|Southwest Asia News Digest
Iranian Elections Bring Back Reformers, Moderates
The elections in Iran held Dec. 15, for city councils and for the Assembly of Experts (the body that advises and selects the Supreme Leader), have brought back into political life both reformers and moderate conservatives, who had been largely divested of power during the last elections.
Most significant was the showing of Hashemi Rafsanjani, who was President for two terms after the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War, but who had been severely defeated in the run-off election against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad 18 months ago. His humiliating defeat then was due to an extraordinarily mobilization of right-wing forces by the Ahmadi sect, as well as widespread opposition to Rafsanjani, who was considered the symbol of corruption.
Rafsanjani won this time around, coming in first place in the list in Tehran for the Assembly of Experts, with over 1 million votes. Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi, a supporter of Ahmadinejad, was in sixth place, with about half as many votes. He is expected to keep his seat. Other clerics allied to the President and Mesbah-Yazdi failed to win seats.
Rafsanjani's victory was due in large part to the alliance forged in the campaign between his "pragmatist" group (or "centrists") and the reformists associated with former President Khatami. Khatami campaigned openly for Rafsanjani, and for a high turnout, which could help their effort. The turnout was over 60%. Khatami stressed the importance of unity against the government, which is seen as authoritarian.
In the Tehran city council elections, though vote tallies are not complete, Ahmadinejad's supporters got about four seats (of 15), one of them the President's sister; the rest of the council seats went to moderate conservative backers of Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf (who had also run for President) and reformists, including at least three former cabinet ministers. Initial results from around the country show that city councils will have a representation from the conservative, centrist, and reform fronts.
The reformists are celebrating. "The initial results of elections throughout the country indicate that Mr. Ahmadinejad's list has experienced a decisive defeat nationwide," the biggest reformist party, the Islamic Iran Participation Front, said in a statement. "These results were tantamount to a big 'no' to the government's authoritarian and inefficient methods," it said.
Although some Western press are saying that the vote indicated the people's rejection of Ahmadinejad's staunch nuclear policy, this is wrong. No one opposes the program, or that the government is fighting for it. The real issue is the economy.
A leading reformist intellectual, very close to Khatami, told EIR Dec. 18 that he found the vote for Rafsanjani "strange," because it was such a reversal. When asked if the economy were the main issue, he said, "Yes, the economic and social issues. People expected a radical change" with Ahmadinejad, he said, "but they have seen no results."
Is Abbas Out on a Limb?
Palestinian factions in Damascus issued a joint statement Dec. 17, opposing President Mahmoud Abbas's call for early elections. "The factions confirm their opposition to hold early parliamentary elections because there is no justification for it and it is illegal and lacks real Palestinian consensus," said the statement, read by Maher Taher, a leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). The statement was issued following a meeting attended by Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, Islamic Jihad leader Ramadan Shallah, and Farouk Kaddoumi, the head of the PLO's political wing. The three leaders stressed that the statement reflected the position of ten Palestinian factions, not just Hamas. Shallah told al-Jazeera TV that Abbas's call for elections "will regrettably take us into the unknown."
Fatah reacted angrily to Kaddoumi's involvement in the statement. Fatah's central committee issued a statement saying that Kaddoumi's stand doesn't reflect the official position of Fatah, and that such positions only cause more confusion within Fatah. Fatah's military wing is backing Kaddoumi. The higher military council of the military wing declared allegiance to Kaddoumi for his "national and responsible stands and in his capacity as an honest leader that crystallized the unity and cohesion of the Palestinian people."
Putin Calls for Israel-Lebanon-Syria Peace Conference
Following his meeting with Syrian President Bashir al-Assad Dec. 18, Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed his intention and hope that a conference to reach a peace settlement among Israel, Lebanon, and Syria could be heldwith Russia's assistance, and possible sponsorship. Putin has met recently with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and with the Lebanese leaders associated with the "Cedar Revolution," e.g., Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, and Said Hariri, the son of the slain former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Following their meeting, Assad said that "Russia could become a sponsor of the Middle East settlement," given the central role that Russia has played in the "Quartet" (Russia, U.S., EU, UN) and in having the recent meetings following the July-August Israeli attack on Lebanon.
International wires reported that Putin also referenced the idea that such a conference could be expanded to include other regional countries, including Iran. Asked why he was concentrating so many meetings on the Middle East, Putin said that he is concerned because "we are seeing one conflict in the regional developing after another."
Syrian Foreign Minister Endorses Baker-Hamilton Report
Syria's Foreign Minister Walid Moallem supported all the relevant recommendations of the Baker-Hamilton report, in an interview with David Ignatius of the Washington Post dated Dec. 14. Additionally, he showed that Syria was going beyond Baker-Hamilton in its efforts to stabilize Iraq; on Baker-Hamilton's call for Syria to encourage Hamas to recognize Israel's right to exist, he responded, "I will disclose something to you for the first time. We are exerting efforts with the foreign minister of Qatar and with Hamas and Fatah together. We kept the same distance between them, to reach agreement to compose a national unity government. We convinced Hamas to agree on a ceasefire in Gaza. We hope this will be applicable to the West Bank. We convinced Hamas to agree on a Palestinian state in the 1967 occupied territories [an implicit recognition of Israeled.]. What else do you want from us?"
Washington Revs Up Anti-Assad Activists
Political circles in both the U.S. and Israel have begun active efforts to open negotiations with Syria to stabilize the highly volatile region, the Cheney-led neo-cons have started revving up the troublemakers to relaunch the policy of the 1996 neo-con manifesto, "A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm."
Time.com reported Dec. 19 that the Bush Administration has been "quietly nurturing [read: fundinged.] individuals and parties opposed to the Syrian government in an effort to undermine the regime of President Bashir Assad."
The report points to the role of the "old rogues": former Ba'athist Syrian Vice President Abdul Halim Khaddam, who is based in Paris under control of French intelligence; and the Northern Virginia-based Reform Party of Syria headed by Farid Ghadry (also known as the "Ahmed Chalabi of Syria"); and the "intellectual" Ammar Abdulhamid, connected to the Saban Center of the Brookings Institute. Khaddam had earlier formed the National Salvation Front in Belgium (NATO HQ) which also included the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood leader Ali Sadreddine al-Bayanouni. Al-Bayanouni was accused of recruiting Mohammad Atta, one of the hijackers in the 9/11 attacks.
The U.S. National Security Council staff in August 2006 met twice at the White House with members of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood and Khaddam, one report says. There are indications that the National Salvation Front will soon open an office in Washington.
What is troubling about all this, is the reactivation of the "dissidents," in the same the way it was done by the neo-cons before launching the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Time Agrees With EIR on Saudi Royal Family Brawl
Time magazine published an analysis Dec. 15 of the circumstances leading up to Saudi Ambassador Prince Turki al-Faisal's sudden departure from Washington last week, that mirrors EIR's own evaluation from discussions with a wide range of sources. Prince Turki's resignation was reportedly prompted by maneuvers by Saudi National Security Advisor Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, the long-time Saudi Ambassador in Washington and virtual member of the Bush clan, who reportedly arranged Dick Cheney's recent trip to Riyadh behind Prince Turki's backa breach of protocol and a direct factional move by the pro-neo-con wing of the Saudi royal family.
In a speech in Philadelphia, a week before he quit, Time reported, Prince Turki had recognized Iran's threat to regional stability, but stressed that "we speak directly with Iran on all issues. We find that talking with them is better than not talking with them." Bandar and Cheney, on the other hand, are promoting a regional Sunni alliance against Iran (Saudi Arabia is predominantly Sunni).
Time confirmed EIR's warnings about the Sunni versus Shi'ite schemes of Cheney et al., writing: "The internal Saudi turmoil couldn't come at a worse time for the Bush Administration. Vice President Cheney was in Riyadh just last weekend for talks with King Abdullah. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice wants to use the Saudi-founded Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), conceived as an economic body, as a vehicle for marshalling Sunni Arab support on regional security issues, particularly U.S. efforts to blunt Iranian ambitions. Rice has prevailed upon the original GCC members (Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman) to add Jordan and Egypt to their security loop. According to a Rice aide, a working group of diplomats, including a U.S. representative, will be spun off after the new year, to hold frequent meetings and consultations."
Time noted that King Abdullah has not yet taken sides in the Turki versus Bandar feud, and that the kingdom is under pressure from Iraqi Sunni tribal leaders to provide military aid in the event of a U.S. pullout and an all-out civil war between Iraqi Shi'ites and Sunnis.
Iraqi Veep: Bremer Committed 'Biggest Blunder'
Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi said Paul Bremer was responsible for the "biggest blunder" committed by the former provisional coalition government in Iraq: disbanding the Iraqi army. Interviewed by CNN's Wolf Blitzer Dec. 17, Hashemi said disbanding the Iraqi army, and "deliberately" allowing militia infiltration into the army, was a "huge mistake." He insisted that current Iraqi military forces are "incompetent" and too small in number to maintain stability, and argued for more U.S. troops, especially in Baghdad. He distinguished between the militias and a "national resistance," which he said must be brought into political dialogue.
ICG Report: 'After Baker-Hamilton' in Iraq
The International Crisis Group (ICG) issued a report Dec. 19, "After Baker-Hamilton: What To Do in Iraq" calling for a number of dramatic changes in U.S. policy toward Iraq, Ynet reported Dec. 18. The ICG is a diverse group of former government officials from around the world, largely funded by George Soros, who sits on its board; the report was apparently written in large part by Robert Malley, an NSC staffer under President Clinton. It calls for going beyond Baker-Hamilton by explicitly dropping "regime change" as U.S. policy, and by including the Iran nuclear issue in talks. Iran would be guaranteed civilian nuclear power under IAEA inspection, so as to preclude nuclear weapons development.
Most striking, the ICG calls for replacement of the present Iraq government, which it portrays as a collection of self-seeking sectarian leaders, with an effective government enjoying broad Iraqi support. The proposed International Iraq Support Group is charged with bringing this about in dialogue with Iraqis, rather than simply supporting the current government.
The ICG derides proposals which would make Iraq a confederation of sectarian statelets. It supports an Iraq of 15 non-sectarian provinces along present boundaries, but with a Kurdish region having special autonomy status. (Lyndon LaRouche has characterized an autonomous Kurdish state as a potential disaster.)
The report is most notable for its in-depth report of Iraq's civil war, based on interviews with numerous Iraqis, including combatants. It argues effectively that the present government and constitution feed sectarian civil war.
Mossad Chief: Diplomacy Can Stop Iran's Nuclear Quest
Meir Dagan, the head of the Israeli Mossad, told the Knesset Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defense that Iran will not obtain a nuclear bomb before 2009, at the earliest, Ha'aretz reported Dec. 19. Dagan also flat-out rejected the concept of a "point of no return"the idea that once Iran has obtained technical and scientific capabilities, a bomb cannot be prevented. Dagan said that "The diplomatic effort to block Iran's nuclear program is far from being over. The threat is close enough to draw attention and yet far enough to allow time for action." In stark contrast to this relatively sane approach to the Iran nuclear issue, Dagan went on a tear against Syria, charging that Hezbollah's performance in the summer 2006 Lebanon War had emboldened the Assad regime to be less wary of Israel, and more provocative in its support of Hamas and Hezbollah. The remarks were part of the Mossad chief's semi-annual review to the Knesset, or parliament.