On Friday, January 3rd this year, a drone attack by the United States killed a prominent Iranian military commander, Qassem Soleimani, and a few others on his entourage in Iraq. Soleimani had meant different things to different people. To the Iranian authorities and those that sided with its policies and politics, Soleimani was the quintessential patriot and nationalist helping to forge a common front to confront the “enemy”, chief of which is America. So, his death was a big blow and a sad loss. To those opposed to Iran’s kind of diplomacy in the Gulf, Soleimani was the moving spirit behind a movement that must be swiftly cut short before greater disaster, which he was believed to be plotting, could befall not just the region but the entire world.
In December last year, rockets fired at US military bases in Iraq had killed a US contractor. The US blamed pro-Iran militia for the attack and launched its own reprisals that killed 26 fighters. The crisis escalated when the militia surrounded the US embassy in Baghdad, Iraq for two days. Thereafter, Trump ordered the drone attack which killed Soleimani right inside Baghdad. Soleimani was reputed as the top military strategist building a coalition of forces of neighbouring countries and militias opposed to the US and its policies in the Middle East.
So it was not a surprise that Soleimani’s death outraged many. Soleimani and his clandestine military operations had not always gone unnoticed, though. Nor had the cause he championed been hidden from the Western powers. While erstwhile US President Barak Obama preferred a different course of action such as accommodation, constructive engagement and even compromise; incumbent President Donald Trump would have none of Obama’s soft approach to what he considered present and threatening danger to America’s interests and world peace at large. Trump wanted a surgical operation – and he got one.
The US president began to bare his fangs in 2018 when he pulled the US out of the nuclear deal the World powers had with Iran to slow down its nuclear ambition. Trump wanted nothing short of total abandonment of Iran’s nuclear program. Iran would have none of that. Despite the regrets expressed by his allies, Trump threw the agreement with Iran out of the window and re-imposed stringent economic sanctions on Tehran. That had been the simmering discontent on ground before the December and January 3rd explosions. As would be expected, Iran threatened reprisals and its friends and sympathisers all over the world condemned the US action.
Nigeria was not exempted. A flurry of anti-Trump, anti-America articles, posts and diatribes attended the drone strike. Nigerian Shiites, whose patron saints the Iranians are, marched and chanted “Death to Trump”; “Death to America” Interestingly, they were allowed to march without let or hindrance. A government that had hounded the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (the Shiites), mowing them down as they protested the illegal detention of their leader and his wife, turned a blind spot as they marched chanting anti-Trump slogans and burning American flags. A flurry of articles rained expletives on Trump in both the social and traditional media. Those who would have squirmed had Buhari been called such names gladly heaped worse insults on Trump! America must have noticed!
Iran’s make-believe “reprisal” on America came last Wednesday. It was a fluke; a deceit. Iran meant by its action to deceive its own people as it gave not less than an hour strike notice before it fired its missiles. It was a sheer waste of resources throwing missiles at empty space. America was to later announce that the missiles did not hurt a fly. Iran, however, boasted it had killed not less than 80 American soldiers and wounded many. The Ayatollahs should have told their lie to the marines! You cannot kill just one American and sit pretty – not to talk of 80-something American soldiers! A government that deceives itself and beguiles its own people is abject indeed.
Same day as the Iranians were firing their useless missiles and making a mockery of themselves, a Ukrainian aircraft taking off from the Imam Ayatollah Khomeini International Airport in Tehran and heading for the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, was shot down, killing all 176 people on board. That will include whole families, babies, toddlers, husbands and wives, students, the young and old; name it! Many of the victims were dual nationals from Iran/Canada while other countries had nationals. One report said a Nigerian was victim as well.
For three days Iran lied it had no hand in downing the plane. Even in the face of damning evidence via satellite images, the vile Iranian regime poured expletives on Trump and the US rather than honourably own up. But honour is not that cheap. Bloody hounds, violent and rogue-regimes have no place for integrity. As the saying goes, however, falsehood may travel for a thousand years; truth will catch up with it in one day. So did Iran have to bury its head in shame and eat the humble pie after just 72 hours!
But she should not have been that contemptible! Satellite images had showed the plane was shot down by missiles. The Iranian officials on ground knew what happened and had told the Ayatollahs so. Yet, they chose to play vile politics. They called Trump a liar and insisted they had no hand in the calamity; but for technology, they could have bluffed their way through. The plane was downed last week Wednesday; Iran only confessed to its crime last Saturday! This is horrendous! They cannot be human beings who commit such crime and still go to every length to cover their tracks!
Even after confessing, the Iranians still made desperate efforts to justify their crime: It was the fear of threatened American attack that led them to make the mistake! Such bunkum! For Iran, silence would have been golden. Their blame game sounds familiar, though – Nigerians will understand that. We can draw other parallels such as lack of regard for the sanctity of human lives and the lack of respect by a government for its own people. Have you read our government’s condemnation of this murder of 176 people in one fell swoop by Iran? Have you read our government’s condolence to the families of the dead? This is a regime that issues frivolous condolence messages now and again; and which congratulates every Tom, Dick and Harry on their birthday or “iwuye”.
But we understand why this silence of the graveyard! We also understand why those who would bring down the roof over our head for the killing of Soleimoni have suddenly become mute. The first crime was committed by their inveterate and sworn foe. But the second was committed by their own “people”. The Shiites are not protesting the downing of the Ukrainian plane; they are not marching in the streets. They must not offend the Iranian authorities. All those columnists and social media guru with all their analyses when Soleimoni was shot down have all gone to Afghanistan. The Shiites have lost me. Whatever anyone does to and with them after this, their good grief!
When people fight for justice, it has to be across board, regardless of whose ox is gored. Justice is maintained on principles. No, you cannot pick and choose. The Iranians themselves are braving the odds and are marching. They are calling the Ayatollahs vile liars and are insisting they be held accountable for their vile action. Forty years down the road the chickens are coming home to roost for a murderous regime that has scant regard for human life and little respect for its own people. The people who rebelled against the Shah are now storming the Bastilles erected by Ayatollahs who promised freedom and the good life but only made their people’s suffering worse. Divested of their liberties and freedoms these past decades, the Iranians are saying they have had enough.
The Shah fell when everyone thought he was impregnable. The Ayatollahs will also soon become history. Freedom and liberty in Iran is an idea whose time has come. The brutal Iranian regime must not be allowed to get away with its atrocities against its own people this time around. Last November, it mowed down hundreds of its own citizens protesting against the insensitivity of a regime that has outlived its usefulness; no more! If you are a lover of freedom, support the Iranian demonstrators! If you have conscience, condemn the atrocities of the Iranian authorities!
Those who downed the Ukrainian plane, killing all the 176 persons on board and starting the year 2020 on a sad and sour note for an uncountable number of families, must be identified and brought to book. Stringent penalties that will serve as deterrence to others should be applied. This must be treated as crime against humanity. Every stratum of the Iranian authorities that tried to hide this atrocity must also be exposed and punished. As demanded by the Ukrainian authorities and in line with international aviation regulations, all the families of the dead and the Ukrainian airline must be paid exemplary compensation. And, as demanded by Iranian protesters, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei regime must be pressured to resign. I join the protesting Iranians as I shout: Clerics get lost! Death to the Ayatollahs! Death to the dictators! Freedom to Iran! Liberty to Iranians!