Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Europe and the Middle East

The two major items of the week are what happened in Europe and what may happen in Iraq. The UK Independence Party, which aims to withdraw Britain from the EU suddenly became a serious political party and fired a shot across the bow of European project by placing third in the UK European Member of Parliament elections.

Party Percentage Change from Last Number Elected
Conservatives -9.0% 27
Labor -5.4% 19
UK Independence Party +9.2% 12
Liberal Democrats +2.3% 12
Greens 0.0% 2
British National Party +4.9% 0

Both the Labor and Conservative parties, the former which promotes and the latter which does not oppose further European integration, lost substantial ground. According to Brian Micklethwait of Samizdata, part of the motivation for this shift, apart from feelings of nationalism, is the growing perception that European policies are undermining Britain's future.

"How come? Well, simply, most of the business people of Britain support UKIP. They hate the EU and they want out. Maybe not the big business people. But in terms of the sheer number of businesses, the majority of them support UKIP. The majority of the people whose job description is 'Managing Director' want Britain out of the EU."

The bleak future that Britain seeks to avoid was recently described by the Economist (hat tip: reader MIG) which predicted that if current trends continue, Europe will have a markedly smaller, older and much poorer population than the United States by 2050. Higher American fertility rates, immigration and economic growth will demote Europe from a position of rough comparability to a second-rate status.

Category by 2050 America Europe
Population 550 million 350 million
Median Age 36.2 years 52.7
Percentage of workers over 65 years of age 40% 60%
Percentage under 15 23% 12%
GDP Twice the size of Europe, perhaps more  

The fundamental weakness of the core European states was underscored by the election of a pro-independence candidate to the presidency of French Polynesia, which was annexed by France in the 19th century. France appears to be less influential than it once was even in Africa (thanks to Instapundit). Realistically speaking, these negative trends cannot be expected to continue indefinitely. As other Europeans, like the British, became aware of the catastrophe they are facing, parties with reformist platforms like UK Independence Party will wrest leadership from the current elite to try and steer them clear.

The other item, the more peculiar for not having happened yet, is the suggested Iranian buildup to destabilize Iraq. Michael Ledeen names Abu Musab al Zarkawi (AKA Zarqawi) as Teheran's point man to lead the expected wave of terror to precede the handover of sovereignty to the interim Iraqi government. 

"the relationship between Zarkawi and Osama bin Laden is ambiguous, having seen some evidence (primarily the famous letter captured by U.S. special forces late last year) that Zarkawi was unhappy about the lack of support from al Qaeda. But whatever their tactical and personal disagreements (and these can be feigned), they share a common strategy for Iraq: kill members of the Coalition and any Iraqi who cooperates, and provoke internal conflicts among the various ethnic and religious communities. That tracks with my own analysis, which is that we are dealing with several different groups, supported by the various terror masters in Tehran, Damascus, and Riadh, in a joint operation within the overall matrix of Hezbollah — which of course means Iran."

Reader MIG links to a story from the Hadramoot Arabic Network, via the Site Institute, which reports that the most senior of Saddam's holdouts, Izzat Ibrahim, has pledged allegiance to Abu Musab al Zarqawi. If true, this may suggest that Iran has also swept up the masterless ronin of the former dictator and enlisted them under new management: in short, Iran may now own the Ba'athist remnants.

"It added that, at the sight of Zarqawi, Izzat Ibrahim shouted: “You are the commander and we are your soldiers”. His son Ahmad handed him a copy of the Quran. His father took it, placed his hand and the hands of his sons on it, and they made an oath to God, pledging allegiance to Zarqawi in the Jihad until victory or martyrdom, in good and bad times”.  In the end, the network stated that, “the meeting was brief. Izzat’s sons were placed with the Mujahideen, and the father was placed in the ranks of Zarqawi and other Mujahideen leaders. That day witnessed distribution of hundreds of automatic weapons and large quantities of ammunition on the Mujahideen”. Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri was vice-president of Iraq and deputy chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council before the war in Iraq in 2003. Currently one of the most wanted men in Iraq (the king of clubs in the US's deck of cards), he is believed to be a leading figure behind the resistance attacks against US-led forces and has a $10mn bounty on his head, for his arrest or information leading to his capture."

The Command Post links to an article which somewhat alarmingly claims that Iran is gathering troops at the border in the event of a sudden American withdrawal:

Beirut, Lebanon, Jun. 15 (UPI) — Iran reportedly is readying troops to move into Iraq if U.S. troops pull out, leaving a security vacuum. The Saudi daily Al-Sharq al-Awsat, monitored in Beirut, reports Iran has massed four battalions at the border. Al-Sharq al-Awsat quoted “reliable Iraqi sources” as saying, “Iran moved part of its regular military forces towards the Iraqi border in the southern sector at a time its military intelligence agents were operating inside Iraqi territory.”

Of course the cool heads at the Command Post understand that four battalions of Iranian regulars could hardly be contemplating engaging even a single US battalion. If the report is true at all the Iranian regulars are probably providing cover against Coalition Special Forces who may be engaging in "over the fence" operations. Still, reader M links to an article which alleges that six Shi'ites were horribly murdered by Sunnis in the resort town of Fallujah, a reminder of what a powderkeg the region remains.

BAGHDAD (AFP) -- Armed men and police in the Sunni stronghold of Fallujah arrested six young Shiites and executed them on the orders of two religious figures in the town, representatives of Shiite tribes in southern Iraq said on Tuesday. During a protest to which the remains of the six men were taken, some 200 southern Shiites handed out photographs of the bodies which they said had also been mutilated by the Fallujah Sunnis.

In a statement also handed out in Fardus Square, Baghdad, on Tuesday, the protestors said the six went to Fallujah, 50 kilometers (30 miles) west of Baghdad, to deliver goods for one of the town's residents. "After having delivered the goods for the Fallujah resident, they were arrested by members of a group calling itself "Mujahideen", in collaboration with the police," the members of the Rabiya and other southern Shiite tribes said. The men were arrested on June 5 and, according to the statement, their execution was ordered some time later by Abdallah Janabi, imam (preacher) of the Saad ibn Abi Wakkas mosque, and Dhafer Dulaimi, imam of the Hadra Muhammadia mosque.

The pot is boiling, with no shortage of cooks to stir the soup, nor is there any lack of gentle preachers willing and able to mete out mutilation. Kurdistan too, has seen recent attacks, with an Iraqi oil company security chief being assassinated and a pipeline being blown up. It seems only reasonable to expect a flare up in violence before the June 30 handover, and though it hasn't happened yet, the storm clouds are gathering. And yet in in this uncertain hour, no one -- not even French Polynesia -- looks to France or the United Nations to steer them through stormy seas. Roger Simon describes a fascinating interview of Hamid Karzai, the Afghan President and Ghazi al-Yawar, the new Iraqi President, both of whom are in the US to meet with American officials. Their presence is a reminder of how the power realities of the world really stand and how the unwanted cup that has come at last to the only place it could -- "the last best, hope of earth".