We've noted reports that Iranian forces have intervened in northern Iraq to help fight ISIS, part of the Great Power convergence against the self-declared "Islamic State." Now Reuters reports that the commander of the Revolutionary Guards' elite Quds Force, Qassem Soleimani, traveled to Baghdad in June to coordinate the military counter-offensive as ISIS seized the north of the country. According to the report, "The plan included the use of thousands of militiamen who were armed and trained by Iran as well as thousands of new recruits who had volunteered after Iraq's most senior Shi'ite cleric, Ayatollah Ali Sistani, issued a call to arms against ISIS in June." Iran has always been close to the Shi'ite-led regime in Baghdad, but now there also seems to be a rapprochement between Tehran and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), traditionally suspicious of each other. The Kurdish Globe reports that KRG President Masoud Barzani met with the visiting Iranian Foreign Minister Mohamad Javad Zarif in Erbil on Aug. 26 to discuss coordinating the fight against ISIS. The independent Kurdish news site BasNews also reported Sept. 1 that an Iranian drone crashed in a village near the Iraqi Kurdistan town of Darbandikhan close to the Iranian border. Tehran's denials that it has forces fighting in Iraq seem increasingly transparent.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay on June 26 condemned Iran's use of the death penalty for juvenile offenders and called on authorities to halt the announced execution of Razieh Ebrahimi. Ebrahimi, who was legally married to her then-28-year-old husband when she was 14, was sentenced to death after killing her abusive husband when she was 17. "Regardless of the circumstances of the crime, the execution of juvenile offenders is clearly prohibited by international human rights law," Pillay said, citing the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Iran is a party, which prohibit the execution of those who commit their crimes while under the age of 18. In the same statement, Pillay also criticized Iran's use of the death penalty for political prisoners and for drug-related offenses.
Iranian women by the thousands are posting their photos without a hijab on a Facebook page called My Stealthy Freedom, created by London-based Iranian journalist Masih Alinejad, and winning over 180,000 "likes" since it was launched May 3. Women post photos of themselves in varying degrees of defiance, from some only showing the backs of their heads while others standing bareface in front of government offices. "It is painful that I shall not be free so that you will not sin," comments one woman below her photo. "That I have to be covered so that your weak faith does not break!" The women, generally anonymous, are standing up against the Islamic Republic's 35-year law that requires women to dress according to sharia law. In addition to the head covering, they cannot wear clothing that exposes their arms or legs, and must wear a cloak or overcoat that covers three-quarters of the body. The semi-official Fars News Agency has condemned the page and accused Alinejad of inciting immoral behavior and collaborating with Iran's enemies. (Mid East Faces, May 14)
Amnesty International (AI) on May 31 urged Iran not to execute a political dissident convicted of "enmity against God." Gholamreza Khosravi Savajani was sentenced to death in 2010 on the charge of "enmity against God" for his alleged links with a banned opposition group, the People's Mojahideen Organization of Iran (PMOI). Family members of Gholamreza Khosravi fear that he may be executed as soon as June 1, after they were informed by prison officials that they must go to the prison in order to meet him outside of regular visitation hours. Khosravi is currently being held in solitary confinement, which according to AI, is in conformity with Iran's practice of placing prisoners in solitary units before their executions take place. "Yet again Iranian authorities are about to execute a man who did not even receive a fair trial in total disregard of both international and Iranian Law," said AI's deputy director for the Middle East, Hassiba Hadj Saharoui. Under the new Islamic Penal Code, the charge of "enmity against God" imposes the death penalty only for those who have actively taken up arms.
Workers in several Iranian industrial centers marched on May Day in defiance of official attempts to shut them down. In the western city of Sanandaj, placards called for the release of political prisoners and detained labor leaders. Employees of the Khuzestan Pipe Factory in Ahwaz, also in the country's west, gathered in front of the governorate office with placards reading "Deprived workers in Khuzestan Pipe factory have not been paid for 6 years," and "Deprived workers in the Ahwaz City Hall have not been paid for 5 years." Security forces surrounded the march in order to prevent the spread of protests. Similar marches, bringing out hundreds, were reported from Khorramabad, Saveh and Zanjan, although a hevay police presence in the central square of Qom prevented workers from gathering there. Quick arrests also shut down an attempt by transit workers to march in the capital. Ebrahim Madadi, a leader of the Union of the Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company, is among those detained. (PMOI, May 3; NCRI, RFE/RL, May 1)
Experts from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) voiced concern on April 10 about the lack of medical treatment to two political prisoners in Iran who are at risk of dying in detention. The experts have urged the Iranian government to provide medical care to the two prisoners, blogger Mohammad Reza Pourshajari and religious leader Sayed Hossein Kazemeyni Boroujerdi. The experts found that the prison physicians have recognized the prisoners' need for specialized medical treatment, but that the government has not responded to the requests. They have stated that the deteriorating health of the prisoners is due to abuse, poor living conditions, long-term solitary confinement and torture occurring in the prison. Pourshajari was arrested in 2010 for "propagating against the regime" and is currently suffering from a recent heart attack, prostate disease, kidney stones, high blood pressure and breathing problems. Boroujerdi was arrested in 2006 for criticizing political Islam, and is currently suffering from Parkinson's disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, kidney stones, a heart condition and breathing problems.
Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi told Turkey's Anadolu Agency Feb. 5 that photographs showing torture in Syria mean that the country's president, Bashar Assad, must be tried before the International Criminal Court. Ebadi, an Iranian lawyer and rights advocate, noted that Syria (like the US, Israel and Sudan) has not ratified the Roma Statute that created the ICC, but she said that he could be indicted by an initiative of the UN Security Council, as in the case of Sudan's Omar al-Bashir. However, she also noted that Russia's veto at the Security Council is an obstacle to this. She also had harsh words for her own government: "I am ashamed of my country's intervention in Syria where civilians are killed, and as an Iranian I apologize to the Syrian people. The Iranian state intervenes in Syria despite the will of Iranian people." (Anadolu Agency, Feb. 6)
The past year has seen a spate of dangerous brinkmanship in the Persian Gulf, with Iran and US naval forces along with those of the Gulf's oil-rich Arab mini-states playing chicken over the strategic choke-point of the Strait of Hormuz. But in addition to this show-down over a global oil outlet, the Gulf has seen escalating militarization in the guise of narcotics enforcement. Bahrain's Gulf Daily News on Nov. 26 ran a story boasting of the exploits of a 29-nation Combined Maritime Forces group, based at the petro-kingdom's sprawling US Navy base and commanded by Capt. Robert Slaven of the Royal Australian Navy. While it claims to have "considerably reduced the number of terrorist attacks in the region" over the past decade, it's most concrete gains are hashish and heroin seizures.