December 31, 2022
Iran Crisis Updates, December 2022
This page collects the Iran Crisis Updates produced by the Critical Threats Project (CTP) at the American Enterprise Institute with support from the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) for December 2022. CTP and ISW began publishing daily updates in September 2022 covering key events related to supreme leader succession, the Mahsa Amini protests, and regional developments. Full list of Iran crisis updates are available here.
Iran Crisis Update, December 31
December 31, 2022 | 5:00 pm ET
Note: CTP will not publish a daily Iran Crisis Update on January 1, 2023, for the New Year’s holiday. CTP will resume daily publishing on January 2.
Recent comments from Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) leaders reflect the ongoing divisions within the regime, and especially the IRGC, over the protests. Brigadier General Hamid Abazari stated on December 30 that some military commanders have “stood against values, the supreme leader, and the regime,” suggesting infighting over how to manage the ongoing unrest. Abazari also criticized officials who have not publicly condemned the protests. Former Basij Organization Chief Brigadier General Gholam Hossein Gheyb Parvar, who is now responsible for organizing and training elite Basij units specialized in protest suppression, echoed Abazari’s criticism on December 31. Iranian media identified Abazari as an adviser to IRGC Commander Major General Hossein Salami. The IRGC’s public relations wing released a statement on December 31 rejecting Abazari’s remarks and denying that he is an adviser to Salami. The statement said that Abazari was expressing his personal opinion but not using accurate information.
Abazari’s remarks indicate that the divisions in the IRGC are between high-ranking officers. Abazari stated that the commanders to whom he referred had served in the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s and are now generals. The commanders from this generation are currently in their 50s and 60s and generally serving in the highest echelons of the armed forces.
CTP has repeatedly argued that the protests and regime crackdown have fractured the Iranian political and security establishments. The ineffectiveness and brutality of the crackdown have likely stoked these tensions.
Protests have been occurring at a lower tempo since late November, which may be partly driving the debate among regime officials. The reduced protest activity has likely prompted intra-regime discussions about whether to continue the intense crackdown or begin relaxing the suppression. Iranian authorities have likely eased the suppression in at least some locations, possibly due to their eagerness to return to the pre-September 2022 status quo. The regime does not seem to have sustained its IRGC Ground Forces combat deployments throughout Kurdistan Province, for instance. Iranian leaders face a dilemma, however, given that the reduced suppression appears to be creating space for more protests that could in turn cause further fracturing within the regime.
The Iranian Supreme Court accepted the appeal of 26-year-old protester Sahand Nour Mohammad Zadeh on December 31, whom the Judiciary had previously sentenced to death. A court in Alborz Province had convicted Mohammad Zadeh of “waging war against God.” The IRGC Intelligence Organization arrested Mohammad Zadeh at his home on October 4 after identifying him barricading a street in CCTV footage.
- Recent comments from Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps leaders reflect the ongoing divisions within the regime, and especially the IRGC, over the protests. Protests have been occurring at a lower tempo late November, which may be partly driving the debate among regime officials.
- The Iranian Supreme Court accepted the appeal of 26-year-old protester Sahand Nour Mohammad Zadeh, who the Judiciary previously sentenced to death.
- At least seven protests occurred in seven cities across six provinces.
- Education official Hamid Nikzad stated that the Education ministry would require new teachers to attend seminary training.
Iran Crisis Update, December 30
December 30, 2022 | 5:00 pm ET
Prominent Sunni cleric Moulana Abdol Hamid is likely trying to balance his political positions to maximize his domestic support and achieve meaningful reform. The rhetoric that he used in his weekly Friday sermon in Zahedan on December 30 reflected his efforts to appeal to multiple different constituencies.[i] Abdol Hamid regularly criticizes the regime mistreatment of the Baloch minority but emphasized opposition to Baloch separatism in his sermon. He instead lauded unity among Iranians likely to assuage supporters’ potential concerns that he is stoking societal divisions. Abdol Hamid reiterated his support for women's rights during his sermon but added that he believes that most Iranian women support wearing the hijab, possibly to appeal to more conservative supporters. He finally rejected the notion that he is using his platform for “fame” or “power” but framed himself positively as a political leader. He discussed briefly that he would not imprison political protesters or women protesting the hijab if he had such authority. It is unclear whether Abdol Hamid was referring to a particular accusation that he has a personal agenda. His remarks highlight his efforts to appeal to a broad base of Iranians without unnecessarily alienating a specific constituency.
Abdol Hamid’s downplaying of Baloch separatism may be in response to limited separatist voices in the protest movement. The Zahedan Neighborhood Youth referred to the city by its old name—Dozap—in a tweet on December 30.[ii] Local Baloch tribes used the name Dozop until shortly after the Pahlavi dynasty came to power. The Zahedan group may have used the name Dozop to evoke Baloch nationalism, suggesting that some limited separatist trends may exist in the protest movement.
The ongoing protests have likely altered the trajectory of Iran’s political and internal security environment permanently. Every major protest wave in the history of the Islamic Republic has had such an effect to some extent—Iran has never simply returned to its previous state after each wave. CTP is not prepared yet to forecast exactly how this protest movement will evolve and shape the future of Iran. Some Western reports have suggested that the most likely scenario is that the regime succeeds in using suppression to end the protests.[iii] But this movement has generated a long-lasting impact that makes returning to the situation of pre-September 2022 Iran extraordinarily unlikely. The regime could eventually quell the unrest (although it has thus far failed to do so), but this movement has already begun to cohere into a more enduring opposition that will likely outlive this specific protest wave. Some components of this movement may already meet the US military definition of an early-stage insurgency, as CTP previously argued.[iv] Protesters are developing the networks and infrastructure necessary to stage a protracted struggle against the regime. Western analysts and observers should account for these trends when forecasting the trajectory of the protest movement rather than forecasting a return to the pre-September 2022 status quo.
Protest coordinators and organizations called for demonstrations and strikes in Tehran, especially around bazaars, on December 31.[v]
- Prominent Sunni cleric Moulana Abdol Hamid is likely trying to balance his political positions to maximize his domestic support and achieve meaningful reform.
- The ongoing protests have likely altered the trajectory of Iran’s political and internal security environment permanently.
- At least eight protests occurred in eight cities across six provinces.
- Unidentified militants shot at an LEC patrol in Zahedan, Sistan and Baluchistan Province, injuring one police officer.
- Unidentified gunmen shot and injured a seminary student in Qom on December 20 and a second seminary student.
- Senior military officers threatened to escalate regionally against Israel.
Iran Crisis Update, December 29
December 29, 2022 | 5:00 pm ET
Funerals and commemoration ceremonies for killed protesters are continuing to sustain anti-regime activity throughout Iran as demonstrations enter their fifteenth consecutive week. Protest organizations successfully coordinated anti-regime demonstrations across five Iranian provinces on December 29. Six of the seven anti-regime protests that CTP observed on December 29 corresponded with prior protest calls from anti-regime organizations, suggesting that these groups may have assisted in generating turnout. CTP additionally observed estimated crowds of over 100 protesters in three of the seven recorded protests on December 29. Previous anti-regime demonstrations commemorating killed protesters have historically generated higher attendance as well. CTP previously reported that protesters have found secular martyrs around whom to rally and who sustain the momentum of the Mahsa Amini movement. The regime may struggle to preempt further commemoration ceremonies and funerals for such secular martyrs in the coming weeks.
The Iranian regime has reportedly purchased Sukhoi Su-35 fighters from Russia. The Times of Israel reported that Russia is preparing to supply Iran with up to 24 Su-35 war planes in the near future, citing Western intelligence officials. Asa’ib Ahl al Haq-affiliated Sabreen News additionally claimed that Iran will station a squadron of Russian Su-35 fighter jets at the 8th Shakari Base in Esfahan Province. US intelligence officials had previously warned of strengthening Russo-Iranian ties on December 17. Russian Su-35 fighters are fourth-generation aircraft without stealth characteristics and thus pose a limited threat to Israel, Saudi Arabia, and other regional adversaries. Iran may employ them to support IRGC and Iranian proxy militia personnel in Iraq and Syria, however. The Iranians have long sought Russian combat aircraft, likely in part to reduce their reliance on the Russian Air Force to provide air support to the activities of Iran and its proxies in Iraq and Syria.
- Funerals and commemoration ceremonies for killed protesters are continuing to sustain anti-regime activity throughout Iran as demonstrations enter their fifteenth consecutive week.
- The Iranian regime has reportedly purchased Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jets from Russia.
- At least seven protests occurred in six cities across five provinces.
- President Ebrahim Raisi appointed Mohammad Reza Farzin as the new Central Bank of Iran Chief.
- Anti-regime outlet Iran International circulated footage of Golestan Province Governor General Ali Mohammad Zanganeh requesting that local government officials refuse providing services to unveiled women.
- UK-based Amwaj Media reported that prominent Iranian hardliners are pursuing political reform in attempt to preempt further unrest, citing an inside source.
- A website purporting to represent the Iranian Sunni community reported that Iranian authorities arrested a Sunni scholar in Khorasan Razavi Province on December 27.
Iran Crisis Update, December 28
December 28, 2022 | 5:00 pm ET
Iranian security officials and entities attempted to declare an end to protest activity on December 28 despite ongoing acts of anti-regime defiance documented throughout the country. The Artesh praised Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and Iranian security forces for quelling protests in a December 28 statement commemorating regime-organized counter-protests to the 2009 Green Movement. The Armed Forces General Staff—the most senior military body in Iran—also issued a statement commemorating the 2009 pro-regime counter-protests and claimed that the regime had neutralized the threat of recent anti-regime demonstrations. IRGC Commander Major General Hossein Salami similarly gave a speech claiming that the regime had decisively defeated unrest and accusing the US and Israel of fomenting dissent. Salami acknowledged that protest activity may resume at a later date.
These declarations of victory appear premature. The regime has not deterred Iranians from continuing to participate in anti-regime protests and strikes, particularly in in historically restive provinces. Social media users have documented regular protest activity in Zahedan, Sistan and Baluchistan Province since late September, for example. Protest activity has additionally increased in cities throughout Kurdistan and West Azerbaijan Provinces in recent days. CTP is currently hypothesizing that the regime may have pulled back some of the IRGC deployments in these areas, facilitating an uptick in anti-regime demonstrations.
Iran’s deteriorating economic conditions have the potential to further inflame anti-regime demonstrations throughout the country. The Iranian rial has depreciated by approximately 25 percent against the US dollar since protests began on September 16, hitting another historic low on December 28 at 422,000 rials per dollar on the black market. Half of the currency’s losses have occurred in the last three weeks, indicating the downward trend is accelerating.
Iranian officials have blamed the protest movement for the rial’s decline and corresponding economic maladies, but the regime’s foreign policy adventures likely play a significant role. A December 28 New York Times report stated that the Biden Administration is attempting to prevent Iran from acquiring the Western-made components necessary to manufacture suicide drones for Russian use in Ukraine. Part of the Biden Administration’s strategy involves aggressively applying export controls and sanctioning private actors linked to the drone supply chain. The US and other Western countries pursuing a similar course of action have consequently restricted Iran’s overall import and export activity. Heavy scrutiny from US compliance officials and the Iranian regime's resultant irregular payment arrangements have likely dissuaded some international vendors from doing business in Iran, regardless of the businesses’ connection to drone supply chains. A December 21 Reuters report, for example, stated that the regime’s “complex and erratic” sanctions-evasion tactics recently created a massive backlog of merchant ships containing sanctions-exempt cargo outside Iranian ports. These unfavorable business conditions are likely discouraging private actors from engaging with the Iranian economy, driving the rial’s exchange rate down further.
The US and other Western countries pursuing a similar course of action have likely dissuaded international vendors from doing business in Iran – regardless of the businesses’ connection to drone supply chains – and driven down the rial’s exchange rate, according to the Times. A December 21 Reuters report, for example, stated that the regime’s ”complex and erratic” sanction-evading payment methods have recently created a massive backlog of merchant ships containing sanctions-exempt cargo outside Iranian ports.
The regime may increase the likelihood of a surge in protest activity by exacerbating economic conditions. Western responses to Iran’s enabling the brutal Russian targeting of Ukrainian civilians and an increasingly worthless currency are aggravating issues in Iran’s already ailing economy and may prevent the country from importing sufficient quantities of foodstuffs, refined petroleum products, and other resources necessary for stable economic conditions.
Natural gas shortages may reinvigorate anti-regime grievances as Iran’s economic situation worsens. Iranian officials previously endorsed leveraging the European energy crisis imposed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to increase Iranian natural gas exports. Iran is, however, now suffering from the same energy shortages that it sought to capitalize on. The Raisi administration has expressed concern about the need to conserve gas in recent weeks. A Gilan Province official additionally declared December 22 a local holiday for conserving energy, as CTP previously reported.
- Iranian security officials and entities attempted to declare an end to protest activity on December 28 despite ongoing acts of anti-regime defiance documented throughout the country.
- Iran’s deteriorating economic and energy conditions have the potential to further inflame anti-regime demonstrations.
- At least four protests occurred in four cities across four provinces.
- Protest coordinators reiterated calls for anti-regime protests and strikes on December 29 and January 6-8.
- President Ebrahim Raisi and his cabinet appointed Hossein Mehrab as Khuzestan provincial governor on December 28.
- Former reformist President Hassan Rouhani discussed solutions to anti-regime activity with former governors from his administration on December 26.
- Social media users reported that petrochemical workers in Abadan, Khuzestan Province participated in anti-regime strikes for a third consecutive day.
- The Turkish, Russia, and Syrian Defense Ministers held a trilateral meeting on December 28 in Moscow.
Iran Crisis Update, December 27
December 27, 2022 | 5:00 pm ET
Some elements of the Iranian regime are increasingly framing the protest movement as an insurgency. Mohsen Heydari—a representative of Khuzestan Province in the Assembly of Experts—stated that the judiciary should convict protesters of baghi (armed insurrection) rather than moharebeh (waging war against God) on December 27.[i] The Assembly of Experts is the regime body constitutionally responsible for selecting the supreme leader. Baghi is a relatively new legal concept that Parliament introduced to the Iranian penal code in 2013.[ii]
Iran Crisis Update, December 26
December 26, 2022 | 5:00 pm ET
Protest coordinators and organizations are encouraging citizens to demonstrate more regularly and spontaneously rather than awaiting planned protests. The United Neighborhood Youth called for decentralized demonstrations and for protesters to “break the cycle of waiting.” The Karaj Neighborhood Youth published a graphic illustrating the protest activity that preceded the Iranian revolution in 1979 to argue that the movement must sustain itself through an extended period of spikes and lulls to gradually weaken the regime.
These protest coordinators and organizations are likely trying to reverse a natural consequence of the growing cohesion within the movement. Many protesters may be increasingly awaiting calls for protests and other guidance rather than acting independently as the movement has developed more obvious leadership. But these protest coordinators and organizations have demonstrated that they cannot consistently generate significant surges in protest activity themselves, possibly due to mistrust toward them among demonstrators and/or the challenges of organizing under the tremendous pressure the regime is exerting against them. The persistence of protests has been a remarkable feature of this movement and has put great strains on the regime and its security forces. If the protesters can resume more decentralized and less predictable activities, they can add to that strain even with small numbers of demonstrators in the streets at a time.
Protest coordinators and organizations are continuing their efforts to stoke a fiscal crisis and disrupt the transportation sector. The Hamedan Neighborhood Youth reiterated its calls for citizens to withdraw their savings to further encourage a run on the banks. The Iranian rial reached a new record low, selling for around 415,200 to the US dollar, on December 26. The United Neighborhood Youth separately called for countrywide protests and strikes on January 6-8 to commemorate the three-year anniversary of the IRGC shooting down a Ukrainian civilian airplane. The group urged protests and strikes around airports, fire stations, and ports in particular. It remains unclear what net effect the fiscal crisis and strikes will have on the Iranian economy, but the continuation of this protest movement seems likely to generate some level of economic disruption.
Mounting economic issues could drive further protest activity in turn, creating a self-reinforcing cycle. Economic issues have fueled several violent protest waves in Iran in recent years, including the 2017-18 Dey protests and 2019 Aban protests. The Gilan Neighborhood Youth called on protesters to remember the Dey protests, which began on December 28, 2017, and were focused largely on economic hardship and rising prices. The dollar sold for around 42,010 Iranian rial when the Dey protests began.
The regime is further shuffling the authorities responsible for internal security in Sistan and Baluchistan Province, likely to improve efforts to stabilize the province. President Ebrahim Raisi and his cabinet approved the appointment of IRGC Brigadier General Mohammad Karami as Sistan and Baluchistan provincial governor on December 25. Karami has been the commander of the IRGC Ground Forces Quds Operational Headquarters—the military entity that oversees the IRGC conventional units and internal security in Sistan and Baluchistan and Kerman provinces—since February 2020. Karami will chair the Sistan and Baluchistan Provincial Security Council in his capacity as governor, coordinating and overseeing security affairs in the province. He may hold even more authority and influence if he continues to command the Quds Operational Headquarters as well; IRGC leadership has yet to appoint his replacement. The Law Enforcement Command (LEC) previously installed a new commander for Sistan and Baluchistan Province on November 9 as part of this effort to improve how the regime imposes social control there.
The Khuzestan Neighborhood Youth posted a tweet claiming that the regime escalated against Izeh, Khuzestan Province residents on December 25 and 26. The regime deployed a large number of security forces and completely disrupted local internet services, according to the Khuzestan group. The Khuzestan group reported the sound of gunfire and claimed that security forces blocked major roads leading into and out of the city. The Khuzestan group also called for unrest in other locations throughout Khuzestan Province to stretch the bandwidth of security forces and prevent them from concentrating around Izeh. CTP cannot verify any of these rumors. They are plausible, however, given that Iranian authorities likely expected unrest in Izeh on December 26—the 40th day since the Izeh terror attack on November 16.
- Protest coordinators and organizations are encouraging citizens to demonstrate more regularly and spontaneously rather than awaiting planned protests. These protest coordinators and organizations are likely trying to reverse a natural consequence of the growing cohesion within the movement.
- Protest coordinators and organizations are continuing their efforts to cause a fiscal crisis for the regime and disrupt the transportation sector. Mounting economic issues could drive further protest activity in turn, creating a self-reinforcing cycle.
- The regime is further shuffling the authorities responsible for internal security in Sistan and Baluchistan Province, likely to improve efforts to stabilize the province.
- The Khuzestan Neighborhood Youth posted a tweet claiming that the regime escalated against Izeh, Khuzestan Province residents.
- At least five protests occurred in three cities across three provinces on December 25, and at least seven protests occurred in six cities across five provinces on December 26.
- Elon Musk tweeted that almost 100 Starlink devices are currently operating in Iran.
Iran Crisis Update, December 24
The Iranian Supreme Court upheld the death sentence of 22-year-old protester Mohammad Ghobadlou on December 24 after rejecting his appeal.[i] The Judiciary convicted Ghobadlou of “corruption on earth” and sentenced him to death in October 2022. This charge—corruption on earth—is an extremely broad charge that the Judiciary often uses to justify executions. The Iranian penal code states that this charge can be brought against an individual who “extensively commits a felony against the bodily entity of the people, offenses against internal or international security of the state, spreads lies, disrupts the economic system of the state, commits arson or destroys properties, distributes poisonous and bacterial and dangerous materials, or [establishes, aids, or abets] places of corruption and prostitution.”[ii] The Supreme Court published earlier on December 24 that it had accepted the appeals of Ghobadlou and Saman Seyyedi Yasin—two protesters on death row—but later retracted that report and stated that it had accepted the appeal of Yasin but upheld Ghobadlou’s death sentence.[iii]
Protest activity increased only marginally for the planned demonstrations on December 24, likely in part due to inclement weather conditions. Calls for protests have largely failed to generate surges in turnout since mid-November 2022. CTP continues to assess that this reduced protest activity does not, however, indicate the end of the anti-regime movement.[iv] The ongoing protests—even at low levels—likely continue to strain the bandwidth, energy, and morale of security forces.[v]
Vice President for Women and Family Affairs Ensieh Khazali commemorated Women’s Week in Iran on December 24.[vi] Khazali celebrated the position of women under the Islamic Republic and accused foreign enemies of trying to promote immorality among Iranian women. She added that the regime will hold events and programs during Women’s Week to “raise awareness among Iranian women” about the role of foreign actors in stoking protests. The UN Economic and Social Council previously voted to expel Iran from the Commission on the Status of Women on December 14 in response to the regime’s oppression of millions of Iranian women.[vii]
- The Iranian Supreme Court upheld the death sentence of 22-year-old protester Mohammad Ghobadlou after rejecting his appeal.
- Protest activity increased only marginally for the planned demonstrations, likely in part due to inclement weather conditions. At least seven protests occurred in six cities across six provinces.
- Vice President for Women and Family Affairs Ensieh Khazali commemorated Women’s Week in Iran.
- Some Iranian economic and political actors have acknowledged the economic consequences of the regime’s internet disruptions.
- Iranian media reported that the Iranian rial reached a new record low of around 400,800 to the US dollar.
Iran Crisis Update, December 23
The Iranian regime is likely in a mounting confrontation with citizens in Izeh, Khuzestan Province. Izeh has seen weeks of violence since November 2022. Unidentified gunmen shot and killed at least six people and injured another 15 at a shopping center in Izeh on November 16. Iranian state media attributed the attack to the Islamic State, although the group has not claimed responsibility. Security forces conducted a direct-action raid in Izeh on December 20 targeting individuals for their alleged roles in the terror attack. Unconfirmed social media accounts have claimed that security forces have begun killing and mass arresting citizens in Izeh since the raid. Others have claimed that the regime has imposed a total internet blackout there and established checkpoints on the major roads leading into and out of the city. This most recent reported escalation suggests that citizens may have protested and reacted angrily to the raid. The information space remains incredibly murky, and obtaining reliable and verifiable information is thus difficult.
The ongoing situation in Izeh underscores the credibility crisis that the regime faces. Several conflicting rumors are circulating in the Persian-language information space. Some, including the mother of one of the victims, have claimed that the regime conducted the November 16 terror attack—not the Islamic State. Protest organizations and other social media accounts are separately claiming that the individuals killed and arrested in the December 20 raid were innocent. CTP cannot assess the veracity of any of these rumors. The prevalence of such rumors highlights the mistrust of the population toward the political establishment, however, as the regime’s abuse of its people continues to undermine its credibility.
Unidentified individuals detonated explosives at a Basij base in Ghahdrijan, Esfahan Province on December 23, marking a possible inflection in protester tactics. Protesters have regularly thrown Molotov cocktails at security forces’ facilities throughout this protest wave, but CTP has not previously observed the use of explosives like the ones used in this attack. The attackers may have produced improvised explosives themselves or accessed materials from industrial or military sources.
Vice News published on December 17 a video indicating dissent among the state security services. Vice News interviewed an alleged former employee of the Intelligence and Security Ministry who defected during the crackdown. The individual claimed that some Law Enforcement Command (LEC) members have opposed the crackdown and that the IRGC Intelligence Organization has arrested them. The Vice News video also interviewed a reported Basij member who similarly expressed frustration over the brutality of the crackdown. CTP cannot verify the authenticity of this report, but it is consistent with previously observed trends. The regime has long struggled with dissent among the security services during violent crackdowns. Iranian security personnel, especially the less ideological, have sometimes refused to use extreme force against their fellow citizens. The arrest of these dissenting security officers could spread frustration among their families and security units.
These defections highlight one of the many challenges that the protests pose to regime longevity. The ongoing protests—even at low levels—continue to strain the bandwidth, energy, and morale of security forces, increasing the likelihood of further dissent. Protesters can likely sustain varying levels of demonstrations and strikes longer than the regime can sustain its crackdown.
The recent behavior of the regime demonstrates that it will likely keep the mandatory hijab law but look for new, and perhaps more effective, ways to enforce it rather than using the morality patrol. The regime has not yet released an opinion on the hijab requirement even though it pledged to do so by December 16. The continued silence suggests that Iranian leaders have decided to maintain the law but want to avoid enflaming protests with a public announcement. CTP has previously argued that the idea that the regime will relax its hijab law is fundamentally incompatible with the vision that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has for the future of the country.
Some Iranian officials have described alternatives to using the morality patrol to enforce the hijab requirement. Former IRGC Intelligence Organization Chief Hossein Taeb stated that the morality patrols do not work, and that the regime needs to evaluate different methods on December 23. Parliamentarian Hossin Jalali similarly stated that the regime is enforcing the hijab requirement “through smart methods,” implying the use of advanced technologies such as facial recognition and surveillance cameras. CTP has previously suggested that the regime could adopt such an approach. This emphasis on alternative enforcement methods underscores that the potential abolition of the morality patrol, which is not yet confirmed, does not mean that the regime will relax its mandatory hijab policies. The regime might instead continue to expand an Orwellian surveillance-punishment model relying on collective punishment through shutting down non-compliant businesses and remote punishments such as seizing financial assets in state banks as alternatives to physical confrontation.
- The Iranian regime is in a mounting confrontation with citizens in Izeh, Khuzestan Province. The ongoing situation in Izeh underscores the credibility crisis that the regime faces.
- Unidentified individuals detonated explosives at a Basij base in Ghahdrijan, Esfahan Province, marking a possible inflection in protester tactics.
- Vice News published a video indicating dissent among the state security services.
- The recent behavior of the regime demonstrates that it will likely keep the mandatory hijab law but look for new, and perhaps more effective, ways to enforce it rather than using the morality patrol.
- At least four protests occurred in four cities across three provinces. Citizens frustrated by the regime’s suppression of Sunnis played a prominent role in the protests
- Protest activity may increase on December 24 to commemorate 100 consecutive days of demonstrations.
Iran Crisis Update, December 22
December 22, 2022 | 5:00 pm ET
Social media accounts reported that Iranian security forces have begun violently killing and mass arresting citizens in Izeh, Khuzestan Province since December 21.[i] Some accounts have claimed that the regime has arrested over 350 individuals thus far and completely disrupted internet services in the area.[ii] Others have claimed that the regime has established checkpoints on the major roads leading into and out of the city.[iii] CTP cannot verify these reports at this time, and the information space remains extremely muddy. We will provide more information on the situation in Izeh in future updates.
This reported escalation follows weeks of violence in Izeh. Unidentified gunmen shot and killed at least six Izeh residents and injured at least 15 on November 16.[iv] Iranian state media described the event as a “terrorist attack,” while the mother of one of victims—nine-year-old Kian Pirfalak—accused security forces of conducting the attack.[v] The regime tried to blame the attack on the Islamic State in the following days.[vi] Security forces killed two and arrested another two in Izeh for their alleged roles in the attack on December 20.[vii]
- Social media accounts have reported that Iranian security forces have begun violently killing and mass arresting citizens in Izeh, Khuzestan Province since December 21.
- One of Iran’s most senior military officers discussed how the regime can adapt to control its domestic information space.
- At least three protests occurred in three cities across two provinces.
- The Tehran and Mashhad neighborhood youth groups announced their alignment and solidarity with a group called the Seventh of Aban Front.
- Protest coordinators and organizations called for protests and strikes throughout Tehran on December 24.
- Intelligence and Security Minister Esmail Khatib appointed a new Director General of Intelligence for West Azerbaijan Province.
- The Wall Street Journal reported that anti-regime actors have smuggled roughly 200 Starlink devices into Iranian territory.
Iran Crisis Update, December 21
December 20, 2022 | 5:30 pm ET
Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei appears to be personally directing the regime’s approach to protests in Sistan and Baluchistan Province. Senior Iranian cleric Mostafa Mohami stated during a meeting with local university students on December 21 that Khamenei has taken a “personal interest” in the unrest in Sistan and Baluchistan Province.[i] Mohami asserted that Iranian authorities had taken a different approach in Sistan and Baluchistan Province—framing this approach as a marker of Khamenei’s interest in the region. He added that Khamenei instructed the Supreme National Security Council—the regime’s most senior foreign and security policy body—to listen to the demands of the people of the province.
Iran Crisis Update, December 20
December 20, 2022 | 6:00 pm ET
Protest activity did not surge significantly outside of the Iranian capital region on December 20, despite calls from protest coordinators and organizations for countrywide demonstrations and strikes on December 19-21. CTP has observed slowly diminishing protest turnout since the regime intensified its protest crackdown in mid-November 2022. The regime issued its first death sentence on November 13 and deployed the IRGC Ground Forces in Kurdistan and West Azerbaijan provinces beginning on November 19.[i] These escalations combined with the colder weather, mass arrests, and possible disorganization among protester coordinators may have led to the declining turnout over the past month.
Iran Crisis Update, December 19
December 19, 2022 | 6:30 pm ET
Some protest coordinators and organizations are trying to reclaim religion from the regime, essentially arguing that one can be devoutly religious and still oppose the Islamic Republic. The Mashhad Neighborhood Youth published a statement from “a group of Iranian Muslim and Shia youth” that accused Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei of using religion to control and manipulate.[i] The statement argued that Khamenei does not represent true Islamic values but is rather undermining religion. The framing of the group as representing “Muslims and Shia” is noteworthy and may suggest outreach to the Sunni community in Iran. The Mashhad group separately asserted that the regime has not upheld some of the founding principles in the constitution.[ii] CTP has previously reported how protesters have tried to reclaim ideas of revolution, Iranian nationalism, and secular martyrdom from the regime for their own movement.[iii] The regime has long labored to appropriate many of these ideas for its own purposes.
The fact that Mashhad youth may spearhead this effort to reclaim religion is notable given the significance of the city to the Iranian clerical and religious community. Mashhad is the home of the Imam Reza shrine—one of the most significant religious locations in Iran. The Mashhad Friday prayer leader, Ahmad Alam ol Hoda, is an outspoken hardliner and the father-in-law of President Ebrahim Raisi, who himself was born in Mashhad.
The Mashhad Neighborhood Youth explained part of its protest doctrine on December 19, promoting the idea of decentralized, “neighborhood-based” protests.[iv] Protest coordinators and organizations frequently use this term, neighborhood-based protests, when planning demonstrations. The Mashhad group explained that neighborhood-based protests involve small groups of protesters shuffling to different nearby neighborhoods where they know the environment but will not be recognized by other locals. Protester lookouts warn the small crowds to disperse into nearby alleyways to avoid incoming security forces, and these crowds reconstitute once the security forces leave. The Mashhad group argued that simultaneous, neighborhood-based protests throughout a city exhaust and strain the bandwidth of security forces, creating a “cat-and-mouse game.” This theory is consistent with CTP’s assessment that security forces have faced bandwidth constraints, exhaustion, and low morale since September 2022.[v]
- Some protest coordinators and organizations are trying to reclaim religion from the regime, essentially arguing that one can be devoutly religious and still oppose the Islamic Republic.
- The Mashhad Neighborhood Youth explained part of its protest doctrine, promoting the idea of decentralized, “neighborhood-based” protests.
- The regime is torturing arrested protesters to extract forced confessions.
- At least 10 protests took place in five cities across four provinces.
- Anti-regime militancy has increased in Sistan and Baluchistan Province since December 18.
- The Guardian reported that dozens to possibly a few hundred protesters have fled Iran into Iraqi Kurdistan since the protests began in September 2022.
Iran Crisis Update, December 18
December 18, 2022 | 5:00 pm ET
Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and significant parts of his inner circle are continuing to misdiagnose the core problems driving the ongoing protests. Senior officials close to Khamenei and his inner circle emphasized the need to promote engagement and interactions between Iranian religious institutions and universities on December 18. The officials framed such cooperation as the correct response to the protests and necessary to establish an “Islamic civilization.” These officials include Alireza Arafi (a senior cleric and Guardian Council member), Ahmad Marvi (the custodian of Astan Quds Razavi), and Mohammad Mehdi Tehranchi (the president of Islamic Azad University). Either Khamenei or his inner circle have selected each of these individuals for their current positions. Their rhetoric likely reflects a predominant sentiment in the office of the supreme leader.
Khamenei and his inner circle have defined the protests as a sociocultural and religious issue and seem to believe that the solution is trying to further ideologize the population. These ideas are not entirely new; Khamenei and his advisers have articulated this theory for years. But Khamenei’s insistence on viewing the current protests through this lens will impede—if not prevent entirely—any serious effort to address protester grievances.
Protests and strikes may increase in the coming days. Protest coordinators and organizations have repeatedly published calls for protests and strikes on December 19-21.
Some protesters have increasingly focused on imposing economic pressure on the regime as the Iranian rial continues to devaluate. The Mashhad Neighborhood Youth reiterated on December 18 calls for citizens to withdraw their money from banks and warned that Anonymous hackers will conduct cyberattacks against banks in the coming days. The Mashhad group separately claimed that workers at several prominent Iranian ports will join the planned strikes on December 19-21.
The net effect of the ongoing protests and strikes could further stress the Iranian economy and its supply lines, especially if the port strikes materialize and are sustained. Oil and gas workers protested in at least four cities on December 17, as CTP previously reported. It is too soon to assess whether these protests and strikes will amount to any serious economic disruption, however. CTP will continue to develop this assessment in future updates.
- Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and significant parts of his inner circle are continuing to misdiagnose the core problems driving the ongoing protests.
- At least two protests took place in two cities across two provinces. Protests and strikes may increase in the coming days.
- Some protesters have increasingly focused on imposing economic pressure on the regime as the Iranian rial continues to devaluate.
- LEC Tehran Provincial Commander Brigadier General Hossein Rahimi announced the seizure of a man-portable rocket launcher and around 50 other small arms.
- An LEC Border Guard regiment commander, Colonel Hossein Ali Farahi, announced that the LEC clashed with unidentified militants near Esfandak, Sistan and Baluchistan Province.
- Unidentified individuals stabbed and wounded four clerics in Qom City, Qom Province.
Iran Crisis Update, December 17
December 17, 2022 | 5:00 pm ET
Iranian security personnel clashed with prisoners in Karaj, Alborz Province on December 17, reportedly killing one and injuring up to 100 others. A foreign-based Iranian human rights organization reported that Karaj Central Prison security personnel violently suppressed prisoners protesting inmate executions and other acts of violence, citing an informed source. The source alleged that protests erupted after security personnel transferred four prisoners to solitary confinement and intended to execute them at an unspecified time. Inmates from units two, three, and five reportedly chanted anti-regime slogans and broke doors and cameras within the prison. Prison guards opened fire on the protesting inmates in an attempt to quell the unrest, resulting in roughly 100 inmate casualties and at least one death. Karaj residents and social media users additionally reported local internet outages and a heavy security presence in the vicinity of the Karaj Central Prison on the evening of December 17.
State-affiliated media and a local judiciary official confirmed clashes between prison guards and inmates held in the narcotics ward of the Karaj Central Prison on December 17. Iranian media initially claimed that some inmates had set fire to blankets, which security personnel allegedly contained rapidly and without casualties. The Alborz Province Judiciary Chief later acknowledged that the clashes resulted in the death of one inmate and injured several others but claimed that casualties were sustained by prisoners ”throwing stones” at one another for unspecified reasons.
The regime’s violent suppression tactics suggest incompetence and mismanagement within the Karaj Central Prison. Large-scale riots are indicative of poorly-run prisons with insufficient resources. Competent prison authorities and guards should be able to control prisoners without resorting to lethal force. Losing control over a state-owned facility to this extent constitutes a significant failure of the regime, which may be struggling to handle the enormous influx of inmates it has generated by mass arrests of protesters.
Some protest organizations could be playing increasingly prominent roles within a localized and relatively de-centralized anti-regime actor nexus. The Neighborhood Youth Group of Karaj circulated a five-point plan on how to sustain acts of anti-regime defiance on December 16, as CTP previously reported. The group called on its followers to plan protests in crowded and well-known areas and conceptualize new ways to demonstrate against the regime. Social media users documented several protests on multiple Tehran subway platforms the next day on December 17. CTP has observed protest activity in Tehran metro stations before, and this protest location is not novel. Increased anti-regime demonstrations within Tehran subways could nevertheless suggest that protesters are adapting their tactics to adhere to the Neighborhood Youth Group of Karaj’s recommendations. IRGC Intelligence Organization officers similarly described an arrested 15-person protest organization located in a town neighboring Karaj as local leaders on December 17, although the regime has previously used similar language to characterize arrested protest coordinators in other areas.
The regime may struggle to contain decentralized protest and strike coordinators. Anti-regime activity and calls for unrest on December 17 showed participation from diverse swaths of the Iranian population, including medical professionals, workers, and neighborhood youth groups. Iranian media has publicized the arrest of several leaders within the protest movement in the past several weeks. These arrests have not stopped the movement, however, which continues to adapt under regime pressure and to put renewed pressure on the regime in turn. The absence of public leadership and coordination among multiple anti-regime actors will likely complicate security efforts to stop the unrest.
- Iranian security personnel clashed with prisoners in Karaj, Alborz Province, reportedly killing one and injuring up to 100 others.
- Some protest organizations could be playing increasingly prominent roles within a localized and relatively de-centralized anti-regime actor nexus.
- At least 11 protests took place in seven cities across five provinces
- The Iranian rial reached a new all-time low.
- Iranian media reported that Meta rejected regime demands to nominate a representative to Iran, setting conditions to block or permanently restrict domestic access to Instagram and WhatsApp.
- A large, unattributed explosion occurred in Kani Qirzhala, Erbil Province, Iraqi Kurdistan.
- Turkish forces shelled alleged Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militia positions near Amedi, Duhok Province, Iraqi Kurdistan.
Iran Crisis Update, December 16
December 16, 5:00 pm ET
Protest organizations and coordinators are increasingly promoting consistent and sustainable acts of anti-regime defiance as the Mahsa Amini protest movement enters its fourth consecutive month. The United Neighborhood Youth of Iran circulated a translated, two-page text attributed to American author Robert Greene on December 16 that encouraged protesters to continue anti-regime demonstrations and overthrow the regime.[i] The text called on protesters to remain united and engaged in anti-regime activity. It is unclear where this text originated from, although it was likely adapted from Greene’s December 7 Youtube video on the Mahsa Amini movement.[ii] The Neighborhood Youth Group of Karaj also circulated the translated text and issued a five-point plan that incorporated Greene’s recommendations. The group framed the plan as a progressive and natural next step of the protest movement.[iii] The Karaj group called for regular acts of anti-regime defiance to sustain the protest movement, including:
- Chanting anti-regime slogans every night;
- Writing anti-regime slogans throughout the city;
- Distributing written calls to protests and other information pertaining to protest activity to reach populations that are less active on social media;
- Thinking of new and innovative ways to demonstrate against the regime;
- Engaging in new protest activity in crowded and well-known areas.[iv]
The Neighborhood Youth of Karaj Group’s plan, if successfully implemented, would likely pose a challenge to local security personnel attempting to quell acts of unrest throughout different areas of the city. The group’s emphasis on non-protest related acts of anti-regime defiance could also invite participation from broader segments of the Iranian population.
Increased calls for non-protest related acts of anti-regime dissent do not mean that protests will entirely subside, however. Social media users circulated calls for countrywide strikes and protests on December 19, 20, and 21, as CTP reported on December 14.[v] Protest organizations have recently demonstrated the capability to coordinate large-scale, country-wide strikes and increased protest activity from December 5, 6, and 7 as well.[vi]
Iranian Parliament and the Supreme Cultural Revolution Council did not release an opinion on the mandatory veiling law--or how the regime chooses to police this law--on December 16. Prosecutor General Mohammad Javad Montazeri had stated on December 1 that Iranian officials were examining mandatory veiling and would release their findings by December 16.[vii]
- Protest organizations and coordinators are increasingly promoting consistent and sustainable acts of anti-regime defiance as the Mahsa Amini protest movement enters its fourth consecutive month.
- The Iranian Parliament and the Supreme Cultural Revolution Council did not release an opinion on the mandatory veiling law or how the regime chooses to police that law on December 16.
- At least eight protests took place in six cities across four provinces.
- Prominent Sunni Cleric Moulana Abdol Hamid condemned the regime for sentencing arrested protesters to death in his weekly Friday sermon in Zahedan, Sistan and Baluchistan Province.
- A pro-Iran Iraqi official stated that former Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi would be arrested in connection with IRGC-Quds Force Commander Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis' deaths.
Iran Crisis Update, December 15
December 15, 2022 | 5:00 pm ET
The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) is likely conducting an information operation to discredit the neighborhood youth protest organizations among demonstrators. IRGC-affiliated media outlets and social media accounts claimed on December 15 that these neighborhood groups have helped security forces identify and arrest protesters who send the groups information.[i] These IRGC outlets claimed, contradictorily, that the neighborhood groups are reporting protesters to perpetuate unrest in Iran. These outlets also accused these neighborhood groups of having ties to Saudi Arabia and the Mojahedin-e Khalq. The claims that these neighborhood groups are simultaneously cooperating with the regime and its external adversaries seem incompatible but are likely part of an information effort to confuse protesters and sow distrust. The IRGC is likely trying to deter protester cooperation with these groups and prevent protesters from attending the groups’ planned demonstrations. These IRGC reports are the first major regime acknowledgement of the neighborhood youth groups, reflecting how seriously the regime perceives the threat they now pose.
Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi discussed expanding regime censorship in a speech on December 15—comments which the regime later denied that Vahidi made. Vahidi warned that an uncontrolled internet will destroy the minds and spirit of Iranian youth and that therefore “cyberspace is becoming completely restricted.”[ii] The Interior Ministry soon denied that Vahidi made such remarks.[iii] Iranian state media excluded Vahidi’s remarks about censorship in its reporting on his speech.[iv]
- The IRGC is likely conducting an information operation to discredit some protester coordinators among demonstrators.
- Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi discussed expanding regime censorship in a speech—comments which the regime later denied Vahidi made.
- At least three protests took place in three cities across three provinces.
Iran Crisis Update, December 14
December 14, 2022 | 5:00 pm ET
The Iranian economy appears to be entering a period of potentially significant disruption. Protester coordinators and other social media users have called on Iranians to urgently withdraw their bank account savings and buy gold in recent days.[i] Social media accounts reported many Iranians doing so on December 14, although CTP cannot verify this reported bank run nor is it prepared to assess the scale.[ii] These reports coincide with the continued devaluation of the Iranian rial, which hit a new all-time low of around 385,000 to the US dollar on December 14.[iii] A public relations official in the Raisi administration acknowledged that the protests have increased economic uncertainty and thus fueled this fiscal crisis.[iv]
Iranian media has reported an uptick in some business executives and officials resigning or being arrested or fired in recent weeks. These executives include prominent individuals in the construction, financial services, and steel industries.[v] The Raisi administration replaced the Central Bank of Iran official responsible for the foreign exchange department on December 14 as well.[vi] At least some of these changes are likely tied to the fiscal crisis.
CTP is not prepared to assess how this fiscal crisis may affect the Iranian economy or whether the regime will successfully manage it. This crisis may nevertheless encourage protest coordinators and organizations to consider further strikes and other means of economic pressure against the regime.
President Ebrahim Raisi met with officials from the Khatam ol Anbia Construction Headquarters on December 14, likely to discuss cooperation toward addressing the fiscal crisis.[vii] This headquarters is a prominent civil engineering and construction firm controlled directly by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). It is involved in large swaths of the Iranian economy, including but not limited to port services, oil and gas, drilling, construction, telecommunications, and financial services.
- The Iranian economy appears to be entering a period of potentially significant disruption.
- UN member states voted to expel Iran from the UN Commission on the Status of Women.
- At least one protest occurred.
- Social media users circulated calls for countrywide strikes and protests on December 19, 20, and 21.
- Iran-affiliated leadership from Lebanon and Iraq met in Baghdad.
Iran Crisis Update, December 13
December 13, 2022 | 5:00 pm ET
The Iranian regime has replaced key clerics responsible for indoctrinating a significant portion of the security forces, possibly to improve efforts to ideologically control security officers. Senior Iranian cleric Abdollah Hajji Sadeghi appointed three new clerics to key leadership posts in the Basij Organization on December 13. Hajji Sadeghi is responsible for representing Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). He appointed:
- Ali Rezaei as supreme leader representative to the Basij Organization;
- Karim Sararfaraz as supreme leader deputy representative to the Basij Organization; and
- Mahmoud Mohammadi Shahroudi as Basij Professors, Students, and Clerics Organization chief.
Khamenei maintains a network of clerical representatives, such as Hajji Sadeghi, who oversee every echelon of the state security services and act as political commissars. They control the security services’ ideological-political training (i.e., indoctrination), the dissemination of propaganda, the spiritual commitment of security personnel, and seek to ensure the services’ subordination to the will of the supreme leader.
It is unclear why Hajji Sadeghi ordered these changes now, although they may be related to the protest crackdown. He may have sought to install new figures to reinforce the ideological commitment of Basij security officers. The Islamic Republic has experienced small-scale defections and insubordinations among security personnel during protest crackdowns throughout its history, and Iranian authorities likely seek to mitigate that risk. The new supreme leader representative to the Basij Organization, Ali Rezaei, is particularly well-positioned to oversee these efforts in the Basij given his experience. Rezaei managed ideological education and training in the Basij before his promotion.
It is noteworthy that Hajji Sadeghi passed over Mahmoud Mohammadi Shahroudi for both the roles of supreme leader representative and deputy representative to the Basij. Shahroudi was the supreme leader deputy representative to the Basij before the latest appointments and would therefore have been a logical candidate to become the new overall supreme leader representative to the Basij. Hajji Sadeghi instead appointed Shahroudi to head the Basij Professors, Students, and Clerics Organization, which Hajji Sadeghi may have meant as a demotion. Hajji Sadegh’s decision to clean house likely reflects his desire to significantly change the regime approach to indoctrinating and monitoring Basij personnel.
Ensuring the ideological subordination and loyalty of Basij personnel is essential to sustaining the regime protest crackdown. The Basij operates quasi-professional paramilitary units that the regime uses to violently suppress dissent and support the Law Enforcement Command (LEC) against protests. These units receive varying levels of ideological-political training and instruction in civil defense, counterinsurgency, and security operations. Losing the loyalty of these security personnel would deprive the regime of a key instrument in its repressive toolkit and possibly strengthen the protest movement if any significant number of those officers provide demonstrators their expertise and support.
The broad mission set of the Basij Organization may complicate regime efforts to find effective commanders and managers for it. The Basij penetrates every segment of Iranian society, with duties that include organizing and recruiting regime supporters, indoctrinating its members, producing state propaganda, conducting moral policing, and suppressing political opposition in addition to its role within the security forces.
Protest coordinators and organizations have planned more anti-regime demonstrations in the coming days. Social media account 1500 Tasvir stated that protesters will commemorate the execution of Mohsen Shekari in Tehran on December 14. The Karaj Neighborhood Youth called for protests on December 15 to commemorate the 40th day since the regime killed protester Mehdi Hazrati. The United Neighborhood Youth called for countrywide protests on December 20-21 in response to the execution of arrested protesters.
- The Iranian regime appointed key clerics responsible for indoctrinating a significant portion of the security forces, possibly to improve efforts to ideologically subordinate security officers.
- Protest coordinators and organizations have planned more anti-regime demonstrations in the coming days.
- At least eight protests occurred in five cities across five provinces on December 13.
- Tehran Prosecutor General Ali Alghasi Mehr announced that 400 detained protesters were assigned prison sentences.
- The LEC Intelligence Organization announced the arrest of an unspecified number of actors for targeting trucks.
- The Parliamentary Judiciary and Legal Committee approved three articles of a bill that would establish a police force for children and adolescents.
Iran Crisis Update, December 12
December 12, 5:00 pm ET
The Iranian regime executed a protester for the second time since the Mahsa Amini protests began as part of the regime's effort to deter protest turnout and instill terror among the public. The Judiciary publicly executed 23-year-old Majid Reza Rahnavard on December 12 for “waging war against God” after he killed two security officers.[i] Judiciary Chief Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei defended the regime’s decision to execute arrested prisoners and instructed judges and judicial authorities to ignore critics on December 12.[ii] Ejei’s remarks reaffirm his commitment to conducting these brutal executions despite some political and religious figures condemning the executions in recent days.[iii] The Judiciary previously executed a protester on December 8.[iv]
The Judiciary allowed the mother of Majid Reza Rahnavard to visit him in prison the day before his execution, possibly as a psychological terror tactic against the protest movement.[v] The Judiciary did not inform Rahnavard or his mother about the imminent execution. This tactic is possibly meant to keep arrested protesters and their families in constant fear.
Protest coordinators and organizations called for snap demonstrations in response to the execution of Majid Reza Rahnavard and seemingly succeeded in generating turnout on short notice. The neighborhood youth groups in Tehran, Karaj, Mashhad called for snap protests after the execution, and small demonstrations occurred in each city. CTP cannot confirm that the neighborhood youth groups and their calls were solely responsible for the demonstrations, however.
The ineffectiveness and brutal nature of the regime protest crackdown have continued to fragment the Iranian political elite. Mohammad Sarafaraz—the former president of Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) from 2014-16—criticized the crackdown in a video posted to YouTube on December 10.[vi] IRIB is a prominent state-run media corporation, the head of which is directly appointed by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Sarafaraz reportedly resigned as IRIB president in 2016 over conflicts with Mojtaba Khamenei—the son of the supreme leader.[vii] Sarafaraz in the YouTube video condemned the abuse, arrest, and killing of protesters and the inability of the regime to provide for its people. He specifically blamed Mojtaba Khamenei for the regime’s oppressive policies. Sarafaraz added that he has prepared his will because “some kind of accident. . . may happen to [him]. . . for saying these words.”[viii] Sarafaraz is currently a member of the Supreme Cyberspace Council—a regime policy body responsible for internet regulations and state censorship. CTP previously assessed that the ineffectiveness of the crackdown is allowing and encouraging some in the political and religious establishments to criticize and debate more openly.[ix]
- The Iranian regime executed a protester for the second time since the Mahsa Amini protests began as part of the regime effort to deter protest turnout and instill terror among the public.
- Protest coordinators and organizations called for demonstrations in response to the execution of Majid Reza Rahnavard and seemed to have limited success in generating turnout on short notice.
- The ineffectiveness and brutal nature of the regime protest crackdown has continued to fragment Iranian political elite.
- At least seven protests occurred in four cities across four provinces.
Iran Crisis Update, December 11
December 11, 6:00 pm ET
Some Iranian political and religious figures are debating the use of the death penalty against arrested protesters. Various reformist leaders, Qom seminary officials, and prominent Sunni cleric Moulana Abdol Hamid, among others, have separately criticized death sentences for arrested protesters in recent days.[i] These officials were responding to the Judiciary executing a protester on December 8 for the first time since the Mahsa Amini protests began.[ii] The Judiciary has sentenced at least 10 other arrested protesters to death thus far. No senior official involved in issuing and implementing the death sentences has voiced opposition to them, however, indicating that the regime will likely continue the executions.
These criticisms over the death penalty represent yet another issue dividing parts of the political and religious establishments over the protest crackdown. Iranian leaders have also debated continuing the morality patrol and how much force to use against protesters in recent months, as CTP previously reported.[iii]
- Some Iranian political and religious leaders are debating the regime’s use of the death penalty against arrested protesters.
- The ineffectiveness of the regime protest crackdown has likely allowed and encouraged some Iranian officials to criticize and debate more openly.
- Some protest coordinators and organizations called for protests on December 12.
- At least six protests occurred in six cities across six provinces.
- The IRGC claimed to have thwarted a plot to assassinate Mashhad Friday Prayer Leader Ahmad Alam ol Hoda.
- The United Neighborhood Youth released a 43-point political manifesto.
- Protest coordinators and organizations continued trying to divide state security services in support of the protesters.
- The Iranian rial dropped to a new all-time low against the US dollar.
Iran Crisis Update, December 10
December 10, 2022 | 5:00 pm ET
The Iranian regime is using protester executions to instill terror among the population. The Judiciary upheld a death sentence for 23-year-old Mahan Sadrat Madani on December 10. The regime charged Madani with "waging war against God” after he was arrested for brandishing a knife and protesting. The regime has set this low standard for the death penalty because of how easily protesters can identify with Madani and the nine other demonstrators currently on death row. Iranian authorities likely intend these executions to deter further protest turnout. This approach could easily backfire on the regime, however. Many protesters will likely sympathize with Madani and the others on death row, possibly inciting further popular unrest.
The regime’s disrespectful handling of the bodies of dead protesters could further inflame popular resentment. The regime has buried many killed protesters—including Mohsen Shekari, whom the regime executed on December 8—in unmarked graves to prevent citizens from gathering at their gravesites. The regime has informed the deceased‘s families of the burial only afterward in many instances. This mistreatment sharply contrasts with the way Iranian leaders are treating Rostam Ghassemi—the former roads and urban development minister and Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) brigadier general who died of cancer on December 8. Iranian state media reported that the body of Ghassemi arrived in Tehran on December 10 after he died seeking medical treatment in China. The regime has planned a funeral for Ghassemi on December 11, during which senior political and security leaders will likely gather to pay their respects. Iranian state media will likely cover the funeral and include remarks from senior officials. It is neither surprising nor unusual for the regime to observe the death of a senior IRGC officer in this fashion, but Ghassemi’s treatment seems jarringly tone-deaf considering the regime’s unnecessary and intentional mistreatment of dead protesters.
Prominent Iraqi Shia cleric and spiritual leader Ali al Sistani reportedly expressed concern about “the situation in Iran and the Shia religion,” according to reformist Iranian cleric Mohammad Ashrafi Esfahani on December 10. Esfahani added that Sistani sent messages to regime leadership about the protests but has not received a response. Esfahani claimed that Sistani made these remarks to him while meeting in Iraq. Sistani is Iraq’s most senior Shia religious authority and has many followers across Iran and Iraq. It is unclear whether Esfahani accurately conveyed Sistani’s comments, but even the impression that Sistani supports the protesters and has criticized the regime crackdown could stoke further public opposition to the Islamic Republic and undermine the regime among religious Iranians. Certain segments of the Iranian clerical establishment have already criticized the regime over the death of Mahsa Amini and the protest crackdown, as CTP previously reported.
Sistani has not formally commented on the protests thus far nor has he commented on past major protest waves in Iran. Sistani has occasionally issued public statements clarifying his position when individuals attribute comments to him. Sistani could signal his approval of Esfahani’s claims silently if Sistani does not issue a public statement on the matter in the coming days.
- The Iranian regime is using protester executions to instill terror among the population.
- The regime’s disrespectful handling of the bodies of dead protesters could further inflame popular resentment.
- Prominent Iraqi Shia cleric and spiritual leader Ali al Sistani reportedly expressed concern about “the situation in Iran and the Shia religion,” according to reformist Iranian cleric Mohammad Ashrafi Esfahani.
- At least 15 protests took place in nine cities across nine provinces.
- The Karaj Neighborhood Youth seemed to successfully coordinate demonstrations.
- Deputy Interior Minister for Security and Law Enforcement Majid Mir Ahmadi stated that over 20,000 security officers have been injured in the protests.
Iran Crisis Update, December 9
December 9, 2022 | 5:00 pm ET
Mass protester arrests and detentions are likely impacting protest turnout. An anti-regime Iranian human rights organization estimated in November that over 18,000 Iranians had been arrested for acts of dissidence since the Mahsa Amini protest wave commenced on September 16.[i] The regime has repeatedly promoted the arrest of individuals it claims to be protest organizers as well. The Qom Province IRGC Intelligence Organization announced on December 8 that it had arrested leaders of an anti-regime protest organization that was active on social media, for example.[ii] The arrest of protesters—particularly within key nodes of protest organizations—may have resulted in lower turnout for anti-regime demonstrations planned for December 5-7. Significant strike activity documented on these dates suggests that protest organizers are still capable of coordinating widespread acts of anti-regime defiance, however.[iii]
Some social media users voiced skepticism of groups purporting to represent local protest organizations on social media, reflecting the complex information environment in which dissidents are operating. The Neighborhood Youth of Karaj group issued a statement acknowledging distrust of the organization on December 9. The group claimed that it did not advertise a protest in Karaj, Alborz Province on December 8 because the protest was coordinated by regime actors.[iv] CTP cannot verify the authenticity of this protest group, nor can most protesters. However, the group’s statement and subsequent exchanges with its followers suggest that protest coordinators are being held accountable for their perceived successes and failures as they learn to operate in a heavily censored information space.[v] These exchanges also highlight efforts by Iranians to verify or discredit organizations with online presences. This process is vital for the success of the protest movement considering the real risk that regime agents posing as protest organizations could misdirect protesters. It also adds an additional vulnerability to the movement, however, because the regime can use agents to cause mistrust of legitimate protest groups. Iranians are likely using a hybrid approach to validating calls for protests that involves both online and direct person-to-person communications.
The Iranian regime may exploit the death of a Sunni cleric to crack down on acts of dissidence in Sistan and Baluchistan Province. Unidentified assailants reportedly kidnapped, shot, and killed Khash city Sunni Friday Prayer Leader Moulavi Abdol Vahed Rigi in the vicinity of Khash, Sistan and Baluchistan Province on December 8. Pro-regime media outlets described Rigi as a “martyr” and circulated footage of Rigi showing support for Khamenei with Friday Prayer Leader Policy Council Chief Mohammad Javad Haj Ali Akbari in November.[vi] The Supreme Leader dispatched a high-ranking delegation headed by Ali Akbari to Sistan and Baluchistan Province on November 13 in a likely effort to escalate against prominent Sunni cleric Moulana Abdol Hamid, who has repeatedly voiced support for anti-regime demonstrations since Mahsa Amini’s death on September 16.[vii]
Some social media users alleged that regime actors killed Rigi, although there is no evidence to corroborate this claim.[viii] A state-run media outlet suggested that armed groups killed Rigi in an attempt to foment religious divisions within the province, citing a clip wherein Rigi alluded to threats he had received from unnamed terrorist groups.[ix] Pro-regime social media actors additionally accused Abdol Hamid’s followers of killing Rigi for supporting Khamenei.[x] The regime may seek to frame Abdol Hamid and his followers for Rigi’s death in an attempt to undermine Abdol Hamid’s popularity throughout Sistan and Baluchistan. Iranian leadership may also use Rigi’s death to justify violently suppressing protests throughout the province.
Iran Crisis Update, December 8
December 8, 2022 | 5:00 pm ET
The Iranian regime executed a protester on December 8 for the first time since the Mahsa Amini protests began. The Judiciary announced the execution of 23-year-old Mohsen Shekari after convicting him of “waging war against God.” Security forces arrested Shekari for blocking a road and attacking a security officer with a machete during protests in Tehran in September 2022.[i]
The regime is likely using the execution to deter protest participation and instill fear in demonstrators. The execution and the manner in which it was carried out could have the opposite effect, however. Social media reports indicate that neither Shekari nor his family were informed of his impending execution beforehand and that the regime disposed of his body, depriving his family of the opportunity to bury him and of the location of a grave at which to mourn him.[ii] Protest coordinators and organizations condemned the execution and promised to avenge Shekari.[iii] The regime likely sought to avoid giving protesters the opportunity to rally in advance of Shekari’s execution and to deprive them of a gravesite around which to rally future commemoration ceremonies that could in turn become demonstrations. The covert burial of Shekari, however, opens possibilities for protesters to choose to commemorate him at any location or several. The regime has sentenced 10 other arrested protesters to death at the time of this writing and thus could conduct additional executions in the coming weeks.[iv] Executions could reinvigorate the ongoing protests in the same way that funerals and commemoration ceremonies for killed protesters have.
- The Iranian regime executed a protester on December 8 for the first time since the Mahsa Amini protests began.
- At least nine protests took place in seven cities across six provinces.
- Two Iranian security personnel have died since December 7.
- Hossein Taeb discussed the alleged Western-Israeli hybrid war against Iran.
Iran Crisis Update, December 7
December 7, 2022 | 7:00 pm ET
Anti-regime strikes and demonstrations sustained momentum on December 7 as nation-wide calls to protest entered their third and final day. Social media users documented significant strike activity in commercial centers throughout Iran on December 7, in line with the calls from protest coordinators and organizations for countrywide strikes from December 5 – 7. Protest activity similarly continued into December 7, particularly among university students. CTP documented larger crowd sizes on December 7 than on December 5 and 6, although fewer overall protests occurred on December 7 than on December 5, a pattern corresponding to some protest organizations’ calls for more concentrated demonstrations on the last day.
Protest activity on December 7 largely adhered to instructions issued by various local protest organization groups, albeit on a smaller scale than called for. Social media users documented protest activity in the vicinity of Azadi Square on December 7, mirroring instructions provided by online protest groups. Protesters formed in smaller groups throughout Tehran before marching to Azadi square, similarly mirroring the organization group’s calls for localized groups separately meeting at a common location. Tehran and Esfahan protest participants did not engage in chants and were largely masked and wearing dark colors as called for by some organizers, demonstrating the capability of the protest organizations to generate coordinated acts of anti-regime defiance.
Some social media users are circulating renewed calls for silent, anti-regime demonstrations on December 10, although these calls have not yet been endorsed by prominent protest organization groups.
Regime officials and entities defended protracted internet restrictions as a means to quell unrest on December 7. President Ebrahim Raisi endorsed cyber censorship and restrictions in a Tehran University address aimed at commemorating Student’s Day on 7. Raisi asserted that businesses should be pressured into using domestic social media platforms and insinuated that internet restrictions would subside if protest activity ceases. Social media users claimed that security personnel vetted and approved speech attendees and documented large crowds of Tehran University students protesting Raisi’s speech. Raisi’s comments coincide with reports that the Iranian National Cyberspace Center issued an ultimatum to Meta platforms on December 7. The National Cyberspace Center is an entity subordinate to Iran’s Supreme Cyberspace Council, which is responsible for crafting policies that limit domestic access to online media outlets and social media platforms. The National Cyberspace Center accused Meta of violating Iranian sovereignty and stated that it must nominate a representative to Iran by December 17. The center’s warning may presage prolonged internet restrictions as the regime seeks to prevent further unrest and preempt greater coordination among protest organization groups.
- Protest activity on December 7 largely adhered to instructions issued by various local protest organization groups, demonstrating the capability of the protest organizations to generate coordinated acts of anti-regime defiance.
- Regime officials and entities defended ongoing internet restrictions as a means to quell unrest on December 7.
- At least 19 protests took place in 13 cities across nine provinces on December 7.
- An anti-regime outlet claimed that some Iranian officials are arranging for asylum in Venezuela in the event of regime change.
- The sister of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei issued a public letter on December 7 urging security personnel to defect in support of anti-regime protesters.
- Intelligence and Security Minister Esmail Khatib accused German officials of supporting anti-regime dissident groups in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Iran Crisis Update, December 6
December 6, 2022 | 5:00 pm ET
Countrywide strikes continued throughout Iran on December 6. The extent of the ongoing strikes demonstrates the continued momentum of the protest movement even though strikes do not appear as dramatic as crowded demonstrations in images and videos. The regime has threatened strikers but cannot easily force them to stop. Some businesses and shops that have not been able to close completely have instead refused customers service and transactions, according to some journalists.
Protest turnout decreased significantly, however, possibly due to divisions and poor planning in the protest movement. CTP recorded protests in around five cities on December 6, despite widely-circulated calls for demonstrations from protest coordinators and organizations. Social media users indicated that some protesters were confused about the planned protests and others disagreed with designated locations. The relative uptick in protests and strikes that began on December 6 will likely continue on December 7, but protest coordinators and organizations will need to overcome these shortcomings if they are to sustain this movement.
Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei met with the Supreme Cultural Revolution Council (SCCR) on December 6, possibly to discuss the morality patrol and mandatory hijab law. Khamenei called for cultural reconstruction during the meeting but did not explicitly mention the morality patrol or hijab requirement. The SCCR is a regime policy body that prepares resolutions on cultural, religious, and social affairs, which Parliament then approves or rejects. SCCR members include President Ebrahim Raisi, Parliament Speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, and Judiciary Chief Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei--all of whom attended the meeting with Khamenei. Khamenei may have issued a final decision on whether to continue the morality patrol during the meeting. Prosecutor General Mohammad Javad Montazeri previously stated on December 1 that Parliament and the SCCR would issue an opinion on the subject by December 16.
Western observers should avoid overstating a potential regime decision to end the morality patrol and misframing it as a meaningful concession. The regime would likely enforce the mandatory hijab law through various other means. Some regime officials have discussed using surveillance cameras with facial-recognition software to identify women not properly following the hijab requirement, as CTP previously reported. A parliamentarian suggested that the regime could block the bank accounts of repeat offenders. It is furthermore unclear whether a regime concession on the morality patrol would satisfy protesters given the wide range of their frustrations and grievances against the political establishment. The regime may, in fact, be attempting to put the issue of hijab back at the center of public discourse in the hopes of obfuscating or diverting the increasingly political and revolutionary tone of the protest movement.
- Countrywide strikes continued throughout Iran.
- Protest turnout decreased significantly, however, possibly due to divisions and poor planning in the protest movement.
- Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei met with Supreme Cultural Revolution Council, possibly to discuss the morality patrol and mandatory hijab law.
- At least 13 protests took place in five cities across five provinces.
- Judiciary spokesperson Massoud Setayeshi announced the issuance of death sentences to five arrested protesters.
Iran Crisis Update, December 5
December 5, 2022 | 5:00 pm ET
Protest activity and strikes in Iran increased significantly on December 5—in line with the calls from protest coordinators and organizations for countrywide demonstrations until December 7. These strikes are the most reported in a single day since CTP began publishing daily updates on September 28. This dramatic increase in public expressions of dissent will likely continue until at least December 7. The latest protest activity and strikes highlight once again the capability of the protest coordinators and organizations to generate countrywide demonstrations against the regime—even after a few days of reduced protests and strikes.
The regime responded to the increased protest activity and strikes by downplaying their extent and threatening them. Tasnim News Agency, which is affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), reported that only few strikes occurred on December 5. Judiciary Chief Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei ordered the relevant authorities to identify, arrest, and prosecute protesters organizing and promoting the countrywide strikes “quickly and decisively.” Ejei accused protesters of coercing and manipulating the owners of businesses and shops to strike.
Iranian media and officials published conflicting messages on December 5 on whether the regime will abolish the morality patrol. The spokesperson for the Enjoining Good and Forbidding Wrong Headquarters, Ali Khan Mohammadi, stated that the “mission [of the guidance patrol] has ended.” This headquarters is responsible for determining and enforcing certain religious and social standards in Iran. Reformist-affiliated newspaper Ham Mihan contrastingly reported that morality patrols have increased in Qom. The spokesperson for the Law Enforcement Command (LEC) Tehran Provincial unit refused to clarify the status of the morality patrol in a call with a journalist. This inconsistent reporting suggests that the regime may have either failed to coordinate its messaging properly or has not yet reached a consensus over whether to continue the morality patrol.
Prosecutor General Mohammad Javad Montazeri stated on December 1 that Parliament and the Supreme Cultural Revolution Council will announce an opinion on the mandatory hijab law by December 16—leaving the possibility that the regime will announce changes to the morality patrol by then.
The regime will likely maintain and continue enforcing its mandatory hijab law regardless of whether it abolishes the morality patrol, however. Regime officials have suggested using facial recognition technologies for such enforcement. Khan Mohammadi discussed using new enforcement methods, such as advanced technologies, likely referring to the face-recognizing surveillance cameras that the regime has installed in cities and towns throughout Iran. The secretary of the Enjoining Good and Forbidding Wrong Headquarters, Mohammad Saleh Hashemi Golpayegani, previously suggested using facial recognition software to enforce the mandatory hijab law in August 2022.
- Protest activity and strikes increased significantly—in line with the calls from protest coordinators and organizations for countrywide demonstrations until December 7.
- Iranian media and officials published conflicting messages on whether the regime will abolish the morality patrol.
- At least 29 protests took place in 18 cities across 16 provinces.
- Social media users reported significant countrywide strikes in 73 cities across 27 provinces, although this number is almost certainly higher.
- The Mashhad and Karaj neighborhood youth groups called on protesters to identify and mark businesses and shops not participating in the countrywide strikes.
- LEC Sistan and Baluchistan Provincial Commander Brigadier General Mohammad Ghanbari announced the death of an LEC officer who unidentified gunmen attacked and injured in Chabahar.
Iran Crisis Update, December 4
December 4, 2022 | 5:30 pm ET
Western media inaccurately reported that the Iranian regime abolished its morality patrol on December 4. The regime has not made such a concession. Western outlets misinterpreted remarks from Prosecutor General Mohammad Javad Montazeri on December 3. Montazeri noted in response to a journalist’s question that security forces have reduced morality patrols in recent months—a statement that some Western media has mistakenly framed as confirmation that the regime abolished the patrols. Iranian state media later clarified that Montazeri was only acknowledging the reduced morality patrols rather than announcing an end to the program. No other Iranian official has indicated that the regime has ended the patrol.
The regime could still offer limited concessions, such as relaxed veiling enforcement, to quell the ongoing protests. Montazeri stated on December 1 that Parliament and the Supreme Cultural Revolution Council will announce an opinion on the mandatory hijab law by December 16.
Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei would likely view any such reform as temporary pragmatism to ensure regime survival. Khamenei has continually argued that the regime has not yet sufficiently ideologized the population, framing social indoctrination as the true solution to many of Iran’s problems. Khamenei has popularized within regime discourse since 2019 the notion that the Islamic Republic has entered a new phase in which the government and society must reaffirm and strengthen their commitment to the state’s revolutionary and religious ideals. The idea that the regime under Khamenei will relax policies such as mandatory veiling is fundamentally incompatible with his vision for the future.
Thirty neighborhood youth groups announced the formation of an umbrella organization—the Neighborhood Youth Alliance—on December 4. The alliance stated that its objectives are ”to coordinate planning to advance the revolution to victory and also create the necessary infrastructure to manage the country’s affairs during the critical periods of the transition of power.” The alliance emphasized its support for a democratic government and universal human rights. The emergence of the Neighborhood Youth Alliance reflects the growing organization of parts of the protest movement and indicates the possible emergence of more centralized leadership.
Inclement weather may negatively affect turnout during the planned protests on December 5-7. Many cities and towns across Iran, including Tehran, are forecasted to receive cold weather and precipitation—rain and snow—throughout the day on December 5. Such conditions could reduce the length and size of the planned protests.
- Western media inaccurately reported that the regime abolished its morality patrol.
- Thirty neighborhood youth groups announced the formation of an umbrella organization—the Neighborhood Youth Alliance.
- Inclement weather may negatively affect turnout during the planned protests on December 5-7.
- At least nine protests took place in nine cities across seven provinces.
- Law Enforcement Command Sistan and Baluchistan Provincial Commander Brigadier General Mohammad Ghanbari announced that unidentified gunmen attacked and injured two LEC officers in Chabahar.
- Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Shamkhani met with several prominent hardline, moderate, and reformist politicians likely to discuss cooperation to quell the protests.
- Deputy Interior Minister for Security Affairs Majid Mir Ahmadi tried to emphasize the economic consequences of the protests, possibly to fracture the protest movement.
- The office of prominent Sunni cleric Moulana Abdol Hamid released a statement trying to dissociate his criticism of the regime from Baloch separatistism.
Iran Crisis Update, December 3
December 3 | 5:30 pm ET
Protest coordinators and organizations continued issuing guidance on December 3 in preparation for the planned countrywide protests and strikes on December 5-7. The Hamedan Neighborhood Youth posted instructions on how to make hand-thrown explosives, Molotov cocktails, and pepper spray.[i] The Karaj Neighborhood Youth and others published maps of planned protest locations.[ii] The Shiraz Neighborhood Youth advised citizens to prepare basic necessities and cash for themselves given the planned strikes.[iii]
Statements from the neighborhood youth groups portray a protest movement that is still trying to cohere and experimenting with different approaches. The Karaj group, among others, called for increasingly concentrated protests on each day from December 5 to 7.[iv] The Tehran group repeated on December 3 its calls for a different approach, in contrast. The Tehran group acknowledged ”differences of opinion” and insisted that citizens only strike on December 5 because security forces can more easily identify protesters and traverse city streets during strikes due to the reduced traffic.[v] The Tehran group called for protests on December 6 and 7. This iteration within the protest movement is a natural step as it tries to coalesce and organize.
Senior Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) officer Brigadier General Mohammad Taghi Osanlou reiterated demands that the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) disarm Kurdish militant groups in Iraqi Kurdistan and extradite some of them to Iran on December 3. Osanlou is the commander of the IRGC Ground Forces Hamzeh Seyyed ol Shohada Operational Headquarters, which controls IRGC units in Kurdistan and West Azerbaijan provinces.[vi] Osanlou is therefore one of the principal officers responsible for any IRGC attacks into Iraqi Kurdistan. His comments are also noteworthy because he rarely makes prominent statements, in contrast with other senior IRGC officers. The main units he controls include:
· The 3rd Hamzeh Seyyed ol Shohada Special Forces Division (Oroumiyeh, West Azerbaijan Province);
· The 22nd Beyt ol Moghaddas Operational Division (Sanandaj, Kurdistan Province); and
· The 2nd Abu Abdollah ol Hossein Brigade (Oroumiyeh, West Azerbaijan Province).
Osanlou stated that the Iran-Iraq border is presently stable but expressed dissatisfaction with the KRG’s failure to meet Iranian demands. Osanlou’s remarks diverge slightly from those of Foreign Affairs Minister Amir Abdollahian, who boasted that the Iraqi central government committed to disarming and removing Kurdish militants from the border region, on November 23.[vii] IRGC leadership may remain dissatisfied with the Iraqi central government’s efforts thus far to adhere to Iranian demands.
Iran Crisis Update, December 2
December 2 | 5:00 pm ET
The Mashhad Neighborhood Youth issued further instructions for the planned protests on December 5-7. The Mashhad group called for street protests on December 5, protests moving toward and occupying government buildings on December 6, and countrywide protests and marches in solidarity with university students on December 7. These instructions partially mirror those distributed by the Tehran Neighborhood Youth, which similarly differentiated planned protest activities by day, as CTP previously reported.
The Mashhad group provided additional guidance on how to degrade the regime’s capability to crack down on protests on December 2. The group called on protesters to target security forces on motorcycles, noting the importance of motorcycle units to the regime protest crackdown. Some of the most elite regime security units, such as the Basij Imam Ali battalions, use motorcycles to disperse and intimidate crowds and rapidly traverse busy city streets. The regime formed some of these units after the Green Movement in 2009, specifically to improve its effectiveness in suppressing protests in dense urban areas. The Mashhad group previously called on its ”operational teams” to destroy CCTV cameras to prevent the state security services from using them to identify protesters on December 1.
The behavior of the Mashhad Neighborhood Youth suggests that it may be more coordinated and organized than some other youth groups in the protest movement. The Mashhad group has repeatedly issued guidance and instructions to its operational teams since November 2022, as CTP previously reported, in addition to advising protesters. The Mashhad group was also the first and second signatory of the joint youth group statements issued on November 22 and 27, respectively, suggesting that the group may have played a role in organizing the statements among the youth groups.
Anti-regime outlet Iran International published an article on December 2 suggesting that the regime is struggling to sustain the necessary equipment and manpower to continue its protest crackdown. The article reported that the regime has sought advisors and the purchase of protest suppression equipment from Russia to support the crackdown. Senior US officials warned on October 26 that Russia may advise the regime protest crackdown. The Iran International article separately reported that an unidentified senior IRGC officer claimed that the IRGC tried to mobilize 1,000 retired personnel for the crackdown to mitigate manpower shortages, but that only 300 retirees were willing to help. Iran International previously reported on October 14 that the IRGC called on retirees to report to the Mohammad Rasoul Ollah headquarters—the IRGC unit responsible for security in Tehran Province. CTP cannot verify any of the reports from Iran International.
- The Mashhad Neighborhood Youth issued further instructions for the planned protests on December 5-7.
- The behavior of the Mashhad Neighborhood Youth suggests that it may be more coordinated and organized than some other youth groups in the protest movement.
- Anti-regime outlet Iran International published an article suggesting that the regime is struggling to shore up the necessary equipment and manpower to continue its protest crackdown.
- At least seven protests took place in seven cities across six provinces on December 2.
- Unidentified individuals attacked Deputy Industry, Mining, and Trade Minister for General Industries Mohammad Mehdi Baradaran on his way home.
- Prominent Sunni Cleric Moulana Abdol Hamid condemned the regime’s protest suppression response in his Friday prayer sermon in Zahedan, Sistan and Baluchistan Province.
- Prosecutor General Mohammad Javad Montazeri stated that Parliament and the Supreme Cultural Revolution Council will announce an opinion on the mandatory hijab law by December 17.
Iran Crisis Update, December 1
December 1 | 5:00 pm ET
Protesters in Zahedan, Sistan and Baluchistan Province rhetorically defended prominent Sunni cleric Moulana Abdol Hamid against the regime on December 1, underscoring the dilemma the regime faces in its protest crackdown. Protesters gathered and erected a large poster of Abdol Hamid in a city square. The poster read that Abdol Hamid is the protesters’ “red line,” implying that they will not tolerate the regime arresting him or suppressing his message. The protesters may be responding to the purported internal regime memo that the Black Reward hacker group released on November 30. The memo reported that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei tried to discredit and threatened to arrest Abdol Hamid for his role in inspiring protests, although CTP cannot verify these claims. Abdol Hamid’s message is seemingly resonating with a growing number of Iranians, especially in the Iranian Sunni community. Any regime action to silence him risks inflaming protests and anti-regime frustrations further. The regime may target individuals close to Abdol Hamid as a less escalatory step to silence him. The protestors today posed an additional dilemma for the regime, however, since failure to act against Abdol Hamid after the erection of the poster could make it appear that the regime was daunted by the protester threats and thus encourage similar defiance and threats elsewhere.
The Raisi administration may be conducting a purge of local officials across Iran to install more loyal cadres. Parliamentarian Jalal Mahmoud Zadeh accused President Ebrahim Raisi and Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi of conducting this purge in some towns such as Mahabad, West Azerbaijan Province on December 1. Raisi has historically used his authorities in different regime positions to purge political opponents. Mahmoud Zadeh represents Mahabad in Parliament and has previously criticized the security forces’ crackdown there. The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) deployed conventional ground units to violently suppress protesters in Mahabad on November 19, as CTP previously reported.
The Raisi administration may be trying to remove local officials who opposed the brutality of the regime crackdown. IRGC-affiliated Fars News Agency reported on October 19 that two percent of arrested protesters were government employees.
- Protesters in Zahedan, Sistan and Baluchistan Province rhetorically defended prominent Sunni cleric Moulana Abdol Hamid against the regime.
- The Raisi administration may be conducting a purge of local officials across Iran to install more loyal cadres.
- At least five protests took place in four cities across four provinces.
- Neighborhood youth groups disseminated instructions on how to prevent state security services from collecting intelligence on protesters in preparation for the planned protests on December 5-7.