Iran-backed militias brace for US response, 4 more executed—and more
The Iranist for the week of January 31, 2024
THE هفت/SEVEN THINGS TO KNOW THIS WEEK:
۱/1 Iran and proxies brace for US retaliation after three servicemembers killed
On January 28, a “type of Shahed drone” killed three US servicemembers and wounded more than forty at an American military outpost in northeastern Jordan near the borders of Iraq and Syria (CBS News). The Pentagon identified the three killed as US Army reservists from Georgia: Sergeant William Jerome Rivers, 46; Specialist Kennedy Ladon Sanders, 24; and Specialist Breonna Alexsondria Moffett, 23. The trio were the first Americans killed since the Gaza war began on October 7, 2023 (Washington Post).
Who was behind the attack? The Islamic Resistance in Iraq (IRI), a coalition that includes Iran-backed Shia militias, claimed responsibility for the drone attack that hit Tower 22, a logistics and support base that houses 350 US Army and Air Force personnel used to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). The incident was said to be in retaliation for a US strike against Kataib Hezbollah in Baghdad last week.
What’s the deal with the drone? The Wall Street Journal reported that the one-way attack drone—the same kind Iran has provided Russia for its war in Ukraine—apparently was mistaken for a US drone. The US drone was returning to Tower 22 at the same time as the Shahed drone, and that led to some confusion. “Exactly why the attacking drone was missed remained unclear,” given that the drones have ‘friend-or-foe’ identification systems (Washington Post). It’s possible that the IRI took note of the predictable flight patterns of US drones and mimicked those patterns to avoid detection.
How will the US respond? The Joe Biden administration made it clear through its comments that the attack was by “Iran-backed” groups. However, Tehran denied any connection. On January 29, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani said:
“The responsibility for the consequences of provoking allegations against Iran lies with those who bring up such baseless claims.” (Wall Street Journal)
On January 29, President Joe Biden said:
“While we are still gathering the facts of this attack, we know it was carried out by radical Iran-backed militant groups operating in Syria and Iraq.” He later noted while speaking at a campaign event in South Carolina: “We shall respond.” (New York Times)
On January 30, President Biden said a decision has been made on how to respond, noting that he wants to avoid "wider war in the Middle East." (ABC News). Biden also said that Iran wasn’t directly responsible for the attack but that they’re “responsible in that they're supplying the weapons to the people who did it." There have been at least 165 attacks against US troops since mid-October 2023 (Washington Post).
Guess who’s scared now? On the same day, Kataib Hezbollah Secretary-General Abu Hussein al-Hamidawi issued a statement that the militia group planned to suspend “military and security operations against” the United States “to prevent embarrassment of the Iraqi government—we will continue to defend our people in Gaza in other ways." (BBC News)
Interestingly, Kataib Hezbollah tried to distance Tehran from the January 28 attack:
“On the contrary, our brothers in the axis—especially in the Islamic Republic—do not know how we work jihad, and they often object to the pressure and escalation against the American occupation forces in Iraq and Syria.” (CNN)
The US hasn’t determined that the Iran-backed Shia militia group was conclusively behind the attack, but it’s the most powerful within the IRI. Responding to the secretary-general’s statement, the Pentagon spokesperson said that “Actions speak louder than words.” (CNN)
In terms of how the US will respond, US officials told Politico:
“Among the options on the table for the Pentagon: striking Iranian personnel in Syria or Iraq or Iranian naval assets in the Persian Gulf... once the president gave the go-ahead, the retaliation would likely begin in the next couple of days and come in waves against a range of targets.”
But some Republicans in Congress want direct strikes on Iran. Here’s what they wrote on X (formerly Twitter):
Iran policy needs to be changed: According to the Harvard CAPS/Harris monthly poll released in mid-January, 65 percent of Americans (2 out of 3 voters) believe the Biden administration’s Iran policy “has been unsuccessful.”
Empty wallets: The Iranian currency hit a historic low this week: 575,000 rials to the US dollar (Iran International).
۲/2 After 4 more executions, UN deputy high commissioner for human rights implored not to visit Iran
Last week, Mohammad Ghobadlou, a protester with a mental disability, and Sunni Kurdish prisoner Farhad Salimi were hanged. On January 29, four Kurdish dissidents—all under the age of thirty—were executed. Mohammad Faramarzi, 28, Mohsen Mazloum, 27, Pejman Fatehi, 28, and Vafa Azarbar, 26, were hanged just a day after being granted their first and only meeting with their families (Radio Farda).
The four were executed over allegations of plotting a bomb attack in collaboration with Israel on a defense ministry facility in central Isfahan province in July 2022 (Hengaw). According to the judiciary-affiliated Mizan News Agency, the group was:
"recruited by the Mossad through the Komala Party of Iranian Kurdistan and were sent to African countries to undergo full operational training… Even the Mossad chief David Barnea participated in one of the training sessions and delivered a speech to boost their morale.” (Iran International)
The Komala Party denied the allegations.
Earlier this month, Amnesty International described the men as being:
“sentenced to death in a grossly unfair trial marred by allegations of torture and other ill-treatment.”
After news of the execution, Joanna Taimasi, the wife of Mazloum, wrote on X (formerly Twitter) that authorities had “obstructed the handover of our loved ones’ bodies, notifying the families that they intend to bury them in an undisclosed location.” (IranWire)
Taimasi had spent the lead-up to the executions campaigning on social media and on Persian language diaspora channels for the men’s lives to be spared.
On January 30, businesses in several Kurdish-populated cities in western Iran went on a general strike to protest the executions (AFP). According to Norway-based Iran Human Rights, at least sixty-five people have been executed in Iran since 2024 began (AFP).
Daylong hunger strike: On January 25, sixty-one women in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison—led by imprisoned 2023 Nobel Laureate Narges Mohammadi—went on a daylong hunger strike to demand an “end to executions in Iran.” (Radio Farda) The news, which was announced on Mohammadi’s Instagram account, garnered the support of many prominent Iranians inside the country and abroad, who also said they would join the strike. Prominent jailed dissidents—such as rapper Toomaj Salehi, singer Mehdi Yarrahi, and activist Hossein Ronaghi—joined the strike, as did activists abroad, including Canada-based civil society and children’s rights activist Atena Daemi and journalist and women’s rights activist Masih Alinejad (AFP). 111 labor and union activists also issued a statement saying they would join the gesture (IranWire).
Don’t visit Iran: On January 29, twenty-five international human rights organizations signed on to a public letter calling on United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Nada Al-Nashif to postpone her trip to Iran, scheduled for February 2-5 (Impact Iran). There is concern the visit would be used for propaganda purposes by the clerical establishment and that it would undermine investigative, monitoring, and reporting mechanisms. Rights organizations want Al-Nashif to postpone her trip until after the UN’s Independent Fact-Finding Mission report comes out.
Additionally, as the Center for Human Rights in Iran points out:
“a visit without engaging with the families of death row prisoners, prisoners of conscience, and civil society members would inadvertently convey the OHCHR’s tacit approval of the state’s policies, including imprisoning and executing dissidents and political prisoners.”
Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi has also written a letter to Al-Nashif calling on her to cancel or postpone her visit “as a form of protest against the unlawful and increasing executions in the country.” (IranWire) Daemi, who is now Canada-based, started a Change.org petition calling on the UN official to postpone her visit. It has garnered more than 2,000 signatures.
۴/4 Former president barred from running in Assembly of Experts
On January 24, the Guardian Council, a hardline-dominated vetting body picked by the Supreme Leader, banned former President Hassan Rouhani from running for re-election in the Assembly of Experts on March 1 (Financial Times). The 88-member body, which appoints and can dismiss the Supreme Leader, has an election every eight years, and the next assembly is likely to determine his successor, given that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is 84 years old.
Rouhani, who served as president from 2013-2021, has served in the assembly for three terms since 1999. He was once even considered a candidate for Supreme Leader.
However, as Reuters explains, “the mid-ranking cleric angered political hardliners who opposed any rapprochement with the US ‘Great Satan’ after reaching a 2015 nuclear pact with six major powers.” It’s worth noting that in 2016, the Guardian Council disqualified 80 percent of the candidates running for the Assembly of Experts.
Rouhani issued a statement in which he called the decision:
“politically biased... [one] that will undermine the nation's confidence in the system.” He added, “Undoubtedly, the ruling minority overtly seeks to reduce public participation in elections... intending to dictate the people's fate through their decisions.” (Reuters)
After the news broke, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) Telegram channel posted a damning video about Rouhani’s legacy highlighting anti-government protests, a dire economy, the US withdrawal from the nuclear deal, Israeli assassinations, and his brother's corruption (X). Similar commentary was found online with IRGC-affiliated media outlets (The Guardian) Iran International reported that more Iranians were interested in searching online about Ghobadlou’s execution and the rate of the rising US dollar than about Rouhani’s demise.
The latest on the March election: Almost 49,000 Iranians registered to run as candidates in the parliamentary election on March 1. That number has since dropped down to around 12,000 after Guardian Council vetting, with only thirty said to be moderate candidates (Financial Times). Many predict another hardline-dominated parliament and a historically low voter turnout. In 2020, the parliamentary election only had a 42 percent turnout, the lowest parliamentary vote in the Islamic Republic's history.
۵/5 «ما میتوانیم»/“We Can” launch three satellites into space
On January 28, Iran successfully launched three satellites into space with the Simorgh (“Phoenix”) rocket from northern Semnan province (Reuters). The satellite-carrying rocket had failed to launch five times in the past, some of which were due to a launchpad rocket explosion and fires. The slogan «ما میتوانیم» (“We Can”) was written on the rocket in anticipation of its success. The Simorgh is considered as a possible dual-use rocket, which is why the 2023 US Intelligence Community’s Annual Threat Assessment said:
“Iran’s ballistic missile programs, which already include the largest inventory of ballistic missiles in the region, continue to pose a threat to countries across the Middle East. Iran has emphasized improving the accuracy, lethality, and reliability of its missiles. Iran’s work on space launch vehicles (SLVs)—including its Simorgh—shortens the timeline to an ICBM if it decided to develop one because SLVs and ICBMs use similar technologies.”
According to state media, the Kayhan-2 and the Hatef-1 are nanosatellites focused on global positioning and communication, respectively, while the Mahda is a research satellite. The trio were sent to a minimum orbit of 280 miles (450km).
Just days prior to the launch, the E3—Britain, France, and Germany—condemned an earlier satellite launch:
“Launches such as these allow Iran to test technology that could be used to further develop its ballistic missile program, which poses a significant threat to regional and international security.”
۶/6 President Ebrahim Raisi makes his first visit to Turkey
On February 24, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi visited Turkey for the first time after two delayed visits (Reuters). A November 2023 trip was canceled due to conflicting schedules with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and then a January meeting was canceled after the Kerman attack.
Before boarding his plane, Raisi said:
“Iran and Turkey have a common position in supporting the Palestinian people and the resistance of the oppressed but powerful Palestinian people.” (France24)
However, as Reuters reports, “Turkey and Iran have usually had complicated ties, standing at odds over a host of issues, primarily the Syrian civil war.”
At a presser in Ankara, President Erdogan said that the two countries “agreed on the importance of refraining from steps that will further threaten the security and stability of our region.” (Al Jazeera)
The discussions also included the Gaza war and bilateral ties with Turkey in the areas of energy, free trade, and transportation. Before leaving Tehran, Raisi told reporters that the aim is to boost trade to $30 billion—four times the $7.4 billion in trade during 2023 (Fars News Agency). Aside from increasing trade, Turkey is considering opening new border crossings with Iran (Reuters).
۷/7 Drug dealer and two Canadian Hells Angels charged in plot to assassinate Maryland-based defector couple
The US and UK announced sanctions relating to the murder-for-hire, prompting the summoning of the UK ambassador to Tehran (Financial Times).
OTHER اخبار/NEWS THAT MADE HEADLINES:
۰ Plea from death row prisoners in Iran’s Qezel Hesar prison (CHRI).
۰ 30,000 Iranian disabled children are left out of school, official says (IranWire).
۰ Iranian journalists assaulted during sit-in protest in Toronto (IranWire).
۰ Iranian clerics divided over hijab as election nears (Iran International).
۰ Iran's parliament speaker says embezzlement goes against jihad (Iran International).
۰ Fire at a hospital in Iran's capital contained, no fatalities (Reuters).
۰ Land collapses in Tehran main street due to subsidence (Iran International).
Foreign policy + security
۰ China presses Iran to rein in Houthi attacks in Red Sea, sources say (Reuters).
۰ Gunmen in Iran kill nine Pakistanis days after tit-for-tat strikes (Reuters).
۰ Iran is now a ‘legitimate target’ for Israeli missile strikes, senior minister says (Telegraph)
۰ Arab world, Iran, Turkey welcome ICJ ruling in Israel's genocide case (Al-Monitor)
۰ Pakistan foils separatist attack in Baluchistan hours after Iran FM visit (Al-Monitor)
۰ Iranian official visiting Moscow says 'US grandeur shattered' (Iran International).
۰ Iran seizes foreign vessel carrying smuggled fuel (Mehr News Agency).
Iran deal + sanctions
۰ US offers $15 million for capture of Iranian businessman (Iran International).
۰ Iran continues to purchase gold to bypass US sanctions against its economy (Trend News Agency).
۰ Senior US treasury official travels to Iraq to counter illicit finance (Reuters)
۰ Iran says it is willing to help Niger overcome sanctions (AFP).
تا هفته بعد/UNTIL NEXT WEEK…
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