Friday, February 12, 2010

Iran touts nuclear gains and quashes protests.

There's a reason why Ahmadinejad is playing up the fact that Iran is now, "a nuclear state". He's highlighting something which even the Iranians who oppose him take great pride in. And, should the US and others come together to sanction Iran, Ahmadinejad knows that this will quell those who question his governments legitimacy after the recent elections and the torrent of protests which those elections unleashed.

Yesterday, as Iran celebrated the anniversary of the revolution, Ahmadinejad spoke of Iran's nuclear power whilst using his security forces to put down any hint of protest.

Anti-government protesters had hoped to use revolution day celebrations for a big display of defiance, but a massive security clampdown choked off the threat of major disruption. There were clashes with police at several locations across Tehran, with tear gas and paintballs fired to disperse crowds chanting opposition slogans. Opposition websites claimed at least one person was shot dead by security forces.

Leading figures from within the opposition camp were reportedly harassed, including the elderly cleric Mehdi Karroubi, who stood in last June's disputed elections. He was attacked by hardliners who broke the windows of his car and had pepper sprayed on him.

Zahra Rahnavard, the wife of Mirhosein Moussavi, the other presidential challenger, also reportedly suffered a beating when she appeared in the streets, while Zahra Eshraghi, the reformist granddaughter of Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic, was briefly detained.

Videos purportedly of protesters shouting "Death to the dictator" in Isfahan Mashhad and other Iranian cities were posted on opposition websites. But posts on Twitter from Iran reported that while counter-demonstrations took place in locations such as Tehran's Saddeqiya Street, efforts to move into the heart of the city were pushed back by armed Basiji militias on motorbikes.

It was exactly what was to be expected after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had threatened to give protesters a "punch in the mouth" if they used yesterday as a means to challenge the legitimacy of the regime.

But it's also an indication of the danger Obama faces as he tries to challenge Iran's nuclear programme. Sanctions, oddly enough, will play into Ahmadinejad's hands. Most Iranians think that they should be allowed to be a nuclear power and they are also well aware that, under the NNPT, Iran is within it's rights to enrich uranium.

It would suit Ahmadinejad to be portrayed as being picked on unfairly by western empiricists. Nationalism is no less powerful when played by Ahmadinejad than it was when it was played by Bush. "With us or with the terrorists" can easily be transferred to Iran as "With us or with the West."

As Obama's main goal is to stop the Iranian nuclear programme then he possibly has no choice other than to proceed with sanctions. But, every sanction we impose will further stifle opposition to the Ahmadinejad regime. I think he is well aware of that, which is why he is shouting about his nuclear capability quite so loudly.

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