The prospects for a renewed nuclear agreement could improve with Mr. Raisi’s victory. Ayatollah Khamenei appeared to be stalling the current talks as the election approached. But American diplomats and Iranian analysts said that there could be movement in the weeks between Mr. Rouhani’s departure and Mr. Raisi’s ascension.

A deal finalized then could leave Mr. Rouhani with the blame for any unpopular concessions and allow Mr. Raisi to claim credit for any economic improvements once sanctions are lifted.

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

Iran’s Proxies in Iraq Threaten U.S. With More Sophisticated Weapons

BAGHDAD — The United States is grappling with a rapidly evolving threat from Iranian proxies in Iraq after militia forces specialized in operating more sophisticated weaponry, including armed drones, have hit some of the most sensitive American targets in attacks that evaded U.S. defenses.

At least three times in the past two months, those militias have used small, explosive-laden drones that divebomb and crash into their targets in late-night attacks on Iraqi bases — including those used by the C.I.A. and U.S. Special Operations units, according to American officials.

Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., the top American commander in the Middle East, said last month that the drones pose a serious threat and that the military was rushing to devise ways to combat them.

Iran — weakened by years of harsh economic sanctions — is using its proxy militias in Iraq to step up pressure on the United States and other world powers to negotiate an easing of those sanctions as part of a revival of the 2015 nuclear deal. Iraqi and American officials say Iran has designed the drone attacks to minimize casualties that could prompt U.S. retaliation.

a Defense Intelligence Agency assessment published in April. In the last year, a proliferation of previously unknown armed groups have emerged, some claiming responsibility for rocket attacks on U.S. targets.

thousands of American military contractors operate.

MQ-9 Reaper drones and contractor-operated turboprop surveillance aircraft are stationed in an attempt to disrupt or cripple the U.S. reconnaissance capability critical to monitoring threats in Iraq.

The United States has used Reapers for its most sensitive strikes, including the killing of Iran’s top security and intelligence commander, Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, a senior Iraqi government official and a leader of Iraq’s militia groups, in Baghdad in January 2020.

While the United States has installed defenses to counter rocket, artillery and mortar systems at installations in Iraq, the armed drones fly too low to be detected by those defenses, officials said.

Shortly before midnight on April 14, a drone strike targeted a C.I.A. hangar inside the airport complex in the northern Iraqi city of Erbil, according to three American officials familiar with the matter.

No one was reported hurt in the attack, but it alarmed Pentagon and White House officials because of the covert nature of the facility and the sophistication of the strike, details of which were previously reported by The Washington Post.

talks between them in Baghdad in April, the Saudis demanded that Iran stop those attacks, according to Iraqi officials.

While visiting northeastern Syria last month, General McKenzie, the top American commander for the region, said military officials were developing ways to disrupt or disable communications between the drones and their operators, bolster radar sensors to identify approaching threats more rapidly, and find effective ways to down the aircraft.

In each of the known attacks in Iraq, at least some of the drones’ remnants have been partially recovered, and preliminary analyses indicated they were made in Iran or used technology provided by Iran, according to the three American officials familiar with the incidents.

These drones are larger than the commercially available quadcopters — small helicopters with four rotors — that the Islamic State used in the battle of Mosul, but smaller than the MQ-9 Reapers, which have a 66-foot wingspan. Military analysts say they carry between 10 and 60 pounds of explosives.

Iraqi officials and U.S. analysts say that while cash-strapped Iran has reduced funding for major Iraqi militias, it has invested in splitting off smaller, more specialized proxies still operating within the larger militias but not under their direct command.

American officials say that these specialized units are likely to have been entrusted with the politically delicate mission of carrying out the new drone strikes.

Iraqi security commanders say groups with new names are fronts for the traditional, powerful Iran-backed militias in Iraq such as Kataib Hezbollah and Asaib Ahl al-Haq. Iraqi officials say Iran has used the new groups to try to camouflage, in discussions with the Iraqi government, its responsibility for strikes targeting U.S. interests, which often end up killing Iraqis.

The Iraqi security official said members of the smaller, specialized groups were being trained at Iraqi bases and in Lebanon as well as in Iran by the hard-line Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps — which oversees proxy militias in the Middle East.

American and Iraqi officials and analysts trace the increased unpredictability of militia operations in Iraq to the U.S. killing of General Suleimani and the Iraqi militia leader.

“Because the Iranian control over its militias has fragmented after the killing of Qassim Suleimani and Abu Mahdi Muhandis, the competition has increased among these groups,” said Mr. Malik, the Washington Institute analyst.

Jane Arraf reported from Baghdad and Eric Schmitt from Washington. Falih Hassan contributed reporting.

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

Second Close Call Between Iranian and American Vessels Raises Tensions

WASHINGTON — For the second time in a month, vessels from Iran and the United States came dangerously close in the Persian Gulf on Monday night, the Navy said on Tuesday, escalating tensions between the two nations as their negotiators have resumed talks toward renewing the 2015 nuclear deal.

According to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet in Bahrain, three fast-attack craft from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps sailed close to a Navy coastal patrol ship and a Coast Guard patrol boat as the two American vessels were patrolling international waters in the northern part of the Persian Gulf.

At about 8 p.m. local time Monday, the Iranian boats rapidly and repeatedly approached the American ships, the Firebolt and the Baranoff — at one point coming as close as 68 yards, according to a Navy statement.

The American crews issued multiple warnings via bridge-to-bridge radio and loudspeakers, but the Iranian vessels continued their close-range maneuvers, the Navy said. When the Firebolt’s crew fired warning shots, the Iranians vessels moved away “to a safe distance from the U.S. vessels,” the Navy said.

Iranian forces captured and held overnight 10 U.S. sailors who strayed into the Islamic Republic’s territorial waters.

However, such incidents had mostly stopped in 2018 and for nearly the entirety of 2019, Commander Rebarich said. The episodes at sea have almost always involved the Revolutionary Guards, which reports only to the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The earlier encounter this month happened on April 2, when a Revolutionary Guards Corps ship, the Harth 55, accompanied by three fast-attack vessels, harassed two Coast Guard cutters, the Wrangell and the Monomoy, as they were conducting routine security patrols in the international waters of the southern Persian Gulf, the Navy said in a separate statement issued earlier on Tuesday. That episode was earlier reported by The Wall Street Journal.

the deadly attack in 2000 on the destroyer Cole in Yemen — that are specifically devised to take out small fast-attack craft like these from the Iranians. But the American vessels targeted this month have no such weaponry aboard.

The incident on Monday night occurred just days after a leaked audiotape offered a glimpse into the behind-the-scenes power struggles of Iranian leaders. In the recording, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the Revolutionary Guards Corps called the shots, overruling many government decisions and ignoring diplomatic advice.

In one extraordinary moment on the tape, Mr. Zarif departed from the reverential official line on Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, the commander of the Guards’ elite Quds Force, the foreign-facing arm of Iran’s security apparatus, who was killed by the United States in January 2020.

“In the Islamic Republic, the military field rules,” Mr. Zarif said in a three-hour conversation that was a part of an oral history project documenting the work of the current administration.

John Ismay contributed reporting.

View Source

Iran’s Foreign Minister, in Leaked Tape, Says Revolutionary Guards Set Policies

In a leaked audiotape that offers a glimpse into the behind-the scenes power struggles of Iranian leaders, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the Revolutionary Guards Corps call the shots, overruling many government decisions and ignoring advice.

In one extraordinary moment on the tape that surfaced Sunday, Mr. Zarif departed from the reverential official line on Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, the commander of the Guards’ elite Quds Force, the foreign-facing arm of Iran’s security apparatus, who was killed by the United States in January 2020.

The general, Mr. Zarif said, undermined him at many steps, working with Russia to sabotage the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers and adopting policies toward Syria’s long war that damaged Iran’s interests.

“In the Islamic Republic the military field rules,” Mr. Zarif said in a three-hour taped conversation that was a part of an oral history project documenting the work of the current administration. “I have sacrificed diplomacy for the military field rather than the field servicing diplomacy.”

choreograph steps toward returning to a deal.

“The structure of our foreign ministry is mostly security oriented,” Mr. Zarif said.

Mr. Zarif said he was kept in the dark on government actions — sometimes to his embarrassment.

On the night that Iran decided to retaliate against the United States for the killing of General Suleimani, two Quds Force commanders went to see the Iraqi prime minister, Adel Abdul Mahdi, to inform him that in about 45 minutes Iran would be firing missiles at a military base where U.S. troops were stationed, Mr. Zarif said. The Americans knew about the strike before he did.

Former Secretary of State John Kerry informed him that Israel had attacked Iranian interests in Syria at least 200 times, to his astonishment, Mr. Zarif said.

downing of a Ukrainian jetliner in Iran that killed 176 on board on the morning after Iran attacked the air base.

The Guards knew immediately that their missiles had hit the plane, but only admitted to it three days later.

Soon after the plane was brought down, Mr. Zarif attended a small meeting of the national security council with two top military commanders, and said the world was demanding an explanation. The commanders, he said, attacked him and told him to send out a tweet saying the news was not true.

“I said, ‘If it was hit by a missile, tell us so we can see how we can resolve it,’” Mr. Zarif recalled. “God is my witness, the way they reacted to me is as if I had denied the existence of God.”

View Source