Nur al-Cubicle

A blog on the current crises in the Middle East and news accounts unpublished by the US press. Daily timeline of events in Iraq as collected from stories and dispatches in the French and Italian media: Le Monde (Paris), Il Corriere della Sera (Milan), La Repubblica (Rome), L'Orient-Le Jour (Beirut) and occasionally from El Mundo (Madrid).

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

State of the Buffoon-ion Address

In George W. Bush’s 2005 State of the Union address, he promised ambitious reforms of Social Security, a revolutionized tax code and an improved situation in Iraq. None of last year’s promises were realized and Bush’s popularity continues to plummet. In a Washington report published last week, it is likely that Congress will not renew that Mr. Bush’s tax cuts in 2010. Moreover, US economic growth slowed in the last quarter of 2005; over the last 16 quarters, wages rose by 3.4 percent annually, the lowest rate recorded in the USA’s post-WWII economic expansion.

The Victory of Hamas, Without the Hysteria

Updated 8 February 2006 with corrections requested by Mr. Legrain | 22:35 EST

Link to Mr. Legrain's website with information on his research and published works is here. Do note the right sidebar, which contains a selection of articles available online.

Link to the English translation of this article at Mr. Legrain's website is found here.

To escape the maddening hysteria and doomsday scenarios sweeping Europe and the United States, academic and area expert Jean-François Legrain provides a level-headed analysis of the victory of Hamas at the polls.

Viewpoint: Hamas on the Political Scene, by Jean-François Legrain
LE MONDE | 30.01.06 | 13h53 Link.

The events overtaking Palestine today have but two recent historical equivalents: the 1969 takeover by Palestinian guerilla movements headed by Fatah, of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which until that time had been instrumentalized by the Arab states; and the 1976 conquest by the PLO of West Bank municipalities which until that time had been controlled by supporters of Jordan

The January 25th Palestinian elections confirmed a rupture with the defender of national interests for the past thirty-five year --the divorce from an organization and its institutions and officials and, to a degree for future evaluation, its policies. But the separation has not rendered family, clan and local ties obsolete.

As in the past, loyalties use politics in an organizational sense. A notable is recognized as such only when the movement to which he is attached is considered to defend both local and national interests. The PLO played this legitimizing role right up until recent years. The Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas, has now replaced the PLO even if, as best we can determine, it has not truly prepared itself to assume all duties.

The causes behind this veritable Palestinian tsunami are well known: the failure of the PLO, rejected as a partner in negotiations by an Israel that is more unilateral than ever; the inability of the Palestinian Authority to provide security for a population facing exactions from armed gangs, most of which emanate from Fatah, Yassir Arafat’s own movement which had become the backbone of the Authority, and … Israel’s targeted assassinations; and, the corruption of a number of officials in the context of worsening endemic unemployment.

A proportional vote from national lists was adopted by the Palestinian Authority for the election of one-half of the 132 seats up for grabs in the Legislative Council. It was meant to stave off a much feared Hamas victory if the old formula used in the 1996 elections were in force --that of a simple majority in sixteen voting districts.

The process achieved some success but it did not prevent the Islamists from gaining an absolute majority. The proportional formula plumbed the doldrums in which other nationalist movements had fallen. “Small” organizations within the PLO Left survived relative unscathed and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) managed to win three seats, followed by the alliance of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), the ex-communist Palestinian Peoples Party (PPP) and the Palestinian Democratic Union (PDU) which won two seats. The camp of the reformers, led by personalities rather than by a structured movement, saw a stunning setback: Mustafa Barghouti, who came in second in the 2005 presidential election, won only two seats for his Independent Palestine list. Same for The Third Way, led by former ministers Salam Fayyed, charged by the international community to set in order the Authority’s finances, and Hanan Ashrawi, the media reknown spokeswoman for the Palestinian delegation during negotiations in the 1990’s.

The size of the defeat delivered to Fatah results from voting in districts that used a simple majority instead of lists. Hamas won 46 seats and to this total may be added 4 seats won by independents supported by the movement. Fatah won only 16. No candidate sponsored or supported by other lists or independents won.

Despite its political and social heterogeneity, Hamas has succeeded in becoming a force that has associated to its victory some independents to whom it gave support while rejecting independent Islamists or those having parted company the Palestinian Authority. Thus, outgoing elected official Ziyad Abu Amr and Christian Husam al-Tawil won in Gaza as well as Hasan Khuraysha in Tulkarem --all three of them independents. Meanwhile, Sheikh Yaqub Qarash, who ran for a seat in Jerusalem, lost. Qarash had encountered troubles in Jordan for his involvement with radical groups in the 1990's. Former minister Imad al-Faluji (North Gaza) and Sheikh Ramadan Tanbura (also North Gaza), founder of a phantom Islamic party created in 1995 with the support of Yassir Arafat to undermine (already!) Hamas, also lost at the polls.

The defeat of Fatah also brought down high-ranking officials from among its historical leadership as well as personalities known as “reformers”. The inanity of the young guard/old guard dichotomy was also stunningly revealed. Even those who were careful to reject the Fatah label before throwing their hat into the ring, and thus becoming “independents”, were swept away.

Also among the high officials swept aside were former Secretary General of the Presidency Ahmad Abd al-Rahman (Jerusalem) and Arafat’s personal spokesman Marwan Kanafani (Gaza). Only three of the 22 former ministers running for office were elected. The only member of the PLO Executive Committee (PLOEC) who ran for office on the regional lists, Ghassan al-Shaka, lost in the city of Nablus, where he had served as mayor.

The entire roster of officers of the highest rank who at one time or another had been in charge of security forces lost, with the exception of Muhammad Dahlan, the Chief of Preventative Security named minister --but possible voting fraud is being investigated. Dahlan’s colleagues at the head of Preventative Security, like Amin al-Hindi (Gaza), the former chief of intelligence, or the one in charge of the security budget under Yassir Arafat, were rejected by the people.

The leaders of the first Intifada, these ex-shababs (Intifada youth) who had supported some form of integration within the Authority, even though criticizing it, were not spared defeat at the polls

The defeat also removed reform leaders within Fatah: Qaddura Faris (Ramallah), an outgoing elected official who had teamed up with the imprisoned Marwan Barghouti, and Nabil Amr (Hebron). Four drafters of the Geneva Accords (2003), an outline of a definitive settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, met the same fate.

The era which is beginning is full of uncertainty. Drawn into a spiral of victories in the recent municipal elections, Hamas, without a doubt, underestimated its ability to achieve an absolute majority in the first legislative elections in which it participated. Henceforward, it must now take on the executive responsibilities incumbent upon it and which until very recently, it had not even considered.

Based on the Islamic identity of Palestine (and not that of the “destruction of Israel"), the proposal made in 1995 by Sheikh Yassin, founder of Hamas, to live in peace with Israel without a limit on duration following the evacuation of Israel from all of the territories occupied in 1967 must be taken into account. The will and the capacity of Hamas to force observance of a unilateral cease-fire over the last nine months on the part of its military wing doubtlessly constitutes a sign of its sense of responsibility. It is now up to the international community to live up to its engagements to guarantee the coexistence of two states in Palestine.

Jean-François Legrain is a researcher at Orient and Mediterranean House - University of Lyon-II (Lumière) and author of Les Palestines du quotidien. Les élections de l'autonomie janvier 1996 (The Daily Palestines. The Autonomy Elections, January 1996), published by CERMOC --Centre d'Etudes et de Recherches sur le Moyen-Orient Contemporain-- (Beirut) 1999.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

28 January 2006 Events in Iraq and in the Region

Baghdad. Sunni Arab leader on Saturday condemned recent police crackdowns on Sunni neighborhoods in the Iraqi capital and demanded government protection from further raids.

Baghdad. At least eight people were killed Saturday in attacks across Iraq. Khalaf al-Ilyan, a senior member of the Sunni Arab-coalition, the Iraqi Accordance Front, spoke a day after police and insurgents fought pitched battles in southern Baghdad.

Baghdad. A spate of shootings Saturday left at least four people dead in the southern Baghdad neighborhood of Dora, including an Iraqi Army soldier.

Baghdad. A mechanic was gunned down in nearby Jihad, the scene of fierce fighting Friday.

Baghdad. The bound and gagged bodies of two men in their 40s who had been shot in the head were found in southern Baghdad's Rustamiyah sewerage plant.

Fallujah. A roadside bombing in the western city of Fallujah killed one policeman and wounded another.

Karbala. Police found the buried bodies of six laborers who had been bound, gagged and shot in the head 20 kilometers (12 miles) south of the southern city of Karbala.

Baghdad. The U.S. military said this week's release of five Iraqi women who had been in military custody was routine and not in response to the ultimatum.

Hit. U.S. Marines and Iraqi Army soldiers in western Iraq ended an almost two-week military operation on Friday that destroyed 45 weapons caches and detained 20 suspected insurgents, the Marines said in a statement. Operation Wadi Aljundi started Jan. 15 north of the town of Hit, 140 kilometers (85 miles) west of Baghdad.

14:25 Baghdad. Kidnappers of four Christian peace activists threatened to kill them unless all Iraqi prisoners were released from Iraqi and U.S. prisons, according to a new tape broadcast Saturday. Al-Jazeera TV aired a tape dated Jan. 21 showing the four workers: James Loney, 41, and Harmeet Singh Sooden, 32, from Canada; Tom Fox, 54, of Clear Brook, Virginia, and Norman Kember, 74, of London

14:34 Gaza. Hamas is prepared to merge several armed faction, including its military branch, to build an army to ensure security for the Palestinian people.

14:33 Jeddah. The world's biggest Muslim body on Saturday called on Muslims to stick to peaceful protest in a row over Danish cartoons seen as offensive to the Prophet Mohammad. The 57-nation Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) said Denmark should have "categorically condemned" cartoons published by Danish paper Jyllands-Posten last September in which the Prophet is shown wearing a turban shaped as a bomb.

14:23 Damascus. Khaled Meshaal, an exiled Hamas leader and winner of the Palestinian elections, said he was favorable to the creation of a Palestinian army to defend the country.

14:18 Baghdad. A well-known Sunni academic, Abdul Razak al-Naas, was shot dead behind the wheel of his car. Al-Naas, a critic of the continuing US occupation and the Iraqi government, often appeared on television as a political analyst.

03:18 Washington. Senator John McCain said the US should threaten Iran with military action.

02:38 Baghdad. The US military detained the wives of Iraqi insurgents twice in 2005 to force them to reveal the locations of their husbands, according to documents obtained by the ACLU. In one case, a 28 year-old mother of three was arrested by US special forces . Several Kurdish women were also arrested to put pressure on their husbands.

01:50 Washington. The US announced that it would review "all the aspects" of aid programs to Palestinians if Hamas forms a government.

01:43 President George W. Bush said that the US would cut all assistance to the Palestinians if Hamas did not reject violence and its aim to destroy Israel.

01:18 Washington. President George W. Bush envisions the possibility of international sanctions againt Iran.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Landslide Victory for Hamas

Hamas celebrates (AFP photo via L'Orient-Le Jour)

The lack of either leadership or statesmanship from the Bush Admininstration in this hour of setback is embarrasing. Other nations, perhaps not as free or wealthy as the United States, are lucky enough have one or both.

Hamid Karzai: "If the Palestinian people have expressed their will in electing Hamas, then we must give Hamas a chance."

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov: "Russia will respect, as always, the democratic choice of the Palestinian people. It is important to us that all those who participated in the Palestinian democratic process remain faithful to peaceful national aspirations of the Palestinian people."

Pervez Musharraf: "We shall leave the door open, including to Hamas. I don't believe we should shut the door on relations. I think we should base our actions in reality. If Hamas has won, then we cannot go into denial."

Amos Luzzatto, Chief Rabbi of the Italian Jewish Community: "Let us hope that the victory pushes Hamas in a different direction from that which it has followed in the past. Hamas has won and everyone must respect the verdit of the ballot box."

And last, the Muslim Brotherhood. "The victory at the polls by Hamas shows the desire of the Arab nation to turn towards Islam." [At least the statement doesn't make me want to strangle them].

Well, what did Washington expect? Look at this year of headlines. What kind of people in their right mind were going to vote for Fatah?

25 January 2006: The Palestinian Authority is bankrupt.

6 January 2006. Rivalry among Fatah factions causes the Palestinian Authority to disintegrate.

22 December 2005: The Road Map is hopelessly mired down.

11 November 2005: After Arafat, Year One. Mission impossible.

30 September 2005: Hamas earned its popularity during the Second Intifada while Fatah was discredited by ineffectiveness and corruption.

16 September 2005: George Bush and Ariel Sharon agree to freeze the Road Map after the evacuation from Gaza [That's the best reason to vote Hamas right there--Nur]

8 September 2005: Mussa Arafat, former Security Chief, assassinated.

29 August 2005: 8500 settlers abandon the Gaza Strip; 12,000 illegally settle on the West Bank.

06 May 2005: Washington’s insistence on disarming Hamas actually serves the cause of the militants. Meanwhile, Fatah’s bad image will cost them most of their seats in the legislative elections.

But the worst of demagoguery and fear-mongering was a claim by Israeli Ambassador Dore Gold, President of The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs: Hamas will now link up with al-Qaeda.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Red Budget Alert

Heard via the National Coalition for History

Early next month President Bush will advance to Congress a proposed budget for operations of the federal government for FY 2007. Though agency officials are generally keeping silent (as they are expected to until the budget is officially released), agency and Hill insiders have been spreading the news of what to expect. Specific numbers are hard to nail down, but what we are hearing isn't good.
Recently, Treasury Secretary John W. Snow officially announced that his goal is to make the President look good on his 2004 campaign vow to cut the budget deficit in half by 2009. With a budget deficit of $319 billion in 2005, Snow's Treasury, the Office of Management and Budget, and the White House are all looking for ways to cut the projected deficit by upward of $160 billion. The situation is worse than that as economists are forecasting a deficit in 2006 of $400 billion, so the White House may be looking for $200 billion!

Some believe it is virtually impossible to keep the federal government running with a budget that makes such deep cuts. Nevertheless, agency heads, when they make their annual visits to OMB examiners, are being asked to do their part in reducing growth in government spending. Some were sent back to make adjustments to their initial submissions to the White House. Many agencies will be lucky to see their budgets come in at last year's authorized levels; most domestic agencies can expect massive reductions and zeroing out of specific programs deemed "non-essential."

Bottom line, what the president is expected to offer in his budget is an across-the-board "call for sacrifices." Congress of course can and probably will ignore the President's budget as they have in recent years. Time will tell.

One last item...the debt ceiling is once again about to be exceeded. Undoubtedly the White House will try to downplay that which Secretary Snow will need to do in mid-February-- request that Congress push up the current debt limit above the $8.184 trillion level.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The Palestinian Prisoner-Candidates

Le Monde's Jerusalem Correspondent, Gilles Paris, reports on the prisoner-candidates for tomorrow's elections in Palestine. The most famous, Fatah's Marwan Barghouti, is likely being be manipulated by Abbas and Olmert to ensure that victory is wrested from the vigorous and popular Hamas and into the arms of the moth-eaten Fatah.

This could be a good thing if it awakens Israel to the idea of releasing Barghouti to lead Palestine but I'm not holding my breath.

Le Monde |23 January 2006)
RAMALLAH (THE WEST BANK) Special Correspondent Gilles Paris

His face already on every Fatah election poster, on Sunday 22 December Marwan Barghouti invited himself to take part in the Palestinian legislative elections. On the eve of the vote, this popular Palestinian prisoner and leader of the Fatah list was permitted to grant a long interview to al-Jazeera from his Israeli jail cell, where he is serving several life sentences for his participation in the Second Intifada.

At party headquarters in Ramallah, the news lifted the morale of the troops which, according to opinion polls, had been vacillating. Marwan is the slogan and the program of Fatah, says his friend Kadoora Farès, exhausted by his own campaign to represent the district of Ramallah and who has just finished an interview with al-Arabiya, the competitor of al-Jazeera. Fatah cannot win without him, but he can made Fatah win, he adds.

Like Marwan Barghouti, whose speeches, written especially for the campaign, are blared by loudspeakers mounted on vans, Farès is among twenty candidate-prisoners on the national “lists” from which 132 MPs will be elected.

The leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Ahmed Saadat, held in a Palestinian prison under international control following his implication in the assassination of an Israeli minister in revenge for elimination of his predecessor, is also on the list. He has even been permitted to leave his cell to participate in press conferences.

The Vice Minister in charge of prisoners, Ziyad Abu Ein, who is domiciled where Marwan Barghouti was arrested by the Israeli Army in 2002, is not surprised by the large number of prisoner-candidates. It’s all about the respect people have for them. People never stop talking about how important this matter is for the Palestinians; these candidates for office prove it.


Moreover, the release of the prisoners is a demand shared by all the parties in the race. The rivalry between Fatah and the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) does not stop at the prison gates. Would most of the prisoners be members of Hamas? Absolutely not, retorts the Fatah Vice-Minister, who gives me his own estimates: 4,800 are Fatah, 800 are members of other PLO factions and 3,000 are Islamists.

At Hamas, the entry into the race of Marwan Barghouti provokes bitterness. I have a great deal of respect for Marwan. I was arrested along with him, says Abdallah Al-Bacri from the Hamas headquarters at al-Bireh, but the prison rules for him must surely be the same as for Hamas members. We encounter a great deal of difficulty in contacting our people. There is obviously a convergence of interests between Fatah and Israel: to ensure a loss by Hamas, says Abu Assaad, the Hamas campaign chairman for Ramallah. Sheikh Hassan Yussuf is running for office in the district of Ramallah among 13 other Islamist prisoners. Three of the prisoner-candidates there are Hamas members. If they are elected, they can designate a proxy to serve in the legislature for them from among the party’s other candidates in the race.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Iraq Outlook - Not the fairy tale version

Dubya's Constitution for Iraq of Libber-T® and New Freedom (nod to The Poor Man) sets the central government at war with the regions. It's not a founding document --for the Kurds, it's a wish list, for the Shi'a, it opens the way to theocracy and for the Sunni, it's a forfeit.

Analyst Ian Bremmer looks at the horizon and sees a short game --and a house of cards. [Translation from L'Orient-Le Jour]

The Iraqi Government: A Potemkin village
By Ian Bremmer*

Now that the results of Iraq’s elections are known, forming the new government is more crucial than ever. An encouraging sign is that all the parties seem to have accepted the results. But the big question concerning the country remains the same: will the Shi’a, the Sunni and the Kurds line up behind an effective central authority?

In the short term, we have good reason to think that the three most powerful major political groupings will do so. But would the new government be able to administer all of the country? It seems that the answer to the question is “no”. This is why we can easily believe that a year from now, Iraq will be a place with more instability than today.

Once formed, the new Iraqi government will be somewhat viable in the short term. The Shi’a have an obvious interest in supporting the central government. They believe that because of their demographic strength, a representative democracy guarantees them the right to govern and to protect themselves against Sunni attacks and demands.

As to the Sunnis, they will also support the government, at least at the outset, because it is their only chance to obtain what they consider to be their rightful share of power, resources and revenue. The Kurds will accept an agreement because they believe that the new Constitution will guarantee their right to control the lion's share of the oil wealth deposited beneath their lands. They also do not wish to assume the responsibility for more chaos in Baghdad.

But there is another reason which will prevent the three communities from acting immediately to torpedo federal authority: The central government has neither the judicial nor the economic means to challenge local power. All three Iraqi factions have significant interest in backing a central government having merely an operational façade, its powers being severely limited.

Over the long term, the federal government will push Iraq to a sectarian stampede for power and money. Article 11 of the new Constitution stipulates that “anything which is not inscribed as an exclusive power of the federal government is the responsibility of the regions”. This formulation only opposes the central government to the regions in a battle for political dominance.

Similarly, under current law, soldiers do not answer to the Baghdad government but to regional éminences grises. The Iraqi Constitution also guarantees to local governments the right to pocket income deriving form newly-discovered oilfields falling under their jurisdiction. In fact, although the central government has the power to collect revenue generated by existing fields, there exists no law which would prevent local officials from modernizing oil installations and then declaring them new.

The consequences of this state of affairs can barely be calculated. Oil accounts for approximately 98% of Iraqi export revenue. It is the central nerve of the Iraqi economy and the source of revenue needed by the central government to build durable institutions. Even with a great deal of international economic assistance, foreign money for reconstruction will run out the moment the central Iraqi government becomes operational. In sum, the national government is going to find itself deprived of authority and the means necessary to govern the country.

Because of the growing violence between Shi’a and Sunnis, the Iraqi government will soon offer only the façade of effectiveness. Moreover, at least so far, the Kurds are keeping a low profile. They are enjoying the relative economic prosperity and their institutions are becoming increasingly strengthened. So, for the moment, they have no reason to challenge the status quo. But this stability will face new challenges in 2006.

The gubernatorial elections next November may incite Kurdish candidates to propose opposing programs. Some of them will go as far as making populist calls for independence to obtain an electoral advantage. At the same time, cooler heads will fight to postpone the 2007 referendum, which could divide opinion on the status of the oil city of Kirkuk.

In fact, friction caused by campaign rhetoric could fuel existing resentment between the Shi’a and Sunni communities. It is a very dangerous thing if the sectarian politics of the new Iraq benefits those who make the greatest number of promises to their electors, to the detriment of the central government and other elements of the country. Discussion on possible Constitutional amendments meant to mollify angry Sunnis and to disarm the insurrection may also provoke hostilities between the two camps.

Even more worrisome is that when the Shi’a, the Sunnis and/or the Kurks decide that their elected leaders haven’t produced the promised protections and advantages, they will go beyond simple political considerations to promote their interests. Some Shi’a will decide to form militias while Sunnis may join the insurgency. As to the Kurds, some of them may become the standard-bearers for independence.

When things reach this point, the future of an independent Iraq will be place in doubt. Any separatist movement initiated by the Kurds will involve Turkey in Iraqi politics. At the same time, the protection offered by the US Army to Iraqi officials will vanish with the desire for a pullout. Iran will then not fail to fill the security vacuum.

In short, the Iraqi government will appear to be operational for nearly all of 2006. But it will be exploited to serve the competing interests of the different political factions to the maximum extent possible. The weakness of the central government, the continuing insurrectional violence, the growing Iranian influence on Baghdad and in the south of the country made possible by the power of Shi’a leaders and the natural progression of sectarian politics lead me to believe that the new Iraq will be considerably less stable by the end of the year.

* Ian Bremmer is president of Eurasia Group, the political risk consultancy. Bremmer's research focuses on US foreign policy, states in transition, and global political risk. His five books include Nations and Politics in the Soviet Successor States (Cambridge University Press, 1993), which became the standard college text on the post-Soviet

Bremmer received his PhD in political science from Stanford University in 1994. He has held research and faculty positions at Columbia University (where he presently teaches), the EastWest Institute, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and the World Policy Institute, where he has served as Senior Fellow since 1997. He lives in New York.

Tehran today

Sunday, January 22, 2006

The Gas War

You have to wonder if Cheney has thrombosis in his cortex to be blabbing about war with Iran and high-fiving $100 per barrel oil. Well, gee, what if Dubya's new pals in Ukraine and Georgia were cut off from Russian natural gas and electric power in the middle of the coldest temperatures in 65 years and had to purchase energy from Iran?

No one knows if the blasts leaving Georgia and Armenia in the dark were caused by Ossetian nationalists, Islamists, Russian agents, Georgian ultra-nationalists, Pasdaran or Chechens. Your guess is a good as mine.

BTW, here's a Map

APF via LeMonde has the story:

The Gas War shifts from the Ukraine to the Southern Caucasus. After Sunday’s dual blasts on the Russian gas pipeline supplying Georgia and Armenia, Russia curtailed its deliveries, provoking the ire of T’bilisi. The explanation received from the Russians is absolutely inadequate and contradictory (…). Georgia has been the victim of sabotage carried out by the Russian Federation.”, declared Georgia’s pro-Western president, Saakachvili, steaming over the near doubling of gas prices imposed by Moscow for ex-Soviet republics hoping to exit the Russian sphere of influence. The Georgian president, elected in 2004, excoriated Russia for blackmail, which followed the “threats by Russian politicians to leave us without power and gas”.

“Judging from press accounts, the statements coming from T’bilisi can only be qualified as hysterical”, said the Russian Foreign Minister in a communiqué quoted by the Russian news agency Ria-Novosti. According to Moscow, “practically all high-ranking Georgian officials have seen in this situation the possibility for a new wave of aggression in its anti-Russian campaign”. Meanwhile, a third explosion damaged an important transmission line carrying Russian electricity to Georgia, depriving it of power.


The Russian Minister for Emergencies announced that two explosions had rocked the main line and a secondary branch on the Mozdok-T'bilisi natural gas pipeline in North Ossetia before dawn, not far from the Georgian frontier. “According to initial reports, experts discovered fragments of a home-made explosive device. If this is confirmed, then it was an act of sabotage”, declared Sergei Prokopov, spokesman for the Public Prosecutor for the Russian Caucasus. The Minister for Emergencies, speaking from Vladikavkaz, has suggested “terrorism, among other possible causes". The minister had at first suggested that "an accident" had dramatically dropped line pressure, forcing the Russian utility to close all valves. Repair of the gas pipeline may take several days due to bad weather conditions in the Caucasus Mountains.

While the dual blast is likely to severely affect Armenia and Georgia, extremely dependent on Russian gas and going through a particularly sharp cold wave, a third blast several hours later in the Caucasian republic of Karachay-Cherkcassia brought down a power transmission line on the Georgian border. The country continues to receive Russian power via another high-voltage transmission line, said Georgian Deputy Energy Minister Aleko Khetagurov, while suggesting the possibility of an immediate import of power from Turkey. The Russian electric power utility announced that repairs would take at least a week.


The Armenian and Georgian authorities have cautioned their citizens to conserve heat. “There is enough gas for 24 hours. Talks are underway to purchase gas from Azerbaijan and Iran, but that will take a few days,” warned the Georgian Vice-Minister for Energy in a television broadcast. In Armenia, the gas utility Armrosgazprom was obliged to release its gas reserves and called on the population to conserve energy “and, if necessary, to use other means of heat”.

Armenian President Robert Kotcharian, reputedly an ally of Moscow, was expected in Russia on Sunday for talks with Vladimir Putin on the big hikes in the price of gas recently imposed by Moscow.


Saturday, January 21, 2006

21 January Events in Iraq and in the Region

Fallujah: Entry into Fallujah has been closed for four days.

17:22 Amman. Jordan will send observers to the Palestinian elections on 25 January.

16:58 Arbil. Jalal Talabani (PUK) and Massoud Barzani (KDP) signed an agreement establishing a single administration in Kurdistan. Barzani stated that the fusion would help recover Kirkuk. US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad attended the signing.

16:49 Baquba. Carbomb kills three police and wounds two others.

15:58 Damascus. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad declared before a convention of Arab lawyers that Syrian would not bow before the United Nations. Al-Assad also accusesd Israel of responsiblity for the death of Yassir Arafat.

14:11 Ramadi. Insurgents launched several attacks against US military bases in Ramadi. Camp Ramadi and Camp Corregidor received mortar fire, which caused slight damage. Meanwhile two US patrol vehicles were targeted by RPG fire without sustaining damage. An Ambrams tank returned fire and killed six insurgents. One Iraqi soldier and seven Coalition troops were wounded.

13:50 Cairo. Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit believes that Hamas will recognize the existence of Israel and accept the idea of talks.

13:14 Damascus. Syria is open to any initiative to establish good relations with Beirut.

11:47 Baghdad. Shi'ite outdoor market bombed killing one person and wounding half a dozen.

11:06 Ankara. Foreign Trade Minister Kursad Tuzmen has announced that thirty-four Turkish suppliers have suspended deliveries of fuel to Iraq because an unpaid $1 billion bill.

10:09 London. Death of Briton killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq confirmed.

10:02 Kirkuk. Five members on the staff of Jalal Talabani were wounded in the explosion of a roadside bomb in northern Iraq.

08:52 Baghdad. A man was kidnapped by armed men in the Saydiyah quarter of west Baghdad.

07:21 Ghazni (Afghanistan). Pro-government demonstration against suidice bombings.

00:31 Baghdad. US helicopter makes emergency landing.

Kurdish Kirkuk

If you have been reading Juan Cole, you know that the annexation of Kirkuk by Kurdistan is opposed by both the Shi'a and Sunni Arabs. But despite their opposition, the Kurds have moved ensure that Kirkuk falls to them. The United States has not announced its position on Kirkuk, but based on its actions, it is a certainty.

The Kurds are the true masters of Kirkuk
LE MONDE | 21 January 06 | 14:04 Updated 21 January 206 | 14:12

Just a year ago, the road from Iraqi Kurdistan to the oil city of Kirkuk, under Baghdad’s jurisdiction but contested by the Kurds, was considered unsafe, just as Kirkuk itself –multiethnic and destined for civil war.

But, this winter, a continuous flood of cars links the city to Kurdistan and there is no sign of war. Although life in the city is like that of any other for which there is contention by different communities: a regime of intimidation, including assassinations, targeting opposing groups. My taxi driver balks at entering the southern quarters of Kirkuk where Arabs displaced Kurds at the orders of Saddam Hussein. After a trip through the mixed quarters at the foot of the citadel, the taxi happily returns to the purely Kurdish part of the city. "As long as the Arabs remain, their terrorists are a menace to us”, says the driver. “I’m not taking about the Arabs who have always lived here…”, continues the driver, without dissimulating the feeling that here, again, the mood is not in favor of reconciliation. First, because there are tens of thousands of Kurds who await their resettlement in the oil-bearing areas along the southern border of autonomous Kurdistan from which they has been displaced by successive Arabization campaigns.

One of them, who hails from a village near Kirkuk, destroyed by the army in 1987, recounts: We fled to our grandmother’s house, in Kirkuk. She hid us, because on Arabs had the right to settle there. The children were forbidden to go outdoors to play, but we were denounced and sent here, to live in a tent. This patriarch of the Dawood family continues to live with his children and grandchildren in the concrete hovel which has replaced the tent within one of the sad camps of Kurdistan filled with people in the same condition. “If tomorrow our leader, Barzani (the President of Kurdistan) gives us the order, we will all take up arms for Kirkuk, assures a son.

This familiy is one of many which, although originating in Kirkuk, was unable to vote in the 15 December 2005 legislative elections because it was not enrolled in the UN food program. “We were afraid, we wanted all the Arabs to leave Kirkuk before returning, but now our change of address is no longer accepted”, says one of Dawood’s daughters.

But it is estimated that 70% of refugees from the Kirkuk region have been able to resettle there, or, at least, become registered. This has restored the former local Kurdish majority. In the December elections, the Kurdish list received more than 300,000 votes from among 560,000 voters, significantly larger than the tally of the various Arab lists and the Turkmen Front, which received some 58,000 votes. The losers accuse the Kurds of irregularities but the size of the gap means that the referendum on Kirkuk to be held sometime before the end of 2007, if it is held at all, will result in the annexation of the city to the federal region of Kurdistan


President Massoud Barzain made a public promise this winter. The annexation is the first condition imposed by the Kurds, who have been strengthened by their pivotal role in forming the Baghdad government, on any future partner. Many refugees are so convinced of annexation that they have rebuilt their destroyed villages without waiting for the various forms of assistance promised for this purpose. "Since then, he continues, we have been living in Huweija”, an Arab town between Kirkuk and Baghdad. “A year ago, four Kurds were killed there, then three others. So we fled but we were able to sell our lands and rent out our homes. For next to nothing, but it still helps in the rebuilding here without having to depend on the Kurdish-Arab compensation committees, which do not function.” Baghdad has blocked the work of the committees —created under Article 58 of the Constitution— to attempt to prevent the transfer of the city, under the authority of the two big Kurdish parties.

A majority on the elected council, the Kurdish parties are the true masters behind the curtain of the Kurds who are members of the armed forces and local police. The peshmergas, wearing Iraqi military uniforms, are often accused of kidnapping Arabs and Turkmen and placing them in secret prisons in Kurdistan or evening murdering them. The Americans, who have military bases in the region, let them get away with it as part of war on terror, without, apparently, taking a position on the future status of Kirkuk. Perhaps this is in the hope —for which there is no guarantee— of seeing the financial transactions, like that of Tayyeb Zorab, triumph over breakaway by arms and blood?

Friday, January 20, 2006

20 January 2006 Events in Iraq and in the Region

Ramallah. The election promise of the radical Palestinian group Hamas is to preserve Palestine against anarchy, corruption, and poverty while continuing its armed struggle against Israel. It has baptized its slate "Change and Reform". Hamas and Fateh are neck-and-neck in opinion polls.

Ramallah. The Israeli Army used tear gas and clubs against demonstrators protesting the Security Wall. Among the demonstrators were Palestinians and foreign and Israeli activists. Several were either wounded or arrested. The wall is being built on confiscated land in the village of Bilin near Ramallah.

Baghdad. Iraqi president Jalal Talabani has launched the idea of a national unity government, supported by the Americans. But powerful Shi'ite leaders such as Abdel Aziz Hakim, leader of the United Iraqi Alliance, has underscored that the verdict of the ballot box cannot be ignored.

Baghdad. The British Ambassador suggests a signficant reduction in troop levels in 2006.

Morocco. The graves of Abdelhak Rouissi and Abdellatif Zeroual, who disappeared in 1964 and 1974, respectively, under the reign of Hassan II, have been discovered. The remains of Rouissi were found near Casablanca; those of Zeroual were found in the outskirts of Rabat. Zeroual was arrested in 1974 and sent to the secret prison of Derb Moulay Chrif in Casablanca. He was later transferred to Ibn Sina Hospital in Rabat, where he disappeared.

Baghdad. National Security Advisor Mouaffak al-Roubaïe complained of secret talks between the Americans and the insurgents and denounced the contacts as "appeasement".

Berlin. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier appeared before German parliament to report on the role of two German intelligence agents in Baghdad during the war who designated bombing targets for the Americans. A parliamentary investigation has been demanded.

Baghdad. The Pentagon has announced that the release of six of eight Iraqi female prisoners held by the American military would take place no time soon, contradicting an announcement by the Iraqi authorities.

Baghdad. Two Iraqi civilians were killed when a roadside bomb targeting a US patrol exploded.

Baghdad. Five persons, including a police colonel, were kidnapped from a Baghdad restaurant by thirty unidentified men in uniform.

Baghdad. Iraqi security forces foils an assassination attempt on Shi'ite leader Abdelaziz Hakim.

Jerusalem. Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz accused Tehran and Damascus of involvement in a suicide bombing in Tel-Aviv. The bomber was identified as Sami Antar, 22, of Nablus.

Damascus. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has concluded a visit to Damascus where he met with the leaders of Palestinian radical movements and Lebanese Hezbollah. Ahmadinejad also visited Shi'ite shrines, including the Mosque of the Umayyads in Damascus. Syria welcomes thousands of Shi'ite pilgrim a year. Meanwhile, Israel claimed the visit was a "terrorism summit".

Damascus. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad defends the Palestinian right to armed resistance.

23:20 Baghdad. No contact has been had with the kidnappers of Jill Carroll.

19:54 Guantanamo. A sixth Guantanamo prisoner will face a military tribunal on charges of complicity with the enemy and attacks against civilians. Abdul Zahir, said to be a translator and treasurer for al-Qaeda, is to face a six-member military commission.

20:46 London. A Briton working for a private security agency was killed.

17:09 New York. The price of oil rose $1.17 to hit $68 per barrel. Tensions in Nigeria and in Iran is driving prices up.

15:53 Washington. GAO offices evacuated after "dirty bomb" scare.

13:52 Baghdad. Police Major Ahmed Brihi Tayeh was ambushed and killed.

13:30 Baghdad. Election results. The UIA, the Shi'ite list, wins 128 seats in Parliament. Kurds win 53; the main Sunni formation wins 44; Iyad Allawi wins 25 and the minor Sunni party 11.

11:09 Baghdad. Vast anti-guerrilla offensive. Iraqi and US troops raid the Dora district of Baghdad

09:30 Baghdad. Blast kills four. A roadside bomb meant for a US convoy kills four civilians.

08:58 Baghdad. Four Iraqi police kidnapped by armed men.

09:10 Washington. Vice President Dick Cheney warns of soaring oil prices as the nuclear crisis with Iran continues.

08:48 Basrah. Iran has released eight Iraqi coastguards detained on Saturday after a clash on the Shatt al-Arab waterway, which marks the Iran-Iraq border. A ninth coastguard died of wounds sustained in the gunfight and his body will be repatriated later.

07:53 Baghdad. Lockdown in three provinces. The Baghdad government has closed three provinces: Diyala, Salaheddin and al-Anbar in advance of the release of the results of the election

03:53 New York. US officer to be court-martialed. Lewis Welshofer Jr. may have violated the Geneva Convenion by causing the death of an Iraqi general during interrogation. Welshofer forced and Iraqi general to crawl into a sleeping bag head first and attached electrodes to his feet. He then sat on the general's chest, suffocating him.

Iraqi Election Results

– United Iraqi Alliance (conservative, Shi'ite) : 128
– Kurdish Coalition: 53
– Iraqi Front for National Accord (Sunni) : 44
– Iraq National List (liberal, secular) : 25
– Iraqi Front for National Dialog (Sunni) : 11
– Islamic Union of Kurdistan : 5
– Reconciliation and Liberation (Sunni) : 3
– Rissalioun (radical Shi'ite movement) : 2
– Mathal Al-Alussi, Iraqi Nation : 1
– Turkman List : 1
– Yazidi List : 1
– Rafidaïn List (Christian) : 1

Thursday, January 19, 2006

19 January 2006 Events in Iraq and in the Region

Tel-Aviv. A suicide bomber detonated his payload in a taproom in Tel Aviv, wounding at least 15 people.

Jerusalem. The Israeli governement says it will dismantle illegal colonies on the West Bank after the Palestinian elections. More than 1,000 soldiers and police will be mobilized to evacuate Jewish squatters installed in Palestinian shops in Hebron.

Jerusalem. Israel arrests 19 Palestinians.

Ramallah. Saëb Erakat has called upon the international comunity to pressure Israel into permitting Fatah leader Marwan Barghouthi to campaign for office from inside his prison cell. Erekat also requested that Ahmed Saadat, the head of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, be permitted to campaign form his prison cell in Jerico where he is under international surveillance.

Cairo. Following a meeting with Hosni Mubarak, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier say he belives that Hamas must renounce violence in order to participate in the Palestinian government.

Brussels. The European Commission has called upon Israel to permit free circulation during the Palestinian elections scheduled for 25 January.

Jerusalem. Responsibiity for running the Erez crossing between the Gaza Strip and Israel was handed to a private firm.

Cairo. 14 Egyptians, including two police, were injured in riots between Copts and Muslims in southern Egypt. The clashes took place in the village al-Odayssat, near Luxor, 700 south of Cairo. Muslims attempted to burn down a Copt home being used without a permit as a church.

Cairo. 450 members of the Muslim Brotherhood have been released from jail.

Baghdad. Iraqi forces have launched a vast security operation. A high number of checkpoints have been established outside Baghdad and other major Iraqi citites.
Baghdad. The kidnappers of Christian Science Monitor reporter Jill Carrol have identified themselves as the Vengence Brigades, a previously unknown group. The United States has denied reports that six female Iraqi prisoners would be released in exchange for Carrol.

Baghdad. Judge Saïd al-Hamashi has been reinstated as presiding judge for the trial of Saddam Hussein because there is no proof of his membership in the Ba'ath Party. Al-Hamashi, a Shi'a, was born in 1952 in Baghdad and practiced as a lawyer under the regime of Saddam Hussein.

Islamabad. Pakistani authorities attempt to identify the remains of three alleged al-Qaeda militants killed in last Friday's US raid in the northwest of the country. One militant was identified as Midhat Mursi, aka Abu Khabab al-Masri, 52, an explosive experts with a bounty of $5 million on his head. The others are thought to be Abu Obaidah al-Masri, chief of al-Qaeda operations for Kunar Province and Abdul Rahman al-Maghribi, a Moroccan thought to be the al-Qaeda No. 2. [We'll understand next week if there is any truth to this].

20:17 Washington. CIA says bin Laden message authentic.

18:56 Dubai. Al Arabiya reports that Sunni rebels have executed one of nine Iranian border guards kidnapped last month.

16:21 Doha. Osama bin Laden proposes conditional truce with the USA.

16:11 Doha. Osama bin Laden promises new attacks against the USA.

16:01 Doha. Al Jazeera prepares to air message from Osama bin Laden.

15:42 Tel Aviv. Islamic Jihad claims credit for today's suicide bombing at a bus station in the Neveh Sha'anan quarter. :

15:27 Baghdad. The International Mission for the Iraqi Elections reports fraud in its assessment of the 15 december elections.

14:22 Baghdad. Death toll rises to 23 in Baghdad bombings.

13:32 Baghdad. 15 dead in simultaneous bombings. At least 15 are dead and 25 wounded following attacks. A carbomb struck a police vehicle near a restaurant in the Battawin quarter not far from commercial Saadoon Street killing 3 police. In the second attack a suicide bomber blew himself up inside a cafe.

11:33 Basrah. Iranian authorites to release 9 Iraqi coast guards held prisoner after a clash in territorial waters.

11:26 Doha. Al Jazeera broadcasts new video showing kidnapped US reporter Jill Carroll.

08:26 Samarra. A search has begun for 35 Iraqis kidnapped on Monday north of Baghdad. They were members of a group of 229 candidates for the Baghdad Police Academy who had failed the admissions exam. They were attacked by armed men 50 km north of Baghdad.

04:41 Washington. A delegation of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Iraq is on its way to Iraq to plead for the release of reporter Jill Carroll.

00:18 Basrah. Two American civilians die near Basrah. Both killed by a roadside bomb which struck the vehicle in which they were travelling. A third person was injured. The pair worked for an international organization training Iraq police.

00:07 Nassiriya: Operation "Old Babylon" will gradually end its mandate over 2006 and conclude by the end of the year, say Italian Defense Minister Antonio Martino.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

18 January 2006 Events in Iraq

Ramallah. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas declared that he was not « depressed », but « exhausted » from the essential work of organizing the 25 January general elections. Mr. Abbas was responding to allegiations in the Israeli daily Maariv that western sources reported the Palestinian President as being depressed over prospects for a loss at the polls by Fatah.

Baghdad. Iraqi authorities have indicated it has been decided to release six of eight female Iraqis held in US custody without charges but insisted that the release was not part of a bartered deal to release of kindapped reporter Jill Carrol.

Baghdad. The Iraqi committee in charge of purging former Ba'ath Party members from power confirmed that judge Saïd al-Hamashi would not be permitted to conduct hearings for Saddam Hussein because he was a relative. Committee chariman Ali Lami made the announcement. Al-Hamashi was to have replaced Rizkar Mohammed Amin, who has resigned.

Baghdad. Ten security guards were killed and two telephone engineers kidnapped after an ambush of their convoy in a tunnel in west Baghdad. The engineers worked for Iraqna. One is from Malawi and the other from Madagascar.

Baghdad. A Sunni Sheikh, his nephew and a third person were murdered in their apartment in west Baghdad.

Baquba. Four police and a civilian were killed and four police wounded by a roadside bomb in al-Saadiyah, 80 km east of Baquba.

Basrah. Two US security contractors were killed and another wounded in a bomb blast.

Baghdad. A US soldier died of non-combat-related injurites.

New York. A US State Department memorandum had judged an alleged attempt by Saddam Hussein to purchase uranium in Niger as "improbable" according to a report in the New York Times.

Washington. The Bush adminstration has blocked the assets of Assef Shawkat, the brother-in-law of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

16:18 New York. US soldiers protest arrest warrant. The Daily News reports that members of the New York Fighting 69th regiment have protested an arrest warrant issued by Italian authorities against machine gunner Mario Lozano, who opened fire and killed Italian agent Nicola Calipari at a checkpoint on the Baghdad Airport road.

09:29 New York. Oil nears $67 a barrel.

08:19 Raniya. A 14 year-old child is thought to have died from bird flu in Raniya, on the border between Turkey and Kurdistan.

08:01 Baghdad. Two Iraqi journalists were wounded in a drive-by shooting in the Jami'a quater of central Baghdad.

06:03 Baghdad. Iraqi public television has announced the release of the sister of Interior Minister Bayan Jabr Soulagh who was kidnapped 10 days ago in Baghdad.

04:41 Gaza. An agreement was reached between Hamas and Fatah to ban the display of weapons on Election Day.

04:01 New York. The International Energy Agency has issued a warning that tensions with Iran over the nuclear issue will force up the price of oil.

Independence for Kurdistan?

Translation cleaned up and republished --Nur.

Le Monde's Sophie Shihab reports from Arbil.

Kurdistan, which has become a Mecca for Iraqi party leaders hopeful of forming the first regular government for the coutry, continues nearly three years after the fall of Saddam to play the key role of mediator in preventing the breakup the country and of stabilizer in offering support to the Americans. It is all the more true after the stinging defeat in the December 15th elections of the secular list headed by Iyad Allawi on which Washington had banked.

However, for the Americans, the Kurdish issue is troubled by a paradox that both sides prefer to ignore : the kingmakers of Kurdistan are the least concerned by the future of Iraq. If one reads the Constitution, it could be the darkest of futures which the Kurds would prefer. The Constitution states that the unity of Iraq, dependent upon the will of the Iraqis, is protected by the text of the document itself. In other words, if the Constitution is not applied, if power in Baghdad takes on an antidemocratic or antifederal character seen as agressive by us or that of an Islamic state, we alone have the right to determine our future, explains Fuad Hussein, Chief of Staff to Massoud Barzani, President of the Region of Kurdistan.

For no one in Kurdstan hides the fact that the future of which they dream is an independent Kurdish state. Although Kurdish leaders claim to have renounced the desire for independence on the condition of federalism for Iraq, they proclaim loud and clear that in an unofficial poll conducted in January 2005 the Kurdish people voted 98% in favor of independence, a goal for which they have struggled for decades. Moreover, given that the Iraqi Constitution is a collection of contradictory provisions, to believe that it has been "violated" presents no problem. But does this mean that all bets are off and that the Kurds of Iraq are merely waiting for the right moment to declare independence? The reality of the situation is far more complex.

First and foremost, it is the presence of the Americans which defines that reality. When President Barzani was received in the White House in November, it was officially to thank him for his good offices in bringing the Iraqi Constitution to life. In other words, the honor was not intended to bless his dreams of independence which, if realized, would plunge Iraq into turmoil between Sunni and Shi’a Arabs and destabilize its three powerful neighbors, all of which have a Kurdish minority —although Washington abounds with persons hopeful of such a dramatic scenario, which would have ramifications on the “evil” regimes of Tehran and Damascus. Former US Ambassador to Croatia Peter Galbraith, now an advisor to President Barzani, believes that the United States must prepare for such an eventuality by removing some of its bases from Kurdistan, the only place within Iraq where they are welcome.

Sunni activists are shouting conspiracy, and point to the idea of the division of Iraq harking back to the desires of the founders of the Zionist movement who have always supported Iraqi Kurds in their struggle for independence. This is a compelling reason to discredit the nationalist aspirations of the Kurds in the eyes of nearly all Arabs, who closed their eyes and even applauded when the “allies of Israel” were massacred. As to the Kurds, they are not forgiving of this historic attitude, which is an overriding factor in the refusal of the Kurds to identify themselves as Iraqi.

These obstacles to a in the way of a unified Iraq could be overcome by a loose federation as provided in the Constitution —and by the fact that Kurdistan possesses its own armed forces, borders, laws and to a partial extent its own natural resources —especially oil, which the Kurds themselves explored and developed. Moderate Sunnis are resigned to federalism for their friends, the Kurds, but refuse to extend it to the Shi’ite Arabs of the South.

The Anglo-Americans also oppose extending federalism to the South out of fear of an Iranian takeover of the Shi’ite portion of the country, even it is well advanced there. Jack Straw, the British Foreign Minister, who is on a tour of Basrah, has recognized that Iraqi party leaders are not convinced in their hearts of the necessity of a unified Iraq, athough they may be certain in their minds.

But can one found a nation if passions oppose it? You would expect the answer to be no. But there are more than outside factors (i.e., the desire of neighboring states and of the occupation forces) that argue for a unified Iraq. Internal obstacles lie in the way of the breakup of the country, starting with, on the Arab side, the desire for unity of a portion of the Shi’ites (the secularists and supporters of Moqtada Sadr), the Sunnis and most of Iraq’s minorities. If the country were not in the throes of war, this shared sentiment would count a great deal.

These factions, which could even constitute a majority, are, however, too disparate to form a bloc. But even among the Kurds, independence remains a misty ideal for internal reasons: the rivalry between Massoud Barzani’s PDK and Jalal Talabani’s PUK, which rule in separate geographic districts in Kurdistan. The fusion promised by the two administrations is regularly postponed. They are waiting for the situation in Baghdad to play out and to see if current Iraqi President Jalal Talabani is returned to his post. The Kurds are numerous in expressing the fear that war between the two chieftains may begin anew. It was only the necessity of maintaining a common front against other Iraqi factions that had cooled the embers.

The rivalry damages the “great cause” of Iraq’s Kurds: to recover Kirkuk and the other oil-bearing areas from which they were driven over the last few decades. To whom should Kirkuk be surrendered if the receivers do not agree to a mechanism? For the Kurds have an understanding that independence will not be declared before Kirkuk, their Jerusalem, is recovered. The only glimmer of hope on the regional chessboard: The Turkish generals have ceased their clamor that a Kurdish takeover of Kirkuk would justify an armed incursion into Iraqi Kurdistan. The start of negotiations with the European Union, the end to the myth of a Turkmen majority in Kirkuk, and the advice of their US allies have put a stop to these war plans.

But for now it will be up to the businessmen and the workers of Turkey —whether Turks or Kurds— who have come en masse to invest and to work in Iraqi Kurdistan, to sketch the contours of possible future regional cooperation, even if, in the meantime, there is a growing number of conferences in Iraqi Kurdistan on independence organized by various Kurdish émigré associations in Europe and in the United States.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

17 January 2006 Events in Iraq and in the Region

Tehran. Iran calls for renewed negotiations ]with the UE on its nuclear dossier. The Islamic Republic drafted a letter to Germany, France and the UK (European Troika) to inform them of its desire for renewed talks and negotiations. Meanwhile, at a meeting of the UN Security Council in London, China and Russia indicated their hostility to any sanctions contemplated against Iran.

Moscow. French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy arrives on Thursday for an official visit to discuss the Iranian nuclear dossier.

Amman. King Abdallah II of Jordan warned against "emptying Jerusalem of its Arab Christian residents" during a meeting with a delegation of US and European bishops. The King is concerned by the increasing emigration of Arab Christians from the city. The King continued by saying Jordan considers Jerusalem as a city of "hope and peace" for members of the "three great religions". He would like to encourage Christian Arabs to remain in the Holy City to conserve its "authenticity and identity".

Kirkuk. Three members of Jalal Talabani's PUK were shot dead by gunmen claiming to belong to al-Qaeda.

Najaf. The remains of 22 persons killed by the regime of Saddam Hussein were found in proximity to Najaf. The victims were killed during the Shi'ite uprising of 1991.

Basrah. General Abbas al-Moussawi, in charge of Iraq border security along the Shatt-al-Arab, announced that a group of Iraq coast guards were intercepted and taken prisoner by Iranian forces on 14 January. One sailor was gravely wounded and eight others, including an officer, were taken prisoner.

Baghdad. Iraqi President Jalal Talabani demanded increased powers for his office during a press conference.

Baghdad. The Elections Commission tossed out 227 ballot boxes out of a total of 31,500 becauses of fraud.

Baghdad. Following the resignation of Kurdish magistrate Rizkar Mohamed Amin, Judge Saïd al-Hamashi, 54, a Shi'ite Arab, will preside over the trial of Saddam Hussein and his associates pending the appointment of a replacement for Amin. The announcement was made by the Public Prosecutor for the High Penal Court, Jaafari al-Moussawi.

23:26 Baghdad. Kidnappers threaten to kill US journalist Jill Carroll if all female prisoners held in Iraq are not released within 72 hours. Carroll's interpreter was shot dead when the reporter was kidnapped on 7 January.

23:04 Baghdad. A Russian SA-7 surface-to-air missile was used to bring down a US AH-64 Apache helicopter north of Baghdad on Monday.

16:29 Baghdad. Armed men have kidnapped the sisters Asra and Wala Khalil as they were on their way to work at the Interior Ministry where they work as accountants.

11:31 Karbala. Blast wounds five Americans. Satellite TV al-Arabiya reports that five US soldiers and a civilian were injured by a roadside bomb on the highway leading to Baghdad.

10:54 Baghdad. An Iraqi Army officer and his brother, kidnapped two days ago in Baghdad, were found dead.

10:26 Frankfurt. Daimler-Chrysler fires six employees for their involvement in the Oil for Food scandal.

09:11 Baghdad. University instructor slain. A university instructor in Anbar was shot dead behind the wheel of his car. The victim was a noted sheik of the Bufaha Tribe of Ramadi.

08:57 Cairo. Dick Cheney meets with Hosni Mubarak to discuss the situation in Iraq and the concerns of the international community regarding Syria and Iran.

07:45 Basrah. Clash in the Persian Gulf. An Iraqi sailor was killed last Saturday by an Iranian gunboat in the Persian Gulf near Basrah. Basrah Governor Mohammed al Waeli says another nine Iraqi sailors were taken prisoner.

Monday, January 16, 2006

16 January 2006 Events in Iraq and in the Region

Jerusalem. The government of Ehud Olmert evacuated illegal settlers in the town of Hebron on the West Bank. The Israeli Army has declared the area around a wholesale produce market in Hebron where setters are squatting in Palestinian homes to be a "closed military zone". The army also issued a proclamation saying any setter found masked or throwing stones would be immediately arrested. Meanwhile, Defense Minister Mofaz ordered an estimation of the damage caused to Palestinians by vandalism on the part of Israeli settlers.

Baghdad. The Elections Commission threw out 227 ballot boxes, less than 1% of the total, said the commission's Chairman Abdel Hussein al-Hindaw in a press conference. Sunni parties and the list headed by secular Shi'ite Iyad Allawi are contesting the results. 1,985 complaints have been filed with the Commission.

Baghdad. The International Mission for the Iraqi Elections, composed of foreign experts, will publish its report on the conduct of balloting on Thursday.

Baghdad. An American MP was killed by a IED targeting his convoy in downtown Baghdad.

Baghdad. Three civilians and two police were shot dead in separate attacks.

Moqdadiyah. Six police and a 12 year-old child were killed and 17 persons wounded in a carbombing targeting Iraqi police.

New York. The New York Times reports that US Command will assign more than 2,000 advisors to train Iraqi police. The program will begin in Baghdad and will then be extended to local police stations in 18 provinces throughout the country. 80,000 police officers have already been trained and equipped. A goal has been set to train 135,000 men by the end of the year.

Baghdad. The First Criminal Chamber of the High Penal Tribunal announced that new judge will replace Rizkar Mohammed Amin in presiding over the trial of Saddam Hussein and his collaborators when proceedings resume on 24 January. Logically, the replacement should be Judge Saïd al-Hamashi, who sat to the right of Judge Amin. Sources say that Judge Amin was replaced due to his inability to handle the combative attitude of Saddam Hussein.

Baghdad. US helicopter shot down north of Baghdad. Witnesses say they saw a rocket hit the aircraft, which then crashed. The helicopter went down near the town of Mishahda, 30 km north of Baghdad, and was immediately surrounded by US troops. A pilot and a co-pilot were aboard. Responsibility was claimed by the Salaheddin al-Ayubi Brigades. This was the third helicopter crash with the space of 10 days. A Kiowa was shot down near Mosul on 13 January; responsibility was claimed by Al-Qaeda for Jihad of the Land of the Two Rivers. Six days before that, eight US soldiers and four civilians perished in the crash of a Blackhawk west of Mosul. The US military blamed bad weather for the crash.

23:18 Basrah. Iranian coast guards killed an Iraqi solider and kidnapped nine others after a clash with the Iraqi counterparts. The encounter took place after a ship was spotted by the Iraqis carring contraband oil. When the captain was hailed, he summoned the Iranian forces. An Iranian patrol boat opened fire on the Iraqi craft. Al Jazeera reports that the Iranians are holding 2 Iraqi boats in the port of Abadan.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Signpost to danger

"To avoid making an unpopular war even more unpopular, President Johnson decided to ignore the recommendations of his economic advisors and chose not to raise taxes when they should have been raised in 1965, 1966 and 1967. America was to have a war but it was going to pay for the war covertly with inflation and not overtly with taxes. When the demand for leather to make military boots increased, there was simply going to be less leather left over for civilian was widely predicted by economists in and out of the government that the war was going to create excess-demand inflation."

Lester C. Thurow, Dangerous Currents: The State of Economics, Random House, New York (1983) pp. 53-54.

In lieu of raising taxes, Bush has triangulated the spending for the War on Iraq by capitalizing on excess production, T-bills held by China, and the economic downturn following 9-11. But with an expenditure of $2 trillion, the inflationary momentum is catching up. By all rights, a very dangerous moment awaits Mr. Bush.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Sharon in a Permanent Coma

We constantly hear that Sharon moved his left leg, grimaced or nodded, but the truth is that after a massive cerebral hemmorage and three major neurosurgeries, there is next to no chance of recovery. He's on life-support and efforts to revive him have failed.

Death in Damadola

Damage caused by US airstrike on Damadola

LIE-A-THON Update: This was the news on 19 January:
Islamabad. Pakistani authorities attempt to identify the remains of three alleged al-Qaeda militants killed in last Friday's US raid in the northwest of the country. One militant was identified as Midhat Mursi, aka Abu Khabab al-Masri, 52, an explosive experts with a bounty of $5 million on his head. The others are thought to be Abu Obaidah al-Masri, chief of al-Qaeda operations for Kunar Province and Abdul Rahman al-Maghribi, a Moroccan thought to be the al-Qaeda No. 2. [We'll understand next week if there is any truth to this--Nur].
This is the news on 22 January:
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz on Sunday ridiculed as "bizarre" a U.S. report that senior al Qaeda leaders were killed in a CIA attack on a home along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

"There is no evidence, as of half an hour ago, that there were any other people there," Aziz said on CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer."

"The area does see movement of people from across the border. But we have not found one body or one shred of evidence that these people were there."

U.S. counterterrorism officials have said they believe the January 13 attack killed four to eight al Qaeda-affiliated "foreigners" attending a dinner meeting. Knowledgeable sources have said that their bodies were removed from the scene by comrades and buried elsewhere.

Pakistani intelligence seems to have arranged this "hit" in collaboration with the CIA. When the new-age Scarlet Pimpernel al-Zawahiri was not present for the appointment, it blamed the United States. Otherwise, it would have been a brilliant joint security operation.

From La Repubblica

The Pakistani authorities have summoned the US Ambassador to Islamabad to protest the death of at least 18 villagers in an air strike on Damadola in the north of the country. The CIA-ordered air strike was termed “a highly reprehensible" action. According to local sources, the attack, which was planned by the CIA and conducted by missile-carrying drone aircraft, killed a number of villagers, including women and children. CNN broadcast images of the village showing destroyed homes and slaughtered livestock.

Local sources also say that at least three homes were targeted. After the air strike, villagers demonstrated against the USA and demanded that Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf open an investigation. The Arab TV network al-Jazeera reported that witnesses saw members of the Islamabad’s clandestine services inspect the bombed homes and question neighbors following the air raid.

Following the US raid, contradictory information emerged concerning the death of Ayman al-Zawahiri. News of his death was then officially denied by Pakistani authorities: The number 2 of al-Qaeda had not been killed in the attack. US official sources remained cautious throughout the morning. The Pakistani Minister of Information was careful not to be thrown off guard. If we had eliminated him, said a memo produced in Washington, it would have been a big victory in the War on Terror. The first official denial was issued through a reporter for al-Jazeera in Islamabad; Pakistani security had assured him that the Egyptian physician had not killed in the raid...

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Underground Comics

A timely thirty-five year-old comic by Gilbert Shelton, creator of Wonder Wart-Hog and the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Swiss come into possession of proof of CIA prisons in Romania

Last Sunday’s edition of Switzerland’s SonntagsBlick says it has obtained a copy of a secret Swiss intelligence document constituting the first proof of the existence of CIA prisons in Europe.

In mid-November 2005, Swiss intelligence intercepted a faxed memo from the Egyptian foreign ministry in Cairo and its embassy in London. The text, written in French, states that the Foreign Minister came to know through his own sources that Romanian authorities permitted the CIA to interrogate 23 Iraqi and Afghani citizens on its territory. The memo adds that other CIA interrogation centers exist in Ukraine, Kosovo, Macedonia and Bulgaria. The document also cites secret US flights between Poland and Romania at the end of September 2005.

According to the paper, the CIA prison exists within Mihail Kogalniceanu military base near Constanza, a port on the Black Sea.

The Swiss intelligence services intercepted the memo via its Onyx system, which captures satellite communications.

Swiss authorities are apparently embarrassed by the revelation. Last Sunday, the Swiss Federal Defense Department refused to comment except to say that a secret document had been divulged. Meanwhile, the Romanian public is scandalized by the existence of the secret prison, which Bucharest had denied.

Swiss MP Dick Marty, charged by the European Commission to investigate the matter of CIA prisons in Europe, said he could not yet confirm the authenticity of the Egyptian faxed memo but indicated that the information confirmed previously existing evidence.

From a report by Mirel Bran and Agathe Duparc which appeared in today's edition of Le Monde.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Biography of Ariel Sharon

If you never read anything else on this site, please take the the time read Sylvain Cypel's excellent portrait of Ariel Sharon and his analysis of Sharon's motivations. This is a translation of the Le Monde article.

Arik Scheinerman, the man from Kfar

The scene takes place in February 1982. The peace pact with Egypt is four years old. As Minister of Defense in the government Menahem Begin, the historical right-wing nationalist leader, Ariel Sharon goes to Cairo. As in all his travels, Shimon Shiffer, reporter for the populist daily Yediot Aharonot accompanies him. “Every evening", recounts Shiffer, "Arik phoned his aged mother in her village: How are you? How are the farm cows doing? -Good, good, she replied. And every evening she ended the conversation with the same sentence: Are you still among the Arabs, my son? Don’t believe a word they tell you…!"

This is the upbringing of Ariel Sharon. From that education, from that preparation for defying a hostile Arab environment, which has always left a mark to a varying extent on the near totality of Israeli Jewish society, and from that deep-seated conviction that Arab hostility is, in the end, irremediable because it is in their nature. From his complex, high-spirited, and deliberately paradoxical personality, one cannot grasp the structural elements or his internal conflicts without starting out from beginning: the childhood and adolescence of little Ariel Scheinerman, born into a family that in 1922 settled in Kfar Malal, a moshav --a semicollective farming village.

Vera Schneorov, a student, originally from Mohilev in the Ukraine, and Shmouel [Samuel], an agronomist from Brest-Litovsk in Byelorussia, arrived in Palestine (when it was placed under a British mandate in 1919) to escape a life they of which they wanted no part. For both of them, Zionism —the construction of an independent Jewish state in the land of Zion— was the only possible solution to the misfortune of being Jewish. They were not yet 30 years old but both had, since childhood, known the terror of the 1903-1906 pogroms of the Czarist Empire. They also knew what it was like to be Jewish in a hostile environment of widespread anti-Semitism, fear, and the shame generated by the feeling of congenital helplessness. If they left for Palestine, it was forever to remain hard-bitten.

The farming life in the Scheinerman family was Spartan. Tougher than in most other homes in the village: the father was authoritarian, even brutal, and literally anti-social due to the principle that brought him to Palestins —Jews must be self-reliant. Shmouel carved out a life for himself. Imbued with obsessive watchfulness involving everything touching his immediate circle, his home, his wife and his two children, Yehoudit and Ariel. He was disinterested in anything but a utilitarian relationships with others.

The Arabs of Palestine? A world which was in his eyes without culture, steeped in backwardness and filled with roguish and inscrutable liars whom he detested; they were progromists, the local equivalents of the muzhiks of his childhood who attacked the proliferating Jewish settlements. People whom he must defy, even beat into submission, because they only understand force.

“Don’t believe a word the Arabs tell you”....Arik grew up with that viewpoint. Shy, he did not play with other children. He had to go home the minute the schoolbell rang: his farm chores awaited him. As an adolescent, his propensity for keeping to himself grew. He was somewhat roly-poly and the youths of the village made fun of him. His desire to be left alone was reinforced. But at age 15, his life changed. He joined Haganah, the Labour Zionist militia of the Yishuv, the Jewish community of Palestine. Here he found his calling. A gun in his hand, he felt like he finally existed. This how he would assert himself and escape his isolation. At 17, he is a handsome young man, but haughty and more ferocious than ever. Trained by the British colonial forces, he becomes at 19 the leader of a Haganah hit squad specializing in ambushing Bedouin tribesmen. As a young junior officer, says his first biographer, Ouzi Benzimen, he is seen as "strange" by his peers.

Strange because he was different: reclusive yet always prepared for audacity. Benziman writes that he possesses an extraordinary capacity for adapting to conditions regardless of the terrain, especially in finding his way at night. He never fails to take the initiative, without necessarily informing his superiors. At the beginning of 1947, at the peak of the civil war between the Arabs and the Yishuv, “he earns a reputation for terrorizing the Arabs.” A military legend is about to be written and with it, the facets of a multiple personality.

On the one hand, he possesses physical courage at the limits of foolhardiness joined with audaciousness and a pronounced taste for solitary adventure. On the other hand, he is cold-blooded in every circumstance and has a propensity for carefully planning his moves in advance. The entire career of Ariel Sharon, from soldier to politician, will be built out of swift strikes and plans prepared years in advance, for which he awaits the right moment to carry them out.

Some of his actions have been crowned with success, such as his return to power or his isolation of Yassir Arafat. But others have been futile or ended in tremendous political fiascoes, like his invasion of Lebanon in 1982 or his idea, during the Second Intifida, of finding notables among the Palestinians who would accept to negotiate deals at a discount, outside the Palestinian Authority.

The man is an explosive mixture: adored by his followers, held in contempt by those whom he pushed out of the way and who see him as a maverick; at times a seething warrior thirsting for instant moments of brilliance while at others imperturbably calm; capable of implacable cruelty towards the enemy —and if necessary towards his followers as we saw with the Gaza evacuation— but also selflessly generous; long seen by countless Israelis as a “manipulator” and an inveterate “liar” but also outspoken and sometimes even befuddling.

He advances in disguise but in the end he masks nothing. But the contradiction is apparent. From his upbringing, he inherited a vision and certain rooted convictions; from his initial political anchorage —even if an ultra supporter of Ben Gurion—, he gained die-hard pragmatism. Despite appearances, Sharon was never an ideologue but an mastermind at maneuvering in the pursuit of a vision.

Never was this expressed more clearly than in a 2001 interview with Ari Shavit of Haaretz shortly after his arrival at the head of government. Baring his heart, he traced his place in space and time: The war for Israel's independence, he explained, is not over. 1948 was only the first chapter. I've spent all my life engaged in the struggle. (…) Combat is and remains the duty of my generation. And so it will be for generations to come because the road is long, it requires patience and determination, lots of determination.

He stated this again and again: Neither I nor my children nor my grandchildren will know peace. He believes that there is really no room within the little territory of Israel, the land of the Palestinian Mandate, for two constituent nations or a fortiori two nationalities. Any other idea is merely an enticement. Don’t believe a word the Arabs tell you, my son…!. Even —especially— when they start talking about peace, sleep with one eye open, because Israel will forever be unwanted in their environment.

The long-term relationship [with the Arabs], Sharon tells Shavit, plays in our favor, and from this derives territorial pragmatism. The trick, he says again, is to advance, always advance. All the plans which he will devise during his lifetime will be distinguished by a dual ambition: on the one hand, to exploit every opportunity to advance, to score points, to win, he says. One acre is still another acre under the Israeli control of Eretz Israel (Greater Israel). On the other hand, to cause Palestinian nationalism to fail —in his eyes the only real menace— but also to know how to adapt to changing circumstances, when to tack to stay on course, when to sidestep, and if necessary, when to pull back to bounce back later.

A definitive peace agreement, adds Sharon, appears to him to be an overly pretentious ambition. Underestimated, unrealistic and without necessity. For the road is immensely long and countless hurdles await —at the end, the most determined will impose his law. There is no room for two. In the meantime, who needs all-inclusive peace or definitive borders?

In the same Haaretz interview, he complains of the slackening moral determination of Israelis, distanced from their historic heroism; from the wars of 1948 and 1967 when a conquering spirit possessed them. Sometimes, after having repeated to satiety of striking at the Palestinian terrorists, he stops to admire the stubbornness of the Palestinians to hang onto their land. Starting in 2004, he begins to instill the idea of a pullout from Gaza. But we shall return to this later.

The rest of the interview, all of the remainer, is about personality. First and foremost, Sharon is a battler. In his clear-eyed maneuvering, as well as in his adventures, he gets a very early start. On May 24, 1948, ten days after the birth of the Jewish state during the war for independence during which he holds the rank of corporal in the elite Palmach force of the Labour Zionists, he attempted to take over an abandoned British constabulary. Trapped with eight of his men and wounded in the stomach and leg, he orders his men to cross the enemy’s lines two-by-two. He loses most of his blood but until the last moment he indicates the route to follow to one of his men, Yaakov Bogin, who carries him out.

A maverick? In 1952, Sharon wants to form his own unit: a commando brigade specialized in reprisal operations. The central sector commander, Moshe Dayan, opposes it saying that his paratroopers are sufficient. But Sharon badgers David Ben Gurion. He carries out a provocation. At night, Palestinian refugees enter no-man’s land to draw water from a well. We can’t let the terrorists approach our lines, he proclaims. Without orders, he organizes an ambush. Two Palestinian women are shot dead next to the well. The Jordanian Army responds by directing mortar fire at the surrounding Israeli villages.

This cannot go on!, stormed Sharon who, writes Benziman, cannot find words sufficiently harsh to denounce the defeatists in the government and on the general staff, who demonstrate excessive reluctance towards the Arabs. Ben Gurion agrees to his request. The famous Unit 101 is born and is placed under Sharon’s command. It earns its reputation thorough numerous acts of aggression and “reprisals” of which the most famous is Kibya: On 12 October 1953, sixty villagers are found dead in the ruins of their homes which had been boobytrapped by Commando Unit 101.

Later, in 1973, General Avraham Adan will never pardon Sharon for having short-circuited him by disobeying the orders of the general staff in order to claim the glory of being the first to cross the Suez Canal during the October War, surprising the Egyptians from the rear.

Brutal? The stories are endless. They mostly concern the enemy, Arab and Palestinian. But one of those stories reached the ears of Israeli reporters. Minister Ezer Weizmann, who had founded Likud along with Sharon, a former air force chief of staff and future president, had lost a son. A fighter pilot who was wounded by mortar fire during the Yom Kippur war, the young man had gone beserk. His driving license had been revoked because of recklessness, but his father petitioned the Transport Minister to reinstate it. Shortly afterwards, the son died behind the wheel. Weizmann was wracked with guilt. Crushed, he was at a cabinet meeting, almost drooping. To the point that Ariel Sharon could not take it any longer. In front of the entire cabinet, he turned around to Weizmann: How much longer is this going to go on? Are you a wimp or what? I’ve lost a son, too. So what? Life goes on. Real or apocryphal, the anecdote is genuine for what it says about the passionate devotion which Sharon inspires in so many Israelis: A man hardened to fate, unwavering in adversity. It also explains the revulsion and hate which his "animal brutality" provokes in others.

With an unquenchable thirst for life, Ariel Sharon lived his entire life at a short distance from the recurring danger of death. Not only as a soldier. He lost his son by his first wife when the child picked up his loaded firearm. The child’s mother, Margalit, was killed in a road accident. Sharon then married her sister, Lili, with whom he had two sons. Lili, the love of his life, died in 2000. In his ranch along the edges of the Negev, he built her a private masoleum on the ruins of Kafr Houdj, a Palestinian village razed after 1948....

Sharon, the champion of Eretz Israel and colonization, grows emotional with each olive tree planted in the "land of Israel", but he approved the destruction of hundreds of Palestinian olive groves and orchards during the Second Intifida then suddenly dismantled the Gaza settlements of which he personally was the sponsor between 1970 and 1980.

By all accounts, Sharon became concerned by the wear endured by Israeli society during the Intifida and the threats posed by the signature of the United States to the Road Map, providing for the creation of a viable Palestinian state. He had to find an exit and to bring about a spectacular coup to regain the upper hand. This turned out to be the Gaza evacuation. There was widespread stupefaction and sustained applause from the international community. Sharon was enthroned as a Man of Peace by George W. Bush. But it was forgotten that the foresighted Ariel Sharon never keeps just one plan in his desk but several, adapted to circumstances, subject to change by their very nature.

But once persuaded by his associates and certain generals of the irrationality of a political victory over the Palestinans, he decided to adapt by turning the situation to his advantage. He resuscitated a very old alternate plan —dating from 1978— in which the Palestinians would get back Gaza plus 40 to 50 percent of the West Bank. The idea was to manage as one could in a difficult situation while keeping the political initiative both vis-à-vis the Palestinian adversary and the international community and to be prepared to modify the plan later: either by making more advances or by agreeing to new territorial concessions, should changing circumstances warrant. There again, the idea was to go it alone and to rely his own initiative and above all, to go as far as he could in imposing his own solution.

Sharon, who carefully planned his rise to power in such a way that no one could challenge him, has he changed over time? Yes and no. His basic notions have not budged one iota. But an essential political transformation has occurred motivated by an event in the past. To be precise, it was in 1982 when, as Minister of Defense, following the massacres carried out by the Christian militias allied with Israel in the Palestian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila near Beirut, he saw tens of thousands of his fellow countrymen march in Tel Aviv shouting Sharon, murderer! President Ronald Reagan abandoned his support for the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. From the Lebanese debacle, said Sharon’s old accomplice Réouven Rivlin, the general learned two big lessons: When engaged in war, Israel must always maintain national unity and avoid severing ties with the United States.

Ariel Sharon was long a brilliant but undisciplined military man and a political adventurer. Elected to the Knesset after the 1973 October War, he bashed Golda Meir and Moshe Dayan, those “cowardly politicians” who stopped him from delivering the fatal blow to Egypt by accepting US demands to abandon the encirclement of the Egypian 3rd Army, which Sharon had pinned down on the other side of the Suez Canal. Dayan let it be known that Henry Kissinger, the US Secretary of State, had threatened to end the US airlift supplying Israel with arms and ammunition if the encirclement was not lifted. Of course, replied Sharon, Kissinger threatened but he would not have made good on his threat. Dayan’s retort was, When Washington communicates this sort of thing, I never try to call their bluff.

Sharon was prepared to play this kind of poker game forever. No matter what the circumstance, Sharon believed that he could force destiny. He was “the man who doesn’t stop at the red light”, as Ouzi Benziman titled in his biography. However, following the Lebanon fiasco, he settled down politically and began include reality in his calculations. One he became head of government, Sharon ably convinced the US State Department to see green when the light was red. But he never yanked their chain more than necessary. He always attempted to anchor himself in the evolving sentiment of his own people.

Truth be told, it was Israeli public opinion which, during the initial phase of the Intifada, handed Sharon his reputation: that of an iron fist towards the Palestinians. But despite the helping hand from the Israeli people, it is Sharon who, –because Israel is at war–, listens to and always remains in step with changing public opinion. If he hadn’t acquired the certainty that Israelis wanted “separation” from the Palestinians more than “victory” over them, Sharon would have never gone against their convictions by ordering the evacuation of Gaza. Moreover, the conditions of the evacuation allowed him to plant in public opinion a concept which has always informed and nourished his vision: unilateralism in dealing with the Palestinians.

By an overwhelming majority, Israelis have longed to “divorce” themselves from the Palestinians — to separate from them and to forget about them. But Sharon was convinced that it would be necessary to see and hear from them for the long haul. But ending it all by divorce? —And how would this accomplished without partially giving up such densely populated territory?— By setting his own conditions while preserving his interests as best he could, without negotiation and without an arbitor. Always rely on yourself…

The unilateral evacuation was the last act in “Arik, the King of Israel”, as his supporters describe it. Unilateralism is a double-edged sword. It preserves the essential of the Israeli occupation: the uninterrupted construction of the security wall and the the accelerated cantonization of the West Bank. And what is more, it habituates the international community to constant delays in the establishiment of a “viable Palestinian state". But it also traces a new path: the idea that the withdrawal from future territory is ineluctable because it is viewed as a necessity by the Israelis themselves, as was Gaza.

Once having evacuated Gaza, Sharon split up Likud. He first called his new party “National Responsibility”. Three days later he changed the name. The party, his party, because it rested entirely on his personal stature, would be called Kadima (Forward): Advance, always advance...

Would Sharon have ordered a general retreat from the territories conquered in 1967? That was certainly not his plan. But had circumstances, from which he had above all sought to extricate himself, imposed such a necessity, then he would certainly have carried it out. Just as he evacuated Sinai in 1978 after having vigorouly opposed it. Just as he pulled out out of Gaza in 2005 after having sworn to Ari Shavit in 2001 that he would “never” abandon a single colony --even the most remote. There is still a long and winding road in the enterprise of conquest.