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Fresh Wave of Protests Starting From Universities Spread To Several Cities In Iran

Fresh Wave of Protests Starting From Universities Spread To Several Cities In Iran

January 12, 2020


Crowds gathering in front of Ostad Moein St in Tehran in protest against Khamenei for deceiving the public about plane crash. January 12, 2020.
Crowds gathering in front of Ostad Moein St in Tehran in protest against Khamenei for deceiving the public about a plane crash. January 12, 2020.

Reports from Tehran say there are tight security measures near several universities and academic centers particularly in downtown Tehran where demonstrations have been going on since Saturday evening.

Meanwhile, large groups of young people gathered at the Azadi Square in Tehran Sunday afternoon and early evening to hold a vigil while chanting slogans against the regime and the IRGC, protesting the downing of a Ukrainian airliner that left 176 passengers and crew, including many Iranian students and academics dead.

Marchers chanted, “A government of Guards…We reject, we reject”, in a reference to IRGC with tremendous political and economic power in Iran.

Roozbeh Bolhari@Roozbeh1963

شعار جمعیت معترض در نزدیکی تهران:
“حکومت سپاهی / نمی‌خوایم نمی‌خوایم”.
pic.twitter.com/q4wBruzwLF https://twitter.com/ordoyekar/status/1216380827631833089 

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اردوی کار@ordoyekar

جمعیت معترض در حرکت به سمت میدان آزادی شعار می دهند:
▪️حکومت سپاهی / نمی‌خوایم نمی‌خوایم@ordoyekar

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See Roozbeh Bolhari’s other Tweets

It appears that the protest demonstrations that shook Iran in mid-November are making a comeback with a renewed rigor. However, the riot police appear to be more reserved after reportedly killing up to 1,500 demonstrators in the previous round of the protests. No deaths were reported so far on Saturday and Sunday.

Eyewitnesses have already reported security forces intermittently shooting in the air and using tear gas in Tehran including at Azadi Square Sunday evening. Foreign-based satellite TVs have been reporting about the police beating the demonstrators as darkness fell over the Iranian capital.

Videos on social media later in the evening showed scenes of plainclothes agents attacking people and in one case an agents is said to have shot a woman in the leg,

Fresh demonstrations are also reported in Isfahan, Tabriz, Gorgan, Rasht, Shiraz, Sanandaj, Kermanshah, Qazvin and several other Iranian cities Sunday evening.

A Tehran University professor observed that security measures were even tight around Imam Sadeq University where selected pro-regime students study to become the cadres of the Iranian Foreign Ministry and Intelligence Ministry.

Professor Sadeq Zibakalam wrote: “It is understandable though bitter to see special unit troops near the Polytechnic, Sharif, Tehran, Beheshti and Allame Universities. But seeing special units in front of Imam Sadeq University is still bitter but not understandable as they are carefully selected. Do they need to be watched too?”

Anti-riot troops and armored vehicles were also reported to be present near Beheshti University in northern Tehran on the slopes of the Alborz mountains.

Students at Beheshti University refused to stampede on U.S. and Israeli flags while booing a handful of students belonging to Basij militia who stepped on the flags.

Rep. Anna V. Eskamani @AnnaForFlorida

Another reflection of Iranian students not reflecting the animosity towards the USA & Israel expressed by their government. https://twitter.com/gesfandiari/status/1216321586376183811 

Golnaz Esfandiari

@GEsfandiari

Students at Tehran’s Beheshti university avoid walking on U.S. and Israeli flags painted at entrance. Via @mamlekate

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Elsewhere at Allame Tabatabai University, students condemned Iran’s state TV for keeping silent for three days about the missile attack on the Ukrainian airliner.

The protests in Tehran started Saturday evening following a vigil held at Amir Kabir University for the victims of the Ukrainian passenger jet shot down on Wednesday that claimed 176 Iranian lives, mainly elite students and academics on their way to Canada via Ukraine.

The vigils soon turned into anti-government demonstrations demanding regime change. Meanwhile the protests spread to several universities in other Iranian cities including Isfahan, Babolsar and Sari.

Calls were made Saturday night for further vigils at Azadi [Freedom] squares in Tehran and other cities. However, Iranian filmmaker Ms. Rakhsan Bani Etemad who made the call in Tehran said later that she was under immense pressure by security officers to call off the vigil.

Nevertheless, large groups of young people gathered at the Azadi Square in Tehran Sunday afternoon for the vigil while chanting slogans against the regime and the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) which has accepted responsibility for the attack on the civilian passenger jet on Wednesday.

Also Saturday night, a commentator on state TV said that Bani Etemad was inviting trouble for herself and her daughter, a renowned actress.

Meanwhile many Iranian film, theatre, music and graphic artists have pulled out their works from the Fajr Festivals that mark the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in February.

Our enemy is here’: Iran protesters demand that leaders quit after plane downed

‘Our enemy is here’: Iran protesters demand that leaders quit after plane downed

DUBAI (Reuters) – Protests erupted across Iran for a second day on Sunday, increasing pressure on the Islamic Republic’s leadership after it admitted its military shot down a Ukrainian airliner by accident, despite days of denials that Iranian forces were to blame.

“They are lying that our enemy is America, our enemy is right here,” one group of protesters chanted outside a university in Tehran, according to video posted on Twitter.

Other posts showed demonstrators outside a second university and a group of protesters marching to Tehran’s Azadi (Freedom) Square, as well as protests in other cities.

Some state-affiliated media carried reports of the university protests, which followed demonstrations on Saturday sparked by Iran’s admission that its military mistakenly shot down the plane on Wednesday, killing all 176 aboard, at a time when Tehran feared U.S. airstrikes.

The Ukraine International Airlines plane was downed minutes after taking off from Tehran bound for Kiev on Wednesday. Many on board were Iranians with dual citizenship, while 57 were holders of Canadian passports.

Residents of the capital told Reuters that police were out in force on Sunday. Some protesters in Azadi Square first called on officers there to join them, then turned their anger on the authorities, chanting anti-government slogans including “Down with the dictator” – a reference to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, according to social media posts and Iranian media reports.

The semi-official ILNA news agency said police moved to disperse the protesters, who it said numbered as many as 3,000. Videos posted online showed demonstrators running from police who used batons and teargas.

Public anger boiled up following days of denials by the military that it was to blame for the crash, issued even as Canada and the United States said it appeared that Iranian air defenses had shot down the airliner, probably in error.

“Apologise and resign,” Iran’s moderate Etemad daily wrote in a banner headline on Sunday, saying the “people’s demand” was that those responsible for mishandling the crisis quit.

The latest unrest adds to mounting pressure on the Iranian authorities, who are struggling to keep the crippled economy afloat under stringent U.S. sanctions.

Demonstrations against a hike in fuel prices turned political last year, sparking the bloodiest crackdown in the 40-year history of the Islamic Republic. About 1,500 people were killed during less than two weeks of unrest that started on Nov. 15, three Iranian Interior Ministry officials told Reuters, although international rights groups put the figure much lower and Iran called the report “fake news.”

After saying on Saturday that he was “inspired” by the courage of the demonstrators, U.S. President Donald Trump wrote on Twitter on Sunday: “To the leaders of Iran – DO NOT KILL YOUR PROTESTERS. Thousands have already been killed or imprisoned by you, and the World is watching. More importantly, the USA is watching. Turn your internet back on and let reporters roam free!”

 

FILE PHOTO: A woman holds a picture of newlyweds, victims of the crash of the Boeing 737-800 plane, flight PS 752, as people gather to show their sympathy in Tehran, Iran January 11, 2020. Nazanin Tabatabaee/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS /File Photo

Later on Sunday, Trump said on Twitter he did not care if Iran agrees to negotiate with the United States after a senior adviser suggested the Islamic Republic would have no choice but to agree to talks.

‘IRAN’S ENEMIES WANT REVENGE’

About 2,000 people packed a vigil for the air-crash victims in Toronto on Sunday, and a similar number attended a memorial in Edmonton, Alberta, where Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke. His voice breaking, Trudeau told the vigil he would “pursue justice and accountability” for the victims. “We will not rest until there are answers,” he said.

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) said it had obtained visas for two of its investigators to travel to Iran.

The second team of investigators who specialize in aircraft recorder download and analysis will be deployed once TSB confirms where and when that activity would take place, the agency said.

The downing of the plane came as Iranian forces were on high alert for U.S. reprisals following tit-for-tat strikes.

A U.S. drone strike in Iraq on Jan. 3 killed prominent Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani, responsible for building up Iran’s network of proxy armies in Iraq and beyond. Tehran responded with missile strikes on U.S. targets in Iraq.

No U.S. soldiers were killed in the retaliatory attacks. But in the tense hours that followed, the Boeing 737-800 was cleared to take off from Tehran airport and brought down by a missile fired by mistake.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani apologized for what he said was a “disastrous mistake”. But a top Revolutionary Guards commander added to public anger when he said he had told the authorities on the same day as the crash that an Iranian missile had brought down the plane.

The Guards’ top commander, Hossein Salami, said that “we are more upset than anyone over the incident,” state media reported. Another commander said Iran did not intend to conceal the cause.

But others said Iran’s enemies, a term usually used to refer to Washington and its allies, were exploiting the incident.

“Iran’s enemies want to take revenge on the Guards for a military mistake,” said Ali Shirazi, Khamenei’s representative to the Quds Force, the elite overseas Guards unit that Soleimani headed, state media reported.

Iranian officials sought to portray the plane disaster as a second blow to a nation mourning after Soleimani’s death.

His funeral prompted huge public gatherings, which the authorities described as a show of national unity. But the displays of emotion have been swiftly overshadowed and protesters on Saturday tore up pictures of the slain general.

The killing of Soleimani dramatically escalated tensions between Tehran and Washington, following months of hostilities since Trump withdrew from a nuclear pact between Iran and world powers in 2018 and then toughened up sanctions.

Britain protested after its ambassador in Iran was briefly detained on Saturday. Iranian media said he was inciting protests. The envoy said he attended a vigil for plane victims.

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab condemned the arrest and said Iran “can continue its march towards pariah status … or take steps to de-escalate tensions” with diplomacy.

Reporting by Parisa Hafezi and Dubai newsroom; Additional reporting by Rod Nickel in Edmonton, Alberta, Chris Helgren in Toronto, David Shepardson in Washington and David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Writing by Edmund Blair, Pravin Char, Daniel Wallis, and Jamie Freed; Editing by Philippa Fletcher, Frances Kerry and Peter Cooney

source: https://reut.rs/2R93Uau

The US Confirms Report Citing Iran Officials as Saying 1,500 Killed in Protests

US Confirms Report Citing Iran Officials as Saying 1,500 Killed in Protests

People walk past buildings that were burned during recent protests, in Shahriar, Iran, Nov 20, 2019.
People walk past buildings that were burned during recent protests, in Shahriar, Iran, some 40 kilometers (25 miles) southwest of the capital, Tehran, Nov. 20, 2019.

WASHINGTON – The United States has confirmed a news report citing unnamed Iranian officials as saying about 1,500 people were killed in a crackdown by security forces on anti-government protests last month.

In a report published Monday, London-based Reuters said it obtained the death toll from three Iranian interior ministry officials who said the fatalities included “at least 17 teenagers and about 400 women as well as some members of the security forces and police.”

In this picture released by the official website of the office of the Iranian supreme leader, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali…
Special Report: Iran’s Leader Ordered Crackdown on Unrest – ‘Do Whatever it Takes to End it’
Order, confirmed by three sources close to the supreme leader’s inner circle and a fourth official, set in motion the bloodiest crackdown on protesters since the Islamic Revolution in 1979

In a Monday tweet, the State Department quoted U.S. Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook as saying the Reuters report “underscores the urgency for the international community to punish the perpetrators and isolate the regime for the murder of 1,500 Iranian citizens.”

Department of State

@StateDept

Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook: “The @Reuters report on the massacre ordered by @khamenei_ir underscores the urgency for the international community to punish the perpetrators and isolate the regime for the murder of 1,500 Iranian citizens.” https://twitter.com/Reuters/status/1209042720095735808 

Reuters

@Reuters

About 1,500 people died during the recent unrest in Iran, government officials tell @Reuters, in the country’s deadliest unrest since the 1979 Islamic Revolution https://reut.rs/35TefNK 

View image on Twitter

Reuters’ death toll was much higher than the latest fatalities reported by British rights group Amnesty International, which said in Dec. 16 statement that it documented the killings of at least 304 demonstrators by Iranian security forces in days of unrest that erupted on Nov. 15.

Hook’s reference to the “murder of 1,500 Iranian citizens” also marked a substantial increase in the Trump administration’s assessment of the number of people killed in Iran’s crackdown.

In a Dec. 5 briefing to reporters, Hook said it appeared that the Iranian government  “could have murdered over a thousand Iranian citizens since the protests began.”

Riot police try to disperse protesters as they rally on a highway against increased fuel prices, in Tehran, Iran, Nov. 16, 2019.
US Official: Iran Protest Deaths May Have Topped 1,000
Deadly protests erupted last month after government boosted fuel prices by as much as 300%

Iranian State-approved news agency Tasnim quoted an official at the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) as saying the Reuters report referencing the deaths of 1,500 people was “fake news.”

“These claims are based on premeditated psychological warfare and lack credibility,” Alireza Zarifian Yeganeh said, echoing previous Iranian dismissals of Western reports about fatalities in the protests.

But Iran has declined to try to prove the Western reports wrong by releasing its own figures for those killed, wounded and arrested in the crackdown on the protests.

Iranian authorities sparked the demonstrations in dozens of cities nationwide by raising the subsidized price of gasoline by 50%, further straining the finances of Iranians facing high unemployment and inflation in a shrinking economy under heavy U.S. sanctions.

In a Dec. 16 interview with VOA Persian, Amnesty’s Middle East researcher Philip Luther said he expected the group to raise its figure of 304 protesters killed due to its ongoing examination of “credible” reports showing Iranian security forces used live ammunition while suppressing the demonstrations.

Amnesty did not respond immediately to a VOA Persian request for comment on the Reuters report citing the figure of 1,500 people killed in the unrest.

Amnesty’s reported death tolls from Iran’s unrest have been widely quoted by Western news outlets, which, besides Reuters, have been unable to verify the full scale of the killings due to Iranian restrictions on their access to the country.

The rights group has said it compiles its death tolls from reports whose credibility it ascertains by interviewing and cross-checking details provided by a “range of sources inside and outside Iran, including victims’ relatives, journalists and human rights activists involved in gathering the information.”

The Reuters report also cited three sources close to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and a fourth official as saying Khamenei met his top officials on Nov. 17 and ordered them to “do whatever it takes” to end the protests, which had spread rapidly since beginning two days earlier.

FILE - Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei waves during ceremony attended by Iranian clerics in Tehran, July 16, 2019.
FILE – Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei waves during a ceremony attended by Iranian clerics in Tehran, July 16, 2019.

Reuters said its sources also quoted Khamenei as telling the assembled officials that he would “hold them responsible for the consequences of the protests” if they didn’t stop them immediately.

“That is part of the Supreme Leader’s modus operandi,” said Jason Brodsky, policy director for U.S. advocacy group United Against Nuclear Iran, in a VOA Persian interview. “He tends to defer to lower-level officials in order to avoid personal culpability to protect his office and his political brand.”

Brodsky cited as another example Khamenei’s criticism of Iranian Foreign Minister  Mohammad Javad Zarif and President Hassan Rouhani for perceived failings of the 2015 nuclear deal they negotiated with world powers on Khamenei’s behalf.

Regarding Hook’s call for the international community to “punish and isolate” the Iranian government for what he called the “massacre” ordered by Khamenei, Brodsky said the U.N. Security Council should consider referring the crackdown to the International Criminal Court. But he said any resolution calling for a referral could be vetoed by permanent council members Russia and China, longtime military and economic allies of Tehran.

Speaking separately to VOA Persian, Middle East analyst Michael Pregent of the Hudson Institute said the Trump administration also could do more to toughen its campaign of economic and diplomatic pressure against Iran. “Go after Khamenei’s personal assets,” he said.

The Foundation for Defense of Democracies has estimated that Khamenei controls at least $200 billion of assets through three tax-exempt foundations, not directly sanctioned by the United States.

“But I’m not certain that the international community has the appetite to go after the supreme leader,” Pregent said. He cited a lack of efforts by other nations to penalize Iran for what the U.S. has said are Iranian violations of human rights and existing U.N. Security Council resolutions.
This article originated in VOA’s Persian Service.

Special Report: Iran’s leader ordered a crackdown on unrest – ‘Do whatever it takes to end it’

Iran’s leader ordered a crackdown on unrest – ‘Do whatever it takes to end it’

DECEMBER 23, 2019

(Reuters) – After days of protests across Iran last month, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei appeared impatient. Gathering his top security and government officials together, he issued an order: Do whatever it takes to stop them.

That order, confirmed by three sources close to the supreme leader’s inner circle and a fourth official, set in motion the bloodiest crackdown on protesters since the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

About 1,500 people were killed during less than two weeks of unrest that started on Nov. 15. The toll, provided to Reuters by three Iranian interior ministry officials, included at least 17 teenagers and about 400 women as well as some members of the security forces and police.

The toll of 1,500 is significantly higher than figures from international human rights groups and the United States. A Dec. 16 report by Amnesty International said the death toll was at least 304. The U.S. State Department, in a statement to Reuters, said it estimates that many hundreds of Iranians were killed, and has seen reports that number could be over 1,000.

The figures provided to Reuters, said two of the Iranian officials who provided them, are based on information gathered from security forces, morgues, hospitals, and coroner’s offices.

That order, confirmed by three sources close to the supreme leader’s inner circle a

The government spokesman’s office declined to comment on whether the orders came from Khamenei and on the Nov. 17 meeting. Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

In a statement Monday following the publication of this article, a spokesman for Iran’s Supreme National Security Council described the death toll figure as “fake news,” according to semi-official Tasnim news agency.

What began as scattered protests over a surprise increase in gasoline prices quickly spread into one of the biggest challenges to Iran’s clerical rulers since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

By Nov. 17, the second day, the unrest had reached the capital Tehran, with people calling for an end to the Islamic Republic and the downfall of its leaders. Protesters burned pictures of Khamenei and called for the return of Reza Pahlavi, the exiled son of the toppled Shah of Iran, according to videos posted on social media and eyewitnesses.

That evening at his official residence in a fortified compound in central Tehran, Khamenei met with senior officials, including security aides, President Hassan Rouhani and members of his cabinet.

At the meeting, described to Reuters by the three sources close to his inner circle, the 80-year-old leader, who has final say over all state matters in the country, raised his voice and expressed criticism of the handling of the unrest. He was also angered by the burning of his image and the destruction of a statue of the republic’s late founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

“The Islamic Republic is in danger. Do whatever it takes to end it. You have my order,” the supreme leader told the group, one of the sources said.

Khamenei said he would hold the assembled officials responsible for the consequences of the protests if they didn’t immediately stop them. Those who attended the meeting agreed the protesters aimed to bring down the regime.

“The enemies wanted to topple the Islamic Republic and immediate reaction was needed,” one of the sources said.

The fourth official, who was briefed on the Nov. 17 meeting, added that Khamenei made clear the demonstrations required a forceful response.

“Our Imam,” said the official, referring to Khamenei, “only answers to God. He cares about people and the Revolution. He was very firm and said those rioters should be crushed.”

Tehran’s clerical rulers have blamed “thugs” linked to the regime’s opponents in exile and the country’s main foreign foes, namely the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia, for stirring up unrest. Khamenei has described the unrest as the work of a “very dangerous conspiracy.”

A Dec. 3 report on Iran’s state television confirmed that security forces had fatally shot citizens, saying “some rioters were killed in clashes.” Iran has given no official death toll and has rejected figures as “speculative.”

khamenehei

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivers a speech during a ceremony marking the death anniversary of the founder of the Islamic Republic Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, in Tehran, Iran, June 4, 2017. TIMA via REUTERS

“The aim of our enemies was to endanger the existence of the Islamic Republic by igniting riots in Iran,” said the commander-in-chief of the elite Revolutionary Guards Corps, Hossein Salami, last month, according to Iranian media.

The Revolutionary Guards declined to comment for this report.

Iran’s interior minister said on Nov. 27 more than 140 government sites had been set on fire along with hundreds of banks and dozens of petrol stations, while 50 bases used by security forces were also attacked, according to remarks reported by Iran’s state news agency IRNA. The minister said up to 200,000 people took part in the unrest nationwide.

“SMELL OF GUNFIRE AND SMOKE”

For decades, Islamic Iran has tried to expand its influence across the Middle East, from Syria to Iraq and Lebanon, by investing Tehran’s political and economic capital and backing militias. But now it faces pressure at home and abroad.

In recent months, from the streets of Baghdad to Beirut, protesters have been voicing anger at Tehran, burning its flag and chanting anti-Iranian regime slogans. At home, the daily struggle to make ends meet has worsened since the United States reimposed sanctions after withdrawing last year from the nuclear deal that Iran negotiated with world powers in 2015.

The protests erupted after a Nov. 15 announcement on state media that gas prices would rise by as much as 200% and the revenue would be used to help needy families.

Within hours, hundreds of people poured into the streets in places including the northeastern city of Mashhad, the southeastern province of Kerman and the southwestern province of Khuzestan bordering Iraq, according to state media. That night, a resident of the city Ahvaz in Khuzestan described the scene by telephone to Reuters.

“Riot police are out in force and blocking main streets,” the source said. “I heard shooting.” Videos later emerged on social media and state television showing footage of clashes in Ahvaz and elsewhere between citizens and security forces.

The protests reached more than 100 cities and towns and turned political. Young and working-class demonstrators demanded clerical leaders step down. In many cities, a similar chant rang out: “They live like kings, people get poorer,” according to videos on social media and witnesses.

By Nov. 18 in Tehran, riot police appeared to be randomly shooting at protesters in the street “with the smell of gunfire and smoke everywhere,” said a female Tehran resident reached by telephone. People were falling down and shouting, she added, while others sought refuge in houses and shops.

The mother of a 16-year-old boy described holding his body, drenched in blood, after he was shot during protests in a western Iranian town on Nov. 19. Speaking on condition of anonymity, she described the scene in a telephone interview.

“I heard people saying: ‘He is shot, he is shot,’” said the mother. “I ran toward the crowd and saw my son, but half of his head was shot off.” She said she urged her son, whose first name was Amirhossein, not to join the protests, but he didn’t listen.

Iranian authorities deployed lethal force at a far quicker pace from the start than in other protests in recent years, according to activists and details revealed by authorities. In 2009, when millions protested against the disputed re-election of hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, an estimated 72 people were killed. And when Iran faced waves of protests over economic hardships in 2017 and 2018, the death toll was about 20 people, officials said.

Khamenei, who has ruled Iran for three decades, turned to his elite forces to put down the recent unrest — the Revolutionary Guards and its affiliated Basij religious militia.

A senior member of the Revolutionary Guards in western Kermanshah province said the provincial governor handed down instructions at a late-night emergency meeting at his office on Nov. 18.

“We had orders from top officials in Tehran to end the protests, the Guards member said, recounting the governor’s talk. “No more mercy. They are aiming to topple the Islamic Republic. But we will eradicate them.” The governor’s office declined to comment.

As security forces fanned out across the country, security advisors briefed Khamenei on the scale of the unrest, according to the three sources familiar with the talks at his compound.

The interior minister presented the number of casualties and arrests. The intelligence minister and head of the Revolutionary Guards focused on the role of opposition groups. When asked about the interior and intelligence minister’s role in the meeting, the government spokesman’s office declined to comment.

Khamenei, the three sources said, was especially concerned with anger in small working-class towns, whose lower-income voters have been a pillar of support for the Islamic Republic. Their votes will count in February parliamentary elections, a litmus test of the clerical rulers’ popularity since U.S. President Donald Trump exited Iran’s nuclear deal — a step that has led to an 80% collapse in Iran’s oil exports since last year.

Squeezed by sanctions, Khamenei has few resources to tackle high inflation and unemployment. According to official figures, the unemployment rate is around 12.5% overall. But it is about double that for Iran’s millions of young people, who accuse the establishment of economic mismanagement and corruption. Khamenei and other officials have called on the judiciary to step up its fight against corruption.

“BLOOD ON THE STREETS”

Officials in four provinces said the message was clear — failure to stamp out the unrest would encourage people to protest in the future.

A local official in Karaj, a working-class city near the capital, said there were orders to use whatever force was necessary to end the protests immediately. “Orders came from Tehran,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Push them back to their homes, even by shooting them.” Local government officials declined to comment.

Residents of Karaj said they came under fire from rooftops as Revolutionary Guards and police on motorcycles brandished machine guns. “There was blood everywhere. Blood on the streets,” said one resident by telephone. Reuters could not independently verify that account.

In Mahshahr county, in the strategically important Khuzestan province in southwest Iran, Revolutionary Guards in armored vehicles and tanks sought to contain the demonstrations. State TV said security forces opened fire on “rioters” hiding in the marshes. Rights groups said they believe Mahshahr had one of the highest protest death tolls in Iran, based on what they heard from locals.

“The next day when we went there, the area was full of bodies of protesters, mainly young people. The Guards did not let us take the bodies,” the local official said, estimating that “dozens” were killed.

The U.S. State Department has said it has received videos of the Revolutionary Guards opening fire without warning on protesters in Mahshahr. And that when protesters fled to nearby marshlands, the Guards pursued them and surrounded them with machine guns mounted on trucks, spraying the protesters with bullets and killing at least 100 Iranians.

Iran’s authorities dispute the U.S. account. Iranian officials have said security forces in Mahshahr confronted “rioters” who they described as a security threat to petrochemical complexes and to a key energy route that, if blocked, would have created a crisis in the country.

A security official told Reuters that the reports about Mahshahr are “exaggerated and not true” and that security forces were defending “people and the country’s energy facilities in the city from sabotage by enemies and rioters.”

In Isfahan, an ancient city of two million people in central Iran, the government’s vow to help low-income families with money raised from higher gas prices failed to reassure people like Behzad Ebrahimi. He said his 21-year-old nephew, Arshad Ebrahimi, was fatally shot during the crackdown.

“Initially they refused to give us the body and wanted us to bury him with others killed in the protests,” Ebrahimi said. “Eventually we buried him ourselves, but under the heavy presence of security forces.” Rights activists confirmed the events. Reuters was unable to get a comment from the government or the local governor on the specifics of the account.

Editing by Michael Georgy, Cassell Bryan-Low and Jason Szep

Source: https://reut.rs/396od0v

Secondary Trauma by Cklara Moradian

Secondary Trauma

by Cklara Moradian

Cklara Moradian, MSW

Cklara Moradian, MSW

Secondary Trauma

Kurdish babies born in refugee camps are given names like Sangar (barricade), Awara (displaced), Revin (escape), Zindan (prisoner), Ranjbar (someone who suffers), Firmesk (tears), Bezar (spiteful), Xabat (fight), Tola (revenge), Hawar (wailing) Rizgar (rescued), Snoor (border), Lana (home).

They are victims of geography, survivors of a map.

They grow to sow their lips in protest and they carve symbols into their skin, coordinates of their birthplace as if to say “when you find me, send me home.”

Mothers spend hours lulling their restless children to sleep, singing lullabies that tell of a journey filled with rage. They do not migrate through the process of abscission. They are plucked in violence, deported.

What pains are passed on in these names? What wisdom?

It’s called secondary trauma, as if the seconds it takes to cut the umbilical cord from my mother could insulate me from the torture inflicted on her bones by the state, by displacement, by despair.

As if the lines that separate me from you is drawn in red, or in yellow tape, marking a departure clear enough for me to really feel where you end and I begin. Tell me, where do you end and I begin?

I didn’t have to be there to see my uncles hanged for speaking their mother tongue to taste the bitter end of my roots flicker as I try to speak my language, the fluency of which escapes me now.
I didn’t have to be there to know of what you went through during forced confessions, Father. I didn’t have to hear the wailing of my imprisoned kin to now be startled awake by their cries.

Visions of my ancestors forced from the mountains into the desert with blistering feet keep me awake. I walk barefoot on tiptoes as if my feet are blistered. Tell me, where do you end and I begin?

What is secondary about this intergenerational heirloom, passed down to me without my consent? What massacres happened in this crossing from one continent to the other? What comes first? Tell me, where do you end and I begin?

They say I have not differentiated myself enough (not in my identity formation). The subtleties of my individuality have become murky in the passage of loss from one generation to the other.

I close my eyelids to find refuge but my memory is fact. It is in my DNA, in epigenetic shapeshifting. The past is present.
What is secondary about waking every day to the news of another genocide, another friend dead, another aunt, sister enslaved? Another exodus? What is secondary about ritual mourning? Every morning! When can we heal? When can we fully grieve when it is never-ending? Tell me, where do you end and I begin?

I once read that pain flows from one family member to the next until someone is ready to feel it. I feel it. I feel it in my flesh, in the marrow of my bones, in my gut. It is like pins right under my fingernails, accumulating in somatic bruises on my thighs. And it shows when I reach out to you and say “I bear witness.” Tell me, where do you end and I begin?

At night, I twist and turn into the fetal position, my belly sounding off my people’s history. I carry it in my posture, the way I am weight down by sorrows I have no names for. I hold it in my voice when it vibrates with fear. I am anchored to the agony of exile. It is all-consuming. It is water. It is in the heaviness of the air that does not fully fill my lungs. It is in the space where I sit with all that has been done to you, in all the places where your jawlines were broken by armed men in uniform Father, beaten to shatters until you could not eat for days.

I remember so you can go on forgetting because you need to forget. I remember so you can go on forgetting.

Every time I look in the mirror, the outline of your silhouette is reflecting back your pain. Tell me, where do you end and I begin?

What is secondary about this pain? To me, it has been an offering. It has been a profound loss, wrapped in every conversation, gifted to me in passing. That “all things are lost” is imparted in disorganized attachment, in denial, melancholia, in the sense of betrayal, in bedtime stories of persecution.

My mother, pregnant and imprisoned at 18, was beaten black and blue until she miscarried. I grew up knowing I was not her first child. Grief has come in abundance. Safety was scarce. Tell me, where do you end and I begin?

Where is the line between lived experience and being raised with the knowledge of all that has been lost? Tell me, what is loss?

In the journey of displacement, I have lost language, I have lost language (s). I have lost birth certificates, passports, a state. I have lost the promise of return to a land forever stolen from me. I have lost count of my losses. Tell me, where do you end and I begin?

The coordinates of my birthplace is Latitude 36°14′ 47″N Longitude 46° 15′ 59″ E. I am another refugee child with a mispronounced name. When I die, send me home!

 

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Cklara Moradian, MSW

Cklara Moradian, MSW

Cklara Moradian, MSW; is a diaspora Kurd, a former refugee from Eastern Kurdistan/Iran, and a spoken word poet. Her work is deeply steeped in her life experiences as a survivor.
She uses poetry and creative non-fiction as a response to the current and past atrocities/genocide her community has endured. Her work attempts to bear witness, tell stories of love and survivorship in the face of hardship and pain
Cklara is also a published spoken word poet who has performed at national and international human rights conferences, such as Amnesty International’s annual gathering, UNWomen events, university campuses, such as Cal State LA, Cal State Northridge, Cal State Fullerton, CalArts, and UCLA, as well as at national and international political rallies and literary events.
Cklara is a Social Worker, who is helping to implement the youth-centered strength-based interventions in clinical and policy/research arenas. Cklara’s work is rooted in anti-oppressive liberatory theory and practice. She hopes to continue to serve multiply-marginalized communities, center disenfranchised voices, and elevate the strengths and resiliency of people who have and continue to deal with personal and intergenerational trauma. Her journey of healing from mental and physical illness informs her work with diaspora communities. Prior to Social Work, for over ten years, Cklara was involved in social justice advocacy.

UN Confirms Iran Enriching Uranium in Excess of Nuclear Deal Limit

 

WASHINGTON — The United Nations’ atomic energy agency has confirmed Iran has surpassed the uranium enrichment limits spelled out in the 2015 nuclear deal.

A sign marks the building of the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, in Vienna, Austria, March 5, 2013.

The International Atomic Energy Agency said its inspectors verified Monday that Iran has surpassed the 3.67% enrichment limit set in the accord, aimed at restraining Tehran’s ability to develop nuclear weapons in return for sanctions relief.

It did not specify by how much Iran exceeded the limit, but the Associated Press quotes a spokesman for Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization on Monday as saying Tehran had enriched uranium to “around 4.5%” purity.

Iran earlier said it could enrich uranium to 20% as it backs away from its commitments under the nuclear deal.

Uranium enriched to 5% is sufficient to produce fuel for nuclear power plants, but still far below the 90% needed for building a nuclear weapon.

 FILE - President Hassan Rouhani listens to explanations of  nuclear achievements in Tehran, Iran, April 9, 2018. Iran has broken the limit set on its stockpile of low-enriched uranium by the 2015 nuclear deal, and will raise its enrichment of uranium.
FILE – President Hassan Rouhani listens as he is being updated on Iran’s nuclear achievements, in Tehran, Iran, April 9, 2018.

U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the nuclear deal last year and imposed tough sanctions on Iran.

Tehran has already pulled out of parts of the agreement and is threatening to move further and further away from it unless the remaining parties — Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia — provide economic relief from the crippling U.S. sanctions.

WATCH: US warns Iran

 

‘Extremely concerned’

The European Union said it was “extremely concerned” about Tehran’s action.

“We strongly urge Iran to stop and reverse all activities that are inconsistent with the commitments” it had made under the international agreement, the EU said in Brussels.

Russia said it is concerned about Iranian action. But Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it had warned that Trump’s withdrawal from the pact would have negative consequences for global security.

Trump has warned Iran that it “better be careful.”

National Security Adviser John Bolton added Monday that the U.S. “will continue to increase the pressure on the Iranian regime until it abandons its nuclear weapons program and ends its violent activities across the Middle East, including conducting and supporting terrorism around the world.”

Tehran long has insisted that its nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes.

Iran’s leverage

Columbia University researcher Richard Nephew, who was part of a U.S. team negotiating with Iran under Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama, said Tehran’s latest breaking of a nuclear deal commitment does not mean it is racing toward developing a nuclear weapon.

“What Iran is doing is going to shorten the timeline [for nuclear weapon development] by a measure of days, and in time, a measure of weeks,” Nephew told VOA Persian in a Monday interview. “But Iran still is a year away from being able to produce a nuclear weapon and will [remain so] for some time to come.”

But retired U.S. Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel Dakota Wood, a senior defense researcher at the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington, said Iran’s latest moves demonstrate the viability of its perceived nuclear weapons program.

“Because [Iran] didn’t have to dismantle any of its infrastructures under the [2015] deal, it can quickly continue exceeding the [low-enriched uranium] quantity limit of 300 kilograms and then further enrich [to higher purity],” Wood said in a separate VOA Persian interview Monday. “So going to 4.5% purity, being on a track to 20% and then ultimately to 90% if they decide to go down that path, really reveals the organic, inherent capabilities [Iran] has in its nuclear program.”

Both Wood and Nephew said they believe Iran is using its breaches of the nuclear deal as leverage to win diplomatic concessions from the West.

 

 

Source: https://www.voanews.com/middle-east/un-confirms-iran-enriching-uranium-excess-nuclear-deal-limit#

 

Iran Says it Will Break Uranium Stockpile Limit in 10 Days

FILE -  Behrouz Kamalvandi speaks during a press conference.
FILE – Behrouz Kamalvandi speaks during a press conference.

TEHRAN, IRAN – Iran will break the uranium stockpile limit set by Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers in the next 10 days, the spokesman for the country’s atomic agency said Monday while also warning that Iran has the need for uranium enriched up to 20%, just a step away from weapons-grade levels.

The announcement indicated Iran’s determination to break from the landmark 2015 accord, which has steadily unraveled since the Trump administration pulled America out of the deal last year and re-imposed tough economic sanctions on Iran, sending its economy into free-fall.

The spokesman for Iran’s nuclear agency, Behrouz Kamalvandi, made the announcement during a press conference with local journalists at Iran’s Arak heavy water facility that was carried live on Iranian state television.

The development comes in the wake of suspected attacks on oil tankers last week in the region, attacks that Washington has blamed on Iran, and also as tensions have spiked between Iran and the United States, a year after President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America for the nuclear deal.

Kamalvandi acknowledged that the country already quadrupled its production of low-enriched uranium and said Tehran would increase uranium enrichment levels “based on the country’s needs.”

That increase could be to any level, from 3.67% which is the current limit set by the nuclear deal.

Iran’s needs 5% enrichment for its nuclear power plant in the southern Iranian port of Bushehr and it also needs 20% enrichment for a Tehran research reactor, the spokesman said.

When uranium is mined, it typically has about 140 atoms of this unwanted isotope for every atom of U-235. Refining it to the purity of 3.67%, the level now allowed by the nuclear deal means removing 114 unwanted atoms of U-238 for every atom of U-235.

Boosting its purity to 20% means removing 22 more unwanted isotopes per atom of U-235 while going from there to 90% purity means removing just four more per atom of U-235, he noted. Ninety percent is considered weapons-grade material.

That means going from 20% to 90% is a relatively quicker process, something that worries nuclear nonproliferation experts.

US Resident Freed by Iran to Trump: ‘Get Back Your Hostages’

US Resident Freed by Iran to Trump: ‘Get Back Your Hostages’

By Associated Press

Nizar Zakka speaks during his meeting with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, at the governmental palace in Beirut, Lebanon, June 11, 2019.
Nizar Zakka speaks during his meeting with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, at the governmental palace in Beirut, Lebanon, June 11, 2019.

BEIRUT – A Lebanese man and permanent U.S. resident who was released after spending years in an Iranian prison called on President Donald Trump and Western countries to “please get back your hostages from Iran,” adding that he saw American detainees during his nearly four-year imprisonment.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Nizar Zakka said he was subjected to “all kinds of torture,” both physical and mental, during his detention in the notorious Evin prison in Tehran, including standing on one leg for hours, extended periods of interrogation and lack of food.

“Nobody on earth deserves such suffering,” he said in the 30-minute emotional interview during which he broke down in tears at one point.

Zakka, an information technology expert, was arrested in Iran in September 2015 while trying to fly out of Tehran. He had just attended a conference there at the invitation of one of the country’s vice presidents. The following year, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison after authorities accused him of being an American spy — allegations he and his associates vigorously reject.

He was released Tuesday and flew back to his native Lebanon, amid heightened tensions between the U.S. and Iran. Last year, the Trump administration decided to withdraw from the 2015 nuclear deal and re-impose heavy sanctions on Iran. The past weeks have witnessed a flurry of diplomatic activity to ease tensions and salvage the landmark deal.

Zakka is one of several prisoners with either dual nationality or links to the West held in the Islamic Republic’s prisons. It was not clear why Iran decided to act now, after years of Lebanese officials asking for his release.

“In my opinion, it was good timing for the Iranians, and especially they had a request from the President of the Lebanese Republic,” Zakka said. “They took this opportunity to send also a message … de-escalating tensions within the region.”

Zakka told the AP that during his detention he met several Westerners held in Iran, and for two years shared a cell with Chinese-American Xiyue Wang, a Princeton University graduate student sentenced to 10 years behind bars after being accused of “infiltrating” the country and sending confidential material abroad.

“I really ask President Trump to not leave Xiyue behind and other Americans behind, please,” he said.

Zakka also said Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, an Iranian-British woman, was held in the same building where he was until she was moved to the women’s section inside Evin prison.  She is currently serving a five-year prison sentence for allegedly planning the “soft toppling” of Iran’s government while traveling with her young daughter.

Zakka added that Iranian-American Siamak Namazi was held in a cell “almost two meters away” from his, while the man’s father Baquer Namazi was held on a floor above. Both father and son are serving a 10-year sentence after they were convicted of collaborating with a hostile power.

Asked whether he met former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who vanished in Iran in 2007 while on an unauthorized CIA mission, Zakka said: “We heard some stories. Some people told me that they saw him. It wasn’t confirmed stories.”

Zakka called on the “American Congress, American administration and all Western countries, please get back your hostages in Iran.”

“I will take the opportunity to speak to the American Congress and to the American administration and to all the Western countries, please get back the hostages in Iran. Get them back home. They deserve to be back home,” Zakka added.

Zakka, 52, described how he was detained as he was headed to the airport in a taxi on Sept. 18, 2015, after a visit to Iran following an invitation by one of its vice presidents. “I was stopped by a civilian car and taken by people in civilian clothes. They took me as a hostage since then. I didn’t know anything. They blindfolded me and they took me to a place for almost 40 days. I didn’t know where I am.”

He added that the men told him that they are members of the intelligence department of the Revolutionary Guard and that they control the country.

“We decide. We are the judge. We are everything,” he recalled them saying.

World Bank: Iran Likely to Suffer Worse Recession Than Previously Thought

World Bank: Iran Likely to Suffer Worse Recession Than Previously Thought

June 05, 2019 7:40 PM

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Michael Lipin

By: Michael Lipin

WASHINGTON —The World Bank says Iran is likely to experience an even worse recession this year than previously thought, as U.S. sanctions largely choke off oil exports that have been Tehran’s main revenue source.

In its latest Global Economic Prospects report published Wednesday, the Washington-based institution that provides loans to countries said it expects Iran’s Gross Domestic Product to shrink by 4.5% this year, a steeper contraction than its earlier estimate of negative 3.6% GDP growth for 2019.

“The oil industry is an important part of Iran’s economy, and its oil production is clearly going to drop because of the new U.S. sanctions,” said Patrick Clawson, research director for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, in a VOA Persian interview on Wednesday.

The Trump administration imposed a total, unilateral ban on Iranian oil exports on May 2 as part of its campaign of “maximum pressure” on Iran to negotiate an end to its perceived malign behaviors. It had issued sanctions waivers to eight of Iran’s oil customers in November to allow them to keep importing Iranian crude for six months, but later said it would not renew those waivers and would require those customers to reduce such imports to zero.

FILE - People conduct their business at the Grand Bazaar in Tehran, Iran, Feb. 7, 2019.
FILE – People conduct their business at the Grand Bazaar in Tehran, Iran, Feb. 7, 2019.

U.S. economist Steve Hanke of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore told VOA Persian in another Wednesday interview that Iran’s internal economic problems also are to blame for its worsening recession. “Iran is very corrupt, has very little economic freedom, and it’s hard to start a business there because Iran is not really a free market or liberal economy,” Hanke said.

Transparency International, a Berlin-based civil society organization that monitors global corruption, has ranked Iran 138 out of 180 countries in its Corruption Perceptions Index.

Iran’s other low global economic rankings include 155 out of 180 nations in the Economic Freedom Index of the Washington-based Heritage Foundation, a conservative public policy institute, and 128 out of 190 governments in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business index.

The World Bank’s new report also said Iran’s year-on-year inflation rate has risen sharply from about 10% in the middle of last year to about 52% in April. It said the depreciation of Iran’s rial since May 2018, when the U.S. announced it would re-impose sanctions on Iran, has contributed to the rising inflation. The rial’s slump versus the dollar in Iran’s unofficial currency market has made dollar-denominated imports more expensive for Iranians.

Clawson said Iran’s inflation is high primarily because it is relying on printing money to finance its spending. “The Iranian government is not bringing in enough revenue to pay for its expenses, so it is borrowing money from the banking system to cover the difference, and that is driving inflation,” he said.

Hanke, who says he is the only economist outside Iran to measure its inflation with high frequency, told VOA Persian that he calculated Iran’s actual inflation rate to be 113% on Wednesday, much higher than the World Bank’s latest reading.

The World Bank’s projection of a 4.5% contraction in Iran’s GDP this year is not as bad as the 6% contraction predicted by the International Monetary Fund, another global lending agency, in its latest report from April. The World Bank also said it expects economic growth in Iran to return next year “as the impact of U.S. sanctions tapers off and as inflation stabilizes.” It projected a 0.9% rise in Iran’s GDP for 2020.

Hanke declined to make his own predictions for Iran’s economic performance, saying any forecasts for a nation such as Iran are problematic because they rely on guesswork.

This article originated in VOA’s Persian Service

Michael Lipin

Michael covers international news for VOA on the web, radio, and TV, specializing in the Middle East and East Asia Pacific. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Lipin

US Carrier in Persian Gulf Region Seen as Clear Signal to Iran

US Carrier in Persian Gulf Region Seen as Clear Signal to Iran

FILE - The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln transits the Strait of Gibraltar, entering the Mediterranean Sea, April 13, 2019.

FILE – The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln transits the Strait of Gibraltar, entering the Mediterranean Sea, April 13, 2019.

Under a starry sky, U.S. Navy fighter jets catapulted off the aircraft carrier’s deck and flew north over the darkened waters of the northern Arabian Sea, an unmistaken signal to Iran that the foremost symbol of the American military’s global reach is back in its neighborhood, perhaps to stay.

The USS Abraham Lincoln, with its contingent of Navy destroyers and cruisers and a fighting force of about 70 aircraft, is the centerpiece of the Pentagon’s response to what it calls Iranian threats to attack U.S. forces or commercial shipping in the Persian Gulf region. In recent years, there has been no regular U.S. aircraft carrier presence in the Middle East.

U.S. officials have said that signs of heightened Iranian preparations to strike U.S. and other targets in the waters off Iran as well as in Iraq and Yemen in late April emerged shortly after the Trump administration announced it was clamping down further on Iran’s economy by ending waivers to sanctions on buyers of Iranian crude oil.

The administration went a step beyond that on Friday, announcing penalties that target Iran’s largest petrochemical company.

On Saturday, the Lincoln was steaming in international waters east of Oman and about 200 miles from Iran’s southern coastline. One month after its arrival in the region, the Lincoln has not entered the Persian Gulf, and it’s not apparent that it will. The USS Gonzalez, a destroyer that is part of the Lincoln strike group, is operating in the Gulf.

All interactions ‘safe and professional’

Rear Adm. John F. G. Wade, commander of the Lincoln strike group, said Iran’s naval forces have adhered to international standards of interaction with ships in his group.

“Since we’ve been operating in the region, we’ve had several interactions with Iranians,” he said. “To this point all have been safe and professional — meaning, the Iranians have done nothing to impede our maneuverability or acted in a way which required us to take defensive measures.”

FILE - An F/A-18E Super Hornet lands on the flight deck of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln in the Arabian Sea, May 20, 2019.
FILE – An F/A-18E Super Hornet lands on the flight deck of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln in the Arabian Sea, May 20, 2019.

The Lincoln’s contingent of 44 Navy F-18 Super Hornets are flying a carefully calibrated set of missions off the carrier night and day, mainly to establish a visible U.S. “presence.” As an apparent result, Iran seems to have tinkered with its preparation for potential attacks, Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, the head of Central Command, said Saturday.

He said on Friday that he thinks Iran had been planning some sort of attack on shipping or U.S. forces in Iraq. Two other officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive details, said Iran was at a high state of readiness in early May with its ships, submarines, surface-to-air missiles and drone aircraft.

“It is my assessment that if we had not reinforced, it is entirely likely that an attack would have taken place by now,” McKenzie said.

In an interview on the bridge, or command station, of the Lincoln with reporters who are traveling with him throughout the Gulf region, McKenzie said the carrier has made an important difference.

FILE - In this April 14, 2018, photo, then-Marine Lt. Gen. Kenneth "Frank" McKenzie Jr. speaks during a media availability at the Pentagon in Washington. McKenzie, now the top commander of U.S. forces in the Mideast, says Iran appears to have decided to "step back and recalculate" in response to a U.S. military buildup in the Persian Gulf area.
FILE – In this April 14, 2018, photo, then-Marine Lt. Gen. Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie Jr. speaks during a media availability at the Pentagon in Washington. McKenzie, now the top commander of U.S. forces in the Mideast, says Iran appears to have decided to “step back and recalculate” in response to a U.S. military buildup in the Persian Gulf area.

‘We are looking hard at them’

“We believe they are recalculating. They have to take this into account as they think about various actions that they might take. So we think this is having a very good, stabilizing effect,” he said.

“They are looking hard at the carrier because they know we are looking hard at them,” McKenzie added.

He said earlier in the week that he had not ruled out requesting additional defensive forces to bolster the deterrence of Iran, whose economy is being squeezed hard by U.S. sanctions after President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. last year from the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers. The U.S. already has announced plans to send 900 additional troops to the Mideast and extend the stay of 600 more as tens of thousands of others also are on the ground across the region.

Iran’s influential Revolutionary Guard has said it doesn’t fear a possible war with the U.S. and asserted that America’s military might has not grown in power in recent years. “The enemy is not more powerful than before,” the Guard spokesman, Gen. Ramazan Sharif, said in late May.

The U.S. has accused Iran of being behind a string of recent incidents, including what officials allege was sabotage of oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates.

McKenzie spent two days aboard the Lincoln to confer with naval commanders, observe both daytime and nighttime flight operations, and to thank crew members. Their deployment plans were disrupted when the White House approved McKenzie’s request in early May that the Lincoln cut short its time in the Mediterranean Sea and sail swiftly to the Arabian Sea.

“I am the reason you are here,” the general said in an all-hands announcement to the nearly 6,000 personnel on the Lincoln Friday night, shortly after he flew aboard by Navy helicopter from Oman.

Intent was to stabilize

“I requested this ship because of ongoing tensions with Iran,” he said. “And nothing says you’re interested in somebody like 90,000 tons of aircraft carrier and everything that comes with it. Our intent by bringing you here was to stabilize the situation and let Iran know that now is not the time to do something goofy.”

FILE - A U.S. Air Force B-52 strategic bomber flies over Pabrade during a military exercise north of Vilnius, Lithuania, June 16, 2016.
FILE – A U.S. Air Force B-52 strategic bomber flies over Pabrade during a military exercise north of Vilnius, Lithuania, June 16, 2016.

McKenzie also requested, and received, four Air Force long-range B-52 bombers. They were in the region 51 hours after being summoned and were flying missions three days later. They are now operating from al-Udeid air base in Qatar. There had been no U.S. bomber presence in the Gulf region since late February.

In an interview Friday after speaking with B-52 pilots at al-Udeid, McKenzie said it’s hard to know whether that gap in a bomber presence had emboldened the Iranians.

‘Pretty quiet’

“Cumulatively, the fact that we had drawn down in [the Mideast] may have had an effect on Iranian behavior,” he said. “We do know that bringing stuff back in seems to have had an effect on their behavior,” noting that there have been no Iranian attacks on U.S. forces.

On Saturday aboard the Lincoln, McKenzie was asked whether there have been any incidents between Iranian and American naval forces in recent weeks.

“No, actually, I think things are pretty quiet right now,” he said.

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