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.

 

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.

 

Time to shed illusions

Time to shed illusions

Only the international solidarity of our class can deliver a lasting solution, writes Yassamine Mather

Bashar al-Assad meets supreme leader Ali Khamenei

As the situation in the Middle East continues to deteriorate, and in the wake of renewed political and military efforts led by the United States, Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and his Iranian allies have gone onto the offensive.

On December 6, Ali Akbar Velayati – advisor to and representative of Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei – met the Syrian ruler in Damascus. Tehran is confident that, given the current situation, if elections are held in the next few months, Assad and his Ba’ath party will win and no doubt in the next round of negotiations, to be held in New York, representatives of the Islamic Republic of Iran will fight their corner. However, it is not clear if this total support for Assad results from an agreement with Russian president Vladimir Putin or if Iran is asserting its position ahead of a compromise by Russia. Apparently Putin is considering the possibility of replacing Assad by a military junta, to include Sunni and Christian military commanders – a solution favoured by the US and its allies. Iran’s reassertion of its support for Assad is an attempt to avert any such compromise.

The reality is that, for all the spin coming from the US administration about the next round of Syria talks in New York, the various options presented as ‘solutions to the crisis’ seem as bad as each other. After more than four years of bloodshed and suffering – including the complete destruction of several major cities, not just by Islamic State, but by the regime itself, not forgetting the air raids by the US, France, Russia and in the last week the United Kingdom – the efforts of the ‘international community’ could well end in the continuation of a minority Alawite-led regime or a military junta.

According to an article aptly named ‘Can Iran live without Assad?’ by Matthew McInnis, fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, the Islamic Republic’s options ahead of a new round of peace talks are clear. In fact the west’s options are not that different. According to McInnis, the alternatives are:

  1. Someone from Assad’s inner circle taking over. The problem with this option is that the Syrian opposition and presumably their western allies will not accept such an arrangement and, more importantly, there is no likely candidate to fulfil such a role.
  2. A Christian or Druze as a compromise candidate. Tehran has few allies beyond the Alawite community and it is therefore unlikely that Iran will accept this.
  3. The replacement of Assad by a Sunni officer, rumoured to be favoured by the Russians. This would clearly be unacceptable to Tehran, and Khamenei would have made Iran’s views on this clear during his meeting with Putin last week.

That is why, as far as Tehran is concerned, Assad’s survival is the best, and maybe the only, option. Again according to McInnis,

Tehran will continue the fight on the ground to improve the Syrian regime’s position, work with Russia to find candidates that have support from the army and the Alawite community, the country will prevent the emergence of any leader too popular or strong to potentially push Iran out of Syria later, and it will ensure Iran retains a veto over the transition process, either directly or implicitly through threats of sabotaging any deal.1

For most Iranians the supreme leader’s 100% support for Assad – support echoed by the most conservative factions of the regime, including the Revolutionary Guards – is bizarre. Khamenei and his inner circle will not tolerate anything approaching secularism in their own country – female members of the Assad family, including Bashar’s wife, Asma al-Assad, would face a flogging for failing to wear a hijab if they were Iranian citizens. Apparently Iran’s adherence to Shia rules was one of the reasons the Syrian dictator refused to accept the offer of a sanctuary for his family in Tehran.

Yet senior clerics, leaders of the Revolutionary Guards and close advisors to the supreme leader do not seem to see the irony of their commitment to do all in their power to keep a Ba’athist, secular party in power in Syria. As many Tehranis have observed, there is one rule for Iranians and another for the country’s allies – as always, Iran’s foreign policy is based on pragmatism, not religion. Tehran wants to maintain its current advantageous position in the region – the fall of the Syrian regime would endanger Hezbollah’s grip in Lebanon and Iran cannot tolerate such a situation. However, for the US and its allies Iran’s emerging market and cheap labour force present a golden opportunity not to be wasted.

Support Damascus?

According to the Morning Star, “the Nato powers and their Middle Eastern allies should stop arming and funding terrorist groups in Syria and start supporting the Damascus regime in its desperate battle against Isis and other sectarian forces.”2 This is precisely the solution put forward by sections of global capital and, although it might bring a temporary respite, it would not deal with the root causes of the current conflict and could be temporary at best.

But London mayor Boris Johnson seems to be competing with the Star in this regard:

I was in Paris at the end of last week, and the Russian leader’s face glowered sulkily from every billboard. “Putin”, said the headline, “notre nouvel ami”. Many French people think the time has come to do a deal with their ‘new friends’, the Russians – and I think that they are broadly right. We have the estimated 70,000 of the Free Syrian Army (and many other groups and grouplets); but those numbers may be exaggerated, and they may include some jihadists who are not ideologically very different from al Qa’eda.

Who else is there? The answer is obvious. There is Assad, and his army; and the recent signs are that they are making some progress. Thanks at least partly to Russian air strikes, it looks as if the regime is taking back large parts of Homs. Al Qa’eda-affiliated militants are withdrawing from some districts of the city. Is that a bad thing? I don’t think so.

However, both the Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain and Boris Johnson are wrong. The Russia/Iran/Syria ‘solution’ will only delay the final stages of this conflict. If Assad and his Iranian allies were popular or had legitimacy, we would not be where we are today.

Similarly, the talk about ‘illegal’ wars and United Nations resolutions is totally counterproductive. In his speech to the UK parliament last week, Jeremy Corbyn told MPs:

UN security council resolution 2249, passed after the Paris atrocities and cited in today’s government motion, does not give clear and unambiguous authorisation for UK bombing in Syria. To do so it would have had to be passed under chapter 7 of the UN charter, to which the security council couldn’t agree.

The UN resolution is certainly a welcome framework for joint action to cut off funding, oil revenues and arms supplies from Isil. But there’s little sign of that happening in earnest. Nor is there yet any serious evidence that it’s being used to coordinate international military or diplomatic strategy in Syria.3

I rest my case. At least two of the west’s allies are involved in the IS sale of oil, which is said to generate $1 billion a month! Do we really believe that nothing can be done about this trade? US sanctions have meant that European banks have paid billions of dollars in fines for trading with Iranian companies, yet the sale of oil from Mosul and other Iraqi regions cannot be detected and stopped? Are we seriously expecting the UN to punish the countries involved? The US and its allies are not actually attempting to defeat IS – the policy is one of containment, not destruction. In fact the group has its uses for imperialism – or at least imperialist allies, such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the Persian Gulf states.

For us it is clear that the defeat of the imperialist project involves the shedding of liberal illusions, including in the UN. The statement issued by the Stop the War Coalition on the eve of the Westminster vote on Syria certainly had its fair share of those: “Our parliament must ensure it takes decisions in the interests of the security and well-being of our citizens and must consider the impact of our decisions on the wider world.”4 Hardly an expression of internationalism. It is regrettable that sections of the left have fallen into the trap of using the state’s current opportunistic emphasis on “security”.

Solidarity

Everyone knows that IS has its origins in al Qa’eda – itself a creation of US imperialism – and that it is able to recruit because of imperialist interventions, together with the failure to address historic injustices in the region, including the occupation of Palestine. It is only through the defeat of the imperialist project that a genuine solution can be found.

We are first and foremost for the defeat of the imperialist project – including their jihadist offshoots, such as Islamic State. Even if many of their recruits do not see themselves as such, I would classify IS as part of the imperialist project. They are also part of the problem, the enemies of revolutionary forces. So, while we call for the defeat of the imperialists, we are not necessarily for the victory of their opponents.

The working class in Iran and Iraq are under the neoliberal economic hammer of these Shia states, and the secular peoples of the region are desperately in need of support, which must come in the form of the international solidarity of the working class. As Adam Hanieh rightly points out,

Isis’s rise cannot be explained as simply an outcome of ideology or religion, as many western commentators appear to believe. There are very real social and political roots that explain the organisation’s growth.

One of the most important factors is the defeat of the Arab spring – itself a rebellion against the onslaught of neoliberal economic policies in the region, in circumstances where the weakness of the left allowed reactionary forces to benefit from the political vacuum caused by war, instability and economic hardship.5

Contrary to populist belief, the Arab spring had little to do with the spread of the internet and the growth of social media. It was first and foremost a reaction to economic hardship, the transfer of the effects of the 2008 economic crisis to the third world in general and the Near East in particular.

Its dramatic defeat – predictable, given the weaknesses of radical forces of the left – gave new impetus to the forces of reaction, including Wahhabi Islamists. They were already popular because of their opposition to the rise of Shiism in the region – a direct consequence of another war with no strategy, the one started in 2003 in Iraq.

To defeat the imperialist project we must address the fundamental reasons behind the Arab spring, as well as the issues surrounding the current civil wars – in this case the continuation of politics by reactionary states, such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran.

 

Notes

1. www.aei.org/publication/could-iran-live-without-assad.

2. www.morningstaronline.co.uk/a-ef71-Communists-condemn-wave-of-brutal-terrorist-attacks#.Vmfc4XaLT8s.

3. www.lawfareblog.com/uks-parliament-debates-what-un-security-council-said.

4. http://stopwar.org.uk/index.php/news/why-uk-joining-the-bombing-will-be-bad-for-syria-the-region-and-britain.

5. www.jacobinmag.com/2015/12/isis-syria-iraq-war-al-qaeda-arab-spring.

Deselect the Labour warmongers

h-jOn December 2 the House of Commons voted by 397 to 223 in favour of UK air strikes in Syria. Under the leadership of Hilary Benn, shadow foreign secretary, there were 66 Labour MPs who took advantage of the free vote offered by Jeremy Corbyn and openly sided with the ill-considered imperialist operations in Syria – even 10 Conservatives rebelled, such were their worries. After his closing speech Benn was cheered and congratulated not only by the 67 pro-war Labour MPs, but by front-bench Tories, members of the Democratic Unionist Party and Liberal Democrats. He is the leader of their Labour Party.

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