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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A swimming pool and a bleeding toe put my medical competency in doubt

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Sometimes the search engine wins. 

The brutal heatwave affecting southern Europe this summer has become known among locals as “Lucifer”. Having just returned from Italy, I fully understand the nickname. An early excursion caused the beginnings of sunstroke, so we abandoned plans to explore the cultural heritage of the Amalfi region and strayed no further than five metres from the hotel pool for the rest of the week.

The children were delighted, particularly my 12-year-old stepdaughter, Gracie, who proceeded to spend hours at a time playing in the water. Towelling herself after one long session, she noticed something odd.

“What’s happened there?” she asked, holding her foot aloft in front of my face.

I inspected the proffered appendage: on the underside of her big toe was an oblong area of glistening red flesh that looked like a chunk of raw steak.

“Did you injure it?”

She shook her head. “It doesn’t hurt at all.”

I shrugged and said she must have grazed it. She wasn’t convinced, pointing out that she would remember if she had done that. She has great faith in plasters, though, and once it was dressed she forgot all about it. I dismissed it, too, assuming it was one of those things.

By the end of the next day, the pulp on the underside of all of her toes looked the same. As the doctor in the family, I felt under some pressure to come up with an explanation. I made up something about burns from the hot paving slabs around the pool. Gracie didn’t say as much, but her look suggested a dawning scepticism over my claims to hold a medical degree.

The next day, Gracie and her new-found holiday playmate, Eve, abruptly terminated a marathon piggy-in-the-middle session in the pool with Eve’s dad. “Our feet are bleeding,” they announced, somewhat incredulously. Sure enough, bright-red blood was flowing, apparently painlessly, from the bottoms of their big toes.

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Often, what patients discover on the internet causes them undue alarm, and our role is to provide context and reassurance. But not infrequently, people come across information that outstrips our knowledge. On my return from our room with fresh supplies of plasters, my wife looked up from her sun lounger with an air of quiet amusement.

“It’s called ‘pool toe’,” she said, handing me her iPhone. The page she had tracked down described the girls’ situation exactly: friction burns, most commonly seen in children, caused by repetitive hopping about on the abrasive floors of swimming pools. Doctors practising in hot countries must see it all the time. I doubt it presents often to British GPs.

I remained puzzled about the lack of pain. The injuries looked bad, but neither Gracie nor Eve was particularly bothered. Here the internet drew a blank, but I suspect it has to do with the “pruning” of our skin that we’re all familiar with after a soak in the bath. This only occurs over the pulps of our fingers and toes. It was once thought to be caused by water diffusing into skin cells, making them swell, but the truth is far more fascinating.

The wrinkling is an active process, triggered by immersion, in which the blood supply to the pulp regions is switched off, causing the skin there to shrink and pucker. This creates the biological equivalent of tyre treads on our fingers and toes and markedly improves our grip – of great evolutionary advantage when grasping slippery fish in a river, or if trying to maintain balance on slick wet rocks.

The flip side of this is much greater friction, leading to abrasion of the skin through repeated micro-trauma. And the lack of blood flow causes nerves to shut down, depriving us of the pain that would otherwise alert us to the ongoing tissue damage. An adaptation that helped our ancestors hunt in rivers proves considerably less use on a modern summer holiday.

I may not have seen much of the local heritage, but the trip to Italy taught me something new all the same. 

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear