“Sudan embraces genocide, terrorism — and Iran”
The Washington Post, November 30, 2014
It is not often that we’re able to listen in on the comments of senior officials in a government that stands internationally accused of genocide. But that’s exactly what we’ve been given through the leaked minutes of a security meeting held Aug. 31 by top military and security officials in Sudan. Prominent in the document are plans for further genocidal tactics in parts of the country.
In rebellious South Kordofan, according to the minutes, the government’s strategy is to “starve” (a translation of the Arabic) the civilian population by ensuring that it can’t harvest this year’s crops and thus support rebels near the border with South Sudan. This is counterinsurgency at its cheapest. First Vice President Bakri Hassan Saleh put the matter tersely: “Support the mechanism intended to disperse or empty the IDP [internally displaced persons] camps.” While the “mechanism” is left unspecified, increasingly brutal assaults on camps for internally displaced persons suggest that it will be cruel and bloody, forcing people who’ve had their homes and farms seized to flee into lawless lands beyond reach of humanitarian assistance.
The minutes, along with other important documents, were leaked by someone either within the ruling National Congress Party or with close ties to the regime. They were delivered by intermediaries to a primary Arabic news Web site and to me, presumably because of my research and advocacy on behalf of the marginalized peoples of Sudan. The Sudanese regime split badly following the bloody suppression of popular uprisings in September 2013. Hardliners now wield all real power, and these were the men whose thoughts were captured in the Aug. 31 minutes. The leak was clearly meant to undermine the credibility of what has become a vicious junta.
Though little noticed in the West, the revelation instantly attracted considerable interest in the Arab world, and the evidence that the minutes are authentic is substantial. The highly authoritative Africa Confidential has judged them so, as has former prime minister Sadiq al-Mahdi, who still enjoys extraordinary contacts within the government. Notably, senior regime officials have not denied outright the document’s authenticity.
Central in the minutes is discussion of Khartoum’s “strategic relationship” with Iran. Although Iran is ruled by a Shiite regime, it shares with Sunni Sudan a commitment to both Islamism and international terrorism. The minutes include discussion of the regime’s having sent weapons to the New Dawn Islamist movement in Libya. Maj. Gen. Hashim Abdalla Mohammed, chief of Sudan’s joint general staff, reveals a telling problem with the Saudis: “They found out about the weapons we sent by way of the Red Sea to Abd al-Malik Al-Huthi’s Shiia group in Yemen.” Al-Huthi’s Shiite terrorist organization controls large parts of western and northern Yemen — bordering Saudi Arabia.
In this joint commitment to Islamism and terrorism, Sudan and Iran have what may be described as a strategic relationship — precisely the description offered more than a dozen times by the men at the Aug. 31 meeting. But this leaves Sudan with problems in its relations with the Gulf states and Saudi Arabia, not least because the Sudanese economy, after 25 years of mismanagement, is imploding. Khartoum is obliged to play a double game. Hence, the comments by Gen. Yehya Mohammed Kheir, minister of state for defense: “We will not sacrifice our relations with the Islamists and Iran for a relationship with the Saudis and the Gulf states. What is possible is a relationship that serves our mutual economic interests in terms of investment and employment.” There is, of course, no true “mutuality” to the relationship as conceived here by Khartoum.
Further, Gen. Mohamed Atta, head of Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Services, acknowledges that terrorism is a tool at Khartoum’s disposal. The regime believes the Saudis were complicit in the September 2013 uprising; thus the Saudis fear, according to Atta, “we may use or release terrorist groups to [seek] revenge.” This would hardly be idle speculation on the Saudis’ part.
Elsewhere, Kheir declares that Khartoum has unrivaled knowledge of terrorist groups “based in Libya, Somalia, Nigeria, Mali, North Africa Arab countries and Afghanistan.” The Saudis and Gulf states have an obvious interest in such intelligence, but instead of providing it, Khartoum exults in the superiority of its intelligence-gathering. Presumably, the United States also has an interest in such intelligence — and may think that Khartoum should provide it. But this is unlikely. Kheir, for example, boasts of “the victory of our people in Libya.” The United States cannot be happy about this.
The clear consensus emerging from the minutes is that Islamism and support for radical Islamist groups are of preeminent importance to Khartoum in its search for a place in a region made more complex by the emergence of the Islamic State; this also dictates a “strategic relationship with Iran.” If so, it would be a strategy entirely in character.
Eric Reeves is a professor at Smith College and the author of “Compromising with Evil: An Archival History of Greater Sudan, 2007-2012.”