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March 2005 Country Archive


It comes as something of a shock to realize, following the recent Iraqi elections, that IRAQ somehow doesn't matter any more. Of course it matters if you are an Iraqi, or a family member of someone in the US expeditionary force, but it has for too long been centre stage for the rest of the world. It will now play as it will. The rah-rah media have seen a sort of an election and concluded that democracy has arrived - another mission accomplished for George.W. Bush. They will move on when they sense the public can take no more suicide bombings in their daily news diet. We must move on because geopolitics does - the focus is now elsewhere. When the balance sheet in blood and treasure expended on the IRAQ adventure, is drawn up, it will be observed, given early predictions on how the war would be paid for (as no more than an ironic footnote perhaps), that this oil-rich state is planning to spend on oil IMPORTS, as we report, $2.4bn this year to make up the shortfall for the domestic market. Attacks against pipelines were 246 in 2004 as compared with 73 in 2003 - there is much more detail in the IRAQ report.

They had the vote if they could get to use it and of course the Kurds voted largely for their aristocratic tribal and clan leaders. The Shia surprised nobody in voting the religious ticket. Just as predictably the Sunni passed on this one, how could they do otherwise? Remember that this assembly is only short term with the responsibility of making a constitution, so it is not quite impossible that there could be surprises to come. 
Probably the long haul of democracy has a way to go through the religious preference that the majority Shia plumped for, but that is yet to be seen. IRAQ, one of very few secular Arab states, is now back in the hands of the believers. Perhaps the religious monotheists of the USA will welcome that? Or not. It isn't promising for any western concept of democracy, but it is being suggested by some commentators that democracy's best hope here now may lie through religion, rather like the various Christian Democrats in Europe, where the Christian part of the title withered into insignificance (but after a generation or two - so don't hold your breath)! 

Turkey's transition to a secular state was in the wake of its WWI military defeat. The sweeping away of its own 'ancien regime', represented by the Ottoman caliphate, the supreme chieftainship of all Sunni Moslems, was due to the drive and vision and prestige of a great man, Kemal Ataturk. The means he used was the army, a centuries old element of the nation's power elite which he had risen to command. He had an extremely successful short campaign, comprehensively defeating and expelling a Greek army that had overconfidently invaded, after Turkey's surrender to the allies. That gave him massive prestige - enough to modernise and secularise Turkey. Saddam Hussein of course did it his 'Baath' way, as did the older Assad in Syria, but there is no figure or institution in Iraq that comes close to Ataturk and his army, and outside of ethnic and religious factions, there is a general prestige bypass in Iraqi public life. 

The American troops will see it through until the state is more or less operational, and when they depart, the world will be curious as to how Iraqis gravitate through time into their form of democracy - whether this is to be filtered through Koranic scholars like IRAN, or in some secular form. Whatever, IRAQ has held the world's attention for long enough. At some time, not soon, the oil situation may stabilize. We will continue to faithfully report and analyse and hope for an eventual happy outcome, but we do not pretend that this insubstantial, oddball mid-eastern state, best known for its former dictator, has any particular lasting significance. Other that is, than as history will see it as an early 21st Century test bed for the reach of American imperial power, and the neo-con experiment of imposing western style democracy on unpromising material. 

The attention of the world now rightly shifts to IRAN and NORTH KOREA within the subtext of nuclear weapons. Here are the two rank outsiders of the early 21st century. IRAN, of course is still unforgiven for humiliating America in their student occupation of the US Embassy in November 1979. It has a parallel form of government, one elected but subsidiary, with the conventional responsibilities of managing the affairs of the state. The other senior and supervisory, is a theocratic, absolutist regime of priests, striving to see that the government decisions accord to scriptural tenets of the 7th century. The priests remain supreme simply because they are directly served by a non-accountable shock troop force of 150,000 revolutionary guards, with the license to do anything they like, and a reputation for severe brutality. That is the reality on the ground when theorists talk of regime change!

This nation is not doing well, unable to offer it's young people work and not successfully exploiting it's immense oil and gas reserves, yet it has the capacity to become a regional economic powerhouse. Above all, it is plagued by its justifiable fear of the US who are undoubtedly menacing this nation and in the disputes between them, seem to be seeking submission, rather than compromise. Since IRAN was heading towards having its own nuclear element in its military arsenal, as ten other nation states do, it has been offered goodies by the EU not to go that route; or threats inferring unconditional surrender, by a combative USA, who are disinclined to make any concessions but nevertheless say they want the European initiative to succeed. 

The next in line mode after that, favoured by the US, are UN sanctions to be imposed by the Security Council - a project unlikely to succeed, if only that Russia and China could and probably would both veto any such resolution. Russia after all is continuing to build the $800 million civil nuclear reactor for the Iranians, notwithstanding the Bush- Putin summit at Bratislava in February (see RUSSIA). Since the only sanctions that would really hurt IRAN would be on their oil and gas exports and their principal customer is Japan, that together with world oil prices means that UN sanctions probably would be toothless in having to exclude oil and gas. Meanwhile the plot thickens. As we report, the government of INDIA signed with IRAN in January to import at least 5 million tonnes of natural gas a year over the next 25 years, a contract worth at least $40 billion and brings India into developing two Iranian oil fields and a gas field. 

NORTH KOREA's position is less complicated in that only the ruling clique need to be taken into consideration. To them, nuclear weaponry is the only guarantee that they will be able to deal with, as distinct from surrender to, the mighty USA. They are probably venal enough to accept a Libya-type arrangement, but where the ruling KIM family would go off to live on their acquired multi-millions in Macao, or somewhere similar. What they are planning to avoid is the fate of the East German leaders (ie imprisonment), after a notional re-unification with the west. But the US needs to take the initiative to negotiate this as a potential solution, and so far seems disinclined to do so. Now North Korea is proving even more opaque than is normal, in itself a phenomenon. February 10, North Korea said that it had suspended indefinitely its participation in the six party negotiations and added the obviously intended shock announcement, that it had "manufactured nukes for self-defence," and would retain "a nuclear deterrent for self-defence under any circumstances." February 22, Kim Jong-il is reported as saying that (they) would negotiate at any time, "if there are mature conditions for the six-party talks…" 

Our analysis this month carefully picks over the threads of nuclear and diplomatic evidence in the saga of the hermit republic. The interplay between Washington and the other four members of the negotiating team facing the North Koreans is anything but static, and we review these pressures also. 

The indications are that Washington prefers to focus on one 'Outpost of Tyranny' at a time, and with the IRAQ situation, ongoing Israel -Palestine negotiations and the Condaleezza and George W Bush visits to Europe, right now it is IRAN that is in the cross- hairs of (at least) diplomatic targeting, (even though all the evidence suggests that IRAN are much further back in their nuclear development than NORTH KOREA). 

The new AFGHANISTAN government of President Karzai has taken a welcome initiative in appointing a ministry of counter-narcotics. This could become either be the fattest seat of corruption imaginable, or an agency for cleaning up the disgraceful fact that this nation AFTER its liberation from the Taleban, became the supplier of 90% of the worlds opiates. The chief of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime has made the challenging proposal that aid to this country should be made conditional to reducing opium production. 

SYRIA, and who killed Lebanon's Rafiq Hariri, has exercised the hearts and minds of the Levant - and beyond. Many observers were worried about the almost indecent haste in which the US rushed to impute the blame on SYRIA. This is the Lebanon after all, where car bombings were invented! It is possible to discern motives for at least four identifiable powers, apart from the religious fanatics and numerous political and gangster factions abroad in that hardly peaceful country. In this wicked world it is a given that 'agents provocateur' must also be regarded as potential assassins. Certainly it may well have been SYRIA or maverick elements of that nation, but it is not obvious as to why. Our analysis points out that Bashar Assad had been trying to do a diplomatic high wire act to diffuse the pressure from Israel and the US to withdraw his forces. We contemplate the possibility that the downfall of Assad himself is the intended objective.

To many, but by no means all Lebanese as we explain, it chimes in with an overlong occupation of their country and the backlash is directed in the direction of Damascus. But the speed of the American 'accusation' implies either that they know more than an innocent bystander should, or that putting the heat on Damascus is plain opportunism, given the Israeli hostility to Syria and the desire to isolate them at this time. In a house cleaning not before time, SYRIA has handed over a nest of IRAQI Baathists to the IRAQ authorities including Saddam's half-brother, Sabawi Ibrahim al-Hassan, a security chief (for which read torturer), in the former regime, plus some twenty nine others. With the heat of the Beirut car bomb murder of Rafik Hariri still in their kitchen, this reversal of the refuge that the Syrians had previously given these Baathists from Iraq, implies either a massive international build-up of pressure on Damascus, or a determined factional decision within the government to reduce the external heat. 

George W Bush's perambulations around Europe, apart from the bromides involving those nations that in 2002 declined the kind invitation to join his Iraq adventure, have caused a focus of attention on Vladimir Putin's stewardship of RUSSIA. We review his approach to government, as it has manifested itself during his presidency . The overarching reality appears to be that he has taken RUSSIA down 'the Chinese road', with his predecessors, Gorbachev and Yeltsin's democratic 'glasnost' now being abandoned, whilst the top-down reconstruction of society and the economy, formerly known as 'peristroika,' is in full sway. On camera, President Bush talked of democracy and the rule of law. How glad he was, he told us that his friend had confirmed his own commitment to those bulwarks of the modern nation state, although President Putin when it was his turn, talked of those things guardedly in terms of being modified by Russian characteristics. So that's all right then. Except that Russia is going ahead with completing a nuclear reactor for Iran; with supplying shoulder held ground-to-air missiles to Syria; and of course as always, supplying all the arms that China can afford to buy. 

SERBIA, for long Europe's and the Balkans' 'bad boy,' is diminishing in terms of area. The Kososvo question is quite likely to lead to independence, despite the fact that no one other than Kosovans really want that. Now Montenegro, still in federation with SERBIA wants to move on - and it's official. It was the only former Yugoslav republic that stayed after SLOVENIA, CROATIA, BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA, and MACEDONIA all of whom we report here, had moved out of the FYR. The first three had to fight for that privilege, which will happily not be necessary for Montenegro, now Milosevic is at the Hague. So the collapse of the one federal state of Yugoslavia is likely to result in six, maybe seven, or even more states and statelets - a total justification for whoever invented the term 'balkanisation'.

As usual we bring reports and analysis on the three Baltics, all of the twelve other FSU republics, including an overview of the rapidly changing UKRAINE - and the unchanging BELARUS; and the six central European nations formerly under Moscow's sway. How profoundly the lives of their peoples have changed in fifteen years. 

Twenty nine former communist states (and two remaining so), plus many more - 


Publisher - Clive Lindley

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