Friday, 31 January 2020

Iraq's entangled riots

          Anyone relying on Western TV stations like CNN or the BBC for their news could be forgiven for believing that the people of Iraq have risen up in a mass popular protest, pouring on to the streets of Baghdad and other cities demanding the expulsion of all US troops from their country. This is far from a true portrayal of the demonstrations that have turned Baghdad into a battlefield.

          There are, in fact, two main popular protests being played out on the streets of Baghdad. One is a mass demonstration staged by the powerful pro-Iranian caucus within parliament and country, urged on by influential Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Al-Sadr, head of Sairoon, the largest coalition bloc in parliament, seized the opportunity provided by the public reaction to the US assassination of Iranian military general Qasem Soleimani on Iraqi soil on January 3.

          On January 5, the Iraqi parliament as a whole backed a nonbinding resolution for all foreign troops – including 5,200 US soldiers – to leave the country. Al-Sadr called on the nation to participate in a million-man march. People certainly responded, but as a matter of fact, none of the rallies in support of his call is believed to have reached this sort of level.

          Al-Sadr’s efforts to rouse the nation received something of a setback on January 22 when Iraqi President Barham Saleh met US President Donald Trump on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Much to the dismay of the pro-Sadr protesters, the two leaders agreed on the need to keep US forces in Iraq.

          The al-Sadr protest movement was, however, a late-comer to Iraq’s chaotic scene.

          Ever since September 2019 the nation’s cities have been almost in lock-down as a result of genuine popular dissatisfaction with the corruption, inefficiency and failure of Iraq’s politicians and ruling class. For months in unprecedented displays of anti-Iran sentiment, demonstrators chanted “Out, out, Iran! Baghdad will stay free!”

          The vast majority of demonstrators are young, and their lot is largely bleak. Despite Iraq’s petroleum wealth, young Iraqis have a one-in-five chance of living below the poverty line. One in four young people is unemployed.

          In the early days al-Sadr was believed to be in sympathy with the demand for sweeping reforms and opposed to the government-led efforts to disperse the protesters. Those efforts originally involved Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, led by Qasem Soleimani, and resulted in hundreds of dead and thousands of wounded. Footage posted online showed Iraqis hitting pictures of Soleimani with their shoes, a scathing insult in Arab culture.

          Those anti-government protests have shown little sign of weakening. What has happened is that some of its leaders have begun accusing the al-Sadr movement of supporting the government in its crackdown. In proclaiming that al-Sadr is pro-Iranian, they are of course correct.

          Al-Sadr, who heads the biggest bloc in parliament, recently issued a statement on Twitter expressing his "disappointment" in those who had accused his rally of being pro-government. "From now on I will not interfere in these protesters' affairs in either a negative or a positive way," he wrote.

          On January 25, people believed to be supporters of al-Sadr began packing up their tents and leaving sit-ins in central Baghdad. This coincided with a new onslaught by government security forces, which pushed closer to Baghdad's Tahrir Square, the main anti-government protest camp, reopening several roads that were previously shut down by demonstrators.

          At about noon local time security forces fired tear gas and live bullets at Khilani Square, a few hundred metres away from Tahrir Square, while riot police set fire to a number of protest tents on the nearby Sinak Bridge, sending a column of thick black smoke into the sky. A statement from the Baghdad Operations Command said key squares and roads that had previously been a focal point for protesters had been reopened for vehicle access.

          According to media reports, some anti-government protesters in Tahrir Square blamed the violence on al-Sadr's decision to cease his involvement in the protest movement. That was not a universal opinion. One al-Sadr supporter claimed that although some of the Shia leader's followers had left Tahrir, the majority were still present.

          "Al-Sadr did not order us in his statement to withdraw from the protests," a 24-year-old law student asserted. "He was merely expressing his disappointment in those in Tahrir Square who have been criticizing him and his motives."

          Even al-Sadr’s most devoted supporters would find it difficult to square the aims of the two main protest movements that are shaking the nation to its core. On the one hand there is a mass demand for an end to corruption within the bureaucracy, a clearing out of those who have permitted the country to become an Iranian stronghold, and a new democratic accountable form of government . On the other, the strong pro-Iranian faction that has embedded itself within Iraq’s body politic is calling for the country’s shield against Islamist extremism, as represented by Iran and the IRGC, to be removed.

          The two mass protest movements are scarcely reconcilable. One can only hope that they do not turn on each other and plunge the nation into a civil war.

Published in the Eurasia Review, 2 February 2020:

Published in the MPC Journal, 2 February 2020:

Thursday, 23 January 2020

Who wants regime change in Iran?

        Who wants regime change in Iran? First and foremost, large sections of the Iranian population, if the reports of mass anti-government demonstrations over the past few months, backed by video evidence, are anything to go by. 

        A hiatus, it is true, followed the assassination of General Qasem Soleimani on 3 January.  The country was plunged into emotional turmoil, and for a time it seemed as though the public mood had changed into support for the regime in mourning the loss of the charismatic leader of its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). 

        By 11 January the mood had reverted to downright condemnation of the regime and its leadership. The shooting down of the Ukranian passenger jet on January 8 and the deaths of 176 innocent travelers, had been followed by days of obfuscation and denial of responsibility by government spokesmen. When the evidence became too clear to deny, the regime finally brought itself to admit that its own missile had destroyed the plane . Recent online videos have shown Iranians ripping down posters of Soleimani and – according to the Al-Jazeera media website – calling for the removal of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

        Who wants regime change in Iran? Well not US President Donald Trump, to go by his public pronouncements. At a press conference in Tokyo on 27 May, 2019 he said: "We're not looking for regime change, we're looking for no nuclear weapons," adding that he believed "we'll make a deal" with Iran. On August 26 he declared that that it was “too early” to meet Iran’s top diplomat, who had made a surprise visit to the G7 summit, but insisted that Washington was not looking for regime change. On Friday January 3, 2020, less than a day after the assassination of Soleimani. Trump reiterated that America does not seek regime change in Iran.
        And yet, despite these repeated assertions, compelling evidence has come to light indicating that the US administration has been deliberately weakening the Iranian regime to the point where it might implode. It may be a fine line, but it appears that Washington has been seeking regime disruption, with regime change as the ultimate goal.

        Leaked US government documents, revealed on 14 January 14 by journalist Eli Lake on the Bloomberg media website, show how long, and the extent to which, senior officials had been actively considering measures aimed at disrupting the Iranian regime. Following the shooting down of an American drone in June 2019, a top security consultant wrote to then-national security adviser John Bolton, copying his memos to senior State Department officials.

        “The US response should be overt,” he wrote, “and designed to send a message that the US holds the Iranian regime, not the Iranian people, responsible...This could even involve something as a targeted strike on someone like Soleimani or his top deputies.”

        Back in June the adviser had been careful to say that the US response “does not need to be boots on the ground (in fact, it should not be).” His advice was for the US response to aim at exploiting the loss of public confidence in the government. Judged by Iranian popular reaction to the regime’s attempt to cover up the tragic shooting down of the Ukranian jet, Lake concluded that this analysis had proved correct. What had begun in November as a protest at a sudden, 50 percent rise in fuel prices had mushroomed into much wider fury with the government. Not least among the issues of concern to the demonstrators was the heavy-handed way Soleimani had dealt with the protests. It is believed that the security forces killed at least several hundred demonstrators in a brutal crackdown, with hundreds more injured and up to 7,000 arrested.

        This wave of protests is nothing new. On June 12, 2009, following a heated campaign between a popular reformist candidate for president and the incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iranians turned out in record numbers to cast their votes. Shortly after the polls closed, the government announced that Ahmadinejad had been re-elected with 64 percent of the vote.

        Incredulity was followed by widespread allegations of vote rigging and election fraud. A so-called “Green Movement” began mounting public demonstrations of an intensity unprecedented since the 1979 Revolution. Khamenei ordered the IRGC to crack down on the protesters. In the ruthless repression that followed, more than 100 people were killed and thousands were arrested to face trial. Many were hanged.

        By the end of 2017 it had become clear that the promises made by Sayyed Hassan Rouhani when standing for president – namely, to create new jobs, to implement economic reforms and to improve human rights – stood no chance of being implemented. As a result unrest broke out across the country, and by January 2018 Iran was again in turmoil. Rallies and street protests were erupting throughout the nation. At first they centered on the worsening economic situation, and the ever-rising food and commodity prices. This soon morphed into opposition to the regime in general, and the Supreme Leader in particular.

         Dissent was voiced especially against the foreign adventures indulged in by the regime, including direct involvement in the Syrian civil conflict, and costly military and logistical support for Hezbollah in Syria, for the Houthis in Yemen and for Hamas in Gaza. The vast sums expended in these foreign adventures were seen as being at the direct expense of the Iranian population.

         As for this latest round of mass anti-government demonstrations, they must appear to Trump and his supporters to vindicate the “maximum pressure” campaign he launched when he renounced the Iran nuclear deal in May 2018. It suggests broad-based discontent with the regime, and a deep-seated desire for economic and political change. How far will Trump go to facilitate just such a change?

Published in the Jerusalem Post, 21 January 2020:

Tuesday, 14 January 2020

Prince Charles, defender of faith, comes to Israel

This article of mine appears in the new edition of The Jerusalem Report, dated January 27, 2020

          Less than a week after Boris Johnson and his Conservative administration won a sweeping victory in the 2019 UK general election, it was announced that the heir to the throne, Prince Charles, would be making an official visit to Israel. The main purpose of the trip was to attend an event at Yad Vashem titled ”Remembering the Holocaust, Fighting Antisemitism”. Inevitably the gesture was seen by some as a resounding rebuff to the anti-Zionist antisemitism that had tainted the Labour party under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn and had led, in part, to its electoral defeat.

          In all its 71 years Israel has received only one other such official visit by a member of the Royal family – that of Charles’s elder son, William, in June 2018. Charles himself, his brother Edward, and his father, the Duke of Edinburgh, have all set foot on Israeli soil in the past, but not in an official capacity.

          Back in 1994 the Duke attended a ceremony at Yad Vashem honouring his mother, Princess Alice of Battenberg, who had been awarded the title ‘Righteous among the Nations” for saving Jewish lives during the Holocaust. She is buried on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. Charles represented the Queen at the funerals of Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 and of Shimon Peres in 2016. Both visits were categorized as private. The Queen’s youngest son, Edward, made a little publicized trip to Israel in 2007. Edward was invited by the Israel Youth Award program, a self-development group for Jewish and Arab youth affiliated to the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award International Association. While in Jerusalem Edward joined the then Chief Rabbi, Yona Metzger, for Shabbat dinner.

          Prince Charles is scheduled to attend the World Holocaust Forum in Jerusalem on 23  January 2020 to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp. He will be joining dozens of other world leaders at the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum, including the presidents of Russia, France, Germany, Italy and Austria, as well as the kings of Spain and Belgium.

          In addition, according to a statement issued by Prince Charles’s office, January’s trip “will be the first time that the Prince has undertaken a programme of engagements in Israel or the Occupied Palestinian Territories.” Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has invited Charles to a series of events. This ecumenical approach to his official duties is entirely consistent with Prince Charles’s all-embracing concept of religion.

          The title “Defender of the Faith” was once conferred by the Pope on monarchs to mark outstanding support for the Roman Catholic church. When King Henry VIII broke with Catholicism in 1534, Parliament declared him "Supreme Head on Earth of the Church of England", and later bestowed on him the title “Defender of the Faith” – the faith in question now being the protestant Church of England. When anti-Catholic sentiment was at a height in the 17th and 18th centuries this function of the monarch assumed particular relevance. Any royal who married a Catholic was barred from the succession – a disqualification ended as recently as 2013 by an Act of Parliament.

          So the profound shock to the British establishment can be imagined when, some years ago, Charles declared that on accession as sovereign he would want to be known either as “Defender of Faith” or “Defender of the Faiths”, since he saw his role as being supportive of the multitude of different faiths represented in modern Britain. The furore in government, religious and media circles was immense.

          It was the Queen, with her inimitable skill, who paved the way towards a resolution of the problem. In a speech in 2012, she took the opportunity to say that the Church of England's purpose "is not to defend Anglicanism to the exclusion of other religions", but rather the Church "has a duty to protect the free practice of all faiths in this country." As a result, Charles has recently been able to modify his original view. In an interview in 2015 he said that on his eventual coronation he will retain the monarch's traditional title as "Defender of the Faith", while "ensuring that other people's faiths can also be practised."

          Prince Charles has extended his positive support to many minority religions in the UK. He has shown particular interest in Islam. For more than twenty years he has been patron of the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies. “He makes all British citizens feel they are part of the grand historical narrative,” says the director, Farhan Nizami. “I don’t think there is another major figure in the western world who has as high a standing as he has in the Muslim world.”

          The Prince has studied Judaism as well as Islam, and is close to former UK Chief Rabbi, Lord Jonathan Sacks. Believing that Judaism and Islam both have a great deal in common with Christianity, he has said:. “The future surely lies in rediscovering the universal truths that dwell at the heart of these religions. All I have ever wanted to do is build bridges that span these chasms.”

          Charles’s sentiments bear a striking resemblance to those set out by then Chief Rabbi Sacks in the first edition of his controversial book “The Dignity of Difference” ­– a volume that outraged orthodox Jewish rabbis, and that some termed “heretical”. Even the London Beth Din declared that parts of the book were open "to an interpretation that is inconsistent with basic Jewish belief". Published in August 2002, the book was withdrawn from sale after a few weeks, with Sacks undertaking to rewrite passages for a second edition.

         His original text was taken to mean either that no religious faith contains the whole truth, or alternatively that all religions were equally true. A number of phrases in the book caused consternation, but one paragraph in particular seemed to orthodox Jewish critics to place Christianity and Islam on a par with Judaism.

          It reads: "God is universal, religions are particular. Religion is the translation of God into a particular language and thus into the life of a group, a nation, a community of faith. God has spoken to mankind in many languages through Judaism to Jews, Christianity to Christians, Islam to Muslims." That sentiment seemed to discount the central belief in Judaism of a particular covenant concluded on Mount Sinai between the Almighty and the Jewish people, under which Jews undertook to fulfil the multifarious commandments and obligations that were to be laid on them in the Torah.

          Unlike his friend Jonathan Sacks, Prince Charles crosses no red lines when he seeks to accord equality to all religious minorities, both in the UK and across the world, in the freedom to worship the Almighty in their own way, and when he works to heal division and conflict between them.

          Over the years it has become clear that Charles intends to encourage and support all the major religious communities in Britain. It is no longer a matter of comment when he dons Jewish or Muslim skullcaps in visits to communal events, or puts on religious ceremonial garb for the openings of Sikh and Hindu temples. The Prince also admires the Orthodox Church, not least perhaps because his grandmother, Princess Alice, was an Orthodox nun. He has made regular spiritual retreats to stay in the monasteries of Mount Athos, the Greek republic run by two thousand monks. He has incorporated Byzantine icons in the chapel in the grounds of his residence, Highgrove.

          On December 2, 2019, with the UK election campaign at its height, Prince Charles addressed 400 guests at a pre-Hanukkah reception at Buckingham Palace. He was unequivocal in his praise for the contribution to the life of the UK made by Its Jewish citizens, and his total abhorrence of antisemitism. The Prince said prominent members of the Jewish community had "literally transformed this country for the better" whilst others were cornerstones of their local communities. "In every walk of life," he said, “in every field of endeavor, our nation could have had no more generous citizens, and no more faithful friends.”

          There is no doubt that in Prince Charles the Jewish community in the UK, and Jews the world over, have a friend. In his closing remarks to his guests as Buckingham Palace he said:

          “In my own small way, I have sought to recognize the contribution of the Jewish community by various means, whether in attending or hosting receptions for the Kindertransport Association, or for Holocaust survivors, or attending events for the National Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, of which I am Patron, or helping to build a Jewish Community Centre in Krakow – where I was privileged to fix a mezuzah to the doorpost – or in agreeing without a moment’s hesitation to become Patron of World Jewish Relief... I see this as the least I can do to try to repay, in some small way, the immense blessings the Jewish people have brought to this land and, indeed, to humanity.“

          Charles deserves the most generous and warm-hearted welcome that Israel can provide.

Published in the Jerusalem Post, 15 January 2020:

Published in the Eurasia Review, 18 January 2020:

Friday, 10 January 2020

The problem with Iran

        Ever since the Islamic revolution of 1979 the world has grappled with problems centred on the Iranian regime. Consistently over the 40 years Iran has either carried out, or initiated through its proxy militias like Hezbollah or the Houthis, a series of bombings, rocket attacks, assassinations and terrorist actions not only in the Middle East, but across the world. Iran also made determined efforts for decades to develop nuclear power, with the aim – never openly acknowledged – of producing nuclear weapons.

        Finally in 2015, in an attempt to halt their nuclear programme and bring Iran back into the comity of nations, the permanent members of the UN Security Council together with Germany concluded an agreement with Iran. No doubt all those involved, including then-US President Obama, had the very best of intentions. They believed they had put Iran’s nuclear ambitions on hold for about 15 years, making the world a safer place if only temporarily, and believed that they had taken an important step towards normalizing relations with the Iranian regime.

        They were mistaken. To quote President Donald Trump, speaking on 8 January 2020:

        “Iran’s hostilities substantially increased after the foolish Iran nuclear deal was signed in 2015, and they were given $150 billion, not to mention $1.8 billion in cash. Instead of saying "thank you" to the United States, they chanted "death to America." In fact, they chanted "death to America" the day the agreement was signed.

        “Then, Iran went on a terror spree, funded by the money from the deal, and created hell in Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Iraq. The missiles fired last night at us and our allies were paid for with the funds made available by the last administration. The regime also greatly tightened the reins on their own country, even recently killing 1,500 people at the many protests that are taking place all throughout Iran.”

        Where did the civilized world go wrong? The mistake was the same mistake the world made in the case of Hitler. Nobody read Mein Kamf or, if they did, took it seriously until it was too late. But the philosophy underlying Hitler’s political beliefs was there, in black and white, for years before he was in a position to implement it. He might have been thwarted.

       The problem that Iran poses to the civilized world stems entirely from the Islamic revolutionary regime that the nation wished on itself back in 1979. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the figurehead for Iran’s new direction, became Supreme Leader in December 1979. His philosophy, which he made no secret of, and wrote about nearly 40 years before, required the immediate imposition of strict Sharia law domestically, and a foreign policy aimed at spreading the Shi’ite interpretation of Islam throughout the world.

        “We shall export our revolution to the whole world,” he declared. “Until the cry 'There is no god but Allah' resounds over the whole world, there will be struggle.” Or again: “Establishing the Islamic state world-wide belongs to the great goals of the revolution.”

        Pursuit of this fundamental objective of the Islamic Revolution has involved the state – acting either directly or through proxy militant bodies, which enables it to deny responsibility – in a succession of acts of terror, mayhem and murder directed not only against Western targets, but against non-Shia Muslims as well. “To kill the infidels,” declared Khomeini, “is one of the noblest missions Allah has reserved for mankind.”

        He was unequivocal about the basic purpose of his regime. “We have set as our goal the worldwide spread of the influence of Islam and the suppression of the rule of the world conquerors ... We wish to cause the corrupt roots of Zionism, Capitalism and Communism to wither throughout the world. We wish, as does God almighty, to destroy the systems which are based on these three foundations, and to promote the Islamic order of the Prophet.”

        With the best of intentions world leaders have been pursuing a path that leads nowhere. The Iranian regime, now headed by Ayatollah Khamenei, has no interest at all in an accommodation with the West. It is intent on achieving the original goals of the Revolution – the destruction of Western-style democracy and its way of life, and the imposition of Shia Islam on the world. “We have to wage war,” wrote the first Supreme Leader, “until all corruption, all disobedience of Islamic law ceases.”

        This partly explains Iran’s unremitting hostility to Sunni Saudi Arabia which, with Islam’s two holiest cities, Mecca and Medina, within its borders, sees itself as the leader of the Muslim world. This claim is hotly contested by Iran, which sees Saudi Arabia as its great rival for political, as well as religious, hegemony in the region.

        Trump has repeatedly denied that he seeks regime change in Iran – all he wants is a cessation of Iran’s terrorist activities and a renegotiation of the nuclear deal. These, if finally achieved through the tough sanctions imposed by the US, would indeed be welcome. But the fundamental purpose behind Iran’s Islamic regime means that a genuine accommodation with the rest of the world – which the ayatollahs seek to convert to Shia Islam – is impossible.

Published in the Eurasia Review, 11 January 2020:

Saturday, 4 January 2020

America bites back

          Iran has literally been getting away with murder for decades. On the night of December 29, 2019 the United States launched its first airstrikes in nearly a decade on the forces of Iran’s proxies. Four nights later it carried out a precision drone-based attack just outside Baghdad airport, and killed Iran’s top military commander and the leader of a major Iran-supported proxy fighting organization. 

          It has long been clear that a key aspect of Iran’s geopolitical strategy is to use proxies to execute its less savoury operations, thus avoiding direct responsibility for the atrocities committed at its behest. Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthis in Yemen, Hamas in Gaza, and a plethora of jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq are, in addition to its own Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the instruments Iran uses to reach its political goals. For the past decade these groups have been recognized by the US simply as Iran’s tools, and have not been considered central enough to warrant direct retaliation.

          A rocket attack on an Iraqi military base on December 27 by an armed group known as Kataib Hezbollah (KH) was the straw that broke the camel’s back. KH is an Iranian-sponsored Shi’ite militia operating in Iraq and throughout Syria. Founded in 2003 it is in sympathy with the Lebanon-based Hezbollah organization. The US has expressed concern in the past about pro-Iranian militias targeting coalition forces in Syria. This anti-KH operation was characterized by US Assistant Secretary of Defense Jonathan Hoffman as “defensive strikes,” in retaliation not only for the attack on December 27, but for “repeated Kataib Hezbollah attacks on Iraqi bases that host Operation Inherent Resolve coalition forces.”

          KH’s leader, Jamal Jaafar al-Ibrahimi – also known as Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes – was the alleged mastermind behind the US and French embassy bombings in Kuwait in 1983. During the war in Iraq the group specialized in planting roadside bombs and using improvised rocket-assisted mortars to attack US and coalition forces. A string of other atrocities, abductions and murders are attributed to them. KH has been closely linked to Iran’s external military branch, the IRGC. Al-Mohandes operated in close liaison with the IRCG Quds Force commander, Qassem Suleimani. Now both have been eliminated.

          The first US airstrikes targeted at least five KH locations. The Pentagon says three were in Iraq and two in Syria. The targets included weapons depots and command posts, and the attack may have involved drones, according to some reports. The US says that the areas it struck were also used to “plan and execute attacks.” As for targeting Suleimani, President Donald Trump has explained the US action as a pre-emptive intelligence-based strike aimed at preventing an impending onslaught on American troops.

          A more fundamental issue is at stake. Taking advantage of the chaos currently reigning in Iraq, which is almost at a standstill as a result of mass anti-government protests and demonstrations, Iran is attempting to entrench itself even further inside the country both politically and militarily. It has certainly been building up resources to boost its anti-US, anti-Israel power base. In December reports emerged that Iran was moving ballistic missiles to Iraq.

          Iran’s dominant position within the Iraqi body politic has emerged as a key issue during the current anti-government crisis. Iraqi President Barham Salih has resisted recent attempts by the pro-Iran coalition to put forward nominees for prime minister that included a resigned minister and a controversial governor, Asaad al-Eidani. The mass street protests are supporting the president’s threat to resign rather than accept the pro-Iran coalition's candidate.

          Yet Iraq's current prime minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi, clinging to office as the political storm rages around him, has condemned Suleimani’s assassination, just as he is reported to have "strongly objected" to the US strikes on KH positions in Iraq and Syria as "a violation of Iraqi sovereignty and a dangerous escalation."

         The increasing attacks on US military bases by Iran’s proxy militias have plainly been an assertion of Iran’s powerful position within Iraq – a situation that has not gone unnoticed by the public. The street demonstrators saw Iran’s growing dominance as further evidence of the weakness and inadequacy of the old government establishment, which they are seeking to sweep away. How Suleiman’s death at Washington’s hands will affect the political dynamic the next few weeks will demonstrate.

          The extent to which Iran has managed to infiltrate Iraq’s political and military establishment was revealed in November 2019, when 700 pages containing secret intelligence cables were leaked to two US media organizations. They describe a carefully conceived plan, going back to 2014, for Iran’s ministry of information and security, along with the Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guards, to expand Iran’s influence inside Iraq, and to identify and run sources at the most senior levels of government. The aim was to keep the country pliant and aligned to Iran’s objectives.

          The leaked cables reveal that Iranian intelligence officers co-opted much of the Iraqi government’s cabinet, infiltrated its military leadership, and even tapped into a network of sources once run by the CIA. The cables claim that so prevalent is Iran in Iraq’s affairs that Iranian officers effectively have free rein across key institutions of state, and are central to much of the country’s decision-making,

          The intelligence haul threw new light on how Iran’s agents operate, and the extent to which each prime minister and cabinet member was vetted to ensure they were serving the Islamic Republic’s interests.

          A key role in this operation had been assigned to Suleimani, head of the IRGC Quds Force and de facto leader of Iran's constellation of proxies across the Middle East. Suleimani it was who instituted the brutal crackdown on the early anti-government street demonstrations in Iraq, leading to scores of deaths and injuries. It proved ineffective. This has been one military operation from which Suleimani failed to emerge victorious. Now he has been removed from the scene. Popular protest and demand for reform, allied to a new US determination to crack down on Iran’s puppet militias, may yet carry the day – or, alternatively, Suleimani’s death may soften the popular anti-Iran sentiment. Time will tell.

Published as "Iran's entrenchment in Iraq" in the Jerusalem Post, 9 January 2020:

Published in the Eurasia Review, 6 January 2020:

Published in the MPC Journal, 6 January 2020: