Did "we" have a hand in the terrorist attack in Iran?

The Iranians accuse Britain and America

Iran has blamed the west for a suicide bombing over the weekend that killed 42 people, including six senior commanders, in one of the harshest terrorist attacks sustained by the country in recent years:

The attack, at a Revolutionary Guard gathering in Sistan-Baluchistan, one of the country's most unstable provinces, was the worst attack on a powerful unit in recent years.

Inflicting Iran's worst military casualties in years, it killed the deputy commander of the guard's ground forces, Noor Ali Shooshtari, and Rajab Ali Mohammadzadeh, the provincial commander for Sistan-Baluchistan.

Responsibility was quickly claimed by Jundullah ("soldiers of God"), a militant Sunni group that regularly attacks the Guard in its rebellion against the government and the Shia majority. Jundullah said the bombing was a response to "the constant crime of the regime in Baluchistan".

The Telegraph quotes General Mohammad Pakpour, head of the Revolutionary Guard's ground forces:

The terrorists were trained in the neighbouring country by the Americans and British . . . The enemies of the Islamic Republic of Iran are unable to tolerate the unity in the country.

Hmm. Are these the normal propaganda and paranoia that we might expect after such an attack? Or might Iran have a case against us?

The United States has denied being involved in the attack, which the state department condemned as an "act of terrorism" and our own Foreign and Commonwealth Office also condemned the bombing. But it has been established that the United States has been secretly supporting and perhaps even arming the Baluchi Sunni terrorist group Jundullah since at least 2005. Here is ABC News's investigative team, for example, reporting in April 2007:

US officials say the US relationship with Jundullah is arranged so that the US provides no funding to the group, which would require an official presidential order or "finding" as well as congressional oversight . . .

Pakistani government sources say the secret campaign against Iran by Jundullah was on the agenda when Vice-President Dick Cheney met with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf in February.

A senior US government official said groups such as Jundullah have been helpful in tracking al-Qaeda figures and that it was appropriate for the US to deal with such groups in that context.

Some former CIA officers say the arrangement is reminiscent of how the US government used proxy armies, funded by other countries including Saudi Arabia, to destabilise the government of Nicaragua in the 1980s.

Shouldn't we know a bit more about all this? And have we learned nothing from the disastrous experiences of the 1980s, when we backed the Afghan mujahedin -- or the "Taliban-in-training" -- against the Soviets? There has been a change of US president and British prime minister since these reports first emerged, and so I would argue that it is high time the administrations in Britain and America repudiate their predecessors' policies and shine a light on the "dark side" of the so-called "war on terror".

On a side note, I noticed the Jerusalem Post was full of empathy (!) for the dozens of Iranians killed in the horrific suicide bombing, with the analyst Yaakov Lappin pointing out, almost gleefully, that "Iran received a dose of its own medicine".

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

ELLIE FOREMAN-PECK FOR NEW STATESMAN
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Craig Oliver, Cameron's attack dog, finally bites

A new book reveals the spiteful after life of Downing Street's unlikely spin doctor.

It must be hard being a spin doctor: always in the shadows but always on-message. The murky control that the role requires might explain why David Cameron’s former director of communications Craig Oliver has rushed out his political memoirs so soon after his boss left Downing Street. Now that he has been freed from the shackles of power, Oliver has chosen to expose the bitterness that lingers among those on the losing side in the EU referendum.

The book, which is aptly titled Unleashing Demons, made headlines with its revelation that Cameron felt “badly let down” by Theresa May during the campaign, and that some in the Remain camp regarded the then home secretary as an “enemy agent”. It makes for gripping reading – yet seems uncharacteristically provocative in style for a man who eschewed the sweary spin doctor stereotype, instead advising Cameron to “be Zen” while Tory civil war raged during the Brexit campaign.

It may be not only politicians who find the book a tough read. Oliver’s visceral account of his side’s defeat on 24 June includes a description of how he staggered in a daze down Whitehall until he retched “harder than I have done in my life. Nothing comes up. I retch again – so hard, it feels as if I’ll turn inside out.”

It’s easy to see why losing hit Oliver – who was knighted in Cameron’s resignation honours list – so hard. Arguably, this was the first time the 47-year-old father-of-three had ever failed at anything. The son of a former police chief constable, he grew up in Scotland, went to a state school and studied English at St Andrews University. He then became a broadcast journalist, holding senior posts at the BBC, ITV and Channel 4.

When the former News of the World editor Andy Coulson resigned as No 10’s communications director in January 2011 because of unceasing references in the press to his alleged involvement in the phone-hacking scandal, Oliver was not the obvious replacement. But he was seen as a scandal-free BBC pen-pusher who exuded calm authority, and that won him the job. The Cameron administration, tainted by its association with the Murdoch media empire, needed somebody uncontroversial who could blend into the background.

It wasn’t just Oliver’s relative blandness that recommended him. At the BBC, he had made his name revamping the corporation’s flagship News at Ten by identifying the news angles that would resonate with Middle England. The Conservatives then put this skill to very good use during their 2015 election campaign. His broadcast expertise also qualified him to sharpen up the then prime minister’s image.

Oliver’s own sense of style, however, was widely ridiculed when he showed up for his first week at Downing Street looking every inch the metropolitan media male with a trendy man bag and expensive Beats by Dre headphones, iPad in hand.

His apparent lack of political affiliation caused a stir at Westminster. Political hacks were perplexed by his anti-spin attitude. His style was the antithesis of the attack-dog mode popularised by Alastair Campbell and Damian McBride in the New Labour years. As Robert Peston told the Daily Mail: “Despite working closely with Oliver for three years, I had no clue about his politics or that he was interested in politics.” Five years on, critics still cast aspersions and question his commitment to the Conservative cause.

Oliver survived despite early wobbles. The most sinister of these was the allegation that in 2012 he tried to prevent the Daily Telegraph publishing a story about expenses claimed by the then culture secretary, Maria Miller, using her links to the Leveson inquiry as leverage – an accusation that Downing Street denied. Nevertheless, he became indispensable to Cameron, one of a handful of trusted advisers always at the prime minister’s side.

Newspapers grumbled about Oliver’s preference for broadcast and social media over print. “He’s made it clear he [Oliver] doesn’t give a s*** about us, so I don’t really give a s*** about him,” a veteran correspondent from a national newspaper told Politico.

Yet that approach was why he was hired. There was the occasional gaffe, including the clumsy shot of a stern-looking Cameron, apparently on the phone to President Obama discussing Putin’s incursion into Ukraine, which was widely mocked on Twitter. But overall, reducing Downing Street’s dependence on print media worked: Scotland voted against independence in 2014 and the Tories won a majority in the 2015 general election.

Then came Brexit, a blow to the whole Cameroon inner circle. In his rush to set the record straight and defend Cameron’s legacy – as well as his own – Oliver has finally broken free of the toned-down, straight-guy persona he perfected in power. His memoir is spiteful and melodramatic, like something straight from the mouth of Malcolm Tucker in The Thick of It. Perhaps, with this vengeful encore to his mild political career, the unlikely spin doctor has finally fulfilled his potential. 

This article first appeared in the 29 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, May’s new Tories