Global News Journal
Beyond the World news headlines
The blue-domed memorial Saddam Hussein built in Baghdad to honour Baath party founder Michel Aflaq, a Syrian Christian who started the movement that dominated Iraq for decades and governs Syria today, has been turned into a shopping centre for U.S. soldiers.
Aflaq’s tomb, sitting at the centre of a vault adorned with Koranic verses and Arabesque designs, has been boarded up to make way for a barber shop, a store selling kitschy Iraq souvenirs, a pirate DVD vendor and a ring of other stores.
The new mall at Aflaq’s tomb, located on what is now a U.S. military base in central Baghdad, has thus sealed off a powerful symbol of the deep, and often strained, shared history between Iraq and Syria, one which is being tested in a new feud between Baghdad and Damascus.
Last month, Syria and Iraq recalled their ambassadors after Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki accused Syria of sheltering mebbers of the Iraqi Baath party whom he blames for backing attacks that killed around 100 people in Baghdad last month.
The Aug. 19 bombings marked a U-turn in the slow improvement of relations between Iraq and Syria, which for decades had stunted diplomatic relations. Since 2003, they have been at odds over U.S. and Iraqi accusations that Damascus has allowed foreign insurgents to stream across its border into Iraq.
Insiders say Mohamed ElBaradei, chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency, was rather reticent and stiff in public when he took the job in 1997. He’d spent decades below the radar in Egypt’s foreign service, U.S. academia and the U.N. nuclear watchdog as head of the legal and external relations divisions.
But Mohamed ElBaradei evolved into a politically outspoken tribune for international peace and fair play.
The U.N. nuclear non-proliferation watchdog assiduously guards its impartiality as it monitors and investigates disputed activity in Iran and Syria, with suspicious Western powers impatient for the inspectors to draw conclusions.
So the International Atomic Energy Agency typically puts what have become keenly anticipated, quarterly reports on Iran and Syria through many painstaking drafts before they see the light of day, to help ensure that not a single word can be misunderstood, misinterpreted or turned to political advantage.
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband hopes his Middle East trip will help nudge Syria away from supporting the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, but on a visit to Damascus he let slip that other Syrian allegiances were troubling him.
“People on the streets wanted to talk about politics but also about football,” he told reporters after a tour in which he sampled ice cream from century-old shop in the heart of the ancient capital.
So much of what passes for news in the Middle East is enveloped in shadow, with even seasoned observers reduced to weighing claim and counter-claim with little hard evidence to go on. Yet another example is the U.S. raid across the Syrian border on Sunday.
Syria says the attack by U.S. forces inside Syria was a “terrorist aggression” which targeted a farm and killed eight civilians.
A U.S. official said the raid by U.S. forces is believed to have killed a major al Qaeda operative, known as Abu Ghadiya, who helped smuggle foreign fighters into Iraq.
But do we really know what happened?
We do know that following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, Syria, which feared it was next on Washington’s list of rogue states for regime change, permitted the transit of Jihadi volunteers for the Iraqi insurgency fighting the U.S. occupation of Iraq.
We also know that there have been similar attacks by U.S. forces near the Iraqi border, and also in Afghanistan and across the Afghan-Pakistan border. In at least two instances these operations have mistakenly hit a wedding party and civilian houses despite claims they were al Qaeda hideouts.
We also know that the U.S. military has at least twice in the past carried out attacks across the Syrian border but this was the first time the obsessively secretive Syrian regime has gone public with it and allowed camera crews to reach the area and film the aftermath.
Damascus is resentful because, as part of its attempt to improve its image internationally, it has clamped down on al Qaeda-inspired Islamist militants. It feels its efforts are not being recognised by Washington and that the Jihadis are seeking reprisals.
“I can tell you and explain that the terrorist explosion in Damacus in September happened because we tightened our border with Iraq. They (Jihadis) wanted revenge for what we are doing. Unfortunately they are not the only revenging party. Of course the Americans tried to ‘reward’ us by carrying out this (attack) ,” said Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem.
Given the credibility of all parties in this affair it is going to be difficult to get to the the bottom of what happened.
In downtown Beirut, resurrected from the rubble of the 1975-90 civil war, one is spoilt for choice of smart restaurants, trendy bars and lively clubs. Performances by sexy Lebanese divas and belly dancers contribute generously to Lebanon’s gross domestic product by attracting Gulf Arab tourists enchanted with Lebanese talent and beauty — not necessarily in that order.
There is isn’t a single international designer who has not found his or her way to Beirut’s elegant boutiques and jewellery shops. On the other hand, Lebanese designers such as Elie Saab are dressing Hollywood stars these days.
One of the problems with countries like Syria – secretive and authoritarian – is that whenever a bomb goes off or someone is assassinated, the list of possible suspects is extensive.
One can draw up a long list of enemies who could have plotted and carried out Saturday’s rare car bomb attack on a major road near a Syrian state security complex and an intersection leading to a famous Shi’ite Muslim shrine. The blast, which killed 17 people including a brigadier general and his son, poses another test to Syria’s reputation for keeping a tight grip on dissent and maintaining stability in a troubled area.
Iraq’s leaders have overcome many hurdles in their struggle to rebuild their country after the ouster of Saddam Hussein in 2003. But agreeing on the fate of the “ethnic tinderbox” of oil-producing Kirkuk is a particularly testing one.
Why has Kirkuk proven to be such an obstacle? For many, settling its fate seems to be an easy task.
The European-Mediterranean summit in Paris might have produced grand projects ranging from cleaning up the Mediterranean sea to using North Africa’s sunshine to generate power. But that is is not what it will be remembered for.
It will be remembered for the glorious welcome it bestowed on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who until yesterday was persona non-grata in the West, an autocrat leading a pariah regime, which many believe orchestrated the 2005 killing of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri.
Russia’s angry response to an accord between Washington and Prague on building part of a U.S. missile defence shield in the Czech Republic is reminiscent of the rhetoric of the Cold War. Although Russian President Dmitry Medvedev says Moscow still wants talks on the missile shield, his Foreign Ministry has threatened a “military-technical” response if the shield is deployed.
That phrase could have come straight out of the Soviet lexicon and seems more at home in the second half of the last century than now. Russian military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer called it psychological pressure to try to encourage opposition to the missile system among Europeans, and described it as “the same sort that was used in the 1980s by the Soviet Union when the United States deployed cruise missiles in Europe.”