The Iranian Death Spiral Speeds Up
The picturesque city of Chabahar is right on the Gulf of Oman , and was supposed to become Iran’s biggest and most important naval base. As with so many grand projects of the fanatical buffoons who rule the Islamic Republic, this one didn’t work out so well, but its strategically important location of course remains intact, on sea and land as well. Its significant geography is not limited to access to the Middle East’s most important sea lanes; Chabahar is in the region of Sistan-and-Baluchistan, whose borders are shared with Pakistan and Afghanistan.
It is therefore not at all surprising that the regime would go all-out to maintain control over the area, which it has attempted via a Stalinist ethnic policy. The people there are mostly Sunni, and mostly unhappy with their treatment by the theocrats in Tehran (Sunnis -- around 15% of the Iranian population -- are excluded from high office, and there are virtually no Sunni mosques in the big cities)). The regime’s strategy has been to transfer Shi’ites into the region, and move out Sunnis. The strategy has been predictably unpopular, and over the last dozen years there has been more and more violence, with the security forces and the Revolutionary Guards/Basij killing, arresting and torturing local activists, and the locals—most famously the members of the Jundullah movement, which operates in Pakistan as well as in Iran. It's a textbook case of a vicious circle.
Last week there was a big suicide bombing in Chabahar, on the occasion of the Ashurah religious celebration, when Shi’ite men publicly lash themselves with chains and knives to recall the slaughter of Mohammed’s grandson, Hossein, at the hands of his political enemies. Contrary to the claims of the regime—routinely repeated and accepted by Western news media and political leaders including President Obama (who decried the murder of "innocent civilians") and Secretary of State Clinton ("terrorists using cowardly methods to inflict pain and fear on innocent civilians") -- the terrorist attack was not aimed against “women and children,” but against the symbols and enforcers of the Shi’ite regime: Revolutionary Guards, Basij, and Quds Force fighters. More than sixty were killed, and a large number wounded.
The regime blamed both the usual suspects -- us, the Brits, and the Israelis -- plus the Pakistanis (the second time this year that the Iranians have accused the Paks of sponsoring terror attacks), and even the Saudis. This stuff comes from the official Iranian media; perhaps some of the Sy Hersh crowd will wonder if the CIA, or Special Forces, are organizing a replay of the anti-Soviet mujahedin campaign in Afghanistan back in Charlie Wilson's day, by enlisting the Sunni nations to sponsor an Islamist campaign against a common enemy (the Soviets back when; the Iranians nowadays). I don't subscribe to such fantasies (I don't think the Obama Administration is organizing much of anything against the Iranian regime except sanctions), just trying to be helpful to those who do...
The only encouraging note from Obama and Hillary was that they didn't send condolences to the rulers, but to the Iranian people. But it's not nearly what they should be doing, for the terror attacks in Sistan-Baluchistan are not nearly as dreadful as the regime's systematic murder of its own citizens. Tomorrow (Monday the 20th) alone, a dozen prisoners in Kermanshah are scheduled to be executed. All are accused of terrorism; but Iranian human rights activists point to numerous executions of people with no conceivable connection to terrorism.
Elsewhere, the regime's slaughter of the innocents continues apace, and the mullahs have expanded their campaign against family members who dare to stand vigil at the gates of the prisons where their loved ones are often refusing food or liquid. And the "Center to Defend Families of those Detained and Slain in Iran," the very existence of which speaks eloquently to the state of Iranian affairs, reports that even those who go to pray at the graves of their murdered relatives are harassed by security forces.
It would be appropriate and helpful for our top officials to speak out on behalf of Iranians murdered and tortured for the "crime" of asking for justice and freedom, and not just of those of their oppressors who get blown up by terrorists.
Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are so frightened of the Iranian people that they even deployed thousands of armed thugs to prevent public prayer or other celebration of Ashura, which I believe is a first in the country's history. They dread any mass gathering, knowing that the country is a mass bomb waiting for a spark to ignite it. Weeks ago, for example, they banned the traditional mourning for the late Grand Ayatollah Montazeri, prompting his son to remark,"they are even afraid of the dead Ayatollah Montazeri and his grave."
Such a regime attempts to control the people by violent intimidation, but knows that the violence is not working. Ahmad Janati, the secretary of the Guardian Council -- one of the country's most important officials -- confessed explicitly that the regime had failed to crush its opponents:
“The destruction of the Velayat Faghih (rule of the clergy), that of the Islamic revolution, and the basis of Islam and the Quran are among the much coveted aims of the enemy, which are still relentlessly pursued.” Referring to last year's events he added, “This shows up in various occasions: they provoke or deceive any number of people wherever possible, they falsify facts, and the foreign media supports them.”
This is the first time such a high-ranking official of the Islamic republic of Iran admits to the use of suppressive measures against protesters and explicitly states that the protest movement in Iran, known as the Green Movement survives and has not been destroyed.
Earlier this month, the former #2 of the Iranian Parliament, Ali Shakouri-rad, was arrested when he asserted in a public debate that the current head of the judiciary, Ayatollah Larijani, had admitted that the results of the June, 2009 "elections" had been falsified, and that Green Movement leader Mir Hossein Mousavi had actually won. Shakouri-rad said he had proof, and would present it at an appropriate moment. He is not the only one. Ali Akbar Mohtashamipour, the man generally credited with creating Lebanese Hezbollah, recently released a series of five devastating videos of a public presentation in which he recounted chapter and verse of the electoral fraud. The videos are in Farsi, but I now have a full translation, and the details are devastating. These videos have by now circulated widely in Iran, and if the regime were as strong as its leaders pretend, they would move against him. But they don't, any more than they do against Mousavi, or his firebrand wife, or their colleague Mehdi Karroubi.
Instead, they have decided to strangle the Iranian people by replacing the long-standing subsidies of gasoline, water, electricity and food staples with direct bank transfers to individual citizens. As Ahmadinejad announced Sunday, the price of gasoline will be quadrupled, and flour will cost forty times as much as it did in the past. Per usual, armed men deployed around the country to guard against public protest (but there was none, predictably. The opposition is working for regime implosion, not a big street battle). Everybody knows what this means: people on the OK list will get the money (as long as it lasts), while those on the Enemies list will be squeezed and starved. It won't work; this regime cannot possibly manage such a program. In short order we will be treated to many stories about furious, freezing and hungry people.
And the sanctions are squeezing THEM. Recent reports suggest that Iran has reduced its payments to Hezbollah by more than forty percent.
If only there were a Western leader with the prescience and courage to support the Greens, we would find many terrible problems a lot easier to manage: Iraq and Afghanistan would go better, the tyrant Chavez and his "Bolivarian" Axis of Latin Evildoers would be weakened, and the misnamed "peace process" might even have a chance.
But no. This is an era of weak Western leadership, as we all know. We'll get there eventually, but it's going to be a lot slower and a great deal tougher than necessary.
UPDATE: As advertised, the regime executed eleven prisoners in Zahedan on Monday the 20th. And those are just the ones they told us about...
SORRY, make it twelve.