Persona Non Grata

The United States should arrest Sudan's genocidal president in New York.

For the first time ever, attendees at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) this week may include a sitting head of state who is the subject of an International Criminal Court (ICC) arrest warrant for genocide and crimes against humanity. That head of state is Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who, clearly undeterred by the ICC warrant, has said he plans to make the trip to New York. To make matters worse, Bashir intends to visit the UNGA after unleashing new violence in 2013 that has led to levels of human displacement second only to Syria, in global terms, since the beginning of the year.

Indeed, Darfur, the scene of Bashir's earlier crimes for which he was indicted by the ICC, is burning again. Janjaweed militia forces, backed by the Sudanese government, are once more torching villages, terrorizing civilians, and systematically clearing prime land and resource-rich areas of their inhabitants. The latest ethnic-cleansing campaign has already displaced over half a million Darfuri civilians this year, the largest population movement since the height of the genocide eight years ago. Amid this horror, it is unconscionable that the U.N. and United States would welcome Bashir to New York -- unless there are plans to arrest him and try him on a global stage.

Most media and diplomatic descriptions of the surging violence in Darfur fall within the popularly accepted "endemic intertribal hatred" narrative. In reality, however, the violence is systematic, state-sponsored, and driven by economic and security objectives. Bashir and his government actively promote the image of uncontrollable, anarchic, intertribal violence to mask their divide-and-rule strategy's underlying intent: consolidating control of the economy in Darfur.

At the height of the mass atrocities committed from 2003 to 2005, the Sudanese regime's janjaweed strategy appeared to be driven only secondarily by the acquisition of salaries and war booty. By contrast, today's escalating violence is more blatantly fueled by monetary motivations. The government and its militia allies are grabbing land, consolidating control of recently discovered gold mines, manipulating reconciliation conferences for increased "blood money," expanding protection rackets and smuggling networks, demanding ransoms, robbing banks, and resuming large-scale looting.

An additional government motivation behind these actions and other violence is appeasing increasingly restless janjaweed constituencies needed for the regime's fight against the rebel Sudan Revolutionary Front, which is battling the regime in Darfur and other parts of the country. Gradually, many janjaweed militia groups, including those incorporated in Sudan's border guards and Central Reserve Police, have slipped partly out of government control as the salaries and other endowments available for patronage networks have shrunk with declining government budgets and interest. Janjaweed units increasingly have undertaken criminal activities to make up for lost payments from the government's off-budget expenditures. During the past six months, the regime has sought to bring many of its favored janjaweed elements back into closer alliance around shared objectives, such as population clearing in northern Darfur to better control dramatically increased gold production there.

In addition to attacking non-Arab ethnic groups, throughout 2013 some of the regime's janjaweed militias have also targeted civilians from Arab tribes that were historically aligned with the government. The newly expanded scope of violence in Darfur is also tied to the emergence of pressing economic imperatives, largely triggered by the loss of oil revenues following southern secession. As the government struggles to develop alternate revenue streams and pacify the increasingly restless janjaweed elements, Sudanese government officials have grown willing to fan the flames of violence even against some of their less-favored allies.

Since the regime in Khartoum denies journalists, aid workers, and U.N. peacekeepers access to Darfur and other locations where civilian targeting is frequent, the killing, looting, and burning occurs in an information blackout. Encountering increasing difficulties from Khartoum, the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Darfur, UNAMID, is largely unable to protect civilians and has not yet been able to address the deepening economic and security drivers of rapidly intensifying conflict in Darfur.

And Darfur is not the only area of Sudan that is burning. The government has deployed similar scorched-earth tactics in its conflict with Sudan Revolutionary Front rebels in the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile region. To date, separate peace initiatives for these areas have been pursued, thus dividing international efforts and playing into the hands of Khartoum's strategy. Instead, the international community should abandon the existing stovepiped talks and prioritize the creation of one comprehensive peace process that addresses all of Sudan's conflicts in one forum, maximizing participation from a wide swath of elements of civil society, the opposition, rebels, and the government.

The United States and European Union are strong rhetorical supporters of a comprehensive approach to peace in Sudan. They now must act on that rhetoric with bold diplomacy that closely supports lead African Union mediator Thabo Mbeki, the former president of South Africa, as he promotes a solution addressing the grievances of all Sudanese. Of equal urgency, the United States and EU should provide new support to those Sudanese actors inside the country who are on the front lines of the struggle for peace and democracy. Such a "peace surge" resulted in the deal that ended two decades of deadly war between the north and south of Sudan in 2005 and led to the peaceful birth of the new state of South Sudan in 2011. A similar, expanded diplomatic effort could end the equally deadly, multifront war that continues to rage in Darfur, the Nuba Mountains, and Blue Nile.

There should be a global strategy of total isolation against Bashir and any official who uses genocidal tactics to brutally retain power. Thus, if it is allowed, Bashir's visit to the U.N. should result in U.S. authorities arresting him and sending him to The Hague. Otherwise, the only possible silver lining of this situation would be that the international outrage over Bashir's appearance and the corresponding, refocused attention on his continuing crimes might galvanize support for real solutions in Sudan, such as a comprehensive peace process. Put simply, Sudanese lives depend on one, or ideally both, of these outcomes.



Sliding Toward Damascus

How Syria's civil war crept into the heart of Baghdad -- then went boom.

Behind the numbing regularity of Iraq's car bombs is the much quieter sound of a country slowly imploding.

The targets these days aren't usually the fortress-like government ministries or security installations -- they are regular Iraqis. On Sept. 20, bombs exploded in a Sunni mosque near Samarra, killing at least 15 people. The attack capped a week of violence that also saw at least 30 people killed on Sept. 17 in coordinated bombings that targeted Shiite neighborhoods in Baghdad still mourning the victims of previous attacks. The bombers intended to cause the maximum number of casualties -- detonating their explosives at the end of the day, when Iraqis crowd into markets and cafes.

More than 4,000 civilians have been killed so far this year, the highest death toll since Iraq climbed out of civil war five years ago. Any wreckage is now quickly hauled away, as the government in Baghdad has little capacity for forensic investigations. In many neighborhoods, the black funeral banners draped over brick walls and concrete blast barriers are the only lasting signs of repeated explosions. Apart from civilians, hundreds of soldiers and police, as well as officials from the Interior and Justice ministries, have been killed.

Many of these attacks are the handiwork of al Qaeda, which has made clear that it intends to foster a civil war in Iraq. The jihadi group's targeting of markets, cafes, and mosques seems aimed at showing Iraqis that government security forces can't protect them -- potentially pushing them into the arms of the Shiite militias and Sunni extremists who were at the forefront of sectarian violence during the worst days of Iraq's civil war.

"We are at war with al Qaeda," says Interior Ministry spokesman Brig. Gen. Saad Maan. Other government officials point a finger at a wider array of suspects, such as former Baathists and regional powers, who they say are trying to destabilize Baghdad's Shiite-led government.

Iraqis have survived worse than the latest rise in attacks -- multiple wars, occupation, and the recent brutal civil war. But the latest violence, coupled with a seemingly permanent political crisis and rampant corruption, is bleeding the country of its vast potential.

"Iraqi society is breaking apart," says Uday al-Rubaiee, 24, who dreams of more than working in an office and bracing for the next attack. He said many of his friends, expecting that their country is in store for far worse, are leaving Iraq. "This is the biggest loss. We can't dream of prosperity anymore."

At the Baghdad International Airport, where a few years ago companies took up a collection to keep the air-conditioning running, a largely cosmetic makeover has polished some of the terminal's rougher edges. But perched on the vinyl seats, amid the security contractors and businessmen, are families clutching documents in plastic bags with the logo of the International Organization for Migration, which continues to ferry Iraqis to refuge abroad, a decade after the U.S. invasion.

More than 2 million Iraqi refugees have left the country since 2003. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis still reside within Iraq but are unable to return to their homes -- and they may not be able to do so for some time, as the United Nations is warning of renewed efforts at sectarian cleansing in some communities.

The Iraqi government says security has been weakened by the conflict in Syria. The raging civil war there has given a boost to al Qaeda, allowing it to send foreign fighters and suicide bombers across the porous border in numbers not seen since the jihadi movement's heyday in Iraq.

U.S. and Iraqi officials say up to 30 suicide bombers a month have been crossing the border from Syria into Iraq since early summer, many of them from North Africa and the Persian Gulf states. Iraq is so afraid of Sunni extremist forces that it has built fortified barriers along its border with Syria and has closed the two main crossings with Syria for more than a year. It's a stark reversal from the past decade, when Syria took in more than a million Iraqis during the height of the sectarian violence.

Some Iraqi Shiite fighters have joined Iranian-backed militias in fighting on the side of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government. Iran, however, has failed to persuade the Iraqi government or the Shiite religious leadership in Najaf to put their seal of approval on Iraqis joining the fight.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government, on the defensive, has responded to the wave of violence at home with the type of indiscriminate arrests of Sunnis that was a hallmark of U.S. forces. Making use of sweeping anti-terrorism laws, he has rounded up hundreds of suspects in some communities. But it's not working any better for Maliki than it did for the United States: Anti-government protests broke out last year, partly in response to the arbitrary arrest, imprisonment, and even executions of Sunnis.

"The government has become part of the problem instead of part of the solution," says Hamid al-Mutlaq, a member of the security and defense committee of Iraq's parliament and part of the mainly Sunni Iraqiya bloc. "They have completely failed at reconciliation, and people are paying the cost."

Political parties are already gearing up for next year's national elections, in which Maliki is expected to seek another term. But unlike in countries where elections are won and lost in the ballot box, most Iraqis believe some of the assassinations and bombings are politically linked -- a way of laying the groundwork for the campaign to come.

The balance of power is also shifting in Iraq's Kurdish region, which has been the most stable part of the country for the past two decades. With the departure from the political scene of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, who was sidelined by a stroke, Kurds go to the polls on Sept. 21 in regional elections amid a dramatically different political scene. Without Talabani to head the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, the party he created may very well disappear.

Politics there has been further complicated by a struggle for control in Syria's Kurdish region between Kurdish factions and Syrian Arab opposition fighters. Masoud Barzani, president of Iraq's Kurdish regional government, in August opened the gates to more than 40,000 Syrian Kurdish refugees, pledging to protect them. The move gives Barzani, already the region's most powerful Kurdish figure, an even greater claim to speak for Kurds across the region.

Iraq has massive financial resources at its disposal that could theoretically help it overcome these challenges. But even though it exports roughly $250 million of oil every day, Baghdad has proved incapable of buying stability. Analysts say that the problem is, simply, that its $120 billion annual budget is allocated based on political, not economic, needs.

"Seventy percent of the budget goes to public-sector salaries -- and the public sector is still ballooning," says Dubai-based oil expert Ruba Husari. She says government jobs are being created to buy political favors, while the relatively small allocation for public-sector investment is not nearly enough for a country still desperately in need of reconstruction.

The United States believed that in sending tens of thousands more troops to Iraq in 2007 they were laying the groundwork for stability. But while they helped drive al Qaeda out of the cities with the help of tribes that turned against the organization, the political and economic underpinnings of that stability have proved more elusive.

"The needs are enormous, whether its education or housing or roads, sewage, and water," says Husari. "All of these need resources -- and the resources are going toward security."

Photo: ALI AL-SAADI/AFP/Getty Images