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     Volume 5 Issue 78 | January 6, 2006 |

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Food For Thought

Two Years On

Neither Safe Nor Stable

Farah Ghuznavi

One of the most forcible arguments in favour of the Iraq war, endlessly repeated by its proponents, was that it would make the world in general - and the Middle East, in particular - a safer and more stable place. Two years after the invasion, it is time to consider whether that is in fact the case…

Fire fighters extinguish the flames from a vehicle that the Iraqi army detonated in the New Baghdad district of the capital 01 January 2006. At least 17 people were wounded in a series of seven car bombs and one explosive device in Baghdad early on New Year's Day.

Looking at the state of the "neighbourhood", it is hard to believe that things have "gone according to plan". While the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein has indeed been toppled, the post-Saddam era has seen sectarian violence, a growing insurgency, alienation among the Sunnis in Iraq, a breakdown of law and order in key Iraqi cities and a government operating in the midst of a siege, unable to venture safely out of the protected "Green zone". The rise of religious Shi'ite leaders loyal to Iran within Iraq itself has also caused alarm among Iraq's Sunni-dominated neighbours.

Not least because neighbouring Iran appears to have shifted further in the direction of hard-line elements within. The new president, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, has taken a populist line, tapping into the deep wellsprings of hatred for Israel that undoubtedly exist within the region. While there may be many who agree with his suggestion that Israel be established in Europe by cobbling together pieces of Germany and Austria (since Europe was responsible for the killing of Jews during the Second World War, he argues, and should therefore make reparations), there are others who are concerned about his extremist views, fearing that he could actually harm the Palestinian cause that Iran so vocally supports.

Shiite Muslim takes part in a rally in Baghdad on the anniversary of the death of the ninth Imam Mohammed al-Jawad. The rally also called for the end of the occupation of Iraq by foreign troops and the improvement by the newly elected government of basic amenities for the city's citizens who are living with electricity outages, lack of clean water, poor roads and poor security

At least some of this can be blamed on American intervention that - like the invasion itself - has gone disastrously wrong. As the UK Independent points out, after President Bush encouraged Iranians to vote for reform, it was the hard-line Mayor of Teheran, Ahmedinejad, who was voted in as president! It has even been suggested that it was President Bush's public dismissal of the Iranian election as "an electoral process that ignores the basic requirements of democracy" that helped to boost the turnout in those elections by Iranians, determined to show the US President how little they cared for his opinion…

Now, it is feared that pressure from the US to force Syria to co-operate in putting down the Iraqi insurgency, may irrevocably damage the Syrian President, Bashir al-Assad, who is already weakened by the forced withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon. While the regime in Syria may not be high in the popularity polls, further instability within the region is not likely to help anyone. Least of all, given the current climate in neighbouring Lebanon, where a series of car bomb attacks aimed at high-profile anti-Syrian figures has increasingly destabilised the situation, pushing the country back towards the terrifying spectre of civil war.

Given that Lebanon held democratic elections just last May, the swift deterioration in the situation since then does not bode well for the future of democracy. Nor does the stated US intention of promoting democracy in the Middle East appear to be doing too well among its allies. After President Bush publicly urged the Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak, to loosen the ruling National Democratic Party's hold on power, the beneficiaries have ironically enough been the fundamentalists. The Muslim Brotherhood, greatly feared by the NDP, increased its representation in Parliament nearly six-fold in the recent elections by running its MPs as independent candidates!

Even the Blair-Bush justification of the Iraq war - linking it to the goal of seeking peace in the Middle East by developing a "viable" two-state solution to the Palestinian conflict - has fallen by the wayside. Instead, the situation there has become increasingly polarised, with the Israeli government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon moving ahead with its own solution, which includes the construction of a barrier which encroaches on Palestinian land in total defiance of international law.

Among the Palestinians, there is fear that if Mr Sharon's breakaway party wins in the Israeli elections, he will now seek to impose a new border, which will effectively annex East Jerusalem, as well as significant sections of the West Bank. Not surprisingly, these fears have found expression in the growing support for the Islamic militant group, Hamas.

Meanwhile, these alarming trends within the region are mirrored by equally disturbing developments within the nations that are the key partners in the coalition. While America's attitude on issues such as extraordinary rendition remains defiant, protests are growing from human rights organisations as well as the global community about a string of human rights abuses from rendition to indefinite captivity in Guantánamo Bay to the emerging allegations of mistreatment at the Bagram facility in Afghanistan and the shameful and disgusting events at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Nor is it possible to be reassured by the US Secretary of State's repeated assertions that the US does not condone torture, when US allies include the dictatorship of Uzbekistan, whose president has had opponents boiled to death, supposedly in the interests of the "war on terror" (UK Independent).

The UK, also an ally of the repulsive Uzbek regime, has its own problems in terms of allegations of abuse and attitudes towards torture (though not yet, thankfully, on the scale of the US). The recent decision of the Law Lords, which makes it clear that evidence obtained through torture can never be admissible in UK courts, is seen by many as a condemnation of the government's ambivalent attitude to "torture evidence". Furthermore, there has been widespread shock at the recent disclosure that four of the suspects detained at Belmarsh jail (referred to by some as Britain's Guantánamo Bay) have not once been questioned by police or security services since their arrest four years ago!

There is little doubt that the litany of arbitrary arrest, indefinite captivity, extraordinary rendition, allegations of torture, proof of abuse in places like Abu Ghraib and Bagram, and alliances with unacceptable bedfellows such as the Uzbek regime, is doing little to increase the credibility of US (and coalition) claims of spreading democracy in the Middle East, and promoting security and stability worldwide. Global opinion polls show that anti-American sentiment in Europe, the Middle East and Asia "surged" as a result of the Iraq war (UK Independent). So, in a truly spectacular example of backfiring, it appears that these interventions have in fact served only to feed the ever-growing "bushfire" of anti-Americanism around the globe, making it a less safe place for all of us…

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