American economic sanctions and successful efforts to block Iranian oil smuggling continue to cripple the economy. GDP shrank about 4.2 percent in the last year and is expected to shrink 7.2 percent in the coming year. Reserves of foreign currency, needed to pay for imports, are down to $73 billion, a third less than two years ago. The unemployment rate is headed for 20 percent and more Iranians are finding themselves with a lower standard of living. Meanwhile, more videos appear showing the families of the ruling clerics and senior IRGC officers enjoying affluent lifestyles, often while vacationing outside Iran. Because of the recent Iranian missile attacks on American bases in Iraq the U.S. has imposed more economic sanctions, further reducing economic activity in Iran.
Government Sponsored Terror
The government is caught between foreign pressure to halt the use of terrorism inside and outside the country and internal protests against government mismanagement and brutality inside Iran. Being forced to admit that Iranian forces shot down a Ukrainian airliner on the 8th was a major embarrassment and triggered more anti-government protests. Officially the government blamed the Americans, who were no longer suffering Iranian attacks in silence. The government also had a growing internal dispute between radicals, led by the IRGC, who wanted more use of terrorism and other violence, opposed by more moderate members of the religious leadership the IRGC was created to protect. This dispute was nothing new, but it has been getting worse over the past few years. One senior IRGC general, Qassem Soleimani, was a major proponent of more terror, both inside and outside Iran. While many of the religious leaders who ruled Iran opposed Soleimani and the other radical IRGC generals for demanding more violence, the clerics also needed the IRGC to protect the government from growing public protests and anger at the decades of corruption and misrule. The IRGC does not appear to be a direct threat to the government (as in a coup) but they do remain a source of radicalism the government cannot ignore. The IRGC has responded to current protests with gunfire and arrests of those who took videos of the missiles striking the Ukrainian 737. Iranian families of the victims have been warned to keep their grief private or else.
The death of Soleimani was a relief as he was the most powerful, and influential of the IRGC radicals. Now the IRGC radicals, especially Quds Force commanders, fear more personal attacks on them by the Americans. The government has always resisted the more radical ideas by the IRGC, like carrying out major terror attacks in the United States. The religious leaders, or at least most of them, know this would lead to war with the Americans, a war that would do great damage to Iran and probably mean the end of the religious dictatorship. The IRGC radicals are less impressed by such logical thinking and believe in miracles. It’s the growing influence of the radicals that that makes so many other nations strongly opposed to Iran getting nukes. The IRGC is a large organization and has plenty of replacements for leaders killed by the Americans or Israelis, but many of those replacements are more radical and less competent than Soleimani. That means less effective but more obvious IRGC terrorism. That, in turn, generates more opposition to the IRGC within Iran. The least harmful (for Iran) way out of this mess is a popular uprising that produces a new, democratic, government. There is no assurance that will happen, with or without a lot of bloody resistance from the IRGC.
The IRGC is not accustomed to a lot of resistance and setbacks, which is has been encountering more frequently over the last few years. While the loss of Soleimani got a lot of media attention, more mundane problems cause a lot more damage. Chief among these is the growing economic crisis that caused major cuts in the IRGC budget. This reduced financial support to IRGC mercenaries and clients like Hezbollah, Yemen Shia rebels, Gaza Islamic terrorists and the mercenary army recruited for Syria. Most of these groups had their budgets cut by fifty percent or more. This has caused major problems for Hezbollah while also curbing pro-Iran operations in Gaza, Yemen, Syria and even Afghanistan. Added to all that was the IRGC controlled air defense system found to be responsible for shooting down the Ukrainian airliner. That aircraft was operating under instructions it had received from Iranian air traffic control, an operation not controlled by the IRGC and apparently not cooperating with the IRGC controlled air defense system over who can direct commercial air traffic where. This “accident” outraged a lot of Iranians because most of the passengers were Iranians with dual-citizenship, usually with a Western country that gives Iranians asylum. To most Iranians, the IRGC could have just as easily shot down an Iranian airliner. The death of Soleimani and the lost airliner created a tipping point in Iran. For over a decade public opinion has been gradually turning against the IRGC. Yet every time the IRGC employed their usual brutality, often fatal, against open dissent more people realized that their real enemy was not America or Israel but the IRGC and the corrupt religious dictatorship the IRGC kept in power. The degree and extent of popular hatred of the IRGC in Iran came as a shock to many westerners who had gone along with the Iranian propaganda about widespread support for the government and the IRGC.
This current crisis in Iran began in late 2019 as the Quds Force ordered a growing number of attacks on Americans in Iraq. That included a Quds orchestrated mob attack on the American embassy in an effort to take it over. That, in turn, led to the January 2nd death of Qassem Soleimani by American missiles. The Americans considered Soleimani the Iranian most responsible for years of attacks on the Americans and the deaths of hundreds of American troops and thousands of Iraqis, Syrians, Lebanese and so on. Attacking the embassy brought back memories of the 1979 Iranian seizure of the U.S. embassy in Iran. This was a major violation of international law and custom. With that act, Iran went outlaw and most Iranians are now in favor of going legit. The IRGC is not and is killing or terrorizing Iranians who disagree.
While the current popular unrest in Iraq is mainly about corruption, there is also an anti-Iran undertone. The Iranians have taken advantage of the many corrupt government officials in Iraq and are often not very discreet about it. This is possible because of the pro-Iran militias that Soleimani created after the 2003 Anglo-American operation that ousted the Saddam Hussein government. Most Iraqis feared and hated Iran but because of a common religion (Shia Islam) there were a small percentage of Iraqis who supported Iran.
Those post-2003 militias were suppressed in 2008 by the new elected Iraqi government, a setback Soleimani never forgot. In 2014 Soleimani had another opportunity to rebuild those pro-Iran militias in order to halt the ISIL offensive that had quickly taken control of over a third of Iraq. Those militias were soon attacking those in Iraq who did not agree with Iran becoming a powerful political and military force inside Iraq. That meant the Shia militias Soleimani created also attacked Iraqi Sunni Arabs, Kurds and Shia that openly opposed Iranian control. Foreigners were also targets, especially Americans. When the Iranian religious dictatorship established itself in the 1980s it needed a formidable, but distant, threat to blame all of Iran’s problems on. America was the ideal official enemy. They were a true global superpower but they were far away. Unlike historical Iranian enemies like Romans, Turks, Byzantines and Mongols, the Americans were unlikely to invade and devastate Iran.
At the time it was popular in the Middle East to hate America, mainly because the U.S. supported Israel, the most successful democracy in the region. Since the 1980s official Iranian policy is to “hate America”, and each year there are several days on which it is mandatory to get out in the streets shouting “Death To America”. Soon Israel was added. Most of the time this “Death to America” was mainly political theater. It was more than that because from the 1980s on there were a growing number of covert Iranian attacks that killed Americans. These attacks were rarely carried out by Iranians but rather by other Moslems, usually Arabs, who were recruited, trained and equipped by the IRGC, to make these attacks. Inspired by this, Soleimani joined the IRGC soon after it was formed in 1979.
Soleimani joined the IRGC shortly before Iraq unexpectedly attacked in an effort to seize some Iranian oil fields while Iran was distracted by the chaos of the recent revolution. For a guy in his 20s, Soleimani played an important role in the Iraq war and was rapidly promoted because he got things done. Soon Soleimani was a division commander while still in his 20s. The Iran-Iraq war ended in 1988 with a stalemate. Iran considered this a defeat and veterans like the warlike Soleimani never lost their dismay over that “defeat” and hatred of the Iraqi Arabs who inflicted it. The Americans were blamed but it was Sunni Arab money that made it possible for Iraq to win. Billions were provided to buy all the weapons and popular support to resist the Iranian counteroffensive. Most Iraqi troops were Shia Arabs and all that Sunni Arab cash aid enabled Sunni Arab Saddam Hussein to buy enough Iraqi Shia Arab support to win the war. Soleimani knew what really went on here and developed an intense hatred of Sunni Arabs, especially those in Iraq and the Arabian Peninsula.
The Quds Force was also created during the 1980s, as a special operations and intelligence collecting unit within the IRGC. By the 1990s Soleimani was spending more of his time with Quds and in the late 1990s he became its commander. This meant he reported directly to the senior clerics who ruled Iran. Soleimani proved very effective at organizing non-Iranian groups to attack American or Israeli targets overseas. Eventually, there were some Quds operatives identified as behind these attacks and soon Soleimani’s name became well known to Israeli and Western intelligence agencies. Soleimani tried to stay out of the news, as heads of covert operations agencies tend to do, but he was increasingly identified by the foreign press as the chief of the Iranian dirty tricks department in 2017 the Iranian government decided to run with that and openly declared Soleimani a national hero. Soleimani let this go to his head and was soon boasting that he was untouchable as far as foreign enemies were concerned. At the same time, Soleimani was increasingly hated in Iran and Iraq. Soleimani was in charge of dealing with internal dissent in both countries and was soon recognized as responsible for killing thousands of Iranian and Iraqi opponents of the Iranian government. There was some public rejoicing after Soleimani’s death in Iraq but not, at first, in Iran, where such celebrations had to be held covertly. Soleimani may be dead but the homicidal enforcers he commanded are still around and they are angry about the American blowing their boss to pieces. This fear soon so dissipated and Iranians openly celebrated the death of Soleimani and called for the elimination of the IRGC.
Meanwhile Iranian Quds “advisors” rely on corrupt Iraqi officials to survive and thrive. For this reason, one thing the Iraqi protestors and the government could agree on was how important it was to retain American troops in Iraq. This would discourage Iran from trying to take over the government by force. Iran already has a lot of influence in the Iraqi government. For example, at the end of October 2019 Soleimani flew to Baghdad and presided over a meeting of senior Iraqi officials on how to deal with the growing anti-government violence. Soleimani was there to show Iraqi officials how Iran had suppressed similar mass protests back home.
Soleimani did not reveal any details to the media. That would have been interesting because the situation in Iran is quite different. For example, Iraq is a democracy while Iran is a religious dictatorship pretending to be a democracy. Moreover, Iran has a “royal guard” force in the IRGC. While Quds specializes in disrupting or controlling foreign governments, most of the IRGC personnel exist to prevent the Iranian armed forces or the Iranian people from overthrowing the religious dictatorship. Iraq is a democracy and there is nothing similar to the IRGC. If there were such a force it would be very unpopular because it would remind many Iraqi Shia of the Saddam Hussein era Republican Guard. This was a carefully recruited and well-paid force of Sunni Arab troops whose primary job was to keep the majority (80 percent who are not Sunni Arab) from taking control. Quds has been trying to create an Iraqi IRGC in the form of pro-Iran PMF (Popular Mobilization Force) militias. That has backfired as many Iraqis in the Iran-backed PMF brigades have changed their minds about supporting Iran. A growing number of Iraqis are convinced that most of the protestors killed were murdered by Iranians or pro-Iranian PMF members. Time and again the killings are carried out either by snipers (which Quds is a big fan of) or groups of uniformed masked gunmen firing on protestors. PMF members wear military uniforms; the masks and killing demonstrators are a Quds thing.
Soleimani had offered the same advice in both Lebanon and Iraq; if persuasion or threats don’t work, anonymously open fire and keep shooting, especially at known or suspected leaders, until the unrest subsides. That often works in a police state, which Iran is, but not so much in democracies, which Iraq and Lebanon are. You can see why Iran opposes true democracy. Technically Iran is a democracy but there is a group of senior clerics who can veto anything the Iranian parliament tries to do and even blocks “unsuitable” Iranians seeking to run for office.
In late 2017 Soleimani was proclaimed (via Iranian TV) the best Iranian armed forces commander during 2017. Soleimani has been repeatedly praised as responsible for victories in Iraq, Syria and Yemen. Soleimani was portrayed as some sort of master of mayhem and an ideal Iranian hero. The United States and many other nations considered him an international terrorist. To that end, the head of the CIA recently (before the missile attack) warned that Soleimani and his Quds Force associates would be held personally responsible if Iran-backed forces in Iraq or Syria attacked American troops. Soleimani ignored the warning but the Americans acted this time which led to the open shift in Iranian public opinion against Soleimani and the IRGC.
Iranian leaders already miss Soleimani, who was their most effective covert warrior against all enemies foreign and domestic. The fact that Soleimani played a major rule in crushing (for the moment) the public demonstrations against the Iranian government has not been forgotten. The protestors are still around and are now encouraged to hit the streets again, earlier than they normally would. Iranian leaders are threatening reprisals against America but they also know that Soleimani was their most effective commander for carrying out such missions. Soleimani’s deft touch is especially needed now that the IRGC and Quds are widely considered as “international terrorist organizations” and first on the list of the usual suspects. The Iranians now realize that the Americans are as deadly as the Israelis in paying these blood debts. The Americans have already openly declared that any Iranian attacks against Americans would get a quick and deadly response. No one is off-limits. With Soleimani gone the senior clerics who rule (or misrule) in Iran have to consider that further violence could get very personal for them. The Americans are relentless and patient. They got bin Laden, al Baghdadi, Soleimani and dozens of less senior terrorist leaders. Soleimani was considered a key component of the IRGC effort to protect their bosses from attack. The loss of Soleimani puts the Iranian leadership in a very bad position and most people in the Middle East are enjoying that.
The January 8 Iranian missile attack on American bases in Iraq backfired in a big way. The two targets, at al Asad and Irbil, suffered little damage and no Americans were killed. For Iranian leaders seeking vengeance, the missile attack not only failed but failed in such a way that made Iran, and its leaders, even weaker than before.
Twelve missiles were aimed at the al Asad airbase, which is on the Euphrates River some 200 kilometers west of Baghdad in Anbar province. Al Asad airbase is where over a thousand American and NATO troops have been stationed since 2015. The other target was a base outside Irbil, the capital of autonomous Kurdish northern Iraq. Four of the sixteen missiles failed and the ones that did land near their targets did not kill anyone. There were two reasons for this. First, the Iranian missiles were not very reliable or accurate. This is not surprising because the Iranian weapons development efforts over the last few decades have emphasized propaganda over performance. This has long been standard for Iranian developed weapons and there are numerous examples of how the more high-tech their weapons are the less reliable they are. This is easy to hide when it comes to ballistic missiles since Iran rarely test fires these missiles in a way that their accuracy can be verified. The few times their ballistic missiles have been used in combat they have not performed well.
Slower moving UAVs, using GPS flight control are another matter because that is a reliable commercial tech. There is no such commercial tech for ballistic missile guidance systems and the Iranians show no evidence of having found a solution for this. The 16 missiles fired did appear to be aimed to kill. The two bases targeted were in isolated areas. If you missed the base you were likely to hit an uninhabited area.
Iran did not want to kill any Iraqis, especially not any Shia Iraqis. That was unlikely because al Asad is in a Sunni Arab majority area and Irbil is a largely Kurdish area. While no one was killed, there were some Iraqis wounded.
For the Iranians this was disappointing. Iranian leaders had vowed to get blood for blood over the death of Quds Force commander Soleimani, their most effective terrorism expert. Instead, they got embarrassed. The Iranian state-controlled media insisted there were dead Americans but Iranians know that the Americans cannot hide troop deaths and eventually the truth will spread in Iran via the Internet and cell phone. Soon the Iranians officially declared their revenge attacks over, especially if the Americans did not kill any more Iranian leaders. The Americans refused to do that, pointing out that Quds in Iraq was still orchestrating rocket and mortar attacks on American bases and ambushes of American troops traveling outside those bases. Iraqi PMF militias carried out these attacks because they support Iran or just need the extra cash Iran provides for those who do this dangerous work. It is no secret that the Americans shoot back and have had a lot of success in hunting down and killing those who attack their bases.
Meanwhile, Iranians were now openly asking why their missiles did not work and why the government couldn’t prevent Israeli agents from killing Iranian nuclear scientists or making off with a truckload of embarrassing secret documents from a secret facility in Tehran. Their leaders had preached for decades that the Iranian missile program, into which so much money had gone, was a deterrent to anyone who threatened Iran. But now there were indications that this was all a lie. There was another reason for the missiles not killing anyone and that was the amount of warning the Americans had of the attack. Not just the kind of warning possible using a high-tech early warning system that issues an alert as the missiles are leaving the ground and not yet indicating where they are headed. In this case, the Americans appeared to receive their warning before the missiles were launched. All the personnel on those two bases were in their bomb shelters before the missiles hit. Some of the missiles did hit a few base facilities, like part of a runway and a few buildings. Looking at the pattern of the missiles strikes it is obvious the bases were the target but that the missiles were not accurate enough to hit much. Even with that inaccuracy one or two missiles fired at al Asad should have killed some Americans, unless they were already in their fortified bomb shelters. This is more embarrassment for Iranian leaders, who must now deal with the possibility that Americans had an agent in Iran with access to details of the retaliation plans. Or maybe it was a hack, or a leak in Iraq, where Iran apparently advised their Iraqi Shia allies to keep their people away from al Asad and Irbil.
The missile strike did not reassure Iranian leaders angry over the death of Soleimani but caused them more embarrassment and stress. This came at a bad time, as the attacks were supposed to coincide with the burial of Soleimani. That was delayed a day because of poor crowd control at the funeral, where dozens of mourners died when there was a stampede. This was embarrassing because most of the people who turned out to commemorate the death of Soleimani were coerced. Soleimani was not popular with most Iranians because he had long been the guy Iranian leaders called on to suppress widespread protests. This brutality used to be called on once or twice a decade. But now the constant demonstrations since late 2017 have had to be repressed, with great brutality, several times.
Iranians and Iraqis are now questioning just how effective the Iranian military is. The Iranians have historically used a lot of subterfuge and illusion in support of their military operations but now it appears subterfuge and illusion is a larger component of Iranian military power than anyone previously understood.
Israel believes Iran is moving short-range (under 1,000 kilometers) ballistic missiles into Iraq and concealing them in areas where pro-Iran militias are dominant. These would be used in the event of a war with Israel, along with rockets and missiles already in Lebanon and Gaza. This could cause problems with Iraq, especially since a retired IRGC general casually admitted, in a recent media interview, that Iran controlled the many rockets and missiles stored in southern Lebanon for potential use against Israel. An official denial was issued because Iran has always denied having direct control over Hezbollah, the Shia militia that has controlled southern Lebanon for decades. It is no secret that Iran controls Hezbollah but officially that is not the case.
Iran–backed Shia rebels in Yemen recently threatened to use their Iranian ballistic and cruise missiles against Israel. These rebels took credit for the September 14 attack on Saudi oil facilities. Iran supported this claim but the physical evidence clearly showed that the attack came from Iran, and inside Iran, it is taken for granted that this was an Iranian, not a Yemeni rebel attack. The Yemeni rebels are not enthusiastic about getting credit for any direct attack on Israel because of the Israeli reputation for retribution.
The Shia rebels are talking aggressively, apparently at the urging of their Iranian backers. The reality is that the rebels are in trouble and it is getting worse. They are running short of cash and have been unsuccessful in solving that problem. Their Iranian Quds Force advisers urge them to plunder their occupied territories more thoroughly. But that has long-term effects the Shia tribes would rather avoid. Years of civil war have created active opposition to the rebels in their home province of Saada up on the Saudi border. The Saudis have long supported the Sunni tribes up there and for the last few years that has included weapons and other military aid. The Sunni tribes are not eager to escalate the fighting because Shia retaliation is up close and personal for the families of Sunni tribesmen. So the violence tends to be low key with no one taking credit for many attacks. The Shia rebels are short of manpower and don’t want to try and crush the troublesome northern Sunni tribes because that would require more manpower on a permanent basis as an occupation force. The rebels don’t want to publicize these tribal warfare woes, but they are not a secret and they are getting worse.
Since Iranian UAVs attacked Saudi oil facilities in September 2019, the Saudis have sought to negotiate some kind of long-term ceasefire in Yemen. Since they are dealing with Iran they are wary of how such an agreement is worded and implemented. This is because Iranian support has enabled the Shia rebels to survive four years of Arab coalition efforts to defeat them and end the Shia rebellion. UN pressure to make peace ignored the fact that restoring Shia autonomy (lost in the 1960s) in the north would make it possible for Iran to continue supplying the Shia tribes with weapons that can be used to attack Saudi Arabia or, according to Israeli leaders, Israel. The rebels still control a hundred kilometers of Red Sea coast and are now using that to threaten all shipping passing by headed for Saudi, Egyptian, Jordanian and Israeli ports as well as the Suez Canal. Traffic going south is headed for the Gulf of Aden and anywhere in the world. The Saudis do not trust Iran and will not accept Iranian weapons and “advisors” on their southwestern border as well as the Red Sea coast. The Red Sea commercial traffic moves over a billion dollars’ worth of raw materials and finished goods each month. This traffic is of vital economic importance to the Arab Gulf states, Israel, Egypt and Jordan. With access to the Red Sea coast, Iran can threaten all of it and let the Shia rebels take the credit (and blame).
The Shia rebels currently provide Iran with access to the Saudi border, which is unacceptable for the Saudis as the Iranians are openly calling for the overthrow of the Saudi government, and Iran taking over as the “protector of the two Most Holy Islamic cities of Mecca and Medina”. The Saudis suddenly feel more sympathy for Israel and the years of Iran-financed violence on Israel’s southern border where Gaza-based Hamas exists mainly to try and destroy Israel.
January 15, 2020: The three European countries (Britain, France and Germany) that turned against the U.S. in 2017 by refusing to leave the 2015 treaty and again impose sanctions on Iran are now trying to get Iran to cooperate. Since 2017 the three countries have been important allies of Iran as long as Iran adhered to the 2015 treaty by not resuming its nuclear weapons program. Iran, outraged at the current battles with the United States, recently said was resuming nuclear research. This makes the European nations look foolish for believing they could negotiate with Iran. The Americans insisted that Iran could not be trusted and that proved more accurate than the European assessment. Not all Iranians agree with the decision to resume nuclear research. While most Iranians are ok with Iran having nukes, many are not willing to pay the economic and diplomatic price their government is willing to pay to resume nuclear weapons work. The Europeans believe the religious dictatorship in Iran can survive the current popular protests. Many of Iran’s neighbors are less optimistic, mainly because they have better access to the public mood in Iran. At the moment most Iranians are very upset with their government.
January 14, 2020: The government said it had arrested several people believed responsible for shooting down the Ukrainian airliner. No details were given about those arrested except that there would be trials eventually. A special court and investigation would be created and most of the proceedings would be public. Iran is accepting responsibility but blaming the United States for creating the situation. Iran continues to deny it has anything to do with the murders and terror attacks the Quds Force has been carrying out for decades.
In Syria, Israeli airstrikes again hit the T4 airbase in Homs province, killing at least three pro-Iran soldiers and destroying a lot of structures and equipment. This airbase, i
n central Syria near Palmyra has been hit by Israeli airstrikes several times in 2019 and many more times in earlier years. The T4 airbase is the largest in Syria. This is where Iran moved its UAV operations in 2018 after its original UAV base in Syria was destroyed by an Israeli airstrike. Russia later revealed that its electronic jammers, which were supposed to disrupt the guidance systems of missiles attacking Syrian bases failed to do so during the 2018 T-4 attack. Details were not given, only that the Russian jammers were “interfered with by external forces.” Russia is embarrassed by the apparent ineffectiveness of its air defenses when used against Israeli airstrikes. The Israelis don’t rub it in and generally respond with “no comment” when asked about it.
In Iraq, two rockets hit the Camp Taji, a joint Iraqi-American military base outside Baghdad. The rockets caused no injuries and it was believed Iran backed PMF militiamen were responsible.
January 13, 2020: Video from an Iranian university shows (in an above shot from a nearby building) how two large flags (American and Israeli) painted on pavement for students to insultingly walk over, was now being avoided by students. The video showed the few Iranians who dared to walk on the flags were being visibly jeered and criticized by nearby students. In the past, the release of a video like this would bring prompt, and often fatal, retaliation. Not this time, or at least not yet. The IRGC now has to take into account the amount of resistance they could encounter if they entered the campus to administer punishment. Students have become more effective at resisting these raids.
The IRGC denied that they had fired on protestors recently. Then the videos began to appear showing the IRGC aiming and firing their rifles at protestors. Cell phone cameras have become the most effective weapon against the government and the IRGC.
January 12, 2020: The government admitted that Iranian air defense forces, controlled by the IRGC, had shot down the Ukrainian 737 airliner on January 8th. At first, the government insisted it was an accident but soon became uncooperative about the accident investigation. They did let in Ukrainian investigators but refused to release the black box to anyone. The Ukrainian investigators quickly realized the 737 had been shot down by a missile, which very obviously struck right beneath the cockpit. This killed the pilots and explained why there was no distress call from the pilots. The Ukrainians also found fragments of the missile but did not tell the Iranians, which at the point might get them expelled from the country. Meanwhile, the Americans had satellite video showing the airliner exploding after the missile hit, as well as evidence of two air defense missiles being launched nearby at the same time. The U.S. quietly passed that video on to Canada, Ukraine and several other countries and used the informal diplomatic link to Iran (via Switzerland) to let the Iranians know the video existed and was real. At about the same time, Ukraine let Iran know that its accident investigators had transmitted back to Ukraine photos of the wreckage proving that the 737 was shot down by a Russian Tor missile, which Iran was known to use. Given all the proof that was available outside of Iran, the Iranians announced that the airliner was indeed shot down by Iranian air defense missiles. At that point confessing to what actually happened became the best move, but the Iranians also blamed the Americans for defending themselves against Iranian terrorism and killing their senior terrorism commander Soleimani.
January 11, 2020: Across the border in southern Iraq (Karbala), a senior Iran-backed PMF commander was shot dead, along with several associates by several unidentified gunmen. Such killings are more and more common in Iraq.
January 10, 2020: In eastern Syria (Deir Ezzor province), there was another Israeli airstrike against Iranian weapons being stored near the Al Bukamal crossing into Iraq. There were eight deaths, all of them pro-Iran militiamen.
January 8, 2020: Iran launched 16 short-range ballistic missiles, from three locations in Iran, at two bases used by American troops in Iraq. The attack took place before dawn. Later in the day, actually after midnight, two more small rockets were fired into the Green Zone, the well-protected area where foreign embassies and key government offices are located. One rocket landed about a hundred meters from the American embassy and the embassy was apparently the target. These rockets are unguided and there is lots of open space in the Green Zone. This 10 square kilometer (four square mile) sanctuary in downtown Iraq was long a sanctuary for Americans and senior Iraqis. Most Baghdad residents wanted the Green Zone and the way it disrupted major traffic patterns, eliminated after the Americans left. But rich and powerful Iraqis wanted to live in the Green Zone, as protection from criminals and terrorists, both of whom murder, kidnap and rob the rich. So the Green Zone lives on, under Iraqi management. Since 2010 there have been occasional rockets or mortar shells fired into the Green Zone. It is a large target, with a lot of open space, so there are rarely casualties. This rocket was fired from an area controlled by an Iran-backed militia. Iran officially condemned the rocket attack although it was later announced that fragments of the rocket had been collected and it was Iranian made and commonly used by groups Iran supports throughout the region. That’s a proxy war. Thus the Kataeb Hezbollah and other pro-Iran PMF militias have not finished with their efforts to kill Americans to avenge their patron Soleimani. The confession set off another round of public protests in Iran against their religious dictatorship. The government has tried to portray Soleimani as a populist hero but this new round of protests, because the government attempt to lie about the airliner loss, was not popular with most Iranians either and many of those Iranians had celebrated the demise of Soleimani and now there were a lot of digital photos and videos of those celebrations that had gotten out of the country. Soleimani had been in charge of suppressing anti-government protests and was openly enthusiastic about doing it violently, killing as many protestors as required to quiet things down for a while.
January 7, 2020: In the southeast (Kerman) the funeral of Quds leader Soleimani was held and attracted a large crowd. This was no accident as the IRGC “encouraged” many Iranians to attend what became the largest funeral seen in Iran since 1979 revolution leader Ayatollah Khomeini died 31 years ago. The IRGC and local police were not able to handle such large crowds and there were several waves of panic one of which caused a stampeded that left at least 50 dead and nearly 200 injured.
January 5, 2020: The U.S. announced that its forces in Iraq would temporarily shift from supporting the fight against ISIL remnants active in Iraq to reinforcing the security of bases where American troops live. This will continue until the current Iran threat is over. Iraqi anti-ISIL operations continued with the next one taking place in the north on the 9th. The Iraqi efforts will be less frequent and effective without American participation, especially air support.
In Baghdad, pro-Iran members of parliament have held a meeting to see if they could pass a law ordering American troops out of Iraq. Kurdish and Sunni Arab MPs refused to attend as did many Shia Arab MPs. Parliament did pass a nonbinding resolution calling on the government to expel all foreign troops from Iraq. The resolution was non-binding and the temporary (until a permanent one can be agreed on) prime minister does not have the authority to approve such an “expel foreign troops” law. Moreover, the resolution had no timetable for the expulsion of much in the way of details at all. All this resolution did was let Iran know that some of its Iraqi allies were still active.
January 4, 2020: One way to measure the effectiveness of governments and the societies they represent is the Human Development Index the UN has compiled for 29 years. The index ranks all the world nations in terms of how well they do in terms of life expectancy, education and income. In 2019 Iran was 65th out of 189 nations. The rank of 0ther nations puts this into perspective; United States is at 15 (tied with Britain), Russia at 49, China 89, Israel 22 (tied with South Korea), Saudi Arabia 36, Iran 65, India 129, Pakistan 152, Bangladesh 135, Afghanistan 170, Venezuela 96, Colombia 79, Mexico 76. Egypt 116, Lebanon 93, Syria 154 and Jordan 103. The top ten nations are Norway, Switzerland, Ireland, Germany, Hong Kong, Australia, Iceland, Sweden, Singapore and Netherlands. The bottom ten are Mozambique at 180th place (there are a lot of ties) followed by Sierra Leone, Burkina Faso, Eritrea, Mali, Burundi, South Sudan, Chad, Central African Republic and in last place, Niger.
January 2, 2020: American UAVs used missiles to kill Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, the long-time commander of the IRGC Quds Force. Also killed were nine Iraqi and Iranian associates of Soleimani. This included the head of the Iraqi Kataeb Hezbollah which is trying to emulate the older Lebanese Hezbollah. It was later revealed that American intelligence believed Soleimani had ordered preparations for major attacks on American targets.
It was later revealed that at the same time Soleimani was killed the Americans attempted and failed, to carry out a similar attack on Abdul Reza Shahlai, the senior Quds officer in Yemen. Iranians support for the Shia rebels has been keeping the Yemeni civil war going. Shahlai has long been a known terrorist planner for Quds and currently has a $15 million reward offered, by the U.S., for information on where he that leads to his capture or death.
January 1, 2020: Iran and Kataeb Hezbollah warned Americans in Iraqi that they were not welcome and not safe as long as they remained in Iraq. The Americans already know this and that Kataeb Hezbollah is an Iranian creation.
December 31, 2019: In Baghdad, pro-Iranian demonstrators bullied their way past Iraqi security and into the normally very safe Green Zone and smashed their way through the gates of the American embassy compound. The Americans complained to the Iraqis about the lack of security provided by Iraqi troops and police protecting the Green Zone. Iraqi government officials admitted the obvious, the “demonstrators” were unarmed Pro-Iran Kataeb Hezbollah PMF militiamen. With no assurance of help from the Iraqi government the U.S. quickly flew in a hundred more marines and ordered them to open fire if the PMF men attempted to take the embassy itself. There would be more reinforcements as needed and air support. The Iraqi government was told about this as well and warned to back off unless they were willing to defend the embassy. At that point, the PMF men inside the compound were ordered to withdraw.
December 29, 2019: The U.S. carried out five airstrikes against Iraqi Kataeb Hezbollah bases in Iraq and Syria, leaving at least 25 dead.
December 28, 2019: In Afghanistan, the growing popular unrest in neighboring Iran had reduced Iranian support for some tribal and Taliban factions in western Afghanistan. That support (with guns, money and sanctuaries) has been going on for decades. Actually this has been a factor in local (western Afghanistan) politics for centuries. That is why one of the “national” languages of Afghanistan is Dari, a variant of Farsi (or Persian, the main language in Iran). Currently, Iran is broke and there is growing popular unrest against the religious dictatorship that has run the country since the 1980s. While the supplies of cash and weapons have largely disappeared some Taliban factions can still maintain bases in eastern Iran and have access to local medical facilities and markets.
December 26, 2019: Yemeni Shia rebel leaders met with the Iranian foreign minister in Oman to discuss the future of Iranian support for the Shia rebels. Iran continues to suffer economically from sanctions and has had to cut support for overseas operations (in Syria, Lebanon, Gaza, Iraq and Yemen). While Gaza and Yemen are relatively low-cost for Iran Yemen is considered particularly important because it puts an Iranian ally on the Saudi border and able to launch attacks on Saudi Arabia and the UAE whenever Iran needs it. Right now the radicals (IRGC leaders) in Iran are pushing for more violence against Gulf Arabs and American forces in Iraq. Attacks on Israel are much more difficult so IRGC wants to concentrate on the Americans and Arab states that oppose Iran. A growing number of Shia rebel leaders are reluctant to go along with what Quds Force is demanding. Being on the Saudi border makes the Shia rebel home province vulnerable to Saudi attack and a growing number of Saudis support a major escalation involving more air and ground attacks on Shia rebels just across the border.
December 24, 2019: The current Iranian popular unrest, triggered in mid-November by the government cuts to fuel subsidies, has largely been suppressed but at a cost of about 1,500 dead. About 30 percent of the dead were women or teenagers. The dead include security personnel but that rarely accounts for more than ten or twenty percent of the fatalities. The IRGC handles suppression of public protests and the use of lethal force is a favorite IRGC tactic that has led to more and more deaths over the last few years. The IRGC was always brutal when dealing with protests but fatalities among protestors were much less common a decade ago.
December 13, 2019: Senior American and Israeli military leaders met in the United States to work out details of their combined efforts against Iran.
December 10, 2019: Commercial satellite photos clearly show Iran building tunnels in eastern Syria (Deir Ezzor province) near the Al Bukamal crossing into Iraq. This border crossing is vital for the Iran-to-Mediterranean land route. This road is essential to supporting any Iranian military expansion in Syria and Lebanon. The new tunnels are apparently large enough for trucks to drive into, for refuge from airstrikes as well as for getting across the border unseen. Israel has bombed this area many times and continues doing so. Because of that Iran is constructing the tunnels to better conceal the cargo trucked in from Iran and moved into Syria via this crossing. The tunnels are near the new military base Iran is building on the Syrian side of the border. The base is nearly complete despite several Israeli airstrikes. Once the base is completed the Israeli airstrikes will intensify in an effort to obliterate the base. Probably the same for the tunnels. Israel has had to deal with cross-border tunnels before, on its Lebanon and Gaza borders.
December 9, 2019: Russian and Iranian media claim that on December 6th Russian jet fighters, operating from the Russian airbase in northwest Syria, intercepted Israeli warplanes that appeared to be on their way to attack the T-4 airbase, and forced the Israelis to turn back. There was no comment from the Israelis.
December 7, 2019: In eastern Syria (Deir Ezzor province), there was another Israeli airstrike against Iranian weapons being stored near the Al Bukamal crossing into Iraq. There were four or five deaths, all of them pro-Iran militiamen.