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.

Montreal, Quebec — FACE School’s former principal Nick Primiano will be addressing FACE students and parents this Monday, followed by a Q&A session. The event will take place at the corner of Ste-Catherine and University streets at Christ Church Cathedral at 6PM.

Despite students’ and teachers’ requests, the Commission Scolaire de Montréal (CSDM), which administers the school, has refused to allow the popular principal to address his former students at the school.

This fall, Primiano was suspended by the CSDM under dubious and secretive circumstances, and later resigned.

A group of FACE parents and alumni, dubbed SOS F.A.C.E., is organizing the event. Created after Primiano’s suspension, SOS F.A.C.E. has been active in monitoring CSDM practices vis-à-vis FACE, as members believe that the suspension — and Primiano’s subsequent resignation — may be part of the CSDM’s larger agenda for reforms at the bilingual arts-driven school.

In its thirty year history, FACE has had only two principals, founder Philip Baugniet and Nick Primiano. After Primiano’s resignation, former vice-principal Christine Besson was appointed as the school’s principal.

For more, see F.A.C.E. School: Principal Suspended or visit SOS F.A.C.E..

On the eve of US-North Korea financial talks, which have been tentatively set to take place on the week starting January 22, the idea of a second nuclear test by the DPRK is being talked about yet again.

Kyodo news agency quoted Japanese lawmaker Taku Yamasaki quoting North Korean official Song Il-ho as saying that a second nuclear test would depend on US actions.

The Koreans have an interest in upping pressure on the US to succumb to North Korean demands, including those of lifting financial sanctions. Kim Jong-il’s government has no leverage in the nuclear talks, except for the country’s nuclear capability itself. If talks continue in deadlock — and North Korea is unwilling to make concessions — then a second nuclear test could become the only effective way to pursue the country’s interests. Right now, North Korea’s best tool is the threat of such a test.

Neither the US nor North Korea want another test to take place. A test would spell disaster for the US, with North Korea solidifying its place as a nuclear power; for North Korea, it would leave little options to further bargain and would probably be too costly for the financially depleted regime. In that sense, the threat of a test remains North Korea’s best weapon in advancing its interests in the nuclear negotiations.

Until those negotiations resume, North Korea will take every opportunity to mention a second nuclear test. While there is little probability of such a test occuring in the next few months, the threat itself adds urgency to the issue. And North Korea looks to be urgently in need of US financial cooperation.

North Korea must, however, be prudent in its rhetoric. If it speaks too belligerently, it may isolate itself further by looking un-cooperative. This is why North Korean officials often make statements, such as Song Il-ho’s, via news agencies and other officials. This way, it is always possible to refute a statement officially, if it causes too much of a stir.

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.

As Wednesday approaches, there is more and more speculation on President Bush’s new Iraq strategy and what the Democrats can effectively do if they disagree with the Commander-in-Chief.

Senator Kennedy has been the most pro-active, saying he will introduce legislation today which will limit the President’s ability to get funding for more troops without Congressional approval. The Democrat from Massachusetts said that Iraq was in a state of civil war and that Senate would insist on accountability.

Not everyone in the Democratic party is favoring steps to stop the potentiality of a surge of troops. Notably, House majority leader Steny H. Hoyer has not backed the idea of financially blocking a troop surge.

Considering all this, the next few days will be a serious test of both President Bush’s leadership and the Democrats’ new majority in Congress.

Can Bush convince the opposition that an increase of troops can actually yield results? There already is a view that the whole Iraq campaign has been one gradual surge, with matters getting worse instead of better. When increased security is attempted, it oftentimes leads to an increase in violence. On November 23, during a week when the US sought to increase security in Baghdad, the city saw the biggest level of carnage in a day.

The Democrats have won Congressional dominance, but can they hold up as a party? The Bush Administration will be making compelling arguments for its strategy and some may feel they may be perceived as unpatriotic if they don’t go along.

The opportunities are there for both parties. The Bush Administration can show maturity and work together with the Democrats in finding a solution. The Democrats can offer a viable alternative that party members will stand by.