"Evil is powerless if the good are unafraid" - Ronald Reagan

New York

The Middle East: 2005-In Review; 2006-A Look Ahead

2005 has been a dynamic year in the United States and the World. Most notably, 2005 was marked by questions of our continued presence in Iraq given the state of the insurgency. Several Democratic politicians called for our immediate redeployment of U.S Troops and exposed that the idea that we're going to win the war in Iraq is an idea which is just plain wrong. These statements were made against the backdrop of third successful democratic election in Iraq in 2005.

The President continues to remark that the War in Iraq is part of the larger Global War on Terrorism and an important avenue towards peace in the Middle East. The end state is to create a democratized Middle East. Without question, given the global economy is based on oil, in which a large percentage of this oil is in the Middle East, it is incumbent upon the United States to ensure security in this region. This region, in fact, holds the key to our livelihood, current standard of living, and future growth and development.

So, are we winning the war in Iraq, are we just holding our own, or should we pull out American troops to save face before we lose more ground in Iraq?

2005 marked a fundamental shift in our military operations in Iraq. Most notable is the success of the Anbar Campaign. Instead of clearing a region of insurgents and then departing the region only to have the insurgents return, 2005 was marked by clearing and securing ground. With the help of the Iraqi Army, Coalition forces now clear areas of insurgents and maintain a presence in the territory to prevent the re-appearance of the insurgents. This change in tactics, realized by the new strength and vigor of the Iraqi Army, has greatly hindered the insurgents' ability to plan, prepare, and execute operations. This is not to say that the Iraqi Army completely able to function on its own right now. Thirty years of graft under Saddam is hard to overcome, but the first Middle East nation with an all volunteer is impressive and becoming more combat ready and lethal everyday.

Al-Zarqawi's support in Iraq was greatly eroded during 2005. He and Al-Qaeda in Iraq no longer enjoy tacit approval or support from the majority of Iraqis and his support amongst the Sunni population is also waning. His most notable drop in support occurred after the hotel bombings in Jordan. His own hometown mosque, that he prayed at as a child delivered a sermon citing the "the criminality of the attacks and how they were not in keeping with Islam." This fact, in addition to 250,000 Jordanians marching in condemnation to the attacks, marks a significant downturn in support for Al-Qaeda in Iraq.

In summary, 2005 marked a turning point in Iraq. American forces will begin to drawdown in 2006. Two divisions of the Iraqi Army are now certified and leading military operations; the 8th Iraqi Division securing the Syrian border in South-Central Iraq and the 6th Iraqi Division securing Baghdad. Iraqi forces are now leading many combat operations in Iraq. The Kurdish North has always been secure as has Southern Iraq. 2006 should see a substantial reduction in the insurgency as the Iraqi Army continues to improve and given the fact that many Sunnis now understand they should participate in the political process in Iraq as opposed to prevent it from occurring.

In the rest of the Middle East, Saudi Arabia allowed municipal elections. While only at the municipal level, these elections are introducing Saudi's to democracy. In addition, Saudi Arabia is actively seeking out insurgents. It has published its third list of most wanted terrorists since essentially exhausting its first two lists killing or capturing 44 or 45 on the two lists. This attitude marks a significant change in Saudi methods. Prior to 9-11, Saudi Arabia was recognized as a leader in sponsoring terrorism. Now Saudi Arabia is actively seeking and killing terrorists inside its borders and has significantly curbed funding of terrorists.

Syria has lost considerable power and control in the Middle East with the killing of Prime Minister Hariri. They were forced withdraw from Lebanon and currently are being investigated by the UN for its connection with the murder. With Iraqi forces now actively patrolling their own borders, Syrian influence is Iraq is also weakening. Lebanon is trying to rebuild itself after years of civil war and decades of occupation.

Israel is affecting unilateral withdraws from occupied territories despite Palestinian resistance to anything positive. This situation will never be resolved unless Palestinians back down from their efforts to rule Israel. It is interesting to note how sharply Palestinian suicide bombing subsided once Saddam was removed from power and no longer paying families of suicide bombers. While the Palestinians had free elections earlier in 2005, the latest election run-up has been marked by violence and gunfire. Abbas may have to delay the upcoming parliamentary elections scheduled in January 2006 due to fighting between internal Hamas and Fatah factions. Now clashes along the Gaza border with Egypt are another threat to peace. It is interesting to note where UN Border Patrol Agents flee to every time there is an incident-Israel. Wonder why they do not flee into Gaza or Egypt if Israel is such a evil country?

Iran will be the Middle East nation to watch in 2006. Iran's newly elected President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is a force to be reckoned with for 2006. He has pledged to use Iran's newfound powers "wipe Israel off the map" and to "destroy America." Iran's active pursuit of nuclear technology and weaponry, Ahmadinejad's belief in the Hidden Imam, and other outlandish statements have heightened concern for the United States, Europe, and other countries in the Middle East.

It is interesting to note that Ahmadinejad has privately stated his messianic idea that the Hidden Imam will reappear in two years and new assessments state that Iran may be able to produce a nuclear bomb around the same time. The connection between these two events should not be lost, especially given the radicalism that Ahmadinejad has recently voiced publicly. Iran also recently confirmed it developed technology to allow it to produce its own enriched uranium.

The only saving grace is the fact that Ahmadinejad and his fundamentalist militaristic faction are not the absolute leaders in Iran; that title goes to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei who recently (under pressure from other ayatollahs) created the Expediency Council and appointed Rafsanjani (Ahmadinejad's adversary in the last presidential election) as its chairman. As chairman of this new council, Rafsanjani is effectively the number two man in Iran with Ahmadinejad taking up third position. Khamenei and Rafsanjani reflect a more moderate faction in Iran. This is not to say that either of these men do not believe in the destruction of Israel or America. Far from it. However, they are concerned about international opinion and have a proven track record of moderation in governing. As opposed to Ahmadinejad who is a recognized radical, has delusions of the Hidden Imam appearing in two years, and will possible used newly developed nuclear weapons in place of the Hidden Imam to destroy Israel and start a holy war in the Middle East to seek America's destruction.

However, Khamenei's power is being threatened by the Revolutionary Guards and the Basij. It is believed they are trying to secure power and get fundamentalist militaristic ayatollahs appointed to the Council of Experts to unseat Khamenei and instill Ayatollah Taqi Mesbah-e Yazdi as Iran's Supreme Leader, who incidentally has close ties to Ahmadinejad.

It will be interesting to see how politics play out in Iran. If Khamenei survives as Iran's Supreme Leader, we can expect Ahmadinejad to continue with his vocal rhetoric but not maintain much power to directly influence events outside Iran. If Khamenei is unseated, then Ahmadinejad and Yazdi may form an unholy alliance that could result in more direct overt action in the Middle East, especially in two years if the Hidden Imam is really nuclear weapons. 2006 will be a year to watch with regards to Iran and the larger Middle East. While the Shi'a fundamentalist in Iran do not actively support the Sunni Al-Qaeda, it will be interesting to see if an alliance develops between these two forces to aid in the destruction of Israel and the United States.

President Bush's policy of democratizing the Middle East has had extremely positive impacts in 2005. Iraq reached a turning point with three successful elections. Lebanon gained its freedom and held elections. Syria has lost a lot of control and power. Saudi Arabia and Palestinians held elections. While the Palestinians still battle internally for control, Iran is the only real long pole left in the tent to watch for 2006. If Khamenei manages to keep control in Iran, the most we can expect from Ahmadinejad is a lot of absurd rhetoric.


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