News Digest: Week of March 9

March 9

Health: Iran’s Health Ministry spokesman Kianush Jahanpur announced 7,161 cases of coronavirus, including 237 deaths. Chief of Iran’s Crisis Management Organization Esmail Najjar tested positive for the infection, according to a statement from the organization. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei cancelled his annual speech to commemorate Nowruz, the Persian new year, on March 20.

Justice: A U.S. court ruled that Iran was responsible for the disappearance of Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent who vanished on March 9, 2007, during a visit to Kish Island. “For 13 years, the Iranian government has denied knowledge of his whereabouts or condition, a claim that defies credibility,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement. “Iran must honor the commitment it has made to work with the United States for Mr. Levinson’s return.”


Nuclear: The U.N. nuclear watchdog said that Iran was providing inspectors access to the country’s active nuclear sites. Iran had announced that it was no longer bound by “any restrictions” of the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). “The agency has not observed any changes to Iran’s implementation of its nuclear-related commitments under the JCPOA in connection with this announcement, or in the level of cooperation by Iran in relation to agency verification and monitoring activities under the JCPOA,” said Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency.


March 10

Health: Iran’s Health Ministry reported 8,042 cases and 291 deaths from coronavirus, the largest single-day increase in casualties since the outbreak was first recorded. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei announced that Iran would recognize doctors and nurses who died from the disease as “martyrs.” The families of martyrs typically receive payments stipends and benefits from the government.


March 11

Health: Iran’s Health Ministry recorded 9,000 cases, including 354 deaths, from coronavirus. Judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi announced that 70,000 prisoners had been temporarily freed. He said that additional prisoners would be released "to the point where it doesn’t create insecurity in society."

Health: Iranian state media reported that First Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri had tested positive for coronavirus. He was one of dozens of senior Iranian officials to contract the virus.

Human Rights/Health: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged Iran to release “all wrongfully detained Americans being held in Iran.” He warned that the United States would hold Iran accountable if any of the American prisoners died from coronavirus, which had spread to at least three Iranian prisons by February 25. Pompeo added that Iran’s decision to grant furloughs to 70,000 prisoners showed “its ability to grant clemency and show mercy.”

Military: A rocket attack on a military base north of Baghdad killed two U.S. service members and a British soldier. “Approximately 12 additional personnel were wounded during the attack. The attack is under investigation by the Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces. Camp Taji is an Iraqi base that hosts Coalition personnel for training and advising missions,” U.S. Central Command said in a statement. The base reportedly came under fire from more than a dozen Katyusha rockets fired from a truck outside of the base.


March 12

Health: Iran’s Health Ministry reported 10,075 cases and 429 deaths from coronavirus. Iran asked the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a $5 billion emergency loan to help fight the country's coronavirus outbreak. The IMF “has stated that countries affected by #COVID19 (coronavirus) will be supported via Rapid Financial Instrument. Our Central Bank requested access to this facility immediately,” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in a tweet.

Health/Human Rights: Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif urged the United Nations to demand that the United States lift sanctions on Iran. He said that the U.S. “maximum pressure” campaign was hampering Iran’s ability to cope with the COVID-19 coronavirus. “Although our medical facilities, doctors, nurses and other health practitioners are among the very finest in the world, we are stymied in our efforts to identify and treat our patients; in combatting the spread of the virus; and, ultimately, in defeating it, by the campaign of economic terrorism perpetrated by the Government of the United States,” Zarif wrote.

Military: The United States launched airstrikes targeting an Iranian-backed Iraqi militia that Washington blamed for attacks on an Iraqi base that left two American soldiers dead. “Earlier this evening, the United States conducted defensive precision strikes against Kataib Hizbollah facilities across Iraq,” the Department of Defense said in a statement. “These strikes targeted five weapon storage facilities to significantly degrade their ability to conduct future attacks against Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) coalition forces.”


March 13

Health: Iran’s Health Ministry reported 11,364 cases and 514 deaths from coronavirus. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo criticized Iran’s response to the outbreak. “The best biological defense would’ve been to tell the Iranian people the truth about the Wuhan virus when it spread to Iran from China,” he said.