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Monday, January 27, 2020

Who Is Beneficiary From US, Syria, Iraq, Iran Crisis?

When the United States coalition forces toppled the despot Al-Qaeda backed Taliban regime in Afghanistan in 2001 in Iran's immediate east and US invasion of Iraq in 2003 in Iran's immediate west seemed to be a considered military threat to the Islamic Republic of Iran.
During 1991 Operation Desert Storm, the massive US military build-up in the Gulf was considered a threat to the Islamic Iran's regime. The US military headquarters in Pentagon heightened the tension when they reiterated that Iran as an "axis of evil" and said that Iran, not Iraq is the main enemy in the region and we desperately wanted Iraq to act as a counterweight to Iran.
The Iran-Iraq war ended in a stalemate with direct interference by the US.
According to a report by International Crisis Group, following are the priorities of the Ayatollahs in Iraq:
-    A strong centralised Iraqi government which is favourable to Iran, able enough to counter jihadist threats and secure its borders.
-    Preservation of territorial integrity of Iraq so that the country remains stable thereby leaving Iran unaffected by any security threats and vulnerable borders.
-    Prevent the opposition groups in Iraq and former Saddam loyalists to gain grounds in Iraq and thereby act against Iran's interests.
Iran relied on three important junctures to spread its influence in Iraq, the first such influence, as stated above came with the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.
The second juncture came in 2011 after the withdrawal of US troops when the first Shia Prime Minister Nouri-al-Maliki was backed by both the United States and Iran which acted against the interest of Sunni leaders leading to deprivation of their political power and economic marginalisation giving way to resurging extremism which strengthened Iranian interests in the country.
The third juncture was the rise of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria - ISIS (or Daesh) in Iraq which led Tehran to organise and empower the existing and even new Shia militias in the garb of aiding Tehran in its fight against ISIS.
By 2011, after the withdrawal of US forces and Nouri-al-Maliki's coronation as Prime Minister of Iraq, Iran had a significant influence over Iraqi politics and conflicts and its militias had key control over various funds and weapons and those acting again Iran's interests were annihilated.
The rise of ISIS in 2014 and its dramatic success posed a significant challenge to Iran's presence and the violent capture of Mosul and other Iraqi cities posed serious questions on the capabilities of Quds Force commanded by Qasem Soleimani and Iran's success in stabilising Iraq.
The possible prediction which can be made is the challenges before Iran amid security crisis, instabilities and weak governance, corruption and sectarian conflicts are to prevent the emergence of new jihadist threats or any other threat from its conventional allies, whether it is Israel, Saudi Arabia or the United States.
It would be difficult for Iraq to shrug off the domination of Shia politics in the governance of Iraq and to ensure proper funds and artillery for its Popular Mobilization Forces (PMUs) founded by Nouri al-Maliki, a coalition of Shia Muslims in Iraq, backed by the Quds Force.
The oldest bonhomie in the Middle-East is the proven relationship between Iran and Syria. Ever since the Islamic Revolution, the two countries established ties on the basis of Shia fraternity.
Despite Alawites sect of Islam are secular and liberal Muslims, which contradict's with Iran version of Shi'ism. Alawites celebrate some Christian and Zoroastrian religious holidays, but Iran's Ayatollah has accepted the Alawite Muslims as Shia.
The Iran-Syria relationship is considered as one of the most sustainable military alliance in the region when both deemed Israel and US presence are considered as an existential threat in the Middle-East.
Iran backed powerful Hezbollah militia stationed in South Lebanon is Iran's largest proxy group to render trouble to Israel was redeployed to aid the Assad regime by training the pro-Assad militias groups.
Iran fears if Sunni majority political alliance comes into power in the post-Assad regime, there is likely to express solidarity with US-Saudi nexus which will prove hostile against Iran's interest in the region.
At present, the greatest challenge before the clergies in Iranian is to continue with its Syria chapter despite carrying the heavy burden of international sanctions and preserve its axis of resistance.

First published in the New Nation, 27 January 2020

Saleem Samad is an independent journalist, media rights defender, recipient of Ashoka Fellow (USA) and Hellman-Hammett Award. Twitter @saleemsamad, Email:

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Iran, a nation plunged into crisis of competency, legitimacy

Rogue warlord General Qassem Soelimani commander of Quds Force killed in a US drone attack
Iran, a nation plunged into crisis of competency, legitimacyQasem Soleimani
The aura of solidarity after General Qasem Soleimani's assassination temporarily created across
Iran soon gave way to hostility after a Ukraine Airlines was shot down by an Iranian missile.
The clerics of the Islamic Republic of Iran have finally plunged into a series of crisis faced internally and externally.
Never before the tens of thousands of Iranians in self-exile have stepped outside their abode to protest Islamic Iran's erroneous political policies and appalling human rights status meted by street protesters demanding democracy.
Iran's role in the geopolitics of the Middle-East since the Islamic Revolution in 1979 the religious fundamentalism plays as a catalyst in the formulation of Iran's foreign policy.
Iran's proxy war strategy which is practiced through hybrid Shia militias in the region. The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and its Quds Force, plays an important role in Iranian politics and security decisions.
The Quds Force engaged in hybrid war has been authorised by the Iran Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to punish the most hated countries in Middle-East.
The assassinated Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani by US drone attack has shown success in waging proxy wars in Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen to punish American allies Israel, Saudi Arabia and Emirates.
In the early 1980s only, when Ayatollah Ali Khomeini, who spearheaded the Islamic Revolution had been facing a war with Iraq, it started its policy of recruitment and mobilisation of Shia Muslims to raise rag-tag militias in all over the Middle-East to counter its arch-foes, Saddam Hussein's Baathist Iraq.
Iran backed Hezbollah involved proxies in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan have always remained involved, either directly or indirectly, in every conflict of Middle-East.
These proxy groups became immensely active after Baghdad fell to the United States in 2003. This hybrid warfare strategy immensely benefited Iran, by avoiding direct military confrontations and therefore hiding Iran's conventional military weaknesses and reshaping the politics of Iraq in its favour.
One of the very important factors regarding how Iran has been able to maintain his influence in the geopolitics of the Middle-East is due to its properly systematised network of proxies and its state actor IRGC and Quds Force.
Iran has always used these hybrid militias for strategic purposes, strengthening of its national security and its revolutionary agenda.
The conventional threat to Iran is mainly posed by the United States and its allies in the Middle East, but mainly Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Another threat that Iran faces is by Jihadist groups like Islamic State and Al-Qaeda affiliates in the Arab countries and Afghanistan.
If we talk about Syria, Iran's influence in the balance of power and politics of the Middle-East has accelerated to a new level after the eruption of civil wars in Syria and Yemen.
Syria has been a steady ally of Iran since the inception of the Islamic Republic in 1979 and has always supported the father and son duo of Hafez-al-Assad and Bashar-al-Assad respectively due to their allegiance to Alawite sect of Shia Islam.
Iran's support to the Houthis started in 1990 with an objective to protect the Zaidism sect of Shia Islam in Yemen.
Evidence of Iran's support and military assistance to Houthi rebels came to surface in 2012 when the United States found the Quds Force providing training to the Houthis in Saddah, a small town in Yemen.
Through these proxies, Iran has successfully encountered Saudi Arabia, American and Israeli influence in the region. The influence became unpredictable in the region and the USA had to redo its policy for the Arab states.

First published in The Asian Age, 25 January 2020

Saleem Samad is an independent journalist, media rights defender, recipient of Ashoka Fellow (USA) and Hellman-Hammett Award. Twitter @saleemsamad: Email:

Monday, January 06, 2020

Proxy Warlord Who Undermines US Capabilities

Qassim Soleimani, a shadowy Iranian general and head of rogue Quds Forces who has been blamed for exporting proxy war in the Middle East region had undermined the capability of the United States. Iran's clerics tasked the Quds Force with spreading Iran's influence abroad. In the past two decades, Suleimani had extraordinary success in implementing Tehran's objective in exporting proxy war in the region.
General Soleimani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards' Quds Force killed in a US drone strike at Baghdad airport on early on 3rd January, was the most influential military figures in Iran. Revered by Iranian as an iconic military commander and a blue-eyed boy of Iran's supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, was born in a peasant family in a small city in eastern Iran to become one of the most prominent military figures.
In the chaos and death that followed the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq and the 2011 Syrian revolution, Suleimani took the opportunity, pouring in men and money to build a crescent of pro-Iran forces stretching across the Middle-East. The iconic hero was the mastermind of proxy wars which extended from Gaza to Lebanon, from Iraq to Yemen. Literally, the proxy wars eclipsed Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States and Israel in the west and south. All the hated countries were staunch supporters of United States hegemony in the Middle East.
He successfully raised and trained tens of thousands of pro-Iran forces to destabilise the countries in regular battles for years to demoralise the regimes that Iran hated the most. No doubt his Quds Forces made decisive battles against ISIS or Daesh in Syria and Iraq, Al Qaeda and Taliban in the region, which was silently appreciated by the western powers including Pentagon.
There are not enough narratives about Soleimani's past, as he carefully avoided Iranian media. However, the 61-year-old father of five wasn't a religious scholar and didn't receive a religious education was an icon of Muslim fighters in the region.
In spite of his unknown reasons to participate in the demonstrations that toppled the Shah of Iran in 1979 in an Islamic Revolution orchestrated by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, but he did not hesitate to join the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, and fought in the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-88, where his future was made in solid ground.
His name was discussed in the Islamic clergy regime in Tehran after reconnaissance missions behind Iraqi lines during the war. He was given command of a special brigade during the war with Iraq. For commanding abilities and plan covert operations, he was entrusted to strengthen the Quds Force in 1998. The elite troop was raised during the Iran-Iraq war to provide military support to the Kurds in Iraq.
Soon Quds began to train foreign forces and equip them with weapons and also funded them to fight against regimes loyal to the US. The militia forces and warlords - Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Houthis in Yemen were overtly backed by Iran.
Quds was also responsible for training paramilitary forces in Iraq and Syria to fight the Islamic State (ISIS) Jihadists.
Last April, the United States in a bid to counter Iran-backed terrorism around the world listed Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), including the Quds Force a terrorist organisation. Earlier when the US invaded Afghanistan after the 1/11 terror attacks, Iranian officials - on Soleimani's orders - shared strategic maps with American officials of Taliban bases to target in Afghanistan.
Despite Quds involvement in attacks on US forces in Iraq after the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, Soleimani cooperated with the Americans to elect Iraq's interim prime minister in 2010. US Defence Department says at least 603 American personnel were killed in hostile actions in Iraq by Iran-backed fighters.
The US in defence of Americans abroad had to strike the Quds dreaded commander. As Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the US airstrike that killed Soleimani disrupted an "imminent attack" and "saved American lives" in the Middle East region. Despite Iran's vow to revenge against the US for killing Qassim Soleimani, it may compel Tehran to think twice before they attack the US or its partners in the region.

First published in The New Nation, Dhaka, Bangladesh on 6 January 2020

Saleem Samad, is an independent journalist, media rights defender, recipient of Ashoka Fellow (USA) and Hellman-Hammett Award. Email:

Saturday, January 04, 2020

Khashoggi verdict is what Saudi impunity looks like

Jamal Khashoggi - File Photo
On Christmas Eve, last year a Saudi court verdict exonerating the crown prince's top aides over the murder of Saudi born journalist Jamal Khashoggi and has been globally condemned as a travesty of justice.
While in exile in the United States, Khashoggi was a regular contributor to an influential American newspaper the Washington Post, the daily writes that the verdict is exactly what impunity looks like in Saudi Arabia, and it must be denounced, especially those who cares about freedom of the press.
The world Not surprised, the five unnamed Saudis were sentenced to death and three others were awarded various prison terms over the killing of the Washington Post columnist in 2018 at Saudi Arabia's consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. It was unclear who was sentenced to death.
He was strangled and dismembered by a 15-member Saudi death squad inside the consulate, according to Turkish officials. His body have not been found despite intense forensic searches.
What is also not a surprise that the top aides of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's directly in the conspiracy to the worst diplomatic crimes were given royal impunity.
The murder plunged Turkey and Saudi Arabia into a diplomatic crisis, which undermines Salman's global reputation and sparked intense scrutiny of the kingdom's human rights record.
However, the murder and shadowy trial is likely to cause hiccups for Saudi Arabia as it gears up for this year's Group of 20 - G20 summit in Riyadh, capital of Saudi Arabia. Turkey obviously criticised the sham trial and called it a "scandalous" outcome that had granted "impunity" to those who had dispatched the killers - apparently pointing fingers to the crown prince.
But the U.S. State Department praised the verdict as "an important step" in holding the perpetrators accountable. The European Union reiterated the need to ensure "accountability and prosecution of all those responsible."Nevertheless, Riyadh described the murder as a "rogue" operation and obviously exonerated the crown prince for any conspiracy leading to the death of Khashoggi.
Earlier both the Central Intelligence Agency - CIA and United Nations special envoy Agnes Callamard has directly linked Prince Salma to the killing, a charge the kingdom vehemently denies.
Callamard, of course, called the verdict a "mockery," which she expressed on her Twitter: "Bottom line: the hit-men are guilty, sentenced to death. The masterminds not only walk free. They have barely been touched by the investigation and the trial."
Why the self-exiled Saudi born journalist who was once a close ally of crown prince become the number one state enemy? Khashoggi, a 59-year-old Saudi was an establishment insider-turned-critic.In a trial held in camera in a Riyad, the Saudi prosecutors said deputy intelligence chief Ahmed al-Assiri oversaw Khashoggi's killing.
The sham trial of 11 suspects accused of the murder defended themselves in court by saying they were carrying out al-Assiri's orders, describing him as the "ringleader" of the operation. Several aides who have been acquitted in the murder of Khashoggi and their names were deliberately dropped from the accuse lists will remain behind the curtain. Those aides who travelled to Istanbul will never be seen in public accompanying the crown prince for months to come to avoid global media outcry.

First published in The Asian Age, 4 January 2020

Saleem Samad, is an independent journalist, media rights defender, recipient of Ashoka Fellow (USA) and Hellman-Hammett Award. He can be reached at