Iran Lashes Out

International concern about Tehran’s misdeeds is growing — but so are the regime’s countermeasures against adversaries foreign and domestic.

The Iranian government over the past week has suffered new losses in the court of international public opinion, ranging from legal action arising from its crude exports to Latin America to condemnation of its interference in Iraq. But the regime remains on the offensive against Western adversaries — and has taken drastic measures at home in response to mounting popular rage about its economic failings. 
A legal investigation is underway in Chile in response to charges that the delivery of Iranian crude oil to the state energy company ENAP in August may have caused health problems for 508 people. The tragedy took place in two areas northeast of the capital Santiago, leading the victims to turn to local hospitals en masse. While the issue of culpability is unclear, the public association of the incident with the sale of Iranian crude cannot be helpful to the Tehran regime in the struggle for political advantage in Latin America.
International concern has meanwhile been focused on the appointment of Falih Al-Fayadh, the former chief of Iraq’s Iran-backed Popular Mobilization Forces [PMF], to the twin positions of head of the militias and national security adviser to Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi. As the Associated Press noted, he had previously been nominated to serve as Minister of Interior, but faced an organized backlash led by Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose present public stand seeks to end Iranian interference in Iraq’s affairs. It bears noting in this context that the Popular Mobilization Forces had enjoyed the tacit support of the Obama Administration for their role in the international coalition against ISIS. But more recently, in addition to the Trump Administration’s decidedly anti-Iranian stance, public attention in the United States has turned against the PMF strain in Iraqi politics and security policy. A substantial New Yorker article last week, for example, detailed the violent wave of vengeance campaigns against the families of ISIS fighters by members of the coalition that had evicted the group from much of Iraq’s territory. The article warned of a potential resurgence of support for ISIS as a result of the assault.
Wired magazine reports that the Iranian government is engaged in an aggressive international hacking campaign. In addition to targeting its regional adversaries — in particular, their energy sectors — evidence has emerged of heightened assault on the Europe and the United States. A new strain of the Iran-backed computer virus Shamoon, the article noted, can now be “customized to encrypt and overwrite files, destroy the boot device, wipe attached hard drives, destroy the operating system, or wipe special prioritized files.” And last week, the British security firm Certfa reported that the Iran-backed “Charming Kitten” hackers consortium has targeted U.S. Treasury officials, Washington DC think tanks, and other American installations.
Meanwhile, on the domestic front in Iran, there are further indications that the regime is resorting to extreme measures in response to social turmoil arising from US-led sanctions. Last week in these pages we referred to a further wave of executions and harsh prison sentences targeting minority communities. This week, newly formed “corruption courts” have conducted what rights groups describe as “show trials” of alleged smugglers and black market traders. The spectacle of their execution appears to serve the regime as a scapegoating tactic amid economic strife and increasing evidence of corruption emanating from the regime itself. Witness the popular outcry in Iran, which also came to a head this week, after President Rouhani’s son-in-law, Kambiz Mehdizadeh, was appointed to head the Industry and Mines Ministry’s Geological Survey of Iran —  a position for which the 33-year-old was widely seen to be unqualified. Mehdizadeh resigned in response to popular pressure.

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