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Iran News Digest August 20, 2014

By INU staff

Science Minister Dismissed

Reuters and other international news outlets are reporting on the dismissal of President Rouhani’s minister of science, research, and technology, Reza Faraji-Dana. This move was well expected before the final vote was taken, with Iranian state-affiliated media carrying high profile remarks pushing for the minister’s removal because of his support for the lifting of restrictions against students who were barred from universities for activities during the nationwide protests in 2009.

This policy was widely cited by those who voted to remove Dana. Of the 270 members present at the session of parliament, 145 voted to do so. Some also accused Dana of allowing students to question Islamic teachings. The minister was voted out despite the fact that he promised to correct what he described as mistakes if allowed to keep his job. While President Rouhani did defend his minister in a televised statement, he was conspicuously absent from the session the led to his ouster.

Human Rights Outlook

These multitudinous instances of repression suggest that abuses of human rights and civil liberties are endemic to the Iranian regime. This is the argument made by an editorial at Counter Currents, in which political economist Akbar E. Tobat criticizes the apparent Western impulse to avoid the topic of human rights in negotiations and to assure the Iranian regime of its continued existence.

This, Tobat says, guarantees the continued violations of basic human rights standards throughout Iran. He explains that the Iranian constitution by its very nature suppresses human rights and must be overturned for there to be any hope of meaningful change in the nation. He points out, for instance, that articles one and four subordinate the views and desires of the Iranian people to the ruling jurists’ opinions about Sharia law, while other articles restrict the formation of political parties and deny freedom of religion.

Warfare and Threats

Another editorial, this one at The National, similarly highlights the ideological basis for the entire structure of Iranian government, but focuses on the effects that that has upon foreign entanglements, rather than domestic policies regarding human rights. The author suggests that despite Iranian involvement in defense of the existing Iraqi government, Iran and its close ally Syria may in fact be supporting the Islamic State that is fighting for Sunni dominance of both Iraq and Syria.

It is already known that the Islamic State partly finances its operations through oil sales to its ostensible enemy, Iran. And as the National editorial points out, Iran is also known for giving support to al-Qaeda groups and other Sunni organizations that do not share Iranian ideological goals. Meanwhile, Islamic State extremism has diminished international opposition to the Syrian dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad, which is buttressed by Iran and under threat from the Islamic State and other more moderate rebel groups.

The idea of Iranian support for the Islamic State is supported by the observation that Iranian officials have said they do not consider the group to be a threat to Iran, even if it is a threat to Iran’s neighbors. Thus, its continued existence gives Iran a ready excuse for a strong military presence in Iraq and urges international support for Iran’s regional entanglements.

As unconfirmed as these assertions may be, they are in keeping with the Iranian regime’s tendency to play both sides of the conflict in various areas. It is surely the case that the regime is counting on Western support, to help it retain its influence over Iraq, but that has not prevented Iran from making incendiary remarks about the United States and its allies in Israel and elsewhere. On Wednesday, the state-affiliated Tasnim News Agency reported that IRGC Aerospace Force Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh warned of “proportionate responses” to perceived threats against the Islamic Republic.

“Our response will be so strong that even imagining it will be a nightmare for them,” he said, referring to Israel and its supporters. This is almost certainly an exaggeration, however, and is part of a continuous IRGC policy of over-stating Iranian military capabilities.

The Islamic Republic has certainly made an effort to keep those capabilities strong amidst economic sanctions, often to the exclusion of the private sphere, but the inability to sustain both spheres points to the extent of Iran’s difficulty in trying to keep pace with the West in terms of military development. Ch-Aviation Consulting reports that Iran has just grounded all of its commercial An-74 aircraft due to its inability to keep them in service and supplied with replacement parts. As it stands, the Iranian Air Force possesses 10 out of only 11 aircraft of this type that are still operating in the country.

Kurds and Iraq

Channel News Asia reports that Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian declared on Wednesday that Iran has been offering what he described as policy recommendations and governmental advice to the autonomous government of Iraqi Kurdistan as it fights its own conflict against the Islamic State.

Abdollahian explicitly stated that the Iranian government had acted in the same manner to Kurdistan as it had to the Iraqi government. While he did not elaborate to this effect, many analysts and critics of the regime have observed that Iran has virtually controlled some aspects of Iraqi policy under the Maliki government, especially with respect to its attacks on Iranian dissidents in exile, and more recently its military defense against the Sunni insurgency.

Kurdish sources did not immediately respond to Abdollahian’s comments, and it cannot be said with certainty how much of this “advice” has been received or taken seriously by the Iraqi Kurdish leadership. But the implication that Iran is striving to exert influence over Kurdish policy may be grounds for concern about unchecked Western support for the Kurdish Peshmerga.

Rudaw reported on Wednesday that Germany is the latest Western nation to express interest in arming the Peshmerga, alongside the United States and France. While Abdollahian’s comments do not necessarily mean that doing so would not be in Western interests, they do suggest that close oversight might be needed to assure that support for the Kurds does not become unwitting support for expanded Iranian influence in Iraq.

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