Unconventional thinking about the Middle East.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Yet Another Crack in the Narrative

Anonymous British commanders had told the UK’s Telegraph a couple of days ago that the Iraqi Army’s military operation in Basra was an “unmitigated disaster” and that the Iraqi commander leading it, General Mohan al-Freiji, is a “dangerous lunatic”.

It’s funny how the story never seems to get around to the point that the Iraqi Army managed to achieve in Basra what the British never could, namely, to control the city and smash the organized crime cartels.

I mean, just the image of the Sadrists being evicted from their main office in Basra two days ago should have been enough to clue-in some observers out there as to who ended up winning in Basra, despite the hasty forecasts of the media and their associated go-to ‘experts’.

But I guess it isn’t, since most reporters are still swooning over Muqtada al-Sadr’s latest threat of an “all out war” and are still peddling discredited gossip that overstates Iran’s influence in Iraqi affairs. How many threats has al-Sadr made so far in the past month? Three, maybe four? Five?

A week ago, I described how the story of the Iraqi Army rescuing a British journalist who had been held hostage in Basra by Sadrist-related militants for several months had challenged the false narrative the media has spun about recent events in Iraq.

Today, this headline should likewise jar a couple of people awake:


The pictures in this MNF-I write-up (Arabic version) are quite startling to begin with, but here’s the real ‘mind-blowing-ness’ of the story: this arms cache was found during a house-by-house security sweep of the Hayyaniya neighborhood, which is Basra’s equivalent of Sadr City. Who could have imagined a house-by-house sweep of Hayyaniya back in the days when the British were in charge—the same Brits who cowered into the military equivalent of a fetal position whenever they were challenged by the Mahdi Army?

In another part of town, another security sweep uncovered eight GRAD missiles. These are eight GRAD missiles that won’t be launched at the Brits during their precious teatime ceremonies over at Basra’s airport.

No wonder that some in Maliki’s circle has come to believe this rumor: British intelligence deliberately allowed Basra to turn into a hellhole so that this port city would never rival Dubai, whose princes bankroll British intelligence operations across the Middle East. Hey it’s just a rumor, right? But it get fishier when it’s synced-up with intelligence reports reaching Maliki’s office that allege that the Maktoum royals of Dubai have been funding some of Basra’s militias.

In other news, I’d like some help in figuring this out: are any of these following experts fluent in Arabic, and by fluent I don’t mean ‘Marc Lynch fluent’ but rather actually fluent: Bruce Hoffman, Kenneth M. Pollock, Juan Cole, Ira M. Lapidus, and Reuel M. Gerecht. The reason I’m asking is that these gentlemen were cited in a New York Times story by reporters Michael Cooper and Larry Rohter on Saturday about Senator John McCain’s characterization of the insurgency in Iraq as Al-Qaeda-driven. Language-proficiency is not a prerequisite for expertise, but in a field such as jihadist studies where the vast bulk of the information is still so musky with open-source freshness—it’s raw and uncategorized throughout multiple internet pages and forums—and most of it, or at least its more interesting chunks, are in Arabic, then how can non-fluent scholars cite expertise on the topic without sifting through all that essential reading?

Sure, a lot of it is translated, either through commercial sites such as SITE or through official intelligence channels, heck some of it even gets translated and served-up free here on Talisman Gate, but all the nuances of how internet forum users respond and argue over ideology and strategy is lost on those without the adequate language skills to understand the debate. It will take more time, maybe years, to churn out the first few batches of academically digested papers in English upon which non-fluent scholars can expand. Right now, expertise on jihadism, especially in an area as murky as Iraq’s, would be severely addled by an inability to grasp the finer details of what’s out there, in Arabic, on the net.


Blogger Soldier's Dad said...


Actually I believe on over reliance on Nuance is what got the Brits in trouble to begin with.

Average Omar and Average Joe want pretty much the same things..maybe some slight variations...but otherwise the same...modest house..modest car..wife who is a lady
in public .... some children that mind their manners.

Paying too much attention to the differences leads people to forget that average Omar and average Joe have a lot in common.

7:34 PM, April 21, 2008

Blogger bg said...


i take everything i read outside of milblog & embed reports with a huge grain of salt.. at any rate, at least part of this report gives "quotes" with names..

[most reporters are still swooning over Muqtada
al-Sadr’s latest threat of an “all out war”]

HT : The Mudville Gazette (Greyhawk)..

Mookie's Bad Month


["Najaf is the kitchen, where major decisions are
cooked," said Salah Obeidi, Sadr's official spokesman.

Obeidi works out of a barren room in a closed-down restaurant and hotel. Bodyguards sit in the lobby, decorated with a mural of Sadr and long-haired Shiite saints gazing austerely at Najaf's roads. Obeidi confesses he has been in crisis mode lately.


This time, the grand ayatollahs have
declined to aid the incendiary cleric.

Three days into the Basra campaign, Grand Ayatollah Najafi issued a fatwa, or religious opinion or edict, that declared the Iraqi government as the only force in the country with the right to bear arms.

His son, Sheik Ali Najafi, left little doubt that the
clergy had backed the Iraqi army operations.]


While over in Sadr City, "Iraqi and U.S. forces appeared to be penetrating deeper into the district, one local journalist said. There were no signs that Prime Minister Nouri Maliki was pulling back on his offensive..."

more & links @ link..


btw: someone @ ITM posted your
favorite NYT writers story..

Iraqi Army Takes Last Basra Areas From Sadr Force


10:26 PM, April 21, 2008

Blogger bg said...


oops re: bg @ 10:26 PM..

also meant to post this re: Sadr..

Secretary of State Rice Mocks Muslim
Cleric Muqtada al-Sadr as a Coward


["I know he's sitting in Iran," Rice said dismissively, when asked about al-Sadr's latest threat to lift a self-imposed cease-fire with government and U.S. forces. "I guess it's all-out war for anybody but him," Rice said. "I guess that's the message; his followers can go too their deaths and he's in Iran."]

you go lady!! (thumbsup)


10:34 PM, April 21, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

You called it from Day 1, Nibras. Freakishly prescient, as usual.

7:16 AM, April 22, 2008

Blogger bg said...


Muqtada Al- Sadr's Family Turns
On Him-- Disowns "Rogue Son"


[Iraq’s Josef Al-Sadr says that Muqtada Al- Sadr has tainted Our Family Reputation; --We will deal with him internally.

Alseyed Josef Alsadar a member of the honored Sadar family wrote a letter to Alrafedain news (Nida'a al Rafidain News) which said: "Muqtada al-Sadr has tainted the reputation of this respected family, and the family disowns Muqtada. We are as innocent of him as the wolf is of the blood of Josef (Biblical (Old Testament I believe) and Koranic reference). The family is working on ways to discipline him with in the family. Consultations for this are held at the highest level to come up with punishments for its rogue son.

These courageous and dangerous statements come, for the first time, from a member of the Sadar family. Alseyed Josef al-Sadr is considered to be a member of the family with deep faith who is rarely public. It appears he has broken his silence to show the truth before it is to late.

Al-rafidain has published this news after it consulted with Josef Alsadar, and expressed its concern that publishing his letter may threaten his life or safety.

The news agency reminded him of the assassination of Said Riadh Alnoori some days earlier. He was assassinated after he wrote Muqtada a letter asking him to dissolve the Mehdi Army. Alseyed Josef insisted we publish his letter against all threats.]

Zarqawi's family (supposedly) did the same..

fact or fiction.. i say better late than never..
icing on the cake, Sadr is baked either way..


10:59 PM, April 22, 2008

Blogger MataHarley said...

Nibras, I have to admit I'm fascinated by the suggestion that Rashid Al Maktoum has interest in keeping the Basra port off the competition map.

Yet back in 2004, Saeed Mattar bin Bleilah delivered a 40 vehicle fleet on behalf of al Maktoum to help Basra get back on their feet. All emergency vehicles, granted. Also true that it was still predominately a Sadr stronghold.

If I read Ramzy Baroud's April 9th article in the Khaleej Times correctly, there appears to be no love lost between Dubai and Maliki/Dawa/ISCI. And in fact, that article makes it sound like Sadr's militias were fighting the good fight - ala against Iran power brokering and for a strong, centralized Iraq govt.

This is, of course, the opposite of what I've been reading from you. Indeed, seeing Sadr as being one of the free Iraq "good guys" is a tough morsel to swallow.

It's more than possible that Baroud pens from his own biased POV. So help me out here...

Economically, surely another flourishing port in the region that can more easily service (what should be..) an increasingly productive Iraq can still benefit Dubai. Geographically, moving Iraq products to Dubai ports looks extremely cumbersome. It appears anticipated increased capacity could actually warrant a 2nd port at the head of the Persian Gulf.

And no doubt, DP World would have the ports authority contract for Basra.

But as you said, we non-fluents - unversed in the cultural relationships between Middle East countries - may not get to the same conclusion as easily as you. So please expound on why al Maktoum would find advantage in muddying the waters for the Basra port, and lending tacit support to Sadr?

2:08 PM, April 23, 2008

Blogger bg said...


HT : Brian H @ ITM

The NY Times Reads the Iran/Iraq Tea Leaves


[First, the claim that this is something new:

WASHINGTON — Iran is engaging in a proxy war with the United States in Iraq, adopting tactics similar to those it has used to back fighters in Lebanon, the United States ambassador to Iraq said Friday.

The remarks by the ambassador, Ryan C. Crocker, reflected the sharper criticism of Iran by President Bush and his top deputies over the past week, as administration officials have sought to trace many of their troubles in Iraq to Iran.

But the “sharper criticism” is not new at all. Indeed, it is precisely what Ambassador Crocker, General Petraeus and other spokesmen on the ground in Iraq have been saying for the past several months. And as for that little dig about “”many of (the Americans’) troubles in Iraq,” well, that’s the party line, even after a couple of weeks during which the Iranians and their proxies in Iraq have been so humiliated that they were forced to sue for peace, beg for permission to keep their weapons, and renew their phony calls for negotiations with the Great Satan.]


[The issue is not “sensitizing” the Iraqi leaders to Iranian crimes. The issue is—was, rather—getting to the point where the Iraqis feel confident enough to go after the Iranians and their proxies.

That is the big change: Iraq is defeating Iran. Iran’s proxies have been defeated in most of Iraq. The remaining areas—primarily the zones in and around Mosul, and in and around Basra—are under siege from Iraqi and Coalition forces, including, at long last, the Brits (who were supposed to have pacified Basra long since). And the Iranians are losing, bigtime. A couple of weeks ago I wrote here that the Iranians were increasingly desperate, and that it looked like Khamenei was going to try a desperate throw of the dice. He did. And lost, losing to mostly Iraqi forces.

It’s not amazing that the Times should misanalyze this story. Its editors and some of its journalists want us to lose in Iraq, and the very idea that a free Iraqi army is defeating proxy forces from tyrannical Iran, is too tough for them to digest.

I think it's delicious.]


2:09 PM, April 23, 2008

Anonymous nick said...

It's like these people are writing from bizaro world!


1:49 PM, April 24, 2008

Blogger Wayne Wei-siang Hsieh said...

I didn't read the NY Times story, but I'm almost certain Gerecht was interviewed as the right-of-center guy for that piece; he's a major player at AEI after all. And it's very much my impression that his Arabic skills are up to snuff. The same goes for Juan Cole, who inhabits the other end of the ideological spectrum. Lapidus is also a distinguished academic, and whatever you think of his politics, I find it hard to believe that he doesn't have the requisite language skills.

9:48 AM, April 26, 2008

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