I Ran From Iran

Wars based on lies. Colonel Larry Wilkerson, former Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell during the presidency of George W. Bush, recently confessed that he was one of the architects of the 2003 invasion of Iraq by America. The war was based on the lie that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and was poised to attack the West. Wilkerson added that when he was a young 21-year-old soldier, he fought in the Vietnam War which was also based on a lie. Back then, it was President Lyndon Johnson who fabricated the lie that two US ships in the Gulf of Tonkin had come under fire in international waters. Within three years after the “unprovoked” attack on American assets, there would be half a million US soldiers fighting in Vietnam. The same template for presidential war making was used on January 3 when Trump ordered the assassination of Iran’s revered major general, Qasem Suleimani. Many regarded him as the real James Bond of Iran – suave, sure and licensed to kill. The urghhling Trump announced that the killing of Suleimani, whilst he was in Baghdad, was to prevent an “imminent” attack on US assets, including the US embassy in Baghdad. Strangely, this important fact was never mentioned in any obligatory advice to Congress. To neutralise (a well disguised word for kill) a senior guy of a strong enemy nation in Iraq, a sovereign friendly country, without their prior knowledge or permission? That’s making more enemies in the Islamic world, and no matter how they sell the benefits of this kill to the American people, it surely cannot make them feel safer. As the head of Iran’s elite paramilitary Quds Force, Suleimani was “the vanguard of Iran’s alliance with armed groups in the Middle East, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza and a coalition of militia in Iraq.” He was a powerful influence in the Middle East. The assassination of Suleimani twenty months after Trump tore up the nuclear agreement with Iran despite the opposition by all other partners – Germany, England, France, Russia and China – may be another attempt to prod the Iranians to retaliate disproportionately so that the US can have an excuse for war. The two nations were, once upon a time, friends. During the 19th century, it was the British Empire and Soviet Russia that had Iran (known as Persia until 1935) sandwiched. Blessed with oil in the ground and its location in the Persian Gulf, it could be said this was also their curse. During WW2, the two allies invaded Iran on the pretext of countering the Nazis sphere of influence. In 1953, the US, for the first time, undertook a covert action to overthrow an elected foreign government during peacetime. Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh had insisted on auditing the books of their 50/50 joint venture with the Brits, known then as the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. Today, it is simply named BP. Although promised 16% of “net profits”, Iran hardly received a cent for all the oil that flowed. When the Brits refused to have their books audited, Mosaddegh through his parliament, nationalised Iran’s oil industry. That was enough reason for Winston Churchill and Dwight Eisenhower to plot the overthrow of the Iranian government. After the coup d’état, Mosaddegh was imprisoned for treason – a good example to show winners write the law, and losers lose everything. The CIA hired fierce mobsters to stage pro-Shah riots causing mayhem and death in the streets of Tehran. Is this also a template for creating civil unrests and riots to topple elected governments? I am reminded of the long suffering fiasco that is Hong Kong today. Mohamad Pahlavi was installed as the Shah of Iran after the coup. During his reign, the dictator was mostly a loyal “puppet” of the US until he was deposed by people power in the 1979 Iran Revolution. The “impossible” had become “inevitable” in a matter of months and brought to power an Islamic clergy armed with the Quran and “Divine Right”. It still seems incongruous that a cleric can bring down a monarchy that had lasted 2,500 years since the beginning of the Persian Empire. The Shah fled to the US for cancer treatment and to avoid trial for crimes against his country. This incensed the people who stormed the US embassy in Tehran and held 52 embassy staff hostage for 444 days. Ayatollah Khomeini viewed America as the “Great Satan” whilst he was undoubtedly treated by the Americans as an enemy of the state. The two countries have ceased diplomatic relations ever since – this, a far cry from the Shah era when the US provided Iran with their first nuclear reactor in 1957, and ten years later, armed them with weapons grade enriched uranium. Iran’s superior military might over its Middle East neighbours was also largely due to American help.

In recent months, The Mrs and I have been discussing a holiday to Iran and maybe Jordan. Sorry, for her, definitely Jordan. For me, definitely Iran. Since news broke about the possibility of war between the US and Iran, these holiday plans are now put on hold, indefinitely. As soon as there was talk of war in Iran, I ran through my bucket list for alternative “must do” holidays instead. Suddenly, Iran is no longer in my plans for next year, even though there is so much to see and learn about the old Persian Empire. I shall have to forgo a visit to the ancient capital, Persepolis – it is one of the world’s greatest archaeological sites. The long rock relief carvings of servants bearing gifts in front of the Palace of Darius was one place I told myself not to miss. I was not game enough to tell The Mrs Jordan’s Al-Maghtas or Baptism Site “Bethany Beyond the Jordan” pales into insignificance compared to Persepolis. She may very well ask me about Wadi Rum, known also as the Valley of the Moon. The Persian Empire’s first King, Cyrus the Great, freed the Jews from the Babylonian Empire and returned them to Jerusalem. You would think this single fact alone would make Iran and Israel friendly states forever. Yet, today they are openly hostile to each other. I had wanted to trace Cyrus’ footsteps and also look for Zoroastrian artefacts. I have read a little about how the religion Zoroaster started – it being one of the world’s oldest monotheistic religions. The fact that today a Japanese carmaker, Mazda, is named after this deity is quite remarkable and intriguing to me. Also on my bucket list was to follow the tracks of Alexander the Great in his victory over Darius the 3rd and therefore, the fall of the Persian Empire. In fact, it was only last year that I decided I must visit Tehran, after having watched Septembers of Shiraz. Although the story was nerve wrecking and showed the ugliness of the revolutionary guards, it did not convince me that the revolution itself was ugly. Not when 98% of the country supported the removal of the Shah and the Americans. Damn Trump. The urghhling has spoilt my holiday plan. As much as that’s annoying, it is nothing compared to potential lives lost. Iran’s first retaliatory measure for the drone attack that killed their General was to bomb American military bases in Iraq. Thankfully, no lives were lost. The threat of war is, despite this, very real. The threat of terrorist attacks at home and abroad is even more likely. Let’s hope he has not started another cycle of killings and revenge from this idiotic decision to assassinate a hero of Iran. It now seems near-certain that the downing of Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 with 176 lives lost was a case of Iranian authorities mistaking the passenger plane as a US warplane. For me, the blame can be attributed to Trump. After all, he started it. He broke the three-year-old nuclear agreement brokered by Obama. His sanctions and travel bans have made life miserable for the Iranian people. They, like any other people in the world, just want to live a peaceful and happy life. With threat of war over their heads and further sanctions imposed, their misery is being ratcheted up. Why, urghhling Trump?

Naqsh-e Rostam, an ancient necropolis, about 12 km from Persepolis

P.S. 16 hours after I wrote this, Iran admitted their mistake in downing the Ukrainian jetliner – the plane was mistaken for a “hostile target” after it turned toward a “sensitive military centre” of the Revolutionary Guard. Days earlier, Trump had threatened to hit “very hard and very fast” 52 Iranian targets including cultural sites of historical value.