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Forecast podcast: Regional tensions soar after Iranian missile strikes in Iraq, Syria and Pakistan

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Editors Jimmy Lovaas and Agnese Boffano discuss Iran’s recent strikes in Iraq, Syria and Pakistan* that have sent regional tensions soaring, plus more on preparations for Senegal’s general election, a presidential primary in New Hampshire, a labor strike in Argentina and a summit between the West African bloc ECOWAS and Niger’s military junta.

*Note on the Iranian missile strikes:

Shortly after the recording of our interview, Pakistan confirmed its military conducted “precision military strikes” inside Iranian territory. Pakistan’s foreign ministry claimed the strikes targeted “terrorist hideouts” in Iran’s Sistan and Baluchestan province. The deputy governor of that province said the strikes killed seven people, including four children, near the town of Saravan. 

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This episode was produced with work from Factal editors Agnese Boffano, Jess Fino, Alex Moore and Sophie Perryer. Produced and edited by Jimmy Lovaas. Additional writing by Sophie Perryer. Music courtesy of Andrew Gospe.

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Factal Forecast podcast transcript

This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.


Welcome to the Factal Forecast, a look at the week’s biggest stories and what they mean from the editors at Factal. I’m Jimmy Lovaas.

Today is January 18th.

In this week’s forecast we’re got Iranian missile strikes, preparations for Senegal’s general election, a presidential primary in New Hampshire, a labor strike in Argentina and a summit between the Economic Community of West African States and Niger’s military junta.

You can also read about these stories and more in our weekly newsletter, which you can find a link to in the show notes.

IRGC missile strikes in Iraq, Syria and Pakistan

Information compiled by Agnese Boffano

JIMMY: Up first, we’ll take a look at Iran’s recent missile strikes. For more on that I’ve got fellow Factal editor Agnese Boffano.

JIMMY: Hello, Agnese. 

AGNESE: Hey, Jimmy. 

JIMMY: Pretty crazy week we’ve seen with Iran, right? But before you get into the latest developments, though, can you give us a bit of a recap on how things kicked off? What exactly happened on Monday?

AGNESE: Yeah, certainly. So, this Monday, on the 15th of January, very late in the evening, multiple explosions were reported in Erbil, which is the capital of Iraq’s semi-autonomous [Kurdistan] region, as well as in several areas of northern Syria. And then shortly after that, the Iranian government came out and confirmed that it was the IRGC, or the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, who actually carried out the strikes against what it claimed were anti-Iran assets in the region. And among the areas struck in Erbil, they also claimed to have struck the supposed headquarters of Israel’s spy agency, the Mossad, which Kurdish authorities deny having been there. And then the same Kurdish authorities then reported five civilian deaths from those Erbil strikes, whereas in Syria, Tehran claimed to have been targeting, with ballistic missiles, supposed ISIS targets alleged to be behind, if you remember the deadly twin blasts that we saw in Kerman at the beginning of the month, which the group claimed responsibility for.

JIMMY: Now, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen strikes in Iraq or Syria, obviously, so can you explain why these are unique? Is this a significant escalation?

AGNESE: Yeah, exactly. We’ve seen more than 120 attacks by Iran-backed militias on US coalition bases in both Syria and Iraq before – but which they say is in solidarity with the Palestinians. But, you’re right in calling these latest attacks as unique, because this was the first time that Iranian authorities directly claimed responsibility for targeting foreign bases since the onset of the Israel-Hamas war on October 7. I should say that Iran has targeted bases in Syria, for example, in retaliation for Israel’s killing of IRGC commanders, just like it usually targets ISIS bases following the group’s attacks on Iranian soil. But I would say that it does mark a significant escalation because, until now, Iran has been largely trying to distance itself as much as possible from any kind of direct tension during this, let’s face it now, regional war. And you know, we’ve been covering the region as a whole in the past more than 100 days of the war on Gaza, and it seems as though this time around Tehran not only wanted to target Mossad and Israel, but it also wished to send a message to both Israel and the US – both of whom continue to refuse to support a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip.

JIMMY: And what’s the latest? How are things going at the moment?

AGNESE: So the latest actually happened a day later on Tuesday night when Iranian state media again claimed to have targeted anti-Iran assets, as they again referred to it, but this time it was along its eastern border on Pakistani soil. And this time they said to have been targeting the Sunni militant group Jaish al-Adl in the country’s Balochistan province, which Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry later confirmed the attack and called it, and I quote, [an] “unprovoked violation of airspace.” And according to Palestinian sources – sorry, according to Pakistani sources – this latest strike killed at least two children.

JIMMY: Well, what have reactions to the strikes been like?

AGNESE: So, both Iraqi and Kurdistan regional authorities have, of course, condemned the attacks and called it a violation of its sovereignty, and everything along those lines, and this was also largely echoed across the western world, including by the US and the UK. And the Arab League, too, adopted a resolution on Wednesday condemning these strikes. Iran’s foreign minister, on the other hand, talked most recently at the [World] Economic Forum summit in Davos, in Switzerland, and said that it was Washington’s full support for Israel that was the main root of insecurity in the region and not Iran’s attacks. But so far, both Iraq and Pakistan recalled their ambassadors from Iran, so definitely some political movement there as well.

JIMMY: Well, I know there’s a lot to consider, but what do you think folks should be watching for next?

AGNESE: I mean, as I said before, the timing of the strikes is extremely sensitive. You know, there are multiple fronts in the Middle East at the moment that are just waiting to explode. You know, the situation is tense along the Lebanese border with Israel following the strike in Beirut that killed a senior Hamas commander. The situation is tense along the Syrian border as Israel continues to carry out strikes in government-controlled areas. And the situation is also critical along the Red Sea with Yemen’s Houthis. Iran-backed militias have vowed to continue targeting US bases in the region as well. And so, this latest direct involvement opens up yet another front in the war, which means that as long as Israel continues its military operation in Gaza, which, by the way, Prime Minister Netanyahu has said this week could well continue into 2025. So until that is still a reality on the ground, we’re going to continue seeing more and more active fronts open and definitely more important regional players getting involved.

JIMMY: Well, Agnese, we’ll stop there for today, but really hoping this doesn’t escalate more. But, always appreciate your time and your knowledge on the region. Appreciate it.

AGNESE: Thanks, Jimmy.

JIMMY: Take care

Deadline for list of Senegal election candidates

Information compiled by Jess Fino

JIMMY: The final list of candidates eligible to run in Senegal’s upcoming election is expected Saturday.

Senegal’s Constitutional Council will publish the list ahead of the country’s presidential election next month.

A total of 21 candidates have obtained enough support to stand so far, including the government’s top pick Prime Minister Amadou Ba.

Absent from the list is the main opposition leader Ousmane Sonko, who has faced months of legal challenges to his candidacy. 

Earlier this month, Senegal’s Constitutional Court said Sonko could not run in the February 25 election as his application was incomplete. He is also ineligible for the presidency due to his conviction for insurrection last year.

With Sonko out of the running, it’s not clear who will represent the PASTEF party, as their other main candidate Bassirou Diomaye Faye is also in jail

Of course, the lack of credible opposition to the government could lead to protests, especially by young people frustrated with how Sonko has been treated by the government and legal system.

New Hampshire primary

Information compiled by Alex Moore

JIMMY: The first U.S. presidential primary will take place Tuesday in New Hampshire, despite a boycott from the Democratic National Committee.

It’s the country’s first state primary election after the Iowa Republican caucuses, which were overwhelmingly won by former President Donald Trump.

President Joe Biden is not officially on the ballot in New Hampshire after he tried to overhaul the Democrats’ primary calendar last year.

Still, his supporters are attempting to stage a write-in campaign.

Now, former President Trump is expected to win the Republican nomination, although he faces a legitimate challenge in New Hampshire from former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley. 

After coming a distant third in Iowa, Haley is polling within single-digit range in New Hampshire thanks to the state’s less partisan Republican electorate.

National anti-government labor strike across Argentina

Information compiled by Jaime Calle Moreno

JIMMY: Argentina’s largest labor union, the CGT, will hold a national general strike on Wednesday. That, to protest President Javier Milei’s economic reforms.

Milei tried to use an emergency decree to pass the financial plans, which include privatizing a slew of public companies, imposing export taxes and overhauling labor rights.

The package has since been blocked by an Argentinian court.

Members of the CGT, transport and rural workers’ unions are expected to strike, causing significant travel disruption. Opposition parties will also join the industrial action.

Now, this is the first general strike called by the CGT since 2019 and represents a major challenge to Milei’s presidency

In the run-up to the strike, Milei has called union leaders “enemies” while defense minister Patricia Bullrich has warned striking workers that they risk fines.

Argentinian security forces could also enforce new anti-picketing legislation on the day of the strike which allows them to send bills for policing to the organizers of protests.

Niger junta meets ECOWAS delegation

Information compiled by Sophie Perryer

JIMMY: A delegation from the West African bloc ECOWAS is due to meet with Niger’s military junta on Thursday.

The two parties will discuss Niger’s transition back to civilian rule after a military coup in July of 2023.

At the last summit in December 2023, ECOWAS appointed a three-member committee, made up of the leaders of Togo, Sierra Leone and Benin, to track Niger’s return to constitutional order.

ECOWAS has promised to lift economic sanctions if Niger sticks to the roadmap.

Now, the summit was originally due to take place Jan. 10 but was delayed for over two weeks while Niger organized a national dialogue.

The first stage of these talks happened Jan. 1 in Algeria and brought together almost 300 political stakeholders.

The dialogue is set to continue as part of the democratic transition, but no date has yet been set for elections.

JIMMY: As always, thank you for listening to the Factal Forecast. We publish our forward-looking podcast and newsletter each Thursday to help you get a jump-start on the week ahead. Please subscribe and review wherever you find your podcasts. We’d love it if you’d consider telling a friend about us.  

Today’s episode was produced with work from Factal editors Jess Fino, Alex Moore, Jaime Calle Moreno and Sophie Perryer. Our interview featured editor Agnese Boffano and our podcast is produced and edited by me – Jimmy Lovaas, with additional writing by Sophie Perryer. Our music comes courtesy of Andrew Gospe.

Until next time, if you have any feedback, suggestions or events we’ve missed, drop us a note by emailing

This transcript may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability not guaranteed. 

Copyright © 2023 Factal. All rights reserved.

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