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February 2007 Country Archive



We have now covered IRAQ and its wars since June 2003, updating our full report each month now for forty-three archived 'episodes'. No surprise then that this month's IRAQ tells more of how this rapidly submerging nation is scraping along the floor in almost every area of its activity. With the latest lurch in policy and renewed talk of victory, as though that would be a matter of firepower, it all seems horribly reminiscent of the dog-days of Vietnam. Mention of that long drawn-out disaster inevitably raises the name of Henry Kissinger, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and hoping for history to acclaim him as Washington's "20thC Bismarck". 

He is revealed to have been a player in this debacle too! Bob Woodward's "Bush At War", tells us that in the two George.W.Bush administrations, Kissinger has been the most frequent outside advisor to visit the White House, where he would regularly be closeted with the President or V- President Cheney, sometimes alone. His advice was clearly welcomed and we may assume acted upon, which makes the following even more poignant. Asked in September 2005 by Bush's main speech writer Mike Gerson, as to why he had supported the IRAQ war, Kissinger was remarkably forthright - in a way that no elected politician would dare to be! 

In our current special report, (Ministry of Truth) we developed the theme that George.W.Bush on election in his first term, was notoriously underinformed about foreign affairs. The compensating idea that the Republican hierarchs had, was that Richard.B.Cheney as his vice-president, would guide him in foreign affairs. Indeed, we assert that rather than 'guide', Cheney led him with his own agenda, which really clicked-in, after 9/11. Whilst we hear that Bush talked to God - who told him to invade IRAQ, now we know that Cheney first talked to Kissinger. It somehow was too hard to believe that Cheney really, truly, thought Saddam threatened American cities - a prime reason for the invasion. It just made no sense. Even if they had found bio or chemical weapons, of course many countries have them, including the US, but not many (like IRAQ with only short range rockets and no navy or air force), have the means of delivery. Besides, why - for what reason, would any nation state bring down on itself the total and swift destruction that such an attack would surely guarantee? Iraq, as we saw, could not withstand a conventional military invasion, let alone a massive ICBM or aerial strike which would have followed. If the White House had believed that Saddam actually had nuclear weapons - and they didn't, even if they would be on his wish list, then there probably would have been no invasion at all - a calculation that Kim Jong-il seems to have accurately made in North Korea.

We wondered aloud at Cheney's real motivation. Kissinger provides this when giving his reason for supporting the invasion. "Because Afghanistan wasn't enough", he told Gerson. "In the conflict with radical Islam they want to humiliate us - and we need to humiliate them." He said, that the American response to 9/11 had to be more than proportionate - on a larger scale than simply invading Afghanistan and overthrowing the Taleban. Something else was needed. The Iraq war was essential to send a larger message. 

One can see that such a visceral 'shock and awe' reaction to 9/11, would have played well in the vice-presidential offices in the White House and in locker-rooms, beer halls etc; across the country; but it was hardly a message capable of being delivered to the Congress, or to the General Assembly of the United Nations. So Colin Powell was fitted up with a bunch of dubious WMD 'intelligence' to tell the UN why the US had little alternative to war. Saddam can now be seen in this context as only a 'bit player'. WMD it seems was really a pretext to "send a larger message"! Those American and British boys in IRAQ are not there to save American cities, but to "humiliate" the Eyerackies!

To talk of ethics in such company would be naive, but consider the 'larger message' that has actually been delivered. Who, we must ask four years on, has in the end, actually been "humiliated"? "The only acceptable exit policy is victory"! Kissinger also said, that again echoing Vietnam, but what could now possibly constitute victory in the devastated, fundamentally rotten state of IRAQ? It's broken - how to fix it? Of course direct talks with IRAN and SYRIA, as James Baker's Commission recommended, but it is time to bite the bullet, stop talking about 'victory' and really face up to the realities.

We would go for a federal solution devolving most power to the three main regions as the best chance of limiting the damage, now that the genie of religious hatred is out of the bottle. In this solution, learning the lesson of the partitioning of India and Pakistan, indeed more recently of the break-up of Yugoslavia, the main role of the Alliance troops would now be to shepherd the main ethnic communities into their appropriate federated province, because if these troops are ever to be withdrawn, then ethnic cleansing on a scale we can hardly imagine, would take over and horrify the world. 

It would seem that the same "Kissinger Doctrine of Asymmetric Humiliation," as we will call it - disproportionate humiliation for the perceived Islamic Radicals, must also apply to IRAN. They have loomed large in Washington by that description since 1979 when student radicals took over the US embassy and held the 90 occupants hostage for nearly a year. One of those student leaders is now president of the Islamic Republic and central casting could not have done a better job of providing a ranting, phobic, rabble-rouser whose utterances are quite capable of resulting in his nation suffering a massive attack, which otherwise could hardly be justified. But when you insist on telling the world that, a) you will develop a nuclear programme; and b) Israel must be removed from the face of the earth; joining up the dots is not that difficult to do. The US's attitude may well at White House level be affected by the Kissinger approach. Time - maybe not too much of it, will tell, but there is a distinct undertow of war talk which too often for comfort, is breaking the surface. 

Israel's position on this is clear cut and not unreasonable. They have experienced one holocaust in this generation which the rest of the world failed to prevent. They are not going to stand-by relying on 'good sense' prevailing with their antagonists, or the protection of the UN, or the USA. If they deem it is finally up to them to interdict the nuclear programme - which they have the means to do, they are likely to do just that. 

What would not currently justify such action is that IRAN is still, by US intelligence estimates, some years off having the capability that Ahmadinejad seeks, so good sense in Teheran still has a chance. Meanwhile, as we report, the UN have imposed sanctions which might be sufficient to starve IRAN of the components necessary to complete their nuclear program. But they are also actively seeking solutions. Mohamed ElBarradei the respected (except by Cheney), head of the United Nations IAEA is proposing a standing back - a cooling off between the parties, with practical steps to be followed. 

Iranian society has a public and a private face on the topic of sanctions and it is clear that Iranian businessmen, who are not without influence, are deeply unhappy about how this will play. As we have observed previously, the Iranian presidency is not at all like that of the USA, with the president an all-powerful chief executive. 
Ahmadinejad represents the third from the top tier of power in that nation. It is as well to observe that although the president is elected and is the government's spokesman, he seems to be distancing himself both from those below him - the electors who gave a significant thumbs down to his slate of candidates in recent municipal elections on which we report; as well as from those above him, in the Council of Guardians - and the indications are that a gap is growing between him and the Supreme Leader, the Ayatollah Khamenei. 

It's that time again in NORTH KOREA where Kim Jong il is now about to become 65 or maybe 66, in mid-February. This month's report opines that he may have issued instructions that it is not to be celebrated this year. However he has said that he can and will carry on until he is ninety, which will add to the paranoia of the three rival sons (half-brothers), waiting out of the public eye, in the wings. 

Importantly, and in the context of bilateral meetings which of course are banned by Washington for NORTH KOREA, just as for SYRIA and IRAN, we give a full report of just such a top-level bilateral meeting which was held in Berlin over Christmas. This unexpected meeting over three days, appears to have been close to achieving a break-through, certainly as we report, a serious degree of progress in this long drawn-out crisis for east Asia and the world. This is the most positive news we have been able to report about the hermit republic for years and a powerful argument de jure, as well as de facto, for abandoning the White House's absurd ban on expert head-to-head discussions! 

It is unlikely that students of political history will be instructed that the current US policy on SYRIA was a triumph. Damascus has been sending out signals now for so long that it has political objectives in the return of the Golan; that it wants an end to middle-east discord, that it is available if only someone is listening! We look at the story so far. It could be that they too have to endure their share of Kissinger-inspired humiliation.

Perhaps - and it is not beyond imagining, Israel might pick up on the invitation to talk before they do in Washington. Right now Israel has a leadership problem, with the prime minister being openly investigated for criminal activities, and the president to be charged with rape. That must be quite a distraction for political life and stifle new initiatives. But it is not inconceivable that power in Jerusalem will shift before long. One other thing - however they treat their helot population in Palestine (not well), it is remarkable how the rule of law within the state of Israel itself may touch the very highest, as well as those less elevated. It is indeed within its borders, the only democracy in the middle-east . 

Following the January elections, where the nationalist vote showed the size and sheer intractability of the hardliners, the UN special representative, former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari has brought in his awaited recommendation on the future of Kosovo. It is to be a creeping form of independence, the principal short-term aspect of which, is that there will continue to be the military presence of NATO troops to seek to stop the citizens from killing each other. It is being represented by the Serbian nationalists as a further attack by the western world on an innocent SERBIA; and by the hardliner Kosovars as a sell-out of their right to be a nation state. But although some excitable reports said that the nationalists 'won the election,' in fact they received only slightly better than one in four votes cast, at 28%. It is now to be all about the coalition, which we discuss in this issue, that will emerge after the party negotiations, which are likely to take some time. The process of coalition building may change the chemistry of the eventual, as opposed to the instant, Serbian reaction. 

It is astonishing that the Serbs don't see that if your government and army have so terrified your fellow citizens from one part of your country, (to the extent that over a million of them had to pick up their children and run for it - to the safety of a neighbouring country), then those same fellow citizens would no longer wish to belong to any such state that could do such things to them.  Belgrade has already and consciously reduced the Kosovars to a colonial status within the same small nation. In the recent national referendum of "all Serbian citizens" on the future of Kososvo, the Kosovars themselves were not allowed to vote- and its not rocket science why - while the Serb residents of Kosovo got their ballots. That doesn't say 'second-class citizens,' it says 'not citizens at all.' 

But it is hardly all over yet. There is concern that RUSSIA will veto this plan in the UNSC. The hardliners leader Seselj, an indictee at the war-crimes court at the Hague, is hoping to use the RUSSIA card, calculating that their ancient Orthodox, sometime protector, might see the parallels here that RUSSIA has with Chechnya, and continue to block the Ahtisaari approach. Indeed his people would opt for a 'Greater Russia' status in preference to EU membership, which is the reasonable eventual reward for a progressive government in Belgrade that can overcome the ball & chain of its history. One byproduct of this Ahtisaari plan, is that it gives small comfort in its methodology to RUSSIA's sponsored breakaway statelets, (see Stateless States), emerging from the collapse of the USSR

It couldn't happen to a nastier regime many would think, but the matter of shutting down the gas supplies that transit BELARUS, did make a stir on two grounds. The obvious one was that the end users, Gazprom's clients - prosperous members of the EU, although they had adequate reserves and were not affected in supply terms, nevertheless were miffed at the cavalier way in which their interests were ostensibly put at risk, by a high-handed RUSSIA. They had to remind Putin that every seller needs a buyer, and put him on notice that they will not put up with anything less than complete reliability! For his part, he wants to push ahead with the sub- Baltic pipeline that cuts out his troublesome neighbouring FSU transit-countries, by delivering direct to Germany. 

Less obvious a marker is that since RUSSIA looks to have given the priority to achieving market prices, in its new role of an energy super-power, perfectly laudable though that is, at the same time it is inevitably sending another signal. That its long held strategy of welding together the non- Moslem FSU states of its 'near abroad' into a new Russian empire, is now of lesser importance. True, Lukachenka's BELARUS has nowhere else to go; but UKRAINE, whose recent political developments we report, must have been giving much satisfaction in the Kremlin, is not going to be so easily 'reeled in,' when observing what happened to its neighbour - and remembering its own chilling experience of last January. Moscow's energy policy and its Greater Russia plans however can be seen to have come together and have worked well for them in ARMENIA, as we report it can be seen that this small country is effectively now 'owned' by RUSSIA

TURKMENISTAN now seems to have a President awaiting only the imprimatur of an election - of sorts - perhaps in February. He is the possessor of perhaps the longest name of any president in the world, or at least would be a leading contender, as can be seen : Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov. Prior to the late dictator's Praetorian guard arresting the legitimate constitutional successor, and plucking him (G.B.) out of relative obscurity, he was a dentist, and more recently minister of education. It is rumoured however that he is the natural son of the late Sapurmurat Niyazov - so an monarchic succession, a transitional form long favoured by the many career communists who became overnight leaders of their nations on the collapse of the USSR, as well as by other stars in the world communist firmament, like North Korea. 

It would appear to be a seamless succession except that the stakes are so high, a truly massive personal fortune goes with the job, and so many powerful states - and their spooks - are eyeing events closely. TURKMENISTAN is a key natural gas supplier now to Russia; China soon; hopefully India and Pakistan, plus the EU if plans work out. We shall follow the story. 

The extraordinary economic growth of this Caspian state, is possibly the greatest in all of history - GDP at 26% in 2005 and 34% in 2006! It is of course due to oil and gas but along with these riches, comes a bill to be paid. The government has just imposed massive price hikes on fuel, water, electricity and public transportation. The glaring problem is that 95% of the population do not work in the oil industry, 40% are employed in not very modern agriculture; many are long-term unemployed. The state, which reaps the massive rewards, is in the hands of a clan, the Aliyevs, now on their second president, the son of the Azeri strong-man that preceded him. They have long taken their tithe for the Swiss banking industry and the expected 'trickle down' of the growing wealth of the state to alleviate the costs of living of 'the masses,' hasn't happened. We report the public anger now surfacing in AZERBAIJAN

We take the view that everything that happens in KAZAKSTAN is important, as this state in our view may well be the coming economic and political giant of Central Asia. We report the implications of the change of prime minister from one trusted party man to another, with a resultant reshuffle of key ministries. It could be argued that this is 'the sound and the fury signifying nothing', given the rock solid position of President Nursultan Nazarbiyev, but a deeper consideration is appropriate. The death of his FSU central Asian 'opposite number,' the Turkmenbashi - has undoubtedly jolted Nazarbiyev, as it has done the other rulers of the central Asian 'stans. His own succession plans are much more shaky than before his recent election, with his daughter Danya's political party having suddenly folded. At the commencement of 2007, we review what is known and what is suspected, including the surprise allegations by the main defendant in a political murder trial, that the Senate Chairman, Abikeyev, now swiftly removed and packed off as ambassador to Russia, had planned to stage a coup.

Ankara must be wishing for less news than they have been creating recently. They are never far from the notice of the western press when matters relating to the European Union are discussed. They similarly are not distanced from the story where the highly seasonal news of disruptions of gas supplies are in the headlines. With remarkably little hydrocarbon power of their own, they are now perhaps the major transit country in Eurasia with Russian gas coming by pipeline under the Black Sea, the Caspian oil pipeline via GEORGIA, (with gas still to come) to Ceyhan on the Mediterranean (of massive strategic importance to the west, as well as all the participating nations); and a pipeline from IRAN, all of which are to some degree in our report. The Kurds and their relative success across the IRAQI border, is always of significance in the Turkish media, obviously because of their own large and somewhat restive Kurdish population. But dominating this month's issue is the political assassination of Hrant Dink, a Turkish Armenian, which rocked the nation and to some extent the world. 

It has become obvious that there is one reactionary Turkey, allegedly led by some senior politicians and military, representing not just nationalism, but conservative values generally, which coalesce in a general disapproval of democracy in their country. Then there are the modernizers, after the style and ideals of Ataturk who see themselves as a European nation and understand that TURKEY must change, to become accepted there. They know that this must include repealing the dreadful Article 301 of the penal code, which places restrictions on the media, including the sanctions on 'insulting' the Turkish state. The government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan of a moderate Islamic persuasion, has inclinations to the side of the modernising agenda. In terms of re-action to the murder of Mr Dink, they have made positive moves to Armenia with whom relations have long been in the deepfreeze, if not the toilet. There is just an inkling of a parallel with the famous recent denouement of ancient hostilities with GREECE, following acts of humanity both nations displayed at a time of great earthquakes and associated damage, just a few years ago. There are in reality no serious issues between TURKEY and ARMENIA per se. True the issue of acknowledging the WWI slaughter of Armenians remains unresolved, but it was ninety year ago, and as Professor Norman Stone points out (we quote him in our ARMENIA report), it is a problem quite capable of responding to a form of words. This 'holocaust campaign' emanates far more from the large Armenian diaspora whose lobbying powers are legendary, than from Turkey's neighbour, the small, former soviet all-union Armenian republic in the Caucasus. 

AZERBAIJAN, since it left the Soviet Union has been sponsored by TURKEY, but it is they who have the quarrel with ARMENIA over the disputed enclave of Nagorno Karabakh. The fact that the borders of TURKEY have been closed to ARMENIA has really been only a matter of solidarity with their fellow Turkic nation. It is time perhaps for Ankara to put their own interests first as their eventual admission to the EU will require this problem to be dealt with beforehand. Now would be a good time to get the process started! 

There are few countries in the world where the Roman Catholic church has a higher reputation and image than POLAND. To a far greater extent than its east or central European neighbours, the religion has been emblematic of POLAND, in contrast to the Protestant Germans or the Orthodox Russians, both of which nations have caused them much historical hurt.

Now seventeen years after the end of communism, that country is still adjusting to the shock that priests - and not a few - were 'no better' than so many other citizens (the leaked total of collaborators lists 120,000). Imagine all of those years of wondering when ruin would come knocking at their door! The church in Poland has always seemed 'a cut above', partly because it is a real power in the land, and so unlike so many other nations, it has been able to attract a high quality of candidates into its priestcraft. We report on how it looks there. 

Our report reviews once again the situation now that the five nurses and one Palestinian doctor were sentenced to death on December 20th in a farcical trial that would not allow western medical experts to give evidence for the defendants. They are charged with deliberately infecting child patients with the AIDS virus. All the indications are that LIBYA is holding out for money -and guess what. The figure being put forward is US $10 million per child (in total more than US$ 4 billion), a sum so remarkably similar to the compensation that LIBYA had to pay out in compensation to the next of kin of the murdered passengers and crew, in the Lockerbie crash. We conclude that the medics are being held hostage until someone pays the money.

..and it seems quite a good place to be! With the caretaker government in charge of the upcoming elections, the President cancelled the 21st January election and has caused to be arrested at least 12,000 people, including some senior leaders of both main parties. It could we report, be another six months before new corrected, hopefully honest, voting lists are available and the election can take place. 

In the absence from parliament of BANGLADESH's notoriously corrupt government and opposition parties, the president's administration has implemented a major democratic reform. Ordained by a court directive of 1999(!), the judiciary will now be removed from the authority of the executive - the separation of powers being a fundamental element of democracy. Successive governments of the Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party had failed to implement the directive of the court over all these years. 

As ever there is much to say about this pivotal nation, but this report once again rehearses the accusations against PAKISTAN in relation to the Taleban - and of course their counter accusations. Where al Qaeda is concerned, they point to the undeniable fact that they have killed in combat and arrested not just more al Qaeda operatives, but a multiple more than any other nation in the world, including the USA. They are not shy about saying, as we report, that a political deal is necessary with the Taleban in AFGHANISTAN. That doesn't mean surrender, but to incorporate them into government. We suspect that this will be the eventual outcome since whilst they can probably be contained militarily, it may not be possible to defeat them in the way that President Bush for example, talks about 'victory,' and western troops cannot remain indefinitely. 

There is an information process that could do well to start soon. That is to differentiate between al-Qaeda, the international islamic terrorist organization; and Taleban, the strict Islamic religio-political group whose fight is not external - aimed at the western world, but who should be seen in the context of Afghan and Pakistani politics. 

In KYRGYZSTAN this month we look at the problems of US diplomacy in Central Asia which seems to have somewhat fizzled. It was only last April that a strategy under that name was rolled out in Washington, aimed at turning back Russian and Chinese influence in this vast region. Its an important topic and we give it due space. 

Publisher - Clive Lindley

To visit our February reports on Forty Four nations in transition. 

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