عدد المساهمات : 38180
تاريخ التسجيل : 21/09/2009
|موضوع: The ghost of Tony Blair الأحد 18 أبريل 2010, 04:29|| |
16.4.10The ghost of Tony Blair by Steven Fielding
The Ghost's Adam Lang is at least the 20th version of Tony Blair to hit the big and small screen. The stage has also given life to a troupe of Tonys – many fathered by David Hare – and there's a legion of literary equivalents, most memorably Sue Townsend's transvestite Tony. He must be the most fictionalised prime minister in British history. I don't know what the collective noun for Tony Blairs might be – an Iraq? a grin? – but we clearly need one.
Some of these screen versions are Actual Tonys and appear in the kind of dramas that claim to be based on fact but admit that some things have been made up. They are often played by Michael Sheen, who is set to do his third Tony in The Special Relationship. Others are not called "Tony" but share many of what we think are the man's real characteristics. These Coy Tonys have central roles in My Dad's the Prime Minister, Love, Actually, and of course, The Ghost. Then, finally, there are Maybe Tonys. Perhaps the most notable one is Harold Saxon, the prime ministerial identity assumed by the Master in the Doctor Who episode The Sound of Drums, transmitted in June 2007, just days before Blair finally resigned. By then, all the misty-eyed hopes of May 1997 had evaporated and Blair had become one of the most unpopular prime ministers, ever. Like Blair, Saxon is elected on a landslide, promising radical reform. Everyone thinks Saxon is a great guy but no one can recall why they voted for him – because they had been brainwashed.
All these fictional Tonys have some kind of relationship with the real Blair – but what is it? Some claim Richard Nixon never escaped the shifty, five o'clock shadow persona constructed by the cartoonist Herblock: Nixon became Herblock's Nixon. In the same way, these different Tonys generally depict him in a hostile way – media-obsessed, superficial, unprincipled, insincere, a liar and/or dupe. Even Hugh Grant's nice Tony from Love, Actually served to reproach the real Tony – for in the year of the Iraq invasion Grant tells President Billy Bob Thornton where to get off, something that at the time many in the audience wished Blair would do to George Bush.
Of course, Nixon was shifty: Herblock merely exaggerated reality. Similarly, Blair's fictional image has some basis in reality: scriptwriters didn't make up the Iraq war. The Ghost is consistent with the overwhelmingly critical depictions of Blair. For Robert Harris wrote the novel on which the movie is based filled with "a sort of disillusion and a sort of anger that Britain went along with something which seemed so, even at the time, to be a bridge too far and rather illogical". An entertaining thriller, The Ghost – spoiler alert – explains this "illogicality" through Lang being under the thumb of a wife who, it transpires, is a long-time CIA agent. Of course we can all have a good laugh at Cherie as a kind of Lady MacBeth and titter at the depiction of a hen-pecked Blair. We will all feel so much better about ourselves and superior to the silly, nasty Blairs – and I am sure The Ghost was good therapy for Harris.
But while these fictional Tonys seem to say a lot about the real Blair – though not having met the man myself I don't know how accurate they are – what do they say about us? If Blair was as awful as these screen fictions suggest, how come he was one of Britain's most electorally successful prime ministers of recent decades. How did that happen? Were we all brainwashed?
Posted by Iraq Solidarity UK at 12:44 PM 0 comments Links to this post Forgetting Iraq in the election
The playwright David Hare posed an important question to Neil Kinnock in G2 this week: how could he vote Labour after Iraq? Despite having an entire interview to give a clear answer, the former Labour leader ducked the question entirely by saying that "you can't be chained to past events over which you can now have even less control".
Iraq has become a toxic issue that is avoided at all costs by the two largest parties in their election campaigns. The Labour manifesto outlined that "there is no more important part of the world for global security than the Middle East", but the 76-page document only mentions Iraq once in passing, with reference to defence spending. Meanwhile, the Conservatives, bound to Iraq by their support for the war, didn't mention it once in their 131-page manifesto.
How should Iraq be fitted in to our political history? The decision to support the US invasion was one of the defining foreign policy decisions of the past decade. It has cost us over £8bn and the blood of more than 500 soldiers killed and injured. Yet its lessons appear to have been confined only to the obscurity of inquiry rooms and half-hearted attempts to arrest Tony Blair.
Britain shares responsibility for the situation in the "new" Iraq, so the issue cannot and should not be decoupled from the present and future of our politics.
In terms of relations with the new Iraq, people would be right to question what influence and capability we have on the situation on the ground. Despite being the number-two partner to the occupation, Britain's influence in Iraq waned almost immediately after it became clear that the Pentagon was running the show. Subsequently, the British decision to withdraw from Basra was criticised by "surge" architect General Jack Keane as leaving a city of "gangland warfare", while relations with prime minister Nouri al-Maliki deteriorated when the British were seen to be reluctant to support his "Charge of the Knights" operation in Basra.
Today, Britain has only a spartan presence in Iraq, helping to train the Iraqi navy in the Gulf. This, combined with the opaque and complex politics of the new Iraq, may lead some to argue that the British ability to make the weather in Iraq is at a post-invasion low.
Nevertheless, responsibility persists and nowhere does responsibility and capability meet as in the issue of addressing Iraq's continued refugee crisis.
According to the UNHCR in January this year, there are still more than 1.3 million Iraqi refugees living across the region, including some 747,910 in Syria and 500,000 in Jordan. Insight into their vulnerability is described by Debora Amos in her recent book, Eclipse of the Sunnis, including a detailed description of a typical night of an Iraqi refugee forced into prostitution in Damascus.
Across the Atlantic, President Barack Obama got "the politics of responsibility" right. During his election campaign he promised $2bn to expand services available to Iraqi refugees and in last August he appointed Samantha Power (who during the election campaign famously described Hilary Clinton as a monster) as senior director for multilateral affairs and human rights, responsible for "co-ordinating the efforts of the many parts of the US government on Iraqi refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs)". However, delivering on this has been delayed somewhat, especially now that the American administration has postponed "until further notice" the appointment of Robert Ford as ambassador to Damascus, following recent information about trucks bearing advanced weaponry that passed from Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Britain does have an ambassador in Damascus, yet sometimes appears to be heading in the opposite direction to that of the US. In October, the UNHCR expressed its concern over the British attempt to forcibly return 44 Iraqi men to Baghdad.
Here, responsibility towards Iraqi refugees clashes with the parties' policies towards immigration, an issue that both manifestos have plenty to say about – Labour promising that "there will be no unskilled immigration from outside the EU", while the Conservatives promise to "take net migration back to the levels of the 1990s – tens of thousands a year, not hundreds of thousands".
So what hope for is there for a British foreign policy that is fair for all, or one where we're all in it together? To abandon those worst affected by a foreign policy failure is what the absence of Iraq from the party manifestos is committing ourselves towards.
Posted by Iraq Solidarity UK at 12:37 PM 0 comments Links to this post The Falls of Baghdad
By Hmida Ben Romdhane
Millions of people in Iraq and across the Arab world commemorated, or held a moment of thought or prayer for the fall of Baghdad on that tragic day of April 9, 2003. For seven years now, the Iraqi capital has been filled with fire and blood. The formidable force of destruction unleashed by the decision of former President George W. Bush has wrecked everything in its path and the repercussions of this immense strategic earthquake are still being felt far beyond the Iraqi borders.
Some scenes from this umpteenth fall of Baghdad are forever engraved in our memories, like that of this poor American soldier climbing on the statue of Saddam to cover its head with the Stars and Stripes; or of American tanks protecting the only place that mattered to Bush and his consorts — namely, the Iraqi Ministry of Oil; or of the systematic looting of hospitals, universities, museums and administrative offices by a crazed mob under the lenient and delighted eyes of Bush's "liberation" army; without forgetting Donald Rumsfeld, the then secretary of defense who, elated by this growing anarchy, equated it to "learning freedom"...
Undoubtedly, this was not the first time that Baghdad had fallen. This martyr city has been through much worse historical episodes and has been ransacked by conquerors much more fierce than George W. Bush. In February 1258, the Mongol Hulagu made his thunderous entrance into Baghdad, where his men had been spreading an indescribable terror, destroying and burning everything in their path and massacring every Iraqi who had the misfortune to be in their way.
In July 1401, it was the turn of Turko-Mongol Tamerlane (Timur Leng) to make his devastating way into Baghdad, where the atrocities perpetrated by his conquering troops had nothing to envy of those committed a century and half earlier by his predecessor, Hulagu. In July again, but this time in the year 1534, the Ottoman troops of Suleiman the Magnificent (Suleiman al-Qanouni) in turn entered Baghdad. Unlike Hulagu and Tamerlane's troops, those of Suleiman the Magnificent had not come to destroy, massacre, ransack and leave. They had come to stay. They remained in Iraq, just as in the rest of the Arab world, for close to four hundred years. Four centuries of Pax Ottomana, during which Baghdad never knew another fall... until April 9, 2003.
True, Baghdad was the scene of many bloody episodes in the last century, first between the British and the Iraqis and then, later on, between various Iraqi political factions. But never since the Turko-Mongol Tamerlane had the Iraqi capital seen so devastating a tragedy as that caused by the decision taken by George W. Bush to save humanity from Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction and to free the Iraqi people from the prison in which Saddam was holding them...
Perhaps one day historians will tell which invasion between those of the Mongol Hulagu and the American George W. Bush was the most devastating for Baghdad. But we can already gather some hints of an answer to this question when we consider that the former lasted only for a few weeks and that the Iraqi people immediately proceeded to heal their wounds, whereas Bush's invasion is still ongoing and, seven years on, the Iraqis are still afflicted of more wounds than they can heal.
On April 9, 2003, Baghdad fell for the fourth time. But there is one fundamental difference between the fall engendered by George W. Bush and those caused by the onslaught of the Mongol hordes of Hulagu and Tamerlane. The latter, when ransacking Baghdad, did not violate any human-made law or regulation. They lived in a world where international relations were governed by the same natural laws that govern life in the jungle. Thus, it makes no more sense to blame Hulagu and Tamerlane for having followed their most primal instinct than to blame a tiger for raiding a territory inhabited by weaker and slower animals.
Hence the extreme seriousness of the case of George W. Bush. Unlike his two predecessors, Bush was living in a world governed by laws and institutions that strictly forbid invasions, acts of aggression and wars, and that do not allow the use of force unless it is in self-defense.
In this respect, the former U.S. president turned out to be a danger not just to Iraq and the Iraqi people. By violating international laws and conventions in 2003 in order to attack a weaker country for no reason, George W. Bush was reclaiming those most primal instincts that had led Hulagu and Tamerlane to wreck Baghdad in 1258 and 1401 respectively. And by going back to the law of the jungle, Bush did not just wreck Baghdad and the whole of Iraq. He also instigated a treacherous plan against the precious legal and institutional heritage that mankind has been laboriously building since the Treaty of Westphalia of October 24, 1648, generally considered the founding document of the nation-state and the first attempt at outlawing the right of might.
What is most extraordinary is that, despite the crimes committed against Iraq and against humankind's legal and institutional heritage, the former American president is still enjoying a happy life in his native Texas. He was even asked to go to Haiti to offer relief to the earthquake victims with a kind word or a handshake, even if he should then wipe it off on Bill Clinton's shirt. No legal or political institution in the world has so far found it necessary to hold him accountable. But it is true that besides the few aforementioned offenses, Bush has never committed any petty crimes of pickpocketing or shoplifting.
Posted by Iraq Solidarity UK at 12:30 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Seven fat years for Iran
by Mustafa El-Labbad
The seventh anniversary of the occupation of Iraq was marked by a fierce set of parliamentary elections reflecting the domestic balance of power that has come into being in the country since the 2003 US-led invasion. This not only overthrew the old regime, but it also flung open the door to ugly and violent sectarian upheavals. Whereas latent sectarian tensions were once kept well beneath the surface and the political situation in Iraq could be described using conventional classifications, today any political analysis must almost invariably start with sectarian allegiances.
Today, Iraq's political parties and personalities are not from the left, the right or the centre. Rather, they are above all Sunni or Shia. From here, one has to proceed to the regional dimension, which must also be regarded in sectarian terms. On one side, there is Iran, which backs the Iraqi Shia groups, and on the other there is Saudi Arabia, which champions the Sunni forces. Somewhere in between are Syria and Turkey.
Ever present in the background are the American occupation forces, hopelessly mired in the morass they have created. Seven years after former US president George W. Bush declared victory in Iraq, the Obama administration is struggling to find the elusive formula that will enable US forces to remain in Iraq long enough to bring about a consensual system of government and some sort of stability, all in order to ensure that Iraq does not tumble into the hands of Iran.
In the March 2010 elections, Iraqi political parties contested 325 parliamentary seats representing the country's 18 provinces. To the surprise of many observers, the list headed by the secularist former prime minister Ayad Alawi, who has the support of the majority of Sunnis and a significant segment of the Shia population opposed to Iranian encroachment in the country, emerged victorious with 91 seats.
The runner up, with 89 seats, was the Rule of Law list headed by the outgoing Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, who enjoyed widespread support among a significant section of the Shia population. Coming in third, with 70 seats, was a coalition made up of several Shia parties with a strong base in southern Iraq. In fourth place were the Kurdish parties, which secured 43 seats. The remaining 32 seats were distributed between the Iraqi Consensus Front, which has a majority Sunni constituency, and other parties or individuals representing religious or other minorities.
Alawi's Iraqi List needs 72 more seats in order to have an overall parliamentary majority. Alawi could form a coalition government, but he would need a Shia partner in order to do so and given today's reality in Iraq this is a tall order. The Shia, on the other hand, could theoretically form a government without Alawi, with an alliance between the Rule of Law list, the Shia Coalition list and the Kurds.
However, the effects of locking Alawi out of government could be disastrous, as this could aggravate the Sunnis' belief that they have been systematically marginalised since the 2003 invasion and possibly trigger renewed acts of terrorism. Negotiations between the parties also have a strong regional and international dimension. While it appears that Iraq's Arab neighbours and Washington have placed their bets on one horse emerging victorious from the elections, Iran had several horses in the running all along.
Iran has strong historical relations with the Kurds in northern Iraq, close links with Nouri al-Maliki and key figures in his electoral list. Meanwhile Iran is the regional and political umbrella shading the Coalition list representing the Islamic Revolution Council headed by Amar al-Hakim and the Muqtada al-Sadr Movement. Because of this extensive Iranian influence, Alawi's chances of forming a coalition are slim because he does not have Iran's blessing.
The negotiations currently in progress between Alawi and the parties close to Iran are almost certain to produce nothing meaningful. Nevertheless, they are likely to drag on for several months because even if the four leading parties agree to form a government in principle they will nevertheless remain immersed in haggling over key ministries. Sunni-Shia tensions will play out over the negotiating table, while the Kurds will strive to capitalise on the Sunni-Shia divide.
Whereas the Kurdish vote was once represented by two factions, it is now split across three. In addition to the Kurdistan Democratic Party led by Masoud Barzani and the Kurdistan National Union led by Jalal Talibani, there is also the Goran Movement, "goran" being the Kurdish for "change." Because three of Iraq's 18 provinces, Dahuk, Erbil and Sulimaniyya, are predominantly Kurdish, and because of the larger Sunni turnout in the March elections, the Kurds received fewer seats than in previous elections, which were boycotted by Sunni Arabs.
Although Saudi Arabia, Turkey and even Iran's ally Syria hope that the presence of Alawi's Iraqi List in the next government will serve as a counterweight to Iran's influence in the country, the fact is that Iraq is now more of a regional country than it was before the 2003 US-led invasion, when it was solely part of the Arab world. Until 2003, Iraq was well within the notional framework of the Arab regional order. Although debilitated by the protracted international boycott that had lasted since its occupation of Kuwait, it nevertheless stood as a barrier to the westward expansion of Iranian national ambitions.
In addition, after having signed a series of understandings with Turkey over the cross-border pursuit of Kurdish rebels and in the light of Ankara's westward foreign policy orientation, Iraq served as a fulcrum between Turkey, which had no desire to play a regional role, and Iran, which was unable at the time to assert itself directly in Iraq. As weakened as Baghdad was in 2003, and despite its weak grip on Kurdistan in the north and on the south of Iraq, just by surviving the regime kept the lid on volatile conditions that could have set off conflagrations having regional repercussions.
It was with the fall of the Saddam regime that Iran pounced on the opportunity to push into Iraq. Its motives for doing so were manifold. It was determined to prevent Iraq from ever launching another war against it, as the Saddam regime had done in 1980. It was equally resolved not to let Iraq become a staging post for an offensive against Iran, since as a result of the American occupation Iran was now entirely surrounded by US forces. Tehran was also inspired by a historical drive to expand its influence and leverage itself into a major regional power.
The American quagmire in Iraq handed it a golden opportunity to do so, while at the same time capitalising on the situation in a manner that would ultimately force the US to negotiate over its regional role and other issues. Iran appears to have accomplished these aims. However, it has yet to achieve an additional aim, one that concerns Iran's neighbours, which is to turn Iraq into a staging post for upsetting the regional balance in the Arabian Peninsula. The reason why Tehran has not been able to accomplish this is because the new US administration fully appreciates the dangers should it succeed.
Tehran has availed itself of every political, economic, covert and sectarian avenue to assert itself in Iraq, and it has succeeded in expanding its influence there to a level that is unprecedented since the cornerstone of the modern Iraqi state was laid with the creation of the Kingdom of Iraq in 1921. In other words, following the occupation of Iraq, Tehran has succeeded in turning potential threats against it into opportunities. Its ability to do so reflects a deep and subtle understanding of the Iraqi political balance and demographic make-up.
How Iran has turned these factors to its advantage is best summed up by the fact that before the US-led invasion Iraqi socio-political dynamics revolved around the Arab-Kurdish dichotomy, with the Arabs the majority and the Kurds the minority. Since then, Iran has succeeded in transforming Iraqi politics into a three-sided equation, consisting of Sunnis, Shias and Kurds. This new arrangement, approved both by Iran and the US and even the majority of Iraqis themselves, has given Iran a clear upper hand, in view of its strong religious links with Iraqi Shias and its historical and linguistic links with Iraqi Kurds.
So adamant has Iran been about perpetuating this tripartite socio-political organisation, one that readily lends itself to Iranian interests in Iraq, that it insisted upon its being enshrined in the country's new constitution as the basis for power-sharing in Iraq in the post-2003 era.
Iran has also proved itself to be a master of Machiavellian tactics. While it had shared the American desire to topple the Saddam regime, it was equally if not more determined to complicate the American intervention in Iraq. Indeed, Iran was the US's most fervent, if silent, partner up until the US occupation of Iraq.
Without firing a shot, it has managed to reverse the partial victory that Iraq achieved in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war into a total victory for Iran. After having insinuated itself into the Iraqi political arena, Tehran also held four rounds of talks with the US in Baghdad, signalling that it and the US were now the strongest players in the country. In asserting its power in Iraq, it is likely that Tehran applied the following kind of cause-and-effect reasoning: eliminating and marginalising the Sunnis would provoke them into committing acts of violence; this violence would cause the collapse of the political process; this in turn would exacerbate the Iraqi quagmire for the US and, consequently, US forces, heavily embroiled in Iraq and Afghanistan, would not be able to launch a military offensive against Iran. Logic of this sort, perhaps with some minor adjustments, has since proved an almost fool-proof formula in chalking up the many gains that Tehran has scored in Iraq.
The aspiration to establish Iran as a regional power has obsessed Iranian rulers since the founding of the modern Iranian state. Iraq has always figured heavily in these ambitions, which is unsurprising in view of a long history in which the territory that now makes up the modern state of Iraq had functioned as the bellwether of Iran's regional reach. The former Iranian Safavid and Qajar dynasties concluded four pacts with the former Ottoman Empire over Iraq, for example, and Mosul, Baghdad and Basra, cities that now define the contemporary political triangle of Iraq, flew the Ottoman flag until the foundation of the independent Iraqi state in 1921.
These agreements with the Ottomans gave Iran the right to supervise the Shia holy places in the Iraqi cities of Najaf and Karbala, this right having been established in Iranian lore in the early 16th century by the Safavid ruler Shah Abbas, who travelled by foot from his capital Isfahan to the sacred thresholds of the holy city of Najaf in order to "sweep the grave of the Leader of the Faithful Ali Bin Abi Taleb." Abbas gave himself the title of "the dog at the threshold of Ali," thereby underlining the Iranian claim on southern Iraq and the country's aspiration for regional power in which influence in Iraq forms an essential ingredient.
A further succinct testimony to the centrality of Iraq in the Iranian regional outlook is the fact that over the course of three centuries Iran signed 14 treaties with the Ottomans concerning the borders of Iraq. Foremost among these were the Treaty of Amasya (1554), the Treaty of the Emir (1562), the Treaty of Sraw (1618), the Treaty of Zuhab (1639), The Treaty of Shirvan (1736) and the Treaty of Ardrom (1823).
The current Islamic revolutionary regime in Iran is no less prey to the Iraqi obsession than was its predecessors, and it hardly needs Washington's approval to expand its influence in Iraq. On the contrary, Iran moved into the country without Washington's permission and in spite of the presence of American troops. However, Tehran cannot expect to be recognised as a regional power without the green light from Washington. While it holds an excellent hand, enabling it to sabotage American projects at every turn, as is proven daily throughout the Fertile Crescent, decision-makers in Tehran, their eyes fixed on the realisation of an internationally acknowledged regional role, know the limits of their power.
While Iran can make things harder for the US, this may not make it easier for Iran to achieve its own regional ambitions. Regional influence ultimately counts for nothing if it cannot be translated into concrete and durable realities, and these can only be secured in the framework of an understanding with Washington. While Washington cannot claim "victory" in Iraq after seven years of occupation due to a variety of factors, not least among them being Iranian- caused obstructions, Tehran cannot compel Washington to withdraw from Iraq unconditionally either or to leave the country to Iranian domination.
Nevertheless, there may still be some surprises in store. Perhaps al-Maliki will withdraw from the running for the premiership. Yet, even if he does so Alawi will still need a Shia partner to form a government, while the Shia camp could form a government without Alawi and it would be difficult to imagine a Shia party entering into a coalition with Alawi to the exclusion of the other Shia parties. This being so, it can be expected that the winner of the recent elections will agree to forming a coalition government consisting of representatives of all four winning parties, and in this case the most Alawi can aspire to is a reasonable number of key ministerial portfolios.
Meanwhile, Iran has strong reasons for containing Alawi, behind whom Tehran sees its regional competitors and, of course, Washington. The coming weeks will afford Iran an excellent opportunity to test its strength in Iran. As the negotiations between the four winning parties continue, Iran and the US will be pulling the strings behind the scenes, and Iran will probably continue to apply the logic described above. The more Iran can convince Washington that it needs Iranian cooperation in Iraq, the more it will be able to counter pressures due to the country's nuclear programme.
The Obama administration, which, lacking sufficient intelligence, is not keen to wage a military offensive over Iran's nuclear facilities, will continue its campaign to obtain international approval for economic sanctions against Iran, and Iran will do everything in its power to ensure that negotiations over the formation of a new Iraqi government drag on.
Former US vice-president Dick Cheney and Bush were too precipitate when they proclaimed victory in Iraq. No tears were shed when they left office, and they managed to ensure that the incoming Obama administration was left saddled with a tragic legacy in Iraq: the country now sits atop of a sectarian volcano and at the mercy of Iran.
* The writer is director of the Cairo-based Al Sharq Centre for Regional and Strategic Studies.
Posted by Iraq Solidarity UK at 12:18 PM 0 comments Links to this post