Trump now says it is increasingly "looking like" Iran was behind the attack on Saudi Arabian oil facilities over the weekend, while adding: "I don't want war with anybody but we're prepared." (RFE/RL) He also tweeted in typically ugrammatical style: "Saudi Arabia oil supply was attacked. There is reason to believe that we know the culprit, are locked and loaded depending on verification, but are waiting to hear from the Kingdom as to who they believe was the cause of this attack, and under what terms we would proceed!" Meanwhile, Yemen's Houthi rebels have claimed responsibility for the attack, while Iran is denying any involvement. How are we to read this, and what are the risks?
Four months after being arrested while covering a May Day protest in Tehran, journalist Marzieh Amiri was sentenced to 10 and a half years in prison and 148 lashes by the local Revolutionary Court on Aug. 26. If her sentence is upheld upon appeal, Amiri, a reporter for the reformist Shargh newspaper, will have to serve at least six years in prison before becoming eligible for parole. Amiri, who is also a sociology student at the University of Tehran, was convicted of charges including "assembly and collusion against national security," "disturbing public order" and "propaganda against the state." She was arrested at the peaceful May Day rally in Baharestan Square, near Iran's Parliament building, along with several activists. One of the labor activists, Atefeh Rangriz, has been sentenced to 11 years and six months in prison and 74 lashes. (Center for Human Rights in Iran, Iran Human Rights Monitor, Committee to Protect Journalists)
Saba Kord Afshari, a 21-year-old rights activist and an opponent of Iran's mandatory hijab law, has been sentenced to 24 years in prison, according to her lawyer, who was informed of the verdict by Branch 26 of Tehran Revolutionary Court on Aug. 27, a full 20 days after her trial. She received 15 years for "spreading corruption and prostitution" (appearing in public without hijab), seven years and five months for "conspiracy to act against national security," and one year and five months for "propaganda against the state."
Three women in Iran have been given prison sentences of at least 16 years, for offenses such as not wearing hijab and handing out flowers on a Tehran subway train on International Women's Day. Civil rights activists Yasaman Aryani, Monireh Arabshahi and Mojgan Keshavarz were condemned July 31 by a Revolutionary Court in Tehran. Each was given 10 years for "encouraging and promoting corruption by de-veiling," five years for "collusion and assembly to act against national security," and one year for "propaganda against the state." Keshavarz was given an additional seven years and six months for "blasphemy." The attorney for Aryani and Arabshahi, Amir Reissian, said lawyers were not allowed to attend the trials, which were scheduled without any notice. The Revolutionary Court said no access by attorneys would be granted until an appeal is scheduled. Reissian said that, if the verdict is upheld, his clients will serve at least 10 years behind bars.
So Iran shot down a US Navy Global Hawk surveillance drone in the Strait of Hormuz June 20, with the two sides at odds over whether it was within Iranian airspace. Trump now tweets that he was on the verge of ordering retaliatory strikes on Iranian bases when he called it off the following day due to concern about the likely death toll of some 150. We are again expected to believe that Donald "bomb the shit out of 'em" Trump is a hippie pacifist at heart. The same guy who just weeks earlier vetoed a Congressional resolution calling for the withdrawal of US military forces from Yemen, and whose bombing campaign against ISIS-held territory in Syria and Iraq jacked up an horrific toll in civilian casualties.
Amid alarmingly sketchy accounts of Iranian attacks on Saudi oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz, which are said to have caused damage but no casualties, Trump has dispatched the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group to the Persian Gulf, and ordered a partial evacuation of US diplomatic staff from Iraq. An oil pipeline that runs across Saudi Arabia was also hit by drones, according to the kingdom's energy ministry. Meanwhile, Iran-backed war crimes and "sectarian cleansing" in Syria and Iraq are safely invisible to the outside world. Well, oil matters; people do not. We already knew that. But adding to the Orwellian nature of it all—the US and Iran are on the same side in Syria and Iraq. De facto in the former (where the US has tilted to Assad, rhetoric notwithstanding), de jure in the latter (where Washington and Tehran alike openly back the Baghdad regime). Let's hope that Trump's mutuality of interest with the ayatollahs (however sinister) will compel both sides to retreat from the brink before they blunder into total disaster. As always, US war moves put the civil opposition in Iran in a more difficult position, making it easier for the regime to paint them as pawns of Washington. Any anti-war position must be clear on solidarity with the people of Iran, including in their democracy struggle—emphatically not with the regime.
Reports are emerging of a clash between Russian forces and an Iran-backed militia in Syria—pointing to mounting tensions between the two most significant foreign powers backing the Assad regime. At least 11 were killed in the fighting in the city of Aleppo April 16. The clash began near a vegetable market in Khaldiya district, and quickly escalated to the use of heavy weaponry, with ground-to-air missiles fired on nearby areas within the city. At least some of the casualties are believed to be civilians. The militia was unnamed, but Tehran is backing numerous Shi'ite militias in Syria, many made up of volunteers from Iran and Iraq. The clash followed recent Israeli air-strikes on Iranian targets near Aleppo, and Tehran-backed factions apparently accused Russia of green-lighting Israel's attacks, or even coordinating with Tel Aviv on the strikes. (Syria Call, Middle East Monitor, Arab Weekly)
In an amusingly grim development April 8, Donald Trump formally designated Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a "foreign terrorist organization," and Tehran's Supreme National Security Council immediately retaliated by issuing a statement declaring the Pentagon's Central Command a "terrorist organization." Both moves mark a first, in applying the designation to actual government entities. Trump's signing statement charged that the IRGC "actively participates in, finances, and promotes terrorism as a tool of statecraft." Iran's state news agency IRNA said in a statement that the Islamic Republic "declares that it considers the regime of the US a 'state sponsor of terrorism' and 'the Central Command of America, known as CENTCOM' and all forces related to it 'terrorist groups.'"