Sunday, January 30, 2005


Iran: the next target? by Ervand Abrahamian

The belief that the US cannot afford another conflict is misguided, says Ervand Abrahamian. Fuelled by mutual paranoia, the risk of war with Iran is growing

The recent pledge by Iran to "suspend temporarily" the enrichment of uranium has merely postponed a likely major collision between the Islamic Republic and America a confrontation that could well make the Iraq conflict look like a minor mishap. The disastrous course has been set by a symbiotic relationship of mutual paranoia.

Washington is convinced that Iran is clandestinely and speedily developing nuclear weapons; that as soon as it has done this it will share them with such international terrorist organizations as al-Qaeda; and that these organizations would have no compunction in using them either on Israel or on American cities.

Tehran is equally convinced that the US is determined on a destructive course either overthrowing the Islamic Republic and replacing it with another regime, or, if need be, by dismantling the whole of Iran. Every time Iranian leaders talk nuclear, they fuel American fears. Every time American leaders talk of "regime change", they conjure up images of the 1953 Anglo-US coup against Iranian prime minister Mohammed Mossadeq.

Of course, as has often been noted, even paranoids can have real enemies.

The risk of a collision remains high, but the Iraqi quagmire has created a mood of complacency in the international community and among liberal and conservative "realists" in America about US capabilities. Conventional wisdom now argues that because the US military is overextended, its citizens are uneasy about the extent of international commitments, and its leaders have supposedly been "chastised" by Iraq, the country is unlikely to venture into new wars especially into the vast inhospitable region of Iran.

This overlooks several counter-arguments for the likelihood of an escalation of conflict especially those that take into account the power of ideology. The neoconservatives who brought us the Iraq conflict are more entrenched in power now than they were in 2001-2003 when more conventional conservatives could still be found in the corridors of the CIA and the State Department.

These neoconservatives do not consider the Iraq exercise to be a failure since they have achieved their avowed goal of overthrowing Saddam Hussein. They are still convinced that they have the power to change facts and create their own reality. They have been demanding the destruction of the Islamic Republic “ much like the refrain Carthage must be destroyed“ ever since Iran's 1979 revolution. As Saddam Hussein fell, they proclaimed that everyone wants to go to Baghdad, but real men aim for Tehran.

Even before the emergence of the nuclear issue, the neoconservatives were denouncing Iran as "nightmarish", "fanatical", "ferocious", "despicable", Stalinist, Fascist, a "satanic mullahcracy", "intolerable for American interests", a "source of evil" and the "throbbing heart of international terrorism". The US, in their eyes, has been at "war" with Iran ever since 1979, with a brief period of bellum interruptum initiated by that appeaser" president Bill Clinton. In the words of their paper, the Weekly Standard, in April 2003, the US has a "blood debt" with Iran because of the events of 1979-1981 when US embassy staff in Tehran were held hostage. President George W Bush now concurs with the Israeli defence minister's statement that "under no circumstances should Iran be permitted to possess nuclear weapons".

Such language sounds even more ominous in the context of the neoconservatives' talk of pre-emptive wars, "tactical" nuclear weapons, bunker busters, redrawing the map of the Middle East, undoing the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement (which effectively determined the region's modern boundaries), subdividing countries into mini-states, waging war against evil, and launching World War IV (the Cold War being World War III).

One leading neoconservatives sees himself as a reincarnation of Lawrence of Arabia. Another writes that his middle name should be "destruction". Yet another, Michael Leeden, argues that war forges "virility", "virtue" and "strength of character", whereas peace leads to "effeminate behaviour", "insolence", "corruption", "materialism" and "moral weakness". Leeden also proclaims: "We Americans are a warlike people"! We love war. We don't mind casualties. What we hate is losing wars. To European ears, this sounds less like conventional conservatism and more like the right-wing radicalism of the 1930s.

The case for war?
What is more, the neoconservatives have created a Coalition for Democracy in Iran. They openly say they would use all options available to overthrow the Islamic Republic, and are making headway in Congress to adopt "regime change" in Iran as the official policy of the US. In time, they could sell to their public the necessity for a new war by claiming that the US cannot get out of Iraq without first solving the Iranian "problem". This would involve re-running the 1979 hostage crisis and linking Tehran to Hezbollah, Hamas, al-Qaeda and Sadr in Baghdad, and to the 1983 bombing of US marines in Beirut, the 1996 Kobar bombing in Saudi Arabia, and even September 11.

Even more important, they would assure the American public that a war in Iran would be a "limited" incursion into the south-western province "where the oil resources happen to be located. Such an occupation would deprive the central government of its means of support, but could be carried out mainly by the US navy and air force“ which have so far watched the Iraqi war from the sidelines.

However stretched the US military might be, the neoconservatives could claim that the extra effort was needed in this life and death struggle to prevent mushroom clouds appearing over US cities. In recent days, some American generals have been arguing that their troops are not overextended and if necessary could resort to "tactical" weapons to eliminate the Iranian danger. On the slippery slope of war, such a "limited" step can turn into a major slide into the abyss, since Iran would most probably react by using all its substantial "assets" in Iraq and Afghanistan to make the intolerable situations there even more intolerable both for the US and NATO.

Averting disaster
What can the international community, especially the European Union, do to forestall a major disaster? It should go straight to the heart of the matter by tackling the paranoia problem.

On the one hand, it should continue to do what it has been doing: assure Iran that it can carry on developing nuclear projects for peaceful purposes which is within its international rights. In return, Iran should permit unlimited inspections to guarantee that this research is not being extended to the development of nuclear weaponry. To add to this guarantee, it should request Iran not to venture into developing long-range missiles.

On the other hand, and equally important, the international community should obtain from the US guarantees that it has no intention of invading Iran, carrying out military strikes on it and conspiring for "regime change".

To give substance to such guarantees, the US government would have to stop financing the Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MKO) opposition movement based in Iraq, the royalists in Los Angeles, and various irredentist groups that have suddenly appeared in Washington and are talking about rights of "national self-determination". The MKO, which the State Department two years ago categorized as a "terrorist organization", is now being openly touted by the neoconservatives as a movement of "courageous freedom fighters".

One does not have to be a political genius to realize that you cannot negotiate with an adversary while insisting that your main goal is to destroy that same adversary. Instead of aiding and abetting the sworn enemies of the Islamic Republic, the European Union should openly insist that the US remove sanctions imposed on Iran and cease opposing Iran's request for accession to the World Trade Organization. This would help the global economy, as well as Iran. The atmosphere of paranoia would also drastically diminish if the US were to assure the world openly that it had no intention of placing permanent bases in Iraq the neoconservatives invaded that country armed with blueprints for 15 permanent military bases to be sited there. Diminishing the paranoia would not forestall the collision; it would help revive the democratic movement in Iran. It is often forgotten in the west that a major casualty of Bush's "Axis of Evil" speech, as well as of the invasion of Iraq and the establishment of US military bases in central Asia, Afghanistan, the Caucasus and the Black Sea, has been the liberal reform movement in Iran.

The Iranian conservatives opponents have used to the hilt the prevalent fear that the nation is in danger, that the country is under siege and that the mortal enemy is determined to undertake a 1953-style intervention. Behind the scenes they have probably also argued with the reformists that nuclear weapons are a deterrent to a US intervention after all, they could claim, Iraq did not have nuclear weapons, but was invaded, whereas North Korea, which does have them, has been treated with kid gloves.

In this stifling and fearful atmosphere, some reformists have withdrawn from active politics by resorting to self-censorship. Others have rallied "however reluctantly“ behind their conservative rivals. What politician at a time of national emergency would want to appear to be rocking the boat, acting as a "fifth column", and seeming to help the enemy at the gates? If the United States is as concerned about the democratic movement as it claims, it can help by merely toning down its loud talk of "regime change". It is not much to ask after all, a basic principle of international law is that states do not subvert other states. Maybe Europe could remind America of such basic principles enshrined in the United Nations Charter.

Ervand Abrahamian
Ervand Abrahamian is a CUNY Distinguished Professor at the Department of History of Weissman School of Arts & Sciences, Baruch College, City University of New York. Among his published books are Iran Between Two Revolutions; The Iranian Mojahedin; Khomeinism; Tortured Confessions; and Inventing the Axis of Evil.

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Wednesday, January 26, 2005


Does a military option exist for Iran?

"The flare up in American rhetoric comes at a sensitive time, as the EU is scheduled to recommence negotiations with Iran on its nuclear program. It also comes at a time when neo-conservative elements in Washington seemed to have conclusively dropped the military option. The Committee on the Present Danger, an advocacy group described as an umbrella organization for neo-conservative thinkers, recently published a report that called for regime change in Iran through non-military means and even advocated dialogue with Tehran, which previously had been considered a taboo in neo-conservative circles. "

Click here to go to National Iranian American Council site for complete article!

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Tuesday, January 25, 2005


Telegraph | Opinion | The scariest prospect of all: Iran with the bomb

By Edward Luttwak
(Filed: 23/01/2005)

President Bush, during his inauguration speech last week, promised that he would "spread freedom to the darkest corners of the world". There were some among his world-wide audience to whom that sounded like a threat: we will invade your country unless you change your government to one which we think supports freedom.

The Iranians probably head the list of those feeling threatened. Relations between the United States and Iran, never exactly warm, have been freezing since 2002 when the Iranians were caught concealing from the International Atomic Energy Authority large parts of their programme to build a nuclear bomb. Vice President Richard Cheney followed up the President's address by insisting that Iran was "at the top of the world's trouble spots". He added that "everybody would be best suited if we could deal with [the problem of Iran] diplomatically". But he left the strong impression that if diplomacy failed, military action would follow.

There are certainly good reasons for believing that the Bush administration is considering the possibility of air strikes. Iran is ruled by fiercely reactionary clerics under the "supreme guide" Ayatollah Khameini. Between them, they have reduced the elected civilian government of President Khatami to almost total impotence. Khameini is pushing Iran down a more radically fundamentalist path than even Ayatollah Khomeini, the architect of the Islamic revolution in Iran, ever contemplated. Ayatollah Khomeini tolerated civilian government. He was not so restrictive in deciding who could stand for election in Iran's parliament. He never persecuted the hundreds of thousands of Iran's Muslims who practise a different variety of Shi'ism to that aproved by the ruling orthodoxy. Khameini, however, has declared all those people heretics, and started bullying them mercilessly. Abroad, the clique around Khameini funds suicide bombers in Israel and Iraq.

None of this would matter, however, if Ayatollah Khameini wasn't also determined to acquire a nuclear arsenal. Some members of the government have even boasted how they would use them: to destroy Israel. "Islam could survive the retaliation," they insist, "but Israel would be gone forever." The thought of ayatollahs with nuclear bombs should terrify everyone – especially in Europe, because the Iranians could soon put those bombs on the top of rockets that could reach European capitals.

The French, the Germans and the British have been trying to use diplomacy to persuade the Iranians to stop their nuclear programme. They have offered Iran technological help (building non-nuclear power plants, for example) if only it will abandon its project to build a bomb and agree to unannounced, on-site inspections from the IAEA. Khameini's men have indignantly responded that it would be "against our principles" to acquire a nuclear bomb – but refuse to agree to unannounced inspections or to allow the IAEA to enter their "research reactor" at Parchim near Teheran.

In fact, the Iranians already have a plant which will produce weapons-grade uranium under construction at Natanz. They have a heavy water facility, a large "nuclear technology centre" at Isfahan, and another at Parchim. The mullahs are still negotiating a deal with the Europeans to end their nuclear programme, but the bellicose rhetoric from America is probably all that keeps them talking.

If Iran is to be prevented from acquiring nuclear weapons, effective diplomatic or military action will have to come soon. Production facilities can be bombed but once actual weapons are assembled, locating and destroying them will become next to impossible. And Iran will then be in a position to threaten not just Israel, but all of our oil-producing Arab allies.

When the Israelis bombed Saddam Hussein's nuclear research centre at Osirak in 1981, they were universally condemned. The Americans showed their displeasure by cancelling arms sales. But the raid on Osirak prevented Saddam from acquiring a nuclear arsenal, a fact that the Americans and the world fully recognised when weapons inspectors went into Iraq after the 1991 Gulf war. If Saddam had had nuclear weapons in 1991, it would have been impossible to dislodge him from Kuwait. Able to intimidate Saudi Arabia, he would have had decisive power over Middle East oil. That propsect persuaded America, and most of the world, that Israel had done the right thing in bombing Osirak in 1981.

Unless European diplomacy obtains real guarantees from Iran, President Bush will soon have to decide to do to Iran what the Israelis did to Iraq. If he decides to attack, he will not announce it in advance: just a television broadcast the following morning announcing a job done. The "international community" will denounce the raid hysterically in public while approving of it whole-heartedly in private.

Conventional wisdom says that bombing Iran would lead to Iranians rallying round their government. I am not sure that would happen in today's Iran. Its rulers' bizarre combination of rigid religious conservatism, blatant corruption and economic incompetence has made them exceptionally unpopular. Half of the population is not Persian – and many of them would view an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities not as an attack upon them, but on their imperialist rulers. Even the Persian majority may not want their hated clerical despots to control nuclear bombs. A raid on nuclear sites, nearly all of which are in remote locations, may not provoke the population to rally round their rulers but, of course, the Iranian government would not collapse. Some form of retaliation would be inevitable.

The second Bush Administration wants to repair relations across the Atlantic. Joint action with Europeans – who offer the carrot, while the US threatens the stick – is part of that. If European diplomacy fails to persuade the clerics to abandon nuclear weapons, the American threat might. And if the Americans end up wavering, the Israelis might well step in and do the job. The truth is that nuclear- armed ayatollahs are unacceptable in Europe, America and Israel. Even the clerics, in their calmer and more rational moments, must know that accepting rewards for freezing Iran's nuclear programme is a better deal than getting bombed. But Iran will elect a new president on June 17. The campaign has just started. It is not the best of times for calm rationality.

Click here for Telegraph site!

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Monday, January 24, 2005


The Middle East Outreach Council Book Award.

Dr. Ali Akbar Mahdi's edited "Teens of the Middle East" (Greenwood Press 2003) has won the Middle East Outreach Council Book Award for best youth reference book of 2004. "This compilation offers insights into the interests, familyand social life, religious practises, and culture of teens in twelve profiled countries." writes Leslie Nucho the chair for MEOC Book award committee.

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Sunday, January 23, 2005


Iran very big chunk to bite off militarily

By Gwynne Dyer

Seymour Hersh's 'New Yorker' article about American forces carrying out reconnaissance missions in Iran to locate hidden Iranian nuclear facilities, presumably in order to be able to destroy them all in a surprise attack, may be 'riddled with errors,' as the White House promptly alleged. It may be entirely true. And either way, it may have been deliberately leaked by the Bush Administration to frighten Iran. But what was really revealing was the U.S. media response to it.

70 million Iranians in a country three times the size of Iraq is a very big chunk to bite off militarily, especially since the U.S. already has Iraq on its plate.

Iran is not a 'crazy state.' In the 25 years Iran has not attacked any neighboring state. When Iraq invaded Iran in the 1980s (with American encouragement and support), they fought a bitter eight-year war to repel the invasion but accepted a negotiated peace that simply restored the status quo."

Click here for complete article!

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Bush's crusade is based on a dangerous illusion and will fail

Eric Hobsbawm

Saturday January 22, 2005

Although President Bush's uncompromising second inaugural address does
not so much as mention the words Iraq, Afghanistan and the war on
terror, he and his supporters continue to engage in a planned
reordering of the world. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are but one
part of a supposedly universal effort to create world order by
"spreading democracy". This idea is not merely quixotic - it is
dangerous. The rhetoric implies that democracy is applicable in a
standardised (western) form, that it can succeed everywhere, that it
can remedy today's transnational dilemmas, and that it can bring
peace, rather than sow disorder. It cannot.

Democracy is rightly popular. In 1647, the English Levellers broadcast
the powerful idea that "all government is in the free consent of the
people". They meant votes for all. Of course, universal suffrage does
not guarantee any particular political result, and elections cannot
even ensure their own perpetuation - witness the Weimar Republic.
Electoral democracy is also unlikely to produce outcomes convenient to
hegemonic or imperial powers. (If the Iraq war had depended on the
freely expressed consent of "the world community", it would not have
happened). But these uncertainties do not diminish its justified

Other factors besides democracy's popularity explain the dangerous
belief that its propagation by armies might actually be feasible.
Globalisation suggests that human affairs are evolving toward a
universal pattern. If gas stations, iPods, and computer geeks are the
same worldwide, why not political institutions? This view underrates
the world's complexity. The relapse into bloodshed and anarchy that
has occurred so visibly in much of the world has also made the idea of
spreading a new order more attractive. The Balkans seemed to show that
areas of turmoil required the intervention, military if need be, of
strong and stable states. In the absence of effective international
governance, some humanitarians are still ready to support a world
order imposed by US power. But one should always be suspicious when
military powers claim to be doing weaker states favours by occupying

Another factor may be the most important: the US has been ready with
the necessary combination of megalomania and messianism, derived from
its revolutionary origins. Today's US is unchallengeable in its
techno-military supremacy, convinced of the superiority of its social
system, and, since 1989, no longer reminded - as even the greatest
conquering empires always had been - that its material power has
limits. Like President Wilson, today's ideologues see a model society
already at work in the US: a combination of law, liberal freedoms,
competitive private enterprise and regular, contested elections with
universal suffrage. All that remains is to remake the world in the
image of this "free society".

This idea is dangerous whistling in the dark. Although great power
action may have morally or politically desirable consequences,
identifying with it is perilous because the logic and methods of state
action are not those of universal rights. All established states put
their own interests first. If they have the power, and the end is
considered sufficiently vital, states justify the means of achieving
it - particularly when they think God is on their side. Both good and
evil empires have produced the barbarisation of our era, to which the
"war against terror" has now contributed.

While threatening the integrity of universal values, the campaign to
spread democracy will not succeed. The 20th century demonstrated that
states could not simply remake the world or abbreviate historical
transformations. Nor can they easily effect social change by
transferring institutions across borders. The conditions for effective
democratic government are rare: an existing state enjoying legitimacy,
consent and the ability to mediate conflicts between domestic groups.
Without such consensus, there is no single sovereign people and
therefore no legitimacy for arithmetical majorities. When this
consensus is absent, democracy has been suspended (as is the case in
Northern Ireland), the state has split (as in Czechoslovakia), or
society has descended into permanent civil war (as in Sri Lanka).
"Spreading democracy" aggravated ethnic conflict and produced the
disintegration of states in multinational and multicommunal regions
after both 1918 and 1989.

The effort to spread standardised western democracy also suffers a
fundamental paradox. A growing part of human life now occurs beyond
the influence of voters - in transnational public and private entities
that have no electorates. And electoral democracy cannot function
effectively outside political units such as nation-states. The
powerful states are therefore trying to spread a system that even they
find inadequate to meet today's challenges.

Europe proves the point. A body such as the European Union could
develop into a powerful and effective structure precisely because it
has no electorate other than a small number of member governments. The
EU would be nowhere without its "democratic deficit", and there can be
no legitimacy for its parliament, for there is no "European people".
Unsurprisingly, problems arose as soon as the EU moved beyond
negotiations between governments and became the subject of democratic
campaigning in the member states.

The effort to spread democracy is also dangerous in a more indirect
way: it conveys to those who do not enjoy this form of government the
illusion that it actually governs those who do. But does it? We now
know something about how the actual decisions to go to war in Iraq
were taken in at least two states of unquestionable democratic bona
fides: the US and the UK. Other than creating complex problems of
deceit and concealment, electoral democracy and representative
assemblies had little to do with that process. Decisions were taken
among small groups of people in private, not very different from the
way they would have been taken in non-democratic countries.

Fortunately, media independence could not be so easily circumvented in
the UK. But it is not electoral democracy that necessarily ensures
effective freedom of the press, citizen rights and an independent

Eric Hobsbawm is professor emeritus of economic and social history
of the University of London at Birkbeck and author of The Age of
Extremes: The Short 20th Century 1914-1991; this is an edited version
of an article that first appeared in the journal Foreign Policy.

Guardian Unlimited - Guardian Newspapers Limited 2005

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Saturday, January 22, 2005


Iran Council: Women Can Run for President

"TEHRAN, Iran - Iran's hard-line constitutional watchdog has decided that women can run for president in June elections, state-run television reported Saturday.

'If they posses the necessary qualifications, women can also run for president,' the television quoted Guardian Council spokesman Gholamhossein Elham as saying. The announcement clears up ambiguities within the constitution about whether only men can hold the post. Under Iran's constitution, the president must be elected from among political 'rijal.' Rijal is an Arabic word that can be interpreted as men or simply political personalities regardless of their gender. "

Click here for complete report

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Friday, January 21, 2005


DW-TV-Talk - Nico Fried- Mehran Barati- Andrew B. Denison 22.January 2005

* TV-*

Quadriga 21.01.2005 15:30

George W. Bush - neue Amtszeit, neuer Krieg?

Einen Militärschlag gegen den Iran will George W. Bush nicht
ausschließen. So sagte es der US-Präsident Anfang dieser Woche in einem
Fernsehinterview. Kurz zuvor hatte ein prominenter amerikanischer
Enthüllungsjournalist berichtet, dass US-Agenten schon seit Monaten
heimlich im Iran operierten, um dort mögliche Angriffsziele auszumachen.
Hintergrund ist der Streit um das iranische Atomprogramm.

Teheran verfolgt eine überaus undurchsichtige Nuklearpolitik und steht
dadurch im Verdacht, nach der Atombombe greifen zu wollen. Europäer, die
UNO und die USA versuchen, das Mullah-Regime davon abzuhalten - bislang
nur mit diplomatischem Druck. Und mit nur mäßigem Erfolg. Nun aber
bringt George W. Bush die militärische Karte ins Spiel. Zu Beginn seiner
zweiten Amtszeit scheint sich politisch zu wiederholen, was schon die
Vorbereitungen für den Irak-Krieg geprägt hat. Schließlich hatte Bush
den Iran zu einer ,Achse des Bösen' gezählt, als er den US-geführten
,Krieg gegen den Terrorismus' begründete. Irak, das erste Land auf
dieser ,Achse', ist seit Sommer 2003 von US-Truppen besetzt. Folgt nun
der nächste Krieg gegen den Iran?

Bushs kräftige Drohung in Richtung Teheran verwirrt die Riege der
professionellen Politik-Beobachter. Denn dort galt bislang als Konsens,
dass George W. Bush in seiner zweiten Amtszeit eher auf Diplomaten denn
auf Militärs, eher auf Absprachen mit den Verbündeten denn auf
Alleingänge setzen würde. Eine Fehleinschätzung? Oder sind die jüngsten
Drohungen des US-Präsidenten nur Theaterdonner in der Drohkulisse gegen
das Mullah-Regime?

Was meinen Sie: George W. Bush - neue Amtszeit, neuer Krieg? Schreiben
Sie uns!

Die Gäste der Sendung sind:

Nico Fried -
Im Anschluss an das Studium der Politikwissenschaft in München und
Hamburg macht er eine Ausbildung an der Journalistenschule in München.
Er schreibt zuerst als freier Mitarbeiter für "Die Zeit" und die
"Süddeutsche Zeitung". 1996 geht er als Redakteur der "Berliner Zeitung"
in die Hauptstadt. Von dort arbeitet er heute als Korrespondent mit dem
Schwerpunkt Außenpolitik für die "Süddeutsche Zeitung".

Mehran Barati -
Geboren und aufgewachsen im Iran beschäftigt sich der politisch
interessierte und engagierte Publizist heute von Deutschland aus mit der
Situation in seinem Heimatland. Er ist einer der Mitbegründer des ersten
weltweiten Zusammenschlusses von Iranern im Ausland, der iranisch
republikanischen Union.

Andrew B. Denison -
Der Amerikaner kommt 1985 zum Studium der Politikwissenschaften nach
Hamburg und promoviert im Anschluss in den USA in den Fachbereichen
Europäische Studien, US- Außenpolitik und Internationale Wirtschaft.
Heute arbeitet er am Institut für Strategische Analysen in Bonn und ist
Direktor des Transatlantic Networks. Als Dozent, Kommentator und Analyst
hat er zahlreiche Publikationen im Bereich der Außen- und
Sicherheitspolitik veröffentlicht.



21.01 15:30 UTC Live
21.01 21:30 UTC Wiederholung
22.01 03:30 UTC Wiederholung
22.01 09:30 UTC Wiederholung

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Cheney suggests Israel may attack Iran

The vice president of the United States is publicly speculating Israel may attack Iran's nuclear facilities, widely seen as bomb-making sites.
Dick Cheney raised the possibility Jerusalem may unilaterally destroy the Islamic republic's atomic plants on the MSNBC program, 'Imus in the Morning,' the New York Times reported Friday."

Click here for complete report:

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Tuesday, January 04, 2005


Special report on Bam - one year after the devastating earthquake

IRAN: Special report on Bam - one year after the devastating earthquake

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

BAM, 4 January (IRIN) - A year after an earthquake that killed at least
30,000 people in just seconds, and on the surface not much has changed.
The mangled remains of a lost city are strewn across this once-fertile
desert oasis. Debris, rubble and twisted metal girders are still piled
high on every street and down every alley, almost untouched since the
earthquake struck on 26 December 2003. Around them are date trees and a
few half collapsed buildings stubbornly standing, precariously lopsided.

But the devastation that still litters Bam is not a sign that it has been
left to rot, but an indication of the magnitude of the natural disaster
and the colossal business of rebuilding a city from scratch. The quake
left three out of four of the city's 100,000 residents homeless, injured
at least 50,000 people and created more than 5,000 orphans.

"The rebuilding of Bam is going slower than we expected but that's purely
because it's an enormous task," Patrick Parsons, a project coordinator for
the NGO Merlin, told IRIN. "Twelve million cubic metres of rubble have to
be removed before you can even think of rebuilding. You can't build a city
overnight - it's impossible," he said.

According to an official at the Islamic Housing Foundation, who did not
want to be named, another reason for the slow clear-up rate is because the
authorities need legal permission from the landowner before they can clear
the remains of his house.

"We've got to have warrants before we can clear away the rubble, because
there may still be belongings of value under the debris," he told IRIN.
"This is a huge problem as the owner may have left to go to another town,
or the owner might be dead. So it's taking a very long time trying to
track everyone down."

The earthquake resulted in a historic moment - for the first time since
the 1979 Islamic Revolution an official US delegation arrived in Iran. A
team of American search and rescue workers flew the Stars and Stripes from
their camp in Bam surrounded by an excited media.

In the days following the earthquake, the Iranian authorities, with help
from the International Red Crescent Society (IRCS), launched a massive
rescue and relief operation. More than 1,600 aid workers from 44 countries
arrived while about 60 countries provided in-kind and cash contributions.

"In the immediate aftermath of this tragedy, there was an impressive
display of solidarity of response on the part of numerous national and
international agencies," said Jan Egeland, United Nations Emergency Relief

But the flood of foreign intervention has not been an easy transition for
Iran - many NGO workers found it hard working in an environment that was
totally unused to their methods.

Patrick Parsons of Merlin told IRIN that the biggest problem he has faced
during the past year has been Iranian bureaucracy. "Iran's been a closed
country for the last 25 years," he said. "So the authorities have no idea
how an NGO operates." Parsons says the biggest headache for NGO workers
has been securing visas, which has eaten up precious time.


While the rubble is painstakingly cleared, the survivors must live a life
in limbo, housed in temporary shelter with no idea of when they will be
able to settle into a more stable, secure life.

Six months after the earthquake, in June 2004, the flattened city was
dotted with tents. Now all but a few remain. In their place are thousands
of white box-like prefabricated buildings. Families of up to eight
squeezed into a room measuring six by four metres now live in these
temporary shelters until the city is rebuilt. The survivors have mixed
feelings about their predicament.

"I'm just happy I'm not in a tent anymore. It was getting bitterly cold,"
27-year old Reza told IRIN. He spent six months in a tent with his younger
brother and sister. He lost his parents and a sister in the earthquake.

"Things have got better. We're lucky as we're only three people in a
prefab and now my sister is at university in Kerman, there are only two of
us." Reza is proud to show his prefab - immaculately tidy with sleeping
blankets hidden under a Persian rug. Reza salvaged a few items of
furniture from the wreckage of his family house.

Reza is one of the few male earthquake survivors who has managed to find
work. He borrowed money from friends and family and bought a car he now
uses as a taxi. In a good week he can earn up to US $35 - but that's
rare. In a bad week he earns nothing at all. He spends all his earnings on
sending his sister to university in Kerman. That costs $750 a year.

"I want her to get a qualification. I want her to have a job one day and I
don't want her to think she has been denied all these things in life
because of what happened." Reza's decision to send his sister to school
was taken with his younger brother - Reza could only afford to send one of
them to university and the brothers agreed it should be their sister.
"She's more sensitive and we didn't want to upset her after all that's
happened," Reza explains.

Enterprising survivors have opened stalls in Bam, selling everything from
handbags to food. Those with no savings to use sell cigarettes on the side
of the streets.

The government is offering loans and grants of up to $11,000 to those who
lost their home, to rebuild 85 sq m earthquake-proof bungalows, but many
survivors do not know of the offers or how to go about claiming them.

"Even to get my prefab, I was sent from one office to another. It took
months and was a confusing process," says Reza.


There are some signs of reconstruction sprouting up throughout the city.
According to official figures, about 5 percent of the houses have been
rebuilt. Sa'adi School is one of the first buildings to be rebuilt and
ready for use, complete with a newly-erected flag and shiny bright green
desks stacked outside waiting for their first lesson.

Elsewhere mounds of fresh bricks and vats of cement dot flattened
wasteland. This is the first evidence that after a year of finalising the
Master Plan - the blueprint for mapping, designing and building the new
city - it has finally been approved and is ready to launch.

The Master Plan has been blamed for what many Bamis see as the slow
process of reconstruction. But it is easy to see how the Master Plan has
taken so long to reach fruition - over 85 percent of the city was
destroyed with all 195 schools unusable and all three hospitals flattened,
along with rural and community health houses.

The authorities have been ambitious, with many officials saying they want
to rebuild a better city, which would become an example of good planning
and design to be replicated throughout the country. The Master Plan
incorporates wider roads, neighbourhood markets, public halls and
recreation grounds. These plans have included working with a UNICEF
appointed "child friendly city" consultant to involve the children of Bam.
The objective is to include "child friendly" aspects to as many parts of
the city as possible, including nurseries, primary and guidance schools, a
health care centre, a civic centre and a teachers' resource centre, a
number of child friendly houses, as well as a playground and public park.

"UNICEF takes the view that if children are truly involved in planning
their own cities in Iran, the urban areas will be more healthy,
sustainable and child friendly than current Iranian urban development
practices," said a UN press statement.

UNICEF has trained 10 young Iranian architects from the High Council of
Architects to facilitate children's workshops in 10 schools in Bam.


Extensive psychosocial therapy programmes have been a landmark success for
the Ministry of Health. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is endemic and has
been the biggest health hazard posed by the after-effects of the

So far psychosocial services run by the Ministry of Health, with
assistance from UNICEF, have resulted in 17,127 tent visits covering
67,108 people. There has also been a public awareness campaign with 35,000
pamphlets and 5,000 posters produced and distributed and radio and TV
programmes focusing on psychosocial issues.

Survivors heard the desperate cries of their loved ones from beneath the
rubble and with only their bare hands to claw away the debris, many could
not save their relatives in time and had to endure the agony of hearing
their cries fade away.

The devastating effect this has had on the survivors has been profound,
especially on children. According to UNICEF, some 4,812 children lost
either one or both parents. Many of the orphaned children were sent to
other towns, including Kerman, Shiraz and Tehran. Others were taken into
care by extended family members but some 200 children are currently in
orphanages in Bam and Kerman, the nearest city.

"Group therapy has helped me deal with memories," 11-year old Leyla told
IRIN. This is her third session, in a portacabin that doubles up as a
kindergarten in the centre of town. Colourful pictures of happy families
and perfect rows of homes surrounded by gardens are tacked on the walls -
the children's little masterpieces of visions of hope. The drawings also
reflect the children's more positive state of mind - straight after the
quake the pictures depicted horrific scenes of death and destruction the
children had witnessed, almost always drawn in black crayon.

"There are several techniques that group therapy teaches you. One is just
like changing a CD. So if you're thinking bad thoughts of what happened
during the earthquake, you just change over the CD - my CD is of a jungle
with flowers and animals. It's very beautiful." Leyla explains. Leyla lost
her two older sisters in the earthquake and countless extended family
members and friends. Group therapy sessions have been a chance for her to
make new friends and share her experiences.

"Straight after the earthquake the survivors felt shock and anger - sheer
disbelief for what had happened to them," Dr Abeeyaat, a clinical
psychologist working for the IRCS and ECO (Economic Cooperation
Organisation) and supported by the Health Ministry, told IRIN. "The
situation they're in has only just started to really sink in, and for some
the grieving process has only just begun," he said.

Abeeyaat receives referrals from the Ministry Of Health - survivors who
cannot be helped by group therapy sessions and need more intensive
face-to-face counselling. It has been a busy year for Abeeyaat and he sees
up to 10 referrals a day. He does not expect a reduction in his workload
any time soon. "Unfortunately the healing process takes a long time - you
don't get better in a year."

According to Abeeyaat, a huge surge in drug abuse is plaguing the healing
process - many Bamis have turned to opium and heroin to cope with the
pain. Being so near the porous mountain passes of Afghanistan, the drugs
flow in freely and what was once seen by many as an acceptable cultural
pastime is turning into a worrying epidemic.

"It's a big problem and now we're also seeing prescription drug abuse,"
says Abeeyaat. "We need to act fast to try and change people's cultural
perceptions of opium - that's one way of tackling the problem."

Abeeyaat says the next step for the survivors of Bam would be family
counselling sessions. UNICEF is working with the Ministry of Health to
extend services to life-skills training and teaching and they are
supporting the training of professionals from the Ministry of Health, and
social welfare organisations in trauma identification and group trauma
counselling, led by Norway's Centre for Crisis Psychology, which comprises
1,380 teachers and 105 counsellors.


Perhaps the most dramatic change evident in Bam is social. Although Bam
was renowned in Iran for being a middle-class affluent city populated by
educated professionals, it was nevertheless a deeply conservative place,
where traditional values ruled. Women married young and stayed indoors.
But for the first time, the patriarchal family structure has been given a
jolt - thousands of women are now finding themselves as heads of
households. The business of everyday family life are in their hands.

"It is giving us confidence - that we have to be strong and get on with
it," said Nahid, a 33-year old mother of three who lost her husband in the
earthquake. Nahid encourages women in her street to meet up and help
families out. "It gets them out of the house - it can be boring sitting in
all day waiting for things to happen. And when you've got nothing but your
thoughts, depression gets worse," she told IRIN.

More and more headscarves are being worn instead of the tent-like black
chador. Headscarves were simply more practical to sift through the rubble
in and for many there was no turning back.

Many Bamis say that families have become more tolerant, especially
concerning matters of the heart. "My neighbours found out that their
daughter had fallen in love with a boy a few prefabs down," 17-year old
Ali Jezeeni told IRIN. "Before, there would have been hell to pay. Yes,
the family were angry but they have bigger things to worry about. However,
the couple are banned from seeing each other."


Two major sources of income for Bam were the tourism trade and the dates
that hung heavy from the date trees. Thousands of tourists a year would
come to Bam to get lost in the labyrinthine alleys of its deserted walled
citadel. Over 2,000 years old, many travellers claimed it was a wonder of
the Middle East. With most of it crumbled into dust and now, apart from
parts of the old fortress, it resembles a giant pit of crumbling mud

UNESCO has agreed to include Bam as a World Heritage Site which should
enable increased funding. There are proposals to rebuild the citadel which
Bam residents told IRIN would greatly assist regeneration of the tourist
industry. A few adventurous tourists have started to trickle back, on
their way to Pakistan, with a macabre curiosity to experience living in a
city ravaged by death and destruction. But they are not enough to bring
any hope to the citizens of Bam who used to rely so heavily on their cash.

After a shaky start, the date industry is looking more hopeful. The
earthquake had disrupted the underground water systems, known as "qanats"
that fed much of the water to the date farms. The Iranian authorities and
several NGOs acted quickly to repair damage and redirect the water.


"The people in Bam are without hope, worried about their future," Abeeyaat
told IRIN. Certainly most of the survivors IRIN spoke to said they had
resigned themselves to the fact that their lives have been irrevocably

"The Bam tragedy underscores the need for increased attention to disaster
prevention and risk reduction," Jan Egeland, United Nations Emergency
Relief Coordinator, said.
"There is a need to pay more attention to essential buildings and
infrastructure, such as schools and hospitals, which are key when an
earthquake strikes," said Salvano Briceno, director of the United Nations
International Strategy for Disaster Reduction. "Architects, mayors, local
and regional land planners have to work hand in hand to reduce
vulnerability and to design safer buildings," he added.

And these words echo even more strongly in the light of the tsunami in
Asia, which killed at least 150,000 people and happened a year after the
earthquake in Bam - almost to the hour. Many Bamis feel overshadowed by
the Asia quake, and feel their plight will now be forgotten.

"We know what they're going through," Reza told IRIN. "I know Bam will
never be the same again, and that we'll get less support now from the
world as they have bigger disasters to see to, but as long as I have a
roof over my head, I'll be happy."

Copyright (c) UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2005

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