August 28, 2023
Iran Update, August 28, 2023
The Iran Update aims to inform national security policy by providing timely, relevant, and independent open-source analysis of developments pertaining to Iran and its Axis of Resistance. This update covers political, military, and economic events and trends that affect the stability and decision-making of the Iranian regime. It also provides insights into Iranian and Iranian-sponsored activities abroad that undermine regional stability and threaten US forces and interests. The Critical Threats Project (CTP) at the American Enterprise Institute with support from the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) provides these updates Monday through Friday. To receive Iran Updates via email, please subscribe here.
The Institute for the Study of War (ISW) with support from the Critical Threats Project (CTP) at the American Enterprise Institute launched an interactive map of Iran and the Middle East. The map depicts events in Iran that affect the stability of the Iranian regime, namely anti-regime protests and reported poisoning incidents. It also shows developments in Syria that jeopardize regional stability and pose threats to US forces and interests, including Iranian and Iranian-backed militia positions.
- Iranian-backed militants deployed to Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)-controlled territory to conduct sabotage attacks amidst clashes between two US-backed groups in eastern Syria. The deployment of Iranian-backed militants likely supports pro-regime campaign objectives to expel the United States from Syria.
- Iran threatened to take action against Kurdish anti-regime groups in Iraq and may conduct attacks in Iraq in the next month.
- Iran finalized a barter agreement with China wherein Iran provides oil in exchange for Chinese development of the Imam Khomeini Airport in Tehran. This is consistent with the overall trend of Sino-Iranian oil-for-infrastructure agreements.
Iranian Activities in the Levant
This section covers Iranian efforts to consolidate and expand Tehran’s economic, military, and political influence throughout the Levant especially in Syria. This section examines some of the many campaigns that Iran is pursuing to achieve this strategic objective. CTP will update and refine our assessments of these campaigns over time and in future updates.
Iranian-backed militants deployed to Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)-controlled territory to conduct sabotage attacks amidst clashes between two US-backed groups in eastern Syria. The US-backed SDF has been clashing with its primary subordinate military force in Deir ez Zor Province, the Deir ez Zor Military Council (DMC), since August 27.[i] The clashes began after the SDF arrested the DMC commander, who attempted to create a tribal alliance outside the SDF.[ii] The SDF and DMC are fighting across Deir ez Zor Province, cutting off roads, arresting leaders, and besieging each other's headquarters.[iii] The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Quds force tasked 25 Iraqi militants operating in Syria on August 28 to conduct sabotage acts and take advantage of the unrest in the region, according to local opposition media.[iv] The Iraqi militants are part of the Abu Al Fadl Al Abbas militia and crossed into SDF-territory using an Iranian-controlled river crossing in Mayadin.[v] The clashes between the SDF and DMC are ongoing as of August 28, and CTP will continue to monitor potential Iranian involvement and implications for US forces.
The deployment of Iranian-backed militants likely supports pro-regime campaign objectives to expel the United States from Syria. The IRGC Quds Force has recruited Syrians to establish “sleeper cells” in SDF territory to monitor US positions, plant explosive devices, and spread clan strife in the SDF region.[vi] Iranian-backed militias have laid the logistical groundwork to operate and conduct attacks on US forces from regime-held territory and from within the SDF’s territory.[vii] These Iranian-directed actions are consistent with CTP's tracking of an Iranian, Russian, and Syrian coordinated campaign to expel US forces from Syria.[viii] Iran, with support from Syria and Russia, has established the conditions to create an environment in eastern Syria that is hostile to the US forces. CTP previously warned that this environment has the potential to draw the United States into conflict in the near term.[ix]
Iranian Domestic and Political Affairs
This section covers factors and trends affecting regime decision-making and stability. CTP will cover domestic politics, significant protest activity, and related issues here.
Iran threatened to take action against Kurdish anti-regime groups in Iraq and may conduct attacks in Iraq in the next month. Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanani threatened on August 28 that Iran will act to ensure its security if the Iraqi government fails to disarm and relocate militant groups inside Iraqi Kurdistan by September 19.[x] This is not the first time that Iranian officials have sought to address perceived threats from Iraqi Kurdistan this year. Armed Forces General Staff Chief Major General Mohammed Bagheri warned that Iran would resume kinetic operations in Iraqi Kurdistan if it failed to disarm “separatist groups” in this region.[xi] Iran and Iraq signed a security agreement on March 19 wherein the Iraqi government agreed to curtail the presence of militant groups inside Iraqi Kurdistan.[xii] Iran also has conducted attacks into Iraq to address threats from Kurdish anti-regime groups previously. IRGC ground forces conducted artillery attacks on Kurdish militants in Sarvabad, Kurdistan Province as recently as June 15 to 16.[xiii] IRGC ground forces similarly conducted artillery, missile, and drone attacks on Kurdish militants in Iraqi Kurdistan in March, September, October, and November 2022.[xiv] Iran does not always follow through with its threats to conduct attacks into Iraqi Kurdistan, however.
Regime officials have also repeatedly accused these anti-regime militants and Israel of using Iraqi Kurdistan to facilitate operations into Iran.[xv] For example, Iranian media accused Kurdish opposition groups of helping Israel smuggle military equipment into Iran that Israel used in its January 28 drone attack on a munitions factory in Esfahan.[xvi] Iran also accused anti-regime militant groups inside Iraqi Kurdistan of supporting protesters during the 2022 Mahsa Amini movement.[xvii] The IRGC conducted attacks using artillery, missiles, and drones on the groups in September, October, and November 2022 as a result.[xviii] Iranian officials have recently expressed concern about the resumption of anti-regime protests in recent weeks and are trying to deter anti-regime activity.[xix]
Iran finalized a barter agreement with China wherein Iran provides oil in exchange for Chinese development of the Imam Khomeini Airport in Tehran. This is consistent with the overall trend of Sino-Iranian oil-for-infrastructure agreements. Imam Khomeini Airport Company CEO Saeed Chalandari stated on August 27 that China will financially support the expansion of the airport.[xx] Roads and Urban Development Ministry officials stated that the Iran will have to supply two and a half to three billion euros worth of Iranian oil in exchange.[xxi] Freeway Executive Affairs Office Director General Mahmoud Melazinel stated on July 8 that Iran was conducting preliminary negotiations with China to construct the Tehran-North freeway in exchange for Iranian oil.[xxii] The Tehran-North freeway is an incomplete infrastructure project aimed at expanding the roads connecting Tehran to the Caspian Sea.
[i] https://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/clashes-us-allied-arab-kurdish-fighters-east-syria-102613347; https://deirezzor24 (dot) net/en/the-sdf-have-arrested-commanders-of-the-deirezzor-military-council-in-al-hasakah-triggering-tension-in-deir-ezzor/
[ii] https://orient-news dot net/ar/news_show/198282; https://twitter.com/lou_zay/status/1681925603283353601?s=20
[iii] https://twitter.com/DeirEzzore/status/1695888398190264681?s=20); https://twitter.com/DeirEzzore/status/1696065124954784160); https://twitter.com/DeirEzzore/status/1696080761856868466?s=20)
[v] https://eyeofeuphrates (dot) com/ar/news/2023/08/28/9540
[vi] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-update-june-13-2023; https://deirezzor24 (dot) net/en/the-iranian-revolutionary-guard-militia-is-planting-and-operating-cells-in-sdf-held-areas/
[x] https://www.tasnimnews dot com/fa/news/1402/06/06/2948213 ; https://www.i24news.tv/en/news/middle-east/iran-eastern-states/1693231983-iran-warns-iraq-it-will-ensure-security-if-kurdish-rebels-not-disarmed ; https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/iran-says-iraq-has-agreed-disarm-relocate-kurdistan-militants-2023-08-28/ ; https://english.alarabiya dot net/News/middle-east/2023/08/28/Iran-warns-Iraq-to-disarm-Kurdish-groups-on-its-territory
[xi] https://www.tasnimnews dot com/fa/news/1402/04/20/2924321
[xiii] https://twitter.com/KurdistanHRN/status/1669606076705021953?s=20 ; HYPERLINK "https://twitter.com/KurdistanHRN_En/status/1669341177634758657?s=20"https://twitter.com/KurdistanHRN_En/status/1669341177634758657?s=20
[xiv] https://www.tasnimnews dot com/fa/news/1401/07/06/2781091 ; https://www.nytimes.com/2022/10/04/world/middleeast/iran-kurds-iraq.html ; https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/11/21/iran-attacks-positions-in-northern-iraq-targeting-kurdish-groupso ; https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/3/13/missiles-hit-iraqs-kurdish-capital-no-casualties-officials
[xvi] https://nournews dot ir/Fa/News/127294
[xvii] https://www.tasnimnews dot com/fa/news/1401/07/06/2780803/ ; https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/11/21/iran-attacks-positions-in-northern-iraq-targeting-kurdish-groupso
[xviii] https://www.tasnimnews dot com/fa/news/1401/07/06/2781091 ; https://www.nytimes.com/2022/10/04/world/middleeast/iran-kurds-iraq.html ; https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/11/21/iran-attacks-positions-in-northern-iraq-targeting-kurdish-groupso
[xix] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-update-august-18-2023 ; https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-update-july-28-2023 ; https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-update-july-25-2023
[xx] https://www.yjc dot ir/fa/news/8532311
[xxi] https://www.tasnimnews dot com/fa/news/1402/06/05/2947610
[xxii] https://www.asriran dot com/fa/news/896961