Assad and Saddam, Khan Sheikhoun and Halabja, 2017 and 1988

In interviews to BBC radios this morning about America’s attack on Syria, I kept calling Assad Saddam. No wonder, of course. They were fellow Ba’thists and genocidal monsters, and they both used gas on civilians. Unfortunately, the world didn’t act on Halabja then If it had, much suffering and possibly wars might have been avoided. But it was a little more difficult then. When Jalal Talabani telephoned me to tell me about it for The Times, even I, a man of Kurdish upbringing and a friend of his, had difficulty believing him. How could a government which was a member of the UN and had embassies everywhere dare to use banned weapons to inflict such lingering deaths on its own citizens on a such a large scale! It took us three days to put a paragraph in the paper. The horrifying pictures emerged much later. So Saddam got away with it, and he was emboldened. Margaret Thatcher even proclaimed that the reports were ‘controversial’ and so doubled Saddam’s Export Credit Guarantees to £390m.
Hopefully now, the new Saddam will not dare do it again. He has been punished to the minimum extent possible, but significantly enough, and must know that if he persists he might lose the whole of his airforce . And we must welcome America’s hardening of tone on his future. Nor am I worried about a confrontation with Russia. Putin would be humiliated in any aerial confrontation with Western airforces. He is only a paper tiger allowed to flourish by weak Obama.

In the end, however, out of concern for the survival of the Alawite minority in Syria, we must hope and work for a negotiated settlement in which – without the Assad regime – they would have a veto over a future constitutional settlement. The same must go for the Kurds of Syria, whose valour and resilience in standing up against Ankara and Islamic State have surprised even me and earned the admiration of the world.

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About Hazhir Teimourian, FRAS.

'Late love, if kindled, leads to scandal', says an old Persian proverb : Why bother 'to blog’ at 71? I find myself these days – August 2011 – one of the few grizzled old men of Middle East commentary still walking. Even though I was last on regular public view in 1996 – in the pages of The Times – broadcasters still remember. On some particularly hot days – and the past six months of the “Arab Spring” have seen many hot days – the BBC arrange for me to give up to 24 interviews to their innumerable national and local radio stations before breakfast: Every 8 minutes from 6 to 9, one of them is connected to my ISDN line – a miracle of modern technology that turns your desk into a radio studio – and that station gets about five minutes of reflection on the subject that’s making headlines. This is partly explained by their own correspondents being stretched in the field, and partly by the convenience of the high-quality sound that the ISDN line provides. At short notice, it may prove hard to get a younger, more attractive commentator to a studio. But it must also have something to do with the bonds of friendship that develop across the years between broadcasters and print journalists - even in the political class generally - across ideological lines. Until recently, I had on my noticeboard a fading piece of paper bearing an address in the City, in the Barbican. It was written by the late and beloved Brian Redhead – the John Humphries of his day – and it was his home address. One morning in 1990 in the Today office in Broadcasting House, he dragged me to his desk and wrote down the address and asked that I visit him and his wife at home. Unfortunately, I never did. In those days – remember the gassing of the Kurds of Halabja in 1988 by the accursed Saddam or the invasion of Kuwait in 1990? – it sometimes felt as if I lived at the BBC, to the annoyance of the Foreign Desk at The Times. (I was told that Simon Jenkins, at one of his first morning conferences as Editor, had asked: “Who is this man Teimourian who is everywhere described as of The Times”? Later, he told me – or threatened me – that he read every word I wrote, but was also gracious enough to ask me to have breakfast with him at the fabulous Connaught Hotel, where he lived.) Thus I have accumulated many ‘friends’ I have never met, from Sydney to Calgary, through Dublin, Glasgow, Cardiff, Belfast and New York. Sorry for the digression. Why am I starting what the young call a ‘blog’ in my 8th decade? Well, first of all, let’s see whether it lasts and whether anyone will read it. It’s probably a whim and one last attempt at weaving my way into the company of the glamorous young. I was once their darling and old longings die hard. As the Persians say: Eshqe piri, gar bejonbad / Sar be rosva’i zanad (Late love, if kindled / Leads to scandal.) But assuming it lasts, it won’t do any harm to hear the occasional reflections of a man who has watched the world from the privileged position of the British media superpower for over 40 years. If it becomes embarrassing, hopefully my family and friends will gently let me know that it’s time I spent the remainder of my time in the greenhouse talking to my aubergine plants. A glimpse of my career and some of my past writings can be found at www.HTeimourian.net or www.KhayyamByTeimourian.net . You may also be interested in www.MigrationWatchUK.com and www.BalancedMigration.com . I am on the Council of the former, under Andrew Green, and a non-parliamentary member of the latter. The Group is chaired jointly by Frank Field (Lab.) and Nicholas Soames (Con.) and includes such non-partisan figures as former Archbishop Lord Carey and the former Speaker of the House of Commons Betty Boothroyd. Update (April 2017): for more up-to-date information, please see www.ConsolationsOfAutumn.com or my Author Profile on Amazon.
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