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.

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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.

BLACKLIST IRAN’S REVOLUTIONARY GUARDS

The right signal to Tehran’s mullahs.

It is a known historical fact that actions speak louder than words. Iran is beginning to understand this loud and clear with a new administration in Washington.

U.S. National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, in his first public appearance, issued a stark warning Wednesday in response to Tehran’s latest ballistic missile test and continued support for Shiite Houthi proxies in Yemen.

The main apparatus behind Iran’s ballistic missile program, meddling across the Middle East, suspicious nuclear drive and horrendous domestic crackdown is none other than the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC). Shiite militias trained, financed and armed by the IRGC have also killed hundreds of Americans in Iraq.

Supplementary reports indicate U.S. President Donald Trump is preparing new sanctions against Iranian individuals and entities, intended to send a firm message to the mullahs: you may have enjoyed such leeway during Barack Obama’s tenure. But no more.

As Flynn condemned Iran’s recent medium-range ballistic missile test–which ended in failure–he went on to warn Tehran over instigating instability across the region.

Such a reaction marks a serious, and long due, tonal difference necessary in Washington vis-à-vis Iran. For too long the mullahs’ took advantage of the Obama “golden era” as they viewed it, furthering their reach across the region with their involvement in Syria and Iraq, both leading to unspeakable atrocities.

Iran has resorted to its old tactic of testing the new Trump administration and risking a bold move to win points domestically amongst a small, and depleting, social base. Yet this new measure is beginning to backfire significantly, unlike what Iran enjoyed during the past eight years.

President Trump is also considering how to approach the Iran nuclear deal, which he threatened to tear up during the elections campaign.

As heated discussions continue in this regard, the Trump administration should begin “vigorously enforcing” the deal, dubbed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as proposed by Senator Dan Sullivan of Arkansas.

For example, there should be no more toleration of Iran violating already excessive limits set on sensitive heavy water production.

While Washington is preparing to slap new sanctions and ratchet up further punishment measures against Iran by possibly beefing up military presence in the flashpoint Persian Gulf region, one silver-bullet-type measure is available with the potential of inflicting damning results on the mullahs.

The IRGC, considering its role in spearheading Tehran’s ballistic missile program, nuclear drive and meddling across the Middle East, should be blacklisted as a Foreign Terrorist Organization and sanctioned appropriately.

Such an initiative enjoys support in Congress.

U.S. lawmakers have called on the new administration to support designating the IRGC as a foreign terrorist organization. They cited its ongoing support of the Assad regime, where hundreds of thousands have been killed during the civil war,” reports show.

Iran’s “missile program is against the Iranian people’s interest and must be stopped,” Maryam Rajavi, President of the main Iranian opposition, National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), said recently.

“Banning all deals and trade with IRGC-affiliated companies” are further necessary measures proposed by Rajavi.

The NCRI is a coalition dissident organs, including the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), enjoying a history of consistently unveiling various aspects of Iran’s nuclear programballistic missile initiativesmeddling across the region and human rights violations.

The IRGC has become a vast political and economic empire in Iran, enjoying an iron grip and “network of companies that came to dominate Iranian industries from energy to telecommunications,” according to The Wall Street Journal. The IRGC is also known to broker deals with China, as the country’s oil-hungry economy seeks to increase crude imports.

Other measures include enforcing travel bans already imposed on IRGC Quds Force commander Qassem Suleimani, the man who visited Moscow and begged the Russians to rush to Bashar Assad’s support in Syria, and who has been roaming the streets of FallujahMosul and Aleppo.

Iran is also vehemently seeking a United Nations blessing to begin executing a $10 billion purchase of Russian conventional weapons. While the Obama administration turned a blind-eye to Russia’s delivery of the S-300 anti-air missile system to Iran, Washington can make it clear to Moscow that any further arms deals with Iran will significantly damage bilateral relations.

To this end, the Trump administration has before it a variety of measures that can effectively teach Iran’s mullahs a dire lesson. The IRGC is the entity the mullahs consider most dear, and should be the focus of Trump’s crosshairs.

Originally published in FrontPage Magazine

Donald Trump’s Possible Iran-To-Do List

One year into the highly boasted Iran nuclear deal, the work of the Obama administration dubbed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the world witnessed how Iran returned the favor. Tehran continued to cause havoc across Syria with a conglomerate of Shiite militias rampaging and massacring innocent civilians. Iran also launched provocative war drills further destabilizing the flashpoint Persian Gulf region. We were also witness to how Qassem Suleimani, the notorious commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Quds Force, was paraded in Falluja, Mosul and Aleppo. All in all, Tehran has taken advantage of Obama’s craftsmanship to accelerate its aggression across the region. As a result, President Donald Trump has before him a slate of available to-do measures against Iran.

Washington, under Obama, remained unfortunately mute in response to Tehran threatening America’s Middle East allies through known saber-rattling tactics. The Obama White House continuously ignored Iran’s threats and only responded with non-nuclear sanctions, aimed mainly at maintaining face amongst his critics.

To this end, Obama’s foreign policy in 2016 specifically paved the path for Iran to embark on a more emboldened journey throughout the Middle East.

The JCPOA shortcomings have been discussed to a full extent, as we have witnessed Iran’s nuclear drive only delayed, especially since Tehran has twice exceeded its heavy water production limit. In the process the West ear Deal, has lost significant leverage over Iran.

President Trump has the opportunity to adopt a policy aimed at isolating Iran by making Iranian intransigence come at a high cost for the regime. The Trump administration can take on issues that have always been vital with Iran, and far beyond the JCPOA’s reach. This most specifically involves a strong approach vis-à-vis Iran fueling Middle East crises through the spread of its Islamic fundamentalism mentality.

Through the course of JCPOA talks, Iran used the opportunity to dispatch tens of thousands of Shiite proxy militias from Afghanistan, Pakistan, its own forces and … to Syria to shore up Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. This sparked eleven Arab states to take unprecedented measures voiced in a recent letter accusing Tehran of supporting Middle East terrorism and demanding a halt in Iran meddling in their internal affairs. Even the U.S. State Department could not neglect this troubling reality and once again designated Iran as the world’s leading state-sponsor of terrorism.

Needed now is a comprehensive drive to pressure Iran. The tools and assets available before President Trump are plenty and the first step in the right path would be to correctly and strongly enforce existing sanctions. A policy which, unfortunately, the Obama administration simply refused to abide by.

Senior Iranian officials, including Suleimani, are under a United Nations travel ban that the previous administration failed to enforce. This goes alongside Iran feeling no fear of any accountability as it launched numerous ballistic missile tests and streamlined frequent arms shipments to Yemen, neglecting the U.N. embargo in this very regard. The JCPOA was enshrined by U.N. Resolution 2231, and yet such measures by Iran have gone without any international response, thanks to the Obama administration’s continued silence. Here is another platform where the Trump administration can make it crystal clear for Tehran that the tides have changed and the mullahs’ can no longer count on Obama’s golden era.

Iran has also enjoyed the benefits of a major windfall resulting from the JCPOA, and President Trump can bring this to an end. Licenses for Airbus and Boeing deals can be revoked by the U.S. Treasury Department and conditioned on the mullahs halting their use of various Iranian airlines to transfer personal and arms to Assad and the Lebanese Hezbollah. And Iraq should be pressured by the U.S. to restrict its airspace to Iranian planes flying for such dangerous intents.

While the Obama administration drastically failed to live up to its Syria red line, the new administration in Washington has before it a chance to draw clear lines in the sand.

  1. Assad and Iran’s militias must be ordered to end all hostilities and attacks, especially against civilians that have resulted in uncountable cases of massacres.

  2. Iran must pull out all Shiite militias from Syria and dismantle the Popular Mobilization Units, acting as the Iraq IRGC parallel to the Iraqi classic army.

  3. Iran’s human rights violations must be curbed, especially the horrific practice of executions, including women and juveniles, public floggings and limb amputations. All this has continued under the so-called “moderate” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

  4. Despite its flaws, the JCPOA regulations must be abided by Iran and enforced meaningfully by the international community, bringing an end to all existing loopholes.

This would resemble the right start for the Trump administration to springboard into reining in Iran’s regime. And yet, the Trump administration has potential to further broaden its agenda and bring an end to all of the mullahs’ unacceptable practices. A recent letter, signed by a rare bi-partisan slate of former senior U.S. government officials, and hand-delivered to President Trump encourages Washington to work with the Iranian opposition represented by the National Council of Resistance of Iran.

Iran’s regime has left no choice but for the U.S. and the international community to start a new campaign of pressuring all its assets to make Tehran understand the costs of continuing such behavior. Rest assured that after four decades of failed appeasement, the only option available is a comprehensive agenda of tough policies to confront the mullahs.

Originally published in The Daily Caller

Iran increasing meddling in Iraq, planning long term

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Iran-backed Shiite militia groups in Iraq

A conglomerate of different forces are involved in the battle aimed at retaking the Daesh (ISIS/ISIL) stronghold of Mosul in northern Iraq. A variety of Iraqi security forces, Peshmerga fighters from the Kurdistan region, Sunni Arab tribal fighters and the notorious Iran-backed Shiite militia groups, known for launching horrendous massacres against the country’s minorities. American special forces are also involved parallel to the Iraqis, playing an advisory role as Washington claims. Continue reading “Iran increasing meddling in Iraq, planning long term”