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March 31, 2006

Good News, at Last!

Roy Meachum

The Middle East holds fast as this century's Balkans, the corner of Europe that ignited World War I, whose unresolved issues prompted World War II.

The stretch of real estate between the Suez Canal and India's subcontinent remains yet unresolved, over 60 years after Japan's surrender in Tokyo Bay. As 1914 illustrated, a new war might develop.

Saddam Hussein's threat to international peace has proven illusory; Iran's may not. The mullah-ruled Islamic republic controls the resources, the means and the motive to deploy the nuclear devices we have been warned it's probably developing.

Millions of Iranians died in Iraq's invasion that was enthusiastically supported by United States' arms and money: payback for the sacking of the embassy and Americans held prisoner by Teheran. The mullahs and their followers have neither forgiven nor forgotten.

With Israel already possessing weapons of mass destruction, initially a gift from late French president Charles de Gaulle, the potential is real for World War III to explode in the Middle East.

(Where's the good news? We'll get there.)

Meanwhile, America's ill-fated Iraq invasion and occupation have staggered into a still-more dangerous stage.

Coming on top of the burgeoning civil war, started in earnest when Sunni insurgents torched a major Shiite shrine earlier this year, Washington was exposed this week as doing the unthinkable.

Totally flaunting claims of wanting nothing more than for the Iraqis to decide their own fate, George W. Bush communicated he wants the present prime minister replaced before a new government is formed. Furthermore, America's Baghdad embassy confirmed the story. What a goof!

Without White House interference, Ibrahim al-Jaafari looked unlikely to keep the post. He enjoys little support outside his mainstream Shiite coalition; he is opposed by Kurds who bitterly resent his failure to hand over the northern oil center, Kirkuk. Sunnis and secularist are happy to go along.

Keeping Mr. al-Jaafari in office has been converted into a challenge for his party. And that's too bad.

Once the most enthusiastic backers of a continuing U.S. presence, Shiites have become noticeably cooler to the prospect. To signal their displeasure with Special Forces participation in a Sunday raid near a mosque, they cancelled for a day negotiations over the new government.

Shiites claim it was a reading room attached to the mosque and the 17 people killed were not insurgents but innocent victims.

A major split between Washington and its main base of support in Iraq should be the last straw. We have neither the strength nor the numbers to successfully quell both Sunnis and Shiites. Nestled into their northern bastion, Kurds will try very had not to get involved. U.S. forces could wind up alone.

(That is definitely not good news.)

In a significant step towards restoring sanity to a neighborhood that's seldom known the feeling, Israelis voted Tuesday to empower Ariel Sharon's Kadima Party.

Unfortunately, Mr. Sharon still lies in a comatose condition from a massive stroke, which certainly cost at the polls. Still, his idea of seeking disengagement from Palestinians won going away. With a similar view, the revitalized Labor Party came in second.

Kadima's new leader, Ehud Olmert, promptly went to offer a prayer at the Western Wall. He praised the party's founder "as the man who had the courage, the strength, the will and the determination to see things differently and to create change," according to The New York Times.

Those are words I never expected to read, let alone agree with, about the ex-general formerly famous for fostering massacres in Palestinian refugee camps and provoking the most recent jihad by tramping all over Islamic shrines.

Mr. Sharon's platform of pulling back from the West Bank coming after his decision to leave Gaza puts a new face on Israel's prospects for survival. By abandoning most of the occupied territories, the approach should diminish provocations for both sides, the Arabs and the Jewish settlers.

How exactly Mr. Sharon would have proceeded we cannot know; he's not expected to recover enough to assume Kadima's reins again.

But Tuesday's voting was a personal blow to Benjamin Netanyahu as well as today's Likud Party. It emphatically demonstrated the nation is tired of the terrible retaliations that chiefly caused more bloodshed, while solving nothing.

Mr. Olmert and his allies among other parties want to try to find a peaceful formula that might enable the Holy Land to be shared.

And that's the very best news possible!

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