Abadi faces US wrath at U-turn on Iran sanctions

An intended visit to Tehran was canceled and Abadi’s office denied that the visit had even been planned. (REUTERS)
Updated 15 August 2018
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Abadi faces US wrath at U-turn on Iran sanctions

  • Iran has maintained close ties to Iraq's government since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein, Tehran's archenemy
  • The administration says the renewed sanctions are meant to pressure Tehran to halt its alleged support for international terrorism

BAGHDAD: Failure by Iraq to comply fully with tough new US economic sanctions against Iran would be insane, analysts told Arab News on Tuesday.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Abadi risked incurring US wrath after contradicting himself in the space of a few hours over whether his country would comply.
Amid diplomatic maneuvers, as he negotiates for a second term in office after divisive and contested elections, Abadi offended both Tehran and Washington with conflicting statements on the US sanctions, which were reimposed last week.
First, the prime minister said that while Iraq disapproved of the new sanctions, it would reluctantly comply. “We don’t support the sanctions because they are a strategic error, but we will comply with them,” he said.
“Our economic situation is also difficult and we sympathize with Iran. But. at the same time, I will not make grand slogans that destroy my people and my country just to make certain people happy.”
His position provoked anger in Iran. An intended visit to Tehran on Tuesday to discuss the issue was canceled, and Abadi’s office denied that the visit had even been planned.
There was also criticism inside Iraq, especially from groups close to Tehran, such as the Asaib Ahl Al-Haq and Badr paramilitary movements.
Within hours, however, Abadi had reversed his position. “I did not say we abide by the sanctions, I said we abide by not using dollars in transactions. We have no other choice,” Abadi told a news conference in Baghdad.
Asked if Baghdad would stop imports of commodities, appliances and equipment by government companies from Iran, he said the matter was still being reviewed. “We honestly have not made any decision regarding this issue until now,” he said.
Michael Knights, the Lafer Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told Arab News: “Iraq can’t afford to be cut off from the dollar-based global financial system, so it makes sense to avoid sanctioned Iranian financial entities. Iraq should also protect its dollar reserves.
“These are the only sane options for a country that desperately needs international investment.”
Iraq is the second-largest purchaser of Iranian non-oil exports, and bought about $6 billion worth of goods in 2017. It also buys Iranian-generated electricity to deal with chronic power cuts that have been a key factor sparking mass protests in recent weeks.
On Tuesday, the British renewable energy investor Quercus became the latest major company to pull out of Iran as a result of the new sanctions.
It halted construction of $570 million solar power plant in Iran, which would have been the sixth-largest in the world.


Cybersecurity firm: More Iran hacks as US sanctions loom

Alister Shepherd, the director of a subsidiary of FireEye, during a presentation about the APT33 in Dubai Tuesday. (AP)
Updated 20 September 2018
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Cybersecurity firm: More Iran hacks as US sanctions loom

  • The firm warns that this raises the danger level ahead of America re-imposing crushing sanctions on Iran’s oil industry in early November.
  • Iran’s mission to the UN rejected FireEye’s report, calling it “categorically false.”

DUBAI: An Iranian government-aligned group of hackers launched a major campaign targeting Mideast energy firms and others ahead of US sanctions on Iran, a cybersecurity firm said Tuesday, warning further attacks remain possible as America reimposes others on Tehran.

While the firm FireEye says the so-called “spear-phishing” email campaign only involves hackers stealing information from infected computers, it involves a similar type of malware previously used to inject a program that destroyed tens of thousands of terminals in Saudi Arabia.

The firm warns that this raises the danger level ahead of America re-imposing crushing sanctions on Iran’s oil industry in early November.

“Whenever we see Iranian threat groups active in this region, particularly in line with geopolitical events, we have to be concerned they might either be engaged in or pre-positioning for a disruptive attack,” Alister Shepherd, a director for a FireEye subsidiary, told The Associated Press.

Iran’s mission to the UN rejected FireEye’s report, calling it “categorically false.”

“Iran’s cyber capabilities are purely defensive, and these claims made by private firms are a form of false advertising designed to attract clients,” the mission said in a statement. “They should not be taken at face value.”

FireEye, which often works with governments and large corporations, refers to the group of Iranian hackers as APT33, an acronym for “advanced persistent threat.” APT33 used phishing email attacks with fake job opportunities to gain access to the companies affected, faking domain names to make the messages look legitimate. Analysts described the emails as “spear-phishing” as they appear targeted in nature.

FireEye first discussed the group last year around the same time. This year, the company briefed journalists after offering presentations to potential government clients in Dubai at a luxury hotel and yacht club on the man-made, sea-horse-shaped Daria Island.

While acknowledging their sales pitch, FireEye warned of the danger such Iranian government-aligned hacking groups pose. Iran is believed to be behind the spread of Shamoon in 2012, which hit Saudi Arabian Oil Co. and Qatari natural gas producer RasGas. The virus deleted hard drives and then displayed a picture of a burning American flag on computer screens. Saudi Aramco ultimately shut down its network and destroyed over 30,000 computers.

A second version of Shamoon raced through Saudi government computers in late 2016, this time making the destroyed computers display a photograph of the body of 3-year-old Syrian boy Aylan Kurdi, who drowned fleeing his country’s civil war.

But Iran first found itself as a victim of a cyberattack. Iran developed its cyber capabilities in 2011 after the Stuxnet computer virus destroyed thousands of centrifuges involved in Iran’s contested nuclear program. Stuxnet is widely believed to be an American and Israeli creation.

APT33’s emails haven’t been destructive. However, from July 2 through July 29, FireEye saw “a by-factors-of-10 increase” in the number of emails the group sent targeting their clients, Shepherd said.