Iraq Situation Report: January 12 – 19, 2016

Iraqi army soldiers from 4th Battalion, 2nd Brigade, 5th Division stand outside an Iraqi army compound in Buhriz, Iraq.

This article was originally published by the Institute for the Study of War on 20 January 2016.

Key Take-Away: Iraqi Shi’a militias significantly escalated their confrontation with the U.S. by kidnapping three American contractors and an interpreter in southern Baghdad on January 15, reportedly from the apartment of the interpreter. While no group has claimed responsibility, Iraqi Shi’a militias proliferate both the neighborhood of abduction, al-Dora, as well as Sadr City, the northeastern neighborhood to which the contractors were reportedly taken. Iranian proxy militias were responsible for kidnapping American servicemen before the U.S. withdrawal in 2011. Iraqi Shi’a militias carried out similar kidnappings of Turkish citizens in Baghdad in September 2015 and Qatari citizens in Muthanna Province in December 2015. The kidnapping of the American citizens came just one day before the release of four American prisoners by Iran and two days before the imposition of additional sanctions on Iran in response to an Iranian ballistic missile test in October 2015. The timing of the kidnapping suggests that Iranian proxies did not kidnap the contractors in response to the additional sanctions, but did so in order to secure future leverage over the U.S. However, the possibility remains that an Iranian proxy militia may have conducted the kidnapping without a direct order from their supervisors in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps – Quds Force (IRGC-QF). Regardless of intent, the kidnapping underscores the impunity with which Iranian proxies operate as well as the persistent threat they pose to U.S. personnel and interests.

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Could Iran Be the Next Country to Legalise Cannabis and Opium?

Marihuana Grafitti. Image: Benzene Aseel/Flickr

This article was originally published by The Conversation on 22 October, 2015.

After Uruguay courageously legalised the use of cannabis under a new drug policy, could Iran be the next country to make it legal? From the outside, the image of Iran as retrograde and inherently conservative hardly fits with the reality of a more dynamic domestic political debate within. But drug policy is one of the areas of debate in which the Islamic Republic has produced some interesting, yet paradoxical, policies.

Iran has a conspicuous drug addiction problem – which officially accounts for more than 2m addicts (though unofficial figures put this as high as 5-6m). Drug traffickers risk harsh punishments that include the death penalty. Yet Iran also has very progressive policies towards drug addiction, which include distribution of clean needles to injecting drug users, methadone substitution programmes (also in prisons) and a vast system of addiction treatment. » More

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Where does Oman and Iran’s Pipeline leave Saudi Arabia?

Flag of Oman. Source: Flickr Groundhopping Merseburg

This article was originally published by Gulf State Analytics on 24 September, 2015.

Recent reports suggest that officials in the Sultanate of Oman and the Islamic Republic of Iran have given the go-ahead for the rumored 173-mile underwater gas pipeline connecting the two nations. As of March 2013, only an “understanding” had been reached. The new reports raise clear implications for the wider Gulf region, particularly Saudi Arabia.

For decades, and especially since the “Arab Spring” uprisings several years ago, Saudi Arabia has attempted to bind its smaller Gulf neighbors in a tight bloc to counter perceived Iranian aggression. On numerous occasions, Riyadh has provided military and economic support for its fellow Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states. The Saudis have also pushed for the establishment of a Gulf union comprising the Council’s six member states. The kingdom’s objective has been to further bind the GCC together in a united political and economic front vis-à-vis Iran. » More

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How Gulf States Have Undermined Israel’s Case on Iran

President Obama meeting leaders of the Gulf nations at Camp David. Image: Pete Souza/Wikimedia

This article was originally published by the European Council on Foreign Relations on 13 August, 2015.

In its relentless opposition to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the nuclear agreement between Iran and the world powers that was signed on 14th July, Israel has argued that the deal would pose a grave danger to the entire region. Israel’s case against the nuclear deal with Iran has shifted away from attacks on the substantive terms to focus on its regional implications. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly outlined that Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf States are at least as concerned as it is regarding the dangers of the nuclear deal, and the possibility that Tehran will use the lifting of sanctions to cause mayhem throughout the Middle East. Now, Israel’s case has been dealt a serious blow with the public backing, albeit cautious, of the Arab Gulf States for the Iran nuclear deal. » More

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Veiled Ambitions: Understanding Iran’s Nuclear Posture

Propaganda poster of Ayatollah Khomeini in Teheran. Image: Adam Jones/Wikimedia

Anchored between the unelected Guardianship Council, Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the supreme leader Ali Khamenei, Iran’s foreign policy reflects a complex mix of political, military and ideological interests. The recently-brokered deal between the P5+1 and Tehran is a case in point. While Iran’s elected President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif successfully negotiated the end of sanctions in exchange for limits on Iran’s nuclear capabilities, neither wield significant decision-making power within the Islamic Republic’s theocratic structure. At best, the presidency is the office of choice for international communications because it retains the trappings of a republic—an executive body with (apparently) executive authority. Consequently, Rouhani cannot pursue foreign policy goals without the consent of the Ayatollah, the Council and Guards. » More

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