Iranians head to the polls on February 21 to elect their next parliament. Following the violent suppression of protests in November and the accidental shooting down of a Ukrainian passenger plane in January, many are deeply disillusioned with Iran’s political system. Most reformist candidates have been barred from competing in the election, leaving voters with virtually no alternative to hardliners. The elections come as U.S.-Iran tensions are simmering after the killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani and as the country’s economy is foundering. USIP’S Garrett Nada looks at what issues are on the top of voters’ minds and how foreign policy will factor into the vote.
Rising tensions between the United States and Iran—illustrated and exacerbated by the January 3 assassination of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani—are rippling out beyond the Middle East. Now, American officials are voicing growing concern about Iranian activities in Afghanistan. In recent weeks, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that Iran is supporting militant groups in the country and seeking to undermine the peace process between the U.S. and the Taliban. A top U.S. general for the region, meanwhile, warned that Iranian actions in Afghanistan pose a risk to the approximately 14,000 American troops deployed there.
Iran has been rocked by a series of developments in recent months, from the mass protests over raised fuel prices to the killing of powerful Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani. Over the weekend, protesters returned to the streets, spurred by the military’s mistaken downing of a Ukrainian passenger jet. As in past protests, like 2009, the government has met demonstrators with a draconian and violent response. USIP’s Garrett Nada and Maria Stephan explain how the protests have evolved over time and how demonstrators could use nonviolent tactics against the repressive regime.
USIP President and CEO Nancy Lindborg explains how U.S.-Iran tensions could exacerbate state fragility and hamper longstanding peacebuilding efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, saying, “All of this can be put at risk with the current tensions as both countries really fear becoming collateral damage.”
Iran has stated that—barring a U.S. response—the missile attacks on U.S. bases in Iraq will be the only immediate retaliation for the killing of Soleimani. USIP’s Sarhang Hamasaeed says this latest development offers an exit from further escalation, but “this doesn’t mean the broader tensions and the slower, more simmering tensions … will end.”
Iran, proud and passionate, has been a conundrum since its 1979 revolution. For decades, a confluence of challenges—political and cultural repression, menacing rhetoric, and defiance over its nuclear program—complicated dealing with the Islamic Republic. Iran’s revolution has passed through at least five phases.
Slain Iranian Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani played a considerable role in conflicts across the Middle East. In Syria, he mobilized Shia armed groups from across the region and coordinated closely with Hezbollah to save the Assad regime. His death by an American airstrike leaves many to wonder what’s next for Iran in Syria. It has also stirred fear of a direct confrontation between Washington and Tehran at a time when concerns about an ISIS resurgence in both Iraq and Syria are already on the rise. USIP’s Mona Yacoubian looks at what, if any change, Soleimani’s death will mean for the Assad regime and what’s next in the fight against ISIS.
The killing of Qassem Soleimani was the boldest U.S. act in confronting Iran since the 1979 revolution, tantamount to an act of war. Although U.S. officials have characterized the move as “decisive defensive action.” However, if Iran had assassinated the general who heads Central Command (the unit overseeing U.S. military operations in the Middle East and South Asia), Washington would have similarly viewed it as tantamount to an act of war.
With tensions between Iran and the U.S. already simmering, the January 3 U.S. airstrike that killed powerful Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani is sure to have ripple effects across the region. Maj. Gen. Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s Quds Force, coordinated Iran’s military operations and proxies across the Middle East.
Following the attempted siege of the American Embassy in Iraq, USIP’s Elie Abouaoun says the U.S. must increase its presence in Iraq because it “doesn’t have the choice but to increase its investment … so that the expansion of Iranian influence is basically contained.”