Iran said on Sunday it has sanctioned an ex-aide to a former US national security adviser who is a senior member of the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
Richard Goldberg, who served as an aide to John Bolton, was sanctioned over “being actively involved in economic terrorism against the interests of Iran’s government and citizens,” state news agency IRNA reported, citing a statement from the foreign ministry.
The sanctions were predicated on a 2017 law “confronting America’s human rights violations and adventurist and terrorist acts in the region”.
But the nature of the sanctions was not specified.
Iran had blacklisted the FDD and its chief executive Mark Dubowitz last year, likewise for “economic terrorism”.
The FDD describes itself as a Washington-based “non-partisan research institute focusing on foreign policy and national security.”
It strongly opposed the 2015 deal that saw world powers lift sanctions against Iran in return for placing limits on its nuclear programme.
Tensions between arch-foes Iran and the US have escalated since President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the nuclear accord and began reimposing sanctions against the Islamic republic in 2018.
Goldberg said on Twitter it was “a badge of honor” to be sanctioned by Iran for “coordinating” Trump’s maximum pressure campaign against the Islamic republic.
Trump sacked Bolton from his post as national security adviser in September last year.
Iran said Saturday it has arrested the head of a US-based “terrorist group” accused of being behind a deadly 2008 bombing in the southern city of Shiraz and of other, abortive attacks.
The group’s “Jamshid Sharmahd, who was leading armed and sabotage operations inside Iran, is now in the powerful hands” of Iran’s security forces, state television said in a report citing a statement from the intelligence ministry.
The statement did not elaborate on where or when the leader of the opposition royalist group known as the Kingdom Assembly of Iran, or Tondar (Farsi for Thunder), was arrested.
According to the statement, he had orchestrated the April 12, 2008 bombing in a packed mosque in Shiraz that killed 14 people and wounded 215.
Iran hanged three men convicted of the bombing in 2009, saying they had ties to the monarchist group.
It said they had been taking orders from an Iranian US-backed “CIA agent” to try to assassinate a high-ranking official in Iran.
They were 21-year old Mohsen Eslamian and Ali Asghar Pashtar, 20 — both university students — as well as Rouzbeh Yahyazadeh, 32.
The three were found guilty of being “mohareb” (enemies of God) and “corruption on the earth” by a revolutionary court in Tehran.
Iran hanged two other convicted members of the group in 2010, who had “confessed to obtaining explosives and planning to assassinate officials”.
The statement issued on Saturday said that Tondar had plotted several other “big operations” which failed.
It said that Tondar had planned to blow up a dam in Shiraz, use “cyanide bombs” at a Tehran book fair, and plant an explosive device at the mausoleum of the Islamic republic’s founder, the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
It was not clear how Iran arrested the US-based Sharmahd.
Iran’s intelligence ministry announced the arrest of a former opposition figure in similarly mysterious circumstances in October last year.
Ruhollah Zam, described as a “counter-revolutionary” by Iranian authorities, was sentenced to death last month over “corruption on earth”.
Zam, who reportedly lived in exile in Paris, ran a channel on the Telegram messaging application called Amadnews and was accused of sparking unrest during anti-government protests last year.
US Navy condemns Iran’s ‘irresponsible, reckless behaviour’ in war games staged during heightened tensions.
Irab paramilitary Revolutionary Guard fired a missile from a helicopter targeting a replica US aircraft carrier in the strategic Strait of Hormuz, state television reported on Tuesday, an exercise aimed at threatening the US amid tensions between Tehran and Washington.
The exercises – dubbed “Prophet Muhammad 14th” – were held near the Strait of Hormuz, a vital shipping lane for a fifth of global oil output.
Footage of the war games broadcast on state television showed the Guard’s air and naval forces readying for an attack off the country’s southwestern coast.
Speedboats skimmed across the water in formation before ground forces fired cannons and a missile was launched from a helicopter, leaving a trail of smoke before appearing to smash into the side of the fake warship.
The Iranian maritime manoeuvre was staged at a time of heightened tensions between Iran and the United States.
The US Navy condemned the “irresponsible and reckless behaviour by Iran”, calling it an attempt “to intimidate and coerce”.
The US Navy 5th Fleet, which is based in the Gulf state of Bahrain, also criticised Iran’s use of the replica aircraft carrier.
“We are aware of the Iranian exercise involving attacking a mock-up of a vessel similar to a motionless aircraft carrier,” its spokeswoman Commander Rebecca Rebarich said in a statement emailed to Media news agency (known to Noble Reporters Media) on Tuesday.
“The US Navy conducts defensive exercises with our partners promoting maritime security in support of freedom of navigation; whereas, Iran conducts offensive exercises, attempting to intimidate and coerce.”
While the coronavirus pandemic has engulfed both Iran and the US for months, there have been increasing signs of a confrontation as the US has argued for extend a years-long UN weapons embargo on Tehran that is due to expire in October.
The war games came only days after Tehran accused US fighter jets of harassing an Iranian commercial airliner over Syria.
At least four passengers on board the Mahan Air plane were injured in Thursday’s incident after the pilot took emergency action to avoid the warplanes, Iranian authorities said.
Tensions have escalated between Tehran and Washington since US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the landmark Iran nuclear deal in 2018.
The two countries have come to the brink of direct confrontation twice since June 2019, when the Guard shot down a US drone in the Gulf.
Their animosity deepened after Iran’s most prominent general, Qasem Soleimani, was killed in a US drone strike near Baghdad airport in January.
One of the most recent confrontations was in mid-April, when the US accused the Guard of using speedboats to harass its warships in the Gulf.
Iran media says Mahan Air pilot forced to drop altitude to avoid collision with F-15 jet, injuring several passengers.
Several passengers on an Iranian airline have been injured over Syria after the pilot changed altitude to avoid collision with a US fighter jet, according to Iranian media, but the United States military said its F-15 kept a safe distance.
The Iranian plane, belonging to Mahan Air, was heading from Tehran to Beirut on Thursday when the pilot staged a safety manoeuver, in an incident that Iran’s Foreign Ministry said would be investigated.
Iran’s official News Agency quoted a passenger describing how his head had hit the roof of the plane during the change in altitude, and video showed an elderly passenger sprawled on the floor.
“I don’t know what happened. A black plane came close to our plane and our plane lost its balance. I was sprung up and my head was banged against the ceiling,” the unnamed passenger told News Agency (known to Noble Reporters Media).
Another said: “It was a fighter jet. A fighter jet was literally sticking to our plane. We lost balance and bounced up and down.”
All the passengers left the plane, some with minor injuries, the head of the Beirut airport told News Agency (known to Noble Reporters Media). The plane arrived back in Tehran in the early hours of Friday, Media (known to Noble Reporters Media) reported
The incident comes amid tensions between Tehran and Washington, with ties deteriorating since 2018 when US President Donald Trump exited Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with six world powers and reimposed sanctions that have battered Iran’s economy.
‘Visual inspection’ The pilot of the passenger plane contacted the jet pilots to warn them to keep a safe distance and they identified themselves as American, Media (known to Noble Reporters Media) reported.
The US military’s Central Command, which oversees American troops in the region, said the F-15 aircraft was conducting a visual inspection of the Iranian aircraft when it passed near the Tanf garrison in Syria where US forces are present.
Captain Bill Urban, the senior Central Command spokesman, said the F-15 “conducted a standard visual inspection of a Mahan Air passenger airliner at a safe distance of about 1,000 metres (3,280 feet) from the airliner this evening”.
“The visual inspection occurred to ensure the safety of coalition personnel at Tanf garrison,” Urban said. “Once the F-15 pilot identified the aircraft as a Mahan Air passenger plane, the F-15 safely opened distance from the aircraft.”
He added the intercept was carried out in accordance with international standards.
Aircraft at that altitude are to maintain a distance of at least 600 metres (2,000 feet) to ensure they do not hit each other, though planes travelling that close together can encounter wake turbulence.
Data from the flight recorded by website FlightRadar24.com showed the airliner climbed from 34,000 feet to 34,600 feet in under two minutes around the time of the incident, then dropped back down to 34,000 feet within a minute after.
“What the Pentagon hasn’t said is why they sent up an aircraft to look at this passenger plane whereas other passenger planes ply this route and they haven’t been intercepted in the past,” said Rodger Shanahan, a research fellow at the Lowy Institute for International Policy in Sydney, Australia.
He noted the US and Israel have long accused Mahan Air of transporting weapons to Iran-backed armed groups in Syria. “That may well have been one of the reasons why the US chose to take a closer look at the aircraft to check whether there were passengers on board,” he told Media (known to Noble Reporters Media)
The US imposed sanctions on Mahan Air in 2011, saying it provided financial and other support to Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Following the incident, Iran’s Foreign Ministry sent a protest note was sent to the Swiss Embassy, which represents US interests in Iran, warning that if any accident happens on the plane’s return flight to Tehran, it will be the US’s responsibility.
Zarif’s first visit to Baghdad since assassination of General Qassem Soleimani aims to mend strained relations.
Iran’s foreign minister arrived in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad on Sunday to discuss several issues related to political, commercial and security matters, in an attempt to patch up relations with the government.
Ties between Baghdad and Tehran have been strained since the United States assassinated Iranian General Qassem Soleimani – the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard – and deputy commander of the Iran-backed Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis in January.
Speaking at a joint news conference with his Iraqi counterpart Fuad Hussein, Mohammad Javad Zarif stressed his country’s belief on “maintaining the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Iraq” and that a “stable and powerful” Iraq was in the interest of both countries.
“That is why we look forward to continued constructive bilateral negotiations. The stability, security and peace in Iraq is the stability of the entire region,” he said.
John Bolton on Iran, North Korea and ‘accountability’ for US wars For his part, Fuad Hussein said his country looked forward to continuing its “balanced relations” with all the countries in the region “based on first our national interest, then on mutual interest with our neighbours without any interfering in our domestic affairs”.
Iraqi security analyst Ahmad al-Abyad told Media (known to Noble Reporters Media), that Zarif’s visit, which comes a day before Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi travels to Saudi Arabia, is no coincidence.
“Zarif’s visit carried two messages,” he said. “One is a cushioned warning to al-Kadhimi not to go forward with attempts to shore up economic links with the Gulf states, and the other is a message of mediation to its regional rival Saudi Arabia.”
Another Baghdad-based security analyst, who wished to remain anonymous, told Al Jazeera one of the main topics of discussion will be about the al-Munthiriya border crossing with Iran, which has long been used as a smuggling route to Lebanon and Syria in terms of weaponry and fighters.
“The PMF used to be in control of the border, but after a no-fly zone was imposed it has gotten harder to smuggle weapons across,” the analyst said, adding the crossing is now under Iraq’s security forces and Counter Terrorism Service (CTS).
The other topic of interest will be about preparations for the religious pilgrimage season known as the Arbaeen, which takes places in the Iraqi holy city of Karbala in two months’ time following the end of the 40-day mourning period for Ashoura.
Yet regarding efforts to curb the PMF’s influence on the political and security front, the analyst said Zarif was not the right person to act as a buffer between the umbrella group and Iraq’s government.
“The PMF file is in the hands of the Revolutionary Guards, not Iran’s foreign office,” he said.
Sarmad al-Bayati, an Iraqi political analyst, said Zarif’s visit will focus more on bilateral relations between the two countries.
“The Iranian foreign minister did not come to Baghdad to discuss the PMF,” he said. “It is more likely that he will talk about the killing of Soleimani and al-Muhandis instead.”
PMF’s sphere of influence Prime Minister al-Kadhimi has been a strong advocate of Iraq’s sovereignty, and has upset armed groups within Iraq that are affiliated to Iran, such as Kataib Hezbollah. At the end of last June, al-Khadimi ordered a raid on Kataib Hezbollah’s offices in Baghdad, which led to the arrest of 14 fighters.
Kataib Hezbollah in turn and other armed groups within the PMF have accused al-Kadhimi of assisting the US in its assassination of Soleimani and al-Muhandis, which has created a rift within the prime minister’s government.
The PMF, which is made up of dozens of mostly Shia militias that are dominated by powerful factions who take their orders from Iran, enjoys political influence as it dominates dozens of seats in parliament through the Fatah Alliance and State of Law coalitions.
Incorporated within the Iraqi government in 2016 following the defeat of the armed group ISIL (ISIS), the sphere of influence of the PMF has only continued to grow.
Critics point out the PMF, backed by Iran, has expanded its authority on the political, economic and security front. In 2019, it received $2.16bn from the defence budget, yet it is independent from any control or oversight by the Iraqi defence ministry.
“Security-wise it controls the liberated areas that were previously under ISIS, which includes many border areas and land ports,” al-Abyad told Al Jazeera.
“Its control has spread inside and outside the cities and has its own security and intelligence services. It has become a force that exceeds the ability of the government, and it runs parallel to the Revolutionary Guards project in Iran.”
The Baghdad-based anonymous security expert said the PMF and its proxy armed groups also “wield influence on the streets of Baghdad”.
“Whoever stands against them – politically, legally, ideologically – find themselves killed, imprisoned, or persecuted,” he said. “My good friend and colleague Hisham al-Hashemi was neither the first nor the last to be killed.”
Al-Hashemi, a well-known and top security analyst, was shot dead by unknown gunmen outside his home in the capital earlier this month.
Following the government raid on Kataib Hezbollah’s offices last month, al-Hashemi provided his social media followers with insights over allegations the group was behind rocket attacks on US and other diplomatic interests in Iraq.
The group quickly issued a statement on its Telegram channel denying responsibility for his killing.
“Activists and members of rights groups fear for their lives because they do not trust nor can count on the Iraqi government to hold accountable the armed groups behind targeted killings,” the security expert said.
International Labour Organization says MT Gulf Sky was hijacked on July 5 and all 28 Indian crew disembarked in Iran.
A United Nations agency has acknowledged that a US-sought oil tanker “hijacked” off the coast of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) after allegedly smuggling Iranian crude oil is back in Iranian waters.
The International Labour Organization (ILO) on Sunday said the MT Gulf Sky was hijacked on July 5, citing its captain. That mirrors earlier reporting by The Associated Press news agency
“The vessel was taken to Iran,” the ILO said. All 28 Indian crew members disembarked in Iran and all but two of the crew without passports flew from Tehran to India on July 15, it added.
The ILO cited the International Seafarers’ Welfare and Assistance Network for its information. The agency earlier filed a report saying the vessel and its sailors had been abandoned by its owners without pay since March off Khorfakkan, a city on the eastern coast of the UAE.
Iranian state media and officials have not acknowledged the hijacking and arrival of the MT Gulf Sky to Iran. The United States government similarly has not commented.
In May, the US Justice Department filed criminal charges against two Iranians, accusing them of trying to launder some $12m to buy the tanker, then named the MT Nautica, through a series of front companies.
Mystery tanker Court documents allege the smuggling scheme involved the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which is its elite expeditionary unit, as well as Iran’s national oil and tanker companies.
The two men charged, one of whom also has an Iraqi passport, remain at large.
A US bank froze funds associated with the sale, causing the seller to launch a lawsuit in the UAE to repossess the vessel, the Justice Department said earlier. That civil action was believed to still be pending, raising questions of how the tanker sailed away from the Emirates after being seized by authorities there.
As tensions between Iran and the US heated up last year, tankers plying the waters of the Middle East became targets, particularly near the crucial Strait of Hormuz, the Gulf’s narrow mouth through which 20 percent of all oil passes.
Suspected mine attacks the US blamed on Iran targeted several tankers. Iran denied any involvement.
Iran seized a British-flagged tanker in the Gulf last year after British forces seized an Iranian tanker off the territory of Gibraltar. Both vessels were released after a months-long standoff.
A flotilla of tankers carrying Iranian fuel for gasoline-starved Venezuela reached the US sanctions-hit nation in June.
The shipments caused a diplomatic standoff between Iran and Venezuela and the US as both nations are under American sanctions.
Iran struggles with a resurgence of COVID-19 as new cases and deaths increase since a two-month low in May.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has said 35 million Iranians may contract the coronavirus as the country still did not have herd immunity although a quarter of the population may be infected.
“Our estimate is that up to now, 25 million Iranians have been infected with this virus,” Rouhani said during a televised meeting of the country’s virus-fighting task force on Saturday.
“We have to consider the possibility that 30 to 35 million more may face infection.”
It appears to be the first time a senior Iranian official has indicated the country is seeking to defeat COVID-19 via herd immunity.
“We have not yet achieved herd immunity and we have no choice but to be united and break the chain of transmission of the coronavirus,” he said, citing the results of a study by the Iranian health ministry.
Iran has been battling a resurgence of COVID-19, with figures showing a rise in both new infections and deaths since a two-month low in May.
Officially, the virus has so far killed close to 14,000 people and infected more than 269,400 in the country with a population of more than 80 million.
The rising toll has prompted authorities to reimpose restrictions in worst-hit provinces after being lifted countrywide in April, with Tehran extending them for an extra week on Friday.
Rouhani’s deputy head of communications, Alireza Moezi, said on Twitter hours later that the 25 million in fact refers to “those who have encountered the virus and achieved complete immunity”.
Rouhani also said Iran may have to prepare itself for double the number of hospitalisations it has had in the past five months, according to the health ministry’s study.
The ministry does not report the overall number of hospitalisations over COVID-19.
Iran has been struggling to contain the Middle East’s worst virus outbreak since announcing its first cases in mid-February.
The country has refrained from imposing full lockdowns but closed schools, cancelled public gatherings and banned travel between provinces in March, before lifting the restrictions the next month to reopen its sanctions-hit economy.
Ties between the neighbours have been turbulent since the US assassinated the Iranian commander in Iraqi in January.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is visiting Iraq, for the first time since the killing of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps commander Qassem Soleimani in January.
Zarif and his Iraqi counterpart Fuad Hussein stressed the necessity for a stable Iraq for the “good of the region” as the two top diplomats discussed their ties and regional developments in Baghdad on Sunday.
Zarif is also expected to meet Iraq’s president, the speaker of parliament and the prime minister during the visit as regional security, bilateral relations and business investments feature on the agenda.
Zarif’s visit to Iraq comes amid tensions between the United States and Iran, which escalated following Soleimani’s killing in an air attack in the Iraqi capital.
In a joint news conference with Hussein, Zarif said a “stable and powerful” Iraq was in the interest of both the countries.
“That is why we look forward to continued constructive bilateral negotiations. The stability, security and peace in Iraq is the stability of the entire region,” he said.
“Again, we reiterate that we are keen on maintaining the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Iraq.”
Fuad Hussein said his country looked forward to continuing its “balanced relations” with all the countries in the region.
“[The relations are] based on first our national interest, then on mutual interest with our neighbours without any interfering in our domestic affairs.”
Zarif visits Soleimani memorial During his visit, Zarif visited a memorial to Soleimani at the site where he and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the deputy commander of the Iran-backed Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), were killed near Baghdad’s international airport.
Tehran had retaliated by firing a volley of ballistic missiles at US troops stationed in Iraq.
While the attack on the western Iraqi base of Ain al-Assad killed no US soldiers, dozens were reported to have suffered brain trauma.
Zarif said the assassination of Soleimani was “a criminal act”.
“It is a loss to our country and to the entire region, and it undermines the international efforts for combating ISIL (ISIL) and terrorism in the region,” he said.
This was Zarif’s first visit to Iraq since the killing of Soleimani and formation of the new Iraqi government.
Reporting from Baghdad, Noble Reporters Media said the recent months have been turbulent for relations between Iran and Iraq.
“New Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi has been stressing the importance of Iraq’s sovereignty,” she said.
“He also recently moved against armed groups present in Iraq, such as Hezbollah, which is considered close to Iran,” she said, referring to the Lebanese Shia group backed by Tehran.
“This visit is aimed at recalibrating mutual relations and making sure Iran’s security, economic and political interests are represented in Iraq.”
Zarif’s visit comes a day before al-Kadhimi travels to Saudi Arabia and Iran next week in apparent attempt to balance his country’s ties with regional rivals in his first foreign trip as Iraq’s prime minister.
The US drone strike that killed Iran’s top general Qasem Soleimani was “unlawful”, the United Nations expert on extrajudicial killings concluded in a report released Tuesday.
Agnes Callamard, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, concluded it was an “arbitrary killing” that violated the UN charter.
The US had provided no evidence that an imminent attack against US interest was being planned, she wrote.
The independent rights expert does not speak for the United Nations but reports her findings to it.
Her report on targeted killings through armed drones — around half of which deals with the Soleimani case — is to be presented to the UN Human Rights Council session in Geneva on Thursday.
The United States withdrew from the council in 2018.
US President Donald Trump ordered the killing of Soleimani in a January 3 drone strike near Baghdad international airport.
Soleimani, a national hero at home, was “the world’s top terrorist” and “should have been terminated long ago”, Trump said at the time.
Iraqi commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis was also killed in the drone strike.
“In light of the evidence that the US has provided to date, the targeting of General Soleimani, and the deaths of those accompanying him, constitute an arbitrary killing for which, under IHRL (international human rights law), the US is responsible,” Callamard said in her report.
‘No evidence’ imminent attack planned She said the strike violated the UN Charter, with “insufficient evidence provided of an ongoing or imminent attack,” she wrote.
“No evidence has been provided that General Soleimani specifically was planning an imminent attack against US interests, particularly in Iraq, for which immediate action was necessary and would have been justified,” Callamard said.
“No evidence has been provided that a drone strike in a third country was necessary or that the harm caused to that country was proportionate to the harm allegedly averted.
“Soleimani was in charge of Iran’s military strategy, and actions, in Syria and Iraq. But absent an actual imminent threat to life, the course of action taken by the US was unlawful.”
The killing of Soleimani, who headed the Quds Force, the foreign operations arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, provoked massive outpourings of grief in Iran.
Tehran retaliated by firing a volley of ballistic missiles at US troops stationed in Iraq. While the attack on the western Iraqi base of Ain Al-Asad killed no US soldiers, dozens suffered brain trauma.
Callamard’s report addresses targeted killings through armed drones, in light of the proliferation in drone use and their expanding capability over the last five years.
It makes recommendations designed to regulate their use and enhance accountability.
Callamard said that while incidents like the killing of Soleimani and the September 2019 hit on Saudi Arabia’s oil processing facilities generated strong political reactions, “the vast majority of targeted killings by drones are subjected to little public scrutiny”.
Drone technologies and drone attacks were generating fundamental challenges to international legal standards, she added.
Missiles fired after the arrest of 14 Tehran-backed fighters as a ‘message’ to deter future Kataib Hezbollah attacks.
Two rockets targeted American diplomatic and military installations overnight, Iraq’s security forces said on Sunday, as a powerful Iran-backed armed group denied responsibility for a series of such attacks.
Since October, US diplomats and troops across Iraq have been targeted by about three dozen rocket attacks that Washington has blamed on pro-Iranian armed factions.
In the first move of its kind, elite Iraqi troops in late June arrested more than a dozen Tehran-backed fighters who were allegedly planning a new attack on Baghdad’s Green Zone, home to the United States and other foreign embassies.
Iraqi government officials said the raid would serve as a “message” to deter future attacks, but late on Saturday more attacks were launched.
One rocket fired at the Green Zone landed near a home, wounding a child, according to the Iraqi military.
The rocket was launched from the Ali al-Saleh area of Baghdad and landed next to a house close to a local TV channel, a military statement said. The child suffered head injuries and the house was damaged.
“At the same time, our forces were able to thwart another attack and seize a Katyusha rocket and launcher that were targeting the Taji base north of Baghdad,” where US-led coalition troops are based, it added.
In March, two Americans and one British soldier were killed following a barrage of rockets on Camp Taji.
The latest uptick in attacks comes shortly before Iraq embarks on strategic talks with the US, in which the presence of American forces in the country is expected to top the agenda.
New defence system The attempts came just hours after the US embassy tested a new rocket defence system known as a C-RAM, according to a senior Iraqi security source.
The C-RAM, set up earlier this year at the embassy, scans for incoming projectiles and explodes them in the air with thousands of rounds fired per minute.
A series of muted blasts could be heard across Baghdad on Saturday night as the system was apparently tested, leaving passersby confused and Iraq’s parliament outraged.
Deputy Speaker Hassan al-Kaabi slammed the trial as “provocative” and “unacceptable” as it could put residential areas in danger.
Al-Kaabi called on the government to take action against the “illegal” move that would “provoke the Iraqi people”, according to a statement.
There was no immediate comment from the US embassy on whether the system was used against the rocket overnight.
Iraq has long been caught in a tug-of-war between its two main allies, Iran and the United States – arch-enemies whose relations have further crumbled since Washington pulled out of a landmark nuclear deal with Tehran in 2018.
Baghdad carefully balances its ties with the two countries, but the repeated rocket fire risks rocking its tightrope.
The US blames the attacks on Kataib Hezbollah, a Tehran-backed faction within Iraq’s state-sponsored network of armed units known as the Hashd al-Shaabi (the Popular Mobilisation Forces or PMF).
Washington has demanded Iraqi authorities be tougher on the group. Local forces had long hesitated, fearing direct action against such a powerful actor would risk broader confrontations.
But last month, state security forces carried out the first raid of its kind against a Kataib Hezbollah base on the edge of Baghdad, seizing rockets and arresting 14 fighters allegedly planning an attack on the Green Zone.
The move was hailed by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who said armed groups are “the single biggest obstacle to additional assistance or economic investment” for Iraq.
But within days, all but one of the fighters were released and some were seen burning US and Israeli flags and stepping on pictures of Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi.
Al-Kadhimi has repeatedly promised to put an end to the missile fire and the continued attacks are seen as a challenge to his authority.
‘Agent of the Americans’
Kataib Hezbollah is deeply suspicious of al-Kadhimi, accusing him of complicity in the US killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani and Hashd’s deputy chief in a January drone attack in Baghdad.
“The prime minister has totally failed and he has to understand if he relies on the Americans rather than the Iraqi people, he will fail,” Mohammed Mohie, a spokesman for Kataib Hezbollah, said.
“If he continues this way he will show his cards as an agent of the Americans and that he serves the Americans more than his homeland.”
The armed group first began fighting US troops in 2003 following the American-led invasion to topple Saddam Hussein.
According to paramilitary expert Michael Knights, it is the top armed Iraqi ally of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, which Washington has designated a “terrorist” group.
Media known to Noble Reporters Media gained exclusive access to one of its military bases in southern Baghdad after it was raided by Iraq’s counterterrorism forces.
Kataib Hezbollah’s members said the raid was illegal as it was carried out without an arrest warrant.
“If they have evidence for this allegation they can show it to the people, but here there are no missiles and launching pads,” one member said on condition of anonymity.
“This base has been here since 2015 and we have a formal letter from Baghdad Operations Command. This base is used for logistical support.”
Move comes as Iran’s civil defence chief threatens to retaliate if proof of a foreign cyberattack is found.
Iranian investigators have determined the cause of a fire at the Natanz nuclear plant, a spokesman for Iran’s top security body said on Friday, while declining to immediately release details of the findings over “security reasons”.
The National Security Council’s statement came as Gholamreza Jalali, the head of Iran’s civilian defence, told state television that Tehran would retaliate against any country that carries out cyberattacks on its nuclear sites.
Noble Reporters Media storied, citing three Iranian officials, said the fire at Natanz, which occurred early on Thursday, was caused by cyber sabotage.
But NRM learnt the officials did not offer evidence to back the claim.
The Natanz uranium-enrichment site, much of which is underground, is one of several Iranian facilities monitored by inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the United Nations nuclear watchdog.
Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation initially reported an “incident” had occurred early on Thursday at Natanz, located in the desert in the central province of Isfahan. It later published a photo of a one-storey brick building with its roof and walls partly burned.
A door hanging off its hinges suggested there had been an explosion inside the building.
The IAEA said none of its inspectors was at Natanz at the time of the fire and “that the location where the incident occurred does not contain nuclear materials”.
‘Cheetah’s of Homeland’ Keyvan Khosravi, spokesman for the National Security Council, told IRNA news agency late on Friday that experts have “determined the main cause of the incident” but it “will be declared in due course for security reasons”.
The mystery around the incident deepened after BBC reported that an unknown group called the “Cheetah’s of the Homeland” claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement sent to the network’s Persian service journalists before news of the fire became public.
A video claimed the group included “soldiers from the heart of regime’s security organisations” who wanted to stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Iran long has maintained its atomic programme is for peaceful purposes.
At the same time, Iranian media has cast suspicion on the US and Israel for the incident.
In an article issued on Thursday, IRNA addressed what it called the possibility of sabotage although it stopped short of accusing either US or Israel directly.
“So far, Iran has tried to prevent intensifying crises and the formation of unpredictable conditions and situations,” IRNA said. “But the crossing of red lines of the Islamic Republic of Iran by hostile countries, especially the Zionist regime and the US, means that strategy … should be revised.”
In 2010, the Stuxnet computer virus, which is widely believed to have been developed by the US and Israel, was discovered after it was used to attack the Natanz facility.
Later on Thursday, Jalali told state TV that “if it is proven that our country has been targeted by a cyberattack, we will respond”.
Natanz is the centrepiece of Iran’s enrichment programme, which Tehran says is only for peaceful purposes. Western intelligence agencies and the IAEA believe it had a coordinated, clandestine nuclear arms programme that it halted in 2003.
Tehran denies ever seeking nuclear weapons.
Iran triggers nuclear deal dispute mechanism Iran curbed its nuclear work in exchange for the removal of most global sanctions under an accord reached with six world powers in 2015, but has reduced compliance with the deal’s restrictions since US President Donald Trump withdrew in 2018.
The IAEA has also issued two reports this year rebuking Iran for failing to answer questions about nuclear activities before its 2015 deal at three sites and for denying it access to two of them.
According to Reuters, the United Kingdom, France and Germany put forward a draft resolution at the IAEA on June 10 calling on Iran to provide access to the locations specified.
The three European countries consider the nuclear deal to be a cornerstone of regional and global security and have struggled to keep it alive since the US move. They have set up a parallel system to try to keep funds flowing into Iran as its economy flagged.
Separately on Friday, IRNA reported that Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif triggered a dispute resolution mechanism in the 2015 accord, blaming the move on Germany, France and the UK’s “non-compliance” to their side of the deal as well as a European push to rebuke Iran at the IAEA over its refusal to give access to inspectors at its nuclear sites.
The dispute mechanism provides for a period of about one month, which can be prolonged if all parties agree, to resolve any disagreement.
Failure to come to an agreement could result in the snapback of UN sanctions against Iran.
On January 15, the Europeans triggered the accord’s dispute resolution mechanism themselves to force Iran into discussions on possible violations of the deal, as Tehran appeared to backslide and refused to be bound by its uranium enrichment limits.
Iran’s nuclear body said an accident had taken place on Thursday at a construction site in a nuclear complex without causing casualties, state news agency IRNA reported.
“An accident occurred on Thursday morning and damaged a warehouse under construction in open space at the Natanz site” in central Iran, said Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesman for the country’s Atomic Energy Organisation.
Kamalvandi was further quoted as saying that the complex is currently inactive and there is no risk of radioactive pollution.
The accident did not result in casualties, he added, noting that the cause was under investigation.
He did not give any details on the nature of the reported accident.
Tehran announced in May last year that it was suspending certain commitments under a multilateral nuclear deal unilaterally abandoned by the United States in 2018.
The 2015 accord promised Iran sanctions relief in exchange for limiting its nuclear programme.
US President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the deal was followed by Washington reimposing biting unilateral sanctions.
The Natanz facility is one of Iran’s main uranium enrichment plants.
Iran said Monday it has called for Interpol to arrest President Donald Trump and 35 other US officials for the January killing of its top general in an American drone strike.
Tehran prosecutor Ali Qasi Mehr, quoted by state news agency IRNA, said 36 US political and military officials “involved in the assassination” of General Qasem Soleimani “have been investigated and were ordered to be arrested through Interpol”.
“These people have been charged with murder and terrorist acts,” he said.
“At the top of the list is US President Donald Trump, and his prosecution will continue even after the end of his term,” said the prosecutor, referring to his bid for re-election in November.
Qasi Mehr, quoted on the judiciary’s Mizan Online official website, said “the Iranian judiciary has issued arrest warrants against the 36”.
He called for the international police agency Interpol to issue red notices, which are not arrest warrants but issued for those wanted for prosecution or sentencing.
Trump ordered the killing of Soleimani in a January 3 drone strike near Baghdad international airport.
Soleimani, a national hero at home, was “the world’s top terrorist” and “should have been terminated long ago”, Trump said at the time.
Brian Hook, the US pointman on Iran policy, scoffed at the Iranian request to Interpol as a “propaganda stunt”.
“Our assessment is that Interpol does not intervene and issue red notices that are based on a political nature,” he told a news conference in the Saudi capital Riyadh.
“This is a political nature. This has nothing to do with national security, international peace or promoting stability,” Hook said.
“We see it for what it is. It’s a propaganda stunt that no-one takes seriously and makes the Iranians look foolish.”
The killing of Soleimani, who headed the Quds Force, the foreign operations arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, provoked massive outpourings of grief at home.
Iran retaliated by firing a volley of ballistic missiles at US troops stationed in Iraq, but Trump opted against responding militarily.
While the attack on the western Iraqi base of Ain Al-Asad left no US soldiers dead, dozens suffered brain trauma.
The body has called on Tehran to give access to two sites where past nuclear activity allegedly took place.
The board of governors at the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog has passed a resolution critical of Iran, the first of its kind since 2012, as tension mounts over Tehran’s nuclear programme.
Friday’s resolution was put forward by European states and urges the Iranian government to provide inspectors from the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) with access to two sites to clarify whether undeclared nuclear activity took place there in the early 2000s.
It “calls on Iran to fully cooperate with the Agency and satisfy the Agency’s requests without any further delay, including by providing prompt access to the locations specified by the Agency”.
Iran has been blocking access to the sites for months, prompting a growing diplomatic row.
The resolution was carried by 25 votes in favour versus two against, with seven abstentions: South Africa, India, Pakistan, Thailand, Mongolia, Azerbaijan and Niger.
Russia and China voted against.
The resolution was proposed by France, Germany and the United Kingdom, and supported by the United States – though the US ambassador to the UN in Vienna had said “the text could be strengthened”.
‘Iran categorically deplores this resolution’ Kazem Gharib Abadi, Iran’s ambassador to the UN in Vienna, told Friday’s meeting that the resolution will not “encourage Iran to grant access to the Agency based on fabricated and unfounded allegations”.
“Iran categorically deplores this resolution and will take appropriate action in response, the repercussions of which would be upon the sponsors of this resolution,” he added.
“While stressing the need for Tehran and IAEA to settle this problem without delay, we believe that the resolution can be counterproductive,” Russia’s Ambassador to the UN in Vienna Mikhail Ulyanov tweeted after the resolution was passed.
Even though the sites in question are not thought to be directly relevant to Iran’s current nuclear programme, the agency says it needs to know if activities going back almost 20 years have been properly declared and all materials accounted for.
Despite the row over the two sites, the IAEA says it still has the access it needs to inspect Iran’s declared nuclear facilities, as per its mandate under the landmark deal between Iran and world powers reached in 2015.
However, the latest dispute comes as that deal further unravels, with Iran continuing to scale back its compliance in retaliation to the US’s unilateral withdrawal from the accord in 2018 and the reimposition of punishing sanctions against Tehran.
Iran has previously hinted that a resolution along the lines of the one passed on Friday could cause “complication and difficulties” for the future of the 2015 accord, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
In his statement, Gharib Abadi warned the IAEA against actions that could lead to “the destruction of the JCPOA”.
‘No exceptions’ in IAEA agreements Speaking to reporters after the resolution was passed, IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi said it would be “absolutely unacceptable” if an example were to be set that states can be selective in their implementation of agreements with the UN agency.
“There are no exceptions. There is no Additional Protocol a la carte,” Grossi said, referring to the agreement under which the IAEA requested access to the sites.
“I intend to sit down with Iran very soon and to try to solve this as soon as possible,” he said, adding that Gharib Abadi would be his first port of call.
Earlier this week, Iran said the IAEA’s access requests were based on allegations from Iran’s archenemy, Israel.
Additional information provided by the IAEA to back up its requests “were merely some commercial satellite imageries that contained no convincing underlying reason” to provide access, Tehran argues.
Also on Friday the British Foreign Office said Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab would be meeting his French and German counterparts in Berlin to discuss “a diplomatic solution to Iran’s destabilising activities in the Middle East”.
Iran’s foreign minister on Sunday warned the United States against deploying its navy in the Caribbean to disrupt Iranian fuel shipments to Venezuela.
According to an oil shipment analyst, five Iranian-flagged tankers loaded with tens of millions of dollars worth of fuel are heading towards Venezuela.
In a letter to United Nations chief Antonio Guterres, Mohammad Javad Zarif warned against “America’s movements in deploying its navy to the Caribbean in order to intervene and create disruption in [the] transfer of Iran’s fuel to Venezuela”.
He said any such action would be “illegal and a form of piracy” adding the US would be responsible for “the consequences”, according to a foreign ministry statement.
A senior official in US President Donald Trump’s administration told Reuters news agency on Thursday that the US was considering measures it could take in response to Iran’s shipment of fuel to crisis-stricken Venezuela.
Iran’s Fars News reported on Saturday it received information that four US Navy warships are in the Caribbean for a “possible confrontation with Iran’s tankers”.
Zarif’s deputy summoned the Swiss ambassador, who represents Washington’s interests in Tehran, to communicate Iran’s “serious warning” on Sunday. Abbas Araghchi said any potential threat to Iran’s tankers would be met with a “quick and decisive response”.
The US has imposed unilateral sanctions aimed at ending oil exports by both Iran and Venezuela, both major crude producers.
Full speed ahead Five Iranian tankers likely carrying at least $45.5m worth of petrol and similar products are now sailing to Venezuela, part of a wider deal between the two US-sanctioned nations amid heightened tensions between Tehran and Washington.
The tankers’ voyage come after Venezuela’s socialist leader Nicolas Maduro already turned to Iran for help in flying in chemicals needed at an aging refinery amid a petrol shortage, a symptom of the wider economic and political chaos gripping Latin America’s one-time largest oil producer.
For Iran, the tankers represent a way to bring money into its cash-starved country and put its own pressure on the US, which, under President Trump, has pursued maximalist campaigns against both nations.
But the strategy invites the chance of a renewed confrontation between the Islamic Republic and the US both in the Gulf, which saw a series of escalating incidents often involving the oil industry last year, and wider afield.
“This is like a new one for everyone,” said Captain Ranjith Raja, an analyst who tracks oil shipments by sea at the data firm Refinitiv, of the petrol shipments. “We haven’t seen anything like this before.”
All the vessels involved belong to Iranian state-owned or state-linked companies, flying under the Iranian flag. Since a pressure campaign on Iranian vessels began, notably with the temporary seizure of an Iranian tanker last year by Gibraltar, the country’s ships have been unable to fly flags of convenience of other nations, a common practice in international shipping.
Nothing to lose The ships all appear to have been loaded from the Persian Gulf Star Refinery near Bandar Abbas, Iran, which makes petrol, Raja said. The ships then travelled around the Arabian Peninsula and through the Suez Canal into the Mediterranean Sea, according to data collected from the ship’s Automatic Identification System, or AIS, which acts as a tracking beacon.
Given the crushing US sanctions imposed on Iran, also-sanctioned Venezuela appears to be a country that would have nothing to lose from accepting the shipments.
Raja said Refinitiv had no data on any Iranian petrol shipment ever going to South America before.
TankerTrackers.com, a website focused on the oil trade at sea, first reported the ships likely were heading to Venezuela.
The capacity of the five ships is some 175,000 metric tonnes. On the open market, the petrol and product carried within them would be worth at least $45.5m, though Iran likely reached a discounted, non-cash deal with Caracas given the circumstances the two nations face, Raja said.
It remains unclear how the US will respond to the tankers. On Thursday, the US Treasury, State Department and Coast Guard issued an advisory warning the maritime industry of illegal shipping and sanctions-dodging tactics by countries including Iran.
The advisory repeated an earlier promise of up to $15m for information disrupting the Revolutionary Guard’s finances. It also warned anyone “knowingly engaged in a significant transaction for the purchase, acquisition, sale, transport or marketing of petroleum” faced US sanctions.
The US State Department and the Pentagon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Analysts already have been warning about the growing chance for a renewed confrontation between the US and Iran.
In April, the US accused Iran of conducting “dangerous and harassing” manoeuvres near American warships in the northern Gulf.
More than 700 people have died in Iran after ingesting toxic methanol, erroneously thinking it can cure the new coronavirus.
The national coroner’s authority said that alcohol poisoning killed 728 Iranians between February 20 and April 7.
Last year there were only 66 deaths from alcohol poisoning, according to the report.
Alcohol poisoning has seen a 10-fold increase in Iran in the past year, according to a government report released earlier in April, amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Iranian health ministry spokesman, Kianoush Jahanpour, said 5,011 people had been poisoned from methanol alcohol, adding that some 90 people have lost their eyesight or are suffering eye damage from the alcohol poisoning.
Hossein Hassanian, a health ministry adviser, said the final tally of people who lost their eyesight could be much higher.
Iran is facing the worst coronavirus outbreak in the Middle East with 5,806 deaths and more than 91,000 confirmed cases.
Methanol cannot be smelled or tasted in drinks. It causes delayed organ and brain damage. Symptoms include chest pain, nausea, hyperventilation, blindness and even coma.
Last Thursday, US President Donald Trump raised the possibility of injecting disinfectant into patients, causing an international uproar with manufacturers, doctors and government agencies rushing out warnings against consuming disinfectants like bleach.
In Iran, the government mandates that manufacturers of toxic methanol add an artificial colour to their products so the public can tell it apart from ethanol, the kind of alcohol that can be used in cleaning wounds.
Mohammad Tawhidi, a Muslim influencer and reformist Imam has taken to his twitter page to drag Buhari.
Tawhidi also known as Imam of Peace is calling out the President Of Nigeria, Buhari.
Also, in his tweet, he wrote that Buhari is the dumbest person in Nigeria.
Furthermore, he said Buhari is a dictator.
The President of Nigeria Muhammadu Buhari still doesn’t know the name of the virus killing 24,000+ at such a rapid rate. Addressing the nation about it for the first time, he pronounced the virus as ‘CIVIK 1-9’.
His friend, Imran Khan, thinks Japan and Germany share a border.
Top 3 leaders:
1- Imran Khan. Professional beggar, terror-sympathizer, thinks Japan and Germany are neighbours.
2- Muhammadu Buhari, dumbest person in Nigeria. Scared of terrorists, promises to fight the COVIKK virus.
3- Tamim of Qatar: Thinks he’s sexy. Answers only to mummy.
I love Nigeria. I have one Nigerian friend and she’s amazing. One of the most successful and honest people I know. I also welcome my new Nigerian followers on Twitter.
You have a beautiful country but it would be more beautiful without the terrorism enabled by Dictator Buhari.
More lies. I am not Nigerian nor am I a follower of Zakzaky and the terrorist regime in Iran. I despise Zakzaky. Criticizing Buhari doesn’t mean I support Zakzaky. I reject them both. I take orders from one person only and that person is my lady.
President Buhari’s cult claim they have nothing to do with terrorists in Nigeria.
Yet when I expose terrorists in Nigeria…
President Buhari’s fans attack me online.
A stupid President is always elected by stupid people.
Muhammadu Buhari is the Joe Biden of Nigeria:
1- People don’t know where he is.
2- He doesn’t know where he is.
3- He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
4- His fingerprints are on dirty files with no one brave enough to investigate him.
5- A national embarrassment.
Nigerians should know that I’ve actually had contact with his office before, during civil conflicts (Shia-Sunni/army clashes). I was about to come to Nigeria for negotiations and help achieve peace between sects. But it looks like Buhari loves conflict so he can stay in power.
Whoever supports Buhari is not only foolish but also responsible for his crimes regardless of their nationality. I’m not even Nigerian and I am standing up for Nigerians. Maybe you should do the same instead of defending the cult that put that Covikkk criminal in power.
I’ll say it again: Whoever voted for Buhari, especially for the second time after seeing his failures to crack down on terrorists, is 100% stupid, foolish and irresponsible. Victims of terrorism due to Buhari’s incompetence don’t care about minority or majority votes. Wake up.