15 Jun 2007
The volatile situation in the Middle East took a turn for the worse this week as one event after another threatened to throw the region into uncontrollable turmoil. Iraq, Lebanon and Gaza strip were all competing for attention as mayhem and the threat to stability gripped all these hot spots.
Those charged with keeping a disintegrating Iraq together were alarmed as suspected Sunni insurgents again attacked the Al-Askari Shia shrine in Samara. The first attack on this shrine in February last year was largely seen as the catalyst that amplified the rift between Sunni Muslims and their Shia compatriots. The sectarian conflict that followed has caused the lives of thousands of Iraqis and has created animosity between the two religious sects that will take enormous effort and time to heal. The Iraqi authorities moved fast to impose curfews so as to prevent the type of violence that followed the 2006 attack. That curfew did succeed to limit the violence but did not prevent the apparent revenge attacks on Sunni Mosques by suspected Shia Muslim militants. The rumblings from these incidents are still echoing loudly in Iraq.
In Lebanon, the battle between the Lebanese army and Islamic militants holed up in the Nahr el Bared refugee camp near Tripoli has been going on for more than three weeks with scores of casualties on both sides. As if this problem was not enough, a prominent lawmaker and ally to the assassinated Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, was himself blown to death on Wednesday by a powerful bomb that ripped through his car. The late Walid Eido was a known anti-Syrian Politician. His assassination raised a lot of angry voices directed at Syria. All these events are happening at the time when a UN approved Tribunal was to sit and look into the case of the Hariri assassination.
As attention focused on Iraq and Lebanon, the simmering conflict between the two Palestinian political factions Hamas and Fatah rapidly degenerated into street fights for the control of the densely populated Gaza Strip. This rapidly transformed itself into a final showdown between the forces of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and those of the Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. The men of Haniyeh eventually prevailed on Thursday night by seizing the last posts of Abbas’ men in Gaza. The Palestinian president belatedly dissolved the government of Unity and declared a state of emergency all over Palestinian territories. His action had no effect on the evolution of things in Gaza. Hamas had completely taken over Gaza claiming it had “liberated” it and in the process humiliated many of Abbas’ men. The Palestinians now find themselves with two governments in a divided territory; one in Gaza headed by Hamas and the other in the West bank controlled by Mahmoud Abbas. This has further complicated an already complicated peace process that was being negotiated with Israel.
It has indeed been a dramatic week in the Middle East with very significant developments that may influence the history of the region in the years ahead. It seems the problems in the region are increasingly becoming very complex for contemporary diplomats. The Arab League is holding emergency meetings to discuss the assassination in Lebanon and the schism in the Palestinian territories. As the diplomats ponder what to do with the Hamas Putsch, Hizbollah in Lebanon and the Mahdi Army in Iraq may also be looking looking keenly at the Hamas example to see if they can learn something from it. It seems apparent that difficult days are still ahead in this region.
Njei Moses Timah