Iran said to have lost 60 generals fighting on behalf of Assad regime

NOW reports: In the past month, at least 20 Iranian officers and soldiers have been killed in Syria, where Tehran has reportedly deployed hundreds of troops to fight alongside regime forces against rebels in the northwest of the country.

Last Monday, Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps deputy chief Hossein Salami admitted that that his country was sending additional advisors to Syria, which was leading to increased casualties.

However, the IRGC official did not provide a death toll and insisted that Tehran was only sending advisors, and not combat troops.

An Italian news agency on Monday reported that Iran has lost 60 generals fighting on behalf of the Bashar al-Assad regime since the start of the Syrian civil war.

Adnkronos news on Monday cited “leading media sources in Hezbollah” as saying that only the names of 18 killed generals close to Tehran’s ruling authorities have been publicly disclosed.

“Human losses in Syria are suppressed,” the sources said, adding that “60 Iranian generals have been killed in Syria while supporting the Syrian army as advisors or military planners.”

The unnamed sources also claimed that the high number of casualties was due to “the weakness of the Syrian army, the large number of militias and their failure to keep to the plans drawn up by the Iranians in cooperation with the Syrian army’s most important officers.” [Continue reading…]


Head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards warns of ‘4th sedition’ and attacks government

EA Worldview reports: In another illustration of growing tension and concern inside Iran’s elites, the head of the Revolutionary Guards has warned of a “fourth sedition” backed by foreign countries, attacking the Rouhani Government for its engagement of the US and the West.

General Mohammad Ali Jafari said at a conference on Tuesday that the US will use the July 14 nuclear deal and its implementation to force further negotiations which will seek to “penetrate” Iran: “If this belief is created among the people that since on the nuclear deal there is an agreement and so on other issues we can reach an agreement, [then] this is a danger and a sedition.”

Jafari’s declaration reinforces the Supreme Leader’s rejection of any talks with the US on regional issues, linking them to the attempted “sedition” — the regime’s code for dissent, including the mass protests over the disputed 2009 Presidential election. On Sunday, Ayatollah Khamenei repeated his denunciation of Washington, with references to crises over Syria, Yemen, Iraq, and Palestine, and on Tuesday he told university students that “America” is dedicated to “conspiring” against the Islamic Republic. [Continue reading…]


Backlash against U.S. and reformists in Iran gathers force after nuclear deal

The New York Times reports: The backlash comes as Iran is preparing for parliamentary elections in February that constitute a litmus test of Mr. Rouhani’s policies. It seems that hard-liners, using the intelligence unit of the Revolutionary Guards Corps, have started rounding up journalists, activists and cultural figures, as a warning that the post nuclear-deal period cannot lead to further relaxation or political demands.

In recent days at least five prominent figures were arrested by the intelligence unit, among them Isa Saharkhiz, a well-known journalist and reformist, who was released from jail in 2013 after a conviction for his alleged involvement in the 2009 anti-government protests. On Sunday, Ehsan Mazandarani, the top editor of a reformist newspaper, Farhikhtegan, was arrested by the same unit, the semiofficial Tasnim news agency reported. On Tuesday, they arrested the well-known actress and newspaper columnist, Afarin Chitsaz, the Amadnews website reported.

Proponents of the nuclear deal had expected some backlash in Iran. But even they appear to have been blindsided by its intensity.

“All these arrests baffle me,” said Farshad Ghorbanpour, a political analyst who has long said the nuclear deal would lead to positive changes and more freedoms. “I cannot say more.”

State-sanctioned media have been busy producing a litany of American conspiracy theories — Iran’s Press TV website even published an article on Tuesday raising the possibility that the C.I.A. was responsible for downing a Russian jetliner in Egypt over the weekend. Iranian news has also given prominent mention to the “network of American and British spies” rounded up by the Guards’s agents.

Their most prominent targets are dual Iranian and American citizens, but on Tuesday, state television said Nizar Zakka, a Lebanese-American information technology expert who mysteriously disappeared here on Sept. 18, also had been seized. [Continue reading…]


Iran’s Suleimani viewed Chalabi as ‘too liberal’

Following the death of Ahmed Chalabi, one of the leading proponents of the war in Iraq, The Guardian reports: In the past five years Chalabi’s relationship with Iran’s leaders and the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), the most powerful institution in Iran, came to define him almost as much as the invasion. Chalabi was one of a handful of senior Iraqis regarded as confidantes of the IRGC’s foreign relations arm, the Quds Force, and in particular its leader, Qassem Suleimani.

He actively promoted causes that were central to Iran’s interests, including making contacts with the opposition in Bahrain, which was almost exclusively Shia and at odds with the ruling Sunni establishment. In the early years of the Syrian war Chalabi was a regular visitor to Damascus, where he met often with the overlord of Bashar al-Assad’s security apparatus, Mohammed Nassif. In Beirut, where Chalabi maintained a house, he was regularly received by the Shia resistance bloc Hezbollah.

Chalabi’s influence within Shia circles was evident when he stepped in to rescue the Guardian’s then Iraq correspondent, Rory Carroll, in late 2005, several days after Carroll had been kidnapped by Shia militiamen in Sadr City. Chalabi received Carroll at his farm in west Baghdad after contacting the hostage takers directly.

In mid-2014, with the Sunni jihadi group Isis on the doorstep of Baghdad, Chalabi made one final play for political power, lobbying vigorously to replace Nouri al-Maliki as Iraq’s prime minister after Maliki’s authority had been crippled. His allies, including Suleimani, regarded him as a liability; perhaps one of the greater ironies of Chalabi’s life, the Iranian general had marked him down for being, in his words, “too liberal”. [Continue reading…]


Iranian authorities shut down rogue KFC in Tehran, protecting American franchise

Al Arabiya reports: The parent company of U.S. fast food giant KFC is seeking legal action over the opening of what it called an “illegitimate” outlet in Iran, soon after news that a knock-off eatery in the Islamic Republic had been closed by local authorities.

“We are shocked with the news that an illegitimate KFC outlet has opened in Tehran, Iran,” a Yum! Brands spokeswoman told Al Arabiya News in an emailed statement on Tuesday.

Although Iran has long been cut-off from most Western firms due to bans and punishing trade sanctions, some had hoped for an acceleration in the warming of business ties after Tehran signed a nuclear deal accord with world powers in July.

“No franchise rights have been granted to any party in Iran. We are in contact with local authorities and external advisers and will be filing a legal action against any company or individuals claiming to have rights to open KFC,” the statement added.

Hours earlier, Iranian police shuttered the “Halal KFC” restaurant that had been operating on a false license, according to Iranian media. [Continue reading…]


Russia stance on Assad suggests divergence with Iran

Reuters reports: Russia does not see keeping Bashar al-Assad in power as a matter of principle, the Foreign Ministry in Moscow said on Tuesday in comments that suggested a divergence of opinion with Iran, the Syrian president’s other main international backer.

Fuelling speculation of Russian-Iranian differences over Assad, the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps suggested on Monday that Tehran may be more committed to him than Russia, saying Moscow “may not care if Assad stays in power as we do”.

While Russia and Iran have been Assad’s foremost foreign supporters during Syria’s four-year-old war, the United States, its Gulf allies and Turkey have insisted the president must step down as part of any eventual peace deal.Talks in Vienna on Friday among the main foreign players involved in diplomatic efforts on Syria failed to reach agreement on Assad.

Asked by a reporter on Tuesday if saving Assad was a matter of principle for Russia, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said: “Absolutely not, we never said that.” [Continue reading…]


‘A new wave of repression is imminent in Iran’

Akbar Ganji writes: [N]ow that Khamenei is no longer concerned about military attacks, he is constantly talking about “the enemy’s agents”. New repression and a crackdown on the opposition may be on their way. There is a danger that the judiciary may arrest some leading reformists, force them to “confess” that they work for the US, and broadcast the “confessions” on national television.

Fars, the news agency controlled by the IRGC, published a letter on 5 October from 11 hardline majles deputies in which they claimed that Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, who has been incarcerated for 445 days, “is a professional spy and US intelligence agent in Iran” and that it was “imperative that the judiciary allow broadcast of his confessions to inform the nation”.

Even the mere talk of “films” of Rezaian’s confessions is evidence for my analysis of Khamenei’s thinking. The arrest of another Iranian-American Siamak Namazi last week by Revolutionary Guards intelligence further indicates where developments are leading. In all likelihood, Namazi will be described as an “agent” of American influence.

In yet another episode, former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw’s tourism visit to Iran has drawn harsh reaction from conservatives. They claim this trip “is part of a project to influence [Iran]” and aims to “test Iran’s public opinion in the aftermath of the nuclear deal.”

Mashregh, a website operated by the Revolutionary Guard has stated that American-Iranians “are the invisible conduits of American influence in Iran”, implying that any dual-national coming to Iran must be treated as a potential spy.

But the most important targets to be singled out, as agents of American influence, are domestic critics of the IRI. Ayatollah Ahmad Alamolhoda, who leads Friday prayers in Mashhad and is a member of the Assembly of Experts, has stated that the looming election constitutes a likely avenue of American influence, with the Americans using as spies those have a difference of opinion with Khamenei and his followers. [Continue reading…]

EA Worldview reports: Iranian authorities re-arrested prominent journalist Isa Saharkhiz on Monday on charges of “insulting the Supreme Leader” and “propaganda against the regime”.

A post on Saharkhiz’s Facebook page announced the arrest and posted photos of a search warrant for his home.

Saharkhiz, a journalist for more than 30 years and a former Deputy Minister of Culture, was seized in July 2009 amid the protests over the disputed Presidential election. He was released in October 2013.

Saharkhiz’s son Mehdi wrote of the arrest on Twitter and said his father had started a hunger strike.

In another arrest on Tuesday, Ehsan Mazandarani, the managing director of the Farhikhtegan newspaper, was detained for “security reasons”. [Continue reading…]


Ayatollah Sistani fears Iran is worsening sectarian divisions in Iraq

The New York Times reports: Last year, Ayatollah Sistani issued a widely heeded call for young men to take up arms against the Islamic State. But that fatwa resulted in a constellation of new militias, and the growth of existing ones that are controlled by Iran rather than the Iraqi state. The influence of Iran and its militias in Iraq has grown as they have become essential to the fight against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.

Ayatollah Sistani has become increasingly concerned that those militias are a threat to the unity of Iraq, experts say, in part because many of the militia leaders and their affiliated politicians have challenged efforts by the government to reconcile with Iraq’s minority Sunnis, a priority for the clerical leader.

Jawad al-Khoei, the secretary general of his family’s Khoei Institute, a religious institute and charity in Najaf, said of Ayatollah Sistani: “This time it is very serious. He is an old man now and maybe he considers that this will be the last thing he does in his life.”

Analysts say that despite his concerns, Ayatollah Sistani is not opposed to an Iranian role in Iraq.

“He believes Iran’s presence is necessary in Iraq, but it needs to take wiser policies,” said Mehdi Khalaji, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy who has studied at the seminary in Qom and has written extensively about Ayatollah Sistani.

Mr. Khalaji said that when it comes to Iran, Ayatollah Sistani is primarily worried about tensions between Sunnis and Shiites and Iran’s role in worsening sectarian divisions in Iraq.

But even as he moves to diminish Iranian influence in Iraq, he is mimicking the ways of the Iranian system.

One diplomat in Baghdad, referring to the Shiite holy cities from where instructions to politicians are given at Friday sermons, noted that in much the same way as Iranian political leaders look to Qom for guidance, “Every Friday we look to Karbala and Najaf.”

Here in Najaf, where Ayatollah Sistani, three other senior ayatollahs and countless clerics collectively represent the Shiite religious establishment, known as the marjaiya, there is a sense of regret for lending crucial support for Iraq’s Shiite political class in the years after the 2003 invasion.

The marjaiya’s support over the years lent crucial legitimacy to the Shiite religious parties that came to dominate politics and that are now the source of great anger for the masses that began protesting against Iraq’s government in August. [Continue reading…]


Iran starts taking nuclear centrifuges offline

Reuters reports: Iran has begun shutting down uranium enrichment centrifuges under the terms of a deal struck with six world powers in July on limiting its nuclear program, Tehran’s atomic energy chief said on Monday during a visit to Tokyo.

“We have already started to take our measures vis-a-vis the removal of the centrifuge machines – the extra centrifuge machines. We hope in two months time we are able to exhaust our commitment,” Ali Akbar Salehi told public broadcaster NHK.

NHK’s website also quoted Salehi as saying it was important that there be “balance” in implementing the deal, signaling Tehran’s stance that all sanctions against Iran should be lifted promptly in step with its dismantling of nuclear infrastructure. [Continue reading…]


Iran’s supreme leader: ‘America is the main part of the problem in the region, not part of the solution’

AFP reports: Iran’s supreme leader dismissed Sunday the chances of foreign countries bartering a deal over Syria’s future, suggesting they should focus on securing a halt to fighting that allows fresh elections.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei also repeated his ban on direct talks with the United States about turmoil in the Middle East, saying US objectives in the region were utterly at odds with Iranian policy.

The comments, to Iran’s ambassadors and other top diplomats, were Khamenei’s first since his country joined international negotiations on the four-year Syrian conflict.

He said Syria’s people must choose who their leader would be, rather than the US and other foreign powers trying to decide for them.

“The Americans seek to impose their own interests, not solve problems. They want to impose 60, 70 percent of their will,” he said, alluding to the peace talks which took place Friday in Vienna.

“So what’s the point of negotiations?” he said, insisting that military and financial support given to rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad, principally from Gulf states and the US, must stop if the Syria conflict is to end. [Continue reading…]


U.S.-supported victory over ISIS in Iraqi town results in praise for Iran

The Wall Street Journal reports: A big victory over Islamic State here provided fresh ammunition for the many Iraqi Shiites who prefer Iran as a battlefield partner over the U.S., despite indications that Washington could soon intensify its battle against the extremist militants.

Shiite militias and politicians backed by Iran have claimed much of the credit for the Iraqi recapture a little over a week ago of the city and oil refinery of Beiji, about 130 miles north of Baghdad. Militia fighters danced and posed for pictures on tanks and armored cars near the bombed-out shell of the massive refinery there, Iraq’s largest.

But U.S. officers say the Iran-backed proxy militias known as Popular Mobilization Forces, or PMF, played only a supporting role. The bulk of the fighting was by Iraqi federal police and elite counterterrorism units trained by the U.S., the American officers said.

Still powerful Iraqi politicians and militia leaders have cited the yearlong operation to retake the city as evidence that Iraqis can combat Islamic State alone—or with help only of the Iran-backed militias. Some are now lobbying Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to rely less on the U.S.-led coalition battling Islamic State and more on the PMF.

“Iraqi people in general, not only us, have started to feel that the Americans are not serious at all about the fight against Islamic State,” said Moeen Al- Kadhimi, a spokesman for the Iran-backed Badr Corps militia. “Every victory that the PMF does without the help of the Americans is a big embarrassment for the Americans.”

Following the declaration of victory at Beiji, the U.S.-led coalition, which has been conducting an air campaign against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria for more than a year, published a list of airstrikes it conducted around the city.

“It’s easy to say after the fact that ‘we did this,’ ” said Maj. Michael Filanowski, an officer for the Combined Joint Task Force, which organizes operations of the U.S.-led coalition. “But if you look at the sequence of events, it was Iraqi security forces that did the assault operations.”

He called the militias a “hold force,” meaning they secured the territory after it fell to the Iraqi forces. [Continue reading…]


A surgeon’s struggle to save the victims in a war the West failed to stop

Dr David Nott writes: In 2014, as in 2013, I worked in Aleppo in two hospitals in an opposition neighbourhood. Many of the medics had fled to Turkey and many hospitals had been bombed. The use of barrel bombs dropped by the Assad regime on civilian areas meant the largest proportion of patients admitted to the hospital were women and children. The nature of their injuries was such that often all we could do was try to make their final moments less painful. As a surgeon, I felt close to despair.

I came back to the UK and once again spoke about what was happening in Syria. I called it for what it was – a genocide perpetrated by Assad – but still was met with government apathy. There were efforts made by the US and UK to train some rebel groups and provide assistance to refugees; there was talk of humanitarian corridors and no-fly zones – but ultimately, without a protective military presence, such initiatives would never succeed.

It was vacillation on the part of the US and UK that emboldened not only the Assad regime but Putin too. The first Russian air strikes, against targets in the West of Syria, were an audacious attempt to shore up Assad’s Alawite heartland. They struck far from the Isil zones of control.

That Assad is an effective ally in the battle against Isil is a fiction repeated by many commentators. When the revolution commenced in 2011, Assad emptied Syria’s jails of radical Salafists, who went on to become Isil’s leaders and commanders. It suits Assad to have a villain against which he can defend his regime, and in Isil he has one that he has fed and watered to great effect.

The only way to win this war is to put boots on the ground, and that should have been done two years ago when there was an opportunity to help the Free Syrian Army and actively remove Assad from power and stem the rise of Islamic extremism. Instead there was a lack of insight and leadership from the West.

An oft-repeated line was that all the anti-government protagonists are equally extreme, equally impossible Western allies. I can say that from my experience that they are not. Towards the end of my time there in 2014, I went to visit a Catholic Church in Aleppo. There, having tea with the priest, were a group of Free Syrian Army fighters, their rifles slung across their chests as they chatted amicably. The Church had been protected by the Free Syrian fighters and the priest respected for the kindness he showed to many sick and dying people. In March this year, I was shocked to hear that this kindly priest had been killed. Not by supposed Islamist rebels intent on destroying all those of other religions; but by a barrel bomb dropped by one of Assad’s helicopters.

The West has so far abrogated its moral responsibility to the Syrian people and has paid a price not only in the hundreds of thousands of desperate refugees flocking to Europe’s shores but also in Putin’s audacious power play, so that we find ourselves in a situation where Russia, Iran and Hizbollah are leading this brutal dance. [Continue reading…]


If Assad stays on, then Syria will never be saved

H A Hellyer writes: The regime in Damascus has powerful backers in Russia and Iran who are willing to intervene. Opponents of that regime have no such comparable sponsors. The help they receive is limited.

Now the search is on for a compromise solution to the crisis in Syria. But the motives have little to do with the civilian body count, which is now in excess of 200,000 since the start of the crisis. The impetus also has little to do with the destruction of much of Syria’s civilisational heritage either. Rather, the critical factors are the flow of refugees to Europe and the threat of ISIL spreading. Bearing these factors in mind, it’s entirely possible Mr Al Assad will get something of a free pass.

But the compromise solution is not the extension of Mr Al Assad’s rule in Damascus. A full solution in Syria would be the radical reform of the regime structure in the country – a full reform of the apparatus, so that not only would Mr Al Assad leave, but the Baathist edifice would change. That wouldn’t necessitate the destruction of the edifice in the same way as in Iraq, but it would mean more than the departure of Mr Al Assad. A compromise, therefore, that includes Mr Al Assad, is not a compromise in the slightest.

But judging from the moves that are currently being entertained in Europe and the US, it may be that any solution that sees the reduction of refugee flows, and increased activity against ISIL, will be deemed as acceptable. [Continue reading…]


U.S. signals Bashar al-Assad can take part in political transition in Syria

The Wall Street Journal reports: On Thursday, Thomas Shannon, President Barack Obama’s nominee to be undersecretary of state, said Mr. Kerry is seeking to ascertain whether Russia and Iran are prepared “to convince Mr. Assad that during a political transition process, he will have to go.”

During his confirmation hearing, Mr. Shannon said Mr. Kerry “thought it was time to bring everybody together and effectively call their bluff.”

The U.S. diplomacy is placing the Arab states and Turkey in a bind, as many of them have provided significant arms and funding to the largely Sunni rebel forces seeking to overthrow Mr. Assad.

Saudi Arabia, in particular, has publicly criticized Russia’s military intervention in Syria, arguing it could strengthen Mr. Assad and Shiite-dominated Iran, his closest Middle East ally.

Still, Saudi Arabia is finding it difficult to oppose the new round of diplomacy because of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s heavy military investment in Syria. Saudi officials have been holding their own direct talks with the Kremlin and have also pressed for a clear time line for when Mr. Assad would be forced to stand down, senior Arab officials said.

Mr. Obama’s position in the early days of Syria’s civil war was that Mr. Assad had to step down immediately as part of any resolution to the conflict, but that position shifted as the regime held together and the spread of Islamic State has become a higher priority.

The administration’s primary aim now is to get warring parties to abide by a cease-fire, so the U.S. can more effectively zero in on Islamic State and give new momentum to the stalled fight.

As a result, the administration’s view is Mr. Assad’s future can be dealt with later.

Current and former U.S. officials say the White House’s acceptance of Russian and Iranian demands on keeping Mr. Assad in power at least temporarily will make it hard — if not impossible — for the administration to get the different rebel factions fighting the regime to sign on to a cease-fire. [Continue reading…]


After a U.S. shift, Iran has a seat at talks on war in Syria

The New York Times reports: Just a few weeks ago, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said any new talks with the United States were forbidden. He described the United States as a persistent enemy of the Islamic revolution, and said that despite the nuclear agreement, it needed to be kept at a distance.

But participating in the multination Syria talks does not contradict Mr. Khamenei’s dictums, some Iranian analysts say.

“Our leader has banned the bilateral relations between Iran and America or any negotiation aimed at resuming relations,” said Hamidreza Taraghi, a political analyst in Tehran considered close to the ayatollah. “Case-by-case negotiations or finding solutions for regional problems on a multilateral basis is all right.”

So, while publicly siding with the hard-liners, the Supreme Leader may well be giving more negotiating room to President Hassan Rouhani, who has advocated more open engagements with the rest of the world. There has already been an unspoken cooperation between Iran and the United States in Iraq, where both are fighting the Islamic State.

“We should thank President Rouhani for his efforts in reaching out to the international community, and the nuclear deal,” said Farshad Ghorbanpour, a political analyst close to the government in Tehran. “Now we are seeing the rewards: We are playing an increasing active role in the international arena.”

That role is something that Iran has desperately sought: Diplomatic weight and respect that bolsters its claim that it, not Saudi Arabia, is the most influential power in the region. “It’s very important because it shows that, following the nuclear agreement, Iran is now ready to cooperate on crisis management in the Middle East,” Seyed Hossein Mousavian, a former Iranian diplomat and nuclear negotiator who now teaches at Princeton, said in a telephone interview. “I’m not surprised, because the leader had said that if the deal were done fairly, with face-saving for all parties, Iran would agree to next steps on other issues. This is a big step forward.”

Cliff Kupchan, an Iran specialist and chairman of the Eurasia Group, a Washington political consultancy, said that given Russia’s recent intervention in Syria to support Mr. Assad, it was clear he would remain in charge for a while, which meant Iran would be attending the Vienna talks from a position of strength.

Still, Mr. Kupchan said in an email, “as U.S.-Iran contacts spread to a broader array of issues, it will be harder and harder for Iranian conservatives to quarantine cooperation.” [Continue reading…]


Why are so many Iranian generals getting killed in Syria?

McClatchy reports: At least six generals from the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps have been killed in Syria since 2013, according to an official of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. Three of those, including Hamadani, who was killed Oct.9 in the embattled northern city of Aleppo, have died since the beginning of the month.

A seventh Revolutionary Guard general was killed by an Islamic State sniper in Iraq last year.

Experts say the deaths of so many senior officers in Syria underscore the Iranian commitment to preserving Assad’s government in a “rump” Syria that includes most of the country’s major cities and the coastal province of Latakia, the traditional center of Assad’s religious sect, the Alawites.

It also is a reflection of the difference between Iran’s fighting tactics and those of Western militaries, whose senior officers usually direct operations from heavily protected command centers far in the rear.

Just one U.S. general has been killed in a conflict zone since the Vietnam War ended more than 40 years ago. That officer, Army Maj. Gen. Harold Greene, was shot by an Afghan soldier during a visit to a Kabul military academy in August 2014.

The need for close battlefield supervision by senior commanders has grown as the pro-Assad force has become a diverse amalgam of fighters from Lebanon, Iraq and Iran as well as Syria, cobbled together to compensate for the Syrian army’s serious manpower shortages. In addition to coordinating with one another, the units must be synchronized with airstrikes from Russian and Syrian jet fighters and helicopter gunships.

“When you need as many bodies on the ground to do the fighting . . . they need better coordination,” said Philip Smyth, a University of Maryland researcher who tracks Iranian-backed Shiite militias. “You need guys who are hard core and can really provide the stiff style of leadership and command, people who are not going to flinch under fire.” [Continue reading…]


Do Tehran and Moscow still believe Assad’s political survival depends on mass murder?

Frederic C. Hof writes: In Syria consent for the country to be used as a supply and training base for Hezbollah is limited to Assad-Makhluf family and its enablers. Popular consent in Syria is the last thing Tehran wishes to facilitate.

What Iran might be willing to consider, however, is — with the support of Moscow — obliging its client to suspend indefinitely the worst aspects of his mass homicide political survival strategy. Assad will not conduct mass casualty events — barrel bombing, artillery barrages, aircraft strafing, or Scud missile assaults on apartment blocks — if Iran and Russia instruct him not to do so. If so ordered, Assad will direct the lifting of sieges and the unrestricted passage of United Nations humanitarian assistance convoys to people desperately in need of food and medical treatment.

The key question here is whether Tehran and Moscow will persist in believing that mass terror is essential to their client’s political survival. For some four years they have believed so. To the extent that the Supreme Leader and Russian President Vladimir Putin have had reputations worth preserving, they have jeopardized them by facilitating the ability of the Assad regime to conduct war crimes and crimes against humanity with absolute impunity. As they evaluate the Syrian situation now, in October 2015, do they still believe that Assad’s political survival must rest on mass homicide?

This is the question that could conceivably produce a new answer from Tehran. Speaking privately in track two settings, senior non-governmental Iranians have expressed regret over and disgust with Assad regime behavior toward defenseless civilians. Can Tehran reconcile the protection of civilians in Syria with its own national security interests? This — rather than some manner of political grand bargain over Syria — would be worth a serious discussion in Vienna. [Continue reading…]


Iran to attend Syria talks in Vienna

BBC News reports: Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif will attend multilateral talks on finding a political solution to the conflict in Syria in Vienna this week, a government spokeswoman has said.

It will be the first time Iran – an ally of President Bashar al-Assad – has attended such a summit with the US.

Representatives of Russia, Saudi Arabia and Turkey will also attend the talks. [Continue reading…]