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John Kerry and Sergey Lavrov to finalize Syria deal

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The war in Arab Syria, still going on for years, is a sort of world war as many powers are killing Muslims there as part of America’s permanent war project following 9/11. The war has become intense with Russian forces joining the party in Damascus. As in the case of Palestine issue, USA maintains it wants to find a credible solution to the crisis and end war in Syria.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said he plans to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva on Aug. 26 to try to finalize a deal on Syria, after an initial US-Russian understanding reached at meetings in Moscow on July 15 was upended by intensified fighting in Aleppo. “We want to be very measured in our expectations as we go forward … but we believe this meeting is worth having,” State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau told journalists on Aug. 24 about the upcoming Kerry-Lavrov meeting in Geneva. When asked if the scheduling of the meeting was a sign a deal was imminent she said: “We still have issues that need to be resolved. However, we are meeting. We are going to put Secretary Kerry and the foreign minister in a face-to-face meeting to try to resolve some of the issues that remain. I don’t know where we will be after this. … We are committed to this … advancing.”

Kerry, speaking to reporters in Kenya on Aug. 22, said he hoped that meetings between US and Russian technical teams in Geneva this week would make sufficient progress on a plan to expand a cessation of hostilities in Syria nationwide so that a deal could be announced by the end of the month. “Foreign Minister Lavrov and I would meet,” Kerry told reporters in Kenya. “But I wouldn’t be surprised, if they are positive and constructive, that we do get together sooner rather than later. And, therefore, it is possible that something could be agreed … upon before the end of the month. … I wouldn’t express optimism; I would express hope.” “This has to end — this Syrian travesty,” Kerry added. “It has gone on far too long. It has cost too many lives.” A resumption of intra-Syrian political talks “has to be empowered by a legitimate cessation of hostilities and that is what we’re working to achieve,” he added.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said Kerry and Lavrov spoke by phone Aug. 24. They “discussed the situation in Syria, including in Aleppo … as well as possibilities for coordinating Russian and US efforts to combat terrorism, building on earlier agreements, including the need to draw a clear line between pro-American Syrian opposition groups and terrorist groups using them as cover, and to whom the cease-fire provisions do not apply,” the ministry said in a press release.

Earlier, diplomatic sources in Geneva had said that a Kerry-Lavrov meeting was tentatively planned, but that whether one materialized depended on whether there was sufficient progress on Aleppo discussions. “It depends on how the talks progress,” a diplomat in Geneva, speaking not for attribution, said on Aug. 24. “Clearly, both sides want a deal … but there is so much mistrust.”

Syrian war grew out of the unrest of the 2011 Arab Spring and escalated to armed conflict after President Bashar al-Assad’s government violently repressed protests calling for his removal. The Syrian civil war is an ongoing multi-sided armed conflict in Syria in which international interventions have taken place. The war is now being fought among several factions: the Syrian Government, a loose alliance of Syrian Arab rebel groups, the Syrian Democratic Forces, Salafi jihadist groups (including al-Nusra Front) who often co-operate with the rebels, and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The factions receive substantial support from foreign actors, leading many to label the conflict a proxy war waged by both regional and global powers.

Syrian opposition groups formed the Free Syrian Army and seized control of the area surrounding Aleppo and parts of southern Syria. Over time, factions of the Syrian opposition split from their original moderate position to pursue an Islamist vision for Syria as al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).In the north, Syrian government forces largely withdrew to fight the FSA, allowing the Kurdish YPG to move in and claim de facto autonomy. In 2015 the YPG joined forces with Arab, Assyrian, and Armenian and Turkmen groups forming the Syrian Democratic Forces.

As of February 2016 the government held 40% of Syria, ISIL held around 20-40%, Arab rebel groups (including al-Nusra Front) 20%, and 15-20% is held by the Syrian Democratic Forces. Both the Syrian Democratic Forces and the Syrian Army have made recent gains against ISIL.

International organizations have accused the Syrian government, ISIL and other opposition forces of severe human rights violations and of multiple massacres. The conflict has caused a considerable displacement of population. On 1 February 2016,a formal start of the UN-mediated Geneva Syria peace talks was announced by the UN but fighting continues unabated.[

Syria became an independent republic in 1946, although democratic rule ended with a coup in March 1949, followed by two more coups the same year. A popular uprising against military rule in 1954 saw the army transfer power to civilians. From 1958 to 1961, a brief union with Egypt replaced Syria’s parliamentary system with a highly centralized presidential regime. The secular Ba’ath Syrian Regional Branch government came to power through a successful coup d’état in 1963. The next several years Syria went through additional coups and changes in leadership. In March 1971, Hafez al-Assad, an Alawite, declared himself President, a position that he held until his death in 2000.

The Assad government opposed the US’s 2003 invasion of Iraq. The Bush administration undertook to destabilize the regime by increasing sectarian tensions, showcasing and publicizing Syrian repression of radical Kurdish and Sunni groups and financing political dissidents. Assad also opposed the Qatar-Turkey pipeline in 2009. A classified 2013 report by a joint U.S. army and intelligence group concluded that the overthrow of Assad would have drastic consequences; the opposition supported by the Obama administration was dominated by jihadist elements.

In 2000, Bashar al-Assad took over as President of Syria upon Hafez al-Assads death. He and his wife Asma al-Assad, a Sunni Muslim born and educated in Britain,[110] initially inspired hopes for democratic reforms. A Damascus Spring of social and political debate took place between July 2000 and August 2001. The Damascus Spring largely ended in August 2001 with the arrest and imprisonment of ten leading activists who had called for democratic elections and a campaign of civil disobedience.[112] In the opinion of his critics, Bashar Assad had failed to deliver on promised reforms.]

Syrian President Assad continues to be adamant, refusing to step down, allowing the situation to calm down especially after Russia, on pretext of supporting Assad, also began attacking the Syrians. Meanwhile, in September 2015, an announcement was made about the formation of the New Syrian Army (NSA), which would initially begin its operations by fighting the Islamic State (IS), without any mention about it possibly confronting Bashar al-Assad’s forces. This is despite the fact that the NSA commander, Khazal al-Sarhan, told various media outlets that Assad and IS were but two sides of the same coin, and that his army would fight Assad once IS is defeated.

Russia said Aug. 18 that it would be willing to consider cease-fires that would last 48 hours for Aleppo on a weekly basis, provided there could be security guarantees that would enable aid to reach both government-held western Aleppo as well as rebel-held eastern Aleppo. But follow-up meetings on how to implement the plan only resumed in Geneva on Aug. 23 and have been complicated, the diplomatic source said.

US officials said Russian actions had served to bolster popular support for al-Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra (recently renamed Jabhat Fatah al-Sham), which played a key role in breaking an attempted Syrian regime besiegement of rebel-held eastern Aleppo. “The recent escalation in airstrikes and ground fighting in Aleppo is of deep concern to the United States,” a US official, speaking not for attribution, said on Aug. 23. “The Syrian regime and its allies, Russia and Iran, are driving this escalation that is bringing more suffering to an already deplorable humanitarian crisis and complicates efforts to get Syrian parties to the negotiating table. “Russia has pledged to focus its military actions against ISIL (new name given by the CIA to Islamic State) and al-Qaeda in Syria.

The US official said instead of degrading these terrorist organizations, however, Russia’s actions have empowered the Syrian regime — which uses barrel bombs and, reportedly, toxic chemicals, like chlorine, on its own people. These actions threaten to galvanize popular support for extremists like al-Qaeda, which claim to defend the population suffering under the rule of a brutal dictator and his allies.” “By intervening militarily in this civil war, Russia assumed enormous responsibility for Syria’s future,” the US official said. “It is long past time for Russia to take the necessary steps to reduce violence against civilians, guarantee open access for humanitarian agencies and create conditions conducive for a political transition.”

Meanwhile, Turkey launched its most ambitious operation of the Syrian conflict on Wednesday with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan saying it targeted the double threat from Islamic State extremists and Syrian Kurdish militias. Turkey says the air and ground operation dubbed “Euphrates Shield” will clear jihadists from the Syrian town of Jarabulus, which lies directly opposite the Turkish town of Karkamis.

The operation was launched just days after Ankara appeared to soften its often-confrontational line on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whom Turkey wants to see removed. Turkey views the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which it has denounced as a terror organisation along with the EU and the USA. The Syrian Kurds “already occupy a large strip of that border but there is this part in the middle that is still held by ISIS.

At the weekend, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim for the first time acknowledged that Assad was one of the “actors” in Syria, saying he may need to remain as part of any transition. Turkey is also working more closely with Iran and Russia, Assad’s last remaining major allies. So far, no world power has objected to the Turkish operation, which began just hours before US Vice President Joe Biden arrived in Ankara.

There have also been signs of a less confrontational Turkish foreign policy since Yildirim took over from Ahmet Davutoglu as premier in May. Stopping Kurdish advances in the north was now Ankara’s primary goal in Syria rather than Assad’s removal. “Following the ouster of Ahmet Davutoglu, the architect of Turkey’s foreign policy in the last decade, Ankara has recalibrated its Syria policy.”Blocking PYD Kurdish advances in Syria, previously Ankara’s secondary goal, now trumps Turkey’s erstwhile policy of ousting the Assad regime.”

The Kerry-Lavrov Geneva discussions “will be the big meeting,” Bassam Barabandi, a former Syrian diplomat now with the Syrian opposition High Negotiating Committee, told Al-Monitor on Aug. 23. “Now I think it is very difficult to talk about a cessation of hostilities,” Barabandi said. Rebel gains in Aleppo in recent weeks are “very difficult to use as leverage, because part of them are Nusra, so I don’t see how Kerry can leverage that” in his discussions with the Russians, Barabandi said.

Even as Kerry expressed hope that a US-Russia deal on Syria could be finalized this month, the Pentagon pushed back on reports a deal was imminent. “Contrary to recent claims, we have not finalized plans with Russia on potential coordinated efforts,” Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook told journalists Aug. 22. “Serious issues must first be resolved before we can implement the steps Kerry and Lavrov discussed in Moscow last month…We are not there yet, and the regime and Russian’s recent actions only make it harder to consider any potential coordination,” Cook added.

Whether or not the Kerry-Lavrov talks on Syrian war would put an end to war and other forms of hostilities in the country and whether or not Assad would step aside at least now when thousands of Syrians have lost their valuable lives because of him and Syria is in shatters.

It would take years for Syria to revive its economy and trade even if a deal is struck by the top powers of the world.

Once destabilized by US led terror forces, chances of revival is a difficult talks as we have seen in Afghanistan and Libya.

Pakistan is perhaps destabilized once for all.

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Papal visit to Iraq: Breaking historic ground pockmarked by religious and political minefields

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Copyright © Dicastero per la Comunicazione - Vatican Media

When Pope Francis sets foot in Iraq on Friday, he will be breaking historic ground while manoeuvring religious and political minefields. So will his foremost religious counterpart, Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ali al-Husayni al-Sistani, one of the Shia Muslim world’s foremost scholars and leaders.

The three-day visit contrasts starkly with past papal trips to the Middle East that included Turkey, Egypt, Morocco, the United Arab Emirates and Azerbaijan, states that, unlike neighbouring Iran, are more accustomed to inter-faith interactions because of their Sunni Muslim history and colonial experience or in the case of Shia-majority Azerbaijan a modern history of secular and communist rule.

Unlike in Azerbaijan, Pope Francis is venturing in Iraq into a Shia-majority country that has been wracked by sectarian violence in which neighbouring Iran wields significant religious and political influence and that is home to religious scholars that compete with their counterparts in the Islamic republic. As a result, Iraqi Shiite clerics often walk a tightrope.

Scheduled to last 40 minutes, Ayatollah Al-Sistani’s meeting with the pope, a high point of the visit, constitutes a double-edged sword for a 90-year-old religious leader born in Iran who has a complex relationship with the Islamic republic.

Ayatollah Al-Sistani has long opposed Iran’s system of direct rule by clerics. As a result, he has eschewed executive and political authority while playing a key role in reconciling Iraqi Shiites and Sunnis, promoting inter-tribal and ethnic peace, and facilitating the drafting and ratification of a post-US invasion constitution.

Ayatollah Al-Sistani’s influence, however, has been evident at key junctures in recent Iraqi history. Responding to an edict by the ayatollah, Iraqis flocked to the polls in 2005 despite the risk of jihadist attacks. Large numbers enlisted in 2017 to fight the Islamic State after Ayatollah Al-Sistani rallied the country. The government of Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi resigned in 2019, four days after Ayatollah Al-Sistani expressed support for protesters demanding sweeping reforms.

To avoid controversy, Ayatollah Al-Sistani is likely to downplay the very aspects of a meeting with the pope that political and religious interlocutors of the head of the Catholic church usually bask in: the ability to leverage the encounter to enhance their legitimacy and position themselves as moderate and tolerant peacemakers.

With state-controlled media in Iran largely refraining from mentioning the visit and Iranian Spiritual Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei claiming the mantle of leadership of the Muslim world, Ayatollah Al-Sisi is likely to avoid projecting the encounter as a recognition by the pope that he is Shiite Islam’s chief interlocutor or that the holy Iraqi city of Najaf, rather than Iran’s Qom, is the unrivalled capital of Shiite learning.

Sources close to Ayatollah Al-Sistani, who rarely receives foreign dignitaries, have described his encounter on Saturday with the pope as a “private meeting.”

“Khamenei will not like it,” said Mehdi Khalaji, an Islamic scholar who studied in Qom and is a senior fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Critics are likely to note that Ayatollah Al-Sistani was meeting the pope but had failed to receive in December Iranian Chief Justice Ebrahim Raisi, who is touted as a potential presidential candidate in elections scheduled for June and/or successor to Ayatollah Khamenei.

Mr. Khalaji noted that Iran has long downplayed Ayatollah Al-Sistani’s significance that is boosted by the fact that he maintains a major presence not only in Najaf but also in Qom where he has a seminary, a library, and a clerical staff.

Shiite scholars suggest that is one reason why Pope Francis and Ayatollah Al-Sistani are unlikely to issue a Shiite-Christian equivalent of the Declaration of Human Fraternity that was signed in Abu Dhabi two years ago by the pontiff and Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, the Cairo-based historic cathedral of Islamic learning.

“Al-Sistani does not want to provoke Khamenei. There is no theological basis to do so. Muslims cannot be brothers of Christians. Mainstream Islamic theological schools see modern Christianity as inauthentic. They view Jesus as the divine prophet, not as the incarnation of God and his son. In short, for official Islam, today’s Christianity is nothing short of heresy,” Mr. Khalaji said, referring to schools of thought predominant in Iran. “Sunnis are a little bit more flexible,” he added.

Mr. Khalaji noted further that Shiite religious seminaries have no intellectual tradition of debate about inter-faith dialogue nor do any of the offices of religious leaders have departments concerned with interacting with other faith groups. “The whole discourse is absent in Shia Islam,” Mr. Khalaji said.

That has not stopped Ayatollah Al-Sistani from maintaining discreet contacts with the Vatican over the years.

In a bid to popularize the concept of inter-faith dialogue, Pope Francis is scheduled to hold a multi-religious prayer meeting in Ur, the presumed birthplace of Abraham, revered as the father of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

By the same token, Pope Francis, concerned about the plight of Christians in the Middle East and particularly Iraq that has seen the diverse minority shrink from 1.2 million before the 2003 US invasion to at most 300,000 today, will want to build on the Shiite leader’s past calls for protection of the minority faith group from attacks by militants and condemnation of “heinous crimes” committed against them.

The pope hopes that a reiteration by Ayatollah Al-Sistani of his empathy for the plight of Christians would go a long way in reducing pressure on the community from Iranian-backed militias that has stopped many from returning to homes they abandoned as they fled areas conquered by the Islamic State.

The pope’s visit, little more than a month after a bomb blast in Baghdad killed 32 people and days after rockets hit an airbase housing US troops, has sparked hope among some Iraqis that it will steer the country away from further violence.

That hope was boosted by a pledge by Saraya Awliyat Al-Dam (Custodians of the Blood), the pro-Iranian group believed to have attacked the airbase, to suspend its operations during the pope’ visit “as a sign of respect for Imam Al-Sistani.”

Said Middle East scholar Hayder al-Khoei: “There will be no signing of a document, but both (Pope Francis and Ayatollah Al-Sistani) are advocates of interfaith dialogue and condemn violence committed in the name of religion. The meeting will undoubtedly strengthen the voices and organizations who still believe in dialogue.”

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Iraq Opens Hands to the Pope Francis’ Historic Visit

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Copyright © Dicastero per la Comunicazione - Vatican Media

The world looks forward to Pope Francis’ historic visit to Iraq which is considered the first papal trip represented by the Roman Catholic Church to the cradle of civilization, Mesopotamia, despite spreading the second wave of COVID-19 and the security situation in Iraq. This expected visit has an important impact on highlighting the challenges and disasters of humiliation, the sectarian war and displacing people, Yazidis persecution, and fleeing the Christian minorities that faced Iraq during all these past years after the US invasion occurred in 2003.

The three-day-visit is considered as the message of peace after years of war and violence, referring that the Pope’s visit is as a pilgrim to the cradle of civilization. The papal visit includes Baghdad, Erbil, Mosul- Qaraqosh, and Ur city. The trip comes after 18 months as the pandemic restricts his movement, and it is the first visit to the Middle East when he visited the U.A.E in February 2019 where he met and celebrated in front of 180,000 people at the Zayed Sports City stadium in Abu Dhabi.

The papal visit was intended to occur twenty years ago when St. John Paul II tried to visit Mesopotamia during Saddam’s regime, but the endeavors failed to complete that proposed trip. “The people of Iraq are waiting for us. The people waited for St. John Paul II who was not permitted to go. We cannot disappoint them twice”, said the Pope.

In a video message addressed by the Pope to the people of Iraq, he expressed his happiness and longing to meet the people who suffered from war, scourges, and death during all these years. “I long to meet you, to look at your faces and to visit your blessed ancient land and the cradle of civilization,” the Pope said.

It is expected that the purpose of the Pope’s visit is to preserve the rest of the Christians in Iraq. According to the estimation of the charity aid of the Church in Need, the numbers of Christians have decreased from 1.4 million to under 250,000 since the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, especially in the cities of northern Iraq. Many Christians were killed and fled from 2014 to 2017 due to the Islamic State occupation and due to their atrocities, persecution, and violence against the Christian areas. The Pope yearns for meeting the dwindling Christian communities in Mosul, Qaraqosh, and Nineveh plains where these regions had suffered from the atrocities of ISIS in 2014 and people had been compelled to flee.

The world is waiting for the most significant historic meeting between the 90-year-old Shia Muslim cleric, the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, and the 84-year-old Pope Francis in the Shiite shrine city of Najaf. The expected meeting is seen as a real chance to enhance the bonds of fraternity between the Muslims and Christians and to lighten the impact of the islamophobia concept that swept Europe and America due to the terrorism actions that happened in Europe. This expected meeting that will be by Saturday signifies a historic moment when the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani meets Pope Francis, illustrating the fraternal bonds to make people live in peace and tranquility.

Back in February 2019, the Pontiff Francis and Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, the Grand Imam of Cairo’s al-Azhar mosque and the most prestigious leader in Sunni Islam, agreed and signed the declaration of fraternity, affirming peace among all nations. The two parties in this document adhere to fight extremism in every place in the world. If the Pontiff and the Grand Ayatollah sign a document like the declaration of fraternity, this will give Najaf’s Marjiya a very great impact, and this move will be seen as the first step to decrease the religious tensions and fill the gap of the clash of civilization. This document, if it is enacted, will have a great impact to make peace prevailing and encouraging Muslims and Christians to live in peaceful coexistence.

Ur, which is the oldest city in the world, is to be visited by the pontiff. It is considered the biblical birthplace of Ibraham, the common prophet to the Christians, Muslims, and Judaism and the father of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. It is expected that there will be prayers in Ziggurat where this place is one of UNESCO world heritage sites. This visit to this historic site will help the landmark to polarize people from Iraq and outside to visit it after years of negligence and ignorance attention to its importance and the vital role that can help Iraq to increase the public income.

The papal visit has many different messages to the people of Iraq. Firstly, the expected meeting with the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani reflects the fraternal and human stances, and this meeting underlines the important role played by the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani after the US-led-invasion in 2003. Secondly, his visit to Ur to pray there is a message of the peaceful coexistence between Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, trying to point out that all these three religions emerged from one source. Thirdly, the Pope endeavors to be with the Christians who suffer from the past events of persecution, humiliation, and atrocities. His presence among them is a message of tranquility, serenity, peace, and contentment to live in Iraq with the Muslims and to abandon fighting against others. Finally, the Pope’s visit to Iraq pays the world’s attention to the religious importance of Iraq and the significant role that can be played by Iraq.

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Restart Iran Policy by Stopping Tehran’s Influence Operations

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Another US administration is trying to figure out its Iran policy. And, as always, the very regime at the core of the riddle is influencing the policy outcome. Through the years, the clerical rulers of Iran have honed the art of exploiting America’s democratic public sphere to mislead, deceive, confuse, and influence the public and government.

Yet Washington still does not have a proper taxonomy of policy antidotes when it comes to Tehran’s influence operations.

Arguments dictated by Iranian intelligence services echo in think tanks and many government agencies. These include the extremely misguided supposition that the murderous regime can be reformed or is a reliable negotiating partner for the West; or that there is no other alternative but to deal with the status quo.

How has Tehran been able to deceive some in the US into believing such nonsense? First, by relying on the policy of appeasement pursued by Western governments. And second, through its sophisticated influence operations facilitated by that policy.

Consider three recent instances.

First. Just last month, an Iranian “political scientist” was charged by the Justice Department for acting as an unregistered agent of Iran and secretly receiving money from its mission in New York. “For over a decade, Kaveh Afrasiabi pitched himself to Congress, journalists, and the American public … for the benefit of his employer, the Iranian government, by disguising propaganda as objective polic1y analysis and expertise,” the Justice Department noted.

Afrasiabi has an extensive body of published work and television appearances. In July 2020, according to the Justice Department, he linked many of his books and hundreds of articles in an email written to Iran’s Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, saying: “Without [Zarif’s] support none of this would have been possible!”

Second. Across the Atlantic, one of Zarif’s official diplomats in Europe, Assadollah Assadi, was convicted and given a 20-year prison sentence by a Belgian court on February 4 for trying to bomb an opposition rally in the outskirts of Paris in June 2018.

Court documents revealed that Assadi crisscrossed Europe as Tehran’s intelligence station chief, paying and directing many agents in at least 11 European countries.

Assadi’s terrorist plot in 2018 was foiled at the last minute. The main target was Maryam Rajavi, the President-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). Hundreds of Western lawmakers and former officials were also in attendance.

Third. Unable to harm its opposition through terrorism, the regime has expanded its influence operations against NCRI’s main constituent organization the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), which Tehran considers its arch nemesis.

For decades, the mullahs have misled, deceived, and confused America’s Iran policy by disseminating considerable disinformation about the democratic opposition. This has in turn resulted in bungled American responses to Tehran’s threats.

In a breaking revelation this month, a former Iranian intelligence operative wrote a letter to the UN Secretary General, outlining in glaring detail how the regime’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) recruits, pays, and controls dozens of agents across Europe to influence policy.

Forty-one-year-old Hadi Sani-Khani wrote that he was approached by intelligence agents who lured him into the Iranian embassy in Tirana, Albania (MEK’s headquarters). He said he wants to go back to Iran. On one condition, the embassy responded: Cooperate with the regime’s intelligence against the MEK. He subsequently met with the regime’s intelligence chief, Fereidoun Zandi, who coordinated a network of paid agents in Albania since 2014. The intelligence chief was later expelled by Albanian authorities along with the regime’s ambassador.

Khani was paid 500 euros per month to write and publish anti-MEK articles and also send copious amounts of similar propaganda to members of the European parliament. Dozens of websites are operated by Tehran’s intelligence, some of which are, astonishingly, undeclared sources for unsuspecting Western journalists, think tanks and government agencies when it comes to the MEK.

In many cases, reporters have met directly with the regime’s intelligence agents for their stories. In September 2018, for example, according to Khani, a reporter from German newspaper Der Spiegel traveled to Albania. Khani recalls: “We met the Der Spiegel reporter in a Café in Ramsa district in Zagozi square. Each of us then told her lies about the MEK which we had been given in preparation of the meeting. … [Later on,] she occasionally asked me questions about the MEK which I then raised with the embassy and provided her the response I received.”

Der Spiegel published the story on February 16, 2019, parts of which were copied from websites affiliated with Iran’s intelligence service. Following a lawsuit, a court in Hamburg ordered Der Spiegel to remove the defamatory segments of its article.

These same agents also met with a New York Times correspondent at the same Café, who subsequently wrote a piece against the MEK, regurgitating the very same allegations.

The mullahs’ influence operations are a serious obstacle to formulating an effective US policy toward Tehran. As long as the regime’s agents are allowed to exploit America’s public sphere, cultivate important relationships, infiltrate the media and think tanks, and influence serious policy deliberations in Washington through a flood of falsehoods, America will be at a substantial disadvantage.

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