|Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives|
Saddam Hussein executed in Baghdad
By Steve Negus and Demetri Sevastopulo, Financial Times, December 29, 2006
Saddam Hussein, the former Iraqi dictator, was put to death at dawn on Saturday, Baghdad time, just days after an Iraqi appeals court refused to commute his execution.
Before he was taken to the gallows inside Baghdad's green zone, the former Iraqi president was reportedly handed a "red card" signaling his imminent death - a reminder of the red cards dealt to those he had condemned to death during his time in power. [complete article]
Comment -- It's hard not to assume that the swiftness of Saddam's execution had more to do with imperatives perceived by the White House than any semblance of an exercise in justice. Just in time for President Bush's "new course for Iraq" speech, now he has another "important milestone" to mark off. Equally clear, the metrics still being used to calibrate progress in Bush's war illuminate nothing more than the shallow minds of the president and his speech writers. Now as before, it is painfully obvious that the latest "new" dawn in Iraq will be anything but new, while Washington's impoverished imagination persists unabated.
As Riverbend writes:
Through the constant insistence of American war propaganda, Saddam is now representative of all Sunni Arabs (never mind most of his government were Shia). The Americans, through their speeches and news articles and Iraqi Puppets, have made it very clear that they consider him to personify Sunni Arab resistance to the occupation. Basically, with this execution, what the Americans are saying is "Look- Sunni Arabs- this is your man, we all know this. We're hanging him- he symbolizes you." And make no mistake about it, this trial and verdict and execution are 100% American.And since the Sunni resistance has long had no practical need for Saddam, his value can now only have been greatly enhanced by his becoming a "martyr." Reporter returns to Baghdad to find it far different - and worse off
By Hannah Allam, McClatchy, December 28, 2006
When I was last here in 2005, it took guts and guards, but you could still travel to most anywhere in the capital. Now, there are few true neighborhoods left. They're mostly just cordoned-off enclaves in various stages of deadly sectarian cleansing. Moving trucks piled high with furniture weave through traffic, evidence of an unfolding humanitarian crisis involving hundreds of thousands of forcibly displaced Iraqis.
The Sunni-Shiite segregation is the starkest change of all, but nowadays it seems like everything in Baghdad hinges on separation. There's the Green Zone to guard the unpopular government from its suffering people, U.S. military bases where Iraqis aren't allowed to work, armored sedans to shield VIPs from the explosions that kill workaday civilians, different TV channels and newspapers for each political party, an unwritten citywide dress code to keep women from the eyes of men.
Attempts to bring people together have failed miserably. I attended a symposium called "How to Solve Iraq's Militia Problem," but the main militia representatives never showed up and those of us who did were stuck inside for hours while a robot disabled a car bomb in the parking lot.
Then there was the Iraqi government's two-day national reconciliation conference, which offered little more than the grandstanding of politicians whose interests are best served by the fragmenting of their country. The message was: The south is for the Shiites, the north is for the Kurds, the west is for the Sunnis, and the east is open for Iran. Baghdad, the besieged anchor in the center, is a free-for-all. [complete article] Book: Israel, lobby pushing Iran war
By Nathan Guttman, The Forward, December 29, 2006
A former United Nations weapons inspector and leading Iraq War opponent has written a new book alleging that Jerusalem is pushing the Bush administration into war with Iran, and accusing the pro-Israel lobby of dual loyalty and "outright espionage."
In the new book, called "Target Iran," Scott Ritter, who served as a senior U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq from 1991 to 1998 and later became one of the war's staunchest critics, argues that the United States is readying for military action against Iran, using its nuclear program as a pretext for pursuing regime change in Tehran.
"The Bush administration, with the able help of the Israeli government and the pro-Israel Lobby, has succeeded," Ritter writes, "in exploiting the ignorance of the American people about nuclear technology and nuclear weapons so as to engender enough fear that the American public has more or less been pre-programmed to accept the notion of the need to militarily confront a nuclear armed Iran." [complete article]
See also, Target Iran: Former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter and investigative journalist Seymour Hersh on White House plans for regime change (Democracy Now!). The ludicrous attacks on Jimmy Carter's book
By Norman Finkelstein, Counterpunch, December 28, 2006
As Jimmy Carter's new book Palestine Peace Not Apartheid climbs the bestseller list, the reaction of Israel's apologists scales new peaks of lunacy. I will examine a pair of typical examples and then look at the latest weapon to silence Carter.
No aspect of Carter's book has evoked more outrage than its identification of Israeli policy in the Occupied Palestinian Territory with apartheid. Michael Kinsley in the Washington Post called it "foolish and unfair," the Boston Globe editorialized that it was "irresponsibly provocative," while the New York Times reported that Jewish groups condemned it as "dangerous and anti-Semitic."
In fact the comparison is a commonplace among informed commentators.
From its initial encounter with Palestine the Zionist movement confronted a seemingly intractable dilemma: How to create a Jewish state in a territory that was overwhelmingly non-Jewish? Israeli historian Benny Morris observes that Zionists could choose from only two options: "the way of South Africa"--i.e., "the establishment of an apartheid state, with a settler minority lording it over a large, exploited native majority"--or "the way of transfer"--i.e., "you could create a homogeneous Jewish state or at least a state with an overwhelming Jewish majority by moving or transferring all or most of the Arabs out." [complete article]
See also, Dershowitz vs. Carter in Beantown (John V. Walsh) and Reiterating the keys to peace (Jimmy Carter). End of the neocons
By Azmi Bishara, Al-Ahram, December 28, 2006
There came a moment in 2006, impossible to pinpoint even to the month (certainly it occurred well before the one, only and everlasting Shimon Peres said, "I told the Americans that there is no sense in sending a $100 million jet to chase a terrorist that will down the plane with a shoulder-held grenade launcher. One can't force Muslims to endorse democracy"), when American democratic evangelism in the Arab world petered out. Whether you attribute it to a racist attitude that presumes an inherent incompatibility between democracy and the "Muslim mentality and culture," or reversion to a pragmatism that is indifferent to the entire moral subject, American conservatives have returned to their bases safe and sound, albeit having lost a regiment or two of neoconservatives due to the consequences of the war against Iraq in 2003, the war against Lebanon in 2006, the long and ongoing war against the Palestinians and, specifically, since the mass offensive that was launched in 2002 in the wake of the Arab peace initiative. [complete article] Killing of Palestinians triples
Al Jazeera, December 29, 2006
From January to December 2006, the Israeli military killed 655 Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, according to the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem - a huge rise on last year.
The defining moment was the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, on June 26, after which the number of Palestinian civilians killed increased greatly.
Sarit Michaeli, communications director of B'Tselem, said: "Following the kidnapping of Corporal Shalit, Israel staged several operations inside Gaza where Israeli forces killed 405 Palestinians over six months." [complete article] Reinventing Arafat
By Tony Karon, Time.com, December 29, 2006
There's a dark sense of humor at work when Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert agrees, at the prodding of the Bush Administration, to release to President Mahmoud Abbas $100 million of the Palestinian Authority funds it has frozen — and Abbas's aides then tell the New York Times that the money will be used "to strengthen his Fatah movement and pay salaries to Fatah loyalists." Clearly, the U.S. and Israel have come full circle on the question of Palestinian governance: Now that Yasser Arafat is gone, they appear to be reinventing him.
In 2001 the Bush Administration, coached by then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, embraced the notion that the reason there was no peace between Israel and the Palestinians was the nefarious maneuvering of Arafat. The Palestinian leader — elected in a race that could hardly be described as competitive — was an incorrigible autocrat, who had accumulated massive amounts of political and financial power in his own hands, bypassing the elected legislature and democratic institutions. He was running the Palestinian Authority as his personal fiefdom, the argument went, stoking militancy and blocking the emergence of a moderate consensus through his political control.
Outraged by this tale of cynical autocracy standing in the way of Middle East peace, the Bush Administration read the Palestinians the riot act. Before there was to be any pressure on Israel to move forward on the peace process, the Palestinians would not only have to dismantle Hamas and other groups mounting terror attacks, they would also have to complete a thorough reform of their institutions — Arafat would have to cede much of his executive power and control over funds and the security forces to the democratically elected legislature and a cabinet headed by its chosen Prime Minister. Palestinian democracy, as well as security crackdowns, would now be a precondition for peace. [complete article]
See also, With pow-wow, Olmert tries to bolster Abbas and himself (The Forward). Israel allows £6m arms delivery to Abbas's forces
By Conal Urquhart, The Guardian, December 29, 2006
Israel has allowed Egypt to deliver a large consignment of guns and ammunition to shore up the presidential guard of the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in his battle against Hamas, it was revealed yesterday.
The arms were delivered on Tuesday night to Mr Abbas's security force in Gaza where confrontations between his Fatah faction and Hamas have almost escalated into civil war. Palestinian and Egyptian spokesmen denied there had been any arms transfer but it was confirmed by Israeli government sources, and witnesses in Gaza said they saw a lorry drop a box of guns on the street close to the Karni border crossing where the arms arrived.
The delivery, which included 2,000 AK-47 rifles, 20,000 magazines and 2 million bullets, would have a street value in Gaza of about £6m. It arrived in Israel from Egypt at the Kerem Shalom border crossing in four lorries and was escorted by military police to the Karni crossing into Gaza, where it was received by members of the presidential guard. [complete article]
See also, Palestinian group: Egyptian arms will be used against Israel (Ynet) and Inching towards implosion (Khaled Amayreh). Ethiopians help seize Somali capital
By Craig Timberg, Washington Post, December 29, 2006
Ethiopian-backed troops moved unopposed into Somalia's unruly capital of Mogadishu on Thursday, taking over from fleeing Islamic fighters as clan elders and politicians met in an effort to establish the first viable secular government in the country since 1991.
Soldiers of the Transitional Federal Government, which was patched together two years ago in neighboring Kenya with limited support in Somalia, advanced along streets to cheers but also looting and mayhem, according to news reports. They arrived at the ancient oceanside city after a five-day blitz by tanks and warplanes of the Ethiopian armed forces.
Islamic fighters who for six months had enforced a rigid moral code in Mogadishu disappeared, some simply shaving their long beards and vanishing into neighborhoods, witnesses said. "We have been defeated. I have removed my uniform. Most of my comrades have also changed into civilian clothes," one former Islamic fighter told the Reuters news agency. "Most of our leaders have fled."
Retreating south along the Indian Ocean coast from a city scarred by a decade and a half of intermittent war, leaders of the Islamic Courts movement vowed to continue the fight. Analysts warned that the force's apparent collapse could be followed by an Iraq-style insurgency that would keep the impoverished country unstable through a mix of assassinations, car bombs and political action. [complete article] Iraq war fuels global jihad
By Fawaz A. Gerges, YaleGlobal, December 21, 2006
Five years after the September 11 attacks, Al Qaeda's notion of a clash of religions is no longer farfetched. In both camps, tiny minorities beat the drums, rallying the faithful to fight in a war they believe was caused by the other. Ordinary Muslims, not just Islamists and jihadists, view the "war on terror" as a war against their religion and values. Many Muslims who had initially condemned Al Qaeda and 9/11 are having second thoughts about bin Laden's fight against the Americans and their allies. Bin Laden has gained credibility in their eyes. "Now he is defending the Ummah," confided a young rising poet, Massoud Hamed.
Top American policymakers – as opposed to intelligence officers – have little appreciation for how their military involvement in Iraq, as well as their staunch support of Israel, is radicalizing mainstream Muslim opinion and legitimizing radical groups that wage armed struggle in Iraq, Palestine, Afghanistan, Lebanon and elsewhere. "Al-Muqawama," or resistance, is the most popular slogan in the Muslim world today, resonating deeply among men and women of all ages with religious and nationalist orientation alike. The plight of the Palestinians and Iraqis, in particular, echoes widely.
I have yet to hear a Friday sermon in which believers are not reminded to lend a helping hand to their beleaguered Palestinian and Iraqi counterparts. The ability of Lebanon's Hezbollah, or Party of God, to resist the Israeli military onslaught has lent credence to Al-Muqawama proponents. "Hezbollah's victory over the mighty Israeli army had broken the psychological barrier of fear among Muslims," a leading political activist told me. "We no longer fear American and Israeli military power. We are armed with faith." [complete article] The regathering storm
By Sami Yousafzai, Ron Moreau and Mark Hosenball, Newsweek, December 25, 2006
For the past year, a secret has been slowly spreading among Taliban commanders in Afghanistan: a 12-man team of Westerners was being trained by Al Qaeda in Pakistan for a special mission. Most of the Afghan fighters could rely only on hearsay, but some told of seeing the "English brothers" (as the foreign recruits were nicknamed for their shared language) in person. One eyewitness, a former Guantánamo detainee with close Taliban and Qaeda ties, spoke to Newsweek recently in southern Afghanistan, demanding anonymity because he doesn't want the Americans looking for him. He says he met the 12 recruits in November 2005, at a mud-brick compound near the North Waziristan town of Mir Ali. That was as much as the tight-lipped former detainee would divulge, except to mention that Adam Yahiye Gadahn, the notorious fugitive "American Al Qaeda," was with the brothers, presumably as an interpreter.
[complete article] Some in Iran ask whether their country and U.S. can ease tensions
By Anne Barnard and James F. Smitha, Boston Globe, December 26, 2006
At a time of worsening tension between Iran and the United States, many Iranians are asking whether the two estranged nations can still move past their old arguments and at least communicate civilly, if not reconcile.
Young Iranians are often quick to say they do not like their government's handling of the issues that divide the two countries, but many also say the U.S. policy of isolating Iran has worsened things. From reformists to hard-liners, Iranians suggest that the United States needs to take the first step toward resuming a diplomatic dialogue by showing Iran some respect.
"If the United States just corrects its behavior against Iran, we can open the door," said Deputy Foreign Minister Saeed Jalili, who has worked closely with the nation's leading clerics. "We have a proverb: 'We don't expect any benefits, but just don't hurt us.'"
Formal contacts between the two countries all but stopped when the countries broke relations after the seizure of American diplomats at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979, at the height of the Islamic Revolution that toppled the shah. Under U.S. policy, American diplomats are not allowed to talk to Iranian officials. The governments grant few visas for each others' citizens, and last month Iran began fingerprinting arriving American visitors, matching the U.S. practice for Iranians.
But many Iranians go out of their way to tell visiting Americans that they think their government's "Death to America" antipathy to the United States is pointless rhetoric at best. [complete article] Iran in Afghanistan: Paving with good intentions?
By David rohde, IHT, December 26, 2006
Two years ago, foreign engineers built a new highway through the desert of western Afghanistan, past this ancient trading post and on to the outside world. Nearby, they strung a high-voltage power line and laid a fiber-optic cable, marked with red posts, that provides telephone and Internet access to the region.
The modernization comes with a message. Every 8 to 16 kilometers, or 5 to 10 miles, road signs offer quotations from the Koran. "Forgive us, God," declares one. "God is clear to everyone," says another. A graceful mosque rises roadside, with a green glass dome and Koranic inscriptions in blue tile. The style is unmistakably Iranian.
All of this is fruit of Iran's drive to become a bigger player in Afghanistan, as it exploits new opportunities to spread its influence and ideas farther across the Middle East.
The rise of Hezbollah, with Iran's support, has demonstrated the extent of Tehran's sway in Lebanon, and the American toppling of Saddam Hussein has allowed it to expand its influence in Iraq. Iran has been making inroads into Afghanistan, as well. [complete article] In Somalia, a reckless U.S. proxy war
By Salim Lone, IHT, December 26, 2006
Undeterred by the horrors and setbacks in Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon, the Bush administration has opened another battlefront in the Muslim world. With full U.S. backing and military training, at least 15,000 Ethiopian troops have entered Somalia in an illegal war of aggression against the Union of Islamic Courts, which controls almost the entire south of the country.
As with Iraq in 2003, the United States has cast this as a war to curtail terrorism, but its real goal is to obtain a direct foothold in a highly strategic region by establishing a client regime there. The Horn of Africa is newly oil-rich, and lies just miles from Saudi Arabia, overlooking the daily passage of large numbers of oil tankers and warships through the Red Sea. General John Abizaid, the current U.S. military chief of the Iraq war, was in Ethiopia this month, and President Hu Jintao of China visited Kenya, Sudan and Ethiopia earlier this year to pursue oil and trade agreements.
The U.S. instigation of war between Ethiopia and Somalia, two of world's poorest countries already struggling with massive humanitarian disasters, is reckless in the extreme. Unlike in the run-up to Iraq, independent experts, including from the European Union, were united in warning that this war could destabilize the whole region even if America succeeds in its goal of toppling the Islamic Courts. [complete article]
See also, Ethiopia steps up attacks on Somalia (WP), U.S. signals support for Ethiopian attacks on Somali Islamists (AP), and Islamist forces in Somalia are on the retreat (NYT). India: Emerging as Eastern or Western power?
By Kishore Mahbubani, YaleGlobal, December 19, 2006
Many in the West have never felt so insecure, both in their daily lives and sense of future. Remarkably, one man sitting in a cave in Afghanistan has unleashed much of this insecurity. A few young English Muslims aggravated it further. Lou Dobbs has convinced many Americans that outsourcing to Asia is the next big threat to America. Europeans, by contrast, feel threatened when a British citizen of Indian ancestry, Lakshmi Mittal, tries to buy a European steel company, all the while playing by European rules. All these are examples of insecurity.
If the Goldman Sachs BRICs study is accurate, three of the four largest economies in the year 2050 will be Asian: China, USA, Indian and Japan. It is hard to engage in Western triumph if this triumph does not rest on a conviction of perpetually superior economic performance.
Something equally important has occurred in the moral dimension. If anyone had suggested 15 years ago that Western countries would allow the use of torture, he would have been dismissed out of hand. But this has happened. In 2005, Irene Khan, the head of the Amnesty International, said: "Guantanamo is the gulag of our times." If her statement was untrue, there should have been a rush of denials from the West. If her statement was true, an equally strong chorus of voices would have demanded that this had to stop. Apart from a few flutters of regret, nothing really happened. The gulag continued.
This silence of the West has resulted in a profound shift in how leading Asian minds view the West. Instead of seeing the West as a paragon of virtue, they now see an emperor with no moral clothing.
The good news here is that many of these "Western" values may not be uniquely Western, and other custodians could emerge.
The West believes that it alone championed "freedom" and "tolerance." But Amartya Sen points to the Indian emperor Ashoka, "who during the third century BCE covered the country with inscriptions on stone tablets about good behaviour and wise governance, including a demand for basic freedoms for all -- indeed, he did not exclude women and slaves as Aristotle did."
Sen's point is that the great divide between the East and West may be artificial, that the values of freedom and tolerance, reason and logic, may not be uniquely Western. [complete article] Across Africa, a sense that U.S. power isn't so super
By Jeffrey Gettleman, New York Times, December 24, 2006
The rally was supposed to be against Ethiopia, Somalia's neighbor and historic archenemy, which in the past few weeks had sent troops streaming across the border in an attempt to check the power of the increasingly powerful Islamists who rule Mogadishu.
But the cheers that shook the stadium (which had no roof, by the way, and was riddled with bullet holes) were about another country, far, far away.
"Down, down U.S.A.!" thousands of Somalis yelled, many of them waving cocked Kalashnikovs. "Slit the throats of the Americans!"
Not exactly soothing words, especially when the passport in your pocket has one of those golden eagles on it.
Somalia may be the place that best illustrates a trend sweeping across the African continent: After Sept. 11, 2001, the United States concluded that anarchy and misery aid terrorism, and so it tried to re-engage Africa. But anti-American sentiment on the continent has only grown, and become increasingly nasty. And the United States seems unable to do much about it. [complete article] What surrounds the Iraqi tinderbox
By Bill Marsh, New York Times, December 24, 2006
If Iraq should descend into full-blown civil war, its neighbors could be drawn into a "regional conflagration," as the new defense secretary, Robert M. Gates, put it to the Senate. Would that mean whole national armies squaring off against one another? Not likely soon, experts say. But after several more years of rising sectarian strife, centered in Iraq and spreading beyond its frontiers, a much wider war could ignite.
For now, the five largest nations bordering Iraq are keenly watching out for their interests: siding with Iraq's Sunni or Shiite Muslims, controlling their own domestic rumblings, and seeking to increase their influence in the region. [complete article]
Iraqi government, resisting change, seeks aid
By Marc Santora, New York Times, December 24, 2006
Iraq's governing Shiite coalition, seeking to avoid possible disintegration, sent a delegation on Saturday to Najaf to visit two of Iraq's most important unelected figures: the venerated religious leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and the radical cleric Moktada al-Sadr, who draws his support, in part, from the strength of his militia.
The delegation hoped to shore up support by bringing Mr. Sadr back into the government and getting reassurances from Ayatollah Sistani that he would reject recent calls, largely from the United States, for the formation of a new governing coalition, according to one official who was present at the meetings and spoke on condition of anonymity.
The current coalition is made of many Shiite groups, including Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki's Dawa Party. The proposed new coalition would include Sunni Arabs and Kurds and is viewed as a potential threat to the Maliki government.
Ayatollah Sistani almost never states his views publicly, and did not on Saturday. As is often the case, it was left to those who met with him to characterize his views. Leaders who met with him on Saturday said he rejected the calls for a new coalition. [complete article] 'Hezbollah shows the world America is wrong'
By Andrew Higgins, Wall Street Journal, December 9, 2006
Ibrahim Sayid was raised a Muslim, but he put his faith in class struggle, not Allah. He joined the Lebanese Communist Party at the age of 16. As a medical student in the Soviet Union in the 1980s, he cursed Mikhail Gorbachev as a "traitor" for jettisoning Marxism.
Today, back in his home village just a few hundred yards from Israel, Dr. Sayid, 44, still has little time for Islam. He is married to a Christian and shuns the local mosque, badly damaged when Israeli troops stormed into Lebanon this summer.
Instead of communism, he has embraced a new cause: Hezbollah, the militia and social movement rooted in Shiite Islam. The Party of God, as it is translated into English, is led by turbaned clerics and aided by the Islamic Republic of Iran, which has ruthlessly persecuted communists.
"We all have the same goals," explains Dr. Sayid, who now works in a Hezbollah clinic. The first of these goals is "resistance" against Israel, which during the summer war battled Hezbollah militiamen just outside Dr. Sayid's village. He says resistance also has a broader target: America, its allies in the Arab world and beyond, and global capitalism.
When the Cold War ended a decade and a half ago with the collapse of the Soviet Union, Mr. Sayid and others like him around the world mourned the apparent triumph of U.S. military, economic and ideological might. Many Americans rejoiced, with some embracing the theory that the demise of Marxism marked "the end of history," a period when ideological conflicts would give way to a world united in acceptance of a model typified by the U.S.
Al Qaeda's attacks on New York and Washington in September 2001 didn't fundamentally alter this conviction. Political Islam was seen as a grave threat but seemed limited in its appeal by its dependence on religious zeal. Such assumptions are now under strain as secular rebels, antiglobalization militants and other strains of revolt rally to the banner of "resistance" offered by Islamist groups such as Hezbollah.
Religion, excoriated by Karl Marx as the "opiate of the masses," has become a great mobilizing force -- even for zealous atheists. The phenomenon extends beyond the Middle East to Europe, Latin America and Africa, too. Causes that a few years ago seemed moribund or at least passé -- socialism, Third World solidarity, strident anti-Americanism -- have been injected with the fervor, though rarely the actual faith, of Islamic radicalism.
"We are all here to fight American hegemony," Naim Qassem, Hezbollah's deputy chief, told hundreds of secular activists from around the world who gathered last month in a Beirut conference center. They were there to celebrate his Islamic movement's "divine victory" over Israel this summer and cheer a broader battle against America's vision for the world. Mr. Qassem was dressed in flowing robes and a cleric's turban. Many in his audience wore T-shirts or badges featuring portraits of Che Guevara, clenched fists and other emblems of secular radical chic.
Adding to its revolutionary cachet, Hezbollah is now battling to oust Lebanon's pro-American government. Along with assorted allies, the Islamist group staged a huge peaceful rally in central Beirut Dec. 1 and is the driving force behind a mass sit-in near the offices of Prime Minister Fuad Siniora, a pro-business former banker. The protesters, encamped in tents for a week now, vow to stay until the government falls. Stoking fears the showdown may spiral into serious violence, Hezbollah has called for another mass demonstration Sunday.
Some of Hezbollah's biggest fans are in Europe. There, the hard left, demoralized by the collapse of communism, has found new energy, siding with Islamist militants in Lebanon, in Iraq and in a wider campaign against what they see as an American plot to impose unrestrained free-market capitalism.
"We are all Hezbollah now," read posters carried through London this summer during an antiwar protest march. Earlier, London Mayor Ken Livingston, once known as "Red Ken," invited a controversial Egyptian cleric to the British capital, arguing that his views have been distorted by the West.
In deeply Roman Catholic Latin America, Hugo Chávez of Venezuela has become the exemplar of a new populism that sees common cause with Iran and Hezbollah. Mr. Chávez, re-elected in a landslide last Sunday, has met Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad several times and this summer was given the Islamic Republic Medal, Iran's highest honor. Amid the rubble of Beirut's southern suburbs, a Hezbollah stronghold, portraits of Mr. Chávez now hang alongside pictures of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. Hezbollah put them up after Mr. Chávez denounced President Bush as the devil in a September speech to the UN. "Gracias Chávez," they say.
Africa, too, is boarding the bandwagon. A summit of the 53-nation African Union this summer in Gambia featured two special guests: Mr. Chavez and Mr. Ahmadinejad. Back in Tehran, Mr. Ahmadinejad in November hosted Zimbabwe's authoritarian Prime Minister Robert Mugabe, an erstwhile devotee of Mao Zedong. Fulminating against President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Mr. Mugabe said likeminded countries must "fight against these evil men and their evil systems."
In the U.S., the principal target for both Islamist and leftist anger, there has been little sign of any ideological realignment of the kind seen elsewhere. The anti-American movement overseas poses scant immediate threat to U.S. pre-eminence. Still, it could complicate American diplomacy, particularly in the Middle East, where the Iraq Study Group and others are urging Washington to reach out to Iran and Syria, both vocal foes. It also risks emboldening America's many critics in Europe and Latin America, aggravating friction on a host of issues from the Israel-Palestine dispute to trade.
With America's reputation badly blemished across much of the globe, widespread anger at Washington's foreign policy is fusing with local grievances in an unstable mix of discontent. The result is a motley assemblage rife with contradictions and competing agendas. The Islamist-led protest movement has none of the central organization once provided by the Comintern, the body set up by Vladimir Lenin to coordinate global communism. Nonetheless, it is giving voice and a sense of common cause to those opposed to America's plans.
Leading the way in embracing it are mostly fringe groups with names redolent of the 1960s: The Global Peace and Justice Coalition, The Socialist Workers Party, The League for the Fifth International. While such outfits are quirky, they "magnify trends in the mainstream," says Nick Cohen, a British writer who is publishing a book next year about the alliance between Islamists and leftists, "What's Left?" Karl Marx, he says, would be horrified.
"The sight of Godless communists in alliance with Islamo-fascists is one of the wonders of the modern world," Mr. Cohen says.
Mainstream left-of-center parties still generally shun Islamists but chunks of their support base don't. Mr. Blair in Britain, for example, has come under fire within his own Labour Party for supporting President Bush's troubled Middle East policy, which critics say demonizes Islamist groups. In Spain, the socialist prime minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, has reached out to Muslims, propounding what he calls "an alliance of civilizations" and voicing sympathy for Hamas and Hezbollah. He has good relations with Mr. Chávez, Fidel Castro of Cuba and Bolivia's populist leader, Evo Morales.
At the Beirut conference last month, a Mexican Marxist denounced America for "colonizing" New Mexico. A South Korean foe of free trade raged against American beef. A Turk fumed about American military bases. A Frenchman denounced American genetically engineered foods and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. There were even a few Americans. One thundered against big business, another against the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
A big part of Hezbollah's appeal is simply that, unlike other tarnished icons of revolt, it can point to successes. It has defied Israel's military, by far the region's most powerful. It prodded Israel to end its 18-year occupation of southern Lebanon in 2000 and unexpectedly bloodied Israeli troops in clashes this summer.
Hezbollah shows that "resistance," whether fuelled by religion or secular zeal, "can break governments and roll back the American project," says John Rees, a former editor of the journal International Socialism and a leader of Britain's anti-Iraq war movement. Hezbollah, he says, isn't a terrorist outfit but a social movement seeking better living conditions for its supporters. "It is better to think of it as an AFL-CIO with guns," he says.
An American who traveled to Beirut in November to cheer Hezbollah, who identified himself as Bill Cecil, summed up the appeal of Islamism to non-Muslims: "Your enemy is our enemy; your victory is our victory," he told a conference. Mr. Cecil, an activist for a radical group in New York, later appeared as a guest on the breakfast show of Hezbollah's television station, al-Manar. America, he told a veiled female presenter, is "not a democracy ... but a dictatorship of giant corporations." America "needs a government that provides for the people like Hezbollah helps people here."
Nowhere is the Islamist-leftist axis more potent than in Lebanon. The three-day Beirut jamboree, which featured fiery anti-American oratory and field trips to buildings bombed by Israel, was hosted jointly by Hezbollah and the Lebanese Communist Party, once-bitter enemies now united by what they proclaim as common goals.
Sitting beneath a portrait of Argentine revolutionary Che Guevara in his Beirut office, Khaled Hadadeh, the general secretary of the Lebanese communists, admits that Hezbollah and the Communist Party hated each other for years. "We started out in blood," says Mr. Hadadeh, a Sunni Muslim by birth but now a firm atheist. Che Guevara, he says, "is our symbol, like Jesus Christ or Mohammed."
Hostility to Israel and the U.S. now trumps past differences. The Communist Party disbanded its own armed wing at the end of Lebanon's civil war in 1990, but 12 of its members died fighting alongside Hezbollah this summer, Mr. Hadadeh says. Piled in the corner of his office are trophies of this summer's war: an Israeli army helmet, an Israeli rifle and a Hebrew newspaper.
Mr. Hadadeh says he has met Mr. Nasrallah 15 times and admires him greatly. At their most recent meeting in a secret location this fall, he says, they discussed not just the recent war with Israel but also the need to develop "a counter-project to the neo-liberal model," the free-market policies backed by Washington.
Responsible for working out what this might mean is Ali Fayad, a political science lecturer and head of Hezbollah's in-house think-tank, the Consultative Center for Studies and Documentation. Mr. Fayad, who joined Hezbollah in the 1980s while still a student, now sits on the politburo of an organization that mimics the rigidly hierarchical structure of the Soviet Communist Party. Israeli bombs destroyed Mr. Fayad's offices, so his center now works from new premises in a half-built apartment block. Well-versed in Western economic and political theory, he runs a staff of more than a dozen researchers and has led the militant group's outreach to foreign supporters.
Part of Hezbollah's appeal lies in its tactical flexibility. Unlike many Sunni Muslim radical groups such as al Qaeda, which denounce non-Muslims and even many fellow Muslims as heretics who must be shunned or punished, Hezbollah's Shiite leadership doesn't care if its allies include atheists, Mr. Fayad says. "That is their problem not ours," he says, so long as "we have the same political position."
The friction between the two branches of Islam surfaced at the recent Beirut meeting. A Sunni Muslim from Jordan had to be ejected from the hall after he started cursing Iran -- Hezbollah's main sponsor -- for aiding Shiite militias in Iraq. Hezbollah's foreign fans watched in dismay as Shiite and Sunni attendees screamed at each other.
Despite such volatile tensions, Mr. Fayad still sees Islam derailing America's ambitions. Hezbollah's success in Lebanon, the debacle in Iraq and the victories of populist anti-American politicians in Latin America, he says, show that "it is now the end of 'the end of history.' " A recent article by Richard Haass, former director of policy planning at the U.S. State Department, has strengthened his conviction that America is in retreat, Mr. Fayed says. Writing in the U.S. foreign-policy journal Foreign Affairs, Mr. Haass declares that America's post-Cold War hopes for the Middle East have failed and that the region's "American era...has ended." Mr. Fayad is in no doubt about what comes next: "It is an Islamic era in the Middle East."
Among those grappling with this new perception of reality is Joseph Samaha, a secular Christian, former radical socialist and one of Lebanon's most-thoughtful intellectuals. Over the summer he became editor in chief of Al Akhbar, a new newspaper sympathetic to Hezbollah. He scoffs at Westerners who cheer radical Islam as "naïve." But he concedes that Islamists now represent the only viable alternative to corrupt, authoritarian regimes in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. "It is sad, but it is like that," he says.
The ideological reshuffling marks a curious reprise: Russia's early Bolshevik leaders, many of them Jewish, worked hard to cultivate Muslims, seeing them as a useful ally against Britain and other European colonial powers then ruling over large Muslim populations, notably in India and Indonesia. The alliance led to doctrinal gymnastics as Soviet theorists sought to reconcile atheism with the Quran. Some even argued that the Prophet Mohammed was a precursor of Karl Marx.
For much of the 20th century, however, the left and Islam were bitter enemies. Spain's right-wing dictator, Gen. Francisco Franco, recruited Moroccan Muslims to fight Soviet-backed foes in the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s. In 1962, Saudi Arabia, worried by Egypt's tilt toward Moscow, created the Muslim World League to rally Islam against communism. Three years later, Islamic groups in Indonesia joined in an army-led mass slaughter of communists. Anticommunist fervor reached its peak in the 1980s, when thousands of Muslims flocked to Afghanistan to battle the Soviet occupiers.
Much the same enmity existed in Lebanon. When Dr. Sayid, the surgeon, first joined the Lebanese Communist Party in the late 1970s, Mr. Nasrallah, now Hezbollah's leader, also was getting into politics -- partly out of disgust at the spread of atheistic communism.
In an autobiographical account of his early years published in an Iranian newspaper, Mr. Nasrallah recounts how his own village was "turning into an area for the activity of intellectuals, Marxists and especially supporters of the Lebanese Communist Party." He left the village and joined a group called Amal, a Shiite organization.
Iran's Islamic revolution of February 1979 and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan at the end of that year soured communist-Islamist relations further, provoking often-bloody clashes in Lebanon and elsewhere.
Iran's new Islamic government launched a brutal crackdown on the Soviet-backed Tudeh party, a leftist group that had helped topple the American-backed Shah. And Iran sent Revolutionary Guard zealots to Lebanon to help set up Hezbollah and injected the new group with their own fierce enmity to atheism and communism.
Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982 accelerated the rise of Islamist groups. It uprooted Yasser Arafat's secular Palestine Liberation Organization, which had bases in Lebanon, and left Hezbollah as the main force of "resistance."
Dr. Sayid moved to Minsk in the then-Soviet republic of Belarus to study medicine. He says he went there as a true believer and was appalled when Mr. Gorbachev began his program of "perestroika," or economic restructuring, and the Soviet system started to unravel. The reforms, he says, were a "counter-revolution."
In Lebanon, meanwhile, a vicious civil war raged. Moscow put its weight behind the nominally socialist and mostly secular forces of Walid Jumblatt, leader of the country's small Druze sect, an offshoot of Islam. In Dr. Sayid's village and other areas of southern Lebanon, previously strong support for the Lebanese Communist Party wilted as Hezbollah became the dominant force. Hezbollah's reputation was boosted by its fierce resistance to Israel and its provision of medical care and other services.
In its first public manifesto issued in 1985, Hezbollah declared itself hostile to "both the USSR and the U.S., both capitalism and communism, for both are incapable of laying the foundations for a just society." Though focused on the struggle with Israel, the manifesto also sought a wider audience, addressed to "all the Oppressed of Lebanon and the World." Eventually the Lebanese Communists began cooperating with Hezbollah, attracted mainly by its power but also finding common cause in its emphasis on championing the poor.
Amid the unraveling of the Soviet Union, few outside Lebanon paid much attention to the global pretensions of Hezbollah. Then came the al Qaeda attacks on America of 2001. Washington, traumatized, launched a "war on terror" against what it viewed as a small group of homicidal religious zealots.
As anger at the U.S. mounted in 2003 ahead of the invasion in Iraq, the snowballing antiwar movement took on a curious aspect, particularly in Europe: an alliance of forces that previously loathed each other.
Mr. Rees, the British radical who attended last month's Beirut conference, played a big role, allying his own organization, the Socialist Workers Party, with the Muslim Association of Britain, a group that says it wants to bridge Muslim and non-Muslim communities yet is accused by critics of siding with radical Islamic groups. The two organizations spearheaded the antiwar campaign in Britain. Today, Mr. Rees says he has reservations about some of his Islamic allies' views, particularly those regarding women and homosexuals.
"If there were a level playing field, I might choose different allies," he says. But he says America's own policies left him with no choice: "I find myself on the same side as Hezbollah, as Chávez. I didn't choose them. America did."
At a big Islamic festival this summer supported by London's mayor, Mr. Livingston, Islamist activists and left-wing politicians declared their solidarity. "Muslims and the left must and can come together, because we face the same enemies -- imperialism, colonialism and racism," said Redmond O'Neill, a senior aide to Mr. Livingston.
In Aytaroun, the Lebanese village near the border with Israel, Dr. Sayid, the Soviet-trained physician, has abandoned the socialist dreams of his youth. Communism, he concedes, "is not going to take root in this soil."
He has quit the Communist Party and now serves Hezbollah, working at a Hezbollah hospital bedecked with Islamic inscriptions and portraits of Iranian ayatollahs. When the war started this summer, his wife, an Orthodox Christian from Belarus, and three children left for her homeland. Dr. Sayid stayed behind to treat the injured, including Hezbollah fighters.
On a recent afternoon, Dr. Sayid sat with a group of Hezbollah activists in the office of the local mayor, also of Hezbollah. The mayor was wounded in the leg during the war and Mr. Sayid has been treating him.
One of the group showed off pictures of Hezbollah's "divine victory" -- an Israeli tank on its side, an Israeli warship in flames. Dr. Sayid says he is "not fully in agreement" with Hezbollah. But he believes it can succeed where communism failed. "It is strong. People support it." Hezbollah, he says, "shows the world America is wrong." Lebanon at a tripwire
ICG, December 21, 2006
Lebanon has badly lost its balance and is at risk of new collapse, moving ever closer to explosive Sunni-Shiite polarisation with a divided, debilitated Christian community in between. The fragile political and sectarian equilibrium established since the end of its bloody civil war in 1990 was never a panacea and came at heavy cost. It depended on Western and Israeli acquiescence in Syria's tutelage and a domestic system that hindered urgently needed internal reforms, and change was long overdue. But the upsetting of the old equilibrium, due in no small part to a tug-of-war by outsiders over its future, has been chaotic and deeply divisive, pitting one half of the country against the other. Both Lebanon's own politicians and outside players need to recognise the enormous risks of a zero-sum struggle and seek compromises before it is too late. [complete article] Iran: U.N. ignoring Israeli nuke program
By Sarah DiLorenzo, AP, December 24, 2006
Iran denounced U.N. sanctions imposed on its nuclear program Saturday, accusing the Security Council of double standards for ignoring Israel's apparent recent admission of its nuclear capabilities.
Speaking after the Security Council unanimously adopted the resolution, Iran's U.N. ambassador called the sanctions illegal and accused Europe and the United States of trying to prevent Iran from pursuing peaceful nuclear technology.
"A nation is being punished for exercising its inalienable rights," said Javad Zarif, accusing the council of acting at the "behest of a dangerous regime with aggression and war crimes as its signature brand of behavior," referring to Israel. [complete article]
U.N. Security Council passes Iran sanctions
By Elissa Gootman, New York Times, December 24, 2006
The Security Council on Saturday unanimously approved sanctions intended to curb Iran's nuclear program, capping months of negotiations over how severe and sweeping the restrictions should be.
The resolution, prepared by Germany and the Security Council's five permanent members -- the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China -- bans the import and export of materials and technology used in uranium enrichment, reprocessing and ballistic missiles.
Alejandro D. Wolff, the acting American ambassador to the United Nations, hailed the measure as an "unambiguous message that there are serious repercussions" for Iran's pursuit of its nuclear ambitions. He added, however, that it was "only a first step," saying, "If necessary, we will not hesitate to return to this body for further action if Iran fails to take steps to comply." [complete article] Israeli and Palestinian leaders agree to 'rebuild trust' at surprise summit
By Donald Macintyre, The Independent, December 24, 2006
Ehud Olmert, the Israeli Prime Minister, unexpectedly held his first summit meeting with the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, last night and promised to release $100m (£51m) of tax it had been withholding since Hamas came to power ten months ago.
The pledge to remit about a fifth of the total withheld tax and promises to ease some travel restrictions in the West Bank were among concessions offered by Mr Olmert to help Mr Abbas without directly aiding the Hamas-led Palestinian authority.
At the first set-piece meeting between an Israeli and Palestinian leader since Mr Abbas agreed a ceasefire with Ariel Sharon in February 2005, Mr Olmert also said he would consider ways of increasing the amount of cargo passing through the Karni crossing between Gaza and Israel. Mr Olmert's office said the talks were a "first step toward rebuilding mutual trust and fruitful co-operation". [complete article] Royal intrigue, unpaid bills preceded Saudi ambassador's exit
By Robin Wright, Washington Post, December 23, 2006
For more than a year, Saudi Arabia's ambassador journeyed to college campuses, chambers of commerce, town halls and world affairs councils across the United States in an ambitious campaign to improve his country's image.
But Prince Turki al-Faisal's goodwill tour, instead, produced millions of dollars in unpaid bills -- and a tale of murky intrigue in the enigmatic desert kingdom.
The debts by one of the world's wealthiest countries -- owed to the very lobbyists, advisers and event organizers hired to promote the kingdom -- have left a trail that weaves together bitter princely rivalries, diplomatic subterfuge and a policy clash over one of the thorniest issues of the day: what to do about Iran. [complete article]
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