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Int. Peace Day

Reza Rish

Ahvaz Terror Op

Behnam Mohammadi

Iran blames US and Saudi Arabia

Cartoon by Mahmoud Salameh

Iran blames the US and Saudi Arabia for military parade attack

CNN: Iran knows the "perpetrators" behind Saturday's attack on a military parade in the southwestern city of Ahvaz and "will not leave the bloodshed unanswered," Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Sunday.

"It is America who supports these little mercenary countries in the region. It is Americans who are provoking them. It is Americans who provide them with their required necessities to perpetrate such crimes," Rouhani said in remarks published on his official website.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps accused Saudi Arabia of supporting perpetrators of the attack that killed 29 and wounded 70 others Saturday, while Rouhani blamed "foreign mercenaries" backed by the United States.

"The government is ready to counter any action by the US, and the Americans will regret this," Rouhani said. It was not immediately clear if this remark referred to the US withdrawal from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal or to the Ahvaz attack.

"Most importantly, today Americans are bullying the world more than ever and continuing their unilateralist policies," he said of the nuclear deal.

The United States will not accomplish "their goals in Iran," he added.

Rouhani made the remarks ahead of a trip this week to New York, where he will attend the UN General Assembly.

US dismisses accusations as "rhetoric'

But Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations, rejected Iran's accusations.

"You've got a lot of rhetoric coming from Rouhani. The United States condemns any terrorist attack anywhere, period. We've always stood by that. I think what Rouhani needs to do is he needs to look at his own home base," Haley told CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday.
"He can blame us all he wants; the thing he's got to do is look in the mirror."

US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert on Saturday referred to the attack as "terrorism," saying, "We stand with the Iranian people against the scourge of radical Islamic terrorism and express our sympathy to them at this terrible time."

Saturday's parade was part of nationwide celebrations in Iran to mark the 30th anniversary of the end of its eight-year war with Iraq.

Gunmen opened fire on armed forces marching inside a park as well as spectators who had gathered to watch the parade, Brig. Gen. Abolfazl Shekarchi, a spokesman for the Iranian armed forces, told Mehr, a semi-official Iranian news agency. Three of the attackers were killed during clashes with the security forces, and one other was arrested, news agencies reported.

"The terrorists disguised as Islamic Revolution Guards Corps and Basij (volunteer) forces opened fire to the authority and people from behind the stand during the parade," said Gholam-Reza Shariati, governor of Khuzestan province, according to the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency.

The attack happened in Khuzestan, a province that borders Iraq and has a large ethnic Arab community, many of them Sunni. It was a major battleground during the Iran-Iraq War that killed half a million soldiers in the '80s.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif also blamed "a foreign regime" backed by the United States for Saturday's attack that killed at least eight troops and several civilians.

"Terrorists recruited, trained, armed & paid by a foreign regime have attacked Ahvaz," Zarif said in a tweet, adding: "Iran holds regional terror sponsors and their US masters accountable for such attacks."

Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps spokesman Ramezan Sharif said the attackers were affiliated with a terrorist group supported by Saudi Arabia, Iran's state-run Press TV said.

"The individuals who fired at the people and the armed forces during the parade are connected to the al-Ahvaziya group, which is fed by Saudi Arabia," Sharif said. Saudi Arabia hasn't responded to the allegations.
Earlier, Rouhani used the occasion of the military parades to compare President Donald Trump to former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, Press TV reported.

Speaking at a military rally in Tehran, he said Trump will fail in the "economic and psychological war" he's launched against Iran, just as Hussein failed in his war against the Islamic Republic.

"Iran will neither abandon its defensive weapons nor will reduce its defense capabilities," Rouhani said.

"Rather it will increase its defense power day by day. The fact that they are angry at our missiles shows that these are the most influential weapons Iran has."

Regional governments condemned the attack and offered their condolences, including Hamas and Qatar and a number of Saudi Arabia's reginal allies such as Kuwait, Oman and Egypt. Saudi Arabia was missing from the list of customary diplomatic condolences....

Iran's Foreign Ministry summoned the ambassadors of the Netherlands and Denmark, along with a senior British diplomat, on Saturday to issue a strong protest, Iran's state-run media reported.

The Iraqi border crossing authority said Saturday that the Iranian side was temporarily closing al-Sheeb and al-Shalamcha crossings between the two countries after the attack.

There was confusion Sunday as for who carried out the attack, with several groups named in local media but only ISIS claiming responsibility -- without any evidence to support its assertion.

The separatist Patriotic Arab Democratic Movement in Ahwaz issued an emphatic denial after IRNA reported it had claimed responsibility.

"On behalf of #PADMAZ organization we reject all accusations and we insist that PADMAZ organization is a civil political movement and has nothing to do with what (happened) today in #IranMilitaryParade attack," the group, using its acronym, said on unconfirmed Twitter and Facebook accounts.

Another group, the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Al-Ahwaz, was also accused of perpetrating the attack, but a spokesman, Yacoub Hor Al-Tustari, told CNN his group was not to blame.

CNN's Sara Mazloumsaki, Ghazi Balkiz, Siomara Germain, Kareem Khadder, Nada Altaher and Lauren Said-Moorhouse contributed to this report.

Nuclear Design

Cartoon by Tjeerd Royaards

Trump’s Iran Sanctions Policy Is Working, but America Could Regret It

David Rosenberg

Haaretz: The problem with Donald Trump, to put it bluntly, is that he such a loudmouthed, lying, ignorant, divisive vulgarian that when he does succeed, the kneejerk reaction of any intelligent person is to ignore or reject it. But the fact is, the sanctions the president and his men have imposed on Iran are working better than anyone expected—so far.

The U.S. sanctions only go into force fully on November 4, when they expand to encompass Iran’s energy sector. But they have already caused an exodus of European companies from Iran, and Iran’s economy is crashing through the floor.

The one weak link in the sanctions was, or so it was believed, oil. The assumption was that the global market was too tight and Iran too big an exporter for countries like China and India to abide by the sanctions. At best, experts shrugged, the sanctions might shave 500,000 barrels per day (BPD)  from Iranian exports, which were running at 2.5 million in April.

In fact, well before the oil sanctions kick in, exports of oil were down 800,000 BPD or 900,000 BPD in the first half of September, depending on who is doing the estimating. It seems that the Trump administration has put such a fear of God into the global energy industry (or more properly fear of U.S. banking and insurance sanctions) that no one is even willing to risk stocking up on Iranian oil while they still technically can.

The Iranians can’t simply cap wells when there’s not enough demand for their oil without causing damage to them. So they have taken to warehousing it in supertankers off the coast.

The official U.S. target is zero Iranian oil exports. But even if zero is an impossible dream, if the sanctions halve Iranian exports, Tehran will be in an untenable position. Petroleum accounts for 70% of their exports and 80% of the country’s tax revenues.

Thus, Trump could achieve a win-win from what was regarded a few months ago as a lose-lose. The working assumption had been that if Trump’s oil sanctions failed, Iran would remain defiant; and if they succeeded, the absence of Iranian oil on the market would drive prices up, angering the only constituency the president cares about, his voter base in America.

In fact, oil prices have risen to about $80 a barrel, but even with Iranian exports plunging the increase has been modest. The winter and doubts about OPEC ability to step up production could bring prices higher, but if the U.S. lets just enough oil seep out of Iran to satisfy world demand, that would be more than adequate to leave Iran teetering on the brink economically.

Where Trump is wrong

I’ve argued before that even if the Iranians could export reasonable amounts of oil, it wouldn’t solve their economic problems. Even when oil exports were growing, during the brief interlude between the signing of the nuclear deal and Trump’s pulling out of it, oil revenues failed to trickle down to the rest of the economy. Iran needs foreign trade and investment, but after the sanctions were lifted, very little of that emerged. Unemployment remains in the double digits and inflation has eaten away at the pay for the rest.

The Iran economy is too corrupt, inefficient and dominated by the Revolutionary Guard-owned enterprises to present great opportunities for foreign business. When Trump re-imposed sanctions, it wasn’t a hard decision for multinational companies whether to choose access to the American market or to Iran.

So, Trump has succeeded as a tactician vis a via Iran, but he may well fail as a strategist.

Officially, the his administration is seeking to negotiate a treaty with Iran to rein in Tehran’s ballistic missile program and end its interference in the Middle East, but there’s no question it would even more pleased if the economic pressure brought down the rule of the ayatollahs.

Trouble is that regime change is a risky business that can end in unexpected ways. If that is what the Trump administration really wants, it is playing a very dangerous game, especially with a country as big as Iran.

But even the more modest goal of a new treaty is not going to be easy to achieve by economic pressure. It assumes Tehran’s leaders are anxious to head off street protests or economic collapse.

My guess is that the hard liners -- the ones who really run things in Iran -- have a high level of tolerance for economic distress and an equally high distrust of American intentions. They won’t come to the negotiating table very quickly.

However, the biggest strategic blunder may end being the sanctions strategy itself.

Sanctions are working because the world economy revolves around the U.S. dollar and, as a corollary, the U.S. financial system. But Trump’s unilateral sanctions policy against Iran – in contrast to Obama’s – has raised hackles from America’s European allies, not mention rivals like China and Russia.

The Trump administration has little regard for the international system, including the financial system, but it should be worried when European leaders and China talk about ways of dethroning the dollar, in particular its role as the currency in which oil is bought and sold. As much as Trump & Company disparage the global economic order, they take for granted American dominance and are risking it by turning America into an economic power at war with the world rather than a global referee. 

A Disgrace

Cartoon by Ed Hall

Trump’s Stance on Refugees Is a Disgrace

Editorial Board

Bloomberg: President Donald Trump’s decision to cut the number of refugees admitted to the U.S. hardly comes as a surprise. Even by this administration’s standards, however, the policy just announced is impressive in its heartlessness, cynicism and dishonesty.

The current cap of 45,000 refugees a year is already the lowest since Congress created the refugee resettlement program in 1980, when the U.S. admitted a record 207,116 refugees under President Ronald Reagan. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has lowered it to just 30,000 for the coming fiscal year. Because of onerous vetting procedures, the number actually admitted will be fewer still. (Despite the cap of 45,000, the U.S. is on pace to admit and resettle 21,000 refugees this year, down from 85,000 in 2016.)

The U.S. is closing its doors as the global ranks of the dispossessed reach historic highs. The U.N. estimates that 25.4 million people have been displaced from their home countries due to war and persecution. Of that number, 1.4 million are thought to need urgent resettlement in other countries next year, a 17 percent increase over 2018.

Supporters of Trump’s refugee clampdown point out that despite the recent drop, the U.S. still resettles more refugees than any other country. That’s true. Until recently, in fact, it resettled more than the rest of the world put together. So yes, other countries should be doing much more. But it’s right that the world’s richest economy should set the example it did until recently — using its generosity to push other countries to open their doors, while advancing its other foreign-policy goals.     

Pompeo also said the U.S. immigration system can’t process more refugees due to the “daunting operational reality” of working through 800,000 existing requests for asylum. That’s especially misleading: Refugee applicants are vetted overseas, separately from applicants for asylum, who are already in the country or at the border. Pompeo adds the refugee program should be considered in the wider “context” of overall humanitarian spending. That seems reasonable — except that the White House has also proposed cutting foreign aid by 30 percent.

Pompeo sinks to pure alarmism when he talks about the threat refugees pose to the public. History suggests that the threat is essentially zero: Since 1980, no American has been killed in a terrorist attack committed by a refugee.

The U.S.’s traditional commitment to aiding and resettling refugees is something to celebrate, not repudiate. The administration should be ashamed — and Congress should be too, if it consents to let this happen.

Not so fast

Cartoon by John Darkow

On Kavanaugh, a Changed America Debates an Explosive Charge

The New York Times: It was 36 years ago. The accusation: There was a party, alcohol. A 17-year-old boy was drunk and started groping a 15-year-old girl, pinning her down and covering her mouth so she couldn’t scream. Today, she doesn’t remember some of the details. He insists it didn’t happen at all.

It was 36 years ago. The culture: What 15-year-old girl would tell her parents she had been at a party where kids had been drinking, much less that a boy had attacked her?

It was 36 years ago. The country: Ronald Reagan was president. The Supreme Court had only one female associate justice, its first, Sandra Day O’Connor. It was nine years before the Clarence Thomas hearings, where the spectacle of an all-male Senate panel casting doubt upon Anita Hill would provoke the outrage that drove a record number of women to run for — and win — congressional office.

A very different United States is now deep into a debate over how long-ago allegations involving teenagers and alcohol should be regarded and treated in the confirmation process of the accused, Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh, in his nomination to the Supreme Court.

It’s unclear where the confrontation is headed: The Senate Judiciary Committee has called both Judge Kavanaugh and his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, to testify before the Senate Monday, but she has not committed to appearing.

Both Democrats and Republicans have to carefully consider how their response affects their strategy just seven weeks before a midterm election where women are crucial voters. Democrats have to worry about older women and those who have raised teenagers, who may be skeptical that an allegation from adolescence should doom a person as an adult, no matter what they think of this pick by President Trump. Republicans have to be mindful of the generational shift that has made the country far more vigilant on matters of sexual misconduct, and of the women demanding that the allegations made by Dr. Blasey, now a research psychologist in Northern California, be taken seriously.

No matter their differing viewpoints, scholars, advocates for women’s rights, politicians and others see enormous consequence in reckoning with adolescent behavior during a high court fight in an unusually combustible election year.

“This is going to come back to bite women, I promise you,” said Kay Hymowitz, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank, and the author of “Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men Into Boys.” “Teenage girls do crazy, stupid things also. Even if they have not attempted a rape, they will have done other stupid things. There’s a lot of confusion about what we expect of kids, boys and girls, when it comes to sex.”

Others argued that while it is reasonable to put the allegations in context — if they are true, he was just a teenager, that argument goes — Judge Kavanaugh is not up for an ordinary job >>>

Trump Policy

Cartoon by Osama Hajjaj

In Big Win for Trump, U.S. Sanctions Cripple Iranian Oil Exports

Bloomberg: Aggressive and undiplomatic, certainly, but also extremely effective. With nearly 50 days to go before new U.S. oil sanctions against Iran enter into force, President Donald Trump has already managed to crush the country’s petroleum exports, dealing severe economic damage to Tehran.

Iranian oil exports have plunged about 35 percent since April, the month before Trump ripped up the diplomatic deal that Barack Obama negotiated to curtail Tehran’s nuclear program and announced new oil sanctions.

"Iranian oil exports are coming down pretty hard," said Roger Diwan, a veteran oil analyst at consultant IHS Markit Ltd.

The bigger-than-expected reduction, with more to come, is a win for Trump, who made a tougher stance on Iran a cornerstone of his foreign policy and imposed the sanctions despite opposition in Europe and open hostility from China and India, the top buyers of Iranian crude. When the sanctions were first announced, their unilateral nature prompted many in the oil market to question their effectiveness.

Oil accounts for nearly 80 percent of Iran’s tax revenue, according to the International Monetary Fund, making petroleum the regime’s economic lifeblood. As oil exports have plunged, Iran’s currency -- the rial -- has dived 60 percent on the unofficial market, pushing up inflation.

While the success of sanctions will help Trump put pressure on Iran, there may be a less welcome side effect: higher oil prices for U.S. consumers in the run-up to November’s mid-term elections.

The sanctions are reverberating through the global oil market, pushing benchmark Brent oil above $80 a barrel last week. Even though Russia and Saudi Arabia, which have cooperated closely in oil over the last two years, have offset some of the impact by boosting their own output, traders are betting it won’t be sufficient to replace all the losses from Iran.

"The physical market has clearly tightened, reinforcing the bullish narrative on geopolitical and supply risks," said Thibaut Remoundos, founder of Commodities Trading Corporation Ltd. who’s been trading oil for more than 20 years.

It’s not just the headline oil price that shows the market impact of U.S. sanctions. As oil refiners from China to France scramble to find alternative supplies, they are pushing up the prices of crudes that can substitute for lost Iranian shipments.

Russia’s Urals blend, for example, is trading at its highest premium to the Brent benchmark since the beginning of the year. Chinese refiners recently bought large amounts of Urals from the port of Rotterdam, an unusually long voyage. Oman crude is also unusually expensive, and Basrah Light of Iraq is selling better than usual.

The unilateral American sanctions, which formally only take effect on Nov 4., have scared buyers in Europe and Asia, including Japan and India. In the first two weeks of September, Iran sold an average of 1.6 million barrels a day, down from 2.5 million barrels a day in April, according to Bloomberg tanker tracking.

A group of oil-market analysts predicted in April that sanctions wouldn’t cut exports by more than 800,000 barrels a day.

Even though European countries opposed Trump’s actions, and have reassured Iran’s government that they want the nuclear deal to continue, European refiners have had little choice but to comply with sanctions. Washington can cut off access to the U.S. financial system for any company judged to be doing business with Iran.

With early indications that European nations and Japan will stop buying Iranian crude altogether next month, the country’s exports can easily drop another 350,000 barrels a day by November, down to about 1.3 million barrels a day. South Korea, a major importer of Iranian crude in the past, hasn’t shipped any oil from Iran for 75 days.

South Korea isn't buying any more Iranian crude, and Japan and India have slowed down their purchases significantly ahead of the November 4 sanctions deadline.

Iran isn’t just losing customers for its crude, like it did under earlier sanctions from 2012 to 2015, but also for condensate, a form of super-light oil used mostly in the petrochemical industry. With South Korea not buying any, total Iranian exports of condensate dropped in the first half of September to 175,000 barrels a day, down more than 40 percent from April.

The earlier-than-expected decline in both crude and condensate exports appears to be a reaction to U.S. banking and shipping insurance sanctions that went into effect over the summer.

"The first wave of sanctions in August sent the message to the market that the U.S. was serious, and I think has resulted in these early cuts to Iranian exports ahead of the Nov. 4 implementation of oil sanctions," said Joe McMonigle, energy analyst at Hedgeye Risk Management LLC and a former senior official at the U.S. Energy Department.

Iran has tried to offset some of the impact by offering China and India, two countries likely to keep buying at least some oil, to ship the crude using its own tankers at no extra cost, effectively giving New Delhi and Beijing a small discount. So far, it doesn’t appear to be working: in the first two weeks of September, India has loaded just 240,000 barrels a day of Iranian oil, less than half the usual amount >>>

Gone with the Wind

Shahrokh Heydari

“Childhood Gone with the Wind” cartoon by Shahrokh Heidari. Children need our love & protection. Lack of children's rights & culture of rights has made for rampant abuse under Islamic Republic.

Crazy War

Cartoon by Marian Kamensky

Trump is unshackling America's drones thanks to Obama's weakness

Brett Max Kaufman, ACLU

The Guardian: For more than a decade, the worst-kept secret in the world has been the fact that the Central Intelligence Agency owns and operates lethal drones outside of recognized battlefields abroad. Newspapers blare it from their headlines. Legislators discuss it on television. Foreign governments protest it through press releases. And, of course, human beings witness it through the death and destruction foist upon their communities.

Still, according to the US government and the federal courts, the CIA’s operation of drones to hunt and kill terrorism suspects – a campaign that has killed thousands of people, including hundreds of children, in places like Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia – remains an official secret.

Toward the end of the Obama administration, the president moderately circumscribed the agency’s role in executing lethal strikes abroad, in part to increase public transparency. Compared to the US military (which also uses lethal force abroad), the CIA is relatively less accountable to policy makers, members of Congress, and the American public. With a diminished role in targeted killings, it appeared then that the CIA’s official secrecy was becoming less important to the overall drone program. But as critics warned could happen, President Trump quickly lifted many of the late-Obama-era limits while ramping up the government’s use of lethal drones abroad and reportedly putting the CIA back in the drone business.

For the world’s most notorious spy agency, official secrecy – what Obama’s own stymied Supreme Court nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, called a “fiction of deniability” in a 2013 case concerning drone transparency and the CIA – is exceedingly convenient. By both law and custom, “covert actions” taken by the CIA are not generally acknowledged by government officials after they happen. And without such acknowledgment, the public is left without meaningful information concerning what the government is up to, even when those actions are documented to have taken innocent lives.                                              

All of this has made the agency an attractive vehicle, to those so inclined, for carrying out legally and morally questionable programs in the name of “national security.” Some of the agency’s greatest hits include helping to spark a coup against a democratic government in Iran, supporting torture and assassinations through the Phoenix Program in wartime Vietnam, and domestically spying on Americans involved in the peace movement during the 1960s.

Considering that history, it is no accident that when President Bush decided to carry out a campaign of extraordinary rendition and torture at “black sites” around the globe, he looked to the CIA. The same goes for President Obama, who inherited a targeted killing program from the prior administration, then vastly expanded it. The Bush administration carried out roughly 50 attacks that killed around 500 people; under Obama, the government conducted more than 500 strikes that killed more than 3,000.

With the help of then–chief counterterrorism advisor (and newly anointed Resistance hero) John Brennan, Obama not only ramped up the use of drones for targeted killings but effectively institutionalized them, channeling what had been mostly ad hoc decisions about who to kill and where into a systematized process, complete with Orwellian nomenclature like “disposition matrix” (ie, “kill list”) and “direct action” procedures.

Obama’s effort to impose rules and procedures upon the drone program included the enactment, by executive decree, of standards very loosely analogous to international law requirements that apply in war time to lethal strikes. Those standards were vague, and the ones upon which they were based were never meant to apply in countries in which the US is not at war. In addition, how the government actually applied the standards, and what evidence was required to satisfy them, was shrouded in secrecy. Indeed, it refused to release the standards until litigation brought by the ACLU forced their release in 2016.

After Brennan became CIA Director, according to reports, Obama reportedly shifted at least some authority for carrying out many drone strikes away from the CIA to the military, both to make targeted killing strikes more centralized and accountable internally, and to permit the government to defend strikes that came under scrutiny from foreign allies, the media, and rights organizations.

But all of Obama’s changes were, in one critical way, fundamentally deficient. Because all of them were imposed through executive orders, they would do little to bind his successors. Lo and behold, President Trump promptly loosened the killing rules and exempted certain geographic regions from their coverage. He also quickly gave the CIA renewed authority to conduct strikes against suspected terrorists without the involvement of the Pentagon. Now, he has apparently determined to further reassert CIA control over lethal drones by establishing the agency’s own drone base in Niger, broadening the agency’s lethal reach into Libya and other parts of Africa.

That decision is an ominous reversal of the agency’s formerly declining role in targeted killings abroad. Because the CIA tries to shield information about its covert actions, including through the egregious use of blanket “can neither confirm nor deny” responses to public records requests, the re-expansion of the CIA drone program will lead to even greater secrecy at a critical moment. Strikes in Somalia and Yemen have increased threefold under President Trump. These strikes are already destabilizing an important part of the world, and they are causing more civilian deaths for which the government will refuse to answer. The CIA’s authority to reach into new regions is sure to cause even more.

Trump’s move is, moreover, a crucial reminder that lasting restraints on presidential power must come from Congress and the courts, not executive promises that can easily be undone. Critics of Obama’s use of drones asked his supporters, who were often silent about targeted killings carried out under his watch, to consider whether they would trust his successor with the same awesome, lethal powers over targeted killings abroad. Trump’s most recent moves have made those warnings all too prescient – with devastating consequences for civilians, and America’s moral standing, around the world.

Brett Max Kaufman is a staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union, where he works on issues related to national security, surveillance, privacy and technology.

Execution Republic

Reza Delrish

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