#MohammadGhobadlou executed, Iran and Pakistan tit-for-tat strikes—and more
The Iranist for the week of January 24, 2024
THE هفت/SEVEN THINGS TO KNOW THIS WEEK:
۱/1 Iran bombed Pakistan, a nuclear-armed state—and it responded in kind
On January 18, Pakistan responded to Iran’s strike allegedly on Jaish al-Adl (Army of Justice), a foreign terrorist group, by firing “precision military strikes” into southeastern Sistan and Baluchistan province reportedly against insurgents belonging to the Balochistan Liberation Front and Balochistan Liberation Army (New York Times). Between January 16-17, Iran had fired missiles into allied neighbors Iraq, Syria, and in Pakistan—a nuclear-armed state—where it killed two children and injured three family members in southwestern Balochistan province.
The retaliatory attack by Pakistan killed nine, including four children. State media referred to them as “non-Iranians” (IranWire). Many Iranians on social media noted that these individuals were, in fact, Iranians from the Baluch ethnic minority, but because they were from the country’s most neglected and impoverished province, Sistan and Baluchistan, they were unable to obtain national identity cards. The Iranian interior minister claimed those killed were Pakistani nationals (New York Times).
Pakistan used Air Force fighter jets and drones in their tit-for-tat strikes. As the BBC highlighted, the “strikes by Pakistan were the first external land attack on Iran since Saddam Hussein's forces invaded in the 1980s.” Despite tensions, statements issued by the Pakistani and Iranian foreign ministries seemingly mirrored each other in describing “brotherly” ties between the neighbors. (Read Pakistan and Iran’s statements.)
Two sources affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) told the New York Times, “Iran’s show of strength was meant to reassure conservatives domestically and militant allies abroad, and to warn Israel, the United States, and terrorist groups that Iran will strike back if attacked.” Tehran said that Jaish al-Adl claimed responsibility for a December 2023 attack that killed eleven security officers in Rask in Sistan and Baluchistan province. The militant group also claimed responsibility for the January 17 shooting death of an IRGC colonel. Just the day prior, the IRGC reportedly intercepted plans by Jaish al-Adl to infiltrate from Pakistan to carry out a similar attack as the one in Rask (New York Times).
On January 19, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and his Pakistani counterpart Jalil Abbas Jilani “agreed to de-escalate the situation.” (ABC News) Following another phone call on January 22, Pakistan issued a statement saying the countries would return their recalled ambassadors on January 26 and that the Iranian foreign minister is scheduled to visit Pakistan on January 29 (AP). Pakistan had stopped Iran’s envoy from returning to his Islamabad post and recalled its ambassador to Tehran earlier in the week.
Something to think about:
Iran’s New Missile Fleet: Part Deterrent, Part Sales Pitch (New York Times)
۲/2 Protester #MohammadGhobadlou (#محمد_قبادلو) executed
On January 23, a 23-year-old protester with a mental disability was hanged despite an international outcry on social media upon news of his imminent execution (CNN). At the height of anti-government protests in September 2022, Mohammad Ghobadlou, who worked at a barbershop, was accused of allegedly running over a group of policemen with his car, killing one and injuring five others in the city of Robat Karim, near the capital Tehran. In November 2022, the protester was charged with “corruption on earth,” which carries the death sentence. That sentence was upheld in December 2022, and he was additionally issued with a death sentence for “murder.”
In June 2023, Amnesty International described Ghobadlou's case as:
“grossly unfair sham trials, marred by torture-tainted ‘confessions’ and failure to order rigorous mental health assessments despite his mental disability.”
Ghobadlou was reportedly under the care of a psychiatric hospital for bipolar disorder since he was fifteen, and his mother said he was off his medication two months before the mass protests began (BBC). After his arrest, fifty psychiatrists wrote a letter to the judiciary urging they examine Ghobadlou’s mental health before sentencing him (New York Times).
Iranians, including the family of Ghobadlou, gathered in front of Rajai Shahr prison in Karaj (near the capital) as soon as news of his imminent execution was announced. A viral photo showed Ghobadlou’s father walking into the distance wrapped in a blanket gifted by bystanders to keep himself warm. One Iranian commented on X (formerly Twitter), “This is the image of an Iranian, alone and stateless.”
A cartoon by Mana Neyestani of the viral photo:
After news of Ghobadlou’s execution, one viral video showed his mother yelling at prison guards, “You killed my Mohammad! He took to the streets for all you youngsters!” (Al-Monitor) At least eight protesters have been executed in connection with the Women, Life, Freedom uprising. Meanwhile, the youngest daughter of the former Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi posted photos on Instagram from her twentieth birthday party on the same day of the Ghobadlou’s execution, drawing criticism on Persian language social media. The photos were deleted within the day.
Hours after Ghobadlou’s execution, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian was pictured shaking hands with French Foreign Minister Stéphane Séjourné at the sidelines of the United Nations. The Iranian foreign minister was in New York to attend a United Nations Security Council meeting on the situation in the Middle East. Some on social media criticized Amir-Abdollahian’s ability to enter the United States and his French counterpart for meeting and shaking his hand after the execution.
Another execution and others on death row: Sunni Kurdish prisoner Farhad Salimi, who was imprisoned for fourteen years, was also executed on the same date (IranWire). There are at least eleven prisoners at imminent risk of execution, the majority of them ethnic minorities (Human Rights Watch). According to Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA), at least 746 people were executed in 2023.
۳/3 Israel assassinated five IRGC members in Syria
On January 20, an attack on a residential building in a secure suburb in Syria’s capital Damascus killed five ranking members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and an unknown number of Syrian troops (New York Times). President Ebrahim Raisi condemned the strikes, noting, “The Islamic Republic of Iran will not leave the crimes of the Zionist regime unanswered,” a reference to Israel. Syria said that the Israeli air force fired missiles at the building in Mazzeh, but the Israeli military has not commented (AP).
A security source told Reuters:
“…the multi-story building in the Mazzeh neighborhood was used by Iranian advisers supporting President Bashar al-Assad's government. And that it was flattened by ‘precision-targeted Israeli missiles.’”
Among those killed was General Hojatallah Omidvar, the head of intelligence in Syria for the Quds Force, the foreign arm of IRGC. He reportedly oversaw weapons distribution and intelligence gathering and sharing for Iran’s proxies. Other members of the IRGC identified were Ali Aghazadeh, Hossein Mohammadi, Mohammad-Amin Samadi, and Saeed Karimi. Mehr News Agency described one individual as Omidvar’s deputy (Times of Israel). Upon hearing the news, some Iranians joked on social media that it’s “cutlet season.” (Iran International) The “cutlet” reference is usually used for Quds Force Commander Qasem Soleimani, who was described mockingly as being “minced meat” after he was assassinated via US drone strike in 2020. (Cutlet is a minced meat patty.)
On the same evening, Ain al-Asad Air Base in Iraq’s Anbar province, which houses US and Iraqi troops, came under heavy rocket and ballistic missile fire by Iran-backed Shia militias—an apparent response to the assassinations in Syria (Washington Post). According to a statement by US Central Command (CENTCOM), “Most of the missiles were intercepted by the base’s air defense systems while others impacted on the base.” However, one Iraqi service member was wounded and “[a] number of US personnel are undergoing evaluation for traumatic brain injuries.” (If this sounds familiar, it’s because that same airbase was also attacked in the aftermath of Soleimani's assassination in 2020, which resulted in more than 100 US troops being diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries.)
The attack was claimed by the Islamic Resistance in Iraq (IRI), a coalition that includes Iran-backed Shia militias. In a statement, the IRI said the strike was a response to the Gaza war and part of broader resistance against the presence of US troops in Iraq. Reuters is reporting that since October 7, 2023, the US military has come under attack in Iraq at least fifty-eight times.
On January 23, the US carried out strikes against three facilities used by Kataib Hezbollah and other Iran-backed Shia groups in Iraq “in direct response to a series of escalatory attacks against US and coalition personnel in Iraq and Syria.” (CNN)
۴/4 Student Anahita Amirpour shot and killed in Lorestan province by plainclothes intelligence officers
۵/5 Davos back to the status quo on Iran
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian joined this year’s annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland. According to Politico’s Global Playbook, “Amir-Abdollahian was a relatively last-minute addition to the schedule.” On January 17, the Iranian foreign minister told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, “If the genocide in Gaza stops, then it will lead to the end of other crises and attacks in the region”—a comment often made by the Resistance Axis, regional proxies loyal to Tehran. Watch the full interview.
I noted on X the stark contrast between this year’s WEF versus last year’s, in which Iran’s Women, Life, Freedom uprising resulted in no Iranian officials being invited and prompted a panel on the status of Iranian women joined by actress and Amnesty International ambassador, Nazanin Boniadi, and journalist and women’s rights activist, Masih Alinejad. Less than a month after Davos 2023, the duo joined the now-dissolved opposition coalition known as the Alliance for Freedom and Democracy in Iran and informally known as the Georgetown Eight or Etelaf (“Coalition”).
Responding to my comment, Bonaidi said:
“Much of this has to do with our own shortcomings and our inability to form a united front against the Islamic Republic. Coupled with fickle institutions that move on quickly from atrocities and seem to care little about helping to shape a better future. For shame.”
Alinejad tweeted her dismay earlier in the day:
“Last year, I was a speaker at Davos for the World Economic Forum. This year, the @WEF has invited the Foreign Minister of the country who sent gangsters to America to kill me in my home in Brooklyn. Just as Islamic Republic planned a vicious attack on Israel by its proxy, Hamas, fired missiles into Kurdistan region of Iraq and plotted with the Houthis to disrupt global shipping. Whose side is @WEF on?”
۷/7 Voice of Iranian Gen Z receives new death penalty-related charge
On January 21, Iran-based dissident rapper Toomaj Salehi was slapped with new charges (Radio Farda). According to his lawyer, Amir Raisian, Salehi has been charged with two new allegations, “conspiracy to commit security-related offenses” and “armed and group rebellion against the regime,” which could carry the death penalty. Raisian noted that there was no evidence to support the ten charges.
The artist was arrested in October 2022 while he was in hiding after verbally backing the mass anti-government protests and releasing two songs supporting the Women, Life, Freedom uprising. Salehi was freed on bail on November 18, 2023, after being in prison for more than one year, including 252 days in solitary confinement. The rapper returned to prison less than two weeks later on November 30, 2023 after he spoke about his torture in prison in a viral video (Iran International). The new charges appear to be punishment for Salehi speaking publicly about the torture he endured.
Learn more about Salehi’s life in this profile I wrote for the New York Times.
OTHER اخبار/NEWS THAT MADE HEADLINES:
۰ Iranian Arab man sentenced to death after torture (IranWire).
۰ Iranian Azeri activist Ebrahimi starts prison sentence (IranWire).
۰ Iranian children's rights activist handed prison term (IranWire).
۰ Spanish national describes Evin incarceration as ‘terrifying’ (Iran International).
۰ Police raid on businesses leads to closure of major Tehran mall (Iran International).
۰ Trial ends over killing of top Iranian film director and wife (IranWire).
۰ “IS leaders” among suspects arrested in Iran suicide bombings (IranWire).
۰ Soldier arrested in Iran after inside attack killing 5 troops in Kerman (Al-Monitor).
۰ In Iran, journalism is still alive but hanging by a thread (New Lines Magazine).
Foreign policy + security
۰ Protesters in Iraqi Kurdistan condemn deadly Iranian strikes (Radio Farda).
۰ Netherlands summons Iran ambassador over killed child in Erbil attack (Iran International).
۰ US expands attacks on Houthis with new strikes in Yemen (New York Times)
۰ Iran is ‘directly involved’ in Yemen Houthi rebel ship attacks, US Navy’s Mideast chief tells AP (AP).
۰ Houthis seek more Iranian weapons to step up Red Sea attacks, intel shows (Politico).
۰ Iranian and Hezbollah commanders help direct Houthi attacks in Yemen (Reuters).
۰ 2 Navy SEALs declared dead after mission to stop Iranian weapons (New York Times).
۰ IRGC holds drills as Iran dispatches naval mission to international seas (Al-Monitor).
۰ Iran's Raisi flies to Turkey for delayed Gaza talks (Al-Monitor).
۰ Iran warns the US not to ‘tie their destiny’ to the fate of Israel’s Netanyahu (CNBC).
۰ UK officials probe Iran generals' antisemitic talks to students (BBC).
۰ Iran successfully launches Sorayya satellite, state media report (Reuters).
Iran deal + sanctions
۰ Iran to fulfill its obligations at minimal level unless sanctions lifted, says AEOI Chief (Trend News Agency).
۰ US imposes sanctions on Iraqi airline, pro-Iranian militia leaders (RFE/RL).
۰ Virginia man sentenced to 24 months for exports to Iran (Iran International).
تا هفته بعد/UNTIL NEXT WEEK…
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