- The Washington Times - Monday, March 2, 2020

Iran is suffering coronavirus deaths at 20 times the official number put out by the hardline Islamic state, according to a major resistance group.

Iran reports 54 deaths so far, the second highest country number after the virus’ source, China, which reports nearly 3,000 fatalities. But the People’s Mujahideen of Iran (MEK) said on Monday that the death toll in Iran exceeds 1,000.

An official count published by Johns Hopkins University says Iran has had 978 cases, for a 5.5 percent mortality rate. China has the lion’s share of sicknesses, over 80,000, and a 3.5 percent death rate.

Michael Rubin, a Middle East scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, said Iran could become a major conduit for spreading the virus to its neighbors.

“The Iranian leadership appears more willing to blame others and sanctions rather than accept any accountability for themselves and so more people will die,” Mr. Rubin told The Washington Times. “It’s just one more way Iran will screw over Iraq, and from Iraq it could spread in a cross-sectarian way throughout the rest of the Middle East.”

The Trump administration has imposed economic sanctions on Iran that exempt medical supplies and drugs.

MEK said that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the dominate security force protecting the mullahs’ regime, is hoarding medical supplies.

“Preventive medical resources and equipment are essentially in the possession of the Revolutionary Guards and regime officials,” said MEK, which operates a source network throughout Iran.

“Ordinary patients are deprived of many basic needs, such as masks and disinfectant liquids,” it said. “The hoarding of masks and other medical equipment and their sale on the black market by the IRGC and other government agencies have become routine. Regime officials and state media have acknowledged that such equipment is sometimes sold at 10 times the actual price.”

Inmates are helpless to fight off infection.

“Prisoners are deprived of masks and disinfectants,” MEK said. “In some prisons, such as Ghezel-Hesar, even soap and detergents are not available.”

MEK said that a citizen sentenced to death for his part in the November street protests has contracted the disease.

Marlyam Rajavi, who heads the National Council of Resistance of Iran, called on Iranians to stage protests and strikes until the IRGC relinquishes control of hospitals and doctors.

MEK said there have been 300 deaths in the city of Qom and 209 in Tehran.

The virus has reached the inner circle of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. On Monday, adviser Mohammed Mirmohammadi, 71, was the first government official to succumb.

• Rowan Scarborough can be reached at rscarborough@washingtontimes.com.

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