Iraq and North Korea Updates

15 October 2006, 2043 EDT

I posted this on my class blogs, so I might as well reproduce it here. I didn’t provide much commentary, but the links are worth your time.

Charles Hanley of the Associated Press reports that reconstruction in Iraq falters as the US prepares to halt its direct efforts. Reuters reports that Britons favor pulling their troops out:

Most Britons back the country’s army chief who said British troops should be withdrawn from Iraq soon because their presence was making security worse, a poll showed on Sunday.

Chief of the General Staff Richard Dannatt sparked a media and political storm last week when he criticised post-war planning for the 2003 U.S.-led invasion in a rare interview.

Dannatt told the Daily Mail British troops should pull out “sometime soon because our presence exacerbates the security problems” both in Iraq and for British interests around the globe.

In an ICM telephone poll for the Sunday Express, 74 percent of those questioned agreed with Dannatt.

Violence contines across Iraq. Ken Semple of the New York Times writes that:

The American military command said today that three American soldiers died on Saturday when a concealed bomb was detonated near their patrol in southern Baghdad, bringing the total of American troop deaths in Iraq this month to at least 52, an extraordinarily high midmonth tally.

At the current rate of American military deaths — about 3.5 a day — October is on track to be the third deadliest month of the entire conflict for American forces, according to the Iraq Coalition Casualty Count, an independent Web site that tracks war-related casualties.

Violence erupted around Iraq today. In a deadly spate of attacks in the northern city of Kirkuk, six bombs, all apparently coordinated, exploded within a few hours of each other, killing at least 17 people and wounding 73 others, according to police officials. At least three of the blasts were suicide car bombs, the officials said.

The rising American military death toll, which comes in spite of improvements in armor and other defenses, follows a recent decision by the American military to raise the profile of American troops in Baghdad and increase their combat operations.

A particularly nasty set of revenge killings take place outside of Bhagdad. Debate over the Lancet study of mortaility rates in Iraq continues. Irrespective of your views on the invasion and other issues with the study, the comments (specifically “Mike H’s”) on Tim Lambert’s site demonstrate how a lack of knowledge of statistical methods can lead a smart person to make credible-sounding but wrong-headed arguments.

Lots of stuff going down on the North Korea front. The Security Council backs sanctions.

The resolution, drafted by the United States, clears the way for the toughest international action against North Korea since the end of the Korean War. Primarily, it bars the sale or transfer of material that could be used to make nuclear, biological and chemical weapons or ballistic missiles, and it bans international travel and freezes the overseas assets of people associated with the North’s weapons programs.

In its most debated clause, the resolution authorizes all countries to inspect cargo going in and out of North Korea to detect illicit weapons.

That power was the sticking point in days of what the Russian ambassador called “tense negotiations” with China and Russia that continued up until minutes before the final vote Saturday afternoon. And less than an hour after joining in the Council vote for the resolution, the Chinese ambassador, Wang Guangya, said China would not participate in the inspection regime because it would create “conflict that could have serious implications for the region.”

He said China supported the resolution as a necessary way to respond to Pyongyang’s “flagrant” behavior.

The 15-0 vote came days after North Korea’s claim it had tested a nuclear device, reflecting the immediate global alarm that such a weapon could wind up in the hands of terrorists or other rogue states. Indeed, the resolution’s wording hit most of the tough points the United States and Japan, in particular, had sought.

But China’s refusal to take part in searches, and Russia’s seeming annoyance at the end of the process, immediately raised questions about how effective the resolution’s execution could be. And it raised the prospect, too, that similar action sought by the United States against Iran could face a much tougher battle.

The US is putting pressure on China to act to change North Korea’s policies. Hans Griemel of the Associated Press has a good discussion of the difficulties involved in making the sanctions effective.

Aid groups, for their part, worry about the humanitarian implications of sanctions.

“It is a very fragile country and there is a lot of hardship and we are trying to take care of the people,” said Jaap Timmer, head of the Pyongyang delegation of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

Speaking to AFP by telephone from the North Korean capital Pyongyang before sanctions were imposed, he said measures targeting North Korea could make his job harder.

“Humanitarian aid should not be dependent on political decisions and so we are hoping that from a moral point of view, any pressure on the government will not impact on ordinary people.”

Pyongyang’s Stalinist regime has been unable to feed its 23 million people on its own for more than a decade and has been dependent on international aid since the mid-1990s when more than one million starved to death in a famine.

Though conditions have improved in recent years, summer floods, coupled with a series of missile tests in July that triggered a drop in outside donations, have left North Korea once again in a precarious position.

“We are seeing some of the signs that we saw in the mid-1990s,” said Erica Kang of the South Korean humanitarian group Good Friends.

“There are more people eating alternative foods, having to forage rather than having grain for their main meal… winter is coming shortly and we are very concerned about that.”

The World Food Program’s (WFP) representative in Pyongyang, Jean-Pierre De Margerie, told AFP by phone that it was hoping sanctions would not affect the most vulnerable in one of the world’s poorest countries.

“We will stay focused on our mandate, which is to assist 1.9 million North Koreans around the country,” De Margerie said.

“We hope that whatever political development happens, it won’t affect the food security of the most vulnerable people, like children and pregnant women,” he said.

Another aid organization, the UN Children’s Fund, fears that international sanctions could have a negative impact on the health of North Korea’s weakest citizens, its children.

“As part of the UN setup we understand that sanctions have a role to play,” said the fund’s Pyongyang representative Gopalan Balagopal.

“But if it results in a shortage of assistance flowing into the country it will adversely impact the well-being of children, and we will make the case that there should be a child impact assessment so it is clear that people know what impact sanctions will have on children.”

Human Rights Watch agreed any impact on food aid could be lethal.

“As the international community responds to North Korea’s nuclear test, it must distinguish between the North Korean government and ordinary citizens,” the rights group’s deputy Asia director Sophie Richardson said in a statement from London.

“Further restraints on food aid will only make ordinary North Koreans suffer more.”

China was by far the biggest aid doner to North Korea last year, supplying 50 percent of the total, according to the WFP, while South Korea was second, contributing 36 percent of the total.

Beijing keeps its donations secret and carries them out directly rather than through the WFP.

Last year North Korea said it wanted to halt food aid from international humanitarian groups such as the WFP, which insist on monitoring food distribution, unlike China and South Korea, which deliver the food without conditions.

However, the regime relented this year amid clear signs that it was still in desperate need of the help.

Others report on shifting attitudes in South Korea towards its “Sunshine” policy. Bennett Richardson of the Christian Science Monitor discusses how Japan’s quick reaction reflects the tougher stance on military and security issues of its new Prime Minister.

The swift move is a sign of the more assertive stance that Prime Minister leader Shinzo Abe wants to adopt toward Pyongyang, but is also seen as part of a broader tactic to create a united front under US leadership among countries in the region.

“The full involvement of the US is indispensable,” says Akihiko Tanaka, a professor at Tokyo University. “In addition to an active stance from Japan, it is essential that
South Korea and China show a much more cooperative attitude with the US.”

Mr. Abe has tried to build consensus since North Korea’s test. In Seoul Monday, he said that his views and those of South Korea were in accord as “the security dynamics in Northeast Asia enter a new phase.”

Abe rose to prominence by taking a hard line on issues such as North Korea’s abduction of Japanese citizens in the 1970s and ’80s. The threat from the North has boosted his popularity. But Asian neighbors are wary of his views on World War II and his ambitions for Tokyo to play a diplomatic role commensurate with its economic clout.

Speculation has surfaced that Japan may seek nuclear capability. A 2003 poll showed that almost 1 in 5 lawmakers think Japan should consider going nuclear if warranted. Abe has said in the past that Japan has the right to nuclear arms. But Tuesday he said, “We absolutely do not have the option of owning nuclear weapons.”

Tokyo’s sanctions should be considered mainly symbolic, say analysts. Tokyo imposed a six-month ban on North Korean imports and exports. North Koreans are barred from Japan, as are North Korean registered ships.

Because trade is light, “the effect is likely to be quite limited,” says Tatsushi Shikano, of Mitsubishi UFJ Research and Consulting. Exports from Japan to North Korea in 2005 totaled 6.5 billion yen ($58 million). Imports were valued at 14.5 billion yen ($121 million).

Finally, William Broad and David Sanger provide an interesting analysis of nuclear proliferation in the current era.