The General’s Death Upsets Iran’s Plan

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Qassem Soleimani, who was Iran’s most hyped general, loved publishing “selfies” showing himself close to battlegrounds in the Middle East. He was never present anywhere near a battle but was always to come after the dust had settled, to take “selfies” and claim the credit. (Photo by Mehdi Ghasemi/ISNA/AFP via Getty Images)

While analysts and policymakers are busy speculating on ways that Tehran’s ruling mullahs might avenge the killing of their most hyped general, the real question that needs considering may be elsewhere.

The question is: what effect Soleimani’s death might have on the power struggle that, though currently put on hold, is certain to resume with greater vigor in Tehran.

Tehran’s propaganda tries to sell Soleimani as a kind of superman who, almost single-handedly, brought Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Gaza and parts of Afghanistan and Yemen under Iranian control while driving Americans out of the Middle East and crushing ISIS’s so-called Caliphate which tried to rival the Islamic Republic in Tehran. Soleimani himself did a lot to promote that image and, doing that, received much help from Western, especially American, and Israeli media that bought the bundle of goods from Tehran.

Facts, however, offer a different portrait of the late general. Soleimani joined the Islamic revolution in 1980, aged 27, at a time that the mullahs were busy putting together a praetorian guard to protect their new regime. A few months later, the ragtag army that Soleimani had joined was sent to help the remnants of a heavily purged national army fight an invading Iraqi force. With over 8,000 officers and NCOs of the national army purged by Khomeini, the new regime offered a fast track to people like Soleimani who had joined the military with no proper training and often little or no formal education. Thus, just three years after he had joined the military, young Soleimani found himself in command of a division of raw recruits. Under his command, Iranian forces suffered three of their biggest defeats in operations Al-Fajr 8, and Karbala I and Karbala II. Mohsen Reza’i, then chief of the Revolutionary Guard, describes the three battles as “a string of catastrophes” for Iranian forces.

However, Soleimani, who was to demonstrate his genius for networking and self-promotion, scored one lasting victory when he attached himself to Ali Khamenei, the mullah who was to become the Islamic Republic’s “Supreme Guide”.

Khamenei started as Deputy Defense Minister and rose to become President of the Islamic Republic. Soleimani, mocked as “the mullah’s bag-carrier”, was always at his side. In the 1990s, as Khamenei slowly built himself as the sole arbiter of Iran’s fate, Soleimani seized the opportunity to secure a fiefdom for himself.

That came in the shape of the project to “export” the Iranian Revolution to other Muslim countries. Initially, exporting the revolution, mentioned in the regime’s constitution as a sacred duty, had been regarded as a matter of propaganda and organizing sympathizers in Arab countries through outfits named Hezbollah. The task was handled by a special office in the Foreign Ministry headed by Ayatollah Hadi Khosroshahian. Partly thanks to lobbying by Soleimani, the task was taken away from the Foreign Ministry and handed over to the Revolutionary Guard. But even then Soleimani didn’t get the top job, which went to then Col. Ismail Qaani, the man who has now succeeded Soleimani as Commander of the Quds Force. Soleimani’s next move was to dislodge Qaani and get the top job himself. (Qaani was named as deputy). Even that configuration would not satisfy Soleimani, who had bigger ambitions. As long as he was part of the IRGC’s chain of command, he had to obey rules set by superiors whom he despised.

Thanks to Khamenei’s support, he succeeded in securing his independent fiefdom in the shape of the Quds Force which, though formally part of the IRGC, has its own separate budget and chain of command and is answerable to no one but Khamenei.

Next, Soleimani seized control of Tehran’s foreign policy in Arab countries, Afghanistan, North Korea, and South America and, in some sensitive areas, even Russia. The Islamic Republic’s presidents and foreign ministers have never had tête-à-tête talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, as Soleimani had.

It became a matter of routine for Soleimani to appoint Iran’s ambassadors to Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut, Doha and several other Arab capitals.

A dramatic illustration of Soleimani’s “independence” came when he shipped Syrian despot Bashar al-Assad to Tehran in a special airplane without even telling the Iranian president, let alone the foreign minister, who were also excluded from the Syrian’s audience with Khamenei.

A control freak, Soleimani insisted on deciding even the smallest details himself. In his one, and now final, interview, last November, the general talks of how Lebanese Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah had to clear every move with him.

Inside Iran, Soleimani built a state within the state. According to the Islamic Customs Office, the Quds Force operates 25 jetties in five of Iran’s biggest ports for its “imports and exports” with no intervention by the relevant authorities. A levy on imports of foreign cars is reserved for a special fund, controlled by the Quds Force, to cover expenditures in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon and help pro-Iran Palestinian groups.

Soleimani had his own network of lobbyists in many Arab countries and some Western democracies. Hundreds of Iranian and Arab militants have enrolled in Western universities with scholarships from the Quds Force.

The Quds Force has registered vast tracts of public land in its name, claiming the need for future housing for its personnel. It also runs two dozen companies and banks, several shipping lines and an airline.

Soleimani, who loved making and publishing “selfies” showing himself close to battlegrounds in the Middle East, was never present anywhere near a battle but was always to come after the dust had settled, to take “selfies” and claim the credit.

A master of self-promotion, Soleimani received the rank of major-general without having risen through the hierarchy of the top brass like the other 12 men on the list. (After death, he has been promoted to Lt. General).

Some analysts in Tehran believe that Khamenei was planning to promote Soleimani further by making him President of the Islamic Republic in 2021. An image-building campaign started last year, as Soleimani was marketed as “the Sufi commander”, a label given to Safavid kings in the 16th century.

A committee of exiled Iranians in Florida also started campaigning to draft Soleimani as president.

If that was Khamenei’s game plan, there is no doubt that Soleimani’s demise will lead to more uncertainty regarding the future course of Iranian politics.

Amir Taheri was the executive editor-in-chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran from 1972 to 1979. He has worked at or written for innumerable publications, published eleven books, and has been a columnist for Asharq Al-Awsat since 1987. He is the Chairman of Gatestone Europe.

This article was originally published by Asharq al-Awsat and is reprinted by kind permission of the author.

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UNILAG trains 30 Imams in Mosque Mgt

VC urges them to be good ambassadors

The Vice Chancellor, University of Lagos, UNILAG, Prof Oluwatoyin Ogundipe has urged the graduating students of Diploma in Mosque Leadership and Management, DMLM to be good ambassadors of the school and Islam, urging them to positively change the society through their sermons and mosque leadership.

Ogundipe stated this during the graduation ceremony of the 30 graduating students who received Diploma certificates in Mosque Leadership under the department of Religious studies of the institution last weekend. The Vice Chancellor who was represented by the Dean, Faculty of Education, Prof. Monday Ubangha congratulated the new Imams urging them to impact positively on the society.

“I urge you to be good ambassadors of the University of Lagos and Islam. You are carrying the certificate of the school and you are enjoined to be good representatives of the school at all times,” he said.

The Coordinator of the programme, Ag. HOD, Department of Religious Studies, Dr. Ismail Musa said

“Today, 30 students have been successfully exposed to various learning experiences including practical demonstrations in Tafsir and Khutbah delivery.

The programme was conceived as a platform for professional training of lmams and different categories of serving or intending officials of mosques.

“The feedback we obtain from the beneficiaries in terms of significant changes in their orientation and understanding of their enormous responsibilities is both impressive and encouraging. Our colleagues in the academia have also been appraising the programme since its inception.

Dr Musa who is also the Chief Imam of school, said two universities have already indicated interest in mounting similar programmes based on the success story at the University of Lagos.

“We are prepared to offer mentoring services to whoever decides to build capacity of lmams to be able to meet the needs of the 2lst century. We are keen on improving the quality of the programme through the   identification   of further needs of participants and responding to them adequately.

“One critical area of challenge is securing sponsorship for numerous qualified participants who are cannot   afford   the cost of the programme. I take this opportunity to call on stakeholders to recognize the need to support the programme by funding our scholarship schemes on a sustainable basis.

“Some of them have demonstrated brilliance in specific areas of their training. We have decided to recognize them specially today.

Imam Gbenle AbdulWasiy emerged as the best graduating student with a cumulative GPA of 4.64. He also clinched the Best Prize in Arabic Grammar and Khutbat presentation, Best in Principle of Mosque Management and Best in Professional Research. He was closely followed by Imam Mojeed Yahya Kolawole with CGPA of 4.21.

Delivering lecture at the event, Sheikh Ridwani Zuglool, Mudeer of Daru-Dawah Wal-Irshad, Arabic and Islamic Center, Isolo urged the graduands to continue to seek knowledge, keep abreast with developments in the country so as to be able to treat issues of interest in their sermons.

The Chairman of the Occasion, Dr. Fatai Lawal described the programme as laudable and one way of promoting peace and unity in the country. He congratulated the graduands urging them to make the mosque a more friendly environment where people will be encouraged to seek knowledge. In the same vein, Prof Wakeel Isola who is the chairman of Human Resources Development Center of the institution stated that the success of the programme would provide a solution path to the plethora of socio-economic problems confronting the nation as the new religious leaders would positively impact on the society.

Also, Prof M. A Bidmus on his part, urged the new Imams to further their knowledge as according to the Prophet, knowledge is from the cradle to the grave. He added that the mosque was designed for sustainability and that the Institution had provided the expertise with which they can sustain the mosques in their respective areas. Others who presented goodwill messages were the Baba Adini of Lagos and Chairman of the Lagos Central Mosque Council, Sheikh AbdulHafeez Abou and Head of Imams, Imam Tijani Gbajabiamila who also represented the Grand Chief Imam of Lagos State at the occasion.

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Nollywood films IBI, Nimbe, Diced win UK Film Festival awards – NNN

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Nigerian movies IBI (The Birth), Nimbe, Dear Bayo and Unseen Treasure,  have been adjudged the best films in the United Kingdom (UK) at the 2019 UK Nollywood Film Festival (UKNFF), organized by the UK Nollywood Producers Guild.

A statement signed and issued on Sunday by Mr Malcolm Benson, President, UK Nollywood Producers Guild, stated that IBI (The Birth) was adjudged the Best Indigenous (Native language) Feature Film, it also emerged Best Feature Film 2019.

Dear Bayo, won the Jury’s award, as the Unseen Treasure,emerged the best in Best Short film category, while Diced was declared the best script.

Benson said plans were in the pipeline to increase the award categories to include Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Director and Best Producer.

This, he said would give more recognition to the talents both behind and in front of the screen.

“The UKNFF 2019 has broken its own record set during the first edition; the opening ceremony which took place at Ambassadors Hotel, London Bloomsbury, attended by the industry professionals and stakeholders sold out two days to the event.

“The UK Nollywood Producers Guild promises to secure a bigger venue for 2020’s event in order to accommodate the increasing demand.

“The UK Nollywood Producers Guild will continue to work with stakeholders and play it’s part in bringing Nollywood Producers together, enabling and creating the platforms where ever possible in order to improve standards.

“We will rise above our current barriers if we persist and focus on developing our crafts with genuine commitment to learning from our mistakes, learning from other experts, seeking and working with a good mentor and attending lectures and seminars.

“We will also succeed if we are resilient, avoid being complacent and importantly avoid unhealthy in-fight among ourselves and undue pride.

“We will make our mark and create an industry that will not only make us very rich and famous but also set a long lasting legacy for the next generation of Nollywood filmmakers,” Benson said.

He stated that Councilor Kate Anolue, a Nigerian, who is the Mayor of London Borough of Enfield and current Patron of the Guild, as well as Councilor Victoria Obaze, the Mayor and Speaker of London Borough of Tower Hamlet, received certificates of patronage at the festival.

Benson added: “There were various keynote speakers such as Shantelle Rochester of IDA ROSE Productions, Dapo Oshiyemi, CEO Talking Drums Film Distributions, and Dr Alistair Soyode, CEO of Ben Television.

“Other key guests are Sandie Bogle from Google Box; Prince and Mrs Mike Abiola, CEO, African Voice Newspaper; Sam Anwuzie CEO, ZAFAA Awards; Uche K of Sendwave, Representative from YANGA TV and CEO of Trumpet Newspaper, Mr Femi Okutubo, among others.”

Benson also said that UKNFF would open its online platform on Nov. 1, in preparation for the 2020 edition to be held in October during the Black History celebration.

He urged filmmakers to start submitting their films as soon as the platform opens on Nov. 1, while financial and media partners were also invited to engage with the Guild for early preparation of the 2020 event. (NAN)

EMAF/IFY

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Nollywood films IBI, Nimbe, Diced win UK Film Festival awards – Vanguard Nigeria

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Nigerian movies IBI (The Birth), Nimbe, Dear Bayo and Unseen Treasure,  have been adjudged the best films in the United Kingdom (UK) at the 2019 UK Nollywood Film Festival (UKNFF), organized by the UK Nollywood Producers Guild.

A statement signed and issued on Sunday by Mr Malcolm Benson, President, UK Nollywood Producers Guild, stated that IBI (The Birth) was adjudged the Best Indigenous (Native language) Feature Film, it also emerged Best Feature Film 2019.

Dear Bayo, won the Jury’s award, as the Unseen Treasure, emerged the best in Best Short film category, while Diced was declared the best script.

Benson said plans were in the pipeline to increase the award categories to include Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Director and Best Producer.

This, he said would give more recognition to the talents both behind and in front of the screen.

“The UKNFF 2019 has broken its own record set during the first edition; the opening ceremony which took place at Ambassadors Hotel, London Bloomsbury, attended by the industry professionals and stakeholders sold out two days to the event.

Also read: 6 Nollywood movies nominated for 2019 UK film festival award

“The UK Nollywood Producers Guild promises to secure a bigger venue for 2020’s event in order to accommodate the increasing demand.

“The UK Nollywood Producers Guild will continue to work with stakeholders and play its part in bringing Nollywood Producers together, enabling and creating the platforms where ever possible in order to improve standards.

“We will rise above our current barriers if we persist and focus on developing our crafts with genuine commitment to learning from our mistakes, learning from other experts, seeking and working with a good mentor and attending lectures and seminars.

“We will also succeed if we are resilient, avoid being complacent and importantly avoid unhealthy in-fight among ourselves and undue pride.

“We will make our mark and create an industry that will not only make us very rich and famous but also set a long-lasting legacy for the next generation of Nollywood filmmakers,” Benson said.

He stated that Councilor Kate Anolue, a Nigerian, who is the Mayor of London Borough of Enfield and current Patron of the Guild, as well as Councilor Victoria Obaze, the Mayor and Speaker of London Borough of Tower Hamlet, received certificates of patronage at the festival.

Dr and Mrs Malcolm Benson, President UK Nollywood Producers Guild

Benson added: “There were various keynote speakers such as Shantelle Rochester of IDA ROSE Productions, Dapo Oshiyemi, CEO Talking Drums Film Distributions, and Dr Alistair Soyode, CEO of Ben Television.

“Other key guests are Sandie Bogle from Google Box; Prince and Mrs Mike Abiola, CEO, African Voice Newspaper; Sam Anwuzie CEO, ZAFAA Awards; Uche K of Soundwave, Representative from YANGA TV and CEO of Trumpet Newspaper, Mr Femi Okutubo, among others.”

Benson also said that UKNFF would open its online platform on Nov. 1, in preparation for the 2020 edition to be held in October during the Black History celebration.

He urged filmmakers to start submitting their films as soon as the platform opens on Nov. 1, while financial and media partners were also invited to engage with the Guild for early preparation of the 2020 event.

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Bernie Sanders Hails Volunteer Army As Advantage Over Rivals

Volunteers for the presidential campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) have organized and hosted over 11,000 events, including more than 2,000 in California, the campaign announced Tuesday evening.

The achievement, which top Sanders campaign organizers revealed in a conference call with over 7,000 supporters, reflects what the Sanders campaign sees as a secret weapon as it seeks to stand out in a crowded field of candidates: a “distributed” ― or volunteer-run ― organizing system that it innovated in the 2016 race and has fine-tuned.

Joining the call with volunteers after several of his advisers spoke, Sanders affirmed that, although the campaign would engage in conventional tactics like television and radio advertisements, its strength was the devotion of its supporters, many of whom have become volunteers.

“We are going to win this campaign because we … are going to have the strongest grassroots movement of any campaign,” he said. “That is how we win this thing. We win this going to our base, our strength of support.”

The conceit of distributed organizing, which has its fair share of skeptics, is that campaigns can amplify by orders of magnitude the effect of the staff they employ directly by empowering exceptionally motivated volunteers to run their own house parties, lead their own canvasses and develop, and monitor their own voter contacts by phone and text message. It differs from traditional campaign volunteering in terms of the resources and technology the Sanders campaign, and others inspired by it, have expended on creating an infrastructure to facilitate the work of its most dedicated supporters.

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Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks at the Democratic National Committee’s summer meeting in San Francisco on Aug. 23.

It will be difficult to fully measure the organizing technique’s effectiveness prior to Feb. 3, when Sanders competes in Iowa’s Democratic caucus.

On Tuesday evening’s call, the campaign said its volunteers had made 2 million calls and sent 30 million text messages to voters in early states. It also recently concluded a two-week campus organizing boot camp, or “summer school,” that it says graduated more than 1,500 college and graduate school students who plan to serve as campaign ambassadors and organizers at their universities.

A viral initiative earlier this month asking Sanders supporters to share on social media the life experience that brought them to the campaign ― dubbed “#MyBernieStory” ― doubled as a volunteer recruitment technique. The campaign directed Sanders supporters who used the campaign’s organizing app, Bern, to post “#MyBernieStory” on Twitter or Facebook to use a digital tool to contact several other voters by text message and encourage them to get involved in the campaign. The campaign estimates that it reached the equivalent number of voters through those digitally facilitated connections as it would normally reach from knocking on 63,000 doors.

Critics of distributed organizing argue that it is no substitute for the professionally run field organizing teams that have powered successful presidential campaigns. And on that front, Sanders got a later start than some of his rivals, beginning hiring field organizers in the early states only in May. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, by contrast, already had 50 staff members in Iowa by that time.

The Sanders campaign insists, though, that distributed organizing aims not to supplant traditional field organizing but to magnify its impact. It now has dozens of paid, full-time field organizers in each of the four early states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, as well as in California, a Super Tuesday state with a primary open to all registered voters.

The conference call noted the campaign’s distributed organizing strategy has gone from identifying and recruiting volunteers to now putting that volunteer army to work more aggressively. Campaign organizing leaders invited call participants to volunteer in real time to host a “Plan to Win” house party in September, where volunteers will bond with their peers and receive marching orders for the next phase of the campaign. The campaign said it received 1,700 commitments from volunteers on the call to host such house parties.

The Sanders campaign is hoping to capitalize on the momentum it has developed in recent weeks after a series of high-profile policy rollouts and endorsements, including his first official declaration of support from a national labor union

The Sanders campaign, which has tangled bitterly with media outlets and pollsters for what it believes is bias against the Vermont senator, touted a national poll released Monday that showed Sanders in a statistical three-way tie for first place with Warren and former Vice President Joe Biden.

But Sanders still trails Biden in the averages of polls in Iowa and New Hampshire, states that are essential to his success.

His campaign has argued that polls, which generally survey a universe of likely voters, do not account for the ways in which his campaign is seeking to turn out infrequent and new voters often left out of polling. At least one leading pollster has disputed the Sanders campaign’s analysis of the polls’ shortcomings.

Still, the Sanders campaign believes its success hinges on reaching those non-traditional voters ― and sees distributed organizing as a key tool to do it.

“We will win this election ― we will win the Democratic nomination, we will defeat Trump ― because we are going to bring out people who, in many cases, have not participated in politics before,” Sanders said Tuesday evening. “And I’m talking about a generation of young people who in my view are the most progressive generation in the history of our country ― anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-homophobia, anti-religious bigotry.”

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