Iran Update, September 12, 2023
Iran Update, September 12, 2023
Johanna Moore, Amin Soltani, Annika Ganzeveld, and Nicholas Carl
The Iran Update aims to inform national security policy by providing timely, relevant, and independent open-source analysis of developments pertaining to Iran and its Axis of Resistance. This update covers political, military, and economic events and trends that affect the stability and decision-making of the Iranian regime. It also provides insights into Iranian and Iranian-sponsored activities abroad that undermine regional stability and threaten US forces and interests. The Critical Threats Project (CTP) at the American Enterprise Institute with support from the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) provides these updates Monday through Friday. To receive Iran Updates via email, please subscribe here.
The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) with support from the Critical Threats Project (CTP) at the American Enterprise Institute launched an interactive map of Iran and the Middle East. The map depicts events in Iran that affect the stability of the Iranian regime, namely anti-regime protests and reported poisoning incidents. It also shows developments in Syria that jeopardize regional stability and pose threats to US forces and interests, including Iranian and Iranian-backed militia positions.
- Iran has successfully extracted some security concessions from Iraq, which will likely reduce the threat Iranian leaders perceive emanating from Iraqi Kurdistan. Planned protests in Iran in the coming days could still drive Tehran to conduct attacks into Iraqi Kurdistan, however.
- The Iranian regime is using different approaches with varying levels of violence and restraint throughout the country to prepare for potential civil unrest in the coming days.
Iranian Activities in Iraq
This section covers Iranian efforts to consolidate and expand Tehran’s economic, military, and political influence throughout the Levant especially in Syria. This section examines some of the many campaigns that Iran is pursuing to achieve this strategic objective. CTP will update and refine our assessments of these campaigns over time and in future updates.
Iran has successfully extracted some security concessions from Iraq, which will likely reduce the threat Iranian leaders perceive emanating from Iraqi Kurdistan. Iranian and Iraqi officials have held a series of meetings in recent days to discuss implementing a security agreement that they reached in March 2023. The agreement stipulates that Iraqi and Iraqi Kurdish authorities will disarm and relocate anti-Iranian regime Kurdish militias operating in Iraqi Kurdistan. Iranian leaders have repeatedly accused these groups of stoking unrest within Iran and especially among the Iranian Kurdish community and have threatened to conduct attacks into Iraq if Iraqi and Iraqi Kurdish authorities do not disarm and relocate these groups. Iraqi Foreign Affairs Minister and member of the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) Fuad Hussein announced on September 12 that the Kurdistan Regional Government has begun relocating some of these militias away from the border with Iran to unspecified areas in central Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan. Hussein will travel to Tehran on September 13 for further discussions on the subject. Independent journalists have similarly reported that members of the Iranian Kurdish Democratic Party evacuated three villages near the border with Iran. These reports are consistent with Iranian Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanani praising Iraq for taking “good measures” to begin implementing the Iran-Iraq security agreement.
Planned protests in Iran in the coming days could still drive Tehran to conduct attacks into Iraqi Kurdistan, however. Iranian leaders and state media have repeatedly asserted that the Kurdish militias in Iraq fueled unrest during the Mahsa Amini protest movement in fall 2022. Iran conducted a series of drone, missile, and rocket attacks into Iraqi Kurdistan during the protests to respond to this perceived threat. Protest organizations have planned additional demonstrations to commemorate the one-year anniversary of Mahsa Amini‘s killing on September 16, which risks increasing the threat that Iranian leaders perceive emanating from Iraqi Kurdistan.
Iranian Domestic and Political Affairs
This section covers factors and trends affecting regime decision-making and stability. CTP will cover domestic politics, significant protest activity, and related issues here.
The Iranian regime is using different approaches with varying levels of violence and restraint throughout the country to prepare for potential civil unrest in the coming days. Iranian leaders are concerned about potential anti-regime protests as the one-year anniversaries of the death of Mahsa Amini and the “Bloody Friday” incident approach on September 16 and 30, respectively. Iranian state security services may violently suppress demonstrations that erupt in northwestern Iran. These forces may contrastingly use a more restrained approach to respond to unrest in southeastern Iran.
- Iranian authorities, including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, have expressed concern about potential protests in the coming days and called on regime security forces to prepare. The regime has accordingly taken measures to deter and preempt protests, such as deploying security forces and arresting civil society activists, whom the regime has deemed a threat. The regime has also increased its monitoring of cyberspace, as CTP previously reported.
- The regime has deployed security forces, helicopters, military vehicles, and heavy military equipment to multiple cities in Kurdistan and West Azerbaijan provinces in northwestern Iran in recent weeks. The regime has additionally established checkpoints at the entrances of various Kurdish cities. This security activity around northwestern Iran is unsurprising given that the Mahsa Amini movement was heavily concentrated in this area. The regime similarly used extreme violence against protests in northwestern Iran during the Mahsa Amini movement.
- Senior Iranian officials have adopted a conciliatory tone towards Iran’s Sunni minority in recent weeks. President Ebrahim Raisi praised Sunni clerics from Sistan and Baluchistan Province, Kurdistan Province, and Turkmen Sahra for thinking about Iran’s "national interests and honor” during a meeting with Sunni clerics on August 31. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei separately praised the “warm-hearted” people of Sistan and Baluchistan Province and discussed his “sweet and meaningful” interactions with Sunni scholars during a meeting with Sistan and Baluchistan and South Khorasan provinces’ residents on September 11. These conciliatory remarks do not signal that the regime is planning a violent crackdown in the southeast. Zahedan, Sistan and Baluchistan Province residents have additionally held weekly protests since September 2022, when regime security forces violently suppressed protesters in an event that became known as “Bloody Friday.” Security forces killed at least 82 people on “Bloody Friday.” Regime security forces violently suppressing protests in Sistan and Baluchistan Province would risk further enflaming the ongoing unrest there.
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