Category Archives: Iran

Why is Saudi Arabia Now Supporting the Iran Deal?

Iran Deal: Don’t expect much change in post-Vienna US Middle East policy

Gareth Porter writes for Middle East Eye:

If and when the Iran nuclear agreement gets through Congress, many people in Washington hope that Obama will articulate a more realistic strategy for the Middle East than what we have heard from his administration in the past.

But Obama has evidently decided this is not the time to articulate anything about the region’s future that he does not see as helping to sell the agreement on Capitol Hill. The real question is whether there is a clear idea waiting to be made public when the timing is right.

If there was ever an appropriate moment for Obama to articulate an overarching post-agreement policy vision that integrated the Iran nuclear agreement into a broader strategy for dealing with a Middle East at war, it was his speech at American University on 5 August. The time and place for the speech were chosen in explicit acknowledgement of John F. Kennedy’s speech at that same university 52 years earlier. In his speech, JFK offered a vision of a transformation of US policy toward the Soviet Union and the Cold War from one of confrontation to negotiations. But instead of using that occasion to explain how US diplomacy might play a transformational role in the Middle East, Obama limited the speech to defending the Vienna agreement in the narrowest terms.

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To Defend Iran Deal, Obama Boasts That He’s Bombed Seven Countries

Glenn Greenwald writes for The Intercept:

[…] Beyond accurately describing Iran deal opponents, Obama also accurately described himself and his own record of militarism. To defend against charges that he Loves the Terrorists, he boasted:

As commander-in-chief, I have not shied away from using force when necessary. I have ordered tens of thousands of young Americans into combat.

I’ve ordered military action in seven countries.

By “ordered military actions in seven countries,” what he means is that he has ordered bombs dropped, and he has extinguished the lives of thousands of innocent people, in seven different countries, all of which just so happen to be predominantly Muslim.

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Iran deal is about staving off the coming oil shock

Nafeez Ahmed writes for Middle Easy Eye:

[…] George Friedman, founder and CEO of private US intelligence firm Stratfor – which operates closely with the Pentagon and State Department – forecasted the US-Iran détente four years ago.

His prescient assessment of its strategic rationale is worth noting. Friedman explained that by reaching “a temporary understanding with Iran,” the US would give itself room to withdraw while playing off Iran against the Sunni regimes, limiting Iran’s “direct controls” in the region, “while putting the Saudis, among others, at an enormous disadvantage”.

“This strategy would confront the reality of Iranian power and try to shape it,” wrote Friedman.

Ultimately, though, the US is betting on the rise of Turkey – hence the latter’s pivotal role in the new anti-IS rebel training strategy, despite Turkey’s military and financial sponsorship of IS.

For the US, “the longer-term solution to the balance of power in the region will be the rise of Turkey,” which would “counterbalance Iran and Israel, while stabilising the Arabian Peninsula.” This will eventually generate “a new regional balance of power”.

Crucially, this regional balance of power would operate under the overarching sway of US military pre-eminence.

As Stephen Kinzer has pointed out, a US-Turkey-Iran axis would enhance the US ability to police Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and Pakistan from a distance, while safeguarding oil and gas transportation routes to Europe.

But both Friedman and Kinzer missed another critical factor in these geopolitical considerations: the prospect of a global oil shock.’

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Gareth Porter on the Iran Deal: ‘Media Have Been Applying a False Narrative to the Entire Issue’

Gareth Porter was interviewed recently about the Iran deal on FAIR’s CounterSpin:

Gareth Porter: Well, of course there is a great deal that the media are missing about the background of this, because of the fact that the media have been basically applying a false narrative to the entire issue of the Iran nuclear program for so long, and that means that they are missing essentially the entire true history of the program.

In my focus on one particular issue, I don’t mean to suggest that this is by any means the only problem with the news media interpretation or take on the Iran nuclear deal. But what I thought was particularly appropriate at this point is to look back and see, how did the US come to the point where it was ready to negotiate a deal on the nuclear program with Iran? And the answer to that is certainly not something that you will learn from reading the news media accounts.

I’ve been following this for some years now, and what struck me about the relevant history here is that, in fact, if you go back to the 1990s, the people within Iran who are part of this very strong, the most powerful political faction in the country, really, the Rafsanjani faction–named after the former President Rafsanjani, who wanted to integrate Iran into the global capitalist economy, and realized that their only hope for doing that was to reach some kind of an agreement with the United States–really began in the late 1980s and early 1990s to engage the United States diplomatically and politically. And what happened was that the United States was simply not interested, either under the George H.W. Bush administration or the Clinton administration, and certainly not the George W. Bush administration.

Why did the United States not take any interest in diplomatic engagement with Iran? Because, at that point, Iran was simply too weak, and the disparity in power with the United States was simply too great. The United States government did not see any compelling strategic reason to have a negotiating process with Iran.

In my book, I point out quite precisely in the very early 1990s, when the Bush administration at that time basically shifted a policy that had been planned to be carried out by the White House to reciprocate a gesture by Rafsanjani in helping to release US hostages in Lebanon, by essentially making some public concession or gesture to Iran, and instead of doing that, in the wake of the victory over Iraq, the administration decided that they didn’t really need Iran at all in their plans for the Middle East, and simply embarked on a new period of hostility toward Iran. So that was the beginning of this 25-year period, essentially, of the US being much less interested in reaching agreement with Iran than Iran was.

That’s been misunderstood, because Iran has not simply said, United States, we’ll do whatever you want to have an agreement with you. They wanted the United States to lift the sanctions. And that was the primary issue for many years, and the United States wasn’t willing to do that. So it was not really until the second Obama administration that the United States really deigned to enter into a fundamental negotiating process with Iran. Up until that time, the posture of the United States was: We will put pressure on Iran to force it to give up  its nuclear program. Or, we’re really not interested in doing that; we will just carry out regime change, as was the case with the Bush administration.

What I’m really talking about here is the impact of the vast disparity in power between the United States and Iran, and how that has shaped the history of the whole question of the diplomatic engagement between the two countries.’

LISTEN TO THE FULL INTERVIEW…

Anti-Iran Deal AIPAC Spin-off Relies on Iranian Ex-Terrorist Group

Eli Clifton and Ali Gharib writes for LobeLog:

CFNFI NCRI c2 640When the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) declared war on the nuclear accord between Iran and world powers signed last week in Vienna, it put its money where its mouth is. AIPAC, Washington’s most influential pro-Israel lobby reportedly plans on spending $20 million over the next two months urging Congress to vote against the deal. But its efforts at a full frontal attack on the accord, inked by the P5+1 (the US, China, France, Russia, the UK, and Germany) and Iran is leading to some politically awkward alliances.

As part of its efforts to kill the deal with a congressional vote, AIPAC launched a 501c4 advocacy group called Citizens For A Nuclear Free Iran. The group, according to The New York Times, was “formed with the sole mission of educating the public ‘about the dangers of the proposed Iran deal,’” said spokesman Patrick Dorton. The Times reported that the $20 million budget would go to ad buys in as many as 40 states as well as other advocacy.

Now that the campaign is taking shape, the AIPAC spin-off appears to be relying on a typical, if troubling, ally of American groups and individuals opposed to diplomacy with Iran. Namely, two items on the website of Citizens for a Nuclear Iran, one of which was later removed, featured an exiled Iranian opposition group called the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK).

The MEK makes a cameo appearance in the television ad crafted by Citizens For a Nuclear Free Iran, the well-financed AIPAC spin-off, as well as on a now-removed news items on the group’s “Press Room” webpage—indicating that Nuclear Free Iran recognized a PR misstep by promoting the group.’

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Iran Deal: Obama Acts for America’s Interests

Eric Margolis, author of American Raj, writes:

shutterstock_274494032Barack Obama is the first American president to stand up to the Israel lobby since Dwight Eisenhower ordered Israel to withdraw from Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula in 1956-57.

Freed of re-election concerns and the need for vast amounts of cash, President Obama finally made the decision to put America’s strategic interests ahead of those of Israel by making peace with Iran. This was a huge accomplishment: the United States has waged economic and political warfare against the Islamic Republic since its creation in 1979.

Iran now looks likely to join Cuba in getting paroled from prison. Both refused to bow to Washington and paid a very heavy price that left them semi-crippled economically and isolated.

Unless the Israel lobby and its yes-men in Congress manage to block the nuclear agreement between Iran and major world powers, Tehran will be re-integrated into the world economic system and reassert its regional power. Iran is the world’s fourth largest producer of oil and a principal supplier to China and Japan.

Iran’s gradual return to unrestrained oil exporting may well spook markets that are already facing a severe glut of inventory that has driven down energy prices everywhere. So much for fears of “peak oil.”

It’s now time to begin dispelling the miasma of lies about Iran promoted by neoconservatives and their house media.’

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Is the ‘military option’ on Iran off the table?

Ray McGovern, a former CIA analyst, writes for the Baltimore Sun:

[…] Looking for changes in official public statements was my bread and butter during a long tenure as a Kremlinologist. So on Wednesday, as I watched Mr. Obama defend the deal with Iran, I leaned way forward at each juncture — and there were several — where the timeworn warning about all options being “on the table” would have been de rigueur. He avoided saying it.

“All options on the table?” The open-ended nature of this Bush/Cheney-esque bully-type warning is at odds with Western international understandings spanning more than three and half centuries — from the treaties of Westphalia (1648), to the Kellogg-Briand Pact (1928) to the post-World War II Nuremberg Tribunal to the UN Charter (1945). Try raising that with Establishment Washington, though, and be prepared to be dismissed as “picky-picky,” or as quaint and as obsolete as the Geneva Conventions. Undergirding all this is the chauvinism reflected in President Obama’s repeated reminders that the U.S. “is the sole indispensable country in the world.”

But in the wake of last week’s accord with Iran in Vienna, it is possible now to hope that the “military option” is finally off the table — in reality, if not in occasional rhetorical palliatives for Israel.

Most Americans have no idea of how close we came to making war on Iran in 2008, the last year of the Bush/Cheney administration. Nor do they know of the essential role played by courageous managers of intelligence who, for the first time on the Iran nuclear issue, supervised a strictly evidence-based, from-the-bottom-up National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that concluded in November 2007 that Iran had stopped working on a nuclear weapon at the end of 2003 and had not resumed that work.’

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Report: US to Give Israel Massive Increase in Military Aid for Iran Deal

Jason Ditz reports for Antiwar:

Israeli media are quoting officials familiar with the situation as saying there are quiet talks going on between the Obama Administration and Israel’s new far-right government on a “massive compensation” boost in military aid for Israel’s acquiescence on the civilian nuclear deal with Iran.

The deal is expected to be spun in the US and Israel as a huge boost in military aid to keep Israel’s “competitive advantage” over Saudi Arabia after that nation buys new US weapons, though Israel of course isn’t on particularly bad terms with the Saudis to begin with.

In return, Israel would be allowed to keep publicly complaining about the Iran deal, but would privately tone down their efforts to undermine the deal.’

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How Three of the Iran Negotiations’ Toughest Issues Were Resolved

Gareth Porter, author of Manufactured Crisis, writes for Truthout:

Iranians holding their flag celebrate the announcement that Iran had reached a nuclear deal with world powers in Tehran, Iran, July 14, 2015. (Arash Khamooshi/The New York Times) The 159-page text of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) between Iran and the six powers led by the United States does not contain any major surprises about the two central elements of the agreement – limits on the Iranian nuclear program and the timing and sequencing of lifting sanctions. And there is nothing in the text about the last major issue to be resolved – how the Security Council’s new resolution will deal with the arms embargo and ban on the Iranian ballistic missile program.

But details provided in the official text help confirm information available from other sources on the other two toughest issues: IAEA access to “suspicious sites” and the past allegations of Iranian work on nuclear weapons.

Below are brief accounts of what we now know about how these three major negotiating issues were resolved during the Vienna round of negotiations. The three issues are of particular interest because they have all been the most clearly linked to the politics of Israeli and Saudi opposition to the agreement.’

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Netanyahu: Israel Won’t Be Bound by Iran Nuclear Deal

Jason Ditz reports for Antiwar:

In between bouts of angrily shaking his fists at the sky about the P5+1 nuclear deal with Iran, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared today that he doesn’t believe his country is bound by the deal in the slightest, and remains free to attack Iran at any moment.

Netanyahu has been insisting a nuclear deal with Iran would mean the destruction of Israel throughout the talks, empty rhetoric during the long period when no one expected the talks to actually lead to any sort of deal. With a deal now not only possible but agreed to, Netanyahu is struggling to get his rhetoric on track.

Israel wasn’t involved in the nuclear deal, and has no obligations under it, so saying they are not bound by it is effectively meaningless. The threats to attack Iran are nothing new, but feel even emptier in the wake of the deal, as it would fuel an enormous international backlash against Israel, even if US hawks are okay with the idea.’

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Pentagon chief reassures Israel: We will use “military option” against Iran if necessary

Kristina Wong reports for The Hill:

Defense Secretary Ash Carter reassured Israel and other allies in the Middle East on Tuesday that the U.S. would utilize the “military option” against Iran if needed.

“We remain prepared and postured to bolster the security of our friends and allies in the region, including Israel; to defend against aggression; ensure freedom of navigation in the Gulf; and check Iranian malign influence,” Carter said in a statement.

“We will utilize the military option if necessary,” he added.

“Our military — including tens of thousands of U.S. forces in the Middle East — are full speed ahead maintaining a strong presence in the Gulf.”

Carter’s remarks came after the administration announced it reached a nuclear deal with Iran to limit its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. ‘

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How a weaker Iran got the hegemon to lift sanctions

Gareth Porter writes for Middle East Eye:

Now that Iran nuclear deal is completed, the attention of western news media and political commentators is predictably focused overwhelmingly on the opposition to the agreement within the US Congress and from Israel and the Saudi-led Sunni Arab coalition.

That media lens misses the real significance of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which is that Iran succeeded in negotiating an agreement with the United States that upheld its national right to a nuclear programme despite the obvious vast disparity in power between the two states. That power disparity between the global hegemon and a militarily weak but politically influential regional “middle power” has shaped not just the negotiating strategies of the two sides during the negotiations but, more importantly, how they came about in the first place.

The news media have adopted the Obama administration’s view that negotiations were the result of Iran responding to international sanctions. The problem with that conventional view is not that Iran wasn’t eager to get the sanctions removed, but that it was motivated to do so long before the United States was willing to negotiate.’

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Iran Deal Creates World’s Most Intrusive Inspection Regime: Interview with Lawrence Wikerson

Lawrence Wilkerson is a retired United States Army Colonel and a former chief of staff to United States Secretary of State Colin Powell. He is known for being critical of the Iraq War. (The Real News)

Could Historic Iran Nuclear Deal Transform the Middle East? Interview with Flynt Leverett

Flynt Leverett is the author of “Going to Tehran: Why America Must Accept the Islamic Republic of Iran“. He is also professor of international affairs at Penn State. He served for over a decade in the U.S. government as a senior analyst at the CIA, a Middle East specialist for the State Department and as senior director for Middle East affairs at the National Security Council. (Democracy Now!)

After years of talks, an Iran nuclear deal has been signed

Editor’s Note: You can view a timeline of the Iran nuclear talks here, and the full text of the agreement here.

Heather Timmons and Jason Karaian report for Quartz:

It has finally happened. Iran and six world powers have reached a deal to lift sanctions that have been in place for 12 years, in exchange for the nation’s agreement to limit its nuclear program.

Iran’s civil nuclear infrastructure will remain intact, sanctions against banks and exports will be lifted, and an arms embargo removed, to be replaced with five-year restrictions on arms-buying. In return, “under no circumstances will Iran ever seek, develop or acquire any nuclear weapons,” the agreement states.

“No one ever thought it would be easy. Historic decisions never are,” read a joint statement from EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif:

We know that this agreement will be subject to intense scrutiny. But what we are announcing today is not only a deal but a good deal. And a good deal for all sides—and the wider international community.

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Iran Talks Stall Again Amid Reports Western Officials Change Demands

Jason Ditz reports for Antiwar:

‘Nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5+1, believed to be on the cusp of a final agreement, appear to have hit a brick wall today amid reports that various Western nations, particularly the US, are changing their positions and “walking back” previous concessions.

Iranian negotiators say that the talks are less and less a multilateral negotiation and more like five simultaneous bilateral negotiations, with every Western nation present Iran their own “red lines” on the deal. They say negotiators are often “flexible” on other nations’ red lines, but not their own.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov confirmed Iran’s assessment of the situation, saying Western nations were suddenly rejecting a draft resolution which others had suggested would be entirely successful, and saying the fault of the latest delay was not Iran’s.’

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Big loser in any nuclear deal with Iran may be Russia

Agnia Grigas and Amir Handjani report for Reuters:

As Iran and six world powers edge closer to solidifying an accord that puts limits on Tehran’s nuclear program in return for sanctions relief, a unique opportunity presents itself for the West. The United States and its European partners could begin to decouple the unnatural Iranian-Russian alliance to reign in Moscow’s hegemonic ambitions, as well as bring Iran back into the global economic fold. Competition between Moscow and Tehran would reduce Russia’s influence in the Middle East, unlock Iran and may even serve Europe’s future interest as it looks for alternatives to Russian gas.

Iran and Russia share a complicated history rooted in both countries’ imperial past. In fact, over the past two centuries, Iran has ceded more territory to Russia than any other country. After the Second World War, the Soviet Union destabilized and encouraged separatist movements in the province of Iranian Azerbaijan, similar to what Moscow is doing in Ukraine. As recently as the 1980s, Iran backed Afghan rebels in their conflict against the Soviet Union.

The recent Russo-Iranian alliance has been more a marriage of convenience than a genuine partnership. Russia uses Iran as a geopolitical foothold in the energy-rich Persian Gulf and to poke a finger in the eye of U.S. allies in the region. In return, Iran takes advantage of Moscow’s veto power at multinational forums such as the United Nations. An Iran that is engaged with the West in areas such as energy, trade and peaceful nuclear power generation would no longer see Russia as protector of its interests. It is a fact that Iran’s fractured and vitriolic relationship with the West has driven it to form political, commercial and military ties with Russia. Those ties are still fragile, at best.’

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Document Reveals Billionaire Backers Behind United Against Nuclear Iran

Eli Clifton reports for LobeLog:

Among the many groups engaged in advocacy over a potential deal between Iran and world powers, United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) stands apart as by far the most mysterious. Late last month, UANI announced it would launch a “multi-million dollar” ad campaign, noting “a growing concern that U.S. negotiators could be pressured into making dangerous concessions in order to cement a deal,” according to the group’s CEO, Mark Wallace.

As the ad buy suggests, UANI draws on a deep well of resources to fund fretful warnings about the dangers of compromising with Iran’s nuclear negotiators. But, despite piecemeal information unearthed in my previous reporting, a more comprehensive look at UANI’s funding has until now remained obscured by a US government-backed veil of secrecy: the group’s donor rolls were among the documents a plaintiff was seeking in a defamation case against UANI until the Justice Department quashed the suit with an invocation of state secrets.

Now, however, I’ve obtained and reviewed a comprehensive list of UANI’s major donors in UANI’s 2013 tax year, providing some answers about who is backing the group’s efforts.’

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Post-sanctions Iran “could be the best emerging market for years to come”

Ian Black reports for The Guardian:

Iranian schoolgirls wave their national flag during the 36th anniversary of the Islamic revolution in Tehran's Azadi Square.[…] Prospects for recovery occupy as much space in the Iranian media as the chances of reaching a deal in the P5 + 1 nuclear negotiations in Vienna, which are due to end by Tuesday. Things are already looking up. The economy rebounded out of recession and grew 2.8% in 2014, President Hassan Rouhani’s first year in office. The IMF predicts growth of 0.6% and 1.3% in 2015 and 2016 respectively. Inflation is down from 45% under the reckless and profligate Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to 15% today.

Expectations are high in the energy sector – the source of 35% of government revenues. Oil exports have halved since 2012 though the deputy oil minister said on Sunday that they could almost double when sanctions are lifted. “We are like a pilot on the runway ready to take off,” a bullish Mansour Moazami told the Wall Street Journal. “This is how the whole country is right now.”

Oil matters. But Iran’s economy is far more diverse than that of Saudi Arabia, its great rival in the region. It is the world’s largest exporter of cement, as well as pistachios, saffron and caviar. Shipping is another big earner. State-owned Iran Shipping Lines has been badly hit by sanctions and stands to benefit significantly when they go, analysts say.

The single most urgent change business wants is the end to the ban on bank transfers under the international Swift system. “That has been the biggest blow,” said Rouzbeh Pirouz, chairman of Turquoise Partners. “But it’s not just that. Iranian companies have had difficulty trading and participating in global markets.”’

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Why Iran’s Supreme Leader Wants a Deal

Omid Memarian writes for Politico:

When Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif was about to leave Tehran for Vienna last week, the Twitter handler for Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei posted a tweet in English to show strong support for the negotiation team: “I recognize our negotiators as trustworthy, committed, brave and faithful,” the tweet said. It was clearly another attempt by the supreme leader to protect Zarif and his team from attacks by hard-liners in Tehran.

Despite his image as a hard-liner—and his occasional fulminations against Western perfidy—it is Khamenei who has been the guardian angel for Iran’s nuclear negotiators for the past 18 months. And if the negotiations end in a final agreement by July 7—the new deadline set as the original June 30 deadline expired last week—it will be Khamenei who makes the deal. Or breaks it.

Thus, as we head into the final stages, it’s important for the West to see beyond the supposed “red lines” that Khamenei has laid out in his remarks to understand the tricky domestic politics his comments are meant to navigate.

[…] All of these statements were very likely mainly intended for Iranian domestic consumption, and all these demands can be finessed in the language of a final agreement. As an economist close to the Rouhani circles told me last week from Tehran, “Iran has not been in the talks for 18 months to blow it, but to make a deal.”’

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US spin on access to Iranian sites has distorted the issue

Gareth Porter writes for Middle East Eye:

A public diplomacy campaign by the Obama administration to convince world opinion that Iran was reneging on the Lausanne framework agreement in April has seriously misrepresented the actual diplomacy of the Iran nuclear talks, as my interviews with Iranian officials here make clear.

President Barack Obama’s threat on Tuesday to walk out of the nuclear talks if Iranian negotiators didn’t return to the Lausanne framework – especially on the issue of IAEA access to Iranian sites – was the climax of that campaign.

But what has really been happening in nuclear talks is not that Iran has backed away from that agreement but that the United States and Iran have been carrying out tough negotiations – especially in the days before the Vienna round of talks began – on the details of how the basic framework agreement will be implemented.

The US campaign began immediately upon the agreement in Lausanne on 2 April. The Obama administration said in its 2 April fact sheet that Iran “would be required” to grant IAEA inspectors access to “suspicious sites”.  Then Deputy Security Adviser Ben Rhodes declared that if the United States wanted access to an Iranian military base that the US considered “suspicious”, it could “go to the IAEA and get that inspection” because of the Additional Protocol and other “inspection measures that are in the deal”.’

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The Iran I Saw

Christopher Schroeder, author of Startup Rising, writes for Politico:

[…] This is a tale of two Irans. This is, specifically, the tale of the other Iran.

The tale we hear most often focuses on natural resources like oil as their greatest asset or nuclear power as their greatest threat—a narrative frozen in time, stretching back decades with remembered pain on both sides. For many Americans, the reference point for Iran is still centered on the hostage crisis at the U.S. embassy in Tehran over 35 years ago; for others, it has focused on Iranian support for destabilizing regional actors against our interests and costing lives.

At the same time, of course, Iranians have their own version of this tale: Many remember well U.S. support for a coup of their elected leadership, our support for a dictatorial regime and later encouragement of a war in Iraq that cost nearly a half-million Iranian lives.

Politics, power, mistrust: This is one version of how the media frames discussion of Iran. It’s very real, and it has much caution and evidence to support it.

But there’s another tale, one I saw repeatedly in my trip there last month. It was my second visit within the year, travelling with a group of senior global business executives to explore this remarkable and controversial nation.’

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Iran launches anti-ISIS cartoon competition “to expose true nature of Islamic State”

Adam Withnall reports for The Independent:

‘Iran has launched an anti-Isis cartoon competition, inviting submissions from around the world which mock the militant group and the atrocities it has committed.

Organisers said selected works would be displayed at four cultural centres across Tehran, and that a winner would be announced on 31 May.

According to the state-run IRNA news agency, artists were briefed by Iran’s House of Cartoon to focus on “the crimes committed by the Islamic State (Isis)”.

Mohammad Habibi, the executive secretary of the contest, said 280 works had been selected from 800 submissions, including entries from over 40 countries such as Brazil, Australia and Indonesia.’

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Why Saudis Derailed Imminent Yemen Deal with Airstrikes: Interview with Joe Lauria

Joe Lauria is the Wall Street Journal’s UN correspondent. He discusses how a former UN envoy came forward with details of a power-sharing deal in Yemen and why Saudi Arabia would want to prevent that deal from becoming a reality. (The Real News)

Yemen: Terrified citizens caught between Saudi Arabia and Iran as air strikes and blockade threaten humanitarian disaster for millions

Patrick Cockburn writes for The Independent:

[…] So far the air strikes have failed to force back the Houthis. The involvement of a Saudi-led Sunni coalition has connected the crisis firmly with the broader conflict between Sunni and Shia branches of Islam that is inflaming much of the region. The United Nations says that more than 1,200 people have been killed and 300,000 forced to flee their homes as a result of Saudi bombing and ground fighting, which is particularly intense in Aden.

“The scene is disastrous, not just in the streets where fighting is going on but inside houses where families are often trapped and terrified,” Ahmed al-Awgari, an activist in Aden, told Reuters. “Women and children have been burnt in homes, civilians have been shot in the streets or blown up by tank fire.”

Yemen is facing a humanitarian disaster, with half of its 26 million people already malnourished before the air attacks began. Aid agencies say that the Saudi air and sea blockade is preventing Yemen from importing food on which it is wholly reliant. This includes some 90 per cent of the wheat consumed in Yemen and other essentials. Hospitals are closing because they have no fuel for generators and have asked car owners with petrol to help move the sick and injured.

In the last six weeks Yemen has joined countries like Syria, Iraq and Libya that are paralysed by violence, but aid workers say that the Saudi blockade means that conditions are worst in Yemen.’

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Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk writes for The Independent:

[…] It amazes me that all these warriors of the air don’t regularly crash into each other as they go on bombing and bombing. And since Lebanon’s Middle East Airlines is the only international carrier still flying over Syria – but not, thank heavens, over Isis’s Syrian capital of Raqqa – I’m even more amazed that my flights from Beirut to the Gulf have gone untouched by the blitz boys of so many Arab and Western states as they career around the skies of Mesopotamia and the Levant.

The sectarian and theological nature of this war seems perfectly clear to all who live in the Middle East – albeit not to our American chums. The Sunni Saudis are bombing the Shia Yemenis and the Shia Iranians are bombing the Sunni Iraqis. The Sunni Egyptians are bombing Sunni Libyans, it’s true, and the Jordanian Sunnis are bombing Iraqi Sunnis. But the Shia-supported Syrian government forces are bombing their Sunni Syrian enemies and the Lebanese Hezbollah – Shia to a man – are fighting the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s Sunni enemies, along with Iranian Revolutionary Guards and an ever-larger number of Afghan Shia men in Syrian uniforms.’

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The Pentagon’s ‘Long War’ Pits NATO Against China, Russia and Iran

Pepe Escobar writes for Sputnik:

Satirized painting of the Statue of Liberty painted on the wall of the former U.S. Embassy, in Tehran, IranWhatever happens with the nuclear negotiations this summer, and as much as Tehran wants cooperation and not confrontation, Iran is bound to remain — alongside Russia — a key US geostrategic target.

As much as US President Barack Obama tried to dismiss it, the Russian sale of the S-300 missile system to Iran is a monumental game-changer. Even with the added gambit of the Iranian military assuring the made in Iran Bavar 373 may be even more efficient than the S-300.

This explains why Jane’s Defense Weekly was already saying years ago that Israel could not penetrate Iranian airspace even if it managed to get there. And after the S-300s Iran inevitably will be offered the even more sophisticated S-400s, which are to be delivered to China as well.

The unspoken secret behind these game-changing proceedings actually terrifies Washington warmongers; it spells out a further frontline of Eurasian integration, in the form of an evolving Eurasian missile shield deployed against Pentagon/NATO ballistic plans.

A precious glimpse of what’s ahead was offered at the Moscow Conference on International Security (MICS) in mid-April.’

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Controversial MEK Leader Invited to Congress, Calls For Iran Overthrow to Fight ISIS

David Francis reports for Foreign Policy:

Featured photo - Long March of the Yellow Jackets: How a One-Time Terrorist Group Prevailed on Capitol HillThe controversial leader of an Iranian dissidents group was called to Capitol Hill to lend her expertise about the Islamic State lawmakers. Her testimony Wednesday showed she was only interested in talking about Iran.

Maryam Rajavi, leader of the Iranian dissidents organization Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK), a group that until 2012 was list on the State Department’s terror list, insisted Tehran was the root of the Islamic State’s power. In prepared testimony, she mentioned Iran 135 times. By comparison, the Islamic State, or ISIS, got 19 mentions; Iraq was mentioned 48 times. Nuclear, as in Iran’s nuclear program, got 31 mentions.

But lawmakers tolerated Rajavi’s notion that “terrorism and fundamentalism came from the mullahs’ regime in Iran. When that is overthrown [the Islamic State] will be destroyed.”’

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10 Most Censored Countries

Committee to Protect Journalists published a preview of their annual Attacks on the Press report, which released on Monday, 27 April:

Eritrea and North Korea are the first and second most censored countries worldwide, according to a list compiled by the Committee to Protect Journalists of the 10 countries where the press is most restricted. The list is based on research into the use of tactics ranging from imprisonment and repressive laws to harassment of journalists and restrictions on Internet access.

In Eritrea, President Isaias Afewerki has succeeded in his campaign to crush independent journalism, creating a media climate so oppressive that even reporters for state-run news outlets live in constant fear of arrest. The threat of imprisonment has led many journalists to choose exile rather than risk arrest. Eritrea is Africa’s worst jailer of journalists, with at least 23 behind bars-none of whom has been tried in court or even charged with a crime.

Fearing the spread of Arab Spring uprisings, Eritrea scrapped plans in 2011 to provide mobile Internet for its citizens, limiting the possibility of access to independent information. Although Internet is available, it is through slow dial-up connections, and fewer than 1 percent of the population goes online, according to U.N. International Telecommunication Union figures. Eritrea also has the lowest figure globally of cell phone users, with just 5.6 percent of the population owning one.

In North Korea, 9.7 percent of the population has cell phones, a number that excludes access to phones smuggled in from China. In place of the global Internet, to which only a select few powerful individuals have access, some schools and other institutions have access to a tightly controlled intranet. And despite the arrival of an Associated Press bureau in Pyongyang in 2012, the state has such a tight grip on the news agenda that newsreel was re-edited to remove Kim Jong Un’s disgraced uncle from the archives after his execution.

The tactics used by Eritrea and North Korea are mirrored to varying degrees in other heavily censored countries. To keep their grip on power, repressive regimes use a combination of media monopoly, harassment, spying, threats of journalist imprisonment, and restriction of journalists’ entry into or movements within their countries.’

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