|Southwest Asia News Digest
Maliki Says Talks with U.S. at Dead End
June 14 (EIRNS)Talks between the United States and Iraq on a long-term security agreement have apparently reached an impasse, on the subject of Iraq's sovereignty. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said on June 13 that "the Iraqi demands are unacceptable to the Americans and the American demands are unacceptable to the Iraqis, and the result is that we have reached an impasse." He added, "The Iraqis will not consent to an agreement that infringes on their sovereignty." The demands of the U.S. delegation have become a very hot issue in Iraq in recent weeks, and the intense criticism has forced Washington to retreat on at least one major point. Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari reported from his latest discussions, "The Americans did agree to remove the special contractors, security contractors" from immunity to prosecution under Iraqi law.
Meanwhile, the National Security Archive at George Washington University has posted documents acquired through the Freedom of Information Act, that show that the U.S. began making such demands not long after the invasion in March 2003. The documents, mostly from November and December 2003, show that the Bush Administration was demanding unlimited authority to conduct military operations; the "absolute" prerogative to detain, interrogate and intern Iraqis; the right to establish its own rules of engagement; complete freedom of movement entering, departing, and within Iraq; full immunity for U.S. forces and contractors, and so onin other words, many of the same demands the administration is making in the current negotiations. The heavily redacted documents don't reveal a lot of detail, but the administration wanted the security agreement approved by the Iraqi Governing Council, the fig-leaf government appointed by the U.S. in the Summer of 2003. The eruption of the insurgency at the same time made that impossible, but U.S. proconsul Paul Bremer did give security contractors immunity from Iraqi law in his infamous CPA General Order 17, just before he departed the country in June 2004.
Internal Tensions Re-Emerging in Iraq
June 15 (EIRNS)New tensions are emerging again in Iraq between rival Shi'ite factions. Mahdi Army head, Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, partially ended the one-sided ceasefire against the Iraqi government and the foreign occupiers, this weekend. Al-Sadr, who has been studying at Shi'ite seminaries in Iran, made two important pronouncements: first, that the Mahdi Army will not run candidates in the October 2008 elections, but instead will support "technocrats," and individual candidates from tribes, regional groups, and other parties. Al-Sadr also sent a message to the Friday prayer meetings, that select groupings of his Mahdi Armyand those groups alonewill be authorized to fight the U.S. occupation militarily. According to the BBC, Sadr's statement said: "Weapons will be in the hands of this group exclusively and will be directed only at the occupier." The rest of the militia, believed to number some 60,000 members, would focus on civic projects and religious initiatives that serve the needs of the Shi'ite community, Sadr said.
In response, the Maliki government (the prime minister is also a Shi'ite), is amassing Iraqi troops for potential action in southern Iraq against the Mahdi Army.
Sadr's unilateral ceasefire, declared in Summer 2007, and renewed in January 2008, is one of the main reasons for the drop in violence, including in U.S. casualties under the so-called Petraeus Surge. If it falls apart, the failure of the surge would quickly become visible.
Assad Moves Closer to Russia-India-China Triangle
June 13 (EIRNS)Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will visit India early next week, to strengthen bilateral ties, the official Syrian newspaper, Trishin, announced today. The sudden decision indicates the growing importance of the Russia-India-China relationship, which has consolidated significantly over the past month. The Syrian President's visit to India will be the first by a Syrian head of state in 20 years.
The Doha Accord on the Lebanon crisis, signed last month, is being seen as a victory for Syria's policy, marking the opening of a new chapter in Syrian-Lebanese relations. Indirect talks are going on between Syria and Israel through Turkey. However, in order to make this work, the presence of the other nations that is supportive of a Palestinian state is essential. In an interview with the Indian daily The Hindu, Assad said: "Now we are talking about a different India! We are talking about the rise of India. With the rise of India and China we have a different Asia and a different world. We have, let us say, more hopes than we had in the past. Maybe the policies of India at that time were different as part of the Non-Aligned Movement. At that time, we used to look at India as a closer country, but now we see it as an important country; so we have different hopes but in the same way. The question is, what role can India play in the world, especially regarding our issues, like the peace issue, the Iraq and Palestine issues, and all these problems."
Syria has enjoyed a long security relationship with Russia.
Russia has reportedly been working on deepening the Syrian maritime port of Tartus, used by the Soviet Union and later Russia as a supply point; and widening a channel in Latakia, another Syrian port. The ports are significant for both Syria and Russia, in that they face the outlet of the Ceyhan endthe receiving endof the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, giving Russia and its partners the ability to secure the port and route in case of any future war in the region.
In December 2005, India and China won a joint multimillion-dollar bid to buy Petro-Canada's 37% stake in Syrian oilfields.
Israel: Early Elections Almost Inevitable
June 11 (EIRNS)A bill to dissolve the Israeli Knesset and call for new elections is expected to pass the Israeli parliament next week. It will be submitted by the Likud party, but is said to already have the support of 74 of the 120 Knesset members, including members of the Labor and Shas parties, who are in the government coalition, and the pro-peace Meretz party. If passed, elections would probably be held in November, after the U.S. elections.
The issue now is Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's legal entanglements, including ongoing police investigations for corruption and fraud. Olmert, after meeting with top Kadima Party officials, announced today that the party has to prepare for primaries, which will most likely take place in September.
Sarkozy Invites Assad for National Day Celebrations
June 12 (EIRNS)French President Nicolas Sarkozy officially invited Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to attend France's July 14 national day celebrations. Sarkozy has already invited Assad, as well as Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, to attend a summit in Paris on July 13, where Sarkozy hopes to launch his idea of a Mediterranean Union.
In response to criticism of the visit from leftist opposition parties, French Prime Minister François Fillon said that "Syria has fulfilled its obligations regarding the conflict in Lebanon." And as for Syria's invitation to the summit he said, "It is imperative that all the Middle Eastern countries sit at the table together."
Syrian Culture Minister Riad Nassan Agha is in Paris today and is the first Syrian minister to visit France in three years.
Senegal Hosts Hamas-Fatah Reconciliation Talks
June 9 (EIRNS)Reconciliation talks between the Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah were held in Dakar, Senegal, under the sponsorship of President Abdoulaye Wade, in his capacity as chairman of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). Wade had offered his services to Hamas and Fatah in March, and this is the first meeting.
"The Palestinian representatives ... thank the mediator for managing to restore an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect, which allowed them to discuss the fundamental interests of the Palestinian people," stated a communiqué signed by Hikmat Zeid of Fatah and Emad Khalid Alamy of Hamas, and Senegal's Foreign Minister Cheikh Tidiane Gadio.
According to the President of Senegal's Office, the mediation will take place over seven stages, but there was no elaboration.
Meanwhile, according to the Israeli daily Ha'aretz, Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip, spoke by telephone with both Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman on June 7, about attempts at reconciliation between the two factions.
Syria-Turkey Propose Joint Nuclear Energy Project
June 14 (EIRNS)Syrian Oil Minister Sufian Alao was quoted by Turkey's state news agency saying that Syria and Turkey are considering setting up a joint energy company that would build nuclear power stations, and explore for oil in Turkey. According to Israel's Ynet Internet daily, the general director of the Turkish state energy firm TPAO, Mehmet Uysel, said that the two countries had decided to set up a joint energy company, and that a deal could be signed by the end of the year.