Book Review: The Weight of a Mustard Seed: The Intimate Life of an Iraqi Family During Thirty Years of Tyranny (2009) by Wendell Steavenson
Wendell Steavenson’s The Weight of a Mustard Seed—the title drawn from a verse of the Qur’an about the difference between attaining heaven and hell—comprises five years of research about Kamel Sachet Aziz al-Janabi, one of Saddam Hussein’s favourite and most senior generals.
Born in 1947, Kamel Sachet joined the Iraqi police straight from school in the mid-1960s and joined the army in 1975. Sachet was soon in the Special Forces, training in mountain warfare in Germany in 1978, taking part in joint exercises with Iranian Special Forces during the time of the Shah—learning Farsi along the way—and then being part of the Iraqi Special Forces advanced party sent to invade Iran after Ruhollah Khomeini’s takeover. Sachet would later be part of the elite forces sent to secure Saddam’s occupation of Kuwait. After Saddam was evicted from Kuwait, Sachet, who had been slipping deeper and deeper into religious zeal from the early 1980s, was made governor of Maysan where he ran a de facto Salafi commune. Sachet was eventually removed from this post by regime internal intrigue, and was moved to a job in the office of the president. For reasons never definitively established, Sachet was murdered on Saddam Hussein’s orders on the first day of Operation DESERT FOX in December 1998.
Kamel Sachet’s story is an interesting one for what it says about the Saddam regime’s changing attitude toward Islamism as it ran its course, reversing the hard-secular outlook that prevailed at varying degrees of intensity from the late 1960s to the early 1980s, and transforming into an Islamist State in the last fifteen years of the regime. Continue reading
Published at Left Foot Forward
On 9 September the British government announced a new plan for dealing with Syria and the Islamic State (ISIS):
- Airstrikes when necessary into Syria to destroy the leadership of ISIS;
- Buttressing the Iraqi government in its fight with ISIS;
- Dropping the demand that Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad step aside immediately and instead allowing Assad to lead a transition, in order that Russia and Iran will agree to Assad going at all.
All three parts of this plan push in a pro-Iran direction, and strengthen Assad. Continue reading
The Taliban on August 31 finally confessed all: its leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, had been dead since April 23, 2013. The Taliban admitted that Mullah Omar had passed from this veil of tears on July 30 but was distinctly vague on when. Omar’s death was kept secret because of “jihadi considerations,” namely the “testing” time the mujahideen were having with the “foreign invaders,” the Taliban says. While the Taliban places the emphasis on its struggle with NATO, the reality is that NATO is drawing down and the Taliban’s burgeoning foe is the Islamic State (I.S.). The Taliban is tied to al-Qaeda’s faltering brand, and conditions are militating to help I.S., not al-Qaeda, in “Khorasan”. Continue reading
Published at National Review
The admission by the Taliban on July 30 that its leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, had died was widely seen as good news for the Islamic State (ISIS) against its jihadist competitors. But while ISIS’s growing power in Afghanistan over the last year has garnered significant attention, the rise of Iran’s influence in the country has been less noted. Worse, in the light of the nuclear agreement with the U.S., Iran’s expanded influence is held by some observers to be a stability-promoting development. This is a dangerous fantasy that has already been falsified in the Fertile Crescent, where the synergetic growth of Iran and ISIS promotes chaos and radicalism—to the advantage of both and the disadvantage of the forces of moderation and order. Continue reading
On Sunday the British Embassy in Iran was reopened after four years of closure. The British government’s decision is consistent with two emerging trends: the United States using the nuclear accord to facilitate détente with Iran, and European States falling into line with this policy and beginning to compete to enter the emerging Iranian market.
The British Embassy in Tehran was closed in November 2011 after ‘protesters’—a regime-orchestrated mob—stormed the building, ostensibly in protest against sanctions. The regime claimed helplessness in the face of angry demonstrators.
But it is worth remembering that when Iranian citizens take to the streets in a manner the regime actually disapproves of, it mobilises its security forces to murder them, and imprison them en masse in facilities where they are, male and female, raped as a form of punishment and torture. Continue reading
The Saudi-led Operation DECISIVE STORM began in Yemen on March 25 as a campaign of airstrikes against the Iran-backed Houthis, to weaken them and re-install the president, Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who was overthrown by the Houthis last September.
In April, I wrote in support of the Saudi-led operation for: (1) having drawn a line against Iran’s imperialism after Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq; (2) potentially decreasing the growth of the Islamic State (ISIS) by providing Sunnis, in Yemen and beyond, with an alternative form of resistance to Iran’s encroachments; and (3) offering a chance for more stability in Yemen, which was then in free fall with Iran, al-Qaeda, and ISIS capitalizing on the chaos. Continue reading
The United States and Iran are seemingly days from signing an agreement on Iran’s nuclear program that has been brought about by a series of American concessions. If the deal is signed on the present terms it will effectively dismantle the sanctions against Iran and the international legal regime that recognizes the Iranian regime as an outlaw, will leave Iran on the threshold of nuclear weapons, and will provide legitimacy for, and billions of dollars toward, Iranian hegemony in the Middle East.
In 2010, Farzad Farhangian, an Iranian diplomat based in Belgium, defected to Norway. Farhangian has now emerged with the extraordinary accusation that the Islamic Republic of Iran is controlling the Islamic State (ISIS) and using it as part of Tehran’s war against the Gulf States, especially Saudi Arabia. Farhangian’s accusations are lurid and (literally) incredible, but the question of Iran’s role in ISIS’ creation and growth, and Iran’s manipulation of ISIS to further its own ends, is one well worth asking. Continue reading
The key thing to understand about the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the nuclear accord announced on April 2 between the P5+1 and Iran, is that it does not exist. The British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said at one point, “We envisage being able to deliver a narrative,” adding that this might not be written and—these being forgiving times—Iran’s narrative need not match the West’s. In other words, nothing was signed or agreed to. This is the reason for the wild discrepancies between the American and Iranian JCPOA “factsheets”: both are drawing from a rolling text that is ostensibly to lead to a “final” or “comprehensive” deal and spinning it to their own respective advantage. The administration has as much as said so with its mantra that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”.
The purpose of the announcement of the JCPOA therefore was, charitably, to “build political momentum toward a final agreement“. Less charitably it was intended to “demonstrate progress in order to fend off congressional action,” as Obama’s former nuclear adviser Gary Samore put it. In that at least it was successful. Continue reading