Monday, November 13, 2006

Fault lines in the greater Middle East


BBC News:
A sixth minister has resigned from the Lebanese government, which was plunged into a political crisis when all five Shia cabinet members quit.

Environment Minister Yacoub Sarraf, a Christian, is an ally of pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud like his Shia colleagues from Hezbollah and Amal.

They resigned after calls for a greater role in government were rejected.
The Christian Science Monitor:
The resignation of the Shiite ministers in the 24-member government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora came after Lebanon's top leaders reached deadlock in a week-long series of round-table talks to discuss opposition demands for creating an expanded national unity government. The opposition, spearheaded by Hizbullah, is seeking a one-third share of the cabinet, granting it veto power over government decisions.

The walkout threatens to prolong political gridlock in Lebanon and raises the threat of Hizbullah launching street protests to demand early parliamentary elections.

"We are going to witness a peak in this political, media, and popular cold war that we saw in the aftermath of the Hariri assassination, only this time around the consequences are going to be much more profound for Lebanon, the region, and the United States," says Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, a visiting fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace's Middle East center in Beirut.
The New York Times:
“After the first of the year, I am leaving to Qatar,” one woman, Myrtha Hadidi, said Sunday, after she bowed her head and crossed herself in front of the grave. “The situation is very, very dangerous now. I think there will be a war again.”

Across town, along the crowded streets of the poor Shiite neighborhood devastated by Israeli bombs during the summer war, there is despair over the destruction, but confidence in the growing power of Lebanon’s Shiites.
Joshua Landis wrote last week about war rumors for Summer, 2007.

He quotes, I assume approvingly, from Reuters:
While the resignations will not bring down the government, they pose a major challenge to the majority anti-Syrian coalition in a country where the political system is based on a delicate sectarian balance….

"The two groups allied to Syria said the anti-Syrian majority had rejected their demands for a decisive say in government during week-long talks that collapsed earlier in the day.

The escalating political crisis could provoke confrontation on the streets of Beirut at a time of rising tension between Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims.
Either you give the Shiite extensive power in Lebanon, thus enhancing Syria and Iran (for the short term, and more so the latter than the former) or you present Hezbollah and Nasrallah with a political cause within Lebanon to enhance the group's position among the Shiite. This is a tough spot.


KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- Insurgent activity in Afghanistan has risen fourfold this year, and militants now launch more than 600 attacks a month, a rising wave of violence that has resulted in 3,700 deaths in 2006, a bleak new report found.

Afghanistan saw about 130 insurgent attacks a month last year, said the report by the Joint Coordination and Monitoring Board, which consists of representatives from Afghanistan and the international community, including the United Nations.

The new report said insurgents were launching more than 600 attacks a month as of the end of September, up from 300 a month at the end of March this year. The violence has killed more than 3,700 people this year, it said.
The Los Angeles Times:
THE commander of Afghan troops confronting the Taliban here is a career officer with a clipped gray beard and a formal bearing who once fought for a Soviet-backed puppet government. His deputy is his former enemy.

Many of their soldiers fought for or against the Russians, against the Taliban or for various warlords — except those so young they had never picked up a rifle.

From this unwieldy mix, the U.S. military and the Afghan government are attempting to create something Afghanistan has never had: a national army that is made up of all the country's ethnic groups and represents a unified central government.

Five years after the fall of the Taliban government, thousands of well-armed insurgents have reemerged to seize large swaths of southern Afghanistan.

In many districts, warlords, opium dealers and corrupt police help the religious extremists exert authority. Except for their fortified, American-built bases in the south, Afghan army units control virtually no territory, and they depend totally on the Americans for supplies and support.

Robert M. Gates

The Boston Globe:
Gates, a longtime CIA operative and former director, was the official responsible for delivering secret intelligence to Saddam Hussein in the 1980s to help Iraq fight Iran. After the 1991 Persian Gulf War, Gates traveled secretly to the region to plot Hussein's overthrow, even though he personally worried there was no viable replacement waiting in the wings, according to congressional testimony from the time.

Before the 2003 US invasion, Gates cautioned about the potential consequences of a preemptive war, questioning whether the United States was fully prepared for the task.

Now, after spending nearly eight months reexamining US policy in Iraq as a member of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, his varied knowledge and experience will help inform his views of what can be accomplished as he prepares to take on the most difficult mission of his career, according to former government officials and participants in commission's deliberations.

"Gates was an analyst, and his mind is always thinking and weighing," said Judith Yaphe , a former CIA analyst on Iraq who worked with Gates at the CIA. "I think it's a good choice."
The Washington Times (my emphasis):
"He definitely is not seen as someone wimping out on the global war," said a Pentagon adviser. "How he does it, and what tools, and who he entrusts with them, that's a whole different issue."


"He has experience leading large and complex organizations, and he has shown that he is an agent of change," Mr. Bush said in his weekly radio address. "He will provide a fresh outlook on our strategy in Iraq, and what we need to do to prevail."

That task will be Mr. Gates' overriding focus in the administration's last two years. The quiet government staff man and former college president will be the Pentagon leader the president hopes will ensure that Iraq is not as damaging in the 2008 election to Republicans as it was in 2006.

The Guardian:
Tony Blair will use his Mansion House foreign policy speech today to offer Syria and Iran a chance to play a major role in a wider Middle East settlement, but if they reject the offer they will be beyond the international pale, his spokesman said today.

Number 10 is anxious that the prime minister's call for a dialogue with Syria and Iran, the so-called "axis of evil", is not presented as a surrender or an admission that the government's policy on Iraq has collapsed.

The Los Angeles Times:
Maliki later told journalists that he had authorized the use of "extreme force" against private militias blamed for the growing bloodshed between Iraq's dominant Muslim sects, including the deaths of nearly 100 people in 24 hours.

"There cannot be a government and militias together. One of the two should rule," Maliki said in a session Sunday with Iraqi newspaper editors broadcast on national television. "I personally will not be in a government based on militias."

It was unusually tough language for a leader widely criticized as failing to stand up to key members of his governing Shiite coalition, some of whom are backed by militias blamed for nightly killing rampages against the Sunni Arab minority.
The Washington Times (Telegraph):
Stopping monsters such as Abu Deraa -- whose nom de guerre means "the shield" -- is a top U.S. priority as it tries to halt sectarian violence, which regularly claims 100 lives a day.

But the Shi'ite-dominated government has shown a marked reluctance to sanction the kind of large-scale operation necessary to arrest him in his stronghold of Sadr City, a vast Shi'ite slum in eastern Baghdad.

Taking action against him could cost it valuable support among other Shi'ite militias who, despite official disdain for Abu Deraa's bloodthirstiness, value the fear that such a loose cannon inspires in their enemies.

"We are proud of leaders like Abu Deraa," said Hassan Allami, 25, a fighter with the Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi's Army, which Abu Deraa quit earlier this year to form his own faction. "His drills destroy the crazy minds of the Sunnis."
al Sadr

The New York Times: "Influence Rises but Base Frays for Iraqi Cleric"


Post a Comment

<< Home