Global Trends by Martin
Monday 27 Nov 2006
Middle East violence escalates
situation in the Middle East has reached new explosive levels, with
Lebanon on the brink of civil war after the assassination of a Cabinet
Minister, and with sectarian violence at boiling point after six bombs
killed 200 people in a crowded Baghdad street. There seems no end
to nightmare as the United States-led “war on terror” unravels.
The Middle East situation
has escalated to new explosive levels, with the sectarian violence reaching
a sickening level in Iraq, while Lebanon tethers on the brink of civil
war after the assassination of a government Minister.
And the Palestinians continue
to be pounded by Israelis in the Gaza strip, as human conditions there
deteriorate to desperate levels.
There seems to be no end
to the hellish nightmares for the people in the region, as each day
brings fresh violent events, with no time even to recover from the previous
Perhaps the only bright spot
to a disastrous week was the admittance by Prime Minister Tony Blair
of Britain, in an interview on Al Jazeera TV, that the invasion of Iraq
had turned out to be a “disaster”.
Although Blair tried to play
this down, the damage to him had been done. Some days later a senior
British military officer indicated that troop withdrawal from Iraq would
begin early next year.
In the United States, various
officials also continue to mull over how to exit Iraq without the US
losing too much face. It is now clear the occupation is unsustainable,
and has been a big mistake, paid for by the Iraqi people.
In Afghanistan, the insurgency
led by the old Taliban is gaining ground, and the NATO forces and the
Afghan government are unable to control the country.
The militaristic solution
– pounding villages where terrorists are supposed to be located – has
alienated more of the population as innocent civilians are killed.
Afghanistan is another headache for the United States and its allies
as the “war on terror” unravels.
Last Tuesday, the assassination
of Pierre Gemayel, the Industry Minister and a Christian Maronite leader,
plunged Lebanon into a fresh crisis, so soon after the country endured
weeks of bombing by Israel.
Many immediately pointed
a finger at Syria for Gemayel’s death, but the Syrian government itself
condemned the murder.
At Gemayal’s funeral, 800,000
people turned up, indicating a show of support for the government, which
is mainly anti-Syria. However the government is facing a challenge
from Hezbollah, which is against the Cabinet’s approval of a United
Nations international court to try suspects in the assassination of
a former Prime Minister, Rafik Hariri.
Hezbollah, which is seen
by many as being pro-Syria, has said it would carry out mass protests
unless its allies and itself are given more power within the government.
There were six pro-Hezbollah
members in the Cabinet but they resigned over the issue of the international
A “general strike” went into
effect as the business leaders who organized it called on the various
political factions to settle their differences. The coming week may
see heightened polarization as the various political factions mobilize
their supporters in a fight for control of the government and country.
In Iraq, a cluster of violence
erupted as the sectarian warfare between the Shi'ites and Sunnis continued.
Last Thursday, over 200 were
killed from car bombs planted in Sadr City, a Shi'ite district of Baghdad
A suicide car bomber blew
himself up at a checkpoint. After that, there were four other explosions
along a street filled with shoppers, caused by two other suicide car
bombers and two unattended car bombs.
The next day, militia members
took revenge by shooting and burning several Sunni mosques in Baghdad
and another town.
There was however a reminder
that the carnage in Iraq is not merely a fight between the Muslim factions
of Sunni and Shi'ite.
The powerful Shi'ite cleric
Moqtada al-Sadr, whose allies hold three posts in the Cabinet and 30
seats in Parliament, continued to blame the United States and its occupation
of Iraq as the main reason for the country’s tragedy.
He created waves when he
threatened to quit the government if Iraq's prime minister keeps his
appointment to meet the United States’ President, George Bush, in Jordan
In a sermon on Friday, Moqtada
repeated his demand that American forces withdraw from the country immediately
or set a timetable to leave.
Parliamentarians loyal to
Moqtada met in Sadr City, the district hit by the bombs, and angrily
denounced the American military. They said that the presence of the
foreign forces was galvanizing the violence in Iraq.
"In this painful
tragedy, I call on everybody to practice self-restraint and stay calm,"
said Iraq’s Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki.
But few believe this
call will have any effect. A representative of Moqtada told a journalist:
"We blame the government for the attacks. We have no trust in the
government or in the Americans. We have completely lost faith in the
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