Special Reports



Many might have explained the outpourings of IRAN's new President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, addressing a student audience, that he was himself a politician 
sprung from the loins of Iran's student politicians and that he had only arrived at that level of maturity. The western media publicised it for all it was worth, but he could not be said to have been taken out of context. It was significant that he was careful to quote: "as the imam said, Israel must be wiped off the face of the earth." That of course guarantees him from overt internal criticism within IRAN. Indeed Iranian rent-a-crowds were on the street the next day in annual Israel-bashing ritual, supposedly in support of the Palestinians, whose own president made the statesmanlike utterance that what Palestine wanted, was to see themselves as a new state on the map, not Israel wiped off it.

But as to the timing of this vapid fighting talk, IRANIAN foreign-service people busily winding up allies and oil clients in the context of IATA and the UN Security Council, must have been distraught, leave aside their military chiefs. Is there, one could reasonably ask, any way of wiping a nation off the face of the earth, other than by nuclear explosion? RUSSIA and even China, both of whom had separately let it be known that they would veto Security Council resolutions against IRAN over its nuclear secrecy, will now be stretched to do so, or be badged as having complicit sentiments. RUSSIA as a supportive neighbour of IRAN, would be right to point out to them that the combination of such sentiments is not credible with a denial of any intention to build nuclear weapons. 

We have long pointed out that a frustrated US government might at some time let Israel's proxy airforce off the leash, to pre-emptively destroy IRAN's nascent nuclear installations, as they did to those of IRAQ - Osirak in 1981. Timing would be everything. Before this gratuitous threat, such action would have brought down massive outrage and protest from around the world, but now? Perhaps George.W. Bush might even be persuaded, given his present troubles, to let slip the dogs of war - given that they are not US servicemen. Can we safely assume that Vice-President Cheney will have discussed the possibility with Prime Minister Sharon over the last few days? 

Ahmadinejad, to get some cheap student applause, has possibly put his nation at risk by such a threat at such a time. He says he believes in a centuries old 'war of destiny.' IRAN could create more chaos in the middle east, but how in practical military terms could they respond to an airstrike that took out their airforce and rockets, as well as their nuclear installations? Their best defence has been the international outrage that an unprovoked attack would have brought down, but the tipping point here is the obvious provocation. 
For no conceivable gain for IRAN he has given his nation's enemies a free gift of a casus belli, or at the least his diplomats a mountain to climb in seeking credibility in protesting only peaceful nuclear intentions. Nations on the IAEA and Security Council that might otherwise have been neutral on the issue of IRAN's nuclear program, are now much more likely to respond with a hard line. 

IRAN has elections, yes, but only for representatives on the third tier of power. Priests not only make the big decisions - and often overrule the lawmakers, but actually decide who they will allow to be candidates not only for President, but also for representatives of the ..well, 'people,' would be misleading. The ayatollahs would do well to have his resignation, but then they probably also believe in a war of destiny. Unlucky Iranians! 

It is too soon to say if the election in IRAQ was a good thing or a bad - clearly it was a start for a made-over nation state, and superficially a constitution having been agreed, the rule of law can proceed from there. But it is not a glorious shining thing. More a cobbled-up compromise between the pivotal Kurds who know what they want and intend to get, together with the fractious Shi'ites who numerically superior, are sensing real power, and now are competing among themselves for significant personal stakes for their clan leaders. 

The reality is that only decentralisation of power will work in IRAQ, after their fearful experience of an all-powerful central government. It is probable that in many ways, the central government of the nation state will be reduced to a cipher, and it is worrying that the national army will be replaced at regional level by militias, in some cases no better than well-armed gangsters. Do not expect democracy in any recognisable form to manifest itself here any time soon. 

Although it is religion plus Kurdish ethnicity that divides the three main groupings, whose leaders combine in order to take power, they represent clans that are much more significant to them than any concept of nation-state. Each must serve his clan and service that two-way obligation that all players are acutely aware of. So Shi-ites may solve this, as the constitution allows, by creating mini-states in the south to provide sufficient 'corruption troughs,' whilst the Kurds led by their tribal aristocrats, move forward their agenda to weld together the core of a future Kurdish state. Sunni's in central IRAQ, or such of them as can get a measure of power, are sensibly allying their three main parties to fight for legislative seats and within the lawmaking body. They too have clans to serve. 

So the next step is the December election which will produce a more representative body of lawmakers, as the Sunnis will now be seriously taking part. State Ministries will be handed out, possibly on a more equitable basis, but below the radar the real power will be being struggled over at provincial level, further than which the bulk of oil revenues will not travel. So a tyranny has been replaced by removing the tyrant and his Takriti clan from power, and losing the almost unique status of a secular Arab state (the only other one is SYRIA, now under threat), in favour of religious based power groups, a la IRAN, a strange model for a US imposed democracy. But this careless use of the 'd' word needs to be checked against the organic institutions of democracy. 

A check list would include:- Justice for all - with a truly independent judiciary. Leaving aside the show trial of Saddam, the real question is whether Iraqis in their day-to-day lives can expect to obtain justice any time soon, uncorrupted by clan loyalties or bribes? 
Freedom of speech, as represented by media activities? The test will come when the Alliance troops leave. Human Rights- the abolition of arbitrary arrests, (probably the only kind around right now); the absence of torture - all on the democrats' wish-list but in a nation where a thousand mutilated bodies a month arrive at the Baghdad morgue and terror bombing is a daily occurrence, wish-list is where it may long remain. 
Absence of corruption? We won't insult your intelligence on that one, which if it wasn't so tragic would be funny - read our IRAQ report and see how the oil 'goes astray.' Political rights -yes -the vote, hurrah! But this positive step will have little meaning, until the candidates that have any chance of election are not the clan aristocrats, or the placemen of religious factions, but new people, meritocrats perhaps, representatives of genuine political parties, rather than factions of Quranic scholars, and clan nominees. No other Arab society has yet produced such people, so how it will happen in IRAQ is perhaps a matter for prayerful intercession? 

Egypt, the largest Arab state, a supposedly sophisticated nation, for centuries interacting with the west, recently held a presidential 'pretend' election under pressure from the US. The whole farcical business was capped by the principal opponent (already defeated) being imprisoned; and his family and friends abused and terrorised for their audacity in opposing the ruling general. We have long argued that successful economies breed democracies and that the way to achieve that is to deploy resources within nations that genuinely seek democracy like TURKEY for example. Their lengthy campaign for European status, conceived by the genius of Kemal Ataturk, eighty years ago, has moved significantly forward, as we report. The same argument applies to the Balkan nations whose reactions to Turkey's successful breakthrough to negotiating status is picked up in our reports on SERBIA, CROATIA, BOSNIA & HERZEGOVINA

It is not true to say dogmatically that democracy cannot be imposed on a people. The post- WWII story of Japan and indeed Germany testify to that, but one wonders what the plan for IRAQ was before the invasion took place? What was decided in those committee rooms at the Pentagon and Foggy Bottom, whereby a geographical entity that had known nothing except the rule of autocrats, was to become a democracy, without any of the institutions of democracy? Indeed, a country where the largest proportion of the people rejected the whole democratic notion as being counter to their ancient scriptures!
Japan, after all, had long modelled itself on the west, except that in governance it had preferred the old ways of a divine emperor and courtier-run government. Come 1945, they quickly repaired those omissions and successfully joined the minority of actual democratic nations, which our worldaudit.org sister web-site calculates as no more than 36. 
Germany, which at least had quality opposition figures available and were seeking something better than rulers offering perpetual ruinous warfare, were welcomed into a form of government of which they then knew little, but of which they have proved outstanding exponents. It is too cheap to claim the bare political right to vote as Washington does, to be the achievement of democracy, without the other vital institutions, failing which it is a farce, as evidenced today in so many of the former Soviet republics, (we report them all here).

Our reports on KAZAKSTAN, TAJIKISTAN, AZERBAIJAN, ARMENIA tell how those regimes are preparing for the various elections due in each of them. In common, the regimes fear a 'colour revolution' overwhelming the electoral process. They are of differing importance, KAZAKSTAN being a presidential election in December. TAJIKISTAN also but in 2006. AZERBAIJAN, with an election of legislators on November 6th , in October went into an orgy of arrests, coup accusations etc; which acts have now given that election unexpected importance. ARMENIA's vote is on constitutional amendments, but they are no less nervous for that.

In the 14 years since the collapse of the USSR, elections in most post-soviet nations have been well-regulated affairs with little or no question about the outcome. They have only been held for forms sake, because most of these new nations had deceived by publicly signing-up for western democracy and liberal market economies, whilst the real agenda was the consolidation of regime power, to the greater glory of the ruling family. It is extraordinary but true, that excepting the Balts, all of the FSU republics were frankly astonished to have achieved instant independence. It was thrust upon them, without any demand, or even a shot being fired. Consequently home-grown opposition movements had never had an opportunity to emerge. So, whoever was in charge on the day independence was announced, was still there in power with minor exceptions, for years to come. Being the time-serving, apparatchik general-secretary of the individual republic's communist party, turned out to be the ideal qualification for founding a dynasty, spawning numerous presidents-for-life and their dynastic heirs, to this day. In each case the new republics have been run as family businesses. KAZAKSTAN's President Nursultan Nazarbayev has not been the evil tyrant that his neighbour Islam Karimov in UZBEKISTAN has been and remains. But unquestionably he monopolises power and the considerable wealth of his large territory, and as our report shows, does whatever is necessary to keep it that way.

The GEORGIAN upheaval changed the assumption of eternal personal power and the fact that the change was bloodless or relatively so, earned international applause and showed downtrodden citizens of other FSU republics that change was possible. UKRAINE followed, and then KYRGYZSTAN. Of course the personnel who rode to power on the backs of the protesting multitudes were not themselves simply men and women of the people, but other politicians currently out of power. We tell in each of these cases how well it goes (or disappoints), as of this time. It is too soon, we conclude, to say that democracy has arrived on the wings of those elections. There are reasons to suppose in some cases that nothing more has happened than different snouts are getting into the public trough. But they will be aware at least that they do not have permanent tenure, that what happened once can happen again if they do not convince this new force, the elector, previously a disregarded joke, that things are getting better. 

will happily be witnessing IRAN's discomforture, taking the heat off them, at least for a while. During a break in the anyway fragmented nuclear talks, another kind of heat is visiting Pyongyang - that of evidence of big-time international fraud, including the past involvement of elements of the IRA, involving millions of dollars of forged US currency in $100 bills, made in NK. Taken together with numerous stories of state drug trafficking and other shady stuff, it is one big crime story that we offer!
In addition, we review possible dynastic successors to the dear leader, who is now in his mid-sixties. 

RUSSIA has the greatest gas reserves in the world and in Gazprom the worlds largest supplier. With oil, gas is at the core of RUSSIA's economy, indeed without there isn't a lot left. Massive sums have been and are to be invested in pipelines traversing Eurasia, taking these resources to needy nations seeking to secure their energy futures. Financing these has been partly investment banking, partly Russian and recipient nations funding.
One question that is always asked by financiers, thinking of RUSSIA's communist antecedents, is guessing whether they would use supply or non-supply as a political weapon? There were bad indicators in past winters when Russia cut GEORGIA's electricity supply, apparently because of non-compliance with Russian political wishes. Since then the Russian electricity behemoth has acquired all of GEORGIA's electricity industry! 

We look at MOLDOVA, a small Ruritania of a republic, squeezed between UKRAINE and ROMANIA, which once had the misfortune to be a Soviet republic and is dependent on Gazprom's gas. This month we report threats that over a political issue involving a Russian client gangster-statelet on their borders, they can expect their gas supply to be cut off this winter. Because it is a small, no-account country perhaps, in Moscow's eyes, they think that they can with impunity punish it in this way without major end-client states like Germany, Turkey, Japan or China, taking notice. If they go ahead with cutting off MOLDOVA's gas this winter as threatened, then such countries would be well advised to include punitive contractual clauses against any such 'political interruptions' to commercial supplies- the guessing will be over! 

The Baath regime in SYRIA has been one of the worlds worst - in its time. The father of the present presidential incumbent was undoubtedly a tyrant. He maintained all the apparat of a middle-eastern repressive regime- it is said that SYRIA has 16 separate secret police forces, some just to spy on the others. Like Saddam Hussein, he took power from his predecessor in a coup and again like Saddam, he held power because he used his immediate family and his Alawite clan in all the most powerful jobs. His son, Bashar al- Assad however is not his father and should be judged objectively in the matter of the Mehlis report. We submit that the jury is still out and in our report we explain the reasons why Mehlis should be allowed to complete his work, before any rush to judgement. It is ironic and worse, hypocritical, that the Lewis Libby indictment in Washington is marked by vice- president Cheney's office very properly insisting that to be indicted is not yet to have been found guilty. That same White House urges the UN to dispense with further investigation of SYRIA and to 'act as soon as possible.' Let the German prosecutor do his job and make his final report - then blame can be apportioned. 

The saga of the jailed Bulgarian nurses in LIBYA continues as we describe, sentenced to death by firing squad, with their fate still uncertain despite massive diplomatic efforts by the US and EU. It has however seen a new player - with his antecedents definitely a man of influence although he has no official status. The White Knight is Saif al-Islam, none other than the son of Muammar al-Qadhafi. With all Libyan legal recourse seemingly exhausted, he has stood the Libyan case on its head - even to the point of agreeing that the nurses had been tortured into making their statements. This is clearly a man to watch. 

Actually she must have been acutely aware that VIETNAM was an unreconstructed tyranny. In September 2004 the State Department designated Vietnam as a "Country of Particular Concern" because of what it called Vietnams's particularly severe violations of religious freedom. But the Foggy Bottom calculation may have been that VIETNAM had suffered enough at the hands of the USA. Even though it was thirty years after that dreadful war, this may have been just enough to save this nation from being clustered with the likes of the named-and-shamed Outposts of Tyranny: Myanmar, Zimbabwe, Belarus, North Korea, Iran and Cuba, although it is no less repressive than any of them. The catalogue of offences against human rights is too lengthy to repeat here. In the field of justice, political trials are closed to foreign observers and often this extends even to the families of the accused. Information and statistics on executions are classified as a State secret. The EU has called for the release of political and religious prisoners. Japan, Vietnams largest donor, has to its credit linked development assistance from 2004, to the government's respect for human rights and progress towards democracy. 
There is no free media. The only creditable thing that comes to mind is that the government admits official corruption and has selective purges against it with varying success. In other respects it is by democratic criteria, still in the stone age.

Clive Lindley.  Publisher