Saturday, December 2, 2006

The Bush-Maliki Summit and the New Middle East Cold War

Friday, December 01, 2006

Over 100 Bodies found in Past 48 Hours

Al-Hayat writing in Arabic sums up the results of the Bush-Maliki Summit:

1. The US and its Arab allies rejected the notion of making any concessions to Iran in return for Tehran's help in calming the situation in Iraq.

2. The al-Maliki government would be given "another chance" to crack down on Shiite militias such as the Mahdi Army and would be given greater freedom of movement in confronting them militarily.

In other words, Bush is trying to set al-Maliki up for a confrontation with the Sadr Movement and is trying to keep the Shiite-dominated government in Baghdad from too openly embracing Iran. (That cow is already out of the barn, of course).

Al-Hayat sees the influence of Arab allies of the US on Bush's policy as decisive. It says that informed sources in Amman report that the Arab diplomats warned Bush against giving Iran nuclear privileges and against giving Syria "Lebanese" privileges, in return for their help in Iraq. These Arab countries likely include Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait and Egypt. That is, there is a new Middle Eastern Cold War between the pro-Western Arab states (Riyadh-Amman-Cairo-Kuwait City) and the Tehran-Damascus axis. The pro-Western Arabs fear the Iranian nuclear program, and they generally support Saad Hariri, Fouad Seniora, and the 14 March Movement in Lebanon against Hizbullah, which is backed by Syria and Iran.

This Middle Eastern Cold War is pushing Washington, allied with the Arab conservatives, into a contradictory stance in Iraq, having installed a Shiite, pro-Iranian government there but remaining unable to work with this new reality on a geopolitical level. The Middle Eastern Cold War pitting the Saudis and Egyptians against the Iranians and Syrians is reinforced by Washington's other major ally in the region, Israel, which also wants to contain or roll back Syria and Iran. As is often the case, despite their rhetoric of seeming enmity, the pro-Western Arab regimes and the Israelis have not so dissimilar geopolitical aims in the region, with the disposition of the Palestine Authority really the only major dispute between them. Iraq is caught in the middle of this new Cold War and seems likely to be the major victim of it.

If Bush gets his way, we could see substantial Shiite on Shiite violence in the coming months, of which it is likely the Sunni Arab guerrilla movement will take advantage.

The Sadr Movement representatives in parliament and on the Iraqi cabinet announced that the setting of a timetable for US military withdrawal from Iraq is the minimum condition for their return to al-Maliki's coalition. They also said that they would work toward the creation of a parliamentary front that would demand a US withdrawal. Over 100 out of 275 members of parliament have already voted for the US to set a timetable and leave, but rather than let the whole parliament vote a resolution, the al-Maliki government sent the issue to committee, from which it may never emerge or not for months.

Hassan M. Fattah of the NYT reports that Arab analysts and observers are asking of the Bush-Maliki summit, "is that all?" No new results seemed to come of the meeting. Bush seemed patronizing of al-Maliki. And the US National Security Council appears not to understand the most basic things about contemporary Iraqi politics, as the Boston Globe editorial team points out.

Robert Scheer takes a position opposite of that of al-Hayat, arguing that Bush's policies have put him in a position where he'll probably have to learn to live with and cooperate with the ayatollahs in Iran. Apparently, however, Bush will avoid doing so until the chance for real progress has passed.

Matthew Chavez reports on Bush's inability to face up to the realities of civil war in Iraq and its implications for US policy. (I'm quoted.)

The Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, is afraid that a US withdrawal from Iraq will plunge the country into a civil war and warns that the "whole world will pay" if that happens. He also cautioned that the Israel-Palestine dispute must be settled and warned of dire consequences if the US moves militarily against Iran. The Emir would be right about the first point if the question were posed in a vacuum. But what if the US presence is making the situation worse and making it impossible for the Iraqis to compromise with one another?

The Iraqi Interior Ministry is now going to attempt to monitor and "correct" journalists in Iraq. Journalists are already at risk of being kidnapped or killed. Now they are going to have some Iraqi general from the Iran-trained Badr Corps or a dusted off Baathist dictate to them what is and is not the "correct" news.

McClatchy reports that 25 dead bodies were found in Baghdad on Thursday, and that a major Sunni leader was assassinated in Basra.

On Wednesday, Reuters said, 52 bodies had been found in Baghdad, and 6 in Mosul. A "mass grave" with 28 bodies in it was found near Baquba. A US soldier was killed by guerrillas. There was fighting between the Mahdi Army and the Iraqi security forces (dominated by the Badr Corps) in the southern Shiite city of Samawa. This is Shiite on Shiite violence, part of a turf war between followers of young Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and those of Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq.

Saudi King Abdullah's visit to Turkey is, as AP says, a possible sign of a slight shift in foreign policy in Ankara toward the Middle East and away from Europe. But the real power in Turkey is in the hands of the strongly secular, pro-Western officer corps, and this article seems to me to give too much weight to the views of the elected prime minister, who can only go so far without risking a military intervention.

The visit is probably more important as a sign that Iraq's Sunni neighbors are now attempting to coordinate some response to the civil war there, the likelihood of an American withdrawal, and the fact of a new, Shiite, pro-Iranian regime in the region centered on Baghdad.

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