Saturday, July 08, 2006

Why Iran Today?


Dilip Hiro talks about his interest in West Asia, especially Iran.

"nuclear iran"--TO call him a prolific author would be to state the obvious. Yes, he writes with great ease. More importantly, every time he wields the pen, he raises a few questions, answers a few himself. An expert on West Asia politics, he has been exposing the lies behind the U.S. proclamations of peace and democracy in the region. Having already penned two well-selling books on Afghanistan and Iraq, Dilip Hiro's Iran Today has just hit the stands. He shares some nuggets about his book as also the changing politics of the region.

After Iraq: A Report from the Inside, and Secrets and Lies: The True Story of the Iraq War, we now have Iran Today. Are you focusing on the countries of the "Axis of Evil" as defined by U.S. President George Bush in 2002?

Two of the three countries — Iraq, Iran and North Korea — allegedly forming Bush's "Axis of Evil" happen to be in West Asia, my area of specialisation for more than a quarter century. West Asia is also the most violent area on earth, being the site of four major armed conflicts in the post-Second World War era. The 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War was the longest conventional warfare of the 20th Century. And the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq in 2003 has proved to be the most expensive war in history — if you leave aside the tens of thousands of civilian lives it has claimed. Although Bush bracketed Iran with Iraq, forgetting their bitter war, which resulted in 5,00,000 deaths, the two neighbours are different in many ways. Even Condoleeza Rice says, "Iran is not Iraq".

How different?

Iran is four times larger than Iraq, and three times more populous. Iraq emerged as an independent state in 1932. Iran is one of the few non-European countries, which was not colonised.

Unlike Arabic, Persian is an Indo-European tongue, which was used as court language not only in the Indian subcontinent for seven centuries but also at the court of the Ottoman Turks. Sharing land frontiers with seven countries and fluvial borders with two (Russia and Kazakhstan), and having shorelines on the Persian Gulf, Arabian Sea and Caspian Sea, Iran is the most strategic country on earth.

So long as Bush is stuck in the quagmire of Iraq, he does not have the option of a conventional invasion of Iran. As for "surgical strikes", the Pentagon will have to mount almost 1,000 strike sorties to hit all the factories and workshops making centrifuge parts for uranium enrichment and yellow cake conversion equipment.

Some of the suspect sites will turn out to be innocuous factories or schools. Imagine then the reaction not only in Iran but also among the Shia communities in the region and outside, and the upsurge of anti-American feelings in the Muslim world already running high, as the recent international poll by the U.S.-based Pew Research Centre has shown.

After the invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003, Bush's "Axis of Evil" is reduced to Iran and North Korea. When referring to North Korea, Bush never says, "The military option is on the table" which he does whenever he mentions Iran. Why?

The contrast between Iran and North Korea is truly striking. According to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, North Korea has weapons-grade plutonium for half a dozen bombs. It claims to have assembled an atom bomb or two, a statement that remains unverified. It withdrew from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 2003, and it has the most advanced missiles in the world after the U.S. and Russia. By contrast, Iran has only just enriched uranium to a degree suitable for civilian power plants on an experimental basis. It remains a signatory to the NPT, and its nuclear activities are being conducted under the watchful eye of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors. Its medium-range missiles are capable of carrying only conventional weapons.

One could argue that because North Korea has advanced so far on its nuclear weapons programme, the Bush administration is treating it with kid gloves and has got bogged down in six-nation negotiations with North Korea. These multi-lateral talks involve China and Russia with a veto at the United Nations Security Council.

China and Russia were the big players at the recent Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Conference (SCO) summit in Shanghai. Why did Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad attend this meeting? And isn't the SCO a mere pressure group in international politics?

The six-member SCO - consisting of China and Russia and their four Central Asian neighbours - invited all the four nations accorded observer status last year - Iran, India, Pakistan and Mongolia. All of them, except India, sent their chief executives. That is how Ahmadinejad turned up. In Shanghai while Russian President Vladimir proposed that the SCO should form an "energy club", Ahmadinejad invited SCO members to a meeting in Teheran to discuss energy exploration and development in the region, and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf highlighted the geo-strategic position of his country as an energy and trade corridor for SCO members.

Significantly, Petroleum Minister Murli Deora represented India. All observer countries applied for full membership. If that comes to pass, the 10-member SCO will represent more than half of the human race. It will bring together energy-hungry China and India with hydrocarbon-rich Russia, Kazakhstan and Iran. Remember Iran was the first West Asian country where petroleum was found (in 1908). Now it has the second largest oil reserves in the world and is the third largest supplier of petroleum to India. It also has the second largest natural gas reserves on the planet. So you can see why my latest book is called Iran Today.
posted by ali ghannadi-irannuk


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