By Larry Derfner, Mideast Watch
An "ugly battle" for power and influence in Iraq is expected to begin after the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops by August 2010, President Obama's announced target date, writes Tariq Alhomayed, editor in chief of the influential pan-Arab newspaper Asharq Alawsat. Unless Iraq's ethnic factions can come together in the name of national unity, the power vacuum left in the country by the U.S. drawdown will likely be filled by Iran or, possibly, by other neighbors, Syria or Turkey, Alhomayed writes.
There must be more European, American and Arab communication with Iraq on all levels so that Baghdad will have choices other than Iran. Moreover, the Iraqis, Americans and Arabs must pay attention to the danger of the imminent period; it will be equivalent to a battle for the sake of influence and filling the power vacuum in Iraq. There is no doubt that it will be a difficult and ugly battle.
"Chemical Ali" Sentenced to Hang
Ali Hassan al-Majid, the infamous "Chemical Ali" who was defense minister and chief of intelligence in Saddam Hussein's regime, has been sentenced to death by hanging for his involvement in killing dozens of Shiite protesters in 1999. Al-Majid had already been sentenced to death twice for other massacres, but execution has been blocked by legal challenges. The Qatar-based satellite TV station Al Jazeera gives some background:
Al-Majid, a cousin of Saddam (hanged in 2006 for the revenge killings of nearly 150 Shi'ite villagers), was nicknamed "Chemical Ali" for overseeing the gassing of Iraqi Kurds during the so-called "Operation Anfal" campaign in 1988.
About 182,000 Kurds were estimated to have been killed in gas and bomb attacks during the operation and 4,000 villages destroyed.
Al-Majid was also accused of masterminding the gassing of 5,000 Kurds in the town of Halabja in a separate attack.
Hariri Assassination Tribunal Goes to Hague
An international tribunal proceeding concerning the 2005 assassination of one-time Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri has opened at The Hague in the Netherlands. It is not yet clear who will be charged. The assassination, widely blamed on Syrian agents, has become a lightning rod for domestic opposition to Syrian influence over its smaller, neighbor and an acute embarrassment for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The trial, anticipated to take years, is expected to heighten tensions in Lebanon. Al Jazeera reports:
A number of Lebanese politicians, including Saad al-Hariri, Rafiq's son, have accused Syria of being behind the bombing.
Al-Hariri, a billionaire businessman, broke with Syria and openly opposed Damascus' military involvement in Lebanon months before his assassination.
Syria denies any link to al-Hariri's death and has ended its 29-year military presence in Lebanon following international outcry at the bombing.
- Read more of Larry Derfner's Mideast Watch.