Tuesday, May 13, 2003

The Bush administration has now confirmed what everyone knew: The U.S. and Iran have been in diplomatic contact, presumably for years. Iran itself continues to be the country to watch in the new Middle East. Today President Muhammad Khatami was in Lebanon, where he signed economic agreements including a $50 million loan, and was expected to call for restraint and non-violence, a message also being touted by Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim in Iraq. This comes after SCIRI, the Iraqi Shi'ite group closest to Iran, joined the U.S. interim administration. At the same time, the U.S. has now begun disarming the Mujahadeen-i Khalq, a terrorist group which attacks Iran with which the U.S. had earlier agreed to a cease-fire. Is all this the result of secret negotiations, or intimidation? I suspect it will be the former.
UPDATE: Khatami actually praised Hizbullah's resistance in his big Beirut speech. However, it remains to be seen what he will say in his private meeting with Nasrallah. My main point is really that Iran-related diplomacy is an important story.

The largest mass grave yet has been found near Basra, holding the remains of as many as 15,000 victims. Given the people who have for years accused me of spouting American propaganda when I discussed Saddam's brutality, I hope this gets plenty of notice. We are not talking about some small-time dictator who just rigs elections and imprisons people. I have long regarded Saddam's as one of the three most brutal regimes on the planet (the others being Myanmar and North Korea, and I should probably toss in Liberia for different reasons), and he will probably go down in history as one of the worst dictators of the 20th century. His targets were not just dissidents, but whole ethnic groups, the Kurds and especially the Marsh Arabs, and when I read up on his record using Human Rights Watch back in March, I came to a figure of about 400,000 people who have died at his hands since 1991. Current NGO numbers I've seen say 2700 civilians died during our war to remove him. Comparative math in these cases can be misleading, but the numbers here are pretty extreme.


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