Posts Tagged ‘IRGC’

Iran test-fires ballistic missile for first time in 2018

August 12, 2018

For the first time in more than a year, Iran test-fired a ballistic missile in a brazen display of defiance months after President Trump pulled the United States out of a landmark nuclear deal and days before his administration slapped new sanctions on the Islamic Republic, three U.S. officials with knowledge of the launch tell Fox News.

Image result for Fateh-110, photos

The test of an Iranian Fateh-110 short-range ballistic missile coincided with a large-scale naval exercise by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard forces late last week involving over 50 small gunboats in the Strait of Hormuz to rehearse “swarm” tactics which could one day potentially shut down the vital waterway, through which 30 percent of the world’s oil passes each year.

While the U.S. military publicly acknowledged the naval activity, the missile test from an Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps base in Bandar-e-Jask in southeastern Iran has not been previously reported. The launch was detected by U.S. spy satellites.

According to the officials, the anti-ship Fateh-110 Mod 3 flew over 100 miles on a flight path over the Strait of Hormuz to a test range in the Iranian desert. “It was shore-to-shore,” said one U.S. official describing the launch, who like the others requested anonymity to discuss sensitive information.

There were no U.S. military assets nearby or in danger when Iran conducted the test, the official added. The guided-missile destroyer USS The Sullivans has been escorting vessels through the strait in recent days.

A Pentagon spokesperson declined to comment on the Iranian ballistic missile launch.

Last week’s missile launch is the first known test of the Fateh-110 in over a year since a pair were launched on consecutive days in March 2017. One of the missiles last year destroyed a floating barge roughly 155 miles away, two U.S. officials said at the time.

The top American commander for U.S. forces in the Middle East told reporters Iran’s recent naval activity was meant to “send a message” to the United States.

“I think it’s pretty clear to us that they were trying to use that exercise to send a message to us that as we approach this period of the sanctions, they had some capabilities,” Gen. Joseph Votel said at the Pentagon Wednesday.

It’s not immediately clear if the missile test occurred Thursday or Friday, but U.S. officials say it occurred as part of Iran’s annual naval exercise, moved up from its typical fall timeframe ahead of the new sanctions imposed this week. “It’s routine to see Iran doing a missile test during this annual drill,” one official said.

Earlier this week, John Bolton, President Trump’s national security adviser, said the new U.S. sanctions placed on Iran Tuesday were meant to pressure the government in Tehran over its military activity in the Middle East and its ballistic missile program.

In an interview on Fox News, Bolton said the new sanctions targeting Iran’s automotive and airline sectors were not to bring about “regime change” in Iran despite dozens of protests taking place throughout the country and its currency losing value.

U.N. resolution 2231 — put in place days after the Iran nuclear deal was signed — calls on the Islamic Republic not to conduct ballistic missile tests. The resolution bars Iran from conducting ballistic missile tests for eight years and went into effect July 20, 2015.

But critics say the resolution leaves wiggle room by saying Iran is “called upon” not forbidden from carrying out such tests.

Iran is “called upon not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such ballistic missile technology,” according to the text of the resolution.

Despite this most recent example of Iranian saber rattling, its notable Iran has not harassed any U.S. warships or aircraft in nearly a year. The last unsafe interaction occurred nearly a year ago on Aug. 14, 2017, when an Iranian drone flew too close to an F/A-18 Hornet attempting to land aboard the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz, according to the Navy.

Last September, Iranian state television aired footage of a ballistic missile launch of what Tehran described as a new type of medium-range ballistic missile hours after displaying the missile in a parade in Tehran, but the missile launch turned out to be fake and copy of a failed launch the previous January, according to U.S. officials.

The failed late January launch was first reported by Fox News and prompted the White House to put Iran “on notice” days later.

A year earlier, Iranian forces captured the crew of two small U.S. Navy patrol boats that strayed into Iranian waters in the Persian Gulf. The 10 American sailors were released roughly a day later.

http://www.foxnews.com/world/2018/08/10/iran-test-fires-ballistic-missile-for-first-time-in-2018-officials-say.html

Iran To Blame for Attacks on Saudi Oil Tankers, Unceasing War In Yemen, Saudis say

August 11, 2018

Prince Khalid bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the US, has reiterated his condemnation of the Iranian regime’s “menacing role” in Yemen.

Image result for Prince Khalid bin Salman, photos

Prince Khalid bin Salman

His remarks on Twitter on Friday came days after Saudi Arabia resumed shipping through the Bab Al-Mandeb.

Maritime activity had been temporarily halted following Houthi attacks on two of the Kingdom’s oil tankers.

Image result for Nasser Shabani, photos, Iran, IRGC

Nasser Shabani

“There should be no doubt about the Iranian regime’s ‘menacing role’ in Yemen,” the prince said, referring to Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) Commander Nasser Shabani’s admission that the regime was behind recent attacks on the two oil tankers.

Khalid bin Salman خالد بن سلمان

@kbsalsaud

IRGC General Shabani admits his regime was behind the July 25th attack on Saudi oil tankers in the Red Sea saying “We told the Yemenis to hit Saudi tankers, and they did it, Lebanese Hezbollah and Yemeni Ansar Allah [Houthis] are our followers.” The post was later deleted.

Image result for saudi oil tankers, photos

According to the Iranian news agency Fars, Shabani said: “We asked the Yemenis to attack the two Saudi oil tankers, and they did.

The article has since been removed from the agency’s website.

 

Main pillars

Shabani has also said that Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen were Iran’s main pillars in the region.

“There should be no further doubt of the Iranian regime’s menacing role in Yemen and its disregard for human suffering and the environment,” Prince Khalid tweeted.

He attached a screenshot of the original article in which Shabani made the statements to another of his own tweets: “IRGC General Shabani admits his regime was behind the July 25 attack on Saudi oil tankers in the Red Sea saying ‘We told the Yemenis to hit Saudi tankers, and they did. Lebanese Hezbollah and Yemeni Ansar Allah (Houthis) are our followers.’”

The Iranian post was later deleted.

The Arab coalition announced on July 25 it had prevented a Houthi attack targeting two Saudi oil tankers in the Bab Al-Mandeb, off Yemen’s west coast. One of the tankers suffered minor damage.

 

Cyberattacks

Meanwhile, experts said the US was bracing for cyberattacks Iran might launch in retaliation for the reimposition of sanctions by President Donald Trump. Concern over a possible cyber threat has been growing since May when Trump pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal.

Experts said the threat would intensify following Washington’s move on Tuesday to reimpose economic sanctions on Tehran.

“We have seen an increase in chatter related to Iranian threat activity over the past several weeks,” said Priscilla Moriuchi, director of strategic threat development at Recorded Future, a global cyber threat intelligence company.

The US says it re-imposed sanctions on Iran to prevent its aggression — denying it the funds it needs to finance terrorism, its missile program and forces in conflicts in Yemen and Syria.

 http://www.arabnews.com/node/1354321/saudi-arabia

American sanctions bring more agony to Iran’s dysfunctional economy

August 10, 2018

China is happy to play spoiler

But no one has a plan for what comes next

IT TOOK two years to negotiate a nuclear deal with Iran—and a few strokes of a pen to undo it. On August 6th President Donald Trump signed an executive order restoring sanctions aimed at Iran’s car industry, its trade in gold and its access to dollars, among other things. It makes good on the president’s promise to withdraw from the deal, signed in 2015, which gave Iran sanctions relief in exchange for limits on its nuclear programme. The sanctions will hurt. Whether they will accomplish anything else is up for debate.

Contrary to his campaign promise, Mr Trump cannot unilaterally “tear up” the deal. It has five other signatories: Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China. All say it is working, an assessment backed by the International Atomic Energy Agency, which certifies Iran’s compliance.

In an effort to preserve the agreement, the European Union has instructed EU firms not to comply with the sanctions and allowed them to sue in court to recover damages resulting from America’s action. But few think the so-called “blocking” measure will work. Firms are taking seriously Mr Trump’s threat that anyone doing business with Iran will not be allowed to do business with America. Total, a French energy giant, is almost certainly quitting a $2bn deal to develop Iran’s massive South Pars gasfield. Airbus may halt the planned delivery of 100 passenger jets. American firms, such as Boeing, which lost a $20bn contract, are already out of the door.

For months the looming sanctions and expected capital flight have exacerbated a currency crisis in Iran. Last summer a dollar fetched about 38,000 rials on the black market (the official rate has long been out of touch with reality). Since then the rial has lost more than 60% of its value. On July 30th it bottomed out at 119,000 rials to the dollar, a record low. Prices of some staple foods have increased by up to half.

Eager for a scapegoat, the president, Hassan Rouhani, sacked the central-bank governor and his deputy who oversaw foreign exchange. Ahmed Araghchi, the deputy, who served for barely a year, is the deputy foreign minister’s nephew. His bumbling tenure was one example of the nepotism that plagues Iran, which ranks near the bottom of Transparency International’s corruption index. Mr Rouhani has tried to make a show of arresting corrupt businessmen and politicians. Dozens of bankers have been jailed for dodgy loans.

Persian empires

But Iran’s problems run much deeper than a few dirty officials. Large chunks of the economy are dominated by bloated quasi-state enterprises. Take Astan Quds Razavi, a charitable trust, or bonyad, in the northeastern city of Mashhad. It was founded in the 16th century to maintain the shrine of a revered imam. Today it has more earthly concerns: mines, an oil company, even an insurance firm. By its own estimate, it controls 41% of the land in Mashhad. The bonyads sit on vast wealth, all of it tax-exempt. A single Tehran-based trust is thought to control some $13bn in assets, twice as much as the Vatican’s bank.

Every branch of the state has its own economic empire. Beneath Tehran, workers are digging the seventh line of the city’s metro. The lead contractor, Sepasad, is under American sanctions. The US Treasury says it is run by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). It awarded much of the tunnelling to the Hara Company, also allegedly run by the Guards. If these firms need construction materials, they can turn to other IRGC-linked companies that make cement and steel. The state and the bonyads also control 40% of Iran’s private banks, many of them undercapitalised.

Mr Rouhani oversold the benefits of the nuclear deal, promising a flood of new investment. Even before Mr Trump took office, foreign firms were skittish about doing business in Iran. It is hard to compete with vertically integrated empires run by clerics or the IRGC. Iranians were already frustrated with the stagnant economy. Now it will get worse—especially in November, when America reimposes sanctions on Iran’s oil industry. Mr Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, did the same, in partnership with allies, and the volume of Iran’s oil exports fell by 58% between 2011 and 2014.

Mr Trump says he wants a better deal, one that limits Iran’s ballistic-missile programme and does not expire in a decade. It is hard to see how he will achieve that. Far from working with allies, he scorns them. He has a fanciful goal of bringing Iran’s oil exports, currently 2.5m barrels per day, down to zero. But India is looking for alternative payment methods to keep at least some of its 768,000 barrels per day from Iran flowing. Turkey says it will not comply with the sanctions. And China, which buys a quarter of Iran’s crude, is happy to play spoiler. CNPC, a Chinese state-run energy behemoth, has reportedly offered to pick up Total’s share in the South Pars field.

The president has offered to meet Iran’s leaders, perhaps hoping for a reprise of his summit with North Korea’s dictator, Kim Jong Un. Iran is cool to the idea. So the administration has fixed its hopes on the protests roiling the country. Small groups come out almost every day to complain about the economy. “We would like to see a change in the regime’s behaviour, and I think the Iranian people are looking for the same thing,” says an American official.

On this, the White House and the IRGC are in rare agreement. The commander of the Guards calls the protests “more serious than threats from abroad”. But, though they are persistent, the protests are also small and leaderless. Iran has no coherent opposition to challenge the regime.

At the beginning of the summer, residents of Khorramshahr province found themselves without water. The government arrested protesters, and then dispatched the Guards to install a 90km water pipeline. It was a telling sign. Mr Rouhani had hoped to weaken the IRGC’s grip on both politics and business. He failed. His relatively moderate government will now have to work with the arch-conservatives. This will not make Iran more amenable to Western interests, nor more responsive to its own people. Mr Trump may get a change in the regime’s behaviour—but not the one he says he wants.

This article appeared in the Middle East and Africa section of the print edition under the headline “The pain of no deal”
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Iran’s Revolutionary Guards says it held war games in Gulf — But offers no videos

August 5, 2018

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards confirmed on Sunday it had held war games in the Gulf over the past several days, saying they were aimed at “confronting possible threats” by enemies, the state news state news agency IRNA reported.

U.S. officials told Reuters on Thursday that the United States believed Iran had started carrying out naval exercises in the Gulf, apparently moving up the timing of annual drills amid heightened tensions with Washington.

“This exercise was conducted with the aim of controlling and safeguarding the safety of the international waterway and within the framework of the programme of the Guards’ annual military exercises,” Guards spokesman Ramezan Sharif said, according to IRNA.

Image result for Ramezan Sharif, Iran

Ramezan Sharif

The U.S. military’s Central Command on Wednesday confirmed it has seen increased Iranian naval activity. The activity extended to the Strait of Hormuz, a strategic waterway for oil shipments the Revolutionary Guards have threatened to block.

Sharif “expressed satisfaction over the successful conduct of the Guards naval exercise, emphasising the need to maintain and enhance defence readiness and the security of the Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz and to confront threats and potential adventurous acts of enemies,” IRNA said.

One U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said possibly more than 100 vessels were involved in the drills, including small boats.

U.S. officials, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said the drills appeared designed to send a message to Washington, which is intensifying its economic and diplomatic pressure on Tehran but so far stopping short of using the U.S. military to more aggressively counter Iran and its proxies.

Iran has been furious over U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of an international agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme and re-impose sanctions on Tehran. Senior Iranian officials have warned the country would not easily yield to a renewed U.S. campaign to strangle Iran’s vital oil exports.

But Iran did not appear interested in drawing attention to the drills. Iranian authorities had not commented on them earlier and several officials contacted by Reuters this week had declined to comment.

Reporting by Dubai newsroom; editing by Raissa Kasolowsky, Larry King

Reuters

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps on “War Footing” in Strait of Hormuz

August 2, 2018

IRGC exercise in Strait of Hormuz expected to be larger than in the past, with timing suggesting it is tied to recent threats to shut key oil shipping lane

Iranian navy personnel celebrate after successfully launching a Ghader missile from the Jask port area on the shores of the Gulf of Oman during a drill near the Strait of Hormuz, Tuesday, January 1, 2013. (AP/Jamejam Online, Azin Haghighi)

Iranian navy personnel celebrate after successfully launching a Ghader missile from the Jask port area on the shores of the Gulf of Oman during a drill near the Strait of Hormuz, Tuesday, January 1, 2013. (AP/Jamejam Online, Azin Haghighi)

Iranian forces are expected to launch a major exercise in the strategic Strait of Hormuz likely aimed at demonstrating an ability to close the key oil shipping lane, US officials told CNN Wednesday.

The drill by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which the US officials said was likely to begin in the next two days, comes days after the country’s president threatened that it could close off the strategic waterway in response to the reimposition of US sanctions.

While Iranian forces drill in the Strait of Hormuz annually, one US official told the station that the exercise being planned appeared to be larger than those in years past and was timed unusually late in the year, indicating it was likely tied to recent tensions.

William Urban, chief spokesman for US Central Command, said the the military was closely monitoring Iranian troops movements in the area.

“We are aware of the increase in Iranian naval operations within the Arabian Gulf, Strait of Hormuz and Gulf of Oman. We are monitoring it closely, and will continue to work with our partners to ensure freedom of navigation and free flow of commerce in international waterways,”  he told CNN.

In this Tuesday, March 21, 2017 photograph, an Omani naval vessel sails alongside the USS George H.W. Bush as it travels through the Strait of Hormuz. (AP Photo/Jon Gambrell)

The Strait, a narrow passageway between Iran and Oman, is a key waterway through which a third of all oil traded by sea passes and it has been the scene of previous confrontations between the United States and Iran.

On July 22, Iranian president Hassan Rouhani gave a speech in which he threatened that Iran could block the passageway.

Satellite view of the Strait of Hormuz (photo credit: NASA/Public domain)

Satellite view of the Strait of Hormuz (photo credit: NASA/Public domain)

“We have always guaranteed the security of this strait. Do not play with the lion’s tail, you will regret it forever,” he said.

“Peace with Iran would be the mother of all peace and war with Iran would be the mother of all wars.”

The speech drew a furious response from US president Donald Trump, who warned Rouhani with dire consequences in an all-caps tweet.

“NEVER, EVER THREATEN THE UNITED STATES AGAIN OR YOU WILL SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE,” Trump said on Twitter in a direct message to Rouhani.

Trump later said he would be willing to meet with Rouhani to negotiate a new nuclear deal, but the idea has been with a cool reception in Iran.

Trump withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal in May, and sanctions are set to kick back in within months. Iran’s currency has taken a nose dive in recent days as the looming sanctions have wreaked havoc on international investment in the country.

On Tuesday, the head of Iran’s navy said keeping the Strait of Hormuz operating was dependent on sanctions not being reimposed.

“The Strait of Hormuz remaining open hinges on Iran’s interests and the international community should live up to its obligations towards the Islamic Republic,” Rear Admiral Hossein Khanzadi said, according to state-run media.

A number of other senior Iranian officials, including the head of the IRGC, have threatened that Tehran could close the strait at any time.

Times of Israel

https://www.timesofisrael.com/iranian-forces-gearing-up-for-massive-drill-in-strategic-waterway-report/

Related:

Iran Military Planning Major Exercise, Show of Strength with Over 100 Warships, Republican Guard Vessels

August 2, 2018

The United States believes Iran is preparing to carry out a major exercise in the Gulf in the coming days, apparently moving up the timing of annual drills amid heightened tensions with Washington, U.S. officials told Reuters on Wednesday.

Iran has been furious over U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of an international nuclear deal and reimpose sanctions on Tehran. Senior Iranian officials have warned the country would not easily yield to a renewed U.S. campaign to strangle Iran’s vital oil exports.

The U.S. military’s Central Command confirmed that it has seen an increase in Iranian activity, including in the Strait of Hormuz, a strategic waterway for oil shipments that Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have threatened to block.

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Iranian navy patrol boat launches a missile. FILE photo

“We are aware of the increase in Iranian naval operations within the Arabian Gulf, Strait of Hormuz and Gulf of Oman,” said Navy Captain Bill Urban, the chief spokesman at Central Command, which oversees U.S. forces in the Middle East.

“We are monitoring it closely, and will continue to work with our partners to ensure freedom of navigation and free flow of commerce in international waterways,” Urban added.

Urban did not provide further information or comment on questions about the expected Iranian drills.

But U.S. officials, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said Iran’s Revolutionary Guards has appeared to prepare more than 100 vessels for exercises. Hundreds of ground forces could also be involved.

They said the drills could begin within the next 48 hours, although the precise timing was unclear.

Details of the Iranian preparations were first reported by CNN.

U.S. officials said the timing of the drills appeared designed to send a message to Washington, which is intensifying its economic and diplomatic pressure on Tehran but so far stopping short of using the U.S. military to more aggressively counter Iran and its proxies.

Trump’s policies are already putting significant pressure on the Iranian economy, although U.S. intelligence suggests they may ultimately rally Iranians against the United States and strengthen Iran’s hardline rulers, officials say.

Iran’s currency plumbed new depths this week as Iranians brace for Aug. 7 when Washington is due to reimpose a first lot of economic sanctions following Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal.

A number of protests have broken out in Iran since the beginning of the year over high prices, water shortage, power cuts and alleged corruption.

On Tuesday, hundreds of people rallied in cities including Isfahan, Karaj, Shiraz and Ahvaz in protest against high inflation caused in part by the weak rial.

Reuters

Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by James Dalgleish

See also SPUTNIK:

Iran’s Navy Assembles Near Mouth of Persian Gulf, US ‘Monitoring it Closely’

https://sputniknews.com/middleeast/201808021066873307-Iran-Navy-Drills-Persian-Gulf-Hormuz-Monitoring/

Iraq’s Shia militias: capturing the state

July 31, 2018

The Iran-backed Popular Mobilisation Units were created to defeat Isis, but now they are forming political alliances and taking control of parts of the economy

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© Reuters

By Andrew England in Baghdad

Militiamen in pick-up trucks kitted out with weapons speed through Iraq’s western desert on a mission to Al-Qaim, a border town that was one of the last Isis strongholds to be liberated. In the video members of the paramilitary Popular Mobilisation Units, known in Arabic as the Hashd al-Shaabi, clamber up a rocky hill in the town, some brandishing US-made M16 rifles, others with Kalashnikovs. A voiceover describes the “bravery” of the PMU and the “fierce war” it fought with Isis in Iraq.

But this time, the battle-hardened men are not hankering for a fight. Instead, the video boasts of their role helping rebuild a local hospital after the jihadis were driven out of Al-Qaim in November, just a month before Iraq declared victory over Isis.

The video was posted on the PMU’s website, days before the paramilitaries’ recently formed political alliance — Fatah, or Conquest — stormed to second place in Iraq’s parliamentary elections in May. Now, as politicians jockey over the composition of the next government, both the video and Fatah’s strong electoral performance point to one of the most polarising questions in Iraq: will the estimated 120,000-strong PMU force have a constructive or destabilising role in the post-Isis era?

To supporters, PMU fighters are saviours who defended their nation in its darkest hour as Isis seized roughly a third of the country — about 8,000 of its members died in the three-year battle, officials say.

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Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, left, and leader of the Popular Mobiliisation Units, Hadi al-Ameri, have formed a ‘national alliance’ as coalition talks get under way © Getty

But to detractors the PMU has become a powerful Iranian proxy and a potentially subversive force in a country that has endured periods of appalling violence over the past 15 years — much of it at the hands of militias that exploited the state’s weakness to stoke sectarian tension after the 2003 US-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein.

Some Iraqi and western officials fear the predominantly Shia paramilitary groups could become a shadow force, modelled on Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps or Hizbollah, the Lebanese movement that has political and military wings.

“It’s an Iranian creation led by people who follow Iran: Iran has the Revolutionary guards, Iraq has the PMU,” says an Iraqi general.

Hadi al-Ameri, a veteran paramilitary leader-cum-politician who led the PMU into battle, bristles at such suggestions. “We [do] not accept this. This is the wrong mentality,” says Mr Ameri, who ditched his camouflage uniforms for sober suits to lead Fatah. “This is the same thing as the National Guards in America . . . this is an internal affair.”

The truth lies somewhere in between. Unlike the IRGC and Hizbollah, the PMU, which includes several dozen factions, is not a homogenous movement. And neither Washington nor Tehran want Iraq to become a theatre of conflict, analysts say.

As regional tensions mount, with the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia intensifying pressure on Iran following President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the nuclear deal with Tehran, the future role of the PMU is garnering more scrutiny. Some elements of the more pro-Iran militias in the PMU have dispatched forces to Syria to fight alongside the regime of Bashar al-Assad and have issued threats against US interests in Iraq.

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Political and economic grievances: protests in Baghdad in mid-July © Reuters

Mike Pompeo, US secretary of state, has accused Tehran of sponsoring “Shia militia groups and terrorists to infiltrate and undermine the Iraqi security forces and jeopardise Iraq’s sovereignty”.

Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the PMU’s deputy leader, was hit with sanctions by the US Treasury in 2009 “for threatening the peace and stability of Iraq and the government of Iraq”, and his Hizbollah Brigades militia is designated a terrorist organisation. The Treasury said he was an adviser to Qassem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s Quds Force, and as recently as October a state department spokesman described Mr Muhandis as a “terrorist”.

Last week, Mr Soleimani warned the US against threatening Iran: “We are near you, where you can’t even imagine,” he said, according to Iranian news agencies. It was a line that seemed to imply that Iran is prepared to use its troops and proxies outside the Islamic republic to fight the US.

Yet for three years, the US, the PMU and, indirectly, Iran, were in effect partners in Iraq with the shared goal of defeating Isis. It is what happens to the PMU next that has a “huge question mark” hanging over it, says a western diplomat in Baghdad.

Robert Ford, who was briefly kidnapped by a Shia militia in 2003 during the first of his three stints in Iraq as a US diplomat, believes Mr Ameri would prefer not to take sides between Iran and the US. But if hostilities between the foes “escalate sharply”, his loyalty would be to Tehran.

“Ameri and nearly all the Iraqi Shia understand that the American influence in the region sooner or later will diminish, but Iran will always be their neighbour,” says Mr Ford, a fellow at Washington’s Middle East Institute.

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The PMU militias were born after Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, Iraq’s top Shia cleric, issued a call to arms in June 2014 following the humiliating collapse of the Iraqi security forces that the US had spent more than $20bn equipping in the face of Isis’s onslaught. As the jihadis blitzed across northern and western Iraq, advancing towards Baghdad, young men lined up behind pick-up trucks and outside military bases to be ferried to the front lines.

Some were volunteers. Most were members of Shia militias that had been keeping low profiles, such as Mr Ameri’s Badr movement, formed in Iran during the 1980s to fight Saddam’s regime; Asaib Ahl al-Haq, a radical offshoot of Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia, which attacked US troops after Saddam was ousted; and the Hizbollah Brigades.

The PMU gradually drew in fighters from other communities, including Sunnis, Christians and Yazidis, taking on a less sectarian profile. They supported offensives led by the rebuilt Iraqi security forces and the US-led coalition that finally defeated the jihadis.

‘Nearly all the Iraqi Shia understand that the [US] influence in the region . . . will diminish, but Iran will always be their neighbour’

Robert Ford, former US diplomat in Baghdad

Since then, the paramilitaries have reduced their presence on Baghdad’s streets. But PMU leaders have resisted prime minister Haider al-Abadi’s efforts to integrate them into the armed forces. In November 2016, parliament passed a law making the PMU an independent force, which now has its own $1.6bn budget and ostensibly answers to the prime minister’s office rather than the interior or defence ministries.

Yet when Mr Abadi tried to obtain an independent audit of their numbers, PMU leaders pushed back, says one Iraqi politician. Today, the paramilitaries patrol areas liberated from Isis, including the strategic border with Syria around Al-Qaim, and operate checkpoints across the country.

Renad Mansour, an analyst at the Chatham House think-tank who has researched the PMU, says Mr Ameri “plays the game of the state when it suits him”. He adds: “The PMU’s endgame is either to take control of the state, or, if they can’t, [to at least] be part of the state.

“But they also have a plan B. If the state one day decides it needs to integrate or disband the PMU, they can gain power or influence through contesting the state economically and politically.”

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Hadi al-Ameri on the campaign trail in the southern Iraqi city of Basra before Iraqi elections in May © AFP

Experts say it is unrealistic to expect tens of thousands of armed men to simply pack up and go home. Indeed, such a move in a country awash with weapons and blighted by widespread joblessness would only risk exacerbating instability: Iraqis point to the chaos that erupted after the US’s decision to disband security forces in 2003. The vacuum allowed militias to flourish, including the rival Shia and Sunni groups that fought coalition forces and sectarian battles, and Peshmerga fighters loyal to the two main political groups in autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan.

“Armed groups linked to political parties or individuals is a problem throughout the whole country; the PMU may be the biggest example of it now,” Mr Mansour says. “This is part of the bigger issue of how to end the monopoly of legitimate violence throughout Iraq.”

Elements of the PMU were accused of committing abuses against Sunnis in the war with Isis. Amnesty International last year alleged the paramilitaries “executed or otherwise unlawfully killed, tortured and abducted thousands of men and boys”. US equipment supplied to the Iraqi army, including Humvees, M113 armoured personnel carriers and small arms, was being deployed by the militias, the report said.

Some Iraqis and analysts say PMU groups are also expanding their business interests and allegedly engaging in similar smuggling rackets that Isis once operated, from sheep to grain and oil. “Where Isis controlled territory, PMU groups have emerged manning checkpoints so smugglers taking stuff through Turkey or Syria must go through them,” says an Iraqi analyst. “Each of these groups are gangsters involved in looting this county,” says a rival politician.

The PMU’s website offers an alternative narrative. Statements highlight its work providing medical services, reconciling tribes and repairing mosques, roads, bridges and schools in liberated areas. Its leaders speak of their desire to establish a “martyrs university”.

Nathaniel Rabkin, a security analyst, says the attempted push into academia is an example of how the PMU wants to have an ideological role in “shaping the way Iraq goes forward”.

Part of that is curbing western influence, he says. “They are smart enough to understand it would be a mistake to make it exactly like the IRGC,” he says. “But you watch interviews with Ameri and he’s talking about how the PMUs are an ideological army and Iraq is in an ideological war and . . . it becomes clear he sees this project as about something much grander and longer-term.”

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Mike Pompeo, US secretary of state © AFP

Much will depend on where power lies in the next government. Mr Sadr, the Shia cleric whose Sairoon political alliance is leading talks to form a coalition after winning the largest share of the vote at May’s election, has previously called for the PMU to be disbanded and has railed against Iran’s influence. But he also has his own militia, the Mahdi Army. It retreated from the streets after a crackdown by the Iraqi and coalition forces in the late 2000s, and has since been rebranded the “Peace Companies”.

Last month, Mr Sadr and Mr Ameri joined forces to create a “national alliance” to lead talks on forming a government.

“Some PMU commanders are becoming politicians, but they are serving Iraq to protect the state,” says Karim al-Nouri, a Fatah politician, as pictures of him in uniform on the front lines of the battle against Isis hang outside his office. “We are going to enter parliament in civilian clothes, not uniforms.”

Another Iraqi analyst says that if the PMU’s gains are not threatened it could be a “good force”. “But they will have many demands and they will put their nose into everything, just like [Iran’s] IRGC,” the analyst says. “The most important pressure Iran has created after Hizbollah [the Lebanese Shia movement] is the PMU.”

Mr Ameri, a stocky man in his 60s, is having none of it. “Get rid of your Iran complex,” he says. “Go and disband the National Guard in America and Saudi Arabia and come back to me.

“If you disband the Peshmerga we will disband the PMU, but you accept the Peshmerga and cheer for them. This is double standards.”

Additional reporting by Asser Khattab in Beirut

***

Politics: water and fuel protests expose rising anger

A wave of protests across southern Iraq have exposed the weakness of the state and the mounting resentment many Iraqis feel towards their leaders.

Demonstrators have in recent weeks targeted government buildings and political party offices, including those belonging to the Badr movement and other groups on Hadi al-Ameri’s Fatah list. The protests began over electricity and water shortages in Basra, the country’s oil hub. But they are also symptomatic of growing anger over the dire state of public services and the economy.

The predominantly Shia southern provinces avoided the worst of the violence from the three-year battle with Isis in Iraq’s north and west. But families from the south provided the majority of sons, fathers and husbands who filled the ranks of the Popular Mobilisation Units from 2014. Now there is a sense that despite the sacrifices made by the south, it has been neglected by Baghdad.

There is also widespread anger about rampant poverty and unemployment in a region that is the country’s economic lifeline — oil exports from Basra account for more than 95 per cent of state revenues. Some protests have targeted oil and gasfields as people demand that companies provide more jobs.

The anger felt by many Iraqis towards their leaders was reflected in a record low turnout of 44.5 per cent at the May 12 elections. That worked in the favour of the Sairoon alliance, led by Moqtada al-Sadr, the Shia cleric, and the Fatah bloc, which came first and second in terms of seats won in parliament, according to initial results.

They, and other groups, are now in talks to form the next coalition government, a process that typically takes months given Iraq’s fragmented political system. But the continuing unrest underscores the challenges the next administration will face.

https://www.ft.com/content/ba4f7bb2-6d4d-11e8-852d-d8b934ff5ffa

Trump readying to strike Iran say Australian government sources – report

July 27, 2018

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull rejects report, says ‘no reason’ to believe attack, which sources said would use Australian and UK intelligence, is imminent

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US President Donald Trump may have plans to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities as early as next month, senior Australian government sources said according to a Thursday report, though Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said he had “no reason” to believe a strike was imminent.

Sources said that Australian and British intelligence services would be involved in identifying targets for a strike, Australia’s ABC news reported.

However, the sources told the paper that Australia would not actively participate in an attack on Iran.

“Developing a picture is very different to actually participating in a strike,” a source told ABC.

“Providing intelligence and understanding as to what is happening on the ground so that the Government and allied governments are fully informed to make decisions is different to active targeting,” he said.

Illustrative: An unidentified International Atomic Energy Agency inspector cuts the connections between the twin cascades for 20 percent uranium enrichment at the Natanz facility, some 200 miles (322 kilometers) south of the capital Tehran, Iran, Monday, January 20, 2014. (AP/IRNA, Kazem Ghane)

Turnbull appeared to reject the report, saying it was “speculation” and he had “no reason” to believe a strike was imminent.

“I saw a story today claiming that on the ABC, and citing senior Australian government sources,” he said. “It’s speculation, it is citing anonymous sources.”

He said that the ABC report information did not come from any of the relevant senior government officials.

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An Iranian made ballistic missile is launched from Yemen by Houthi rebels into Saudi Arabia — Reuters file photo
.

“President Trump has made his views very clear to the whole world, but this story … has not benefited from any consultation with me, the Foreign Minister, the Defense Minister or the Chief of the Defense Force,” he said.

Australia and the UK partner with the US in the “Five Eyes” intelligence program, along with Canada and New Zealand, though the latter are unlikely to play any role in an attack on Iran, the sources told ABC.

On Sunday Trump issued an intense warning against Tehran, threatening that it would “suffer consequences the likes of which few throughout history have ever seen before.”

Donald J. Trump

@realDonaldTrump

To Iranian President Rouhani: NEVER, EVER THREATEN THE UNITED STATES AGAIN OR YOU WILL SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE. WE ARE NO LONGER A COUNTRY THAT WILL STAND FOR YOUR DEMENTED WORDS OF VIOLENCE & DEATH. BE CAUTIOUS!

The response came after Rouhani earlier Sunday issued his own warning to the US leader not to “play with the lion’s tail,” saying that conflict with Iran would be the “mother of all wars.”

However, Trump tempered the threat Tuesday, saying “we’re ready to make a real deal” with Iran.

The back-and-forth came after the Trump administration withdrew the United States from the Iran nuclear deal forged under former President Barack Obama.

The move sets in motion a renewal of sanctions against the Islamic Republic that were removed once the landmark accord was implemented in January 2016.

Those sanctions are now set to be reimposed in November, causing more than 50 international firms to exit the Iranian market, according to State Department policy and planning director Brian Hook.

Eric Cortellessa and Associated Press contributed to this report.

https://www.timesofisrael.com/trump-readying-to-strike-iran-say-australian-government-sources-report/

Related:

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On Thursday, Iran’s Quds force chief Qassem Soleimani said the Red Sea was no longer safe due to the presence of U.S. forces.

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© AFP/File | Iranian President Hassan Rouhani shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) during a welcoming ceremony on January 23, 2016 in the capital Tehran

U.S. Toughens Rhetoric on Iran Following Trump’s Tweet

July 23, 2018

National Security Adviser John Bolton backs president’s warning of consequences such as ‘few throughout history have ever suffered’

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Sunday; state media reported he had threatened the U.S., saying ‘war with Iran is the mother of all wars.’
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Sunday; state media reported he had threatened the U.S., saying ‘war with Iran is the mother of all wars.’PHOTO: PRESIDENTIAL OFFICE HANDOUT/EPA-/EPA/SHUTTERSTOCK

WASHINGTON—President Donald Trump threatened Iran in a tweet late Sunday night, warning the country’s leader to be cautious in its approach to the U.S. or suffer consequences such as few in history have suffered.

The tweet, written in capital letters except for the address, “To Iranian President Rouhani,” didn’t specify these consequences, and didn’t make clear whether the threat was directed at President Hassan Rouhani specifically or Iran as a whole.

“NEVER, EVER THREATEN THE UNITED STATES AGAIN OR YOU WILL SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE,” Mr. Trump wrote.

Hours later on Monday morning, National Security Adviser John Bolton issued a statement reiterating the president’s warning.

“I spoke to the President over the last several days, and President Trump told me that if Iran does anything at all to the negative, they will pay a price like few countries have ever paid before,” he said.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders dismissed suggestions that with his tweet, the president was inciting conflict with Iran in order to distract from his domestic political troubles including negative reaction to his rapport with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“The president is responding to Iran and he’s not going to allow them to continue to make threats against America,” she told reporters Monday morning. “If anyone’s inciting anything, look not further than to Iran… The president has the ability, unlike a lot of those in the media, to focus on more than one issue at a time.”

Donald J. Trump

@realDonaldTrump

To Iranian President Rouhani: NEVER, EVER THREATEN THE UNITED STATES AGAIN OR YOU WILL SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE. WE ARE NO LONGER A COUNTRY THAT WILL STAND FOR YOUR DEMENTED WORDS OF VIOLENCE & DEATH. BE CAUTIOUS!

The administrations’ remarks appeared to refer to comments by Mr. Rouhani, reported by the semiofficial state news agency, warning the Trump administration against continuing hard-line policies against Iran.

“America should know that peace with Iran is the mother of all peace, and war with Iran is the mother of all wars,” Mr. Rouhani was reported saying.

Iranian officials on Monday warned they would retaliate against any U.S. military action.

Iranian Defense Minister Amir Hatami said the U.S. and its allies “don’t understand any other language than force,” as he announced a new production line of air-to-air missiles in Tehran.

Image result for Iranian Defense Minister Amir Hatami

Amir Hatami

And Mohsen Rezaei, a former commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, on Twitter warned

Mr. Trump that 50,000 U.S. troops are in range of Iranian weapons.

On Monday morning, the rhetoric hadn’t prompted the Pentagon to move any U.S. military assets, nor generated a sense of urgency to shift the U.S. military posture near Iran, Pentagon officials said.

While the U.S. once maintained a carrier strike group in the Middle East, there is none there now. The USS Harry S. Truman aircraft carrier left the region last week and the Navy has no immediate plans to replace it, two defense officials said.

Image result for USS Harry S. Truman, photos

USS Harry S. Truman

Iranians have committed no unsafe or provocative acts toward ships traveling through the Hormuz strait this year, the officials said.

Mr. Trump withdrew from the 2015 Iran nuclear accord in May, and the administration later issued 12 demands for a new deal. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned at the time that the U.S. would impose the “strongest sanctions in history” unless Iran agreed.

Tehran swiftly rejected the terms, which include one requiring a wholesale change in its military posture in the Middle East, where it is backing groups of fighters in Iraq and Syria.

Mr. Pompeo on Sunday called Iran’s religious leaders “hypocritical holy men” in a speech in California.

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An Iranian made ballistic missile is launched from Yemen by Houthi rebels into Saudi Arabia — Reuters file photo

The country “is run by something that resembles the mafia more than a government,” he said, saying its leaders have taken vast amounts of wealth at the expense of the country’s people. “We are asking all nations who are sick and tired of the Islamic Republic’s destructive behavior to join our pressure campaign.”

Mr. Pompeo has drawn parallels to the administration’s “maximum pressure” policy on North Korea, which has been subjected to sanctions intended to force it to give up its nuclear arsenal and ballistic missiles. In Iran’s case, U.S. measures would include pressure on countries to reduce their purchases of Iranian oil to zero, with very few exemptions, made case by case.

Mr. Trump’s Sunday tweet was similar to a threat he made to North Korea in front of reporters last August—of “fire and fury like the world has never seen.” A month later, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un responded, “I will surely and definitely tame the mentally deranged U.S. dotard with fire.”

The 2015 Iran nuclear accord negotiated between Iran, the U.S. and five other world powers was a hallmark of the Obama administration. It codified a trade-off in which Iran agreed to limit its uranium enrichment in return for sanctions relief.

How Trump Is Tightening His Squeeze on Iran

With the U.S out of the Iran nuclear agreement, the Trump administration is clamping down on the Iranian regime. The Wall Street Journal’s Gerald F. Seib explains the sources of pressure. Photo: Reuters

For months, the Trump administration was involved in talks with Britain, France and Germany about strengthening the deal, but the discussions faltered along the way.

European countries earlier this month told Iran they are exploring activating accounts for the Iranian central bank with their national central banks in a bid to open a financial channel to keep the agreement alive.

Iran’s economy is under severe strain, and hundreds of demonstrations have eruptedacross the country over rising prices, corruption and environmental damage. The value of the country’s currency is down by nearly half since January. Iranians are also increasingly frustrated with the country’s lack of political and social freedoms.

The economic crisis has only grown more severe since the Trump administration pulled out of the 2015 deal: In the month following the May announcement, oil exports were down 16%.

Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, has called on European countries to introduce measures to ease the impact of the U.S. withdrawal from the deal before U.S. sanctions take effect. The first sanctions are set to be reimposed on Aug. 6, followed by measures targeting Iranian oil on Nov. 4.

Protesters in Tehran last month; hundreds of demonstrations have erupted across the country over rising prices, corruption and environmental damage.
Protesters in Tehran last month; hundreds of demonstrations have erupted across the country over rising prices, corruption and environmental damage. PHOTO: STR/EPA/SHUTTERSTOCK

Mr. Rouhani, who has sought to make Iran less isolated by forging diplomatic ties with the West, is now seeking to preserve his political future by reaching out to hard-liners who previously opposed his leadership.

Earlier this month, he threatened to disrupt the flow of Middle Eastern oil through the Persian Gulf, a transit route for about a third of the world’s seaborne oil trade. The threat was immediately praised by the country’s military leaders, who have been at odds with Mr. Rouhani over his efforts to improve relations with the West.

On Sunday, Mr. Rouhani again noted Iran’s strategic position on the major oil-trading route, although he stopped short of a fresh threat to cut off shipping, according to the remarks reported by the state news agency.

Write to Jessica Donati at Jessica.Donati@wsj.com and Nancy A. Youssef at Nancy.Youssef@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/trump-threatens-iran-in-late-night-tweet-1532321498