‘In Aid of Our Brothers in Gaza’
On January 18, 2008, the Jihad and Reform Front, which includes the Islamic Army of Iraq, the Army of the Mujaheddin, and the ‘Judicial Commission’ splinter group of the Ansar al-Sunna, issued a statement under the title of ‘The Formation of the Iraqi Resistance Campaign to Aid Gaza’ along with two other insurgent groups, Hamas-Iraq and the Islamic Front of the Iraqi Resistance.
Each grouping launched its own mini-campaign; the Islamic Army of Iraq (IAI) calls its own ‘In Aid of Our Brothers in Gaza’. Since then, the IAI claims to have blown-up at least a dozen Humvees and other assorted American armored vehicles, fired dozens of mortars and missiles at US bases in Iraq, and killed several top ranking American officers including—they allege—two CIA officers, in addition to several local enemies such as Iraqi Army generals and Mahdi Army cadres, as part of this campaign.
All this for Gaza?
The IAI also issued a video on February 10 to mark the occasion—they called it ‘From Baghdad to Gaza, Jihad Until Victory’—with a speech delivered by ‘Dr. Ali al-Noaimi’, its official spokesman. Al-Noaimi rails against the “Crusaders, the troops of Bush the Zionist” and the “Safavids” and vows to liberate “every inch of the land of the Muslims” from “invaders”.
Oddly enough, an argument could be made that this whole campaign for Gaza is being bankrolled by General David Petraeus. See, many of those prescribing remedies to Iraq’s problems have sold Washington on the idea that groups such as the Islamic Army of Iraq could be turned into America’s best friends. In fact, many of the current leaders of the Concerned Local Citizens groups (…recently renamed, along with the tribal ‘Awakening’ and ‘Salvation’ franchises as the ‘Sons of Iraq’ corps) were second-tier leaders in the insurgent groups that launched this campaign: Saad al-Obeidi (a.k.a. Abul ‘Abid, in Amiriya), Thamir al-Tamimi (a.k.a. Abu Azzam, in Abu Ghraib), Uday al-Nadawi (deceased, in Diyala), Emad Ahmed (deceased, in Diyala), …etc.
These ex-insurgents now live on the largesse of the American taxpayer, and some are getting rich enough to bail out of Iraq carrying generous reserves of cash and living it up in Damascus or Amman. Other enterprising young men are also heading out of the country because of an erroneous rumor that has it that one’s service in the CLC is a golden ticket to asylum in the United States, Europe or Australia.
Once the Sunni insurgency collapsed, and insurgent groups began turning on one another, namely against Al-Qaeda, there was very little to sustain those mid-level commanders in terms of money, legitimacy or new recruits other than turning to the Americans to provide all these things. For $300-$400 a month per head, a guy like Abul ‘Abid could turn his band of 13 fighters into a force of 600 men, many of whom were idle laborers beforehand and had never fought in the insurgency. Eager US commanders would take reporters around and sell them on the idea that these brave fighters had turned the battle against Al-Qaeda. The narrative was simple enough for the press corps and for the self-styled experts in Washington, and a self-sustaining myth was born. Everyone smiled for the cameras. Even thugs who were doing Al-Qaeda’s bidding just a few months ago and had only turned because Al-Qaeda had appointed someone else to replace them were polished up and made presentable and available for media comment: Adil al-Mashhadani was reborn as a respectable local notable. “Let’s get him in a photo-op with David Ignatius!”
“Things have quieted down, Nibras, why do you want to go around mucking everything up?”
Well, to start with, one myth has been constructed atop another, and nothing anyone is saying about Iraq these days makes any sense, and that offends me. And the longer these myths go unchallenged, the longer it is going to take America to awake from its stupor the next time the Middle East ruptures. If you thought Iraq was bad, just wait until Act II unfolds in either the Levant or the Gulf, or both. America’s allies will have to fight these battles anyway, but it would be easier if America thinks coherently about why these battles are supposed to be fought, and why they are supposed to be won.
For now, the American left does not want to concede that the battle in Iraq has been won, so they have devised a talking-point to forestall any White House claims of a victory to hold them over until the November presidential elections. It goes something like this: “The CLCs could turn at any moment and launch an all-out war against the Shia-dominated central government, thus unraveling all the security gains of the surge.”
Let me get this straight: insurgents who were loftily claiming that they were in the fight to rid Iraq of American occupation have been getting their livelihood in dollars from the same soldiers they were firing at a few months ago, and these guys are still expected to have any fight in them? C’mon, I mean how low could you have fallen to receive your daily bread from the enemy? These guys are broken, their will to fight has evaporated and it’s been replaced with a motive for mere survival; they are not fighting for anything but a paycheck, and all the clamor and noise they are making nowadays is a supplication to the Shia-dominated central government to feed them.
Once upon a time, these Sunni insurgents were fighting to control all of Iraq, nowadays their biggest prize is who gets to control the provincial council of resource-poor Anbar. Whatever fight is left in them is going to be leveraged in a five-way intra-Sunni brawl pitting Al-Qaeda, the tribes, ex-insurgents, ex-Ba’athists and the Islamic Party against each other for such meager spoils as Adhamiya and Ramadi. Their only hope to stave off Kurdish designs on crown jewels such as Kirkuk and Mosul is to ally themselves to the hated Shia-dominated central government. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.
“But what about all the Iran-bashing rhetoric?” That’s just hot-air: the Sunnis believe that this is what the Americans want to hear. It’s the cynical equivalent of liberating Jerusalem through Kuwait. If the only way to find common ground with the Americans is to sell oneself as an adversary to Iran, then they can easily don this costume, as long as it gets the Americans to support one group against the other within this intra-Sunni competition. They’ve tried rebelling against the central government for the last five years; they threw all that they had at it and still failed. Who among the Sunni leadership can sell young men to give up their lives—that had turned a little better with $300 to spend every month—in order to recapture Baghdad?
Will Adnan al-Duleimi do it? I don’t think so, especially not with that footage of his son (who is under arrest on terrorism charges) dry-humping a prostitute while swigging whiskey is floating around YouTube.
“But if the CLCs are not such a threat, then why is the central government reluctant to absorb them into the military and security services?” That’s simple: it is called revenge and humiliation. Most of these mid-level commanders served in Saddam’s bureaucracies of murder and had resumed their blood-soaked careers under the insurgency. They have killed the family members and colleagues of those who are now being asked to help them out; revenge is the natural human instinct that kicks in under such conditions. The Americans put the Islamic Army on life support even though the Islamic Army claims to have killed and maimed thousands of American soldiers, but that’s America’s shame and lack of judgment, why should the Iraqis do the same, especially now that the Islamic Army had been defeated and broken?
But let’s get back to this whole Gaza issue. Wouldn’t it be a pertinent question to ask: why is the Islamic Army et al even talking about Gaza? And this is not the first time that they coupled what’s going on in Iraq with what’s happening in Palestine: remember their revenge for Israel’s incursion in Jineen? Or are they just keeping up with Al-Qaeda’s Islamic State of Iraq, whose leader Abu Omar al-Baghdadi dedicated his ninth speech (released last week) to the issue of Palestine?
The US government has been negotiating with the Islamic Army for two years now. The diplomats, officer brass and spooks had even established a specialized bureaucratic arm in conjunction with the British to do this: it is called the Force Strategic Engagement Cell and is currently headed by Donald Blome and Maj. Gen. Christopher Hughes.
Yet for all its importance, no reporter has managed to get an answer to this question: when negotiating with the Islamic Army, who does the United States government believe it is talking to?
Every little aspect of the Iraq has been covered in minute detail; even what seem to be regular non-political crimes in Baghdad get played up as “Today’s Violence”. Yet no reporter has managed to get the US government on the record as to the identity of the Islamic Army’s leadership. Are they salafists? Are they Ba’athists? Are they ex-officers? Who are they and why are they killing American soldiers in reprisal for the blockade of Gaza?
A Saudi reporter put out a curious column a couple of weeks ago in a Saudi newspaper where he claimed that the leader of the Islamic Army is someone who goes by the nom-de-guerre ‘Abu Khadija’, who he further identifies as ‘Amin al-Janabi’. According to the column, Abu Khadija got his start when a relative of his, Mahmoud al-Janabi, also known as ‘Abu Atyaf’, gathered up a motley group of ex-mujaheddin who had seen action in Afghanistan. The column also alleges that Abu Khadija had left Iraq and now resides in Damascus, while the day-to-day operations of the Islamic Army are conducted by Farhan al-Khalifawi, known as ‘Abu Hanan’.
About a year ago, a high-ranking officer of a US-friendly Middle Eastern intelligence service (not Saudi) told me that they think that the Islamic Army is led by a mysterious ‘Abu Khadija’, further identified as being a salafist in his late thirties. So I’ve had a head start in looking for who this Abu Khadija is supposed to be. If we go by the storyline published in al-Riyadh newspaper, then Mahmoud al-Janabi could be Mahmoud Sweidan al-Janabi (brother of Qasim Sweidan). There are two persons who fit the description of ‘Farhan al-Khalifawi’: Farhan Munachid ‘Aifan al-Khalifawi (brother of Fawzi Munachid) and Farhan Turki al-Khalifawi (brother of Ismail Turki). I couldn’t find anyone to fit the profile of ‘Amin al-Janabi’. One source dismissed this account as disinformation. Another attributed it to MP Khalaf Alayan, who belongs to the Albu Khalifa clan, and who would have played up a role for his kinsman; it is also alleged that Alayan’s two sons, Muhammed and Muhanned, are active within the Islamic Army.
A third source says that at best this group is a local cluster of cells that operate under the name of the Islamic Army, but are not representative of the overall structure.
So who is right in all of this? Why is the enemy—at least if defined by who is killing American soldiers—still a shadowy mystery to the American public after five years of warfare?
Sure, Al-Qaeda is the primary enemy in Iraq to both Americans and Iraqis, but the Islamic Army is definitely at second place, and not by a wide margin—so why haven’t reporters asked these questions?
Why is General Petraeus giving salaries to the Islamic Army, the 1920 Revolution Brigades and other insurgent groups when their propaganda arms are still cheering the murder of Petraeus’ troops?
The Islamic Army captured, tortured and then burnt the corpse of someone I knew and liked, Nezar. He was a nice, simple guy—a salt of the earth sort of guy—always ready with a joke. They made a video of him and claimed that he died from his wounds, something contradicted by others who were held with him. I can’t understand how Nezar's torturers and killers are entitled to get salaries while Nizar’s family has yet to be compensated for his loss?
Was Nizar killed for Gaza?
How many others were killed for Gaza?
These insurgents—the scum of the earth—have been defeated, yet irrationally no one wants to admit it, not even the victors. In fact, the policy is counterintuitive: these defeated insurgents must be rewarded, at all cost! But who are they? No one seems to care about the specifics. The case of the Islamic Army goes to the heart of how Iraq has been mismanaged, and how the Iraq story has been misreported. Why are groups that are ostensibly on America’s payroll exacting vengeance for Gaza by taking American lives? Isn’t that what terrorists do? (The IAI has, in fact, killed US civilians…) Seems like a relevant question, but it is one that is not asked, which beckons another question: Why?
There is a lack of intellectual inquisitiveness—a disregard for details, whereby every hired hack can claim instant expertise—coupled with an absence of moral clarity; the lens through which America peers onto Iraq is blemished with ignorance and smudged with agenda, distorting the good and the bad together.
The Iraq story is rustled-up during pillow talk embraces of reporters who have yet to outgrow memories of high school torment; it is structured on reality as perceived by Michael and Lara and whatever neuroses have trailed them from Brisbane and Durban (…I’m not being that cryptic). Throw in John Cusack (…okay, now I’m being cryptic) and a power-to-the-people academic for good measure and it is becomes a veritable three-way spiritual mess: they seek to find themselves in an imagined, nightmarish Iraq. It is this confluence of no more than 300 elite 'interpreters'—a ‘commentariat’, as some call it, of Middle Eastern watchers—that misinforms the opinions of hundreds of millions.
It is how so many people came to think of Ahmed Chalabi as more evil than Saddam, and the neocons as more dangerous than Al-Qaeda. Just think about this for a moment: How did it happen?
It is also the reason why the American public will not get an unvarnished account of what’s really going on in Iraq until November’s come and gone, in the very least.
Sure, Iraq used to be a place of massive horrors, but today it a land of little miracles. It is the crocus breaking through the caked ashes, but most reporters and experts are too messed-up or distracted to see it.
This blog has given its readers ample notice of the good news to come. I believe that these gains in Iraq are irreversible. There has always been a rhetorical conflict between an imagined Iraq and the real Iraq. Those who genuinely wish the best for Iraq should rest assured that the real Iraq is looking pretty good. And reality will eventually catch up with those who wield an imagined Iraq to settle some unrelated political score or to stroke down intemperate egos—how stupidly they have set themselves up to be disappointed by the triumph of decency over terror.
Why are American liberals barely muffling their cheers whenever a suicide bomber strikes in Baghdad?
Why has it come to this?
Forget about the Florida recount for a second. Leave Iraq out of the pro-choice debate. Don’t mix up Maliki’s performance with Justice Alito’s rulings. Same-sex marriage has nothing to do with the Oil Law.
Focus on Iraq, and know that it is going well. Irreversibly well.
UPDATE (February 22, 2008):
Al-Hayat Newspaper published an interview today (...under a London byline) with a man claiming to be the Emir of the Islamic Army of Iraq. Al-Hayat doesn't tell us how they went about establishing and authenticating this man's identity. He remains anonymous and wouldn't give any new biographical details in the interview, not even commenting on whether he was an ex-officer or not. No new insights, but some of what he said conflicts with the previous public messages that had been released by the IAI such as their anti-Shia stance. In my judgement, this could be yet another instance where the Saudis are being taken for a ride.
UPDATE (February 26, 2008):
I was mistaken: Al-Boraq (the IAI's media arm) is confirming that the Al-Hayat interview actually took place with the Emir of the IAI. The more compelling for journalists to try to find out who he is!