The Idiocy of Our Nuclear Policy

An inert Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile is seen in a training launch tube at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., in 2014. (Charlie Riedel/AP)

Joseph Cirincione is a nuclear weapons policy expert and president of the Ploughshares Fund, a global security foundation.

No president should have the absolute authority to launch nuclear weapons

Impeachment has a way of bringing out a president’s worst instincts — and the world could end up paying the price.

As impeachment hearings intensified, an increasingly erratic president appeared to finally snap. “I can go into my office and pick up the telephone,” he told visiting lawmakers, “and in 25 minutes, 70 million people will be dead.”

It was 1974, and the president was Richard Nixon. He was right. U.S. policy, then and now, gives the president absolute authority to launch nuclear weapons whenever they want, for whatever reason. No consensus is required. No one else need approve.

Indeed, no other official even need know. The president, on their own, can simply summon the “nuclear football,” open binders of attack options and relay orders to the National Military Command Center. The orders would be sent down to missile control officers — where intercontinental ballistic missiles are primed on “hair-trigger” alert — and 30 minutes later you’d have nuclear explosions over the targets, just as Nixon claimed.

Nixon had already shown the perils of this system. Late in 1973, he ordered U.S. nuclear forces worldwide to Defcon 3, the highest alert status since the Cuban Missile Crisis. He justified this move by claiming the Soviets were planning an intervention in the closing days of the Yom Kippur War between Israel and a coalition of Arab states.

There was no intervention. But the missiles might still have flown; it all depended on the whims of one increasingly unpredictable man with his finger hovering over the nuclear button.

Nixon alerted us to the danger: Our nuclear command and control system is insane. Now, the age of Trump — perhaps our most volatile president yet — reminds us that we have yet to address the problem.

Nixon’s erratic orders were part of a worrying pattern. As the Watergate investigation continued into 1974, the extent of Nixon’s drinking and paranoia become clear. Fearing the worst, Defense Secretary James Schlesinger told the White House military staff that if Nixon gave them any orders, they were to check first with him or Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

This was an unambiguously illegal circumvention of the president’s authority. But everyone should be grateful Schlesinger acted.

Who would be Schlesinger now? Who would stop the current president from, as Nixon threatened, picking up his phone and launching a nuclear holocaust? Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper, who has been at his post for less than five months? National security adviser Robert O’Brien, appointed just two months ago? Acting director of national intelligence Joseph Maguire, who only assumed his position in mid-August?

Most likely, none of them. Trump has gutted the national security process and its leadership. Schlesinger and Kissinger — disagree as you might with their politics — were formidable professionals. There are no such guards left standing in this administration.

It is possible that someone in the chain of command might mutiny rather than carry out a launch order. If they did, Trump, like Nixon during his “Saturday Night Massacre,” could fire people until he found someone willing to carry out his order. If Trump’s command came in a time of crisis — perhaps when tensions with Iran or North Korea boiled over into military conflict — there would likely be no hesitation.

Procedures adopted in the fearful days of the Cold War — including the first use of nuclear weapons in a conventional conflict, the sole authority of the president to fire these weapons and keeping our missiles ready to launch in minutes — combine now to present an unacceptable risk of nuclear disaster.

Little can be done now to reduce these risks. If we do escape catastrophe, it should be the first order of business in a new administration to declare new nuclear guidance and adjust nuclear alert postures accordingly.

Legislators, including House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.), have already introduced bills to prevent presidents from acting solely on their own to launch nuclear weapons and to make it official policy that America will never initiate a nuclear war. These provide a sound basis for a new president to revamp nuclear doctrine and to prevent, as President John F. Kennedy said, that slender thread holding the nuclear sword of Damocles from being cut by “accident or miscalculation or madness.” We must prepare to do all we can to ensure that no one individual — sane or insane — can ever start a nuclear war on their own.

This column was produced in collaboration with The WorldPost, a publication of the Berggruen Institute.

The Shi’a Hub of Muslim World Power (Daniel 8:8)

Iranian General: Islamic Revolution Hub of Muslim World Power

TEHRAN (Tasnim) – A senior Iranian general said the Islamic Revolution would form the centerpiece of the Muslim world’s power by shaping a modern Islamic civilization.

Tasnim News Agency

Addressing a cultural ceremony in Tehran on Saturday, Major General Yahya Rahim Safavi, a top military aide to the Leader of the Islamic Revolution and the incoming president of the “Research Institute of Sacred Defense Sciences and Hierology”, said the Islamic Revolution in Iran would create a modern Islamic civilization, which would in turn shape the hub of power in the Islamic world in the current century.

Major General Yahya Rahim Safavi highlighted a decline in the power of the arrogant countries, saying the oppressed nations are going to defeat the tyrants and arrogant powers.

Highlighting Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei’s remarks about the defeat of the US and Israeli policies, the general said Iran, Iraq, and Syria have succeeded in combatting Takfiri terrorists and the wicked policies of the US, the Israeli regime, and their regional servants under the Leader’s expert guidance.

The Sacred Defense –Iraqi imposed war on Iran in the 1980s- shaped the ideology of resistance, which later shaped the axis of resistance and brought victories for the nations of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, he added.

In a speech in March 2018, Ayatollah Khamenei highlighted Iran’s influential role in the region, saying that the Islamic Republic has made an essential contribution to defeating Takfiri terrorists.

“The Islamic Republic managed to liberate the people from these Takfiris in an important part of this region,” Ayatollah Khamenei said at the time.

In recent years, the Middle East has been plagued with Takfiri terrorist groups like Daesh (also known as ISIS or ISIL), which are believed to have been created and supported by the West and some regional Arab countries.

The terrorist groups, which claim to be Islamic but whose actions are anything but, have been committing heinous crimes not only against non-Muslims, but mostly against Muslims in the region.

In November 2017, the self-proclaimed caliphate of Daesh collapsed after Syrian and Iraqi armed forces and their allies, including Iran, managed to recapture the terror group’s last strongholds in the two Arab countries.

The Sixth Seal Long Overdue (Revelation 6:12)

By MARGO NASH

Published: March 25, 2001

Alexander Gates, a geology professor at Rutgers-Newark, is co-author of ”The Encyclopedia of Earthquakes and Volcanoes,” which will be published by Facts on File in July. He has been leading a four-year effort to remap an area known as the Sloatsburg Quadrangle, a 5-by-7-mile tract near Mahwah that crosses into New York State. The Ramapo Fault, which runs through it, was responsible for a big earthquake in 1884, and Dr. Gates warns that a recurrence is overdue. He recently talked about his findings.

Q. What have you found?

A. We’re basically looking at a lot more rock, and we’re looking at the fracturing and jointing in the bedrock and putting it on the maps. Any break in the rock is a fracture. If it has movement, then it’s a fault. There are a lot of faults that are offshoots of the Ramapo. Basically when there are faults, it means you had an earthquake that made it. So there was a lot of earthquake activity to produce these features. We are basically not in a period of earthquake activity along the Ramapo Fault now, but we can see that about six or seven times in history, about 250 million years ago, it had major earthquake activity. And because it’s such a fundamental zone of weakness, anytime anything happens, the Ramapo Fault goes.

Q. Where is the Ramapo Fault?

 A. The fault line is in western New Jersey and goes through a good chunk of the state, all the way down to Flemington. It goes right along where they put in the new 287. It continues northeast across the Hudson River right under the Indian Point power plant up into Westchester County. There are a lot of earthquakes rumbling around it every year, but not a big one for a while.

Q. Did you find anything that surprised you?

A. I found a lot of faults, splays that offshoot from the Ramapo that go 5 to 10 miles away from the fault. I have looked at the Ramapo Fault in other places too. I have seen splays 5 to 10 miles up into the Hudson Highlands. And you can see them right along the roadsides on 287. There’s been a lot of damage to those rocks, and obviously it was produced by fault activities. All of these faults have earthquake potential.

Q. Describe the 1884 earthquake.

A. It was in the northern part of the state near the Sloatsburg area. They didn’t have precise ways of describing the location then. There was lots of damage. Chimneys toppled over. But in 1884, it was a farming community, and there were not many people to be injured. Nobody appears to have written an account of the numbers who were injured.

Q. What lessons we can learn from previous earthquakes?

A. In 1960, the city of Agadir in Morocco had a 6.2 earthquake that killed 12,000 people, a third of the population, and injured a third more. I think it was because the city was unprepared.There had been an earthquake in the area 200 years before. But people discounted the possibility of a recurrence. Here in New Jersey, we should not make the same mistake. We should not forget that we had a 5.4 earthquake 117 years ago. The recurrence interval for an earthquake of that magnitude is every 50 years, and we are overdue. The Agadir was a 6.2, and a 5.4 to a 6.2 isn’t that big a jump.

Q. What are the dangers of a quake that size?

A. When you’re in a flat area in a wooden house it’s obviously not as dangerous, although it could cut off a gas line that could explode. There’s a real problem with infrastructure that is crumbling, like the bridges with crumbling cement. There’s a real danger we could wind up with our water supplies and electricity cut off if a sizable earthquake goes off. The best thing is to have regular upkeep and keep up new building codes. The new buildings will be O.K. But there is a sense of complacency.

MARGO NASH

Photo: Alexander Gates, a Rutgers geologist, is mapping a part of the Ramapo Fault, site of previous earthquakes. (John W. Wheeler for The New York Times)

The Pakistani and Iranian Horns Align (Daniel 8:8)

Pakistan president lauds Ayatollah Khamenei for strong support on Kashmir issue

Pakistani President Arif Alvi said on Friday that Islamabad is grateful for Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Ali Khamenei for his strong support for the just struggle of the people of Azad Jammu and Kashmir.

During a meeting with Mehdi Honardoost, the outgoing Iranian ambassador to Pakistan, Alvi said that Pakistan greatly values Iran’s consistent support on various regional issues, Associated Press of Pakistan reported.

Honardoost said that Pakistan and Iran are brotherly countries and regional peace and stability was their high priority.

Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan since their partition and independence from Britain in 1947. The disputed region is claimed in full by both sides, which have fought three wars over it.

Kashmir was the scene of fresh protests and placed under a lockdown ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government revoked the Indian-administered region’s special status in August.

India has claimed the decision to strip the Muslim-majority region of its semi-autonomy was necessary for economic development in Kashmir and to stop “terrorism.”

Ayatollah Khamenei has urged India to follow a “fair policy” toward the Kashmiri people.

“We maintain good relations with the Indian government, but the Indian government is expected to adopt a fair policy toward the decent people of Kashmir so that the Muslim people of the region are not put under pressure,” he said in August.

NA/PA

Iranian Hegemony in Iraq (Daniel 8:3)

Lizzie Porter

November 20, 2019

Carrot and stick: how one Iran-backed group is wielding power in Iraq with free housing and violence

Supporters of Asaib Ahl Al Haq reap the benefits, but detractors face serious threats

Every night, Sahla Al Hasani goes to sleep in a room lined with pictures of her dead son, coloured fairy lights draped around their frames.

“He visits me in my dreams a lot,” she says. “I feel proud of him and all Iraqi martyrs.

“I consider all of them my sons. But I miss him a lot. It is so difficult.”

Her son Sari was 25 when he was killed in June 2015 in Iraq’s Saladin province, during the campaign to remove ISIS.

He belonged to Asaib Ahl Al Haq – the League of the Righteous.

It is one of about 60 units in the Popular Mobilisation Forces, an umbrella group of mostly Shiite paramilitaries.

Since Sari’s death, Asaib has paid for a new house for his family, a $10,000 (Dh36,700) pilgrimage to Makkah for Sahla, and has promised to cover his relatives’ healthcare costs.

It also covered the 5 million Iraqi dinar (Dh15,500) cost of his three-day funeral wake, after which he was buried in a plot owned by the unit in Wadi Al Salam, the cemetery for Shiites in Najaf.

It is all part of the benefits package the Iran-aligned militant group offers the families of dead fighters. It lost scores of men in anti-ISIS operations, in which the PMF as a whole played a major role.

Sahla Al Hasani keeps photographs of her son Sari, who was killed during the military campaign to oust ISIS in 2015. Lizzie Porter/ The National

The Al Hasanis are from Abu Al Khaseeb, a poor town south of Basra city of rough breezeblock buildings, where provision of state services like electricity and paved roads is patchy at best.

Inside their new Asaib-provided home, clean blue and brown tiles line the walls, plastic reed carpets cover the floor and a ceiling fan beats back the sticky heat.

A plaque on the outside wall has Asaib’s logo next to Sari’s death date.

“Our old house was in a poor state – this one is much better.

“There is water and electricity,” said Sari’s brother Zulfiqar, 23.

The housing campaign was officially launched in January, with a promise from Asaib’s leader Qais Al Khazali to build or repair “a house for the family of every martyr”.

Including the Al Hasanis, the group has so far provided new homes to five Basrawi families, at a cost of 30 million to 40 million dinars each.

It intends to provide for five more still living in rented accommodation.

Funding comes from Asaib’s budget as well as private donations, according to a member of the group’s martyrs’ committee in Basra.

“Our role is to build houses, provide social support and health care, as well as provide jobs to the martyrs’ relatives,” said the committee member, Abu Maryam.

Sari’s unemployed brother Zulfiqar said Asaib was helping him to secure work at Iraq’s state oil company.

Backed by Iran, Asaib formed in 2006 as a splinter group from cleric Moqtada Al Sadr’s Mahdi Army.

It claimed thousands of attacks on US troops in Iraq, and kidnapped and killed Iraqis, Britons and Americans.

It also sent fighters to back the Assad regime in Syria.

READ MORE

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Iraq: threats, violence and kidnap taking a psychological toll on protesters

It has since tried to rebrand itself as a nationalist political party: it controls two ministries and has 15 MPs in the Iraqi parliament.

It has developed a wide network of youth associations, social services and women’s representatives.

That welfare system mirrors those of other Iran-aligned groups in the Middle East.

In Lebanon, despite a failing economy and US sanctions, the Iranian proxy Hezbollah provides housing, health care and education for the families of its dead and injured fighters.

In Iraq, not all PMF units are aligned with Iran. But as the fight against ISIS has wound down, analysts say those who do side with Tehran have been using service provision to push for incremental social change.

“This is another way of them saying, stability also comes from us – we are always fighting … but you’re living a better life, a more just life, and you’re getting services and other fun stuff that you need,” said Phillip Smyth, a researcher on Shiite militant groups at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

“That’s a big facet to it.”

Yet not everyone is happy with Asaib and similar groups’ activities, especially their responses to the anti-government protests that have swept across southern Iraq for the past two months.

An activist from Basra fled Iraq last week after discovering that his name was on a wanted list drawn up by local political parties and the intelligence services.

“I fled in secret to the airport and I booked the next plane I could,” he told The National from a nearby country.

The activist’s family escaped from Iraq years ago after receiving threats from Asaib over business links with American contractors. He returned to Basra, but last year started receiving direct threats again on social media, through telephone calls and in person.

“We have been subjected to a lot of harassment, plus direct and indirect threats because of activities that they don’t like, like charitable activities and cultural festivals,” the activist said. “An example of a threat is, ‘Shut up, otherwise we’ll make you shut up in our own special way’.”

It is difficult to pinpoint exactly which party was sending the threats, he said, as all use similar intimidation techniques. But along with another Shiite group, Asaib “is the most active” in threatening people in Basra who oppose its activities, he said.

His account was supported by four other activists and analysts interviewed by The National.

Although protesters have publicly beaten pictures of top Iranian leaders, they appear reluctant to speak out against their Iraqi partners.

“Everyone is scared because of Asaib Ahl Al Haq,” said another Iraqi activist.

“They are highly trained killers. They had lots of equipment, even before they went into politics, and they are more powerful now. Whenever I asked in our networks to speak to a journalist about them, they replied: ‘Are you crazy? We don’t want our voice to be heard.’ They get scared.”

Asaib’s offices have been attacked by protesters who blame them – and other political parties – for rampant corruption. Last month, a group attacked and killed a local leader, Wissam Al Allawi, although it is not known if he was singled out specifically.

Like the Iraqi army and anti-­riot police, Asaib responded to protesters with force.

Seven protesters were killed last month when a gunman shot at them in Nasiriyah, a city between Basra and Baghdad, according to a witness.

Another estimate put the death toll at five.

“There were a number of people who were going out to protest and someone opened fire on them from the Asaib Ahl Al Haq headquarters,” the witness said. “The party members then drove around the streets, opening fire. The authorities didn’t intervene until the protesters started to set fire to the Asaib HQ.”

A verified video clip from the city of Amara, 70 kilometres from the Iranian border, showed another gunman shooting at protesters from a building bearing Asaib’s logo.

Al Khazali has said that he supports protesters’ demands for better government, but claimed demonstrations have been infiltrated by “foreign parties”, including Israel and the US.

They want to cause “chaos and internal disorder” in Iraq, he said.

Relatives celebrate the marriage of Saif Ali, a protester who decided to celebrate marriage in Tahrir Square during ongoing anti-government protests. AP

<img src=”/image/policy:1.939571:1574160024/image/d63a84c339a24065b4a3d5965196da5a-d63a84c339a24065b4a3d5965196da5a-5c1662d7d781414bab1d8aae8d1382de-edb3a.jpg?f=1×1&amp;w=480&amp;$p$f$w=bde3876″ />

Asaib’s spokesman denied the group had threatened people.

He told The National that any retaliation for the death of Al Allawi, the local leader, would be through legal means.

Analysts say the militant group and other Iran-aligned PMF brigades may take after Tehran when it comes to cracking down on dissent, using strategies of plausible deniability.

They will probably use a combination of “discreet violence and media manipulation” to “absorb some public anger and undermine the protest movement”, said Nathaniel Rabkin, managing editor of Inside Iraqi Politics, a political risk newsletter.

“I suspect that’s in part because they know that’s how Iran deals with these things.

“When there are protests in Iran, the government is able to figure out: who are the people we need to isolate; who are the people we need to target; who can be intimidated; who cannot; and how long should we let it go on? I think that’s probably how they’re looking at this.”

Another Iraqi with knowledge of Asaib said that the group threatened people who disagreed with their vision of ruling Iraq.

“They are against a civil state in Iraq – they want a Wilayat Al Faqih,” the source said, referring to the system of government applied in Iran under supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Many Shiites do not believe in this form of leadership.

The activist who fled Basra is determined to return home, but does not know when it will be safe to do so.

“I am not the type to be scared,” he said. “I will disappear until the arrest warrant is dropped.

“I don’t know how long that will be. It could be two weeks or two months. I don’t know.”

Updated: November 20, 2019 08:17 PM

Iran Horn Shuts Down Internet Amid Violent Protests Over Gas-Price Hikes

A man holds a smartphone connected to a WiFi network without Internet access at an office in Tehran on November 17.

Iran Shuts Down Internet Amid Violent Protests Over Gas-Price Hikes

November 18, 2019 19:11 GMT

By Golnaz Esfandiari

“It’s like being in the dark,” says an angry Iranian businessman in the capital, Tehran. “Now we know what the North Koreans have to deal with.”

The entrepreneur, who gave his name as Reza, was referring to the Iranian government turning off the Internet on November 16 and depriving some 57 million people — about 69 percent of the population — from going online for the last three days.

The move came amid violent protests over a hike in the price of gasoline that spread to more than 100 towns and cities across the country, leaving at least six people dead. Some reports based on human rights organizations and social-media videos suggested dozens of people had been killed. More than 1,000 have been detained.

The protests turned quickly from economic to sharply political, with many of the protesters chanting slogans against Iran’s Islamic establishment and its leaders.

Iran Rocked By Deadly Fuel Protests

The near-total shutdown of the Internet, ordered by the country’s Supreme National Security Council, appeared to be aimed at controlling information, silencing protesters, and preventing people from communicating and organizing.

But many citizen journalists have documented the protests on their cellphones since the announcement overnight on November 15 that gas would be rationed and its price increased by at least 33 percent and, in some cases, by as much as 300 percent.

Many of the videos seen on social media show what appears to be a strong response by security forces against protesters.

NetBlocks, a group that monitors worldwide Internet access, said that by the night of November 16, connectivity had fallen to just 7 percent of normal levels.

“The ongoing disruption is the most severe recorded in Iran since President [Hassan Rohani] came to power, and the most severe disconnection tracked by NetBlocks in any country in terms of its technical complexity and breadth,” the group said on November 16.

Internet company Oracle described the blackout as “the largest internet shutdown ever observed in Iran.”

Amir Rashidi, an Internet security researcher with the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran, tells RFE/RL that the extent and intensity of the shutdown is unprecedented.

“During the protests [over the economy in December 2017 and early 2018], [authorities] did it gradually, they slowed the Internet, they increased the filtering, they blocked anti-filtering tools, and then finally they shut down the Internet for half an hour,” he says. “But this time it was much more violent.”

A picture taken on November 17 shows a scorched gas station that was set ablaze by protesters during a demonstration in Eslamshahr, near Tehran.

Cutting Off The Outside World

Many governments around the world use an Internet shutdown as a tool of repression and censorship during critical moments, such as mass protests.

Access Now, which promotes digital security and human rights, has documented 196 cases of Internet shutdowns in 25 countries in 2018.

In October, Iraq imposed a near-total Internet shutdown amid mass anti-government protests over poor public services, corruption, and unemployment.

Mahsa Alimardani, a digital-rights researcher with the human rights organization ARTICLE19, says that “suspect” incidents in Iran’s Internet connectivity in the past year had worried activists that the Islamic republic was practicing how to disconnect the country from the Internet.

“Last June for example, the entire nation experienced several hours of nationwide disruptions that the government blamed on a glitch caused by international cables,” she says.

Analysts say Iranian authorities were preparing for such a moment for nearly a decade by building the country’s national intranet, which works independently from the world’s Internet.

“Without a doubt this is the most significant deployment of Iran’s ‘National Information Network’ (also known as SHOMA) that we’ve seen to date,” says Kaveh Azarhoosh, a senior researcher at Small Media who focuses on digital rights and Internet policy developments in Iran.

“While Iran’s ultimate aspiration has been to limit access to the global Internet while maintaining the functionality of key national financial, eGovernment, and information platforms, there are suggestions that some key local services have also been negatively impacted by the shutdown,” he adds, suggesting the shutdown could take a heavy toll on the Iranian economy.

Reza, the Tehran businessman, says he has been unable to access social-media applications such as the popular Instagram and Whatsapp, which he had been using to remain in touch with family and friends following the start of the protests.

“Only Iranian applications are available, such as [the Iranian cab-sharing app] Snapp,” he says.

Reza adds that when he tried to get online via his mobile phone, a recorded message said that due to a decision by the National Security Council, access to the Internet had been “limited.”

The Internet disruptions remained severe on November 18, tech experts said, and they continued into November 19.

But some users managed to get online briefly, including journalist Amir Tousheh, who criticized the shutdown. “I just wanted to say that being deprived of the free flow of information is a human rights violation. It’s like we’ve been all imprisoned,” Tousheh said on Twitter, adding that people’s lives had been severely disrupted as a result.

Cut Off Khamenei?

The near-total Internet shutdown led to increased calls for social-media networks, including Twitter, to block accounts used by Iranian officials, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

On November 17, while the majority of Internet users in Iran were forced offline, Khamenei’s media team posted his comments about the protests on Twitter, where he called those who attack public properties “thugs.”

“I invite all activists to call on @Twitter to ban [the] supreme leader of [the] Islamic Republic @khamenei_ir until Internet access is restored [in Iran],” New York-based activist Masih Alinejad, who campaigns against the compulsory hijab, wrote on Twitter on November 17.

Others, including Alimardani, have blasted Khamenei’s “hypocrisy” while suggesting that shutting down the Twitter account of the country’s supreme ruler is not likely to help Iranians. “I don’t think blocking [Khamenei] is going to improve the situation for Iranians, besides some momentary catharsis of giving the dictators a taste of their own medicine,” says Alimardani, a PhD student at Oxford University.

“If we weren’t getting his ludicrous statements painting the protests as fraudulent on his Twitter account, we would be getting that clip of his speech on Telegram, or through ISNA, or other Iranian media,” she says. “I don’t see the point unless you want to censor all his statements and speeches from reaching audiences outside of Iran.”

Meanwhile, Azarhoosh suggests that Iran is likely to resort to an Internet shutdown again in the future. “While shutdowns do have heavy costs, we fully expect to see more disruption to Iran’s connection to the global Internet in the coming years.”

Iran’s Secret Hegemony in Iraq (Daniel 8:3)

The Iran Cables: Secret Documents Show How Tehran Wields Power in Iraq

Hundreds of leaked intelligence reports shed light on a shadow war for regional influence — and the battles within the Islamic Republic’s own spy divisions

By Tim Arango, James Risen, Farnaz Fassihi, Ronen Bergman and Murtaza Hussain

Nov. 18, 2019

All of the Iraqi Army’s intelligence — consider it yours. Tell me whatever you need and I will provide it for you.

ALL OF THE IRAQI ARMY’S INTELLIGENCE — CONSIDER IT YOURS. TELL ME WHATEVER YOU NEED AND I WILL PROVIDE IT FOR YOU.

In mid-October, with unrest swirling in Baghdad, a familiar visitor slipped quietly into the Iraqi capital. The city had been under siege for weeks, as protesters marched in the streets, demanding an end to corruption and calling for the ouster of the prime minister, Adil Abdul Mahdi. In particular, they denounced the outsize influence of their neighbor Iran in Iraqi politics, burning Iranian flags and attacking an Iranian consulate.

The visitor was there to restore order, but his presence highlighted the protesters’ biggest grievance: he was Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, head of Iran’s powerful Quds Force, and he had come to persuade an ally in the Iraqi Parliament to help the prime minister hold onto his job.

It was not the first time General Suleimani had been dispatched to Baghdad to do damage control. Tehran’s efforts to prop up Mr. Mahdi are part of its long campaign to maintain Iraq as a pliable client state.

Now leaked Iranian documents offer a detailed portrait of just how aggressively Tehran has worked to embed itself into Iraqi affairs, and of the unique role of General Suleimani. The documents are contained in an archive of secret Iranian intelligence cables obtained by The Intercept and shared with The New York Times for this article, which is being published simultaneously by both news organizations.

The unprecedented leak exposes Tehran’s vast influence in Iraq, detailing years of painstaking work by Iranian spies to co-opt the country’s leaders, pay Iraqi agents working for the Americans to switch sides and infiltrate every aspect of Iraq’s political, economic and religious life.

Many of the cables describe real-life espionage capers that feel torn from the pages of a spy thriller. Meetings are arranged in dark alleyways and shopping malls or under the cover of a hunting excursion or a birthday party. Informants lurk at the Baghdad airport, snapping pictures of American soldiers and keeping tabs on coalition military flights. Agents drive meandering routes to meetings to evade surveillance. Sources are plied with gifts of pistachios, cologne and saffron. Iraqi officials, if necessary, are offered bribes. The archive even contains expense reports from intelligence ministry officers in Iraq, including one totaling 87.5 euros spent on gifts for a Kurdish commander.

About the Iran Cables

This article was reported in partnership with The Intercept, a nonprofit investigative news organization.

[Read the key findings from this investigation.]

According to one of the leaked Iranian intelligence cables, Mr. Mahdi, who in exile worked closely with Iran while Saddam Hussein was in power in Iraq, had a “special relationship with the I.R.I.” — the Islamic Republic of Iran — when he was Iraq’s oil minister in 2014. The exact nature of that relationship is not detailed in the cable, and, as one former senior U.S. official cautioned, a “special relationship could mean a lot of things — it doesn’t mean he is an agent of the Iranian government.” But no Iraqi politician can become prime minister without Iran’s blessing, and Mr. Mahdi, when he secured the premiership in 2018, was seen as a compromise candidate acceptable to both Iran and the United States.

The leaked cables offer an extraordinary glimpse inside the secretive Iranian regime. They also detail the extent to which Iraq has fallen under Iranian influence since the American invasion in 2003, which transformed Iraq into a gateway for Iranian power, connecting the Islamic Republic’s geography of dominance from the shores of the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea.

The trove of leaked Iranian intelligence reports largely confirms what was already known about Iran’s firm grip on Iraqi politics. But the reports reveal far more than was previously understood about the extent to which Iran and the United States have used Iraq as a staging area for their spy games. They also shed new light on the complex internal politics of the Iranian government, where competing factions are grappling with many of the same challenges faced by American occupying forces as they struggled to stabilize Iraq after the United States invasion.

And the documents show how Iran, at nearly every turn, has outmaneuvered the United States in the contest for influence.

The archive is made up of hundreds of reports and cables written mainly in 2014 and 2015 by officers of Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security, or M.O.I.S., who were serving in the field in Iraq. The intelligence ministry, Iran’s version of the C.I.A., has a reputation as an analytical and professional agency, but it is overshadowed and often overruled by its more ideological counterpart, the Intelligence Organization of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which was formally established as an independent entity in 2009 at the order of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

In Iraq, Lebanon and Syria, which Iran considers crucial to its national security, the Revolutionary Guards — and in particular its elite Quds Force, led by General Suleimani — determines Iran’s policies. Ambassadors to those countries are appointed from the senior ranks of the Revolutionary Guards, not the foreign ministry, which oversees the intelligence ministry, according to several advisers to current and past Iranian administrations. Officers from the intelligence ministry and from the Revolutionary Guards in Iraq worked parallel to one another, said these sources. They reported their findings back to their respective headquarters in Tehran, which in turn organized them into reports for the Supreme Council of National Security.

Cultivating Iraqi officials was a key part of their job, and it was made easier by the alliances many Iraqi leaders forged with Iran when they belonged to opposition groups fighting Saddam Hussein. Many of Iraq’s foremost political, military, and security officials have had secret relationships with Tehran, according to the documents. The same 2014 cable that described Mr. Mahdi’s “special relationship” also named several other key members of the cabinet of former Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi as having close ties with Iran.

[Undated Fragment]

هدف بالفعل که ایشان می تواند همکاری نماید در راستای اشراف اطلاعاتی از روابط و برنامه های دولت ایالات متحده آمریکا در عراق و بر خورد با موضوع داعش و هر گونه برنامه پنهان این کشور در این موضوع، و در هدف بالقوه ایشان می تواند نشانگر خوبی در وزارت خارجه آمریکا و یا در بین افراد مستعد همکاری، سران اهل سنت و اکراد عراق، باشد.

The current objective is for this person to provide intelligence insights into the U.S. government’s plans in Iraq, whether it is for dealing with ISIS or any other covert operations. The ultimate goal is for this person to be an informant, either in the U.S. State Department or with any Iraqi Sunni or Kurdish leaders who are willing to cooperate.

A political analyst and adviser on Iraq to Iran’s government, Gheis Ghoreishi, confirmed that Iran has focused on cultivating high-level officials in Iraq. “We have a good number of allies among Iraqi leaders who we can trust with our eyes closed,” he said.

Three Iranian officials were asked to comment for this article, in queries that described the existence of the leaked cables and reports. Alireza Miryusefi, a spokesman for Iran’s United Nations mission, said he was away until later this month. Majid Takht-Ravanchi, Iran’s United Nations ambassador, did not respond to a written request that was hand-delivered to his official residence. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif did not respond to an emailed request.

When reached by telephone, Hassan Danaiefar, Iran’s ambassador to Iraq from 2010 to 2017 and a former deputy commander of the Revolutionary Guards’ naval forces, declined to directly address the existence of the cables or their release, but he did suggest that Iran had the upper hand in information gathering in Iraq. “Yes, we have a lot of information from Iraq on multiple issues, especially about what America was doing there,” he said. “There is a wide gap between the reality and perception of U.S. actions in Iraq. I have many stories to tell.” He declined to elaborate.

According to the reports, after the American troop withdrawal in 2011, Iran moved quickly to add former C.I.A. informants to its payroll. One undated section of an intelligence ministry cable shows that Iran began the process of recruiting a spy inside the State Department. It is unclear what came of the recruitment effort, but according to the files, Iran had started meeting with the source, and offered to reward the potential asset with a salary, gold coins and other gifts. The State Department official is not named in the cable, but the person is described as someone who would be able to provide “intelligence insights into the U.S. government’s plans in Iraq, whether it is for dealing with ISIS or any other covert operations.”

“The subject’s incentive in collaborating will be financial,” the report said.

The State Department declined to comment on the matter.

In interviews, Iranian officials acknowledged that Iran viewed surveillance of American activity in Iraq after the United States invasion as critical to its survival and national security. When American forces toppled Saddam Hussein, Iran swiftly moved some of its best officers from both the intelligence ministry and from the Intelligence Organization of the Revolutionary Guards to Iraq, according to the Iranian government advisers and a person affiliated with the Guards. President George W. Bush had declared Iran to be part of an “axis of evil,” and Iranian leaders believed Tehran would be next on Washington’s list of regime-change capitals after Kabul and Baghdad.

700 pages of documents

Around the world, governments have had to contend with the occasional leak of secret communiqués or personal emails as a fact of modern life. Not so in Iran, where information is tightly controlled and the security services are widely feared.

The roughly 700 pages of leaked reports were sent anonymously to The Intercept, which translated them from Persian to English and shared them with The Times. The Intercept and The Times verified the authenticity of the documents but do not know who leaked them. The Intercept communicated over encrypted channels with the source, who declined to meet with a reporter. In these anonymous messages, the source said that they wanted to “let the world know what Iran is doing in my country Iraq.”

Like the internal communications of any spy service, some of the reports contain raw intelligence whose accuracy is questionable, while others appear to represent the views of intelligence officers and sources with their own agendas.

Some of the cables show bumbling and comical ineptitude, like one that describes the Iranian spies who broke into a German cultural institute in Iraq only to find they had the wrong codes and could not unlock the safes. Other officers were browbeaten by their superiors in Tehran for laziness, and for sending back to headquarters reports that relied only on news accounts.

But by and large, the intelligence ministry operatives portrayed in the documents appear patient, professional and pragmatic. Their main tasks are to keep Iraq from falling apart; from breeding Sunni militants on the Iranian border; from descending into sectarian warfare that might make Shia Muslims the targets of violence; and from spinning off an independent Kurdistan that would threaten regional stability and Iranian territorial integrity. The Revolutionary Guards and General Suleimani have also worked to eradicate the Islamic State, but with a greater focus on maintaining Iraq as a client state of Iran and making sure that political factions loyal to Tehran remain in power.

This portrait is all the more striking at a time of heightened tensions between the United States and Iran. Since 2018, when President Trump pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions, the White House has rushed ships to the Persian Gulf and reviewed military plans for war with Iran. In October, the Trump administration promised to send American troops to Saudi Arabia following attacks on oil facilities there for which Iran was widely blamed.

‘Tell them we are at your service.’

With a shared faith and tribal affiliations that span a porous border, Iran has long been a major presence in Southern Iraq. It has opened religious offices in Iraq’s holy cities and posted banners of Iran’s revolutionary leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, on its streets. It supports some of the most powerful political parties in the south, dispatches Iranian students to study in Iraqi seminaries and sends Iranian construction workers to build Iraqi hotels and refurbish Iraqi shrines.

But while Iran may have bested the United States in the contest for influence in Baghdad, it has struggled to win popular support in the Iraqi south. Now, as the last six weeks of protests make clear, it is facing unexpectedly strong pushback. Across the south, Iranian-backed Iraqi political parties are seeing their headquarters burned and their leading operatives assassinated, an indication that Iran may have underestimated the Iraqi desire for independence not just from the United States but also from its neighbor.

In a sense, the leaked Iranian cables provide a final accounting of the 2003 United States invasion of Iraq. The notion that the Americans handed control of Iraq to Iran when they invaded now enjoys broad support, even within the United States military. A recent two-volume history of the Iraq War, published by the United States Army, details the campaign’s many missteps and its “staggering cost” in lives and money. Nearly 4,500 American troops were killed, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis died and American taxpayers spent up to $2 trillion on the war. The study, which totals hundreds of pages and draws on declassified documents, concludes: “An emboldened and expansionist Iran appears to be the only victor.”

Akkaz

gas field

By The New York Times

Iran’s rise as a power player in Iraq was in many ways a direct consequence of Washington’s lack of any post-invasion plan. The early years following the fall of Saddam were chaotic, both in terms of security and in the lack of basic services like water and electricity. To most observers on the ground, it appeared as if the United States was shaping policy on the go, and in the dark.

Among the most disastrous American policies were the decisions to dismantle Iraq’s armed forces and to purge from government service or the new armed forces any Iraqi who had been a member of Saddam’s ruling Baath Party. This process, known as de-Baathification, automatically marginalized most Sunni men. Unemployed and resentful, they formed a violent insurgency targeting Americans and Shias seen as United States allies.

As sectarian warfare between Sunnis and Shias raged, the Shia population looked to Iran as a protector. When ISIS gained control of territory and cities, the Shias’ vulnerability and the failure of the United States to protect them fueled efforts by the Revolutionary Guards and General Suleimani to recruit and mobilize Shia militias loyal to Iran.

According to the intelligence ministry documents, Iran has continued to take advantage of the opportunities the United States has afforded it in Iraq. Iran, for example, reaped an intelligence windfall of American secrets as the United States presence began to recede after its 2011 troop withdrawal. The C.I.A. had tossed many of its longtime secret agents out on the street, leaving them jobless and destitute in a country still shattered from the invasion — and fearful that they could be killed for their links with the United States, possibly by Iran. Short of money, many began to offer their services to Tehran. And they were happy to tell the Iranians everything they knew about C.I.A. operations in Iraq.

Qassim Suleimani, head of Iran’s Quds Force, in Tehran in 2016. Ebrahim Noroozi/Associated Press

In November 2014, one of them, an Iraqi who had spied for the C.I.A., broke and terrified that his ties to the Americans would cost him his life, switched sides. The C.I.A., according to the cable, had known the man by a nickname: “Donnie Brasco.” His Iranian handler would call him, simply “Source 134992.”

Turning to Iran for protection, he said that everything he knew about American intelligence gathering in Iraq was for sale: the locations of C.I.A. safe houses; the names of hotels where C.I.A. operatives met with agents; details of his weapons and surveillance training; the names of other Iraqis working as spies for the Americans.

Source 134992 told the Iranian operatives he had worked for the agency for 18 months starting in 2008, on a program targeting Al Qaeda. He said he had been paid well for his work — $3,000 per month, plus a one-time bonus of $20,000 and a car.

But swearing on the Quran, he promised that his days of spying for the United States were over, and agreed to write a full report for the Iranians on everything he knew from his time with the C.I.A.

“I will turn over to you all the documents and videos that I have from my training course,” the Iraqi man told his Iranian handler, according to a 2014 Iranian intelligence report. “And pictures and identifying features of my fellow trainees and my subordinates.”

The C.I.A. declined to comment.

Iranian spies, Iraqi officials say, are everywhere in the south, and the region has long been a beehive of espionage. It was there, in Karbala in late 2014, that an Iraqi military intelligence officer, down from Baghdad, met with an Iranian intelligence official and offered to spy for Iran — and to tell the Iranians whatever he could about American activities in Iraq.

“Iran is my second country and I love it,” the Iraqi official told the Iranian officer, according to one of the cables. In a meeting that lasted more than three hours, the Iraqi told of his devotion to the Iranian system of government, in which clerics rule directly, and his admiration for Iranian movies.

He said he had come with a message from his boss in Baghdad, Lt. Gen. Hatem al-Maksusi, then commander of military intelligence in the Iraqi Ministry of Defense: “Tell them we are at your service. Whatever you need is at their disposal. We are Shiite and have a common enemy.”

General al-Maksusi’s messenger continued, “All of the Iraqi Army’s intelligence — consider it yours.” He told the Iranian intelligence officer about secret targeting software the United States had provided to the Iraqis, and offered to turn it over to the Iranians. “If you have a new laptop, give it to me so I can upload the program onto it,” he said.

And there was more, he said. The United States had also given Iraq a highly sensitive system for eavesdropping on mobile phones, which was run out of the prime minister’s office and the headquarters of Iraqi military intelligence. “I will put at your disposal whatever intelligence about it you want,” he said.

In an interview, General al-Maksusi, disputed saying the things attributed to him in the cables and denied ever working for Iran. He praised Iran for its help in the fight against the Islamic State, but said he had also maintained a close relationship with the United States. “I worked for Iraq and did not work for any other state,” he said. “I was not the intelligence director for the Shiites, but I was intelligence director for all of Iraq.”

When asked about the cable, a former American official said the United States had become aware of the Iraqi military intelligence officer’s ties to Iran and had limited his access to sensitive information.

‘The Americans’ candidate’

By late 2014, the United States was once again pouring weapons and soldiers into Iraq as it began battling the Islamic State. Iran, too, had an interest in defeating the militants. As ISIS took control of the west and the north, young Iraqi men traveled across the deserts and marshes of the south by the busload, heading to Iran for military training.

Some within the American and Iranian governments believed the two rivals should coordinate their efforts against a common enemy. But Iran, as the leaked cables make clear, also viewed the increased American presence as a threat and a “cover” to gather intelligence about Iran.

“What is happening in the sky over Iraq shows the massive level of activity of the coalition,” one Iranian officer wrote. “The danger for the Islamic Republic of Iran’s interests represented by their activity must be taken seriously.”

The rise of ISIS was at the same time driving a wedge between the Obama administration and a large swath of the Iraqi political class. Mr. Obama had pushed for the ouster of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki as a condition for renewed American military support. He believed Mr. al-Maliki’s draconian policies and crackdowns on Iraqi Sunnis had helped lead to the rise of the militants.

2014 Iraqi security forces inspect the bodies of Islamic State militants after clashes in Jurf al-Sakhar, south of Baghdad. Associated Press

Mr. al-Maliki, who had lived in exile in Iran in the 1980s, was a favorite of Tehran’s. His replacement, the British-educated Haider al-Abadi, was seen as more friendly to the West and less sectarian. Facing the uncertainty of a new prime minister, Hassan Danaiefar, then Iran’s ambassador, called a secret meeting of senior staffers at the Iranian Embassy, a hulking, fortified structure just outside Baghdad’s Green Zone.

As the meeting progressed, it became clear the Iranians had little cause to worry about the new Iraqi government. Mr. Al-Abadi was dismissed as “a British man,” and “the Americans’ candidate,” but the Iranians believed they had plenty of other ministers in their pocket.

One by one, Danaiefar went down the list of cabinet members, describing their relationships to Iran.

Ibrahim al-Jafari — who had previously served as Iraqi prime minister and by late 2014 was the foreign minister — was, like Mr. Mahdi, identified as having a “special relationship” with Iran. In an interview, Mr. al-Jafari did not deny that he had close relations with Iran, but said he had always dealt with foreign countries based on the interests of Iraq.

Iran counted on the loyalty of many lesser cabinet members as well.

The report said the ministers of municipalities, communications and human rights “are in complete harmony and at one with us and are our people.” The environment minister, it said, “works with us, although he is Sunni.” The transportation minister — Bayan Jabr, who had led the Iraqi Interior Ministry at a time when hundreds of prisoners were tortured to death with electric drills or summarily shot by Shiite death squads — was deemed to be “very close” to Iran. When it came to Iraq’s education minister, the report says, “we will have no problem with him.”

The former ministers of municipalities, communications and human rights were all members of the Badr Organization, a political and military group established by Iran in the 1980s to oppose Saddam Hussein. The former minister of municipalities denied having a close relationship with Iran; the former human rights minister acknowledged being close to Iran, and praised Iran for helping Shiite Iraqis during Mr. Hussein’s dictatorship, and for help defeating the Islamic State. The former minister of communications said that he served Iraq, not Iran, and that he maintained relationships with diplomats from many countries; the former minister of education said that he had not been supported by Iran, and that he served at the request of Prime Minister al-Abadi. The former environment minister could not be reached for comment.

Iran’s dominance over Iraqi politics is vividly shown in one important episode from the fall of 2014, when Baghdad was a city at the center of a multinational maelstrom. The Syrian civil war was raging to the west, Islamic State militants had seized almost a third of Iraq and American troops were heading back to the region to confront the growing crisis.

Against this chaotic backdrop, Mr. Jabr, then the transportation minister, welcomed General Suleimani, the Quds Force commander, to his office. General Suleimani had come to ask a favor: Iran needed access to Iraqi airspace to fly planeloads of weapons and other supplies to support the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad in its fight against American-backed rebels.

It was a request that placed Mr. Jabr at the center of the longstanding rivalry between the United States and Iran. Obama administration officials had been lobbying hard to get the Iraqis to stop Iranian flights through their airspace, but face to face with the Quds chief, Iraq’s transportation minister found it impossible to refuse.

General Suleimani, Mr. Jabr recalled, “came to me and requested that we permit Iranian airplanes to use Iraqi air space to pass on to Syria,” according to one of the cables. The transportation minister did not hesitate, and General Suleimani appeared to be pleased. “I put my hands on my eyes and said, ‘On my eyes! As you wish!’” Mr. Jabr told the intelligence ministry officer. “Then he got up and approached me and kissed my forehead.”

Mr. Jabr confirmed the meeting with General Suleimani, but said the flights from Iran to Syria carried humanitarian supplies and religious pilgrims traveling to Syria to visit holy sites, not weapons and military supplies to aid Mr. Assad as American officials believed.

Meanwhile, Iraqi officials known to have a relationship with the United States came under special scrutiny, and Iran took measures to counter American influence. Indeed, many of the files show that as top American diplomats met behind closed doors with their Iraqi counterparts in Baghdad, their conversations were routinely reported back to the Iranians.

2017 Iraqis walk past a poster of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran, in Diyala. Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times

Throughout 2014 and 2015, as a new Iraqi government settled in, the American ambassador, Stuart Jones, met often with Salim al-Jabouri, who was speaker of the Iraqi Parliament until last year. Mr. al-Jabouri, although he is Sunni, was known to have a close relationship with Iran, but the files now reveal that one of his top political advisers — identified as Source 134832 — was an Iranian intelligence asset. “[I] am present in his office on a daily basis and carefully follow his contacts with the Americans,” the source told his Iranian handler. Mr. al-Jabouri, in an interview, said he did not believe that anyone on his staff had worked as an agent for Iran, and that he fully trusted his aides. (Mr. Jones declined to comment.)

The source urged the Iranians to develop closer ties to Mr. al-Jabouri, to blunt American efforts to nurture a new class of younger Sunni leaders in Iraq and perhaps bring about reconciliation between Sunnis and Shias. The source warned that Iran should act to keep the Parliament speaker from “slipping into a pro-American position, since one of Salim al-Jabouri’s characteristics is credulousness and making hasty decisions.”

Another report reveals that Nechervan Barzani, then the prime minister of Kurdistan, met with top American and British officials and Mr. al-Abadi, the Iraqi prime minister, in Baghdad in December 2014, and then went almost immediately to meet with an Iranian official to tell him everything. Through a spokesman, Mr. Barzani said he did not recall meeting with any Iranian officials at the time, and described the cable as “baseless and unfounded.” He said he “absolutely denies” telling the Iranians details about his conversations with American and British diplomats.

Sometimes, the Iranians also saw trade value in the information they received from their Iraqi sources.

One report from the al-Jabouri adviser revealed that the United States was interested in gaining access to a rich natural gas field in Akkas, near Iraq’s border with Syria. The source explained that the Americans might eventually try to export the natural gas to Europe, a major market for Russian natural gas. Intrigued, the intelligence ministry officer, in a cable to Tehran, wrote, “It is recommended that the aforementioned information be used in exchange with the Russians and Syria.” The cable was written just as Russia was significantly stepping up its involvement in Syria, and as Iran continued its military buildup there, in support of President al-Assad.

And although Iran was initially suspicious of Mr. al-Abadi’s allegiances, a report written a few months after his rise to the premiership suggested that he was quite willing to have a confidential relationship with Iranian intelligence. A January 2015 report details a private meeting between al-Abadi and an intelligence ministry officer known as Boroujerdi, held in the prime minister’s office “without the presence of a secretary or a third person.”

During the meeting, Boroujerdi homed in on Iraq’s Sunni-Shia divide, probing Mr. al-Abadi’s feelings on perhaps the most sensitive subject in Iraqi politics. “Today, the Sunnis find themselves in the worst possible circumstances and have lost their self-confidence,” the intelligence officer opined, according to the cable. “The Sunnis are vagrants, their cities are destroyed and an unclear future awaits them, while the Shias can retrieve their self-confidence.”

Iraq’s Shia were “at a historical turning point,” Boroujerdi continued. The Iraqi government and Iran could “take advantage of this situation.”

According to the cable, the prime minister expressed his “complete agreement.” Mr. Abadi declined to comment.

2018 Volunteers collect bodies in Mosul, Iraq. Ivor Prickett for The New York Times

‘Sweetness into bitterness’

Ever since the start of the Iraq War in 2003, Iran has put itself forward as the protector of Iraq’s Shiites, and General Suleimani, more than anyone else, has employed the dark arts of espionage and covert military action to ensure that Shiite power remains ascendant. But it has come at the cost of stability, with Sunnis perennially disenfranchised and looking to other groups, like the Islamic State, to protect them.

A 2014 massacre of Sunnis in the farming community of Jurf al-Sakhar was a vivid example of the kinds of sectarian atrocities committed by armed groups loyal to Iran’s Quds Force that had alarmed the United States throughout the Iraq War, and undermined efforts at reconciliation. As the field reports make clear, some of the Americans’ concerns were shared by the Iranian intelligence ministry. That signaled divisions within Iran over its Iraq policies between more moderate elements under President Hassan Rouhani and militant factions like the Revolutionary Guards.

Date: 2014-11-23

منطقه عمومی جرف صخر کاملا از عوامل تروریست پاکسازی و حتی خانواده ها نیز ازآنجا کوچانده شده اند و منازل توسط نیروهای نظامی تخریب شده و باقیمانده آنها تخریب خواهند گردید ودر برخی مناطق درختان نخل از ریشه کنده تا سوزانده شوند و امکان حضور تروریستها و پناه گرفتن در میان منازل و درختان میسر نگردد. احشام مردم منطقه (گاو گوسفند) در نقاط مختلف پراکنده شده اند و بدون صاحب مشغول چرا هستند.

The area around Jurf Al-Sakhar has been cleansed of terrorist agents. Their families have been driven away, most of their houses have been destroyed by military forces and the rest will be destroyed. In some places, the palm orchards have been uprooted to be burned to prevent the terrorists from taking shelter among the trees.

The people’s livestock (cows and sheep) have been scattered and are grazing without their owners.

Jurf al-Sakhar, which lies just east of Falluja in the Euphrates River Valley, is lush with orange trees and palm groves. It was overrun by the Islamic State in 2014, giving militants a foothold from which they could launch attacks on the holy cities of Karbala and Najaf.

Jurf al-Sakhar is also important to Iran because it lies on a route Shiite religious pilgrims use to travel to Karbala during Muharram, the monthlong commemoration of the death of Prophet Muhammad’s grandson, Imam Hussein, a revered figure for Shiites.

When Shiite militias supported by Iran drove the militants out of Jurf al-Sakhar in late 2014, the first major victory over the Islamic State, it became a ghost town. It was no longer a threat to the thousands of Shiite pilgrims who would pass by, but Iran’s victory came at a high cost to the town’s Sunni residents. Tens of thousands were displaced, and a local politician, the only Sunni member on the provincial council, was found with a bullet hole through his head.

One cable describes the damage in almost biblical terms. “As a result of these operations,” its author reported, “the area around Jurf al-Sakhar has been cleansed of terrorist agents. Their families have been driven away, most of their houses have been destroyed by military forces and the rest will be destroyed. In some places, the palm orchards have been uprooted to be burned to prevent the terrorists from taking shelter among the trees. The people’s livestock (cows and sheep) have been scattered and are grazing without their owners.”

The Jurf al-Sakhar operation and other bloody actions led by Iran’s proxies and directed by Tehran further alienated Iraq’s Sunni population, according to one report, which notes that “destroying villages and houses, looting the Sunnis’ property and livestock turned the sweetness of these successes” against the Islamic State into “bitterness.” One of the Jurf al-Sakhar cables cast the impact of Shiite militias in particularly stark terms: “In all the areas where the Popular Mobilization Forces go into action, the Sunnis flee, abandoning their homes and property, and prefer to live in tents as refugees or reside in camps.”

The intelligence ministry feared that Iran’s gains in Iraq were being squandered because Iraqis so resented the Shia militias and the Quds Force that sponsored them. Above all, its officers blamed General Suleimani, whom they saw as a dangerous self-promoter using the anti-ISIS campaign as a launching pad for a political career back home in Iran. One report, which states at the top that it is not to be shared with the Quds Force, criticizes the general personally for publicizing his leading role in the military campaign in Iraq by “publishing pictures of himself on different social media sites.”

Doing that had made it obvious that Iran controlled the dreaded Shia militias — a potential gift to its rivals. “This policy of Iran in Iraq,” the report said, “has allowed the Americans to return to Iraq with greater legitimacy. And groups and individuals who had been fighting against the Americans among the Sunnis are now wishing that not only America, but even Israel, would enter Iraq and save Iraq from Iran’s clutches.”

At times, the Iranians sought to counter the ill will generated by their presence in Iraq with soft-power campaigns similar to American battlefield efforts to win “hearts and minds.” Hoping to gain a “propaganda advantage and restore Iran’s image among the people,” Iran devised a plan to send pediatricians and gynecologists to villages in northern Iraq to administer health services, according to one field report. It is not clear, however, if that initiative materialized.

Date: 2014-11-29

ضرورت دارد که حد و حدودی برای جلوگیری از خشونت علیه افراد بی گناه اهل سنت درعراق و اقدامات آقای سلیمانی اندیشیده شود و الی خشونت و درگیری میان شیعه و سنی همچنان ادامه پیدا کرده و در حال حاضر هر گونه اقدامی علیه اهل سنت به حساب ایران نوشته می شود٬ چه ایران مستقیم و غیر مستقیم در آن نقش داشته باشد و یا نقشی در آن نداشته باشد.

We must think about limiting violence against innocent Sunnis in Iraq and limiting Mr. Soleimani’s measures, or else violence and strife between Shiites and Sunnis will continue. Currently, any actions taken against Sunnis will be blamed on Iran, whether Iran had a direct or indirect role in it, or none at all.

Just as often, Iran would use its influence to close lucrative development deals. With Iraq dependent on Iran for military support in the fight against the Islamic State, one cable shows the Quds Force receiving oil and development contracts from Iraq’s Kurds in exchange for weapons and other aid. In the south, Iran was awarded contracts for sewage and water purification by paying a $16 million bribe to a member of Parliament, according to another field report.

2019 Graffiti on a street sign in Najaf, a city in central Iraq. Protesters blacked out the real name — Khomeini Street — and painted in “Revolution Street.” Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Today, Iran is struggling to maintain its hegemony in Iraq, just as the Americans did after the 2003 invasion. Iraqi officials, meanwhile, are increasingly worried that a provocation in Iraq on either side could set off a war between the two powerful countries vying for dominance in their homeland. Against this geopolitical backdrop, Iraqis learned long ago to take a pragmatic approach to the overtures of Iran’s spies — even Sunni Iraqis who view Iran as an enemy.

“Not only doesn’t he believe in Iran, but he doesn’t believe that Iran might have positive intentions toward Iraq,” one Iranian case officer wrote in late 2014, about an Iraqi intelligence recruit described as a Baathist who had once worked for Saddam Hussein and later the C.I.A. “But he is a professional spy and understands the reality of Iran and the Shia in Iraq and will collaborate to save himself.”

This story was reported in partnership with The Intercept, where James Risen is the senior national security correspondent and Murtaza Hussain is a reporter.

Additional Reporting: Matthew Cole and Laura Secor for The Intercept; Rick Gladstone, Falih Hassan and Alissa J. Rubin for The Times.

Research: Margot Williams for The Intercept.

Did North Korea Get Its Missiles From Iran?

Solving the Mystery: Where Did North Korea Get Its Missiles?

Key Point: There are multiple possabilities, some more likely than others.

In the quarter century since the end of the Cold War, much of North Korea’s conventional-weapons capability has quietly aged into obsolescence. Abandoned by the now-defunct Soviet Union and China, Pyongyang’s arsenal of tanks, ships, planes and artillery appears trapped in the 1980s—or earlier. A few weapons, however, including a new antiship missile fired just last week, are fairly new, prompting questions as to exactly where they came from.

After the Korean War, the Korean People’s Army was rebuilt with Soviet and Chinese weapons. Wartime T-34 tanks were replaced with Soviet-built T-62 and T-55 tanks in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and a large fleet of seventy-seven Romeo-class submarines was purchased from China. Pyongyang bought from both countries, favoring one over the other as the political winds blew. One of the country’s last major purchases was a fleet of seventeen MiG-29 “Fulcrum” multirole fighters and thirty-six Su-25 Frogfoot attack jets.

The breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991 left the East Asian dictatorship without a patron that dispensed weapons on easy credit terms, and the lack of modern gear is telling. North Korea’s latest tanks are still based on the T-62, and Romeo-class submarines, one of which Kim Jong-un famously took for a ride in 2014, are still in active service. Occasional upgrades, such as the addition of Bulsae (“Firebird”) antitank missiles to the Chonma-ho main battle tank, do little to upgrade the combat effectiveness of what is in reality an obsolete tank.

Certain weapons, however, stand in stark contrast to the rest of North Korea’s aging weapons collection. One is what appears to be a copy of the Russian Kh-35 antiship cruise missile. Known in Russia as the Kh-35 Uran and to NATO as the SS-N-25 “Switchblade,” the Kh-35 has a range of seventy nautical miles and a 320-pound high-explosive warhead, flying above the wavetops to stay undetected as long as possible. Guided by active radar, the subsonic missile is roughly comparable to the American Harpoon antiship missile, earning it the nickname “Harpoonski.”

Although the Uran’s development predated the end of the Cold War, the missile never entered Soviet service, joining the Russian Navy only in 2003. The missile first surfaced in North Korea in June 2014, when it briefly appeared in a North Korean propaganda video. The missile, which appeared to be launched from a ship, was identical to the Uran, although the shipboard mounting hardware appeared different from Russian hardware. North Korea launched a volley of four Kh-35s on June 7 from the vicinity of Wonsan into the Sea of Japan.

Another weapon that has shown up in North Korean hands, seemingly out of thin air, is Pon’gae-5 long-range surface-to-air missile system. Designated KN-06 by the U.S. intelligence community, the Pon’gae-5 appears be be a clone of the Russian S-300 missile or the Chinese Chinese HQ-9 surface-to-air missile, which itself is likely a S-300 clone.

The Pon’gae-5’s uncertain provenance makes determining its capabilities tricky. The S-300 is a long-range missile system capable of intercepting targets at all altitudes and is roughly similar to earlier models of the American Patriot missile. It also appears to have a phased-array radar similar to the FLAP LID radar used by the S-300. A test launch was conducted the weekend of May 24, during which North Korea’s KCNA state news agency reported “defects” uncovered in previous testing were “perfectly overcome.” According to the news agency, the Pon’gae-5 is now considered operational.

Finally, a new rocket artillery system recently emerged in North Korea. Known as the KN-09 multiple-rocket launcher, the system consists of eight three-hundred-millimeter rocket-launcher tubes on a 6×6 HOWO 6×6 All-wheel Drive Cargo Truck chassis. The presence of fins on the rocket’s nose suggests each rocket is precision-guided, using either China’s Baidu or Russia’s GLONASS satellite-based global positioning systems.

Where did these mystery weapons come from? There are several theories, and there are almost certainly different origins for different weapons.

In the case of Uran and the Pon’gae-5, one theory is espionage. North Korean agents were known to have contacted ex-Soviet military scientists and engineers after the breakup of the USSR, and may have traded cash for expertise. North Korea may have been unable to act on this information in the 1990s, when the economy crashed, but the country’s slow rebound may have freed up the resources to pursue a precision-guided tactical-rocket program.

Another possibility is that these weapons are the result of indirect technology transfers from third parties. Uran missiles could have come from Myanmar’s former military government, which had strong ties to North Korea. Myanmar was known to have purchased Uran missiles from Russia, and could have transferred them to North Korea. Another possibility is Iran. Pon’gae-5 could have come from Syria, a S-300 missile operator, and KN-09 multiple rocket launchers could be based on Chinese A-100 systems provided to Pakistan.

In each case, the North Korean version of the weapon is likely a homebrewed version. North Korea has an unknown number of Uran knockoffs, but it does apparently have enough to place on surface ships and shore batteries—including the four launched last week. This lack of concern about running out of Urans suggests the missiles are domestically manufactured. Another curious detail: South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff reported the missiles flew for 124 miles, which is forty-four miles longer than the reported range of the Kh-35. This suggests the North Koreans increased the missile’s liquid fuel supply, something they have experience in with the much larger Scud platform.

A third and final theory is that the weapons indeed came from China or Russia, with a blind eye turned to their export. Like all conspiracy theories, it’s impossible to prove or disprove. Both countries ceased selling arms to North Korea a long time ago, and the political dangers of selling arms to a country that will promptly point them at the United States outweighs the risks. While the reclusive state is a useful diversion for both, Pyongyang already has nuclear weapons to attract Washington’s attention.

North Korea has shown itself to be a canny state that can get what it wants, whether by pressing its citizens to the maximum or by utilizing a carefully cultivated network of overseas contacts to surreptitiously import banned weapons—all with the goal, of course, of ensuring the regime’s survival. The presence of advanced weapons in the Korean People’s Army’s arsenal is proof the country is not without resources of its own, and will do what it can to survive.

Kyle Mizokami is a defense and national-security writer based in San Francisco who has appeared in the Diplomat, Foreign Policy, War is Boring and the Daily Beast. In 2009 he cofounded the defense and security blog Japan Security Watch. You can follow him on Twitter: @KyleMizokami. This piece was originally featured in June 2017 and is being republished due to reader’s interest.

Image: Reuters

Iranian Hegemony in Iraq (Daniel 8:3)

Soleimani in Iraq

By Giancarlo Elia ValoriNovember 16, 2019

The current presence of Qassem Alì Soleimani, leader of the Al QudsForce of the “Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps” in Iraq is strategically significant.

Certainly, according to the Iranian press, Soleimani was the sole responsible for the destruction of the so-called “Caliphate” of Al Baghdadi, whohas recently been eliminated by the US Special Forces, upon probable Turkish pressure.

It is not entirely false: the various Shiite forces from Iran and Iraq have made about 3,000 military operations against Al Baghdadi’s network.

Soleimani also remains the strategic holder of the Lebanese stability – if we can say so – even with the robust presence of Hezbollah in Saad Hariri’s Lebanese government that resigned on October 29 last, in spite of the pressure from a great Christian friend of Iran and Syria, namely Michel Aoun. President of the Lebanon and, as Maronite, certainly not disliked in Iran and Syria.

The idea that the government of Saad Hariri – a friend of the naive West and of the Sunni monarchies of the Gulf, but in fact in the hands of Hezbollah and Amal, two Lebanese Shiite and Iranian movements – could survive the economic crisis that persists even after the 11 million US dollars lent by the Sunni monarchies and the USA, and after the Shiite riots in Beirut and in the South of the country, was completely unfounded.

If the Lebanon collapses, Iran shall strengthen Iraq, and vice versa. It is obvious if we study the political structures of both countries and their role for Israel and the USA.

In Syria, however, the Russian Federation – and not Iran – has won, but it is equally true that the Shiite Republic, also thanks to Qassem Soleimani, is currently able to fight well in Syria, thus maintaining such a level of hostility as to minimize the possibility of retaliation against Iranian forces both in Syria and at home.

Iran has now stably penetrated the informal and official Syrian defence structures and its goal is both to support Hezbollah and the Shiite forces that will replace it, for an attack southwards, namely against Israel, and the definitive exclusion of US forces or US allies from the whole region of the Syria-Iraq axis.

Nevertheless the trump card that counts for the internationalization of the Syrian crisis is still in Russian hands only.

Furthermore, the territorial and operational limitation of the Russian forces in Syria, above all on the Golan Heights, is a further strategic aim of Iran in Syria and Jordan, as well as obviously in Iraq.

Qassem Alì Soleimani, however – often associated to Rahbar, the Supreme Leader Alì Khamenei, in the iconography of the Iranian regime – is considered the military leader closest to the ideas and opinions of Rahbar himself.

He has always been a myth for the Iranian public because he has quickly risen to the top ranks, among Iran’s 13 Major Generals, starting from a humble job as mason in Kirman, Southern Iran, and he is currently the only senior officer of the Armed Forces who speaks directly with the Supreme Leader.

Jointly with some of the most powerful representatives of the Sunni regimes in the Emirates and in the Saudi Kingdom, Soleimani and the Rahbar are organizing a new policy of negotiations with Saudi Arabia and with the whole Sunni world of  Egypt and Jordan.

Currently the Al Quds Force led by Soleimani is organizing alone – with at least 12 commercial jet planes never entered into any register – import-export operations in its favour and in favour of the Iranian regime, while millions of Iraqi, Afghan, Pakistani, Azerbaijani and Bahraini refugees in Iran have quickly obtained – through the Al Quds Force – citizenship in the Republic founded by Ayatollah Khomeini.

An Iranian passport is always ready -through Soleimani’s Force – also for many Lebanese, Pakistani (20% of the Pakistani inhabitants are Shiite) and Bahraini citizens.

These are the future strengths of Iran’s destabilization, which uses the Shiite minorities, but not only them.

Soleimani also manages a network of special envoys of the Shiite Republic of Iran throughout the Middle East that report directly to him who then transfers data directly to the Supreme Leader’s Office.

Currently Soleimani’s parallel and military diplomacy is the real axis of the Iranian power projection in the Greater Middle East and reaches as far as India and the West.

As Ayatollah Yatani said about a month ago: “Nowadays, thanks to General Soleimani, we directly control four Arab capitals, namely Beirut, Damascus, Baghdad and Sana’a”.

This is not entirely true, but certainly Soleimani’s network is effective and credible, at least to back the business that supports the Al Quds Brigade  and hence also its political operations of infiltration and control of the local political systems.

Certainly Qassem Soleimani’s power is not as relevant as the Iranian propaganda suggests, but it is however true that, in Iraq, the role played by the General and his Al Quds Force is really important and decisive.

Iraq has a border of 1,559 kilometres with Iran and the great country that was Saddam Hussein’s absolute dominion has always hosted a vast Shiite majority, the second in the world after Iran and India. It is also the majority in the country.

In fact, it has just been reported that General Qassem Alì Soleimani has reached Iraq by helicopter and has settled in Baghdad, taking direct control of the Shiite armed forces and their autonomous security services.

Certainly, the most important sign to define this Iranian decision was the attack on the Iranian Consulate in Karbala, the Shiite holy city. The attack launched on November 3 last caused the death of three people.

The demonstrators carried the Iraqi flags and cried out “Karbala is free, Iran out, out!” – one of the many signs of growing intolerance, not only by Sunnis, towards Iran’s strong interference in Iraqi politics and economy.

On November 11 last, Al-Sistani, the Great Shiite Iraqi Ayatollah, gave the Iraqi government a two-week deadline to find out which  “undisciplined elements” – as the Iraqi government of Adel Abdul Al Mahdi euphemistically called them- had used snipers to shoot some demonstrators.

Iraqi Prime Minister Mahdi declared three days of mourning for the victims of the demonstrations in Karbala and elsewhere.

The toll was terrible. At least 110 Iraqi citizens were killed in the demonstrations; over 6,000 were injured in demonstrations in Baghdad, Karbala and the South of the country. The death toll includes at least six elements of government security forces.

The US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo ,asked the Iraqi Prime Minister for maximum repression of demonstrations, which, however, are becoming increasingly “harsh”.

Abdul Al Mahdi immediately announced his 13-point plan for reforms, with economic subsidies and free housing for poor people, while a special session of the Iraqi Parliament opened on October 8, with meetings between the government and the Speaker of the Iraqi Council of Representatives, Mohammed Al Haboulsi, and between them and the tribal leaders.

On the same day, the Head of the State Grain Buying Agency in Baghdad, Naeem Al Maksousi, was removed and immediately replaced by Mahdi Elwan.

Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov had arrived in Baghdad as early as October 7 to negotiate with the Iraqi government and curb the protests, which are potentially destructive both for the Russian equilibria in Syria and for the sensitive relationship that the Russian Federation has with Iran, between Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.

If Iraq becomes viable for all the destabilization operations that currently pass through the Greater Middle East, the Russian successes in Syria, the stability of Assad’s regime in Syria, the penetration of the Sunni jihad from Afghanistan into Iran, and finally the destabilization of Jordan, will become not only possible, but likely.

In this case it is not only a matter of “bread riots”, as those described by Manzoni in his book The Betrothed, but of a political equilibrium between Iraqi ethnic groups, tribes and international relations, which today is inevitably breaking.

However, as mentioned above, on October 30 last a helicopter transported Qassem Alì Soleimani from Baghdad airport to the fortified Green Zone around the Iraqi capital.

In a meeting called by him in the office of the Iraqi Prime Minister, Soleimani also discussed the issue of the protests mounting in the capital city and, above all, in the Shiite Southern Iraq.

Soleimani is now the de facto Prime Minister of the Republic of Iraq, especially with reference to the actions taken to keep the protest under control.

“We in Iran know how to control these situations. They also happened in Iran and we quickly put them under control”. According to many sources, he reportedly said so to the Iraqi political leaders.

Hence a real Iranian coup d’état took place in Iraq, because of or with the pretext of the often bloody riots that occurred particularly in the last fortnight.

But there is also another weakness that has emerged for Iran in a  traditionally friendly country like Iraq.

Soleimani and his Brigade were not able to organize Hezbollah and its  network in the Lebanon, especially to prevent Saad Hariri – a Lebanese President who is a friend of Iran, but connected to the Saudi banks that hold him in their hands – from resigning together with all his government, including the various, and often powerful, Ministers chosen by Hezbollah itself.

Hariri’s resignation has also made a future technocratic solution for the Lebanese government more likely – a solution that would certainly diminish the grip of the Shiite movement Hezbollah, always trained by the “Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps”a Lebanese movement that was the “right eye” of Imam Khomeini.

If Iran loses also Iraq, its area of influence will be so much reduced as to allow a possible penetration of its own territory.

However, despite the presence of Soleimani, the Iraqi Prime Minister intends to leave power.

Therefore, while a “friendly” government for Iran resigns in the Lebanon, another “friendly” government in Iraq is floundering in a structural crisis. This is the rationale underlying Soleimani’s presence in the Iraqi capital.

It should be noted that on the border between Iran and Iraq, on both sides of the line, the Kurds live and they are a real human shield against massive military penetration from Iran into Iraq.

Sunni and Shiite Arab-Iranian tribes are also straddling the border line, and all the parties involved on the border between the two countries – both with a Shiite majority – have vast reserves of oil at their disposal, which they control almost entirely on their own.

Not to mention the various rivers of the region and, above all, the Shatt-el-Arab.

Let us see, however, who Qassem Alì Soleimani really controls in Iraq.

Firstly, there is the Asaib al-Haq network, as well as the Popular   Mobilization Forces (PMF) and finally what remains of the old Al Badr Brigades.

Asaib al-Haq, the “League of the Righteous”, also known as the Khazali Network, heavily operated also during the last war in Syria.

In the Iraqi war, after Saddam Hussein’s fall, it was responsible for at least 6,000 attacks against the US and coalition forces.

At the time, the “Widowers’ House”, where the Sunni jihadist “martyrs” – also those who hit Italy’s military in Nassiriya – passed at the end of their journey towards death, was placed in Syria.

It was from there that a young Sunni “martyr”, of Moroccan origin, who initially worked in a halal butcher shop on the Catalan coast moved to the Mosque of Viale Jenner, in Milan, and finally to Syria, to hit Italy’s soldiers in Camp Mittica, Nassiriya.

We were informed of it by the Spanish Guardia Civilthat – as always happens in these cases – had received some DNA found on the body of the “martyr” who killed our soldiers.

Asaib al-Haq, that is also an Iraqi political party, is under direct orders of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and, in any case, is institutionally part of the old network of the Popular Mobilization Forces.

It is estimated that the militants and operatives of the Asaib network and of the Popular Mobilization Forces are currently worth about 15,000 elements, all well-trained, both in Iraq and Iran.

Asaib was born as a splinter group of the old Army of the Mahdi, led and founded by Muqtada al-Sadr (and exactly in the old “rationalist” Sadr City, ferocious clashes between the “rebels” and the Iraqi police forces have taken place very recently).

The working style of the militia group among the population – that is to provide aid to poor people through a “religious welfare”, the same policy of Hezbollah in the Lebanon – is, however, a significant cost for Iran.

Hezbollah in the Lebanon, however, is supported by a system of private funding from rich local Shiites; companies, also Sunni ones, that operate in the areas or with Iranian customers; income from investment and from the usual private donations.

Between 1983 and 1989 Iran has given directly to Hezbollah as many as 450 million US dollars.

Currently – and, however, this does not include operational military support and training for Hezbollah men and women in the Lebanon – there is talk of at least 650 million US dollars a year, from Iran directly to the Southern district of Beirut, where the operational centre of the Lebanese and Shiite “Party of God” is located.

Hezbollah also gets money from the often powerful Shiite minorities outside the Middle East, such as those in West Africa, in the USA and also in the very important area of the “tripartite border” between Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil.

As shown by international agencies’ data, there are also operations that demonstrate how and to what extent  the business network of the “Party of God” also deals – for significant amounts – with the illegal trafficking of tobacco and, often, with international drug trafficking.

Currently news about Iran’s financial commitment in Iraq tells us of at least 16 billion US dollars to train, support and organize Shiite militias in Iraq.

Moreover the expansion of the Shiite militias in these areas is recent and will follow Soleimani’s presence in Iraq, like Banquo’s ghost in Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

The Popular Mobilisation Forces are currently a complex organization born in 2014 to fight against  the so-called Al Baghdadi’s “Caliphate”.

In September 2019, upon order of the Shiite Iraqi leader, Abu Mahdi Al Muhandis,the network of the Shiite PMF separated from the rest of the Iraqi Armed Forces. This Iran’s political choice stems from a series of air bombings that the PMF bases have suffered in Iraq over the last three months.

The Shiite network has accused Israel, which has neither confirmed nor denied the charge.

But there is no guarantee that this Shiite network is now also opposed to many of the sectarian forces operating on Iraqi soil, between Sunnis and Kurds.

However, the great Shiite military alliance, under the umbrella of the Popular Mobilisation Forces, was born in 2014 from a fatwa of the Great Ayatollah al Sistani that indicated to the young Iraqis the duty to “be part of the security forces” to save the country from the danger of the so-called Al Baghdadi’s “Caliphate”.

Despite various decrees enacted by the Iraqi government, both by Nouri al Maliki and the current President, the structure of the Popular Mobilisation Forces has not given their weapons to the Iraqi army and the PMF have never subjected their chain of command to the Iraqi hierarchy of the Armed Forces.

Recently, the Shiite network in Iraq has increased from the 4,500 armed militants, who had been identified in 2011, to well over 81,000 ones, with a significant increase that has occurred only over the last six months.

The network of the Popular Mobilisation Forces is also useful for Iran to create a second front – more difficult to control – of missile launch against Israel, operated solely from the Iraqi territory.

Also the Hashd al Shaabi movement in the Lebanon was born in 2014, like the new PMF. It is a movement connected – from the very beginning -to the Iraqi brigades of the Popular Mobilisation Forces, as well as to the Badr Brigade and the new Asaib al-Haq network, always linked to the presence of the Brigades of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and hence to Soleimani’s Al Quds Brigade.

Now this network, under Qassem Alì Soleimani’s direct control, currently counts at least 130,000 armed militants.

In other words, Iran is replacing its proxies in Iraq and the Lebanon with a view to avoiding the enemy penetration and staking – with new organizational and military models – a very heavy claim to regimes, between the Lebanon and Iraq, which are obviously at the end of their pathway.

Babylon the Great’s Cost For War

A crew chief overlooks the vast mountain ranges of Southeastern Afghanistan while a CH-47 Chinook assigned to the 1st Armored Division’s Combat Aviation Brigade is in flight during an advise and assistance mission Oct. 9, 2019. (Army photo by Master Sgt. Alejandro Licea)

Post-9/11 Wars Have Cost American Taxpayers $6.4 trillion, Study Finds

14 Nov 2019

Stars and Stripes | By Corey Dickstein

WASHINGTON — American taxpayers have spent $6.4 trillion in nearly two decades of post-9/11 wars, which have killed some 800,000 people worldwide, the Cost of Wars Project announced Wednesday.

The numbers reflect the toll of American combat and other military operations across 80 nations since al-Qaida operatives attacked the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington in 2001, launching the United States into its longest-ever wars aimed at stamping out terrorism worldwide.

The annual spending estimates released Wednesday show a general decline in war costs in 2019 as U.S. troops face less combat in major war zones such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. Still, the estimated price tag for those wars increased by $500 billion since November 2018, and it has doubled since the Cost of Wars Project — a product of Brown University’s Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs and Boston University’s Frederick S. Pardee Center — first looked at cumulative wartime costs in 2011.

Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, praised the workers involved in the project — 35 scholars, legal experts, human rights practitioners and physicians.

“The budget of the Pentagon is difficult to weed through is an understatement,” Reed said. “My hope is that this report will continue to inform, educate and serve as a resource as we consider these wars going forward … to give us a better sense of the costs of wars not in a snapshot, but the long-term costs. This should be for us [in Congress] a guide to our policies, our procedures and actions going forward.”

The actual monetary and human costs of these wars is difficult to discern, said Neta Crawford, the report’s author and a Boston University political science professor, who blasted the lack of budget transparency of federal institutions including the Pentagon and departments of Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security.

In recent years, Crawford asserted those institutions have made accessing information on how they spend taxpayer dollars more difficult, including where money is being spent overseas because items that were once reported are now “disappearing from the budget.”

She argued Wednesday that without proper accounting, the American public cannot shape informed opinions on the courses of these wars, which are generally viewed as “winding down” but continue to cost thousands of lives in 2019.

The Pentagon’s share of the spending includes the nearly $2 trillion since 2001 in overseas contingency operations funds, the wartime spending coffers used to fund most operations in places such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. The Defense Department has added more than $900 billion to its base budgets since those operations began, which it likely would not have needed in peacetime, Crawford said.

But the project’s cost estimates consider not only Pentagon wartime spending, but also about $1 trillion in spending on homeland anti-terrorism measures, $131 billion for State Department wartime spending, $437 billion for veterans care through fiscal 2020 and $925 billion of interest payments that the United States will pay on money borrowed to fund those operations. It also includes a projected price tag of more than $1 trillion in future spending on medical care through fiscal 2059 for the men and women who have fought these wars, which is anticipated to grow further, even if the wars were to end in the next year.

“That’s a very rough estimate,” Crawford said. “I think it’s low balling, honestly.”

The costs of America’s post-9/11 wars include not only money but the loss of lives, which the report estimated to have exceeded 800,000 people. That tally includes combatants and noncombatants in countries including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria and Yemen.

The report outlines the toll on Americans. Since operations were launched in Afghanistan in the weeks after the 9/11 attacks, 7,014 U.S. service members have died in American wars, 22 Pentagon civilians have been killed, and 7,950 U.S. contractors have died.

Other deaths include more than 12,000 deaths among U.S. allied troops, 173,000 deaths in the ranks of national military and police forces, nearly 300,000 enemy fighters killed and more than 310,000 civilian deaths.

Those tallies remain largely incomplete, Crawford said, estimating civilian deaths in war zones where Americans have operated could be twice those reported, but were impossible to verify.

She urged better transparency from the Pentagon — and other federal institutions — on budget decisions and ongoing operations in the wars.

“There’s a lot of blood and treasure spent, but we’re not sure if [the wars] are successful,” Crawford said, highlighting recent Pentagon estimates of number of Taliban fighters in Afghanistan that show similar strength as it held in 2001 and estimates of Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria that show the group might still boast 35,000 to 100,000 fighters following its loss of territory earlier this year.

“So how successful is the strategy and how successful could it be?” she asked. “… We can’t assess in some instances what those answers are.”