Unconventional thinking about the Middle East.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

SOFA Mathematics

"Overwhelmingly approved"...?

Today's session was not attended by 220 MPs as related by wire reports. The yeas were 149, and the nays 35 (Sadrists, former Fadhila chairman Nadim al-Jabiri, and four Sunni MPs: Usama al-Nujeifi, Mohammad al-Da'ini, Hussein al-Fallouji, and Wathab Shakir al-Duleimi.)

About 15 MPs from Fadhila refused to enter the chamber.

The heads of the Sunni blocs (Khalaf Al-Alayan is in Beirut) voted for the agreement, claiming that they managed to get a major concession on the referendum (which, oddly enough, I support.)

So there were only 199 MPs in the parliament building today; where were the other 76?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Maliki’s Life Just Got A Lot Harder

The Sunnis have named their price for supporting SOFA: doing away with the watered down version of De-Ba’athification that they acquiesced to a short while back, as well as annulling the tribunal that is looking into the crimes committed against the Iraqi people by the Saddam’s regime.

The Sunnis even floated the idea of releasing the ex-insurgents currently being held by the Americans, for they are “freedom fighters”—but the American embassy drew the line at this idea even though they tacitly encouraged the two demands above by not balking at them.

Earlier Sunni demands, such as integrating Awakening groups and putting SOFA to a national referendum next year, were reasonable and doable, but these late additions are far off the reservation.

In other words, the Sunnis don’t intend to vote for SOFA. Their demands are too ludicrous, and they know it: the Shias and Kurds won’t accept them.

The Sunnis know that their votes are not necessary for SOFA to pass, but they are making full use of Sistani’s call of a “broad consensus on SOFA”—which many interpreted as the necessity of getting the Sunnis on board—to score all sorts of political points with their constituencies.

The idea was apparently proposed by Saleh al-Mutlag at a closed meeting today among the three main Sunni blocs at the Constitutional Hall of the Iraqi parliament.

This leaves Maliki in the unenviable position of being unable to satisfy the demands of either the Sunnis or Sistani. So effectively, he’s screwed.

Maliki can’t very well convince his own Da’awa Party to scrap the court even before the culprits responsible for the crime of murdering Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr and his sister Bint al-Huda (they were killed in 1980, he’s the spiritual founder of the Da’awa Party) go on trial. Imagine telling the Israeli public that the government decided not to put Eichmann to account after capturing him in Argentina, and you’ll get a sense of how much of a non-starter the Sunni proposal is.

And if anyone thought the Sadrists were noisy, imagine their howls at being told that Iraq’s new official policy towards Ba’athists shall be “bygones are bygones” as a condition of SOFA. (On a related note, a source told me that the Sadrists had prepared to throw water bottles at Maliki had he spoken at parliament today. I don’t think they would stoop that low, but thought I should relate it anyway just in case such a melee happens tomorrow.)

If the Sunnis don’t vote for SOFA, then they lose nothing. They don’t risk alienating the Americans (who’ve put up with all sorts of crazy Sunni tantrums before) because SOFA will pass anyway. They also don’t risk spending political capital among their constituency for swallowing a bitter political pill, at the same time letting ex-regime supporters know that they have had their best interests at heart all along. The added benefit would be Maliki having egg on his face for not meeting Sistani’s stipulation, exposing him to a no-confidence vote for bungling SOFA.

There’s a meeting in President Talabani’s house this evening (Baghdad time), but I’d be surprised if an accommodation can be reached. Clearly, the Sunnis made these demands knowing full well that they won’t be met, and if they are willing to play this way, then no amount of bargaining can sway them at this late stage to support SOFA.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Bayati dismisses "leaks" about a no-confidence vote in Maliki

Abbas al-Bayati, an MP for the UIA bloc, dismissed any "leaks" about preparations for a no-confidence vote in the Iraqi parliament that may bring down Maliki, according to statements he made today to the Al-Khaber News Agency (Arabic link).

Al-Bayati added that Maliki still enjoys the backing of the political blocs and that "his popularity in the Iraqi street is increasing." Al-Bayati asserted that Maliki will finish out his term.

It should be noted that al-Bayati, the Secretary General of the Islamic Union of Iraqi Turcomans, decided to throw in his lot with Maliki for the provincial elections in January; they are running on the same electoral slate (under the difficult-to-translate name of "State [Governed by] Law Alliance") that rivals that of the Hakim family. So in a sense, al-Bayati's political fortunes are tied to Maliki's.

Al-Bayati is an important component of the Islamist PR machine, so I understand this statement to be a sign that the Maliki camp is indeed very worried about a no-confidence vote.

Good News: Court returns all parliamentary privileges to Mithal al-Alusi

The Supreme Federal Court of Iraq has rescinded today any disciplinary actions that had been taken by the Iraqi parliament against fellow parliamentarian Mithal al-Alusi for visiting Israel back in September.

The news was made public (Arabic link) by al-Alusi's 'celebrity' lawyer, Tareq Harb. It was also confirmed to me by a source close to al-Alusi, who is traveling within Iraq.

Harb made his case on the grounds that the new Iraqi constitution affords every Iraqi citizen the right to travel anywhere in the world.

Imagine that: a 'celebrity' lawyer winning a constitutional case that overrides a majority vote in parliament for the 'crime' of consorting with an 'enemy' entity.

This scenario is unimaginable in Turkey, let alone any other less enlightened country in the Middle East.

I'm sure al-Alusi's enemies both inside and outside parliament are not simply going to let this go, but for today at least, we can all celebrate a major triumph for the rule of law in Iraq.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Ousting Maliki, Maybe (Updated, Sunday, November 23, 2008)

My sources are telling me that serious efforts are underway to introduce a parliamentary no-confidence vote in Maliki’s government sometime in early December.

Supposedly the changes to the cabinet line-up would be minor, substituting Maliki for either Adel Abdel-Mahdi or Ibrahim al-Ja’afari or Ali al-Adeeb (…if Abdel-Mahdi gets it, then either of the other two candidates may take the vice-presidency slot vacated by him), and Hussein al-Shahrestani, the oil minister, for either Nadim al-Jaberi or Ali al-Adeeb (if the latter doesn’t become either the PM or the Vice-President, and conditional on him turning against Maliki, of course).

The thinking, especially from the Kurdish end, is that Maliki has grown too big for his britches. That, and Meghan O’Sullivan is back in the mix of things, forever trying to turn her guy, Abdel-Mahdi, into Mr. PM.

Technically, one would think that the Sunnis would not yield to a Kurdish-led bid to unseat Maliki, given the competition that’s been going on in Mosul and Kirkuk, but weakening an increasingly confident Shia prime minister (…who is trying to build an independent power base among Sunni tribes in Mosul and Kirkuk) is too enticing of a prospect; why putter around in the provinces when taking down Maliki makes Tariq al-Hashemi more politically relevant in Baghdad?

The Hakims want Maliki deflated. The Sadrists and Allawi will not throw him a lifeline. Taking out al-Sharestani weakens Sistani’s direct influence over the cabinet, a development several factions want to see happen. And the no-confidence plotters are aiming to win over al-Adeeb (with some Iranian prodding, it seems) with promises of a bigger role, thereby rupturing the Da’awa Party faction that Maliki now controls. They could also win over Fadhila (or at least the faction that al-Jaberi has managed to rebuild around himself), and the small but symbolic faction of the Da’awa that still shows up to Ja’afari’s dinners.

They may even get Allawi on board by giving him the Vice-Presidency slot, but it isn’t clear whether Allawi will see this as beneath him and reject it. But this would be a complete ejection of the Da’awa Party, in all its factions, from the nexus of alliances that govern Iraqi politics. Either way, Allawi will not cross Barzani.

The votes that may bring Maliki down are there. What saved his behind for the last two years has been the support of Hakim, Barzani and Talabani, or rather their disinterest in removing him after he accidentally became PM through the machinations of Sistani's office in 2006. But Maliki is now trying to project himself as a national leader, and has stepped on too many toes in the process.

Maliki is looking at a very dire picture, and he could do something bold like resigning before getting fired. His excuse for resigning would have something to do with rejecting “too much” federalism, supposedly a popular issue that Iraqi voters in 2009 may reward him for, and then he can come back with his own parliamentary bloc to rival that of those who ousted him.

However, his rivals are also preparing all sorts of things with which to smear him, especially regarding the corruption of his son, Ahmad, and other Maliki staffers.

Maliki derived a big part of his stature from the weekly teleconference he’s been holding with President Bush for the last year or so. That is over now. Maliki may have thought that he’d be the primary beneficiary from the power vacuum that shall be left behind as the Americans recede from Iraq under Obama. But Maliki may not last that long.

People forget that Maliki is not a very sophisticated player. His excessive caution, and occasional flashes of impetuousness, may be analyzed by some as wisdom, and political bravery. I supported what he did in Basra and Sadr City last March through May, because these actions strengthened the Iraqi state. But I still remember him for what he is, a decent man playing a role far too big for his wits.

UPDATE (November 23, 2008):

‘Usama al-Nujeifi, the MP from Allawi’s list, claims that the meeting held in Talabani’s house between the Kurdish bloc and several Arab Sunni blocs on Friday discussed the necessary mechanisms and alliances by which to bring down Maliki through a vote of no-confidence. Al-Nujeifi made these claims today to an Iraqi news wire agency (Arabic link).

This is only partly true: the no-confidence vote was not discussed during the public meeting, but it was certainly in the air.

I guess al-Nujeifi, an MP from Mosul who has been critical of the Kurds and thus implicitly supports Maliki, must have heard about the no-confidence vote from Allawi’s circle.

Al-Nujeifi claims that the Hakims are not on board fully even though they oppose Maliki’s attempts to consolidate power in his office. He also says that the attempt won’t be successful because Maliki enjoys strong popular support (correct) and strong support from the Americans (no longer correct).

Al-Nujeifi is hoping to muddy the waters by making this public statement, with the full intention of derailing the no-confidence vote. That’s wishful thinking on his part. The vocal MPs from Mosul such as himself and Izzeldin al-Dawla (who withdrew from the Consensus bloc over the summer) may support Maliki’s game of chicken with the Kurds, but they do not reflect the overall Sunni position.

A source is telling me that Maliki is counting on Sistani’s support to curb the Hakims from moving against him. But the Hakims are moving against him in a large measure to counter the resurrected influence of Sistani’s office (specifically that of the Grand Ayatollah’s son, Muhammad Ridha) that found its last hurrah (…in my opinion) when it was invited to weigh in on SOFA.

In a funny twist, Maliki is counting on Mowaffeq al-Rubai’i, his National Security Advisor, to convince the Americans to stick by him, but according to one well-placed source, al-Rubai’i has privately signaled, it is alleged, that “maybe Maliki has outlived his usefulness.”

In other news, a piece in the New York Times today caught my eye: James Glanz, a mediocre reporter in the opinion of this blog, writes up a puff piece on Stuart W. Bowen Jr., the sanctimonious and not-at-all helpful IG on Iraqi reconstruction, clearly as a favor for all the negative leaks that Bowen had sent Glanz’s way. But a name appears that seems to be out of place, that of “Namir al-Akabi”, who was referred to earlier on this blog under the spelling Namir Karim al-‘Uqabi. Al-‘Uqabi is a well-heeled multi-multi-millionaire, so why is he trudging around in the dust looking as if he’s an earnest, go-getting subcontractor at a minor construction site, in Ramadi of all places? Al-‘Uqabi is connected to Maliki’s office, and to Nadhmi Auchi, so why is he riding the coattails of Bowen’s positive spin? I think I know why, but I can’t publish it. I’m sure it will come out in good time.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Policy Snack: Withdrawing the Bureaucrats and the Media from Iraq

This week's post for Hudson-NY: Iraq: Withdrawing the Bureaucrats and the Media.

I should acknowledge that there a few good apples in there, but I believe they are helpless in getting much good done when facing the bureaucracies of State and the CIA. The media, well, are plain crap. I can't think of one foreign journalist who's worked in Iraq for the last six months that I can respect. Once upon a time I had high hopes for the Iraqi stringers and fixers working with the major bureaus in Baghdad, and how they'd use those experiences to build a vibrant and free local press in the future, until I realized that those young Iraqis were being trained by the worst crop of ego-driven, activist reporters the profession has produced in a long time. Internships at the National Inquirer would have yielded better results.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Hillary for Shadow Commander-in-Chief

Oh please God, oh please: I want Hillary to be Secretary of State, because then America will finally have a Commander-in-Chief for the next four years.

I think it would be great for people like me to have Sen. Clinton firmly planted in swampy environs of Foggy Bottom, namely because she’ll drive a deep and sharp stake into Obama’s side.

Forget policy here; let’s have a round of applause for clashing egos!

This is such a bad idea for Obama, and I can’t tell whether he came up with this clunker all on his own (…’Team of Rivals’, my tush!), or he’s being played for a fool by the Bill-n’-Hillary gang he’s hired to work for him, or rather to work around him.

This is almost as bad for him as hiring Bill ‘Drama Queen’ Richardson for the job!

It will also drive Biden further into borderline insanity, since he thought he was supposed to be the one bringing foreign policy gravitas to the Obama administration. We all know he’s sitting somewhere with a pen and paper trying to decide on whether he should go with the ‘Biden Initiative’ or the ‘Biden Doctrine’ as a title for whatever new grand theory may come to him later, and with Hillary blocking his way to gravitas-dom, his job will be reduced to that of court jester, providing comic relief for late night show hosts the world over.

This is so wonderful on so many levels. Even if she doesn’t take the job, then the most fanatic of Obama’s supporters would have already started to question his judgment for considering her in the first place, and if she does, then the bureaucrats at State will have to deal with a CEO accepted and (secretly) championed by the neocons, even more so than they approve of Condi (…ahhhm, actually they don’t approve of Condi at all).

In a crisis, all eyes will be on Hillary to lead the way; Obama will recede to the background.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

This is cool: Muhammad Who?

So a professor in Germany, a Muslim convert nonetheless, blares out that Muhammad never existed, and naturally, some people are miffed.

I, for one, am intrigued: there's something to the theory. I don't think it is as valid as saying that Old Testament prophets were not real historical actors, or that Jesus was a composite of several persons, but still, there's plenty about Muhammad's story that doesn't add up.

Of course, there was someone who got this ball called Islam rolling in Mecca some fourteen centuries ago, but it's about time to subject this character to the non-PC intensity of historical inquiry in the Arabic language.

First things first, I was quite young when I figured out that this fellow's name could not have been Muhammad bin Abdullah. To start with, he had all sorts of other names too: Ahmad, Mahmoud, Amin, Mustafa, Taha, ...etc. And it would have been too neat to call his father "Abdullah" ("worshipper of Allah") and his mother "Aamineh" ("pious one")...these were merely descriptives.

Second, Islam has a bipolar syndrome that's never been adequately explained and that continues to spin off splinter sects: a Meccan period characterized as pseudo-Judaic and "Nasrani" (...whatever that supposedly meant at the time to the people of the Hejaz), and a period in Media, where the religion turns Manichean, probably due to the influence of Salman the Persian.

I've only read the critiques of Crone/Cook's book Hagarism, but their controversial and much-maligned foray seems to have been in the right direction.

Plus, the whispered Shia assertions that even verses from the Koran have been edited out suggest that at various points the early history of Islam has been radically rewritten.

So let's open the sewer lids, folks, and let's see what roams within. But chances are that this sort of stuff won't get discussed at the MESA conference next week.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Policy Snack: How does one plan for irrationality?

This week's post for Hudson-NY: How does one plan for irrationality?

Policy makers should always be on the lookout for macabre absurdism. The veal calves around Obama haven't been trained in this martial art. It shall be a rough passage for them to cross.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Al-Baghdadi’s Thirteenth Speech: New Fixation on Christianity

This is a funny one: in a speech released a couple of days ago, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi assumes the role of Muhammad, while assigning Barack Obama the role of Heraclius, the emperor of Byzantium from 610-641 AD.

I’m so excited; I don’t even know where to start.

Here’s a quick tour through the Muslim version of history (…which means that it did not necessarily happen according to the narrative, and there is a possibility that it never did occur at all): around 628 AD (that is, before his takeover of Mecca) Muhammad allegedly sent letter-carrying emissaries to the potentates of the three empires surrounding Arabia—the kings of the Persian, Abyssinian and Byzantine empires, as well as one to the governor of Egypt—calling upon them to enter into the fold of Islam.

As kids, we were told that two of the three kings responded positively, the Persian fellow being the odd one out (…he may even have belittled the emissary, or something like that). Heraclius, the Byzantine, was intrigued by Muhammad’s letter and wanted to know more; he sought out Meccan merchants, who were passing through the Levant doing business, and asked them “What’s this Muhammad fellow all about?” According to tradition, Heraclius was so enamored by what he heard that he considered turning Muslim himself, but held back for fear that such an act would cost him the White House, errr, the throne of Byzantium. Sorry, I’m getting all mixed up.

The format of the letter is easily recognizable for those with an Arab or Muslim upbringing. Especially lines like, “From Muhammad, the slave of Allah and His messenger, to Heraclius, the great one of the Romans” and “Peace upon those who are rightly guided [by Islam].”

The gist of Muhammad’s letter (…his matter-of-fact wording, actually) is “turn Muslim, and you’ll be safe.”

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

-The audio was released on November 7 by the Al-Furqan Institute for Media Production and runs for 22 minutes. It is titled ‘A Letter to the Rulers of the White House.’

-This would mark Abu Omar al-Baghdadi’s thirteenth audio speech, and the fourteenth time we’ve heard from him. Al-Baghdadi has never appeared in a video recording. His twelfth speech was released on September 24, 2008 marking the second anniversary of the Islamic State of Iraq that he heads. It is the same voice we have heard all throughout.

-Although he does not specify Barack Obama by name, the conciliatory tone of the message (especially in the last part of it) suggests that it is directed towards Obama rather than John McCain, meaning it was recorded after the election results were announced (…or maybe two separate speeches were prepared for either eventuality). Al-Baghdadi seems to believe that the new occupant of the White House would be amenable towards withdrawing from Iraq, and from the Middle East as a whole. I’m quite sure that had McCain won, al-Baghdadi would not have drawn such conclusions about America’s next president.

-By taking on the role of Muhammad and the prophet’s correspondence with the potentates of the world, al-Baghdadi further cements the jihadist notion that he and his supporters are merely emulating Muhammad’s policies at Medina when building their own state and future empire. This running motif further suggests that al-Baghdadi sees himself as the caliph-elect (or successor to the prophet), and the Islamic State of Iraq as the resurrected state of the caliphate.

-The bulk of the speech is concerned with Christianity and its flaws. To my mind, this is the first time that the jihadists in Iraq have pegged their struggle as one directed against a flawed version of Christianity, a version that they seek to ‘reform’.

TRANSLATION, ANALYSIS, OPINION:

Even before we get into the speech proper, the selection of Koranic verses that precede the speech are interesting in and of themselves. Such choices are never random, and they serve to emphasize the basic message of the speech. In this case, these would be verses 135-137 of the Al-Baqara sura:

They say: "Become Jews or Christians if ye would be guided (To salvation)." Say thou: "Nay! (I would rather) the Religion of Abraham the True, and he joined not gods with Allah."

Say ye: "We believe in Allah, and the revelation given to us, and to Abraham, Isma'il, Isaac, Jacob, and the Tribes, and that given to Moses and Jesus, and that given to (all) prophets from their Lord: We make no difference between one and another of them: And we bow to Allah (in Islam)."

So if they believe as ye believe, they are indeed on the right path; but if they turn back, it is they who are in schism; but Allah will suffice thee as against them, and He is the All-Hearing, the All-Knowing.

(Yusuf Ali's translation, from here)
Basically, Christianity and Judaism have gone astray, and Islam is here to fix things and get them back to what God always meant them to be.

As always, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi is introduced as the ‘Commander of the Faithful’, one of the titles that are usually exclusive to a caliph.

Al-Baghdadi begins by following the format of Muhammad’s letter to Heraclius, but with updated modifications:

From Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, the commander of the Islamic State of Iraq, to the new rulers of the White House, and the entirety of their allies among the heads of the Christian countries, peace upon those who are righteously guided [by Islam]…

I call you to [come into] Allah, the one, who has no partner, turn [Muslim] and you will be safe in this world and in the hereafter, and in our call to you, we do not forbid you from [entering upon] the just religion, [on the contrary] we are ordering you to [follow it] and we are assisting you [to do this], for the religion of all the prophets and the messengers is one religion…

But you have inherited a perverted religion that contains flaws that are multitudes more than what it contains of [correctness]; it was rendered corrupt by [Emperor] Constantine [of Byzantium] and his aides and his oppressive [heirs], looking for fake accolades in a transient world…
More of the Muslims versus Byzantines theme here. By the way, it took Islam eight centuries to finally snuff out Byzantium, or whatever remained of its bygone glory in the Constantinople that the Ottomans captured in 1453.

Al-Baghdadi explains his motive by saying:
We have sought to call upon you because you are the closest of the nations to us.
This here is one of the essential points made by Bernard Lewis in his numerous and brilliant essays and books: the historical antagonisms and repulsions between Islam and Christianity stem from their similarities, and the scope of their ambition and competition, rather than from their differences.

Al-Baghdadi adds, “it is one of the joys of the ummah of Islam that it began with Muhammad [PBUH] and shall end with Jesus, the son of Mary…but you and your allies among the Jews—who besmirched the honor of pure one, Mary the Virgin, and accused her [of relations] with Joseph the carpenter, and claimed to kill the Messiah—are waiting for the false one, while we are waiting for he who will kill the false one; you await the Messiah of Falseness, while we await the Messiah of Guidance…and you will [eventually] believe in the [true Jesus] because he will annul the poll tax [levied on Christians] and he shall [offer you] either Islam or the sword.”

It is tempting to think that al-Baghdadi is pocking fun at Obama’s messianic appeal at this juncture of the speech, essentially depicting him as the False Messiah, but I just don’t think that he is that sophisticated.

Al-Baghdadi warns his pen pals that they should not allow their present power to mislead them into the realm of hubris for it is only a matter of time until the jihadists “will seize your footholds”—hadn’t Jesus said that the meek shall inherit the earth?

Al-Baghdadi believes that the divine winds have already turned against Christendom, and that Hurricane Katrina, and other such instances, were evidence of that.

Your civilization is made of cardboard, for if the electricity is cut off or the computer networks malfunction, you return to the age before iron and metalworking…
Al-Baghdadi then takes heart in watching the civilization of Christendom, which allows usury—contrary to what the prophets, including Jesus, had preached—suffer through the current credit meltdown, and claims that “fifty trillion dollars were lost in a few days during the mortgage crisis.” I don’t know where al-Baghdadi is getting his numbers from.

According to al-Baghdadi, Christendom’s war against the “land of Islam” was the main reason behind “the collapse of the economic giant” and that this collapse began with the 911 attacks, and continued on the battlefront of Iraq. Christendom’s tens of thousands of soldiers were defeated by a few hundred jihadists in the two battles of Fallouja, and these same jihadists managed to snatch victory, in the form of the Islamic State of Iraq, from the jaws and claws of the enemy.

And now, after making the case why a weakened and insecure Christendom should adopt Islam, al-Baghdadi tries Plan-B, which is much more conciliatory in tone:
If you refuse [to enter into] Islam, and to worship Allah without any partners, then we [would like] to remind you of what you were in the past, and especially America, whose principle was neutrality until [that changed] with World War II, and under [this neutrality America] experienced security, safety and progress in all fields, but when this nation began to forgo its neutrality and interfering in the affairs of others it began to lose everything, and for what? For the sake of a gang of arms and oil merchants who enslaved a whole nation and led them to crushing wars and turned them into the fuel of boundless greed.
I can’t tell exactly who al-Baghdadi is channeling here, Buchanan or Chomsky? The isolationist, anti-imperialist crowd in the U.S. just found itself a new poster child.
Today, on behalf of my brothers in Iraq and Afghanistan and Somalia and Chechnya, I offer you what is best for you and for us:

-To return to your previous state of neutrality, and to withdraw your forces and return to your lands, and you should not interfere in the affairs of our lands either directly or indirectly, and [if you do so then] we will not prohibit commerce with you whether that be oil or something else provided it is fair and even priced, not [sold] cheaply or at a loss.
These terms being offered to Obama are a lot better than the ones offered by al-Baghdadi to President Bush back in December 2006, when the conditions were that America has to pull all its troops out but must leave its heavy arms behind as loot for the jihadists.

It is interesting that al-Baghdadi preemtively spoke on behalf of Bin Laden & Co. What could this mean?
-Do not support the agents for the ummah of Islam has hated them and hated you [as a result], and let the ummah be ruled by its [Islamic] scholars for that is most beneficial to them and to you.
This is a dig at the dictatorial regimes that the U.S. is allied with in the Middle East.

And since al-Baghdadi doesn’t think that any of this will fly either then he suggests that, at a minimum, Obama can let prisoners from “Iraq, Afghanistan and Cuba”—meaning Guantanamo—go. It seems that al-Baghdadi has already heard that Obama is going to shut down the detention facility at Gitmo, so he’s positioning himself to take credit for coaxing Obama into doing that.

Then al-Baghdadi does one of his mini-rants accusing the West of being the real terrorists, and asks, “Where are you from the kind and compassionate teachings of your religion…[Didn’t] Jesus (PBUH) say: “Turn your left cheek to he who hits you on your right cheek, and give your shirt to he who takes your coat”?
You have violated your religion and oppressed others, so you are deserving of [whatever dark fate] befalls you...

The purpose of this letter is to call upon you to what is best by [employing] what is best, so it is not meant to threaten you or to make you hear what every tyrant should hear…

We end our talk with you with what we started with, to call upon you [to enter into] monotheism and Islam, and it is thus that the prophet of mercy and heroism Muhammad (PBUH) sent to the great one of your creed at his time, Heraclius, who took his letter [to heart] and was kind to the [prophet’s] emissary and thought about what he had to say, and did not hasten in response, but he feared for his rule, even though he knew that the [prophet’s] call was true.

So do not be any less prudent than [Heraclius], if you are no better than him in [your] response…
Clearly, al-Baghdadi thinks that Obama will give him a fair hearing. After all, aren’t the Americans and the British thinking out loud about negotiating with the Taliban’s Mullah Omar? And isn’t Obama open to talking with Ahmadinejad? “So why wouldn’t they talk and reach an accommodation with me?” seems to be al-Baghdadi’s line of reasoning.

WHAT YOU NEED TO REMEMBER

-One more time, with gusto: the Islamic State of Iraq was the most ambitious undertaking ever adopted by world-wide jihadists; bigger than the Afghan jihad, bigger than the Taliban, bigger than 911. This was to be the much-heralded Imperial Caliphate.

-The critical question that analysts and jihadists should be asking now is: Why is al-Baghdadi being conciliatory now? Is it a reflection of his own weakness, or is he spotting a new weakness in America’s resolve? Has al-Baghdadi interpreted Obama’s election as an apology by the American people for the Bush era, and their willingness to make amends with their former enemies? Al-Baghdadi has recognized in the past that the Islamic State of Iraq is going through rough times, but his tone was one of defiance. I believe that what changed here is that he sees an opportunity and a lifeline in the person of Obama; a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq can only make al-Baghdadi’s odds at survival better. And it doesn’t stop there: the U.S. may be open to holding direct talks that may confer legitimacy on him and on his jihadist state, or so he thinks.

-However, all this stuff about Christianity could signal a new theological front opening up, one that reformulates the jihad against the West less as an anti-imperialist struggle, and more as an ongoing battle between ‘Islamdom’ and Christendom. Al-Baghdadi doesn’t use his habitual inflammatory rhetoric of “worshippers of the cross” and “Crusaders” to describe the Americans in this speech, which on the surface of it looks and sounds like a mellowing out. But what’s going to happen when his expectations of Obama are not met? Does he turn his disconcerting familiarity with Christianity into something else all together; a mission to covert Christians to the true faith? And where does that leave the Christians of the Middle East? Will they be turned into legitimate targets for the neo-jihadists, just as al-Zarqawi did with the Shias?

FURTHER READING:

-Talisman Gate: Al-Baghdadi's Third Speech: here he annuls the historic protections awarded by the second caliph to Christians living under Islamic rule.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Policy Snack: Obama's Popularity in the Middle East

This week's morsel of thought for the Hudson-NY website: The Middle East Will Come to Hate Obama.

I wish Obama well, and I hope for the best, but I fear that, like his legions of supporters, I too will be disappointed, thoroughly so. Here's to hope trumping reality!

However, I should note that all those I so utterly despise, the bureaucrats at State, the mandarins at Langley, the 'experts' in academia and elsewhere, the activists posing as journos, the veal calf generation of yuppies, well, they just got their dream candidate elected. Beware what you wish for, folks.

Let's see how things work out for them. I know I'll be watching, intently and closely. This may turn out to be fun after all. Pass the popcorn.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

"One Voice can Change the World"


New official Obama campaign T-Shirt

I really don't know what to say to this. I'm speechless. It's like a freshmen orientation slogan at a liberal arts college.

America, where are the grown-ups?