- The Washington Times - Monday, September 25, 2006

Last week, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said, “The bottom line is we don’t need a bomb.” However, public opinion worldwide doesn’t believe him.

According to a recent survey conducted by GlobeScan, an international polling organization, “only 17 percent of those polled believed Iran’s nuclear program is solely for peaceful energy needs.” So given that Mr. Ahmadinejad has already lost worldwide favor over his nuclear ambitions, was the reaction — meaning the giggle — while he was delivering his speech at the U.N. General Assembly a sign of endorsement or bullying?

Mr. Ahmadinejad challenged the relevance and the authority of the U.N. Security Council. “Who can ensure Iraq’s security?” he asked. “Insecurity in Iraq affects the entire region in restoring peace and security, while the occupiers are themselves permanent members of the council? Can the Security Council adopt a fair decision in this regard?”

The Iranian president’s comments came as the chief anti-torture campaigner at the United Nations announced that torture in Iraq may be worse now than it was under Saddam Hussein’s reign. According to this U.N. report, “evere torture including acid-induced injuries and burns caused by chemical substances, missing skin, broken bones, missing eyes, missing teeth and wounds caused by power drills or nails” is occurring. While Saddam Hussein is standing trial for torture during his regime, it is impossible to keep one person responsible for the tactics being employed today.

Although the United States is proven to have poor preparation for the aftermath of Saddam regime, it is also a fact that only the Iraqis will determine the faith of their country. And for that matter, it is important to remember that the political civil war began long before the U.S. military toppled Saddam Hussein — including during the Clinton administration, when exiled Iraqis were coaching the U.S. They were divided along Kurdish, Sunni and Shi’ite lines, jockeying for U.S. support. The U.S. failed to understand the different culture of politics and power seeking. The U.N. report states that more than 6,000 people were killed in July and August, which amounts to 100 deaths per day, caused mainly by sectarian violence. Iraqis are protesting that this is not “justice.”

Ironically, “justice” was the key word in Mr. Ahmadinejad’s U.N. speech; he brought it up 33 times. He was speaking to a Middle East audience, where the majority of the population blames the West — and mainly the United States — for the injustices they suffer. A 2004 BBC poll showed that 52 percent of those surveyed (including the Europeans) believe the U.S. is a bigger threat than terror.

Meanwhile, President Bush defended U.S. actions in the region. “Some have argued that the democratic changes we’re seeing in the Middle East are destabilizing the region,” Mr. Bush told the U.N. General Assembly. “This argument rests on a false assumption: that the Middle East was stable to begin with. The reality is that the stability we thought we saw in the Middle East was a mirage. For decades, millions of men and women in the region had been trapped in oppression and hopelessness. And these conditions left a generation disillusioned and made this region a breeding ground for extremism.”

Mr. Bush was right when he spoke to the people of the region, saying, “While your peers in other parts of the world have received educations that prepare them for the opportunities of a global economy, you have been fed propaganda and conspiracy theories that blame others for your country’s shortcomings.” The problem is it is getting harder to be hopeful for the future of Middle East. The New York Times reports that national intelligence agencies estimate that Iraqi occupation made the overall terrorism problem worse.

Then the question is, what was Mr. Ahmadinejad trying to accomplish by his speech? He confidently challenged the Security Council, which had called for imposing political and economic sanctions on Iran if it did not stop uranium enrichment by Aug. 31. Iran did not stop, and the U.N. carried out no punishment. This standoff over the nuclear program will not be resolved through U.N.; only Iran and the U.S. can deal with it.

Mr. Ahmadinejad’s speech, however, was clearly directed at least in part toward Sunni Muslims. The U.N. report also makes clear that 75 percent of Sunnis in Iraq support the insurgency. Sectarian violence in Iraq is a battle between the Sunnis and the Shi’ites. Iran is the only Shi’ite Islamic state in the region, and, meanwhile, both Iraqi Sunnis and Arab Sunnis feel threatened by the emerging Shi’ite state of Iraq. That is to say, this talk over a rising Iranian power in the region is deceitful; ayatollahs are, in fact, very much threatened by a possible full scale civil war in Iraq.

In terms of public opinion, both Mr. Bush and Mr. Ahmadinejad failed to change public perceptions about them with their U.N. addresses. The Sunnis will not change their minds about the rise of Shi’ites in the region, and the population at large will not change their minds about Mr. Bush’s policies.

Tulin Daloglu is a free-lance writer.

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