Tag Archives: Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps

Qassem Sulaymani and the Future of Iran’s Imperial Project

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 7 January 2020

At 1 AM on 3 January, an American drone strike killed the head of Iran’s Quds Force, the division of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) charged with exporting the Islamic revolution, and his Iraqi deputy, Jamal al-Ibrahimi (Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis). Sulaymani was the strategic driver of Iran’s expansionist policy in the Middle East, as well as the orchestrator of its terrorism and assassinations further afield. Unlike with the killing of Al-Qaeda’s Usama bin Laden in 2011 or the Islamic State’s Ibrahim al-Badri (Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi) in October, where the dynamics shifted little, Sulaymani’s death opens up questions about the direction in which the Middle East will now move. Continue reading

British Strategy in the Gulf as Iranian Aggression Escalates

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) and Rob Clark (@RobertClark87) on 26 July 2019

A speedboat and a helicopter of the Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Navy move around a British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero, 21 July 2019. (Hasan Shirvani/Mizan News Agency via AP)

The series of provocations in the Gulf by the Islamic Republic of Iran, beginning with the sabotage of four vessels in mid-May, culminated last Friday in the illegal seizure by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) of the British-flagged and operated Stena Impero oil tanker, followed shortly thereafter by the seizure of the Liberian-flagged, British operated MV Mesdar in the Strait of Hormuz. Only the Mesdar has been released. This episode has served to demonstrate the serious defence issues confronting Boris Johnson, the incoming United Kingdom (UK) Prime Minister, which have to be dealt with immediately and cannot be pushed off into the future when the domestic turbulence over Brexit has abated. Continue reading

Al-Qaeda Leader Profiles the Founder of the Islamic State

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 28 February 2018

Ahmad al-Khalayleh (Abu Musab al-Zarqawi) [picture via Getty], Muhammad Zaydan (Sayf al-Adel) [picture via Kronos Advisory LLC]

The military leader of al-Qaeda, Muhammad Saladin Zaydan (Sayf al-Adel), wrote a biography for Ahmad al-Khalayleh (Abu Musab al-Zarqawi), the Jordanian jihadist who founded what is now the Islamic State in Taliban Afghanistan in 1999. Zaydan wrote the biography in 2005 while in Iran, under the protection of the Islamic Republic, where he still is. The biography is reproduced below with some interesting and important sections highlighted in bold. Continue reading

Al-Qaeda’s Leader Tells Syrian Insurgents To Avoid State Allies, Focus on Guerrilla Tactics

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 21 February 2018

Al-Qaeda’s leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, released a video statement on 20 February 2018, entitled, “Oh Our Brothers in Syria, Reconcile Amongst Yourselves”. The speech continued themes Dr. al-Zawahiri has hit on many times before, notably encouraging the Syrian insurgency to avoid allying with the West or other foreign states, to unite behind al-Qaeda since all outside actors are conspiring against the Syrian opposition, and to refuse all compromise in imposing the shari’a. Simultaneously, al-Zawahiri suggests that his adherents avoid trying for quick results and “cling[ing] to ground”, an echo of the advice given in the summer of 2016 that al-Qaeda’s operatives and the Syrian insurgents they can co-opt should prepare for a long war focused on guerrilla tactics, rather than holding territory. An English translation of al-Zawahiri’s speech was made by As-Sahab Media, disseminated by pro-al-Qaeda Telegram channels, and is reproduced below with some editions for syntax and transliteration. Continue reading

Coping With America’s Syria Policy, Israel Tries To Draw its Own Red Line

Published at TRT World

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 13 February 2018

There was a serious escalation between Israel and Iran in Syria last week. This has been a long-time coming, an inevitable part of the contest for regional order that was obscured, and fuelled, by the narrow focus on the Islamic State (Daesh) and the war against its “caliphate”, particularly over the last year. Continue reading

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

Why The Obama Doctrine Failed

Film review of The Final Year (2018)

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 31 January 2018

The Final Year, a new documentary film directed by Greg Barker, tracks the closing stages of the administration of President Barack Obama in 2016. Senior officials are followed and interviewed, and the White House is watched as it tries to react to daily events. Much of the substance contained in the film was knowable in real time, but it is very useful to have these officials on record—on video, no less—explaining the assumptions and thought processes they were operating with as they made decisions that led to a series of such intense disasters around the world. This is especially interesting since the ripple effects from these catastrophes ultimately set the conditions for the election of Donald Trump and dismantling of much of the Obama legacy. 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

Further Details Emerge of Obama’s Failed Iran Policy

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 23 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.

Meyer lays out a part of what that meant in practice: the US government ceasing to try to crack down on the global criminal fundraising of Hizballah, the Lebanese wing of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)—the part of the Iranian regime charged with exporting the theocratic revolution, by terrorism and violence where necessary.

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