Unconventional thinking about the Middle East.

Friday, April 25, 2008

One month after the launch of Operation Cavalry Charge...

Deborah Haynes of the The Times becomes the first western journalist to see the situation in Basra with her own eyes, exactly one month to the day since the launch of Operation Cavalry Charge. She is taken along on a tour of Hayyaniya of all places by Gen. Fraiji, who's been described by some anonymous British military sources in earlier media reports as a "dangerous lunatic"; oddly enough, he doesn't come off that way in Haynes' piece.

Haynes paints the picture of a city that has undergone dramatic changes for the better.

Radio Dijla is reporting that the Emiratis have handed over Ismail al-Wa'ili, the brother of Basra's governor, who is wanted by an Iraqi arrest warrant on charges of oil smuggling and other criminal activity. I had heard that he was hiding in Kuwait rather than Dubai ever since Operation Cavalry Charge began. The story of the arrest warrant is true but I'm unsure about the handover, but if it checks out then that's an indication that Maliki is also moving against the Fadhila Party.

Another criminal kingpin who was once affiliated with the Sadrists, Sattar al-Bahadili, was also arrested a couple of days ago.

And in other news, Muqtada al-Sadr backs down once again, calling upon his supporters to be the "nation of peace" as well as the "nation of Islam" in a communique read out during Friday prayers today. I wonder why al-Sadr keeps shying away from an "open war": clearly he's hasn't gone pacifist all of a sudden, so it must be something else. No, no, it can't be that he's much, much weaker now due to a variety of factors; no, that can't be it because the 'experts' have been telling 'reporters' that al-Sadr is still the most formidable force on the Iraqi scene, and we all know that those 'experts' and the 'reporters' who quote them know what they're talking about.

Can someone get an online petition going to goad the New York Times and the Washington Post into sending a reporter to Basra? Isn't about time to get a first hand account out of a place that made front-page news all throughout last month?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Izzet al-Douri in Custody?

That's what Al-Arabiya TV is saying.

They're saying that he was caught near the Hamrin Mountain area in Salahuddin Province.

I just checked my notes from a notebook dated "Started December 12, 2006" and "Ended January 17, 2007". These are possible hiding spots that I have for Izzet al-Douri when traveling inside Iraq:

-Dogmeh village in Diyala, hosted by Sheikh Abdel-Jabbar al-Janabi.

-A village near Khalis, hosted by Sheikh Aziz Muhammad al-Faraj of the Albu Hayazi'a clan of the 'Ubeid tribe. This fellow is Izzet's father-in-law (the father of Izzet's fourth wife), and according to what I've heard he was killed in an mortar strike about a week ago.

-The village of Mubarek al-Farhan near the Hamrin/Adheim area, hosted by Muhammad Mubarak al-Farhan, also of the Albu Hayazi'a clan, who took over from his father last year.

If it turns out that al-Douri was indeed caught in this last village, then I can't stake a claim for the millions in bounty money because I never published my notes. Darn it!

But anyway, this is great news if it gets confirmed.

Update: A source of mine spoke to an important Ba'athist commander in an area near Hamrin who could not confirm or dismiss the report since he hasn't heard anything apart from what's been carried by al-Arabiya. My source says that had something of this magnitude happened then this commander would have known by now. We'll have to wait and see.

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:

IRAQI ARMY UNCOVERS LARGE ARMS CACHE IN HAYYANIYA, BASRA

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.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Back to Al-Baghdadi’s Speeches

Promising a quick withdrawal from Iraq, Senator Barack Obama often says that he “will end this war” when and if he’s elected Commander-in-Chief. Obama neglects to mention that wars usually involve two or more sides, and cannot be unilaterally ended; the enemy waging the war on the other side unavoidably must be consulted on the matter as well. But Obama doesn’t tell us who the enemy is in Iraq, and whether he has any special insight as to why this enemy would call the war quits if America withdraws from Iraq.

Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, the man—fictitious or not—who heads Al-Qaeda’s Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), is promoted by jihadist propaganda as America’s top enemy in Iraq, so it is useful to reflect upon what he has to say. Here’s a hint: it doesn’t end when Barack Obama says it will.

This blog believes al-Baghdadi to be a real person, and has closely followed his speeches from the very beginning. The following is an attempt to catch-up with his latest speeches, which by my reckoning are nos. 8, 9 and 10. I shall be skipping no. 7 for the time being since I’ve been unable to download an audio file of it.

I will add the translated excerpts for speeches 9 and 10 once I’m done with them. [Update, April 22, 2008: all done!]

For a previous in-depth discussion of al-Baghdadi on this blog, check this link.


Abu Omar al-Baghdadi’s Eight Speech


Title: “Humble towards believers, stern toward unbelievers” (derived from a segment of verse 54 of the alma’ida ‘The Table’ sura of the Koran [Medina]; it describes those who take up the fight against renegades.)

Duration: 40 minutes

Date: unsure, December 28, 2007, on the occasion of the ‘eid aladhha, Feast of Sacrifice

SUMMARY: Al-Baghdadi explains that to hate in the name of God is just as important as to love in the name of God. This is the ideological foundation that he lays in order to attack bonds between men other than religion, such as Arab nationalism and patriotism towards a nation state. In al-Baghdadi’s view, one cannot make common cause with non-Muslims just because they share the same ethnicity or nationality. Al-Baghdadi then focuses his attack against those who argue that safeguarding one’s life or money is more important that protecting one’s religion, and who do so by slyly employing reason to trump God’s word. As far as he’s concerned there’s no conflict between what God demands and the boundaries of reason. Al-Baghdadi then cites several verses from the Koran to prove that it doesn’t take too much thinking to know that God had decreed jihad against the American “Crusaders” and the Shia “idolaters”. He acknowledges that many jihadists are too poor to offer a sacrifice during this holiday feast, so he calls upon them to slaughter members of the anti-Al-Qaeda Awakening groups in lieu of lambs.

Translated Excerpts and Analysis:

Al-Baghdadi counsels the “believers” that to hate in the name of God is just as important as to love in the name of God. This is an interesting take on the jihadist concept of alwala’ wel bara’ (loyalty and renunciation) by which the mujaheddin must tell apart friend from foe.

Beware o monotheist of falling into the devil’s trap whereby you are partial to a man because he treats you well and says nice things even though he may be an infidel or a renegade; and to hate a Muslim because he is difficult to deal with and badly mannered, for love and abhorrence must be for God alone and not [to satisfy] a selfish vanity. You must love the Muslim mujahid even though he doesn’t love you or isn’t kind to you, and you must hate the people of [wicked] innovations and you must fight the renegade even though he may fill your lap with gold and welcomes you into the sea of his gentleness.
Al-Baghdadi insists that it is necessary to understand this point because there are “serious attempts to obscure the contours of [our] religion and to change its premises within the souls of the mujaheddin”. Adding that some underestimate the dangers of how nationalism and patriotism bring Muslims and infidels together under one cause to the detriment of the religious bonds between Muslims.

On nationalism:

That old lie and scandalous trick, which has always been the occupier’s winning horse whenever [the occupier] experiences defeat and his days in our land turn painful…it is the lifeboat whenever the occupier wants to leave or thinks about leaving, so he digs up the pagan sentiment, what they falsely call nationalism, and [the occupier] seeks to find a surrogate for himself from among us, who speaks with our tongue, and it doesn’t matter if at the beginning [these surrogates] employ religion or are fake religious clerics as Bourgeiba did in Tunis who afterwards quickly assaulted shariah, the Koran and the Prophet [Muhammad] when he was secure in his rule.

This cruel and pagan nationalism is at its ugliest when it forces the Sunni Muslim in Lebanon to accept a constitution that stipulates that the head of state must be a fanatical Christian Maronite, to preside over a majority Muslim nation, as long as he is an Arab Lebanese.

It is this same cruel nationalism that allowed the ummah [the global community of Muslims] to accept that Arab nationalists would fight side by side with the British against the Ottoman Empire or the “tyrannical Turks” as they call them. Thus entered the British Army into Jerusalem with forces that bring together the Christian Englishman and the Arab nationalist, so what was the result? The English handed over Jerusalem to the Jews until today using the weapon of nationalism and patriotism.

It was those wicked advocates of nationalism and patriotism who lost Jerusalem. Today they want to convince our youth of what they had sown in the past: he who works for building the nation and expelling the occupier is the true mujahid, while he who distinguishes between the sons of the one nation—between a Yezidi and a Christian and a Mandean and a Muslim—is an alien agent working for others. It is this paganism that allowed the Egyptian Muslim to be proud of his Pharonic past, and the Iraqi to be proud of his Assyrian and Babylonian and Chaldean heritage. It is this paganism that encouraged such people to be proud of the days of the Ba’ath [Party] and to incessantly call for resurrecting its army, and crying over its past.


Al-Baghdadi then proceeds to give a brief history of how nationalism seeped into the Middle East: At first, the world acted through its religious identities, but the advent of the French Revolution changed that. Nationalism was first introduced in Arab lands by Christian Arabs in the Levant, for they wanted to have equal rights and to break-up Muslim bonds, for “this was their opportunity to destroy the Ottoman Caliphate”. Al-Baghdadi quotes Bernard [“Fernard”] Lewis to say that “nationalism replaced Islam in the Arab world”. Al-Baghdadi cites the “handful of Christians” behind this conspiracy, as he sees it: Butrus Bustani, George Zeidan, Faris al-Shidyaq, Ibrahim al-Yazegi and one of the founders of Ba’athism, Michel Aflaq. But it is odd that he’d cite Sati’ al-Husri, the ethnically Albanian, Yemeni-born Ottoman bureaucrat who spoke heavily accented Arabic, as one of these Christians when al-Husri was a Muslim.

Yet al-Baghdadi reserves his fiercest wrath for the proponents of patriotism for, in his eyes, they “are crueler by method, deeper by effort, and more deviant than the advocates of nationalism”. Adding:

The loyalty to [the WWI treaty of] Sykes-Picot is now in vogue, and every spot created by this ill-omened treaty is now looking for a glorious past and is spending money and establishing institutes and universities for archeology to look in the layered dirt or submerged dwellings, hoping to find a glorious past in the graveyards.

So the call for patriotism has replaced the call for nationalism, so they are now dispersing between a Yemenite and his brother in Jazan or Najran, and between an Egyptian and a Sudanese…
Al-Baghdadi promises the faithful that he will never go down this route:

Ever since God has led me to this goodness, I have never sat down with an infidel or a renegade, and I have not gotten in touch with an occupier or one of its agents either directly or indirectly, and my feet have never entered the hotels of the occupation. I may be many things but I will never be a traitor, God willing, until the heroes of monotheism rule [Iraq], or until I suffer what was suffered by Thamir al-Rishawi, and Abu Omar al-Kurdi and Abu Musaab al-Zarqawi. And to hell with the advocates of darkness who want the return of the Ba’athist army, hoping that security will come in its wake, and the only arms will be its own; they say this and they are still not in power, and have no force on the ground, and the weapons are in our hands, and authority is God’s and that of the soldiers of the Islamic State, so what will happen then if these people come to power?

God did not decree jihad so that the land gets liberated and is then ruled by a renegade of our own skin; no [God decreed jihad] so that God’s word will [rule] supreme
It seems that al-Baghdadi is under pressure to assume more of a patriotic tone in his dealings and strategy; he seems to be responding to a surging sentiment of Iraqi nationalism, and hence his rejection and retort.

Al-Baghdadi then proceeds to argue against those who see jihad as too detrimental to the well-being of Muslims under certain conditions. He describes such people as ones for whom “religion has been turned into stale merchandise and the last obligation of life’s [duties]”. Such people are more concerned about protecting property and souls at the expense of their religious beliefs, to the point of “cooperating with the Crusading and majusi [Shia] occupations, and becoming tools in the hands of the agents of Jews in neighboring countries”.

Al-Baghdadi categorically says that God decreed jihad per this Koranic verse (albaqarah, verse 193, Yusufali translation): “And fight them on until there is no more Tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in Allah; but if they cease, Let there be no hostility except to those who practice oppression.”

Such wavering folk, according to al-Baghdadi, argue that it is unreasonable to wage jihad when the price for doing so is too high on a Muslim society, but al-Baghdadi counters them by saying that “it is the creed of us Sunnis that if shariah conflicts with straightforward reasoning then shariah is always put first, for nothing anyone says, whoever he may be, can trump God’s word and that of the Prophet Muhammad”. Al-Baghdadi then adds that shariah is inherently reasonable since it is God’s will, and thus cannot be argued with.

This is important because the jihadist message is at once simple and straightforward and thus hard to counter. “How can they say that the jihadists are more dangerous to society” than the “crusading infidels” and “heretical” Shias, al-Baghdadi asks. At this point of the debate, all the jihadist need to do, as al-Baghdadi does, is to reference the following verses of the Koran that sanction jihad against the Americans:

Never will the Jews or the Christians be satisfied with thee unless thou follow their form of religion. Say: "The Guidance of Allah,-that is the (only) Guidance." Wert thou to follow their desires after the knowledge which hath reached thee, then wouldst thou find neither Protector nor helper against Allah. (albaqareh, verse 120, all translation by Yusufali)

Quite a number of the People of the Book wish they could Turn you (people) back to infidelity after ye have believed, from selfish envy, after the Truth hath become Manifest unto them: But forgive and overlook, Till Allah accomplish His purpose; for Allah Hath power over all things. (albaqareh, verse 109)

O ye who believe! If ye listen to a faction among the People of the Book, they would (indeed) render you apostates after ye have believed! (omran, verse 100)
As for the heretics:

Nor will they cease fighting you until they turn you back from your faith if they can. (albaqareh, part of verse 217)

If they were to get the better of you, they would behave to you as enemies, and stretch forth their hands and their tongues against you for evil: and they desire that ye should reject the Truth. (almumtehineh, verse 2)
“These are the aims of the majusi [Shia and American] crusade on [Iraq]…so how can there be any discussion beyond God’s word?” asks al-Baghdadi.

Moderate Muslim scholars can spend days refuting al-Baghdadi on this stuff, but their reasoning can be too pedantic and obscure for mass consumers; for most jihadists and suicide bombers, al-Baghdadi’s simplified and unambiguous case is convincing enough.

Al-Baghdadi ends by commiserating with his soldiers that it is too costly to buy a sheep and offer it as alms during the ritual slaughter of the ‘eid, but he gives them an alternative:

Sacrifice, for God will accept your sacrifices if [they are] given in the form of the renegades of the Awakening [groups], for they have become aids to the crusaders and [enemies] of the mujaheddin, they have desecrated [our] honor and have stolen money, and they wanted to reap the fruits of the blood of [our] martyrs. Do not miss this great honor, but those of you who can’t offer a sacrifice in time then it is permissible to do it later as sanctioned by the Shafi’i scholars.
Meaning that in case a jihadist couldn’t kill any “renegades” now then he can promise God to do so later; even though al-Baghdadi also makes the case for hurrying up and doing so before the advent of the month of Muharrem.

Al-Baghdadi concludes by announcing the “martyrdom” of Abu Abdullah (Muhammed Suleiman) of the Kuroshiyeen clan of the Zoba’ tribe who al-Baghdadi credits with shooting down an aircraft even though one of his hands is cut; and that of Abu Karar, from the Shidadeh clan of the Zoba’ tribe, who al-Baghdadi alleges to have killed the head of the Awakening group among the Zoba’ tribe. The third “martyr” that al-Baghdadi mentions is Abu Maysara al-Gharib.


Abu Omar al-Baghdadi’s Ninth Speech


Title: Religion is Advice

Duration: 25 minutes

Date: February 14, 2008

SUMMARY: Al-Baghdadi reserves this whole speech to address the issue of Palestine and how to resolve it once and for all from a jihadist perspective. Al-Baghdadi dismisses the notion that Zionism is a secular idea and says that there’s no differentiation between Zionism and Judaism. Al-Baghdadi focuses his wrath on Hamas and accuses of them of subtly acknowledging Israel’s right to exist and charges them with treason for colluding with the “infidel” regime of Syria’s ruling Alawites. He also warns against the spread of Shiism among Palestinians. Al-Baghdadi calls upon Palestinian Salafists to unite and specifically directs a plea to the Qassam Brigades, encouraging them to secede from Hamas. He recommends that several fronts be opened up against Israel and America, and hails the attempt made by Shakir al-Absi’s Fath al-Islam organization to do so in Lebanon. Al-Baghdadi sees the task of his Islamic State of Iraq as one of laying the cornerstone towards a future drive to liberate Palestine.

Translated Excerpts and Analysis

Al-Baghdadi succinctly defines the battle in the following terms:

We believe that the fulcrum of our conflict revolves around our sanctities, and that distracting people from [this conflict] is the goal that is sought after by the enemies of our [creed] whether they are Jews or their agents either through direct occupation, as is the case with Jerusalem, or through their hatchlings as is [the case] with [Mecca and Medina], and because the Jews are at the core of corruption and its [originators], and our real battle with them revolves around Jerusalem, and our conflict with them will be in effect until the trees and the stones fight [on our side], and the battle results in a victory for [our] religion and its people.
It is interesting that al-Baghdadi casts the royal house of Saud that now controls the Islamic holy places in the Arabian Peninsula as the “hatchlings” of the Jews. It should be noted that there’s a discrepancy between the audio version and the transcript version that subsequently floated onto jihadist websites: al-Baghdadi utters the harsher and more humiliating term “afrakhehum” [“their hatchlings”] to describe the Saudi royals, while the transcript uses the word “atrafehum” [“their extended limbs”]—this is likely the result of a little diplomatic editing done by the jihadist propagandist who took it upon himself (…or herself) to transcribe the speech.

Liberating the Al-Aqsa Mosque is the duty of every Muslim, just at it is the duty of every Palestinian Muslim to liberate Iraq and Chechnya and whatever Muslim lands are under occupation, according to al-Baghdadi, who follows through by asserting that the fight should not be limited to Zionism but should encompass all of Judaism:

The state of Israel was established upon a religious foundation, for it is a religious state and whoever says that it is a secular state or that it was a secular [state] that manipulated religion is lying, and it is a malignant germ that was planted in the body of the ummah which must be uprooted, even though the traitors may sign thousands of surrender treaties with it.
That last point means that whether the Arab governments sign peace treaties with Israel or not is a moot point since ending Israel’s existence is the goal.

Al-Baghdadi then turns to the three political currents—Arab nationalism, the Palestinian left and the Muslim Brotherhood—that he views as the ones to blame for the failure of the ummah in achieving this goal:

…The Arab nationalists, with their ill-omened Arab Revolt [Ed. Sharif Hussein’s British-funded campaign against the Ottoman Empire during WWI], are complicit in the creation of the state of Israel, and that by participating with the British Army, and entering Jerusalem as conquerors, and breaking apart the Muslim ummah under [the Treaty of] Sykes-Picot in return for servile, feeble kingdoms in Jordan, Iraq, the Levant and the [Arabian] Peninsula.

…The Palestinian organizations with their bizarre mix, from Ba’athist to Communist to secularists that filled the arena with noise for decades [claiming] that they will liberate Al-Aqsa, are the secret [behind] the nakba and the root of the problem…
But al-Baghdadi directs the bulk of his wrath against Hamas and accuses them of treason:

…The armed factions that follow the Muslim Brotherhood, especially during these times, and at the head of them Hamas, save for the sincere [members] of the Qassam [Brigades], have in reality betrayed [our creed] and the ummah
Al-Baghdadi then enumerates the ways by which the Hamas leadership has shown its “treason”:

a) Participating in the political process under the auspices of a secular and legislated constitution, and on the term of the Oslo treaties that abandoned three quarters of the land of Palestine.

b) Implicitly recognizing [the state of] Israel by recognizing the legitimacy of the [Palestinian] Authority that was based on the Oslo treaties, and by recognizing the legitimacy of its renegade secular president, the loyal agent of the Jews.

c) Their statements about respecting the international decisions issued by the United Nations, and just recognizing the UN is [proof] of recognizing its legal charter and Israel’s membership [under that charter].

d) Entering into a bizarre alliance with renegade regimes, especially [the ones] in Egypt and Syria, forgetting the blood of their brothers in the massacre of Hamah [Ed. The three week campaign by Syrian security forces to retake the old section of Hamah in 1982 from Islamist extremists allied to the Syrian MB], for [Khalid] Mishaal [Ed. Hamas leader based in Damascus] described the butcher of his brothers, that traitor Hafez al-Asad, as “a sincere Muslim who safeguards the Arab nation and defends the rights of Palestinians”, [and he did that tens of times]. Doesn’t Mishaal and others realize that the Syrian Nusairi [Ed. Derogatory term for the Alawite minority] Army, was the one that administered suffering to the Sunni Muslims in Lebanon, and especially to the Palestinians in the camps and elsewhere…Forging an alliance with the rafidha [Ed. Derogatory term for Shias] Nusairis in Syria for the purpose of liberating Palestine is [an act of] high treason, for Saladin did not enter Jerusalem as a conqueror until after he had destroyed the rafidha state of the Obeidis [Ed. Derogatory term for the Fatimids, 10-11th century dynasty] in Egypt and the Levant, and the Nusairis are wickeder by creed and more malicious [than the Fatimids]…

e) Letting down the mujaheddin and the implicit consent to kill and disperse the people of monotheism, such as what they said in Moscow: “the issue of Chechnya is an internal matter”, and their statement that they have no relationship with the jihad in Iraq, and that they haven’t a single bullet there.

f) …They do not demand that the political process must follow shariah, and they have not imposed shariah even while being in government, and not even after seizing full control of Gaza.

g) Their excessive hostility towards Salafist Jihadism, especially during this current time and their serious and repeated efforts to abort any project that has a salafist foundation, and their story with Jaish al-Islam is known, and the story of the British journalist [Ed. BBC reporter Alan Johnston, abducted for four months in Gaza in 2007] is famous too, and we had learnt that Jaish al-Islam was about to receive good concessions from Britain, just before Hamas interfered in the matter.

h) Not spilling the blood [of Palestinian heretics] like the Baha’i renegade, Mahmoud Abbas…
Al-Baghdadi says that there is no solution to this problem except to wage a jihad in which one much not differentiate between a “Jewish infidel” like “Olmert and his criminals” and a “Palestinian renegade” like “Abbas and his gang”.

Al-Baghdadi also warns of the danger of Shiism spreading among Palestinians, citing Iraq as an example of how quickly Shiism may spread if not held in check:

The other important type [of enemy] that must be targeted and with force, especially against their [leaders], are the rafidha [Shias], for this cancer has started to enter upon our people in Palestine, [by] manipulating the ignorance and poverty [there], and aided by traitors and agents of rafidhist Iran under the guise of resistance, and they perpetrated this same crime in Iraq, for when [historically] was Basra rafidhist by creed so that today it would have a [Shia] majority? The criminals managed to convince some tribal sheikhs and notables [to follow] their sect, and they did this through financial temptations or through the debauchery that they call [temporary marriage], and other vile means, and this led to the [conversion] of whole tribes that never before had a single [Shia member]. The [presence] of [Shiism] in some parts of [Iraq] is only 50 to 70 years, no more.

Know, oh soldiers of God, that [Shiism] is a religion other than the religion of Islam that was brought forth by Muhammad [PBUH], for [Shiism] is a religion based on [polytheism]…and it is based on the cheap [habit of temporary marriage] and spread through it, and the [Shias] did not leave anything that we find holy that they have not impugned in one way or another…
Al-Baghdadi calls upon the “sincere sons” of the Qassam Brigades (the military wing of Hamas) to secede from the leadership of Hamas, acknowledging that such a call would unleash a barrage of criticism from the media outlets controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood. He counsels them to do so furtively, and only after securing the loyalties of most of the jihadists as well as the arms caches.

Interestingly, al-Baghdadi draws a parallel between Hamas and the Islamist insurgent groups that have turned against Al-Qaeda in Iraq, and assigns a higher rank that what is believed otherwise to Abu Azzam [Thamir] al-Tamimi, putting him second in command of the Islamic Army:

…[Hamas’s] brothers in Hamas-Iraq, the Islamic Party, and the Islamic Army are today fighting alongside the carrier of the cross [the Americans] against the people of monotheism, and who doesn’t believe that should listen to the statements of Tariq al-Hashemi [Ed. Iraq’s Vice President, also Secretary General of the Islamic Party] and Abu Azzam al-Tamimi, the deputy to the emir of the Islamic Army, who have flung themselves into the laps of [the Iranians] and the Syrian Nusairis, and are proud of their relationship with Omar Suleiman, the head of Egyptian intelligence, who [was responsible for raping] thousands of honorable women in the prisons of Egypt…
Al-Baghdadi then plots a three pronged strategy for the ummah’s role in “supporting the liberation of Al-Aqsa”. First the jihadists must open up new fronts against the United States and Israel, and in this vein al-Baghdadi hails the efforts of Fath al-Islam in the battle of Nahr al-Barid in Lebanon last year that showed how a small number of fighters can have a major effect. He also confirms the survival of Shakir al-Absi, who led the jihadists in Nahr al-Barid, and refers to him as “hero of the Levant”, adding that he hopes that al-Absi will be the “leader” (imam) of the future jihad in the Levant, which al-Baghdadi clarifies as one that would be waged on Israel’s borders with Syria, Jordan and Lebanon.

Second, the Palestinians in Jordan and the Egyptians of Sinai must rise in revolt to break the embargoes on the Palestinians in the West Bank and in Gaza respectively, says al-Baghdadi, and that the “if the renegade regimes in those lands are treasonous then the Muslim peoples there should not be silent or complicit in this crime” of embargoing the Palestinians.

Third, al-Baghdadi then advances a novel method of fundraising whereby every employed Muslim would save two dollars of his monthly income, one of which would go to the Palestinians and the other dollar would be earmarked for all the other fronts, and this sort of fundraising should be done on a grassroots level through mosques and neighborhood charities.

Al-Baghdadi concludes by putting his Islamic State of Iraq and the cause of liberating Palestine in a historical light. He addresses the Palestinians, saying:

…As was the state of Noureddin the Martyr [Ed. The Zengid sultanate of the 12th century] the cornerstone for the return of Al-Aqsa [Mosque] back into the [fold] of the ummah, [as a result of which] his disciple Saladin entered [Jerusalem] as a conqueror after the Battle of Hittin; as it had been entered by Omar al-Farouk [Ed. The second caliph]; we ask of [God] and hope that the [Islamic State of Iraq] will be the cornerstone for the return of Jerusalem. The Jews and the Americans have realized that, and they have tried to thwart us by any means from [advancing towards] this goal, and the vicious campaign in Anbar [Province] and the excessive pride in [how it calmed down], is [due] to their knowledge that it is easy to fire medium-range missiles against Israel from some parts of [Anbar] as was done by Saddam…And because they know that some of these missiles still exist, and can be manufactured as long at their targeting is not accurate. And it is the crime of the Muslim Brotherhood in [Iraq], and especially Hamas-Iraq and the Islamic Party and the Islamic Army and their formulation of the Awakening councils and their strident efforts to evict us from Anbar, and through direct contracts with the Americans, is [all directed] at preventing us from aiding you…But we are prepared to support you with all that we have of funds, even though it is little, and we are prepared to train your cadres, starting from IEDs and ending with manufacturing missiles
That’s an interesting propagandist take on the Awakening councils that mimics what the Lebanese jihadists have said about Hezbollah in southern Lebanon: these are efforts to create geographical buffers to impede the jihadists from targeting Israel.


Abu Omar al-Baghdadi’s Tenth Speech


Title: The Compact Structure

Duration: 25 minutes

Date: April 13, 2008

SUMMARY: In this speech, Al-Baghdadi marks the fifth anniversary of the fall of Baghdad. Al-Baghdadi comments on the inter-Shia fighting in Basra and commends the Shia tribes for resolving their differences peacefully. He uses this point to shame the Sunni tribes who have taken arms against their fellow Sunnis in Al-Qaeda, which would only benefit the Shia. Al-Baghdadi calls for turning a new page with these tribes by offering amnesty for those who leave the Iraqi security forces and the Awakening groups. Al-Baghdadi seemingly hopes that this message of reconciliation would rally the Sunnis ahead of the Iraqi Army’s projected campaign against Mosul.

Translated Excerpts and Analysis

Al-Baghdadi begins by asserting that five years after the fall of Baghdad, the Americans are experiencing defeat on the hands of the Sunni jihadists, yet this boisterous claim conflicts with his subsequent narrative in which he laments the state of affairs that Iraq’s Sunnis find themselves in:

…Five years have passed since [Iraq] was occupied, so what has the enemy reaped and what have we reaped? In summary, after this time, the enemy has reaped disappointment and shame and defeat, conceding—while lying—that the number of [enemy] dead has exceeded 4000, neglecting to [mention] the [number of] dead from the mercenary security companies. Five years have passed and [the enemy’s] army is witnessing an unparalleled state of collapse, its reverence broken, and the nose of its soldiers has been ground into the dirt and [it] no longer scares anyone. The capitalists have mutinied against it, and a situation of unprecedented economic collapse has begun, but [the enemy] still feigns [dignity] even though it knows that it shall lose the war and victory will be for Islam and its soldiers.

…Yet the thing that has wrenched my heart and pains me with pity over the Sunnis is what we have all heard regarding news of [Shia]-[Shia] infighting in southern and central Iraq and the current stance of the tribes in central and southern Iraq vis-à-vis the Mahdi Army, for despite [the Mahdi Army’s] clear subservience to Iran to the point that its leader resides in a permanent manner there, and his weapons and ammunition and the training of his men has been underwritten by the devils of Qum [Ed. Shia center of religious teaching in Iran] for no purpose other than safeguarding the successes of the [Shia] state in governing Iraq, and to stand in the face of any Sunni demand, whether through peaceful or military means, to rule [Iraq] again. Despite the fact that the tribes in southern and central Iraq know that the ongoing struggle among [Shias] now has nothing to do with religious beliefs or the presence of the occupier, and that it is a struggle over influence and the money earned from smuggling oil which is estimated at 14 billion dollars per year according to official statements, yet these tribes stood beside its sons in the Mahdi Army and other [militias] and refused [a situation whereby] the Shia [community] gets embroiled in an internal war, so they organized demonstrations to that effect, and raised slogans, and sent intermediaries to resolve the fighting and to agree on how to divvy up the Iraqi oil cake.

Whereas we find some of the Sunni tribes has put its hands in the hand of the American occupier, in the hand of John and Jirgis [Ed. Arabic form of ‘George’] and Maliki to kill the sons of the Sunni tribes, to kill Omar and Muhammad and Ahmad, and to call their sons [among the] mujaheddin [names such as] scum and dirt and thugs, as was said by one of treacherous leaders of the Awakening [groups] namely the son of Ali al-Suleiman, the earliest of traitors to Iraq and the heirs of treason [Ed. Referring to Ali Hatem Abdel-Razzak Ali al-Suleiman, whose great-grandfather was made into the Prince of the Dulaim tribes by the British after WWI].

As if Rishawi [Ed. Referring to Abdel-Sattar Abu Risha] was a scientist [or a notable] who led the fighting against the mujaheddin from the sons of the honorable tribes; as if he wasn’t a criminal and highway-robber that was well known by all the sons of Anbar [Province].

I say that these concerns were brought to me by some of the sheikhs of the honorable tribes, and they said: “For how long will the Sunnis keep fighting [among themselves] like this? Isn’t it time to direct these weapons against the occupier?” I was gladdened by their stance and they found what they were after among their brothers in the [Islamic State of Iraq], and after consultations we have agreed on an action plan to stop what they called the infighting in the Sunni area between the sons of the tribes, which has deteriorated to the point that some tribes have formed assassination squads within the [police force] to eradicate the mujaheddin from among the sons of the tribes, and under this category falls those who have been released by the Americans…as what happened recently among the Jeghaifeh tribes where they killed heroes from their own tribe in broad daylight but they were from a different [tribal] branch, and they killed as well heroes from the tribes of Albu Hayyat and the Haditheeyin and the Jawa’ana and the Zawiyeen and the Albu Nimir as well, as was done by the Albu Mahal tribe with the braves of the Tarableh and the al-Salman.

The sheikhs spoke of how the Americans and their allies have led the tribes into a labyrinth and a dark tunnel called the national forces or the tribal Awakenings, promising them rosy fantasies back-up with large sums of money at first to some of the sheikhs and the volunteers in the Awakenings specifically, and after they had all gotten implicated in this ill-omened venture, they started to [turn their shoulders] and cutting off the salaries, and started talking of three month contracts or six months saying very clearly: “You have no option now but to collaborate with us or else you will be beheaded by the [Islamic State of Iraq] after having fought them, for you have become exposed targets and you have no cover but the Americans.”

All the above is self-explanatory: Al-Baghdadi claims that the Shias have managed to close ranks and sort out their differences, while the Sunnis are devouring each other.

Al-Baghdadi adds that he told the visiting tribal sheikhs that “the root of the problem in the Sunni area is the Islamic Party and its coterie of wicked clerics and tribal sheikhs” who insist on joining the political process without demonstrating that there is any value to that course of action. To further drive his point, al-Baghdadi asks about the numbers of Sunni prisoners that Tariq al-Hashemi, Iraq’s Sunni Vice-President and chairman of the Islamic Party, has managed to release even after publicly vowing to do so many months ago. Al-Baghdadi contrasts this ineptness with the number of attempts that the jihadists have partaken of to forcibly spring prisoners out of American-supervised prisons in Iraq such as the ones in Abu Ghraib and Badosh, as well as the number of American, British and Russian hostages that were taken by the jihadists with the aim of substituting them for some of the female and juvenile Sunni detainees. Al-Baghdadi’s argument here is that he and his jihadists are the ones who are really safeguarding Sunni rights by forceful actions, not the Islamic Party through empty politics and rhetoric.

Al-Baghdadi adds that there is also no overall financial reward or political influence accrued to the Sunnis by joining the security forces since Sunnis constitute “no more than 3 to 5 percent” of the army and police force of “[Shia] state”, by his estimate.

Al-Baghdadi then describes the seven-point agreement that he reached with the tribal sheikhs, which doesn’t have much substance to it since it goes through all the usual premises of annulling the Awakening Councils, deserting the security services, declaring amnesty for ex-members of the Awakenings and the security forces and imposing shariah law throughout the land, and doing so in collaboration between the tribes and the Islamic State of Iraq. But even al-Baghdadi concedes that this agreement “will remain ink on paper” if the tribes don’t enforce it themselves, and he doesn’t seem too optimistic about this outcome.

Towards the end of the speech, al-Baghdadi focuses on the impending government attack on Mosul, saying that Maliki’s government hurriedly put an end to the Basra operation and reconciled with the Sadrists so that it can direct its firepower to cleanse Mosul of any jihadist footholds. Al-Baghdadi rails against the parliamentary Sunni Consensus bloc (that includes the Islamic Party) for trying to stop the fighting between the Mahdi Army and the Iraqi state, accusing them of being more concerned over Shia blood than “the Sunni blood in Diyala” [Note: al-Baghdadi pronounces “Diyala” in a weird way] and brands them as “more rafidhist and majusi than the rafidha themselves”.

Al-Baghdadi tries to rally the civic pride of the people of Mosul:
…When has the military operation ever stopped against Mosul? It is [already] agitated and at its worst, and the casualties of the Zengili massacre [Ed. Referring to the explosion on January 23, 2008] that was perpetrated by the soldiers of the [National] Guard, in both its [Shia] component and that of the Jewish Kurds, by far exceeded all that they declared of dead and wounded in all their battles during the six days [Ed. Referring to the fighting in Basra and elsewhere]. O Sunnis, you must be very vigilant for what is in store for you is indeed grave, and you shall see humiliation and vulnerability if you abandon your sons [among] the mujaheddin, for they are of you and for you, and the source of your pride and honor and the secret behind your power. And I warn you severely against following the Islamic Party and its devils into the political process for they are, by God, beating the drums for a war of extermination against the Sunnis in Mosul, and they are shouting for [blood] to begin the massacres in Mosul anew, after they had stanched [the flow] of [Shia] blood in the south, and especially that of their masters in the Mahdi Army.
Al-Baghdadi concludes by calling on the people of Mosul to defend their “religion and land and honor” or else the “majusis” and the “Jewish peshmergas” will rape their women. But even if the people of Mosul let him down, al-Baghdadi is assured that “Our Lord in heaven will make us victorious”.

Numbers, Accounts Get Disputed (Updated)

The Chief of Staff of the Iraqi Armed Services, Lt. Gen. Babekr Zebari (Kurd), disputed the numbers of “deserters” that was first announced by an Interior Ministry spokesman five days ago. Zebari, speaking to Radio Sawa yesterday (Arabic), alleged that only 144 soldiers had “fled from their duties” in the initial stages of the fighting—Operation Cavalry Charge is still in effect three weeks after its launch—adding that, in his opinion, this is a very low number that surprised the commanders who had anticipated larger numbers of desertions.

Furthermore, the spokesman for the Baghdad Security Plan (Operation Rule of Law) disputed Michael Gordon’s story for the New York Times about a company of Iraqi soldiers that had abandoned its forward positions in Sadr City. According to Gordon, some 80 freshly-arrived troops had replaced the company that had been fighting in that area for two weeks earlier, and after 48 hours of fighting, the Iraqi major newly in charge decided to pull his soldiers back. The NYTimes pegged the story as the collapse of the Iraqi Army. But in today’s edition, the same paper seems to play down the events reported by Gordon, claiming that the Iraqi Army quickly addressed the security gap without needing the aid of US soldiers. But the spokesman, Maj. Gen. Qassim Atta, dismissed Gordon’s story out of hand in an interview yesterday with Voices of Iraq (Arabic), claiming that by his reading only three soldiers fled from their duties during the fighting on Wednesday in Sadr City.

I think herein lies the quandary: there’s a divergence between those who see these problems as fixable, which they are, and between those using them as evidence that the sky is falling. Surely, there are many things that need to be fixed in Iraq, but one should take heart that there are those working very hard to fix them and they are succeeding. But then there are others who’re holding their breaths for any trip-ups so that they can scream that things are hopeless. Within this latter category one can place all the recent reporting from Basra.

But isn’t it odd that instead of focusing on the fact that the Iraqi Army is stepping-up to the plate and taking the initiative, which would mean that the Unites States can pull its forces out quicker, the Democrats—who’ve made troop withdrawal their sacred raison d’être—have failed to seize upon the positive while inexplicably playing-up the negative, to the detriment of their own policy recommendations. I think they are doing that because there’s an election to win in November and the Republican candidate has staked his run on conditions in Iraq. So if things improve there and troops can come home, then that’s bad for the Democrats because it authenticates the Bush administration’s contention that the fight in Iraq can be won, and is being won.

But hey, things in Basra went south from what we’ve been told, so that’s why the Iraqi Army is evicting the Sadrists from their office today (Arabic). Maliki has signed an order that all government buildings in Basra currently occupied by political parties or squatters must revert back to the state within 48 hours. The Sadrists now occupy a former Iraqi Olympics Committee complex in the heart of Basra and have been told that they must vacate the premises immediately. It seems that other political parties such as the Supreme Council and the Da’awa Party have also been told to vacate the government buildings they now occupy.

Doesn’t this story conflict with the false narrative of the ‘fiasco’ that was Operation Cavalry Charge, as peddled by western journalists and ‘analysts’?

Weren't we told that the Sadrists had won, and that the Iraqi Army had collapsed? So how come Iraqi soldiers are throwing the Sadrists out on their asses?

What's funnier is that these western reports are re-hashed and further mutilated in their Arabic translations, ending-up in openly-hostile newspapers like Azzaman, but these damaged goods are then recycled and cited by the fake 'experts' in the west, the ones that can barely speak Arabic, as first-hand accounts that filter back to lend added legitimacy to the existing false narrative! So the English-to-Arabic-to-English Chinese telephone that stands in for an analytical look at Basra only manages to further distort the facts.

I should also note that it’s been three weeks since Basra began to dominate the headlines, yet neither the New York Times or the Washington Post have sent a serious reporter down there. Why report the facts on the ground when you can make them up, eh?

UPDATE: this story from the Associated Press, the first to be written from Basra itself, contradicts itself through and through: How can things have improved so much if Operation Cavalry Charge had been a failure?

Monday, April 14, 2008

Obama + Auchi = Ouchi!

I ripped off this post's title from a comment somebody had left on my comments page.

Ouchhhh! It turns out that Barack and Michelle Obama had attended a dinner in honor of Nadhmi Auchi on April 3, 2004 at Antoine Rezko's house, according to a witness testimony given today during the Rezko trial.

Obama had said that he doesn't remember meeting Auchi. I think that Obama either suffers from ADD or has sustained significant damage to his memory cells from all that stuff he did back in the day. How can one forget a dinner in 'honor' of a very controversial man like Auchi? How can one miss what one's reverend had been saying for a couple of decades? How can one not catch a whiff of the bucket-loads of murkiness surrounding a 17 year long friendship with Rezko?

Time to re-visit this post: Obama's Saddam Connection?

UPDATE: it was Rezko's defense lawyer who placed Obama at this dinner for Auchi. The witness was brought in by the prosecutor to testify against Rezko. So this may be some sort of entrapment. Let's wait and see what Obama will have to say in response. I wonder what the defense team is up to?

UPDATE, April 15, 2008: The Chicago Sun-Times today has two more sources confirming that Obama was at this dinner.

WOW: Iraqi Army Rescues Western Journalist in Basra

Just mull over the contours of this headline for a few moments:

IRAQI ARMY RESCUES WESTERN JOURNALIST IN BASRA

What is this? I mean, what is this? What’s the right word to describe this?

Is it ‘irony’? Is it the “incongruity between what might be expected to happen and what actually happens” as my little dictionary defines ‘irony’?

Richard Butler, a British journalist working for CBS News, was auspiciously rescued today by an Iraqi Army unit that had been conducting a security sweep through a once-volatile Basra neighborhood—one that was until recently dominated by militants—in which he had been held captive since February 10.

I mean if any event could be seen as a send-up to how western reporters have covered Operation Cavalry Charge in Basra, then this would be it!

Instead of praying for Butler’s safety, instead of taking a stand on right and wrong, the foreign press threw their sympathies behind the outlaws; those western reporters did not hold candle-lit vigils for their kidnapped comrade, since professional solidarity can’t hold a candle to the venality of Bush hatred. It was far more important for these journalists to root for the Sadrist-related criminal cartels that are being targeted by the continuing military operations in Basra and elsewhere than to admit that Iraq may be fixing itself, and may not, after all, turn into the ‘fiasco’ they’ve been heralding with certainty for so long.

Some of these outlaws may very well have been the same killers who’d abducted and murdered Steven Vincent in August 2005. Was Vincent’s blood not enough of a marker to distinguish between the bad guys and the good guys in this battle? Well, clearly not for the likes of Glanz, Raghavan and Ware—who’ve constructed their own psychosomatic brand of ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ in Iraq.

This rescue is also a send-up to the British military, cowering as they have been at the periphery of Basra: What have they done to save one of their own? It fell to Iraqi soldiers, the same ones the Brits were ridiculing as inept and gutless to whichever journalist would jot such rancor down, to bail out one of Her Majesty’s abandoned subjects.

I wonder how all this will be spun in tomorrow’s editions. For the time being, we can all warm up to the glow of this happy ending.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Bureaucratic Gripe, Innuendo Does Not Add Up to an Exposé

Here we go again: the New York Times tries to sex-up an already interesting story to score political points on its front-page. It’s the same stunt they pulled a couple of months ago by publishing that gossipy story about Senator McCain, and today they try to give the same treatment to Iraq’s Defense Minister.

The story, written by Solomon Moore, makes its first mistake by sensationalizing the arms deal between Iraq and Serbia as a “secret” sale in its headline. How can something be kept “secret” if the Iraqi Ministry of Defense put out two press releases—with pictures—about the Defense Minister’s two visits to Serbia during September and November of last year; then the Defense Minister held a press conference on December 9 announcing specifics about the deal; then the ministry put out a third press release announcing the formal signature of the deal and its total sum (230 million dollars) on December 24?

All this was amply reported on by the Iraqi press, and some of this coverage found its way into the Arab press. I’m sure that the Serbian media also covered it in some detail.

But the NYTimes still maintains that it was all hush-hush and adds:

…it was negotiated by a delegation of 22 high-ranking Iraqi officials, without the knowledge of American commanders or many senior Iraqi leaders.
It further adds that, according to “American military officials”, the “deal was signed in March”. Huh? But the Iraqi government announced it in December! I guess those American commanders are indeed clueless.

But here’s a double Huh: if the deal had been signed in March, then why was Moore able to ask the Iraqi Defense Minister about the deal during “an interview in February in his office”? Doesn’t Moore contradict his own timeline here?

The timing of this February interview is very revealing, for it tells us that the NYTimes has been working on this story for some time now, but had decided to sit on it. I think they did so because there wasn’t much of a story to tell: the NYTimes wanted to use the Serbian deal to paint the Iraqi government as corrupt and inept, and there wasn’t enough meat on this skeletal narrative. So what changed? Standards did, of course. The NYTimes reporting on Iraq can be best described as “anything goes” as of late, so a story heavy on innuendo and factually meager can still go to press if it serves the editorial policy of this paper in painting everything about Iraq in dark hues.

Innuendo? Take a look at all of these:

Those with knowledge of the Serbian arms deal said they knew of no specific crimes, but warned that with so little transparency and such poor oversight, problems were likely to emerge, as they did with the 2004 deal.

…Some critics, all of them high-ranking Iraqi and American military officials, made the more serious charge that senior Iraqi officials intentionally obstructed American-sponsored procurements because they feared the sales program would prevent them from siphoning off a share of the money. But they offered no independent corroboration.

“The defense minister is playing games,” said an official with Iraq’s Defense Ministry who spoke out because of his concern about corruption, but also spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals. “He is stopping F.M.S.,” the official said. “Contracts just sat on his desk waiting for approval for six or seven months sometimes.”

American procurement experts were so mystified by some of the delays that they set up a new office to track procurements and found that many of the delays led straight back to Mr. Qadir’s desk. Mr. Qadir denied delaying contracts or making money from them.

…“It struck me as bizarre,” said a Western official with knowledge of the security ministries, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he did not want to be seen as criticizing people he was advising. “You can only explain it in two ways: a desire to avoid oversight and a desire to offer opportunities for graft and corruption.”

A high-ranking Iraqi government official who spoke on condition of anonymity, for fear of reprisals against him and others in his office, said, “We have no confidence in the Iraqi contracting process.”
The NYTimes itself tells us that there’s no evidence of corruption or wrongdoing, yet it reserves six whole paragraphs to insinuate that there may be something “inappropriate” anyway.

I’ve expressed my qualms regarding how the current Defense Minister got appointed in contravention of constitutional constraints in order to placate Sunni politicians. But one thing I’ve come to know about him is that he is not a corrupt man but rather a civil servant trying to do his best under incredibly complex constraints during a time of war. He has earned my respect, but some make it their life’s work to cut down such men.

So the NYTimes spent months sniffing around this story and found nothing, however, they didn’t manage to do something as simple as a spell check with all this time that they had. Let’s get this straight once and for all: Iraq is not Afghanistan, so the Afghani cultural habit of using a first name does not apply to Iraqis. Calling the Iraqi Defense Minister by his first name “Abdul Qadir” as Moore does is simply improper. His name is Abdul Qadir Jasim al-Obeidi. And the fugitive ex-Defense Minister is not “Hazam Shalan”; it’s Hazim al-Shalan. And the current planning minister is not “Ali Glahil Baban”; it’s Ali Ghalib Baban.

It’s the little details such as these that tell how serious a reporter is. I mean, if a reporter messes up the basics, then it’s no wonder that such a reporter would miss the point of the story.

This could have been a great story had it been an expose of how some pencil-necked paper-pushers over at the Pentagon are hampering the procurement and distribution of weapons to the Iraqi military by pedantically conforming to the “protocols spanning hundreds of pages” that shape the Foreign Military Sales program, or FMS.

Two years ago, Iraq put up billions of dollars of its own money to buy U.S.-made weapons, but these weapons have yet to reach those Iraqi soldiers battling it out on the frontlines of the insurgency. That’s why al-Obeidi turned to other, more expedient sources for arms like Serbia.

The reason that this story failed to be great was that it was leaked and spun by those same DoD pencil-necked paper-pushers that were worried that their failings would be exposed. So they did what many in Washington and the Green Zone have turned into a literal blood sport: Operation Blame It on the Iraqis.

Clearly, this was a hatchet-job instigated by Joe Benkert, the Ass. Sec. who handles FMS, who is quoted in the article yet is not taken to task for his agency’s shortcomings. His “it’s not my fault” dodge was passed off to al-Obeidi, and the NYTimes is in season to beat-up on the Iraqi government.

Because when those clumsy Iraqis forgot to sign and initial Form 173b-Section 9i-Addentum C18K, well, I mean, after such a travesty, what greater evil can be let loose upon the world?

Apart from Benkert, it seems that all the other detractors, both American and Iraqi, were allowed to speak anonymously, even though what they were saying was unsubstantiated, by the paper’s own admission. So why quote them anyway, when this antipathy could very well be a case of bureaucratic gripe? Every organization can relate to scenes from The Office, and there’s bound to be pockets of discontent and acrimony that can be tapped to badmouth an embattled Iraqi minister such as al-Obeidi.

But there’s an interesting component to this anonymous gripe, since it’s innermost coterie seems to be the same group that tried to peddle innuendo against the ‘Iron Lady’ herself, Basima Loay Hassoun, Maliki’s military advisor, for although she goes unnamed, her office gets its share of the snipping.

The deal was also supported by Iraq’s Office of the Commander in Chief, a shadowy group of Shiite advisers to Mr. Maliki that American officials accused last year of leading a purge of Sunni Iraqi Army commanders who had cracked down on Shiite militia leaders.

The same group, which rejected suggestions that it bring in Western advisers, has marginalized senior uniformed officers charged with procurement decisions and kept American officials in the dark about Iraqi financing of arms deals, according to high-ranking American officials familiar with its workings.
I’ve never met Basima Loay Hassoun, but I applaud her for making so many enemies. She seems to have metaphorically castrated many chauvinists in crew-cuts, whether Iraqi and American, and that in itself is pretty cool. She’s accused of being a Shia sectarian, yet the two protagonists in this arms deal, the defense and planning ministers, are both Sunni—and she stood-up for them, according to the narrative.

Oh, and that whole paragraph about canceling the contracts committee is plainly inaccurate and I don’t have the energy to get into the minutiae that would correct the information.

So there you have it, the New York Times rushes yet another sexed-up yet leaky story to its front-page and further damages the reputation of its Iraq reporting. It is simply ridiculous to claim in the piece’s opening paragraphs that anonymous American commanders had said that the Serbian equipment had “turned out to be either shoddy or inappropriate for the military’s mission” without fully fleshing out this accusation of ‘shoddiness’ later in the piece.

Not only was the arms deal not “secret”, not only was there no evidence of “corruption”, not only does it seem that al-Obeidi acted appropriately and with the backing of his government while the NYTimes’ sources over at the Pentagon had dropped the ball during a time of war, not only does the reporter fumble the spelling of names, not only does the reporter editorialize content with adjectives that are unsubstantiated, not only is there no mention of the political atmosphere in Baghdad where the Sunni politicians who first brought al-Obeidi to power turned against him when they found that he couldn’t be controlled, not only is there no elaboration of the tensions that have arisen between Iraq’s executive branch and infantilizing American bureaucrats who are bristling at their fading ability to unilaterally command the situation, not only of so many other things that could have given this story more context; the NYTimes chose to mutilate an interesting story that could have taught us all about the myriad challenges being faced in Iraq into a badly-conceived and hastily-conjectured smear.

It’s too bad that they would do such a thing, and that they would get away with it too. But even so, I think that they’ve overplayed their hand—rushing as it is to foil the Petraeus testimony—and this sort of narrative won’t hold up until November; there’s just too much time left to shoot holes in it as Iraq turns rosier, and no amount of darker hues in journalistic print would be enough to hide that radiance.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Talisman Gate, in edible form

I turned 32 yesterday.



This was my birthday cake, the missing piece bore my nickname. My last post, Liberation Day, was delicious!

A different, more appealing take on having to eat my own sugary words...

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Liberation Day

For me, April 9th will forever be Liberation Day.

Last year, I expressed my feeling about this time of year in column titled Absolutely Worth It.

This piece continues to express how I feel. Yet, five years on, the sum of anniversaries has an added personal symmetry for me.

It was on this day, in 1998, that I formally joined the Iraqi opposition to Saddam at a young age a few days shy of 22. I had dabbled before here and there, but it was then that I took the plunge to do this for real. At first, my family thought that it was a waste of life, but they eventually came around after I made this argument: I won't do this forever, no way, but I'll do it for a maximum of five years or until whenever Saddam is overthrown within that time period. My paternal grandfather, my parents, and my uncles had all be badly bruised by their forays into politics, and those experiences had left them with broken hearts, surrounded by broken things. Another generation trying to fix things, especially after the bleak horrors of Saddam, was a fool's errand, a waste of youth, a despairing venture.

I sold my own stint in this field to my folks as a form of mandatory military service that I'd have to go through before I did the proper middle class thing of finding a real, paying job. Their attitude turned from one of initial hesitation to an outpouring of unconditional support. My brother, especially, took it upon himself to help me get by throughout the years I worked as a volunteer. I could tell too, as the years advanced and liberation was within sight, that my father and mother had started to look upon me with something beyond pride, closer to awe. This sustained me with immeasurable power, and clarity of mind. It kept me centered when I was scared or despondent or vengeful for I always had a point of reference to the values I was brought up with.

I always thought it was kind of neat, in an anecdotal manner, to have Saddam's overthrow coincide with the promise I made to my family. It took exactly five exacting years. On this fifth anniversary though, the symmatry strikes me on a more profound level.

I remember that the overthrow of Saddam had become one of my three constant New Year's wishes from an early age, probably when I was around 8 or 9; wishes that I made every year, with liberation being the foremost. To have served in whatever minimal capacity and to whatever minimal effect in this great and noble cause is my deepest well of self-worth. I was one soldier among many, but wherever I go, there's an invisible medal hanging on my chest for the part I played in this victory over tyranny. It is also my own liberation from whatever neurotic fears I may have: should I glimpse a white piano crashing into me, I know that the last thought in my soon-to-be-smashed head would be that there was meaning in the time I had among the living, and that having something to do with the events of April 9, 2003 was plenty meaningful for one lifetime.

Five years on, this pride continues to swell with the certainty of righteousness, and with the fuller realization that this New Iraq, of which I can claim the tiniest of ownerships, is destined for immense, necessary roles in the service of civilization and civility.

On this very personal day, I remember the family that closed ranks behind me; the friends who gave and gave and gave; my comrades, some dead, some living, all made better and more glorious for the path traveled together. And I remember myself and I am thankful for a life unburdened with shame and regrets. Thankful too for this invisible medal on my chest.

So, on this April 9th, I wish you all a Happy Liberation Day.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

And the winner is…

Sorry Mr. Sudarsan Raghavan, your competitor over at the New York Times has out-dimwitted you yet again.

For those of you late to the game, it is the opinion of this blog that Raghavan and James Glanz, the Baghdad bureau chiefs of the Washington Post and the NYTimes respectively, have been outdoing each other in authoring shoddy news reports about recent events in Iraq.

But today, Glanz may have gone where no clueless reporter has gone before.

To start with, there’s an incessant urgency in trying to corroborate his past narrative about the battle of Basra, which just doesn’t stand-up to even the most casual application of logic. How is that with the Iraqi Army firmly in control of all of Basra—including the ports and the pipelines—and with the majority of the men with arrest warrants out on their names either dead or in custody, AND with Maliki’s deadline for the handover of heavy arms due to expire TOMORROW, that Glanz still has the gall to write, and write, and write: “…the badly coordinated push into Basra…”, “…the Mahdi Army stopping Mr. Maliki’s Basra assault cold…”, “…Mr. Maliki’s military operation in Basra foundered against Mahdi resistance…”, and “…the military ‘fiasco’ of his Basra adventure.” How is that?

It seems that Glanz hopes that by repeating something often enough, he can magically make it real.

But I think that he’s losing whatever hold on reality he may have had, and it is beginning to show in his writing. Take this logic-bender:

The crackdown on the Mahdi Army has also eroded Mr. Maliki’s credibility with a large segment of the public that fears Mr. Sadr’s militia but also sees him as a legitimate champion of their interests.
So a segment of the population fears Sadr yet still looks up to him as its protector. Does this make any sense to anyone?

To authenticate such stretches, Glanz cites a single source to firm up his diagnosis:

Reflecting that calculus of power on the streets, Amal Mosa, a 28-year-old computer systems worker in the Karada neighborhood of Baghdad, said, “I think Maliki and America are more powerful than JAM, but Maliki alone would be smashed by it,” referring to the Mahdi Army by its Arabic acronym.
There is something very fishy about this quote, since there is no “Arabic acronym” for the Mahdi Army. It is either referred to in Arabic as jaish almahdi, jaish alimam, or jama’at alsadr. “JAM” is an acronym invented by the U.S. military and is never used by speakers of Iraqi Arabic. I don’t want to accuse Glanz of fabricating a quote, but even if this error is somehow passed on to Glanz’s interpreter then it would seem doubtful that Glanz, who boasted in his Op-Ed over the weekend that he can speak some Arabic, would not have caught this error while in translation or not figured out that it was quite weird for a native speaker to employ American terminology.

But it gets even weirder:

But for many Iraqis, in the past few weeks Mr. Maliki has cemented his reputation as a tool of the Americans.
But towards the end of the article, Glanz writes:

Opinion appears to have divided into two camps: the Sadr followers, who accuse Mr. Maliki of being a tool of American policy, and anti-Sadrists, who say they are sick of extortion and gunmen.
So these “many Iraqis” that Glanz references earlier turn out to be “Sadr followers”. Duh! Why didn’t he make that as crystal clear when he first mentioned the sentiment?

Heavens, this piece is poorly written indeed!

Glanz then employs the same trick that Raghavan used that I had pointed out a couple of days ago, which is to quote that crazy old coot of a Kurdish MP, Mahmoud Othman. But there’s another ‘quote pattern’ emerging since a great number of the negative reports about what had transpired in Basra carry quotes from Joost Hiltermann, the Istanbul/Amman-based analyst for the International Crisis Group. Hiltermann has become the media’s go-to ‘expert’ for those flashy ‘doom and gloom’ quotes. Wait, wasn’t it Hiltermann who a couple of years ago predicted that Iraq had descended into the bloodiest of civil wars and that no one will make it out alive, or something like that? Isn’t his credibility just a tad bit questionable at this point?

But poor, gullible Glanz delivers his own coup de grace when he enthusiastically writes:

A truer gauge of the two sides’ real power may come Wednesday, the fifth anniversary of the day United States troops captured the Iraqi capital, when Mr. Sadr has called for a million of his followers to march through the streets of Baghdad to protest the continuing presence of American forces in Iraq.
Muqtada al-Sadr cancelled the demonstration. He did so today. It may have escaped Glanz’s notice because Sadr’s declaration to this effect was twisted around by the western wire reports and made to seem as if he was threatening to end that fictional ‘ceasefire’ that the western media had invented to begin with.

So by cancelling the demonstration, does that make Sadr more powerful than Maliki or less so, according to the metrics by which Glanz gauges power dynamics in Iraq?

I can’t wait to see how Glanz will try to spin this one tomorrow.

On a final note, I’d like to take issue with this assertion: “…the force that has won past showdowns: the street power wielded by the radical cleric Moktada al-Sadr.”

Ahemmm, I guess Glanz is referring to the battles of April and August 2004. I was there, with front-row seating, watching these events unfold in real time. I kinda remember arriving at these outcomes differently. I remember Chalabi’s role overt role in the first instance, and his covert role in getting Sistani to intervene in the second. It is still too early to tell these stories in detail, but enough of it is already out in the public domain that would preclude Glanz from making such silly assertions, or so I thought. It is as if the Sadr’s spokesmen have taken over the New York Times bureau. Can someone please check whether any gunmen had stormed that office and are forcing Glanz and Co. to write this stuff at gunpoint? Maybe that’s why no NYTimes reporters have been able to travel to Basra and see things for themselves even after two weeks have elapsed…

Monday, April 07, 2008

What's That Sound? (Updated)

D’yall hear those distant thuds?

That’s the sound of an imploding narrative.

It is also my cue to begin the third cycle in the cognitive loop of ‘anger-ridicule-pity’ through which I’ve channeled my reaction to how the story in Iraq is being reported.

For how can one not pity those miserable journalists as they scramble to find new narratives to define the last 48 hours in Iraq?

Not only has Maliki not backed down, but newly emboldened with wide political backing he’s begun to smash through Sadr City itself and is threatening to banish the Sadrists to a political Siberia. Muqtada al-Sadr, the guy the media has us thinking had won, has prostrated himself at the feet of Grand Ayotallah Sistani, promising Maliki that he would indeed demobilize his militia if the wise old men of Shi’ism would have it so. Gone are the millenarian certainties of taking orders from the Mahdi, the messiah. Gone is all that bluster of al-Sadr’s virile, confident ‘Outspoken hawza’ contrasted with Sistani’s supposedly feeble and retro ‘Silent hawza’. And he sends out his plea for clemency from Iran. FROM IRAN?!! From a place of chosen exile with which he had often derided the Hakims for seeking sanctuary and shelter there after Saddam has nearly eradicated their lineage. The place too, towards which his father’s confidants still point their accusing fingers for the murder that had befallen the old man and that of Muqtada’s two older, more worthy brothers.

Sadr surrendering his fate to Sistani and submissively muttering, “Do as you please, Sir.” Who would have imagined?

It is almost as baffling as Maliki’s abrupt transformation from an incompetent administrator into a wartime commander-in-chief!

And yet, the Sadrists keep sending out confusing signals signifying the confusion within their ranks. It happens, when defeat devours one’s will. “We will not disarm”. “We need to calm things down”. “We will fight”. “We will flee”. “No fair!” “We will march!” “We will stay home.” “A Sadrist?! Who me?”

Ahhhhh, the validation of it all!

Yes, you miserable souls: keep writing in that passive tense, that “Fighting rages” dodge. Never mind that Maliki and the Iraqi Army are actively picking a fight with the outlaws, a fight that the government is winning, and that’s the reason why the bullets are whooshing by.

And tales get unspooled. And narratives implode.

UPDATE (April 8, 2008):

Well, it now seems that the rumor is official according to this press report (Arabic): Muqtada al-Sadr has cancelled his 'March of the Millions' anti-American demonstration set for tomorrow to coincide with the fifth anniversary of the liberation of Baghdad.

In retaliation for whimping out, Code Pink has formally revoked al-Sadr's membership and expelled him from its ranks. Furthermore, Barack Obama has withdrawn his offer of a cabinet post that he had offered to Muqtada. Going yet further, Nancy Pelosi has cast off her Mahdi Army bandanna. Dozens of western journalists were seen protesting the cancellation outside Sadr's HQ in Sadr City, angry over the time and effort they had lavished while pre-writing tomorrow's story and the waste of all those flashy headlines and headcounts that they won't get to use. Ha!

Sunday, April 06, 2008

President Petraeus?

Steven Lee Meyers credits Steve Clemons with being “among the first to discuss the prospect of a Petraeus presidential bid in his Washington Note blog last August” in his New York Times Op-Ed piece today.

But I had called it eight months earlier:

These folks will call the ‘turnaround’ a miracle, and they will sing the praises of the aforementioned trio—possibly even paving the way for a likely presidential bid (2012, 2016?) for that ultra-ambitious chap, Petraeus; a consummate showman.
In that same post, I even foretell McCain’s resurgence as a result of the turnaround in Iraq: “McCain also stands to reap some fruits for 2008.”

And with a self-serving poetic license to distort Hillel’s words, I’d say, “Hey, if I don’t toot my own horn, who will?"

One more things: it's been 11 days since Operation Cavalry Charge was launched, and the New York Times and the Washington Post have yet to send one of their eponymous [meant to say, "credible"] reporters down to Basra. All their news stories about Iraq have been bylined from Baghdad, many hundreds of miles away from the battle and its aftermath. Doesn't this strike you as somewhat negligent?

Friday, April 04, 2008

Numbers, Sources and Assertions

Here's a riddle: Why would the New York Times cite Iraqi sources to give the number of alleged defections in the Iraqi officer corps, while an American source is used to give the overall number of defections among both officers and servicemen?

James Glanz, the author of this front-page article today, quotes numbers given to him by anonymous “Iraqi military officials” whose estimates ran from “several dozen to more than 100” officers “who refused to fight during the Basra operation”, but Glanz never explains the discrepancy in these varying estimates. Furthermore, Glanz does not get these Iraqi sources of his to give him an overall number for all officers and servicemen who refused to fight, and he doesn’t provide a breakdown for how many of these officers served in the police force and how many others served in the Iraqi Army.

For an overall number, Glanz relies on an anonymous “senior American military official” who wishy-washily says “that he understood that 1,000 to 1,500 Iraqi forces had deserted or underperformed.” Glanz then gleefully tells us that “would represent a little over 4 percent of the total” yet never tells us how many actually ‘deserted’ and how many actually ‘underperformed’.

Readers ought to be told these things, preferably backed-up by eponymous [meant to say, "named"] sources who aren’t so vague, because there’s a big difference between desertion and dereliction of duty or the failure to follow orders; it’s the difference between death by an execution squad and a dishonorable discharge.

And then the story does something funny by downplaying its own opening sentences:

The senior American military official said the number of officers was “less than a couple dozen at most,” but conceded that the figure could rise as the performance of senior officers was assessed.

But most of the deserters were not officers. The American military official said, “From what we understand, the bulk of these were from fairly fresh troops who had only just gotten out of basic training and were probably pushed into the fight too soon.”

“There were obviously others who elected to not fight their fellow Shia,” the official said, but added that the coalition did not see the failures as a “major issue,” especially if the Iraqi government dealt firmly with them.
What is this? Is the New York Times trying to mess with our brains?

Maliki, for his own part, is promising to deal firmly with any signs of wavering:

“Everyone who was not on the side of the security forces will go into the military courts,” Mr. Maliki said in a news briefing in the Green Zone. “Joining the army or police is not a trip or a picnic, there is something that they have to pay back to commit to the interests of the state and not the party or the sect.”

“They swore on the Koran that they would not support their sect or their party, but they were lying,” he said.
Interestingly, Ambassador Ryan Crocker back-paddled today in Glanz’s piece on what he had been quoted as saying to Michael Gordon in yesterday’s piece regarding the authorship of the Basra tribal plan. I don’t know if he did that because Talisman Gate called him out on it, but anyway here’s the accurate version:

The tribal element [Maliki] managed himself, as far as I can see,” he said. “You may recall he had a series of meetings with different tribal leaders, three or four of them, maybe more. That was something he focused on almost from the beginning, and pressed it hard straight through and has seen it pay off. Did he have counsel to do it, I don’t know. But he is the one who did it.
Here’s how I see it: about 550 policemen (around 50 of them officers) are up for disciplinary action across all of Iraq, not just Basra. As for the Iraqi Army, less than 250 are facing various forms of legal action or reprimands; I don’t have a reliable number for how many of those are officers though I’ve been led to believe that it is less than 20.

Overall, we’re talking about a total of 800-900 across all of Iraq, and not just Basra as the New York Times tried to obliquely portray it. That’s 800-900 out of the estimated 700,000 soldiers and policemen who now serve in Iraq’s various security and military outfits. I’m no math wizard, but I think that’s about 0.12 percent. Speaking for myself, I can live with these numbers.

But what I really want to tackle today is The Washington Post’s front-page story today by Sudarsan Raghavan and Ernesto Londono. Oh my, oh my, I can't believe that anyone would seriously write something like this up without having a perversely masochistic yearning for getting all tarred and feathered. My own theory is that the WaPo bureau in Baghdad was so envious of all the attention—more accurately described as ridicule—that Talisman Gate had focused on what Glanz and his colleagues over at the NYTimes bureau were reporting that an incensed Raghavan was determined to write something so outlandish so as to draw my notice.

Well, it worked.

Take these unattributed, unqualified stand-alone paragraphs for starters:

The offensive, which triggered clashes across southern Iraq and in Baghdad that left about 600 people dead, unveiled the weaknesses of Maliki's U.S.-backed government and his brash style of leadership. On many levels, the offensive strengthened the anti-American Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

The United States has spent more than $22 billion to build up Iraq's security forces, but they were unable to quell the militias. Hundreds of Iraqi soldiers and police deserted the fighting, a senior Iraqi military official said. Maliki had to call on U.S. and British commanders for support. In some areas, such as Sadr's Baghdad stronghold of Sadr City, U.S. forces took the lead in fighting the cleric's Mahdi Army militiamen.

And it was Iran that helped broker an end to the clashes, enhancing its image and illustrating its influence over Iraq's political players.
Errmmm, didn’t your own WaPo editorial cast doubts on such assertions just yesterday?

It seems that Raghavan is so convinced that the false narratives that he wrote during the first days of the Basra operation are unassailable and are here to stay that they do not need to be backed-up any further with sourcing and qualifiers.

When it comes to the numbers game, the WaPo not only goes overboard but contradicts itself within the span of the same article:

Hundreds of Iraqi soldiers and police deserted the fighting, a senior Iraqi military official said.
Then:

A senior official in Iraq's Defense Ministry, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to discuss military operations publicly, said Iraqi troops were overwhelmed by the second day of fighting.

"I was afraid the Iraqi forces would break," he said.

The official said he estimated that 30 percent of the Iraqi troops abandoned the fight before a cease-fire was reached. He also said that soldiers had been hindered by ammunition and food shortages and that some Iraqi police troops, who were supposed to be backing the Iraqi army, had actually supported the militias.

The official said the militias had 12,000 to 15,000 fighters -- roughly the same number as Iraqi troops.
There were 45,000-50,000 soldiers and policemen operating under Operation Cavalry Charge in Basra. But let’s take Raghavan’s source at face value and compute what 30 percent of 15,000 comes up to: 4,500 soldiers and policemen ‘defected’ in Basra, according to the Washington Post.

If that’s the case, then why write earlier in the piece that “hundreds of Iraqi soldiers and police deserted the fighting” when the assertion is closer to the thousands?

Then Raghavan pulls the oldest trick of Baghdad’s journalistic sub-culture: quoting Mahmoud Othman, an old and grumpy Kurdish MP. Othman is a reliable go-to guy for the craziest on-the-record quotes because he’s been insane for many decades now. This is not a hidden secret among Iraq’s political elite.

Here’s another of Raghavan easily challenged and unreliable assertions:

But Iraqi security forces, whose leaders are widely believed to be members of the Supreme Council and, less so, Dawa, have been detaining hundreds of Sadr's followers, prompting allegations of torture and other abuses.
Oh really? Give me some names then of Supreme Council and Dawa cadres who lead Iraq’s security forces. It wouldn’t be Defense Minister Abdel-Qader al-Obaidi, since he’s Sunni. It won’t be the Chief of Staff of the Armed Services, since he’s a Kurd. And it won’t be the Deputy Chief of Staff since he is a wine-imbibing, highly-polished Shia. How about Division commanders? Or even Battalion commanders? How about the head of Military Intelligence? How about the head of the Iraqi Intelligence Service?

Moving on to the Ministry of Interior, we find that Jawad al-Bolani, the minister, ran on Ahmad Chalabi’s slate in the last election, and if anything he’d be considered a fellow-traveler of the Sadrists. The only high-ranking Da’awa Party member that I can think that would fit Raghavan’s assertion is the mild-mannered and very urbane Adnan al-Asadi, the long-serving Deputy Minister for Administrative Affairs and I’m not even sure whether he’s still in place.

Here’s another of Raghavan’s inexplicable assertions:

By distancing himself from Maliki's government, which is widely seen as sectarian, inefficient and corrupt, Sadr apparently hopes to bolster his credentials as an Iraqi nationalist.
Huh? Is Raghavan saying that the Sadrist movement is not seen as sectarian or corrupt?

And doesn’t this sentence contradict the impression formed by Hussein Falluji, the rabidly Sunni MP who Raghavan quotes a couple of paragraphs ahead as saying that he now admires Maliki’s decisiveness and courage?

Falluji is a bad, bad dude. He’s nonchalantly told friends of mine that he had been actively planning to assassinate them before he had been voted in to parliament and that unfortunately he hadn’t gotten around to it. If he’s rooting for Maliki, then something big has shifted.

But Raghavan isn’t interested in following up that line because he’s got better quotes from that anonymous Iraqi defense official saying:

The Iraqi army, meanwhile, received crucial air support from U.S. and British forces. "If the British and American forces were not there, the Mahdi Army would have gained a victory," he said.
Yes, a dozen airstrikes and two dozen military observers saved Maliki’s behind. We’re supposed to believe all of Raghavan’s assertions, no matter how illogical they may sound.

Seldom has so much error fit into so little print space. Well done, Sudarsan Raghavan, for you are truly talented in the acrobatic arts of lie-packing.

Moving on, I spoke to someone who spent some time hanging out with Maliki today. My source says that he’s never seen the Prime Minister in higher spirits. Maliki allegedly said that he didn’t imagine that the crime cartels in Basra would crumble so quickly and that the Mahdi Army would be so disorganized. Maliki was especially proud of the Iraqi operation to secure the oil terminals of Abu Floos yesterday.

Maliki also allegedly said that he’s considering a proposal to revoke the visas and work permits of about a dozen western journalists who have engaged in irresponsible and dangerous propaganda. Maliki is saying that this isn’t a question of press freedoms but rather it is a necessary measure to contain the anarchy of malicious rhetoric, especially during wartime. The disciplinary measure, should Maliki choose to enact it since it is unclear at this point whether he will go the full way, targets individual journalists rather that their news bureaus and invites their bosses to send in a fresh batch of reporters who are not as venal as those ones currently working in Baghdad.

It should be noted that all of Iraq’s neighbors use visas and access as disciplinary measures against western reporters who may write things damaging to their nations’ reputations. If anything, there’s way too much press freedom in Iraq and irresponsible ‘journalists’ can get away with writing almost anything. The judicial system is yet to adapt to slapping controls on such excessive margins for libel and propaganda, so Maliki’s only option at this time may be to yank some press passes and send them packing.

Talisman Gate would strongly support such a measure.

In other news: Colin Kahl, Obama’s chief guy on Iraq, is a big credit to an otherwise unpleasant campaign. I have always liked and respected Kahl’s work and his latest confidential memo soberly calls for keeping 60,000-80,000 troops in Iraq through at least 2010 even though his candidate had promised that all U.S. personnel would be out of there by that date.

Read all about it in this scoop by Eli Lake.