier General Mohamad Bagher Zolghadr who was the Chief of Staff of the IRGC in Sudan in 1993. According to NCRI, that created the roadmap of cooperation between al-Qaeda and Hezbollah under the control of Tehran.

In the mid-1990s, senior al-Qaeda operatives negotiated a secret relationship between Osama bin Laden and Iran that allowed many al-Qaeda members safe transit through Iran to Afghanistan. Iranian border guards were instructed not to stamp their passports, presumably to prevent their home governments from suspecting that they had travelled to Afghanistan.[19]

Prior to the September 11 attacks, Iran, primarily through Hezbollah, provided al-Qaeda with critical training, explosives and logistical support.

 

U.S. Embassy in Nairobi-after the 1993 bombing

 

For the first time, on 7 August 1998, al-Qaeda successfully employed Iran-Hezbollah terrorist tactics to devastating effect. Al-Qaeda carried out two simultaneous suicide truck bombings outside the U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, killing 223 people and injuring thousands more.

On 28 November 2011, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia found that the bombings would not have been possible without “direct assistance” from Tehran as well as Sudan. “The government of Iran,” Judge John D. Bates wrote in his 45-page decision, “aided, abetted and conspired with Hezbollah, Osama bin Laden, and al-Qaeda to launch large-scale bombing attacks against the United States by utilizing the sophisticated delivery mechanism of powerful suicide truck bombs.” [20] The judgment added: “Prior to their meetings with Iranian officials and agents, bin Laden and al-Qaeda did not possess the technical expertise required to carry out the embassy bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. The Iranian defendants, through Hezbollah, provided explosives training to bin Laden and al-Qaeda and rendered direct assistance to al-Qaeda operatives.” [21]

The Council on Foreign Relations wrote on 6 June 2012: “Intelligence officials and terrorism experts also say that al-Qaeda has stepped up its cooperation on logistics and training with Hezbollah, a radical, Iran-backed Lebanese militia drawn from the minority Shiite strain of Islam.”[22]

 

Iran and al-Qaeda after 9/11 and US invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq

While Iran has constantly maintained contacts and relationships at various levels of Sunni extremist groups, it has also tried to conceal its relationship in order to prevent any liability. This became a more systematic modus operandi subsequent to 9/11 and the rising international concern and anxiety regarding extremism by Sunni groups.

In some cases, while Tehran played a key role in instigating terror and extremism, it also presented itself as a solution or meditator in the conflict. It is an undeniable fact that in Iraq the Iranian regime and ISIS were engaged in conflicts in various areas. However, by exaggerating and hyping these conflicts due to political objectives, the Iranian regime sought to depict itself as an ally of the West in the fight against ISIS, while Tehran’s main objective remained to strengthen and expand its sphere of influence in various parts of Iraq.

Regarding al-Qaeda, after the international community made the dissolution of al-Qaeda a top priority, Iran downplayed its ties to the organization and at times portrayed itself as al-Qaeda's enemy. On some occasions Iran even claimed that it would put the al-Qaeda members who were given sanctuary in Iran on trial. Not only did this not happen, but Iran never specified which members of al-Qaeda it was hosting.

It is a known fact that a large number of al-Qaeda leaders fled to Iran in 2001 after the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan. That included a number of bin Laden’s immediate family members and some of the most senior figures of al-Qaeda.  

The Iranian regime, via the IRGC's elite Quds Force, provided key members of al-Qaeda's leadership with safe haven to continue their terrorist operations and avoid arrest by international authorities.

Among those who went to Iran were the head of al-Qaeda’s Security Committee, Saif al-Adel and the head of al-Qaeda’s Training Sub-Section, Ahmad Abdallah Ahmad (alias Abu Muhammad al-Masri), Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah (CFO of al-Qaeda) and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (future Chief of al-Qaeda in Iraq). The group also came to include Osama bin Laden’s two sons Hamza and Saad bin Laden. Adel, described by some security analysts and experts on al-Qaeda as a “founding father,” is listed on the F.B.I.’s Most Wanted Terrorist list, and was indicted for the 1998 United States Embassy bombings in East Africa. Al-Qaeda operatives have described him as the organization’s operational boss.[23]

Ostensibly Iran held these al-Qaeda operatives under "house arrest," but in reality, al-Qaeda was using Iran as a base of operations under the protection of the Quds Force. One al-Qaeda member noted that there were several stages of restrictions, but in the end, it was “not really house arrest but rather a hospitality.”[24] Over the years, the Iranian regime would permit al-Qaeda use of its territory to plan terrorist attacks abroad as well as transit money, arms and fighters across the region.

According to U.S. and European intelligence officials, the Quds Force maintained ties with the al-Qaeda terrorist network since the early 1990s. According to these officials bin Laden's second-in-command, Ayman Zawahiri, used his decade-old relationship with IRGC Brigadier General Ahmad Vahidi, then commander of the Quds Force, to negotiate a safe haven for some of al-Qaeda's leaders who were trapped in the mountains of Tora Bora, Afghanistan, in 2001.[25]

The Quds Force is "a state within a state, and that is why they are able to offer protection to al-Qaeda," one European intelligence analyst said. “The Force's senior leaders have long-standing ties to al-Qaeda, and, since the fall of Afghanistan, have provided some al-Qaeda leaders with travel documents and safe haven."[26]

In a report that was published by “The Atlantic” on 11 November 2017, Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark established that al-Qaeda has rebuilt itself with the help of Iran.[27]

The conclusion was based on new evidence, including interviews with senior al-Qaeda members and Osama bin Laden’s family, gathered by the authors over the past five years. 

The report detailed how on 19 December 2001, Mahfouz Ibn el Waleed, an Islamic scholar from Mauritania, boarded a bus in Quetta, in the Pakistani province of Baluchistan, heading for Taftan, the official border crossing into Iran. At Osama bin Laden’s side for a decade prior to 2001, Mahfouz had become a pivotal figure on al-Qaeda’s leadership council and the head of its sharia (legal) committee. When he began his journey to Taftan, he was on the UN Security Council’s sanctions list, and was wanted by the FBI for questioning about his involvement in managing the logistics for the 1998 attacks on U.S. embassies in East Africa. Mahfouz hoped, as his bus headed for the Iranian border, to persuade Iranian agents to offer a more permanent sanctuary to al-Qaeda’s leaders and bin Laden’s family. Mahfouz had been to the Persian Gulf before, sent there by bin Laden in 1995 to win military support for al-Qaeda. Mahfouz had first visited Iraq, where Saddam Hussein had rejected his request; however, in Iran, according to Mahfouz, the Quds Force was sympathetic. On the table was an offer of advanced military training, with al-Qaeda fighters invited in 1995 to attend a camp run by Hezbollah and sponsored by the Iranian Quds force in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley.

On 20 December 2001 Mahfouz, travelling with a forged document was greeted on the Iranian side by agents from the Ansar ul-Mahdi Corps, an elite cell within the Quds Quds Force.  He eventually won an audience in Tehran with Qasem Soleimani. [28]

The Quds Force gave a green light to the sanctuary plan in 2002. The Mauritanian contacted the remnants of al-Qaeda’s council in Baluchistan, Pakistan. The first to be sent over were al-Qaeda wives and daughters, along with hundreds of low-level volunteers who were escorted to Tehran.

The next wave came early in the summer of 2002, when high-ranking al-Qaeda leaders arrived in Iran intending to stay and galvanize the outfit. They were marshalled by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who would form al-Qaeda in Iraq, the forerunner to ISIS. The first to come was Saif al-Adel. He was accompanied by fellow Egyptian and al-Qaeda council member Abu Mohammed al-Masri—whose papers identified him as Daoud Shirizi—a former professional soccer player who was also wanted by the FBI for involvement in the 1998 embassy attacks. Joining them was Abu Musab al-Suri, one of the most important strategic voices in the movement. Immediately, a re-formed al-Qaeda military council planned its first attack from within Iran, according to Mahfouz, striking three residential compounds, housing foreign workers in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, which killed 35 people, including nine Americans, on 12 May 2003.[29]

Senior US officials said the US had intercepted communications strongly suggesting that a cell of al-Qaeda leaders in Iran directed the attack. [30]

A senior US official told the New York Times on 21 May 2003 that the United States had ''rock-hard intelligence'' that at least a dozen Qaeda members, had been ''directing some operations from Iran.'' [31]

Mahfouz, certain the pact was holding, then called for bin Laden’s family.

By 2006, the outfit had rebounded, and bin Laden’s family decided to try to reach him, wherever he was hiding in Pakistan, against the wishes of the Iranians.[32]

Over the years Iran gradually dispatched the al-Qaeda senior officials to Iraq and other Arab countries to launch terrorist factions. Scores of these individuals ended up in Syria and Iraq leading extremist groups.

In 2015 Iran released five senior members of al-Qaeda, including Saif al-Adel who apparently stepped in to serve as the group’s interim leader immediately after Osama bin Laden’s death and who is the subject of a $5 million bounty. Iran’s release of the five men was part of a prisoner swap in March with al-Qaeda’s branch in Yemen, the group holding an Iranian diplomat, Nour Ahmad Nikbakht. Nikbakht was kidnapped in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa in July 2013.[33]

CNN reported on 11 March 2013, “… For al-Qaeda's operatives, life in Iran was more secure than for many of their colleagues in Pakistan who risked capture by Pakistani forces working with the CIA or death by CIA drones.”[34]

Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal, former intelligence chief and ambassador to the United States, in a piece published by al-Sharq al-Awsat on 12 January 2015 pointed out that subsequent to the 9/11 attack and the invasion of Afghanistan, the Iranian regime allowed various al-Qaeda leaders to flee to Iran and provided them with a safe haven. In 2003 the Iranian regime allowed a number of al-Qaeda leaders to go from Iran to Iraq where they formed ‘al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia’.[35]

According to Seth G. Jones, writing in Foreign Affairs on 29 January 2012: “Over the past several years, al Qaeda has taken a beating in Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, the Horn of Africa, and North Africa… But the group's outpost in Iran has remained almost untouched for the past decade…. Around October 2001, the Government dispatched a delegation to Afghanistan to guarantee the safe travel of operatives and their families to Iran…. By 2002, al-Qaeda had established in Iran its ’management council,’ a body that bin Laden reportedly tasked with providing strategic support to the organization’s leaders in Pakistan. According to Jones’ assessment “Perhaps more disturbing, Iran appears willing to expand its limited relationship with al-Qaeda,” and “today, Iran is still an important al-Qaeda hub.”[36]

Bin Laden’s letters also shed light on the group’s ties to Iran.

On 20 May 2015, and 1 March 2016, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) released a number of documents that were obtained during the raid on bin Laden’s home in Abbottabad in 2011. Among the documents, there was a 2007 letter by bin Laden to a terrorist named “Karim.” In it bin Laden explained the group’s relationship with Iran.  “Iran is our main artery for funds, personnel, and communication, as well as the matter of hostages…There is no need to fight with Iran unless you are forced to,” bin Laden wrote. He strongly advised against any attack on Iran.

Another bin Laden letter explains how al-Qaeda members sought refuge in Iran after 9/11. In a message to Sheikh Abu Muhammad he says, “Following the September 11 attacks…they entered Iran swiftly through various routes and not through the official gates. A month later, other brothers joined with their families…[37]

 

Requests from US to swap opposition members with al-Qaeda leaders

During a May 2003 meeting between senior Iranian officials and their American counterparts, the Iranians proposed exchanging al-Qaeda leaders for leaders of the main Iranian opposition group, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) who were in Camp Ashraf, Iraq under US protection.  Zalmay Khalilzad, the former US Ambassador to Iraq, Afghanistan, and the UN, was in the meeting and explained in his book, that Iranians aired the possibility “of a direct exchange — MEK leaders for al-Qaeda leaders.”[38]

A former senior US intelligence official who spoke on condition of anonymity told to NBC News on 24 June, 2005 “several general offers were made through third parties, not all of them diplomatic.”[39]

The US administration rejected the notion and then shut down the diplomatic channel that month after it linked the terrorist attack in Riyadh to al-Qaeda leaders in Iran.

 

U.S. acknowledgement of Iran - al Qaeda relationship in recent years

  • On 28 July 2011, the U.S. Department of the Treasury “announced the designation of six members of an al-Qaeda network headed by Ezedin Abdel Aziz Khalil, a prominent Iran-based al-Qaeda facilitator, operating under an agreement between al-Qaeda and the Iranian government. Today’s action, taken pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13224, demonstrates that Iran is a critical transit point for funding to support al-Qaeda’s activities in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This network serves as the core pipeline through which al-Qaeda moves money, facilitators and operatives from across the Middle East to South Asia.”[40]

 

  • At the same time, the US Treasury provided evidence of an extensive fund-raising operation that draws from donors in Persian Gulf countries such as Kuwait and Qatar and uses Iran-based al-Qaeda operatives. Six al-Qaeda members were sanctioned for overseeing this network. The U.S. offered up to a $10 million reward for information leading to Khalil.
  • On 16 February 2012, the US Treasury announced the designation of the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS), Iran's primary intelligence organization, for its support of terrorist groups as well as its central role in perpetrating human rights abuses against the citizens of Iran and its role in supporting the Syrian regime as it continues to commit human rights abuses against the people of Syria.[41]

“Today we have designated the MOIS for abusing the basic human rights of Iranian citizens and exporting its vicious practices to support the Syrian regime’s abhorrent crackdown on its own population,” said Under-Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen. “In addition, we are designating the MOIS for its support to terrorist groups, including al Qa’ida, al Qa’ida in Iraq, Hezbollah and Hamas, again exposing the extent of Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism as a matter of Iranian state policy.”[42]

 

  • On 18 October 2012, the US Treasury further exposed the Iran-based al-Qaeda network, designating Adel Radi Saqr al-Wahabi al-Harbi (al-Harbi), a key member of an al-Qaeda network operating in Iran under the leadership of Muhsin al-Fadhli (al-Fadhli).  The Treasury Department underscored that Iran continued to allow al-Qaeda to operate a core pipeline that moves money and fighters through Iran to support al-Qaeda activities in South Asia.  This network also sends funding and fighters to Syria. David S. Cohen said the Iran-based funding and facilitation network was critically important for al-Qaeda.[43]

 

  • The U.S. government again revealed Iran’s collaboration with al-Qaeda on 20 July 2016.  The Treasury Department blacklisted three members of al-Qaeda living in Iran, saying they had helped the group. The US Treasury found that Yisra Muhammad Ibrahim Bayumi had mediated with Iranian authorities as of early 2015 and helped al-Qaeda members living in Iran. Bayumi has been residing in Iran since 2014 and had been able to facilitate al-Qaeda financial transfers in 2015, suggesting he had some freedom to operate since moving to Iran. Abu Bakr Muhammad Ghumayn had control of the group’s financing and organization inside Iran as of 2015.[44]

 

  • In its 2015 “Country Reports on Terrorism “the U.S. State Department wrote that “Iran remained unwilling to bring to justice senior al-Qa’ida (AQ) members it continued to detain and refused to publicly identify the members in its custody. Iran previously allowed AQ facilitators to operate a core facilitation pipeline through Iran since at least 2009, enabling AQ to move funds and fighters to South Asia and Syria.”[45]

Al-Qaeda in Iraq and relations with Tehran

Following the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, Iran also provided a safe haven to al-Qaeda operative Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who went on to establish al-Qaeda in Iraq, an al-Qaeda offshoot that would later evolve into ISIS. 

Zarqawi, a terrorist who gained notoriety for his unmatched brutality and ruthlessness, was a close associate of bin Laden. He initially operated under the protection of the IRGC and its elite Quds Force. After spending some time in Iran, with the help of Iran in general and the Quds Force in particular, he went to Iraq and established al-Qaeda in Iraq.

IRGC support for al-Qaeda in Iraq included money, weapons, and most importantly leaving the borders open for operatives passing from Iran to Iraq. According to intelligence officials, the time Zarqawi spent in Iran was crucial for rebuilding his network before relocating to Iraq.

In a 125-page report dated 6 September 2004, the German Federal Criminal Investigation Bureau (BKA) described how in early 2002, Zarqawi set up new camps and safe houses in Zahedan, Isfahan and Tehran with the knowledge of Iranian authorities. Iran thus became a hub in Zarqawi's fast-growing network stretching from the northern Caucasus to Syria, Turkey and into Europe, with forged passports, money and fresh instructions channelled in all directions.[46]

According to intelligence obtained by the network of the Iranian opposition, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran in 2005, Zarqawi had several highly secure safe houses in Iran including one in the Nivaran area of northern Tehran.  That area had very tight security.

Zarqawi also maintained multiple phone numbers under assumed names, for use in different areas of the country.

Zarqawi was killed on 7 June 2006 in an airstrike by the coalition forces. His work led to the establishment of the Islamic State, currently led by Ibrahim Awad Ibrahim al-Badri, widely known as Abu Bakr al Baghdadi.

In an interview on November 2015 John Kerry, then US Secretary of State, said: “ISIS was created by Assad releasing 1,500 prisoners from jail and Maliki releasing 1,000 people in Iraq who were put together as a force of terror… as an effort to help Assad, so that he could say, ‘It’s me or the terrorists.’” [47] This happening as both Maliki and Assad were under Tehran’s complete control, indicates the fact that points squarely at Tehran’s role in the establishment of ISIS.

 


 

Conclusion and Policy Recommendations

While Iran’s role in consistently supporting and nurturing extremist Shiite proxies has been established, there is also growing evidence that Tehran has been actively and systematically supporting Sunni terrorist groups.

While differences between Sunnis and Shiites are indisputable, Tehran has not allowed these to affect its policies but has established specific entities to accommodate the needs of these groups in line with the regime’s ominous goals. The IRGC Quds Force is the key instrument of these objectives and Lebanese Hezbollah contributes to them as well, being under the control of the IRGC.

Tehran has pursued its objectives cunningly over the years, at times depicting itself as a “partner” in combating terror, even while it remains the key instigator of the same.

Although it has been little noticed, al-Qaeda has maintained relations with Tehran and the IRGC Quds Force since the early 1990s. Tehran’s role in providing support and safe havens to al-Qaeda expanded after 11 September 2001. This support has been a key factor in helping al-Qaeda to rebuild itself. 

New evidence suggests that Tehran’s role in supporting and enabling al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda in Iraq (the forerunner of ISIS) has been under-estimated.

In other words, it is becoming evident that the policy of exporting extremism has been a matter of statecraft for Tehran, which has made itself the epicentre of Islamic fundamentalism. This policy has been established and developed at the highest levels of the Iranian regime, with the support of all political factions.

Given the prominence of terrorist sponsorship in the Iranian regime’s objectives, more efforts must be made to challenge it. The following policy recommendations may help:

 1.      World powers that are combating Islamic extremism and the terrorism that emanates from it should emphasize the peculiar role of the Iranian regime. This has to be articulated and addressed publicly without any political consideration.

2.      Expansive sanctions should be imposed on the IRGC in its entirety and on Hezbollah. There has to be a comprehensive campaign to identify, expose, and punish all trading partners of the IRGC and Hezbollah throughout the world.

 3.      The U.S., Europe and all civilized states should act in unison to expel all of the Iranian regime’s agents of terror from their territory.

 4.      The IRGC, Hezbollah and all other Tehran proxies should be removed from countries in the region, in particular from Syria.

 


European Iraqi Freedom Association (EIFA)

Founded on 4 April 2014, EIFA is a non-governmental and non-profit organisation based in Brussels           

President: Struan Stevenson, was a member of the European Parliament representing Scotland (1999-2014), President of the Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with Iraq (2009-14) and Chairman of Friends of a Free Iran Intergroup (caucus) (2004-14). He is an international lecturer on the Middle East.

Members of the board: Giulio Terzi, Former Foreign Minister of Italy; Ryszard Czarnecki, Vice-President of the European Parliament; Alejo Vidal-Quadras, Former Vice President of the European Parliament (1999-2014); Stephen Hughes, Former Vice-President of S&D Group in European Parliament (2009-2014); Lord Carlile of Berriew, QC; Paulo Casaca, Middle East Expert, former MEP (1999-2009); Kimmo Sasi, former President of the Nordic Council (Finland);

Honorary Members: Tariq al-Hashimi, former Vice President of Iraq; Sid Ahmed Ghozali, Former Prime Minister of Algeria

 

 eu-iraq.org                                                      /EuIraq                                                           @EuIraq

 



[1] Henry Kissinger, “The Next Steps With Iran”, The Washington Post, 31 July 2006

[2] On 1 November 2017, the CIA released to the public nearly 470,000 additional files recovered in the May 2011 raid on Osama Bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Documents included new information on the relations between Iran and al-Qaeda.

[3] The trove of documents recovered from Bin Laden’s compound in 2011 that was released to the public by the US Government on 1 November 2017 included one never-before-seen 19-page document containing assessment of the group’s relationship with Iran by a senior official of al-Qaeda. Here is a link to the original document in Arabic that was provided by longwarjournal.org. Short link: goo.gl/sHLnwV

 

[4]Hokumat-i Eslami” or “Islamic Government”, is a book by Khomeini where he set the theoretical basis of the regime he later established in Iran. The book originated in a series of lectures given at Najaf, Iraq between 21 January and 8 February 1970. He articulated the concept of velāyat-e faqīh, or the absolute rule of the clergy in the book.

[5] Jonathan Schanzer, “At war with whom? A short history of radical Islam”, Middle East Forum, Spring, 2002 Schanzer was a counterterrorism analyst for the Office of Intelligence and Analysis at the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

[7] Exclusive interview of Javad Mansouri (the first commander of the IRGC in 1979 and the deputy minister of foreign affairs in 1981) with the Quarterly Journal of Ramze Obour, 20 June 2016

[8] Undated 9-pages long hand-written letter of Mehdi Hashemi, to Ayatollah Montazeri, on the official letterhead of the Islamic Republic of Iran-Global Islamic Movement. The letter was written in early 1980s. Hashemi fell from the grace later on and was sentenced to death by a Special Clerical Court. He was executed in Tehran in September 1987.

[9] Mohammad Mohaddessin, “Islamic Fundamentalism, The New Global Threat”, Seven Locks Press, Washington, DC, 1993.

[10] The National Council of Resistance of Iran, the coalition of Iranian democratic opposition: www.ncr-iran.org

[11] Letter of PM Mir Hossein Mousavi, to President Ali Khamenei on 5 September 1988. Excerpts of the letter has been translated for this report. The letter was the attachment of Mousavi’s letter of resignation. This letter in which Mousavi explains his reasoning for resignations, was not public. It was disclosed at a later date. Khomeini rejected Mousavi’s resignation and asked him to stay at his post.

[12] Ibid. Letter of Mehdi Hashemi, to Ayatollah Montazeri

[15] “Islamic Fundamentalism, the New Global Threat”, was one of the first places that the existence of the Quds Force was exposed. In this book, Mohaddessin stated that the Quds Force, as an “International Islamic Army” was incepted in 1990 and included the Guards Corps’ most experienced commanding officers and personnel.

[17] Opcit

[18] Opcit

[19] Matthew Levitt and Michael Jacobson, “The Iran-al-Qaeda Conundrum”, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 23 January 2009

[20] Marc Thiessen, “Iran responsible for 1998 U.S. embassy bombings,” The Washington Post, 8 December 2011

[23] Rukmini Callimachi and Eric Schmitt, “Iran released top members of Al Qaeda in a trade,” The New York Times, 17 September 2015

[24] “Al Qaeda Alliance against the US”, United Against Nuclear Iran

[25] Dana Priest and Douglas Farah, “Iranian force has long ties to Al Qaeda,” The Washington Post, 14 October 2003

[26] Opcit

[27] Adrian Levy and Cathy scot-Clark, “Al-Qaeda has rebuilt itself- With Iran’s help,” The Atlantic, 11 November 2017

[28] Opcit

[29] Opcit

[30] Justine Blau “Iran A Safe Haven For Al Qaeda?”, CBS, 18 May 2003

[31] Douglas Jehl and Eric Schmit, “US suggests a Qaeda cell in Iran directed Saudi bombings,” The New York Times, 21 May 2003

[32] Adrian Levy and Cathy scot-Clark, “Al-Qaeda has rebuilt itself- With Iran’s help,” The Atlantic, 11 November 2017

[33] Rukmini Callimachi and Eric Schmitt, “Iran released top members of Al Qaeda in a trade,” The New York Times, 17 September 2015

[34] Peter Bergen, “Strange bedfellows -- Iran and al Qaeda?”, CNN, 11 March 2013

[35] Turki al-Faisal, Pan Arabic daily, Asharq Al-Awsat, 12 January 2015

[36] Seth G. Jones, “Al Qaeda in Iran, Why Tehran is Accommodating the Terrorist Group”, Foreign Affairs, 29 January 2012

[37] Catherine Philp, “Bin Laden’s letter saved Tehran from Isis terror” The Times, 8 June 2017

[38] Michael Gordon, “U.S. conferred with Iran before Iraq invasion, book says,” The New York Times, 6 March 2016

[39] Robert Windrem,  “al-Qaeda finds safe haven in Iran”, Dateline NBC, 24 June 2005

[40] Treasury Targets Key Al-Qa’ida Funding and Support Network Using Iran as a Critical Transit Point, US Department of Treasury, 28 July 2011

[41]  Treasury Designates Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security for Human Rights Abuses and Support for Terrorism, US Department of the Treasury, 16 February 2012

[42] Opcit

[43] Treasury Further Exposes Iran-Based Al-Qa'ida Network, US Department of the Treasury, 18 October 2012

[44] Treasury Designates Three Senior Al-Qaida Members, US Department of the Treasury, 20 July 2016

[45] Country Reports on Terrorism 2015, State Sponsors of Terrorism Overview, US Department of State

[46] Urs Gehriger, “Abu Musab al-Zarqawi: From green man to guru”, signandsight.com, 11 September 2005

[47] John Kerry interview with Gregory Palkot of Fox News, US State Department, 17 November 2015

 

ISIS just lost its last town in Iraq Friday, 17 November 2017 21:39

In 2014, ISIS controlled around 34,000 square miles of territory in Iraq and Syria. As of Friday, ISIS lost its last stronghold in Iraq.

That’s because on Friday morning Iraqi troops and US-led coalition forces retook Rawa — a small town in northwestern Iraq — after about five hours of fighting. ISIS has now effectively lost all of its territory in Iraq, even though some of the group’s militants still operate in the country’s western rural areas near the border with Syria.

Now that Iraq’s flag hangs over Rawa once more, Brett McGurk, President Donald Trump’s diplomatic envoy for the US-led coalition, congratulated the Iraqi fighters on Twitter and announced that the “days of [ISIS’s] phony ‘caliphate’ are coming to an end.” Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi also praised his forces, noting how quickly they retook the town.

The Pentagon says the US has around 5,300 troops tasked with helping the Iraqi military fight ISIS, usually by training its troops, gathering intelligence, and conducting airstrikes.

It’s a big moment for Iraq, as retaking Rawa has essentially ended ISIS governance in its country after three long and brutal years of fighting. But that doesn’t mean that anyone can relax just yet. If anything, the ISIS threat is morphing.

ISIS isn’t defeated yet

It’s more than likely that ISIS will continue to plague Iraq, Syria, and much of the world, even as it loses land.

Just a day ago, when asked about ISIS, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said that “anyone who thinks they're down is premature.”

Hassan Hassan, a Middle East security expert at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, wrote in the National on November 15 that ISIS is already beginning to redefine itself. The group is shifting from governing territory to quickly striking Iraqi towns and cities. The strategy, Hassan notes, is to begin “a war of attrition to deplete its enemy through a ceaseless and incessant campaign of terror and hit-and-run attacks.”

ISIS may carry this strategy forward into Syria, too. The group lost the capital of its so-called caliphate, Raqqa, in October, but it still controls parts of urban areas in eastern Syria. As the US-led coalition tries to remove ISIS from that territory, it could use terror tactics to try to ward off the US-led coalition.

As my colleague Yochi Dreazen notes, ISIS may turn into more of an idea as it loses more territory. That idea may continue to inspire ISIS followers in various countries to stage attacks — especially in Europe and the United States. The attack in New York City this month, which killed eight people and injured 11, was believed to have been inspired by ISIS. It only underlined how hard it will be to prevent similar attacks by an individual encouraged by ISIS propaganda.

So while it’s worth celebrating the military defeat of ISIS in Iraq, it doesn’t mean the fight against the group is over.

Source: Vox

Proposed changes to Iraq’s personal status law caused protests because they drop the legal age of marriage to 9. Even worse, the changes come at the same time as an ongoing erosion in women’s status in Iraqi society.

 On October 30, Iraq’s parliament made a decision that stirred up much anger around the country. They agreed to make amendments to the country’s personal status law in principle. The proposed changes have been a subject of controversy for years but this time it seems that politicians may finally be getting their way.

In many Muslim countries, issues like divorce, custody of children and marriage are ruled by religious law, or Sharia. However in 1959, the Iraqi government passed a new personal status law, based on the law of the land that treated all sects and ethnicities equally. This is Law Number 188 and it is still in effect today, with rulings on related issues made by government-run courts.

As Germany’s Heinrich Boell foundation has reported, the current Iraqi law is based on religious rules but it took a more liberal approach.

“It restricts child marriages (by setting the legal age of marriage at 18 years), bans forced marriages and restricts polygamy; it curtails men’s prerogatives in divorce, expands women’s rights in divorce, extends child custody to mothers, and improves inheritance rights for women,” the foundation has stated. “It remains one of the most liberal laws in the Arab world with respect to women’s rights.”

The latter quality is something that many modern Iraqis have been proud of. Hence the uproar when news broke about the agreement to amend the personal status law.

Those amendments have been a long time coming. Shortly after the regime headed by former Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein, was removed by a US-led invasion, the new Iraqi government stated its intention to change Law 188 and to reinstate religious courts on a sectarian basis – that is, cases would be heard by either a Sunni or Shiite Muslim court, depending on the sect of those using the law. Ever since 2004, protests by civil society organisations have managed to prevent this.

But it seems that this time the politicians may be able to make the changes they have sought for so long – even though it seems that any actual amendments will be a far longer time coming.

“There are serious constitutional and legal violations in this desire of the Islamic parties to amend the law,” one Iraqi MP, Shuruq al-Abaji, told NIQASH.

She points out that Article 41 of the Iraqi Constitution guarantees that Iraqis are free to choose personal status according to their religious beliefs, sects or other choices. Before the amendments can be made to the personal status law, this article would need to be changed, al-Abaji insists.

And there is another legal issue, the politician notes. The proposed new personal status law would refer issues of marriage, divorce, custody and inheritance to the religious endowment authorities – these are the bodies tasked with running and maintaining Shiite or Sunni mosques and shrines and they are very important institutions within their own sectarian communities. But, as al-Abaji argues, that violates not just the principle of the separation of powers but also human rights and international laws around women’s rights.

“The organization of these issues should be the responsibility of the courts and not the executive branch of Sunni or Shiite religious orders,” al-Abaji concludes.

Iraq’s original personal status law and the proposed amendments could not be more different. The first one grants mothers the right to custody and gives wives the right to inherit their husband’s estate. Meanwhile religious jurisprudence tends to say the custody of children is a matter for the father and that women do not have the right to inherit real estate or land.

However these were not even the issues that really riled Iraqis up. The change that most angered locals was the one related to legal marriageable age. Civil law says a couple should be aged at least 18 in order to marry. Meanwhile religious law says puberty means a female is of marriageable age. In some cases, this is considered to be nine years old, in others 12 years old.

“The newly proposed law encourages the marriage of minors and reminds us most of the way that the [extremist group] Islamic State behaved with young girls, how the organisation forced them to marry group members when they were in control in Mosul and Raqqa,” says MP Rizan al-Sheik Daleer.

Once again, civil society and women’s rights organisations rallied around to protests the changes in the law. Many Iraqis on social media used the hashtag #NoToUnderageMarriages and a number of Facebook pages were created to organize the protests and garner support.

The change in law also comes at a time when women’s rights appear to be being eroded in Iraq, many of the activists believe.

“Islamic parties’ attempts to pass this new personal status law comes at the same time as a decline in the female role in Iraqi politics,” states Hanaa Edwar, the influential head of the Al Amal (Hope) civil society organization. “In 2004 women occupied a fair few of the positions in government but their numbers have decreased dramatically over the past 10 years. It’s a serious indication that male chauvinism is on the rise in Iraq.”

In the first Iraqi government after the fall of Saddam Hussein, there were six female ministers. Currently there are only two – the minister of health and the minister of housing. There were eight deputy ministers in 2005 but in 2013, only one.

When the Iraqi parliament elected a new oversight commission for elections last month, for the first time ever there was no woman on it. In 2005, when the commission was first formed there were two.

At one stage the staffs of the ministries of finance, education and health were around half female. But their numbers have dropped a lot over the past few years. Three months ago parliament refused to vote on measures impacting the Federal Public Service Council, which regulates the affairs of the federal public service, including appointment and promotion, because of the fact that the president and deputy are independent women, according to Edwar. Male MPs have also refused to vote on a bill on domestic violence for years, she added.

All of this should be a wakeup call, Edwar argues, when it comes to the role of Iraqi women in their own society.

“Men occupy all the high-ranking positions and they reject the laws that might support women,” Edwar notes. “If there were no quotas in place that require that females make up 25 percent of parliament and provincial councils, things would be even worse.”

Source: Globalresearch.ca

Iran’s Greatest Challenge is Homegrown Tuesday, 07 November 2017 18:43

The prospect of potential domestic unrest has hit a raw nerve in Iran.

Iran has long been a formidable regional force. It has projected its power by backing Shia militias, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon or Hashd al-Shaabi in Iraq, or Sunni groups such as Hamas in Palestine, thereby engaging in a proxy war strategy throughout the Middle East. However, since the independence referendum held in Iraqi Kurdistan on September 25, Iran has become decidedly more explicit in flaunting its involvement in attempting to control the latest regional tensions developing in Iraq between Baghdad and Erbil.

The flash point of this conflict began in Kirkuk when Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Iranian Quds force (the foreign wing of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, IRGC), made his presence there public in October, defiantly demonstrating Iran’s influence in Iraq to America. Following the capture of Kirkuk by Shia militias and Iraqi forces, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei’s photo was promptly displayed in the newly deposed governor’s office. In a final show of defiance, after US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told Shia militants in Kirkuk to “go home,” Qais al-Khazali, leader of Iran-funded Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia, told America to prepare to withdraw its troops from Iraq.

Two particular events that directly targeted the Iranian regime’s weak spot and potentially destabilizing factor — popular unrest at best and uprising at worst — triggered Tehran’s increasingly assertive and confrontational stance. Iran fears domestic unrest because, while it has successfully spread its power abroad by empowering Shia parties and militias, internally it has achieved control through severe repression of both its ethnic minorities and dissident political voices.

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The first event came in the form of President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speeches at the UN General Assembly in September, in which both made overtures to the Iranian people. Trump spoke of “the Iranian regime’s longest-suffering victims: its own people.” Netanyahu declared to the “people of Iran: You are not our enemy; you are our friends.” He then put on a full charm offensive and repeated his advance in Farsi: “Shoma doosteh ma hasteed” (You are our friends). He went on to say that “One day, my Iranian friends, you will be free from the evil regime that terrorizes you, hangs gays, jails journalists, tortures political prisoners… .” Both speeches were accompanied by warnings of Iran’s growing power that must be curbed. This insinuates an interesting strategic change of policy that involves targeting the Iranian regime’s fear of destabilization through internal revolt.

The second event was the unexpected mass support of the Iranian Kurds for Iraqi Kurds’ independence referendum that caught most off guard. Before the results were even announced, the sheer number and speed at which hundreds of thousands of Kurds gathered throughout the Kurdish cities of Iran to celebrate was astonishing. Iranian Kurds defied a repressive regime in a way that had not occurred since the Islamic Revolution. The crackdown was prompt, with anti-riot forces and tanks being sent into Kurdish cities, and over 700 civilians detained. The Mahabad Republic of 1946 — the first attempt at an independent Kurdish state — still haunts the Iranian regime, which is now alarmed by the unity Iran’s Kurds have demonstrated with their Iraqi neighbors. What is more, this civilian outpouring if support was followed by political solidarity from the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDKI) and Komala, as well as military support from Kurdistan Freedom Party (PAK, Iran’s Kurdish militia) that has been fighting in Iraqi Kurdistan in post-referendum confrontations.

The events that occurred in the Kurdish regions of Iran received scant media attention, and when they did, they were demonstratively downplayed. This was the case during a panel discussion organized by The Washington Institute at the end of September, during which it was suggested that only 1,000 people protested, and that the demonstration was fairly irrelevant and easy to contain. The reality on the ground was conspicuously different, and Tehran’s heavy-handed response is an indication of the regime’s angst regarding its minorities.

Iran will go to great lengths to suppress the Kurds, as, despite being an ethnically diverse country in which 40% to 50% of the population is non-Persian, its minorities have been historically repressed. The repression faced by ethnic and religious minorities is widespread, ranging from discrimination, persecution and economic and cultural marginalization, to torture and mass executions in front of relatives after show trials lasting no more than 15 minutes. At times, this has led to unrest. For instance, in 2006, the Azeri minority held large protests and burned down government buildings after a cartoon portrayed them as cockroaches, with hundreds of protestors were arrested as a result.

More recently, in early September 2017, large protests erupted in Kurdish cities following the killing of two Kurdish men by Iranian security forces at the border. These protests were met with tear gas and gunfire, with hundreds arrested.

The Kurds are becoming increasingly restive, threatening the status quo. It is important to bear in mind that the extent of the repressions, executions and silencing that the Kurds face in Iran is such that they are known as the “forgotten Kurds.” It is therefore a common error to underestimate the threat they represent in the eyes of the Iranian regime as their discontent rises.

SIMMERING DISCONTENT

Trump’s recent decision to decertify the Iran nuclear deal and to introduce sanctions against the IRGC under a terrorism financing executive order has received significant media attention and is undeniably part of the reason why Iran is reacting in open defiance to America by showing that it ultimately holds sway over Iraq — an undoubtedly bitter pill for the US to swallow. However, it seems that the recent external and internal tribulations have hit a raw nerve in Tehran.

Indeed, whilst many in Iran do support the regime, many do not. For example, in response to the IRGC designation as a terrorist organization, Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif launched a Twitter call of national unity with the IRGC, which was not a resounding success. The social media response demonstrated that many Iranians view the IRGC as an organization that terrorizes its own people. It is noteworthy that many Iranian voices that dissented on Twitter are based inside Iran and not just in the wider diaspora, which is in itself a significant sign of defiance to the regime.

In its attempt to rally popular support behind the IRGC, the regime attempted to create a semblance of overt national cohesion in response to outside pressures precisely because it knows very well that a large proportion of its population does not endorse the regime. Suffice to remember the 2009 Green Movement that erupted in mass protests after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s contested reelection. The repression was brutal, but it was also a clear indication of simmering discontent throughout Iranian society.

Activists from ethnic minorities were also involved in the Green Movement but were soon disenchanted as the leaders were reluctant to support minority rights, which are viewed as having separatist undertones. Ironically, President Hassan Rouhani was elected on the joint promise of achieving a nuclear deal and civil rights reform, including fair trials for ethnic minorities and Green Movement leaders. Yet today the human rights situation in Iran has deteriorated even further past the levels of Ahmadinejad’s presidency, according to Ahmed Shaheed, former UN special rapporteur. Consequently, domestic tensions and discontent may well continue to rise as Rouhani’s promises of reforms are not being met.

Iran knows that its most concerning weakness and challenge lies in domestic, not foreign, destabilization. It has therefore resorted to taking a much more openly aggressive stance in asserting its power in the region as its long-term challengers — Israel, America and its own Kurdish minority — have apparently turned to more openly seeking to gaud Iran’s weakest point.

Source: Fair Observer

What Next For Kurdistan? Friday, 03 November 2017 09:46

The independence referendum in the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) of Iraq has resulted in a tumultuous aftermath that recalls the old adage that the Kurds have no friends but the mountains. Reaction by all neighbors, including the central Iraqi government in Baghdad, has been harsh. Iraqi, Iranian, and Turkish-backed forces have occupied Kurdish areas in the month following the referendum. KRG president Masoud Barzani is stepping down. But the referendum has brought attention to the Kurdish cause and exposed the machinations of neighbors with large Kurdish populations, particularly Iran.  It may lead, unexpectedly, to U.S. recognition that an independent Kurdistan is actually a plus for stability and American interests in the region.

Barzani decided on June 7 to hold an independence referendum to secede from Iraq. Almost all political parties in the KRG supported the referendum decision except for the change movement (Gorran) and Kurdistan Islamic Group (Komal). The referendum was held on September 25th despite objections from Baghdad, the neighbors, and the rest of the international community including the United States and Britain. In fact, the only country that supported the referendum openly was Israel. Despite such opprobrium and attempts to halt the vote, independence was favored by 92.7 percent of the electorate.

The central government of Baghdad all along was threatening the Kurdistan regional government, as did Turkey, Syria, and in particularly Iran. These neighboring countries have large and significant Kurdish populations and fear that if the Kurdistan region of Iraq becomes independent, their Kurdish population would demand the same.

What Iran Fears

Iran fears an independent Kurdistan, because it might influence its 7 million Iranian Kurds to aspire to secede from Iran. Before the referendum took place, Iran tried to persuade the KRG to postpone the referendum, and when that did not work, they tried hard to divide the Kurdish house.

In July, they invited to Tehran Jalal Talabani, the former president of Iraq who died just eight days after the referendum, and still then the leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), one of the two most powerful political parties in the KRG. The Iranians called the visit friendly, although Talabani had had a stroke, was hospitalized for more then five years, and lost the ability to communicate. Second, Iran invited the PUK politburo to Tehran to persuade them to support the idea of postponing or canceling the referendum. That attempt did not worked either; the deputy PUK leader Kosrat Rasul refused the request.

Plainly, Iran fears Kurdish unity. In 2014, for example, ISIS attacked Iraqi Kurdistan and Kurds all around the Middle East fought side by side to defend Kurdish homelands including Iranian Kurdish peshmerga forces of the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDKI) and Komala (two main Kurdish political opposition in Iran). Iran demanded that these Iranian peshmerga forces would not be allowed to fight ISIS and gain battle experience. Because of the sensitivity of the situation, KRG agreed and did not allow the PDKI peshmerga to help them in the fight against ISIS. Afterwards, in spring 2016 the PDKI decided to send back their peshmerga forces to Iranian Kurdistan, and other Iranian Kurdish political parties followed with their peshmerga forces. Several clashes have occurred between these peshmerga forces and the Iranian Quds forces, with casualties on both sides.

Before the referendum, Iranian officials argued that Iranian Kurds would not behave like the Iraqi Kurds because they were treated equally with other Iranian people and that the Islamic Republic of Iran did not distinguish between different groups of people in Iran. On the referendum day and the following day, thousands of Iranian Kurds took to the streets in different cities in Iranian Kurdistan and celebrated the Iraqi Kurdistan referendum. They shouted that they are with their brethren in Iraqi Kurdistan and that freedom will come soon to them as well. Iranian police forces arrested several celebrators because they had waved the Kurdish flag, and the Internet was shut down for several days.

PDKI leader Mustafa Hijri, in an interview with Al Jazeera, reaffirmed not only his party’s support for an independent Iraqi Kurdistan, but his belief that an independent Iraqi Kurdistan will have a positive impact on Iranian Kurdistan. He believes that once the people of Iraqi Kurdistan achieve their freedom, Iranian Kurds will also realize that they could go on the same path as their brethren in Iraqi Kurdistan.

This, of course, is precisely what Tehran fears. Iranian officials have tried to downsize the importance of the KRG referendum on their Kurdish population. Recently, Iranian president Hassan Rouhani dismissed the connection between the referendum and their own Kurdish population: “We will in no way count the political mistakes of some people in the Kurdistan Region [KRG] on you. You are part of the great Iranian nation. You are a loyal nation. You are among Iran’s oldest nations in the region. You have always stood by the Islamic revolution and stood by the Iranian nation in the imposed war with Iraq.” Mr. Rouhani’s statement was in fact a threat towards his own Kurdish population. He is trying to tell Iranian Kurds, if you demand anything more then what you have today, there is no one who can protect you.

Iran’s attitude toward the KRG independence vote is more clearly expressed in how it has influenced the Baghdad government, and what it has done militarily on the ground.

Iran’s Influence On Iraq

The key to understanding the current mess in Iraqi Kurdistan is the outsized influence of Tehran in post-Saddam Iraq. The 2005 constitution, significantly shaped by the U.S. occupiers, was meant to resolve the sovereignty of the disputed areas around oil-rich Kirkuk, but serious talks have never been convened. At the same time, the Shia-dominated central government in Baghdad has for years treated Sunni Arabs harshly (giving rise to ISIS) and Kurds with neglect. The Shia-dominated army and militias collapsed in the first encounters with ISIS, leaving the Kurds (backed by Iran and U.S. air power) as the only effective counter to the Islamic States’ bloodthirsty assaults. Despite that failure, Iran has exceptional influence on the Iraqi state.

The dominance of the Shia in Baghdad is occasioned by the 60 percent majority the sect has in Iraq. Iran, officially Shia, not only influenced Baghdad as co-religionists but also because so many in Baghdad leadership were exiled in Iran during Saddam’s reign. With less U.S. presence in the country since the formal withdrawal of troops in 2011, Iranian influence has increased. It is common that visitors in Baghdad can encounter pictures of the ayatollahs Khomeini and Khamenei, unthinkable before the 2003 occupation and a striking symbol of this influence.

Tehran is guiding Baghdad on the assault in Kurdistan. The commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Quds Force, Qasem Suleimani, has served as an adviser to Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi and has been neck deep in the Kurdish crisis, blamed by Iraqi Kurdish officials for masterminding the attack on the disputed areas between Kurdistan and Iraq. Other Iranian forces allegedly involved — the Iranian Hashed Al-Shabi forces, other Revolutionary Guard units, and Hezbollah — were able to move into Kirkuk and the KRG with little resistance from the Peshmerga because Suleimani elegantly divided the Kurdish house. He forged an agreement between Iran and some factions of PUK officials who were dissatisfied with Barzani’s leadership, alarmed by the broad opposition to the referendum in the international community, and sought a deal that would benefit them in all ways.

After the clashes between the Iranian-led forces and the Kurdish peshmerga forces, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has said that Iran acting (meaning attacking) in Kurdistan prevented the birth of a second Israel in Middle East. The Iranian, Turkish, and Iraqi charge that the idea of an independent Kurdistan was initiated by Israel and some Kurdish leaders (mainly Barzani), despite the fact Barzani’s late father Mustafa Barzani was fighting for an independent Kurdistan before the establishment of the state of Israel. This tarnishing of Kurdish aspirations is a typical ploy of the Islamic Republic, again masking the worries about its restive Kurdish population.

An Independent Kurdistan And The U.S.

In recent days, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that the Iranian forces must leave Iraq after the fight against ISIS is over. This request was quickly dismissed not only by Iran but also by Iraq. Tillerson’s statement is an acknowledgement that the American policy of containing and rolling back gains by Iran in the region is weak. Some of this vulnerability is tied to Iran’s demonstration of power in the Kurdish crisis.

Washington strongly opposed the Kurdistan referendum and told Kurdish officials that the timing was wrong. When the Kurds asked when the proper time would be, there was no proper answer. The Kurds in Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey are all connected, part of a greater Kurdistan, a national identity. The fact that Kurdish aspirations for a state have been betrayed repeatedly by regional and global powers constitutes a moral case for independence.  But there is also a strategic rationale that should appeal to Washington.

Iran will continue to present problems for peace and stability in the region, as does Syria, a corrupt and unstable Iraq, and the potential rise of another ISIS before long. Turkey, the most prominent ally of the United States in the region (besides Israel), has drifted away from the Western alliance under the erratic and belligerent President Erdogan. Not only did Turkey refuse U.S. armed forces the use of their military base Incirlik twice during the wars in Iraq, but also refused to help against ISIS at crucial moments. Turkey is cultivating closer ties to Iran and Russia, a process that has NATO leaders alarmed.

As a result of Turkey’s unreliability and the continuing chaos in the Middle East, an independent Kurdistan should appear increasingly attractive to American policy makers. Independence for the KRG is not only the right thing to do for the Kurdish people, but could provide several possibilities for a stabilizing U.S. presence in the region. Kurdish people are favorably inclined toward the United States, and welcome a U.S. military presence.  Such a “presence” need not be a large enterprise, nor should a Kurdish state become an expensive security sink for the United States. But it’s worth considering if the Pentagon can design, possibly with other major NATO partners, an all-purpose mission, including readiness for humanitarian and peacekeeping tasks, to be stationed there.

Before that can happen, the Kurds in Iraq must move decisively to end internal divisions, corruption, and anti-democratic habits. This is primarily the responsibility of the KDP, but must be inclusive of all political players. It is an enormous challenge, and one that current leadership is incapable of carrying out. Kurdish cousins in surrounding countries need to support such a cleansing. Then diplomatic efforts with the Baghdad government, under the provisions of the constitution, should move assertively forward toward confederation as a logical next step. 

None of these steps is easy or inevitable. But the conventional wisdom that the referendum was a terrible mistake can be turned on its head. Paradoxically, the referendum “disaster” may shake up the status quo enough to move players in the right direction. With American backing, the long-held hope of a Kurdish state is visible and advisable.

Source: Huffpost

For those of us who have suffered and warned of the Obama administration doctrine, which has allowed Iran to roam freely in our midst and interfere unimpeded in our domestic affairs from the GCC states to the Mediterranean and brag about controlling four Arab capitals under Obama’s watch, the newly declared Trump administration strategy announced in the middle of last month, decertifying Iran’s nuclear agreement, sanctioning Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and doubling down on Iran’s mischief, rogue state behaviour and ballistic missiles testing, was music to the ears.

What was refreshing for us in the GCC states to hear was US President Donald Trump’s new approach of not limiting the terrorist groups to the Sunni extremist groups, which the US administration focused on, but expanding the focus to include Iran and its supported and funded Shiites groups, as a long-term threat.

  The Washington Post in a recent article titled, The US is on collision course with Iran in the Middle East, said: “The launch of the [Trump] strategy signalled an important shift in US Middle East policy away from an almost exclusive focus on fighting Daesh [the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant] to an effort that also pushes back against years of Iranian expansion in the region. But the strategy offers no specifics for how to confront Iran’s pervasive presence on the ground in Iraq, Syria and beyond, raising questions about how easy it will be to push back against Iranian influence without triggering new conflicts…”

Even US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Baghdad called for Iraqi-backed Iranian militias to go home. That represents a major shift in the US position which coordinated with the Iran-supported Popular Mobilisation Forces in the fight against Daesh. This US change of heart, annoyed Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi. Qais Al Khazali, one of the Popular Mobilisation Forces leaders, even went further, insisting the “US should go home.”

In a blistering speech laying out his new strategy, Trump insisted “The Iranian regime continues to fuel conflict, terror, and turmoil throughout the Middle East and beyond. Importantly, Iran is not living up to the spirit of the [Iranian nuclear deal].” Although Trump did not walk out of the Iran nuclear deal, he nevertheless decertified it and left it to Congress to deal with it.

Trump kept repeating, even as a candidate, the Iran deal was “one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the US has ever entered into.” Moreover, Trump in announcing his new strategy vis-a-vis-Iran threatened to act “with the US’ allies to counter the regime destabilising activities… And vowed that “the agreement will be terminated,” if the Congress fails to act on the nuclear agreement.

As Trump has a laundry list of US’ grievances against Iran: “Its support for militant groups like Hezbollah, alarm over its testing of ballistic missiles, and fundamental mistrust of its repressive, theocratic leadership… This regime has fuelled sectarian violence in Iraq, and vicious civil wars in Yemen and Syria. In Syria, the Iranian regime has supported the atrocities of Bashar Al Assad’s regime and condoned Al Assad’s use of chemical weapons against helpless civilians, including many, many children. Those are all fair hits: Iran really is destabilising the Middle East in a whole host of ways….”

Trump kept referring through his speech to the regime, and not Iran... “The regime remains the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, and provides assistance to Al Qaida, the Taliban, Hezbollah, Hamas, and other terrorist networks. It develops, deploys, and proliferates missiles that threaten American troops and our allies. It harasses American ships and threatens freedom of navigation in the Arabian Gulf (it drove Iran nuts) and in the Red Sea. It imprisons Americans on false charges. And it launches cyberattacks against our critical infrastructure, financial system, and military. Trump accused the “regime of harbouring high-level terrorists in the wake of the September 11 attacks, including Osama Bin Laden’s son. In Iraq and Afghanistan, groups supported by Iran have killed hundreds of American military personnel…” These accusations have not been levelled against Iran by any US president.

Trump, never mentioned Iran as “government of Iran”, but referred in one of the harshest speeches by a US president, as a dictatorship, fanatical, and rough regime.

“Trump’s new strategy looks bold and tough on Iran, and is a refreshing departure from Obama’s destructive appeasement.”

Although, Trump strategy insisted as he described it “The regime remains the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, and provides assistance to Al Qaida, the Taliban, Hezbollah, Hamas and other terrorist networks.” He even went as far as accusing Iran of colluding with North Korea: “There are also many people who believe that Iran is dealing with North Korea.” Trump rebuked Iran’s rogue behaviour, announced a tougher stance against Iran, upped the ante and ended Obama appeasement policy and threatened to impose new sanctions against Iran, which the US Congress enthusiastically embraced, and did not waste any time to pass legislation slapping sanctions against Iran and its proxy Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Iran President Hassan Rouhani in a rebuttal speech accused Trump of delivering insults and baseless accusations in his speech and claimed “the US is more isolated than ever, and could not unilaterally change the deal.”

Trump’s new strategy looks bold and tough on Iran, and is a refreshing departure from Obama’s destructive appeasement, which subordinated and tolerated Iran’s meddling and destabilising activities to reach the nuclear agreement at any cost to serve his legacy, it gave Iran by design or inadvertently a green light to advance its project and emboldened Iran to stage a major offensive to be the hegemon of the region, empowering its proxies and allies, supporting the brutal and thuggish regime of Bashar Al Assad in Syria, and undermining the US allies in the GCC states.

But it does seem the Iranian intervention that upset the stability and security of the region pushed Obama to rethink his flawed strategy.

The hardline approach by Trump will be a major victory if it succeeds in deterring Iran, arrests its malignant interventions, forces its allies to change its destabilising behaviour and shenanigans and act more like a normal state, rather than a permanent revolutionary regime, bent on exporting its brand of revolutionary zeal, sectarian militias and hegemonic behaviour.

Source:

By Abdullah Al Shayji, Special to Gulf News
Published: 18:19 October 30, 2017

 

BAGHDAD: With the Daesh group driven from nearly all of Iraq, US officials have suggested that the thousands of mainly Shiite paramilitary fighters who mobilised against the Sunni extremists three years ago lay down their arms.

But Abu Mahdi Al Muhandis, who once battled US troops and is now the deputy head of the state-sanctioned Popular Mobilization Forces, says they are here to stay.

 “The future of the (PMF) is to defend Iraq,” he told The Associated Press in his first extensive interview with a Western media outlet. “The Iraqi army and Iraqi police say they cannot operate without the support of the Hashd,” he added, using a shortened Arabic term for the paramilitary force.

In the years after the 2003 US-led invasion, Al Muhandis led the Hezbollah Brigades, a feared Shiite militia with close ties to Iran and the Lebanese militant group of the same name. His real name is Jamal Jaafar Ebrahim, but he’s still better known by his nom de guerre, and his rise to the top ranks of Iraq’s security apparatus reflects the long, slow decline of US influence over the country.

He participated in the bombing of Western embassies in Kuwait and the attempted assassination of that country’s emir in the early 1980s, for which he was convicted in absentia and added to the US list of designated terrorists. But like many Shiite militants, he returned to Iraq after the 2003 US-led invasion. Two years later, he was even elected to parliament, before being forced to step down under American pressure.

In 2009, the State Department linked him to the elite Quds Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, calling him a “threat to stability” in Iraq, and as recently as last week it referred to him as a terrorist.

But in the summer of 2014, when Daesh swept across northern Iraq, and the US-trained and funded army collapsed, his and other Shiite militias mobilised in defence, halting the extremists on the outskirts of the capital. The mostly Iran-backed militias remained separate from the US-led coalition, but over the next three years they helped Iraq’s reconstituted military to drive Daesh out of most of the country.

Today, Al Muhandis, in his mid-60s, is among the most powerful men in Iraq, splitting his time between the front lines, Iran and his home and office in Baghdad’s heavily-guarded Green Zone. He describes the PMF as a “parallel military” that will help keep the peace once Daesh is gone.

Al Muhandis “demonstrates that Iran has a direct venue with which to influence Iraqi politics, and a powerful one at that,” said Phillip Smyth, an expert on Shiite militias at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

“It’s no secret,” Al Muhandis said of his close relationship with Iran, the country where he spent decades in exile and underwent military training. He said he personally seeks spiritual and moral guidance from the country’s leadership, but that the PMF only gets material support from Tehran.

Earlier this month, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson demanded that Iran-backed militiamen in Iraq return to their homes, integrate into the Iraqi army or leave the country.

Al Muhandis casually dismissed the appeal. “Tillerson is asleep,” he said.

“Iran was the only country that supported Iraq from the beginning of the Daesh crisis,” he said, referring to the Daesh blitz in 2014. “It’s like when you’re in a hospital and you need blood. The Americans would be the one who would show up with the transfusion when it was too late.”

As to whether the Americans should remain in Iraq, Al Muhandis said: “We follow the Iraqi government despite our personal opinions, and our personal opinions are well known, so I won’t repeat them here.”

The PMF sprang into action again earlier this month, when federal forces retook the northern city of Kirkuk and other disputed areas from Kurdish forces in response to the Kurds’ vote for independence in September. The military action, which caused few casualties and was celebrated as a victory by the country’s Arab majority, gave a further boost to the paramilitary forces.

“What happened in Kirkuk is a success for the Iraqi government and the Iraqi forces,” Al Muhandis said, adding that his forces had helped coordinate the Kurdish withdrawal to minimise clashes and casualties. “We want a brotherhood with the Kurds,” he said, referring to their shared struggle against Saddam Hussain in the 1980s.

The fighting nevertheless displaced thousands of people, according to the United Nations and Amnesty International, which documented the looting and destruction of “hundreds” of properties near Kirkuk.

International rights groups alleged widespread violations by the militias throughout the campaign against Daesh and said the government had failed to hold them accountable. Al Muhandis and other commanders say any abuses were isolated incidents, and that perpetrators have been brought to justice.

Al Muhandis rarely speaks to reporters, but his image is pervasive on social media, where he can be seen wearing olive fatigues and surveying front-line positions from Iraq’s northern border to the western Anbar province, where troops and militiamen are battling Daesh in the last pocket under its control. He’s often standing beside General Qassem Sulaimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, and a key adviser to the PMF. Music videos shared online praise Al Muhandis’ humility and fearlessness.

He can also be seen in photos attending strategy meetings chaired by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi. The PMF are officially an “independent military formation” under the prime minister’s command.

Al Muhandis holds a “pivotal” position in Iraq’s political and security hierarchy, said Nathaniel Rabkin, managing editor of Inside Iraqi Politics, a political risk assessment newsletter.

“It’s a source of concern in and outside Iraq,” Rabkin said. “If you have elements of the armed forces or the security forces loyal to a particular political party you’re creating a setup where it will be very difficult to have free, fair and competitive elections that don’t descend into violence.”

Iraq is set to hold parliamentary elections next year. When asked if his forces would participate in politics, Al Muhandis laughed, saying: “Don’t mention it or you’ll scare off all the politicians.” He added that PMF fighters would be free to run for office, but must first leave the paramilitary organisation.

Smyth, the militia researcher, doubts such rules would be enforced, noting the long history of militia commanders cycling in and out of political office.

Whether they run or not, Al Muhandis said the PMF are “the biggest force that can influence the upcoming elections.”

Source: Gulf News

BEIRUT, Lebanon — It may not be politically popular to raise concerns about the human rights of Islamic State fighters and their families. But the International Committee of the Red Cross, which has monitored the treatment of the wounded, prisoners and civilians in wartime for a century and a half, sought to do just that in a strongly worded statement on Thursday.

The organization is concerned about rhetoric that “dehumanizes” and “demonizes” the enemy or suggests that a particular adversary is “outside the bounds of humanity” and can be treated “as if humanitarian law doesn’t apply,” the group’s deputy director for the Middle East, Patrick Hamilton, told reporters via a telephone conference call.

Language that could appear to justify or encourage war crimes and illegal treatment of detainees has become more common on all sides of the sprawling conflicts in Syria and Iraq, Mr. Hamilton said, to the point that the Red Cross felt it necessary to remind all combatants that international law requires due process and humane treatment of detainees “with no exceptions.”

His comments come as the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, ISIL and Daesh, is surrendering more territory to an array of government and militia forces. Several Western officials have said that it would be best if their citizens who have fought with the Islamic State died in combat.

The Red Cross has a longstanding policy of not singling out governments or groups for criticism, because it seeks to preserve access to all sides in order to carry out missions such as monitoring the treatment of detainees and prisoners. The organization said its warning was directed at all combatants as well as countries that might receive returning Islamic State fighters.

“It’s not that we are going to name no one,” Mr. Hamilton said of his warning against inflammatory rhetoric. “We name everyone.”

France’s defense minister, Florence Parly, said last week that if Islamic State fighters “perish in this fight, I would say that’s for the best.” Rory Stewart, a British government minister, said of British ISIS members that “unfortunately the only way of dealing with them will be, in almost every case, to kill them.”

And Brett McGurk, the American envoy to the anti-ISIS coalition, said the mission was to make sure foreign fighters “die here in Syria.” Earlier this year, Trump administration officials referred to “annihilating” ISIS.

To be sure, none of those statements called for extrajudicial killings or any other war crime. But in an already tense and dangerous atmosphere — punctuated by atrocities carried out by insurgent and militia groups in the past — all parties need to “de-escalate their language,” Mr. Hamilton said.

“These are emotive, difficult issues but the law does provide a sober mechanism for dealing with all of this,” he said, noting that the Red Cross has been advising governments on handling detainees and civilians through 154 years of conflicts and world wars. “These events are not without historical precedent.”

The Red Cross has visited 44,000 detainees in Iraq this year, and is currently providing humanitarian assistance to 1,300 women and children from around 20 nationalities, detained near Mosul as suspected relatives of Islamic State fighters. The Red Cross also is seeking to expand access to detainees throughout the region.

Risks of violations are increased by the complexity of the fight, with more than 20 states involved and often in partnerships with nonstate militia groups, which Mr. Hamilton said had created “a diffusion of responsibilities” for following the laws of war.

Another risk arises from the enormous humanitarian crises spawned by recent battles, with millions of people affected and chaotic scenes as people flee across deserts.

Little is known about the numbers and conditions of Islamic State members detained in the Syrian city of Raqqa as the American-backed Syrian Democratic Forces took over last week. Nor has any information surfaced about the many people who had long been held prisoner in Raqqa by Islamic State and have not been found.

Source: The New York Times

 

Iraq Now an Iranian Colony Sunday, 29 October 2017 16:02

The recent takeover of Kirkuk by the Iranian backed militias and Iraqi army clearly illustrates that now Iran is calling the shots in every important decision of Iraq. This whole operation and withdrawal of PUK Peshmerga, without resistance to advancing Iraqi forces was planned by Iran Quds force commander Major General Qassem Soleimani. The extent of involvement by the Iraq Prime Minister’s office in this whole episode is still unclear, but one thing is certain -- decisions were made in Tehran and Baghdad.

Geopolitical observers are now criticizing Iraqi Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi, for being too quick to resort to force against Kurds at the behest of Iran rather than engaging in talks with Erbil, who had helped Baghdad in the fight against ISIS. There are a number of ways in which Iran gains from this current crisis. Not only does the conflict undermine Kurdish unity, it also boosts the role of Iranian backed Shia militias such as Hashid al-Shaabi in Iraq and makes them look like guardians of national unity rather than sectarian actors. But as a nation, Iraq is at loss, as it has sparked anger against the federal government among its sizeable Kurdish minority.

The fall of Kirkuk clearly showcases the extent to which Iraq today is an Iranian controlled territory. And it demonstrates the currently unparalleled efficacy of the Iranian methods of revolutionary and political warfare, as used by Iran Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) throughout the Arab world to promote Iran geopolitical interests. Iran’s influence in Iraq is not just ascendant, but diverse extending to almost every walk of life. Let’s have a look at various areas where Iran is dominating the Iraqi arena.

Politics- During Saddam Hussein’s rule, Iran granted asylum to a number of Iraqi opposition parties and part of its ability to greatly affect Iraqi political theatre today is linked to the fact that the individuals comprising a significant portion of the Iraqi political map formerly resided in Iran. Politically, Iran has a large number of allies in Iraq’s Parliament who can help secure its goals. Even the most senior Iraqi cabinet officials take instructions from Iran’s leadership.

Military- Tehran has been the principal backer of mainly Shiite Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) formed to fight the Islamic State and now formally absorbed into the Iraqi military. Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRCG) overseas arm.  The Quds Force provides the bulk of logistical support and advice to Popular Mobilisation Forces. In turn, Iran uses the PMF to exert military leverage over the Iraqi government to wrestle power on behalf of Iran, much like Hezbollah did in Lebanon.

Economy- Trade between these two nations is primarily unidirectional in favour of Iran.  Years of sanction and internal conflicts have rendered Iraq dependent on Iranian imports. The only place outside Iran where the Iranian currency the “Rial” is used as a medium of exchange is southern Iraq. Iran is dumping cheap, subsidized food products and consumer goods into Iraqi markets and is undercutting its neighbour’s agricultural and manufacturing sectors.

Natural Resources- Iran’s damming and diversion of rivers feeding the Shatt al-Arab waterway has greatly undermined the Iraqi agriculture sector in the south and hindered efforts to revive Iraq’s marshlands. Iran has withheld water flows of the Kalal River, which flows into Wasit province, and of the Karun and Karkha rivers, which flow into Basra province.

Religion- Iran has been pursuing a long-term strategy to expand its religious authority in Iraq in many ways. For example they use financial and political leverage to ensure the primacy of clerics trained in the Iranian seminary of Qom and loyal to the Iranian ideology, over clerics trained in the relatively non-political tradition of the Najaf seminary. Then, by reconstructing the Shiite shrines in Iraq, they consequently take control of their management in the long run. Lastly, they take control of pilgrimages in Iraq’s shrine cities, notably the Arbaeen procession, which attracts millions of devotees every year to Karbala.

Despite this great degree of Iranian influence on the Iraqi nation still there is a ray of hope. The current Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has the potential to be pulled out of Iran’s influence and act as an independent figure. This is especially true as he has stood in the face of Iran’s pressures on some occasions.

Even so, al-Abadi government officials must prove their allegiance to the Iraqi people and not to the Iranian regime. For example, the Iraqi judiciary is also heavily under Tehran’s influence. This was seen specifically in the country’s Supreme Court last October when they blocked al-Abadi’s judicial reform package. Efforts must clean up the judiciary and make it independent.

Current Iraqi leadership should also work to bridge the gulf with its Sunni and Kurdish minorities by establishing an equal method of governance across the country. Not all Iraqi Shiites are pro-Iranian puppets in fact, many are fervently nationalistic. Prime Minister Abadi can tap into Iraqi nationalism to combat further sectarian division. 

Source: NRT

A top United Nations official Thursday called on the Iraqi government to speed up investigations into allegations of human rights violations committed by security forces during the fight against the Islamic State group and to make the results of those probes public.

Since 2014, the U.S.-backed Iraqi forces' fight against the Sunni militant group has been mired in violations committed by government forces and paramilitaries that international human rights groups have decried as war crimes, ranging from extrajudicial killings of IS suspects to forced displacement and detention of civilians.

On Friday, Iraqi forces drove IS militants from the last Iraqi town near the Syrian borders more than three years after the militant group stormed nearly a third of Iraqi territory, keeping the militants scattered in a wide desert area to the west and north of Baghdad.

Concluding an official visit to Iraq, Agnes Callamard, the U.N.'s special investigator on extra-judicial executions, stressed to the Iraqi officials on "the importance of translating the military defeat over ISIS into victories for accountability and over impunity." ISIS is another acronym for IS.

Callamard told reporters in Baghdad that Iraq's new "transition phase" presents "both opportunities and challenges" and that the government should "respond effectively and impartially to allegations of violations in order to build and strengthen confidence."

The Iraqi government has previously acknowledged some of the allegations, but insisted that these were "individual acts" and promised to investigate them and punish the perpetrators. No outcomes have been published by the government on these investigations.

Callamard discussed with officials from the government and Shiite-dominated paramilitary troops known as Popular Mobilization Forces, "six or seven large scale allegations," including disappearances around Fallujah west of Baghdad and the killing of some prisoners before the June 2014 IS onslaught. She didn't divulge more details on other allegations, expecting to receive the results within "a week or two."

She said that "investigations have already taken place, but the problem is that there is not transparent reporting on the outcomes of those investigations."

Also on Thursday, the Iraqi Army and PMF launched a new military operation to clear the al-Jazeera area from IS militants, said a statement. The area is in a swath of desert between Salahuddin, Anbar and Ninevah provinces north of the capital. During his weekly news conference on Tuesday, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said that chasing down IS militants in the al-Jazeera area and the western desert will be the last stage before declaring the final victory over IS.

Source: abc News


European Iraqi Freedom Association (EIFA)

 

 

Iran’s Support for

Islamic Fundamentalist Groups

 

 Relations With al-Qaeda & Sunni Extremists Under Scrutiny


 

“The fact that Iran has consistently supported and nurtured proxy extremist Shiite groups is not a matter of dispute; less clear are Tehran’s relations with Sunni extremists.”

-         Struan Stevenson, EIFA President

 

November 2017

Report in PDF:



 

 

Table of Contents:

 

Introduction ……………………………………………………………………..............………….………… 4

New revelation on Iran’s ties with Al-Qaeda ………………………..............……….……….. 4

Some features of Islamic Fundamentalism ………………………………..................……..... 7

Islamic fundamentalism after the 1979 Revolution in Iran …..............…….………..... 9

Supporting “Liberation Movements”.........………………….................………….………... 10

Promoting Islamic fundamentalism ……………………………...............………................. 11

Ideological aspects …………………………………….......................................................... 12

Some organisations involved in recruiting Islamists ………….................................. 12

Sponsoring Shiite and Sunni extremist groups …………………………..............…………. 13

Tehran’s strategic harmony with al-Qaeda and ISIS ………….................................. 13

Special role of Lebanese Hezbollah ………………...................................................... 15

Iran and al-Qaeda after 9/11 and US invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq ............... 16

Requests from US to swap opposition members with al-Qaeda leaders .............. 20

U.S. acknowledgement of Iran - al Qaeda relationship in recent years ................ 20

Al-Qaeda in Iraq and relations with Tehran .......................................................... 22

Conclusion and Policy Recommendations ............................................................ 23

 

Introduction

From early on the regime in Tehran was based on the dual pillars of internal crackdown and the export of terrorism and reactionary religious beliefs. The policy of exporting Islamic fundamentalism and extremism has been an explicit aspect of state strategy, pursued at the highest levels of the regime, for the past 38 years. 

Henry Kissinger, the former US Secretary of State and National Security Advisor wrote on 31 July 2006 that Iran leaders should decide “whether they are representing a cause or a nation.”[1] And insofar as the regime represents a hard line Islamist cause, there is a further question about the types of alliances it is willing to maintain in service of that cause.

The fact that Iran has consistently supported and nurtured proxy extremist Shiite groups is not a matter of dispute. What is less clear are Tehran’s relations with Sunni extremists.

On one hand, the disputes between Shiite and Sunnis are so significant that many believe Iran will not and cannot pursue relations with its Sunni competitors and has actually acted as a de facto ally of the West in confronting Sunni extremists, albeit on rare occasions.

But others believe that despite the differences between Shiite and Sunni extremist groups, they have much more in common than it may seem. On this view, Iran is able to look past sectarian differences in the interest of acting as the epicentre of Islamic fundamentalism in general.

Subsequent to the recent revelation of another batch of documents obtained by the US during the raid on the residence of Osama bin Laden on 2 May 2011, there is a more imperative need to review and understand the Iranian regime’s ties with Sunni extremist groups in general and with al-Qaeda and ISIS (Daesh) in particular. [2]

 

New revelation on Iran’s ties with Al-Qaeda

The newly declassified documents from the Osama bin Laden compound at Abbottabad in Pakistan included a 19-page report by a senior al-Qaeda official. [3]

The document says that an al-Qaeda operative named Abu Hafs al-Mauritani negotiated the arrangement for some al-Qaeda operatives to enjoy safe haven in Iran after the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan following the attacks in the US on 11 September 2001.

The document, which was written in Arabic and has been translated for this report, reads in part:

“These pages include a number of brotherly recommendations from our elders and friends as to how our fellow Mujahideen brothers treated the regime of the Rafidis (Shiites) in Iran, and how they see it now and in future...

Great shock, confusion and distraction:                                                        

There is no doubt that the consequences and reverberations of the September 11 attacks were very big and beyond the imaginations of a majority of the people…

…And large numbers went to Iran, and I will explain in the second part how the situation developed.

The enmity between Iran and America is real:

Yes, the enmity between Iran and America is enmity between reality and truth, and whoever thinks differently and says that whatever hostility and war of words is going on between them is play-acting and a show, he is ignorant and does not know the facts!

The Iranians are Shiite Muslims, believe in 12 Imams, their religion and beliefs regarding Sunni Muslims and particularly regarding us, as Salafi Muslims, is known; so is their aspiration to control the whole of Islamic world and to take over its leadership. Their belief in sectarianism which is based on their imaginations as well as their slogans are all very well known to us…However, they are ready to cooperate even with most Salafists and Wahhabis where they believe that this cooperation would achieve something for them, though cooperation will be temporary and will end at a suitable time.

- Any person who wants to hit America, Iran is ready to support him and help him with money, weapons, and whatever else, openly and clearly… They are working very hard on the United States, but they are afraid of leaving any evidence and therefore are very diligent to leave no clues of their work!!

-For example, they offered money, arms and everything they needed to some of our Saudi brothers who supported them, and offered them training in Hezbollah camps in Lebanon, in return for striking America's interests in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf!!

I will refer to this later.

-They offered, and still offer support to a group of Uzbeks, with money and weapons and safe passage to and from Iran and whatever else they need, in return for targeting United States’ targets in Uzbekistan. I have other examples, but I am content with what I have said for now.

You may wonder how Shiite Iranians could have supported Salafists or Wahhabis to strike America!!

One who does not understand this situation, or doubts it, is due to his lack of knowledge and nothing else, otherwise the situation is clear for whoever understands it!!

 As an example, and in order to get it fixed in minds, I can say that in current circumstances, Iran would be ready to support and help Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (i.e. the founder of Wahhabism) if he was alive with whatever needed to target the United States.

After the fall of Islamic government in Afghanistan, and the withdrawal of our Mujahideen brothers, both Arab and others, most of them went to Pakistan and some to Iran…

I personally went to Waziristan and from there to Karachi and stayed there for about 3 months, and then we got the orders from our brothers to go to Iran. Many of our brothers did not like the idea but this was the order from our leadership, both al-Qaeda and other fighters. A large number of our brothers went to Iran, some with official visas, which we got from the Iranian consulate in Karachi, and some without visas…

The first person who went to Iran from the leadership was Abu Hafs al-Mauritani…

The mandate of Abu Hafs was to establish an understanding with the Iranians to allow our brothers to cross the border and to stay in the country.

What I leaned later from brothers who were close to Abu Hafs in the early days of their stay in Iran was that they were very welcomed, and in practice they agreed on some issues with him, and they were dealing with him as the person in charge of the group. One of the Iranians’ conditions was that since the Americans monitor all their communications they must refrain from use of telephone completely and stay in the houses they rent, and they should not have any kind of activities or gatherings which may draw attention… These were all security conditions.

Abu Hafs and other brothers agreed with them.

 

Abu Hafs al-Mauritani

Treatment of our brothers by the Iranian intelligence people and others was not only good, but they were showing affection towards them and calling them heroes, obviously we do not know whether they were being honest or just pretending?? Or anything else? God knows…

What became clear for me was, as far as the Intelligence and Basiji personnel and ordinary people were concerned, they were honest with their feelings towards our brothers, and were looking at them as heroes who had hit United States…

We found Shiites who loved us and respected us very much. Our brothers stayed in Iran, most of them in the city of Zahedan, the capital of Sistan and Baluchestan.

However, brothers gradually went to different Iranian cities: Many, including my people, to Tehran and Isfahan, Shiraz, Mashhad and Bandar-Abbas and other places.

How did the Iranians deal with those brothers whom they arrested, and how were they asked to leave?

They treated brothers very respectfully. When they took the brothers, they treated them as respectable brothers; they apologized to the brothers and always told them: We have to arrest you for our benefit and for your benefit, we are under great pressure, as you know, and we love you and so on…!!. : The treatment was very respectable. No beating or insulting and not a word of distress, and otherwise, O God something rare.

However, we said what is very secret, but wrote it out of necessity,

Dated: 1/1428 Hijri  (January 2007).

 

Some features of Islamic Fundamentalism

Islamic extremism emerged some 40 years ago as an aggressive and destabilizing force in the region with growing impact, injecting itself into geo-political equations and gradually evolving as the main threat to the international community. 

 

The great majority of the world’s 1.7 billion Muslims are Sunnis. Shiites make up only 10-15 percent. The rift between the two branches appeared first after the demise of the Prophet Mohammad during the disputes over his succession.

 

Despite their differences and verbal hostilities, both Shiite and Sunni extremists adhere to the same underlying ideology in the most basic elements of their beliefs and behaviour:

 

  • Seeking to establish a dreadful tyranny under the name of the government of God

The announced objective of Islamic fundamentalism is to implement Sharia law by force. This is the common denominator of Shiite mullahs’ rule in Iran and that of the Sunni caliphates of ISIS in other areas. One describes it as “velāyat-e faqīh,” [absolute rule of clergy], another dubs it a caliphate.

  • Continuous Aggression

The pivotal tactic of Islamic fundamentalism is never-ending crimes against humanity. This belligerence is not fundamentally the product of power; in fact it results from this entity’s weakness in responding to the real necessities of modern society, specifically, in regards to the theocracy ruling Iran, the tactic of continuous aggression is practiced to fill the void of social isolation, lack of political-spiritual legitimacy, and profound contradiction of Tehran’s theocratic state with the advanced demands of Iran’s educated and civilized society, being a deeply disenchanted population.

  • War of Destiny

Islamic fundamentalism views this battle as a war of fate/destiny. It never accepts any kind of ceasefire, limitation, or moderation because this is against its raison d’être. To the final day of its survival it will continue its war and expansion.

  • Non-Recognition of Geographic Limits

Proponents of an Islamic caliphate view it as a global prophecy recognizing no political or geographic borders. Their mission of jihad spans the globe.

  • Unbridled cruelty

This horrendous force bows to no limits in viciousness and savagery, recognizing no such thing as a red line. Crimes associated with Islamic fundamentalism include the massacre of 30,000 political prisoners in Iran in 1988, splashing acid into the eyes and faces of women, beheading Western citizens in Syria, forced migration of Christians, ethnic cleansing and genocide by militants associated with the Iranian regime in Iraq, burning an entire city in Nigeria, setting prisoners ablaze, bombing sacred sites, and conducting group executions in public.

In his book, Islamic Government, written before seizing power in Iran in 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of Islamic Republic in Iran, formulated this ruthless approach as “an effort to uproot the numerous sources of corruption that are harmful to society.”[4] 

  • Misogyny

Contempt for women is a vivid characteristic of Islamic fundamentalism. ISIS forced women into slavery as war booty, Boko Haram has kidnapped more than 200 schoolgirls in Nigeria, and Taliban brutally repressed women. Iran and other countries in the region have instituted numerous legal and social restrictions on women.

  • Deception and Demagoguery

Resorting to deception and demagoguery, especially to provide religious pretexts to resort to violence, is yet another feature of this viewpoint of Islam.

 

Islamic fundamentalism after the 1979 Revolution in Iran  

Islamic fundamentalism came into existence in modern times with Ayatollah Khomeini ascending to power in Iran in 1979 following the fall of the US-backed Shah dictatorship. Iran became the first country in recent history to have a theocratic regime.

The impact and direct result of the formation of an Islamic fundamentalist regime in a country as large as Iran, having an unprecedented position in the Islamic World, was that it allowed Tehran to become the political, substantial, spiritual and strategic sponsor of all Islamic fundamentalists across the globe, even if they had differences with the regime. The mere establishment of a theocracy in a country as enormous as Iran provided such a capacity and prospect to Islamic extremist groups – previously marginalized with no expectation or outlook of political power – to rise as a destructive political force.

Regardless of any political and material bond between these types of groups and the Iranian regime, what is important is the presence of a ruling fundamentalist State – Iran – as a role model and inspiration for the formation of all fundamentalist groups and cells. Without the existence of such a State, there would be no intellectual, ideological and political atmosphere, nor a central base to rely on for the birth and growth of these groups.

As a counterterrorism analyst of the US government put it: “In 1979, Iran became the first modern Islamic republic, as Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini overthrew Iran's secular regime and established a new order in which shari'a became law. Suddenly, Islamism was no longer an ideology of movements. It had inspired a State.”[5]

Tehran’s active and systematic policy, in line with recruiting and using its proxy groups, intensified this process significantly. The ayatollahs ruling Iran sought to become the epicentre for exportation of fundamentalism to the Islamic World; what they overtly described as the ‘mother’ of the Islamic World.

Tehran calls for a global Islamic State both in its constitution and other texts and instructions. Khomeini, and the current leader Ali Khamenei, very openly considered themselves leaders of all Muslims around the world, and not just Shiites.

This very concept was engraved in the constitution of the theocracy ruling Iran. [6]  It states:

“The constitution, given the Islamic characteristics of Iran’s revolution – being a move for the victory of all the weak people over dictators – provides the grounds for the growth of this revolution inside the country and abroad; especially in the expansion of international relations, it strives with other Islamic and popular movements to pave the path for the establishment of a unified people across the globe, and continue the struggle to save the deprived nations and those under cruelty across the globe.

“The army of the Islamic republic and Revolutionary Guards are established in line with the above-mentioned objective, and not only to protect the borders, but also with the mission to carry out jihad in the path of God and the struggle to expand the state of God’s rule in the world.”

- In the mullahs’ constitution, the export of fundamentalism under the pretext of “unsparing support for the weak people of the world” or “unity of the Islamic world” is underscored in Principles 3, 11, and 154.

Principle 11 states, “All Muslims are one nation and the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran is obligated to base its general policy on the foundation of a coalition and union of Islamic nations, and make utmost efforts to realize political, economic and cultural unity in the Islamic World.”

- In his will, Khomeini called for the overthrow of all States ruling Muslim countries and expulsion of their rulers. He encouraged all Muslims to “rally all under the honourable flag of Islam, and rise against the enemies of Islam and the deprived people of the world; and go on to advance towards an Islamic State with free and independent republics”.

 

Supporting “Liberation Movements”

From the regime’s inception in exporting terrorism and fundamentalism, Tehran did not make a demarcation based on religious differences. This became evident from the wide range of groups that were nurtured and supported by the clerical regime.

Javad Mansouri (the first commander of the IRGC and the deputy minister of foreign affairs in 1981) said in an exclusive interview on 20 June 2016: "Assistance to the movements (i.e. terrorist and extremist groups) had begun in 1979, and they would occasionally go to Mr. Rafighdoost, who headed the IRGC's logistics unit, and would get money, weapons, and location.”[7]

He added: "In April 1981, the Office of the Movements was officially established in the IRGC... In 1981, martyr Rajai was the head of the Foreign Ministry and I was his deputy and we had regular meetings. At one of the meetings, I told him that there are eight entities that receive money from the government for the export of revolutionary activities. You gather the officials of these eight institutions and appoint one person and tell him I will give the budget to this person and he will divide it and everyone must be accountable to him."

And to this effect, Tehran’s tentacles were extended throughout the Islamic world.

In a report to Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, the designated heir to Khomeini in early 1980s, Mehdi Hashemi, who was in charge of “Liberation Movements Unit” of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) specified in great details the regime’s activities to identify, establish, nurture, and support fundamentalist groups in Palestine, Egypt, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Morocco. (In Iranian regime’s terminology, these terrorist and extremist groups are dubbed ‘liberation movements’.)[8]

Tehran had dispatched units of the IRGC to Lebanon since 1982. This led to the establishment of Hezbollah as the main entity of Tehran’s terror apparatus outside of Iran.  Tehran’s slogan was “conquering Quds (Jerusalem) via Karbala”. This was not just a mantra but a comprehensive policy that Tehran pursued by various means.

All of these activities indicated that although Tehran is a theocracy based on Shiite beliefs, in contrast to simplistic impressions, it is very seriously pursuing its strategy and does not limit itself to any Sunni-Shiite boundaries.

In the authoritative book, Islamic Fundamentalism: The New Global Threat [9]published in 1993, Mohammad Mohaddessin, Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman of the democratic opposition coalition, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI)[10], described how subsequent to the Iranian regime’s defeat in the 1980-88 war with Iraq, Tehran stepped up spreading its recipe for Islamic fundamentalism through the Middle East, the Caucasus and Mid-Asia region, all the way to North Africa.  Mohaddessin - himself the son of a renowned ayatollah in the city of Qom, the epicentre of Iran’s fundamentalism – pointed out that this was done to compensate for the military defeat and to bring Iraq under its control. For this purpose, Iran organized all its government bodies to carry out internal crackdowns and spread terrorism abroad.

 

Promoting Islamic fundamentalism

Iran is probably the only state that has established organizations and institutions tasked with exporting and promoting Islamic fundamentalism in different forms. As such, Tehran has specific bodies to influence and recruit Shiite groups and figures, along with specific entities to influence and recruit Sunni groups and personalities.

The apparatus pursues a two-pronged approach:

  • Setting up religious and cultural centres, seminaries, and recruiting preachers to prepare ideological indoctrination aimed at attracting and recruiting Islamic extremists.
  • Recruiting, sponsoring, and nurturing extremist groups by providing funds, weapons, logistics and training. 

 

Ideological aspects

Throughout the years, Tehran has made this strategy and establishment of an Islamic caliphate with its heart beating in Tehran more institutionalized.  All matters related to realizing this objective have been determined and finalized at the highest level of this regime, namely Supreme Leader Khamenei.

In a letter to the then President Ali Khamenei, on 5 September 1988, Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi acknowledged this reality. He wrote “extraterritorial operations take place without the knowledge and orders of the administration. We get informed of a hijacking after it has happened. We find out about machine guns firing in the streets of Lebanon after it has occurred and its noise has been heard all over the world. I found out about confiscation of explosives from our pilgrims in Jeddah during Haj (in 1986) after they were confiscated.”[11]

Ali Khamenei has been a key person in this respect from the inception of the regime. In a letter to Ayatollah Montazeri, Mehdi Hashemi stipulated that Khamenei received the reports of extremist groups in Egypt before Hashemi’s office, which was supposedly in charge of these activities. Hashemi underscored that actually it was Khamenei who provided him with the report of the Egyptian extremists.[12]

Based on credible intelligence, the international relations section of Khamenei’s office is the main body pursuing fundamentalism amongst Shiites and Sunnis.

In particular, Khamenei’s special office (also known as the special operations office) chaired by Mullah Mohammad Hejazi, is the main organ behind terrorism. Its headquarters consists of commanders of the Quds Force, the Minister of Intelligence, and the head of the IRGC Intelligence Organization.

 

Some organisations involved in recruiting Islamists 

The ‘World Forum for the Proximity of Islamic Schools of Thought’[13] is a body focused on rallying Sunnis under Iran’s banner. The ‘Ahl Al-Bayt World Assembly’ is responsible for recruiting and using Shiites in various countries.[14] Both entities enjoy massive budgets. Scores of other bodies are also involved in recruiting Islamists. They include: 

- Imam Aid Committee: Active in Islamic countries providing aid to people and groups they believe can be recruited for the IRGC’s foreign wing, the Quds Force.

- Shaheed (martyr) Foundation: Recruiting troops for the Quds Force through providing financial aid to the families of those killed in countries where the Quds Force is active.

- Al-Mostafa Society: Accepting religion students from various countries into the city of Qom, providing training and finally dispatching them back to their countries to advertise and rally support for fundamentalism.

 

Sponsoring Shiite and Sunni extremist groups

The Quds Force, established a quarter of a century ago as the IRGC’s foreign arm has been the main tool in the policy of exporting fundamentalism, with nine branches each targeting a country or specific region.[15] The Quds Force has specific headquarters for various strategically significant countries including Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Syria, and Yemen. It is carrying out its activities in these countries overtly and publicly, and in some cases under various front entities.

It is interesting to note that the Quds Force supports a wide range of Sunni groups as well as Shiites.

Among Shiites, Lebanese Hezbollah stands out. It was founded by Tehran in 1982. It conducts its terrorist and extraterritorial activities under the command of the Quds Force. All its affairs, including expenses and policies, are under the supervision of Khamenei’s office. Other groups include dozens of Iraqi Shiite extremist bodies such as the Badr Organization, Katai’b Hezbollah, and Asa’ib Ahl- Haq.

Among Sunnis, the Quds Force and the Iranian regime support organisations such as Islamic Jihad, Hamas, the Taliban and many others. Islamic Jihad is totally dependent on Tehran for finances and political directions.

               

Tehran’s strategic harmony with al-Qaeda and ISIS

Iran’s relationship with al-Qaeda and ISIS is actually more complex than it seems at first glance.

What is clear is that groups such as al-Qaeda and ISIS are not similar to Lebanese Hezbollah or Shiite militant groups in Iraq, that directly receive their orders from Tehran, like Asa’ib Ahl- Haq and Katai’b Hezbollah. But they are not adversaries either.  Rather, Iran and Sunni extremist groups, while having their differences, actually have much more in common. Their most important common denominator is their enmity towards the West, especially the US, and towards the Arab states.

In line with this strategy, the Iranian regime has never shied away from aiding and providing active cooperation, support, and logistics for Sunni fundamentalists such as al-Qaeda and ISIS, wherever and whenever it served Tehran’s interests. 

According to some assessments, al-Qaeda was established around 1988, stationed in Pakistan and the Afghan border area in the 1990s. With the Taliban’s rise to power in Afghanistan, it relocated its headquarters to Afghanistan.

Iran has collaborated with al-Qaeda covertly and often by proxy due to the latter's notorious reputation. This covert cooperation began in the early 1990's in Sudan, continued after al-Qaeda relocated to Afghanistan, and even manifested itself on Iranian soil before, during, and after the September 11 attacks.

The 9/11 Commission Report, the official report of the events leading up to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, has a section devoted exclusively to investigating Iranian ties to al-Qaeda.[16] It explains:

In late 1991 or 1992, discussions in Sudan between al-Qaeda and Iranian operatives led to an informal agreement to cooperate in providing support—even if only training—for actions carried out primarily against Israel and the United States. Not long afterward, senior al-Qaeda operatives and trainers travelled to Iran to receive training in explosives. In the fall of 1993, another such delegation went to the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon for further training in explosives as well as in intelligence and security. Bin Laden reportedly showed particular interest in learning how to use truck bombs such as the one that had killed 241 U.S. Marines in Lebanon in 1983. The relationship between al-Qaeda and Iran demonstrated that Sunni-Shiia divisions did not necessarily pose an insurmountable barrier to cooperation in terrorist operations.

The report pointed out:

Intelligence indicates the persistence of contacts between Iranian security officials and senior al-Qaeda figures after Bin Laden’s return to Afghanistan. Khallad (Tawfiq bin Attash) has said that Iran made a concerted effort to strengthen relations with al-Qaeda after the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole, but was rebuffed because Bin Laden did not want to alienate his supporters in Saudi Arabia. Khallad and other detainees have described the willingness of Iranian officials to facilitate the travel of al-Qaeda members through Iran, on their way to and from Afghanistan. For example, Iranian border inspectors would be told not to place telltale stamps in the passports of these travellers. Such arrangements were particularly beneficial to Saudi members of al-Qaeda.

The 9/11 Commission Report stated that evidence “suggested 8 to 10 of the 14 Saudi ‘muscle’ operatives travelled into or out of Iran between October 2000 and February 2001.”[17]

“In sum, there is strong evidence that Iran facilitated the transit of al-Qaeda members into and out of Afghanistan before 9/11, and that some of these were future 9/11 hijackers,” the report established.[18]

It is very telling that the report concluded that the relationship of Iran and Hezbollah with al-Qaeda and those who were implicated in 9/11 attack “requires further investigation by the U.S. government.”

 

Special role of Lebanese Hezbollah

The Lebanese Hezbollah has played a unique role in the Iranian regime’s terror apparatus. It has been useful not only in exporting the Islamic Republic's revolutionary ideology but also in providing Iran with a convenient terrorist proxy through which to operate with impunity.

For instance, in dealing with al-Qaeda, in some cases Iran was able to limit the risks of direct cooperation by engaging al-Qaeda through Hezbollah.

In 1992, bin Laden met Imad Mughniyeh, who was in charge of Hezbollah’s military affairs and was the mastermind of the 1983 bombing of the US barracks in Beirut. Apparently, that was the prelude to a meeting between bin Laden, Mughniyeh and IRGC Brigadier General Mohamad Bagher Zolghadr who was the Chief of Staff of the IRGC in Sudan in 1993. According to NCRI, that created the roadmap of cooperation between al-Qaeda and Hezbollah under the control of Tehran.

In the mid-1990s, senior al-Qaeda operatives negotiated a secret relationship between Osama bin Laden and Iran that allowed many al-Qaeda members safe transit through Iran to Afghanistan. Iranian border guards were instructed not to stamp their passports, presumably to prevent their home governments from suspecting that they had travelled to Afghanistan.[19]

Prior to the September 11 attacks, Iran, primarily through Hezbollah, provided al-Qaeda with critical training, explosives and logistical support.

 

U.S. Embassy in Nairobi-after the 1993 bombing

 

For the first time, on 7 August 1998, al-Qaeda successfully employed Iran-Hezbollah terrorist tactics to devastating effect. Al-Qaeda carried out two simultaneous suicide truck bombings outside the U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, killing 223 people and injuring thousands more.

On 28 November 2011, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia found that the bombings would not have been possible without “direct assistance” from Tehran as well as Sudan. “The government of Iran,” Judge John D. Bates wrote in his 45-page decision, “aided, abetted and conspired with Hezbollah, Osama bin Laden, and al-Qaeda to launch large-scale bombing attacks against the United States by utilizing the sophisticated delivery mechanism of powerful suicide truck bombs.” [20] The judgment added: “Prior to their meetings with Iranian officials and agents, bin Laden and al-Qaeda did not possess the technical expertise required to carry out the embassy bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. The Iranian defendants, through Hezbollah, provided explosives training to bin Laden and al-Qaeda and rendered direct assistance to al-Qaeda operatives.” [21]

The Council on Foreign Relations wrote on 6 June 2012: “Intelligence officials and terrorism experts also say that al-Qaeda has stepped up its cooperation on logistics and training with Hezbollah, a radical, Iran-backed Lebanese militia drawn from the minority Shiite strain of Islam.”[22]

 

Iran and al-Qaeda after 9/11 and US invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq

While Iran has constantly maintained contacts and relationships at various levels of Sunni extremist groups, it has also tried to conceal its relationship in order to prevent any liability. This became a more systematic modus operandi subsequent to 9/11 and the rising international concern and anxiety regarding extremism by Sunni groups.

In some cases, while Tehran played a key role in instigating terror and extremism, it also presented itself as a solution or meditator in the conflict. It is an undeniable fact that in Iraq the Iranian regime and ISIS were engaged in conflicts in various areas. However, by exaggerating and hyping these conflicts due to political objectives, the Iranian regime sought to depict itself as an ally of the West in the fight against ISIS, while Tehran’s main objective remained to strengthen and expand its sphere of influence in various parts of Iraq.

Regarding al-Qaeda, after the international community made the dissolution of al-Qaeda a top priority, Iran downplayed its ties to the organization and at times portrayed itself as al-Qaeda's enemy. On some occasions Iran even claimed that it would put the al-Qaeda members who were given sanctuary in Iran on trial. Not only did this not happen, but Iran never specified which members of al-Qaeda it was hosting.

It is a known fact that a large number of al-Qaeda leaders fled to Iran in 2001 after the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan. That included a number of bin Laden’s immediate family members and some of the most senior figures of al-Qaeda.  

The Iranian regime, via the IRGC's elite Quds Force, provided key members of al-Qaeda's leadership with safe haven to continue their terrorist operations and avoid arrest by international authorities.

Among those who went to Iran were the head of al-Qaeda’s Security Committee, Saif al-Adel and the head of al-Qaeda’s Training Sub-Section, Ahmad Abdallah Ahmad (alias Abu Muhammad al-Masri), Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah (CFO of al-Qaeda) and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (future Chief of al-Qaeda in Iraq). The group also came to include Osama bin Laden’s two sons Hamza and Saad bin Laden. Adel, described by some security analysts and experts on al-Qaeda as a “founding father,” is listed on the F.B.I.’s Most Wanted Terrorist list, and was indicted for the 1998 United States Embassy bombings in East Africa. Al-Qaeda operatives have described him as the organization’s operational boss.[23]

Ostensibly Iran held these al-Qaeda operatives under "house arrest," but in reality, al-Qaeda was using Iran as a base of operations under the protection of the Quds Force. One al-Qaeda member noted that there were several stages of restrictions, but in the end, it was “not really house arrest but rather a hospitality.”[24] Over the years, the Iranian regime would permit al-Qaeda use of its territory to plan terrorist attacks abroad as well as transit money, arms and fighters across the region.

According to U.S. and European intelligence officials, the Quds Force maintained ties with the al-Qaeda terrorist network since the early 1990s. According to these officials bin Laden's second-in-command, Ayman Zawahiri, used his decade-old relationship with IRGC Brigadier General Ahmad Vahidi, then commander of the Quds Force, to negotiate a safe haven for some of al-Qaeda's leaders who were trapped in the mountains of Tora Bora, Afghanistan, in 2001.[25]

The Quds Force is "a state within a state, and that is why they are able to offer protection to al-Qaeda," one European intelligence analyst said. “The Force's senior leaders have long-standing ties to al-Qaeda, and, since the fall of Afghanistan, have provided some al-Qaeda leaders with travel documents and safe haven."[26]

In a report that was published by “The Atlantic” on 11 November 2017, Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark established that al-Qaeda has rebuilt itself with the help of Iran.[27]

The conclusion was based on new evidence, including interviews with senior al-Qaeda members and Osama bin Laden’s family, gathered by the authors over the past five years. 

The report detailed how on 19 December 2001, Mahfouz Ibn el Waleed, an Islamic scholar from Mauritania, boarded a bus in Quetta, in the Pakistani province of Baluchistan, heading for Taftan, the official border crossing into Iran. At Osama bin Laden’s side for a decade prior to 2001, Mahfouz had become a pivotal figure on al-Qaeda’s leadership council and the head of its sharia (legal) committee. When he began his journey to Taftan, he was on the UN Security Council’s sanctions list, and was wanted by the FBI for questioning about his involvement in managing the logistics for the 1998 attacks on U.S. embassies in East Africa. Mahfouz hoped, as his bus headed for the Iranian border, to persuade Iranian agents to offer a more permanent sanctuary to al-Qaeda’s leaders and bin Laden’s family. Mahfouz had been to the Persian Gulf before, sent there by bin Laden in 1995 to win military support for al-Qaeda. Mahfouz had first visited Iraq, where Saddam Hussein had rejected his request; however, in Iran, according to Mahfouz, the Quds Force was sympathetic. On the table was an offer of advanced military training, with al-Qaeda fighters invited in 1995 to attend a camp run by Hezbollah and sponsored by the Iranian Quds force in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley.

On 20 December 2001 Mahfouz, travelling with a forged document was greeted on the Iranian side by agents from the Ansar ul-Mahdi Corps, an elite cell within the Quds Quds Force.  He eventually won an audience in Tehran with Qasem Soleimani. [28]

The Quds Force gave a green light to the sanctuary plan in 2002. The Mauritanian contacted the remnants of al-Qaeda’s council in Baluchistan, Pakistan. The first to be sent over were al-Qaeda wives and daughters, along with hundreds of low-level volunteers who were escorted to Tehran.

The next wave came early in the summer of 2002, when high-ranking al-Qaeda leaders arrived in Iran intending to stay and galvanize the outfit. They were marshalled by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who would form al-Qaeda in Iraq, the forerunner to ISIS. The first to come was Saif al-Adel. He was accompanied by fellow Egyptian and al-Qaeda council member Abu Mohammed al-Masri—whose papers identified him as Daoud Shirizi—a former professional soccer player who was also wanted by the FBI for involvement in the 1998 embassy attacks. Joining them was Abu Musab al-Suri, one of the most important strategic voices in the movement. Immediately, a re-formed al-Qaeda military council planned its first attack from within Iran, according to Mahfouz, striking three residential compounds, housing foreign workers in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, which killed 35 people, including nine Americans, on 12 May 2003.[29]

Senior US officials said the US had intercepted communications strongly suggesting that a cell of al-Qaeda leaders in Iran directed the attack. [30]

A senior US official told the New York Times on 21 May 2003 that the United States had ''rock-hard intelligence'' that at least a dozen Qaeda members, had been ''directing some operations from Iran.'' [31]

Mahfouz, certain the pact was holding, then called for bin Laden’s family.

By 2006, the outfit had rebounded, and bin Laden’s family decided to try to reach him, wherever he was hiding in Pakistan, against the wishes of the Iranians.[32]

Over the years Iran gradually dispatched the al-Qaeda senior officials to Iraq and other Arab countries to launch terrorist factions. Scores of these individuals ended up in Syria and Iraq leading extremist groups.

In 2015 Iran released five senior members of al-Qaeda, including Saif al-Adel who apparently stepped in to serve as the group’s interim leader immediately after Osama bin Laden’s death and who is the subject of a $5 million bounty. Iran’s release of the five men was part of a prisoner swap in March with al-Qaeda’s branch in Yemen, the group holding an Iranian diplomat, Nour Ahmad Nikbakht. Nikbakht was kidnapped in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa in July 2013.[33]

CNN reported on 11 March 2013, “… For al-Qaeda's operatives, life in Iran was more secure than for many of their colleagues in Pakistan who risked capture by Pakistani forces working with the CIA or death by CIA drones.”[34]

Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal, former intelligence chief and ambassador to the United States, in a piece published by al-Sharq al-Awsat on 12 January 2015 pointed out that subsequent to the 9/11 attack and the invasion of Afghanistan, the Iranian regime allowed various al-Qaeda leaders to flee to Iran and provided them with a safe haven. In 2003 the Iranian regime allowed a number of al-Qaeda leaders to go from Iran to Iraq where they formed ‘al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia’.[35]

According to Seth G. Jones, writing in Foreign Affairs on 29 January 2012: “Over the past several years, al Qaeda has taken a beating in Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, the Horn of Africa, and North Africa… But the group's outpost in Iran has remained almost untouched for the past decade…. Around October 2001, the Government dispatched a delegation to Afghanistan to guarantee the safe travel of operatives and their families to Iran…. By 2002, al-Qaeda had established in Iran its ’management council,’ a body that bin Laden reportedly tasked with providing strategic support to the organization’s leaders in Pakistan. According to Jones’ assessment “Perhaps more disturbing, Iran appears willing to expand its limited relationship with al-Qaeda,” and “today, Iran is still an important al-Qaeda hub.”[36]

Bin Laden’s letters also shed light on the group’s ties to Iran.

On 20 May 2015, and 1 March 2016, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) released a number of documents that were obtained during the raid on bin Laden’s home in Abbottabad in 2011. Among the documents, there was a 2007 letter by bin Laden to a terrorist named “Karim.” In it bin Laden explained the group’s relationship with Iran.  “Iran is our main artery for funds, personnel, and communication, as well as the matter of hostages…There is no need to fight with Iran unless you are forced to,” bin Laden wrote. He strongly advised against any attack on Iran.

Another bin Laden letter explains how al-Qaeda members sought refuge in Iran after 9/11. In a message to Sheikh Abu Muhammad he says, “Following the September 11 attacks…they entered Iran swiftly through various routes and not through the official gates. A month later, other brothers joined with their families…[37]

 

Requests from US to swap opposition members with al-Qaeda leaders

During a May 2003 meeting between senior Iranian officials and their American counterparts, the Iranians proposed exchanging al-Qaeda leaders for leaders of the main Iranian opposition group, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) who were in Camp Ashraf, Iraq under US protection.  Zalmay Khalilzad, the former US Ambassador to Iraq, Afghanistan, and the UN, was in the meeting and explained in his book, that Iranians aired the possibility “of a direct exchange — MEK leaders for al-Qaeda leaders.”[38]

A former senior US intelligence official who spoke on condition of anonymity told to NBC News on 24 June, 2005 “several general offers were made through third parties, not all of them diplomatic.”[39]

The US administration rejected the notion and then shut down the diplomatic channel that month after it linked the terrorist attack in Riyadh to al-Qaeda leaders in Iran.

 

U.S. acknowledgement of Iran - al Qaeda relationship in recent years

  • On 28 July 2011, the U.S. Department of the Treasury “announced the designation of six members of an al-Qaeda network headed by Ezedin Abdel Aziz Khalil, a prominent Iran-based al-Qaeda facilitator, operating under an agreement between al-Qaeda and the Iranian government. Today’s action, taken pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13224, demonstrates that Iran is a critical transit point for funding to support al-Qaeda’s activities in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This network serves as the core pipeline through which al-Qaeda moves money, facilitators and operatives from across the Middle East to South Asia.”[40]

 

  • At the same time, the US Treasury provided evidence of an extensive fund-raising operation that draws from donors in Persian Gulf countries such as Kuwait and Qatar and uses Iran-based al-Qaeda operatives. Six al-Qaeda members were sanctioned for overseeing this network. The U.S. offered up to a $10 million reward for information leading to Khalil.
  • On 16 February 2012, the US Treasury announced the designation of the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS), Iran's primary intelligence organization, for its support of terrorist groups as well as its central role in perpetrating human rights abuses against the citizens of Iran and its role in supporting the Syrian regime as it continues to commit human rights abuses against the people of Syria.[41]

“Today we have designated the MOIS for abusing the basic human rights of Iranian citizens and exporting its vicious practices to support the Syrian regime’s abhorrent crackdown on its own population,” said Under-Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen. “In addition, we are designating the MOIS for its support to terrorist groups, including al Qa’ida, al Qa’ida in Iraq, Hezbollah and Hamas, again exposing the extent of Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism as a matter of Iranian state policy.”[42]

 

  • On 18 October 2012, the US Treasury further exposed the Iran-based al-Qaeda network, designating Adel Radi Saqr al-Wahabi al-Harbi (al-Harbi), a key member of an al-Qaeda network operating in Iran under the leadership of Muhsin al-Fadhli (al-Fadhli).  The Treasury Department underscored that Iran continued to allow al-Qaeda to operate a core pipeline that moves money and fighters through Iran to support al-Qaeda activities in South Asia.  This network also sends funding and fighters to Syria. David S. Cohen said the Iran-based funding and facilitation network was critically important for al-Qaeda.[43]

 

  • The U.S. government again revealed Iran’s collaboration with al-Qaeda on 20 July 2016.  The Treasury Department blacklisted three members of al-Qaeda living in Iran, saying they had helped the group. The US Treasury found that Yisra Muhammad Ibrahim Bayumi had mediated with Iranian authorities as of early 2015 and helped al-Qaeda members living in Iran. Bayumi has been residing in Iran since 2014 and had been able to facilitate al-Qaeda financial transfers in 2015, suggesting he had some freedom to operate since moving to Iran. Abu Bakr Muhammad Ghumayn had control of the group’s financing and organization inside Iran as of 2015.[44]

 

  • In its 2015 “Country Reports on Terrorism “the U.S. State Department wrote that “Iran remained unwilling to bring to justice senior al-Qa’ida (AQ) members it continued to detain and refused to publicly identify the members in its custody. Iran previously allowed AQ facilitators to operate a core facilitation pipeline through Iran since at least 2009, enabling AQ to move funds and fighters to South Asia and Syria.”[45]

Al-Qaeda in Iraq and relations with Tehran

Following the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, Iran also provided a safe haven to al-Qaeda operative Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who went on to establish al-Qaeda in Iraq, an al-Qaeda offshoot that would later evolve into ISIS. 

Zarqawi, a terrorist who gained notoriety for his unmatched brutality and ruthlessness, was a close associate of bin Laden. He initially operated under the protection of the IRGC and its elite Quds Force. After spending some time in Iran, with the help of Iran in general and the Quds Force in particular, he went to Iraq and established al-Qaeda in Iraq.

IRGC support for al-Qaeda in Iraq included money, weapons, and most importantly leaving the borders open for operatives passing from Iran to Iraq. According to intelligence officials, the time Zarqawi spent in Iran was crucial for rebuilding his network before relocating to Iraq.

In a 125-page report dated 6 September 2004, the German Federal Criminal Investigation Bureau (BKA) described how in early 2002, Zarqawi set up new camps and safe houses in Zahedan, Isfahan and Tehran with the knowledge of Iranian authorities. Iran thus became a hub in Zarqawi's fast-growing network stretching from the northern Caucasus to Syria, Turkey and into Europe, with forged passports, money and fresh instructions channelled in all directions.[46]

According to intelligence obtained by the network of the Iranian opposition, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran in 2005, Zarqawi had several highly secure safe houses in Iran including one in the Nivaran area of northern Tehran.  That area had very tight security.

Zarqawi also maintained multiple phone numbers under assumed names, for use in different areas of the country.

Zarqawi was killed on 7 June 2006 in an airstrike by the coalition forces. His work led to the establishment of the Islamic State, currently led by Ibrahim Awad Ibrahim al-Badri, widely known as Abu Bakr al Baghdadi.

In an interview on November 2015 John Kerry, then US Secretary of State, said: “ISIS was created by Assad releasing 1,500 prisoners from jail and Maliki releasing 1,000 people in Iraq who were put together as a force of terror… as an effort to help Assad, so that he could say, ‘It’s me or the terrorists.’” [47] This happening as both Maliki and Assad were under Tehran’s complete control, indicates the fact that points squarely at Tehran’s role in the establishment of ISIS.

 


 

Conclusion and Policy Recommendations

While Iran’s role in consistently supporting and nurturing extremist Shiite proxies has been established, there is also growing evidence that Tehran has been actively and systematically supporting Sunni terrorist groups.

While differences between Sunnis and Shiites are indisputable, Tehran has not allowed these to affect its policies but has established specific entities to accommodate the needs of these groups in line with the regime’s ominous goals. The IRGC Quds Force is the key instrument of these objectives and Lebanese Hezbollah contributes to them as well, being under the control of the IRGC.

Tehran has pursued its objectives cunningly over the years, at times depicting itself as a “partner” in combating terror, even while it remains the key instigator of the same.

Although it has been little noticed, al-Qaeda has maintained relations with Tehran and the IRGC Quds Force since the early 1990s. Tehran’s role in providing support and safe havens to al-Qaeda expanded after 11 September 2001. This support has been a key factor in helping al-Qaeda to rebuild itself. 

New evidence suggests that Tehran’s role in supporting and enabling al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda in Iraq (the forerunner of ISIS) has been under-estimated.

In other words, it is becoming evident that the policy of exporting extremism has been a matter of statecraft for Tehran, which has made itself the epicentre of Islamic fundamentalism. This policy has been established and developed at the highest levels of the Iranian regime, with the support of all political factions.

Given the prominence of terrorist sponsorship in the Iranian regime’s objectives, more efforts must be made to challenge it. The following policy recommendations may help:

 1.      World powers that are combating Islamic extremism and the terrorism that emanates from it should emphasize the peculiar role of the Iranian regime. This has to be articulated and addressed publicly without any political consideration.

2.      Expansive sanctions should be imposed on the IRGC in its entirety and on Hezbollah. There has to be a comprehensive campaign to identify, expose, and punish all trading partners of the IRGC and Hezbollah throughout the world.

 3.      The U.S., Europe and all civilized states should act in unison to expel all of the Iranian regime’s agents of terror from their territory.

 4.      The IRGC, Hezbollah and all other Tehran proxies should be removed from countries in the region, in particular from Syria.

 


European Iraqi Freedom Association (EIFA)

Founded on 4 April 2014, EIFA is a non-governmental and non-profit organisation based in Brussels           

President: Struan Stevenson, was a member of the European Parliament representing Scotland (1999-2014), President of the Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with Iraq (2009-14) and Chairman of Friends of a Free Iran Intergroup (caucus) (2004-14). He is an international lecturer on the Middle East.

Members of the board: Giulio Terzi, Former Foreign Minister of Italy; Ryszard Czarnecki, Vice-President of the European Parliament; Alejo Vidal-Quadras, Former Vice President of the European Parliament (1999-2014); Stephen Hughes, Former Vice-President of S&D Group in European Parliament (2009-2014); Lord Carlile of Berriew, QC; Paulo Casaca, Middle East Expert, former MEP (1999-2009); Kimmo Sasi, former President of the Nordic Council (Finland);

Honorary Members: Tariq al-Hashimi, former Vice President of Iraq; Sid Ahmed Ghozali, Former Prime Minister of Algeria

 

 eu-iraq.org                                                      /EuIraq                                                           @EuIraq

 



[1] Henry Kissinger, “The Next Steps With Iran”, The Washington Post, 31 July 2006

[2] On 1 November 2017, the CIA released to the public nearly 470,000 additional files recovered in the May 2011 raid on Osama Bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Documents included new information on the relations between Iran and al-Qaeda.

[3] The trove of documents recovered from Bin Laden’s compound in 2011 that was released to the public by the US Government on 1 November 2017 included one never-before-seen 19-page document containing assessment of the group’s relationship with Iran by a senior official of al-Qaeda. Here is a link to the original document in Arabic that was provided by longwarjournal.org. Short link: goo.gl/sHLnwV

 

[4]Hokumat-i Eslami” or “Islamic Government”, is a book by Khomeini where he set the theoretical basis of the regime he later established in Iran. The book originated in a series of lectures given at Najaf, Iraq between 21 January and 8 February 1970. He articulated the concept of velāyat-e faqīh, or the absolute rule of the clergy in the book.

[5] Jonathan Schanzer, “At war with whom? A short history of radical Islam”, Middle East Forum, Spring, 2002 Schanzer was a counterterrorism analyst for the Office of Intelligence and Analysis at the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

[7] Exclusive interview of Javad Mansouri (the first commander of the IRGC in 1979 and the deputy minister of foreign affairs in 1981) with the Quarterly Journal of Ramze Obour, 20 June 2016

[8] Undated 9-pages long hand-written letter of Mehdi Hashemi, to Ayatollah Montazeri, on the official letterhead of the Islamic Republic of Iran-Global Islamic Movement. The letter was written in early 1980s. Hashemi fell from the grace later on and was sentenced to death by a Special Clerical Court. He was executed in Tehran in September 1987.

[9] Mohammad Mohaddessin, “Islamic Fundamentalism, The New Global Threat”, Seven Locks Press, Washington, DC, 1993.

[10] The National Council of Resistance of Iran, the coalition of Iranian democratic opposition: www.ncr-iran.org

[11] Letter of PM Mir Hossein Mousavi, to President Ali Khamenei on 5 September 1988. Excerpts of the letter has been translated for this report. The letter was the attachment of Mousavi’s letter of resignation. This letter in which Mousavi explains his reasoning for resignations, was not public. It was disclosed at a later date. Khomeini rejected Mousavi’s resignation and asked him to stay at his post.

[12] Ibid. Letter of Mehdi Hashemi, to Ayatollah Montazeri

[15] “Islamic Fundamentalism, the New Global Threat”, was one of the first places that the existence of the Quds Force was exposed. In this book, Mohaddessin stated that the Quds Force, as an “International Islamic Army” was incepted in 1990 and included the Guards Corps’ most experienced commanding officers and personnel.

[17] Opcit

[18] Opcit

[19] Matthew Levitt and Michael Jacobson, “The Iran-al-Qaeda Conundrum”, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 23 January 2009

[20] Marc Thiessen, “Iran responsible for 1998 U.S. embassy bombings,” The Washington Post, 8 December 2011

[23] Rukmini Callimachi and Eric Schmitt, “Iran released top members of Al Qaeda in a trade,” The New York Times, 17 September 2015

[24] “Al Qaeda Alliance against the US”, United Against Nuclear Iran

[25] Dana Priest and Douglas Farah, “Iranian force has long ties to Al Qaeda,” The Washington Post, 14 October 2003

[26] Opcit

[27] Adrian Levy and Cathy scot-Clark, “Al-Qaeda has rebuilt itself- With Iran’s help,” The Atlantic, 11 November 2017

[28] Opcit

[29] Opcit

[30] Justine Blau “Iran A Safe Haven For Al Qaeda?”, CBS, 18 May 2003

[31] Douglas Jehl and Eric Schmit, “US suggests a Qaeda cell in Iran directed Saudi bombings,” The New York Times, 21 May 2003

[32] Adrian Levy and Cathy scot-Clark, “Al-Qaeda has rebuilt itself- With Iran’s help,” The Atlantic, 11 November 2017

[33] Rukmini Callimachi and Eric Schmitt, “Iran released top members of Al Qaeda in a trade,” The New York Times, 17 September 2015

[34] Peter Bergen, “Strange bedfellows -- Iran and al Qaeda?”, CNN, 11 March 2013

[35] Turki al-Faisal, Pan Arabic daily, Asharq Al-Awsat, 12 January 2015

[36] Seth G. Jones, “Al Qaeda in Iran, Why Tehran is Accommodating the Terrorist Group”, Foreign Affairs, 29 January 2012

[37] Catherine Philp, “Bin Laden’s letter saved Tehran from Isis terror” The Times, 8 June 2017

[38] Michael Gordon, “U.S. conferred with Iran before Iraq invasion, book says,” The New York Times, 6 March 2016

[39] Robert Windrem,  “al-Qaeda finds safe haven in Iran”, Dateline NBC, 24 June 2005

[40] Treasury Targets Key Al-Qa’ida Funding and Support Network Using Iran as a Critical Transit Point, US Department of Treasury, 28 July 2011

[41]  Treasury Designates Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security for Human Rights Abuses and Support for Terrorism, US Department of the Treasury, 16 February 2012

[42] Opcit

[43] Treasury Further Exposes Iran-Based Al-Qa'ida Network, US Department of the Treasury, 18 October 2012

[44] Treasury Designates Three Senior Al-Qaida Members, US Department of the Treasury, 20 July 2016

[45] Country Reports on Terrorism 2015, State Sponsors of Terrorism Overview, US Department of State

[46] Urs Gehriger, “Abu Musab al-Zarqawi: From green man to guru”, signandsight.com, 11 September 2005

[47] John Kerry interview with Gregory Palkot of Fox News, US State Department, 17 November 2015

 

ISIS just lost its last town in Iraq Friday, 17 November 2017 21:39

In 2014, ISIS controlled around 34,000 square miles of territory in Iraq and Syria. As of Friday, ISIS lost its last stronghold in Iraq.

That’s because on Friday morning Iraqi troops and US-led coalition forces retook Rawa — a small town in northwestern Iraq — after about five hours of fighting. ISIS has now effectively lost all of its territory in Iraq, even though some of the group’s militants still operate in the country’s western rural areas near the border with Syria.

Now that Iraq’s flag hangs over Rawa once more, Brett McGurk, President Donald Trump’s diplomatic envoy for the US-led coalition, congratulated the Iraqi fighters on Twitter and announced that the “days of [ISIS’s] phony ‘caliphate’ are coming to an end.” Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi also praised his forces, noting how quickly they retook the town.

The Pentagon says the US has around 5,300 troops tasked with helping the Iraqi military fight ISIS, usually by training its troops, gathering intelligence, and conducting airstrikes.

It’s a big moment for Iraq, as retaking Rawa has essentially ended ISIS governance in its country after three long and brutal years of fighting. But that doesn’t mean that anyone can relax just yet. If anything, the ISIS threat is morphing.

ISIS isn’t defeated yet

It’s more than likely that ISIS will continue to plague Iraq, Syria, and much of the world, even as it loses land.

Just a day ago, when asked about ISIS, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said that “anyone who thinks they're down is premature.”

Hassan Hassan, a Middle East security expert at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, wrote in the National on November 15 that ISIS is already beginning to redefine itself. The group is shifting from governing territory to quickly striking Iraqi towns and cities. The strategy, Hassan notes, is to begin “a war of attrition to deplete its enemy through a ceaseless and incessant campaign of terror and hit-and-run attacks.”

ISIS may carry this strategy forward into Syria, too. The group lost the capital of its so-called caliphate, Raqqa, in October, but it still controls parts of urban areas in eastern Syria. As the US-led coalition tries to remove ISIS from that territory, it could use terror tactics to try to ward off the US-led coalition.

As my colleague Yochi Dreazen notes, ISIS may turn into more of an idea as it loses more territory. That idea may continue to inspire ISIS followers in various countries to stage attacks — especially in Europe and the United States. The attack in New York City this month, which killed eight people and injured 11, was believed to have been inspired by ISIS. It only underlined how hard it will be to prevent similar attacks by an individual encouraged by ISIS propaganda.

So while it’s worth celebrating the military defeat of ISIS in Iraq, it doesn’t mean the fight against the group is over.

Source: Vox

Proposed changes to Iraq’s personal status law caused protests because they drop the legal age of marriage to 9. Even worse, the changes come at the same time as an ongoing erosion in women’s status in Iraqi society.

 On October 30, Iraq’s parliament made a decision that stirred up much anger around the country. They agreed to make amendments to the country’s personal status law in principle. The proposed changes have been a subject of controversy for years but this time it seems that politicians may finally be getting their way.

In many Muslim countries, issues like divorce, custody of children and marriage are ruled by religious law, or Sharia. However in 1959, the Iraqi government passed a new personal status law, based on the law of the land that treated all sects and ethnicities equally. This is Law Number 188 and it is still in effect today, with rulings on related issues made by government-run courts.

As Germany’s Heinrich Boell foundation has reported, the current Iraqi law is based on religious rules but it took a more liberal approach.

“It restricts child marriages (by setting the legal age of marriage at 18 years), bans forced marriages and restricts polygamy; it curtails men’s prerogatives in divorce, expands women’s rights in divorce, extends child custody to mothers, and improves inheritance rights for women,” the foundation has stated. “It remains one of the most liberal laws in the Arab world with respect to women’s rights.”

The latter quality is something that many modern Iraqis have been proud of. Hence the uproar when news broke about the agreement to amend the personal status law.

Those amendments have been a long time coming. Shortly after the regime headed by former Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein, was removed by a US-led invasion, the new Iraqi government stated its intention to change Law 188 and to reinstate religious courts on a sectarian basis – that is, cases would be heard by either a Sunni or Shiite Muslim court, depending on the sect of those using the law. Ever since 2004, protests by civil society organisations have managed to prevent this.

But it seems that this time the politicians may be able to make the changes they have sought for so long – even though it seems that any actual amendments will be a far longer time coming.

“There are serious constitutional and legal violations in this desire of the Islamic parties to amend the law,” one Iraqi MP, Shuruq al-Abaji, told NIQASH.

She points out that Article 41 of the Iraqi Constitution guarantees that Iraqis are free to choose personal status according to their religious beliefs, sects or other choices. Before the amendments can be made to the personal status law, this article would need to be changed, al-Abaji insists.

And there is another legal issue, the politician notes. The proposed new personal status law would refer issues of marriage, divorce, custody and inheritance to the religious endowment authorities – these are the bodies tasked with running and maintaining Shiite or Sunni mosques and shrines and they are very important institutions within their own sectarian communities. But, as al-Abaji argues, that violates not just the principle of the separation of powers but also human rights and international laws around women’s rights.

“The organization of these issues should be the responsibility of the courts and not the executive branch of Sunni or Shiite religious orders,” al-Abaji concludes.

Iraq’s original personal status law and the proposed amendments could not be more different. The first one grants mothers the right to custody and gives wives the right to inherit their husband’s estate. Meanwhile religious jurisprudence tends to say the custody of children is a matter for the father and that women do not have the right to inherit real estate or land.

However these were not even the issues that really riled Iraqis up. The change that most angered locals was the one related to legal marriageable age. Civil law says a couple should be aged at least 18 in order to marry. Meanwhile religious law says puberty means a female is of marriageable age. In some cases, this is considered to be nine years old, in others 12 years old.

“The newly proposed law encourages the marriage of minors and reminds us most of the way that the [extremist group] Islamic State behaved with young girls, how the organisation forced them to marry group members when they were in control in Mosul and Raqqa,” says MP Rizan al-Sheik Daleer.

Once again, civil society and women’s rights organisations rallied around to protests the changes in the law. Many Iraqis on social media used the hashtag #NoToUnderageMarriages and a number of Facebook pages were created to organize the protests and garner support.

The change in law also comes at a time when women’s rights appear to be being eroded in Iraq, many of the activists believe.

“Islamic parties’ attempts to pass this new personal status law comes at the same time as a decline in the female role in Iraqi politics,” states Hanaa Edwar, the influential head of the Al Amal (Hope) civil society organization. “In 2004 women occupied a fair few of the positions in government but their numbers have decreased dramatically over the past 10 years. It’s a serious indication that male chauvinism is on the rise in Iraq.”

In the first Iraqi government after the fall of Saddam Hussein, there were six female ministers. Currently there are only two – the minister of health and the minister of housing. There were eight deputy ministers in 2005 but in 2013, only one.

When the Iraqi parliament elected a new oversight commission for elections last month, for the first time ever there was no woman on it. In 2005, when the commission was first formed there were two.

At one stage the staffs of the ministries of finance, education and health were around half female. But their numbers have dropped a lot over the past few years. Three months ago parliament refused to vote on measures impacting the Federal Public Service Council, which regulates the affairs of the federal public service, including appointment and promotion, because of the fact that the president and deputy are independent women, according to Edwar. Male MPs have also refused to vote on a bill on domestic violence for years, she added.

All of this should be a wakeup call, Edwar argues, when it comes to the role of Iraqi women in their own society.

“Men occupy all the high-ranking positions and they reject the laws that might support women,” Edwar notes. “If there were no quotas in place that require that females make up 25 percent of parliament and provincial councils, things would be even worse.”

Source: Globalresearch.ca

Iran’s Greatest Challenge is Homegrown Tuesday, 07 November 2017 18:43

The prospect of potential domestic unrest has hit a raw nerve in Iran.

Iran has long been a formidable regional force. It has projected its power by backing Shia militias, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon or Hashd al-Shaabi in Iraq, or Sunni groups such as Hamas in Palestine, thereby engaging in a proxy war strategy throughout the Middle East. However, since the independence referendum held in Iraqi Kurdistan on September 25, Iran has become decidedly more explicit in flaunting its involvement in attempting to control the latest regional tensions developing in Iraq between Baghdad and Erbil.

The flash point of this conflict began in Kirkuk when Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Iranian Quds force (the foreign wing of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, IRGC), made his presence there public in October, defiantly demonstrating Iran’s influence in Iraq to America. Following the capture of Kirkuk by Shia militias and Iraqi forces, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei’s photo was promptly displayed in the newly deposed governor’s office. In a final show of defiance, after US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told Shia militants in Kirkuk to “go home,” Qais al-Khazali, leader of Iran-funded Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia, told America to prepare to withdraw its troops from Iraq.

Two particular events that directly targeted the Iranian regime’s weak spot and potentially destabilizing factor — popular unrest at best and uprising at worst — triggered Tehran’s increasingly assertive and confrontational stance. Iran fears domestic unrest because, while it has successfully spread its power abroad by empowering Shia parties and militias, internally it has achieved control through severe repression of both its ethnic minorities and dissident political voices.

YOU ARE OUR FRIENDS

The first event came in the form of President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speeches at the UN General Assembly in September, in which both made overtures to the Iranian people. Trump spoke of “the Iranian regime’s longest-suffering victims: its own people.” Netanyahu declared to the “people of Iran: You are not our enemy; you are our friends.” He then put on a full charm offensive and repeated his advance in Farsi: “Shoma doosteh ma hasteed” (You are our friends). He went on to say that “One day, my Iranian friends, you will be free from the evil regime that terrorizes you, hangs gays, jails journalists, tortures political prisoners… .” Both speeches were accompanied by warnings of Iran’s growing power that must be curbed. This insinuates an interesting strategic change of policy that involves targeting the Iranian regime’s fear of destabilization through internal revolt.

The second event was the unexpected mass support of the Iranian Kurds for Iraqi Kurds’ independence referendum that caught most off guard. Before the results were even announced, the sheer number and speed at which hundreds of thousands of Kurds gathered throughout the Kurdish cities of Iran to celebrate was astonishing. Iranian Kurds defied a repressive regime in a way that had not occurred since the Islamic Revolution. The crackdown was prompt, with anti-riot forces and tanks being sent into Kurdish cities, and over 700 civilians detained. The Mahabad Republic of 1946 — the first attempt at an independent Kurdish state — still haunts the Iranian regime, which is now alarmed by the unity Iran’s Kurds have demonstrated with their Iraqi neighbors. What is more, this civilian outpouring if support was followed by political solidarity from the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDKI) and Komala, as well as military support from Kurdistan Freedom Party (PAK, Iran’s Kurdish militia) that has been fighting in Iraqi Kurdistan in post-referendum confrontations.

The events that occurred in the Kurdish regions of Iran received scant media attention, and when they did, they were demonstratively downplayed. This was the case during a panel discussion organized by The Washington Institute at the end of September, during which it was suggested that only 1,000 people protested, and that the demonstration was fairly irrelevant and easy to contain. The reality on the ground was conspicuously different, and Tehran’s heavy-handed response is an indication of the regime’s angst regarding its minorities.

Iran will go to great lengths to suppress the Kurds, as, despite being an ethnically diverse country in which 40% to 50% of the population is non-Persian, its minorities have been historically repressed. The repression faced by ethnic and religious minorities is widespread, ranging from discrimination, persecution and economic and cultural marginalization, to torture and mass executions in front of relatives after show trials lasting no more than 15 minutes. At times, this has led to unrest. For instance, in 2006, the Azeri minority held large protests and burned down government buildings after a cartoon portrayed them as cockroaches, with hundreds of protestors were arrested as a result.

More recently, in early September 2017, large protests erupted in Kurdish cities following the killing of two Kurdish men by Iranian security forces at the border. These protests were met with tear gas and gunfire, with hundreds arrested.

The Kurds are becoming increasingly restive, threatening the status quo. It is important to bear in mind that the extent of the repressions, executions and silencing that the Kurds face in Iran is such that they are known as the “forgotten Kurds.” It is therefore a common error to underestimate the threat they represent in the eyes of the Iranian regime as their discontent rises.

SIMMERING DISCONTENT

Trump’s recent decision to decertify the Iran nuclear deal and to introduce sanctions against the IRGC under a terrorism financing executive order has received significant media attention and is undeniably part of the reason why Iran is reacting in open defiance to America by showing that it ultimately holds sway over Iraq — an undoubtedly bitter pill for the US to swallow. However, it seems that the recent external and internal tribulations have hit a raw nerve in Tehran.

Indeed, whilst many in Iran do support the regime, many do not. For example, in response to the IRGC designation as a terrorist organization, Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif launched a Twitter call of national unity with the IRGC, which was not a resounding success. The social media response demonstrated that many Iranians view the IRGC as an organization that terrorizes its own people. It is noteworthy that many Iranian voices that dissented on Twitter are based inside Iran and not just in the wider diaspora, which is in itself a significant sign of defiance to the regime.

In its attempt to rally popular support behind the IRGC, the regime attempted to create a semblance of overt national cohesion in response to outside pressures precisely because it knows very well that a large proportion of its population does not endorse the regime. Suffice to remember the 2009 Green Movement that erupted in mass protests after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s contested reelection. The repression was brutal, but it was also a clear indication of simmering discontent throughout Iranian society.

Activists from ethnic minorities were also involved in the Green Movement but were soon disenchanted as the leaders were reluctant to support minority rights, which are viewed as having separatist undertones. Ironically, President Hassan Rouhani was elected on the joint promise of achieving a nuclear deal and civil rights reform, including fair trials for ethnic minorities and Green Movement leaders. Yet today the human rights situation in Iran has deteriorated even further past the levels of Ahmadinejad’s presidency, according to Ahmed Shaheed, former UN special rapporteur. Consequently, domestic tensions and discontent may well continue to rise as Rouhani’s promises of reforms are not being met.

Iran knows that its most concerning weakness and challenge lies in domestic, not foreign, destabilization. It has therefore resorted to taking a much more openly aggressive stance in asserting its power in the region as its long-term challengers — Israel, America and its own Kurdish minority — have apparently turned to more openly seeking to gaud Iran’s weakest point.

Source: Fair Observer

What Next For Kurdistan? Friday, 03 November 2017 09:46

The independence referendum in the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) of Iraq has resulted in a tumultuous aftermath that recalls the old adage that the Kurds have no friends but the mountains. Reaction by all neighbors, including the central Iraqi government in Baghdad, has been harsh. Iraqi, Iranian, and Turkish-backed forces have occupied Kurdish areas in the month following the referendum. KRG president Masoud Barzani is stepping down. But the referendum has brought attention to the Kurdish cause and exposed the machinations of neighbors with large Kurdish populations, particularly Iran.  It may lead, unexpectedly, to U.S. recognition that an independent Kurdistan is actually a plus for stability and American interests in the region.

Barzani decided on June 7 to hold an independence referendum to secede from Iraq. Almost all political parties in the KRG supported the referendum decision except for the change movement (Gorran) and Kurdistan Islamic Group (Komal). The referendum was held on September 25th despite objections from Baghdad, the neighbors, and the rest of the international community including the United States and Britain. In fact, the only country that supported the referendum openly was Israel. Despite such opprobrium and attempts to halt the vote, independence was favored by 92.7 percent of the electorate.

The central government of Baghdad all along was threatening the Kurdistan regional government, as did Turkey, Syria, and in particularly Iran. These neighboring countries have large and significant Kurdish populations and fear that if the Kurdistan region of Iraq becomes independent, their Kurdish population would demand the same.

What Iran Fears

Iran fears an independent Kurdistan, because it might influence its 7 million Iranian Kurds to aspire to secede from Iran. Before the referendum took place, Iran tried to persuade the KRG to postpone the referendum, and when that did not work, they tried hard to divide the Kurdish house.

In July, they invited to Tehran Jalal Talabani, the former president of Iraq who died just eight days after the referendum, and still then the leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), one of the two most powerful political parties in the KRG. The Iranians called the visit friendly, although Talabani had had a stroke, was hospitalized for more then five years, and lost the ability to communicate. Second, Iran invited the PUK politburo to Tehran to persuade them to support the idea of postponing or canceling the referendum. That attempt did not worked either; the deputy PUK leader Kosrat Rasul refused the request.

Plainly, Iran fears Kurdish unity. In 2014, for example, ISIS attacked Iraqi Kurdistan and Kurds all around the Middle East fought side by side to defend Kurdish homelands including Iranian Kurdish peshmerga forces of the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDKI) and Komala (two main Kurdish political opposition in Iran). Iran demanded that these Iranian peshmerga forces would not be allowed to fight ISIS and gain battle experience. Because of the sensitivity of the situation, KRG agreed and did not allow the PDKI peshmerga to help them in the fight against ISIS. Afterwards, in spring 2016 the PDKI decided to send back their peshmerga forces to Iranian Kurdistan, and other Iranian Kurdish political parties followed with their peshmerga forces. Several clashes have occurred between these peshmerga forces and the Iranian Quds forces, with casualties on both sides.

Before the referendum, Iranian officials argued that Iranian Kurds would not behave like the Iraqi Kurds because they were treated equally with other Iranian people and that the Islamic Republic of Iran did not distinguish between different groups of people in Iran. On the referendum day and the following day, thousands of Iranian Kurds took to the streets in different cities in Iranian Kurdistan and celebrated the Iraqi Kurdistan referendum. They shouted that they are with their brethren in Iraqi Kurdistan and that freedom will come soon to them as well. Iranian police forces arrested several celebrators because they had waved the Kurdish flag, and the Internet was shut down for several days.

PDKI leader Mustafa Hijri, in an interview with Al Jazeera, reaffirmed not only his party’s support for an independent Iraqi Kurdistan, but his belief that an independent Iraqi Kurdistan will have a positive impact on Iranian Kurdistan. He believes that once the people of Iraqi Kurdistan achieve their freedom, Iranian Kurds will also realize that they could go on the same path as their brethren in Iraqi Kurdistan.

This, of course, is precisely what Tehran fears. Iranian officials have tried to downsize the importance of the KRG referendum on their Kurdish population. Recently, Iranian president Hassan Rouhani dismissed the connection between the referendum and their own Kurdish population: “We will in no way count the political mistakes of some people in the Kurdistan Region [KRG] on you. You are part of the great Iranian nation. You are a loyal nation. You are among Iran’s oldest nations in the region. You have always stood by the Islamic revolution and stood by the Iranian nation in the imposed war with Iraq.” Mr. Rouhani’s statement was in fact a threat towards his own Kurdish population. He is trying to tell Iranian Kurds, if you demand anything more then what you have today, there is no one who can protect you.

Iran’s attitude toward the KRG independence vote is more clearly expressed in how it has influenced the Baghdad government, and what it has done militarily on the ground.

Iran’s Influence On Iraq

The key to understanding the current mess in Iraqi Kurdistan is the outsized influence of Tehran in post-Saddam Iraq. The 2005 constitution, significantly shaped by the U.S. occupiers, was meant to resolve the sovereignty of the disputed areas around oil-rich Kirkuk, but serious talks have never been convened. At the same time, the Shia-dominated central government in Baghdad has for years treated Sunni Arabs harshly (giving rise to ISIS) and Kurds with neglect. The Shia-dominated army and militias collapsed in the first encounters with ISIS, leaving the Kurds (backed by Iran and U.S. air power) as the only effective counter to the Islamic States’ bloodthirsty assaults. Despite that failure, Iran has exceptional influence on the Iraqi state.

The dominance of the Shia in Baghdad is occasioned by the 60 percent majority the sect has in Iraq. Iran, officially Shia, not only influenced Baghdad as co-religionists but also because so many in Baghdad leadership were exiled in Iran during Saddam’s reign. With less U.S. presence in the country since the formal withdrawal of troops in 2011, Iranian influence has increased. It is common that visitors in Baghdad can encounter pictures of the ayatollahs Khomeini and Khamenei, unthinkable before the 2003 occupation and a striking symbol of this influence.

Tehran is guiding Baghdad on the assault in Kurdistan. The commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Quds Force, Qasem Suleimani, has served as an adviser to Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi and has been neck deep in the Kurdish crisis, blamed by Iraqi Kurdish officials for masterminding the attack on the disputed areas between Kurdistan and Iraq. Other Iranian forces allegedly involved — the Iranian Hashed Al-Shabi forces, other Revolutionary Guard units, and Hezbollah — were able to move into Kirkuk and the KRG with little resistance from the Peshmerga because Suleimani elegantly divided the Kurdish house. He forged an agreement between Iran and some factions of PUK officials who were dissatisfied with Barzani’s leadership, alarmed by the broad opposition to the referendum in the international community, and sought a deal that would benefit them in all ways.

After the clashes between the Iranian-led forces and the Kurdish peshmerga forces, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has said that Iran acting (meaning attacking) in Kurdistan prevented the birth of a second Israel in Middle East. The Iranian, Turkish, and Iraqi charge that the idea of an independent Kurdistan was initiated by Israel and some Kurdish leaders (mainly Barzani), despite the fact Barzani’s late father Mustafa Barzani was fighting for an independent Kurdistan before the establishment of the state of Israel. This tarnishing of Kurdish aspirations is a typical ploy of the Islamic Republic, again masking the worries about its restive Kurdish population.

An Independent Kurdistan And The U.S.

In recent days, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that the Iranian forces must leave Iraq after the fight against ISIS is over. This request was quickly dismissed not only by Iran but also by Iraq. Tillerson’s statement is an acknowledgement that the American policy of containing and rolling back gains by Iran in the region is weak. Some of this vulnerability is tied to Iran’s demonstration of power in the Kurdish crisis.

Washington strongly opposed the Kurdistan referendum and told Kurdish officials that the timing was wrong. When the Kurds asked when the proper time would be, there was no proper answer. The Kurds in Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey are all connected, part of a greater Kurdistan, a national identity. The fact that Kurdish aspirations for a state have been betrayed repeatedly by regional and global powers constitutes a moral case for independence.  But there is also a strategic rationale that should appeal to Washington.

Iran will continue to present problems for peace and stability in the region, as does Syria, a corrupt and unstable Iraq, and the potential rise of another ISIS before long. Turkey, the most prominent ally of the United States in the region (besides Israel), has drifted away from the Western alliance under the erratic and belligerent President Erdogan. Not only did Turkey refuse U.S. armed forces the use of their military base Incirlik twice during the wars in Iraq, but also refused to help against ISIS at crucial moments. Turkey is cultivating closer ties to Iran and Russia, a process that has NATO leaders alarmed.

As a result of Turkey’s unreliability and the continuing chaos in the Middle East, an independent Kurdistan should appear increasingly attractive to American policy makers. Independence for the KRG is not only the right thing to do for the Kurdish people, but could provide several possibilities for a stabilizing U.S. presence in the region. Kurdish people are favorably inclined toward the United States, and welcome a U.S. military presence.  Such a “presence” need not be a large enterprise, nor should a Kurdish state become an expensive security sink for the United States. But it’s worth considering if the Pentagon can design, possibly with other major NATO partners, an all-purpose mission, including readiness for humanitarian and peacekeeping tasks, to be stationed there.

Before that can happen, the Kurds in Iraq must move decisively to end internal divisions, corruption, and anti-democratic habits. This is primarily the responsibility of the KDP, but must be inclusive of all political players. It is an enormous challenge, and one that current leadership is incapable of carrying out. Kurdish cousins in surrounding countries need to support such a cleansing. Then diplomatic efforts with the Baghdad government, under the provisions of the constitution, should move assertively forward toward confederation as a logical next step. 

None of these steps is easy or inevitable. But the conventional wisdom that the referendum was a terrible mistake can be turned on its head. Paradoxically, the referendum “disaster” may shake up the status quo enough to move players in the right direction. With American backing, the long-held hope of a Kurdish state is visible and advisable.

Source: Huffpost

For those of us who have suffered and warned of the Obama administration doctrine, which has allowed Iran to roam freely in our midst and interfere unimpeded in our domestic affairs from the GCC states to the Mediterranean and brag about controlling four Arab capitals under Obama’s watch, the newly declared Trump administration strategy announced in the middle of last month, decertifying Iran’s nuclear agreement, sanctioning Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and doubling down on Iran’s mischief, rogue state behaviour and ballistic missiles testing, was music to the ears.

What was refreshing for us in the GCC states to hear was US President Donald Trump’s new approach of not limiting the terrorist groups to the Sunni extremist groups, which the US administration focused on, but expanding the focus to include Iran and its supported and funded Shiites groups, as a long-term threat.

  The Washington Post in a recent article titled, The US is on collision course with Iran in the Middle East, said: “The launch of the [Trump] strategy signalled an important shift in US Middle East policy away from an almost exclusive focus on fighting Daesh [the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant] to an effort that also pushes back against years of Iranian expansion in the region. But the strategy offers no specifics for how to confront Iran’s pervasive presence on the ground in Iraq, Syria and beyond, raising questions about how easy it will be to push back against Iranian influence without triggering new conflicts…”

Even US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Baghdad called for Iraqi-backed Iranian militias to go home. That represents a major shift in the US position which coordinated with the Iran-supported Popular Mobilisation Forces in the fight against Daesh. This US change of heart, annoyed Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi. Qais Al Khazali, one of the Popular Mobilisation Forces leaders, even went further, insisting the “US should go home.”

In a blistering speech laying out his new strategy, Trump insisted “The Iranian regime continues to fuel conflict, terror, and turmoil throughout the Middle East and beyond. Importantly, Iran is not living up to the spirit of the [Iranian nuclear deal].” Although Trump did not walk out of the Iran nuclear deal, he nevertheless decertified it and left it to Congress to deal with it.

Trump kept repeating, even as a candidate, the Iran deal was “one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the US has ever entered into.” Moreover, Trump in announcing his new strategy vis-a-vis-Iran threatened to act “with the US’ allies to counter the regime destabilising activities… And vowed that “the agreement will be terminated,” if the Congress fails to act on the nuclear agreement.

As Trump has a laundry list of US’ grievances against Iran: “Its support for militant groups like Hezbollah, alarm over its testing of ballistic missiles, and fundamental mistrust of its repressive, theocratic leadership… This regime has fuelled sectarian violence in Iraq, and vicious civil wars in Yemen and Syria. In Syria, the Iranian regime has supported the atrocities of Bashar Al Assad’s regime and condoned Al Assad’s use of chemical weapons against helpless civilians, including many, many children. Those are all fair hits: Iran really is destabilising the Middle East in a whole host of ways….”

Trump kept referring through his speech to the regime, and not Iran... “The regime remains the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, and provides assistance to Al Qaida, the Taliban, Hezbollah, Hamas, and other terrorist networks. It develops, deploys, and proliferates missiles that threaten American troops and our allies. It harasses American ships and threatens freedom of navigation in the Arabian Gulf (it drove Iran nuts) and in the Red Sea. It imprisons Americans on false charges. And it launches cyberattacks against our critical infrastructure, financial system, and military. Trump accused the “regime of harbouring high-level terrorists in the wake of the September 11 attacks, including Osama Bin Laden’s son. In Iraq and Afghanistan, groups supported by Iran have killed hundreds of American military personnel…” These accusations have not been levelled against Iran by any US president.

Trump, never mentioned Iran as “government of Iran”, but referred in one of the harshest speeches by a US president, as a dictatorship, fanatical, and rough regime.

“Trump’s new strategy looks bold and tough on Iran, and is a refreshing departure from Obama’s destructive appeasement.”

Although, Trump strategy insisted as he described it “The regime remains the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, and provides assistance to Al Qaida, the Taliban, Hezbollah, Hamas and other terrorist networks.” He even went as far as accusing Iran of colluding with North Korea: “There are also many people who believe that Iran is dealing with North Korea.” Trump rebuked Iran’s rogue behaviour, announced a tougher stance against Iran, upped the ante and ended Obama appeasement policy and threatened to impose new sanctions against Iran, which the US Congress enthusiastically embraced, and did not waste any time to pass legislation slapping sanctions against Iran and its proxy Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Iran President Hassan Rouhani in a rebuttal speech accused Trump of delivering insults and baseless accusations in his speech and claimed “the US is more isolated than ever, and could not unilaterally change the deal.”

Trump’s new strategy looks bold and tough on Iran, and is a refreshing departure from Obama’s destructive appeasement, which subordinated and tolerated Iran’s meddling and destabilising activities to reach the nuclear agreement at any cost to serve his legacy, it gave Iran by design or inadvertently a green light to advance its project and emboldened Iran to stage a major offensive to be the hegemon of the region, empowering its proxies and allies, supporting the brutal and thuggish regime of Bashar Al Assad in Syria, and undermining the US allies in the GCC states.

But it does seem the Iranian intervention that upset the stability and security of the region pushed Obama to rethink his flawed strategy.

The hardline approach by Trump will be a major victory if it succeeds in deterring Iran, arrests its malignant interventions, forces its allies to change its destabilising behaviour and shenanigans and act more like a normal state, rather than a permanent revolutionary regime, bent on exporting its brand of revolutionary zeal, sectarian militias and hegemonic behaviour.

Source:

By Abdullah Al Shayji, Special to Gulf News
Published: 18:19 October 30, 2017

 

BAGHDAD: With the Daesh group driven from nearly all of Iraq, US officials have suggested that the thousands of mainly Shiite paramilitary fighters who mobilised against the Sunni extremists three years ago lay down their arms.

But Abu Mahdi Al Muhandis, who once battled US troops and is now the deputy head of the state-sanctioned Popular Mobilization Forces, says they are here to stay.

 “The future of the (PMF) is to defend Iraq,” he told The Associated Press in his first extensive interview with a Western media outlet. “The Iraqi army and Iraqi police say they cannot operate without the support of the Hashd,” he added, using a shortened Arabic term for the paramilitary force.

In the years after the 2003 US-led invasion, Al Muhandis led the Hezbollah Brigades, a feared Shiite militia with close ties to Iran and the Lebanese militant group of the same name. His real name is Jamal Jaafar Ebrahim, but he’s still better known by his nom de guerre, and his rise to the top ranks of Iraq’s security apparatus reflects the long, slow decline of US influence over the country.

He participated in the bombing of Western embassies in Kuwait and the attempted assassination of that country’s emir in the early 1980s, for which he was convicted in absentia and added to the US list of designated terrorists. But like many Shiite militants, he returned to Iraq after the 2003 US-led invasion. Two years later, he was even elected to parliament, before being forced to step down under American pressure.

In 2009, the State Department linked him to the elite Quds Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, calling him a “threat to stability” in Iraq, and as recently as last week it referred to him as a terrorist.

But in the summer of 2014, when Daesh swept across northern Iraq, and the US-trained and funded army collapsed, his and other Shiite militias mobilised in defence, halting the extremists on the outskirts of the capital. The mostly Iran-backed militias remained separate from the US-led coalition, but over the next three years they helped Iraq’s reconstituted military to drive Daesh out of most of the country.

Today, Al Muhandis, in his mid-60s, is among the most powerful men in Iraq, splitting his time between the front lines, Iran and his home and office in Baghdad’s heavily-guarded Green Zone. He describes the PMF as a “parallel military” that will help keep the peace once Daesh is gone.

Al Muhandis “demonstrates that Iran has a direct venue with which to influence Iraqi politics, and a powerful one at that,” said Phillip Smyth, an expert on Shiite militias at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

“It’s no secret,” Al Muhandis said of his close relationship with Iran, the country where he spent decades in exile and underwent military training. He said he personally seeks spiritual and moral guidance from the country’s leadership, but that the PMF only gets material support from Tehran.

Earlier this month, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson demanded that Iran-backed militiamen in Iraq return to their homes, integrate into the Iraqi army or leave the country.

Al Muhandis casually dismissed the appeal. “Tillerson is asleep,” he said.

“Iran was the only country that supported Iraq from the beginning of the Daesh crisis,” he said, referring to the Daesh blitz in 2014. “It’s like when you’re in a hospital and you need blood. The Americans would be the one who would show up with the transfusion when it was too late.”

As to whether the Americans should remain in Iraq, Al Muhandis said: “We follow the Iraqi government despite our personal opinions, and our personal opinions are well known, so I won’t repeat them here.”

The PMF sprang into action again earlier this month, when federal forces retook the northern city of Kirkuk and other disputed areas from Kurdish forces in response to the Kurds’ vote for independence in September. The military action, which caused few casualties and was celebrated as a victory by the country’s Arab majority, gave a further boost to the paramilitary forces.

“What happened in Kirkuk is a success for the Iraqi government and the Iraqi forces,” Al Muhandis said, adding that his forces had helped coordinate the Kurdish withdrawal to minimise clashes and casualties. “We want a brotherhood with the Kurds,” he said, referring to their shared struggle against Saddam Hussain in the 1980s.

The fighting nevertheless displaced thousands of people, according to the United Nations and Amnesty International, which documented the looting and destruction of “hundreds” of properties near Kirkuk.

International rights groups alleged widespread violations by the militias throughout the campaign against Daesh and said the government had failed to hold them accountable. Al Muhandis and other commanders say any abuses were isolated incidents, and that perpetrators have been brought to justice.

Al Muhandis rarely speaks to reporters, but his image is pervasive on social media, where he can be seen wearing olive fatigues and surveying front-line positions from Iraq’s northern border to the western Anbar province, where troops and militiamen are battling Daesh in the last pocket under its control. He’s often standing beside General Qassem Sulaimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, and a key adviser to the PMF. Music videos shared online praise Al Muhandis’ humility and fearlessness.

He can also be seen in photos attending strategy meetings chaired by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi. The PMF are officially an “independent military formation” under the prime minister’s command.

Al Muhandis holds a “pivotal” position in Iraq’s political and security hierarchy, said Nathaniel Rabkin, managing editor of Inside Iraqi Politics, a political risk assessment newsletter.

“It’s a source of concern in and outside Iraq,” Rabkin said. “If you have elements of the armed forces or the security forces loyal to a particular political party you’re creating a setup where it will be very difficult to have free, fair and competitive elections that don’t descend into violence.”

Iraq is set to hold parliamentary elections next year. When asked if his forces would participate in politics, Al Muhandis laughed, saying: “Don’t mention it or you’ll scare off all the politicians.” He added that PMF fighters would be free to run for office, but must first leave the paramilitary organisation.

Smyth, the militia researcher, doubts such rules would be enforced, noting the long history of militia commanders cycling in and out of political office.

Whether they run or not, Al Muhandis said the PMF are “the biggest force that can influence the upcoming elections.”

Source: Gulf News

BEIRUT, Lebanon — It may not be politically popular to raise concerns about the human rights of Islamic State fighters and their families. But the International Committee of the Red Cross, which has monitored the treatment of the wounded, prisoners and civilians in wartime for a century and a half, sought to do just that in a strongly worded statement on Thursday.

The organization is concerned about rhetoric that “dehumanizes” and “demonizes” the enemy or suggests that a particular adversary is “outside the bounds of humanity” and can be treated “as if humanitarian law doesn’t apply,” the group’s deputy director for the Middle East, Patrick Hamilton, told reporters via a telephone conference call.

Language that could appear to justify or encourage war crimes and illegal treatment of detainees has become more common on all sides of the sprawling conflicts in Syria and Iraq, Mr. Hamilton said, to the point that the Red Cross felt it necessary to remind all combatants that international law requires due process and humane treatment of detainees “with no exceptions.”

His comments come as the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, ISIL and Daesh, is surrendering more territory to an array of government and militia forces. Several Western officials have said that it would be best if their citizens who have fought with the Islamic State died in combat.

The Red Cross has a longstanding policy of not singling out governments or groups for criticism, because it seeks to preserve access to all sides in order to carry out missions such as monitoring the treatment of detainees and prisoners. The organization said its warning was directed at all combatants as well as countries that might receive returning Islamic State fighters.

“It’s not that we are going to name no one,” Mr. Hamilton said of his warning against inflammatory rhetoric. “We name everyone.”

France’s defense minister, Florence Parly, said last week that if Islamic State fighters “perish in this fight, I would say that’s for the best.” Rory Stewart, a British government minister, said of British ISIS members that “unfortunately the only way of dealing with them will be, in almost every case, to kill them.”

And Brett McGurk, the American envoy to the anti-ISIS coalition, said the mission was to make sure foreign fighters “die here in Syria.” Earlier this year, Trump administration officials referred to “annihilating” ISIS.

To be sure, none of those statements called for extrajudicial killings or any other war crime. But in an already tense and dangerous atmosphere — punctuated by atrocities carried out by insurgent and militia groups in the past — all parties need to “de-escalate their language,” Mr. Hamilton said.

“These are emotive, difficult issues but the law does provide a sober mechanism for dealing with all of this,” he said, noting that the Red Cross has been advising governments on handling detainees and civilians through 154 years of conflicts and world wars. “These events are not without historical precedent.”

The Red Cross has visited 44,000 detainees in Iraq this year, and is currently providing humanitarian assistance to 1,300 women and children from around 20 nationalities, detained near Mosul as suspected relatives of Islamic State fighters. The Red Cross also is seeking to expand access to detainees throughout the region.

Risks of violations are increased by the complexity of the fight, with more than 20 states involved and often in partnerships with nonstate militia groups, which Mr. Hamilton said had created “a diffusion of responsibilities” for following the laws of war.

Another risk arises from the enormous humanitarian crises spawned by recent battles, with millions of people affected and chaotic scenes as people flee across deserts.

Little is known about the numbers and conditions of Islamic State members detained in the Syrian city of Raqqa as the American-backed Syrian Democratic Forces took over last week. Nor has any information surfaced about the many people who had long been held prisoner in Raqqa by Islamic State and have not been found.

Source: The New York Times

 

Iraq Now an Iranian Colony Sunday, 29 October 2017 16:02

The recent takeover of Kirkuk by the Iranian backed militias and Iraqi army clearly illustrates that now Iran is calling the shots in every important decision of Iraq. This whole operation and withdrawal of PUK Peshmerga, without resistance to advancing Iraqi forces was planned by Iran Quds force commander Major General Qassem Soleimani. The extent of involvement by the Iraq Prime Minister’s office in this whole episode is still unclear, but one thing is certain -- decisions were made in Tehran and Baghdad.

Geopolitical observers are now criticizing Iraqi Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi, for being too quick to resort to force against Kurds at the behest of Iran rather than engaging in talks with Erbil, who had helped Baghdad in the fight against ISIS. There are a number of ways in which Iran gains from this current crisis. Not only does the conflict undermine Kurdish unity, it also boosts the role of Iranian backed Shia militias such as Hashid al-Shaabi in Iraq and makes them look like guardians of national unity rather than sectarian actors. But as a nation, Iraq is at loss, as it has sparked anger against the federal government among its sizeable Kurdish minority.

The fall of Kirkuk clearly showcases the extent to which Iraq today is an Iranian controlled territory. And it demonstrates the currently unparalleled efficacy of the Iranian methods of revolutionary and political warfare, as used by Iran Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) throughout the Arab world to promote Iran geopolitical interests. Iran’s influence in Iraq is not just ascendant, but diverse extending to almost every walk of life. Let’s have a look at various areas where Iran is dominating the Iraqi arena.

Politics- During Saddam Hussein’s rule, Iran granted asylum to a number of Iraqi opposition parties and part of its ability to greatly affect Iraqi political theatre today is linked to the fact that the individuals comprising a significant portion of the Iraqi political map formerly resided in Iran. Politically, Iran has a large number of allies in Iraq’s Parliament who can help secure its goals. Even the most senior Iraqi cabinet officials take instructions from Iran’s leadership.

Military- Tehran has been the principal backer of mainly Shiite Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) formed to fight the Islamic State and now formally absorbed into the Iraqi military. Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRCG) overseas arm.  The Quds Force provides the bulk of logistical support and advice to Popular Mobilisation Forces. In turn, Iran uses the PMF to exert military leverage over the Iraqi government to wrestle power on behalf of Iran, much like Hezbollah did in Lebanon.

Economy- Trade between these two nations is primarily unidirectional in favour of Iran.  Years of sanction and internal conflicts have rendered Iraq dependent on Iranian imports. The only place outside Iran where the Iranian currency the “Rial” is used as a medium of exchange is southern Iraq. Iran is dumping cheap, subsidized food products and consumer goods into Iraqi markets and is undercutting its neighbour’s agricultural and manufacturing sectors.

Natural Resources- Iran’s damming and diversion of rivers feeding the Shatt al-Arab waterway has greatly undermined the Iraqi agriculture sector in the south and hindered efforts to revive Iraq’s marshlands. Iran has withheld water flows of the Kalal River, which flows into Wasit province, and of the Karun and Karkha rivers, which flow into Basra province.

Religion- Iran has been pursuing a long-term strategy to expand its religious authority in Iraq in many ways. For example they use financial and political leverage to ensure the primacy of clerics trained in the Iranian seminary of Qom and loyal to the Iranian ideology, over clerics trained in the relatively non-political tradition of the Najaf seminary. Then, by reconstructing the Shiite shrines in Iraq, they consequently take control of their management in the long run. Lastly, they take control of pilgrimages in Iraq’s shrine cities, notably the Arbaeen procession, which attracts millions of devotees every year to Karbala.

Despite this great degree of Iranian influence on the Iraqi nation still there is a ray of hope. The current Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has the potential to be pulled out of Iran’s influence and act as an independent figure. This is especially true as he has stood in the face of Iran’s pressures on some occasions.

Even so, al-Abadi government officials must prove their allegiance to the Iraqi people and not to the Iranian regime. For example, the Iraqi judiciary is also heavily under Tehran’s influence. This was seen specifically in the country’s Supreme Court last October when they blocked al-Abadi’s judicial reform package. Efforts must clean up the judiciary and make it independent.

Current Iraqi leadership should also work to bridge the gulf with its Sunni and Kurdish minorities by establishing an equal method of governance across the country. Not all Iraqi Shiites are pro-Iranian puppets in fact, many are fervently nationalistic. Prime Minister Abadi can tap into Iraqi nationalism to combat further sectarian division. 

Source: NRT

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