Iran's long-dormant militant group, the Party for Free Life in Kurdistan (PJAK), was blamed for a hit-and-run attack on security forces that left two Border Guards dead near the city of Urmieh (also rendered Urmiya) on May 28. Commander of the Iranian Border Guards, Qassem Rezayee, responded by warning Turkey to take measures against the movement of "terrorist" groups along the frontier. He said that Iranian authorities "consider Turkey responsible, and the country should account for this act.... The Iranian forces will certainly give a crushing response to these moves." Iran's Foreign Ministry has also lodged a protest with Turkey over the incident. Turkey recently started construction of a security wall on its border with Iran to prevent infiration of Kurdish militants. (Press TV, May 29; Xinhua, Kurdistan24, May 28; Kurdistan24, May 14)
As the votes came in on Iran's May 19 elections, populist hardliner Ebrahim Raeesi reluctantly accepted incumbent president Hassan Rouhani's 57% victory, after a bitter campaign. The rhetoric was so heated that a week before the poll, Rouhani even challenged Raeesi, a sitting judge, to issue an arrest warrant for him. Media organizations affiliated with Iran's hardliners, like Tasnim and Fars, went to bat for Raeesi, publishing rumors about the death of Rouhani's son 20 years ago, alleging the apparent suicide was carried out with the father's personal firearm and calling for a new investigation. Meanwhile, Basiji pro-regime militia forces (which played a critical role in violence following the disputed 2009 elections) attacked a number of Rouhani campaign offices in Tehran, Mashhad, Qazvin, Babolsar and Isfahan.
Hundreds of members of the Ahwazi Arab diaspora demonstrated outside the United Nations headquarters in Vienna, Austria, Feb. 17, to denounce the abuses of the Iranian regime in Ahwaz region amid a new upsurge of protest there. Overlooked by the world media, Arab residents had over the past five days repeatedly filled the streets in the city of Ahwaz, capital of Iran's Khuzestan province, and the province's second city of Falahiyeh (Shadegan in Parsi). The protest wave has focused on air and water pollution caused by the oil industry, and the lack of basic services. The region's Arab majority face water and power outages, pervasive unemployment, and under-funded schools and municipal governments, despite the fact that Ahwaz/Khuzestan is the center of Iran's oil production. Recently, the region has been hit with paralyzing dust storms, a result of aridification and ecological decline.
At the order of President Trump, US Treasury Department on Feb. 3 placed sanctions on 25 individuals and companies connected to Iran's ballistic missile program or providing support to Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' elite Qods Force. The sanctions came two days after after Tehran conflrmed the Jan. 29 test launch of a Khorramshahr medium-range ballistic missile from its base at Semnan. The IRGC statement said that the test did not violate the nuclear deal that took effect last year. The missile apprently flew 600 miles before exploding, in a failed test of a re-entry vehicle. "As of today, we are officially putting Iran on notice," National Security Advisor Michael Flynn said in response to the test. (Jurist, Tehran Times, NCRI, 38North, The Naitonal Interest, NYT, Fox News)
Iran's government and companies close to the elite Revolutionary Guards have signed major economic contracts with Syria, gaining control of large areas of the country in what appear to be lucrative rewards for helping President Bashar Assad regain control of territory from rebels. Five memorandums of understanding were signed during a visit by Syrian Prime Minister Emad Khamis to Tehran on Jan. 17, including a licence for Iran to become a mobile phone service operator in Syria, and phosphate mining contracts. "We greatly appreciate Iran's major role in combating terrorism and standing by the Syrian people in every way, politically and economically," Khamis said. Syria will give Iran 5,000 hectares of land for farming, and 1,000 hectares for setting up oil and gas terminals. A deal was also signed on providing lands for animal husbandry.
A UN human rights expert expressed concern Jan. 9 for nine human rights activists imprisoned in Iran. Among those activists, eight are believed to be on life-threatening hunger strikes, according to the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Iran, Asma Jahangir. A ninth activist, Arash Saghedi, ended his hunger strike after his wife was released from prison on bail, although there is concern that he is in critical condition and being denied medical attention. Jahangir urged Iranian officials to release the activists, claiming they were arrested for "peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression." The statement comes just a few weeks after Iranian President Hassan Rouhani unveiled the Citizens' Rights Charter, which he says will "promote and strengthen citizens' rights," including the freedom of speech and freedom of expression.
Baluchi militants on Jan. 6 carried out an armed operation against Iranian security forces on the outskirts of the city of Sarbaz in Baluchistan province, claiming dozens of casualties, including senior Revolutionary Guards officers. The Jaish al-Adl (Army of Justice) group said the operation was carried out by its Abdulmalik Mollazadeh Brigade. A press release said their forces ambushed two military vehicles carrying a large number of Revolutionary Guards personnel in the Jekigvar area, with the drivers and nearly all passengers killed or injured. A terse report from the regime’s official Fars News Agency acknowledged only that one border guard had been killed and others wounded in an ambush by "terrorists."
The Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahwaz took responsibility for the bombing of two pipelines Jan. 3 in Iran's oil-rich Khuzestan province. The cell that carried out the attacks near the villages of Omidiyeh and in Deylam was identified as the Brigades of the Martyrs al-Nasser Mohiuddin. (Asharq al-Awsat, Jan. 4) The attack follows growing repression against Ahwazi Arab activists and leaders in Khuzestan. On Dec. 8, environmental activist Roqaya Jafari and journalist Rahil Mosavi were arrested after participating in a demonstration against the government's planned diversion of the Karoon River. The water diversion scheme was revealed in a leak to Iran's media, and has sparked local outrage amid fears it could leave already aridifying Khuzestan completely dry. The redirection is regarded as a "death sentence to the ecosystem of the whole southwest region of Iran." (UNPO, Dec. 12)