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An End To Tehran's Troubles Not In Sight As Iranian Year Comes To End

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, President Hassan Rouhani and the newly-appointed commander of the IRGC Qods Force Ismail Qaani, attend a mourning ceremony for slain top general Qassem Soleimani, January 9, 2020

Iran starts a new year Friday morning March 20, as it leaves behind one of its worst years ever. Iranians on social media have already coined names for the unbelievably destructive year and the opponents of the Islamic regime like to say the end is near.

The year started with devastating floods all over the country in March and April affecting millions of Iranians, destroying their homes, schools, businesses and workplaces and ruining the infrastructure that was built over decades, and in some cases centuries before the Islamic Republic.

In May 2019, on the anniversary of the United States' pull-out from the nuclear deal, President Donald Trump decided not to renew exemptions for a handful of countries that were still able to buy a limited amount of Iran’s oil. This was a total let-down for Tehran that seemed to be content with selling around one million barrels of crude per day.

As an angry reaction, Iran started to reduce its obligations under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), or the 2015 nuclear deal.

In the meantime, Tehran refused to negotiate a new deal in order to eliminate international concerns about its nuclear and ballistic missile programs and its destabilizing regional ambitions.

This led to further U.S. sanctions and the intensification of the United States' maximum pressure policy against Iran while Europe failed in its attempts to help Iran in its biggest economic crisis that was exacerbated by its inability to export oil and repatriate its revenues as a result of ever-tightening sanctions.

Meanwhile, unable to sort out its problems through diplomacy, Iran resorted to measures that endangered the safety of commercial navigation in the Persian Gulf and escalated the tensions in the region to an extremely dangerous level.

This adventurism included the downing of a U.S. drone and a missile and drone attack on Saudi Arabia's oil establishments as well as attacks on oil tankers in the summer of 2019 while refusing to acknowledge its responsibility for some of these actions.

In September, thanks to diplomatic moves by French President Emmanuel Macron, a breakthrough in relations between Iran and the United States seemed within reach ahead of and during the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York.

Macron had reportedly worked to broker a deal that would have lifted some of the sanctions. But Iran's President Hassan Rouhani shied away from a telephone meeting with Trump as he lacked authorization from Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei who insisted all the sanctions should be lifted before a meeting at any level.

Rouhani later explained that he was still ready to talk with Trump, but he had already lost that rare window of opportunity which does not happen every day, and more importantly, he was still not ready for a real give and take. His understanding of negotiation was utterly naive and non-diplomatic.

In November, under immense pressure as a result of the sanctions, Tehran decided to increase the price of gasoline and other fuels to make ends meet. However, once again, chaos in decision-making and lack of a proper methodology turned a simple executive decision into a catastrophe.

The three-fold price hike and chaos in implementing the decision enraged the people and led to days of protest during which around 1,500 were reported killed by security forces and more than 8,000 arrested.

The way the government handled the crisis, did more damage to Rouhani and the Islamic Republic's integrity and legitimacy. But the worst was yet to come.

In January, Qods Force Commander Qassem Soleimani was killed in Baghdad during a U.S. strike. Around 60 people were trampled to death during his funeral in Kerman. And when Iran decided to hit the U.S. back with a missile attack on coalition military bases in Iraq, an Iranian anti-aircraft battery shot down a Ukrainian airliner minutes after take-off from the Tehran airport, killing 176 people on board.

The controversy and lack of transparency surrounding the development eroded the last remnants of the people's trust in the government. Yet, this was not still the worst that could happen to the government and people of Iran.

In January, the city of Qom near Tehran was reportedly infected with coronavirus as a result of a catalogue of causes including lack of transparency, mismanagement and profiteering. But the government allegedly hid the contagion fearing that the resulting shock would affect the anniversary of the revolution on February 1 and the parliament elections on February 21.

Officials announced the first coronavirus deaths only two days before the elections and refused to quarantine Qom.

By the time the epidemic was acknowledged many had already died in Qom, Kashan, Tehran and Gilan. Within a weak the deadly contagion spread to the rest of the country infecting tens of thousands and killing more than 1,700 and possibly more as of March 19.

Analysts in the Iranian media say even after the government told the people about the outbreak, people tended not to take its advices seriously as they no longer trusted the government.

In the meantime, several weeks after the start of the outbreak there is still a lot of chaos and ambiguity about who is in charge of disease prevention and control. At one point, Khamenei handed over the matter to the military which promised to control the disease from the day after, but it never happened and no one has heard of the commander who promised disease control by training volunteer militia and using them at hospitals.

Medical equipment and hygienic necessities are still scarce, and no one explains where donations by foreign countries including Japan, China and Qatar have ended up. In the meantime, people who do not trust the government are traveling around the country ahead of the New Year, further spreading the virus while criticizing the administration's inefficiency.

The year comes to an end early Friday morning, but an end to troubles for Iran is unlikely to appear any time soon as a fifth rider rides alongside the four horsemen of the apocalypse: Critics say it is the horseman of incompetence.