US sanctions leaders of Iran-backed militias in Iraq for killing protestors | Iran International

US sanctions leaders of Iran-backed militias in Iraq for killing protestors

 

The US government has sanctioned the Iraqi leaders of three Iran-backed militias for killing dozens of anti-government protesters.

The Treasury Department designated Qais al-Khazali, Laith al-Khazali, and Husayn Falih 'Aziz al-Lami for their involvement in serious human rights abuses.

The State Department's senior official on Middle East, David Schenker, condemned Iran's interference in Iraqi affairs as he announced the sanctions on Friday.

He also decried “Tehran's increasing aggression in response to the Trump administration's maximum pressure campaign”. 

"Iraqis have paid a steep and bloody price" because of the Iranian regime's involvement in the country, Schenker said.

US Threatens To Close Embassy In Iraq If Rocket Attacks Continue

After a series of attacks near American bases in Iraq and the American embassy in Baghdad’s Green Zone, the Trump administration has now warned the Iraqi government that it is preparing to shut down its embassy in Baghdad if the Iraqi government does not stop the rocket attacks by Iran-backed Shia militias against American targets.

In recent phone calls to Iraqi President Bahram Salih and Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Khadhimi, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered the warning.

The American ambassador to Iraq Matthew Tueller told the Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein that President Trump is directly behind this decision, adding that Iraq and the US have entered a new era in their relations.

What we’re being told is that it is a gradual closure of the embassy over two to three months,” said one Iraqi official, adding that it might also be coupled with the withdrawal of American troops in Iraq.

The USB State Department and the US embassy in Baghdad have declined comments on the issue, but two Iraqi officials said that the U.S. has informed Iraqi authorities that it is beginning to take preliminary steps so it could close the embassy over the next few months while retaining its consulate in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdish region of Iraq.

Saudi Arabia Says It Dismantled Terrorist Cell Trained By Iran’s IRGC

Saudi Arabia announced on Monday that it has recently busted a terrorist cell that was trained by Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), arresting 10 members and confiscating some weapons and explosives in the process.

The spokesperson for Saudi Arabia’s chief of security announced on state media that three of the terrorists arrested were trained in IRGC bases in Iran, and the rest were “linked to the cell in various roles”.

According to the statement released by the chief of security, in the raid of two locations, a house and a farm, some weapons and explosives were confiscated.

The relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia as the leaders of the Shia and Sunni world have deteriorated rapidly in the past decade after the attack on Saudi Arabian embassy in Iran by Basij militia in Tehran which led to Saudi Arabia shutting down its embassy. In the past few years, tensions between the two countries have intensified with Iran’s support of Houthis in Yemen and attacking several oil tankers in the Persian Gulf and targeting Saudi Arabian oil facilities.

Iran has repeatedly denied the allegations despite the evidence that has been presented such as the remains of Iranian missiles found in the attack sites. 

 

At Least 5 Civilians Killed In Rocket Attack Near Baghdad Airport

Three Iraqi children and two women from the same family were killed Monday when a rocket targeting Baghdad airport, where US troops are stationed, fell instead on their home, the army said.

The latest in a string of incidents targeting American interests in Iraq came after Washington threatened to close its embassy and withdraw its 3,000 troops from the country unless the rocket attacks stop.

The attacks, which started around a year ago, have caused few casualties. 

Monday's incident was the first to claim so many civilian lives. The army said it also wounded two other children.

Twitter accounts supporting US arch-enemy Iran regularly praise the attacks, but that was not the case Monday, and no group immediately claimed responsibility.

Previous attacks of the same nature have been claimed by murky groups saying they are acting against the "American occupier".

Experts say they include former members of pro-Iranian factions of the Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary alliance.

The Iraqi army, in its statement Monday, accused "criminal gangs and groups of outlaws" of seeking to "create chaos and terrorise people".

Between October and July, at least 39 rocket attacks targeted US interests in Iraq. Almost the same number again have taken place since.

Iraqi intelligence sources have blamed the attacks on a small group of hardline Iran-backed paramilitary factions.

Prince Reza Pahlavi Sends Message To Iranians

Iran International Television has just started broadcasting a message by Prince Reza Pahlavi in which the prince outlines his idea of "a new contract" between all Iranians to move on from the Islamic Republic, set up a democratic system and revive the country everyone deserves.

He says the "Islamic Republic of Iran cannot be reformed and the people of Iran do not deserve a government that has brought about international isolation, decline of social values, suppression of civil liberties, economic crisis as well as depression and despair for the nation."

The message is tailored to appeal to the people of Iran who want to have social and political freedoms and see a better future ahead.

Introducing his idea of "A New Contract," Prince Reza, 59 who is regarded by supporters as heir to the throne said his motivation is not to take political power but create "a system in which political power is not monopolized by an individual or a group and everyone is equally responsible to make key decisions."

In the video message, Prince Reza, the heir to the Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, said his motivation is not to take political power, adding that his motivation is one of creating "a system in which political power is not monopolized by an individual or a group and everyone is equally responsible to make key decisions."

He stressed that a future government should be based on collective wisdom, public participation and citizens' responsibility."

He said he is looking for "the right route to welfare and progress, and not a system that would recreate despotism and monopoly on power."

Iran Urges Armenia and Azerbaijan To Agree To A Ceasefire

Iran's Foreign Ministry on Monday called on Armenia and Azerbaijan to reach an immediate cease-fire and opt for negotiations for settling disputes.

It comes as clashes continued over the disputed separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh after hostilities broke out the day before, with both sides blaming each other for resuming the deadly attacks that reportedly also wounded scores of people.

The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry claimed that Armenian forces started shelling the town of Tartar on Monday morning, while Armenian officials said the fighting continued throughout the night and Baku resumed “offensive actions" in the morning.

Reports from Israeli experts say that Azerbaijan has received a lot of advanced weapons and drones from Israel and Turkey before the latest round of fighting. But on Sunday Armenia forces managed to shoot down 2-3 Azerbaijani helicopters and nine drones.

"We believe that prompt ceasefire, giving up hostilities and starting mutual talks is the only definitive solution to this issue", Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh told journalists at a news briefing in Tehran.

Azerbaijan's Defence Ministry told the Interfax news agency Monday that over 550 Armenian troops have been killed, a claim that Armenian officials denied.  

According to Nagorno-Karabakh officials, 31 servicemen have been killed so far.  

Armenia's Defence Ministry spokesman Artsrun Hovhannisyan said Monday over 200 people have been wounded.  

The heavy fighting broke out on Sunday morning in the region that lies within Azerbaijan but has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia since 1994 at the end of a separatist war.   

It was not immediately clear what sparked the fighting, the heaviest since clashes in July killed 16 people from both sides.   

Mostly mountainous Nagorno-Karabakh — a region around 4,400 square kilometres (1,700 square miles) or about the size of the US state of Delaware — lies 50 kilometres (30 miles) from the Armenian border.  

Father Of Protester Condemned To Death In Iran Commits Suicide

The father of a young man condemned to death for taking part in protests in Iran last November has committed suicide.

A social media news channel, Emtedad reported September 27 that Amir-Hossein Moradi’s mother found the lifeless body of her husband in the basement of their house on Monday. The report added, “Since this morning security agents are present in the house and several reporters from the state broadcaster are in the courtyard.”

Amir-Hossein Moradi was arrested in the mid-November protests in 2019 and on July 14 Iran’s Judiciary announced that he and two others, Saeed Tamjidi and Mohammad Rajabi have been sentenced to death and the verdict has been approved. Later, the chief of the of the country’s hardliner Judiciary suspended the execution of the sentence.

Security forces killed hundreds of protesters in November and arrested more than 7,000 people. Human rights organizations and defenders have charged that many have been tortured in prison and those who have been tried behind closed doors have been deprived of due process.

Emtedad also reported that Moradi’s family has been subjected to “psychological pressures” during this time and found themselves in an uncertain situation. It is not clear whether they were being pressured to stay silent or agree to some sort of televised apology.

Other reports have quoted Moradi's mother as saying that pressures on the family recently were so intense that her husband was constantly speking about thei son and appeared to be gravely concerned. 

Babak Paknia a defense attorney for many detained protesters also confirmed the suicide of Moradi’s father.

Meanwhile, Mehdi Mahmoudian, a political activist, admonished individuals who according to him immediately went to the family to get “forced confessions”. He wrote that whether they are “interrogators” or state journalists, they should be ashamed of themselves.

 

Victims' Families Of Ukraine Airliner Shot Down By Iran Will Rally October 5

The families of victims who died in the shooting down of a Ukrainian airliner in Iran in January have called for gatherings October 5 in nine cities on different continents “to demand justice.”

Two missiles fired by the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) air-defense system brought down the Ukrainian Airline flight 752 in the early hours of January 8 shortly after it took off from Tehran’s Imam Khomeini international airport. All 176 passengers and crew aboard perished.

The Association of Families of Flight PS752 Victims (752AFV) has announced that 176 family members symbolizing the 176 victims will gather in these cities to demand “the condemnation of the Islamic Republic by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the speedy publication of information by affected countries about the crime and a plan by these countries about how to reach truth and justice.”

Citizens from several countries were killed in the incident, including dozens from Canada, where families launched an association to demand full information as to how the order was given to fire the missiles. The airliner was downed just hours after Iran attacked United States bases in Iran in response to the US five days earlier killing IRGC Qods (Quds) Force commander Qassem Soleimani.

Iran’s initial denials it had shot down the airliner led to protests in Tehran. Iran then procrastinated for months in handing over the plane’s flight recorders to a country with the technology to read their information and still keeps secret the details of the incident as well as any criminal investigation.

Ukraine has been negotiating with Iran for months to reach an agreement. Iranian officials have said they are willing to pay compensation to Ukraine and the families of the victims but the dispute over full disclosure goes on. Families of victims have also sued the Islamic Republic and some of its top officials in lawsuits in Canada.

 

Iran's Foreign Ministry Denies Reports Of Ongoing Talks With United States

The Islamic Republic will not negotiate with the United States, the spokesman of Iran’s foreign ministry said Monday in response to media reports that secret talks might be going on between the two counties in Oman.

Saeed Khatibazadeh told reporters during his weekly briefing that “There has been no negotiation, there is no negotiation now, nor there will be any. These [reports] have domestic purposes and perhaps are useful for Trump.”

The Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Jarida published a report September 25 claiming that representatives from Iran’s hardliners and the United States have been holding talks in Oman. This fueled speculations in the Iranian media about a possible deal between President Donald Trump and conservatives in Iran who are trusted by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

Khatibzadeh repeated what foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif had said in Moscow last week, that Iran will not negotiate unless Washington ends all sanctions and agrees to pay compensation to Iran. He added that if the US takes these steps “perhaps there would be a corner for it in the JCPOA room.”

Khatibzadeh was referring to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, as the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers is known.

The Trump administration pulled out of the agreement in May 2018 and imposed harsh economic sanctions on Iran demanding a renegotiation of the deal.

Khamenei has publicly forbidden negotiations with the United States.

 

IWA Statement: Writers Sent ‘To The Altar Of Sacrifice’

The Iranian Writers Association (IWA) has condemned the decision of the judiciary to send three of its members to serve their jail terms amid the coronavirus pandemic, saying judicial and security officials want to send “dissidents and critics to the altar of sacrifice.”

The IWA announced September 26 that Reza Khandan-Mahabadi, Baktash Abtin and Keyvan Bijan had begun jail terms after conviction for security-related offenses, including collusion and propaganda against the regime. When the three writers surrendered the previous day at Tehran’s Evin prison, a group of writers and poets gathered outside to protest and bid farewell to their fellow penmen. 

In its second statement September 27, IWA, which has been banned since 1981, said it considered the action against its members “a criminal act in violation of human rights standards.” The IWA warned of further state action against Iran’s writers: “These verdicts are issued and implemented simply because of the writers’ membership in the association and their quest to defend freedom of thought and speech and are meant to increase pressure on independent writers…Now, that the country is gripped with poverty, pandemic and organized corruption, instead of responding to the rightful demands of the people the rulers choose to intensify their suppression of freedom of speech by arrests, torture and execution of those who protest.”

Pen, the international body supporting writers worldwide, has drawn attention to many cases of persecution in Iran, including the poet Sedigeh Vasmaghi, who has been sentenced to six years in prison, and Narges Mohammadi, a writer and journalist jailed for 16 years.

In an interview with Pen Australia in June, Khandan-Mahabadi and Abtin surveyed the IWA’s history since it was founded in 1968. Khandan-Mahabadi said the association “defends the writer’s right and on the cultural front if defends freedom of expression and is against censorship.”

Attorney Of Abducted Iranian Activist Says Ayatollah Sistani's Office Might Be Infiltrated

The France-based defense attorney of an Iranian dissident abducted by Islamic Republic security forces last year and taken back to Iran has said that it is possible Revolutionary Guards have infiltrated Ayatollah Ali Sistani’s office in Iraq.

Ruhollah Zam who was an anti-regime publicist before his abduction, traveled from France to Iraq a year ago apparently by the encouragement of someone in Sistani’s office and was abducted and taken across the border to Iran. He has been tried behind closed doors and sentenced to death.

His lawyer Hassan Fereshtian told Radio Zamaneh, a Persian-language radio station in Holland that in some form or shape it is possible that IRGC elements have infiltrated Sistani’s office, adding, “There is some evidence confirming” this possibility.

Fereshtian said he does not know the name of the individual who contacted Zam and invited him to Iraq.

The Islamic Republic is known for having a substantial network of operatives in neighboring countries and in Europe, where many opponents have been assassinated since the 1980s.

Zam’s attorney also indicated that his client told him about his impending trip to Iraq and mentioned that he might launch a new Persian-language television station with the assistance of Sistani. Other people close to Zam have said that contacting Zam on behalf of the respected senior cleric in Iraq was an elaborate trap to lure him into the country where it was easy for Iranian agents to abduct him and take him to Iran.

Iranian Parents Say Schools Pressuring Girls To Wear Hijab In Online Classes

Parents in Iran have expressed concern about schools pressuring girls to wear hijab in the photos they use on their social messaging profiles such as WhatsApp, now widely used for educational groups due to coronavirus pandemic.

Girls are also required to wear the headscarf even when participating in online classes from their homes where hijab rules do not apply in the absence of non-family men.

The Ministry of Education has been holding online classes for students where physical presence in classes is deemed dangerous. To establish and maintain contact with students and their families many schools have created groups in social messaging platforms such as WhatsApp. Education Ministry officials say only 10 percent of students actually show up in schools and the rest only participate in online classes.

According to parents who have posted on social media platforms, school authorities and teachers have given warnings to students whose profile pictures did not conform with the Islamic dress code enforced by the state. Some parents in social media posts have said that the children were threatened with losing points in discipline grades if their profile photos did not show them wearing a headscarf. Some mothers have also been contacted about their own profile photos.

Many Iranian women abide by the dress code in public but at other times often flout the rules and do not wear the compulsory hijab in their social media and social messaging profile photos.

Iran General Threatens UAE, Bahrain If Ties With Israel Harm Its Security

Iran will deal with countries that normalize relations with Israel as enemies if its national security is harmed, General Mohammad Bagheri, chief of staff of Iran’s military said on Saturday.

Speaking in a television program, Bagheri named the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and other countries that might establish ties with Iran’s chief regional adversary.

He emphasized that if Israel establishes a presence in the region and “incidents take place which cause the slightest harm to our national security, we will consider the Emirates, Bahrain and whoever else normalizes ties with Israel as providers of bases to the enemy…and we will deal with them as we deal with the enemy”.

Iran reacted with disdain and anger to the decision of its Gulf Arab neighbors to normalize relations with Israel. Several officials have made similar threats since August when the UAE announced its decision to establish relations with Israel.

Bagheri also said that Iran regarded relations with the UAE “optimistically” in recent years even though the Arab state had gone along with enforcing US sanctions against Iran. “But they revealed their ties with Israel and our attitude toward the UAE and Bahrain has changed,” he added.

Emirati officials in turn have said that Iran's threatening foreign policy was a major reason why they decided to normalize ties with Israel. 

Iran has been fully supporting Yemen's Houthis against Suadi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Iran Security Official Tells Baghdad's Top Diplomat The US Should Leave Iraq

Secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani has called for the immediate exit of the United States from Iraq during a meeting with visiting Iraqi Foreign Minister Fouad Hussein.

Shamkhani told his guest that for the “state terror of General Qassem Soleimani” by the United States in Baghdad in January, the minimum punishment should be its immediate exit from the region and particularly from Iraq.

The visit of the Iraq’s chief diplomat to Tehran comes amid tensions between Washington and the Iraqi government over continuing rocket attacks by Iran-backed hardliner Iraqi Shiite militia on US interests. Iraqi officials have told AFP that the “Americans are very, very, very angry”, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has warned the Iraqi government to act immediately to stop the attacks.

Fouad Hussein has also met Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani, discussing border security issues and bilateral trade. Iran sells electricity and natural gas to Iraq, which has so far failed to upgrade its power generation and manage its own natural gas for domestic use.

The United States has allowed Iraq to engage in energy imports from its neighbor despite blanket US sanctions for other countries to buy oil and gas from Iran. But this month, Washington renewed its exemption just for a two-month period, seen as a warning to Baghdad to find a substitute.

The Iraqi electricity ministry spokesman on Friday told the state news agency that sufficient production capacity will be added soon that can compensate for imports from Iran.

Iraq's foreign minister has been highlighting the need for cooperation with Iraq, publically side stepping the issue of ties with the United States.

Iraqi FM Fouad Hussein meeting Iran's Ali Shamkhani in Tehran. September 27, 2020

Former Lawmaker Says Anti-Viral Medication Went To 'Rulers' In Iran, Not The People

A former member of parliament in Iran says 20,000 anti-viral influenza pills “secretly” imported from China this year were used to treat government officials, instead of giving priority to citizens.

Mahmoud Sadeghi, a reform camp politician who was an outspoken critic of Islamic Republic officials in recent years and was not allowed to run for a seat again this year, says the anti-viral drug Favipiravir was not used to treat ordinary citizens and this shows that despite official slogans, “the rulers” have all the perks.

Sadeghi who was speaking to ILNA news website on September 27 added, “The medication was supposed to be used in clinical trials in hospitals for domestic production, but unfortunately it is not clear what happened to it.”  He did not offer any concrete evidence for his accusation.

The consignment of Favipiravir tablets was brought from China sometime in early spring, Sadeghi said, when many officials and lawmakers were infected with the coronavirus and several died.

Earlier, Iran’s food and drug agency had announced that the medicine was listed to be handed over to hospitals.

Rumors about Favipiravir being used by government officials first surfaced in late March and a top health official, Iraj Hariirchi reacted to the accusations saying, “Health Ministry’s track record shows our top priority is the people and the poor. Even if someone wants to cheat, it will be exposed.”

However, Sadeghi told ILNA that as recently as last week it became clear that 1,500 doses of a newly imported influenza vaccine were first sent to parliament.

After a big public reaction to the news it was announced that parliament had returned the vaccine doses to the health ministry.