Obama and the Middle East

[Landis Comment]  Syria is expecting change with Obama’s election. The Syrian people were overwhelmingly in favor of Obama. The Syrian leadership are Obama fans as well because he promises to draw down the US involvement in Iraq within the next two years, re-open regular US communication with Syria, and follow the recommendations of the Baker-Hamilton report, which stressed on the importance of resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict. Of course it will take at least a year for Obama to sort out his Middle East team and for Israel, Iran and Lebanon to sort out their new leadership in elections that are scheduled to take place this coming year.

Highlights from Democratic nominee Barack Obamas acceptance speech from Grant Park in Chicago, Illinois after election results came in Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2008.

Barack Obama's acceptance speech from Grant Park in Chicago

Not only Syria welcomes Obama. Many US allies also look forward to change, having realized that Bush’s foreign policy has badly radicalized the region and delivered few gains.

Syrian courts have pardoned two of Syria’s most prominent prisoners, Michel Kilo and Mahmoud Issa, in what seems to be an effort to turn a new leaf. Hopefully they will be released as promised and both Syria and the US can re-establish relations on sounder and more cooperative footing.

Michel Kilo and Mahmoud Issa, Opposition leaders pardoned by Appeals Court, FOUNDATION FOR THE DEFENSE OF PRISONERS OF CONSCIENCE,  Sunday 2 Nov 2008

Michel Kilo

Michel Kilo

In an unexpected development, the Penal Chamber of the Appeal Court in Damascus agreed today to give the writer Michel Kilo (more background below page) and Mahmoud Issa(left), a Communist Labor Party member and human rights activist, a pardon amounting to a quarter of the total sentence they were previously condemned to serve. Both men were arrested in 2006 following their involvement in moves to advocate Democracy in the country. Kilo and Issa were both prominent signatories to the Beirut-Damascus Declaration.

Read Syria Comment’s Michel Kilo the Patriot

AFP: Nov. 4: Prominent Syrian journalist Michel Kilo, seen here in 2005, and translator Mahmud Issa, who ought to have been released from jail on Sunday, are still behind bars, human rights figures said on Tuesday.

ABC News: French President Nicolas Sarkozy was even more glowing in a letter to Obama:

“In choosing you, the American people have chosen the path of change, openness and optimism. Your election raises immense hope in France, Europe and beyond: the hope of an open America.”

Nelson Mandela, as qualified as he is complimentary in his comments, gushed, “Your victory has demonstrated that no person anywhere in the world should not dare to dream of wanting to change the world for a better place.”

In the Middle East, ‘everybody’ is with Obama
From Tuesday’s Globe and Mail, November 4, 2008

DAMASCUS — Bassem Suweida drops his voice out of habit when discussing politics, even though it was today’s election in the faraway United States that the 45-year-old waiter was about to weigh in on, not the closer-to-home intrigues of Bashar Assad’s regime.

“Of course we are with Obama. Everybody in the Middle East is with Obama, because everybody hates Bush,” Mr. Suweida explained, almost whispering, during a break in serving mezze at an upscale restaurant hidden deep in the stone warrens of the walled old city of Damascus. “Will Obama be any different? That’s the question everybody is asking. We don’t know, but we hope so.”

Hope. It’s the word that Barrack Obama has built his campaign for the U.S. presidency around, and it’s the word that defines him, even here in the capital city of a country that many Americans likely consider to be an enemy.

There’s yearning across the Middle East – at least outside of Israel and Iraqi Kurdistan – for a new face in the White House, and John McCain doesn’t fit the bill. He’s seen both by the governments of this region, as well as the legendary “Arab street,” as too close to the policies of George W. Bush. And the eight years the latter spent as the most powerful person in the world are viewed here as an unmitigated disaster.

Syrian Information Minister Mohsen Bilal on Wednesday voiced hope that Barack Obama’s election will help change US foreign policies and bolster Middle East peace. Syria, which has long had a rocky relationship with the United States, hopes that Obama’s election victory will contribute to “a change in US foreign policy,” Bilal said, as quoted by the official SANA news agency.
Qifa Nabki writes:
2009 has the potential to be a massively transformative year. It is the year of potentially momentous elections.

Israel will hold legislative elections on Feb 10, 2009.

Iran will hold presidential elections on June 12, 2009.

Lebanon will hold parliamentary elections in May or June 2009.

Depending on the results (Likud vs Kadima, Iranian conservatives vs. reformists, March 14 vs. March 8), we may see the region lurch decisively in one direction or another.

(I actually don’t think the Lebanese elections will make that much of a difference, given that all parties are more or less back to business as usual. Israel and Iran’s elections will have a much greater influence on Lebanese [and Syrian] politics than the Lebanese elections themselves.)

Beyond Right and Left, Fareed Zakaria | Obama can redefine how the West governs. | PostGlobal: What the world wants from him

A Reluctant Middle East
By Amr Hamzawy, Al Ahram Weekly, Issue No. 920, 30 October – 5 November 2008


As far as Washington is concerned there are four aspects to the crisis in the Middle East.
Firstly, it is exacting an enormous political price — especially the US military presence in Iraq — in terms of military expenditure, loss of life and the daily attrition on the US army.

Secondly, the US, in its capacity as a superpower striving towards universal hegemony and keen to secure its vital interests in the Middle East, is no longer able to manage regional conflicts in a manner that furthers the pursuit of its aims and curtails the threats to its interests. After two Bush administrations, which sought to redraw the map of the Middle East in order to eliminate or marginalise forces antagonistic to its policies in the region, Washington is incapable of controlling conflicts in Lebanon, in Palestine between the PA and Hamas and between the Palestinians and the Israelis, and in Iraq. Nor has it been able to settle its multi-tiered problems with Iran. On every front in the region it is encountering increasing competition from states opposed to the US or from resistance organisations.

Thirdly, US policies in the region are in the grip of a severe credibility crisis. I am not talking about the campaign to spread democracy, to which the Bush administration had hardly adhered before the Hamas victory in the Palestinian legislative elections in 2006 and that it abandoned entirely afterwards. Rather, I am speaking of the conventional role that Washington has played since the end of World War II, which is to protect its allies — Israel above all — and to steer the collective security arrangements in the Gulf in order to safeguard the flow of oil. Many of America’s allies have begun to question the efficacy of Washington’s polices and, in some cases, now believe these policies cause more problems than they solve. Such reactions are closely connected with the Bush administration’s military adventurism and its poor, if not negative, results, as well as with the administration’s unbounded bias in favour of Israel to the detriment of Arab interests.

Fourthly, in spite of the unprecedented magnitude of the US military presence in the region, America’s manoeuvrability and available pressure tools have declined. Of course, Washington remains a leading player in Iraq, the Gulf, Palestine and Lebanon, but it can no longer move independently. It would be wrong to think that only Iran, Syria, Hamas and Hizbullah are acting outside of the framework of US policies. Long-term allies such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan are exploring courses of their own in order to buffer themselves against the negative repercussions of US policies. ….

The failure of US policies andthe decline in Washington’s influence drove its regional allies to search for alternative strategies less dependent on the superpower. This has exacerbated the crisis Washington faces in the Middle East. Perhaps the clearest manifestation of this development is found in its allies’ reluctance, if not outright refusal, to fall in line with the Bush administration’s incessant drive to — indeed obsession with — pushing tensions in the region towards perilous confrontations in the hope of producing decisive victories. Today, Washington’s allies in the Gulf refuse to treat Iran solely as a source of threat and instability that can only be contained by force. Instead, as Riyadh’s attempts to coordinate with Iran over regional concerns such as Lebanon indicate, they are seriously exploring ways to work with Iran so as to avert the spectre of another war in the region and, simultaneously, regulate Iran’s regional aspirations. Egypt, for its part, has stepped up diplomatic efforts to bring the security situation in Gaza under control, to maintain calm between Israel and the Palestinian factions, and to promote a national dialogue between the PA and Hamas. It is a course that contradicts the American premise that Hamas is a terrorist organisation that needs to be eliminated. Indeed, Israel, while encouraging confrontation against Iran and still refusing to deal with Hamas, has entered into Turkish-mediated negotiations with Syria. Neither Tel Aviv nor Ankara, Washington’s two key allies in the region, seem overly concerned with the disgruntlement this may have caused in Washington…..

An Open Letter to Barack Obama
Between Hope and Reality

Dear Senator Obama:

In your nearly two-year presidential campaign, the words “hope and change,” “change and hope” have been your trademark declarations. Yet there is an asymmetry between those objectives and your political character that succumbs to contrary centers of power that want not “hope and change” but the continuation of the power-entrenched status quo.

Far more than Senator McCain, you have received enormous, unprecedented contributions from corporate interests, Wall Street interests and, most interestingly, big corporate law firm attorneys. Never before has a Democratic nominee for President achieved this supremacy over his Republican counterpart. Why, apart from your unconditional vote for the $700 billion Wall Street bailout, are these large corporate interests investing so much in Senator Obama? Could it be that in your state Senate record, your U.S. Senate record and your presidential campaign record (favoring nuclear power, coal plants, offshore oil drilling, corporate subsidies including the 1872 Mining Act and avoiding any comprehensive program to crack down on the corporate crime wave and the bloated, wasteful military budget, for example) you have shown that you are their man?

To advance change and hope, the presidential persona requires character, courage, integrity– not expediency, accommodation and short-range opportunism. Take, for example, your transformation from an articulate defender of Palestinian rights in Chicago before your run for the U.S. Senate to an acolyte, a dittoman for the hard-line AIPAC lobby, which bolsters the militaristic oppression, occupation, blockage, colonization and land-water seizures over the years of the Palestinian peoples and their shrunken territories in the West Bank and Gaza. Eric Alterman summarized numerous polls in a December 2007 issue of The Nation magazine showing that AIPAC policies are opposed by a majority of Jewish-Americans.

You know quite well that only when the U.S. Government supports the Israeli and Palestinian peace movements, that years ago worked out a detailed two-state solution(which is supported by a majority of Israelis and Palestinians), will there be a chance for a peaceful resolution of this 60-year plus conflict. Yet you align yourself with the hard-liners, so much so that in your infamous, demeaning speech to the AIPAC convention right after you gained the nomination of the Democratic Party, you supported an “undivided Jerusalem,” and opposed negotiations with Hamas– the elected government in Gaza. Once again, you ignored the will of the Israeli people who, in a March 1, 2008 poll by the respected newspaper Haaretz, showed that 64% of Israelis favored “direct negotiations with Hamas.” Siding with the AIPAC hard-liners is what one of the many leading Palestinians advocating dialogue and peace with the Israeli people was describing when he wrote “Anti-semitism today is the persec!
 ution of Palestinian society by the Israeli state.”

During your visit to Israel this summer, you scheduled a mere 45 minutes of your time for Palestinians with no news conference, and no visit to Palestinian refugee camps that would have focused the media on the brutalization of the Palestinians. Your trip supported the illegal, cruel blockade of Gaza in defiance of international law and the United Nations charter. You focused on southern Israeli casualties which during the past year have totaled one civilian casualty to every 400 Palestinian casualties on the Gaza side. Instead of a statesmanship that decried all violence and its replacement with acceptance of the Arab League’s 2002 proposal to permit a viable Palestinian state within the 1967 borders in return for full economic and diplomatic relations between Arab countries and Israel, you played the role of a cheap politician, leaving the area and Palestinians with the feeling of much shock and little awe.

David Levy, a former Israeli peace negotiator, described your trip succinctly: “There was almost a willful display of indifference to the fact that there are two narratives here. This could serve him well as a candidate, but not as a President.”

Palestinian American commentator, Ali Abunimah, noted that Obama did not utter a single criticism of Israel, “of its relentless settlement and wall construction, of the closures that make life unlivable for millions of Palestinians. …Even the Bush administration recently criticized Israeli’s use of cluster bombs against Lebanese civilians [see www.atfl.org for elaboration]. But Obama defended Israeli’s assault on Lebanon as an exercise of its ‘legitimate right to defend itself.'”

In numerous columns Gideon Levy, writing in Haaretz, strongly criticized the Israeli government’s assault on civilians in Gaza, including attacks on “the heart of a crowded refugee camp… with horrible bloodshed” in early 2008.

Israeli writer and peace advocate– Uri Avnery– described Obama’s appearance before AIPAC as one that “broke all records for obsequiousness and fawning, adding that Obama “is prepared to sacrifice the most basic American interests. After all, the US has a vital interest in achieving an Israeli-Palestinian peace that will allow it to find ways to the hearts of the Arab masses from Iraq to Morocco. Obama has harmed his image in the Muslim world and mortgaged his future– if and when he is elected president.,” he said, adding, “Of one thing I am certain: Obama’s declarations at the AIPAC conference are very, very bad for peace. And what is bad for peace is bad for Israel, bad for the world and bad for the Palestinian people.”

A further illustration of your deficiency of character is the way you turned your back on the Muslim-Americans in this country. You refused to send surrogates to speak to voters at their events. Having visited numerous churches and synagogues, you refused to visit a single Mosque in America. Even George W. Bush visited the Grand Mosque in Washington D.C. after 9/11 to express proper sentiments of tolerance before a frightened major religious group of innocents.

Although the New York Times published a major article on June 24, 2008 titled “Muslim Voters Detect a Snub from Obama” (by Andrea Elliott), citing examples of your aversion to these Americans who come from all walks of life, who serve in the armed forces and who work to live the American dream. Three days earlier the International Herald Tribune published an article by Roger Cohen titled “Why Obama Should Visit a Mosque.” None of these comments and reports change your political bigotry against Muslim-Americans– even though your father was a Muslim from Kenya.

Perhaps nothing illustrated your utter lack of political courage or even the mildest version of this trait than your surrendering to demands of the hard-liners to prohibit former president Jimmy Carter from speaking at the Democratic National Convention. This is a tradition for former presidents and one accorded in prime time to Bill Clinton this year.

Here was a President who negotiated peace between Israel and Egypt, but his recent book pressing the dominant Israeli superpower to avoid Apartheid of the Palestinians and make peace was all that it took to sideline him. Instead of an important address to the nation by Jimmy Carter on this critical international problem, he was relegated to a stroll across the stage to “tumultuous applause,” following a showing of a film about the Carter Center’s post-Katrina work. Shame on you, Barack Obama!

But then your shameful behavior has extended to many other areas of American life. (See the factual analysis by my running mate, Matt Gonzalez, on www.votenader.org). You have turned your back on the 100-million poor Americans composed of poor whites, African-Americans, and Latinos. You always mention helping the “middle class” but you omit, repeatedly, mention of the “poor” in America.

Should you be elected President, it must be more than an unprecedented upward career move following a brilliantly unprincipled campaign that spoke “change” yet demonstrated actual obeisance to the concentration power of the “corporate supremacists.” It must be about shifting the power from the few to the many. It must be a White House presided over by a black man who does not turn his back on the downtrodden here and abroad but challenges the forces of greed, dictatorial control of labor, consumers and taxpayers, and the militarization of foreign policy. It must be a White House that is transforming of American politics– opening it up to the public funding of elections (through voluntary approaches)– and allowing smaller candidates to have a chance to be heard on debates and in the fullness of their now restricted civil liberties. Call it a competitive democracy.

Your presidential campaign again and again has demonstrated cowardly stands. “Hope” some say springs eternal.” But not when “reality” consumes it daily.

Ralph Nader

Barack Obama wins 77 percent of Jewish vote, exit polls show, By Haaertz

Despite the tense rift between Republican and Democratic Jews over the course of the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign, exit polls on Tuesday showed that Barack Obama received about 77 percent of the Jewish vote.

These numbers were higher even than the 2004 election, when Democratic candidate John Kerry received 74 percent of the Jewish vote. Al Gore received the highest percentage of Jewish votes in 2000, with 79 percent.

Jeremy Ben-Ami, executive director of the J Street lobby group on Tuesday called Obama’s victory a sign that the campaign waged against him by Republican Jews comprised “baseless smears.”

“American Jews resoundingly rejected the two-year, multi-million dollar campaign of baseless smears and fear waged against him by the right wing of our community,” he said. “Surrogates and right-wing political operatives in our community stopped at nothing in their efforts to sway Jewish voters against Obama.”

Addendum: I have erased a photo included with a crazy article that insisted that Obama is the son of Malcolm X. I thought it was funny and demonstrated some of the stranger aspects of the race. Some of my readers did not see the humor in it.

Black Man Given Nation’s Worst Job
November 5, 2008 | The Onion

WASHINGTON—African-American man Barack Obama, 47, was given the least-desirable job in the entire country Tuesday when he was elected president of the United States of America. In his new high-stress, low-reward position, Obama will be charged with such tasks as completely overhauling the nation’s broken-down economy, repairing the crumbling infrastructure, and generally having to please more than 300 million Americans and cater to their every whim on a daily basis. As part of his duties, the black man will have to spend four to eight years cleaning up the messes other people left behind. The job comes with such intense scrutiny and so certain a guarantee of failure that only one other person even bothered applying for it. Said scholar and activist Mark L. Denton, “It just goes to show you that, in this country, a black man still can’t catch a break.”

Comments (29)

Saghir said:

Obama is reportedly considering the appointment of Rahm Emanuel as his chief of staff.

Emanuel of course belongs to an orthodox Jewish congregation in Chicago and worked as a volunteer in Israel during the first Gulf War. His father was a pediatrician who grew up in Israel and worked for the Israeli underground before independence.

November 5th, 2008, 7:06 pm


Observer said:

Since when did anyone think that the US president and the US congress are truly free of the AIPAC influence? It does not matter if it is Rahm Emmanuel or David Plouffe or David Axelrod. I do not believe that there will be a deviation from empire policies. They will have a different outlook and perspective but the pursuit of empire at the expense of the Republic will continue. The question is whether there are any financial possibilities for the empire to be sustained

November 5th, 2008, 7:21 pm


Saghir said:

Emanuel just accepted the Chief of Staff post officially

November 5th, 2008, 7:29 pm


norman said:

This is a summery on who is going to be what.


Obama turns to building administration
AP reports Rahm Emanuel asked to be White House chief of staff
msnbc.com news services
updated 1:03 p.m. ET, Wed., Nov. 5, 2008
CHICAGO – After eight years of Republican rule, Barack Obama turned Wednesday to the task of building a Democratic administration to lead the country out of war and into the financial recovery that he promised.

Pressing business came at him fast, with just 76 days until his inauguration as the 44th president.

The nation’s top intelligence officials planned to give him top-secret daily briefings starting Thursday, sharing with him the most critical overnight intelligence as well as other information he has not been allowed to see as a senator or candidate. And Obama planned to give the first of his media briefings on Thursday as he moves to begin assembling a White House staff and selecting Cabinet nominees.

A top priority would be picking a White House chief of staff to help manage the appointments to come. Democratic officials told the AP that Illinois Rep. Rahm Emanuel was offered the job, but it was not known whether he had accepted. A former aide in Bill Clinton’s White House, Emanuel was re-elected to Congress on Tuesday.

Two campaign officials said the appointment of a chief of staff was not expected for at least a day.

Instead, they said Obama would issue a written statement announcing that his transition team would be headed by John Podesta, who served as chief of staff under Clinton; Pete Rouse, who has been Obama’s chief of staff in the Senate; and Valerie Jarrett, a friend of the president-elect and campaign adviser.

Obama may be able to unveil selections for positions such as Treasury secretary and secretary of state within days. Speculation was already rife about several names for those prominent posts.

The next Treasury secretary will inherit one of the hottest seats in Washington, faced both with guiding the $700 billion economic bailout package and the regulatory reform needed to prevent a repeat of the current crisis.

In an Obama administration, the short list for Treasury likely includes former Treasury secretary Lawrence Summers, former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker and Timothy Geithner, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

Obama has also spoken favorably about investor Warren Buffett, while University of Chicago economist Austan Goolsbee and former Clinton White House aide Jason Furman are also important economic advisors to the incoming president.

Secretary of State Kerry?
New Jersey Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine, whose name has also been floated for the Treasury post, told CNBC on Wednesday he had not discussed joining the Obama administration with anybody, though he added he would never rule anything out.

For secretary of state, Massachusetts Democratic Sen. John Kerry, former diplomat Richard Holbrooke, outgoing Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel and former Georgia Democratic senator Sam Nunn are among the names in the mix.

James Steinberg, a former Clinton adviser, is a top contender for National Security Adviser. Susan Rice, another former Clinton aide, could be considered for that job or another senior post.

Obama also relies heavily on three foreign policy experts on his campaign staff who are likely to end up in the White House or State Department. Those three aides are Mark Lippert and Denis McDonough, both former Senate aides, and Ben Rhodes, Obama’s foreign policy speech writer.

With wars under way in Iraq and Afghanistan, Obama might consider keeping Robert Gates on as Secretary of Defense. He might also consider tapping former Navy secretary Richard Danzig, a close adviser.

‘Complete cooperation’
President Bush promised Obama his “complete cooperation” during the transition period.

He pledged to keep Obama informed on all his decisions between now and Jan. 20, and said he looked forward to the day — soon, he hopes — that Obama and his family would take him up on his offer of pre-inauguration White House visit.

But he also hinted that he has personal feelings of high emotion at this moment.

“It will be a stirring sight to see President Obama, his wife, Michelle, and their beautiful girls step through the doors of the White House,” the president said. “I know millions of Americans will be overcome with pride at this inspiring moment that so many have waited so long.”

Personal decisions
Obama planned to keep a low profile on his first full day as president-elect, aides said. Obama had told reporters over the weekend that he’d hold a press conference Wednesday, but the campaign staff later walked that back and said it would be more likely to come by the end of the week.

There were more personal decisions to be made, too, like when to move his family to Washington and where his 10- and 7-year-old daughters will go to school.

Obama also was expected to take time to mourn his grandmother, who died Sunday before she could see the grandson she helped raise achieve his dream. Obama could be considering a return to his native Hawaii for the small private ceremony that she requested be held later.

And then there was the matter of the family pet. “Sasha and Malia, I love you both so much, and you have earned the new puppy that’s coming with us to the White House,” he told his daughters in his victory speech.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.
URL: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/27554337/

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November 5th, 2008, 7:41 pm


Leila Abu-Saba said:

Were you joking when you put up that link to the Malcolm X fantasy? I guess so, but it’s not all that funny.

As an Arab American who cares about justice for the Palestinians, I ought to read Nader’s letter carefully and with respectful attention, but I’m sorry, the man has no credibility with me. I do blame him for Bush 2000. I am not at all happy with Obama’s positions on Palestinian, Palestinians and Israel’s war on Lebanon in 2006 – you didn’t see me weeping for joy last night at the election party. BUT Nader has just totally turned me off. I tune him out. I don’t know who listens to him anymore. Well, I do know, but I can’t listen myself.

November 5th, 2008, 7:42 pm


Friend in America said:

You can expect overtures of friendliness and change from Obama, but for Syria it will be the same old same old if this problem is not corrected. It is with Syria’s power to bring about the hoped for changes. What an opportunity!

From Daily Telegraph, U.K.:
Officials in Iraq’s third largest city, Mosul, have warned the terrorists will not be defeated until the border is secured.

Iraq has deployed extra troops, including two brigades of the paramilitary National Police, into the battle for the northern Sunni Arab city, but the effort has been handicapped by widespread infiltration of the security forces by terrorist sympathisers.

Dureid Kashmula, the provincial governor, said: “One of the reasons that al-Qaeda is so strong here when security is improving across Iraq is that the terrorists can come across the border.
“So the number of security forces is never enough to defeat the threat.”
Nineveh, the province surrounding Mosul, has a 227-mile border with Syria.
Mosul’s continuing turmoil barely registers outside the country. Even visitors to the city of 1.7 million view it as a distraction from the overall picture of falling violence in Iraq.

Khosro Goran, the vice-governor, said: “We have an open border with Syria and our neighbours are actively encouraging the terrorists.

“The majority of people don’t believe that Obama or McCain have a choice for a new American policy. President Bush removed Saddam and has been blamed for all the killing in Mosul. The American job is not finished because our enemies are backed by neighbouring countries.”

An American raid on a Syrian compound it believed was housing al-Qaeda operatives last month triggered calls for repeated sweeps beyond Iraq’s western borders.

An intelligence officer in Mosul said leading lieutenants of the late dictator Saddam Hussein and Islamists were directing attacks in Mosul from Syria.

The debilitating influence of the insurgent factions has sapped confidence within the security forces operating in the city, according to Captain Nabeel Mutlak, a policeman in Mosul since 1996.

Terrorist penetration of all ranks is so pervasive that his off-duty colleagues are regularly assassinated in cold blood, mostly in the street or at markets when shopping with their families.

“They just shoot and run. Sometimes they use silencers even though they are in a crowded place,” he said. “But catching them is impossible because mostly they are based outside the city, even outside the country.

“They know how to identify their victims because every neighbourhood has cells that find out who is working for the police, pass the information on and identify the victims. It’s impossible to stop.”

The senior American commander in northern Iraq issued an unprecedented public apology for the failure to control violence in the city in the five years since the war. “We have not supported you enough,” said Major General Mark Hertling in a speech at Mosul’s police college. “We have focused too much on Baghdad.”

Mosul is so deeply scarred by five years of unremitting violence that in parts of the city there are the remnants of explosions every ten yards. Capt Mutlak is able to recite the history of a street or area by reeling off fatalistic nicknames.

There is Murder Street, Assassins Field and Burning Intersection, named for the regularity of car bombs. Apparently mundane buildings have a story. Mosul’s potato distribution centre was bombed last year by American war planes after it was used by al-Qaeda operatives as a bomb making centre.

Another street in Amman district was known for the gun battles waged by rival gangs.

Raid Ranem has been jobless since a car bomb destroyed his shop at Burning Intersection in 2005. He used a visit by Governor Kashmula to the area to press his claims for compensation.

“I have nothing since I lost my business,” he said. “That’s why the terrorists are so strong, there are no businesses to employ the kids, so they get paid for planting bombs.”

Hours after the governor’s visit a car bomb targeting a police patrol killed two officers.

Baghdad launched Operation Lion’s Roar to bring Mosul under control six months ago. Gains from the massive mobilisation are tenuous but troops are hopeful that the city is starting to recover.

“Any day I come out on the streets and nobody is shooting at me, is a good day,” said an American colonel accompanying the city’s commander, Lieutenant General Riyadh Jalal Tawfiq Riyadh, on a city centre walkabout.

November 5th, 2008, 11:47 pm


Enlightened said:

Well Today is a bright Day:

Kilo and Issa are to be released. This is great news. While it was hard not to get caught up in the euphoria of yesterday, this decision by the courts to release them is welcomed.

Kilo’s arrest and incarceration has particularly irked me. That a patriot and liberal advocate for moderation,unity and peace to suffer as he has is a blight on all of us.

I look forward to to the same euphoria been exhibited by many here that was shown yesterday.

November 6th, 2008, 12:48 am


trustquest said:

I second Leila, on two parts, Malcolm X, Ralph Nader. I think the picture is distasteful for Obama/Malcolm is an insult for both, it does not serve either, nor serve the black race or the white race but it might raise the tension between races which no one need at this moment. On Ralph Nader, it is enough we can read his consumer report but as Leila said he still partly responsible for Bush election.

November 6th, 2008, 1:02 am


majedkhaldoun said:

First I wish all political prisoners,in Syria, to be released.
second;Obama victory is due to the financal crisis,and to severely worsening of Bush standing,also American are obecting to the war in Iraq,they want to get out, one other reason,the Arab American factor, who voted straight democrat,this has an effect in Michigan,Ohio,and Virginia.
I expect Obama to be less pro Israel than Bush.

November 6th, 2008, 1:25 am


Alia said:

A detailed publication in Arabic from al-Jazeera entitled “Obama and the Arab world” can be read online.


November 6th, 2008, 1:26 am


norman said:

To All,

The most important thing in the release of the prisoners is that it was done by an appeal court, GOD ! , That is a first that i know about and should be imitated in appealing the closure of the school and the cultural center , I believe that decision will be overturned .
The courts are playing a role,political prisoners should this legal way , I think we are seeing Syria moving to role of law slowly,

Trustquest, Laila,

Obama did not win because he is black or because his mother is wight , He did not win because he understands the Palestinian suffering ,

Obama won because he is the best man for the job at this time and the American people are not racist , They are what i always believed , decent caring people .

the Win of Obama made it clear that in the US ,If you work hard you can do and be anything you want , He opened the way for the sons and daughters of of the Syrian Americans , Mexican Americans Jewish Americans , Italian Americans ,and Irish Americans to be presidents one day and have no fear of seeking a high office , Obama was and is the minority candidate , he is one of us , It is time that the presidency is not limited to the WASP of this country.

That is my take , any comments?.

November 6th, 2008, 1:55 am


norman said:


I have a question that you might know the answer to,

How much does it takes to hire a specialist Doctor full time in Syria.

November 6th, 2008, 1:58 am


Off the Wall said:

Amen to all what you wrote in your post # 11. I agree on both counts. Yesterday i was a volunteer polling place worker (clerk). This was my first time. And in there, we had to be neutral without any conversation about the election other than processing and assisting voters from 6:00 AM all the way to 9:30 (by the time we packed the machines, counted the ballots and delivered them). I was in the “verification car”, which means I had to follow our polling place leader to the collection site to make sure that no one stopped on the way. So by the time I was able to hear the news, it was nearly 10 PM on the west coast and all was done. I turned on my car radio and heard after a full day of silence (no news whatsoever), the words president elect Obama. I called my wife and the only thing i could say to her, Honey, i now know that it is my America too.

November 6th, 2008, 2:11 am


norman said:


That is beautiful.

November 6th, 2008, 2:23 am


norman said:

Obama wants to work with Syria to stabilize Lebanon and Iraq , we might have gotten a smart administration at last,

مستشاروه يأملون بفتح صفحة جديدة مع سوريا تؤدي الى استقرار الوضع في لبنان والعراق

November 6th, 2008, 2:48 am


Sami D said:

“I do blame him [Nader] for Bush 2000”
“On Ralph Nader, it is enough we can read his consumer report … he still partly responsible for Bush election.”

Blame Gore, rather, for not being able to defeat Bush, (not even in his own state where Nader had no effect), and blame the Democrats in general for becoming Republicans-light. Their policies are little different from the Republicans; like the Labor, Kadima, Likud, they differ mostly in style, but little in substance when it comes to empire/Palestinians. The Republicans say “the war is moral, just give us more time”, the enlightened Democrats say “the war is moral, but might be a mistake since we’re not sure you can win.” (Likud kills Palestinians with glee; Labor kills Palestinians with tears in their eyes). None of them says the Iraq war is an immoral crime of aggression. They both support empire and Israel, competing who will assist Israel in killing and dispossessing more Palestinians and Arabs. The statement above assumes that Gore was going to be really different from Bush, especially with 9-11 taking place on his watch and with his own version of Cheney along his side (remember the neocon warmonger Lieberman?) It is only when they’re unshackled from the strings of office that they dare speak out and act, assuming they have morals, like Gore on the environment and Carter on Israeli apartheid.

It might be wise to vote strategically in swing states, but in all other states a vote for a third party, like the Green, is an important wake up call to the Democrats who have shifted radically right away from their principals, becoming a shadow of the Republicans, and enablers of empire. Nor am I sad that Obama defeated McCain; anything is better than what the Republicans have become, especially the welcome historic symbolism of a black man finally leading America, let alone someone who has befriended Palestinians scholars.

Reducing Nader to consumer report writer belittles his indefatigable campaigns to bring to light, over many decades, the abominations of empire, of corporate controls, of Wall Street dirty dealings, of lack of democracy, of people’s and labor’s deteriorating rights, of environmental destruction, of the deterioration of civil liberties, of energy policies, of the torment of Palestinians. Has the Democratic party really done anything noteworthy on these issues? Instead, people are instructed to vote for the lesser evil, someone who’s beholden to the structures of power, and is funded by the same moneyed interests as evil himself, someone who largely votes the same way as the other party. And here’s none other than Mr Change, coming fresh from handing Paulson almost a cool $trillion of our children’s money, nominating another neocon, Rahm Emanuel for his chief of staff; makes those of us who “wasted their votes” on “the spoilers” third party proud. The only thing Obama might produce for the Middle East would be a Sadat-style, Dennis Ross mediated, “peace”. In short, let’s not raise our hopes too high or expect any radical change from Obama, unless one doesn’t mind getting greatly disappointed.

November 6th, 2008, 3:22 am


Alex said:

سورية تعلن بث اعترافات منفذي عملية القزاز اليوم
دمشق: «الشرق الأوسط»

أعلنت السلطات السورية امس أن التلفزيون السوري سيبث على قناتيه الأرضية والفضائية مساء اليوم اعترافات منفذي التفجير الذي وقع في منطقة القزاز بتاريخ 27 سبتمبر (أيلول) الماضي، وذلك بعد نشرة الأخبار الرئيسة في الثامنة والنصف بتوقيت دمشق. وكالة الأنباء السورية (سانا) أعلنت عن موعد بث الاعترافات مساء أمس وقالت «إن العمل الإرهابي في منطقة القزاز استخدمت فيه سيارة مفخخة بـ200 كغ من المتفجرات وأدى إلى وفاة 17 شخصاً وجرح 14 آخرين جميعهم من المدنيين في شارع المتحلق الجنوبي لمدينة دمشق في منطقة مزدحمة بالمدنيين المارة قرب مفرق السيدة زينب». وكانت السلطات السورية قد أعلنت أن السيارة التي استخدمت في التفجير دخلت من دولة عربية مجاورة، دون ذكر اسمها، وقالت إنها ألقت القبض على عناصر من منفذي هذه العملية. ولم تعلن وقتها أية جهة عن مسؤوليتها عن تفجير السفارة المفخخة في دمشق، بينما قالت مصادر ان هدف الهجوم كان مجمعا للاستخبارات في المنطقة.. ووصف وزير الداخلية السوري اللواء بسام عبد المجيد الانفجار بـ«عملية ارهابية جبانة».. وقال شاهد عيان إن عميدا بالجيش السوري كان مارا بالمنطقة فقتل مع ابنه. كما أشارت سورية الى تورط جهات خارجية في انفجار السيارة. ولمح مصدر سوري تحدث لـ«الشرق الأوسط»، وقتها، إلى احتمال وجود إخبارية عن إدخال سلاح أو متفجرات من لبنان.

November 6th, 2008, 4:11 am


Alex said:

The shocking headlines on an Arab news site this morning—and election reaction stories in the Arabic-language press.

Elaph.com, a leading Arab world news website, played a trick on its readers this morning, with a story headlined: “Bush to cancel the election, declare a state of emergency and extend his term in office.”

The London-based site quoted unnamed American sources saying President Bush had “called an emergency joint session of Congress to suspend the outcome of the presidential election, citing grave national security threats that would result from the election of Senator Barack Obama as president.”

The online newspaper, apparently poking fun at corrupt dictators in many Arab and African countries, where leaders never cede power, regardless of the popular will, said Bush called for the “immediate suspension of the election in view of credible information, obtained by the CIA and confirmed by friendly foreign intelligence services, that Obama is linked to suspected terrorist cells in Afghanistan and Iran,” and that the president-elect “had been established to have links with a leading figure in Al Qaeda in Iraq.”

“The change that will sweep US politics and its future identity will not stop at US borders.”

The paper, owned by a Saudi entrepreneur and former editor-in-chief of the leading Arab newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat, reported that Obama and his family “have been arrested, while Senator McCain seems to have disappeared or [is] possibly detained in an undisclosed location.” Bush also “ordered hundreds of thousands of riot police into major US cities to maintain the piece and thwart this foreign conspiracy.”

Better still, the prank appears to have fooled a number of Arab readers, who commented on the story on the website!


November 6th, 2008, 5:22 am


Shai said:

Sami D.,

You know how much I respect your opinion. But I must have high hopes for Obama. Yes, we may all be terribly disappointed in the end, but remember, it is hope that got him elected. Giving him the utmost benefit of the doubt, assuming he can, and will, deliver change in our region, is I believe a necessary prerequisite to creating the support base he’ll need in the near future. I tell everyone I meet, “Yes, HE can…” because by being too cautious, Obama himself won’t get very far. Just as he is expected to be bold and courageous, so must we expect that of ourselves.

Some of his decisions may not be easy for many Americans to swallow. But hope will make it easier. In’shalla, this hope won’t disappoint us!

November 6th, 2008, 5:23 am


Shai said:


I concur with Norman, it is beautiful! Today, I am jealous of Americans, and proud of (you) for knowing how to change America, when it has failed for too long. Congratulations!

November 6th, 2008, 5:25 am


Shai said:


That’s hilarious, and not. Some Saudi entrepreneurs might find it funny, but Barack Obama won’t. They should be careful what they wish for. Bush can still twirl his little wand in the air, for another 2.5 months. Maybe he’ll send 4 helicopters into their London offices soon… 🙂

November 6th, 2008, 5:31 am


Antoun Issa said:

Sami D,

I was caught in the euphoria yesterday, completely relieved that the Bush reign of horror was over.

Today, my euphoria has resided to the usual pessimism I receive after every American presidential election. For all the glee and rhetoric about change, it never comes.

And as you’ve stated, I don’t think it will come from Obama, despite his past Palestinian leanings.

At the end of the day, America’s seats of power are greater than the individual. It just so happens that AIPAC has infected every seat of power in Washington DC. Regardless of whether it’s a white man, a black man or a gay man, AIPAC still pull the strings from behind.

It would take an extremely courageous president to take on AIPAC, and Obama has shown no willingness to do so.

So whilst I don’t expect much change on the US-Israel front, I am expecting Obama to abandon the war-drumming policy of Bush and encourage peaceful settlements, whilst playing Israel’s lawyer. In other words, a rewind to the Clinton era.

Will this result in a peace agreement? Well, I say it is more about the will of Israel and Syria than that of Obama. Obama won’t interfere in peace talks or discourage them as Bush has done.

Israel’s upcoming elections will be a greater indication of whether peace with Syria is over the horizon or not.

I don’t expect much for the Palestinians, simply because Israel isn’t ready to abandon apartheid and the US will never pressure the Israelis to do otherwise. And I don’t expect a change in the propping up of corrupt dictators and warlords policy either.

The fate of Lebanon, however, will be tied to the developments between Israel and Syria.

November 6th, 2008, 7:19 am


Alia said:


I am not up to date on the official tarifs, which vary by specialty, for doctors who are government employees, but I can find out if you are interested.

November 6th, 2008, 1:20 pm


News in Brief: 6 November 2008 « Report on Positivity said:

[…] Obama and the Middle East. Of course it will take at least a year for Obama to sort out his Middle East team and for Israel, Iran and Lebanon to sort out their new leadership in elections that are scheduled to take place this coming year. (Syria Comment) […]

November 6th, 2008, 2:49 pm


Welcome | Project on Middle East Democracy said:

[…] Syria Comment has a spectrum of articles on Obama and the Middle East that should satiate your curiosities, though if you have overdosed by […]

November 6th, 2008, 4:20 pm


Akbar Palace said:

Better still, the prank appears to have fooled a number of Arab readers, who commented on the story on the website!

Alex –

Did the prank also poke fun at the Arab readers who seem to make excuses for this behavior…

“…cancel the election, declare a state of emergency and extend his term in office…”, “…immediate suspension of the election in view of credible…”, information”…suspend the outcome of the presidential election, citing grave national security threats that would result…”, “…reported that Obama and his family “have been arrested, while Senator McCain seems to have disappeared or [is] possibly detained in an undisclosed location.” Bush also “ordered hundreds of thousands of riot police into major US cities to maintain the piece [sic] and thwart this foreign conspiracy.”

…from their own non-elected governments?

Better still, the prank appears to have fooled a number of Arab readers, who commented on the story on the website!

I wonder why?

November 6th, 2008, 4:41 pm


Leila Abu-Saba said:

As a daughter of Mieh-Mieh my “leanings” for the Palestinian are complicated. If you aren’t Lebanese you might not understand me. I am very sympathetic and yet I am not first on the barricades waving the flag for Palestine.

As an American with roots in Lebanon, in SOUTH Lebanon, as a daughter of Mieh-Mieh who inherited land in Ain-el-Helweh camp that I may never actually repossess, as the niece and cousin of people who were displaced by Palestinians during the civil war, I am very sympathetic to the sufferings of all people who are displaced, oppressed, and persecuted.

I don’t expect Barack Obama to dance the debke with Mahmood Abbas. I don’t expect him to wear a keffiyeh or put up a revolutionary poster. I don’t expect him to take on the work of changing public opinion in this country around Palestine and Israel.

I do hope and expect that he will behave rationally, sanely, and with respect for the RULE OF LAW when dealing with the Israelis. I do hope and expect that he will require the Israelis to operate under the rule of law. I am not sure that he will do this but I hope that he might. This would be good for everybody in the region, not just for the Palestinians. Why, this would even be good for the Israelis. They have been allowed to run amok for too long. Their friends need to reign them in, for their own survival. Their state as it operates now is unsustainable and they know it.

For Barack Obama to require Israel to abide by the rule of law would be revolutionary. I don’t know if Obama is or can be that much of a revolutionary. However, forces that are larger than Barack Obama (yes) are in play. Public opinion on Israel/Palestine is indeed changing in this country. Read Philip Weiss’ blog if you don’t believe it. Also investigate the work of Jewish Voice for Peace, Middle East Children’s Alliance, and Brit T’Zedek among others.

Obama is a very canny politician. He knows which way the wind blows and he knows all the forces in play. We shall see how he steers through the tumult. At this point I simply pray for “Tikkun Olam” – in Hebrew, the healing of the world: for the benefit of all its people, not just a few.

November 6th, 2008, 5:40 pm


why-discuss said:

Son of a Zionist Terrorist

Rahm Emanuel’s Dirty Secret

by Christopher Bollyn
Independent Journalist
(Without Borders)
17 November 2006

read on

November 6th, 2008, 5:57 pm


why said:

Son of a Zionist Terrorist

Rahm Emanuel’s Dirty Secret

by Christopher Bollyn
Independent Journalist
(Without Borders)
17 November 2006


November 6th, 2008, 5:57 pm


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