Libya: The Death of Qaddafi/Gaddafi/Ghaddafi

Abdel Hakim Bilhaji, head of the National Council military arm in Tripoli, has announced, live on Al-Jazeera Arabic, that deposed leader Moammar Qaddafi has died of injuries during a NATO/NTC campaign, known as Operation Unified Protector, into the dictator’s hometown of Sirte.

Colonel Qaddafi

The killing of Qaddafi, which came swiftly after his capture near Sirta, is the most dramatic development in the “Arab Spring” revolts that have unseated rulers in Egypt and Tunisia, as well as threatening the authoritative regimes in Syria and Yemen.  The capture of Sirte, the last loyalist stronghold, and the death of Qaddafi means that Libya’s ruling NTC shoud not be able to begin the long task of forging a new democratic system which it said would get under way after Sirte, built as a showpiece for Qaddafi’s rule, had fallen.  Although reports were unconfirmed by NATO and many Western media agencies,  photographic proof (above) was leaked of the graphic injuries and death of Qaddafi, marking the end of the “King of Kings”, a title that Qaddafi had a gathering of tribal leaders in Libya grant him in 2008.

Along with the death of Qaddafi, Libyan forces were able to capture Mansur Daw, Mu-tasim and Ahmad Ibrahim Abdallah al-Sanusi, all of whom are Qaddafi’s sons. The capture of the sons and death of Qaddafi came as NATO forces bombed Sirte and a convoy fleeing from Sirte.  The convoy was set upon by Libyan forces, resulting in Qaddafi being shot in both legs and presumably in the head as well.  The siege and resulting death of Qaddafi was possible through the bilateral campaign by NATO and NTC forces under Operation Unified Protector.

“We are checking and assessing the situation.  Clearly these are very significant developments, which will take time to confirm.  If it is true, then this is truly a day for the people of Libya.” – NATO official

Initially coming in as an unconfirmed report that a “big fish” had been capture, Libyan officials could not say with certainty that capture or death of the former Libyan leader.  So saying, the news was confirmed by Abdul Hakim Belhaj, commander of the 11th brigade, who witnessed the death and saw the body of Colonel Qaddafi.  The announcement sparked widespread celebration in Tripoli and a lengthy statement read out on Libyan State Television repeating the claim of the former leader’s capture and announcing the full liberation of the country.  Qaddafi has been wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of ordering the killing of unarmed civilians during long years of brutal security force repression.  So saying, justice finally seems to have come after 42 years on one-man rule over the oil-producing North African state, vindicating long years of struggle, resistance, sacrifice and prayer by the former rebel forces.  National Transitional Council fighters hoisted the red, black, and green national flag above large utilities building in the center of the newly-capture Sirte neighborhood, marking the end of the struggle with celebratory gunfire among their relieved comrades and mirroring the nation-wide sentiment of victory.

A Libyan fighter told the Associated Press that he was there when Qaddafi was shot with a 9mm gun in the lower body.  Standing in front of a truck with a crowd of congratulatory fighters, the soldier said he struck the dictator with his shoe, a grave insult in the Arab world.  Evidently, the last strike, the last kick has illustrated the conclusion of battle for the fighters who has laid siege to Sirte for months, battled loyalist troops to seize control of the country from Qaddafi’s grasp and finally chant, “the war, it’s finished.”

Nevertheless, the tasks ahead of the NTC will be as challenging, maybe even more challenging, as the battle for Libya, as they attempt to rest control of Libya under a democratic regime. Not to belittle the occasion and celebrations, the current Egyptian crises underscores the potential for riots and chaos even after a successful usurpation of a dictator.  With a military power in control of Egypt and yet to give up power, the Libyans must heed the Egyptian warning and prepare.

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Myanmar: Democratic Transition and China

Myanmar, a country located between communist China and democratic India, is the site of an important political transitioning period that could prove vital to the stability of the region.

Myanmar's Democratization Proves Consequential for Neighboring China

Since the establishment of army rule in 1962, after a supposed bloodless coup d’etat by New Win, Myanmar has been home to social instability, fiscal poverty and political repression.  Formerly known as Burma until 1989, the socialist state has played a strategic role in the geopolitical situation of the region, mainly due to its firm alliance with China.  Myanmar was the first non-Communsit country to recognize the “People Republic of China” after its foundation on October 1st, 1949.  Relations soured after a wave of anti-Chinese riots in 1967 but mimicking Tiananmen Square in China in 1989, Myanmar’s junta violently repressed pro-democracy movement sin 1988, quickly repairing past transgressions.  The growing international condemnation led to the re-cultivation of a strong relationship with China, allowing China’s influence to grow rapidly.  Currently, the bilateral trade between Myanmar and China exceeds $1.4 billion, with China being the most important supplier of military aid: jet fights, armed vehicles, naval vessels and personnel training.

With the “Arab Spring” escalating throughout the Middle East and North Africa, countries like China have been experiencing its own social instability which has grown harder to impede due to the expansion of technology and networking.  With such tumultuous times approaching  communist and militarily controlled countries, alliances such as these seem vital to the geopolitical identity of China and the surrounding environment.

Moreover, since the formation of the military junta, pro-democracy movement have persistently sparked civil unrest in Myanmar, escalating at every opportunity.  Now it seems democracy has a change of firmly rooting itself in Myanmar, uprooting a vital ally for China and leading to a possible power shift in favor of democracy and against communist China.  Being led by Aung San Suu Kyi, a cycle of historic reforms under way in Myanmar could lead to Asia’s newest democratic transition.  As seen in Syria and Yemen, the junta has tried to appease demonstrators with calls for free elections, which were held in November, for the first time in 20 years.  Nonetheless, the elections were widely condemned as being far from free and fair.  So saying, the new president of Myanmar, former General U Thain Sein, has raised state pensions for nearly a million people as much as a thousandfold, reduced taxes and dismantled trade cartels.  The thaw comes after the General’s inaugural address, condemning the high poverty rates, corruption, ending the country’s armed conflicts and working towards political reconciliation.

“Burma’s foreign minister would be more convincing if the government released all political prisoners and held security forces accountable for the brutal suppression of monks and peaceful protesters exactly four years ago.” – Elaine Pearson, Asia deputy director of Human Rights Watch

Mimicking past responses to mass protests, Myanmar’s military crushed demonstrations led by Buddhist monks in September 2007, jailing hundreds and killing dozens.  The story has been oft-repeated  throughout the history of the unstable country, resulting in Western nations urging Myanmar to free its more than 2,000 political prisoners.  On July 19th , the democratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest and invited to the annual Martyr’s Day ceremony.  Thousands of her supporters were permitted to hold their first lawful march in years.  By August, the Myanmar Parliament began debating previously “taboo” issues, such like the release of political prisoners and passed multiple laws legalizing micro-finance for rural poor and allowing trade unions.  Clearly, the steps being taken by the regime has accelerated, potentially leading to an irreversible track towards democratization.

The impact on China has been exemplified this past week when Myanmar halted work on a $3.6 billion hydroelectric dam being built by China on the Irrawaddy River, which was meant to send power to Chinese provinces in neighboring lands.  The dam project was loudly opposed by Myanmar’s nascent environmental movement and the area’s minority Kachin people.  Apparently, the president knew the Myitsone Dam project was against the will of the people and has stated that he will not let it resume in his tenure, no matter the pressures from China.

“As our government is elected by the people, it is to respect the people’s will.  We have the responsibility to address public concerns in all seriousness.  So construction of Myitsone Dam will be suspended in the time of our government.” – U Thein Sein, Myanmar President

Nevertheless, monumental challenges remain for Myanmar’s future.  Much of the future of Myanmar and its transitioning period rests on the shoulders of the Obama administration.  Since the 198 repression of civilians, Western nations have isolated the country for all aid and communication.  Over the next few weeks, the US could make a monumental difference by publicly supporting the democratic transition and supporting the rhetoric by ending the country’s isolation.  Ending the isolation of Myanmar would end limitations on the UN and international financial institutions like the World Bank, who could then offer the country technical expertise and trade.

Yet, the changes could lead to a democratization of neighboring countries like China, thus serving as a strategic attack against China through the geopolitical significance of Myanmar.  China would not allow such a close neighbor the experience of democratization, Western aid and political openness.  Such social liberty and political liberalization have been fought for within China, resulting in various repressive actions by the country.  If events were to unfold in surrounding countries, and be effective, the Chinese people would be emboldened by such success.  With technology being a vital asset of the majority of the “Arab Spring” movement’s, Chin would very well find itself in a similar position.  For these reasons, China will most likely put as much fiscal pressure on the US to avoid such Western intervention. With the mutual interdependence of China-US bilateral trade, the circumstances would very well limit US support, of China would only be able to voice empty threats without serious implications.

Yemen: Operation Troy and Anwar al-Awlaki

About 8 kilometers from the Yemeni town of Khashef, Yemeni al-Qaeda leader al-Awlaki was killed by an US drone strike, along with 3 others involved in the terrorism ring.

Anwar al-Awlaki

Along with Samir Khan, an American of Pakistani origin, the radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki was killed by the same elite unit that was responsible for the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound and his assassination.  The airstrike on Awlaki’s convoy was directed by the CIA and carried out with the US Join Special Operations Command’s firepower.  The cleric was known for radical anti-American rhetoric spread on the Internet.  His use of modern media allowed Anwar to reach out and inspire people susceptible to radicalization.  His efforts resulted in the inspiration of Major Nidal Hasan, the man responsible for the mass shooting at the Fort Hood army base in Texas in 2009.  Anwar was also the supposed inspiration for the Pakistani-American man who pleaded guilty to the May 2010 Times Square car bombing attempt.  Besides his use of media outlets, Anwar also took a more direct role in planning the attempted Christmas bombing of a Detroit-bound jetliner and in the plot which sent two bombs in printer cartridges on US-bound cargo planes in 2010.

“With the attempted Detroit bombing and the aeroplane cargo bomb plots he has demonstrated his intent and ability to cause mass terror, whilst his murderous ideology was responsible for inspiring terrorist attacks in the UK and the US.  We must keep up the pressure on al-Qaeda and its allies and remain vigilant to the threat we face.”  – William Hague, US foreign secretary

To the US, Anwar was a key figure to American counter-terrorism, serving as a forefront leader of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).  Al-Alwaki’s death is the latest in a  run of high-profile kills for Washington under President Barack Obama.  This has been seen as the biggest blow to al-Qaeda since the killing of Osama bin Laden.  Anwar al-Awlaki was possibly the organization’s most inspirational cleric and ideologue in the Middle East.  Al-Awlaki perpetuated Osama bin Laden’s vision for the al-Qaeda movement to become self-sustaining.  He was creating franchises for terror organizations, helping al-Qaeda reach potential followers into the United States and the United Kingdom and also Southeast Asia countries such as Singapore with large English-speaking Muslim populations.  With such unique skills eliminated from the repertoire of al-Aqaeda’s remaining leaders, the losses may be extremely difficult to replace within the weakened terror organization.

Nevertheless, al-Awlaki was a US citizen, born in New Mexico to Yemeni parents who have never been charged with any crime.  Civil liberties groups have questions the government’s authority to kill an American without trial. As a global terrorist, targeting the lives of innocent civilians, the rights and liberties guaranteed to Anwar as an American was forfeit.  As a head figure for al-Qaeda, the cleric was a symbol of what the War on Terror has been combating since 2001.  As with Osama bin Laden, the call and directives for his death could not be questioned for the sanctity and security of the American nation as a whole.

“Why kill him in this brutal, ugly way?  Killing him will not solve their problem with al-Qaeda, it will just increase AQAP’s strength and sympathy in this region.” – Abubakr al-Awlaki, relative of the deceased cleric

US officials are warning that the killing of the American-born cleric, the face of AQAP, could spark retaliatory attacks.  Such symbolic deaths could easily provide the motivation for homeland attacks by “homegrown” violent extremists, which stand true concerning al-Awlaki’s role as an inspirational leader for radicalization.  With Yemen wracked by political and social unrest as protesters call for the end of President Ali Adbullah Saleh’s rule, the dissent has allowed al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to gain a crucial foothold in the southern part of the country.

In retrospect, with Operation Troy responsible for yet another death in the hierarchy of the already weakened global terrorist organization of al-Qaeda, the list of leaders for al-Qaeda has shrunk but still remains extensive and formidable.

  1. Ayman al-Zawahiri
  2. Abu Yahya al-Libi
  3. Khalid al-Habib
  4. Adnan el Shukrijumah
  5. Atiyah Abd al-Rhman
  6. Said al-Adel
  7. Mustafa Hamid
  8. Saad bin Laden
  9. Hamza al-Jawfi
  10. Matiur Rehman
  11. Abu Khalil al-Madani
  12. Midhat Mursi
  13. Fahd Mohammed Ahmed al-Quso
  14. Adam Gadahn
  15. Nassar Abdul Karim al-Wuhayshi
  16. Abou Mossab Abdelwadoud

 

Yemen: The Return of Ali Abdullah Saleh

In his first speech since his return from Saudi Arabia, Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh, claimed he was committed to transferring power in early elections.

Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemeni President

The president’s return, and reaasumption of his presidential powers, has caught many unawares, as it has effectively reasserted anti-government pressures onto Saleh solely.   His medical absence had insulated him from political pressure.  Nonetheless, Saleh has returned which may demonstrate that Saleh has grown concerned with the escalation of brutality being committed by both side, most notably being his eldest son Ahmed who fired upon unarmed demonstrators.  Many suggest that Saleh’s return is part of his strategy for prolonging the ineffectual dialogues with the political opposition, being brokered by the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC).  Before his departure, Saleh was infamous for delaying and obfuscating negotiations by insisting on unacceptable preconditions.

The Yemeni president has called for early elections, but many within the opposition and Saleh’s own office feel that the calls are only demonstrations of his attempt to use rhetoric as a form of detente, with no intention of implementation.  Evidently, the latest peace formula is unlikely to appease protesters who want nothing less than his immediate departure.

“The opposition parties abused and misused the vigils by youth in order to seize power, and some of their elements conducted subversive actions to sabotage the movement of the youth.” – Abubakr A. Al-Qirbi, Yemen Foreign Minister

The UN has perceived the call by Saleh for peaceful dialogue as the right course for the reform of Yemen.  After Yemen’s Foreign Minister delivered a speech to the General Assembly, the UN stated that change in Yemen must follow constitutional process.  Divisions in Yemen will only be overcome by a return to the legality of the constitution and fixing its shortcomings.  A smooth transition of power would allow reconciliation, reform and reconstruction without violating democratic principles.  Nonetheless, unbridled population growth, prevalence of poverty, desertification and paucity of oil have combined to create an in environment in which thousands of university graduates have found it impossible to find employment.  Such dissent and disenchantment has allowed opposition parties to manipulate the youth in order to seize power and spark demonstration, which began in January/February.

Despite calls for peaceful means towards reform, government forces have killed hundreds since the on-start of the revolts, in attempt to stamp out resistance.  At least 150 people, mostly protesters, renegade soldiers and tribesmen, have been killed over the past week as loyalist forces use excessive forces.  The loyalist have rained mortar shells on protestors and fired on crowds with anti-aircraft guns.  Snipers have been stations on rooftops to pick off protesters on the streets below.  Needless to say, rumors of excessive force are clearly true.

Resembling attrition, killing as many as possible until surrender, the tactics of the government forces have had the opposite effect.  Facing such brutal onslaught, the anti-government forces have intensified their efforts.  Today, anti-government tribesmen overran an army base holding an elite unit of Republican Guard, north of Yemen’s capital.  The tribesmen captured 30 soldiers and dealt a blow to the prestige of the power of the Republican Guards.  Furthermore, a military spokesman said that a Sukhoi SU-33 military plane was shotdown by anti-aircraft guns near Arhab, where armed tribesmen have been locked in combat with elite Republican Guards.

In retrospect, violence will only continue as long as Saleh refused to sign a bill to transfer power.  However, transferring power will only vindicate the practicality of force, as well as put another scapegoat in power to which the tribesmen will target.  As the UN has stated, the GCC will have to mediate a democratic means for a peaceful end to conflict, a reform to the constitution to appease rebels, as well as establish a new leader, favored by the masses.

Israel: Facing a “Regional Tsunami”

As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prepared to address the UN General Assembly today, the emerging threats to Israel from the changes in the Middle East illustrate the “tsunami” of change that has led to Israel’s isolation.

The neighborhood of the Middle East has changed since last year’s global gathering and now Israel faces multiple challenges as a consequence of the unfinished democratic revolution that has become known as the “Arab Spring”.  For instance, once of Israel’s closest partners in the Arab world, former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, is near death and on trial.  To make matters worse, the military council that replaced Mubarak has distanced itself from Israel which has allowed for popular opposition against the peace treaty between the two countries.  The military council is also preparing for popular elections, which has allowed for the strengthening of the Muslim Brotherhood, a strong anti-Israel group, which is illustrated by general antipathy toward Israel.  According to a poll this year carried out by the Pew Trust, 54% to 6% want the peace treaty between the two countries to be annulled.

Though never close allies with Syria, the problems facing Bashar al-Assad has resulted in fears about what might follow should the unrest eventually unseat him.  Instability in Syria would inevitable spill into neighboring Lebanon, where Hezbollah (Shia Muslim militant group) has a rather significant number of missiles aimed at Israel.

“Knowing the Prime Minister’s personality and knowing the importance of this issues for Turkey, I do not see how Turkey can accept anything short of an apology.”– Asli Aydintasbas, Turkish Political Columnist

Moreover, the once close political and military relationship with Turkey is in tatters.  The “culprit” behind the death of the relationship was Israel.  On the 31st of May 2010, a military operation of Israel was carried out by military commandos against six ships of the “Gaza Freedom Flotilla”.  Among the six ships was the MV Mavi Marmara, a Turkish relief ship, which was boarded and in a UN report, many of the crew were members of a “separate hardcore group” who were armed with iron bars and knives.  The Israeli commandos were “forced” to use military action, resulting in the death of 9 activists.  Tensions have steadily increased over Israel’s refusal to meet Turkey’s demands for an apology and compensation to the families of the dead.  Clearly, the events of the “Arab Spring” have left Israel surrounded by instability and its few allies are not heeding its call for aid.

Furthermore, the news circulating around Israel only grows worse for its international relations, as the controversial issue of Palestinian statehood has come to a head in a recent push for UN recognition of a Palestinian state on pre-1967 borders. According to Ehud Barak, the Israeli Defense Minister, the Palestinian plan for recognition is an attempt to push Israel into the same corner that apartheid South Africa once occupied.  With the majority of the international community lending its support for the bid, the planned pressure on Israel seems to be working.  Israel will be faced with a “tsunami” of pressure and criticism from both the international and domestic front.  For instance, Israel’s relations with Jordan, where nearly half the population is Palestinian, have also deteriorated.  This past Wednesday, King Abdullah of Jordan told the UN General Assembly that public frustration was at its peak, illustrating the growing animosity towards Israel.  The frustration among Jordinian is focused on Israel’s unwillingness to confront the problem and effectively “sticking their heads in the sand”.  The political-military peace between Jordan and Israel is seen as a necessity for many Israelis, most notable being Amos Gilad, the director of policy and political-military affairs at Israel’s Defense Ministry.  The peace gives Israel strategic depth and helps ease the tension from Israeli shoulders in the region.  Evidently, the détente of Israel with the entire Middle East is tense at best, essentially nonexistent in many places, exemplifying past years of military conflict and political hatred between Israel and all its neighbors.

“Right now, the only strategy is no strategy…The Israeli answer will be no: no to the Security Council, no to the General Assembly, and no to any resolution that will include any kind of statement that will include Palestinian statehood.” – Barak Ravid, diplomatic correspondent of the left-leaning Haaratz

Facing these negative and inconceivable developments internationally, the domestic pressure has also increased in Israel as critics of Netanyahu have attacked the Prime Minister’s lack of urgency and dynamism.  Despite the pressures, socially, Israel is experiencing some of its best living standards ever before but with such circumstances surrounding the state, the pressure will soon breach into the lives of all Israelis.

“Those who govern the country take step every day towards building new barriers to peace.  We don’t have a problem with the people of Israel.  The source of the current tension is solely the Israeli government.” – Tayyip Erdogan, Prime Minister of Turkey

With the bid for Palestinian statehood being pushed upon the UN General Assembly and the Security Council, despite fervent opposition from Israel and the US, its main ally; the future for Israeli-Palestinian relations will determine much of the future between Israel and the international community.  It is unclear when then the Security Council will take up the Palestinian request, which the White House has pledged to veto already.  British Prime Minister David Cameron has backed the US position, despite his support for a two-state solution, Cameron has stated the UN resolution cannot substitute the political will, from negotiation between Israel-Palestine, necessary to bring peace.  While a veto by the US in the Security Council would block any effort to gain full UN membership, a “yes” vote in the General Assembly would raise Palestine to the status of permanent observer “state”, the same status the Vatican currently holds.

“This has been a smart political move.  What they are doing is they are effectively bringing an end to an US monopoly on peacemaking.  They are internationalizing it.” – Salman Shaikh, director of the Brooking Doha Center and fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy.

Yemen: UN and GCC Campaign

For months, thousands of demonstrators have been waging a campaign to usurp the long-standing regime of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Envoys from the United Nations and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) ave arrived in Yemen on Monday, following the recent spike in violence on Sunday in which 26 people were killed and hundreds injured.  Sunday saw the worst violence in the country since March, but protest leaders have issued rallying cries urging more demonstrations on Monday.  The officials from the UN and GCC have flown to Sanaa, Yemen to hopefully help organize the peaceful transfer of power from President Saleh to Vice President Abd Rabo Mansou Hadi.  The arrangement was initially indicated to be accepted by Saleh but recent events have led ot his refusal to sign, stating that he will return and finish his term.

President Saleh is recuperating in Saudi Arabia from a June bombing on his palace.  With thousands of protesters conducting a 7-month sit-in to call for his resignation, many suggest that his removal from Yemen has actually ensured his Presidency and has also led to the impasse of the demonstrations.  Without the injuries suffered from the bombing, Saleh would not have been evacuated to Saudi Arabia, miles away from the threat of protesters and further attacks.  So saying, without such pressure and miles away from any threat, there seems to be no reason for Saleh to resign or implement any reforms to appease demonstrators.

“Protestors were interecepted on Zubairy Street and in Al Qa’a district where the forces show no mercy.” – Saleem Munasar, anti-Saleh demonstrator

As in Libya, where Qaddafi had essentially promised to commit a Holocaust of his own people, the events of Yemen have demonstrated the ruthless hunt by security forces, as well as the human rights violations being committed.  Many witnesses have said that they have seen .50-caliber machine guns being used against unarmed, peaceful demonstrators.  The opposition National Council has condemned the attacks and are calling on the international community to take action against Saleh’s regime.  With the only evidence of foreign involvement being limited to Libya, where rebels are still being pushed back by loyalist forces in some locales, the Yemenis protests will be on their own for the foreseeable future.

“This revolution is peaceful, peaceful!  We are here for our beloved martyrs.  We will not back down!” – Demonstrators at Zubairy Street

Moreover, the UK-based charity organization known as Oxfam has warned that Yemen is at a breaking point and faces a food crisis.  Oxfam has warned that 7.5 million Yemenis, approximately 1/3 of the population, are going hungry.  The political stalemate of Yemen has left the government in paralysis, which has prompted a fuel crisis that has brought the economy on the verge of collapse.  With the demonstrations leading to chronic violence, the number of wounded and needy will increase, further damaging the already fragile country.

“We were just in the car on Hayel Street (near the fighting).  I stepped out to get some food and left my two boys in the car and I heard the older one scream.  The litle one was shot through the head.”– Father

In retrospect, Yemen is politically paralyzed as Saleh clings to power from a hospital bed in Saudi Arabia, allowing the turmoil to breed widespread violence and bloodshed.  Many agencies have suggested that the chaotic state of Yemen could strengthen the Yemen branch of al Qaeda and heighten the risk of militant attacks on US and Saudi targets abroad, which will be a high risk factor if the international community ever plans on taking direct action within the borders of Yemen.  Clearly, the situation in Yemen is igniting much conflict that could soon involve the international community.  With such chaos looming, the UN and GCC will not be able to implement a peaceful transition of power and the international community will be forced to decide whether further actions must be taken.