FROM Laith Kubba
Can Democracy Survive in Iraq? The party of former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi won two more seats in this month's parliamentary elections than the party of current Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Maliki has called the outcome a "fraud," and demanded a recount. Today, Allawi claimed that Iran is trying to prevent him from forming a government.
Can Democracy Survive in Iraq? What if you have an election and nobody wins? That's the latest challenge to democracy in Iraq, and it may take months for a new government to be formed. It's not even clear if the current prime minister or one of his predecessors should get the first chance to try building a coalition strong enough to take charge. Prolonged delay might produce political compromise or a return to sectarian civil war, and both leading candidates are looking over their shoulders at Iran. Should the Obama Administration stay the course and pull combat troops out by the end of August, or will continued stability require US boots on the ground?
Does Democracy in Iraq Have a Future? Iraq has been preparing for crucial nationwide elections early in March, and Sunnis, who boycotted last time around, have been full participants in the process. But, two weeks ago, a Shiite-dominated panel disqualified 511 Sunni candidates. Then came renewed bombings in Baghdad with targets including hotels and offices, and a building full of files on former associates of the now-prohibited Baath Party led by Saddam Hussein. Will the candidates' banning undermine the legitimacy of the process? What's the role of al Qaeda? Has Vice President Biden made things better or worse? Is Iraq on the road to becoming an Islamic state? Will US combat troops be able to leave the country as scheduled before the end of this year?
War and Diplomacy in Iraq and Afghanistan Violence is down in Iraq, but it's up in Afghanistan, with American soldiers and diplomats caught in between. After months of painstaking negotiations, the US and Iraq appeared to have reached a deal last week on extending the presence of American forces beyond the end of this year. That's when the UN mandate runs out. But now, Iraq's cabinet is demanding changes in what's called the Status of Forces Agreement . In Afghanistan, allied leaders say more troops are needed, against an insurgency fueled in part by the presence of foreign forces. Can the Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds in Iraq resolve their competing political interests and agree on terms for US withdrawal? Will the US and NATO have to sit down with the Taliban to avoid mistakes made in Afghanistan by the former Soviet Union?
Petraeus and Crocker: Back on Capitol Hill As a protester chanted, "Bring them Home," General David Petraeus refused to set any timetable for withdrawing troops from Iraq. Democrats said his strategy added up to "a plan which has no end to it," while Republicans showed various degrees of support. Ambassador Ryan Crocker insisted there has been "progress" in reconstructing Iraq and reconciling sectarian factions. That led to partisan disagreement, too. We hear what John McCain and Hillary Clinton had to say on the recommendations President Bush will be getting from his command team, differing views on the rhetoric and the realities.
An End to the Civil War in Iraq? The "surge" of US military forces in Iraq has reduced the level of violence, as promised. However, not until this week did the "so-called "breathing room" lead to "benchmark legislation" from the Iraqi parliament. The Shiite-dominate legislature has passed a a law promoted by the United States, that's supposed to open the government to Sunnis bureaucrats, engineers, teachers, soldiers and police officers from Saddam-Hussein's Baath Party. But today's New York Times reports that it could make matters worse.
Is It Time to Increase the Pressure on the Iraqi Government? President Bush and Democrats in the Congress are deadlocked over setting withdrawal deadlines for the funding of US troops in Iraq. In the meantime, both sides agree with military leaders that continuing violence won't end until there is political reconciliation among Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds. To that end, Iraq's Prime Minister has agreed to meet certain "benchmarks." Amending the constitution, holding local elections and regulating oil revenues are supposed to give all sides a real stake in peace and stability. The Bush Administration says US forces are needed before political deals can be made, but critics contend the American presence is an excuse for delay. Are the Iraqis meeting the benchmarks? Should the US threaten to cut off support until more progress is made?
What's Next in Iraq and on Capitol Hill? Official Washington--and much of the world--are waiting for Wednesday's televised announcement of the President's "new strategy" for the war in Iraq. Most reports say it will mean an increase in troop strength of 20,000 or more, which Democrats now call an "escalation," in reference to Vietnam. The latest reports also say that the President will ask the Iraqi government to meet certain "benchmarks." The new leaders say voters rejected the war, but what power does Congress have to change the way it's conducted? Does the Iraqi government have the will or the capacity to meet "benchmarks" that may be demanded by President Bush?
To 'Surge' or Not to 'Surge' in Iraq Today's Washington Post is the latest news outlet to report disagreement between the Pentagon and the White House. The paper says the White House wants 15,000 to 30,000 more troops for a last-ditch "surge" to rescue Iraq from total chaos. It says the Joint Chiefs of Staff are unanimously opposed, despite Army leaders warning that their active forces are already at the breaking point All this as the new Defense Secretary, Robert Gates , plans a trip to Iraq and President Bush says he'll announce a new strategy early next year. We debate military realities in the short term and the foreseeable future.
New Stumbling Blocks for Crisis Diplomacy Just hours before his meeting with President Bush, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was hit by two challenges to his leadership of Iraq. The first was a leaked memo from National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley saying al-Maliki is either unwilling or unable to control sectarian violence; the second, withdrawal from al-Maliki's government by a key bloc of supporters led by Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. How damaged is al-Maliki's leadership of his own divided country? Would more American troops make a difference?
Future of the Palestinians as Trump welcomes Abbas President Trump says there's "no reason there can't be peace" between Israel and the Palestinians… but the first step will have to be unity between the West Bank and Gaza. Are the Palestinian Authority and Hamas any closer to speaking with one voice?