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Iran Democracy Monitor - No. 180

Edited by Ilan Berman and Evelyn Johns
November 27, 2017


IRAN'S AFGHAN "VOLUNTEERS"
Iran's Revolutionary Guards are recruiting Afghan immigrant children as young as 14 to fight in the Syrian civil war, a new report from Human Rights Watch has charged. The juveniles, the study alleges, are conscripted into the Fatemiyoun division, an exclusively Afghan volunteer unit that fights alongside Iranian forces in the Syrian theater. From tombstones and Iranian media reports, HRW has verified the deaths of about a dozen Afghan child soldiers to date, a number of whom lied about their age in order to join the fighting. With many of the estimated 2.5 million Afghans in Iran lacking residency papers, the possibility of obtaining legal status for their families represents a strong motivator for teenagers to "volunteer" for service on the Syrian front - a dynamic the Islamic Republic has actively encouraged. The Iranian government "has proposed offering incentives such as a path to citizenship for families of foreign fighters who die, become injured, or are taken captive during 'military missions,'" the report notes. (
Human Rights Watch, October 1, 2017)

KHATAMI UNDER FIRE...

The Iranian regime is tightening its control over so-called "reformists" within its ranks. Regime security forces recently placed former president Mohammad Khatami under what amounts to house arrest, preventing the popular ex-leader from leaving his home in Tehran to meet with political allies, according to opposition-linked news sites. The move, experts say, is only the latest in a growing array of restrictions and constraints placed upon political actors within the Islamic Republic that are at variance with the established status quo. Nader Hashemi, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Denver, notes that "Khatami's restricted mobility, which essentially places him under house arrest, carries a message from Iranian hard-liners to reformists [that] 'Ultimately, you are dispensable.'" (
Washington Post, October 19, 2017)

...WHILE LARIJANI JOCKEYS FOR POSITION

Who will be Iran's next president, once Hassan Rouhani's second term expires in 2021? The answer is far from clear, but at least one Iranian politician is already positioning himself as Rouhani's potential successor. That man is Ali Larijani, the influential speaker of Iran's parliament, or majles, who has made a series of moves in recent weeks to raise his profile among elements of Iran's "reformist" political camp. According to Iranian sources, this has included launching a quiet campaign to roll back the house arrests of former "Green Movement" leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Kharroubi - something that has remained a key political objective among many reformists since the 2009 uprising. These efforts, moreover, seem to be working; early signs suggest that elements of the Executives of Construction Party (Kargozaran) and Unity (Ettehad) parties have already signaled their willingness to back Larijani if he stands for election four years hence. (
Al-Monitor, October 11, 2017)

IRAN CONTINUES ITS ILLICIT PROCUREMENT

European nations, worried over a potential pullout from the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran by the Trump administration, have taken pains to stress that Iran remains in full compliance with the terms of the agreement and associated understandings. Growing evidence on the Continent, however, suggests otherwise. For instance, Germany's various intelligence agencies have warned that the Islamic Republic continues to clandestinely seek to acquire critical components for its ballistic missile program from abroad - and that it is doing so in violation of international regulations and restrictions. Thus, the state intelligence service for Germany's North Rhine-Westphalia state has noted in its annual report that it discerned no fewer than 32 attempts by Iranian entities to acquire proliferation-related equipment in 2016, and that most of these were linked to Iran's ballistic missile program. (
Reuters, October 11, 2017)

A HELPING HAND FROM MOSCOW

The strategic partnership between Iran's clerical regime and the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to strengthen on multiple fronts. Earlier this month, Russia and Iran inked a number of new "strategic" energy deals worth as much as $30 billion. The agreements, spearheaded by Russian state energy firms Rosneft and Gazprom, are part of what Iranian officials describe as growing "strategic cooperation in the energy sector" that would see Russia help develop Iran's vast oil and natural gas fields, as well as collaborate with Iranian firms on the development of new energy technologies.

Moscow is helping Tehran politically as well. The Kremlin has emerged as a vocal opponent of the Trump administration's efforts to blacklist Iran's clerical army, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or IRGC, as a terrorist group. "Our approach to unilateral sanctions in general is universal," Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov has told reporters. "We regard such methods as illegitimate and running counter to the norms of international law and the basic principles of interstate communication." (
Financial Times, November 1, 2017; Itar-TASS
, November 1, 2017)