Unconventional thinking about the Middle East.

Friday, June 09, 2006

A miracle, and then some gossip (Updated June 12)

Well, it is nothing short of a miracle. The one thing that could have happened to halt—even if ever so briefly—Iraq’s descent into darkness did indeed happen: Zarqawi was killed. And to sweeten the deal, mysterious forces conspired to keep his face intact even after registering what two 500 lb. bombs can do. Not only that, but Zarqawi lived to see himself surrounded and manhandled by “Crusaders” and Iraqi soldiers.

This happy news came at the worst of times for Iraqis, and I personally have faith in the redemptive power of hope. I think some powerful forces have decided that Iraq will work itself out after all. Bombs will go off, and violence will continue, but the most terrible part of the storm has passed, I believe. I look forward to the future.

And now, unto some gossip:

Washington: I don’t know how Zarqawi’s death will change Meghan O’Sullivan’s imminent plans for a career switch. As of a week ago, she seemed intent on jumping ship at the most dire time for the Bush administration. This is especially worrying given that she is the last stop when it comes to explaining what is going on in Iraq and Afghanistan (two places that have been in the news lately…) to President Bush and then transmitting his directives to the various agencies that deal with both countries.

Meghan O’Sullivan’s big flashy title was “Special Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor for Iraq and Afghanistan” and she had been offered the now-vacant post of Director of Studies at the Council for Foreign Relations by her ex-mentor Richard Hass. According to several sources, she was seriously considering the new job.

But that was all before the news from Iraq turned positive yesterday, and she may opt to stay at the White House and claim authorship over any successes there.

God bless opportunistic bureaucrats.

Baghdad: Well, it just goes to show you how much I know about how things are really working in Baghdad: I was told on June 7 that everyone had settled on Gen. Abdel-Qadir Jasim for Defense and Jawad Al-Bolani for Interior. I responded, “No way! Hakim would have none of it.”

But I was wrong. Let’s also keep our fingers crossed that I also turn out to be wrong about Bolani’s administrative prowess, and let’s hope both gentlemen succeed.

UPDATE (June 12, 2006):

There is a puff piece by Elisabeth Bumiller in today's New York Times on Meghan O'Sullivan (see full text in the comments section) that seems to indicate that O'Sullivan is going to stay at her job at the White House. Although cashing-in her "source-reporter" favors in return for a favorable profile in the Times instead of the Washington Post is an act interesting in itself...Maybe she is preparing Manhatten for her stint at CFR...and putting out the word to eligible New York bachelors that she is on the market (...the Bumiller piece goes out of its way to point out that O'Sullivan is single and on her way up in the world).

All I have to say is, interesting timing.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

New Column: Limbo by Veto

My new column is about the current political process in Iraq.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

The Bourse of Candidates (updated June 5)

Okay, so here are some of the names that are supposedly up for a vote tomorrow in parliament:

For the Interior Ministry:

-Fuad Al-‘Araji:…Who? He is supposedly an ex-officer. There are Sunni ‘Arajis (originally from Mosul) and Shia ‘Arajis (from Kadhimiyya) and Sunni ‘Arajis who became Shias, and they mostly go by the surname Aal-Yahya and Aal-‘Issa, but some use Al-‘Araji. There were several Shia officers from the Aal-Yahya family in the police and intelligence services under Saddam. This is all I’ve got on the guy. I hear he is going to get the job.

-Mowaffaq Al-Rubai’i: appointed as “National Security Advisor” by outgoing “Proconsul” Paul Bremer for a five-year term that can only be overturned by a 2/3 vote in parliament. Before leaving Iraq in the early 1980s on a state-sponsored scholarship for post-doc studies in medicine, Al-Rubai’i (who also hails from Kadhimiyya) was listed in his General Security file as a member of the Iraqi Communist Party. In London, where he had gone to study along with his spouse, Al-Rubai’i became the spokesman for the Islamic Da’awa Party. [He is not listed with the surname Al-Rubai’i in the General Security file, but his father’s, grandfather’s and great-grandfather’s name, as well as names of siblings and date of birth, match-up with his own. I do not know why the regime thought he was a communist.] Al-Rubai’i practiced medicine for a while, but made his fortune through purchasing a publishing house and expanding his business. After liberation, he bought a house in Kadhimiyyah for 1.5 million USD near the riverfront. Al-Rubai’i developed close relations with the leading cleric of Kadhimiyyah, Seyyid Hussein son of Seyyid Isma’il Al-Sadr. For a time, he even managed to get close to Sistani and acted as a channel between Bremer and the big man himself, before being eased out from that role by Najaf for being a clown. Oh, did I mention that most serious people would consider Mowaffaq Al-Rubai’i a clown? Here is some more bonus data: his name is “Moe Baker” in his British passport.

-Jawad Al-Bolani: this guy is a long shot. Before liberation, he was served as an NCO in the Iraqi Air Force, and then he was pretty much unemployed and hanging out in the Bunook neighborhood of Baghdad. His fortunes changed after liberation when he found his way into the office of Sheikh Karim Al-Mohammadawi, “Abu Hattam”, and became his chief aide on the Governing Council. Later on, Bolani became prominent in the Shia Political Council, and ran in the last elections on Chalabi’s list. Since then, Bolani joined the reconstituted Leadership Council of the Fadhila Party.

For the Ministry of National Security:

-Sherwan Al-Wa’ili: this guy is almost a sure bet, even though there are all sorts of accusations about his being a top Ba’athist officer under Saddam and acting as an aide to some of the former regime’s most hideous characters. He is a member of the UIA list.

For the Defense Ministry:

-Sa’adoun Al-Dulaimi: current Defense Minister, who is actively lobbying to keep his job. Formerly, he was a Major in the General Security Directorate, and spent most of his time as an instructor at the National Security College. He escaped in 1991 to Saudi Arabia, and then settled in Jordan, from which he was expelled two years later under suspicious circumstances. He used to travel on a special Saudi passport under an alias.

-Bara’ Al-Rubai’i: from the princely family that presides over the Rabi’a tribe. His father was also a very prominent officer under the monarchy, and later appointed to the three-member Presidential Council under General Qassem. Al-Rubai’i attended Victoria College in Alexandria (I think…) and is a graduate of Sandhurst. For a while, he worked with the CIA in Amman on the 1996 coup attempt along with Allawi’s Iraqi National Accord. His whole network was exposed by Saddam’s mukhaberat. Later, his name would pop up from time to time as a member of some Sunni opposition group or another (especially with Mudhar Shawkat and Hatem Mukhlis). He is a completely colorless character, who is said not to be that bright to begin with. He will likely get the post.

The names suggested by the Iraqi Consensus Front for the Defense Ministry job (Raad Al-Hamdani, Gen. Abdel-Qader, Thabit Al-Tikriti…etc.) were shot down by the UIA.

BTW, is a parliamentary vote on these three posts even remotely constitutional? Is anyone counting?

UPDATE (Monday, June 5, 2006):

Well, Fuad Al-'Araji was shot down at the last minute by SCIRI's Abdel-Aziz Al-Hakim because of suspicions that 'Araji is close to Da'awa.

Here is some more on 'Araji: he is a retired Maj. Gen. who served in Saddam's army. He is Najafi by birth and upbringing, and he served in oversight capacities in Basra and elsewhere until he was tasked in 1983 to clamp down on the problem of prostitution. The story gets a little blurry, but supposedly he was set-up by higher ups who wanted to protect some influential gangsters in the prostitution racket, and 'Araji was briefly detained by the General Security Directorate. When he was released, he was re-assigned to teaching at the Military College. When he reached the rank of Maj. Gen. in 1993, he was forced out of the service and into an early retirement.

By Sunday morning, Maliki thought he had an Interior Minister, in fact, 'Araji had already been transfered a day earlier to live within the Green Zone to protect him from insurgent attacks. Somewhere down the line, Hakim threw a hissy fit, and the projected vote on 'Araji was cancelled.

It seems SCIRI is intent on getting Nasir Al-'Ameri, who is rejected by the Americans.

The Americans want Mowaffaq Al-Rubai'i, but he is rejected by the Sadrists.

And no one wants Jawad Al-Bolani except Jawad Al-Bolani, but he has been added to the roster to make it look like a proper vote among competing candidates.

SCIRI also said no to Tawfiq Al-Yasiri.

Hakim has also completely rejected the nomination of Gen. Abdel-Qadir Al-Jubouri for the Defense Ministry, citing something in the constitution that blocks officers who were recently in active duty from these civilian-only posts.

There is also a sense that Bara' Al-Rubai'i is just not cut out for the task.

So basically, I have no idea what is going on, but that is probably because it seems like nobody does either.