Global Trends by Martin Khor

Monday 27 Nov 2006

Middle East violence escalates

The 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 days’ tragedies.

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 court. 

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 on Thursday. 

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 this week.

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 government."