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Russia using Iran as a bargaining chip, Iran's fight against Kurdish militants and looming elections

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A senior Russian official has, on Wednesday, confirmed that country's agreement to sell air defence missiles to Iran. Russian news sources have also indicated that the transfer of this military technology has not yet taken place, and appears to be delayed for political reasons. The reason given by a Russian defence expert was that "fulfillment of the contract will mainly depend on the current international situation and the decision of the country's leadership."

The S-300 missiles, if transferred to Iran, could be used to defend Iran against air strikes. Western military experts claim that these weapons could help provide some security to nuclear sites within Iran in the case of an air assault by either. It appears that Russian interest in this deal, worth hundred of millions of dollars, is mainly political and not financial. Russian president Dmitry Medvedev and U.S. president Barack Obama are to meet next month, and this particular deal could be used as a "bargaining chip" and leverage in negotiations between the two leaders.

Iraqi Kurdish media, PUK, reports that the leader of Zharawa county in Iraq claims that Iranian artillery has stuck the mountains of Razqa and Maradu villages in Zahrawa on March 18. The shelling is cited to have lasted half an hour and resulted in no casualties.

For several years now, Iran has conducted such artillery shelling against mountains and villages in Iraq, near its border. These attacks have at times been coordinated with Turkey, especially during the height of tensions between Turkey and Iraq's Kurdistan Regional Government in 2007. Turkey is fighting against the Kurdistan Workers' Party (P.K.K.), that has carried out armed attacks against the Turkish military and civilians in a campaign for independence of Turkey's predominantly Kurdish south eastern regions. Iran is engaged in a similar conflict with a P.K.K. splinter group in its territory, the Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan (P.J.A.K.). Most of the P.K.K. and P.J.A.K.'s leadership seems to be taking refuge in the mountains of Iraq, along with armed fighters that stage operations from these bases and training grounds. I recommend reading James Brandon's 2007 repor on P.K.K. and P.J.A.K. bases in Iraq's Mount Qandil for further background.

Within Iran's parliament (majles), a key component of president Mahmud Ahmadinejad's most recent budget was defeated by the opposition, and an updated budget passed. The political opposition feared that some aspects of president Ahmadinejad's proposed oil policy would result in inflation, rocking an already fragile economy.

Furthermore, the political disagreement has come to a head as the June 12 date for presidential elections approaches. President Ahmadinejad's approach to the budget only heightened tensions. He brought the budget before the majles only shortly before the Iranian new year celebration and demanded quick resolution by the end of this week in order that the government's expenditures not be frozen in the new year. Without an approved budget for the new year, Iran's government cannot technically spend money without emergency measures. This timing seems to have been designed to blackmail the opposition to accept the bill despite disagreement, for fear of being blamed for a budget crisis months before an election. The tactic, however, did not wholly work, and the opposition came together to at least partially rewrite the bill.

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