Although Iran has considerable control over the Iraqi government, the same cannot be said for the Shia clergy in Iraq. While the Iranian Shia clergy have long believed in clerical control of the government, the Iraqi Shia clergy have not. This dispute became public recently as Iranian Shia clergy issued fatwas (religious rulings) calling on Shia men to volunteer to fight for the pro-Iranian (and minority Shia) government in Syria (where the Sunni majority have been rebelling for over two years). The Iraqi and Iranian clergy are also split over which of them is supreme in religious matters. While Iran has long had the most religious scholars and schools, Iraq has most of the key Shia shrines and a reputation for religious scholarship that was suppressed during several centuries of Sunni rule in Iraq. That ended with the overthrow of Saddam in 2003, and the senior Iraqi Shia clergy (many in exile in Iran) have been trying to assert their power and independence from Iran ever since. Thus, the Iraqi Shia clergy do not encourage Shia men to go fight in Syria and assert that the war there is political, not religious. Currently, over a thousand Iraqi Shia men a month are going to Syria to fight. Iran continues to ship weapons and other military supplies to Syria via Iraqi roads and air space. So far Iraq has resisted Western (especially American) and Arab pressure to halt these shipments. Part of this is because of Shia loyalty on the part of Iraqi politicians, but there is also the hefty Iranian bribes Iraqi politicians receive, as well as the implicit promise of Iranian military assistance if the Gulf Arabs should attack Iraq in an attempt to restore a Sunni Arab dictatorship.
Shia Arabs are having a harder and harder time accepting the Iranian argument that it is the duty of all Shia to fight Sunni Arab rebels in Syria in order to defend the Shia dictatorship (the Assad family) there. This bothers Shia Arabs because the fighting is Arab versus Arab for the benefit of non-Arab Iran. There are also problems with the Assads, who are secular dictators and most of the Iraqi Shia volunteers are Islamic conservatives. Worse, the Assads are Alawites, a Shia sect that is usually considered more heretical than Shia and only approved by the Iranian Shia clergy because Iran really needed an ally during its 1980s war with Iraq. Back then, Iraq and Syria were run by feuding branches of the Baath Party (a secular socialist political movement that was once very popular in the Arab world). Baath is still popular with Assad supporters in Syria but has been discredited most everywhere else. Iran is also mindful that Iraqi Shia fought bravely against Iran during the 1980s war, even though many of these same Shia later rebelled against Saddam. The basic truth in the region is that ethnicity (Arab versus Iranian) is stronger than religion (Shia versus Sunni).
The Iranian government is encouraging their media to run with the idea that newly elected president Hassan Rouhani is someone the West can deal with. Based on past experience with Rouhani that is true, but when you look at the details of those past negotiations you see that Rouhani is not only willing to negotiate differences but is expert at using deception and carefully concocted lies to get his way. So there’s really not much change here, just more attractive packaging. Iranians are hoping that Rouhani will make good on his previous statements about free access to the Internet. Iranians are likely to be deceived here as well because the senior clerics who let Rouhani run as a sop to the “liberal” wing of the Shia clergy also know that Rouhani is a man who follows orders and knows how to use his Western education to make it appear that he is less of a religious fanatic than he actually is. While Rouhani and the other “liberal” candidates got most of the votes, the senior clerics (at least the ones not blinded by their own propaganda) were not really surprised and know that the population is unhappy with the government and the religious dictatorship.
Iran used to export grain but no more, and the government is buying lots of wheat. Iran will need to import about five million tons of wheat in the next year to prevent hunger. The need to buy so much food has caused the government offer to provide insurance for customers of Iranian oil to fail. The Iranians simply do not have sufficient foreign currency to make the insurance program work while also buying essential consumer goods (like food and medicine), and this is causing fewer customers to try defying the international sanctions against buying Iranian oil. Even more annoying to Iran is the fact that lost Iranian oil sales are helping to keep the price of oil up, which benefits the Gulf Arabs and Russians more than anyone else. Growing production of shale gas and oil in North America is cutting worldwide demand and the Gulf Arabs are having no problem replacing oil Iran can no longer ship. Iran has to offer higher and higher discounts to move any of its oil. Iran is being forced to deal with the fact that losing half its oil income may not be temporary. This could be catastrophic because the Iranian people are not happy with the growing shortages, unemployment, and inflation.
July 25, 2013: The U.S. has expanded the list of medical supplies that can be exported to Iran without special exemption from sanctions. The new sanctions were so tight and inclusive that a lot of humanitarian aid was blocked.
July 21, 2013: Iraq agreed to buy $3.7 billion worth of natural gas a year from Iran. This gas will be used to power Iraqi electricity generating plants. The pipeline for the exports will be completed by the end of the year. Iran also wants to export natural gas to Europe.
In Yemen armed men kidnapped an Iranian embassy employee who was Iranian, not a local hire.
July 20, 2013: In Egypt police raided the offices of the Iranian Al Alam Arabic language satellite channel and arrested the head of the operation. Since the July 3rd coup against the Islamic conservative Sunni government, Egypt has become more hostile towards Iran. Most Egyptians prefer it that way.
July 16, 2013: The EU (European Union) finally agreed to declare Hezbollah a terrorist organization. For a long time many EU members were convinced that Israel was really at fault here and that the Hezbollah members involved in terrorism were exceptions to the general European ban on terrorist organizations. So the EU refused to label Hezbollah a terrorist organization and limit their fund raising and recruiting inside Europe. But since the recent Hezbollah intervention in the Syrian civil war, the growing mountain of evidence became too difficult to deny. The Gulf Arab states that support the Syrian rebels have also warned Hezbollah that if they do not withdraw their gunmen from Syria, Hezbollah will be added to the Arab list of terrorist organizations and Hezbollah will no longer be able to operate openly in most of the Arab world. This would hurt Hezbollah big time. Hezbollah needs the Iranian support to survive and is now in a position where it will take some major losses no matter what it does. So will Iran, which has long considered Hezbollah ones of its major achievements. The EU ban (only on the “military wing” of Hezbollah) makes it more difficult, but not impossible, to raise money and recruit in Europe.
July 14, 2013: Inflation shot up to 45 percent last month. Officially inflation was 27 percent and unemployment 16 percent last year. Both numbers are considered lowball fictions the government used to delay popular unrest, and the real inflation has become impossible for the government to ignore. Now the government admits that inflation has really been 32 percent in the last 12 months.