Wednesday, December 07, 2005

For the U.S. and Iran, threats or promise?

Rami G. Khouri

The Daily Star

December 07, 2005

The overall security situation in the Middle East has become so complex in recent years that it is difficult to pinpoint the most dangerous single situation, country or political relationship. The candidates are plentiful, including Israeli-Palestinian ties, wider Arab-Israeli relations, the American-led pressures on Syria, trends within Lebanon, conditions inside Iraq, terrorism everywhere, Iran under its newly elected hard-line president, stability in Saudi Arabia, and potential regional tensions emanating from Kurdish northern Iraq.

My sense, however, after participating in two conferences on security in the Gulf region in Doha and Dubai in the past week, is that the bilateral relationship between the United States and Iran is probably the single most dangerous dynamic in the region. Conversely, forging stable, normal and peaceful American-Iranian ties may be the most important immediate contribution to long-term security, stability and prosperity in the Gulf and the Middle East as a whole.

The flashpoint now in American-Iranian ties is the dispute over Iran's nuclear aims and capabilities, which demands greater diplomatic efforts by all concerned. Fortunately, three European powers - France, Britain and Germany - are deeply engaged in negotiating an arrangement that would allow Iran to complete its plans for a nuclear power industry, while also assuaging Western fears that Iran might clandestinely divert some of the fuel from its power plants to create nuclear weapons.

I've had the pleasure in the past week to discuss this matter with some of the key European and Iranian officials who have been actively negotiating this matter, and there are reasons to be hopeful that the issue is resolvable. We now have a pretty good idea of the core impediments and concerns on both sides, which include both technical and political issues, and the negotiators are steadily generating new compromise proposals to meet those concerns. The U.S., the 800-pound gorilla in the room, which is so central to this matter but is only indirectly involved in the discussions, seems to have recognized the need to adopt a more patient and less bellicose attitude to Iran, in public at least, so that the ongoing discussions might have a chance of succeeding.

The technical issues are complex enough on their own, but are resolvable if the political issues are addressed simultaneously, and these boil down, essentially, to a question of mutual trust. The U.S. and Western nations in general do not trust Iran's declared aim of only generating electricity from its nuclear plants, given that the Islamic Republic, over a period of 18 years, had not declared all the components of its nuclear facilities and procurements. Combined with Western accusations of Iranian involvement in terrorism during that period, this makes it impossible for the West to accept Iran's pledges that all its facilities will be put under permanent inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Iran for its part is supremely bitter about the duplicity that it suffered at the hands of the West, when contracts signed in 1975 to purchase a nuclear power plant from Germany and relevant fuel from France were not honored - due to U.S. pressure, it says - after the Iranian revolution that overthrew the shah in 1979. Iranians have many good reasons to feel vulnerable, and therefore to demand confidence-building measures from the West, in return for their moves to build trust. Tehran is surrounded by American troops and NATO bases in all directions, with large contingents in Afghanistan and Iraq. It feels the world left it to suffer on its own when Iraq attacked it in 1980 and used chemical weapons against its troops.

It feels that its peaceful intentions have been demonstrated in its signing of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and its allowing the IAEA to undertake 12,000 person-days of inspections in the past 10 years, including permanent inspectors at its Isfahan plant. Tehran sees only hypocrisy and neocolonial double standards in the Western demand that it should compromise and show transparency now, because the West did not honor its contracts and has placed the country under assorted embargoes for the past 20 years.

These issues of trust underpin the complex technical issues. Negotiators and other officials on both sides continue to craft possible compromise solutions that bring their positions closer together, now also with Russia's participation and its possible role in providing and reprocessing fuel. These compromise possibilities include third-party states providing and reprocessing fuel, objective guarantees on IAEA inspections, allowing Iran to have a small pilot plant that includes a full fuel cycle under strict IAEA supervision, and timelines of a decade or more during which Iran would momentarily forego some of its rights under the NPT, mutual trust would be re-established, and some of the strict restrictions on Iran's nuclear fuel cycle would be eased.

It is unlikely that a breakthrough will happen soon under the policies of the hard-line new Iranian team under recently elected President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It could occur in the coming year, though, due to mounting international pressure, the ongoing political reconfiguration inside Iran, and a more urgent American need to come to terms with Iran in order to allow the U.S. to withdraw from Iraq and leave behind a stable country.

Most of the core issues at play are political, not technical. They are about American policies in the Middle East as a whole, and Iran's sense of dignity and sovereignty. They are also about mutual trust and mistrust, emanating from actual policies by both sides rather than any imagined sense of the other's sinister aims. A healthy, non-belligerent Iranian-American bilateral relationship is crucial for resolving or tempering many other conflicts and tensions in the Middle East, as well as for global stability and non-proliferation.

Washington seems to understand this better these days, to its credit, as the Europeans and Russians prudently press ahead with new ideas on technical negotiations with Iran. Iran has much to gain from a successful negotiation, not least enhancement of its natural role as major power in the Gulf region - but a peace-loving power that would not strike the kinds of concerns it now does among its Arab neighbors or lands further afield.


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I Still Support Iran

Jihad el Khazen



The incitement against Iran and its nuclear program goes beyond seeing the US launch a military strike against nuclear facilities, or Israel carry this out if the Israelis in the White House can't convince the administration to do this on Israel's behalf. This incitement includes the above and also involves an attempt to pit Iran against its neighbors, and between it and the rest of the world. There is the threat against oil supplies through the Straight of Hormuz and an increase in terror in the region and around the world.

Politicians and researchers try to avoid answering hypothetical questions, but the fear campaign about Iran rests on 2 hypotheses. One is that Iran will have nuclear weapons, and the second is that if it possesses these weapons, it will threaten everyone with them.

I've written about Iran's nuclear program more than once in recent months, and I've always felt that the Middle East should be declared a nuclear weapons-free zone. If Israel remains the only nuclear state, then it's the duty of Iran and every country in the region to possess nuclear weapons, to balance the Israeli arsenal.

I haven't changed my mind, but today I'll add the opinion of Abdel-Rahman Attieh, the Secretary General of the Gulf Cooperation Council. At a parliamentary seminar in Qatar that gathered 16 NATO countries and countries from the Gulf, he strongly attacked Iran and its nuclear program. I telephoned to ask about this, since he must have been expressing the convictions of the GCC states.

In a telephone conversation, Attieh confirmed that the GCC wanted a Middle East free of nuclear weapons; its position on Israel and its arsenal had been settled and was non-negotiable. In every statement and international forum on the matter, the GCC states have asked for the region to stay out of the nuclear race and for the end of Israel's nuclear weapons capability - there's a whole stack of such statements.

The GCC states don't want the Middle East to become an arena for international conflict and tension, and don't want to find themselves sandwiched between two nuclear powers. The region is very sensitive and plays a key role in the international economy, which means it shouldn't be left alone if the great powers see that oil supplies are in danger through the Straight of Hormuz, the bottleneck for oil exports from the Gulf.

Attieh rejects comparing Iran to Israel. There are common bonds in the form of religion, history, geography, heritage and mixing between the Gulf and Iran, although that doesn't mean the country should not be held accountable, especially after some of its stated positions and behavior have been worrying.

The countries of the Gulf are angry at Iran's refusal to make progress, to not take a single step toward solving its well-known disputes like the Tunb and Abu Musa Islands, occupied by Iran and whose return is demanded by the UAE, or like the continuing intervention in the affairs of other Gulf states, and the stoking of unnecessary tension in the region.
Increasing these worries of late was Iran's intervention into Iraq's affairs, and its intensive presence in the south of Iraq. With the beginning of talk about a partial US withdrawal from Iraq, Iran is a candidate to fill the vacuum. There is the beginning of US-Iranian coordination on the Iraq issue.

Attieh says that the GCC states need to be reassured. There are dangers and money should be spent on development, not weapons. In any case, the GCC states reject double standards and insist on ridding the Middle East of nuclear weapons, which must apply to all countries and not involve an exception for Israel.

I believe that Iran needs to show some flexibility, wisdom and modesty in dealing with its Gulf neighbors. It should reject all requests from its smaller neighbors, not because they are right, but because it can. The GCC's position on Iran's nuclear program would have been different if Iran had sought a satisfactory solution to the islands issue and stopped intervening in the affairs of this country or that.

Having said that, I still support Iran's attempt to possess nuclear weapons, as long as Israel has them. The best solution is a WMD-free Middle East, which is the position of the Arab League ever since Amr Moussa was Egypt's ambassador to the United Nations. It's also the position of the GCC and the majority of the world's states. However, the US sees Iran's possible weapons but doesn't see Israel's certain ones, and the countries of the European Union go along with this policy.

Of course, Iran insists that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, but I don't believe this. Even so, I'm with Iran against Israel and against the dual standards policy of the US and EU, since no one will believe Iran.

It's difficult to believe that a country swimming on a sea of oil and gas needs a nuclear program, so I hypothesize that Iran wants a nuclear bomb in the end as an insurance policy because it finds itself surrounded by nuclear states. I advise it to improve its relations with its neighbors in the Gulf and take the initiative to solve pending problems, to guarantee the support of these states. Iran can't make enemies of the countries of the region and the world, with its insistence on a nuclear program whose end no one can foresee.

Will we see Iran take a step soon, or steps, toward the Gulf's other states? I hope so.


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Testing times for Iran president

By Frances Harrison

BBC News, Tehran

7 December 2005

They sit on the floor draped in black chador and swathed in gloves eating oranges, their faces just peeking out.

Both women and men in the Shafi'e family belong to the Basij - an armed Islamic volunteer group mobilised around the mosques.

It is hardly the typical Basij family we had asked to meet - one lady commands nearly 2,000 women.

The Basij are the loyalists of the Islamic regime who can be called out onto the streets at times of crisis to use force to dispel dissent.

And by mobilising voters they helped elect Iran's new President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad - himself a former Basij instructor.

"He's only been in power for three months and look at the pressure he's faced from abroad," says Masoud Shafi'e about the new president.

Clearing slums

It struck a chord here when the new president turned his back on reform and revived the original slogan of the Islamic revolution: "Justice for the down-trodden".

"The main issue is that Mr Ahmadinejad is seeking justice for all," says Mohammad Qadiri'e, adding, "he is trying to fight corruption and restrict the power of big business."

Already people are complaining about the rising cost of living, but here they say prices are reasonable.

"Some people want to link everything to Mr Ahmadinejad, even the price of oranges," says Basij commander Maryam Qadiri'e.

While mayor of Tehran, Mr Ahmadinejad concentrated his efforts on poorer, more conservative areas of the south of the city.

He cleared slums, built sports centres and tried to alleviate Tehran's appalling traffic.

All the while, he insisted on an Islamic agenda - ensuring council officials visited at least one "martyr's family" every week, honouring those who died in the Iran-Iraq war.

Political uncertainty

But in north Tehran, where the wealthy and more westernised people live, they are more wary about Mr Ahmadinejad.

Here young girls parade up and down in tight overcoats, high heels, pink headscarves and bleached hair while the boys have gel in their hair, pointy shoes and sport cool shades.

In the early days of the revolution they would have been stopped and asked if they were married. Now, after eight years of reformist rule, the atmosphere has relaxed.

"People need some kind of freedom and they've got used to having it," explains one girl.

"After Mr Khatami, they got used to the freedoms they've had and they can't take them away again; it will be very difficult if they want to roll things back."

So far there is no sign of a clamp-down on Islamic dress codes, but there is dissatisfaction here about the prevailing political uncertainty.

"I think the president is not up to running the country and I don't even know what he was thinking about when he stood as a candidate in the elections," says a student, adding, "he is just not politically astute enough."

Israel remarks

But in the university, there is already concern about a process of Islamisation.

For the first time since the revolution, the president appointed an ayatollah to run Tehran.

Risking arrest, the students protested.

In the scuffle the cleric's turban was removed and slogans shouted against the president.

Internationally, the greatest damage was done by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's remark that Israel should be wiped off the map.

He was quoting the father of the Revolution Ayatollah Khomeini - but succeeded in uniting the world against Iran.

Some reformists, like former Deputy Interior Minister Mustafa Tajzadeh, believe this remark played into the hands of Iran's enemies.

"I believe the neo-cons in America need to portray Iran as a kind of Taleban government, a belligerent country that doesn't want to negotiate and wants to cause tension in the region," he says, adding: "Ahmadinejad's behaviour and his statements have given the Americans a wonderful opportunity to exploit."

Weakening support

So intense has criticism of the new president been that Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had to defend him.

He said Mr Ahmadinejad should be given more time to fulfil his election promises.

Some argue the leader is distancing himself from Mr Ahmadinejad and growing closer to his election rival Hashemi Rafsanjani.

"In the early days, Ahmadinejad enjoyed the full support of the leader but as time goes by that support is diminishing," says political commentator Issa Saharkhiz.

"The leader sees the problems Ahmadinejad has created and he is trying to distance himself , while at the same time publicly showing support for him."

Mr Rafsanjani recently launched a veiled but stinging attack on the new president - accusing him of jeopardising the security of the Islamic system by instigating a purge against officials loyal to the old regime.

"If one listens to Mr Rafsanjani's words very carefully, it is evident that he is seriously concerned about the situation in the country, and has serious problems with the way the new government is running the country," says Mustafa Tajzadeh.

And if the markets are anything to go by, there has been a problem.

The Tehran stock exchange lost a quarter of its value since Mr Ahmadinejad came to power - the largest fall in its history - though it has now started to rise again.

Permits for construction of new buildings have halved in recent months as investors become increasingly wary.

And it has not helped that for months parliament has refused to endorse three of the president's choices for oil minister - saying they lacked sufficient experience.

Power struggle

Moreover, some of Mr Ahmadinejad's own supporters voted against him, but denied they were confronting him.

"Rejecting his candidate does not mean undermining the president," says Hamidreza Taraghi of the Islamic Coalition Party.

"From an Islamic point of view, the best friends are those who remind you of your faults."

He believes the president is challenging powerful vested interests and that is why he is facing opposition.

"There are too many people in the administration who are involved in corruption and misuse of their positions. That's why he has ended the contracts of many government advisers," says Mr Taraghi.

For the reformists, Mr Ahmadinejad is an extremist bent on confronting his enemies at home and abroad.

But millions of Iranians who voted for Mr Ahmadinejad were attracted by his humble image and promise of a better economic life.

Already there are signs of a bitter power struggle at the top and it is far from clear whether Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's radical agenda will dominate, or more moderate voices will prevail.


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Iranian women athlets & the Third West Asian Games

Iran's Farshideh Nabizadeh (C), gold medallist, Jordan's Shifa Anabtawi (L), silver medallist, and Jordan's Rima Taha, bronze medallist, pose after their women's high jump final at the Third West Asian Games in Doha December 7, 2005. REUTERS/Fadi Al-Asaad
Iran's Farshideh Nabizadeh attempts 1.7m during the women's high jump at the Third West Asian Games in Doha December 7, 2005. Nabizadeh won the gold followed by Jordan's Shifa Anabtawi with silver and Jordan's Rima Taha with bronze. REUTERS/Caren Firouz
Iran's Melani Artoun (R) waits with other competitors for the start of the final of the women's 100m at the third West Asian Games in Doha December 7, 2005. Bahrain's Roqaya Al-Ghasara won the gold medal followed by Syria's Chfran Al-Mouhamad and Iraq's Dana Abdulrazak with bronze. REUTERS/Caren Firouz


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Iranian photojournalist Mehdy Ghasemy mourns

Iranian photojournalist Mehdy Ghasemy mourns as he attends the funeral ceremony for the Iranian Student News Agency (ISNA) photographer Mohammadhasan Gharib in Tehran December 7, 2005. Angry and distraught relatives of more than 100 people killed in Iran's worst air disaster for three years complained bitterly on Wednesday that officials had known in advance that the crashed plane was not safe to fly. REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl


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Iran, the bomb and Bush

7 Dec 2005

The Washington Times

By Tony Blankley

Do you remember back a few months when it was reported that the CIA had determined that Iran was probably 10 years away from being able to develop a nuclear bomb? It was in all the papers, and made almost everyone feel much relieved. It certainly put those hot-head alarmists and warmongers in our places. We had been citing Israel's assertion that by the spring of 2006 Iran could have the bomb.

My, how time flies. This week Mohamed ElBaradei, the chairman of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), confirmed Israel's assessment to the British liberal newspaper the Independent, and stated that if Tehran indeed resumed its uranium enrichment in other plants, as threatened, it will take Iran only "a few months to produce a nuclear bomb."

Keep in mind, Mr. ElBaradei is not some wild bomb-thrower (so to speak). He is the same diplomat who the Bush administration recently, and unsuccessfully, tried to block from being reappointed chairman of the IAEA because he was insufficiently assertive and too inclined to understate the danger of nuclear development in Muslim countries.

Despite Mr. ElBaradei's brief lapse into forthright candor, he is still a true diplomat -- in the worst sense of the word. After agreeing that Iran's nuclear bomb was only months away, he went on to explain that, on the other hand, any attempt to resolve the crisis by non-diplomatic means would "open a Pandora's Box, there would be efforts to isolate Iran; Iran would retaliate; and at the end of the day you have to go back to the negotiating table to find the solution."

Meanwhile, for those of you with unnaturally long political memories, you may recall all the way back 10 months to January 2005, when President Bush said in his State of the Union address that Iran would not be permitted to develop a nuclear weapon. It was a flat assertion, with no qualifiers ("The Iranian regime must give up its uranium enrichment program and any plutonium reprocessing").

And he went further. He concluded his peroration with the inspiring words: "And to the Iranian people, I say tonight: As you stand for your own liberty, America stands with you." That statement was taken in the press around the world, and especially on Iranian Web sites, as a call for regime change in Iran.

Unfortunately, a few months later the people of Iran elected by a large majority Mahmud Ahmedinejad, a radical Islamist and a suspected leader of the gang that took and tormented our diplomats in Tehran in 1979.

Mr. Ahmedinejad is not a cuddly figure. He has threatened to restart Iran's nuclear program -- and sneered at American warnings against such action. He was undiplomatic enough to tauntingly assert that we don't have enough troops to stop him (apparently he forgot about our Air Force. I hope we haven't). He also proclaimed his objective to wipe Israel off the map -- and called any Muslim against such a project a bad Muslim.

Which brings us to Shakespeare's "Hamlet," Scene One, Act Five, line 189 (Hamlet's last soliloquy of Act One): "The time is out of joint. O cursed spite, That ever I was born to set it right!"

To recapitulate Act one, Scene five: The ghost of Hamlet's father demands that Hamlet "revenge his foul and most unnatural murder."

Hamlet, just as Mr. Bush in the State of the Union quickly responds: "Haste me to know't, that I with wings as swift as meditation or the thoughts of love, may sweep to my revenge."

Then Hamlet's ghost father informs him that his murderer is Hamlet's uncle, the new king: "The serpent that did sting thy father's life now wears his crown."

Which leads Hamlet to doubt and fear, and cursing that he was ever born "to set it right."

Now does George Bush sit, fretting in the White House that soon, dreadfully soon, he will have to act to reclaim his honor and his bold words that Iran shall not possess the bomb? Is he agonizing over whether the world will be better off with a nuclear or non-nuclear Iran? Does he know it must be de-nuclearized -- but curse, Hamlet-like, that it is his job to do it?

Perhaps. But I suspect that W is not Hamlet -- a tragedy; but resolute Henry V -- a history, who said to his troops before battle: "Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;... Be copy now to men of grosser blood. And teach them how to war... For there is none of you so mean and base That hath not noble luster in your eyes. I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips, Straining upon the start. The game's afoot: Follow your spirit, and upon this charge Cry 'God for Harry, England and Saint George.' "

Or we could follow Mr. ElBaradei's advice and negotiate with a hell-bent for leather fanatically lead nuclear Iran, even as we have been unsuccessfully negotiating with a still non-nuclear Iran. It might work.

On the other hand, you could ask the ghost of Neville Chamberlain how that worked out for him in 1939.


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Tuesday, December 06, 2005

ElBaradei to 'Post': No 'smoking gun' in Iran


Dec. 6, 2005

Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency have found no "smoking gun" in Iran that would indicate a nuclear weapons program, Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei, the director-general of the IAEA, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.

He added that the IAEA hasn't "seen an underground production enrichment facility" either. Nor, he said, had it seen sufficient materials in Iran to build a nuclear weapon.

ElBaradei said he hoped to be able to reach definitive conclusions about the nature of Iran's nuclear program within a year.

Elbaradei was answering questions from the Post after giving a speech on "Reflections on Nuclear Challenges Today" at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.

Asked by the Post about a concern that countries, including Israel, might have to resort to military force to thwart an Iranian weapons drive, ElBaradei said: "There is lots of speculation" about what Iran has been doing. "We try to work on the basis of facts. We haven't seen a smoking gun in Iran."

He added that he hoped Iran's current suspension of uranium enrichment would be maintained, and that this would give negotiations time to achieve a solution.

In his address, ElBaradei, who along with the IAEA received this year's Nobel peace prize, noted that for 18 years, Iran had "been running an undeclared program." The IAEA, he said, had found "most of the pieces of the puzzle," but was calling for more transparency and pro-active cooperation from Teheran to "clear" its past.


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Up to 120 dead as plane hits Tehran building

TEHRAN, IRAN - DECEMBER 6: Rescue teams attend to the scene of devastation after an Iranian military plane crashed into a residential building in a heavily built-up suburb on December 6, 2005 in Tehran, Iran. A huge explosion was reported as the plane, carrying 94 people, crashed into a 10-storey block killing all on board. Many deaths are also feared on the ground after the C-130 plane encountered a technical problem shortly after take-off from Mehrabad airport. (Photo by Hossein/Getty Images)
Tehran, IRAN: Iranian photographers cry at the site where a military transport plane smashed into a densely populated residential area in southern Tehran as they wait for news of their colleagues who were on board, 06 December 2005. The four-engined plane, bought from the United States before the Islamic revolution nearly three decades ago, encountered engine failure immediately after take-off from central Tehran's Mehrabad airport, state television said. At least 116 people, many of them journalists, were killed in the crash. AFP PHOTO/HENGHAMEH FAHIMI (Photo credit should read HENGHAMEH FAHIMI/AFP/Getty Images)


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In Basra, threats stalk elections


Chicago Tribune

Dec. 06, 2005

BASRA, Iraq - Halal Naim al-Musawi wanted to be absolutely clear: The reports of Iranian infiltration in this strategic Iraqi city were exaggerated.

"Americans are obsessed with the secret hand of Iran," said al-Musawi, a leader of the Master of the Martyrs, one of the murky Shiite militias that have virtually free rein in Basra.

"Where is the proof?" he declared. "Show me one Iranian agent in Basra. Identify this man to me on the street. We will beat him. Iraqis tolerate no interference from outsiders of any kind."

Trouble is, al-Musawi's own faction has been linked by Iraqi military sources to Iran's intelligence service. And outside his high-walled compound, the streets of Basra look suspiciously like those just across the Shatt al Arab waterway in the fundamentalist theocracy of Iran. Basra, once a liberal metropolis that welcomed coalition forces in 2003, has become an austere and perilous place.

Every woman in sight wears a hijab, or Muslim head scarf. Liquor stores and even music shops have been firebombed by Shiite militants for being "un-Islamic." And the campaign posters of secular Iraqi politicians are systematically spray-painted black. Plastered over them are two telling portraits: pudgy-cheeked Muqtada al-Sadr, an increasingly powerful Shiite cleric who has opposed the U.S. occupation and is ardently being wooed by Tehran, and the bushy-browed visage of the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, patriarch of Iran's Islamist revolution.

More than two years after the fall of Saddam Hussein and less than two weeks before millions of Iraqis go to the polls to elect their first permanent democratic government, the shadow of Iranian influence appears to be lengthening over parts of Iraq, particularly in the nation's Shiite-dominated south.

While the U.S. military and the American public have concentrated on the Sunni-led insurgency in the central part of the country, supposedly more peaceful southern cities such as Basra have fallen under the sway of equally brutal Shiite militias. Many of them, Western and Iraqi security analysts say, are on the payroll of Tehran.

Iran's clout in Basra received widespread attention in August, when U.S. journalist Steven Vincent was kidnapped and assassinated here, apparently in retaliation for exposing the infiltration of Iraqi police forces by Iranian-backed militias such as Thar Allah and the Badr Organization.

A recent visit to the dusty city of 2 million, a vital Iraqi oil port, revealed that little has changed.

Frightened political moderates, both Sunni and Shiite, said they were threatened with death for participating in the upcoming elections - not by Sunni extremists, but by pro-Iranian Shiite gunmen. The warnings came in the form of bullets sealed inside envelopes.

Silencer-equipped pistols intended for political assassinations were reportedly trickling across the Iranian border and into the hands of local religious militants, intelligence sources in Basra said. And according to members of Iraq's beleaguered secular parties, some Iranian-backed militias are said to be undergoing sniper training in the city's desert outskirts for the same purpose.

The Iranian government, which openly supports the ruling coalition of Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a fellow Shiite, adamantly denies such allegations.

Yet lately, al-Jaafari's government has been forced to react to the Shiite militias that have turned Basra into a paranoid city.

Two weeks ago, the Ministry of Interior disbanded the Internal Affairs division of the Basra police, or Jameat, a unit infiltrated by at least two Iranian-funded militias. Its activities included killings, kidnappings, intimidation and torture, officials said.

In late October, Iraqi security forces raided the headquarters of Thar Allah, killing four of its members. The militia, which like the Master of the Martyrs is said by intelligence analysts to receive logistical support from Iran, has been violently imposing Iranian-style religious strictures on the people of Basra. Its gunmen are accused of shooting down prostitutes in the streets.

"(Iran) wants to promote its own brand of theocracy, especially among Iraq's Shia population, and yet make sure that Iraq remains weak," said Majid al-Sari, a senior adviser to Iraq's Ministry of Defense. "They don't want too much instability in Iraq. Just a little."

Riding in an armed convoy 20 miles to the southeast, he showed a reporter why: The battlefields of the 1980-88 war between Iran and Iraq, in which hundreds of thousands perished, were still bleak and littered with wreckage.

"Southern Iraqis and Iranians are both Shias, but the Iranians still distrust us," al-Sari said. "They don't want us to ever be a threat again."

While by no means all of Basra's militia violence can be pinned on Iran's meddling - British forces patrolling the city note that common criminality, such as oil and drug smuggling, is also to blame - politicians, foreign diplomats and intelligence experts all say that Basra offers a glimpse of how Iran might wield influence inside a Shiite-dominated Iraq.

On one hand, Tehran is openly pouring millions into strengthening its cultural ties to the city. More than 150 academics from Basra University have been invited on junkets to Iran, a senior professor said. And there is talk of building oil pipelines, railways and bridges across the waterway dividing Basra and Iran.

On the other, Iranian cash is being funneled to an array of armed Shiite groups in the city, partly to tie down coalition military forces, and partly to keep any one militia from consolidating power, said a military analyst familiar with the tense situation in Basra.

"It was safer during Saddam," said human-rights activist Adel al-Thamery, repeating a mantra that until recently was heard mostly in Iraq's seething Sunni Triangle near Baghdad. "You knew who your enemies were back then. Today you can be shot down, and you don't know by whom or why."

Al-Thamery ran as a secular candidate from Basra in last January's election for a temporary government. When he was threatened with assassination then, he campaigned by phone. He has decided not to run again.


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Russia equipping Iran for war, courtesy of Al Gore

By Judi McLeod

Tuesday, December 6, 2005

What has former vice president Al Gore done for the country of his birth lately?

The 1995 Gore-Chernomyrdin protocol, inked out in secret, a protocol which Russian officials believe permits continued military sales to Iran.

The clock moves ahead to 2005 and Gore’s proverbial chickens have come home to roost.

According to Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin, "Russia has signed a deal with Iran to sell 29 of its Tor M-1 anti-missile systems, a development that will complicate any planned pre-emptive attack on the rogue nation’s nuclear facilities."

The system would theoretically permit Iran to intercept some cruise missiles as well as airborne missiles that U.S., Israeli or other western countries might use in an effort to keep the terrorist-supporting nation from developing nuclear weapons or using them.

As it was the result of secret talks between then Vice President Al Gore and Russia’s then-Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, no one knew about the Gore-Chernomyrdin Protocol until 2000.

This could be a textbook case of like father, like son.

Al Gore’s father, the late Albert Gore who left the Senate in 1970, was sidekick to Soviet agent Armand Hammer. The two were so intertwined that Hammer made the boast he had "Gore in my back pocket".

Chernomyrdin, a gangster, who was one of the biggest looters of Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union, is hardly the kind o person you would want to team up with on a protocol.

On home turf, Al Gore Jr. is a close friend with former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.

An acolyte of the occult, Gore seems to have lost his perspective. He has been subjected to Neuro-linguistic programming and has ties to the bizarre "The Nine", a disembodied group that is involved with the Esalen Institute.

The other protocol boosted by Gore is the Kyoto Protocol, and the former vice president maintains close ties to Kyoto Protocol main architect UN poster boy Maurice Strong, a New Ager.

Gore is on the board of directors of Apple Computer, Apple founder Steve Jobs is deeply "into the occult", and he and his buddy Steve Wozniak who started Apple, sold their first computers for the sum of $666.

These days, Wozniak has a company called Wheels of Zeus that works with the CIA on person surveillance technology that he will not discuss.

"Russian sources say the Tor system is "a weapon of defense" and does not represent a danger to the U.S. as long as Washington does not attack them." (

"Another Russian source says Iran only seeks "to defend it nuclear thermal power station" that Moscow is building in Bushehr–set for completion in 2007."

Much evidence of Russian corruption was brushed aside by Gore when he was presented with it by U.S. intelligence agencies.

Meanwhile, now that the results can be seen, it seems that Gore was doing with Russia what Bill Clinton was doing with China.


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Monday, December 05, 2005

Iran's strength in weakness

By Spengler

Dec 6, 2005

Once upon a time, an ex-soldier with no credentials but his belief in his own destiny joined a fanatic movement. Against all odds, he won an election, purged his opponents, and outfoxed the powers that surrounded his country. Western elites have not yet accepted that an Austrian corporal bested them, preferring to regard the events of 1933-1945 as an inexplicable aberration. What will they make of the blacksmith's son and Revolutionary Guard bully-boy Mahmud Ahmedinejad of Iran?

In just five months, Iran's president has seized the balance of power in Mesopotamia, foiled a global campaign to slow its nuclear weapons program, and forced Washington to entreat Iran for negotiations cap in hand. After Tehran rejected a first American offer, US ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad repeated the request on December 1.

As I wrote on October 25 (A Syriajevo in the making?), the US depends on Iran to maintain stability in Iraq, giving Iran in turn sufficient leverage to thwart American efforts to stop its nuclear weapons program. Asia Times Online's correspondents have provided compelling evidence to support this conjecture in the meantime. [1] Israel's military leaders now take it for granted that Iran will become a nuclear power, Stratfor reported on December 1. [2]

Just after September 11, I picked a bone with Sir John Keegan's claim that "in this war of civilizations, the West will prevail" (Sir John Keegan is wrong: radical Islam might win, October 12, 2001):

Readers who reproached me for using the word "racism" to qualify Washington's orientation toward the Islamic world should read Keegan's essay carefully. Here we have the upright Westerner against the underhanded Oriental. Kipling (who wrote vividly about the sneakiness of the British in the Great Game) would blush. It's all completely, totally, revoltingly wrong. The West confronts not a throwback to medieval Islam, but a Westernized version of Islam transformed into a totalitarian political ideology.

Until Ahmedinejad's ascent, however, no Islamist leader had emerged with the cunning and capacity to exploit the West's confusion. Iran seemed the least likely venue for Islamist leadership. With 15% inflation and 11% unemployment, Iran seemed vulnerable in early 2005 - almost as vulnerable, one might add, as Germany was in early 1933 when Adolf Hitler was appointed chancellor.

American regional experts without exception expected Iran's regime to crumble from within. Daniel Pipes, for example, stated in 2003, "I compare Iran today to the Soviet Union under [Leonid] Brezhnev. Yes, the state is strong and threatening, but the people don't believe in it anymore. It's a hollow, hollow regime, in other words." [3]

As late as April, Michael Ledeen forecast political disintegration "in Iran, where near-constant demonstrations, protests, and even armed attacks against the institutions of the Islamic Republic have raged ... Iranians no longer require excuses to show their hatred of the mullahcracy." [4]

Reuel Marc Gerecht, the American Enterprise Institute's resident Iran scholar, insisted throughout that America had nothing to fear from the Shi'ites. With just a bit of covert support for Iranian dissidents, Ledeen insisted, the regime would collapse. Western analysts spent their time with the intellectuals of Tehran, who party at Western-style clubs and wear lipstick under their burkhas - the equivalent of judging Germany's temper in 1933 from the vantage point of Berlin cabarets.

They ignored the groundswell of support from the rural poor and the Tehran slums that gave Ahmedinejad an overwhelming margin of victory in the June presidential elections. It took the new president just a few months to put paid to dissidents and moderates, placing hundreds of his Revolutionary Guard comrades in the key positions of Iran's bureaucracy, and purging 40 ambassadors from the diplomatic corps. Hitler was no more ruthless in consolidating power during the weeks following his ascension to the Kanzleramt in March 1933.

It is with grudging respect that I compare Ahmedinejad to Hitler, who bluffed a weak hand into a nearly winning game. Like Hitler, Ahmedinejad evinces a superior cunning born of the knowledge that he has nothing to lose. The position of the Iranian regime is weak; in the long term, it is hopeless.

Within a generation, both Iran's oil and demographic resources will be exhausted. Impending demographic collapse, I have argued in the past, impels Iran towards an imperial design (Demographics and Iran's imperial design, September 13). Iran's elderly dependent population will soar to nearly 30% from just 7% today by mid-century, the consequence of the country's collapsing birth rate. The demographic disaster will hit just as oil exports dry up during the 2020s. To break out of the trap, Iran must make an all-or-nothing bet during the present generation.

Western historians typically portray Hitler as a megalomaniacal lunatic who nearly conquered the world through a series of regrettable accidents. But Hitler took into account his own weakness with greater clarity than the British or Russians. Three weeks after he provoked World War II by invading Poland, Hitler told German military commanders:

We have nothing to lose, but much indeed to gain. As a result of the constraints forced upon us, our economic position is such that we cannot hold out for more than a few years. [Hermann] Goering can confirm this. We have no other choice, we must act ... At no point in the future will Germany have a man with more authority than I. But I could be replaced at any moment by some idiot or criminal ... The morale of the German people is excellent. It can only worsen from here. [5]

Hitler knew very well that his command economy could crack. He coveted the industrial capacity of Western Europe, the granaries of Eastern Europe and the oil of Romania. Iran covets the oil of southeastern Iraq, western Saudi Arabia and the Islamic republics of the former Soviet Union and proposes to annex or at least control it through satrapies on the ancient Persian model. Asia Times Online's Pepe Escobar outlined the Iranian strategy in a September 10 dispatch from Tehran (Iran takes over Pipelineistan).

Thanks to America's ideological obsession with democracy, Iran is close to control of Iraq's oil-rich Shi'ite regions. On December 4, Iraq's Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani issued a de facto endorsement of the pro-Iranian religious coalition, the United Iraqi Alliance, pushing his country further into the Iranian sphere of influence. Sistani's appeal for support for religious parties ruins the prospects of Washington's favored politicians, the secular Shi'ites Iyad Allawi and Ahmad Chalabi.

Iran's proxy warrior Muqtada al-Sadr, meanwhile, now holds the balance of military power in Iraq, as I predicted in the October 25 article. As the New York Times' Edward Wong reported on November 27:

Wielding violence and political popularity as tools of his authority, Mr Sadr, the Shi'ite cleric who has defied the American authorities here since the fall of Saddam Hussein, is cementing his role as one of Iraq's most powerful figures. Just a year after Mr Sadr led two fierce uprisings, the Americans are hailing his entry into the elections as the best sign yet that the political process can co-opt insurgents. But his ascent could portend a darker chain of events, for he continues to embrace his image as an unrepentant guerrilla leader even as he takes the reins of political power. Mr Sadr has made no move to disband his militia, the thousands-strong Mahdi Army. In recent weeks, factions of the militia have brazenly assaulted and abducted Sunni Arabs, rival Shi'ite groups, journalists and British-led forces in the south, where Mr Sadr has a zealous following.

A year ago, America still had the option to partition Iraq into a Kurdish north, a Sunni center and a Shi'ite south. Now that Iran has reinforced Muqtada's militia with evident American tolerance, partition might well lead to Iranian control of the resulting Shi'ite rump state. Iran's leaders are the same hard men who did not blink at a million casualties during Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s and such tactics as driving hordes of boys into minefields. America simply does not have the stomach for this sort of warfare.

The only potentially successful maneuver at Washington's disposal would be to repeat Britain's colonial policy of the 1920s, enlisting and arming elements of the old Ba'ath regime to battle it out with the Shi'ites until both sides are bled white. But I do not think Washington has either the intent or the competence to execute an imperial scheme of this nature.

Under the circumstances, does anyone seriously doubt that Iran will develop nuclear weapons capability? Not the Israelis, it appears. Stratfor, an Internet-based intelligence service, cites "a report in the daily newspaper Maariv, which quoted a senior security source as saying, 'We shall have to put up with a nuclear Iran'. The unnamed source added that, 'I do not see any force in the world today that could reverse the situation - namely Iran becoming nuclear ... and there will be no alternative but to put up with the emerging situation'."

Despite Tehran's anti-Israel rhetoric, a nuclear Iran does not necessarily represent an existential threat to the Jewish state. Israel almost certainly possesses thermonuclear weapons hundreds of times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb, as well as the capability to deliver them via submarine-launched cruise missiles.

Nor do the Tor M-1 anti-aircraft and anti-missile missiles that Iran reportedly ordered from Russia last week represent a decisive threat to American or Israeli capabilities. Nonetheless, Russia's evident willingness to upgrade Iran's weapons capability reflects another unintended result of Washington's ideological campaign for democratization. America has offered open support for the "color revolutions" in parts of the former Soviet Union, beginning with Ukraine's "Orange" revolution last year and continuing through the "Yellow" revolution in Kyrgyzstan last spring. The unpleasant regimes Washington helped replace gave way to equally unpleasant regimes, except with greater instability.

Russian President Vladimir Putin fears instability on Russia's borders, but he cannot persuade Washington to desist from stirring the pot. Russian military cooperation with Iran provides him with a bargaining chip to use against Washington's designs on what Putin considers a Russian sphere of influence. Even though Russia has more to fear from an imperial Iran than Washington, American blundering in the former Soviet Union has given Tehran additional room to maneuver. And Iran's leaders have played the divisions among their prospective enemies masterfully, again calling to mind the Austrian corporal who nearly destroyed the West.



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