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Renewed surge of COVID-19 adds to Iran's woes

By Struan Stevenson
Renewed surge of COVID-19 adds to Iran's woes
According to Iran's Health Ministry, the daily death toll from COVID-19 has led to four cities being registered as highly infective red zones, while 14 are designated as orange and 142 are yellow. File Photo by Abedin Taherkenareh/EPA-EFE

Aug. 5 (UPI) -- A new wave of COVID-19 is sweeping across Iran, adding to the woes of the troubled Islamic state.

Although the theocratic regime claims the death toll is 142,000, it is believed that more than 530,000 people have died in Iran during the pandemic. Now the lack of viable vaccines and shortage of medical equipment has opened the floodgates to a resurgence of infection. The supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's ideological opposition to Western vaccines, relying instead on Russian and Chinese alternatives, has left the Iranian population defenceless in the face of new coronavirus variants, which are spreading rapidly.

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According to Iran's Health Ministry, the daily death toll from COVID-19 has led to four cities being registered as highly infective red zones, while 14 are designated as orange and 142 are yellow. Last week, the dean of the Mashhad Medical Apparatus Organization said, "In the worst-case scenario, we will witness a new coronavirus peak near mid-August. A more realistic estimate tells us the peak will be seen in September and October."

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The state-run Khabar Online website reported, "We are returning to the dreadful days of living with COVID-19. The intense days when not one single empty bed or a few meters of space was found for a patient, when finding an oxygen device relied on a miracle."

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The true extent of the death toll in Iran has been gathered by resistance units of the Mojahedin-e Khalq. They say the mullahs' venal corruption and incompetence has caused a catastrophic COVID-19 meltdown across the country, with the highly contagious BA.4 and BA.5 strands of the virus spreading like wildfire against the largely unvaccinated population. Iran's hospitals have few resources available to provide treatment. Hospital staff have been left without personal protective equipment, which has been sold on the black market by officials from the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.

The resurgence of coronavirus has come as Iran's economy goes through its worst convulsions since the 1979 revolution that brought the mullahs to power. Some 80 million Iranians are experiencing appalling hardship due to the regime's corruption and warmongering policies, which are a source of deep resentment throughout Iranian society.

It is well known that the mullahs have squandered over $35 billion in backing Bashar al-Assad's ongoing civil war in Syria, now in its 11th year and the cause of more than 610,000 deaths. The clerical regime also finances the Houthi rebels in Yemen, the brutal Shi'ia militias in Iraq, the terrorist Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza. The mullahs' massive investment in their clandestine construction of a nuclear bomb has also devastated the Iranian economy, where spiraling inflation has reached 52.2%.

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The Islamic Republic is desperately hoping for a revival of the failed nuclear deal and the lifting of economic sanctions. But Western leaders, who have frantically sought ways of appeasing the mullahs, have been told by International Atomic Energy Agency chief Rafael Grossi, that the mullahs' nuclear program is "galloping ahead" while they deny surveillance access to the IAEA and have disconnected dozens of the agency's cameras. Even the arch appeaser Josep Borrell, the European Union's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security, who continues to lead attempts to reset the JCPOA, has conceded in a recent press report that "the space for additional significant compromises has been exhausted."

Ebrahim Raisi, the Iranian president known as "The Butcher of Tehran" for his key role in the notorious 1988 massacre of thousands of political prisoners, cannot face the embarrassment of admitting the nuclear deal has failed. The 1988 massacre is under intense scrutiny by the United Nations. As a hard-liner stage-managed into position by the supreme leader, it was assumed that Raisi would bully and blackmail the West into lifting sanctions. The opposite has happened and Raisi finds himself unable to visit Western democracies in case he is arrested and charged with genocide and human rights abuse under universal jurisdiction. Khamenei and Raisi are finding themselves to be increasingly friendless, apart from fellow dictators like Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

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The mullahs are also facing humiliating setbacks in Europe's courts. They have negotiated a scandalous treaty with Belgium in a rash attempt to facilitate the repatriation of one of their terrorist diplomats -- Assadollah Assadi -- who was sentenced to 20 years jail in Belgium, after he was caught handing over a fully primed bomb to three co-conspirators, instructing them to detonate it at an Iranian opposition rally in Paris in 2018.

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The Belgian Appeal Court has prevented Assadi's repatriation until the judges have time to consider objections from plaintiffs to the case, who say it would shamefully undermine European justice to allow him to return home to a hero's welcome in Tehran. The ignominies of Assadi's sentence in Belgium for terrorism has been compounded by a life sentence in Sweden, handed down to Hamid Noury, an agent of the regime and former executioner-aide of Ebrahim Raisi. Last month, Noury was sentenced to life for crimes against humanity. The regime is reeling from these twin blows.

Growing unrest across the whole of Iran, coupled with the rising influence of the MEK resistance units, have created signs of panic among the ruling elite. Recent floods and landslides in more than 20 provinces, leading to the loss of many lives, have added to the regime's calamities and disasters. Now the resurgence of the coronavirus has pushed the beleaguered population to the brink. The mullahs have spent the Iranian people's stolen wealth on warmongering, repression and nuclear weapons in an attempt to preserve their criminal dictatorship. They have wrecked Iran and impoverished its people. Only their overthrow can restore stability and peace.

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Struan Stevenson is the Coordinator of the Campaign for Iran Change. He was a member of the European Parliament representing Scotland (1999-2014), president of the Parliament's Delegation for Relations with Iraq (2009-14) and chairman of the Friends of a Free Iran Intergroup (2004-14). He is chairman of the In Search of Justice committee on the protection of political freedoms in Iran. He is an international lecturer on the Middle East and president of the European Iraqi Freedom Association.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

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