Well, the Mehlis report on the assassination of Rafik Hariri, Prime Minister of Lebanon, is in. There is some reason to believe that the UN soft-pedaled, even suppressed, some of the most damning evidence at the personal request of Kofi Annan, [here] but what has been published is explosive. Read the whole text of the report here.
The report implicates high officials of the Syrian government, including relatives of President Bashar Assad, in Hariri's murder [here]. This in itself is not news, everyone has long assumed this was so, but affirmation by the UN investigators has had a remarkable effect upon the region.
The publication of the report on the deaths of Hariri and 22 other people in a car bombing in Beirut on Feb. 14 unleashed a reaction seldom seen in the Middle East. The 54-page document was read in its entirety on al-Jazeera, the Arab satellite television network; other stations broadcast hours of coverage Friday on the report and its fallout. To many people here, its publication marked a turning point in Middle East politics, signaling a looming confrontation with an uncertain outcome.But the hammer has fallen not just on Assad's regime in Syria.
In Damascus, some Syrian government supporters were unusually open in expressing fear about the repercussions of the inquiry....
The government is rather cornered. Essentially, what the government can do is very limited," said Georges Jabbour, a Syrian legislator and former presidential adviser. "I am not quite optimistic."
The most immediate fallout was growing pressure in Lebanon for the resignation of the country's pro-Syrian president, Emile Lahoud. The president rebuffed demands that he step down in August after four Lebanese generals were arrested on suspicion of participating in the assassination.
The U.N. investigation, led by the German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis, found that Lahoud received a phone call minutes before the blast from the brother of a prominent member of a pro-Syrian group, who in turn called one of the country's generals. Lahoud's office said it categorically denied receiving such a call.
In a signal Lahoud has no intention of resigning, the statement by his office said the charge was part of a months-long campaign against him "and the national responsibilities he shoulders and will continue to do so at this delicate stage in Lebanon's history."
Of course you know that that means -- the streets of Beirut are again filled with protesters demanding justice from Syria and Lahoud's resignation.
[A]t the tomb of Hariri... hundreds of Lebanese gathered to mark the report's release.
Some prayed by the grave. Others, carrying Lebanese flags, called loudly for Lahoud to resign.
The Mehlis report had become a virtual national obsession in Lebanon, after rumors swirled for weeks over its possible conclusions. The day it was released, a disc jockey at Radio Liban played "What a Wonderful World.".
Read the whole thing here.
International pressure on Syria is building rapidly.
Dubya has called for a special UN session to discuss Syria's role in the assassination. [here]
Condi has demanded that Syrian officials be held accountable for Hariri's death. [here]
The UN is likely to respond in an unusually strong fashion -- sanctions and even the possibility of military action are in the offing. Why? Because France and the US have common interests in bringing an end to the Assad dictatorship and freeing Lebanon from Syrian control, and no other member of the Security Council has an interest in blocking them.
What does this mean? Robert Mayer at Publius Pundit says it all: "Syria Screwed" [here]
Check out Anton Efendi's comments at Across the Bay [here]
And of course, the Babes of Beiruit are back. [here and here]