..CENTER FOR WAR, PEACE, AND THE NEWS MEDIA, New Year's Edition 2005/2006
Department of Journalism, College of Communication, Boston University


 



BROOKINGS: IRAQ INDEX

INDEX OF RECENT TORTURE DOCUMENTS

 

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IRAQ'S DISPUTED TALLY

< b>Year-end edition: Strategic Flashpoints on the Eve of 2006
Global Beat presents assesses the strategic dynamics in some of the world's key conflict areas. Readers are invited to respond and share their views -- via email to gbeditor@gmail.com -- which will be posted in a global beat strategic discussion forum.


Sunni and secular parties are alleging voter fraud and demanding a rerun of the election, as the Shiite religious parties look set to again dominate the legislature

Iraq Vote Sinks Another U.S. ‘Best-Case' Scenario
U.S. officials made no secret, in the months preceding Iraq's latest election, that their withdrawal strategy was premised – in the first instance – on a regime change: the replacement of the current, strongly pro-Iran government dominated by the Shiite religious parties by a more secular, moderate, U.S.-friendly administration that would make compromises to draw in Iraq's alienated Sunnis who make up the social base of the insurgency. The hope was that Iraqi voters would blame the poor security and economic situation on the incumbents, and turn to more secular alternatives such as the first prime minister picked by the U.S., Iyad Allawi, or even former Pentagon favorite Ahmed Chalabi. At the very least, it was hoped that the power of the alliance led by the two main Shiite religious parties would lose its parliamentary majority, and be forced both to choose more moderate leaders from within its ranks, and to accept a part in a more secular coalition. Preliminary results released by the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq, however, have poured cold water on those scenarios: So far, the religious Shiite bloc has garnered around 44 percent of the vote; the Sunni religious parties dominated in that community and the Kurdish nationalist bloc did likewise among their own people -- Allawi's list around 8 percent and Chalabi's less than 0.5 percent (not enough to claim a single seat in the legislature). So on current indications, the new parliament is going to look a lot like the old one except for the addition of a Sunni religious bloc that inclines towards sympathy with the nationalist insurgency.

That outcome would leave the U.S. facing the same uphill struggle to persuade the Shiite leadership to do more to accommodate the Sunnis. Indeed, the LA Times notes that the achievement of U.S. goals will now necessitate the Bush administration seeking a more active partnership with the regime in Tehran, which as M.K. Bhadrakumar notes, was once again the big winner in Iraq's election.

From the point of view of U.S. plans for Iraqi stability, however, worse than the election outcome is the fact that the results have already been summarily rejected by the main Sunni parties, in conjunction with Allawi, who have demanded a new poll and threatened to boycott the Assembly if the results are allowed to stand. Far from stabilizing the situation, the election – in which voters appear to have largely voted on ethnic and sectarian lines, may have set the stage for an intensification of civil conflict. (LA Times, December 21, 2005)


  • In a comprehensive working analysis, Anthony Cordesman suggests the political outcome of the election may only be clear a year from now. The chances of success are even, he suggests, and much will depend on the ability of Iraqi leaders to head off impulses towards sectarian violence. (Center for Strategic and International Studies, December 21, 2005)
  • Cordesman also points out in a Council on Foreign Relations interview that the fact that the Sunnis voted does not mean that they won't support the insurgency. "There is a great illusion here that because Sunnis went out and voted to try to use the government to counter Shiite and Kurdish power, somehow Sunnis are not going to support the insurgency," he says. "You can both vote and hold a rifle. And there have been plenty of past insurgencies where this happened." (Center for Strategic and International Studies, December 21, 2005)
  • The U.S. has urged the rapid formation of a national unity government, and will move ahead with plans to begin drawing down troops in the coming weeks. But as Patrick Clawson notes that Washington's ability to influence events in Iraq is fading fast, and even the question of a timetable for withdrawal may soon no longer be President Bush's decision to make – a democratic Iraqi government will face pressure from its electorate to secure a U.S. withdrawal. And Patrick White and Brooke Newman suggest that while for Sunni supporters of the insurgency, parliamentary participation is a second front, the U.S. will find its military actions increasingly constrained by the limits set by a democratic Iraqi government. (Washington Institute for Near East Policy, December 20, 2005)
  • Hala Jaber revisits Fallujah in secret and offers a harrowing account of a city under siege that remains an insurgent stronghold, more resilient and defiant than ever. (The Sunday Times, December 18, 2005)
  • Recently noted on Iraq:

  • Bargaining, Not Balloting Will Determine Iraq's Future (Global Beat)
  • The Project for Defense Alternatives warned that the electoral system is skewed in favor of the Kurds, at the expense of the Sunnis, creating an opening for rejectionists. (Project for Defense Alternatives, December 10, 2005)
  • Winslow Wheeler suggested that the Kurdish areas of Iraq are likely to become more unstable amid political fragmentation there. (Project for Defense Information, December 11, 2005)
  • Rick Barton explained why the new government's prospects depend on its ability to complete an ambitious agenda over a very brief period, including establishing a formula for ending the U.S. military presence, establishing a security model in which the population has confidence, and agreeing on a wealth-sharing mechanism that goes beyond simply allocating patronage power among politicians. (CSIS, December 8, 2005)
  • Rick Barton explained why the new government's prospects depend on its ability to complete an ambitious agenda over a very brief period, including establishing a formula for ending the U.S. military presence, establishing a security model in which the population has confidence, and agreeing on a wealth-sharing mechanism that goes beyond simply allocating patronage power among politicians. (CSIS, December 8, 2005)
  • The Times reported that the U.S. and allied forces would begin drawing down significant numbers of troops within six months. (The Times, December 13, 2005)
  • Dahr Jamail notes that the use of U.S. air power in Iraq is already on the increase, and notes that its implications have garnered very little international media coverage. (TomDispatch, December 13, 2005)
  • The Center for Strategic and International Studies offers a comprehensive 215-page audit on the state of the Iraqi insurgency, and counterinsurgency efforts. (CSIS, December 12, 2005)
  • Sealing Abbas's Fate?
    Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas is under attack on so many different fronts that his political position may suffer setbacks no matter what course of action he chooses. He promotes the option of a negotiated settlement among Palestinians, but confronts an Israeli leadership that has little faith or interest in negotiating a final settlement, preferring instead to act unilaterally. Among his own people, he faces an increasingly popular radical challenge from Hamas, which rejects his strategic orientation and which looks set to become one of the most important players in the Palestinian legislative process in the elections scheduled for January. And most recently, the most popular leader of his own Fatah party, Marwan Barghouti, led a walkout by the younger, more popular leadership who created their own electoral slate, angry at Abbas's continued reliance on the circle of cronies who originally surrounded Yasser Arafat.

    This week, Israel intensified Abbas's crisis even as it threw him what might cynically be deemed a lifeline: The Israelis declared that they would prevent Palestinians living in East Jerusalem from voting in the election as long as Hamas participated, on the grounds that the Islamist party maintains its own armed wing. That may be a lifeline because it creates a pretext for postponing the vote as long as the Israelis maintain that position – and in light of the twin challenges by Barghouti and Hamas, postponing may be an appealing option. Indeed, the Palestinian Authority quickly warned that without Jerusalem voting, there could be no election. But Hamas just as quickly warned against any attempt to use the Israeli move as a pretext for postponing the election – which was originally supposed to have been held last summer. Allowing the poll to go ahead will likely see Abbas's grip on power weakened by the democratic process. Postponing it would see his grip on power weakened by his diminishing political authority in Palestinian political society, not least in his own party. (The Daily Star, December 21, 2005)


  • Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed of Al-Arabiya TV argues that the greatest threat to Fatah is Fatah, particularly its aging leadership. The imprisoned Barghouti remains its most likely savior. (Asharq Alawsat, December 18, 2005)
  • Amira Hass reports that Fatah and Barghouti's party are set to reunite in a deal that will give those who walked out a far great share of the power within the party. But they will nonetheless hold him to the January 25 election date. (Haaretz, December 21, 2005)
  • Recently noted on Palestinian elections:

  • Writing on the Wall for Mahmoud Abbas? (Global Beat)
  • Danny Rubinstein now looks prescient in his observation that Abbas's best prospects for political survival may lie in postponing the elections and that Israeli action would likely provide the pretext. (Haaretz, December 15, 2005)
  • EU and Iran Reopen Talks
    Although the gulf between the two sides remains immense, negotiators representing Iran and the European Union have reopened stalled talks on Iran's nuclear energy program. While the Iranians insist on their right to enrich uranium, both sides appear inclined to avoid confrontation and have agreed to at least establish a framework for future talks. (Daily Star, December 21, 2005)


  • State Department official William Burns, in an interview, warns that the U.S. is losing patience with Iran's negotiating tactics and explains how it plans to respond. (Spiegel Online, December 20, 2005)
  • Ali Ansari explains that by calling for Israel's destruction, Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmedinajad is playing to a domestic gallery -- but he warns that the strategy is likely to play into the hands of his domestic and foreign enemies. (Spiegel Online, December 20, 2005)
  • Recently noted on the Iran nuclear showdown:

  • The Times reported that Israel is planning a preemptive strike against Iran's nuclear facilities as early as March of next year. (The Times, December 13, 2005) .
  • Iraq Exporting Terror to Europe?
    A wave of arrests in Europe has turned up extensive evidence that Musab al-Zarqawi, the mastermind of al-Qaeda in Iraq, has built an extensive network of terror cells in a number of European countries. While these had originally functioned in support of Qaeda activities in Iraq, European agencies now fear that Zarqawi will use them to export terror in the way that he recently did in Jordan. The development also suggests that Zarqawi may now be eclipsing the original Qaeda leadership of Osama bin Laden and Ayman Zawahiri – with whom Zarqawi had originally competed before swearing fealty to Bin Laden – as an operational commander of transnational operations undertaken under the rubric of the Qaeda movement. (The Daily Telegraph, December 22, 2005)


  • One worrying development for security services was the death of a Belgian woman convert to Islam in a suicide attack in Iraq linked with Zarqawi's group. The International Crisis Group explores the phenomenon of the involvement of converts in Islamist terror organizations in the Philippines. (ICG, December 19, 2005)
  • Another new development causing concern among security experts is the emergence of Bangladesh as a new theater of operations for al Qaeda. (Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, December 17, 2005)
  • The ability of European governments to combat the al Qaeda challenge among their own immigrant Muslim populations and promote moderate Islamic politics elsewhere is impaired by an insistence that Muslim society embrace the social systems of the West, writes Rosemary Hollis of the Royal Institute of International Affairs. (Bitterlemons.org, December 22, 2005)
  • Old Enmities Hobble Asian Unity Drive
    Last week's East Asian summit, the first regional all-in regional gathering to exclude the U.S. for some time, may have potentially represented a decline in U.S. influence in the region. But the poisonous atmosphere in relations between the two key players in Asia, China and Japan, as well as Japan-Korea and India-China enmities, have effectively prevented the emergence of anything like a regional consensus. They may have excluded the U.S. from this particular forum, but Mohan Malik notes that the historical conflicts among the participants that have resurfaced on the same rising tide of nationalism that propels them to seek to demonstrate their independence from U.S. influence may leave Washington with little reason for concern that it will be shut out of the region any time soon. (Yale Global, December 21, 2005)


  • The International Crisis Group warns that rising nationalism in China, Japan and Korea threaten to imperil the region's stability, and urges new approaches to solving territorial disputes, greater military-to-military ties and the creation of institutions to address the wildly differing interpretations of the region's painful history of conquest and colonialism that stokes the nationalism. (ICG, December 15, 2005)
  • Minxin Pei and Danielle Cohen warn that nationalist passion threatens to overwhelm geopolitical calculation in the shaping of regional affairs, and urges governments on all sides to cool tempers. (Carnegie Endowmen, December 21, 2005)
  • The ability of European governments to combat the al Qaeda challenge among their own immigrant Muslim populations and promote moderate Islamic politics elsewhere is impaired by an insistence that Muslim society embrace the social systems of the West, writes Rosemary Hollis of the Royal Institute of International Affairs. (Bitterlemons.org, December 22, 2005)
  • Bolivia Vote a Challenge for U.S. and Moderate Leftists
    When Bolivians go to the polls this weekend to elect a new president, the man they're most likely to elect is Evo Morales, a leftist champion of indigenous people, a farmer of the coca crop that the U.S. has been trying to eradicate, and a staunch enemy of Washington's foreign policy. The International Crisis Group, however counsels patience and engagement by both the United States and the more moderate leftist governments of the region such as Brazil and Argentina, in order to avoid driving Morales more deeply into alliance with the radical populist Hugo Chavez. The alternative might be a civil war, as natural gas-rich regions threaten to secede. (International Crisis Group, December 12, 2005)


    Bolivia's new leader: Coca-farmer and self-styled Bush 'nightmare' Evo Morales

    Why Latin America Has Swung to the Left
    The margin of victory for Bolivia's leftist presidential candidate Evo Morales confounded most predictions, reminding the region of the extent to which U.S. influence has been repudiated by Latin American electorates. Not only is Morales an acolyte of Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez and not only has he vowed to be a "nightmare" for the Bush administration, he is looking to reverse U.S. anti-cocaine efforts in his country by expanding the legality of coca cultivation. But the drift to the left has surprised few in the region, given the impact of two decades of free-market economic orthodoxy – Latin America's economies are far more competitive in international markets now, but they also display the world's largest discrepancies between wealth and poverty. But Latin America's left is diverse: if Chavez represents its populist demagogic side, then Brazil's President Lula Da Silva, Argentina's President Nestor Kirschner and Chile's outgoing President Ricardo Lagos (and his likely successor, Michele Bachelet) represent its more responsible, mainstream face. Last month, both Argentina and Brazil canceled their debts with the IMF by prepaying a total of $24 billion between them.

    Even more critical than the Bolivia result is next July's poll in Mexico, where the candidate of the left, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, is the front runner – polls in Peru and Nicaragua could complete the shift to the left. The prospect of the left taking charge in the U.S.'s largest trading partner in the region would have set alarm bells ringing in the era of "domino theory, " when rolling back the left in Latin America was a key pillar of U.S. foreign policy. Yet, today, the Bush administration appears to be somewhat oblivious to the shift in Latin America, and its implications. The U.S. needs to recognize the leftward shift as a democratic choice, and engage with the duly elected governments of those countries, argues Gustavo Wensjoe, even if those governments represent a political outlook more like that of the "Old Europe" that has so irritated the Bush administration than like the conservative governments it helped install in the region. The alternative of confrontation would significantly damage the interests both of the U.S. and the countries of Latin America. (Houston Chronicle, December 21, 2005)



    Spielberg shoots "Munich"

    Mideast on the Silver Screen
    Steven Spielberg, in his new film “Munich,” finally weighs in on a Middle Eastern theme, and draws the predictable firestorm of criticism. The movie depicts Israeli efforts to hunt down and kill the Palestinians responsible for the 1972 Munich terror attack on Israeli Olympic athletes, and the accidental killing of an innocent man in the course of that hunt. Israel was neither entertained nor impressed despite the director's insistence that the project was his “prayer for peace.” Israeli officials complaining that the movie established a moral equivalence between the actions of the Palestinian killers at Munich and the Israeli killers who went after them. And one commentator on an Israeli web site went even further: "If, as our enemies say, we own Hollywood, well, here's the plot twist - we have lost Hollywood, and we have lost Spielberg," wrote bestselling author Jack Engelhard "Spielberg is no friend of Israel. Spielberg is no friend of truth. His Munich may just as well have been scripted by George Galloway." Of course, the movie has yet to be screened, and there's no word yet of any response from the Palestinian side.

    But Spielberg's is hardly the only movie dealing with the region's bloody conflicts currently competing at the box office. George Clooney's portrayal of jaded CIA agent Bob Baer in "Syriana" appears to have wowed audiences if not critics -- the movie bumped Harry Potter off the top of the box office ratings for the weekend that it opened. But it, too, came under fire from conservative critics who accused it of distorting the reality of U.S. clandestine operations in the Middle East, and liberal critics who seemed to accuse it being at once simplistic and incomprehensible. While Hollywood is reportedly moving from the traditional format of movies simply depicting Middle East reality through the eyes of American security personnel – one movie in the works reportedly has Albert Brooks cast as a comedian dispatched by the State Department to find out what makes Muslims laugh (a role that unkind observers might say has lately been played by Karen Hughes in her public diplomacy trips) -- theater goers now also have the option of a film telling the terrorism story through Palestinian eyes: Hany Abu-Assad's "Paradise Now" tells the story of how two young Palestinian men find themselves accepting a mission as suicide bombers, and the decisions they make along the way. Abu-Assad's film has been nominated for a Gold Globe, suggesting that a foreign-language film Oscar nomination may be in the offing. And, of course, Spielberg's "Munich" is already been spoken about as a best-picture contender. In 1978, Vanessa Redgrave caused a commotion in Hollywood by bringing up the plight of the Palestinians in her acceptance speech for best supporting actress; at next year's ceremony the Palestinians may be all over the screens. (Guardian, December 12, 2005)




    A Journalist's Invitation to Don Rumsfeld
    As part of his personal contribution to the Bush administration's effort to reverse the tide of public opinion against the war in Iraq, Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld this week accused the media for painting what he said was a distorted picture of the reality in Iraq. Things were going a lot better in Iraq than anyone could tell reading the media, he said. Offered a personal prime-time right of reply by virtue of his appearance on CNN later that night, TIME's Michael Ware who has spent two years in Baghdad reporting on the insurgency offered the following: “I'd personally like to invite Secretary Rumsfeld to come and spend some time here on the ground in Baghdad in what he would refer to as the Red Zone. Whenever Secretary Rumsfeld himself has visited Iraq, it's been well within the embrace of the U.S. military. He has been encased in the Green Zone. Let him come out and taste what life is like for the ordinary Iraqis. For the ordinary Iraqi, a few soccer balls, a painted school means nothing. When you cannot have confidence in sending your children to elementary school and that they won't be blown up, that government-sponsored death squads won't kick in your door at night, that you won't be caught in the crossfire of some awful battle. Let Secretary Rumsfeld come and live that life for a day and then let him talk about the positives that are being unreported. If -- it would be an insult to the Iraqi experience to have it any other way. (CNN transcript, December 5, 2005)



    U.S. Central Command's website and Newsletter
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