Tag Archives: Iran

Yemen, or, the Houthis vs the Saudis and then there’s Iran

The start and end of a piece at War on the Rocks by an excellent Canadian professor and analyst:

How Iran Helped Houthis Expand Their Reach

Thomas Juneau

Since 2015, when Saudi Arabia launched its intervention in Yemen, the Houthi movement has deepened its ties with Iran and grown more powerful on the ground. As a result, the impact of the Iranian-Houthi partnership will increasingly be felt beyond Yemen’s borders. As I have argued elsewhere, the Houthis are now developing their own foreign policy, forming direct ties with other Iranian partners in the region and presenting a growing risk to rivals like Saudi Arabia and, eventually, Israel. In recent years, some of the most alarmist coverage of the Houthi movement has presented the group in simplistic terms as an Iranian proxy inside Yemen. In fact, the partnership is more complex than a patron-proxy one, but it still carries real risks for regional security.

A Mutually Beneficial Partnership

While the Houthi movement emerged as an insurgency in northwestern Yemen in the 1980s and 1990s, it most likely began receiving Iranian support around 2009. Yet this initial support was marginal, as Yemen at the time was far from an important priority for Iran. Relations ramped up after 2011 as street protests and elite infighting caused an already fragile Yemeni state to weaken even more. Exploiting this vacuum, the Houthis expanded their power and eventually took over the capital, Sanaa, in 2014. These evolving local dynamics piqued Iran’s interest: Saudi Arabia was increasingly anxious at the prospect of mounting insecurity on its vulnerable southern border, while the Houthis were becoming more powerful. Nevertheless, through 2014, Iran’s role in the growth of Houthi power remained limited.Become a Member

The major turning point came in March 2015 when Saudi Arabia launched a military intervention in Yemen, officially to roll back the Houthis and return the internationally recognized government of President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi to power. The intervention has since become an unmitigated disaster: It is a quagmire from which Saudi Arabia has proved unable to extricate itself, even as the Houthis emerged as the dominant actor in Yemen.

It is impossible to precisely quantify how much of the Houthi movement’s success is the result of Iranian support. A significant portion of Houthi assets have been generated locally: Large portions of their arsenal come from absorbing — by negotiation or coercion — units of the Yemeni military, as well as from looting national army stockpiles, forging alliances with tribal militias, and making purchases on the black market.

That said, growing Iranian support has certainly played an important role in helping the Houthis to become more powerful…

The Houthi movement’s role in this network of Iran-backed non-state actors has grown to the point that it is now possible to refer to Houthi foreign policy. Houthi-Hizballah ties have become particularly prominent, as the two movements increasingly cooperate in areas ranging from training to weapons smuggling. Yemen is also, according to some reports, increasingly used as a platform for Iran to send weapons to other armed groups it supports, most notably Hamas. In this case, weapons delivered to Yemen are transshipped to Sudan and then through Egypt to the Gaza Strip. There is also evidence that Iran and Iranian-backed groups are increasingly coordinating their information operations, for example in the immediate aftermath of recent missile and drone attacks against Saudi Arabia.

The Houthi movement is now a regional power, demonstrating ever greater experience and skill as it pursues its interests in the region. The Houthis have emerged from Yemen’s civil war as an increasingly important element in the Iranian-led constellation of revisionist actors that surrounds Saudi Arabia and Israel. They also provide Iran with new options for targeting American forces in the Middle East. Houthi leaders will not attack Iran’s enemies solely based on orders from Tehran — that is not how their partnership functions. In a hypothetical escalation, the Houthi leadership would have to balance its multiple interests, notably the need to preserve Iranian support, the risk of American retaliation, and the politics of maintaining their position inside Yemen. Nonetheless, the Houthi’s newfound reach has enhanced Iran’s deterrence posture and its ability to project power — all at very little cost to Tehran.Become a Member

Thomas Juneau is an associate professor at the University of Ottawa’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs [more here] and a former policy officer with Canada’s Department of National Defence (2003 to 2014). He tweets @thomasjuneau. 

Plus those Saudis are tough cookies and Saudi infantry famously are not.

UPDATE: Note this tweet:

Mark Collins

Twitter: @Mark3ds

Iran’s President-Elect, the Hanging Judge–and the JCPOA

One doesn’t suppose PM Trudeau’s government has any appetite left of its early urge to re-engage with Iran, what with the continuing repercussions of the Revolutionary Guard’s 2020 shooting down of Flight PS752 that killed 55 Canadian citizens and 30 permanent residents, and now the record of the president to be–excerpts from an article at the Globe and Mail;

Mark MacKinnon Senior International Correspondent London

Beginning in July, 1988, thousands of political prisoners in Iran were taken from their cells and brought before a panel of judges, who asked them a series of questions such as: Are you a Muslim? Do you pray? Are you willing to walk through a minefield to assist the army of the Islamic Republic?

Anyone who gave the wrong answer under interrogation was handed a pen and paper and told to write their last will and testament. At least 5,000 political dissidents – some of them leftists, many others affiliated with a militia known as the People’s Mujahedin of Iran – were executed after being interviewed by a panel of judges, who became known as the “Death Commission.”

The victims were hung from cranes erected in a parking lot behind Tehran’s infamous Evin Prison, or in what inmates called “the amphitheatre” of Gohardasht prison, on the outskirts of the capital. Some say the real number of those killed in the prison massacre was closer to 30,000.

This week, Ebrahim Raisi, who as deputy prosecutor for Tehran was a member of the four-person Death Commission in 1988, became the president-elect of Iran. Many believe he is being prepared to succeed the aging Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as the country’s Supreme Leader, potentially putting him in a position to chart the country’s direction for decades to come.

“Whenever they went to execute a group of 10 or 12 or 15 prisoners, all the members of the Death Commission, including Raisi, went to the amphitheatre and witnessed. And then they made a party [emphasis added]. They came to our cells with cake and cookies and asked us to join their celebration,” said Iraj Mesdaghi, who spent 10 days in what was known as “death corridor” of Gohardasht prison, before he was released after vowing to end all of his political activities.

Mr. Mesdaghi now lives in Sweden, where he is a key witness in a landmark trial against Hamid Nouri, another Iranian official who allegedly took part in the 1988 massacre. Mr. Mesdaghi told The Globe and Mail that he was interrogated four times in Gohardasht by the panel of judges that included Mr. Raisi. He says Mr. Raisi declared that he wanted to rid Iran of all its political prisoners, and that the president-elect will be implicated by the evidence he and others intend to give to the Swedish court.

In his current post as the country’s Chief Justice, Mr. Raisi also played a leading role in Iran’s investigation into last year’s shooting down of Ukrainian Airlines flight 752, which was struck by two missiles shortly after taking off from Tehran, killing all 176 people on board. Though 138 of the victims were either citizens of or travelling to Canada, Iran refused to give Canadian investigators full access to the crash site, and victims’ families were outraged by the Iranian investigation’s conclusion that the disaster was caused by human error…

“I don’t know how the international community will deal with this guy,” Mr. Mesdaghi said in a telephone interview. “Can he come to international organizations? The United Nations? Can he visit other countries? How?”

It’s a question that U.S. President Joe Biden, among others, will soon have to answer. Mr. Biden’s administration is in the midst of sensitive negotiations regarding the future of a 2015 deal that saw the U.S. and other countries agree to lift longstanding economic sanctions against Iran in exchange for curbs on the country’s nuclear program.

Mr. Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, withdrew the U.S. from the pact in 2018 and re-imposed sanctions. Mr. Biden’s administration has vowed to re-join the deal, but now faces an informal deadline of August, when Mr. Raisi officially succeeds the more reform-minded President Hassan Rouhani. “I have a hard time imagining that if a deal is not restored before August that Raisi will be able to make the compromises that Rouhani shied away from,” said Ali Vaez, an Iran expert at the Brussels-based International Crisis Group.

While the U.S, has sought to broaden the nuclear pact to include restrictions on Iran’s missile-building program, Mr. Raisi said in his first public remarks after winning the election that the U.S. should lift sanctions before Iran is required to take any steps. Asked if he would be willing to meet Mr. Biden once sanctions were lifted, Mr. Raisi answered: “No.”

Adding to the complexity of the negotiations, Mr. Raisi has been on the U.S. sanctions list since 2019 for his alleged oversight of human-rights abuses – including the execution of juveniles and the punishment of prisoners by amputation – committed by Iran’s judiciary [emphasis added–do you know “Why Narendra Modi Was Banned From the U.S.“?].

That Mr. Raisi could rise from the Death Committee to become the head of Iran’s government is telling. So too is the effort that that Ayatollah Khamenei – the country’s ultimate authority – and his allies put into ensuring Mr. Raisi’s victory in the June 18 presidential election…

The anxiety of the moment is seen as connected to the fact that Ayatollah Khamenei is now 82 years old and rumoured to be in deteriorating health. There’s speculation inside and outside Iran that by installing the 60-year-old Mr. Raisi in the presidency, the Supreme Leader is effectively naming his own successor…

If Mr. Raisi is on a course to become Iran’s next Supreme Leader, it’s unclear that a majority of Iranians support the idea. Official figures show only 48.8 per cent of voters cast ballots on June 18. Mr. Raisi won with a clear-cut 62 per cent, nearly 15 per cent of those who did vote spoiled their ballots.

“It was a protest vote against the candidates, against the political system,” said Sanam Vakil, an Iran expert at Chatham House, a London think tank. “There’s clear frustration that the people are no longer being considered as important to this process.”..

Asked this week about his role in the 1988 massacre, Mr. Raisi told reporters in Tehran that “if a judge, a prosecutor has defended the security of the people, he should be praised.”..

And a relevant post from 2016:

Homa Hoodfar, or, the Iran the Canadian Government Wants to Engage

Mark Collins

Twitter: @mark3ds

“Argo”, or, How the 1980 Canadian Caper in Tehran Helped two Canadians Escape Turkmenistan 40 Years Later in the Time of COVID-19

Further to this 2013 piece in the Globe and Mail by my friend Roger Lucy, who was at the Canadian embassy in Iran during the 1979-80 hostage-taking crisis that followed the assault on the US embassy,

Tehran in 1979 was stranger than Hollywood’s fiction

a reverberation of those events these days–story by Scott Stinson (tweets here):

How two Canadians made it out of Turkmenistan amid COVID-19 scare, thanks to a former U.S. ambassador

Allan Mustard, the U.S. Ambassador to Turkmenistan for about five years, was a colleague and friend of one of the six diplomats who were rescued from Tehran during the U.S.-Iran hostage crisis in 1980, with Canadian assistance

Turkmenistan is a country that tends to only make the news over here when something weird happens. The small former Soviet republic in central Asia is a closed police state that routinely appears near the bottom of lists of press freedom, and really just of freedom in general…

Canada has no embassy there, which can be a problem if you happen to be Canadian and wish to leave amid a global pandemic.

This is the challenge that was facing Dr. Terry Burns and his wife, Heather. The pair were in their third year of teaching at an English-language school in Ashgabat, the capital, last month when rumours began circulating that the already-tight borders might be closed entirely. They booked a flight into Turkey two weeks ago, but showed up at the airport to find it cancelled. Another flight was scheduled for the following day. Turkmen citizens had been barred from leaving the country, so the only people at the airport were soldiers, workers and the 35 or so foreigners trying to leave.

“As the hours went by, we knew something was up,” says Terry Burns, 58. “There was a flight crew hanging around, but no lights on in the plane outside the departure lounge window.” After eight hours, they were told to go back to their homes. “We treated the locals to the first protest they had seen in a long, long time,” Burns says.

The next day, American officials began negotiations for an evacuation flight. The community of Western ex-pats in Turkmenistan is tiny, so the Canadians had a bit of an in there. They also had hope to expect help from the Americans for an unusual reason, which Burns called “the Argo effect [emphasis added].”

Allan Mustard was the U.S. Ambassador to Turkmenistan for about five years, ending last summer. He was a colleague and friend of one of the six diplomats who were rescued from Tehran during the U.S.-Iran hostage crisis in 1980, with Canadian assistance. That CIA operation, in which spies faked the filming of a science-fiction movie while they scuttled the diplomats out of the country, was the basis for the Oscar-winning 2012 film Argo starring Ben Affleck and Bryan Cranston.

Three years ago, Burns and another Canadian family — there is only a handful of Canadians in Turkmenistan — were among Mustard’s guests at the U.S. Embassy for a screening of Argo. Burns says the former ambassador told them that night that if Canadians ever showed up at the gate, they were to be treated “as one of us.”

Mustard’s successor, Matthew Klimow, thought likewise, and so U.S. Embassy staff made sure the Canadians — the Burns and another family — were on the passenger list of the flight they began to arrange. Burns says the Americans “took amazing care of us.” (Klimow spent a year as a visiting fellow at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont.) The embassy in Ashgabat was in frequent contact with the Canadian and British embassies in Ankara, the Turkish capital, as the charter flight details with Turkmenistan authorities were arranged.

“Authorities” is absolutely the right word there, by the way. Turkmenistan is not generally open to tourism, and while theoretically a democracy, the president was re-elected in 2017 with more than 97 per cent of the vote. It’s known for gleaming white marble buildings of all shapes and sizes, and of uncertain purpose. Only white cars are allowed in Ashgabat, except those of top government officials, who drive black vehicles.

If the country decided to up and close its borders and let no one in or out, it would not hesitate to do it.

A stewardess, dressed in full protective gear, on the plane home. Courtesy of Terry and Heather Burns

The Burns spent about a week waiting, with updates from diplomats, as U.S. officials dealt with the tricky task of getting a direct charter flight out of the country to the United States. It’s unclear if that has ever happened before. Word eventually came, after some tense days, that the flight was on. On March 28 the Burns were part of a group that flew east from the capital to Turkmenabat, near the border with Uzbekistan. Local authorities were very welcoming, putting on a good show for the departing foreigners. From there an Azerbaijani Airlines jet picked them up and flew directly to Washington. What might have been a harrowing journey for the Canadians was comfortable thanks to the Americans…

“We love the people of Turkmenistan, and hope to be back before the end of the year to see our students graduate,” Burns says.

The Turkmenistan borders have since been closed.

Another post from 2013, with audio of Mr Lucy discussing the caper with Eric Morse (also a friend, tweets here) at the Royal Canadian Military Institute, Toronto:

The Canadian Caper in Iran: “Argo” not the Whole Story, the Video (but mostly audio)

Plus the account of Tony Mendez, the CIA officer who led their operation (and just died last year), at the agency’s own website (link just below no longer works but see here) :

A Classic Case of Deception

 CIA Goes Hollywood

Mr Mendez gives full acknowledgement to the Canadian role in the caper, e.g. scroll down to the section “Amateur Actors”:

After dinner, Roger [Lucy] appeared in military fatigues, complete with hat, sunglasses, jackboots, and swagger stick. The interrogations began. The interrogations impressed some of the more overconfident members of the group with the importance of remembering the details of their cover stories and gave them a taste of what could be in store for them at the airport…

That’s him first from the right in the photo at the top of this post.

Mark Collins

Twitter: @Mark3ds

Struggles Within Islam, or, Persians vs Arabs for Power Actually

Further to this post from 2015,

Yemen: And Another Arab Capital Falls to Iran

excerpts from a review by David D. Kirkpatrick (tweets here) in the New York Times Book Review:

The Unraveling of the Muslim World


Mecca’s Great Mosque burning, November 1979.
Mecca’s Great Mosque burning, November 1979.Credit…Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

BLACK WAVE

Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the Forty-Year Rivalry That Unraveled Culture, Religion, and Collective Memory in the Middle East

By Kim Ghattas

The holier-than-thou intolerance race that produced the Rushdie fatwa is one of many deadly episodes recounted by Kim Ghattas, a Lebanese-born journalist and scholar [tweets here], in her sweeping and authoritative history, “Black Wave: Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the Forty-Year Rivalry That Unraveled Culture, Religion, and Collective Memory in the Middle East.”..

Ghattas has set herself an ambitious task. She wants to explain much of the chaos that has convulsed the Middle East and Southeast Asia for the last four decades — the Iran-Iraq war, the upheavals in Afghanistan, the assassinations in Pakistan and the civil wars in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen. She argues convincingly that these conflicts are all in some ways fallout from the fierce competition between two parallel “Islamic revolutions” in the annus horribilis of 1979.

Americans remember the revolution in Tehran, which brought to power the Ayatollah Khomeini’s Islamic Republic, turned back decades of social liberalization in Iranian society and triggered the capture of more than 50 hostages in the United States Embassy in Tehran. Ghattas, though, gives equal weight to a more obscure uprising that unfolded just a few months later across the Persian Gulf in Mecca, when a band of Saudi militants seized the Grand Mosque, one of Islam’s holiest sites.

Faced with a devastating challenge to its credibility as the divinely sanctioned custodian of Mecca’s holy places, the Saudi royal family was forced to rely on a team of French commandos to recapture the mosque. Dozens died in a blood bath [lots more here]. Then, to try to restore its authority while at the same time papering over the embarrassment of the French intervention, the royal family redoubled its historic reliance on the kingdom’s puritanical religious establishment as the source of its legitimacy…

The consequences are personal for Ghattas, who still lives at least part time in Beirut. “What happened to us?” she asks on behalf of the people of the Arab and Muslim worlds. “The question may not occur to those too young to remember a different world, or whose parents did not tell them of a youth spent reciting poetry in Peshawar, debating Marxism late into the night in the bars of Beirut or riding bicycles to picnic on the banks of the Tigris River in Baghdad.” She reminds readers of how almost unimaginably different the region once was, recalling the seaside garden of abstract sculptures by Henry Moore, Joan Miró and other modern artists that a daring mayor once assembled in the Saudi city of Jeddah.

…Instead of feuding over theology, Ghattas shows, Saudi Arabia and Iran transformed latent religious divisions into weapons wielded in the pursuit of political power, by cultivating and often arming sectarian militias across the region. “Before it was weaponized in the years following 1979, the Sunni-Shia schism lay mostly dormant,” Ghattas notes. Minorities like the Alawites of Syria or the Zaidi of Yemen had coexisted more or less peaceably throughout the area. And even after 1979 the hard-line rulers of Iran and Saudi Arabia have sometimes overlooked sectarian disagreements in the interest of political expedience, sometimes pursuing short-lived phases of rapprochement with each other…

Ghattas tells many of these stories through the eyes of myriad individual men and often women who spoke out in one way or another against the post-1979 conservative turn in the region — “all progressive thinkers who represent the vibrant, pluralistic world that persists beneath the black wave.”

The Iraqi television correspondent Atwar Bahjat, for example, raced back to her hometown, Samarra, in 2006 to report from the scene of a bombing. “Whether you are Sunni or Shia, Arab or Kurd,” she declared in her broadcast, “there is no difference between Iraqis, united in fear for this nation.” Gunmen came looking for her within 30 minutes. Her bullet-riddled body was found the next day.

Ghattas insists her progressive heroes represent “the silenced majority.” They are “the past and the future.” Yet most have ended up killed or in exile. The last of her heroes is the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, assassinated in Istanbul by Saudi thugs in 2018.

One supposes it all goes back the the Byzantines’ defeat of the Persians in 628 [see map at top of this post], followed almost immediately by the conquest of the Persian Empire by the newly Muslim Arabs.

The conclusion of another, very relevant, earlier post:

Persian, or, a Reason Why the Iranians Take Themselves So Seriously

Together with China the longest running great culture and polity.

Mark Collins

Twitter: @Mark3ds

Iran nuclear deal: European powers trigger dispute mechanism

File photo showing Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (R) inspecting nuclear technology in Tehran (9 April 2019)

European powers have triggered a formal dispute mechanism over Iran’s breaches of key parts of the 2015 nuclear deal – a move that could spell its end.

Iran has gradually lifted all limits on its production of enriched uranium, which can be used to make reactor fuel but also nuclear weapons.

It has said it is entitled to do so in response to sanctions reinstated by the US when it abandoned the deal in 2018.

France, Germany and the UK said they did not accept Iran’s argument.

The mechanism, set out in article 36 of the deal, involves the dispute being referred to a Joint Commission that will have a minimum of 15 days to resolve the issue.

If the complainants are still not satisfied, they can refer the matter to the UN Security Council, which could vote to reimpose any sanctions lifted under the deal.

Iran has accused the Europeans of abusing the process.

“The usage of the dispute mechanism is legally baseless and a strategic mistake from a political standpoint,” said Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

But a foreign ministry spokesman said Iran was “ready to… make constructive attempts to maintain international agreements and would welcome any practical initiatives in this regard”.

Russia also criticised the Europeans’ move, saying the activation of the mechanism could make a return to implementation of the deal impossible.

A foreign ministry statement quoted by Russian media described the decision as “deeply disappointing and extremely concerning”.

What went wrong with the deal?

The deal saw Iran, which insists that its nuclear programme is exclusively for peaceful purposes, agree to limit its sensitive activities and allow in inspectors in return for the lifting of crippling economic sanctions. Media captionFeeling the squeeze: Iran sanctions explained

President Donald Trump reinstated US sanctions to try to force Iran to negotiate a new agreement that would place indefinite curbs on its nuclear programme and also halt its development of ballistic missiles. Iran has so far refused.

The other parties to the deal – the three European powers plus China and Russia – have tried to keep it alive. But the sanctions have caused Iran’s oil exports to collapse and the value of its currency to plummet, and sent its inflation rate soaring.

Tensions between Iran and the West have also escalated as a result of a series of attacks in the Gulf region that the US has blamed on Iran and its proxies, as well as a US drone strike in Iraq this month that killed top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani.

Bowing to the inevitable?

Treaties and agreements usually have dispute mechanisms to allow one party to challenge another if they think the terms of the deal are being broken. But that is not the situation with the Iran nuclear agreement. The dispute mechanism is there but the moment for invoking it may be long past.

That is because one major party – the US – has already abandoned it reimposing crippling economic sanctions against Tehran. For its part Iran has taken a series of steps to breach the deal’s constraints. So the deal exists but in a kind of limbo – abandoned or largely abandoned by its two most important signatories.

In invoking the dispute mechanism, the Europeans are taking the first formal step towards writing its obituary. They insist that they will stand by it for as long as it exists and that they want a better deal – one that the US can support.

But it is very hard to see Iran accepting a more restrictive agreement that will include constraints on its missile programmes and maybe also its regional behaviour.

And it is equally hard to see President Trump lifting the sanctions – not least when he believes – with protests against the regime under way – that his maximum pressure campaign is working.

The European decision to invoke the dispute process may be a final bowing to the inevitable. The nuclear agreement is in a critical condition and slowly slipping away.

Mark Collins – Iraq: Upcoming Battle for Mosul Update

Further to this post, things could get exceedingly nasty; can Iraq stay united (and how far will the Turks go, both around Mosul and to prevent any independent Kurdistan?). At Defense One’sD-Brief“:


Iraq’s counterterrorism police of the Golden Division have reportedly departed Camp Speicher en route to positions near Mosul.
Reminder: the upcoming offensive could become a big mess, the Washington Post’s Loveday Morris warned on Wednesday [Oct. 12], reporting from Baghdad.

For a sense of just how messy it could get, here’s a broad glance at the Mosul manifest: Iraq Army; CT police; PKK; Turkey-backed tribes; Shia militia [Iran-backed]; Assyrian, Christian and Yazidi militia; and, of course, the U.S.-led coalition. That makes seven generic categories of different forces, most of which can be further broken down into more specific elements. More here.

The humanitarian toll of the offensive is going to be enormous, and could include: use of civilians as human shields, chemical weapons use, and the mass exodus of hundreds of thousands of people, the UN warns.

How’s the UN prepared for all that so far? In a word: inadequately. “In order to house and support and accommodate 1 million people at dignified standards we would be looking at an operation of $1 billion,” said Lise Grande, the U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq [UN website here].

Reuters: “That is more than four times the $230 million the international body has received so far for the effort, funds which have only recently arrived. So far, a total of six camps have been built that can accommodate 50,000 people. Efforts are underway to construct 11 more, said Grande.”..

Lots more at MILNET.ca, scroll down to “Iraq”. And what role will the Canadian Forces’ closely assisting the Kurdish Peshmerga have in how Kurdistan matters play out? Our government should be giving that furious consideration.

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds

Mark Collins – Let's Not Be Beastly to an Afghan-Canadian Cabinet Minister

A retired senior Canadian diplomat makes a heart-felt case:

Monsef’s place of birth shouldn’t have ‘serious consequences’
Ferry de Kerckhove is a Former high commissioner of Canada to Pakistan [now a CGAI Fellow]

Many people have expressed sympathy for Maryam Monsef, the federal Minister for Democratic Institutions [official webpage here], since the disclosure that she was born in Iran, rather than in Afghanistan. But there have been criticisms – which I simply can’t fathom – from MPs such as Tony Clement and Michelle Rempel, who talked about “serious consequences” if the minister’s birthplace had not been accurately represented on her refugee and citizenship applications.

Do these people have any idea what region we are talking about? Does Ms. Rempel have any understanding of how volatile, porous and border-inconsequential the region was, where even dates of birth, when registered, between Muslim and Christian countries don’t match up? Does she, and those who chime in with her, realize that many Afghans sought refuge in Iran during both the Soviet occupation and the subsequent civil war culminating in the rise of the vicious Taliban regime?

The Afghan city of Herat (where Ms. Monsef’s parents married and where she believed she was born) and the Iranian city of Mashad (where she was actually born) are historically and geographically close. So Afghans would travel back and forth to Iran in times of duress; although they might have not been warmly welcomed, they were at least in a safer environment than in Afghanistan.

As a former Canadian high commissioner to Pakistan, from 1998 to 2001, I believe Ms. Monsef. Her family’s story is similar to the ones that my wife, who was an immigration officer responsible for refugees at the High Commission, heard many times. By the late 1990s, the city of Peshawar, where I had lived as a child, had mutated into a mini-Kabul, with millions of Afghan refugees, including a number of Taliban fellow travellers. People were travelling at great risk by bus, donkey and on foot for hundreds of kilometres from Afghanistan to Pakistan to try to persuade our immigration office to give them a visa while they waited in UN refugee camps.

My first diplomatic posting was to Iran, and I have a lot of sympathy for the decision of Ms. Monsef’s mother to seek refuge there…

Read on. And this would be ridiculous:

Maryam Monsef could be stripped of her citizenship without a hearing after revealing she was born in Iran

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds

Mark Collins – Homa Hoodfar, or, the Iran the Canadian Government Wants to Engage

First the case of the Iranian-Canadian (also Irish) professor imprisoned in Iran:

…A renowned anthropologist, Professor Hoodfar has published widely on gender and development, Islamic family law, refugees, informal economies, Muslim dress codes, and women’s political participation. She has conducted fieldwork in multiple countries across the Middle East and North America. Her work is best known for interrogating Western stereotypes about Muslim women, and has earned her the reputation as one of the most respected scholars working in the field of Middle Eastern women’s studies…

Now an article by “Maziar Bahari…an Iranian-Canadian journalist and filmmaker [website here] and the founder of the ‘Not a Crime’ campaign to end official educational discrimination against Iran’s Baha’i religious minority” [see end here]:

A Humane Voice for a Cruel Regime

Seven years ago, I heard the name of a prominent Iranian diplomat, Mohammad Javad Zarif, at least 118 times. That was how many days I spent imprisoned in Iran for doing my job as a journalist — and how many days I was beaten by an intelligence officer in the hard-line Revolutionary Guards. He demanded that I falsely confess to being a C.I.A. agent and invent false stories that Mr. Zarif had connections to Western intelligence agencies. Rather than cooperate, I somehow withstood the daily torture.

This month Mr. Zarif, now Iran’s foreign minister, has been in New York for the annual United Nations General Assembly meeting, alongside other Iranian diplomats and President Hassan Rouhani. Together, they have tried to give Iran’s government a humane face as champions of Middle East stability, while denying its human rights abuses.

Theirs is a thankless task: They must know they are lying. Iranian diplomats are caught between their desire to join the modern world and the reality of the government they represent. They also know their own rights are at risk if they don’t follow the wishes of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader.

In 2006, when the hard-liner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was president, one diplomat told me he had one of the world’s most unenviable jobs. I won’t endanger him by naming him, so I’ll call him Amir. He told me: “If you’re a conscientious man who tries to help his country by changing the system from within, you can’t stop feeling suicidal. When you work for this government you can see how corrupt the system is and how erratically the Guards and the judiciary system can behave. And all this happens on the supreme leader’s watch.”

Amir was jailed not long after that…

In Evin prison, my torturer told me the enemies who “deserved to die” were the diplomats, reformist politicians and officials who dared to try to change the Islamic Republic — people like the imprisoned former statesmen who had visited New York regularly before that spring.

I had been the accredited reporter for Newsweek magazine for 11 years, and had made documentary films about Iran for British television. Soon after my first interrogation, I realized that the sole purpose of my incarceration and torture was to force me into a false narrative, concocted by the Guards, of espionage and betrayal of Iran by myself and its reformist politicians. I refused.

…Mr. Zarif laughs off questions about human rights abuses. Last year he told Charlie Rose: “We do not jail people for their opinions.” Certainly, he knows he is lying. He knows that many people, like Amir, have been imprisoned for their ideas…

Over to you foreign minister Dion. Engage on with foreign minister Zarif et al.

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds

Mark Collins – US Treasury OKs Boeing, Airbus Airliner Sales to Iran (nothing for Bombardier)

Big commercial fruits of the nuclear deal look like coming through for some as POTUS gambles on the Iranian “moderates” (see end of quote below):

The United States on Wednesday [Sept. 21] removed a final hurdle for Western aircraft manufacturers to sell planes to Iran, a country desperately in need of hundreds of new aircraft.

The Treasury Department granted the aviation giants Airbus and Boeing licenses to deliver planes to Tehran. The decision is a boon not only for the two companies but also for Iranian politicians who want to expand Iran’s engagement with the world now that sanctions linked to Iran’s nuclear program have been lifted.

A spokesman for Boeing said the license covered the sale of 80 planes to Iran’s national carrier, Iran Air. Airbus confirmed that it received a license for an initial sale of 17 planes, part of a larger deal that involves a total of 118 planes.

The green light for aircraft sales allows Iran, a country of 80 million, to start rebuilding its aging fleet of Boeing and Airbus planes and other secondhand aircraft purchased clandestinely from other countries. Over the past four decades, hundreds of Iranians have died in crashes caused by malfunctioning or poorly maintained aircraft.

“From today, we will have safe planes,” President Hassan Rouhani of Iran promised in January when the accord between Iran and six world powers, including the United States, became fully operational.

Under that deal, Iran has given up parts of its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. Since then the country has managed to increase its oil sales, but it has not been able to sign major deals with Western companies because of continuing banking restrictions related to non-nuclear sanctions.

While the United States has relaxed many of its sanctions against Iran, Washington still demands that even non-American manufacturers wishing to sell to Iran obtain an export license if their products include materials made in the United States. Airbus, based in Europe, buys more than 40 percent of all its aircraft parts in the United States.

The granting of the licenses is likely to draw protests from some members of Congress, who have noted that Iranian commercial aircraft have been used to transport troops and weapons into Syria. Representative Peter Roskam, Republican of Illinois, said in a statement that the Obama administration “has once again made a political decision to appease Iran at the expense of our national security.” He said Congress was committed to making the process of delivering the planes as difficult and expensive as possible.

Western political analysts who specialize in Iran said the Treasury’s decision reflected an effort by the Obama administration to help Mr. Rouhani, who staked much of his political reputation on promised economic dividends from the termination of nuclear sanctions…

As for Bombardier:

1) January 2016:

[Canadian] Minister sees Iran thaw as opportunity for Canadian aerospace industry

2) September 2016:


Iran is also negotiating with Brazilian jetmaker Embraer, a senior Iranian official said. It is in negotiations with the rail-making unit of Canada’s Bombardier, although not with its aircraft unit, he told Reuters…

Oh well, our delusional foreign minister (‘Justin Trudeau has emerged as “the most prominent and popular political figure on the planet…'”) better just intensify that engagement effort with the ayatollahs.

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds

Mark Collins – “A Peek into French Signals Intelligence”–with a Canada/CSE Angle

Very interesting, will our media notice what’s at 2.?

France’s former top SIGINT spy confirms an advanced persistent threat and muses about a merger with German intelligence [the foreign intelligence service BND’s website is here–they also do SIGINT as does their French equivalent DGSE, see next para].

Something remarkable happened a few months ago. Bernard Barbier, the former head of signals intelligence (SIGINT) between 2006 and 2014 at France’s foreign intelligence agency (DGSE [website here]), gave a speech at one of France’s top engineering schools in which he reflected on his career and imparted some of his wisdom to students. He also said some things that he probably shouldn’t have, like confirming that France was behind the Animal Farm advanced persistent threat, commenting on the SIGINT capabilities of European allies, and reacting to the revelation that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA [website here]) had compromised the networks of the French presidency.

Last week, Barbier’s speech surfaced on YouTube but was quickly taken down. However, it was up long enough for French daily Le Monde to transcribe some of the highlights. Here they are, paraphrased and translated from the original French…

2. “And yes, it was a Frenchman”

In 2014, Le Monde published documents from the Snowden archive revealing that Canada’s SIGINT agency, the Communications Security Establishment (CSE [website here]), suspected that Paris was behind a cyber espionage campaign that began in 2009 targeting Iran’s nuclear program but also targeting computers in Canada. CSE was able to attribute the campaign to the French based on some reverse engineering revealing that the malware developer used references to a French children’s cartoon character, Babar the Elephant. That reference also led Kaspersky [US  website here] to baptise the malware Animal Farm. Barbier recalls that CSE “concluded that he [the malware author] was French. And yes, it was a Frenchman.”..

Canadian media do not seem to have noticed these revelations at the time. Lots more on  SIGINT here.

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is  a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds