US launches campaign to erode support for Iran’s leaders

US President Donald Trump, second right, is flanked by, from left, Security Adviser John Bolton, the US ambassador to Finland Robert Frank Pence and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during a working breakfast with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto in Helsinki, Finland, in this July 16, 2018 photo, prior to his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Finnish capital. (AP)
Updated 22 July 2018
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US launches campaign to erode support for Iran’s leaders

  • Washington has long called Iran the world’s leading “state sponsor of terrorism” because Tehran arms and funds proxy militant groups like Lebanese Hezbollah
  • Iranian leaders refused to spend on their people funds freed by the nuclear weapons deal, using it instead for proxy wars and corruption

WASHINGTON: The Trump administration has launched an offensive of speeches and online communications meant to foment unrest and help pressure Iran to end its nuclear program and its support of militant groups, US officials familiar with the matter said.
More than half a dozen current and former officials said the campaign, supported by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton, is meant to work in concert with US President Donald Trump’s push to economically throttle Iran by re-imposing tough sanctions. The drive has intensified since Trump withdrew on May 8 from a 2015 seven-nation deal to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
The current and former officials said the campaign paints Iranian leaders in a harsh light, at times using information that is exaggerated or contradicts other official pronouncements, including comments by previous administrations.
The White House declined comment on the campaign. The State Department did not respond to detailed requests for comment, including on Pompeo’s role.
A senior Iranian official dismissed the campaign, saying the United States had sought in vain to undermine the government since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. He spoke on condition of anonymity.
“Their efforts will fail again,” the official said.
MORE CRITICAL POSTS
A review of the State Department’s Farsi-language Twitter account and its ShareAmerica website — which describes itself as a platform to spark debate on democracy and other issues — shows a number of posts critical of Tehran over the last month.
Iran is the subject of four of the top five items on the website’s “Countering Violent Extremism” section. They include headlines such as “This Iranian airline helps spread violence and terror.”
In social media posts and speeches, Pompeo himself also appeals directly to Iranians, the Iranian diaspora and a global audience.
On June 21, Pompeo tweeted out graphics headlined: “Protests in Iran are growing,” “Iranian people deserve respect for their human rights,” and “Iran’s revolutionary guard gets rich while Iranian families struggle.” The tweets were translated into Farsi and posted on the ShareAmerica website.
On Sunday, Pompeo will give a speech titled “Supporting Iranian Voices” in California and meet Iranian Americans, many of whom fled the Islamic Revolution that toppled Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.
In a briefing to reporters this week ahead of the speech, a senior State Department official said Pompeo plans to address in his speech the “last 40 years of stealing from the Iranian people, the terrorism they have committed around the region, the brutal repression at home.”
AGGRESSIVE CAMPAIGN
Some of the information the administration has disseminated is incomplete or distorted, the current and former officials said.
In a May 21 speech in Washington, Pompeo said Iranian leaders refused to spend on their people funds freed by the nuclear weapons deal, using it instead for proxy wars and corruption.
By contrast, in March testimony before a US Senate committee, the US Defense Intelligence Agency director, Robert Ashley, said social and economic expenditures remained Tehran’s near-term priority despite some spending on security forces.
Pompeo also accused “Iran-sponsored Shia militia groups and terrorists” of infiltrating Iraqi security forces and jeopardizing Iraq’s sovereignty throughout the period of the nuclear agreement.
While opponents accuse the Iran-backed Iraqi militias of human rights abuses against civilians, which the groups deny, the militias fought Daesh extremists and helped keep them from overrunning Iraq in 2014 after Iraq’s army collapsed. They then aided the US-backed offensives that liberated Daesh-held territory and some units are being incorporated into Iraqi security forces.
Experts said the administration also is exaggerating the closeness of the relationship between Iran and Afghanistan’s Taliban militants and Al-Qaeda by calling them co-conspirators.
The State Department did not respond to requests for comment about the accuracy of the information it was disseminating.
It is too early to determine the impact of the administration’s communications campaign, US officials said.

TWO POSSIBLE OUTCOMES
Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace think tank, said the strategy to economically strangle Iran and stoke public discontent with the leadership aimed to produce one of two outcomes.
“Outcome one is capitulation, forcing Iran to further curtail not only its nuclear program but also its regional ambitions,” Sadjadpour said. “Outcome two is the implosion of the Islamic Republic.”
But some US officials and other experts cautioned that by fueling turmoil in Iran, the US administration could foster greater authoritarian rule and a more aggressive foreign policy, raising the threat of a US-Iran confrontation.
Washington has long called Iran the world’s leading “state sponsor of terrorism” because Tehran arms and funds proxy militant groups like Lebanese Hezbollah. Iranian leaders urge the destruction of the United States and Israel, and Iranian proxies have killed hundreds of US soldiers and diplomats since the Islamic Revolution.
That record provided previous administrations with ample material for waging their own public relations campaigns against Tehran, including trying to communicate directly with the Iranian people.
President George W. Bush’s administration established Radio Farda, a US-funded broadcaster that beams into Iran what it says is “objective and accurate news and information to counter state censorship and ideology-based media coverage.” The Obama administration launched a Farsi Twitter account — @USAdarFarsi – in 2011.


Sri Lanka's Muslims fearful of backlash after church attacks

Updated 58 min 56 sec ago
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Sri Lanka's Muslims fearful of backlash after church attacks

  • Intelligence officers ignored warnings, says Islamic body
  • There have been reports of attacks on Muslim homes and businesses

COLOMBO: The people of Dharga Town, Sri Lanka, are familiar with violence and loss. In 2014, anti-Muslim riots killed four, injured dozens and left behind a trail of torched homes and businesses.
Now, almost a week after deadly terror attacks devastated the tropical island, the Muslims in Dharga Town are afraid following Daesh’s claim for the bombings.
“At the end of the day, we have to think about what they (the terrorists) are going to get from this. What have they gained? They’ve lost everything,” 38-year-old businessman M. Imthias told Arab News outside Meera Masjid. “We’ve already been through this, and we know the pain, fear, and emotions they (the Catholics) are going through.”
The Daesh claim, issued through the group’s AMAQ news agency, was made after Sri Lanka said two domestic extremist groups with suspected links to foreign militants were thought to be behind the attacks at three churches and four hotels. More than 350 people were killed and around 500 were wounded in the Easter Sunday violence.
Muslims in Dharga Town fear that efforts to rebuild after the 2014 violence are in vain. Anti-Muslim sentiments are emerging and are fueled by remarks from government officials, such as Defense Minister Ruwan Wijewardena saying the bombings were retaliation for last month’s New Zealand mosque bloodshed.
There have been reports of attacks on Muslim-owned shops, homes, and a mosque in Sri Lanka. There have also been renewed calls to ban the burqa, citing security reasons and Islamist extremism.
But there is also anger toward the National Thawheed Jamath (NTJ), the group initially identified as being responsible for the attacks. Dharga Town residents told Arab News they believed the perpetrators carried out the attacks for personal reasons, not religious ones, as Islam forbids suicide.
The mood in the town is sombre. Shutters are drawn across windows and stores, including supermarkets, are closed. Men gather in small groups along the road, and the area has an increased military presence. People say perpetrators of the assault should face the death penalty.
Around 20 people in Dharga Town belong to the Sri Lanka Tawheed Jamaath (SLTJ), a faction unpopular with the wider Muslim community. Six SLTJ members were arrested on Tuesday afternoon. The mosque — a shack-like structure — did not open for prayers afterwards. Dharga Town residents opposed the SLTJ establishing a community in the area because of their orthodox ways.
“They wanted to build a mosque, but we didn’t allow it. In the end, they built that place with the iron sheets, and conduct their prayers there,” a village elder, who did not wish to be identified, told Arab News. “If they come for prayers, or engage with us in anything, they always try to push their beliefs on us. What they call Islam is completely different from what we practice.”
The NTJ was ostracized by the All Ceylon Jammiyathul Ulema (ACJU), Sri Lanka’s highest body of Islamic scholars. The organization relayed its suspicions about the NTJ to authorities.
“On Jan. 3, we visited intelligence officers and handed over files with all the details of the perpetrators urging them to take necessary action to stop the NTJ. This was completely ignored,” an ACJU scholar said.
The situation in Sri Lanka remains tense, with nightly curfews and reports of bomb threats. There is also confusion after the Defense Ministry said the NTJ was not behind the attacks, leaving the public afraid about the possibility of another splinter group.
But there are calls for calm, too.
“There is no such anger among us,” Sister Manuja, who survived the St. Sebastian Church bombing, told Arab News. The Catholic community would not seek vengeance, she added. “We are very quiet, very simple people.”