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Protests in Iran Over Plummeting Currency

Sign that western-imposed sanctions are "compounding the country's economic woes"

Common Dreams staff

Iranian police officers blocking a street as garbage cans are set on fire in central Tehran. (photo obtained by AP)

Clashes broke out in Tehran's Grand Bazaar and other Iranian cities' markets on Wednesday as the value of Iran's currency, the rial, continues to plummet, having lost more than a third of its value in a week.

Riot police used tear gas on protesters and tried to block streets, according to witnesses who spoke to the Guardian. Reuters adds that some "protesters denounced President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as a 'traitor' whose policies had fueled the crisis."

Western-imposed sanctions on Iran over its alleged nuclear program have hurt the country's earnings from oil exports.

Writing at the Guardian, Saeed Kamali Dehghan points out the recent upheaval's connection to the sanctions on Iran:

The devaluation of the rial and soaring prices of staple goods are the latest signs that western sanctions – targeting the regime's nuclear program – and government mismanagement are compounding the country's economic woes.

But sanctions will not only compound economic problems, they can lead to war, says Juan Cole.

The University of Michigan history professor and Middle East analyst writes on Thursday "Iran Bazaar Strikes signal Misery, not Sanctions ‘Victory’" and underscores the history of failures sanctions have brought:

Severe sanctions almost never work in producing regime change or even in altering major policies of regimes. In Iraq, the severe sanctions of the 1990s actually destroyed the middle classes and eviscerated civil and political society, leaving Iraqis more at the mercy of the authoritarian Baath Party of Saddam Hussein than ever before. The high Baath officials squirreled away $30 billion during the oil for food program, cushioning themselves But the sanctions that denied Iraqis chlorine imports disabled the water purification plants, giving the whole country constant diarrhea, a condition that easily kills infants and toddlers. Some 500,000 Iraqi children are estimated to have been killed this way.

Usama Bin Laden cited this death toll of Iranian children as one of the reasons for his 9/11 attacks on the US. If the sanctions end up killing Iranian children, the US could be borrowing a lot more trouble for the future.

Moreover, the difficulty of maintaining the sanctions on Iraq was given as a reason by then deputy secretary of defense Paul Wolfowitz as a reason for going to war with Iraq. Severe sanctions often do not deflect wars but rather lead to them.

The collapse of the rial, then, may be a signal that the Iranian public is in for great suffering and that the savings of the middle class are about to be wiped out. But that would mean they would lack the money to pay for an insurrection. Moreover, while they are blaming Ahmadinejad now, they know that the US, the EU and Israel are behind their deepening misery, and they are likely to come to hate their torturers.

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