Friday, March 13, 2009

Saying NO to Obama's "Soft War" on Iran

US President Barack Obama may have promised "change", but it is 'business as usual' - that's to say, no business, except maybe funny business with or rather,against Iran. The president announced Thursday that he had extended one of the many levels of sanctions imposed in 1995 over claims that the Iranian government an dealt in "terrorism" and sought to acquire weapons of mass destruction.

The sanctions, prohibiting US companies aiding the development of the Iranian oil industry and halting trade, export/import and investment ties with Iran, were imposed by the Clinton administration and have been extended on an annual basis by successive presidents.

They would have expired without Obama's formal action to extend them.

"The actions and policies of the Government of Iran are contrary to the interests of the United States in the region and pose a continuing unusual and extraordinary threat" to US national security and the US economy, Obama said in a message to Congress.

The sanctions are one portion of the large range of punitive US, United Nations and international measures imposed against Iran, a country which whatever we think of its oppressive Islamic regime, has invaded nobody, and subscribes to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. By contrast, Israel, which has nuclear weapons, developed with Western help, does not subscribe to the treaty, has repeatedly ignored UN resolutions, continues to occupy and settle territory seized by force, and has bombed and invaded Lebanon and Gaza. It does not face sanctions, but enjoys European Union trade privileges and remains the biggest single recipient of US aid.

So much for the United States as honest peace broker, and for the fairness of its sanctions policy. We may add that Israel's incoming prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu leads a party which is pledged to oppose any Palestinian state west of the Jordan. How does this fit in with America's official commitment to a "two state solution"? What is going to give? Netanyahu is needless to say in favour of US sanctions of course. He claims that Iran "is Germany in 1938" and about to embark on "a second Holocaust, against the Jewish state". We won't rake up Likud's past history. Nor should we deny that Iran's Ahmadinejad has behaved disgracefully in hosting neo-Nazi Holocaust deniers and revisionists (most of whom seem to hail from the United States!) But Iran still has the second biggest Jewish community in the Middle East, and far from desperately seeking refuge as Jews were from Germany seventy years ago, Iranian Jews have so far seen no reason to leap at Israel's offers to "rescue" them.

Ahmadinejad and his regime deserve a kick in the backside, and if the strikes and student demonstrations in Iran are anything to go by, the Iranian people may yet deliver it. But imperialist sanctions are hitting them, not helping them. As Hands Off the People of Iran (HOPI) says, sanctions are a form of "soft war", not peaceful change, and they hit ordinary people,not the rich and powerful. HOPI is launching a campaign against the sanctions.

Labour MP John McDonnell says: "This campaign is not to aid the regime but to aid the people. The bureaucrats and political elites in Iran easily get around sanctions to do their business. It is the working class and ordinary Iranians who are suffering, and it is vital not to let them ‘suffer in silence’."

HOPI says "it is the working people, the poor and unemployed who suffer" from the sanctions, which far from hitting the elite, "they increase the power of the reactionary regime. The sanctions - and the ongoing threat of a military attack - have actually helped the theocratic regime whip the people into line. Iranian president Ahmadinejad is made stronger by the imperialists' threats. Now anybody criticising the regime is labelled a pro-imperialist stooge. Many anti-capitalist militants and trade unionists have been arrested on spurious charges of being agents of either the CIA or Israel.

"Sanctions are restricting our access to information resources, educational opportunities, job offers and scientific institutions", says Mahsa, an Iranian student living in Europe. " Postal services and banks have imposed restrictions on Iranians. Banks such as HSBC do not accept any fund coming from an Iranian, even if the person resides in another country. Also, we have great difficulties getting travel visas."

It is not as though we have not seen what harm sanctions can do. In Iraq, it is estimated up to a million people may have died because of the UN-imposed sanctions. Poor people and their children were denied food and medicines, hospitals could not get equipment, while Saddam Hussein's officers could import what they liked and enrich themselves from the black market. As if Saddam Hussein's repression had not done enough damage to Iraq's labour movement, sanctions hit industry and working people, not only softening up the country for invasion, but contributing to the conditions after it, with reactionary warlords dominant, while workers and professionals, desperate for food and shelter, have been terrorised hy sectarian gangs, a cover for US-backed death squads. Ironically, the south of Iraq is now a field of influence for Iran's Islamicist regime.

All this may suit US interests, and open the door for Western oil companies, but it is a travesty to call it "democracy in Iraq".Iranians fighting for their rights and progress sympathise with the Iraqi people and what they have been through. That's not how they wish to be "liberated".

We might as well also consider the danger that if the US or its allies try to enforce sanctions with a blockade, "soft war" can easily provide the start of the real thing.

HOPI is holding a public press conference in the House of Commons next week to launch its anti-sanctions campaign, and ahead of it has published this. Note how denial of internet services doesn't hurt the regime but hits its opponents :

How the sanctions affect the people of Iran

  • Hospitals are reporting a shortage of diagnostic kits and surgical equipment as a direct result of sanctions blocking import of "dual-use" equipment.
  • After pressure from the US government, Yahoo and Microsoft removed Iran from the list of countries they served in 2007. Paltalk does not allow free access to its public rooms from Iran. While state officials and the security service have unlimited access to the internet via government servers, students, workers and political activists have to find potentially hazardous ways round the ban.
  • The proposed new sanctions against the import of refined fuel are especially worrying, given the country's inability to produce refined oil. Iran imports $350 million worth of refined fuel per month. Since 2008, Royal Dutch Shell, Spain's Repsol and a Japanese oil company have pulled out of planned projects in Iran, after coming under pressure from the US. This has swelled the already colossal numbers of the unemployed.

March 16 2009: National launch of HOPI's 'Smash the Sanctions' campaign

With John McDonnell MP, Jenny Jones (Green Party London Assembly Member) and Yassamine Mather (Iranian exile, chair Hopi). House of Commons, committee room 6, Monday March 16, 6pm, all welcome.

For more information and background visit:



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