Connect to share and comment

Biblical tradition holds that northern Iraq is the land of Cain and Abel. Across post-war Iraq, the ancient parable of fratricide seems to be playing out in a contemporary context: Muslim brothers killing Muslim brothers in spates of violence between the Sunni and Shia sects rippling out in waves across the Middle East.

20131120 rouhani cain abel
Iranian supporters of President-elect Hassan Rouhani gather at the mausoleum of the founder of Iran's Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, in Tehran on June 16, 2013, during a visit for Rouhani to the mausoleum. Rouhani hailed his presidential election win as a victory over 'extremism' as jubilant supporters took to the streets, pinning their hopes on an easing of Western sanctions. (Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images)

Iranians say US sanctions hit wrong target

Since the US imposed strict sanctions 18 months ago, Iran's economy has been in free fall: Oil revenues dropped by 50 percent, the local currency has lost as much as 2/3 of its value and inflation hit 40 percent. Iranians say ordinary people are the ones feeling the pain.

TEHRAN — The election of moderate presidential candidate Hassan Rouhani has raised hopes here of lifting the crippling US and western European sanctions against Iran.

Rouhani has indicated he wants a settlement with the Obama administration — but on Iran's terms. He and other Iranians argue that sanctions mainly hurt ordinary people.

In his first press conference after winning the election on June 15, Rouhani said, “We don’t want further tension. Both nations need to think more about the future and try to sit down and find solutions to past issues and rectify things.”

Though 131 members of the US House of Representatives last week signed a letter urging Obama to renew diplomatic efforts with Iran, Congress is also considering new legislation that would place additional sanctions “on everything from mining and construction to the Islamic republic's already besieged oil industry,” the AP reported.

And Sen. Lindsey Graham told a conference hosted by the Christians United for Israel this week that, “If nothing changes in Iran, come September, October, I will present a resolution that will authorize the use of military force to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb.”

“The US knows what it is doing. Tell Obama not to hurt ordinary people.”
~Tahereh Karimi

Despite the most crippling sanctions in the history of Iran, the government has shown no signs of changing position on its nuclear enrichment program — which it says does not include plans to build nuclear weapons. Government leaders appeal to the Shia tradition of resistance in efforts to rally the public against outside powers. They argue that the sanctions have backfired and actually generated solidarity among Iran's Shia allies.

"People in the Shia countries, and around the world, want the sanctions lifted," said Mohammad Sadegh Janansefat, a prominent economist and editor of Industry and Development magazine. "The sanctions aren't working. The Islamic Republic isn't giving in."

The US and some western European countries have imposed a series of increasingly stringent economic sanctions in an effort to stop Iran from enriching uranium and building nuclear weapons.

US intelligence agencies admit that Iran does not have a nuclear weapons program, but they fear its current nuclear enrichment facilities could generate bomb-grade fuel at some time in the future.

Officially, US sanctions target Iranian leaders and key industries, not ordinary people. US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman told the US Senate, "US regulations contain an explicit exception from sanctions for transactions for the sale of agricultural commodities, food, medicine, or medical devices…."

She went on to say, "We have demonstrated that supporting the Iranian people and pressuring the policies of their government are not mutually exclusive."

That's not how Iranians see it.

Every weekday many dozens of people wait in long lines at the 13th of Aban, a government-run pharmacy that is their last stop to find drugs in short supply. One man unable to fill his prescription shouts angrily as he stomps out.

"A lot of people are angry when they can't get their medicine," Yusuf Abadi noted. He was waiting to get a chemotherapy drug and asked that his real name not be used.

Tahereh Karimi, a woman standing in the same line, knows that officially, pharmaceuticals are excluded from the sanctions. But, she said, the US government puts the squeeze on ordinary people in hopes they will pressure the government.

"The US knows what it is doing," Karimi said. "Tell Obama not to hurt ordinary people."

Since the US imposed stringent sanctions 18 months ago, the Iranian economy has been in free fall. Oil revenues dropped by 50 percent, the local currency has lost as much as 2/3 of its value and inflation hit 40 percent. The drop in the rial's purchasing power makes importing foreign drugs and medical devices particularly expensive.

In addition, the US has threatened international banks with severe penalties if they break the sanctions. So while banks are supposed allow fund transfers for medicine and medical devices, many find it easier to ban Iranian transactions altogether.

"We can't get certain vitamin tablets because we can't send money abroad through the banks," said Khodadad Asnarshari, administrative director at the Sapir hospital in Tehran.

"Bank hesitation is understandable given that a mistake could earn a bank the wrath of the US Treasury Department and fines that exceed $1 billion," according to an authoritative study of sanctions issued by the Woodrow Wilson