November 30, 2022

Iran Crisis Updates, November 2022

This page collects the Iran Crisis Updates are produced by the Critical Threats Project (CTP) at the American Enterprise Institute with support from the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) for November 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, November 30

November 30, 2022 | 5:30 pm ET

Protest activity may increase on December 5-7. An increasingly wide range of protest coordinators and organizations have called for countrywide demonstrations on these days. These organizers include neighborhood youth groups and Shirin—a Persian-language social media account that previously tweeted a political manifesto calling for the establishment of a democratic, secular Iranian republic.[i] Protest activity did not surge during the last planned demonstrations on November 24-26, however, possibly due to poor coordination.[ii]

The recent calls for protests may highlight the increasing organization and sophistication of the protest movement as well as some fractures. Thirty neighborhood youth groups published a joint statement on November 27 announcing the planned protests on December 5-7.[iii] More neighborhood youth groups signed this joint statement than the last one on November 22, which had 29 signatories.[iv] A neighborhood youth group from Tehran notably signed the November 22 statement but not the November 27 one—the only group missing from the original 29 signatories. The Karaj neighborhood youth group refused to explain when a social media user asked why the Tehran group did not sign the second statement.[v]

The nature of the planned protests furthermore suggests that at least some protest organizers are adapting to more effectively counter regime repression. The Tehran Neighborhood Youth released on November 30 its own call for demonstrations on December 5-7 and offered more specific instructions.[vi]The group advised against simultaneous protests and strikes because the reduction in regular traffic caused by strikes allows security forces to more easily crack down. The group accordingly called for countrywide strikes on December 5, scattered protests on December 6, and concentrated protests around universities on December 7.

Anti-regime outlet Iran International published on November 30 a purportedly internal regime memo discussing the protests.[vii] Iran International claimed that it received the document from Black Reward—the anti-regime group that hacked Fars News Agency and claimed to have recovered internal data, documents, and files on November 25.[viii] CTP cannot verify this document and is treating it with great skepticism. We offer no assessment of its authenticity apart from noting that the style and word choice of portions of the document seem unusual for native Persian speakers. We are nevertheless reporting some of the key points of the document to make them accessible in English.[ix] The document claims the following:

  • Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei believes that protests will continue for the foreseeable future. Khamenei called on the state security apparatus to more effectively fight in the “media war” against the West.
  • Khamenei criticized President Ebrahim Raisi, Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Shamkhani, and Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Commander Major General Hossein Salami over their handling of the protests. Parliament Speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf similarly criticized Raisi’s indecisiveness.
  • Khamenei ordered the regime to discredit prominent Sunni cleric Moulana Abdol Hamid for his role in inspiring protests. Khamenei ordered Law Enforcement Commander Brigadier General Hossein Ashtari to threaten to arrest Abdol Hamid after he refused to stop publicly criticizing the regime.
  • The Interior Ministry found that most Iranians do not believe the protests will soon end nor do they trust state media. The ministry also concluded many protesters are no longer afraid of the security forces.

Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammad Shia al Sudani met with US-sanctioned Astan Quds Razavi (AQR) Custodian Ahmad Marvi in Mashhad, Khorasan Razavi Province on November 30, possibly to discuss commercial or financial cooperation.[x] AQR is a parastatal economic conglomerate that is responsible for the Imam Reza shrine in Mashhad and controls a vast network of commercial interests active in agriculture, energy, financial services, information technology, and manufacturing.[xi] AQR is a “vital economic artery” for regime officials and has ties to the IRGC.[xii] Marvi is a close associate of Supreme Leader Khamenei and has headed AQR since March 2019.[xiii] The US has sanctioned both AQR and Marvi for their ties to Khamenei.[xiv] Iranian state media has not explicitly reported on the Sudani-Marvi meeting at the time of this writing but has published photos depicting the two together.[xv]

Key Takeaways

  • Protest activity may increase on December 5-7.
  • The recent calls for protests may highlight the increasing organization and sophistication of the protest movement as well as some fractures.
  • Anti-regime outlet Iran International published a purportedly internal regime memo discussing the protests.
  • Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammad Shia al Sudani met with US-sanctioned Astan Quds Razavi (AQR) Custodian Ahmad Marvi in Mashhad, Khorasan Razavi Province, possibly to discuss commercial or financial cooperation.
  • At least nine protests took place in seven cities across six provinces.
  • An Intelligence and Security Ministry member died due to an unspecified cause in Zabol, Sistan and Baluchistan Province.
Iran Crisis Update, November 29

November 29, 2022 | 5:30 pm ET

Some Iranian protesters celebrated the US victory over Iran in the World Cup on November 29. Iranians in Alborz, Kermanshah, Kurdistan, and Tehran provinces, among other locations, cheered and gathered during and after the match in opposition to the Iranian national team.[i] Some reportedly launched fireworks in Saghez, Kurdistan Province after the American team scored a goal.[ii] CTP cannot assess how widespread this sentiment may be among Iranian protesters, but the reported celebrations indicate how politicized the Iranian national soccer team has become among at least some protesters. Iranian citizens cheering a US victory over Iran underscores the depth of popular frustration against the regime.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and its proxies in Iraq threatened on November 29 to incite conflict and unrest in Saudi Arabia—especially among the Shia population—likely in retaliation for the alleged Saudi role in stoking protests in Iran. An IRGC-affiliated Telegram channel accused the Saudi government of planning to suppress Shia culture and identity on Tarout Island—an island off the Saudi coast in the Persian Gulf.[iii] The Telegram channel reported that Tarout Island is predominantly Shia. Iranian proxy Kataib Hezbollah furthermore called for regional countries ”victimized” by Saudi Arabia “to transfer conflict from their countries to the streets of Riyadh.”[iv]

Key Takeaways

  • Some Iranian protesters celebrated the US victory over Iran in the World Cup.
  • The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and its proxies in Iraq threatened to incite conflict and unrest in Saudi Arabia—especially among the Shia population—likely in retaliation the alleged Saudi role in stoking protests in Iran.
  • At least nine protests took place in eight cities across seven provinces.
  • Prominent Sunni cleric Moulana Abdol Hamid continues to inspire public displays of dissent in the Iranian Sunni population.
  • A Basij member died due to an unspecified cause around Saravan, Sistan and Baluchistan Province.
  • Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammad Shia al Sudani paid an official visit to Tehran likely to discuss Iranian drone and missile strikes into Iraqi Kurdistan and related security issues with senior Iranian officials.
Iran Crisis Update, November 28

Social media users circulated calls for protests following the US-Iran world cup match on November 29 although it is unclear to what extent these demonstrations will materialize. Some protest organization groups and other prominent social media users circulated calls for protests on November 29, possibly in an attempt to coopt or challenge pro-regime celebrations on city streets. Some social media users disagreed with the November 29 call to protests and highlighted pre-organized protests scheduled for December 5-7. Another anti-regime social media user circulated ways to support the protest movement until demonstrations resume on December 5, further suggesting that protesters remain focused on unrest planned for December 5-7. The Neighborhood Youth of Karaj protest organization similarly alluded to requiring more time to reinforce its organizational capabilities and supplies before protests resume on December 5, as CTP previously reported. Recent social media activity from groups purporting to be protest organizations suggest diverging approaches to coordinating unrest, one of which calls for large crowds and emphasizes continuous protest activity, the other of which seemingly requires more time and preparation. This rhetorical schism could indicate that protest organization groups remain primarily local and lack a coherent, nation-wide structure.

Anti-regime Black Reward hacker group claimed to have leaked a conversation between Basij Deputy Commander Ghassem Ghoureishi and state-affiliated media actors referencing intra-regime fissures over ongoing protests. Black Reward claimed a cyberattack on IRGC-affiliated Fars News Agency’s website on November 25, which Fars later confirmed. The recorded discussion between Ghoureishi and his subordinates purportedly originated from Fars’ digital archives. The two-and-a-half-hour-long audio file confirmed extensive protest activity and other acts of defiance on November 15, including significant strikes in 22 of Iran’s 31 provinces and almost complete store closures in Tehran city. Ghouresishi additionally stated that Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Shamkhani, President Ebrahim Raisi, and Judiciary Chief Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei separately met with reformists at unspecified dates, possibly corroborating prior reporting that senior Iranian officials had met with prominent reformists to discuss strategies to quell ongoing unrest. The audio file also referenced directives allegedly given by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to violently crack down on dissent. One of the speakers noted that Khamenei complained that members of the Expediency Discernment Council—a council that mediates between regime entities and advises the supreme leader—had failed to condemn demonstrations and separately warned LEC Commander Hossein Ashtari against failing to sufficiently suppress protests. The conversation similarly included referenced waning morale among security personnel.

Black Reward has previously described itself as a group of anti-regime Iranian hackers who support the Mahsa Amini protest movement, although no entity has been able to confirm the group’s identity nor the veracity of their information. The group previously claimed to have hacked sensitive information relating to the Iranian nuclear program on October 21. CTP cannot authenticate Black Reward’s leaked audio file. The conversation does allude to intra-regime fractures congruent with CTP’s prior reporting and assessments, however, and is completely plausible if not verifiable. CTP does not regard this audio file as independent confirmation of previous assessments, however, as it has not been authenticated by any reputable actor.

The Iranian regime is coordinating with Qatari officials to suppress public acts of defiance among Iranians in Doha, including members of the Iranian national football team. An anonymous FIFA security official told CNN that IRGC members chastised Iranian players for failing to sing the national anthem in the November 21 match against England, suggesting that Qatar either assisted with or permitted IRGC extraterritorial operations in Doha. The source added that Iranian officials had threatened to torture the family members of Iran team players who demonstrated sympathy with anti-regime protesters and forbade them from interacting with foreigners. The New York Times similarly reported on November 21 that Qatari officials banned Iranian fans from attending matches if they possessed pre-1979 Iranian flags, further corroborating reports of Qatari-Iranian cooperation to suppress anti-regime activity in Doha. Anti-regime outlet Iran International additionally published a November 27 report claiming that Iranian and Qatari officials secretly coordinated to control which Iranians attend the World Cup matches. The November 27 report included the leaked Black Reward audio file allegedly featuring Ghoureishi, wherein an official claimed that Basij officials had identified over 500 "counterrevolutionaries” attending the tournament. Ghoureishi claimed that Qatari officials promised to prevent Iranian attendees from displaying pre-1979 flags and engaging in other acts of dissent.

Key Takeaways

  • Social media users circulated calls for protests following the US-Iran world cup match on November 29, although it is unclear to what extent these demonstrations will materialize.
  • The anti-regime Black Reward hacker group claimed to have leaked a conversation between Basij Deputy Commander Ghassem Ghoureishi and state-affiliated media actors referencing intra-regime fissures over ongoing protests.
  • The Iranian regime is coordinating with Qatari officials to suppress public acts of defiance among Iranians in Doha, including members of the Iranian national football team.
  • At least 10 protests took place in six cities across six provinces on November 28.
  • Social media users documented trucker strikes throughout Iran for the third consecutive day.
  • IRGC Aerospace Force Commander Amir Ali Haji Zadeh announced that over 300 protesters and security personnel have died since anti-regime protests began on September 16, although this number is almost certainly higher.
  • The Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) has stationed security forces at the Iran-Iraq border, decreasing the likelihood of an IRGC ground incursion into Iraqi Kurdistan.
Iran Crisis Update, November 27

Iranian protest organization groups may be reinforcing their organizational capabilities as protest activity entered a relative lull over the past several days. The Neighborhood Youth of Karaj issued a statement on November 26 suggesting that nation-wide calls for protests on November 24-26, which failed to significantly increase protest turnout, were poorly coordinated. The group stated that it had endorsed calls for protests on these dates but was not responsible for organizing them. Its statement suggested, in fact, that at least one such call that was attributed to it was a fake. 

Calls for protests on November 24-26 suggested that protesters congregate in large crowds on pre-designated streets.[i] The advance notice would have likely provided security personnel with ample time to prepare, thereby increasing the risk to protest participants as CTP previously observed.[ii] Calls for large crowds concentrated in a single location would have additionally decreased the effectiveness of the protests, as the scattered nature of anti-regime demonstrations has strained security forces’ limited bandwidth over the past several weeks. The Neighborhood Youth of Karaj‘s hints that unknown actors published a call for more dangerous and less effective protests in its name raise the possibility that pro-regime actors might be attempting to shape protest efforts in ways that would facilitate regime crackdowns, although the group makes no such accusation. It is also possible that some other group or individual sympathetic to the protest movement issued the ”fake” call unwisely but without ill intent.

The Neighborhood Youth of Karaj added that its organization consisted of field leaders and researchers who carefully selected protest dates and locations, suggesting that some anti-regime protest groups have established organizational structures.[iii] The group’s statement endorsed calls for protests on December 5-7, possibly providing the group with enough time to regenerate necessary organizational capabilities and/or supplies. Another anti-regime social media user that frequently circulates calls for protests urged protesters to practice patience, start recruiting members, and collect ammunition in preparation for the next protest wave.[iv]

Key Takeaways

  • Iranian protest organization groups may be reinforcing their organizational capabilities as protest activity entered a relative lull over the past several days.
  • At least six protests took place in four cities across four provinces on November 27.
  • IRGC Commander Hossein Salami warned Israel, Saudi Arabia, the US and the UK against supporting anti-regime protests in a speech to Basij members in Sistan and Baluchistan Province.
  • Regime and IRGC media channels published a video threatening to attack Azerbaijan using rhetoric common during the Iran-Iraq War.
  • Cultural and parliamentary entities have proposed legal measures to expedite the suppression of protesters and reward elite members of the regime.
  • Iraqi Prime Minister Muhammad Shia Al Sudani will travel to Tehran on November 29 ostensibly to mediate tensions between Iran and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).
Iran Crisis Update, November 26

Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei publicly rejected the possibility of compromise or reform to placate the ongoing protests on November 26. Khamenei reiterated his hard line on the protests and his accusation that foreign actors incited the unrest. He ended his speech with a Quranic verse that social media users interpreted as further affirmation that he will not make concessions.[i] Khamenei made these remarks in a meeting with Basij members and lauded their role in protest suppression.

Khamenei may have meant to use his speech to signal to other senior regime officials his disapproval of cooperating with reformists to quell the protests. Some regime power centers have signaled their willingness to cooperate with reformists and possibly implement limited reform in recent weeks. President Ebrahim Raisi and Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Shamkhani discussed implementing unspecified “liberalizing measures” with reformist leaders, including members of the Khomeini and Rafsanjani families, in exchange for help quelling protests in late October and possibly early November, according to the Wall Street Journal.[ii] Other senior regime officials, including Mojtaba Khamenei, Judiciary Chief Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei, and Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi have met with reformist politicians in recent days as well.[iii] If true, it is noteworthy that Parliament Speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf has seemingly not yet agreed to meet with reformists given that many of his counterparts across the Islamic Republic have. A prominent journal published by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) furthermore responded positively on November 21 to former reformist President Mohammad Khatami’s calls for dialogue to address protester grievances.[iv]

Khamenei has conversely rejected reformist outreach. Mohammad Ali Abtahi—who is a close political associate of Khatami—stated on November 26 that Khatami wrote a letter to Khamenei about the protests.[v] Abtahi added that “there is no sign that [Khamenei] has considered” the letter. Khamenei’s apparent rejection of Khatami may indicate a divide between the supreme leader and some of his subordinates over how to engage the reformists. One should not overstate any such potential disagreement, however. It is highly unlikely that any senior regime officials considering cooperation with reformists would disobey or ignore Khamenei’s orders.

Many regime officials support Khamenei’s uncompromising stance toward the protests, on the other hand. IRGC Deputy Commander Brigadier General Ali Fadavi expressed implicit support for the regime using more brutality in the protest crackdown on November 21.[vi] Some hardline media outlets have similarly called for security forces to use less restraint against protesters.[vii] This rhetoric indicates that at least some regime circles prefer more repression rather than limited reform.

Key Takeaways

  • Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei publicly rejected the possibility of compromise or reform to placate the ongoing protests. Khamenei may have meant to use his speech to signal to other senior regime officials his disapproval of cooperating with reformists to quell the protests.
  • President Ebrahim Raisi visited members of the Basij special forces on November 25, confirming their involvement in the protest crackdown.
  • Protest coordinators and organizations have called for protests throughout Iran from December 5 to 7.
  • Protests centered primarily around universities, highlighting once again the different demographics that comprise the protest movement
  • At least 15 protests took place in four cities across four provinces.
  • Dozens of local leaders from Baneh, Kurdistan Province issued a video statement condemning the regime crackdown and expressing support for the protesters.
  • Iranian-backed militants fired two rockets at US patrol base in Hasaka Province, Syria.
Iran Crisis Update, November 25

Protests continued but did not surge across Iran on November 24 and 25 despite calls for protests. Protest coordinators and organizations called for countrywide demonstrations from November 24-26 in solidarity with the protesters in Kurdistan Province.[i] Some protest organizations requested that protesters congregate on the main streets in each city, possibly to demonstrate large crowd sizes. It is unclear why these calls did not materialize. Security forces may have successfully preempted the planned protests, concentrating security personnel along the main streets and thereby deterring protesters, though CTP cannot corroborate this hypothesis at this time. CTP previously argued that the nature of the planned protests increased the risk to protesters because the advance notice gave the regime time to prepare and a single set of locations at which to concentrate security personnel.[ii] The scattered nature of the protests throughout most of this wave has strained security forces’ limited bandwidth.

The regime’s protest crackdown and abuse of arrested demonstrators will alienate large swaths of the population and entrench anti-regime sentiment throughout Iran for decades. US-based NGO Human Rights Activists in Iran (HRAI) estimated on November 25 that the regime has arrested over 18,000 protesters thus far.[iii] HRAI estimated that 110 of these arrested protesters are children and teenagers. These numbers, if true, are significantly greater than those from previous major protest waves in Iran. The regime arrested around 4,000 protesters during the 2009 Green Movement and around 8,000 during the 2019 Bloody Aban protests.[iv] CNN published a report on November 21 detailing the horrific acts of sexual assault and violence the regime is committing against arrested protesters.[v] A young Iranian protester told NPR on November 23 that she would prefer that the regime killed her rather than arresting her.[vi] These horrible abuses will continually fuel anger and resentment toward this regime, underscoring the long-term challenge the Islamic Republic is creating for itself by the brutality it is using to oppress these protesters.

Key Takeaways

  • Protests continued but did not surge across Iran despite calls for protests.
  • The regime’s protest crackdown and abuse of arrested demonstrators will alienate large swaths of the population and entrench anti-regime sentiment throughout Iran for a long time.
  • Citizens in Mazandaran Province sent medical supplies to protesters in Kurdistan Province, according to Radio Farda.
  • Prominent Sunni cleric Moulana Abdol Hamid continued to inspire protests throughout Sistan and Baluchistan Province.
  • Hacker group Black Reward defaced the website of IRGC-affiliated Fars News Agency.
  • The IRGC Ground Forces has deployed armored and special forces units to unspecified locations in northwestern and western Iran, likely to crack down on protesters and deter further demonstrations.
  • US-based NGO Human Rights Activists in Iran (HRAI) estimated that the regime has arrested over 18,000 protesters thus far.
Iran Crisis Update, November 23

Protest activity and strikes will likely increase in the coming days. Protest coordinators and organizations have called for countrywide demonstrations from November 24-26 in solidarity with the protesters in Kurdistan Province. The regime has deployed the IRGC Ground Forces to cities and towns throughout Kurdistan Province to brutally crack down on protesters, as CTP previously reported. Twenty-nine neighborhood youth groups issued a joint statement on November 23 calling for the upcoming protests, demonstrating a degree of overt coordination that CTP has not previously observed.

The nature of the planned protests increases the risk to protesters. Protest coordinators and organizations have called for protesters to congregate on the major city streets in each city. Some social media accounts have published routes protesters should use in Tehran. The advance notice that protesters will gather on these main streets gives security forces time to prepare and a single known location at which to concentrate security personnel. The scattered nature of the protests up until this point has strained security forces’ limited bandwidth. Intelligence and Security Minister Esmail Khatib alluded to this vulnerability on November 9, as CTP previously reported.

Supreme leader succession is heavily coloring how the Iranian political and security establishment responds to the protests. Mojtaba Khamenei—the son of Ali Khamenei and a potential successor—has reportedly held several private meetings in recent days possibly in part to reassert his influence within the regime. Mojtaba reportedly met with his political ally Hossein Taeb to discuss Taeb’s return to the security apparatus after Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei dismissed him as IRGC Intelligence Organization chief in June 2022. Taeb’s removal may have degraded Mojtaba’s reach into the security sphere. Mojtaba also reportedly met with Fatemeh Hashemi Rafsanjani—the daughter of former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. Mojtaba complained about his political marginalization in the meeting, according to some Iranian outlets, although it is far from clear whether these reports are accurate. These reports coincide with social media rumors claiming that Khamenei has rejected Mojtaba as a potential successor. CTP cannot confirm any of these reports. These rumors and possible leaks underscore, however, the extent to which discussion about supreme leader succession and the associated political maneuvering likely remains prevalent in some regime circles. The struggle to determine who will replace Ali Khamenei may be fueling the intra-regime disagreements over protest suppression as well.

Mojtaba’s meeting with Fatemeh Hashemi Rafsanjani is particularly noteworthy given the reports that Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Shamkhani met with members of the Rafsanjani family to discuss cooperating to quell protests. It is unclear whether Mojtaba’s possible meeting was related to this matter.

Khamenei’s rumored rejection of Mojtaba as a successor, if true, does not necessarily eliminate Mojtaba’s chances at supreme leadership. The Assembly of Experts is the regime body constitutionally responsible for selecting the next supreme leader and will at least formally approve Khamenei’s successor. Khamenei has likely communicated his preferences privately to his inner circle, but he cannot appoint his successor directly. He can instead try to shape the Assembly of Experts’ vote that will occur after his death and the preferences of other regime power centers while he is still alive.

Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian stated on November 23 that the Iraqi central government committed to disarming and removing Kurdish militants from the Iran-Iraq border region. Amir Abdollahian’s comments follow discussions between the Iraqi central government and the Kurdistan Regional Government on border security on November 22. Iranian political and security leaders have repeatedly demanded that Iraqi authorities disarm and remove Kurdish militants in Iraqi Kurdistan in recent weeks due to the militants’ perceived role in stoking protests. It remains unclear whether the Iraqi central government will satisfy Iranian demands. Amir Abdollahian’s comments may provide the regime—and the Raisi administration more specifically—an offramp after Iranian Ambassador to Iraq Mohammad Kazem Al-e Sadegh issued an ultimatum with a deadline in 10 days for Iraq to address the Kurdish militant issue on November 21. Iraqi officials have not commented on Abdollahian’s statement as of this publication.

Key Takeaways

  • Protest activity and strikes will likely increase in the coming days.
  • The nature of the planned protests increases the risk to protesters.
  • Supreme leader succession is heavily coloring how the Iranian political and security establishment responds to the protests.
  • Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian stated that the Iraqi central government committed to disarming and removing Kurdish militants from the Iran-Iraq border region.
  • At least 16 protests took place in 11 cities across 11 provinces.
  • Unidentified individuals attacked and killed a Basij member in Marivan, Kurdistan Province.
Iran Crisis Update, November 22

Regime officials close to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei have expressed openness to political reform to placate protesters, although it is unlikely that any such reform would fundamentally change the regime’s behavior or nature. Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) Secretary Ali Shamkhani discussed implementing unspecified “liberalizing measures” with reformist leaders, including members of the Khomeini and Rafsanjani families, in exchange for help quelling protests in late October, according to the Wall Street Journal.[i] Ali Reza Panahian—a cleric close to Khamenei and his son, Mojtaba—called for greater transparency and popular participation in government on November 22 as well.[ii] It is unclear to what exactly Shamkhani and Panahian were referring, but these reports suggest that at least some in Iran’s political establishment are considering some semblance of reform to address the ongoing protests. Any such change would likely be limited and would not curtail the activities of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), which reports directly to the supreme leader.

Public remarks from Hassan Khomeini—the reformist grandson of Ruhollah Khomeini—on November 7 may have been a byproduct of Shamkhani’s appeal to the reformist leaders. Khomeini called for a “majority-based democracy” and indirectly criticized the Guardian Council—the state body constitutionally responsible for approving and vetting electoral candidates—in his remarks.[iii] Khomeini also denounced violence and condemned the role of foreign actors in stoking protests. The Islamic Republic News Agency—a Raisi administration mouthpiece—circulated Khomeini’s remarks, as CTP previously reported.[iv]

Protest activity decreased across Iran on November 22 as the Persian calendar month Aban ended. Protest coordinators and organizations had previously called on protesters to demonstrate throughout Aban, which ended on November 21, to commemorate the three-year anniversary of the regime’s crackdown on the Bloody Aban protest wave in November 2019.[v] The reduced turnout on November 22 is therefore unsurprising and does not indicate that this protest wave is yet close to over. Some social media users have begun calling for protests on November 24.[vi]

The Iraqi central government may be coordinating with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to partially address Iranian complaints about Kurdish militants in Iraqi Kurdistan. Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammad Shia al Sudani announced that the Iraqi central government is considering deploying forces to border regions in response to Iranian drone and missile attacks into Iraqi Kurdistan on November 22.[vii] Iraqi central government and KRG officials discussed the recent Iranian and Turkish strikes into Iraqi territory and border security on November 22.[viii] Iranian political and security leaders have repeatedly demanded that Iraqi authorities disarm Kurdish militants in Iraqi Kurdistan in recent weeks.[ix]

Key Takeaways

  • Regime officials close to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei have expressed openness to political reform to placate protesters, although it is unlikely that any such reform would fundamentally change the regime’s behavior or nature.
  • The Iraqi central government may be coordinating with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to partially address Iranian complaints about Kurdish militants in Iraqi Kurdistan.
  • Protest activity decreased across Iran as the Persian calendar month Aban ended, but at least 14 protests took place in 10 cities across eight provinces.
  • IRGC Deputy Commander Brigadier General Ali Fadavi expressed implicit support for the regime using more brutality in its protest crackdown on November 21.
  • The IRGC Ground Forces conducted a drone and missile attack on anti-regime Kurdish militants in Iraqi Kurdistan for the second consecutive day on November 22.
Iran Crisis Update, November 21

November 21, 2022 | 5:00 pm ET

The Iranian regime has adopted what increasingly resembles a counter-insurgency approach rather than a counter-protest one to manage the ongoing unrest. Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC)-affiliated Tasnim News Agency reported that IRGC Ground Forces are clearing some cities in West Azerbaijan Province, including Boukan, Mahabad, Oshnaviyeh, Piranshahr, and other unnamed locations, of anti-regime elements on November 21.[1] These IRGC military units are likely using extreme force and indiscriminately killing civilians to quell protests. Security forces are conducting a brutal crackdown in Javanroud, Kermanshah Province as well. Security forces have isolated Javanroud, blocking major roads into the city, and shot live ammunition and nerve gas at protesters.[2] The closure of these major roads will impede most travel into and out of Javanroud given the rugged terrain surrounding the city. The IRGC Ground Forces 4th Ansar ol Rasoul Operational Brigade is headquartered in Javanroud and could support the regime crackdown there and in nearby locations.[3] This increasing regime brutality accords with CTP’s previous assessment that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has likely greenlit the security forces to intensify their crackdown.[4]

Key Takeaways

  • The Iranian regime has adopted what increasingly resembles a counter-insurgency approach rather than a counter-protest one to manage the ongoing unrest.
  • The regime has expanded its internet and telecommunications disruptions, limiting the amount of open-source information available on the situations in northwestern and western Iran.
  • Parliamentarian Jalal Mahmoud Zadeh called for an investigation into the regime crackdown in Mahabad on November 21—the latest dissent by a lawmaker representing a location in which the regime has conducted a brutal crackdown.
  • Iranian ambassador to Iraq Mohammad Kazem Al-e Sadegh issued an ultimatum with a deadline in 10 days for Iraq to disarm Kurdish militant groups or face unspecified consequences.
  • At least 16 protests took place in 12 cities across eight provinces.
  • LEC Fars Provincial Commander Brigadier General Roham Bakhsh Habibi announced the arrest of eight members of the Shiraz Neighborhood Youth.
  • Several dozen Sunni clerics and religious leaders in Kurdistan Province issued a video statement expressing support for the protesters.
  • Supreme Leader Military Adviser IRGC Major General Yahya Rahim Safavi warned that protests will continue unless the regime addresses the people’s frustrations.
Iran Crisis Update, November 20

November 20, 2022 |  5:30 pm ET

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei likely issued an unpublished directive to violently suppress anti-regime protests within the past few days. The Supreme Leader discussed protests in a speech in Esfahan City, Esfahan Province on November 19. Khamenei’s speech did not contain significant rhetorical inflections or escalations in the way he discussed quelling unrest compared to prior speeches made in the past several weeks. Several senior regime officials called for a decisive crackdown on demonstrations on November 20, however, as regime violence against protesters in northwestern Iran escalated, suggesting that Khamenei likely greenlit the increased use of force against protesters. Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi stressed that responsible entities should take urgent and decisive action against “rioters” and blamed Western actors for unrest, mirroring Khamenei’s November 19 rhetoric, on November 20. IRGC Ground Forces Saheb ol Zaman Provincial Unit Commander in Esfahan Province Mojtaba Fada similarly promised a firm response to unrest “at the slightest hint from the [supreme] leader,” likely referencing Khamenei’s November 19 speech. The unit published a statement announcing the arrest of a ”terrorist team” that had killed security personnel in Esfahan Province and possessed firearms and hand-made bombs on the same day. Artesh Executive Deputy Mohammad Mahmoudi additionally stated that the Artesh was at the peak of its operational readiness and was prepared to carry out all its assigned missions on November 20. IRGC Aerospace Force Commander Ali Haji Zadeh also discussed the importance of following the Supreme Leader’s directives in a meeting on November 20.

The inflection in regime rhetoric coincides with significant escalations against protesters, particularly throughout northwestern provinces, within the past 24 hours. Reports shared on social media suggested that security personnel shot indiscriminately at protesters in Mahabad, West Azerbaijan Province on November 19. Iranian authorities deployed elements of the IRGC Ground Forces from the Hamzeh Seyyed ol Shahada Northwestern Operational Base in Ourmia, West Azerbaijan Province to suppress protests in Mahabad on November 19, as CTP has previously reported. Anti-regime outlet Iran International reported that local authorities told Mahabad residents that the local governor would deliver a speech but instead opened fire at the assembled crowd on November 20. Footage shows regime personnel in technicals apparently shooting heavy machine guns, and heavy machine gun fire is audible in several videos. Social media users have documented the increased use of force against protesters in other areas as well. Security personnel were documented shooting at protesters in several cities including Piranshahr and Takab in West Azerbaijan Province, Javanroud in Kermansah Province, and Marivan in Kurdistan Province on November 20. Social media users additionally recorded footage of helicopters circling Mahabad and Boukan, West Azerbaijan Province. Protesters continued to engage in anti-regime demonstrations despite this increased regime violence on November 20.

The increase in regime violence against protesters and the deployment of combat units of the IRGC Ground Forces could be related to rumors that Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Shamkhani has been fired or has resigned. The rumors remain unconfirmed and, although Shamkhani has not appeared or made any statements since they surfaced his silence is not particularly unusual. Pressure on or removal of Shamkhani could reflect a change in the balance of power within the regime inner circle, however, of the sort that could have led to a change in the supreme leader’s guidance about responding to the protests. It is equally possible, however, that regime officials presented the supreme leader with reports on the situation and its trajectory that persuaded him to order the escalation in anti-protester violence without any changes in personnel.

The IRGC Ground Forces Hamzeh Seyyed ol Shahada Northwestern operational base announced that it is reinforcing its forces on November 20, suggesting that crackdowns will likely endure and may extend to other cities throughout the region. Social media footage additionally shows what appears to be at least 26 IRGC Ground Forces and Iranian Law Enforcement Command vehicles in Mahabad on November 20. The Hamzeh Seyyed ol Shahada base statement warned of decisive action against purported US-affiliated “anti-Iranian” terrorist groups throughout the area, possibly setting conditions to deploy troops to other cities within Kurdistan and West Azerbaijan Provinces in the coming days.

Key Takeaways

  • Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has likely issued an unpublished directive to violently suppress anti-regime protests within the past few days.
  • The IRGC Ground Forces Hamzeh Seyyed ol Shahada Northwestern operational base announced that it is reinforcing its forces on November 20, suggesting that crackdowns will likely endure and may extend to other cities throughout the region.
  • The IRGC attacked a series of anti-regime Kurdish militia positions in Iraqi Kurdistan.
  • Protests occurred in at least 18 cities in eight provinces. At least six protests with 100 or more estimated participants took place in six cities across four provinces on November 20.
  • Tehran Judiciary officials sentenced a sixth arrested protester to death on November 20.

Iran Crisis Update, November 19

November 19, 2022 |  6:30 pm ET

Unverified reporting and social media footage suggests that the regime deployed the IRGC Ground Forces to violently suppress protests in Mahabad, West Azerbaijan Province on November 19. An Iranian Kurdish human rights organization reported that Iranian officials had deployed a significant number of armed troops from the IRGC Ground Forces Hamzeh Third Special Forces Division in Ourmia, West Azerbaijan Province amidst reports of widespread unrest.[i] Footage circulating on social media shows numerous armored vehicles within and in the vicinity of Mahabad on November 19.[ii] Other footage has audible sounds of artillery being fired.[iii] Iranian social media users are reporting heavy gunfire, the indiscriminate use of violence--including shooting into residents’ homes--and electricity cuts throughout the city.[iv]

This is seemingly the first time that the regime has deployed the IRGC Ground Forces as combat units to suppress unrest since protests commenced on September 16, marking a significant escalation in the regime’s protest response. IRGC Ground Forces personnel have been reportedly killed in previous incidents suggesting that elements of the IRGC Ground Forces have been involved in protest suppression, but this is likely the first time an IRGC Ground Forces unit has deployed with combat kit.[v] This deployment signals the extent to which the regime views ongoing protests as a threat.

The commitment of IRGC combat units to unrest suppression could be related in part to uncorroborated reports about the formation of a new anti-regime Kurdish militia in Mahabad. The militia referred to itself as the “Guerrillas of Ishtar” and claimed responsibility for killing three regime security personnel.[vi] CTP cannot independently verify the veracity of this claim. The regime may have decided to escalate its violent suppression partly for fear that more organized violent resistance could emerge.

An IRGC Ground Forces deployment may also signal bandwidth constraints within Iranian security services; the IRGC Ground Forces historically participate in protest crackdowns when the Iranian Law Enforcement Command has failed to contain upheaval.[vii] The IRGC Ground Forces’ reported deployment may additionally make the possibility of an Iranian incursion into Iraqi Kurdistan less likely, as the regime may struggle to balance the commitment of IRGC Ground Forces combat units to internal unrest suppression at the same time as it attempts a ground incursion, depending on the scale of both possible operations. IRGC Quds Force Commander Esmail Ghaani reportedly warned that the IRGC will conduct ground operations against anti-regime militant positions in Iraqi Kurdistan unless the Iraqi army fortifies the Iran-Iraq Kurdistan border and disarms all anti-regime Kurdish militias operating within Iraqi Kurdistan on November 18.[viii]

The regime’s violent escalation in Mahabad may backfire and instead intensify anti-regime demonstrations. Iranian social media users quickly called for nation-wide demonstrations on November 20 to condemn the regime’s protest suppression tactics in Mahabad on November 19.[ix]

The number and scale of ongoing, anti-regime protests have already intensified in recent days. Protest organizations have successfully extended protest activity beyond the Bloody Aban demonstrations planned for November 15, 16, and 17 and sustained momentum on November 18 and November 19.[x] Protest activity may continue at its current level for the next two days as protest organization groups are calling for further unrest until November 21, the final day of the Iranian calendar month of Aban.[xi] This level of sustained protest activity marks an inflection in the pattern established by protesters in recent weeks, wherein high protest activity was followed by decreased demonstrations in the days thereafter. The scale of protests has also maintained its momentum in recent days. Footage shows that larger crowds have participated in anti-regime demonstrations on November 15, 16, 17, 18, and 19 compared to prior days. The number and scale of protests in the past several days is similar to those at the beginning of the Mahsa Amini protest movement in mid-September 2022.

Protests have also become increasingly violent--for protesters and security personnel alike—in recent days. An Iran-focused human rights organization increased its estimate of killed protesters from 342 on November 16 to 378 on November 19, indicating that roughly nine percent of all Iranians killed while participating in the Mahsa Amini protest movement died within that three-day period.[xii]  Footage documenting funerals for killed protesters have also increased in number in recent days, further corroborating reports of increased violence. Estimates suggest that recent deaths have still not surpassed the death toll recorded in mid-to-late September, however. Iranian security personnel have sustained relatively significant casualties since November 15 as well, a change from protest activity in prior weeks. At least six security personnel died on November 17, two on November 16, and possibly three on November 15.[xiii]

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei continued to blame anti-regime demonstrations on Western actors in a speech in Esfahan City, Esfahan Province on November 19. Khamenei framed popular protests as an extension of America’s so-called soft power war waged against the Islamic Republic targeting Iranian youth. Khamenei noted that Iranian officials were also susceptible to and propagating Western soft power tactics, possibly corroborating reports of fissures within senior members of the regime as CTP reported on November 18.[xiv] The Supreme Leader drew a rhetorical distinction between peaceful protesters and “rioters.”[xv]

Key Takeaways

  • Unverified reporting suggests that the regime deployed the IRGC Ground Forces to violently suppress protests in Mahabad, West Azerbaijan Province on November 19, marking a violent escalation in the regime’s response to protests.
  • The number and scale of ongoing, anti-regime protests have intensified and become increasingly violent in recent days.
  • Protests occurred in at least 20 cities in 10 provinces. 14 protests with 100 or more estimated participants took place in nine cities across six provinces on November 19.
  • Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei continued to blame anti-regime demonstrations on Western actors on November 19.
  • Israeli combat aircraft conducted airstrikes against multiple Syria Arab Army and IRGC or Iranian proxy militia positions in western Syria on November 19.

Iran Crisis Update, November 18

November 18, 2022 | 4:30 pm ET

The ongoing, anti-regime protests are likely creating fractures among senior regime officials within the Iranian security establishment. Uncorroborated social media accounts circulated reports that the regime’s Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) held two emergency meetings that resulted in SNSC Secretary Ali Shamkhani’s resignation.[1]  Anti-regime outlet Iran International previously reported that some hardliners were advocating for Shamkhani’s dismissal on November 6, citing an informed source.[2] Another unverified social media account reported that Saeed Jalili--a hardliner who served as the SNSC secretary from 2007-2013—blamed unidentified security officials for failing to violently suppress anti-regime demonstrations. The account additionally claimed that IRGC and Iranian Law Enforcement Command officials expressed concerns about bandwidth constraints and low morale among personnel.[3] CTP cannot verify these rumors and such accounts should be treated with skepticism. SNSC-affiliated Nour News Agency denied that Shamkhani has resigned on November 18, suggesting that the report had garnered enough attention to merit a statement.[4]  Nour’s denial is not dispositive, as the outlet has been known to deny things that have turned out to be true.

Regime officials and regime-affiliated actors alluded to disagreements over protest suppression tactics within the Iranian security apparatus on November 18, however. A Raisi administration official stated that the regime could expeditiously end unrest as soon as “the relevant authorities were willing” on November 18, suggesting divisions within the regime about how much violence security personnel should use to quell protesters.[5] A regime-affiliated cleric in a Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari town similarly stated that officials who lacked the courage to do “great things” should be removed from power and replaced by others more capable of implementing Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s vision.[6]  Hardline editor Hossein Shariatmadari, who is reportedly a close confidante of the Supreme Leader,[7] additionally advocated for greater use of force against protesters on November 18.[8] Statements calling to violently escalate against protesters—and criticizing the officials who are purportedly failing to implement this tactic—corroborate CTP’s previous assessments that critical nodes of the regime are unable to reach a consensus on how to confront the Mahsa Amini protests.[9]

Key Takeaways

  • The ongoing, anti-regime protests are likely creating fractures among senior regime officials within the Iranian security establishment and may have led to the departure of Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani.
  • Iraqi Kurdistan is at risk of invasion by Turkish forces from the north and Iranian forces from the east.
  • At least 33 protests took place in 31 cities across 13 provinces on November 18.
  • Prominent Sunni Cleric Moulana Abdol Hamid continued to criticize the regime’s violent protest suppression response on November 18 during his weekly Friday prayer sermon.
  • Protesters allegedly burned the former home of Islamic Republic Founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in Khomein, Markazi Province on November 17.
Iran Crisis Update, November 17

November 17, 5:00 pm ET

Certain components of the ongoing protest movement in Iran may have reached the threshold identified in US military doctrine for a “latent and incipient” insurgency. American counter-insurgency doctrine, using a modified version of the Maoist insurgency framework, defines the lowest level of insurgency as follows:

The first phase is latent and incipient. During this phase, activities include the emergence of insurgent leadership, creation of initial organizational infrastructure, training, acquisition of resources, and political actions, such as organizing protests. A group that eventually becomes members of an insurgency may simply be a legitimate political group at this stage. Governmental actions and changes in society can transform political groups into insurgencies.”

Components of the protest movement are approaching or have already achieved some of these requirements. The neighborhood youth groups and other protest organizations have seemingly continued playing significant roles in coordinating and planning demonstrations on specific days and in specific locations. These protest organizations are also encouraging and supporting citizens to attack and undermine the regime. The Mashhad Neighborhood Youth, for instance, published statements on November 16 and 17 calling on protesters to cooperate with one another to wage partisan warfare, block roads, and use explosives against security forces, among other activities, and referred to its “operational teams,” implying some level of organization. The group advised protesters to wear protective clothing “according to previous training.” The Mashhad youth group also stated that it is fighting a “full-scale war” against the regime—rhetoric that is consistent with the revolutionary tone used by other protest organizations in recent weeks.

CTP has documented previous instances of protesters cooperating with one another. Protesters have coordinated extensively in certain locations in recent weeks using militant tactics to respond to the regime crackdown. Protesters are furthermore developing the infrastructure necessary to stage a protracted struggle against the regime, such as establishing an informal medical care network.

CTP cannot verify that any of these youth groups and other protest organizations are  in control of the movement or able to carry through on some of their directives. The regime has indicated that at least some of these groups have a local presence. Iranian state media reported on November 17 that the IRGC Intelligence Organization arrested over 25 members of the Oroumiyeh Neighborhood Youth. An unidentified source spoke to Mehr News Agency claiming that the group organized the blocking of roads and destruction of public property. The Twitter account of the Oroumiyeh Neighborhood Youth has continued posting since the reported arrests.

CTP is not prepared to forecast the trajectory of these protester networks or how they will behave in the weeks and months ahead. We have not yet observed clear signs of coordination across these groups at this time. CTP will continually update and reevaluate this analysis based on observed indicators, which we will continue reporting in these daily updates.

Regime security personnel sustained relatively significant casualties on November 17. At least six security personnel have died across Iran in the past 24 hours. Unidentified individuals stabbed and killed two Basij members and injured three more in Mashhad, Khorasan Razavi Province. Unidentified individuals also stabbed and killed a Law Enforcement Command (LEC) officer in Sanandaj, Kurdistan Province. An LEC Special Units member died on November 17 after unidentified gunmen shot him in Esfahan City, Esfahan Province on November 16. And two LEC Border Guards members died in an unspecified “accident” near Saravan, Sistan and Baluchistan Province. Anti-regime militancy and smuggling is common around Saravan.

Protest organizations are trying to sustain the recent high protester turnout for at least three to four more days. Protests have surged across Iran since November 15 in commemoration of the three-year anniversary of the regime’s crackdown on the Bloody Aban protest wave in November 2019. The Karaj Neighborhood Youth called for these commemorative protests to continue until November 20. The Countrywide Youth similarly called for these protests to continue until November 21. Protest turnout in the coming days may offer insight into how influential these particular protest organizations are.

Key Takeaways

  • Certain components of the ongoing protest movement in Iran may have reached the threshold identified in US military doctrine for a “latent and incipient” insurgency.
  • Regime security personnel sustained relatively significant casualties.
  • Protest organizations are trying to sustain the recent high protester turnout for at least three to four more days.
  • At least 40 protests took place in 33 cities across 18 provinces.
  • The regime may be trying to blame the Izeh attack on the Islamic State (IS) as part of an effort to associate the protests with terrorism.
  • Anti-regime outlet Iran International published purported leaked memos from the Artesh Ground Forces.
  • Likely Iranian proxies conducted a rocket attack on US forces in northeastern Syria.
Iran Crisis Update, November 16

November 16, 2022 | 5:00 pm ET

Protest activity continued to surge on November 16, occurring in at least 29 cities in 19 provinces. Protests will likely continue throughout Iran on November 17—the final day of the three-day commemoration of the Bloody Aban protest wave in November 2019—and concentrate in Sistan and Baluchistan on Friday, November 18. Security forces are continuing to crack down and use lethal force but are not using their full capabilities, likely to avoid angering protesters further and creating more 40-day commemoration ceremonies around which demonstrators will rally. The regime continues to seem like it does not have a coherent theory about how to address the protests, likely due to disagreements within the political and security establishment.

Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s efforts to discourage prominent Sunni cleric Moulana Abdol Hamid from publicly criticizing the regime have likely failed. Abdol Hamid tweeted on November 16, criticizing the clerical delegation that Khamenei sent to Sistan and Baluchistan Province.[i] The delegation—led by Friday Prayer Leader Policy Council Chairman Mohammad Javad Haj Ali Akbari—met with Abdol Hamid and other local leaders likely to communicate Khamenei’s directive to stop instigating protests in the province.[ii] Abdol Hamid accused the delegation of intimidating and threatening people rather than consoling them in his tweet. Abdol Hamid’s public criticism days after meeting the delegation indicates that he will continue publicly condemning the regime crackdown and supporting protesters. Abdol Hamid and his supporters will likely inspire further protests throughout Sistan and Baluchistan Province during his Friday sermon on November 18 as they have done almost every Friday since the brutal regime crackdown in Zahedan on September 30.[iii]

A false claim is circulating online that the Iranian Parliament has sentenced 15,000 arrested protesters to death. Many online users, including Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, have propagated this misinformation unwittingly.[iv] This claim is based on the actual reporting that 277 parliamentarians signed a letter calling for the judiciary to harshly and rapidly prosecute arrested protesters on November 6.[v] The judiciary has sentenced at least five protesters to death thus far and will likely execute more, but the regime has not likely decided to kill 15,000 arrested protesters. This misinformation is distracting public attention from the atrocities and human right violations that the regime is actually committing against its people.

Key Takeaways

  • Protest activity continued to surge, occurring in 29 cities in 19 provinces.
  • Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s efforts to discourage prominent Sunni cleric Moulana Abdol Hamid from publicly criticizing the regime have likely failed.
  • A false claim is circulating online that the Iranian Parliament has sentenced 15,000 arrested protesters to death.
  • BBC published a purported leaked audio tape revealing internal disagreements within the regime over the cause of and correct response to the protests.
  • Unidentified gunmen shot and killed at least six people and injured at least 15 at a shopping center in Izeh, Khuzestan Province.
  • Unidentified gunmen shot at Basij and Law Enforcement Command (LEC) personnel, killing two, in Esfahan City, Esfahan Province.
  • The judiciary sentenced three protesters to death.
  • The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) or one of its proxies likely conducted a kamikaze drone attack on an Israeli-owned tanker in the Gulf of Oman.

Iran Crisis Update, November 15

November 15, 2022 | 5:00 pm ET

Protest activity increased significantly on November 15 to commemorate the three-year anniversary of the regime’s brutal crackdown on the Bloody Aban protest wave. These current protests are the most reported in a single day since CTP began publishing daily updates on September 28. Protest coordinators and organizations have called for protesters to sustain these demonstrations across Iran on November 16 and 17. Protesters continue to demonstrate an extremely impressive amount of courage and determination despite the regime’s brutality and expanding censorship. Iranian political and security leaders likely expected their use of force to quickly quell the protests after a few weeks as they did in November 2019 and other previous protest movements.

The regime’s abuse and mistreatment of children is likely one of the factors driving these enduring protests. The New York Times published an article on November 14 detailing human rights violations that the regime is committing against arrested children.iv Security forces have killed at least 43 children in their crackdown as well. The extent of the regime’s cruelty toward children may be new information to many observers in the West but is likely not to the Iranian protesters. 

The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) will likely resume its campaign to expel US military forces from the region in the coming months. IRGC Quds Force Commander Brigadier General Esmail Ghaani traveled to Baghdad on November 15 to meet with senior Iraqi political and proxy leaders. These Iraqi officials included President Abdul Latif Rashid and Prime Minister Mohammad Shia al Sudani. Ghaani discussed the presence of US troops in Iraq and the Iranian drone and missile attacks into Iraqi Kurdistan, among other issues. Forcing the American military from the region is one of Tehran’s greatest strategic objectives, and the installment of an Iran-friendly government in Baghdad will likely facilitate this effort. The IRGC will likely organize militia attacks against US positions and pressure Iraqi officials to seek the exit of American troops in new rounds of the Washington-Baghdad strategic dialogue. The perceived role of the US in stoking the protests and supporting anti-regime Kurdish militant groups in Iraqi Kurdistan may increase the urgency Iranian leaders assign to this effort. 

Key Takeaways 

  • Protest activity increased significantly on November 15 to commemorate the three-year anniversary of the regime’s brutal crackdown on the Bloody Aban protest wave. 
  • The regime’s abuse and mistreatment of children is likely one of the factors driving these enduring protests. 
  • The IRGC will likely resume its campaign to expel US military forces from the region in the coming months. 
  • At least 54 protests took place in 36 cities across 24 provinces. 
  • Three security personnel may have died in the protests. 
  • President Ebrahim Raisi sent First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber to Qom likely to unite influential clerics behind the regime and especially the Raisi administration. 
Iran Crisis Update, November 14

November 14, 2022 | 5:00 pm ET

Protest activity and strikes will likely increase from November 15 to 17. Protest coordinators and organizers have reiterated their calls for protests and countrywide strikes on these days and also urged citizens to not pay their utility bills.[i] Social media accounts published videos on November 14 claiming to depict protesters traveling from Tabriz, East Azerbaijan to Tehran to demonstrate and “conquer” Tehran.[ii] Other protesters have used similar rhetoric in recent days, calling for citizens to conquer a main Tehran highway during the upcoming protests, as CTP previously reported.[iii]

Social media accounts are increasingly framing the ongoing protests as the culmination of past protest waves in Iran, which could increase protest turnout. Protest videos circulating on social media have connected the planned protests on November 15 to previous events, especially protest waves, in the Islamic Republic’s history, such as the regime’s mass execution of political prisoners in 1988 and the crackdowns on the student protests in 1999, the Green Movement in 2009, and the Bloody Aban protests in 2019.[iv] This broadening message could resonate across the many different socio-economic classes and communities that have led past protest movements in Iran.

Former reformist President Mohammad Khatami called for reform in an Instagram post on November 14.[v] Khatami stated that the current governance in Iran is “wrong and erroneous” and called on Iranian authorities to empathize with and understand protester demands, especially the demands of the Iranian youth. Khatami stated that the collapse of the Islamic Republic is “not possible nor desirable” but warned that the regime failing to reform could lead to “social collapse.” The Instagram post is Khatami’s first major comment about the protests after he briefly criticized violence following the Shiraz attack on October 26.[vi] The regime has banned state media from mentioning Khatami since at least 2010 to censor him and diminish his public presence.[vii]

The IRGC resumed attacks on anti-regime Kurdish militants in Iraqi Kurdistan on November 14 in retaliation for their perceived role in stoking protests. The IRGC conducted a drone and missile attack on the Zirgwez region of Sulaymaniyah Province, reportedly killing at least two Kurdish militants and injuring several others.[viii] IRGC-affiliated media referenced the IRGC statement from September 28 vowing to attack Kurdish militant positions until they no longer threaten the regime in its reporting on the attack.[ix] IRGC Ground Forces Commander Brigadier General Mohammad Pak Pour reiterated the regime claim that Kurdish militants in Iraqi Kurdistan are stoking the protests and conducting terrorist attacks in Iran on November 14.[x] The IRGC previously attacked Kurdish militant positions in Iraqi Kurdistan for 12 consecutive days from September 27 to October 7.[xi]

Key Takeaways

  • Protest activity and strikes will likely increase from November 15 to 17.
  • Social media accounts are increasingly framing the ongoing protests as the culmination of past protest waves in Iran, which could increase protest turnout.
  • Former reformist President Mohammad Khatami called for reform in an Instagram post.
  • The IRGC resumed attacks on anti-regime Kurdish militants in Iraqi Kurdistan in retaliation for their perceived role in stoking protests.
  • At least 10 protests took place in nine cities across nine provinces.
  • Hardline parliamentarian Morteza Mahmoudvand criticized the 227 parliamentarians who signed a letter calling for the harsh and rapid prosecution of arrested protesters.
  • The New York Times published an article detailing human rights violations that the regime is committing against arrested children.
Iran Crisis Update, November 13

November 13, 2022 | 5:00 pm ET

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is likely escalating against prominent Sunni Cleric Moulana Abdol Hamid, who has become increasingly critical of the regime in recent weeks. Iranian media reported that Khamenei dispatched a high-ranking delegation headed by Friday Prayer Leader Policy Council Chief Mohammad Javad Haj Ali Akbari to Sistan and Baluchistan Province on November 13.[1] Ali Akbari has previously advocated for harsh sentences for protesters and called people participating in anti-regime demonstrations “barbaric rioters.”[2] Ali Akbari had a meeting with Abdol Hamid and other local Sunni academics in which Abdol Hamid reportedly described the regime’s recent protest crackdowns throughout Sistan and Baluchistan as an example of discrimination against the Iranian Sunni community according to an outlet claiming direct or indirect access to Abdol Hamid. Abdol Hamid additionally criticized the regime for failing to publicly condemn security forces’ violent suppression of anti-regime demonstrations in Zahedan and Khash cities.[3] Abdol Hamid has voiced similar criticisms of the regime in recent weeks, and some of his commentary has likely incited further unrest throughout Sistan and Baluchistan Province.[4] Social media users have documented hundreds of Zahedan residents participating in anti-regime protests following Abdol Hamid’s Friday prayer sermons in recent weeks.[5] Ali Akbari’s meeting with Abdol Hamid is likely intended to discourage him from further public criticism of the regime. Abdol Hamid faces a decision point to cease stoking unrest or disobey what was likely a directive from the supreme leader to stop doing so. Abdol Hamid’s initial comments suggest that he may choose to do the latter.

Ali Akbari’s visit could also signal Khamenei’s disapproval of how local provincial leaders are responding to anti-regime protests throughout Sistan and Baluchistan Province. Ali Akbari’s visit in and of itself is somewhat anomalous: Khamenei has representatives in each of Iran’s 31 provinces, and therefore should not typically require further representation in Sistan and Baluchistan Province.[6] Ali Akbari insinuated that the Sistan and Baluchistan supreme leader representative and provincial governor had taken some measures to confront ongoing unrest, but that his team would implement a “special plan” detailed by the Supreme Leader.[7] Ali Akbari’s comments could suggest that the supreme leader blames provincial officials for failing to quell ongoing unrest in Sistan and Baluchistan or that Khamenei has lost confidence in them to do so.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Tehran on November 12. Raisi and Putin reportedly discussed bilateral cooperation on economic and political issues.[8] Iranian media did not appear to advertise the call. Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev additionally met with Iranian Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Shamkhani on November 8, possibly to discuss the potential sale of Iranian ballistic missiles to Russia, as CTP previously reported.[9]

Putin’s continued engagement with the Iranian regime over security cooperation could indicate that Iranian negotiators may be asking for more than Putin is readily willing to offer in return for Iranian missiles and drones.  

Key Takeaways

  • Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is likely escalating against prominent Sunni Cleric Moulana Abdol Hamid, who has become increasingly critical of the regime in recent weeks.
  • Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi held a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin on November 12 and may have discussed Iranian ballistic missile sales to Russia.
  • At least 12 protests took place in seven cities across five provinces.
  • The mistreatment of imprisoned Iranian human rights activist Hossein Ronaghi may reinvigorate ongoing, anti-regime protests.
  • The Iranian judiciary issued preliminary sentences against protesters arrested in Tehran Province, including one death sentence.
  • Israeli combat aircraft conducted an airstrike against on a likely Iranian precision-guided munition cache at Shayrat Airbase, Homs Province, Syria.
Iran Crisis Update, November 12

November 12, 2022 | 5:00 pm ET

Protest coordinators and organizations have called for countrywide demonstrations from November 15 to 17 to commemorate the three-year anniversary of the Bloody Aban protest wave in November 2019. Citizens took to the streets in around 100 cities in the Bloody Aban protest wave in response to a sudden regime decision to cut fuel subsidies. Estimates of civilians killed by security forces during Bloody Aban range from 304 to 1,500. Some protest organizers have published instructions to “conquer” a main Tehran highway on November 15, blocking the road with cars to restrict security forces’ movement. Persian-language social media accounts have described the ongoing protests as the continuation of the Bloody Aban protest wave in recent weeks, as CTP previously reported. Invoking popular frustrations toward the regime about the Bloody Aban crackdown could reinvigorate this protest movement, which has seen reduced turnout in recent days.

Iranian clerical, political, and security leaders are arguing to the domestic population that the collapse of the Islamic Republic would lead to chaos and civil war. Iranian authorities likely seek to convince the population that the protests will ultimately worsen the state of the country rather than achieve meaningful reform. Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Political Deputy Brigadier General Yadollah Javani accused the West, Israel, and Saudi Arabia of stoking the protests to “Syrianize” Iran on November 11.[vi] This regime narrative has become increasingly prevalent in recent weeks. Iranian clerics, military commanders, parliamentarians, and state media have used similar rhetoric, asserting that the protests will create instability similar to the Syrian civil war in Iran rather than lead to a democratic, secular republic.

Key Takeaways

  • Protest coordinators and organizations have called for countrywide demonstrations from November 15 to 17 to commemorate the three-year anniversary of the Bloody Aban protest wave in November 2019. Citizens took to the streets in around 100 cities in the Bloody Aban protest wave in response to a sudden regime decision to cut fuel subsidies.
  • Iranian clerical, political, and security leaders are arguing to the domestic population that the collapse of the Islamic Republic would lead to chaos and civil war.
  • At least 12 protests took place in 10 cities across nine provinces.
  • Unidentified militants killed a member of the IRGC Ground Forces 25th Karbala Operational Division at an unspecified location in northwestern Iran.
  • Senior Shia cleric Ayatollah Asadollah Bayat Zanjani issued a fatwa requiring Muslims to defend themselves and others if an armed stranger attacks them, according to anti-regime outlet IranWire.

Iran Crisis Update, November 11

November 11, 2022 | 5:00 pm ET

Overall protest turnout throughout Iran has diminished in recent days but surged in Sistan and Baluchistan Province on November 11. Protests have occurred almost every Friday in Sistan and Baluchistan Province since the brutal regime crackdown in Zahedan on September 30.[i] The Friday protest activity on November 11 was the most geographically widespread yet, occurring in at least six cities in Sistan and Baluchistan Province. The previous Friday, November 4, saw protest activity in five cities in the province.[ii]

This protest turnout across an increasing number of cities in southeastern Iran accords with CTP’s previous assessment that prominent Sunni cleric Moulana Abdol Hamid and his supporters may begin inspiring protests throughout Sistan and Baluchistan Province rather than in just Zahedan.[iii] Abdol Hamid again criticized the regime and expressed support for protesters during his Friday sermon in Zahedan on November 11.[iv] Abdol Hamid also commended Chabahar parliamentarian Moinoddin Saeedi, who criticized on November 9 the regime protest crackdown.[v] Abdol Hamid’s message may be resonating with a growing portion of the Sunni Baloch community in southeastern Iran.

US defense officials continue to warn of a potential Iranian attack into Saudi Arabia or Iraq in retaliation for the alleged roles of the US, Israel, and Saudi Arabia in stoking the protests. Two Defense Department officials told Politico that Iran continues to plan to attack Saudi Arabia, likely targeting its energy infrastructure, and that Iran also poses an increased threat to targets in Iraq.[vi] US and Saudi officials previously warned of an imminent Iranian attack on Saudi Arabia and Iraq in a Wall Street Journal report on November 1, though the disclosure of this intelligence may have delayed the Iranian attack.[vii] Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Deputy Commander Brigadier General Ali Fadavi repeated the threat that the regime will retaliate against foreign and domestic actors who stoked the protests on November 11.[viii]

Iran may have already tried and failed to attack US positions in Syria on November 9. Syrian media outlet DeirEzzor24 reported that Russian military police arrested two individuals tied to the IRGC who were preparing to conduct a rocket attack on US forces at the Conoco gas field in eastern Syria.[ix] Iranian-backed militias have attacked this location previously.[x] CTP previously assessed that Tehran and its proxies may attack US positions in Iraq and Syria in retaliation for the alleged US role in stoking protests and for an Israeli drone strike on an Iranian convoy in eastern Syria on November 8.[xi] CTP cannot verify the report from DeirEzzor24, however.

Iran Crisis Update, November 10

November 10, 2022 | 5:00 pm ET

The ongoing protests are creating fractures within the Iranian hardliner camp. Parliament Speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf and his inner circle have clashed politically with other hardliners who have taken harsher stances against the protests, according to Iranian media.[i] Ghalibaf and his inner circle have blamed these hardliners—specifically Saeed Jalili and others in the Stability Front party—for stoking unrest among disaffected Iranian youth.[ii] Jalili was the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council from 2007 to 2013. One parliamentarian reportedly close to Ghalibaf wrote an op-ed accusing parliamentarians close to Jalili of having inflexible and uncompromising views and calling media affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) “harsh and violent“ on October 25. Ghalibaf endorsed economic and sociopolitical reform in a parliamentary address on November 5, describing changes made within the parameters of the Islamic Republic as “legitimate and necessary.”[iii] Ghalibaf likely seeks to use such promises of reform to placate protesters. Ghalibaf will not likely support meaningful political reform, however.

Some senior Raisi administration officials have similarly called for limited political reform in recent days likely to appease protesters. Cultural Heritage, Tourism, and Handicrafts Minister Ezzatollah Zarghami suggested that the regime could lift mandatory veiling laws without damaging the foundation of the Islamic Republic on November 6.[iv] He also expressed implicit support for easing censorship laws and internet restrictions and acknowledged that many Iranians do not trust state media. Zarghami previously headed state-run media conglomerate Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting. Raisi administration spokesperson Ali Bahadori Jahromi stressed the importance of political plurality in a meeting with university students and faculty in Mashhad on November 10, although he did not explicitly endorse reform.[v] President Ebrahim Raisi has yet to show any support for meaningful reform, and it is unclear whether there are divisions between him and some of his cabinet members. It is also unclear to what extent these cabinet members align with Ghalibaf and his inner circle. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is nevertheless unlikely to concede on political reform.

Some parliamentarians representing restive border regions are increasingly criticizing the regime’s brutality, publicly, possibly reflecting division within the regime over ethnic and regional lines as well. Hardline parliamentarian Behzad Rahmini from Saghez, Kurdistan Province—where Mahsa Amini lived and was buried—criticized the 227 parliamentarians who signed a letter calling on the judiciary to harshly prosecute protesters.[i] A parliamentarian from Chabahar, Sistan and Baluchistan Province similarly condemned the regime’s protest suppression response in a parliamentary address on November 6 and resigned on November 9. Chabahar Parliamentarian Moinuddin Saeedi specifically criticized security forces’ protest crackdown in Zahedan, Sistan and Baluchistan Province on September 30, which he referred to as ”Bloody Friday.”[ii] Saeedi later reportedly gave a speech criticizing the regime in Sistan and Baluchistan Province.[iii]

Key Takeaways

  • The ongoing protests are creating fractures within the Iranian hardliner camp.
  • At least six protests took place in five cities across four provinces, although protest activity will likely increase on November 11.
  • Intelligence and Security Minister Esmail Khatib stated that foreign agents sought to spread protests throughout different parts of Iranian cities, thereby stretching security forces thin.
  • IRGC Ground Forces Commander Brigadier General Mohammad Pak Pour met with Shia and Sunni leaders at an undisclosed location in Sistan and Baluchistan Province likely as part of regime preparations to suppress planned protests on November 11.
  • Some Raisi administration officials have advocated for political reform in recent days, likely to appease protesters.
  • Social media accounts reported that hundreds of citizens protested against the Saudi government in Qatif, Saudi Arabia on November 10.
Iran Crisis Update, November 9

November 9, 2022 | 5:00 pm ET

Iran and its proxies may attack US positions in Iraq and Syria in retaliation for an Israeli drone strike on an Iranian convoy in eastern Syria on November 8. The Israeli strike killed at least 10 individuals including an unknown number of Iranians, according to the Wall Street Journal. The convoy was reportedly transporting missiles, munitions, and oil into Syria from Iraq. Media affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and a senior official from Iranian proxy Kataib Hezbollah blamed the attack on the US and Israel.

Iran has increasingly attacked US positions in Iraq and Syria as part of its cycle of escalation with Israel over the past year. A senior IRGC commander, Major General Gholam Ali Rashid, stated in December 2021 that the regime would attack “all centers, bases, routes, and spaces used as sources or routes for [Israeli] aggression,” holding the US accountable for potential Israeli attacks.

Artesh Ground Forces Commander Brigadier General Kiomars Heydari emphasized that the regime has the capacity to use more extreme force against protesters on November 9. Heydari referred to protesters as “flies” and stated that “they will have no place in the country” if Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei orders a more brutal crackdown. Iranian leaders have increasingly tasked the Artesh Ground Forces with some internal security missions, such as guarding sensitive facilities and locations to relieve other security forces, during protests in recent years.

The potential involvement of the Artesh in protest suppression, even in a limited capacity, would provide Iranian authorities additional assets to quash internal unrest. The Artesh Ground Forces has more than twice as many service members as the IRGC Ground Forces does, operates the bulk of the country’s helicopter and tank arsenals, and has concentrated many of its units in border areas. These qualities, combined with its use to relieve other security forces, make the Artesh a powerful instrument for protest suppression, particularly in the border regions where significant protest activity has been concentrated.

Raisi administration officials are threatening citizens who provide information to anti-regime outlet Iran International to deter protesters from speaking to it about the protests and regime crackdown. Culture and Islamic Guidance Minister Mehdi Esmaili referred to Iran International as “terrorist media” and stated that the regime will punish individuals cooperating with it on November 9. Intelligence and Security Minister Esmail Khatib stated that the regime views communicating with Iran International as cooperating with terrorists and threatening national security on November 8, as CTP previously reported.

Key Takeaways

  • Iran and its proxies may attack US positions in Iraq and Syria in retaliation for an Israeli drone strike on an Iranian convoy in eastern Syria.
  • Artesh Ground Forces Commander Brigadier General Kiomars Heydari emphasized that the regime has the capacity to use more extreme force against protesters.
  • Raisi administration officials are threatening citizens who provide information to anti-regime outlet Iran International to deter protesters from speaking to it about the protests and regime crackdown.
  • At least 19 protests took place in 15 cities across 11 provinces.
  • An unidentified individual drove a car into a group of security personnel and killed a Basij member in Bandar-e Kia Shahr, Gilan Province.
  • Law Enforcement Commander Brigadier General Hossein Ashtari reappointed Brigadier General Mohammad Ghanbari as LEC Sistan and Baluchistan provincial commander.
Iran Crisis Update, November 8

November 8, 2022 | 5:30 pm ET

Protests may increase in the coming days to commemorate the regime’s brutal crackdown in Zahedan, Sistan and Baluchistan Province on September 30. November 9 marks the 40th day since security forces indiscriminately shot and killed civilians, including children, as they gathered for Friday prayers and protested in Zahedan on September 30.[i] Protester death tolls from that day range from 66 to 96, although the actual number could be higher.[ii]  Iranian mourners and protesters have regularly gathered for 40-day commemorations for killed demonstrators in recent weeks and may do so again on November 9 for those killed in Zahedan.[iii] This commemoration is primarily a Shia tradition, and most of Sistan and Baluchistan Province’s population is Sunni. Protesters may still gather there and elsewhere throughout Iran on November 9 in solidarity with the people of Zahedan. Protest organizations have called for countrywide demonstrations, and especially in Zahedan, on Friday, November 11 as well.[iv] Friday protests have become common across Sistan and Baluchistan Province since the September 30 crackdown.[v]

[The following paragraph was also published in ISW’s Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment, November 8.] Iranian state-run outlet Nour News Agency reported that Russian National Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev arrived in Tehran on November 8, likely to discuss the potential sale of Iranian ballistic missiles to Russia.[vi] Nour News Agency announced Patrushev’s arrival in an English-language tweet, stating Iranian Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) Secretary Ali Shamkhani invited Patrushev and noted that Patrushev will also meet with other high-ranking Iranian political and economic officials to discuss Russo-Iranian cooperation.[vii] Nour News Agency is affiliated with the SNSC. The SNSC likely announced Patrushev’s arrival in Iran to highlight the deepening cooperation between Moscow and Tehran to an international audience (rather than domestically), as well as to implicitly highlight that a high-ranking Russian official turned to Iran for help in Ukraine. Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Quds Force Commander Qassem Soleimani notably traveled to Moscow in 2015 to appeal to Russia to intervene in the Syrian Civil War.[viii] Tehran is likely eager to publicly signal this rebalancing of its strategic partnership with Moscow, especially to regional Iranian adversaries with which the Kremlin occasionally cooperates such as Israel and Saudi Arabia. Patrushev’s visit to Iran notably comes amid reports that the Iranian regime is seeking Russian help with protest suppression, although it is unclear if this will be discussed by Patrushev and his Iranian counterpart.[ix]

Patrushev’s visit comes amid some domestic criticism of Iranian military support to Russia. Masih Mohajeri—the editor of Iranian newspaper Jomhouri Eslami—criticized on November 7 the regime’s decision to support the Kremlin.[x] Mohajeri added that the regime should have told Russia not to use Iranian drones in Ukraine. Mohajeri’s remarks reflect the reservations among some in Iran about pursuing the strategic partnership with Moscow that Supreme Ali Khamenei has supported.

Key Takeaways

  • Protests may increase in the coming days to commemorate the regime’s brutal crackdown in Zahedan, Sistan and Baluchistan Province on September 30.
  • Iranian state-run outlet Nour News Agency reported that Russian National Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev arrived in Tehran on November 8, likely to discuss the potential sale of Iranian ballistic missiles to Russia.
  • At least 12 protests took place in nine cities across eight provinces.
  • The Jaish al Adl spokesperson claimed that the regime crackdown in Zahedan on September 30 has increased the group’s recruitment, according to UK-based Midstone Centre.
  • The IRGC may have deployed some of its Iraqi proxies to support the protest crackdown.
  • SNSC-affiliated Nour News Agency accused unnamed American and Mossad officials of meeting with anti-regime Kurdish militant groups in Iraqi Kurdistan over the past two months.
Iran Crisis Update, November 7

November 7, 2022 | 5:00 pm ET

Some elements of the Iranian regime have suggested political reform to assuage protesters’ frustrations, although such reform is highly unlikely. Hassan Khomeini—the reformist grandson of Ruhollah Khomeini—called for a “majority-based democracy” in Iran on November 7. Khomeini also implicitly criticized the Guardian Council—the state body constitutionally responsible for approving and vetting electoral candidates—for disqualifying prominent moderates and reformists from running in recent elections.

The Raisi administration amplified Khomeini’s remarks likely to placate disaffected citizens rather than support meaningful reform. The Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA)--a Raisi administration mouthpiece--circulated Khomeini’s remarks and emphasized his calls for democracy. President Ebrahim Raisi uses IRNA to promote pro-regime narratives and positive framing around his administration. IRNA’s circulation of Khomeini’s remarks is surprising given that the Guardian Council played a prominent role in helping Raisi win the presidential election in June 2021. Raisi likely circulated this idea of reformknowing it is improbableto reduce protest activity. He is likely seeking additional ways to curb the ongoing protests given that the brutal crackdown has largely failed to stop protests.

The regime will not likely implement any electoral reform. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei often uses the Guardian Council to manipulate elections and install his preferred candidates. Khamenei has allowed the Guardian Council to intervene more aggressively in elections in recent years to ensure hardliner victories in key elections, including the February 2020 legislative elections and the June 2021 presidential election. Khamenei has historically emphasized the need to establish a hardline presidential administration in Iran to achieve his grand strategic ambition of forming a transnational Islamic civilization. He likely considers the Guardian Council an essential tool toward realizing this vision and will not reduce its role in influencing elections.

Iranian security services have begun linking the Shiraz attack, which the Islamic State (IS) claimed, to Azerbaijan and accusing the Azerbaijani military of supporting Salafi-jihadi terrorism. The Intelligence and Security Ministry announced on November 7 the arrest of 26 terrorists connected to the Shiraz attack and claimed that the lead coordinator of the attack was an Azerbaijani citizen who received guidance from extremist groups in Azerbaijan and Afghanistan. The ministry accused this individual of cooperating with Islamic State‘s Khorasan Province (ISKP). A Telegram account affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) separately claimed on November 7 that the Azerbaijani military is promoting Wahabism and providing irregular warfare training to Salafi-jihadi militants who fought in Syria.

This hostile rhetoric follows IRGC calls to annex parts of Azerbaijan. An IRGC-affiliated Telegram channel claimed that citizens of the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic requested to join Iran on November 6. IRGC Telegram channels called on the regime to economically and militarily support separatist movements in the Nakhchivan republic to join Iran on October 23, as CTP previously reported.

IS central and ISKP have celebrated the Shiraz attack and called for more attacks against Shia targets in Iran. It remains unclear whether IS central or ISKP had any role in preparing the attack or whether IS central and ISKP are celebrating the attack opportunistically. ISKP has used increasingly threatening rhetoric toward Iran since as early as June 2022. IS central media outlets have begun increasingly translating Arabic-language propaganda into Persian since the Shiraz attack as well.

Key Takeaways

  • Some elements of the Iranian regime have suggested political reform to assuage protester frustrations, although such reform is highly unlikely.
  • Iranian security services have begun connecting Azerbaijan to the Shiraz attack and accusing Baku of supporting Salafi-jihadi terrorism.
  • IS central and ISKP have celebrated the Shiraz attack and called for more attacks against Shia targets in Iran.
  • At least 14 protests took place in 12 cities across seven provinces.
  • Jaish al Adl released a statement calling for protesters to organize armed resistance against the regime.
  • Five Basij university student organizations in Tehran penned an open letter urging officials to take action against Western embassies—specifically the UK and Germany—for their alleged role in stoking the ongoing protests.
  • Judiciary Chief Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejei called on judicial authorities to expedite the prosecution and sentencing of arrested protesters.
Iran Crisis Update, November 6

The regime continued linking the ongoing protests with terrorism on November 6 as part of an information operation to delegitimize protesters and their grievances. Parliament Speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf accused the US and Israel of stoking the protests to create a new ISIS in Iran.[i] A group of 227 parliamentarians signed a letter similarly blaming the US for the unrest and comparing protesters to ISIS militants, calling for harsh and rapid prosecutions.[ii] Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Telegram channels previously characterized protesters as ”domestic ISIS” on November 3, as CTP previously reported.[iii]

The regime will likely use this framing of protesters as terrorists to justify brutal crackdowns and harsh judicial sentences in the days and weeks ahead.[iv]

Iranian state media has claimed that the regime has arrested terrorists trying to support the protests throughout the country, including reporting that security forces arrested “terrorist teams” in Esfahan, Fars, Kermanshah, and Khuzestan provinces on November 6.[v] Iranian state media claimed that these groups sought to organize and stoke protests and assassinate prominent Arab leaders in Khuzestan Province.[vi] Law Enforcement Deputy Commander Ghassem Rezaei claimed on November 5 that the regime has arrested dozens of individuals tied to the Shiraz attack.[vii] Rezaei stated that these individuals planned large-scale sabotage and suicide operations in Iran. CTP cannot verify whether the regime arrested anyone in these reported incidents.

Key Takeaways

  • The regime continued linking the ongoing protests with terrorism as part of an information operation to delegitimize protesters and their grievances.
  • A security officer killed four LEC members at an LEC station in Bampour, Sistan and Baluchistan Province.
  • At least 17 protests took place in 10 cities across eight provinces on November 6.
  • An unverified social media account alleged the presence of an Afghan proxy force member during a protest crackdown in Arak, Markazi Province.
  • Security forces seized weapons shipments in northwestern and southeastern Iran.
  • At least two unidentified gunmen attacked an IRGC facility in Mahshahr, Khuzestan Province.
Iran Crisis Update, November 5

Prominent Sunni cleric Moulana Abdol Hamid may begin regularly instigating protests throughout Sistan and Baluchistan Province rather than in just Zahedan. Protests occurred in at least five cities in Sistan and Baluchistan Province on November 4, including Zahedan, where Abdol Hamid has instigated protests during his Friday sermons in recent weeks. Abdol Hamid called for a referendum on the Islamic Republic during his Friday Prayer sermon on November 4. Abdol Hamid’s criticism of the regime may be resonating with a larger portion of the Sunni Baloch community, indirectly stoking additional demonstrations against the political establishment.

Abdol Hamid issued two statements criticizing the regime’s violent protest crackdown and expressing support for protesters outside of Zahedan on November 5. Abdol Hamid condemned Iranian security personnel’s November 4 protest crackdown in Khash, Sistan and Baluchistan Province and referred to killed protesters as “martyrs.” Abdol Hamid similarly penned an open letter circulated by state-affiliated media enumerating grievances against the regime. Abdol Hamid stated that government officials did not sufficiently investigate protest crackdowns in Zahedan, Sistan and Baluchistan Province on September 30, when security personnel killed over 90 demonstrators and bystanders. Abdol Hamid added that the regime had overstated the role of foreign influence in instigating unrest and stressed that the Islamic Republic had oppressed Baloch women. IRGC-affiliated Tasnim News Agency criticized Abdol Hamid for his November 4 comments and accused him of fomenting unrest.

The regime is attempting mobilize its supporters around a religious holiday honoring a historic female Shia martyr and framing its policies as pro-women. A senior Iranian cleric presented the martyr as a model of female Islamic dignity on November 5. A female Basij Organization member similarly denounced Western standards of gender equality at a pro-regime rally in Tehran. Armed Forces General Staff Cultural and Propaganda Deputy Abol Fazl Sherkachi also claimed that the regime defended Iranian women against Western countries that sought to commoditize them on November 5. A regime-affiliated cultural official additionally framed Western feminism as an information operation against Iranian women on November 5. The regime is framing its policies as pro-women to undermine criticisms fueled by the Mahsa Amini protests.

Key Takeaways

  • Prominent Sunni cleric Maulana Abdol Hamid may begin regularly instigating protests throughout Sistan and Baluchistan Province rather than in just Zahedan.
  • The regime is attempting mobilize its supporters around a religious holiday honoring a historic female Shia martyr and framing its policies as pro-women.
  • At least 19 protests took place in 11 cities across nine provinces.
  • President Ebrahim Raisi called anti-regime protesters “rioters” who were helping foment unrest in Iran.
  • Senior Iranian officials discussed accelerating the prosecution of arrested protesters.
Iran Crisis Update, November 4

Parents of Iranian youth spearheading ongoing demonstrations are increasingly describing protests as a revolutionary movement, mirroring their children’s rhetoric. The father of one killed protester told mourners that his son described Mahsa Amini’s death as an impetus for change and stated that ”there will be no revolution until blood is shed” at his 40-day commemoration ceremony on October 29.[i] Another father of a killed protester similarly described his son as a martyr of freedom at his funeral on October 31.[ii] The mother of another killed protester described her son as someone who gave his life to the Iranian nation at his 40-day commemoration ceremony on November 4.[iii] The parent of a young Iranian protester told Reuters that she felt compelled to ”reclaim Iran” for her daughters and all Iranian girls in an article published on November 3.[iv]

Iranian youth participating in demonstrations have long described protests as revolutionary in nature and have expressed a readiness to die for their beliefs.[v] Disillusioned youth likely no longer view reform as a viable option—by some reformists’ own admission—and young, arrested protesters allegedly told security officials that they aimed to overthrow the regime.[vi]

Protesters are reclaiming revolutionary motifs, like martyrdom, leveraged by the regime to sustain protests. Funerals and ceremonies commemorating killed protesters have become prominent occasions of unrest within the past several days. Thousands of protesters gathered in Saghez, Kurdistan Province to commemorate the 40th day since the regime killed Mahsa Amini on October 26, as CTP previously reported.[vii] Large crowds have similarly gathered to commemorate killed protesters on October 27, 28, 29, 31 and November 1, 2, and 3.[viii]  CTP assessed that funerals and commemoration ceremonies sparked significant protest activity in eight of 17 documented protest locations on November 3.[ix] Social media users have similarly begun referencing killed protesters as martyrs of a new, Iranian revolution.[x] Some protesters’ tombs bear symbols connected to the Mahsa Amini protest wave, signaling their community’s perception of their role as martyrs within the movement.[xi]

Protesters’ growing efforts to reclaim the ideas of revolution, Iranian nationalism, and secular martyrdom from the regime for their own movement is a notable inflection. The regime has accustomed Iranians to use revolutionary phrases and nationalist images and ideas and to venerate martyrs for over four decades. If protesters are successful in repurposing these habits for their own movement, then they may be able to build considerable and sustainable momentum for their efforts.

Key Takeaways

  • Parents of Iranian youth spearheading ongoing demonstrations are increasingly describing protests as a revolutionary movement, mirroring their children’s rhetoric.
  • At least 14 protests took place in 11 cities across six provinces.
  • Violent clashes erupted between security forces and protesters in Khash, Rask, Saravan, and Zahedan in Sistan and Baluchistan Province following Friday prayer sermons.
  • President Ebrahim Raisi criticized US President Joe Biden for pledging to “free Iran” during a campaign rally in California.
  • Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Commander Major General Hossein Salami warned that Iran will retaliate against the US and its allies for their purported role in fomenting ongoing unrest at a regime-organized rally.
Iran Crisis Update, November 3

November 3, 2022 | 6:00 PM ET

Violent clashes erupted between security forces and protesters in Karaj, Alborz Province on November 3. Mourners and protesters gathered around Karaj, which is just outside Tehran City, to commemorate the 40th day since the regime killed Hadis Najafi.[i] Security forces blocked roads leading to the cemetery where Najafi is buried and fired live ammunition and tear gas at protesters.[ii] Protesters attacked security forces stations and vehicles.[iii] Protesters stabbed and killed a Basij member and injured five Law Enforcement Command (LEC) officers.[iv] Protesters also severely injured a cleric.[v]

IRGC Telegram channels characterized the protesters as “domestic ISIS” to demonize them and frame them as rioters and terrorists to the rest of the population.[vi] Iran similarly framed all the Syrian opposition as ISIS in the Syrian civil war to turn domestic and international audiences against the opposition and rally support for despot Bashar al Assad.[vii] The IRGC is feeding the narrative that the US is stoking the protests by referring to protesters as ISIS because Iranian leaders frequently argue that the US created ISIS.[viii]

Protesters coordinated extensively to respond to the regime crackdown in Karaj, possibly reflecting growing organization within the movement. Some transported stones via truck to throw at security forces.[ix] Others made Molotov cocktails.[x] Protesters lined up behind barriers to throw stones and possibly Molotov cocktails at security personnel.[xi] Protesters also built a wall of cinderblocks to block a street.[xii] This organization to resist repression in Karaj resembles the tactics that protesters used against security forces in Mahabad, West Azerbaijan Province on October 28.[xiii]

The regime may be struggling to reach a consensus on how to manage the protests at this stage. The regime has not seemingly deployed the full extent of its internal security services to the crackdown yet despite the warning from Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Commander Major General Hossein Salami calling for the immediate end of protests on October 30.[xiv] Some Iranian officials likely recognize that conducting an even more brutal crackdown will produce more secular martyrs and 40-day ceremonies around which protesters will rally. President Ebrahim Raisi also may lack the decisiveness to manage the crackdown competently, although he is not the only senior decisionmaker involved in the protest suppression.

American and Persian Gulf officials told the Wall Street Journal that the likelihood of an imminent Iranian attack on Saudi Arabia and other neighboring countries has decreased but is not gone entirely.[xv] American and Saudi officials previously warned that Iran would attack Saudi Arabia and possibly Erbil in retaliation for the perceived role of the US, Israel, and Saudi Arabia in stoking the ongoing protests.[xvi] Tehran will nevertheless likely conduct a dramatic attack abroad--likely with drones and missiles--in retaliation for the Shiraz attack in the coming days or weeks for the domestic Iranian audience.

Key Takeaways

  • Violent clashes erupted between security forces and protesters in Karaj, Alborz Province on November 3.
  • Protesters coordinated extensively to respond to the regime crackdown in Karaj, possibly reflecting growing organization within the movement.
  • The regime may be struggling to reach a consensus on how to manage the protests at this stage.
  • American and Persian Gulf officials told the Wall Street Journal that the likelihood of an imminent Iranian attack on Saudi Arabia and other neighboring countries has decreased but is not gone entirely.
  • At least 22 protests took place in 17 cities across 12 provinces.
  • The IRGC Intelligence Organization arrested three members of an “anti-security team” in Ilam City, Ilam Province.
  • LEC Sistan and Baluchistan Provincial Commander Ahmad Taheri announced that unidentified gunmen shot and killed a Shia cleric in Zahedan, Sistan and Baluchistan Province.
  • Skirmishes may erupt between pro- and anti-regime protesters on November 4.
  • The Artesh may have prepared its forces to participate in protest suppression in Zahedan.
  • An IRGC Telegram channel circulated on November 3 an op-ed calling for the IRGC Quds Force to establish a 30-kilometer-deep buffer zone into Iraqi Kurdistan to counter anti-regime Kurdish militants there.
  • Turkey reaffirmed its support for Azerbaijan amid the growing tensions between Tehran and Baku.
Iran Crisis Update, November 2

November 2, 2022 | 6:00 PM ET

Iran is signaling its readiness to attack Saudi Arabia and possibly Erbil ostensibly in retaliation for the Shiraz terror attack but primarily for the alleged role of the US, Israel, and Saudi Arabia in stoking protests. The regime raised the red flag of Imam Hossein above the Shah Cheragh Mosque—the target of the terror attack—in Shiraz, Fars Province on October 30. The red flag represents revenge for an unjust death in Shia Islamic tradition. The regime takes down the flag once it has taken revenge. The regime raised the red flag last in Qom after the US killed Qassem Soleimani and before the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) conducted a ballistic missile attack on US forces in Iraq in January 2020. IRGC Telegram channels posted videos depicting a hypothetical Iranian drone attack on Saudi energy infrastructure on November 2.

An Iranian proxy Telegram channel recirculated on November 2 the Iran International report claiming that the regime flew around 150 proxy fighters from Baghdad to Mashhad to suppress protests. Iran International claimed on November 1 that the regime sent fighters from Kataib Hezbollah and other unspecified Iraqi militias. The Iranian proxy account reported that the regime also flew in personnel from Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba and did not deny the reports. The IRGC Quds Force used Kataib Hezbollah and Harakat Hezbollah al Nujaba extensively in its military intervention into Syria to defend the Assad regime.

Key Takeaways

  • Iran is signaling its readiness to attack Saudi Arabia and possibly Erbil ostensibly in retaliation for the Shiraz terror attack but primarily for the alleged role of the US, Israel, and Saudi Arabia in stoking protests.
  • An Iranian proxy Telegram channel recirculated the Iran International report claiming that the regime flew around 150 proxy fighters from Baghdad to Mashhad to suppress protests.
  • At least 22 protests took place in 14 cities across nine provinces.
  • Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei reiterated his claims that the West and Israel are stoking the protests in a speech to a group of university students.
  • Parliamentarian Mohammad Saleh Jokar accused the Iranian diaspora of organizing terrorist attacks in Iran and called for their punishment.
  • Kurdistan Chief Provincial Justice Hossein Hosseini announced the seizure of a cache of 49 hand grenades in Baneh, Kurdistan Province.
  • Unidentified individuals shot at a Law Enforcement Command (LEC) station in Khash, Sistan and Baluchistan Province, injuring one police officer.
Iran Crisis Update, November 1

November 1, 2022 | 5:00 PM ET

American and Saudi officials have warned of an imminent Iranian attack on Saudi Arabia and possibly Erbil, according to the Wall Street Journal. These warnings accord with CTP’s previous forecasts that Iran may attack American, Israeli, or Saudi targets in retaliation for their alleged roles in stoking the protests and facilitating the Shiraz terror attack. Iranian leaders will likely seek to externalize their responses to protests caused entirely by regime domestic policies as part of their refusal to accept that their policies alone have caused this much unrest.

Such attacks could threaten American servicemembers in the Middle East. Iranian officials have historically accused the US of cooperating with Israeli and Kurdish agents in Iraqi Kurdistan to undermine regime stability. Tehran could use its drone and missile forces or its proxies to attack positions in Iraqi Kurdistan that it has accused the US and Israel of using to facilitate clandestine activities against the Islamic Republic. These positions could include the US presences at Erbil International Airport and the al Harir airbase.

The Iranians have more freedom to attack enemy targets in Iraq since the Iraqi government formation process ended. The newly approved Iraqi prime minister, Mohammad Shia al Sudani, is an Iran-friendly politician who will likely allow the IRGC and its proxies to expand their economic, political, and security influence throughout Iraq much more than his predecessor. Tehran risked derailing its efforts to install a friendly prime minister if it had escalated against the US in Iraq before the government formation process ended.

The regime could attack Saudi Arabia from Yemen, Iraq, or Iran itself. The IRGC has long furnished the al Houthi movement with advanced drone and missile systems to conduct attacks into Saudi Arabia. The expiration of the UN-mediated truce to the Yemeni civil war on October 2 again allows Iran and the Houthis the opportunity to conduct attacks into the Gulf states. The IRGC has increasingly instructed its Iraqi militias to conduct drone attacks into Saudi Arabia since May 2019 as well. The IRGC also conducted a large-scale drone and missile attack on Saudi Arabia’s Abqaiq crude-processing plant in September 2019, temporarily cutting Saudi oil production in half. Iran’s support to the Houthis and Iraqi groups allows the IRGC to attack Saudi Arabia from multiple directions and thereby strain Saudi air defenses.

Key Takeaways

  • American and Saudi officials have warned of an imminent Iranian attack on Saudi Arabia and possibly Erbil, according to the Wall Street Journal.
  • At least 30 protests took place in 15 cities across 11 provinces.
  • Anti-regime outlet Iran International reported that the regime flew around 150 personnel from Kataib Hezbollah and other Iraqi proxies from Baghdad to Mashhad to support the protest crackdown. This report cannot be substantiated.
  • Protesters have halted operations at some industrial and mining sites in Sistan and Baluchistan Province.

Full list of Iran crisis updates are available here.