Iranians in Fear of Fear

By Nir Boms and Reza Bulorchi
Published March 23, 2006

Following two decades of Tehran’s lies and three years of international wishful thinking, Iran’s nuclear case was finally brought to the hands of the U.N. Security Council. In the meantime the mullahcracy in Tehran has been gearing itself for another phase of international standoff.   

On the same day Tehran declared “the Russian proposal is no longer on our agenda.” the Sunday Telegraph reported that Iran has built a secret underground emergency command center in north Tehran as “they prepare for a confrontation with the West over their illicit nuclear program.”    

Hojatol-Islam Mohsen Gharavian, a disciple of the ultraconservative Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, was reported in February to have approved the use of atomic weapons against the “enemies of Islam.” Meanwhile, the theocratic regime’s shrinking loyal base is mobilized for staged rallies in front of European embassies and nuclear facilities to give an appearance of national legitimacy.  The mullahs’ nuclear drive has no doubt enraged Iranians — but for reasons far different from what the mullahs may admit.   

For years, the mullahs have proven to be the biggest enemy of Iranians. The regime carried out summary executions of thousands of political prisoners in what is known as the 1988 massacre that followed a fatwa by Ayatollah Khomeini. Even pregnant prisoners were not spared. Last year, Mohammad Abbaspour, a member of the social committee of Iranian parliament, said “Today 90 percent of people are under the poverty line”. The foreign debt has reached almost 30 percent of Iran’s GDP. Thousands of Iranians have sold their kidneys to make the ends meet. Some families have even traded their young daughters to human traffickers. Iran’s massive flux of rising oil income has only helped to finance a gigantic multi-faceted WMD program and a growing infrastructure of terror around the Middle East.

Indeed, the vast majority of Iranians are opposed to the theocratic regime’s drive that has pushed their country to the verge of a military confrontation. An internal classified report prepared by a state-run polling center has reportedly concluded that only 31 percent of Iranians consider the nuclear program a “national’ project. The report adds that 86 percent of Iranians believe the nuclear energy is not worth entering a war. 

More importantly, however, Iranians have paid the highest price to derail the mullahs’ nuclear weapons program. While satellite imagery and inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) contributed to getting a sense of the extent of Iran’s nuclear drive, it was the Iranian opposition that played the key role in exposing the mullahs’ nuclear secrets. The National Council of Resistance of Iran, the major opposition coalition, revealed in August 2002 that Tehran was building two new secret nuclear facilities in the cities of Arak and Natanz. In February 2003, Iran admitted to the existence of two sites, a development that set in motion the IAEA resolution to report Iran to the U.N. Security Council.

It has become increasingly difficult for the mullahs to cast their atomic drive as an “Iranian” program while the Iranian opposition is at the center of the campaign against it. And to hit back at the opposition, mullahs chose their usual route. Several days before the IAEA meeting, prison officials announced that if the nuclear case were ever referred to the Security Council, they would unleash their wrath on political prisoners.

And that threat became a chilling reality just a day after the IAEA vote. Hojjat Zamani, 31, a political prisoner and a member of MEK (an affiliate of the opposition coalition), was snatched from his cell by prison guards and hanged at dawn on Feb. 7, according to Amnesty International. More prisoners are feared to be facing a similar fate.

The Zamini case shows that Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons is the flip side of its campaign of suppression at home. This year alone, more than 30 individuals have been executed — many in public — or sentenced to death. The daring strike of Tehran transit workers was brutally crushed, as was the peaceful but defiant stand of several thousands Sufi Muslims last week. Meanwhile, Elham Afroten, a 20-year-old female journalist, is reported incarcerated since Jan. 23 and badly mistreated for allegedly placing a satirical article comparing Ayatollah Khomeini to the AIDS virus.

Iran’s theocracy will do anything to instill fear; which is why it will do everything to get the nukes. And when it succeeds, one can easily imagine what would a regime that cares so little about its own citizens may do to the citizens of the “infidel” world. For the sake of the world and for the sake of the Iranian people — the mullahs must not be given that nuclear choice. 
Nir Boms is the vice president of the Center for Freedom in the Middle East. Reza Bulorchi is the executive director of the U.S. Alliance for Democratic Iran. 

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