Iraq Is Denying Earlier Reports That It

*Iraq is denying earlier reports that it has closed its borders to Iranian pilgrims seeking to visit the holy shrines of Najaf and Karbala. Turning the tables, the Iraqi spokesman said it was Iran that was preventing people from making the pilgrimages.

*Reuters and Asharq al-Awsat report impressions from Iranians interviewed that they despise Saddam and won’t be sorry to see him go. But many also worry that Tehran will be America’s next target after Baghdad.

*Asharq al-Awsat reports that an obscure group called “Banners of Abu Bakr” has tried to take credit for the downing near Kerman of an Iranian airliner that had taken off from Zahedan near the Pakistani border. All 302 persons aboard died, including 18 crew members; the rest were members of the Revolutionary Guards. Journalist Ali Nurizadeh said that a source in the Interior Ministry did not think it unlikely that the plane carried recently-captured members of al-Qaeda, who have come over the border from Pakistan recently in some numbers. All this does not make much sense to me. The “Banners of Abu Bakr” would be a Sunni dissident group, perhaps Baluchi. If it knew that al-Qaeda prisoners were aboard, it is unlikely to have tried to destroy the plane. I suppose it is possible that they just wanted to strike at the Shiite Revolutionary Guards and did not know about the Sunni prisoners. On the other hand, local Iranian air traffic controllers say the pilot reported bad weather and strong winds as he was coming in, so this may just be a weather-related accident–wind shear or something.

*Haaretz says Ariel Sharon wants 100 changes in the “road map” for Israeli-Palestinian peace outlined by the Quartet. Apparently the main change he wants is just one–no Palestinian state at all and Israeli annexation of much of the West Bank and Gaza, leaving the Palestinians on the equivalent of 19th century Indian reservations. No doubt Sharon can have whatever he wants, since he seems to have found a way to buy off Bush. But in definitively humiliating and dispossessing a whole people, he is ending any hope of peace in our lifetimes and setting up Israel for long-term security worries. There is such a thing as Karma. He has been blustering for decades that you can control people if you just hit them hard enough and cow them. I don’t see that his policies have produced the sort of peace he promised they would, and I predict he is leaving a legacy of almost permanent bitterness and violence.

Israeli attacks on terrorists continue to produce unacceptably high Israeli killings of innocent non-combatants–4 the day before yesterday in Gaza, another in Nablus yesterday. These are human beings who did nothing wrong, folks. Arrest terrorists all you like, but surely this can be done without so much gratuitous killing? It is unacceptable from a civilized country to behave this way. That the world greets these outrages with a yawn demonstrates the continued racism faced by ordinary Arabs; their lives apparently are worth nothing.