Saddam gets busy, orders murders of dissidents

Saddam orders murder of British-based Iraqi dissidents; Libya may help

OK. Let’s take a break from Turkish elections. In other news, Saddam has busied himself recently with ordering the assassination of Iraqi dissidents abroad, particularly in London where the Iraqi National Congress is based. The goal is to prevent them from making plans to form a government after the removal of Saddam.
The Iraqi strongman has reportedly contacted Libyan leader Col. Muammar Gaddafi for help in getting this work done, since the Libyans have a network of sleeper cells based in Britain in Europe.

In the past few months, senior members of his Ba’athist regime have visited a number of Arab countries to lobby for support. Intelligence officials were particularly interested in a recent visit to Libya by Saddam’s cousin, Ali Hassan al-Majid, who is wanted for war crimes over his role in using chemical weapons against the Kurds at Halabja in 1988. “Chemical Ali”, as he is known in Baghdad, spent several hours with Col Gaddafi.
Apart from asking for assistance with killing opposition figures, al-Majid is also believed to have asked for Libyan help in carrying out terrorist attacks against British and US targets in Europe and the Middle East. Saddam is also keen to target the Gulf states of Bahrain and Qatar, which are the main bases for US forces in the region. The Libyan leader’s response to the requests is not known.

If this is true, Saddam is feeling the heat (and Libya is back up to its old tricks.) My worry is that a desperate Saddam could strike out with more terrorist cells or with whatever weapons of mass destruction he may already possess in a “use ’em or lose ’em” tactic brought on by American rhetorical bludgeoning.

Turks say out with the old, in with the Allah

As it looked earlier, Turkish voters have given the Justice and Development Party (AKP) a resounding victory with 34.2 percent of the vote out of 99 percent of the votes counted. The Republican People’s Party (CHP) had 19.2 percent of the vote. None of the other political parties appeared to have crossed the 10 percent threshold for gaining seats in Parliament. This means AKP can probably form a government without a coalition partner within two weeks.
All three parties in the current coalition were defeated, and ailing Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit’s party registered barely 1 percent. This was a resounding rejection of the politicians and practices that have governed Turkey for generations.
This is likely a good thing in that sense, but as I mentioned earlier, it remains to be seen if Erdogan’s AKP has truly moderated its Islamic roots and can truly be a “Muslim Democratic” party in the mold of Europe’s Christian Democrats.

AKP winning slim majority

Justice and Development Party in Turkey poised to win an absolute majority in Parliament.

Reuters is reporting that Turkey’s Justice and Welfare Party (AKP) is winning 33.6 percent of the vote in Sunday’s national elections, possibly giving the Islamist party 280 seats out of 550 in Turkey’s parliament. If that percentage holds, and the returns are still early, that would give the AKP, which has projected a pro-Western, moderate image to the country, enough seats to form a government without partnering with anyone.
The Republican People’s Party (CHP) established by modern Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, was second with 19.2 percent, and the True Path Party (DYP), headed by former prime minister Tansu Ciller, just made it over the parliamentary threshold with 10.9 percent.
The nightmare scenario is this: The AKP gains an absolute majority and doesn’t form a coalition. The United States attacks Iraq while the Islamists in Ankara drag their feet in helping war on a fellow Muslim nation. The Turkish generals force the government out of power, unwilling to endanger their security relationship with either the United States or Israel, both of which would be threatened in the event that Turkey is a reluctant ally in the region. Democracy in Turkey is set back — again.
I don’t know that this will happen, but if AKP does take power, the new leadership will have to walk a very careful line.
There is some cause for optimism, however, since in the majority of cases, a vote for AKP is a protest vote against the corruption and incompetence of the current ruling parties. There is not a deep support for Islamic law in Turkey or a turning away from secularism and the West, which is a policy that bedeviled Prime Minister Erbakan of the Welfare Party in 1997. The majority of Turks want a secular, EU-member country. But they’re disgusted with Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit’s mismanagement of the economy and the power grabs that have characterized most coalition governments in recent years.
So the real question is not what the military will do, but is the AKP as moderate as it says, has it learned the lessons of the Welfare Party? Will it see the election results as a mandate to affect sweeping change (which would be a mistake, in my opinion) or realize this is an historic opportunity to create a gradual freeing of religious expression in Turkey. Time — and final election results — will tell.

Bibi’s back preparing for Sharon challenge

Netanyahu returns to the Israeli cabinet as foreign minister and the match moves closer to the fuse.

How about that. CNN (and others) is reporting that former Israeli prime minister Benyamin Netanyahu has agreed to an offer by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to become his foreign minister on the condition that early elections be called.
What a great idea! (Sarcasm here, by the way.) Here’s a great way to defuse Palestinian violence by bringing in the second-most hawkish man in Israel (behind Sharon) to handle foreign affairs. Bibi was almost as bad as Sharon in attempting to strangle Palestinian aspirations for statehood and was aggressive in expanding settlements.
But Bibi’s ambitions are obvious. He’s made no secret that he would like to sit in Sharon’s chair again, and a place in Sharon’s cabinet would give him a platform from which to launch a new election campaign, especially if he gets his wish for a new timetable for elections.
With Sharon at the head, a hard-line defense minister and now Netanyahu back, the Palestinians will be wishing for Barak to come back. (Back to Barak 2.0?) And not just Palestinians, but all Arabs. In the event of future hostilities between Iraq and the United States, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Yassir Arafat exiled from the West Bank and possibly even the forced removal of Palestinans from the occupied territories.
Heavy sigh. Peace is further away than ever. And no one in the West will escape the heat of a Middle East in flames.

Hot new look, same great content

It’s been a busy day, what with analyzing the Turkish elections, becoming outraged at the complicity of the Kuwaitis in helping the U.S. thumb its nose at wimpy Europeans and … (drum roll) a redesign!

Whew! It’s been a busy day, what with analyzing the Turkish elections, becoming outraged at the complicity of the Kuwaitis in helping the U.S. thumb its nose at wimpy Europeans and … (drum roll) a redesign! Hopefully, readers will find Back to Iraq 2.0 easier on the eyes, and easier to navigate through the extra stuff, which I’ve now draped over the sides like bunting instead of dripping down the right (I never did like that.)
Do let me know what you think of the new look and how it can be improved. Thanks everyone for reading.

From Atatürk to Allah?

It’s election day in Turkey tomorrow and the big question is will the government turn from Atat�rk to Allah?

Tomorrow is election day in Turkey and it’s coming down to the home stretch! The Justice and Development Party (AKP) is likely to win about 30 percent of the vote, which would make them the senior partner in any coalition government, assuming they don’t win outright. The Republican People’s Party (CHP), founded by Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, is polling at 15 to 20 percent. However, Atatürk’s party is avowedly secular, so it’s unlikely the two would partner up.
The situation is making the military and other secular Turks very, very nervous. In 1997, the AKP’s predecessor, the Welfare Party, was eased out by the military in what many have called a “soft coup.” But that option isn’t available now. With the European Union still dangling the carrot of membership, the Turkish military can’t risk stepping in and mucking about with elections and democracy. But the powers that be in Turkey also worry that a government headed by an Islamist party wouldn’t be attractive to Europe either, so Turkey is kind of caught in a bind.
Further complicating the situation, Milliyet reported last week that Turkey’s top state prosecutor, Sabih Kanadoglu, has filed for the closure of the AKP, citing defiance by the party’s leader, former Istanbul mayor Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to give up his party post. Erdogan was banned from participating in politics after he read a poem “inciting religious hatred” in a mosque in 1997 and served four months in jail. Though the case won’t be decided for months, if the party eventually is shut down its supporters would see their votes wasted. All this legal maneuvering has been an attempt by the military and secular leadership to depress the vote on AKP, and as I was told when I was in Ankara, “Turkey is the graveyard of political parties.”
(For what it’s worth Sabah reported that U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the United States is opposed to banning political parties. “The US supports democracy and broad political participation in Turkey and elsewhere,” he is quoted as saying. “We oppose the banning of political parties that are expressing their views in a peaceful and democratic manner.”)
Though Erdogan is banned by law from serving in a governmental post — such as, oh, prime minister for example — the suspicion is that he will work behind the scenes running the country, probably through a weak prime minister. There is also concern that his commitment to moderation and democracy is only skin deep. He was elected mayor of Istanbul in 1994 and promptly banned alcohol in the city’s restaurants. He has close ties with former Welfare Party prime minister Erbakan, who dined with terrorists and talked of pulling out of NATO. Perhaps most ominously, “You cannot be secular and a Muslim at the same time,” Erdogan said in 1995.
But he’s been crafty in how he has answered questions on how he would liberalize laws concerning the public expression of religion. For example, it is currently illegal for women to wear headscarves in universities, schools and government buildings or at government functions. This is a highly emotional issue in Turkey, with headscarves being a potent symbol of political Islam. Erdogan has been careful to not identify the AKP with this kind of controversy. Would his wife, an observant Muslim, wear a headscarf at government functions? “I wouldn’t bring her,” he has said, neatly not answering the question or assuaging Turkish women’s fears.
So what are the scenarios? Near as I can tell, they are as follows:

  • The AKP wins decisively with enough seats in Parliament to form a government without resorting to a partner. The military might intervene or it might not. If it doesn’t, look for the AKP to be kept on a short leash.
  • The AKP wins a majority, but cannot form a government, in which case they will partner up with — possibly — Deniz Baykal’s Devlet Bahceli’s Nationalist Action Party (MHP). I think a coalition between the nationalists and Islamists could be one of the worst combinations. “The result will definitely be another coalition, an anomaly of very contradictory views,” said Prof. Deniz Ilgaz of Bogazi�i University when I emailed her about all of this.
  • The myriad secular parties in Parliament band together in a broad-based coalition together to keep the AKP out of power. The resulting government would be weak and ineffectual, and would pretty much cement the status quo. None of the problems of Turkey would be addressed, and the military would remain the de facto ruler of the country.

So what will happen and how might this affect the United States’ determination to open up some precision guided whoop-ass on Iraq, a fellow Muslim country and formerly a major trading partner to Turkey? We’ll have the outlines in a day. But one thing is certain is that the political landscape is about to change in unpredictable ways.