Iraq PM Warns Sunnis Could Be Shut from Power

December 29, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Suadad al-Salhy and Aseel Kami

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraq’s Sunni Muslim minority rejected a call for all-party talks on Wednesday, ignoring U.S. pressure for dialogue to resolve a sectarian crisis that has erupted since American forces left the country this week.

With fears mounting that the nation of 30 million might one day fragment in chaos in the absence of the U.S. troops who toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003, Shi’ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki warned Saddam’s fellow Sunnis they faced exclusion from power if they walked out on his ruling coalition.

The main Sunni-backed party, furious at terrorism charges leveled by the Shi’ite-run authorities against Iraq’s Sunni vice president on the day Americans left, rejected Maliki’s call for all-party talks in the coming days and vowed to try and unseat the prime minister in parliament, a move unlikely to succeed.

Having stuck by a decision to withdraw U.S. forces in 2011, a return of the kind of sectarian blood-letting that killed tens of thousands of Iraqis after Saddam fell could embarrass President Barack Obama as he campaigns for re-election.

Vice President Joe Biden called Maliki and the Sunni speaker of parliament on Tuesday to press for urgent talks among Iraq’s leaders. But there was little sign of a thaw on Wednesday, although it remained unclear how far the rhetoric reflected a real threat to the fragile coexistence of Sunnis with the majority Shi’ites and ethnic Kurds, both oppressed under Saddam.

Maliki, calling on the Kurds to hand over Sunni Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi who has taken refuge in their autonomous region, said he wanted Hashemi’s Sunni-backed Iraqiya block to end a boycott of parliament and of his year-old power-sharing government.

“But,” he warned, “If they insist, they are free to do so and they can withdraw permanently from the state and all its institutions.”

SUNNIS SLAM MALIKI

Iraqiya said it would not attend talks with Maliki, “since he represents the main reason for the crisis and the problem, and he is not a positive element for a solution.”

As well as Hashemi, who stands accused of running death squads based on televised confessions by men claiming to be his bodyguards, the other most senior Sunni politician, deputy prime minister Saleh al-Mutlaq, is also under fire from Maliki, who has asked parliament to remove Mutlaq from office.

Hashemi has dismissed the charges against him as a fabrication, a denial that has credibility in Washington, where one U.S. official said he believes the charges were unfounded.

The White House on Tuesday said it was “obviously concerned” about the arrest warrant issued for Hashemi. In his calls to Baghdad, Biden had “stressed the urgent need for the prime minister and the leaders of the other major blocs to meet and work through their differences together.”

Shi’ite leaders insist there is no political motive behind the case against Hashemi. But Sunnis, outnumbered about two to one by Shi’ites, see it as proof that Maliki, now freed of the trammels of U.S. occupation, is determined to tighten his personal grip on government and to marginalize the Sunnis.

In a system devised under U.S. occupation to divide power, Iraq has a Shi’ite prime minister with Sunni and Kurd deputies, a Kurdish president with Shi’ite and Sunni vice presidents, and a Sunni parliament speaker with Shi’ite and Kurd deputies.

Having long shunned the U.S.-backed institutions set up when Saddam’s decades of one-man rule ended, Sunni voters propelled Iraqiya into first place in a fragmented parliament last year. But Maliki was able to draw on other Shi’ite and Kurdish groups to build a coalition, in which Iraqiya eventually took part.

Tensions among the major groups has, however, hamstrung the government, leaving key posts such as that of defense and interior minister unfilled and obstructing legislation that could clarify rules for investing and exploiting Iraq’s vast oil and gas reserves.

Iraq sits astride a Sunni-Shi’ite faultline running through the Middle East, fuelling mutual accusations of foreign influence, whether from Shi’ite Iran to the north or from the Sunni-ruled Arab states to the south.

In an interview with Reuters, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari, an ethnic Kurd, said that the country’s domestic schisms risked inviting more interference from outside:

“As long as your internal front is fragmented and not united … others who want to interfere will be encouraged,” he said. “That’s why it is very important to deal with this crisis as soon as possible.”

(Additional reporting by Serena Chaudry in Baghdad; Writing by Alastair Macdonald)

14-1

U.S. Military Chapter in Iraq Draws to a Close

December 15, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Patrick Markey

2011-12-14T234708Z_1_BTRE7BD1U3200_RTROPTP_3_NEWS-US-IRAQ-WITHDRAWAL-WITNESS
The “Hands of Victory” memorial rises over an empty parade ground in the Green Zone of Baghdad December 14, 2011. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Nearly nine years after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq ousted Saddam Hussein, American troops are pulling out and leaving behind a country still battling insurgents, political uncertainty and sectarian divisions.

Nearly 4,500 U.S. soldiers and tens of thousands of Iraqis lost their lives in a war that began with a “Shock and Awe” campaign of missiles and bombs pounding Baghdad, but later descended into a bloody sectarian struggle between long-oppressed majority Shi’ites and their former Sunni masters.

Saddam is dead and the violence has ebbed, but the U.S. troop withdrawal leaves Iraq with a score of challenges from a stubborn insurgency and fragile politics to an oil-reliant economy plagued by power cuts and corruption.

Iraq’s neighbors will keep a close watch on how Baghdad will confront its problems without the buffer of a U.S. military presence, while a crisis in neighboring Syria threatens to upset the region’s sectarian and ethnic balance.

U.S. President Barack Obama, who made an election promise to bring troops home, told Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki that Washington will remain a loyal partner after the last troops roll across the Kuwaiti border.

“The mission there was to establish an Iraq that could govern and secure itself and we’ve been able to do that,” U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told troops at a U.S. base in Djibouti this week.
“That doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy.”

Iraq’s Shi’ite leadership presents the withdrawal as a new start for the country’s sovereignty, but many Iraqis question which direction the nation will take once U.S. troops leave – sectarian strife or domination by one sect over another?

Will al Qaeda return to sow terror in the cities? Will ongoing disputes between Kurds in their northern semi-autonomous enclave spill into conflict with the Iraqi Arab central government over disputed territories.

Violence has ebbed since the bloodier days of sectarian slaughter when suicide bombers and hit squads claimed hundreds of victims a day at times as the country descended into tit-for-tat killings between the Sunni and Shi’ite communities.

In 2006 alone, 17,800 Iraqi military and civilians were killed in violence.

Iraqi security forces are generally seen as capable of containing the remaining Sunni Islamist insurgency and the rival Shi’ite militias U.S. officials say are backed by Iran.
But for those enjoying a sense of sovereignty, security is still a major worry. Attacks now target local Iraqi government offices and security forces in an attempt show that the authorities are not in control.

“I am happy they are leaving. This is my country and they should leave,” said Samer Saad, a soccer coach. “But I am worried because we need to be safe. We are worried because all the militias will start to come back.”

SECTARIAN TENSIONS

The fall of Saddam opened the way for Iraq’s Shi’ite majority community to ascend to positions of power after decades of oppression under his Sunni-run Baath party. But nine years after the invasion Iraq remains a splintered country, worrying many that the days of sectarian slaughter are not over.

Even the political power-sharing in Maliki’s Shi’ite-led government is hamstrung by sectarian divides. The government at times seems paralyzed as parties split along sect lines, squabbling over every decision.

That has hampered economic development as infrastructure projects and key laws wait for approval. Iraq needs investment in almost all areas – the power grid still provides only a few hours of electricity a day.

Sunni Iraqis fear marginalization or even a creeping Shi’ite-led authoritarian rule under Maliki. A recent crackdown on former members of the Baath party has fueled those fears.

Sectarian divisions leave Iraq still vulnerable to meddling by neighbors trying to secure more influence, especially as Sunni-controlled Arab nations view any Iranian involvement as an attempt to control Iraq’s Shi’ite parties at the cost of Sunni communities.

Iraq’s Shi’ite leadership frets the crisis in neighboring Syria could eventually bring a hardline Sunni leadership to power in Damascus, worsening Iraq’s own sectarian tensions.

U.S. troops had acted as a buffer in another dispute between Kurds in Iraq’s semi-autonomous region and the Iraqi Arabs in the central government. Some fear the two regions could clash over oil and territory rights in disputed areas.

“WAS IT WORTH IT?”

U.S. troops were supposed to stay on as part of a deal to train the Iraqi armed forces. Washington had asked Iraq for at least 3,000 troops to remain in the country. But talks over immunity from prosecution for American soldiers fell apart.

Memories of U.S. abuses, arrests and killings still haunt many Iraqis and the question of legal protection from prosecution looked too sensitive for Iraq’s political leadership to push through a splintered parliament.

At the height of the war, 170,000 American soldiers occupied more than 500 bases across the country. Now only two bases and 5,500 troops remain in the country. All will be home before the end of the year when a security pact expires.

Only around 150 U.S. soldiers will remain in Iraq after December 31 attached to the huge U.S. Embassy that sits near the Tigris River. Civilian contractors will take on the task of training Iraqi forces on U.S. military hardware.

Every day hundreds of trunks and troops trundle in convoys across the Kuwaiti border as U.S. troops end their mission.

“Was it worth it? I am sure it was. When we first came in here, the Iraqi people seemed like they were happy to see us,” said Sgt 1st Class Lon Bennish, packing up at a U.S. base and finishing the last of three deployments in Iraq.

“I hope we are leaving behind a country that says ‘Hey, we are better off now than we were before.’”

(Editing by Paul Casciato)

13-51

Syria Calls for Arab League Emergency Meeting

November 17, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Martin Chulov in Beirut

Syria has called for an emergency meeting of the Arab League after the regional body announced it will suspend Damascus from its membership ranks on Wednesday and impose sanctions – a move that has sharply escalated tensions across the region.

The regime of President Bashar al-Assad wants the urgent meeting held before the suspension is due to take effect. Syrian officials made the demand after a night of apparently sponsored violence against the diplomatic missions of states that had voted to punish it because of a crackdown against demonstrators in defiance of an earlier understanding.

On Saturday night, protesters stormed the Saudi Arabian and Turkish embassies in Damascus and the Qatari mission in nearby Beirut, prompting Turkey and Saudi Arabia to withdraw non-essential diplomats and their families.

Turkey has also demanded compensation for damage to its embassy and warned its citizens against travelling across its southern border.

Last month, the US also withdrew its ambassador after the US embassy was twice stormed by a crowd.

The British Foreign Office minister, Alistair Burt, condemned the latest embassy attacks on Sunday. “By allowing these attacks to take place, the Syrian regime is demonstrating yet again that its first response is repression and intimidation,” he said. “This cycle of violence must stop now for the sake of the Syrian people and for those who support them.”

Turkey called on the international community to stop the bloodshed in Syria, a demand that appeared to leave open the possibility of some kind of intervention.

An unnamed Syrian official told the state news agency Sana on Sunday that Arab League monitors could travel to the country to assess the situation before the suspension is due to take effect on 16 November.

Such a concession had been a key demand of the body, which two weeks ago thought it had struck a broad deal with Damascus to end the violence.

However, clashes have intensified since then, with daily death tolls often of more than 20 people, meaning November – the eighth month of the Syrian uprising – is likely to be its bloodiest yet.

A large pro-regime rally saw thousands turn out in central Damascus on Sunday in what was cast as a spontaneous mass display of backing for Assad, whose support base remains stronger in the capital and in the commercial hub of Aleppo than in the third and fourth cities, Hama and Homs. Daily clashes there between troops and protesters underline a deepening divide with ever-sharpening sectarian dimensions.

Syria is ruled by the Assad clan, hailing from the Allawite sect, which has close ties to Shia Islam. The Allawites account for around 12% of all Syrians, but are deeply entwined into the establishment.
Other minorities include Christians, Druze and Kurds. However, the bulk of Syrians are Sunni Muslims, whom the regime fears have drawn strength from successful revolts in the Sunni states of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.

The effect of Syria’s suspension is not yet clear, and neither are the type of sanctions that the Arab League may impose. The organisation’s secretary general, Nabil al-Arabi, said on Sunday that he is “studying mechanisms” to protect Syrian people.

He left open the possibility of again referring Syria to the UN security council, where Syrian allies Russia and China last month blocked a move that had threatened to bring security council sanctions.
Arabi said the league did not have the means to act alone.

Despite its relative lack of clout, the Arab League move is significant on the global stage, where European and US policymakers had been struggling to craft a means of stopping the violence in Syria without causing a collapse in regional stability.

Without the cover from the Arab League that the US received in March, Barack Obama would have been much less likely to authorise the use of the US military in the early stages of the Libyan operation – an essential element of the ultimately succesful Nato operation.

The move against Syria – only the second of its kind in the history of the 22-state organisation – is likely to embolden states opposed to the regime but fearful of the knock-on effects of the fall of Assad.

Isolation is not sitting well with Assad or Syria’s key patron, Iran.

Both states have warned of “dire consequences” if more pressure is piled on the regime, and insisted that the relentless protests are foreign-backed and being led by militant Sunni Islamists.

Guardian.co.uk

Assad: Syria Won’t Stop Fight

August 11, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Khaled Yacoub Oweis

AMMAN (Reuters) – Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said on Tuesday his forces would continue to pursue “terrorist groups” after Turkey pressed him to end a military assault aimed at crushing protests against his rule.

Syria “will not relent in pursuing the terrorist groups in order to protect the stability of the country and the security of the citizens,” state news agency SANA quoted Assad as telling Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

“But (Syria) is also determined to continue reforms … and is open to any help offered by friendly and brotherly states.”

While the two men held talks in Damascus, Syrian forces killed at least 30 people and moved into a town near the Turkish border, an activist group said.

The National Organization for Human Rights said most of the fatalities occurred when troops backed by tanks and armored vehicles overran villages north of Hama, while four were killed in Binnish, 30 km (20 miles) from the border with Turkey.

Washington expressed disappointment at Assad’s latest comments and said U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expected to talk to Davutoglu after his meetings in Syria.

“It is deeply regrettable that President Assad does not seem to be hearing the increasingly loud voice of the international community,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters when asked about the comment.

She refused to comment directly on a 2009 U.S. diplomatic cable quoted by McClatchy newspapers last week describing Assad in unflattering terms, calling him “neither as shrewd nor as long-winded as his father” (former president Hafez al-Assad).

Despite the growing international condemnation, including a sudden wave of Arab criticism, Assad’s forces pursued an offensive in the eastern city of Deir al-Zor, residents said.

Activists say at least 1,600 civilians have died since the uprising against Assad erupted in March, making it one of the bloodiest of the upheavals sweeping the Arab world.

Davutoglu held six hours of meetings with Syrian officials, including a two-hour session alone with Assad.

He told reporters on his return to Ankara that Turkey had demanded Damascus stop killing civilians and said his government would maintain contacts with all parts of Syrian society.

Davutoglu said Turkey hoped for a peaceful transition in Syria resulting in the Syrian people deciding their own future.

Neighboring Turkey has grown increasingly critical of the violence but earned a sharp rebuke on Sunday when an Assad adviser said Syria would not accept interference in its affairs.

Syria has faced nearly five months of protests against Assad’s 11-year rule, inspired by Arab revolts which overthrew leaders in Egypt and Tunisia earlier this year.

Last week Assad sent troops and tanks to quell the mostly Sunni Muslim city of Hama in central Syria and the army launched a similar assault on Sunday against Deir al-Zor.

An armored column also pushed toward the center of the city on Tuesday, with troops storming houses and making arrests in the provincial capital of an oil region bordering Iraq’s Sunni heartland, a resident said.

“They are now about one kilometer from downtown. When they finish with one district, they move to another,” said the resident, who gave his name as Iyad.

Increasing the pressure on Assad, Sunni Muslim power Saudi Arabia issued a blunt warning that he risked turmoil unless he stopped the bloodshed and adopted reforms.

Kuwait and Bahrain followed the kingdom in recalling their ambassadors.

The withdrawal of envoys left Assad with few diplomatic friends bar Iran. Western states have imposed sanctions on his top officials, while states with close ties to Damascus such as Russia and Turkey have warned Assad he is running out of time.

Nevertheless, no country has proposed military action such as that launched against Libya’s leader Muammar Gaddafi.

ASSAULT

In Deir al-Zor, a resident said on Monday 65 people had been killed since tanks and armored vehicles barreled into the city, 400 km (250 miles) northeast of Damascus on Sunday.

The British-based Syrian Observatory of Human Rights said among the dead were a mother and her two children, an elderly woman and a girl. Syria has expelled most independent media since the revolt began, making it hard to confirm accounts.

Syrian authorities have denied that any Deir al-Zor assault took place. They say they have faced attacks since the protests erupted in March, blaming armed saboteurs for civilian deaths and accusing them of killing 500 security personnel.

State television broadcast footage on Sunday of mutilated bodies floating in the Orontes river in Hama, saying 17 police had been ambushed and killed in the central Syrian city.

The official SANA news agency said on Monday the military was starting to pull out of Hama after it said they had helped restore order. Residents said there were still tanks in parts of the city and security forces were making arrests.

About 1,500 people were detained in Hama’s Jarajima district and troops killed three civilians, the Observatory said.

Activists say at least 130 people were killed in Hama, where Assad’s father crushed an armed Islamist uprising in 1982, and one group has put the death toll at over 300.

Like most of Syria, ruled by Assad’s minority Alawite family, Hama and Deir al-Zor are mainly Sunni cities, and the crackdowns there resonate with Sunnis, who form the majority in the region and govern most Arab countries.

(Additional reporting by Mariam Karouny in Beirut and Ankara bureau; Writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by Gareth Jones)

13-33

The Middle East Counter-Revolution

June 2, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

To lead the counter-revolution in this region, Washington and Tel Aviv have relied on the Sudairi clan – the worlds richest political organization

By Thierry Meyssan

Within months, three pro-Western governments have fallen in the Arab World: parliament removed Saad Hariris Lebanese government, while popular movements drove out Zine el-Abbidine Ben Ali of Tunisia and Husni Mubarak in Egypt.

These changes have been followed by demonstrations against U.S. domination and Zionism. They politically benefit the Axis of Resistance, comprised of Iran and Syria at the state level and at the non-state level by Hezbollah and Hamas.

To lead the counter-revolution in this region, Washington and Tel Aviv have relied on their best support: the Sudairi clan, which embodies despotism at the service of imperialism unlike any other.

The Sudairi

You have probably never heard of them, but for decades the Sudairi have been the worlds richest political organization.

Among the fifty-three sons of King Ibn Saud, founder of Saudi Arabia, the Sudairi are the seven that he sired with Princess Sudairi. Their leader was King Fahd, who ruled from 1982 to 2005. Only six are still alive. The eldest is Prince Sultan, minister of defence since 1962, who is 85. At 71, the youngest is Prince Ahmed, deputy interior minister since 1975. Since the 60s, it was their clan that organized, structured, and funded the pro-Western puppet regimes of the Greater Middle East.

A look back is required here.

Saudi Arabia is a legal entity created by the British during the First World War to weaken the Ottoman Empire. Although Lawrence of Arabia had invented the concept of the Arab nation, he never managed to make a nation of this country, let alone a state. It was and still is the private property of the Al-Sauds. As the British inquiry on the Al-Yamamah Scandal brought to light, in the 21st century there are still no bank accounts or budget for the Kingdom. It is the accounts of the royal family that serve to administer the Kingdom, which is its private domain.

The area fell under U.S. control after the Second World War, when the United Kingdom could no longer maintain its empire. President Franklin D. Roosevelt made an agreement with King Ibn Saud: the family of Saud guaranteed oil supplies to the United States which in return guaranteed the military assistance necessary to keep the House of Saud in power. This alliance is known as the Quincy Agreement, negotiated on a ship by the same name. It is an agreement, not a treaty since it does not bind two states, but a state and a family.
The founding king, Ibn Saud, having had 32 wives and 53 sons, serious rivalries between potential successors were not slow to emerge. Thus it was decided that the crown would not be handed down from father to son, but from half-brother to half-brother.

Five of Ibn Sauds sons have already sat on the throne. The current king, Abdullah I, 87, is a rather open-minded person, although totally out of touch with todays realities. Aware that the current dynastic system is headed for ruin, he intends to reform the rules of succession. The crown would thus be appointed by the Council of the Kingdom this means selected by representatives of various branches of the royal family – and could potentially go to a younger generation.

This wise idea does not suit the Sudairi. Indeed, given the various abdications to the throne for health reasons or self-indulgence, the next three candidates belong to their clan: Prince Sultan, formerly appointed Interior Minister, 85; Prince Naif, Interior Minister, 78; and Prince Salman, the governor of Riyadh, 75. If it were to be applied, the new dynastic rule would work to their disadvantage.

One can easily understand that the Sudairi, who never cared much for their half-brother, King Abdullah, hate him at present. And, also, that they have decided to throw all their forces into the current struggle.

The Return of Bandar Bush

In the late 70s, the Sudairi clan was headed by Prince Fahd, who noticed the rare qualities of one of his brother Sultans children: Prince Bandar. He sent him to Washington to negotiate arms contracts and was impressed by the way he handled an agreement with President Carter.

When Fahd ascended to the throne in 1982, Prince Bandar was a trusted aid. He was appointed military attaché, then ambassador to Washington, a post he held until his abrupt dismissal by King Abdullah in 2005.

The son of Prince Sultan and a Libyan slave, Prince Bandar is a brilliant and ruthless character that has distinguished himself within the royal family despite the stigma attached to his maternal origin. He is now the working arm of the gerontocratic Sudairi clan.

During his long stay in Washington, Prince Bandar befriended the Bush family, in particular George H. Bush, with whom he was inseparable. The latter likes to portray him as the son that he would have liked to have, so much so that his nickname in the capital is Mr. Bandar Bush. What George H. former director of the CIA and U.S. president appreciated most about him is his taste for illegal actions.

Mr. Bandar Bush made a place for himself in U.S. high society. He is both a manager for life of the Aspen Institute and a member of the Bohemian Grove. The British public first found out about him during the Al-Yamamah Scandal: the biggest arms deal in history as well as the largest corruption scandal. Over two decades (1985-2006), British Aerospace, soon renamed BAE Systems, sold $80 billion worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia while quietly dropping a portion of this windfall into the bank accounts of Saudi politicians and probably British politicians, with $2 billion going to Prince Bandar alone.

This is because His Highness has a lot of expenses. Prince Bandar has taken over responsibility for numerous Arab fighters trained by Pakistani and Saudi intelligence during the Cold War to fight the Red Army in Afghanistan at the request of the CIA and MI6. Of course, the best known figure in this milieu was none other than billionaire guru turned anti-communist jihadist, Osama bin Laden.

It is impossible to say precisely how many men Prince Bandar has at his disposal. Over time, we have seen his involvement in many conflicts and terrorist acts across the Muslim world from Morocco to Chinas Xinjiang. For example, one may recall the small army that he had planted, by the name of Fatah Al-Islam, in the Palestinian camp of Nahr el-Bared in Lebanon. The mission of these fighters was to incite the Palestinian refugees, mostly Sunnis, to proclaim an independent emirate and to fight Hezbollah. The affair turned sour when the salaries of the mercenaries were not paid on time. Ultimately, in 2007, Prince Bandars men entrenched themselves in the camp. 30,000 Palestinians were forced to flee, while the Lebanese army waged a two-month battle to gain control of the camp. This operation cost the lives of 50 mercenaries, 32 Palestinian civilians and 68 Lebanese soldiers.

In early 2010, Bandar staged a coup to overthrow King Abdullah and to place his father, Sultan, on the throne. The plot was discovered and Bandar left in disgrace without however losing his official titles. But in late 2010, the declining health of the king and his surgery gave the Sudairi the upper hand and they engineered Bandars comeback with the support of the Obama Administration.

It was after having visited the king, who was hospitalized in Washington, and having concluded too quickly that he was dying, that Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri rallied to the side of the Sudairi. Saad Hariri is a Saudi, born in Riyadh, but with dual nationality. He inherited his fortune from his father, who owed everything to Saud. He is therefore obligated to the king and became Prime Minister of Lebanon at his urging, while the U.S. State Department was concerned about his ability to fill the position.

During the period when he had to obey King Abdullah, Saad Hariri began to reconcile with President Bashar al-Assad. He withdrew the accusations he had made against him about the assassination of his father, Rafik Al-Hariri, and apologized for having been manipulated to artificially create tension between Lebanon and Syria. In endorsing the Sudairi, Saad has made a political volte-face. Overnight, he renounced King Abdullahs policy of conciliation towards Syria and Hezbollah and launched an offensive against the regime of Bashar Al-Assad, for the disarmament of Hezbollah, and for a compromise with Israel.

However, King Abdullah came out of his semi-comatose state and didnt wait long to demand accountability. Deprived of this essential support, Saad Hariri and his government were overthrown by the Lebanese Parliament in favor of Najib Mikati, another bi-national, but less adventurous, billionaire. As punishment, King Abdullah ordered a tax investigation into Hariris largest Saudi society and had several of his associates arrested for fraud.

The Saudiri legions

The Sudairi have decided to launch the counter-revolution in all directions.

In Egypt, where they financed Mubarak on one hand and the Muslim Brotherhood on the other hand, they have now imposed an alliance between the Brotherhood and pro-U.S. army officers.

This new coalition has shared power by excluding the leaders of the revolution in Tahrir Square. It refused to convene a National Assembly and contended itself with amending the constitution marginally.

First, they declared Islam the state religion to the detriment of the Coptic Christian minority (about 10%) who were oppressed by Husni Mubarak and who mobilized en masse against him. In addition, Dr. Mahmoud Izzat, the number two of the Brotherhood, called for the rapid introduction of Sharia law and the restoration of Sharia punishment.

Young Wael Ghoneim, who had played a leading role in the overthrow of the tyrant, was barred from the podium during the victory celebrations, February 18, which rallied nearly 2 million people. Conversely, the star preacher of the Brotherhood, Youssef Al-Qardawi, returning after 30 years of exile in Qatar, was allowed to speak at length. He, who had been stripped of his citizenship by Gamal Abdel Nasser, projected himself as the incarnation of the new era: that of Sharia law and peaceful coexistence with the Zionist regime in Tel Aviv.

Nobel Peace Prize Muhammad Al-Baradei, whom the Muslim Brotherhood opted as a spokesman during the revolution to give themselves a more liberal image, was physically assaulted by the same Brothers during the constitutional referendum and was ejected from the political scene.

The Muslim Brothers made their formal entry into politics through the creation of a new party, Freedom and Justice, with the support of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and by imitating the profile of the Turkish AKP (The same strategy was chosen in Tunisia with the Renaissance Party).

In this context, violent attacks were perpetrated against religious minorities. Thus two Coptic churches were burned. Far from punishing the aggressors, the Prime Minister offered them a guarantee: he dismissed the governor that he had appointed in the province of Qenna, the respected General Imad Mikhael, because he is a Coptic Christian and not a Sunni Muslim.

In Libya, the Sudairi transferred armed fighters into Cyrenaica pending the green light from France and Britain to start the insurrection against the government of Tripoli. They are the ones who distributed weapons and the red-black-green star and crescent flags, symbols of the Senoussi monarchy. Their goal is to get rid of troublemaker Gaddafi and restore Prince Mohammed on the throne of what was once the United Kingdom of Libya.

It was the Gulf Cooperation Council that was the first to call for military intervention against the government of Tripoli. At the Security Council, it was the Saudi delegation which led the diplomatic manoeuvres for the Arab League to endorse the attacks by Western armies.

Colonel Qaddafi for his part declared in several speeches that there was no revolution in Cyrenaica, but that his country was facing an Al-Qaeda destabilization operation; claims that wrongly elicited smiles and which were personally confirmed to his great embarrassment by General Carter F. Ham, U.S. AfriCom commander. In charge of the initial U.S. military operations before being supplanted by NATO, General Ham was surprised at having to choose his targets based on information from spies on the ground who were known to have fought against the Coalition forces in Afghanistan in short, bin Ladens men.

Bahrain, meanwhile, presents itself as an independent kingdom since 1971. In reality, it is still a territory dominated by the British. During their rule they had chosen a Khalifa as prime minister and the position has been maintained for 40 years continuously, from the fiction of independence up until today. This is a continuum which is not displeasing to the Sudairi.

King Hamad has granted an important concession to the United States, which established its Central Command and the Fifth Fleet naval headquarters in the port of Juffair. In these circumstances, the popular demand for constitutional monarchy would imply access to real independence, the end of British rule, and the departure of U.S. forces. Such a development would certainly have a domino effect in Saudi Arabia and threaten the foundations of the system.

The Sudairi convinced the king of Bahrain to bloodily crush the hopes of the population.

On 13 March, U.S. Secretary of Defence Robert Gates arrived in Manama to initiate the coordination of operations, which began with the entry of Saudi special forces, known as Nayef Eagles, under the command of Prince Nayef. Within days, all the symbols of protest were destroyed, including the public monument erected in Pearl Square. Hundreds of people died or went missing. Torture, which had been abandoned for almost a decade, was again widespread. Doctors and nurses who treated injured protesters were arrested in their hospitals, detained incommunicado, and brought before military tribunals.

But, the most important element in this terrible repression is the determination to transform a classic class struggle, between an entire population and a privileged class tied to foreign imperialism, into a sectarian conflict. The majority of Bahrainis are Shiites while the ruling family is Sunni. The Shias are seen as the vehicle of the revolutionary ideal of Ruhollah Khomeini, who was designated as a target. In one month, the “Nayef Eagles” razed 25 Shiite mosques and damaged 253 others.

21 of the main political protest leaders will soon be tried by a special court. They face the death penalty. More so than the Shiites, the monarchy is going after Ibrahim Sharif, the party chairman of the Waad (a secular leftist party), whom they accuse of not playing by the rules because he is a Sunni Muslim.

Having failed to destabilize Iran, the Sudairi have concentrated their attacks against Syria.

The Destabilization of Syria

In early February, when the country had yet to experience any demonstration, a page titled The Syrian Revolution 2011 was created on Facebook. It called for a “Day of Wrath on Friday 4; the call was relayed by Al Jazeera, but did not resonate anywhere. Al Jazeera deplored the lack of reaction and stigmatized Syria as the kingdom of silence (sic).

The name The Syrian Revolution 2011 is puzzling: it is in English and has the characteristic of an advertising slogan. But what genuine revolutionary would think that if he fails to realize his objectives in 2011, he would simply go back home?

Even stranger, on the day of its creation this Facebook page registered more than 80,000 friends. Such enthusiasm in a few hours, followed by nothing, suggests manipulation carried out with computer software that creates multiple accounts. Especially considering that the Syrians have a moderate level of internet use and have only had access to ADSL since January 1st.

The troubles began a month later in Deraa, a rural town located at the Jordanian border and a few miles from Israel. Vandals paid adolescents to tag anti-government graffiti on the walls of the city. Local police arrested the students and treated them as criminals to the annoyance of their families. Local notables who intended to settle the dispute were turned away by the governor. The young men were beaten. Furious, the families attacked the police station to set them free. The police responded with even more brutality, killing protesters.

President Bashar Al-Assad then intervened to punish the police and the governor a cousin whom the President had appointed to Deraa, far from the capital, to keep him out of sight. An investigation was opened to shed light on the police killings. The officials responsible for the violence have been indicted and put under bail. Ministers have apologized and offered condolences to the victims families on behalf of the government, gestures which have been publicly accepted.

Everything should have returned to normal, but suddenly masked snipers stationed on rooftops fired on both the crowd and at police, plunging the city into chaos.

Taking advantage of the confusion, the gunmen went outside the city to attack a government building that houses the intelligence services responsible for the observation of the Syrian Golan Heights territory occupied by Israel. The security services fired back to defend the building and its archives. There were deaths on both sides.

This type of confrontation has recurred. People sought protection from the army responding to the attackers who stormed the city. Three thousand men and tanks were deployed to protect the inhabitants. Ultimately, a battle has pitted the infiltrated fighters against the Syrian army in a scenario similar to the Lebanese army siege on Nahr Al-Bared. Except this time, the international media has distorted the facts and accused the Syrian army of attacking the people of Deraa.

Meanwhile, clashes erupted in Lattakia, a port which has long been the home of criminal organizations that specialize in maritime smuggling. These individuals received arms and money from Lebanon. They vandalized the downtown. The police intervened. On presidential order, the police were armed only with batons. The gangsters then unleashed war weapons, killing dozens of unarmed policemen.

The same scenario was repeated in the neighboring town of Banias, a town of less importance, but which is much more strategic because it is home to the main oil refinery in the country. This time the police used their arms and the confrontation turned into a pitched battle.

Finally, individuals in Homs, a major city, came to participate at a mosque and called their fundamentalist followers to demonstrate against the regime that is killing our brothers in Latakia.

Reacting to the unrest, the Syrian population descended en masse to affirm its support for the Republic. Huge demonstrations, unprecedented in the history of the country, drew hundreds of thousands of people in Damascus, Aleppo, and Latakia to the cry of God, Syria, Bashar!.

While the clashes were intensifying in the localities concerned, the police managed to stop the fighters. According to their televised confessions, they were recruited, armed, and funded by a pro-Hariri MP in Lebanon, Jamal Jarrah, which he denies.

Jamal Jarrah is a friend of Prince Bandar. His name had been cited in the case of Fatah Al-Islam in Nahr Al-Bared. He is the cousin of Ziad Jarrah, a jihadist accused by the FBI of being responsible for the hijacking of Flight 93 that crashed in Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001. He is also the cousin of the Ali and Yousef Jarrah brothers, who were arrested by the Lebanese army in November 2008 for spying for Israel.

Jamal Jarrah is a secret member of the Muslim Brotherhood, which he also denies. In 1982, the Brotherhood tried to seize power in Syria. They failed and became victims of a terrible repression. Since the amnesty proclaimed by President Bashar Al-Assad it was believed that these painful memories had been forgotten. On the contrary, this branch of the Brothers is now funded by the Sudairi. The role of the Banias Brotherhood in the clashes has now been acknowledged by all.

Allegedly, Jamal Jarrah also used Lebanese Hizb ut-Tahrir militants, an Islamist organization based in London and especially active in Central Asia. Hizb ut-Tahrir, which advocates non-violence, is accused of masterminding many attacks in the Ferghana Valley. It was with the intention of curbing this group that China began its rapprochement with Russia within the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Despite much debate in the House of Commons about the group, its representatives in London have never been inconvenienced and they all occupy positions as high-level executives in Anglo-American multinationals.

Last year, Hizb ut-Tahrir opened a branch in Lebanon. On that occasion, it organized a conference to which foreign dignitaries were invited, including a Russian intellectual of international repute. During discussions, the organizers called for the establishment of an Islamic state, stating that Lebanese Shiites, Druze, and even some Sunnis are not real Muslims and should be expelled like the Christians. Flabbergasted by such outrageous remarks, the Russian guest promptly gave television interviews to disassociate himself from these fanatics.

At first, Syrian security forces appeared to be overwhelmed by events. Trained in the U.S.S.R., senior officers used force without worrying about the consequences on the population. But the situation was gradually reversed. President Bashar Al-Assad took control of the situation. He changed the government. He repealed the state of emergency and dissolved the State Security Court. He granted citizenship to thousands of Syrian Kurds who were historically denied citizenship because of a disputed census. In addition, he took a number of other measures, such as repealing the fines for late payment of public utilities (electricity, etc.). In doing so, he satisfied the main demands of the population and mitigated opposition. On the Day of Rage (Friday, May 6) the overall number of protesters in the country did not reach 50,000 people out of a population of 22 million.

Specifically, Mohammed Al-Shaar, the new interior minister, called for anyone who was involed in the riots to report voluntarily to the police and be granted amnesty in exchange for complete cooperation. Over 1,100 people responded. Within days, the principal conduits were dismantled and many weapons caches seized. After five weeks of violence, calm slowly returned to almost all the troubled cities.

Among the ringleaders identified and arrested, several were Israeli or Lebanese officers and one was a politician with close ties to Saad Hariri. This attempt at destabilization has a sequel.

An open conspiracy

What was originally a plot to overthrow the Syrian regime turned into open blackmail through destabilization. Realizing that the revolt was not picking up steam, the anti-Syrian Arab press shamelessly echoed the negotiations that were in progress.

They reported the visits of negotiators going to Damascus to present the requirements of the Sudairi. If we are to believe the newspapers, the violence will not stop until Bashar Al-Assad bends to two requirements: break with Iran; and stop supporting the resistance in Palestine, Lebanon, and Iraq.

International Propaganda

The Sudairi want a Western military intervention to end the Syrian resistance, along similar lines as the aggression which is unfolding in Libya. To do this, they mobilized propaganda specialists.

To everyones surprise, the satellite TV station Al Jazeera abruptly changed its editorial line. It is no secret that the station was created by David and Jean Frydman, the French billionaire brothers who were counsellors to Ytzakh Rabin and Ehud Barak. They wanted to create a medium that allowed a debate between Israelis and Arabs, since such a debate was forbidden by law in each of the countries concerned.

To set up the network, they called on the Emir of Qatar who initially acted as a cover. The drafting team was recruited among the BBCs Arabic Service, so that from the beginning the majority of journalists were leading British MI6 agents.

However, the Emir took political control of the network, which became the working arm of his monarchy. For years, Al Jazeera has indeed played a role of appeasement by promoting dialogue and understanding in the region. But the network has also contributed to trivializing the Israeli system of apartheid, as if the violent methods emplyed by IDF were merely unfortunate blunders on the part of a basically acceptable regime, whereas they constitute the essence of the regime itself.

Al Jazeera, whose coverage of the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt was outstanding, abruptly changed its editorial line with the Libyan case to become the mouthpiece of the Sudairi.

This about-face deserves an explanation. The attack on Libya was originally a Franco-British plan conceived in November 2010, i.e. well before the Arab Spring, in which the U.S. has been involved. Paris and London intended to settle scores with Tripoli and defend their colonial interests. Indeed, in 2005-2006, the Libya National Oil Company (NOC) had launched three international tenders for exploration and exploitation of its reserves, the largest in Africa. Colonel Gaddafi had imposed his own game rules on Western companies, forcing them to accept agreements that were hardly advantageous in their eyes. They even represented the less favourable contracts to multinationals worldwide. In addition, there were several disputes related to the cancellation of lucrative contracts for equipment and armament.

From the earliest days of the alleged Benghazi uprising, Paris and London set up the Transition National Council that France officially acknowledged as the legitimate representative of the Libyan people. This Council has created a new oil company, the LOC, which was recognized by the international community at the London summit as the holder of the rights to the countrys hydrocarbons. During the gathering, it was decided that the marketing of oil stolen by the LOC would be done by … Qatar, and that the contact group of allied states would henceforth meet in Doha.

On cue, tele-evangelist Youssef Al-Qardawi started howling for the overthrow of President Bashar Al-Assad on a daily basis. Sheikh Al-Qardawi is president of the International Union of Scholars and also of the European Council for Fatwa and Research. He is the icon of the Muslim Brotherhood and preaches for an original brand of Islam, a mix of U.S. market democracy and Saudi obscurantism: he recognizes the principle of elected officials provided they undertake to enforce the Sharia in its most limited interpretation.

Youssef Al-Qardawi was joined by Saudi cleric Saleh Al-Luhaidan who urged: kill a third of Syrians so the other two-thirds may live (sic). Kill one-third of the Syrian population? That would imply slaying the Christians, Jews, Shiites, Druze and Alawite. So that two-thirds may live? That would amount to establishing a Sunni state before it cleanses its own kind.

To date, only the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, appears to resist the seductive power of the Sudairi petro-dollars. Its leader, Khaled Meshaal, not without a moments hesitation, confirmed he would remain in exile in Damascus vowing his support for President Al-Assad. With the latters help, he preempted imperialist and Zionist plans by negotiating an agreement with Fatahs Mahmoud Abbas.

Since March, Al-Jazeera, BBC Arabic, and Arabic France24 have turned into massive propaganda organs. By multiplying false testimonies and and manipulated images, they spin events to make the Syrian Republic look like the Tunisian regime of Ben Ali.

They have attempted to portray the Syrian army as a force of repression similar to the Tunisian police, one which does not hesitate to fire on peaceful citizens fighting for their freedom. These networks have even announced the death of a young soldier who refused to fire on his fellow citizens and was allegedly tortured to death by his superiors. In fact, the Syrian army is a conscript army, and the young soldier whose vital statistics had been published was actually on leave. In an interview with Syrian television, he affirmed his willingness to defend his country against foreign mercenaries.

Furthermore, these satellite channels have tried to portray several Syrian personalities as profiteers, just like Ben-Alis in-laws. They have focused their criticism on Rami Makhlouf, the richest man in the country, who is a cousin of President Al-Assad. They claimed that like the Tunisian model he demanded shares in all foreign companies wishing to do business in the country. This is absolutely unfounded and unimaginable in the Syrian context. In reality, Rami Makhlouf has enjoyed the confidence of President Al-Assad due to his role in establishing a cell phone network. Like anyone who has obtained such concessions in the world, he became a billionaire. The real question is whether or not they used their positions to enrich themselves at the expense of consumers. The answer is no: Syriatel offers the cheapest cellular phone rates in the world!

At any rate, the prize for lying goes to Al Jazeera. The network went so far as to present images of a demonstration of 40,000 people in Moscow calling for the end of Russias support for Syria. It was actually footage shot during the annual May 1 celebrations, in which the network had planted actors to make fake statements.

The Reorganization of Prince Bandar’s networks and the Obama Administration

The counter-revolution device used by the Sudairi is up against one difficulty. Until now Prince Bandars mercenaries had fought under the banner of Osama bin Laden, whether in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Chechnya or elsewhere. Initially considered an anti-communist, Bin Laden had gradually become anti-Western. His shift was influenced by the ideology of the Clash of Civilizations that was expounded by Bernard Lewis and popularized by his student Samuel Huntington. It experienced its era of glory with the terrorist attacks of September 11 and the War on Terrorism: Bandars men fomented disorder wherever the United States wanted to intervene.

In the current period, the image of the jihadists needs to be changed. They are now expected to fight alongside NATO, as they once fought alongside the CIA in Afghanistan against the Red Army. It is therefore advisable to revert to the pro-Western discourse of the past and to find a substitute for anti-communism. This will be the ideological task of Sheikh Youssef al-Qardawi.

To facilitate this makeover, Washington has announced the official death of Osama bin Laden. With their father figure gone, the mercenaries of Prince Bandar can be mobilized under a new banner.
This redistribution of roles is accompanied by a game of musical chairs in Washington.

General David Petraeus, who as commander of CENTCOM was to deal with the men of Bandar in the Middle East, became the director of the CIA. We must therefore expect an accelerated withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan and greater involvement of Bandars people in the secret operations of the CIA.

Leon Panetta, the outgoing director of the CIA, became the secretary of defence. According to the internal agreement of the U.S. ruling class, this post should be reserved for a member of the Baker-Hamilton Commission. Panetta, like Gates, was a member. In the case of new wars, he would limit ground deployment, except for Special Forces.

In Riyadh and Washington they have already drafted the death certificate of the Arab Spring. The Sudairi can say about the Middle East what Il Gattopardo (the Leopard) used to say about Italy: everything must change so that everything can stay the same and we can remain masters.

Voltaire Network

13-23

It’s All Spelled Out in Unpublicized Agreement–Total Defeat for U.S. in Iraq

December 18, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

Courtesy Patrick Cockburn

2008-12-10T165648Z_01_BAG310_RTRMDNP_3_IRAQ-FEAST

On November 27 the Iraqi parliament voted by a large majority in favor of a security agreement with the US under which the 150,000 American troops in Iraq will withdraw from cities, towns and villages by June 30, 2009 and from all of Iraq by December 31, 2011. The Iraqi government will take over military responsibility for the Green Zone in Baghdad, the heart of American power in Iraq, in a few weeks time. Private security companies will lose their legal immunity. US military operations and the arrest of Iraqis will only be carried out with Iraqi consent. There will be no US military bases left behind when the last US troops leave in three years time and the US military is banned in the interim from carrying out attacks on other countries from Iraq.

The Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), signed after eight months of rancorous negotiations, is categorical and unconditional. America’s bid to act as the world’s only super-power and to establish quasi-colonial control of Iraq, an attempt which began with the invasion of 2003, has ended in failure. There will be a national referendum on the new agreement next July, but the accord is to be implemented immediately so the poll will be largely irrelevant. Even Iran, which had furiously denounced the first drafts of the SOFA saying that they would establish a permanent US presence in Iraq, now says blithely that it will officially back the new security pact after the referendum. This is a sure sign that Iran, as America’s main rival in the Middle East, sees the pact as marking the final end of the US occupation and as a launching pad for military assaults on neighbours such as Iran.

Astonishingly, this momentous agreement has been greeted with little surprise or interest outside Iraq. On the same day that it was finally passed by the Iraqi parliament international attention was wholly focused on the murderous terrorist attack in Mumbai. For some months polls in the US showed that the economic crisis had replaced the Iraqi war as the main issue facing America in the eyes of voters. So many spurious milestones in Iraq have been declared by President Bush over the years that when a real turning point occurs people are naturally sceptical about its significance. The White House was so keen to limit understanding of what it had agreed in Iraq that it did not even to publish a copy of the SOFA in English. Some senior officials in the Pentagon are privately criticizing President Bush for conceding so much to the Iraqis, but the American media are fixated on the incoming Obama administration and no longer pays much attention to the doings of the expiring Bush administration.

The last minute delays to the accord were not really about the terms agreed with the Americans. It was rather that the leaders of the Sunni Arab minority, seeing the Shia-Kurdish government of prime minister Nouri al-Maliki about to fill the vacuum created by the US departure, wanted to barter their support for the accord in return for as many last minute concessions as they could extract. Some three quarters of the 17,000 prisoners held by the Americans are Sunni and they wanted them released or at least not mistreated by the Iraqi security forces. They asked for an end to de-Baathication which is directed primarily at the Sunni community. Only the Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr held out against the accord to the end, declaring it a betrayal of independent Iraq. The ultra-patriotic opposition of the Sadrists to the accord has been important because it has made it difficult for the other Shia parties to agree to anything less than a complete American withdrawal. If they did so they risked being portrayed as US puppets in the upcoming provincial elections at the end of January 2009 or the parliamentary elections later in the year.

The SOFA finally agreed is almost the opposite of the one which US started to negotiate in March. This is why Iran, with its strong links to the Shia parties inside Iraq, ended its previous rejection of it. The first US draft was largely an attempt to continue the occupation without much change from the UN mandate which expired at the end of the year. Washington overplayed its hand. The Iraqi government was growing stronger as the Sunni Arabs ended their uprising against the occupation. The Iranians helped restrain the Mehdi Army, Muqtada’s powerful militia, so the government regained control of Basra, Iraq’s second biggest city, and Sadr City, almost half Baghdad, from the Shia militias. The prime minister Nouri al-Maliki became more confident, realizing his military enemies were dispersing and, in any case, the Americans had no real alternative but to support him. The US has always been politically weak in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein because it has few real friends in the country aside from the Kurds. The leaders of the Iraqi Shia, 60 per cent of the total population, might ally themselves to Washington to gain power, but they never intended to share power with the US in the long term.

The occupation has always been unpopular in Iraq. Foreign observers and some Iraqis are often misled by the hatred with which different Iraqi communities regard each other into underestimating the strength of Iraqi nationalism. Once Maliki came to believe that he could survive without US military support then he was able to spurn US proposals until an unconditional withdrawal was conceded. He could also see that Barack Obama, whose withdrawal timetable was not so different from his own, was going to be the next American president. Come the provincial and parliamentary elections of 2009, Maliki can present himself as the man who ended the occupation. Critics of the prime minister, notably the Kurds, think that success has gone to his head, but there is no doubt that the new security agreement has strengthened him politically.

It may be that, living in the heart of the Green Zone, that Maliki has an exaggerated idea of what his government has achieved. In the Zone there is access to clean water and electricity while in the rest of Baghdad people have been getting only three or four hours electricity a day. Security in Iraq is certainly better than it was during the sectarian civil war between Sunni and Shia in 2006-7 but the improvement is wholly comparative. The monthly death toll has dropped from 3,000 a month at its worst to 360 Iraqi civilians and security personnel killed this November, though these figures may understate the casualty toll as not all the bodies are found. Iraq is still one of the most dangerous places in the world. On December 1, the day I started writing this article, two suicide bombers killed 33 people and wounded dozens more in Baghdad and Mosul. Iraqis in the street are cynical about the government’s claim to have restored order. “We are used to the government always saying that things have become good and the security situation improved,” says Salman Mohammed Jumah, a primary school teacher in Baghdad. “It is true security is a little better but the government leaders live behind concrete barriers and do not know what is happening on the ground. They only go out in their armoured convoys. We no longer have sectarian killings by ID cards [revealing that a person is Sunni or Shia by their name] but Sunni are still afraid to go to Shia areas and Shia to Sunni.”

Security has improved with police and military checkpoints everywhere but sectarian killers have also upgraded their tactics. There are less suicide bombings but there are many more small ‘sticky bombs’ placed underneath vehicles. Everybody checks underneath their car before they get into it. I try to keep away from notorious choke points in Baghdad, such as Tahrir Square or the entrances to the Green Zone, where a bomber for can wait for a target to get stuck in traffic before making an attack. The checkpoints and the walls, the measures taken to reduce the violence, bring Baghdad close to paralysis even when there are no bombs. It can take two or three hours to travel a few miles. The bridges over the Tigris are often blocked and this has got worse recently because soldiers and police have a new toy in the shape of a box which looks like a transistor radio with a short aerial sticking out horizontally. When pointed at the car this device is supposed to detect vapor from explosives and may well do so, but since it also responds to vapor from alcohol or perfume it is worse than useless as a security aid.

Iraqi state television and government backed newspapers make ceaseless claims that life in Iraq is improving by the day. To be convincing this should mean not just improving security but providing more electricity, clean water and jobs. “The economic situation is still very bad,” says Salman Mohammed Jumah, the teacher. “Unemployment affects everybody and you can’t get a job unless you pay a bribe. There is no electricity and nowadays we have cholera again so people have to buy expensive bottled water and only use the water that comes out of the tap for washing.” Not everybody has the same grim vision but life in Iraq is still extraordinarily hard. The best barometer for how far Iraq is ‘better’ is the willingness of the 4.7 million refugees, one in five Iraqis who have fled their homes and are now living inside or outside Iraq, to go home. By October only 150,000 had returned and some do so only to look at the situation and then go back to Damascus or Amman. One middle aged Sunni businessman who came back from Syria for two or three weeks, said: “I don’t like to be here. In Syria I can go out in the evening to meet friends in a coffe bar. It is safe. Here I am forced to stay in my home after 7pm.”

The degree of optimism or pessimism felt by Iraqis depends very much on whether they have a job, whether or not that job is with the government, which community they belong to, their social class and the area they live in. All these factors are interlinked. Most jobs are with the state that reputedly employs some two million people. The private sector is very feeble. Despite talk of reconstruction there are almost no cranes visible on the Baghdad skyline. Since the Shia and Kurds control of the government, it is difficult for a Sunni to get a job and probably impossible unless he has a letter recommending him from a political party in the government. Optimism is greater among the Shia. “There is progress in our life, says Jafar Sadiq, a Shia businessman married to a Sunni in the Shia-dominated Iskan area of Baghdad. “People are cooperating with the security forces. I am glad the army is fighting the Mehdi Army though they still are not finished. Four Sunni have reopened their shops in my area. It is safe for my wife’s Sunni relatives to come here. The only things we need badly are electricity, clean water and municipal services.” But his wife Jana admitted privately that she had warned her Sunni relatives from coming to Iskan “because the security situation is unstable.” She teaches at Mustansariyah University in central Baghdad which a year ago was controlled by the Mehdi Army and Sunni students had fled. “Now the Sunni students are coming back,” she says, “though they are still afraid.”

They have reason to fear. Baghdad is divided into Shia and Sunni enclaves defended by high concrete blast walls often with a single entrance and exit. The sectarian slaughter is much less than it was but it is still dangerous for returning refugees to try to reclaim their old house in an area in which they are a minority. In one case in a Sunni district in west Baghdad, as I reported here some weeks ago, a Shia husband and wife with their two daughters went back to their house to find it gutted, with furniture gone and electric sockets and water pipes torn out. They decided to sleep on the roof. A Sunni gang reached them from a neighboring building, cut off the husband’s head and threw it into the street. They said to his wife and daughters: “The same will happen to any other Shia who comes back.” But even without these recent atrocities Baghdad would still be divided because the memory of the mass killings of 2006-7 is too fresh and there is still an underlying fear that it could happen again.

Iraqis have a low opinion of their elected representatives, frequently denouncing them as an incompetent kleptocracy. The government administration is dysfunctional. “Despite the fact,” said independent member of parliament Qassim Daoud, “that the Labor and Social Affairs is meant to help the millions of poor Iraqis I discovered that they had spent only 10 per cent of their budget.” Not all of this is the government’s fault. Iraqi society, administration and economy have been shattered by 28 years of war and sanctions. Few other countries have been put under such intense and prolonged pressure. First there was the eight year Iran- Iraq war starting in 1980, then the disastrous Gulf war of `1991, thirteen years of sanctions and then the five-and-a-half years of conflict since the US invasion. Ten years ago UN officials were already saying they could not repair the faltering power stations because they were so old that spare parts were no longer made for them.

Iraq is full of signs of the gap between the rulers and the ruled. The few planes using Baghdad international airport are full foreign contractors and Iraqi government officials. Talking to people on the streets in Baghdad in October many of them brought up fear of cholera which had just started to spread from Hilla province south of Baghdad. Forty per cent of people in the capital do not have access to clean drinking water. The origin of the epidemic was the purchase of out of date chemicals for water purification from Iran by corrupt officials. Everybody talked about the cholera except in the Green Zone where people had scarcely heard of the epidemic. .

The Iraqi government will become stronger as the Americans depart. It will also be forced to take full responsibility for the failings of the Iraqi state. This will be happening at a bad moment since the price of oil, the state’s only source of revenue, has fallen to $50 a barrel when the budget assumed it would be $80. Many state salaries, such as those of teachers, were doubled on the strength of this, something the government may now regret. Communal differences are still largely unresolved. Friction between Sunni and Shia, bad though it is, is less than two years ago, though hostility between Arabs and Kurds is deepening. The departure of the US military frightens many Sunni on the grounds that they will be at the mercy of the majority Shia. But it is also an incentive for the three main communities in Iraq to agree about what their future relations should be when there are no Americans to stand between them. As for the US, its moment in Iraq is coming to an end as its troops depart, leaving a ruined country behind them.

Patrick Cockburn is the author of ‘The Occupation: War, resistance and daily life in Iraq’, a finalist for the National Book Critics’ Circle Award for best non-fiction book of 2006. His new book ‘Muqtada! Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shia revival and the struggle for Iraq’ is published by Scribner.

10-52, reprint