Opinions, subjective though they are, ideally rest on facts, widely garnered and reasonably interpreted. Sometimes, facts alone are enough, obviating the need to pontificate. Such is the case with several recent small news items about Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan.
False intelligence: For about a year, American troops in Iraq had been looking for the leader of a shadowy insurgent group.
In May, the Iraqi interior ministry announced that Abu Omar al-Baghdadi had been killed.
But, then, he was heard from.
Now, to everyone's further embarrassment, comes word that he didn't exist at all. He was an invention of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia (AQM) - either to inflate the number of resistance groups or to counteract local backlash against the AQM being infiltrated by foreigners (Egyptians, Saudis, etc.). Hence the name Baghdadi (someone from Baghdad).
The revelation that he was a fake comes from an AQM man captured by the Americans.
How do they know he is telling the truth? They don't. That, in turn, has led to new speculation: his ratting may be the real ruse - to protect a person who does exist.
Missing arsenal: A third of the weapons issued to Iraqi troops are unaccounted for, says the U.S. Accountability Office. Missing: 110,000 AK-47s, 80,000 pistols and 135,000 body armour items. Unless the stash is sitting somewhere unbeknownst to the Americans, the weapons were most likely sold on the black market or just passed along to the insurgents.
That raises the disturbing possibility that the U.S. supplied some of the weapons being used to kill the Americans and create the chaos the Americans can't control.
Ayatollah power: Iran, neighbour to Iraq and Afghanistan, has been accused by Washington of arming the Taliban and the Iraqi Shiites with roadside bombs and other equipment. Skeptics include a growing number of Americans. They see it as George W. Bush's propaganda to deflect attention away from his two foreign crises or, more ominously, to build the case for attacking Iran.
However, the leaders of Afghanistan and Iraq, despite their near-total dependency on Bush, are refusing to play along.
Hamid Karzai said in Washington that Iran's role in Afghanistan has been that of "a helper," especially in development projects. Hosting Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Kabul Tuesday, he again praised Iran.
Nouri al-Maliki, on a visit to Tehran, lauded Iran's "constructive" role in "fighting terrorism" in Iraq.
A third U.S. ally, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyran of Abu Dhabi, told visiting Ahmadinejad that the United Arab Emirates would never allow its territory to be used for "hostile activities" against Iran.
Either these leaders are afraid of Iran or they think Bush is wrong or, worse, that he can be ignored.
Civilian deaths: The U.S. Army/Marine Counterinsurgency Field Manual says: "An operation that kills five insurgents is counter-productive if the collateral damage leads to the recruitment of 50 more insurgents."
Yet civilian deaths and injuries continue. The latest incident: "U.S. air strike on Taliban commanders wounds at least 18 civilians."
The U.S. military said that "during a sizeable meeting of senior Taliban commanders, coalition forces employed precision-guided munitions after ensuring there were no innocent Afghans in the surrounding area." Except that there were.
An Afghan official said the Taliban had gathered for a public execution of two accused spies and "forced the people to come and watch." A tribal leader estimated that "hundreds were present."
Haroon Siddiqui is the Star's editorial page editor emeritus. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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