Saudi-Qatari rift: Submission is survival

By Ameen Izzadeen
In the sea of world politics, it is a norm that the big fish eats the small fish. For small States, sovereignty is a myth. When the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) was formed in 1981, some Arab analysts saw it as an attempt by Saudi Arabia to swallow up the small emirates on its eastern borders.
In effect, the GCC is a Saudi-led defence bloc, as much as an economic bloc. Since the 2011 Arab Spring shock, Riyadh has resorted to aggressive and assertive diplomacy to maintain the Saudi-led political order in the troubled Middle East. For disobeying its dictates, Yemen is paying a huge price. Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain have genuflected in tribal style to the Saudis — but not Qatar and, to some extent, Oman. The two nations maintain friendly ties with Iran, largely for economic reasons, and have refused to endorse Saudi Arabia’s anti-Shiite hatred.
In January last year, when Saudi Arabia wanted all GCC members to sever ties with Iran, following a mob attack on the Saudi embassy in Teheran, oil-and-gas-rich Qatar only recalled its ambassador, without severing ties with Iran. Qatar feels it needs to maintain good relations with Iran for it to jointly explore the North Field-South Pars gas fields in the seas between Qatar and Iran. (See map)
Qatar, which has a history of troubled relations with Saudi Arabia, has been asserting its political independence in recent years, much to the chagrin of Riyadh. Qatar’s outreach to Iran and its support for Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood have infuriated the Saudis. Moreover, the relatively independent reporting of the Doha-based al Jazeeera has also been a bone of contention.
The Qataris also resent Saudi Arabia’s interference in their internal affairs. Border disputes and a Saudi hand in palace coups have also soured relations. Against this backdrop, Qatar saw an opportunity in the Arab Spring to put in motion a Middle Eastern order scripted by it. It supported the Arab Spring, while Saudi Arabia, shocked by the courage of the Arab masses, feared a similar uprising in the kingdom. To say that Saudi Arabia is no lover of democracy, is an understatement. It chops off the head of democracy at first sight, just as it chops off the heads of dissidents such as Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, the leader of Saudi Arabia’s Shiites, who make up 10 percent of the population. His crime was demanding democracy and political reforms, just as the Americans demanded a greater say in government, when they rose against the Brits in the 1700s, shouting “No taxation without representation.”
Neither is Qatar an advocate of democracy. While the Saudis unsuccessfully tried to prop up the autocracy of Hosni Mubarak, Qatar’s support for Egypt’s Arab Spring and the Muslim Brotherhood, which was elected to power in Egypt’s first ever democratic elections, was largely geopolitical. With Egypt under its wraps, Qatar set sight on regime change in Libya, providing arms and money to anti-Gaddafi rebels, some of whom were al-Qaeda affiliates and foreign fighters. No sooner the Muammar Gaddafi regime was overthrown than Qatar targeted Syria for the next regime change exercise. The lightning speed with which Qatar moved from one theatre to another gave the Saudis little time to respond or check the high-riding Qataris and the growing popularity of the Muslim Brotherhood across the region. Qatar’s plan was to open, via Egypt, a support and supply line to the Syrian Brotherhood which, having fought a rebellion against Damascus in 1982, was the most powerful dissident group in Syria.
When the dust settled on the Arab world after the Arab Spring upheaval, Saudi Arabia, together with the UAE, rolled out their plan to oust the Brotherhood government in Egypt. Although the United States was seen adopting an equidistant policy, vis-à-vis the Saudi-Qatari rivalry, it discreetly backed the Saudi moves. This was because the Brotherhood government looked east towards Iran and China.
Qatar poured in billions of US dollars to help Egypt’s Brotherhood government overcome its economic woes. But, secret US-Saudi counter-moves contributed to the early collapse of the Brotherhood government and the return of the military in civilian garb, with pseudo democratic credentials.
In Syria, Qatar continued to support the Brotherhood, while the Saudis, it is alleged, relied on Al Qaeda- and ISIS-backed groups to topple the Syrian government. Leaked Hillary Clinton emails also confirm Qatar’s and Saudi Arabia’s links with extremist groups. Hence, the Saudi accusation that Qatar supported terrorism smacks of hypocrisy of the worst order. On Wednesday, Wahhabi/Takfiri terrorists struck in Iran, much to the glee of the Saudis and Washington. Donald Trump’s White House said in a statement: “We underscore that States that sponsor terrorism, risk falling victim to the evil they promote.” Of course, such a statement can be said of 9/11 and the recent acts of terrorism in Europe.
In March 2014, the rift between Saudi Arabia and Qatar reached its nadir, with Qatar facing a crisis similar to what it experiences now. Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE recalled their ambassadors from Qatar, while Riyadh even threatened to impose a sea-and-land blockade, forcing Qatar’s young emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani to mend his country’s policies to placate the Saudis.
The present crisis appears more serious than the 2014 fallout. The Saudis and their vassal States, including the tiny Maldives, have severed ties with Qatar and imposed an economic blockade, after accusing it of supporting extremism.
The tough punitive measures followed reports—the result of an alleged hacking of the Qatari news agency—that the Qatari emir cautioned allies against confrontation with Iran, and defended the Palestinian resistance group Hamas and Hezbollah, a Lebanese Shi’ite movement allied with Teheran.
Incidentally, the Saudi-led moves followed email leaks that exposed the UAE’s back channel ties with Israel. The leaks broadcast through Al-Jazeera said the UAE’s US ambassador maintained close relations with pro-Israeli think tanks in the US. It is no secret that the policies of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Israel merge well with regard to their hostility towards Iran. It is noteworthy to mention that Israel was quick to welcome Saudi Arabia’s moves against Qatar. Besides, the Saudi foreign minister has insisted that Qatar sever its links with Hamas, if it wants the kingdom to normalise relations.
The shenanigans are as shocking as they are treacherous. Israel occupies the Palestinian land, including Jerusalem—and the custodian of Islam’s holiest shrines wants Palestinian freedom fighters penalised. The noble King Faisal, who restored Saudi pride with the oil boycott of 1973, in retaliation to US support for Israel, must be turning in his grave.
Given the Trump administration’s Saudi bias, Qatar, which is home to the biggest US military base in the Middle East, has no option but to surrender before the might of the Saudis, and be a Bahrain. It appears there is no end to the flow of the Middle East’s troubles.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Riyadh summit: The Trump card was a joker

By Ameen Izzadeen
The Arabic word Riyadh means meadow. A slight variation of the word, or if one adds the letter Ta Marbuta at the end, the word will read Riyadhah, meaning a sport. Well, what a spectacle Donald Trump’s Riyadh reception last week was? Its dangerous repercussions were felt on Monday night in Manchester where during a pop concert, 22 people, mostly children, died in a suicide bomb attack carried out by a killer who allegedly professed the very extremism that Trump condemned and wanted his Arab-Islamic hosts to fight.
It was a spectacle, nay charade, because the Trump speech lacked depth and it sounded as though it was custom-made for the Saudis. There was more Iran bashing than ISIS bashing. In fact, Iran was projected as a bigger terrorist than ISIS. It made aging Saudi King Salman happy.
But no one is pointing a finger at Iran for the Manchester bomb. Instead, the focus should be on Saudi Arabia. But Britain, the United States or any other European power won’t point the finger at Saudi Arabia because of economic relations. They all milk the Saudi cow which also offers ideological milk to terrorists.
No condemnation of extremism is complete if it does not denounce forces behind such extremism. Well, it was no secret that some of the Riyadh summit leaders are culpable for the spread of violence in the name of Islam to achieve political ends.
Money, munitions and ideological support from Gulf Arab nations and Sunni bigots sustain the monster the Manchester bomber represented. In its insatiable thirst for human blood, millions of people – both Muslims and non-Muslims — in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Somalia, France, Belgium, Britain, the United States and scores of other countries have become its victims since 9/11.
Nevertheless, many Arab nations struck a strategic alliance with the extremists for a regime-change game first in Libya and then in Syria. Joining this unholy alliance was the West, including Britain and France. The European nations turned a blind eye when hundreds, if not thousands, of European-based jihadi extremists moved to Libya and Syria, while the United States sent special forces to train the extremists, whom the West, by way of deception, called moderate rebels.
After the success in Libya, the rich and powerful Arab nations together with the Western powers turned their attention to topple the Bashar al-Assad regime, and they did not mind even if it meant an alliance with the most ruthless terrorist groups. The Manchester massacre was a result of such myopic policies. It is said Manchester bomber Salman Abedi was radicalised by Libyan extremists.
Trump’s Riyadh speech was at best a sales talk, for it deliberately avoided including any mention of these home truths — or where the roots of this dangerous ideology lay – and secured US$ 450 billion sales.
Absent in Trump’s fake speech was any mention that the ISIS follows the same Wahhabi-Salafi Islam that is zealously promoted by Saudi Arabia. It was an ideology rooted in Ash’arism that stopped the progressive march of Mutazilism or rational Islam, which, during the Abbasid Caliphate (from the 8th to 13th century), took the Islamic world to the peak of science and philosophy, and brought life to an intellectually dying world, especially Europe. Ash’arism, with its anthropomorphic interpretation of matters spiritual contributed to the intellectual fall of the Islamic world. With its rise, the method of inquiry-based Islamic learning disappeared. Taqlid, or blindly following so-called scholars, became established. The spirit of Islam was ignored and the letter was liberally misused to suit the agendas of the ruling elite. Centuries later, with the discovery of oil and the establishment of Wahhabism, the Arab world became servile to the technologically advanced and militarily superior West. With all the money generated from oil, none of the Arab states, which came into being after the Arab betrayal of the Ottoman Empire, could rise as a knowledge-based nation, capable of making discoveries in science and medicine. Since they emerged as independent nations, their statecraft has been putting their trusts in one big power or another for survival, while suppressing dissent and democracy at home.
The dependence was evident when Saudi Arabia signed US$ 450 billion worth deals with the United States during the visit of Trump. The leader of the world’s most vibrant democracy said nothing about the Arab world’s pathetic human rights record or lack of democracy. The US$ 450 billion deal was a form of bribe to keep the new US president, a maverick of sort, on the side of Saudi Arabia, vis-à-vis the Sunni kingdom’s hostility towards Shiite Iran and the Assad regime in Syria. The bribe is also to buy the Trump administration’s connivance so that the Saudis could continue their excesses with impunity in Yemen, where thousands of children die of cholera and malnutrition if they are not killed by Saudi bombs.
Days after selling US$ 110 billion worth of arms to the Saudis, Trump the arms salesman on Wednesday had no qualms about meeting Pope Francis, who has denounced the arms industry as an evil that promotes conflicts and prevents peace. The meeting with the pontiff came after his visits to Israel and the West Bank, where just as his fake speech in Riyadh, his pledge to revive the peace process sounded empty.
Incidentally, whatever the arms the Saudis buy from the US cannot be used against Israel: That’s the caveat linked to the deal. Even if they are allowed to, it is unlikely that the Saudis will take up arms against Israel to free Palestine. They will fight only weak enemies – the poverty-stricken and under-nourished Yemenis or the unarmed pro-democracy protesters in Bahrain. Neither the Saudis nor any of the 50-odd Arab and Islamic leaders at the so-called Arab-Islamic-American summit corrected Trump for linking Palestinian group Hamas with al-Qaeda, Isis and Hezbollah. Ritualistic-minded Saudi King Salman told Trump not to drink from his left hand, but would not tell him that Hamas is a liberation movement. So much for their commitment to the liberation of Palestine!
Trump in his Sunday sermon to the Saudis said he did not come to lecture Arabs and Muslims what to do, but then he went on to give a lecture, urging the Muslims to condemn Islamic terrorism, and then assuming a holier-than-thou position, described the fight against Islamic terrorism as a war between good and evil.
In the runup to the presidential election, Trump had called for “a complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” He had said “Islam hates us”. Embattled at home for his alleged Russian connections, Trump is neither an Islamophobe nor an admirer of Islam, the faith of the world’s 1.7 billion people. He is a salesman and bully. And he got what he wanted from the Riyadh visit – billions of dollars and the Arab world’s submission.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror of Sri Lanka)

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Tuesday night massacre: Trump’s Watergate moment

By Ameen Izzadeen
The moment of truth has come for the United States. But in politics, truth is rarely told — and if told, it is told for a self-centred motive. Therefore it is naïve to assume that the embattled White House will tell the truth and nothing but the truth with regard to the allegation that Donald Trump had collaborated with Russia to get elected at the November 2016 election.
In Trump’s victory at the 2016 election, there is always more than meets the eye. So is it in Tuesday night’s firing of FBI Director James Comey, ostensibly on the grounds that he was not handling the Hillary Clinton email probe well. Trump said he fired Comey “because he wasn’t doing a good job.”
But Comey was also conducting investigations into allegations that Russia had a role in the Hillary Clinton email leaks and that the Trump team collaborated with Russia to influence the outcome of the election. It was only days before he was fired that Comey sought more funds for the Russia probe. Sacking the FBI director is nothing unusual. Bill Clinton did it in 1993. But people smell a rat when it’s done in the midst of a crucial investigation.
The allegations are serious. So is the sacking of Comey. The media could not resist the temptation of drawing parallels between the Comey crisis and the Watergate scandal that led to the resignation of US President Richard Nixon in 1974.
Yes, it is now becoming more than clear that Trump’s Watergate moment has come. Nixon fired special prosecutor Archibald Cox, who was investigating allegations that the White House had a role in the break-in at the Democratic Party office situated at the Watergate Complex in Washington DC.
Analysts said that Cox was close to prove that Nixon was part of the scandal. He asked the White House to release the tapes of conversations the President had secretly recorded. Nixon refused to oblige. Despite a public outcry for the President to comply with the request, a defiant Nixon first issued an order instructing Cox that he should seek no further material from the White House, and then sacked him in what came to be known as ‘the Saturday Night Massacre’. Alas! It only expedited Nixon’s fall from whatever grace he had been left with by then. With the Democrats dominating Congress, Nixon faced the prospect of being impeached. Unable to face the ignominy, he resigned.
Now, history appears to be repeating itself.
Most opposition Democratic Party politicians believe that Comey was fired because, like Cox, he was closing in on the truth.
What could this truth be? Given the controversies that scuttled Clinton’s chances at the election and Trump’s admiration for Russia, it appears that the allegations regarding Trump’s Russian connections are not totally without any basis.
Days before Trump’s inauguration on January 20, a dossier prepared by a former British spy working for private clients claimed that the Russians were in possession of some salacious video tapes of the President-elect.
If these claims were true, then hats off to Putin for his ingenuity. Perhaps, for the first time, a state, other than Israel, has demonstrated its ability to influence the outcome of the US presidential election.
The claims that Putin had unleashed a regime change operation in the US are not altogether surprising, given his animosity arising from Washington’s disdain for Russia’s security concerns, especially with regard to Ukraine. A US-engineered coup in Ukraine in 2014 overthrew the pro-Russian government there, prompting Russia to annex Crimea.
The ex-British spy identified as Christopher Steele, by July last year, had collected enough material. He felt the information was explosive and its implications could be overwhelming. The agent shared his dossier with his friends in the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), but he doubted FBI chief Comey’s impartiality. This was because, days before the elections, Comey scuttled Clinton’s chances of victory by announcing he was launching a fresh probe into Clinton emails – a move that, in the voters’ mind, raised questions about Clinton’s ability to hold the post of commander in chief.
The Bureau indeed opened an investigation into Trump and his team’s dealings with Russia, though it did not make an announcement, fearing that it might be interpreted as interfering with the vote. But following a meeting Republican Senator John McCain had with Comey after the election, US intelligence chiefs – including Comey — met the President-elect. They had showed him Steele’s dossier and a memo based on it. No sooner this meeting took place than CNN and Buzzfeed carried the dossier’s contents, prompting Trump to rubbish them as fake news and accuse the intelligence agencies of leaking the dossier to the media.
One of the shocking claims the dossier made was: Trump booked into Moscow’s Ritz hotel and occupied the same room President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle had once occupied. He had allegedly watched prostitutes perform a ‘golden showers’ act (urination) on the bed to express his deep dislike for the Obamas.
The dossier claimed that the Russians were secretly filming the perverted sex acts in the room. If the claims are true, it means the Russians have compromising material or immense liverage on the next US president. The dossier also claimed that Russia had been ‘cultivating, supporting and assisting Trump for at least five years.
Strangely enough, nothing brings out the Trump administration’s Russian connection like its decision last month to fire 59 Tomahawk missiles at Syria, Russia’s closest ally in the Middle East. It was an attack aimed not so much at destroying Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s air power. It was rather a well calculated measure aimed at misleading the gullible American people into believing that Trump had no special love for Russia.
On Wednesday, visiting the White House for a meeting with President Trump to further strengthen the ties were Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, the diplomat in the centre of many a controversy linked to the Trump administration. Trump’s National Security Advisor Michael Flynn resigned in February following disclosures that he had discussed with Kislyak policy issues – including the possibility of lifting economic sanctions on Russia. Apart from Flynn, several top Trump officials, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, have come under scrutiny for their Russian links.
Fortunately, for Trump, the Democratic Party is in minority in both the Houses of Congress. Also, quite a number of Republican lawmakers are firmly behind him and are willing to give the President the benefit of the doubt. Therefore, in their support, the President will have some respite. But the question is: For how long? This is because the US system— though it is scoffed at by Trump supporters as an instrument of the Deep State – is not known to have allowed those who wield power to abuse or misuse it. The US constitution, regarded as the best man-made document on the face of the earth, gives those who abuse political power enough ropes to hang themselves.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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Just as apartheid ended in South Africa, so will it in Palestine

By Ameen Izzadeen
Since the creation of Israel in 1948, almost all United States’ Presidents have been either ignorant of the true story behind the Palestinians’ suffering or advocates of injustice, however much the victimised Palestinians shout ‘Nakba, Nakba.’
Perhaps, the only exception was President Jimmy Carter. He understood what Nakba meant to the Palestinians. The Arabic word an-Nakba, meaning catastrophe, refers to the forceful expulsion or ethnic cleansing of more than 700,000 Palestinians from their homes and villages when Israel was created in 1948. In May every year, millions of Palestinian refugees mark this catastrophic event by defiantly holding high the corroded keys of their houses – a resolute portrayal of their desire to return to their original homes one day. Nakba protests are held in Palestine and worldwide in the hope that such protests would make the world leaders to shed their indifference to the Palestinians’ plight.
Despite pressure from the Zionist lobby, Carter in 1978 succeeded in making peace between Egypt and Israel after strenuous negotiations at the presidential holiday resort at Camp David. However, his attempts to solve the Palestinian crisis failed largely because Israel’s intransigence. Decades after he left office, he poured out his grievances in his book ‘Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid’, blaming Israel for not fulfilling its part of the deal in terms of the Camp David agreement and thereby killing a possible a solution to the Palestinian crisis.
Donald Trump, the present incumbent of the White House, is certainly not a Jimmy Carter. Given Trump’s pro-Israeli bias, many Palestinians believe their dream of statehood may turn into a nightmare. Trump has renounced support for the Palestinian statehood and vowed to move the United States’ embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a Palestinian city under occupation since 1967. Yet for the Palestinians, a modicum of hope emerges in the form of Trump’s unorthodox style of policymaking.
Such a hope thinly pervaded Wednesday’s talks between Trump and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House.
“We will get it done,” Trump told Abbas, claiming that the US was committed to helping Israel and the Palestinians reach peace. “I’ve always heard that perhaps the toughest deal to make is the deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Let’s see if we can prove them wrong,” Trump said.
In February, the US President met Israel’s hardline Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House. Trump then told a White House news conference that Washington would no longer insist on the creation of a Palestinian state as part of a peace accord between Israel and the Palestinians.
“I’m looking at two-state and one-state…. I like the one that both parties like. I’m very happy with the one that both parties like. I can live with either one,” Trump said nonchalantly. He, however, urged Netanyahu to temporarily halt Israel’s settlement building activities in the occupied — or robbed — Palestinian land.
A just solution has eluded the Palestinian crisis for the past seven decades, largely because of the blind support the US presidents and most politicians extend to Israel. They have no compunction in covering up Israel’s atrocities. For them, the security of Israel, a nuclear power and the world’s eighth powerful nation in terms of military strength, is more important than the Palestinians’ aspiration for peace and justice.
Yet the Palestinians keep hope in the US – the dishonest peace broker, which, by using filibustering tactics, allows Israel to annex the remaining parts of Palestine in keeping with the Zionists’ secret project that seeks to establish Eretz Israel or Greater (historic or mythical) Israel extending from the Nile in Egypt to the Euphrates in Iraq. In 1947, under an outrageously unfair United Nations resolution, the then British-controlled Palestine was partitioned, giving 45 percent of land to the territory’s 70 percent Palestinians and 55 percent to the Jews who were 30 percent of the population, with most of them being immigrants from Europe.
Several wars between fainthearted Arab nations and Israel since 1948 have only aggravated the Palestinians’ plight, while the guerrilla war launched by various Palestinian groups saw the terrorist label being slapped on Palestinian freedom fighters, much to the delight of Israel. With every war which ended in the defeat of the Arab side, Israel annexed more and more territory.
At present the Palestinians hold a mere 17 percent of the 45 percent territory the UN partition plan offered them in 1947. Besides, Israel has grabbed much of the water resources and fertile land, on which the Palestinians once grew the world famous Jaffa oranges and top quality olives, among other crops.
The 1993 Oslo accord appeared as a solution, but Israel dishonoured the deal and blamed the Palestinians for its collapse.
Encouraged by the pro-Israeli bias of the Trump administration, the Zionist nation has passed a series of new laws that legalise land grab and impose a travel ban on activists advocating the BDS – Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions – campaign against Israel.
The Trump administration has made no criticism of these unjust Israeli laws. Yet the Palestinians hope that Trump would be the President for peace in Palestine. Even Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal this week called on Trump to break with past approaches to Middle East peace. In a surprise move, Hamas this week recognised the 1967 borders as the borders of the future Palestinian state, thus, for the first time, indirectly recognising Israel’s right to exist on the other side of the 1967 borders. Hamas had earlier campaigned for the setting up of the Palestinian state within the 1947 borders prior to the partition.
With Syria and North Korea dominating the international agenda, the Palestinian issue remains virtually unaddressed. Even the ongoing hunger strike by more than 1,800 Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails has not attracted enough world attention to resurrect the peace process. Countries which once championed the Palestinian freedom struggle are now cozying up to Israel in an apparent bid to be on the good books of Trump. Sri Lanka, for instance, this week abstained from voting in favour of a pro-Palestinian resolution at UNESCO — the second time the so-called good governance Government exposed its moral bankruptcy in foreign policy in as many years. What’s worse, some Arab nations in their animosity towards Shiite Iran are seen to be in collusion with Israel.
But the Palestinians should not lose hope. Concerted international activism ended apartheid in South Africa in 1991. In 1977, Commonwealth leaders signed the Gleneagles agreement to discourage sporting contact with South Africa. Similar activism – let’s begin the sports boycott — can one day free the Palestinians from the yoke of Israeli colonialism.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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North Korean crisis: Avoid war and save Mother Earth

By Ameen Izzadeen
The Earth continues to rotate on its axis and moves along its orbit around the Sun, suffering in silence and not knowing what poisonous attack it will suffer next. Most of the Earth’s inhabitants go about with their daily chores, without pausing for a moment to take a look at the danger lurking in the shadows. They apparently know not that, tomorrow will be unlike today, if war erupts in the Korean peninsula.
Driven by excessive greed, man has made the Earth, which we fondly referred to as Mother Earth, increasingly, an unlivable place. The world’s temperature is rising, glaciers are melting and the sea water level is rising, as we produce more and more greenhouse gases that damage the protective ozone layer. On top of this environmental damage, wars aggravate the woes of the Earth.
Two weeks ago, the United States’ President, Donald Trump, who believes that climate change is a hoax, dropped a vicious bomb, ostensibly, on a terrorist target in Afghanistan. But hardly did any major news outlet raise the environmental impact of the 9,800 kg bomb dropped on a village of some 150,000 people. The media merely parroted the Generals’ count: One horrible, two horrible, three horrible Afghans, and the count went up to 92. It was history in the making. For the media, the dropping of GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast Bomb (MOAB), dubbed the ‘Mother of All Bombs’ — the world’s most powerful non-nuclear bomb — was, news-wise, more important than any adverse impact the bomb would have on the unfortunate people. When the villagers heard the blast from the bomb, which is said to be as powerful as a tactical nuclear weapon or an earthquake measuring 6.0, they thought the sky had fallen. For obvious reasons, the Nangarhar Province bomb site was declared a No-Go zone by the US troops.
How many children would have suffered internal injuries such as eardrum ruptures because of the sheer sound of the blast, when the Mother of All Bombs detonated?
Mother epitomizes compassion, love and care. Using the word “Mother”, to describe a destructive weapon that kills mothers and children or, make them suffer from its effects for years, only portrays the appalling degeneration of civility.
No wonder, most world leaders today fail to see that war is an environmental and health issue that affects us all. No sane person will deny that wars and explosives pollute the environment. Although the United Nations General Assembly, in 2011, declared November 6 of each year as the International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict, and the world has witnessed the horrors of the atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, very little attention is paid to the environmental and health cost of wars by the nations engaged in wars.
During the Gulf War and the US invasion of Iraq, the black smoke from burning oil wells, turned the day into night. The air of Iraq and Afghanistan, being two of the most bombed countries, is saturated with toxins produced by millions of tons of explosives. It is said that quite a number of US veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan are suffering from various pulmonary disorders.
Every war will make the condition of our ailing common ‘Mother’ worse, the air we breathe more polluted and the people more unhealthy.
But the Earth is not threatened by conventional wars alone. The danger of a nuclear war is more than a possibility now, with the rhetoric of the United States and North Korea pointing to a do-or-die showdown, well explained in terms of the Game of Chicken. This dangerous game is played by two speeding drivers on a collision course. One must swerve or, both will die in the crash. The one who swerves is called a “chicken,” meaning, a coward.
In the game being played in the Korean peninsula, the two players drive vehicles loaded with nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. One false move will start a war that will see tens of thousands of deaths in the first hour alone. Yet, President Trump and his military advisors feel the time has come to disarm North Korea. They believe that if Pyongyang is not stopped now, it will soon develop weapons deadlier than what it has now to attack not only US allies in the region, but also the US mainland itself. True, the US is also vulnerable to attacks from other nuclear powered nations such as Russia and China. But the peace of the graveyard is assured by the fact that these countries are headed by supposedly rational leaders who understand that nuclear wars only lead to Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD).
North Korea, however, is different. Even China, North Korea’s only ally, is apprehensive about its next move. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is not the person to swerve and be called “chicken”. He may misread even a routine US move such as the current military exercise between the US and South Korea – and launch a preemptive nuclear strike. When supposedly rational British and Indian leaders have no qualms about declaring they will not hesitate to launch a nuclear first strike, it is naïve to assume that maverick Kim Jung-un will act any differently.
Given the military imbalance between North Korea and the United States, Kim Jong-un is more prone than the US to launch a preemptive strike. On the other hand, military wisdom may prompt the US to launch the first strike, with the aim of severely weakening North Korea’s ability to retaliate. Trump could fire Tomahawks or drop the so called Mother of All Bombs on North Korean nuclear weapon dumps or even fire a nuclear missile. Whatever the weapon is, the consequence will be unprecedented devastation, whichever party makes the first strike.
Remember, North Korea also has deadly chemical and biological weapons. In February, Kim Jong-un’s half-brother and critic Kim Jong-nam died at Kuala Lumpur airport, minutes after two women, allegedly working for North Korea, flashed a few drops of nerve agent VX on his face.
Trump will be completing his first 100 days in office tomorrow. To make his record card look good, he has, apparently, resorted to militarism, firing Tomahawk missiles at Syria and dropping the Big Bomb on Afghanistan.
On Wednesday, Trump invited all 100 Senators to the White House, to explain his North Korea response. The policy is: The United States will seek stability and peaceful de-nuclearisation of the Korean peninsula.
We welcome this stance, if it is not a strategic retreat aimed at a surprise attack on North Korea later. The North Korean issue requires delicate handling. The best option would be to engage North Korea and resume the dialogue that collapsed in 2009. The US and China should try to bring North Korea out of its self-imposed isolation, and make it a partner in their search for peace in the Korean peninsula.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror,Sri Lanka)

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Iraq: Cradle of civilization is still a living hell

By Ameen Izzadeen
Fourteen Aprils ago, the world witnessed a giant statue of Iraq’s ousted dictator Saddam Hussein being toppled by a group of people at Baghdad’s Firdos Square. The crowd was surprisingly small. To support them in the task were the invading American soldiers and, of course, the presstitutes — the embedded media personnel who were apparently prostituting journalism and producing bastardized news.
The scene was fake news in the making, as the present United States President Donald Trump would say. It was perhaps the only dramatic event that the then imperial US administration had in its possession to show the war’s opponents back home that the Iraqi people were supportive of the invasion.
Reporting about the controversial event, the Associated Press said: “Joyful Iraqis helped by an American tank retriever pulled down their longtime dictator, cast as 16 feet of bronze. The scene broadcast live worldwide became an icon of the war, a symbol of final victory over Saddam Hussein.”
But reports filed from Baghdad did not say that the the April 9, 2003 event was organised by a US Marine colonel — not joyous Iraqi civilians. A year later, the Los Angeles Times reported: “It was a quick-thinking Army psychological operations team that made it appear to be a spontaneous Iraqi undertaking.”
Despite this underreported correction, the toppling of the statue is cited by war advocates as symbolic of Iraqi people’s support for the invasion codenamed “Operation Iraq Freedom”. The operation was initially named “Operation Iraq Liberation” but the name was changed because its acronym – OIL – seemed to expose the secret objective of the war.
The Firdos Square fake news was rather emblematic of the massive lie with which war-loving US President George W. Bush misled the American people into believing that he was launching a just war.
The war was launched on the pretext that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) which were a threat to America’s security and world peace. To add flesh to their bony lie, the war party created more lies. These lies included claims that Saddam Hussein tried to obtain uranium from Niger and that Iraq possessed the capability to assemble its long range missiles and attack London within 45 minutes. The US even presented satellite images claiming that they showed mobile WMD laboratories.
Award-winning war reporter John Pilger asked Charles Lewis, the distinguished American investigative journalist: “What if the freest media in the world had seriously challenged George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld and investigated their claims, instead of channeling what turned out to be crude propaganda?”
Lewis replied that if the journalists had done their job “there is a very, very good chance we would have not gone to war in Iraq.”
There is blood on the hands of the so-called free media of the west. The very media institutions which swallowed Bush’s lies wholesale — probably due to the media outlets’ blind patriotism, racism or support for the neocon policy to dominate the world through intimidation – are now questioning every statement President Trump makes.
Firdos in Arabic means Paradise. But the Iraq war based on lies after lies opened the gates of hell.
Months before the Iraq war began, the then Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa warned Washington that the war against Iraq would “open the gates of hell” in a region already “angry and frustrated” at Israel’s actions against the Palestinians.
As a result of trigger-happy Bush’s mad war, the Iraqi people paid a huge price and they are still not out of the hell they have been pushed into. Saddam Hussein was a monster, but the horror they have been going through since the US launched its Iraq colonisation project has made the Iraqi people to see the former dictator as a benevolent statesman. During Saddam’s time, the people had little or no religious and political freedom, but they had security, water, electricity and peace. There was no sectarianism in secular Iraq. The Sunnis and the Shiites were not only neighbours but they also intermarried. There was no al-Qaeda or ISIS.
Since the US invasion, more than one million Iraqis have died in war and sectarian violence. Also nearly a million Iraqis, half of whom were children, died due to the US-led economic sanctions which preceded the war. When asked, the then US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said it was a price worth paying. Such was the racism-driven indifference that the leaders of the so-called civilised world had for Iraqi lives.
Iraqis die by the thousands even today, as their government together with the US forces prosecutes a major operation to liberate Mosul, Iraq’s second most populous city, from the clutches of ISIS. Urban wars are fought and won by destroying buildings with scant regard for the trapped civilians. Thousands of Mosul’s civilians have died, especially in air strikes. On Wednesday, Iraqi troops removed 300 bodies from the site of an apparent Coalition air strike carried out on March 17.
Although some 350,000 civilians have fled Mosul to camps where basic facilities are a luxury, still some 400,000 people are trapped in the city. They are being used by the ISIS as human shields. If they try to flee, they are shot dead; if they manage to escape and reach the Iraqi troops, they are grilled, even subjected to torture or killed because of their suspected ties to the terrorists.
The world is today certainly not a better place than what it was prior to the US invasion designed and promoted by neoconservative architects of the Project for New American Century – a think tank which advocated a policy of total global military domination to control the world’s strategic resources.
To the living hell that is Iraq, where suicide blasts have become a daily occurrence, came a visitor on Tuesday – Jared Kushner, son-in-law and special advisor of US President Trump. If a matter so serious like Iraq is to be left in the hands of less experienced people like Kushner, it could mean that the Iraqis will have to wait longer to see peace at least on the distant horizon.
During his campaign for the White House, Trump claimed he was opposed to the Iraq invasion. He said America was not going to be the world’s policeman. But since taking office, he was displaying both hawkishness and indifference to the wars in Iraq and Syria.
In what he claimed as a bold new strategy to “defeat ISIS,” he has intensified US military involvement in Iraq and Syria.
But the Iraqi conundrum is much more complicated than the ISIS issue. It involves the Kurdish problem, the power games that regional players like Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran and Israel play, the superpower interests in the region and the conflict in neighbouring Syria.
The Iraqis have been going through hell long enough. Since 1979, they have been living with devastating wars – first the nine-year Iraq-Iran war, then the Kuwait war, then the US invasion and now the ISIS. Iraq, the cradle of civilisation, needs a comprehensive peace package. But where are the peacemakers?
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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What a world! We want the right to destroy our planet

By Ameen Izzadeen
On Monday, the big powers spurned yet another move to rid the world of nuclear weapons. They apparently prefer to be called the destroyers of our planet.
“Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds,” J. Robert Oppenheimer said quoting from the Bhagawad Gita. He was one of the fathers of the first atomic bomb – the illegitimate child conceived and delivered by the top secret Manhattan Project.
The first atomic bomb was detonated by the Manhattan Project’s nuclear physicists on July 16, 1945 in New Mexico. On August 6 and 9 the same year, the United States dropped two atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The world’s first atomic bomb attacks killed more than 200,000 people in the two cities instantly. Tens of thousands of people exposed to high radiation died in the months and years to follow. The ill-effects are still being felt.
Oppenheimer, despite his liberal and socialist worldview, supported the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan. But he later became an advocate of nuclear non-proliferation and opponent of the global nuclear arms race.
However noble the nuclear non-proliferation initiative is, it smacks of hypocrisy and allows a few nuclear-armed nations to become global bullies and intimidate the rest of the world. Given the destructive power of modern-day nuclear weapons which are a thousand times more lethal than ‘Little Boy’ and ‘Fat Man’ dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, nothing short of total nuclear disarmament will ensure the safety of our planet, which we call our home. Every nuclear test is a stab on the back of Mother Earth. Every nuclear accident is a blow on her head. A nuclear war will be the ultimate death blow. If we love this planet and the humanity, we must not rest until the last of the world’s nuclear weapons is dismantled. But the humans are the Earth’s only species hell-bent on the destruction of the planet. According to 2016 estimates, the nine nuclear-armed nations – the US, Russia, China, Britain, France, Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea — possess some 15,000-23,000 nuclear warheads which could destroy this world more than 100 times over.
Man can be good and evil. Leaders can be brutish and if driven by their animalistic id, they could become destroyers. With the United States and North Korea – both nuclear armed – being run by maverick leaders, the world’s first nuclear war is no longer just a subject for dystopian novelists to describe the aftermath in vivid detail. The dangerous reality or MAD (mutually assured destruction) is close and staring at us. The US has warned North Korea that its policy of strategic patience has ended, while reports say Pyongyang is preparing not only for yet another nuclear test but also for a nuclear war with the US.
Months before Donald Trump became the US President, Nato and Russia had deployed nuclear missiles in Europe, stoking fears of a nuclear war. The tense situation has somewhat eased now because of Trump’s special relationship with Russia. In the volatile Middle East, Israel has some 300 nuclear warheads and Iran is accused of harbouring nuclear weapon ambitions.
In South Asia, too, a nuclear war cannot be ruled out, given the hostility between India and Pakistan.
Evil triumphed on Monday when a golden opportunity to bring about a nuclear-weapons-free world was squandered. The United States, Russia, China, Britain and France together with 36 other nations staged a walkout when the United Nations General Assembly began discussions on a global ban on nuclear weapons. Monday’s session came in sequel to a General Assembly resolution adopted in December to convene a conference “to negotiate a legally binding instrument to prohibit nuclear weapons, leading towards their total elimination.”
Kim Won-soo, the UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, addressing the UN conference said, “Let us all work harder and more creatively, so that we can achieve our common goal of a world, safer and more secure, without nuclear weapons, and better for all.”
He said the possession of nuclear weapons was fundamentally incompatible with humanity’s common aspirations for peace and security.
Pope Francis sent a message of support to the conference. “I wish to encourage you to work with determination in order to create the conditions necessary for a world without nuclear weapons,” he said. The Pope said international peace and stability “cannot be based on a false sense of security, on the threat of mutual destruction or total annihilation, or on simply maintaining a balance of power.”
While the widely respected pontiff called for concerted efforts to save our planet, President Trump, in a reckless act that underscored his contempt for warnings about climate change, revoked environment laws his predecessor, Barack Obama, had introduced, and his UN envoy Nikki Haley scuttled UN efforts aimed at total nuclear disarmament.
Addressing journalists at UN headquarters in New York, ambassador Haley, South Carolina’s former rightwing governor, defended her country’s need to possess nuclear weapons, saying, “in this day and time, we can’t honestly say that we can protect our people by allowing the bad actors to have them and those of us that are good trying to keep peace and safety not to have them.” She was referring to the threat posed by nuclear-armed North Korea.
“There is nothing I want more for my family than a world with no nuclear weapons. But we have to be realistic. Is there anyone who thinks that North Korea would ban nuclear weapons?” she asked.
Haley only confirms our worst fears that a nuclear war between the US and North Korea could be a reality. Imagine how many innocent people will die in both these countries. Some studies claim that North Korean missiles can wipe out 80 percent of the US population, while US strikes can reduce North Korea to mere nuclear ash.
Who wants to give up nuclear weapons, the very possession of which will deter even a thought of an attack in the mind of the enemy? Nuclear weapons mean power and they are here to stay until there emerges a weapon system that can deactivate nuclear weapons of an enemy state through hacking. Reports say the US, Russia and China are moving in that direction. But before such cyber weapons become a reality, a nuclear war could break out.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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