The Week in Review

Iran in Iraq, space and women’s rights; Belgium bans burkas; and Wall Street’s wild ride.

Middle East

Iraq’s two main rival Shiite coalitions announced Tuesday that they have agreed to merge into a single parliamentary bloc. While the political wrangling is not over, and a prime minister has yet to be chosen, this coalition deal gives the pro-Iranian State of Law bloc and the Iranian-backed Islamist Iraqi National Alliance a strong chance of setting up the next government, thus cementing Iranian domination of Iraq. The same day, radical anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr—whose movement is the largest group in the ina—announced the revival of his Mahdi Army militia and threatened to attack American troops if they didn’t stick to their Dec. 31, 2011, deadline to leave the country. This was a reminder from Iran to America of its ability to cause havoc in Iraq through its militant proxies there if it doesn’t get its way.

Iran and Russia last week agreed to cooperate to launch two satellites, the Mehr News Agency reported Monday. The launch of a remote sensing satellite and a telecommunications satellite is part of expanding communications cooperation between the two countries.

On April 28, Iran was elected to the UN Commission on the Status of Women—a body that is meant to promote “gender equality and the advancement of women.” That Iran—a country in which women are stoned on trumped-up charges—can hold such a position once again reveals the United Nations for the sham that it is.

The Palestinian Authority will invest in projects aimed at “Arabizing” Jerusalem, it was decided at a meeting on Monday between PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and his ministerial-level government members in Ramallah. Money and other resources will be allocated to institutions such as schools, culture centers and health clinics. reports: “The Fayyad government is authorized by the new decision to relocate government offices and important institutions to what mass media refer to as Eastern Jerusalem but actually includes northern and southern areas of the capital as well. The stated goal is to implant the sense among Jerusalem Arabs that the address for their issues is the PA” (May 5). The decision violates the Oslo Accord, which prohibits the PA from operating in Jerusalem. The PA government said it intends to Arabize the city, “setting facts on the ground” that would have to be taken into consideration in any future negotiations with Israel. The decision was not met with any condemnation from Washington saying that this would derail the peace process—in contrast to the Obama administration’s response to Jewish housing plans in Jerusalem announced in March.


Three people died in Athens on May 5 as rioters set a bank on fire. Greece’s economy is so bad that Greek President Carolos Papoulias said his country has “reached the edge of the abyss.” Despite the protests and Molotov cocktails, the Greek parliament passed the austerity bill necessary for it to receive European and International Monetary Fund aid on May 6. But the crisis is far from over. It is unlikely Greece will be able to successfully fulfill all of the terms of the bill. The stock market crashed on the same day—possibly caused by the Greece crisis. Watch Europe, and especially Germany, to see how the crisis is resolved.

Belgium has become the first Western European country to approve a national ban on the burka, with the lower house of the Belgian Parliament unanimously passing the measure April 29. This could open the way for similar bans in other countries. While the legislation still has to be ratified by the Senate, it is not expected to be blocked there and may become law as early as June or July if the country’s political turmoil doesn’t cause delays. The burka is already banned in two dozen local districts in Belgium, including the capital, Brussels. Some observers view the legislation more as a political statement against Islam than a security-based measure, since the full veil is rarely worn in Belgium. The ban will make it illegal for the Islamic burka and the niqab, which partly or entirely covers a woman’s face and body, to be worn in public places. Meanwhile, a European parliamentarian has called for a Europe-wide ban on the burka. Silvana Koch-Mehrin, the head of Germany’s Free Democrats in the European Parliament, called for the ban in the wake of the Belgian vote because covering women, she said, “openly supports values that we do not share in Europe.” An Italian woman has been fined €500 (us$650) for wearing a burka in Novara in northern Italy. The fine was imposed under a 1975 anti-terrorism law forbidding either men or women to cover their faces. It appears to be the first time the law has been applied in this manner. Expect the backlash against Islam on the Continent to grow.


On April 30, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin proposed the idea of merging Russia’s state-controlled energy giant Gazprom with Ukraine’s gas monopoly, Naftogaz. The surprise offer, which faces opposition from Gazprom shareholders and some Ukrainians, would make the relationship between Moscow and Kiev closer than ever. “We discussed integration in the nuclear industry,” Putin said at a news conference in Kiev. “[T]he same could be done in the gas industry, and I propose to merge Gazprom and Naftogaz.” Because 80 percent of Russian gas bound for Europe passes through Ukraine, Gazprom relies heavily on Kiev’s cooperation. Kiev in turn relies heavily on Russia’s natural gas. In the last two decades, Gazprom and Naftogaz have been engaged in numerous gas-pricing disputes, which twice resulted in supplies to European countries being turned off or decreased in the midst of winter. The proposal follows a deal a week earlier in which Moscow gave Kiev billions of dollars in gas discounts in exchange for permission to keep its base in Ukraine’s Crimea. As Moscow’s regional reach expands, ties between Russia and Ukraine will continue to flourish.

Chinese President Hu Jintao’s visit to Moscow this weekend is expected to improve the strategic partnership between China and Russia. On Wednesday, Assistant Foreign Minister Cheng Guoping praised the friendship forged between the two nations. “The China-Russia relationship is the closest and the most dynamic one among big nations and enjoys the greatest potential,” he said. Hu’s visit to Moscow will be one part of high-level exchanges this year in a relationship that Cheng said has “reached an unprecedented level.” As the strategic partnership congeals, the way is paved for a military alliance between these Asian giants.

Africa/Latin America

A Russian warship hunted down and recaptured an oil tanker taken by pirates on May 6. Special forces rappelled onto the ship, killing one pirate in a 22-minute gun battle that forced the pirates to surrender. The pirates were taken by surprise. “They did not expect such resolute measures from us,” said Capt. Ildar Akhmerov. Russian President Dimtri Medvedev has hinted that the pirates will face tough penalties for their actions in Moscow. Expect the hijacking of Russian ships to become less common—unlike that of countries that take less robust action.

Many Latin American countries have announced that they will not attend the EU-Latin America summit scheduled to be held in Madrid this May unless the president of Honduras is uninvited. Leaders have said that they would like to attend, but they refuse to recognize the new Honduran leader, who came to power after the Honduran Supreme Court took action last year to uphold the country’s constitution and rule of law. Naturally, many South American leaders are uncomfortable with the idea of courts upholding the rule of law, and oppose the new president’s election.


The stock market dipped nearly 1,000 points Thursday afternoon before a sharp rebound. Investors already spooked by Greece’s failing economy magnified the effect of what multiple sources reported was a single errant keystroke, sparking the multibillion-dollar sell-off. Allegedly a trader accidentally typed “16b” rather than “16m,” selling $16 billion in futures rather than $16 million. The market panicked, algorithms kicked in, automated sell orders came flooding in, and stock prices dropped. Shares of some of America’s biggest companies, including Procter and Gamble, which fell more than 56 percent, plunged, before recovering. Billions of investor dollars disappeared in an event that showed how sensitive and fragile the trading system can be.

Meanwhile, other more permanent figures showed that America’s jobless rate rose to its highest this year, up from 9.7 percent in March to 9.9 percent in April.

The first oil from the Deepwater Horizon disaster has begun washing ashore. The U.S. Coast Guard confirmed that oil has contaminated Freemason Island. At this point, the only oil present is sheen; no medium or heavy oil has hit the coastline yet. However, if it does wash into Louisiana’s fragile estuaries, tributaries, marshes and fisheries, the area will be devastated for years into the future.

In Britain, the nation’s Conservative and Labor parties look to be in a deadlock. For the first time in almost 40 years, the May 6 election produced no clear winner, with Conservatives winning the largest number of House of Commons seats, but not enough for a decisive majority. Both the Conservative and Labor parties are now seeking to link up with smaller parties such as the Liberal Democrats in order to form a government.

A bomber attempted mass murder at Times Square, New York, last Saturday night. Evidence shows that Faisal Shahzad was connected with a global extremist network and inspired by a U.S.-born cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki. After a failed attempt to explode a vehicle full of explosives at the busy square, Shahzad was stopped and arrested on board a plane at a New York airport about to take off for Dubai.