The politics of crashed UIA flight 752

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau updates Canadians at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa concerning the deadly plane crash in Iran. Image: Screenshot/Justin Trudeau

It's heartbreaking, listening to family and friends of people who died on UIA flight 752. Like the young woman in B.C. whose parents were doctors and came here from Iran in 2013, for her sake. She's trying to bring their bodies back because, she says, they felt most at home here.

That's a kind of Canadian magic. Elsewhere they'd likely be seen as Iranians who moved here. For most of us and for them, they're Canadians. People who come here from conflict zones often say they felt instantly at home because of the acceptance. The horror of this disaster was: even when you left the Mideast, it didn't leave you. You return for a wedding or visit and this happens. There's no escape.

There's been a growing consensus that the crash wasn't a "normal" one. The plane was new and generally reliable. Pilots were experienced. Takeoff was routine. Then crash. A former director of the U.S. Transportation Safety Board said investigators should put an attack "at the top of their agenda." Iran started a criminal inquiry. Its latest statement -- that it's the result of a fire on-board -- left open the cause of the fire.

It seemed weirdly coincidental that two hours before, Iran fired missiles at U.S. bases in Iraq, in response to a U.S. assassination. Sure, coincidences happen but, y'know.

So there'd been speculation on who might have attacked the plane. The Iranian military. (Though what sense did that make?) A Ukraine official suggested a Russian missile supplied to Iran. (But Ukraine's desperate to mollify the U.S.) Someone gone "rogue." Now U.S. sources are "increasingly certain" that Iran itself shot down the plane with a missile -- mistakenly, and Canada concurs.

There's no reason to automatically trust U.S. intelligence sources, as Trump himself likes to observe. But if this turns out to be true, it will be a hideous mirror version of another downed plane in the same neighbourhood, about 30 years ago. In fact, it's odd that the incident was only rarely cited this week.

The first thought for anyone in the Mideast or with knowledge of it would surely have been that 1988 crash of an Iranian airliner. It left Tehran and was shot down by a U.S. ship in Iranian waters. It was during the Iran-Iraq War, which had interference by the U.S. all over it. Two-hundred and ninety people died. The captain of the ship misidentified the plane, perhaps due to his own zeal or desire to get into the action, as described by colleagues. The U.S. tried denial and blaming Iran instead, then admitted they'd done it and paid a settlement to families of victims (without accepting legal responsibility -- shades of Weinstein!).

Now a plane again takes off from Tehran in a fraught moment. Who's involved? Iran, Iraq, the U.S. Nerves are edgy. Decisions must be made in short time frames. Overreactions are predictable. And the victims are innocent.

If it turns out that Iran did this mistakenly, like the U.S. 30 years go, or even that the U.S. did it again -- what will it show? That antagonists in these situations often have surprisingly much in common. The way that George W. Bush and Saddam Hussein somehow deserved each other, in their time of mutual infamy.

None of it, true or not, will change what happened. Could it have been avoided? Everyone has their own dog in these hunts, so here's my contribution.

What if the U.S. hadn't messed so infernally in the Mideast, for so long? In 1953, when it instigated a coup against a democratically elected Iranian government. In 1980, when it encouraged Iraq to attack Iran, followed by an eight-year bloodbath, to undermine the Iranian revolution of a year before. In 2003, by invading Iraq catastrophically for the region and the world. Last week's assassination, leading to this week's response. That's a very short list.

Without the U.S., there'd doubtless be other disasters in the region. But without all or even some of those interventions, the people who died on that plane would, or at least might, be at home, in Canada, with those who love them, now. The least they can do is let people there mess up on their own.

Rick Salutin writes about current affairs and politics. This column was first published in the Toronto Star.

Image: Screenshot/Justin Trudeau

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