Paul Pillar comments on Mike Pompeo’s latest string of destructive acts and dishonest claims as Trump’s term comes to an end. Here he addresses Pompeo’s distortions and exaggerations of the relationship between Iran and Al Qaeda in a speech delivered on Tuesday:
To achieve a trifecta of abuse of the terrorism issue, Pompeo has picked this same week to foment a misbelief that Iran and Al-Qaeda are, in Pompeo’s words, an “axis” and “partners in terrorism.” If this sounds a lot like an earlier supposed partnership between Al-Qaeda and another Middle Eastern state starting with the letter “I” – as well as an earlier “axis of evil” – it should. The Iranian regime, Shia and Persian, is no more of a partner with Al-Qaeda than was the secular regime of Saddam Hussein. Iran and al-Qaeda have been on opposite sides of almost every political, ideological, military, and sectarian divide, as manifested in Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, and elsewhere.
The presence of some Al-Qaeda types in Iran, mostly under a kind of house arrest, has been known for years and reflects a modus vivendi between enemies rather than anything approaching a partnership – see Michael Hirsh’s fine summary of the issue. Pompeo is presenting nothing new.
Describing the relationship between Iran and Al Qaeda as an “axis,” as Pompeo did, is every bit as dishonest and ridiculous as it was when George W. Bush included Iraq and Iran as part of the so-called “axis of evil.” It is fitting that Pompeo’s description echoes that of Bush, because the claim Pompeo is making is little more than reheated Bush-era propaganda that Iran hawks have periodically tried to promote. Every time Iran hawks bring up this nonsense, it gets shot down very easily because their distortion of the evidence is so obvious. The New York Timesreports:
Mr. Pompeo spoke alternately about Al Qaeda’s “new home base” and a “new operational headquarters” in Tehran, bewildering counterterrorism officials, who said there was no evidence for his assertions. Some said his comments appeared to represent his own analytic conclusions, rather than those of the United States intelligence community.
Pompeo went so far as to declare that Iran is the “new Afghanistan” for the terrorist group, which is also nonsense. He is telling these lies in the hopes of throwing up more roadblocks to U.S. reentry into the JCPOA, but it isn’t going to work because his claims are false. Iran holds some members of Al Qaeda as hostages and bargaining chips in order to protect themselves against attack, but they do not work with them or sponsor them. They hold these people as an insurance policy for their own security. It takes willful ignorance or anti-Iranian fanaticism to interpret it as anything else. In Pompeo’s case, it is definitely the latter. As Matthew Petti pointed out in his report on the speech, relations between Iran and Al Qaeda are antagonistic and not the cozy partnership that Pompeo imagines:
But Lahoud, who studied the same documents, found just the opposite. She published a study in 2018 showing that al-Qaida “views Iran as a hostile entity,” and points out that members of the group were mistreated and even died in Iranian custody.
There are governments in the region that support and arm local Al Qaeda affiliates and other like-minded groups, but unfortunately for Pompeo they are US allies and clients.