The Mullahs’ Expanding Empire

Hezbollah-Fighters-300x214President Obama has spent a great extent of political capital on the nuclear talks, attempting to protect his superficial Middle East and nuclear “legacy” after leaving office. Nevertheless, he has also failed to act on several other crucial platforms, including the recent expansion of the Ayatollah’s military presence in the region and their heightened repressiveness domestically.

First, when it comes to Iran’s performance on human rights issues, does President Obama not consider Iran’s legacy on human rights violations?  Is he not indirectly legitimizing these human rights abuses by totally turning a blind eye on the ruling clerics’ actions? By concentrating on his nuclear deal with Iran and his own legacy, will President Obama recognize that he is betraying human rights activists in Iran?

Having been so concentrated on the nuclear deal and appeasement of the Iranian leaders, President Obama has totally disregarded the ongoing human rights abuses in Iran. The ruling mullahs’ atrocities against women, youth, and religious minorities, as well as their suppression of basic human freedoms (press, speech, and assembly) have been completely ignore by President Obama.

When it comes to the mullahs’ militaristic and imperialistic expansion, the Islamic Republic is publicly boasting about having control over several capitals in the region from Sanaa to Beirut and Baghdad to Damascus. This is mainly due to the Obama administration’s weakness to act.

Historically speaking, the Islamic Republic’s militaristic and imperialistic ambitions have not been announced publicly since after the Carter administration. More fundamentally, as the final nuclear deal approaches, as Tehran witnesses the weakness of Washingon and other powers, and as Washington decides to overlook Iran’s militaristic and imperialistic activities in the region, Tehran has become more emboldened and vocal when it comes to its military expansion.

The ruling clerics are emboldened to an extent that they do not fear publicly announcing their regional hegemonic ambition. Zakan, who is Tehran’s representative in the Iranian parliament and close figure to the Iranian supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, bragged about having control over Arab capitals by pointing out: “Three Arab capitals have today ended up in the hands of Iran and belong to the Islamic Iranian revolution.”  He added that Sanaa will soon be under the grip of the Islamic Republic as well. According to him, most of Yemen’s territories will be soon under the power of the Shiite group, the Houties, supported by the Islamic Republic.

The Islamic Republic’s ambitions to expand its empire during the nuclear talks amid regional insecurities is done through several platforms. Central figures such as General Qassem Soleimani, commander of the al-Quds forces, which is the foreign branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), hardliners such as Ali Reza Zakani, and the Supreme Leader himself play crucial roles in fulfilling Iran’s regional hegemonic ambitions.

The second platform that the Islamic Republic is utilizing is sponsoring, financing, equipping, training and advising loyalist and heterodox Shiite groups across the region. The number of these militia groups is on the rise and they operate as a pawn to serve the geopolitical, strategic, economic, ideological and national interests of the ruling clerics.

Recently, the Kurdish Iraqis have accused the Islamic Republic of sending addition 30,000 fighters and military experts into Iraq. Iran’s military institutions have infiltrated every aspect of the security institutions in several countries.

In addition, Iranian leaders boast about their role in Arab states, projecting Tehran as a savior for the Arab world. As Zakani stated, according to Iran’s Rasa new agency “had Hajj Qassem Soleimani not intervened in Iraq, Baghdad would have fallen, and the same applies to Syria; without the will of Iran, Syria would have fallen”.

The expansion of Iran’s military and loyalist-militia groups in the region transcends Tehran’s political ambitions. The ideological tenet of this expansion and Tehran’s growing regional empire (under the banner of Popular Mobilisation Forces: an umbrella institution of Shia armed groups) are crucial facets to analyze.

Since President Obama appears to overlook the imperialistic, militaristic expansion, as well as the increasing repressiveness and human rights abuses in the Islamic Republic, Congress needs to act. Congress should ensure that any nuclear deal or easing of sanctions will not give the ruling clerics a mechanism to consolidate their atrocities. This can be fulfilled by pressuring the administration to focus and empower the U.N.’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to create offices in the Islamic Republic in order to monitor human rights standards. In addition, the administration should use the US military bases in the region as a platform to pressure Iran’s expansionists and imperialistic ambitions in the region.