Thursday, November 23, 2006

Iranian Politics and Foreign Policy

Iran: An Enigma Wrapped in a Riddle?
Area: 1.468,000 square miles(17th largest country in world- one 5th size of USA)
Population: 57million
Ethnic Groups: Persian, 46%; Azerbaijani, 17%; Kurdish, 9%; Gilaki, 5%
Language: Farsi
Religion: Islam, 99%.
Borders: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iraq, Caspian Sea, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Turkey & Pakistan + Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman.
Climate: arid or semi-arid with low temperatures in the north and higher rainfall in the west.
History:
Known as Persia until 1935, Iran has an ancient history going back 2000 years when the Aryan people first settled there. The first great king was Cyrus the Great more than 500 years BC but in 331 BC the Persian Empire fell to Alexander the Great- and then was restored in 224AD. Islam was introduced when Arabs took over the land in 641 after which Persia became the centre for Islamic art and architecture. The Seljuk Turks conquered in 11th century but- oh so inevitably- the Mongols swept them away in 1220.
The Safavid dynasty was founded in 1501 by Shah Ismail along with the Shi-ite form of Islam. Nadir Shah expelled the Afghans and was noted for his despotic rule (1736-47). The Qajar dynasty (1794-1925) saw the gradual decline of the of the empire in the face of challenges from Europe. The discovery of oil saw Russia and Britain dividing up the country in 1907 and in 1919 it effectively became a British protectorate.

In 1921 Reza Khan seized power via a military coup and established the Pahlavi dynasty; he was elected shah in 1925 and set about modernizing his country. In 1941 Britain and USSR invaded and occupied. Reza abdicated in favour of his son Muhammad Reza Pahlavi; he tried to introduce reforms after the war but the elections he set up were mostly crooked and government unstable. In 1951 the British owned oil industry in Iran was nationalized by the nationalist Mossadegh via the Abadan crisis and the shah fled; he returned in 1953 with US backing and restored western oil rights. The western consortium was allowed to extract and sell Iranian oil. The profits were to be shared 50-50 but the Iranians were not allowed to audit the books of the consortium or to have anyone sitting on the board of directors.

In the 60s the Shah was reformist, giving women the vote and reforming land ownership. However such reforms did not still discontent at ‘westernization’-rather they intensified religious objections- and growing economic inequality; the secret police-SAVAK- suppressed open dissent with some 13,000 believed to have died as a result. Ayatollah Khomeini-having been exiled in 1964- opposed secularization from the vantage of Turkey, Iraq and France. Iran was the largest military power in the region but internally the shah’s position was weakening. In 1979, after recurring street opposition, the shah fled and Khomeini established an Islamic Republic hostile to the west and of which he became Supreme Leader. In 1979 the oil industry was again nationalized.

Islamic Revolution
In 1979 militants seized control of the US Embassy and held 52 hostages for over a year. President Carter tried to free the hostages in April 1980 but the helicopter operation was a fiasco. In September 1980 Iraq invaded and the war with that country began; it was destined to last eight years, and claim half a million lives. The west mostly backed Saddam Hussein, the vicious Iraqi dictator, as the lesser evil compared with Islamic revolutionaries who had humiliated Washington and supplied him with arms, including ingredients for the chemical weapons which killed thousands of Iranian soldiers and civilians. Saddam was keen to exploit the weakness of the country after the revolution and make himself the dominant force in the region as well as possibly the controller of Iranian oil supplies.

Official U.S. policy sought to isolate Iran, and the U.S. and its allies supplied Iraq with weapons and technology to maintain a balance in the war. Iraq obtained most of its weaponry from the USSR, the Chinese, and the French. Members of Reagan’s government covertly sold anti-tank missiles and spare parts to Iran in what became known as the Iran –Contra Affiar. Iran finally agreed to UN Security Council Resolution 598 in 1988 to end the bloody war. Nonetheless, severe fighting continued into the 1990s as Kurds(nationalist and communist) forces fought the Iranian government. At times, large parts of the western parts of Iran were without government control.

Supreme Leader of Iran- currently Ayatollah Ali Khomenie
SLI responsible for the ‘general policies… of the Republic’. He is C in C of the armed forces, controls intelligence and has the power to declare war. He appoints heads of judiciary. Broadcasting, police and military commanders plus the 12 members of the Council of Guardians(GC). The Assembly of Experts is a congressional body of 86 ayatollahs which elects the SLI(for life) and supervises his activities. Members are elected for 8 year terms via direct public votes.

The Assembly requires all its members be experts in Islamic jurisprudence, thus enabling them to to judge the activities of the SLI, to make sure he does not break Islamic rules and is doing his his duty according to the constitution. This law is being challenged by the Reformists, and their 2006 election campaign includes changing this law to allow non-clerics into the assembly, and reversing the law that allows the GC to vet candidates. The candidates are subject to approval of the Guardian Council. Currently, the average age of its members is over 60 years, which results in many mid-term elections. The next election is due to take place December 15, 2006. The meetings and the meeting notes of the assembly are confidential.

The Executive
After the SLI the President is the most senior state authority- elected by universal suffrage for a period of four years. The GC has to approve candidates for the Presidency to ensure they hold views consistent with the Islamic Revolution. The president is responsible for the day to day running of the state subject to the judgement of the SLI. The president appoints and runs the Council of Ministers which is a bit like an extended Cabinet. He has 8 vice presidents under him and a cabinet of 21 ministers.


Legislature: This is tricameral in nature.
Council of Guardians: comprises 12 jurists six of whom are appointed by the SLI, the remainder being recommended by the head of the judiciary (who is also appointed by the SLI) and confirmed by parliament.
Expediency Council: has authority to mediate disputes between the GC and Parliament and is an advisory body to the SLI.
Assembly of Experts: is a congressional body of 86 ayatollahs which elects the SLI (for life) and supervises his activities. Members are elected for 8 year terms via direct public votes.
Parliament: The Majles comprises 290 members elected for four year terms. It drafts legislation, ratifies treaties and the national budget. All candiates must be approved by the GC.
Judiciary: SLI appoints the head who in turn appoints the Supreme Court and public prosecutor. There are public and revolutionary courts, the latter dealing with national security and for which there is no appeal procedures. There is also the Special Clerical Court for clerics, accountable only to the SLI.

Economy: This is a mix of state planning and ownership plus privately owned business and small scale agriculture. Infrastructure has been steadily improving over the last two decades. The service sector employs the most people followed by industry- mining and manufacturing- and agriculture. Nearly half of government revenues come from oil and gas revenues with a third from taxes. GDP was $2.5K per capita 2005 (compared to $25K in USA). The UN defines it as ‘semi-developed’. Iran is keen to encourage investment and has tried to reduce impediments to trade. Her major partners are China, Syria, India, Venezuela, Russia, Germany and Italy. Iran is OPEC’s largest oil producer exporting 3 m tons of oil a day and has 10% of the world’s confirmed reserves.

Iranian Domestic Politics: Reformists V Conservatives
Following the Islamic Revolution politics in Iran have been, unsurprisingly, dominated by religion. The constitution, giving huge power to clerics but also involving popular elections, seemed to have bedded in by the mid nineties but with the passage of time the authority of the SLI has reduced somewhat and the more pragmatic politicians running government have acquired more power. Overlying this formal power relationship has been a tension between the reformists-mostly now out of power- and the conservatives-mostly in power. Initially the moderate Rafsanjani became president 1989-1997; Khatami won the presidential election in 1997(he was re-elected in 2001) and his supporters won a majority in the Majles elections too.

He was opposed by the conservative SLI, Khamenie, together with many other conservatives embedded into the power structure. In debates before that election, Khatami sought to claim legitimacy for reforming views by relating them to Khomeini and a ‘continuation’ of the revolution though advancing democracy as the revolution always relied ‘on the opinions of the people’. The conservatives disagree and claim the reform advocates see a separation between politics and religion; they claim adherence to the principle of ‘the clerics rule’. Liberalism, by being more open will ‘serve the enemies of Islam’ by letting in hostile views. Khatami believed Iran should have good relations with all countries, including USA and denied any secret links between the reformists and America. Hashemi, on the other hand was opposed to ‘establishing relations with the US because of the suffering of the Iranian people at the hands of the USA for the last five decades.’

This gulf between the reformers and the conservatives continues but the former took a bit hit in June 2005 when the ultra-conservative former mayor of Teheran Mahmood Ahmadinejad (MA) beat Rafsanjami’s bid to be president for a third term. Commentators predicted an end to the social reforms made to date by his two predecesors and a hardening of attitudes regarding foreign policy and the subject of nuclear power. Of 13.3 million votes cast MA had garnered 61.6%. Turnout was 47%, well down on the 63% who voted in the first round. It seemed MA’s appeal lay in his modest lifestyle and pledges to tackle corruption. Poor people voted massively for the 48 year old conservative nationalist. Rafsanjami, aged 70, who wanted better relations with the west, accused the hard-line militia, Basij, of intimidating voters. AM said relations with Washington were unimportant; he is seen as extremist while the SLI, Khameini, is more pragmatic. Spokesman for International Crisis Group, Karim Sadjapd predicted a divided nation as both candidates were polarizing figures. Rafsanjani supporters said they feared a return of curbs on women wearing clothes judged to be too revealing or on couples being arrested for fraternizing in public.

The Guardian ran a story 20/11/06 that fundamentalists in Iran are demanding separate classes for men and women in a drive to impose Islamic values throughout the university system. This has happened as figures show women outnumbering men on campuses. The cleric heading the state body running higher education said universities were becoming too much like ‘fashion shows’ where ‘the moral situation is offensive’. Large numbers of lecturers have been forced to retire after the president demanded a purge of liberal and secular lecturers. Already Islamic laws require men and women to sit in separate rows in classes and lecture halls. One senior cleric warned that a ‘free environment’ could cause ‘wives leaving husbands to marry other men’.

Foreign Policy and the Nuclear Issue
Traditionally Iran was pro-west and USA but the swing to the religious right changed all that. Iran has no relations with USA or Israel and is skeptical on the Middle East Peace Process. Ahmadinjehad went on to cause great concern when he called for Israel to be ‘wiped off’ the face of the earth. Relations with the EU have been better; Khatami visited Italy, France and Germany in 2000 and Austria and Greece in 2002.

Royal Institute of International Affairs Report, August 2006
The RIIA report blamed strategic errors by Bush for the current dominance of Iran in the region. The removal of two rival centres of power in Kabul and Baghdad has left the field open for Iran to become the main centre of power in the area. ‘Iran has been the chief beneficiary of the war on Terror in the Middle East’ says the report. Even the militia activities in Iraq’s cities strengthen Iran through the contacts they have with them. The RIIA report sees Iran as a necessary force to ‘douse many fires currently alight’; maybe an optimistic hope with such a firebrand president.

Iran and Hezbollah
Hezbollah is a Shia Islamist militant organization in Lebanon which follows the teachings of the Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran. It was founded in 1982 with the aims of: making Lebanon an Islamic state; overthrowing western capitalism ihn Lebanon; and overthrowing Israel. Given the difficulty of the first two aims Nasrallah has tried to make his movement more Lebanon friendly. Hezbollah has received arms, funding and training from Iran and other Arab states and has ‘operated with Syria’s blessing’. It now has seats in Lebanon’s parliament plus its own broadcasting arm. The west describe the movement as terrorist but many other counties do not and list it as a ‘resistance’ movement. Its summer war with Israel cost much in terms of life and Lebanese infrastructure but, despite the fact that Hezbullah initiated the conflict, and it involved heavy losses on both sides, it was perceived as a victory over the hated Israelis and celebrated throughout the Arab world. A leading Lebanon cleric, quoted in The Economist gave an insight as to how USA and its allies are perceived when he said: ‘This was an American war carried out by Israel to execute arrogant American plans to establish political, economic and military hegemony over the entire region’. An Iraqi poll revealed that 90% would not live next door to an American while two thirds believed US invaded Iraq to gain oil, build military bases and help Israel. Televised pictures of the US in Iraq looked ‘so much like Israelis stomping on Palestinians that many Arabs and Muslims grew simply to equate the occupations as twin assaults on their turf.’ Guatanamo and Abu Ghraib ‘merely silenced America’s remaining fans’. By offering people the option of being either ‘for us or against us’ Bush was pushing the fence sitters into the opposition camp.
Regional Policy
Patrick Clawson of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy sums up Iranian regional foreign policy attitudes thus
"A strong sense of history pervades Iran. Many Iranians consider their natural sphere of influence to extend beyond Iran's present borders. After all, Iran was once much larger. Portuguese forces seized islands and ports in the 16th and 17th centuries. In the 19th century, the Russian Empire wrested from Tehran’s control what is today Armenia, Republic of Azerbaijan, and part of Georgia. Iranian elementary school texts teach about the Iranian roots not only of cities like Baku, but also cities further north like Derbent in southern Russia. The Shah lost much of his claim to western Afghanistan following the Anglo-Iranian war of 1856-1857. Only in 1970 did a UN sponsored consultation end Iranian claims to suzerainty over the Persian Gulf island nation of Bahrain. In centuries past, Iranian rule once stretched westward into modern Iraqand beyond. When the western world complains of Iranian interference beyond its borders, the Iranian government often convinced itself that it is merely exerting its influence in lands that were once its own. Simultaneously, Iran's losses at the hands of outside powers have contributed to a sense of grievance that continues to the present day."

Within Iran itself globalisation and the beakup of the USSR has encouraged some separatist sentiment. Following an unflattering cartoon’s appearance in the newspaper Iran, Azeris- quite a big portion of the population- demonstrated all over the country, with many eventually being arrested and imprisoned. Eventually the paper’s editor had to apologize but the Azeris’ demand that the SLI do the same was not met. The eadership attributed the events to western interfence and indeed some neocons have been enthusiastic about making contacts and assisting ethnic minorities.

The Nuclear Issue
In 2003 the EU built on its better relations with Iran when France, Germany and the UK persuaded Iran to cooperate with the IAEA and not to proceed with enriched uranium. However, as conditions in the area went from bad to worse and as Iran’s politics swung towards the Islamic right, things deteriorated. In August 2006 the IAEA reported doubts about Iran’s claims that it was only interested in peaceful uses of nuclear power; inspectors had been unable to confirm ‘the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme’.
The Security Council pronounced Iran had to comply with its rulings but it was ignored. MA has refused to be ‘bullied’ by the west and says his country needs nuclear power and will not convert to weapons. The UN is trying to offer inducements like membership of the WTO and threatens economic sanctions. Blair and Bush have threatened ‘isolation’ if Iran does not comply but maybe it is these two beleaguered leaders who are already isolated from the rest of the world.

Anatole Kaletsky in Times 16/11/06
This Times columnist saw a parallel in the current situation with Nixon’s breakthrough with China in 1970. ‘Could James Baker be the Kissinger for President Bush?’ To effect this Bush would have to eat humble pie and accept he is the supplicant, ‘just as Nixon did when he went to China’. It would need the end of the ‘axis of evil’ approach, the end of ‘regime change’, lifting economic sanctions and a ‘formal guarantee of non-aggression.’ It would also be necessary to make concessions on nuclear side, maybe even accepting Iran as part of the nuclear club.
Such a move would split the theocratic world, strengthening the shias against the sunnis of Saudi Arabia who have supplied most of the terror personnel. Iran has an educated population which would integrate well in the west. Israel would lose out though and have to make concessions to the Palestinians; maybe making Jerusalem a jointly run multi-faith city.

Henry Kissinger Sunday Times 19/11/06
His article addresses the question of the nuclear issue in the current political situation. He points to the offer made by the Security Council ‘six’ to Iran but sees Iran gaining prestige in the region from resisting the west. US has not taken part in the talks but Rice has offered to as long as Iran suspends uranium enrichment. Iran has found this defiant attitude popular at home and reinforces of ‘shaky domestic support.’ HK thinks military action ‘extremely improbable during the final two years of a presidency facing a hostile Congress. But Tehran cannot ignore the possibility of a unilateral Israeli strike.’ However, in the meantime, Iran sees itself as leading the Shi-ite belt of power in the Middle East; maybe this explained his attitude of ‘Don’t talk to me about your world order, whose rules we did not participate in making and which we disdain. From now on, jihad define will the rules.’

Iran may help US withdraw in the short-term but only in order to turn it into a ‘long term rout.’ Iran might be influenced by a structure in the region which makes imperialist policies unattractive or the worry that USA might yet strike. HK suggests Iran might be satisfied with a respected regional place of power and welcome concessions in the Palestinian dispute. ‘Iran needs to be encouraged to act like a nation, not a cause.’ He advises US to redeploy but not so that exit seems imminent as this will hasten a collapse.

Iranian Initiative 20th November 2006
James Baker is expected to recommend, in the report of his Iraq Study Group, that Syria and Iraq be involved in regional diplomatic discussions to seek and end to the Iraq instability. Maybe it was both to pre-empt this expected outcome and advance its own role as the regional strongman that Ahmadinejad has suggested trilateral talks with Iraq, Syria and themselves this coming weekend. All three countries have had delicate relations in the past: Iran at war with Iraq; Syria taking Iran’s side in that war; and Syria being criticized by Iraq for allowing up to a 100 insurgents through their borders every month. VP Cheney is now isolated as the only big player in the White House who favours ‘staying the course’ and even using force against Iran but such have the travails been with the invasion that neither option now seems viable.

9 Comments:

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Nice sound bites in that political parties are dying, and I suppose that what you really wish to say is that globalists wish for political parties to die so as to place their centralized one world government in its place. Brown for example as soon as he got into his position to replace Blair gave his infamous NEW WORLD disorder speech. Nice try but to another dog with that global bone.

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