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Last Updated: Thursday, 21 December 2006, 11:26 GMT
Chaos deepens for Iraq in 2007
John Simpson
By John Simpson
BBC World Affairs Editor

A year ago, when I gave some online predictions for 2006, I said forecasting was a mug's game.

Injured people in a Baghdad hospital after a bomb attack on 12 December
On Iraq, the momentum towards all-out civil war will grow, and US forces (even if reinforced from home) will fail to contain it

I proved it by suggesting that Ariel Sharon would do all sorts of interesting things in Israel. A few days into the New Year, he was felled by a massive stroke.

I also suggested patriotically that England might win the World Cup. So you can see how good a prophet I am.

In fact I suspect that last year will be remembered for two disputes, which were effectively settled, and for two vital new perceptions.

Firstly, it was the year when the world at large accepted the scientific arguments that global warming was the most serious threat faced by our planet. It was accepted that far from being a cyclical phenomenon, it had been created by our own reckless industrialisation.

There are still one or two oppositionists who question it. But privately, even in the White House, the Indian Government and (I suspect) the Chinese Government - who between them constitute the three strongest nay-sayers and control the three greatest polluting nations - there are those who accept that global warming is a very serious problem indeed.

The second dispute is over Iraq. President George W Bush himself still appears to believe that the "complete victory" that he has been promising for nearly two years may still be possible.

But the famous "tipping-point" was passed early in 2006, and now most of the Republican Party, virtually all of the senior US generals involved, and an overwhelming majority of ordinary Americans, accept that the enterprise has been a failure.

A plane taking off from Los Angeles International Airport passes a power plant
On global warming, perhaps progress to a slightly stronger version of the Kyoto Agreement, though it will still be too feeble

And the altered perceptions?

The first is that, as a result of its failures in Iraq, the United States is no longer regarded as the all-powerful arbiter in the Middle East.

Some Arab countries, like Saudi Arabia, are building up a relationship with China. Others, long used to looking to the US for guidance, are now realising they could be increasingly on their own.

After its disastrous war against Hezbollah in July and August, Israel too has been weakened in the perceptions of its Arab neighbours. When an isolated country's enemies no longer fear its strength, that opens the road to dangerous times.

So what will 2007 bring us?

Iran and Iraq

On global warming, perhaps progress to a slightly stronger version of the Kyoto Agreement, though it will still be too feeble.

Iranian clerics watch a long-range ballistic missile test near the holy city of Qom
Mr Bush will... feel an increasing urge to bomb Iran's nuclear facilities

On Iraq, the momentum towards all-out civil war will grow, and US forces (even if reinforced from home) will fail to contain it.

The Shia majority of the country will rejoice at Saddam Hussein's hanging, while the 20% or so who are Sunni Arabs will be more alienated and angry than ever.

The Kurdish north-east will slip further and further away from Baghdad's control, and the calls for Iraq to be partitioned will grow - especially from those who know little and care less about it.

As the US and British soldiers begin to withdraw, it will become harder and harder to find out what is really happening in the country. By the end of the year it will be a problem to get much serious news out of Iraq at all.

President Bush will not invade Iran with ground troops. His secretary of defence has made it clear he does not approve, and the US military does not have the capacity to do it.

Mr Bush will, however, feel an increasing urge to bomb Iran's nuclear facilities, since he is still being informed that this will bring about an uprising against the elected government of President Ahmadinejad. There will be no uprising, especially if Iran is attacked.

Strange and worrying

Ehud Olmert of Israel will make strenuous efforts to reach some kind of agreement with the Palestinian leadership. But since civil strife in Palestine looks increasingly likely, these efforts will be heavily threatened.

Rightwing anti-government protesters march through Budapest on 4 November 2006
Watch Hungary. Strange and rather worrying things are starting to happen there

Israel may be tempted to get involved in Lebanon again, if fighting breaks out there too.

France, which has been in slow decline for the past few years, will elect a new president - I suspect it will be Nicolas Sarkozy, since Segolene Royal is inexperienced and prone to making gaffes.

But this will not lift it out of its malaise, nor revivify Europe itself.

Nor will the emergence of Gordon Brown as prime minister of Britain, though both countries will at first feel better for having got rid of the Old Guard.

The new year is unlikely to be peaceful or easy, therefore.

But since we should always expect the unexpected, here is a long-odds racing tip: watch Hungary. Strange and rather worrying things are starting to happen there.




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