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June 23, 2007

Due to a technical error, readers were unable to subscribe to the feed for tinyplanetblog.com. If you’ve been affected by this, I’ve fixed things. The feed can also be found here.

Thanks for your patience.

David

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On the move

June 15, 2007

Dear reader,

Tinyplanet has packed its bags and its moving to a new domain. Come and visit at www.tinyplanetblog.com.


Abandon hope

June 14, 2007

The Palestinian civil war has put paid to hopes for a peaceful solution to the Middle East conflict.

The more moderate Fatah movement has been over-run in the Gaza Strip, with the Islamist Hamas taking key security posts all across the region. It has now captured Fatah headquarters in Gaza.

The image of the green Hamas flag flying above the building is possibly the most defining of the day.

All too late, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas has ordered his presidential guard to strike back. Yesterday, Fatah officials said there had been confusion: were they allowed to fight back or not?

Their resistance has crumbled; I have a feeling the claims of confusion were a desperate attempt to explain away just how easily Hamas has crushed its rivals.

“We are telling our people that the past era has ended and will not return, ” Islam Shahawan, a spokesman for Hamas’ militia, told Hamas radio. “The era of justice and Islamic rule have arrived.” (AP)

Given that Hamas is apparently executing Fatah policemen the definition of “justice” seems rather elastic, wouldn’t you say?

There is no hope for a negotiated solution between Hamas and Israel. Fatah’s decline, which began with an election drubbing fueled by a widespread perception of corruption and inefficiency, is complete (at least in the Gaza Strip).

The ambition had been for a two-state solution in the Middle East. The Palestinian state would consist of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, both of which are fenced off from Israel.

The only viable way for such a split Palestinian state would be a highway crossing Israel; this was planned but there is no way Israel will allow militants such easy access to its territory.

And it must be pointed out that not all Palestinians back either Hamas or Fatah. One wrote to al-Jazeera earlier today: “Hamas and Fatah should go to hell and leave the Palestinian people alone.”

Hamas is unlikely to repeat its success in the larger and more populous West Bank, where Fatah is taking the initiative. I actually laughed when I read an AP report saying Abbas was considering withdrawing from the ruling coalition with Hamas. Strikes me as the first thing he should have done this morning.

The likelihood of an Israeli incursion into Gaza, which it evacuated in 2005, has soared. Hamas are not going to sit back on their Gazan victory, they will press an attack on Israel. It does not recognise the nation’s right to exist and has been firing rockets over the border for some time.

We now face the possibility of separate Hamas and Fatah states. EU humanitarian aid has been suspended. The UN can not distribute the aid which so many Palestinian people rely on. Egypt should be bracing itself for a flood of refugees and the formation of an Islamist nation on its northeastern border.

The dream of peace which was fostered by the 1993 Oslo Accords is shattered. All hope is lost.


Hypocrisy in action

June 12, 2007

US Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns says Iran is sending weapons to the Taliban. It is the first time (to my knowledge) a senior American official has made such a claim.

The likes of Tony Blair have said “elements” within the Iranian regime were sending arms to Afghanistan, but this looks like a direct accusation against the government as a whole.

What really gets to me though is that the US is busy arming Sunni Arab groups to fight al-Qaida in Iraq.

“(Iran is)  a country that’s trying to flex its muscles,” Burns said, “but in a way that’s injurious to the interests of just about everybody else in the world. I think it’s a major miscalculation.”

And how the US flexes its muscles is in everybody’s best interests? Arming militants to fight militants is a perfect calculation?

Iran has denied aiding the Taliban, saying it makes no sense for a Shi’ite regime to back a Sunni group.

With patience already frayed on both sides regarding Iran’s nuclear program, Burns’ comments are only adding fuel to the fire. Sometimes I wish politicians would just shut the fuck up.


It’s all kicking off (follow-up)

June 9, 2007

Iraq has made a formal complaint over the Turkish bombardment of the Kurdish north.

The Turks have been shelling villages in Dohuk province and the city of Arbil, although the Turkish media reports the areas being targetted have largely been abandoned to Kurdish fighters.

In my last post on this topic, I noted how a cross-border incursion could have unpredictable and destabilising effects. It seems the Iraqi foreign ministry has come to the same conclusion. It has told the Turks that the artillery fire could “destabilise the region and could erode confidence between the two countries”.

The AP article linked to at the top of this post says the US has “opposed any unilateral action by Turkey for fear it would jeopardise the relative tranquility of northern Iraq”. However, I can not recall reading any such statement; at least not in recent times.

I am not an expert on this conflict, but I feel it has potentially widespread ramifications.

The Turks, in their eyes, have a legitimate security concern. The conflict with the Kurdish PKK has lead to tens of thousands of deaths over the last two decades. Turkey claims Iraqi Kurds are harbouring militants, who then slip over the frontier to launch attacks.

The Kurds also have legitimate grievances, such as cultural and political suppression. And we must always remain aware that the PKK is considered a terrorist group not just by Turkey, but by the US, NATO and EU. Their actions have caused the deaths and suffering of a great many civilians. They have been accused of grave human rights abuses.

Turkey fears an economically sound Kurdish region in Iraq — a territory that while not being independent outright would still possess great oil wealth — will lead to a major push among Turkish Kurds for union with their southern neighbours.

One might think that the Turks would welcome the departure of what it considers a restive ethnic group. However, the Kurds represent about 20% of the Turkish population and dwell in a broad swathe of territory in the nation’s southeast:

(from Wikipedia)

This is not a homogenous region. Many Turks live within what is generally referred to as Kurdistan (as do Arabs, Iranians, Armenians and many other groups). So the removal of this region from the political entity of Turkey would remove a great many Turks as well.

This would certainly be an economic blow. While there would be an accompanying reduction in spending on infrastructure, education, healthcare and the like, the sudden disappearance of 20 million people from the tax base would leave a major whole in government coffers.

But there are other factors, such as pride.

The Turkish government would not want to be seen as having abandoned many of its citizens to a new state (although there would always be the possibility of a population transfer, as was the case in India and Pakistan after their independence). Seldom are nations eager to give up national territory; historically human and state political ambition has always been more, more, more.

Security would be a further concern. Turkey would suddenly have a substantial, perhaps hostile nation on its southern and eastern borders. And Turkey does not formally recognise a Kurdish region within its state; this fluid situation would lead to further infighting over what would and would not be part of Kurdistan. It is possible that the Turks would view an independent Kurdish nation as a base for Kurdish rebels seeking to unify with Kurds still within Turkey.

There are solutions. A UN boundary commission is one, domestic referenda on a district-by-district basis is another. There are undoubtedly more which aren’t springing to mind right now.


It’s all kicking off

June 6, 2007

Turkish troops have entered Iraq in a move that can not be good for anyone.

No Turkish official is willing to put their name to the story confirming the operation, while the Foreign Minister has openly denied anything happened. But as Selcan Hacaoglu of the Associated Press notes, the nation’s authorities rarely acknowledge such activity.

Estimates of the number of troops ranges from thousands to several hundred — initial speculation put the figure at 50,000, which was the case in 1997 — but what runs consistent is that the military is pursuing Kurdish fighters.

It may only have been a couple of miles across the frontier, but it is troubling.

The military has for some time been pushing for a large-scale incursion to tackle the Kurdish separatists, the PKK, which Turkey considers terrorists. The Turkish army has been massing along the border in preparation; last week the country’s top general, Yasar Buyukanit, said his forces were awaiting government permission to cross into Iraq.

Turkey’s alliance with the US will grant it some degree of protection should it decide to step up its campaign against the PKK, which launches attacks from bases in Iraq. However, a full-scale incursion can only add to Iraq’s instability.

The introduction of this hostile actor in such a volatile stage will have unpredictable and uncontrollable results. The Kurds — who dwell in a stretch of territory that includes south-eastern Turkey and northern Iraq — will be squeezed into a corner. The Iraqi government will be in an intolerable position: if it allows a Turkish incursion its claim to govern its national territory will be null and void, while if it resists it faces provoking a conflict with its neighbour.

I am struck by the absence of international condemnation.

Imagine the outcry if the US was pushing for a military operation inside Canada, or China in Japan, or Britain in Ireland.


Out and about

June 2, 2007

Egypt has freed a blogger who was detained more than a month ago for being a member of the banned Muslim Brotherhood.

Abdel Moneim Mahmoud, who is also a correspondent for British-based Arabic television channel al-Hewar, had not officially been charged. He had been detained along with 23 others, who were also set free.

Human rights group the El Nadim Center has claimed Mahmoud was taken into custody because of “the role he played in exposing crimes committed by the Ministry of the Interior through his blog, where he called for the release of detainees”.

The organisation also points out that Mahmoud took part in media activities arranged by Amnesty International after that group released a report documenting torture in Egyptian police stations.

The Muslim Brotherhood advocates an Islamic state — and let me state quite clearly that I support complete separation of clergy and state — but with democratic reforms Egypt needs.

For example, Egyptian presidents, with whom almost all power rests, have typically been elected in single-candidate votes since the country became a republic in the 1950s. September 2005 saw the first multi-party presidential vote; however, candidates were screened by an electoral commission which only allowed 10 of the 30 applicants to run. The Muslim Brotherhood, which has the broadest support of the opposition groups, had no candidate.

Unsurprisingly, Hosni Mubarack was re-elected.

A March 2007 referendum — which Amnesty International said represented the biggest erosion of human rights since 1981, when emergency laws were introduced following the assassination of Anwar Sadat — gave the president the power to dissolve parliament.

It also prohibited parties using religion as a basis of political activity, ended judicial supervision of elections and allowed for civilians to be tried by military courts in terrorism cases.

Isn’t politics fun?