In this issue:

U.S. Experts Tell Obama, Don't Threaten Iran

Iraq Cabinet Votes Up U.S. Force Agreement

Violence Returns to Baghdad

'Lull' In Israeli-Gaza Fighting Ends

From Volume 7, Issue 47 of EIR Online, Published Nov. 18, 2008
Southwest Asia News Digest

U.S. Experts Tell Obama, Don't Threaten Iran

Nov. 15 (EIRNS)—A report by a group of U.S. experts warns President-elect Barack Obama not to threaten Iran, if he wishes Tehran to change its policy. "An attack would almost certainly fail.... Threats are not cowing Iran and the current regime in Tehran is not in imminent peril," according to the report, which was obtained by the AP. The Iranian people "have seen the outcome of U.S.-sponsored regime change in Afghanistan and Iraq. They want no part of it."

The authors are 17 experts including former U.S. ambassadors Thomas Pickering and James F. Dobbins, and Columbia University scholar Gary G. Sick, who advised that a policy that is more likely to succeed is one that will "open the door to direct, unconditional and comprehensive negotiations at the senior diplomatic level."

Speaking on the origins of the report, Dobbins told AP, "We got together to offer the Administration a different approach, one that is focused on communication and with a view to making progress over time on a range of issues".

The report will be presented by Richard Parker, a professor at the University of Connecticut, to the National Iranian American Council on Nov. 18. The report asserts that it is a "myth" that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad determines Iran's nuclear and foreign policy. That is done by the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, commander in chief of Iran's armed forces, and that "Khamenei's track record reveals a cautious decision-maker who acts after consulting advisors holding a range of views, including views sharply critical of Ahmadinejad."

Iraq Cabinet Votes Up U.S. Force Agreement

Nov. 16 (EIRNS)—With only 28 out of 37 Cabinet ministers present, the Iraqi Cabinet of President Nouri al-Maliki voted 27-1 to approve the latest version of the status of forces agreement, allowing U.S. troops to remain deployed in Iraq after Jan. 1, 2009, when the United Nations mandate expires. The agreement still has to be passed by the 276-member Iraqi parliament, where major factions, such as the Shi'ite faction that follows cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, oppose the U.S. military occupation. According to Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh, the parliament will debate and vote by the end of November. The spokesman said that since all factions in the Cabinet voted to approve the pact, it will also be voted up in parliament. According to news accounts, the broad outline of the agreement is that U.S. troops will withdraw from Iraqi cities by the Summer of 2009, and all U.S. troops will leave Iraq by 2011.

The text of the agreement has not yet been read by EIR.

Obtaining such an agreement is a high priority for the White House, which wants to sign a deal before the end of the year. But all is not as well as the spin-doctors are saying. Sayyed Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, head of the Islamic Council of Shi'ites in Iraq, one of the major factions, did not attend the leadership meeting with al-Maliki before the vote was held. Al-Hakim has been insisting for months that one item that must be included is that Iraq cannot be used by the U.S. as a base for attacks against Iran. Unless this is specified, significant opposition in the parliament is expected.

Violence Returns to Baghdad

Nov. 11 (EIRNS)—Two nearly synchronized IED (improvised explosive devices) blasts today ripped through al-Mustansiriya Square, in predominantly Shi'a eastern Baghdad, leaving three civilians killed and 17 others injured. These attacks came a day after blasts by a suicide bomber in Baghdad which killed at least 31 people and wounded 71 others. The twin blasts—the deadliest in Baghdad in months—occurred during the morning rush hour in the mostly Shi'ite Kasrah section of Azamiyah neighborhood in the northern part of the Iraqi capital. They shattered storefronts along a crowded street and set fire to more than a dozen cars. Ahmed Riyadh, owner of a nearby grocery, called it a "vicious attack" that "did not differentiate between Shi'ites and Sunnis."

CBS News Baghdad bureau chief Larry Doyle reports that there seems to be some puzzlement as to who is behind the bombings. Unlike in past events, no groups have claimed responsibility for the bombings, and both Sunni and Shi'ite areas have been repeatedly targeted.

This new round of bombings took place as the Iraqi government itself assumed the payment of 54,000 fighters for the "Sons of Iraq," the tribe-based Sunni forces working with the Baghdad government and the American occupation forces against al-Qaeda. However, the amount of the pay (largely supplied covertly by Saudi funds since the "surge" was initiated in 2007) will be dropped by about $25 a month from the "high" of $250 a month; the 54,000 receiving payments is down from the previous number of 58,000, and far short of the promised 80,000 to be put on the payroll.

In a report to the UN Security Council on Nov. 10, Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon called the security gains in Iraq "fragile" and said it was essential that the Jan. 31 elections "be organized in a secure environment." The UN says the ballot is central to the process of national reconciliation as Iraqis elect provincial councils. Violence ebbed in Iraq this year, after an increase in U.S. troop numbers and support from Sunni tribesmen against al-Qaeda. The UN says the elections may trigger more attacks.

'Lull' In Israeli-Gaza Fighting Ends

Nov. 16 (EIRNS)—Israeli air strikes in Gaza killed at least four fighters reportedly belonging to the Popular Resistance Committees, who were manning mortar positions. This could be the beginning of another sustained military action by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) in Gaza, after a ceasefire that has been largely successful, since it was negotiated with the help of Egypt in June. Conditions in Gaza are hellish, with a complete blockade by Israel in force since about Nov. 7. On Nov. 14, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) announced that the organization, which provides the majority of food for Gaza residents, had run out of supplies.

As international organizations pressured Israel to end the blockade, which is "collective punishment" of a civilian population innocent of attacking anyone, statements by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Secretary Ehud Barak pointed to a possible attack. Since early November, there has been an increase in the Qassam rocket fire from Gaza into Israeli towns along the border. One Israeli was slightly injured today in the town of Sderot. Prior to the Nov. 16 Cabinet meeting, Olmert stated that "we are not eager for a fight," but neither would Israel avoid one if the Hamas government doesn't stop the rocket fire. Olmert announced that he had ordered security chiefs to draw up plans to "end" the mortar and rocket attacks.

On Nov. 15, Barak, who is under criticism for showing too much "restraint" in Gaza, told an academic conference in Neve Ilan that the attacks from Gaza are "intolerable and unbearable," and "it is possible that when the time comes, there will be a need for a large-scale operation, because we cannot accept a prolonged violation of the lull." But, according to the right-wing website Arutz Sheva, Barak also said that "hotheadedness is not policy" and that "I am a minister of defense, not of war," reminding the audience that "we saw two years ago what consequences a hurried decision has for Israel's security"—a reference to the 2006 attack on Lebanon.

The right wing is rabid. Residents of the town of Ashkelon told the media that "we will set the country on fire," if there is no IDF attack on Gaza. Former Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz is calling for resuming the targetted assassinations of Hamas, and Knesset member Yuval Shteinitz (Likud) said the current government is "groveling before the terrorists" and has to be replaced.

The daily Ha'aretz ran a headline Nov. 16, "Top Israeli Brass Slam War Mongers" among Israeli ministers and politicians.

All rights reserved © 2008 EIRNS