U.S. coronavirus cases have surpassed 200,000 and the official federal Coronavirus Task Force is already estimating 100,000-240,000 deaths. But even in the face of an increasingly severe pandemic at home, the U.S. is continuing to saber-rattle and escalate tensions abroad with Iran.

Donald Trump’s administration has carried out a series of provocations and attacks that have sharply escalated the conflict between the U.S. and Iran. In 2018, his administration scrapped the Iran Nuclear Deal, and in 2019 a series of attacks and seizures of oil tankers threatened to spark a regional war between Iran and the U.S. In January of this year the U.S. assassinated Iranian General Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad in response to attacks by Iranian-backed militias in Iraq. This move was a dramatic escalation that pushed the two countries to the brink of war.

At the same time, there were large protests throughout the U.S. against a potential war. Protests of this magnitude against U.S. wars have been practically nonexistent since the movement against the Iraq War died down, and the burst of outrage against war with Iran was a real step forward for the anti-war movement in this country. Although full-scale war between the U.S. and Iran didn’t break out, tensions have continued to simmer, even as the coronavirus pandemic ravages both countries.

The coronavirus pandemic has been particularly severe in Iran. Iran was one of the first nations outside of China to face a severe outbreak of the Coronavirus, and as of April 3rd has over 50,000 cases and over 3,000 deaths. The government has attempted to control information about the outbreak and is suspected of under-reporting death counts. Satellite images showed mass graves being dug in the city of Qom in February, when Iran was first hit by the disease. Currently the country is preparing for the possibility of a second wave of the pandemic, as death tolls continue to rise. Shortages of medical supplies are severe, and have been further exacerbated by U.S. sanctions which prevent many necessities—including medicine and medical gear—from entering Iran.

U.S. sanctions on Iran have long served as a form of economic warfare. U.S. sanctions against a country or individual essentially make it illegal for others to do business with the object of the sanctions, thereby cutting them off from access to U.S.-based financial institutions. Because of the U.S. elite’s dominance in international trade and finance, it is able to use sanctions to bully countries into submission. Restricting trade and preventing countries like Iran from trading with the U.S. or using the US Dollar can do serious harm to a nation’s economy and people.

The sanctions on Iran are some of the most severe in the world. They have caused massive inflation for basic necessities like food. While medicine and medical supplies are technically exempted from the sanctions, the sanctions on banks and financial transactions mean that it is almost impossible for Iran to pay back loans or reimburse importers. As a result, basic medicines and medical gear are constantly in short supply.

Even before the current pandemic this led to major shortages and unnecessary deaths. For example, drugs used to treat cancer patients were already in short supply in Iran prior to the outbreak of the Coronavirus. Now, as even industrialized countries in North America and Europe face shortages of masks, ventilators, and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), the Iranian people are suffering immensely from a medical system strained by years of sanctions.

These sanctions have also led to further tensions between the U.S. and powerful EU countries such as France and Germany, since companies like Total and BMW have deep business interests with Iran. Prior to the Nuclear Deal being torn up, these countries had increased their investments and signed new contracts with Iranian capitalists, but the imposition of sanctions by Trump prevented them from reaping the profits. In the current crisis, these countries have moved to bypass U.S. sanctions to send medical supplies to Iran, a further sign of deteriorating ties between the U.S. and the E.U. This bypassing of the sanctions was more reflective of shifting geopolitical interests than genuine humanitarian aid, given the E.U.’s shamefully slow response to aiding its own member-countries like Italy.

Despite increasing calls to lift the sanctions on Iran and other countries, sections of the U.S. ruling class are continuing to pursue hawkish policies against the Iranian people, using this crisis as an opportunity to deepen their economic warfare. For example, a bipartisan interest group called “United Against Nuclear Iran” has been pressuring pharmaceutical companies and the Trump administration to completely cut off medical sales to Iran during the pandemic. This type of economic warfare is genocidal in its logic, and shows the willingness of the U.S. ruling class to sacrifice millions of lives for their interests.

The U.S. ruling class, and in particular the Trump administration, has continued and escalated its own imperialist aggression in the region throughout this crisis. In large part, this is an effort by the U.S. to curtail Iran’s efforts to dominate and control the political and economic life of Iraq. The competition of these two countries over Iraq has led to much outrage among the Iraqi people. The U.S. imperialists—especially the hawks in the Trump administration—are determined to beat Iran in this competition and maintain a heavy degree of control over Iraq to justify the now 17-year long American occupation, which has been an expensive and catastrophic failure from the standpoint of the warmongers. The U.S. has failed to subdue the resistance of the Iraqi people and turn Iraq into an obedient neo-colony. This has allowed competing capitalist countries like Iran and China to step in and attempt to dominate Iraq for their own interests.

But while the Iranian government has pursued these aims, more recently it has been hit hard by the virus, and is quite divided on how to stop the outbreak from worsening. The pandemic has prevented Iran from adequately carrying out its plans to gain further control and influence in Iraq, and this has allowed the Trump administration to capitalize on the crisis. While the Trump administration has itself been divided on what next steps to take against Iran and Iranian-backed militias in Iraq, neither the hawks or the so-called “doves” are considering easing sanctions to help the people of Iran. Instead, the position of increasing militarism is winning out in the White House. Donald Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien have been pushing hard for further military confrontation with Iran and its proxies during the pandemic.

On March 12, the U.S. carried out 5 airstrikes in Iraq in response to a rocket attack carried out by one of several Iranian-backed militias, Kataib Hezbollah. On March 27, it was reported that the Pentagon had directed military commanders to prepare a campaign to destroy these militias. The Pentagon has been rushing missile systems, bombers, drones, and military/engineering personnel to the region. The weapons companies which benefit from these continued wars have continued to thrive. For example, the weapons company Raytheon not only had its merger with United Technologies approved, but was also recently granted a $146 Million guided-missile contract for the U.S. Navy.

All this exposes the real interests of the U.S. ruling class. As the current pandemic rips across the country, hospitals face acute shortages, testing remains hugely inadequate, and hundreds of thousands if not millions are projected to die. The U.S. elite happily continue to open up the state coffers to fund war and destruction, paying war profiteering companies to produce missiles instead of medical equipment. The U.S. elite are also escalating tensions with rivals like Iran, because ultimately profit and geopolitical domination are their main goals. The vast majority of people in this country have nothing to gain from a war with Iran, especially not during a global pandemic. Serious resistance should be raised to push back against these war hawks, to end the sanctions and ensure both the U.S. and Iran can mitigate their respective outbreaks, and to prevent another imperialist war waged in the name of profit.