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  • Author: Mehdi Khalaji
  • Publication Date: 03-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: The clergy’s ambitions for global Shia revolution made the city of Qom uniquely vulnerable to the disease, and their resistance to modern medical science weakened the state’s ability to combat its spread. On February 19, two days before the Iranian government officially announced the arrival of coronavirus, an infected businessman who had recently returned from China to Qom passed away. The location and timing of his death illustrate how the Shia holy city and the religious leaders and institutions who call it home have played an outsize role in the disease’s disproportionately rapid spread inside Iran compared to other countries. How did this situation come to pass, and what does it say about the current state of the clerical establishment, its relationship with the regime, and its alienation from large swaths of Iranian society? (Part 2 of this PolicyWatch discusses the regime's role in the outbreak and its resiliency to such crises.)
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Health, Religion, Shia, Coronavirus
  • Political Geography: China, Iran, Middle East, Global Focus, United States of America
  • Author: Ali Alfoneh
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Given the IRGC’s recent restructuring, the Qods Force will likely see more continuity than change under Qaani, though his bureaucratic background is a far cry from Soleimani’s brand of charismatic, risky leadership. On January 3, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei appointed Brig. Gen. Esmail Qaani as chief commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force, just hours after his predecessor, Qasem Soleimani, was killed by a U.S. drone strike. The new commander’s background and military activities are not nearly as well known as Soleimani’s, so taking a closer look at them can help determine whether and how the IRGC’s main extraterritorial branch might change under his leadership.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Military Affairs, Qassem Soleimani, Assassination
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East
  • Author: Mehdi Khalaji
  • Publication Date: 02-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: A week after Donald Trump was elected president in November 2016, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei played coy, remarking, “I have no judgment on the American election...[Both parties have been] naughty toward us.” Of course, his true reaction was far more complex. On one hand, he saw in the president-elect—who had spoken much of disentangling U.S. forces from the Middle East—a prospect of decreased military pressure on his country. On the other, he heard Trump’s raw vitriol directed at Iran’s leadership and the nuclear deal crafted by President Obama. The eventual U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA demonstrated that the new president could back up his talk with punishing action. In this close analysis of statements by Khamenei and other Iranian leaders, former seminarian Mehdi Khalaji lays out the regime’s current views on President Trump and the United States. He shows that even after the American assassination of Qods Force chief Qasem Soleimani, Iranian leaders could be open to negotiating with Washington if they believe the regime’s existence depends on it.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Politics, Elections, Donald Trump
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Rawi Abdelal, Aurélie Bros
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Institut français des relations internationales (IFRI)
  • Abstract: Sanctions have become the dominant tool of statecraft of the United States and other Western states, especially the European Union, since the end of the Cold War. But the systematic use of this instrument may produce unintended and somewhat paradoxical geopolitical consequences. The sanctions imposed on the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Russian Federation in the field of energy are particularly illustrative of this phenomenon.
  • Topic: Economics, Energy Policy, Sanctions, Geopolitics, Secondary Sanctions, Transatlantic Relations
  • Political Geography: Russia, Iran, Middle East, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Adnan Mazarei
  • Publication Date: 06-2019
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Peterson Institute for International Economics
  • Abstract: Suffering under Western sanctions and security challenges, Iran faces problems as well from its fragile banking system, which has been languishing for decades. Liquidity and solvency weaknesses pose a growing risk to the country’s financial stability. The sanctions reimposed by the United States in 2018 have heightened these vulnerabilities, but the problems also result from the heavy-handed role of the state, corruption, and the Central Bank of Iran’s failure to regulate and supervise the system. Iran’s ability to avoid a run on its banks is aided by their reliance on liquidity assistance, deposit insurance, and regulatory forbearance from the central bank. Depositors are forced to be patient because they have limited options to invest elsewhere. Iran has thus avoided a full-blown banking crisis. But the situation is not sustainable. Banks remain susceptible to external shocks, which could come from a complete halt to oil exports or war.
  • Topic: Security, Financial Crisis, Sanctions, Banks, Financial Institutions
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Adnan Mazarei
  • Publication Date: 06-2019
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Peterson Institute for International Economics
  • Abstract: Suffering under Western sanctions and security challenges, Iran faces problems as well from its fragile banking system, which has been languishing for decades. Liquidity and solvency weaknesses pose a growing risk to the country’s financial stability. The sanctions reimposed by the United States in 2018 have heightened these vulnerabilities, but the problems also result from the heavy-handed role of the state, corruption, and the Central Bank of Iran’s failure to regulate and supervise the system. Iran’s ability to avoid a run on its banks is aided by their reliance on liquidity assistance, deposit insurance, and regulatory forbearance from the central bank. Depositors are forced to be patient because they have limited options to invest elsewhere. Iran has thus avoided a full-blown banking crisis. But the situation is not sustainable. Banks remain susceptible to external shocks, which could come from a complete halt to oil exports or war.
  • Topic: Corruption, Sanctions, Finance, Banks
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Oula A. Alrifai
  • Publication Date: 10-2019
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Tehran and its proxies have been exerting hard and soft power in northeast Syria, combining military consolidation with economic, social, and religious outreach in order to cement their long-term influence. On September 30, Syria and Iraq reopened their main border crossing between al-Bukamal and al-Qaim, which had been formally closed for five years. The circumstances surrounding the event were telling—the ceremony was delayed by a couple weeks because of unclaimed foreign airstrikes on Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps targets in east Syria following the Iranian attack against Saudi oil facilities earlier that month. What exactly have the IRGC and its local proxies been doing in Deir al-Zour province? And what does this activity tell us about Iran’s wider plans there?
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Education, Military Strategy, Geopolitics, Conflict, Soft Power
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Iran, Middle East, Syria, United States of America
  • Author: Bilal Wahab, Barbara A. Leaf
  • Publication Date: 09-2019
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Even as Baghdad works to rein in militias that invite outside attacks, Washington needs to be patient with the country’s contradictions in the near term and give space for it to exert sovereignty in the long term. As President Trump met with Iraqi president Barham Salih today on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, they were no doubt buoyed by their governments’ mutual conclusion that the recent attack on Saudi oil facilities in Abqaiq did not originate from Iraq. Initial concerns about that possibility were well founded—a previous attack on a major Saudi pipeline was carried out from Iraqi territory this May, and multiple Iraqi militia facilities have been struck since June, reportedly by Israel. Each of these developments was linked to Shia “special groups” with known ties to Iran. On July 1, Iraqi prime minister Adil Abdulmahdi ordered these and other militias to fold themselves under state authority, but so far he has been unable to impose order on them. The government has also failed to prevent them from threatening neighboring countries at Iran’s presumed behest—an especially dangerous lapse given that Iraqi authorities cannot protect the territory these militias hold from external retaliation. To keep other countries from turning Iraq into a proxy battleground, Baghdad needs to rein in the unruliest militias. This is a tall order because Tehran has spent fifteen years building them into a parallel force of its own. Given the willingness these “special groups” have shown when asked to attack U.S. troops, fight on the Assad regime’s behalf in Syria, or secure other Iranian interests, they risk implicating Iraq in Tehran’s regional confrontations with the United States, Saudi Arabia, and/or Israel.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Bilateral Relations, Non State Actors, Proxy War
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Iran, Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Syria, United States of America, Gulf Nations
  • Author: Patrick Clawson
  • Publication Date: 12-2019
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Rouhani has taken a remarkably austere fiscal approach ahead of the looming parliamentary election, but the country’s economic situation is still not sustainable over the long run. On December 8, following established procedures, President Hassan Rouhani visited parliament to present his budget for the Iranian year 2020/21, which begins in March. Notwithstanding the government’s rosy rhetoric, his spending proposals show the tough times the Islamic Republic is facing.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Oil, Sanctions, Budget, Elections, Economy
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East
  • Publication Date: 06-2019
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Al Jazeera Center for Studies
  • Abstract: In early May 2019, the United States announced it would deploy an aircraft carrier, B-52 strategic bombers, and a Patriot missile battery to the Gulf region, declaring it had received information that Iran intended to strike US targets or those of its allies, directly or through a proxy. The United States followed with a new round of sanctions targeting Iran’s oil industry.
  • Topic: International Relations, International Affairs
  • Political Geography: America, Iran