The U.S Navy condemned the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) for using a dummy aircraft carrier modeled after an American Nimitz class carrier for target practice and called the Islamic Republic's action "irresponsible".
Yesterday, the IRGC moved the model aircraft carrier toward the Strait of Hormuz. The vessel was once used and destroyed in 2015, and was later repaired.
Iran Covid Spokesman Apologizes For Criticizing Unmasked Religious Gathering
Dr Alireza Raisi, spokesman of Iran’s National Coronavirus Combat Taskforce, has apologized for his comments over a failure to apply Covid-19 public-health protocols in a religious ceremony. Raisi had drawn criticism from Friday prayer-leaders and media affiliated to the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC).
In a recorded message released on social media on Wednesday [January 20], Raisi said his statements earlier this week about a ceremony in Qom, home to Iran’s leading seminary schools, had been misinterpreted and that he had meant no disrespect. At a taskforce meeting on Sunday attended by President Hassan Rouhani, Raisi had displayed a picture of the ceremony in Qom and criticized its organizers for not requiring social distancing and masks.
“Those who carelessly organize [such ceremonies] are undoubtedly responsible for the death of our people in the next peak [of the pandemic] and must be punished,” Raisi had said. “This is not virtuous, they are killing people.”
While the state broadcaster (IRIB) simply ignored Raisi’s remarks in reporting the taskforce meeting, the IRGC-affiliated Tasnim News Agency on Monday published a piece headlined “Coronavirus Taskforce Spokesman’s Expression of Contempt for the People of Qom.” The commentary said the taskforce has failed to take effective action in other cities but its spokesman had accused the people of Qom of ignoring health protocols and suggested they were responsible for further Covid deaths.
Iran became in February the second country to report Covid after China, with Qom the first Iranian city where people died. The city has many seminaries and is considered the most important center of the Iranian clerical establishment.
Iran Central Bank Chief Claims Credit For Rial's Rise, Attributed To Biden
Abdolnaser Hemmati, chief of Iran’s central bank (CBI) has taken credit for the recent rise in the value of Iran’s currency, saying that he prevented “120 percent hyperinflation”.
Iran’s currency has regained some of its steep losses in 2020, rising 30 percent from its lowest point last August. The rise the began after the US presidential election is mostly attributed to optimism related to the presidency of Joe Biden who has indicated he might rejoin the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran that Donald Trump abandoned in 2018.
After Trump imposed harsh sanctions, Iran’s already inefficient economy battered by years of international sanctions took a turn for the worst, with the currency losing most of its value and inflation reaching 40 percent, triggering nationwide protests.
Hemmati, who was speaking in a television program Tuesday acknowledged the “pressure on” ordinary people who he said are enduring hardship, but he claimed the CBI prevented hyperinflation, saying he never gave up despite many officials being hopeless about the situation.
However, Iran’s currency has lost value twofold since Hemmati assumed the leadership of the central bank two years ago, when the US dollar traded for 110,000 rials. The US currency is now trading at 220,000 rials.
Despite sounding victorious, Hemmati refused to endorse President Hassan Rouhani’s prediction that the rial would rise further, saying it will depend on Iran’s blocked funds being freed. At the same time he acknowledged that counties such as South Korea and Iraq refuse to unlock funds blocked in their funds, fearing US sanctions.
Prince Reza Pahlavi: Khamanei's Ban On Vaccine Is Murder
Banning Western Covid vaccines “is murder…justified by ignorance”, Iran’s exiled Prince Reza Pahlavi has said in a video message released January 19, lambasting a decision by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei who has banned the government from importing American and British vaccines.
The last heir to Iran’s monarchy who lives in the United States, also called for the medical community to be the decision maker about critical health issues and accused Khamenei of having ulterior financial reasons for banning Western vaccines.
Khamenei in a speech on January 8 banned Western vaccines arguing that they “cannot be relied on and trusted”, promising that Iran is developing its own Covid vaccines. But the company in charge of developing a vaccine, the Barakat Foundation, is a charitable entity and business group controlled by Khamenei, leading to suspicions that the ban is to monopolize the market for the local vaccine for financial gain.
Officials have said it will take months until an Iranian vaccine becomes available and some medical officials have cast doubt on th country’s ability to mass-produce a vaccine.
Prince Reza Pahlavi said, “Everyone knows that a vaccine approved by the world’s highest medical authorities is not created to hurt the Iranian people.”
“This corruption had never clawed at the lives of Iranians in such a brutal manner. This crime is too blatant to cover up,” he added.
Khamenei’s decision has politicized the vaccine issue and many Iranians have attacked the Islamic Republic and Khamenei for endangering thousands of lives by delaying vaccination.
Iran Symbolically Sanctions Trump And Ten American Officials
Hours before the end of the Trump administration’s term in office, the Foreign Ministry of the Islamic Republic of Iran said it is sanctioning President Donald Trump and several officials in his administration and the previous administration.
The spokesman for the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Saeed Khatibzadeh said on Tuesday, January 19 that the ministry has sanctioned 10 high-ranking US officials including the current president in accordance with the “Opposing US human rights violation and its adventurous activities including terrorism in the region” bill which was recently passed by the parliament.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Mark Esper and Christopher Miller, Former Secretary and the current acting Secretary of Defense, Secretary of Treasury Steven Mnuchin, Director of Central Intelligence Agency Gina Haspel, Former White House National Security Adviser John Bolton, former and current US State Department representatives on Iran Brian Hook and Elliott Abrams, and the director of Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) Andrea Gacki, are among the sanctioned officials, according to Khatibzadeh.
The spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry says these individuals have been sanctioned due to their role in “ordering and guiding” the assassination of Qassem Soleimani, the former commander of the Quds Force of Iran’s paramilitary Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC).
Previously the Foreign Ministry had announced that it has delivered the request for the arrest of Donald Trump to Interpol.
Explosions Near Baghdad Result Of 'ISIS Attack', Not US Airstrikes
While pro-Iran media claimed the explosions near power transmission towers in Jurf al-Sakhar south of Baghdad were caused by US airstrikes, a source close to the Iraqi Armed Forces has confirmed that the incident was an ISIS attack on power infrastructure, not a US airstrike.
Security Media Cell, a Twitter account said to be close to Iraq's military in a tweet on Tuesday morning denied reports that people had been killed or wounded in airstrikes in the Jurf al-Sakhar area in Babil. Some local media had earlier reported at least nine casualties.
In another tweet the Security Media Cell also announced that the explosion was a result of ISIS militants' attack on electric power transmission towers in the Behbehani area, north of Babel Governorate, not airstrikes.
On Monday night, the Hezbollah-affiliated Al-Mayadeen news reported that explosions were heard near Jurf al-Sakhar overnight after drones targeted sites belonging to the Iraqi Armed Forces in the area. Al-Hurra and Al-Arabiya, however, claimed that the sites belonged to the Iranian-backed Kataib Hezbollah militia and reported several deaths and injuries.
The US Central Command Spokesman Captain Bill Urban in a tweet on Tuesday refuted the claims about US involvement in the attacks. “Explosions reported earlier today about 40 miles outside of Baghdad, Iraq, in the town of Jurf al-Sakhar, were not the result of US military action,” Capt. Bill Urban, CENTCOM spokesman," he said.
Iran's Currency Continues Edging Up Ahead Of Biden Inauguration
The Iranian foreign-exchange (Forex) market opened with another hike in the value of the rial on Tuesday [January 19] in expectation of President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration on Wednesday and Washington’s possible return to Iran’s 2015 nuclear agreement.
The Melli Exchange Company (MEX), which leads Forex rates in Iran, dropped its opening dollar sale rate by 9,000 rials to 21,290. On Monday the MEX opened with a dollar selling price of 22,200 rials.
The falling Iranian national currency on October 1 reached the milestone of 300,000 rials to the dollar, a ten-fold fall in the three years since Trump indicated that he would withdraw from the nuclear agreement and impose sanctions on Iran. Draconian third-party sanctions on Iran’s oil exports have deprived the government of its major foreign-currency revenue source.
Forex experts, however, believe that the market may become favorable to the national currency for a while, but the upward trend may be reversed soon. "Further drop in the rate of the dollar could not be expected if more than 800 cases of sanctions are not lifted," Tala News, an economic and financial website, wrote on Monday. "The market will again be waiting for the news after an initial downward trend [following the end of Trump's presidency]," the article said.
The rial traded at a stable rate of just 70 to the dollar in the 1970s before the Islamic Revolution, but it began a steady fall that has continued since 1979. Compared to pre-revolution era, the rial has lost its value 3,000-fold.
Iran Conducts More Military Drills One Day Before Biden Inauguration
Iran’s military has launched ground forces drills on Tuesday [Jan. 19] along the coast of the Gulf of Oman, following naval exercises last week as the new US administration is set to assume power.
State TV reported that commando units and airborne infantry were participating in the annual drills, along with warplanes, helicopters and military transport planes. Claims made by Iran’s military cannot be verified since no independent journalists had access to information.
Iran’s frequent military drills lately are seen as an attempt to pressure President-elect Joe Biden over the 2015 nuclear deal that Donald Trump withdrew from in 2018 and imposed sanctions. Biden has said he intends to return to the agreement but Tehran under tremendous economic pressure wants a quick reprieve.
“The general goal of this drill is to assess the offensive and penetrative power of the ground forces against the enemy from air, ground and sea,” said Kiomars Heidari, chief of ground forces as saying.
On Saturday, Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard conducted a drill, launching anti-warship ballistic missiles at a simulated target at a distance of some 1,800 kilometers (1,120 miles) in the Indian Ocean, a day after the Guard’s aerospace division launched surface-to-surface ballistic missiles and drones against “hypothetical enemy bases” in the country’s vast central desert.
Iran is also ratchetting up its nuclear pressure on the West by increasing uranium enrichment to 20 percent, cutting the time needed to achieve the degree of purity needed for nuclear weapons.
Spokesman Warns Of More Power Outages As Cold Front Approaches Iran
In the coming days Iran will face more problems in supplying electricity to residential and industrial customers due to an approaching cold front that will increase consumption, the spokesman of the state electricity network said Tuesday.
Mostafa Rajabi-Mashhadi told ILNA news website that citizens must do their utmost to reduce gas and electricity consumption.
In recent weeks unexpected and widespread power outages have hit major Iranian cities amid the winter cold, prompting controversy over who is responsible. At the same time heavy smog enveloped cities as reports emerged of power plants burning dirty fuel because of a shortage in natural gas supplies. The fuel called Mazut is rarely used in any country due to its dangerous polluting impact.
Many have also blamed cryptocurrency ‘mining farms’ that use a lot of electricity for creating the crunch amid the high-consumption winter season. Cryptocurrency mining depends on large computer farms that solve complex problems and record data in exchange for earning bitcoins or other cryptocurrencies.
Officials have repeatedly promised to inform the public of impending power cuts, but that has not happened and consumers are angry over the unscheduled power outages. Some have even speculated that electricity cuts can be the result of hacker attacks on the network.
Alleged US Airstrike On Iran-Backed Militia In Iraq
There have been reports of multiple US airstrikes on Iran-backed Iraqi Shia militia group Kata’ib Hezbollah’s locations near Jurf al-Sakhar in Iraq.
The area could contain several weapon storage facilities meant to be used by the militias or smuggled into Syria and Lebanon.
According to Reuters, the US Central Command said it was not aware of “any strikes in Iraq”. Al-Hadath network has denied any reports about the Iraqi military suffering casualties.
So far six people have been reportedly killed by the airstrike in the South of Baghdad. Iranian sources have blamed the US and some have blamed Israel.
The attack occurred about a year after Qasem Soleimani was killed, with different reports of increased alertness around the anniversary of his death.
Some speculate that the attack could be a last response by the Trump administration to the IEDs that exploded on the path of the convoy of the international coalition on Dhi Qar highway. The first bomb caused no damages but the second bomb set one vehicle on fire.
In the past two weeks, around the one-year anniversary of Soleimani's, the commander of the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps in Iraq, tensions have escalated between Iran and the US. There were reports of Iran’s possible retaliation on American forces in the region.