Unconventional thinking about the Middle East.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Biden: Distrusted and Dismissed by Iraqis

It’s funny how Iraqis seem to be reacting to Obama’s pick of Senator Joe ‘Hair-Plug’ Biden for the VP slot: the unanimous tone, as voiced by Iraqi politicians and analysts on Iraqi TV stations and on Al-Hurra-Iraq, is that Biden is not so knowledgeable on Iraq, or foreign policy in general.

Wasn’t Biden’s ‘intellectual’ heft supposed to be the whole point of adding him to the Obama ticket to balance out the greenhorn factor?

Iraq’s political class doesn’t seem to be buying it, though. They are not reassured by the Biden pick, whose name is forever associated, in Iraqi eyes, with a hastily-thought plan to divide Iraq that he publicly announced at Dr. Bernard Lewis’ 90th birthday celebration in Philadelphia on May 1, 2006.

The American public doesn’t seem to be buying it either, for the polls are demonstrating that there’s been no Biden bump to speak of whatsoever. Wait, isn’t Delaware a subsidiary of the DuPont Pharmaceutical Empire? Don't tell me that it's that stretch of 95 that overcharges on tolls?

For my part, this is what I thought of the Biden plan at the time: What About the Druze?

Shouldn't some reporter be asking Biden if he still stands behind his own plan?

Daggers Drawn in Maliki’s Office

There are two strongmen in Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s office: “Abu Mujahid” and Tariq Najm al-Abdullah. Both are Da’awa Party insiders who were played out of the power dynamics of that party in the 1980s and 1990s, and were left without powerful patrons. That’s why Maliki picked them to run his office in 2005. Abu Mujahid (real name: Gati’ Njeiman al-Rikabi) used to live in Syria (where Maliki was based) and later found refuge in Australia, while al-Abdullah came from Da’awa’s London scene (same as his other ally in the office Sadiq al-Rikabi).

Now it seems that there is a power struggle going on that can have serious consequences for Maliki.

The background to this all is a struggle over money, and it involves the Kuwaitis although I am not certain how. Abu Mujahid is allegedly facilitating the business dealings of Namir Karim al-‘Uqabi (a Kuwait and Amman based Iraqi businessman whose family has many shared business interests with Nadhmi Auchi, the shady London-based Iraqi billionaire who’s been linked to Barack Obama), while al-Abdullah is associated with Global Security, the British company that runs Baghdad Airport.

Thrown into this toxic mix is Ahmed al-Maliki, the PM’s son who has taken over his father’s “private” office and is currently allied with al-Abdullah against Abu Mujahid. On the margins one finds Ali al-Dabbagh, the official spokesman, who is pushing Turkish business interests allied with the Erdogan’s AK Party.

Fortunes are being made and nerves are getting frayed as accusations of corruption bounce around Maliki’s office. As Maliki becomes more powerful and popular, there is a struggle to control access to him and all that entails concerning which investor gets a favorable hearing at that office.

There is so much that I can’t put into print: nymphomaniac daughters, mistresses, and the occasional murder conspiracy. Truly macabre stuff adding to the toxicity in the air.

But now the fight has gone public with an article attacking Abu Mujahid appearing on a Belgium-based Iraqi website under the byline of “Dr. Basima Abdul-Hussein al-Janahi”—I have no idea who this person is—with the title “Who Rules Iraq: Maliki or Abu Mujahid al-Rikabi?” (Arabic text). Al-Janahi literally delivers plenty of below-the-belt blows; accusing Abu Mujahid of having a gypsy mother (the article provides her name as “Sabriyeh”, and the gypsy stuff carries the usual connotation of prostitution) and of playing pimp to Iranians intelligence officers in Damascus as well as Saddam’s spies!

Abu Mujahid stands accused of being an informer for Saddam’s mukhaberat (the article promises original documents proving this accusation), running death squads for the Iranians, being responsible for the abduction of the Egyptian ambassador in 2005, and being a front for Zain Telecom, the Kuwaiti giant that is trying to monopolize Iraq’s mobile phone network.

Although the article makes it seem that it is coming from Maliki’s relatives, that is, his son Ahmed as well as another cousin, but my hunch that this had Tariq al-Abdullah’s fingerprints all over it.

At this point, Abu Mujahid seems cooked, but al-Abdullah has a major handicap: he’s suspected of being very close to Britain’s spooks, and nowadays many Iraqi politicians consider British influence on the Iraqi state (as well as Petraeus’ office) to be as damaging to Iraq’s future prosperity as Iran’s infiltration of the state. The conventional thinking on this is that the Brits as too entangled in Gulf money to come up with a policy of their own, and that whatever the rulers of Dubai have in mind for Iraq translates into British actions in Iraq.

Why is this important? Well, Maliki is turning more and more paranoid; he seems convinced that someone will try to kill him soon, and hence has become far less accessible, including to the Americans. Maliki does not seem personally involved in the corruption surrounding him, but whoever comes out on top as his gate-keeper will have tremendous influence on Iraqi policy.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Apologies, and a quick note

So I'm finally in a place where I can rest a bit, and have some more time for blogging.

But here's a quick note on all that's happening in Iraq concerning the Provincial Elections Law, the Oil Law, and Kirkuk: the question that everyone should be asking is "Will this political turmoil lead to violence?" and answer is that the potential for increased violence in minimal.

It's politics, folks. Why should Americans involve themselves in the nitty-gritty details of Iraqi politics? It is all being sorted out in heated bargaining and deal-making. Should Iraqis concern themselves with the pork-barreling and congressional re-districting of the U.S. Congress? No, they shouldn't.

The Iraq story is getting boring, and that's a good thing. The 'analysts' and 'experts' who staked their reputations on the idea that Iraq is a failed state are feverishly hoping that the embers of violence would catch fire anew so that a certain presidential candidate may win and they'd get to keep their fake status of self-styled 'expertise'. My own reading of the situation is that is futile to go delving into the ashes of a failed insurgency that hasn't got the wherewithal to burst aflame again.