BAGHDAD: The anti-Iranian Iraqi Shiite cleric, Muqtada Al-Sadr, has called on all Iraqis to take to the streets in massive demonstrations across the country on Friday to show their rejection to be involved in the US-Iran conflict, and he threatened to consider whoever involves Iraq with war as “an enemy,” a statement said.
The tension between the US and Iran is at its peak, especially after the US withdrew from the nuclear deal, imposing economic sanctions on Iran and threatening military attacks if Iran attacks US interests in the Middle East.
Iraq has been a battleground for the great powers in the region, especially America and Iran, since 2003. Iraqi leaders believe that the country will be the first confrontation zone between the two countries in the event of a war, especially since Iran has great influence in Iraq and controls armed factions that could target US interests at any time.
Sadr, who has millions of followers and controls one of the largest Shiite factions, has publicly distanced himself and his fighters from the Iranians for years. It has criticized them on several occasions for “their blatant interference in Iraqi affairs and their quest to control the country using their armed arms.”
Despite Sadr’s hostile attitude toward Iran, he still considers the US as his first “enemy” in Iraq, and has blamed them for the killing of thousands of his followers in the years since the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq.
He has expressed his attitude toward the Americans in his speeches and directives to his followers.
“I am not backing the war between Iran and the US and I am not (supporting any situation) that involves Iraq in this war and makes it a battlefield,” Sadr said.
“We need a serious pause to keep Iraq away from this fierce war that will burn everything.”
Iran has formed, trained and equipped dozens of Shiite, Sunni, Christian and Yazidi factions over the past years.
All American interests are located within the range of these factions’ rockets.
Restraining and controlling these factions is one of the biggest challenges facing Iraqi leaders.
A rocket fired by unknown gunmen on Sunday targeting the Green Zone, the most fortified area in Baghdad that hosts most of the governmental buildings and embassies, including the US embassy, has embarrassed the Iraqi government and intensified fears that Iraqi factions
could spark a war between Iran and the US.
Sadr called on Iraqis to take part in mass demonstrations on Friday evening in all provinces — except the holy city of Najaf.
“We need to raise the Iraqi people’s voice condemning the war … it would be the end of Iraq if this war broke out,” Sadr said.
“Any party that involves Iraq in the war and makes it a battleground (for Iran and the US) will be an enemy of the Iraqi people,” the Iraqi leader said.
BAGHDAD (AP) — Leading Iraqi Shiite figures warned Monday against attempts to pull their country into a war between the U.S. and Iran, saying it would turn Iraq into a battlefield yet again, just as it is on the path to recovery.
The warning came hours after a rocket slammed into Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, landing less than a mile from the sprawling U.S. Embassy. No injuries were reported and no group immediately claimed the Sunday night attack.
Shortly after, President Donald Trump tweeted a warning to Iran not to threaten the United States or it will face its „official end.“
Last week, the U.S. ordered the evacuation of nonessential diplomatic staff from Iraq amid unspecified threats from Iran and rising tensions across the region. The White House has also sent warships and bombers to the Persian Gulf to counter the alleged Iranian threats.
Iraqi military spokesman Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasoul tweeted Monday that the army command in Baghdad is working „day and night“ to guarantee the security of citizens, foreign missions and international and local companies.
On Monday, two influential Shiite clerics and a leading politician — all with close ties to Iran — warned that Iraq could once again get caught in the middle. The country hosts more than 5,000 U.S. troops, and is home to powerful Iranian-backed militias, some of whom want those U.S. forces to leave.
„This war would mark the end of Iraq,“ the black-turbaned al-Sadr warned. „We need peace and reconstruction.“
The influential cleric’s statements were echoed by the Shiite militias, which appeared to distance themselves from Sunday’s attack.
Qais al-Khazali, the leader the Iranian-backed Asaib Ahl al-Haq, or League of the Righteous group, tweeted that he is opposed to operations that „give pretexts for war“ and added that they would only „harm Iraq’s political, economic and security conditions.“
A spokesman for Kataib Hezbollah said the rocket attack was „unjustified“ and suggested a third party was trying to provoke a war, citing Israel or Saudi Arabia.
For the Shiite-majority Iraq to be a theater for proxy wars is not new. It lies on the fault line between Shiite Iran and the mostly Sunni Arab world, led by powerhouse Saudi Arabia, and has long been the setting where Saudi-Iran rivalry for regional supremacy played out.
After America’s 2003 invasion of Iraq to oust dictator Saddam Hussein, American troops and Iranian-backed militiamen fought pitched battles around the country, and scores of U.S. troops were killed or wounded by sophisticated Iranian-made weapons.
The office of Hadi al-Amiri, the leader of a coalition of Shiite paramilitary forces backed by both Baghdad and Tehran, released a statement calling on Iraqis to work together „to keep Iraq and the region away from war.“
„If war breaks out … it will burn everyone,“ al-Amiri warned.
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Mahdi Army: The group, also known as Jaysh Al-Mahdi (JAM), was formed in 2003 by Iraqi Shia cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr, the son of Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Sadiq Al-Sadr who is the leader of the Sadrist movement. Al-Sadr teamed up with a small group of 500 followers with the objective of expelling the US coalition that invaded the county that year. The estimated number of the militiamen later reached at least 10,000.
In its early years, Iran largely supported the group. Tehran provided arms and Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah helped to train the army, but Sadr began adopting anti-Iran policies in 2006 when he drifted away from the then Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki, who was backed by Tehran.
Sadr became one of the most influential figures of Iraqi politics with the 2018 elections as he re-established himself an anti-sectarian and anti-corruption leader.
Badr Organisation: The group is part of the PMF. It is considered Tehran’s oldest proxy in Iraq. Its leader, Hadi Al-Amri, renamed the group, once known as the Badr Brigades, when he joined since the constitution bans paramilitary groups from political participation and he was poised to run in the 2018 elections.
Hashd Al-Shaabi: Also referred to as the PMF, Hashd Al-Shaabi is the umbrella military unit embracing the largest Shia armed groups, Badr Organisation and the Mahdi army. It’s largely funded and commanded by Iran, which is predominantly Shia.
In fact, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards stepped in as advisers and trainers to those militia groups under the umbrella of Hashd Al-Shaabi, while Iran began providing funds and armories to more than 100,000 Hashd fighters. The Hashd Al-Shaabi’s second man, Abu Mahdi Al-Mohandis, pledged allegianceto Iranian commander Qassem Sulaimani in early 2017.
It was founded after 2014 after Iraq’s Shia cleric Ayatollah Ali Sistani called to defend the country from Daesh since the Iraqi army was too weak to do so. The group played a key role in defeating Daesh in the country, but is also accused of human rights abuses. Human rights organisations, such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have documented major crimes against Iraqi Sunnis.
Made up of more than 50 sub-groups, Hashd Al-Shaabi also includes a few Yazidis, Christians and some Sunni tribal leaders that have fought alongside the group.
A year later, in 2016, Iraq’s parliament passed legislation legitimising the PMF as an independent organisation within the Iraqi army. Sistani, who is known for rejecting the Iranian model of theocracy, opposed the group’s involvement in the politics and expressed his discomfort with Iranian influence in the country. The group, however, managed to step up its influence in the Iraqi political sphere with the defeat of Daesh.
National Defence Forces (NDF): The Syrian paramilitary organisation was formed in 2012 in support of the Syrian regime with the help of Iran and Hezbollah. Iran has been the main backer of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad in the eight-year war.
The NDF was created through merging and restructuring the pro-regime Popular Committees and Shabiha, pro Assad thugs, taking Iran’s Basij resistance Force as a leading example. It played an important role in keeping the Assad regime strong in its fight against opposition forces in the country, but is also blamed for human rights abuses by international rights organisations.
Fatemeyoun Brigades: This is an affiliate of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) that was originally created to defend the shrine of Sayyeda Zeinab outside of Damascus before the Syrian war broke out in 2011. It is made up almost entirely of Shia Afghans and refugees. The force fought in the front lines of the war alongside regime forces.
Hezbollah: The group is an internationally blacklisted political and militant organisationprimarily based in Lebanon under the leadership of Hassan Nasrallah. Its creation dates back to the 1980s following Israel’s invasion of Lebanon. Iran helped create and sponsor the guerilla group, fortifying it with weapons, fighters and assistance. The United States and other Western nations have named it a terrorist group.
In Lebanon, Hezbollah’s political party leadsthe pro-Syrian March 8 faction, while it remains heavily involved in the Syrian war. The group opposes the West and Israel and seeks an Iranian-style autocracy.
An F/A-18E Super Hornet from VFA 25 launches from the flight deck of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln on May 3. (US Navy via AP / Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Michael Singley)
The announcement that the Pentagon is sending a strike force to the Middle East caps a yearlong campaign of threats and intimidation.
By Bob Dreyfuss Today 3:11 pm
Is it Iraq all over again? Is President Donald Trump, egged on by two ultra-hawkish advisers in National Security Adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, seeking to launch an illegal, unauthorized war against a country in the Middle East after demonizing its leaders and making bogus charges about weapons of mass destruction? Just as President George W. Bush, led on by Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, invaded Iraq using false charges that Baghdad had a secret stash of nuclear and chemical arms, over the past few weeks the White House has taken a series of provocative, unwarranted steps that have brought the United States and Iran to the brink of war.
That’s the conclusion of two Democratic senators, Tom Udall of New Mexico and Dick Durbin of Illinois, who were alarmed enough to write an op-ed in The Washington Post, in which they warned, “Sixteen years after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, we are again barreling toward another unnecessary conflict in the Middle East based on faulty and misleading logic.”
And as Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said, Tehran is convinced that what he calls “the B Team”—Bolton, Bibi, bin Salman, and bin Zayed, the last three being Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and Mohammed bin Zayed, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi and effective ruler of the United Arab Emirates—are determined to force regime change in Iran. “President Trump says that the pressure will bring Iran to its knees,” said Zarif.
“The other day, Secretary Pompeo was asked if he was planning a coup d’état in Iran. And you know what he said? Any diplomat, even if they’re planning a coup, would deny it! But he said, if I were planning a coup, I wouldn’t tell you. Sometimes people say what’s in the back of their mind,” Zarif added. (The exact quote, according to Axios, came in a speech by Pompeo to an Iranian-American group, in which he said, “Even if we [were], would I be telling you guys about it?”)
This week, Bolton announced that the United States was dispatching an aircraft-carrier strike group and bombers to the Middle East, coupling it with bellicose language about sending “a clear and unmistakable message to the Iranian regime” and threatening “unrelenting force.” That unprovoked action follows a yearlong campaign of threats and intimidation aimed at Iran, after the administration’s withdrawal one year ago from the 2015 six-power nuclear accord signed by President Barack Obama. Since then, the United States has instituted tough new sanctions aimed at crippling Iran’s economy and cutting off its oil exports.
Over the past few weeks, the campaign of threats and what the White House calls “maximum pressure” has intensified. On April 8, in a highly provocative action, the State Department announced that it was labeling Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps—Tehran’s main military arm—a terrorist group. Just as Bush manufactured false charges that Saddam Hussein had ties to Al Qaeda and 9/11, the Trump administration is painting the Iranian nation as a terrorist threat. “The IRGC will be added to the State Department’s FTO [foreign terrorist organization] list, which includes 67 other terrorist organizations including Hizballah, Hamas, [and] Palestinian Islamic Jihad,” read the announcement. “The IRGC FTO designation highlights that Iran is an outlaw regime that uses terrorism as a key tool of statecraft.” Never before in the two-decade history of the State Department’s terrorist listing has an entire nation’s armed forces been designated as an FTO. (You can read the whole declaration here.)
On April 22, the White House, accusing Iran of “spread[ing] mayhem across the Middle East,” announced that the United States was putting an end to the sanction waivers that allowed countries such as India, Turkey, and China to import oil from Iran, “intended to bring Iran’s oil exports to zero”—in other words, strangling the country’s lifeline. In its statement, the White House stressed that the United States, along with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates—two of Iran’s regional enemies—would guarantee that whatever oil is lost from Iran would be made up by them. (You can read the statement here.)
Finally, just before announcing that it was sending the aircraft carrier and bomber wing to the Gulf, on May 3 the administration took a stunning new step aimed directly at the heart of the Iran nuclear accord, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). No longer, the White House said, would the United States permit Iran to enrich uranium or to “transfer enriched uranium out of Iran in exchange for natural uranium.” Both activities, along with many other provisions in the JCPOA, were explicitly tolerated under that accord. (You can read the State Department’s declaration here.) By its action, the United States is threatening to either force Iran to shut down its limited and highly regulated uranium enrichment program or to disregard those provisions of the JCPOA and move toward an unchecked enrichment regime. According to the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, that’s exactly what Iran might do: “enrichment at any volume and level.”
Zarif, in a meeting with a small group of reporters on April 25, including one from The Nation, warned that Iran might withdraw from the JCPOA if it is pushed into a corner. “The nuclear deal has not produced any positive outcome,” he said. “So we will decide, the Iranian people will decide, about the future of this engagement. They have lost hope. They have lost faith in the utility of international engagement. And that is alarming.” Needless to say, were Iran to pull out of the JCPOA in response to Trump, Bolton, and Pompeo’s provocations or were it to resume unlimited enrichment of uranium, it would trigger an unrelenting series of war cries from “the B Team,” from the United States, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE. And the military option—that is, military strikes on the dozens of Iranian scientific and research facilities devoted to its nuclear program—would be back on the table.
By attempting to choke Iran’s economy, by designating the IRGC as a terrorist group, by targeting Iran’s legal enrichment program, and by making overt military threats, the United States is at once weakening the reform-minded and moderate forces in Iran, including Zarif and President Hassan Rouhani, and strengthening hard-liners—Iran’s own Boltons—including its ultraconservative clerics and some members of the IRGC, many of whom opposed the 2015 nuclear accord as too accommodating to the United States. Just last month, in what could be an ominous turn, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, ousted the commander of the IRGC and named a new chief, a tough-minded veteran. The new commander, Hossein Salami, said as recently as February, “The whole world should know that when we talk about martyrdom, it does not mean that we stand still so that the enemy attacks us and kills us. If the enemy opts for a war, we will become fully offensive.”
Zarif is well aware that the United States might be seeking a pretext for war. In late April, at a meeting in New York with the Asia Society, he said, “It is not a crisis yet, but it is a dangerous situation. Accidents…are possible. I wouldn’t discount the B Team plotting an accident anywhere in the region, particularly as we get closer to the election.” Indeed, in announcing the deployment of the aircraft-carrier group to the Gulf, Washington warned that it was acting on intelligence that Iran or its proxies and allies—possibly Hezbollah, members of pro-Iran militias in Iraq, or others—were planning to attack US military forces or other US interests in the Middle East. That information, unconfirmed, reportedly was passed on to the United States by Israeli intelligence, according to Barak Ravid of Israel’s Channel 13. “Israel passed information on an alleged Iranian plot to attack U.S. interests in the Gulf to the U.S. before National Security Adviser John Bolton threatened Iran with ‘unrelenting force’ last night, senior Israeli officials told me,” said Ravid. Presumably, an attack on US forces anywhere in the region, even if it could only remotely be attributed to Iran, would give Bolton a reason to activate his threat of unleashing “unrelenting force.”
Anything, even Iran’s legitimate military activities, could provide Bolton with an excuse to go to war. According to a New Yorker profile of Bolton, as far back as last November he seemed to advocate bombing a missile test site in Iran after the country test-fired a medium-range missile.
All of this puts the conflict between the United States and Iran on a hair trigger. And it gives extremists, including independent actors, the ability to try to provoke a US-Iran war by, say, assassinating a US military officer or firing rockets into an American compound—even if Tehran has nothing to do with it.
Worryingly, a former Iranian nuclear negotiator and ally of Zarif and Rouhani, Hossein Mousavian, wrote recently not only that Iran might pull out of the JCPOA but also that it might leave the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), citing a recent statement from Zarif. Addressing IRIB, the Iranian state broadcaster, Zarif argued that one of Iran’s options in response to Trump, Bolton, and Pompeo might be to quit the NPT, saying, “The Islamic Republic’s choices are numerous, and the country’s authorities are considering them…and leaving [the] NPT is one of them.” And as Mousavian pointed out, were Iran to leave the JCPOA or the NPT or both, “the US-Israel axis would launch a heavy political propaganda campaign claiming that Iran’s nuclear program is a threat to the peace and security of the world.”
As Zarif made clear, Iran’s leaving the JCPOA can’t be ruled out, especially if hard-liners in Tehran get the upper hand. Despite the intense pressure being put on Iran, including the overt threat of regime change, Rouhani, Zarif, and even Khamenei are likely to try to avoid giving Washington the pretext it may be seeking to escalate the conflict. To get around the sanctions, Zarif and his team are likely to draw closer to China and Russia. “Our relations with Russia are better than at any time in the past,” Zarif said. Iran is also asking the Europeans to step up their resistance to America’s bullying. According to IRNA, the Iranian news agency, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi recently warned Europe that Iran’s patience is limited and that the European Union must not succumb to American efforts to shut down trade with Iran. “We have given enough time to make up for repercussions of the US withdrawal from the deal and now the time has come for action. We welcome the EU political stances, but political supports are not solely enough to save the deal,” he said.
The facts are simple: Washington and Tehran are locked into a long-term geopolitical contest throughout the Middle East that will span decades—a similar contest in many ways to Washington and Beijing’s battle for influence in the Asia-Pacific and wider Indo-Pacific regions.
Over the long term, the U.S.-Iranian struggle throughout the Middle East could very well be a mini-Thucydides trap, to steal the phrase from my beloved Harvard’s resident geostrategic guru, Graham Allison—the classic tale of how when a rising power meets an established power, war is oftentimes the most common result (eleven out of fifteen times, per Allison).
(This first appeared in 2015.)
Taking such a long view of U.S.-Iranian relations only reveals stormy seas ahead. No serious foreign-policy or national-security mind can see a long-term partnership beyond maybe short-term alignments in Iraq and decreased tensions from Iran putting its nuclear program on ice for ten years (Remember, folks: In ten years, Iran can slowly expand its nuclear program, and in fifteen years, it has no restrictions on the amount of uranium it wishes to produce…then what?).
Looking at any map reveals a whole host of challenges.
From Yemen, to Syria, to Lebanon and over the long term in Iraq, it is quite clear Washington and Tehran have too many areas of contention for their relationship to turn rosey.
Iran is a nation that, like China, feels history has certainly not been kind, especially at the hands of Western powers. Tehran, while not trying to create an empire of sorts throughout the Middle East, as some have offered, certainly seems focused on expanding its regional interests and influence—as any power on the rise would naturally seek to do. The natural defense of such interests could, by default, turn Iran into the Middle East’s new regional hegemon. Look far and wide into the soul of U.S. diplomats, and that is the real fear (and a shared one among Washington’s allies in the region). While many in the Middle East and beyond fear Iran’s possible nuclear aspirations, such weapons are only a part of a much bigger geostrategic challenge.
So the real question seems quite simple: Will America and Iran come to blows over Tehran’s regional aspirations?
I, for one, certainly hope not. I think the best possible solution to these countries’ conflicting goals would be for both sides to take a very pragmatic approach—to align their interests in areas of shared goals, while agreeing to disagree, and even competing in many areas across the wider Middle East—“frenemies,” if you will.
However, as history has shown us time and time again, the end result we want does not always come to pass. This piece will explore the various ways Iran could strike U.S. forces if conflict ever occurred. Looking specifically at Tehran’s military capabilities, one quickly realizes Iran’s military, while not nearly as advanced as the United States’, is certainly tough enough to constrain Washington’s strategic objectives through large parts of the Middle East, especially as one approaches Iran’s borders.
While the pages of many publications—including this one—are filled with various ideas and concepts that detail one of my favorite subjects, Chinese anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD), other nations are adopting this smart asymmetric strategy, and Iran is one of them. While nowhere near as advanced as China’s various sea mines, ballistic and cruise missiles, submarines, cyber weapons and C2 and C4ISR systems, Iranian A2/AD still packs quite a punch.
So what would an Iranian A2/AD campaign against U.S. forces look like? Well, let us assume Iran decided, for whatever reason, to strike first and strike decisively—the best way to utilize any A2/AD force. The best research to guide us in such a discussion is a 2011 report from the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA) that looks at Iranian A2/AD capabilities and possible U.S. responses, titled: “Outside-In: Operating from Range to Defeat Iran’s Anti-Access/Area-Denial Threats.”
The real highlight of this report is that it sketches out an Iranian A2/AD campaign against U.S. forces in the timeframe between 2020 and 2025 with what CSBA assumes Iran would have developed in terms of military capabilities by that time. The scenario also assumes a U.S. force posture at roughly 2011-levels. While these qualifiers do detract slightly from the accuracy of the scenario, CSBA does show the reader quite effectively what Iran could do.
For starters, as noted prior, surprise will be the key, with Iran going all in with a massive strike:
Iran will likely exploit the element of surprise to subject U.S. forces in the Gulf to a concentrated, combined-arms attack. Using coastal radars, UAVs, and civilian vessels for initial targeting information, Iranian surface vessels could swarm U.S. surface combatants in narrow waters, firing a huge volume of rockets and missiles in an attempt to overwhelm the Navy’s AEGIS combat system and kinetic defenses like the Close-In Weapons System and Rolling Airframe Missile, and possibly drive U.S. vessels toward prelaid minefields. Shore-based ASCMs and Klub-K missiles launched from “civilian” vessels may augment these strikes. Iran’s offensive maritime exclusion platforms could exploit commercial maritime traffic and shore clutter to mask their movement and impede U.S. counter-targeting. While these attacks are underway, Iran could use its SRBMs and proxy forces to strike U.S. airfields, bases, and ports. Iran will likely seek to overwhelm U.S. and partner missile defenses with salvos of less accurate missiles before using more accurate SRBMs armed with submunitions to destroy unsheltered aircraft and other military systems. Proxy groups could attack forward bases using presighted guided mortars and rockets, and radiation-seeking munitions to destroy radars and C4 nodes.
Iran would also try to lock out the Strait of Hormuz:
After initial attacks to attrite U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf, Iran will likely use its maritime exclusion systems to control passage through the Strait of Hormuz. Mine warfare should feature prominently in Iranian attempts to close the Strait. As with many of its A2/AD systems, Iran could employ a combination of “smart” influence mines along with large quantities of less capable weapons such as surface contact mines. Iran may deploy many of its less sophisticated mines from a variety of surface vessels, while it reserves its submarine force to lay influence mines covertly. Though Iran may wish to sink or incapacitate a U.S. warship with a mine, its primary goal is probably to deny passage and force the U.S. Navy to engage in prolonged mine countermeasure (MCM) operations while under threat from Iranian shore-based attacks. U.S. MCM ships, which typically lack the armor and self-defenses of larger warships, would be unlikely to survive in the Strait until these threats are suppressed.
Iran could deploy its land-based ASCMs from camouflaged and hardened sites to firing positions along its coastline and on Iranian-occupied islands in the Strait of Hormuz while placing decoys at false firing positions to complicate U.S. counterstrikes. Hundreds of ASCMs may cover the Strait, awaiting target cueing data from coastal radars, UAVs, surface vessels, and submarines. Salvo and multiple axis attacks could enable these ASCMs to saturate U.S. defenses. Similar to the way in which Iran structured its ballistic missile attacks, salvos of less capable ASCMs might be used to exhaust U.S. defenses, paving the way for attacks by more advanced missiles.
Also, according to CSBA, Iran would be rewarded by spreading the field of conflict:
Undoubtedly aware that the United States’ ability to bring military power to bear is influenced by the demand for forces in other regions, Iran may seek to expand the geographical scope of a conflict in order to divert U.S. attention and resources elsewhere. Iran’s terrorist proxies, perhaps aided by Quds Force operatives, could be employed to threaten U.S. interests in other theaters. Iran could conceivably leverage its relationship with Hezbollah to attempt to draw Israel into the conflict or tap Hezbollah’s clandestine networks to carry out attacks in other regions.
The above is only a very small sample of what is an excellent, but frightening, report. CSBA deserves credit for showing what such a conflict would look like, and did not get nearly enough credit when the report was released. While slightly dated, since it was written towards the end of 2011, any defense or national-security wonk should sit down and read it cover to cover. After reading the whole report, along with just a quick parsing of many other documents and resources on Iran’s military over the years, one can easily come to the conclusion that Iran’s forces, when confronted close to its shores, would not be easily subdued. What is referred to commonly as the “tyranny of distance,” combined with Tehran’s growing A2/AD capabilities, creates an interesting challenge for U.S. warfighters if the unthinkable ever came to pass.
May 5, 2019
The aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln last month in the Mediterranean Sea off Spain. It has been rerouted to the Persian Gulf.Cati Cladera/EPA, via Shutterstock
The aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln last month in the Mediterranean Sea off Spain. It has been rerouted to the Persian Gulf.Cati Cladera/EPA, via Shutterstock
WASHINGTON — The White House announced on Sunday that the United States was sending an aircraft carrier strike group and Air Force bombers to the Middle East because of “troubling and escalatory indications and warnings” related to Iran.
The deployment was intended “to send a clear and unmistakable message to the Iranian regime that any attack on United States interests or on those of our allies will be met with unrelenting force,” said John R. Bolton, the national security adviser, in a statement released Sunday night.
The announcement did not give any further information on the reasons for the commitment of military forces. An American military official said on Sunday night that whatever threat Mr. Bolton cited had most likely emerged in the previous 24 to 48 hours because as of late Friday, military analysts were not tracking any new, imminent or clearly defined Iranian or Iranian-backed threats against Americans in Iraq or the region.
Omar Sattar May 5, 2019
BAGHDAD — Iraq’s central government announced April 9 its intention to launch a comprehensive census in the country in late 2020. This constitutes the first step toward ending several chronic economic and political problems caused by a lack of accurate official statistics since 1997.
While there have been several previous attempts to take a comprehensive census, such attempts have failed to come to fruition either due to the lack of sufficient funding or because of the absence of a political consensus.
Article 140 of the 2005 Iraqi Constitution stipulates that a census was to be taken before 2007 so that a referendum could be held in disputed areas, including oil-rich Kirkuk province, in order to determine the will of the people and whether they want their area to turn into its own region or want to join the Kurdistan region.
This year, it seems significant that a body called the Supreme Commission for the Comprehensive Population and Housing Census of 2020 has been formed.
A Ministry of Planning statement says this body includes “the head of the National Population Policy Committee, the head of the Central Bureau of Statistics, two representatives of the Kurdistan Regional Government, a representative of the House of Representatives, and the undersecretaries of ministries related to security and services and representatives of the Sunni and Shiite endowments, among other religions.”
The mission of this body is to “approve the census’ comprehensive plan and sub-plans based on their stages, time frames and material and human requirements. The body also determines the methods of funding disbursement as well as the work progress supervision and follow-up methods throughout the preparatory stages. It adopts the census form’s final version and defines the counting process, among other issues it may deem important and necessary.”
This reflects the seriousness of the government in the implementation of the comprehensive census.
Abdul-Zahra al-Hindawi, a spokesman for the census, told Al-Monitor, “The comprehensive population and housing census will be taken at the end of next year, and the United Nations along with some friendly countries will provide assistance and advice to organize this important event.”
Regarding the relationship between the census and Article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution, Hindawi, who also heads the Central Bureau of Statistics, said, “The census has nothing to do with Article 140 of the constitution and the disputed areas.“
He added, „While the constitution stipulates the organization of a census for those areas specifically in order to determine the number of each component therein before a referendum is held, the census in question is only developmental, and citizens have the option not to specify their national and religious affiliations when filling out the form.”
He said, “Political differences over whether or not the census has anything to do with the disputed areas were behind the postponement of the census, which was scheduled to take place in 2010. The census that is being prepared now will have nothing to do with [the fate of] Kirkuk or any other disputed area.”
According to the Ministry of Planning, the debate over the future of the disputed areas will linger, especially considering that the parliamentary blocs that form the government had approved a government program that includes a population census.
Riad al-Masoudi, a member of parliament from the Sairoon coalition led by Muqtada al-Sadr, stressed that “the census will make no mention of religious, doctrinal and national affiliations, although some parliamentary blocs are trying to have these details mentioned in the questionnaire.”
He said, “There is a prevailing view to have doctrinal and national affiliations specified at a later stage so that no developmental plans are disrupted due to political differences.”
Dylan Ghafour, a member of parliament for the Kurdistan Democratic Party, told Al-Monitor that from now until the fourth quarter of next year, which is when the census is to be taken, the Kurdish side will be working on having national affiliations specified in the census so that the latter is used in the application of Article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution.
“The government program stipulates ending the dispute over the disputed areas, and the census should under no circumstances refrain from including national and religious affiliations. Otherwise, it would be useless,” she added.
Ghafour hoped that “political blocs would end the dispute over Kirkuk by constitutional means through the census and popular referendum. It is such disputes that allowed the Islamic State organization, among other terrorist groups, to infiltrate and control large areas of the country.”
The last official population census taken in Iraq was in 1997, and it did not include the Kurdistan region. According to that census, the population of the country amounted to 19,184,543 people, and since 2003 until now, the Iraqi government has been relying on data from the Ministry of Trading, which administers the ration cards held by most Iraqis, to determine the size of the population and organize elections.
On Oct. 1, the Ministry of Planning estimated the population of Iraq at 38,124,182 — 19,261,253 of whom were male, accounting for 51% of the population, while 18,862,929 were female, accounting for 49%..
The debate over the population census is not confined to the disputed areas, but also includes sectarian diversity and the quotas for each ethnic and national minority. Each group believes that its share in the federal parliament and local councils is unfair and has been manipulated to serve other groups. However, striking the religion and sect category from the census form would necessarily lead a prolonged debate over the real size of Iraq’s various communities, especially considering that the political system has relied since 2003 on sectarian and ethnic quotas for the distribution of positions and privileges.
The census will contribute to more targeted economic and human development plans as it will more accurately determine, as opposed to relying on estimates, the real electoral size of each province and the share each administrative unit should get from the public budget.
As Kurds and Turkmens object to the census‘ timing and meaning for the future of Kirkuk on the one hand, and some groups insist on the need for citizens to specify their religious affiliation on the other, this census might end up getting postponed once again.
A general view of the Bushehr nuclear power plant, some…
Sunday, 5 May, 2019 – 08:00 –
London- Asharq Al-Awsat
As the US intensifies its pressure campaign aimed at curbing Tehran’s ballistic missile program and its regional influence, the Iranian clerical-led regime reaffirmed its plans to resume enriching uranium, heavy (deuterium0-based) water and exporting oil.
Speaker Ali Larijani said Tehran would continue to enrich uranium and produce heavy water, regardless of restrictions on shipping abroad.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, for his part, warned that the recent host of US economic sanctions, a part of Washington strategy to counter Iranian malicious behavior, risks stoking internal tensions. Reformists in Rouhani’s administration and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei loyalists have been at odds on Iran’s response policy to pressure.
“Under the [nuclear accord] Iran can produce heavy water and this is not in violation of the agreement. Therefore, we will carry on with enrichment activity,” the semiofficial Iranian news agency, ISNA, quoted Parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani as saying on May 4.
“We will enrich Uranium whether you move to buy it or not,” Larijani said.
On May 3, the US President Donald Trump’s administration slapped new restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activities as it looks to force Tehran to stop producing low-enriched uranium and expanding its only nuclear power plant, intensifying a campaign aimed at halting Tehran’s ballistic missile program and curbing its regional power.
Despite increasing pressure on Iran, the United States on May 3 extended five sanction waivers that will allow Russian, China, and European countries to continue to work with Iran’s civilian nuclear program at Bushehr. But it said it may punish any activity that expands the site.
At the same time, the State Department said it was ending two waivers related to Iranian exports of enriched uranium in what it called “the toughest sanctions ever on the Iranian regime.” All of the waivers were due to expire on May 4.
The 45- to 90-day extensions were shorter than the 180 days granted previously but can be renewed.
It was the third punitive action taken against Iran in as many weeks. Last week, it said it would grant no more sanctions waivers for countries buying Iranian oil, accelerating its plan to push Iran’s oil exports to zero. The Trump administration also took the unprecedented step of designating Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization.
“The Trump administration continues to hold the Iranian regime accountable for activities that threaten the region’s stability and harm the Iranian people. This includes denying Iran any pathway to a nuclear weapon,“ State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said.
The Trump administration pulled out of the nuclear accord a year ago and vowed „maximum pressure“ aimed at curbing the regional role of Iran.”
Saturday, 4 May, 2019 – 12:15 –
The National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) will open an office in Iraq. (Reuters)
The National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) will open an office in Iraq, the semi-official Fars News Agency said on Saturday.
The new office “will facilitate cooperation in the oil industry and the transfer of engineering and technical services” to Iraq, it said.
The announcement comes as Iran faces US sanctions on its oil exports.
Earlier, President Hassan Rouhani said Iran must counter the sanctions by continuing to export its oil as well as boosting non-oil exports.
His comments, carried live on Iranian TV, came a day after Washington acted to force Iran to stop producing low-enriched uranium and expanding its only nuclear power plant, intensifying a campaign aimed at halting its ballistic missile program and curbing its regional power.
“America is trying to decrease our foreign reserves … So we have to increase our hard currency income and cut our currency expenditures,” Rouhani said.
“Last year, we had we non-oil exports of $43 billion. We should increase production and raise our (non-oil) exports and resist America’s plots against the sale of our oil.”
Friday’s move, which Rouhani made no direct reference to, was the third punitive US action taken against Iran in as many weeks.
Last week, it said it would stop waivers for countries buying Iranian oil, in an attempt to push Iran’s oil exports to zero. The United States also blacklisted Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Efforts by the Trump administration to impose political and economic isolation on Tehran began with last year’s US withdrawal from the nuclear deal it and other world powers negotiated with Iran in 2015.
Iran’s foreign minister discusses US sanctions, foreign intervention in the region, and his past resignation attempt.
04 May 2019 14:16 GMT
In July 2015, after more than a decade of on-and-off negotiations, world powers reached a nuclear deal with Iran.
Under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Iran agreed to eliminate its stockpile of enriched uranium and reduce centrifuges. In return, all UN Security Council and multilateral sanctions were lifted.
But not everyone was happy with the deal, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said the deal was a „stunning historic mistake“, as well as US Republican presidential candidates at the time.
The campaign against the Iran nuclear deal succeeded when Donald Trump moved into the White House.
The US withdrew from the deal in 2018, and announced that it would reimpose sanctions on Iran.
Certainly, Iran does not want confrontation and escalation but we have not lived 7,000 years by escaping from those who want to bully us.
Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s minister of foreign affairs
Iran insisted it would remain in the nuclear deal and so did other signatories such as France, Germany, and the UK.
But tensions between the US and Iran have escalated; the US recent classified Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as „terrorists“, and Iran responded in turn, labelling US troops in the Middle East as „terrorists“.
Unilateral sanctions have also affected Iran’s economy, and the US recently tightened them by ending sanction waivers for countries buying oil from Iran, threatening Iran’s already struggling economy, whose oil production has decreased from 2.5 million barrels per day (bpd) in 2017 to as little as 1.3 million bpd.
In response, Iranian leaders have threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, a major thoroughfare for oil shipments, but their economy remains vulnerable.
The country’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, says the US sanctions are „economic terrorism“.
„They want to put pressure on the Iranian people in order to change their policy. That is the way the United States has acted for 40 years and, particularly since President Trump came to office, it violated a commitment by another US president, President Obama,“ he told Al Jazeera.
He said that the sanctions won’t have any „political effect“ and that Iran has developed various schemes with partnering countries to help protect themselves.
„One of them will be in the long run to the detriment of the United States and I think that is becoming increasingly popular and that is not to use dollars for your transactions. Second is an instrument that we are developing with the Europeans, we have already developed with our neighbours and we have developed them with the Chinese and that is not to engage in transfer of money across the borders which is where the United States would step in and will try to twist the arms of people who are engaged in it, illegally and unlawfully.“
According to Zarif, the US has been swayed by foreign interests.
„I believe the United States is not serving US interests. More than the United States, it is serving Israeli interests. And unfortunately, there are a couple of people in our region who have aligned themselves with Israeli interests,“ he said, listing the crown princes of Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi, Mohammed bin Salman and Mohammed bin Zayed.
Iran has also been accused of destabilising the region, and criticised for its involvement in countries like Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq.
The US recently accused Iran-backed militias of killing more than 600 of its soldiers during the Iraq war, which Zarif says is a „baseless lie“, stating that Iran’s priority is stability in the region.