(Published on Thursday, 01 March 2012 04:52 Written by GEOFFREY PICKETTS)
Activists fear another Middle East quagmire may be looming
As international concerns mount over Iran’s nuclear program, a group of Calgary activists descended upon the U.S. consulate on Feb. 4 to voice their opposition to Western military intervention.
South of the border, Iran has become top foreign policy concern of Republican presidential candidates, and President Barack Obama has stated that “all options are on the table” when it comes to handling any Iranian threat.
About 30 activists at the small rally lamented what they perceived as a drumbeat from politicians for another war in the Middle East.
“I think [the nuclear issue] is less of an issue than our governments want us to think,” Samantha Withnell, 18, said, while holding a sign that read: “Your tax dollars – their blood.”
Iran insists that it has complied with all inspections from the UN’s atomic watchdog and that its nuclear objectives are limited to energy supply and production of medical isotopes for cancer patients.
Nikki Baker, another activist, stated, “I don’t think Iran is making nuclear weapons and the sanctions are harming innocent people.
“Protester Samantha Withnell, centre, says she thinks that governments are making Iran’s possible nuclear threat out to be more than it really is.
Photo by: Christine Ramos
In a sign of havoc being unleashed on Iran’s civilian economy, Reuters has reported that bread prices in Tehran have tripled, while Iranian traders have defaulted on payments for 200,000 tonnes of rice from India.
However, in his 2012 State of the Union speech, President Obama insisted that harsh international sanctions are necessary to penalize Iran for its uranium enrichment and force negotiations on its program.
Withnell said that she is no fan of Iran’s ruling Ayatollahs but questioned the effectiveness of sanctions as a tool to topple the regime.
“Often Iranians my age are out protesting on the street,” she said. “It’s just a matter of letting (regime change) happen. I don’t know if we’re letting it happen or making it worse.”
Prospect of war
U.S. Defence Secretary Leon Panetta has told the Washington Post that he believes Israel will strike Iranian nuclear targets sometime in the spring, if sanctions fail to slow Iran’s nuclear developments. Similarly, Israel destroyed Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor in 1986, effectively ending Saddam Hussein’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.
The fear among peace activists is that any pre-emptive attack by a Western nation may draw others into the fray and lead to a long, protracted war – as what happened in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I grew up with that whole situation of going into Iraq and Afghanistan, that’s pretty much all I’ve ever known, and I don’t like it at all,” Withnell said.
Brent Talbot, another activist at the rally, said, “Peace is the only way we will achieve anything.”
Talbot also noted that the U.S. seems to have a heightened interest in military intervention in resource-rich countries like Iran and Libya.
In contrast, the resource-poor countries of North Korea and Rwanda have respectively developed nuclear weapons and carried out genocide with no American military intervention.
Organizer Jan Bacon said that more protests will be planned as the situation develops.
UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations on Tuesday said “well over 7,500 people” have been killed in Syria during an 11-month government crackdown on pro-democracy protesters, raising its previous estimated death toll by nearly a third.
UN Under-Secretary-General for political affairs Lynn Pascoe told the UN Security Council that the firepower of the opposition forces appeared to be minimal compared to the heavy weapons being used by the Syrian army.
“While we cannot give exact casualty figures there are credible reports that the death toll now often exceeds 100 civilians a day, including many women and children. The total killed so far is certainly well over 7,500 people,” Pascoe said.
Syrian authorities on Feb. 15 put the death toll at 3,838 – 2,493 civilians and 1,345 soldiers and police officers, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said on Tuesday during a debate at the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) in Geneva.
The last UN estimate had the death toll at over 5,400.
The outside world has proved powerless to halt the killing in Syria, where repression of initially peaceful protests has spawned an armed insurrection. Russia and China have twice used their vetoes to block any action by the UN Security Council.
“Unfortunately the international community has also failed in its duty to stop the carnage and actions and inactions to date have seemed to encourage the regime in its belief that it has impunity to carry on wanton destruction of its own civilians,” Pascoe said.
Pascoe’s comments came as France announced that there would be a third attempt by the UN Security Council to pass a resolution on Syria, this time specifically to address the humanitarian crisis.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, speaking on Swiss television on Monday night at the end of a visit to Geneva, said: “Nearly 8,000 people have been killed, including hundreds of children.”
Pascoe said about 25,000 Syrian refugees have registered with the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) in neighboring countries and as many as 200,000 people have been internally displaced in the country.
He described the situation as “increasingly dire” for people trapped in besieged towns, such as Homs and Hama. “According to human rights organizations more than 5,000 civilians have been prevented from fleeing by government forces,” Pascoe said.
“The humanitarian consequences of the violence have become severe. In towns affected by sustained fighting . . . their water and electricity have been cut off. Access to medical care and basic food and fuel are critically needed,” he said.
Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, now the new UN-Arab League envoy on Syria, was due to meet U.S. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in New York on Wednesday, Pascoe said.
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