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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

Morning Star, Kevin Ovenden, Hungary’s Orbán “tapped a mood that is not right-wing”.

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Orbán “tapped a mood that is not right-wing” Kevin Ovenden former Galloway Bag-Man.

Via Jim,

It turns out that people’s thinking in Hungary is not the same as the one-dimensional propaganda that uses the atrocities in Ukraine to argue for a stronger Nato and EU.

Orban said he was going to keep Hungary out of the war and he continued to walk the tightrope. He won handsomely. Other parties and groupings of the right went further in calling for Hungary never to deploy its military for Nato missions and for Nato troops out of the country. There were slogans such as “we won’t die in Nato’s war.” Those parties gained.

Their slogan was often fused with highly nationalist and racist positions. But it tapped a mood that is not right-wing. There was no radical-left force leading a popular sentiment against war in a good

Orban said he was going to keep Hungary out of the war and he continued to walk the tightrope. He won handsomely. Other parties and groupings of the right went further in calling for Hungary never to deploy its military for Nato missions and for Nato troops out of the country. There were slogans such as “we won’t die in Nato’s war.” Those parties gained.

Their slogan was often fused with highly nationalist and racist positions. But it tapped a mood that is not right-wing. There was no radical-left force leading a popular sentiment against war in a good direction.

The opposition Blairite social democrats want more Nato and seemed to agree with Ukrainian state demands that ordinary Hungarians should accept higher fuel prices as “an act of solidarity.”

The thrust of its campaign was over corruption, democratic norms, and improving relations with the EU.

Of course the defence of democratic rights — even the thinnest and most formalistic in the case of parliamentary processes and the rule of law — is important. While the opposition spoke in abstract nouns about democratic procedures and the judiciary, however, Orban talked about the economy, people’s way of life and a nationalist economic recovery plan that enough people thought credible.

That has been a pattern over the last decade. Orban has used the powers of the state to take important parts of the economy not into democratic public control but to promote political allies into business. It is corrupt. So was the shock therapy in Hungary and elsewhere in the 1990s and 2000s. That and those responsible remain seared into public consciousness.

But Orban’s model of the state allied to billionaires has also a logic that cuts against the capitalist globalisation that has favoured the global multinationals at the expense of both working people and weaker national capitals.

His government, for example, plans to use taxation and regulatory powers to take swathes of food retail from multinational into domestic, supposedly nationally minded, capitalist hands. It is a popular policy in an epoch of food insecurity and chaotic supply chains.


Ovenden, in effect, argues that there a grains of gold in Orban’s politics, and national populism. Opposition to NATO tops the list, the vote was ‘anti-war’, national capitalism is another. One only imagine the national recovery plan he would offer to rival Orban’s.

Above, one can hear Ovenden chortle, the hated liberals and ‘Blarites’ of the centre lost out, “The reality is that despite the rigged political system (which in Europe, in type if not scale, is far from unique to Hungary) politics has taken place and most voters’ choices do not conform to what liberal-capitalist politicians insist they be.”

International observers said the election was “marred by the absence of a level playing field” due to Orbán’s tight grip over media and access to significantly more funds for campaigning. Yes indeed it’s but a few steps from the French political system, which like Greece, Ovenden is a renowned expert on – he was going to fight to the last French person if Marine Le Pen won in the last Presidential election, though he would not recommend voting against her in the Second Round.

Ovenden was in the SWP, and helped organise the Socialist Alliance. He was expelled during the split between the leadership of the SWP and the activists organised around George Galloway. He worked in the Westminster and Bethnal Green offices of the M.P. Popularly known as Galloway’s bag-man he has been quiet ever since about the experience. Ovenden is close in many ways to the groupuscule Counterfire.

Written by Andrew Coates

April 6, 2022 at 1:24 pm

Solidarity With Ukraine!

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We Stand With Ukraine.

Labour Left Backs the Meeting.

Meanwhile the Monster Raving Greenstein Party rants,

The propaganda media in the West, which puts the old Soviet media to shame, are refusing to analyse the causes of what has happened.

On one thing we should be clear.  If anyone is the madman it is the senile Joe Biden, who can hardly stutter a coherent sentence without a teleprompt and the pathetic Boris Johnson, who imagines that he is playing the role of Winston Churchill even to the point of imitating his ‘we will fight them on the beaches’ speech.

In the video below, Putin answers questions from his own citizens and provides an extremely coherent and persuasive account of the factors that led the Russian state, not Putin, to invade Ukraine. Would that our own rulers were equally candid and coherent.

Greenstein’s comrades in the Weekly Worker are beside themselves,

Spineless of the little blob

Its response to the Ukraine war shows the official Labour ‘left’ is sinking ever further into the mire, writes James Harvey

Just when you thought what passes for a left wing in the Labour Party could not fall any lower, leading left MPs sink even further into the mire and prostrate themselves before the pro-imperialist leadership of Starmer.

Apart from the unashamedly pro-Nato Paul Mason, the openly pro-imperialist Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, the confused Mandelites of Anti-Capitalist Resistance and the fellow-travellers of rightwing Ukrainian nationalism in the Ukrainian Solidarity Campaign, the dominant moods on the left are a species of social pacifism, reflected in the statements of the Stop the War Coalition. These oppose the war, criticise Nato expansion and urge diplomacy and negotiation as a solution to the crisis. In line with the popular-frontism of its leadership, they seek to build a mass movement in alliance with progressives and other bien pensants of the liberal bourgeoisie.2 Hence, they stick to righteous indignation at the horrors of war and avoid the complexities of great-power politics.

They have it in for John McDonnell…

The reasons why McDonnell and co fail this vital test is not just moral cowardice or careerism, although they have their part in these betrayals of the official Labour left.

Unlike traitors such as John McDonnell, for the genuine partisans of socialist and internationalist politics the main enemy remains at home. In time of war there is no other position: here we stand – we can do no other.

Nobody is listening:

Written by Andrew Coates

March 12, 2022 at 4:22 pm