Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Lebanon Crisis Shows Hues of Iraq

By Khody Akhavi

"WASHINGTON, May 14 (IPS) - Almost every country in the world has had a civil war, but rarely has a nation survived a second one.

The outburst of violence that erupted on the streets of West Beirut last week now threatens to rip apart the small patchwork state, with analysts here and in Lebanon saying that the events over the next days will determine whether the fighting will push the country over the precipice of sectarian bloodshed, or whether a lull in violence will bring the political actors to the negotiating table........

Clashes continued throughout the country on Tuesday between opposition forces led by Hezbollah and government supporters who are aligned with Druze leader Walid Jumblatt and parliamentary majority and Future Movement leader Sa'ad Hariri. And the fighting, according to journalists on the ground, is beginning to take on the polarising sectarian hues of Iraq.

"This is more and more becoming a Sunni-Shi'a conflict. It really does feel like Iraq," said journalist Nir Rosen in a conference call with analysts and reporters at the New American Foundation.

"Sunni militias, backed by the Future Movement, formed over the last year, and have been a complete failure, perhaps because they were fighting for money. They just disappeared and caused a great sense of betrayal and shock among Sunnis," said Rosen, adding that the perceived victimisation of Sunnis had instigated more radical circles in Tripoli to fight against the "apostate Shi'a", that they appeared "eager to start this battle", according to Rosen.

Iranian-backed Hezbollah remains a popular political movement and is widely lauded for its "resistance" against Israel; it is the group's raison d'etre. The Lebanese and U.S. government have tried unsuccessfully to curb the number of weapons and militias in the country. But even with the U.S. putting international pressure on Hezbollah and Iran, and providing "practical assistance" to the Lebanese Army to deal with domestic security threats, as U.S. President George W. Bush said to reporters Monday, Hezbollah has drawn the red lines. So far, the army hasn't crossed them.

The last few days has also witnessed a certain degree of collusion on the streets between the Lebanese Army -- considered the only impartial institution capable of uniting the country -- and Hezbollah. Rosen, who is currently in Beirut and accompanied Shi'a Amal fighters as they battled on the streets, described Hezbollah fighters acting "hand in hand" with the army on the commercial strip of Hamra Street in West Beirut. Most of the targets captured by Hezbollah and their allies were subsequently turned over to the army.

"They are not trying to change the demographic balance in Beirut, it is to make a show of force to let rival militias know [Hezbollah] could have a real political coup," said Rosen. "Hezbollah's main concern is to keep weapons; it doesn't have much interest in running things in Lebanon."......."

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