The U.S. plans to renew a waiver allowing Iraq to import natural gas and electricity from Iran without risking sanctions, U.S. and Iraqi officials said, as Washington and Baghdad move to ease tensions after diplomatic ties nearly unraveled last month. Iraq relies heavily on Iranian natural gas for power generation. The Trump administration had previously granted waivers protecting Baghdad from any penalty to avoid plunging the country into crisis on condition the government moved to wean itself off Iranian energy.
Iran will soon disclose new information about the missile attack it carried out against a U.S. base in Iraq last month, the ISNA news agency on Friday reported Amirali Hajizadeh, head of the Guards' aerospace division, as saying. Tensions have spiked between Iran and the United States after top Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Baghdad on Jan. 3, prompting the Islamic Republic to retaliate with a missile attack against the Ain al Assad base in Iraq days later.
A month after Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps fired numerous ballistic missiles at U.S. troops in Iraq, Germany's government is slated to celebrate the founding of the Islamic Republic, prompting a public rebuke from America's highest-profile ambassador in continental Europe. Iran marks "Islamic Revolution's Victory Day" on Feb. 11 as a national holiday when the mullahs order state-sponsored demonstrations in every Iranian city.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
The head of a key nonproliferation watchdog is making the rounds in Washington this week to reassure the Donald Trump administration and Congress that it's still capable of monitoring Iranian activity, even as the 2015 nuclear deal unravels. Iran, which pulled out of the nuclear deal following the US assassination of Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani last month, took center stage in International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Rafael Grossi's visit to the United States this week.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
Iran's unsold oil stockpile stored on land, floating in the Persian Gulf and on high seas at the end of January has remained unchanged since September 2019, as it has curtailed production. Oil stockpiles stored on land stood at 61.6 and on the floating ships at 38 million barrels, respectively, the international energy information and tanker tracker company, Kpler, told Radio Farda. In September the total stockpiled oil was 104 million barrels.
Over the past few years, tensions over Iran's nuclear ambitions have reached unprecedented levels. In 2018, President Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Iran nuclear deal -- a pact known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) penned in 2015 with other countries that promised to ease sanctions on Tehran in exchange for the country curbing its nuclear enrichment. Since then, Iran has repeatedly breached the amount of enriched uranium it was allowed under the accord.
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
Iran and North Korea are updating their aging fleets and building new and more advanced submarines in order to counter their adversaries in open waters. Iranian navy commander Admiral Hossein Khanzadi touted his country's underwater military capabilities during a speech Thursday in the northeastern province of Razavi Khorasan. He stated that "the most complex pieces equipment in the world are those found in the military and among the military equipment, the most complex are those found in the navy, especially submarines," according to the semi-official Tasnim News Agency.
IRANIAN INTERNAL DEVELOPMENTS
Iran's Reformists have faced an unprecedented number of their candidates being barred from running in the upcoming parliamentary election. However, this could turn out to be a gift to them from radicals. The hard-line-dominated Guardian Council, tasked with vetting the candidates, has paved the way for an easy victory of hard-liners in Iran while rejecting the majority of Reformist candidates across the country. The number of Reformist candidates recognized as disqualified by the Guardian Council is to the extent that the election, as President Hassan Rouhani has stated, won't be competitive.
Yesterday Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei urged a large turnout on the upcoming parliamentary elections in what was possibly his final speech before the election in two weeks. The run-up to the election has not been without controversy, however, as the fight between President Hassan Rouhani and Khamenei behind the scenes has spilled into the public. Khamenei, as he has done before, urged even those who do not favor him to vote out of duty to their country, an odd pitch for a man who has been at the helm of power for three decades.
Iran's hardliner-dominated Guardian Council on February 2 announced the names of candidates "qualified" to run for the country's February 21 parliamentary elections. It also disqualified many prominent candidates on suspicions of corruption. The vetting process barred many government officials as well as civil and political activists including 90 current legislators from running for the Parliament (Majles).
Iran's Cyber Police officials on Thursday said two individuals who spread false news about coronavirus outbreak in Kurdestan and Hormozgan provinces have been arrested. According to the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA), Ramin Pashaei, Social Deputy of Iran's Cyber Police (also known as FATA), has said that an individual who claimed that a coronavirus victim was hospitalized in Kurdestan Province in a video clip shared on social media has been arrested.
Dozens of Iranian political activists in exile launched on Thursday a campaign calling on voters to boycott the upcoming legislative elections in the country. A statement called on everyone to join the campaign held under the slogan of "Esfand Without Voices." Esfand is the 12th and final month of the Iranian official Solar Hijri calendar. It's when the parliamentary elections are held in Iran.
We're living in the information age. But when it comes to fundamental change in society, organized industrial workers remain a powerful, bedrock force. And that's just as true in Iran as in other modern nations. The Iranian labor movement may seem like a remote topic when the news is dominated by the hangover of impeachment and the dawn of America's presidential primaries, not to mention the danger of global pandemic from coronavirus. But Iran remains the cockpit for destabilizing events in the world - and worker protest may be the X factor there.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
Israeli warplanes carried out airstrikes targeting Syrian army positions near the capital and Iran-backed fighters Thursday, killing 23, according to a monitoring group. The airstrikes began after midnight and hit military bases and Iran-backed militiamen west and south of Damascus, said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which tracks the Syrian civil war through activists on the ground.
IRAQ & IRAN
After followers of a populist Iraqi Shi'ite cleric who had once supported anti-government protests attacked sit-ins this week, some activists are looking to one last vestige of the establishment for support: their ayatollah. "Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani is the only powerful figure left who can help us," said 30-year-old demonstrator Mahdi Abdul Zahra as he watched security forces behind concrete barriers in Baghdad take pot shots with air rifles at protesters.
AFGHANISTAN & IRAN
As Iran plans vengeance for the United States' killing of the commander of its Quds Force, Qassem Soleimani, the U.S. should not ignore Afghanistan as an important theater where Iran might flex its muscle. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently warned Iran and the Taliban about the effect their ties might have on talks between American negotiators and Taliban representatives. But the prospects of imminent U.S. withdrawal only increase the chances that Tehran will stage a patient anti-American covert campaign in Afghanistan.
OTHER FOREIGN AFFAIRS
Britain's ambassador to Iran is back in Tehran, he said late on Thursday, some three weeks after he returned to London following his brief arrest by Iranian security forces. Rob Macaire was called an "undesirable element" by Iran's judiciary after officials accused him of attending an illegal protest last month and a hardline cleric said he should be expelled, state media reported. The ambassador said he had attended a vigil for victims of the crash of a Ukrainian airliner, amid public anger over Iran's belated admission that it accidentally shot down the plane.
Two French researchers held for months in a Tehran prison on charges of violating Iran's state security laws have petitioned prison authorities to allow them to get married, their lawyer said Friday. The two - Fariba Adelkhah Adelkhah and Roland Marchal, both in their 60s - filed separate requests to Evin prison authorities, according to their lawyer, Saeid Dehghan. He also expressed concerns for Adelkhah's deteriorating health amid a hunger strike that she has been on since December.