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Iranian Planes and the Hidden Toll of Economic Sanctions

It’s too early to tell the reason for the midday plane crash on 15 July in Janat-Abad near the former capital of the Persian Empire, northwest of Tehran. All 168 people on board were killed in Qazvin province and there is an inquiry underway. One thing is sure, though. It wasn’t fired on by the U.S .military which, some twenty-one years ago, shot down flight IR655, killing 290 people, including 66 children. It was the same year as Lockerbie but the captain of the USS Vincennes which fired a missile at the plane was awarded the U.S. Legion of Merit and his crew given Combat Action Ribbons. But, even so, the relatives of the 168 that have died today may yet blame the U.S. and Britain for their dead.

U.S. foreign policy is being felt in Iran’s aircraft hangars, just as it is in the hearts of the millions of Iraqi refugees a few hundred miles from the crash site. They are fleeing the chaos unleashed by what was called Operation Iraqi Liberation, before the State Department realized the resulting acronym spelled “OIL”. Iran may have been the deciding factor when it came to deposing the U.S.-created Taliban from Afghanistan but as British soldiers die in Helmand, Iran is not the ally. Iran is the eternal irritant, refusing to budge in its support for anti-colonial struggle, fighting Anglo-American desires for apartheid in Palestine, fighting for sovereignty over its energy resources.

President Obama has repeatedly cited economic sanctions as the stick with which to beat Iran as the Islamic Republic continues to pursue its uranium-enrichment programme. But, again, showing more skill than his G8 colleagues, Obama backed off from making sanctions a leading issue at the L’Aquila summit. Britain’s beleaguered leader, Gordon Brown was caught out again. He has form on this. Last year, with President George W. Bush by his side, he announced “We will take action today that will freeze the overseas assets of the biggest bank in Iran, the Bank Melli.” It turned out to be yet another Brown-blunder – the FT quoted diplomats at the time looking askance. Brown had said he wanted more sanctions when standing next to the then Israeli PM, Ehud Olmert, a year earlier. And in L’Aquila, Brown said he sought changes to the Non-Proliferation Treaty so that proof of a nuclear arms programme is no longer required for sanctions to be imposed on a state he didn’t like. The stakes have certainly been raised since the elections which saw Mahmoud Ahmadinejad retain the presidency and which corporate media was quick to characterise as the stolen election that will presage a green revolution to rival the colour revolutions of the former USSR.

Sanctions currently prevent U.S. citizens from doing business with Iran and there is also a total ban on selling U.S. aircraft and repair parts to Iranian aviation companies and that includes U.S.-made components in Russian aircraft such as the Caspian Airlines Tupolev TU-154M. Some five years ago, the Iranian Transport Minister, Ahmad Khorram, claimed Iran’s aviation sector was at “crisis point.”  Back then, more than one hundred perished in a similar plane and three hundred then perished in an air-disaster in 2003. At the end of 2006, the head of Russian aviation company, Sukhoi, said that deals with Iran were hitting road-blocks as the U.S. Department of State complained about perceived violations of Bill Clinton’s Iran Non-Proliferation Act. That Act bars the re-exporting of U.S. made components to Iran. Sukhoi’s civil aircraft chief Viktor Subbotin  said that “If the sanctions are switched fully on, everything will stop.”

From those who have been most voluble about the recent Iranian elections– but with notable exceptions – we will not hear about the U.S.-nod to the coup in Honduras, let alone Hezbollah’s candidates all winning in Lebanon and the lack of elections in the Palestinian Authority while Hamas enjoys its mandate. That more nuanced analysis we shall have to leave to Noam Chomsky who details it in his latest piece, “Season of Travesties: Freedom and Democracy in mid-2009.” There will be few “pro-democracy” demonstrators  chanting against the sanctions that may have killed another plane-load.

In the 1990s, Bill Clinton’s U.N. sanctions on Iraq killed hundreds of thousands of children as discovered by its own agency, UNICEF. We now have a man in the White House who trumpets the use of sanctions over the war-war bluster of George W. Bush. President Bush’s continual threats about the use of military force on Iran did nothing but entrench the Iranian people’s support for the theocratic government. If much-mooted September is the date for President Obama’s new sanctions, they look set to kill many more civilians than any threats by his former rival and now secretary of state, Hillary Clinton. Hillary and her husband seem never to have been concerned about the lethal impact of sanctions on developing nations. It was she who was certain of her ability to press a button to use U.S. nuclear weapons to kill all 70 million people in Iran.

AFSHIN RATTANSI has helped launch and develop television networks and has worked in journalism for more than two decades, at the BBC Today programme, CNN International, Bloomberg News, Al Jazeera Arabic, the Dubai Business  Channel, Press TV and The Guardian. His quartet of novels, “The Dream of the Decade” is available on Amazon.com. He has been living and working in Iran for the past year. He was at Press TV until the recent Presidential elections. He can be reached at afshinrattansi@hotmail.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Afshin Rattansi is host of RT’s award-winning Going Underground news and current affairs show broadcast around the world. He will be joining Julian Assange on the eve of the referendum for a live webcast from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London as well as a special edition of Going Underground on Saturday.

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