Friday, March 18, 2005

On "Spreading Democracy"

Neoconservative forces within the United States are continuing to press for "regime change" in the Middle East. But what is it that they really want? Patrick Seale explains the American plan for confronting the perceived Iran-Syria-Hezbollah axis and clearing the way for an American-Israeli hegemony in the region.

Attacking the Tehran-Damascus-Hezbollah Axis
by Patrick Seale
18 March 2005

It has become clear that American policy is to deny Iran access to nuclear technology -- if necessary by force -- for fear that it might acquire nuclear weapons. Towards Syria, U.S. policy is to ensure its full withdrawal from Lebanon as a first step -- an aim which has now more or less been achieved -- before proceeding with "regime change" somewhat later.

Regarding Hezbollah, while the United States has come round to recognising it as a powerful force on the Lebanese scene, it seems determined to disarm it in the longer term to prevent it projecting power outside its frontiers, notably against Israel.

Syria is seen in Washington as the weakest link in the Tehran-Damascus-Hezbollah axis. In the language used by militant neo-cons it is "low-hanging fruit," ripe for picking. The argument is that a knock-out blow to Syria would bring about the collapse of the entire axis!

Syria is also accused of providing a "rear base" for the insurgency in Iraq. Overthrowing the Syrian regime is therefore promoted by the neo-cons as the key to victory in Iraq. It is clearly being set up as the next target for "regime change".

The immediate tactic would seem to be to destabilise the Damascus government by exploiting the legitimate impatience of many Lebanese with Syrian control.

Although Bush has declared that the "free world would not tolerate" a nuclear-armed Iran, the United States does not seem quite ready to launch a military campaign against Iran. The view in Washington would appear to be that Iran can best be worn down by attrition.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Patriotic Basis For New Constitution?

Compared to the former Iraqi Patriotic Forces Coalition (see the anti-war Statement made in London 16/4/2003), which was set up by the Shi’i Dawa Party, the Sunni Islamic Party, the Communists, and diverse nationalists, the new-born Iraqi Anti-Occupation Patriotic Forces is an alliance gravitating around the Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars, the Shi’i Moqtada al-Sadr's Current plus diverse nationalists. It is, so far, the alliance of Shi’i radicals and Sunni centrists–the moderate Iraqi Islamic Party was absent and the al-Zarqawi-like extremists were excluded. These Anti-Occupation Patriotic Forces, AOPF, issued a statement after a meeting held at the Baghdad headquarters of the Association of Muslim Scholars in which the grouping listed the foundations for drafting a permanent constitution for Iraq.

The platform states from the outset its patriotic stance of "re-establishing Iraq's independence, unity and full sovereignty." Paragraph 1, consequently, urges for a timetable and international guarantees for the withdrawal of all forms of foreign presence from Iraq. (Farther on, Paragraph 3 calls for a clear distinction to be drawn between the legitimate resistance against occupation forces and terrorism, meaning that resort to violence against innocent civilians, whether Iraqis or foreigners, and to sectarian attacks.)

However, troublesomeness starts as soon as in Paragraph 2. This causes the statement to evade any encounter and go round the gulf separating basically divergent positions. It expresses instead either a vague quota condemnation or an indefinite insistence on citizenship.

Thus, it is not being specified whether it condemns the quotas imposed by the invaders or even those possibly chosen by Iraqi citizens; whether only grand coalitions of US-puppets are being targeted or even those that could be set up by Iraqi patriots. Also, while it unrestrainedly underlines "sectarian [confessional?], racial and ethnic quotas" it doesn’t make any mention of territorial representation and federal government. It seems thus to close doors only to general consociational (e.g., confessional), not federal-geographical, suggestions. This is being so while the very opposite; confessional priority over ethnicity and geography, should be instead the obvious unifying patriotic option.

And neither is it being specified whether citizenship, on the other hand, is going to be secular or theocratic. Also, it is not being specified whether it will be a citizenship by Sunni or Shi’i standards. And, finally, it is not being specified whether it will be shaped by (a) conventional rational liberal deliberation or by (b) communal bargains and minimal consensus or mainly by (c) patriotic participation and cultural contest.

What Paragraph 2 undoubtedly shows is a parallel yet rivaling and conflicting unitary (if not totalizing) ambitions–Shi’i theocratic versus Sunni more or less secular–and propensities to selfish sectarianism. Where these do seem to converge, and sadly so, is on ethnic ground. As when they do, spontaneously I suppose, reclaim Iraq’s Arab-Islamic cultural heritage (Paragraph 6) instead of promoting the more obviously patriotic idea of Kurdish-Arab-Islamic identity. This can only stir up Kurdish intransigence and Kurdish separatism. (Kurdish greed is being exorbitant enough with its claims to Iraqi presidency, borders and population reshaping, monopoly on oil resources, and own armed forces.)

Following is the text of the statement [6 Muharram 1426 / 15 February 2005]–for the Arabic original text see here:

The Anti-Occupation Patriotic Iraqi Forces met at the Um-al-Qura Mosque on 15 February 2005 to discuss the current stage and its ramifications at various levels. The participants examined proposals aimed at re-establishing Iraq's unity and full sovereignty. They announced that they would deal with the issues of national consensus, which these forces have been calling for since the beginning of the occupation, and the drafting of the constitution on the following foundations:

1. Drawing up a clear, specific, announced and binding timetable in accordance with international guarantees for the withdrawal of all forms of occupation forces from Iraq.

2. Abolishing the principle of sectarian, racial and ethnic quotas and adopting the principle of citizenship and equal rights and duties under the law.

3. Acknowledging the principle of the Iraqi people's right to reject the occupation, recognizing the Iraqi resistance and its legitimate right to defend the country and its resources, and renouncing violence which targets innocent Iraqis, public institutions and places of worship including mosques, husayniyahs, churches and all holy sites.

4. The recent elections were not fully legitimate since they were held in accordance with the notorious State Administration Law [the Bremer-designed TAL, contested by Sistani himself] and not within the legal or security framework. The elections were boycotted by a large number of people and rigging took place. Therefore, the administration emerging from these elections does not have the right to sign any treaty which violates Iraq's sovereignty, territorial integrity and the unity of its people, economy and resources.

5. Adopting democracy and elections as the only option for a peaceful rotation of power. Creating the atmosphere and drawing up laws which ensure the political process is carried out impartially, transparently and under neutral international supervision.

6. Underlining Iraq's national, Arab and Islamic identity and standing firmly against every call that might harm this identity.

7. Releasing all detainees, particularly women, from the prisons of the occupation and interim government and halting non-stop raids and human rights violations across Iraq. Demanding the reconstruction of devastated Iraqi cities and compensating their citizens justly.

All of the forces urge other patriotic forces which endorse the above mentioned foundations to sign this statement in favour of all our national causes to unify the entire patriotic forces in Iraq and their positions.

[signed] The Anti-Occupation Patriotic Forces

Signatories: 1-al-Sadr's Current; 2-The al-Khalesiyya [Shia] School; 3-Association of Muslim Scholars; 4-Patriotic Frontfor the Liberation of Iraq [umbrella organization of several groups, predominantly Arab nationalists, including former Baathists]; 5-Iraqi Patriotic Founding Congress; 6-Popular Council for Culture and Arts;7-Nasserite Vanguard Party; 8-Council of Woman's Will; 9-People's Unity Party [former pro-Ba'ath communists]; 10 Movement of the Arab Nationalist Current; 11-Party of Reform, Justice and Democracy; 12-United Iraq Party; 13-Islamic Bloc; 14-Nationalist Democratic Party; 15-United Patriotic Movement; 16-Regroupment for Iraq; 17-Progressive Union of Iraqi Students; 18-Arab Regroupment in Kirkuk; 19-Popular Nationalist Party; 20-Arab Socialist Movement (Patriotic Command); 21-Union of republic's Women; + seven individual personalities.