The Week's Top Stories in Foreign Affairs :
Facts: Protests initially spread from Tehran to the towns of Isfahan, Kerman, Shiraz and Tabriz but die down as Iran expands its violent crackdown by taking on the opposition in the street, in their homes and online. The Iranian government asserts absolute control: by taking on the intellectual and political elite sympathetic to the opposition; by asserting control over key ministries; and shoring up the alliances of its myriad armed forces including the Revolutionary Guard, the Army, the Police and the feared baseej militia. Opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi vows to continue his fight to protest the election results and demands another vote. True to form, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad emerges from recent obscurity to lash out at the US and attempts to cast the violence associated with the protests as the work of the CIA and dissident expatriate groups (perhaps laying the ground to arrest Mousavi and others as conspirators against the revolution). Diplomatic relations with the US and especially Britain sour. Russia however calls the crisis an "internal affair" and China predictably endorses the election. The world is heartbroken by the televised death of young protester Neda Agha Soltan. All eyes now turn to former President and powerful cleric Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who supported Mousavi, to see how the conflict among Iran's clerical elite -- between Rafsanjani and Supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei -- will play out.
SI Analysis: Iran's Islamic democratic system and the infallibility of the Ayatollah has been permanently shaken by the post-electoral crisis. But it is not the tenets of the Islamic Revolution that have been compromised but rather the current leaders. (It is an irony that the candidate Ahmandinejad, who champions best anti-corruption, in the end prevailed by underhanded shenanigans and violently stifling his opposition. A major lesson from all of this is what a knowledge, cultural and intelligence deficit the West holds with regards to Iran). This is not to say that any change in the ruling parties will come any time soon. It appears that Khamenei and Ahmadinejad are proceeding in a systemic and systematic way to silence opposition and shore up power. Analysts continue to speculate whether Rafsanjani is planning his retaliatory coup out of the spotlight or whether he is resigned and discouraged in light of recent events and the arrest of many of his family members and friends. The severity of the ensuing crackdown will determine whether the Iranian public will venture out in protest again and risk a national strike if Mousavi is ever arrested. Of greater geopolitical concern however is what this means for the future of the Iranian nuclear program. Will the recent venomous exchanges ruin Obama's overtures to the Iranian regime? Has Russia's laissez-faire attitude signaled that it remains unwilling to come down hard on Iran over this issue? This of course all remains to be seen. However, one could argue that very little has changed on this issue over the past few weeks. Ahmadinejad is largely popular for his championing of what he terms Iran's fundamental right to nuclear technology, so a change in tone was unlikely from the beginning. US President Obama's muted criticism of the regime's response to the post-electoral crisis may still carry some currency despite a current increase in critical rhetoric. The US is honing its new stance as the champion for the right to nuclear energy (not fuel) and a general project for global disarmament. Now that Iranian leadership is clearly defined, the US will begin deliberate efforts of engagement and discussion and will seek to recruit Russia to back its cause (North Korea's recent belligerence may prompt Russia to stop waffling). Israel too will increase its pressure on Iran and the US to reach some level of detente by year's end at the risk of Israel using preemptive force.
Facts: The US is set to withdraw all combat troops from all Iraqi towns and cities by next Tuesday. Iraqi PM Nuri al-Maliki characterizes the active withdrawal as an Iraqi victory. US authorities seem to be respecting the timing of the withdrawal, dismantling bases and outposts, leaving checkpoints, and transferring control to the Iraqi security forces - leaving even the sensitive and restless areas of Mosul, Kirkuk and Sadr City. Meanwhile, a week-long series of bombings in Kirkuk and Baghdad focusing on Shi'ite targets kills at least 200. This is the latest harbinger of worsening security across the country. Bombings and sectarian violence have been on the rise, despite the much celebrated gains in security and civic development over the past two years. Meanwhile, election campaigning starts in Kurdistan, ahead of long-delayed parliamentary elections for regional councils; also the Presidential election for the Kurdistan Regional Government will be held. Still, no elections are planned for the highly contested region of Kirkuk as authorities have yet to reach an agreement on how to administer the elections and ensure a representative government there.
SI Analysis: As the US withdraws, it takes with it vital security infrastructure, training, strategy and resources. The borders of Iraq are left veritably open, key security outposts abandoned, leaving a dearth of skilled, trained and 'sectarian-neutral' arbiters of the peace. Most analysts expect violence to rise and some predict a quick return to sectarian violence. The reality on the ground however shows that compared to recent years, violence (for the moment) is at its nadir. If the fact that Iraq's security forces are yet unprepared to take over control of the country is bad, what is worse is the political crisis ongoing in Iraq. At issue (and what has been at issue for years) are: the unresolved Election Laws giving fair representation to all of Iraq's people; An as yet unarticulated Iraqi Oil Law dictating who controls what and where and thusly ensuring a fair distribution of Iraqi oil wealth; A need for fair integration of Sunni militias into the security forces to counter Shia political and military dominance of the country; A clear policy as to the level of autonomy of the Kurdistan Regional Government and its area of purview; A lack of cohesion between Sunnis; A lack of cohesion between Shias; Great antipathy between Sunnis and Shias and Kurds that could devolve violently; Still a paltry provision of basic civil services and utilities across the country; And the perceived meddling of foreign governments (especially Iranian and American) in the Iraqi government's affairs. Cynics say that a civil war is inevitable, interventionists urge the US to continue its behind the scenes "state building efforts," optimists say that with new autonomy and responsibility Iraqis will push to make effective political coalitions to move the neophyte nation forward. Many cite national parliamentary elections slated for next January as a litmus test for Iraqi viability, others say violence will destroy the country before then...
Facts: Pakistan's military campaign against Islamist insurgents within its borders continued to intensify this week, with specific efforts to defeat Taliban leader Baitullah Meshud in South Waziristan. This push by the Pakistani military has been coupled with American support for the cause: this week US President Obama signed a bill for $106 billion more in supplemental war aid to Pakistan and reasserted his faith in Islamabad to combat terrorists. The US has also been using its drones to perform reconnaissance and strikes on specific locations. And Pakistan has cracked down on undesirable elements within its own military, arresting 57 air force commanders with suspected links to terrorists. All this heat on the insurgency has been met with more activity by the Taliban and its allies in Pakistan. On Thursday, militants blew up a girls school in South Waziristan; on Friday a Pakistani Taliban suicide bomber attacked Pakistani forces in Kashmir.
SI Analysis: Despite the arguments of some that Pakistan is "going down the tubes", there are many indicators to suggest that there has been a sea change in Pakistan, both on the part of the government and from the perspective of its citizens. Some analysts have noted that the US and Pakistan appear to be united for the first time ever in pursuit of Baittullah Mehsud. Increased promises of US aid and Pakistan's willingness to crack down on its own military are evidence of this. In addition, Pakistan appears more willing than in recent years to ease tensions with India, as predicated by last week's meeting between President Zardari and PM Singh in Yekaterinburg. As for Pakistani citizens, stories continue to develop explaining how tribal militias previously aligned with extremists are now rising up against the Taliban and in favor of the military. Finally, even other militants are getting in play against Mehsud. These positive developments against the Taliban are heartening for pro-western leaders, but there are definite obstacles still in place. First, Pakistan and the US need to come to a clearer agreement over the use of drones, which have been a point of controversy for over a year now. Second, the War in Pakistan needs to be continually examined within the framework of a larger regional conflict including Afghanistan. Indeed, forces in Afghanistan support the Pakistani Taliban and vice-versa. Washington seems to continue to be clearly aware of this, as US National Security Adviser James Jones visited both nations this week as part of a larger anti-terror strategy. Finally, cooperation from other allies and neighboring nations is successful. Washington scored a bit of a victory this week as it secured the use of the Manas Air Base in Kyrgyzstan. The central Asia nation had kicked the US out of the base (with alleged Russian urging) this past winter. However, the US will now pay over 3 times as much and retain a key tool for the transport of supplies and troops for the effort in Afghanistan.
SI Analysis: Although it didn't make any headlines this week, Somalia continues to be one of the world's most critical security situations. Against Simple Intelligence's predictions, the moderate Islamist and UN-supported government of Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed continues to survive against seemingly insurmountable odds. The situation becomes more critical each day as the radical al-Shabaab militia continue to hold Mogadishu hostage and send thousands of civilians fleeing as far as refugee camps in Kenya. Meanwhile, coastal Somalis, forced in to piracy by the chaos on land, still manage to threaten the global shipping industry. This week saw new and alarming developments as President Ahmed sought emergency military aid, as the Obama administration pledged ammunition and supplies, Meanwhile, other religious groups like Ahlu Sunna have imposed their own rule in other areas of Somalia. If the moderate government of President Ahmed is indeed overthrown as we have predicted, then Somalia risks becoming the most volatile training ground for radical groups like al-Qaeda.
SI Analysis: Russia's rule in the norther Caucasus suffered a blow this week as a car bomb injured Moscow's principal leader in Ingushetia, a mainly Muslim region. This is the latest in a series of high-profile assassinations in the region. Ingushetian President Yunus Bek Yevkurov was badly injured, knocked unconscious, and in "serious but stable" condition. Ingushetia, along with Chechnya and Daghestan, are well-known for their restive tradition and opposition to Russian rule. Kremlin-supported regional leaders have traditionally had a tough time consolidating power there. Fresh bombings took place again on Thursday, suggesting a brewing issue. The Kremlin and regional governments, particularly the Chechen government, vowed to maintain their anti-rebel activities and restore order in the region. However, many agreed that the principal reason for the unrest is due to Russia's flailing economic situation, particularly in the north Caucasus. It is worth noting that north Caucasus security issues can be closely linked to issues in the south Caucasus, and overall issues of Islamist extremism.
Getting on in Lebanon
SI Analysis: In Lebanon, Shi'ite leader Nabih Berri was elected Speaker of Parliament for a 5th term. Berri has held this position, the highest post possible for a Shi'ite in Lebanon, for 17 years. Although at times controversial, Berri has proven to be an effective leader and representative of Shi'ites. Indeed, his political career has given Shi'ites are more moderate persona. This comes as Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah held talks with Saad Hariri, the leader of the Western-backed alliance that won this month's parliamentary election. The 2 leaders agreed to continue to work together to shape the new government. As Hezbollah continues to play as a political (rather than a military) actor, it will garner more respect abroad. Nevertheless, full Shi'ite acceptance into Lebanon's political system will rely on 2 distinct developments: 1.) Hezbollah's disbandment of its private militia, and 2.) changes to the nation's constitution to provide more representation for Shi'ites.
SI Analysis: Pyongyang provided no surprises this week. The reclusive Asian regime continued its belligerence and threats towards the US, South Korea, Japan and others. 3 main stories continued to run: 1.) continued threats by Pyongyang against the US vowing "all-out war", 2.) the tracking of a North Korean ship - the Kang Nam - bound for Myanmar, and 3.) the mystery over succession from Kim Jong-il to his son, Kim Jong-un. Regardless, it is likely only after power is transferred in Pyongyang that an easing of tensions could take place. The belligerent messages from Pyongyang are as much a symptom of North Korea's outward posturing as they are a reflection of an internal leadership crisis.
Rumor: Shalit on his way home?
SI Analysis: Reports emerge that Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit may be released by Hamas and transferred from Gaza to Egypt as part of a prisoner exchange deal between Hamas and Israel under the aegis of Syria, Egypt and the US (via former President Carter).
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