While Ali Khamenei, supreme leader of the regime ruling Iran, sought to garner attention and boast victory in Syria through the recent visit of Syrian regime dictator Bashar Assad to Tehran, developments in the Levant are actually by far against the clerical regime’s interests.
U.S. President Donald Trump is now fully agreeing to maintaining a contingency in Syria – said to be 400 troops – in what appears to be a dual mission in the country’s northeast and the strategic al-Tanf base on the Syria-Jordan border.
Reporting on how his recent meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin focused mainly on Iran, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu underscored how he and the Russian leader agreed on the need to remove all foreign forces that came into Syria.
Considering the fact that the Lebanese Hezbollah also plays a highly devastating role in Syria, the U.S. is seeking new sanctions against this terrorist group that was founded and continues to enjoy funding by Tehran.
All these measures are principally important, especially bearing in mind the fact that the regime in Iran seeks to establish an all Syrian militia in Syria, most likely a replica of its Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) and Basij paramilitary forces. Tehran was the main force behind the launching of the Hashd al-Shabi, or Popular Mobilization Forces, in Iraq, who stand accused of fueling sectarian strife in the Mesopotamia.
And to add insult to injury, despite claims made by various Iranian regime officials, Russia is now confirming a decision to establish a “Syria Working Group” with Israel. Netanyahu has also been heard making remarks about launching a joint Israel-Russia working group to have all foreign forces leave Syria.
Tehran, sensing the need to save face in light of such developments, resorted to hasty comments to dampen the impact of this setback. Bahram Ghassemi, spokesperson for the Iranian regime’s Foreign Ministry, claimed Russia does not follow in line with Israel and claimed Tehran and Moscow enjoy “strong ties.” While the mullahs’ regime in Iran claim remarks made by Israeli officials have no impact on them, a Kremlin spokesperson confirmed a decision was made between Putin and Netanyahu to establish this working group soon.
The question now is how can the U.S. facilitate the pushing of Iran’s malign forces out of Syria?
Iran is already under tight U.S. sanctions. These measures should continue to especially deprive Tehran of finances used to fuel its regional agenda of wreaking havoc and continuous warmongering in Syria. As a reminder, Tehran insiders have been heard voicing the importance of maintaining influence in Syria for the sake of remaining in power back home.
Despite being long overdue, the United Kingdom recently designated all branches of the Lebanese Hezbollah – founded and funded by the regime in Iran – as a terrorist organization, putting an end to the separation between this group’s political and military segments.
The U.S. Treasury Department also sanctioned “Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba,” a radical Muslim militia group known to be loyal to Tehran and having around 10,000 fighters. The group leader, Akram Kaabi, is also blacklisted. These measures are necessary to chip the wings of Iran’s warmongering apparatus.
Tehran is known to be funding a conglomerate of extremist groups across the Middle East, parallel to billions provided annually to Assad in Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Houthis in Yemen and extremist militias in Iraq. Denying Iran access to the global financial system will deplete its treasury of the funds needed to continue this unbridled campaign of belligerence.
To put a nail in the coffin, Washington should designate Iran’s IRGC, the main force behind all these destructive activities, as a foreign terrorist organization. This can go parallel to a similar designation of the mullahs’ Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS), now more legitimate following a recent surge of Iran-backed terror plots and assassinations across Europe. Even the Europeans are sanctioning portions of the MOIS in response.
Ending Iran’s influence in Syria is pivotal to returning peace to the Middle East. Interestingly, this also weakens Tehran’s crackdown apparatus and renders direct support to the Iranian people in their ongoing struggle against the mullahs’ regime.
https://twitter.com/HeshmatAlavi/status/1077656867931914241A variety of sites west of Damascus, Syria, associated to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) Quds Force and proxy groups, were targeted in an Israeli air and missile strike Tuesday night. More than 30 missiles were launched in this attack that also saw a number of planes carrying weapons from Iran to Syria targeted.
At least 20 missiles were fired by Israeli warplanes as they targeted a base belonging to Iran where Lebanese Hezbollah members were stationed. Reports indicate Israeli warships were also participating in this strike, launching more than 20 cruise missiles towards targets in Damascus.
More than 20 rockets were also fired at bases located west of Damascus.
The Syrian Human Rights Observatory in Damascus said the cruise missiles were targeting arms caches belonging to Iran’s regime. Signs indicate this attack consisted of two waves of strikes carried out by Israel.
The Israeli government has made it clear time and again it will not allow Tehran establish permanent bases and provide arms and ammunition to proxy groups in Syria.
Further attacks were staged against targets in Qatana, southwest of Damascus. Sources on the ground reported a large number of ambulances were dispatched to western areas of Damascus, indicating a high number of casualties.
The second wave of Israel’s attack consisted of F16s bomber escorted by advanced F35 warplanes targeting various sites in Damascus. The targets included Hezbollah sites in a school in Dimas, the Syrian army 4th Saboura brigade headquarters, the 10th Qatana brigade, Syrian Defense Ministry factories in the mountain tops west and north of Damascus, the 67th and 137th brigades in the al-Sheikh region and other arms caches belonging to the Iranian regime.
This is described as the largest attack by Israel following the downing of a Russian military plane. Israel has also targeted two Syrian S200 surface to air missile sites.
The Israeli army also destroyed a site where Iran’s Fajr-5 missiles were being held in secret. There are also reports indicating Israel targeted a Hezbollah command site, killing a number of senior Hezbollah officials.
Fajr-5, a guided 333 mm missile system
Newsweek, citing a source in the U.S. Defense Department, said the Israeli airstrikes were carried out minutes after senior Hezbollah officials were boarding an Iranian plane in Damascus intending to leave for Iran. This report also indicates Iran’s strategic arms warehouses, including advanced weapons GPS equipment, were targeted in last night’s air raid.
Two suspicious Iranian planes left the Damascus airport just half an hour prior to the attack. One Boeing 747 cargo plane associated to the Fars “Qeshm” airline landed in Damascus International Airport at 7 pm Tuesday night and left the airport at 9:28 pm, meaning half an hour prior to reports of an air attack in Syria.
According to Flightradar24.com, one of the Iranian planes, a Boeing F281-747, took off from Damascus and headed to the east and Tehran, escalated to 30,000 feet and entered Iraqi airspace at around 10 pm to then enter Iranian airspace at around midnight.
This thread provides a look at the various videos posted of this latest Israel attack targeting Iran’s interests in Syria.
Long ago I wrote explaining how Congress is taking the lead on Iran policy. Recently, major developments involving the United States, Iran and the entire Middle East have placed the powerful US legislative body before obligations in the face of arguably the world’s most dangerous regime.
At a time when Iran’s foreign meddling and ballistic missile drive continues to raise eyebrows out of deep concern, important spotlight is being focused on a shadowy aspect of Tehran’s notorious schemes.
Politico released what has been described as a bombshell, exposing how Iran literally demanded the Obama administration facilitate a major drug trafficking/money-laundering campaign across four continents.
While senior Obama administration officials must be held accountable for their ties with the terrorist Lebanese Hezbollah, the main issue at hand is how to tackle the root: Iran.
Congress has called on the Department of Justice to provide, no later than 5 pm on January 8th, 2018, all documents and communications in any way related to Obama officials literally bending backwards and allowing Hezbollah to flood US homeland with drugs. Lawmakers also have demanded a DOJ briefing on the subject no later than Jan. 12th, 2018.
Allegations that the Obama Administration purposefully undermined law enforcement efforts against Hezbollah in order to save the disastrous Iran Deal need to be swiftly and fully scrutinized by Congress. @Jim_Jordan & I have officially launched an investigation ↓ pic.twitter.com/CmmOf9uJhL
In response to a request filed by Representatives Jim Jordan and Ron De Santis, reports indicate US Attorney General Jeff Sessions has ordered a review into Project Cassandra, the decade-long Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) initiative said to be hindered by the Obama administration.
The highly controversial Iran nuclear deal came at an extraordinary cost. The Obama administration has long been criticized of going the limits to appease Iran, and this new controversy of killing an investigation into a drug ring that most likely provided an annual revenue of $1 billion to Hezbollah is morally wrong, to say the least.
This die-hard terrorist group is known to be Iran’s offspring from the early 1980s and also involved in propping the brutal Bashar Assad regime in its relentless carnage against the Syrian people.
And despite the fact that the 2003 war against Iraq was a strategic mistake by the Bush administration and playing into the hands of Iran, at that time Hezbollah provided training for Iraqi militias to attack and kill US and coalition forces stationed in the country.
A disturbing reminder lies in the fact that back in May 2010, John Brennan, then Obama’s counterterror chief, argued that Hezbollah was evolving into a political party. This important figure in Obama’s team went on to become the CIA Director, conveniently during the negotiations over the Iran nuclear deal when Tehran sought a back door from Washington for Hezbollah’s obvious wrongdoings.
According to Politico, Hugo Carvajal, known as an alleged drug kingpin in Venezuela, was arrested in Aruba in 2014. Venezuela is known to have close relations with Iran, and despite the massive potential of generating important knowledge regarding the cocaine trafficking network, extraditing Carvajal was, conveniently for the Obama administration, out of the question.
“Within a few years, cocaine trafficking from Venezuela to the US soared from 50 tons a year to 250 tons, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Statistics,” as reported by Newsweek.
Mysteriously, the Netherlands reportedly intervened to have Carvajal returned to Venezuela. There is always room for arguments and speculation, yet one cannot deny the possibility that the Dutch Royal Shell Oil Company most likely sought to do Iran a favor in return for lucrative post-nuclear deal contracts.
Hezbollah’s terrorism finance operations are known to thrive throughout Latin America despite the DEA long linking the militant group to local drug cartels in the region, according to former DEA operations chief Michael Braun who testified before US lawmakers in June 2016.
Hezbollah moves “[multiple] tons of cocaine” from South America to Europe and developed “the most sophisticated money laundering scheme or schemes that we have ever witnessed,” Braun explained.
Under pressure from Republican lawmakers, Obama’s State Department in 2013 issued a report claiming Iran was not supporting any active terrorist cells in the region and concluding Tehran did not enjoy vast influence in Latin America as critics claimed. Quite arguably another episode of Obama’s kowtowing before Iran.
Hezbollah enjoys a “vast network” in Latin America, especially in Brazil, home to an estimated one million Shiite Muslims.
Emanuele Ottolenghi, a senior fellow on Iran at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, at the same hearing “cited a 2014 report by the Brazilian newspaper O Globo that outlined a connection between Hezbollah and the Primeiro Comando da Capital, a Sao Paulo-based prison gang, which is widely regarded to be among the country’s biggest exporters of cocaine,” according to The Washington Times.
While falling on deaf ears with the Obama administration, Ottolenghi’s advice for Congress and the administration to “aggressively focus” on Hezbollah’s presence in Latin America is a definite necessity for the Trump White House.
Going even further back to November 2012, a congressional report focused on border security highlighted how Latin America had “become a money laundering and major fundraising center” for Hezbollah, according to the Miami Herald.
Three men, suspected to have ties to none other than Hezbollah, were arrested on charges of laundering cocaine money a Colombian cartel. The trio were able to illegally move $500,000 into Miami banks through a series of sophisticated financial transactions extending from Australia to Europe, the report adds citing US authorities.
Another message to Tehran
The fact that the Trump administration has adopted a far contrast policy in comparison to his predecessor is beyond question. This practice has extended to America’s stance on North Korea, a staunch ally of Iran and known to have cooperated with Tehran’s nuclear and ballistic missile drives.
In response to Pyongyang’s defiance and continued ballistic missile tests, the UN Security Council on Friday adopted tough new sanctions slashing up to 90 percent of the rogue regime’s petrol imports.
To the surprise of many, and certainly senior Iranian regime officials who most definitely followed the UNSC session up close, Russia and China both voted in favor of the measure. This adds to North Korea’s already escalating woes, alongside other restrictions imposed by the US, UN and the European Union.
Ottolenghi has correctly called for sweeping measures against Hezbollah: “The Trump administration should move swiftly to revive Project Cassandra and make it the centerpiece of a comprehensive effort to take down Hezbollah.”
Also needed now are meaningful measures targeting the root of this entire crisis, being Iran. This regime benefits from Hezbollah’s belligerence, and this terrorist entity is dependent on Tehran’s logistical and financial support.
Therefore, the US Congress taking the lead in imposing severe sanctions against Iran’s main source of revenue, being its oil exports, and effectively restricting its access to the international banking system are necessary measures for starters.
Crippling sanctions targeting Iran’s ruling regime and its Revolutionary Guards have the potential of fueling major social unrest. This Tehran cannot tolerate and will definitely succumb to the international community’s demands of significantly curbing its slate of bellicosities.
As developments across the Middle East continue to signal landmark breakthroughs in the near future, Iran is resorting to desperate measures to safeguard a fading role.
As over 85 percent of Yemen is retaken by the Saudi-backed coalition, reports indicate a second ballistic missile fired by Yemen’s armed Iran-supported Houthi militias targeting Saudi soil was shot down on Thursday near the south-western city of Khamis Mushait.
In Syria there are signs of hostilities nearing an end after nearly seven years of carnage. This is in fact against Iran’s interests as this regime thrives on unrest outside of its borders to keep the flame of turmoil burning and focus attention at bay from its domestic woes back home.
Desperate times, desperate measures
While standard viewpoints and common sense lead us to the conclusion that certain measures signal Iran’s strengths, this piece is meant to argue otherwise. Iran, nowadays, is forced to choose between bad and worse.
With Yemen slipping out of its control, Tehran is desperate and resorting to a variety of measures to maintain a straight face despite significant setbacks. This includes deadly clashes between Houthi forces and those loyal to ousted Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Salah, significantly endangering Tehran’s future interests.
The circumstances in Yemen are obvious. It has become a no-brainer that Tehran supports the Shiite Houthis against the internationally-recognized government of Yemen. Yet Iran cannot engage directly in Yemen through ground, air or sea measures. Launching missiles from Iran to Yemeni soil against the Saudi-led coalition or into Saudi soil is also out of the question.
Remains only the option of smuggling arms and missile parts through Oman and other routes into Yemen to support the Houthis and have the missiles assembled and readied to target Saudi targets. Riyadh’s missile defense units have defended their territories. Despite all the calamities, Iran is left with the sole option of continuing such measures, or succumb to forgoing its Yemen campaign and accepting defeat.
To make matters worse, the European Parliament recently adopted a resolution calling on Iran to halt its support for the Houthis. With 539 votes in favor against a mere 13 against, the European Parliament condemned the Houthis’ recent missile attacks targeting Saudi interests, especially a civilian airport in Riyadh and the King Khaled International Airport.
A confidential United Nations sanctions monitors report seen by Reuters indicates the remains of “four ballistic missiles fired into Saudi Arabia by Yemen’s Houthi rebels this year appear to have been designed and manufactured by Riyadh’s regional rival Iran.”
A similar mentality and practice of understanding is needed to compensate a recent move by a reporter of Iran’s state broadcaster embedded with Tehran’s foot-soldiers in Syria.
It is common knowledge that recruiting juveniles for war is banned by international law. All the while, a November 25th video showing a 13-year-old boy in the Syrian border city of Abu Kamal made a frenzy on Iranian websites and social media channels.
Describing himself as a “defender of the shrine”– using terminology branded by the Iranian regime for foot-soldiers and cannon-fodders recruited for battles in Syria and Iraq – the young boy says he is from the northern Iranian province of Mazandaran and resorts to various explanations about his motivation for being in such circumstances while expected to be attending school.
Although obviously a publicity stunt, why would Iran resort to such a measure knowing organizations such as the Human Rights Watch would raise major concerns? If Iran is boasting about major victories in Syria, why the need to resort to such a PR measure with more cons than pros?
Adding to the controversy is remarks made by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif over Tehran’s forces insisting to remain in the Levant. “The US and Russia cannot decide for Iran… It’s our region… We are going nowhere,” Zarif said in remarks going against Iran’s claims of maintaining a presence in Syria to fight ISIS and “defend Islamic shrines.”
It is becoming an undeniable reality that Iran is losing hegemony in Syria to a long slate of players. And after wasting dozens of billions of dollars in the Levant, bringing death to hundreds of thousands and literally destroying an entire nation, Tehran is desperately in need to save face.
What the future may hold
Iran’s meddling across the region has escalated tension across the region to unimaginable levels and left a path of ruins. Tehran currently seeks a corridor to its main proxy, the Lebanese Hezbollah, to easily provide necessary logistics and maintain influence throughout the Middle East.
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir raised the stakes by accusing Hezbollah of using Lebanese banks for smuggling and money laundering to finance their terrorist activists. Riyadh’s top diplomat went as far as describing Lebanon as another country’s hostage, most likely referring to Iran.
The Iranian opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) has long called for strict measures aimed at evicting Iran from the region, especially Syria and Iraq. The war in Syria is coming to an end against Iran’s interests.
The forces supported by Tehran in Yemen are losing ground fast. Hezbollah is coming under increasing pressure in Lebanon and in Iraq, after the routing of ISIS, Iran can no longer justify the presence of proxy forces.
French President Emmanuel Macron on Saturday met with Iraqi Kurdistan leaders in Paris and called on Iraq to dismantle the Iran-backed militia known as the Popular Mobilization Forces. This is a very public call for such a measure considered highly sensitive for Iraq and Iran.
All the while, the Iranian regime is no entity to remain silent or inactive. There are ongoing conspiracies to obtain further influence in Iraq’s upcoming general elections set for May 12th. Establishing underground missile factories and a land-bridge are in the blueprints for Lebanon.
Wreaking endless havoc in Yemen and creating obstacles one after another in the Syria talks are Iran’s agenda. In response, a strong and united international effort is needed to confront Tehran’s ambitionsand deter it back once and for all.
From the early days of its rule Iran’s regime has been increasing economic pressure on the people, especially the lower class and most deprived. A vivid result of such practice has been the astonishing phenomenon of many Iranians willing to sell their kidneys and other organs, and even mothers pre-selling their unborn fetus. This is parallel to the growing phenomenon of child labor, a swelling number of homeless people roaming the streets and people even resorting to making homes out of graves.
Tehran has a history of increasing domestic pressure and skyrocketing prices to provide for the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War, exporting terrorism and fundamentalist across the region, and currently, the onerous finances needed to confront international sanctions and managing an economy in ruins.
Iran’s regime has shown it cares less about such matters as billions are poured into various domestic and international campaigns. This includes meddling in Middle East countries, boosting its nuclear and ballistic missile drives, and launching dozens of military and security forces imposing an intense atmosphere of internal crackdown.
In a recent initiative Iran’s regime seeks to increase the price of bread and medicine. A large portion of Iran’s lower class is currently deprived of a daily portion of bread. Bakeries in Iran’s poor neighborhoods are already selling bread based on monthly payments.
“… the price of bread will be increased by 32 percent… the Minister of Industries spoke of decreasing government supervision over wheat and bread sales,” according to a report broadcast by state TV.
Such price increases, originally 15 percent for bread, have resulted in alarming dilemmas for ordinary life.
“…prices of various goods have risen significantly while annual salary increases are equal to the value of a few kilograms of fruits,” according to the Baharestaneh website.
Conditions have sank to such lows that even Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), reportedly controlling a large portion of the country’s economy and allocating billions for regional meddling, have attacked other institutes to escape from any such criticism.
“The 10th parliament can be described as lacking courage, and being fluid and unpredictable. Members of parliament no longer have any sensitivity over the people’s economic woes, especially increasing poverty in our society,” according to Mashreq News, another state-run outlet in Iran.
Although having concerns about ordinary Iranian’s welfare is not one of the IRGC’s strong attributes.
In response, a member of Iran’s parliament, Amir Khojaeste, resorted to remarks seeking to place the blame on the government of President Hassan Rouhani.
“Why have they increased bread prices by 15 percent and imposing pressure on the people? Salaries are low and the lower class are enduring enormous pains,” he said.
This is the same parliament that adopted a bill providing $600 million dollars to further develop Iran’s already controversial ballistic missile program and the Quds Force, pursuing the IRGC’s extraterritorial campaigns. This includes recruiting foot-soldiers and cannon fodders, from as far as Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Iran “has Basijis of the Islamic world from six countries in Syria and Iraq,” said General Mohammad Reza Yazdi, commander of the IRGC division stationed in Tehran.
Iran’s meddling in Syria was a topic in a recent phone call between U.S. President Donald Trump and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron, underscoring “the need to confront and reverse Iran’s destabilizing activities in Syria.”
Tehran has been accused of allocating $30 billion annually for its support and promotion of terrorism through proxies, also including the Houthis of Yemen.
Suspicion over the IRGC’s intentions have increased following remarks by senior officials seeking to expand the force’s reach.
The IRGC will play an active role in establishing an enduring “ceasefire” in crisis-hit Syria, its chief commander Mohammad Ali Jafari said according to Reuters. Disarming Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Iran’s main proxy in the region and a designated terrorist group known for its nefarious attacks, was non-negotiable, Iranian state TV reported last Thursday. Reports have placed “Hezbollah’s annual income at between $800 million and $1 billion, with 70-90 percent coming from Iran…”
IRGC deputy chief commander Brigadier General Hossein Salami has gone as far as warning to increase the range of missiles above 2,000 kilometers to target Europe, according to wires citing the IRGC-affiliated Fars news agency.
The Iranian opposition coalition National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) has long exposed Tehran’s role in the region, especially in Syria. Advocating a policy of regime change in Iran, the NCRI has welcomed the IRGC terrorist designation by Washington and considers the expulsion of Iran from Syria and Iraq as necessary for the region to finally begin heading towards peace and stability.
Considering Tehran’s decades of supporting terrorism and meddling in other countries’ internal affairs, this regime will continue to plunder the Iranian people to provide for its range of belligerence.
The Iranian people have been suffering under such a state and a recent surge in protests are raising eyebrows and escalating concerns in Tehran. For example, following the recent earthquake that shook western Iran the lack of state support for the victims has been alarming.
The earthquake inflicted damages equaling to 11 years of the targeted province’s budget, according to the Kermanshah governor. It is worth noting that Tehran’s annual support for Assad in Syria equals 150 times that of this province’s annulal budget.
One Iranian state daily warned:
“The recent earthquake unveiled the Iranian citizens’ distrust in state institutions… This will not remain without specific political and social consequences… this is a reminder of the imminent threat of a complete meltdown of social trust…”
They say a news event has a three-day lifespan. The regime in Tehran is counting on such a theory to have the international community move on after the recent earthquake that shook western Iran. Each passing day further reveals the scope of this vast catastrophe.
“More than 1,000 people have lost their lives,” Iranian MP Ahmad Safari said to the official ILNA news agency 72 hours after the quake. “I went to a village where they said they pulled 20 corpses from under the rubble. They were not even counted in the death toll. 70 people died just in one alley of the town of Sarpol-e Zahab. Another 250 were killed in the Mehr housing complex.”
Experts advised the government of former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (2005-13) to build 25,000 homes under the Mehr blueprint. Ahmadinejad, however, ordered the construction of 1.5 million such units, raising questions of possible negligence in construction and lack of proper supervision.
While the ruling regime failed to provide any first aid relief, Iranian opposition leader Maryam Rajavi made an early call asking supporters to rush to their compatriots in need.
“Just as opposed to the practices of the clerical regime, now is the time to show solidarity. Assisting and saving the victims of the earthquake is a sacred national duty,” she said.
The incoming statistics of this recent quake are devastating.
“There are still people stranded in villages where 90 percent of the homes are left destroyed. No official has visited these areas. The locals, along with their children, are forced to sleep the nights in their farm fields without any shelter,” a reported wired by the semi-official ISNA news agency reads.
Instead of focusing measures to rush aid for the victims, Iran’s regime imposed martial law in Sarpol-e Zahab, the epicenter of the earthquake.
Was such a catastrophe preventable? Is Iran the only country prone to earthquakes?
Japan has a history of earthquakes and thanks to technological advances we no longer witness skyrocketing number of casualties and damages.
Australia also experienced a powerful 7.0-magnitude earthquake on Tuesday that resulted in tsunami warnings. No casualties or major damages were reported.
Preventing quake damage is nothing out of the ordinary or impossible. A truly popular government allocating the necessary manpower, means and budget can do the job. Here is exactly where the problem lies in Iran.
On August 13th members of the Iran’s parliament unanimously adopted a 16-article bill providing around $600 million to further develop Iran’s ballistic missile program and additionally fund the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), especially the extraterritorial unit known as the Quds Force.
Iran’s five military entities enjoy a budget of $13.5 billion for the current Persian calendar year (March 2017 to March 2018), of which $7.4 billion belongs to the IRGC. This is a 24 percent increase from the last calendar year.
It is worth noting that the Iranian regime has a nearly $7 billion budget deficit, equaling to nearly half of its military budget.
Proper now would be to evaluate the money sent by the Iranian regime to Lebanon. There is actually no figure of Tehran’s financial support for the Lebanese Hezbollah.
While recent reports have placed this value at over $800 million, back in 2011 Al Arabiya Farsi shed further light in this regard.
“Hezbollah used to receive $350 million each year from Iran. In addition to Hezbollah’s own activities, this budget was used to provide for members’ salaries, the families of killed Hezbollah members, various projects in southern Lebanon and Beqaa, and bribing Lebanese political figures to back Hezbollah.”
One such $400 million construction project in Lebanon, including parks, was paid for completely by Iran. All the while millions in Iran remain under poor living conditions.
“As long as there is money in Iran, we will have money,” said Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah, making it crystal clear how the terrorist-designated group’s entire budget is bankrolled by Tehran.
Deprived of this budget, 40 percent of the Iranian people are living in complete poverty. 13 million homeless in city outskirt slums. 14 million literally cannot pay for their daily meals.
State-affiliated websites in Iran report nearly 20,000 homes were completely destroyed in the recent quake. Whereas in Japan, simple homes made with a budget of $10,000 each, have proven to be earthquake-resistant.
If we take into consideration just the abovementioned $600 million, Iran’s government could have provided 60,000 such homes for victims of the past three major quakes across the country.
This includes 20,000 in Kermanshah province, the site of the recent quake designated as the most powerful in 2017 so far; another 20,000 for the victims of the 2012 East Azerbaijan quake in northeast Iran; and 20,000 more for the victims of the 2003 Bam quake that left tens of thousands of innocent people killed.
This is all aside from sitting on an ocean of 125 billion barrels of oil, 227 trillion cubic meters of gas and a daily revenue of $200 million from exporting oil.
The point is the solutions are out there. Iran, however, is ruled by a regime that could care less about its populace. For those sitting in Tehran, this is a recipe for disaster.
Mohammad Biranvand, another member of Iran’s parliament said, “Do you know that the people now trust athletes and celebrities more than they trust government institutions? All this indicates that the earthquake of distrust will be far more destructive than the recent earthquake.”
Recent developments across the region are signaling increasing isolation for Tehran. Despite investing for decades, Lebanon and Yemen are literally slipping out of Iran’s hands.
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri sent shockwaves across the region by announcing his resignation. The recent missile attack by the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen targeting Riyadh crossed a costly red line for Tehran.
Turning point in Lebanon
In Hariri’s own words, Iran and Hezbollah had literally taken the entire country of Lebanon hostage, making it impossible to carry out his duties.
Evidence also revealed an assassination plot threatening his life. Western and Arab intelligence services unveiled how his entourage was targeted, in a blueprint similar to his father’s assassination.
“Those who planned to assassinate prime minister Hariri deactivated the observation towers while his motorcade was passing by,” Reuters wired citing Al Arabiya.
Three issues related to this development are worth pondering over:
1) Hariri announced his resignation from Riyadh only one day after his meeting with Ali Akbar Velayati, international affairs advisor of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, in Beirut.
2) The United States launched a new Iran policy targeting this regime’s destabilization and terrorism across the region.
3) Hezbollah has come under severe sanctions, including three bills passed by the US House of Representatives on October 25th.
a. H.R. 359 calling on the European Union to designate Hezbollah in its entirety as a terrorist organization
b. H.R. 3342 sanctioning Hezbollah for using innocent civilians as human shields
c. H.R. 3329, known as HIFPA, targets Hezbollah’s international financial support
In short, Hariri’s resignation changed all calculations for Iran in Lebanon.
A look into the past
After a long stalemate Lebanon established a government on 18th December 2016, seeing Hariri as the prime minister and Michel Aoun as president. Lebanon’s power structure and political fabrication comprises of a Christian president, Sunni prime minister and a Shiite head of parliament.
This combination provided a major advantage for Iran, carrying out all its crimes under the cover of a legitimate Sunni government. Hezbollah is attacking its dissidents in Lebanon, under the pretext of Lebanese Army operations. This terrorist designated entity is also using Lebanon’s financial infrastructure for its own benefit.
This farce legitimacy is now coming to an end. Hariri himself said the status quo could not continue.
Concerns and reactions
Iran and Hezbollah are both sensing the dangers ahead after Hariri’s resignation. “Without a doubt this resignation has raised our concerns and we did not welcome it,” said Hezbollah leader Hassan Nassrallah.
Media in Iran are known to voice the general opinion of its ruling regime. “It appears that Hariri’s resignation is the operational beginning of this strategy in the region, with the ground being paved by the US Congress sanctioning [Iran] and Hezbollah,” according to the semi-official Entekhab daily.
A shot period after Hariri’s resignation, the Houthis in Yemen launched a missile targeting the King Salman International Airport near Riyadh.
“Iran has provided the capability for ballistic missile attacks launched from Yemen,” wire services reported citing Jeffrey Harrigian, commander for southwest Asia at the US Air Forces Central Command on Friday.
“What we have seen, clearly from the results of the ballistic missile attacks, that there have been Iranian markings on those missiles, that’s been demonstrated,” Harrigian added.
One can raise three possible reasons for this retaliation by Iran:
– A response to the blow received from Hariri’s resignation.
– The Houthis are suffering a series of setbacks on the ground.
– The United Nations has proposed peace plans for Yemen. The Houthis missile launch signals Iran’s response to peace and any negotiations whatsoever in Yemen.
The Saudi-led coalition accused Iran of launching a “direct military aggression” and declaring war, threatening possible retaliation. Article 51 of the UN Charter entails countries the right to take defensive military action in such scenarios. Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said adequate action will be taken at the proper timing.
Two air strikes targeting the defense ministry in Yemen’s militant-held capital Sanaa late Friday were carried out by the Saudi-led coalition, according to witnesses and rebel media. No casualties were reported.
Iranian military officials, however, denied any part in the Riyadh missile attack. “We don’t even have the means to transfer missiles there,” said Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) chief Mohammad Ali Jafari, understanding the consequences in this regard.
This is the very individual who threatened all US bases in the region in the case of IRGC’s designation as a terrorist organization. The US Treasury Department blacklisted the IRGC without any such response from Iran.
Furthermore, the Houthis lack the necessary industrial capacity to manufacture light weapons, let alone ballistic missiles. Iran’s Kayhan daily, known as Khamenei’s mouthpiece, printed contradictory remarks and mentioned Dubai and other sites as possible future target.
“… where shall be the next target for long-range ballistic missile: maybe Riyadh, Jaddah, Taef and ARAMCO…,” it wrote.
The ballistic missile launch is a violation of UN Security Council resolutions 2216 and 2231. UNSC Resolution 2216 bans any provision of weapons for Houthi leaders in Yemen. UNSC Resolution 2231 specifically prohibits Iran from transferring and selling weapons abroad without Security Council consent.
US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley called for the world body to take action against Iran in response to this ballistic missile attack. Yemen lacked such hardware prior to Iran’s support and delivery of weaponry to the Houthis.
The White House condemned the Houthis missile attacks on Saudi Arabia, adding they threatened regional security and undermined efforts aimed at halting the conflict. France and the United Kingdom also condemned these measures, followed by President Emmanuel Macron’s visit to Riyadh where he stressed on pressuring Iran’s ballistic missile program.
Consequences of appeasement
Iran and Houthis reaching the point of launching such an attack can be traced back to eight years of appeasement by the Obama administration. Despite the UNSC obligating the Houthis to handover heavy weaponry, pull forces out of all cities and transfer all administrational entities to the officially recognized government, no measures were carried out in this regard.
Diplomats of former US Secretary of State John Kerry held talks with the Houthis in the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, yet refused to receive representatives of Yemen’s legal government. The Obama administration would foster numerous ceasefire agreements, allowing time the battered Houthis to regain their momentum.
One example of the Obama-Kerry engagement policy with Iran was witnessed when the Houthis and forces loyal to sacked Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Salah advanced south with lightning speed from Sanaa towards Aden.
On March 25, 2015, in the midst of Obama’s negotiations with Tehran, Washington issued evacuation orders to US forces stationed in a large airbase north of Aden, including transferring all weaponry and hardware to the Houthis.
Times are changing
Iran enjoyed 16 years of highly flawed US policy across the region, providing it ample time to gain ample influence in four different Arab states of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.
The policy adopted by the Trump administration vis-à-vis Iran is causing major concerns for Tehran. Loophole-proof implementation is now needed and signs of such measures are beginning to mushroom in Lebanon and Yemen.
Upon Saudi Arabia’s requested, the Arab League has scheduled to hold an extraordinary meeting next Sunday to weigh Iran’s regional “violations,” wire services reported. This momentum must continue abroad and rest assured Iran’s regime is sensing the growing isolation.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Tehran received a major blow following the blacklisting of Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) as a terrorist organization by the U.S. Treasury Department after President Donald Trump’s October 13th landmark Iran policy speech. This has senior Iranian officials extremely concerned as the regime in its entirety is desperately attempting to cope with the aftermath.
There are those heard struggling to downgrade the impact and save face.
“Sanctions against the IRGC are nothing new… The IRGC is not an economic entity for them to attempt to impact its future through sanctions. The IRGC is a military entity that will negotiate with no one regarding its duties,” said Hessam-edin Ashena, an advisor to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to a state daily.
Understanding the importance of U.S. sanctions, Gholamreza Tajgardoon, chairman of the Budget & Planning Commission in Iran’s parliament resorted to similar remarks.
“Sanctioning the IRGC will have no impact on the country’s economy… U.S. sanctions are an issue of international relations. The IRGC has no role in international economic relations. The IRGC is, however, active in military affairs inside Iran and the region,” he also said to state media.
Despite these remarks, and the fact that the IRGC dominates the Iranian economy, merely two days later on October 17th the Vatan-e Emrooz daily, known to be linked to the faction loyal to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, made a major U-turn in a piece titled “Black hole!”
This article shed light on the “unprecedented economic impact and expenses expected through the mother of all sanctions” – a term used by Iranian experts – on the entire regime apparatus.
This piece very explicitly explains the crippling results of new U.S. sanctions for Tehran. The piece, under the subtitle of “The Impact of Economic Sanctions Against The IRGC” explains:
“Despite its initial goal of numerous security objectives across the Middle East and inside Iran, this section of the mother of all sanctions seeks to dysfunction Iran’s economy, or as U.S. senators have described, shut down and turn off Iran’s economic cycle. Based on the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, first the IRGC and all branches and entities in any way related to the IRGC, alongside all companies cooperating with the IRGC will be designated in the SDN sanctions list.”
Furthermore, individuals and entities cooperating in any way with the IRGC must be designated and included in the SDN sanctions list under Executive Order 13224. The scope of these new sanctions will be extreme and far from any expectation under this executive order.
For example, more than 5,000 private companies are cooperating with the IRGC’s Khatam al-Anbiya construction company. Based on Trump’s new orders, all these companies are on the verge of being designated in the new list of sanctioned companies.
If Iran’s Central Bank or National Bank provides services and facilitations to these companies, and the U.S. State Department identifies this cooperation, these firms will be blacklisted in the SDN list of sanctions by the Treasury Department.
This major economic quagmire before the Iranian regime is the reason this bill is described as the “black hole” of sanctions.
What are we to believe?
On one hand there are claims of the IRGC not being an economic entity for sanctions to impact its future. On the other hand, there are those describing the IRGC blacklisting as a terrorist organization as pinning and shutting down the Iranian regime’s economy.
The simple truth is that the new U.S. sanctions against Iran are unprecedented of such plans imposed on a country. These economic and national security measures seek to patch loopholes in the highly flawed Obama-blueprinted Iran nuclear deal.
Following Trump’s speech, the Senate responded with a draft legislation proposed by Senators Bob Corker and Tom Cotton set to impose tough terms on the Iran nuclear deal. Sanctions lifted under the 2015 Iran nuclear deal would “snap back” if Iran tests ballistic missile enjoying the capability of delivering a warhead, or prevents nuclear inspectors’ access to all sites.
The House of Representatives also adopted four new sets of sanctions. The U.S. government is obliged to sanction individuals and entities facilitating financial resources and recruiting new members for Hezbollah.
Another bill calls on the White House to pressure the United Nations Security Council to level sanctions on Hezbollah for its use of civilians as human shields.
Wednesday’s last legislation focusing on the Iran-backed militia was a resolution calling upon the European Union to designate the Tehran offspring as a terrorist organization.
All three pieces bill, not in violation of the Iran nuclear deal, enjoyed bipartisan support with over 320 votes in favor.
The fourth and final bill, voted in nearly unanimously on Thursday with 423 in favor against two, aimed to sanction Iran in response to further developing its ballistic missile program.
Iran, sensing an end nearing to its days of cheating the nuclear deal with impunity, is showing signs of frustration. The Iranian Foreign Ministry has filed 18 instances claiming the U.S. has violated the deal. Analysts believe this could set the stage for Tehran to abandon ship while blaming Washington for the whole ordeal.
Lifting the entire issue to a whole new level, escalating protests by thousands of ordinary Iranians who have invested their savings into state-owned financial institutions are causing grave concerns for the ruling elite in Tehran.
Raising eyebrows is the fact that such protests are evolving politically in nature and gaining coverage among mainstream media.
“According to a report and video from an Iranian opposition group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), there were more than 2,000 people protesting outside the country’s parliament, known as the Majlis. The protesters who were accosted by the police shouted slogans against the regime:
“Shame, shame on the police force!”
“Death to the dictator.”
“Death to the demagogue.”
Welcoming these rallies, Iranian opposition NCRI President Maryam Rajavi hailed the brave protests and called on her fellow countrymen to join in solidarity and express their support.
“Institutionalized fraud along with institutionalized murder and belligerence constitute the pillars of the mullahs’ decadent regime… As long as this regime is in power, there will be no end to the astronomical embezzlement, poverty, unemployment and catastrophic economic conditions,” she said.
And once again, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson voiced his government’s support for the will of the Iranian people.
“There are strong feelings and values inside of Iran that we want to promote in terms of one day the Iranian people being able to retake control of their government,” he said during his trip to India.
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.
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.”
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.
• 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.