June 28, 2023

Iran Update, June 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 a new 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.

Key Takeaways

  1. Iranian leadership met with Iraqi Shia Coordination Framework leadership in Tehran to discuss forming political coalitions during the week of June 19, likely to unify the Coordination Framework ahead of the Iraqi provincial elections in December 2023.
  2. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu held a phone conversation with Iranian Armed Forces General Staff Chief Major General Mohammad Bagheri on June 28.

Iranian Activities in Iraq

This section covers Iranian efforts to consolidate and expand Tehran’s economic, military, and political influence throughout Iraq. 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 leadership met with Iraqi Shia Coordination Framework leadership in Tehran to discuss forming political coalitions during the week of June 19, likely to unify the Coordination Framework ahead of the Iraqi provincial elections in December 2023.[i] Unspecified Iranian officials met with Asaib Ahl al Haq (AAH) Secretary General Qais Khazali, Badr Organization and Al Fatah party Secretary General Hadi al Amiri, and Popular Mobilization Force Chairman Faleh al Fayyadh from June 19 to June 22. Iran advocated for the Coordination Framework to form a coalition with Iranian-backed Iraqi militias, according to an unidentified source cited by Shafaq. Khazali, Amiri, and Fayyadh did not reach an agreement on forming the coalition before leaving Tehran on June 22. The parties within the Coordination Framework performed poorly in Iraq’s 2021 elections and formed a majority coalition only after the Sadrist Movement withdrew from parliament.[ii] It is uncommon for Shia Coordination Framework leadership to visit Tehran in an official government capacity. The leaders’ coordination with Iranian officials in Tehran speaks to the depth of Iran’s investment in supporting its political allies in Iraq.

Iranian Ambassador to Iraq and former IRGC Quds Force Officer Mohammad Kazem al-e Sadegh denied claims that Iran interferes in Iraqi politics during an interview with AAH news outlet al Ahad News, despite the Coordination Framework’s recent trip to Tehran.[iii]  Al-e Sadegh made this claim while commenting on Iraq’s upcoming provincial elections.

Al-e Sadegh also claimed that he hoped Moqtada al Sadr would reengage in politics in responding to a question about the withdrawal of the Sadrist Movement from parliament in 2022. Al-e Sadegh’s comments are surprising because the withdrawal of the Sadrist Movement enabled the Coordination Framework to form a majority coalition, which remains under the current administration.[iv] Moqtada al Sadr has not announced if his party intends to participate in the 2023 provincial elections. Al-e Sadegh’s comments are also unexpected because Sadr instigated protests in response to Coordination Framework activity in March 2023 that prompted IRGC Quds Force Commander Esmail Ghaani to meet with Sadr in Baghdad.[v] Al-e Sadegh is a former IRGC Quds Force officer and an interview with an Iranian-backed proxy media outlet allows him to speak on behalf of Iran and the Quds Force.

Al-e Sadegh separately claimed the Iraqi government had not implemented an Iran-Iraq border security memorandum of understanding (MOU).[vi] Al-e Sadegh criticized Iraq for not constructing physical barriers along the border between Iran and the Iraqi Kurdistan Region (IKR) per the MOU. He also claimed that Iraq has failed to disarm and extradite Kurdish separatist members operating in the IKR. Al-e Sadegh‘s comments reflect Iranian regime concerns about threats to Iran from the IKR. Iran threatened a ground incursion into the IKR in November 2022 to disarm Kurdish militant groups.[vii] Iran claimed that Israel had armed Kurdish separatist groups to carry out an attack on an Iranian Defense Ministry facility on January 28.[viii] CTP observed Iran deploying artillery towards the IKR from June 3 to June 4, likely to confront perceived Israeli threats and to strike Kurdish separatist groups.[ix] IRGC Commander Major General Hossein Salami appointed two new IRGC commanders June 26 to the Seyyed ol Shahada and Beyt ol Moghhadas bases in northwestern Iran, which indicates the regime’s focus on security threats in the area.[x]

Iranian Domestic and Political Affairs

Note: The following text also appeared in the Institute for the Study of War’s Russian Offensive Campaign Assessment on June 28, 2023.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu held a phone conversation with Iranian Armed Forces General Staff Chief Major General Mohammad Bagheri on June 28. Russian media reported that Shoigu and Bagheri discussed issues of bilateral military and military-technical cooperation, regional security, and the wider international situation and announced their intention to deepen bilateral dialogue and develop additional defense contracts.[xi] Bagheri is responsible for Iranian military policy and strategic guidance, and previously met with Shoigu in Moscow in October 2021.[xii] Bagheri's senior role within Iran's security apparatus suggests that he could have discussed arms sales with Shoigu. Iranian officials have previously expressed interest in receiving Russian fighter jets and air defense systems in return for Iran's support for the Russian war effort, although these sales have not yet materialized.[xiii] ISW and the CTP previously assessed that Iran is seeking to leverage arms sales to generate revenue for the Iranian economy.[xiv]

[i] https://shafaq dot com/ar/%D8%B3%DB%8C%D8%A7%D8%B3%D8%A9/%D8%B9-%D9%82%D8%AF-%D9%81%D9%8A-%D8%B7%D9%87%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%86-%D8%A7%D8%AC%D8%AA%D9%85%D8%A7%D8%B9-%D8%BA%D9%8A%D8%B1-%D9%85%D8%B1%D8%B6-%D9%84%D9%82%D8%A7%D8%AF%D8%A9-%D8%A7%D9%84-%D8%B7%D8%A7%D8%B1-%D9%85%D8%B9-%D9%85%D8%B3-%D9%88%D9%84%D9%8A%D9%86-%D9%8A%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%86%D9%8A%D9%8A%D9%86

[ii] https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/forming-new-government-iraq-possible-scenarios ; https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/iraqs-purple-coup-truly-iraqi-electoral-surprise-par-excellence
https://shafaq dot com/en/Report/Mohammed-Al-Sadiq-the-shadow-man-on-the-Iranian-helm-in-Iraq

[iii] https://www dot alahad.iq/?page=article&itemId=167390

[iv] https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/forming-new-government-iraq-possible-scenarios

[v] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-update-march-30-2023

[vi] https://shafaq dot com/en/Report/Mohammed-Al-Sadiq-the-shadow-man-on-the-Iranian-helm-in-Iraq

[vii] https://www.rudaw dot net/english/middleeast/21112022; https://www.irna dot ir/news/84949578

[viii] https://www.mehrnews dot com/news/5697889 ; http://www.nournews dot ir/fa/news/127294 ; https://www.nytimes.com/2023/01/29/world/middleeast/iran-drone-strike-israel.html

[ix] https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/iran-update-june-5-2023

[x] https://www.understandingwar.org/backgrounder/iran-update-june-26-2023

[xi] https://ria dot ru/20230628/shoygu-1880934263.html

[xii] https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/iransource/is-iran-going-on-an-arms-shopping-spree-in-moscow/

[xiii] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-update-june-27-2023

[xiv] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-update-june-21-2023

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