Iran: The Thieves Strike Back


January 16, 2011:  Kurdish separatists (mainly PJAK) are under increasing pressure in Iran, and in Europe (where the exiled PJAK leadership resides). Iran has obtained more cooperation from foreign governments (in Europe, as well as Turkey and Syria, where most Kurds live) to arrest, or at least monitor, PJAK members. Iraq pretends to cooperate, but doesn't do much. Iranian secret police agents also have informants in these other Kurdish communities, to monitor PJAK activities, and provide targets for Iranian death squads, which still stalk PJAK members who are deemed too troublesome to tolerate. Iran has to be careful with overseas "wet work" (assassinations), as without permission from the local government, this sort of thing invites diplomatic retaliation. There are no such problem inside Iran, and in northwest Iran, where most of the Kurdish minority lives, Iranian secret police and Revolutionary Guards have instituted a reign of terror, to smoke out PJAK members and discourage Kurds from cooperating with the rebels. That kind of effort often just helps PJAK, which only has a few thousand armed members (out of 12 million Kurds in Iran).

Iran has increased the rate of executions this year. So far this month, 34 people have been hung. For all of last year, 179 people were executed. Most of those killed were involved in distributing drugs (largely opium and heroin from Afghanistan). Drugs are a huge and growing problem. In addition to several million addicts, there are many more casual users who could become addicts. Worst of all, a disproportionate number of users and addicts are related to senior government officials. It's usually the children (adolescent and adult) of the leadership who are into the drugs, which makes the anti-drug operations very personal for the senior people in Iran.

The word in Israel is that the Stuxnet Internet weapon was tested in Israel, where replicas of Iranian uranium enrichment equipment were built, and Stuxnet tested, and tweaked, to make sure that it could quietly destroy the uranium enrichment hardware in Iran. No one will admit anything, but Stuxnet appears to have been a joint American-Israeli operation. The Iranians believe this as well, and are very angry over having been attacked and damaged in this fashion. But they can't admit it, without looking weak to the Iranian public. So the cover story is that Stuxnet missed. But rumors (which in Iran carry more weight than the official news) from the nuclear weapons program blame a long list of disasters and technical setbacks on Stuxnet.

The government has put a lot of pressure on Pakistan to do something about the Baluchi Sunni terror group Jundallah, which carries out bomb, kidnap and assassination attacks in Iran, but takes refuge among Baluchi tribesmen just across the border in Pakistan (where most Baluchi live). Pakistan is not going to come down hard on its Baluchis, many of whom are already in rebellion (demanding a larger cut of natural gas profits from gas fields in Baluchistan). But to make Iran happy, Pakistan agreed to cooperate, and arrested a few Baluchis, and ordered many more to be harassed at the Iranian border crossings.

January 15, 2011: The government has banned the use of Russian Tu-154 airliners. There are 17 Tu-154s in use by four Iranian airlines, and all these aircraft must cease carrying people or cargo inside Iran by February 19th. The Tu-154s are old and accident prone, but so are most aircraft used by airlines and the military in Iran. Decades of sanctions have made it difficult to get new aircraft, or spare parts for those in use. As a result, Iranian aircraft have a lot of accidents. Oddly enough, the Arab states in the region, who don't have to worry about sanctions, also use a lot of old, accident prone aircraft. Thus the airline fatal accident rate for the region is about four times higher than the world wide rate (of about one crash for every 1.2 million flights). There are many more non-fatal accidents and scary situations (where engines, or electronics, fail in flight). The three-engine Tu-154 was the Soviet era counterpart to the American B-727. The Tu-154 entered service a decade later than the 727. About 1,800 727s were produced, and production ceased in 1984, while about a thousand 154s were manufactured and about 200 remain in service. The same number of 727s are still working. The 727 was largely replaced by the more efficient twin-engine 737, while the 154 was never really replaced by another Russian aircraft. Efforts to upgrade the 154 didn't work out, and production finally ceased last year. Major Russian airlines, and most foreign users, have dropped the 154. Smaller airlines still operate 154s because they are cheap, and the later models, with more efficient engines, are not ruinously expensive to operate.

The government has been insisting for two weeks that it had shot down two American UAVs, but refuses to say where, or when. The government insists it will eventually put some of the wreckage on display, but again won't say when. The U.S. says that none of its UAVs are missing. The Iranian government loves to tell lies like this, which are very popular with the domestic market. Usually, the Iranians let these stories die by suddenly not mentioning them anymore. But the U.S. has kept this one alive by insisting that no UAVs are missing and that Iran should show the world what it has.

January 14, 2011:  A new Cyber Crime office was established for the national police. The Cyber Police will hunt down and arrest those using the Internet to do, or say, things the religious dictatorship disagrees with. The problem here is that more Iranians are finding ways to evade the most common Internet blocking monitoring tools. Part of this is due to a collaboration between the U.S. government (which has made $30 million, and technical advice, available) and programmer and hacker volunteers helping Iranians overcome government Internet censorship efforts. So far, the Iranian government is losing, but it is not giving up. The new policy seeks to arrest and severely punish Cyber Criminals, to scare others away from free use of the Internet.

January 13, 2011: The U.S. has put sanctions on another 24 companies, including 20 in Hong Kong, for assisting Iran to smuggle in goods banned by sanctions. The growing list of international sanctions against Iran is causing more problems. For example, American sanctions make it increasingly difficult for Iran to use the international banking system, especially if they want to do business in dollars. This is making it difficult for India to pay for the oil it imports from Iran. This problem has reached crises proportions, and the two nations are scrambling to find a way to pay.

January 9, 2011:  The government is experimenting to see if it can control college students better by banning Western dress styles. So in a few of the less radicalized universities, women are now banned from wearing bright or tight clothing. Fingernails must be kept short. Tattoos and piercings are also prohibited for men and women. If these new rules do not cause campus riots, the policy will be tried in more riot prone schools.

January 2, 2011: President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad dismissed 14 of his senior advisors, without explaining why. The dismissed advisors are in the dark as well. Best guess is this is related to the increasingly heated dispute between Ahmadinejad and conservative Revolutionary Guard commanders. Ahmadinejad is in trouble for his anti-corruption efforts, which has caused some corrupt officials to physically attack the president (usually a slap or threat of worse). The inability to quiet the growing number of reformers has made the ruling class (mostly clerics and Islamic conservatives) nervous. The unrest is particularly angry at the corruption of the ruling clerics, as well as the unemployment and lifestyle laws.




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