Will the deal bring peace?

John Kerry: to the deadline and beyondFinally, after eight days of intensive negotiations, on April 2 Iran and the P5+1 powers agreed a statement of intent, which will become the framework for the final deal to be signed in June 2015.

This does not mean the US administration has decided on a strategy of rapprochement with Iran – the proposed ‘framework’ does not address any issues beyond the immediate subject of the country’s nuclear installations. However, if the final deal is reached, it will herald a new era in the two countries’ bilateral relations and for Iran’s economic and trade relations with the European Union. Sections of Iran’s industry, paralysed by sanctions, will resume operation, the rate of inflation might fall if the price of the rial rises, and the price of basic goods might come down if the internal mafia of black marketeers can be controlled.

It is too early to speculate how all this will play out in detail, but we can safely, I think, predict four things. Firstly, European companies will return in the hope of securing new markets and large profits. Secondly, the Islamic Republic will persevere with its neoliberal economic policies. Thirdly, in any ensuing economic upturn, the gap between the rich and the poor will get wider, non-payment of workers’ wages will continue. Fourthly, the ‘reformist’ faction of the Islamic regime will maintain power for longer than one presidential election.

Lengthy negotiations are in store until the agreement is signed. And already opponents of the deal, inside and outside Iran, are lining up to denounce what is known about the main points. On paper it looks like both sides have made concessions, while keeping to their ‘red lines’. As far as uranium enrichment is concerned, Iran has agreed to reduce its centrifuges by approximately two-thirds, from 19,000 currently to 6,104, with only 5,060 of these enriching uranium for 10 years, and at levels below 3.67% for at least 15 years. The country will reduce its current stockpile of about 10,000kg of low-enriched uranium (LEU) to 300kg of 3.67% LEU, while excess centrifuges and enrichment infrastructure will be placed in storage and monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Iran will convert its nuclear facility in Fordow so that it is no longer used to enrich uranium, again for at least 15 years. However, the country will be allowed to enrich uranium at the Natanz facility, using first-generation centrifuges for 10 years, with excess centrifuges being handed over to IAEA inspectors. Iran has also agreed to destroy the original heavy-water reactor in Arak. It will redesign and rebuild this reactor so that in future the plant cannot be used to produce weapons-grade plutonium, and instead the facility will be used to support peaceful nuclear research and produce radioisotopes.

Sanctions

In return, according to the official White House statement, “Iran will receive sanctions relief, if it verifiably abides by its commitments.” However, “If at any time Iran fails to fulfil its commitments, these sanctions will snap back into place.” Furthermore, “The architecture of US nuclear-related sanctions on Iran will be retained for much of the duration of the deal and allow for snap-back of sanctions in the event of significant non-performance.” Finally, “All past UN security council resolutions on the Iran nuclear issue will be lifted simultaneous with the completion, by Iran, of nuclear-related actions addressing all key concerns (enrichment, Fordow, Arak, PMD and transparency).”1

The two sides have different interpretations of both nuclear decommissioning and the lifting of ‘all sanctions’. One of the red lines of supreme leader Ali Khamenei has always been the demand that all sanctions (it is assumed by this he means sanctions imposed because of the country’s nuclear programme) will be lifted in one go. The US administration’s interpretation is that sanctions will be suspended gradually after each step of compliance with the agreement and lifted permanently after Iran has adopted all the measures stipulated by the agreement. Either way, the majority of the Iranian people are facing years more of misery, economic hardship and high inflation.

In its first session of the new Iranian year (1394) the Iranian majles (parliament) was divided on the subject. President Hassan Rowhani and his foreign minister have hinted that throughout negotiations in Lausanne Khamenei was informed of every detail and therefore the signed statement and details released by both sides have his seal of approval. Of course, the fact that there is confusion about the thorny issue of sanctions does not help and Iranian opponents of the deal have picked up on this. A day after his triumphant return from Lausanne, foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was heckled in a session of the security committee of the majles. The arguments became so heated that he threatened to leave the meeting and cameras were removed. A leading conservative figure compared the deal to “trading a saddled horse for a few broken reins”.

However, other conservative figures welcomed the agreement and congratulated the government. The supreme leader is likely to express his opinion later in the week and it is expected he will give it a guarded welcome. The leader of Friday prayers, ayatollah Emami Kashani, who is close to the more conservative factions of the Islamic regime, hailed the deal. And in a significant move, Mohammad Ali Jafari, the commander of Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guards, expressed support for the agreement: “With God’s grace, the revolutionary children of Islamic Iran have succeeded in defending the rights of the Iranian nation, and the Revolutionary Guards appreciate their honest political efforts.”

The Iranian parliament might insist on a vote regarding the delay in the lifting of sanctions, but the government is only obliged to place the issue of Iran allowing more extensive inspection of the country’s nuclear facilities, as well as related industries, before parliament.

Rightwing Republicans and pro-Israeli Democrats in the US congress and senate will also try to stop the deal. Scott Walker, a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, said he would – if elected – “renege on any deal with Iran”, while Michael McCaul, a Republican from Texas, alleged: “Iranian leaders will now find a nuclear weapon dangerously within reach.”

Responding to such claims, Barack Obama went on the offensive to defend the deal, calling it the best possible option: “Bombing the country” and starting a new war in the Middle East would only set back Iran’s programme a few years, while just continuing sanctions would not be sufficient, as they had never stopped Iran “making progress with its nuclear programme”.2

The Iranian people have suffered considerably from the sanctions that have crippled the country’s economy, isolated its banks and financial institutions, yet now we hear from the US president that they made no difference to Iran’s nuclear programme. The Iranian exiles (on the left and the right) who remain advocates of sanctions (or, as Hillary Clinton called them, “targeted sanctions”) should bear this in mind. By definition sanctions increase the power of the existing state, punish ordinary citizens and only result in two possible outcomes: regime change from above or the creation of a failed state, in both cases for the sole benefit of imperialism.

Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu has called the Lausanne agreement a “bad deal”, even though some, if not most, of his demands were added to the conditions by US secretary of state John Kerry, including the reduction of uranium stockpiles and the decommissioning of the current reactor in Fordow. So the Zionist leader is now forced to look for new demands. On April 4, he said the final deal must include Iran’s recognition of the state of Israel. A bizarre addition, given that these talks were supposed to be solely about Iran’s nuclear programme.

Hegemon

As negotiations dragged on in Lausanne, it was clear that all parties were desperate to reach a deal:

  • For Iran it was necessary because the economy is on its knees following the collapse of the price of oil.
  • For the EU because a new market desperate for goods and services in a semi-developed country, with a population of nearly 80 million, presents many ‘opportunities’.
  • For the US because it is facing so many challenges in that part of the world that reaching agreement with Iran could be presented as the Obama administration’s crowning success.

As Iranians celebrated the possible end of punitive sanctions, many commented on the billions of dollars spent on developing nuclear plants, a project that benefited from astronomic funds at a time when most people were suffering from food shortages, lack of medicine … all courtesy of the west. The Iranian people have paid a heavy price for the supreme leader’s ‘heroic flexibility’ regarding the nuclear issue. Contrary to silly comments by sections of the exiled left, the celebrations on the streets of Tehran last Friday were not in support of the government, but an expression of hope that the economic situation will improve after sanctions are removed.

For the EU, the prospects of new markets were making some capitalists salivate. The ink on the Lausanne deal was barely dry before Richard Branson purred with satisfaction: “Well done to Iran’s foreign minister … in bringing home an historic deal for Iran and the world. Commendations to John Kerry and the leaders from the UK, France, Russia, China and Germany in reaching an agreement … There are millions of young, ambitious, decent Iranians who can now start to enjoy some prosperity in Iran, as sanctions are lifted without the threat of war.”3

However, predictions that Iran will become the US’s best friend in the region, or a regional economic power allied to the US at the expense of Saudi Arabia,4 are premature to say the least. Since 2001 US policy in the region has been such a disaster it is difficult to see how a deal with Iran will improve the situation. The world hegemon has managed to create and oversee disaster in Iraq following the invasion and occupation, and it has inflicted poverty, hunger and the threat of war on the peoples of Iran. It egged on fundamentalist groups in Libya to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi, only for them to end up fighting each other in a civil war. During the ‘Arab spring’ the US supported president Hosni Mubarak until it became obvious that his regime could not survive, so it then tried to make deals with the Muslim Brotherhood and finally supported a military coup. A coup that effectively ended hopes of radical change for millions of Egyptians and Arabs.

Since 2012 the world hegemon power and its allies, encouraged by Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf states, have been pursuing one aim: to weaken Iran’s regional influence. That is why they have supported jihadists in Syria (the same jihadists who ended up as Islamic State). While the rhetoric was for democracy and civil society, in practice the three main allies of the US were reactionary religious and semi-religious states: Saudi Arabia, Israel and Turkey. As far as relations with the arch-enemy is concerned, while the Iranian people were punished through sanctions, the US administration had no hesitation in coming to arrangements with the regime whenever their common interests demanded it, including in the 2003 war in Iraq, in Afghanistan since 2001 and now in opposing IS in Syria or Iraq.

In Syria the regime of Bashar al-Assad remains the main enemy – because, according to many in and around the administration, Iran is more of a threat than IS. In the last few weeks there have been many days when the US army was bombing IS forces in northern Iraq, while using drones to attack pro-Assad forces in Syria and sending arms to jihadists fighting the Assad regime. In the first instance the enemy was this major threat to world peace, IS, while in the second it was about undermining Iran’s regional ambitions. All this while Obama’s secretary of state was engaged in the nuclear negotiations.

Muddled and ineffective US foreign policy in the region has been disastrous for the peoples of the Middle East and north Africa, those who have to live with the subsequent chaos. Many have argued this is symptomatic of a superpower in decline and there is historical precedence to validate such an argument. On the other hand, it could be that there is method in this madness, that the world hegemon power is deliberately following a policy of producing failed states: Iraq, Syria, Libya , Yemen … Far from seeking stability, it could be that the US actually wants to spread chaos, hoping to benefit from national, regional and religious divisions, thanks to the good old tactic of divide and rule. With current US policy there is the prospect of decades of war, civil strife and regime change in the region.

The deal in Lausanne has done nothing to change this.

Notes

1. Parameters for a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action Regarding the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Nuclear Program:www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2015/04/240170.htm.

2. www.yourhoustonnews.com/spring/opinion/obama-s-weekly-address-reaching-a-comprehensive-and-long-term/article_c8387e5c-db26-11e4-b8aa-b3ddb21d2b97.html.

3. www.virgin.com/richard-branson/iran-nuclear-agreement-is-an-historic-opportunity-for-peace.

4. See Robert Fisk The Independent April 7.

CIA roots of Islamist fundamentalism

Did outrage caused by the provocations of an irreverent magazine provoke the Paris attacks? Yassamine Mather looks beyond this simplistic myth

Afghan mujahedin: paid for by Washington

first published in the Weekly Worker

On Sunday January 11, according to France’s ministry of interior, at least 3.7 million people marched across France to support the freedom of the press. As many on the left have pointed out, the demonstration in Paris was led by some of the most appalling political leaders in the world – some of them war criminals, others responsible for a long list of crimes against humanity, others authors of legislation against freedom of speech in their own country. But all were apparently united by their desire to defend freedom of the press, following last week’s horrific attacks in Paris.

No-one in their right mind can believe that that the attacks were simply the result of Islamists’ reaction to the cartoons printed by the Charlie Hebdo authors, yet the bourgeois media have done such a good job of manipulating the headlines that millions of people throughout the world, including many on the ‘left’, are under the impression this was simply an issue of ‘freedom of the press’. Rarely in recent years have we seen such oversimplification and indeed misrepresentation of facts, leading to mass hysteria.

Don’t get me wrong: there was no conspiracy here. The misrepresentation was an inevitable consequence of the way the bourgeois media simplify complicated stories, using attention-grabbing headlines, which may be glanced at on mobile devices and social media by people who do not read the full story.

There were exceptions to this rule and, as Robert Fisk reflected in The Independent,

Maybe all newspaper and television reports should carry a ‘history corner’, a little reminder that nothing – absolutely zilch – happens without a past. Massacres, bloodletting, fury, sorrow, police hunts (‘widening’ or ‘narrowing’, as sub-editors wish) take the headlines. Always it’s the ‘who’ and the ‘how’ – but rarely the ‘why’. In this case the situation was worse – the why wasn’t what the headlines wanted us to believe.1

Of course, no-one is claiming that “the why” should be used to justify these horrific murders, but in this particular case the media’s version – shootings caused by cartoons disrespectful of Mohammed – is just plain wrong. In fact, had they paid any attention to “the who”, they would have found better answers in regard to “the why”. We now know the event had everything to do with previous and current wars in north Africa and the Middle East. The gunmen had military training, they were associated with one or more al Qa’eda group in Algeria and Yemen, they also had connections with Islamic State and/or al Qa’eda in Syria.

A video released on January 11 shows Amedy Coulibaly, the gunman who seized hostages in the kosher supermarket, pledging allegiance to IS. He says he was working with Saïd and Chérif Kouachi, those responsible for the Charlie Hebdo outrage: “We have split our team into two … to increase the impact of our actions.”2 These claims were repeated in an interview Coulibaly gave to an affiliate channel of CNN during the siege. There is some confusion about this, because the Kouachi brothers said they were sent by al Qa’eda in Yemen, otherwise known as al Qa’eda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which has now claimed responsibility for the Paris attacks. In his own, separate interview with BFM TV, Chérif Kouachi also explained that he had been in contact with Anwar al Awlaki, an AQAP cleric.3

As Frank Gardner points out in BBC online,

Despite sharing a violent, west-hating jihadist ideology, the two organisations have largely been in competition. In Syria this has sometimes erupted into open warfare, as their respective followers jockey for territory, while their leaders jockey for global influence …

So is it possible that leaders of the two most dangerous jihadist organisations have agreed to bury their differences and cooperate in a joint attack on France? It is not inconceivable, but it is unlikely. Far more plausible is the idea that, with or without the tacit blessings of both al Qa’eda and IS, the three attackers decided to pool their resources and form a plan on their own.4

The brothers had allegedly attended a mosque in a northern suburb of Paris, where they came under the influence of a radical imam called Farid Benyettou and through him came into contact with Boubaker al-Hakim, a militant linked to al Qa’eda in Iraq, according to Middle East expert Jean-Pierre Filiu. Hakim had recruited jihadists to fight in Fallujah in the mid-2000s.5

Politicisation

Moreover, the brothers were not ‘radicalised’ because of Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons: they were politicised by the wars in the Middle East. So why did they choose the offices of a satirical magazine as a target? Because it was a soft target and was very convenient. For them it was a military operation – this was confirmed by comments made to hostages they took in both the Charlie Hebdo offices and the print works where they later took refuge. The two brothers told a salesman that they did not kill civilians! According to an interview given by the manager of the print works, “I brought them the coffee and they were very respectful, calling me monsieur, like gentlemen.”

For all their barbarism all three believed themselves to be soldiers of Islam. The younger brother, Chérif, had a long history of jihadism and anti-Semitism, according to documents obtained by CNN. In a 400-page court record, he is described as wanting to go to Iraq through Syria “to fight the Americans … I was ready to go and die in battle,” he said in a deposition. “I got this idea when I saw the injustices shown by television … I am speaking about the torture that the Americans have inflicted on the Iraqis.”6

In France, as elsewhere in Europe, the preferred target of the jihadists was the US embassy. However, the three knew that they would get nowhere near the well fortified US building in Paris. To a lesser extent the same argument is valid in terms of targeting major government ministries and offices – although, as many leftwing commentators have pointed out, why target a government whose agencies had until recently supported Islamic groups? France was promoting the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi of Libya, long before the United States got involved and supported anyone who fought Bashar al-Assad in Syria (both are countries with a history of French colonial intervention). So the jihadists were looking for an easy target – a building where there was no security, easy to access and easy to escape from.

The brothers had military training in Yemen: they were volunteering and recruiting others for jihad in Iraq and later in Syria, while in their youth they had had a life very similar to many second-generation immigrants before they changed. Tariq Ali in the London Review of Books summarises this well:

The circumstances that attract young men and women to these groups are creations of the western world that they inhabit – which is itself a result of long years of colonial rule in the countries of their forebears. We know that the Parisian brothers, Chérif and Saïd Kouachi, were long-haired inhalers of marijuana and other substances until (like the July 7 bombers in this country) they saw footage of the Iraq war and, in particular, of the torture taking place in Abu Ghraib and the cold-blooded killings of Iraqi citizens in Fallujah.

They sought comfort in the mosque. Here they were radicalised by waiting hardliners, for whom the west’s war on terror had become a golden opportunity to recruit and hegemonise the young, both in the Muslim world and in the ghettoes of Europe and North America. Sent first to Iraq to kill Americans and more recently to Syria (with the connivance of the French state?) to topple Assad, such young men were taught how to use weapons effectively. Back home they got ready to deploy this knowledge against those who they believed were tormenting them in difficult times. They were the persecuted. Charlie Hebdo represented their persecutors. The horror should not blind us to this reality.7

The Kouachi brothers were indeed politicised by the war in Iraq, by atrocities in Abu Ghraib, by the carpet bombing of Fallujah. At a time when anti-war movements had fizzled out or been rendered useless by soft politics, and in the absence of a revolutionary left, they signed up to the Islamists. Nothing justifies the horrific crimes committed in Paris last week, but the ‘international community’ and to a certain extent we on the international left must take a share of the blame. Where were the demonstrations when Fallujah and other Iraqi cities were being bombed? What have we done about war crimes in Iraq? In Afghanistan? So far only the whistleblowers – those who exposed the torture – are in jail, while war criminals from Bush and Blair to the CIA directors in charge of that torture remain at large. There is no justice for the victims of Abu Ghraib or for the survivors of Fallujah.

Rabbi Michael Lerner, writing in the Huffington Post, sums it up:

And when the horrific assassinations of 12 media people and the wounding of another 12 media workers resulted in justifiable outrage around the world, did you ever wonder why there wasn’t an equal outrage at the tens of thousands of innocent civilians killed by the American intervention in Iraq or the over a million civilians killed by the US in Vietnam, or why president Obama refused to bring to justice the CIA torturers of mostly Muslim prisoners, thereby de facto giving future torturers the message that they need not even be sorry for their deeds (indeed, former vice-president Cheney boldly asserted he would order that kind of torture again without thinking twice)?

So don’t be surprised if people around the world, while condemning the despicable acts of the murderers in Paris and grieving for their families and friends, remain a bit cynical about the media circus surrounding this particular outrage, while the western media quickly forgets the equally despicable acts of systematic murder and torture that western countries have been involved in. Or perhaps a bit less convinced that western societies are really the best hope for civilisation

…. the violence is an inevitable consequence of a world which systematically dehumanizes so many people who are made to feel powerless and despairing and deeply depressed about the possibility of finding the milk of human kindness anywhere.8

The reality is that capitalism has created this atomised world, where the life of a European or American is valued more than that of hundreds of victims of the war on terror in the Middle East, Afghanistan and north Africa.

Media role

A significant contributor to this situation is the mass media and the way they report war, terrorism and murder, which has a crucial role in the subsequent mobilisation of public opinion. Early in the Iraq adventure, the BBC tried to express a slightly more balanced view of Tony Blair’s reasons for wanting to go to war, by exposing the ‘dodgy dossier’ prepared by Alistair Campbell – let us remember what happened to that exercise. The director general of the BBC was forced to resign, the broadcasters involved were replaced, the journalists sidelined. The Hutton enquiry legitimised this novel way of dealing with the issue of freedom of the press. No wonder we no longer see and hear any investigative journalism from that quarter. As I have often told Iranian comrades, in the west there is no need for censorship of the media: the prevalent unconscious self-censorship guarantees their compliance with the status quo.

Of course, in the Middle East the official and unofficial media have their own problems of state and religious censorship and, in the absence of a media outlet trusted by the majority of the population, exaggerated news of massacres and torture found on social media or jihadi websites substitute for facts. Whatever the number of those killed in Fallujah, most Iraqis, Egyptians, Jordanians, etc believe it to be 10 times more. Most of us have had to look away when the horrific images from Abu Ghraib torture chambers have appeared. However, none of those images equal the Photoshopped versions that went viral in social media and unofficial websites in the Middle East. Whoever was circulating that particular video was intent on creating as much disgust as possible so as to incite a reaction. While barbaric wars are sanitised for western audiences, citizens of Middle Eastern and north African countries are exposed to exaggerated and at times false reporting of their horrors. This has contributed to the irrational response to capitalist barbarism by the jihadists.

The email sent to his staff by Al Jazeera English editor and executive producer Salah-Aldeen Khadr has been circulating on the web: “Please accept this note in the spirit it is intended – to make our coverage the best it can be. We are Al Jazeera!” he gave his “suggestions” as to how the Qatar-based news outlet should cover the story. “Khadr urged his employees to ask if this was ‘really an attack on free speech’, discuss whether ‘I am Charlie’ is an ‘alienating slogan’, caution viewers against ‘making this a free speech aka European values’ under attack binary [sic]’ and portray the attack as ‘a clash of extremist fringes’.9

Of course, Al Jazeera is in an unenviable position – caught between, on the one hand, the sensitivities of Qatari rulers, who have contributed or at least turned a blind eye to funds sent to IS, and, on the other, a loyal audience gained through better representation of the Arab world than what western-based media feed us. In fact for all its many faults, the channel remains one of the more reliable sources of information about the Middle East.

Islam and violence

The events in Paris, as well as the well publicised beheading of western prisoners by IS, have initiated a debate about the inherently violent nature of Islam. If you read recent comments on this subject, including some from Iranian ‘lefts’, you might come to the conclusion that violence is a genetic characteristic among Muslims, irrespective of their nationality.

As a lifelong communist opponent of the Islamic Republic in Iran, I have no sympathy with political Islam. However, it would be a mistake to claim that Islam is more violent than other religions. It is wrong to talk about the recent violent attacks by Islamists without looking at contemporary precedents. One can easily trace al Qa’eda violence, later taken up by IS, to the Afghan war of the 1980s and in this respect there is no more authoritative commentator than Hillary Clinton, who in December 2011 admitted that that the US government created and funded Al Qa’eda in order to fight the Soviet Union.10

According to Joe Stephens and David Ottaway, CIA-supplied school books depicting violent images have played an important part in promoting jihadist violence. Writing in the Washington Post, they say:

The United States spent millions of dollars to supply Afghan schoolchildren with textbooks filled with violent images and militant Islamic teachings – part of covert attempts to spur resistance to the Soviet occupation. The primers, which were filled with talk of jihad and featured drawings of guns, bullets, soldiers and mines, have served since then as the Afghan school system’s core curriculum. Even the Taliban used the American-produced books, though the radical movement scratched out human faces in keeping with its strict fundamentalist code.

One page from the texts of that period shows a resistance fighter with a bandolier and a Kalashnikov slung from his shoulder. The soldier’s head is missing. Above the soldier is a verse from the Koran. Below is a Pashtu tribute to the mujahedin, who are described as obedient to Allah. Such men will sacrifice their wealth and life itself to impose Islamic law on the government, the text says.11

The CIA was also concerned about tribal and regional factionalism in Afghanistan and decided that Arab zealots who joined the jihad were more reliable and easier to train than the rivalry-ridden Pashtouns, Daris, etc. So Osama bin Laden, along with a small groups of militants from Pakistan, Egypt, Lebanon and Syria, became the agency’s allies in the war against Moscow.

According to veteran journalist Robert Dreyfuss,

For half a century the United States and many of its allies saw what I call the ‘Islamic right’ as convenient partners in the cold war. In the decades before 9/11, hard-core activists and organisations among Muslim fundamentalists on the far right were often viewed as allies for two reasons: because they were seen as fierce anti-communists and because they opposed secular nationalists, such as Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser, Iran’s Mohammad Mossadegh.12

That was not all. After the coming to power of the first major Islamic state in the Middle East, Iran’s Islamic Republic, for all the anti-Iran rhetoric we heard from the US and its western allies, they took a very ‘pragmatic’ line towards the violence meted out by that regime against its leftwing opponents. In the early 1980s, and later in 1987, Tehran executed large numbers of communists and socialists – the figures are unreliable, but conservative estimates would be that at least around 8,000 were killed by the Shia regime. Did the western media sympathise with them? No, that violence was not considered a problem. In the same period, Alan Clark, Margaret Thatcher’s close advisor, boasted about selling arms to both Iran and Iraq, in a war where half a million people lost their lives. Ronald Reagan and Oliver North were involved in the arms trade with Iran under the auspices of Irangate.

Iran’s violence against its own citizens continued into the 2000s . In the autumn of 2001, ‘rogue’ elements from Iran’s ministry of intelligence executed a number of secular/leftwing writers in what became known on the Iranian left as serial political murders. This was an unprecedentedly violent campaign against innocent individuals.

In December 2001, I received a recording of secret interrogations held by Iran’s ministry of intelligence. With help from the National Union of Journalists we showed those DVDs at a press conference in the union’s headquarters in London. They show forced confessions, how some of the agents of the ministry of intelligence, including the wife of prime suspect Saeed Emami, were beaten, flogged and humiliated until they confessed that they worked for foreign powers, including the US and Israel. The NUJ and various Iranian leftwing groups had sent invitations to the media to attend the press conference, but the only British reporter present, apart from the representative from BBC Persian service, was from Indymedia. No-one from the major media outlets seemed concerned that Iranian writers were being executed on the streets of Tehran by religious zealots. Iran’s president, Mohammad Khatami, was then considered an ally, so no-one cared about those writers in Tehran, or about press freedom in Iran.

It is incidents such as this that makes me very cynical about the outpouring of sentiment over Charlie Hebdo.

Islam and tolerance

Zealots in every religion hate ridicule directed against their deities, but the current consensus is that Muslims are more intolerant than others. But, just like jihadi violence, such intolerance is yet another gift from the CIA guidebooks of the 1980s. In order to whip up anger, the jihadists were encouraged to react to any infringement of Islam by secular governments in Afghanistan with violence. Intolerance of others, as propagated by political Islam, is a modern phenomenon.

During my childhood , one of my mother’s best loved books was Twenty-three years: a study of the prophetic career of Mohammed. The author, Ali Dashti, disproves through rational argument the miracles of the prophet Mohammed – events that are central to the Islamic faith. He argues against the commonly held Islamic myth that the Quran was the work of god, a divine inspiration sent to an illiterate Mohammed. Dashti also points out that the stories in the Quran are all identical or slightly varied versions of those in the Bible or the Torah, that Mohammed had heard these stories during trade trips he made to what is now Syria. More damaging than that, Dashti claims Mohammed married a rich old widow, Khadija, in order to gain financial advantage and subsequently married a number of younger women, including a very young girl who was supposed to have been his daughter-in-law. Dashti’s book could be found in many Iranian households, and even religious Shias had no problem discussing its contents.

My uncle, who was a practising Shia, kept a copy of Maxim Rodinson’s 1961 book Mohammed on his bookshelf. Rodinson, a Marxist and professor of oriental languages, wrote this biography of the prophet’s life from a sociological point of view – it was clearly blasphemous, as far as believers are concerned.

So how did today’s Islamic intolerance begin? We can trace its beginnings to the infamous CIA guidebooks for jihadists, written by Saudi/Wahhabi fundamentalists, with the purpose of inciting hatred against leftwing forces.

Yet, irrespective of this history, we have to say there can be no exceptions, as far as freedom of expression is concerned. There is no reason why Islam should be a special case in this regard. In fact to call on publications not to make derogatory remarks about Mohammed, as opposed to Jesus or Moses, is to admit Muslims are less tolerant than other believers. Such an attitude would pave the way to further discrimination against Muslims.

Notes

1. www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/charlie-hebdo-paris-attack-brothers-campaign-of-terror-can-be-traced-back-to-algeria-in-1954-9969184.html.

2. www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2015/01/video_shows_terroris.php#ixzz3OcllUpo8.

3. http://blogs.rue89.nouvelobs.com/jean-pierre-filiu/2015/01/08/charlie-hebdo-paris-et-tunis-les-memes-assassins-de-la-liberte-234030.

4. www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-30789123.

5. http://europenews.dk/en/node/88717.

6. http://edition.cnn.com/2015/01/09/europe/charlie-hebdo-paris-shooting.

7. www.lrb.co.uk/v37/n02/tariq-ali/short-cuts.

8. www.huffingtonpost.com/rabbi-michael-lerner/mourning-the-parisian-jou_b_6442550.html

9. www.nationalreview.com/corner/396131/i-am-not-charlie-leaked-newsroom-e-mails-reveal-al-jazeera-fury-over-global-support.

10. www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dqn0bm4E9yw.

11. ‘The ABCs of jihad in Afghanistan’ Washington Post March 23 2002.

12. www.washingtonsblog.com/2012/11/israel-and-the-u-s-created-hamas-hezbollah-and-other-terrorists-via-blowback.html.

Continue reading CIA roots of Islamist fundamentalism

The masses bear the brunt

Yassamine Mather assesses the latest extension of negotiations between Iran and the 5+1 powers

John Kerry: to the deadline and beyond
John Kerry: to the deadline and beyond

On November 24, for the second time in a year, Iran and the 5+1 world powers failed to reach an agreement over Tehran’s nuclear programme, and the deadline for finding a ‘comprehensive’ deal had to be extended yet again.

Continue reading The masses bear the brunt

No safe space for women

isfahanOn October 25 the authorities in Iran’s Islamic Republic executed Reyhaneh Jabbari for killing a man who allegedly tried to rape her in 2009. The 26-year-old Reyhaneh had spent the last seven years in prison, charged with the murder of Morteza Abdolali Sarbandi, a general medical practitioner who had previously worked for the intelligence ministry.

Reyhaneh was executed after her relatives failed to gain consent from the victim’s family for a reprieve. During her trial and subsequent appeals Jabbari had admitted stabbing Abdolali Sarbandi once in the back. However, she maintained throughout those seven years that there was a third person in the house who actually killed him. According to Jalal Sarbandi, the victim’s eldest son, Reyhaneh had refused to identify the man. He was quoted in the Iranian media as saying: “Only when her true intentions are exposed and she tells the truth about her accomplice and what really went down will we be prepared to grant mercy.”1

One law for the rich

The consent of the victim’s family was essential for a reprieve because of Iran’s adherence to the medieval laws of hodoud (punishment) and qasas (retribution). The sharia law of qasas covers all crimes involving personal injury or murder. The victim (or in the case of murder the victim’s family) are entitled to retribution (‘an eye for an eye’ or ‘a life for a life’). However, the victim or the victim’s family have the power to forgive the culprit and stop the punishment decided by the court in exchange for compensation paid in the form of diyya or blood money.

In the days since the execution most of the criticism directed against this particular hanging and the practice of qasas have concentrated on the medieval nature of this law, and there are valid reasons for arguing against it. However, an additional and potentially more serious aspect of the law is the fact that it gives the rich the ability to pay money in exchange for a reprieve, a practice widely used in Iran’s Islamic Republic. A clear example of the universal reality that there is one law for the rich and another for the poor. On the day Reyhaneh was executed, another two prisoners were reprieved because they paid substantial sums to the family of their respective victims. Reyhaneh’s case was different, in that she did not admit murder and paying the diyya would have amounted to an acceptance of guilt.

Of course, paying large sums of money to avoid serving a proper sentence for heinous crimes, including murder, exists in western judicial systems, albeit in a different form. The rich and powerful are able to employ the best available legal team, who are more likely to deliver a ‘not guilty’ verdict or a reduced sentence. In the OJ Simpson case in the US, expensive lawyers ensured a ‘not guilty’ verdict in 1995 and two years later a jury in a civil court decided Simpson should pay $25 million in punitive damages to the families of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald L Goldman, the two people he was accused of murdering. True, he was subsequently jailed for 33 years for armed robbery and kidnapping, but his lawyers have already succeeded in getting the minimum period before parole is considered reduced to four years.

No doubt Iran’s laws of hodoud and qasas are medieval. However, the OJ Simpson case is but one example of the increasing tendency in many western countries to imitate the system of sharia compensation. Both in the United States and the United Kingdom, criminal injuries compensation has become an integral part of ‘victim support’.

Several commentators have pointed to another deficiency of Iran’s judicial system: the fact that women cannot become judges. Sharia law considers women too ‘emotional’ and ‘irrational’ to hold such a position and this is certainly a clear example of misogyny – an obvious case of discrimination against women which must be condemned in the strongest terms. Having said that, we should also remember that the appointment of female judges is no guarantee that women will obtain justice, be they victims of violent crime or defendants like Reyhaneh. After all, only last week a woman judge in South Africa gave a five-year sentence to Oscar Pistorius for ‘culpable manslaughter’ – a sentence considered grossly inadequate by women activists in South Africa and worldwide.

The third aspect of the execution that has provoked controversy is the role played by social media, personalities and campaigners trying to help Reyhaneh inside and outside Iran. Her lawyer has claimed that, far from helping her case, the international campaigns and ‘attempts to politicise her trial’ had precipitated her death.2 The reality is that in a country like Iran this trial, like many other aspects of people’s lives, was political, irrespective of who takes up the case.

There is no such a thing as non-political human rights and, although it is true that Iran has at times responded to interventions over such issues from, say, the UN’s human rights commissioners with more arrests and executions, the fact remains that confronting a dictatorship in support of a prisoner via social media, and campaigning to enlist such support from artists, writers, etc, is one of the few means left for anyone wishing to help a victim of injustice.

What is problematic is the use of ‘human rights’ issues by western governments during times of confrontation with Iran – although now, of course, when Iran is no longer imperialism’s main enemy, such campaigns are less vocal and so the increasing dependence on imperialist resources by Iranian human rights groups means they are now worse placed than ever before. In the face of a bigger threat in the form of Islamic State, the priority for US and EU governments has changed. They are no longer so enthusiastic for regime change in Tehran and all those feminist, pseudo-left and human rights groups who relied on US/EU largesse are now finding themselves increasingly deprived of funding. Yet campaigns such as the one aimed at saving Reyhaneh are still considered by Tehran as imperialist interventions, even though the groups concerned are these days struggling to generate interest from the ruling class (except amongst hard-line Zionists and ultra-conservative Republicans).

As predicted, those groups that allowed themselves to become incorporated by the imperialists in their anti-Iran drive have now become a true hindrance to the cause of democratic, women’s and working class rights in Iran and the Middle East. Their association, direct or indirect, with unsavoury ‘regime change’ forces has brought into disrepute the genuine struggles of women, national minorities or workers inside the country and in this particular case did indeed probably increase the likelihood of execution.

Acid attacks

According to reports published on Iranian websites and social media last week, thousands of people have staged angry protests in Isfahan and Tehran against recent acid attacks on young women. The women who were targeted in Isfahan had their hair covered, but their hijabs were considered by some clerics to be inadequate. The demonstrators’ placards read: “Stop violence against women,” “Iranian women have a right to freedom and security”, “Isfahan doesn’t want Daesh [Islamic State]” and “Stop acid attacks”.

It is not clear exactly how many have been victims of such horrible attacks, but the authorities have admitted that eight women are currently in hospital – although many believe the real number is rather higher. Women activists claim these vicious assaults are related to a recent campaign by the more conservative religious leaders to launch civilian vigilante groups to enforce the commandment, Amr be marouf, nahye az monker (‘Command the good, forbid the evil’).

President Hassan Rowhani has tried to distance himself from the conservatives, but his opposition has so far been limited to ‘moderate’ comments, in which he has refused to contradict the supreme leader and conservative clerics, while attempting to appease his own supporters. For example: “Do not interfere in people’s lives so much, even if it is out of compassion. Let people pick their own path to heaven. One cannot take people to heaven through force and a whip. The Prophet did not have a whip in his hand.”3

The response from conservative clerics was predictable: “They say, let people be and don’t take them to heaven by force. Fine: we’ll suspend commanding the good and forbidding evil. To the thief, and to the girl … with bad veiling, we’ll say, ‘Be a good child.’ Is this Islam? Is this a determination to implement religion?”4

Last week the Iranian parliament debated a bill aimed at prohibiting the use of violence in the hijab crackdown and in fact, as protests against the acid-throwing incidents grew, conservative clerics went out of their way to condemn these attacks, demanding severe punishment for the culprits. Indeed, sections of the pro-government media were blaming Mossad! For his part, Mohammad-Reza Naghdi, the head of the religious basij militia, claimed that there was no evidence that the attacks were linked to ‘bad hijabs’, and those who claimed otherwise were trying to distort the image of Islam. He claimed that “western intelligence services” were behind the attacks.5

Mostafa Pourmohammadi, Rowhani’s justice minister, claimed the assaults in Isfahan were terrorist attacks, aimed at sabotaging the city’s safety. A number of Iranian papers, including the pro-‘reformist’ daily, Shargh, have said such incidents have the effect of making Isfahan, one of Iran’s main tourist cities, appear unsafe for visitors. The following statement from one of the victims summarises the horrific nature of these attacks: “I was coming back from the swimming pool and pulled over in Bozorgmehr Street, so that my friend could get out. That’s when it all happened … I took off all my clothes and threw them to the ground. People gathered in a circle, but no-one helped to wash my body. Everyone was throwing back clothes on me, so that my body would not be naked.”6

The government has now issued instructions on how to deal with such incidents, both in terms of helping the victims and avoiding contamination. However, as many Iranians have pointed out, this is a case of ‘too little, too late’. And, in a bizarre twist, there was news of arrests in Isfahan – not of those accused of throwing acid, but of women journalists from the semi-official news agency, ISNA. Their crime? Reporting the acid-throwing incidents and the subsequent protests.

Both Reyhaneh’s execution and the acid attacks have had limited coverage in sections of the British press and media. But, given the appalling injuries caused and the fact that even by Iran’s standards the hanging of a young women is unusual, the muted response in Europe and the US shows the opportunistic nature of imperialist ‘concerns’ for women’s rights in the Middle East. Iran is no longer the main enemy – some might even say it is an ally right now. So who cares about women’s rights in that country?

These events are also a reminder of other feminist misconceptions. Throughout the last three decades Islamic ‘feminists’ told us that the veil protected Iranian women against violence, that it created a ‘safe space’ for women and indeed one could argue that the ultimate safe space would include gender segregation and the veil. Yet the events of the last two weeks show the fallacy of such claims. The Islamic ‘safe space’ does not protect women against acid attacks. It does not protect women like Reyhaneh when they are attacked by a powerful man. It does not assist them during the lengthy judicial process.

The lessons from Iran are crystal-clear: women cannot be protected through the imposition of (visible or invisible) restrictions – either through the veil or through phoney bureaucratic measures. It is only through the empowerment of women that we can ensure their safety and their equality. And that empowerment must start with the rejection of such patronising attitudes as those that aim to restrict women to ‘safe spaces’.

Notes

1. www.businessinsider.com/afp-iran-hangs-woman-in-defiance-of-international-campaign-2014-10.

2. BBC Persian service Radio, 26 October 2014,,Cheshm Andaz Bamdadi.

3. www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2014/05/khatami-criticizes-rouhani-heaven-force-whip.html.

4. Ibid.

5. http://freethoughtblogs.com/butterfliesandwheels/2014/10/isfahans-tourist-industry-is-at-stake.

6. http://narekhartoonian.blogspot.co.uk.

Imperialism has no progressive role in Kobanê

kobane-womanThe group formerly known as Daesh (Isis), now Islamic State, entered the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobanê In the early hours of Tuesday October 7. As this statement is issued, air strikes seem to have halted its advance for the moment, street-to-street fighting is taking place and initial reports suggest that in these battles secular Kurdish forces allied to the People’s Protection Units (military wing of the Democratic Union Party or PYD) are getting the upper hand – mainly because they are familiar with the town’s layout and IS’s heavy weaponry are not as effective in street battles. That said, the town is being destroyed, its inhabitants are refugees and it is highly unlikely that Kurdish forces can win ultimately.

Who is to blame for the catastrophic situation?

First the United States and its coalition partners – not just for their role in the Iraqi invasion of 2003 that is the root cause of all this, but, more important, for their association with and support for the countries who created and financed this IS monster.

US vice-president Joe Biden recently stated: “My constant cry was that our allies in the region were the largest problem in Syria” – and he singled out the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey specifically. He added:

“The Turks were great friends, but, when it came to Syria and the effort to bring down president Bashar Assad there, those allies’ policies wound up helping to arm and build allies of al Qa’eda and eventually the terrorist Islamic State … What were they doing? They were so determined to take down Assad and essentially have a proxy Sunni-Shia war? What did they do? They poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens, thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad – except that the people who were being supplied were al Nusra and al Qa’eda and the extremist elements of jihadis coming from other parts of the world.”

Of course, in his candour the US vice-president failed to mention that until last autumn the Obama administration shared these views and tactics. Even when the US did a complete U-turn, for all the propaganda about air raids by a coalition of 40 countries, there has been no serious attempt to weaken IS in Syria. Hundreds of thousands of Syrian Kurds have been forced to leave their homes and, according to the fighters and the people of Kobanê, coalition air raids were too little and too late to make any difference.

Turkey

Another culprit is the Turkish army. Controlling the heights north of the city, it stood by, as IS used heavy artillery, tanks and rocket launchers to attack the poorly armed Kurdish guerrillas. According to a Kurdish commander, Turkey hopes the fall of Kobanê will create the conditions where it can send ground troops into Syria, paving the way for the establishment of a pro-Turkish regime in Damascus.http://weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1029/the-is-conundrum/ – 1 Turkish president Tayyip Erdoğan, speaking on October 7, seemed to confirm this view when he called for the launch of a ground operation against IS to halt its advance: “The terror will not be over unless we cooperate in a ground operation,” Erdoğan said.

For the last two years the town had been controlled by the PYD, the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which is fighting for Kurdish freedom from Turkish rule. The PYD and its People’s Protection Units (YPG) claimed it had created a region of self-governance. Those familiar with the PKK’s authoritarian politics would consider such claims with a degree of cynicism. However, there can be no doubt that tens of thousands of Christians, Yazidis and Turkmen from all over Syria had sought refuge in Kobanê.

The Turkish president has repeatedly talked of his country’s ‘commitment’ to fight IS, yet in reality there has been no sign of any serious effort from his state. Many believe Turkey is directly or indirectly helping IS’s rise, both by funding some of its activities and by allowing foreign volunteers to cross the Turkish border into Syria. In contrast, it has closed the border to Kurds wanting to cross into Syria and join the defence of Kobanê. In September the release of 46 Turkish hostages came after negotiations between the Turkish state and the jihadist group. And last week PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan, held in prison near Istanbul, warned Ankara that the peace process between Turkey and the Kurdish rebels would collapse if IS seized Kobanê.

While PKK/YPG officials in Syria are adamant they do not want Turkey to intervene in the conflict, they have called for an easing of border controls between Syria and Turkey, so that Syrian Kurd fighters can be supplied with arms. The group’s military forces – a poorly trained group of male and female peshmergas – have only light weapons and a few captured tanks. The YPG also claims that, for all its rhetoric, Turkey has been and remains in an undeclared alliance with IS, as it is more concerned to defeat Syrian Kurdish forces allied with the PKK.

Turkey, for its part, is blaming the Kurdish group for choosing an “isolationist position”, and for refusing to join the Free Syrian Army and other Syrian opposition groups funded by Arab countries. Turkey has maintained close relations with the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Kurdish regional authority in Iraq. However, YPG/PKK fighters have dismissed KDP efforts in opposition to IS as half-hearted and ineffective. A claim supported by Kurdish, Yazidi and Turkmen refugees in the region.

The treacherous leaders of the Kurdish regional authority is a recipient of generous aid from the United States and the European Union. It is a living example of a corrupt, decadent, semi-colonial state. Its leaders were so alarmed by YPG’s experiments of ‘self-governance’ that they were ready to sit back and watch brutal jihadists take over Kobanê. But the problem they will face in the long term is obvious: when IS reaches Suleymaniye or Kirkuk, the major cities of the KRA, no-one will be left to defend its decadent, autocratic, misogynist rulers.

If IS defeats the Kurdish guerrillas in the Kobanê street battles, it would gain control of most of the Syrian-Turkish border – Kobanê is already flanked by two IS-controlled towns to the east and west. This would be a strategic victory for IS, as it would then be able to control the key Raqa-Kobanê route. That is why, irrespective of its political differences with the PKK and YPG, for the left in the region, Kobanê is in the eye of the storm of the fight against IS.

Iran

In Tehran on October 6, 14 well-known left/liberal activists began a protest hunger strike in solidarity with Kobanê – a little strangely. Left and centre-left websites and social media are full of messages of support for Kobanê fighters. Photos of the heroes of the war – the men and women guerrillas who have given their lives to defend the city – are prominent, including that of the young mother, Arin Mirkan, who launched a suicide attack on advancing jihadists on October 5.

The attitude of the Iranian left can only be explained as a leftover from the early 1980s – a period when it romanticised the Iranian Kurdish resistance: the brave fighters in the mountains were going to pave the way for the overthrow of another Islamic state – Iran’s Shia republic – and establish ‘socialism’! However, an ill-equipped army of brave young men and women faced reactionaries who were armed to the teeth, financed by wealthy, powerful forces and determined to die for Islam has little chance. Unfortunately, it is not hard to guess who will win the current struggle in Kobanê. We should leave the suicide attacks to the Islamists (Shia or Sunni) – for the left this is no way to fight, however desperate the situation gets. But the politics of vanguard activism, which created such illusions in Iranian Kurdistan in the 1980s, is fostering similar illusions about Kobanê, at least amongst sections of the Iranian left. This does not mean that in the Middle East, and especially in the west, the left should not support the fighters in Kobanê, who, as secular, leftwing forces, remain a source of hope, a progressive force fighting reactionary Islamists. Our comments are directed at those sections of the Iranian left who seem to have become obsessed with promoting YPG guerrilla heroism.

Who and why

For all the talk of a ‘US-led coalition’, including countries such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE, none of these states are serious about stopping the funding of the jihadists or preventing the financial transactions of banks and institutions in IS-occupied northern Iraq. Who is buying the oil IS sells? Turkey. Who is allowing international transactions from Mosul banks? Qatari, Saudi and UAE banks are laundering money from their counterparts under IS control in northern Iraq.

Is international capital incapable of stopping the flow of funds to IS? Of course not. We know from the recent example of sanctions against Iranian banks that the world hegemon power, the United States, is capable of closing down all international monetary routes. It is capable of tracing the smallest transactions between individuals associated with ‘rogue states’ and punishing banks who fail to comply. Yet we are expected to believe that it cannot do the same when it comes to the northern Iraqi cities controlled by IS? The reality is that a disorientated US does not want to confront its allies in the Arab world.

The ability of IS to maintain and expand its influence is due to a number of factors – not least the reputation it has gained as a force that does not (ostensibly) compromise with the west.

For all the religious statements issued by Sunni clerics denouncing the group’s brutal methods, many young Muslims still join it. Its brutal methods may be medieval, but IS has shown considerable ability in managing the cities it has captured.

According to the Irish Independent newspaper:

“The ‘Islamic State’ group, infamous for its beheadings, crucifixions and mass executions, provides electricity and water, pays salaries, controls traffic and runs nearly everything from bakeries and banks to schools, courts and mosques. While its merciless battlefield tactics and the imposition of its austere vision of Islamic law made headlines, residents say much of its power lies in its efficient and often deeply pragmatic ability to govern …

“Civilians who do not have any political affiliations have adjusted to the presence of Islamic State, because people got tired and exhausted, and also … because they are doing institutional work,” one Raqqa resident opposed to Isis said.”

So far, the US-led bombing operations– which rely on long-distance engagement (to ensure minimum risk to military personnel and warplanes) – have largely only succeeded in gaining new allies for IS. Imperialism created the horror that is currently engulfing this region of the world: it is madness to think it can now drop bombs on it to provide a solution.

Is the US serious about defeating IS or is Iran right to believe that there is a ‘stage two’ in the US-led action against IS – one dedicated to overthrowing Assad from above, with Turkey waiting patiently in the wings? And is this ultimately aimed at regime change in Iran? The situation is confused and tense, but Hands Off the People of Iran is clear:

  • Imperialism has no progressive role to play – no to the bombings!
  • Defend Kobanê against IS barbarism!
  • The only force that can bring peace, progress and socialism to the region is the working class!

The origins, politics and economics of the Islamic State

Consequences of IS atrocities disorientate the left

Every day news of new atrocities by the Islamic State is making headlines. From the beheading of young journalists to the mass extermination of religious and national minorities in Iraq and Syria, there seems to be no end to the barbarism and brutality of this latest brand of Islamist jihadism. US air strikes might have slowed down the IS’s military progress – earlier this week the two Shia cities of Amerli and Suleiman Beik were recaptured, the latter with the direct intervention of Iranian Revolutionary Guards. However, it is clear that the IS is far from defeated.

It is ironic to think that only a year ago the debate was about US military intervention on the side of Syrian opposition forces – even then dominated by the very jihadists who later chose the name ‘Daesh’ (in Arabic), or Isis. Today the US is conducting an air war against the group (and the United Kingdom is close to joining in). This air war will no doubt bolster the regime of Bashar Assad. The mass media portray US air raids and drone attacks as yet another humanitarian intervention, downplaying the enormity of the US change in policy over the last 12 months. Has there been regime change in Syria? Has the dictator the imperialists were so keen to ditch relinquished power? Is his government more democratic than a year ago? Of course, the answer to all these questions is ‘no’. Assad has consolidated his power with phoney elections; his army (supported by another ‘rogue state’, Iran) is as repressive as ever before. In short, what has changed is the priorities of the imperialist powers – there is now an urgent need to maintain control over the country they ruined in another ‘humanitarian’ intervention in 2003: Iraq.

So Shia Iran, and therefore its ally, Syria, are no longer the main enemy. On the contrary, Iran’s alliance and support is welcomed in Iraq, where, in true colonial fashion, Washington dismisses the prime minister of the occupation government and gets Tehran’s approval to install a replacement. Nouri al-Maliki is ousted and in his place is Haider al-Abadi – and the first person to express support for Iraq’s new premier is none other than Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei.

Ten years after de-Ba’athification and ‘year zero’, when neoliberal economics was supposed to bring about a flourishing, democratic civil society and, according to some on the left, trade union rights for Iraqi workers, the country remains devastated. Contrary to the US vision, it soon became obvious that the regional power benefiting from the political vacuum was Iran’s Islamic Republic. With a friendly, at times obedient, Shia-led state in Baghdad, relative influence in Syria and growing links with Hezbollah in Lebanon, the clerics in Tehran and Qom could not believe their luck: the neoconservatives had handed them the Shia belt, stretching from Tehran (some would say Kabul) to the Mediterranean coast. Yet Iran’s influence and at times direct interventions in Iraq and Syria – not to mention Hezbollah’s political success in Lebanon – increased sectarian tension, a tension fuelled by Saudi and Qatari financial support for Sunni militias in Syria and Iraq, as well as political opponents of Hezbollah in Lebanon.

US threats against Iran and the hysteria about Iran’s nuclear programme since 2007, as well as subsequent crippling sanctions, were inevitable consequences of attempts by first Bush and then Obama to address the increasing geopolitical strength of Iran. The Arab spring in 2011 and 2012 only reinforced this position, as the US now had to consider the coming to power of the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo. Ironically it was the defeat of the Arab spring and the rising power of fundamentalist jihadists, especially in Syria, that changed US foreign policy. Obama’s statement this week to the effect that the administration has no strategy (yet) has started a number of debates. Clearly there is a level of disorientation in Washington and, for all the claims of Israel’s supporters that the ‘strategy’ is appeasement of nuclear Iran (according to Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, the biggest threat to world peace since Hitler), the reality is that last year’s enemies (the Iranian rulers, Assad and Hezbollah) are today’s allies.

Confusion

Unfortunately this disorientation seems to have found reflection amongst sections of the left. Two recent articles – Andy Cunningham’s ‘New fault lines in the Middle East: Isis in a regional context’ on the Revolutionary Socialism in the 21st Century website1; and a response by Sam Charles Hamad in IS Network2 – are good examples of such confusion.

Sam Hamad is right to criticise the simplistic arguments of the first article, which almost falls into Press TV-style reductionism regarding the current situation – while it is easy to put all the blame on the US and its allies in the region, the full story is more complicated. However, comrade Hamad’s response, although correct in describing the disastrous policies of Al Maleki and pointing out Iran’s involvement, has its own grave shortcomings, as it implies support for US air raids in ‘defence’ of Iraqi Yazidis:

If anybody, revolutionary socialist or not, wants to see Daesh defeated or weakened without relying on or appealing to imperialism, then we must deal with the realities and complexities of the balance of forces of Iraq since the invasion and occupation by the US and its ‘coalition of the willing’. Narratives that advertise the identification of ‘new fault lines’ in the Middle East, but that then end up relying on old formulations, such as advocating ‘working class independence’ against Daesh, are usually those which necessarily stay as far away as possible from reality. Perhaps, following on from the usual line of regional Revolutionary Socialists, we ought to conclude that the only solution to Daesh is revolutionary socialism?3

Contrary to what Hamad claims, the choice is not between the abstract claim that only “revolutionary socialism will do” and a descent into the ‘realistic’ politics of supporting ‘humanitarian’ interventions by the US and its allies. Even in the current mess of the Middle East you can hold to the principled position of opposing foreign military intervention, while resisting the temptation to support one or the other reactionary state, one or the other hopeless, ‘moderate’ Islamic group, simply because they oppose the local dictator. Why should we do so?

  • Because the origins of many of these jihadists go back to Saudi Arabia and other US allies, and because it was colonialism that created the underlying problems of the region – arbitrary borders, deliberate imposition of ruling elites from religious minorities (Sunni rulers in Shia countries and vice versa). This means that imperialism can play no part in the solution. If the US were serious about stopping the massacres, why does it not impose sanctions on Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states (and take action against the Arab billionaires who finance these dubious organisations)? Instead it continues to arm these states.
  • Because all imperialist ‘humanitarian interventions’ are political, with the single aim of advancing the geopolitical hegemony of US imperialism. Otherwise we would have witnessed, if not US military action, at least forthright condemnation of Israel, as it massacred over 2,000 Palestinians in Gaza.
  • Because, as Obama admitted last week, the US has no clear strategy and the left that tails the latest ‘humanitarian’ intervention ends up supporting the bombing of pro-Assad forces, including Iranian Revolutionary guards, one year and the bombing of Assad’s opponents the next, as ground troops supported by Iranian Revolutionary Guards help Iraqi forces to recapture Shia towns.
  • Because every military intervention, ‘humanitarian’ or otherwise, brings new recruits into the ranks of the jihadists. Anyone in doubt should look at events in Afghanistan and how US bombing increased support for the Taliban.

One of the revolutionary left’s most important tasks in the current situation is to point to the fallacy of ‘humanitarian intervention’. It is the short-sighted, opportunistic politics of falling behind this or that Arab/Middle Eastern state or Islamic opposition (‘moderate’ or jihadist, from the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt to Al Nasr in Syria) that continues to discredit the international left in the Middle East, and play into the hands of the religious fundamentalists.

Rise of IS

As I have written before, Iraq’s political problems were compounded after the 2010 elections, when the more or less non-sectarian, mainly Sunni Iraqi coalition gained the largest number of parliamentary seats. Maliki used the courts to stop it from attempting to form a government. He followed this later with attacks on non-Shia ministers and officials.

It is true to say that the destruction of Iraq started with the 2003 invasion. However, it is also true that Maliki’s sectarianism, his refusal to incorporate Sunni militias in the regular army, his intolerance of tribal leaders in northern Iraq all contributed to the ensuing chaos. Iraq, a country where religious and national minorities had lived in relative peace side by side for centuries, has become the scene of vicious battles between Sunni jihadists and Shia military sects, of Kurdish peshmergas driven out of their homes, refugees in no man’s land, and victims of ‘humanitarian’ air strikes aimed at stopping Isis’s advance. According to the most conservative estimates, currently there are three million internally displaced persons in Iraq.

Anyone who last year fostered illusions in the potential of air raids to halt Assad’s atrocities, just like anyone who is fooled by US air attacks today, should be thoroughly ashamed. Nothing could be further from the minds of American and British politicians. It is all about safeguarding their interests in the region (remember Gaza).

And what about the IS itself? Who has been financing it over the last few years? How did it gain the prominence it has? According to Charles Lister of the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar, “There is no publicly accessible proof that the government of a state has been involved in the creation or financing of Isis as an organisation.”4 However, the Iraqi government, Iran’s Islamic Republic and a number of independent observers have made accusations that the governments of Qatar, Saudi Arabia and other Persian states financed Isis in 2013 and early 2014. There is credible information about wealthy members of ruling families from the Persian Gulf countries funding it over the last two years. So, for all the Saudi and Qatari denials, there can be little doubt that, before it gained access to oilfields in north Syria and later banks in Mosul, Isis was the recipient of financial support from states in the Persian Gulf region.

Michael Stephens, director of the Royal United Services Institute in Qatar, asks:

So has Qatar funded the Islamic State? Directly, the answer is no. Indirectly, a combination of shoddy policy and naivety has led to Qatar-funded weapons and money making their way into the hands of IS. Saudi Arabia likewise is innocent of a direct state policy to fund the group, but, as with Qatar, its determination to remove Mr Assad has led to serious mistakes in its choice of allies … many taking bags of cash to Turkey and simply handing over millions of dollars at a time.5

Some of this money was originally destined for Al Nusra (Al Qa’eda’s wing in Syria). However, Isis/IS also benefited from the money smuggled via a Turkish border left deliberately unchecked. This has made the organisation one of the richest jihadist groups in the world, which now benefits from control of oilfields in Syria – indeed selling oil back to the Assad regime – and from conquering Iraqi cities: “During its conquest of the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, Isis fighters looted more than 500 billion Iraqi dinar, worth about $420 million … Iraqi officials estimate that the group now has about $2 billion in its war chest.”6

IS leader Al Baghdadi has established a military command, which includes officers from Saddam Hussein’s military. In the Middle East it is widely reported that former Iraqi officers like Fadel al-Hayali, who was one of the Ba’athist regime’s top military commanders, as well as Adnan al-Sweidawi, a colonel of the Saddam Hussein era, hold crucial positions in the military leadership of IS. These are men who fought the US occupation in the mid-2000s. Other Sunnis, linked to northern Iraqi tribes, groups which fought al Qa’eda in the 2000s, felt so isolated and betrayed by Baghdad that they sided with Isis. The Iraqi government of Maliki broke its promise to integrate over 90,000 Sunnis who fought al Qa’eda into the military security system, thus providing them with a proper income. Instead, incompetent, corrupt Shias were promoted to the highest ranks of the army – and they were among the first to run away and abandon their posts as Isis advanced.

The Americans and their new regional ally, Iran’s Islamic Republic, hope the removal of the much hated Maliki and the coming to power of the ‘moderate’ al-Abadi will improve relations with Sunni tribes. However, as late as August 30, Sheikh Ali al-Hatim of the Dulaim tribe was urging fellow Sunni leaders to withdraw from talks to form a new government. Hatim also called on the Sunni authorities to clamp down on Shi’ite militias.

Kurds

The western press and media have been full of stories about Kurdish fighters and their role in the current battles in Iraq. Former Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown has encouraged the government to “arm Kurdish forces” and called on Britain and the US to act as “handmaidens to Kurdish independence”.7

However, all those who are familiar with the region will tell a different story. Fighters from the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) have not been as brave as some reports suggest, nor were they in the forefront of recent battles. Those who survived the IS’s onslaught in Sinjar province last month claim that the peshmergas and the political parties of the Kurdish Regional Authority abandoned them. Throughout the last few years, the KDP has recruited members and supporters from among Yazidis in the Sinjar province, promising them protection. (The Yazidis, whose religion is close to Zoroastrianism, have often been called “devil worshippers” because there is confusion between their name and that of the third Islamic Khalif, Yazid, who was considered by Shias to be a heretic). In Sinjar province, the KDP assured the residents, both Christians and Yazidis, that they would be safe from Sunni and Shia extremists. Sarbast Baiperi, head of the local KDP in Sinjar province, appeared on KDP radio and TV and on Facebook claiming: “Until the last drop of blood we will defend Sinjar.”8 In return the KDP expected the population to vote for its deputies. Yet in the first test of this pact, the local population claims that when the IS advanced KDP peshmergas abandoned their posts and fled.

Of course, other Kurdish fighters, mainly from the YPG (Syrian Kurdish Peoples Protection Units), members of the Syrian wing of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), as well as Iranian peshmergas based in Iraqi Kurdistan, did fight the IS. As the refugees approached a checkpoint where Kurdish Regional Government authorities were confiscating weapons, the Yazidis and the Christians sent word back down the convoy behind them: “Give your guns to the YPG!”

The western mass media might confuse the heroism of leftwing Kurdish fighters with the cowardice of Barzani, Talabani and their useless armies, but the peoples of the region know better.

Principles

It is inevitable that, faced with the horrors inflicted by the IS, the left in the imperialist countries is suffering from some confusion. However, the answers remain simple and straightforward. For example, in 2007 we pointed out, in opposition to the line adopted by the Stop the War Coalition leadership, that threats of war against Iran should not cause us to side with a reactionary religious state that intervenes in the affairs of other countries in the region. In 2012, during the Arab spring, we said that, while in Egypt the departure of Hosni Mubarak was a cause for celebration, we should remember that, in the absence of any viable leftwing alternative, the Muslim Brotherhood’s adherence to neoliberal economics, accompanied by the imposition of aspects of Sharia law, would be a recipe for disaster. We rejected claims about the allegedly progressive and anti-imperialist nature of the MB and warned against calling for a vote for it. We were also against the military coup in Egypt in the summer of 2013, which, for example, the Socialist Workers Party at first giddily supported.

And we opposed US military intervention in Syria. Foreign interventions in that country from Iran and Russia on the side of the Syrian dictator, and from Saudi Arabia and Qatar in support of Al Nasr, Isis and the Free Syrian army, paved the way for subsequent disasters.

We can do no more than repeat the same warnings again. The Middle East has a complicated history, compounded by arbitrary borders drawn up by the colonial powers. It has been the scene of imperialist interventions throughout the last century. For the left there is only one position that has stood the test of time: we refuse to echo social-imperialist calls in favour of ‘humanitarian’ intervention. Nor do we offer ‘critical support’ to this or that regional dictator or Islamist group (‘moderate’ or otherwise), but stand alongside those sections of the working class movement that have not been tainted by either social-imperialism or false anti-imperialism.

Only by adhering to basic principles can we stand any chance of regaining support amongst the working class in the region. Do not be fooled: there are no short cuts, no easy solutions.

Notes

1. http://rs21.org.uk/2014/08/12/new-fault-lines-in-the-middle-east-isis-in-a-regional-context.

2. http://internationalsocialistnetwork.org/index.php/ideas-and-arguments/international/war-and-imperialism/483-iraq-response?showall=1&limitstart.

3. http://internationalsocialistnetwork.org/index.php/ideas-and-arguments/international/war-and-imperialism/483-iraq-response.

4. www.dw.de/who-finances-isis/a-17720149.

5. http://commonsensewonder.blogspot.co.uk/2014/09/islamic-state-income-stream.html.

6. www.dw.de/who-finances-isis/a-17720149.

7. The Guardian August 15 2014.

8. www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/08/17/how-the-u-s-favored-kurds-abandoned-the-yazidis-when-isis-attacked.html.

Iran, Israel and Isis

Spreading like a cancer

As the massacre in Gaza continues, time and time again the survivors of the conflict are heard on Middle Eastern and western media complaining about the leaders of Arab countries failing the Palestinian cause. In fact, even in comparison with previous wars, the official reaction by Arab states has been extremely poor. Protestors in many Arab capitals are blaming their own governments for making no effort to stop the bloodshed. In the first week of relentless bombing, the military-led Egypt, under former general Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, went as far as to blame Hamas for the Palestinian deaths. Naturally then, the border crossings between Gaza and Egypt were kept closed.

Ironically the Arab spring (and its failure) has played a negative role in this. Arab governments seem so preoccupied with their internal problems that they have failed even to give voice to the usual rhetoric of condemnation. According to Palestinian lawyer Diana Buttu, “In all the other invasions and assaults on Gaza, there was at least some government that would come out and talk about how what Israel was doing was illegal and show some support. This time around, there’s been nothing. The silence is deafening.”1

Of course, the same is not true about the Arab population. There have been major demonstrations in Middle Eastern capitals, from Tunis to Sana’a. However, those in Cairo have been much smaller than in the past – probably a direct result of the one-year rule of the Muslim Brotherhood, seen as Hamas’s close ally.

Recriminations about Arab reactions to the Gaza massacre have already started. Qatar is accusing Egypt of being an obstacle to a ceasefire at a time when all parties are in Cairo for negotiations. Meanwhile Egypt’s foreign minister accuses Qatar, Turkey and Hamas of undermining his government’s attempts to negotiate a ceasefire. Israel, on the other hand, singles out Qatar as the main provider of arms and funds to Hamas.

Non-Arab Iran has had a turbulent relationship with Hamas over the last few years, but the reconciliation initiated in January 2014 means the Iranian regime appears to be one of only two governments in the region voicing opposition to events in Gaza (Turkey being the other). However, before anyone rushes to congratulate the Islamic Republic, it is worth noting that the Shia government’s relations with Hamas were badly damaged after Hamas supported the uprising against Iran’s ally, president Bashar al-Assad, two and a half years ago. At that time Iran stopped all financial aid to Hamas, estimated to be worth around £14 million a month.

In fact, contrary to scare stories in Tel Aviv and Washington about Iran’s funding of Hamas’s war, Iranian leaders’ talk about Palestine does not match their actions. Supreme leader Ali Khamenei was scathing in his attack on Israel: “This rabid dog, this rapacious wolf, has attacked innocent people, and humanity must show a reaction. This is genocide, a catastrophe on a historical scale.”2 However, earlier in the week, Iranian president Hassan Rowhani and his foreign minister were absent from the state-sponsored pro-Palestine demonstration – probably conscious of the delicate stage of negotiations with the P5+1 powers.

Yes, there have been promises of aid, but so far Iran has delivered very little practical support and it is very doubtful that this crisis-ridden country, its economy destroyed by sanctions, will do much. It is wary of the political risks involved in sending arms – in this crucial four-month extension to negotiations over a nuclear deal it does not want to be accused of ‘aiding terrorism’ by the west.

In Washington the Republican chair of the house intelligence committee, Mike Rogers, claimed last week that the extension of nuclear talks means that Iran will now be able to send financial support to ‘militants’ in the Gaza strip, especially now that the US administration has freed $2.8 billion of oil revenue. And, for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the obstacles to a long-term deal between the US and Iran are no longer limited to Tehran’s nuclear capability. There is the alleged support for Hamas. In fact Iran’s improved relations with Hamas are likely to be temporary. Hamas has close relations with the Syrian rebels, Assad’s opponents, and Iran has no intention of giving up its support for the Syrian dictator. Of course, the reality is that the Islamic Republic’s support for Palestine has always been opportunistic.

Islamic State

However, the $64 million question throughout the Middle East is, where does the Islamic State (formerly Isis) stand on all this? In late June and early July the pro-Israeli press was full of scare stories about Isis cells in Gaza. It was alleged that mourners carrying black flags at a funeral in Gaza were Isis supporters, although, far from being an indication of support for the Islamic State, black flags are a common feature of Muslim funerals.

Hamas itself categorically denied Egyptian security claims that “terrorists” have infiltrated Sinai through Gaza tunnels. According to Hamas, there is no Islamic State presence in the Gaza strip. And in fact the jihadists’ official position is that fighting the ‘infidels’ takes precedence over fighting Israel. Responding to a question regarding the group’s position vis-à-vis the current conflict in Gaza, an Islamic State spokesman said: “The greatest answer to this question is in the Qur’an, where Allah speaks about the nearby enemy – those Muslims who have become infidels – as they are more dangerous than those who were already infidels.” There must be “priority” given to “fighting those who have become disbelievers over conquest of Jerusalem”, since “Jerusalem will not be freed until we get rid of the idolaters, such as the wealthy families and the players appointed by the colonial government who control the fate of the Islamic world.”3 This was shocking to many, coming as it did so soon after Isis’s claim to lead Muslims worldwide. Many Islamists must have expected the new caliphate to be in forefront of the Palestinian struggle against the Zionist state.

This deprioritisation prompted political attacks on the Islamic State. In response, the group’s spokesperson, Nidal Nuseiri, reiterated the need to ensure that “Bayt al-Maqdis” (Jerusalem) belongs to believers and claimed the destruction of Israel was central to the holy war Isis was waging. However, this required a “systematic approach” and a “process that will take many stages”. Some of those “stages” – building a firm base for an Islamic state in Iraq, and using it as a springboard to wage war in Syria and Lebanon – have already been achieved. But he said a number of other criteria still needed to be fulfilled before challenging Israel directly.

Among them, Nuseiri said, the US, Israel’s greatest ally, needed to be weakened politically and economically via attacks on the American mainland, as well as against US interests in Muslim countries. Additionally, the Islamic State needed to expand its borders to cover all of “greater Syria” (Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and possibly Gaza). After all this had been accomplished, the new caliphate would be in a strong position to take on Israel directly. In other words, as Palestinians are massacred, the Islamic State will do nothing to help them. It will continue its efforts to ‘purify the religion’ by killing fellow Muslims, and by attacking innocent Christians in Iraq and Syria.

All this was music to the ears of conspiracy theorists in Iran and Iraq. The Iranian agency, Fars News, quoted Edward Snowden, the US National Security Agency turncoat, who said: “British and American intelligence and the Mossad worked together to create the … Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant using a strategy called the ‘hornet’s nest’. The plan was devised to protect Israel from security threats by diverting attention to the newly manufactured regional enemy: Isis.”4

In the good old days of president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran’s official news agency played a crucial role in starting false rumours, which were then repeated by government officials and the rest of the Iranian press and media as fact. Clearly the agency has returned to its old practices and this time pro-Maleki Iraq and the official press in Syria have also picked up on its ‘revelations’ about the Islamic State.

Of course, the Iranian government believes it can take the moral high ground and attack the jihadist group as part of its ‘anti-terrorism’ campaign. This allows Iran to side with the Shia government in Baghdad and the Alawite dictator in Damascus, pretending it is not just a campaign against its Sunni opponents.

No connection

Meanwhile, Israel has at last admitted what everyone already knew: there are no grounds for believing Hamas ordered the kidnapping of the three Israeli teenagers murdered on June 12 – the incident seized on by Tel Aviv to launch its latest war, part of the strategic campaign to eventually drive out millions of Palestinians from a ‘greater Israel’.

Now it is confirmed that the initial Israeli attack against Gaza had nothing to do with that incident: it was an attempt to sabotage the deal between Hamas and Fatah, to isolate Hamas and punish Fatah for the rapprochement. However, this plan has already failed. As early as July 10, the Israeli press was reporting missiles being launched against Israel by groups linked to Fatah. Amin Maqboul, secretary-general of Fatah’s Revolutionary Council, claimed that Palestinians are united against the Israeli assault, rejecting the idea that the war will result in the collapse of the agreement between Fatah and Hamas. He said: “We all know that the main Israeli goal has been to break up the national unity reconciliation. We will respond by strengthening our unity and reconciliation.”

All this has led to the Zionist press launching a campaign against Fatah. This quote from Arutz Sheva sums it up: “The ‘moderate’ Palestinian leadership has shown its true colours. It sides with the terrorists, not with Israel.”5

Notes

1. www.nytimes.com/2014/07/20/world/middleeast/palestinians-find-show-of-support-lacking-from-arab-nations-amid-offensive.html?partner=rss&emc=rss&smid=tw-nytimes&_r=0.

2. http://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2014/07/29/Khamenei-slams-rabid-dog-Israel-over-Gaza-war.html.

3. www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/182632#.U9if20N3_hc.

4. http://syrianfreepress.wordpress.com/2014/07/15/snowden-confirms-that-al-baghdadi-was-trained-by-mossad.

5. www.israelnationalnews.com/Articles/Article.aspx/15327#.U9lkS_ldWpc.

Israel’s secret nuclear arsenal

On July 13 the Persian-speaking spokesperson of the US state department was asked by the BBC if in the absence of any progress in negotiations between the P5+1 powers and Iran before July 20 there would be an extension to the deadline for the final phase of nuclear discussions. His reply was clear: John Kerry is in Vienna to resolve the differences and we want to sign the final deal. So don’t let’s talk of extensions.

Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, was in Vienna for those talks in an attempt to resolve what William Hague has called “a huge gap” – in particular between Iran’s demand for a future nuclear enrichment programme in spite of the west’s strong opposition.

By July 15, after three meetings with Iranian officials, Kerry seemed positive, although both he and Zarif were already hinting at an extension of the July 20 deadline. Further concessions by Iran are likely to include a possible delay of three to seven years in pursuing aspects of the country’s nuclear programme. Irrespective of the final outcome, it is clear that Iran is under considerable pressure to sign the final agreement. A return to sanctions worse than in the 2010-13 period is unthinkable. However, the Iranian negotiating team is aware that the “full support” of supreme leader Ali Khamenei will only last as long as they can come up with a face-saving compromise.

In theory the general outlines of the proposed final deal between the P5+1 and Iran is very clear: western powers will recognise Iran’s rights to have a nuclear industry, as long as the country accepts inspections and verification of all its nuclear facilities. On the face of it, both sides agree with this proposal and, given the current US predicament over Iraq (not to mention Syria and Afghanistan), one might have thought there would be fresh momentum to resolve things. However, US-Iranian relations are not that simple and the west’s insistence on restrictions on nuclear enrichment, the closure of the Arak heavy water plant and an end to plutonium production go far beyond nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) conditions (they are, according to the Iranian team, “NPT-plus”).

Iranian president Hassan Rowhani sent his brother to Vienna, apparently as an advisor to the foreign secretary, but sections of the Iranian press claim he came with new proposals that should narrow the gap between the two sides – better monitoring facilities, and a delay in pursuing certain aspects of the nuclear programme in return for Iran’s right to enrich uranium.

However, none of this is sufficient for the US. The reality is, the US wants to punish Iran and make sure it cannot benefit from the political vacuum in the region. It wants to ensure that its own interpretation of the NPT becomes the norm, as far as the developing world is concerned. On this Khamenei is probably right when he says US concerns have little to do with nuclear proliferation.

Stages

Two interpretations of the NPT have dominated the various stages of the talks. On the one hand, there is the non-aligned countries’ literal interpretation. The ‘Brics’ states (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) believe the NPT allows for the development of what is known as ‘fuel cycle capabilities’. In fact Brazil and South Africa, who have given up nuclear weapons capability themselves, are allowed to enrich nuclear material, and the Iranian president and foreign minister have based their negotiating position on this interpretation of the NPT.

On the other hand, the US and its allies clearly believe that specific rules should be imposed on certain countries. In this interpretation of the NPT, initiated in the early 2000s by George Bush, the intention is to impose an international ban on the transfer of fuel cycle technologies to countries that do not already possess them. This understanding has been followed by the Obama administration, which insisted on changes to NPT conditions to enable more intrusive and proactive inspections in specific states. Definitely the restrictions posed on Tehran are of this category: ie, they are unique to Iran.

That is why the most important obstacle to a deal over the last few months has been the controversy regarding ‘dual use’ capability and fuel cycle technology. Power stations, as well as nuclear medical research, rely on enriched uranium, and the same reactors producing civil-use uranium can provide the capability to enrich it to the higher levels of concentration necessary for making nuclear bombs.

Over the last decade the US administration has insisted the UN security council adopt resolutions aimed at ending nuclear enrichment in Iran. Tehran accepted them, together with Washington’s demand to limit nuclear enrichment to 20%. According to International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors, Iran has complied with all the restrictions imposed as of November 2013: all uranium enriched beyond 5% was diluted or converted to uranium oxide. The installation or preparation of new centrifuges was halted, and 50% of the centrifuges at the Natanz enrichment facility and 75% at the Fordow enrichment facility have been made inoperable. At the Arak nuclear power plant fuel production has stopped. The IAEA inspectors have been granted daily access to Natanz and Fordow, with some sites monitored by 24-hour cameras. They also have access to Iran’s uranium mines and centrifuge production facilities. In other words, there has been full compliance with the interim conditions.

However, it has been obvious since November 2013 that serious points of contention between Iran and P5+1, not least over interpretation of the NPT, will make the final stages of these negotiations much more difficult. Contrary to what was reported in most of the media, the issue is not over the number of centrifuges, but ‘separative work units’ (SWU), by which the power of uranium enrichment is measured in kilograms or metric tonnes. Two weeks ago Khamenei surprised many commentators by divulging the sticking point of the negotiations. According to the Iranian side, the country needs 190,000 SWU per year. But clearly this is a red line for the Obama administration.

Israel and NPT

Throughout these negotiations the elephant in the room has been Israel. Here is a country with nuclear weapons capability, yet it denies it has any nuclear plants, has not signed the NPT and therefore is exempt from any inspections or monitoring. However, the whole world knows about its heavy water plant in Dimona (listed as a textile factory), which produces at least 40kg of plutonium a year – sufficient for 10 atom bombs.

Israel began its nuclear weapons research from its inception as a state in 1948. In exchange for Israeli cooperation during the Suez crisis in 1956, France provided know-how and helped in the construction of a reactor complex at Dimona – it is capable of large-scale plutonium production and reprocessing. By 1958 the US knew about the nuclear facility and, according to White House documents released under the 50-year rule, the subject came up in a number of discussions between US presidents and Israeli prime ministers.

However, in the early 1960s French president Charles de Gaulle ordered restrictions and conditions on the supply of uranium to Israel and in 1964 it was discovered that Argentina had agreed to sell 80 tons of uranium ‘yellow cake’ to Israel, which replaced the fuel it had expected from France. The story of the Argentine yellow cake sale to Israel has remained largely untold because Israel went to great lengths to keep it a secret and because the US government and its close allies kept quiet about what they knew at the time.

After French disengagement in the early 1960s, Israel continued to progress its nuclear programme covertly. Before the 1967 Six-Day War, several nuclear devices were reportedly assembled. Israel had certainly produced its first nuclear weapon by 1967, but it was not until 1968-69 that US officials concluded that an Israeli bomb existed.

The yellow cake issue was a big Israeli secret, but bigger still was the existence of a reprocessing facility to convert reactor fuel from Dimona into weapons-grade plutonium. The Israelis had told the Canadians and the Americans in 1961 that Dimona would include a pilot plant for reprocessing, but it was assumed that it would be too small to support a weapons programme. In reality the original French design for Dimona included a large underground reprocessing facility – Israel’s most important nuclear secret, which Dimona technician Mordechai Vanunu made public in 1986. Soon after The Times published an interview with Vanunu, he was lured to Rome, where he was kidnapped by Mossad, smuggled back to Israel and jailed.

In 1969 the CIA became concerned about massive loss of material from Pennsylvania’s Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corporation and its possible connection to Israel’s nuclear programme. We know this because the CIA wrote to the US attorney general: “It is critical for us to establish whether or not the Israelis now have the capability for fabricating nuclear weapons, which might be employed in the near east.”1

Israel was expected to sign the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. However, a number of international events delayed ratification and it was during this period that Israel’s internal divisions and hesitations over the treaty became public. The Johnson administration tried to use the sale of 50 F-4 Phantom fighter-bombers to pressure Israel to sign the NPT, but subsequently abandoned the idea. In April 1969 Henry Kissinger issued a national security study memorandum asking for a review of options for dealing with the Israeli nuclear programme, linking it to the pending sale of the Phantom. However, “if we explain our position publicly, we will be the ones to make Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons public, with all the international consequences this entails.”2

In September 1969, US president Richard Nixon met with Israeli premier Golda Meir and, according to Avner Cohen, the author of Israel and the bomb,3 there is sufficient historical evidence to indicate that the two “reached a secret understanding on at least one issue: Israel would keep its nuclear devices out of sight and not test them, and the United States would tolerate the situation and not press Israel to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty that has been embraced by scores of countries around the world. That understanding remains to this day.”4

There is no written record of the meeting between Nixon and Meir that took place on September 26 1969. However, it marks the beginning of the US-Israeli nuclear understanding, whereby Israel pledged to maintain “nuclear restraint” – no testing, no declaration, no visibility – while White House agreed to “stand down” its pressure on Israel. Following on from this, on February 23 1970 the Israeli ambassador to the US, Yitzhak Rabin, informed Kissinger that, in the light of Nixon’s conversation with Meir in September 1969, Israel “has no intention to sign the NPT”.

By 1975, ‘opacity’ regarding Israeli nuclear arms had become the norm and, in keeping with the US-Israel understanding, when Congress questioned the state department as to whether Israel had nuclear weapons, the response was predictable. The state department refused to deny or confirm the existence of an Israeli bomb.

There are many unknowns about Israel’s nuclear capability. However, according to a study published by Stockholm International Peace Research Institute entitled Plutonium and highly enriched uranium, 1996: world inventories, capabilities and policies, Israel had “a complete repertoire” of nuclear weaponry (neutron bombs, nuclear mines, suitcase bombs, submarine-based missiles …). This was the year that the UN general assembly passed a resolution calling for the establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East. By 2006 the Federation of American Scientists believed that Israel “could have produced enough plutonium for at least 100 nuclear weapons, but probably not significantly more than 200 weapons.”5

In 2009, during a press conference in the White House, Washington reporter Helen Thomas asked the US president if he knew of any country in the Middle East with nuclear weapons. Predictably Obama avoided a reply, saying only that he did not want to “speculate”. UK spokespersons have followed the US lead on this. When asked about the Israeli bomb, Conservative peer and foreign affairs minister Baroness Warsi would only say: “Israel has not declared a nuclear weapons programme. We have regular discussions with the government of Israel on a range of nuclear-related issues.”

Safe?

In parallel with such obfuscation, whenever the issue of an Israeli nuclear bomb is raised, there is always the implication that this is not a central question in any case. After all, Israel is a ‘democracy’ – unlike Iran, a religious autocracy.

Of course, it is true that nuclear weaponry in the hands of a religious dictatorship is hardly an inspiring prospect, especially when sections of the Shia theocracy talk about an Armageddon to precipitate the return of the 12th Shia imam. It is also true that protection against accidents for staff working in the nuclear industry and requirements regarding nuclear plants in an earthquake zone are matters of great importance – despite IAEA monitoring, the Islamic Republic’s nuclear programme is, above all else, a danger to its own population.

Having said that, Zionist Israel is unencumbered by external monitoring and can hardly be considered trustworthy. The fact that Israel arranged the kidnapping of the only technician who has dared to speak out about the country’s undeclared nuclear facilities, in order to make sure he could reveal no more from his prison cell, tells us a lot.

Are Israel’s nuclear facilities ‘safe’ as far as Israelis and others in the neighbouring countries, or indeed worldwide, are concerned? The answer is definitely no. The nuclear industry is inherently unsafe and obviously secret ‘nuclear’ plants, which by definition are beyond public scrutiny, are even more dangerous. Nuclear industry specialists consider 40-year-old facilities such as Israel’s ‘textile factory’ nuclear plant to be in desperate need of replacement.

Several accidents have occurred in Dimona. The first we know of took place in 1956 or 1957, before the construction of the nuclear plant itself. Scientists in the Weizmann Institute working on the construction of the reactor revealed: “Material which was supposed to seal the nuclear substance and protect it from leaking cracked and radioactive materials leaked. This was discovered late, and high reading of nuclear material was found in the laboratory and in the bodies of some of the workers. High radiation was also found in the homes of the young scientists, articles they touched and even their children’s beds.”6

This was all reported by the Hebrew-language newspaper Maariv in 2006 following 50 years of censorship on this question.

Haya Sadeh, widow of Dror Sadeh, one of the scientists employed at the lab, explains the situation as follows: “Dror arrived from the Weizmann Institute with two other persons and a Geiger counter in order to measure the radiation levels. They said there had been an ‘accident’. They went to the hut where we lived and then to the children’s dormitory where our son was staying. They found contamination on everything that Dror touched, even on Shmuel’s baby crib and his sheets. Dror would come every time from the lab and directly go over to the children’s dorm. They saw that everything was contaminated. We had a sink where we would make coffee. The sink and utensils were all contaminated. We got rid of the utensils and Dror’s clothes. None of us knew about the dangers of nuclear materials.”7

This incident forced Israeli authorities to close down the Weizmann Institute while all those working there were asked to undergo tests. We know of at least two scientists, including Dror Sadeh, who died of cancer as a result of the incident.

Haya Sadeh explains the ‘democratic’ Israeli state’s approach: “They were all interested in keeping the incident quiet. Nobody knew that the Weizmann Institute was doing things like that. I too talked to no-one regarding these issues. I thought, ‘Why ruin things?’ It would have closed down the institute. However, it was always at the back of my mind, but Dror did not want to think about it, not even after the first scientist died.”

On December 14 1966 another major accident occurred in the Dimona reactor. One employee was killed and an entire section was contaminated. At the time it was thought that the improper use of alcohol for cleaning purposes was the main cause of the accident. The clean-up took weeks and throughout this period the reactor was shut down.

Then in 1982 a hydrogen leak produced a small explosion and in the early 1990s a large fire broke out in the reactor’s grounds, causing another shutdown, this time for a longer period. Again, there was a news blackout – you can hardly admit to nuclear accident if you deny having a nuclear programme.

In 1994, following heavy rains in the Dimona area, water leaked from the reactor’s drainage pools. Clearly this water was contaminated. Yossi Sarid, minister of environmental affairs, told reporters they could not bring their own Geiger counters to the scene and instead produced a reading from a ministerial counter, which gave a zero result. Clearly a stage-managed pretence at an investigation. However, Sarid admitted in front of the TV cameras that Yitzhak Rabin, then prime minister, had forbidden the publication of the official findings. And, of course, no-one was allowed to ask about the nuclear waste from a plant that does not exist.

In October 1997, a Tel Aviv district court judge ordered £427,000 be paid to the family of an employee at the Negev Nuclear Research Centre in Dimona, who died of cancer in 1989, aged 43. The judge ruled there was a link between his death and his work, as he could have been exposed to radiation.

None of this means we should ignore accidents that have taken place at Iranian plants, such as the blast at Isfahan in 2011, or the lax attitude to health and safety reported by staff. However, at least Iran’s nuclear plants are clearly marked on the map – they are not shown as textile plants and they are regularly monitored by IAEA inspectors. Those of us who have campaigned for a nuclear-free Middle East oppose Iran’s nuclear programme as much as that of Israel.

However, achieving such an aim requires openness about existing nuclear capability in the region and the Zionist state’s ‘secret’ nuclear programme, which is so prone to accidents and mishaps, making a mockery of western claims of adhering to non-proliferation. It is such double standards that provoke such deep resentment in the region and, in the absence of a revolutionary left, it will be the fundamentalists and jihadists who continue benefit from such obvious imperialist arrogance.

yassamine.mather@weeklyworker.org.uk

Notes

1. http://irmep.org/ila/numec/04021968_Helms_Clark.pdf.

2. www.cbsnews.com/htdocs/pdf/kissinger_memo.pdf.

3. A Cohen Israel and the bomb Columbia 1998.

4. www.nytimes.com/2007/11/29/world/middleeast/29nixon.html?pagewanted=print.

5. http://fas.org/nuke/guide/israel/nuke.

6. See www.armagedon.org.il/dimona_english.htm.

7. Ibid.

Descent into regional chaos, horror and fragmentation

Last week, the leader of the Islamic state (formerly the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or Isis) appeared in Friday prayers in Mosul addressing Muslims worldwide. At least this is what his supporters claimed after a week when the organisation had declared the territory under their control a “caliphate”.

On July 3 the Iraqi ministry of interior (not the most reliable source of information) put out a statement maintaining that Abu Bakr al Baghdadi (otherwise known as Ibrahim al-Samarrai), the Islamic world’s new caliph, or Amir Almuminin (‘commander of the believers’), successor to prophet Muhammad, had been wounded in an air strike and had been transferred to Syria for medical treatment. Irrespective of whether this was the real Baghdadi or a double (as claimed by Iraqi government forces and the United States), Isis took no chances. According to Mosul residents, the city’s mobile network was closed down, presumably to stop any tracing of the movement of the Isis leader.

The same day the militant Sunni group also issued video footage showing the destruction of dozens of places of worship in Nineveh province in northern Iraq. Shia, Sunni and Christian sites were destroyed, with images placed on social media. In line with Isis’s claim that it is abolishing the arbitrary borders drawn up by Britain and France in 1916, the group symbolically blew up border posts between Syria and Iraq. On July 8 the Al Arabia news agency was reporting the circulation of a new Isis passport in the name of “the State of the Islamic Caliphate”.

The first caliphate, or succession to Islam’s prophet Muhammad, was established in the 7th century, when, according to Sunnis, Abu Bakr succeeded Muhammad as the commander of the believers. Sunni Muslims claim Abu Bakr was chosen by Muhammad in the last few days of his life – the prophet asked him to lead prayers and this indicated his choice of successor. However, according to followers of Shia Islam, Ali ibn Abi Talib, Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law, had been designated his successor and previous caliphs were irrelevant.

The Ottoman emperors (1451-1924) were originally secular conquerors. However, Fatih Sultan Mehmed in 1481 claimed caliphal authority and his grandson, Selim I, who conquered and unified more Islamic territories, continued the title as the defender of Islam’s holiest shrines. The collapse of the Ottoman empire in 1923 marked the end of the caliphate.

Over the last few centuries small fringe groups have, like Isis, declared their territory to be a caliphate and, of course, Iran’s Islamic Republic portrays itself as the true Islamic state for both Sunnis and Shias, while the Moroccan king calls himself “commander of the faithful”. The specific problem with Isis’s declaration is not just that it has left itself open to accusations of overreaching itself, but that it has put it on a collision course with al Qa’eda. The conflict between the two groups has been in the open for months and in Syria they have taken up arms against each other.

Stalemate

The government of Nouri al-Maleki has rightly been blamed for sectarianism and incompetence and it is certainly largely responsible for creating the political stalemate that paved the way for the current crisis in Iraq. Throughout his two spells as prime minister, the Iraqi leader made no serious effort to reach out to either the Sunnis or the Kurds. On the contrary, Maleki’s ‘counterinsurgency’ policies were aimed at reducing the influence of Sunnis in the state and the military – a policy that created dissatisfaction amongst the Sunni population of the northern provinces. The Iraqi army became dominated by incompetent, unpopular officers whose only quality was loyalty to the Shia prime minister.

Maleki ignored reports of corruption and torture made against his allies in the upper ranks of the military. One general close to the Iraqi premier was implicated in torture; another, already sacked in 2009 for failing to protect Baghdad from terror attacks, was put in charge of defending part of the northern territories and is believed to have been amongst the first deserters. As a result, the military was quickly sapped of morale and cohesion, and the local population lost confidence in the central government.

In the 2010 elections, the more or less non-sectarian, mainly Sunni Iraqiya coalition gained the largest number of parliamentary seats. However, Maleki used the courts to stop it from attempting to form a government. He later used delaying tactics, bringing false accusations of corruption against Sunni rivals to outmanoeuvre opposition politicians and eventually taking power himself. And now, nearly three months after the elections held on April 30 2014, the Iraqi parliament has failed to reach an agreement over nominations for the country’s top posts: president, prime minister and speaker of the parliament.

According to the Iraqi constitution, a new president should be chosen within 30 days of the election of parliamentary speakers and their deputies. Following this process, the new head of state will have two weeks to ask the political party/alliance with the most MPs to nominate a prime minister, whose responsibility it is to form a government. Maleki, who remains the prime minister-designate until August, is responsible for carrying the process through and it is his delaying tactics that are blamed for the current political chaos in Iraq – a stalemate that has paved the way for Isis’s military advances.

The Iraqi prime minister has now acquired some powerful enemies. The United States, Britain and some factions of Iran’s Islamic Republic are looking for an alternative figure. John Kerry, Tony Blair and senator John McCain all agree that Maleki needs to stand down before a unity government can take shape in Baghdad. In late June US deputy secretary of state William Burns discussed Iraq with Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, in Vienna. US officials claim Iran is sending out conflicting messages over whether it is prepared to support a new Shi’ite prime minister other than Maleki. Both Adil Abdul-Mahdi and Ahmed Chalabi, mentioned as possible replacements, are acceptable to Iran’s government. However, ayatollah Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, has publicly declared his support for Maleki and demanded the US stop interfering in Iraq’s political deliberations.

His views are supported by some commanders of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. In fact the Revolutionary Guards are heavily involved in military operations against Isis. For all the denials by Iran’s foreign ministry officials regarding the country’s military intervention in Iraq, there are a number of reports over the last couple of weeks of funerals held for Revolutionary Guards, as well as for Iranian airforce pilots, killed in Iraq and Syria.

Tribal leaders and Sunni politicians in northern Iraq have also been blamed for the crisis. Without the active cooperation or acceptance of locals, Isis would not have been able to capture so many cities. Those Sunni leaders who think they are preparing the ground for an Islamic state have clearly not thought through the implications of being part of an Isis-led ‘rogue state’, with little or no access to oil; a state where self-appointed ‘caliphs’ will interfere forcefully in every aspect of the private and social lives of Iraqi citizens in the cities under its control, irrespective of their religious and cultural background.

Kurdistan

In the midst of this political and military chaos, incompetent, corrupt and deluded Iraqi Kurdish leaders are also hoping to benefit from the situation, and are calling for Kurdish independence. Having secured temporary control of the Kirkuk oil refinery on July 1, Massoud Barzani, the president of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region, told the BBC he intends to hold a referendum within months – Iraq was already “effectively partitioned”, he added. No sooner had Barzani spoken than the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, promised cooperation with any new state.

The news of Netanyahu’s support initiated postings on the internet and the social media of the historical background to Israeli-Kurdish relations, including photographs from the 1960s showing Massoud Barzani’s father, Mustafa, embracing the then Israeli defence minister, Moshe Dayan. In 2004 Israeli officials met with Kurdish political leaders when Massoud Barzani, Jalal Talabani and the former Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, publicly affirmed good relations with Iraqi Kurdistan.1

Soon after the Israeli statement, social-imperialist groups, ranging from the Worker-communist Party of Iran to the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty in Britain, echoed Israel’s position on the establishment of an independent Kurdish state.

Iran’s response followed soon after, with a warning to its former allies in Iraqi Kurdistan, the Kurdish Democratic Party and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, not to declare independence, since Israel was plotting to divide Iraq. Iran’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham was quoted as saying: “Undoubtedly the vigilant Iraqi people will not allow the Zionist regime and enemies of a unified Iraq to carry out their plots and realise their immature fantasies in the region.” Deputy minister for Arab and African affairs Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said that the US is going for a Ukraine scenario in Iraq.

However, before anyone gets too excited about an ‘independent Kurdistan’ (limited to Kurdish territory in Iraq, of course), let me remind them that the biggest obstacle to such a plan will be economic considerations. Barzani clearly hopes to benefit from oil revenues generated from areas under his control, but the Kurdish authorities are currently in dispute with the central government and Baghdad is withholding payment of the share of the national budget allocated to the Kurdish regional government. Any serious attempts at separation will reduce the chances of the Kurdish authorities obtaining sufficient funds for economic survival. Moreover, the territory is landlocked, and the ‘independence’ plan is based on the income gained from the export of oil resources through Turkey. This will depend on the outcome of lengthy negotiations with Ankara. In other words, the new Iraqi Kurdistan’s economic survival will be in the hands of Ankara (not exactly the Kurds’ best friend) instead of Baghdad. Turkey’s support for such a state will no doubt include plans to control and silence aspirations for independence in Turkish Kurdistan.

Meanwhile, exaggerated stories about the role of KDP pishmargehs in fighting Isis in northern Iraq do not match reports from the region. Barzani’s initial order to his pishmargehs was to avoid conflict with Isis. It is the PKK and Pejhak guerrillas who have been taking the lead against Isis advances in Kurdish territory in Syria and Iraq. Furthermore, Barzani and his supporters should be well aware that Isis’s ambitions go far beyond defeating the Shia government in Baghdad. It is violently opposed to semi-secular Iraqi Kurdistan, where there is no state-imposed sexual segregation, where some women dare go out without a headscarf, where alcohol is openly sold and consumed …

There is also the question of Sunni Arabs living in Iraqi Kurdistan. They are fiercely nationalistic and will oppose any talk of independence. Iraqi Turkmen in and around Kirkuk are also unhappy about Barzani’s proposal and are threatening to unite against the Kurdish regional government’s attempts to fully integrate Kirkuk into the region.

No-one should take Netanyahu and his cheerleaders in the Iranian and the British left seriously when they talk of the “birth of a new Kurdish nation” in Iraq. Any unilateral attempt at declaring the current Kurdish region independent would unleash civil war.

Stability

For all the hype about Isis’s military gains in the last few weeks, we should remember that last time jihadists, in the shape of al Qa’eda forces led by Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, controlled a large chunk of northern Iraq, they did not keep hold of it for long, because their brutality alienated the majority of the local population and they also managed to alienate the Sunni tribes who had backed them. Reports from Iraq imply the new ‘caliph’ has not learned any lessons from the previous occasion. No wonder al Qa’eda has distanced itself from its former ally.

Having said that, clearly the unpopular Maleki, like Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, does not believe he can stop Isis without huge support – and in the case of Iraq almost everyone is now involved: Russian jets, Iranian planes and ground forces, as well as US drones.

Although the governments in Iran and Iraq have publicly accused Saudi Arabia of funding the jihadi movement, the Saudis, together with Jordan and Morocco, are now concerned that it could endanger their own rule. In the case of Saudi Arabia there is clearly a feeling that the monster it has created is out of control. Nothing else would explain the recent rapprochement between Iran and Saudi Arabia, with talk of a possible visit by the chairman of Iran’s expediency council, ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani, to Riyadh.

On July 5 Rafsanjani proposed the following: “To fight extremism … a collective effort should be made by all Muslim countries, particularly Iran and Saudi Arabia, in order to prevent a perception that Islamic nations and governments depend on foreign powers to maintain their stability and security.”2

Once again it is clear that, far from securing ‘democracy and prosperity’, the ‘war on terror’ unleashed by Bush and Blair has created such chaos that the two most reactionary countries in the region – Iran and Saudi Arabia – could soon be widely seen as forces of moderation and “stability”.

yassamine.mather@weeklyworker.org.uk

Notes

1. The Guardian June 21.

2. www.presstv.ir/detail/2014/07/06/370099/iran-ksa-must-unite-against-extremism.