President Barack Obama decided February 16 to send an additional 17,000 U.S. soldiers to Afghanistan, as part of his campaign promise to increase U.S. presence in that troubled nation. The decision comes days after a sobering U.S. intelligence assessment authored by retired Admiral Dennis Blair concluded that "corruption has exceeded culturally tolerable levels and is eroding the legitimacy of the government.”
The government of Pakistan announced on February 16 that it had agreed to accept a system of strict Islamic law, or sharia, in the Malakand region of Pakistan's North West Frontier Province (NWFP), which includes the Swat Valley, as well as a suspension of military operations in the area. The agreement effectively abandons parts of Pakistan to the Taliban insurgents, creating a sanctuary from which they can further threaten supply lines supporting the NATO military operation in neighboring Afghanistan. Taliban insurgents have also used the area as a base from which to launch attacks against U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.
As Iran celebrated the 30th anniversary of the Khomeini Revolution and the American hostage crisis, U.S. President Barack Obama and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad were both talking about talking — with each other. Ahmadinejad, on February 10, said his country "is ready to hold talks, but talks in a fair atmosphere with mutual respect." He made the remarks at a rally to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution, when members of the PLO-trained Revolutionary Guards took over the U.S. embassy and held the embassy personnel hostage for 444 days.
Less than two weeks after Iraq’s provincial elections, the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki welcomed a large high-level delegation from Iran. Iran’s Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki led the delegation, which visited Baghdad on February 11 and included representatives from the Central Bank and oil, trade, and energy ministries. Mottaki met with his Iraqi counterpart, Hoshyar Zebari, as well as Prime Minister al-Maliki and President Jalal Talabani.
Provincial council elections in 14 of Iraq’s 18 provinces on January 31 strengthened Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s Dawa Party, a militant Shia Islamic group, while also bringing many Sunnis who had boycotted the 2005 elections back into the political process. More than 14,400 candidates ran for 440 seats in the councils, which appoint the provincial governor and oversee finance and reconstruction. The three provinces of the Kurdish autonomous region and Kirkuk will hold elections in May.