Iran’s tumultuous history

| September 29, 2019 | 0 Comments
Movements to establish democratic national governance in Iran have always failed. These demonstrators in Qom are challenging the Iranian government's financial corruption. (Photo: Mohammad Ali Marizad)

Movements to establish democratic national governance in Iran have always failed. These demonstrators in Qom are challenging the Iranian government’s financial corruption. (Photo: Mohammad Ali Marizad)

An earlier movement to establish democratic national governance in Iran was derailed in 1953 when a U.S.-backed coup toppled the elected Mosaddeq government in a dispute over an oil company’s nationalization.
The ensuing monarchy of the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, which became increasingly autocratic, was overthrown by a revolution in 1979 that was later subverted by Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, whose governance model proved extremely oppressive. Fortunately for other nations, he largely confined himself to religious tyranny within the renamed Islamic Republic of Iran.
Since Khomeini’s death in 1989, more collective clerical rule has projected violence at home and internationally, hitting France, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, the United States, Argentina, Austria and Britain. There were also regional interventions in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan and Yemen.
The People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI — also known as MEK) broke from Khomeini after the 1979 revolution and eventually incurred his full wrath.
The Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988) caused enormous human losses on both sides, including the deaths of many Iranian child soldiers. The hostilities provided cover for Khomeini to crush dissent; by 1986, under French president François Mitterrand, several thousand PMOI refugees had been expelled from France as part of a deal whereby Khomeini released French nationals from Lebanon. About 3,000 PMOI relocated to a desert in Iraq, where they built Camp Ashraf and continued to fight Khomeini until the war ended in mid-1988. Khomeini’s religious decree that summer against political opponents resulted in the inhuman massacre of approximately 30,000 mostly PMOI political prisoners.
When a U.S.-led coalition, under U.S. president George W. Bush, invaded Iraq in 2003, all Ashraf weapons were voluntarily surrendered. In 2009, the U.S. government, under president Barack Obama, violated its commitment to protect Ashraf residents by transferring their protection to the Iraqi government of Nouri al-Maliki, who ultimately proved to be a puppet of Tehran. Iraqi attacks on unarmed Ashraf residents in 2009, 2011 and 2013 resulted in deaths, injuries and hostage takings.
In 2016, the survivors moved to Albania. Since then, international support for the PMOI has grown to a point where, at the formal opening of Ashraf 3 near Tirana this past July, 50 nations were represented by political and civil society leaders.
Canada’s team was led by former prime minister Stephen Harper, but longtime Canadian supporters of the PMOI include both Liberal and Conservative parliamentarians. The large U.S. delegation comprised mostly Republicans, but also Democrats, including former senator Joe Lieberman. American soldiers who once protected Ashraf 1 spoke eloquently, and former American diplomat Lincoln Bloomfield debunked a massive media disinformation campaign directed primarily in Western democracies against the PMOI by the Islamic mullahs.
The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) is an umbrella opposition of which PMOI is a member and its backbone. PMOI President Maryam Rajavi’s 10-point platform includes calls for free and fair elections, gender equality, separation of church and state, the rule of law, regional peace and a nuclear weapon-free Iran. This aligns with the democratic world’s principles and core values.
Meanwhile, the Tehran regime has transformed blackmail and hostage-taking into the means of extracting concessions from the West — a strategy bolstered by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ assistance to extremist proxies, including Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthis in Yemen, Hashd-al-Shabi in Iraq and Hamas in the Palestinian terroritories. Tehran is partly responsible for the deaths of myriad Syrian civilians and its now approximately six million refugees.
The world has also witnessed the crackdown waged by Iranian authorities against human rights lawyers over the past two years, with courts handing out increasingly harsh sentences. On July 30, for example, a Revolutionary Court in Tehran upheld a 30-year prison sentence with 111 lashes against Amirsalar Davoudi, a human rights lawyer and defender of several political activists.
The tide does appear to be turning. The mullahs have been facing widespread protests, especially among youth, while the economy has crumbled to a GDP per capita of about US$7,000, in part from years of rampant corruption, bad policies and Washington’s adoption of a “maximum pressure” strategy. The world has recently seen an increase in Tehran’s policy of creating regional crises by illegally attacking and seizing commercial ships in international waters, most recently in the key shipping lanes of the Strait of Hormuz, and shooting down an American drone.
An unfreezing of some Iranian assets is variously valued at between US$50 billion and $150 billion under an Obama-led deal in order to halt Iran’s nuclear-weapons development. That, and the West’s removal of UN sanctions under the July 2015 nuclear agreement — the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) — hasn’t resulted in Tehran moderating its conduct. Nor has it improved the well-being of Iranians. The mullahs are emboldened to continue their destructive policies at home and regionally with billions of dollars essentially placed in their coffers (one U.S. Treasury estimate was $56 billion).
With the drums of war sounding, the international community should strive to lower the regional diplomatic temperature. It was extremely unwise for U.S. President Donald Trump to discard the JCPOA; launching a military strike without any international support would cost many more lives and place Americans across the Middle East at risk.
Struan Stevenson, Scotland’s representative in the European Parliament for 15 years and now co-ordinator of the Campaign for Iran Change, observes, “For four decades, the Iranian people have put up with rampant corruption, [and] unchecked abuse of human rights… Iranians are angry, frustrated and demanding regime change.”
Robert Farley, a visiting professor at the U.S. Army War College, says: “… a military campaign to overthrow the Islamic Republic has little prospect for success because the U.S. lacks regional bases necessary to build up the forces that would be required to invade Iran, destroy its armed forces, displace the revolutionary regime in Tehran, and then control the country on behalf of a new, more amenable government.”
Regime change, Farley concludes, is unlikely to succeed, and is more likely to exacerbate the problems it was designed to solve. By targeting Iran’s economy, however, including oil installations and transport infrastructure, he judges the U.S. could effectively destroy its oil industry, at least in the short term, and cause serious economic damage to the Islamic Republic (not to mention its trading partners).
Such a campaign, he adds, could cause significant long-term damage to Iran’s military, economic and scientific infrastructure, setting back Tehran’s military ambitions in the region. “This outcome is probably most amenable to U.S. [Muslim] allies in the Middle East, who don’t worry overmuch about the prospect of committing the United States to an open-ended military conflict with Iran.”
To hold Iran within the JCPOA, the EU has announced a multimillion-euro credit line to ease trade between it and Tehran. Tehran has already increased uranium enrichment purity levels over the 3.67-per-cent limit. Some worry that the breakout time for Tehran to build a nuclear bomb could soon fall below a year. The EU argues that breaching the limit doesn’t violate the JCPOA, claiming it is entitled to take reversible steps to suspend parts of the deal if another signatory has failed to keep a commitment, notably the undertaking to boost trade between the EU and Iran.
The EU affirms that the proposed credit line should be seen by Tehran as manifesting an intention on the part of Europe to launch a trading mechanism that will allow companies to trade with minimum access to the banking system. Most observers recognize that the situation could quickly spiral out of control, with the International Atomic Energy Agency promptly declaring Iran in breach of the deal. France, Germany and Italy are raising concerns about Iran’s ballistic missile program, saying it’s designed to be capable of delivering a nuclear payload.
In mid-summer, diplomats from the EU, Germany, France, Britain, China, Russia and Iran prudently recommitted to salvaging the JCPOA. Iran wants the remaining parties to offset the sanctions that Trump reinstated after withdrawing from the deal. A summit meeting of foreign ministers is to follow, with the hope that they will commit to offsetting the effects of American sanctions in order to prevent the further erosion of an uneasy regional peace.
In the meantime, an investigation by The New York Times indicates that China and other countries are receiving oil shipments from a larger number of Iranian tankers than previously known, defying sanctions imposed by Washington to choke off Iran’s main source of income. The movements of more than 70 Iranian tankers were examined since May 2, when U.S. sanctions took full effect.
Following the path of continued appeasement and all the problems that resulted under the nuclear deal presupposes that the Islamic dictatorship will continue. The softer alternative is also tacit acceptance of its ongoing atrocities and continued export of terrorism.
The hope of regime change should not be abandoned. Shirin Ebadi, Iran’s Nobel Peace Prize-winning human rights lawyer, advocates peaceful regime change by enacting a secular constitution based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. She calls for sanctions that “weaken the regime, but do not hurt the people themselves.” Tougher comprehensive sanctions by most nations, and getting governments to close their Iranian embassies, as Canada did, would keep pressure on the regime without imposing real pain on citizens or provoking a war.

David Kilgour is co-chairman of the Canadian Friends of a Democratic Iran, a writer, activist and former member of Parliament. He was secretary of state for Latin America and Africa (1997-2002) and secretary of state for Asia-Pacific (2002-2003).

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Category: Dispatches

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David Kilgour is a former MP and was secretary of state for the Asia-Pacific, Latin America and Africa.

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