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[*] posted on 21-5-2017 at 12:23 PM
Iran and it's Policies and Machinations

Iran: Hassan Rouhani wins landslide in huge victory for reformists

Reformist Rouhani wins second term with more than 23 million votes to Ebrahim Raisi’s 15.8 million

Hassan Rouhani declared winner of Iranian election – video

Emma Graham-Harrison in Tehran and Saeed Kamali Dehghan Iran correspondent

Sunday 21 May 2017 02.27 AEST
First published on Saturday 20 May 2017 14.33 AEST

The Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, has won a sweeping endorsement for efforts to end Iran’s international isolation and bring greater freedoms at home, with an unexpected landslide victory in a fiercely contested re-election bid.

His powerful mandate protects the nuclear deal, which has been his landmark achievement to date, and his courting of foreign investment. It could also have much longer-term implications for Iran’s future, by giving reformists a greater influence over the looming battle to choose a new supreme leader.

Polling stations were forced to stay open until midnight in parts of the country because so many Iranians wanted to vote, defying fears of voter apathy. Rouhani claimed 23.5 million votes, while his rival Ebrahim Raisi trailed on 15.8 million, after nearly three-quarters of the electorate cast their votes, the interior ministry said.

In a victory speech to the nation on live TV, Rouhani promised to rule for all Iranians. But while celebrating his huge mandate in the election, which he labelled the “most competitive ever”, he also described his opponents as dangerously backward-looking.

“Yesterday, you said no to those who wanted us to return to the past,” he told the nation. The scale of his victory provides a strong platform to challenge hardliners who still hold ultimate control in a Iran’s unwieldy hybrid of theocracy and democracy.

And in a signal that he planned to turn an outspoken campaign into a combative second term, Rouhani also thanked reformist figurehead Mohammad Khatami, his most important ally and backer. Security forces have banned any mention of the hugely popular former president’s name in the media, meaning Rouhani crossed a red line just hours into his new term.

“Millions and millions of people are happy because Rouhani won,” said businessman Ahad Esmaili, 31, one of a crowd breaking into dance at a spontaneous celebration in the heart of Tehran’s crowded bazaar, when the final figures were announced.

The election was a tense showdown between Rouhani and hardliner Raisi, both senior clerics but with little else in common. The challenger consolidated conservative support behind his initially lacklustre bid for power, by mounting a campaign that mixed economic populism with religious conservatism and an isolationist foreign policy.

Raisi’s last-minute surge may have unwittingly helped Rouhani, as moderates spooked by the prospect of slipping back into international isolation and stricter controls at home raced to the polls.

“I’m even happier than I was four years ago when he won the first time,” said tailor Mariam Farmayeshi, 34. “My husband voted for the first time in 20 years, because he thought it was necessary to keep out Raisi.”

Watch salesman Yousef Khaleghi said he spent the entire day driving dozens of friends and relatives to the polls. He had gone bankrupt during the government of Mahmoud Ahmedinejad and was determined to do everything he could to prevent another hardliner coming to power.

“I love Mr Rouhani,” he said with a grin, before adding he was grateful to Iranian women for their part in the re-election success. “We should acknowledge that Iranian women did a lot for him to win. At each polling station (in areas that supported Rouhani) they made up more than half of the voters waiting in line,” he added.

In an apparent nod to that vital support base, Rouhani thanked voters on Instagram with a picture that is likely to particularly outrage conservatives smarting from their loss.

It shows a family group celebrating their vote, with three of the younger women wearing colourful clothes and headscarves set back so far on their heads that they are barely visible. “Great people of Iran, you are the true winners of this election,” he wrote underneath.

Many of the women who turned up to vote for Rouhani felt their personal freedoms were under threat from Raisi, whose supporters frequently accused the president of abandoning Islamic values. Many were particularly exercised about women’s dress, at one rally even handing out suggestions about covering up to women who they deemed not appropriately clothed.

“I felt much better with Rouhani, more secure and freer. If his rival had come to power there would have been more restrictions on women,” said Tehran housewife Pantea Mehrabadi, 46. “I voted for him first because I wanted to support him, but also to combat Raisi.”

But victory also comes with a heavy weight of expectations that Rouhani may find it hard to fulfil, given the constraints of Iran’s complex government system and the weight of a US sanctions regime that Washington is in no hurry to lift.

The end of nuclear sanctions that followed his landmark deal was not followed by the hoped-for flood of foreign investment because unilateral US sanctions stayed in place, making doing business in Iran complicated or illegal.

For Rouhani to meet the expectations generated by his victory he will need western governments to push for those sanctions to be rolled back, or to step up investment in the areas they allow.

Although victory has tilted the political balance towards reformists in the short term, Raisi secured a face-saving vote tally high enough to mean that he is not finished politically, and lying ahead is the contest over who will be the new supreme leader.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei holds the position for life, but he is 77 and thought to be in poor health. A hardliner keen to preserve his legacy, he is believed to have tacitly backed Raisi as president, and possibly favoured him as a possible successor.

After the vote he issued a statement addressed to the Iranian people in which he praised the “massive and epic” turnout. However in contrast to the 2013 elections, he offered no congratulations to Rouhani.

While Raisi lost the election, he won enough support to preserve his political career. His 16 million votes, combined with success in persuading hardliners to back him, could put him in a good position to run in 2021 when Rouhani will be barred from seeking another term in office.

“Mr Rouhani should not forget that more than 16 million people did not vote for him,” Reza Gholami, a cleric allied with the hardliners, was quoted as saying by the semi-official Fars news agency. “So he should respect their right to criticise him.”
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[*] posted on 21-5-2017 at 05:10 PM

I really wish the US decided to topple the Iranian leadership instead of Iraq in 2003.

Iran already has a functioning democracy of sorts and a largely homogeneous population. With the theocracy removed, they could have had a fully functioning state reintegrated into the international community within months, rather than the basket case that is Iraq, and the Iranian fueled instability throughout the rest of the region.


The darkest hour of Humanity is upon us. The world
shall meet it's end and we shall be submerged into a
new dark age. Repent your sins, for the apocalypse,
and the end, is extremely f@#king nigh!
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[*] posted on 20-6-2017 at 11:16 AM

Co-ordinated twin Islamic State attacks in Iran's capital Tehran indicate in-country support and elevated risk to public spaces

Nazanin Soroush and Meda Al Rowas - IHS Jane's Intelligence Weekly

08 June 2017

Iranian police officers block the streets outside Iran's parliament in Tehran on 7 June 2017. Source: PA

Key Points

- The Islamic State conducted two co-ordinated attacks in Iran's capital Tehran, targeting parliament and the shrine of Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic and its first Supreme Leader, killing 12 people and injuring 42.
- This was the first set of attacks by the Islamic State in Iran and came after the group called on Iranian Sunnis to conduct attacks in Iran in late March 2017, and show that the group has established at least a rudimentary support network within Iran.
- Although Iran's heightened security preparedness reduces the risk of attacks on similar high-value political targets, further one-off attacks are likely on soft religious and commercial targets in Tehran, Qom, Mashhad, and Isfahan, with the intent to cause civilian casualties.


On 7 June, the Islamic State claimed responsibility for two co-ordinated attacks in Iran's capital Tehran, which targeted parliament and the shrine of Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic and its first Supreme Leader, killing 12 people and injuring 42.

Both attacks involved multiple suicide bombers carrying small-arms. According to the Interior Ministry, four attackers disguised in female clothing (likely involving the chadoor, traditional full body cover) approached the publicly accessible 'eastern' gate of parliament's administrative building, and opened fire on security guards. They nevertheless, failed to gain access to the main chamber. Only one of the attackers detonated his suicide vest; the other three were shot dead by Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) personnel.

The second attack on Khomeini's mausoleum started shortly after. This involved two attackers shooting indiscriminately into the crowd at the entrance to the publicly accessible shrine. One attacker detonated his suicide vest, but security forces shot the second would-be bomber dead before he could detonate his suicide vest. Eyewitness accounts put a third, purportedly female, attacker at the site although this was not corroborated by official accounts.

(331 of 1105 words)
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[*] posted on 20-6-2017 at 11:24 AM

Reap what you sow comes to mind...

It is by will alone I set my mind in motion.
It is by the juice of sapho that thoughts acquire speed,
the lips acquire stains,
the stains become a warning.
It is by will alone I set my mind in motion
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[*] posted on 20-6-2017 at 03:46 PM

With the slight issue, that Iran is unlikely to fund a group that they are actively fighting against on several fronts.
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[*] posted on 20-6-2017 at 03:50 PM

True, but as we've seen outside the Finsbury Mosque this morning, terrorism begets others willing to wage terrorism in response

It is by will alone I set my mind in motion.
It is by the juice of sapho that thoughts acquire speed,
the lips acquire stains,
the stains become a warning.
It is by will alone I set my mind in motion
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[*] posted on 22-8-2017 at 12:20 PM

Iran approves nearly all of Rouhani's Cabinet picks

By: The Associated Press   9 hours ago

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, left, arrives at the parliament in Tehran on Aug. 20, 2017, as Iran's parliament prepares to vote on the president's Cabinet. (STR/AFP via Getty Images)

TEHRAN, Iran — Iranian lawmakers on Sunday approved 16 Cabinet members nominated by recently re-elected President Hassan Rouhani, including the first defense minister unaffiliated with the elite, hard-line Revolutionary Guard in 25 years.

Parliament speaker Ali Larijani said 16 of 17 proposed ministers were approved, including Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who negotiated the landmark 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. Oil Minister Began Zanganeh was also approved.

The most votes went to Gen. Amir Hatami for defense minister, with 261 out of 288 who voted. He will be the first defense minister with no ties to the hard-line Revolutionary Guard in nearly 25 years.

However, Hatami told parliament he is committed to advancing Iran’s ballistic missile program, which has drawn Western sanctions.

In July, Iran launched a rocket capable of carrying a satellite, a move that provoked international condemnation, including from France, Britain and the U.S. All three countries were among the world powers that reached the nuclear deal with Iran.

Rouhani urged Hatami to improve ties between the Iranian Army and the Guard while using modern technology for improving the country’s arsenal.

The defense minister is tasked with producing weapons for both the Army and the Guard. The Guard is in charge of testing and launching Iran’s ballistic missiles.

The Guard, a paramilitary force that answers solely to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, regularly has tense encounters with the U.S. Navy in the Arabian Gulf. It has deployed into Iraq as part of the fight against the Islamic State group and into Syria to support embattled President Bashar Assad. It also holds vast economic interests in Iran.

Rouhani told members of parliament that the foreign minister’s primary goals should be to stand by the nuclear deal and attract foreign investment and technology. U.S. President Donald Trump has repeatedly criticized the deal but has yet to pull out of it.

In 2015, the United States, six other world powers and Iran finalized a pact that outlined what Tehran had to do to pull back its nuclear program from the brink of weapons-making capacity in return for the West ending many of the financial, trade and oil sanctions that had battered Iran’s economy.

Alireza Avaee, who has been sanctioned by the European Union for human rights violations while serving as president of the Tehran judiciary from 2005 to 2014, was approved as justice minister. In 2016, Rouhani appointed him the president’s special inspector.

Rouhani’s nominee for energy minister, Habibolalh Bitaraf, was rejected. During a review, members of parliament criticized him for lacking a plan to fight the longstanding drought in the country, where many towns and cities suffer from water shortages.

Also approved was Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi, 36, as minister of telecommunications. Jahromi received the least votes of any of the other approved ministers, after some lawmakers cited his lack of experience and his background in intelligence.

Rouhani on Sunday defended Jahromi, saying he will be able to protect the freedom of people who use the internet since he is familiar with security threats.

Iran’s Cabinet has 18 ministerial posts, but Rouhani did not propose a candidate to lead the country’s science-focused ministry, which is in charge of higher education.

Under the law, the president can manage ministries which have no leader for up to three months.
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[*] posted on 14-10-2017 at 03:29 PM

Trump to stay in Iran nuclear deal, asks Congress to revise enforcement

By: Tara Copp   12 hours ago

President Trump's proposed alternative would seek to include Iran's ballistic missiles, destabilizing activities in amended sanctions law. (Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images)

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump will not withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal, but he will decertify that Iran is meeting the terms of a separate U.S. law directing the country to forgo its nuclear weapons, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said.

“The intent is that we will stay in JCPOA – but the president is going to decertify under INARA,” Tillerson said in a phone call in advance of the announcement.

Tillerson was referring first to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, an multinational agreement reached in July 2015 directing that Iran’s nuclear energy program would be for peaceful purposes only. As a candidate and as president, Trump has repeatedly argued that the deal was too weak and would be replaced.

The second agreement is the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, which Congress passed in May 2015 to provide oversight of the Iran nuclear deal. It requires the president to certify every 90 days that Iran is in compliance with the JCPOA.

Trump has previously certified that Iran was in technical compliance, but remained unsatisfied with the JCPOA’s limited scope and terms of sanctions relief, Tillerson said.

In the last several months, leadership from the State Department, Treasury, intelligence agencies and defense have worked on an alternative approach, Tillerson said. Under Trump’s proposal, he plans to decertify that Iran has met the terms set for sanctions relief, which will then spur three possible outcomes.

First, Congress could choose not to act on the decertification, in which case the JCPOA remains unaffected. It could choose to levy sanctions against Iran – which would void the JCPOA.

Third, Tillerson said, the president’s preferred option is for Congress to amend INARA to have it address a more comprehensive approach to Iran – including adding what he called “triggers” that would automatically generate sanctions if violated, instead of having to them return to Congress for a vote on sanctions, as they will now.

“The president has come to the conclusion that he cannot certify under INARA that the sanctions relief that was provided is proportionate to the effective benefit that we are seeing,” Tillerson said.

Trump would like Iran’s ballistic missiles program and its destabilizing activities - such as supporting Houthi fighters in Yemen - to be part of what is considered in an amended INARA.

The proposed way forward enables the White House to rework aspects of the Iran nuclear deal from the U.S. side without immediately risking that the current JCPOA will fall apart due to U.S. sanctions - which would allow Iran to restart is nuclear weapons program.

The JCPOA could still fall apart if Congress decides that its plan of action is to impose sanctions instead of pursuing Trump’s preferred route - to renegotiate and pass an amended INARA.

Tillerson said Trump would sign an amended INARA into law so it would outlive his term and the terms of the JCPOA.

Tillerson said an alternative approach, such as getting Iran to renegotiate stricter terms of the JCPOA was “unlikely.”

“This is the pathway we think provides us the best platform to attempt fix this deal,” Tillerson said.

The decertification starts a 60-day clock within which Congress may fast-track the reimposition of sanctions lifted under the deal.

Sens. Bob Corker and Tom Cotton reportedly plan to introduce legislation that they say will fix flaws in the Iran nuclear deal—“without violating U.S. commitments,” Corker said in a statement Friday.

A key part of the Corker-Cotton plan, according a summary circulating Friday, would automatically reimpose U.S. sanctions if Iran comes within a year of obtaining a nuclear weapon.
Corker, R-Tenn., chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Cotton, R-Ark., chairs the Senate Armed Services Air Land Subcommittee.

The top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin, met with Tillerson earlier this week. Though Cardin voted against the agreement, he has since advocated for staying in it and enforcing it.

“In regards to Iran, the president looks like has made the decision which I think is a wrong decision, is going to compromise America’s national security issues put us in a weaker position on the Iran negotiations. So I think there’s a certainly some disagreements that are going along,” Cardin said on Bloomberg TV Thursday.

The top Democrat on the House Foreign Relations Committee, New York Rep. Eliot Engel, said the action “is a risky gamble” because it weakens an agreement that keeps Iran from building nuclear weapons and harms America’s credibility on the world stage.

“I have to ask: what major power will trust our word on potential North Korean nuclear negotiations, given how Trump is undermining the agreement with Iran?” Engel said in a statement Friday.

Joe Gould in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.
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[*] posted on 30-12-2017 at 04:31 PM

December 30 2017 - 4:18PM

'Freedom or death': Protests turn political in Iran

Dubai: Demonstrators have chanted anti-government slogans in several cities across Iran, Iranian news agencies and social media reports say, as price protests turned into the largest wave of demonstrations since nationwide pro-reform unrest in 2009.

Police dispersed anti-government demonstrators in the western city of Kermanshah as protests spread to Tehran and several other cities a day after rallies in the northeast, the semi-official news agency Fars said.

The outbreak of unrest reflects growing discontent over rising prices and alleged corruption, as well as concern about the Islamic Republic's costly involvement in regional conflicts such as those in Syria and Iraq.

An official said a few protesters had been arrested in Tehran, and footage posted on social media showed a heavy police presence in the capital and some other cities.

About 300 demonstrators gathered in Kermanshah after what Fars said was a "call by the anti-revolution". They shouted: "Political prisoners should be freed" and "Freedom or death", and some public property was destroyed. Fars did not name any opposition groups.

The protests in Kermanshah, the main city in a region where an earthquake killed over 600 people in November, took place a day after hundreds rallied in Iran's second largest city Mashhad to protest at high prices and shout anti-government slogans.

Fars said there were protests in the cities of Sari and Rasht in the north, Qazvin west of Tehran and Qom south of the capital, and also in Hamadan in western Iran. It said many marchers who wanted to raise economic demands left the rallies after demonstrators shouted political slogans.
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[*] posted on 31-12-2017 at 03:54 AM

In Mashad one group was caught on camera chanting the name of Reza Pahlavi, founder of the last dynasty of Shahs.
You don't get more anti-establishment than that in modern day Iran.
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[*] posted on 31-12-2017 at 06:08 PM

Iranians chant ‘death to dictator’ in biggest unrest since crushing of protests in 2009

Interior minister warns protestors will ‘pay a price’, and Trump warns Tehran to respect freedom of speech as at least two die in demonstrations

Saeed Kamali Dehghan and Emma Graham-Harrison

Sun 31 Dec ‘17 17.46 AEDT
First published on Sun 31 Dec ‘17 03.24 AEDT

Iranians took to the streets for a third day of anti-government protests in what appeared to be the biggest domestic political challenge to Tehran’s leaders since the 2009 Green movement was crushed by security forces.

At least two protesters were killed in the city of Doroud, in Iran’s western Lourestan province, as the riot police opened fire to contain a group of people said to have been trying to occupy the local governor’s office. Clashes between demonstrators and the anti-riot police became violent in some cities as the demonstrations spread.

The two men killed in Doroud have been identified as Hamzeh Lashni and Hossein Reshno, according to an Iranian journalist with the Voice of America’s Persian service who has spoken to their families. Videos posted online showed their bodies on the ground, covered with blood. Another video showed protesters carrying their bodies to safety. At least two others were also reported to have been killed in Doroud, but this could not be independently verified.

Early on Sunday, Iran’s interior minister warned protestors that their actions will have consequences. “Those who damage public property, disrupt order and break the law must be responsible for their behaviour and pay the price,” Abdolrahman Rahmani Fazli said on state television.

Elsewhere it appeared that the security forces held people back, with sporadic use of teargas. The number of people joining protests increased as night fell, making it difficult for the authorities to target protesters.

“Death to Khamenei” chants, in reference to the country’s supreme leader, featured in many demonstrations. Videos posted on social media from Tehran and at least one other city – Abhar in Zanjan province – showed protesters taking down banners depicting the images of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Such chants and acts of resistance are unprecedented in a country where the supreme leader holds the ultimate authority and criticising him is taboo.

There were also chants in support of monarchy and the late shah. The scale of protests in the provinces appeared bigger than those witnessed in 2009, although more people went on to the streets of Tehran then than have so far been seen this time.

Earlier, the US president, Donald Trump, used Twitter to warn the Iranian government against a crackdown as thousands of pro-government Iranians also marched in long-scheduled protests in support of the leadership. But, for the third day running, ordinary Iranians, frustrated by the feeble economy, rising inflation and lack of opportunity, defied warnings against “illegal gatherings”.

“Everyone is fed up with the situation, from the young to the old,” said Ali, who lives near the city of Rasht, where there were big protests on Friday. He asked not to be identified. “Every year thousands of students graduate, but there are no jobs for them. Fathers are also exhausted because they don’t earn enough to provide for their family.”

In the capital students gathered near Tehran university chanted “death to the dictator”. Clashes with security forces followed. It was not clear how many were detained in Tehran on Saturday, but scores of protesters are believed to have been arrested in western Kermanshah and eastern Mashhad, the conservative second city of Iran, where the latest unrest began.

Although small-scale economic protests, about failed banks or shrinking pensions, are not unusual in Iran, it is uncommon for demonstrations to escalate across the country or to mix political slogans with other complaints.

“It spread very quickly in a way that nobody had really anticipated,” said Ali Ansari, a professor of Iranian history at the University of St Andrews. “It’s the biggest demonstration since 2009. The widespread nature of it and provincial nature of it has been quite a surprise.”

He thinks the protests were originally sanctioned by hardliners seeking to undermine President Hassan Rouhani, but says their apparently spontaneous organisation makes it hard to predict how they will evolve.

“I think they started something and then they lost control of it; it has taken a life of its own. We have to see if it gains traction. The trouble is that there is no organisation. I don’t know what the outcome will be.”

The state broadcaster Irib covered the protests briefly and they featured on the front pages of many newspapers, unlike in 2009, when most news of protests was kept out of official media.

The Revolutionary Guard, whose Basij militia coordinated the 2009 crackdown, warned that it would “not allow the country to be hurt”. But leaders in Tehran, already facing a government in Washington hostile to them and friendly to the regional rival, Saudi Arabia, know they are under close scrutiny.

On Twitter, Trump wrote: “Many reports of peaceful protests by Iranian citizens fed up with regime’s corruption and its squandering of the nation’s wealth to fund terrorism abroad. Iranian govt should respect their people’s rights, including right to express themselves. The world is watching! #IranProtests.”

That intervention is unlikely to go down well in Iran, where the US is widely believed to be seeking regime change. In June, the US secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, told the US Congress that America is working towards “support of those elements inside of Iran that would lead to a peaceful transition of that government”.

There are already deep frustrations that unilateral US financial sanctions have made most banks wary of processing money for Iran or extending credit to its firms. The 2015 nuclear deal led to the lifting of international sanctions so that Iran could sell oil again on international markets but, without access to capital, it is struggling to unleash the growth that Rouhani and his supporters hoped would follow. The economic problems this creates are serious. Youth unemployment stands at about 40%, more than three million Iranians are jobless, and the prices of some basic food items, such as poultry and eggs, have recently soared by almost half.

“This has started from the bottom of the society, from the less fortunate,” Reza, a Mashhad resident, said. “This is not middle-class protesting, this is lower-class demonstrating, people of the suburbs; many are fed up with situation.”
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[*] posted on 1-1-2018 at 01:36 PM


January 1 2018 - 6:03AM

Explainer: What has brought Iranian protesters to the streets?

London: Iran warned of a tough crackdown on Sunday against demonstrators posing one of the boldest challenges to its clerical leaders since nationwide unrest shook the Islamist theocracy in 2009.

How serious are the protests?

Political protests are rare in Iran, where security services are pervasive. And yet tens of thousands of people have protested across the country since Thursday. The demonstrations are the biggest since unrest in 2009 that followed the disputed re-election of then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

They began in Iran's second city of Mashhad in the northeast on Thursday and spread to Tehran and other urban centres.

Iranians vented their anger over a sharp increase in prices of basic items like eggs, and a government proposal to increase fuel prices in next year's budget.

Some protesters also vented their rage over high unemployment and savings that were lost after investments in unlicensed credit and financial institutions turned sour.

The demonstrations, initially focused on economic hardships and alleged corruption, turned into political rallies. Anger was soon directed at the clerical leadership in power since the 1979 revolution, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the ultimate authority in Iran's cumbersome system of dual clerical and republican rule.

How will the government respond?

The government's main challenge is to find a way to suppress the uprising without provoking more anger.

So far, while the authorities have threatened to take strong measures, in practice they have largely been restrained.

Although two protesters were killed and hundreds arrested, many believe the police have shown some self-control throughout most of the demonstrations. Iran’s National Security Council held urgent meetings and so far has decided to block social media and messaging apps to restrict the flow of information and calls for demonstrations. The state has a powerful security apparatus it can call upon. But so far it has refrained from despatching the elite Revolutionary Guards, the Basij militia, and plain-clothed security forces who crushed the 2009 uprising and killed dozens of protesters.

In the meantime, the government backed down on plans to raise fuel prices and promised to increase cash handouts to the poor and create more jobs in coming years.

What are the main demands of protesters?

Iranians across the country want higher wages and an end to alleged graft. Many also question the wisdom of Iran's foreign policy in the Middle East, where it has intervened in Syria and Iraq in a battle for influence with rival Saudi Arabia.

The country's financial support for Palestinians and the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah also angered Iranians, who want their government to focus on domestic economic problems instead.

The wide spectrum of slogans showed that the wave of demonstrations cover a range of social classes who have different demands.

Unlike the unrest in 2009, the latest protests appear to be more spontaneous without a clear leader. This may be a more dangerous scenario for authorities, because it means they cannot round up the figureheads, a solution that was employed in 2009.

Some demonstrators even shouted “Reza Shah, bless your soul”, a reference to the king who ruled Iran from 1925 to 1941, and whose son was overthrown in 1979 by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Islamic Republic's first supreme leader.

Has Iran had similar uprisings?

In the last decade, Iran has experienced small-scale demonstrations against economic hardship or local environmental crises, and one nationwide political uprising in 2009 against alleged election fraud.

But a widespread uprising against major political and economic issues would be worrying for the Islamic Republic and far more difficult to contain.

Iran's Supreme Leader managed to control the 2009 uprising, which coincided with Arab revolts in the region, after putting the opposition leaders under house arrest, but the new wave of demonstrations in Iran does not seem orchestrated.

That could make it more of a threat than past unrest in a country that often portrays the 1979 revolution as a revolt by the poor against exploitation and oppression. Calls for an end to economic hardship are especially sensitive for that reason.

Is the economic situation worse than before?

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani championed a nuclear deal with world powers in 2015 to curb Iran's nuclear programme in return for the lifting of most international sanctions.

However, Iranians have yet to see any benefits.

Unemployment stood at 12.4 per cent in this fiscal year, according to the Statistical Centre of Iran, up 1.4 points from the previous year. Youth unemployment reached 28.8 per cent this year.

Economic indexes have improved under Rouhani's government and the economy is no longer in dire straits.

Inflation dropped single digits for the first time after about a quarter century in June 2016. Gross domestic product growth soared to 12.5 per cent in the year through last March 20, although almost entirely due to a leap in oil exports.

However, growth has been too slow for an overwhelmingly youthful population, far more interested in jobs and change than in the Islamist idealism and anti-Shah republicanism of the 1979 revolution that the old guard clings to.

Iran's recovery has been slowed by tensions with the United States. President Donald Trump has raised the possibility that sanctions could be reimposed or new ones introduced.

How has the West reacted?

Trump, who has detailed a more aggressive approach to Tehran over its nuclear program, tweeted that Iranians "are finally getting wise as to how their money and wealth is being stolen and squandered on terrorism," and "will not take it any longer."

Canada said it was encouraged by the demonstrations. British foreign minister Boris Johnson said on his Twitter page that it was "vital that citizens should have the right to demonstrate peacefully."

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[*] posted on 2-1-2018 at 12:45 PM

January 2 2018 - 7:32AM

Deaths in Iran amid nationwide protests

Istanbul: At least 10 people have been killed in nationwide protests in Iran including a police officer, Iranian state television said Monday, even as President Hassan Rouhani appealed for calm and demonstrations broke out in several cities.

State media said security forces repelled "armed protesters" who tried to take over police stations and military bases. Some videos circulating online have showed protesters in violent confrontations with police.

A protester killed one police officer and wounded three others, the Iranian government said, in the first reported death among the security forces since a wave of protests broke out across the country last week.

Police said a man in the central city of Najafabad opened fire on officers with a hunting rifle as people took to the streets during what has become the largest protests in Iran since 2009.

President Trump tweeted about the protests again Monday, saying that Iran "is failing at every level" and that repressed Iranians "are hungry for food & freedom."

"Along with human rights, the wealth of Iran is being looted," Trump tweeted. "TIME FOR CHANGE!"

Iranian leaders have balked at Trump's comments. Rouhani on Sunday said the US president had "no right to sympathise with Iranians" given his administration's hostile policies.

The rising death toll in Iran comes as spontaneous demonstrations have swept across the country since Thursday, when economic protests swiftly turned political and took aim at the government and ruling clerics. Criticism of the Islamic Republic is taboo and public dissent often brutally suppressed.

People were killed in at least three cities in provinces in the south and southwest, state television and Iranian lawmakers said. At least some had been shot and killed.

But demonstrators - enraged and, it appears, leaderless - have continued to flout authorities in towns and cities, venting anger at police and state institutions. Protesters have chanted against Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and in some cases called for a return to the monarchy overthrown in 1979.

The unrest is the boldest challenge to Iran's government since a 2009 uprising over disputed election results lasted for months on the streets of Tehran. Those demonstrations, which criticised what participants said were fraudulent presidential elections, were eventually crushed and the movement's leaders put under house arrest.

Rouhani, a moderate, had pledged to free those leaders and expand Iran's political and social freedoms.

On Sunday, the president agreed that protesters had legitimate demands, including calls for more transparency and an end to government corruption. But he urged them to refrain from violence and on Monday said that the nation would "deal with rioters and lawbreakers."

Still, Rouhani, who was reelected to a second term in May, struck a somewhat conciliatory tone, calling the protests "an opportunity, not a threat."

In a televised address Sunday, he encouraged state bodies to "allow more space for criticism." It was unclear whether his message would mollify the demonstrators.

Ordinary Iranians have been squeezed by years of international sanctions, many of which were lifted as part of a nuclear deal with world powers in 2015. Iran's economy has grown since then thanks to resumed oil exports - Iran is a major OPEC power - but non-oil sector growth has sagged.

Inflation is on the rise and unemployment high. Proposed price hikes for staples such as fuel angered Iranians in recent weeks.

Many protesters chanted against Iran's involvement in such places as Lebanon, Syria and Gaza, where its elite Revolutionary Guard Corps has poured cash and weapons to build up proxies and defend the Syrian government of President Bashar Assad.

The demonstrators appeared to be drawn from the middle- and working-class populations in the provinces, observers said, in stark contrast to the 2009 protests, which were centered in Tehran and driven by educated elites.

"The references to Syria and the chiding of the Islamic Republic's foreign adventures in protests by ordinary Iranians proves that the people desire a different direction," said Behnam Ben Taleblu, an Iran expert at the Foundation for Defence of Democracies in Washington.

"It also indicates that they are tired of sacrificing their interests for the far-flung interests of the regime," he said.

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[*] posted on 3-1-2018 at 04:27 PM

January 3 2018 - 1:51PM

Iran protests could hurt clerics but Rouhani has most to lose, say insiders

Andrew Torchia

Dubai: As the death toll from protests in Iran climbs, Iranian authorities are concerned the nationwide unrest will undermine the clerical establishment, senior government officials say. But the person with the most to lose is President Hassan Rouhani.

While several senior officials said there was concern that prolonged unrest would damage the legitimacy and influence of the country's religious leaders, few insiders see the unrest as an existential threat to that leadership, which has ruled since the 1979 revolution and is now controlled by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the ultimate authority in Iran's system of dual clerical and republican rule.

The biggest loser, they say, is likely to be Rouhani, who is much more closely tied to the country's economic policies.

"Of course Rouhani and his government will have less power afterwards, especially because his economic policy was criticised during the unrest," said political analyst Hamid Farahvashian.

"He will be a lame-duck president and Khamenei will have more power."

Much of the protesters' anger has focused on what Rouhani and his government have failed to deliver: an economic boom promised as the payoff for the 2015 deal that curbed Iran's disputed nuclear program in return for world powers lifting sanctions.

Protesters are angry that Iran's youth unemployment rate is edging towards 30 per cent, want higher wages and an end to alleged corruption. They have chanted slogans against all of Iran's leaders, including the clerical elite, and attacked police vehicles, banks and mosques as the unrest widened.

"The continuation of the protests will lead to a legitimacy crisis," said one senior official close to Rouhani, asking not to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue.

"People have economic demands ... of course these demands should be taken seriously ... of course the establishment should listen to the people, but all these can be discussed in a calm atmosphere," the official said.

Some conservatives have pushed for a hardline approach, even though bloodshed could fuel more protests in the largest wave of demonstrations since nationwide unrest in 2009.

"So far, security forces have not tried to prevent the demonstrations .... but this will change if [Khamenei] calls for an end to the street protests and demonstrators defy his call," said one former Iranian official from the reformist camp.

Even if the unrest is quelled, the demands of tens of thousands of restless working class youths who have taken to the streets are unlikely to dissipate.

Khamenei spoke publicly for the first time about the crisis on Tuesday, accusing Iran's enemies of stirring unrest.

"In recent days, enemies of Iran used different tools including cash, weapons, politics and intelligence apparatus to create troubles for the Islamic Republic," Khamenei said.

He did not mention any enemies by name but Ali Shamkhani, secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, said the United States, Britain and Saudi Arabia were behind the riots.

US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, said of the claims: "We all know that's complete nonsense.

"The demonstrations are completely spontaneous. They are virtually in every city in Iran. This is the precise picture of a long oppressed peoples rising up against their dictators," she said.

The Trump administration also accused the Iranian government of blocking or suppressing internet communications used by anti-government protesters and began laying groundwork for new international sanctions targeting alleged human rights abuses.

At least 21 people had died in protest related violence by Wednesday.

A statement on Khamenei's website said he would address the nation about the events "when the time is right".

The limits of Rouhani's power

The protesters have little chance of toppling the clerical leaders, who appear to be retaining control of the military, police, and security forces and have no compunction about using them, according to one US official following the developments.

Rouhani, who was elected in 2013, is more exposed. He is seen as a pragmatist at odds with hardliners and has said in response to the protests that Iranians have a right to criticise the authorities.

But he has a fight on his hands because of growing resentment over high prices and allegations of corruption.

"His power is limited in Iran's ruling system. Public discontent is increasing ... people are losing their faith in the establishment system," a third Iranian official said. "The leaders are well aware of this fact and its dangerous consequences."

US officials fear the likeliest outcome of the protests is discrediting what one called Rouhani's "moderate brand of moderation" and a harsher crackdown by the clerical authorities.

"It's an open question whether Rouhani ever intended to keep any of his promises, but he hasn't delivered, especially on the economic front, and that means he has no popular support and is expendable to Khamenei," said a second US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.

"He's likely to be one of the casualties, though maybe not immediately."

Rouhani has blamed his predecessor and the United States, Iran's long-time adversary, for the economy's shortcomings.

But his government has also backtracked on planned fuel price rises and promised more jobs.

Rouhani may need to spend more money to create more employment if he is to ease discontent, and could risk antagonising powerful interests if he tries to address allegations of corruption.

His vulnerability and the deep divisions in Iran's hierarchy have fuelled suspicions among some of his sympathisers that conservative rivals may have played a hand in the crisis.

"It was a coup against Rouhani and his achievements ... The aim was to harm Rouhani," said Saeed Leylaz, a political analyst close to the pro-reform movement.

But a fourth official in Tehran said the nationwide protests had united Iran's leadership.

"At this point it is not important whether a political faction initiated the unrest to harm the rival group," the official said.

"The unrest was hijacked by our enemies ... that is why all factions have united to protect the Islamic Republic."

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[*] posted on 4-1-2018 at 04:01 PM

January 4 2018 - 9:07AM

Revolutionary Guards deployed to quell Iran's uprising

Bozorgmehr Sharafedin

London: Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards have deployed forces to three provinces to put down an eruption of anti-government unrest after six days of protests that have rattled the clerical leadership and left 21 people dead.

The protests, which began last week out of frustration over economic hardships suffered by the youth and working class, have evolved into a rising against the powers and privileges of a remote elite especially Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Iran holds pro-government rallies after six days of protests.

Pro-government rallies in several Iranian cities drew thousands of marchers following six days of rare unrest that took the country's leaders off guard.

Defying threats from the judiciary of execution if convicted of rioting, protests resumed after nightfall with hundreds hitting the streets of Malayer in Hamadan province chanting: "People are begging, the supreme leader is acting like God!"

Videos carried by social media showed protesters in the northern town of Nowshahr shouted "death to the dictator" - an apparent reference to Khamenei.

In a sign of official concern about the resilience of the protests, the Revolutionary Guards commander, Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, said he had dispatched forces to Hamadan, Isfahan and Lorestan provinces to tackle "the new sedition".

Most of the casualties among protesters have occurred in those regions of the sprawling Islamic Republic.

In a state-sponsored show of force aimed at countering the outpouring of dissent, thousands of Iranians also took part in pro-government rallies in several cities on Wednesday morning.

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State television broadcast live footage of rallies in cities across the country, where marchers waved Iranian flags and portraits of Khamenei, Iran's paramount leader since 1989.

On Tuesday, the 78-year-old Khamenei had accused Iran's adversaries of fomenting the protests.

President Donald Trump, who has sought to isolate the Tehran leadership, reversing the conciliatory approach of predecessor Barack Obama, said Washington would throw its support behind the protesters at a suitable time.

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[*] posted on 6-1-2018 at 06:07 PM

Iranian protest: ‘Military adventurism’ at the core of citizens outcry

By: Chirine Mouchantaf   14 hours ago

In this Saturday, Dec. 30, 2017 file photo taken by an individual not employed by the Associated Press and obtained by the AP outside Iran, a university student attends a protest inside Tehran University while a smoke grenade is thrown by anti-riot Iranian police, in Tehran, Iran. (AP Photo, File)

BEIRUT- Why are citizens protesting in Iran? It’s a question raised by many local strategic analysts who described the Iranian protest as “one of the biggest for almost decades.” The answer lies primarily in military investments.

The protest wave erupted a week ago in the second most populous city in Iran, Mashhad, over socio-economic hardships – mostly high youth unemployment.

“The ‎Iranian regime has allocated most resources to exporting the revolution and widening its regional influence; that’s why a huge amount of money is being spent on the revolutionary guard,” said Riad Kahwaji, CEO of the Institute for Gulf and Near East Military Analysis, a Dubai-based think tank. Kahwaji is also founder and principal SD Arabia, an Arabic news website dedicated to military affairs that is a content partner of Defense News.

“The mismanagement of the economy and the bad allocation of resources have created a high level of poverty, which caused this huge reaction – especially after the recent decision to lift government support and funding ‎to low income people,” Kahwaji added. “This has led to a backlash; the people have made it clear that they don’t want their ‎government to be spending their money on the military adventures in Iraq, Syria and Gaza.”

The slogan “Not Gaza, Not Lebanon, I Give My Life for Iran” was repeated by the protesters – referring supposedly to the billions Tehran has spent on its allies across the region, mainly in the form of arms, equipment and training programs.

In mid2017, Israeli defense officials estimated Iran was spending $800 million annually on Hezbollah, and $70 million on Hamas – Gaza’s dominant faction, according to Reuters.

Recently, the agency quoted Israel’s armed forces chief Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot as stating that Iranian investment to support Hezbollah totals between $1 billion and $700 million each year.

Investment in the Palestinian arena has also been growing with an increase in the annual funding in the Gaza Strip for Hamas and Islamic Jihad totally $100 million, according to Eizenkot.

One source who spoke on condition of anonymity, stressed Iran’s expanded military capabilities noting that “the Iranian protest is clearly due to implemented financial constraints set by the government in order to achieve specific objectives, such as enhancing Tehran’s defense capabilities while investing in missile defense, nuclear projects and auto-piloted vehicles.”

Last December, Brig. Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps Aerospace Force announced that Iran is today, “at the cutting edge of technology in the missile, drone and radar industries as well as the electronic warfare sphere.” Iran’s parliament has also voted in favor of boosting investment in its missile defense and foreign operations programs by more than $500 million, last August.

“Iran’s military spending has increased by roughly 20 percent in 2017 compared to 2016. During the last four years of Hassan Rouhani’s presidency, Iran’s military spending has more than doubled,” said Majid Rafizadeh, president of the International American Council.

“Rouhani’s proposed budget for 2018-2019 has also prioritized the military by increasing its budget by nearly 90 percent while cutting subsidies for the poor,” Rafizadeh added. “The reason behind such a surge is linked to the Iranian regime’s military adventurism in other countries especially in the Syrian civil war as well as its support for proxies across the region.”

In a study published last February, Rafizadeh noted that the 2017 Iranian budget bill adds up to about $106 billion, according to official numbers. Roughly a quarter of this is transferred directly into the military, ballistic missile and nuclear programs.

In terms of response to the protests, military analyst Naji Malaeb expects police response and tear gas will be followed by the revolutionary guards and armored forces taking over.

“If we do not witness splits supported by internal or external armament within the Iranian army, the regime will remain stronger; and the significance of that is the speed in which the head of the Revolutionary Guard Lt. Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari announced the elimination of the uprising,” he added.
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[*] posted on 7-1-2018 at 01:45 PM

January 7 2018 - 10:57AM

Behind Iran's protests, anger over lost life savings and tightfisted budgets

Istanbul: The video shows an elderly woman in a hospital bed in the Iranian city of Mashhad. She says that three years ago she lost all her money when the Padideh Shandiz holding company collapsed amid official accusations of embezzlement.

"Why has no one given my money back?" the woman says in the video, recently posted to the Telegram messaging app, which is widely popular in Iran. "I can't move. I have expenses.

I have to pay for health care. Why isn't there someone from Padideh to give me back my money?"

In this photo provided by the Iranian Students' News Agency, a clergyman takes a picture of a pro-government demonstration in the southwestern city of Ahvaz, Iran.
Photo: Mohammad Ahangari

The unnamed woman is one of countless Iranians who say their savings have been wiped out by the collapse of fraudulent businesses and unlicensed credit institutions in recent years. Economists are now pointing to the abrupt closure of these poorly regulated institutions as laying the foundation for the unrest that struck Iran starting in late December.

"Banks are shutting down without any kind of notice and it's creating a huge political and economic backlash at a local level," said Suzanne Maloney, senior fellow on Middle East policy at the Brookings Institution.

A demonstrator waves a huge Iranian flag during a pro-government rally in the northeastern city of Mashhad, Iran. Photo: Nima Najafzadeh

Anger over these losses came on top of years of pent-up frustration over a sluggish economy. When the government announced recent price increases and released an austere budget bill, it ignited at-times violent protests that spread rapidly to dozens of cities nationwide. Demonstrators quickly turned their fury on corrupt officials and the Islamic republic as a whole.

At least 20 people have been killed and hundreds more have been arrested over the past 10 days, according to human rights groups.

"Most protests in Iran are over economic issues," Maloney said. "What's different is that it seems to have tapped into a deep sense of alienation and frustration, that people aren't just demonstrating for better working conditions or pay, but insisting on wholesale rejection of the system itself."

Iranian state media said on Saturday that the parliament would soon convene a special session to investigate the causes of anti-government protests and that top security officials would be involved, the Associated Press reported. Pro-government rallies were held in several cities Saturday in response to what state television called "rioters and supporters of the riots."

A study published by BBC Persian last month reported that the average budget of Iranian households declined by 15 percent from 2007 - when the UN Security Council adopted some of its toughest sanctions on Iran - to 2016.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate who was reelected to a second term in May, has carried out a program of fiscal austerity. It has brought down inflation but hurt job growth, according to Djavad Salehi-Isfahani, an economics professor at Virginia Tech. Rouhani has also imposed what Salehi-Isfahani called "regressive policies," such as raising energy prices while shrinking cash transfers that the poor use to pay for essential items. Other new policies have favored businesses and the middle class, whose members predominantly reside in the capital, Tehran, he said.

Iran has seen a "divergence in living standards [measured by per capita expenditures] between Tehran on one side and the rest of the country on the other," Salehi-Isfahani wrote on his blog about Iran and economics.

When the president last month released his budget proposal for the Iranian fiscal year starting March 21, it sparked fiery debate. The budget envisioned steep cuts for cash subsidies to the poor, while increasing fees for things like vehicle registration and traveling abroad.

"The fact of the matter is that Rouhani's budget is better designed to liberalize the economy in the long term than it is to create jobs in the short term," said Esfandyar Batmanghelidj, founder of Bourse & Bazaar, a website featuring economic analysis on Iran. "But the private sector remains too weak to carry the economy," he said, adding that Iranians were "frustrated not to see a change in tactics that could help tackle unemployment more urgently."

According to the Statistical Center of Iran, a government body, unemployment is at 11.7 percent, though economists believe it is probably much higher.

Rouhani's budget was also notable because it was the first time the government made public the funds allocated to Iran's wealthy religious foundations - as well as its powerful military and paramilitary forces. Rouhani said it was a step forward for transparency, a move analysts said probably upset his conservative rivals.

The disclosure of an $8 billion budget for the Revolutionary Guard Corps, Iran's most influential security body, prompted sharp criticism from protesters who objected to government spending on Iranian involvement in regional wars, including in Iraq and Syria.

"Why are you listening to the voice of the voiceless from Syria, Lebanon . . . and not listening to us within our borders?" an Iranian man asked of Iran's leaders in an impassioned audio message also posted to Telegram, which boasts 40 million users there. The app was blocked in Iran amid the unrest, and officials have since blamed it for the protests. "Why do you want to wipe out our savings accounts and promise us worthless stocks in return?" he asked.

Religious foundations, many of which are tax exempt, also got a boost in the new budget, including, for example, a 20 per cent increase for representatives of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, posted at Iran's universities.

The religious organizations, which are under the direct supervision of Khamenei's office, are also linked to some of the insolvent credit institutions that have depleted Iranians' savings.

"Many Iranians, looking for any way to get ahead in a stagnant economy, pour their savings into these organizations," Batmanghelidj said. "One by one the institutions began to falter, and people saw their savings wiped out."

With a population of 80 million, Iran boasts a vast, educated and tech-savvy consumer market. It also commands some of the largest oil and gas reserves in the world.

The International Monetary Fund forecasts that Iran's economy is expected to grow about 4.2 per cent in the 2018 fiscal year.

But much of that growth comes from higher crude oil exports, and the benefits haven't reached poor or smaller cities, where most of the recent demonstrations took place.

Since 2016, when most international sanctions were lifted as part of Iran's nuclear deal with world powers, European and other multinational companies have invested billions of dollars in sectors including energy, mining, auto manufacturing and hospitality in Iran. In July, the French oil giant Total signed a deal to invest $6.2 billion to develop Iran's South Pars natural gas field.

"Iran is a big market, and you have access to adjacent markets from there," a senior executive at a multinational oil company said in a recent interview, before the unrest. He spoke on the condition of anonymity at the time to discuss Europe's business ties with Iran.

"Trade and investment are happening," the executive said, "although maybe not in the amount Iran would like to see."

Foreign investment has fallen short of anticipated levels because of residual sanctions that remain in effect and continuing concern among companies about the risks posed by investing in Iran. The Trump administration has also called into question the fate of the nuclear agreement.

Rouhani sold the nuclear deal to Iranians as crucial for reviving the ailing economy. Iranians have been disappointed that growth has not been faster, including 74 percent who said in July that there had been no economic improvement as a result of the deal, according to a poll conducted for the Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland.
The Washington Post
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[*] posted on 15-1-2018 at 12:18 PM

January 15 2018 - 10:53AM

In Iran, the 'suicides' of protesters prompt anger and more calls for change

Thomas Erdbrink

Tehran: Two detained young men killed themselves, Iran's government officials have declared with finality, and another was a terrorist who died in a clash with security forces. But many Iranians, including a number of lawmakers and a top entertainment star, have challenged such conclusions.

The personal stories that have since emerged of the three have struck a nerve among many Iranians, who see glaring contradictions to the official accounts of the facts.

The three young men were among more than two dozen Iranians who died in the wave of anti-government protests that swept the country a few weeks ago, the most serious unrest to confront the Islamic republic's political-religious hierarchy in nearly a decade.

A popular push for further investigation into their prison deaths, including a parliamentary demand for an inquiry, suggests that while the protests have largely subsided, the fallout in Iran may be just beginning.

"This news of so-called suicides is making people angry; they demand answers," said Farshad Ghorbanpour, an analyst close to the government of President Hassan Rouhani.

It is unclear whether the anger signals a potent new complication for Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who as Iran's supreme leader was a target of some of the protests, which began over economic grievances and quickly broadened.

But the willingness by members of mainstream Iranian society to publicly repudiate the narrative of the top judicial authorities is unusual in this country of 80 million, where such behaviour can be risky and invite retribution.

Iran's judicial authorities said on Sunday that 25 people had died and nearly 4000 had been arrested. They also said that hundreds had been released, including 500 in Tehran.

The national prosecutor, Gholam Hossein Mohseni-Ejei, told a news conference in Tehran that "none of the bullets" found in those killed had matched types used by Iran's law enforcement officers and military. Those who died in detention, he said, had "committed suicide".

Rouhani, who has defended the right of peaceful protest, on Sunday appeared to lend support to the doubters of such claims. While one hard-line prayer leader called the protesters "garbage," Rouhani called upon the establishment to listen to the protesters, not demean them.

"We cannot call everybody who takes to the streets dirt and dust, cow, sheep or trash," he said.

While acknowledging that some people exploited protester anger to stoke mayhem, Rouhani said, "it happens everywhere."

On Saturday authorities lifted a ban on the popular phone messaging app Telegram, which is used by more than 40 million Iranians. Its use had been suppressed by Iran's National Security Council to stop the spreading of news about the protests. Rouhani, who as president officially heads the council, said Sunday that "blocking is not a solution".

Telegram users quickly began to share skepticism about the judiciary accounts of the prison deaths.

One of the dead, Vahid Heidari, a street peddler, had been trying to make a living in the central city of Arak. He was arrested on New Year's Eve during the protests. The judicial authorities insist that he was seized for possession of drugs. A lawyer for his family, Mohammad Najafi, denies this.

The local prosecutor for the city, Abbas Qassemi, told the Mizan news agency, which is affiliated with the judiciary, that video footage showed Heidari stabbing himself with a knife. But the video was never released and Qassemi did not explain how Heidari had possessed a knife in his cell.

In Tehran's Evin Prison, Sina Ghanbari, 23, a student, hanged himself in a bathroom on January 6, the judicial authorities say. He had been held with other protesters, but it has not been made clear whether he had also protested.

A group of lawmakers on Sunday called for an investigation into the deaths of both men, the semi-official ISNA news agency reported. The members of Parliament say an inquiry is needed because "relatives and eyewitnesses" have questioned the official claims that the two killed themselves.

"Why is a young student, who goes for the first time to the streets to raise his voice, placed in an overcrowded prison cell?" Isa Saharkhiz, a political activist who has spent several stints in Evin Prison, said.

He said panic and threats could make any inmate scared, but he was suspicious over the suicide claim. "There is so much traffic in those latrines, it almost seems impossible for any detainee to go inside the latrines and hang himself," Saharkhiz said. "This must be investigated."

During the last major nationwide protests, in 2009, the deaths of three men in a makeshift detention camp led to an official investigation, ordered by Khamenei. Twelve officers and guards were convicted of having played a role, but it has never been clear whether they all served prison time.

Skepticism about the official version of fatalities in the more recent protests was fuelled further on Sunday when an Iranian celebrity actress, Bahare Rahnama, who stars in films and shows on state television, posted a series of messages on Twitter.

A former restaurant delivery boy she knew well, who had turned up dead in the city of Sanandaj, was described by the judicial authorities as a terrorist.

"He was neither an outlaw, nor dangerous, nor rebellious, he didn't deserve this, I have no doubt," Rahnama wrote in Persian.

The man, Saru Ghahremani, 24, an Iranian-Kurd, was arrested on January 1 after he had gone out to protest, activists said.

A group of activists known as the Committee Investigating the '96 Protests (in Iran's calendar, the year is 1396), said in a Twitter message by a member that Ghahremani's body had been delivered to his parents 11 days later. "The parents of this martyr were taken by the ambulance containing his corpse to the Mahmoudieh graveyard, where he was buried with no other family members present," the message read.

The '96 Protests Committee also said via Twitter that Ghahremani had once been arrested at age 18, over unspecified "political and security accusations," and had spent 18 months in prison.

The governor of Sanandaj, Mohammad Ebrahim Zarei, said Ghahremani had been associated with a "terror group" and had been killed in a clash with law enforcement agents, the official Islamic Republic News Agency has reported.

New York Times
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[*] posted on 18-1-2018 at 01:45 PM

US president’s statement on Iran sanctions waivers increases risk of snapback, undermining JCPOA’s longevity

Nazanin Soroush - IHS Jane's Intelligence Weekly

17 January 2018

US President Donald Trump speaks about the Iran deal on 13 October 2017. Source: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

Key Points

- Trump’s renewal of sanctions waivers keeps the US technically compliant with its obligations under the JCPOA, preserving the JCPOA until May 2018 at which point he will need to once again decide whether to waive the sanctions.
- Trump’s call for a ‘supplemental’ agreement with Europe likely reflects ongoing efforts to enlist a stronger European response against Iran’s ballistic missile programme and regional expansionist policies.
- Trump’s self-imposed ‘red line’ on the JCPOA raises the political costs of preserving the agreement in its current form beyond four months, increasing the risk of its collapse thereafter.


In a statement released on 12 January 2018, US President Donald Trump waived US sanctions on Iran, as stipulated under the Iran nuclear agreement (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – JCPOA), but stated that this would be “a last chance” before he would withdraw the US from the deal unless US Congress and European allies “fix” the JCPOA.

In October 2017, Trump decertified the JCPOA, asserting that the JCPOA in its current form was inconsistent with US national security interests. Following this declaration, the Republican-majority Congress opted not to act to snap-back US nuclear sanctions on Iran, despite being able to do so with a simple majority. This reflects divisions within Congress and even the Republican establishment regarding US policy on Iran and the JCPOA. The divisions are likely due to a combination of concerns, namely uncertainties over the consequences of a collapse of the JCPOA, European commitment to preserving the JCPOA, and US difficulties in forging a multilateral sanctions regime on Iran while Iran remains compliant under JCPOA.

Trump’s demands

After decertifying the JCPOA in October, Trump requested that Congress pass legislation that would impose new restrictions on Iran. Throughout October-December 2017, with the tax overhaul and ongoing budget negotiations, Congress did not pass any legislation to address Trump’s concerns on the JCPOA.

(334 of 1290 words)
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[*] posted on 22-1-2018 at 08:39 PM

Iran may try to loosen Revolutionary Guard's grip on economy

By JON GAMBRELL | Associated Press | Published: January 21, 2018

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- Iran's supreme leader has ordered the Revolutionary Guard to loosen its hold on the economy, the country's defense minister says, raising the possibility that the paramilitary organization might privatize some of its vast holdings.

The comments this weekend by Defense Minister Gen. Amir Hatami appear to be a trial balloon to test the reaction of the idea, long pushed by Iran's President Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate. Protests over the country's poor economy last month escalated into demonstrations directly challenging the government.

But whether the Guard would agree remains unclear, as the organization is estimated to hold around a third of the country's entire economy.

Hatami, the first non-Guard-affiliated military officer to be made defense minister in nearly 25 years, made the comments in an interview published Saturday by the state-run IRAN newspaper.

He said Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ordered both the country's regular military and the Guard to get out of businesses not directly affiliated to their work.

"Our success depends on market conditions," the newspaper quoted Hatami as saying.

He did not name the companies that would be privatized. The Guard did not immediately acknowledge the supreme leader's orders in their own publications, nor did Khamenei's office.

The Guard formed out of Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution as a force meant to protect its political system, which is overseen by Shiite clerics. It operated parallel to the country's regular armed forces, growing in prominence and power during the country's long and ruinous war with Iraq in the 1980s. It runs Iran's ballistic missile program, as well its own intelligence operations and expeditionary force.

In the aftermath of the 1980s war, authorities allowed the Guard to expand into private enterprise.

Today, it runs a massive construction company called Khatam al-Anbia, with 135,000 employees handling civil development, the oil industry and defense issues. Guard firms build roads, man ports, run telecommunication networks and even conduct laser eye surgery.

The exact scope of all its business holdings remains unclear, though analysts say they are sizeable. The Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, which long has been critical of Iran and the nuclear deal it struck with world powers, suggests the Guard controls "between 20 and 40 percent of the economy" of Iran through significant influence in at least 229 companies.

In his comments, Hatami specifically mentioned Khatam al-Anbia, but didn't say whether that too would be considered by the supreme leader as necessary to privatize. The Guard and its supporters have criticized other business deals attempting to cut into their piece of the economy since the nuclear deal.
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[*] posted on 25-2-2018 at 02:46 PM

Iran Signals Plan to Build Nuclear-Powered Ships

(Source: Deutsche Welle German Radio; issued Feb 22, 2018)

Iran has disclosed plans to develop nuclear reactors for ships, despite a deal with world powers that curtails its atomic program. The project is likely to get a cool response in Washington.

Tehran has told United Nations nuclear inspectors of its plan to build nuclear reactors for ships, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said on Thursday.

In a quarterly report on Iran's conformity with the landmark 2015 nuclear deal that restricted Tehran's nuclear ambitions, the IAEA said the Islamic Republic remained compliant and had informed the agency of a "decision that has been taken to construct naval nuclear propulsion in future."

The Vienna-based UN body said it received a letter in January, but it contained no further details of the project. Tehran now has until mid-May to provide more comprehensive proposals.

Iran's disclosure is almost certain to reignite tensions with US President Donald Trump's administration, after the US leader threatened to revoke the nuclear deal, citing its limited duration and a lack of coverage of Tehran's ballistic missile program.

New nuclear deal demanded

Trump said the deal had allowed Iran to continue to fund terrorism and conflicts such as the war in Syria. He demanded the accord be reworked to include additional restrictions and wider UN inspection rights.

The original nuclear deal — signed by Trump's predecessor, Barack Obama, along with Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China — saw international sanctions on Iran lifted in return for the curtailment of its enrichment program and other nuclear activities.

But it does not explicitly prohibit Tehran from developing nuclear-powered ships or submarines unless they use weapons-grade uranium.

Tehran had flagged such plans before but had not gone as far as formally notifying the IAEA. In December 2016, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani ordered planning to begin on the development of nuclear marine propulsion, after what he called US violations of the nuclear deal.

Rouhani's statement followed a US Senate vote that extended the Iran Sanctions Act by a decade.

At an event in London on Thursday, Iran's deputy foreign minister said the nuclear deal was "not a successful story"

Provoking a response

A senior diplomat who follows the IAEA's inspections described Iran's formal disclosure as "rhetoric," which he said was "linked to decisions in the US."

The nuclear maritime announcement was apparently tied "to the possibility that the nuclear deal's future might be somehow questioned," said the senior diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi on Thursday warned Tehran would itself revoke the nuclear deal if there are no economic gains and if major banks continue to snub the country out of fear of contravening separate US sanctions on financial transactions with Iran.

The UN body said Iran continued to limit its uranium enrichment program during the past three months and had not hampered inspectors — who are checking to see if nuclear material is being misused for military purposes.

Analysts believe Tehran is many years or decades away from having naval nuclear capacity.

Only a handful of countries have atomic-powered military vessels, including the US, Russia, Britain, France and China.

Nuclear power is particularly suitable for submarines and other ships that need to be at sea for long periods without refueling.

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[*] posted on 5-3-2018 at 08:13 PM

Iran likely to face increasing banking difficulties due to US/regional pressures, despite FATF continuing its suspension of countermeasures

Nazanin Soroush - IHS Jane's Intelligence Weekly

02 March 2018

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani delivers a speech to mark the 39th anniversary of the Islamic revolution, at Azadi Square in Tehran, Iran, on 11 February 2018. Source: Fatemah Bahrami/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Key Points

- Although the FATF decided to continue its suspension of countermeasures against Iran, Iran remains on the FATF’s ‘high risk’ banking jurisdiction list.
- Iran is highly unlikely to fulfil its requirements under the FATF action plan, meaning the suspension of FATF countermeasures against Iran is not sustainable.
- Iran is likely to face increasing banking difficulties in the one-year outlook, as it is unlikely to adopt meaningful reforms to address FATF concerns and as the US is likely to adopt a more stringent enforcement of its existing sanctions, increasing financial pressure on Iran and raising contract risks and borrowing costs.


On 23 February 2018, the intergovernmental organisation, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) announced that it will extend its suspension of countermeasures against Iran for another six months.

There are three major factors impeding Iran’s ability to reconnect to major international banks: residual primary US sanctions that ban Iranian access to the US financial system and therefore complicate dollar currency conversion and transactions; Iran’s deficient anti-money laundering and counter terrorism-financing (AML/CTF) infrastructure and consequent status as a “high-risk jurisdiction” by the FATF; and the widespread and opaque influence of commercial and banking entities affiliated to Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), designated under secondary US sanctions for sponsorship of terrorism and Iran’s ballistic missile programme.

The FATF angle

The FATF, the multilateral body setting international AML/CTF standards, reiterated on 23 February that Iran remains a “high-risk jurisdiction”, advising its members to observe “enhanced due diligence” in Iran-related transactions. The FATF revealed that Iran had failed to complete the majority of its action items under an agreed plan by the 31 January 2018 deadline.

Nevertheless, the FATF decided to continue the suspension of its countermeasures against Iran given the ongoing Iranian commitment to address its AML/CTF deficiencies, specifically citing draft legislation before Iran’s parliament.

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[*] posted on 24-3-2018 at 02:30 PM

Iran’s hard-line conservatives secure dominant position in Supreme Leader’s succession process, increasing risk of destabilising politically motivated protests

Nazanin Soroush - IHS Jane's Intelligence Weekly

23 March 2018

People hold posters of the first and second Supreme Leaders of Iran, Ruhollah Khomeini and Ali Khamenei, during a ceremony marking the 39th anniversary of the Islamic revolution in Tehran on 11 February. Source: Fatemah Bahrami/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Key Points

- The voting pattern suggests that the hard-line conservatives have now secured the support of enough clerics in the Assembly of Experts to ensure the selection of a successor acceptable to the hard-line clerical establishment and the powerful Islamic Revolution Guards Corps when Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei dies.
- This indicates that the centrist coalition led by President Hassan Rouhani has failed to gain the support of enough centre-leaning conservative clerics in the Assembly to force the selection of a compromise candidate.
- The hard-line conservatives’ dominance in the succession process decreases risk to state stability emanating from indecision when Khamenei dies. However, it increases the risk of co-ordinated and potentially destabilising politically motivated protests as the only means for centrists to push for a compromise and position for their political survival.


On 13 March 2018, Iran’s Assembly of Experts, the body composed of 88 elected clerics and constitutionally tasked with selecting the next Supreme Leader, voted on its executive board for a two-year term.

Iran’s factional elite infighting has escalated over the nature and future direction of the Islamic Republic, ahead of the anticipated succession to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who is 78 and reportedly has prostate cancer.

The hard-line conservatives, consisting of Khamenei, the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), and the affiliated clerical establishment, insist on playing a major role in the economy and continuing regional ‘resistance’ activities against US interests. These groups and Khamenei fear that any meaningful social, political and economic compromises would weaken them and generate momentum for regime change. In response, the loose centrist coalition led by President Hassan Rouhani has argued that social, political, and economic reforms are necessary for attracting foreign direct investment, which in turn would improve state stability by improving the economy, reducing unemployment and increasing urban youth buy-in.

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[*] posted on 28-4-2018 at 01:27 PM

US sanctions on Iran’s strategic sectors increasingly likely in one-year outlook, aimed at internal destabilisation

Nazanin Soroush - IHS Jane's Intelligence Weekly

27 April 2018

French President Emmanuel Macron (left) holds hands with US President Donald Trump at the White House on 24 April 2018. Source: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Key Points

- Iran’s regional successes at the expense of the US and its allies are driving the US assessment that the US must reverse course and more aggressively confront Iran. But the US has few politically acceptable options in compelling Iran to make concessions outside resorting to sanctions targeting Iran’s major revenue sources, currently waived under the JCPOA.
- The US is increasingly likely to introduce sanctions on Iran affecting trade and investment in Iran’s energy, financial, petrochemical, and automotive sectors to pressure the Islamic Republic to redirect its resources internally.
- Reaching a ‘new’ agreement with Iran will likely prove difficult, with the overall objective likely to shift toward weakening and destabilising Iran internally, particularly given several ongoing internal stressors, with the eventual goal of regime change without reliance on major US military action.


On 24 April, US President Donald Trump suggested that he is open to a proposal by the French President Emmanuel Macron to a ‘new deal’ with the US and Iran, which preserves the Iran nuclear agreement (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – JCPOA). However, following this comment, French President Emmanuel Macron stated his opinion on 25 April that the US will likely pull out of the JCPOA.

Iran’s ongoing regional political and military gains in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen at the expense of US interests and allies are forcing the US to pursue a policy of containing and eventually reversing Iran’s gains. This is likely to be a significant factor in determining US calculation of whether the costs of preserving the JCPOA, which constrains the US’s ability to impose sanctions targeting Iran’s strategic financial and energy sectors, particularly crude oil exports and Iran Central Bank, outweigh the JCPOA’s main benefit, namely, temporarily scaling back Iran’s nuclear programme until between 2026 and 2031.

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[*] posted on 8-5-2018 at 02:27 PM

Fixing The Iranian Missile Problem

By Behnam Ben Taleblu

May 7, 2018

AP / Ebrahim Noroozi

It won’t be easy, but Europe and Washington should pressure Iran into suspending missile flight-testing.

President Donald Trump has hinted that his vision for improving the nuclear deal with Iran includes a prohibition on missile tests. “What kind of deal is it where you are allowed to test missiles all over the place?” he recently asked. Indeed, if both sides of the Atlantic are serious about stopping Iran from developing a deliverable nuclear weapon, they should push for a moratorium on nuclear-capable ballistic missile flight-tests. This will be no easy task, since Tehran is wedded to its missile program for strategic and ideological reasons.

Since the conclusion of the nuclear deal in July 2015, the Islamic Republic has launched as many as 23 ballistic missiles.

The U.S. intelligence community has repeatedly affirmed that a ballistic missile would serve as the most likely delivery vehicle for an Iranian nuclear weapon. Iran should therefore not be permitted to perfect this weapon.

At present, it is unknown whether a missile-testing prohibition will be included in the trans-Atlantic “fix.”

From what can be pieced together from recent reporting, the “fix” appears to take a two-track approach. The first aims to prevent Iran from developing intercontinental ballistic missiles, or ICBMs, by capping its missile ranges at 2,000 kilometers.

Little is known about the second track, other than its intent to focus on Iran’s development and proliferation of shorter-range systems.

While an agreement to prevent an Iranian ICBM has value, Iran does not yet have a functioning ICBM. Instead, it has a diverse arsenal of short and medium-range ballistic missiles, the latter of which are all capable of carrying a nuclear warhead. This is the immediate threat.

By focusing on a 2,000-kilometer cap, America would be shielding Europe while forsaking the entire Middle East. Although Iranian officials have previously floated a 2,000-kilometer upper limit for their missiles, this is frequently followed-up with an attestation that the targets they wish to threaten fall within that range. And if desired, they could move to begin targeting Europe, which lies beyond that range.

Only the strongest multilateral sanctions on Iran’s domestic missile production networks will change the regime’s calculus about these weapons. These penalties should include America’s most potent sanctions, such as those that were suspended under the 2015 deal.

Ballistic missile tests allow Iran to show off military muscle and learn about the readiness and reliability of their arsenal. Iranian officials learned the value of missiles during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War, a conflict they call “the holy defense.” Midway through the conflict, Iran procured Scuds to retaliate against Saddam Hussein and establish deterrence. Looking back now, officials believe that if their antebellum arsenal had contained such missiles, “war would not have broken out.”

Since that time, these weapons have been a source of national pride for Iran’s Islamic government and serve as physical manifestations of the regime’s ideology, such as self-sufficiency and anti-Semitism. In March 2016, Iran tested a homemade nuclear-capable ballistic missile bearing the genocidal slogan “Israel must be wiped out.”

Moreover, for over two decades ballistic missiles have overtaken the county’s dated air force as the main weapon employed to project power beyond its borders. When Tehran is confident that it can deter threats to its homeland, it becomes increasingly likely that it will pursue its agenda of destabilizing adversary governments abroad. Tough sanctions can help chip away at this confidence.

Iranian officials habitually claim that they will never negotiate over missiles, much as they did with uranium enrichment. But over time and when confronted with an international consensus and robust economic pressure, that position softened. So too, could this one. That is why a multi-party agreement over how to phase in sanctions in response to any renewed Iranian missile activity is sorely needed. Regardless of what Trump decides, Iran’s missiles are slated to remain a problem. The solution remains patient, dedicated, and creative coercive diplomacy from both sides of the Atlantic to attain a prohibition on missile tests.

Behnam Ben Taleblu is a Research Fellow at the Washington, D.C.-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) national security think-tank.
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