Unconventional thinking about the Middle East.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Welcome to the Other Talisman Gate

The Talisman Gate, Baghdad, Iraq, circa 1907
"Kazimi, whose Talisman Gate blog is widely read by Iraq experts and commentators in the United States..." The Washington Post, July 19, 2007

Welcome to my blog. This is the place where I explore issues like whether Nostradamus had predicted the whole Zarqawi phenomena, and is Walid Junbulatt the real Hariri killer? In other words, this space is devoted to all the stuff that would peg me a crank should I try to put it out in print. But what the hell, journalistic credibility is way too over-regarded. Plus, blogging is an exercise in vanity; it is the joy-ride of ego-trips. So, excuse my pompous self-righteousness, and try to enjoy your stay.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

New article on Syria and its jihadists in Newsweek

Here a link to it: Handing Jihadis Cause

"gj" you need to remind me what the prize was all about.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Imara wa Tijara إمارة وتجارة

My new Arabic-language blog, Imara wa Tijara, is up and running (...still requiring a little tweaking that will come with time)...


Friday, January 21, 2011

The story of the Sunni Salafist insurgency in Iraq, 1999-2010

I just returned from Iraq, where I was privileged to hear the whole story of the Sunni insurgency, from beginning to end; everything from the name on the ID card Abu Musa’ab al-Zarqawi was carrying when he first came to Baghdad in November 2002, to who paid how much for what. I cannot share the details of all this stuff, of which I took copious notes, since it is not my story to tell. That will be the task of those who told me, when the time is right. At least one is in negotiation to sell the material to an important U.S. paper. But rest assured, the right people in the Iraqi government, and the U.S. government, now know the narrative and are acting on it.

A lot of the details, in terms of who’s who, that I had written down here along the years were inaccurate. However, I was gratified to learn that the over-arching analysis culled from open sources, such as the speeches and communiqués of the jihadists and insurgents, in terms of the anti-Shia and caliphalist trends, I got right. Other matters, like how the insurgents deliberately infiltrated foreign and Arab news bureaus to feed the news cycle strategic disinformation, and how this disinformation filtered back into Western intelligence reports and analyses, I also managed to nail.

Operationally, I went wrong by trying to understand the network of the non-Al-Qaeda actors as having their origins in the Saddam regime, as former officers, security officials and Ba’athists. What I missed was that there was a supra-network of young Salafists and other assortment of young Sunni Islamists who came to age during the 1990s—many of whom spent time in Saddam’s prisons and who all know each other—whose alumnae went on to become Al-Qaeda, the Islamic Army, the Ansar al-Sunna, the Army of the Mujaheddin and the 1920 Revolt Brigades. This supra-network led the insurgency, and recruited the ex-regime officers and Ba’athists as sub-contractors of the jihad; the Saddamists worked for the Salafists from the very beginning, not the other way around.

(Note: It is interesting that their first violent act, the opening salvo of the Sunni Salafist insurgency, occurred on January 1, 2000, targeting Ba'athists congregating at a liquor store in the Waziriyeh neighborhood of Baghdad, way before any American soldiers appeared on the scene.)

Other current schools of thought among insurgency-watchers, especially on matters such as the Awakenings and the role of the tribes, are very, very off mark.

Another blind spot for me was how much involvement regional actors had in the jihad, and how much their money mattered. America’s allies are directly implicated, as financiers, ideologues, orchestrators and managers, in the deaths of American soldiers. I hope this is not glossed over by those now privy to this information. Without this money, it seems to me, the insurgency would have been crippled early on, even with Sunni resentment at fever-pitch. The money made the nightmare of the last eight years possible. It was also eye-opening for me to realize that squabbles over money, as it began to peter out, had a very big deal to do why the insurgency could never coalesce into a whole.

Again, I was privileged to hear this fascinating story, and it kills me, being the pamphleteer that I am, not to be able to publish all this for you. But I gave my word. As it is, this information rests with a very limited number of people who may have an interest in making it public. If one dies, then the material is lost. I was told this story so that I would safeguard its eventual release, if the others don’t make it to tell the tale.

I am conflicted about those who shared this with me. They are, after all, my enemies, on every level. They seem sincere is their efforts to undo some of the wrongs they have wrought on our country, and on our friends. Is it enough to redeem them? I don’t know. I simply don’t know. But the many successes Iraq has had recently in rolling up the bad guys are coming from sources such as these. The ethics of whether the prevention of future misery outweighs the crimes of the past is something too heavy for me to consider at this stage. I suspect that it doesn’t, which makes it all that much more tragic.

PS: I at least got permission to say that the post below is not correct: the current leader of the Islamic State of Iraq, Abu Bakr al-Husseini al-Baghdadi, is Sheikh (______________redacted) al-Mashhadani, while Al-Nassir li Din Allah Suleiman, the Minister of War, is (_______________redacted), "Abu Jihad", a Palestinian, and formerly one of Osama bin Laden's bodyguards in the Al-Farouq Camp in Afghanistan.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

The Islamic State of Iraq's New Caliph

For those still following the news of the Islamic State of Iraq: a recent detainee (Hazim Abdel-Razzak al-Zawi, self-styled 'Minister of Security' in the ISI, cousin of former ISI leader Abu Omar al-Baghdadi) who was arrested in Anbar ten days ago has revealed to Iraqi security services the real identities of the current leadership of the ISI, according to the spokesman of the Ministry of Interior.

So the ISI's current proto-caliph, Abu Bakr al-Husseini al-Qureishi al-Baghdadi, is allegedly Dr. Ibrahim Awad Ibrahim al-Samara'i ("Abu Du'a'"), while the 'Minister of War' who goes by the pseudonym Al-Nassir Li Din Allah Suleiman is allegedly Nu'man Salman Mansour al-Zaidi ("Abu Ibrahim", formerly the ISI's "vali" for Anbar).

Al-Zawi also revealed that, just like Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, al-Samara'i and al-Zaidi were formerly detained by the Americans, specifically in Bucca Camp, and then released. There is a very significant pattern of how many active and captured terrorists in Iraq are former detainees that were released in the past two years without being transfered to Iraqi jurisdiction. One needs to ask, why were they released? Who was responsible for such decisions? Why were such decisions taken? But who are we kidding, when was the last time anyone was held accountable for their major blunders in Iraq?

It should be noted that most of this recent tranche of info on the ISI seems to be coming from the break-up by the Ministry of Interior of an important terrorist cell active in Baghdad, which was responsible for planning many of the major terrorist operations of recent memory, including last month's church attack. One should take note that while these terror acts got plenty of ink in US papers, the arrest of this cell was hardly reported: two short paragraphs in the New York Times, one paragraph in the Washington Post.

Now I know that I've been away for a while from this blog, but it's not like I didn't give you a head's up that it would wind down as I busy myself with other things. There are instances when I wanted to write again; for example, I wanted to remind you folks of the British-led intelligence cell that was negotiating with Iraqi insurgents that I used to write about; this is relevant when measured against the British blunder of believing an Afghan shopkeeper's scam of being a major figure in Taliban, revealed last month.

But frankly, these things don't rile me up as much as they used to, and hence my indifference to this blog: Iraq is fine. It is prospering. Anyone who goes there can see it. There's no more debate as far as I'm concerned. The foreign bureaus can BS all they want--it makes absolutely no difference.

I will begin to write anew, as promised, as other places in the Middle East begin to tremor and come apart.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Baghdad Haze

I've been in Baghdad for a couple of weeks now, with a brief sojourn to Basra, and I can report that no one has the faintest idea of how the political situation is going to play itself out.

In a week's time, five months would have passed since the election.

It's summer. It is hot. Very hot. And there's less electricity than last summer. As one can imagine, that fact that it is hot (...50-55 C, 122-131 F), and that there is little electricity to alleviate the heat, eats up at least 20 percent of any conversation.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Iraq, in pictures

Some folks make way too much of Iraqi political hot air, not realizing that it is the same brand of political hot air found the world over. Every caustic, grandstanding statement is a harbinger of "a return to violence and civil strife", as far as the Western press and analysts are concerned. I wonder what they would make of these pictures taken at a dinner hosted by Adel Abdul-Mahdi last night. All the same people who've been accusing each other of all sorts of nasty things are sitting around, amiably chatting, and waiting for the food to be served. They don't look as if they are about to come to blows, even though they've been doing plenty of trash talking beforehand, words of zeal and fire assiduously jotted down and quoted by the nihilist half wits of the foreign bureaus.

Iraqi politics today is merely an extention of Iraqi opposition politics. To understand one is to understand the other. And as someone who has lived through it, I must say that I do find it very hard to explain to the uninitiated. But maybe these pics will help:

From left to right: Sharif Ali bin al-Hussein (INA, pretender to the Iraqi throne), Izzeddin al-Dawla (Iraqiyya, Nineveh), Muwaffaq al-Ruba'i (INA), Nasseer al-Chadirchi (INA, National Democratic Party), Ammar al-Hakim (INA, ISCI), Tareq al-Hashemi (Iraqiyya, Vice President).

From left: Ahmad Chalabi (INA), Ayad Allawi (Iraqiyya), Adel Abdul-Mahdi (INA, Vice President), ?, Hassan al-Shimmeri (INA, Fadhila), Rafi' al-'Isawi (Iraqiyya, Deputy Prime Minister), ?, ?.

And oh, Iraqi forces, acting in concert with Kurdish intelligence and the U.S. military, have arrested Abu Abdullah al-Shafi'i (Ja'afar Hassan, a.k.a. Wuriya Hawleri), head of the Kurdish jihadist group Ansar al-Islam, in Baghdad a few days ago. This, again, is a huge debilitating strike against an influential jihadist network that's been active for at least eight years, with direct ties to Bin Laden's Al-Qaeda HQ, and with the distinction of facilitating the entry of jihadists like Abu Musaab al-Zarqawi into Iraq early on.

Abu Abdullah al-Shafi'i, in custody