Understanding the latest ISIS attack in Iran

According to news reports clashes erupted recently between Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) and a group of men allegedly belonging to the Islamic State, or ISIS. These clashes were reported in western Iran, in the Iran-Iraq border area of Ezgeleh in Kermanshah Province.

Ezgeleh in Kermanshah Province, western Iran

Theses clashes were located around the Imam Hassan Village, also known as the Bamo region, bordering the Iraqi town of Halabja. According to the IRGC, five ISIS members were killed and 16 were arrested.

This deserves a close look at this region on the map and to take into consideration who is actually in control on the Iraqi side of the border.

The Pishmarga forces of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, previously destroying ISIS forces on their soil, and to the south Hashid al-Shabi (aka the Popular Mobilization Force), known as the Shiite Iraqi Basij, are in control. Long ago, ISIS was in control of areas hundreds of kilometers west of this region.

The question is who were these so-called ISIS members? To what group were they affiliated to? Why did they choose this timing to stage an attack against Iran?

A few months ago it was reported that the IRGC used helicopters to transfer hundreds of ISIS members from Dezli in Iran’s Kurdistan Province to Kalar and Tuz Khurmatu near Iraq’s Kirkuk Province.

Map shows location of the town of Dezli in Iran’s Kurdistan Province, and the locations of Kalar and Tuz Khurmatoo in Iraq.

Warnings were issued about the IRGC transfer of these ISIS members, and how their logistical needs were completely provided by the IRGC. All these individuals had long beards, and eyewitnesses and regional sources confirmed such developments, reports indicate.

What happened that these individuals, after some time with no one ever having any problem with their stay near the Iran-Iraq border, suddenly decide to send a 21-man group into Iranian territory?

This issue is directly related to the Iranian people’s nationwide protests seeking to bring about regime change.

The Iranian regime’s plot focuses on a claim of being under an attack, the country is at risk, the IRGC – now completely abhorred by the Iranian public opinion – is a popular entity and is supporting the country (!)

In fact, the question is, why didn’t ISIS target Iran during their climax, when they vast power and influence, enabling them to launch attacks in the heart of Europe? Why didn’t anything happen in Iran back then?

Secondly, after ISIS was completely eradicated by Kurdish forces and Hashid al-Shabi in Iraq, confirmed by Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, and IRGC Quds Force Qassem Suleimani writing a letter to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei explaining ISIS has been annihilated even as far as the Iraq-Syria border, what has happened ever since that ISIS is suddenly reborn and enters Iranian territory?

Rest assured the 16 ISIS members arrested by the IRGC will be brought before state TV to “confess” to whatever the Iranian regime demands. They will most definitely be rehearsed by the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS), raising issues with the objective of preventing the continuing and rightful protests across Iran in the month of February, and especially on February 11th when the regime intends to celebrate the beginning of its 40th year in power.

These individuals will tell the viewers Iran is in danger, the threat of civil war is eminent, and the non-existing ISIS is attacking your country… with no way out other than measures to prevent such an attack.

For those lesser familiar with Tehran’s ruling clerics, this procures a license to crackdown to all of the regime’s security organs.

This is a known and old pretext resorted to by the Iranian regime. Let there be no doubt that no ISIS groups exist in Iran. Fundamentally, where have you ever seen ISIS send a group of its men to a mission ending in 16 members being arrested?

ISIS is known to fight to the death or committing suicide. In Iraqi Kurdistan reports indicate a 9-man ISIS group was surrounded by ground and air forces. They fought until the very last man died. None surrendered. There have been rare occasions when wounded ISIS members were apprehended.

In reality, this entire scenario is a pretext cooked by the IRGC.

Inside the country or abroad, there is no threat more dangerous than the continuing existence of the Islamic Republic of Iran itself. Various analysts believe this threat can lead to the disintegration of Iran into smaller separate states defined by ethnic lines (which I believe is wrong), result in increasing debauchery (possible) and the current economic impasse rendering completely bankruptcy for Iran’s financial system (very likely).

The main threat is none other than the Iranian regime itself.

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ANALYSIS: Understanding Washington’s fast-evolving Iran policy

On the doorstep of US President Donald Trump’s first National Security Strategy speech, the administration launched an unprecedented campaign of pinpointing the crosshairs on the epicenter of all extremism causing havoc across the Middle East: Iran.

This comes following a Wall Street Journal article explaining how in the post-ISIS world Washington will begin pinpointing its focus and resources on the larger and more dangerous threat posed by Tehran.

‘Hard look’

The Trump administration has made it clear that a wide array of destructive policies adopted by Tehran have become unacceptable, a clear indication of the end of Iran’s years of windblown successes, thanks mainly to eight years of the Obama’s unbridled appeasement policy and strategic mistakes of previous administrations.

Described as a “first” by Reuters, last Thursday US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley displayed a detailed exhibition of Iranian equipment used to arm Yemen’s Houthi militias – long known to be backed by Iran – and thus, to destabilize the region, especially its archrival, Saudi Arabia.

“We are not just focused on the nuclear program,” Haley said during a press conference at a US Department of Defense hangar where the Iranian equipment were placed before the media. “We’re also taking a hard look at Iran’s ballistic missile program, its arms exports, and its support for terrorists, proxy fighters and dictators.”

Iran can also be described as the facilitator, and maybe even the godfather, of a slate of malign practices rendering suffering across the Arabian Peninsula, leading to the Levant and eastward to Central Asia.

“It’s hard to find a terrorist group in the Middle East that does not have Iran’s fingerprints all over it,” Haley continued, adding how this regime is “fanning the flames” of conflict.

It is worth reminding that for decades the US State Department has considered Iran the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. We may actually be on the verge of meaningful and long overdue measures against Tehran on this very important and vital subject.

A different Iraq

US policy shifting also faces major decisions regarding the path forward in Iraq, as the three year war against ISIS group begins to wind down and Washington seeks to roll back Tehran’s influence over Baghdad. Disputes between the central government and the Kurdish region, parallel to the May general elections in which Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi seeks reelection, are important subjects for all parties involved.

“Iran simply does not respect the sovereignty of its neighbors,” said Douglas Silliman, the US Ambassador to Iraq, while voicing how Washington is encouraged over recent efforts made by Baghdad to establish stronger ties with Riyadh and Amman.

This adds to Tehran’s troubles in Mesopotamia, as there are signs of growing rifts among its allies in Iraq’s Shiite majority. A stereotype mentality would suggest Iran is seeking the return of Nouri al-Maliki, a former prime minister considered by many as extremely loyal to Tehran.

Maliki, however, would need the unified support of Iraq’s Shiite community. Troubling Iran’s intentions is how various influential figures, such as Muqtada Sadr, have established close ties with Riyadh or signaled their own objectives.

Hadi al-Amiri, commander of Iraq’s largest Shiite paramilitary group, the so-called Badr Organization, called on his fighters on Thursday to begin taking orders from the national military and end their ties with the group’s political wing.

This move, parallel to unconfirmed reports of orders for the group’s fighters to withdraw from cities they currently control, paves the path for Amiri to take part in the upcoming May 12th parliamentary elections.

Back in July, Ammar al-Hakim, a politician known for his links to Iran, withdrew from the Tehran-backed Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq to launch a new party, the National Wisdom Movement. Al-Hakim has claimed to seek Sunni support for his new initiative.

July was the same month of Sadr’s Saudi and UAE visit, and he also raised eyebrows by calling for the controversial Popular Mobilization Forces to dismantle and integrate into the country’s armed forces.

Reports also indicate that Sadr intends to establish a political alliance with Abadi, the al-Wataniya slate of Iraqi Vice President Ayad Allawi and the Civil Democratic Alliance before May’s elections. Raising concerns for Iran is the fact that all these parties have called for political reforms in Iraq.

Necessary deterrence

With the US military effort against ISIS decreasing in necessity, the Trump administration is also weighing the future of its Syria campaign, with Iran on their mind. Having recently announced the presence of more than 2,000 American forces stationed currently in Syria, the new goal for these units is a highly debated subject.

As we remember the drastic experience of Obama’s premature pull-out of Iraq and the resulting consequences that paved the path for the rise of ISIS, US Defense Secretary James Mattis has indicated American troops have no intention of leaving the Levant in the foreseeable future.

It is vital to ensure ISIS is prevented the ability to morph into a dangerous new entity with the potential of raising new threats in this already hostile region. Furthermore, rest assured Washington is taking into considerable consideration the presence of Iranian proxies across the Levant, and how the stationing of US troops on the ground acts as a major deterrence element against Tehran’s treacherous initiatives.

Times have changed

Advocates of engagement vis-à-vis Iran are accusing the Trump administration of trailing the path of launching a war with Iran. Their intentions are far from preventing the US from entering a new war, but to protect Tehran from any strong measures, including international sanctions that target the regime and actually benefit the people by weakening the ruling system.

This piece is not a call for war with Iran, and there is a logic that needs understanding for those concerned about Iran responding violently to a US policy shift. Tehran’s support for militias in Iraq back in the 2000s enjoyed the support of two key elements:

1. A completely unified Iranian regime with former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad acting as the puppet of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

2. Billions in revenue rendered by skyrocketing oil prices soaring up to nearly $140 a barrel in June 2008.

This is not the case today, as Iranian politics is a scene of unprecedented internal quarrels described locally as “dogfights,” and the lowered price of oil and increasing sanctions leveled against Tehran are disrupting the regime’s efforts, seeking to maximize its regional bellicosity.

‘Global threat’

As emphasized by Ambassador Haley, it is high time for the international community to take decisive action, such as crippling sanctions targeting the regime and its belligerent institutions, to finally bring an end to what has become “a global threat.”

The Iranian opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran, known for blowing the whistle on Tehran’s clandestine nuclear program, indicates how a “firm policy hinges on the following practical measures:

– Evicting the IRGC and its proxy militias from Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and Afghanistan, and preventing the transfer of Iran’s weaponry and troops to these countries;

– Imposing comprehensive sanctions on Iran and the IRGC, especially preventing their access to the global banking system;

– Referring Iran’s human rights violations dossier, particularly the 1988 massacre of over 30,000 political prisoners, to The International Criminal Court, and placing the regime’s senior officials responsible for these crimes before justice;

– Imposing previous UNSC resolutions covering Iran’s nuclear weapons program, banning uranium enrichment, and launching unconditional inspections into the regime’s military and non-military sites.”

Iran: From human rights violations to dangerous meddling

From day one the regime of Iran has been based on the pillars of domestic crackdown, and exporting terrorism and a reactionary, religious mentality.

As we speak, spreading extremism and Islamic fundamentalism remains a cornerstone policy of Iran’s state-run strategy, all hacked into this regime’s constitution.

The real image

Earlier this year Amnesty International’s 94-page report, “Caught in a web of repression: Iran’s human rights defenders under attack,” detailed this regime’s drastic human rights violations, with a specific focus on its extensive overdose of executions.

As witnessed for years running, Iran is the world’s leading executioner per capita, with many hangings continuously and horrendously carried out in public. All the while, secret executions are ongoing in dungeons across the country, including Tehran’s infamous Evin Prison.

This is the real image of Iran, cloaked by the ruling regime and their appeasers in the West for years, who continue to portray Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani as a moderate worth dealing with.

ANALYSIS: Does the Middle East’s stability hinge on Iran’s expulsion?

Rouhani heads a corrupt system responsible for executing around 3,500 people, and counting, from 2013 to this day. 350 such counts have been registered this year alone.

Iran lacks anything even remotely comparable to a justice system and the current Justice Minister, Alireza Avaie, has been on numerous terrorist lists since 2011 for human rights violations.

Avaie is also known to have played a leading role in the 1988 massacre of over 30,000 political prisoners, consisting of mostly members and supporters of Iran’s main opposition, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK).

Nursing home

Iran is the godfather of human rights violations and terrorism, known as the main source of systematic human rights violations and expanding conflicts across the region.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), and the Quds Force, responsible for the IRGC’s extraterritorial operations, led by Qassem Suleimani, famed for his ruthlessness, are the main parties responsible for Iran’s internal repression, and mainly, aggressively expanding Iran’s influence throughout the Middle East.

For decades the IRGC has been responsible for terrorist attacks in this flashpoint corner of the globe, including the countries of SyriaIraqLebanon and Yemen. In this regard, Tehran’s continuing practice of being the nursing home of proxy extremist groups is no matter of dispute or questioning.

What Iran has maintained a lid on has been its close collaboration with terror elements. For decades, the world has been deceived – conveniently for and by Iran – into believing that significant differences exist between Sunnis and Shiites, and thus cancelling any possibility of Tehran having links with its Sunni rivals.

Tehran has usurped this window of opportunity to portray itself and claim to be a de facto ally of the West in the fight against extremism, especially recently in the form of ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Discussions in Washington are ongoing over how the US military, short of a direct conflict, can deter and contain Iran’s meddling in Middle East countries. The Pentagon has refrained from public comments.

One official familiar with the mentality of US Secretary of Defense James Mattis has hinted to the media that Iran is the focus of much attention in the Pentagon recently.

Last week Secretary of State Rex Tillerson chaired a meeting between the US, UK, France and Germany to blueprint US-European collaboration aimed at countering Iran through the course of diplomatic and economic practices. Other senior Trump administration officials have also resorted to significant remarks.

“What the Iranians have done across the broader Middle East is fuel and accelerate these cycles of violence so that they can take advantage of these chaotic environments, take advantage of weak states, to make them dependent on them for support,” US National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster said to a security forum last weekend.

“We have to address what is a growing Iranian capability and an ability to use proxies, militias, terrorist organizations to advance their aim, their hegemonic aims in the region,” McMaster added.

This file photo taken on May 15, 2003 shows Yemeni ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh (L) welcoming former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami at Sanaa International Airport. (AFP)

 

Game-changing revelations

Newly released documents obtained by US special forces in their raid on the residence of the now dead al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan prove what many scholars have argued for years.

Iran’s regime, known as the beating heart of Islamic fundamentalism, has never considered sectarian differences an obstacle to cooperate with extremists. Tehran seeks to strengthen its resolve in the objective of furthering influence and global support for fundamentalism and terrorism.

These documents prove how the Iranian regime was working closely with al-Qaeda, including bin Laden himself, which could have subsequently led to Tehran’s inevitable cooperation with ISIS.

Iran’s rulers, and their cohorts spread in various countries, seek the same objective of establishing a ruthless caliphate by deploying global jihad. This practice hinges on unbridled brutality, misogyny and immorality to its utmost extent. No limits in barbarity and viciousness is accepted by these parties in their effort to reach their objectives.

Further reports are emerging detailing the growing amount of ties linking the regime in Iran with extremists groups, such as al-Qaeda and ISIS. New evidence confirms how despite the existence of various factions of extremist groups such as the Taliban, al-Qaeda and ISIS, at the end of the day, they all look at Tehran as the main source fueling this infamous mentality.

Flashpoint Yemen

Iran’s support for the Houthis in Yemen has escalated and gained much attention recently. For example, a missile launched by the Houthis on November 4 was strikingly similar to an Iranian-made Qiam-1 short-range ballistic missile, added to its collection by Iran in 2010, and yet never before seen in Yemen’s missile arsenal, according to a confidential report prepared by a UN panel of experts missioned to monitor a 2015 arms embargo imposed on Yemen.

One component — a device, known to be an actuator, used to assist in steering the missile — was found among the debris bearing a metal logo of an Iranian company, Shadi Bagheri Industrial Group, known to be the subject of UN, EU, and US sanctions.

The Houthis “obtained access to missile technology more advanced” than what they had prior to the conflict’s birth in 2015, according to the panel report.

“The design, characteristics and dimensions of the components inspected by the panel are consistent with those reported for the Iranian manufactured Qiam-1 missile,” the text adds.

Serious measures

The dangerous nature of Iran’s regime is obvious to all. Parallel to military and terrorist measures throughout the globe, Tehran targets naïve and vulnerable subjects, using them to relay their reactionary mentality. This includes the various Western parliaments and significant international bodies, including UN and EU institutions. Tehran’s demonization agendas have shown to be predecessors to violent attacks.

Only serious measures against Iran’s regime, and ultimately the collapse of this ruthless entity, will mark the end of Iran’s human rights violations, and meddling and support for terrorism being spread deceivingly under the flag of Islam.

ALSO READ: Who is Qais al-Khazaali, godfather of Iranian-backed Shiite militias?

Iran’s increasing meddling abroad is not a policy signaling this regime’s strength. In fact, facing deep domestic crises, Tehran is attempting to cloak its internal weakness by increasing its influence across the region on the one hand, and resorting to saber-rattling to prevent the international community from adopting a firm policy.

Iran entered negotiations and succumbed to curbing its nuclear program due to fears of uncontrollable uprisings resulting from crippling international sanctions. This is the language Iran understands and more major sanctions are needed against this regime.

ANALYSIS: How Iran has its eyes set on Iraq oil

Iran, sensing the increasing international isolation, has long sketched the necessary blueprints to prevent a future already becoming very bleak. For decades Tehran has maintained this entire country and its vast oil reserves in its crosshairs.

Recent developments in Iraqi Kurdistan prove the Iranian regime’s devious intentions and should alert the international community. The government of Iraq, jockeying to maintain ties with both Washington and Tehran, has unprecedentedly agreed to redirect Kirkuk province’s crude to Iran.

This oil will be supplying a refinery located in the city of Kermanshah, close to the recently earthquake-struck region. This decision follows the retaking of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk from the Kurds in the notorious shadow of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) Quds Force chief Qassem Soleimani.

Own backyard

Iran has continuously fueled regional tensions across the board, launching parallel proxy wars in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen against the entire Arab World, with a main focus on Saudi Arabia. After Iran enjoyed 16 years of strategic mistakes and appeasement, the Trump administration has expressed major concerns and is taking major action against Tehran.

Iran is already receiving trucks of Iraqi oil, currently based at 15,000 barrels per day valued at around $1 million, with plans to escalate to 60,000 bpd, a Reuters report citing Iraqi officials indicates.

Considering it its own backyard, Iran has pressed Iraq over an oil pipeline project to ultimately export Kirkuk oil through Gulf ports. Tehran’s ultimate objective is to pump 650,000 bpd of Kurdish oil into refineries across Iran and for export purposes, the report adds citing a senior Iranian official.

Pipes are put in place as the land is cleared from ordnance and mines laid down during the Iraq-Iran war 1980-1988, in the massive Majnoon oil field, some 40 kms from the eastern border with Iran, on February 7, 2012, in southeastern Iraq. (AFP)

 

Feeding off Iraq

While the cover story may seem an ordinary economic agreement between two neighboring countries, Tehran cannot deny a malign past of seeking to take advantage of its crisis-riddled western neighbor.

In April 2012 the London-based International Centre for Development Studies confirmed concerns of Iran stealing large amounts of Iraqi oil. Iran’s efforts involved stealing an annual value of $17 billion worth of oil from fields considered mostly Iraqi and not shared between the two oil-exporting rivals, the report indicated.

Those fields enjoy a reserve of over 100 billion barrels, with the majority laying inside Iraq. Iran was taking an estimated 130,000 barrels of Iraqi oil per day, according to the report. The Iraqi oil fields of Dehloran, Naft Shahr, Beidar West, and Aban were the victims of this vast plundering.

The oil fields of al-Tayeb and Fakka, along with various sections of Majnoun, were also targets of Iranian misuse, adding another 250,000 bpd to the above figure.

Iran was stealing a whopping 14 percent of Iraqi oil revenue, depriving this war-ravaged nation of desperately needed funds that Tehran is likely to allocate to notorious belligerence across the region.

Fallen on deaf ears

Iran has also supported the Popular Mobilization Force (PMF), a conglomerate of mainly Shiite militia groups. This entity, following Iran’s IRGC paramilitary Bassij prototype, stands accused of smuggling oil from wells across to the country to Iran on a daily basis, according to an April 2017 report citing an Iraqi Oil Ministry source.

The Badr militia, Iraqi Hezbollah, Saraya al-Salam militias and al-Fadilah party militants have also gained significant control over the al-Basra and Maysan refineries and A’las, Oujeil and Hamrin oil wells in Salahuddin province of central Iraq. The Iraqi Oil Ministry has remained silent as PMF leaders have been smuggling hundreds of oil tankers to Iran on a daily basis, the source added.

Salahuddin Govenor Ahmed al-Jabouri’s efforts in urging Baghdad several times to protect A’las and Oujeil oil wells located east of Tikrit from such theft have fallen on deaf ears. On a daily basis dozens of oil tankers are stolen and smuggled through Tuz Khurmatu from these oil wells, the report adds.

The PMF was initially established in response to the attack staged by Islamic State terrorists. Their activities, however, have expanded to Iraq’s political affairs and the PMF also stand accused of flagrant human rights violations. To make matters even more complicated for Iran, Soleimani was spotted near the Iraq-Syria border alongside the PMF, making quite a stir in the media.

Fueling division

The entire history of Iran stealing Iraqi oil can be described as a chapter of Tehran’s silent growth of influence, especially during the years of Obama’s appeasement. Qassem Soleimani, running the IRGC’s international branch known as the Quds Force, is also known to be the right hand of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

Alongside the military campaign he runs across the Middle East through Iran-backed proxy militias, Soleimani also has Iran’s oil business heavily on his mind. A September visit to Iraqi Kurdistan by Soleimani came prior to the Iraqi army’s recapture of Kirkuk, resulting from a rift in Kurdish forces leading to the city’s fall into Baghdad control.

“… the presence of Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani, exacerbated tensions among the Kurds and the government in Baghdad,” US Senator John McCain said in Washington recently.

Iraqi porters sit on their carts as they wait for customers overlooking Iran bound oil tankers at the new Zurbatia checkpoint, 120 km southeast of Baghdad November 17, 2007. (Reuters)

 

Iran has since 2003 been known to fuel division across Iraq and Soleimani’s recent stop in Kurdistan came after a referendum that Iran vigorously opposed, and was followed suspiciously with Kirkuk’s sudden fall. “The recapture of Kirkuk was coordinated with Soleimani,” according to the abovementioned Reuters report.

This can lead to a conclusion that Iran, sensing harsh times ahead, is providing increasing control to the IRGC over the vital oil sector in its already troubled economy.

This may seem a flawed decision by Tehran considering the IRGC’s recent terrorist designation by Washington. Yet it also sheds light on Iran’s dependency on the IRGC to further advance domestic and regional policies.

Changing times

Iran will resort to further such desperate measures in the coming future, comprehending how the tide is changing drastically against its interests.

A possible agreement between the US and Russia over Syria following a recent meeting between President Donald Trump and his counterpart Vladimir Putin; the surprising resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri and his visit to Paris; France raising the tone against Iran’s ballistic missile program; and growing domestic unrest witnessed following the recent earthquake in western Iran are all tallying Tehran’s deepening concerns.

Conditions are shifting fast, and Tehran believes desperate times call for desperate measures. Vital now is for the international community to increase the velocity of restrictions damning this regime. With ISIS’s days of authority coming to an end Iraqi Parliament Speaker Salim al-Jubouri has called on Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to disband the PMF.

Sunday’s Arab Summit session in Cairo ended in a statement describing Iran as a “dangerous dagger”in the region, especially in its approach towards Saudi Arabia and Gulf countries.

“Ballistic missiles fired at Saudi Arabia have amounted to 76 rockets, all Iranian-made, and therefore we affirm our full solidarity with Saudi Arabia in everything it takes to protect its national security,” said Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit during the emergency meeting. The entity went as far as saying it will not declare war on Iran at this stage.

US President Donald Trump signaling future pressure on Iran’s oil exports, Congress passing a billaimed at blocking the sale of commercial aircraft to Tehran and the Bahrain Interior Ministry revealing further details of an Iran-linked terrorist cell are also further steps in this direction.

This is the nature of measures needed against Iran these days.

ANALYSIS: How Iran fueled and used al-Qaeda

Iran’s relations with al-Qaeda is under the spotlight following the CIA’s release of nearly half a million documents obtained during a 2011 raid that killed the extremist group’s leader Osama Bin Laden.

How Iran at least facilitated the efforts leading to the 9/11 attacks has been discussed extensively. For decades US authorities have argued Iran-al-Qaeda ties date back to 1991, referred to in a 19-page report amongst the trove.

“Anyone who wants to strike America, Iran is ready to support him and help him with their frank and clear rhetoric,” the report reads.

REVEALED: Bin Laden daughter’s letter addressed to Khamenei

The US government’s 9/11 Commission explained how Iranian officials met with al-Qaeda leaders in Sudan as early as 1991 or 1992. This led to the Lebanese Hezbollah, an offspring of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) to begin training al-Qaeda militants in Lebanon, the commission said. IRGC training camps inside Iran have also been exposed by the Iranian opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI).

Al-Qaeda further enjoyed the backing of Iran and Hezbollah in the 1998 truck bombings targeting US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that left 224 people killed, including 12 Americans, US prosecutors said in their indictment of Bin Laden. This proves Iran recognizes no religious borders in allying with al-Qaeda. To reach its objective Tehran is bounded by no principles and will resort to any measures necessary, a viewpoint very rarely discussed.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei arrives to deliver a speech in Tehran on November 2, 2017. (Reuters)

Pragmatism in politics

Important for Tehran regime is to utilize all means to safeguard its rule by extending influence and reach across the Middle East. This includes wreaking havoc for the region’s nations and targeting all assets of the “Great Satan,” as the Iranian regime describes the United States.

When needed Iran provided al-Qaeda their necessities. When interests alter, however, Tehran easily changes course. The 19-page report mentioned above describes how Iranians later placed al-Qaeda members under house arrest following the Sept. 11 attacks. Tehran understood the importance of al-Qaeda for Washington after its victory in Iraq, and began planning long term.

“They decided to keep our brothers as a card,” the report said. In 2015 Iran made this true, reportedly exchanging a number of al-Qaeda leaders for a diplomat held in Yemen by the terror group’s local branch. “In my experience, the Iranian regime is the best example…of pragmatism in politics,” according to an al-Qaeda official quoted in the 19-page report.

Tehran taking advantage

While Iran and al-Qaeda shared a common enemy in the U.S., the relationship also had its sour days. Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei reportedly received a letter from al-Qaeda operatives – said to be Bin Laden’s daughter – demanding Tehran release detained operatives’ family members.

In 2003, Tehran reportedly weighed a possible deal with Washington, offering to exchange a number of al-Qaeda numbers for members of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) then stationed in Iraq. Nothing materialized, however.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei attends a meeting with students in Tehran on October 18, 2017. Leader. (Reuters)

Al-Qaeda’s apparent siding with Iran may seem surprising, considering the ostensible enmity extremists like those of ISIS have for Shiites, and vice versa. “The relationship between al-Qaeda and Iran demonstrated that the Sunni-Shiite divisions did not necessarily pose an insurmountable barrier to cooperation in terrorist operations,” the 9/11 Commission reported.

Prior to 9/11, Iranian intelligence facilitated border passage to al-Qaeda militants without stamping passports or with previously provided visas by its consulate in Karachi, Pakistan, according to the 19-page report.

This mirrors US intelligence, showing how eight of 9/11’s hijackers passed through Iran before arriving into the mainland United States. One can now doubt claims of Hezbollah or Iran not being aware of the 9/11 planning. Experts have also noted how Iran leads a campaign, if you will, seeking short and long term interests.

Also read: CIA files shows depth of al-Qaeda’s relationship with Iran

Iran has trained militias to fight in Iraq and Syria under the pretext of “protecting” Shiite holy sites and shrines. Described as a “mere dog-whistle aimed at rallying sectarians to prop up the Assad and Maliki regimes,” reports show how Iran-backed groups have deployed forces to areas lacking any shrines to “protect.”

All the while, Iran’s proxy groups have staged horrific massacres against Sunni communities across Iraq and Syria. Furthermore, in the past several years the Iran-backed Assad regime has suspiciously retreated from various positions, only to see ISIS gain ground, while mutually attacking the grassroot Syrian opposition.

Numerous intelligence reports indicate how Tehran provided long-term shelter to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, founder of al-Qaeda in Iraq. The IRGC protected and groomed Zarqawi, whose group become the predecessor to ISIS, the reports add. The IRGC also facilitated resources allowing al-Qaeda in Iraq to rebuild infrastructure to launch its blitzkrieg offensive from Syria, taking over large swathes Iraq.

U.S. intelligence has well documented Tehran’s ties with al-Zarqawi, strongly doubting the narrative provided by the Obama administration following ISIS’s rampaging of numerous Iraqi cities.

Barack Obama speaks about the nuclear deal with Iran on Aug. 5, 2015. (AP)

Obama’s appeasement

With Bin Laden killed in 2011, why did the Obama administration keep a lid on this valuable source of vital intelligence?

CIA spokesman Ryan Trapani told Bloomberg the new documents specify “Iran and al-Qaeda have an agreement to not target each other. The documents indicate Bin Laden referred to Iran as the ‘main artery’ for al-Qaeda to move funds, personnel and communications.”

The Obama administration released selected sets of Bin Laden files, in an attempt to emphasize a fierce rivalry between Iran and the extremist group. We now understand the Obama administration had complete knowledge of Tehran’s lethal cooperation with al-Qaeda.

The timing of Obama obtaining such vital intelligence about Tehran’s relations with al-Qaeda suspiciously overlaps Iran’s extensive meddling in the region, especially the lethal crackdown of its opposition in Iraq.

Iran has gone the limits in attempting to annihilate its opposition. As WikiLeaks revelations shed light on Iran’s conspiracies against the PMOI/MEK, rest assured the future has more such exposures.

President Trump speaks about the Iran nuclear deal in the White House on October 13, 2017. (Reuters)

Outstanding threat

Iran will deny any relations with al-Qaeda. Interesting is how Iran initially denied any role in Syria and Iraq. The status quo proves Iran’s lethal footprint in literally opening the gates of hell upon these two nations.

The Obama years are over. Al-Qaeda and ISIS have lost their organizational structure, after Iran took complete advantage of them. Iran and the IRGC, however, continue causing mayhem.

The CIA release follows US President Donald Trump’s landmark decision to decertify the flawed Iran nuclear deal. The Trump administration has also ended decades of rapprochement, highlighted in the IRGC blacklisting. This very necessary measure needs full-throttle implementation without any loopholes.

Despite their differences, the European Union and United States should join force in the long overdue effort to end Iran’s foot-print in Syria and Iraq.

ANALYSIS: How the tide turned against Iran in Iraqi Kurdistan

Despite all the brouhaha made over Iran’s “lightning” advances in Iraqi Kurdistan, the entire scene change in less than 48 hours.

Tehran desperately needed to respond to US President Donald Trump’s lambasting October 13th speech launching a major policy shift and designating the Iranian regime’s crown jewel, the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), as a terrorist organization.

The flag representing the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), brought down by Iran-backed militia forces known as the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), was raised once again Wednesday night.

Despite the tens of thousands of locals who fled their homes, footage on social media showed armed residents stationed in the streets of Kirkuk, Khaneqein and a number of other cities.

With locals taking matters into their own hands, and international pressure escalating on Baghdad, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi ordered all armed forces other than local security units to withdraw, forcing the PMF to retreat.

This is literally a slap in the face for Tehran.

Conflicting Reports

Rumors and various reports stream out of Iraqi Kurdistan on a constant basis. Reports indicate forces loyal to the Kurdistan Democratic Party led by KRG President Masoud Barzani arresting a number of ISIS commanders in the town of Hawija.

Further reports claim of these ISIS units coordinating attacks with Iran’s Quds Force and its commander, Qassem Soleimani. In this regard, allegations have been raised accusing the PMF of launching attacks targeting Kurdish areas aimed at releasing these very ISIS commanders.

As always, rumors and allegations are endless. Without a doubt, however, is the fact that the Iran-backed PMF units, considered Tehran’s “national treasure” in Iraq, have been forced to withdraw from Kurdish cities.

Many reports of these units attacking Kurdish homes, plundering people’s property and even setting their residents on fire were posted in the mere 48 hours of their presence in these cities. PMF units are known to have committed similar crimes in Sunni Arab cities following their cleansing of ISIS forces.

The United Nations expressed its worries and Washington called an end to all clashes and disputes.

The Iranian opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran issued a statement strongly condemning the IRGC’s “aggression and occupation,” adding Suleimani had been “plotting for it in Sulaimaniya and Baghdad and other areas of Iraq.”

Iran’s True Colors

The actions of Iran’s IRGC and the Quds Force in Iraqi Kurdistan, parallel to Suleimani’s presence, made Tehran’s deceitful role and intentions crystal clear for all parties.

Various outlets have accused the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), defragmented following the death of former leader and Iraqi president Jalal Talibani, of signing behind-the-curtain deals with Iran.

Suleimani has been in Kurdistan for at least two weeks and there are rumors of Talibani’s family agreeing to stand down in the face of PMF units entering Kirkuk and other Kurdish regions.

Iran, of course, has not remained silent and used its influence in an attempt to save face and make further threats. The Iraqi judiciary issued an arrest warrant for PUK Deputy Director General Kosrat Rasul. In contrast to Iraqi Kurdish politician Barham Salih and members of the Talabani family who expressed their gratitude for Iran’s “support” of the Kurds, Rasul described the events taking place in Kirkuk as an occupation, going on to accuse certain figures of becoming Tehran’s 5th column.

There are now even reports heard of the Iraqi judiciary summoning Barzani himself to a court of law on charges of threatening Iraqi security, illegal oil smuggling, along with other administrative and legal violations.

America Steps In

There is word of senior Trump administration officials contacting al-Abadi, threatening military action if the PMF refuses to withdraw from Kurdish cities. Rumors also indicate Moscow made similar threats, as all parties sense the dangers of a fresh round of military conflict in Iraq playing into the hands of the all but completely annihilated ISIS, and more importantly Tehran.

Fresh in the minds of all parties are scenes of PMF units staging attacks on Sunni communities, committing atrocities against entire towns and villages. Such an outcome would only play into the hands of Iran as the sole benefactor of increasing turmoil in Iraq.

The Big Picture

Without a doubt the expansion of PMF units across Iraq, and as a result the IRGC Quds Force’s influence in this very important stretch of land, has raised eyebrows and concerns in Washington.

The PMF is specifically seeking to occupy certain areas to facilitate the land bridge sought by the Quds Force between Tehran and Damascus, stretching to Lebanon and the shores of the Mediterranean. With such means the Quds Force would enjoy the ease of providing necessary arms and equipment for the Lebanese Hezbollah, and beyond.

As various forces enter and exit the restive cities of northern Iraq, efforts are also underway to launch talks between Baghdad and the KRG capital, Erbil.

Iraqi President Foad Masoum, himself a Kurd, has been travelling between these two cities in attempts to have al-Abadi and Barzani agree to sit for negotiations. Al-Abadi was also recently the guest of Saudi King Salman in a visit to Riyadh that certainly caught the attention of Tehran.

“We are open and we want to move away from the past,” he said in the Saudi capital. “The region cannot tolerate any further divisions. Interference in the internal affairs of other state should stop.”

Looking Forward

Iraq will be holding general elections next year and al-Abadi is currently under pressure from two Shiite fronts.

Tehran-backed elements led by former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki have long been planning their return to power. Supporters of Muqtada Sadr, a Shiite cleric distancing from Iran and establishing closer ties with Saudi Arabia, is seeking to institute his position. It is a very high probability – and a nightmare scenario for Tehran – that Sadr may ally with secular Shiites led by Iraqi Vice President Ayad Allawi, alongside a number of Sunni groups to establish a coalition government.

The developments in Kurdistan have raised the intensity level in Iraq. Iran understands very well that the fall of the ISIS will allow the US and international community to focus on the main element threatening the entire region.

As explained in a White House press release prior to US President Donald Trump’s landmark October 13th Iran policy speech:

• Over the last decade and a half, United States policy has also consistently prioritized the immediate threat of Sunni extremist organizations over the longer-term threat of Iranian-backed militancy.

• In doing so, the United States has neglected Iran’s steady expansion of proxy forces and terrorist networks aimed at keeping its neighbors weak and unstable in hopes of dominating the greater Middle East. Recently, the Iranian regime has accelerated the seeding of these networks with increasingly destructive weapons as they try to establish a bridge from Iran to Lebanon and Syria.

• The Trump Administration will not repeat these mistakes.

Iran sought to recover following the IRGC’s terrorist designation by the US Treasury Department under Trump’s orders. With its supported units forced to withdraw from Kurdish cities, this crusade has not only backfired, but transformed into yet another slap in the face for Tehran’s rulers.

These major developments have sparked major diplomat efforts, as US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has launched a trip to the Middle East, with a first stop in Riyadh and making a call for Iranian “militias” to leave Iraq.

Analysts view this as a Washington push to establish a Saudi-Iraq alliance aimed at countering Iran’s regional belligerence.

ANALYSIS: With ISIS on the run, is it time to focus on Iran?

Iraq announced the official defeat of the ISIS terror group on its soil recently. Efforts in Syria pinpointing on the cities of Raqqa and Deir ez-Zoor, the last two ISIS strongholds, are also on the rise with estimates forecasting the group’s complete annihilation in October.

Unfortunately, since the rise of ISIS in 2014, thanks to the marginalization and crackdown of mass Sunni populations by former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, Iran has benefited from the existence of ISIS to divert international attention and crosshairs away from its mischiefs.

After three long years of devastation and destruction brought about by ISIS, it is high time for the international community to exert its energy and pressures on Iran to bring an end to its proclivity of regional meddling and bellicosity.

Most recently revelations have made clear of Iran’s efforts to produce advanced, precision weapons in Lebanon and Syria. These activities are dangerously close to Israel, an enemy Tehran’s regime has sworn to wipe off the map.

Iran has been very active in Syria and focusing efforts to transform the country into a military entrenchment base. Anyone having knowledge about the Iranian regime’s nature and recent history understands how Tehran’s ruling clerics seek to establish war fronts across the Middle East to spread their malign influence.

An image grab taken from Hezbollah’s al-Manar TV on August 24, 2017 shows Hassan Nasrallah, the head of Hezbollah. (AFP

The main proxy

These sites in Lebanon and Syria are intended to produce missiles with state-of-the-art capabilities. Tehran has specifically pressed the gas pedal on these measures during the past year in Lebanon. The Lebanese Hezbollah, Iran’s main proxy and offspring from 1982 to this day, will most likely be the principal benefactor of these new missiles, enabling it to threaten specific targets.

This goes parallel to Tehran’s repeated efforts, especially during the ongoing six-year war in Syrian, to smuggle strategic, game-changing weapons into Lebanon. These attempts have been greeted with numerous Israeli airstrikes against various targets in Syria in recent years, such as advanced weapons caches or convoys that reports indicate were headed for none other than Hezbollah.

Already entangled in the Assad/Iran war against the Syrian people, Hezbollah has yet to show any retaliation against Israel in response to these airstrikes. While these assertions may not be new, the changing times in the Middle East are further providing grounds for dire action as “tomorrow” may prove to be too late.

To add to the regional concerns stirred by Iran, the al-Shabaab terror network, a known affiliate of the al-Qaeda network, has raised the stakes by taking control of uranium mines in Africa. Reports indicate its intention is providing Iran with such crucial sensitive supplies. This can be described as yet another failure of Obama’s highly flawed, back-channeled deal with Tehran that left the regime’s pivotal threats unaddressed.

A SANA handout picture shows (L-R) Hassan Nasrallah, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Damascus on February 25, 2010. (AFP)

The bigger picture

Iran has been taking advantage of the overall Middle East situation to extend its sphere of reach and influence through Hezbollah and a slate of other proxies. Tehran has also focused on propping the Assad regime in Syria, holding on its foothold in Yemen through supporting the Houthis against Saudi Arabia, and maintaining its strategic presence in Iraq after the fall of ISIS. The latter is specifically important considering the upcoming 2018 parliamentary elections.

And even more disturbing about Syria are recent blueprints of de-escalation zones across the country. The southern de-escalation zone in particular would provide Iran and its company of proxies the highly sought opportunity to consolidate their stretch across these sensitive areas. These measures are also aimed at limiting Saudi influence in Syria, considered a red line for Tehran.

Iran took advantage of strategic policy mistakes in Iraq. This should not be repeated in Syria. Assad in Damascus has since 2011 relied on Iran and the Lebanese Hezbollah for its very survival. The Syrian regime has maintained its strategic positioning thanks to Iran’s crucial role in delivering economic and military assistance through the years.

Iran is now seeking to place itself as the ultimate winner of the Syria war, and a glimpse at post-2003 war Iraq and the status of Lebanon provides a prelude of the devastation to come. As such, all the more important to launch global initiatives to counter Iran’s hostile aims.

US President Donald Trump ordered a massive military strike against a Syria Thursday in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack they blame on President Bashar al-Assad. (AFP)

Understanding the reality

Assad may now threaten to look East after the war rather than West in retaliation to those who stood against him. Yet he should be reminded of how he must face accountability for his horrific crimes against humanity, mostly at the behest of the ruling regime in Iran.

In a recent Paris visit, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri said Assad leaving Syria is a high probability. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has called on world powers to impose a transition plan in Syria. The French top diplomat also made it crystal clear there is no place for Assad in Syria’s future.

All this goes parallel to the necessity of displaying an allied, international determination that Iran’s threats against the security of the region and beyond will not go tolerated.

As a recent New York Times piece explains, “The Trump administration has so far seemed willing to cede Syria to Russia, save for the defeat of the Islamic State. But Washington should understand what this really means: ceding it to Iran.”

ANALYSIS: How the tide is turning against Iran

As ISIS is losing ground in its two last enclaves of Raqqa and Deir el-Zor, there are many rightfully concerning reports of Iran seeking to chip further control in Syria.

All the while, there are also signs of contradictory remarks heard from senior Iranian officials, parallel to indications on the ground of how international counterparts are seeking their own interests that fall completely against those of Tehran’s.

Such incoherency signals nothing but troubling times ahead for Iran in losing its grasp of strategic interests across the Middle East, including Syria.

‘Not tantamount to meddling’

Similar sentiments were heard recently from Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) Quds Force commander Qassem Suleimani. Zarif exerted himself to defend Tehran’s carnage in other countries under the pretext of a mandate to defend human rights.

“The foreign policy of the Islamic Republic, based on the constitution, is a policy that is naturally founded on human rights. What is the meaning of human rights? It means defending the rights of innocent against oppressors… We have this definition in our constitution. This is not tantamount to meddling,” he claimed.

Zarif’s remarks were followed by Suleimani’s insight. “There were friends in high places, in our country’s domestic and foreign hierarchy, who argued not to get involved in Syria and Iraq, and sit back and respectfully defend the revolution. One individual asked you mean we go and defend dictators? The leader (referring to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei) provided a clear response in saying when you look at the countries we have relations with, who is a dictator and who is not? We simply look at our interests,” he explained.

A troubling slate

The relations Khamenei refers to promote an image into the very nature of his establishment. Bashar Al-Assad’s dictatorship in Syria can be read as a reign of death and destruction. With Iran’s support and in the absence of a coordinated global response over 500,000 have been killed, scores more injured, over 12 million are internally displaced or forced to seek refuge abroad, and swathes of the country is left in ruins.

Iraq’s former prime minister Nouri Al-Maliki, another figure described as Tehran’s puppet, has a similar report card unfortunately gone neglected. The Sunni community was the main target of Al-Maliki’s Iran-backed wrath, fueling the rise of ISIS.

In Yemen the Houthis and ousted dictator Ali Abdullah Salah have also been at the receiving end of Iran’s support. As the Saudi-led coalition advances against Iran’s disastrous efforts, signs of major rifts, and even reports of clashes between the two forces, constitute a major quagmire for Tehran.

The Lebanese Hezbollah, Iran’s proxy offspring brought to life by the IRGC back in the early 1980s, are known to instigate the Syrian war by supporting Al-Assad, and pursuing Tehran’s interest wherever needed across the Middle East.

Looking abroad, Iran has established cozy relations with North Korea and Venezuela, both dictators whose people are starving. The Pyongyang-Tehran axis is especially raising concerns considering their close nuclear and ballistic missile collaboration.

Iran’s own dictatorship

This is a regime provoking a variety of bellicosities. Recent threats by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Atomic Energy Organization chief Ali Akbar Salehi of relaunching certain nuclear activities are reminders of the dangers of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons.

Extending equally to such concerns, and not receiving adequate consideration, is Iran’s ongoing human rights violations. Over 100 executions were reported in the month of July alone. This comes after more than 3,000 were sent to the gallows during Rouhani’s first term.

President Hassan Rouhani with Syrian Prime Minister Imad Khamis at his office in Tehran, on Jan. 18, 2017. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

More recent cases include the ongoing hunger strike of dozens of political prisoners in a jail west of Tehran going on for nearly four weeks now. These inmates are protesting prison guards resorting to violence and other repressive measures used to impose further pressures.

Concerned of this and the overall situation in Iran, Amnesty International in a statement demanded Iranian authorities “allow international monitors, including the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, to conduct independent, unannounced inspections of Raja’i Shahr Prison and other prisons across the country.”

While this and many other such cases deserve an international inquiry, they do signal a significant change in tone of courage in Iran’s powder keg society against the ruling regime.

From others’ perspectives

Fortunately, there is an end to be seen in the Syrian war. However, six years after the spark of that revolution, the Syrian people have suffered tremendously mainly due to Obama’s compelling kowtowing to Iran.

The war has been draining Iran, forcing it to seek the support of other parties, including Russia. The more parties with stakes in Syria, and with the US taking a far more active stance, the more Iran sees its future in the country threatened.

As the Levant’s forthcoming is being blueprinted, high on the agenda must be thwarting Iran’s interests. With ISIS defeated in Iraq, there will be no legitimacy for Iran’s presence in Iraq in any shape or form. The same argument goes for Syria.

The international community, coming to realize Iran’s destructive nature, should take the initiative and demand the eviction of all Iranian elements from Syria, including IRGC members and foreign proxy members transferred from abroad.

Peace is the end

All said and done, comprehending Iran’s regime thrives on the mentality of spreading crises across the region is vital. Ceasefire and reconciliation are not in this regime’s nature, knowing increasing public demands will follow.

This regime has failed to provide in elementary needs inside Iran for the past four decades. Thus, satellite states abroad will be no exception. Peace and tranquility in the Middle East hinges on containing Iran’s influence from all its neighboring countries and a complete end to its lethal meddling.

A new chapter is being written in this flashpoint region’s history.

ANALYSIS: Is this the beginning of a new era for Iraq without Iran?

The military phase of the fight against ISIS is winding down after the liberation of Mosul, and the battle for the nearby town of Tal Afar is predicted to end soon. This has provided an opportunity for Iraq to begin distancing itself from the influence gained by Iran following the disastrous 2003 war, and returning to its true Arabic heritage.

Iraq was known as a melting pot where Arabs, Kurds and Turkmens lived alongside and in mixed societies for centuries. Prior to Iran gaining its disastrous sway across Mesopotamia, this was a land where the majority of Shiites lived and prospered with their Sunni, Christian, Yazidi and all other religious minority brothers.

Has not the time arrived for Iraq to regain its true position as part of the Arab world, and rid its soil of the meddling of Iran’s clerics?

Long-awaited developments

Iraqi officials have embarked on a new campaign of visiting Saudi Arabia and other Arab Sunni states, signaling long-welcomed changes. The influential Sadrist leader Muqtada was seen in the final days of July meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman.

Only days later Sadr paid a visit to the United Arab Emirates, another critic of Iran’s policies, where he was welcomed as an Iraqi leader by a slate of leading politicians and clerics.

Sadr’s visit rendered a variety of measures by Riyadh, including launching a Saudi Consulate in Sadr’s hometown of Najaf, one of the two holiest Shiite cities in Iraq. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, known as Iraq’s most senior Shiite cleric, his distance from Tehran’s viewpoints and calling for Iraq to practice openness in establishing relations, did not block such a proposition.

Muqtada al Sadr with Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman in Riyadh. (Al Arabiya)

Iran, however, resorted to strong remarks against Sadr for his visits to Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The visit was even described by a local wire as an act of betrayal to the Houthis in Yemen.

Iran’s support for the Shiite proxy militias, through arms, logistics and finances, parallel to advisors dispatched by the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) and Lebanese Hezbollah, have resulted in the humanitarian catastrophe Yemen finds itself today.

Sadr is also planning a visit to Egypt, adding to the list of senior Iraqi officials, including Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and the ministers of foreign affairs, interior, oil and transportation who are set to visit Saudi Arabia. Despite investing in Iraq for the past 14 years, Iran has been deprived of visits of such high stature.

No future

Iran’s proxies, while taking the credit for much of the fight against ISIS on the ground, have been accused of law violations and refusing to obey the state of Iraq. Iraqi authorities affiliated to Iran have a very poor report card of being involved in corruption and sacrificing Iraqi national interest in Tehran’s favor.

This became a major issue during the second term of former Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, who some have even described as Iran’s “puppet.” Maliki is known to have close relations with Tehran and Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei himself.

To make matters even worse, the recent departure of Majid al-Nasrawi, governor of the oil-rich city of Basra located at the southern tip of Iraq, has recently left for Iran. His departure followed being accused of numerous corruption offences by a government transparency committee. Choosing Iran as a destination has left further impression of him fleeing to a safe haven, and Tehran having a hand in Iraqi corruption.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani with Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi in Tehran on June 20 2017. (AFP)

Rebuilding cities

As Sadr and other Iraqi officials continue their meetings with senior Arab officials of the region, there are also major talks under way between Baghdad and Riyadh to establish a new alliance that would provide Saudi Arabia a leading role in rebuilding war-torn cities across Iraq.

On August 14th the Cabinet of Saudi Arabia announced a coordination committee to spearhead a variety of health care and humanitarian projects, including building hospitals in Baghdad and Basra, and providing fellowships to Iraqi students in Saudi universities. Opening border crossings and establishing free trade areas between the two countries is also on the agenda.

Riyadh should lead the Arab world in tipping the balance of power against Tehran’s interests in Iraq. The truth is Iran has not carried out any major economic project in Iraq from 2003 onward, due to the fact that the mullahs do not seek the prosperity of their western neighbor.

Saudi Arabia and the Arab world should provide the support Iraq needs after suffering from Iran’s menacing influence that has brought nothing but death and destruction. Evicting Iran from Iraq must come parallel to efforts of ending its presence in Lebanon, Syria and Yemen.

The main obstacle before the Arab world in establishing a coalition against Iran’s clerics is this regime’s meddling and the IRGC presence across the region. With Iran evicted from Iraq, the void should be filled by economic support by the Arab world for Iraq.

And with the US Congress adopting a bill against the IRGC, Riyadh must take the lead to have all IRGC members, proxies and Iran-related elements expelled from the region. Only such a policy will allow the Middle East to one day experience tranquility and peaceful coexistence.

ANALYSIS: How to protect Iraq from Iranian influence

With the recapturing of Mosul, the rein of ISIS in northern Iraq is coming to an end. This, however, can lead to the reemergence of a far more dangerous threat for the future of this fledgling democracy.

Iran and its destructive meddling Mesopotamia has devastated this entire nation, leaving at least tens of thousands killed, scores more wounded, injured and displaced.

Tehran has continuously targeted the Sunni community in Iraq and taken advantage of the war against ISIS to change the very fabric of this minority. Sunni provinces have been the target of this wrath especially after Nouri al-Maliki, described by many as Iran’s puppet in Iraq, reached the premiership in 2006.

Dark history

Ever since 2003, with a surge beginning under al-Maliki’s watch, Iran has flooded its western border neighbor with financial, logistical and manpower resources, spearheaded by the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC).

The track record of Iran-backed proxy groups and death squads in Iraq is nothing short of deadly and atrocious. One group alone, Asai’b Ahl al-Haq, claims to have launched over 6,000 attacks targeting US soldiers from 2006 onward.

Amnesty International has also filed a disturbing report over Iran-backed militias being supplied US arms by the Iraqi government, only to carry out war crimes targeting the Sunni community.

War against ISIS

The defeat of ISIS must not be considered the end of the nightmare. Far from it. General Stephen Townsend, commander of the coalition forces against ISIS, recently emphasized the importance of all Iraqi parties reaching a political consensus in the post-ISIS stage.

To emphasize his point, Townsend touched on the sensitive topic of Iraqi Sunnis feeling unrepresented in Baghdad.

Former US defense secretary Ashton Carter, who supervised the anti-ISIS effort from early 2015 to January of this year, underscored “chaos and extremism” will follow if the “political and economic campaigns that must follow” fail to render the results needed for Iraq future’s.

The hidden occupation

On a side-note, the internal sectarian drives in Iraq are not be considered the result of an especially bloody history. Iraq’s conglomerate of communities experienced peaceful coexistence for over a millennium.

As Iran began its hidden occupation from 2003 onward, one campaign pillar focused on instigating sectarian strife with the objective of expanding its influence through Shiite communities in strategic areas across the country. Such policies have been carried out vividly in all Sunni provinces recaptured from ISIS control.

There is no need to divide Iraq into federalized states, as this would deepen the rifts amongst a nation that needs to begin rebuilding the bridges and bonds destroyed.

Members of Popular Mobilization hold portraits of Ayatollah Khomeini (C), Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (L) and Iraq’s top Shi’ite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani during a parade marking the annual al-Quds Day in Baghdad on June 23, 2017. (Reuters)

Independent figure

Despite all the flaws in the campaign against ISIS, 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, while there remains far more necessary cleansing of the mullahs’ influence in Iraq.

Following the historic Riyadh summit earlier this year, it is time for the Trump administration, allied with the Arab World, to take serious action curbing Iran’s influence in Iraq.

All al-Abadi government officials must prove their allegiance to the Iraqi people and not the Iranian regime. The Iraqi judiciary is also heavily under Tehran’s influence, seen specifically when the country’s supreme court last October blocking al-Abadi’s reform package aiming to “decrease the political space — and platform — for sectarian saboteurs and political spoilers like Maliki,” as explained in The Hill.

Steps ahead

Iraq now lays in devastation and the road ahead will be difficult. This country needs the correct support from its well-meaning neighbors – not the regime in Iran – and the international community to once again stand on its own and play its expected part in today’s world.

This is a breakdown of the utmost necessary measures:

1) Stanching Iran’s influence, especially at senior levels in Baghdad and the security apparatus, and supporting al-Abadi distance from Iran
2) Confront Iran’s meddling by preventing al-Maliki from regaining the premier seat, and dismantling the Popular Mobilization Units and all death squads, parallel to blacklisting Iran’s IRGC
3) Supporting the Sunni community in all Iraqi hierarchy and security forces, and establishing an equal method of governance across the country.

In a recent speech, Iranian opposition leader Maryam Rajavi highlighted how Iran has for 38 years been at war with Iraq and other nations in the region and beyond.

She underscored, “…the ultimate solution to the crisis in the region and to confronting groups like ISIS lies in the overthrow of the Iranian regime by the Iranian people and it’s Resistance.” That seems to be the only way to protect Iraq from Iran.