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Thursday, April 13, 2023

Iran Update, April 13, 2023

Johanna Moore, Annika Ganzeveld, Amin Soltani, Zachary Coles, Kitaneh Fitzpatrick, Nicholas Carl, and Frederick W. Kagan

April 13, 2023, 4:30 pm ET

The Iran Updates are produced by the Critical Threats Project (CTP) at the American Enterprise Institute with support from the Institute for the Study of War (ISW). To receive Iran Updates via email, please subscribe here.

Contributors: James Motamed and Anya Caraiani

A senior delegation from Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ)--a US-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO)--traveled to Iraq on April 13, highlighting the growing Iranian influence there and potential for Baghdad to become a central node in the Iran-led Axis of Resistance.[1] PIJ Secretary General Ziyad al Nakhalah headed the delegation—his first visit to Baghdad since becoming secretary general in 2018.[2] The US designated PIJ as an FTO in 1997 and designated Nakhalah as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist in 2014.[3] Nakhalah met the following officials:[4]

  • Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammad Shia al Sudani
  • Former Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mehdi
  • Iraqi President Abdul Latif Rashid
  • Iranian Ambassador to Iraq Mohammad Kazem Ale Sadegh

The meeting with Ale Sadegh is particularly noteworthy. He is almost certainly a key officer in the IRGC Quds Force given the longstanding pattern of Tehran assigning exclusively Quds Force members to this position.[5] Nakhalah and Ale Sadegh discussed Palestinian resistance against Israel and the growing strength of the Axis of Resistance, according to Iranian state media.[6]

The PIJ visit is the latest example of several highlighting the ascendent Iranian influence in Iraq. The Iranian-backed Badr Organization has asserted its predominance in Diyala Province, as CTP previously reported, successfully pressuring Sudani to withdraw recently deployed Iraqi Security Forces from Diyala on April 12.[7] Sudani does not have appear to have the political capital necessary to seriously contest Badr. Former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki separately pushed electoral reform laws through Parliament with the support of pro-Iran political factions on March 16.[8] These reforms will likely sideline independent and minority political parties and advantage larger political blocs, such as Maliki’s State of Law coalition, in future elections.[9] Although Maliki is not necessarily working to promote Iranian influence directly, these internal dynamics are fostering the space for the IRGC to consolidate its political and security influence in Iraq.

Nakhalah’s visit to Baghdad is separately likely part of an IRGC effort to demonstrate the unity of the Axis of Resistance against Israel. Nakhalah will participate in and speak at a ceremony in Baghdad to commemorate International Quds Day—an annual Iran-sponsored holiday against Israel—on April 14.[10] Iranian-backed militias are organizing holiday events in Baghdad, Karbala, Najaf, Babel, and Hilla.[11] These celebrations in Iraq appear to be at a larger scale than previous years. Iranian state media separately reported that the Axis of Resistance organized a region-wide naval parade in support of Palestine on April 13.[12] CTP has seen no evidence that this parade materialized other than a gathering of IRGC naval vessels off the Iranian coast.[13]

Key Takeaways

  • A senior delegation from Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ)--a US-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO)--traveled to Iraq, highlighting the growing Iranian influence there and potential for Baghdad to become a central node in the Iran-led Axis of Resistance.
  • IRGC-affiliated Tasnim News Agency reported that President Ebrahim Raisi may soon dismiss Industry, Mines, and Trade Minister Reza Fatemi Amin.
  • Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian participated in a quadrilateral meeting on Afghanistan with his Chinese, Russian, and Pakistani counterparts in Samarkand, Uzbekistan.
  • Iranian Oil Minister Javad Owji traveled to Caracas, Venezuela to visit Venezuelan state-owned oil company Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) facilities and meet with his Venezuelan counterpart Pedro Tellechea.
  • CTP recorded no protests in Iran.

Internal Security and Protest Activity

Correction: CTP incorrectly reported that no protests occurred on April 12. At least one protest occurred in one city on April 12. CTP assesses with high confidence that one protest occurred in the following location on April 12:

Bandar Abbas, Hormozgan Province[14]

  • Size: Small
  • Demographic: Protesters chanting anti-regime slogans

CTP recorded no protests on April 13.

Protest coordinators and organizations circulated calls for demonstrations on the following days:

April 15[15]

  • Type: Student demonstrations against the mandatory hijab law
  • Location: Countrywide

April 16 and 18[16]

  • Type: Demonstrations to commemorate the birthdays of three killed protesters
  • Location: Tehran City, Tehran Province and Karaj, Alborz Province

President Ebrahim Raisi requested that Sports and Youth Minister Hamid Sajjadi permit Iranian women to enter sports stadiums. Raisi also requested safe public transportation for women attending sporting events.[17] The regime has historically banned Iranian women from attending major sporting events, although it recently permitted limited female attendance at some stadiums on August 26, 2022.[18] Raisi may be trying to boost his popularity and position himself as a defender of women’s rights following reports that the regime will use surveillance technology to enforce mandatory veiling.[19]

Economic Affairs

The Iranian rial appreciated slightly from 511,000 rials to one US dollar on April 12 to 509,500 rials to one US dollar on April 13.[20]

IRGC-affiliated Tasnim News Agency reported on April 13 that President Ebrahim Raisi may soon dismiss Industry, Mines, and Trade Minister Reza Fatemi Amin.[21] Government Information Council head Sepehr Khalaji denied the report and argued that Fatemi Amin is not responsible for recent issues in the automobile market.[22]

Foreign Policy and Diplomacy

Foreign Affairs Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian participated in a quadrilateral meeting on Afghanistan with his Chinese, Russian, and Pakistani counterparts in Samarkand, Uzbekistan on April 13. Amir Abdollahian expressed concern over the spread of terrorism, girls’ education and the status of women in Afghanistan, Afghan refugee migration to Iran, and drug trafficking.[23] Amir Abdollahian separately discussed the Polan-Gwadar electricity transmission line and increasing Iranian-Pakistani cooperation on Afghanistan with his Pakistani counterpart, Hina Rabbani Khar.[24] Amir Abdollahian also met with Taliban Foreign Affairs Minister Amir Khan Motaghi.[25]

Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanani responded to but did not deny Politico’s April 12 reporting that China and Russia plan to replenish Iran’s stockpile of ammonium perchlorate in exchange for an Iranian supply of ballistic missiles to Russia. Kanani claimed that Western media was attempting to distract from the West’s supply of weapons to Ukraine.[26] Iran may seek military assistance from Russia in return for the missiles, as CTP previously assessed.[27]

Iranian state media, citing an unidentified Iraqi diplomat, reported on April 13 that Iraq and Oman are mediating between Iran and Egypt to restore relations. UK-based Amwaj Media, citing a source in the Iraqi National Security Council, separately reported on April 2 that Iran had asked Iraq to play a broader mediator role between Iran and the Arab world, as CTP previously reported.[28]

Iranian Oil Minister Javad Owji traveled to Caracas, Venezuela on April 13 to visit Venezuelan state-owned oil company Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) facilities and meet with his Venezuelan counterpart Pedro Tellechea. PDVSA and the Iranian state-owned National Iranian Oil Refining and Distribution Company previously announced plans to upgrade the Paraguana Refinery Complex in Venezuela on February 6.[29]

External Security and Military Affairs

The Russian-backed Syrian Arab Army (SAA) 5th Corps clashed with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) near Tabiya Jazira, Deir ez Zor Province on April 13, likely due to a smuggling dispute.[30] Elements from these groups frequently clash over control of smuggling routes in the area.[31] Local pro-Assad social media accounts claimed that issues over smuggling fees triggered the clash.[32] The SDF forces may have also been present in Tabiya Jazira to secure the area after Iranian-backed militants there conducted a rocket attack on US forces, as CTP previously reported.[33] The clash was more likely due to smuggling disputes rather than related to any Russian-backed effort to facilitate Iranian-backed militant attacks against US forces, however.


[1] https://ar.irna dot ir/news/85081282 

[2] https://safa dot ps/post/351421

[3] https://www.state.gov/foreign-terrorist-organizations; https://2009-2017.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2014/01/220540.htm

[4] https://t.me/sabreenS1/74089;

https://twitter.com/Tammuz_Intel/status/1646576521916678152?s=20; https://safa dot ps/post/351421;

https://ar.irna dot ir/news/85081282

[5] https://www.unitedagainstnucleariran.com/blog/who-irans-new-ambassador-to-iraq

[6] https://ar.irna dot ir/news/85081282

[7] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-update-march-6-2023; https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-update-march-10-2023

[8] https://shafaq dot com/ar/%D8%B3%DB%8C%D8%A7%D8%B3%D8%A9/%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%81%D9%88%D8%B6%D9%89-%D8%AA%D8%B9%D9%88%D8%AF-%D9%84%D9%84%D8%A8%D8%B1%D9%84%D9%85%D8%A7%D9%86-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B9%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%82%D9%8A-%D9%81%D9%8A-%D8%A7%D9%84-%D9%85%D8%AA%D8%A7%D8%B1-%D8%A7%D9%84-%D8%AE%D9%8A%D8%B1%D8%A9-%D9%84%D8%AA%D9%85%D8%B1%D9%8A%D8%B1-%D9%82%D8%A7%D9%86%D9%88%D9%86-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A7%D9%86%D8%AA%D8%AE%D8%A7%D8%A8%D8%A7%D8%AA

[9] https://media.shafaq dot com/media/arcella_files/1679869229506()%D9%A2%D9%A2.pdf

[10] https://www.alaraby.co.uk/politics/%D8%A3%D9%85%D9%8A%D9%86-%D8%B9%D8%A7%D9%85-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AC%D9%87%D8%A7%D8%AF-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A5%D8%B3%D9%84%D8%A7%D9%85%D9%8A-%D9%8A%D8%B5%D9%84-%D8%A5%D9%84%D9%89-%D8%A8%D8%BA%D8%AF%D8%A7%D8%AF-%D9%88%D9%8A%D9%84%D8%AA%D9%82%D9%8A-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B3%D9%81%D9%8A%D8%B1-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A5%D9%8A%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%86%D9%8A;

https://ar.irna dot ir/news/85081282

[11] https://www.alaraby.co.uk/politics/%D8%A3%D9%85%D9%8A%D9%86-%D8%B9%D8%A7%D9%85-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AC%D9%87%D8%A7%D8%AF-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A5%D8%B3%D9%84%D8%A7%D9%85%D9%8A-%D9%8A%D8%B5%D9%84-%D8%A5%D9%84%D9%89-%D8%A8%D8%BA%D8%AF%D8%A7%D8%AF-%D9%88%D9%8A%D9%84%D8%AA%D9%82%D9%8A-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B3%D9%81%D9%8A%D8%B1-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A5%D9%8A%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%86%D9%8A;

https://ar.irna dot ir/news/85081282

[12] https://www.irna dot ir/news/85081733; https://defapress dot ir/fa/news/582965

[13] https://www.irna dot ir/news/85081733; https://defapress dot ir/fa/news/582965

[14] https://twitter.com/iranworkers/status/1646421908718493696?cxt=HHwWgICxuZeAotktAAAA ;

https://twitter.com/iranworkers/status/1646402901420437504?cxt=HHwWgMCzheitmdktAAAA ;

https://twitter.com/Javanan_bnd/status/1646234712262705167?cxt=HHwWnoCwlfXvzNgtAAAA

[15] https://twitter.com/daneshjo_pishro/status/1645872571726938112?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1645872574688030720%7Ctwgr%5Eb5ea11d4e2531eedc243e95ae64e420ae5521176%7Ctwcon%5Es2_&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fpaperusercontent.com%2Fintegrations%2Fembed%2Fiframe%2Ftweet%3Fid%3D1645872574688030720

[16] https://twitter.com/ic_UYI/status/1646142560530755586?cxt=HHwWhMCzof37otgtAAAA

[17] https://t dot co/tpX2gL3Vw6

[18] https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/03/31/iran-women-blocked-entering-stadium ; https://www.espn.com/espys/story/_/id/29324440/iranian-women-were-banned-soccer-stadiums-40-years-maryam-shojaei-fought-fix-that ; https://www.iranintl.com/en/202208282999 ; https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-62678408

[19] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-crisis-update-january-10-2023 ; https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-update-april-10-2023

[20] https://bonbast dot com/

[21] https://www dot tasnimnews dot com/fa/news/1402/01/24/2879273/وزیر-صمت-گزینه-بعدی-تغییر

[22] https://www dot irna dot ir/news/85081767/%DA%AF%D9%85%D8%A7%D9%86%D9%87-%D8%B2%D9%86%DB%8C-%D9%87%D8%A7-%D8%A8%D8%B1%D8%A7%DB%8C-%D8%AA%D8%BA%DB%8C%DB%8C%D8%B1-%D9%88%D8%B2%DB%8C%D8%B1-%D8%B5%D9%85%D8%AA-%D9%86%D8%A7%D8%AF%D8%B1%D8%B3%D8%AA-%D8%A7%D8%B3%D8%AA

[23] https://www.tasnimnews dot com/fa/news/1402/01/24/2879333/تشریح-جزئیات-نشست-چهارجانبه-ایران-روسیه-چین-و-پاکستان-از-زبان-امیرعبداللهیان ; https://www.farsnews dot ir/news/14020124000562/امیرعبداللهیان-در-سمرقند-تعاملات-خود-را-با-هیأت-حاکمه-سرپرستی ; https://www.isna dot ir/news/1402012412116/%D9%87%DB%8C%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D8%AD%D8%A7%DA%A9%D9%85%D9%87-%D9%85%D9%88%D9%82%D8%AA-%D8%A7%D9%81%D8%BA%D8%A7%D9%86%D8%B3%D8%AA%D8%A7%D9%86-%D8%AF%D8%B1-%D8%B4%D8%B1%D8%A7%DB%8C%D8%B7-%D8%AF%D8%B4%D9%88%D8%A7%D8%B1-%D8%A8%D9%87-%D8%B3%D8%B1-%D9%85%DB%8C-%D8%A8%D8%B1%D8%AF ; https://www.irna dot ir/news/85081369/%D9%85%D8%A8%D8%A7%D8%B1%D8%B2%D9%87-%D8%A8%D8%A7-%D9%82%D8%A7%DA%86%D8%A7%D9%82-%D9%85%D9%88%D8%A7%D8%AF-%D9%85%D8%AE%D8%AF%D8%B1-%D9%88-%DA%A9%D9%85%DA%A9-%D8%A8%D9%87-%D8%AA%D8%AD%D8%B5%DB%8C%D9%84-%D8%AF%D8%AE%D8%AA%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%86-%D9%85%D9%87%D9%85%D8%AA%D8%B1%DB%8C%D9%86-%D9%85%D8%B3%D8%A7%D8%A6%D9%84 ;

[24] https://www.irna dot ir/news/85081617/%D8%A7%D8%AA%D9%81%D8%A7%D9%82%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D8%A7%D9%81%D8%BA%D8%A7%D9%86%D8%B3%D8%AA%D8%A7%D9%86-%D8%B6%D8%B1%D9%88%D8%B1%D8%AA-%D8%AA%D9%82%D9%88%DB%8C%D8%AA-%D9%87%D9%85%DA%A9%D8%A7%D8%B1%DB%8C-%D9%87%D8%A7%DB%8C-%D8%A7%DB%8C%D8%B1%D8%A7%D9%86-%D9%88-%D9%BE%D8%A7%DA%A9%D8%B3%D8%AA%D8%A7%D9%86-%D8%B1%D8%A7

[25] https://www.isna dot ir/news/1402012411939/%DA%AF%D9%81%D8%AA-%D9%88%DA%AF%D9%88%DB%8C-%D8%A7%D9%85%DB%8C%D8%B1%D8%B9%D8%A8%D8%AF%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%84%D9%87%DB%8C%D8%A7%D9%86-%D8%A8%D8%A7-%D8%A7%D9%85%DB%8C%D8%B1%D8%AE%D8%A7%D9%86-%D9%85%D8%AA%D9%82%DB%8C

[26] https://www.irna dot ir/news/85081704/%D8%BA%D8%B1%D8%A8-%D8%A8%D9%87-%D8%AF%D9%86%D8%A8%D8%A7%D9%84-%D8%B7%D9%88%D9%84%D8%A7%D9%86%DB%8C-%DA%A9%D8%B1%D8%AF%D9%86-%D8%AC%D9%86%DA%AF-%D8%AF%D8%B1-%D8%A7%D9%88%DA%A9%D8%B1%D8%A7%DB%8C%D9%86-%D8%A7%D8%B3%D8%AA

[27] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-update-april-12-2023

[28] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-update-april-3-2023#_edn2bc237156e5586c92b565bf3dc799b8a43

[29] https://www.reuters.com/business/energy/iran-start-revamp-venezuelas-largest-refining-complex-within-weeks-sources-2023-02-03/

[30] https://sdf-press dot com/en/2023/04/update-our-forces-investigate-an-individual-clash-in-deir-ezzor

[31] https://english.enabbaladi dot net/archives/2020/04/what-are-deir-ezzors-water-crossings-between-sdf-and-syrian-regime-active; https://deirezzor24 dot net/en/smuggling-is-active-in-deir-ezzor-after-activating-the-dirt-bridge; https://www.counterextremism.com/blog/smuggling-away-future-syrias-northeast

[32] https://twitter.com/thesyrianlions/status/1646572090785517568?s=46&t=EGYcIyXosW6lVJmixq2r5Q

[33] https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/iran-update-april-11-2023