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The threat of military action against Iran is once more very much on the agenda

One of the scariest characters around the new Trump administration is Steve Bannon, the 63-year-old who ran Breitbart News before joining the Trump campaign. Now he is chief strategist and senior advisor to the US president.

Just in case you are not familiar with Breitbart News, it is a rightwing outlet, known for headlines such as “Bill Kristol: Republican spoiler, renegade Jew” and “Birth control makes women unattractive and crazy”. Former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke very much approved of Bannon’s nomination, describing it as “excellent”, while Peter Brimelow, who is associated with the white supremacist website, VDARE, called it “amazing”.

There is a lot of information circulating about Bannon’s rightwing opinions, but the Washington Post in particular has given us an insight into how the Iran hostage crisis helped shaped his views:

It was just after midnight on March 21 1980, when a Navy destroyer navigated by Stephen K Bannon, a junior officer, met with the supercarrier, USS Nimitz, in the Gulf of Oman. The convoy headed near the Iranian coast, where a secret mission would be launched a month later to rescue 52 US embassy hostages held in Tehran.Bannon’s ship, the USS Paul F Foster, trailed the Nimitz, which carried helicopters that would try to retrieve the hostages. But before the mission launched, Bannon’s ship was ordered to sail to Pearl Harbour, and he learned while at sea the rescue had failed. A US helicopter crashed into another aircraft in the Iranian desert, killing eight servicemen and dooming the plan to liberate the hostages.

…. As Bannon has told it, the failed hostage rescue is one of the defining moments of his life, providing a searing example of failed military and presidential leadership – one that he carries with him, as he serves as president Trump’s chief strategist. He has said he wasn’t interested in politics until he concluded then-president Jimmy Carter had undercut the navy and blown the rescue mission.1

Of course, the truth is more complicated. The Republicans had given their declared enemy, Iran’s Islamic Republic, details of the rescue plan, in an attempt to undermine Carter.

But Bannon is not alone in all this. There is general James ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis, who is also obsessed with Iran. Last year, the four-star general was forced out of his job by Barack Obama. Why? Because at a time when most of the world was thinking of the dangers posed by al Qa’eda and Islamic State in the Middle East, he was adamant that the Iranian regime is “the single most enduring threat to stability and peace”. Mattis recalls that, as commander of US troops in the Middle East, the first three questions he would ask his subordinates every morning “had to do with Iran and Iran and Iran”.

Media reports suggested it was Mattis’s eagerness for confrontation with Iran that led to his sacking by Obama. He was central command chief until 2013 – just before the US and other world powers were trying to engage with Tehran to secure a nuclear deal.

However, after Trump nominated him as defence secretary, the war of words between the US and Iran intensified less than a month into the new presidency, with Mattis calling Iran “the single biggest state sponsor of terrorism in the world”, after Tehran confirmed it had tested mid-range ballistic missiles. Trump tweeted, “Iran is playing with fire”, as he ordered new sanctions on 13 Iranian individuals and 12 companies. When reporters asked him if a military action was possible, he replied: “Nothing is off the table”.

Many scenarios have been proposed on how and when such a conflict might start. Saeid Golkar, an Iran expert at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, is probably right when he told Al Jazeera: “I think people in the Trump administration will try to make Iran do something stupid” – so that the US can use this as an excuse for war. We have already seen new sanctions, the absence of which being one of Iran’s red lines for adhering to the nuclear deal.

Reza Pahlavi, the son of the former shah, claimed in a recent interview with Voice of America that he has written to Trump asking him to distinguish between the Iranian people and the regime, and urging the US to play a “pivotal role” in supporting what he called the Iranian people’s “quest for liberty and justice” in their homeland.2 If anyone from Trump’s government decided to hold a meeting with hated figures of the Iranian opposition – including the ex-shah’s son, or the Mujahedin, or other idiots clamouring for ‘regime change from above’, the government in Tehran would react. Let us not forget that the animosity between the Iranian regime and sections of the US government first started in 1979, when Washinton allowed the ex-shah to seek medical treatment in the US.

‘Ominous signs’

Globalresearch, described on its website as the “centre for research on globalisation”, recently published an article entitled “Eleven ominous signs that we are racing towards war with Iran”. Referring to the current “engineered disorder”, it claims that “Trump is taking the US on a sure course to war with Iran”.3

The website gives three fundamental reasons why Iran remains the principal target and lists them as follows:

Iran has become the arch-enemy of the Saudi-Israeli alliance, because it is the one country militarily and economically strong enough to challenge their dominance of the Middle Eastern region …Secondly, Iran has been openly supportive of the fight against Zionism (by funding Hezbollah in Lebanon) and against the Sunni extremist group Isis (the pet Frankenstein of the US) …

Thirdly, Iran has forged a tight alliance with Russia and China in defiance of the Zionist-Anglo-American New World Order, which seeks to impose a unipolar One World Government on the world, with the international bankers at the helm. Iran remains one of the few countries in the world without a Rothschild-owned central bank. It refuses to bow to the will of the US or to allow the US to place its imperial military bases within its territory.

I would dispute the second reason. Everyone knows of Iran’s secret economic deals with Israel, and its support for Palestine has remained very much tired rhetoric, where actions do not match slogans. Supporting the Palestinian people is part of the regime’s propaganda in competing with Sunni states in the region and should not be taken seriously.

However, the website goes on to list the “11 ominous signs” as follows.

1. US foreign policy is being driven by the likes of the Brookings Institution, which in 2009 “advocated the US make a deal with Iran, then renege on the deal (making it look like Iran was refusing something very reasonable), and then attack Iran with support from the international community”.

2. Iran is at the centre of the “Muslim ban”, yet Saudi Arabia is not even among the seven states on Trump’s list, despite being “the source of 15 of the 19 alleged hijackers” on 9/11.

3. Iran “has formally announced it is ditching the US dollar for oil transactions as of March 21 2017”. The website claims that “the real reason for the invasion of several Middle Eastern countries over the last two-three decades was due to their desire to abandon the petrodollar (eg, with Libya’s gold in 2011)”.

4. Iran has been put “on notice” for its recent ballistic missile test. Trump’s ex-national security advisor, Michael Flynn, claimed before his February 14 resignation that the test had violated the nuclear deal and contravened UN resolution 2231, which calls on Iran “not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons”. However, Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, stated that the country’s missiles are “not designed for the capability of carrying a nuclear warhead”, but rather “to carry a normal warhead in the field of legitimate defence”.

5. White House press secretary Sean Spicer “falsely accused Iran of attacking a US naval vessel”, when actually it was a Saudi ship that had been attacked – and by “Houthi rebels from Yemen, not Iranians”.

6. As mentioned above, the US administration has accused Iran of being the world’s “biggest state sponsor of terrorism”.

7. New sanctions have been imposed on Iran by Trump.

8. Despite Trump’s defence of Vladimir Putin, US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley has condemned Russia, which is in a “binding military alliance” with Iran.

9: China is also in a “binding military alliance” with Iran, and Beijing has also “been on the receiving end of some threats”.

10. Steve Bannon has even claimed there will be war with China “in the next five-10 years”, according to Globalresearch.

11. The US, along with the UK, France and Australia, have “conducted a joint naval operation named Unified Trident just off the Iranian coast”.

All this indicates that “the long-held agenda of initiating war with Iran is speeding up under Trump”, states Globalresearch’s Makia Freeman.

Of course, all this could change in the next couple of days. If Republicans as well as Democrats continue demanding an inquiry into the reason’s behind Flynn’s resignation as national security advisor, and into allegations that members of Trump’s team had been in regular contact with senior Russian intelligence officials during the presidential election campaign, the US president might be forced to delay any moves against Iran. On the other hand, he might not want to disappoint Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who is currently on an official visit to Washington. He might well announce new sanctions against Iran, paving the way for more confrontation.

May election

Meanwhile, inside Iran itself, the southern province of Khuzestan has just suffered one of the worst dust storms seen in recent years. The thick plume of dust and sand forced officials to cancel 10 flights leaving Ahvaz airport, as the field of vision had been reduced to a mere 50 metres, according to Kourosh Bahadori, Khuzestan’s chief meteorologist.

The citizens of Ahvaz, the provincial capital, who are clearly frustrated by the inability of successive governments to improve the environment and deal with the effects of dust storms, took part in a large demonstration on February 11. However, despite the looming presidential elections, the government does not appear too concerned about such protests.

Hassan Rouhani is standing for re-election as president in May 2017, but the promise of economic prosperity following the nuclear deal with the P5+1 countries now seems a distant dream. US banks and financial authorities have kept in place many of the sanctions imposed on Iran, while uncertainty about the new administration’s attitude towards the nuclear deal has deterred many European countries from investing.

Then, of course, adding insult to injury, Trump issued a ban on Iranians visiting the United States. Of course, the ban was rejected by the US courts, but no-one believes this is the end of the story. The US administration is preparing new immigration legislation and there are rumours that by adding Iran’s Revolutionary Guards to the list of ‘terrorist organisations’, the ban on Iranians visiting the US will become permanent. The Revolutionary Guards run large sections of the state and the economy in both the public and private sector, which means that most Iranians would be affected ­- irrespective of whether they are aware of it or not, many work for or are connected with RG companies and institutions.

From the day he took office in 2013, Rouhani insisted that reaching agreement with the west on Iran’s nuclear programme would solve the country’s economic problems and that would produce national reconciliation. When Iran’s reformists talk of national reconciliation, as former president Mohammad Khatami has done recently, they mean reconciliation between the factions of the regime, although it is often portrayed by sections of the media as reconciliation between the state and Iran’s various nationalities. No-one denies the existence of these divisions – between both the two factions of the regime and between the state and the people – especially after the protests of 2009. Unfortunately for Rouhani and foreign minister Zarif, however, they have no powerful allies within the moderate factions of the regime and that is why Rouhani’s re-election as president was in doubt even before Trump took office.

yassamine.mather@weeklyworker.co.uk

Notes

1. www.washingtonpost.com/politics/how-bannons-navy-service-during-the-iran-hostage-crisis-shaped-his-views/2017/02/09/99f1e58a-e991-11e6-bf6f-301b6b443624_story.html?utm_term=.f0a4451eb44f.

2. www.voanews.com/a/iranian-prince-trump-immigration-order/3719951.html.

 

Trump threatens N-deal

trumpYou would have thought that the peoples of the Middle East,    who have suffered so much this millennium under the Bush    and  Obama administrations, might be spared more destruction  and  devastation, but unfortunately things do not look good.  With the  new Trump administration it is very likely that, in  addition to the existing war zones – Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Bahrain … we will see new areas of conflict and new attempts at regime change from above.

Millions of civilians throughout the Middle East, but especially in Iran, are wary of the dangers ahead, and anxious about the close relationship between the US president and the Israeli prime minister. A number of events in the last few weeks have given rise to this anxiety.

A week before Trump’s inauguration, two of his closest allies – former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani and former US representative to UN John Bolton – joined two dozen ex-officials in signing a letter to Trump urging him to start talks with the Iranian opposition group, Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), and its front organisation, the National Council of Resistance.

For those who do not know much about the MEK, let me assure you it is one of the most discredited exile groups – nowadays more a religious cult, with practices similar to the Moonies (in recent years we have seen enforced mass divorce, enforced mass remarriage, worship of the married couple who are the cult’s leaders, a switch from supporting Saddam Hussein to becoming paid lackeys of Saudi Arabia …). The very fact that these close allies of Donald Trump could envisage such talks is proof once more that the US has learnt nothing from the Iraq war or attempts at regime change in Syria. If there is one way of making sure the Islamic rulers of Iran stay in power in Tehran, it would be to start a dialogue with the Mujahedin as a possible replacement. The Iranian people hate the MEK and their lunatic practices so much, one can envisage Iran’s rulers hoping the Giuliani-Bolton letter succeeds in its aim.

After this came Trump’s comments two days before his inauguration: the US should have seized Iraq’s oil in 2003. Now, anyone with even limited knowledge of the matter knows there were good reasons why Bush did not contemplate such lunacy. Had the administration done so, it would have been violating decades of international practice, including the Geneva conventions. But maybe we should not expect anything else from the man who supports waterboarding prisoners of war.

So, if the signs were ominous before the inauguration, what has happened since is even more worrying.

On January 21, Binyamin Netanyahu sent a ‘message to the Iranian people’. The Jerusalem Post published the entire text of Netanyahu’s letter, including the following:

I hope this message reaches every Iranian – young and old, religious and secular, man and woman …

I know you’d prefer to live without fear. I know you’d want to be able to speak freely, to love who you want without the fear of being tortured or hung from a crane. I know you’d like to surf the web freely and not have to see videos like this one using a virtual private network to circumvent censorship …

By calling daily for Israel’s destruction, the regime hopes to instil hostility between us. This is wrong. We are your friend, not your enemy. We’ve always distinguished between the Iranian people and the Iranian regime.

The regime is cruel – the people are not; the regime is aggressive – the people are warm. I yearn for the day when Israelis and Iranians can once again visit each other freely in Tehran and Esfahan, in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

Both in Tehran and throughout the Middle East the message was interpreted as a threat – an attempt to justify imminent plans for air attacks, now that the restraints imposed by the Obama administration on the more adventurous policies of the Zionist regime have been lifted. This message was followed by a phone conversation with the US president, where by all accounts the Iran nuclear deal was discussed.

The Israeli premier will be amongst the first world leaders to visit Washington and the Iranian people are justifiably worried about what the combination of neoconservative, pro-MEK advisors and Trump’s pro-Zionist stance will bring for the region.

Iran’s rulers have mixed feeling about the new administration. On the one hand, they are happy he is not a fan of Saudi Arabia and Trump’s comments about Russia have received positive coverage in Tehran. On the other hand, with allies and advisors such as Giuliani and Bolton, it is likely that Trump would not act to stop an Israeli attack on Iran, even if his declared priority is to defeat Iran’s main enemies in the region, Islamic State and Al Nusra.

As for the reformist faction of the Iranian regime, it is concerned about the impact of Trump’s presidency on the nuclear agreement signed last year. Trump has said on many occasions that he considers this to be “one of the worst deals ever made”. The more conservative factions of the regime, just like the ‘regime change from above’ opposition groups, are hoping Trump will tear it up.

Left

With all the controversy over the new president’s racist, sexist and anti-gay remarks, amongst other things, sections of pro-west Iranian opposition in exile have been forced to change their tune. For most of the last two or three decades they have told us that Iran’s rulers were backward because they had failed to promote anti-sexist, pro-LGBT policies. But now those rulers are no longer the only misogynists in town. No doubt the supreme leader, ayatollah Ali Khamenei, approved of one of Trump’s first initiatives – taking down references to LGBT equality from the White House website on his first day as president.

And by January 23 Trump was trying to outdo Khamenei on abortion. He signed an executive order blocking foreign aid and federal budget funding for international non-governmental organisations that provide or “promote” abortions. The new vice-president, Mike Pence, is of like mind: he facilitated the passage of several laws restricting abortions, when he was governor of Indiana.

As I write, Trump is expected to announce restrictions on US entry for citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries, including Iran. Unlike the Israeli premier, Trump is not after winning hearts and minds in Iran (or elsewhere in the Middle East), yet he has fans amongst deluded sections of the Iranian opposition, including the MEK, who are convinced that sooner rather than later he will go for a full-scale military attack on Iran, or else give Netanyahu the nod to knock out its military and nuclear installations (while the US concentrates on ‘fighting al Qa’eda’ in Iraq and Syria!). Both scenarios are clearly frightening, yet in these uncertain times they cannot be ruled out.

All this coincides with a time when Iran’s rulers are facing considerable internal opposition from the working class. Strikes and protests in and around some the country’s major industrial sites are occurring daily, while retired teachers and civil servants, whose real income is falling daily because of inflation and the fall in the value of the Iranian currency, have organised demonstrations. While Iranians are using every opportunity to protest, the left is not only weak and divided, but have mostly lost all credibility – having, for example, accepted funds from US neoconservatives. Many former leftwing groups are now nothing more than single-issue campaigns (for women’s or LGBT rights, supporting Kurdish or Arab nationalism …), because it was easier to get funding from the west that way. Gradually that funding affected their politics. It was no longer fashionable to talk of imperialism and capitalism. Now they were against ‘backward Islamists’ and for ‘progress’.

Many such groups have had a hard time of it after the nuclear deal and so they were hoping a Clinton presidency would revive their fortunes. Unfortunately for them, it looks like under Trump their financial situation will not improve.

In the absence of a principled organised left, the voice of the Iranian working class – a class whose struggles continue, day in, day out, a class destined to play a significant role in the struggles ahead – is not being heard. Outside Iran we are not in a position to do much, but we must become the voice of our own class in Iran, theworking class. We must publicise the struggles against the Islamic government and its corrupt, capitalist backers, while remaining vigilant about the danger of new imperialist wars and aggression in the region.

That is why we will need to reboot Hands Off the People of Iran

After the fall of Aleppo

Yassamine Mather

Before the death of ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani on January 8 (an event that has dominated Iranian politics and news), Iranian clerics and leaders of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards had been competing with each other in making exaggerated claims about the significance of the fall of Aleppo: it was a victory against “heresy” and for the “ascendancy of Shia Islam”. One cleric called on Iranians (presumably he meant the Revolutionary Guards already in Syria) to clean up Aleppo, as the 12th Shia Imam would soon be paying a visit!

This, together with the triumphalism during the inspection of the ruins of east Aleppo by major general Qasem Soleimini (credited with commanding Iranian troops in Syria’s recent battles), should be condemned. The intervention of Iran and Russia in Syria has cost the lives of thousands of civilians. All such foreign intervention – be it by the US, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Iran and Russia – should be condemned, and Iran and Russia cannot be exempt from this on the basis that they were invited by the Syrian regime.

Having said that, we now have a clearer picture of the final days of the battles in and around east Aleppo. The latest round of ‘peace talks’ between some rebel groups and Turkey, Iran and Russia gives an indication of who backed the main armed rebel groups. Most of these groups, far from being democratic, secular forces, were close to Turkey’s Islamic nationalist president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The extended participation of Syrian Kurds on the same side as those fighting against ‘rebels’ in Aleppo (in other words, on the same side as Hezbollah and other Shia groups) demonstrates that accusations of Turkish involvement in arming and sponsoring a section of the rebels in east Aleppo should be taken seriously.

By all accounts, at least since 2015 the claim that the Free Syrian Army represents moderate or secular forces has been untenable.

It is worthwhile repeating what Ben Hall, in his book, Inside Isis: the brutal rise of a terrorist army, tells us. The FSA leading light, Abdul Jabbar al-Oqaidi, who was promoted by the US ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, has never denied his support for jihadist groups – to the embarrassment of the US authorities. After the battle for Al Menagh, al-Oqaidi’s victory speech is quoted by many to show that, while he was on the US government’s Syria support payroll, he fought alongside and publicly praised IS fighters, calling them “heroes”.

Robert Fisk gave us a similar view in 2015, when he wrote about claims that the Syrian regime was not fighting IS:

This rubbish has reached its crescendo in the on-again, off-again saga of the Syrian ‘moderates’. These men were originally military defectors to the FSA, which America and European countries regarded as a possible pro-western force to be used against the Syrian government army. But the FSA fell to pieces, corrupted, and the ‘moderates’ defected all over again, this time to the Islamist Nusra Front or to Isis, selling their American-supplied weapons.Washington admitted their disappearance, bemoaned their fate, concluded that new ‘moderates’ were required, persuaded the CIA to arm and train 70 fighters, and this summer packed them off across the Turkish border to fight – whereupon all but 10 were captured by Nusra and at least two of them were executed by their captors. Just two weeks ago, I heard in person one of the most senior ex-US officers in Iraq – David Petraeus’s former No2 in Baghdad – announce that the ‘moderates’ had collapsed long ago. Now you see them – now you don’t …1

False claims

In a letter to the Weekly Worker published on December 22, Hannu Reime made a number of claims in relation to my article, ‘Reaping the harvest’ (December 15), and I will attempt to reply to some of his points.

He wrote:

Yassamine seems to argue – obliquely, but still – that the Syrian uprising against the Assad tyranny was almost nothing else but a US, Saudi and Qatari regime-change scheme and had very little in common with the Arab spring in other countries of the Arab world, Egypt in particular.

Nothing could be further from the truth. I have written extensively on the importance and legitimacy of opposition to Bashar Assad, notably the protests of 2011 and 2012 and the opposition to the implementation of neoliberal economic policies by the Assads (father and son). I have also written in support of the Kurdish peshmergas, who were for a long time the only forces fighting IS and Al Nusra, and criticised their subsequent rapprochement with Russia and later the United States.

I am also very clear in my December 15 article that no-one should doubt the legitimacy of the opposition to Assad in 2011 and 2012. However, I believe that the deliberate destruction of Syria and the defeat of the genuine opposition to the Assad regime – after Saudi Arabia got involved and Turkey, Qatar, etc, intervened, supported by the United States – played an important role in changing the balance of forces among those fighting the regime, leading to the dominance of jihadist groups and forcing the secular opposition into exile. This is also the opinion of Syrian socialists in exile and what comrades I know in Beirut are saying. The population of eastern Aleppo had no allegiance to Al Nusra or pro-Turkey groups fighting in the city and it was right to express concern about the people of the city. That is why I opposed Russian air raids and opposed Iranian intervention in articles and in a number of interviews/debates on BBC Persian TV.2

Moreover, I do not equate calling for no-fly zones with pro-imperialist posturing. I just do not think it is a rational or practical suggestion. However, the ‘socialists’ mentioned in my article have called unambiguously for ‘humanitarian’ imperialist intervention. That is what I am arguing against. Imperialist intervention is part of the problem and will play no role in strengthening or saving the Syrian secular opposition. Any illusions the Kurds had about such interventions have been shattered in recent months.

In the last few weeks leftwing Syrian exiles have given a number of interviews, reminding us that there was a genuine opposition to Assad in 2011-12 and I agree with what they say. My only additional comment is that, once Saudi Arabia and the United States got involved in the conflict, it was inevitable that the much weaker secular opposition would be ignored by the ‘international community’. On a far larger scale the same is true of Iran, where tens of thousands of workers have protested against the neoliberal economic policies of the clerical rulers, but there is no mention of their protests in most of the western media. This is not the kind of news they are looking for.

In the case of Syria’s contemporary history, the constant betrayal of the ‘official’ Communist Party, its support for Hafez al-Assad and later his son, and the absence of an alternative left, meant that the working class movement was in a much weaker position when the conflict started. That is why I agree with those on the Syrian left such as Yassin Al Saleh, who says:

For 30 years, the Ba’ath Party has made a project of crushing all political life in Syria. So, when the uprising came, we had no real political organisations – only individuals here and there. Islam, in our society, is the limit of political poverty. When you don’t have any political life, people will mobilise according to the lowest stratum of an imaginary community. This deeper identity is religion. When you have political and cultural life, you can have trade unions, leftist groups, and people are able to organise along any number of identities. But when you crush politics, when there is no political life, religious identity will prosper.3

Of course, we should blame the dictatorial regimes of Assad and Saddam for suppressing all secular opposition and paving the way for jihadist dominance. However, it remains the case that the main countries currently funding these groups are imperialism’s allies in the region: Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the emirates of the Persian Gulf.

I also disagree with those who argue that the US should have provided the heavy weapons required by Syrian rebels to defend themselves against the regime’s air attacks, We have seen enough leaked documents to know that the US turned a blind eye when the Saudis and Qataris armed and financed jihadi groups, and we also know that such weapons have ended up in the hands of IS or Al Nusra.

Even if the weapons were ‘defensive’ – ie, anti-missile or anti-aircraft – the fact remains that they would have lengthened the military life of the murderous jihadists. Al Qa’eda’s origins in Afghanistan should give some indication of how CIA anti-aircraft missiles not only saved the group from air attacks, but encouraged them to believe they had defeated one superpower – the Soviet Union – and they could do the same to the rest of the infidel world. In Syria any weapons supplied to non-Islamist groups have either been captured by jihadists (who were stronger and better armed than smaller groups, courtesy of the west’s main allies in the region) or handed over by rebels who left the ranks of the ‘moderate opposition’ to join Al Nusra or IS. The idea that imperialism would have considered supporting secular, democratic forces within the Syrian opposition, as opposed to relying on Saudi Arabia, the emirates and their jihadist protégés, is both naive and contrary to the history of colonialism and imperialism – not only in Syria, but in the entire Middle East.4

It is understandable that, faced with the current devastating situation in their country, individuals in the Syrian opposition, including some socialists, still have illusions about western intervention. However, internationalist socialists have a duty to say they are mistaken. The battles in Syria are part of a bigger war, engulfing all of the Middle East. They are the direct result of the situation created after the collapse of Saddam’s regime and subsequent Israeli and Saudi paranoia about Iran’s Islamic Republic. Assad’s Syria’s remains a target for regime change, not because he is a progressive secular leader, as the Syrian Communist Party tells us, but because, if there is an Israeli air strike against Iran’s nuclear installations, Syria and Hezbollah could facilitate Iranian retaliation. The pro-Zionist ‘left’ I was referring to is well aware of this and its advocacy of western intervention is in fact support for the state of Israel – such people could not care less about Syrian progressives.

Of course, that does not mean we should tone down our opposition to Assad or his allies in Iran, I am in favour of the overthrow of the Islamic Republic of Iran and I have no sympathy with the Shia clerics’ ally, the Assad regime. But the reality is that US failed attempts to overthrow the clerical regime in Iran and to impose regime change from above on its ally, the Syrian regime, have only strengthened both Damascus and Tehran.

yassamine.mather@weeklyworker.co.uk

Notes

1. www.independent.co.uk/voices/syria-s-moderates-have-disappeared-and-there-are-no-good-guys-a6679406.html.

2. The last of these was on December 22 and can be seen at www.youtube.com/watch?v=SO6oQn49It4&feature=youtu.be.

3. https://theintercept.com/2016/10/26/syria-yassin-al-haj-saleh-interview.

4. See my article, ‘The fall of the Ottoman empire and the current conflict in the Middle East’ in Critique: www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/03017605.2014.972151.

Yalda, Triumph of light

Shabe Yalda, the festival of Yalda, is celebrated by Iranians, Kurds, Afghans, Tajiks and others, on the last day of the Persian month of Azar – which falls on December 21 or 22. It is a celebration of the longest night of the year, 40 days before what is assumed to be the end of the coldest period of winter. It dates back to Zoroastrian times and is considered a joyous occasion as it coincides with the time of year when days start getting longer.

Zoroastrianism is one of the oldest extant religions in the world, practiced in ancient Persia, it influenced Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Above all else, Yalda was a celebration of light winning over darkness, commemorating the triumph of the sun god Mithra. The ancient belief has it that when the sun rises, the light shines and goodness prevails. According to professor Joel Willbush, Yalda was “a celebration dating from early in the second century BC, representing the efforts by Antiochus IV (Epiphanes 175–163) to consolidate his father’s conquests by cultural uniformity. Judea’s monotheism presented special problems, and its acceptance of the mid-winter celebration of Shab-é-Chel must have encouraged him”.

Mithraism, inspired by Persian worship of Mithra, was practiced in the Roman empire from about the first to fourth centuries, although there is considerable academic debate about the level of continuity between Persian and Greek-Roman practices.1

In ancient Persia, during Shabe Yalda, fires burnt all night and Zoroastrian worshipers prayed for the absolute victory of light over darkness, longer days and the sun, all necessary for winter crops. The myth about Mithra was popular in the Roman military, and the birth of the sun god was celebrated in much splendour by the Romans. When Christianity took over, many of the stories about Mithra were incorporated into stories about the birth of Jesus Christ. According to some historians, the birth of the sun god was combined and celebrated as Christmas.

There are two interpretations of the name Shabe Yalda – literally, night of birth. According to some experts it was imported into the Persian language by Syriac Christians and it means birth (tavalud and meelad, in contemporary Persian vocabulary, derive from it). A rival interpretation is that ‘da’ in the word ‘Yalda’ is from an Indo-European, Persian word meaning ‘birth’ so Yalda means the birth of “day, light”. For Iranians it remains a significant cultural celebration, part of pre-Islamic traditional rituals. Historians believe the Persians adopted this annual renewal festival from the Babylonians and incorporated it into the rituals of their own religion. For them it was important to stay up all night in Shabe Yalda in order to fight the forces of evil – Ahriman – who were thought to be at their most powerful during the long darkness. Keeping the fires alight all night is to ensure the defeat of the forces of evil.

According to Massoume Price, “There would be prayers to god Mithra (Mithr/Mihr/Mehr) and feasts in his honour, since Mithra is an izad (av Yazata) and is responsible for protecting ‘the light of the early morning’, known as ‘Havangah’. It was also believed that Ahura Mazda would grant people’s wishes on that day.”

The following day, the first day of the month of Day, also known as khoram rooz or khore rooz – the day of sun – belongs to the Zoroastrian god Ahura Mazda, the ‘Lord of Wisdom’.2

Persians continue the fight against Ahriman throughout the winter, with the culmination on Charshanbeh souri, the festival of fire, on the eve of the last Wednesday before Norooz, which is celebrated on the day of the spring equinox3 and marks the beginning of spring in the northern hemisphere, usually around March 21.

Modern day celebrations of Shabe Yalda include consumption of fruits, especially fruit containing water, such as watermelon, pomegranate and grapes, as well as dried fruits and nuts. The most typical fruit to be consumed is watermelon, often kept from late summer or autumn. Water represents light, and consuming watermelon or pomegranate on the night of cella (the night of forty, or Yalda night) is supposed to bring good health and well-being.

After food, Iranian families gather to read poetry from Divan ?afe?(fal-e ?afe?). The book is used as a form of fortune telling. Everyone makes a wish, someone opens Hafez’s book of poems and reads out the 14th century poet’s response to the wish, with elders interpreting the poems.

Of course Iranians of all classes have always drunk alcohol on Shabe Yalda, and the banning of alcohol imposed by the Islamic Republic regime in Iran when it came to power almost 38 years ago has had little effect on this – except that nowadays, because of prohibition, more Iranians drink and most Iranians drink more than they used to, despite the fact that imported alcohol – as opposed to a variety of home made versions – is more expensive.

The Iranian Jewish community, who, after the Zoroastrians are the oldest extant religious community in the country, celebrate the festival of Illanout – the tree festival – at around the same time. Illanout has many similarities to Yalda: candles are lit and the celebrations include the consumption of fresh and dried fruits.

In the first years after coming to power, Iran’s clerics did their best to ban the celebration of Zoroastrian festivals, as symbols of Persian rather than Islamic culture. Norooz and Shabe Yalda were undermined, while Muslim religious festivals were promoted.

However a combination of resistance by the overwhelming majority of the population, as well as political expediency, led to a reversal of such policies. Isolated in an Islamic world dominated by Sunni Muslims, faced with a war with Saddam’s Iraq in 1980 and later a series of proxy wars with jihadist Saudi Arabia, Iran’s Shia clerics moved quickly, first to tolerance and later to promotion of Persian/Iranian ceremonies from Yalda to Norooz, even though some of the more fundamentalist clerics bow out to popular pressure with considerable resentment.

Notes

1. For more, see Beck, Roger, July 20 2002 ‘Mithraism’ Encyclopaedia Iranica online edition, retrieved March 3 2011: “The term ‘Mithraism’ is of course a modern coinage. In antiquity the cult was known as ‘the mysteries of Mithras’; alternatively, as ‘the mysteries of the Persians’. … The Mithraists, who were manifestly not Persians in any ethnic sense, thought of themselves as cultic ‘Persians’. … the ancient Roman Mithraists themselves were convinced that their cult was founded by none other than Zoroaster, who ‘dedicated to Mithras, the creator and father of all, a cave in the mountains bordering Persia’, an idyllic setting ‘abounding in flowers and springs of water’ (Porphyry, On the Cave of the Nymphs 6).”

2. Massoume Price – quote from http://www.iranchamber.com/culture/articles/festival_of_yalda.php.

3. In the northern hemisphere the March equinox is known as the vernal, or spring, equinox, and in the southern hemisphere as the autumnal equinox. It is the moment the sun crosses the celestial equator – the imaginary line in the sky above the Earth’s equator.

Legacy of the 2003 war We all know who is responsible for Fallujah

As reports continue to come from Iraq indicating advances by the country’s armed forces on Fallujah, held by Islamic State, a number of international organisations, including the United Nations, are echoing earlier warning from Iraq’s main Shia cleric, ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, that the lives of the town’s 50,000 inhabitants are in mortal danger.

Al Jazeera’s Omar al-Saleh, reporting from Erbil in northern Iraq, described the situation in Fallujah as dire: “There is a lack of medicine and food. They are caught in the fighting between Isil and Iraqi forces.”1 And, according to UN agencies, Fallujah civilians were starving to death – some have been killed for refusing to fight for IS, while others were being used as “human shields”. Melissa Fleming, a spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said: “We have dramatic reports of the increase of the number of executions of men and older boys, refusing to fight on behalf of Isil.”

With Tony Blair about to be exonerated by the Chilcot enquiry for his criminal part in the invasion of Iraq, it is time to remind ourselves why we are where we are, with the continuing civil war in Iraq and the rise of IS. In the words of lieutenant-general Michael Flynn, the former head of the Defence Intelligence Agency, the Bush-Blair Iraq war was a “tremendous blunder” that “helped to create Islamic State”. According to Flynn, “As brutal as Saddam Hussein was, it was a mistake to just eliminate him.” In fact the “historic lesson” is that it was “a strategic failure to go into Iraq”.2

Fallujah hit the headlines in 2004, when four American private military contractors were ambushed and killed in the city, leading to what became known as Operation Vigilant Resolve and the subsequent battle for control, lasting most of the year. The US-led Fallujah offensive of November 2004 was documented by Italian film-makers Sigfrido Ranucci and Maurizio Torrealta, who claimed that white phosphorus, a highly efficient smoke-producing agent (ironically not considered a chemical weapon), was being used by US troops against civilians.3 This was later confirmed by the journal Field Artillery in April 2005.

Anyone in their right mind will tell you that it was the atrocities committed by US and British troops in Fallujah (as well as the rest of Iraq) that helped the Iraqi al Qa’eda recruit those who wanted to resist the occupation, including previously secular Ba’athists, to what was to become Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) and later IS.

Fallujah is important to IS, not just because of its proximity to the capital, Baghdad, but because it is the jihadist group’s birthplace. That is why, contrary to early predictions, the battle for Fallujah is turning out to be far more difficult than expected.

However, for the Iraqi regime regaining control of the oil-producing town of Mosul in the north remains a priority. Yet that battle has been left to the Iraqi Kurdish Regional Government, aided by US air strikes. The Zerevani special forces involved in that battle consist of 5,500 Kurdish Peshmerga, who are attempting to wrest control back from IS. Western reporters, including Sky News and CNN, have identified American and Canadian advisors in the front line, but no-one is claiming that the current fighting will lead to the recapture of the city, which had a population of over two million before IS took control.

Mosul is close to a number of smaller towns on the Nineveh plains, such as Qaraqosh. But these towns effectively no longer exist – their Christian inhabitants, who had lived there for centuries alongside Muslims, have been forced to flee from their birthplaces. And in another battle in western Anbar province, in and around the town of Heet, 40 Iraqi security forces were killed by IS, forcing a retreat.

All this is yet another sign of the contradictory US policy in the region. If the aim is to defeat IS, then the solution is obvious. Put pressure on Turkey and Saudi Arabia to impose economic and political sanctions against anyone financing or dealing with the jihadists.

Rivalries

However, for the time being the main battles are around Fallujah, where a visit by Iranian general Qasem Soleimani to encourage Shia al-Quds paramilitary forces fighting alongside the Iraqi army caused controversy, with Sunni politicians condemning the visit for fuelling sectarian tensions. Hamid al-Mutlaq, a Sunni member of the Iraqi parliament, told news agencies: “We are Iraqis and not Iranians … Would Turkish or Saudi advisors be welcomed to assist in the battle?”4 For his part, the MP for Fallujah, Salim Muttar al-Issawi, said: “Soleimani’s presence is suspicious and a cause for concern. He is absolutely not welcome in the area.”

All this was grist to the mill of Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir, who accused Iran of interfering in the internal affairs of other regional countries – not that Saudi Arabia itself would do such a thing, of course. Iran’s response came via the deputy head of the Iraqi volunteer forces, who stated that Soleimani’s presence followed a “request of the Baghdad government”.

So the battles in Iraq (as well as in Syria) are not just about control of Fallujah, Mosul, Heet, etc. They are part and parcel of the regional rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia, who are still fighting to fill the political vacuum left after Saddam Hussein’s downfall more than a decade ago. As I have pointed out many times, the current civil wars in the Middle East have little to do with ‘Sunni-Shia conflict’: they are part of this regional rivalry. Iran’s Islamic Republic, the unintended beneficiary of the Iraq war, continues to support the corrupt, sectarian government in Iraq, the brutal dictator in Damascus and its long-term allies in the Lebanese Hezbollah. Meanwhile, Islamic State would not survive for long if Saudi and Turkish financial and military support was ended. But that is unlikely, as long as the two main rivals of the Islamic Republic of Iran feel threatened by its ability to control what they consider to be a Shia belt stretching from Afghanistan to the Mediterranean (albeit with an Alawite strip in Syria).

IS’s revenge has come in the form of suicide bombings. Sadr City – a Shia suburb in eastern Baghdad, considered a stronghold of the cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr – has been one of the main targets and on May 17 a crowded market was hit and dozens were injured. Of course, Baghdad’s infamous ‘green zone’ – the government quarters inherited by the post-occupation administration – has been the scene of a number of protests by supporters of al-Sadr, who are campaigning against the corruption and incompetence in the government led by fellow Shias. However, according to the website Al monitor: The pulse of the Middle East, “IS has been seeking to provoke Shi’ite infighting in a bid to delay the liberation of the remaining areas under its control.”5

Shi’ite political parties have accused each other of initiating the bombings in Sadr City and other Baghdad suburbs. Al-Sadr himself has issued statements naming the current interior minister, Mohammed Salem al-Ghabban, as responsible for the previous suicide attack on May 11 and called on prime minister Haider al-Abadi to dismiss him – “or else the people will find a way to deal with him on their own …” In other words, al-Sadr is equating the Iraqi authorities and IS.

Throughout all this another, related, civil war is continuing in Syria and, of course, both Iran and IS are involved there too. News in late April was dominated by the discovery that the Islamic Republic had sent thousands of Hazara Afghan men (who are Shias) to fight alongside the Syrian regime’s army. They were born to Afghan refugee families in Iran and dispatched to Syria, courtesy of the Revolutionary Guards. Some of these ‘volunteers’ have subsequently deserted and joined Syrian refugees trying to seek asylum in Europe. According to BBC Persian service, these Afghans are fleeing the “multinational Shia Muslim militia – in effect a ‘Foreign Legion’ – that Iran has mobilised to support Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.”6

No-one is expecting much from the Chilcot enquiry. However, Tony Blair’s blatant denial of his part in the creation of the chaos in the Middle East shows that few have learnt any lessons from the invasion of Iraq. More worryingly, Hillary Clinton – who in private meetings with the Israeli lobby and rightwing Iranian exiles in the United States is allegedly promising regime change from above in Iran – is ready to repeat the same mistakes all over again, this time in Syria.

As the examples of Iraq and Libya show, overthrowing dictators is easy for imperialism. The problem is, what will replace them?

yassamine.mather@weeklyworker.co.uk

Notes

1. www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/05/iraqi-army-poised-fallujah-assault-isil-160530040140967.html.

2. www.spiegel.de/international/world/former-us-intelligence-chief-discusses-development-of-is-a-1065131.html.

3. www.democracynow.org/2005/11/8/u_s_broadcast_exclusive_fallujah_the.

4, http://in.reuters.com/article/mideast-crisis-iraq-iran-falluja-idINKCN0YJ0G7.

5. www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2016/05/islamic-state-strategy-cause-infighting-among-iraqi-shiites.html.

6. www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-36035095

Pro-Zionists are false friends

Between imperialism and a hard place

Between imperialism and a hard place

We need a movement for genuine solidarity with the working class

When it comes to Iran, the world’s media has concentrated on the crippling sanctions imposed by the United States and its allies and then the long-drawn-out nuclear negotiations. Meanwhile, not a day has gone by when there has not been a strike, a protest, a sit-in by Iranian workers demanding their unpaid salaries, job security, the right to organise in independent workers’ organisations … These struggles were taking place before the nuclear deal and they have continued – indeed escalated – since, especially as government promises of economic recovery and full employment have not materialised.

Because of this the life of a number of jailed labour activists hangs in the balance. Obviously we must do what we can to draw attention to their plight. Those in danger include the spokesman of the Iranian Teachers’ Trade Association, Mahmoud Beheshti Langroudi, who was hospitalised on May 8 after falling seriously ill following a 17-day hunger strike; and political prisoner and labour activist Jafar Azimzadeh, who has also been on hunger strike in Tehran’s Evin prison for the last 26 days.

According to Owen Tudor of the TUC,

Throughout the diplomatic standoff, unions globally and here in the UK have continued to demand that, whatever else happens, Iran’s international obligations to respect workers’ rights – especially freedom of association and the right to strike – must be observed. We have opposed the threat of war, but at the same time drawn attention to the way the Iranian theocracy has acted just like any other bosses’ club, cracking down on trade unionism and preventing workers getting a fair day’s pay for their work.

Now that the sanctions are being lifted, the Iranian government’s excuses are less and less believable. Without an external threat, violent repression of internal protest is even less justifiable. And, with growing trade, the money should now be available to meet demands for back pay and higher wages. But we are concerned that, as Iran becomes ‘just another regime’, the attention we have been able to secure for the harassment and physical attacks on trade unionists will ebb away.1
In other words, international pressure was only imposed up until the nuclear deal was signed. Western governments’ ‘concern’ for the plight of Iranian workers and other oppressed sections was an integral part of a policy of exercising pressure to force the signing of the nuclear deal.

Of course, Iranian workers continue to face hardship and many obstacles inside the country. Repression continues, wages remain unpaid, factories are still closing. The complete removal of sanctions is proceeding slowly and at a time of economic uncertainty there is little enthusiasm for major investments in Iran. At the same time, since the conclusion of the nuclear agreement Iran’s president, Hassan Rowhani, and his foreign minister, Javad Zarif, have travelled to most of the key European capitals declaring that Iran is open for business and that its labour force – intimidated by years of recession, mass unemployment and repression – will accept low wages, poor conditions and superexploitation.

These overtures have also been backed up by practical examples of the regime’s style of ‘labour discipline’. Thus, we have seen the brutal attack by the paramilitary basij on a group of striking factory employees in Kalaleh, the continuing attacks on workers in Haft Tapeh and the crackdown on protests at the Ardakan Foulad steel plant.2 Here one should also mention the destructive role of the government-sponsored Islamic ‘workers’ councils, nowadays gaining more prominence because of their association with the ‘reformist’ factions of the regime and the Rowhani government. They continue to play an important roles in containing and controlling workers’ struggles.

Pro-regime

Following the February 1979 uprising, when the Iranian working class played a crucial role in the overthrow of the shah’s dictatorship, the Islamic government did all it could to undermine workers’ organisations and since then it has been illegal to set up independent trade unions. The only ‘workers’ organisation’ that the government authorises is the Khaneh Kargar (Workers’ House). This is not a trade union in any recognisable sense. Rather it is a political organisation that was set up by a faction of the Islamic movement after the destruction of the workers’ shora (councils) after the 1979 revolution. It does not have representatives or shop stewards in workplaces, but communicates from its office with the Islamic workers’ councils. Although these councils vary considerably, in general their members are nominated locally by clerical associations rather than directly elected by the workers.

The labour code stipulates that “the workers … may establish Islamic councils and associations at the workplace” in industrial, agricultural and service organisations of more than 35 employees. They consist of representatives of the workers and one representative of the management. Once these bodies are set up, no other workers’ organisation can be established. Labour activists arrested by the government are accused of plotting against national security. They are political prisoners with no rights, facing incarceration for long periods.

In such circumstances the Iranian working class needs international solidarity, independent of the interests of world powers. Of course, we should not be surprised that yellow trade unions in the west, together with social-imperialist groups and their fellow travellers in what passes as ‘solidarity movements’ (the pro-Zionist wing of reformist trade unionists), have taken up the cause of Iranian workers, but what is regrettable is the way the supporters of Iranian workers abroad have collaborated, willingly, or unconsciously, with such efforts and the inevitable damage this has done to the working class movement inside the country.

The Iranian left in exile has many major shortcomings. There is a failure to report, explain and inform the international working class movement of the struggles inside Iran in any language but Persian. Long before the region became known as the home of failed states, civil wars and military interventions, the sheer number of workers’ strikes, factory sit-ins and demonstrations in Iran was impressive, even though most of the time we have to admit the demands were and still are defensive. However, what remains of the various organisations of the Iranian left in exile compete with each other in posting news bulletins and reports about workers’ actions (almost always in Persian). You get exactly the same news from each of the various mailing lists about a particular struggle or the latest arrest.

Of course, there are valid reasons for these shortcomings. Many, if not most, of the comrades, who are long-term refugees in western Europe, and some in North America, do not speak the language of the host country – mainly because illusions about their imminent return to Iran and their full-time political activism in exile (mainly consumed in endless debates about the past) have isolated them from the workers’ movement and the radical left in the host country.

When the exiled Iranian left does try to gain solidarity for imprisoned workers, it often goes about it in the wrong way. In its impatience for publicity and high-profile support, some exiled groups have now become accustomed to ditching principles, when it comes to accepting financial or political support from the most dubious sources. We saw this time and time again in relation to campaigns regarding women’s rights, gay rights and the infamous tribunal for the victims of the Islamic Republic’s mass execution of political prisoners in the 1980s. So it is not surprising that Iranian leftwing exiles have not done better, when it comes to campaigns in solidarity with the Iranian working class today. They have associated themselves with some of the most unsavoury international forces such as the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions.

Anyone who has followed the daily confrontations with the Iranian regime will have no doubt that, faced with the ravages of neoliberal capitalism, a factory worker who goes on strike or takes part in a sit-in or demonstration in Iran is not simply demanding trade union rights or even just fighting the theocracy. That worker is conscious that his/her struggle is against international capital and its institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund and World Bank – organisations that have dictated the neoliberal economic policies being imposed on Iran over the last two decades.3 He/she believes that, despite differences and inter-capitalist rivalries, the imperialist military presence in the region will in the long term support the interests of both international capital and ruthless local capitalists. Such a worker has no illusions about the US military presence or intervention by CIA-sponsored trade unions in the region.

Broader vision

Over the last decade both the Iranian economy and the labour movement have changed dramatically. Young workers have internet access and are often well informed on international issues. Today’s labour movement is not limiting itself to trade union struggles. Nor is it simply fighting ‘Islamic’ capitalists and their legislation. Its leaflets and declarations show it to be against imperialism and, of course, western military intervention.

What is more, to reduce the Iranian workers’ movement to minimalist economic struggles is to underestimate and ignore the historic role of our class in leading revolutionary battles. After all, this is the working class that played a crucial role in the overthrow of the shah’s regime – and, of course, it is also opposed to Israel’s aggression. The continued US financial and military support for Israel is correctly regarded as part and parcel of imperialist strategy in the Middle East, adversely affecting radical political struggles throughout the region. So supporters of the Iranian working class cannot and should not turn a blind eye to the actions of the Zionist state – indeed the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is not a separate issue.

That is why we need an international campaign in support of Iranian workers that includes anti-Zionist activists, Arab, Kurdish and Palestinian supporters – a campaign that steers clear of opportunist forces, who, on the one hand, claim ‘solidarity with Iranian workers’ and, on the other, declare themselves supporters or apologists of Zionism – as proclaimed by Eric Lee, the coordinator of the LabourStart website.4

Such individuals and the groups they are associated with have no legitimate place in the movement for solidarity with the Middle East’s revolutionary struggles. Iranian exiled groups who, out of expediency, accept their support should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves. Having received repeated warnings about these groups, ignorance is no longer an excuse.

In the next few months the campaign, ‘Support Iranian Workers’ (Karegaran), will concentrate on reporting workers’ struggles in Iran with a view to gaining a different kind of international solidarity: genuine, independent workers’ solidarity between Iranian, British and Middle Eastern socialists. Our new website will play a crucial role in reporting the struggles, ideas and debates of the Iranian working class.

Notes

1. http://strongerunions.org/2016/02/22/iran-what-does-ending-sanctions-mean-for-workers.

2. Short film of workers’ protests in Ardakan Foulad: www.bbc.com/persian/interactivity/2016/05/160519_l93_ugc_steel_workers.

3. ‘Iran’s political and economic crises’ Critique (www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/03017605.2010.492694).

4. www.ericlee.info/blog/?p=1150.

 

New era, new focus

The nuclear deal means we must refocus our campaigning priorities

If anyone had any doubts about the new relations between Iran’s Islamic Republic and the west, the messages by Iranian and US leaders on the occasion of the Persian New Year, Nowruz, will show that a dramatic change has occurred.

President Barack Obama said that, although the nuclear deal was “never intended to resolve all disputes between the United States and Iran”, it nonetheless “opened a new window of dialogue” and made it possible for Iran to “rejoin the global economy” through increased trade and investment, creating jobs and opportunities for Iranians to “sell their goods around the world”.

In his own congratulatory message, Obama’s counterpart in Iran, Hassan Rowhani, called for internal reconciliation following bitter divisions around last month’s elections. Reminding the country that “sanctions aimed at banks, oil, finance, money, petrochemicals, insurance, transport, and all nuclear-related sanctions have been lifted”, he declared that the scene was set for “our people’s economic activities”. Thanks to “god’s favour” and “the people’s efforts”, Iran got through the last year and now “without a doubt we all can create an Iran which is worthy of this great nation.”

Rowhani stated that the Iranian revolution had been “for Islam and morality”, and so, “in our revolutionary society, there should be no trace of lies, false accusations, mistrust, bad language and irritability. In our society, there should be no trace of corruption.” Hardly the Iran that most of its people would recognise.

While Rowhani said that further engagement with other countries was the key to economic growth, Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, seemed to disagree. What was needed was “self-sufficiency” and a “resistance economy”. After all, in Khamenei’s eyes, the “government of the US” is still Iran’s “enemy”. The Islamic Republic should take steps to reduce its vulnerability to the designs of the US and other “enemies”, he said.

Sometimes it is difficult to decide whether one should laugh at Khamenei’s hypocrisy or cry at his self-deception. Here is a man leading a country where the ‘approved’ president and his government are embarking on a major project to persuade transnationals to invest in Iran and take advantage of its cheap skilled labour, so that Iran can be fully integrated into global capitalism, which is still headed by a single hegemonic military and economic power, the United States. It is a country where the president’s opponents in the more rightwing factions have no hesitation in working with capitalists of any nationality, as long as they themselves can take their own cut, aided by corruption and the black market. Yet Khamenei is still going on about “self-sufficiency” and the “economy of resistance”. He is either delusional or an accomplished liar.

Irrespective of all this, the nuclear deal has marked a new phase in Iran’s relations with the west. There is no longer a threat of military action against the country. Of course, given the tumultuous situation in the Middle East, the civil wars in Iraq and Syria, the conflicts in Yemen, Bahrain and elsewhere, all this could change dramatically and suddenly. No doubt the election of a Republican president, whether it is Donald Trump or one of his rivals, would signal an end to the “new window of dialogue” and a return to a conflict situation.

Nevertheless, we in Hands Off the People of Iran have decided that the case for a shift in the nature of our campaign is clear. It is no longer a case of opposing imperialist war against Iran. We need to concentrate our focus on the struggles against the neoliberal economic policies of the government by the Iranian working class – they are a beacon of hope in a region devastated by war and conflict. Our organisation will need a new name to reflect the changed circumstances.

yassamine.mather@weeklyworker.co.uk

Statement

The campaigning anti-war organisation, Hands Off the People of Iran, was founded in 2007 and quickly established itself as a principled focus for activists in the movement who understood it was possible and necessary to oppose the threat of imperialist war against Iran without dressing up the country’s rulers as ‘anti-imperialist’ or maintaining a diplomatic silence on their repressive crimes against the working people of the country. We are proud of the record of our campaign, but it is clear that these are challenging new political times in the Middle East and, in particular, that the new relationship between Iran and the west presents us with important new tasks.

The country’s rulers have complied with the nuclear agreement signed in July 2015 with the five ‘official’ nuclear powers (United States, United Kingdom, France, China and Russia) plus Germany. This has opened up a new period of cooperation and a degree of rapprochement between Tehran and US-led imperialism.

Given this new political context, Hopi activists have held discussions on the future of the campaign. The west, and in particular US imperialism, has emerged victorious from this confrontation. Of course, we have to remain alive to the possibility of new conflicts arising. The situation in Syria and Iraq, as well the Palestinian people’s struggles against Israeli colonisation, continue to be destabilising factors. In addition, the danger remains frighteningly real of regional wars, such as those in Syria, Yemen and Bahrain, escalating and dragging others into the maelstrom. However, it seems clear that the prospect of an imminent imperialist attack on Iran has considerably receded.

There is no doubt that the relaxation of tensions and the lifting of sanctions will mean an improvement in the material wellbeing of many working people in Iran. They, after all, are the ones who have borne the heaviest burden in the sanctions period. However, it will not mean a relaxation of the political oppression of the Iranian people by the regime. In fact, the rapprochement with its external enemy will free the Iranian ruling elite to concentrate on its internal enemy: the working class and its allies. As the threat of conflict with the US recedes, the regime will step up the domestic class war.

Iran’s president, Hassan Rowhani, and his foreign minister, Javad Zarif, have already sent very clear messages to foreign capital. Iran is open for business and its labour force – intimidated by years of recession, mass unemployment and the regime’s brutal repression – will accept low wages, poor conditions and vicious exploitation. These overtures have also been backed up by practical examples of the regime’s style of ‘labour discipline’. Thus, we have seen the brutal attack by the paramilitary Basij on a group of striking factory employees in Kalaleh, an assault brazenly reported by pro-regime media outlets as one of a number of exercises by this militia in preparation for future actions against protesting workers.

In these new circumstances, we need to refocus the work of Hands Off the People of Iran, to give it a different emphasis, a new style of work, and this must be reflected in a different name. In contrast to others, Hopi has been implacable in its commitment to the principle that the only consistent anti-war, anti-imperialist and democratic force in Iran and beyond is the working class. Now is the time to step up our solidarity with the beleaguered workers’ movement in that country, as the reactionary regime – having made important concessions on the international stage – looks to consolidate its repressive hold on domestic power.

Hands Off the People of Iran

 

 

Iran nuclear deal: Minister says sanctions ‘to be lifted’

HOPI statement , 16January 2016

In the next few hours , the final stages of Iran’s compliance with the agreement signed in July 2015 will be completed and “Implementation Day”,will be declared. This is the moment the five nuclear powers + 1 will declare Iran has dismantled those parts of its nuclear programme, claimed to be be part of a programme to gain nuclear weapons capability, . Immediately after this declaration all nuclear-related sanctions will be lifted and in theory there will be no barriers to economic deals and investments with Iran, including an end to an EU embargo on Iranian oil. One of the first and most significant consequences of the deal will be a drop in the price of oil as Iran’s export of half a million barrels of crude oil per day will hit the market.

Iran’s battered economy is in desperate need of additional oil income, the country will benefit from the resumption of connection to the Swift network (allowing foreign bank transactions), as well as release of cash from frozen assets.

On the international scene , for all the hysteria shown so far by Israel and Saudi Arabia in opposition to the deal, it very clear from statements made by Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei and the US president Obama , that we will not witness any change in the two countries policies towards Syria, Iraq .. The US’s twin track policy of containing Islamic State while promoting failed states in Iraq and Syria, is now supplemented by a policy of controlling Iran. There will be no sanctions against t states who promoted and supported Jihadist groups while the economic hardships Iran faced , especially during the last years of US and UN imposed sanctions, means the country’s leaders will not challenge any aspect of US foreign policy in the region, , limiting itself to regional conflicts with rival Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

Inside Iran, there were celebrations following the initial deal in July 2015, as Iranians hoped the lifting of sanctions will improve their lives and no doubt they will have better access to medication and essential supplies , the lifting of banking sanctions means Iranians can enter into personal and commercial transactions. Sanctions, lead to major job losses as major parts of the economy closed down leading to mass unemployment. They impoverished the majority of the Iranian population

while brining windfalls of billions of dollars to those close the regime, benefiting from the black market and sanction busting. However , Iranians can’t expect long term benefits from the lifting of sanctions. Iran’s president Rouhani and his foreign minister’s message to foreign capital is very clear, Iran has a skilled labour force, after years of recession and mass unemployment this workforce will accept low wages . In preparation for this new wave of capital investment , the ‘reformist’ neo liberal state in Iran, lead by president Rouhani and his foreign minister Zarif have collaborated with the ‘conservative’ faction of the regime in the repression of working class activists. The death in prison of labour activist Shahrokh Zamani, the new wave of arrests against all those who have been active in workers rights , in civil rights are examples of such measures. No One expected the nuclear deal to herald an improvements in democratic rights, however it is fair to say the situation has got worse in the last six months. Having made the decision to reverse the nuclear programme for the sake of remaining in power, \the Islamic Republic of Iran remains opposed to political freedoms , and those fighting for the rights of workers , women, , national and religious minorities will face an uphill struggle and they will now find fewer supporters outside Iran as funds for regime change from above , have dried up.

Hands Off People of Iran has always argued that democracy cannot be delivered from outside – be it by military means, sanctions or US-financed coups. Now that the nuclear deal heralds a new phase in Iran’s relations with Western powers we will concentrate on defending the Iranian people against their own rulers and the onslaught of foreign capital designed to increase exploitation of the Iranian working class.  

A dynasty of ill-gotten gains

Yassamine Mather looks at the life of Ashraf Pahlavi who died on January 7 aged 96

As commissioned from Andy Warhol

Ashraf Pahlavi, the twin sister of the ex-shah of Iran, was a deluded, ruthless megalomaniac. Until her last days she believed that the Iranian revolution of 1979 against the rule of her brother was a “plot devised by the secret services in the United States and the United Kingdom”! Contrary to what has been written in the last week – not only by royalist exiles, but even by sections of the liberal opposition, nostalgic for the shah’s era – she was no champion of women’s rights, nor was she a “Lady Macbeth”, as Hamid Dabashi claims in an obituary published on the Al Jazeera website!1

In 1938, inspired by Kemal Ataturk’s westernisation in Turkey, her father, Reza Shah, decided to unveil women as part of his ‘modernisation’ drive. Ashraf, her sister and their mother were amongst the first Iranian women to appear in public wearing a hat instead of the traditional head covering of Iranian women. Like many other aspects of this ‘modernisation from above’, at the end of the day only a minority of urban women – mainly amongst the aristocracy and the middle classes – adopted the new dress code. Attempts to impose unveiling, including the use of police to remove women’s head covering by brute force, only added to the resentment against Reza Shah’s policies. Ashraf Pahlavi, like many in the shah’s court, never understood this – her comments decades later, describing her horror at seeing a demonstration of black-veiled women in Tehran in 1978, is proof of this.

In the few days since her death, the royalist exiles have made exaggerated comments about her work as a champion of women’s rights. Not quite true. The women’s organisation she set up had a marginal impact on the lives of middle class and upper class women, but it did nothing to alleviate the plight of the overwhelming majority of Iranian women – except as the objects of charitable activities. Far from being a champion of women’s rights, she always talked of her own masculine qualities. Far from being a champion of women’s’ rights she always talked of her own masculine qualities. She was proud of being the only child of Reza Shah to be slapped by him, always boasting that she had more guts than her brothers and aspired to become a power in her own right. In her autobiography she wrote: “I confess that, even though since childhood I had paid a price for being a woman, in terms of education and personal freedom, I had not given much thought to specific ways in which women in general were more oppressed than men.”2

In 1941, the United Kingdom and Russia invaded and occupied Iran in response to Reza Shah’s declaration of neutrality in World War II. Accused of harbouring pro-Nazi sentiments, he was forced to abdicate in favour of his son, Mohammad Reza Shah. The Allies sent him and the rest of the family to exile in South Africa, but Ashraf soon returned to Tehran, setting up her own royal headquarters – mainly to support her brother, who at the time was viewed as weak and indecisive. It is believed that it was she who appointed several of his prime ministers.3

In 1946 she visited the Soviet Union to discuss withdrawal of Soviet troops from northern Iran. A meeting with Stalin, which was supposed to last 15 minutes, ended three hours later and as a parting gesture Stalin gave Ashraf a fur coat as a gift.

According to historians, in the early 1950s Ashraf met Mohammad Mossadegh, Iran’s nationalist prime minister, on at least two occasions. She tried to convince Mossadegh to take a more conciliatory approach to her brother and, having failed, became one of his major opponents. She was heavily involved in the preparations for the 1953 coup.

Coup

In the preceding months Ashraf played a crucial role in Operation Ajax, the CIA-organised military and propaganda campaign to overthrow Mossadegh. Historians have credited her with convincing her brother, Mohammad Reza Shah, to give the go-ahead. According to Stephen Kinzer, author of the bookAll the shah’s men, Ashraf met CIA agents in Spring 1953. They asked her to use her influence to convince her brother to agree to the proposed coup:

Ashraf was enjoying life in French casinos and nightclubs when one of Roosevelt’s Iranian agents, Assadollah Rashidian, went to visit her … The next day a delegation of American and British agents came to pose the invitation in stronger terms. The leader of the delegation, a senior British operative named Norman Darbyshire, had the foresight to bring a mink coat and a packet of cash. When Ashraf saw these emoluments, Darbyshire later recalled, “her eyes lit up and her resistance crumbled”.4

Ashraf’s own account contradicts this. She claims she was offered a blank cheque if she agreed to return to Iran from her French exile, but refused the money and returned of her own accord.

CIA documents declassified in 2000 and published by the New York Times show the agency’s assessment of the shah at that time as “a man of indecision”. These documents support the suggestion that to ensure progress in the coup plans, those involved relied on “the shah’s dynamic and forceful twin sister” and that she had already been in touch with US and British agents.

Ashraf was a renowned gambler, at times spending long hours in poker games with close friends – some from Iran’s aristocracy. Later she became famous for gambling in the French Riviera, the French press dubbing her La Panthère Noire (Black Panther) after she survived what appeared to be an assassination attempt in 1976. Fourteen shots were fired at her Rolls Royce – a friend was killed and the chauffeur was wounded.5

Throughout the 1960s and 70s there were allegations about Ashraf Pahlavi’s “financial misconduct”. By her own account, she faced hardship in 1953, when Mossadegh’s nationalist government sent her into exile. However, once Pahlavi rule was re-established, she amassed considerable wealth. Nikki Keddie claims:

… part of the story behind the build-up of her fortune may have been that during the Iranian industrial boom, which was driven by a surge in oil prices, Pahlavi and her son, Shahram, took 10% or more of a new company’s stock gratis, in return for ensuring the delivery of a licence to operate, to import, to export or to deal with the government. Government licences were said to be given only to a few well-connected companies in each field. As a result, the need to get and keep a licence became a cost that had to be met.6

There were also widespread allegations about her role in drug-trafficking in Iran – some of the shah’s ministers repeated these claims at the time and later in their memoirs.

In 1980, Ashraf published an article in the New York Times, followed by two books in English: Faces in a mirror: memoirs from exile (1980) and Time for truth (1995), together with a similar autobiographical book in French, Jamais résignée(1981) . Here she respond to rumours about her wealth, arguing it came about not through “ill-gotten gains”. She was particularly keen to rebut the stories that she had profited from drug-trafficking, attributing her fortune to inherited land, which “drastically increased in value with the development of Iran and the new prosperity that was there for all”. She notes that many other Iranians profited from the sale of real estate, but were not accused of financial misconduct because of close ties to the clergy and ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.7

However, before coming to power in 1925, Reza Khan was an officer of the Iranian army, with very little income or land. It is inconceivable that the fortunes accumulated by the Pahlavis and their entourage – fortunes smuggled out of the country around the time of the 1979 revolution, allowing them a life of luxury for the last three and a half decades – derived just from the sale of land. By emphasising this as the main explanation of the family’s wealth, Ashraf Pahlavi gives further credibility to accusations that have survived well beyond the short-lived rule of the Pahlavi dynasty.

 

Notes

1. www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2016/01/lady-macbeth-princess-ashraf-pahlavi-160108130337420.html.

2. A Pahlavi Faces in a mirror: memoirs from exile New Jersey 1980.

3.www.bbc.com/persian/iran/2016/01/160108_behnoud_ashraf_pahlavi_died.

4. S Kinzer All the shah’s men: an American coup and the roots of Middle East terror London 2003.

5. A Pahlavi op cit.

6. N Keddie Roots of revolution: an interpretive history New Haven 1981, p172.

7. A Pahlavi op cit.

Method behind the madness

While the Saudi kingdom’s callous executions must be condemned, Yassamine Mather says Iran’s official protests are sheer hypocrisy

Barbarism

It appears as if the new leaders of Saudi Arabia woke up on the first day of 2016 and thought, ‘How can we make a terrible situation in the Middle East worse than it already is? How can we incite more sectarian violence, start new wars?’ And then they came up with the brilliant idea of executing 47 prisoners. Forty-three Sunni and four Shia prisoners were killed; some were beheaded, others faced a firing squad. Amongst them the country’s top Shia cleric, Nimr Al Nimr, who was injured during the course of his arrest in 2012. Saudi attempts at linking his execution to an anti-al Qaeda, anti-terrorist operation beggars belief. Nimr had been convicted of “sedition, disobedience and bearing arms”. He never denied the political charges against him, however he and his supporters are adamant that he never carried weapons or called for violence.

Robert Fisk is right when he mocks the Saudi kingdom’s election to the UN Human Rights Council in 2013 – with UK help – adding: “Now, only hours after the Sunni Muslim Saudis chopped off the heads of 47 of their enemies, including a prominent Shia Muslim cleric, the Saudi appointment is grotesque. All that was missing was the video of the decapitations – although the kingdom’s 158 beheadings last year were perfectly in tune with the Wahabi teachings of the ‘Islamic State’.”1

However, there was method behind this madness. The second most important prisoner executed on January 2 was Faris Ahmed Zahrani, described by the Saudi media as al-Qaeda’s top religious leader in the kingdom. Saudi Arabian prisoner Adel al-Dhubaiti, who was convicted of the murder of BBC cameraman Simon Cumbers and the attempted murder of BBC correspondent Frank Gardner was among the other prisoners executed by Saudi Arabia. According to the Independent, “Cumber’s parents, Robert and Bronagh, from Navan in County Meath, had previously called on the Saudi Arabian authorities not to execute their son’s killer, adding their son Simon was a pacifist, someone who would not have wanted the death penalty and would have opposed it. We do not want this man to be executed if he is found guilty”, Mr Cumbers said in 2009.

In a country where there is considerable sympathy and support for Al Qaeda and Islamic State, the inclusion of four Shias was aimed at reassuring the Sunni majority in Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf countries that the rulers were still on their side, that Shia Iran remains the main enemy. The reality is that king Salman, like his predecessors, is far more concerned about the possibility of a Sunni, Salafi rebellion than protests by the Shia minority in the east of the country.

Once the Saudis took this step their Shia counterparts in Iran were bound to react with protests outside the Saudi embassy in Tehran organised by bassij (the state’s right wing militia) but portrayed as a spontaneous outpouring of anger. The response by Iran’s ‘supreme leader’, ayatollah Khamenei, to other ayatollahs, calling for “divine punishment of the house of Saud”, prompted many criticisms inside the country. For the ‘moderate’ reformist opposition, who kept repeating their allegiance to the Islamic Republic but have been badly suppressed in the last 7-8 years, it is inconceivable that Iran would have shown more tolerance than Saudi Arabia towards an opponent calling for “the overthrow of the existing order” – as Nimr Al Nimr did in Saudi Arabia.

The ‘reformist’ leaders of the 2009 protests in Iran, Mehdi Karroubi and Mir Hossein Mousavi, never called for the overthrow of the Islamic Republic; on the contrary, they constantly reiterated their support for the supreme leader; yet they have spent the last 7 years under house arrest, with no trial. In the 37 years since the Islamic Republic of Iran came into existence, anyone who called for the overthrow of the religious dictatorship has faced execution.

Ironically, this week Mansoureh Behkish, the mother of five executed left wing activists, died in Tehran. Her children were all communists, members of Fedayeen Minority, and all executed by Iran’s Islamic Republic. She once said she had spent most of her time outside Iranian jails. So for Iranian clerics, pasdars and bassijis to show anger at political executions in Saudi Arabia is hypocritical. No wonder everyone is talking of the pot calling the kettle black.

As for Nimr’s own credentials, the Islamic Republic might be in denial, but far from being a constant ally of the regime in Tehran, when it came to making deals with the United Sates he showed the kind of pragmatism Shia leaders are famous for. Documents released by Wikileaks show how Nimr courted the Americans, claiming to have nothing to do with Tehran, and was prepared to do a deal in exchange for US support. According to CIA documents released by Wikileaks:

B. 08 RIYADH 1070

Classified By: CG JOHN KINCANNON FOR REASONS 1.4 (B) AND (D)

1. (S/NF) SUMMARY: In an August 13 meeting with PolOff, controversial Shi’ite sheikh Nimr Baqr al-Nimr sought to distance himself from previously reported pro-Iranian and anti-American statements, instead adopting a less radical tone on topics such as the relationship between Iran and the Saudi Shi’a, and American foreign policy. Arguing that he is portrayed publicly as much more radical than the true content of his words and beliefs, the Sheikh also espoused other conciliatory ideas such as fair political decision-making over identity-based politics, the positive impact of elections, and strong “American ideals” such as liberty and justice. Despite this more moderate tone, Al-Nimr reasserted his ardent opposition to what he described as the authoritarianism of the reactionary al-Saud regime, stating he would always support “the people” in any conflict with the government.

The CIA background notes on al Nimr are also interesting. He clearly sought to reassure the CIA that he wanted to befriend the US:

In the meeting with PolOff, al-Nimr stated that his fundamental view of foreign powers – including Iran – is that they act out of self-interest, not out of piety or religious commonality. Al-Nimr said he was against the idea that Saudi Shi’ite should expect Iranian support based on some idea of sectarian unity that supersedes national politics.

6. (S/NF) In addition to supporting Iran, al-Nimr’s recent sermons have been laced with anti-American rhetoric, for example that America “wants to humiliate the world.” In this meeting, the sheikh distanced himself from these ideas, saying that he has great affection for the American people. Al-Nimr stated that in his view, when compared with the actions of nations such as Britain, the European colonial powers, or the Soviet Union, the “imperialism” of the United States has been considerably more benign, with better treatment of people and more successful independent states. Al-Nimr said that this was evident in comparing the fortunes of West and East Germany, where the American-supported West was clearly more successful than the Soviet-supported East. The Sheikh also cited Japan as another case of America properly compensating and building a nation. The Sheikh believes that US efforts in the Middle East are also better intentioned than previous imperial powers in the region, but that the US has made tremendous mistakes in Iraq.

The reformist faction of the regime, from president Hassan Rouhani to sections of the ‘soft left’, were unanimous in repeating ad nauseam that the January 2 attack on the Saudi embassy in Tehran was a violation of international law. Contrary to the propaganda of more conservative factions of the Islamic regime in Iran, attacking embassies, be it the US embassy in the early years of the regime or the Saudi embassy this week, is neither radical nor is it anti-‘arrogance’ (the Iranian clergy’s term for imperialism).

However the outcry of the opposition is also ludicrous. How can anyone talk of respect for international law when we live in a world where the hegemon power, the US, has broken every aspect of international law, even the basic rules governing military engagement covered by the Geneva convention, during its interventions in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan; when we know from recent history that UK soldiers in Iraq facing war crime charges are unlikely to face any punishment; when we know US and UK security agents who sat through interrogation and torture of Guantanamo prisoners will never face any court?

The whole idea of international law has become a joke, and anyone peddling it is either deluded or dependent on the financial contributions of western powers – a sad reality when it comes to large chunks of the Iranian opposition, including some masquerading as leftwing.

Having said that, the attack on the Saudi embassy in Tehran was stupid and irrelevant. At the end of the day it will be the Islamic Republic which will be even more isolated in the region. Already Saudi Arabia and a number of its allies, including Bahrain and Sudan, have broken off diplomatic relations. Senior clerics and pasdar leaders have already started distancing themselves from the Saudi embassy protesters.