Friday, June 2, 2017

Eye on Iran: U.S. Hikes 'Combat Power' In Syria, With Eye On Iran-Backed Militia

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The U.S. military said on Thursday it had bolstered its "combat power" in southern Syria, warning that it viewed Iran-backed fighters in the area as a threat to nearby coalition troops fighting Islamic State. The remarks by a Baghdad-based spokesman for the US.-led coalition battling Islamic State was the latest sign of tension in the region, where the United States has forces at the base around the Syrian town of At Tanf supporting local fighters. "We have increased our presence and our footprint and prepared for any threat that is presented by the pro-regime forces," said the spokesman, U.S. Army Colonel Ryan Dillon, referring to Iran-backed forces supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Dillon estimated that a small number of Iran-backed forces had remained inside a so-called "deconfliction" zone meant to ensure the safety of U.S.-led coalition forces since a May 18 U.S. strike on their advancing formation.

He is known as the Dark Prince or Ayatollah Mike, nicknames he earned as the Central Intelligence Agency officer who oversaw the hunt for Osama bin Laden and the American drone strike campaign that killed thousands of Islamist militants and hundreds of civilians. Now the official, Michael D'Andrea, has a new job. He is running the CI.A.'s Iran operations, according to current and former intelligence officials, an appointment that is the first major sign that the Trump administration is invoking the hard line the president took against Iran during his campaign. Mr. D'Andrea's new role is one of a number of moves inside the spy agency that signal a more muscular approach to espionage and covert operations under the leadership of Mike Pompeo, the conservative Republican and former congressman, the officials said. The agency also recently named a new chief of counterterrorism, who has begun pushing for greater latitude to strike militants.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says his country plans to build walls along its borders with Iraq and Iran, similar to the one currently being erected along the frontier with Syria. Erdogan said Thursday that Turkey has so far completed the construction of a 650-kilometer (403-mile) stretch of the wall along the 911-kilometer border with Syria. Turkey began building the wall in 2014 to boost its security by preventing infiltrations of Kurdish militants and Islamic State group fighters as well as refugees from Syria. Erdogan said Turkey aims to build along its entire border with Syria. He added: "We'll do the same along the Iraqi border and in appropriate places along the Iranian border."


Despite posing potential conflicts of interest, Rudolph W. Giuliani and another prominent lawyer were allowed on Thursday to continue to represent a Turkish-Iranian gold trader facing federal charges in Manhattan. The businessman, Reza Zarrab, 33, faces trial on Oct. 30 on charges of conspiring to commit money laundering, bank fraud and violating the United States sanctions on Iran. He has pleaded not guilty. Mr. Zarrab, whom prosecutors have depicted as a man of considerable wealth and influence in Turkey, retained Mr. Giuliani, the former New York City mayor, and Michael B. Mukasey, a former attorney general in President George W. Bush's administration, to explore a possible diplomatic resolution to his case, outside of normal plea bargaining channels. In a court filing in April, Mr. Mukasey described the effort as seeking "a state-to-state resolution of this case."


Iran is in talks with the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) to forge a free-trade pact, state-run media said, amid problems in securing fresh Western investment despite the lifting of most global sanctions against Tehran. Iran's economy has revived only slowly since its curbed its disputed nuclear activity under a 2015 deal with world powers because many foreign investors remain cautious for fear of incurring penalties from remaining unilateral U.S. sanctions. In turning to the EEU, Iran would be building on increasing trade, economic and military ties with Russia, including the two countries' support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in his war with rebels and militants trying to topple him.

Gazprom Neft, OMV to work together in Iran under MoU | Reuters

Russia's Gazprom Neft and Austria's OMV will work together in Iran's oil sector under a memorandum of understanding, OMV said on Friday. "Preliminary possible spheres of cooperation include analysis, assessment and study of certain oil deposits located in the territory of the Islamic Republic of Iran in cooperation with the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC)," OMV said. OMV could help Gazprom Neft in the initial geological assessment of two blocks in Iran, Vadim Yakovlev, first deputy general director at Gazprom Neft, said in the statement. OMV started operations in Iran in 2001 as the operator of the Mehr exploration block in the west of the country. It halted operations in 2006 due to sanctions imposed on Iran.


There are indications that Iran is planning on spending more money on building up its elite military forces in the coming years, U.S. Special Operation Forces Vice Commander Lt. Gen. Thomas Trask said at a event in Washington earlier this week. Those forces, like the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) are active in training and equipping proxy forces in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and elsewhere. "If anything, increased defense dollars in Iran are likely to go toward increasing that network, looking for ways to expand it," Trask said. "We've already seen evidence of them taking units and officers out of the conventional side that are working with the IRGC in Syria," the general added. "We're going to stay focused on these proxies" and "we're going to continue to plan primarily against that network of proxies and unconventional warfare that Iran pushes out to create that buffer for the regime," he said.


The desecration of a mass grave site in Ahvaz, southern Iran that contains the remains of at least 44 people who were extrajudicially executed would destroy vital forensic evidence and scupper opportunities for justice for the mass prisoner killings that took place across the country in 1988, said Amnesty International and Justice for Iran.  Photo and video evidence obtained by the NGO Justice for Iran and reviewed by Amnesty International shows bulldozers working on a construction project directly alongside the mass grave site at Ahvaz, as well as piles of dirt and construction debris surrounding the grave. Although the Iranian authorities have made no official announcements about Ahvaz, families learned through a construction worker that the plan is to ultimately raze the concrete block marking the grave site and build over the area.

Two Iranian artists will have been behind bars for a full year as of June 5, sentenced for their peaceful artistic activities. Today, artists and supporters of artistic freedom from Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe and the Middle East called for their release in an open letter sent by Freemuse and the Center for Human Rights in Iran to newly re-elected President Hassan Rouhani. "The continued imprisonment of Mehdi and Hossein Rajabian is unacceptable and in complete violation of international human rights laws ratified by Iran," said the signatories. "We call on the Iranian government to immediately and unconditionally release Mehdi and Hossein Rajabian and all other artists imprisoned for their creative expressions." "Rouhani must fulfill the demands of Iran's artistic community, which strongly supported his re-election," said CHRI's Executive Director Hadi Ghaemi.


Growing strains with the United States and political infighting at home threaten Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's plans to expand social freedoms, create jobs and draw in foreign investment, officials and analysts say. Anti-Western hardliners defeated by Rouhani in the presidential election in May appear determined to take revenge by denying the pragmatic cleric an economic dividend, they believe. The hardliners' strategy is to stoke already-simmering tension with Washington and its Gulf Arab allies, injecting fresh political risk into a country that had been seen as a safer bet since its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. "To weaken Rouhani, they will try all possible ways, from provoking hawks in Washington to imposing more political limitations at home ... and isolating Iran economically," said a senior official who asked not to be named.


Iran's 12 presidential election was held on May 19, 2017, throughout the country. The incumbent Hassan Rouhani was "re-elected" amidst various cases of fraud, vote rigging and embarrassing measures to portray the polling stations as crowded. However, Iran's president is subordinate to the supreme leader Ali Khamenei. Iran's elections is far from free or fair. The president is first vetted as a candidate by a clerical panel called the Guardian Council, affiliated to the supreme leader. The supreme leader stands at the apex of Iran's complex political-religious dictatorship. He has veto power over all policies and ultimate control of the security forces. Iran's supreme leader controls much of economy through 14 main entities, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). Rouhani's freedom of action in foreign policy is also heavily circumscribed by the Supreme Leader's authority.

Eye on Iran is a periodic news summary from United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) a program of the American Coalition Against Nuclear Iran, Inc., a tax-exempt organization under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Eye on Iran is not intended as a comprehensive media clips summary but rather a selection of media elements with discreet analysis in a PDA friendly format. For more information please email

United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) is a non-partisan, broad-based coalition that is united in a commitment to prevent Iran from fulfilling its ambition to become a regional super-power possessing nuclear weapons.  UANI is an issue-based coalition in which each coalition member will have its own interests as well as the collective goal of advancing an Iran free of nuclear weapons.

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