The U.S., Iran, and Afghanistan; attacks on home of Karroubi and offices of Moussavi

Iranian Help on Afghanistan?

In an interesting column in the Washington Post, David Ignatius reports on the possibilities for engaging with Iran to gain its assistance in dealing with Afghanistan, and the arguments for and against such an approach within the Obama administration.

Ignatius quotes President Obama’s statement, in an August 4 meeting with journalists, that he was in favor of establishing a “second track” (in addition to that on nuclear issues) for talking about Iran’s potential role in helping to stabilize Afghanistan, where the U.S. and Iran have a “mutual interest” in battling both the drug trade and the Taliban.

The question for the Obama administration is whether to take up these feelers (from Iran). Advocates argue that stabilizing Afghanistan is a strategic priority and that the United States should seek help wherever it can. They also argue that rather than undermining talks on the nuclear issue, contacts on Afghanistan could be an important confidence-building measure.

Skeptics contend the Afghan gambit would dilute the main focus of Iran policy, which is stopping Tehran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. That same logic led the Bush administration to pull back in March 2006 from its proposal for talks in Baghdad with Iran, after Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei had appointed a key adviser, Ali Larijani, as his representative.

–David Ignatius, “The U.S. should test Iran’s resolve to stabilize Afghanistan,” Washington Post, September 17, 2010.

Attacks on Home of Karroubi and Offices of Moussavi

Meanwhile, in Iran paramilitary militia and/or government security officials on September 2 reportedly attacked the home of opposition leader and 2009 presidential candidate Mehdi Karroubi.

Pro-government crowds swarmed outside the battered home of a key Iranian opposition leader Friday after militiamen attacked with firebombs and beat a bodyguard unconscious in a brazen message of intimidation and pinpoint pressure on dissent.

Mobs of hard-line militiamen — known as Basij — began breaking down the front door of Karroubi’s residence before being driven back by warning shots from guards, according to the Sahamnews website, which supports Iran’s pro-reform movement.

Karroubi was at home at the time, but was not injured, his son Hossein told The Associated Press.

Media restrictions imposed by Iranian authorities blocked journalists from reaching the site and independently verifying the accounts. A video posted on the Internet by a group backing the opposition showed smashed windows and graffiti on the walls and door panel of the house, located on a tree-lined street in north Tehran.

Hossein Karroubi said dozens of hard-liners — some on motorbikes — continued to damage the opposition leader’s home on Friday and that police were not responding to the scene. Some security cameras outside the building were torn down, he said.

–Brian Murphy and Nasser Karimi, “Mobs attack home of Iranian opposition leader,” AP, published on Iran on MSNBC, September 3, 2010.

On Wednesday night, September 15, Iranian government security forces and/or paramilitary militia reportedly attacked the offices of Mir Hossein Moussavi, the leading opposition candidate in the June, 2009 presidential elections.

–Associated Press, “Forces raid office of Iran’s opposition leader,” September 17, 2010.

–See also Ramin Mostaghim and Meris Lutz, “Iran opposition leader’s offices raided,” Los Angleles Times, September 17, 2010.

AP also reported that

Adding to the pressure on the opposition, Tehran chief prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dowlatabadi issued a new warning that the movement’s leaders could be brought to trial, Iranian newspapers reported Thursday.

See also

Ladane Nasseri, “Iran Pledges to Bring to Trial Opposition Leaders Who Challenged President,” Bloomberg, September 16, 2010

These attacks follow the surfacing of an alleged official letter to Iranian newspapers and media outlets banning any reporting on the activities of Karroubi, Moussavi, or former president Mohammad Khatami.

–See William Yong and Robert F. Worth, “Iran Clamps Down on Reporting on Protest Leaders,” New York Times, August 25, 2010.

Khamenei’s January call for opposition members to be dealt with strictly in accordance with the law

In January, two days after groups believed to be linked to the Revolutionary Guards allegedly open fire on the car of opposition figure Mehdi Karroubi, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called for such groups to abide by the law, stating

“Relevant bodies should fully respect the law in dealing with the riots and the ongoing events,” he told clerics and seminary students bused to Tehran from the shrine city of Qom for an annual political commemoration.

“Those without any legal duty and obligations should not meddle with these affairs,” he said. “Everyone should hold back from arbitrary acts and everything should go within the framework of the law.”

Borzou Daragahi, “Iran’s Supreme Leader Tells Militias not to Meddle,” Los Angeles Times, January 10, 2010

See The Trenchant Observer, “NEWS TO NOTE: In Iran, Khamenei calls for non-interference by militias and for officials “to fully respect the law,” January 14, 2010

The contradiction between Khamenei’s call for the authorities and paramilitary groups to act within the law and these recent attacks raises basic questions as to whether Kamenei has lost or is losing influence over the Revolutionary Guards and paramilitary groups such as the Basiji.

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"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by The Observer, an international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. He is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States (IACHR), where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, The Observer has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. The Observer speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, The Observer has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on the best articles that have appeared in the blog.