Did "we" have a hand in the terrorist attack in Iran?

The Iranians accuse Britain and America

Iran has blamed the west for a suicide bombing over the weekend that killed 42 people, including six senior commanders, in one of the harshest terrorist attacks sustained by the country in recent years:

The attack, at a Revolutionary Guard gathering in Sistan-Baluchistan, one of the country's most unstable provinces, was the worst attack on a powerful unit in recent years.

Inflicting Iran's worst military casualties in years, it killed the deputy commander of the guard's ground forces, Noor Ali Shooshtari, and Rajab Ali Mohammadzadeh, the provincial commander for Sistan-Baluchistan.

Responsibility was quickly claimed by Jundullah ("soldiers of God"), a militant Sunni group that regularly attacks the Guard in its rebellion against the government and the Shia majority. Jundullah said the bombing was a response to "the constant crime of the regime in Baluchistan".

The Telegraph quotes General Mohammad Pakpour, head of the Revolutionary Guard's ground forces:

The terrorists were trained in the neighbouring country by the Americans and British . . . The enemies of the Islamic Republic of Iran are unable to tolerate the unity in the country.

Hmm. Are these the normal propaganda and paranoia that we might expect after such an attack? Or might Iran have a case against us?

The United States has denied being involved in the attack, which the state department condemned as an "act of terrorism" and our own Foreign and Commonwealth Office also condemned the bombing. But it has been established that the United States has been secretly supporting and perhaps even arming the Baluchi Sunni terrorist group Jundullah since at least 2005. Here is ABC News's investigative team, for example, reporting in April 2007:

US officials say the US relationship with Jundullah is arranged so that the US provides no funding to the group, which would require an official presidential order or "finding" as well as congressional oversight . . .

Pakistani government sources say the secret campaign against Iran by Jundullah was on the agenda when Vice-President Dick Cheney met with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf in February.

A senior US government official said groups such as Jundullah have been helpful in tracking al-Qaeda figures and that it was appropriate for the US to deal with such groups in that context.

Some former CIA officers say the arrangement is reminiscent of how the US government used proxy armies, funded by other countries including Saudi Arabia, to destabilise the government of Nicaragua in the 1980s.

Shouldn't we know a bit more about all this? And have we learned nothing from the disastrous experiences of the 1980s, when we backed the Afghan mujahedin -- or the "Taliban-in-training" -- against the Soviets? There has been a change of US president and British prime minister since these reports first emerged, and so I would argue that it is high time the administrations in Britain and America repudiate their predecessors' policies and shine a light on the "dark side" of the so-called "war on terror".

On a side note, I noticed the Jerusalem Post was full of empathy (!) for the dozens of Iranians killed in the horrific suicide bombing, with the analyst Yaakov Lappin pointing out, almost gleefully, that "Iran received a dose of its own medicine".

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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Air pollution: 5 steps to vanquishing an invisible killer

A new report looks at the economics of air pollution. 

110, 150, 520... These chilling statistics are the number of deaths attributable to particulate air pollution for the cities of Southampton, Nottingham and Birmingham in 2010 respectively. Or how about 40,000 - that is the total number of UK deaths per year that are attributable the combined effects of particulate matter (PM2.5) and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx).

This situation sucks, to say the very least. But while there are no dramatic images to stir up action, these deaths are preventable and we know their cause. Road traffic is the worst culprit. Traffic is responsible for 80 per cent of NOx on high pollution roads, with diesel engines contributing the bulk of the problem.

Now a new report by ResPublica has compiled a list of ways that city councils around the UK can help. The report argues that: “The onus is on cities to create plans that can meet the health and economic challenge within a short time-frame, and identify what they need from national government to do so.”

This is a diplomatic way of saying that current government action on the subject does not go far enough – and that cities must help prod them into gear. That includes poking holes in the government’s proposed plans for new “Clean Air Zones”.

Here are just five of the ways the report suggests letting the light in and the pollution out:

1. Clean up the draft Clean Air Zones framework

Last October, the government set out its draft plans for new Clean Air Zones in the UK’s five most polluted cities, Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton (excluding London - where other plans are afoot). These zones will charge “polluting” vehicles to enter and can be implemented with varying levels of intensity, with three options that include cars and one that does not.

But the report argues that there is still too much potential for polluters to play dirty with the rules. Car-charging zones must be mandatory for all cities that breach the current EU standards, the report argues (not just the suggested five). Otherwise national operators who own fleets of vehicles could simply relocate outdated buses or taxis to places where they don’t have to pay.  

Different vehicles should fall under the same rules, the report added. Otherwise, taking your car rather than the bus could suddenly seem like the cost-saving option.

2. Vouchers to vouch-safe the project’s success

The government is exploring a scrappage scheme for diesel cars, to help get the worst and oldest polluting vehicles off the road. But as the report points out, blanket scrappage could simply put a whole load of new fossil-fuel cars on the road.

Instead, ResPublica suggests using the revenue from the Clean Air Zone charges, plus hiked vehicle registration fees, to create “Pollution Reduction Vouchers”.

Low-income households with older cars, that would be liable to charging, could then use the vouchers to help secure alternative transport, buy a new and compliant car, or retrofit their existing vehicle with new technology.

3. Extend Vehicle Excise Duty

Vehicle Excise Duty is currently only tiered by how much CO2 pollution a car creates for the first year. After that it becomes a flat rate for all cars under £40,000. The report suggests changing this so that the most polluting vehicles for CO2, NOx and PM2.5 continue to pay higher rates throughout their life span.

For ClientEarth CEO James Thornton, changes to vehicle excise duty are key to moving people onto cleaner modes of transport: “We need a network of clean air zones to keep the most polluting diesel vehicles from the most polluted parts of our towns and cities and incentives such as a targeted scrappage scheme and changes to vehicle excise duty to move people onto cleaner modes of transport.”

4. Repurposed car parks

You would think city bosses would want less cars in the centre of town. But while less cars is good news for oxygen-breathers, it is bad news for city budgets reliant on parking charges. But using car parks to tap into new revenue from property development and joint ventures could help cities reverse this thinking.

5. Prioritise public awareness

Charge zones can be understandably unpopular. In 2008, a referendum in Manchester defeated the idea of congestion charging. So a big effort is needed to raise public awareness of the health crisis our roads have caused. Metro mayors should outline pollution plans in their manifestos, the report suggests. And cities can take advantage of their existing assets. For example in London there are plans to use electronics in the Underground to update travellers on the air pollution levels.

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Change is already in the air. Southampton has used money from the Local Sustainable Travel Fund to run a successful messaging campaign. And in 2011 Nottingham City Council became the first city to implement a Workplace Parking levy – a scheme which has raised £35.3m to help extend its tram system, upgrade the station and purchase electric buses.

But many more “air necessities” are needed before we can forget about pollution’s worry and its strife.  

 

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.