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Iranian diplomat resigns in Finland

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Former Iranian diplomat Hossein Alizadeh

It is being reported that Iranian diplomat Hossein Alizadeh, who told Reuters that he was number two in Finland, has resigned in protest of the brutality of the regime and is now considering claiming political asylum in Finland. This would make him the second diplomat to have defected since last year’s disputed election sparked widespread protests.

Iran’s Press TV is reporting that the country’s Foreign Ministry denies that Alizadeh was employed as a diplomat at the time and that, in fact, his mission had officially ended in August.

Reuters has a quote:

“I have resigned definitively in protest — I am no longer an Iranian diplomat,” Alizadeh said by telephone from Finland.

Alizadeh’s resignation was announced by the Green Wave movement, founded by Paris-based Iranian exile Amir Hossein Jahanchahi. It is unclear at this stage whether Alizadeh with join the movement, but it does appear that he intends to be a dissident. He reportedly also said the following:

“I don’t consider myself any more a diplomat standing beside a brutal Iranian regime,” Mr Alizadeh said.

”I have let the embassy know that I have resigned from my job and … I’m not any more a diplomat.

”I am a political dissident.”

Mr Alizadeh said he was considering what to do next but had not applied for political asylum. [The Age]

While of course this news is not earth-shattering, it is interesting to consider it as part of how the protest movement is taking shape since the disputed election. It appears that, if anything, it has definitely emboldened a lot more people, both within Iran and within the diaspora, to air their grievances, speak out and become dissidents. This will probably accelerate internal repression, this movement definitely does not have the strength to change that, certainly not in the near future.

Written by alexlobov

September 12, 2010 at 5:40 pm

Lebanon in the event of an Iran strike

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This piece was originally published at NOW!Lebanon, titled “Lebanon in the event of an Iran strike

The past few weeks have seen a flurry of discussion in US foreign policy circles about the potential for a unilateral Israeli strike on Iran. Much of this discussion has been focused around Jeffrey Goldberg’s lengthy and alarmist cover story for The Atlantic Magazine about the likelihood of such a strike happening within the next 12 months. However, no discussion of an Israeli, or indeed American, strike on Iran can ignore the unavoidable involvement of Lebanon, and the subsequent impact on the country.

Goldberg interviewed around “forty current and past Israeli decision-makers” as background for his piece, but many of them remain anonymous, and those who are named appear to contribute little different to what we already knew: Israel considers Iran an “existential threat” and is very worried, and all options are always on the table, some of them more likely than others. Thus, the motivation of Goldberg’s sources must be better understood. Why would Israeli decision makers be telling Jeffrey Goldberg that there’s a good chance of an Israeli strike on Iran? Because they understand Goldberg’s influence in Washington, and they want to mainstream the idea of not only an Israeli strike, but a potentially pre-emptive one from the US. This story has already had a broad ripple effect in the political media ecosystem, having been expanded into a fully-fledged debate on The Atlantic website and picked up by other outlets and blogs alike. This process helps an idea gain a legitimacy it didn’t have before the original big story dropped.

While, of course, such a story alone cannot be blamed for a military strike, in many ways, this process is reminiscent of similar discussions in the lead-up to the 2003 Iraq war, during which Jeffrey Goldberg played a remarkably similar role. In 2010, the potentially disastrous consequences of such a strike by the US, many of which would also eventuate in the case of an Israeli one, cannot be easily dismissed, and some are even mentioned by Goldberg himself: a closing of the Straits of Hormuz; a massive spike in the price of oil, exacerbating the global recession; destabilisation of the Gulf region; deadly reprisals from Iranian-sponsored terrorist outfits abroad; a nail in the coffin for the Iranian “Green Movement;” and a shoring up of sympathy for Iran’s regime internationally. Most alarmingly, Iran’s actual pursuit of nuclear-weapons capacity, both the details and progress of it, are still in doubt. A strike would, much as it did with Israel’s strike on Iraq’s Osirak reactor in 1981, impel Iran’s regime to redouble its efforts to reach such a capacity.

The consequences of a strike on Iran for the fragile détente between Israel and Hezbollah are unpredictable at best and a powder keg at worst. “Israel or the United States cannot just bomb Iran and (expect) things to continue normally,” Sheikh Naim Qassem, Hezbollah’s deputy leader, told Reuters in March. “Any attack on Iran could ignite the whole region and the assailant will pay a heavy price whether it’s Israel or the United States.”

Cross-border rocket reprisals from Hamas and Hezbollah are widely expected in the case of a strike on Iran, but the extent of the potential conflict cannot be precisely anticipated. Many analysts already believe that the next war between Israel and Hezbollah is a matter of when, not if, and there are plenty of potential excuses for war already. One major cause for concern is the exploration of Tamarand Leviathan,two recently-discovered gas fields that could, as estimated by the US partner in exploration Noble Energy, contain up to 30 trillion cubic feet of gas. The maritime boundary between Israel and Lebanon is not well defined, and Beirut has also taken steps to begin off-shore exploration. Natural resources aside, Hezbollah’s steady rearmament since 2006 and Israel’s continued manned overflights over Lebanese territory, both in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, are reason enough for a major conflict to be sparked by either side.

Concerning Hezbollah’s rearmament, as noted by Daniel Kurtzer in his July report for the US-based Council on Foreign Relations, the party has improved both the quantity and quality of its weaponry since 2006, although it is unclear exactly by how much. Since Gabi Ashkenazi’s ascendancy to IDF chief of staff, Israel has also maintained that it is far more prepared today to fight a war with Hezbollah than in previous years. As repeatedly noted in Kurtzer’s report, Israel has not only levelled at Hezbollah the as-yet-unproven charge of acquiring Scud missiles from Syria, but also prepared for it, as well as the strategic threat from Syrian M-600 rockets or even advanced surface-to-air missiles, such as the S-300, which Israel considers a “red line.”

What this indicates is that Israel takes the threat from Hezbollah very seriously, and would be keeping this threat in mind in accompaniment to any potential strike on Iran.

If Goldberg’s story, particularly its many statements from Israeli officials, is to be viewed largely as an Israeli PR exercise, then Israel probably wishes to allow time for the off chance that the Obama administration will conduct a US strike on Iran, something Israel almost certainly prefers. The administration is in no hurry. As reported in the New York Times last week, administration officials believe that there is roughly a year before Iran achieves “breakout” nuclear capacity, or the time it would take to convert low-enriched uranium into weapons-grade.  Iran’s distance from real nuclear-weapons capacity, and Israel’s current wariness of an immediate military conflict with Hezbollah indicate that a strike would likely occur toward the end of Goldberg’s proposed 12-month window, if at all.

No mistake should be made about the consequences for Lebanon. Benjamin Netanyahu has already made it clear that, as a result of Hezbollah’s inclusion in Lebanon’s cabinet, the whole country would be held responsible for attacks on Israel. This is an apparent extension of Israel’s supposed “Dahiyeh Doctrine” to cover not only southern Lebanon but the country’s institutions and infrastructure on a national level, bringing with it alarming possibilities stemming from Israel’s destruction of Gaza during Operation Cast Lead.

Obama does not have the stomach for the initiation of another major conflict, but only time will tell whether Israel is prepared to put aside concerns of a complicated entanglement with Hezbollah, along with the other host of issues mentioned above, and actually execute a strike on Iran unilaterally. The possibility for unmitigated disaster is great, and hopefully cooler heads will prevail.

Does Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani deserve to die? Who does?

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Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani is a young Iranian woman who was sentenced to death by stoning in Iran, a sentence that sparked an international outcry over  a practice that many see as archaic and barbaric. Since the initial sentence was handed down, the twists and turns in events since then have moved rapidly.

The initial sentence was handed down by a court in Tabriz in May 2006, she was charged with committing adultery (despite the alleged incident occurring after the death of her husband) and was sentenced to 99 lashes, which was carried out. Then, in September she was convicted by another court, the details of which are still rather shaky, of adultery and of being an accomplice in the murder of her husband. But wait, is she being put to death for adultery? Or for murder? Or for both? Statements made by officials aren’t very conclusive:

“In the first place, the allegation was murder,” the lawyer [this is Ashtiani's lawyer talking] told Babylon & Beyond. “She was accused of killing her husband, but as her children forgave her … she was pardoned and there was no more allegation against her. But to complicate the case, the court raised the issue of adultery.”Sharifi declined to outline Ashtiani’s role in her husband’s death, saying it would be just too darn shocking for the public. [LA Times]

Despite the original cases being in 2006, developments this year have come thick and fast, here’s a roundup:

Some things to consider about the Iranian judicial system: while the judicial code is fundamentally based on Shi’a Islamic law, there are a number of innovations and adaptations that make Iranian law fundamentally unique. Chief among these are the introduction of circumstantial evidence (not just direct evidence) and an appeals process for the death penalty that give a High Court (not local courts) final say, two things that are not elements of traditional sharia law.

Having said that, neither of these are particularly likely to have an impact on Ashtiani’s case. The involvement of a High Court means that all the international pressure can have more impact than in a local case, there is also the paradox that the Iranian state will not want to appear like it has been influenced by “the West”. This would be an embarrassment to the regime and set an unwelcome precedent of foreign intervention being successful.

And while the presentation of circumstantial evidence certainly appears to make things more just, there are a number of other fundamental problems, such as the fact that the testimony of a male witness is still worth more than that of a woman (literally, it states that two female witnesses equal one man), and the difficulty of establishing rape, as opposed to adultery, when the alleged victim is a woman.

Personally, I oppose all forms of the death penalty, because I, like Albert Camus, believe it absurd for the State to kill a human being for such abstract and seemingly irrational reasons as concepts of “revenge” and “punishment”. Thus, I sincerely hope that Ashtiani is pardoned and can walk free, home to her two children. However, it must be noted that criticisms on this basis that are leveled at Iran by the US Government are also somewhat absurd.

In Hillary Clinton’s statement linked above, she says that the Department of State is “troubled by the case of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, who garnered international attention for her verdict of death by stoning.” One wonders what specifically about Ashtiani’s case so troubles Clinton. Is it the fact that the means of execution will be stoning? Does this mean that Clinton wouldn’t condemn Iran if the means were changed to hanging? And what of  reports of stoning in other countries, such as Saudi Arabia (which is a US ally)? Or is it the fact that Ashtiani’s guilt, especially the murder charge, is seemingly not believable? In which case, to what extent would the US Government be willing to make statements on the judicial affairs of another country’s courts?

According to Amnesty International, a list of countries that used the death penalty in 2007 includes, apart from Iran, the United States itself, as well as US allies such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan, Iraq and Taiwan, all in the top 10. Rather than selectively condemning high-profile cases such as Ashtiani’s, in countries that the US considers foes, it would make more sense to rethink the death penalty itself. Presumably the US Department of State wouldn’t look at each and every case to see if it was delivered fairly. Let alone the fact that it also carries out assassinations, outside the scope of the courts, on its own citizens.

Let me be clear. I strongly oppose the execution of Ashtiani. Yes, having read the news (largely organised by a mainstream media relying on the same sources and pushing the same narrative), the charges seem trumped up and yes, Iran’s human rights record is terrible. But the main reason for my opposition to her execution is that it is fundamentally absurd to execute a human being for past actions.

The broader debate should not be about pointing fingers at the questionable Iranian judicial process, such calls seem tainted by bias and selectivity and, pointed by Western hands, may do more harm than good in the largely adversarial political narrative between Iran and the West. The broader debate should be about whether our own hands are clean. Why should the State have the right to take the life of one of its citizens, not as a preventative measure, not as a successful deterrent, but purely based on some absurd concept of vengeance? What, specifically, is the benefit of this to the citizens of the State?

By all means, get involved in advocacy to save Ashtiani’s life, but also spend some time thinking about whether the death penalty in your own country makes rational sense. Remember, Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani is a young mother with two children. She does not deserve to die. Neither to do any of the other human beings currently languishing on death rows all over the world. Their deaths will not solve anyone’s problems.

Written by alexlobov

August 18, 2010 at 7:35 pm

The new set of Sanctions against Iran

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Ahmadinejad's "Armpit of Evil", thanks Guardian for the pic

I’ve been facing a combination of writer’s block, laziness and slow news days cropping up precisely on the days that I do have time to blog, a dangerous cocktail that helps explain my general lack of postage on this blog. I realise that the new set of Iran sanctions has already been heavily discussed, for those that haven’t heard

I’m not going to say a great deal on this issue except that I don’t particularly like it. I don’t remember when sanctions have ever been effective in getting a Government to do what people want them to do, they usually only serve to isolate and entrench despotic governments further (Saddam). In addition, while the specific set of sanctions hasn’t been finalised yet, there already has been a reasonable amount of opposition to specific measures that have been mooted.

Talking about the political implications, as The Majlis has mentioned, it seems that the Iranian regime is ready for these sanctions and looking to confront them head on. The amount of baiting that has been going on has been ramped up a great deal, especially with the announcement of building a further ten nuclear plants by the regime. How they intend to finance this with the Iranian economy in the doldrums that it’s in is of no consequence, the rhetoric here is what seems to be important. The Majlis also discusses the effect on the current rift in the Iranian political establishment. It seems to me that the conservative wing of Khamenei/Ahmadinejad is further entrenching itself in a position where the nuclear program is its baby and its baby alone. Reformists like Rafsanjani will not oppose the program either because they realise it would be political suicide after how much pro-nuclear propaganda has been effected on the population.

It seems that Obama’s unclench-your-fist rhetoric has failed and he’s now erring on the side of sanctions to preserve his own political capital. This spells bad news. Even if Russia and China do support the sanctions, no good will come of them. Sanctions will further serve to entrench the regime’s position against the West as “the Great Satan” and further entrench the Khamenei/Ahmadinejad axis in power, helping it out of its current political quandry. I may not have any helpful suggestions on the matter, but I don’t like sanctions.

Written by alexlobov

December 5, 2009 at 1:50 pm

Gilad Shalit, and Obama uses Israel as attack dog to scare Chinese

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photo credit: politicaltheatrics.net

Been a while since I last blogged, exams got the better of me and being in Sydney chilling has been counterproductive to blogging, but I’m back!

Despite discussions stalling somewhat and it now being said that a deal is more likely to take place after Eid al-Adha (Eid Mubarak to Muslims, by the way!) there have been reports of progress on the negotiations over the Gilad Shalit prisoner swap. Ismail Haniyeh even cancelled his Hajj! According to Haaretz, Israel is none too thrilled about certain prisoners that Hamas wants released:

Hamas is demanding, among other the prisoners, the release of Ibrahim Hamad, head of the group’s military wing in the Ramallah area, Abdallah Barghouti, a bomb engineer, and Abbas a-Sayad, the Hamas head in Tul Karm who planned the 2002 massacre during Passover in Netanya’s Park Hotel. These three prisoners are considered responsible for the murder of hundreds of Israelis.

Other names mentioned in the Arab media are Hassan Salame, who was involved in planning the suicide bus bombings in the mid ’90s, and Jamal Abu al-Hijla, head of Hamas in Jenin, who was convicted of taking part in planning and funding several suicide attacks during the second intifada.

Israel’s trepidation at having these prisoners freed is understandable, and the fact is, that political pressure from within Israel to have Shalit freed has been strong but not overwhelming so you can expect Israeli’s to hold out a while longer to get a better deal, politically especially (apparently having key suicide bombing planners freed can be harmful to one’s political standing). Most people are watching the fate of one Marwan Barghouti, considered a key possible successor to the increasingly beleaguered and probably-resigning Abu Mazen. You can expect Barghouti to be freed, Obama has been putting pressure on Netanyahu to make concessions that would bolster Fatah in the lead-up to PA elections and Abbas’ increasingly likely resignation.

The other major news is that during Obama’s visit to China, he put some pressure on the Chinese to do something about the whole Iran nuclear thing, which they have normally stayed clear out of (their policy of political non-involvement in the affairs of trading partners). The scare tactic used was the threat of Israel bombing Iran unilaterally (thus implying tacit US support) and the damage that would do to Iran as an energy source for China. The other scare tactic was the implication that other states could go nuclear, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, implying that Japan was another possibility (something China would not view kindly). [Thanks WashPo] [Check out a condensed report from Political Theatrics here.)

Antony Loewenstein is getting into a bit of a tizzy about it, suggesting that these talks imply Obama will certainly acquiesce to Israel bombing Iran, I disagree. While the jury is still out on how far Israel will go to defend against the ‘existential threat’ and how far the US will go in trying to stop them, I don’t think these statements to the Chinese should all be taken seriously. They are scare tactics and meant as such, Obama needs the Chinese to either support (or at least not veto) resolutions against Iran in the UN and given their mostly self-interested political philosophies, he needs to frighten them into submission. I mean a nuclear Egypt? Never happen. But bringing up a nuclear Japan is pretty damn scary, as is linking bombing Iran with energy security.

So here we have Obama clearly using Israel as an attack dog, or rather hinting at the possibility of it breaking its chains. Remember the Suez War in 56 when the British and French used Israel as an attack dog? Yeah, that didn’t end well for them.

Border crossing fun: Iran and Pakistan

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A group of Iran's Revolutionary Guard members look at the pictures of  their commanders and colleagues, who were killed in Sunday's suicide bombing in southeastern Iran, during a funeral ceremony in Tehran.  (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

A group of Iran's Revolutionary Guard members look at the pictures of their commanders and colleagues, who were killed in Sunday's suicide bombing in southeastern Iran, during a funeral ceremony in Tehran. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

UPDATED: Pakistani news channel Aaj TV is reporting that the Iranian guards have been released on a directive from the Ministry of Interior.

Our friends from our beloved neighbouring country are here! But why couldn’t they just have lined up for a visa like everyone else? Or is everyone misreporting?

News agencies are reporting that eleven members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps have been arrested in Pakistan for illegally crossing over into the country. The Revolutionary Guards were detained in Mashkel and the police has seized two vehicles and is investigating.

Meanwhile, the IRGC is denying that they entered the country. According to Press TV:

Reacting to the report, head of the public relations office of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps

Brigadier General Sharif told Press TV that the detainees were not members of the IRGC.

“That part of the report related to Sepah [IRGC] lacks credibility and is not true,” Brig. Gen. Sharif said on Monday.

Another informed source told a Press TV correspondent that those arrested were Iranian border police who were hunting down fuel smugglers.

“In line with efforts to fight fuel smugglers, a number of Iranian border police forces chasing fuel smugglers entered Pakistani soil by mistake,” he explained.

This comes in a series of several back-and-forth statements from Iran and Pakistan on the Jundullah issue - the group that attacked the IRGC on October 18 and killed 42 people.  Following the attack, Iran called for Pakistan to hand over the Jundullah leader to the country – a request which Pakistan said they couldn’t really help with because they believe Rigi is in Afghanistan. Obviously, this is all on-the-record stuff so I have no idea what the Pakistanis told the Iranians. Iran’s interior minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar was in Islamabad last week to reiterate the same and there have been reports that the Revolutionary Guards want to launch an operation to find Rigi themselves.

Now if the reports of the Revolutionary Guards being detained is true, we can expect to see an official reaction from Pakistan (along the lines of sovereignty et al), but this could also be a sign that given that Pakistan is busy with Waziristan, they’ve asked Iran to deal with the problem themself.

Of course, it really could just be the forces fighting the fuel smugglers…

Written by Saba Imtiaz

October 27, 2009 at 3:05 am

Irani & Israeli representatives discuss Nuclear Weapons

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“]”]Mahmoud Ahmadinejad pictured in the Natanz plant [Photo credit: AP]

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad pictured in the Natanz plant [Photo credit: AP

According to several eyewitness accounts and confirmed on the Israeli side, Iran & Israel had a rare face-to-face meeting at diplomatic level, at an Australia-brokered (K-Rudd Win!) conference in Cairo last month. News broke as an Egyptian official who witnessed it said said that Israel had been represented by former foreign minister Shlomo Ben Ami and Iran by its envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency Ali Asghar Soltanieh.

“During the first session Ben Ami and Soltanieh spoke,” he said, asking not to be named.
“We had round-table discussions … then there were cross-table discussions. It was rather polemical, with accusations.

“Soltanieh said the Iranians do not have a (nuclear) bomb and do not want the bomb but the Israelis said that was not true,” the official said, adding that he did not know if the Israelis and Iranians had also met bilaterally on the sidelines.

“This is not the first time (Israelis and Iranians have had contact) but I believe this is the first time they are present at this level of representation,” he said.

In one exchange, Mr Soltanieh asked Mr Zafary-Odiz: “Do you or do you not have nuclear weapons,” Haaretz said, citing unidentified participants in the meeting. The Israeli smiled but did not respond, the newspaper said.

Mr Soltanieh insisted Tehran did not hate Jews, although it opposed Zionism, the newspaper said. [The Australian]

So, correct me if I’m wrong, but I think this is the first time since the Revolution that Iran & Israel have had talks at this level, how very interesting. Seems Iran is under pressure indeed. There has also been a lot of reporting about the recent talks between Iran, the international community and the IAEA. There are rumours flying around that an agreement with the Obama Administration over a resumption of diplomatic ties and an easing of sanctions will be reached, along with a presumable curtailing of the nuclear programme. While details are still fuzzy as they are being ironed out, I will ask you to consider the following things:

1. Pressure on the Iranian Government:

Since the disputed election in June, there has been mounting domestic pressure, along with mounting international pressure, on the Khamenei/Ahmadinejad government. An agreement that saves face for Iran and eases sanctions would presumably be a major coup and help to add legitimacy for the pair. I believe commentators are underestimating just how complicated the ‘saving face’ element is going to be, considering how steadfast the rhetoric from Ahmadinejad has been about not giving an inch to the international community over Iran’s right to nuclear power and uranium enrichment. Moreover, if the Iranian public considers the development of nuclear weapons forthcoming, as much of the international community does, then an agreement not to do so would mean allowing Israel to remain the Middle East’s only nuclear power. Nevertheless, if this is ironed out, it could mean a shoring up of the Government and a severe blow to hopes of internal regime change still presumably carried by Washington. Though, just how realistic these hopes were to start with is, of course, also questionable.

2. How much trust can be put into this government

One would expect that, in the absence of rigorous and regular inspections, Iran could still continue to make progress on uranium enrichment, albeit at a slower pace. Considering that the current climate of relations between Iran and the international community is not exactly one of goodwill, and considering the regime’s burgeoning influence internationally (in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan for example), it wouldn’t take much to surmise a level of deceit in any agreement Iran makes to actually halt uranium enrichment.

3. What about an Israeli first strike?

While Iranian deceit can be expected, Israel would have its hands tied. Again, I suggest that chances of an Israeli strike on Iran have been exaggerated. A strike would require agreement from the Obama Administration, and considering how much pressure Obama is under over Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine, such an agreement would be very unlikely. Equally, I have a feeling Obama is looking for an excuse for real leverage over Israel on the Palestinian question and the question of settlements. Frustrated already by stonewalling from Netanyahu, Israel would not want to anger its superpower backer any further by striking unilaterally. Also, considering the current unresolved controversy over the Goldstone Report, Israel is not exactly in unquestionable good graces with the international community. A unilateral strike on Iran, even without an agreement over nuclear capabilities, would always be a very risky venture for Israel given the shakiness of its current reputation.

Having said this, Israel is, at least publicly, not happy about this detail. Ehud Barak slammed the deal, and a high-level representative of the EU has stated in pretty strong words (snarky, even) that Israel has no part in these negotiations:

A senior European Union official told Israeli officials this week that Israel is not privy to the details of the exchanges between Iran and the Western countries regarding its nuclear program. “You do not understand the extent to which you are not in the picture. You do not know how much you do not know and what is happening in Iran,” he said.

Accordingly, a number of senior Israeli officials backed the European official’s statements by saying that the release of the draft of an agreement with Iran caught Israel by surprise. [Haaretz]

Ouch!

So all those things considered, I think an agreement is forthcoming and it will probably involve the shipping of nuclear fuel to France via Russia for enrichment, and then its return to Iran in the form of fuel rods. Let’s wait for the details and see what happens, a final deal is expected some time Friday.

Written by alexlobov

October 23, 2009 at 5:30 pm

The Iran-Pakistan conundrum

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I’ve had a post brewing in my head about developments in Iran-Pak all day long – had to shove thoughts of Jundullah aside to blog about the Islamabad bombings – but this tweet just reminded me of why I needed to write in the first place.

reuters-iran

The attack on the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps on Sunday, which killed 43 people including senior officers, has led to quite a disaster for the already-besieged-with-problems Pakistan. Iran, which has blamed (in not so many words) the United States, the United Kingdom and Pakistan for the attack, has been going back and forth with Pakistan on the root of the problem: Jundullah.

The group – based in Pakistan’s Balochistan province – has taken responsibility for the attack. In a nutshell, Iran wants Pakistan to hand over its leader, Abdolmalek Rigi, over to the Iranian authorities. On the other hand, Pakistan denies that Rigi is in Pakistan. A Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesperson told AFP:

‘We don’t know the whereabouts of Rigi,’ said the Pakistan spokesman. ‘As Interior Minister Rehman Malik said, Rigi is not in Pakistan,’ he added.

Pakistan has a lot at stake here. The country enjoys a stellar relationship with Iran – save for the rows they get into over Jundullah – and that relationship has been built further during Zardari’s presidency. The much-talked about Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline deal could see a delay if the row isn’t resolved soon. To add, the Iranian Parliament has demanded Ahmedinajad to freeze aid to Pakistan, which is to the tune of 300 million dollars for counter-terrorism assistance.

It is also via Iranian legislators that the idea of a military operation inside Pakistan came about:

Isna quoted a lawmaker from Sistan-Baluchestan, Payman Forouzesh, as saying: “There is unanimity about the Revolutionary Guards and the security forces engaging in operations in any place they would deem necessary.”

Apparently referring to agreement among lawmakers, he said: “There is even unanimity that these operations (could) take place in Pakistan territory.”

I don’t think that Iran, despite being furious over the attack, will actually allow IRGC to cross over into Pakistan and begin ground operations here. Instead, I assume that Pakistan will try and find some Jundullah members and hand them over to Iran and try and appease Iran in any way possible.

Meanwhile, the two friends have been talking.

The way we were (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

The way we were (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Ahmedinajad:

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Monday urged his Pakistani counterpart to confront the rebels, saying the “presence of terrorist elements in Pakistan is not justifiable.”

“The Pakistani government should help to quickly arrest these criminals so they can punished,” Ahmadinejad told Asif Ali Zardari during a telephone call received from the Pakistani leader.

Zardari:

Zardari called the incident “gruesome and barbaric” and pledged full Pakistani support to fight the militants, according to a statement from his office.

But remember, the Revolutionary Guards want Abdolmalek Rigi

The head of the Guards, General Mohammad Ali Jafari, said on Monday that Tehran will demand that Pakistan hand over Jundallah leader Abdolmalek Rigi, who is accused of being the mastermind of the bombing.

Jafari said a Tehran delegation will head to Pakistan to deliver “proof to them so they know that the Islamic Republic is aware of its (Pakistan’s) support” to the group led by Rigi.

Lets see what the next few days bring to this state of affairs. President Zardari, your move?

Written by Saba Imtiaz

October 21, 2009 at 4:43 am

Iran gets attacked, and the conspiracy theories begin

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Iran's Revolutionary Guards. (Photo - AFP)

Iran's Revolutionary Guards were targeted in Sunday's attack. According to news reports, they have begun to blame western countries for the attack. (Photo - AFP)

Every half-hour in Pakistan seems to bring with it yet another ‘breaking news’ alert; but when Geo TV ran an announcement of a suicide attack in the Sistan-Balochistan province on the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps, I almost didn’t believe it until they cut to Iran’s state-run channel Press TV which announced the news.

While intitial reports said that 60 people had been killed, Press TV is now reporting that 20 have been killed and 40 injured. Their website also says that two separate attacks were launched:

The first attack took place at a unity gathering of Shia and Sunni tribal leaders on Sunday morning, in the Pishin area, a region situated in the borderline Province of Sistan-Balouchestan.

Reports indicate that provincial IRGC commanders Brigadier Nour-Ali Shoushtari and Brigadier Rajab-Ali Mohammadzadeh were among those who lost their lives in the attack.

Several tribal leaders and recognized local figures from both the Shia and Sunni communities were killed in the attack.

At around the same time, another group of IRGC commanders were caught in an explosion as their convoy came under attack at a road junction in Pishin- a region situated between the two towns of Sarbaz and Chabahar.

According to Al Jazeera’s Nazinene Mosheri:

“Just three weeks before [June's] presidential elections there was a big explosion in that area, where 25 people were killed and more than 100 injured.

The head of Jundullah said that his group carried out the attack.

The Iranian’s say that they are carrying out a duel war against drug traffickers and Jundullah, which they claim is linked to al-Qaeda.”

Moshiri said that there was no suggestion that the blast was linked to the recent disputed presidential elections.

“What is common in this area is kidnappings, explosions and clashes between Jundullah and Iranian authorities.

“But what is very interesting is that this meeting that was about to take place was with senior commanders of the Revolutionary Guard. So this was potentially an extremely important meeting.”

The most obvious perpetrator seems to be the terrorist group Jundullah, though no one has taken responsibility for the attacks as yet. Jundullah has attacked the province several times before and has an extremely murky history from its inception to its current sources of support.

From Asia Times Online:

Jundullah, which at times calls itself the “People’s Resistance Movement of Iran”, came into prominence around 2003. It was allegedly founded by Nek Mohammed Wazir, a former Pakistani Taliban leader. Its current leader, Abdel Malik Rigi, was educated in southern Pakistani port city of Karachi in the same madrassa (seminary) as a majority of the Pakistani Taliban leadership and he claims to have fought alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan. The group says that it is fighting for the rights of Iran’s roughly 4 million Balochs, which it claims have been suppressed by the Shi’ite regime in Tehran.

The group started by targeting important elements of the Iranian state presence in Sistan-Balochistan province, particularly the elite Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, but has since carried out suicide attacks against civilian targets.

Needless to say, this will cause even stronger diplomatic issues for Iran, the UK and the US as well as Iran and Pakistan, countries that have traditionally been strong allies. And if it isn’t Jundullah, then whoever is responsible clearly did a good job of adopting the former’s pattern.

Meanwhile after breaking the news, Press TV went back to its regular programming, leaving the rumours of 60 dead, who/how/what/where all hanging in the air. Who doesn’t love state-run channels?

UPDATE

As expected, Jundullah has taken responsibility for the attack. The Iranian ambassador in Pakistan has pointed out, yet again, that Jundullah’s chief is hiding in the Pakistani province of Balochistan and has announced that Iranian Home Ministry officials will be visiting Pakistan soon. Lest we forget, the last time Jundullah attacked, it sparked a diplomatic row.

Written by Saba Imtiaz

October 18, 2009 at 8:35 pm

Mehdi Karroubi to be put on trial

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Mehdi Karroubi - Image Credit: AP

Mehdi Karroubi - Image Credit: AP

So Mehdi Karroubi looks like he’s going to be the first prominent reformist and Presidential candidate against the wall in the Iranian regime’s search for reformist pariahs, it’s response to the massive protests after June’s disputed election.

“Mr Karroubi is a cleric and his comments should be dealt with by the special court of the clergy,” that is part of the Islamic republic’s overall judicial system, Jaffari Doulatabadi said. [Asharq Alawsat]

The charge levelled against him relates to his claims that prisoners were raped in prison, a claim that has since been supposedly discredited by a judiciary panel that found the charges to be baseless:

“These allegations have been made without any proof, and all the documents given by Karroubi are baseless. These allegations were aimed at distracting public opinion,” it said.

The report recommended that action be taken against Karroubi and those airing rape allegations.

“This commission proposes … sending its report to the judiciary so it can act with determination against those who are responsible for spreading such allegations which harm the regime,” the panel said. [Asharq Alawsat]

I’m wondering how far the regime is going to take this. If Karroubi is found guilty, as seems most likely, then they will have a pariah, but what sort of sentence is going to be handed down? The man is a prominent cleric within the reformist establishment. Khamenei will not want to take it too far, tensions are still inflamed between the reformist/conservative camp and Rafsanjani’s next move in Qom is not yet clear… Or will Khamenei punish Karroubi further, risk protests but show that his will is unquestionable and the reformist movement is dead?

Written by alexlobov

October 14, 2009 at 12:18 am

Posted in Iran

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