23 November 2006 Edition

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International: Bush 'ready to take advice' on Iraq after Mid-Term election defeat

US administration under renewed pressure over Iraq

In his first interview with Al Jazeera's new English language news channel, British Primer minister Tony Blair has finally admitted, apparently without meaning to, that the situation in Iraq is "a disaster". Meanwhile US President George W Bush presented himself as ready to take advice on his administration's next move in relation to Iraq after recent US Mid-Term elections saw his Republican Party losing control of the US Congress and Senate. It may be a sign that the leaders of the so-called 'coalition of the willing' were getting the message, even if it is too late for the more than 50,000 civilians who have lost their lives as a consequence of war and occupation in Iraq.

Then, on Friday 17 November, a new poll found that US citizens' approval of Bush's handling of the war had dropped to the lowest level ever, increasing the pressure for a new approach to the four-year-long war. A majority of voters disapproved of the war in Iraq, thought the war had not made the United States more secure and wanted to see troops start coming home, those polls found. These groups voted for Democratic Party candidates.

Impending report

The latest Associated Press-Ipsos poll found just 31% approval for Bush's handling of Iraq, days after voters registered their displeasure at the polls. The previous low in AP-Ipsos polling was 33% in both June and August. All this has drawn attention to an impending report compiled by the Iraq Study Group headed by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and one-time Democrat Representative Lee Hamilton, and which recently interviewed Tony Blair.

The Iraq Study Group (ISG) is due to deliver its report in December. The White House has already said it will not be bound by the ISG's findings. It has also commissioned a military review of the situation by the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, General Peter Pace, and has ordered a third assessment from its own national security council.

The poll also found that erosion of support for Bush's Iraq policy was most pronounced among conservative and Republican men, the same people who supported his comeback to the White House after the 2004 Presidential election. The increasing demand for an exit strategy in a war that Bush declared won in May 2002 comes as the number of US army personnel killed as a consequence of the conflict exceeds 2,850. Two options under discussion -- greater co-operation with Iran and Syria, and a phased withdrawal of US troops -- would require a major policy shift by the Bush administration.

Already there are some moves in that direction, as on Sunday 19 November, Syria's Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem became the first senior Syrian official to visit Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. During his visit, Moualem called for a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign troops.

With the new majority for Democrats in Congress, Bush will find it more difficult to continue with the policies he has pursued so far. On Thursday, 16 November, the new majority leader in the US Senate, Harry Reid, stated an intention not to allow Bush to send more troops to Iraq. The warning comes as it is believed Bush wanted to send 20,000 reinforcements to the country. There are currently about 141,000 US troops in Iraq, and another 2,200-strong marine unit has recently been ordered into Anbar province, a Sunni stronghold.

However, it remains to be seen whether the new majority in Congress would halt the war effort, as they may be seen as betraying soldiers on the ground. Democrats have already said they will not cut off war funding.

Meanwhile, violence continues in Iraq. Only on Sunday, 19 November, Iraqi Deputy Health Minister Ammar al-Saffar was kidnapped. Saffar's kidnap comes less than a week after dozens of people were abducted from the Education Ministry. Some were reportedly tortured before they were released. Shootings, kidnappings and bombings are a daily occurrence. On the same Sunday that Saffar was taken from his home, at least 50 people were killed.

In Briefs

US military training for Latin American forces

US President George Bush has granted a waiver to allow for the training of Latin American military forces in the US. The move is seen as reinstating the infamous School of Americas, which once trained Latin American military leaders in 'counter-insurgency' methods, including torture. Some of those trained by the US were responsible for human rights violations in Latin American countries under military dictatorships in the 1970s and 1980s.

Bush introduced a training ban in 2002 to force countries to exempt US soldiers from war crimes trials before the International Criminal Court. The training ban is seen as having resulted in a loss of US influence in the region. The issue seems to have gained urgency for Bush after a string of leftist candidates assumed political office across Latin America. On a trip to the region this year, US Secretary of State Condaleeza Rice said that the impact of the ban had been "the same as shooting ourselves in the foot."

Global warming

The UN climate talks in Nairobi have ended with agreement in doing little to stop global warming, as there was no deal on another round of mandatory cuts in emissions to follow the Kyoto Protocol, and no firm timetable for negotiating cuts. Environment and development groups say the measures presented here do not match the scale of the problem.

Palestine

The Israeli air force had to call off a planned air attack on the home of a Palestinian militant after hundreds of people gathered at the house to act as a human shield. The Israeli military telephoned the home of the commander of a Popular Resistance Committees militant group in Gaza, warning him of the impending attack. Hundreds of Palestinians celebrated the formation of the shield.

Popular Resistance Committees militant Ahmed Fuad Barud charged: "This is a victory for the Palestinian people. It is a defeat for the Israeli F-16s".

Australia

On Sunday 10 November, a group of 50 demonstrators were beaten and trampled by police during a peaceful anti-G20 protest inside the foyer of the Melbourne museum, seriously injuring a woman. The G20 is a gathering of finance ministers, reserve bank governors and the heads of the IMF and World Bank. Police used batons and fists to disperse the small group of singing, dancing demonstrators, which consisted mostly of women and included musicians and children. Several hundred police, including two divisions of riot police, were deployed in the incident.


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