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Iran Democracy Monitor - No. 173
Edited by Ilan Berman and Brian Carpowich
March 3, 2017
A POLITICAL DARK HORSE RISES
While former Iranian president (and ideological firebrand) Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been taken out of the running in this spring's upcoming election, a previously unknown figure has risen to prominence of late. Ebrahim Raisi, a former deputy national judiciary chief, was appointed last year by the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's Supreme Leader, as the custodian of the shrine of the Imam Reza in Mashhad - an appointment that makes him "one of the most powerful people in Iran." The 56-year-old Raisi is now officially listed on the slate of candidates who are poised to challenge Rouhani when Iranians go to the polls in May. (Al-Monitor, February 21, 2017)
A ROUTE TO REGIONAL ENERGY DOMINANCE
The Islamic Republic has signed a memorandum of understanding to study the construction of a pipeline to export crude oil from Kirkuk, Iraq. The agreement was signed on February 20th at a meeting in Baghdad between the oil ministers of the two countries. The Memorandum also calls for a commission to resolve ongoing conflicts about joint oilfields and the transportation of Iraqi crude oil to Iran's Abadan refinery.
For Iraq, the move is a strategic one. A Kirkuk pipeline, if it materializes, would greatly benefit the Iraqi economy, and further reduce the country's reliance on Kurdish-held transportation routes - something desired by the government of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. For Iran, meanwhile, the construction of a new route to transport Iraqi crude via its territory would solidify Tehran's expanding grip on regional energy sources. (Reuters, February 20, 2017)
THE DEBATE OVER IRGC DESIGNATION...
The Beltway political establishment is pushing back against one of the Trump administration's signature initiatives vis-a-vis Iran: the designation of Iran's clerical army, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), as a foreign terrorist organization under U.S. law. Officials in the Pentagon and the Intelligence Community are said to have warned the White House over the potential dangers associated with such a move, including heightened risk to U.S. forces in Iraq, and potential complications to the current fight against the Islamic State terrorist group. The directive, if it does materialize, would have far-reaching effects, marking the first time that a governmental institution was comprehensively blacklisted in such a manner. However, government officials concerned with the "second, third and fifth order of effects" of such a step are cautioning the White House to rethink this particular course of action. (Washington Post, February 8, 2017)
...AND MOVEMENT TOWARD AN ANTI-IRANIAN BLOC
As part of its revamped policy toward Iran, the Trump administration is seeking a Sunni security bloc to serve as a regional counterweight to the Islamic Republic. The White House is said to be working to forge a military alliance of Sunni Arab nations in what has been termed a "NATO-like defense pact" aimed at containing and constraining Iran. In the near term, the potential alliance would include Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, as well as Egypt and Jordan, with the possibility of other Arab nations joining the coalition in the future. (Wall Street Journal, February 15, 2017)
THAT ENDURING RUSSO-IRANIAN ALLIANCE
The administration of President Donald Trump appears to be holding out hope that it will be possible to "flip" Russia on Iran, but the military ties between Moscow and Tehran are becoming stronger than ever. In the latest sign of strategic cooperation between the two countries, Iran's powerful Supreme National Security Council has approved Russia's ongoing use of its airspace for military sorties in Syria. "Their (the Russians') use of Iran's airspace continues because we have a fully strategic cooperation with Russia," Ali Shamkhani, the Council's Secretary, has confirmed to reporters. (Tehran FARS, February 11, 2017)