Unconventional thinking about the Middle East.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

What's not being shown on Aljazeera

Al-Iraqiyya TV, the country's official television station, carried the proceedings of the Kurdish Regional Parliament live today, with simultaneous translation in Arabic.

Then the station re-aired a call-in show where students were venting over not being admitted to state universities and colleges, with an official from the Ministry of Higher Education trying to counter their points.

Now, Al-Iraqiyya is carrying live from Najaf the 'First National Assembly of the Religious Scholars of the Al-Shia and the Al-Sunnah'.

It's funny that 'experts' watch the Qatari-owned Aljazeera satellite channel and draw their Iraq analysis from its coverage. Wouldn't Al-Iraqiyya's coverage be a more accurate reflection of what's going on in Iraq?

Over the past few days, Al-Iraqiyya has carried events from the Vatican, Sunday Mass from Dohuk, parliamentary sessions and the trial of the 1991 Uprising suppression from Baghdad, along with today's programming. This is a revolutionary TV-watching experience for the Middle East, but is anyone paying attention?

Furthermore, the spokesman of the Interior Ministry, Gen. Abdel-Karim Khalaf, has categorically dismissed reports over the murder of Dhia al-Kawwaz's family in Sha'ab City, a story carried wide and far in the western media. Why don't the western news bureaus send their correspondents to Sha'ab to check it out?

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Way Ahead of the NYT

Had you been reading Talisman Gate three months ago, then you would have already known all about what the New York Times reported on today:

'U.S. Scales Back Political Goals for Iraqi Unity'

There have been signs that American influence over Iraqi politics is dwindling after the recent improvements in security — which remain incomplete, as shown by a deadly bombing Friday in Baghdad. While Bush officials once said they aimed to secure “reconciliation” among Iraq’s deeply divided religious, ethnic and sectarian groups, some officials now refer to their goal as “accommodation.”

“We can’t pass their legislation,” a senior American official in Baghdad said. “We can’t make them like each other. We can’t even make them talk to each other. Well, sometimes we can. But we can help them execute their budget.”

Ambassador Crocker drew a distinction between the effectiveness of the American military buildup in quelling violence and the influence the United States could bring to bear at a political level.

“The political stuff does not lend itself to sending out a couple of battalions to help the Iraqi’s pass legislation,” he said.

This is what I wrote back in August:

I’ll say it: the Americans are irrelevant to political events in Iraq. They may be arming the insurgents for the time being, but these murderers may have to be the ones who need to be airlifted out when the Americans eventually withdraw in order to dodge reprisals. It’s quite a prospect to consider: former insurgents being resettled in Minnesota.

The Americans may want to bend over backwards to appease the Sunni politicos, and the Saudi, Egyptian and Jordanian patrons who fund them, but that means very little in Baghdad’s intense political universe unless the Shiites play along, and why should they do so once everyone begins to realize that the Sunni insurgency is faltering?



Leave politics to the Iraqis, and get on with the job of defeating terrorists. That is the fastest way to get the Sunnis to sober up and come to terms with their demographic numbers and their past and current shame as champions of a violent approach in dealing with their next-door neighbors. Consequent Sunni moderation will achieve two things: the Shiites will be less likely to seek Iran’s counsel and protection in preparation for the “worst case scenario” of a regional Sunni onslaught. The second consequence is an earlier, and more honorable, American withdrawal.

Here's another trend that the NYT writes-up today and that was discussed here three months ago:

'As Democrats See Security Gains in Iraq, Tone Shifts'

But the changing situation suggests for the first time that the politics of the war could shift in the general election next year, particularly if the gains continue. While the Democratic candidates are continuing to assail the war — a popular position with many of the party’s primary voters — they run the risk that Republicans will use those critiques to attack the party’s nominee in the election as defeatist and lacking faith in the American military.



Lately, as the killing in Baghdad and other areas has declined, the Democratic candidates have been dwelling less on the results of the troop escalation than on the lack of new government accords in Iraq — a tonal shift from last summer and fall when American military commanders were preparing to testify before Congress asking for more time to allow the surge to show results.

This is a delicate matter. By saying the effects of the troop escalation have not led to a healthier political environment, the candidates are tacitly acknowledging that the additional troops have, in fact, made a difference on the ground — a viewpoint many Democratic voters might not embrace.

And this is what I had also written back in August:

Here’s a current political fact: Iraq influences American politics far more than America influences Iraqi politics. The Democrats chose to make Iraq their principal issue against Bush and the Republicans, but for these talking points to find traction among easily-distracted news consumers, they’d need to deploy a macabre arsenal of scary catchphrases: “Iraq is lost”, “civil war”, “ethnic cleansing”, “this war cannot be won”, and “mounting casualties”.

But, it ain’t so: casualties, by every calculation, are falling off. Even more important that casualty tallies is the number of violent incidents, and those are really falling off. Hence, it is hard for most, including Senator Levin, not to acknowledge the positive developments of the surge.

So, on to Plan B: the labyrinth of Iraqi politics. Here’s where the Democrats lose their way and their audience: America’s attention span is not going to follow them into the machinations of the Consensus bloc and Ayad Allawi’s ambitions. They don’t care whether Sunnis join the Iraqi cabinet or flee on magic carpets to the mythical Waqwaq Island; and certainly all this stuff doesn’t matter if Bush climbs the podium and tells them that America is whipping Al-Qaeda’s ass, and has the numbers to prove it.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Iraq Takes Pride in New Native Cardinal

Patriarch Mar Emanuel III Delli, the Baghdad-based head of the Chaldean Church, was ordained into the College of Cardinals by Pope Benedict XVI at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican today, and the whole event was carried live by Iraq’s national television station for well over an hour.

Al-Iraqiyya TV’s caption for the event was ‘The Symbols of Iraq’ and at one point the camera focused on a man in the audience holding up the Iraqi flag just as Cardinal Delli was named.

It was a very moving ceremony, and it was especially refreshing to find Iraq’s official media highlighting the event and describing the Chaldean patriarch as a national ‘symbol’. The channel even skipped the Muslim midday call to prayer in order to keep transmitting the proceedings, which were conducted in Latin but were translated into Arabic by a presenter.

This is the power of the New Iraq whereby a predominately Muslim nation takes pride in its Mosul-born son making it to one of the highest bodies of the Roman Catholic Church.

Some assume that the Saddam regime was accommodating of Iraq’s Christians, citing Saddam’s foreign minister Tareq Aziz as an example of that trait. But Aziz’s original name was too ‘Christian’ sounding so he Arabized it in order to be accepted. Hence, Christians were tolerated under Saddam’s Iraq, while nowadays their accomplishments are being positively celebrated by the New Iraq. That’s a world of difference.

I have to admit that I choked up when I saw the Iraqi flag being waved, but it is still the Ba’athist Arab Nationalist flag with the ‘Allah is Great’ slogan—Saddam’s addition—inscribed upon it. Isn’t it odd that such a flag was being displayed inside St. Peter’s? Doesn’t Iraq deserve a flag that wouldn’t grate against the sensitivities of its non-Muslim citizens?

Congratulations to Patriarch Delli and the Chaldeans and to all Iraqis on this day. What a stark contrast this New Iraq presents to a xenophobic states like Saudi Arabia and other racist regimes in the region!

Friday, November 23, 2007

Lebanon sans présidente

The Lebanese parliament failed to elect a new president by tonight's deadline; here's why I think it's a blessing in disguise ('Lebanese Malaise', October 15, 2007, The New York Sun).

Monday, November 19, 2007

Talisman Gate Endorses McCain, Clinton

There are only two grown-ups in the race for the presidency when it comes to Iraq: Senator John McCain and Senator Hillary Clinton.

vs.

Watching the rest of the contenders talk about Iraq leaves me with the impression that they’re all about amateur hour: America can’t afford to elect a president who learns on the job.

Although I disagree with both McCain and Clinton on the specifics of their Iraq policy, but I feel that they have put some serious thought into the topic when compared with the others in the field. That’s what one gets when combining seriousness with seasoned and sober acumen.

Over the next decade, the world will face more jihadist threats and turmoil in the Middle East, affecting everything from issues of nuclear proliferation to the contingency of a recurring disruption in the oil markets resulting in economic havoc. How a stable and resurgent Iraq affects the region around it in the long term will be one of the vital strategic tools that an American president must consider when facing down impending and unfolding challenges. McCain and Clinton seem well-poised to do that.

Vote for the grown-ups, McCain and Clinton, if you want to have a shot at the American dream; like it or not Iraq and the Middle East may determine your quality of life, and your actual life, over the long term.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Here’s a Suggestion

I have so much to get done and no time to blog but today's piece by Thomas E. Ricks in the Washington Post was particularly galling and I feel I have to address it.

I have a suggestion to all the editors out there: when one of your reporters puts together a very slanted story—especially when it involves a reporter who has authored a polemical book on the same topic—then shouldn’t the newspaper qualify this reporter’s ideological bent by alluding to his or her book in lieu of a disclaimer for all us unsuspecting readers?

For example, it would be useful if it were noted, along with today’s front page story ‘Iraqis Wasting An Opportunity, U.S. Officers Say’, that Thomas Ricks is the author of Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq (2006).

I mean, it should be clear that Ricks has chosen sides in the debate, and consequently he will not allow his argument (and his career) to go quietly into the night; his story today is a thinly-veiled Op-Ed constructed through the medium of selective interviewing.

As Victor Davis Hanson put it today:

Many anti-war critics are so invested in the notion of the Iraq war as the "worst" something or other in U.S. history that they cannot accept the radical turnaround after over four years of war.
Thus, Ricks keeps beating this dead horse, or rather it’s a dead unicorn since his whole construct was mythical to begin with.

Thomas Ricks has made a career out being the bullhorn of mutiny: he is the go-to journalist for the military brass as they communicate their whisper-campaigns against the civilian leadership of the Pentagon. To this end, he was the preferred propaganda outlet for the officers’ putsch against Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Feith. Whatever gripe the officers are barred by law from divulging directly to Congress gets conveniently channeled onto the pages of the Washington Post through Ricks. Gotta love DC!

And when you have a crop of cry-baby officers running the show, then there’s plenty to whine, and write, about.

Check out this insolence by the 1st Cavalry’s Lt. Col. Mark Fetter:

As for the Sunni fighters who for years bombed and shot U.S. soldiers and now want to join the police, Fetter shrugged. “They have got to eat,” he said over lunch in the 1st Cavalry Division’s mess hall here. “There are so many we’ve detained and interrogated, they did what they did for money.”

Talk about projection, maybe Fetter is doing what he’s doing because of the money too. Forget principles, forget beheadings, forget leaving bombs amid grocery stalls—an insurgent’s gotta do what an insurgent’s gotta do!

I’ve met some American officers serving in Iraq who are wonderful and who have really tried to learn and compromise yet kept themselves morally grounded and more importantly, loyal to the Commander in Chief. But then again there are officers like Col. David W. Sutherland who are total jackasses; unfortunately, it is the Sutherlands and the Fetters of the world that reporters like Ricks are likely to interview.

Among other things, the officers in Ricks’ piece are offering-up pushback against federalism, a form of government for the New Iraq that is enshrined in its spanking-new constitution. Federalism is a very new concept for the Middle East even though the Iraqi opposition has been discussing it since 1992. That’s why self-described Middle Eastern experts are spooked by federalism and cannot understand it beyond the paradigm of ‘warlord-ism’; their brains short-circuit when the word is mentioned since they are, like the autocratic regimes of the region, afraid of change. “If the sultan in not in charge, then nobody’s in charge” they sing in chorus; to them, representational and local government is a pipe-dream.

And who has set himself up as the ‘available-for-media-comment’ fount of all wisdom when it comes to the follies of federalism? That would be Marc Lynch, of the Abu Aardvark blog, who is quoted in the Ricks piece.

Prof. Lynch seems like a genuinely nice guy who puts plenty of energy into his blog and keeps it lively. But I can discern two eras that color his blog in very different hues: pre-Washington and post-Washington. About six months ago, Lynch moved from his New England idyll and took a job at the George Washington University in DC, but it seems that the changed and charged atmosphere of his new locale has infected him with an ideological exuberance whereby his rhetoric got ahead of his knowledge—a transformation that's being egged-on by fellow travelers like Ricks through the flattery of attention.

The heady vapors of ‘Famous-for-DC’ eminence have gone to Lynch’s head, exposing him to the mistake of unintentional intellectual mendacity. Case in point, Lynch misread the research done by Daniel Kimmage back in July and barnstormed through the media proselytizing for his misinterpretation. When I challenged him on this point, he promised to look into it but never did, and I believe that he allowed the record to remain skewed lest his stardom dims a bit.

Lynch’s expertise is on Jordan and Aljazeera (…he’s a card carrying member of the ‘Friends of Aljazeera’ network!) but not on Iraq. He’s far more qualified to comment on Iraq than the other bozos out there, but still I get queasy when he markets himself as an Iraq expert.

Lynch often links to my work from time to time through his ‘del.icio.us’ margin and adds little quips such as referring to me as “totally nuts”—not that I’m disputing that! But there’s one thing that he did that still bothers me: when linking to my column ‘Jihadist Meltdown’ on March 12, 2007, he had this little line to add “The reason the press isn't reporting it is that it isn't right” but then, a few weeks later, he adopts my points and passes them off as his own. That too makes me queasy.

So to sum up, Thomas E. Ricks speaks for disgruntled officers who shirk responsibility and resist change, and Marc Lynch doesn’t understand federalism.

So, let’s see, who have I pissed-off recently? Marc Lynch-check; ideologues posing as reporters-check; Col. David Sutherland-check; the FSEC-check; MESA-check; the New York Times-check; the House of Saud-check; the Wahhabis-check; Ayad Allawi-check; the CIA-check; Jalal Talabani (…which really pissed off his cousin, my mom)-check; George Packer-check. I think my job here is done.

No more blogging!

PS: Ooooh, yet another milestone: this is my 300th post!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Fact-Checking the New Yorker

There’s plenty of buzz around Jon Lee Anderson’s piece on Iraq in this month’s New Yorker magazine, and one item in it that’s caught a lot of attention is what a certain Shaikh Zaidan al-Awad had to say:


A few days before General Petraeus testified before Congress, I met with Sheikh Zaidan al-Awad, a prominent Sunni tribal leader from Anbar. The last time I had seen him, in 2004, he was full of hostile bluster about the U.S., and made no secret of his identification with the “resistance,” as he described the hard-line Sunni insurgents. Sheikh Zaidan was a fugitive, suspected by the Americans of being a sponsor of the insurgency, and he was living in voluntary exile in Jordan. But when we spoke this fall, in an apartment in Amman, Zaidan told me that he had recently met for informal talks with American military and intelligence officials, because he approved of what they were now doing—allowing Sunni tribesmen to police themselves.

I asked Zaidan what sort of deal had led to the Sunni Awakening. “It’s not a deal,” he said, bristling. “People have come to realize that our fate is tied to the Americans’, and theirs to ours. If they are successful in Iraq, it will depend on Anbar. We always said this. Time was lost. America was lost, but now it’s woken up; it now holds a thread in its hand. For the first time, they’re doing something right.”

Zaidan said that Anbar’s Sunni tribes no longer had any need to exact blood vengeance on U.S. forces. “We’ve already taken our revenge,” he said. “We’re the ones who’ve made them crawl on their stomachs, and now we’re the ones to pick them up.” He added, “Once Anbar is settled, we must take control of Baghdad, and we will.” There would have to be a lot more fighting before the capital was taken back from the Shiites, he said. “The Anbaris will take charge of the purge. What the whole world failed to do in Anbar, we have done overnight. Baghdad will be a lot easier.”

Many of the players in Iraq seemed, like Zaidan, to be positioning themselves for the next battle. While the Shiites issued warnings about the Sunnis’ intentions, nearly all the talk among the Americans was of the Mahdi Army and its reputed sponsor, Iran, which Petraeus accused of waging a “proxy war” in Iraq; there were dismissive references to Al Qaeda as a spent force.



Sheikh Zaidan offered a vision of how the conflict in Iraq could escalate to the advantage of the Sunnis: “I think America will be able to start a Shia-Shia civil war in the south—with the Arab Shia, the tribes, being supported by the U.S., and the Persian Shiites supported by Iran.” He said that this would be an opportunity for the Americans to “cut off the head of Iran’s government and its militias in Iraq.” The Sunnis could help in this fight, he suggested.

Powerful stuff, except that Zaidan al-Awad is misidentified as “a prominent Sunni tribal leader from Anbar.” Zaidan’s elevated social and tribal status was also implied when he was featured by Newsweek’s Christopher Dickey in June 2006. But don’t blame these reporters or their fixer—even gorgeous, elegant and smart Jordanian fixers get it wrong once in a while—for not spotting a tribal charlatan as he makes the media rounds.

According to several knowledgeable sources I’ve spoken to, Zaidan is regarded as nothing more than a buffoon.


Zaidan's picture from Aljazeera.net

Zaidan Khalaf al-Awad is not the tribal chief of the Albu Jaber ‘tribe’, and even if he were, then the Albu Jaber qualify as the least significant of all of Anbar’s 200-plus tribes and clans—as trivial as the low-born Slubba or the Swatreh—since they number around 200 men. Furthermore, Zaidan’s father was a sirkal, or headman responsible for cultivation, for the Ali Al-Suleiman family around the Khaldiyyah area; he’s not of ‘sheikhly’ ancestry.

It’s interesting that Zaidan had a foot in with the insurgency, or rather the banditry that posed as the insurgency, and another foot in the Coalition Provisional Authority. Zaidan was connected to Naji ‘Affat whose son Mizher ‘Affat al-Dulaimi, ‘Abu Fahed’, was an alleged CIA asset. ‘Abu Fahed’ worked for Saddam’s mukhaberat for many years, and then joined the Iraqi opposition in the early 1990s. But he was suspected of being an infiltrator for the Saddam regime into the opposition ranks, something that was implicitly corroborated to me by those who’d seen his dossier after the fall of the regime. At one point before the Iraq war, some circles in US intelligence picked him up again and used him for leverage in Iraqi politics, and he was campaigning for the upcoming elections when he was assassinated in Anbar during December 2005. It has been suggested that the killing was not political in nature but rather taken in revenge for a kidnapping, even though some jihadist groups claimed credit at the time. ‘Abu Fahed’ and his father, together with Zaidan, had been involved in banditry and extortion rings.

On the other hand, Zaidan’s brother Jabir worked for the CPA as a member of the Pentagon’s Iraqi Reconstruction and Development Council (IRDC). Jabir was a graduate of the Baghdad Medical College in 1986 whereas Zaidan only has an elementary school certificate. Jabir was partly responsible for providing health services in Anbar Province, and he worked closely before and after the war with the late Talal al-Gaoud (a man often cited by David Ignatius) and Sa’adoun al-Dulaimi, Iraq’s Minister of Defense in the Ja’afari cabinet, who had also joined the IRDC before the war.

Zaidan marketed himself simultaneously as someone on the inside of the insurgency, and as America’s best friend in Anbar. He also claims a familial relationship with Sattar Abu Risha through intermarriage.

Sure, Anderson can get such a man to proclaim all sorts of inflammatory words on the record and it’ll make for a fantastic read, but does such rhetoric matter once the man’s stature is scrutinized and he is revealed to be of very little standing?

I mean, why not quote the bum on the street who’s been warning us that the ‘End is Near’?

There are many other problems with Anderson’s piece, like the sentence where he rehashes the Reuters-generated account about the 20 bodies found near Baquba that was later deemed to be bogus. Moreover, the whole section about Karim and Amar is so detailed that the Mahdi Army people will find it easy to piece it together and uncover what’s been happening, and not only that but Anderson informs them that Amar’s mother is also guilty. I’m sure that neither Karim nor Amir would have allowed so much detail to appear in print and hence expose them, and the mother, to reprisal. The New Yorker is morally obliged to find asylum outside of Iraq for Anderson’s sources.

But really, how much of the media’s misinformed damage can we undo? By “we” I mean people who know a bit more about Iraq or at least enough to spot charlatans like Zaidan; how much time can we set aside to work as pro-bono fact-checkers for the New Yorker or the New York Times?

Too many mistakes, too little time. The dilettantes will get promotions and awards, while the rest of us toil away in obscurity. It ain’t a meritocracy, folks. Just deal with it. Everyone lives happily ever after, except the victims and their kin who must pay for those mistakes.

On that note, I would like to quote a related question that exasperated the formidable Syrian historian, Hanna Batatu, in his landmark book The Old Social Classes and the Revolutionary Movements of Iraq (1978):

It is time to revert to the question that has been left unanswered: how were the enfeebled shaikhs and aghas of the last decades of the Turkish period able under the monarchy to expand and strengthen their feudal-like grip over their peasants, or to turn their once free-living tribesmen into sharecropping semiserfs in the shadow of a growing city life and an ascending central government?

An incomplete but basic explanation is that a new and extraneous force—the British—entered in 1914 the conflict between the cities and the tribal chiefs depicted in the preceding pages, and threw the weight of its influence on the side of the shaikhs and aghas.

Why the British should have desired to arrest or even reverse the process of tribal decomposition and to maintain and prop up the tribal leaders many only secondarily be attributed to a certain amount of prejudice on the part of some of their officials against the people of the cities, or to a more distinct tendency towards romanticizing the shaikhly stratum. “The longer the tribal system can be preserved,” remarked one British political officer in 1918, “the better; and when at last it fails from natural causes, it is hoped that…no low-born Baghdadi will be permitted to dance prematurely and indecently on its grave.” Gertrude Bell, the Oriental secretary of the high commissioner, wrote in 1922 of the shaikhs: “They are the people I love, I know every tribal chief of any importance through the whole length and breadth of Iraq, and I think them the backbone of the country.” More detached Englishmen on the spot had other things to say. “We tend to regard,” wrote the political officer of the ‘Amarah Division in November 1920, “the shaikh qua shaikh as of great importance in keeping his muqata’ah in order, whereas as a matter of fact he is more or less a figurehead, with very little power beyond that which he obtains from the support of the government. The individuality of the shaikh, in this Division, counts for very little. We have fallen into the error of over-rating his value and consulting him too much, to the exclusion of educated and far-seeing men of other classes…. We have lost sight of the fact that the shaikh does not represent agricultural interests from the point of view of either the sirkal or the fallah.”

The political officer of Hillah, writing in 1917 in a somewhat similar vein, revealed how difficult it had been in his district to “force the [tribal] sections to pay some heed to their shaikhs.” From the standpoint of the Sulaimaniyyah officer of 1919, the revival of tribalism was “a retrograde movement.” “One may even remember,” he said, “that so long as Scotland remained tribal, it produced nothing and nationally was a pauper.” The Shamiyyah officer, for his part, noted that in his division the big tribal unit was disintegrating, and that this “reflects the desires of the people themselves who are openly averse to its tyranny” because it “places great power in the hands of a chief whom they seldom see—a power he usually wields to fill his own pocket and which they know he could not possess but for the support of the government.” Reporting the murder in 1921 of three shaikhs by their own tribesmen, the Muntafiq divisional adviser brought out that in his area the tribes appeared anxious “to throw off all vestige of control by the shaikh.”

If in many regions, as is clear, shaikhly power was not desired by the tribesmen or conducive to their well-being, why did the English proceed to rebuild and solidify it?

Good question. Care to answer it, General Newton?

Blogging will be light as I prepare to go on walkabout again; I’ll be traveling for the next two months, and although I always say that I’ll report on what I see, longtime readers of Talisman Gate know that to be an empty promise.

For the time being, browse through the archives of this blog. I don’t want to toot my own horn, but much of what is going on in Iraq was predicted way ahead of anyone else right here on Talisman Gate, in some cases I saw it coming over a year ago. If one is interested in learning more about Iraq, I welcome you to re-read some of what I’ve posted here over the last two years…Nobody noticed that Talisman Gate just celebrated its 2nd anniversary this month!

Today’s front page of the Washington Times has a headline asking “Are We Winning the War?” In this expert’s opinion, the answer is “Yes, it’s been won”—but then again, I proclaimed victory five months ago.

Monday, November 12, 2007

A Fool’s Errand: The ‘Force Strategic Engagement Cell’ Engages the Islamic Army of Iraq

The Sunday Telegraph profiled the co-chief of the ‘Force Strategic Engagement Cell’ (FSEC) Maj. Gen. Paul Newton yesterday. He’s the British general who has been tasked by Gen. David Petraeus to engage Sunni and Shiite militants in Iraq and to coax them into joining the political process. In the Telegraph report, an unnamed “senior official from the US state department” is identified as the other leading figure of the FSEC; this could be an Arabic-speaking CIA officer of Mediterranean heritage whose name Talisman Gate cannot reveal because it is uncertain whether he’s operating under diplomatic cover or not.

The team also includes two Iraqi-born Sunni advisors who live in the United Kingdom and an Egyptian translator.

The FSEC is touting its engagement of the Islamic Army of Iraq, a terrorist group responsible for thousands of murders, as its chief success. This is what Gen. Newton had to say:

In an interview with the Sunday Telegraph, he insisted that such talks were necessary if the troop surge was to achieve any kind of lasting peace. “Do we talk to people with blood on their hands? I certainly hope so,” he said. “There is no point in us talking to people who haven’t.”

…The door is open to all except those who have carried out “atrocities”, such as beheadings and torture, although Gen. Newton admits that nobody asks too many questions.

Yuck.

Well, according to my reporting, the FSEC is clearly not asking too many questions—including any smart questions—of its interlocutors; they are talking to people who can no longer deliver a ceasefire (…one would assume that this is the goal behind these talks, right?) because they’ve already been smashed.

Gen. Newton— who’s been in Iraq since Gen. Graeme Lamb passed on the torch last June—is the media darling du jour, and he’s quoted extensively in today’s Washington Post on a story of why the Iraqi government is balking at the prospect of hiring the 70,000 Sunni militants that the Americans and the British have co-opted. In the Post’s report, Gen. Newton is identified as “the British counter-insurgency expert tapped by Petraeus to lead the effort”. Gen. Newton’s so-called ‘expertise’ derives from his stint as an officer involved in the reconciliation efforts that to put an end to the conflict in Northern Ireland, a sectarian war that claimed 3,500 lives over the span of three decades—a much milder affair than what had been going on in Iraq.

70,000? The best way to understand this number is to read through last week’s Guardian article about Abu al-Abed (…BTW, is he Brig. Gen. Hamza al-Zoba’i?); he started with 13 fighters, but when matters started going his way and the Americans began paying a stipend of $300 a month to whoever Abu al-Abed vouched for, then his band of fighters mushroomed to over six hundred men strong. There is no way to corroborate whether most or half or a few of these 70,000 were indeed “ex-militants” who’ve been successfully co-opted away from insurgent activity since it seems that much of this new venture is just another welfare scam—I’ll bet that thousands of those names already on the payroll are ‘ghosts’.

The FSEC claims to be working “in close partnership with the Iraqi government” and by that they mean National Security Adviser Mouwaffaq al-Ruba’i, who is widely perceived among the Iraqi political class as a long-time asset of British intelligence, so one’s got to wonder: who’s been yanking whose chain? When it comes to Diyala Province, the FSEC has been coordinating with another Da’awa Party official, Muayyad al-‘Ubeidi.

But let’s get back to Gen. Newton and to the Islamic Army of Iraq: the FSEC’s chief ‘envoy’ to the insurgents is a former Iraqi Air Force Maj. Gen. Abdel-Basit Ibrahim Yaseen al-Zoba’i, also known as ‘Abu Samad’.

‘Abu Samad’ has sold Gen. Newton and the FSEC on the notion that the Islamic Army of Iraq is divided into ‘moderate’ and ‘radical’ wings. The ‘moderate’ wing is represented by Lt. Gen. Ali Abid Mahmoud al-Luheibi (former commander of the Saddam Feddayeen, lives in Istanbul, and his brother Brig . Gen. Muhammad, ‘Abu Usama’, is identified by some as the military emir of the IAI) and Mahmoud Abdel-Aziz al-Falahi (a former Director General in Saddam’s intelligence service, the mukhaberat, who, like ‘Abu Samad’, currently resides in Damascus). This wing is allegedly dominant in most of Diyala Province and within Baghdad.

The ‘radical’ wing is represented by Lt. Gen. Tali’ Khalil Riheim al-Douri, a former Iraqi Army Corps commander accused of wide scale killings during the suppression of the 1991 uprising, who is also residing in Damascus. The radical wing is allegedly composed of the ‘ultra-Ba’athists’, who still keep a working relationship with Saddam’s former Vice-President Izzet al-Douri (he leads his own splinter wing of the Ba’ath Party), and the Salafists, or Islamic fundamentalists, within the IAI who have set the tone for the IAI's propaganda. Another leader of this wing is Maj. Gen. Khalil Ibrahim al-Douri who is believed to have brokered the Islamic Army’s alliance with Zarqawi’s al-Qaeda. Also involved but at a middling level are the two sons of Sunni MP Khalaf Al-Alayan, Muhammad and Muhanned.

The ‘moderate’ wing accuses the ‘radical’ wing of adopting al-Qaeda’s anti-Shiite rhetoric and of being responsible for most of the atrocities against civilians that were conducted by the Islamic Army.

However, it is not as if the ‘moderate’ wing was the pioneering element of the IAI that turned on al-Qaeda; in fact, it seems that the aforementioned Abu al-Abed was considered a Salafist member of the radical wing, as is Sheikh Abdel-Jabbar Abdel-Sattar al-Janabi and his son Brig. Gen. Ikram of the Dogemeh village in Diyala Province, whose allies were the targets of a recent al-Qaeda suicide bomber. Al-Janabi hid Izzet al-Douri for many months in his house after the Saddam regime fell.

‘Abu Samad’ is promising that he’ll be able to ‘turn’ two wild cards—important operational leaders for the IAI—from being ‘radicals’ over to the ‘moderate’ camp:

-Col. Watban Turki al-Rashid: former division commander of the Iraqi Army, and military commander of the IAI in Anbar Province and parts of Salahuddin Province. One of his aides (...could be Brig. Gen. Talal al-Mihimiddi) is currently leading the IAI’s clashes with al-Qaeda in the Jallam area near Samarra.

-Air Force Maj. Gen. Ra’ad Zaid al-Sa’adoun: military commander of the IAI in most of Diyala Province and a nephew of the sheikh of the Bani Zaid tribe there.

This all looks good on paper: fancy military titles and hard-core insurgents. But these ex-insurgents who’ve been forced to lay down or re-orient their arms are doing so not because they’re engaged in serious and sincere negotiations but rather because they’ve been defeated and they have a rabid al-Qaeda gnawing at their asses.

The reason they want to talk to you, Gen. Newton, is because you’re the only one gullible enough to do so. Everyone has realized that the Islamic Army has been defeated, and their only concern is how to stay alive now that their crazed ex-‘lovers’ in al-Qaeda are prowling for revenge; the IAI is short of funds and fighters, and they’re on the run. Setting ‘moderate’ and ‘radical’ wings against each other is a fool’s errand when both wings have already been clipped: this half-pigeon, half-eagle mutant won’t fly.

The IAI didn’t turn on al-Qaeda because they had a moral ‘awakening’; no, they turned on al-Qaeda because al-Qaeda turned on them by establishing the Islamic State of Iraq—a crazy, ill-timed venture that was doomed from the very beginning, and you would have know that had you been reading Talisman Gate!

These ex-officers are drowning men, and Gen. Newton is being so accommodating that instead of throwing them a rubber life preserver, he’s tossed in the keys to Queen Elizabeth’s Royal Yacht Britannia!

Instead of allowing them to starve for funds, the IAI, who claim to have killed hundreds of US soldiers, are being kept in business by US taxpayers. Thanks General Petraeus, oh bankroller of broken insurgents!

Iraqis still cling to the myth that the British are wily and clever conspirators, much smarter than those boneheaded and excitable Americans. Iraqis are still measuring up these officers that they’re meeting and talking to nowadays against the standards set by the British graduates of Empire who first came to Iraq in World War One and whose yellowed and archived intelligence and administrative reports from that period still reflect the fine training that they came equipped with. Not so with today’s crop, unfortunately the imperial sun had set and whatever grew in its dank and dark wake has come up anemic and stunted.

Talk all you want Gen. Newton and get tainted to your heart’s desire as you shake those blood-soaked hands, but the FSEC’s tea-times with killers will change nothing on the battlefield. Sure, the useful idiots of the media will glam you up as the ‘reconciler’, but you didn’t counter this insurgency and the historians will set that record straight.


[Disclaimer: what are presented as facts in this post, such as names and duties, are simply claims made by Iraqi sources that I have found to be very reliable in the past. Any corrections from knowledgeable people are welcome.]

Saturday, November 10, 2007

'Let Beasts Devour Beasts', Revisited

Ghaith Abdul-Ahad reports on the Islamic Army in 'Amiriya for the Guardian today (full text in the comments section. My appreciation to the friend who sent it along).

I can’t help but feel that it vindicates this column that I wrote five months ago: Let Beasts Devour Beasts.

ASMEA vs. MESA

Bernard Lewis and Fouad Ajami have finally taken a long-overdue leap: they have formed the Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa (ASMEA) in an effort to break the ‘intellectual’ monopoly of the Middle East Studies Association of North Africa (MESA).

This is the tale of a band of revolutionaries who have escaped to a sanctuary where they shall be free to preach a new faith. Using an Islam-inspired parable, this is similar to the story of the early Muslims who broke away from the stranglehold of Quraysh tribe and its inflexible observances to the old pagan gods.

Lewis and Ajami are preaching a new way of looking at the Middle East, while MESA perpetuates all that is generic and insipid about how America understands that region—it’s tainted by Saudi financing to boot, just like Quraysh was beholden to the revenues that its deities brought to Mecca! But America and the world cannot afford to lounge around in the blissful lethargy of intellectual shallowness now that the jihadists of the Middle East—many of them Saudis or fueled with Saudi money—have declared their war and delivered their bomb-laden calling cards.

Naturally, the MESAists are up in arms against Lewis and Ajami, whom they accuse of heresy and witchcraft, having cast a spell on George Bush’s mind. The MESAists have shunned both Lewis and Ajami for decades but now find themselves threatened as this new faith gathers more force and its ranks are swelled by new believers. The MESA-allied blog-mob has broken out in agitation and denunciation!

Tribal warfare in pre-Islamic Arabia always featured two celebrated heroes: the finest warrior of the tribe and its most electrifying poet. This hallmark also presented itself in the early battles between the Muslims and Quraysh. Those ritualized battles began with a duel between the two famed warriors of either side, the mubareza, and was followed by the mubahella, a duet of fighting words as one tribe’s most accomplished poet matched his (or her) wits against those of his (or her) opposite number.

ASMEA boasts Bernard Lewis as its intellectual warrior—a man with a breathtaking comprehension of the Middle East—and Fouad Ajami as its richly erudite and thoroughly convincing poet who can make sense of that region to any audience. Together, they are a formidable pair for the ASMEA clan, but who can the MESA tribe put up to match the Lewis-Ajami duo?

The ASMEA and MESA divide also breaks along the supporters of the Iraq war and their detractors, so maybe that’s the arena where we should look for possible match-ups.

How about Juan Cole and As’ad Abu Khalil? Okay, okay, I’ll admit it: I’m being facetious here since this pairing is the intellectual equivalent of a carny and his performing monkey.

But who else? John Voll and Rashid Khalidi? Joel Beinin and Shibley Telhami? William Quandt and Helena Cobban?

Are you kidding? Would you match any of those against Lewis and Ajami? That would be, in the words of a dear wise friend, “like bringing an abacus to a microchip fight.”

The doyen of the anti-ASMEA universe is John Esposito, who once served as the president of MESA. Esposito? C’mon, I mean, is this guy even proficient in a Middle Eastern language? How could he possibly square-off against Bernard Lewis who is fluent in four Middle Eastern languages (Arabic, Farsi, Turkish and Hebrew), two dying regional languages (Syriac and Aramaic), and one dead imperial language (Ottoman)?

Esposito is also the recipient of Saudi money; how can someone living off the largesse of the Saudis be expected to criticize Saudi Arabia, a country that is demonstrably responsible for some of the greatest ills facing the Middle East?

That’s why MESA shies away from discussing contemporary Middle Eastern issues for fear than any controversy may scare away the funders.

Can we all agree that Iraq is an important issue, and that such important issues should be front and center among the priorities to be discussed by Middle Eastern scholars? Yes? Good. Then why is it that during MESA’s upcoming annual conference only five (yes, FIVE) panels are dedicated to Iraq out of a total of 206! Whereas there are at least a dozen panels dedicated to gender and sexuality studies!

Furthermore, there doesn’t seem to be a single panel that seriously sets out to discuss jihadism during the whole four day stretch of the conference.

MESA is willfully out of touch with reality and this year’s program is a clear indictment of that fact. Lewis and Ajami are trying to bring Middle Eastern studies back into the real world.

Lewis and Ajami are accused of counseling the Bush administration on its Middle Eastern policy and hence ‘politicizing’ the academy. Why was it okay for Sovietologists to give counsel to the powers that be during the Cold War, but it’s objectionable when Middle Eastern experts weigh in during the war on terror? MESA objections fall into the category of influence-envy; Lewis and Ajami are listened to because they know what they are talking about. Their feedback is relevant and important, whereas MESAists are busy pontificating about proto-feminist tendencies among rural basket weavers of 18th century Hama.

Why did this happen to MESA? There are very capable and brilliant scholars who show up to MESA conference and present papers, and believe me, when it’s good, it’s really good. But instead of being heralded as MESA’s shining face, they have been marginalized by the fuddy-duddy apparatchiks who run the show. These apparatchiks hide their intellectual mediocrity by shouting at the top of their voices: their shrillness, usually on left-of-center issues, distracts from the vacuity of their academic output, and their role model for this sort of theatrical behavior was a man called Edward Said.

As far as I’m concerned, Robert Irwin, author of last year’s For Lust of Knowing, has given the world the definitive account of why Said’s Orientalism (1978) was wrong and fraudulent.

Said was never a Middle East expert; his scope was comparative literature, a field which has mutated into the playground of every maladjusted and culturally insecure academic misfit pining for ‘authenticity’—thanks to Said’s ‘pioneering’ work!

It’s interesting that in 1983, Said actually thought he was up to the challenge and publicly debated Bernard Lewis. Lewis was joined by Leon Wieseltier, while Said was paired up with Christopher Hitchens. Lewis trounced Said and made him look like a man totally out of his depth. Isn’t it ironic that Hitchens, like Lewis and Ajami, stands today as that rare breed of intellectual who’s still for the Iraq war, even though the chaff that first aligned itself with the wind have hurriedly pleaded their mea culpas (...I’m looking at you George Packer). So, in a sense, Hitchens was won over after he recognized that Lewis was speaking with far greater authority than a poser like Said; Hitchens’ conversion is what usually happens when one combines authenticity with intellectual curiosity and a dose of courage.

So there you have it, the two most knowledgeable scholars of Middle Eastern studies, who also happen to be committed supporters of the Iraq war, are finally smashing the idols of the MESA tribe and declaring that there will be a new way of looking at the region.

Or, as the early Muslims put it on the eve of their victory over Quraysh:

جاء الحق وزهق الباطل إن الباطل كان زهوقا

[I should note, for the purpose of full disclosure, that I know both Lewis and Ajami personally but have never discussed ASMEA or MESA with either of them.]

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Video Report on Al-Qaeda’s Killing Fields

Al-Hurra, a U.S.-funded Arabic news channel, aired a disturbing report on five newly-discovered mass graves (Arabic language footage, opens immediately) along the shores of Tharthar Lake, an area that until recently was an Al-Qaeda bastion.

Tens of bodies have been counted so far, many of them dumped in shallow pits or at the sites of training camps that used to belong to the Saddam’s Feddayeen paramilitary units and that were later appropriated by Al-Qaeda.

The gruesome images—there’s a disclaimer about their effect on viewers—show scattered bones and tattered clothes; the authorities speculate that most of the victims were kidnapped last winter since they were wearing heavy clothing. What hurts most is the presence of animal droppings around the bones suggesting that packs of wild animals made a feast of the victims.

Many Iraqis, me included, are waiting to hear anything about our “disappeared” family members and friends. Whenever such a number of decomposed bodies are found, there is a macabre hope that we’d finally have an answer.

Now that the insurgency—the war that Al-Qaeda and the enemies of the New Iraq had launched—is over, we can start dealing with the trauma of what has happened to us over the last four years, in addition to the pain and suffering of the preceding Ba’athist nightmare.

Yet there’s one thing I will never get over: how the anti-Bush crowd and the insurgents have overlapped in rhetoric and fantasy.

So when dilettantes claiming to be Iraq "experts" still obsessively adhere to the “Iraq is a disaster” line, I begin to imagine that their wounded egos—since they’re wrong, so utterly wrong—would secretly cheer whenever the bad guys strike again in Iraq, because that may generate a bad headline with a Baghdad byline thus prolonging the shelf-life of the myths they’ve constructed.

There’s been a diarrhea of “experts” who’ve weighed-in on Iraq after having picked-up a couple of primers on the topic. They are intellectual frauds, and they know it. What’s funnier is that they believe they have a firmer grasp on Iraq’s reality because they read the New York Times and news outlets of a similar ideological bent, and foolishly challenge the opinions of those who rely on their own sourcing.

These hordes of discredited journos, academics and pundits are spitting and pissing into the wind, and they are starting to look like a mess.

The neocons were supposed to be the delusional, inbred ideologues that’ve shut out the real world; it’s ironic that nowadays this characterization so perfectly fits the “Iraq is a disaster” crowd…

Monday, November 05, 2007

Analysis of the Faisal Akbar testimony and how it relates to the Hariri assassination

I’ve lumped the various translated parts of Faisal Akbar’s testimony here: Narrative of a Conspiracy.

Who is Faisal Akbar, and what does his testimony tell us?

Maybe he began by telling the truth; he may have concluded that the jig was up since the others who were arrested must have spilled the beans.

Or maybe he wanted the world to know that he had been responsible for an event of massive proportions for the Middle East and had almost gotten away with it, but he still wanted to confuse his interrogators by fudging some elements of the story so that they won’t be able to make the accusation stick. This would make him a jihadist version of O.J. Simpson and his If I Did It, Here’s How it Happened book of “fiction” that had been originally intended for publication.

Maybe yet, Akbar was so thoroughly adept at misleading his interrogators that he was actually a real life “Keyser Soze”, the character played by Kevin Spacey in Usual Suspects.

Then of course, Akbar could be a huge loss for the literary world—especially the spy novel genre—who in another life would have given John Le Carre a run for his money.

Or maybe the whole testimony was a journalistic fabrication, as alleged by Ahmed Fatfat, who became acting Minister of Interior shortly after Akbar was arrested, in a recent private conversation with me. In this case Fida’ Itani, the journalist under whose byline these testimonies were published in Al-Akhbar newspaper, soundly deserves the Nobel Prize for Literature.

This is what we know for certain: about an hour and 20 minutes after the explosion that killed former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and 21 other individuals at around 1 PM on February 14, 2005, the Aljazeera bureau in Beirut got a call whereby the caller gave them directions to where they could find a tape on a which a claim of responsibility for the Hariri assassination was made. This was the second call that was made to the Aljazeera bureau; the first came in about 30 minutes after the explosion and a hitherto unknown group calling itself “Al-Nusra wel Jihad in the Levant” told Aljazeera that they had killed Hariri.

In the late afternoon, Aljazeera aired the tape that it was led to.

Clearly, given the time constraints, this tape and the claim of responsibility it contained must have been made before the time of the assassination. So the persons involved in Al-Nusra wel Jihad were the only ones who can be publicly identified as having prior knowledge of a conspiracy to kill Hariri. There is no hard and irrefutable evidence in the public domain that we know of that shows that any other entity had prior knowledge of the conspiracy to the same degree as these jihadists.

Nobody had heard of this self-described jihadist group before, but the unmasked face of the young man who appears on the tape and takes credit in the name of his group—emblazoned on a black banner behind him—was quickly identified as that of Ahmed Abu Ades.



Furthermore, there was a note attached to the tape and it alleged that Hariri was killed by a suicide bomber and that the bomber was none other than Ahmed Abu Ades.

Ahmed Abu Ades was born in Saudi Arabia in 1982 to a lower middle-class Palestinian family that had resided in Lebanon. In 1991, his family moved back to Lebanon and settled in a middle-class neighborhood in Beirut. Around 2001, young Ahmed turned devout and by 2003 he was already administering religious lessons at a local mosque.

Abu Ades’ actual role in the explosion remains in much dispute, and according to some—including the UN-mandated investigation team into the Hariri assassination—it has been refuted by DNA evidence. However, he did record that tape and he chose to do so without hiding his identity.

Since then, nobody has been able to prove whether he is alive or dead, or what happened to him since he made the tape.

Nevertheless, the Lebanese authorities continued to look for a mystery man associated with Ahmed Abu Ades whose real name is Khalid Midhet Taha.

While looking for Taha, the Internal Security Forces stumbled upon a Saudi national, Faisal Akbar (born 1976), and managed to arrest many of Akbar’s associates during the early days of January 2006. But Taha had managed to escape the dragnet two weeks before Akbar’s arrest and find sanctuary in a Palestinian refugee camp that is off-limits to Lebanese authorities, and he remains at large to this day.

FAISAL AKBAR SPEAKS

Akhbar told his interrogators three different stories. The only common theme in all three is that he and Taha were members of a jihadist cell that was directly associated with Abu Musaab al-Zarqawi.

Akhbar’s first story was the most detailed: He had trained Ahmed Abu Ades, and was a constant companion of his for the whole month preceding the assassination. He had even bid Abu Ades farewell on the morning before Hariri’s murder and that Abu Ades was the suicide bomber.

Akhbar’s second story was less detailed: He had been part of the cell monitoring Hariri’s movements and preparing for the assassination from mid-November 2004 to mid-January 2005, but that he had never met Ahmed Abu Ades, and that the suicide bomber was another Saudi national who went by the pseudonym “Abu Muqatil al-Asadi”.

By the time Akbar tells his third story, he seems to have been struck by amnesia: he had nothing to do with the Hariri assassination and that’s that.

But what if his first and second stories contained elements of the truth? What if they were actually parallel? What if there were two suicide bombers, not one?

Here’s an alternate theory: What if this jihadist cell had adapted the suicide bomber model because they were calibrating their conspiracy against what they thought was the best security money could buy. Hariri would have bought the best gadgets and hired the best brains in the business to keep him alive, and consequently the jihadists may have reasoned that a lone driver milling around in a truck would arouse suspicion and attention, especially while waiting for Hariri’s convey to pass through one of two bottlenecks—that is, one of only two spots on Hariri’s route that could not be regularly changed—from Hariri’s parliamentary office to his home. It stands to reason that Hariri’s security detail would be trying to spot something that Beirut had seen plenty of: the specter of the lone suicide driver of a car bomb.

So how would the jihadists work around it? They’d do so by having two occupants in the truck—quite an innovation. Abu Muqatil al-Asadi would drive, while Ahmed Abu Ades would be seated next to him pretending to ask directions, or looking over at invoice, or picking something up, etc. After all, this is what Akbar claimed in his second account: “…someone drove the pick-up while Abu Ades was next to him, and he was a member of the surveillance team and I don’t know who he was.”

[Note: in his first account, Akbar gives the aliases of the surveillance team even though he claimed not to have met them. He said that they were “Fahed”, “Thamir”, “Adnan”, “Fawwaz” and “Bassam”. In his second account, he claims to have worked with them for two months and he gives their aliases as “Adnan”, “Fawwaz”, “Thamir”, “Bassam” and “Muhanned”. Notice that he substitutes “Fahed” for “Muhanned”, which could indicate a gap in his knowledge; this person could be the one who drove Abu Ades to the St. George Hotel where the blast occurred; this could be Abu Muqatil al-Asadi. At one point the interrogators confronted Akbar and told him that the truck was moving at a certain speed at the time of detonation and that Abu Ades’ family had claimed that he could not drive, and certainly could not have handled the vehicle at that speed, the interrogators reckoned. I find it hard to believe that a young man in the Middle East would have grown up without taking a car for a spin, but even so if Abu Ades really didn’t know how to drive then that strengthens the theory that there was another suicide bomber in the truck who was behind the wheel. It should also be noted that Nicholas Blanford makes the claim on page 12 of his book Killing Mr. Lebanon (2006) that the Mitsubishi truck was double parked, hence stationary, at the time of detonation.]

But what about the DNA evidence? Plausible doubt: 33 bits of human remains and an upper right central incisor (found in February 2005) all belong to one person and were found near each other. But another tooth, a lower right central incisor, was found in June 2006 nearby and it cannot be conclusively determined, since no DNA was extracted, that this tooth belongs to the same suicide bomber.

Unless one can conclusively prove that the ‘lower right central incisor’ belongs to the same, lone suicide bomber, then one cannot conclusively disprove the ‘Two Suicide Bombers’ theory.

[By the way, Brammertz describes in detail the chemical analysis into the 33 human parts and how they are related to geographical markers, so when one links this to the rumor that he had been to Saudi Arabia to collect soil samples, the implication is that Brammertz is at least entertaining the notion that the suicide bomber was a Saudi, and hence could be Abu Muqatil al-Asadi.]

Getting back to the Faisal Akbar testimony, it is clear to me that there are eight principal characters:

1-Faisal Akbar: Saudi, joined Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan in 1999, tasked by Zarqawi to liaise with Jund al-Sham in Lebanon in 2001, met Zarqawi in Iraq in June 2005, in custody.

2-Hassan Naba’a (alias: “Sheikh Rashid”): Lebanese, he was the emir of this jihadist cell, met Akbar in Afghanistan in 2000, tasked by Zarqawi in 2000 to travel to Lebanon and “prepare the ground for jihad”, identified by Akbar as one of the leaders of Al-Qaeda in the Levant, in custody.

3-Khalid Taha: Palestinian, early 30s, recruited by Hassan Naba’a’s brother, at large and hiding in the Ain al-Helwah Palestinian refugee camp, according to Akbar.

4-Ahmed Abu Ades: Saudi-born Palestinian, 22 years-old at time of assassination, recruited by Khalid Taha, whereabouts unknown.

5-“Jamil”: an alias, identity unknown, described as a Syrian male in his late 20s, he emerges as the principal organizer of the conspiracy to assassinate Hariri, identified by Akbar as a member of Al-Qaeda in the Levant, at large and hiding in Syria, according to Akbar.

6-“Nabil”: also known as “Abu al-Ghadieh al-Souri”, whose real name could be Khalid Darwish, top aide to Abu Musaab al-Zarqawi, killed in Iraq in June 2005.

7-“Abu Musaab al-Zarqawi”: emir of Monotheism and Jihad in Mesopotamia, then head of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, then a member of the Shura Council of the Mujaheddin, killed in June 2006.

8-Abdel-Aziz al-Migrin: “Abu Hajer”, emir of Al-Qaeda in the Land of the Haramein (Saudi Arabia), killed in June 2004, his death was alluded to by Ahmed Abu Ades as one of the motivations to kill Hariri, who was seen as a very close regional ally of the Saudi royal family. Akbar also claimed that “Abu Muqatil al-Asadi” was sent by “Abu Hajer” and then he clarifies that “Abu Hajer” was al-Migrin.

Whichever one cuts it, there is no escaping that Ahmed Abu Ades, the guy who took credit for killing Hariri, was associated through Khalid Taha with three persons who had direct access to Zarqawi: “Sheikh Rashid”, “Nabil” and Faisal Akbar.

Of all the detainees in Lebanese custody, it seems that only Akbar and “Sheikh Rashid” have firsthand knowledge of the conspiracy to assassinate Hariri and were directly involved in it. The others don’t seem to be part of the picture.

AKBAR’S FIRST ACCOUNT

Akbar’s first narrative is breathtaking for all its details, and for the later assertion that it was all a figment of his imagination. But could he be that good of a storyteller? How would he have maintained ‘plot discipline’ during an tense interrogation when he was alleging to remember details like what clothes Khalid Taha wore on a certain date, or that Abu Ades had shaved his beard upon returning to Lebanon or what “Jamil” did with the keys to the Skoda rental, all the while being intimidated by the Lebanese ISF guys. Furthermore, the narrative is logically coherent, which is quite a feat considering the pressures he’s under, and he apparently gets some things right—later on, he’d claim that it was all a coincidence—such as the price of the Mitsubishi truck, which hadn’t been published before.

I found two immediate problems with this narrative:

1-Akbar claims to have trained “Abu Turab”, who he identifies as Ahmed Abu Ades, before training Hani al-Shenti, Amer Hallaq, Selim Halimeh and finally Bilal Za’aroureh, in that order. Akbar used to administer a security seminar to fresh recruits at a ‘guest house’ in Damascus before these young jihadists would travel to an Al-Qaeda run farm near Aleppo (specifically located on the Zerbeh road off the main Damascus-Aleppo highway) to pledge allegiance to the emir of the group, “Sheikh Rashid”. But this conflicts with Hani al-Shenti’s account (Shenti is another Saudi-born, naturalized Lebanese citizen of Palestinian descent) who gives the following timeline: he, as in Shenti, gave allegiance to Sheikh Rashid in August 2004, he was followed by Bilal Za’aroureh in November 2004, and then by Amer Hallaq in January 2005 and finally by Selim Halimeh in March 2005. Akbar’s account matches Al-Shenti when he says that there was a two month interlude between Hallaq’s training and that of Halimeh’s. However, Akbar claims to have never met Abu Ades before January 2005, even though he says that he was the first to be trained. The two-month gap between Za’aroureh (November 2004) and Amer Hallaq (January 2005) would coincide with what Akbar says later in his second account; that he was in Beirut during that time with the logistics and monitoring team.

[Note: it is clear to me that Shenti did not play an active part in the Hariri conspiracy since he claims to have only met “Jamil”, the principal organizer, in March 2005, after the assassination took place.]

Why would Akbar switch around the chronology of Bilal Za’aroureh’s training and clearly state that he was the last to be trained, when Shenti says that he recommended Za’aroureh for membership and that the latter had pledged allegiance to Sheikh Rashid in Aleppo in November 2004? We already know that the training seminar always preceded the pledge of allegiance, according to Akbar, so why the discrepancy?

It is also interesting to note that Bilal Za’aroureh and Khalid Taha were the only two members of the group to change their aliases (Za’aroureh changed his from “Jalal” to “Ramadhan” and Taha changed his alias from “Badr” to “Nour”) after the Hariri assassination, which would suggest that they were being isolated from the rest of the cell. It is also interesting that Akbar was tasked by Sheikh Rashid and Jamil to make sure that both Taha and Za’aroureh were tucked away safely in the Ain al-Helwah camp in the two weeks leading up to the arrest. All this seems to indicate that Za’aroueh had a crucial role in the Hariri conspiracy, and that Akbar’s change of the training timeline aims to hide something that is particularly related to Za’aroureh.

Early on in the investigation, the interrogators showed him the identification cards of some members of the cell and told Akbar that all these fellows were in their custody. So Akbar may have assumed that Khalid Taha and Bilal Za’aroureh were already held by the Lebanese authorities, in addition to Sheikh Rashid whom Akbar had helped entrap on behalf of the ISF. It also seems that Akbar held Sheikh Rashid, who was his nominal emir, in low esteem, at least when it came to tradecraft (Akbar seemed frustrated that Sheikh Rashid had not burned the letters addressed by Usbet al-Ansar and by Sheikh Rashid to Zarqawi, which were found by the Lebanese authorities later during the searches) and may have concluded that Sheikh Rashid, that is Hassan Naba’a, had already been singing like a canary. This, if taken with the ruse that both Taha and Za’aroureh were also being interrogated, may have prompted Akbar to come clean with the story and to minimize his role in the Hariri assassination as an enabler rather than a plotter or active organizer; after all, in the first account all he is only guilty of is training Abu Ades on general security matters, helping to tape the claim of assassination, scouting the scene of the crime to be, and babysitting Abu Ades throughout.

2-There is something that doesn’t add up about “Ahmed” the smuggler, who first brought Ahmed Abu Ades across the Syrian-Lebanese border on or around January 18, 2005 [Note: it would make sense to use a smuggler since Abu Ades didn’t have a passport, and it is a headache for Palestinians to travel back and forth with their refugee papers, this may also explain the delay in Abu Ades’ pledge of allegiance to Sheikh Rashid, even though he seems to have been recruited by Taha early on in the latter’s career] according to Akbar, who met the smuggler briefly when delivering Abu Ades to both him and Khalid Taha near Merjeh Square in Damascus. When first mentioning the smuggler, Akbar states that “Ahmed” is from Mejdel Anjar, a Lebanese town. But Akbar also says that when he, “Jamil”, Khalid Taha and Abu Ades crossed back into Lebanon from Syria on January 31, 2005, they used the same smuggler, “Ahmed”. But when mentioning the smuggler the second time around, Akbar says that “Ahmed” has his home in a town on the Syrian side of the border, which contradicts the first assertion that “Ahmed” is from Mejdel Anjar. The identity of the smuggler is important since he could be found and could serve as a witness to the veracity of Akbar’s account.

[A note on smuggling in the Middle East: an ‘information specialist’ once told me, “Give me a baby elephant in Istanbul, and I can produce the same baby elephant in Doha within 72 hours.” Smuggling happens, that’s it. So when Akbar claims that the explosives used in the truck bomb were smuggled into Lebanon from Iraq via Syria—that would make perfect sense. Lebanon in particular is a major smuggling node for all sorts of arms and drugs to regional and worldwide markets, and recently Lebanon itself has turned into a big domestic consumer for small arms from Iraq, e.g. Glock pistols and Kalashnikovs, as the population re-arms in anticipation of internal strife.]

There are several ‘truth markers’ that add credibility to Akbar’s account, and the three I found most interesting were:

1-Akbar claims that the final cut of the Abu Ades tape was made on January 26th, 2005, that is eleven days after Abu Ades was last seen by his family and acquaintances in Lebanon. This fits their assertion that he looked “different”; he looked more haggard, thinner and with a fluffier beard than the last time he was seen by them. Eleven days of stress would do that.

2-Akbar corrects his account to say that it was “Jamil” who had picked them up from Damascus in the Skoda vehicle around January 26th or 27th, 2005. This is called a ‘memory re-loop’ which is very hard to do if one is concocting a story off the top of one’s head.

3-The tape was left with Sheikh Rashid in Aleppo, which would make sense since Abu Ades and his handlers would not carry the tape with them as they were being smuggled across the border. Imagine them getting caught by the authorities and the tape being seized at the time ahead of the assassination, and then the whole conspiracy would have unraveled. No, the cell that held on to the tape and brought it to Lebanon and then delivered it to Aljazeera would have to be separate from Abu Ades & Co.

But the most interesting parts of the Akbar’s first account are all the things that could, in theory, be possibly authenticated or disputed:

1-Akbar gives a very detailed blow-by-blow account of the surveillance that both he and “Jamil” did on February 3, 2005 (after 1 PM) and on February 10, 2005 around and in front of the St. George Hotel area and Hariri’s office. Technically, there should be surveillance footage and cell phone geographical positioning that would correlate these movements if Akbar is telling the truth. Furthermore, Akbar makes it clear that they did not leave Syria with any baggage, and that the only clothing that was purchased when they got to Beirut was underwear, so it is possible to identify Akbar by what he is wearing. He wouldn’t have needed a wardrobe since these were the only times he left the Dahia apartment.

2-During the taping, Akbar claims that he stood to the right of the camera while Khalid Taha stood to the left. Since Abu Ades knew Khalid Taha intimately and trusted him, his body language directed to the left of the camera would indicate a point from which he may have drawn encouragement and guidance.

3-The truck was purchased in Tripoli (north of Beirut) on February 5, 2005 according to Akbar and taken to the Ain al-Helwah camp adjacent to Sidon (south of Beirut) to be outfitted with explosives, and then returned to Beirut on February 9, 2005. There may be traffic surveillance footage that could verify these movements.

4-Akbar claims that ten detonators were used when wiring-up the car bomb, and this is something that the forensic experts may be able to determine.

AKBAR’S SECOND ACCOUNT

This is where everything changes: Akbar claims that his role was limited to the two months he spent with the logistics and monitoring team in Lebanon prior to January 2005 and that he had no interaction whatsoever with Ahmed Abu Ades. He also claims that the suicide bomber was a Saudi working under the alias Abu Muqatil al-Asadi, who was sent by “Abu Hajer” who is later identified as Abdel-Aziz al-Migrin. But by the time of the Hariri assassination, al-Migrin had been dead for eight months. What is going on? Akbar doesn’t tell us when Abu Muqatil was sent by Migrin. Why doesn’t the interrogator push him on this point? Akbar also says that the person who outfitted the truck with explosives in Ain al-Helwah was someone using the alias “Abu Ubayda”.

By comparison to the first story Akbar gave, the details revolving around the second account are very scant. It is almost as if the account was ‘expunged’ from the record or the interrogation was done by some other entity. This line of thinking would correspond to what a source had told me in late January 2006, which I wrote about on this blog on February 5, 2006: ‘Attempted Cover-Up of Al-Qaeda Role in Hariri Murder?

A team from Saudi intelligence may have met with Akbar at this point and taken his statement:

I have a source who is allegedly speaking to someone with direct knowledge of the investigation, and this is what I was told last week:

-Khalid Medhat Taha managed to escape (…or was helped to escape) from the dragnet. He is currently believed to be hiding in the ‘Ain Al-Hilwa Camp (for Palestinian refugees) on the outskirts of Sidon.

-A Saudi national and a Palestinian refugee were among those detained. In their first affidavit, they described how the vehicle (did not specify model) that was used in the Hariri assassination was fitted with explosives and stored in the ‘Ain Al-Hilwa Camp.

-The detainees are being held by the Interior Ministry (pro-Hariri), while Military Intelligence (thought to be pro-Lahoud) has not been allowed to interrogate them. The UN inquiry team into the Hariri assassination, currently headed by Belgian prosecutor Serge Brammertz (took over from Detlev Mehlis on Jan. 24), has asked for access to this group but are being stonewalled.

-A team from the Saudi intelligence service arrived in Beirut and spoke to the Saudi and Palestinian detainees. They managed to extract the names of five priority security targets operating in Saudi Arabia. It has been suggested that the initial information about the truck bomb was expunged from the record after this meeting, leading to speculation about some sort of deal. [This is where my source overlaps the Addiyar information, but I was very hesitant to write about all of this since this speculation concerning a bargain with the detainees does not seem realistic.]

At the time, Akbar was being interrogated by the pro-Hariri ISF, and specifically by Lt. Col. Samir Shehadeh. The Hariri camp is not well served politically if the assassination of Rafiq Hariri is perceived to be the doing of Zarqawi’s Al-Qaeda, especially given all the embarrassing Saudi connections in the two accounts, rather than pegging the responsibility on the Syrian regime. The Hariri camp had gone too far in their hostility to the Asad regime, way beyond the point of no-return. Al-Qaeda’s alleged responsibility would remove the international pressure on the Syrians, who in turn would be emboldened to project their power into Lebanon through their local acolytes.

There have been several instances where I believe the investigation was deliberately misled by the Hariri camp, especially during the tenure of Brammertz’s predecessor, Detlev Mehlis. At least three ‘witnesses’ turned out to be fakes, who may have been coached by the Hariri camp. So there has been a precedent to blur the facts revolving around this case, and the ISF under Shehadeh may have proceeded to do so again with Faisal Akbar’s testimony. One way they could have done that is to tell Akbar that Sheikh Rashid had not confessed to anything, and that Khalid Taha and Bilal Za’aroureh were still at large. This would explain Akbar’s retraction.

[Note: A roadside bomb nearly killed Lt. Col. Samir Shehadeh in September 2006, which targeted his security convoy near Sidon. Shehadeh has been living outside Lebanon since then, and he is under protection. But one person I spoke with recently has suggested that Shehadeh had become very paranoid, and now believes that someone in the Hariri camp was trying to kill him, or at least to buy off his silence on the Faisal Akbar testimony. This person also suggested that Shehadeh was the source of the testimony that was published by Al-Akhbar. Other media outlets in Lebanon have suggested Adnan Adhoum as the source.]

In the second account, Akbar confirms what he thinks were the likely reasons why the jihadists would kill Hariri, that were first made by Abu Ades in the tape: Hariri had signed the execution orders for several jihadists in Lebanon who were responsible for assassinating Sheikh Nizar al-Halabi, a leader of the off-shoot Ahbash Sunni sect. Hariri was also seen as someone who was very close to the Saudi royal family, so the jihadists avenged the death of al-Migrin, who was killed in a firefight with Saudi counterterrorism forces, by killing Hariri.

Due to the thinness of the second account, we can’t even figure out where Akbar watched the Abu Ades tape on Aljazeera on the afternoon of the Hariri murder: was he in Syria with Sheikh Rashid? Or were they both still in Beirut?

The interrogators challenged Akbar’s retraction of his first account by pointing out that the level of detail, especially the comprehensive knowledge of Beirut’s downtown area around the blast site, was unique. Akbar countered by saying that he’d been to Lebanon often—eight times by his count—and hence knew his way around. But Akbar seems to have spent much more time in the Ain al-Helwah Camp and in outlying suburbs of Beirut rather than the downtown area. I’ve been to Beirut several times, and I’ve crawled all over the downtown area, but I certainly won’t be able to pull the same details as Akbar managed to do—and I’ve got a great sense of orientation (…aided by maps, admittedly) to boot. But I wasn’t plotting to blow anything up! The topography of downtown Beirut may have singed itself onto Akbar’s memory specifically because he was plotting for something and thus acutely sensitized to his surroundings.

WHY DID THEY DO IT?

At first, I think they really were motivated by revenge for the reasons stated above, and that would explain the Abu Ades tape and the claim of responsibility. At the time, they would have understood that Al-Qaeda HQ (Bin Laden and Zawahiri) would have frowned at such a stunt. But one needs to understand that the Zarqawi’s brand of Al-Qaeda is very different that than of Al-Qaeda HQ—he only joined them fully in October 2004 and he kept the name until January 2006. Zarqawi’s outfit is very different in terms of origin, ambition and technique; see my papers on the topic here and here.

That is why they perpetrated the crime under a new name, Al-Nusreh wel Jihad.

Whereas, Al-Qaeda HQ may compromise and find ways of working with state-sponsors of terror such as Syria, Iran, Saddam’s Iraq, Sudan, and Saudi and Pakistani intelligence, Zarqawi was freed-up by technological advances, notably the use of ‘internet jihad’, from having to rely on regimes.

But then, as events unfolded, the conspirators saw a new opportunity arise: the possibility that the Syrian regime may collapse due to international pressure or outright regime change. The jihadists hate the Alawite Ba’athist regime in Syria, and may consider it to be a 'Perfect Enemy' should it begin to falter. So they allowed the global perception that Syria was behind the assassination to stand, because the global jihad may benefit if the international community acts on such as revelation. They may even have orchestrated the wave of later assassinations and bombings to keep stocking the fire to which Syria’s feet were being held.

WHAT IS SYRIA’S ROLE?

How did Akbar get arrested? How did he show-up on the radar screen of the Lebanese authorities?

Syria arrested Ziyad Ramadhan, a known associate of Ahmed Abu Ades in October 2005. He had been held briefly by Lebanese authorities after the Hariri assassination in connection with Abu Ades but was then released. He escaped back into Syria and went into hiding. Akbar reveals to us that Ziyad Ramadhan was a cell member, since he had an alias “Abdullah”. Ramadhan handed himself over to the Syrian authorities after they began taking his relatives as hostages in his stead. Did Ramadhan lead the Syrians to Amer Hallaq and Selim Halimeh? Did the Syrians share this information with the Lebanese authorities who went ahead and found these two, who may have led them to Akbar? We don’t know, based on the published testimonies, who got arrested first. Then again, why would the Syrians give this information to the pro-Hariri ISF and not to the Syria-friendly Lebanese Military Intelligence? Why would the Syrians risk the ISF arresting this group then fudging the interrogation?

Akbar also tells us that he, Khalid Taha and Sheikh Rashid escaped to Lebanon ahead of Syrian security sweeps in November 2005. Had the Syrians been manipulating this cell all along, wouldn’t it make more sense for them to arrest them while they were still in Syria and then parade their confessions to Brammertz and worldwide public opinion?

So the answer to the question “What is Syria’s role?” is “None”, at this point. Those who want to prove that Syria is complicit need to do one of three things: find Ahmed Abu Ades alive, or find his mortal remains. Otherwise, they need to prove that either “Jamil” or “Nabil” (“Abu al-Ghadieh”), the two most prominent Syrians in the cell, were willing agents of the Syrian intelligence service. I think that such evidence is going to be very hard to come by since it doesn’t fit what we know of Zarqawi’s style.

MISCELLANEOUS

1-I found it interesting that Faisal Akbar connected Abu Mohammad al-Lubnani to his organization, since I mentioned such a likelihood on January 28, 2006; this would be yet another indication that this cell was closely linked to Zarqawi:

This new information on Abu Mohammad Al-Lubnani’s background, namely that he is a Kurd, offers a tantalizing probable link between ex-PSP thugs and Al-Qaeda in Lebanon. Whoever killed Hariri, and orchestrated the subsequent campaign of terror, must have had insider information on the comings and goings of the various targets. Syria and its acolytes in Lebanon would certainly be privy to such information, but Al-Qaeda wouldn’t. Unless Al-Qaeda was plugged into the Lebanese political elite somehow, either by getting the information indirectly via the Syrians (unlikely, since the whole raison d’etre of Al-Qaeda in Lebanon is to bring down the Syrian regime) or directly from a network of acquaintances who handle security for this political elite.

Those PSP Kurds turned jihadists could be the key to this secret information channel, not to mention terrorist know-how and access to explosives.

2-Faisal Akbar’s full name and biography are interesting: he is Faisal Asa’ad Hashim Hussein Akbar. This name evokes a South Asia connection (India? Pakistan?) and Faisal’s ancestors may have been part of the ethnic flotsam that ended up in the Arabian Peninsula as a result of the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca or trade, and then Arabized and became Saudi nationals. Akbar says he is from Ras Tanoura City in the Eastern Province; while the Eastern Province has a Shiite majority, Ras Tanoura is predominately Sunni and is populated by recent internal migrants from within Saudi Arabia. Akbar is yet another terrorist who was mass produced at the Imam Muhammad bin Saud University in Qasim, Saudi Arabia, where he took a degree in religious studies before leaving for Afghanistan at the age of 23.

3-One way the cell was funded was through VISA cards belonging to Saudi nationals. These individuals would put funds into their accounts, and Sheikh Rashid was authorized to withdraw cash from ATMs in Lebanon when needed.

4-Akbar claims that the Syrian regime shut down the smuggling routes of jihadists entering Iraq from Syria around early November 2005.

CONCLUSION

Ahmed Abu Ades was directly connected to Abu Musaab al-Zarqawi, whose organization had the means and the motivation to assassinate former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. The only person who knew for certain that Hariri was going to be assassinated before the event happened was Ahmed Abu Ades, as evidenced by the tape.

Empirically speaking, Faisal Akbar’s roller-coaster testimony does not change anything—it would be useless in court. But it changes plenty perception-wise; the overall implication of the testimony is that it places direct responsibility squarely on Zarqawi’s doorstep, or rather his tombstone.

I welcome comments pointing out other interesting features of the Akbar testimony that I may have missed, as well as those who take issue with my analysis. As for all the Lebanese and Syrians who want to see Bashar impaled, and all the Syrians and Lebanese who want to gouge out Junbulat’s eyes, this conversation is not for you: this analysis is about the jihadists and what they are up to.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Narrative of a Conspiracy, Part 4

This is the final installment of the Faisal Akbar testimony, which appears in the October 16, 2007 issue of Al-Akhbar. I will post my analysis over the next couple of days. Promise.


"Q: We noticed while taking down your statement during the phases of the investigation that you use aliases for some people while neglecting [the use of aliases] for others. Why [do you do this]?

A: I am used to saying, for example, Sheikh Osama bin Laden or Sheikh Abu Abdullah, because the alias is repeated to me all the time, especially since this goes to the core of my work as a mujahid in Al-Qaeda. When it comes to Hariri, I say this without his title since there is no intention or particular purpose to mention this title in this way.

Q: Why did you purposefully take security precautions, as you told us, varying in degrees of importance, such as hiding Khalid al-Taha at the camp, while you isolated Marwan, that is Hani al-Shenty, in the Al-Besta apartment and Amer Hallaq and Salim Halimeh in the Tareek Jdeideh apartment, without them finding a way [of contacting] one another. What is the purpose of these measures, and why does Khalid al-Taha enjoy such a high level of security importance?

A: I was following the orders of Sheikh Rashid as they were in the security arrangement, because Khalid al-Taha has a relationship with Ziyad Ramadhan, and the latter was mentioned by name in the Mehlis report.

Q: You said that you are part of, and organized within, a jihadist movement that seeks to fight in Iraq. While in Lebanon, we found in the apartments that you manage weapons and rockets and bombs and communications equipment and guns and a mask and belts that belie that they are suicide belts, and hair color dyes and electrical components for detonations, and we also found wireless equipment. And with the detainees that contacted you, we found combat and training manuals that surpass is security sophistication what we ourselves know. Tell us why [you] possessed these materials, especially in light it has become clear that [your] movement was not from Syria to Iraq, but [rather] from Syria to Lebanon. Why is this presence [infused] with such caution including providing each one of you, in the very least, with a fake identification document. It was also revealed that each one of your comrades, and you too, had several phone cards. Each person would use one card, and his alias would be marked on the back of the card. In addition we asked you to provide us with the name of one person who took a [security] seminar and gave his allegiance, and then managed to get to Iraq to fight and achieve his goal?

A: We came to Lebanon to escape the Syrian security sweeps and to continue our jihadist work in Lebanon [which involved] the bombs and the rockets. As for the explosive belts, they also enter into our work. As for the hair dyes, they are for masquerading, and they are used by Sheikh Rashid, not myself. As for the electrical circuits, they belong to the electronic [part of our organization] that is managed by Jamil. As for the studies that were saved on the computers of the guys, these are modern combat studies, like the seminar of the martyr Isma’il al-Khatib on assembling electronic circuits to attach to explosives, and seminars on making explosives, and seminars on advanced communications equipment. As for the brothers who fought in Iraq and came from Lebanon, I will mention to you the martyr Abu Omar al-Lubnani, the father of Muhammed Ramadhan whose son was also martyred in Iraq, and that was two years ago. But nowadays, the borders were shut down as of approximately a month and a half ago.

Q: What did you see on television when Ahmed Abu Ades appeared, and what do you remember of him?

A: I remember watching him on the Aljazeera channel, in a film cut up into two or three segments, reading a statement [on behalf] of the Nusra wel Jihad group, taking responsibility for the Hariri assassination. I don’t remember all the reasons, but I remember some of them that revolved around the revenge for the martyrs of the haramein [Translator’s Note: the holy cities of Mecca and Medina], and it was widespread among us that Hariri had signed the execution [orders] for some of the Salafist mujaheddin in Lebanon.

Q: Could the life of Khalid al-Taha be in danger now since he is, as you said, suffering from problems?

A: Khalid is in the Ain al-Helwah Camp with the Usbet al-Ansar group, and they are brothers to us and there is coordination between us and them, and they are taking care of him per an agreement between Sheikh Rashid with he who has the alias Abu Bassir, and he is the head of the group. I will tell you that Khalid al-Taha left his gun in the Ain al-Rummaneh apartment with Hani al-Shenty because he felt safe about knowing that he is going to move into the Usbet al-Ansar camp.

Q: After perusing and checking your laptop, we found encrypted e-mails that were stored in a secret file. Explain these messages to us, and what are they meant [for], and the symbols found in them?

A: This file contains encrypted e-mails that [belong] to Rashid, and I cannot open them or translate these messages for you. Rashid is the only one capable of reading these messages, because he possesses the password and we do not possess it.

Q: You mentioned in your statement that the cost of the Mitsubishi truck was 7000 dollars, and this price matched the price of the aforementioned truck in the Lebanese market?

A: This happened by coincidence.

Q: The list of forgery equipment, letters, laptop and its accessories, weapons, funds, phone cards and other things found in the Shati al-Dhahabi apartment belong to who? Tell us about them in detail?

A: The paper on which the electronic equipment and stationary and the maps of Beirut and Tripoli are noted was a request from Jalal, who is also called Sultan or Murad, and he is the one who is proficient at forgery within [our] group. He asked me for these things so that I would buy them for him because he wanted to use them in the Ain al-Helwah camp. The laptop is Rashid’s, and the accessories of this laptop belong to Rashid too. The letters, which you have shown me, and that I have recognized them, are letters from the brothers in Usbet al-Ansar in the Ain al-Helwah Camp to Abu Musaab al-Zarqawi, through Rashid, [while] the letter addressed to “the Hajji”, which is an alias for Abu Musaab al-Zarqawi, and the letter to Abu Laith al-Nejdi, who was martyred [later], these two letters [belong] to Rashid. It should be noted that I burn any letter after reading it, but I don’t know why Rashid keeps these letters.

As for the two guns and the bomb, they were brought by the doctor whose alias is Muwwafaq with him, and he is in your custody. The funds belong to our organization, and it is in Rashid’s charge. The VISA credit cards with the names of Saudi persons belong to Rashid, and he is capable of withdrawing money with them after the owners deposit the funds that are donated to [our] organization. The phone cards are for use between us and the guys in Lebanon and Syria. The belts, I don’t know what they are used for, except one which is for straightening a back. The fake identification cards were received by Rashid for distribution among the guys.

The hair dying kit found in the Shati’ al-Dhahabi apartment belongs to Rashid, because he wanted to change his appearance, because he is known and for security reasons. The mask was brought by the doctor with him.

Q: Why do you deliberately change aliases?

A: For security circumstances, aliases are changed every once and a while.

Q: When did Khalid al-Taha change his alias from Badr to Nour, and under what circumstances?

A: I don’t know.

Q: Has Marwan changed his alias since joining the group, we mean Hani al-Shenti?

A: No Marwan didn’t change his alias, and kept it the same.

Q: Did Amer and Selim change their aliases since that time?

A: No they did not change their aliases.

Q: Did Bilal Za’aroureh change his alias?

A: Yes he changed it from Jalal to Ramadhan.

Q: Why this uniqueness and security circumstances that drove Khalid al-Taha and Bilal Za’aroureh specifically to change their aliases, especially since they were sent to the camp to hide?

A: For security necessities.

Q: Can you explain this security necessity in light of their association with Ahmed Abu Ades?

A: I do not have an answer to this question.

Q: What do you think about Rashid’s denial to any [emir status] or pledge of allegiance or activity or knowledge of activities that your comrades admitted to willingly?

A: Rashid is an emir, and I think he is thinking for the long term so that he won’t stay in prison for too long. He will [then] get out to continue his jihadist activity. Because he is an emir, he is entitled to claim and say what he sees fit.

Q: During a stage of the stages of this interrogation, you gave a clear testimonial about receiving Ahmed Abu Ades, and then your participation in filming the video, and explaining specific details during the filming, such as breaking down the Abu Ades statement on the film into four parts, and then you told us about the reasons and motivations that Abu Ades mentioned in the film, and then you gave an oral testimony to the Lt. Col. who heads [our] branch, and then you retracted [your testimony]. Explain this to us?

A: I told you many things that I made up in my imagination, and they have no connection to reality, such as dividing up the statement into four parts, and they are the religious introduction, that contains verses from the Koran, then a tradition [of the prophet], and third the political reasons that involve stealing the money of Lebanon, and that Hariri signed the execution [orders] for the young mujaheddin in Lebanon who had assassinated Nezar al-Halabi, and to avenge the martyrs of the haramein like Abu Hajer [who is] Abdel-Aziz al-Muqrin, and the fourth [part] is his [final words] to his mother and the Muslims in general.
I certify to you that all these details were derived from my imagination and are not true.

Q: The details that you innovated match irrefutable facts, that have been revealed in many investigations regarding the topic of our [file] here [regarding] the crime of assassinating the martyred President Rafiq Hariri and the disappearance of Ahmed Abu Ades, which shows that you know of matters and details you told us about or modified, and then you backed away from them. We advise you to tell the truth as it is, and to tell us about the persons who you may perceive, and for special reasons, as the legitimate superiors or brothers in the jihad?

A: The real reason that I mentioned and I am certain of and this is widespread among the mujaheddin, is the matter of the Hariri’s signature on the execution [orders] of the mujaheddin in Lebanon. I heard this matter from Rashid after the Hariri assassination, and while we were following the news on television in the security office in Syria during the same day that Hariri was assassinated on.

Q: Was that on 14/2/2005, and at what time as far as you recall?

A: Yes this matter was [during] watching television and hearing the Abu Ades statement on 14/2/2005, and I remember it was after afternoon prayers.

Q: What did Rashid say at the time, and who was with you?

A: No one was with us, and Rashid said at the time, after the film was played on Aljazeera, that “Hariri was implicated and responsible for signing the execution [orders] for the mujaheddin in the Nezar al-Halabi case” and I hadn’t known about this matter until Rashid told me about it.

Q: Are you prepared to confront Rashid with this claim, and what if he asked you to obey his order since he was the emir as you mentioned?

A: Yes I am prepared to confront Rashid, Hassan al-Naba’a, on what he said on that date, and I will not follow his order if he asked me to stop testifying or to corroborate his statements, because now I am speaking truthfully and there is no guile in what I am saying.

Q: What about your retraction in a short while after what we said, if we asked you another question?

A: I certify to you that what I mentioned now is honest and true, and what Rashid had mentioned about the execution of the mujaheddin in the Nezar al-Halabi case is what I learnt from him. As for what [I meant] by widespread, are the executions in general, which Hariri signed, and they concern past Lebanese mujaheddin like Badi’ or Wadi’. This matter is specific to the Lebanese, and known by them like Rashid, but I didn’t know it. I have given my testimony willingly and with all truthfulness and I have nothing to say otherwise.

[His statement was read to him; he corroborated it and signed it along with us]

Sending Swords to Iraq

Q: It came to light in the testimony of someone else in this [investigation] that he was tasked once with purchasing a sword from Beirut, and specifically from the Dora [area], and sending it to Rashid in Syria, what is the veracity of this claim?

A: Rashid sends swords to Iraq to Abu Musaab al-Zarqawi, and I have no knowledge of who from the guys brings them from Lebanon.

Q: Who do you think it is?

A: My direct emir is Rashid.

Q: How does that obligate you, explain that to us?

A: I fully follow what he says to me or assigned to me by him and I don’t refuse it unless there is a religious [reason] not to.

Q: Given what you just said, does this matter obligate you to hide facts so as not to damage the group or its emir or the general doctrine?

A: Yes I am committed to following orders, especially if they are from the emir, to hide facts or details.

Q: Where did you meet Rashid and how and when?

A: I met Rashid who is in your custody and now I found out that his name is Hassan Naba’a, in Afghanistan during the year 2000 in one of the training camps and we stayed together for approximately five months, then Abu Musa’ab al-Zarqawi sent him to Lebanon to organize groups to prepare the ground for the jihad in Lebanon, so Rashid arrived and he was called at the time “Abu Muslim”.

Knowledge of the streets of Beirut

Q: You mentioned to us that you knew the streets of Beirut because you have been to Lebanon on previous occasions, when did you arrive and where did you stay and what was the purpose of your presence during those times?

A: I arrived in Lebanon in mid-2001 as I was tasked by Abu Musaab al-Zarqawi to meet the Jund al-Sham group that is located in the ‘Ain al-Helwah Camp. I came from Turkey to Lebanon, and I stayed at the White House Hotel in Hamra under my real name for an hour only then I traveled with someone called Mu’in to the Ain al-Helwah Camp to discuss with Jund al-Sham the issue of pledging allegiance and going to [do] jihad in Afghanistan and I stayed in the camp for about two weeks. I traveled afterwards to Turkey and then to Afghanistan, and I came during the same year from Syria to Lebanon through the Masna’a [border point] under my real name again and I went directly to the Ain al-Helwah Camp. I met again the brothers in Jund al-Sham for about four days to observe the issue of going out to the jihad and to ascertain their preparedness and abilities.

During that time I became wanted in Lebanon by the Lebanese judiciary because Mu’in was stopped in Syria and handed [back] to Lebanon for the crime of forgery, I was called at the time “Qweidh” “Qaws”. I managed to leave to Syria and then returned to Lebanon on dates that I don’t remember for about three times again to the Ain al-Helwah Camp. After this time I used to enter Lebanon with a fake Saudi passport under the name Fahed al-Yamani, and I would come for a day or two for the [border] stamps so that the Syrian General Security [Directorate] would see stamps on my passport even though it was fake, and I would use when coming to Lebanon furnished apartments in Hamra and Rosheh, and I also stayed in the Shuweifat area in an apartment with Nabil who is called “Abu al-Ghadieh”, who was martyred in Iraq. I stayed for two days there, then I returned to Syria while Nabil statyed there, and that was in 2003, so I have been to Lebanon around eight times, and that is why I know the streets of Beirut.