Friday, December 22, 2006

NYT Reports: Al-Sistani May Support New Iraqi Coalition Government

The New York Times is reporting that Iraq's senior Shi'i cleric, Grand Ayatullah 'Ali al-Husayni al-Sistani [RIGHT] may support a proposal for the formation of a new coalition government that would bring together Shi'i and Sunni Arab parties (religious and secular) with Kurdish parties, nominally under the banner of the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA), the Shi'i-led political bloc that won the most parliamentary seats in January's elections. Despite his initial success in steering Shi'i political mobilization in post-Ba'th Iraq, al-Sistani's influence has seemingly decreased over the past two years as sectarian violence has skyrocketed between Sunni and Shi'i Arab militias who are targeting each other and civilians on the other side. The new proposal reportedly is designed to marginalize Jama'at al-Sadr al-Thani (Movement of al-Sadr the Second), the socio-political movement headed by Muqtada al-Sadr [LEFT], which controls 30 parliamentary seats and 6 cabinet posts and ministries.

After the February 22 bombing that heavily damaged the Shi'i al-Askari Shrine in Samarra, Shi'i militias began to actively engage Sunni Arab and Ba'thist militias and al-Qa'ida in the Land of the Two Rivers. However, in addition to battling rival militias, Shi'i paramilitaries have also engaged in acts of violence (kidnapping, torture, murder) against Sunni Arab civilians to avenge similar attacks by Sunni and Salafi Arab militants. In the Pentagon's recent report on the Iraq conflict Shi'i militias were identified as being responsible for the most deaths during the past year, marking the first time that Shi'i groups have outperformed (for lack of a more suitable word) Sunni Arabs and Ba'thists in carrying out attacks.

Al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia [RIGHT] is routinely blamed for being behind most of the Shi'i attacks on Sunnis but evidence suggests that former Mahdi commanders may be largely responsible. Two months ago, 41 Mahdi commanders were publicly expelled from the militia for engaging in criminal activities and many have formed their own militias or criminal gangs. Common criminal gangs are also reportedly using the Mahdi Army name despite having no connections to al-Sadr or Jama'at al-Sadr al-Thani. Among the most infamous of these militia leaders is Abu Deraa, a sadistic former Mahdi commander who is known for torturing his victims with drills before murdering them. Several independent Shi'i leader such as Shaykh Mahmoud Hassani al-Sarkhi, who heads a growing political movement, are even more vehemently anti-Iranian than al-Sadr.
Violence committed by members of the Badr Corps [LEFT], the paramilitary wing of Majlis al-A'la lil Thaura al-Islamiyya fil Iraq (Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution-SCIRI), receives far less attention than that allegedly committed by the Mahdi Army and breakaway factions. The political alliance between SCIRI, headed by 'Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, and the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and U.S. President George W. Bush is probably the reason for the silence on the activities of the Badr Corps. Al-Hakim, once critical of the U.S. government, has recast himself as a key U.S. ally and is an active powerbroker in the new Iraqi government.

Allegations that al-Sadr is an Iranian agent are also unfounded. Muqtada made his name even before the fall of Saddam Husayn as a vocal proponent for an Iraqi Arab Shi'i leadership for the Iraqi Shi'a community. His father, Grand Ayatullah Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr [LEFT], who was assassinated in 1999 by Ba'thist agents, also called for an Iraqi Arab Shi'i leadership which led to tensions between himself and al-Sistani. Muqtada has also been the key leader blocking attempts by SCIRI and the majority Shi'i-led UIA bloc to partition Iraq into three autonomous regions: an oil-rich Kurdistan in the north; an impoverished Sunni Arab center, and an oil-rich Shi'i south.

SCIRI, which was founded in Iran in 1982 by exiled Iraqi Ayatullah Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim with support from Iranian supreme leader Grand Ayatullah Ruhullah Khumayni, has a long history of ties to revolutionary Iran and maintains a close relationship with that country to this day. If any Iraqi Shi'i organization has close ties with Iran, it's SCIRI and not Jama'at al-Sadr al-Thani. However, it's not in U.S. or Iraqi government interests to alienate SCIRI and 'Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim [RIGHT] , so their ties to Iran do not receive a large amount of "official" attention.

Prime Minister al-Maliki, a Shi'i, has been an ineffectual Iraqi leader at best and is clearly unwilling and perhaps incapable of challenging Shi'i militias, both the Mahdi Army and the Badr Corps . Al-Maliki's party, Hizb al-Da'wa al-Islamiyyah (Party of Islamic Call), is reportedly balking at joining a new coalition government that does not include al-Sadr's party since they fear that it's a precursor to replacing the prime minister. Al-Maliki currently relies on the political support of the al-Sadr movement's 30 parliament members and six cabinet ministers, which explains his reluctance to engage them.
Iraq needs a strong-willed prime minister who is willing to engage not only Sunni and Salafi Arab and Ba'thist militants but also Shi'i militias such as the Mahdi Army and the Badr Corps. Al-Maliki [LEFT] isn't that kind of prime minister and he should be replaced quickly through the political process. Shi'i militias, whether they be the Mahdi Army, the Badr Corps, or Mahdi offshoots should be reigned in or disarmed if they prove unwilling to halt attacks on civilians. Sunni and Ba'thist Arab groups unwilling to enter the political process need to be fully suppressed and Salafi militants who are unlikely to halt violence against civilians need to be crushed.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Hizbu'llah Stages Second Massive Beirut Rally; Arab League Chief Mousa Attempts to Negotiate a Deal

After holding a massive rally in central Beirut on December 1, which drew an estimated 800,000+ people, Hizbu'llah, AMAL, and the Maronite Christian supporters of Michel Aoun (collectively the National Opposition) held another rally [BELOW] of equal size on December 11. Promising to continue protests and sit-ins until the government of Sunni Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and his Druze, Sunni, and Christian allies resigns, the National Opposition has resisted calls for it to give up its protests and return to the negotiating table. Protestors say that without significant concessions on the part of Siniora and his chief allies, the socialist Druze "hobbit" Walid Jumblatt and Sunni Saad al-Hariri, son of assassinated former prime minister and architect of Lebanon's sectarianism Rafiq al-Hariri. To date, the pro-government camp, which claims to represent the "majority" of Lebanese, has only been able to hold a few rallies in the predominantly Christian and Sunni north and on a far smaller scale than those of the National Opposition [RIGHT].

For more information on the second National Opposition rally, see:
Arab League Secretary General Amr Mousa has shuttling back and forth to Beirut for over a week as he attempts to negotiate an agreement between the National Opposition and Siniora's [LEFT] pro-government camp. So far, a deal has remained elusive and has begun to bog down over several of the most significant issues at question, such as the composition of a new unity government. The Arab League chief remains optimistic about his chances for success.

"I have come back to resume contacts with all the parties and to make progress in my mission," said Mousa. "There are some areas in which we can make progress right away... All Arab countries are worried about the dangerous situation prevailing in Lebanon and are working to save this country."

Many secular and Sunni Arab leaders, including King 'Abdullah I, ruler of the Wahhabi kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and Egyptian autocrat Hosni Mubarak, have expressed alarm over Hizbu'llah's growing political power in Lebanon. These leaders fear rising Shi'i political power in Lebanon, Iraq, and the Persian Gulf states (many of which have either Shi'i majorities such as Bahrayn or significant minorities such as Kuwait and Saudi Arabia) and what the perceive is growing Iranian influence in the region. There is growing evidence that Saad al-Hariri's [RIGHT] Future Movement is tapping into Sunni sectarianism to counter Hizbu'llah and its more secular-minded counterpart AMAL. For my comments on this, see the closing 2 paragraphs in my previous post.

For more information on Amr Mousa's negotiations, see:

Mousa [LEFT] has arrived back in Beirut to continue talks despite calls by the National Opposition yesterday to hold new parliamentary elections under a new Lebanese electoral law. Under Lebanon's current constitution, parliamentary seats are divided evenly between Christians and Muslims (Druze, althoughout not Muslim anymore, are considered Muslim for this purpose) and there are strict rules governing who can be president (Christian), prime minister (Sunni), and speaker of parliament (Shi'i).

For more on the National Opposition's call for new elections, see:

Palestinian President & Fatah Chief Mahmoud 'Abbas Calls for New Elections

After months of political squabbling between the ruling religious HAMAS party and the more secular-minded Fatah party founded by Yasir Arafat, Palestinian National Authority (PNA) President and Fatah chief Mahmoud 'Abbas [RIGHT] has called for new legislative elections despite the fact that it's been less than a year since HAMAS took power in January. 'Abbas and other senior Fatah officials such as security chiefs Muhammad Dahlan and Jibril Rajoub hope to sweep HAMAS aside after the two premier Palestinian political movements failed to reach an agreement for a unity government in order to push forward peace talks with the Israeli government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Within days of making his announcement 'Abbas received vocal support (to no one's surprise) from Olmert [to RIGHT of photo on left], embattled British Prime Minister Tony Blair [to LEFT of photo], and the U.S. administration of President George W. Bush. Blair, Bush, and Olmert said that it was important to strengthen the Palestinian faction which was most interested in entering into negotiations with Israel. Two facts, namely that HAMAS was swept into power through a democratic election verified by international monitors as fair and new elections are of dubious legality according to the Palestinian consitution, do not seem to have interested the three. The underlying message seems clear: Blair and Bush are only interested in "democracy" when the results of democratic processes are amenable to the United Kingdom, the U.S. and its chief ally and its client-states in the Middle East which include Israel and authoritarian secular Arab regimes such as those in Egypt, Jordan, and a Fatah-led PNA.

For more information, see:

In an effort to bolster 'Abbas' standing with the Palestinian people, Olmert said that he would work hard to set up a meeting between himself and the Fatah chief. He also promised to release part of the hundreds of millions of tax dollars collected for the PNA by the Israeli government for "humanitarian purposes" with funds likely going to Fatah-controlled institutions as opposed to the HAMAS-led government.

For more information on Ehud Olmert's promise to meet 'Abbas, see:

The stalemate between Fatah and HAMAS revolves around the refusal of HAMAS to drop clauses from its foundational 1987 charter and recognize Israel as a legitimate state. HAMAS leaders such as the Damascus-based head of the political bureau Khaled Meshaal and Gaza-based Prime Minister Isma'il Haniyeh [RIGHT] have stated that they would enter into a longterm truce with Israel if the latter withdrew to the borders of pre-June 1967 when Gaza and the West Bank fell to Israeli forces. Israel withdrew approximately 7,500-8,000 radical Jewish messianic settlers from Gaza in 2005.

HAMAS has threatened to boycott early elections if they are found to be legal and are indeed held. "We stand against any step that is against the law and against the constitution. "What's needed to address the inter-Palestinian crisis is national agreement, not actions by individuals, especially taken in response to foreign pressure," said Meshaal [LEFT], who characterized 'Abbas' call as "illegal."

For more information on HAMAS' threat to boycott early elections, see:

Fears of a Palestinian civil war have increased over the past eight days as HAMAS and Fatah paramilitary units have battled each other in the streets of Gaza City and the West Bank. Although hostilities between the two parties have been brewing since HAMAS took power earlier this year, two attacks last week caused tensions to boil over.

On Monday, unknown gunmen (probably affiliated with HAMAS or Palestinian Islamic Jihad) fired on the car of PNA intelligence officer and Fatah strongman Baha Balousha in Gaza City. Although he wasn't in the car, his three children were killed. The attempted assassination of Balousha followed an attempt last Sunday to assassinate PNA Interior Minister Sa'id Siyam, a HAMAS leader. Following Monday's violence, unknown gunmen (probably affiliated with Fatah or one of its quasi-affiliated paramilitary wings, the secular al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades or the Tanzim militia, SEE LEFT) fired upon the party of Prime Minister Haniyeh as he waited on the Egyptian/Gaza border after the Israelis temporarily refused to let him enter despite the fact that the PNA was supposedly in control of its Gaza border with neighboring Egypt. One of Haniyeh's bodyguards was killed and his son 'Abed and several others were wounded. HAMAS blamed the attack on senior Fatah official Dahlan [RIGHT] , who expectedly denied involvement.

For more information on Palestinian factional fighting, see:

On Friday, HAMAS demonstrations celebrating the nineteenth anniversary of the movement's founding which were held in the Palestinian administrative capital city of Ramallah were violently interrupted by the Fatah-controlled official PNA security forces, of which Dahlan and Jibril have a significant role in commanding. Initial reports suggest that the security forces initiated the violence by attempting to break up demonstrators with batons [BELOW.]
After the failure of an earlier ceasefire over the weekend to halt inter-factional violence, a new ceasefire was negotiated between the two parties and has nominally gone into effect today. Both 'Abbas and the Fatah leadership and Haniyeh and the HAMAS leadership have called for their paramilitaries [HAMAS, BELOW LEFT] to show restraint in order to maintain peace. The fighting has already led to the death of over a dozen Palestinians including several Fatah and HAMAS members or affiliates who were kidnapped and murdered by unknown gunmen, probably affiliated with the other party. Among the deaths was HAMAS-affiliated judge Bassam al-Fara who was executed on a street in Khan Yunis on Wednesday.

For more information on the new Palestinian ceasefire, see:

There are also signs that Fatah supporters have begun using sectarianism against HAMAS. In a rally in Khan Yunis in Gaza, Fatah loyalists chanted, "Shi'a, Shi'a," against HAMAS, referencing Iranian support of the latter party. This occurence is the latest example of anti-Shi'i bigotry shown by certain segments of the Sunni Arab community, thinly disguised as anti-Iranian sentiment. The fact remains that within large segments of the Sunni Arab community, "Iranian" and "Shi'i/Shi'a" are synonyms: all Iranians must be Shi'i and vice versa.
Even secular and supposedly enlightened peo-U.S. autocrats like President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt [to RIGHT] and King 'Abdullah II [to LEFT] of Jordan have used similar rhetoric during the past 2 years. With the continued political ascension of Hizbu'llah and AMAL in Lebanon and the destruction of Saddam Husayn's Sunni-dominated Ba'th Party in Iraq, Sunni Arab leaders (both religious and secular) are deathly afraid of what they perceive as growing Iranian influence in the region. This fear is fed by nonsense from the Bush administration who lump all anti-American and anti-Israeli Shi'i socio-political movements in with Iran.

In fact, many of the most prominent Shi'i parties are not pro-Iranian. In Iraq, Jama'at al-Sadr al-Thani (Movement of al-Sadr the Second) of Muqtada al-Sadr [LEFT] and the movement of Shaykh (rumored to be an ayatullah) Mahmoud Hassani al-Sarkhi are Shi'i Arab nationalists and rose to prominence on platforms that advocated an Iraqi Arab leadership. Despite receiving support from Iran, Hizbu'llah is not, as is often alleged in subpar Western media outlets, an extension of the Iranian state. Hizbu'llah has also received significant support from Syria but this doesn't mean that the former buys the rabidly secular Syrian Ba'th ideology of either the late Hafiz al-Asad or his son and successor Bashar.

It's interesting how those who reject the idea that Israel is a U.S. client-state allege that Hizbu'llah [RIGHT] is simply an agent of Iran. The U.S. funds Israel to the tune of billions of dollars a year, more than any other country. U.S. foreign aid dwarfs whatever Iran sends to Hizbu'llah. If financial and political support equal control, wouldn't it be fair to say that Israel is essentially an extension of the U.S.? Although I do not support this simplified idea, this question makes clear the twisted logic used by some policy "experts" in Washington, D.C.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Whoops! Israeli P.M. Olmert Lets the Nuclear Secret Slip, Cheapens Holocaust to Bully Germany

During a state visit to Germany, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert [right] broke the ultimate of his country's taboos by offhandedly admitting that Israel has a nuclear weapons program. The prime minister's remarks came as he criticized the comparison of Iran and his country in terms of their desire for nuclear energy and nuclear weapons. Olmert said that such comparisons between the two countries were inappropriate, "when they are aspiring to have nuclear weapons, as America, France, Israel, Russia."

Israeli politicians were quick to criticize Olmert's comments despite the fact that essentially every foreign government and official, including the new United States Secretary of State Robert Gates, knows that Israel maintains a nuclear weapons program, the only such program in the Middle East. "The fantastic statement of the prime minister on the nuclear issue reflects the carelessness ... and raises serious doubts whether this is a person worthy of serving as prime minister," said Yossi Beilin [left], chairman of the leftist Meretz party and a veteran Israeli peace negotiator.
"The terrible statement made in Germany undermines 50 years of Israel's policy of ambiguity, and joins the irresponsible slips of the tongue such as the announcement regarding the fate of the abducted soldiers in Lebanon," said Likud parliamentarian Yuval Steinitz. "A prime minister who is unable to control his statements on sensitive matters of security, must quit."

In a follow-up to Olmert's gaffe, the prime minister's spokespeople said that he had not meant to infer that Israel possessed nuclear weapons.

For more information on Ehud Olmert statements on Israel's nuclear weapons program, see:

Olmert's comment follows on new U.S. Secretary of Defense Gates' [right] confirmation hearing testimony on Iran's alleged nuclear weapons program that the regime in Tehran may be seeking such weapons because it is, "surrounded by powers with nuclear weapons: Pakistan to their east, the Russians to the north, the Israelis to the west and us in the Persian Gulf."

In response to Gates' matter-of-fact assertion, Israel's ambassador to the U.S., Daniel Ayalon [left] remarked in an interview on Israeli television, "These are lamentable words. It is not up to Washington to end the policy of ambiguity [on Israel's nuclear weapons program.]"

Who does Ayalon think the Israeli government is fooling? The Israeli government has passed out anti-radiation pills to local Bedouin living around Dimona [below] because the huge state-of-the-art complex is a desalination plant (as Israel claims)?
For the latest on Israel's "damage control" hilarity, see:
During the same visit, Olmert, in a television interview with channel NS24said that Germany should cut its extensive economic ties to Iran, remarking that such ties maintained in order to have a pretext for ties to the Iranian regime are wrong. "May I suggest to the German people, don't ever again use this argument when it comes to the life of the Jewish people," he said. "You may have an economic interest, you may have a business interest, but you have deeper and more fundamental moral obligation to yourself, to your history and to your future. This is a responsibility of the highest order."

Olmert also criticized German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier's [right] recent visit to Damascus, Syria and warned Germany from becoming too involved in the Israeli-Arab peace process.

Since 1945, the German government has paid billions of dollars in reparations to both Israel and Holocaust survivors and the two countries have currently have strong diplomatic and economic ties. The thinly veiled reference to the Holocaust is only the latest example of Israeli politicians' despicable readiness to cheapen the Holocaust to push forward Israeli (not Jewish, Israeli and Zionist) interests.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Iraq Study Group Report Meets a Hailstorm of Criticism

The report issued late last week by the Iraq Study Group (ISG), headed by the former secretary of state James Baker and former U.S. Representative and 9/11 Commission co-chair Lee Hamilton [right], has been greeted generally well by most Americans according to recent polls. However, several of the key suggestions contained within the report have been blasted by a host of government officials, from the Bush administration to the Israeli and Iraqi governments.

For analysis of the Iraq Study Group report, see:
A copy of the Iraq Study Group report can be downloaded here:

Kurdish tribal chief Jalal Talabani [left], the president of Iraq, heavily criticized the report issued by the U.S. Iraq Study Group late last week. The Iraqi Kurds, who have long been the most supportive of U.S. and Coalition involvement in toppling former dictator Saddam Husayn, have enjoyed relative political autonomy since 1994 and have set up an effective quasi-state with its own political institutions and military, the 100,000-strong Peshmerga militias [right]. Talabani called the report's suggestions, "the wrong medicine for the wrong diagnosis."

"I think the Baker-Hamilton report is unfair and unjust," he said. "It contains very dangerous articles that undermine the sovereignty of Iraq and its constitution. I consider the report to be a type of insult to the Iraqi people. The report has a mentality that we are a colony where they impose their conditions and neglect our independence."

Talabani was particularly critical of a proposal that suggested withdrawing tens of thousands of U.S. troops while embedding thousands with Iraqi army and police units to oversee operations. The Kurdish leader said that it was important for Iraqis to be able to participate and lead the anti-insurgency campaign. "They want to embed thousands more US army officers in Iraqi army units from small squadrons to whole divisions," he said. "If our army became a tool in the hands of foreign officers, what would that say about Iraqi sovereignty? We have many former Iraqi army officers, good patriotic professional army men who were against Saddam Husayn. Why can't we bring those people to the army, to help train and develop and lead?"

"Iraqis are the ones who daily bear the brunt of the terrorist groups' activities and we should be the ones who decide how to fight them," said Talabani, referencing the fact that full control over Iraq's security forces still remains with the U.S. military and not with the elected Iraqi government. "We want to achieve this by working as partners while the multinational forces remain in Iraq, and not simply follow their orders. At the moment our hands are crippled in handling the terrorism issue in Iraq."

Talabani said over the weekend that he was drafting a letter to U.S. President George W. Bush listing some of his concerns over the ISG's report.

For more information on Jalal Talabani's criticisms, see:

Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, leader of Iraq's largest Shi'i political party, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, has said that the Iraq Study Group based several of its findings on inaccurate information. Many Iraq Shi'i leaders see the report as favoring the minority (15-20%) Iraqi Sunni Arabs at the expense of the country's Shi'a and Kurds.

The ISG's report was also rejected by Jama'at al-Sadr al-Thani, the political movement of activist Shi'i cleric Muqtada al-Sadr [right]. "This report doesn't meet our needs, because it was written by people from outside, people who live in a normal environment, not this environment," said Abu Mojtaba, a spokesman for al-Sadr.

Departing U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld [left] was one of several Bush administration officials, including the president himself, who have critcized the ISG's report. In a surprise visit to Iraq this weekend, Rumsfeld urged the military to "stay the course" and said that failure would be "unacceptable."

For more information on Donald Rumsfeld's visit to Iraq, see:

President Bush [right] has rejected calls for talks with Iran and Syria on the future of Iraq and has said that U.S. troops will not be withdrawn immediately from that country. Although he admits that a "new path" is needed, the president has not yet outlined a new approach, likely digesting with his cabinet how to respond to an overall scatching (and vague) ISG report. In the understatement of the year, the president said, "It's bad over there," before stating that the ISG report was only one of several that he would be considering in the coming months. Reports on Iraq are also expected from the Pentagon, the Department of State, and the White House National Security Council.

For more information on the Bush administration's response to the Iraq Study Group's report, see:

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert [left] rejected the ISG's assertion that an immediate re-start of Palestinian-Israeli peace talks was necessary to help diffuse the tension within the Middle East, North Africa, and the wider Muslim world. He said that the two issues had no relation to each other (yeah, right) and also rebuffed calls for his government to re-start negotiations with neighboring Syria. President Bush has supported Olmert and has stated that talks with Iran and Syria are not on the U.S. agenda for the near future.

"The attempt to create a linkage between the Iraqi issue and the Mideast issue — we have a different view," said Olmert during a press conference in Israel. "To the best of my knowledge, President Bush, throughout the recent years, also had a different view on this."
Perhaps Mr. Olmert should recall that President Bush has held a whole host of views in recent years that later turned out to be inaccurate or flat-out untrue. By the way, how's the democratization of the Middle East and North Africa going? Are Jordan, Egypt, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Bahrayn, and Pakistan democracies yet? Oh wait, I remember; all of those countries are U.S. allies so democracy isn't that important.
For more on Ehud Olmert's delusional response to the Iraq Study Group report, see:

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Saad al-Hariri, Fouad Siniora Attack and then Woo Hizbu'llah

In an exclusive interview Thursday with Al-Sharq al-Awsat, a leading Arabic and English language daily, the head of the Future Movement in Lebanon, Saad al-Hariri [right], followed a delicate balancing act between criticizing Hizbu'llah for leading the National Opposition in massive protests against the government of embattled and ineffectual Prime Minister Fouad al-Siniora of which Future is a part and maintaining an open door for dialogue. Hariri, the son of the late assassinated former Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri (a Saudi national originally), is perhaps the most photogenic of the leaders of the so-called "Cedar Revolution" that, along with heavy international and Arab pressure, forced Syria to withdraw its troops from the country in May 2005. Syrian troops has entered Lebanon in the 1970s and remained through the 1990s to ensure peace between the country's warring factions, with the tacit approval of the Arab League and the United States.

Although Saad Hariri reiterated U.S. and Sunni Arab claims that the National Opposition is acting on behalf of Syrian and Iranian interest and again promised not to bow to popular pressure, he was careful in his language about Hizbu'llah, praising them at times for their resistance against "Israeli aggression."

"[What is currently taking place is] a genuine coup project against the Lebanese legitimacy...The essence of the current Lebanese crisis is the presence of an Iranian-sponsored Syrian plan that aims to regain control of the Lebanese legitimacy," he said. "The operation order was issued at the end of the Israeli war on Lebanon on August 15 when [Syrian President] Bashar al Asad [left] openly said that what was needed was a change in the political formula in Lebanon, and the toppling of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's government."

"There is no way that we would to go back in time to accept any plan that is aimed at infiltrating the authority in Lebanon by Syrian intelligence and its henchmen," said Hariri. "Thus it is rejected regardless of their mobilization for it. After driving the Syrian troops out, Lebanon will not accept to be the object of a new plan that seeks to dominate its political and economic destiny.”

Despite his criticisms of both Hizbu'llah and AMAL leader and parliament speaker Nabih Berri [right], Hariri said, "We have no alternative to dialogue."
Hariri recognized Hizbu'llah, as his father did in the past, for its resistance against the Israeli occupation of Lebanon and later southern Lebanon from June 1982 to May 24, 2000 and the party's surprising military prowess against the Israeli invasion this past summer. Hariri urged Hizbu'llah leader to return to the negotiating table and stressed his brotherly ties with the Shi'i party. "We stood by Hizbu'llah and defended its right to bear arms as long as it was a Lebanese party that represents a Lebanese resistance in the face of Israeli aggression," he said. “We are reaching out to Hizbu'llah and [its leader] Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah [right] to cooperate with us for this national and Islamic goal instead of letting his military propaganda incite this dissention through al Manar television channel and the faulty slogans that the crowds chant at the gates of the government’s headquarters and in the proximity of the tomb of the martyr Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri. Such slogans [during the protests] are inappropriate in accordance with the Sayyid's [Nasrallah] manners, which we have known throughout our relation with him."
"We deal with Hizbu'llah as a Lebanese party that resisted Israel and as one that cannot under any circumstances fall hostage to an external plan aimed at subjugating the national and political decision in Lebanon," said Hariri. “How could we ever forget the blood of the martyrs who confronted the Israeli aggression, and disregard the magnitude of the destruction that befell Lebanon?"

Hariri in effect pleaded for Hizbu'llah and its allies to return to dialogue with Siniora and Future, which makes up the most powerful bloc in the beseiged government. "Let them [Hizbu'llah] stop manipulating the people’s instincts and nerves. Lebanon is a country that has long suffered from minor and dirty wars," he said. "It does not need a new war launched between any of its sons, sects and regions. Lebanon needs protection from the Israeli enemy through the application of Resolution 1701 [the text unanimously passed by the UN Security Council that aims at ending the conflict between Israel and Hizbu'llah in Lebanon] and from political terrorism by forming the international tribunal. It also needs to reconstruct what was plundered by Israel and to jumpstart its economy by ensuring the success of the Paris III conference."

Hariri closed by urging all Lebanese parties to fulfill what he said were his father's dreams of a unified Lebanon.
Photo: (center) Rafiq al-Hariri with Lebanese President Emile Lahoud (left) and Nasrallah (right).

To read the entire article/interview in al-Sharq al-Awsat, see:
Meanwhile, the oafish Siniora [left]struck a more discordant tone in a speech in response to allegations against him made yesterday by Hizbu'llah leader Shaykh Nasrallah. While Nasrallah's speech was watched by tens of thousands of Lebanese in downtown Beirut on massive TV screens, Siniora spoke before hundreds of his supporters in his office, where he's been holed up since last weekend. He denied that he had aided Israel in its new invasion of Lebanon. Siniora also accused Nasrallah and the National Opposition of working on a coup d'tat against his government.

"His [Nasrallah's] position yesterday showed that he is trying to work on a coup, or at least he is threatening to carry out a coup," said Siniora. "Last night was an unnecessary fit of anger and rudeness that we don't accept."
"The [Lebanese] army responded to that [Nasrallah's] accusation," said Siniora, "and I will not speak any further on this, as Nasrallah knows who Fouad Siniora is... Siniora is the one who did everything he could to protect the resistance during and after the war."

"Who made you [Nasrallah] a judge over us to decide who is a traitor or a nationalist or who is right and who is wrong," asked the prime minister. "How can [Nasrallah] talk about openness, dialogue, democracy and peaceful actions? All this is sloganeering because his speech contains threats and the seeds of discord."

Siniora said he did not appreciate being labeled a stooge of foreigners, though he and his supporters have leveled similar allegations at Hizbu'llah and seem to support the American Neo Conservative and Conservative line that they want to prevent an international tribunal to hear the case against those accused of orchestrating the assassination of Rafiq al-Hariri. Although this has not been proven to be the case conclusively, I believe that the National Opposition should come out publicly in support of such an international tribunal as long as it is fair. This would undercut Siniora and Hariri's counter claims.
Former United Nations spokesman Timor Goksel believes Hizbu'llah is walking a delicate line in Lebanon with regards to Syria. "By harping on the tribunal, they are seen as staunch defenders of the Syrian cause in Lebanon, and this is not going down very well with the public here," he noted. "And it's a very touchy subject for Hizbu'llah, to be seen as the sole representative of the Syrian interest here. This is one thing they don't want to be seen [as], because they were never all that close to Syria anyway. They had a convergence of interests over the years."

After his initial outburst, Siniora moved back toward the center, calling for the National Opposition and the government's supporters to show restraint. As I noted yesterday, the opposition was not the side that resorted to violence first, it was the militia connected to Hariri's supposedly democratic and Western-friendly Future Movement.

In truth, both sides receive a lot of foreign support and are most likely influenced to a degree by their foreign backers, Hizbu'llah by Iran and Syria (though it is not a stooge despite idiotic Western reports and claims) and Siniora and Hariri by Sunni Arab autocrats and "big brother" America and the former colonial power, the increasingly irrelevant France. Both sides, however, are Lebanese, though their vision for Lebanon differs. Siniora then denied that his government was overtly hostile to Syria, saying, "Syria is dear to me, after Lebanon." The prime minister then urged Iran to donate not only to Hizbu'llah but directly to the Lebanese government to assist rebuilding the country's infrastructure, which was shattered indescriminately by Israel this summer.
Photo (below, from left): Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader (faqih) Ayatullah 'Ali Khamanei.
"Our hand and heart is open and we will continue," said Siniora. "We won't dig trenches in Beirut streets; we will build bridges of love among the Lebanese, Christian and Muslim. There is no such thing as victory for Lebanon by one team winning over another. It's only a victory when all sides win together. The Lebanese have had enough, they want to live."

Despite ending their speeches on seemingly conciliatory notes, it is clear that both Siniora and Hariri are beginning to feel the pressure from the National Opposition's protests, which show no sign of abating. If the opposition succeeds in bringing hundreds of thousands of protestors to the streets of Beirut again this Sunday, the pressure on the Siniora government will only increase, despite hollow support from secular Sunni Arab leaders like Hosni "Anti Shi'a" Mubarak and the clumsy religious "fundamentalist" encouragers, the Saudi and Persian Gulf royals, who are all too busy repressing their own people and remaining in power to be of much actual assistance.

For more information on the current crisis, see:

On Friday, the Sunni grand mufti (chief government-appointed religious leader) of Lebanon, Muhammad Rashid al-Kabbani [right], led congregational prayers at Siniora's headquarters. Kabbani, a personal friend of the late Rafiq al-Hariri who was appointed to his current position with Syrian acquiescene, predictably called for an end to the protests. "Fear has gripped the Lebanese," he said. "The constitution guarantees freedom of expression, but trying to overthrow the government in the street is a call for stirring up discord among people, and we will not accept this."

For more information, see:

However, not all Lebanese Sunnis support Hariri and Siniora. Shaykh Fathi Yakan [left], a Sunni imam (prayer leader) led thousands of Sunnis and Shi'is in mixed Friday prayers. In his fiery sermon, Yakan urged all Lebanese to resist American designs in Lebanon, touching on a nerve within the majority of Arabs and Muslims (not synonomous groups) about U.S. President George W. Bush's so-called "democratization" doctrine (the one that's working so well in Iraq and Afghanistan.)
Shaykh Subhi Tufayli [right], a former Hizbu'llah leader who was expelled from the party in 1997 after refusing to recognize Nasrallah as the new, elected leader of the movement, has criticized the party for becoming "Iranian proxies." Tufayli, who has said such things for 9 years since his expulsion from the party's ranks, was against participation in Lebanese politics in 1992. In other words, he was once the radical leader who did not want the party to become more involved in post-Ta'if Accord Lebanon. Now he's simply a bitter, bitter man who should be reguarded as a pathetic reminder of why one shouldn't be a sore loser.

A friend of mine, with whom I often disagree on a whole array of international issues, asked me what I think should be done in Lebanon. Although I cannot answer this question completely, I can say that I strongly believe that the 1958 constitution, which was essentially imposed by force from the outside, should be thoroughly rewritten. The constitution, which requires the country's president to be a Christian, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim, and the speaker of parliament a Shi'i Muslim and the parliament to be divided 50/50 between Muslims (including the Druze) and Christians, is not democratic in any real way. Christians, who today make up between 30-40% (probably closer to 30%) of Lebanese, should not be guaranteed 50% of the seats. None of the chief governmental posts should be guaranteed to any particular sectarian group. The president, prime minister, and parliament speaker should be chosen through direct elections. Would this mean that the Shi'a, Lebanon's largest single group at 40-55%, would get a bigger say? Yes. Welcome to democracy. Say you support democracy? Put your money where your mouth is or shut the hell up.
Photo (below):
Democratic Protest at Work, $4.
800,000 protestors, priceless.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Hizbu'llah, AMAL, & Aoun Call for New Protest Rally Sunday

In a live speech broadcast on Hizbu'llah's al-Manar Television and other Arabic language news station such as the Qatar-based al-Jazeera, Hizbu'llah leader Shaykh Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah [right] called for renewed protests against the government of embattled Prime Minister Fouad Siniora this Sunday. In a stinging rebuke of the governing coalition, which includes the Sunni Saad Hariri's Future Movement, the Druze socialist party of the hobbit-like Walid Jumblatt, and two radical Maronite parties (Phalange and Samir Geagea's Lebanese Forces), Nasrallah accused them of collaboration with Israel during the July-August war.

For more information on Shaykh Nasrallah's speech, see:

"Those who sat with the Americans and requested from them that Israel launch a war against us, they know themselves, and I know them, and I hope that the day will not come when I would say their names,” he said. Although Nasrallah did not name names, the secular (reportedly atheist) Arab scholar As'ad AbuKhalil of California State University-Stanislaus surmises that the Hizbu'llah chief was referring to Jumblatt [left] and his fellow Druze parliamentarian Marwan Hamada. Nasrallah invited Sunnis to come pray with Shi'is during Friday prayers and requested that his followers, "refrain from insulting and disrespecting ruling politicians."

Nasrallah did criticize Siniora [right] for what he alleged were covert attempts to collaborate with the Israeli government and disarm Hizbu'llah during the war (not that Lebanon's ineffectual military would be capable of doing so even if it wanted to.) The Hizbu'llah chief then warned Siniora and his allies that a time would come when the National Opposition would no longer be interested in forming a unity government with them, hinting that they would work to exclude them politically from a new government.

For Professor AbuKhalil's recent blog post, see:

The bulk of Nasrallah's speech was spent urging the National Opposition's followers not to be lured into violence despite provocation by armed militias loyal to the governing coalition. AbuKhalil notes that in his opinion Nasrallah was clearly referencing the "Internal Security Forces" militia connected to Hariri's Future Movement, which was probably responsible for the shooting death of 20-year-old 'Ali Ahmad Mahmoud, a supporter of the secular Shi'i AMAL party of parliament speaker Nabih Berri [left]. Nasrallah said that his coalition would not be drawn into a civil war in which "everyone loses."

"We will not be dragged into any strife even if you kill a thousand of us," Nasrallah promised in the speech. We will not raise our arms in the face of anyone in Lebanon ... Our weapons have only been raised against our Israeli enemy," said Nasrallah, whose speech was broadcast live on massive television screens in downtown Beirut to tens of thousands of National Opposition supporters. "We will win with our voices, and not with our arms! When they killed Ali Ahmad Mahmoud, they wanted to push us to clashes. I tell them ... we refuse civil war and discord."

Nasrallah reiterated his coalition's demand for a national unity government in which the Shi'i population was more accurately represented though all parties would be represented in the new cabinet and parliament. Estimates put the Shi'i population at between 40 and 55% of Lebanon's population. Due to sensitive political issues, Lebanon has not held an official census since 1932 when Christians made up a slim majority of the country's population. Recent scholarship suggests that this census may have been inaccurate due to political considerations and that the Christians could have been the minority then. Using birth rate statistics and other similar information, all credible sources (including the CIA World Fact Book) recognize that Muslims make up the majority of Lebanon's population and the Shi'a the largest single sectarian group.

Photo: (Below) National Opposition rally last Friday (12/1) against the Siniora-led government. Crowd estimated at 800,000 people.
Despite U.S., Israeli, and Siniora camp allegations that Hizbu'llah is little more than a front for Syria and Iran, the majority of Lebanese view it as a Lebanese political party. Hizbu'llah would not be able to exist without Lebanese support. The beleaguered Siniora camp has become increasingly reliant on Western, particularly American, support, which does not bode well for its continued support among the larger Arab population of the Middle East which views the U.S. with suspicion after the Iraq escapade.

On Wednesday, Aoun [right] reiterated the coalition's determination to force Siniora to dissolve his cabinet and form a true unity government. ""If the prime minister and his camp continue to monopolize power, there will be an escalation of popular pressure," Aoun told Agence France Presse. "We will paralyze the government, we will force it to go into a deep coma...If Siniora wants to negotiate, he will have to present us some proposals, but we will not accept anything less than true power-sharing and a blocking minority share [in the government]."

It is particularly interesting to note that the National Opposition, led by Hizbu'llah, was not the side to respond first with violence, it was Saad Hariri's [left] supposedly enlightened pro-Western, democratic-minded Future Movement militia. Although if it came down to armed confrontations, Hizbu'llah, with an estimated 20,000 rockets and a well trained quasi-army, would fare quite well, it is not in the interest of either the party or Lebanese Shi'a to resort to violence. They have strength in numbers. They have a strong coalition with admittedly opportunistic Michel Aoun, the powerful and influential Maronite political leader and former warlord who is likely to continue supporting Hizbu'llah and AMAL as long as it suits his interests. Considering that the Shi'a are Lebanon's largest sectarian community, Aoun is likely to be a Hizbu'llah/AMAL ally for some time. The National Opposition only needs to keep up pressure on Siniora and his weakning coalition.

The actions of Hariri's supporters are clear signs of that coalition's growing desperation, despite their public shows of defiance. While Hizbu'llah and its allies have numbers and political will, Siniora, Hariri & Co. have empty oral support from the United States, which is bogged down in Iraq and unlikely to militarily support them, and lethargic Sunni Arab support from governments (e.g. Saudi Arabia) that are incapable of defending their own borders let alone militarily support Siniora. The shining light of the so-called 'Cedar Revolution' seems to be fading and the supposed Lebanese democratic politicians are becoming all the less democratic as the days pass.

The moral of this story so far, Mr. Siniora and Mr. Hariri? Don't ally yourself with people who don't really care about what happens to you, who see you as inherently backward, and only see you as a disposable pawn for a flawed, messianic, Orientalist doctrine.