Thursday Reads: Who’s Really Running Things in the Middle East? . . . And Other NewsPosted: September 26, 2013
There’s a long article in the September 30 New Yorker by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Dexter Filkins about a powerful Iranian military leader named Qassem Suleimani. Sueimani is the Commander of the Quds Force. According to Wikipedia, the Quds Force is:
a special unit of Iran‘s Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution (Revolutionary Guard). It has been tasked with “exporting” Iran’s Islamic revolution, and is responsible for “extraterritorial operations” of the Revolutionary Guard.
Filkins describes the functions Quds Force as follows:
The force is the sharp instrument of Iranian foreign policy, roughly analogous to a combined C.I.A. and Special Forces; its name comes from the Persian word for Jerusalem, which its fighters have promised to liberate. Since 1979, its goal has been to subvert Iran’s enemies and extend the country’s influence across the Middle East. Shateri had spent much of his career abroad, first in Afghanistan and then in Iraq, where the Quds Force helped Shiite militias kill American soldiers.
I have to admit that I haven’t read the entire article yet, but yesterday I heard a fascinating interview of Dexter Filkins by Terry Gross on her NPR show Fresh Air. You can listen to the interview at the link. It lasts about 44 minutes. Filkins covered the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq for the New York Times beginning in 2002. In addition, he is the author of the book The Forever War. Based on what I heard in the Fresh Air interview, just about everything many Americans think we know about Iran, Iraq, Syria and Iran’s powerful influence in the Middle East is going to have to be revised and updated. Even Filkins was surprised by what he learned through his research and reporting in Iran.
Here’s what Filkins writes about Suleimani:
Suleimani took command of the Quds Force fifteen years ago, and in that time he has sought to reshape the Middle East in Iran’s favor, working as a power broker and as a military force: assassinating rivals, arming allies, and, for most of a decade, directing a network of militant groups that killed hundreds of Americans in Iraq. The U.S. Department of the Treasury has sanctioned Suleimani for his role in supporting the Assad regime, and for abetting terrorism. And yet he has remained mostly invisible to the outside world, even as he runs agents and directs operations. “Suleimani is the single most powerful operative in the Middle East today,” John Maguire, a former C.I.A. officer in Iraq, told me, “and no one’s ever heard of him.”
According to Filkins, through Suleimani’s influence, after the U.S. took down Saddam Hussein and everything went to hell in Iraq, Iran has basically controlled what went on there; and now Iran is a powerful influence in the Syrian conflict. Here’s the introduction to the Filkins interview from Fresh Air site. Meet The Iranian Commander Pulling Strings In Syria’s War:
Perhaps the most important military commander in Syria’s civil war is not Syrian at all. He’s Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Suleimani, and he’s the subject of an article by Dexter Filkins in the current edition of The New Yorker.
For the past 15 years, Suleimani has been the chief of the Quds Force, a small but powerful branch of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. He’s not a familiar name to Americans, but one former CIA officer described him to Filkins as “the single most powerful operative in the Middle East today.”
Filkins writes that Suleimani “has sought to reshape the Middle East in Iran’s favor, working as a power broker and as a military force: assassinating rivals, arming allies, and, for most of a decade, directing a network of militant groups that killed hundreds of Americans in Iraq. The U.S. Treasury Department has sanctioned Suleimani for his role in supporting the Assad regime, and for abetting terrorism.”
On Suleimani’s influence on the reshaping of the Middle East:
Qassem Suleimani — who is this extraordinarily powerful man behind the mask, very mysterious guy, very powerful guy — he was instrumental in 2010 in making sure that the Americans left no troops behind in Iraq. During the Iraq War, he supervised and directed militias which were responsible for hundreds of American deaths.
It appears, by the evidence, that the Iranians, and the Quds Force in particular, were behind the assassination of Rafik Hariri, the president of Lebanon, in 2005. Qassem Suleimani appears to be running or directing or at least playing a very large part in the war in Syria on behalf of the Assad government. So he’s everywhere, and, again, the Iranians have been extraordinarily aggressive over the past 15 years in asserting themselves in the Middle East, often at American expense.
Filkins also says that it’s clear the Iranians do want to develop nuclear weapons, and he doubts if the U.S. will be able to get them to agreed not to do it. The reason the Iranians are reaching out to the West right now is that the sanctions are really hurting them–basically the middle class in Iran has been decimated.
You can read more excerpts from the interview at the Fresh Air site. I plan to finish reading the Filkins article in the New Yorker today. I hope I’ve given you enough information to get you to read it too. I’m sure this article will be much discussed in the coming weeks.
Here’s Charles Pierce on the Filkins piece: The Limitless Bungling Of George W. Bush And Co.
Dexter Filkins has a long, fine piece in the September 30 New Yorker about one Qassam Suleimani, an Iranian who seems to be the Zelig of Middle East spookdom, and who is now currently working with the Assad government in Syria.
Since then, Suleimani has orchestrated attacks in places as far flung as Thailand, New Delhi, Lagos, and Nairobi-at least thirty attempts in the past two years alone. The most notorious was a scheme, in 2011, to hire a Mexican drug cartel to blow up the Saudi Ambassador to the United States as he sat down to eat at a restaurant a few miles from the White House. The cartel member approached by Suleimani’s agent turned out to be an informant for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. (The Quds Force appears to be more effective close to home, and a number of the remote plans have gone awry.) Still, after the plot collapsed, two former American officials told a congressional committee that Suleimani should be assassinated. “Suleimani travels a lot,” one said. “He is all over the place. Go get him. Either try to capture him or kill him.” In Iran, more than two hundred dignitaries signed an outraged letter in his defense; a social-media campaign proclaimed, “We are all Qassem Suleimani.”
If you want evidence behind your essential instinct that the tangle in that part of the world is beyond our ability ever to untangle, you’ve got it here. But there is one other little tidbit that’s worth bringing up, given the fact that some officials formerly in the employ of C-Plus Augustus — most notably, David Frum — have snuck into the national dialogue again, probably through an unguarded window, instead of going off and living a penitent’s existence for what they did to the country.
(To be entirely fair, according to Filkins, Suleimani was formed by his participation in the savage Iran-Iraq War in which the United States, employing the brilliant realpolitik of blood-beast Henry Kissinger, helped both sides, guaranteeing that nobody would trust us thereafter. Genius!)
In other news,
Hillary had a few choice words for the Republicans who are trying to shut down the government in order to defund The Affordable Care Act. From the WaPo: Hillary Clinton says government shutdown ‘wouldn’t be the worst thing for Democrats’:
Hillary Rodham Clinton said Tuesday that if a “noisy minority” of Republican lawmakers force a government shutdown over funding for President Obama’s signature health-care law, they would face negative political consequences.
“It wouldn’t be the worst thing for Democrats if they tried to shut the government down,” said Clinton, a former secretary of state and potential 2016 Democratic presidential candidate. “We’ve seen that movie before and it didn’t work out so well for those so-called obstructionists.”
Clinton was referencing the political harm for Republicans in the mid-1990s when they forced a shutdown during husband Bill Clinton’s presidency.
“If they want to try to shut the government down, that’s on their head, that’s their responsibility,” she added.
Isn’t it great to have Hillary talking about politics again?
I’m really late with this post, so I’m going to wrap it up with a link dump:
From Huffington Post — DC Exempts Itself From Federal Government Shutdown
From The Political Carnival: Don’t Buckle Your Seatbelt? Go To Jail — Or Your Death
From Vanity Fair, battles among the richie-riches in San Francisco’s toniest neighborhood —
Bluebloods & Billionaires
Scientific American — Peculiar Brain Signals Found in “Flat-Lined” Patient What does it really mean to be dead?