ISIS releases video claiming to show Iran parade attack gunmen

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Islamic State releases video claiming to show Iran parade attack gunmen

Assailants disguised as soldiers attacked annual military parade in city of Ahwaz, killing at least 29, including women and children

Still form a video released by the Islamic State affiliated Amak news agencyy purporting to show the perpetrators of a shooting attack in a military parade in the Iranian city of Ahwaz which left 29 people dead (Twitter)

Still form a video released by the Islamic State affiliated Amak news agency purporting to show the perpetrators of a shooting attack in a military parade in the Iranian city of Ahwaz which left 29 people dead (Twitter)

A news agency affiliated with the Islamic State terrorist group released a video Sunday which purports to show the perpetrators of a shooting attack at a military parade in the Iranian city of Ahwaz which left at least 29 people dead, including women and children, and wounded dozens more, some of them critically.

The footage, released by the Amaq news agency, shows three men in a vehicle, apparently on their way to carry out the attack.

“We are Muslims, they are heretics,” one of the men can be heard saying in the video. “We will kill them with a guerilla attack, inshallah.”

Gunmen disguised as soldiers on Saturday attacked the annual Iranian military parade in the country’s oil-rich southwest, marking the anniversary of the start of its 1980-1988 war with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

The attack saw gunfire sprayed into a crowd of marching soldiers from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, bystanders, and government officials watching from a nearby riser.

Iranian officials blamed a number of different targets, including Israel, the US, and regional-arch enemy Saudi Arabia, while two groups — the Islamic State and an anti-government Arab group — claimed responsibility.

But in the hours following the attack, state media and government officials seemed to come to the consensus that Arab separatists in the region were responsible.

An image made available by Iran’s Mehr News agency on September 22, 2018, shows an Iranian soldier carrying a child at the site of an attack on a military parade in the southwestern Iranian city of Ahvaz, that was marking the anniversary of the outbreak of its devastating 1980-1988 war with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. (AFP/ MEHR NEWS AND AFP PHOTO / Mehdi Pedramkhou)

Ahvaz lies in Khuzestan, a province bordering Iraq that has a large ethnic Arab community and has seen separatist violence in the past that Iran has blamed on its regional rivals. The separatists, however, previously only conducted pipeline bombings at night or hit-and-run attacks.

The separatists accuse Iran’s Persian-dominated government of discriminating against its ethnic Arab minority. Iran has blamed its Mideast archival, the Sunni kingdom of Saudi Arabia, for funding their activity. State media in Saudi Arabia did not immediately acknowledge the attack.

Members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) march during the annual military parade marking the anniversary of the outbreak of the devastating 1980-1988 war with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, in the capital Tehran on September 22, 2018. (AFP / STR)

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei accused US-backed Gulf states of being behind the attack, saying in a statement that “this crime is a continuation of the plots of the regional states that are puppets of the United States.”

“Their goal is to create insecurity in our dear country,” he added.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif also immediately blamed the attack on regional countries and their “US masters,” calling the gunmen “terrorists recruited, trained, armed, and paid” by foreign powers. The claim further raises tensions in the Mideast as Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers is in jeopardy after President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the accord.

“Iran will respond swiftly and decisively in defense of Iranian lives,” Zarif wrote on Twitter.

View image on TwitterView image on TwitterView image on Twitter

Javad Zarif

@JZarif

Terrorists recruited, trained, armed & paid by a foreign regime have attacked Ahvaz. Children and journos among casualties. Iran holds regional terror sponsors and their US masters accountable for such attacks. Iran will respond swiftly and decisively in defense of Iranian lives.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, meanwhile, ordered the country’s security forces to identify those behind the attack, according to the semi-official ISNA news agency, and warned of an aggressive response.

“The response of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the smallest threat will be crushing,” Rouhani said on his official website. “Those who give intelligence and propaganda support to these terrorists must answer for it.”

Earlier Saturday, a spokesman for the Iranian army blamed Israel and the US for the attack.

Brigadier General Abolfazl Shekarchi told the state news agency IRNA, that the gunmen who opened fire at the parade were “not from Daesh [Islamic State] or other groups fighting [Iran’s] Islamic system … but are linked to America and [Israel’s intelligence agency] Mossad.”

Shekarchi also claimed “the terrorists have undergone training in two countries in the Persian Gulf.”

The Islamic State terrorist group had earlier claimed responsibility for the deadly attack. Citing a security source, its propaganda agency Amaq said: “Islamic State fighters attacked a gathering of Iranian forces in the city of Ahvaz in southern Iran.”

An Iranian soldier runs past injured colleagues lying on the ground at the scene of an attack on a military parade in Ahvaz, September 22, 2018. (AFP/ ISNA / MORTEZA JABERIAN)

In a further claim, Yaghub Hur Totsari, a spokesman for the Arab Struggle Movement to Liberate Ahvaz, told Reuters the Ahvaz National Resistance umbrella organization of Arab anti-government armed movements was behind the attack, but did not specify which particular group carried it out.

Shekarchi said the dead included a young girl and a former serviceman in a wheelchair.

“Of the four terrorists, three were sent to hell at the scene, while the fourth who had been wounded and arrested went to hell moments ago due to his severe wounds,” Shekarchi told state television.

Khuzestan deputy governor Ali-Hossein Hosseinzadeh told the semi-official ISNA news agency that “eight to nine” troops were among those killed, as well as a journalist.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif listens during a meeting between the Iranian president and the North Korean foreign minister in the capital Tehran on August 8, 2018. (AFP Photo/Atta Kenare)

The Revolutionary Guard is a paramilitary force answerable only to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The Guard also has vast holdings in Iran’s economy.

Guard spokesman Gen. Ramazan Sharif also said that an Arab separatist group funded by Sunni arch-rival Saudi Arabia carried out the attack.

“Those who opened fire on civilians and the armed forces have links to the Ahvazi movement,” Guards spokesman Ramezan Sharif told ISNA. “They are funded by Saudi Arabia and attempted to cast a shadow over the Iranian armed forces.”

State television immediately described the assailants as “takfiri gunmen,” a term previously used to describe the Islamic State group. Iran faced a bloody assault last year from the Islamic State group, and Arab separatists in the region have attacked oil pipelines there in the past.

Saturday’s rally was one of many in cities across Iran held to mark the anniversary of the launch of the war with massive Iraqi air strikes.

In this photo provided by the Iranian Students’ News Agency, ISNA, Iranian armed forces members and civilians take shelter in a shooting during a military parade marking the 38th anniversary of Iraq’s 1980 invasion of Iran, in the southwestern city of Ahvaz, Iran, September 22, 2018. (AP Photo/ISNA, Behrad Ghasemi)

A rare attack

The attack came as rows of Revolutionary Guard soldiers marched down Ahvaz’s Quds (Jerusalem) Boulevard, which, like many other places around the country saw an annual parade marking the start of Iran’s long 1980s war with Iraq. Images captured by state television showed journalists and onlookers turn to look toward the first shots, then the rows of marchers broke as soldiers and civilians sought cover under sustained gunfire.

“Oh God! Go, go, go! Lie down! Lie down!” one man screamed as a woman fled with her baby.

In the aftermath, paramedics tended to the wounded as soldiers, some bloodied in their dress uniforms, helped their comrades to ambulances.

“We suddenly realized that some armed people wearing fake military outfits started attacking the comrades from behind [the stage] and then opened fire on women and children,” an unnamed wounded soldier told state TV. “They were just aimlessly shooting around and did not have a specific target.”

Saturday’s attack comes after a coordinated June 7, 2017 Islamic State group assault on parliament and the shrine of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in Tehran. That attack had at that point been the only one by the Sunni extremists inside of Shiite Iran, which has been deeply involved in the wars in Iraq and Syria where the militants once held vast territory.

In this photo provided by the Iranian Students’ News Agency, ISNA, Revolutionary Guard members carry a wounded comrade after a shooting during their parade marking the 38th anniversary of Iraq’s 1980 invasion of Iran, in the southwestern city of Ahvaz, Iran, September 22, 2018. (AP Photo/ISNA, Shayan Haji Najaf)

At least 18 people were killed and more than 50 wounded in the 2017 attack that saw gunmen carrying Kalashnikov assault rifles and explosives storm the parliament complex where a legislative session had been in progress, starting an hours-long siege. Meanwhile, gunmen and suicide bombers also struck outside Khomeini’s mausoleum on Tehran’s southern outskirts. Khomeini led the 1979 Islamic Revolution that toppled the Western-backed shah to become Iran’s first supreme leader until his death in 1989.

In the last decade, such attacks have been incredibly rare. In 2009 more than 40 people, including six Guard commanders, were killed in a suicide attack by Sunni extremists in Iran’s Sistan and Baluchistan province.

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Iran’s Khamenei: Israel a ‘cancerous tumor’ that ‘must be eradicated’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Khamenei: Israel a ‘cancerous tumor’ that ‘must be eradicated’

Iran’s supreme leader says destruction of Jewish state is ‘possible and will happen,’ slams ‘traitorous countries’ for not defending Palestinians

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivers a speech during Labor Day at a workers' meeting, April 30, 2018. (AFP Photo/Iranian Supreme Leader's Website /HO)

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivers a speech during Labor Day at a workers’ meeting, April 30, 2018. (AFP Photo/Iranian Supreme Leader’s Website /HO)

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Sunday lashed out at Israel, calling the Jewish state the “cancerous tumor” of the region that must be “removed and eradicated.”

In a series of tweets Sunday, Khamenei leveled harsh criticism at Israel for its handling of the violent Hamas-orchestrated “March of Return” protests along the Gaza border.

“Our stance against Israel is the same stance we have always taken,” he said. “#Israel is a malignant cancerous tumor in the West Asian region that has to be removed and eradicated: it is possible and it will happen.”

For Iranians, Khamenei said the issue of Palestine was not motivated by politics, but was “an issue of the heart… and faith.”

Khamenei.ir@khamenei_ir

For , the Palestinian cause is not a tactical issue, nor is it a ‘political’ strategy. It’s an issue of beliefs, an issue of the heart and an issue of faith. 2/27/10

A day earlier, the supreme leader took to Twitter to warn “traitorous countries” that refused to confront Israel militarily in order to appease the US, saying that “resistance is the only way to save #Palestine from oppression.”

Khamenei has previously branded Israel as “barbaric,” “infanticidal,” and the “sinister, unclean rabid dog of the region.” More recently, he blamed “Zionists” for the anti-government demonstrations held across Iran earlier this year.

His tweets over the weekend came amid a tense few days along the Gaza border that saw multiple exchanges of mortar and rocket fire and violence along the security fence.

On Friday, a 21-year-old volunteer Gazan paramedic was shot dead as she tried to help evacuate wounded protesters near Israel’s perimeter fence. UN officials condemned Razan Najjar’s killing, and thousands of Palestinians attended her funeral on Saturday. The IDF said it was investigating the incident.

Later Saturday night and early Sunday morning, Palestinian terrorist groups in Gaza resumed firing rockets over the border, shattering an official ceasefire agreement. In response, the IDF said Israeli jets carried out two rounds of airstrikes in the Gaza Strip.

Razan al-Najjar (R), a 21-year-old Palestinian paramedic, tends to an injured colleague during clashes near the border with Israel, east of Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on May 15, 2018. (AFP/ SAID KHATIB)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu departed Israel Monday morning for Europe to rally support from key allies for amending the international nuclear deal with Iran and for pushing Tehran-backed forces out of neighboring Syria.

The Israeli leader is set to meet with leaders from Germany, France and Britain, beginning with German Chancellor Angela Merkel later on Monday.

Netanyahu has long identified Iran as Israel’s greatest threat, pointing to its nuclear program, calls for Israel’s destruction and support of anti-Israel terrorist groups.

Before departing, the prime minister told his cabinet that archenemy Iran would top his agenda and voiced optimism for a successful visit. Israel has been a leading critic of the international nuclear deal with Iran, and more recently, has said it will not allow Iran to establish a permanent military presence in war-torn Syria.

Agencies contributed to this report

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Women In Iran Are Removing Their Head Scarfs

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

 


Vida Movahed takes off her headscarf and holds on a stick in Tehran in late December, protesting Iran’s hijab rules. (Abaca Press/SalamPix/Sipa USA/AP)
 March 8 at 4:01 PM 
 Iranian women have been raising a new challenge to their Islamic government, breaking one of its most fundamental rules by pulling off their headscarves in some of the busiest public squares and brandishing them in protest.

While these guerrilla protesters number only in the dozens, Iran’s government has taken notice of their audacity. On Thursday, planned demonstrations to coincide with International Women’s Day were preempted by a heavy police presence on the streets of the capital, Tehran.

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, marked the day with sharply worded tweets skewering Western countries for the immodesty of their women and trumpeting the virtues of the headscarf, or hijab.

“By promoting modest dress (#hijab), #Islam has blocked the path which would lead women to such a deviant lifestyle,” Khamenei tweeted in English. “Iranian women today, declare their . . . independence and export it to the world while preserving their ­#hijab.”

It was precisely the opposite message that one young woman hoped to send when she climbed atop a tall, metal utility box on a Tehran sidewalk in January and took off her headscarf, hoisting it overhead on a stick for all to see.

 1:15
Women wave hijabs in protest in Iran

An activist group posted videos in February of women in Iran with their hair uncovered, waving garments in protest. 

“I was really stressed,” said the woman, an artist who because of safety concerns asked not to be identified by her name. Instead, she called herself “Azadeh,” which means “one who is free” in Farsi. “At the same time, I felt powerful. People aren’t used to seeing women without veils.”

As she held her headscarf aloft, passersby snapped photos on their phones and urged her to come down before police arrived. Headscarves are mandatory, and her lone protest was against the law.

She escaped without incident, but not before her photo spread across social media, inspiring others to do the same.

In recent months, dozens of Iranian women like Azadeh have staged similar demonstrations against the compulsory veil, standing bareheaded atop raised utility cabinets and concrete benches in some of Iran’s most popular squares. They have been arrested, harassed and even charged with crimes — but also celebrated by reformists and other Iranians who have been sharing the women’s photographs on social media.

Iran is one of two countries that legally require women to wear head coverings in public, along with Saudi Arabia, though the practice is widely followed in other Middle Eastern and South Asian countries.

The hijab protests, which come amid general discontent in Iran over the economy and other social ills, have fueled the debate over the treatment of women and strict moral codes inside Iran.

Iranian activists had called for demonstrations Thursday, but activists and journalists described a large deployment of police in central Tehran, where officers conducted body searches and security vehicles blocked some streets. Social media reported some arrests, but these were not independently confirmed.

In his tweets, Khamenei praised Islam for keeping women “modest” and in defined roles as educators and child-bearers. “The features of today’s Iranian woman include modesty, chastity, eminence, protecting herself from abuse by men,” Khamenei tweeted. In the West, he said, “the most sought after characteristics of a #woman involve her ability to physically attract men.”

The stakes for both sides of the debate are high. The veil has served as one of the most potent and visible symbols of the Islamic republic, a system in which ultimate authority resides with unelected theocrats.

But for many in a post-revolution generation that is more educated and tech-savvy, such restrictions are discriminatory and oppressive.

“The compulsory veiling of women in public — be they religious or not — has been a hallmark of Iranian political and social life since 1979,” said Behnam Ben Taleblu, senior Iran analyst at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington. “As life in Iran continues to be punctuated by political and social protest, mandatory veiling has been a popular target.”

In the 1930s, Iran’s ruler, Reza Pahlavi , banned the hijab, or veil, as part of a modernization drive. But when a cleric-led uprising ousted Shah Reza’s son in 1979, Iran’s Islamic revolutionary leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, announced an edict mandating the hijab. On March 8, 1979, in the midst of the revolution, tens of thousands of women marched against what was then a new law requiring modest dress.

Since then, all women have been required by law to wear a headscarf and long, loose clothing in public. They are also “subject to entrenched discrimination” in daily life, Amnesty International says, “including in access to divorce, employment, equal inheritance and political office.” Iranian women, for instance, are banned from singing in public, cannot attend public sports events and need a husband’s approval to get a passport or travel outside the country.

In recent years, however, women have pushed the boundaries of the hijab, allowing their headscarves to slip and reveal much of their hair, especially in cosmopolitan Tehran.

President Hassan Rouhani, a moderate who has championed change, has urged Iran’s ruling clerics to relax the social restrictions.

In December, Tehran’s police chief said his deputies would no longer arrest women for violating the Islamic dress code, and the government also recently rolled out a public relations campaign targeting the harassment of women on the street and the subway.

In February, Rouhani’s office released a 2014 report on Iranian attitudes toward the hijab. According to the study, 49.8 percent of Iranians oppose government intervention to enforce the veil, which they consider to be a private matter.

But as more and more women have staged individual protests, Tehran’s police chief, Gen. Hossein Rahimi, again took a hard line, saying late last month that his forces “will not tolerate this kind of behavior.”

Since the first woman, 31-year-old Vida Movahed, was photographed publicly unveiling in late December, more than 35 women “have been violently attacked and arrested” for demonstrating against the veil, Amnesty says. Her protest coincided with the nationwide demonstrations over poor living conditions and repression.

One woman, Shaparak Shajarizadeh, is being held in solitary confinement on charges of “inciting corruption and prostitution,” a crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison, Amnesty reported.

“This is a deeply retrograde move by the Iranian authorities,” Magdalena Mughrabi, Amnesty’s deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa, said of the charges in a recent statement. “It places many women at serious and immediate risk of unjust imprisonment, while sending a chilling message to others to keep quiet while their rights are being violated.”

Another woman, Narges Hosseini, was sentenced to more than two years in prison for her protest, according to her attorney, Nasrin Sotoudeh. A statement from Tehran’s prosecutor general did not name Hosseini but said a woman had been sentenced for “encouraging moral corruption.”

Iranian women “don’t put all their hope in a government that has never taken a single step” to improve their rights, Sotoudeh said. Sentences such as the one against Hosseini “will only increase solidarity among women in the movement,” she said.

In addition to the protests, women have also launched social media campaigns to raise awareness of daily discrimination.

On the eve of International Women’s Day, Iranian women started the #WeAreEqual hash­tag, sharing accounts of harassment, discrimination and violence.

“When I was in high school, a man tried to harass me in the street. I started shouting and two women approached me telling me to keep silent for the sake of my reputation,” Iranian journalist Nahid Molavi posted on Twitter. “It took me a long time to learn I shouldn’t keep silent,” she said. “And that objection does not equal the loss of reputation.”

For Azadeh, the artist, the protests mark a “turning point,” and she doesn’t know how far they may spread.

“I feel optimistic about this moment,” she said. “There are people like me who won’t turn back.”

Bijan Sabbagh contributed to this report.

In Iran, Environmentalists Now Seen as Spies

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

 

Photo

President Hassan Rouhani of Iran arriving at a news conference, with a portrait of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, last week in Tehran. Credit Abedin Taherkenareh/European Press photo Agency

TEHRAN — The increasingly bitter feud between Iran’s president and hard-line commanders and clerics exploded into the open over the weekend with the arrest of a top environmental official and the prison death of a prominent Iranian-Canadian environmental activist who was arrested last month.

The official, Kaveh Madani, the deputy head of the Department of the Environment, was arrested on Saturday, interrogated, and apparently released on Monday by intelligence agents affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. His department posted an image of him on Twitter during a meeting on Monday with the German ambassador to Iran, Michael Klor-Berchtold.

The arrest of Mr. Madani, 36, an American-educated academic on leave from London’s Imperial College, was particularly embarrassing for President Hassan Rouhani, who had recruited him as a sign the country is ready to welcome back expatriate Iranians.

It was consistent with a series of actions taken by hard-line groups in recent months to publicly humiliate and undermine Mr. Rouhani, analysts say. They are accused of instigating the protests that shook the government around the New Year in an effort to show that Mr. Rouhani’s promises of economic growth were failing. That backfired when the protests spread to 80 cities and anger quickly turned against the Islamic establishment.

The hard-liners had been incensed by Mr. Rouhani’s decision to leak a sensitive government budget document showing generous payouts to support military adventures and conservative clerical organizations while cutting subsidies for the poor and middle class.

Continue reading the main story

“I have never seen the fight between these two factions so open here in Iran, the government versus those who are nonelected,” said Farshad Ghorbanpour, an analyst with close ties to the Rouhani government. “I’m afraid that if solutions are not found, we might see escalation and even clashes in the near future.”

The sparring is taking place against a backdrop of growing public dissatisfaction with the government over the mismanagement of the economy, corruption, bank failures and the powerful sense that people no longer want the government to tell them how to live — symbolized this month by numerous women publicly removing their hijabs to protest mandatory veiling.

With the arrests of Mr. Madani and several environmental activists including Kavous Seyed Emami, the Iranian-Canadian, the fight seems to have expanded into the environmental arena as the government confronts growing fears of water shortages this summer. The activists, some critical of the government for long-term mismanagement of water supplies, have been accused by the Revolutionary Guards of spying.

Photo

Kavous Seyed Emami in a photo provided by his family. Creditvia Agence France-Press — Getty Images

Mr. Seyed Emami, one of the founders of the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, Iran’s most prominent nongovernmental organization focused on the environment, was quietly arrested along with six associates in January, a spokesman for the family said on Saturday.

The spokesman said that the family had been told that he killed himself in prison after having confessed to spying. The family denies the allegation of spying and doubts he committed suicide, but the prison authorities have so far refused to return Mr. Seyed Emami’s body to the family for a proper autopsy. He was to be buried on Tuesday, and it remained unclear if the family’s wish for an independent autopsy would be granted.

Also unclear is where the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, comes down in the feud between the hard-liners and Mr. Rouhani. Mr. Khamenei has long sought to balance opposing factions to preserve his power, and analysts said he would be unlikely to take a strong stand on one side or the other until he felt he had no choice. On major decisions, like the nuclear agreement and seeking better relations with the international community, he has supported Mr. Rouhani, if grudgingly.

On Sunday, Mr. Rouhani struck back at his opponents, warning the Revolutionary Guards, the judiciary and the clerical councils that his government is considering organizing a referendum to break the deadlock between those who want change and those who want to hold it back.

“Anywhere we may have differences,” he said in a speech at the 39th anniversary of the Islamic revolution, “we should refer to the vote of the people and a referendum.”

While there is little chance of that plan succeeding, analysts say, suggesting a referendum could perhaps help Mr. Rouhani regain popularity among the middle classes who have become cynical over his inability to deliver on years of promises of a more open and transparent economy and greater personal freedoms.

“Mr. Rouhani insists on diverting attention away from his failing economic policies,” said Hamidreza Taraghi, a hard-line political analyst. “The government is not allowed to initiate referendums on everything, only in the case of a stalemate between separate powers. These are just disputes.”

Since the New Year’s protests, the pressure on the two sides has only increased, with the economy dragging and the national currency, the rial, falling sharply in value against the dollar and the euro. The government is having trouble attracting desperately needed foreign investment, because of unilateral United States sanctions and uncertainty over the fate of the nuclear agreement.

In an apparent victory for Mr. Rouhani, the minister of defense, Amir Hatami, said in January that Ayatollah Khamenei had ordered both the regular army and the Revolutionary Guards to sell off economic assets to the private sector. But the arrests and pressures indicate there will be no smooth transition, if any, analysts said.

“This country is in deadlock. I think last month’s so-called-protests were incited and encouraged by government opponents, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps,” said Saeed Laylaz, an economist close to the government. “I think the opponents of Rouhani want to show their teeth after the president has made clear he wants to harness the power and influence of the non-elected parts of the state, including the Guards

Iran: Government Cracks Down On Republican Guards Financial Scams

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE FINANCIAL TIMES)

 

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Iran Add to my FT Iran cracks down on Revolutionary Guards business network Elite force has had to restructure some companies and transfer others to the state Read next fast FT Bahrain prices $3bn, three-tranche bond deal; demand tops $15bn Members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards naval unit march at a parade in Tehran in 2011 © Reuters Share on Twitter (opens new window) Share on Facebook (opens new window) Share on LinkedIn (opens new window) 3 Save to my FT YESTERDAY by Najmeh Bozorgmehr in Tehran Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps is being forced to shrink its sprawling business empire and some of its senior members have been arrested as part of President Hassan Rouhani’s attempts to curb the elite force’s role in the economy. In the past year, the guards, who have interests in sectors ranging from oil and gas to telecoms and construction, have had to restructure some holding companies and transfer ownership of others back to the state, a regime insider and a government official told the Financial Times. At least a dozen guards members and affiliated businessmen have been detained in recent months, while others are being forced to pay back wealth accrued through suspect business deals, the officials said. One manager of a large holding company affiliated to the guards was arrested a few months ago and cash worth millions of dollars was confiscated from his house, said a businessman who has worked with the guards. A brigadier general — described as the corps’ economic brain — was also arrested this year, but released on bail, the regime insider said. The crackdown, which is being conducted discreetly to avoid undermining the guards — one of the most powerful arms of Islamic republic’s regime — began last year. It started after Mr Rouhani, a pragmatist who has criticised the guards’ role in the economy, told Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader, about the vast wealth individuals affiliated to the 120,000-strong force had accumulated, the officials said. “Mr Rouhani has told the supreme leader that the economy has reached a deadlock because of high levels of corruption and the guards’ massive control over the economy,” said one regime insider, who is a relative of the supreme leader. “Other than economic concerns, Mr Khamenei feels the need to save the guards [from corruption] and has naturally thrown his support behind the move.” Khatam-ul-Anbia, the guards’ economic arm, declined to comment. Iranian president Hassan Rouhani (r) receives the official seal of approval from Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Islamic republic’s supreme leader, in August after he had won a second term © AP Iranian analysts say corruption involving politically connected individuals and entities is hampering economic development and efforts to boost growth as the country grapples with high unemployment. Two months after he secured a second term in May elections, Mr Rouhani said the guards had created “a government with a gun,” which “scared” the private sector. The president has been seeking to open up the Islamic republic and attract foreign investment since he signed a nuclear accord with world powers in 2015. But he has faced resistance from hardliners within the regime, including the guards, who critics say want to protect their interests. Under the nuclear accord, many sanctions were lifted and Iran agreed to scale back its nuclear activity. The empire There are few public details available about the Revolutionary Guards’ business interests. But some companies are known to be affiliated to the force. These include Sadra Iran Maritime Industrial Company, which builds oil tankers and is involved in oil and gas projects, and Shahid Rajaee Professional Group, one of Iran’s biggest construction companies. One of the guards’ consortiums, Etemad Mobin Development Company, bought Telecom Company of Iran, a state company, for $7.8bn in 2009. Other companies linked to the guards include Ansar Bank and Sepanir Oil and Gas Engineering. The forces’ interests stretch across many other sectors, such as health, agriculture and petrochemicals But the US has retained financial sanctions related to Tehran’s alleged support for terrorism. The Trump administration has also imposed new sanctions on companies and individuals affiliated to the guards. The measures have put off international investors who fear they could inadvertently end up doing business with entities linked to the guards’ opaque empire. There is little public information about the force’s business interests. Khatam-ul-Anbia’s website makes references to the areas it works in, including mining, petrochemicals, health and agriculture, but does not name companies. Some economists and businessmen estimate that the corps’ network of companies could be valued at around $100bn. The guards involvement in the economy is traced back to the end of the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s when commanders were rewarded with contracts to build roads, dams and bridges to help reconstruct the country. The force’s business interests rapidly spread during the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, a populist hardliner, as the corps was awarded state projects in strategic sectors, including oil and gas. A consortium affiliated to the guards paid $7.8bn for the Telecom Company of Iran, a state entity, in 2009. It has since become a cash cow to fund the corps and its allies, political observers say. Mr Ahmadi-Nejad’s rule from 2005 to 2013 was tarnished by widespread allegations of corruption. International sanctions against the Islamic republic were also tightened during his presidency, but that presented those linked to the regime’s centres of power with the opportunity to use their networks to get involved in murky sanctions-busting deals, including selling crude, analysts say. The government official said the guards have so far been complying with Mr Rouhani’s efforts to scale back their economic interests. “Whether he will succeed or not, Rouhani is standing firm and determined to bring the guards under the general umbrella of the economy and give them projects only under certain competitive conditions,” the official said. “The country’s economy is in such a critical state that there is no choice but for the guards to go back to its main military task. The level of unaccountability and power is eating up the whole economy.” Mr Rouhani last month increased the official budget for the corps’ ballistic missile programme and overseas military campaigns in a bid to placate the guards and counter their argument that they need businesses to fund their operations, including in Syria and Iraq. “Rouhani wants the guards to be a strong military body and a powerful antiterrorism force in the Middle East but not to import cosmetics,” said the businessman. The restructuring of the corps’ businesses is being overseen by Major General Mohammad Bagheri, the joint chief of staff of the armed forces, who is responsible for the guards and the conventional military, the regime insider said. That is intended to show that the process is carried out by a bipartisan institution. But the regime insider said the overhaul can only work as long as it has the backing of the 78-year-old Ayatollah, Iran’s ultimate decision maker. “If the guards’ business interests are not rolled back today, they will take full control of the country after the leader’s death,” he said. Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved. You may share using our article tools. Please don’t copy articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web. 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Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani Has Registered To Run For A Second 4 yr Term

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

ANKARA, Turkey — Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, who helped end the country’s diplomatic and economic isolation with a landmark nuclear deal with major powers, registered on Friday to seek a second four-year term in the May 19 election.

Despite remaining faithful to Iran’s theocratic system, Mr. Rouhani has angered hard-liners with his calls for improved relations with the West, more freedom of expression and an easing of strict Islamic rules.

“Once again, I am here for Iran, for Islam, for freedom and for more stability in this country,” Mr. Rouhani told reporters on Friday as he announced his bid.

Mr. Rouhani’s more conservative critics accuse him of having encouraged moral corruption by advocating social tolerance. Some erstwhile supporters who had hoped for radical social changes under his presidency are also critical, saying he has failed to stand up to Iran’s religious establishment.

The president’s constitutional powers are limited. Ultimate authority rests with Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Political analysts said they expected Iranian voters to rally around Mr. Rouhani even though many complain that they have seen few economic benefits from the lifting of sanctions.

“Rouhani is still very popular, and he is in a very strong position,” said one analyst, Saeed Leylaz. “People will vote for him to prevent a hard-liner from winning the election.”

Born into a religious family in 1948, Mr. Rouhani, a Shiite cleric, played an active role in the opposition that overthrew the shah, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, in 1979. He has held several sensitive jobs in the Islamic republic of Iran, including representing Ayatollah Khamenei for 25 years at the Supreme National Security Council.

Mr. Rouhani is also a member of the Expediency Council and the Assembly of Experts, two influential advisory bodies in Iran’s multitiered power structure. The latter will choose the country’s next supreme leader.

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