Struggle between America and Iran in Sudan Raises Fears of Complicating the Forgotten Crisis

The war in Sudan is taking on a new dimension as it turns into a battleground between America and Iran, raising fears of complicating the forgotten crisis amid the war in Gaza and the Russo-Ukrainian conflict.

The United States had previously appointed a special envoy to Sudan, which analysts considered a direct intervention from Washington in the crisis, to prevent Tehran from monopolizing the crisis through its relations with the army.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement that Tom Perriello, a former congressman who previously served as special envoy for the Great Lakes region in Africa, “will coordinate US policy toward Sudan and enhance our efforts to end fighting, secure unhindered humanitarian access, and support the Sudanese people in their quest for freedom, peace, and justice.”

According to Shihab Ibrahim El Tayeb, spokesman for the Central Council of the Freedom and Change Alliance, external factors for the continuation of the war in Sudan are greater than internal factors.

El Tayeb explained that “the war” is more closely related to what is happening in the region and to international developments and is part of the struggle for influence in the region.”

Soft diplomacy 

On the other hand, political analyst Fayez al-Sulik said that America is beginning to change its diplomacy toward the situation in Sudan, moving from soft diplomacy, or what is known as containment policy and what can be likened to fire extinguishing policies rather than preventing them, to a diplomacy combining confrontation and engagement.

Al-Sulik added that the resignation of the US ambassador to Khartoum, John Godfrey, and the appointment of a personal envoy of the president signify direct involvement of the administration.

He pointed out that these developments are due to several factors:

Criticism of the Biden administration by Congress over the Sudanese dossier.

Developments on the ground in the war with increasing human rights violations, reaching the stage of beheadings with jihadist signatures, and the possibility of the fireball spilling beyond Sudan’s borders.

Threat to American national security, especially after Iran’s involvement as a supporter of the army while the Rapid Support Forces expand.

The United States has expressed deep concern about “foreign support” both to the Sudanese army and the Rapid Support Forces.

Former US Ambassador to Sudan John Godfrey told reporters, “There are reports of a resumption of relations between Sudan and Iran that could include Iranian financial support to the Sudanese army, which is a source of concern for us.”

The Rapid Support Forces posted last month on social media what they described as debris from an Iranian-made “Mohajer” drone belonging to the army. The “Bloomberg News” agency quoted Western officials as saying that Iran was supplying weapons to the Sudanese army. In early February, Sudanese Foreign Minister Ali Al-Sadiq Al-Mahdi visited Tehran for consultations with Iranian officials.

American Concerns about Iranian Intervention

With the Sudanese army’s control over areas along the Red Sea, the extensive presence of Iran would raise concerns among Western powers, at a time when the Houthis are targeting international shipping vessels on the other side of the strategic maritime passage, in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza.

Al-Sulik stated that Iran’s intervention implies a threat to the security of the Red Sea and an increase in its influence in the Bab el-Mandeb Strait. He added: “What matters to Washington here is the geopolitical position of Sudan on the shores of the Red Sea and at the heart of Africa and the borders of the Middle East.” El Tayeb affirmed that Iranian interventions are linked to supporting the regime ousted by popular will, indicating that the survival of the fallen regime is one of Iran’s cards in pressuring the Arab region.

He said: “All this is part of the project for active Islam, which Iran relies on, like the Muslim Brotherhood in Sudan.” The war in Sudan erupted in April last year due to disputes over the powers of the army and the Rapid Support Forces under an internationally supported plan for political transition to civilian rule and holding elections.

The army and the Rapid Support Forces shared power with civilians after the overthrow of former President Omar al-Bashir in a popular uprising in 2019, before staging a coup two years later.

Thousands were killed, 1.6 million fled, and about 25 million, more than half the population, relied on international aid, according to UN figures and independent organizations.

A report by the Financial Times magazine suggests that the appointment of a US special envoy to Sudan is an attempt by Washington to stop the war between the conflicting parties.

Perriello previously served as special envoy for the Great Lakes region in Africa and the Democratic Republic of the Congo and was a member of the US House of Representatives for Virginia.

Silencing the Guns

El Tayeb affirmed that the appointment of a US envoy to Sudan is part of US interest in the war in Sudan and could help resolve the crisis.

 Al-Sulik says the new envoy’s mission is to:

Silence the guns.

Ensure humanitarian access.

Hold accountable those involved in war crimes and form a civilian government by removing the military from power.

He indicated that Washington seeks to achieve this through a negotiating platform comprising both the African Union and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, in addition to Egypt and Saudi Arabia, with the possibility of involving other parties to besiege the warlords and their supporters.

He added: “The task will not be easy, and the situation may escalate further due to the conflicting parties’ reluctance to cease fighting.” The American appointment comes months after Sudanese citizens accused the outside world of ignoring the civil war that erupted 10 months ago.

Former Special Adviser to the Previous Civilian Administration Amjad Fareed told the newspaper: “You cannot leave a population of 45 million suffering.” Meanwhile, Ahmed Suleiman, a Sudanese affairs expert at the Chatham House research center in the United Kingdom, affirmed that “middle powers” have filled the void left by Western countries.

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