Category Archives: Iran

America’s Kurdish Allies in Syria Can’t Counter Iran

Published at The Arab Weekly

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 11 February 2018

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson laid out the Trump administration’s vision for Syria, making clear that, contrary to the expectations of many, the United States will stay in Syria beyond the collapse of the Islamic State’s (ISIS) self-proclaimed caliphate, holding the jihadists at bay and establishing an order compatible with US interests.

Crucially, Tillerson—in a sharp break with US President Donald Trump’s predecessor—specified that countering Iranian influence within Syria was a central US objective. The problem with the strategy is that it seems to rely on repurposing the United States’ anti-ISIS Kurdish militia allies against the Iranian revolution. Continue reading

When Iran Saved Al-Qaeda

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 24 January 2018

The new book by the investigative journalists Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark, The Exile: The Flight of Osama bin Laden, charts the career of al-Qaeda’s founder, Osama bin Laden, up to the day he became a household name—11 September 2001—through his downfall in 2011, to the end of 2016, when al-Qaeda was more powerful than ever. It is a thoroughly absorbing account, bringing to light vast tranches of new facts, including many intricate details of how al-Qaeda operated on a human, day-to-day level, and of those states and para-states that shielded the terror network, collaborated with it, and enabled it—and still do.

The gathering of the Bin Laden network in Sudan and then in the Taliban-held areas of Afghanistan in the 1990s is a familiar story, but the splits and debates among the Arab jihadists around Bin Laden, including the opposition of significant numbers of them to the 9/11 massacre, is perhaps less well known. The authors trace out how Bin Laden manipulated his own quasi-institutions to get his way. First, Bin Laden took on the plan of a man, Khalid Shaykh Muhammad (KSM), who was not even a member of al-Qaeda, and then, ahead of the crucial vote, packed the shura (consultation) council with ultra-zealous Egyptians by engineering a merger between al-Qaeda and Islamic Jihad, led by Ayman al-Zawahiri. Continue reading

What The West Can Do About The Iran Protests

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 2 January 2018

Protests in Tehran, Iran, 30 December 2017. (Photo by Stringer/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Protests broke out against the Iranian government on 27 December, and have achieved a wider geographic spread in the country than even the massive uprising of June 2009, reaching into religiously conservative, working-class towns and districts traditionally regarded as pro-regime. It is likely these demonstrations will be suppressed, but that does not obviate the need for Western policy. To the contrary, the protests exposed several flawed assumptions in recent policy-making, and a course correction is urgently necessary. Continue reading

Will Trump Crack Down on Iran’s Global Criminality and Terrorism?

Published at The New Arab

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 21 December 2017

A widely reported, 15,000-word article by Josh Meyer in Politico on Sunday moves us another step closer to finding out the actual terms of President Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Though the Obama administration sold the Iran deal on the narrowest possible terms as an arms control agreement, the reality was that this agreement was intended to facilitate a strategic tilt in Iran’s favour—against traditional allies—that left a regional balance requiring less American commitment.

Because the administration wanted the paper agreement, Iran had the leverage to threaten to walk away, and was therefore appeased on multiple fronts ostensibly unrelated to the nuclear issue. Continue reading

A Year In, Trump’s Syria Policy Looks A Lot Like Obama’s

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 18 December 2017

Nearly a year into Donald Trump’s administration, the president has followed the track laid down by his predecessors in Syria, accelerating it in some cases, and reinforcing the negative trends of Barack Obama’s defective policy that will undo even apparent successes, like the destruction of the Islamic State’s (ISIS) “caliphate”. Continue reading

Iran Claims to “Defeat” the Islamic State in Syria, a “Dangerous Conspiracy” by America and Israel

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 22 November 2017

Qassem Sulaymani, Hassan Nasrallah, Ali Khamene’i (c. 2000)

The leader of the Quds Force, the expeditionary unit of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Qassem Sulaymani, sent a public letter to Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamene’i, on 21 November. Sulaymani’s letter followed the apparent expulsion of the Islamic State from its last urban stronghold in Syria, al-Bukamal, on 19 November, by Quds Force-led troops—foreign Shi’a jihadists and the battered remnants of Bashar al-Asad’s army. Sulaymani informs Khamene’i that in overcoming the Islamic State and its caliphate, a “U.S.-Zionist-made” terrorist entity has been defeated. Sulaymani’s letter is reproduced below, with some noteworthy sections highlighted in bold. Continue reading

By Strengthening Iran, the Coalition Has Ensured the Islamic State’s Survival

Published at The Telegraph

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 6 October 2017

The “defeat” of the Islamic State (ISIL), signified by its eviction from Mosul in July, its impending loss of Raqqa, and an apparent resurgence of Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria, seemed to augur a new era of stability for the Middle East. The jihadists would be gone and Iranian-backed governments in Syria and Iraq consolidated.

True, Assad murdering those who resisted him with poison gas and concentration camps, and hiding the evidence by installing crematoria, would nag at our conscience. But foreign policy is a cold-blooded business and it has been decreed that ISIL is the greatest—really the only—threat emanating from the region.

It would not be justice, but it would be peace. Or something like that. Continue reading