|Southwest Asia News Digest
Cheney's Pet Iraqi Chalabi Smashed in Elections
Ahmed Chalabi, the Anglo-American "golem" who provided the made-to-order false intelligence on Iraq's supposed WMD, contacts to al-Qaeda, chemical weapons labs, etc., had been hoping to become Dick Cheney's puppet Prime Minister in the new Iraqi government. But, at the polls, he was smashed. According to preliminary results from the elections, which took place the week of Dec. 12, Chalabi received 0.36% (8,645 votes out of 2.5 million) in Baghdad, 0.34% in Basra, and 113 votes in Anbar province.
Chalabi's election slogan had been, "We Liberated Iraq," and less than a month before the vote, he made a well-publicized visit to the U.S., where he had a private meeting with Cheney, and was hosted at the neo-conservative temple, the American Enterprise Institute. Now, it appears, the Iraqis are liberating themselves of him.
Some of the commentary on the downfall of Cheney's man Chalabi:
*Editor & Publisher 12/22: Headline: "Chalabi, Judith Miller Source and Exile Leader, Gets Less than 1% in Election": Just last month, with the help of major U.S. lobbyists, he toured this country, meeting with Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and appeared widely on American television.
*Salon 12/13: Like another Iraqi the Bush Administration has embraced, former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, Chalabi is arguing that last week's elections were tainted by fraud. But that's not a claim that fits well in the purple-thumb story the White House is telling, so don't look for Chalabi's friends in Washington to come to his aid anytime soon.
*Sydney Morning Herald, Dec. 23: Another scandal engulfing Chalabi and Co.: "Grains of truth," by Paul McGeough: describes a multi-million dollar kickback scheme involving the grain trade between Australia's AWB grain cartel and Iraqi officials, including Chalabi.
Palestinian Election Crisis Over Hamas Role
Moves by Israeli and Palestinian factions put the shape of Jan. 25 Palestinian electionseven whether they will occur at allin doubt. Maneuverings by factions within three major forces in Israel and the Occupied Territories have thrown a veil of uncertainty over the Palestinian Authority's political future. Underlying this are two factors in the region's political context: the recent explosive growth of the Palestinian public's support for the Islamist movement Hamas at the expense of Fatah, and standpoint of the Israeli government (as well as the EU and the U.S. House of Representatives) that a victory in the elections and inclusion in a Palestinian government of Hamas (which calls for destruction of the Israelis state, and has conducted numerous suicide bombings in Israel) is intolerable.
On Dec. 21, AP reported that the Palestinian Authority will cancel the January elections, if the Israelis go ahead with their announced plan to prohibit Palestinians from voting in East Jerusalem, citing Palestinian Authority Information Minister Nabil Shaath. The Israelis' stated reason for banning the vote is the inclusion of Hamas candidates on ballot. The Israeli Prime Minister's office says that no final decision has been made on allowing or banning voting in Jerusalem during the upcoming Palestinian elections, overruling the Foreign Ministry, the Jerusalem Post reported Dec. 22.
On the same day, however, it was reported that notwithstanding Shaath's statement, PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (who is under pressure from numerous forces, including Egypt) is inclined to hold the elections as scheduled. Hamas and ten other (non-Fatah) Palestinian factions told Abbas that the elections must be held regardless of whether the Israelis allow voting in East Jerusalem. Meanwhile, militants of the Al Aksa Martyrs Brigade in the Gaza Strip called on Palestinians to rally for a cancellation of the elections if Jerusalem voting is banned.
And last, but hardly least, imprisoned Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti, who recently led a walkout of other young leaders from the Fatah electoral effort, has called for reunification with Fatah, in the context of recent Hamas electoral victories in several towns. A recent poll of 2500 Palestinians in the West Bank, revealed that 40% planning to vote for Hamas; notably, many of those polled said they were leaning toward Hamas because of the split in Fatah. The Ha'aretz report on the poll notes that it's unclear whether Fatah's percentage will rise from 20% among those polled, if the factions are reunited.
Were Iraqi Prisoners Released as Part of Election Deal?
The U.S. announced Dec. 19 that a number of imprisoned Iraqissomewhere between eight and 24formerly suspected of possible war crimes were released on Dec. 17. These include weapons scientists known as "Dr. Anthrax" and "Dr. Germ," and some of them were included the infamous deck of cards of wanted people. A lawyer defending former regime officials said their release was part of a deal to ensure Sunni participation in the elections, but U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Barry Johnson denied that the release was part of an election deal.
Syrian and Egyptian Presidents Meet in Quick Summit
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad flew to Cairo Dec. 21 and immediately met with President Hosni Mubarak, reported the Lebanon Daily Star. Although they made no comments to the press, Egyptian Foreign Minister Abu al-Gheit, who met in parallel with Syrian Foreign Minister Sharaa, said the talks "focussed on the main regional issues related to the Mehlis investigation [into the murder of Rafiq al-Hariri, the former Lebanese Prime Minister], and the latest UN Security Council resolution and how Syria dealt with it, as well as with Syrian-Lebanese relations and how to advance them."
Washington Post Demands Iraq Treatment for Syria
The Washington Post's Dec. 19 lead editorial, "Justice for Syria," likens Syria today to Iraq under Saddam Hussein. While admitting the murders of prominent Lebanese critics of Syria over the past year and more have not been shown in court to have been ordered by Syria, the Post calls these "acts of terrorism" and a "campaign of murder" by the Syrian government of Bashar Assad. Damascus will not "be brought to its senses ... until the [UN] Security Council, led by the United States, ensures that those who murder are brought to justice."
Arab Summit: No Problem with Iran's Nuclear Program
The head of Gulf Cooperation Council said at the opening of the council's two-day summit on Dec. 19, "[W]e do not see the Iranian nuclear reactor as a cause of danger and instability in the region," Arab News reported. GCC Secretary-General Abdul Rahman Al-Attiya said, "We expect Iran to be rational in dealing with the nuclear issue, that it meets peaceful purposes without inflicting damage on its neighbors."
The council, initiated in 1981, includes the governments of the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Saudia Arabia, Oman, Qatar, and Kuwait.
Bush Administration To Blame for Hamas's Power
The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Michel Sabbah, declared that it is the policy of the Bush Administration that is strengthening Hamas, Ha'aretz reported Dec. 22.
"Hamas is getting more and more power thanks to the Bush administration's interventions," the Patriarch said. He added that the Israeli government's policy, including arrest sweeps and targetted killings of suspected militants, undermined Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen).
The Patriarch also attack Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's Berlin Wall of the Middle East, saying it has turned the city of Bethlehem, the birthplace of Christ, into a "big prison." All of this is driving Christian Palestinians to emigrate from the city.
"As we are so small, of course we are worried about any emigration, about a single person's emigration, Sabbah said, "As long as Bethlehem will remain a prison, of course, many will have the desire, the wish, to get out of prison. If truly people are worried about our future as Christians, the first thing they have to do is to help reconciliation, stability in this land, because we are the first victims of this long, long conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, as Christian Palestinians."
Half of Israelis Polled Support Hamas Negotiations
While the Bush Administration is mobilizing against Hamas's participation in the Palestinian elections and peace negotiations, a poll showed that 50% of Israelis would support negotiated settlement with Hamas, according to Ha'aretz Dec. 22.
The poll was conducted by Hebrew University under the supervision of Yaavoc Shamir, who said, "This shows an Israeli awareness of what is going on in the Palestinian public, that Hamas is serious about its intention to play a role in Palestinian politics. We cannot really prevent this, and the public understands that." Shamir compared the Israeli government's objection to carrying out a dialogue with Hamas to the decades-long ban against talks with the Palestinian Liberation Organization prior to the 1993 Oslo Accords. "The process will be shorter this time," Shamir said, if talks were held with Hamas.