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.

This week, things turned for the worse in Lebanon, with violence erupting in Beirut. But both the government and the opposition seem to be showing maturity by calling for unity in Lebanon to prevent an outbreak of civil war.

This situation is very indicative of what is going on in Lebanon: the protests of recent months are not opportunistic, but realistic. There is a significant segment of the Lebanese population that dislikes the way the current government is handling the country. And instead doing things un-democratically, through terror, the disenchanted are taking peaceful means to voice their concerns and demands. No one can doubt that Hezbollah, a key player in the protests, is capable of acts of terror (and ones of magnitude). After all, it was Hezbollah that seriously challenged the reputation of the IDF this summer. However, Hezbollah has not been violent. There is no indication that the assassination of Pierre Gemayel, which occurred before the protests began, has been linked to the politically active group.

Nevertheless, some pro-government officials in Lebanon are saying the violence is the responsibility of protesters. Samir Geagea has accused the opposition of trying to take force by “force” and has said that the continuation of protests would lead to “civil war.”

Gaegea has a point, in that if the government continues to dispute protesters’ demands, violence will eventually break out. But it won’t be the fault of the protesters, but Lebanon’s government. Now is not the time to be stubborn. The opposition — and a large number of the Lebanese population — have shown this movement to be more than the Orange revolution, so widely publicized as a triumph for democracy, so it’s time for Prime Minister Siniora to listen and stop demanding.

The PM has refused to negotiate with the opposition until protests cease.

Lt Gen Dan Halutz, the head of Israel’s armed forces, just resigned over the handling of the Lebanon campaign this summer. The confrontation has largely been seen as an Israeli failure.

There are reports suggesting Israel’s defense minister, Amir Peretz, may be concerned that he will also be called upon to resign, but those close to him say there is no link between the responsibilities of defense minister and army head.

However, Peretz is forgetting that he was the one that gave the go-ahead for the war and that it was probably his recommendation that Israel react with force, to a comparatively minor incident (two soldiers were taken hostage). It is his ministry’s responsibility to assess every possible scenario and to recommend the best option to the country’s executive.

In the end, Halutz was only acting on the defense ministry’s decision and, as its head, Peretz should be ready to accept responsibility.

As a result of the contentious Dujail Trial, Iraq has gone ahead with two more hangings. This time, state television is not broadcasting the executions, one of which ended in an accidental decapitation.

Journalists were shown a silent video recording of the process which took place overnight.

In late December, Saddam Hussein’s execution was broadcast on state television; the video was also silent. It was later revealed that the former Iraqi President was taunted and insulted as he was hanged. The revelation came from a rogue video with audio recorded on a cellphone and leaked onto the internet.

Iraqi officials are saying that these hangings were carried out appropriately and that the video will not be made public. Keeping it private makes some sense, but it also negates the necessity of showing a silent video to journalists. If Iraq’s executioners and officials have really learnt their lesson after hanging Saddam Hussein, shouldn’t members of the media be able to verify that?

Once again, Iraq is showing to not be as transparent a society as is expected from a democracy. There is no free media in Iraq and the government expects its story to be broadcast and not challenged. This is precisely why the official who leaked the video of Saddam Hussein’s hanging was arrested.

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.

For quite some time, President Bush has been under pressure to provide a new approach to solving problems in Iraq. In fact, Bush himself acted on this pressure by assembling and commissioning the Iraq Study Group (ISG) to assess the situation in Iraq and to offer possible solutions. The ISG’s report was delivered on December 6, yet Bush’s announcement of his New Iraqi Strategy is set for today, over a month after the group’s report was made public.

Even without the ISG report, the Administration has had over three years to elaborate and devise plans of action and has obviously plotted out many different options and scenarios. The advantage of creating the ISG was its independence from the Administration, providing a fresh assessment of the reality in Iraq. Its bipartisan nature was beneficial in avoiding potential situations of deadlock. It looks like such a situation may, in fact, occur if Democrats face off against President Bush’s plan.

Unsurprisingly, the new Democratic Congress is challenging a reported call for a troop surge set to be announced today.

Did President Bush truly need to wait a month to announce his New Strategy? With the Democrats touting their new majority in Congress (and their ability to hinder the Strategy), the choice makes absolutely no sense. Why not present the New Strategy in December, with a Republican Congress, to ensure that the plan is not put into question?

As it stands now, the Strategy will be shot down by the Democrats and will polarize the President’s worldview against that of high-profile Democrats.

If the Democrats are actually able to effectively intervene in the troop surge, the President will be in a position to say, “We tried, but the Democrats did not let us do our job.”

After all, an additional 20 000 (or 30 000) troops will not change much. Insurgents in Iraq are notorious for disappearing when the US military shows up, and for reappearing at later times. This is not the year 2003 and it’s clear that the US will be leaving Iraq sooner rather than later, so any troop surge is only going to be a cosmetic band-aid solution.

Whichever way this goes, announcing the Strategy now, plays in the Administration’s political favor. By challenging the plan, Democrats can be painted as unpatriotic and as stalling progress in Iraq for their own political benefit. Furthermore, it gives the Administration the ability to eventually withdraw from Iraq and say, “We did everything we could.” With the Democratic challenge in place, the troops increase can be made to look as something extraordinary that the Administration had to fight for. Resilience wins political points.

If the surge is in any way successful then the Administration can proceed with a quick withdrawal from Iraq, without looking like they bowed to pressure from the Democrats.

It makes sense. And with support for the Bush Administration at a new low, with the approval rating of the handling of the Iraq war at 26%, it may be what the Administration needs.