A nuclear deal would help Iran ‘fund proxy groups, repress its people,’ warns Iranian Kurdish leader Mustafa Hijri

Exclusive A nuclear deal would help Iran ‘fund proxy groups, repress its people,’ warns Iranian Kurdish leader Mustafa Hijri
KDPI leader Mustafa Hijri is in hiding following multiple assassination attempts and an Iranian strike in September that destroyed much of his party’s headquarters in Koya. (Supplied)
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Updated 02 November 2022

A nuclear deal would help Iran ‘fund proxy groups, repress its people,’ warns Iranian Kurdish leader Mustafa Hijri

A nuclear deal would help Iran ‘fund proxy groups, repress its people,’ warns Iranian Kurdish leader Mustafa Hijri
  • Ethno-sectarian minority groups must be united to overthrow the regime, Hijri tells Arab News in exclusive interview
  • He says peaceful protests would be more legitimate and the casualties lower for Iranian Kurds

MISSOURI, USA: Mustafa Hijri, leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran, is in hiding following multiple assassination attempts and a late-September volley of missiles and suicide drones that destroyed much of the KDPI’s headquarters in Koya in the Kurdistan region of Iraq.

The attacks killed at least 16 people, including several civilians. It was not the first nor likely the last Iranian strike on Iraqi Kurdistan territory aimed at the KDPI, the oldest and largest Iranian Kurdish opposition party.

In September 2018, a similar Iranian missile strike on the KDPI headquarters killed 17 people and injured another 49, including some of the party leadership. In July 1996, Iran even invaded Iraqi Kurdistan, sending some 3,000 troops to attack KDPI offices in Koya. 

Assassinations and car bombs remain the more common Iranian tactic. In 1989 and 1992, Iran assassinated two former KDPI leaders in Vienna and Berlin. Hijri is therefore correct to be concerned about his security, choosing to meet Arab News at a secret safehouse in the Middle East.

Most observers in the region believe the latest strikes constitute an attempt to divert popular attention away from Iran’s domestic troubles.

Unrest over the death of a young Iranian Kurdish woman, Mahsa Amini, at the hands of Iran’s morality police is still roiling the country. True to their usual script, authorities in Tehran have blamed the trouble on “foreign interference.”

A wounded Iranian Kurdish Peshmerga member of the Iranian Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDPI) walks inside their headquarters after a rocket attack in Koysinjaq. (AFP)

Hijri says the regime in Tehran would indeed like to provoke the KDPI into sending its forces into Iran, as it would help the ayatollahs justify this claim.

“The Iranian regime likes the idea of us sending the Peshmerga, as it gives more justification to the regime to intensify its repression and oppression of the people, and to tell the world that they have returned and fought us. But we have not done this because this does not benefit people,” Hijri said.

The protests in Iran have engulfed the entire country and have even crossed ethnic and sectarian lines — a first in the country since the overthrow of the Shah in 1979.

“It is the policy of Iran, either inside Iran or outside Iran, to pit the nations against each other. They think if neighboring states and regional states, and people inside them, are united, their government will be deposed,” Hijri told Arab News.

“Look at Iraq, in which Iran has an influential role, it has created division within the Shiite house. Now the Shiite parties have disagreements. They held an election one year ago but (only) formed their government (on Oct. 27 this year). In Lebanon, it has created a division between Shiite and Sunni. Everywhere it is working on these divisions.”

The general consensus is that provoking divisions within a very diverse country like Iran has allowed the regime to divide and rule the various groups.

“You know that the nations (inside Iran), except for the ethnic Persians, including Baloch and Azeri and Turks, in reality, are all marginalized in this centralized system. The languages of these nations are prohibited in schools,” he told Arab News.

“A budget is not allocated to their regions and areas. There is a lot of administrative discrimination against them. The Iranian regime looks at them as the enemy. The Iranian regime thinks of them as if they want to divide the country. So the Iranian regime has impoverished them.”

These divisions evidently extend also to religion.

“A large portion of them (minority ethnic groups in Iran) are Sunni Muslims,” Hijri told Arab News. “The Iranian regime is antagonistic toward Sunni Islam. These denials and repression have made the people understand that we all have to be united and cooperative to overthrow the regime and free ourselves.

Videograb reportedly showing a missile launch from the Iranian Kurdistan (Komalah) region directed towards Sulaimaniyah in Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan region. (FARS/AFP)

“In Tabriz and Balochistan, they chant to support Kurdistan. In Zahedan, they chant to support Balochistan. It seems that cooperation has become stronger within them.” 

Making people believe that any uprising would lead to a Syrian-style civil war, with warring parties fractured along ethno-sectarian lines, would no doubt help the regime stave off a unified resistance.

If, on the other hand, Iran’s many ethno-sectarian groups (Persians, Azeris, Kurds, Balochs, Arabs, Turkmen, Shiites, Sunnis and others) remain united against the regime and believe they can overthrow the mullahs in a Tunisian-style revolution, the ongoing protests will pose a much greater threat to Iran’s theocracy.

This is one of the reasons Hijri and his KDPI are determined to maintain the nonviolent nature of the uprising.

“We think, as the Hawkary Committee of Coordination (which consists of three parties, the KDPI and the other two Komalas with which it has a coalition) and especially as the KDPI, that these protests should continue peacefully. Its political objectives would be more than that if Peshmerga became involved,” he told Arab News.

“Peaceful protests would be more legitimate for the world and the human casualties would be lower for Kurds if the Peshmerga do not go and get involved and start a war.”

Nevertheless, the young woman whose death at the hands of Iran’s morality police sparked the protests was Kurdish, and the Kurdish provinces of Iran have seen many of the most serious and widespread demonstrations.

“Zhina, a Saqizi girl, was arrested in Tehran on accusation of showing her hair and then killed,” Hijri told Arab News, referring to Mahsa Amini by her Kurdish name.

“From that time, the program began. After her body was buried in Saqiz, the Hawkary Committee asked the Kurdish people the day after to strike and not go to work and come to the streets and chant against the Iranian regime.

“All people accepted the request and came to the streets and chanted against the Iranian regime. This spread across Iran. In reality, I can say that this, if we name it a revolution or an uprising, has continued for more than a month, and originated from Kurdistan in Iran.”

With growing calls among the protesters for regime change, many are now asking what kind of system might replace the theocracy, and what could happen to those parts of Iran where ethnic Persians do not make up the majority.

“What we have believed from the start and what the majority of Kurds and other nations in Iran believe is to create a democratic, decentralized and secular Iran,” Hijri told Arab News. “We believe this government will make Iran a country for all the nations inside it, and nobody would be marginalized.

Unrest over the death of a young Iranian Kurdish woman, Mahsa Amini, at the hands of Iran’s morality police is still roiling the country. (AFP)

“Now, in addition to the Hawkary Coordination Committee, we have a coalition of around 13 political parties of other Iranian nations, including Arabs, Balochs and Azeris. We also have a coalition under the name of the Congress of Iranian Federal Nations. We all work on this program.

“There are some Persian personalities that accept these ideas for the future of Iran, but not all of them. This is a problem we have. This is an issue across several countries as they are ruled by one dominant nation.

“For example, in Turkey, Kurds have been denied their rights and have been prohibited to say they are Kurds. Turkey is better because of some democratic infrastructure. But for the Kurds, it is the same as others.”

The question now in many Western capitals is how the international community might support the aims of the protesters. Hijri feels the regime is beyond reform, which means the West needs to stop trying to get along with Iran. Indeed, efforts such as restoring the 2015 nuclear accord merely strengthen what many view as a fundamentally malign regime.

“I announced before and repeat it here that what Iran gains from a Western deal regarding its nuclear weapons will be spent on its terrorist groups and proxy groups in the region,” Hijri told Arab News.

“Iran would have an upper hand in conducting terrorist activities in Europe and the West. Also, the gains the Iran regime receives from this deal would be spent on purchasing military staff to repress the Iranian people.

“The gains would also go to religious institutions and Pasdaran (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) forces. The majority of it goes into the pockets of Iranian government officials. People will not get anything.

“In the former deal before (former US President Donald) Trump withdrew from it, the same happened. So, in my opinion, the Western deal with Iran concerning its nuclear issue is an indirect help to Iran to continue its politics in the region and inside Iran against the people.”

A KDPI member sprays red paint at holes in a wall made by shrapnel from a rocket attack days earlier at the party's headquarters in Koysinjaq. (AFP)

For Hijri, the international community’s response ought to be more sanctions targeting the regime, further help for the Iranian people in bypassing the regime’s internet restrictions, moral support for the protests, and solidarity with opposition groups like his own.

The US government currently has a “no contact” directive in place concerning groups like the KDPI, which Hijri believes comes from the State Department’s fear of upsetting the regime in Tehran during the nuclear talks.

Above all, Hijri wants the world to understand that the Iranian people need and want regime change, and they want to do so themselves without foreign military intervention.

“The slogans that Iranian people chant now are to remove the Iranian Islamic Republic,” Hijri told Arab News.

“The Iranian people, after a long time of experiencing oppression and repression, have all come to realize that if they want to gain their rights, their first and only way is to remove the Iranian Islamic Republic that stands in the way of this.”

Male guardianship rules in north Yemen restrict women’s aid work

Male guardianship rules in north Yemen restrict women’s aid work
Updated 24 March 2023

Male guardianship rules in north Yemen restrict women’s aid work

Male guardianship rules in north Yemen restrict women’s aid work
  • Conflict divided country between Houthis in north and UN-recognized government in south

DUBAI: Female aid workers in north Yemen cannot do their jobs tackling one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises as tightening male guardianship rules by Houthi authorities restrict their movement, nine female humanitarians have revealed.

When women refuse to take a guardian, they cannot travel to oversee aid projects, collect data and deliver health and other services. When women do take one, gender-sensitive work is difficult and aid budgets must bear extra costs.

One health project manager normally conducts 15-20 visits a year to projects around the country but said she has not made any since the rules requiring Yemeni female aid workers be accompanied by a close male relative — a “mahram” in Arabic — came out a year ago.

“I don’t have a lot of men in my family,” she said, adding that some women struggle to find willing guardians because relatives are against her working. “Sometimes a woman works without informing someone in her family.” She improvises with video calls, but knows other women have lost jobs because they cannot work effectively.

Yemen’s conflict has divided the country between the Houthis in north Yemen and an internationally recognized government in the south.

The conflict has wrecked the economy and destroyed the health system, leaving two-thirds of Yemen’s 30 million population in need of humanitarian assistance. Aid groups say female-headed households are more vulnerable to food insecurity and difficulties accessing aid.

Without female staff in the field, aid groups say they have trouble doing things as simple as identification checks on women, who may need to lift their face veils, to distribute food aid.

“Mahram requirements are making it even more challenging for humanitarian interventions to reach the most marginalized female program participants,” said one representative of an NGO that works on nutrition and sanitation.

For the past year female Yemeni aid workers have had to take a mahram when crossing provincial borders controlled by the Houthi group, a religious, political and military movement that controls north Yemen. In four provinces, they even need a guardian to move within the province.

“Female (Yemeni) staff have not been able to work outside our offices for almost two years which is catastrophic for their development, morale, motivation and also most obviously for us reaching women and girls in the field in a culturally sensitive way,” said an employee of another NGO, describing the situation in some areas.

Project quality in the NGO’s work on food and health provision has been “very damaged,” she said.

The women all requested anonymity due to safety fears.

A spokesman for the Houthis’ aid coordination body SCMCHA said they supported aid delivery, but organizations should respect traditions.

“Mahram is a religious Islamic obligation and a belief culture ... Why do organizations put up obstacles to Islamic teachings and Yemeni culture?” he said.

The Houthis have increasingly promoted conservative social values since ousting the government from the capital, Sanaa, in late 2014.

Movement restrictions increased ad hoc before becoming more systematic and targeting aid workers with mahram requirements.

The UN and governments including the US say the restrictions impact women’s ability to participate in public and political life and must stop.

In protest, most international NGOs have refused to include guardians when applying for aid work travel permits — resulting in those permits being declined. NGOs have also suspended travel on UN flights from Sanaa in protest.

“This smothering rule gives men power over women’s lives and is an unacceptable form of gender-based discrimination,” Amnesty International said.

Yemeni law does not impose male guardianship rules, and authorities in the south do not impose them.

“We want to achieve more, to be stronger, more independent. But they restrict that,” said one city-based aid worker who cannot monitor distant projects due to a lack of male relatives.

While humanitarians are the main target of mahram rules, directives requesting car hire and transport companies ensure mahram compliance extended it to all women – although these are less strictly applied.

“If women have to travel without a mahram, they are detained at checkpoints and kept until a male guardian arrives,” another aid worker said.

The women described taking boy relatives out of school, driving sick relatives around to ensure a man in the car, and last minute meeting cancellations.

“You have the burden to pay for your relative. To pay for accommodation, transportation, food ... It is not cost effective for us or for donors,” said a health worker.

Iraq WMD failures shadow US intelligence 20 years later

Iraq WMD failures shadow US intelligence 20 years later
Updated 24 March 2023

Iraq WMD failures shadow US intelligence 20 years later

Iraq WMD failures shadow US intelligence 20 years later

WASHINGTON: In his US Capitol office, Rep. Jason Crow keeps several war mementos. Sitting on a shelf are his military identification tags, the tailfins of a spent mortar and a piece of shrapnel stopped by his body armor.

Two decades ago, Crow was a 24-year-old platoon leader in the American invasion of Iraq. Platoon members carried gas masks and gear to wear over their uniforms to protect them from the chemical weapons the US believed — wrongly — that Iraqi forces might use against them.

Today, Crow sits on committees that oversee the US military and intelligence agencies. The mistakes of Iraq are still fresh in his mind.

“It’s not hyperbole to say that it was a life-changing experience and a life frame through which I view a lot of my work,” the Colorado Democrat said.

The failures of the Iraq w ar deeply shaped American spy agencies and a generation of intelligence officers and lawmakers. They helped drive a major reorganization of the US intelligence community, with the CIA losing its oversight role over other spy agencies, and reforms intended to allow analysts to better evaluate sources and challenge conclusions for possible bias.

But the ultimately incorrect assertions about Iraq’s nuclear, biological and chemical weapons programs, repeatedly cited to build support for the war in America and abroad, did lasting damage to the credibility of US intelligence.

As many as 300,000 civilians died in two decades of conflict in Iraq, according to Brown University estimates. The US lost 4,500 troops and spent an estimated $2 trillion on the Iraq War and the ensuing campaign in both Iraq and Syria against the extremist Daesh group, which took hold in both countries after the US initially withdrew in 2011.

Those assertions also made “weapons of mass destruction” a catchphrase that’s still used by rivals and allies alike, including before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which US intelligence correctly forecast.

Avril Haines, the current US director of national intelligence, noted in a statement that the intelligence community had adopted new standards for analysis and oversight.

Only 18 percent of US adults say they have a great deal of confidence in the government’s intelligence agencies, according to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Forty-nine percent say they have “some” confidence and 31 percent have hardly any confidence.

Shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, President George W. Bush ordered an invasion of Afghanistan, where the ruling Taliban sheltered Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and allowed the group to run training camps.

Bush’s administration soon began to warn about Iraq, which was long seen as threatening American interests in the Middle East.

Iraq was known to have sought a nuclear weapon in the 1980s and had chemical and biological weapons programs by the end of the Gulf war in 1991. It had been accused of concealing details about those programs from international inspectors, before they were kicked out in 1998.

The Bush administration argued Saddam Hussein’s government was still hiding programs from inspectors after they reentered the country in 2002 and found no signs of resumed production.

A US intelligence estimate published in October 2002 alleges that Iraq had considered buying uranium from Niger and aluminum tubes for centrifuges, that it was building mobile weapons labs, that it was considering using drones to spread deadly toxins, and that it had chemical weapons stockpiles of up to 500 tons.

Some US officials also suggested Iraqi officials had ties to Al-Qaeda leaders despite evidence of deep antipathy between the two sides.

Those claims would largely be debunked within months of the invasion. No stockpiles were found. Subsequent reviews have blamed those claims on outdated information, mistaken assumptions, and a mix of uninformed sources and outright fabricators.

Bush repeated wrong US intelligence findings before the war, as did Secretary of State Colin Powell in a landmark February 2002 speech before the UN.

Kuwait’s Al-Najat Charity distributes iftar meals to Syrian refugees in Lebanon

Kuwait’s Al-Najat Charity distributes iftar meals to Syrian refugees in Lebanon
Updated 23 March 2023

Kuwait’s Al-Najat Charity distributes iftar meals to Syrian refugees in Lebanon

Kuwait’s Al-Najat Charity distributes iftar meals to Syrian refugees in Lebanon
  • Charity delegation joins refugees in Arsal to welcome Ramadan and hold Taraweeh prayers

BEIRUT: Kuwait’s Al-Najat Charity has celebrated the advent of Ramadan by distributing iftar meals among Syrian refugees in camps near the border in northeastern Lebanon, Kuwait News Agency reported.
The charity’s public relations officer, Tarek Al-Essa, said a delegation joined refugees in Arsal to welcome Ramadan and hold Taraweeh prayers.
A mobile kitchen prepared breakfast as part of the “One Million Fasting Meals” campaign, which includes Lebanon and other countries.
Food baskets were also distributed to camps in the region.
Al-Essa highlighted the charity’s keenness to support the refugees, especially during the holy month, which represents “mercy, goodness and giving.”

Jordan urges international community to take a stand against hate speech fueling violence in occupied Palestine

Jordan urges international community to take a stand against hate speech fueling violence in occupied Palestine
Updated 23 March 2023

Jordan urges international community to take a stand against hate speech fueling violence in occupied Palestine

Jordan urges international community to take a stand against hate speech fueling violence in occupied Palestine
  • Jordan’s deputy PM points to ‘reckless and disgusting’ comments by Israel’s Finance Minister Betzalel Smotrich
  • EU envoy Josep Borrell denounces Israeli minister’s statements, describing them as ‘dangerous and unacceptable’

AMMAN: Jordan’s Deputy Prime Minister has called on the international community to take a clear stand against hate speech fueling violence and conflict in occupied Palestine.
Ayman Safadi, who is also Jordan’s minister of foreign affairs and expatriates, pointed to the danger of extremist racist ideology, manifested in a “reckless and disgusting manner” in the statement of Israel’s Minister of Finance Betzalel Smotrich.
Jordan’s News Agency reported on Wednesday that the Israeli minister had denied the existence of the Palestinian people and their historical rights, and presented a map of Israel that included the occupied state of Palestine and Jordan.
In a phone call with EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell, Safadi stressed that Israel’s government should bear the responsibility for “hate speech, racist incitement, and the disgusting behavior of the Israeli minister.”
The government must declare its rejection openly and clearly, he said.
“Staying silent in the face of such statements and racist positions under the pretext of protecting government coalition is unacceptable and dangerous, and will only fan the flames of tension and further spread this extremist ideology.”
Borrell also denounced the Israeli minister’s statements, describing them as “dangerous and unacceptable,” and urged the Israeli government to take a stand.
The EU rejects all unilateral Israeli measures, underscoring its firm position that supports the two-state solution as a way to achieve peace, he added.
The two parties discussed the dangerous deterioration in the occupied Palestinian territories, underlining the need to halt all measures that fuel violence and undermine the chances of a comprehensive peace based on the two-state solution.
Safadi and Borrell also discussed the outcomes of the recent Aqaba and Sharm El-Sheikh meetings on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and Jordan’s efforts to help relaunch negotiations to end the violence.
Safadi lauded the EU’s support for the two-state solution and its condemnation of racist hate speech in all its forms.

Three US Cyclone-class patrol boats handed over to the Egyptian Navy

Three US Cyclone-class patrol boats handed over to the Egyptian Navy
Updated 23 March 2023

Three US Cyclone-class patrol boats handed over to the Egyptian Navy

Three US Cyclone-class patrol boats handed over to the Egyptian Navy
  • American crews have been training their Egyptian counterparts to use the vessels since they arrived in Alexandria on Feb. 12
  • Adm. Brad Cooper: The Egypt-US maritime partnership has been a fundamental pillar of our bilateral defense cooperation for decades

CAIRO: The Egyptian Navy officially accepted delivery of three US Cyclone-class patrol boats during a special ceremony in Alexandria this week.

Adm. Ashraf Atwa, commander of the Egyptian Naval Force, and Adm. Brad Cooper, commander of the US Fifth Fleet, US Naval Forces Central Command, and the Combined Maritime Forces, signed the official handover document, according to Egyptian armed forces spokesperson Gharib Abdel-Hafez.

The transfer ceremony, during which the Egyptian flag was raised on the boats to mark their entry into service, followed a program of training and professional exchanges designed to improve cooperation and joint initiatives between the two countries’ naval forces.

Abdel-Hafez said that the Egyptian Navy has recently implemented great technological improvements to its armament systems and combat efficiency, in line with international standards.

Atwa highlighted the efforts of Egyptian armed forces to enhance the capabilities of its naval fleet to enhance security and stability. He added that the delivery of the vessels reflected the strong strategic partnership between Egypt and the US.

“The Cyclone-class patrol boats are among the most advanced units in the US Navy and represent a new addition to Egypt’s naval forces,” he said.

In a message posted on its website, the US Navy said: “The transfer ceremony represents the culmination of weeks of preparation, training and professional exchanges between Egyptian and US Navy sailors.”

US crews have been training their Egyptian counterparts to use the vessels since they arrived in Alexandria on Feb. 12, the US Navy said, with courses devoted to a range of disciplines including engineering, search-and-rescue operations, damage control, and weapons handling.

The vessels sailed to Egypt from Bahrain, with US and Egyptian sailors navigating around the Arabian Peninsula during a 4,000-mile, month-long journey. It included stops at Jebel Ali in the UAE, Duqm in Oman, Djibouti, and Berenice in Egypt.

“The Egypt-US maritime partnership has been a fundamental pillar of our bilateral defense cooperation for decades,” Cooper said.

“This transfer is yet another major milestone in our strong relationship that will enhance regional maritime security for years to come.”

Capt. Anthony Webber, commander of the US Navy 5th Fleet Task Force 55, said: “This transfer process was an incredible opportunity for our crews. It enabled us to strengthen our bilateral ties while enhancing our interoperability with a highly capable regional maritime partner.”

In November, the Egyptian Navy accepted delivery of its first German Meko A-200 frigate, which is equipped to secure cargo ships and provide humanitarian support. Named Al-Aziz, it is the first of four to be delivered and was built by ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems at the SBN shipyard,.

In August last year, the Egyptian Navy carried out a joint training exercise with US and Spanish naval forces in the Mediterranean. The Egyptian frigate El-Fateh joined the US destroyer USS Forrest Sherman and Spanish frigate ESPS Almirante Juan De Borbon for the drills, which included responses to threats to international navigation and the flow of global trade.