U.S. intelligence out of the Middle East suggests that Iran or Iran-backed forces are planning a potentially serious attack against U.S. military personnel in Iraq, said officials monitoring the information. "We've been seeing something brewing and developing pretty seriously," a U.S. official said Wednesday. The intelligence has mounted over a two-week period, officials said. "We expect something soon," the official said. Shiite militias such as Kataib Hezbollah have been targeting U.S. troops in Iraq in recent weeks with a series of rocket attacks.
President Trump warned Iran on Wednesday against using its proxy forces to attack American troops, vowing to retaliate by going "up the food chain," a hint that the American military was considering a more direct strike on Iranian forces. But senior Democrats cautioned Mr. Trump against attacking Iran without consulting Congress, a step he chose to forgo before the January killing of a top Iranian commander that pushed the countries to the brink of war.
Sanctions and Iran can be one of the most confusing subjects on the planet. The US on Tuesday announced that it would continue limited waivers from sanctions so that the EU, Russia and China can continue to provide humanitarian aid and nonproliferation items to the Islamic Republic. This changed nothing. The bigger question is whether, due to the coronavirus crisis escalating a humanitarian nightmare in Iran, the US might roll back some of the additional sanctions it has imposed on Tehran since May 2018.
UANI IN THE NEWS
... Advocacy group United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) hailed the delivery but said it was "unfortunate that Instex took so long to become active," noting that the Swiss Humanitarian Trade Agreement (SHTA), the first channel established to facilitate aid to Iran, had been active since February. UANI head David Ibsen said the group was "pleased to see a successful transaction ... providing much needed supplies to the Iranian people. "This demonstrates once again that US sanctions do not stop the flow of humanitarian goods, food or medicine to the country, despite the cynical and opportunistic comments of mendacious regime spokespeople like Javad Zarif." Mr Ibsen added that he hoped Europe would "increase its delivery of aid to Iran using SHTA as well as Instex."
... The aim of what the Trump administration calls a "maximum pressure" policy is to get Iran to stand down from its adventurism, although it has yet to show substantial results. Hawkish critics of the regime note that Iran has rejected humanitarian assistance that is allowed under the sanctions, even expelling a mission by Doctors Without Borders. "The Iranian government had the power to curtail the virus, but instead they ignored the situation, lied to their people," David Ibsen, president of United Against a Nuclear Iran, wrote in EuroNews. "Sanctions are not the villain in this regretful story."
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
As Iran struggles with a devastating coronavirus outbreak, a broken economy and a severe shortage of medical equipment, it says that American trade sanctions are taking Iranian lives and has called for the United States to lift them on humanitarian grounds. Iran's plea is gaining traction around the globe, winning support from allies like Russia and China, but also the European Union, the United Nations secretary general, rights groups and nearly three dozen members of Congress, who have appealed to the Trump administration to suspend the sanctions for as long as Iran is battling the coronavirus.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is in dialogue with Iranian authorities after Iran's request for financial aid to help it to contend with the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, an IMF official said. Iran - the worst-hit Middle East nation - has asked the IMF $5 billion in emergency funding. The IMF is in talks to understand Iran's needs and what is required for Iran's demand to be processed, Jihad Azour, director of the IMF's Middle East and Central Asia Department, said during a virtual panel discussion moderated by the Carnegie Middle East Center.
Iran experts brought to the fore this week the role of the coronavirus crisis in Tehran's strategy and the regime's outright fabrications designed to hoodwink world powers into providing sanctions relief. Prominent Iranian author and dissident Amir Taheri tweeted that Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif claims that the "Islamic Republic has $100 billion in strategic reserves. So why is he begging for $5 billion from World Bank & making a song and dance about $500 million from Britain and just $5 million from European Union? And why doesn't [Supreme Leader Ali] Khamenei release some of the loot?"
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
A prominent Iranian lawyer is adding his voice to warnings that Iran's rulers are endangering political prisoners by not temporarily releasing them from jails where the coronavirus appears to be spreading. Speaking to VOA Persian from Iran in a Tuesday interview, Saleh Nikbakht said Iranian prisons are "very dangerous hot spots" for the virus due to overcrowding of inmates and the inability of prison authorities to facilitate social distancing.
Human rights activists say that around 20 prisoners were killed on March 30 and 31 during disturbances in two prisons in Ahvaz, the capital of Iran's oil-rich Khuzestan province. The commander of police in Khuzestan has denied any deaths but families of prisoners gathered on April 1 outside Shiban correctional facility. Earlier, Radio Farda had received reports about three deaths in Sepidar, another prison in Ahvaz, but Karin Dahimi, a human rights activist says, "Eighteen people in Sepidar prison were killed March 30 when security forces opened direct fire at prisoners and also as a result of a blaze", which started during a rebellion by inmates.
Kamal Foroughi, an 80-year-old man with dual Iranian-British nationality, has returned to Britain nine years after being arrested in Iran on spying charges, the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office said in a statement. Foroughi, who was working as a business consultant when he was arrested, was released from detention in Tehran in late 2018. But he was unable to return to his family in Britain as he waited for his Iranian passport to be renewed.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
A top military aide to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei cautioned the United States on Wednesday of consequences of "provocative actions" in Iraq, Iranian news agencies reported. "We advise U.S. politicians and military to take responsibility for the consequences of their provocative actions (in Iraq)," General Yahya Rahim Safavi said, quoted by the semi-official news agency Tasnim. "Any U.S. action will mark an even larger strategic failure in the current president's record."
Iran has no proxies but it has friends, tweeted Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Thursday, a day after U.S. President Donald Trump said that the country or its proxies planned a sneak attack on U.S. targets in Iraq. "Don't be misled by usual warmongers, AGAIN, @realDonaldTrump: Iran has FRIENDS: No one can have MILLIONS of proxies. Unlike the US - which surreptitiously lies, cheats & assassinates - Iran only acts in self-defence," tweeted Zarif.
Iran warned the United States it is leading the Middle East to disaster amid the coronavirus pandemic after reports that Patriot air defence missiles were deployed to Iraq. Washington had been in talks with Baghdad about the proposed deployment since January, but it was not immediately clear whether it secured its approval or not. Iran, which wields huge influence in its western neighbour, said it had not.
In a tweet on Wednesday the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said disturbing reports about involvement of Iranian diplomats in the assassination of a dissident in Turkey are "fully consistent with their assignments" and called them "agents of terror". "[They] have conducted multiple assassinations and bomb plots in Europe over the past decade," Pompeo wrote. Reuters' on Wednesday said a senior U.S. official had confirmed that the United States believes Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security was directly involved in the killing of an Iranian dissident last November in Turkey.
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
The United States believes Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security was directly involved in the killing of an Iranian dissident last November in Turkey, a senior administration official told Reuters on Wednesday. Masoud Molavi Vardanjani was shot dead on an Istanbul street on Nov. 14, 2019. Citing Turkish officials, Reuters last week reported that two intelligence officers in Iran's consulate in Istanbul had instigated his killing.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Iran's death toll from the coronavirus has reached 3,136, with 124 deaths in the past 24 hours, Health Ministry spokesman Kianush Jahanpur told state TV on Thursday, adding that the country had 50,468 cases of infection. "We have 3,956 infected people in critical condition ... There was 2,875 new cases of infected people in the past 24 hours... 16,711 people have recovered from the disease," Jahanpur said.
In his latest televised address on the fight against the coronavirus outbreak in Iran, President Hassan Rouhani defended his government's handling of the crisis, arguing that the containment measures adopted in his country were more efficient than the "Chinese and European models." Rouhani said the infection rate in "all provinces, without an exception, has witnessed a downward trend," a sign that Iran is "on the right track." Those comments, however, sharply contrasted statements of serious caution from health officials closely battling the pandemic in hardest-hit areas, including the northern province of Gilan.
Flooding in Iran caused by heavy rainfall has left 21 people dead and one missing, an emergency services spokesman said Wednesday, even as the country battles the coronavirus pandemic. Mojtaba Khaledi told Iran's ISNA news agency that 22 people had also been injured, with most of the casualties in southern or central provinces. He said 11 people had died in Fars province, three each in Hormozgan and Qom, two in Sistan and Baluchistan province, and one each in Bushehr and Khuzestan.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
Israel fired missiles at the Shayrat airbase in Homs, central Syria, targeting a high-level meeting held between Syrian and Iranian military officials, according to Syrian opposition sources. Israeli warplanes used Lebanon's airspace to target Iranian military transport aircraft and a meeting of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Lebanese Hezbollah commanders, as well as the chief of al-Quds Force Esmail Ghaani, the sources told the German News Agency (DPA).
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
All hell broke loose in a coronavirus quarantine site in the Pakistani city of Sukkur last week. Those inside, including Shiite pilgrims who had just returned from Iran, brought the doors down in protest. The heated crowd included people who had tested positive for coronavirus mixed in with those who were healthy or waiting for their results. Police propelled the crowd back but many are said to have escaped, shouting that the virus was an American conspiracy.