Once Again, Iran Tries to Disrupt Mideast Peace and Sow Terrorism
The US special representative for Iran, Brian Hook, in a recent interview with Al Arabiya English, stated that the US would be willing to make a new deal with Iran on curtailing its missiles, international terrorism, and regional meddling.
Yet far from pursuing good faith negotiations, Iran is using foreign militias as well as its domestic humanitarian organizations to export terrorism, oppress the opposition, suppress Arabs, and impose a Persian imperial identity across the Middle East, presenting a direct and growing threat to America’s vision of a peaceful and stable region, and to President Donald Trump’s upcoming Israeli-Palestinian peace proposal.
For example, Iran is using Hashd al-Shaabi and the recently designated Iraqi terrorist organization, Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujab, to push back against the presence of US troops in Iraq. These militias, under the guidance of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) general Qassem Soleimani, fought on Iran’s behalf against ISIS while simultaneously advancing the regime’s agenda — spreading Khomeinist Shia ideology and amassing political power.
Following in the footsteps of Iran-funded Hezbollah, which controls Lebanon’s politics, aids Assad in Syria, and trains Yemen’s Houthi rebels and Afghani militias, Iraqi militia leaders won seats in Iraq’s 2018 elections. The Iraqi militias, together with Hezbollah, are now playing a new role in Ahwaz, formerly known as Arabistan — Iran’s Khuzestan, Bushehr and Hormozegan provinces. Annexed in 1925, these are oil-rich areas and have an Arab-majority population.
After weeks of the regime redirecting floodwaters to engineer a crisis, the militias have now come to supposedly provide humanitarian assistance. But none of the aid (from European and Gulf States) has reached Ahwazi communities. The real purpose is to counter Ahwazi Arab protesters, and to possibly assist in implementing Iran’s policy aimed at the forcible dislocation of the Arab population, depopulation of their lands, and re-population of these economically vital territories with ethnic Persians.
Iran perceives the Ahwazi Arabs, whose territories border Iraq, as a threat to its hegemonic quest to colonize Arab states in the Middle East.
There is growing dissatisfaction with Tehran’s and Baghdad’s alliance, even among Shia Iraqis. But the policy of forced displacement of Ahwazis is neither new nor reactionary.
The Ahwazi uprising in 2005 was largely in response to a leaked report revealing Iran’s malicious intentions. An Ahwazi armed group responded by attacking Iranian banks known to have sponsored the displacement policy. The regime did not rely on foreign militias to suppress either this or 2009’s Green Movement. Iran’s integration of foreign elements into its security apparatus shows the rapid spread of Iranian ideological influence and its successful recruitment across the region.
Protests arose again after the 2016 leak of a government report known as the “Comprehensive Security Project for Khuzestan” that detailed plans for the forcible removal of Ahwazis from their homes in order to replace the population with ethnic Persians. Sheikh Isa Qasem, a Bahraini cleric who now lives in Qom, Iran, is urging Bahrainis to join the regime’s cause and go to Ahwaz. Indeed, there is increasing evidence of a Bahraini militia presence there. Iranian influence among the Shia population in Bahrain has been revealed by the dismantling of multiple large terror cells, and the mass revocation of citizenship from pro-Iranian elements.
Ethnic cleansing of the Ahwazis is likely only an initial step for Iran’s designs on neighboring Arab states. If Iran continues its pursuit of territorial takeover and land bridge building, these militias will soon become a familiar presence throughout the Middle East.
The newly designated terrorist entity, the IRGC, has gained full control of the Iranian Red Cross and Red Crescent. New revelations show that Iran has used the Red Crescent for terrorist activities, for instance as a way for IRGC and Quds Force troops to enter Yemen. Iranian Red Crescent has falsely claimed that US sanctions are preventing receipt of foreign aid (despite the millions of aid parcels sent into the country by Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait, and others). Meanwhile, the Lebanese Foreign Minister has been accused of corruption after receiving Iranian funds in Red Crescent parcels.
The IRGC, according to Persian radio station Sedaie Mardom, has facilitated Hashd al-Shaabi attacks on Iraq-based Iranian Kurdish groups opposed to the regime.
All Iranian-affiliated militias and groups working with Iran should be designated as terrorist organizations, because they endanger American lives, bases, and the security of US allies. The US government should work closely with Ahwazi human rights activists in Europe to effectively provide humanitarian aid. President Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and members of Congress should publicly denounce Iran’s hegemonic activities and ethnic cleansing masquerading as “flood relief.”
Irina Tsukerman is a New York based human rights and national security attorney and analyst, who has been working closely with Ahwazi and other Middle Eastern activists. She has written for a variety of domestic and international publications.