The government has scored some small victories which are a welcome development in the face of growing economic problems, numerous military and diplomatic defeats and continuing anti-government protests at home and abroad. Saudi Arabia is now willing to discuss a peace deal in Yemen, which is a major concession by the Saudis. Progress continues in establishing a long-term military presence in Syria and oil smuggling efforts continue to survive numerous attacks. On the negative side, Iraq is becoming increasingly hostile to Iran. Worse, a recent opinion poll found that nearly 70 percent of young Arabs throughout the Moslem world side with the West and/or the Americans versus Iran. Most young Iranians agree as the government is reminded weekly because of continuing demonstrations and growing hostility towards the religious dictatorship and Islam in general. Young Iranians have come to view the history of Iran since the 1970s quite differently than their leaders. The 1979 Iranian revolution, led by the Shia clergy is now seen as a mistake. The rebellion overthrew the monarchy and was supposed to be replaced by a democracy. The Shia clergy prevented that, using the 1980 Iraqi invasion (to steal some valuable oil fields) and the ensuing eight years of fighting as the excuse. The war was a disaster for Iran, leaving several hundred thousand Iranians dead, most of them young men and ending in a stalemate and ceasefire, not a victory. That came 15 years later when three divisions of American and British troops overthrew Saddam Hussein in two weeks. The Iranian government continued its policy of supporting Islamic terrorism, usually Sunni groups that frequently murdered Shia civilians. Iran never fully recovered from the economic cost of the 1980s Iraq war and the current Iranian protestors grew up under that failed system. They had access to TV and cellphones and noted that the rest of the world was much better off than Iran and wondered why. It was painful to realize that the main enemy of Iran was the Iranian government, in the form of a religious dictatorship that was corrupt, ruthless and seen by most of the world as gangsters using religion to justify their crimes. Once Iranians realized they were victimized by this as well, their government became even more vicious and desperate.
In Iraq the government and Iraqis, in general, are particularly keen to retain American troops in Iraq, to discourage Iran from trying to take over the government by force. Elections and opinion polls show Iran is losing support and the Iranians are so desperate to turn that around that they do dangerous things as part of that effort. Iraqi government efforts to stop the verbal threats to American facilities and forces as well as the actual violence are hampered by the fact that while a shrinking minority of Iraqis support Iran, those supporters still occupy key political and security force jobs.
Iraq has every reason to distance itself from Iran, which is broke because of sanctions and eager to export terrorist violence to their more prosperous neighbors. The Iraqi Shia Arabs don’t want to be dominated by non-Arab Iran, where Arabs are openly despised, especially the few percent of Iranians who are Arab. At the same time, Iraq doesn’t want to be dominated by their Sunni Arab neighbors and especially not by their own Sunni Arab minority, which created ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) and has been a major supporter of Islamic terrorism since 2003.
All manner of Iraqi leaders (government, military, religious) are becoming more aware of how Iran wants to dominate and control Iraq and most of these Iraqis, and their followers, don’t like it. Iraqis have seen how Iranian control operates in Lebanon (since the 1980s) and Syria (since 2014), and feel that Iraq has a choice whereas the Lebanese and Syrians did not. While some pro-Iran Iraqi leaders call for attacks on Americans in Iraq that is not supported by most Iraqis, who see the Americans as a form of defense against several foreign threats (Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey). Many Iraqis also take satisfaction in how the Israelis quietly take apart Iranian military capabilities, including operations inside Iran. The Israeli 2018 raid that made off with large quantities of Iranian documents was particularly impressive. Other Arab states in the region agree, which is why Arab states long considered diehard foes of Israel are now openly referring to Israel as an ally. Iraqis are divided on going that far, but as time goes on there is less, not more, support for Iran inside Iraq.
The Saudis carry on with efforts to defeat the Shia rebels despite UN pressure to make a peace deal the Shia rebels would currently accept. The Saudis now say they will accept more local ceasefires. But ending the war would require agreeing to restore the Shia autonomy (lost in the 1960s) in the north and make it possible for Iran to continue supplying the Shia tribes with weapons that can be used to attack Saudi Arabia. To the Saudis that is unacceptable, given the fact that the Iranians are openly calling for the overthrow of the Saudi government, and Iran taking over as the “protector of the two Most Holy Islamic cities of Mecca and Medina”. The Saudis suddenly feel more sympathy for Israel and the years of Iran-financed violence on its southern border where Gaza-based Hamas exists mainly to try and destroy Israel.
Most Moslems do not want Iran in charge of Mecca and Medina. The Iranians are Shia Moslems and Shia comprise only about ten percent of all Moslems. The Saudis are largely Sunni, a version of Islam about 80 percent of Moslems belong to. Moreover, the Iranians are not Arabs. Rather the Iranians are Indo-European and for many Moslems that is a big deal because Islam was founded by Arabs and the Moslem scriptures (the Koran) are written in Arabic. The Saudis will go to great lengths to prevent the Shia provinces in northwest Yemen from becoming an Iran base area. Meanwhile, the Iranians have convinced many of the Shia Yemenis that getting their autonomy back should be non-negotiable because without that autonomy the Yemeni Shia will be vulnerable to retaliation from all the other Yemeni groups the Shia rebels have harmed during the years of civil war.
China is the largest importer of oil in the world and remains an ally of Iran despite American sanctions. Then Iran attacked Saudi oil facilities in September and interrupted shipments to Asian customers and sent oil prices up momentarily. China has not revealed how this has changed its relationship with Iran but Chinese public opinion has not been kind to Iran.
October 2, 2019: Iraq officially criticized Iran for recent comments by the Iranian ambassador about how Iran would attack American forces in Iraq if Iran felt the Americans were a threat to Iran. This was another reminder that Iraqis see American troops as an asset and Iran as a threat.
A senior American official used satellite photos of the Iranian tanker
off the coast of Syria, tied up with a smaller tanker to accuse Iran of smuggling. The Americans believe the Iranian ship was transferring its cargo to the smaller tanker which would then deliver it to Syria via the nearby oil unloading facility off the coast. This is what Iran has done but it was pointed out that there is no conclusive evidence that the transfer to Syria actually took place.
October 1, 2019: In neighboring Iraq, the annual anti-corruption/anti-Iran protests began. Most of the protestors are young Shia men angry over the Shia dominated government's inability to manage anything, especially basic services (water and electricity supplies) or do much to curb rampant corruption. These protests are encouraged, and often organized by
senior Iraqi Shia cleric Moqtada al Sadr. This year the protests were organized by the young protestors themselves using social media. Sadr approved of this year’s protests, especially how the protests became more anti-Iran after 24 hours because Iran called for violence against American troops, diplomats and civilians in Iraq. This was seen as yet another Iranian attempt to control Iraq and do a lot of damage to Iraq in the process. This is nothing new and has been going on for several years. The anti-Iraq element received religious approval in 2017 when Sadr, the most respected cleric in Iraq, called on the government to dismantle the Iran backed Shia militias and incorporate loyal (to Iraq) members into the armed forces. This year Iraqis are angry with Iran over their attacks on Saudi oil facilities and Iranian efforts to launch such attacks from Iraq. The protestor response was a call for Arab unity in the face of Iranian aggression. Not what Iran wants but this year Iraqis are particularly loud in reminding Iran that they are seen as a threat to Arabs more than the protector of Shia Arabs. Iraq further angers Iran by refusing to attack or hate the Americans. The reasons for that are simple. Compared to Iran the Americans have been far more helpful to Iraq (in fighting terrorists and aiding reconstruction) than Iran. Best of all, the Americans have proved they have no desire to occupy or control Iraq. The logic of that is simple for Iraqis and Arabs. The Americans are far away while Iran is next door. The Americans have, for several generations, concentrated by buying Arab oil and selling Arabs whatever they want. Iran, in contrast, is seen as seeking to control Arab oil as well as the Islamic holy places in Saudi Arabia.
September 30, 2019: In western Iraq (Anbar province), the border crossing with Syria (Deir Ezzor province) at Iraqi Qaim/Syrian Bukamal was officially reopened. The crossing had officially closed in 2012 as rebels battled the Syrian army for control. Possession changed hands several times but the area remained a combat zone and had not quieted down sufficiently until early 2018 to consider an official reopening. The border crossing controls a main route up the Euphrates River Valley through Syria and into Turkey. This crossing is one of the several Iranian land routes through Syria to the Israeli border and Lebanon. This route is under constant attack by Israeli airstrikes in Syria and Iraq.
September 28, 2019: In Iraq, Iranian interference was blamed for the recent decision to remove the popular, and effective, commander of the Iraqi counterterror forces and move to a less threatening (to Iranian operations in Iraq) Defense Ministry job. Iran apparently called in a lot of favors to get this transfer made and the negative popular reaction was one reason why. Nothing Iran does seems to slow down the growing movement to diminish or eliminate Iranian influence in Iraq.
September 26, 2019: In Yemen, Saudi Arabia agreed to limited ceasefires with Iran-backed Shia rebels. The ceasefire would take place in a few areas, but this would help the rebels rebuild their economic and military capabilities.
September 25, 2019: In the United States the annual UN meeting of world leaders took place. With the American, Saudi and Iranian leaders present the Iraqi prime minister made very public his opposition to anyone (especially Iran) using Iraq as a battlefield for a proxy war against someone else. This was aimed at Iran, which is the foreign nation most actively trying to control what goes on inside Iraq and has been using propaganda, persuasion, threats and violence to get what it wants. The Iraqi warning was also meant for Israel, whose airstrikes against pro-Iran forces in Iraq are increasing. Yet Israel, more than anyone else, is acting in self-defense because the main goal of the Iranian government since the 1990s has been to destroy Israel. Iran has attempted many attacks against Israel or Israelis since then. Some have succeeded but fewer and fewer as the years go by. The Iranians are not pleased by their failure in this area. Also discussed at the UN, but less openly, was the recent Iranian attack on Saudi oil facilities and efforts to launch some of those attacks from Iraq. The Iraqis apparently blocked that effort, so the recent attack on Saudi Arabia were launched from Iran.
In northern Yemen, Iran-backed Shia rebels claim to have advanced into Saudi Arabia and attacked a Saudi base near Narjan and defeated Saudi troops and Yemeni tribal militiamen the Saudis were training. The Yemeni rebels looted the base after the surviving Saudi troops and militiamen fled. Saudi Arabia denies this happened but the Saudis have not been cooperative when it comes to promptly and accurately describe Shia Yemeni rebel violence along the Saudi border. The Shia Yemeni tribesmen have consistently outperformed Saudi troops and their tribal allies. The Saudis do not like to discuss this in the media. Iran is backing attacks like this as part of an effort to force the Saudis to make peace and accept an autonomous, pro-Iran, Shia provinces on the Saudi border. There is growing support in the Saudi leadership to make a deal in Yemen and concentrate on protecting Saudi oil and the holy places from Iranian threats.
September 23, 2019: In Iraq (Baghdad), two rockets were fired towards the American embassy compound but fell short. Police quickly found the launch site but the culprits had fled. This was probably Iran backed PMF again and Americans continue pressuring the government to control these rogue militias or face cuts in foreign aid.
September 22, 2019: In western Iraq (Anbar province) ,an unidentified aircraft, possibly a UAV, attacked a pro-Iran PMF base about 30 kilometers from the Syrian border. These attacks are more frequent and while Israel is the main suspect there is no definitive evidence from the bomb or missile debris or from efforts to get a close-up photo of the aircraft. Israel will not discuss the matter.
September 20, 2019: In Yemen, the Iran backed Shia rebels have proposed a peace deal that would include a halt to all attacks on Saudi Arabia. As part of that, the rebels declared a unilateral ceasefire and asked the Saudis to join them. The UN thought this was a splendid idea but the Saudis pointed out that the rebels were lying and that the recent UAV attack on Saudi Arabia came directly from Iran. Moreover, the Saudis will not tolerate armed and hostile Yemeni Shia on its southwestern border, especially since these Yemenis are working closely with Iran. For the Saudis, victory is the only option, not a compromise that leaves the Yemeni Shia threat intact.
September 19, 2019: In eastern Syria (Deir Ezzor province) there was apparently another Israeli airstrike against Iranian weapons being stored near the Al Bukamal crossing into Iraq. Five pro-Iran militiamen were killed and nine wounded. This border crossings is vital for the Iran-to-Mediterranean land route. This road is essential to supporting any Iranian military expansion in Syria and Lebanon. Israel has bombed it before and will apparently continue doing so. That is what will also to happen to the new military base Iran is building here on the Syrian side of the border. The base is not complete yet but will be soon and expected to be occupied by the end of 2019. At that point, the Israeli airstrikes usually begin.
Saudi intel officials announced that debris found at the Abqaiq facility indicated that Iran used 18 UAVs and seven Ya Ali air-launched cruise missiles to attack two Saudi targets on the 15th. The Ya Ali has been around since 2014 and has a range of 700 kilometers. The UAVs and cruise missiles were flying preprogrammed flight paths using GPS. The flight path carefully followed a course that avoided areas covered by Saudi Patriot system radars, which see in a 120 degree arc, not 360 (all around). The attack force would move along the Iraqi coast and stay off the Persian Gulf, because that body of water is under constant surveillance by the United States Navy and Air Force. The attack force then proceeded south of Abqaiq and turned around so that the attacker appeared like they have just arrived from Yemen. Not all the UAVs and cruise missiles hit targets. Over a third of them for one reason or another missed.
In northern Somalia, pirates released one of their four remaining hostages because this Iranian man was very sick and in danger of dying in their custody after four years of captivity. The hostage was released without ransom and moved to the Ethiopian capital for medical care. The pirates are still demanding high ransoms for the remaining three, which no one seems willing to pay.
September 18, 2019: The Iraqi government ordered Iran backed PMF militias away from the Saudi border.
September 16, 2019: Leaders from Iran, Turkey, and Russia met in Turkey to work out details of defeating the last rebels in northwest Syria, dealing the Kurds in the northwest and getting about a thousand American troops out of Syria. Iran also discussed increased economic cooperation with Turkey, which has been unofficially assisting Iranians seeking to bet assets (like cash) past American sanctions and into Turkey where local assets (like real estate) are purchased. This makes the money legal for Iranians.
In eastern Syria (Deir Ezzor province), an Israeli airstrike hit a pro-Iran PMF near the al Bukamal crossing into Iraq.
September 15, 2019: In Iraq, the government ordered merger of PMF and Defense Ministry weapons and ammunition storage sites has been completed. After a series of explosions at PMF weapons warehouses, the Defense Ministry found that this was largely caused by sloppy handling of ammo. Also at issue was the presence of many PMF ammo storage sites in urban areas. The Defense Ministry stores ammo in well-guarded and well managed rural sites. This new policy gives the Defense Ministry control over PMF weapons and ammo. Any PMF ammo storage sites that remain are illegal and subject to seizure. Some pro-Iran PMF units are believed to have some illegal storage sites. The Defense Ministry also denied permission for one pro-Iran PMF brigade to establish its own “air force” of quadcopter and fixed-wing UAVs. This same PMF brigade has had its weapons warehouses hit by Israeli airstrikes recently. As a result, it is definitely illegal for any PMF to possess any Iranian UAVs although the commercial ones used by Iraqi troops and militia are tolerated, mainly because the Islamic terrorists and bandits use them as well.
September 14, 2019: In Yemen, Iran backed Shia rebels claim responsibility for an air attack in Saudi Arabia where the Abqaiq oil processing facility (the world’s largest) and a nearby oil field were damaged by multiple explosives equipped UAVs. This attack was well planned and hit key facilities within the sprawling oil processing center. The Iran-backed Yemeni Shia rebels quickly took credit for the attack but few people who knew about how these Iranian UAVs operated believed the Yemeni rebels. Although those rebels have been using similar UAVs for similar attacks since 2018, one like this, so far from northern Yemen and so precise and carefully planned, was beyond the capabilities of the Shia rebels. For one thing, the Saudis have developed methods for detecting and destroying these UAVs that were operating in Yemen and it is unlikely that a formation of a dozen or more could travel 1,400 kilometers over Saudi territory without being detected. Later analysis of the debris indicated that over 20 UAVs or cruise missiles were involved and the Americans provided photographic evidence that the UAVs came from the north (as in from Iran), not the south. Kuwait also reported detecting a number of UAVs passing over their territory before the Abqaiq attack.
The Yemeni rebels claim to have used their Samad-3 UAVs, which has the range to hit Abqaiq and has been used by the Yemen rebels since 2018. The Samad-3 is basically an Iranian Ababil UAV with a new name. This UAV would take about five hours to get from Yemen to Abqaiq. For a while, it was suspected the UAVs came from southern Iraq because there was one pro-Iran PMF militia that boasted of launching UAV attacks on Saudi Arabia from western Iraq (Anbar) and was suspected in an earlier UAV attack. But that PMF unit was no longer in a position to launch any UAV attacks and evidence indicated the UAVs were launched from western Iran and passed over Kuwait to reach Abqaiq. Iran denies this but this sort of attack is typical for Iranians, who prefer to use third-parties (or “cutouts”) to make such attacks and then deny any responsibility. This approach works less well now because Iran has used it so often and several entities (the U.S., the UN and others) have compiled evidence leading back to Iran as the source of numerous assassinations, bombings and aerial attacks. Iran is taking advantage of the fact that no one wants an all-out war in the Persian Gulf and believes it can continue attacks like this without serious repercussions. Iran is already under intense economic sanctions so they believe they are not vulnerable to any serious retaliation. The Ababil attack did not have much impact on the world oil market as there was plenty of extra supply to fill in while Ababil was repaired. The Americans did impose new financial sanctions on Iranian banks and financial services in general and will more vigorously enforce existing sanctions on Iranian banks. In other words, the Americans are now going after all Iranian foreign financial activity. This will cause Iran problems. Worse, what Iran wants is an actual retaliatory military attack by the Americans, so the unpopular Iranian religious dictatorship can get more popular support inside Iran. This also reduces popular support for Iran among Iraqi Shia Arabs. These Iraqis were initially attracted to installing an Iranian style government in Iraq, but given the string of failures and defeats Iran has been suffering the past few years, Iran no longer seems worth following or emulating.
September 10, 2019:
Britain accuses Iran of violating a written agreement to not sell the oil its tanker Adrian Draya-1 was carrying, to Syria. Iran recently announced it had found a customer for the Adrian Draya-1 oil cargo but would not say who. The Americans say they have photographic and electronic evidence that the customer was Syria, despite efforts by Iran to conceal the transfer of oil via the Syrian offshore oil transfer terminal. This all began earlier in southern Spain where a British court in Gibraltar agreed to allow the Iranian tanker Grace 1 to go free because of written assurances its cargo of Iraqi oil would not be delivered to Syria in violation of sanctions. The tanker had been seized on July 4th by British commandos because of evidence that was transporting Iraqi oil to Syria. The Iranian supertanker was there to resupply after a long voyage around Africa. Britain claimed the tanker was breaking sanctions by transporting two million barrels of Iraqi oil to Syria. This was part of an enormous (and expensive) Iranian effort to get the Syrian government the oil it needs to continue fighting rebels and Islamic terrorists. The tanker was acting suspiciously as it avoided traveling via the Suez Canal and instead took the longer and much more expensive route around Africa. The Egyptians would have carefully scrutinized the tanker and its paperwork if it had used the canal. The U.S. promptly issued a warrant for the seizure of the oil on the Grace one, plus $995,000 as part of a forfeiture (of Iranian assets) so satisfy American financial judgments against Iran. The Gibraltar court refused to hold the Iranian tanker any longer and the tanker renamed Adrian Draya-1 and with its registration changed to Iranian, said was going to Greece. Adrian Draya-1 left Gibraltar and entered the Mediterranean where it moved towards Syria. On September 2nd the tanker turned off its AIS tracker (a violation of international law) and was eventually spotted off Syria. But there were no aerial or satellite photos of the actual unloading of the oil. The Americans will not reveal the exact nature of their evidence or how they obtained it, apparently to prevent Iran from knowing how their tanker had been tracked. With that knowledge, the Iranians could more easily come up with ways to avoid such detection.
September 9, 2019: In the east (Deir Ezzor province) an Israeli airstrike hit a new pro-Iran PMF base near the al Bukamal crossing into Iraq. There were about twenty dead and much property damage. Israel did not take credit. The next day there was another airstrike across the border in Iraq (Anbar province) that hit a weapons warehouse, which cause a large secondary explosion.