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Left Socialist Blog

Iran’s Global Ambitions. Review: The Shadow Commander. Arash Azizi.

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Iran is in the news. To begin with there have been street unrest focused on their own extreme cost of living crisis. “Protests, strikes, internet cuts: Iran rocked by unrest as food prices soar.

Last month, Iran’s hardline government, led by the newly elected President Ebrahim Raisi, declared that it had decided to cut and end subsidies for wheat and flour, calling it necessary “economic surgery”.

This has led to unprecedented price rises of as much as 300 percent for a variety of flour-based staples in a country where almost half of the 85 million population lives under the poverty line.

The government argues that the price increases are because of the global wheat crisis sparked by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Both countries are among the biggest producers and exporters of wheat and corn (maize), as well as cooking oil.

Yesterday there was this. (BBC)

Iran will avenge the killing of a Revolutionary Guards colonel who was shot dead in Tehran, President Ebrahim Raisi has said.

Col Hassan Sayad Khodayari was killed on Sunday outside his home by assailants on motorcycles. Iran blamed “elements linked to the global arrogance”, its term for the US and its allies including Israel.

It was the most high-profile killing inside Iran since the November 2020 murder of nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.

The Jerusalem Post observes,

According to reports, Khodayari was close to former IRGC Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani who was killed in an American drone strike in Baghdad. 

Khodayari also commanded the IRGC’s Quds Force’s Unit 840, a relatively secret unit that builds terror infrastructure and plans attacks against Western targets and opposition groups outside Iran. 

Who was Soleimani and what is the Quds force? The Shadow Commander: Soleimani, the U.S., and Iran’s Global Ambitions by Arash Azizi is probably the best account of the former right-hand man of the Iranian regime, himself killed by a targeted US drone in January 2020, and the “the Quds Force, an IRGC division primarily responsible for extraterritorial and clandestine military operations”

Aziz’s study is a biography of Soleimani, “a boy from the margins of Iranian society” who “rose to become a commander fêted by thousands and feared by many more”. With combat experience, and a reputation for bravery, during the Iran -Iraq War, the fighter became a figure in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), “supporting liberation and right thinking movements of the oppressed” on behalf of the Islamist regime and “authentic Islamic ideology”. Between 1997 and 1988 he became Commander of the Quds (the Arabic name for Jerusalem) Force, the “Responsible for extraterritorial operations, the Quds Force supports non-state actors in many countries, including HezbollahHamasPalestinian Islamic JihadYemeni Houthis, and Shia militias in IraqSyria, and Afghanistan.”

The breadth of the Commander’s involvement was impressive. Soleimani oversaw Iran’s campaign against the Taliban when Tehran and the United States briefly cooperated in Afghanistan against the Taliban after the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks. He was an active player in Iraq, promoting a combination of “anti-Zionism with Shia sectarianism” (Page 167). Deeply implicated on the side of Assad in the Syrian civil war, Soleimani was, The Shadow Commander, states, an influence on President Putin’s commitment to back the Baathist dictator. After 2015 talks at the Kremlin, an analyst is cited saying, “without the meeting, he wouldn’t have committed to Assad the same way. ” (Page 241) At the same time the Iranians showed staunch opposition reinforced by military aid, against the genociders of ISIS. The Commander personally flew to Erbril, a Kurdish Iraqi stronghold besieged by Daesh. “The bravery that it took to fly to a city besieged by ISS wasn’t lost on anyone. “(Page 234). With their help in the admirable defence of the Turkoman town of Amerili was also saved.

Intervention and meddling in Lebanese sectarian politics, shoring up the corrupt government, has been less glorious. Defending the Syrian despot remains the deepest stain on Soleimani’s record. There are many other dark areas. In Yemen’s civil war he helped to establish more than an Iranian presence, the have an ally, “The missiles fired by the Houthis ravage their Saudi targets – and there is no mistake as to their Iranian origin.” (Page 219).

Azizi talks of a degree of jealousy towards Marxism and Communism amongst Iran’s Islamists some the effect of their student days, when they competed with leftists. Their principal reaction once in power was to imprison, and exile, if not kill, left-wingers.

In a different turn, with the fall of Official Communism some disillusioned communists in the Middle East and Iran turned to Islam, although those from other backgrounds they were marginal figures like the anti-semetic Roger Garaudy, and the mercenary renegade Carlos the Jackal, Ramírez Sánchez, who, still languishing in a French gaol, has not updated his 2003,  Revolutionary Islam.

More significant were Iranian efforts to promote an Islamic internationalism. But the call from the IRGC to stand for the oppressed did not just falter faced with the anti-Shia hatred of Sunni Islamist groups, like Al-Qaeda, or Daesh, the continuing importance of the Egypt based Muslim Brotherhood, Wahhabism, or even the multitude of Salafist groups whose vision of the perfect Islamic society and law “of the “pious predecessors” (salaf), is at odds with the Shia Iranian republic.

Aziz put this starkly, “..one fact stopped Iran’s internationalist project in its tracks. Unlike Soviet Communism, it lacked a model that could be replicated elsewhere. “Iran’s ruling doctrine Welayat al-Faqih or ‘guardianship of the jurist could only work in a Shia-majoriy society. “(Page 165.) Azerbaijan, Bahrain, and (by a short majority) Iraq were the limits of this universe. There is a simple reason: the key article of faith transfers all political and religious authority to the Shia clergy and makes all of the state’s key decisions subject to approval by a supreme clerical leader, the vali-e faqih (guardian Islamic jurist)Even doctrinally modified, Iran has not created an “attractive model of Islamist politics and economics to offer the world” (ibid) Soleimani’s final blustering efforts (including drug smuggling, Azizi alleges) to expand the interventions, even to inciting Shia Muslims in Nigeria, and dark operations beyond the Middle East, show what a hollow shell their revolutionary claims have become.

Iran is dominated by a “ruling caste” whose arrogance and repression cannot conceal their difficulties. Yet, “As the Iranian currency, the rial, shrivels in value and people watch their incomes diminish with surging prices, strikes over salary disputes among bus drivers and teachers have also gained traction across the country. ” (Independent).

The Shadow Commander is important reading for anybody interested not only in the background to the assassination of Hassan Sayad Khodayari but in Iran and the fate of political Islam in power.

Written by Andrew Coates

May 23, 2022 at 12:57 pm

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