Thanassis Cambanis

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The Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr at a demonstration in April against the bombings of Syria by Britain, France and the United States. Credit Haidar Hamdani/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Iraq’s parliamentary elections on May 12 might seem to offer more of the same because most of the leading candidates and movements have dominated the country’s political life since the United States unseated Saddam Hussein in 2003. But the 44-year-old firebrand Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr is leading an encouraging transformation, which could jar Iraq’s politicians out of their sectarian rut.

Mr. Sadr inherited millions of devoted followers from his family of revered religious scholars. Both his father and father-in-law were grand ayatollahs, the highest clerical level of Shiite Islam. He cemented his status by leading a bloody resistance against the American occupation and fighting the United States-allied government in Baghdad.…  Seguir leyendo »

Kobani, Syria. Wednesday, October 28, 2015 Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

Noor, who is a commander in a pro-government militia near Damascus, thinks that President Bashar al-Assad will prevail in Syria’s civil war. But even so, he thinks it will take his country a generation to recover. “After we finish this war, we’ll spend another 10 years cleaning up the thugs and warlords on our own side,” he told me when I met him in the Damascus suburb of Jaramana, in an apartment overlooking a highway where rebels and government forces clash nightly.

That was last fall, shortly after Russia began bombing in support of the government. This infusion of firepower changed the course of the conflict.…  Seguir leyendo »

The collapse of Lebanon’s government on Tuesday signaled the final stage in Hezbollah’s rise from resistance group to ruling power. While Hezbollah technically remains the head of the political opposition in Beirut, make no mistake: the Party of God has fully consolidated its control in Lebanon, and will stop at nothing — including civil war — to protect its position.

The crisis was precipitated by Hezbollah’s opposition to a United Nations-backed tribunal investigating the 2005 assassination of a former prime minister, Rafik Hariri. Some analysts speculate that the current Lebanese government — led by Prime Minister Saad Hariri, the assassinated man’s son — could stabilize the political situation by rejecting the legitimacy of the tribunal.…  Seguir leyendo »