The IRGC may resume attacks against targets in Iraqi Kurdistan in the coming days. IRGC and Lebanese Hezbollah (LH) media outlets blamed Kurdish militants’ presence in Iraqi Kurdistan for ongoing, anti-regime protests on October 16. LH-owned Al Ahed News recirculated an IRGC-owned media outlet article that claimed that Mossad agents have been working with Kurdish Komala militants to establish sabotage networks in Iran since 2021. IRGC Telegram channels also posted an October 16 statement from the chief of the Iranian Armed Forces General Staff, Mohammad Bagheri, warning that the IRGC will resume attacks into Iraqi Kurdistan if the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) fails to “deport or disarm the local militias.”
Expanding protests could strain Iranian state security services beyond their capabilities to respond in the coming days. Anti-regime protest organizations and social media accounts have called for protests in Khuzestan Province on October 14 and throughout the country on October 15. A group called the Youth of the Whole Country, which began tweeting on October 11, has repeated these calls and stated that it seeks to overthrow the regime. The group added that it has coordinated with local protest leaders throughout Iran. Numerous other Persian-language social media accounts with similar naming conventions are circulating on Twitter, claiming to represent Iranian protesters in cities across the country. The Youth of Tehran Neighborhoods tweeted that the October 15 demonstrations will be “the beginning of the end [for the regime].”
The ongoing, anti-regime protests could interact with and feed off of preexisting insurgencies in Iran. There are at least three active but low-level insurgencies in Iran’s northwestern, southwestern, and southeastern border regions. Iranian Arab, Baloch, and Kurdish militant groups have leveraged economic and political frustrations among marginalized minorities in Iran to fuel these groups’ anti-regime agendas for decades. These groups, which include the Kurdistan Free Life Party and Jaish al Adl, have historically conducted attacks into Iran and clashed with state security services regularly.
Iran may be preparing to escalate militarily against its foreign adversaries, including the US, in response to the ongoing, anti-regime protests. Likely Iranian-backed militants conducted a rocket attack against a US military base in northeastern Syria on October 8. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and other senior political and security officials have accused the US, Israel, and Saudi Arabia of coopting and stoking the protests in recent days. Senior Iranian military officers released a statement vowing to retaliate on October 6. Iranian forces or proxies may conduct additional attacks against US positions in the Middle East, especially in Iraq and Syria, in response to what they claim is Washington’s role in the protests.
Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei made his first public appearance since September 21. He spoke at a military officer graduation ceremony alongside the regime’s most senior military leaders. Khamenei appeared in stable condition during his speech. Khamenei condemned the ongoing, anti-regime protests during his speech—his first public acknowledgment of the protests. Khamenei accused the US and Israel of stoking the protests and said that the greatest victims were the state security services “and the Iranian nation.” Khamenei honored the security personnel killed in the protests.
The continued public absence of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei may be hindering regime officials’ efforts to develop a coherent response to the ongoing, anti-regime protests. Khamenei has not addressed the protests nor made a public appearance since September 21, possibly due to his reportedly worsening health. An unidentified Iranian official told Reuters that intra-regime disagreements over supreme leader succession and protest management are dividing the regime elite. This division suggests that Khamenei is not playing his usual role of cohering the regime during a crisis.
Iranian protesters successfully planned anti-regime demonstrations in at least 21 Iranian cities in 17 provinces on October 1 despite regime censorship. Protestors had announced plans over the past few days for protests on October 1 as CTP has previously reported. The successful coordination of these demonstrations despite internet restrictions suggests that protesters—specifically university students—have found ways to organize. These protests pose a serious and increasing threat to the regime as their grievances resonate across a growing range of Iranians. These protests now include many marginalized minorities, merchants, students, and the urban elite.
Circumstantial evidence suggests that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is at least temporarily unable to perform his normal duties. Khamenei has been unusually absent in recent days amidst countrywide, anti-regime protests, which began on September 16. Rumors have circulated that Khamenei’s health has deteriorated significantly since early September. CTP cannot verify these rumors about Khamenei’s health, and such reports should be treated with skepticism. There are indications that Khamenei is ill or incapacitated, however. Regime power centers are behaving as if succession is either imminent or underway. President Ebrahim Raisi—a prominent frontrunner to succeed Khamenei—is positioning himself to become the next supreme leader with support from senior officers from the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).
Russia and Iran have expanded their strategic partnership since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022. Senior Russian and Iranian officials have met frequently in recent months to boost cooperation and sign economic and military agreements. Moscow and Tehran have long cooperated when their interests have aligned, especially in opposing the US in the Middle East, but their recent engagements highlight more concerted efforts to strengthen their partnership. Presidents Vladimir Putin and Ebrahim Raisi have spoken at least four times since the invasion began—more than either individual has engaged most other world leaders. Putin visited Tehran in July 2022, marking his first foreign travel outside the territory of the former Soviet Union since the war began. These interactions reflect a deepening and potentially more balanced relationship wherein Russia is no longer the dominant party. This partnership will likely challenge US and allied interests in Europe, the Middle East, and around the globe.
Iran may direct its proxies to attack American and partner targets in the Middle East in the coming weeks. Iranian proxy group Ashab al Kahf accused NATO, the UK, and the US of stoking political tensions in Iraq on August 1 and vowed to attack their embassies and military bases in Iraq, Syria, and possibly Jordan. Ashab al Kahf is likely a front group for Iranian proxy Asaib Ahl al Haq (AAH) and possibly other Iranian-backed militias. AAH has likely claimed attacks on US and Turkish military bases under the name Ashab al Kahf since 2019 to generate deniability for its actions. Iranian proxies in Iraq frequently claim attacks under such front groups to complicate attribution and obfuscate their responsibility.