November 11th 2006

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Articles from this issue:

EDITORIAL: Iraq after the U.S. elections

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Beazley relishes coming fight for workers' rights

ECONOMIC AFFAIRS: A clear lack of joined-up government

BUSHFIRES: Comprehensive approach needed to fight fires

WESTERN AUSTRALIA: Political identities probed by corruption body

VICTORIA: The ALP's abortion agenda

STRAWS IN THE WIND: The nuclear horror house / The return of religions / Arrogant Muslims / The hit-man society

SPECIAL FEATURE: 'I can never forget them': a memoir of the 1956 Hungarian uprising

OPINION: Ethics needed in science, medicine and politics

Water trading: the consequences (letter)

Country people left to choke on the dust (letter)

Chris Masters' grab for cash and fame (letter)

CINEMA: A future world without children

BOOKS: LOST! Australia's Catholics Today, by Michael Gilchrist

BOOKS: THE BABY BUSINESS: How money, science, and politics drive the commerce of conception, by Debora L. Spar

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Iraq after the U.S. elections

by Peter Westmore

News Weekly, November 11, 2006
President George W. Bush faces the fight of his life as Iraq looms as the hot issue in the current U.S. mid-term Congressional elections.

The U.S. Congressional elections on Tuesday, November 7, mark a watershed in the future of Iraq. Although this editorial was written before the election took place, polls indicate that the Democrats may secure a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, giving them an effective veto over America's future military engagement in Iraq.

While Iraq is probably the major election issue - President George W. Bush's unpopularity has resulted from it - many Americans are also concerned about the continuing war on terror and Islamist extremism, immigration, unemployment, the state of the economy and other issues such as political scandals which have engulfed some Republican leaders.

Each of these issues resonates with parts of the American polity, and will have an influence in the mid-term elections for Congressmen and one third of the nation's senators.

President Bush's stance on immigration - particularly his promise to build a wall along the porous border with Mexico - may win some votes in southern states where voters have been repelled by scandals and the stalemate in Iraq.

And while the Republicans are claiming success with the economy, where the official unemployment level is below 5 per cent, there is widespread concern in America's industrial heartland, where tens of thousands of workers, many in the auto industry, have recently lost their jobs.

Rival militias

In the meantime, reports from Iraq indicate that the insurgency, originally conducted by Iraqis aligned with the Ba'ath Party of deposed President Saddam Hussein, later aggravated by Shi'ite militias conducting reprisals, has now degenerated into a large number of rival militias which are aligned with the major ethnic and religious groups in Iraq.

Suicide bombings conducted by Islamic extremists are taking hundreds of lives in Iraq every week, and, while some of these are targeted at American and allied forces, most are designed to kill other Iraqis.

The Washington Post recently reported that there are at least 23 militias in operation in Iraq, most operating openly in conjunction with existing political parties and religious groups.

Calls by the U.S. military to the Iraqi Government to disarm the militias have been publicly rejected by the Iraqis, because the Government depends on the parties which support the militias, and because many of the militias are themselves government employees.

In particular, the Mahdi Army - the militia group associated with Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, which waged a lengthy battle against U.S. forces in the city of Najaf in 2004 - have reportedly infiltrated the police, interior ministry and defence forces.

An American intelligence analyst in Baghdad reported, "They have infiltrated every branch of the public service and every political office they can get their hands on. As soon as the U.S. leaves, they will be able to dominate the area with key citizens, key offices."

A cause for particular concern to America is that some of the Shi'ite militias, most notably the Badr Brigade, receive arms and training from neighbouring Iran.

The Badr Brigade has been reportedly involved not merely in the murder of rival Sunni Muslims, but even fighting against the Mahdi Army, with which it is engaged in a struggle for power in southern Iraq.

The Badr Brigade is aligned with the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the most powerful Shi'ite party in the country. It advocates the creation of a separate Shi'ite-run region comprising nine oil-rich provinces in southern Iraq.

The multiplicity of rival armed militias, all of which are engaged in kidnapping, torture, murder and extortion, has made Iraq ungovernable, despite the best efforts of the United States and the other 30 countries which have tried to stabilise Iraq and establish a multi-party democracy with power-sharing among the various ethnic and religious groups.

This is the depressing reality facing President Bush, as he contemplates his last two years in office, and explains his willingness to engage in bilateral discussions with Iran and Syria, although there is no reason to believe that they will settle for anything less than an immediate and complete U.S. withdrawal from Iraq.

The problem for the Democrats is that they have no credible plan to secure a satisfactory outcome in Iraq.

Their call for a "phased withdrawal" makes no sense if it means that the final outcome is the same and American war casualties continue to mount.

Whatever the election outcome, it is now clear that the Bush Administration has lost faith in the Iraqi Government it has supported with the lives of over 2,500 Americans, at a cost of nearly $90 billion since 2003.

What both the Americans and the Iraqi Government lack is the means of ending the cycle of revenge killings and suicide bombings. Only Iran, Iraq's powerful neighbour, stands to gain from the current chaos.

- Peter Westmore is national president of the National Civic Council.

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