Unconventional thinking about the Middle East.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Late Weekend Read

Anthony Shadid writes 'safe' stories: features that would get him awards, but nothing groundbreaking or revealing, seemingly fleshing out ideas that are already in circulation. And when his work is good, then it is very good in the 'safe' sense. His piece today on America's legacy in Iraq falls under this category.

I felt that it echoed something I had written earlier, Remembering the Americans.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Abu Omar al-Baghdadi Backgrounder

Thought I’d make it easier for new visitors to the blog clicking forward from this piece in tomorrow's New York Times on al-Baghdadi by gathering together all the relevant links. I’ve been hard on the reporting of the NYTimes on Iraq, but since this story by Campbell Robertson quotes me then all I can say is that it’s perfect.

The alleged ‘al-Baghdadi’ capture (in chronological order): here, here, here, here, here, here, here.

Why I think al-Baghdadi is the new designated caliph of Islam, here (published July 2008, PDF file).

Baghdadi’s speeches: His seventeenth speech, excerpts from which were first heard on Al-Jazeera on May 22, was only posted in full today on the Al-Faloja jihadist forum. It is titled 'The Aqsa [Mosque] Between the Falaciousness of the Christians and the Malice of the Jews'. The speech itself runs for about 30 minutes. It is directed primarily against the Pope's visit to the Middle East, and in it he calls President Barack Obama a "black slave who apostacized from Islam". He also mentions the fighting in the Swat Valley.

First speech: December 22, 2006

Second speech: February 2, 2007

Third speech: March 14, 2007

Fourth speech: April 16, 2007

Fifth speech: July 9, 2007

Sixth speech: September 15, 2007

Seventh speech: (don’t have the date)

Eighth speech: December 28, 2007

Ninth speech: February 14, 2008

Tenth speech: April 13, 2008

Eleventh speech: September 9, 2008

Twelfth speech: September 24, 2008

Thirteenth speech: November 7, 2008

Fourteenth: about the war in Gaza, January 2009

Fifteenth speech: March 17, 2009

Sixteenth speech: May 12, 2009

Thursday, May 28, 2009

End of an Era

So, ‘Ammu Baba has died. He was a soccer player and coach who had attained the highest rungs of Iraqi celebrity. I can’t pinpoint when exactly were his glory days, but his colorful personality, and reputation for on-the-field profanity, turned him into a media star of the past few decades. For a while in these last few years, it seemed that there was an Ammu Baba interview every other week on an Iraqi satellite channel. And not only that, but politicians would trip over each other claiming to paying his medical expenses abroad. Then there's the other narrative that the Iraqi state had failed to take care of a 'national treasure' or the 'sheikh of the trainers' as he's been called.



As a kid, I used to be confused by his name which translated into ‘Uncle Father’. It was much later that I realized that ‘Ammu was short for ‘Amanuel (‘Emanuel’, he’s an Assyrian Christian, born in Anbar Province).

Baba was the Sistani of Iraq's cultish sports world, and soccer fanatics are out in full force marching in mourning processions. He died yesterday in Dehok at the age of 65. It is alleged that he’ll be buried at the Sha’ab Stadium (…Iraq’s principal soccer field) since that was his last request. I think Baghdad just gained one more shrine.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Press Junket to 'Al-Baghdadi's' Village

The Iraqi government is intent on flogging the dead horse of the Abu Omar al-Baghdadi capture, and this time they’ve taken an Al-Arabiya TV crew to film the abandoned village of the man in custody, Ahmad Abid Ahmad Khamees al-Majma’I, who is being depicted as al-Baghdadi. You can watch the footage here (Arabic report).

It seems that Al-Arabiya has been given this scoop in retaliation for its rival Al-Jazeera airing al-Baghdadi’s last speech.

A few things jumped at me in this report:

-The village shown is being called Bazaiz Buhriz (approximately 5 Km south of Baquba). But Bazaiz Buhriz is an area with several hamlets, and the sectarian fault line dividing Sunni and Shia tribes in Diyala runs through it. It was the scene of many jihadist attacks (some of the tribes of the area sided with the Hamas-Iraq insurgent group against Al-Qaeda), as well as retaliation by Mahdi Army squads. The report claims that it was deserted before the Iraqi Army began controlling the area. There are only about six or seven houses in this hamlet, and it did seem as if it had been deserted for some time. A very small ‘bunker’ (nothing more than a concrete basin with a lid, looks like 7 meters by 2 meters) was identified as al-Baghdadi’s private prison. The lid looks as if it had been hit by a projectile. However, it seems to be a ‘mild’ hit, likely a mortar. These areas were heavily mortared by rival groups.

-Bazaiz Buhriz is inhabited by Majamma’ clans, many of whom had been the victims of jihadist attacks and kidnappings. However, the ID cards for Ahmad al-Majma’i’s children (shown in the report, his wife’s ID is blurred by one can still make out her name as Nada Yaseen) list the family name as ‘Al-Ja’afari’. I find that very interesting since the captured man said that his last name is al-Majma’i in the taped confessions. But the Ja’afirah clan in Diyala (who’d use the last name Ja’afari) are very few in number and distributed around the province. They descend from the ‘Abdeh branch of the Shammar Toqah (…just to clarify, it means they are not Qurayshis). There’s a small village in Diyala that recent reports claims that has been abandoned and is called Ja’afirah, and it could have been the hamlet depicted in the report. This is important since a man belonging to a small tribe wouldn’t take it upon himself to lead attacks on the much larger Mujama’a tribes. It stands to reason that the man shown in the confessions would assume the name al-Majma’i since smaller clans usually get subsumed into larger ones, but the people of the area would always know that he was from the Ja’afireh.

-The Al-Arabiya report also claims that it had been contacted by al-Majma’i’s wife (…who could have supplied them with the IDs) who categorically says that while her husband had worked with jihadist groups, he was not Abu Omar al-Baghdadi.

-There was one unidentified man from the area shown in the report who seemed skeptical about the claim that al-Majma’i was al-Baghdadi.

-The older man shown in the report, and who makes the connection between al-Majma’i and al-Baghdadi is identified as Yusuf al-Haylan. If I’m not mistaken, then his full name is Yusuf Haylan Kareem of the Banadirah clan, a subsection of the Rifa’aat clan, which is a subsection of the Majama’a. But he’s a resident of Tikrit (his ancestors had migrated there several generations in the past) who had been given land in the area by Saddam and proceeded to establish a village bearing his name ‘Yusuf al-Haylan’. Ownership of this land was disputed by Shi’a tribes in the area, and there were clashes reported a few years back. It would serve his interests to be advocating the government’s message in order to secure his land, and furthermore, he may have clashed over similar land disputes with the residents of the village to which al-Majma’i belonged.

Again, the government’s case that the captured man is Abu Omar al-Baghdadi is unconvincing. But it’s clear by now that they don’t intend to drop the issue for its media value.

However, more and more information will begin to peter out of the area about al-Majma’i that may undermine the government’s narrative, making it more unlikely that he’s al-Baghdadi.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Quick links for the weekend...

-Another episode of Chalabi vs. the CIA: Dueling defamation law suits in the Iraqi courts, via IraqSlogger.

-Hariri assassination being blamed on Hezbollah, via Der Spiegel. Although this would seem to validate my initial hunch about the culprits, but the story has plenty of holes. Clearly the author, Erich Follath, got this from Lebanese sources--identified as "sources close to the investigation," and later "...According to the Lebanese security forces"--with the goal of influencing the outcome of the parliamentary elections next month. This circumstancial evidence (...nowhere in the article is there a direct link between the two cell phone networks) cited seems to have been kicked up to the investigators under Bellemare "about a month" ago. If Wisam Eid uncovered it, then why wasn't the evidence handed over earlier? (Eid was assassinated in Jan. 2008) First problem is that the story says that alleged Hezbollah operative Abdel-Majid Ghamlush was identified as the buyer of the mobile phones, but it doesn't tell us if he was the one who bought the first set of eight that were directly tied to the assassination, or the phones were the twenty mentioned in the "second circle of hell". It would stand to reason that Hezbollah operatives were in downtown Beirut monitoring things, but that would be routine, nothing with 'clear' criminal intent. Then there's the clincher: "They have apparently discovered which Hezbollah member obtained the small Mitsubishi truck used in the attack". There's no qualification for the word "apparently" and this tidbit, the only one talking about a direct link, is unsourced. To me, this is propaganda. Also note that chief investigator under Mehlis, Gerhard Lehmann, is now working for the Saudis. I've always maintained that there are plenty of reasons to denounce the Iranians, the Syrians and Hezbollah, without pegging the legitimacy of these outfits on a purported role or lack thereof in the Hariri murder.

The scourge of the cell phones...(Updated)

Technological advances are changing the shape of Middle East politics, or at least they've added a new dimension to how scandals get depicted to the viewing public. From Junbulatt's embarassing utterances to scenes of mob violence, images and videos taken by cell phones are a never-ending source of scandal to the gossip-whisperers of the region.

And now, a video surfaces of the brother of Iraq's minister of trade getting a lap dance from a hooker somewhere in Iraqi Kurdistan. He's the guy who appears at the end of the clip. [The person at the end is the media advisor of the Ministry of Trade, Muhammad Hanoon, who was arrested on the same corruption charges involving the minister's brothers. The assertion is that one of the brothers was at this party]. The clip starts with someone yelling, "Yirohlich fidwa al-Maliki", which roughly translates into "I'd sacrifice Maliki for you." I think this is the same brother who got arrested last week in Samawa carrying 150,000 dollars in cash, who then tried to bribe his way out. He's accused of skimming profits from sugar imports into Iraq. The Iraqi parliament last week was the scene of a serious grilling of the Trade Minister, Falah al-Sudani, a member of the pro-Iranian Da'awa Party-Iraq Organization (...headed by Abdel-Karim al-'Anizi), over this and other issues. His brothers are also members of the same party.

In other news, Maliki's office has sent out directives punishing businesses that sell alcohol. There's also a move in parliament [led by party-pooper MP Layla al-Khafaji of the UIA, a Canadian citizen] to ban alcohol imports. Boy, that's going to put a damper on the partying. It is also clear that much of the partying is being done by the nouveau riche Islamists.

Here's the video, which I'm posting strictly for educational purposes:




UPDATE (Monday, May 25, 2009): The Minister of Trade submitted his resignation today.

Friday, May 22, 2009

ابو عمر البغدادي والشريط المنشور في الجزيرة اليوم

I'm getting plenty of hits from the Middle East following my interview on Al-Jazeera regarding the Abu Omar al-Baghdadi tape, so I'm reposting the translation of the study I did on the Islamic State of Iraq (PDF file):


المحاولة الجهادية لإحياء الخلافة: دولة العراق الإسلامية وابو عمر البغدادي

More Twists in the ‘al-Baghdadi’ Saga

Al-Jazeera aired a new tape today in which Abu Omar al-Baghdadi accused the Iraqi government of “outright lying”. In the brief excerpt that I had heard form Al-Jazeera—the original tape has not been posted yet on jihadist forums—al-Baghdadi responds to the recent televised confessions of Ahmad al-Majma’i, who the Iraqi government claims is the real al-Baghdadi.

In the new tape, al-Baghdadi highlights the “contradiction [among] the leaders of the security forces”; a likely allusion to what Sherwan al-Wa’ili had claimed about the captured man’s name and background, and the story given by the Baghdad Operations Command.

Al-Baghdadi believes that this is a “ploy” to force him to come out in a video recording that would reveal his real identity. He claims that he is known by “name and face” to many of the leaders of the jihadist groups.


'Artist's rendition' by a jihadist sympathizer on al-Faloja forum of what an 'Islamic State of Iraq' banknote would look like; note the images of Bin Laden and the Twin Towers

Al-Baghdadi adds that the voice that we’ve been hearing on his speeches is his own, and not of a spokesman or someone reading in his stead. He claims it is easy to verify that it's been the same voice all along.

This latest Al-Jazeera recording—al-Baghdadi’s seventeenth speech by my count—is likely to further embarrass the Maliki government that has made a very big deal of the alleged arrest, and have further used the ‘confessions’ to skewer the Islamic Party, the largest Sunni bloc in parliament that has been working to undermine Maliki through the threat of a no confidence vote.

Yesterday, Maliki’s press advisor Yassin Majid claimed in an interview with Radio Nawa that al-Baghdadi’s arrest was “more dangerous and more important” than Saddam’s capture. Majid called al-Baghdadi the “head of evil” and tied the arrest to the prowess of the Iraqi security forces that gives the lie to anyone who says that the Iraqis are unprepared for the aftermath of the proposed American withdrawal.

Da’awa Party MP and Maliki ally Ali al-Adib raised the stakes by stating that al-Baghdadi’s confessions tying the Islamic Party, the Ba’ath Party and Al-Qaeda together are likely to realign politics in Iraq.

And for more of the media circus surrounding this whole event, Tariq Harb, the ‘celebrity lawyer’ has announced that al-Majma’i’s wife is trying to hire him to defend her husband.

Furthermore, local officials in Diyala province now claim that the man who was shown in the confessions served as a member of the municipal council of the town of Buhriz in 2005 under the name “Ahmed al-Ahmadi.”

I just want to remind you all that I don’t buy the claim that the man who has been arrested is Abu Omar al-Baghdadi. Maliki’s people are digging themselves into a deeper hole with every passing day, ending up with what is potentially a major political embarrassment for a government that’s built its name and credibility of the issue of security.

I'd even go so far as saying that is episode may be an election game changer, since it will begin to sow doubts as to whether Maliki really has a handle on the security situation, not to mention the tension unleashed by accusing the Islamic Party of complicity with Al-Qaeda. This last point could be the trigger for a no confidence vote in parliament.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

More Mass Graves

This week's piece for Hudson-NY carries the title 'Iraq: Landscape of Mass Graves',

On May 13, news filtered out from the southern province of Diwaniya that the local authorities there had discovered a mass grave in the eastern end of the province containing what is projected to be 100 corpses. Initial reports, based on items of clothing and the state of decomposition, indicate that the victims, mostly women and children, were Kurds who had been transported from the north of the country and killed and buried there during the genocidal Anfal Campaign (1987-1988).

On Monday, the local bureau of the Ministry of Human Rights in Najaf declared that it will begin to exhume bodies from a single mass grave in the Qadissiya district, in the desert west of Najaf. It is estimated that 3000 victims of the Saddam regime, again mostly Kurds, will be found there, and there are expectations that some of the several hundred still missing Kuwaitis, who were abducted by the regime during its 1990 invasion, may be found in the vicinity too.
Continue reading...

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Why Cairo? Why Not Baghdad?

President Barack Obama is slated to give a speech on June 4th that is being billed as his message to the Islamic ‘ummah’—the worldwide community of Muslims. He has chosen to send this message out from Egypt, and word is that the venue is to be the Al-Azhar University and Mosque.

If you’re confused and saying to yourself, “Didn’t he just make a speech to the Muslims like a month ago?” well, that didn’t count since he delivered it at the Turkish National Assembly of Ankara, which is, symbolically-speaking, as potent an anti-Islamic symbol as you can find.

Egypt was ostensibly chosen for its symbolic value, which somehow trumps whatever negative connotations of such a locale lending legitimacy by proxy to the authoritarian regime of President Hosni Mubarak, or so the argument goes.

But it got me to thinking, what’s so symbolic about Egypt for the rest of the Muslim world?

Setting aside the snide historical association made on a pro-jihadist discussion forum between Obama and Napoleon, then sure, Cairo holds plenty of symbolism if one is an Arab Nationalist of the Nasserist type, but why would Muslims in South Asia or Africa or the Far East look towards Cairo for spiritual guidance?

The short answer is that they don’t, since Cairo’s Islamic symbolism is a modern fabrication, probably pulled off by the Brits where they controlled the place. At the time, the British needed to create a new center of Islamic gravity to undermine any influence the Ottomans made have on Britain’s colonial Muslim subjects. But that’s a long story, so just take my word for it.

Cairo as we know it is city that was built long after the heyday of classical Islam. When the Arab conquerors first arrived brandishing their new faith, they chose to camp to the northwest of what came to be known as Old Cairo, a mixed Coptic and Jewish town.

Old Cairo holds more symbolism for Judaism (…think Moses) and Christianity (…think Virgin Mary and Jesus taking flight) than anything of comparable value to Islam.

After much urban sprawl northwards, the Fatimid ‘renegades’—heterodox Shi’as—conquer most of Egypt and begin building a royal court/town and call it Al-Qahirah, or Cairo. They’re the ones who founded the Al-Azher Mosque. The Fatimids continue to expand their empire, prompting a Sunni orthodox backlash led many decades later by Saladin, who nonetheless chooses Damascus over Cairo as his final resting place.

In this light, one cheeky enough would say that Cairo holds more symbolism for the Druze than the Sunnis.

Sure, al-Shafi’i—one of the founders of the four main Sunni sects—is buried in Cairo, but then again Baghdad boasts two other founders, Abu Hanifa and Ibn Hanbal. I can’t think of any notable Sufis who are buried in Cairo. Tanta has al-Badawi, but c’mon, Tanta is Tanta.

For many centuries, it was thought that whoever held Egypt also held the Hijaz, the birthplace of Islam. But that’s just a logistical reality, since the ports of the Red Sea would furnish the arid environs of Mecca and Medina, and the multitudes of pilgrims congregating there, with grain. Egypt did not become holier for Islam by being the breadbasket of the Hijaz; just as Saudi Arabia importing U.S. cereals does not sanctify Kansas in the eyes of Muslims.

Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem are all problematic for Obama, for obvious reasons. Two are no-go zones for an ‘infidel’ and one, let’s just say, is slightly disputed.

Damascus is a far better choice than Cairo as a Sunni symbol: it was a seat of a Sunni Islamic empire, the Umayyad; it was visited twice by Muhammad (…although he didn’t enter the city proper); the great Sufi mystic Ibn al-Arabi is buried there, so is an important 19th century Sufi propagator, Khalid al-Naqshbandi.

But it is ruled over by heterodox Alawites, and if you thought the Mubarak regime was cruel, then the Asads and their Ba’athist cohorts most certainly take the cake.

Which leaves us with Baghdad. Not only was Baghdad the seat of the Abbasid Empire, it contains the shrines for a great line up of Sufis: Al-Hallaj, al-Junaid and Abdel-Qader al-Gilani.

When it comes to Shi’a symbolism, and after all, some twenty percent of Obama’s intended audience is not Sunni, then Baghdad boasts two of the twelve imams.

And guess what, Iraq is a democracy, despite all the naysayers. It is light years ahead of Egypt, that’s for sure.

Oh wait, I’ve forgotten that America wants to forget all about Iraq.

Look, I’m one of those people who adores Cairo for all the things that many people hate about it. That’s probably because I don’t have to live there. I think Cairo’s greatest story arc revolves around its 19th century narrative of generations-long Westernization and liberalization that for the first time in a 1,000 years (…or even longer) incorporated the original Egyptians into the ruling elite (see my column, Egypt’s Faded Elegance). All that came to an abrupt end with Nasserism, a tale epically recounted in the movie The Yaqoubian Building, which is far more compelling than the novel it was based on.

But Cairo ain’t an Islamic symbol. And it was not a wisely chosen venue for Obama’s speech.

Al-Azhar gave us Hassan al-Banna (…the Muslim Brotherhood), Taqi al-Din al-Nabahani (…the Hizbul Tahrir), Seyyid Qutub (…modern jihadism, and yes, Dar Al-Uloom was part of Al-Azhar), and the prominence of the Zawahiri family. It also produced a long list of kowtowers for whoever was in power.

Choosing Al-Azhar is not a public diplomacy coup; there plenty in its past to sully any reflected luster.

Obama could have done a lot better with Baghdad, or even Delhi.

But it is too late to reschedule the presidential agenda.

Monday, May 18, 2009

‘Al-Baghdadi’ on TV

Maj. Gen. Qassim Atta, the spokesman for the Iraqi Army’s ‘Baghdad Operations’ command, held a press conference today during which he presented footage of confessions made by the man the Iraqi government believes is ‘Abu Omar al-Baghdadi’.

In the excerpts that I’ve seen, ‘al-Baghdadi’ identifies himself as a 40 year-old former employee of the Saddam-era Commission for Military Industrialization, with the rank of technical assistant at the al-Karama facility, and that his name is Ahmad Abid Ahmad Khamees al-Majma’i, from Diyala Province.


Ahmad al-Majma'i

Al-Majma’i claims that he joined Al-Qaeda in 2005 and became the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq in 2006. In the clips shown, al-Majma’i claims to receive foreign funding through charity fronts from Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Egypt.

Al-Majma’i also claims that the Ba’ath Party and Al-Qaeda act in concert via officials in the Islamic Party.

As noted earlier, the Majma'is are not from Quraysh.

Where does this leave Sherwan al-Wa’ili’s leak to Al-Hayat Newspaper on May 10, 2009 that the arrested man’s real name is Ma’ad Ibrahim Muhammad, a former Colonel in the Republican Guard?

Last week, the Al-Furqan Media arm of the ISI released Abu Omar al-Baghdadi’s sixteenth speech, in which he denied being arrested.

Look, you all know how happy I’d be to implicate the Ba’athists and the Saudis in what Al-Qaeda has been up to, but the man shown on TV today is not convincing. This looks like shoddy coaching, with a glaring disconnect between the messages put out by Baghdad Operations command, and al-Wa’ili’s office.

Maliki has signed off on the accuracy of the information, and any retraction would be deeply embarrassing as he weathers wave upon wave of political attack in an election cycle.

I should note that one piece of info about al-Baghdadi that I had heard five months ago asserted that he had worked at Military Industrialization, but that he was from Tarmiyyah, not Diyala.

Some excerpts from the taped confession are available via Fayhaa TV (Arabic):

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Quick links for the weekend

-Adam Lichtenheld citing Talisman Gate throughout a story on Nehru Kasnazani, who is now promoting himself in Washington as a candidate for Iraq’s presidency.

-t-desco citing Talisman Gate on the Hariri assassination. Time to re-read my analysis of the Faisal Akbar confessions.

-Anthony Shadid’s piece Thursday in the Washington Post on the arrest of Mullah Nadhim al-Juburi is illuminating since it validates a point often made on this blog: the unfolding story of the ‘Sons of Iraq’ is less about Shi’as beating upon Sunnis but rather more about intra-Sunni rivalry. There’s one thing off about the piece: it claims that Mullah Nadhim joined Al-Qaeda “by August 2006.” That’s inaccurate, for by Mullah Nadhim’s own account in Al-Arabiya (Arabic link), he participated alongside Abu Musaab al-Zarqawi in the preparatory meetings for the Shura Council of the Mujaheddin, which emerged in January 2006.

Friday, May 15, 2009

David Rose, Vanity Fair and the Hamdani Myth (Updated)

David Rose, a contributing editor to Vanity Fair, has authored a prime example of ham-fisted revisionism and misguided self-promotion in this month’s issue of the magazine. The basic message of this article is that had Washington—then occupied by the evil ‘neocons’—only listened to General Raad al-Hamdani in 2004, then the whole Sunni insurgency could have been contained. It features a cast of unsung, busy-body Americans who feel compelled to tell the story of their nearly heroic opportunity to redeem the war in Iraq.

It’s a cute narrative of ‘shoulda-coulda-woulda’, one that nonetheless is full of holes and adds up to baloney.

Rose is a reporter in the same category as that of George Packer: a prototype of journalists who once thought that liberating Iraq was a noble cause, but have since recanted so that those who used to invite them to cocktail soirees in Manhattan would put them back on their invite lists.

Rose begins his first paragraph with “The history books will record…” and his second paragraph with “What history books should also record…” Quoting a former Rumsfeld aide who features plenty in this revised historical account, Rose writes ““From July ’04 to mid-’07,” he points out, “you can directly attribute almost all those K.I.A. [killed in action] in the Sunni regions of Iraq to this fatal error.”

What is this fatal error?

Not listening to Talal al-Gaaod (I spell it Gaoud).

Enter Ken Wischkaemper, a Texas businessman who believes he discovered al-Gaoud in December 2003. Wischkaemper—who volunteers that he has no political or military experience—claims that al-Gaoud told him during his initial meetings that “We are totally disenfranchised, and we have no contact with the Americans. The country is being turned topsy-turvy and we have no voice. We have no connections in Washington. Will you help us?’”

That is not true. In late February 2003, before the war, Talal al-Gaoud was already meeting U.S. officers in Amman and discussing his plans to pacify Anbar Province. I would know since it was I who arranged the meetings. At the time I was working with Gen. Saadoun al-Dulaimi, who went on to become Iraq’s Minister of Defense under Allawi Ja'afari, as part of an Iraqi National Congress cell for operations in Anbar in cooperation with DoD. Al-Gaoud was al-Dulaimi’s contact, and the two of them, together with Dr. Jabir al-Khalaf, now chief advisor for Deputy Prime Minister Rafi’ al-‘Issawi and Gen. Nabil Salih held several meetings with two officers of an arm of U.S. intelligence. What al-Gaoud claimed to bring to the effort were channels of communication with Saddam’s top military commander in Anbar, Gen. Muhammad Jasim al-Dulaimi, and the regime’s foremost Ba’athist there, Ahmed Hamash al-Juburi.

I had refused to meet al-Gaoud, believing that a meeting would lend legitimacy to a former intelligence cut-out of the regime that has yet to prove his loyalty to the New Iraq. I knew that al-Gaoud had leadership potential, and I knew that he was non-sectarian (his wife was from the Abu Gullel family of Najaf), but there was a still long way to go to prove to skeptic like me that someone as closely affiliated to the Saddam regime as al-Gaoud had repudiated the ethos of that tyranny.

As it happens, the whole INC enterprise out for Anbar was shut down because the CIA liaison at CENTCOM had put his foot down, insisting that Western Iraq was the CIA’s turf, and by extension, Ayad Allawi’s too. (For more about my experiences with Anbar, check out Of Tribes and Men.)

So that’s the first point, al-Gaoud already had channels to the Americans before meeting Wischkaemper. His associates, Sa'adoon al-Dulaimi and Jabir al-Khalaf, were hired by the DoD as consultants for the Coalition Provisional Authority during that same period; they could also have plugged him into the Americans. Here, I’d theorize that al-Gaoud’s previous channels were shut down either because he had proven himself unreliable, or probably because he was red-flaged as a cut-out of another intelligence agency, this time around, the Jordanian mukhaberat.

In April 2004, Wischkaemper meets John Jones, the Rumsfeld aide, who is quickly won over to Wischkaemper’s talking points lionizing al-Gaoud. It should be noted again that Wischkaemper is a businessman who had a staked interest in promoting his business partner, al-Gaoud.

By July 2004, al-Gaoud organizes a conference in Amman which is attended by the aforementioned Americans, and James Clad, then a consultant for the Overseas Private Investment Corporation and now a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, who is quoted throughout the piece railing against the neocons.

Enter General Raad al-Hamdani, a subject of recent discussion on this blog. At the conference, al-Hamdani rails against the Americans and sobs at the retelling of his arrest by American troops. Clad is so moved that he walks up to al-Hamdani and apologizes on behalf of America, without taking into account that there may have been a perfectly good reason for the arrest. Clad is described in his Hudson bio as a Southeast Asia expert who is fluent in Spanish, Italian, Indonesian and Ethiopian Amharic. Like many who had no background or experience in the Middle East, he was posted to Iraq. I’m not sure whether knowledge of Indonesian is that helpful in, say, Hillah, but here was a man prepared to embrace al-Hamdani as Iraq’s Great Sunni Hope at the drop of a hat, or rather a tear.

Not only that, but Clad goes on to play the role of pamphleteer on behalf of the Sunni insurgency. A couple of days after the conference, we find him holed up in a hotel room with three representatives of something called the ‘Iraqi National Resistance Council’. (Note: this was not Monotheism and Jihad, not Islamic Army, not Army of the Mujaheddin, not Ansar al-Sunna, not 1920 Brigades; what al-Gaoud was peddling was an outfit that at the time no one had heard of.)

The self-styled ‘insurgents’ had a list of demands written in poor English, so Clad offers to redraft the demands on their behalf. The end product of eleven demands is described by the article as “benign” and hence palatable. Really? Was the Sunni insurgency in July 2004 neglecting to make any political demands other than calling for a ceasefire, garrisoning U.S. troops, reconstituting the Iraqi Army and reigning in the Kurds? Was that it? Wasn’t there a part about releasing Saddam? Or at least rehabilitating the Ba’ath Party?

Maybe Clad left much of what may be controversial on the editing floor, or he could always claim to have misunderstood the Arabic being spoken, since it wasn’t, y’know, Amharic. Whatever way one cuts it, the demands drafted by Clad did not reflect the end-goals of the Sunni insurgency, which its non-jihadists component at the time still clutched at the idea of recapturing Sunni hegemony in Baghdad.

I think Dahr Jamail, interviewing an insurgent ‘leader’ as late as 2007 better reflects the untenable demands of the Sunni insurgency:
1. All parts of the Iraqi resistance should be the exclusive representatives for Iraqis.
2. An immediate withdrawal of American forces without conditions.
3. Full compensation for both Iraq and Iraqis for those who have been killed since the sanctions starting in 1991 until now. During the sanctions, 1.7 million Iraqis were killed. And according to the Lancet report, 655,000 have been killed, and by now possibly even one million.
4. The release of everyone in prisons.
5. Canceling all the current political procedures and all the 100 Bremer Orders legislation done during the Iraqi Governing Council because according to international law, it is illegal to make any political and legislative action while the country is under occupation.
6. Canceling the UN legislation that has been passed since the sanctions.
7. Putting all the traitors, those who betrayed Iraq, and those who are allies of the Americans into trials.

These are the rights of the country and if the Americans and their allies respect these rights, we can sit together. Not to negotiate these rights, but to plan the withdrawal and discuss the implementation of these rights. Also, the resistance will go on no matter how long it takes or how much it costs, until there is a withdrawal.
But there should have been a couple of things that would make the American interlocutors uncomfortable about their newfound buddies in Amman, had they known what they should have looked out for. For example, the chief insurgent negotiator, referred to as ‘The Messenger’ or ‘Dr. Ismail’, claims to be an MD and a lawyer, according to the article, but that combination is exceedingly rare in Iraqi higher education. It may be normal in the U.S. to have a JD in addition to a host of other degrees, but mixing up disciplines in Iraq is bureaucratically difficult and culturally unknown. Or maybe the guy was one of a dozen cases in the whole country who’d fit such a category, who knows?

Secondly, the insurgent leaders proposed to prove their bona fides by standing down their fighters. Great, that’s exactly how one proves whether the other side can actually speak on behalf of the insurgency. But wait a minute, they also demanded that the stand-down coincide with suspending patrolling by U.S. troops. So essentially the Americans would not be able to verify that a stand-down is in effect since they are not out and about. The article rightly asserts that this demand is ‘unacceptable’—not to say ridiculous.

That last demand alone should have been enough to question whether these representatives were indeed speaking on behalf of the major insurgent factions.

Then in August 2004, al-Gaoud presented al-Hamdani’s grand plan to gather together 5000 fighters and 100 officers to form the ‘Auxiliary Security Force’ that would battle the terrorists. It would have a budget of $108 million and would be armed by the Americans.

Rose writes:

“We could have solved several problems at once,” al-Hamdani told me when I met him last November in Amman. “Many of the security problems America faced would never have existed if they had listened to us in 2004.” Besides fighting al-Qaeda, the force would starve the insurgency of recruits, many of whom had been driven to fight for lack of better options. “The people from the old army were without any job, any control,” al-Hamdani says. “The insurgency was paying them, and there were guns everywhere.”

Al-Hamdani’s paper was received by the Marines with enthusiasm, and with the blessing of Lieutenant General Conway, Walker went to Amman at the end of August for a two-day “security conference” to discuss the proposal. Accompanying him was Colonel John Coleman, Conway’s chief of staff.
Lt. Gen. James Conway? Col. John Coleman? Where have I seen these names before?

Oh yeah! They were the Marines who masterminded the Falluja Brigade. Remember?! It was April 2004, and they picked Maj. Gen. Jassim Muhammad Salih al-Muhammadi, a former Republican Guard division commander (…just like al-Hamdani!), to head a 1,100 force of former military men and tribesmen, and proceeded to arm them. When a ruckus was raised in Baghdad over this, they just appointed a commander more senior to al-Muhammadi and called it a day. The commander’s name was Maj. Gen. Muhammad Latif al-Adhami, and by August of that year (…the same month than Hamdani submitted his plan for the new force), he was stating on the record that there were no foreign fighters in Falluja. We all know how that ended.

We do know how it ended but it seems that Rose wasn’t aware how two of his most featured protagonists, Conway and Coleman, had authored a fiasco during the same timeline being discussed. Seems relevant to the topic, n’uh? I mean it provides background as to why so many people thought al-Hamdani’s proposal was full of holes, right? I mean the Fallujah Brigade did turn their guns on their American benefactors, remember?

Hence the formula—recruiting the old army to police Anbar—was put into effect four months before al-Hamdani made his proposal. And it failed. Miserably.

I think it is odd that this episode is missing from Rose’s narrative. I guess it is more convenient to blame the neocons.

Another reminder: remember the Marines intelligence report in November 2006 that threw up its arms in exasperation and concluded that Anbar is Al-Qaeda territory? The one that came out a few months before Al-Qaeda was trounced? The one that I thought was full of it?

Moving on, Rose discusses the events of July 2005 in the border town of Al-Qaim and claims that al-Gaoud was involved. This is a revelation for me since I’ve never been able to fully understand what happened there during that time. There were two factions in Al-Qaim, one led by Usama al-Jaryan of the Karabila tribe (supported by the Iraqi government, he was assassinated by Al-Qaeda in May 2006 in Baghdad) and another led by Sabah al-Shergi of the Albu Mahal. Both tribes were competing over smuggling, as they’ve always done, and were miffed that Al-Qaeda had cornered the smuggling market. Al-Shergi was based in Amman and it has long been thought that his fighters were part of a Jordanian intelligence operation. Now that we know that al-Gaoud was involved, the picture is getting clearer. It also reinforces the idea that al-Gaoud was an asset of Jordanian intel.

Of course, all this nuance and granularity is missing from what Rose has written.

My final thought on Rose’s narrative is that had the Gaouds, al-Hamdani & Co. really made inroads among the insurgents, then why didn’t they seize upon the change of policy in 2006 and 2007 when the Americans began sponsoring the Awakening Councils and the Sons of Iraq? Why didn’t they leave Amman and begin organizing the men that supposedly answered to them into anti-jihadist militias, and why didn’t they attempt to compete for political standing in provinces like Anbar?

If the Gaouds and al-Hamdani were that well-regarded by their constituencies, then they’d be active political players in Baghdad by now. But they are not, while others are. Rose never addresses this big gaping hole.

Rose intended for his piece in Vanity Fair to enter the historical record. Too bad for him I’m also around to highlight the many weaknesses of his reporting.

On a completely different note, I was struck by what Iraqi Mojo posted on Tuesday. He had dug up a 1993 documentary made by Michael Wood that had left a deep mark on me when I first saw it. Iraqi Mojo has a brief and apt description to go with the re-posting.

I watched it in 1993 when I was 17. It was being passed around a dozen Iraqi families in Amman as if it were contraband. I remember feeling that, in a sense, it was great that someone was explaining to the world what Saddam was doing to the Iraqi people, and also, that I somehow have to do something about it.

I hadn’t seen the documentary or thought about it intently since being a teenager. Seeing it now, I’m glad that I eventually contributed to doing something about it.

Watch it and remember why bringing down the tyrant was a just and noble cause. Watch to know what roles these 'hallowed' Republican Guard generals played in protecting that tyrant. David Rose, you should view it too, to rediscover that part of you, the one that endowed you with moral clarity, that was misplaced during the years of handwringing, recantation and ideological self-flagellation.




UPATE (Saturday, May 16, 2009):

It’s one of the little ironies of life that I’d cite George Packer to make my point; my point being that the demands drawn up by James Clad did not reflect the reality of the insurgency’s politics.
Through the good graces of a former Ba’athist embassy official who had been close to Uday, I met a group of Sunnis from Anbar province who were vaguely connected to the insurgency. Two were tribal sheikhs from Ramadi; the third being a young businessman rumored to have been one of Saddam’s bagmen. We met in the offices of his holding company on a quiet Amman street. The businessman, Talal al-Gaaod, had a master’s in construction management from USC, wore jeans and suspenders, and was up on the latest op-eds from the American press. All of them presented themselves as anxious to build a democratic Iraq. They had nothing against Americans; they had long dreamed of the good things America could bring to Iraq, and they had welcomed the overthrow of the regime. “I am a believer in the Americans’ good intentions,” Gaaod said, “but something happened on the way from Washington to Baghdad.” The whole guerilla war was a terrible misfortune that needn’t have happened if only the Americans had listened to people like him instead of invading their houses and dishonoring their women and compelling the Iraqis to seek revenge. Gaaod admitted that some of the insurgents were living in the Middle Ages, extremists who gave the rest of them a bad name. But the legitimate resistance, as they called it, was an Iraqi resistance against occupation. It included two hundred thousand people, and if elections went ahead, Gaaod said, it would increase tenfold. The civil war would become quite real. They were hardly the masked cutthroats of my imagination. They were recognizable Iraqis, the tribal sheikhs traditional, the businessman modern, and they had far more connections to my world that I had thought possible.

Then the underside began to emerge. One of the sheikhs, Zaydan Halef al-Awad, claimed that the Sunnis were the majority in Iraq—63 percent, in fact. “If Sunnis settled in America, they would rule America,” the sheikh said. “We always carry the stick in the middle. We can move it any way—we control it.” The politicians running for office in Iraq, Kurdish and Shiite, were illegitimate pawns of the Americans and the Iranians, and if they happened to be assassinated, too bad for them.”

George Packer, The Assassins’ Gate: America in Iraq, 2005, pp. 416-417
‘Zaydan Halef al-Awad’ is actually Zaidan Khalaf al-Awad, brother to al-Gaoud’s friend Dr. Jabir al-Khalaf (see above), who was profiled by another of Packer’s colleagues at the New Yorker, John Lee Anderson, in November 2007. I critiqued this article at the time, highlighting the fact that al-Awad was not as prominent as al-Gaoud and the New Yorker claimed he was.

Another interesting angle on the David Rose piece is that it had all the events that he describes had been reported previously by David Ignatius in a column he wrote for the Washington Post in September 2007. Rose does not cite this column at all.

Ignatius writes:

A Sunni tribal leader who pushed bravely for an alliance with the Americans was Talal al-Gaaod, a leader of one of the branches of the Dulaim tribe. Looking back through my notes, I can reconstruct a series of his efforts that were mishandled by senior U.S. officials: In August 2004, he helped arrange a meeting in Amman between Marine commanders from Anbar and tribal leaders there who wanted to assemble a local militia. Senior U.S. officials learned of the unauthorized dialogue and shut it down.

Gaaod tried again in November 2004, organizing a tribal summit in Amman with the blessing of the Jordanian government. Again, the official U.S. response was chilly; the U.S. military launched its second assault on Fallujah that month, and the summit had to be canceled. In the spring of 2005, the tireless Gaaod began framing plans for what he called a "Desert Protection Force," a kind of tribal militia that would fight al-Qaeda in Anbar. The proposal was gutted by U.S. officials in Baghdad who derided it as "warlordism."

A despondent Gaaod e-mailed me in July 2005: "Believe me, there is no need to waste anymore one penny of the American taxpayers' money and no more one drop of blood of the American boys." His despair roused the new American ambassador to Baghdad, Zalmay Khalilzad, who began meeting with Gaaod and other Iraqi Sunnis in Amman in hopes of brokering a deal with the insurgents. Gaaod died of heart failure in March 2006.
BTW, I'd wager that Ignatius, Anderson, Packer and Rose all shared the same fixer in Amman, who led them onto the al-Gaoud story. That's how journalism works.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Resurrecting '169'

This week's piece for Hudson-NY begins with:

Efforts are underway to hold together the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) coalition—the largest Shia bloc in the Iraqi parliament—in preparation for the forthcoming national election set to be held in February 2010. Baghdad’s power brokers seek to keep the coalition from splintering into its various Islamist groups, and to add liberal Shias and independent Sunnis to give it a non-sectarian luster, much like the first incarnation of the coalition that ran in the January 2005 and carried the ballot sheet number ‘169’; this list was officially blessed by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani at the time. In fact, the euphemistic term being given to these efforts is being called “resurrecting 169”.

Yet the power brokers are faced with two stumbling blocks: convincing Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to stay within the UIA, and recruiting credible Sunnis.
Continue reading...

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Al-Baghdadi’s Sixteenth Speech

Al-Furqan Media Productions, the propaganda arm of the self-styled 'Islamic State of Iraq', released a 12 minute speech attributed to Abu Omar al-Baghdadi today, refuting Iraqi government statements that he had been captured last month. The speech is titled 'Lying Agents'.

To my ears, it is the same voice that we’ve heard all along since December 2006, and which is presented as that of al-Baghdadi’s.

Speech highlights:

-Al-Baghdadi says that he thought that the Iraqi government’s claim of his capture was only a ruse to hold them over for a few hours until they had absorbed “the blows of the mujahidin” but was surprised when they took it further and released a photo claiming that it was of him. Al-Baghdadi claims that the jihadists do not know who the man in the photo is supposed to be, and add that he must have been tortured into confessing.

-The speech for the most part is a sermon about the honesty of the Sunnis versus the perfidy of the Shias. Al-Baghdadi asks the Sunnis, “How is it that you have acquiesced to being ruled by those who take lying as a religion? ...Oh Sunnis, the [Shias] are your enemies, and their past and present is full of their betrayals and conspiracies against you. Do not trust them…”

-Al-Baghdadi sees that the pinnacle so far of the ‘Harvest of Blessings’ Offensive that the jihadists have launched was to force the Iranian government to shut its borders with Iraq after dozens of Iranian pilgrims were killed by suicide bombers.

-Al-Baghdadi promises his fighters that “within a few months” they will witness tangible aspects of their victory.

The speech doesn’t have much meat on it, as it was meant to show the jihadists that al-Baghdadi is still around, and that he can be recognized by his voice and his style of delivery. Apparently that is all jihadists need to know, as they trust their leadership blindly.

One needs to note again that the person of al-Baghdadi is not a random security decoy or a publicity stunt intended for show towards non-jihadists; for jihadists, he’s the candidate caliph—the Qurayshite ‘Prince of the Faithful—who is tasked with resurrecting the Muslim empire.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Obama’s Proposed Speech in Cairo is likened to Napoleon’s Famous Pamphlet

A pseudonymous writer on the Al-Faloja jihadist forum calling himself Gharib Min Al-Ghuraba’ put up a post today comparing President Obama’s proposed speech on June 4 to the one that Napoleon made upon his arrival in Egypt.

Excerpts:

History repeats itself:

The Crusader West is employing the same trick and deceit that Napoleon Bonaparte used in 1789 to control Egypt and the entire Muslim world. For in 1789 Napoleon reached Alexandria and succeeded in occupying it.

Napoleon released a pamphlet to the people of Egypt discussing in it the reason for his arrival to invade their land and that is to rid Egypt of the tyranny of the Mamluk Begs who dominated in the country of Egypt, and he stressed in his pamphlet his respect for Islam and Muslims, and the pamphlet began with the recitation of the two shahadas, and he fraudulently insisted on showing his Muslim [credentials] and [that] of his soldiers…

…And today Barack son of Hussein son of Obama wants to repeat the same trick and the same deceit, and he wants to give a speech to the Muslim ummah from Cairo, the land of Al-Azhar…

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Al-Waili on al-Baghdadi (Updated)

Shirwan al-Waili, Iraq’s State Minister for National Security and Maliki ally (…and potential replacement), fills in Al-Hayat Newspaper (London, Saudi-owned) today on some alleged biographical details concerning Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, or at the least the man the Iraqi authorities believe is al-Baghdadi.

First, the man’s name is Ma’ad Ibrahim Muhammad, according to al-Waili, and not Ahmad ‘Abid Ahmad Khamees al-Majma’i as first revealed by Iraqi government officials.

Al-Waili claims that Mr. Muhammad was a former staff colonel in the Iraqi Republican Guard until 1990, and was sentenced to be executed for membership in a Salafist Jihadist organization. His sentence was later commuted to expulsion from the army. He then left Iraq to Syria in 1991, bouncing around in places like Algeria and Morocco, and finally returning to Iraq in 2004 to join the Abu Musa’ab al-Zarqawi outfit.

However, three things stood out for me in al-Waili’s account:

1-The account is too Kirkuk-centric: “The pledge of allegiance was declared in all the mosques of al-Adheim.” Then, the associates of Mr. Muhammad named by al-Waili are all part of a Kirkuk-based network.

2-Mr. Muhammad was arrested by U.S. troops in 2007 and held at Camp Bucca for one and a half years, according to al-Waili. But that timeline conflicts with the frequency of al-Baghdadi’s speeches. One thing that is noticeable about the speeches is that they were all done with the same voice and the same manner of speaking. When jihadist speeches are given by others apart from the person the speech is attributed to, then that is usually mentioned. In al-Baghdadi’s case, the assertion was always this was him speaking.

First speech: December 22, 2006

Second speech: February 2, 2007

Third speech: March 14, 2007

Fourth speech: April 16, 2007

Fifth speech: July 9, 2007

Sixth speech: September 15, 2007

Seventh speech: (don’t have the date)

Eighth speech: December 28, 2007

Ninth speech: February 14, 2008

Tenth speech: April 13, 2008

We’ve heard from al-Baghdadi a total of 16 times by my count, the latest speech being his fifteenth on March 17, 2009. For al-Waili’s narrative to fit the timeline, it would have to mean that al-Baghdadi was recording his speeches while in U.S. custody, which entails large and unnecessary security risks that the jihadists wouldn’t undertake.

3-Al-Waili claims that after Mr. Muhammad’s release from Bucca, he was rearrested by the 19th Battalion based in Al-Adheim, and he was later released after the jihadists managed to bribe the commander. However, the name “Ma’ad Ibrahim Muhammad” appears on a list of detainees in Diyala Province who were beneficiaries of the Amnesty Law (enacted in February 2008), so it means that a man by that name was held in Diyala (Adheim lies between Diyala and Kirkuk) under Iraqi custody and released, according to this list (he’s number 196) issued by the Diyala Federal Appeals Court sometime around February 2009.

It is very likely that the man on the list is the same one being referred to by al-Waili.

I have a sense that something is still a bit off in this account. To me, this sound a lot like the arrest of a local Islamic State of Iraq emir in the Adheim area, rather than the big guy, al-Baghdadi, himself.

To date, there has been no official confirmation or refutation of the arrest by the official media channels of the Islamic State of Iraq.

I’d still wait to see how this spectacle pans out before celebrating or getting dejected.

UPDATE: The Al-Faloja jihadist website is claiming that it will have a new speech (as an audio file) from Abu Omar al-Baghdadi up in a few hours under the title 'Lying Agents' sourced to Al-Furqan Media Production, one of the Islamic State of Iraq's official propaganda arms. The ISI's Ministry of Information has also put out a press release today denying al-Baghdadi's arrest, and claiming that they do not know the man in the photo released by the Iraqi government.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Secretary Clinton and the word 'Democracy'

My piece for Hudson-NY: Dodging 'Democracy' in Iraq.

No one in the press or in the analytic quarters seems to find it odd that Hillary and Richard Holbrooke are competing over who gets to call the shots in places like Iraq. They were both hurrying to 'pee' on the country, marking their territory. Clinton was late; Christopher Hill, Holbrooke's guy and the new ambassador, rushed to Baghdad a day before she 'unexpectedly' arrived.

Something to watch out for.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Hamdani Pal Reinvents Himself as ‘Opposition’

The Saudi Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper today features a longish interview (Arabic link) with Staff Lt. Gen. Abdel-Aziz Abdel-Rahman al-Mufti, yet another of those Amman-based officers in the orbit of Gen. Raad al-Hamdani, who's been a topic of discussion here on this blog lately.

Al-Mufti actually refers to “my friend” al-Hamdani three times in the course of the interview, claiming that there are another 400 Iraqi officers above the rank of Brig. Gen. residing in Amman, and many more in Syria.

Al-Mufti echoes al-Hamdani’s denunciations of Maliki’s government by questioning their loyalty to Iraq, and claiming that there are unserious about reconciling with ex-officers.

Al-Mufti’s story is interesting since he was one of Saddam’s high ranking officers who was returned to active service after 2003 and was made commander of the Fourth Division of the Iraqi Army (based in Kirkuk). He was ostensibly returned because he was a Kurd, and hence wouldn’t be a Ba’athist (…Kurds were exempt for the most part from membership, since they are, err, ethnically Kurdish and that is usually an impediment towards being an Arab chauvinist).

Al-Mufti left the army after he was transferred to headquarters, and now refuses to return so as not to give the Iraqi government a media victory, or so he claims.

Another claim he makes is that the Americans used “small nuclear weapons” in the battle of Baghdad, a thing one hears often from unrepentant ex-regime kooks who still glorify the good old days of Saddam. Had the Republican Guard fought from within the city, al-Mufti adds, then they could have held out against the Americans for five years. Such is the military genius that Iraq now lacks, and with which we’re expected to reconcile. Ahemmm.

But there’s more to the story: first of all, he says he was “discovered” by the Americans after someone handed a CD with names of Iraqi officers for 3,000 dollars. That is code for “I was recruited by the CIA through the Kasnazani brothers.”

Secondly, and more importantly, he was transferred from his command post in disgrace, a point understandably not mentioned in the interview. On October 21, 2006, the Kurdish newspaper Hawal published pictures (Kurdish link, PDF) showing al-Mufti at a farewell ceremony for what is identified in the article as the 101st “unit”. The ceremony took place on September 2, 2006, according to the expose. He’s the one near the podium wearing glasses. Then, a bunch of gypsy dancers (kawliya, also a byword for prostitution) were brought in, who proceeded to grind up against the Iraqi and American officers, stuffing their faces in their hefty bosoms.

It was a big scandal at the time, and al-Mufti was yanked out of his command.

But he’s in Amman now, pretending to be the voice of martial rectitude while whiling away the days with his former brothers-in-arms, such as that other paragon of soldierly conduct, Gen. al-Hamdani.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Amazing Pictures: Overpowering a Suicide Bomber in Kirkuk

This comes via nahrain.com which in turn takes it from something called 'Turkuman News Bureau'. The events allegedly happened today at the Zahra Husseiniya (Shia house of worship) in Kirkuk; the husseiniya belongs to the Turkuman Shia community.

A 16 year-old suicide bomber, carrying a fake ID card under the name 'Muhammad Hussein Jawdet' fired a shot at one of the husseiniya's security guards, wounding the guard, and then tried to enter the site while shouting 'allahu akbar' ('God is great'). He was overpowered by the other guards, and prevented from detonating his suicide vest.

Startling and life-affirming pictures. The boy appears a bit drugged, or he may have been roughed up (...no signs of bruising and blood though). Jihadists usually pump up their bombers with sedatives so that they can go on with their missions.

We've heard of dozens of stories in which brave Iraqi Army, Police and private guards have put their lives at risk by tackling suicides bombers, many of whom died while saving others from the full impact of the blasts, but this is the first time I've spotted pictures of such acts of heroism.

Had the boy succeeded, and killed a few dozen worshippers, then the western press would have harped on about one more bombing highlighting the "the rapidly deteriorating security situation." Analysts and 'experts' would have salivated at the expanding death toll, seemingly validating their bleak assessment of Iraq's future. These pictures speak to how regular Iraqis are refusing to succumb to terror, choosing life for others even though it may mean the end of theirs.

Few societies have ever witnessed the unique horrors visited upon by the Iraqi people in the last three decades, and yet, rather than be broken, every day brings more evidence that this a people who refuse to bow down to their circumstances. But how can that story be told when the press corps is burdened with cynics and nihilists, who can't even imagine what it would take to embrace a suicide bomber so that others may live?