MESOPOTAMIA NEWS REPORT : US Sharply Criticizes France for Prisoner Swap with Iran

Sunday, 22 March, 2020 – 13:00  ASHARQ AL AWSAT  –  An image grab from footage obtained from Iran Press news agency on March 21, 2020, shows Jalal Rohollahnejad (C-L) greeting a relative upon his arrival in Tehran. (AP)

The Trump administration on Sunday harshly criticized France for releasing an Iranian man wanted for prosecution by the United States in an apparent prisoner swap with Iran.The State Department said it “deeply regrets” the “unilateral” French decision to release Jalal Rohollahnejad, who was the subject of a US extradition request on charges of violating American sanctions on Iran.

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March 8, 2020 – March 22, 2020 Editor: Dr. Raz Zimmt
The meeting between Shamkhani and the President of Iraq, Barham Salih (ILNA, March 9, 2020).

The meeting between Shamkhani and the President of Iraq, Barham Salih (ILNA, March 9, 2020).


Iran, which is currently busy dealing with the Corona virus outbreak, is still maintaining its effort to affect developments in Syria and Iraq, although the magnitude of the crisis may challenge its ability to continue pursuing this policy over time.

  • The Commander of the Qods Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), Esmail Qa’ani, visited Syria, likely in February. This was his first visit to Syria since assuming his position following the assassination of Qasem Soleimani in early January. During his visit, Qa’ani visited the various fronts where IRGC forces operate, alongside Hezbollah and pro-Iranian Shi’ite militias guided by the IRGC. Meanwhile, Syrian sources reported that convoys of Iranian and Iraqi “pilgrims” continue to cross to Syria through the Albu Kamal crossing between Iraq and Syria, despite the decision of the Syrian government to close the border crossings to Jordan and Iraq.
  • Ali Shamkhani, the Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, conducted a two-day visit to Iraq, during which he met senior Iraqi government officials and the leaders of the different political currents in Iraq. Shamkhani stressed the need to continue the struggle to remove American forces from Iraq. Dispatching Shamkhani to Baghdad, as well as claims made by the former Iraqi Prime Minister, Ayad al-Allawi, that the Senior Adviser to the Supreme Leader, Ali-Akbar Velayati, recently meddled in the efforts to form a new government in Iraq, may indicate that following the assassination of Soleimani, some of his authorities, particularly in the political sphere, were delegated to other senior Iranian officials.
  • Meanwhile, an escalation is apparent in the conformation between the Shia pro-Iranian militias in Iraq and Western Coalition forces following a series of rocket attacks against military bases in which Coalition forces are present. In an attack carried out on March 11 against the al-Taji military base, two American servicemen and one British soldier were killed. In another strike on the base, carried out on March 14, a number of Iraqi and American soldiers were injured. Yet another attack was carried out on March 17 toward the Basmaya base south of Baghdad. The spokesman of the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs denied Iranian involvement in the attacks and declared that the U.S. president should reexamine the presence of his forces in the region instead of leveling “groundless” accusations.
  • In the economic sphere, senior Iranian officials are trying to downplay the damage done to trade relations between Iran and Iraq following the outbreak of the Corona virus. The head of the joint chamber of trade of the two countries declared that Iraq’s borders were not completely shut to the entry of Iranian goods, and that Iran can still use the northern border crossings as well as the southern crossings to move goods into Iraq.
Iranian Involvement in Syria
  • The newspaper al-Araby al-Jadeed published new information about a visit Esmail Qa’ani, the Commander of the IRGC’s Qods Force, recently made to Syria. This is Qa’ani’s first visit to Syria since assuming his position following the assassination of Qasem Soleimani in early January. In the report, published on March 9, it was claimed that the visit took place in late February 2020, during which Qa’ani visited the fronts where IRGC, Hezbollah and pro-Iranian Shi’ite militias operate. Qa’ani visited the western Aleppo countryside, near the Shi’ite villages of Nubul and Zahraa’, in the southern countryside near the town of Khan Tuman, and in the Iranian base in Jabal Azzan south of Aleppo. In addition, Qa’ani visited the frontlines in Idlib, Hama and Lattakia.

An image of Esmail Qa’ani alongside the former Majlis member, Ali-Mohammad Bozorgvari, who left to the frontlines in Syria during February. It is possible that the photograph was taken during Qa’ani’s last visit to Syria in February 2020 (Telegram, March 7, 2020).
An image of Esmail Qa’ani alongside the former Majlis member, Ali-Mohammad Bozorgvari, who left to the frontlines in Syria during February. It is possible that the photograph was taken during Qa’ani’s last visit to Syria in February 2020 (Telegram, March 7, 2020).

  • In an interview to the Iranian news agency Mehr (March 10), Omar Rahmon, a member of Syria’s National Reconciliation Committee, stated the Qa’ani’s visit sent an important message to regional and international players and attests to Iran’s continued support for the Syrian government and the “Resistance Front” and its determination to maintain its presence in the war on terror even after Soleimani’s assassination.
  • Syrian sources in Deir Ezzor reported that despite the decision of the Syrian government to close the borders with Jordan and Iraq due to the outbreak of the Corona virus, movement of Iranians and Iraqis into Syria continues through the Albu Kamal crossing connecting Syria to Iraq. The Lebanese news website al-Modon reported (March 12), based on local source in the area, that convoys of Iranian and Iraqi “pilgrims” continue to enter Syria and move around the country, despite the fears of the local population.
  • On March 18, Iranian media outlets reported that a fighter in the ranks of the IRGC, Mehran Azizani, who was held captive by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra) for about three weeks was executed. According to reports in Iran, this IRGC member was dispatched to Syria at the start of the civil war in the country (Fars, March 18).

Mehran Azizani who was executed in Syria (Fars, March 18, 2020).
Mehran Azizani who was executed in Syria
(Fars, March 18, 2020).

Iranian Involvement in Iraq
  • On March 7, the Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council arrived for a two-day visit in Iraq at the head of a delegation made up of political and security officials. During the visit, Shamkhani met with senior Iraqi officials, including President Barham Salih; the acting Prime Minister, Adel Abdul Mahdi; the Speaker of Parliament, Mohammad al-Halbousi; the head of Iraqi intelligence, Mustafa al-Kazemi; the Minister of Health, Jaafar Allawi and the leaders of Iraq’s political factions. He discussed political, security and economic issues with them. Upon his arrival in Baghdad, Shamkhani declared that the blood of Qasem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who were killed by the United States in early January, is the guarantee for the indelible bond between the Iraqi and Iranian people.
  • In the meeting with the National Security Council Adviser of the Iraqi Prime Minister, Falah Fayyad, Shamkhani expressed his country’s willingness to assist Iraq in tackling the Corona virus pandemic. The Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council also welcomed the decision adopted by the Iraqi Parliament demanding the withdrawal of U.S. forces from the country. He remarked that the government, the armed forces and the Iraqi people proved in their successful campaign against ISIS that they do not need foreign presence in their country to ensure their security (Fars, March 7-8).

The meeting between Shamkhani and the President of Iraq, Barham Salih
(ILNA, March 9, 2020).

  • Upon his return to Tehran, Shamkhani posted on Twitter (March 13) that during his visit to Baghdad, he asked for the assistance of Iraqi authorities to locate the local agents who assisted the United States in assassinating Qasem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.
  • The Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned the March 12 attacks by the United States against targets of the Iranian-backed militias in Iraq, which were a retaliation for the March 11 rocket attack on the al-Taji military base north of Baghdad, where Coalition forces are present, which resulted in the death of two American soldiers and one British servicewoman. On March 14, another attack was carried out against the al-Taji base, during which dozens of rockets were fired at the base, resulting in the injury of a number of Iraqi and American soldiers. A previously unknown Iraqi group, known as “The Band of the Revolutionaries” (Isabat a-Thaereen) claimed responsibility for attacking the base. On March 17, a third rocket attack was carried out in the span of a week, this time against the Basmaya military base south of Baghdad, where forces belonging to the International Counter-ISIS Coalition are stationed.
  • The Speaker of the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Abbas Mousavi, stated that the United States can not blame others for the consequences of its illegal presence in Iraq and the reaction of the Iraqi people to assassinating and killing Iraqi commander and fighters. The statement also called on President Trump to seriously examine the conduct and behavior of his forces in the region instead of taking dangerous steps and making unfounded accusations (Fars, March 13). A number of fighters of the pro-Iranian Shi’ite militias were killed in the American strikes against targets of pro-Iranian militias in the Salah a-Deen, Babel and Karabala south of Baghdad, and Basra in southeastern Iraq. The U.S. Department of Defense confirmed that it carried out at least five strikes against targets associated with Kataeb Hezbollah, and that among the targets hit were ammunition depots, which contained weapons used against American and Coalition forces (Reuters, March 13).
  • Iran is yet to respond to the appointment of the former governor of Najaf, Adnan al-Zurfi, as Iraq’s new prime minister. Iranian media did report, however, about the opposition of Iraqi Shi’ite groups, including the al-Fath Coalition that represents the pro-Iranian Shi’ite militias, to al-Zurfi’s nomination to the position by Iraq’s President Bahram Salih (Fars, March 18).
  • The Head of the Joint Iranian-Iraqi Chamber of Commerce, Yahya Al-e Eshaq, stated in an interview to the economics-focused news website Eqtesad Online (March 15) that the trade relations between Iran and Iraq continue despite the outbreak of the Corona virus. He remarked that the borders of Iraq have not been closed to the entry of Iranian goods, and even if some border crossings are closed, it would be possible to continue exporting Iranian goods through other crossing. Al-e Eshaq added that the northern borders between the two countries are still open and that the southern borders are occasionally closed. Al-e Eshaq stressed that that although the trade relations between the two countries have been harmed in the short-term, they will return to their normal course soon. According to him, the two countries are trying to solve the medical issues related to the Corona virus to be able to continue trade between them.

The head of the Joint Iranian-Iraq Chamber of Commerce
(Eqtesad Online, March 15, 2020).


Natalie Amiri@NatalieAmiri

22 March 2020 – 2h

#Iran Revolutionsführer #Khamenei lehnt in Fernsehansprache heute #US Hilfe für #Corona Krise im Iran ab. Er hätte gehört #USA hätten Virus selbst in die Welt gesetzt und jetzt wollten sich die Amerikaner vor Ort (im Iran) nur ein Bild davon machen wie erfolgreich das Virus sei.

پايگاه خبری انتخاب@Entekhab_News· 3h

رهبر انقلاب:

آمریکایی ها چندبار گفته‌اند حاضرند کمک دارویی به ایران کنند و گفته‌اند فقط شما از ما بخواهید.

این از حرف‌های عجیب است؛خودتان دچار کمبود هستید.

اگر دستتان باز است خودتان استفاده کنید؛شما خودتان متهمید که کرونا را ایجاد کرده‌اید.


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MESOPOTAMIA NEWS –  COVID-19: The latest shock to a battered Iranian system

IranSource by Barbara Slavin  THE ATLANTIC COUNCIL  21 March 2020 

How many shocks can a political system absorb and still remain in power?

That is a reasonable question to ask about the Islamic Republic of Iran, which has faced many daunting challenges during its 41-year tenure but especially in recent months.

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U.S.-Iran Escalation Timeline & Map
This analysis is co-published by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) and the Critical Threats Project (CTP) at the American Enterprise Institute.
Key Takeaway: Iranian proxies in Iraq have sustained attacks since the killing of Quds Force Commander Qassem Soleimani in an attempt to provoke a US response that will lead to the expulsion of American forces from the country. Iranian proxies began a campaign of rocket attacks on US positions in Iraq in October 2019. These attacks are intended to goad the US into responses that will bring political pressure on Iraqi leaders to expel American forces. Iraqi proxies have conducted at least 14 attacks since early January, indicating that Soleimani’s killing did not cause a de-escalation. An Iranian proxy instead escalated on March 11 with the largest rocket attack since Soleimani’s death, causing two US casualties. The scale of this attack—like the December 27th attack that caused the first US casualty—indicated heightened effort to cause American casualties. Its timing indicates an attempt to incite a US response that will make the US presence politically untenable for Iraqi politicians days before the deadline to elect a new prime minister in Iraq. The US response on March 12 accidentally killed non-proxy Iraqi citizens, prompting Iraqi leaders—including Iraqi President Barham Salih—to *accuse the US of violating Iraqi sovereignty. The Iranian regime may also welcome heightened tensions with the US as an enemy other than its own ineptitude amid its failure to manage the COVID-19 pandemic.


18 March 2020

The coronavirus continued to spread in Iran and Iranian Kurdistan amid ongoing opacity from the Iranian regime regarding the total number of cases and fatalities. The Hengaw Organization for Human Rights reported 102 deaths from the virus in Iran’s Ilam, Kermanshah, Kurdistan, and West Azerbaijan provinces. Kurdish organizations also continue to report a significant lack of medicine and access to medical care in Iran’s Kurdish region. Meanwhile, the Chief Justice of Iran responded to an outbreak in Iran’s Urmia Prison by sanctioning the release of prisoners who had received sentences of five years or less and had served at least 15 percent of their sentences.

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Natalie Amiri@NatalieAmiri

17 März 2020 24m

#WHO gibt bekannt, dass Zahlen zu #COVID2019 im #Iran fünffach so hoch sind wie Iran in offiziellen Zahlen angibt (zugibt). Diese lauten: 16 169 Infektionen und 988 Todesfälle. Wer dazu etwas auf den sozialen Medien schreibt wird vom Geheimdienst abgeholt

“شمار واقعی مبتلایان کرونا در ایران پنج برابر آمار رسمی است”

یک مقام سازمان جهانی بهداشت که اخیرا به ایران سفر کرده، شمار واقعی مبتلایان به کرونا را ۵ برابر آمار اعلام‌شده دولتی ایران ارزیابی کرد. طبق آخرین آمار شمار مبتلایان در ایران ۱۴ هزار ۹۹۱ نفر و شمار…

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MESOPOTAMIA NEWS Iran Pulse : Iran hard-liners storm shrines closed due to coronavirus

AL MONITOR – 17, 2020  – Groups of Iranian Shiite hard-liners briefly unsealed holy shrines in Qom and Mashhad in protest of the government’s closure against the coronavirus epidemic.

As of March 17, the coronavirus epidemic in Iran had killed nearly a thousand people and infected over 16,000 others. For a theocracy like the Islamic Republic, closing down religious sites as a measure to slow transmission is a tough decision, leaving the authorities stuck between a rock and hard place.

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MESOPOTAMIA NEWS : CORONA NOW KILLING ALL IRAN – Iran warns virus could kill ‘millions’ in Islamic Republic

17 March 2020 – By NASSER KARIMI and JON GAMBRELL44 minutes ago AP –  TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran issued its most dire warning yet Tuesday about the outbreak of the new coronavirus ravaging the country, suggesting “millions” could die in the Islamic Republic if people keep traveling and ignoring health guidance.

A state television journalist who also is a medical doctor gave the warning only hours after hard-line Shiite faithful on Monday night pushed their way into the courtyards of two major shrines that had finally been closed due to the virus. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued a religious ruling prohibiting “unnecessary” travel in the country.

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By Prof. Hillel Frisch March 17, 2020  / ISRAEL – BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 1,489, March 17, 2020

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: As the coronavirus pandemic intensifies, Iran is in economic meltdown. Its international isolation is ever more severe, as can be seen in the sharp decline in flights landing in Iran’s two busiest airports.  

All Iran experts know how hard it is to get reliable data on that country. The regime obscures everything from basic macroeconomic figures to government expenditures and allocations of how much oil and gas Iran sells.

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