Pressure builds on Iranian dictatorship

12th January 2020

Plane crashDebris from the Ukranian plane crash just outside Tehran

The death toll following the assassination, by the United States, of Islamic Revolution Guard Corps (IRGC) commander, General Qasem Souleimani, currently runs at over two hundred, with over 60 civilians being crushed in scenes of grief at Souleimani’s funeral and 176 deaths in the shooting down of the Ukranian civilian airliner, which the Iranian regime has admitted was a tragic mistake.

Neither of these events would have taken place without the assassination of Souleimani and both are examples of the unintended consequences which can follow on from significant political and military decisions, taken outside the norms of international law.

Souleimani, was the loyal servant of a theocratic dictatorship, unpopular with its own people, as recent demonstrations in November 2019 against corruption and political cronyism across Iran illustrate.  The Iranian regime will never admit it but his assassination came at a time when uniting the country against a foreign enemy could have been a useful distraction from domestic pressures.

While the regime may have been hoping that the death of Souleimani would provide a distraction, the shooting down of the Ukranian passenger aircraft, with significant loss of life, has refocussed the Iranian people upon the incompetence of the regime.

Over the weekend massive demonstrations have taken place in Tehran and other key cities, in protest against the IRGC forces shooting down the plane killing 176 passengers, 82 of them Iranian, on their way to Europe and North America.  The Iranian authorities had for three days falsely claimed technical difficulties as the cause of the crash.  However, early on Saturday morning they announced that an IRGC air defence system had shot down the airliner minutes after leaving Tehran international airport.   Protesters have been demanding the regime’s resignation, including that of Supreme Leader, Ayotollah Ali Khamenei.

While political assassination as a tool of foreign policy is not a new tactic for the US, the assassination of Souleimani still came as a shock to the Iranian regime and a blow to its adventurist foreign policy in the Middle East.  With responsibility for the IRGC Quds Force, in charge of overseas operations, Souleimani was instrumental in extending Iranian influence throughout the region, across Iraq, into Syria and in Lebanon and Yemen.  His military and tactical acumen is widely credited with having turned around the prospect of a Western led victory in the war of intervention in Syria.

The assassination of Souleimani followed a sequence of events going back to the 27th December, when an Iranian backed Shia militia attacked an Iraqi military base, killing a US contractor.  Reports from the US indicate that Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, suggested the killing of Souleimani at that point but the tactic was rejected in favour of air strikes against the militia responsible for the attack.

The air strikes led militia supporters to attack the Green Zone in Baghdad’s diplomatic quarter, overrunning the gated US embassy compound, before Iraqi forces arrived to break up the intrusion.  It would seem that the event was sufficient for Pompeo to win over Trump to his viewpoint and Souleimani’s fate was sealed.

The political balance in the region, already precarious, has become even more volatile since Souleimani’s death.

Iran is using the opportunity to call for the complete withdrawal of US troops from the region, a demand echoed by the Iraqi Parliament, but one with which the US is unlikely to comply.  An estimated 5,500 US troops are in Iraq and the US is in negotiations with NATO about an increased non-US NATO contribution.   This is added to the fact that the United States has moved 14,000 additional troops to the Gulf region in the past year.

The volatility of US foreign policy, the ideological objectives of Saudi Arabia and Israel, and the geopolitical ambitions of Russia, do not lend themselves to any degree of regional certainty.  Added to that the increasingly unstable position of the theocratic dictatorship in Iran, under intense pressure from its own people for democratic change, will continue to be a major factor for instability in the regional balance.  Resistance to US troops in Iraq continues to be an issue, political instability in Lebanon continues and the ability of the Syrian people to recover from seven years of war will, no doubt, continue to be tested.

Much of this uncertainty is also due to the pressure for democratic change coming from the people of countries suffering under dictatorships of one form or another, such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, or suffering under US occupation or influence such as in Iraq.

The Middle East remains a complex web of alliances in which there is no obvious or easy route to navigate.  However, solidarity with the people of the Middle East, in their efforts to reshape their nations and the region in their interests, rather than those of Western corporations or the military industrial complex, will be more vital than ever in the coming period.

 

 

Trump shoot to kill outrage

3rd January 2020

Soleimani  

Qasem Soleimani – assassinated by US airstrike

The assassination of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, on the order of US President Donald Trump, marks a massive escalation in the undeclared war on Iran, which has been waged virtually from the moment Trump took office.

Soleimani was killed by an air strike on Baghdad airport early on Friday.  As the leader of the Quds Force, an elite unit of the powerful Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), Soleimani was widely regarded as second only to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in the pecking order in the Islamic Republic’s hierarchy.

Khamenei has said that “severe revenge awaits the criminals” behind the attack and three days of national mourning have been announced.  Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has called the attack an “act of international terrorism”, going on to say that,

“The US bears responsibility for all consequences of its rogue adventurism.”

Condemnation has come from Iraqi Prime Minister, Adel Abdul Mahdi, who described the killing as a “dangerous escalation” and from Russia where Vladimir Putin warned that the assassination would “seriously aggravate the situation in the region”.

US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo stated that the strike was “lawful” and that it “saved lives”.

In the UK Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, issued the following statement,

“The US assassination of Qasem Soleimani is an extremely serious and dangerous escalation of conflict with global significance.  We urge restraint on the part of both Iran and the US and we call for an end to the belligerent actions and rhetoric coming from the US.”

The Stop the War Coalition have called a protest outside Downing Street for Saturday, 4th January at 2pm.

In the wider context of the ongoing interventionist war against the government of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, and the fact that the United States has moved 14,000 additional troops to the Gulf region in the past year, there is every potential for wider conflagration.

A wave of protest has been sweeping the Middle East in recent months, with demonstrations against unpopular regimes unfolding in Iran, Iraq and the Lebanon.  The protests have resistance to government corruption, mass unemployment and plunging living standards in common.  All three regimes have reacted with increased violence and repression.

In Iraq at least 400 people are reported to have died since protesters took to the streets in early October.  Amnesty International estimate that at least 208 people have died in nationwide protests in Iran since protests erupted in October.  The true figure could be much higher.  Protests against new taxes in Lebanon brought hundreds of thousands onto the streets and forced the resignation of Prime Minister, Saad Hariri.

While the protests across the region have been the result of internal repression and government incompetence, key players have been maximising their efforts to link the protests to wider regional tensions.  The Intelligence Ministry in Tehran for example claimed to have arrested eight “CIA operatives” accused of inciting riots.

Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) chief commander, General Hossein Salami, suggested that the riots were conducted by “thugs” with the backing of the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia.  Salami went on to link the protests to the US policy of “maximum pressure” against Tehran, following the US withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran last year.  Iranian Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, has talked of a “dangerous conspiracy” implicating the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia.

The US, on the other hand, has characterised the protests in Iraq and Lebanon as part of a region wide insurgency against Iranian power.

At least 7,000 people have reportedly been arrested in 28 of Iran’s 31 provinces since mass protests broke out on 15th November, prompting UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, to state that she is “extremely concerned about their physical treatment, violations of their right to due process, and the possibility that a significant number of them may be charged with offences that carry the death penalty, in addition to the conditions under which they are held.”

While protests continue to sweep Iran, underlining the unpopularity of the Islamic Republic, the regime continues to try and bolster its position and circumvent US sanctions.  Excluded from the US international interbank payment system, SWIFT, Tehran is looking to link with alternative systems in China and Russia.

Oil sales continue, primarily to Syria and China in order to generate income for the regime, prompting Khamenei to state recently that,

“The US policy of maximum pressure has failed.  The Americans presumed that they can force Iran to make concessions and bring it to its knees by focussing on maximum pressure, especially in the area of economy, but they have troubled themselves.”

In countering the US “maximum pressure” approach Iran has upped the ante by participating in joint naval drills with Russia and China in the Indian Ocean in late December.

However, the assassination of Soleimani gives the whole “maximum pressure” policy a dangerous new twist.

The danger of external intervention in Iran is one which has been in the wings for some years.  With the Iranian regime itself increasingly under pressure the possibility of a major strike, in a desperate attempt to divert attention from its domestic problems, should not be ruled out.  Soleimani’s assassination may just give the clergy in Iran the excuse they need.  Such an outcome would be disastrous, not only for the region, but for world peace.

Trump may have ordered the killing of Soleimani in order to look tough at home in an election year but there is every danger that, this time, the international consequences may far outweigh any perceived domestic benefits.