Eli Lake: How Iran is losing its grip in Iraq/إيلي ليك من بلومبرك: إيران تفقد قبضتها على العراق/Jerusalem Post: COVID-19, hostages, drowning: Iranian regime criminality may be increasing/جيرازالم بوست: ما بين الرهائن واغراق وقتل المعارضين والكورونا النظام الإيراني يزداد اجراماً
How Iran is losing its grip in Iraq
Eli Lake/Bloomberg/May 11/2020
إيلي ليك من بلومبرك: إيران تفقد قبضتها على العراق
COVID-19, hostages, drowning: Iranian regime criminality may be increasing Seth J. Frantzman/Jerusalem Post/May 11/2020 جيرازالم بوست: ما بين الرهائن واغراق وقتل المعارضين والكورونا النظام الإيراني يزداد اجراماً
Iran’s human rights violations and the regime’s criminal actions are often ignored or wrapped up in larger discussions about its other behavior.
In January Iran shot down a Ukrainian Airlines civilian airliner. Since then, Iran has put up roadblocks to the investigation its mass killing of the 176 people on board, and has prevented quick handover of black boxes and joint investigations.
Last week, the BBC accused Iran’s Mahan Air of operating amid the coronavirus pandemic and spreading the virus across the region and the world without proper safeguards.
Over the weekend it was revealed that Iran had beaten, tortured and drowned dozens of poor Afghan migrants. In addition, Tehran continues to hold hostage a British-Australian academic which UK reports say has damaged her health. Last year, Iran gunned down numerous protesters and sent proxy groups to Iraq to conduct a wave of attacks on protesters there.
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While Iran’s decision to advance its ballistic missile or nuclear program is generally seen through the lens of international relations and discussions about how to “deal” with the regime, its human rights violations and the regime’s criminal actions are often ignored or wrapped up in larger discussions about its other behavior. For instance, Iran’s nuclear program and its prodding of proxies to harass ships in the Gulf and US forces in Iraq is seen as a form of “provocation” that was brought on by US-Iran tensions.
Antony Blinken, a foreign policy advisor under Obama recently pointed out that the US “maximum pressure” campaign is leading to Iran “restarting dangerous elements of its nuclear program.” Obama administration insider Ben Rhodes tweeted on May 8 that the results of dismantling Obama’s Iran policies resulted in Iran being “closer to a nuke.”
However, a larger question looms regarding the Iranian regime policies that are not linked to purely military initiatives. For instance, while Iran put a military satellite into orbit recently and has built new drones and missiles, the other side of Iran’s actions tend to be more outwardly criminal. For instance, downing the civilian airliner and initially denying it. Or drowning migrants or kidnapping foreign academics and holding them hostage.
Regime apologists present no explanation for how this behavior is linked to something that was done to Iran. Tehran’s leadership tends to play up the idea that Iran is a victim, either of Western support for the Shah, a 1953 coup, sanctions or other actions. In this narrative, the regime can present itself abroad as other countries do.
BUT THE actual behavior of the regime is not just about getting around sanctions, which every government would likely seek to do. Nothing forces Iran to drown migrants, down civilian airliners or purposely obfuscate about the extent of coronavirus in the country, while flying airliners around the world and endangering passengers and crew. If Iran is merely trying to get around sanctions and trying to prove to the world that the US behavior is problematic, why kidnap and use foreign academics as bargaining chips, keeping them in harsh conditions in prisons when they committed no crime?
Iran is not the only regime that does this: Turkey and North Korea have detained Westerners and then suddenly released them. But the multiple layers of Iran’s behavior compared to how it tries to present itself on the international stage is unique.
Has Iran’s criminal behavior increased with the recent drownings, coronavirus cover-ups, abuses of academics, shooting of protesters, and the downing of a civilian airliner? The regime may be increasing its brutality and using the tensions with America as a cover. For instance Iran’s foreign ministry sought to use the coronavirus crisis to demand a way around sanctions, claiming that the sanctions harmed its battle against the virus. If this had been accurate, then Iran would have stopped Mahan air flights and sought aid in mid-February.
Instead, Iran hid the extent of the virus in February and even prevented Doctors Without Borders from helping. The Islamic Republic could have admitted immediately that it shot down a civilian airliner in January and helped Ukraine study the black boxes, instead of harming the investigation.
Why did Iranian border guards force 57 men and children into a river on May 1, where most of them drowned? Amateur videos have now located where the poor workers died. The regime’s order to murder the Afghans is not unique. It also guns down Kurdish workers without trial in the West Azerbaijan province city of Khoy, accusing them of smuggling. Over the weekend, Iranian security forces shot at a group of these Kurdish “kolbars” causing the death of one of them.
The long list of regime crimes paints a picture of state policy, from downing airliners to shooting protesters and migrants and abusing academics, to spreading a virus among vulnerable airline staff.
How Iran is losing its grip in Iraq
Eli Lake/Bloomberg/May 11/2020
إيلي ليك من بلومبرك: إيران تفقد قبضتها على العراق It’s a positive development not just for Iraq but for the entire Middle East
When US missiles killed Iran’s most important general and its most important militia leader in early January as they were visiting Baghdad, it looked like American forces would be kicked out of Iraq. Iraq’s parliament convened just hours after the strike and approved a symbolic resolution to expel the US.
More than four months later, not only are US forces still there, but it’s clear that the killings have created space for a new Iraqi government to assert some independence from its powerful neighbour.
The signs of this new approach have been building over recent months, and the ascendancies last week of Mustafa Al-Kadhimi to the post of transitional prime minister is the latest and most profound.
Kadhimi’s platform is not as pointed in its criticism of US actions as his predecessor’s was. It says Iraq will not allow its territories to be used as a base for launching aggression against any of its neighbours and will not become a battlefield for regional and international conflicts
Consider that Kataib Hezbollah, the militia largely responsible for attacks on US positions in Iraq, openly accused the new prime minister of participating in the US plot to kill the Iranian leaders during the negotiations to select an interim prime minister. The militia opposed Kadhimi and threatened violence if he became prime minister. The Iraqi Parliament ignored it.
Normally, the opposition of a militia supported and directed by Iran would be a clear sign that Iran sees Kadhimi as an unacceptable choice for prime minister. Kataib Hezbollah acts as an arm of the Quds Force commanded by General Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in the US drone strike.
This time around, the Iranians have indicated that they will live with him.
Why? Kadhimi was able to take advantage of schisms within Iran’s own power centers, says Nibras Kazimi, the founder of Talisman Gate. A turf battle among Iranian factions in Iraq has “opened up space in Baghdad for previously unexpected outcomes,” he says.
Those schisms in Iran could nonetheless be good for US interests. Kadhimi’s platform explicitly calls for reform of the Interior Ministry, whose forces coordinated with Iranian-backed militias to violently disperse recent peaceful protests against Iranian influence.
The new chief of that ministry will be General Othman Ghanimi, an American-trained officer who is currently the chief of staff of Iraq’s military. His new ministry was once infiltrated by militia leaders who showed more loyalty to Soleimani and Iran than to Iraq. He now has an opportunity to clean house, a longtime US objective.
Kadhimi has also pledged to take on corruption, which is the primary issue for the national protest movement “and a primary reason that Iran is able to exert influence in Iraq.
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Kadhimi’s platform is not as pointed in its criticism of US actions as his predecessor’s was. It says Iraq will not allow “its territories to be used as a base for launching aggression against any of its neighbours and will not become a battlefield for regional and international conflicts.”
At the same time, it indirectly says it will not allow Iran to manage its relationship with Iraq the way it did in the Soleimani years: “As far as foreign relations are concerned, the state shall communicate with official institutions only, and according to the international diplomatic norms, and not with individuals or non-official entities.”
There is no single event that has caused Iran’s current loss of influence in Iraq. Nationwide protests against corruption and Iranian influence, as well as internal strife within and among Iranian-backed militias, helped Kadhimi’s rise. At the same time, Soleimani’s death was a factor.
“When Soleimani was killed, Iran had already overplayed its hand and was suffering the consequences,” says Michael Knights, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Since his death, he says, Iran’s position in Iraq has weakened even further. “It still has influence, but not control.”
If that’s true, it’s a positive development — not just for Iraq but for the entire Middle East.
*Eli Lake is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering national security and foreign policy