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December 7, 2010

The (literally) suffocating sanctions against ordinary Iranians

The Washington Post today has a pretty shocking report about the effect of the US petroleum sanctions against Iran.  Because the US has been so successful in imposing “draconian” measures against Iran (the Obama Administration’s words, not mine), average Iranians have faced the prospect of not being able to get petroleum for such nefarious purposes as driving to work or keeping their homes heated.
So, in response, Iran has begun selling its own form of “locally produced gasoline”:

The product is the result of an emergency plan to prevent fuel shortages following a vote by the U.S. Congress in July that banned oil companies from selling gasoline to Iran.
The Islamic Republic’s leaders have lauded their oil industry for swiftly supplying the market with its own mixes of high-octane fuel, which is manufactured in petrochemical plants rather than refineries.
But the brew is now seen by many as the main reason for the unprecedented air pollution levels in Tehran, Isfahan, a city in central Iran, and other large population centers.
“This fuel is our political ace [against the sanctions],” the Ayandeh Web site, which is critical of the government, said Monday. “But it is of low quality and polluting.”

The article goes on to quote Mohammad-Reza Shababi, the father of a three-year old girl who is suffering from extreme windpipe infection due to the increasing pollution:

“The arrow of these sanctions is hitting my daughter’s windpipe,” said Shababi. “What has she done? Both our leaders and the U.S. should think of the consequences of their acts.”

In fact, just last week before Congress, Under Secretary of State Bill Burns highlighted the success of US sanctions in decreasing Iran’s gasoline imports by 85%.   He didn’t mention any concerns about what this might  mean for regular Iranians, but perhaps this was because he was testifying before a panel that included Representatives Brad Sherman (D-CA) and Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), each of whom have said that sanctions must punish ordinary Iranians in order to work.
Not surprisingly, we hear little these days from the Administration about sanctions being designed to “not hurt the Iranian people.” This includes  when Obama appeared on BBC Persia several months ago and  tried to convince Iranians that they should not blame the US for their suffering under sanctions (reports from Iran suggested that Iranians were left “seething” by the President’s logic). The Administration has calculated that if they can show how just how tough they are, perhaps they will buy some time to actually pursue engagement.
With Congress focused on ways to punish Iran by any means necessary, with the Administration committed to buying itself space by demonstrating how “draconian” its sanctions can be, and with an Iranian government far more committed to its own preservation rather than the wellbeing of it citizens, we once again find the Iranian people caught in the middle.  But I suppose that means the sanctions are working.

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