Greater Middle East
Manjorah

Middle East: ‘peak wheat’ fears amid deep drought

Facing long lines and bread shortages, Lebanon’s government has been forced to give private importers $15 million to bring more wheat into the country. But it’s a short-term fix for a government that is broke and waiting for the IMF to approve a bailout deal. And nations across the Middle East may be looking for similar solutions as they struggle with the fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine—both countries are key wheat producers, and exports are effectively cut off by the war. The food crisis is deepened by a decades-worst regional drought impacting YemenSyria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and especially Iran. A new assessment on Iran from the International Federation of Red Cross & Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) documents water shortages, disappearing wetlands and emptying villages, making the impacts “impossible to ignore.” (Photo of IDP camp in Yemen: Moayed Al Shaibani/Oxfam)

Iran
KRG

Iran claims missile strikes on Iraqi Kurdistan

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) claimed responsibility for ballistic missile attacks on northern Iraq’s Kurdish regional capital of Erbil, saying that the strikes targeted an Israeli “strategic center” in the city. Iranian state media reported that the missiles were aimed at “Mossad bases” in Erbil. The IRGC had days earlier vowed to seek revenge against Israel, saying the Zionist state will “pay the price” for killing two of its guards in recent Israeli air-strikes on targets in the Syrian capital Damascus. Erbil’s governor Omed Khoshnaw denied any Israeli military or intelligence presence in the city, calling the accusation “baseless.” The estimated 12 rocket strikes took no casualties, but caused damage to civilian properties and triggered panic among the populace in neighborhoods of Erbil. (Map: UNHCR via ReliefWeb)

Iran
Baktash Abtin

Iran: political prisoners on hunger strike

Six political prisoners began a hunger strike at Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison after poet and filmmaker Baktash Abtin died of COVID-19 at the facility. Abtin, who expired after being put into an induced coma during temporary transfer to a hospital, had been serving a five-year sentence on the charge of “assembly and collusion against national security.” Ardeshir Zarezadeh, director of the Toronto-based International Centre for Human Rights (ICHR), said in a statement: “The government of Iran must immediately and unconditionally release the political prisoners, and prisoners of conscience, specially due to the serious concern over the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) in Iran’s overcrowded jails.” Abtin was the second known political prisoner to die in Iran in the first week of 2022. On New Years Day, writer Kian Adelpour died at Sheiban Prison in Ahvaz province after going on hunger strike a week earlier to protest being imprisoned without a fair trial. (Photo: Center for Human Rights in Iran)

Planet Watch

Podcast: climate change and the global struggle

In Episode 81 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg takes stock of the fast-mounting manifestations of devastating climate destabilization—from Oregon to Siberia, from Germany to Henan. In Angola, traditional pastoralists are joining the ranks of “climate refugees” as their communal lands are stricken by drought. In Iran’s restive and rapidly aridifying Ahwazi region, protests over access to water have turned deadly. These grim developments offer a foreboding of North America’s imminent future. Yet media commentators continue to equivocate, asking whether these events are “linked to” or “caused by” climate change—rather than recognizing that they are climate change. And the opportunity for a crash conversion from fossil fuels that was posed by last year’s pandemic-induced economic paralysis, when already depressed oil prices actually went negative, is now being squandered. Oil prices are again rising, with the return to pre-pandemic dystopian “normality.” Listen on SoundCloud or via Patreon. (Photo of Ahwazi protesters in Iran: Ahwazna)

Iran
Ahwazis protest

Iran: protests over water rights in Ahwazi region

Two were killed as Iranian security forces opened fire on Ahwazi Arab protesters in Ahvaz, capital of southwestern Khuzestan province. The deaths came after days of demonstrations in the Arab-majority region, which is stricken by withering drought. Hundreds of sheep, cattle, buffalo and other livestock have died over the past weeks. The protests began a week ago, with a peaceful vigil outside the governor’s office, demanding that authorities open the sluice gates on the network of massive hydroelectric dams built upstream on the region’s main rivers, which divert some 90% of the waters to other regions of Iran. Protesters held up placards in Arabic, Persian and English, with messages including: “Water is a human right”, “We are thirsty–give us water!”, “Stop killing our environment!”, and “Stop drying out the Ahwazi rivers and marshlands!” The protesters also chanted slogans condemning Iran’s central government, such as “The regime keeps us in poverty in the name of religion!” (Photo: Dur Untash Studies Center)

Greater Middle East
syria

Biden’s air-strikes bode poorly for Iran nuke deal

US warplanes carried out strikes on Iran-backed militias in Syria and Iraq. The Pentagon said the targets were arms depots in the border area used by the militias Kataib Hezbollah and Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada, which have carried out attacks against US personnel in Iraq for years. The militias have vowed to avenge the air-strikes. The strikes followed talks in Vienna on the Iran nuclear deal, including US re-entry, lifting of sanctions, and an Iranian return to compliance with limits on uranium enrichment. The discussions adjourned over a week ago, with Iranian officials saying a deal could be reached in the next round. However, since then, both Tehran and Washington have taken tougher public positions. (Image: Pixabay)

Iran
Iran

Iran: ‘Death Committee’ veteran becomes president

Iranians voted in a controlled election, virtually guaranteed to deliver an ultra-conservative president after all other serious contenders were barred from the race. The pre-ordained winner is Ebrahim Raisi, the chief justice, who has been under US sanctions since he oversaw repression in putting down the 2019 protest wave. Amnesty International reacted to Raisi’s election by calling for him to be investigated for “the crimes against humanity of murder, enforced disappearance and torture.” Especially at issue is Raisi’s role as a member of the “Death Committee,” a panel of four special jurists that that oversaw the secretive execution of some 3,000 political prisoners in the summer of 1988. (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Iran
baghdad

Baghdad under pressure on militia repression

One protester was killed and dozens injured as security forces opened fire on a rally in Baghdad, where thousands had gathered to demand accountability in the murder of Iraqi activists and demonstrators. Video footage on social media showed live fire, tear-gas and street-fighting reminiscent of October 2019, when the nationwide uprising first broke out. Since then, almost 600 protesters have been killed and at least 30 activists slain in targeted killings. Many of these have been carried out by paramilitary militias, which were formed to fight ISIS, but have since been used to repress protests. The US has placed sanctions on militias held responsible for internal repression in Iraq, but one senses the real issue for Washington is Tehran’s role in backing this paramilitary apparatus. (Photo via Twitter)

Iran
syria

Biden’s first air-strikes: the Great Game in Syria

In the first air-strikes on Syria under the Joseph Biden administration, US warplanes struck positions of Iran-backed militia forces at a Revolutionary Guards base near the Iraqi border in the country’s desert east. The Pentagon said the strikes “destroyed multiple facilities at a border control point used by a number of Iranian-backed militant groups,” including Kataib Hezbollah. It was also a Tehran-backed paramilitary formation that claimed responsibility for last week’s missile attack on the US airbase at Erbil, in northern Iraq. The US bombing an Iran-backed militia in retaliation for an attack in Iraq is a textbook example of how Syria has been turned into a playing field in the Great Power game. (Image: Pixabay)

Iran
Mount Gare

Turkey, Iran in synchronous attacks on Iraqi Kurdistan?

Iraqi Kurdistan saw simultaneous air attacks—from Turkish warplanes on a mountain supposedly harboring PKK guerillas, and (in a far more audacious move) from an Iran-backed militia on the regional capital Erbil. In the latter attack, a barrage of rockets targetted a US airbase outside Erbil’s airport. Awliya al-Dam (Guardians of the Blood) claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was in revenge for the deaths of “the martyred leaders”—an apparent reference to the paramilitary commanders killed in the US drone attack on the Baghdad airport in January 2020. The Turkish strikes targeted Mount Gare, where PKK militants supposedly killed 13 captive Turkish soldiers being held in a cave complex. The PKK, however, said the captives had been killed in earlier Turkish air-strikes on the position. The affair sparked diplomatic tensions between Ankara and the new Biden administration in Washington, which initially refused to accept Turkey’s version of events. (Photo: Kurdistan24)

Iran
Iran-Missiles

Can Iran nuclear deal be salvaged?

President Joe Biden’s pledge to rebuild the Iran nuclear deal is already deteriorating into a deadlock—a testament to the effectiveness of the Trump-era intrigues that sabotaged the agreement, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Biden and Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei have each traded “You Go First” statements—the White House demanding Tehran return to compliance with the JCPOA and Khamenei insisting the US lift the sanctions that were re-imposed by Trump. There is indeed a case that the US, having abrogated the pact first, should now be the party to “blink” in the stand-off, and lift the sanctions as a good-faith measure. (Image via Wikipedia)

Iran
ahwaz women

Iran: sweeps target Ahwazi women activists

Rights advocates in Iran’s Khuzestan province, homeland of the marginalized Ahwazi Arab people, report another wave of sweeps and incommunicado detention of local activists. Among those detained in raids by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) are Zeinab Sawari, a teacher and prominent Ahwazi advocate for women’s and children’s rights, who had recently been involved in fundraising for victims of the severe flooding that devastated the region this year. Also detained by IRGC agents were Maryam Ameri and Fatema Tamimi, whose homes were searched and ransacked, with computers and extensive archival material confiscated. Maryam and Fatema had worked on Ahwazi cultural programs together, cataloguing traditional folk songs and producing short documentaries about Ahwazi music, lore and history. Azhar Alboghbiesh, a young activist volunteer for the project, was likewise arrested in a raid on her home, in which agents reportedly fired in the air to intimidate her family. All remain in detention at undisclosed locations. (Photo of Azhar Alboghbiesh and Maryam Ameri via Dur Untash Studies Center)