By Catherine Perez-Shakdam & Rania Kisar
September 18, 2023
★ Iran’s Tumultuous September: Mahsa Amini Anniversary, $6 Billion U.S. Prisoner Swap, and Strategic Moves by Leadership
In a critical month for Iran, protests erupt nationwide to mark the anniversary of Mahsa Amini’s death, intensifying international scrutiny over human rights violations. Meanwhile, the Biden administration carried out a $6 billion asset release and prisoner swap with Iran, sparking domestic debates in both countries. As Iran bolsters its ties with the UAE and becomes OPEC’s third-largest oil producer, it faces increased sanctions from Australia and enhanced border security measures from Iraq. Significant internal divisions are emerging within Iran’s armed forces and political circles, coinciding with President Raisi’s visit to the UN General Assembly. Leaked conversations signal U.S. doubts about reviving the JCPOA, indicating the possibility of a ‘Plan B’ for its Iran strategy.
Timeline of Events: Watch Video
★ September 10, 2023: Heightened Security Measures in Iran Ahead of Mahsa Amini Death Anniversary Protests (Iran International). Iran intensifies security in anticipation of protests marking Mahsa Amini’s death anniversary. Civic groups and activists defy increased police presence and public warning banners by calling for strikes and demonstrations. Exiled Queen Farah Pahlavi supports opposition calls as authorities target families of activists to suppress protest involvement.
★ September 11, 2023: Iran’s Multi-Faceted Diplomacy: U.S. Fund Transfer, Strengthened UAE Ties, and Regional Tensions (The National, Iran International, IRNA, Naveed Butt). The Biden administration’s recent $6 billion transfer of frozen Iranian assets has come alongside the release of detainees in both countries, even as U.S. sanctions on Iran continue. Simultaneously, Iran-UAE relations are improving, with increased trade and eased corporate and visa restrictions, despite Iran’s contested nuclear program. Iran has also taken a stern position against changing the geopolitical landscape amid Azerbaijan-Armenia tensions, with President Raisi expressing willingness to intervene. In a separate development, Pakistan faces significant losses and internal corruption due to Iranian oil smuggling, which also funds terrorism.
★ September 12, 2023: Australia and Iraq Take Targeted Actions Against Iran: Sanctions and Border Security Measures (ABC News, Reuters). Australia introduces its fourth round of sanctions against Iran, focusing on individuals and entities involved in the oppression of women and girls. The new sanctions have been criticized for their limited scope. Meanwhile, Iraq began relocating Iranian Kurdish groups from its border with Iran, in line with a March security agreement. The move aims to mitigate Iranian security concerns, with Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein slated for a Tehran visit to discuss de-escalation. Iran warns of resuming attacks if relocation is not completed by September 19.
★ September 13, 2023: Critical Week for Iran: Human Rights, Oil Production, and International Scrutiny” (Time Turk, The Guardian, bne IntelliNews, Radio Free Europe, The National News, Tasnim News, Reuters, ABC News). The U.S. House overwhelmingly passed the “Mahsa Amini for Human Rights and Security Accountability” bill, targeting Iranian officials for human rights abuses. At the same time, Iran drafted a severe hijab violation law equating the offense with serious crimes. The UN calls this “gender apartheid.” Iran ascends to OPEC’s third-largest oil producer, benefiting from Saudi Arabia’s production cut and eased U.S. sanctions. Over 60 countries demand that Iran clarify its nuclear program, including the location of materials from secret sites. The U.S. facilitates a $6 billion Iranian fund transfer for a prisoner swap. Iran’s foreign minister warns Iraqi Kurdistan over harboring terrorists while Iraq moves Iranian Kurdish groups further inland. Australia sanctions Iranian figures implicated in women’s rights abuses.
★ September 14, 2023: Iran’s High-Stakes Week: Military Actions, Human Rights, and Societal Divides (Jerusalem Post, Middle East News, Times of Israel, Sharq al Awsat, France 24, Orient XXI). IRGC seizes two Panama-flagged fuel tankers, capturing 37 crew members for alleged fuel smuggling. Qatar confirms completing a $6 billion Iranian fund transfer next week as part of the U.S.-Iran prisoner swap deal. Revolutionary Guards Chief warns Israel against any threats, while Iran is flagged for a 36% increase in executions year-over-year. A year after Mahsa Amini’s death, little progress is noted in women’s or youth rights in Iran. Meanwhile, Iran’s “silent majority” remains politically disengaged amid societal divisions.
★ September 15, 2023: Mahsa Amini’s Death Anniversary Amplifies Iran’s Human Rights Scrutiny” (France 24, The Guardian). Iranian security forces escalated their presence in Saqqez, Mahsa Amini’s hometown, to prevent protests on the anniversary of her death amid increased arrests and surveillance. Concurrently, the UK imposes sanctions targeting senior Iranian officials enforcing the mandatory hijab law, including key government and police figures.
★ September 16, 2023: Mahsa Amini Anniversary Ignites Protests and Security Onslaught Across Iran (Iran International, The Guardian, Axios, Bayan Media, Eurasia Review). On the first anniversary of Mahsa Amini’s death, Iran experienced nationwide protests and strikes despite preemptive security measures. Online footage showcases heavy police presence, especially in key cities. An alliance of underground youth groups expands its efforts to challenge the Iranian regime, bringing in a diverse coalition of societal sectors. Evin Prison inmates stage a protest, burning headscarves and declaring a sit-in. Amid this, Iran temporarily detains Mahsa Amini’s father, effectively placing her parents under house arrest and barricading access to her grave. Iran expels several senior UN nuclear inspectors in parallel developments and continues its legal battle with South Korea over releasing frozen assets. Internal divisions emerge within Iran’s armed forces over the ethics of aggressive crackdowns on protesters.
★ September 17, 2023: Leak: MENA White House Coordinator McGurk Discusses U.S. Iran Strategy with Ousted Envoy Malley (Tehran Times). Brett McGurk, who recently took over Iran negotiations from Rob Malley, is heard in a leaked audiotape expressing doubt about reviving the JCPOA. He also discussed a U.S. ‘Plan B,’ encompassing sanctions, diplomatic isolation, military action, and sabotage.
★ September 18, 2023: Iran-U.S. Controversial Prisoner Swap and Asset Release Align with President Raisi’s UN General Assembly Visit Amid Domestic Crackdowns (Iran International, Iranian Foreign Ministry, Tehran Times). Iran and the U.S. have executed a prisoner swap, releasing $6 billion in frozen Iranian assets from South Korea, monitored by Qatar for humanitarian use. This has ignited debates among Republicans and Iranian Americans. Meanwhile, President Ebrahim Raisi is in New York for the 78th UN General Assembly, planning talks with global leaders and interacting with the Iranian diaspora. Concurrently, Iran has revoked UN nuclear inspector accreditations, drawing EU concern. In Iran, the first anniversary of Mahsa Amini’s death has led to numerous arrests, including family members of last year’s protest victims. The regime is escalating pressure on these families and their legal advisors, attempting to suppress calls for justice. Internet disruptions are obstructing verification efforts.