September 30, 2022

Iran Crisis Updates, September 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 September 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, September 29

September 29, 2022 | 3:00 pm ET

The Iranian regime’s extensive internet and telecommunications censorship is severely limiting the open-source information available on ongoing anti-regime protests in Iran. Iranian state media and officials have confirmed that they are blocking domestic access to Western social media applications such as WhatsApp and Instagram to impede protester coordination and organization and limit the free flow of information September 22.[1] Iranian internet users reported restricted access to foreign domains—including Google—and difficulties accessing Google Play and Apple’s App store, preventing users’ efforts to download VPNs.[2] CTP cannot verify most protest footage circulating on social media. Iranian authorities previously blocked internet access in 2019 gasoline protests.[3]

Uncorroborated social media reports suggest that Iran loosened internet restrictions around Tehran on September 29 but may continue blocking some social media platforms such as Instagram.[4] Some Iranian officials have called on the regime to permanently block Instagram in recent days.[5] Iranian newspapers have similarly reported that Instagram could be permanently blocked even after protests subside.[6]

Iran will likely continue improving its censorship infrastructure—possibly with support from China—to suppress future protests more effectively. Iranian authorities have praised the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) control of its domestic information space and signed agreements on cyber and law enforcement cooperation with China[7]. Some Iranian internet experts have compared Iranian internet disruptions prior to the ongoing protests to the CCP’s internet filtering system.[8] The regime may increasingly mirror the Chinese model of internet sovereignty as it seeks to preempt and quell unrest.

Key Takeaways

  • Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei remains absent and did not make a public appearance or statement on September 29.
  • Anti-regime protests likely occurred in at least six Iranian cities on September 29, but demonstrations appear to have subsided overall for now.
  • Anti-regime protests may increase inside and outside of Iran on October 1.
  • The IRGC conducted an artillery attack into Iraqi Kurdistan on September 29, marking the sixth consecutive day of such attacks.
Iran Crisis Update, September 28

September 28, 2022 | 5:00 pm ET

Circumstantial evidence suggests that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is at least temporarily unable to perform his normal duties. Khamenei has been unusually absent in recent days amidst countrywide, anti-regime protests, which began on September 16. Rumors have circulated that Khamenei’s health has deteriorated significantly since early September.[1] CTP cannot verify these rumors about Khamenei’s health, and such reports should be treated with skepticism. There are indications that Khamenei is ill or incapacitated, however. Regime power centers are behaving as if succession is either imminent or underway. President Ebrahim Raisi—a prominent frontrunner to succeed Khamenei—is positioning himself to become the next supreme leader with support from senior officers from the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

The ongoing Mahsa Amini protests are straining the regime’s capability and willingness to crack down but are not yet existential to the regime. Protests began on September 16 in response to the regime’s brutal killing of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini.[2] Protests have concentrated primarily in ethnically Kurdish regions of Iran, where Amini lived, and Tehran but spread rapidly to other locations and demographics.[3] State security services have launched a bloody crackdown against the ongoing protests but have struggled with bandwidth constraints and exhaustion according to some Iranian media outlets.[4] Tehran security officials reported that 185 Basij members were injured in the protests with five in critical condition.[5] The Basij is a paramilitary branch of the IRGC responsible for civil defense and social control. These protests do not appear close to collapsing the regime at this time, however.

The IRGC may assess that anti-regime Kurdish militants operating around the Iran-Iraq-Turkey border are arming and stoking the protests. The IRGC has conducted five consecutive days of attacks involving artillery, drones, and missiles into Iraqi Kurdistan.[6] Iranian state media have claimed that anti-regime Kurdish groups are fomenting instability against the regime.[7] CTP cannot verify these allegations. The most recent round of IRGC attacks on September 28 killed an American citizen, Omar Mahmoudzadeh, in Iraqi Kurdistan.[8]

The regime’s brutal crackdown and continuing IRGC attacks are stoking unrest in Kurdish communities throughout the region. Demonstrations expressing solidarity with the Iranian protesters occurred in Erbil and Sulaymaniyah in Iraqi Kurdistan and Qamishli in northern Syria on September 28.[9]

Key Takeaways

  • Circumstantial evidence suggests that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is at least temporarily unable to perform his normal duties.
  • Regime power centers are behaving as if succession is either imminent or underway.
  • The ongoing Mahsa Amini protests may be challenging the regime’s capability and willingness to crackdown but do not appear close to collapsing the regime.
  • The IRGC may assess that anti-regime Kurdish militants operating around the Iran-Iraq-Turkey border are arming and stoking the protests.
  • The IRGC conducted a large-scale attack into Iraqi Kurdistan on September 28, killing one American.

Full list of Iran crisis updates are available here.