Category Archives: Iran

Iran nuclear deal – a historic milestone or the fuel for increased tensions in the region?

In the context of decades of animosity and distrust between the United States and Iran, the recent preliminary framework agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme that aims to curb nuclear activities in return for a gradual softening of sanctions that have crippled the Iranian economy, is certainly historic.

However, in today’s volatile and tumultuous Middle East, where Iran has an influential hand that stretches from the Houthi Shia onslaught in Yemen, the direct Iranian involvement as Iraq pushes back Islamist State (IS) rebels, to the devastating civil war in Syria and not forgetting the influence of Iranian backed Hezbollah in Lebanon, for a number of countries in the region, the connotations from this deal could not have come at a worse time.

As US President Barrack Obama hailed the agreement, his next task is to sway unconvinced members of Congress, in particular Republicans who have threatened to veto the agreement or even impose fresh sanctions. Then he must the repeat the trick with weary allies.

The agreement with the P5+1 countries (US, UK, France, Russia, China and Germany), was also praised by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, with jubilant scenes of victory across Iran.

As both sides seemingly lauded the agreement, is it truly a mutual win for both parties?

Under the agreement, Iran is obliged to reduce its stockpile of enriched uranium that could ultimately be used to make nuclear weapons as well as drastically slash the number of centrifuges at its disposal.

Iran has long denied claims that it seeks a nuclear weapon, emphasizing its right to nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

However, Western unease with Tehran was merely accelerated with unveiling of Iran’s nuclear programme. Hardline rhetoric from Tehran especially from the tenure of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad hardly settled nerves.

For sceptics in the region particularly Saudi Arabia, who is spearheading an Arab military coalition to curtail the advance of Houthi rebels in Yemen, sanctions relief coupled with the fact that Iranian nuclear programme remains in place in one form or another, will just add fuel to the regional fire.

There is a rapidly developing Shia-Sunni conflict line in the Middle East that is leading to proxy wars from Lebanon to Yemen. There is an increasing if indirect showdown between Saudi Arabia and Iran across this line.

The Saudis were already alarmed at the perceived cooperation between Iran and the US over the fight back against IS in Iraq. The Saudis have already warned the US over what they deemed as the Iranian takeover of Iraq

Now, with signs of increased diplomatic channels with Tehran, and the potential for an even stronger Iran both economically and militaristically as a result of the nuclear agreement, regional anxiety, arms race and battle for influence will only increase.

More frenzied alarm was in Israel where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was deeply skeptical at the agreement that he believed threatened the survival of his state. Reassurances by Obama and further security pledges will have had little impact on Israeli reservations.

In the deeply interconnected fault lines, the nuclear agreement cannot be judged alone. It has wider ramifications on the resolution of Palestinian statehood, influence of Hezbollah and even potential peace in Syria and stability in Iraq and Yemen.

On the surface, increased Western diplomatic channels with Iran could lead to cooperation on the resolution or at least calming of these matters.

However, decades of animosity in the region and the West are not about to disappear with the mere stroke of a pen.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

Iranian incursions into Kurdistan damages the credibility of Baghdad and the US

The intensifying Iranian battle with PJAK rebels highlights the failed policies of Iran and Turkey in addressing their long-standing Kurdish problem.

Whilst Turkey’s long standing battle with the PKK on the Iraqi Kurdistan border region often dominates the headlines, ironically there is a mirror conflict on the other side of the border between PJAK and Iran.

In a familiar tone to their Turkish neighbours, Iran has accused the KRG of supporting the Iranian Kurdish rebels and has frequently defended their frequent violation of Iraqi sovereignty as a “right”.

Much like their Turkish counterparts, Tehran sees the issue of the rebels as a terrorist issue as opposed to a greater national identity issue and has refused to address the roots of the problems through dialogue, reconciliation and modern principles.

This week saw fierce clashes between the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) and PJAK rebels along the Kurdish region border and within KRG territory itself. Some Iraqi media reports had claimed as much as 10,000 Iranian soldiers may have penetrated the region.

Although clashes appear to be intensifying, Iranian shelling and bombing of the northern-most areas of the provinces of Erbil and Sulaimanyia is nothing new. This has led to much damage, death of livestock, disruption of lives and even civilian casualties.

The recent incursion and fierce clashes in Iraqi territory comes despite a recent warning by Massoud Barzani over his increasing weariness over Iranian actions.

“We condemn the artillery fire against Iranian citizens in the border region of Kurdistan,” stated Barzani earlier in the month. Such measures should naturally lead to review of bilateral relationships even if Kurdistan has worked hard to forge strong relations with Tehran.

In light of the Shiite-led governments of Iran and Iraq enjoying close cooperation, the violation of sovereignty with US troops still in large numbers on Iraqi soil, is stark threat, sets the wrong precedence and endangers Kurdistan’s credibility. Can Baghdad prove it can throw its own weight in the face of transgression from the Shiite partners or does Tehran’s increasing military and political clout now place Iraq under their direct sphere of influence?

As Iran tries to eliminate their Kurdish rebels, it continues to support a number of proxy forces in Iraq and the Middle East, on the doorstep of America forces. Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta recently stated that Iran’s government had stepped up its weapons shipments to Shiite extremist groups, echoing trends of the past few years.

PJAK took up arms in 2004 but Kurdish resentment with successive Iranian governments goes back several decades. Whilst Iranian Kurds have never been denied outright unlike their brethren in Turkey and have had a level of cultural freedom, any notion of Kurdish power lest autonomy has been harshly crushed. The Kurdish battle for self-rule and more government representation goes back to before and after the Iranian Islamic revolution.

For the best part the Kurds had shaky relations with the Shah’s government and initially supported the overthrow of the Mohammad Rezā Shāh Pahlavi in favour of the Islamic revolution in hope of achieving a new break and stronger political influence. However, as a predominantly Sunni group, their demands for power, representation and autonomy was seen as a threat to the new regime in Tehran and a step too far for Iran’s new leaders. The Kurds were denied seats in the assembly of experts formed in 1979 and tasked with the writing of the new constitution.

As early as 1979 Kurdish rebels were engaged with battles against Iranian forces with Ayatollah Khomeini declaring Jihad against the Kurdish people.

The Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (KDPI) and the leftist Komala (Revolutionary Organization of Kurdish Toilers) held the flagship of the Kurdish armed resistance at the time. Although the KDPI has long withdrawn from its military struggle, its new quest of achieving goals through diplomacy and non-violent means has hardly borne great fruit proving Iran’s lack of real desire for a sincere reach-out to the Kurds as it simultaneously tries to crush the rebels but offer little alternative in return.

PJAK is a part of the Kurdistan Democratic Confederation (Koma Civakên Kurdistan or KCK) umbrella along with the PKK and affectively share common ideology and command structure. Whereas the PKK has been strongly condemned by the US, for years there were reports of US contact and support with the PJAK rebels much to the annoyance of the Iranians.

With Iranian proxy cells causing chaos for the US at the height of the Iraqi insurgency, the PJAK was one tool that the Americans could use against Tehran.

However, perhaps owed to Obama’s vision of soothing ties with Iran and repairing the damaged US foreign image, Obama was quick to declare PJAK a terrorist organization and froze its assets to appease Tehran.

Furthermore, the PJAK and PKK issue has somewhat given Turkey and Iran a further incentive in their recent warming of ties.

As we have seen with Turkey, decades old problems will not disappear with a continuation of out-dated policies. Tehran must embrace the Kurds as a key component of their landscape and not continuously as a threat due to ethnic and sectarian differences.

With the might of the Turkish military on the one side and the Iranian forces on the other, the Kurdish region is somewhat caught in the middle and in a tenuous position. It relies on both powers heavily for economic and political prosperity but the at the same time its land cannot be used as a board for Iranian and Turkish military games.

Even with Iranian military commanders claiming that Iranian security forces took control of three bases and inflicted heavy losses on PJAK rebels, the end game does not change. Neither the PKK nor PJAK is here to go away anytime soon. Iran needs more comprehensive measures to deal with its internal problems and the US and European powers should play their part in embracing increased rights for the Kurds and condemning Iranian aggression.

The KRG leadership must continue to strongly denounce any incursion into their territory. The Kurdistan Region aims to become a formidable regional power in its own right and must at a minimum not succumb to been used as pawns for the agenda of their neighbours against their respective Kurdish populations.

The wider message is simple. The Kurds are here to stay and have every right to live in peace, freedom and prosperity as their Iranian, Iraqi, Syrian or Turkish counterparts.

Turkey and Iran has worked hard to pressure the Iraqi Kurds into conflict with the PKK and PJAK through their baseless political mind games. PKK and PJAK are not and never have been Iraqi Kurdish issues. They are both the by-product of years of oppression and denial of rights in both respective countries.

The KRG leadership must stand firm against Turkish or Iranian bullying but crucially provide diplomatic support for their Kurdish brethren. The Kurds were divided not through choice but by brute force. A Kurd is no different whether in Syria, Turkey or Iran.

The Kurds in Iraq must not be weary of conceding relations with Iran by taking a firm stance.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc.

As unrest simmers further, what now for Iran?

Over 2 weeks since the contentious presidential elections, Iran remains firmly on the news. The national fall out, which came as a result of a wide disagreement over the election results that saw Mahmoud Ahmadinejad re-elected by a landslide, has intensified with streets protests been met with crackdowns by the government that has seemingly only encouraged and increased the international spotlight.

Iranian Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned on Friday 19th June that a continuation of protests would not be tolerated and would be broken-up by security forces. Relative silence from the ruling elite was effectively broken with Khamenei providing public backing to Ahmadinejad and denouncing any notion that the infamous elections were rigged.

Ensuing violence on the streets of Iran, as protestors defied government warnings, increased the stakes and the deepened the national divide that has clouded Iran. Scores have been killed as a result with many more injured.

With the Guardian Council firmly dashing any hopes of a re-run of the elections, but admitting that a number of electoral irregularities did in fact take place, this only begged the question of what would happen next.

Splits within the ruling elite

The mass public demonstrations over past two weeks have been unprecedented as they have occurred in parallel with evident splits within the ruling elite. This has placed leading Iranian figures in a difficult predicament, with parliamentarians and the Assembly of Experts not appearing united in how to move to forward in this stand off.

Reports that some family members of influential former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, an ally of Mir Hossein Mousavi, were briefly detained further, underlined tensions even if ruling members have maintained relative silence.

The timeliness of the government in terms of responses and public rhetoric, suggests that leaders have been divided not just on the political row, but also how to combat the protestors. Limited concessions in the face of such mass-scale and well highlighted protests were always likely, but the government is unlikely to cave-in wholesale to public demands. The Iranian leadership will clearly look for ways at calming tensions and appeasing at least a section of the protestors, but at the same time they do not want to appear weak or losing grip of power.

The open admission that voting irregularities did occur is seen as a positive step, but a fundamental admittance that elections were flawed or a rerun of elections that significantly changes results at this stage, and thus proves the general “reformists” protestors right, would be hugely embarrassing.

What is certain is that Ahmadinejad is the new Iranian president and the stance of the revolutionary guard and ruling elite only emboldens this reality.

There have been public demonstrations before since the advent of the Islamist revolution of 1979 that established the Islamic republic, however, fractions within the ruling elite have never been channelled in a public way as this time around. Any quarrels or fractures within the powerful institutes in Iran have always been careful in preserving the very foundations of the republic, thus even reformist campaigns in the past, including that of Mousavi have generally supported this view.

Mousavi, a powerful aide of Ayatollah Khomeini, high-profile public break with the Iranian Supreme Leader has only led to an entrenchment of views in each camp.

So what now?

In the short-term, some violence and protests will continue but the size of any such movements moving forward is unpredictable. What is certain is that continuing defiance of the orders of highest powers in Iran, will fuel a bigger clampdown from the revolutionary guard this time around.

Iranian people, in the face of severe restrictions and clampdowns, may decide to take their protests to another level. Acts of civil disobedience, in terms of strikes and general disruptions that may harm the interests of the government are likely.

Although, protestors have already defied government orders, at the beginning they were clearly mindful to appear as peaceful citizens and held many demonstrations in relative silence. The message of the organisers of the demonstrations was that they only wanted to express their legitimate demands and wanted to be “heard”.

Further demonstrations, fuelling the wrath of the security forces, will take the battle to a new stage if protestors decide to retaliate en-masse or large-scale killings are witnessed. Such circumstances will turn the current events into much the same circumstances under the Shah.

However, it is much more likely that violence will eventually wane and it is unlikely that election results will change a great deal if at all, however, the political consequences of this saga will echo for years longer.

The aftermath of the presidential elections, will serve to symbolize the fracture present in Iranian society that the Iranian government would do well to contain. What is certain is that the Iranian leadership have been undermined in one way or another by the public consequences of this bitter stand off. Iranian leadership have shown that they would rather lose support of the population in the short-term than appear weak to the Iranian people, lest to the outside world, who have had Iran firmly under their radar for many a year.

Such large scale demonstrations and public protests are not simply attributable to western intervention. There has clearly been an ideological battle simmering between the conservatives and reformists within Iran for many years, and the size of the public discontent spells an underlying division that Iranian leaders must resolve.

The recent events will certainly provide a level of encouragement to those in Iran seeking change or indeed to Western powers. If Ahmadinejad second term was going to be difficult, this has made it even more intriguing. Underground reformist movements are likely to see a surge and Ahmadinejad, fulfilling his second term, will have to sufficiently appease reformists and contain their ambitions.

Straining of relationships with the West

The Iranian government has ubiquitously accused western governments of fermenting unrest and meddling in its affairs.

Of all the countries, Britain appears to be taking a brunt of the Iranian backlash, after Khamenei described them as the ‘most treacherous’ of their enemies.

Compounded with expulsion of two UK diplomats from Iran, Britain’s tentative diplomatic channels with Iran have become heavily strained. In a tit-for-tat move, the UK ordered the expulsion of two Iranian diplomats.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown refuted Iranian allegations and stated that “the onus is on Iran to show the Iranian people that recent elections have been credible and that the repression and curtailment of democratic rights that we’ve seen in the last few days will cease.”

The “neutral” stance of the US has been changing steadily and the events of the past week or so that have seen increasing violent crackdowns, has given US President Barack Obama plenty of reason to speak out and condemn “unjust actions” of Iranian leaders, and praise the “courage and dignity of the Iranian people”. Obama denied any meddling in Iranian affairs, but the general US view was best summarised by the White House spokesman who stated, “We’ve seen the beginnings of change in Iran.” It is hardly a great secret that general change in Iran or indeed regime change, would amount to sweet tunes in the ears of the US.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon was no exception to criticism of meddling after the Iranian Foreign Minister stated he had “damaged his credibility”, after Ki-moon had expressed worry and openly urged Iran to respect fundamental civil rights and the “will of its people”.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Peyamner, Various Misc.

Deepening election crisis threatens ideological stand-off in Iran

The worlds gaze was already fixated on the Iranian presidential elections like never before. Iran, as an emerging regional powerhouse with nuclear aspirations, has been a firm item on the international agenda. The global focus on the elections only intensified with the ensuing crisis around the election results, which saw Mahmoud Ahmadinejad re-elected by a surprising margin with 63% of the vote, well ahead of his nearest rival Mir Hossein Mousavi who managed 33% of the vote.

The election results were almost immediately condemned and opposed by Mousavi and the other two rival presidential candidates, Mohsen Rezaee and Mehdi Karroubi, alleging electoral fraud and corruption.

The opposition refused to acknowledge the election results and demanded a full re-run of the election.

What ensued on the streets of Iran thereafter turned a brewing political crisis into a symbolic clash of society, contested largely between conservatives and reformists that could determine the future orientation of the country.

Pro-Mousavi supporters have orchestrated a number of demonstrations in Tehran, which has fast spread to other cities, with the largest protests staged on Thursday. The rallies so far have been largely peaceful and have mainly seen tens of thousands of people march in silence through the centre of the cities. This “silence” has been carefully organised in order to underline the peaceful message of the protests, that the people are voicing their legitimate demands and that the rallies are not common opposition against the ruling system of Iran.

However, history has shown how quickly such situations can turn into wide-scale anger and hostility. The government forces have been careful not to be perceived to be violently suppressing the rallies. However, common resentment has already been stoked with a number of protestors shot last Monday by members of the pro-government Basij volunteer militia. A number of arrests of politicians, journalists and protestors have also been made.

Members of the Basij militia have also allegedly been involved in retaliatory attacks in a number of Iranian cities through university raids and beatings of students.

However, as much as the ruling elite in Iran have urged calm and tried to maintain control, the current crisis threatens to divide the very foundation of the Islamic Republic.

The most powerful figure in Iran, with control of armed forces, police and intelligence services, is Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has fast become engulfed at the centre of a deepening crisis.

Succumbing to broad pressure, Khamenei has agreed to a re-count of the votes in disputed areas, a sharp shift from his initial stance, but falling some way short of opposition demands.

Undoubtedly, it is the nature of the rallies, some of the largest since the Islamic Revolution of 1979 itself that have added to the fierce climate and ensured anxiety amongst figures in the establishment.

Reformists, particularly Mousavi are not an especial threat to the Islamic government. However, with the opposition keen to obtain nothing short of a full re-run of the elections, the current tense environment will not die down too easily.

This places the government into a very difficult corner. If they do nothing, than the perception of their deep grip, especially that of the ruling elite will be challenged. Regaining of control is paramount in these circumstances and the government may offer further concessions under a continuation of a “carrot and stick” approach.  However, any form of a violent crackdown, may well turn an election dispute into a challenge against the very foundations of the Iranian Islamic republic, which may well go beyond the influence of Mousavi. 

After all powerful figures in Iran will be well-aware of the circumstances that led to the historical events under the Shah, which ultimately culminated in the Islamic revolution. A crackdown pits influential Iranian security forces against the people, this itself is a very dangerous ploy since behind the scenes, the forces may well be divided to some extent and many are openly supportive of reformists. How they would react against their fellow sympathisers if any suppression gets out of hand, may open new doors and challenges in the current conflict.

Supporters of Ahmadinejad have also been out in force in a show of support, and if the situation escalates, this may result in direct confrontation between rival supporters.

The ruling clerical elite may try to employ a neutral view, but in reality in these circumstances this is almost impossible. A great example is Ali Akbar Rafsanjani, who is chairman of one of the most powerful institutions of the regime, the Assembly of Experts, which ultimately selects the Supreme Leader.

Whilst such figures have tried not to stoke any fires, Rafsanjani was involved in a recent confrontation with Ahmadinejad who accused him of corruption. More importantly, Rafsanjani, who has been a key cog of the Islamist regime from the outset of the revolution, is a supporter of Mousavi. He may have been less vocal but his more activist daughter, Faeza Hashemi, gave a speech in one of the “illegal” demonstrations.

Iranian officials have accused foreign media and governments, particularly, Washington, on an “interventionist approach” on the election issue. Such accusations of meddling have led to a foreign media blackout on coverage of the crisis.

The White House may unsurprisingly deny any charges of meddling, insisting on the surface that their may not be a great difference to them or in terms of Iranian policy who becomes the next Iranian president. Quietly, would it be any secret that they would prefer to see a long-time nemesis in turmoil and to witness events that challenge the very essence of the Islamic Republic?

All this begs the question of just how “illegitimate” the elections were. Although, it is hardly an indication of wide-spread fraud, some of elements of the election were rather unusual. For example, the votes were not announced province-by-province as in past elections but in percentages via blocks of votes, which seemingly changed very little as they were announced.

Such little changes in counting patterns would indicate that Ahmadinejad would have done well in rural and urban areas and even in home regions of the positioning candidates.

Ahmadinejad has support across Iran, but mainly in more rural and less off areas.  But the middle-classes of the major cities, acknowledged to be main supporters of Mousavi, are probably more integral components in deciding any election outcome.

All eyes are now on the conservative body, the Council of Guardians that has to sign-off on the election results within 10 days and is currently tasked to look into the electoral complaints.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Online Opinion, Peyamner, Various Misc.

Iranian nuclear capability, the practice of a natural right or an evident danger to world peace?

Iranian nuclear programme firmly under the international spotlight as voices of discontent grow in Israel

The US is keen to revitalize foreign relation ties in the Middle East. One of the historical key to achieving this is finding an elusive long-term solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However a growingly influential Iran, who the US have insisted that they face “no greater challenge” than its emerging nuclear capabilities, has only served to complicate the interconnected web that is the Middle East. How the US deals with a defiant hard-line regime, who has stated they are only enjoying their natural rights to nuclear development, may go a long way to determining resolutions elsewhere in the Middle East.

Throughout history, the Middle East has proved a highly contentious stage for global instability and a crucial placard of colonial powers. However, although the initiatives of Western powers in recent years in addressing some of the shortfalls and historical trouble spots in the region have been bold, the Middle East continues to be platform for anxiety and future wars.

A vital icon of the modern Middle Eastern landscape is Israel, whose controversial creation in 1948 added more to fuel to the regional fire. In recent years, a growingly prominent and confident Iranian regime with its own fair share of infamy has come to the fore as a key regional power and as a threat to the delicate balance.

Iran has been pretty much in diplomatic isolation since the Islamist revolution of 1979 dramatically propelled Ayatollah Khomeini to power. The perception of Iran as a threat is nothing new, however the original threat of Shiite Islamist revolutionaries threatening the whole framework of the predominantly Sunni Arab region, took on significant meaning in recent years, with its much debated nuclear program coming to the international fore.

The current nuclear crisis dates back to 2003, when the IAEA reported that Iran had hidden a uranium enrichment programme for 18 years. Opposition to such an ideal grew fiercer with inception of a new hard-line regime in Tehran from 2005.

Nuclear technology is hardly a new concept, and many regimes posses such a capability, none more so than Israel itself, who remains the sole possessor of nukes in the Middle East. However, the danger in the case of Iran is clear, a nuclear Islamist regime that is alleged to support a number of radical groups in the region and accused of been a “supporter of terrorism” rings obvious sirens.

Stand-off with Israel

Iranian antagonism towards the Jewish state is not new, however with accession of ultra conservative President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power in 2005, his brazen remarks towards the very existence of Israel as a country has ruffled many a feather in the international arena.

At a recent U.N conference on racism in Geneva, Ahmadinejad’s denunciation of the “totally racist government” of Israel founded on the “pretext of Jewish suffering” drew further condemnation and protests.

The Iranian nuclear programme has attracted growing attention in the international sphere. At the forefront of those opposed to any notion of a nuclear Iran is Israel. Whilst the Iranians have continuously insisted that their programme is strictly for peaceful purposes and based on their rightful civilian energy needs only, the mere idea that the same uranium enrichment process used for nuclear fuel can also be potentially utilized as a nuclear warhead, has sent the shivers down the region, particularly Israel.

For Israelis, nuclear technology for a country that has already pledged to “wipe them off the map” is a chilling notion, however theoretical such rhetoric in essence may be. Furthermore, a growingly influential Iran, in spite of the relative isolation that they still face, has a hand in many a Middle Eastern pie, especially the pies of most concern to Israel.

Iran has long been accused as major sponsors to Shiite Islamist Hezbollah stationed in South Lebanon, to Israel’s north. Hezbollah itself has become increasingly bold and determined in recent years, with increasingly capable technological arsenal said to be supplied by Iran, culminating in the deadly conflict with Israeli forces in 2006.

To the West of Israel in the Gaza Strip, Iran is also been accused of been major backers to Hamas, who only a few months ago were engaged in their own bloody confrontations with Israeli forces in the Gaza strip.

In 1981, a growingly powerful Baathist nationalist regime in Iraq with developing nuclear capabilities prompted Israel to undertake preemptive air strikes on its nuclear facilities. Now the growing question is whether an ever-weary Israeli government, could or for that matter should, deliver another preemptive strike on Iranian nuclear facilities and “neutralize” the source, as the new Israeli governments seems to have openly hinted.

With the accession of US president Barack Obama to power, it was hoped that the frequently stalled peace process between Israel and the Palestinians could receive a much-needed jumpstart.

However, growing mutterings from the new Israeli government headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has insisted that the Iranian nuclear issue must be dealt in tandem as an interconnected issue, has threatened the peace process. The general consensus in Israel is that it would be impossible to resolve any problem in the region, without finding a resolution to the Iranian nuclear headache in parallel.

However, for Iran where defiance in spite of broad international objections, a number of UN sanctions and growing threats against the regime, has become a symbol of nationalism, giving up its nuclear programme which it sees as a natural right in the face of pressure from their adversaries is most unlikely.

It remains to be seen where this leaves the standoff, especially with many Western powers keen on a “grand bargain” with Iran over it nuclear programme.

Has diplomacy reached an end?

While the former US administration under George W. Bush continuously emphasized that “all options were on the table” regarding Iran, at least for now, military strikes appear a less viable solution that could conversely further stoke Iranian sentiments and also undermine regional support.

The new Obama administration emphasized that diplomacy was possible with Iran if it could “unclench its fist”. However, such unclenching of the fist would almost certainly involve concessions that are unlikely to be stomached by Iran, such as the suspension of their much heralded uranium enrichment programme which would hurt national pride.

While Israel has played down talks of imminent strikes, rumors of grand military drills and alleged Israeli capability to undertake multiple strikes within days of been given the go ahead, clearly signals that all options remain on the table regarding dealing with Iran.

While the diplomatic channels may not have been exhausted, with Iran signaling its openness to negotiate with the US on its nuclear programme, something will clearly have to give sooner rather than later. Though the Obama administration have sounded many positive overtures in luring the Iranian regime, it has been equally keen to note that it is also ready to respond to the issue harshly by acting as a catalyst for major economic sanctions, or possibly worse, military strikes.

A persistent thorn in the US side

Nuclear issues aside, the real problem is the Islamist regime in Iran where US-Iranian ties have never recovered since the US embassy hostage crisis which propelled relations to the current lows and led to the severance of diplomatic ties.

After much sacrifice in Iraq, the US slowly and painfully realized that the intertwined web that is the Middle East needed to be approached in a much more holistic manner.

The last several years in the Middle East, particularly the case of Iraq has highlighted that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts in resolving issues. As such, the US acknowledges that however controversial the Tehran regime may be deemed, they clearly need Iranian support if they are to achieve those goals.

As part of Obama’s strategy of reinvigorating tarnished US foreign policy in the region and in its reach out to the greater Muslim world, it has deployed a more cautious card in dealing with Iran. Whilst Israelis have linked the peace process with the Palestinians to resolving the Iranian nuclear standoff, the US have emphasized that to generate the needed political support, both issues must go hand-in-hand.

Issues such as the Israel-Palestinian peace process and Iraq can not be resolved without resolving associated interdependent components. Since Bush announced Iran as part of the “axis of evil” in 2002, it was clear that outright regime change in Iran remained the ultimate goal of Washington. Nuclear conspiracies that surfaced in 2003 only increased such desire.

Iranian have long held a historic belief that they have a rightful place as a key power in the region. Their distinct non-Arab identity is only compounded with the fact that they are Shiite Islamists, much to the contrast of the Arab Sunni dominated, and largely more pro-Western countries in the region.

Iran has remained regionally isolated since 1979 and many neighboring Muslim countries and not just Israel remain highly suspicious and anxious towards their eastern neighbors.

Ironically, Iran has at times reveled in its isolationism which has served well to stoke national sentiments and also increase the foothold of Islamist theocracy. While the clerics may halt their programme, it’s very unlikely that the US would halt its programme for regime change.

Iran en-route as a nuclear superpower?

While much of the Iranian threat lingers on would be nuclear scenarios in the future, Iran has clearly made huge strides towards its goal of becoming a nuclear superpower.

While for a time Iran briefly stopped its uranium enrichment programme in 2006, the mere capability of enriching uranium was greatly superseded with claims in 2007 that they had successfully enriched uranium to an industrial level.

Throughout the current standoff over it nuclear ambitions, Iran has continuously emphasized that its enrichment programs is only based on the “peaceful application of nuclear technology”.

Iranian persistence in following its nuclear goals has been met with frequent condemnation and intermittent economic sanctions. In July 31st 2006, resolution 1696 was passed by the United Nations Security Council, demanding that Iran stops its enrichment programme. Upon non compliance of this resolution, resolution 1737 was issued in December 26th 2006, which imposed a series of sanctions designed to prevent the transfer of nuclear and ballistic missile technologies. Sanctions were widened further in March 2007, when a growingly determined Iran continued to press ahead with its plans. Resolution 1803, a further UN Security Council Resolution in March 2008, was designed to extend sanctions to cover a number of additional areas do deter and punish Iranian non-compliance.

Iranian resistance

Iranian persistence not to succumb to what it sees as “bullying” tactics to end its nuclear programme is driven by international protocols that act as a guideline to nuclear development by any prospective government who are signatories to such pacts.

Under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treat (NPT), which Iran is a party to, a country has the right to enrich uranium to fuel civilian power stations. The process to enrich uranium for civilian purposes is similar to that needed to arm nuclear warheads. However, the concentration required for a conventional weapon is much higher. Therefore NPT is designed to safeguard countries from producing more uranium than their civil needs dictate.

As an assurance to preserve the principles of the protocol, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) carries out inspections, where Iran is party to such inspections.

Put simply, Iran does have the right in principle to pursue uranium enrichment, which has only raised tensions in Iran that the series of UN sanctions and the mass objections against its programme are simply driven by political agendas.

As the nuclear battle has become a key cornerstone of the political landscape in the region and beyond, the idea of the Iranian regime succumbing to international pressure, and breaking its hard fought strides towards its current status is unlikely. Moreover, Israel, guarded by successive US administrations is controversially not a signatory to the NPT and thus is immune from scrutiny.

Orders from the UN council, however, supersede other rights and are fueled somewhat by the fact that Iran hid an enrichment programme for 18 years. The plea to stop uranium enrichment is based on the lack of international confidence on Iran’s intentions. Iran is unlikely to be allowed to diplomatically pursue its nuclear programme until the West is confident in the motives and shape of such a programme. Ironically, such confidence will not be reached until Iranian regime change is achieved.

The vicious stand-off in the nuclear affair is obvious. Europeans in particular have called for a “grand bargain” with Iran. However, Iran has been cool toward any notion that firstly takes away its inalienable rights.

Though the IAEA has highlighted Iranian non-compliances and has stated that Iran has accumulated more low-enriched uranium than first thought, this is not “enriched” to the levels needed to make a nuclear device and has also indicated that it has found no evidence that it has diverted such materials for the pursuance of a nuclear weapon.

Can Iran be appeased?

Recent European incentives have been based on the premise of a suspension to uranium enrichment. Strictly speaking, Iran can build civilian nuclear energy without enriching its own uranium and could import the civilian levels needed under inspection. Under the plan, Iranian right to peaceful enrichment of uranium would be recognized and Iran would receive help with the building of nuclear power stations, as well as receiving trade concessions.

Iran’s response has been simple, it would contest any offer other than any that firstly demanded the suspension of its enrichment programme.

As IAEA inspections and recently National Intelligence Estimate have played down the threat of Iranian nuclear weapons capability in the short-term, the current nuclear stand-off for the time been is purely political with both sides of the debate unlikely to back down.

Although Israel is not part of the NPT and thus is not subject to inspection or has to make official declarations on its nuclear capability, it is widely acknowledged to have a large stockpile of nuclear weapons. Close scrutiny of Israeli nuclear programmes have been closely guarded by successive US administration, thus affording a level of immunity that has obviously stirred sentiments in Tehran.

As far as Iran is concerned and has proudly proclaimed in public, it has already joined the nuclear elite. Perhaps it is not quite there in terms of possessing nuclear weapons, but it has undoubtedly broken the greatest challenges associated with the process to do so. Nuclear technology is a political message and a symbol of dominance and power, Iranians need nuclear capability to be recognized and respected as a regional super power.

Critics of the NPT have pointed to breaks in parts of the treaty by nuclear powers and that they have not truly moved towards nuclear disarmament that the treaty intends.

The practice of double standards?

Somewhat ironically, the idea of expansion of nuclear capability in the Middle East is not new. Egypt has announced plans to build a number of nuclear power stations to generate electricity. Egyptian plans have received backing from the US, who has stated that there is no comparison to the controversial nuclear projects of Tehran.

Saudi Arabia, even with the largest oil reserves in the world, is developing a civilian nuclear power supply, seemingly in response to its Iranian neighbors. States part of the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) have also signaled their desire to develop joint nuclear technology. Jordan has also signaled its desire to build its first nuclear power plant.

Clearly, with the nuclear capability of Israel and Western-allies been allowed to develop nuclear technology, Iranian gripe is easy to see.

Even more ironic perhaps is the frequent notion that Iranian nuclear ambition is a new phenomenon. In fact, the birth of its nuclear programme can be traced back to the onset of the rule of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi after 1953. A predominantly pro-Western state before 1979, much of the West scrambled to do business with Iran in that time including in the sphere of nuclear technology.

The Bushehr power plant, although never complete after 1979, was built under European stewardship. The Bushehr reactor was only largely destroyed between 1984 and 1987 by a number of Iraqi air strikes.

This shows that the nuclear crisis is evidently linked to politics or more specifically the regime in question, thus the argument of double standards is obvious. However, for the US which has already suffered a great Iraqi nightmare no thanks to the help of the Iranian government, the idea of a controversial power who makes frequent brazen remarks on the international stage, and supports the likes of radicals such as Hamas and Hezbollah with such technology, the warnings bells can be heard from many a mile away.

By the end of 2009, Iranians hope to have the Bushehr nuclear power plant, built with the help of the Russian in spite of strong US objections, in full swing. This is in addition to two nuclear sites in Natanz and Arak

Iranian military arsenal

Iran clearly has a thirst for power and will continue to pursue advances to its military and technological arsenal. While Iranians in theory may be appeased to stop nuclear ambitions, the threat of Iran as a military force will continue.

Iran ballistic technology is increasingly reaching greater distances to the worry of Israel, while earlier this year to coincide with the symbolic importance of the 30th anniversary of the Islamist revolution, it stroke another public victory with the successful launch of an Iranian satellite by its own rocket. This only increased Western apprehension that the ground-breaking missile technology could be used in tandem with the delivery of nuclear warheads.

If the US and its allies are intent on resolving the most pertinent Middle Eastern issues, then they must show that they are ready to deploy a level of dialogue and diplomacy to find a long-term solution to such issues.

Such long-term solutions will not be easy when the interconnected components are so delicately placed. Peace between the Palestinians and Israel has been talked about for so long, yet has frequently stalled for decades. Inflicting greater changes in the Middle East and imposing your values and ideals will not be easy without one side getting hurt.

If nuclear proliferation is currently determined on the pro-Western views of a country, what happens when that same country is taken over by extremists? Or conversely, will Iran be allowed to develop nuclear capabilities if the upcoming presidential elections result in a new reformist and moderate government?

Furthermore, if US is serious about dealing minimizing nuclear weapons in general, then they must ensure every country regardless of political status is signatory to the NPT, including Israel.

Either way, one sided resolutions will simply no longer work in the Middle East.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Peyamner, Various Misc.

An Analysis: Iraqi Kurdish ties with Iran, and Islamist Revolution of ’79

On the back of the first visit to Kurdistan Region by an Iranian Foreign Minister, the Globe assesses the development of ties between both sides.

Iraqi Kurds enjoy cultural and historic ties with Iran, but it was onset of the 1979 Islamic revolution that truly propelled ties.

Iranian foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, visited Erbil last week, coinciding with the 30th anniversary of the Islamist revolution in Iran. The first visit by an Iranian foreign minister to Kurdistan Region symbolises productive ties between both governments, and the common desire for expansion of economic, political and cultural links.

The past few official visits between each party, have been conducted in a positive atmosphere, where each party has often emphasized warm relations and historical bonds between both nations.

However, whilst the Iraqi Kurds and the Iranian government may enjoy historic cultural ties and some shared heritage, it was events in the aftermath of the 1979 Islamic revolution that truly brought both sides closer together.

From the pro-Western days of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi to the theocratic rule of today, the last 3 decades have onset a turbulent and frequently contentious era for the Iranian people.

Throughout this time, the Iraqi Kurds, in parallel with inception of the Islamic revolution in Tehran, shared common grievances and had many reasons to confide with Iran, owed at times to their respective isolationism but mainly due to their common Baathist enemy, Saddam Hussein.

Present day relations

Throughout the period between 1991 and 2003, the Iraqi Kurds enjoyed fairly stable and productive relationships with Iran. Put simply, at a time when their fragile autonomy was largely dependent on outsiders, the Iraq Kurds had a natural and heavy reliance on Iranian political and economic support.

The continuation of ties with Iran from the days of the Iran-Iraq war was a vital factor to relative prosperity in the region and in establishing some notion of self-sufficiency, especially with Iraqi Arab adversaries further south tightening a noose around the region.

Throughout 1991-2003, Iran maintained perhaps the best relationships with the PUK, whose administration bloc in this period of time bordered directly with Iran.

As the PDK and PUK jockeyed relentlessly for supremacy in Iraqi Kurdistan, Turkey and Iran became natural actors in the jostle for power and influence.

However, often in this period of time, support from two countries that have traditionally quelled Kurdish nationalist uprisings and ubiquitously feared Kurdish nationalism, would come as a trade-off or as a factor in the battle against their own restive Kurdish populations.

Economic reliance

Of all the neighboring Kurdish populations, Iraqi Kurds and Iranian Kurds have had better access to their respective geographies and generally closer attachment. This has strengthened and encouraged economic ties that are of mutual benefit.

Iran, although hardly taking a soft-stance on any notion of separatism from their own Kurdish population, have never denied Kurdish culture in the same way as Iraq or particularly Turkey.

There is a province called Kurdistan in Iran and Kurds have generally assimilated much better into Iranian society than the Kurds of neighboring countries.

Cross-border trade now equated to billions of dollars and at least 40% of commerce in Iraqi Kurdistan comes from Iran. With talk of inaugurating more border gates, it’s easy to see why Iraqi Kurds look to the Iranian government for future stability and an expansion of their status-quo.

The Iranian need for Iraqi Kurds

It would seem that modern history of Kurdistan since the breakup of the Ottoman Empire has been characterized by trade-offs and use of the influential Iraqi Kurdish position for regional agendas. Often once these alliances were no longer needed the Kurds have been left to suffer. Iranian ties with Kurds have also suffered at times from this regional syndrome.

Take example the strong support of Shah Pahlavi for the Iraqi Kurds in the 1970’s, who at the time posed a predendenced threat to Baghdad as a result of the backing. This support was a direct result of Iraqi and Iranian disagreement over the Shatt al-Arab waterway, and when as part of the Algiers agreement in 1975, the Shah withdrew support for the Kurds it was much like abandoning lambs amidst a pack of wolves.

After Ayatollah Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini returned from exiled in Paris and orchestrated the Islamic revolution in 1979, this left a region comprising mainly of Sunnis, Arabs and secular governments, in shock and fear of been swept by the new whirlwind coming from the Shiite plains of Iran.

Once the deadly and highly-costly Iran-Iraq war began in 1980, Iran’s isolation was firmly placated. The West almost unanimously backed Iraq as did the majority of a highly-skeptical Sunni region.

Iraqi Kurds, fighting persecution and a nationalist legacy of their own in Iraq, were natural Iranian allies against Saddam Hussein at a time when Iran needed all the support it could get against a largely superior foe. As such, the Iraqi Kurds played a key role in the conflict, at times effectively splintering the Iraqi forces.

Ironically, in spite of a Shiite revolution in Iran, the majority of Shiite Arabs in Iraq chose their Arab nationalism over the support of Shiite power of Iran. Such was the deep-hatred of Saddam for the Kurdish “betrayal” that much of the Anfal operations and beyond was designed as retribution for collaboration with his arch-enemy.

Much of the existing relationships between Kurdish leaders of today and figures in the Tehran government were fostered and strengthened in this period of time.

Kurdistan Region Prime Minister Nerchirvan Barzani, on his visit to Tehran in 2008, emphasized the appreciation of the region for Iranian humanitarian support during it war with Saddam.

In recent years Iran has been quick to court the Iraqi Kurds in midst of new realities in Iraq and was the first to open a consulate in the region.

Temperamental big brother

Surrounded by hostility, the Iraqi Kurds have often learnt that you can choose your friends but not your neighbors. Without making the best possible friendships from tough neighbors, the Iraqi Kurdish experiment stands no chance of survival.

Of all the countries, perhaps Iran and the Iraqi Kurds have had the best basis for common alliance. The Iraqi Kurds and Iranians share cultural and historical ties, a similar language and are both non-Arab.

The Iraqi Kurds would do well to maintain productive relationships with an influential power. However, between 1991 and 2003 and particularly since the liberation of Iraq, Iran could often been likened to a temperamental big brother.

If you get on his right side, you will find yourself under warm and comfortable wings, but at the same time you will want to avoid his temperamental side at all costs.

The strong alliance that has developed between the Iraqi Kurds and the U.S in the aftermath of second gulf war, has threatened to alienate Iran.

Iraqi Kurds have found themselves in a tentative position, and are mindful of been caught in middle of the proxy-battle between their two friends. Kurds need the support of Washington and have actively promoted ties, whilst at the same time they do not want to distance or anger Tehran.

The delicate balancing act is one the Iraqi Kurds would do well to maintain. There is a firm belief in the Kurdish region that the U.S. remains the key to long-term protection but at the same time they realise that without an atmosphere of mutual friendship with Iran, they are unable to maintain their economy or any semblance of stability.

The worst scenario for Kurds is to heavily rely upon the U.S. whilst developing uneasy and downbeat ties with Turkey and Iran

The notorious arrests of Iranian personnel by U.S. commandos in Iraqi Kurdistan have highlighted the tough position of the Kurds, seemingly caught in the cross-fire.

The example of angry big brother syndrome was on display with the closure of the important border gates between Iraqi Kurdistan and Iran as a result of Iranian anger over the arrests, effectively serving as an ominous threat to the Kurdistan region not to “bite the hands that feeds it”.

In circumstances, Tehran may not always be the best of friends, but you certainly do no want to make an enemy of a powerful neighbor.

Far from rosy

Iraqi Kurds have already found that their relationship with their “big brother” is far from rosy. The present relations may be warm but the Iraqi Kurds will be weary of maintaining them.

The issue of Iranian Kurdish rebel group, PJAK, has been a constant thorn in recent relations. This has resulted in frequent shelling of the border areas, which to a great extent has been ignored by both Baghdad and the U.S.

Kurds are largely powerless to stop such bombardments of the region. This is only exacerbated by the apparent recent military cooperation between Turkey and Iran. The warming of ties between Ankara and Tehran has been ominous for the Iraqi Kurds, meaning their tight-rope just got thinner.

The carrot and stick approach of their neighbors can be seen by the threat to cool ties unless Iraqi Kurds abandon any notion of support for the respective Kurdish nationalist movement either side of the border.

When situations have called for, the Kurdistan Region has seen that Iran will not think twice to shut its border, causing economic pain for the region.

Even the pre-Saddam days highlighted that Iranian support was not a foregone conclusion.  While the region fought a bitter battle against Ansar al-Islam, finally defeated with the help of U.S. firepower, it was alleged that Tehran afforded support to the leaders of the movement.

Future relationships with Iran

Future relationship of the Iraqi Kurds with Iran may well rest on outside factors. If U.S. diplomacy under Barrack Obama fails to materialize with Iran, the Iraqi Kurds may well find themselves caught in the middle again.

If the battle for influence in the Middle East gather pace or worse the US is forced to strike at the Tehran regime, the Iraqi Kurds may well be pressured into making a painful decision.

On the other hand, if at least theoretically Iran and the U.S. develop stronger diplomatic relations, it remains to be seen how this would affect Iranian tie with the Kurds.

The position of regional pawns for the Iraqi Kurds will unfortunately not disappear all too easily.

This is underpinned by the fact that the Shiite majority in Iraq enjoy strong ties with Tehran. If difficult Kurdish ties continue with the Shiite Arab south, any issues with the Iranians may well propel the Kurds between a rock and a hard place, with only a distant and unwilling U.S. for support.

Iran and the Islamic revolution

To better assess, the Iranian stance at present and the factors that have contributed to the current influence of Tehran, it is important to understand the aspects that have propelled Iran to the existing position in the aftermath of the Islamist revolution of 1979. Many of these elements have contributed to the existing ties between the Kurds and the need of the Iranian government to rely on key local partners in their battle for regional influence.

As a country with geographical advantages, good transport links with central Asia, access to an abundance of oil, sizable coastlines and influence over the Persian Gulf, Iran has long viewed itself as a regional superpower, long before its current ascendancy to dominance.

However, unlike its historical ancestors that forged the forefront of the Persian Empire, modern day Iran has never quite lived up to its potential.

The challenges and drawbacks facing successive Iranian governments, in particular since the onset of the Islamist revolution, are evident.

Iran incorporates a distinct ethnicity in a region dominated by Arabs, and a Shiite state engulfed by Sunni neighbours. Where since 1979 it has been traditionally anti-Western other neighbours have embraced the West.

Divine role in the Middle East

The revolutionary euphoria in the modern era may have began in 1979, with a revolution that allowed Ayatollah Khomeini’s Islamic rule to take stage, however, for centuries, Iranians have had ambition and an almost divine belief that they would lead the region and also the religion of Islam.

Since the Safavids brought Shiite Islam to Persia in the 16th century, Iranians have tried to set themselves apart from their traditional neighbours, and successive kings have attempted to portray themselves as leaders of the Muslim world.

However, this is where the Islamist revolution in Iran has hardly stroked the supportive tone with fellow Muslims. The majority of neighbouring secular Sunni governments, have perceived 1979 as a dangerous Shiite revolution than any great Islamist revolution, and remained suspicious of Shiite goals in the region.

As such one of the greatest problems facing the new government post-1979 was international isolation. Ties with U.S. were almost immediately severed, and have never quite been restored.  Some regional actors and much of the international community feared the consequences of a strong Islamist regime leading to a cooling of ties.

Such was the global pandemonium at events in Iran that perhaps no leader of a country has quite directly influenced the ousting of a U.S. president in the same way as Ayatollah Khomeini. Jimmy Carter, who failed miserably at a gallant rescue of the infamous U.S embassy hostages in Tehran, was widely perceived as humiliated as he was superseded by Ronald Reagan. 

It is no coincidence that resentment and fear of Shiite power culminated in the Iran-Iraq war only a year after the revolution. The general animosity towards Tehran was plain to see as most Sunni neighbours and Western powers supported and armed Iraq.

This sense of hard justice, seclusion and fighting against the odds emboldened the Iranian government and they stubbornly defended the principles of Islamist revolution rather than succumb to pressure from every side. Iran became almost accustomed to fighting their own battles and also batting for their own form of Islam, against what seemed like the rest of the world.

In such a light, Iranians and Iraqi Kurds became natural partners, as they were both non-Arabs, victims of regional Sunni Arab nationalism and international abandonment.

Future relationship of Iran with its neighbours

In a very ironic twist, it was regional turmoil conceived by the contentious policies of their arch-nemesis, the United States, rather than policies set in Tehran that allowed the Iranian government to finally become free from its traditional constrictions and rise up as a power.

In the west, the U.S. took out Iran’s greatest enemy Saddam Hussein, a dictator that launched a devastating war on Iran, and one whom the Iranian people saw as a personification of their common enemies in the region and beyond. Democracy in Iraq, afforded a strong Iranian hand in the new Shiite dominated governments in Iraq, incorporating many parties into power that emerged under the wings of Tehran.

To the east, the U.S. defeated the Taliban in Afghanistan, effectively alongside Saddam removing two of the most dangerous enemies to Iran.

The thirst to undermine the U.S. and influence dealings in the Middle East has certainly sped Iranian ties with Erbil.

With a ‘dangerous’ tag attributed to Iran, contentious nuclear projects and support of Islamist hardliners in the region, neighbours will never embrace Iran with open arms.

The vicious cycle continues with Iran unable to become the regional powerhouse it craves unless it builds strong ties with most of its neighbours and promotes socioeconomic development across its borders.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: PUK Media, Peyamner, Various Misc.