In a matter of hours the year 2005 will be fodder for the historians. It was a typical year in many respects, full of violence, murder, poverty, hatred and natural disasters. There were also glimmers of hope or at least rumors of hope, but these were overshadowed by the continued human tragedies and political stalemating. What else is new? For those who follow events in the Middle East and regarding the world’s one billion plus Muslim population, there is little to be thankful for apart from hope-tinged rumors. The impacts of tsunami, earthquakes, suicide bombs, airplane strikes, political rhetoric and cultural insensitivity seem to have had free reign last year. Does anyone really expect much of a change this coming year?

Scanning the major reports on Iraq today, the good news could be that the death toll of American military for 2005 only reached 841, five less than last year. But how can that be good news, no matter what you think about the wisdom and need for the present American involvement in Iraq? It is certainly not good news to the victims who lost their lives in a cause that mainly politicians with their heads in partisan sand seem to think noble, nor is it good news to the victims’ families, nor to those military men and women who will be counted in next year’s tally and the year after that.

As of today, the last day of the year, there is no good news for the six Sudanese embassy officials kidnapped in Baghdad a few days ago. Nor the two Iraqi Captains gunned down today in Dujail. Nor for five members of the Iraqi Islamic party killed in al-Khalis. Nor for the roadside bomb that killed five policemen in Baghdad. Nor for the five members of a Sunni family murdered in Iskandariya. The list goes on and on and on, as it will continue in the foreseeable future.

I doubt there is good news for the thousands of Iraqis waiting today for hours in line to get scarce gasoline for their cars and trucks because their oil-rich country is still unable to produce enough to met its own needs. To add insult to perjury, there is a new Minister of Oil in Iraq and his name is Ahmad Chalabi. Remember him? He is the head of the Iraqi National Congress once pumped up with CIA and Pentagon money for all the valuable leads given by him to American security about Iraq’s wmds. He is also the man whose Petra Bank in Jordan collapsed in 1989, with 300 million deposit dollars somehow missing, resulting in his conviction in 1992 on corruption charges. There was some good news this year for Mr. Chalabi, whose conviction was promised to be overturned by King Abdullah of Jordan, perhaps in part due to Mr. Chalabi’s generous offer of returning some 32 million dollars to Jordan’s treasury. I wonder what it would take for Saddam to buy himself a pardon?

I note glimmers of hope. Certainly the election in Iraq is a step forward, although it does not appear to be leading to the kind of “American’style” democracy envisioned by the neocons who launched the war. It is disheartening to hear ordinary Iraqis, who had no love of Saddam or his party, looking at the emerging Islamic republic with alarm, shaking their heads in disbelief at the level of anarchy and crime, and wishing at times to have a strongman like Saddam back in power. The crisis in Palestine is a flickering glimmer, as more and more hope is blotted out with the expansion of the Great Wall of Israel. Extremists on both sides call the shots. There were recent riots in Egypt that left at least 25 dead. The President of Iran blunders on about destroying Israel. The President of Syria is reported by the former Vice-President of Syria to have called for the death of the Lebanese politician al-Hariri. These are the dimmest of glimmers.

But here in America it is the “dead” of winter and we should look forward to spring. As the days literally will grow longer, perhaps some of the hopes will be realized. No matter what, and that what is surely to have a lot of pain associated with it, life will go on and there will be no dearth of things to talk about in this blog. I only hope that a year from now I will have to say how wrong I was and how right the world has become.

Daniel Martin Varisco