Iran has long sought the withdrawal of American forces from neighboring Iraq, but the U.S. killing of an Iranian general and an Iraqi militia commander in Baghdad has added new impetus to the effort, stoking anti-American feelings that Tehran hopes to exploit to help realize the goal. The Jan. 3 killing has led Iraq's parliament to call for the ouster of U.S. troops, but there are many lingering questions over whether Iran will be able to capitalize on the sentiment. An early test will be a "million-man" demonstration against the American presence, called for by influential Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and scheduled for Friday.
The successor to the Iranian commander killed in a U.S. drone strike would suffer the same fate if he followed a similar path by killing Americans, the U.S. special representative for Iran said, according to Asharq al-Awsat newspaper. Washington blamed Qassem Soleimani for masterminding attacks by Iran-aligned militias against U.S. forces in the region. U.S. President Donald Trump ordered the Jan. 3 drone strike in Iraq after an escalation that began in December with missile strikes that killed an American contractor, which Washington blamed on an Iran-aligned militia in Iraq.
The Trade Bank of Iraq is expected to stop processing payments to Iran if US sanction exemptions expire next month, Agence France-Presse reported Tuesday. The bank is used by Iraq to pay for Iranian gas imports that are used to power the country's electricity grids. About a third of Iraq's electricity supply relies on Iran. "We'll stop. As simple as that," the head of the bank, Faisal al-Haimus, told the news agency, adding that the bank will not pay for or deal with any Iranian entity over gas or electricity.
UANI IN THE NEWS
But even advocates of a tough line on Iran aren't convinced Tehran will take the bait and come to the table soon. "Probably not," says Mark Wallace, the head of United Against a Nuclear Iran, which has criticized the original deal. While economic and domestic pressure is high, the government so far believes it can remain in control. "They might not think things are totally spiraling yet. If you see them come to the table, it means they are worried."
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
Iran's president told European powers on Wednesday not to copy the United States by undermining Tehran's strained nuclear pact with world powers, and said Tehran would not seek nuclear weapons whether or not the deal survived. Britain, France and Germany launched a dispute mechanism in the 2015 nuclear deal this month, accusing Iran of violating the deal that has become increasingly frayed since Washington pulled out in 2018 and then reimposed sanctions on Tehran.
French President Emmanuel Macron said on Wednesday that France will be inflexible about Iran's nuclear ambitions and that his country is determined Tehran will never acquire nuclear weapons. "In the current context, France is determined that Iran never acquires a nuclear weapon, but also that we avoid all military escalation in the region," Macron said. Macron made the comments in Jerusalem after meeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin ahead of commemorations marking 75 years since the liberation of the Nazi extermination camp Auschwitz.
When President Donald Trump decided to unilaterally withdraw the United States from the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, and use sanctions to economically squeeze Tehran back to the negotiating table, Europe found itself in a bind. Trump wanted the deal's European signatories to abandon the agreement. Tehran wanted them to maintain it.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
The Trump administration is barring Iranian investors and business people from entering or staying in the United States on certain types of visas. In new regulations published in the Federal Register on Wednesday, the Department of Homeland Security said Iranians and their families are no longer eligible to apply for or extend what are known as E-1 and E-2 visas. The ban will take effect on Thursday, according to the notice from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
It would be a "disaster" for the Gulf countries if there's a conflict between the U.S. and Iran, Pakistan's prime minister said on Wednesday. "The impact a conflict would have, I repeat, on the oil prices. It just ... would be a disaster for the whole area," Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan told CNBC's Hadley Gamble at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. When asked if he thinks U.S. President Donald Trump wants dialogue with Tehran, Khan said that would be "sensible."
In the wake of the U.S. killing of General Qasem Soleimani of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Iran is scrambling to figure out how to respond to President Trump. Throughout 2019, Iran ratcheted up threats and tensions, targeting oil tankers in the Gulf, Saudi Arabia, and U.S. troops in Iraq via proxies, testing Washington's response. The decision to kill Soleimani, who arrived at Baghdad International Airport without any apparent suspicion of his impending death, threw down a gauntlet to Tehran that left the Ayatollah and the IRGC grasping for response options.
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
Two weeks ago, the United States seemed on the brink of starting another war in the Middle East after a drone strike killed Iran's most notorious spymaster, Qasem Soleimani, as he departed an international airport in Baghdad. The shadowy general, in charge of the Iranian equivalent of the CIA, was one of the most effective operatives in the Middle East's history. He built a sprawling army of proxy militias throughout the region and helped expand Tehran's dominance in nearby countries.
Iranian authorities have opened an investigation into the killing of Abdol-Hossein Mojadami, a local commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in the ethnic Arab-majority southwestern province of Khuzestan. Officials say two gunmen carrying Kalashnikov rifles on a motorbike opened fire on Mojadami outside his house in the town of Darkhoveyn early Jan. 22. Judicial sources were treating the attack as a "special case" but said no arrests had been made.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
"Bring your people out of darkness into light, and remind them of the Days of Allah," reads a line in the Koran, Islam's holy book. This month Iran witnessed two Days of Allah, at least in the minds of Iranian leaders. When Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader, recited the verse to thousands of worshippers last Friday, he reminded them of what he called the blessings brought by two different events over five days.
The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) has moved two Asian Champions League matches out of Iran citing security concerns in the country. In a statement on Twitter, the AFC said on Wednesday that two home matches involving Iranian teams "have been moved to neutral venues because of ongoing security concerns and the decision of several governments to issue travel warnings to the Islamic Republic of Iran".
GULF STATES, YEMEN, & IRAN
Iran welcomes dialogue with its Gulf neighbors, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Thursday, amid heightened tension in the Middle East. "Iran remains open to dialogue with its neighbours and we announce our readiness to participate in any complementary work that is in the interest of the region," Zarif wrote in Arabic on Twitter.
Iran said on Wednesday that Tehran and its regional rival Saudi Arabia should work together to overcome problems, the state news agency IRNA quoted Iranian president's chief of staff Mahmoud Vaezi as saying. "The relations between Iran and its neighbor Saudi Arabia should not become like the relationship between Tehran and the United States ... Tehran and Riyadh should work together to resolve their problems," Vaezi said.
There is little doubt that the recent US assassination of powerful Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani in Iraq was good news to Saudi Arabia, which had kept the commander on its own terror list since October 2018. The general, who commanded Iran's Quds Force - the special forces unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) - rarely targeted Saudi Arabia with direct harsh rhetoric. But he exercised no reservation when it came to hitting back at Saudi threats. In October 2016, Soleimani commented on internal Saudi politics, describing Mohammed bin Salman as a crown prince in hasty pursuit of his ambitions.
Saudi Arabian and Iranian foreign minister have made statements saying they are ready for a dialogue and reduction of tensions in Middle East that has been the scene of increasing tensions and dangerous confrontations. Saudi Foreign Minister Farhan Al Saud told Reuters on Wednesday Riyadh was open to talks with Tehran "but it is really up to Iran". He added that the precondition for dialogue is for Iran to accept it "cannot further its regional agenda through violence". Al-Saud made the statement from the world economic gathering in Davos.
IRAQ & IRAN
Iranian-backed Shi'ite factions have exhorted Iraqis to turn out for a "million-strong" march on Friday aimed at whipping up anti-American sentiment as the United States' struggle with Iran plays out on the streets of Baghdad. Those behind the rally have two goals in mind - to pressure Washington to pull its troops out of Iraq, and to eclipse the mass anti-government protests that have challenged their grip on power. It is likely to end up at the gates of the U.S. Embassy, the seat of U.S. power in Iraq and the scene of violent clashes last month when militia supporters tried to storm the compound. It could turn nasty again.
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
Iran's transportation minister has reiterated that the black-box recorders of the downed Ukrainian plane will stay in Iran and if there is a need for deciphering the information Tehran can ask for assistance from other countries. Mohammad Eslami was speaking on the sidelines of the weekly cabinet meeting in Tehran and Tasnim news agency has published a video of his remarks. Eslmai insisted since the incident happened in Iran, the information contained in the flight recorders must be investigated by Iranian authorities who have taken steps to secure "hardware and software" necessary to complete the work.