Iraq’s ambassador Nerweyi on the BBC’s Today Programme

The ambassador of Iraq on the BBC Today Programme
Friday 8 August 2014, London.

Those of us who supported the Anglo-American toppling of Saddam Hussein in 2003 ought to express our gratitude to the Ambassador of Iraq for the courageous interview he gave the BBC’s influential Today Programme this morning. I say ‘courageous’ because diplomats are expected to defend their governments under all circumstances. Instead, Faik (pron. Fāyeq) Nerweyi decided to be honest with the listener and admit that his government had failed his country. Unlike the spokesman for prime minister Nouri Maliki’s Da’wa Party, on BBC Radio 5 earlier, Fāyeq admitted that Maliki had been a sectarian figure over the past eight years and that the rapid progress of ISIS in the north-west could not be explained away by the barbarians taking advantage of the present political vacuum in Bagdad, which is the result of the recent indecisive elections. Fāyeq’s honesty and courage showed that the new state of Iraq does have sophisticated diplomats and politicians who represent hope for its future. All that Iraq’s leaders have to do now is to learn the big lesson of the Maliki years. They must abandon Maliki’s arrogant Shiite Arab nationalism and accept that Iraq is a multi-national country. They must honour their federal constitution. They must understand the desire of the Sunni minority in the north-west for an autonomous regional government of their own, and they must announce in advance that they will recognise the result of any UN-supervised referendum in the Kurdistan region for independence. Otherwise, the future will continue to be one of turmoil, not the prosperous co-existence that they can have and which would inspire the rest of the Muslim world.
(Fāyeq was also thankful to the British government for its £5m grant of humanitarian aid for Yazidi and Christian refugees now in danger of starvation and slaughter in the Senjar mountains. That would have gone down well with the press and at the Foreign Office.)
But why should those of us who supported the intervention of 2003 be especially grateful to the ambassador? The return of ISIS and its Saddamite allies from their Syrian exile has brought us under attack from several directions: Some, like secular Arab nationalists, hanker after their lovely Saddam, and some, both on the right and left of politics here in Europe, are opposed to all Western intervention in the poorer world, even where genocide takes place. These groups have been emboldened by the chaos in Iraq and point towards us, saying: ‘We told you so’.
Anti-Western Arab Sunni nationalists have their own agenda, of course, even though they don’t admit it. They think that Arabs are not ready for democracy and that they, Sunnis, make better dictators. The Western left-wingers are more influential, even though their arguments are equally flimsy, or even immoral. They believe that Iraq under genocidal Saddam was a better place – he was a secular mass-killer, unlike ISIS who are religious mass-killers. They also imply that, unlike his fellow Ba’thists, the Assads of Syria, Saddam would not have been touched by the ‘Arab Spring’ by now. He would still be there to ‘keep order’, even if the order of the graveyard. This is not only immoral, but a very bold claim to make. My own thinking is that, once the other cruel and ‘mighty’ dominoes of the Arab world – Ben Ali, Gaddafi, Mubarak – began to fall and the Assads were driven into Damascus, Iraq’s Ba’thists would have similarly found themselves under siege, overwhelmed by the sheer mass of people on the streets (helped, in this case, by money, arms and expertise from Shiite Iran next door). I cannot see why Saddam would have remained in power, except possibly in the Sunni north-west which has now fallen to ISIS and the Ba’thists. In other words, Iraq is likely to have been in the grip of a religious war as destructive as the one in Syria.
Anyhow, thank you ambassador Fāyeq.

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“The hard heart of the world is no-longer my business”

Even though I remain opposed to a significant Western military intervention in the civil war in Syria, I think that last week’s decision by the House of Commons regarding that country was a seriously mistaken one. Fortunately, it will not prove as historic as Parliament’s appeasement of Hitler in the late 1930s, but it is all the less justifiable because inflicting limited punishment on the Assads was never going to cost much or drag Britain into any kind of war. Nor was it going to weaken that regime or strengthen its opponents significantly. The war will drag on – even after an expected missile strike by America – as long as Russia and Iran continue supplying Damascus with arms and money and ‘volunteer Hezbollah fighters’.

Conservative rebels, who feel their leader’s other policies have made their seats vulnerable to UKIP at the next election, decided to play to the gallery of their emotional constituents and, in the process, told the likes of Syria’s Assad, Sudan’s Bashir and Iran’s Khamenei that, “in those far-away countries we don’t know much about”, they can turn cheap nerve agents into routine instruments of war once more, that they can deal with their unhappy peoples or troublesome minorities with the poor man’s weapon.

As a man of Kurdish upbringing, I know that chemical arms are primarily a weapon of terror, causing more refugees than deaths. But who will eventually pick up the cost of even more refugees, in humanitarian aid and in asylum seekers and immigrants? Guess.

Last week’s diluted, tentative motion by the government was not primarily about Syria. In the words of Boris Pasternak, it was a new Britain saying: “The hard heart of the world is no-longer my business”. And so, a moderating voice in America’s ear has been removed and a well-meaning figure on the world’s stage that, in Douglas Hurd’s words, ‘punched above its weight’, has been diminished. It was a sad day. I was so terribly disappointed in the quality of reasoning of some of the opposing MPS, on both sides of the House. At least two of them wanted Britain to appeal to the mullahs in Tehran to intercede with Mr Assad to be nicer to his people, and earlier, on a BBC radio station, I had had to debate with a Labour MP who was convinced throwing a few missiles at the Ministry of Defence in Damascus would be the start of  “the Third World War”.

We must still push for a negotiated settlement in Syria. There is no acceptable military solution to the civil war there. If Assad and his minority sect, the Alawites, win, the tyranny over the majority Sunnis will continue. In addition, there will be several million more refugees in neighbouring countries that the West will have to feed, possibly for decades. On the other hand, if the uprising of the Sunnis triumphs, there will be huge massacres of the Alawites, causing many of the remainder to seek refuge elsewhere. In either case – because the war would continue for at least another two years – what has not already been destroyed, will be so. Many more irreplaceable ancient monuments will disappear.

For all these reasons, I hope that the American strikes will be more than a little painful for the Assads. We need the strikes to weaken the regime’s recent confidence that it can win on the battlefield. We need to force Damascus to come to negotiate seriously with the opposition. We need a transitional government to allow for passions to subside before a longer-term settlement might become feasible. At present I fear that President Obama, a dithering politician, will opt for a pin-prick retribution that will actually embolden the Assads. This is the mistake that President Clinton committed in the late 1990s when he used cruise missiles against an Al Qaedah training camp in Afghanistan in retaliation for the demolition of two American embassies in Africa. The result was 9/11.

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Britain and Syria : a missed chance to help talks?

2nd of Sep 2013
“The hard heart of the world is no-longer my business”
By Hazhir Teimourian
Even though (as a writer on Middle Eastern matters of some 40 years,) I am opposed to a significant Western military intervention in the civil war in Syria, I think that last week’s decision by the House of Commons not to resort to a limited military strike against that country’s government was a seriously mistaken one. Fortunately, it will not prove as historic as Parliament’s appeasement of Hitler in the late 1930s, but it is all the less justifiable because inflicting limited punishment on the Assads was never going to cost much or drag Britain into any kind of war. Nor was it going to weaken that regime or strengthen its opponents significantly. The war will drag on – even after an expected missile strike by America – as long as Russia and Iran continue supplying Damascus with arms and money and ‘volunteer Hezbollah fighters’.
Conservative rebels, who feel their leader’s other policies have made their seats vulnerable to UKIP at the next election, decided to play to the gallery of their emotional constituents and, in the process, told the likes of Syria’s Assad, Sudan’s Bashir and Iran’s Khamenei that, “in those far-away countries we don’t know much about”, they can turn cheap nerve agents into routine instruments of war once more, that they can deal with their unhappy peoples or troublesome minorities with the poor man’s weapon.
As a man of Kurdish upbringing, I know that chemical arms are primarily a weapon of terror, causing more refugees than deaths. But who will eventually pick up the cost of even more refugees, in humanitarian aid and in asylum seekers and immigrants? Guess.
Last week’s diluted, tentative motion by the government was not primarily about Syria. In the words of Boris Pasternak, it was a new Britain saying: “The hard heart of the world is no-longer my business”. And so, a moderating voice in America’s ear has been removed and a well-meaning figure on the world’s stage that, in Douglas Hurd’s words, ‘punched above its weight’, has been diminished. It was a sad day. I was so terribly disappointed in the quality of reasoning of some of the opposing MPS, on both sides of the House. At least two of them wanted Britain to appeal to the mullahs in Tehran to intercede with Mr Assad to be nicer to his people, and earlier, on a BBC radio station, I had had to debate with a Labour MP who was convinced throwing a few missiles at the Ministry of Defence in Damascus would be the start of “the Third World War”.
We must still push for a negotiated settlement in Syria. There is no acceptable military solution to the civil war there. If Assad and his minority sect, the Alawites, win, the tyranny over the majority Sunnis will continue. In addition, there will be several million more refugees in neighbouring countries that the West will have to feed, possibly for decades. On the other hand, if the uprising of the Sunnis triumphs, there will be huge massacres of the Alawites, causing many of the remainder to seek refuge elsewhere. In either case – because the war would continue for at least another two years – what has not already been destroyed, will be so. Many more irreplaceable ancient monuments will disappear.
For all these reasons, I hope that the American strikes will be more than a little painful for the Assads. We need the strikes to weaken the regime’s recent confidence that it can win on the battlefield. We need to force Damascus to come to negotiate seriously with the opposition. We need a transitional government to allow for passions to subside before a longer-term settlement might become feasible. At present I fear that President Obama, a dithering politician, will opt for a pin-prick retribution that will actually embolden the Assads. This is the mistake that President Clinton committed in the late 1990s when he used cruise missiles against an Al Qa’eda training camp in Afghanistan in retaliation for the demolition of two American embassies in Africa. The result was 9/11.

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Sanctions forced Khamenei’s hand

Sanctions!

If we have to choose but one factor to explain Rouhani’s success, it will have to be Western economic sanctions. It was always clear that if voters were given a chance to choose someone who would present even a slight challenge to the ayatollah Khamenei, they would jump at it. The surprise is that Khamenei decided not to rig the vote, as he did four years ago. He, Khamenei, who told former president Khatami not to register as a candidate and barred Rafsanjani after the latter had registered against his wishes, allowed the name of Rouhani to go forward, even though Rouhani had made it clear that Iran must compromise with the West in order to lift or reduce the crippling sanctions, and compromise here means suspending Khamenei’s quest for a nuclear bomb. He may have calculated that Rouhani would not be elected, or that if he looked as if he were going to be elected, the ballot boxes could be rigged. If so, something went wrong for him. More likely, he saw an opening in Rouhani’s election.

The fact that Khamenei risked the humiliation – some of his men called Rouhani a traitor during the campaign and all his newspapers and broadcasters damned him – can only be – in my opinion – due to a realisation by Khamenei himself that he could not go on with the present scale of sanctions without endangering the regime in another uprising, and that Rouhani would provide him with a reasonably face-saving device for climbing down.

But the ayatollah is not the kind of man who will share power meaningfully. He must have told himself that Rouhani will still be the old obedient servant. After all, Rouhani supported him in the bloody suppression of the nation-wide demonstrations of four years ago. Just as importantly, Rouhani, who is still Khamenei’s representative on the National Security Council, must have told himself that he can work with Khamenei.

As a result, I do not expect the dust will settle for at least three months, until these two men have worked out the details of their new policy on nuclear enrichment. And in those three months, the West will not be lifting its sanctions. In fact, just to concentrate minds in Tehran, America may decide to deepen its restrictions further for the time being. If Rouhani cannot persuade his boss that there must be real change, then Iran’s economy will continue its free fall and we may also see an Israeli – or even American – attack on the country’s nuclear factories this autumn.

See also “Has Rafsanjani just check-mated Khamenei?” in http://www.HazhirTeimourian1.WordPress.com of a few weeks ago.

London SW1, 16 June, 2013.

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Has Rafsanjani just checkmated Khamenei for Iran’s presidential election next month?

Has Rafsanjani just checkmated Khamenei?
This is a crucial week in Iran’s continuing crisis.

And so, he’s done it. Rafsanjani has at last thrown his hat in the ring of next month’s presidential election and the Great Leader he created, the ayatollah Khamenei, has only till Tuesday to decide. If he orders his loyal cardinals, the clerics of the Council of Guardians of the Constitution, to bar Rafsanjani standing, he’ll get himself into an ever deeper hole. But if he allows him to stand, the ruthless old fox will sail in with perhaps 90% of the vote and clip his feathers. It would be is as if Thomas More had been allowed to return from the Tower and order Henry never to set foot out of Richmond Palace.
I must admit I have underestimated Khamenei in the past. On the day in 1989, wehn he was elected by the Assembly of Experts to succeed Khomeini as the theocracy’s new leader, it was my responsibility to analyse the event for The Times in London, and I predicted that he would be a figurehead and probably not last long. But so did Rafsanjani. Under the frail old ayatollah, Rafsanjani had been the regime’s strong man and he saw no reason why this would not continue. Khamenei had been his protégé and had no position among the powerful ‘grand ayatollahs’ of the Shia faith. He was only a junior cleric and an unpopular one who had several times been slapped down in public by Khomeini for making remarks about religious matters without the necessary qualification. As far as I remember, all other commentators on the Middle East cocurred.
But Khamenei was ambitious and gradually used his formal powers as the commander-in-chief of the armed forces to establish a reign of terror in the land. It took years, but he succeeded. Eventually, with Rafsanjani’s own cooperation – perhaps he had no choice by then – he changed the constitution to give himself ‘absolute power’ over the decisions of all the three branches of government.
In 2005, Khamenei further weakened his old sponsor by rigging the presidential vote to prevent him having any chance of success and, instead, elevated his own runner boy, Ahmadi-Nejad, to the position. In 2009, still thinking that Ahmadi-Nejad would know his place, he rigged the election again, this time on a much wider scale. He prevented the former prime minister Mir-Hossain Mousavi, the clear winner, from being proclaimed the chosen one. The country burst onto the streets and, had it not been for the pitiless use of the armed forces and the killing of dozens of demonstrators and incarceration of tens of thousands more, he would have been overthrow.
But he had now made another elementary mistake. Ahmadi-Nejad began to behave as if the boss was so bound to him that he could exercise his official powers as president, for example by choosing his own ministers. He was slapped down, but this meant that a rift had become public between the two men. It was very humiliating. The ayatollah, who had by now surrounded himself with a divine aura of infallibility, was seen to suffer from poor judgement. The rift has grown wider and wider and has become scandalous, with Ahmadi-Nejad threatening to disclose embarrassing facts he has gathered about the Supreme Leader and his family unless he is allowed to get his own man, Esfandiar Rahim-Mashaei, out of the ballot box next month.
Khamenei can deal with that. But he cannot possibly allow Rafsanjani to emerge victorious next month and still remain Supreme Leader, except on paper. On the other hand, if he tells the Council of Guardians to veto Rafsanjani on Tuesday as ‘unsuitable’ to be a candidate, he will further alienate many more of the regime’s own insiders who are desperate for a saviour to deliver them from the present, perhaps existential crisis that his despotic mismanagement has created. His ill-advised pursuit of nuclear weapons has resulted in a whole raft of economic sanctions by the Western powers and the United Nations, and poverty has become so acute that even government ministers sometimes admit the ‘the middle class has been virtually destroyed’. In the absence of reliable statistics, inflation is estimated at over 50% and, in a country whose population is overwhelmingly and unhealthily young – with 60% being under the age of 30 – unemployment is similarly horrendous and repression suffocates even more than the thick smog of central Tehran.
So, will he, or will he not, bar Rafsanjani from being elected? For the sake of Iran, the Middle East and the world, we must hope that he will. Rafsanjani is no angel by any means. As a former president of the Islamic Republic of Iran, he has plenty of blood on his hands, both inside the country and without, but he knows that the regime he helped to create needs a drastic change of direction if it is to limp into the future. Having watched Khamenei – from afar, but virtually every day – over the past 30 years, I would say that the omens are not good. 2013 is likely to be another terrible year for the people of Iran and their neighbours.

Thursday May 16, 2013, London SW1.
http://www.HTeimourian.net

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What next in Syria

What next in Syria – gist of an interview given to BBC Radio Scotland today

By Hazhir Teimourian  – Friday April 26, 2013

Syria has used chemical weapons and it’s almost official. Britain says it has acquired soil samples from inside the country that have tested positive for the nerve gas Sarin. The Americans say the regime in Damascus has used the gas against its opponents “on at least 2 occasions”, and the Israeli military speak of  “several occasions”.

The nervousness of the Americans is particularly palpable, hence their extremely cautious language at the moment. They have been hoping  such a day would never come. They are the only big player who can stop the 2-year civil war becoming an even greater tragedy. Yet, their armed forces are over-stretched from Korea to Afghanistan to the Persian Gulf.

The problem for them is that they have said publicly that the use of chemical weapons by Assad is “the red line” for them. What will happen now if the hereditary president of the Socialist Arab Renaissance (Ba’th) Party calls their bluff? They would be expected, at the very least, to declare a ‘Flight Exclusion Zone’ over the country to stop its air force delivering chemical weapons on a large scale. At the moment, their use seems confined to artillery or short-range missiles.

Presumably, the US has enough aircraft on its carriers in the eastern Mediterranean to  implement the policy, but it would be a dangerous, costly and messy business, with probably no end in sight. Most importantly, it could not be done quickly. It would take weeks or even months to destroy all the hundreds of short-  and medium-range rockets that the Syrians have accumulated and those weeks or months would give Damascus the ability to inflict a truly horrendous revenge on both its neighbours and on its own people. Chemical weapons are, above all, a weapon of terror. They create more refugees than they kill or maim. Within days, five to ten million – perhaps even more – Syrians could be forced to head for Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. It would far surpass the crisis of the Kurdish refugees of April 1991 who fled Saddam Hussein’s onslaught on them after his defeat in Kuwait.

I think that Assad is testing the water. As the grip of his forces on what remains in their control becomes even more uncertain and the rumble of the guns comes closer to central Damascus, he has decided to find out what America and Nato might do if he turns to his last and final weapon. If no immediate ultimatum is issued against him, he will consider a wider resort to gas. But even if a warning is issued and he is forced to recoil, he has still scored an important tactical point. He has shown his neighbours what he is capable of unleashing on them. Turkey, for one, can surely not now contemplate a surgical invasion of  northern Syria, as it did in Cyprus in 1974, to set up a rival Syrian government there.

For these reasons and more, even at this late stage, and despite the war crimes, we must continue to push for a negotiated settlement that might pave the way to majority rule and, at the same time, re-assure the regime’s backbone, the Alawite minority, that it still has a future in Syria. But like his former fellow Ba’thist Saddam, Bashar seems like a man who had decided to burn all his bridges behind him, no matter what price the Alawites might pay for it. He and his cronies can always pack an aircraft with gold bullion and flee to Tehran. (But as that would be worse than a death sentence to his wife, she will want to come back here in London to enjoy her beloved Knightsbridge!)

Hazhir Teimourian is a former Middle East specialist of The Times, London. www.LimehouseGroup.net .

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Beware the woe sayers on Afghanistan

My heart sank lower and lower this morning as I listened to John Humphries on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme interviewing John Simpson and Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, the former British ambassador in Kabul, advocating surrender to the Taliban and its Pakistani backers through what they called “an honourable negotiated settlement”. While the two men’s humanity and expertise is not in doubt – I have known and worked with John Simpson for years – I could not believe my ears when Cowper-Coles compared the Taliban to an IRA that had been defeated by the British army in the north and was being persecuted by the Irish republic in the south. Cowper-Coles even praised the withdrawal of the Americans from Vietnam and the retreat of the Soviet army from Afghanistan as great acts of insight. Neither of the governments they left behind lasted for long. Communist tanks poured into Saigon and the merciless Mujahedin turned Kabul into a vast ruin.

To my disappointment, John Humphries did not ask what the primitive Taliban leadership in Quittta, Pakistan, might demand at the negotiating table that the Afghanistan government and its Western allies have not already offered.

I was myself interviewed earlier this year by Radio 4 on the issue and I did say that it was right to speak to those elements inside the Taliban who were reasonable and realistic enough to put their arms down and join in the wide-ranging discussions going on among the Afghans on their future. But I made it clear that the Americans and their allies should not give away the hard earned results of their efforts. Today, they can negotiate with the Taliban even more ably from a position of strength. Last spring, after the snows had melted, the long-promised Taliban offensive fizzled out quickly and dozens of Taliban commanders and their tribal supporters in Pakistan have been knocked out by American drone attacks. Taliban morale is weak and, in any case, letting them back into Kabul will not mean that peace will return to Afghanistan. Despite the open involvement of the Pakistani army on their side before 2001, they never captured the whole of northern or non-Pashtun Afghanistan. The country was in perpetual war and the scene of numerous massacres of ethnic minorities.

No, the only chance  not to waste the blood that has been shed and safeguard the progress that has been made – e. g. hundreds of thousands of Afghan girls getting an education – is to go on helping the Afghan army to stand on its own feet while knocking heads together in Kabul to improve governance: less corruption, more decentralisation. Afghanistan is, not a nation, but a collection of distrustful mini-nations. These are hard goals to achieve, but there is no alternative to trying, and it was right for 80 countries at the Bonn conference earlier this week to pledge support for Afghanistan until at least 2024.

We must hope that America will not withdraw its forces by the end of 2014 and stop talking about deadlines, even though this has the advantage of frightening Afghans to fight more seriously for their country. America’s top commander in Afghanistan is right to embarrass his leader in Washington by saying that the level of American forces in the country should be kept at the pre-surge level.

Also remember why Western soldiers went into Afghanistan in the first place. As the German foreign minister said at the conference, we are there to ensure security from terrorists on our own streets. In the end, the failed state of Pakistan is Afghanistan’s biggest problem, not the Taliban. This un-natural state is going to implode soon under the weight of its own huge social problems and it is time the West stopped bribing its double-dealing leaders with billions more treasure.

Hazhir Teimourian, 7 December 2011, London SW1.

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