The United States has interests all around the world. At home and abroad, much of what happens goes on behind the scenes. Like the delicate negotiations that allowed Bill Clinton to secure the release of Laura Ling and Euna Lee, the two journalists who were held captive in North Korea for more than four months.
Why were these women in such a dangerous location? It seems that the reporters had undertaken a very hazardous assignment. Ling and Lee were said to be reporting on the trafficking of North Korean women who escape into China. If the women are caught, the Chinese government forcibly repatriates them. Such a compelling human rights story is a plausible reason for why the Americans were on the Chinese-North Korean border.
However, the back story about the three Americans who were were taken into custody by the Iranian military while they were hiking along the Iraqi-Kurdistan border with Iran is not so believable. According to a fourth American, who was not with them at the time, they are freelance journalists and English teachers who were on vacation, enjoying the beautiful Kurdish countryside.
It’s interesting to note that all four Americans are Jewish, and at least one is supposed to write for The Jewish Week. Given the notoriety of this story, I was surprised to find no mention of them in that publication. What’s going on?
The Iran-Iraq border area has been rife with conflict for decades. From1980 to 1988, that border was the site of a bloody war between the two countries with causalities estimated at one million for Iran and a half a million for Iraq.
The pretext Iraq used to start the war with Iran was a supposed assassination attempt on one of its ministers. (This was the era when Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons to massacre Kurds and Iranians.)
The area is still a tinderbox, and it seems an odd choice of locale for Americans to take a vacation. Were they just foolhardy adventurers? Were they spying for the US and Israel? Did they intend to get caught in Iranian territory to precipitate a crisis; thereby, providing justification for military action against Iran? Were they unknowing pawns?
In the shadowy world of warfare anything is possible. Most would never imagine that a chef, an entertainer and a baseball player could be spies. Yet, famous chef Julia Child, entertainer Josephine Baker, and Chicago White Sox catcher Moe Berg are now known to have been US spies during WWII.
During this week in which tensions with Iran have spiked around accusations of border incursions and spying, the shades of WWII were also in the news with the observance of the 64th anniversary of the US atomic bombing of Hiroshima. It’s ghastly to think that Americans are so militarized that the use of this weapon of massive destruction can still be justified.
And it seems really naive to think that we’ve grown more humanitarian since our horrific attack on Japan and that those three youthful travelers simply lost their way while taking a scenic hike along the Iraq-Iran border.
Update: 9pm 8/7/09 at 9pm
While continuing to do some research on this topic I happened to find an interesting description of the Iraq-Iran border from an ezine, Military.com, posted on 5/19/05. It’s an account from US military personnel about the region’s rugged terrain and the problems it presents to their efforts to patrol the area.
‘Way it’s always been’
“The border separating Iraq from Iran in the northeast is mountainous and a bear to effectively patrol. For centuries, merchants, smugglers and the region’s indigenous Kurds have moved about more or less with impunity. That continues to this day,” wrote Kevin Dougherty, for the Stars and Stripes Mideast Edition.