It would certainly be an irony if the US "withdrawal" from Iraq (which really isn't, with hundreds of military advisors and thousands of private contractors staying behind, and the Pentagon set to augment its troop presence in the Gulf region) only wound up sparking a US military confrontation with Iran. There are growing signs of fear of Iranian power over Iraq, and of a backlash from Sunnis and secularists. On Dec. 27, three leading members of the Sunni-backed Iraqiya coalition had an op-ed in the New York Times, "How to Save Iraq From Civil War." The writers are Iraqiya leader and ex-prime minister Ayad Allawi (actually a Shi'ite but an ex-Baathist); parliament speaker Osama al-Nujaifi; and finance minister Rafe al-Essawi. They appeal to Washington to pressure Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to stop hoarding power in violation of power-sharing agreements, and are quick to play the Iran card. They charge: "Maliki is welcoming into the political process the Iranian-sponsored Shiite militia group Asaib Ahl al-Haq, whose leaders kidnapped and killed five American soldiers and murdered four British hostages in 2007."
Iranian labor activist Reza Shahabi has begun a prison hunger strike in protest of his undetermined judicial status. The Vahed Company Workers Union website reports that Shahabi has been detained for more than 15 months, and so far the authorities have kept his case in limbo. Shahabi is reportedly suffering from grave ailments in his spine and kidneys. The Jaras opposition website reports that Shahabi’s absence has put his wife and children in financial difficulty, and all their efforts to follow up on his case with the authorities have failed.
A blast at Iran's Alghadir missile base at Bid Ganeh—so powerful it rattled windows 30 miles away in Tehran—has raised speculation about Israeli covert action against the Islamic Republic's nuclear program. Seventeen of the elite Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps were killed, among them a man described as the "architect" of the country's missile program, Maj. Gen. Hassan Moghaddam, reported to have been trained in ballistic science by China and North Korea. Mostafa Izadi, an Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps commander, and a close friend, said in his obituary: "Since 1984 he pioneered the IRGC's ground-to-ground missile system...the work which has so frightened the world's imperialist powers and the Zionist regime today."
Oil prices rose Nov. 6 to $95 a barrel, a more than seven-week peak, on heightened concerns about Iran's nuclear program and rumors of impending Israeli military strikes on the Islamic Republic. The tensions come as the International Atomic Energy Agency released a report finding that Iran is capable of developing a nuclear weapon, although stopping short of saying it intends to do so. (Reuters, WP, Nov. 7) Days earlier, Israel successfully tested a long-range ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead. The Jericho 3 missile, fired from Palmahim air force base, was seen by tens of thousands of Israelis. Many called the emergency services and radio stations in panic, believing it was an incoming missile. Defense minister Ehud Barak said: "This is an impressive technological achievement and an important step in Israel's progress in the missile and space field." (Irish Times, Nov. 3)
The US Justice Department on Oct. 11 announced charges against two men allegedly working for "factions of the Iranian government" with plotting to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington, Adel al-Jubeir, and to attack Saudi embassies. The indictment, unsealed in federal court in Manhattan, identified the two as Manssor Arbabsiar, an Iranian-American car dealer in Corpus Christi, Tex., and Gholam Shakuri, described as Arbabsiar's cousin. Attorney General Eric Holder said Arbabsiar, who was arrested on Sept. 29 in New York, was working for Iran's Revolutionary Guard and had confessed to the plot. Shakuri, who is based in Iran, remains at large, Holder said. He allegedly is a member of the Quds Force, a special unit of the Revolutionary Guard. Holder said the case started when Arbabsiar made contact with an undercover DEA informant in Mexico and asked for assistance from Los Zetas drug cartel to assassinate the ambassador by blowing up a restaurant that he frequented. Arbabsiar allegedly wired $100,000 to the informant as a down payment on a $1.5 million assassination fee. (InSight Crime, Oct. 12; Associated Press of Pakistan, Oct. 11)
As Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant went online last week, the government announced that $50 million has been allocated to resettle the 4,000 residents of the nearby villages of Heleylah and Bandargah. The relocation was ordered by Iran's tomic Energy Organization despite assurances that the plant is safe. A Russian engineer who worked on the plant, Alexander Bolgarov, meanwhile told the Associated Press of corner-cutting and ongoing technical problems at the site, including poor welding, accumulations of sludge in the reactor core, and malfunctioning turbines and emergency pumps. However, Bolgarov disputed reports that Bushehr's computerized control system had been infected last year by Stuxnet, the computer worm, which attacked other Iranian nuclear facilities.
On May 24, a massive explosion and fire at a newly inaugurated oil refinery in Abadan led to the deaths and injuries of an unknown number of workers. The explosion, caused by technical problems, occurred during a facility inauguration ceremony that had prompted President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to boast of Iran's growing capacity to refine oil. According to Hamid Reza Katouzian, head of the Energy Commission of the Majles, Iran's parliament, "experts had forewarned that the Abadan refinery was not ready to be inaugurated." The explosion underscored once again the lack of safe working conditions in Iran's oil and petrochemical industry. In addition, recent labor strikes have challenged the industry's reliance on temporary contracts for its labor force. In March, 1,800 contract workers at the Tabriz Petrochemical Complex demanded that they be hired directly in order to receive the benefits and job security provisions to which permanent employees are entitled. In April, 1,500 striking workers at the Imam Khomeini Port Petrochemical Complex in Khuzestan made similar demands.
Baghdad has ordered the expulsion of Mujahedeen Khalq (or People's Mujahadeen Organization), armed wing of the opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), following an April 8 raid on Camp Ashraf, the group's stronghold. The NCRI said 34 people were killed when Iraqi security forces attacked the camp 65 kilometers northeast of Baghdad. The government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has has given the estimated 4,500 members of Mujahedeen Khalq and their families until the end of 2011 to leave Iraq. "This organization must be removed from Iraqi territory by all means, including political and diplomatic, with the cooperation of the United Nations and international organizations," Iraqi government spokesman Ali Dabbagh said. (World Tribune, NCRI, April 14)