What a coincidence!

It has already been announced this year that the US will be pouring $83 million into upgrading its main military bases in Afghanistan. The rationale is that American forces will be needed in the country for years to come to fight the Taleban and al-Qaida elements it claimed to have defeated in 2001.

This appears to be part of a US plan to have a permanent US bases in the country. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has acknowledged that the US was considering such a move and the Department of Defense is studying its possibility. Influential Republican Senator John McCain has already called for Washington to make its military presence in Afghanistan a permanent one.

The U.S. military has 18,000 soldiers in Afghanistan and also has forces deployed in neighbouring Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. A permanent base would ensure that the US would be to have "pre-positioned" military equipment that would be used by rapidly deployed forces in a crisis. In other words, yet another military base in the heart of a major natural resource rich region of the world.

Afghan leaders are also seeking a long-term "strategic partnership" with the US. Afghanistan's defence minister has indicated that Kabul is open to permanent basing of US forces in the country, with the Afghan government in discussions with the US that could include permanent air bases. Given that the Afghan President Hamid Karzai is a long term US client, is this so surprising?

Meanwhile, in that other country whose war was declared as won by the Bush years ago, the Iraqi Assembly has finally got round to electing a speaker, a president and two vice-presidents. The new officials are of note.

The Assembly Speaker is Hajim al-Hassani, the industry minister in (US appointed) Iyad Allawi's Interim Government and a member of his Iraqi List. Last year, the Iraqi Islamic Party (of which he is member) withdrew from the government to protest the US assault on Fallujah, al-Hassani refused to resign his post as industry minister and supported the US. As industry minister, he led the privatisation program for the US-appointed interim government. This included a change in Iraq's investment law, allowing foreign investors to enter the Iraqi securities market and own up to 49% of publicly listed companies.

The President is the Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani. The Kurds are probably the only ethnic group in Iraq which does not hate the Americans. Indeed, the Kurdish parties oppose any timetable for the withdrawal of foreign forces from Iraq, as does the US. Talabani himself was also one of the rotating presidents of the (US appointed) Iraq Governing Council (IGC). His two vice-presidents are Adel Abdul Mahdi and Ghazi al-Yawir. Mahdi was finance minister in Allawi's outgoing government while Yawar was another president of the IGC. Mahdi, incidentally, announced his support for the complete privatisation of Iraq 's oil industry at the end of last year. Talabani named Ibrahim Jaafari as Iraq's new prime minister. Jaafari held the role of vice-president in the outgoing US-appointed interim regime.

So we have a reshuffling of existing (US approved) politicians, rather than a new start. How did this occur?

The US imposed Transitional Administrative Law (TAL) states that any government must be elected by a two-thirds majority. This, of course, gives minority parties immense power. And given that pro-US occupation parties are in the minority, it is easy to see why the occupying powers imposed that particular rule.

Unsurprisingly, therefore, the presidency council reflects US interests and, as a consequence, so will the new "Iraqi" government. For the first task of the presidency council was to agree on the choice of prime minister, in whom executive power mainly rests. The new PM has two weeks to form a government which (again) must be approved by a two-thirds vote in parliament. If he cannot, the choice of another prime minister falls to the national assembly itself, which must decide (again) by a two-thirds majority.

Moreover, as well as appointing the executive, the presidency council has other, more significant powers. While day-to-day legislation may be passed in the parliament by simple majority, these decisions can be vetoed by the presidency council. The parliament can push through such legislation only by mustering a two-thirds majority, which again gives considerable power to minority parties. A three-quarters majority is required to amend clauses in the TAL itself.

And so, as predicted, the US imposed two-thirds majority rule has ensured that the new "democratic" Iraqi government is occupier friendly. The new officials, as in Afghanistan, all have a track record of working with (when not being appointed by) the Americans and, moreover, in favouring US economic and political goals.

As in Afghanistan, "democratic" elections have produced a government which will be unlikely to ask the US military to leave nor reject the US imposed neo-liberal economic policies currently blighting the country.

Thank god for coincidence!

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