Iran: Dancing With The Devil You Know

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June 18, 2014: The government has called for men to volunteer to defend Shia holy places in southern Iraq (the “birthplace” of Shia Islam) and over 5,000 have responded so far. Without any publicity Iran has sent more of its Quds Force trainers, advisors and commandos and Revolutionary Guard soldiers to Iraq, where Quds has long maintained a network of informants, supporters and local militia leaders. Iraqi and Iranian officials are working out how much assistance Iran will provide to help deal with the resurgent Sunni Islamic terrorists. The main problem here is the corruption and mismanagement of the Iraqi government that he Iranians have warned the Iraqis about that for years. This is an old problem. There is also a lot of corruption in Iran, but it is much worse in Iraq and this condition has existed for thousands of years. It’s one reason why the Iranians have long been the dominant power in the region. The Iranians understand that if you don’t put some constraints on the corruption it will render the military, and much of the government, useless. The Arabs have a hard time changing their traditions. The Iraqi Sunnis were somewhat better at controlling the corruption but they were a minority government ruling a Shia majority population and facing a powerful Iranian Shia state next door. That provided some incentive to shape up that the current Shia government of Iraq lacks. The Iraqi government is desperate to do whatever it can in the short term to keep the Sunnis from taking over again. Long-term it is doubtful that the Iraqi Shia will curb the corruption. Too many prominent Iraqi Shia are getting rich off the stealing and many more want their turn at the trough.

Meanwhile in Iraq taking control of Mosul on the 9th gave ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) another victory and even if it does not last it helps with recruiting and fund raising. ISIL looted the banks in Mosul, taking over a hundred million dollars in local and foreign currency. Many more valuables were taken, giving the Sunni terrorists economic security for the near future. ISIL is competing with al Qaeda for recognition as the most effective Islamic terrorist group in the world and having all this cash helps them in that struggle. Whoever holds that position gets most of the cash donations from the many wealthy Gulf Arabs who support Islamic terrorism and that means ISIL would also get most of the young Sunni men from the Gulf States looking to jihad a bit.

ISIL has also made Iraq and Syria the main battleground for the continuation of the ancient battle between Shia and Sunni militants. Iraq, Iran and Syria all believe that ISIL is intent on creating a Sunni religious dictatorship out of eastern Syria and western Iraq (now including Nineveh province north of Anbar). Except for Nineveh this is a largely desert and thinly populated region. ISIL is actually suffering more casualties in Syria, where its main foe is other rebels. ISIL has also been fighting the Kurds of northeast Syria. ISIL is quite hostile to the Kurds and has been very brutal with any Kurdish civilians they come across. These atrocities play in role in persuading the Kurds in northern Iraq to send their trained (and quite superior to the ISIL or Iraqi Army forces) men into Iraq and Mosul. ISIL is a threat the Kurds cannot avoid and so far the Kurds have driven ISIL out of Kirkuk and preparing to do the same in Mosul. ISIL has also been brutal (and distributed pictures and videos of it) to captured Shia soldiers and police. Mass executions have gotten the attention of the Shia public and many are coming forward armed and intent on revenge.

The Shia majority of Iraq are formally and informally mobilizing to protect the largely Shia south and, these days, the largely Shia Baghdad. Already there have been some reports of Shia gunmen killing Sunni civilians. This sort of thing was widespread before 2008 and that was a major factor in the collapse of Iraqi Sunni popular support of Sunni Islamic terrorists in 2007. That switch in loyalty was not rewarded after the Americans left in 2011. The Shia dominated government was more intent on placating its Shia base and that meant sticking it to the Sunnis whenever possible. A less corrupt and inept Iraqi government would have followed the American advice and treated loyal Sunnis well, but the main goal of Iraqi politicians (Shia or Sunni) is to get rich, not govern efficiently. Now the Iraqi government is firing the most inept (and often most corrupt) military commanders and asking the United States and Iran for some help. No one wants ISIL presiding over an Islamic state because the basic ISIL goal is replacing all the governments of Islamic majority nations with Sunni religious zealots and sponsoring Islamic terrorism against the West. There is also the longer range goal of global conquest and forcing everyone to be Sunni Moslems. That means the Iranian and Iraqi Shia must convert or die. To ISIL the Shia are worse than non-Moslems because Shia are considered heretics by Sunni Islamic conservatives.

While Saudi Arabia leads the mainstream Sunni world and Iran the Shia; both share a hostility towards ISIL. Mainstream Sunnis are willing to tolerate (even if they still dislike) Shia and other non-Sunni sects. The Saudis have long allowed nearly all these other non-Sunnis to make the pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina. That policy enraged the Sunni radicals of Saudi Arabia and Arabia in general. These radicals are a minority in Arabia and have been largely neutralized, but not eliminated. That’s because Islam has always suffered from a love-hate relationship with Islamic zealots. ISIL, however, has crossed the line and, as the Saudis have done in the past, they must destroy ISIL or see the Saud family lose their kingdom. Thus the growing competition between Saudi led Sunnis and Iranian led Shias (who believe Shia should be taking care of Mecca and Medina, among other things). Currently the Shia are winning in Syria and that is partly because ISIL has concentrated most of its manpower in eastern Syria and western Iraq in an effort to establish a Sunni Islamic State. In effect the Shia minority running Syria sees ISIL as an unintentional ally because ISIL has been at war with other Islamic terrorist rebels for the last six months and in some parts of Syria has been killing more rebels than the Iran supported government forces. But ultimately even the Syrian government wants to crush ISIL.

The Iraqi Sunni Arabs, even with ISIL, can’t defeat the Shia majority as long as the Shia are armed and have outside support (mainly from Iran and the United States and, quietly, Saudi Arabia). The U.S. also encourages the Sunni Arab Gulf States (especially Saudi Arabia) to oppose Iraqi Sunni Arab efforts to regain control of the country (as some form of dictatorship because the Sunni don’t have the votes to get elected.) The U.S. also tries to restrain the Iraqi Shia from turning on the entire Sunni population, as happened from 2006-8. That terror campaign drove a third of the Iraqi Sunni out of the country and nearly as many from their homes to get away from the Shia death squads.

One of the few things Saudi Arabia and Iran can agree on is that ISIL must be destroyed. Both Saudi Arabia and Iran are already quietly tending to that common goal. Once ISIL is out of the way the Saudis and Iranians will go back to business as usual. In the meantime, however, it looks like the Saudis are going to suffer a defeat in Syria where the pro-Iran Assad government is crushing the Sunni rebels. Maybe this mess will motivate the Saudis to finally confront the ancient problem Islam has had with zealots. That would be nice, but probably is not going to happen, not just yet.

The ISIL rampage has been noted in Afghanistan where it was noted how Iraqi casualties and terrorist attacks increased after all American forces left at the end of 2011 (because no Status of Forces agreement could be agreed on). For a while it looked like there might not be an agreement in Afghanistan because, as in Iraq, there are many who would prefer there be no highly efficient foreign intelligence operation in the country. In Iraq a lot of Iranian money, threats, and promises were used on Iraqi officials to see that there was no Status of Forces treaty. In Afghanistan Iran would also prefer no Status of Forces, and so would the drug gangs. Most Afghans, however, want Americans to remain and Iran appears to be losing this one.

The government is also moving more troops and money to the 2,000 kilometer border with Afghanistan and Pakistan in a continuing effort to block Afghan opium and heroin from getting into the country. In 2013 Iran spent $26 million on construction projects to improve border security and more is being spent this year. All this is because t he most destructive influence on Iranian culture is not foreign, but local. Heroin and opium from Afghanistan cause lots of crime, and as long ago as 2009 police admitted that 40 percent of police prisoners were in for drug related crimes. Opium has been around for thousands of years, but the more powerful heroin is only about a century old, and highly destructive because it's expensive, very addictive, and causes many users to drop out of society. Over ten percent of Iranian adults are now addicts, and the problem gets worse for those with access to oil money. The government does not allow normal entertainment (videos, music) to be sold, so illegal drugs flourish. The government officially executes dozens of people each year for drug offensives, and that is more than 70 percent of those executed. Many more are killed in battles with police and Revolutionary Guard units fighting the heavily armed drug gangs. The border with Afghanistan, at least in those areas where smugglers like to operate, looks like a war zone. The Afghan drug gangs have lots of money, weapons and young Afghans willing to help (for a price) fight Iranian soldiers and border guards in order to get the drugs into Iran. Year by year the situation gets worse. Back in 2009 only five percent of adults were addicts and despite improved border defenses more drugs got through and more Iranians got access to opium and heroin. This border war has been going on since the 1980s and in that time over 15,000 Iranian security personnel have been killed or wounded there. Losses among the smugglers has been even higher, yet the drugs keep coming.

Drugs are but one of many problems most Iranians are faced with daily. Since the new president (the kinder and “more moderate” Hassan Rouhani) took office in August 2013 Iranians have been told that things will get better. That has not happened. High unemployment (averaging over 20 percent but much higher for young men), rising inflation and growing shortages make life more and more difficult for most Iranians. Anti-government reformers are increasingly being killed or executed in an attempt to discourage their dangerous talk of change and new national leadership. The current government is run by Islamic clerics who see themselves, and Iran, as on a Mission From God that no one, Iranian or foreign, can be allowed to meddle with. Rouhani’s biggest problem is the sanctions that have, in the last year cut Iranian oil income in half. Getting the sanctions lifted without giving up nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic missiles to deliver them is proving increasingly difficult.

Despite the sanctions, the government has adapted, mainly by cutting huge subsidies and getting rid of a lot of government spending in general. The business community has been given more opportunity (and government assistance) to innovate and make the economy grow. This is apparently working. While GDP declined nearly two percent last year it is forecast (by the World Bank) to grow 1.5 percent this year and by two percent or more for each of the two years after that. Before oil was discovered nearly a century ago Iran had a strong economy and that had been the case for thousands of years. So, despite the sanctions, Iran has keep the economy growing by getting back to its pre-oil roots. This may be the most positive thing to happen to the economy since the clerics took control back in the late 1980s. Thus while the government makes much of the need to eliminate the sanctions, economic planners see progress despite continued sanctions. That is not the message the government wants to publicize, but it is what will calm the population eventually.

June 16, 2014: Iranian and Western negotiations met in Austria for five days to talk about Iranian nuclear and ballistic missile programs. Both sides have until July 20th to work out a long-term agreement. Prospects are not good and it looks like the July 20 deadline will be missed and Iran will then face increased sanctions. Inside Iran the state-controlled media stresses Iran’s right to do whatever it wants when it comes to defense. Officially Iran does not have a nuclear weapons program. Unofficially most Iranians believe the program exists and most consider that a good thing.  

The U.S. announced it is sending 275 infantry to Baghdad to help guard the massive American embassy compound there. An American aircraft carrier task force has already been sent to the Persian Gulf, to provide smart bomb support for the Iraqi government if diplomats can work out details of how this would work. The U.S. State Department has officially warned Americans to get out, and stay out, of Iraq until the current crises is resolved. Many other foreign nations are doing the same.

The U.S. also admitted that American and Iranian diplomats had begun discussing how the two countries would coordinate their effort to defeat ISIL. This is actually nothing new as the two countries have in the past cooperated against their common enemy (usually Sunni Islamic terrorist groups like al Qaeda and the Taliban). The Sunni groups continue to murder Shia wherever they are (in Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as Iraq, Syria and so on). This is more awkward for Iran, which has made hatred of the United States a primary justification for the Shia religious dictatorship that has run Iran since the late 1980s.

June 15, 2014: A recent study of arms shipments to Sudan found that Iran was Sudan’s second-largest arms and munitions supplier after China. Iranian technical specialists also work at Sudan’s Yarmouk (near Khartoum) weapons manufacturing facility. Iran, however, has also supplied light weapons, rockets and other munitions. Some of the Iranian weapons have ended up in the hands of rebel organizations in South Sudan and in other parts of Africa.

June 12, 2014:  Iran has quietly sent three battalions of Revolutionary Guards (as civilian “tourists”) to help with the defense of Baghdad and other largely Shia cities threatened by ISIL.

June 11, 2014: Iran openly offered Iraq unspecified “help” in dealing with the ISIL threat.

June 10, 2014: In southwest Pakistan (Baluchistan) border guards reported that two mortar shells, apparently fired from the Iranian side of the border, landed in a remote area, causing no injuries or damage.

June 9, 2014: In the northern Iraq city of Mosul army and police units began to panic and abandon their checkpoints and bases. ISIL had recently increased its attacks on the security forces in Mosul in hope of triggering a mass panic. This panic was helped along by the growing corruption in the leadership of the Iraqi security forces. This meant that soldiers and police often didn’t get paid on time or at all and faced chronic shortages of equipment, weapons and even ammunition.

The Iranian president visited the Turkish capital and released a statement reaffirming both nations dedication to dealing with Sunni Islamic terrorism. Turkey is largely Sunni but has been threatened by Sunni Islamic terrorist groups for years. Turkey and Iran are also traditional enemies but that rivalry has been on the back burner for centuries. The two nations have become major trading partners and both tend to accentuate the positive these days, especially in the face of the ISIL threat.

June 8, 2014: In Pakistan, near the Iranian border, Sunni Islamic terrorists used suicide bombers to kill 26 Pakistani Shia returning from a pilgrimage in Iran.

June 6, 2014: Iran criticized Sunni Islamic terrorists for their continued attacks against the Iraqi city of Samarra.  Sunni conservatives believe Shia are heretics and that Samarra, where there are many Shia shrines, is an affront to Islam. This is pilgrimage season and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and Iranian Shia are coming to the city to pray. Security forces have so far kept the Islamic terrorists out, but that has involved several clashes with Islamic terrorists at security checkpoints. Today there was a major attack which saw Sunni Islamic terrorists getting into some of the outskirts of Samarra before they were driven out. Some of the fighting took place two kilometers from one of the two major Shia shrines. The attackers suffered over a hundred casualties during the failed attack.

June 5, 2014: An Israeli polling firm revealed the results of an opinion poll they recently quietly conducted in Iran. Some 40 percent of the population was willing to recognize Israel if Israel could work out a peace deal with the Palestinians. A similar percentage of Iranians were willing to give up nuclear weapons if all sanctions were lifted. Some 74 percent were in favor of resuming trade and diplomatic ties with the United States. A similar percentage (70 percent) backed negotiations with the West over Iranian nuclear programs but only nine percent were willing to give up all nuclear programs (energy and weapons) in return for lifting sanctions. The poll was conducted using Israeli-Iranians who spoke Farsi like a native (which some were) and not mentioning the call was coming from Israel. The polling firm had enough data to get the phone numbers of a statistically significant sample of the Iranian population.

June 1, 2014: Iran and Kuwait signed several trade and security cooperation agreements.

May 31, 2014: Iran admitted that a senior commander of the Revolutionary Guard (Abdollah Eskandari) recently died in combat inside Syria. Officially Iran has no military personnel in Syria, but this is becoming more of an open secret.  

A recent survey to measure unhappiness in 138 countries found Iran the second most (after Iraq) unhappy country in the world. The others in the top ten were Egypt, Greece, Syria, Sierra Leone, Cyprus, Northern Cyprus, Cambodia and Lebanon. Another recent study of “misery” (using things like unemployment, high crime rates, economic growth rate, inflation, shortages, high prices, political strife and so on) ranked Iran as the second “most miserable” nation (after leader Venezuela). The other nine nations at the top of the most miserable nations are Serbia, Argentina, Jamaica, Egypt, Spain, South Africa, Brazil and Greece. Japan was at the top of the least miserable (89th out of 89 nations ranked) followed by Taiwan, Singapore, South Korea and Thailand (85 out of 89). The U.S. ranks 71st while China came in at 82. Misery often leads to instability and an atmosphere where criminal activity flourishes.

May 26, 2014: The senior cleric who controls the Iranian government gave a public speech in which he insisted that Iran must destroy the United States and any Iranians who disagree with that are guilty of treason.

 

 

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