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Coronavirus: The true face of Iran

Coronavirus: The true face of Iran
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Oppressive, totalitarian regimes are not noted for flexibility or responsiveness. Something about the knowledge that the communication of bad news to the boss may get you killed or shipped off to the gulag inhibits open dialogue or original thought. No doubt as the Soviet Union dissolved and Russian communism faded away there were still functionaries chugging away in offices across that failed state writing five-year plans for the steel industry and new slogans for the Young Pioneers.

Iran is no different.

Last month, faced with a citizenry in open rebellion and humiliated by its forced admission that it had shot down a plane full of innocent civilians, Tehran’s ruling mullahs went back to the classic playbook of authoritarian tactics. They disqualified fully one-third of the sitting members of the Majlis, Iran’s parliament, from running for reelection — because they appeared to have the unnerving habit of thinking independently. Then they disqualified at least 7,000 other would-be candidates — because they seemed untrustworthy.

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Then they conducted what amounted to sham elections and installed a new legislature filled with hardliners and representatives of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. That only a little more than 42 percent of the country bothered to vote did not concern the ayatollahs in the least.

But things are different now. The old plays may not work anymore.

Man has so far failed to end 40 years of Iran’s theocratic domestic tyranny and international terror, but Mother Nature may yet succeed.

The coronavirus that is sweeping the globe is tearing the heart out of Iran, and the thugs who rule that nation appear powerless to even slow its spread. Iran has admitted to 145 dead from the disease. Opposition forces are saying that there have been closer to 1,800 fatalities. Member of Parliament Gholamali Jafarzadeh characterized the government’s figures as “a joke” and added that no matter what the government said it would be impossible to hide the cemeteries.

Accurate numbers are, in any event, probably impossible to come by because in many rural areas people are dying and being buried without  ever having seen medical personnel or being diagnosed.

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Reports are widespread of under-equipped hospitals filled with infected patients and short on masks, alcohol and anti-bacterial gel. Many Iranians have reported being turned away from medical facilities which no longer had any available beds. The Tehran City Council recently announced that it faced a severe shortage of disinfectants with which to disinfect metros, taxis and buses. The Council also said that the lack of masks and gloves for bus and taxi drivers was serious.

Iranian officials have been particularly hard hit by the virus. At least 23 Members of Parliament are confirmed to have the disease. That’s 10 percent of the nation’s parliament. The Deputy Health Minister and Vice-President tested positive a week ago. Another senior official, the head of the nation’s emergency services, has also now been confirmed to have COVID-19.

Iran has announced that it is bracing for tens of thousands of cases of the virus. Desperate for a way to make any progress, Tehran has resorted to extreme measures. It has ordered the military to assist health officials. It directed that a force of 300,000 to begin what is probably the impossible task of going door to door to screen every inhabitant of the country. The good news for thousands of political prisoners is that the government announced it is freeing 54,000 inmates of the nation’s prisons in an attempt to head off an explosion of the virus in those desperately crowded facilities.

It may be too little too late. The Iranian government was aware many weeks ago that it had a problem on its hands, but paranoid and determined at all times to project a false image of invincibility, it did what it typically does. It lied. It covered up. It avoided taking any action that might suggest that it was anything less than infallible.

Flights to and from China continued unabated. Pilgrims to Shia shrines were allowed to move freely as if their piety would protect them from illness. The holy city of Qom, epicenter of the virus in Iran, remains crowded with worshippers. They are jammed into crowded, unsanitary conditions, coughing, sneezing and exchanging germs by licking holy shrines in hope the epidemic will spare them.

The Chinese Communist Party has created their own hell with the coronavirus. They too were slow to move, and they too remain reluctant to tell the whole truth. At this stage, though, the Chinese government has acted on a massive scale to attempt to gain control of the epidemic.

Tehran remains as deceitful as Beijing but appears to have nothing like its capacity to take real action. As the virus burns its way through the populace, the Iranian theocracy remains impotent and powerless, crippled by a fatal combination of ignorance and arrogance. Mismanagement, religious fanaticism and terror are a lethal combination.

Tehran’s admission that it shot down an Iran Air airliner was another critical moment in the nation’s history. It exposed the regime for what it is — not only oppressive, but grossly incompetent. Each new coronavirus death in Iran, sends the same message, over and over and over. This is a regime that not only brutalizes its people but fails to deliver even the most basic services and protections that any nation state must provide.

In the recent elections, it was Iran’s poor who participated least. Precisely those individuals who the regime claims to represent were least interested in another sham. Those same people, the great mass of Iranian society, are now the ones dying and being buried in hastily dug graves without ever having seen a doctor. 

Yet it may be that this horrifying epidemic will bring with it a silver lining.

By showing the true face of Iran’s leaders, the coronavirus may finally lead the Iranian people to rise up and end their 40-year nightmare.

Charles “Sam” Faddis is a retired CIA operations officer with decades of experience undercover abroad. He took the first CIA team into Iraq in advance of the 2003 invasion and retired in 2008 as head of the CIA counterterrorism unit tracking weapons of mass destruction. He is also a former U.S. Army officer and trial attorney. Faddis is currently a senior partner with Artemis, LLC, a security-consulting firm, and the senior editor for AND Magazine. He’s also the author of “Beyond Repair: The Decline and Fall of the CIA” and, with Mike Tucker, “Operation Hotel California: The Clandestine War Inside Iraq.”