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.

Talabani talking with Syria

January 14, 2007

Iraqi President Talabani is continuing to show a pro-active stance in Iraqi foreign policy. Following the official return of diplomatic ties with Syria in November, the President is now meeting with his Syrian counterpart in Damascus.

Syria is a vital player in the region and, over the years, has had important relations with Iran: the ties between the two nations developed when Syria sided with Iran in the Iran-Iraq war. It’s also worth mentioning that the Iraq Study Group’s report released in early December favored dialogue with Iran and Syria, Iraq’s immediate neighbors. President Talabani seems to be following this policy, even if the US is reluctant to do the same. In fact, the Iraqi President has become a somewhat unnamed figure in Iraqi leadership.

In his address to Americans Wednesday, President Bush did not mention Talabani, only mentioning Prime Minister Maliki. This is consistent with US foreign policy of late, which has been centred on dealing exclusively with Maliki.

Part of the reason that the US is dealing with Maliki is that as Prime Minister he is the one dealing with domestic issues and the US’ main concern is the domestic insurgency in Iraq. However, if one is to accept US reports of Iranian and Syrian involvement in the insurgency, then Iraq’s foreign policy is key. In that sense, President Talabani is doing his job well: he met with the Iranian leadership in November and is now meeting with Assad in Syria.

In fact, Talabani is showing an independent approach to foreign policy, and the US has been very keen on having Iraqis take the lead in securing their own safety.

If its intentions are peaceful, then the US must consider talking to Iran and Syria as well. The two countries have shown that they are ready to talk and this is not a direct result of the announced troops surge. Reportedly, the meeting between Talabani and Assad has been a year in the making.

Is Iran next?

January 12, 2007

The idea of the US attacking Iran seems far-fetched and unrealistic. Not only is the US’ military over-stretched, strategically any operation could spell disaster. Iran’s facilities are not as exposed as Iraq’s were and Iranian infrastructure would not be taken out of order as easily, with an intricate underground network existing in Iran.

However, considering President Bush’s address to US citizens on Wednesday night, reality doesn’t seem to matter much to this Administration.

There continue to be signs that the Administration is interested in facing off against Iran.

Today, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice warned Iran against impeding US efforts in Iraq. Prior to her warning, US troops stormed an Iranian consulate in northern Iraq and detained five diplomats, violating international norms on treating diplomats . Were a US or British consulate raided in like fashion, an immediate response would be rightly implemented.

Could the US be provoking Iran? Northern Iraq, after all, borders with Iran.

Is the additional troops deployment into the region meant to solve Iraq or does it have another purpose? Former US national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski asserts that the additional troops have “no strategic benefit” and “will not resolve with finality the ongoing turmoil.”

Could Iran really be next?

One of the US’ most (if not the most) faithful allies in the region, Israel, has already been reported to have plans to attack Iranian nuclear sites. Israel has denied those reports. However, they did not surface without a reason. Iran has been the recipient of very harsh rhetoric from both the US and Israel and while there may be no concrete plan on Iran, something is in the works.

On Wednesday night, President Bush made several allusions to Iran, accusing the state of supporting radical “Shi’a elements” in Iraq. The President also mentioned facing “extremist challenges” in the region and said that “this begins with addressing Iran and Syria.”

A raid targeting Iranian diplomats followed on Thursday. On Friday, Secretary Rice warned Iran and said the US would not “stand idly by” if Iran’s “regional aggression” continued. This all fits into a pattern of high-ranking officials speaking out against Iran, and warnings against its regional role.

The latest warning comes from US intelligence chief Negroponte who has expressed concerns over the country’s intentions, citing the country’s alleged funding of terrorist activities.

Keeping President Bush’s address in mind, Iran just might be next.

Led by Nancy Pelosi in the House and Harry Reid in the Senate, the Democrats have warned President Bush about increasing troop levels in Iraq.

“No issue is more important than finding an end to the war in Iraq,” states a letter to George Bush by Pelosi and Reid.

While the US President has of late veered away from the idea of an exit from Iraq, it now seems that the Democrats may push the President back to that strategy. They see a surge of troops as a strategy that has already been tried and has failed.

With other countries slowly pulling their troops from Iraq (Slovakia does so in February), and an imminent change of leadership in Britain, it’s clear that the US may end up alone to handle the difficult situation created in Iraq.

Unless the US has other plans in the region — like threatening Iran — then the Democrats may have a point. Since the war began, the strategy of Britain and the US has basically been one of increasing troops. But Iraq will not be solved with the massive presence of military; Iraq needs significant aid, as well as close cooperation with its neighbors. And whether the US likes it or not, Syria and Iran are part of the neighborhood and are important players in the region.

If President Talabani can get along with Iran, then the US should not be exclusively favoring PM Maliki as has been the case in recent weeks. It was Talabani who visited Tehran in late November to discuss how Iran could help. With Iraq’s restored diplomatic relations with Syria, the Iraqi President already has an invitation to visit Damascus.

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).

When the US went to war with Iraq a few years ago, it cited the possession of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) by Saddam Hussein’s regime as a reason for the war. Since the 2003 invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq, there has been no proof of WMD in the country. Luckily, the US (as well as Britain, Italy and Australia) had plans for democracy in Iraq, which culminated in the so-called Purple Revolution of the January 2005 elections. Surprisingly, those elections did not result in much violence and outlooks were positive.

But 2006 saw the violence in Iraq grow to huge proportions, some saying the country was in a state of civil war. US troops have had trouble subduing the violence and more troops may be on the way, with the Bush Administration circulating the idea of a surge option. An exit from Iraq was an option a few months ago, but it now seems farfetched.

Yet the US could use its troops elsewhere. In a major failure of US foreign policy, North Korea tested a nuclear weapon in early October. While the US was busy figuring out what to do in Iraq, North Korea (DPRK) quietly brought its nuclear program to a new level. While rhetoric against the DPRK continued, it never seemed that the US was pro-active about negotiating with the alienated regime. After all, the US’ financial sanctions were working and were putting North Korea into a position of no exit. So the Korean leadership went ahead and made the US listen by detonating its nuclear weapon.

More conspicuous perhaps is the case of Iran. The Iranians have been progressing with their civilian nuclear program and are openly enriching uranium, which could very well mean that they too are developing a nuclear weapon. If the US wanted to use its military as a deterrent with Iran, it cannot, because now its troops are very much stuck in Iraq.

Furthermore, Iran is increasingly becoming an active regional player that may be needed for stability in Iraq. Iran has already met with Iraqi President Talabani and has plans on co-operating with Syria to stabilize Iraq. But it also wants US forces out of the region. So any negotiations — direct or indirect — that the US has with Iran will be connected with the future of Iraq, and the US’ role in it. Not the scenario that President Bush was hoping for.

And to end the year, Iraq has executed its former president Saddam Hussein. While the conviction of Hussein is the work of an Iraqi court (and the sentencing carried out by Iraqis), it is hard to divorce the trial from US interests or US meddling. After all, why did Hussein’s dialogue with justice have to start with the Dujail trial and his crimes against humanity not include the Iran-Iraq war (where chemical weapons, likely provided by the US via Germany, were employed)? Why was Hussein in US custody until his hanging? Doesn’t that make him a Prisoner of War, as his lawyers argued on Friday? And why was Saddam Hussein treated to a dubious trial, which a leading US human rights organization has called flawed? That, of course, was the verdict of Human Rights Watch. The US President, however, seems content with the hanging citing a fair trial and as well as Iraqi rule of law.

Would the Iraqi leadership really hang its dictator during Eid al-Adha, the Feast of the the Sacrifice, when the Arabs are supposed to pardon? That would be the biggest mistake for any new government, and its hard to conceive that the sentence was carried out without US encouragement if not enticement.

The hanging itself will not change how things go in Iraq. Hussein was no longer in control. If anything, the execution may make things more difficult, as Hussein still has supporters in Iraq and the insult of hanging him on the first day of Eid al-Adha may add fire to the discontent.

And US foreign policy seems stuck on Iraq, with the US incapable of facing up to North Korea and Iran. After all, it looks like the six-party talks with North Korea will require more than what US negotiator Christopher Hill is ready to offer, and will probably require the help of China. And there seems to be no clear policy for dealing with Iran, though the US was successful in passing a UN Security Council resolution condemning Iran’s nuclear enrichment.

Doug Stych on Iraq, Iran

December 28, 2006

On today’s Off the hour, I got the chance to speak with Doug Stych of Doug’s Darkworld about his thoughts on the war in Iraq and the idea that the US may be planning war with Iran. Listen below:

[odeo=http://odeo.com/audio/4629593/view]