Iran: The story of proxy militias

By Shahriar Kia

Iran’s destructive role across the Middle East has become common knowledge and crystal clear for all. During the past two decades, especially, the presence of this regime’s proxy militias and affiliated Shiite groups has been considered an overt secret. Yet the question is how has Iran been able to dispatch so many fighters, and on a constant basis, to various flashpoint scenes in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

Iran has trained, equipped, financed and dispatched thousands of fighters to various battlegrounds across the region. However, with its own economy literally in peril, how has Tehran afforded such an expensive campaign?

Iran allocates a large portion of its annual budget to finance a massive domestic crackdown machine, parallel to exporting terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism. This goes part in parcel to Tehran’s continuous effort to obtain weapons of mass destruction, including its clandestine nuclear drive and ballistic missiles program. A percentage of the capital necessary for such endeavors, and the repressive forces inside the country, have ironically been provided by the highly boasted Iran nuclear deal.

The mullahs’ regime is also known to plunder billions from the Iranian people’s pockets, leaving millions across the country living in poverty. Whereas it is worth noting Iran is one of the richest countries in the world in natural resources, registered as enjoying the second largest gas reserves and fourth largest crude oil reserves.

Not long ago Iranian and western media showed how many Tehran locals were resorting to sleeping in graves in the winter cold. The number of homeless people in Iran is skyrocketing at an alarming rate. Unfortunately, many Iranians have been forced to sell body parts, such as kidneys, to help make ends meet, making this a huge market in Iran.

Rallies and demonstrations are also on the rise in Iran as more and more people are protesting very poor living conditions rendered through the disastrous policies implemented by the mullahs’ regime. Just recently residents of Ahwaz in the oil-rich province of Khuzestan in southwest Iran staged a week-long rally demanding Tehran bring an end to its disastrous desertification campaign that has devastated the local economy. Thousands of people also took to the streets in Tehran in late February demanding secure employment and delayed paychecks.

As the Iranian people suffer, the money needed to provide for their needs is used by the mullahs’ regime to pursue their own domestic and foreign agendas. As a voice focusing on unveiling such efforts, the Iranian opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) relies on a vast social base inside the country to gather such intelligence to unveil some of the regime’s most sensitive projects.

Senior U.S. officials have in the past acknowledged how the Iranian opposition, People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), has warned the globe over the most important aspects of Iran’s nuclear program, such as the Natanz uranium enrichment plant and the Arak heavy water plant back in 2002 that sent shockwaves across the globe.

The Iranian opposition has through the years delivered significant blows to the mullahs through over 100 different revelations shedding light on most specifically Tehran’s nuclear weapons program. Without such an important campaign the mullahs’ will most definitely have obtained nuclear weapons by now, placing them in a dangerously powerful position in a tumultuous Middle East.

The MEK has also provided valuable information on Iran’s terrorism and Islamic extremism, such as unveiling the names of 32,000 hired agents in Iraq back in 2007; training and financing Iranian and non-Iranian forces in Syria in the summer of 2016 along with details and maps; and the Revolutionary Guards’ role in massacring Aleppo residents in December 2016.

To train its foreign fighters Iran has launched a network of bases across the country, 14 of which were identified and made public by the NCRI in a February press conference held in Washington. Other such militias are being trained in Syria and Iraq near the very warfronts they are then sent off to.

Iran trains Iraqi Shiite militias in bases across Iraq, dispatching such individuals to pursue Iran’s objectives in Iraq. Iran also used this asset to target Iranian opposition members formerly in Iraq in 8 different attacksthat targeted their camps, Ashraf and Liberty, leaving over 175 MEK members killed and more than 1,000 injured. These attacks were mainly carried out by Iraqi militias under IRGC orders.

To end Iran’s ability to use proxy militias to wreak havoc across the Middle East the new U.S. administration should target the main entity behind this campaign, being none other than the mullahs’ cherished IRGC. The designation of this lethal entity as a foreign terrorist organization is long overdue, and such a measure will most definitely send a signal to Iran that both America, and the international community, mean business.

Tehran has to understand that such undertakings will no longer be tolerated, and continuing with such actions and further missile tests will bear a heavy price tag. This approach will place America as a shoulder to shoulder with the Iranian people’s plight to establish freedom and democracy.

Shahriar Kia is a political analyst and member of Iranian opposition (PMOI/MEK). He graduated from North Texas University. He tweets at @shahriarkia.

Originally posted in The Hill

Iran in Crisis

The recent dust storms that wreaked havoc in southwest Iran signaled only one of the many crises the mullahs are facing less than three months before critical elections. Tehran has been hit with severe blows during the Munich Security Conference, contrasting interests with Russia, the recent escalating row with Turkey, and most importantly, a new U.S. administration in Washington.

These crises have crippling effects on the mullahs’ apparatus, especially at a time when Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei sees his regime facing a changing balance of power in the international community, and is faced with a major decision of selecting the regime’s so-called president.

Iran and Ahvaz

The dust storms crisis in Ahwaz, resulting from the mullahs’ own destructive desertification policies, caused severe disruptions in water and power services and people pouring into the streets in major protests.

The regime, and especially the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), has for decades pursued a desertification policy of constructing dams, drying lagoons, digging deep oil wells beneath underground water sources with resulting catastrophic environmental disasters. Various estimates indicate the continuation of such a trend will literally transform two-thirds of Iran into desert lands in the next decade. This will place 14 to 15 million people at the mercy not only dust storms but also salt storms.

Iran and the Munich Security Conference

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif attended this conference with a series of objectives in mind, only to face a completely unexpected scene. U.S. Vice President Mike Pence described Iran as the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. Saudi Arabia Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said the mullahs are the source of threats and instability throughout the Middle East. Turkey went one step further and said Tehran is the heart of sectarianism and spreads such plots across the region, and all traces in Syria lead to Iran’s terrorism and sectarian measures.

This resembles a vast international coalition against Tehran, inflicting yet another blow to the mullahs following a new administration taking control of the White House. These developments are very costly for Khamenei and the entire regime.

In comparison to the early 2000s when the U.S. launched wars against Afghanistan and Iraq, Iran was the main benefactor. The current balance of power now is quite different, as seen in Munich. While there is talk of an Arab NATO, any coalition formed now in the Middle East will be completely against Iran’s interests.

Iran and Russia

Following a disastrous joint campaign in Syria, for the first time Russia is reportedly supporting a safe zone in Syria. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said contacts have been made with the Syrian regime to establish safe zones in Syria. These are the first remarks made by any Russian official on the issue of safe zones in Syria.

Moscow’s increasing contrast in interest with Iran over Syria has the potential of playing a major role in regional relations. Russia certainly doesn’t consider Bashar Assad remaining in power as a red line, a viewpoint far different from that of Iran. Moscow is also ready to sacrifice its interests in Syria in a larger and more suitable bargain with the Trump administration over far more important global interests.

Iran and Turkey

Yes, Ankara and Tehran enjoy a vast economic partnership. However, recent shifts in geopolitical realities have led to significant tensions. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused the mullahs of resorting to “Persian nationalism” in an effort to split Iraq and Syria.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu accused Iran of seeking to undermine Bahrain and Saudi Arabia as part of Tehran’s “sectarian policy.” Cavusoglu used his speech in Munich to say, “Iran is trying to create two Shia states in Syria and Iraq. This is very dangerous. It must be stopped.”

Tehran considers Ankara’s soldiers in Iraq and Syria as a major obstacle in its effort to expand its regional influence.

U.S. president Donald Trump’s strong approach vis-à-vis Iran and the possibility of him supporting the establishment of a Turkish-administered northern Syria safe zone may have also played a major part in fuming bilateral tensions between these two Middle East powers.

Erdogan has obviously realized completely the new White House in Washington intends to adopt a much more aggressive stance against Tehran. This is another sign of changing tides brewing troubles for Iran’s mullahs.

Iran and Presidential Elections

With new reports about his ailing health, Khamenei is extremely concerned about his predecessor. One such signal is the candidacy of Ibrahim Reisi, current head of the colossal Astan Quds Razavi political empire and a staunch loyalist to Khamenei’s faction, for the presidency. With former Iranian president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani out of the picture, Khamenei may seek to seal his legacy by placing Reisi against Iranian president Hassan Rouhani in the upcoming May elections.

This is literally Khamenei playing with fire, as Reisi is considered a hardline figure and such an appointment may spark 2009-like protests across the country, as the country has become a scene of massive social challenges. Rouhani himself doesn’t enjoy any social base support, especially after four years of lies and nearly 3,000 executions.

Final Thoughts

This places the entire regime in a very fragile situation. From the internal crises of Ahwaz, the upcoming elections and the formation of a significant international front threatening the Iranian regime’s strategic interests.

Forecasting what lies ahead is truly impossible, making Khamenei and his entire regime extremely concerned, trekking this path very carefully and with a low profile. As we witnessed with the inauguration of Ronald Reagan, Iran immediately released the 52 hostages held for 444 days.

This regime understands the language of force very carefully. And yet, there is no need to use military force to inflict a significant blow and make Tehran understand the international community means business. Blacklisting Iran’s IRGC as a terrorist organization by the U.S. at this timing would be the nail in the coffin for the mullahs.

Originally posted in American Thinker

Iran & the Ahwaz environment crisis

There have been a variety of reports in the media about last month’s dust storms and environmental crisis in Ahwaz and Khuzestan Province, located in the country’s southwest border and bordering Iraq. Considering the enormous crisis the world witnessed, especially with the Iranian people taking to the media to unveil the atrocious conditions. The question is does the mullahs’ regime in Iran have any policy to tackle this problem?

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No solution can be possibly found in the framework of this regime, according to experts in Iran and those abroad. This is the truth about all other environmental problems in Iran, while we are specifically discussing the water and dust storm crisis in Ahwaz and Khuzestan Province.

Iran’s water sources, above ground or below surface, are in critical conditions, with experts saying in ten years’ time two thirds of Iran will be desert lands. The city of Urmia in northwest Iran is home to central Asia’s largest intake waterbody, known as Lake Urmia. However, this once huge water source is now drying up, literally.

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This very spot is now becoming the source of dust storms and a new and very lethal phenomenon known as salt storms, gravely impacting the lives of 14 or 15 million people. Cancer statistics are dangerously on the rise in Iran, too.

On the other hand, in Iran’s southeast region of Hamoun and Sistan & Baluchistan we are witnessing a very similar scenario. Other water sources and lagoons in the middle of Iran, in Fars and Kerman provinces, to be exact, we are witnessing another such situation with the above ground water sources.

And the truth is no actions have been taken by the mullahs’ regime to resolve these dilemmas. Senior Iranian regime officials are only concerned of their profits, adopting a major desertification policy and constructing a large number of dams, launching deep oil rigs in search of enormous profits, while caring less and destroying underground water pockets. As a result such water sources are being annihilated and leading to severe damages to Iran’s once rich forests.

All the while, Iran’s factions are more concerned about their own political and economic interests, holding all others responsible for the recent dust storm crisis. This can be seen in the remarks made by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and his loyalists in their lashing at Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and his faction, blaming them for failing to take any actions. Rouhani, in response, says all such problems were inherited by his cabinet from the previous presidency, especially from firebrand Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

This shows this is part of the entire crisis faced by the Iranian people, as the regime in Tehran fails to have any serious resolution to these crises.