For more than a century the geographical and political obstacles to a direct rail connection between Iraq and Iran have looked insurmountable. The Shatt al-Arab, the waterway formed by the convergence of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, divides their southern border. The frontier also marks a cultural fault line, between the Arab and Persian worlds, which has been a source of conflict for millennia. Little wonder that when the great powers built railways to Iraq in the early 20th century they preferred to cut through the Taurus mountains in Turkey, cross the Nile in Egypt and traverse Syria’s deserts rather than brave any routes via Iran.
The Deputy Chief of the Iranian Judiciary has claimed that an investigation into the killing of Qasem Soleimani, the former commander of IRGC's Quds Force, is in progress. Soleimani was killed in a US drone strike near Baghdad International Airport on January 3, 2020, under the order of then-President Donald Trump, who claimed Soleimani was actively planning attacks on American diplomats and service members in the region. Kazem Gharibabadi stated, "The investigation into the crimes of suspects, including Donald Trump, Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Former US CENTCOM commander General Kenneth McKenzie, is on the agenda, and the court will start the trial and administer justice based on compelling and convincing evidence."
A former British soldier awaiting trial on charges of planting fake bombs, and accused of attempting to leak information to Iran, escaped from a London prison on Wednesday, sparking a country-wide police manhunt. Daniel Abed Khalife, 21, escaped from the kitchen of Wandsworth prison by allegedly strapping himself to the bottom of a food delivery truck. He was reported to have escaped wearing a chef’s uniform. Although authorities searched the vehicle shortly after Khalife’s escape, it was not until finding strapping on the bottom of the truck that they determined he held on to the underside to escape, according to a statement from Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor Alex Chalk.
UANI IN THE NEWS
…The Suez Rajan took delivery of 1mn barrels of oil from another vessel, the Virgo, in February 2022 — a transaction that was spotted using satellite photographs and transponder analysis by United Against Nuclear Iran, a pressure group. The group established that the oil had been sourced from Iran’s Kharg Island. Prosecutors said in a court filing that, as part of the scheme to move the Iranian oil, the crew of the Suez Rajan visited a third vessel. It took on a small amount of oil from that ship, but pretended to have loaded its entire cargo from it, in an alleged effort to obscure the commodity’s true origin.
…Mark Wallace, a former US ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush who heads United Against Nuclear Iran, praised Empire Navigation for agreeing to the plea. He described Iran's oil smuggling as a “mob-like” operation and urged others to abandon the trade. “They faced down Iranian assassination threats in Greece,” Wallace told the AP. “They took the off ramp to leave the mob.” Wallace declined to elaborate, and the US court documents offered no detail on the alleged assassination threat — though prosecutors did cite “security risks to the defendants, the government, as well as the vessel and its crew members” in their application to seal the case from public view in March.
…After the nongovernmental organization United Against Nuclear Iran raised concerns of smuggling, the ship sat for months off the coast of Singapore before sailing for the Gulf of Mexico with seemingly no explanation, the AP reported at the time. The tanker arrived off the coast of Texas on May 30, Reuters reported at the time. The unsealed court filings revealed that Empire Navigation had made a deal with the U.S. to bring the Suez Rajan to Texas so the oil could be seized, The New York Times report said.
…The watchdog group United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) regularly highlights the movements of tankers illustrating the Iranian regime's efforts to avoid the sanctions. They called attention to the Suez Rajan. The group has identified approximately 300 tankers it believes are involved in the efforts to transport sanctioned Iranian oil products. The group highlights the use of the so-called shadow fleet, efforts at regularly disguising or turning off AIS signals, and ship-to-ship transfers mostly in Asia before sending the oil to China. Iran admits that it is increasing its shipments of crude oil saying that it has reached the levels prior to the Trump administration. Commodity intelligence firm Kpler estimates Iran is exporting 1 to 1.5 million barrels of oil a day while Tehran now claims to be exporting nearly 2 million barrels a day.
…In February, the manager of Empire Navigation had said the company was investigating whether Iranian oil had been transferred onto one of the vessels it manages. The announcement came after the advocacy group United Against Nuclear Iran said in a Feb. 15 letter that it believed Iranian oil was transferred to the Suez Rajan from a ship called the Virgo on Feb. 13. Suez Rajaz Limited pleaded guilty April 19. Empire Navigation faces three years of probation under a plea agreement with the United States. Circumvention of the sanctions against Iran can have serious consequences, such as losing access to the US dollar financial system or having all assets seized.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
In August, OPEC crude oil production increased by 120,000 barrels per day (b/d). This was driven by higher output from Iran, Iraq, and Nigeria, which outweighed the additional cuts made by Saudi Arabia and Russia. This information is based on the most recent Platts survey conducted by S&P Global Commodity Insights. OPEC’s production averaged 40.52 million b/d in the month, with the 13 members of OPEC producing 190,000 b/d month on month. Output from the non-OPEC countries in the coalition contracted by 70,000 b/d.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
Iran’s ayatollahs should, by rights, be triumphant. Their bully-boys have muzzled the cries of “woman, life, freedom” that reverberated around the country a year ago after a young Kurdish-Iranian woman, Mahsa Amini, died in custody for showing her hair. They have purged universities of critics, silenced disapproving media outlets and rounded up activists along with their family and friends. A new bill going through parliament will revive the morality police (who were disbanded in the wake of the protests) and introduce new punishments for those who violate their dress codes. The regime is cutting deals with friends and foes alike to help it tighten its political and financial grip. Oil exports are back to levels not seen since the Trump administration reimposed sanctions in 2018. And yet, unlike during previous crackdowns, the mullahs still sound nervous. “They know the genie is out of the bottle,” says a teacher in Tehran.
Six workers from the Agh-Dareh Vosta mines in West Azerbaijan Province have been held in detention since August 31, following union protests. The Tehran-based Sharq newspaper reported on September 7 that 32 miners in total from the village of Agh-Dareh Vosta, near the northwestern city of Takab, were arrested during a protest last month sparked by demands for the employment of local residents in the region. All but six have been released. The detained miners, who were employed in the gold and stone mines of Agh-Dareh, are currently being held in Urmia prison. They face charges including disrupting public order, acting against national security, and kidnapping. The context or specifics of the kidnapping charge remains unclear, as the newspaper did not provide further details.
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
Iran's Intelligence Ministry, in cooperation with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps intelligence unit, busted "a foreign-affiliated network" that it says was planning to renew a protest movement that erupted across the Islamic Republic following the brutal murder of a young woman at the hands of Tehran's morality police. Iran claims the U.S. State Department funded and supported the anti-regime network. But the claims, which were presented by Iran's state-controlled media without evidence, indicate the Iranian regime may be seeking to use the U.S. government as a scapegoat before the ongoing protest movement launches a new wave of demonstrations to bring down the hardline Islamic government, according to one former Pentagon adviser.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Iran’s former President Hassan Rouhani has criticized the harsh treatment of the elite, alleging that some officials are pleased that they are leaving the country. “I went to the United States in 2014 where I delivered a speech to [expat] Iranians. All of them longed to return home,” he said in a speech to his former aides and ministers on August 28 a short video of which was only published on Tuesday. Rouhani added that an expatriate, apparently with high qualifications, who returned after this meeting was arrested at the airport, presumably by security forces taking their orders from places other than his government. “They shut the door. Sadly, some people are happy that our talented youth are leaving. They say, 'Let them go so that others who support the hardline government can take their place,'" he said.
Assailants have shot dead two Iranian policemen in Sistan-Baluchistan province, state media reported, the latest in a spate of attacks on security forces in the southeastern region. The attack occurred in the rugged countryside near Iran’s border with Pakistan, the official news agency IRNA reported late Wednesday. “The terrorist attack on a police unit at Taftan in the southeastern province of Sistan-Baluchistan killed two policemen,” IRNA said. The identity of the assailants and circumstances surrounding the attack were not immediately clear. Unrest in impoverished Sistan-Baluchistan province -- which also borders Afghanistan -- has involved drugs-smuggling gangs, rebels from the Baluchi minority and Sunni Muslim extremists.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
Amid recent clashes between Kurdish-led forces and Arab tribes as well as anti-government protests in Syria, Iran has remained uncharacteristically silent. But some Iranian media outlets have seen a "crisis" returning to Syria, which has after more than a decade of civil war just seen its government accepted by Arab governments. If the unrest continues, Iran is unlikely to stay silent. Tehran has heavily invested in keeping the Damascus government in power and looks to reap the benefits of rebuilding the war-torn country. The coverage: The last several weeks have been particularly volatile in various parts of Syria.
GULF STATES, YEMEN, & IRAN
Gulf Cooperation Council ministers on Thursday condemned a derogatory statement made by Iran Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman about jail conditions in Bahrain. Citing the principles of the UN Charter on “good neighbourliness and non-interference in the internal affairs of states,” the GCC Ministerial Council called on officials in Iran “to investigate accuracy and not rely on incorrect information.” The statement was part of a comprehensive one issued by the GCC Ministerial Council at the close of its 57th session in the Saudi capital.
Abdullah bin Saud Al-Enezi has been appointed as Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Iran. Al-Enezi’s career in diplomacy began after he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in political science from King Saud University. He has since dedicated his skills and expertise to the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs, working in various internal departments and representing the Kingdom in different embassies abroad, while also participating in official delegations. In 2021, Al-Enezi was appointed by King Salman as an extraordinary and plenipotentiary ambassador to Oman.