Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has said his ministry played a major role in securing the arrest warrant for President Donald Trump issued by an Iraqi court last week for killing Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, head of the Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Committee and an ally of Tehran. He died alongside Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in a United States drone strike in Baghdad on January 3, 2020.
The website of the Iraqi Supreme Judicial Council said the warrant followed investigations into the death of Muhandis and his “colleagues,” leaving it unclear whether the warrant included Soleimani, one of five Iranians killed.
Speaking on Wednesday to government and military officials in Tehran, Zarif said that both Iranian and Iraqi courts should pursue accountability for the killing of Soleimani, commander of Iran’s extra-territorial Al-Qods (Quds) Force, who was a national Iranian figure due to his role organizing forces fighting the Islamic State group (Isis, or Daesh) in Iraq.
Trump announced that he authorized the missile attack, claiming the US got “two for the price of one.” But the United Nations special rapporteur on extraterritorial killings Agnes Callamard deemed the action “unlawful killing” as the US advanced no evidence of the imminent threat Trump alleged.
Iran had already issued its own warrant over Soleimani, while the Iraqi court cited article 406 of Iraq’s penal code, which carries the death penalty for premeditated murder. Iran has held numerous remembrance events for Soleimani and erected statues, often made in an amateurish way that have led to public ridicule. Soleimani supervised Iran’s influence and military presence in regional countries such as Iraq, Syria and Yemen.
Human Rights In Iran: Prisoner Brothers Still In Solitary, Denied Phone Calls
The Human Rights in Iran Organization reported that after four months, the brothers of executed wrestling champion Navid Afkari, (Habib and Vahid) are still in solitary confinement and being denied phone calls to family.
In its report on Friday, the organization cited anonymous sources saying the security forces “have taken the brothers hostage to control the family.”
According to the source, “once every few weeks they allow them (Habib and Vahid) family visitation, and since these visitations are behind the glass and the conversations are recorded, there is no detail about their condition.”
Navid Afkari was arrested along with his brothers Navid and Habib during the 2018 protests in Iran and was executed by the Islamic Republic in September of 2020 despite international outcry.
Later in the Fall, security forces arrested Navid Afkari’s father and another brother for a few hours, and destroyed his tombstone.
According to one source, the security forces said: “We decide if he is to have a tombstone and what is to be written on it.”
The parents of Afkari brothers wrote a letter to judiciary officials asking them to move their sons from solitary confinement to the general population ward. They mention in the letter that Vahiid and Habib were transferred to solitary and tortured a week before Navid Afkari’s execution.
US Imposes Fresh Sanctions On Iran In Final Days Of Trump Presidency
WASHINGTON, Jan 15 (Reuters) - The United States on Friday sanctioned companies in Iran, China and the United Arab Emirates for doing business with the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines and on three Iranian entities over conventional arms proliferation.
They are the latest in a series of measures aimed at stepping up pressure on Tehran in the waning days of President Donald Trump's administration, which ends on Jan. 20.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Washington had sanctioned seven companies, including Chinese-based Jiangyin Mascot Special Steel Co. and UAE-based Accenture Building Materials, and two people for shipping steel to or from Iran.
He said Iran's Marine Industries Organization, Aerospace Industries Organization and the Iran Aviation Industries Organization had also been blacklisted over conventional arms proliferation.
Iran has been a focus of Trump during his four years in office as he tried to force Tehran back into talks over its nuclear and ballistic missile programs and its activities in the Middle East. In 2018 Trump quit an Iran nuclear deal that Tehran struck with world powers in 2015 to rein in its nuclear program in return for sanctions relief because it did not go far enough.
Trump said he was open to negotiating a much wider pact that would seek more extensive constraints on Iran's nuclear program, as well as limits on its development of ballistic missiles and its sponsorship of militias in regional nations such as Iraq, Lebanon and Syria.
Democratic President-elect Joe Biden, who will succeed Trump on Wednesday, has said he will return to the 2015 nuclear pact if Iran resumes strict compliance with it.
German Official Demands Iran Respect Religious Freedom, Recognize The Baha'i
A German official has urged Iran to recognize the Baha’i as a religious community and for the rights of religious and ideological minorities to be respected.
German Federal Government Commissioner for Religious Freedom. Markus Grübel told the Catholic News Agency (KNA) on Friday [Jan. 15] that Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians, and in particular the Baha’I should be able to live their faith freely in Iran.
While Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians enjoy recognition to an extent, Iran’s clerical regime regards the Baha’I as heretics and bans them from government work and even university education.
Grübel made the statement on World Religion Day, established in 1950 as a day of action by the Baha’I National Spiritual Assembly of the United States and celebrated on the third Sunday in January.
Human rights organizations and United Nations bodies have repeatedly urged Iran to respect religious freedom, singling out the Baha’i as the most persecuted community. Iran denies the accusations and insists these matters are its internal business.
Muslims who convert to other religions are also treated harshly. "The criminalization of conversion, which threatens the death penalty, must be abolished," Grübel said. He added that the Baha’i are exposed to systematic persecution and are not allowed to practice their beliefs in public. Many have been arbitrarily arrested and some have been tortured since the 1979 when the Islamic Republic was established.
Biden Appoints Cohen As CIA Deputy Director Again
WASHINGTON, Jan 15 (Reuters) - U.S. President-elect Joe Biden on Friday named former Deputy CIA Director David Cohen to reprise his role at the U.S. intelligence agency as he continued to fill out top roles for his administration.
Cohen previously served as the deputy director for the Central Intelligence Agency from 2015 to 2017 under former Democratic President Barack Obama, when Biden served as vice president. He would serve under long-time U.S. diplomat William Burns, Biden's nominee for CIA director.
"Cohen is a national security, finance and legal expert," Biden's transition team said in a statement, noting his work leading "special projects on new technologies and how best to work with companies to advance the CIA's mission."
The former lawyer also previously served as Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence at the U.S. Department of the Treasury, where he dealt with terrorism financing and oversaw sanctions against countries such as Iran, Russia and North Korea.
Biden's transition team also said New York City's emergency coordinator Deanne Criswell would lead the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which oversees the federal government's response to wildfires, hurricanes and other disasters.
It named deputy level officials for the Environmental Protection Agency and the Office of Management and Budget.
It also separately announced several more top leaders to help with Biden's COVID-19 response, including former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner David Kessler to lead the vaccine effort.
Iran Guards Launch Ballistic Missile And Drone Exercises
One day after the Iranian Army’s naval drills in the Gulf of Oman, Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) launched missile and drone exercises in the central Iranian desert on Friday [Jan. 15]
Iranian state media carried an identical report saying the drills, dubbed ‘The Great Prophet’, included multiple launches of ground-to-ground ballistic missiles and attacks by ‘bomber drones’.
The report said IRGC chief commander Hossein Salami, General Amir-Ali Hajizadeh, the commander of the Guards’ Aerospace Force and other high-ranking commanders and officials were present and observed the operations.
Iran has held numerous ground and naval exercises in past months as tensions have risen with the United States and some regional countries in the Persian Gulf area. Iran has also accelerated its nuclear program by enriching uranium to 20 percent, demanding an end to tough US sanctions imposed by the Trump administration. Tehran the incoming Biden team might reduce the sanctions.
State media says that today’s drills combined the missile barrage with offensive drone attacks on an imaginary enemy with success. They also claimed that the missiles were armed with warheads that separate from the missile and guided to target “defeating enemy counter-measures,” and overcoming the “enemies missile shield”.
Iranian claims cannot be independently verified, as access by foreign media is carefully controlled by the government.
Iran Removes Signal From App Market For "Criminal Content"
Messenger app Signal, which recently became popular in Iran after WhatsApp’s policy-change announcement regarding privacy, has been removed from Iranian app markets.
The Internet filtering authority in Iran has declared "criminal content" as the reason for removing the app. After the app was removed from Iranian markets, Iranian users who tried to access the app received a message telling them the app was “removed by the order of the Criminal Content Designation Taskforce”.
WhatsApp announced on January 5th that it intends to implement new updates that would share more of users’ information with Facebook, in order to increase Facebook income and advertise more businesses.
After the announcement, users across the world including Iranians have created accounts on Signal.
Despite the removal of Signal from Iranian app markets, many users say they were able to download the app from Google Play. Some Iranian users believe the reason for the app’s removal is to “prevent the popularity of Signal so it doesn’t turn into another Telegram.
Since the Islamic Republic of Iran has filtered most social media apps and punishes users for their posts on Instagram constantly, Iranians have been using messenger apps such as Telegram and WhatsApp.
Despite the filtering of Twitter and Facebook for Iranians, most regime officials and their families use the apps constantly for propaganda purposes.
One member of parliament, Mohammad Raghi Naqd Aliو in response to this criticism said: “There are different limitations on members of a family. The father does not give his debit card code to his infant child, but the wife or the older child might have the code.”
Iran's Oil Export Revenue $11 Billion In The Past 9 Months
The US Energy Information Administration says Iran’s net oil revenue for the first nine months of 2019 was barely $11 billion. The report says Iran’s oil revenue in 2019 was $30 billion, and $67 billion in 2018.
According to Tanker Trackers and international organizations including the International Energy Agency, Iran’s oil and liquid gas exports have dropped to 300 thousand barrels a day. Before US sanctions, this number was above 2.5 million barrels. Iran was also exporting around 450 thousand barrels of oil products (gas oil, mazut, liquid gas…) a day, but there is no update on the amount of oil product exports.
Hours before the US Energy Information Administration, the Organization of Petroleum Exporter Countries, OPEC, also released its 2020 report that says Iran’s oil production has dropped under two million barrels a day and the price of its oil products have dropped by 30 percent.
Iran’s daily oil consumption is 1.7 million barrels of oil a day, which leaves the Islamic Republic with only 300 thousand barrels to export.
Before US sanctions, Iran was producing almost 3.7 million barrels a day, with 2.1 million barrels being produced for export. Iran’s liquid gas export which used to be 400 thousand barrels a day, is now at 300 thousand BPD.
Last week, the president of Iran’s Central Bank Abdolnaser Hemmati said Iran’s oil export since the beginning of in the past 21 months has been less than $20 billion. Although Hemmati’s numbers only include crude oil and not oil products.
South Korea Asks For Qatar's Support To Release Seized Tanker in Iran
As South Korea continues its efforts to release its tanker that was seized by the Islamic Republic of Iran, in his trip to Qatar, South Korean Vice-Foreign Minister Choi Jong-Kun asked for the country’s maximum support in resolving the issue.
South Korean Yonhap news agency reported on Thursday that after his trip to Iran, Choi Jong-Kun visited Qatar where he met with the deputy prime minister and foreign minister and adviser minister of the Qatar government separately.
According to the report, during these talks, Choi Jong-Kun asked for Qatar’s “maximum possible support”.
Earlier this week, Choi Jong-Kun and a South Korean delegation traveled to Iran to resolve the issue of the seized tanker and met with the foreign minister of the Islamic Republic Mohammad Javad Zarif and the chairman of strategic foreign policy council Kamal Kharrazi.
While the South Korean vice minister demanded the immediate resolution of the matter and the end of the seizure, Iranian officials showed no interest in talking about the issue and instead redirected the talks toward the issue of Iran’s financial resources in South Korean banks that were frozen due to US sanctions.
Zarif criticized the freezing of the assets and claimed this decision has turned the public opinion of Iranian people against South Korea.
The naval forces of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) seized the South Korean tanker last week claiming that it has polluted Iran’s “marine environment.”
In his meeting with the Iranian officials, Choi Jong-Kun said the claim is unacceptable and Tehran has not offered any evidence of this violation.
The crew of the tanker, including five Koreans and 15 other nationalities are currently in the custody of Iran.
According to South Korean officials, during these talks, Tehran suggested using the frozen resources to buy ambulances. Iran has denied this report and claims it was the South Koreans who suggested this solution and Iran rejected it.
Iran’s Guards Deny Casualties In Syria Airstrike, Warn Of Response To Israel
Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) have denied casualties among affiliated forces in an air attack in Syria attributed to Israel on Wednesday [January 13]. General Ahad Karimkhani, IRGC Deputy Commander in charge of the political commissariat, told Fars news website on Thursday there were “no human casualties” and warned that further Israel attacks on Iranian positions or allied forces would be met with “a severe and hard response.”
Karimkhani said that Israel would not “dare attack Iranian positions,” and suggested that Israeli attacks lacked a strategic goal.
Intense air attacks hit targets in eastern Syria early on Wednesday near the Iraq border. The area of Abu Kamal, where the airstrikes were concentrated, lies on a military transport route from Iraq to Syria and is dotted with Iranian bases. Israel has reportedly bombed the area repeatedly in recent months, targeting warehouses, staging areas and forces fighting under Iranian command.
Earlier, Tasnim news website quoted an unnamed commander of the Iranian-backed Afghan Fatemiyoun brigade denying that any of its forces were killed. Reports on Wednesday had suggested that up to 30 “foreign” fighters had been killed. The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Wednesday’s attacks were the bloodiest since June 2018 with 57 dead, and reported on Thursday that Iranian and allied forces had redeployed as a result.
So far, there has been no significant Iranian retaliation against Israeli attacks that have taken place for more than three years during the Syrian war, where Iran has supported president Bashar Al-Assad against mainly Sunni rebels. Israel has vowed not to allow Iran to entrench itself in Syria.
Iran Fires Cruise Missiles, Torpedo On Second Day Of Naval Drills
Iran fired cruise missiles and a torpedo as part of a naval drill in the Gulf of Oman, state media reported Thursday, amid new steps by Tehran to expand its nuclear program.
Various kinds of surface-to-surface cruise missiles successfully hit their targets in the gulf and northern part of the Indian Ocean, the report said.
Images released by the navy showed the missiles being launched and hitting their targets.
The two-day drill began Wednesday when the country's navy inaugurated its largest military vessel. The exercise takes place amid heightened tensions over Iran's nuclear program and a U.S. pressure campaign against the Islamic Republic.
Mehr news agency reported that the semi-heavy submarine Fateh (conqueror) fired a torpedo for the first time. The ‘homegrown’ Fateh was first unveiled in 2013 and after modifications joined the Army’s navy in 2019. However, its origins and some of the weaponry originate from North Korean prototypes Iran acquired in the past.
In recent weeks, Iran has increased its military drills. On Saturday, the paramilitary Revolutionary Guard held a naval parade in the Persian Gulf and a week earlier Iran held a massive drone maneuver across half of the country.
Faced with harsh US sanctions, Iran has violated several limits imposed by the 2015 nuclear deal, including enrichment of uranium to 20 percent and an announcement January 13 that it is preparing to produce uranium metal, a possible component used in the core of nuclear warheads.
With reporting by AP
Iran-Backed Afghan Militia Say They Had No Casualties In Israeli Air Attack
The commander of the Iran-backed Fatemiyoun brigades fighting in Syria has said that none of its fighters were killed in Israeli air attacks in Western Syria on Wednesday, Iran’s Tasnim news agency close to the Revolutionary Guards reported Thursday.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group based in London said on Wednesday that up to 40 military personnel were killed – ten Syrian government soldiers and 30 militiamen from other countries.
Tasnim reported that the commander of the Afghan Fatemiyoun told the website that its bases were not targeted and none of its fighters were killed, despite “reports by media affiliated with the West”. Tasnim did not name the commander.
He added that “The Zionist regime and media supporting it spread this kind of news and continue these attacks to create fear among the leadership and the rank-and-file of the resistance front”.
The Fatemiyoun were recruited mainly among Afghan refugees living in Iran as an auxiliary force to fight to support Bashar al-Assad’s forces in Syria. Iran has been involved in the Syrian conflict since 2011 and has played a major role in saving Assad’s government from total collapse.
Iran provides all the logistics and weapons for similar militias recruited in Iraq and Pakistan to fight in Syria.
Newsweek: Iran Positions 'Suicide Drones' in Yemen As Red Sea Tensions Rise
According to Newsweek, Iran has sent deadly drones to its allies Houthis of Yemen as Middle East tensions heat up spreads across the Red Sea, another major flashpoint where rival forces operate.
Images that Newsweek has acquired and confirmed by an expert who follows Iranian activities in the region, indicate the presence of Iranian Shahed-136, also called "suicide drones," deployed to the northern Yemeni province of Al-Jawf, an area of the country controlled by the Ansar Allah, or Houthi Shiite rebel movement.
"The Iranians have delivered to their Houthi proxies in Yemen advanced UAVs," says the Newsweek expert. "They are forward deploying or prepositioning these drones in order to stage an attack against a variety of targets they have within range."
These drones are assessed to have an effective range of 2,000 to 2,200 kilometers drawing a massive radius across the region in which a potential attack is suspected to be in the works.
"What they're trying to achieve is plausible deniability," the expert said, "as in being able to strike either a U.S., Saudi, Gulf, or Israeli target and then having the strike traced back to Yemen, and hoping for deniably against any kind of retribution."
Iran's top general, Major General Mohammad Hossein Bagheri, revealed on Wednesday that he was going to send warships to patrol the Red Sea.
"We are once again in the region of the Red Sea, where the Islamic Republic's merchant vessels have faced some limited aggression in recent times," Bagheri said. "We will deploy our naval patrol and establish full security for our oil and commercial fleet in that sea."
Report by Newsweek's Tom O'Conner.
US Justice Department Charges Three Iranians For Evading US Sanctions
US Justice Department announced on Tuesday that it has charged three Iranian citizens with conspiracy to export US goods to Iran in violation of US sanctions and regulations, and conspiracy to smuggle goods from the US, and conspiracy to engage in money laundering.
The individuals are Arash Yousefi Jam, Amin Yousefi Jam, Iranian nationals living in Ontario, and Abdollah Momeni, who lives in Iran.
According to the indictment, between January 2015 and February of 2017, Arash Jam, Amin Jam, and Abdollah Momeni allegedly conspired with each other and others to obtain goods in the United States and export them to Iran. Specifically, the defendants are alleged to have conspired to fraudulently and knowingly export and send nine electrical discharge boards, one CPU board, two servo motors, and two railroad crankshafts from the United States to Iran in violation of economic sanctions
“The defendants deceived US companies, illegally obtained sensitive US items, and transshipped those items through the UAE to Iran in violation of US law,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers. “Such actions dilute the effectiveness of sanctions against Iran. The Justice Department is committed to vigorously enforcing US sanctions and to successfully countering the Iranian regime’s destabilizing activity.”
If convicted, the defendants face a statutory maximum penalty of five years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine on the export and smuggling violations, and 20 years in federal prison and a $500,000 fine on the money laundering violation.