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.”

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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: Revisiting Iran’s 9/11 connection

16 years have passed since that tragic day, September 11, 2001, when over 3,000 innocent people lost their lives in the “the largest mass casualty terrorist attack in US history.” The course of modern history changed as we know it.

For more than 15 of these past years the policy of appeasement has withheld the international community from adopting the will needed to bring all the perpetrators of this hideous crime to justice.

Iran has a history of fueling foreign crises to avoid responding to its own domestic concerns. 9/11 provided the window of opportunity to derail world attention to other states and buy Tehran crucially needed time.

Unfortunately, the regime ruling Iran has been the main benefactor of the 9/11 aftermath. As a result of two wars in the Middle East the entire region has been left wide open for Tehran to take advantage of and spread its sinister ideology and sectarianism.

It is hence necessary to highlight Iran’s role in 9/11 attacks and demand the senior Iranian regime hierarchy involved in blueprinting and implementing this attack to be held accountable before the law.

Warmongering history

For the past four decades Iran has been ruled by a clerical regime that is simply incapable of providing the society’s needs and demands. To this end, Tehran has resorted to a policy of exporting the “Islamic Revolution” by meddling in neighboring and distant countries to create havoc.

History has recorded how Iraq invaded Iranian territories and caused the beginning of the devastating eight-year-long Iran-Iraq War. Several months before Iraq launched its military attack, Ayatollah Khomeini, accused of hijacking Iran’s 1979 revolution, described then Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein as a “hypocrite” and a “threat for the Iraqi people.”

Khomeini went as far as calling on the Iraqi people to “place their entire efforts behind destroying this dangerous individual” and the Iraqi army to “flee their forts” and to “rise and destroy this corrupt individual, and appoint another individual in his place. We will support you in this regard.”

Fast forward more than two decades, and again with Iraq in its crosshairs, Iran began what has been described as a very complicated effort to literally deceive the US intelligence community.

Ahmad Challabi, dubbed as “The Manipulator” by The New Yorker, was Iran’s front man in feeding the US false information regarding Iraq possessing weapons of mass destruction to justify Washington’s 2003 invasion of Iraq. The war ultimately eliminated the main obstacle before Iran’s hidden occupation of Iraq and full blown meddling across the Middle East.

Looking further west in the region, Iran ordered Bashar Assad in Syria and former Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki to facilitate the escape of thousands of al-Qaeda prisoners. This development, parallel to the ruthless crackdown of the two countries’ Sunni communities, led to the rise of ISIS.

This entire episode provided Iran the necessary pretext to justify its presence in Iraq and Syria, especially through tens of thousands of proxy forces.

Former Iraqi Prime Minister Eyad Allawi (picture) says the current Iraqi government is backed by Iran and the United States. (Al Arabiya)

The 9/11 facts

bipartisan commission in Washington investigated the 9/11 attacks reported strong evidence exists showing Iran “facilitated the transit of al-Qaeda members into and out of Afghanistan before 9/11, and that some of these were future 9/11 hijackers.”

Up to 10 of the 14 hijackers involved in 9/11, and specifically behind obtaining control of the four aircrafts, were allowed passage through Iran from October 2000 to February 2001. Reports indicate Iran has a history of ordering certain instructions to not harass transiting al-Qaeda members.

Such documents also show Iran’s offspring, the Lebanese Hezbollah, trained alongside al-Qaeda members during the 1990s, leading to the former possibly adopting the latter’s suicide bombing tactics.

“…al-Qaeda may have collaborated with Hezbollah and its Iranian sponsors in the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers, a key American military barracks in Saudi Arabia. Previously, the attack had been attributed only to Hezbollah, with Iranian support,” according to TIME report.

Evidence shows that five years later, “Iran and Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah being involved ‘firsthand’ in the 9/11 terrorist attacks,” an Al Arabiya feature said.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei with Revolutionary Guard commander Mohammad Ali Jafari on May 20, 2015. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP, File)

Facilitation and execution

In early 2016, Judge George Daniels of New York “condemned Iran for facilitating the execution of the terrorist attacks that hit both New York and Washington.” This lawsuit provided an in-depth look into nearly 300 cases of Iran’s involvement in funding terrorism and collaborating with terror organizations, including al-Qaeda.

“The trial revealed that bin Laden, current leader of al-Qaeda Ayman al-Zawahiri, Hezbollah’s Imad Mughniyeh – assassinated in 2008 – and other Iranian attaches had met in Sudan to establish an alliance supporting terrorism,” the piece adds.

To those who may argue Shiite Iran would never support a Sunni al-Qaeda, it is hardly unprecedented to find such backing by Tehran for non-Shiite terror groups. Sunni terrorists that share Iran’s goals, such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, alongside those who target US interests, have for long enjoyed Iran’s support.

As mentioned above, “Iran also played an important role in supporting al-Qaeda in Iraq, the progenitor of ISIS. As Michael Weiss and Hassan Hassan noted in their 2015 book ‘ISIS: Insider the Army of Terror,’ AQI head Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was ‘based in Iran and northern Iraq’ for ‘about a year’ after fleeing Afghanistan following the arrival of US-led coalition forces in Operation Enduring Freedom,” according to The Washington Times.

As cited earlier, Iran also stands accused of having “foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks,” according to a 2011 court filing quoting two Iranian intelligence service defectors. These individuals were “in positions that gave them access to sensitive information regarding Iran’s state sponsorship of terrorism,” the piece continues.

The court went on to demand damages due to Iran’s “direct support for, and sponsorship of, the most deadly act of terrorism in American history,” according to The New York Times. The suit also contends that in addition to facilitating the 9/11 hijackers training and travel, Iran and Hezbollah played an important role in the escaping of numerous al-Qaeda operatives by providing safe haven inside Iran.

“… 9/11 depended upon Iranian assistance to Al Qaeda in acquiring clean passports and visas to enter the United States,” the NYT cited Thomas E. Mellon Jr., a former lawyer for the 9/11 victims’ families, saying by quoting ten specialists working on Iran and terrorism.

“I am convinced that our evidence is absolutely real—that Iran was a participant in the preparations for 9/11,” Mellon said in another interview with The Daily Beast.

“Iran has not lived up to the spirit of the agreement, and they have to do that,” Trump said. (AFP)

Lack of will

Iran would have every interest in facilitating the 9/11 attacks to divert international attention onto its rivals, while providing the opportunity for its forces and proxies to take full advantage of rendering mayhem across the region. A glance of the current status in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Lebanon proves this point.

For too long investigations have failed to shed the necessary light into Iran’s role into the 9/11 attacks. Even the Commission, accused of never properly grappling the question of Iran’s knowledge prior to 9/11, nearly neglected very important facts gathered by the US National Security Agency about Tehran’s deep involvement in this regard.

The Commission “failed to delve into the files of the National Security Agency, where the Iran intelligence was waiting to be discovered, until the final stages of the commission’s inquiry,” according to Philip Shenon’s The Daily Beast article.

“… my suspicions are that the Iranians were probably much more involved than we are led to believe,” Middle East political scientist Dr. Joseph A. Kéchichian said to Al Arabiya.

Staffers formerly working for the 9/11 commission have complained that much of the remaining NSA’s pre-9/11 terrorism database has gone un-reviewed to this very day. This goes as far as suggesting a long slate of 9/11 secrets may have remained hidden for the past 16 years. Do we not owe more to the 9/11 victims and their families?

There is promise seen in the new US administration as it continues to turn up the heat on Iran. Yet until a lack of will prevents the launching of a new genuine inquiry into Iran’s involvement in the 9/11 attacks, it is up to us writers and journalists to dig deep and expose Tehran’s relations with terror groups across the globe, especially those involved in the horrific acts that changed our world 16 years ago today.

All this becomes ever so necessary as Tehran covertly pursues its nuclear weapons drive and overtly seeks payload delivery capability through ballistic missiles. We must learn from the mistakes made in regards to North Korea and go the limits to prevent a rogue regime such as Iran from going down the same path.

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: 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.

Yemen: A new Mideast flash point?

With the new U.S. administration blueprinting its Iran policy after escalating developments in Syria and the recent attacks in Tehran, one major battleground between the two arch-rivals is set to be Yemen.  Sitting at the opening of a major waterway through which a significant amount of the world’s seabound oil flows, this country of 27 million has been war-torn and desperately grappling with a famine currently risking the lives of 7 million people.

All the while, Iran and its offspring terror organization, the Lebanese Hezb’allah, are escalating their meddling in a war that has already left more than 10,000 killed and literally leveled the country’s already poor infrastructure.

And while the United Nations has issued pleas for support to boost the efforts of humanitarian aid organizations, signs show that Iran and its Houthi proxies are ignoring these calls.  The larger picture of the Middle East power struggle is casting a long shadow over this entire nation.  It is, however, worth noting that the Saudi-led coalition welcomed a U.N. proposal to hand the port city of Hodeidah, currently the country’s lifeline, to a neutral third party to supervise the urgent flow of humanitarian aid into Yemen.

The Iran-backed Ansar Allah militia group, aka the Houthis, will most likely turn down the proposals.  Such a handover would render the loss of their last remaining port in Yemen, choking the flow of Iran-supplied arms and ammunition.  It is a known fact that Iran’s involvement in Yemen is in line with its broader strategy of encircling the entire Arabian peninsula and upping pressure on its regional arch-rival, Saudi Arabia.

Iran seeks the destabilization of the Gulf States and to ultimately obtain the capability of replacing these governments with rulers loyal to the Islamic Republic’s doctrine.  Iraq is a vivid example of how Iran usurped the opportunity of the 2003 invasion to cast its shadow over this nation, especially during the eight years of former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki and eight years of Obama’s Chamberlain-style appeasement.

This is the very philosophy behind establishing and procuring terror cells with the objective of purging government officials and staging attacks targeting the infrastructure of various states, including Bahrain, Kuwait, and the UAE.  Bahrain, particularly, in March busted a terrorist cell linked to Hezb’allah and Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC).

It is a known fact that the IRGC and Hezb’allah are present in Yemen, with their troops and foot soldiers fighting alongside Houthis, parallel to providing much needed training and advice to these forces.

The number of Hezb’allah fighters being captured is on the rise, with such statistics in the first three months of 2017 matching the entire course of 2016.  The death toll of Hezb’allah and IRGC forces also escalated in the first quarter of 2017.

More Iranian equipment across scattered front lines in Yemen is being discovered by advancing Yemeni and Saudi forces.  Further concerning is the fact that Iranian weapons convoys and shipments, consisting of drones and high-tech missiles, have been intercepted on the Yemen-Oman border.

Maritime traffic snaking the Yemeni coast lengthwise has experienced a dangerous rise in attacks staged by the Iranian IRGC and Hezb’allah.  Advisers to these two sources are busily training Houthis how to develop sophisticated drone boats packed with explosives and how to lay mines in Yemen’s Red and Arabian Sea waters.

Recent reports in the media shed light on the Houthis launching their first such attack, targeting an oil tanker in the southern Bab el-Mandeb Strait.  Assailants of unknown identity fired rocket-propelled grenades – a favorite tactic of insurgents – at the 70,362-ton M.T. Muskie, sailing under the Marshall Islands flag, using the strategic waterway heading into the Red Sea entrance, according to Reuters.

Involvement in the attack was denied by the Houthis, despite a history of evidence showing these Iran-supplemented proxies staging attacks on various navy vessels using the narrow water passage.  The Houthis are also known to have direct interest in disturbing the flow of Bab el-Mandeb’s maritime traffic to provide Tehran unprecedented influence over the Red Sea and up north to the Suez Canal.

As tensions continue to escalate in this vital corner of the globe, it becomes imperative for the international community, and especially U.S. allies in the region, to take urgent action against Iran’s meddling, with the aim of curbing its dangerous influence and establishing peace and tranquility in the Middle East.

ANALYSIS: Iran’s lethal role expanding in Syria as war enters seventh year

On March 15th the international community will unfortunately be marking a milestone of disastrous nature. The conflict in Syria began as peaceful demonstrations by a nation seeking freedom from the reign of a dictatorship and to establish true democracy.

The regime in Iran, however, viewed such a development as a red line and placed its weight fully behind Bashar Assad and his ruthless killing machine.

Why is Syria so important for Iran?

Syria is of strategic significant for Iran, as the mullahs considers the country their 35th province. This reached the point that Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei immediately dispatched his Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) to prop Assad’s lines in order to maintain their reach to the Mediterranean Sea and continue the flow of much needed weapons, including dangerous missiles, to the Lebanese Hezbollah.

This Shiite group has provided Iran a platform to advance its agenda to a serious extent from the 1980s to this day. Hezbollah has transformed into a rogue military force while also taking control over a large swathe of the country’s political power. Hezbollah has taken actions forcing the West to see no other solution but to adopt a highly flawed appeasement policy in their faceoff with Iran.

In short, Syria provides the Iranian regime crucial grounds to maintain all challengers and challenges at bay, meaning far from its own borders.

A glance at the 6-year war

Shortly after the Syrian protesters were gunned down by Assad’s forces, the Free Syrian Army began to form as a large swathe of Assad’s ranks and files defected. By June 30th, 2011, Assad was on the verge of being overthrown.

Understanding the impact of such a blow, Iran began its covert support and its efforts were certainly not an unknown factor for the West, especially the U.S. under the Obama administration.

Iran’s forces gradually took command of the war in Syria and by August 2013 the IRGC ordered Assad to launch a chemical attack against a Damascus suburb that rendered around 1,500 civilians killed, including many women and children.

Irony lies in the fact that Tehran was involved in secret nuclear talks with Washington at the time, and senior regime officials came to the conclusion the international community, held back by the Obama White House, would not take any serious action against their killing crusade in Syria.

Iran established its Syria strategy on two principles:

a) Providing all-out support for Assad in quelling any and all forms of dissent,
b) Indirectly supporting extremist groups with the goal of creating rifts amongst opposition lines to deprive the Syrian opposition of meaningful international support demanding Assad’s ouster.

Iran: The Godfather of ISIS

It is now a known fact that ISIS is the rendered phenomenon of the lethal crackdown imposed by Iran’s dual puppets, former Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki and Syria’s Bashar Assad.

Firstly, Iran’s policies in the Middle East have provoked deadly face/offs between Shiites and Sunni communities that used to live alongside, and even within each other, for centuries. Iran’s support for Shiite proxy groups has been well-documented.

However, it must be understood that Tehran also instigate sectarian hatred amongst Sunni to pursue its broad blueprint of maintaining the entire region in flames. Iran began to purge and literally cleanse the Sunni population in Iraq and beyond following the 2003 US-led invasion of this country.

Secondly, Maliki and Assad have both been accused of facilitating the release of a joint sum of over 2,500 inmates from their prisons who went off to form ISIS. The Assad regime is also under severe scrutiny on evidence of purchasing oil from ISIS, providing the group much needed revenue to maintain its activities.

Iran rallying Russia to the rescue

The Syrian opposition was once again on the initiative in early 2015, delivering significant blows to the Assad apparatus in the country’s north and south. The Iran/Assad/Hezbollah alliance was no longer able to hold ground and the IRGC was becoming desperate in maintaining Syria.

IRGC Quds Force chief Qassem Suleimani visited Moscow and met with Russian President Vladimir Putin to ask for much needed air support for Iran’s army of proxy militias alongside IRGC officers and troops. Despite launching the so-called “Operation Moharram” in Aleppo, the IRGC failed to reach its objective and Hossein Hamedani, commander of all IRGC forces in Syria, was killed in battle, alongside dozens of other senior Iranian military officers.

Sensing the threat, the IRGC doubled its troops in Syria to 60,000 and Khamenei even resorted to tasking units of his regular army to dispatch to Syria. Various gains were made, resulting in horrific cases such as the IRGC massacring Sunni locals in the city of Mayer.

The siege on Aleppo began in late 2016, depriving 300,000 civilians in the eastern branch of the city of any food or water, while bombings and unspeakable war crimes continued.

Finally, with the involvement of tens of thousands of militias, and reports indicate up to 25,000 IRGC troops, East Aleppo was retaken by pro-Assad forces and a ceasefire was reached on December 29th, 2016, allowing tens of thousands of civilians to leave the city – despite continuous reports of continued killings – alongside thousands of armed Syrian opposition members.

While Iranian-related forces violated the ceasefire seeking their desired objective, being the Syrian opposition’s complete annihilation, the Syrian opposition was able to evacuate a large number of innocent civilians from Aleppo and preserve their armed forces. This downgraded Aleppo into a mere tactical gain Iran and Assad.

Trusted commander

On Syria, Khamenei is the figure making the final calls and he has entrusted the Syria dossier to his most trusted senior commanders. The dilemma forced Tehran to also dispatch members of the IRGC and regular army ground forces alongside the Quds Force and its network of proxy militias. The IRGC navy and air force have also had their share of battle in Syria.

Iran has gone as far as sending over 70,000 foot-soldiers to Syria, literally dwarfing the number of soldiers fighting for Assad, being less than 50,000, according to IRGC reports.

All Iranian ministries and government institutions have shares in the Syria war, adding to the IRGC dedicating vast economic resources to the Syria war. This goes part in parcel to the fact Iran has through the course of the past six years allocated above $100 billion to the Syria war. This massive capitol is used to procure weapons, provide for the Syrian army’s expenses and IRGC militia members’ salaries adding up to around $1 billion a year.

And the casualties Iran and its forces have suffered, meaning excluding those of the Syrian army, add up to over 10,000, including 1,500 IRGC members. To add insult to injury, 70 IRGC deaths involved colonels or more senior ranks.

This sheds light on Iran’s fundamentalist role and the importance of the Syria dossier for the mullahs, and exactly why the international community, from the Middle East, Europe and the US, should take very powerful actions to completely evict the Iranian regime from Syria.

One right step in this path is to designate the IRGC, being the Iranian entity in charge of the mullahs’ Syria campaign, as a foreign terrorist organization. This will make Iran begin to understand its meddling across the region will have consequences, and the international community will no longer tolerate such atrocities.

Originally published in Al Arabiya English