Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Turning The Corner, part 4

The Projected Winner in Iraq: Failure
The voter turnout won't be sufficient to legitimise the election.
Iraq's proposed elections later this month are a lose-lose proposition.
Most Sunni and Kurdish political parties have either formally withdrawn or are threatening to because the insurgency has now targeted the entire electoral process.

Meanwhile, the 'War on Terror' continues to foster global insecurity.


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As violence rages and Sunnis and Kurds prepare to boycott the elections, no good outcome is in sight

Edwin Black
Edwin Black is the author of "Banking on Baghdad, Inside Iraq's 7,000-Year History of War, Profit, and Conflict," from which 6this is adapted.

January 12, 2005

Iraq's proposed elections later this month are a lose-lose proposition.

Most Sunni and Kurdish political parties have either formally withdrawn or are threatening to because the insurgency has now targeted the entire electoral process. That reality has been driven home daily. Last month, a grenade was tossed into a school with a note warning the building to not become a polling place. Weeks ago, an election commissioner on Baghdad's main street was dragged from his car in broad daylight and shot in the head by men who didn't even mask their faces.

Osama bin Laden has declared in an audiotape that those who participate in the election - even by voting - will be deemed infidels and targeted. Electoral commissioners have resigned en masse. The Association of Muslim Scholars, Iraq's highest Sunni religious authority, has demanded all Sunnis boycott the election.

But the Shias are adamant that elections proceed. Their supreme religious leader, Grand Ayatollah Sistani, has decreed that voting is the highest religious obligation. Sistani rebuffed recent Sunni-Kurd election delay requests, saying the question was "not even up for discussion." Indeed, a delay makes no sense, as the insurgency becomes only more lethal with each day. Hence, Arab Sunnis and Kurds - together some 40 percent of the population - are now on an electoral collision course with the majority Shias, who compose approximately 60 percent. The dynamics of this looming showdown embody the very ethnic torrents that have plagued Iraq for centuries. Minority Sunnis and majority Shias have massacred and oppressed each other in Iraq since the seventh century, taking time off to do the same for minorities such as Armenians, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Jews and Kurds.

Since the 1920s, Sunni Ba'athist strongmen have ruled, Saddam Hussein being the latest. The concept of one-man one- vote, in which the results will parallel the religious groups, automatically guarantees that the Shia majority will finally seize control of the nation, settling old scores and disenfranchising everyone else. This only sets the stage for another civil war.

Historically, the assumption or seizure of authority in Iraq has never constituted a true representative government accepted by the warring tribal factions, but rather an expression of ethnic supremacy. More and more, the Jan. 30 vote seems not a national election, but a mainly Shia election. So even if the election takes place, even if the Shias deliver a statistical majority for the turnout, the forces of Sunni and insurgent rejection will demonize the results and elected officials, thus further plunging the populace into violence.

Adding a volatile dimension is the distinct possibility that majority Shia rule will not propel the nation toward Western-style democracy, but speed it toward an Iranian-style theocracy. Shia Iran and the dominant Shia holy cities such as Najaf have been joined at the hip and the heart for centuries. Citizens on both sides of the border freely pass and function jointly in matters religious, spiritual and social.

Should a Shia-controlled Iraq legislate itself into an Iranian- style theocracy, and even consider a pan-Islamic confederacy, the ramifications are towering. Such bi-national unions in the Islamic Middle East have been common since World War II.

The people of Iraq have never wanted Western-style pluralistic democracy or elections. The idea has always been imposed from abroad. In 1920, the nations of the Middle East were created where no nations had previously existed by Western oil imperialism and the League of Nations - this to validate under international law the post-World War I oil monopolies France and England had created. Pro-western monarchs and other rulers were installed to sign on the dotted line, legitimizing Western oil monopolies. At the same time, the Western capitals spurned the Arab national movement. When the Arabs hear the term "democracy," they hear a code word for "stable environment for oil."

A post-election Iraq will resemble pre-election Iraq, with a savage insurgency determined to sabotage the government. America will then have to decide if it is still willing to hold the invented nation together with political thumbtacks and military muscle, or support the forces of ethnic partition. Either way, we have no alternative but to survive in Iraq long enough to intelligently withdraw. That will require alternative energy resources to detach us from this place where we are not wanted, where we should not be, and upon which our industrialized world is now dependent.

Iraq, the so-called Cradle of Civilization, has a 7,000-year head start on the United States and Britain. If its people wanted a pluralistic democracy, they could have created one without a permission slip from Washington or London. Elections do not make democracies; democracies make elections.

11:19 PM  
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Terror War Diverting Attention from Roots of Insecurity

Jim Lobe

WASHINGTON, Jan 12 (IPS) - The Bush administration's ”war on terrorism” has diverted the world's attention from the deeper roots of global insecurity, according to the latest edition of Worldwatch Institute's annual 'State of the World' report, which calls poverty, disease and environmental decline the ”true axis of evil”.

'State of the World 2005: Redefining Global Security', which will be translated into some two dozen languages, urges global foreign policymakers to adopt what former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev calls in the book's forward ”a policy of preventive engagement” to address these challenges, in part to foster a renewed spirit of international cooperation.

”Unless these threats are recognised and responded to, the world runs the risk of being blindsided by the new forces of instability, just as the United States was surprised by the terrorist attacks of September 11 (2001),” said Worldwatch president Christopher Flavin at the book's launch here Wednesday.

According to Michael Renner, who co-directed the State of the World project, terrorism is ”only symptomatic of a far broader set of deep concerns that have produced a new age of anxiety”.

These concerns amount to ”problems without passports” that, absent collective action, are likely to worsen in the coming years and, in any case, cannot be resolved ”by raising military expenditures or dispatching troops. Nor can they be contained by sealing borders or maintaining the status quo in a highly unequal world.”

Those concerns include ”endemic poverty, convulsive economic transitions that cause growing inequality and high unemployment, international crime, the spread of deadly armaments, large-scale population movements, recurring natural disasters, ecosystem breakdown, new and resurgent communicable diseases, and rising competition over land and other natural resources, particularly oil.”

All of these problems create the conditions in which political instability, warfare, and extremism thrive, according the report, which argues that the adoption of prevention-focused programmes to deal with these challenges is generally a far more effective cost-efficient use of pre-emption than deploying military power.

”Global military spending is now approaching one trillion dollars a year,” Renner told IPS. ”Preventive strategies to deal with social and environment problems generally cost so much less.”

This year's 'State of the World', which includes contributions from some 20 authors on issues ranging from demographic change, infectious diseases, and transnational crime, to food security, the oil economy, and arms expenditures, underlines the importance of collective action and international cooperation.

Of current problems, the world's heavy dependence on fossil fuels is one of the most destabilising, according to the report. With competition heating up for access to these energy sources, they are fueling geopolitical rivalries -- as between China and Japan for Russian oil and gas; civil wars; and serious abuses in human rights of indigenous populations.

Despite reports of new finds, oil in fact is being found in smaller and smaller quantities and in ever more-remote regions. Amid rising global demand, production has plateaued or actually declined in 33 of the largest 48 largest producers, including six of OPEC's 11 members, according to the report.

Moreover, severe swings in price and supply -- spurred over the past year by political uncertainties and the war in Iraq -- is undermining economic security globally. At the same time, the burning of fossil fuels for energy is contributing to global warming and climate change that not only pose long-run threats to human safety, but also contribute to the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, such as the four hurricanes that devastated Florida and parts of the Caribbean last summer and fall.

Access to water is also a growing global concern. While regional water agreements have made cooperation, rather than conflict, the norm among neighbouring countries in much of the world, water shortages, such as that which has affected much of the horn of Africa, including Sudan's Darfur province, are fueling violent conflict within countries, according to the report.

Worldwide, some 434 million people currently face water scarcity, while insufficient access to water is a major cause of lost rural livelihoods that compel farmers to abandon their homes and fields.

By 2025, between 2.6 billion and 3.1 billion people are expected to be living in water-stressed or water-scarce conditions. Already more than 30 countries -- most of them in Africa and the Middle East -- have fallen below even the most conservative benchmarks for sufficient per capita cropland or renewable freshwater.

The adequacy of food and its distribution are also growing problems, which, in the absence of a solution, contribute to global insecurity. Worldwide, nearly two billion people suffer from hunger and chronic nutrient deficiencies, while the number of people who suffer chronic hunger -- those who go to bed hungry every night -- actually increased over the past decade to some 800 million last year.

On the health front, infectious diseases killed nearly 15 million people in 2002, including some three million AIDS victims, most of whom die in their peak parenting and wage-earning years.

Twenty previously well-known diseases, including tuberculosis and malaria, have re-emerged or spread geographically over the last decade, while at least 30 diseases not previously known to be infectious have been identified since 1975.

Other demographic factors contributing to instability include the ”youth bulge” -- a situation where people aged 15 to 29 account for more than 40 percent of all adults -- currently affecting more than 100 developing countries. In many, particularly in the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa, youth unemployment runs at more than 20 percent.

The more than 200 million young people who are unemployed or under-employed -- and thus may be forced to resort to crime or insurgency to earn enough to support their families -- represent a serious destabilising force for many societies, according to the report.

All of these problems are best handled through international cooperation, according to the report, which calls for wealthy nations to roughly double their foreign aid budgets so as to meet the U.N.'s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of halving the number of absolute poor, sharply increasing access to basic health care, and assuring universal primary education by 2015.

Shifting just 7.4 percent of donor governments' military budgets into development assistance would provide the necessary funds, according to the report.

In that respect, the outpouring of aid to help victims of the South Asian tsunamis marks a potential breakthrough, according to Renner, who said it demonstrated ”the enormous need for broad international cooperation in which people say, 'We really do have shared risks and responsibilities. We really must work together'.”

11:42 PM  
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Iraq War May Incite Terror, CIA Study Says
Think tank sees a breeding ground for militants. It says the risk of a germ attack is rising.
By Bob Drogin
Times Staff Writer

January 14, 2005

WASHINGTON — The war in Iraq is creating a training and recruitment ground for a new generation of "professionalized" Islamic terrorists, and the risk of a terrorist attack involving a germ weapon is steadily growing, an in-house CIA think tank said in a report released Thursday.

The "dispersion of the experienced survivors of the conflict in Iraq" to other countries will create a new threat in the coming 15 years, especially as the Al Qaeda network mutates into a volatile brew of independent extremist groups, cells and individuals, according to the report by the National Intelligence Council.

David B. Low, the national intelligence officer for transnational threats, said those who survived the Iraq war would pose a threat when they went home, "even under the best of scenarios."

But broader trends are likely to overshadow terrorism on the world stage.

Most important, India and China increasingly will flex powerful political and economic muscles as major new global players by 2020, said the council, which likened the rise of the two countries to the emergence of the United States as a world power a century ago.

The two nuclear-armed Asian giants — one a vibrant democracy, the other a one-party state — will "transform the geopolitical landscape" because of their robust economic growth, expanding military capabilities and large populations, the council predicted.

"The rise of these new powers is a virtual certainty," the council said in the report, titled "Mapping the Global Future."

Partly as a result, the council expects the world economy to be about 80% larger than in 2000, and per capita income 50% higher.

The bad news: The United States "will see its relative power position eroded" and the world will face a "more pervasive sense of insecurity" from terrorism, the spread of unconventional weapons and political upheaval that could reverse recent democratic gains in parts of Central and Southeast Asia.

"Weak governments, lagging economies, religious extremism and youth bulges will align to create a perfect storm for internal conflict in some areas," the authors warned. "Our greatest concern is that terrorists might acquire biological agents, or less likely, a nuclear device, either of which could cause mass casualties."

The 119-page report is intended to help the White House and other policymakers prepare for probable challenges by tracing how key trends may develop and influence world events over the next 15 years.

"It's designed to stimulate thought," Robert L. Hutchings, chairman of the council, said at a news briefing at CIA headquarters.

Although few of the forecasts come as surprises, Hutchings said the authors sought to challenge conventional thinking.

"Linear analysis will get you a much-changed caterpillar," he said, "but it won't get you a butterfly. For that you need a leap of imagination. We hope this … will help us make that leap."

The report, the third in a project launched in the mid-1990s, is based on the thinking and comments of more than 1,000 U.S. and foreign experts who participated in more than 30 conferences and workshops over the last year. The text and a computer simulation of possible scenarios are available online at .

The United States will retain enormous advantages and will continue to play a pivotal role in economic, political and military affairs, the report concludes. But Washington "may be increasingly confronted" with managing fast-shifting international relations and alignments.

Washington probably will face "dramatically altered alliances and relations with Europe and Asia," for example, with the European Union increasingly supplanting NATO on the world stage.

The United Nations and international financial institutions "risk sliding into obsolescence unless they adjust" to the changes in the global system, the authors wrote.

"While no single power looks within striking distance of rivaling U.S. military power by 2020, more countries will be in a position to make the United States pay a heavy price for any military action they oppose," they said.

Suspected possession of unconventional weapons by Iran, North Korea and perhaps others will "also increase the potential cost of any military action" by U.S. forces.

But the likelihood that a local conflict could escalate into a total war or nuclear exchange is "lower than at any time in the past century."

11:45 PM  
Blogger Management said...

Voter turnout won't be enough to legitimise election
January 21, 2005

As the US tries to cook the books, Iraq may be heading for civil war, writes Paul McGeough.

There is something truly remarkable about the Iraqi human spirit. Cast around for a comparison of the numbers that might vote next Sunday and Afghanistan is a good choice.

There, more than 10.5 million signed up last year in a security environment that made a mockery of the international observance of fragile polls when only a handful of monitors was brave enough to set foot in the country - but was not courageous enough to go beyond the capital.

Iraq does not have the same voter registration process because Saddam's old food-distribution register is being co-opted for this fraught experiment.

It suggests that about 15million Iraqis are eligible to vote amid a savage insurgency that makes Afghanistan look like the proverbial Sunday school picnic - and with not a single international observer daring to cross the border from Jordan.

But we know this - more than 3 million Iraqis have ventured from their homes to go to electoral offices to correct data on Saddam's old food list and another 1.2 million people have made new registrations. Given the appalling security conditions on top of the seething anger at the failure of the US-led effort to rebuild this country, it would be remarkable if just these 4 million-plus turned out.
But despite car bombings such as the ones that killed 26 people on Wednesday - one of which was detonated near the Australian embassy - the targeted assassination or abduction of candidates and party officials, electoral and security workers, and the promise of more intimidation by bombing on polling day, the chances are that more will probably vote. But they are unlikely to vote in high enough numbers to legitimise the process.

True to form, the Americans and the puppet regime they have installed are cooking the books. Senior US officials and interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi repeatedly insist that all is well because insecurity will restrict voting in "only four of Iraq's 18 provinces".
Four out of 18 is a little over 20 per cent and in the circumstances might be acceptable. But the truth is very different. Anywhere between 40 and 50 per cent of the population live in those four provinces. It like insisting on the legitimacy of an Australian federal election when an army of thousands of gunmen is setting out to thwart the vote in NSW, Western Australia and Tasmania.

The Sunni turnout is expected to be as low as 10 to 15 per cent and because the US-crafted election calls for a national count, rather than one based on votes for local candidates, the Sunni vote will be swamped by the 60-plus per cent Shiite majority who are being instructed that voting is a religious duty.

And wouldn't you know it - the Americans now claim that the turnout doesn't count.

In the same way that the White House claims the failure to find Saddam's weapons of mass destruction in no way detracts from the decision to invade Iraq, the line at a background press briefing last week was this: "I would really encourage people not to focus on numbers, which in themselves don't have any meaning, but to look on the outcome and to look at the government that will be the product of these elections."

Such is the level of fear that Iraqis still have not been told where they will be voting or who they will be voting for. The party names for 111 "slates" of candidates are known, but the names of 19,000 individual candidates for seats in the National Assembly and for provincial councils are being withheld to prevent them being targeted by the insurgency.

But coupled with a weak media and the absence of any genuine policy debate, the likely effect in a tribal and religious society is the outcome the Americans didn't want - many voters will resort to religious and tribal edicts, decrees and urgings on how they should vote, thereby locking in Iraq's sectarian divide and perhaps setting the scene for the full-blown civil war that some observers now fear is inevitable.

Over tea and sweets to celebrate the start of the Muslim Eid al-Adha commemoration in Amman on Wednesday evening, Naseer Al Obeid, who is a professor of physics and a tribal sheik in the Sunni city of Ramadi, told me with seeming regret: "It's back to the old tribal system - this is what happens in the absence of central government. This election will do nothing - things will stay bad or get worse."

There is endless debate in the US and in the region about Washington's Iraq options - press on with or postpone the poll; stay the distance or exit as soon as it might be done half-decently afterwards.

But it's too late for such hand-wringing. As a British official explained to Time magazine this week: "If we delay by two, three or six months, one month before [the new] election day we would be in exactly the same position we are now - but with an extra 1000 people dead and the violence more sophisticated." The Iraq truth, which should have been considered before it was too late, is that Washington has no options. The invasion of Iraq was the start of a sorry, organic mess that now must run its own brutal course.

Paul McGeough, the Herald's chief correspondent, is in Iraq to report on the election.

7:41 AM  

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