Iran Hegemony Courtesy of Obama 

Iran Dominates in Iraq After U.S. ‘Handed the Country Over’

Tim Arango

BAGHDAD — Walk into almost any market in Iraq and the shelves are filled with goods from Iran — milk, yogurt, chicken. Turn on the television and channel after channel broadcasts programs sympathetic to Iran.

A new building goes up? It is likely that the cement and bricks came from Iran. And when bored young Iraqi men take pills to get high, the illicit drugs are likely to have been smuggled across the porous Iranian border.

And that’s not even the half of it.

Across the country, Iranian-sponsored militias are hard at work establishing a corridor to move men and guns to proxy forces in Syria and Lebanon. And in the halls of power in Baghdad, even the most senior Iraqi cabinet officials have been blessed, or bounced out, by Iran’s leadership.

When the United States invaded Iraq 14 years ago to topple Saddam Hussein, it saw Iraq as a potential cornerstone of a democratic and Western-facing Middle East, and vast amounts of blood and treasure — about 4,500 American lives lost, more than $1 trillion spent — were poured into the cause.

From Day 1, Iran saw something else: a chance to make a client state of Iraq, a former enemy against which it fought a war in the 1980s so brutal, with chemical weapons and trench warfare, that historians look to World War I for analogies. If it succeeded, Iraq would never again pose a threat, and it could serve as a jumping-off point to spread Iranian influence around the region.

In that contest, Iran won, and the United States lost.

Over the past three years, Americans have focused on the battle against the Islamic State in Iraq, returning more than 5,000 troops to the country and helping to force the militants out of Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul.

But Iran never lost sight of its mission: to dominate its neighbor so thoroughly that Iraq could never again endanger it militarily, and to use the country to effectively control a corridor from Tehran to the Mediterranean.

“Iranian influence is dominant,” said Hoshyar Zebari, who was ousted last year as finance minister because, he said, Iran distrusted his links to the United States. “It is paramount.”

The country’s dominance over Iraq has heightened sectarian tensions around the region, with Sunni states, and American allies, like Saudi Arabia mobilizing to oppose Iranian expansionism. But Iraq is only part of Iran’s expansion project; it has also used soft and hard power to extend its influence in Lebanon, Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan, and throughout the region.

Iran is a Shiite state, and Iraq, a Shiite majority country, was ruled by an elite Sunni minority before the American invasion. The roots of the schism between Sunnis and Shiites, going back almost 1,400 years, lie in differences over the rightful leaders of Islam after the death of the Prophet Muhammad. But these days, it is about geopolitics as much as religion, with the divide expressed by different states that are adversaries, led by Saudi Arabia on one side and Iran on the other.

Iran’s influence in Iraq is not just ascendant, but diverse, projecting into military, political, economic and cultural affairs.

At some border posts in the south, Iraqi sovereignty is an afterthought. Busloads of young militia recruits cross into Iran without so much as a document check. They receive military training and are then flown to Syria, where they fight under the command of Iranian officers in defense of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad.

Passing in the other direction, truck drivers pump Iranian products — food, household goods, illicit drugs — into what has become a vital and captive market.

Iran tips the scales to its favor in every area of commerce. In the city of Najaf, it even picks up the trash, after the provincial council there awarded a municipal contract to a private Iranian company. One member of the council, Zuhair al-Jibouri, resorted to a now-common Iraqi aphorism: “We import apples from Iran so we can give them away to Iranian pilgrims.”

Politically, Iran has a large number of allies in Iraq’s Parliament who can help secure its goals. And its influence over the choice of interior minister, through a militia and political group the Iranians built up in the 1980s to oppose Mr. Hussein, has given it substantial control over that ministry and the federal police.

Perhaps most crucial, Parliament passed a law last year that effectively made the constellation of Shiite militias a permanent fixture of Iraq’s security forces. This ensures Iraqi funding for the groups while effectively maintaining Iran’s control over some of the most powerful units.

Now, with new parliamentary elections on the horizon, Shiite militias have begun organizing themselves politically for a contest that could secure even more dominance for Iran over Iraq’s political system.

To gain advantage on the airwaves, new television channels set up with Iranian money and linked to Shiite militias broadcast news coverage portraying Iran as Iraq’s protector and the United States as a devious interloper.

Partly in an effort to contain Iran, the United States has indicated that it will keep troops behind in Iraq after the battle against the Islamic State. American diplomats have worked to emphasize the government security forces’ role in the fighting, and to shore up a prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, who has seemed more open to the United States than to Iran.

But after the United States’ abrupt withdrawal of troops in 2011, American constancy is still in question here — a broad failure of American foreign policy, with responsibility shared across three administrations.

Iran has been playing a deeper game, parlaying extensive religious ties with Iraq’s Shiite majority and a much wider network of local allies, as it makes the case that it is Iraq’s only reliable defender.

A Road to the Sea

Iran’s great project in eastern Iraq may not look like much: a 15-mile stretch of dusty road, mostly gravel, through desert and scrub near the border in Diyala Province.

But it is an important new leg of Iran’s path through Iraq to Syria, and what it carries — Shiite militiamen, Iranian delegations, trade goods and military supplies — is its most valuable feature.

It is a piece of what analysts and Iranian officials say is Iran’s most pressing ambition: to exploit the chaos of the region to project influence across Iraq and beyond. Eventually, analysts say, Iran could use the corridor, established on the ground through militias under its control, to ship weapons and supplies to proxies in Syria, where Iran is an important backer of Mr. Assad, and to Lebanon and its ally Hezbollah.

At the border to the east is a new crossing built and secured by Iran. Like the relationship between the two countries, it is lopsided.

The checkpoint’s daily traffic includes up to 200 Iranian trucks, carrying fruit and yogurt, concrete and bricks, into Iraq. In the offices of Iraqi border guards, the candies and soda offered to guests come from Iran.

No loaded trucks go the other way.

“Iraq doesn’t have anything to offer Iran,” Vahid Gachi, the Iranian official in charge of the crossing, said in an interview in his office, as lines of tractor-trailers poured into Iraq. “Except for oil, Iraq relies on Iran for everything.”

The border post is also a critical transit point for Iran’s military leaders to send weapons and other supplies to proxies fighting the Islamic State in Iraq.

After the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, ISIL or Daesh, swept across Diyala and neighboring areas in 2014, Iran made clearing the province, a diverse area of Sunnis and Shiites, a priority.

It marshaled a huge force of Shiite militias, many trained in Iran and advised on the ground by Iranian officials. After a quick victory, Iranians and their militia allies set about securing their next interests here: marginalizing the province’s Sunni minority and securing a path to Syria. Iran has fought aggressively to keep its ally Mr. Assad in power in order to retain land access to its most important spinoff in the region, Hezbollah, the military and political force that dominates Lebanon and threatens Israel.

A word from Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, Iran’s powerful spymaster, sent an army of local Iraqi contractors scrambling, lining up trucks and bulldozers to help build the road, free of charge. Militiamen loyal to Iran were ordered to secure the site.

Uday al-Khadran, the Shiite mayor of Khalis District in Diyala, is a member of the Badr Organization, an Iraqi political party and militia established by Tehran in the 1980s to fight against Mr. Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war.

On an afternoon earlier this year, he spread a map across his desk and proudly discussed how he helped build the road, which he said was ordered by General Suleimani, the commander of the Quds Force, the branch of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps responsible for foreign operations. General Suleimani secretly directed Iran’s policy in Iraq after the American invasion in 2003, and was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American soldiers in attacks carried out by militias under his control.

“I love Qassim Suleimani more than my children,” he said.

Mr. Khadran said the general’s new road would eventually be a shortcut for religious pilgrims from Iran to reach Samarra, Iraq, the location of an important shrine.

But he also acknowledged the route’s greater strategic significance as part of a corridor secured by Iranian proxies that extends across central and northern Iraq. The connecting series of roads skirts the western city of Mosul and stretches on to Tal Afar, an Islamic State-controlled city where Iranian-backed militias and Iranian advisers have set up a base at an airstrip on the outskirts.

“Diyala is the passage to Syria and Lebanon, and this is very important to Iran,” said Ali al-Daini, the Sunni chairman of the provincial council there.

Closer to Syria, Iranian-allied militias moved west of Mosul as the battle against the Islamic State unfolded there in recent months. The militias captured the town of Baaj, and then proceeded to the Syrian border, putting Iran on the cusp of completing its corridor.

Back east, in Diyala, Mr. Daini said he had been powerless to halt what he described as Iran’s dominance in the province.

When Mr. Daini goes to work, he said, he has to walk by posters of Iran’s revolutionary leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, outside the council building.

Iran’s militias in the province have been accused of widespread sectarian cleansing, pushing Sunnis from their homes to establish Shiite dominance and create a buffer zone on its border. The Islamic State was beaten in Diyala more than two years ago, but thousands of Sunni families still fill squalid camps, unable to return home.

Now, Diyala has become a showcase for how Iran views Shiite ascendancy as critical to its geopolitical goals.

“Iran is smarter than America,” said Nijat al-Taie, a Sunni member of the provincial council and an outspoken critic of Iran, which she calls the instigator of several assassination attempts against her. “They achieved their goals on the ground. America didn’t protect Iraq. They just toppled the regime and handed the country over to Iran.”

The Business of Influence

The lives of General Suleimani and other senior leaders in Tehran were shaped by the prolonged war with Iraq in the 1980s. The conflict left hundreds of thousands dead on both sides, and General Suleimani spent much of the war at the front, swiftly rising in rank as so many officers were killed.

“The Iran-Iraq war was the formative experience for all of Iran’s leaders,” said Ali Vaez, an Iran analyst at the International Crisis Group, a conflict resolution organization. “From Suleimani all the way down. It was their ‘never again’ moment.”

A border dispute over the Shatt al Arab waterway that was a factor in the hostilities has still not been resolved, and the legacy of the war’s brutality has influenced the Iranian government ever since, from its pursuit of nuclear weapons to its policy in Iraq.

“This is a permanent scar in their mind,” said Mowaffak al-Rubaie, a lawmaker and former national security adviser. “They are obsessed with Baathism, Saddam and the Iran-Iraq war.”

More than anything else, analysts say, it is the scarring legacy of that war that has driven Iranian ambitions to dominate Iraq.

Particularly in southern Iraq, where the population is mostly Shiite, signs of Iranian influence are everywhere.

Iranian-backed militias are the defenders of the Shiite shrines in the cities of Najaf and Karbala that drive trade and tourism. In local councils, Iranian-backed political parties have solid majorities, and campaign materials stress relationships with Shiite saints and Iranian clerics.

If the Iraqi government were stronger, said Mustaq al-Abady, a businessman from just outside Najaf, “then maybe we could open our factories instead of going to Iran.” He said his warehouse was crowded with Iranian imports because his government had done nothing to promote a private sector, police its borders or enforce customs duties.

Raad Fadhil al-Alwani, a merchant in Hilla, another southern city, imports cleaning supplies and floor tiles from Iran. He slaps “Made in Iraq” labels in Arabic on bottles of detergent, but the reality is that he owns a factory in Iran because labor is cheaper there.

“I feel like I am destroying the economy of Iraq,” he said. But he insists that Iraqi politicians, by deferring to Iranian pressure and refusing to support local industry, have made it hard to do anything else.

Najaf attracts millions of Iranian pilgrims each year visiting the golden-domed shrine of Imam Ali, the first Shiite imam. Iranian construction workers — many of whom are viewed as Iranian spies by Iraqi officials — have also flocked to the city to renovate the shrine and build hotels.

In Babil Province, according to local officials, militia leaders have taken over a government project to set up security cameras along strategic roads. The project had been granted to a Chinese company before the militias intervened, and now the army and the local police have been sidelined from it, said Muqdad Omran, an Iraqi Army captain in the area.

Iran’s pre-eminence in the Iraqi south has not come without resentment. Iraqi Shiites share a faith with Iran, but they also hold close their other identities as Iraqis and Arabs.

“Iraq belongs to the Arab League, not to Iran,” said Sheikh Fadhil al-Bidayri, a cleric at the religious seminary in Najaf. “Shiites are a majority in Iraq, but a minority in the world. As long as the Iranian government is controlling the Iraqi government, we don’t have a chance.”

In this region where the Islamic State’s military threat has never encroached, Iran’s security concerns are mostly being addressed by economic manipulation, Iraqi officials say. Trade in the south is often financed by Iran with credit, and incentives are offered to Iraqi traders to keep their cash in Iranian banks.

Baghdad’s banks play a role, too, as the financial anchors for Iraqi front companies used by Iran to gain access to dollars that can then finance the country’s broader geopolitical aims, said Entifadh Qanbar, a former aide to the Iraqi politician Ahmad Chalabi, who died in 2015.

“It’s very important for the Iranians to maintain corruption in Iraq,” he said.

The Militias’ Long Arm

For decades, Iran smuggled guns and bomb-making supplies through the vast swamps of southern Iraq. And young men were brought back and forth across the border, from one safe house to another — recruits going to Iran for training, and then back to Iraq to fight. At first the enemy was Mr. Hussein; later, it was the Americans.

Today, agents of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards openly recruit fighters in the Shiite-majority cities of southern Iraq. Buses filled with recruits easily pass border posts that officials say are essentially controlled by Iran — through its proxies on the Iraqi side, and its own border guards on the other.

While Iran has built up militias to fight against the Islamic State in Iraq, it has also mobilized an army of disaffected young Shiite Iraqi men to fight on its behalf in Syria.

Mohammad Kadhim, 31, is one of those foot soldiers for Iran, having served three tours in Syria. The recruiting pitch, he said, is mostly based in faith, to defend Shiite shrines in Syria. But Mr. Kadhim said he and his friends signed up more out of a need for jobs.

“I was just looking for money,” he said. “The majority of the youth I met fighting in Syria do it for the money.”

He signed up with a Revolutionary Guards recruiter in Najaf, and then was bused through southern Iraq and into Iran, where he underwent military training near Tehran.

There, he said, Iranian officers delivered speeches invoking the martyrdom of Imam Hussein, the revered seventh-century Shiite figure whose death at the hands of a powerful Sunni army became the event around which Shiite spirituality would revolve. The same enemies of the Shiites who killed the imam are now in Syria and Iraq, the officers told the men.

After traveling to Iran, Mr. Kadhim came home for a break and then was shipped to Syria, where Hezbollah operatives trained him in sniper tactics.

Iran’s emphasis on defending the Shiite faith has led some here to conclude that its ultimate goal is to bring about an Iranian-style theocracy in Iraq. But there is a persistent sense that it just would not work in Iraq, which has a much larger native Sunni population and tradition, and Iraq’s clerics in Najaf, including Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the world’s pre-eminent Shiite spiritual leader, oppose the Iranian system.

But Iran is taking steps to translate militia power into political power, much as it did with Hezbollah in Lebanon, and militia leaders have begun political organizing before next year’s parliamentary elections.

In April, Qais al-Khazali, a Shiite militia leader, delivered a speech to an audience of Iraqi college students, railing against the United States and the nefarious plotting of Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Then, a poet who was part of Mr. Khazali’s entourage stood up and began praising General Suleimani.

For the students, that was the last straw. Chants of “Iran out! Iran out!” began. Scuffles broke out between students and Mr. Khazali’s bodyguards, who fired their rifles into the air just outside the building.

“The thing that really provoked us was the poet,” said Mustafa Kamal, a student at the University of al-Qadisiya in Diwaniya, in southern Iraq, who participated in the protest.

Mr. Kamal and his fellow students quickly learned how dangerous it could be to stand up to Iran these days.

First, militiamen began threatening to haul them off. Then media outlets linked to the militias went after them, posting their pictures and calling them Baathists and enemies of Shiites. When a mysterious car appeared near Mr. Kamal’s house, his mother panicked that militiamen were coming for her son.

Then, finally, Mr. Kamal, a law student, and three of his friends received notices from the school saying they had been suspended for a year.

“We thought we had only one hope, the university,” he said. “And then Iran also interfered there.”

Mr. Khazali, whose political and militia organization, Asaib Ahl al-Haq, is deeply connected with Iran, has been on a speaking tour on campuses across Iraq as part of an effort to organize political support for next year’s national election. This has raised fears that Iran is trying not only to deepen its influence within Iraqi education, but also to transform militias into outright political and social organizations, much as it did with Hezbollah in Lebanon.

“It’s another type of Iranian infiltration and the expansion of Iran’s influence,” said Beriwan Khailany, a lawmaker and member of Parliament’s higher-education committee. “Iran wants to control the youth, and to teach them the Iranian beliefs, through Iraqis who are loyal to Iran.”

Political Ascendancy

When a group of Qatari falcon hunters, “including members of the royal family, were kidnapped in 2015 while on safari in the southern deserts of Iraq, Qatar called Iran and its militia allies — not the central government in Baghdad.

For Mr. Abadi, the prime minister, the episode was an embarrassing demonstration of his government’s weakness at the hands of Iran, whose proxy militia Kataibb Hezbollah was believed to be behind the kidnapping.

So when the hostage negotiations were about to end, Mr. Abadi pushed back.

Around noon on a day in April, a government jet from Qatar landed in Baghdad, carrying a delegation of diplomats and 500 million euros stuffed into 23 black boxes.

The hunters were soon on their way home, but the ransom did not go to the Iranian-backed militiamen who had abducted the Qataris; the cash ended up in a central bank vault in Baghdad.

The seizure of the money had been ordered by Mr. Abadi, who was furious at the prospect of militias, and their Iranian and Hezbollah benefactors, being paid so richly right under the Iraqi government’s nose.

“Hundreds of millions to armed groups?” Mr. Abadi said in a public rant. “Is this acceptable?”

In Iraq, the kidnapping episode was seen as a violation of the country’s sovereignty and emblematic of Iran’s suffocating power over the Iraqi state.

In a post on Twitter, Mr. Zebari, the former finance minister, who was previously foreign minister, called the episode a “travesty.”

Mr. Zebari knows firsthand the power of Iran over the Iraqi state.

Last year, he said, he was ousted as finance minister because Iran perceived him as being too close to the United States. The account was verified by a member of Parliament who was involved in the removal of Mr. Zebari, and who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid angering Iran.

Mr. Zebari, who recounted the events in an interview from his mountainside mansion in northern Iraq, said that when President Barack Obama met with Mr. Abadi last September at the United Nations, the American leader personally lobbied to save Mr. Zebari’s job. Even that was not enough.

Mr. Abadi now finds himself in a difficult position. If he makes any move that can be seen as confrontational toward Iran, or as positioning himself closer to the United States, it could place a cloud over his political future.

“He had two options: to be with the Americans or with the Iranians,” said Izzat Shahbander, a prominent Iraqi Shiite leader who once lived in exile in Iran while Mr. Hussein was in power. “And he chose to be with the Americans.”

Mr. Abadi, who took office in 2014 with the support of both the United States and Iran, has seemed more emboldened to push back against Iranian pressure since President Trump took office.

In addition to seizing the ransom money, he has promoted an ambitious project for an American company to secure the highway from Baghdad to Amman, Jordan, which Iran has opposed. He has also begun discussing with the United States the terms of a deal to keep American forces behind after the Islamic State is defeated.

Some are seeing an American troop commitment as a chance to revisit the 2011 withdrawal of United States forces that seemingly opened a door for Iran.

When American officials in Iraq began the slow wind-down of the military mission there, in 2009, some diplomats in Baghdad were cautiously celebrating one achievement: Iran seemed to be on its heels, its influence in the country waning.

“Over the last year, Iran has lost the strategic initiative in Iraq,” one diplomat wrote in a cable, later released by WikiLeaks.

But other cables sent warnings back to Washington that were frequently voiced by Iraqi officials they spoke to: that if the Americans left, then Iran would fill the vacuum.

Ryan C. Crocker, the American ambassador in Iraq from 2007 to 2009, said that if the United States left again after the Islamic State was defeated, “it would be effectively just giving the Iranians a free rein.”

But many Iraqis say the Iranians already have free rein. And while the Trump administration has indicated that it will pay closer attention to Iraq as a means to counter Iran, the question is whether it is too late.

“Iran is not going to sit silent and do nothing,” said Sami al-Askari, a senior Shiite politician who has good relationships with both the Iranians and Americans. “They have many means. Frankly, the Americans can’t do anything.”

Babylon vs Babylon the Great

Iran versus the United States – Raddington Report

BY MAJID RAFIZADEH

It’s war by any other means. The Iranian regime is heightening its efforts to damage US national interests and scuttle Washington’s foreign policy objectives by ramping up its interventions in the Middle East.

The regime’s concerted efforts are being directed by its Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, his Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its many tentacles. Among the actors in this play are the Navy, the Aerospace Force, ground forces, the Ministry of Intelligence, and the elite Qods force, which is led by General Qassem Soleimani and operates outside Iran’s borders to export the regime’s revolutionary ideals

Lately, Iran’s state-owned media outlets, long since the mouthpieces of Khamenei and the IRGC, have been extensively covering the increasing capabilities, power, and influence of Iran’s armed forces in the region. Iran’s leaders enjoy boasting about the leverage that the regime revels in defying the US in various fields.

The regime is accomplishing these objectives by steadfastly extending the core pillar of its foreign policy. In practice, this means the regime is working hard to widen its connections to militia and terrorist groups through different means, including political and military interventions in countries throughout the Middle East, including as Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon — not countries known for their stability at present.

Over in Iraq, Iranian leaders are delegating a more expansive role to the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), a network of Tehran-backed Shi’ite paramilitary groups, which are estimated to have roughly more than 60,000 fighters. With Tehran’s bank balances back in the black thanks to the nuclear agreement, the IRGC provides vital military, financial and advisory assistance to the PMF. The IRGC and Iran’s news outlets do not hide the presence of Iran’s ground forces in Iraq. The IRGC appointed one of its generals, Iraj Masjedi, to be the new ambassador to Iraq.

During the latest visit of the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to Tehran, Khamenei emphasized the expanding role of PMF and how the presence of Shi’ite paramilitary groups on the ground are becoming political realities in Baghdad. One approach is linked to intensifying interference in the upcoming Iraqi elections. Iran’s sophisticated interventions has prompted the Iraqi Vice President Ayad Allawi to point out that “Iran has been interfering even in the decision [making process] of the Iraqi people…We don’t want an election based on sectarianism, we want an inclusive political process … we [hoped] that the Iraqis would choose themselves without any involvement by any foreign power.”

Khamenei warned Haider al-Abadi not to interfere with Iranian foreign policy goals. He made it clear that the objective of expanding the role of Iraqi militia groups is to spread anti-American sentiments and disrupt US regional objectives, telling the Iraqi leader that “We should remain vigilant of the Americans and not trust them.”

In Syria, IRGC has launched ballistic missiles, kicking off fresh phase of military interventions — this is Iran’s first deployment of such weaponry abroad in nearly three decades. It speaks to a transformation in how Iran’s armed forces will escalate its engagement in the region. But it also highlights the fact that Iran is buttressing Assad’s military. The IRGC generals made it evident that the attacks were “a message” and a “warning” not only to ISIS but also to the US and its regional allies.

For Iran, this is just the beginning. As former IRGC Guard chief Gen. Mohsen Rezai warned, darkly, “The bigger slap is yet to come.”

Iran has been busy in Yemen, as well. The Iranian regime is not only stepping up its support for the Tehran-backed Houthis, but is also deploying other proxies, including Hezbollah, in the war-torn state, in an attempt to further damage the country’s infrastructure and spoil US initiatives in Yemen. Although Iranian leaders deny playing any role in Yemen, the IRGC forces and its proxies are present in Yemen fighting alongside Houthi forces. Iran’s rising shipments of arms to Yemen, however, is impossible to deny. Several countries including the US have intercepted Iran’s attempt to deliver weapons to the Houthis. Most recently, the Saudi navy captured three members of the IRGC from a boat approaching Saudi Arabia’s offshore Marjan oilfield. The Saudi information ministry stated: “This was one of three vessels which were intercepted by Saudi forces. It was captured with the three men on board, the other two escaped.”

Hezbollah currently enjoys a presence in “every third or fourth house” in southern Lebanon, according to the IDF Chief of Staff, a clear violation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701 — and Iran does not show any signs of wishing to give up on their Lebanese proxy. Hezbollah affects Lebanon decision-making to serve Khamenei’s interest, not that of the Lebanese people. The growing financial and military assistance has also made Hezbollah “more militarily powerful than most North Atlantic Treaty Organization members” according to a former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations.

Iran’s support for terrorist groups across the spectrum, which are sworn to disrupt US foreign policy and damage Washington’s interests, is a core pillar of Tehran’s foreign policy. The 2016 statement by Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper remains very much accurate: “Iran — the foremost state sponsor of terrorism — continues to exert its influence in regional crises in the Middle East through the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps — Qods Force (IRGC-QF), its terrorist partner Lebanese Hezbollah, and proxy groups.”

There exists a rare opportunity that the US should seize. After eight years of Obama’s administration trying to appease the Iranian regime and after eight years of neglecting the security concerns of other regional governments, the Gulf states and other regional powers long to counter Iran’s support for terrorist groups, increasing use of brute force and regional military adventurism. The Trump administration can capitalize on regional powers’ political and military weight in holding back Iran. Isolating and sanctioning Tehran via establishing a powerful and united front is critical at this moment.

The Iranian regime is rapidly using its militia and terrorist groups to shape political realities across the Middle East. It is penetrating the political, military and security infrastructures of several Middle Eastern nations. The aim is to advance the regime’s Islamist revolutionary ideals, hegemonic ambitions, and to damage US national interests. A swift and proportionate response to the Iranian regime, which is an integration of political pressure and military force, ought to be a top priority.

Khamenei Encourages the Shia Horn

Khamenei Warns Iraq Against Relying On U.S., Weakening Shi’ite Militia

June 21, 2017 01:43 GMT

RFE/RL

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has warned Iraq’s leader against weakening Shi’ite paramilitary groups and relying on the United States in the battle against the Islamic State (IS) extremist group..

At a meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi in Tehran, Khamenei said the Shi’ite militias were the main forces pushing back against the Sunni extremist group in Iraq, and Baghdad should not trust the United States, Iranian state media reported.

The Shi’ite militias, known as the Popular Mobilization Forces, helped Baghdad defend the country against IS when Iraqi military and police divisions deserted en masse in 2014.

Since then, the Iran-backed militias, estimated to comprise more than 60,000 fighters, have been engaged in the battle to recapture swathes of northern and western Iraq from IS.

But Sunnis in areas freed from IS control have accused the Shi’ite militias of looting, abductions, and murder.

Some Arab leaders in northern Iraq have asked Baghdad to dissolve the Shi’ite militias or expel them from their Sunni-majority provinces — moves that drew objections from Iran’s leader.

“Daesh is retreating from Iraq and that is thanks to the government’s trust in these young devoted forces,” Khamenei said, using an Arabic acronym for IS.

“The Americans are against Popular Forces because they want Iraq to lose its main source of strength,” he said.

Khamenei accused the United States and its ally Saudi Arabia of creating IS and said he opposed the presence of U.S. forces in Iraq.

“We should remain vigilant of the Americans and not trust them. The Americans and their followers are against Iraq’s independence, unity, and identity,” Khamenei said.

Iranian President Hassan Rohani, who also met with Abadi on June 20, joined Khamenei in claiming credit for recent gains by U.S.-backed Iraqi forces in recapturing IS’s northern stronghold of Mosul.

“The liberation of Mosul is the symbol of the end of terrorism and a victory for Iran, Iraq, Syria, and all the countries of the region that are fighting against terrorism,” Rohani said.

The Iranian leaders’ comments highlight the balancing act faced by Abadi as he strives to hold together a coalition of forces fighting IS in Iraq, including the Iraqi government’s own soldiers, the Shi’ite militias as well as Sunni tribal forces and Kurdish Peshmerga forces, all backed by U.S. trainers and special forces.

While Iran said its forces deserved credit for gains made against IS, the United States and its anti-IS coalition of Western forces have also claimed credit for helping Iraqi ground forces recapture Ramadi and other cities liberated from IS in the past two years, as well as for the recent gains in Mosul.

Abadi faces a balancing act not only at home but in the broader Persian Gulf region. His meeting with Iran’s leaders came one day after a visit to Saudi Arabia, Iran’s regional rival, in what he said was a tour aimed at promoting reconciliation between the region’s Sunnis and Shi’a.

Iraq lies on the fault-line between Shi’ite Iran and the mostly Sunni Arab world.

Abadi belongs to the Dawa party, a Shi’ite group with close ties to Iran. But analysts say he has managed relations with Iraq’s Sunni minority better than his predecessor, Nuri al-Maliki, and also improved Baghdad’s ties with Saudi Arabia.

Khamenei told Abadi that Iran was opposed to the referendum on independence scheduled by leaders of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region for September, saying such a separatist move threatens Baghdad’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Iran has its own Kurdish minority in the west of the country.

With reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters

Hatred Between Persia and the Saudis (Daniel 7/8)

People attend the funeral of the victims who were killed on the June 7 attack at the Iranian parliament and Ayatollah Khomeini's mausoleum, in Tehran, Iran June 9, 2017. TIMA via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY

People attend the funeral of the victims who were killed on the June 7 attack at the Iranian parliament and Ayatollah Khomeini’s mausoleum, in Tehran, Iran June 9, 2017. TIMA via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS – THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY

Thousands mourn Tehran attack victims, chant ‘Death to Saudi’ | Reuters

By Parisa Hafezi | ANKARA
ANKARA Thousands packed Tehran’s streets on Friday to mourn the victims of two suicide bomb and gun attacks, and joined their supreme leader in accusing regional rival Saudi Arabia of involvement in the assaults.

People in the crowds, some crying, chanted “Death to Saudi Arabia” alongside the more customary “Death to America” and slogans against Israel, as they reached out to touch coffins wrapped in flags and covered in flowers.

Bombers and gunmen killed 17 people in Iran’s parliament and near the mausoleum of the Islamic Republic’s founder, Ayatollah Khomeini, on Wednesday, in rare strikes on the capital that exacerbated regional tensions.

The Sunni Muslim militants of Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attacks on the Shi’ite Muslim state.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in a message read at the funeral, said the raids would increase hatred for Saudi Arabia, the region’s main Sunni power, and America.

“It (the attacks) will not damage our nation’s determination to fight terrorism … but will only increase hatred for the governments of the United States and their stooges in the region like the Saudis,” Khamenei said. Saudi Arabia has said it was not involved.

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Mourners chanted “God is greatest” and some carried pictures of Khamenei, captioned: “We are ready to sacrifice our blood for you.”

President Hassan Rouhani, a pragmatist more open to contacts with the West, attended the funeral alongside other clerics and officials. He said the attacks had targeted peace and democracy, but stopped short of blaming foreign powers.

The attacks came at a particularly charged time in the region, days after Riyadh and other Sunni Muslim powers cut ties with Qatar, accusing it of backing Tehran and militant groups.

The raids were the first claimed by Islamic State inside tightly controlled Iran, one of the powers leading the fight against the militants in Iraq and Syria.

Iran’s Intelligence Ministry said on Thursday five of the attackers were Iranian nationals recruited by Islamic State who had fought in the militants’ main strongholds in Syria and Iraq.

On Friday, the ministry said 41 suspects had been arrested around the country in connection with the attacks.

“With the help of security forces and families of the suspects, 41 people linked to the attacks and to Daesh (Islamic State) have been arrested in different provinces,” state TV quoted the interior ministry as saying.

“Lots of documents and weaponry have been seized as well.”

Two Sunni militant groups, Jaish al-Adl and Jundallah, have been waging an insurgency in Iran, mostly in remote areas, for almost a decade.

(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

The Saudi And American Allies (Daniel 7)

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivers a speech during a ceremony marking the death of the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, in Tehran, Iran, June 4, 2017. (photo by TIMA via REUTERS)

Author: Arash Karami

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivered one of his harshest criticisms of the new US shift in adopting Saudi Arabia’s anti-Iranian stance.

In a speech commemorating the death of the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Khamenei said that a number of enemy countries emerged immediately in the first decade following Iran’s Islamic Revolution in 1979 and have remained enemies until today. He urged Iranian officials to not ignore the principle of separating from the “coil of American power.” Khamenei added, “Our enemies are not idle. Until today, they have not been able to knock us back, but the enemy is lurking.”

On US President Donald Trump’s adoption of Saudi Arabia’s positions with respect to Iran and criticism by US officials of Iran’s presidential election during a recent Saudi trip, Khamenei said, “The president of America stands next to a tribal leader and does a sword dance and then criticizes the vote of 40 million people in our election.”

In an indirect attack on President Hassan Rouhani, who had advocated larger negotiations to remove all sanctions on Iran, which would likely require direct US-Iran talks on non-nuclear issues, Khamenei said, “Some know it to be reasonable — and they make a mistake — and say that challenging [the United States] has a price.” He added, “However, compromise also has a price. Consider that the Saudi government — to compromise with the new American president — is required to give more than half of its budget at the service of Americans.” During Trump’s trip to Saudi Arabia, the two sides agreed to a $110 billion arms deal.

Khamenei continued, “If challenging [the United States] is reasonable and in accordance with logic, its cost is lower than compromise.” Despite the moderate candidate’s re-election, Khamenei remained steadfast in his opposition to broader talks with the United States. “When you retreat, then they present new demands until you give in to their demands and the cycle continues,” he said. “Being a revolutionary means to not make your goal to please the enemy. Their goal should be to rely on the people and domestic forces and not submit to any power.”

Khamenei also acknowledged the issue of election violations, which conservative candidate Ebrahim Raisi complained about directly to the Guardian Council. Khamenei noted that while the violations did not change the outcome of the election, this should be prevented from happening again during the next election. He asked the candidates to put the partisan hostility and accusations behind themselves now that the election is over.

Khamenei also asked the electorate — whether their candidate won or lost — to compose themselves. Recalling the 2009 election in which the Green Movement leaders called the election fraudulent and brought out street protests, Khamenei said, “We saw what problems 2009 brought for the country.”

In a speech June 3, Rouhani made the case that his administration had been given a mandate with the re-election. “All the votes are to be respected,” Rouhani said. “The minority vote is to be respected, they too have rights. But the method of administration must be in accordance with the majority.”

Read More: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2017/06/iran-khamenei-khomeini-anniversary-saudi-us-rouhani.html

Iraq and Iran Will Remain United (Daniel 8)

Can US-Sunni alliance lure Baghdad away from Tehran?

Al Monitor

BAGHDAD — There are strong indications that Gulf states want to keep Iraq away from Iran’s influence by including Iraq under the banner of a US-backed Sunni Arab alliance.

The United States sees Iraq as a vital location in need of a clear US policy, especially with the presence there of US military bases and about 8,500 US soldiers, as well as the US impact on the country’s overall situation.

The most recent quest in this direction was the Arab Islamic American Summit held May 21 in Riyadh, attended by US President Donald Trump and Iraqi President Fuad Masum.

It also appears that Iraq’s participation in the Eager Lion maneuvers, an annual military exercise, launched May 7 in Jordan with the participation of more than 7,000 soldiers from over 20 countries, was part of the attempt to bring Iraq into the Sunni Arab axis.

The race to convince Iraq to abandon its well-known alliances with Iran and Iran’s allies was already underway when Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir visited Baghdad on Feb. 25, declaring that “Saudi Arabia and Iraq face the [same] scourge of terrorism.”

This rhetoric reflects Riyadh’s keenness on overcoming the obstacles to developing its relations with Baghdad. Those relations took a bad turn when the Saudi ambassador to Iraq, Thamer al-Sabhan, was expelled from Iraq in August after the Iraqis took offense at his statements about the “Iranian intervention in Iraq” and “Iranian-backed armed Shiite organizations fueling the tension with Sunnis.”

Jubeir’s hopes of extracting Baghdad from Tehran’s grip were revived when Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi met March 20 with Trump in Washington.

This meeting appeared to be a test of Abadi’s ability to act outside Iran’s framework of the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU). The PMU, a coalition of mostly Shiite militias in Iraq, reports to Abadi but is backed by Iran.

Zafer al-Ani, an Iraqi parliament member for the Sunni Alliance of Forces, told Al-Monitor that all these attempts “are a step on the road to bringing Iraq back to the Arab ranks, after it has been under the influence of Iran since 2003” — the year Saddam Hussein’s anti-Iran regime fell. Hussein was a secular dictator, but a Sunni, nonetheless, who oppressed the Shiite majority.

Ani said, “All neighboring countries of Iraq, especially Saudi Arabia, ought to help Iraq financially and militarily to get it out from under Iran’s influence, which prevails over many Shiite leaders and parties.”

Political analyst Wathiq al-Jabri questioned how successful the attempts can be. “Asserting that this summit will achieve the desired goals in relation to Iraq is a subject of controversy, if not doubt,” Jabri told Al-Monitor.

“The Iraqi forces’ link to Iran and the momentum of victory over IS [the Islamic State] will affect the developments of the region. This is while Washington is convinced of the Arab governments’ dependency [on the US] and their divided stances, which makes it even more difficult to include Iraq in the Sunni Arab Alliance,” Jabri said.

He noted that Iraq “could play a role as a mediator between Iran and its opponents, which is a more realistic possibility than counting on distancing Baghdad from Tehran. This is especially true since Iraq’s participation in the Riyadh summit was more symbolic, as Iraqi President Fuad Massum attended, and not Abadi.”

Jabri may be correct, as Iraq doesn’t appear to be succumbing to attempts to undermine Iran’s influence. In fact, on April 19, Tehran appointed Irij Masjidi as the new Iranian ambassador to Baghdad. Masjidi, who was warmly welcomed by Iraq’s Shiite political forces, is controversial because of his military background and close ties with Shiite PMU leaders.

Sabhan, the ousted ambassador to Iraq who is now Saudi minister of state for Gulf affairs, made scathing comments against Masjidi, accusing him of being an “internationally wanted war criminal.”

Abdel Hadi al-Saadawi, a parliament member with the National Alliance, also told Al-Monitor he does not believe the attempts to distance Baghdad from Tehran will be successful.

“I believe there is a special relationship between the two countries, with a major common denominator among most Iraqis and Iranians, which is the Shiite doctrine. Iran is also the main supporter of Iraq in the face of terrorism, unlike Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries, [which are] accused of supporting armed factions in Iraq and view [Iraq] as being ruled by Shiites,” Saadawi added.

It seems that Iraq’s Shiite forces and political parties, namely those close to Iran, are enthusiastic about the idea of mediating between Riyadh and Tehran, to stem the increased likelihood of clashes as a result of the May 2 comments of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. He said, “We are going to Iran and will not allow it to bring the battle to us.” Such a move could turn Iraq into an arena of confrontation.

Muqtada al-Sadr, the leader of the Sadrist movement in Iraq, has been trying to prevent this. On May 15, he called upon Iran and Saudi Arabia to “exercise restraint and refrain from escalation.” He also called for a “serious and beneficial dialogue between the two to keep the region safe and secure and put an end to the sectarian war.”

Many observers say that, looking at Iraq’s political scene realistically, Iran isn’t likely to lose its influence there. The Iraqi government includes major Shiite forces with very special relations with Tehran. The PMU is very popular in Iraq because it has contributed greatly toward defeating IS, and Tehran has supported its battles, both at the financial and military levels. Thus, the PMU won’t accept any attempt to distance Baghdad from Tehran.

The United States and Iran have coexisted in Iraq since 2003, and this is likely to continue unhindered. On the basis of respect for sovereignty and noninterference in internal affairs, Saudi Arabia and Turkey — Sunni countries — are expected to give Iraq a chance to be an honest mediator to solve problems between them and Iran.

Saudis One of the Ten Horns (Daniel 7)

In Saudi Arabia, Trump turns Sunni

The Editorial Board | USA TODAY

Change of tone is welcome; favoring an Islam sect over another is not: Our view

President Trump’s speech in Saudi Arabia on Sunday came with a much needed change of tone in his descriptions of Islam’s relations with the West.

A candidate who called for a “complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” now, as president, wants to reach out to the Islamic world. In his speech, he called for a partnership with Muslim nations, one “based on shared interests,” to drive out extremism.

Nothing wrong with that, but Trump’s welcome shift in tone only partially obscured a troubling departure on policy. He drew an explicit line between good and evil — and a more implicit line between Saudi Arabia and the Sunni sect of Islam on the one hand, and Iran and the rival Shiite sect on the other.

U.S. support for the Sunni camp was made clear by the fact that Trump made Riyadh his first foreign stop as president, by his willingness to sell the Saudis $110 billion in military equipment, and by his repeated criticisms of Iran during his speech.

Why the United States would want to tilt toward either side in the Sunni-Shiite divide is mystifying. These two sects have been at odds for centuries, with no signs of a detente.

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The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, the world’s most dangerous terrorist organization, is Sunni. The same goes for al-Qaeda, the group founded by Osama bin Laden that brought down the World Trade Center on 9/11.

The bulk of the 9/11 terrorists were Saudi citizens. And the Saudi government has long supported an ultra orthodox form of Islam known as Wahhabism, which has been a kind of gateway drug to radical Islam.

To be sure, much of the reason that Sunni extremism dominates the world of terrorism is that it is the much larger of the two predominant sects. But radical Sunnis have been more aggressive than militant Shiites, such as Hezbollah, in attacking Western homelands.

Iran, home to the world’s largest Shiite population, is a nasty theocracy in which ultimate power resides in the hands of an autocratic supreme leader. Yet it does have an elected president who has increasingly come to speak for a population yearning for better ties with the West. Indeed, as Trump arrived in the conservative kingdom of Saudi Arabia — a nation where women are still not allowed to drive — Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, was re-elected in a landslide.

President Obama rightly saw Iran as a country worth cultivating, and did so with a deal that rolled back sanctions in return for a suspension of Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Obama, in a 2009 speech in Egypt, also cited the human rights abuses and lack of economic opportunity that help make Arab nations a breeding ground for extremism.

Trump was notably silent on those issues Sunday, signaling to Sunni leaders that they wouldn’t be called out for repression. Perhaps he calculates that a policy popular with Israeli leaders (who, like Saudi Arabia, were staunchly opposed to efforts to engage Iran) is a good way to keep Jews and evangelical Christians within his base.

Whatever the reason, Trump, like Obama, appears destined to discover that one speech in the heart of the Muslim world, no matter how well received, is hardly sufficient to alter ancient enmities.

USA TODAY’s editorial opinions are decided by its Editorial Board, separate from the news staff. Most editorials are coupled with an opposing view — a unique USA TODAY feature.

To read more editorials, go to the Opinion front page or sign up for the daily Opinion email newsletter. To respond to this editorial, submit a comment to letters@usatoday.com.

Originally Published 5:43 p.m. ET May 21, 2017

Updated 49 minutes ago

Iran Steps Up Hegemony In Middle East (Daniel 8:4)

Bahrain’s rulers have long sought confirmation from Washington that their country faces a terrorist threat sponsored by Iran. In March, the US finally validated them by sanctioning two Bahraini individuals as Specially Designated Global Terrorists. One of those sanctioned individuals evidently resides in Qom, the ideological center of Iran’s revolutionary regime.

The US designation comes amid increasing evidence showing that Tehran’s regional terrorist network is targeting the island kingdom, which hosts America’s most important naval base in the Middle East.

The State Department announced the sanctions on Mar. 17, describing the two individuals as linked to the Ashtar Brigades, a Bahraini group that it said has carried out terrorist acts targeting Bahraini, Saudi, and Emirati security officials. As such, the sanctions were also an important signal of support to Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, whose leaders visited Washington just three days before the State Department’s announcement.

The designations are even more important given a Washington Post report last month that Western intelligence agencies believe Iran has attempted to smuggle into Bahrain enough C-4 explosives to sink a warship, as well as equipment to manufacture explosively formed penetrators  that can tear through tank armor.

Mortada al-Sanadi’s Radical Politics

The State Department was relatively terse in its description of the two newly designated terrorists, merely calling the more prominent one “an affiliate” of the Brigades, which it said receives money and other support from the government of Iran.

However, by validating Manama’s argument that this individual, Mortada al-Sanadi, is linked to the Brigades and confirming the group’s Iranian sponsorship, the US significantly bolstered Bahrain’s narrative about Sanadi, the Brigades, and the broader terrorist threat it faces.

Sanadi is spokesperson and a central committee member of the Islamic Loyalty Movement (ILM), a radical Bahraini political faction. The Movement is virulently anti-American, with its recent messages on social media calling the US “the mother of terrorism,” setting fire to images of President Donald Trump and the American flag, and displaying a cartoon of crosshairs targeting the Capitol Building. (The image can be seen above.)

In 2016, Bahrain’s government accused Sanadi and the ILM of having links to the Bahraini terrorist cell called the Basta Group, which ILM denied. According to Bahraini authorities, Basta also had ties to the Ashtar Brigades and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Bahrain’s government alleged that Basta’s leadership constituted the ILM’s armed wing, with terror capabilities under Sanadi’s command.

By accusing a leader of the ILM of links to terrorism, the recent US action seems to confirm that some of Bahrain’s more radical political opposition is also complicit in acts of violence against the state.

Disrupted Terrorist Plots

If Bahrain’s claims about Sanadi’s activities are correct – which the new US action appears to at least partly corroborate – then he is a key leader in the country’s terrorist insurgency.

Ten days after the US sanctioned Sanadi, Bahraini authorities accused the cleric of co-directing a terrorist cell linked to a February bus bombing that injured five police officers. That bombing came shortly after Sanadi’s announced that his movement was “beginning a new stage” by “seizing the public square and grasping the trigger.”

Manama alleged that the cell’s fourteen members plotted political assassinations and traveled to Iran nearly 70 times in three months. Six cell members are accused of receiving IRGC training in Iran, and five others are accused of being trained in Iraq by the US-designated, Iranian-proxy terrorist group Kata’ib Hizballah. According to Reuters, the Brigades announced an alliance with Kata’ib Hizballah earlier this year.

Previously, Bahraini authorities have accused Sanadi of playing a prominent role in terrorist plots in 2015. One was a July 2015 bombing that killed two policemen and injured six others. Bahrain’s Interior Ministry identified him as one of the plotters, calling him a religious leader for several Bahraini terrorist groups, and asserted that he receives monthly payments from the IRGC. Weeks earlier, Manama described Sanadi as one of the IRGC’s coordinators for a plot to smuggle explosives from Iraq into Bahrain, and from there into Saudi Arabia.

Tehran’s Ideological and Military Fingerprints

The ideology of Sanadi’s Islamic Loyalty Movement reflects Iran’s efforts to export its revolution. For example, Sanadi told a pro-Hizballah Lebanese newspaper in 2014 that the ILM’s ideology is modeled after that of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder and first supreme leader of the Islamic Republic. The ILM website features 30 statements from Khomeini’s successor Ali Khamenei that are described as “golden commandments for a jihadist administration.” The group also promotes a book by Lebanese Hizballah’s deputy leader, which teaches its approach to military jihad and vilayat-e faqih, the Iranian regime’s draconian system of clerical rule.

In speeches delivered in Qom in 2015 and 2016, Sanadi himself embraced vilayat-e faqih and recognized Khamenei as amir al mu’minin, or leader of the faithful. He also authored an anti-American article on Khamenei’s official website in December 2016. Other than a brief appearance in the Iraqi city of Karbala in late 2013, virtually all of Sanadi’s public appearances for propaganda purposes seem to have been made from Qom, including as recently as March of this year.

Last year, Sanadi gave a lecture on Bahrain to the Masoumieh Religious Seminary, a top institution for training clerics to serve in Iran’s military and security services, including the IRGC. According to Reuters, Sanadi was even allowed in September 2016 to deliver a Friday sermon at the most prestigious mosque in Qom. His activities in Qom highlight the overlap between Iran’s extremist ideology and his Bahrain-oriented activism.

Iran has been known to host other IRGC-backed violent extremists in Qom, including Abu Dura, an Iraqi national designated by the US Treasury who was known as “the Shiite Zarqawi,” a reference to former al-Qaeda in Iraq chief Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Laith Khazali, an Iraqi who was imprisoned on charges of leading an operation that killed five American soldiers in the Iraqi city of Karbala, reportedly was hosted in Qom immediately upon his release in 2009. Another suspected leader in the 2007 Karbala attack, Azhar al-Dulaimi, purportedly received his training beforehand from Lebanese Hezbollah under IRGC supervision near Qom.

Militarily, the Ashtar Brigades appear linked not just to the IRGC but also other IRGC terrorist proxies throughout the region.

Manama claims Sanadi co-directed Bahraini terror cells in 2015 and 2017 with Qassim Abdullah Ali, who it said is based in Iran and Iraq, where he allegedly coordinates the training of Bahraini terrorists by Kata’ib Hizballah. Manama also asserts that leaders of the Ashtar-linked Basta Group received $20,000 from Lebanese Hizballah’s chief Hassan Nasrallah to support the ILM and launch attacks in Bahrain.

Bahrain’s broader landscape

As these allegations suggest, Sanadi is not the only Bahraini individual Manama accuses of playing a top role in the Ashtar Brigades, and the group is not the only Bahraini extremist group aligned with Iran.

For example, the State Department indicated in its 2013 Country Reports on Terrorism that Manama intercepted a speedboat with arms and explosives linked to Iran and thought to be bound for the 14 February Youth Coalition, a radical Shiite opposition faction that has praised Khamenei.

Other Bahraini groups such as the Saraya al-Karar and the Revolutionary Struggle Organization have used imagery based on the IRGC logo of a hand reaching up to grasp a Kalashnikov rifle, according to Caleb Weiss. Weiss adds that another Bahraini terrorist group, Saraya al-Mokhtar, has demonstrated support for numerous IRGC proxies inside Iraq.

When the State Department sanctioned Sanadi, it took care to discourage Manama from perceiving its action as carte blanche for a domestic crackdown on the country’s Shiites, who form the majority of the population but are marginalized by its Sunni monarchy. Indeed, the announcement urged Bahrain’s government “to clearly differentiate its response to violent militia groups from its engagement with peaceful political opposition.”

This is particularly relevant given that the head of Bahrain’s main opposition party, al-Wefaq, is serving a four-year prison sentence for acts the US describes as “peaceful expression.” However, the State Department could undermine its own message if it moves ahead with its plan to drop human rights conditions from a proposed $2.8-billion sale of US fighter jets to Bahrain.

Bahrain’s regime has yet to address its serious domestic challenge from nonviolent Shiite opposition groups and a disaffected Shiite-majority public. But it also faces a genuine security threat from violent extremists. Washington’s recent counterterrorism sanctions against Sanadi and its confirmation of Tehran’s support for the Ashtar Brigades confirms one of the pivotal pieces in the Bahraini government’s narrative about Iran’s role sponsoring terrorism inside the kingdom. But if Bahrain’s rulers don’t find a constructive outlet for legitimate Shiite dissent, then they risk driving more of the opposition into Iran’s arms.

David Andrew Weinberg is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. He specializes on Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. Amir Toumaj is a Research Analyst at Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

US and Saudis to Join Horns (Daniel 8:8)

The summit will be one of three forums held during a visit by Trump, who is making Saudi Arabia his first overseas stop since assuming office in January.

Salman told a cabinet meeting in the Red Sea city of Jeddah that the meeting “comes in light of the challenges and sensitive situations that the world is going through”.

According to the official Saudi Press Agency, “he expressed his hope that this historic summit will establish a new partnership in the face of extremism and terrorism and spreading the values of tolerance and coexistence” while enhancing security.

Trump has frequently been accused of fueling Islamophobia but aides described his decision to visit Saudi Arabia as an effort to reset relations with the Muslim world.

US President Donald Trump and Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman shake hands before lunch at the White House in Washington, DC, on March 14, 2017
NICHOLAS KAMM (AFP/File)

Trump’s National Security Adviser, General H.R. McMaster said in a press briefing on Friday that the US president’s visit to Saudi Arabia “will lead the first steps towards a strong partnership with the Muslim world.”

“We expect our allies to take a strong stand against those who have a perverted interpretation of their religion,” McMaster said.

Along with the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), at least 18 other Muslim nations have been invited to the summit, including Turkey, Azerbaijan, Niger and Indonesia, which has the world’s largest Muslim population.

Saudi Arabia’s regional rival Iran is not invited.

Trump is to also hold a bilateral summit with Saudi Arabia and talks with the GCC on Saturday.

Saudi King Salman talks to the media during a meeting with US President Barack Obama in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington on September 4, 2015
Yuri Gripas (AFP)

Washington and Riyadh have a decades-old relationship based on the exchange of American security for Saudi oil.

Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter, has long been a major ally of the US, but the relationship soured over Obama’s initial reluctance getting involved in Syria and other regional problems, as well as the signing of a landmark nuclear accord and lifting of international sanctions against their regional rival, Shiite Iran.

The Saudis have found a more favorable ear in Washington under Trump, who has denounced Iran’s “harmful influence” in the Middle East.

From Saudi Arabia, Trump will travel next to Israel before continuing to the Vatican.

The Smaller Horn Stops Supporting Iran (Daniel 8)

Image result for iranian hegemony

Ynetnews Opinion – Iranian expansion in Middle East is coming to an end

In recent years, we have heard a lot of Iranian arrogance and Israeli concern in light of Iran’s ambition to become a regional power. Up until a while ago, the Islamic Republic seemed to be heading in the right direction. In the past two years, however, despite Iran’s huge investment and the achievements it boasted about, it has been losing fighters and influence. As much as one can talk about the future, Iran’s political horizon appears gloomy.

The Iranians’ hopes were driven by the power void created in the Middle East. After the Soviet state disintegrated, Russia began keeping a low profile in the Middle East and there were no signs indicating that it planned to return. The United States, under the leadership of Barack Obama, turned its back on its Arab allies and signed a nuclear agreement with Iran, which eased the economic pressure that has been increasingly suffocating the country in recent years. And while world powers minded their own business, the “Islamic State” (ISIS) monster appeared, causing old enemies to team up against it. As a result, Iran and its allies turned into legitimate partners in the battle against a group of murderers exporting terrorism across the world.

The world powers’ disappearance coincided with the growing chaos in two key countries of the Fertile Crescent—Iraq and Syria. After the Americans destroyed the old Saddam Hussein regime and left Iraq alone, the government gates were opened to the Iraqi Shiites and the Iranians trying to pull their strings. At the same time, the Arab unrest undermined Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime, and the Iranians, which have traditionally helped the Alawite regime, entered that arena as well.

The chaos in Iraq and Syria, and the world powers’ absence, created a challenge for Iran: Would it be able to establish a new Middle Eastern order, which would serve its interests and reflect its ambitions and the evaluation of its power and its networks of influence?

The answer, in short, is no. Iran failed, and now its situation is deteriorating.

The first point of failure was apparent in Iraq. About two years ago, after Haider al-Abadi rose to power, he began working to restrain Iran’s influence and reinforce the presence of its enemy—the US. One of the opposition leaders, Muqtada al-Sadr, who had used to do whatever Iran said, began speaking ill of Tehran too. These two Shiite politicians are refusing to serve Iran’s interests, and as a result of their growing power, the Iranian influence system seems to have suffered a serious blow.

In Syria, the situation is even worse. About a year and a half ago, the Russians returned to the Middle East at Syria’s invitation. Over time, it became clear to experts on Middle Eastern politics that the Russians were here to stay. Entering Syria was a critical step in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s broad plan to restore his country’s status as a world power. In order to establish its power in the Middle East, however, Russia must maintain good diplomatic relations with a variety of forces: Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Israel and others. Furthermore, it must maintain channels of dialogue and decide on areas of influence with the US. In other words, it must a compromise in Syria which will reduce Assad’s power or destroy him, along with the power of his Iranian patrons. The importance of creating the new order in Syria will likely become clear soon, once ISI is destroyed and we will be able to talk about the new political order in the Middle East.

Another complication in the Iranian expansion plan is America’s possible return to its old role—the Arabs’ ally and a determined enemy of Iran. US President Donald Trump’s political U-turn will narrow the Iranians’ leeway even more.

ISIS, which imposed chaos on the region in the past, is expected to grow weaker. Along with the world powers’ return to the Middle East’s power struggles, this brings us pretty close to the “old politics” of the Middle East. In this balance of powers, Iran has many enemies—including Shiites—and few partners. Moreover, the world powers will clip Iran’s wings without flinching. It seems, therefore, that if these trends continue, the years of expansion of Iranian influence in the Middle East are coming to an end.

Prof. Nimrod Hurvitz and Prof. Dror Ze’evi are members of the Forum for Regional Thinking and lecturers at Ben-Gurion University.