Iran Hegemony Courtesy of Obama


Iran Dominates in Iraq After U.S. ‘Handed the Country Over’
Tim Arango
BAGHDAD — Walk into almost any market in Iraq and the shelves are filled with goods from Iran — milk, yogurt, chicken. Turn on the television and channel after channel broadcasts programs sympathetic to Iran.
A new building goes up? It is likely that the cement and bricks came from Iran. And when bored young Iraqi men take pills to get high, the illicit drugs are likely to have been smuggled across the porous Iranian border.
And that’s not even the half of it.
Across the country, Iranian-sponsored militias are hard at work establishing a corridor to move men and guns to proxy forces in Syria and Lebanon. And in the halls of power in Baghdad, even the most senior Iraqi cabinet officials have been blessed, or bounced out, by Iran’s leadership.
When the United States invaded Iraq 14 years ago to topple Saddam Hussein, it saw Iraq as a potential cornerstone of a democratic and Western-facing Middle East, and vast amounts of blood and treasure — about 4,500 American lives lost, more than $1 trillion spent — were poured into the cause.
From Day 1, Iran saw something else: a chance to make a client state of Iraq, a former enemy against which it fought a war in the 1980s so brutal, with chemical weapons and trench warfare, that historians look to World War I for analogies. If it succeeded, Iraq would never again pose a threat, and it could serve as a jumping-off point to spread Iranian influence around the region.
In that contest, Iran won, and the United States lost.
Over the past three years, Americans have focused on the battle against the Islamic State in Iraq, returning more than 5,000 troops to the country and helping to force the militants out of Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul.
But Iran never lost sight of its mission: to dominate its neighbor so thoroughly that Iraq could never again endanger it militarily, and to use the country to effectively control a corridor from Tehran to the Mediterranean.
“Iranian influence is dominant,” said Hoshyar Zebari, who was ousted last year as finance minister because, he said, Iran distrusted his links to the United States. “It is paramount.”
The country’s dominance over Iraq has heightened sectarian tensions around the region, with Sunni states, and American allies, like Saudi Arabia mobilizing to oppose Iranian expansionism. But Iraq is only part of Iran’s expansion project; it has also used soft and hard power to extend its influence in Lebanon, Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan, and throughout the region.
Iran is a Shiite state, and Iraq, a Shiite majority country, was ruled by an elite Sunni minority before the American invasion. The roots of the schism between Sunnis and Shiites, going back almost 1,400 years, lie in differences over the rightful leaders of Islam after the death of the Prophet Muhammad. But these days, it is about geopolitics as much as religion, with the divide expressed by different states that are adversaries, led by Saudi Arabia on one side and Iran on the other.
Iran’s influence in Iraq is not just ascendant, but diverse, projecting into military, political, economic and cultural affairs.
At some border posts in the south, Iraqi sovereignty is an afterthought. Busloads of young militia recruits cross into Iran without so much as a document check. They receive military training and are then flown to Syria, where they fight under the command of Iranian officers in defense of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad.
Passing in the other direction, truck drivers pump Iranian products — food, household goods, illicit drugs — into what has become a vital and captive market.
Iran tips the scales to its favor in every area of commerce. In the city of Najaf, it even picks up the trash, after the provincial council there awarded a municipal contract to a private Iranian company. One member of the council, Zuhair al-Jibouri, resorted to a now-common Iraqi aphorism: “We import apples from Iran so we can give them away to Iranian pilgrims.”
Politically, Iran has a large number of allies in Iraq’s Parliament who can help secure its goals. And its influence over the choice of interior minister, through a militia and political group the Iranians built up in the 1980s to oppose Mr. Hussein, has given it substantial control over that ministry and the federal police.
Perhaps most crucial, Parliament passed a law last year that effectively made the constellation of Shiite militias a permanent fixture of Iraq’s security forces. This ensures Iraqi funding for the groups while effectively maintaining Iran’s control over some of the most powerful units.
Now, with new parliamentary elections on the horizon, Shiite militias have begun organizing themselves politically for a contest that could secure even more dominance for Iran over Iraq’s political system.
To gain advantage on the airwaves, new television channels set up with Iranian money and linked to Shiite militias broadcast news coverage portraying Iran as Iraq’s protector and the United States as a devious interloper.
Partly in an effort to contain Iran, the United States has indicated that it will keep troops behind in Iraq after the battle against the Islamic State. American diplomats have worked to emphasize the government security forces’ role in the fighting, and to shore up a prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, who has seemed more open to the United States than to Iran.
But after the United States’ abrupt withdrawal of troops in 2011, American constancy is still in question here — a broad failure of American foreign policy, with responsibility shared across three administrations.
Iran has been playing a deeper game, parlaying extensive religious ties with Iraq’s Shiite majority and a much wider network of local allies, as it makes the case that it is Iraq’s only reliable defender.
A Road to the Sea
Iran’s great project in eastern Iraq may not look like much: a 15-mile stretch of dusty road, mostly gravel, through desert and scrub near the border in Diyala Province.
But it is an important new leg of Iran’s path through Iraq to Syria, and what it carries — Shiite militiamen, Iranian delegations, trade goods and military supplies — is its most valuable feature.
It is a piece of what analysts and Iranian officials say is Iran’s most pressing ambition: to exploit the chaos of the region to project influence across Iraq and beyond. Eventually, analysts say, Iran could use the corridor, established on the ground through militias under its control, to ship weapons and supplies to proxies in Syria, where Iran is an important backer of Mr. Assad, and to Lebanon and its ally Hezbollah.
At the border to the east is a new crossing built and secured by Iran. Like the relationship between the two countries, it is lopsided.
The checkpoint’s daily traffic includes up to 200 Iranian trucks, carrying fruit and yogurt, concrete and bricks, into Iraq. In the offices of Iraqi border guards, the candies and soda offered to guests come from Iran.
No loaded trucks go the other way.
“Iraq doesn’t have anything to offer Iran,” Vahid Gachi, the Iranian official in charge of the crossing, said in an interview in his office, as lines of tractor-trailers poured into Iraq. “Except for oil, Iraq relies on Iran for everything.”
The border post is also a critical transit point for Iran’s military leaders to send weapons and other supplies to proxies fighting the Islamic State in Iraq.
After the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, ISIL or Daesh, swept across Diyala and neighboring areas in 2014, Iran made clearing the province, a diverse area of Sunnis and Shiites, a priority.
It marshaled a huge force of Shiite militias, many trained in Iran and advised on the ground by Iranian officials. After a quick victory, Iranians and their militia allies set about securing their next interests here: marginalizing the province’s Sunni minority and securing a path to Syria. Iran has fought aggressively to keep its ally Mr. Assad in power in order to retain land access to its most important spinoff in the region, Hezbollah, the military and political force that dominates Lebanon and threatens Israel.
A word from Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, Iran’s powerful spymaster, sent an army of local Iraqi contractors scrambling, lining up trucks and bulldozers to help build the road, free of charge. Militiamen loyal to Iran were ordered to secure the site.
Uday al-Khadran, the Shiite mayor of Khalis District in Diyala, is a member of the Badr Organization, an Iraqi political party and militia established by Tehran in the 1980s to fight against Mr. Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war.
On an afternoon earlier this year, he spread a map across his desk and proudly discussed how he helped build the road, which he said was ordered by General Suleimani, the commander of the Quds Force, the branch of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps responsible for foreign operations. General Suleimani secretly directed Iran’s policy in Iraq after the American invasion in 2003, and was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American soldiers in attacks carried out by militias under his control.
“I love Qassim Suleimani more than my children,” he said.
Mr. Khadran said the general’s new road would eventually be a shortcut for religious pilgrims from Iran to reach Samarra, Iraq, the location of an important shrine.
But he also acknowledged the route’s greater strategic significance as part of a corridor secured by Iranian proxies that extends across central and northern Iraq. The connecting series of roads skirts the western city of Mosul and stretches on to Tal Afar, an Islamic State-controlled city where Iranian-backed militias and Iranian advisers have set up a base at an airstrip on the outskirts.
“Diyala is the passage to Syria and Lebanon, and this is very important to Iran,” said Ali al-Daini, the Sunni chairman of the provincial council there.
Closer to Syria, Iranian-allied militias moved west of Mosul as the battle against the Islamic State unfolded there in recent months. The militias captured the town of Baaj, and then proceeded to the Syrian border, putting Iran on the cusp of completing its corridor.
Back east, in Diyala, Mr. Daini said he had been powerless to halt what he described as Iran’s dominance in the province.
When Mr. Daini goes to work, he said, he has to walk by posters of Iran’s revolutionary leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, outside the council building.
Iran’s militias in the province have been accused of widespread sectarian cleansing, pushing Sunnis from their homes to establish Shiite dominance and create a buffer zone on its border. The Islamic State was beaten in Diyala more than two years ago, but thousands of Sunni families still fill squalid camps, unable to return home.
Now, Diyala has become a showcase for how Iran views Shiite ascendancy as critical to its geopolitical goals.
“Iran is smarter than America,” said Nijat al-Taie, a Sunni member of the provincial council and an outspoken critic of Iran, which she calls the instigator of several assassination attempts against her. “They achieved their goals on the ground. America didn’t protect Iraq. They just toppled the regime and handed the country over to Iran.”
The Business of Influence
The lives of General Suleimani and other senior leaders in Tehran were shaped by the prolonged war with Iraq in the 1980s. The conflict left hundreds of thousands dead on both sides, and General Suleimani spent much of the war at the front, swiftly rising in rank as so many officers were killed.
“The Iran-Iraq war was the formative experience for all of Iran’s leaders,” said Ali Vaez, an Iran analyst at the International Crisis Group, a conflict resolution organization. “From Suleimani all the way down. It was their ‘never again’ moment.”
A border dispute over the Shatt al Arab waterway that was a factor in the hostilities has still not been resolved, and the legacy of the war’s brutality has influenced the Iranian government ever since, from its pursuit of nuclear weapons to its policy in Iraq.
“This is a permanent scar in their mind,” said Mowaffak al-Rubaie, a lawmaker and former national security adviser. “They are obsessed with Baathism, Saddam and the Iran-Iraq war.”
More than anything else, analysts say, it is the scarring legacy of that war that has driven Iranian ambitions to dominate Iraq.
Particularly in southern Iraq, where the population is mostly Shiite, signs of Iranian influence are everywhere.
Iranian-backed militias are the defenders of the Shiite shrines in the cities of Najaf and Karbala that drive trade and tourism. In local councils, Iranian-backed political parties have solid majorities, and campaign materials stress relationships with Shiite saints and Iranian clerics.
If the Iraqi government were stronger, said Mustaq al-Abady, a businessman from just outside Najaf, “then maybe we could open our factories instead of going to Iran.” He said his warehouse was crowded with Iranian imports because his government had done nothing to promote a private sector, police its borders or enforce customs duties.
Raad Fadhil al-Alwani, a merchant in Hilla, another southern city, imports cleaning supplies and floor tiles from Iran. He slaps “Made in Iraq” labels in Arabic on bottles of detergent, but the reality is that he owns a factory in Iran because labor is cheaper there.
“I feel like I am destroying the economy of Iraq,” he said. But he insists that Iraqi politicians, by deferring to Iranian pressure and refusing to support local industry, have made it hard to do anything else.
Najaf attracts millions of Iranian pilgrims each year visiting the golden-domed shrine of Imam Ali, the first Shiite imam. Iranian construction workers — many of whom are viewed as Iranian spies by Iraqi officials — have also flocked to the city to renovate the shrine and build hotels.
In Babil Province, according to local officials, militia leaders have taken over a government project to set up security cameras along strategic roads. The project had been granted to a Chinese company before the militias intervened, and now the army and the local police have been sidelined from it, said Muqdad Omran, an Iraqi Army captain in the area.
Iran’s pre-eminence in the Iraqi south has not come without resentment. Iraqi Shiites share a faith with Iran, but they also hold close their other identities as Iraqis and Arabs.
“Iraq belongs to the Arab League, not to Iran,” said Sheikh Fadhil al-Bidayri, a cleric at the religious seminary in Najaf. “Shiites are a majority in Iraq, but a minority in the world. As long as the Iranian government is controlling the Iraqi government, we don’t have a chance.”
In this region where the Islamic State’s military threat has never encroached, Iran’s security concerns are mostly being addressed by economic manipulation, Iraqi officials say. Trade in the south is often financed by Iran with credit, and incentives are offered to Iraqi traders to keep their cash in Iranian banks.
Baghdad’s banks play a role, too, as the financial anchors for Iraqi front companies used by Iran to gain access to dollars that can then finance the country’s broader geopolitical aims, said Entifadh Qanbar, a former aide to the Iraqi politician Ahmad Chalabi, who died in 2015.
“It’s very important for the Iranians to maintain corruption in Iraq,” he said.
The Militias’ Long Arm
For decades, Iran smuggled guns and bomb-making supplies through the vast swamps of southern Iraq. And young men were brought back and forth across the border, from one safe house to another — recruits going to Iran for training, and then back to Iraq to fight. At first the enemy was Mr. Hussein; later, it was the Americans.
Today, agents of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards openly recruit fighters in the Shiite-majority cities of southern Iraq. Buses filled with recruits easily pass border posts that officials say are essentially controlled by Iran — through its proxies on the Iraqi side, and its own border guards on the other.
While Iran has built up militias to fight against the Islamic State in Iraq, it has also mobilized an army of disaffected young Shiite Iraqi men to fight on its behalf in Syria.
Mohammad Kadhim, 31, is one of those foot soldiers for Iran, having served three tours in Syria. The recruiting pitch, he said, is mostly based in faith, to defend Shiite shrines in Syria. But Mr. Kadhim said he and his friends signed up more out of a need for jobs.
“I was just looking for money,” he said. “The majority of the youth I met fighting in Syria do it for the money.”
He signed up with a Revolutionary Guards recruiter in Najaf, and then was bused through southern Iraq and into Iran, where he underwent military training near Tehran.
There, he said, Iranian officers delivered speeches invoking the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, the revered seventh-century Shiite figure whose death at the hands of a powerful Sunni army became the event around which Shiite spirituality would revolve. The same enemies of the Shiites who killed the imam are now in Syria and Iraq, the officers told the men.
After traveling to Iran, Mr. Kadhim came home for a break and then was shipped to Syria, where Hezbollah operatives trained him in sniper tactics.
Iran’s emphasis on defending the Shiite faith has led some here to conclude that its ultimate goal is to bring about an Iranian-style theocracy in Iraq. But there is a persistent sense that it just would not work in Iraq, which has a much larger native Sunni population and tradition, and Iraq’s clerics in Najaf, including Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the world’s pre-eminent Shiite spiritual leader, oppose the Iranian system.
But Iran is taking steps to translate militia power into political power, much as it did with Hezbollah in Lebanon, and militia leaders have begun political organizing before next year’s parliamentary elections.
In April, Qais al-Khazali, a Shiite militia leader, delivered a speech to an audience of Iraqi college students, railing against the United States and the nefarious plotting of Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Then, a poet who was part of Mr. Khazali’s entourage stood up and began praising General Suleimani.
For the students, that was the last straw. Chants of “Iran out! Iran out!” began. Scuffles broke out between students and Mr. Khazali’s bodyguards, who fired their rifles into the air just outside the building.
“The thing that really provoked us was the poet,” said Mustafa Kamal, a student at the University of al-Qadisiya in Diwaniya, in southern Iraq, who participated in the protest.
Mr. Kamal and his fellow students quickly learned how dangerous it could be to stand up to Iran these days.
First, militiamen began threatening to haul them off. Then media outlets linked to the militias went after them, posting their pictures and calling them Baathists and enemies of Shiites. When a mysterious car appeared near Mr. Kamal’s house, his mother panicked that militiamen were coming for her son.
Then, finally, Mr. Kamal, a law student, and three of his friends received notices from the school saying they had been suspended for a year.
“We thought we had only one hope, the university,” he said. “And then Iran also interfered there.”
Mr. Khazali, whose political and militia organization, Asaib Ahl al-Haq, is deeply connected with Iran, has been on a speaking tour on campuses across Iraq as part of an effort to organize political support for next year’s national election. This has raised fears that Iran is trying not only to deepen its influence within Iraqi education, but also to transform militias into outright political and social organizations, much as it did with Hezbollah in Lebanon.
“It’s another type of Iranian infiltration and the expansion of Iran’s influence,” said Beriwan Khailany, a lawmaker and member of Parliament’s higher-education committee. “Iran wants to control the youth, and to teach them the Iranian beliefs, through Iraqis who are loyal to Iran.”
Political Ascendancy
When a group of Qatari falcon hunters, “including members of the royal family, were kidnapped in 2015 while on safari in the southern deserts of Iraq, Qatar called Iran and its militia allies — not the central government in Baghdad.
For Mr. Abadi, the prime minister, the episode was an embarrassing demonstration of his government’s weakness at the hands of Iran, whose proxy militia Kataibb Hezbollah was believed to be behind the kidnapping.
So when the hostage negotiations were about to end, Mr. Abadi pushed back.
Around noon on a day in April, a government jet from Qatar landed in Baghdad, carrying a delegation of diplomats and 500 million euros stuffed into 23 black boxes.
The hunters were soon on their way home, but the ransom did not go to the Iranian-backed militiamen who had abducted the Qataris; the cash ended up in a central bank vault in Baghdad.
The seizure of the money had been ordered by Mr. Abadi, who was furious at the prospect of militias, and their Iranian and Hezbollah benefactors, being paid so richly right under the Iraqi government’s nose.
“Hundreds of millions to armed groups?” Mr. Abadi said in a public rant. “Is this acceptable?”
In Iraq, the kidnapping episode was seen as a violation of the country’s sovereignty and emblematic of Iran’s suffocating power over the Iraqi state.
In a post on Twitter, Mr. Zebari, the former finance minister, who was previously foreign minister, called the episode a “travesty.”
Mr. Zebari knows firsthand the power of Iran over the Iraqi state.
Last year, he said, he was ousted as finance minister because Iran perceived him as being too close to the United States. The account was verified by a member of Parliament who was involved in the removal of Mr. Zebari, and who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid angering Iran.
Mr. Zebari, who recounted the events in an interview from his mountainside mansion in northern Iraq, said that when President Barack Obama met with Mr. Abadi last September at the United Nations, the American leader personally lobbied to save Mr. Zebari’s job. Even that was not enough.
Mr. Abadi now finds himself in a difficult position. If he makes any move that can be seen as confrontational toward Iran, or as positioning himself closer to the United States, it could place a cloud over his political future.
“He had two options: to be with the Americans or with the Iranians,” said Izzat Shahbander, a prominent Iraqi Shiite leader who once lived in exile in Iran while Mr. Hussein was in power. “And he chose to be with the Americans.”
Mr. Abadi, who took office in 2014 with the support of both the United States and Iran, has seemed more emboldened to push back against Iranian pressure since President Trump took office.
In addition to seizing the ransom money, he has promoted an ambitious project for an American company to secure the highway from Baghdad to Amman, Jordan, which Iran has opposed. He has also begun discussing with the United States the terms of a deal to keep American forces behind after the Islamic State is defeated.
Some are seeing an American troop commitment as a chance to revisit the 2011 withdrawal of United States forces that seemingly opened a door for Iran.
When American officials in Iraq began the slow wind-down of the military mission there, in 2009, some diplomats in Baghdad were cautiously celebrating one achievement: Iran seemed to be on its heels, its influence in the country waning.
“Over the last year, Iran has lost the strategic initiative in Iraq,” one diplomat wrote in a cable, later released by WikiLeaks.
But other cables sent warnings back to Washington that were frequently voiced by Iraqi officials they spoke to: that if the Americans left, then Iran would fill the vacuum.
Ryan C. Crocker, the American ambassador in Iraq from 2007 to 2009, said that if the United States left again after the Islamic State was defeated, “it would be effectively just giving the Iranians a free rein.”
But many Iraqis say the Iranians already have free rein. And while the Trump administration has indicated that it will pay closer attention to Iraq as a means to counter Iran, the question is whether it is too late.
“Iran is not going to sit silent and do nothing,” said Sami al-Askari, a senior Shiite politician who has good relationships with both the Iranians and Americans. “They have many means. Frankly, the Americans can’t do anything.”

Khamenei Encourages the Shia Horn


Khamenei Warns Iraq Against Relying On U.S., Weakening Shi’ite Militia
June 21, 2017 01:43 GMT
RFE/RL
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has warned Iraq’s leader against weakening Shi’ite paramilitary groups and relying on the United States in the battle against the Islamic State (IS) extremist group..
At a meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi in Tehran, Khamenei said the Shi’ite militias were the main forces pushing back against the Sunni extremist group in Iraq, and Baghdad should not trust the United States, Iranian state media reported.
The Shi’ite militias, known as the Popular Mobilization Forces, helped Baghdad defend the country against IS when Iraqi military and police divisions deserted en masse in 2014.
Since then, the Iran-backed militias, estimated to comprise more than 60,000 fighters, have been engaged in the battle to recapture swathes of northern and western Iraq from IS.
But Sunnis in areas freed from IS control have accused the Shi’ite militias of looting, abductions, and murder.
Some Arab leaders in northern Iraq have asked Baghdad to dissolve the Shi’ite militias or expel them from their Sunni-majority provinces — moves that drew objections from Iran’s leader.
“Daesh is retreating from Iraq and that is thanks to the government’s trust in these young devoted forces,” Khamenei said, using an Arabic acronym for IS.
“The Americans are against Popular Forces because they want Iraq to lose its main source of strength,” he said.
Khamenei accused the United States and its ally Saudi Arabia of creating IS and said he opposed the presence of U.S. forces in Iraq.
“We should remain vigilant of the Americans and not trust them. The Americans and their followers are against Iraq’s independence, unity, and identity,” Khamenei said.
Iranian President Hassan Rohani, who also met with Abadi on June 20, joined Khamenei in claiming credit for recent gains by U.S.-backed Iraqi forces in recapturing IS’s northern stronghold of Mosul.
“The liberation of Mosul is the symbol of the end of terrorism and a victory for Iran, Iraq, Syria, and all the countries of the region that are fighting against terrorism,” Rohani said.
The Iranian leaders’ comments highlight the balancing act faced by Abadi as he strives to hold together a coalition of forces fighting IS in Iraq, including the Iraqi government’s own soldiers, the Shi’ite militias as well as Sunni tribal forces and Kurdish Peshmerga forces, all backed by U.S. trainers and special forces.
While Iran said its forces deserved credit for gains made against IS, the United States and its anti-IS coalition of Western forces have also claimed credit for helping Iraqi ground forces recapture Ramadi and other cities liberated from IS in the past two years, as well as for the recent gains in Mosul.
Abadi faces a balancing act not only at home but in the broader Persian Gulf region. His meeting with Iran’s leaders came one day after a visit to Saudi Arabia, Iran’s regional rival, in what he said was a tour aimed at promoting reconciliation between the region’s Sunnis and Shi’a.
Iraq lies on the fault-line between Shi’ite Iran and the mostly Sunni Arab world.
Abadi belongs to the Dawa party, a Shi’ite group with close ties to Iran. But analysts say he has managed relations with Iraq’s Sunni minority better than his predecessor, Nuri al-Maliki, and also improved Baghdad’s ties with Saudi Arabia.
Khamenei told Abadi that Iran was opposed to the referendum on independence scheduled by leaders of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region for September, saying such a separatist move threatens Baghdad’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Iran has its own Kurdish minority in the west of the country.
With reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters

Hatred Between Persia and the Saudis (Daniel 7/8)

People attend the funeral of the victims who were killed on the June 7 attack at the Iranian parliament and Ayatollah Khomeini's mausoleum, in Tehran, Iran June 9, 2017. TIMA via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY

People attend the funeral of the victims who were killed on the June 7 attack at the Iranian parliament and Ayatollah Khomeini’s mausoleum, in Tehran, Iran June 9, 2017. TIMA via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS – THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY

Thousands mourn Tehran attack victims, chant ‘Death to Saudi’ | Reuters

By Parisa Hafezi | ANKARA
ANKARA Thousands packed Tehran’s streets on Friday to mourn the victims of two suicide bomb and gun attacks, and joined their supreme leader in accusing regional rival Saudi Arabia of involvement in the assaults.
People in the crowds, some crying, chanted “Death to Saudi Arabia” alongside the more customary “Death to America” and slogans against Israel, as they reached out to touch coffins wrapped in flags and covered in flowers.
Bombers and gunmen killed 17 people in Iran’s parliament and near the mausoleum of the Islamic Republic’s founder, Ayatollah Khomeini, on Wednesday, in rare strikes on the capital that exacerbated regional tensions.
The Sunni Muslim militants of Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attacks on the Shi’ite Muslim state.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in a message read at the funeral, said the raids would increase hatred for Saudi Arabia, the region’s main Sunni power, and America.
“It (the attacks) will not damage our nation’s determination to fight terrorism … but will only increase hatred for the governments of the United States and their stooges in the region like the Saudis,” Khamenei said. Saudi Arabia has said it was not involved.
MORE ARRESTS
Mourners chanted “God is greatest” and some carried pictures of Khamenei, captioned: “We are ready to sacrifice our blood for you.”
President Hassan Rouhani, a pragmatist more open to contacts with the West, attended the funeral alongside other clerics and officials. He said the attacks had targeted peace and democracy, but stopped short of blaming foreign powers.
The attacks came at a particularly charged time in the region, days after Riyadh and other Sunni Muslim powers cut ties with Qatar, accusing it of backing Tehran and militant groups.
The raids were the first claimed by Islamic State inside tightly controlled Iran, one of the powers leading the fight against the militants in Iraq and Syria.
Iran’s Intelligence Ministry said on Thursday five of the attackers were Iranian nationals recruited by Islamic State who had fought in the militants’ main strongholds in Syria and Iraq.
On Friday, the ministry said 41 suspects had been arrested around the country in connection with the attacks.
“With the help of security forces and families of the suspects, 41 people linked to the attacks and to Daesh (Islamic State) have been arrested in different provinces,” state TV quoted the interior ministry as saying.
“Lots of documents and weaponry have been seized as well.”
Two Sunni militant groups, Jaish al-Adl and Jundallah, have been waging an insurgency in Iran, mostly in remote areas, for almost a decade.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

The Saudi And American Allies (Daniel 7)

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivers a speech during a ceremony marking the death of the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, in Tehran, Iran, June 4, 2017. (photo by TIMA via REUTERS)
Author: Arash Karami
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivered one of his harshest criticisms of the new US shift in adopting Saudi Arabia’s anti-Iranian stance.

In a speech commemorating the death of the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Khamenei said that a number of enemy countries emerged immediately in the first decade following Iran’s Islamic Revolution in 1979 and have remained enemies until today. He urged Iranian officials to not ignore the principle of separating from the “coil of American power.” Khamenei added, “Our enemies are not idle. Until today, they have not been able to knock us back, but the enemy is lurking.”
On US President Donald Trump’s adoption of Saudi Arabia’s positions with respect to Iran and criticism by US officials of Iran’s presidential election during a recent Saudi trip, Khamenei said, “The president of America stands next to a tribal leader and does a sword dance and then criticizes the vote of 40 million people in our election.”
In an indirect attack on President Hassan Rouhani, who had advocated larger negotiations to remove all sanctions on Iran, which would likely require direct US-Iran talks on non-nuclear issues, Khamenei said, “Some know it to be reasonable — and they make a mistake — and say that challenging [the United States] has a price.” He added, “However, compromise also has a price. Consider that the Saudi government — to compromise with the new American president — is required to give more than half of its budget at the service of Americans.” During Trump’s trip to Saudi Arabia, the two sides agreed to a $110 billion arms deal.
Khamenei continued, “If challenging [the United States] is reasonable and in accordance with logic, its cost is lower than compromise.” Despite the moderate candidate’s re-election, Khamenei remained steadfast in his opposition to broader talks with the United States. “When you retreat, then they present new demands until you give in to their demands and the cycle continues,” he said. “Being a revolutionary means to not make your goal to please the enemy. Their goal should be to rely on the people and domestic forces and not submit to any power.”
Khamenei also acknowledged the issue of election violations, which conservative candidate Ebrahim Raisi complained about directly to the Guardian Council. Khamenei noted that while the violations did not change the outcome of the election, this should be prevented from happening again during the next election. He asked the candidates to put the partisan hostility and accusations behind themselves now that the election is over.
Khamenei also asked the electorate — whether their candidate won or lost — to compose themselves. Recalling the 2009 election in which the Green Movement leaders called the election fraudulent and brought out street protests, Khamenei said, “We saw what problems 2009 brought for the country.”
In a speech June 3, Rouhani made the case that his administration had been given a mandate with the re-election. “All the votes are to be respected,” Rouhani said. “The minority vote is to be respected, they too have rights. But the method of administration must be in accordance with the majority.”

The Smaller Horn Stops Supporting Iran (Daniel 8)

Image result for iranian hegemony
Ynetnews Opinion – Iranian expansion in Middle East is coming to an end
In recent years, we have heard a lot of Iranian arrogance and Israeli concern in light of Iran’s ambition to become a regional power. Up until a while ago, the Islamic Republic seemed to be heading in the right direction. In the past two years, however, despite Iran’s huge investment and the achievements it boasted about, it has been losing fighters and influence. As much as one can talk about the future, Iran’s political horizon appears gloomy.
The Iranians’ hopes were driven by the power void created in the Middle East. After the Soviet state disintegrated, Russia began keeping a low profile in the Middle East and there were no signs indicating that it planned to return. The United States, under the leadership of Barack Obama, turned its back on its Arab allies and signed a nuclear agreement with Iran, which eased the economic pressure that has been increasingly suffocating the country in recent years. And while world powers minded their own business, the “Islamic State” (ISIS) monster appeared, causing old enemies to team up against it. As a result, Iran and its allies turned into legitimate partners in the battle against a group of murderers exporting terrorism across the world.
The world powers’ disappearance coincided with the growing chaos in two key countries of the Fertile Crescent—Iraq and Syria. After the Americans destroyed the old Saddam Hussein regime and left Iraq alone, the government gates were opened to the Iraqi Shiites and the Iranians trying to pull their strings. At the same time, the Arab unrest undermined Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime, and the Iranians, which have traditionally helped the Alawite regime, entered that arena as well.
The chaos in Iraq and Syria, and the world powers’ absence, created a challenge for Iran: Would it be able to establish a new Middle Eastern order, which would serve its interests and reflect its ambitions and the evaluation of its power and its networks of influence?
The answer, in short, is no. Iran failed, and now its situation is deteriorating.
The first point of failure was apparent in Iraq. About two years ago, after Haider al-Abadi rose to power, he began working to restrain Iran’s influence and reinforce the presence of its enemy—the US. One of the opposition leaders, Muqtada al-Sadr, who had used to do whatever Iran said, began speaking ill of Tehran too. These two Shiite politicians are refusing to serve Iran’s interests, and as a result of their growing power, the Iranian influence system seems to have suffered a serious blow.
In Syria, the situation is even worse. About a year and a half ago, the Russians returned to the Middle East at Syria’s invitation. Over time, it became clear to experts on Middle Eastern politics that the Russians were here to stay. Entering Syria was a critical step in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s broad plan to restore his country’s status as a world power. In order to establish its power in the Middle East, however, Russia must maintain good diplomatic relations with a variety of forces: Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Israel and others. Furthermore, it must maintain channels of dialogue and decide on areas of influence with the US. In other words, it must a compromise in Syria which will reduce Assad’s power or destroy him, along with the power of his Iranian patrons. The importance of creating the new order in Syria will likely become clear soon, once ISI is destroyed and we will be able to talk about the new political order in the Middle East.
Another complication in the Iranian expansion plan is America’s possible return to its old role—the Arabs’ ally and a determined enemy of Iran. US President Donald Trump’s political U-turn will narrow the Iranians’ leeway even more.
ISIS, which imposed chaos on the region in the past, is expected to grow weaker. Along with the world powers’ return to the Middle East’s power struggles, this brings us pretty close to the “old politics” of the Middle East. In this balance of powers, Iran has many enemies—including Shiites—and few partners. Moreover, the world powers will clip Iran’s wings without flinching. It seems, therefore, that if these trends continue, the years of expansion of Iranian influence in the Middle East are coming to an end.
Prof. Nimrod Hurvitz and Prof. Dror Ze’evi are members of the Forum for Regional Thinking and lecturers at Ben-Gurion University.

Supporting the Saudi Nuclear Horn

US State Department approves resumption of weapons sales to Saudi Arabia
Move provides early indication of the new administration’s more Saudi-friendly approach to the conflict in Yemen
The proposal from the State Department would reverse a decision made late in the Obama administration to suspend the sale of precision guided munitions to Riyadh, which leads a mostly Arab coalition conducting air strikes against Iran-backed Al Houthi rebels in Yemen.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s approval this week of the measure, which officials say needs White House backing to go into effect, provides an early indication of the new administration’s more Saudi-friendly approach to the conflict in Yemen, and a sign of its more hawkish stance on Iran.
It also signals a break with the more conservative approach of Obama’s administration about US involvement in the conflict.
The move takes place as the Trump administration considers its approach to the Yemeni war, which has pitted US and Saudi-backed Yemeni President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi against an alliance of ousted Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh and Al Houthi rebels.
Al Houthis have received substantial support from Iran which Saudi Arabia has long complained of and the US has confirmed.
Iran has provided money, weapons and even training to Al Houthi rebels despite repeated calls by Saudi Arabia and other regional players to stop interfering in the domestic afairs of Arab countries.
While the US military has provided support to the Saudi-led air campaign since 2015, including aerial refueling for Saudi jets and a US advisory mission in the Saudi operations headquarters, the Obama administration sought to scale back that support last year amid a series of alleged Saudi strikes in which civilians were killed.
Despite Saudi hopes that the conflict would quickly restore Hadi to power, it is now approaching its third year.
As of January, the conflict had led to the deaths of at least 10,000 civilians, according to the United Nations.
“It has become a quagmire in which we were deeply involved but had very little influence,” said Tom Malinowski, who served as the top human rights official at the State Department under President Barack Obama.
“That was not a good deal for the United States.”
Pressure increased on the Obama administration in October of last year, when Saudi jets hit a Yemeni funeral hall, killing more than 100 people.
An investigation team with the Saudi-led Arab coalition said wrong information led to strike ordered that victims’ families be compensated.
At the same time, officials reaffirmed other kinds of military support, part of a carrot-and-stick approach, reflecting US eagerness to smooth things over with a crucial Middle Eastern ally that was sharply critical of Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran.
Now, President Donald Trump, who has also voiced opposition to the nuclear deal, has an opportunity to recalibrate that support and reset ties with Riyadh.
An ongoing Yemen policy review is also a chance for Trump to demonstrate a tougher approach to Iran and its activities throughout the Middle East. Trump and some of his top advisers, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, have called Tehran a chief threat to American security.
A senior US official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, said the Trump administration hopes to roll back Iranian influence in large part in Yemen.
“We’ll be looking for ways to blunt Iranian malign influence in the region. And we’ll be looking for all the tools that the US government has,” the official said.
“In that context, I think you have to look at Yemen.”
Trump has already supported the expansion of a separate military campaign in Yemen, one that US forces are now waging against Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), a potent militant group that has grown stronger amid Yemen’s instability.
It is not yet known how the new administration will approach the beleaguered Yemen peace process, one that Tillerson’s predecessor, John Kerry, tried unsuccessfully to push toward a peace deal.
Gerald Feierstein, a former US ambassador to Yemen, said that allowing Saudi Arabia to purchase the precision weapons would make sense. “My own view is that we should be able to sell these,” said Feierstein, who now directs the Center for Gulf Affairs at the Middle East Institute.
Feierstein and other advocates of the sale argue that precision munitions are preferable to unguided or “dumb” bombs and are less likely to cause civilian casualties when used properly.
“We should provide more help, more support,” Feierstein said. “We should not cut off all the tools that would enable them to do this the right way.”
If the White House gives its blessing to the new State Department position, the administration would then notify Congress about its intent to move forward with the sale.

Saudi Arabia Joins The Ten Horns (Daniel 7)

BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP
TEL AVIV – An Arab version of NATO must be formed to confront Iran and its alliance with Iraq and Syria, a leading Saudi journalist wrote on Tuesday.
Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed, whose past roles include editor-in-chief of London-based Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat and general manager of Al Arabiya News Channel, wrote articles in both those publications this week calling for the Arab world, and in particular Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Jordan, to “establish a joint military power to confront Iran’s expansion.”
Al-Rashed further criticized the claim that President Donald Trump’s declarations against the Iran agreement strengthen the radicals there, the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) reported, citing the articles in their original Arabic. Al-Rashed argued that Iran’s belligerence since the nuclear deal was signed, not least its current funding of four wars, proves that former President Barack Obama’s relaxed policy only encouraged Tehran to escalate its aggression.
The ayatollahs and radicals in Iran, Al-Rashed asserted, have been in control of the country since the Islamic Revolution, and its more moderate politicians are puppets used to coax the West into leniency.
President Hassan Rouhani and his FM Zarif both represented the moderates and they succeeded [in] winning over the administration of former president Barack Obama. They also managed to convince the administration that lifting sanctions and encouraging Iran’s openness were in the interest of moderate figures, the region and the whole world.
Once again, evidence suggested this assumption was wrong. [The] Iranian leadership became more aggressive than ever and for the first time since the establishment of the Islamic Republic, the regime dared to expand its military activity outside its borders. It is currently participating in and funding four wars outside of Iran. All of this was possible due to the nuclear deal that paved the way for better relations, trade and activity and kept silent over Iran’s threats to the region.
Al-Rashed added that “Things will keep on getting worse unless a strict international position against Iran’s adventures is taken and unless Iran is forced to end the chaos it is funding in the region and the world.”
The nature of the regime in Tehran is religious with a revolutionary ideology. It has a political agenda that has not changed much since it attacked the American embassy in Tehran and held diplomats hostage [in 1979],” Al-Rashed wrote.
“The only change that happened is that its financial and military situations improved a lot thanks to the nuclear deal it signed with the West,” he concluded.
In the second article published in Al-Arabiya, Al-Rashed noted that Iran exploited the region’s political vacuum formed in the years since the Iraq war. He also reiterated the Islamic Republic’s exploitation of the Obama administration’s policies, not least of all its nuclear agreement, to expand its hegemony in Iraq, Syria and Yemen.
Al-Rashed advised, “Military cooperation, under any umbrella, is a good idea and a necessary step, especially if expanded beyond [military cooperation]. Establishing an alliance to confront Iran is an essential balance to respond to its military alliance that includes Iraq and Syria.”
Iran also cooperates with Russia and the latter has a military base in Iran. The Russians strongly participate in the war in Syria alongside this Iranian alliance. Tehran has strengthened its alliance by bringing armed militias from Pakistan, Iraq, Lebanon and other countries into Syria and they are fighting there under its banner. Iranian forces, in the guise of “experts,” are fighting in Iraq and to some extent manage the conflict there. Therefore, establishing an Arab NATO … remains a natural reaction to Iran’s “Warsaw Pact.”

Iran Defends Its Hegemony In Iraq (Daniel 8:4)

by Mohamed Mostafa
Feb 12, 2017, 1:14 pm

Baghdad (IraqiNews.com) Iraq’s president has lauded and defended the existence of Iranian military advisers in Iraq, including a top general whom the United States considers to brand as terrorist.

Speaking to Iranian news agency Tasnim, Fouad Masum “hailed the prominent role” of commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Quds Force, Major General Qassem Soleimani, in Iraq.
“The US and other European countries have also military advisors in Iraq, so one cannot say that Iranian military advisors are not allowed in Iraq. This is a common issue in our view, and Iran has the same rights as the other countries,” the agency quoted the Iraqi president as saying in an interview.
Shia Iran has been the strongest supporter of Shia political forces and militias in Iraq, and has been believed to provide generous support -in terms of training and finances- for Iraqi paramilitary forces fighting Islamic State Sunni extremists.
Recent reports have quoted United States officials as saying that President Donald Trump’s administration was mulling to place the IRGC on its list of terrorist organizations. Defence Secretary James Mattis had called Iran “biggest state sponsor of terrorism”.
The Trump administration has also declared intentions to impose new sanctions on Iran over the latter’s ballistic missiles tests, and declared a tougher stance on Iran’s nuclear program.
“Iraq is very keen to preserve its national interests (..)and does not wish to be part of any regional or international conflict which would lead to disasters for the region and for Iraq,” Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said Saturday, according to state TV.
The U.S., too, is providing effective military backing for Iraqi government forces in their war against Islamic State extremists.

Iran Extends Its Horn Into Iraq (Daniel 8:4)

Iran Positions for Reset in Iraq after Recapture of Mosul

31 Jan 2017
As Emily Anagnostos sees it, Iran has tolerated the US’ presence in Iraq because it has provided sufficient airpower and training programs to weaken the so-called Islamic State. When Mosul falls, however, Tehran will almost certainly conclude that a continued US presence in Iraq is both unnecessary and unwelcome. Here’s what it might do to try and expel the Americans, both from the country and the region.
This article was originally published by the Institute for the Study of War on 26 January 2017.
The recapture of Mosul can reset the balance of power between Iran and the U.S. in Iraq and in the region. Iran has tolerated U.S. presence in Iraq because the U.S. provided sufficient airpower and training to combat ISIS. It has also backed Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi because his premiership was a condition of U.S. support and because PM Abadi is too weak to resist Iranian control. Pro-Iranian groups in Iraq will likely consider the recapture of Mosul as the end of major anti-ISIS operations in Iraq and continued U.S. presence unnecessary and unwelcomed. Recent U.S. statements suggest that the U.S. may increase, not decrease, its involvement in Iraq after Mosul, which is likely accelerating Iran’s efforts to expel the U.S. from the region. Iran has started to consolidate its proxies in Iraq, including a reconciliation between Sadrist Trend leader Muqtada al-Sadr and senior pro-Iranian officials, in order to both increase pressure on PM Abadi against further Western support and establish Iraq as a base from which it can project regional influence. Iran’s support for PM Abadi’s premiership could also waver, especially if a more pro-Iranian candidate emerges.
Former PM Nouri al-Maliki will aim to convince Iran that he, as prime minister, would support the power shift from the U.S. to Iran in order to secure Iran’s political support for 2018 parliamentary elections. Maliki has begun to court Iranian proxies and officials and is continuing to weaken PM Abadi’s authority, including by resuming efforts to dismiss key Abadi allies. More dangerously, he may move to retake the premiership in the upcoming month. The Council of Representatives (CoR) scheduled a questioning session with PM Abadi on February 11, alongside ten other government officials over the coming month. The questioning could be a prerequisite for a no-confidence vote. At the very least, the questioning will be a show of strength for Maliki and could undermine PM Abadi’s legitimacy.
The Situation
The recapture of Mosul is a given.
Context and Implications
  • Iranian grand strategic objectives converged with the U.S. in the near term over the shared objective to defeat the Salafi-Jihadi threat. In the long term, however, Iran aims to expel the U.S. from the Middle East.
  • The U.S. and Iran both supported PM Abadi’s premiership in 2014 over Maliki in the interest of re-stabilizing Iraq and defeating ISIS. They both prevented Maliki from ousting PM Abadi in the midst of political turmoil in April 2016.
  • The U.S. provided anti-ISIS support, including critical airpower, on the condition that Maliki would not bid for a third term in 2014 elections. The U.S. supported PM Abadi as a candidate receptive to U.S. interests. Iran supported him because he was a weak candidate it can control.
  • The longevity of PM Abadi’s premiership, therefore, is linked to the necessity of U.S. military support to defeat ISIS, which Iran’s military capacity was and still is unable to duplicate, and Iran’s confidence that it controls the premiership.
U.S. involvement in Iraq may increase, not decrease, after Mosul’s recapture.
  • PM Abadi stated during a press conference that U.S. President Donald Trump assured Iraq of his support “at all levels” and that the Trump Administration promised to “double U.S. support for Iraq, not just continue it.”
  • U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Douglas Silliman stated on January 22 that the U.S. will continue the 2008 Strategic Framework Agreement (SFA), which governs bilateral relations, including in the fields of military and economic. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs discussed the SFA further on January 26, its activation, implementation, and ways to “increase the volume of cooperation” between the U.S. and Iraq “in all fields.”
Going Forward
  • Sadrist Trend leader Muqtada al-Sadr reconciled with major Iranian proxy militia leaders, including Badr Organization leader Hadi al-Amiri, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq (AAH) leader Qais al-Khazali, and Popular Mobilization Deputy Chairman Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, in Najaf on October 18, 2016. Sadr’s interests in Iraq have long been distinct from, and often at odds with, Iranian interests and he, his militia, and political party rarely operate in coordination with pro-Iranian groups. (Do not enter: jawabna.com) Bringing Sadr back under Iran’s fold consolidates the major Shi’a groups in Iraq and creates a unified proxy through which Iran can act.
  • The passing of the Popular Mobilization Act on November 26, 2016 further institutionalized Iranian proxy militias in the Iraqi state, but they continue to operate under Iran’s command and control.
  • Popular Mobilization participation in anti-ISIS operations will cement Iranian presence in northern Iraq and the Popular Mobilization as a legitimate security force.
  • Muqtada al-Sadr visited Beirut on January 20 where he met with Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Iranian proxy Hezbollah to discuss both Hezbollah and Iraqi Shi’a militias’ influence in the region.
  • On January 24, Sadr stated that the transfer of the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem would be a “declaration of war against Islam” and he called for a formation of a “special division to liberate Jerusalem.” Sadr’s statement falls in line with the Iranian grand strategic objectives to eliminate the state of Israel and to expel the U.S from the region.
  • Iran named IRGC Brig. Gen. Iraj Masjedi as Iranian Ambassador to Iraq on January 11. Masjedi is IRGC-Quds Force Commander Qassem Suleimani’s senior advisor. Previous ambassadors have also served in the Quds Force, but Masjedi’s relation with Qassem Suleimani, a U.S. designated terrorist, will likely strengthen Iran’s efforts to convert the Iraqi Government and its institutions into proxy forces.
Iran may no longer value PM Abadi’s premiership as it did in 2014, when Abadi was necessary to ensure U.S. support, opening an opportunity for former PM Nouri al Maliki to bid for the premiership.
  • Iran may consider it more preferable to have an Iraqi Prime Minister that actively pursues pro-Iranian interests, rather than a premiership that is receptive to the U.S. and merely too weak to resist Iran.
  • Maliki, since he lost the premiership in 2014, has sought to return to the office by undermining PM Abadi’s office. Iran previously mitigated these ambitions through direct intervention.
Maliki is courting Iranian proxy groups as an electoral base, likely on the promise to expel the U.S. from Iraq after Mosul’s recapture and shift the balance of power to Iran.
  • A report on January 25 alleged that Maliki will contest PM Abadi’s reelection in 2018 by building an alliance of Shi’a militias, naming mid-level Iranian proxy militias as allies.
  • Maliki chaired a meeting of the State of Law Alliance (SLA), his political bloc, on January 24, at which PM Abadi was not present. Iranian representatives were allegedly in attendance.
  • Maliki conducted a four-day visit to Tehran from December 31, 2016 to January 3, 2017, meeting with senior Iranian officials, including Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, during which he discussed elections and the Popular Mobilization’s involvement in the region.
PM Abadi faces a questioning by the Council of Representatives (COR) on February 11.
  • The CoR released a list on January 24 of eleven ministers, independent commission chairmen, and senior government officials that will be questioned over the next month.
  • PM Abadi is the fifth of the eleven officials to be questioned. The list also includes three of the five technocratic ministers that PM Abadi succeeded in appointing during his Cabinet reshuffle in August 2016, including the Oil Minister, Water Minister, and Transportation Minister.
  • PM Abadi’s questioning will reportedly be about recent security breaches in Baghdad and vacant ministerial positions. Protests, including those led by the Sadrist Trend, have occurred in response to continued ISIS attacks in the capital.
  • Pro-Maliki CoR members will lead the majority of the questioning sessions, as they did during sessions to dismiss Finance Minister Hoshyar Zebari on September 21, 2016 and Defense Minister Khalid al-Obeidi on August 25, 2016. A member of Gorran, a Kurdish opposition party, will question PM Abadi, however.
  • The Iraqi Constitution (Article 7.A-C) lists two types of questioning sessions: one of which is for the sake of inquiry into a subject and one of which is the first step in a no-confidence vote. The latter requires a petition of 25 CoR members to launch the questioning session. It is unclear if these questionings were petitioned. Nevertheless, the dismissal of both the Finance and Defense Ministers did not follow constitutional procedure, underscoring the danger that the questioning, even if it is framed as a basic inquiry, may be considered the first step of a no-confidence vote.
Maliki’s efforts to replace PM Abadi and the lack of Iranian support may place PM Abadi’s position in double jeopardy. PM Abadi’s questioning on February 11 may set the stage for a no-confidence process. But Maliki will need to ensure that he has the needed votes and backing to become prime minister. He continues to hold wide support within the Shi’a National Alliance, but far from a majority in the CoR. Indicators of whether the questioning will lead to a no-confidence vote will include how Kurdish and Sunni parties throw their weight. Maliki courted Kurdish parties, primarily the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and Gorran, in April and May 2016, but he has made limited outreach to these parties in the past months. If Maliki does not have the votes, he may instead choose to use PM Abadi’s session as a rallying call for further support, continue efforts to weaken PM Abadi’s authority, and build an electoral support base over the next year.
About the Author
Emily Anagnostos is a Research Assistant on the Institute for the Study of War’s Iraq portfolio, where she has focused recently on the Iraqi political crisis.

The Iran Horn Continues to Grow

By REUTERS
Mon, 09 Jan 2017, 04:27 AM
DUBAI – Iranian lawmakers approved plans on Monday to expand military spending to five percent of the budget, including developing the country’s long-range missile program which US President-elect Donald Trump has pledged to halt.
The vote is a boost to Iran’s military establishment – the regular army, the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and defense ministry – which was allocated almost 2 percent of the 2015-16 budget.
But it could put the Islamic Republic on a collision course with the incoming Trump administration, and fuel criticism from other Western states which say Tehran’s recent ballistic missile tests are inconsistent with a U.N. resolution on Iran.
The resolution, adopted last year as part of the deal to curb Iran’s nuclear activities, calls on Iran to refrain from work on ballistic missiles designed to deliver nuclear weapons. Tehran says it has not carried out any work on missiles specifically designed to carry such payloads.
Tasnim news agency said 173 lawmakers voted in favor of an article in Iran’s five-year development plan that “requires government to increase Iran’s defense capabilities as a regional power and preserve the country’s national security and interests by allocating at least five percent of annual budget” to military affairs.
Only 10 lawmakers voted against the plan, which includes developing long range missiles, armed drones and cyber-war capabilities.
The Obama administration says Iran’s ballistic missile tests have not violated the nuclear agreement with Tehran, but Trump, who criticized the accord as “the worst deal ever negotiated,” has said he would stop Iran’s missile program.
“Those ballistic missiles, with a range of 1,250 miles, were designed to intimidate not only Israel … but also intended to frighten Europe and someday maybe hit even the United States,” he told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee AIPAC in March. “We’re not going to let that happen.”
TESTS “INCONSISTENT” WITH DEAL
The increase in military spending is part of a growth plan for 2016-2021 first announced in July 2015 by the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Khamenei supported last year’s nuclear deal with world powers that curbed Iran’s nuclear program in return for lifting of international sanctions. However, he has since called for Iran to avoid further rapprochement with the West, and maintain its military strength.
Iran has test-fired several ballistic missiles since the nuclear deal and the US Treasury has imposed new sanctions on entities and individuals linked to the program.
Former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said last year that the missile launches were “not consistent with the constructive spirit” of the nuclear deal, but did not say whether they actually violated the UN resolution.
The United States, Britain, France and Germany wrote to Ban in March about the missile tests, which they said were “inconsistent with” and “in defiance of” the council resolution.
Most UN sanctions on Iran were lifted after the deal but Iran is still subject to a five-year UN arms embargo – unless approved in advance by the UN Security Council.
Although the embargo is not technically part of the nuclear agreement, the UN resolution enshrining the deal requires the UN Secretary-General to highlight any violations.
In a report submitted to the Security Council before he was succeeded by Antonio Guterres on Jan. 1, Ban expressed concern that Iran may have violated the embargo by supplying weapons and missiles to Hezbollah.
The Lebanese Shi’ite organization is one of several groups backed in the Middle East by mainly Shi’ite Iran in its regional rivalry with Sunni Muslim Gulf Arab states, a competition for influence that is played out in conflicts or power struggles in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen.