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Archive for the ‘Iran’ Category

This spring break (in the snow), I discovered Mosaic. This Peabody Award winnig show is only available on LinkTV or via a free video podcast; its relative anonymity, however, should not detract astute news consumers. Mosaic presents a collage of video clips from various Middle Eastern news sources and offers a Middle Eastern viewpoint on world events. Mosaic also publishes a weekly intelligence report. The document, itself a collection of opinion pieces and news stories relating to the Middle East, is available free of charge and by email subscription on the show’s website.

Since American media systematically excludes the opinions of Middle Easterners, Mosaic offers Americans a rare glimpse into regional Middle Eastern politics and an opportunity to witness the effects of American foreign policy on Middle Easterners. Relying on alternative news sources, the intelligence report and the TV show broaden the spectrum of news sources and opinion. This week’s edition of the intelligence report, for instance, included a story about a new University of Maryland/Zogby International 2006 Annual Arab Public Opinion Survey which found that most Middle Easterners “do not see Iran as a major threat to the region.”

When asked to identify two countries that pose the biggest threat to them, 85 percent of respondents said Israel and 72 percent said the United States. In contrast, only 11 percent identified Iran. Furthermore, a majority of respondents were supportive of Iran’s nuclear program, even though more than half also believe that Iran has ambitions to develop nuclear weapons. According to the survey, 61 percent believe that Iran has a right to a nuclear program, with only 24 percent agreeing that Tehran should be pressured to stop it.

Interestingly, two-thirds of those surveyed in the UAE and just over half in Saudi Arabia agree that Iran has a right to a nuclear program, despite the issue’s sensitivity among Gulf Arab monarchies. While broadly approving of Iran’s nuclear program, just over half — 51 percent — of those surveyed believe Iran has ambitions to achieve weapons capability, with only 27 percent believing that Iran is intent on using its program for civilian purposes.Of the world leaders admired most by respondents, Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, was first, and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came in third, despite the fact both are Shia Muslims and the latter is not Arab. French President Jacques Chirac and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez came in second and fourth respectively.

Conversely, U.S. President George W. Bush, former and current Israeli Prime Ministers Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert, and U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair were identified as the four most disliked world leaders. Respondents also view Hezbollah more favorably since the July-August 2006 war against Israel. More than two-thirds — or 68 percent — of those surveyed said they had a more positive attitude toward Hezbollah after last year’s war; including 58 percent and 50 percent respectively in Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

As much as the dire situation in Iraq, and to a lesser extent the political standoff in Lebanon, have opened up fissures between Arab Sunnis and Shias across the region, the University of Maryland/Zogby International poll shows that fundamental attitudes towards the role of the United States in the region are overwhelmingly negative. Furthermore, Sunni Arab regimes’ fears of an Iranian ascendancy are not shared by those they rule.

“The public of the Arab world is not looking at the important issues through the Sunni-Shiite divide,” Shibley Telhami, a scholar at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy who conducted the poll, told Inter Press Service. “They see them rather through the lens of Israeli-Palestinian issues and anger with U.S. policy. Most Sunni Arabs take the side of the Shiites on the important issues.”Indeed the Bush administration has a job ahead of it to win over hearts and minds in the region. Nearly 80 percent of those surveyed stated they had unfavorable attitudes — 57 very unfavorable and 21 percent unfavorable — towards the United States. More than two-thirds of those surveyed, or 70 percent, said their attitudes towards America were based on U.S. policy, while only 11 percent said they was based on American values.

Despite the fact that Middle East democracy promotion forms the core of the Bush administration’s rhetoric, 65 percent of those surveyed said they did not believe democracy is a real U.S. objective in the region. In fact when asked what they considered to be motivating U.S. policy in the Middle East, “controlling oil” (83 percent), “protecting Israel” (75 percent), “weakening the Muslim world” (69 percent), and “desire to dominate the region” (68 percent) were identified as extremely important factors.

When asked what steps the United States could take to improve its regional standing, 62 percent identified brokering an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal based on 1967 borders. A significant minority of respondents identified withdrawal from Iraq (33 percent), and withdrawal of U.S. forces from the Arabian Peninsula (22 percent) as well. More than half (52 percent) ranked U.S. policy on the Arab-Israeli conflict as “extremely important.” When asked to identify their biggest concern about the consequences of the Iraq War, just under half (49 percent) feared that Iraq may be divided, 42 percent feared Iraq remaining a destabilizing factor for the region, while 42 percent cited a continued U.S. dominance of the country as their biggest concern. Only 15 percent highlighted Iran becoming a more powerful state as a major concern. Prior to the invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration expected that cultivating a Shiite-led pro-Western democracy in Baghdad would weaken Iran’s theocratic republic and erode Hezbollah’s influence. A new and powerful Iraqi ally would also enable the United States to ease its strategic dependence on Saudi Arabia, an ally which became less trusted after 9/11, the administration’s thinking went.

But Iran has been able to exercise influence in Iraq and Iraq’s Shiites have cooperated with the United States on their own terms, dashing hopes of politically overhauling the Middle East through empowering Shiites. Last year’s Israel-Hezbollah war compelled the Bush administration to reverse this position and return to seeking an alliance with pro-Western Sunni regimes in an effort to contain Iran. While this latest strategy brings the Bush administration closer to the political leadership of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan, the Sunni Arab populace in these countries does not see things the same way as their leaders.

In fact the Maryland/Zogby poll reveals that skepticism of the United States’ role in the region, resentment at lack of progress on the Israeli-Palestinian front, and affinity for regional figures who are seen to be standing up to America and/or Israel are still widespread. And despite the sectarian conflict in Iraq and simmering tensions in Lebanon, Iran is not seen as the bogeyman of the region. Perhaps the Islamic Republic is more popular in the broader Middle East than it is within its own borders.

America’s policy in the Middle East cannot ignore Arab history, perception and opinion. If we wish to reduce the threat of ‘terrorism’ or Islamic religious extremism, we must pursue a symbtiotic relationship; American policy cannot undermine the needs and desires of Middle Easterners—such an approach generates resistance and terrorism. If we want to reduce so-called anti-Americanism then we must secede, in some respects, to the demands of the region. We must pull out of Iraq, abandon our blind support for Israeli policy towards the Palestinians (not the state of Israel), allow Iraqis to control their own natural resources, and negotiate with the regional powers.

Our current policy (to extend American hegemony and influence across the Middle East and allow American corporations to control the region’s natural resources) undermines Middle Eastern sovereignty and democracy. In crafting a new approach, we must consider the needs and viewpoints of Middle Easterners– and that’s what Mosaic is all about.

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You can flush that New York Times apology for publishing White House propaganda in the lead up to war with Iraq “without the slightest questioning, investigation, or presentation of ample counter-evidence” right down the toilet. Tomorrow’s Times will feature an article by Michael R. Gordon, the reporter who together with Judith Miller is responsible for authoring the must dubious reports on Iraq. This piece, available online tonight, is titled Deadliest Bomb in Iraq Made by Iran, U.S. Says. In the words of the NYT apology, Gordon’s article, which claims that “the most lethal weapon directed against American troops in Iraq is an explosive-packed cylinder that United States intelligence asserts is being supplied by Iran,” is “insufficiently qualified or allowed to stand unchallenged.”

Since its release the piece has been scrutinized by liberal bloggers Juan Cole, ThinkProgress and others. Cole disputes Gordon’s central allegation (attributed to an unnamed military source) that close to 25 percent of American deaths in the last three months were caused by explosives being smuggled in from Shiite Iran to Shiites in Iraq.

This claim is one hundred percent wrong. Because 25 percent of US troops were not killed fighting Shiites in those three months. Day after day, the casualty reports specify al-Anbar Province or Diyala or Salahuddin or Babil, or Baghdad districts such as al-Dura, Ghaziliyah, Amiriyah, etc.–and the enemy fighting is clearly Sunni Arab guerrillas. And, Iran is not giving high tech weapons to Baathists and Salafi Shiite-killers.

[…]

The attempt to blame these US deaths on Iran is in my view a black psy-ops operation. The claim is framed as though this was a matter of direct Iranian government transfer to the deadliest guerrillas. In fact, the most fractious Shiites are the ones who hate Iran the most. If 25 percent of US troops are being killed and wounded by explosively formed projectiles, then someone should look into who is giving those EFPs to Sunni Arab guerrillas. It isn’t Iran.

Finally, it is obvious that if Iran did not exist, US troops would still be being blown up in large numbers. Sunni guerrillas in al-Anbar and West Baghdad are responsible for most of the deaths. The Bush administration’s talent for blaming everyone but itself for its own screw-ups is on clear display here.

Do newspaper sales increase in times of war? Do some of the Times’ corporate sponsors benefit? Is the corporate media filled with lazy reporters unaccustomed to the shoe-leather of investigative reporting? Is the corporate media structure an echo chamber of government propaganda? The questions mount as frustration builds.

— Igor Volsky

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President Bush’s references to Iran and Hezbollah in Tuesday’s State of the Union address could be harbingers of an impending military invasion or attack. To readers familiar with the President’s drumbeat to war with Iraq, these pronouncements are even more worrisome. While most lawmakers insist that the President must ask for Congressional authorization before taking military action, this administration’s ability to manipulate intelligence and events, and ideological commitment to extending American influence throughout the region suggest that an attack may be imminent. (Recent military deployments have also raised red flags).

In announcing the escalation of troops in Iraq, the President promised to “seek out and destroy” Iranian networks that he said were providing “advanced weaponry and training to our enemies.” Yesterday, the President suggested that Iran is behind much of the violence in Iraq.

“In Afghanistan, Taliban and al Qaeda fighters tried to regain power by regrouping and engaging Afghan and NATO forces. In Iraq, al Qaeda and other Sunni extremists blew up one of the most sacred places in Shia Islam — the Golden Mosque of Samarra. This atrocity, directed at a Muslim house of prayer, was designed to provoke retaliation from Iraqi Shia — and it succeeded. Radical Shia elements, some of whom receive support from Iran, formed death squads. The result was a tragic escalation of sectarian rage and reprisal that continues to this day. “

Such rhetoric certainly radicalizes Muslims in Iran and the greater Muslim world and shores up support for the current Iranian regime. But, the Los Angeles Times is reporting that evidence of a connection between Iran and the Iraqi violence is flimsy at best.

For all the aggressive rhetoric, however, the Bush administration has provided scant evidence to support these claims. Nor have reporters traveling with U.S. troops seen extensive signs of Iranian involvement. During a recent sweep through a stronghold of Sunni insurgents here, a single Iranian machine gun turned up among dozens of arms caches U.S. troops uncovered. British officials have similarly accused Iran of meddling in Iraqi affairs, but say they have not found Iranian-made weapons in areas they patrol.

The lack of publicly disclosed evidence has led to questions about whether the administration is overstating its case. Some suggest Bush and his aides are pointing to Iran to deflect blame for U.S. setbacks in Iraq. Others suggest they are laying the foundation for a military strike against Iran.

Before invading Iraq, the administration warned repeatedly that Saddam Hussein was developing nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. Those statements proved wrong. The administration’s charges about Iran sound uncomfortably familiar to some. “To be quite honest, I’m a little concerned that it’s Iraq again,” Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said last week, referring to the administration’s comments on Iran.

Now, ThinkProgress is reporting that the “Bush administration tried to get Congress to approve military action anywhere in the Middle East — not just in Iraq — in the fall of 2002.” Their commitment to global hegemony is certainly impressive, but extending America’s influence over the Middle East subjugates Muslims, radicalizes religious extremists and increases America’s vulnerability.

Two things are certain (1) this President is intent on using military force to extend America’s influence over a commercially profitable and resource-rich region (2) he will ignore the moral, democratic, and homeland security implications of doing so.

Are these not high crimes or misdemeanors?

— Igor Volsky

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