Iran: Suffer The Children


October 8, 2011: A gigantic bank fraud, involving $2.6 billion in stolen funds has become another battleground between conservative and very conservative factions in the government. Islamic clergy, who get accused of most corruption, are now trying to pin this one on president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (via a tenuous connection). Corruption is a major, and growing, problem in Iran. Ahmadinejad got elected partly on his past record of fighting corruption. This made him very unpopular with many senior clerics (who rule the country, and are very corrupt). From the beginning, there were attempts to connect Ahmadinejad, or some close aides, to this bank scandal. Many clerics want Ahmadinejad gone. While Ahmadinejad said the right things about foreigners (especially Israel and the United States), he was too dangerous to the real crooks within Iran.

The Iranian Navy announced that it is planning to send warships to patrol off the coast of the United States. The Iranian ships would be equipped with cruise missiles (with a range of 200 kilometers) that could hit targets inside the United States. In theory, Iran could send one of its surface warships (accompanied by several supply ships) to friendly ports in Cuba or Venezuela, and from there cruise off the American coast. The implied threat here is that the missiles on these ships could eventually be equipped with nuclear warheads. Right now, Iran could arm these missiles with nerve gas warheads. But this would not do any substantial damage on American military power, while U.S. retaliation would be substantial. Iranians tend to avoid situations where they would get hurt in such a disproportionate way. But just talking about Iranian warships off the coast of North America makes great propaganda. Iranian military affairs is largely talk, not action.

Iranian military power is more talk than reality. For years, Iran has issued bombastic press releases describing new weapons designed and built locally. Few of these fearsome weapons ever end up in service, and those that do are much less capable than originally described. A lot of this puffery is for domestic consumption, to hide the fact that decades of embargos have left the military with a lot of elderly and inoperable weapons and equipment.

One thing the Iranian military is good at is going after civilians and irregular fighters. In the past few months, Iranian infantry and artillery have been clearing Kurdish separatists from the border with northern Iraq. These separatists (PJAK) operated from villages in northern Iraq, and Iran went after these places with infantry and artillery. Iran claims nearly two hundred PJAK gunmen were killed. Several thousand civilians were driven from their villages (which were often destroyed by the fighting.) Iraq protested, but that's as far as it went.

While Iran has long been critical of Saudi Arabia, the Iranian clerics are trying to copy many control techniques used in Saudi Arabia. One of the more ambitious of these is an education system dominated by clergy and religious instruction. Thus the Iranian clerics are seeking to set up 60,000 religious schools, and revise university curriculum to feature more religious instruction. This plan is opposed by most educated Iranians. The Iranian literacy rate is 89 percent, up from 77 percent a decade ago. But the clerics have noted that the more secular education Iranians get, the less likely they are to support the current religious dictatorship. In Saudi Arabia, the use of an education that emphasizes religion, has weakened opposition to a monarchy.  But it has also made Saudis less able to compete economically. Most of the local economy in Saudi Arabia is run by foreigners.

The government has sharply increased the use of executions. It's possible that over a thousand people will be executed this year. This is more than five times the normal number. Usually, most of those killed were for drug offences. But now, more political reform leaders are being killed, plus a lot more drug smugglers and dealers and common criminals.

October 4, 2011:  The government criticized Turkey for allowing NATO to build part of its anti-missile system in Turkey. These defenses are being built to protect Turkey and Europe from Iranian ballistic missiles. Iran denied that this was a threat, and assured everyone that all of Iran's long range missiles were aimed at Israel.

September 29, 2011: The government offer to lower production of enriched uranium was rejected by the U.S., and many in the UN, because Iran has become notorious for using lies and deception to protect its uranium enrichment program. A recent UN study provided many embarrassing (to Iran) details of deception directed at inspection efforts.

September 27, 2011: The government has criticized the "two state solution" for Israel and the Palestinians, because Iran has long called for Israel to be destroyed and Jews driven out of the region.  

September 26, 2011:  Al Qaeda has gone public criticizing Iran for claiming that the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States were actually staged by the U.S. government. Al Qaeda has always claimed responsibility for these attacks, and considers them a monumental achievement for Arab warriors. Al Qaeda accused Iran of trying to diminish this Arab achievement.

September 25, 2011: Two American hikers, seized on the Iraq border two years ago and prosecuted for espionage, were released. A third hiker, a woman, was released last year because she was ill. A detailed investigation of how the three were arrested indicates that Iranian troops crossed the unmarked border to grab the three. The U.S. government had warmed American citizens to stay away from the border, but the three hikers were anti-U.S. political activists, and eager to see as much of northern Iraq as they could. The Iranians used the three for propaganda and then released them on payment of $500,000 ransom (called "bail" for diplomatic purposes) each. Once all three were released, they denounced Iran and the United States for their travails.




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