Iran: No let up in US threats

Problems facing the peoples of Iran and West Asia are rooted in the contradictions of 21st century world capitalism, says Yassamine Mather

As many speakers pointed out at the Hands Off the People of Iran conference in December, the conflict between Iran and the USA has little to do with nuclear proliferation or the levels of uranium enrichment achieved in nuclear reactors. Less than a month after the astonishing revelations by US intelligence agencies that Iran nuclear industry “poses no threat”, the spectre of a new war haunts the region.

George Bush’s threatening statements regarding Iran less than a week after a military showdown in the Persian Gulf prove that 2008 will not herald any softening of the warmongers’ language or actions. In Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia Bush made the same claim: “Iran funds terrorist extremists, undermines stability in Lebanon, sends arms to the hard-line Taliban regime [!], intimidates its neighbours with alarming rhetoric and defies the United Nations by refusing to be open about its nuclear programme … Iran is the world’s leading state sponsor of terror.” Of course, some of these claims are factually false.

According to US generals in Iraq, Iran has done “all in its power” to support not only the occupation shia government but also in siding with US-controlled military and security forces in the current ‘surge’. In early January, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, sent out a signal to the effect that, while the time is not right to normalise relations with the US, Iran is prepared to work in that direction if the US changes its behaviour toward Iran.

But Bush preferred to ignore this. He urged Gulf states and the world to “confront this danger before it’s too late”. This, together with the incidents in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, reinforce the fact that the threat of military confrontation between the USA and Iran is as serious as ever.

So the gloves are off - even though not even Bush is now claiming that Iran is developing nuclear arms. The reality remains that, having, in the name of ‘democracy’, brought to power a shia fundamentalist government in Iraq, the US has woken up to the dangers and instability that its war has unleashed across the region. None of the recent gloss put on the supposed progress of the surge can hide the fact that “Iraq’s invasion and occupation [has been] a terrible episode for everyone”, to quote Britain’s foreign and Commonwealth office minister, Lord Malloch-Brown.

Having brought a pro-Iran government to power in Iraq and therefore gifted the Iranian regime unprecedented influence in the Middle East, the Bush administration now seems to wish it had left Saddam alone. Bush chose Saudi Arabia, a feudal dictatorship and the principal source of funds for some of the most reactionary islamic madrassas (in Pakistan, Egypt, Jordan …) to warn its allies in the region of the ‘shia threat’.

Extensive military contracts have been signed with some of the most reactionary regimes of the world - a series of arms deals worth at least $20 billion with Saudi Arabia and five other Persian Gulf states - proving once more that imperialism and political islam (and its appendage, ‘islamist terrorism’), far from representing two confronting forces, are in fact interconnected - two different aspects of the same phenomenon, manifestations of capitalist decay and corruption.

Of course, military expenditure by US allies in the region can only mean good news for the arms manufacturers. In order to “confront the US/Israeli threat” Iran announced on December 26 the signing of a contract to buy an advanced anti-aircraft system. The new Russian S-300 technology consists of long-range weapons comparable to the US Patriot missile, supposedly to enhance Iran’s air defences against Israeli strikes. According to Russian media, the Tehran government (which, by the way, pleads bankruptcy when it comes to the wages of its public sector workers) paid an astronomical price for the new defence weaponry, even though the capability of both US and Russian systems to stop incoming missiles remains in doubt.

Meanwhile, inside Iran - the country with the world’s second-highest (after Russia) natural gas reserves (971 trillion cubic feet) - at least 21 people have died as a result of shortage of gas in a previously predicted cold spell in the country’s northern provinces. Of course, the fact that Iran has plenty of gas (and oil) is one thing, but in the absence of an energy infrastructure capable of delivering it to its own people, millions of Iranians living in the northern half of the country depend on gas pumped in from neighbouring Turkmenistan. The Turkmen authorities blame Iran for failing to pay for the maintenance of gas pipelines. They say they have been unable to fund much needed repairs because of Teheran’s failure to pay its bills on time. They have been forced to reduce pipeline pressure, while increased demand for gas in very cold temperatures has led to a shortage for millions of Iranians. The country that buys nuclear technology on the black market, that pays over the odds for the latest air defence systems, cannot afford to pay its gas bills to save the lives of its citizens.

“Oil ministry ready to weather frost” was last week’s headline in the Iranian English-language daily Tehran Times - although it goes on to quote interior minister Mostafa Purmohammadi’s plea: “All gas consumers are asked to save gas as much as possible, in a bid to help supply all fellow countrymen in the remotest areas of the country with the commodity.”

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to power with a promise to distribute oil income amongst ‘ordinary’ Iranians. But instead there is oil rationing and a dire shortage of heating gas, which means hardship for millions, further unemployment and increased poverty. Vali Rayaat, MP for the northern city of Ghaemshahr, pleaded: “We don’t want oil money. Just supply us with gas! Mr President, do you know how my constituents live without heating equipment and in the worst and most difficult conditions?”

Ten people died from gas poisoning on Friday January 11. They were trying to keep warm by using gas canisters inside tents erected in their homes.

The gas crisis in Iran is yet another sign of the islamic regime’s economic crisis, compounded by the incompetence of the current government. It is a regime that needs to use anti-US rhetoric to divert attention from its constant economic and political failures.

The shortage of gas has also led to bread price increases of 200%-700% in northern Iran. There are now severe bread shortages in Tehran, as the government’s response was to transfer bread production to the north of the country.

The problems facing the peoples of Iran, and the Middle East, stem from complicated issues rooted in the contradictions of 21st century world capitalism. There are no simple answers to such issues and any attempt at watering down or - worse - dumbing down - Hopi’s principled position regarding capitalism and imperialism in our era will only add to the existing confusion over Iran.

Those of us who have spent the last 14 months formulating radical responses to such issues will persevere with our analysis of imperialism’s crisis of hegemony as an explanation for war, are adamant that the exposure of the capitalist nature of the islamic regime, its empty rhetoric and its adherence to neoliberal economic policies is part and parcel of the campaign’s essential work.

We refuse to be influenced by soft reformist campaigns inside or outside Iran and insist that a principled campaign in opposition to this war must rise above simplistic, populist slogans.