Iranians voted June 18 in a controlled election, virtually guaranteed to deliver an ultra-conservative president after all other serious contenders were barred from the race. The pre-ordained winner is Ebrahim Raisi, the chief justice, who has been under US sanctions since he oversaw repression in putting down the 2019 protest wave. The Guardian Council, its 12 members named by the Supreme Leader and the judiciary, disqualified all but seven of 592 candidates. All but one of the seven were fellow conservatives—Abdolnaser Hemmati, a former central bank chief running as a moderate. All potential frontline challengers were banned, including incumbent Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri, former Parliament speaker Ali Larijani, and even ex-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Turn-out was historically low, seeming to signal popular disillusionment with the system. (CNN, AP, MEE, EA Worldview)
Iranian diplomat Assadollah Assadi and three Iranian-Belgians went on trial in Antwerp, Belgium, on Nov. 27, marking the first time an EU country has put an Iranian official on trial for terrorism. The four have been charged with planning an attack on a rally of the Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) in 2018. The NCRI is the political wing of the exiled Iranian opposition group, Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MEK), which is seeking to overthrow the Islamic Republic. Assadi served at Tehran's embassy in Vienna and is believed to have been working for Iran's Intelligence Ministry.
At least 24 people, including 12 Revolutionary Guards, were killed and more than 60 were wounded when gunmen attacked a military parade Sept. 22 in the city of Ahvaz, capital of Iran's restive southwestern province of Khuzestan. A representative of the Iranian armed forces said the attack was carried out by four "terrorists," adding that security forces were in possession of the bodies of three of them and had taken the fourth into custody. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif blamed "a foreign regime" backed by the United States for the attack, which left at least eight troops and several civilians dead. "Terrorists recruited, trained, armed & paid by a foreign regime have attacked Ahvaz," Zarif stated. "Iran holds regional terror sponsors and their US masters accountable for such attacks."
In a perfectly predictable response, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei accused the US of fomenting the latest irruption in the wave of popular protests that has swept the country since the start of the year. While failing to explicitly name Saudi Arabia, he accused other regional powers of joining with the US to fuel dissension in Iran to "separate the nation from the system." He said: "If the US was able to overpower the Islamic system, it would not have needed to form a coalition with notorious countries of the region to create chaos, unrest and insecurity in Iran." Last week, online videos showed police firing tear-gas at protesters angered over economic austerity. Vendors in Tehran's Grand Bazaar, a traditional area of support for Iran's leadership, went on strike over the collapse of the rial on foreign exchange markets. (The New Arab) Despite not having a union, Iran's truck drivers also staged a nationwide strike for almost two weeks in late May and early June. (Al-Monitor)
Iranian protesters ransacked and set fire to Saudi Arabia's embassy in Tehran on Jan. 2 after Saudi authorities executed a dissident Shi'ite cleric. Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, was among 47 men beheaded in Saudi Arabia on terrorism-related charges, drawing condemnation from Iran and its allies in the region. Hundreds of al-Nimr's supporters also protested in his hometown of al-Qatif in Saudi Arabia's east, and in neighboring Bahrain, where police fired tear gas and birdshot. (NYT, AP, Jan. 2) Days before the Saudi executions, the opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran NCRI reported that Iranian authorities are preparing the mass execution of Sunni political prisoners in the Gohardasht (Rajai-Shahr) prison in Karaj, northwest of Tehran. At least 27 Sunni death-row political prisoners at Gohardasht have had their sentences upheld by Iran's Supreme Court. They have been charged with offenses including "acting against national security," "propaganda against the state," "spreading corruption on earth," and "moharabeh" (waging war against God).
Some 15 rockets hit the outskirts of Camp Liberty (Camp Hurriya) near Baghdad's airport, home to exiled followers of the People's Mujahedeen Organization of Iran (PMOI, also rendered Mujahedin-e-Khalq or MEK), killing 23. (Reuters, Rudaw, Oct. 30) The rockets were fired from the Bakriya district, six kilometers northeast of the airport. In Paris, the MEK's civilian leadership, the National Council of Rsistance of Iran (NCRI), issued a statement noting three previous attacks on the camp, leading to the death of 14 residents, adding: "We were promised proper investigation in all those attacks but the UN and the U.S. government have failed to live up to their promises. And when the perpetrators of such heinous acts were not held responsible, further attacks were certain to happen." NCRI leader Maryam Rajavi charged: "The Iranian regime's agents in the government of Iraq are responsible for this attack and the United States and the United Nations are well aware of this fact."
Negotiations between Iran and six world powers concluded in a nuclear agreement, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), on July 14. Under the JCPOA, Iran agrees not to create a nuclear bomb in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will have permanent access to Iran's nuclear facilities to monitor activity, and the US, UK, France, Russia, China and Germany will continue to meet with Iran's leaders at least every two years to review implementation of the agreement. The European Union sanctions will be lifted either eight years from the date of adoption or when the IAEA verifies Iran's nuclear materials are being used for non-aggressive purposes—whichever is sooner. However, all sanctions will be put back in place if Iran violates the terms of the agreement. Iran must remove two-thirds of its centrifuges, ship all spent fuel from the reactor out of the country, and limit uranium research and development to a single facility. President Barack Obama stated in an address that he plans to veto any legislation from Congress that blocks the implementation of this deal.
Organizers are claiming that up to half a million marched in the pouring rain in Buenos Aires Feb. 18 to demand justice in the case of Alberto Nisman, the prosecutor who was found dead in his apartment exactly one month earlier, just after he had filed a criminal complaint charging that President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman (among others) had conspired to cover up Iran's role in the deadly 1994 bombing of the Argentine Jewish Mutual Association (AMIA) building. Although slogans against the government were not heard, the "silent march"—called by a group of prosecutors—was seen as a direct challenge to Fernández de Kirchner's administration. Members of Nisman's family, including his eldest daughter, also attended the march. Opposition parties such as the left-wing Broad Front UNEN and centrist Radical Civil Union (UCR) had a visible presence, but prosecutors who had taken on figures close to the Fernández de Kirchner government won the loudest applause, despite the official "silent" nature of the march. Significantly, the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Police—under Mayor Mauricio Macri, who was also at the march—put the figure of attendees at 400,000, while the Federal Police—under Security Secretary Sergio Berni, a member of Fernández de Kirchner's cabinet—estimated only 50,000. (Buenos Aires Herald, BBC News, Feb. 19; InfoBAE, Feb. 18)