Opposition to the war in Iraq is back in the headlines. After a Senate Committee formally opposed President Bush’s plan for Iraq — which the President is still going through with — anti-war protesters have come out onto the streets.

This is nothing new. When the Iraq conflict developed over three years ago, thousands also marched the streets. The Administration ignored to budge then. And the Administration will ignore this wave of protests too.

But this opposition is not insignificant. Large demonstrations against the war in Iraq have with time become scarce, and it now seems that the anti-war movement is starting to grow, at least in its visibility. Capitol Hill officials are ready to criticize the war, and citizens are asking an end to the conflict. Washington, DC apparently saw at least 100 000 protesters demand an end to the war in Iraq.

This is important, because the war movement is not about to end.

It’s true that the US will be out of Iraq sooner rather than later, maybe even by the end of the year. However, the war on “Islamists” is far from over. Somalia is slowly emerging as a new target, with alleged Al-Quada operatives in the country. Since 2007 hit, the US has been very active in bombing targets inside the country. These attacks were preceded by a US supported power takeover in Somalia, with the Union of Islamic Courts government ousted from office.

No matter the denials of war plans, Iran is also likely to see some form of action from the US. Not a day goes by that Iran is not mentioned in the media as a supporter of the Iraq insurgency, and a general nuisance, with its nuclear program steaming ahead. As Doug put it on Doug’s Darkworld, did Bush really need to authorize US troops to kill Iranian nationals on Iraqi soil? No. But he did, and this seems connected to a larger picture. Also, consider the post on Fundamentalist Druid which analyzes last year’s highly publicized Seymour Hersch article and finds that the author cannot be contradicted on many points.

In the end, the anti-war movement does not matter much for Iraq, but it does matter for Iran and Somalia and the future of the US military. This Administration is on a time-leash, with elections set for 2008, and the successor Administration won’t be able to ignore the movement, if it continues to show signs of its existence, as has been the case this week.

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The individual thought to have taped Saddam Hussein’s hanging has been arrested in Iraq. The footage, taken on a cellphone (at least one other video was made, according to an Iraqi prosecutor), has been leaked onto the Internet and was aired on Al-Jazzeera amongst other stations.

The video differs from the official video of Hussein’s death in that it includes audio and it’s clear that the former Iraqi president is being insulted by officials present at his hanging.

The government is upset at the video leak and at the uproar it has created in the Sunni population. However, the fault is not with the official who taped the execution. If Iraq is to operate as a democracy with rule of law and fair trials, as President Bush put it last week, then it cannot act like it did with Saddam Hussein. Not only was the sentencing of Hussein questionable, but its execution has now been shown to be motivated by personal feeelings.
The personal concerns of those present at the hanging should not have been voiced; as officials of the Iraqi government, it was not their place to make insulting remarks.

It is very sad to see the official who taped the assassination and leaked it arrested as the individual simply made the truth transparent and available. The leaked video contradicted official reports of Hussein’s execution.

But it seems that the new democratic Iraq does not value a free media. After all, the government had already closed down two privately owned television stations in November, with another station just closed following Hussein’s hanging.

New UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, began his new tenure cautiously on Tuesday. When asked for comment, the Secretary General did not criticize Iraq’s death by hanging of Saddam Hussein.

“The issue of capital punishment is for each and every member state to decide,” said Ban, inviting speculation on the UN’s position on the death penalty.

It is widely known that the oraganization officially opposes the death penalty. Ban’s new spokesperson, Michele Montas, was quick to label Ban’s comments as his “own nuance” on the issue and not a change of policy at the UN.

In his remarks on Hussein, the Secretary General stated that the former Iraqi president was responsible for “heinous crimes and unspeakable atrocities against Iraqi people.”

Interestingly enough, Ban did not say anything about Hussein not being tried for all of his crimes and that his second trial had not been completed. After all, Hussein’s death sentence was for relatively small incidents — considering his track record — in the city of Dujail. Those incidents, of course, were not minor, but one would expect a verdict on his use of chemical weapons and his comportment during the Iran-Iraq war. Yet Hussein was sentenced in a limited (Dujail only) and flawed trial, which has been criticized by Human Rights Watch and by a UN group.

As far as the UN position on the capital punishment is concerned, the policy is clear: no matter the degree of the crime, the organization does not support the death penalty. Ban’s comments made it seem like the death penalty was the just thing to do. In effect, Ban’s logic almost removes the UN policy, because the Secretary General simply refuses to voice it.

Is this the direction of the so-called “new UN”? While the organization has been criticized in the past (and has often faced scrutiny from the US), this does not mean that Ban must be a pushover. One of the strengths of having the UN as an International Organization, is the alternative voice it provides to the realpolitik rationale that often guides state decisions.

The UN’s policy is idealistic — Ban’s South Korea and Bush’s US will not change their laws on capital punishment because of the UN — but this does not mean that Ban must ignore it. As an ambassador of the UN, he must represent the policies of the organization. If he wants to change them, he should be transparent about them.

Instead, Ban simply left it to Michele Montas to spin his flop by calling it his “own nuance.” What is that supposed to mean anyway?

January 7, 2006. UPDATE 1: Ban Ki-moon’s comments this weekend differed from earlier in the week. The UN Secretary General has asked that Iraq postpone the execution of two Saddam Hussein aides, indicating that he is more in line with official UN policy.

To watch in 2007

January 1, 2007

Afghanistan. Often forgotten because of the headlines from Iraq, Afghanistan is not a solved affair. Only Kabul is somewhat stable, with Kandahar and other cities remaining unsafe.

Global Warming. Scientists have been talking about it for years, and Al Gore has now popularized it with a documentary film . Yet there is still no clear policies on tackling this global issue. The US has not returned to the Kyoto framework (and hasn’t offered a good alternative) and Canada’s new government has been defiant in backing out of the Kyoto protocol. Meanwhile, the arctic is shrinking.

Iran. Will the Republic bow to pressure and halt uranium enrichment? And if not, what will Ahmadinejad do next? Iran has potential to play a vital regional role in stabilizing Iraq. It also may face opposition from the US.

Iraq. Will British and US occupying forces leave Iraq and leave it to Iraqi forces to provide security?

Lebanon. The standoff in Beirut continues, with protesters vowing to stay on. Will Prime Minister Siniora give in? Will protesters patience run out?

Mexico. Mexico will spend 2007 with new president Felipe Calderon. Will he be able to solve the mess of Oaxaca? Will state violence be halted or will the President disregard Mexican citizens in favor of Governor Ruiz?

North Korea. The DPRK has vowed to continue to provide a strong defense of the country and called on the 1.1. million army to be prepared to “mercilessly defeat any invasion of the US imperialists.” If nuclear talks don’t go well, will the Koreans test another bomb?

Palestine. Fatah and Hamas are at a stand-off, with Israel allowing arms deliveries to Fatah. Will elections take place? Will Abbas reach a deal with Olmert? What if Hamas prevails in the elections?

Russia. A presidential election is set for March 2008, yet some cynics have contended that Putin will attempt to stay in power, despite constitutional law which allows for only two terms. Putin the dictator?

Somalia. The country has lived through a lot in the last six months, with power shifting from one leadership to another, violence starting and ending. Will it stabilize in 2007?

United Nations. Ban Ki-moon enters his official duties as Secretary General of the UN. Will the troubled international body gain influence with its new face and voice? The test will be how Ban Ki-moon — a South Korean — handles the nuclear crisis in North Korea.

United States. The presidential elections are set for 2008, but candidates are already stepping up to the race. Will Senator Clinton run? Will McCain enter the race?

And everything else.

Please post omissions, like some of the obvious ones (China, Darfur, Haiti).