Iran’s Rouhani under attack from all sides

This handout picture released by the Iranian presidency on August 25, 2018, shows Iranian President Hassan Rouhani delivering a speech at the shrine of the revolutionary leader Khomeini in southern Tehran. (AFP)
Updated 27 August 2018
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Iran’s Rouhani under attack from all sides

  • For the first time, lawmakers have summoned Rouhani to parliament to face questions over the collapsing value of the Iranian currency
  • Lawmakers have already impeached his labor and economy ministers this month, and are seeking further scalps

TEHRAN: Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani is clinging to power but finds himself under attack from all sides — conservatives, "reformists" and the street — as he prepares for a grilling in parliament on Tuesday.
The US withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers and Washington’s reimposition of sanctions have already battered the Iranian economy, and critics say it has exposed the failures of Rouhani’s five years in power.
For the first time, lawmakers have summoned Rouhani to parliament to face questions over the collapsing value of the Iranian currency, over stubbornly high unemployment and corruption.
Lawmakers have already impeached his labor and economy ministers this month, and are seeking further scalps.
They have the power to impeach Rouhani himself, though he is protected by the fact that Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said he should see out his term to 2021, despite his own harsh criticisms of the president’s policies.

Despite his dim prospects, Rouhani still has the backing of moderate conservatives, including powerful parliament speaker Ali Larijani.
But many in the hard-line establishment opposed his negotiations with the West and feel vindicated by the unraveling of the nuclear deal.
They have led the charge against Rouhani’s cabinet, and were on Monday seeking enough votes for impeachment proceedings against his industry and transportation ministers.
“The best outcome for them is a lame duck president, as their chances will go up for (the next election) in 2021,” said political journalist Fereshteh Sadeghi.

As for the reformist faction, it was key to Rouhani’s election successes in 2013 and 2017, seeing him as its best option after the movement was suppressed in the wake of mass protests in 2009.
But Rouhani has failed to deliver on his promises of easing civil liberties, particularly his vow to release political prisoners and reduce censorship.
Reformists now fear being tarnished by their association with Rouhani and some have broken ranks to slam the government’s performance.
“What have we done with this nation? We made them miserable and wretched,” said reformist MP Elias Hazrati as he voted in favor of impeaching Economy Minister Masoud Karbasian on Sunday.
“No one believes Rouhani will reform anything anymore. He was just a tool for the system, appearing to address people’s demands for change without really changing anything,” said Clement Therme, Iran research fellow for the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).

On the back of popular support, Rouhani won emphatic victories in the past two presidential polls.
Even with the Guardian Council barring almost all candidates, there was genuine enthusiasm for his plans to rebuild Iran’s foreign standing and attract investment.
With the key part of that strategy — the nuclear deal — in tatters, the sense of disillusionment on the streets of Tehran is now palpable.
Many wealthier Iranians are trying to leave, while poorer areas have seen regular, low-level strikes and protests that have occasionally turned violent.
The prices of essential goods are rising rapidly, and worse pain is to come when US sanctions on Iran’s vital oil sector return in November.
“Look at my breakfast. I can’t afford fruit anymore,” a motorbike delivery man told AFP, holding up a can of lemonade and a piece of bread.
“We are afraid of this government, but there will be more protests.”

Rouhani’s problems reflect a basic contradiction of the Islamic republic, said Therme of IISS: elections are crucial to its legitimacy, but the Iranian people vote for reforms that cannot be delivered.
“The supreme leader supports Rouhani going to the end of his second term because he wants stability,” said Therme.
“But he thinks that if Rouhani delivers on his policies, it will mean the end of the system,” particularly by opening the country to Western cultural “invasion.”
There had been talk of Rouhani as a possible successor to the aging Khamenei, but he looks increasingly likely to follow the path of his two predecessors in the presidency, Mohammad Khatami and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who have been effectively silenced by the establishment.
“There’s nothing he can do. His hands are tied. All the focus will now go on 2021,” said political journalist Sadeghi.


Iran-backed militias accused of reign of fear in Iraqi Basra

Iraqi activist Hajjar Youssif hands out masks to protesters for a demonstration last week in Basra. (AP)
Updated 31 min 16 sec ago
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Iran-backed militias accused of reign of fear in Iraqi Basra

  • Angry Basra residents have repeatedly taken to the streets in recent weeks to protest failing government services, including water contamination that sent thousands to hospitals

BASRA: Hajjar Youssif was on her daily commute to work, staring at her phone and flicking through her Instagram account when she looked up to find herself in an unusual location. The taxi driver had turned into an alley. When she questioned the driver, he sped up.
“I started to feel uneasy and knew that something bad was going to happen,” said the 24-year-old office administrator, who had taken part in protests over lack of clean water, frequent power cuts and soaring unemployment in her hometown of Basra, Iraq’s oil capital and main port.
She yelled and tried to open the door, but the driver had locked it. The taxi swerved into a courtyard where three masked men were waiting.
“They immediately told me, ‘We’ll teach you a lesson. Let it be a warning to other protesters’,” Youssif said in an interview several days after the incident.
The men slapped and beat her and pulled off her Islamic headscarf, she said. “At the end, they grabbed me by my hair and warned me not to take part in the protests before blindfolding me and dumping me on the streets,” she said, her cheeks still bruised.
Youssif believes the attack was part of what she and other activists describe as a campaign of intimidation and arbitrary detentions by powerful Iranian-backed Shiite militias and political groups that control Basra, a city of more than 2 million people in southern Iraq’s Shiite Muslim heartland.
Angry Basra residents have repeatedly taken to the streets in recent weeks to protest failing government services, including water contamination that sent thousands to hospitals.
Earlier this month, protests turned violent when demonstrators attacked and torched government offices, the headquarters of the Iranian-backed militias and the Iranian Consulate in Basra — in a show of anger over what many residents perceive as Iran’s outsized control over local affairs.
The events in Basra reflect the growing influence of the militias, which played a major role in retaking Iraqi territory from Daesh militants, who are Sunni Muslims.
Shortly after IS militants captured much of northern and western Iraq in 2014, tens of thousands of Shiite men answered a call-to-arms by the top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani.
Many volunteers were members of Iran-backed militias active since the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, while others formed new groups. These fighters are credited with helping government forces defeat the extremists. But during the war, the militiamen were also accused by Sunnis and rights groups of abuses against the Sunni community, including killings, torture and destruction of homes.
Buoyed by victory against IS, some of the most feared Shiite militias took part in the May national elections and their list — Fatah — won 48 seats in the 329-seat Parliament.
Fatah and other factions formed a wider Iran-backed coalition in Parliament earlier this month and will likely be tasked with forming the new government.
In Basra, some alleged the militias were working with local authorities to quell the protests — a charge denied by Bassem Al-Khafaji, head of Sayyed Al-Shuhada, one of several Basra militias.
He said threats and intimidation of protesters were “individual acts,” but not the result of a central directive.
“Our order for all the factions in Basra ... is not to confront the protesters who burned down the offices of the militias,” Al-Khafaji said, arguing that the militias are trying to prevent more bloodshed.
He accused infiltrators of turning the protests violent and said the alleged saboteurs must be dealt with by the security agencies.
Some militia leaders in Basra accused protesters of colluding with the US, which has long worked to curb Iranian influence in Iraq.
A local leader of a prominent militia vowed to retaliate.
“We have pictures of those who burned down our headquarters and they will pay dearly,” he said on condition of anonymity in line with his group’s rules for speaking to the media. “We will not let them attack us again and if they do we’ll open fire. That’s what we’ve agreed on, all of us.”
The government has said protesters’ demands are legitimate, but claims infiltrators were behind the violence.
A senior official in the Interior Ministry’s intelligence service said dozens have been arrested since the protests began. He acknowledged that others may be held by political parties and their militias, but said his office has no way of tracking that. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.