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Slate

Iran Bombs Iraq

Slate

QANDIL, Iraq—The very large potential bombs being built in Iran, as well as the somewhat smaller real bombs detonating in Baghdad, have distracted attention from the pitiless barrage of medium-sized ones that Iran lobbed into Iraq last month. In the first week of May, the Iranian military sent hundreds of artillery shells and Katyusha rockets whistling over the mountaintops into Iraq’s Qandil region. As soon as the blasts began, most of the local villagers jumped into Land Cruisers, pickups, and tractors and fled for the nearby cities of Qala’at-Diza and Raniya. They came back a week later and found many of their sheep blown up or starving to death.

Iran had little interest in the sheep, or, for that matter, in the Iraqi Kurds whose villages they destroyed. Tehran was aiming at the Iranian Kurdish guerrillas who during the last two years have become Tehran’s most noisome domestic pest and who openly seek ways to become an international irritant as well. The Iranian Kurds hate the conservative, ethnically Persian government, and they want federal autonomy in Iran to match their Iraqi Kurdish cousins’ arrangement next door. To prove they’re serious, the Kurds have rioted nonstop in Iran’s Kurdistan province since 2005, and snipers from the Kurdistan Free Life Party (known as PJAK), the Iranian Kurdish guerrilla movement, have even been taking potshots at Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, killing dozens.

Categories
New York Sun

Playing Nice with a Tyrant

The New York Sun

Review of The New Lion of Damascus by David Lesch

Among hereditary dictators, Bashar al-Assad is remarkable not only for once having held a real job, but also for having been, by most accounts, fairly good at it. An ophthalmologist training in London, he abandoned a promising career only in 1994, after his elder brother Basil wrapped his Mercedes-Benz around a road fixture outside Damascus. Basil’s airbags deployed, according to official accounts, but the car rolled over, leaving his younger brother to inherit the family business.

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Weekly Standard

Alexander’s Nemesis

The Weekly Standard, 21 November 2005

Review of:

Into the Land of Bones: Alexander the Great in Afghanistan
by Frank L. Holt
California, 241 pp., $24.95

Now that Afghan civil aviation is up and running, anyone with fifty bucks for a plane ticket can view Afghanistan from 10,000 feet up. At ground level, bustling conurbations like Kabul and Herat easily fool a visitor into thinking he is (despite the stranglingly bad air, laden with car exhaust and airborne donkey feces) within a hundred years of the present day. But to see from the window of a decrepit Kam Air Antonov is to be disabused: blue lakes and bleak crags roll across the window, punctuated infrequently by hamlets of astonishing archaism. The villages’ crooked pastures and mangers of mangy beasts could have existed in identical form in the ages of Brezhnev, Kipling, Babur, or Alexander the Great. Many villages appear to have no roads connecting them to each other, or to the relative outposts of progress at Kabul, Herat, or Mazar-e-Sharif.

With such a view, it is not a matter of imagining Afghanistan as it was during the age of Alexander, but of realizing that most of the country has never left that age, and that time is an illusion to which only the small population of Afghan city-dwellers has succumbed.

Categories
New York Sun

The Pointillist Presentation of History

The New York Sun

Review of 1945: The War That Never Ended by Gregor Dallas.

“I personally do not know a single Frenchman who can remember the day the war officially ended in Europe,” writes Gregor Dallas. Coming from a resident of the country, this claim sounds odd. What excuse could exist for forgetting May 8, 1945? Paris, after all, marked it in style, with crowded streets, a triumphant address by Charles de Gaulle, and an aerial trick in which an American B-25 Mitchell bomber buzzed the Eiffel Tower and then – in an especially memorable touch – flew under it. Even the French are not so difficult to impress that they could forget a stunt like that.

Categories
Weekly Standard

Persian Reverie

The Weekly Standard

The Lonely Planet Guide to Iran
by Andrew Burke, Mark Elliot, and Kamin Mohammadi
Lonely Planet, 408 pp., $24.99

In Taboos on Intercourse with Strangers (1922) J.G. Frazer informs us that Persians and Afghans once greeted foreigners with fire. The fire preemptively burnt away the magic that strangers might bring into Persian territory and use to bewitch the locals.

“Sometimes,” Frazer continues, “a tray of lighted embers is thrown under the hoofs of the traveler’s horse, with the words, ‘You are welcome.'”

This schizophrenic salutation–half sincere greeting, half pelting with burning coals–is something any tourist guidebook to Iran, past or present, must struggle to explain. Few modern countries present a more perplexing mix of smothering hospitality and smothering suspicion. Toward guests, Iranians show chivalry so grandiose that Westerners mistake it for mockery. And yet that generosity coexists with constant and malevolent official scrutiny: In Tehran, one traveler told me, a telephone operator interrupted his call home to Paris and politely asked for him to wait while the government switched eavesdroppers.

Categories
Jane's

Kirkuk Struggles with Sectarian Divisions

Jane’s Foreign Report.

Categories
New York Sun

No Light, No Tunnel

The New York Sun

Review of Nothing in Sight by Jens Rehn.

The closest we have to an iron law of war stories is that no story involving a U-boat ends happily. The combination of Nazis, bleak seas, and torpedoes leaves little room for hope and optimism, and the last of characters’ dignity usually gets washed away in the end, when they choke to death on salt water. It is no mean testament to the relentless gloom of Jens Rehn’s “Nothing in Sight” (University of Chicago Press, 144 pages, $20) to say that it distinguishes itself among U-boat stories as a particularly grim read.

Categories
New York Sun

In Baghdad, Wear Shades

The New York Sun

Review of Over There by Alan Feuer.

On page one of “Over There: From the Bronx to Baghdad: Two Months in the Life of a Reluctant Reporter” (Counterpoint Press, 304 pages, $24), Alan Feuer invokes A.J. Liebling’s adage about combat journalism – “a girl may sleep with one man without being a trollop, but let a man cover one little war and he’s a war correspondent.”