Iran – Final Country Report

Revolutionary Iran: Opportunities for Mobilization
Marie Smith
This subsection will focus on revolts and revolutions within Iran in terms of what opportunities allowed certain classes and groups to mobilize and enact change. Starting with the 1979 Revolution, I will explain how the mobilization of certain classes and political groups resulted in the installation of an Islamic Republic and then how that republic was successful in limiting the opportunities for subsequent social movements. This will lead to an assessment of the Green Revolution and what internal and international factors were responsible for influencing the people to rise up for change and then the various opinions on if and why the movement failed. I will then analyze Iran’s reaction to the Arab Spring, how the Green Movement has or has not contributed to its current position, and if and why Iran appears to be exempt from these spreading revolutions.

The 1979 Islamic Revolution

The Iranian revolution in 1979 was unlike any other social movement in 20th century as it completely transformed the entire structure of the Iranian state from a dictatorial monarchy to an Islamic republic. The seeds of revolution were sown in Reza Shah Pahlavi’s attempt to modernize Iran via economic policies and reforms that sought to reconstruct class structure. The Shah’s reforms and policies alienated and displaced many of the existing classes who in turn found appeal in the anti-imperialist rhetoric of Ayatollah Khomeini. The Shah attempted to crush this class resistance through excessive political repression, but his brutal campaign did not succeed in quelling the rebellion against his regime and rather encouraged more opposition groups to form, cooperate, and mobilize against him. Eventually, the Shah’s disregard for the existing class structure when implementing social and economic policies combined with his brutal response to political opposition resulted in the fall of his regime.

When Mohammed Reza Pahlavi took the throne as Shah in 1941, he dedicated himself to continuing the fast paced trajectory of modernization that his father, Shah Reza Kahn, had begun in 1925. Reza Khan had spearheaded a modernization campaign with large scale development projects such as building a cross-country railroad system, large-scale industries, establishing a national public education system, reforming the judiciary, and improving public health care (Ghasemi, 2011). Although these reforms brought many modern benefits to the Iranian people, the speed and ferocity of industrialization and urbanization alienated and displaced many groups within the class structure. Social reforms also angered classes such as the religious elite, whose traditional leadership roles in the community were threatened by the Shah’s extension of women’s rights and the ban on the hajib (women’s Islamic dress code) and clerical garb (Ghasemi). The Shah did not tolerate political dissidence, however, and those who disagreed with his policies were quickly arrested, tortured, exiled or executed before opposition could fester throughout the country.

When Shah Reza Pahlevi first took the throne in 1941, he continued his father’s plans for modernization but initially in a much more lenient fashion. He eased the ban on the hijab, allowed parliament to elect cabinet members, and let political parties, including the communist Tudeh party, form bazaar guilds, trade unions, and professional associations (Abrahamian, 1979). By relaxing the repressive measures of his father, the Shah opened the opportunity for political groups to congregate openly, interact with the masses, recruit members, and disseminate their various political ideologies into society. Thus, opposition to the Shah’s regime began to grow out of the bazaar guilds, trade unions, and professional associations that he allowed to form. Eventually, the Shah realized that he had given his people too much power to organize against him, and decided to change his policies in order to turn Iran into an autocratic state in which he would have absolute power to mold the country into the vision of his father.

An assassination attempt on the Shah’s life in 1949 gave the Shah the excuse that he needed to declare martial law and ban political parties. According to the United States State Department, this was the opportunity he was looking for to gain freedom from constitutional constraints and establish himself as the undisputed ruler of Iran (Abrahamian). The Shah banned all newspapers critical of his family, detained prominent opposition politicians, outlawed the Tudah party, gave himself the right to dissolve parliament, and created a senate of which he appointed half the members (Abrahamian). In response to the Shah’s new system of repression, the various political parties and ideologues did not disband but rather began to cooperate and join forces to oppose him. Of particular importance was the formation of the National Front, which Ayatollah Kashaini established with the collaboration a variety of secular, nationalistic, and social democratic parties (Abrahamian). Both the salaried middle class and the bazaar middle class supported the National Front, which was one of the first instances of the secular intelligentsia and the religious petite bourgeois collaborating together against a common enemy.  Thus, by banning political parties and enacting repressive measures against political groups, the Shah ultimately presented the opportunity for previously opposed forces to organize and work together against him.

The class antagonisms within the National Front and other joint political groups began to show only after the Shah left the country. By 1952, Mossadegh had nationalized the oil industry from Britain and appealed to the Iranian people to overthrow the Shah. The National Front and the Tudeh party responded to the plea by collectively revolting and forcing the Shah into exile (Abrahamian). Without a common enemy to unite the various political groups, however, the major differences between class and political ideologies in the National Front intensified, particularly over the issues of nationalization of corporations, women’s suffrage, land reform, the sale of alcoholic beverages, and the appointment of non-clerical intellectuals as Ministers of Education and Justice (Abrahamian). The resulting split within the National Front led the United States to worry that the Tudeh party would gain dominance under Mossadegh and possibly lead to a communist Iran. In response, the CIA launched a secret coup to overthrow Mossadegh and reinstate the Shah with the help of the religious petite bourgeois in 1953 (Abrahamian).

With the Shah back in power in 1953, he proceeded to create the dictatorship he had always planned by establishing the secret police, SAVAK, and investing a huge amount of Iran’s oil revenues into the military (Abrahamian). The Shah glorified the military as the true elite, paying the Revolutionary Guard a much higher salary than that any other class, and dedicated their services to dismantling the opposition. He outlawed the National Front, waged a campaign of severe repression against the Tudeh, and destroyed almost all secular grassroots organizations (Abrahamian). The radical intelligentsia and urban working class bore the brunt this repression until the Shah launched the “White Revolution” in 1963 in which he targeted an even wider range of classes including the bazaar class who had helped him overthrow Mossadegh in 1953 (Abrahamian). The bazaar class perpetuated the old economic system that stood in the way of the Shah’s plans for modernization and he thus set out to eliminate their influence over the economy by exiling their leader Ayatollah Khomeini, extending SAVAK surveillance over the bazaars, financing modern banks that refused to give loans to small businesses, encouraging large corporations to develop, imposing price controls on bazaars, and scapegoating minor merchants for the rampant inflation that hit Iran in the 1970s (Abrahamian). With all these classes and political groups under attack by the Shah and his regime, he had managed to alienate himself from all of his subjects who now collectively demanded his demise. The Shah’s campaign of severe repression thus failed to cripple the political opposition but rather united a wide range of classes and political parties against him, resulting in his downfall in 1979.

After the Shah fled Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini reestablished the country as an Islamic Republic. The revolution had brought together a diverse mass of people with a drastic variety of ideologies, but in the end, the religious elite and bazaar class dominated the new system of governance. Part of the reason for this is that the secularist and communists did not have the same opportunities to mobilize the masses in the way that dominate religious figures such as Khomeini did. The Shah had focused the majority of his repressive forces to destroying the Tudeh and the secular intelligentsia, so by the time the revolution erupted there were few influential secular or communist leaders left to heavily influence the newly installed government. Soviet Russia and the People’s Republic of China had supported the Shah during the revolution, which also hurt the possibility of communist fever spreading through the masses (Abrahamian). Alternatively, religious fever had swept the country in the years leading up to the revolution because the Shah had destroyed most secular grass-roots organizations and but left bazaar guilds and mosques where opposition began to convene (Abrahamian). Those who frequented the mosques and guilds thus started to equate their religious views with opposition to the Shah, and those who were non-religious but part of the opposition began to frequent the mosques and guilds as part of the movement. The clergy encouraged workers to strike for higher wages, which brought religious appeal to the industrial proletariat, and reached out to the displaced shantytown poor who found a sense of community and a collective voice for opposition in religion (Abrahamian). Furthermore, even though secular intellectuals and communists had their own non-religious vision of post-revolutionary Iran, many still rallied behind Khomeini who intentionally focused on anti-imperialism and social justice as the driving force of the revolution. Khomeini had skillfully seized the opportunity to unite almost all classes of Iranians against the Shah, and as soon as he succeeded, took the opportunity to establish the Islamic Republic that he always had envisioned for Iran.


Post Revolution Revolts and the Imposed “Cultural Revolution”
After Khomeini finalized the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979, there were a couple of opportunities for revolt before all political activity was halted in the country. Two revolts in particular were semi-successful in drawing attention to the resistance of the people to an Islamic fundamentalist government. The first was the 1979 veil protests, in which thousands of women, mostly middle class urbanites, staged demonstrations, sit-ins, and boycotts in response to Khomeini imposing the hijab on all Iranian women (Moghissi, 2009). Khomeini’s government responded to the movement by claiming that the hijab was a recommendation and not an order, and reassured women that Islamic dress meant “respectable” dress and not necessarily the chador (Moghissi). The government’s willingness to appease the protesters gives insight into the small window of opportunity for revolt in the first months of the Islamic Republic, but only temporarily as Khomeini made the hijab mandatory several months later. Similarly, the Ayandegan protests were a short-lived success against government interference in the free press. Khomeini had ordered the secular newspaper Ayandegan closed for publishing criticism about his regime, but the National Front and a variety of other leftist organizations organized a mass demonstration, which resulted in Khomeini’s retreat (Moghissi). A couple of months later, however, Khomeini sent Hezbollah gangs to close down the newspaper, arrested the paper’s editorial board, and sent out a proclamation ordering the Iranian people to “not tolerate the actions of those stood against the Muslim people” (Moghissi).
The proclamation by Khomeini was an indication of the direction that the new Islamic Republic was headed. Hezbollah gangs and the volunteer paramilitary “Bassij” began enforcing Islamic moral code such as the hijab by violently suppressing all forms of resistance and dissent. The clerical elite and their devote followers outnumbered and closely watched the secular and leftist opposition, making sure that any organized political activity that could disseminate their values was immediately crushed. In 1980, Khomeini declared a “Cultural Revolution” to re-Islamize Iranian society, particularly through the university system, so no further opposition would have the opportunity to develop. All universities closed for three years in which the entire education system went through an extensive process of “Islamification” (Mashayekhi, 1999). All leftist teachers and intellectuals were purged, non-Islamic texts and subjects banned, and non-religious students expelled. A major degradation in academic standards resulted, as only Islamic based curriculum was taught. Education thus became a tool for political purposes, especially during the Iran-Iraq war when the regime used the education system to glorify martyrdom for God in order to recruit young people to the front lines (Khosarvi, 2010). Those students who were not drafted into war were closely watched by the Bassij and Hezbollah classmates who helped violently repress any political activity on campus and prevented student groups from forming an opposition. Ultimately these tactics proved very successful, as there was little to no political uprising in Iran for the next seventeen years (Mashayekhi).
The Election of Khatami and 1990s Student Movements

Khomeini and the clerical elite succeeded in redesigning the education system to limit opportunity for opposition to form, but the religious rhetoric of Islamic education could only shield young minds from the realities of politics for so long. Iran’s defeat in the Iran-Iraq war in 1988 brought major disillusionment to students who had been taught throughout their academic careers that defeat was impossible due to their religious devotion (Mashayekhi). Almost all students had lost a relative, classmate, or a friend in the war and in many ways Iran’s defeat represented the reality of the years of brainwashed education. Then in 1989, a year after the war ended, Ayatollah Khomeini passed away, leading to a relaxation of revolutionary ideology under Khomeini’s heir, Ayatollah Montazari. Shortly after, however, Montazari was viciously removed from his position for criticizing some of the regime’s authoritarian policies; further leading students question the legitimacy of their religious education (Mashayekhi).

Although little political opposition took place between 1980 and 1997, the university system still acted as a catalyst for student congregation during those years. Since the Islamic Revolution, the enrollment of students from lower class backgrounds increased which brought together a diverse population of people in one location with a wide variety grievances caused by the regime (Mashayekhi). After the end of the war, Khomeini’s death, and the ousting of Montazari, students had many issues that connected them despite their various class backgrounds and much discussion resulted from the various perspectives of a diverse body of students (Mashayekhi). Universities provided resources for these students to congregate even though outspoken political opposition was forbidden, such as student organizations and public space for study or leisure activities. One student group in particular, the Office of the Consolidation for Unity (OCU), which had evolved into a religious by left-leaning organization, became incredibly influential by the late 1990s.

The OCU originated in 1979 under Khomeini as a hardline conservative student group that played a major role in the United States embassy hostage crisis and was responsible for many purges of students and teachers in the 1980 “Cultural Revolution” (Mashayekhi). For these reasons, the OCU was allowed to continue functioning as a student organization throughout the most repressive eras of Khomeini’s regime. However, like most university students over the last decade, many members faced extreme disillusionment and eventually evolved into leftist organization dedicated to reform (Mashayekhi). By 1996, the OCU and other leftist student groups were intent on using the upcoming 1997 presidential election to their advantage. They collectively decided to support Mohammad Khatami, the ex-Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance under Rafsanjani, who had a reputation for open-mindedness and tolerance (Mashayekhi). Khatami embraced students, youth, and women as the future of Iran which attracted even more students who had not been politically active previously. Due to this sense of optimism about the future, a new political culture began to emerge, as the young people who had been disillusioned by the events of the last twenty years gained hope in political reform and the prospect of democracy.

After Khatami was elected president in 1997, a general opening up of the nation’s political atmosphere took place. The universities loosened their constraints on political activism on campus, issued permits for peaceful demonstrations, and allowed students to a degree of freedom of the press (Mashayekhi). For the first time in seventeen years, people were given the opportunity to participate in social movements once again, and many took advantage of it. In Tehran University alone, 104 cases of associations, demonstrations and confrontations took place in the university’s housing complex from May 24, 1997 to January 11, 1999, particularly against the closure of newspapers, the arrests and execution of secular intellectuals, and the torture of political prisoners (Mashayekhi). The majority of the student organizations that participated in these movements were still Islamist, but they collectively called out for Islamic Republic that allowed freedom on the press and tolerated secular and political dissidence. These students embraced a new political culture in Iran, based not on radical Islamic ideology as in the 1980s, but rather on a new reading of Islam combined with indigenous liberal-nationalist discourse and an opening up to western liberal ideas (Mashayekhi).

Khatami had liberalized Iranian society and opened the opportunity for student groups to mobilize, but as reformists gained more support and influence in politics, Ayatollah Khamenei and the religious elite began to crack down on dissidence once again. The July 1999 student protests testified to this, as the Bassij violently suppressed a peaceful protest against the closing of reformist newspaper Salam (Mashayekhi). The reformists’ landslide victory in the parliamentary elections in 2000 further exposed the threat to Khamenei’s absolute power over Iranian society, and the government responded by crushing any opportunity for opposition to develop. By the end of 2000, Khamenei’s regime had closed more than forty publications, arrested a vast amount of intellectuals, journalists, and political activists, and once again violently repressed political activity on campuses (Mashayekhi).

After 2000, political activity in Iran was once again restrained by repressive measures. Few protests or acts of dissidence had the opportunity to develop into large scale social movements before they were decimated by the government and the Bassij. Opportunities became even scarcer after Khatami left office in 2005 and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected president in his place. During this time, however, several distinct attempts on the part of political and social groups to mobilize for change took place, such as the 1 Million Signatures Campaign. The movement started when protesters gathered in Haft Tir Square in Tehran in June 2006 to raise awareness of the discrimination against women in Iran. Their peaceful demonstration was violently dispersed by the Bassij and its participants arrested and charged with “participation in an illegal assembly” (Human Rights First, 2011). Unable to gather in the public, the women started a campaign to collect one million signatures in support of women’s rights. Although this campaign required no public assembly or violent protests, the regime continued to thoroughly dismantle the movement by arresting members, shutting down Iran’s premier women’s magazine, and raiding the office of Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi (Human Rights First). The repression of the 1 Million Signatures Campaign illustrates the limited opportunity for social movements to mobilize, even in their most subtle form. Social movements thus needed to be massive and somewhat spontaneous to gain any ground before being crushed by Khamenei’s regime, which is what happened in the aftermath of 2009 presidential election.
The 2009 Green Movement and Iran in the Arab Spring

On June 12, 2009, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared reelected in a landslide victory against reformist candidates Mir Hossein Mousavi, Mehdi Karroubi, and conservative candidate Mohsen Rezaee Mirgha’ed . Millions of people who had cast their vote for Mousavi poured into the streets of Tehran and other cities to protest the alleged victory as election fraud. These citizens, most of which were middle class urbanites dressed in Mousavi’s campaign color, green, continued to gather and march for weeks. The demonstrations raged on despite continuous brutal crackdowns by Revolutionary Guards and the Bassij, giving the appearance that the opportunity for new Iranian revolution may be on the rise.

The Green Movement was highly publicized as revolutionary fever sweeping through a restless society ready to topple and dismantle an extremely repressive regime, similar to the Islamic Revolution in 1979. Many of the young people and students who had participated in the new political culture of the late 1990s envisioned the 2009 election as the opportunity for a new Iran to emerge under a reformist leader. When the election results stated otherwise, millions of people banded together to demonstrate, but the majority were from the middle class and concentrated in the cities. For the most part, the uprisings did not reach the rural, poor populations whose participation was vital to downfall of the Shah, and the bazaar class and religious elite were still in support of Khamenei. Without the collaboration of these classes, the secular and religious left were isolated in their demands and not strong enough to overthrow the government on their own. Furthermore, the movement itself was divided internally regarding the concept of a new regime. Where half of the Green Movement demonstrators wanted a full democracy in Iran, the other half wanted to reform the current system but keep Khamenei and the clerical regime in power at the top (Metghalchi). Thus, where the 1979 Revolution succeeded in bringing together a vast array of classes and political ideologues to overthrow a common enemy, the Green Movement failed to unite all of Iranian society against the current regime.

By July, the Green Movement was heavily weakened due to internal strife and a lack of cohesive goals. The government censored and even shut down the internet so protesters could no longer communicate and organize via social media such as Twitter and Facebook. Many protesters and reformist politicians and leaders such as Mousavi and Khatami were arrested to discourage further uprisings, and those who continued to rally in the streets encountered brutal retaliation by the Revolutionary Guard and the Bassij. In response, leaders of the movement began to apply for demonstration “permits” and encouraged demonstrators to dissipate when government forces ordered them to do so (Metghalchi). These actions were meant to protect protesters and prevent the dismantling of the movement, but instead weakened the power of the masses in numbers. Ultimately, the Green Movement proved too divided, spontaneous, and contained to evoke an enormous change in Iranian society. The 2009 presidential elections served as an opportunity for people to collectively express their dissent, but it did not succeed in functioning as a force that banded all classes and political groups against a repressive regime as had happened in 1979.

 Not much has changed in terms of opportunities for political opposition in Iran since the end of the Green Movement. When the Arab Spring erupted in countries throughout the Middle East in early 2011, Iran appeared to be immune from the revolutionary fever. Sporadic demonstrations sprung up in cities across the country, with many young demonstrators burning images of Ayatollah Khamenei and challenging the clerical regime, but there was no call to unite the masses in one large movement (Sharafedin, 2011). The demonstrations prove that opposition still exists in Iran, but it is small, divided, and unorganized unlike the massive social movements that erupted in Egypt, Tunisia, and other countries in the Middle East. Part of the reason for this is that the protesters who had been active in the Green Movement had experienced severe suppression by the Iranian military and knew that further attempts to mobilize would most likely end the same way. Where the Egyptian military aligned with the rebels and together successfully pressured Mubarak to step down, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard stood firmly behind Supreme Leader Khamenei in the 2009 post-election protests and spearheaded the massacres (Metghalchi). If similar demonstrations took place in Iran today, protesters would have to be willing to fight a long and bloody battle against a heavily funded military that may result in conflicts similar to that in Syria, Libya, and Bahrain (Metghalchi). Opposition forces in Iran thus have to weigh if it is worth engaging in brutal warfare to enact change within society, and if the various classes would provide enough support to help the opposition eventually topple the current regime.
Since the Green Movement in 2009, the Islamic Republic has increasingly resembled a military dictatorship. The Bassij have infiltrated the universities to violently repress any political developments on campus, parents and relatives of demonstrators who were killed by government forces are banned from grieving in public, and secret prisons and torture centers have been built all over the country to deal with persistent protesters (Al-Jazeera, 2011). There is little pressure from the international community on the Iranian government to end these abusive policies as there was in Egypt and Tunisia, and little media coverage on the treatment of protesters and the development of opposition in Iran today (Brown, 2011). Without international support, the secular middle class  yearns for change but lacks the religious impetus to risk their lives and blindly engage in conflict with a brutal military as many did in 1979 (Brown). Oil revenues also continue to create jobs and services for the public which has kept many of the classes appeased to a certain extent over time (Metghalchi). Where the Shah’s economic warfare played a large role in uniting the various classes against his regime, the unemployment rate in Iran does not seem to be a strong enough impetus to mobilize the masses. Perhaps if oil wealth fails to provide Iranian citizens with jobs, food, and public services as it did in Libya,  there will be an increase of political unrest throughout the various classes and they will collectively band together to topple the regime (Metghalchi). As for now, however, political and social repression does not seem to be enough for the bulk of society to risk everything for change.
Despite the failure of the Green Movement, there is still hope in Iran for revolution and regime change in the future. The split between Ahmadinejad and Khamenei concerning Iranian national identity and Islamic values has escalated over the years and could open up potential for revolutionary influence and possibly lead to the installation of a democratic government if further disintegration of the ruling party takes place (Metghalchi).  Furthermore, if the Assad regime is toppled by revolution in Syria, Iran would lose its largest ally and become isolated in the region and most likely also foster further splits within the ruling party (Metghalchi). Iran is also in danger of isolating itself from Turkey which has supported opposition forces in Syria against Assad, and from Egypt which is likely to develop relations with the Hamas government and challenge Iran’s role as patron of the Palestinian cause (Metghalchi). Due to these factors, the Iranian regime is being pushed ever further into regional isolation which has weakened it both internationally and domestically. These future significant shifts in the regional power balance might also alter the international community’s positions towards Iran, possibly leading to a more active and less ambiguous support to domestic forces of change (Metghalchi). Depending on how far these transnational and international powers shift or balance themselves out, Iran may not be so immune to the Arab Spring after all.
Iran’s Nuclear Relations
Martin Zink

Oil, or Black Gold as it is commonly referred to, is one of the most sought after resources in the global system, if not the resource to own. It has been a dominant factor for conflicts in the Middle East, a major political agenda of any nation vying for economic strength. Oil has been the catalyst of foreign dignitaries to create alliances between nations and to foster good relations. Historically, oil has been playing a major role in foreign policy since World War II, were the dependence on this invaluable resource quickly became realized. It was the lack of oil that forced the rolling armies of Germany to stumble and come to a halt, as the access to fuel became impossible. Allied armies, navies and air forces had the help and support of the Texan oil fields to fuel its aggressive counter-intervention across Europe and Africa, and essentially against the dominant Japanese forces in the Pacific. The ultimate dependence on oil became increasingly aware following the years of World War II, and the creation of alliances with oil-rich states became a staple of foreign policy of many states. Not every nation had the access to it and capability to control global flows like the United States did, so Middle Eastern nations quickly became an important friend to most of the Western nations. The Middle East, predominantly Saudi Arabia, used these new alliances to create an unimaginable wealth based entirely on the oil revenues and is still today an important factor in this sector, and Syria, Kuwait, Iraq and Iran, among other, quickly followed suit.  It was during this time that the United States used the knowledge and capacity of nuclear scientists to look for alternative fuel possibilities.

The power of nuclear fission was well known at this time and the ability to harness the awesome power to fuel American cities was of great importance. The quest for nuclear fuel also struck other nations and eventually spread to the Middle East and in turn to Iran. In the 1950s, the dream became a reality, when President Eisenhower started the “Atoms for Peace” Program to spur on nuclear energy at home and abroad. Iran and Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi were enthralled by the idea of this program and quickly became a part of it, making deals with the United States and other countries to begin research in the nuclear field. This was the beginning of how Iran came onto nuclear power and shaped US-Iranian policy. Over time, this relationship turned sour and fast-forward to today’s world of politics, Iran has possibly become enemy number one, with accusations of proliferation of nuclear weapons, theocratic Islamist regime and hate-filled speeches by current President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The nuclear issue has become an important topic over the last couple of months and is the focus of this paper. It will be important to look at how the relations to Iran have changed over time and what the possible threats are. The newly published report from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will be a major focus as the assessment of the Iranian nuclear sector has changed the entire playing field regarding Iran and its role in the Middle East, and will affect policies yet to come. The history surrounding the United States and Iran relations that affect this important topic, as stated above, began under the Eisenhower administration. The “Atoms for Peace” was a program used to spread research and information in the field of nuclear physics to institutions around the world. It was under this program that Iran received its first insight into nuclear power. On March 5, 1957, the first deal between the United States and Iran was fostered and “was intended to open doors for U.S. investment in Iran’s civilian nuclear industries, such as health care and medicine. The plan also called for the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission to lease Iran up to 13.2 pounds of low-enriched uranium (LEU) for research purposes.” (Bruno) This was a so-called jump start for the Iranian nuclear program and had the most peaceful intentions that can be applied. Bruno states that the Shah then created the Tehran Nuclear Research Center and quickly brokered a deal with the United States for the construction of a five-megawatt reactor. Throughout the 1960s, the two countries enjoyed peaceful relations and Iran gladly received assistance for the development of nuclear energy. It was at this time that the “Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons” was designed to help calm the Cold War situation between the US and Soviet Union. Iran became a signatory on its opening day July 1, 1968, agreeing to its tenets of not pursuing militarization of nuclear capabilities, among other things. The IAEA followed suit with its Safeguards Agreement and Iran quickly became a member as well. The Council on Foreign Relations states the following on these safeguards:


“Areas covered include the application and implementation of safeguards, materials control, provision of information to the IAEA, and the non-application of safeguards to nuclear material to be used in non-peaceful activities.” (CFR)

The combination of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Safeguards Agreement provided for a peaceful means of nuclear application. With Iran signing both of these, further doors opened for investment opportunities and Germany and France joined the United States in providing assistance to Iran. Bruno argues that “Regional wars and predictions of a looming energy shortfall prompted the shah to explore alternative forms of power production.” With the help of Germany’s Kraftwerk Union and the French Framatome, Iran was promised contracts for the construction of nuclear plants and continued supply of nuclear fuel.

While 1974 may have been the key moment in relations to the West, it instead became the year of roadblocks and disappointments. It all began with a US special intelligence estimate in August of 1974, stating that while “Iran’s much publicized nuclear power intentions are entirely in the planning stage, the ambitions of the shah could lead Iran to pursue nuclear weapons…” (Bruno) This accusation led the West to slowly pull investment plans out of Iran. France was pressured by other Western governments to renege on its deal to construct two reactors and Germany backed out of its construction deals by 1975. The background to this move instigated by the United States was the fact that India was successful in its nuclear tests in May of 1974 and it was believed that Iran would be motivated to compete. Now that Iran was without assistance from Western nations, it looked elsewhere for support and it was quickly found in Argentina, China and Russia. These moves were quickly blocked by Washington, forcing Iran to disclose as little information on its advances in the nuclear field. This was seen as a clear violation of the Safeguards Agreement and thus began the quick downward spiral of relations toward the West.

The well-known Islamic Revolution of 1979 not only brought a highly Islamic government into the global order, but anti-Western views instigated by the new Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Relations with the United States were strained already, and then on November 4, 1979 came the final straw to US policy. The US Embassy in Tehran was overrun by angry mobs and while some were released early on, 50 hostages remained under Iranian force. The crisis lasted for 444 days until January 20, 1981 and Yergin states that “…Khomeini and his immediate circle had some idea of the planned assault and even encouraged it.” While the crisis ended relatively peacefully, it set the pace for the next decades of US-Iran relations. As a retaliation, and obvious stunned move, the United States closed its embassy in Tehran and closed diplomatic relations. Any further relations between the two governments, as is still the case today, are done through a Swiss envoy.

The Islamic Revolution gave a huge boost of morale to the population but then followed the Iran-Iraq War, raging from 1980 until 1988. It was a major blow to Iranian confidence as it ended in a stalemate, or as John Calabrese put it, an “imposed peace”. Animosity between the two countries can still be felt today in Iran’s foreign policy. Relations between Iran and the US at the time of war was surprisingly pleasant but turned out to be deceiving. When the Iran-Contra affair under Reagan became public, it became known that the US was selling weapons to Iraq and Iran simultaneously. The war itself helped push for the need for a more prominent military force, which was to be revived in the years following the war.

Following the death of Ayatollah Khomeini, the anti-Western sentiment did not end and while the nuclear programs were placed in the background of international policy, it was quickly revived. The new Ayatollah, Ali Khamenei, took proactive steps in reviving the nuclear program crushed by Western influence. Known Pakistani nuclear scientist AQ Khan was involved in this process starting in 1985 and original plans with German and French firms were replaced with promises of Russian deals by 1995. “Analysts also believe the discovery of Iraq’s clandestine nuclear weapons program during the 1991 Gulf War, as well as a growing U.S. presence in the region, pushed Tehran to ramp up its research.” (Bruno) With outside help, most prominently from Russia, China, Pakistan and North Korea, Iran was able to revitalize its nuclear program and constructed several reactors and research institutes. Bruno points to many experts voicing their opinions in the development of the nuclear research and argues that Iran has developed “a vast network of uranium mines, enrichment plants, conversion sites, and research reactors.” Several intelligence reports point to centrifuges used in the uranium enrichment process being installed at various locations, and even the holy city of Qom is believed to house as many as 3,000 centrifuges. Bruno argues, echoing expert opinions, that while the extent of machines could be used for civilian purposes, it is too small and points towards a possible military effort. Further, the Isfahan Nuclear Technology Center is suspected of housing Iran’s weapons program and further facilities at Natanz are operated by Pakistani centrifuges. Many of these facilities are pointed out in the newly published report by the International Atomic Energy Agency, but more detailed information on that will follow below.

While Iran continues to argue that its nuclear facilities are for civilian and research purposes only, Western analysts and experts are stating the opposite. With some information stated above, experts are arguing that Iran could achieve proliferation of nuclear weapons in the near future. One of these experts is the President of the Institute for Science and International Security, David Albright. He argued in Bruno’s article from 2010 that enough weapons-grade uranium could be achieved within a couple of months. A quick overview of the weaponization process is offered by Bruno:


“Natural uranium contains 0.7 percent of the uranium-235 isotope, and generally, light-water power reactors require enrichment levels of 3 percent to 5 percent (levels of low-enriched uranium, or LEU). Weapons-grade uranium–also known as highly-enriched uranium, or HEU–is around 90 percent (technically, HEU is any concentration over 20 percent, but weapons-grade levels are described as being in excess of 90 percent). According to the IAEA, Iran is capable of enriching to about 4.7 percent.”

Through this process and recent reports, Iran could use its enrichment facilities to produce enough low-enriched uranium to start tests. Albright states that with 2.77kg of the Low-Enriched Uranium being produced, the necessary amount of 25kg for a small bomb could be achieved in several months. The problem that exists with the known information is that Iran itself has rarely offered information regarding its nuclear program, so intelligence agencies have acquired information through different channels. It was through this process, among other, that the IAEA was able to create the report published on November 8 of this year. The report, titled “Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and relevant provisions of Security Council resolutions in the Islamic Republic of Iran”, gives a very detailed outline of the weapons program, conventional and possible nuclear dimensions. In the interest of time, however, this paper will outline only the most important aspects and will offer an analysis with the support of Anthony Cordesman’s opinions. Cordesman is an expert on Iran and is Strategy Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

As noted above, Iran rarely discloses information on its nuclear program, so the IAEA and intelligence agencies of member states have used other means to come to the conclusions stated in the report. However, it is very important to keep in mind, and this is often reiterated by the IAEA in the report, that many of the techniques and applications used by Iran in its nuclear research have purposes for civilian, conventional military as well as nuclear uses. With Iran keeping much of its information close by, the authorities on this matter have had to come to conclusions through other means. The IAEA had used satellite imagery to analyze facilities and intelligence reports on procurement information, travel information by certain individuals, financial records, health and safety arrangements and documents demonstrating manufacturing techniques for certain high explosive components. Some notable information that was disclosed by Iran however, has generally been treated as troublesome. Iran has announced constructions on a further 10 new uranium enrichment facilities and continued construction on the heavy water related projects, such as the heavy water plant called IR-40. The IR-40 is located at Arak and has been under IAEA Safeguards for some time, and is expected to go into operation at the end of 2013.

While these are obvious violations of the Safeguards Agreement, which was to provide disclosure over procurement activities, Iran has also continued to not allow IAEA scientists and investigators in to look into the program and its activities. Evidence has been made available that states to even more violations of the agreement and NPT itself, as proliferation attempts date back to before 2003, and go back to time periods in the 1970s, 80s and through to the 2000s. One of the most important centers, the Physics Research Center was in charge of nuclear defense and led the AMAD Plan. This plan was involved with green-salt projects, used for providing a source of uranium suitable for the use in an undisclosed enrichment program. Missile re-entry programs intended for the Shahab-3 missiles were also led by the AMAD Plan. Interestingly enough, this plan was aborted in 2003, as the United States became more active in the Middle East preparing for the invasion in Iraq. With the US presence so close to home, it became important to not give the US an incentive to become more active in Iranian affairs. It was at this time that Tehran changed gear in light of the Iraq situation, and insisted on active neutrality towards the US. This entailed “preference for a political situation to the crisis, focus on disarmament, and commitment to a multilateral approach.” (Calabrese) Iran quickly became engaged in regional politics to attempt to avert the Iraq War, supporting Saudi and regional initiatives, and Calabrese also points towards an attempt to engage the international order. Tehran became involved with Security Council members that were against the US-invasion, with a possible second motivation. While Iran was deeply concerned with the possible flow of refugees towards its borders, these consultations with foreign powers were a way to “[build] political capital to head off possible future US action against Iran, and winning sympathy and support for Iran for having been a victim of Saddam’s sting.” (Calabrese)

As the invasion of Iraq was underway, Iran had to decrease its activities, but it was reported that the accomplishments achieved under the AMAD Plan were later continued under the Section for Advanced Development Applications and Technologies (SADAT). The report states that this undertaking used cover companies to hide real procurement purposes and activities. Even though much of this information is overwhelming and the applications are of multipurpose, one intelligence report quickly became controversial.

The “Alleged Studies Document” was provided to the IAEA by an undisclosed member state in 2005 and offered information on the already mentioned green-salt project and missile re-entry programs. It also provided significant information about high explosive testing and most importantly, the use of a clandestine nuclear supply network. This network involved a wide range of nations, including Libya, which through this means obtained information regarding nuclear components for explosive devices. The document also uncovered reports that Iran had covertly built a Fuel Enrichment Plant (FEP), Pilot FEP at Natanz, and a Fordow FEP near Qom and as mentioned above, created concerns over possible underground facilities. The IAEA report goes on explaining that Iran has the technology to convert High-Enriched Uranium into components for use as a nuclear core. Such necessary reconversion facilities have been found, yet further details are still pending. Evidence of detonator development for use in high explosive devices, initiation of said devices and associated experiments have also been uncovered. Exploding Bridgewire Explosives, as the IAEA states, are rarely used for non-nuclear applications, yet Iran stands strong for their use in civilian and conventional military purposes. A Parchin facility was investigated by the Agency and is believed to house hydrodynamic experiments, used to simulate theoretical implosion devices using surrogate elements. While no clear-cut evidence was found, this would be a strong indicator for nuclear weapons development. Further experiments involved environmental testing, using model simulation studies and stress tests to examine levels of stress put on missiles during launch and trajectory flights, and IAEA investigators were denied access to a prototype missile. As before, the Agency stresses that all of the mentioned research sectors have non-nuclear applications, but point towards nuclear weapons development. It will not be until Iran fully opens up its facilities for investigators from the International Atomic Energy Agency that there will be complete information on these programs. Until then, reports are based on intelligence efforts of member states and assumptions over the intention of Iranian experiments.

        Cordesman uses his expertise to analyze the missile capabilities of Iran and how these capabilities tie in with the possible dimensions over a nuclear weapons program. It is widely known that Iran has a huge arsenal at hand, and many of its ballistic missiles are aimed at Israel. Cordesman goes on to explain that most of the conventional technology is based on Russian, North Korean and Chinese designs. The technology has a major consequence on the effectiveness of these missiles, as most lack the accuracy and lethality to properly act as a deterrent against any outside forces. One could argue that the long and medium range ballistic missile capabilities are similar to that of putting a long-range sniper scope on a shotgun; the threat is there but at long ranges it becomes an impractical application. However, it is the lack of technology that has pressured Iran into pursuing asymmetric warfare capabilities. If Iran put use to its warhead reconversion facilities, this new technology could upset the military balance in the region. Further advances, announced by Tehran, include a Shahab-3 variant with an increased range of 2,500 km and a “smart” anti-ship missile known as the Khalij Fars. The Shahab-3 then has the ability to reach targets in southern Europe while the Khalij Fars, if used to its fullest potential could upset the naval balance and could threaten oil trade along the Strait of Hormuz, one of the most important shipping lanes that exists. As Iraq demonstrated during the war in the 1980s, there is also a threat of the so-called CBRN weapons. These are chemical, biological, radioactive and nuclear agents with missile capabilities, and with reports of possible ICBMS (Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles) by 2015, Iranian military technology is potentially a worthy adversary.
The previous summary of weapons capabilities gives a small insight in the potential dangers of Iran in the near future. As they are still dependent on foreign help for missile components, pressure is on Russian and Chinese arms-trade with Iran. Further, there are implications for the United States with the known information. While the US has conventional superiority, the advances in asymmetric technology are a clear threat to the Western world and US influence in the region. Iran may be incapable of a decisive victory, but as Cordesman puts it, this could change over time. It is the responsibility of the US to further establish its dominance in the region to deter Iranian pressure and to improve its detection mechanisms and early-warning systems to deter any Iranian threat. In light of the IAEA report, Israel immediately increased its rhetoric over possible preemptive strikes against the nuclear facilities. Israel is well within the range of Iranian missiles, but a strike against these facilities could give Iran more of an incentive to pursue the goal of nuclear weapons.
It is obvious that there is much animosity between Iran and Israel, and there is a constant danger of the situation spiraling out of control. Iran has taken a clear stance against the West and with the publishing of the IAEA report in November, there has been an increase in sanctions against it. Some of the harshest sanctions were applied by the United Kingdom. This resulted in a clear message by Iranian citizens, with a possible backing by the government. On November 29, riots broke out and the embassy of the UK was stormed, bringing back memories of the US Embassy crisis in 1979. Iran clearly feels threatened by Western nations, as more sanctions are applied. The relations between the United States and Iran have been suspended since 1979 and the recent events will not improve that situation. The following statement, by Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, commander of the IRGC’s Aerospace Divison, gives an idea over how Iranian officials feel under Western pressure:
“We feel to be threatened by no [country] but the US and the Zionist regime and the ranges of our missile have been designed based on the distances between us and the US bases in the region and the Zionist regime.” This rhetoric could not possibly improve relations, but it to be expected under threats from Israel and the US. Another Brigadier General, named Hossein Salami, argues the deterrent capabilities of Iranian missiles by stating that “Our missiles have tactically offensive and strategically deterrent and defensive features….Our fingers are still kept on the trigger, but the number of these triggers has increased.” As much of the IAEA report states above, Iran is entering the nuclear era, and whether it is for civilian or military purposes will not be known until relations between the governments improve. Assumptions can be made until the end of days, but these will not help the situation and further sanctions on Iran will only pressure Tehran more to act alone, as Iran has, in essence, been cut off and has been isolated through Western influence.
As US troops are pulling out of Iraq, it is important to increase diplomatic relations with Iran. Iraq will be left in a vulnerable state, and to be able to provide security for the Iraqi people, it is necessary to realize that Iran has a significant influence over its borders. Contacts through Kurdish and Shiite movements could potentially be used for good, but it all depends on future relations between the United States and Iran. While it should be taken with a grain of salt, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s speechat the 2010 NPT Review Conference ends with “Through cooperation and solidarity and harmony, our aspiration for establishing a world blessed with justice and peace is achievable, and the motto of “nuclear energy for all, nuclear weapons for none” is the basis for interaction among human beings as well as between human and nature.” It is true that Ahmadinejad has had an erratic history in speeches, but the basic argument should be understood. Iran cannot prosper if it is destroyed at the hands of Israel or the United States and vice versa. It should be in the international interest of all nations to improve relations with Tehran and pursue a secure global order.
Iran’s International Relations – (Transnational Identities)
– by Dimal Basha
There are always countries that play an important role in the global affairs. Iran has always been at the top of many affairs and the position of importance has always been high despite its ideology transformations over time. Iran played an important role in shaping in global affairs, but most importantly, was a key player in shaping Persian Gulf politics over centuries. Its geopolitical role changed sharply after it was discovered that it contained major reserves of oil in the beginning of twentieth century. Such finding put Iran at the top of its importance and ever since the country has undergone various changes. Some changes occurred as a result of other powers who influenced policies in Iran, on the other hand major transformation of its policies were as a result of Iranian people and its leadership. In this piece, I will mainly focus on Iran’s relationship with other regional countries. Specifically, I will try to explain how Iran influenced policies in the Gulf region through transnational identities that Gregory Gause put forth in his book The International Relations of the Persian Gulf.
The transnational identity argument put forth by Gregory Gause is a different approach to the events that have not been explored before and similar opinion is shared among many experts on the field like Thomass W. O’Donnell, professor at the New School University, who wrote (2010) that Gause’s work “has raised the standard for discourse about Persian Gulf international relations.”
The International Relations of the Persian Gulf argues that the best way to understand the security conflicts of the Persian Gulf is to view the area as a regional security complex. By this, Gause means that the wars, alliances, and the problems of consolidating centralized states in the region are mostly due to tensions between countries that have intense security interdependence on each other. The Persian Gulf regional security complex consists of Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the smaller Gulf monarchies because they focus intensely on each other and they have devoted the majority of their security resources to their relations with each other for decades. This argument contrasts Realists theories concerning the drive of foreign policy in the Gulf, as Realists believe that shifts and disparities in power centered around the importance of oil are most often the cause for conflict in the region. Gause argues that oil was not the primary driving factor in any of the Gulf wars. Rather, he argues that regional states have almost always acted more against perceived threats to their own domestic stability from others within the regional security complex. In other words, instead of choosing allies based on classic notions of balance to power, they chose their allies on how their own domestic regime would be affected by the outcome of regional conflicts. The most important and distinctive factor in the Gulf regional, according to Gause’s argument, is not power imbalances but the salience of transnational identities. 

The idea that reliance on support of or rejection of certain identities is driving force behind creating alliances is a constructivist argument that contests the realist argument that the pursuit of resources to become a hegemon or to balance power is responsible for conflict in the Gulf. Gause explains that there are number of transnational identities, most importantly Arab, Kurdish, Muslim, Shi’a, Sunni, and tribal, that cross almost all the borders within the region. These identities affect regional politics because they offer leaders access to domestic politics within neighboring countries, which increases the likely hood of waging war in since leaders believe the can rally support from internal identity groups, and likewise because these identities are seen as threats to leader’s own regime stability. In other words, the reality of transnational identities in the Gulf both increases the likelihood that ambitious leaders will seek to exploit those identities to expand their influence and increase the sense of threat felt by the regimes that are the targets for those ambitious leaders. This is a large departure from Realist arguments that claim all conflict results from an attempt by leaders to either become a hegemon or balance powers in the region, such as dominating the oil market.

The Islamic Republic of Iran is a country located in the Middle East and has a very rich historical background. The country was also known as Persia up until 1935 and became an Islamic Republic after the 1979 revolution (CIA Factbook). This country has a rich history that goes back to the Achaemenian Empire established by the Cyrus the Great in 550 BC. The fall of the Achaemenians came as a result of the rise of another great empire lead by Alexander the Great who managed to overpower the region in 330 BC. This region always drew interest among many powers. The region, known today as Islamic Republic of Iran, fell to the Parthians and Sassanians before being conquered by Arabs in 642 AD. It is crucial to note that at this time Arabs brought with them the religion of Islam that eventually predominates to this day. The word “IRAN” is a cognate of “Aryan”: these words were used by that branch of Indo-European peoples who migrated southeast before 1000 BC, the Iranians staying in Iran and the Aryans going to on to India. Persia, on the other side, was the Greek name for Iran, taken from the southwestern province of Fars. Reza shah, the autocratic leader of Iran did not change the name of the country in the 1930s; rather he asked foreigners to use the indigenous name (Keddie, 2003). After the Arabs, various rulers invaded Iran until the 1501 when the Iranian Safavis managed to construct a strong empire under the leadership of Ismail I who also established Shia Islam as the official religion for the country. However, it is worth noting that before 15th century, great majority of Shia were not Iranian and majority of Iranian were Sunni (Keddie, 2003).

Isma’il I, also known as Shah Isma’il, a founder of Safavid Dynasty who managed to unify Iran by 1509, demanded that all preachers and mollas publicly curse the first three Sunni caliphs, usurpers of the place of Ali, and this loyalty remained a characteristic of many Safavid rulers. This was mainly because Isma’il was trying to give Iran an ideological distinction vis-à-vis Sunnis. As a result, in 1511-12 Ottomans attacked Safavids and this was one of the many battles between them Iran- Ottoman Empire. By the end of 1722, most Iranians identified strongly with shiism (Keddie, 2003). It was in the late 18th century that Iran begins to see some stability that was mainly the success of Qajar family that managed to rule the country up until the beginning of the 20th century. However, the country suffered many more centuries due to many civil wars and regional threats that rose during the history.  (Library of Congress, 2008). The Qajar shahs ruled uneasily for a century and a half. In the 19th century, a country habituated to invasion found itself subject to a new form of foreign pressure – the diplomatic and commercial competition between Russia and Britain for dominance over Persia, which inevitably became a preoccupation of the Qajar shahs, as they sought to play the two great powers off against each other (Yergin, 2010). The foreign pressure left Qajars acting like a shadow government because main politics occurred behind their back by westerners and other entities that frequently occurred outside Iran (Yergin, 2010). Nonetheless, despite being very unpopular with the people of Iran, the Qajars remained in power and kept Iran unified with the support of the British and the Russians (Keddie, 2003).

Such attractions from different powers came as a result of a French geologist who began to publish reports in 1890, based upon extensive research he did in Persia that pointed to considerable oil potential. The British government was particularly active in helping its subjects to attain concessions, including the Tobacco monopoly concession of 1890 and the very important D’Arcy Oil concession of 1901 (Yergin, 2010).

Iran remained unified but within its borders it remained very fragile due to the tribal feudalism where local tribe leaders managed the domestic affairs and these tribal leaders usually managed the people living in their lands (Keddie, 2003). But Iran was less controlled by nomadic tribes, despite its major number of people ruled by them, rather was more centralized than other countries where tribes had major influence. Hence, Iran early centralization gave them an advantage to industrialize before other tribal countries in the region (Keddie, 2003).

Iran today, according to the latest World Bank data (2010), has a population of little over seventy million people. After the Islamic revolution in 1979, Iran installed a theocratic form of government and its constitution declares Shia Islam to be the official religion of Iran. Following the Islamic Revolution of 1978–79, a national referendum approved a new constitution; several amendments were approved in 1989. According to that constitution, the Islamic Republic of Iran is a republic with nominal separation of powers among the executive, judicial, and legislative branches. At least 90 percent of Iranians are Shia Muslims, and about 8 percent are Sunni Muslims. Other religions present in Iran are Christians (mainly Armenians and Assyrians, more than 300,000 followers), the Baha’i faith (at least 250,000), Zoroastrianists (about 32,000), and about 30,000 Jews. According to The Library of Congress data, the constitution in Iran recognizes Christianity, Judaism, and Zoroastrianism as legitimate minority religions.

Iran used the Shi’a identity that overlaps borders across the Gulf region to their advantage in many scenarios. It did so to influence policies across the Gulf region to their favor. Other Gulf countries employed similar strategy and this form of proxy strategy via overlapping national identities across boundaries in the region is still active to this day. Below I will describe how Iran employed transnational identities to their advantage in various Gulf region countries. Breaking down relations between Iran and other Gulf regional countries separately will approach this form of elaboration. Such method will enable us to treat Iran’s influence with other countries through transnational identity lenses in much more detail.

Iran vs. Iraq

Iran and Iraq have had persistent disputes among them. Iran went through various regimes from secular to more religious. However, it is important to note that one of the most common political features of most regimes was, as Nikii Keddie argues (2003), the anti-imperialism and the suspicious towards its neighbors. Apart from the anti-imperialist attitude that developed throughout the years, the suspicion was also similarly casted among Sunni led government in the region, particularly Iraq. The distrust between the two took a new toll after the Persian Gulf gained power in the early 1970’s with the oil revolution that occurred there. Such action put elevated the importance of countries in the region. The oil nationalizations were of a historic importance because countries like Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Iran contained large reserves of oil that also shaped the relations among themselves (Gause, 2010).

The instability increased after the Islamic revolution that took place in Iran in 1979. The revolution took place after people protested for months and consequently forced Shah out of Iran. After Shah left Iran, one month later, Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Iran where he was greeted by millions of people. His return established a theocratic regime based on Shi’a beliefs and such religious ideology was a major concern for countries in the region that also had Shi’a communities inside their countries. Such disturbance was specifically prevalent in Iraq and Bahrain, both countries with majority Shi’a population but had a Sunni led government. Immediately after, Khomeini condemned the Baathist regime in Iraq for repressing Shi’a majority there. At the same time, Iraq felt the instability and blamed Iran for inciting major protests that occurred in Najaf and Karbala. Such protests raised a small movement opposing the arrest of a Shi’a cleric in Iraq, who was on the way to pay a visit to Tehran. This posed a major threat to Saddam Hussein’s regime who felt that Iran is trying to use the Shi’a inside Iraq to overthrow his regime in Iraq. The revolution brought great changes to the region after the nine years of stability from 1971 to 1979. This period, according to Gause (2010), was the most stable interval in the region despite the mistrust that existed.

After the Islamic revolution in 1979, Iran continued to actively encourage Shi’a movement in Iraq. Such ‘export’ of revolution were even broadcasted in the Iranian national radio and when the Shi’a militia made an attempt to assassinate the Iraqi Prime Minister on April 1980 was another message that sent shivers to the Iraqi Sunni regime. This act represented a major threat to Saddam Hussein’s government and soon after, his government responded by executing Ayatollah al-Sadr, a Shi’a cleric in Iraq. Ayatollah Khomeini, on the other hand, and another great number of religious leaders condemned the Baathist regime in Iraq and called the Iraqi government “despotic” and “criminal” (Gause, 2010, p. 49).

Saddam Hussein was growing inpatient and was seeking to consolidate his power. His speech at the Iraqi National Assembly in Novemeber 1980 sent new signals about his intentions with Iran. He truly believed that Khomeini was using Shi’a majority in Iraq to overthrow his regime and made his impatience clear when he told the National Assembly, “I used to make all kinds of excuses to my colleagues to give Persians more time,” (Gause, 2010, p. 60). Now, however, he was not ready to grant Iranians the benefit of the doubt and the consequent events would show that Saddam was willing to do whatever it takes to keep Iranians at bay and further consolidate its power. In 1980, the Baathists regime delegitimized the Da’wa party and anyone who would join them would be subject to a capital punishment. The same year, Saddam’s regime executed over ninety members of Da’wa party, all Shi’a. The assassination attempt on Tariq Aziz by Shi’a militia turned Saddam to sent a clear message to Iranians that such proxy war will not be tolerated and he made his intentions even cleared in his al-Mustansiriya University in Baghdad where he blamed the Khomeini regime relating to the Tariq Aziz assassination attempt and promised to retaliate in any form of threat (Gause, 2010). The combination of such disputes grew and one of the main factors it was the fear of Saddam regime from the Iranian influence that concluded in Saddam’s decision to go to war with Iran that lasted over eight years (Gause, 2010).

The attempt of Iranians to influence Iraqi policies is a strategy that is even employed to this day. The Shi’a majority in Iraq gives Iran, also Shi’a majority, a great way to influence Iraqi policies into their favor.  This strategy became increasingly important after the U.S. led coalition war in 2003 brought down the Baathist regime in Iraq. After the collapse of Saddam Hussein’s regime, the U.S. led coalition installed a more comprehensive government that represented all identities in Iraq. This meant that Shi’a would take a leading role in post-war Iraq due to them being the majority there. Iran has since attempted to influence Iraqi religious and political life via various means. For example, a recent article in The Christian Science Monitor (Petterson, 2011) reported that Iran has been trying to install their own religious clerics in order to broaden their influence in Iraq. It specifically emphasizes the attempt of Iran to install Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi in a highly clerical position in Najaf, most pious city in Iraq, which would come at the cost of the current Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. Al-Sistani is already a respected and an established Shi’a Iraqi cleric there, however, if Shahroudi challenges Al-Sistani for the position, this would show clear evidence of Iranian attempt to influence policies in Iraq by challenging their top religious leaders by sending their own proxies.
Now that the United States administration is on the verge of withdrawing all its military troops. The Obama administration has expressed concerns over Iranian influence in Iraq. The Wall Street Journal reported that Iran has moved its war with the United States in Iraqis soil. Iranians have been crucial in influencing some influential religious leaders there, who in return have been challenging and attacking the U.S. military troops. The same article states the importance of the United States to fight Iranians inside Iraq and they have tried to do this by employing their intelligence and conducting covert operations in order to counter the Iranian attempts to import weapons inside Iraq and combat any other Iranian attempt to influence the Iraqi Shi’a majority in Iraq. An example of such influence has been Muqtada Al Sadr, an Iraqi cleric who has been close to Iranians and a recent Voice of America article (2011) reported that Al Sadr has left for Iran studying for Shi’a theological studies in the city of Qom, Iran. Al Sadr has been a fierce opponent of U.S. military troops in Iraq and has repeatedly called fro their withdrawal.

Ryan Mauro writing for Frontpagemag.com shows the various initiatives from Iran in trying to capture the vacuum left with the withdrawal of U.S. troops. The author argues that Iran has played the shared Shi’a identity as their main argument to help Iraq in various issues. For example, the latest Iranian offer to train Iraqi military forces was another attempt to take a leading role in the region after the U.S. decision of withdrawal. Iraqi officials rejected such offer on the grounds that the weapons that the Iraqi military possess are American and therefore they stated that they would prefer American trainers. Such attempts to lure Iraqis to accept Iranian assistance also came from the recent Iranian foreign minister visit in Baghdad who said that that the two countries are “two branches of the same tree.” The Iranian government promotes such arguments in an attempt to increase its influence over Iraq by channeling ideas through transnational identity argument that Gregory Gause used in his book The Persian Gulf (2010).

Iran has also used proxies inside Iraq to increase their influence over Iraqi policies and the attempt to push U.S. forces out of Iraq. For example, Moqtada al-Sadr, an extremist Shia cleric in Iraq has been backed by the Iranian government to target U.S. troops and contractors there. Iran backed cleric has declared to kill any U.S. troops and contractors and his loyalists have stepped up their campaign by posting billboards around Baghdad that call on U.S. troops and contractors to leave Iraq. Moreover, according to the author, Iran is preparing Ayatollah Hashem Shahroudi to take the top cleric position in Iraq, which is similar position as the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khomeini holds in Iran.

Such strategies used by the Iranians has been seen as a major threat to the balance of power in the region by the west, United States and Israel in particular, and the current Obama administration is working in sending some troops back to Iraq next year in order to maintain Iraqi independence from Iran. Such decision is a subject of Iraqi parliament approval and has not been taken into consideration yet. For now, the U.S. has pulled all its troops out, as of December 19, 2011; however, the Obama administration remains keen in sending some troops back in order to help Iraqi government and military.

George Friedman writing for Stratfor, a global intelligence magazine, has argued that there are several scenarios that can play out after the U.S. withdrawal. However, the author strongly believes that Iran will maintain its attempts to influence Iraqi policies. This will come, the author further states, through transnational identity theory that Gause argues in his book, where Iran will use Shia majority in Iraq as an extended arm to reach out to the policies that favors their dominance in the region.

In addition, Friedman emphasizes that the withdrawal of U.S. troops was not entirely wanted by all Iraqis. The Sunni and Kurds in particular did not want their withdrawal, but this occurred due to the Iraqi turbulent politics that would not agree to grant the United States a permission to establish military bases in the Kurdish region of Iraq. United States and Saudi Arabia, the author concludes, will be important factors in Iraq trying to keep ties with Iraqis and at the same time trying to avoid Iran to establish themselves as a dominant force in the region.

Things have been taking rapid changes in current Iraq and the United States are still interested to keep the balance of power in the Persian Gulf by maintaining good relationship with Iraq and at the same time by containing Iranian influence in Iraq. This has been of a big importance and brings us more close to the future that the Iraqis will follow now that the U.S. troops are pulling out. A CBS reported the recent meeting with president Obama and Al-Maliki, Iraqi prime Minister, where they expect to discuss the U.S. – Iraqi. One other topic that the Obama administration is concerned is the Iranian influence over Iraq. The article refers specifically to Maqtada al-Sadr, who is believed to have close ties with Iranians. This is major issue to the Americans because on one hand Al-Sadr is in coalition with Al-Maliki, and on the other hand, he has been one of the biggest anti-American voices in Iraq. Al-Maliki, however, has refused to admit any influence of Iran over Iraq and stated that his country will follow policies that are in best national interest. Such statements from Iraqi Prime Minister are very important to the United States, but the administration is highly aware of the Iranian power to influence Iraqi policies through transnational identities.

        Iran vs. Saudi Arabia

Iran has also long history of relations with Saudi Arabia. It is important to note that both countries, Saudi Arabia and Iran, have been playing their foreign policy in foreign lands. Both countries have almost always avoided any major one-on-one conflict and their latest disputes have also taken place in the region via transnational identities. George Friedman writing for Stratfor (2011), for example, argues that argues his case about Iranian interest in influencing Iraqi policies. This reality has been later enforced in the view of Saudis after the United States administration decision to withdraw military troops from Iraq and as a result Saudis have stepped up their support for Sunni Muslim in Iraq trying to keep the balance Iran who has a much bigger leverage in the country.
Second, Iran has used a similar strategy, at least according to the Saudis, the author argues, to influence Shia uprising in Bahrain. This is another battle fought in foreign land and Saudis have played tough to send a message to Iran to stay away from meddling with the Sunni minority rulers in Bahrain. This was also another test played by Iran to try destabilize a Sunni ruled country in order to gain more influence and use it for their own advantage. At the same time, this Iranian game posed a test for the Saudis who responded with a military aid to suppress the revolt in Bahrain and send a clear message to Iran to keep its hands off from Bahrain.
At the same time, the author in the article discusses the U.S. support of Saudis in regards to Iranian latest plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to the United States. According to the U.S. Justice Department, the plot was instigated by the Iranian intelligence and both, United States and Saudi Arabia, held Iran government responsible for the plot. This sent a new shockwave to the Iran – Saudi relationship and the relationship between the two has hit a new low. Rick Gladstone piece in New York Times talks about the Iran’s government rejection of being involved in the plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to the United States. However, this article surfaces some new information that was not known before. Iran, who initially refused to take the blame for the plot, described the whole scenario as an attempt by its enemies to try to blame Iran as an excuse to bring more pressure upon them. Later this changed when the Iran government shifted blame towards an opposition exile group known as Mujahedeen Khalq. The group’s spokesman, Shahin Globadi, however, rejected Iranian claims and told NY Times that this is another strategy used by the Mullahs “where they blame their crimes on their opposition for double gains.”

The reason to blame the opposition group that is also known, as National Council of resistance of Iran is an interesting decision. For one, the Islamic Republic of Iran has viewed them as a violent organization whose aim was to overthrow the regime in Iran and at the same time the United States has enlisted them as a foreign terrorist organization. European Union has declassified them as a terrorist group and this was mainly done with the organization’s decision to renounce violence, but such decision has not been taken by the Justice Department in the United States. Other sources have viewed the plot with suspicion due to the lack of evidence that the Justice Department has maintained, while experts for the region, such as Ray Takeyh, a senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, stated that this must be another form of strategy by Iran where they are “trying to meet pressure with pressure.”

The Saudis have also kept an interest in the region and offered tacit support of Sunnis without trying to irritate the Shia majority in the country. For example, Christian Science Monitor piece emphasizes the Saudi reaction that raised concern over the Iranian attempt to install Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi in a highly clerical position in Najaf, most pious city in Iraq, which would come at the cost of the current Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. Saudi government has stated that such action “represents clear evidence that Khamenei is determinedly planning to intervene in a broad scale in Iraq.”

Hence, Iran played an important role in shaping in global affairs, but most importantly, was a key player in shaping Persian Gulf politics over centuries. The Persian Gulf regional security complex consists of Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the smaller Gulf monarchies because they focus intensely on each other and they have devoted the majority of their security resources to their relations with each other for decades. Regional Gulf countries have almost always acted more against perceived threats to their own domestic stability from others within the regional security complex. In other words, instead of choosing allies based on classic notions of balance to power, they chose their allies on how their own domestic regime would be affected by the outcome of regional conflicts. Iran used the Shi’a identity that overlaps borders across the Gulf region to their advantage in many scenarios. It did so to influence policies across the Gulf region to their favor. Other Gulf countries employed similar strategy and this form of proxy strategy via overlapping national identities across boundaries in the region is still active to this day.

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