Unconventional thinking about the Middle East.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Interesting Tête-à-tête

US ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, has apparently been tasked by President Bush to open a diplomatic channel with the government of Iran over the future of Iraq. This was first reported in an interview Khalilzad gave to Newsweek magazine a couple of days ago. To do this, Khalilzad is supposed to begin talks with Iran’s top diplomat in Baghdad, Hassan Kazemi-Qomi.

Not only is Kazemi-Qomi (no relation to this blogger) a top commander in Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, but he allegedly answers to Sardar Qasim Suleimani, head of Qarargah Quds—the ‘terrorist’ arm of the RG. In late February 2003, while attending the Salahuddin (Iraqi Kurdistan) conference, Khalilzad was overheard telling an Iraqi opposition leader that Suleimani had recently tried to kill him in Afghanistan.

Kazemi-Qomi: able diplomat and professional assassin?

Kazemi-Qomi had previously served as liaison between the RG and Lebanon’s Hezbollah, as well as Consul-General in Herat, Afghanistan. The Coalition Provisional Authority under Bremer tried to expel Kazemi-Qomi in April 2004 over charges of espionage.

I wonder if Kazemi-Qomi had anything to do with the alleged attempt on Khalilzad’s head? Life’s ironic, huh? One day you’re trying to kill a guy, and the next he’s trying to be your best friend.

Iran’s Foreign Minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, rebuffed Bush’s offer for dialogue today.

Gesture Towards Ba’athists

The Saudi daily, Al-Watan, carries a story today on a gesture of ‘kindness’ by Ayad Allawi’s party towards the family of a top ranking Saddam official. The house in Al-Harthia neighborhood that used to belong to Muhammad Dhiyab Al-Ahmad (ex-Minister of Interior, appointed commander of one of four military sectors during the war, no. 29 on 55 Most Wanted List, in Coalition custody since July 8, 2003) was returned by the Iraqi National Accord party to his son, Duraid. Al-Ahmad’s son is quoted saying that “[top INA leader] Adnan Al-Janabi had emphasized the concern of Allawi’s list in safeguarding the rights of all Iraqis irrespective of political affiliations.”

Al-Ahmad in a wartime press conference; not of the "touchy-feely" wing of the Ba'ath Party

Adnan Abdul-Mun’im Rashid Al-Janabi is an interesting character. His is the nominal head of the Janabi (or Janabat) tribe that are concentrated on the western bank of the Euphrates River around Jurf Al-Sakhr. This tribe is mostly responsible for the moniker given to that region: triangle of death, where the insurgency is heaviest, and bloodiest, to the south of Baghdad. Adnan Al-Janabi doesn’t wield much influence among his kin; he is urbane and married to a Shia lady from the Naqib family of Karbala. He is also a ‘technocrat’ who used to represent Iraq at OPEC in Vienna, Austria.

But he is also a bit more ‘associated’ with the ancient regime: he was head of the Oil and Energy Committee in Saddam’s ‘rubber-stamp’ National Assembly. The name ‘Adnan Janabi’ has surfaced in the latest installment of the Volker Report as a person who had received some of those infamous ‘oil coupons’ from the dictator. A source in Iraq’s Energy Commission that oversees the Oil Ministry has confirmed to me that this is indeed one and the same person. Adnan Al-Janabi’s brother, Khalid, used to be the head of Saddam’s Presidential Office.

Al-Janabi: ex-member of the Ba'athist nomenklatura

Al-Janabi was first contacted by the CIA as a ‘tribal leader’ in the early days after liberation, according to an Iraqi source familiar with the encounter. He then became a minister of state in Allawi’s cabinet, and ran on Allawi’s slate in the last elections. He also served as the deputy head of the constitutional writing committee in the National Assembly. Al-Janabi is now the seventh candidate from the top for Allawi’s list in Baghdad Province. And Secretary Condi Rice met with him on Nov. 11, 2005 in his capacity as a ‘prominent Sunni Arab.’

This news story about returning property in Baghdad (which probably belonged to the Iraqi state in the first place; Al-Ahmad is from Mosul) and the background information on Al-Janabi is important because the Higher National Commission for De-Ba’athification has just issued three lists with a total of 86 names of ex-regime functionaries who are not allowed by law to run for office, and whose names are on various electoral lists. These include Al-Janabi, who is being disbarred over the oil coupons he had received and that fall under “enriching oneself from the ex-regime’s largesse” clause. There is supposedly a fourth list with 60 names also pending release, according to published press reports citing Ali Faisal Al-Lami, Director General of Executive Coordination at the De-Ba’athification Commission. So far, the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq, the body that oversees the elections, has not officially replied.

[Disclaimer: I was a pro-bono advisor to the Higher National Commission for De-Ba’athification and helped set it up in February 2004. I am very supportive of its work.]

People like Adnan Al-Janabi are too tarnished by past association with Saddam’s regime, and should not be given positions of authority in a new, democratic Iraq. Or else, they do silly things like being nice and generous to a man who was in charge, as interior minister, over the General Security Directorate—Saddam’s sprawling bureaucracy of thugs and murderers. Maybe a more reasonable gesture would have been handing the house to one of the tens of thousands of families that Saddam had deported to Iran and whose property was confiscated.

Allawi’s list has several other people on its roster who are being fingered-out by the De-Ba’athification Commission. Today, Allawi’s people responded by saying that this purging is reminiscent of what the Iranian mullahs do in their own country by disbarring reformers from running in elections. They are hinting that this purging effort is being waged by the rival United Iraqi Alliance list that is dominated by parties beholden to Iran. Allawi’s people also leveled the accusation that Adil Abdul-Mahdi (ex-Minister of Finance under Allawi, and current Vice-President of Iraq) was a Ba’athist in his past, and thus should be purged too. This is true, but then Abdul-Mahdi became a Maoist and then gradually found his way to religion, becoming a top leader in the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq. Abdul-Mahdi is a leading contender for the job of Iraq’s next Prime Minister.

Ali Al-Lami, who moonlights as an aide to Ahmad Chalabi, should take a close look at the name Muzahim Al-Kan’an, or Muzahim Al-Timeemi, the first candidate on Chalabi’s electoral list for Basra Province. Al-Kana’an was appointed by British forces as the first governor of Basra in April 2003, and qualifies for disbarment under de-Ba’athification regulations. [For the record, I like Muzahim Al-Kana’an, and he is a friend. But a Ba’athist is a Ba’athist, and the law is clear on the issue. He shouldn’t be allowed to run.]

Astrologer Picks Winners and Losers in Iraq’s Election

Elaph correspondent Abdel-Rahman Al-Majidi has a story today about the predictions of an Iraqi astrologer for the results of next month’s elections. The astrologer, Khudhayer Taher, has been in the business for 20 years and currently lives in the United States. He uses Pythagorean Numerology and the movement of planets to unwind the secrets of the universe, and to analyze the significance of the election list numbers that were assigned to each contender by lottery.

I’ll spare you the details, but Ayad Allawi’s ‘731’ list will get the largest share of votes, according to this seer. The United Iraqi Alliance list (the Islamists) are saddled with the number ‘555’ (see cultural significance here, and their own numerological spin here), which signifies lethargy, larceny, and laziness. They are not going to do well according to Mr. Taher.

Ahmad Chalabi’s ‘569’ list is associated with Mars, who is known for bravery, bravado and obliteration. The galaxy is telling Mr. Taher that this list will siphon votes from the UIA list, but will give a disappointing performance at the polls.

But what Taher calls the “resounding surprise” is going to be Mithal Alusi’s ‘620’ list, where the heavens predict a major victory.

Khudhayer Taher: who needs Zogby when you've got this guy...

Astrology has been a long established tradition in Iraq, practiced by Babylonian Jews and infused with the Indian variant during the 8th century AD at the Abbassid Court. For more, read this overview of its leading lights in the Arab world over the centuries.

Hey, as far as I’m concerned, Khudhayer Taher has as much credibility as Rime Allaf and the International Republican Institute. Here are their predictions from the last elections, carried in a Bloomberg story “Allawi May Prevail Over Shiite Rivals in Iraq Ballot” (January 28, 2005):

``People have agreed it's in their interests to elect Allawi prime minister,'' said Rime Allaf, an Iraq analyst at Chatham House, a London foreign-policy institution that advises European governments. Many Iraqis ``don't want a religious government.''

A poll by the International Republican Institute, a nonpartisan U.S. research group, showed that almost 60 percent of Iraqis say Allawi, a Shiite, has been effective since taking office. The survey was based on 1,903 interviews from Nov. 24 to Dec. 5 and had a margin or error of three percentage points.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Not Funny…Trivializing Saddam’s Horrors

The Washington Post ran this cartoon by Tom Toles on its editorial page today. It has the ‘lawyer’ asking Saddam: “Tell us about your death squads and secret police and torture and executions…We need some tips on getting this country under control…[bottom-right] If you cooperate, we may let you off with the presidency.”

I got to thinking that the Washington Post would never run a flippant cartoon featuring Adolph Hitler, but somehow with Saddam—even with all the mass graves and chemical weapons attacks—it would be okay. Tolerable. Allowable. Uncontroversial.

How did it get to this point whereby Saddam’s crimes against humanity are glossed over? Do we have enough distance between our times and his that makes the mention of Saddam’s evil reign in a humorous context just the same as making light of the crimes of Ghenkiz Khan? Or the Spanish Inquisition? Or Ivan the Terrible?

But it’s only been less than three years. And we’re finding ‘fresh’ mass graves every day. Why is the American public not outraged about this Washington Post cartoon? Why is Saddam’s regime epitomized—in the American psyche—by ‘Baghdad Bob’ (Muhammad Said Al-Sahhaf) and not ‘Chemical Ali’ (Ali Hassan Al-Majid)?

Is this the responsibility of the Bush administration? Partly, but mostly it is the failure of the Iraqi government to make its case. Do people know that Iraq has not had an ambassador representing it in Washington since the handover of sovereignty on June 28, 2004? For over a year now, nobody has claimed Iraq’s voice in the most important political capital in the world. Rend Rahim did not deign renounce her American citizenship, so the job went vacant. And what did Allawi’s government, and then Jaafari’s, do about it? Nothing.

A certain member of Iraq’s diplomatic mission to the United Nations in New York rents a residential apartment in a Manhattan landmark for $23,000 a month. This same person used to be an anti-sanctions campaigner, and very critical of US meddling in Iraq. Liberation has increased his waistline. And what do we have to show for it? Nothing.

Even international pariah Muammar Kaddafi gets away with whole-page advertisements in the Washington Post. Kazakhstan recently took four full page ads in the New York Times just to counter Borat (character played by comedian Sacha Cohen of ‘The Ali G Show’ fame). But the Iraqi government can’t get it act together and get its message out.

There needs to be a department in every Iraqi embassy, on par with an attaché office, whose sole purpose would be to publicize the crimes of Saddam’s regime and what the Iraqi people went through. These offices should double as ‘Democracy Centers’ in all the Iraqi diplomatic representations throughout the Middle East. Public Relations firms should be hired and money—which seems plentiful enough to pay over a quarter of a million dollars in annual rent for a single second-tier diplomat—should be thrown around to ‘buy’ public opinion in both America and Europe.

This current amnesia and apathy about what happened under Saddam is shameful. Something needs to be done about it. Hey, Hoshyar Zebari: Saddam killed four of your brothers, do you find the above cartoon funny?

A mass grave near Najaf...Isn't it HILARIOUS?

Monday, November 28, 2005

Inside Najafi Politics...

Ma’ad Fayadh reports in today’s Asharq Al-Awsat that Ridhwan Al-Kilidar, the first candidate on Ayad Allawi’s list in the Najaf Province, is still in the running—dismissing gossip that he had withdrawn his nomination. However, Al-Kilidar claims to have received death threats from the United Iraqi Alliance list demanding that he should step down.

The Kilidars (also known as the Rufai’i family) have been keepers of the Imam Ali shrine for centuries. The last in the line under Saddam’s regime was Haydar Al-Kilidar, who was killed along with Majeed Al-Khoei shortly after liberation.

His cousin, Ridhwan, arrived back in Iraq from London to bear the family’s burden. But during the Allawi cabinet, the then Prime Minister wanted to do something nice and endearing for Muhammad Ridha Sistani, so Allawi officially signed the papers handing him over the custodianship of the shrine.

Imam Ali Shrine: Kachink!

Ridhwan, who was stripped of his birthright, is now running as the ally of the guy who did the stripping. Go figure. It’s these small details that are necessary in understanding Iraqi politics.

The shrine, by the way, is a major money maker. It’s also been understood that should any pilgrims’ donations go missing, then it probably ended-up with the custodians. And if Imam Ali allowed it to happen, then he must want it to happen. Right?

I'm voting for this guy...

November 28, 2005 Edition > Section: Foreign >

An Iraqi Politician Warns Against U.S. Troop Withdrawal

BY ELI LAKE - Staff Reporter of the Sun
November 28, 2005
URL: http://www.nysun.com/article/23552

CAIRO, Egypt - As calls for a reduction of troops in Iraq intensify in Washington, one of Iraq's leading liberal politicians yesterday warned President Bush against heeding the advice.

In a telephone interview with The New York Sun, Mithal al-Alusi yesterday said he expected a new wave of terror in his country, adding that Iraq and America's security were now inextricably linked and that it would be a "huge mistake" if American soldiers were brought home in 2006.

The warning, one of the clearest to date from an Iraqi politician against a premature evacuation, comes as the president is expected to give a major address Wednesday on Iraq and the war on terror and after a delegation of Iraqi leaders and groups representing insurgents agreed on a statement calling for an eventual timetable for withdrawal. Over the weekend, the Los Angeles Times quoted anonymous aides to Mr. Bush as saying that he will announce the first drawdown of American soldiers from Iraq in anticipation of the 2006 midterm elections. The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator Warner, a Republican of Virginia, said yesterday that he hoped the president would use the occasion of the speech to give a detailed account of how the war was going, in the style of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

"Iraq is the main symptom of the terrorists, and I think we are going to have a new level of attacks in the area. It would be a huge mistake if Washington has made a decision to take the soldiers back. They cannot do it," Mr. al-Alusi said yesterday. "We are now trying to stop the terrorist attacks against America here."

Mithal Alusi declaring his election bid

Mr. al-Alusi's Iraqi Nation Party narrowly lost a bid to gain a single seat for the National Assembly in last January's elections, but there are indications that his party will do well in the elections scheduled for December 15. On November 19, an Iraqi newspaper, al-Bayyna, which is run by the Shiite Arab Iraqi Hezbollah Party, released a poll in which Mr. al-Alusi came in second to the current prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, among Iraqis when asked who they would support to be the next prime minister. Of those polled, 21% said they would support Mr. al-Alusi. Yesterday, the party leader said he expected his party would gain between 15 and 25 seats in next month's elections.

Mr. al-Alusi last year lost both his sons, who were assassinated in broad daylight in Baghdad. He has been an outspoken critic of both appeasement of former Baathists, who he blames for murdering his sons, and of the influence of neighboring Iran. In August 2002, before the fall of Baghdad, Mr. al-Alusi led a daring raid on Iraq's embassy in Berlin, briefly capturing the press's attention before being arrested by German authorities. Earlier this year, with fellow democrats from Iran, Syria, and Libya, he formed a group devoted to freeing political prisoners in the Middle East.

In the interview yesterday, Mr. al-Alusi attributed the recent talk of American withdrawal to "the election season in America." On November 15, the Senate voted 79 to 19 for a resolution demanding the White House give regular progress reports on the war, after defeating a Democratic resolution calling for a timetable for withdrawal of troops.

Mr. al-Alusi also dismissed yesterday the recent statement from an Arab League-sponsored conference on Iraqi reconciliation calling for an eventual timetable for withdrawal. He said his party was campaigning on a platform touting Iraq's partnership with America.

"Bush in the Iraqi eye is a great man, to the liberals he is a great man," Mr. al-Alusi said. "We know the huge price America has paid, but America now has a partner in the Middle East. When I campaign, I am talking about the strategic relationship and how this is in Iraq's interests." Mr. al-Alusi was particularly critical of American politicians and writers who claimed the president deceived the public in order to go to war. He said that his party would press the Iraqi government to renew the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, which he said he believes Saddam clearly had before the invasion.

"Saddam is a weapon of mass destruction," he said. "Whatever Americans say now, Saddam was a danger to the peace, and we have enough evidence. He was an important part of the terror network. Also, 27 million Iraqis are free now, they can think freely. This are very important for American values and an American strategy. They will find the weapons, I am sure they will."

It was also apparent from the interview yesterday that old rifts between Mr. al-Alusi and Iraq's deputy prime minister, Ahmad Chalabi, keep them apart. Mr. al-Alusi was dismissed in 2004 from the Iraqi National Congress after he gave interviews from a counterterrorism conference in Israel. At the time, Mr. Chalabi was aligned with Iranian-supported parties that do not recognize Israel's right to exist. In an interview in October with "60 Minutes," Mr. Chalabi said he saw no reason why Iraq should not eventually have formal relations with the Jewish State.

But Mr. al-Alusi is critical of Mr. Chalabi's ties to Iran. "I am sad to hear him say that he got the green light from Tehran to be prime minister," he said, referring to a quote from Mr. Chalabi upon leaving Tehran before arriving in Washington this month for a visit with senior Bush administration officials. "This quote is all over the media here. It is a kind of stupid politics that I don't like. Iraq is Iraq." Mr. Chalabi's office yesterday offered no response.

Toward the end of the interview, Mr. al-Alusi said he envisioned Iraq as a long time ally not only of America, but of other liberal states in the region. "The future alliance is America, Israel, Iraq, and Turkey," he said.

November 28, 2005 Edition > Section: Foreign >


Click on "Get Fuzzy" cartoon for clear image

For the record: this blog is in Scooter Libby's corner...


Confirmed: Hosam Taher is Mehlis' Witness No. 1

Hosam Taher Hosam, would you trust this face? Would Mehlis?

A source has confirmed, beyond a doubt, the claim that ex-Syrian cab driver Hosam Taher Hosam is indeed Mehlis' witness no. 1. I did not speak to this source directly, but he stands accused by Mr. Taher of 'coaching him' to give false witness to the Mehlis investigation. The source confirms that he had met Mr. Taher on more than one occasion but that he had nothing to do with coaching him. He had spoken earlier today to a very credible source of mine that was also mentioned/accused by Mr. Taher in his press conference today.

It may be useful to take a second look at the allegations made by witness no. 1 in the 'edited' Mehlis report:

96. One witness of Syrian origin but resident in Lebanon, who claims to have worked for the Syrian intelligence services in Lebanon, has stated that approximately two weeks after the adoption of Security Council resolution 1559, senior Lebanese and Syrian officials decided to assassinate Rafik Hariri. He claimed that a senior Lebanese security official went several times to Syria to plan the crime, meeting once at the Meridian Hotel in Damascus and several times at the Presidential Place and the office of a senior Syrian security official. The last meeting was held in the house of the same senior Syrian security official approximately seven to 10 days before the assassination and included another senior Lebanese security official. The witness had close contact with high ranked Syrian officers posted in Lebanon.

97. At the beginning of January 2005, one of the high ranked officers told the witness that Rafik Hariri was a big problem to Syria. Approximately a month later the officer told the witness that there soon would be an “earthquake” that would re-write the history of Lebanon.

98. The witness visited several Syrian military bases in Lebanon. At one such base, in Hammana, he observed a white Mitsubishi van, with a white tarpaulin over the flatbed. The observations were made on 11, 12 and 13 February 2005. The Mitsubishi left the Military base in Hammana on the morning of 14 February 2005. The Mitsubishi Canter van, which was used as the bomb carrier, entered Lebanon from Syria through the Bekaa border and a military hot lane on 21 January 2005, at 1320 hrs. It was driven by a Syrian Colonel from the Army Tenth Division.

99. On 13 February 2005, the witness drove one of the Syrian officers to the St. George area in Beirut on a reconnaissance exercise, as he subsequently understood it to have been after the assassination took place.

100. Regarding Mr. Abu Adass, the witness has stated that he played no role in the crime except as a decoy. He was detained in Syria and forced at gunpoint to record the video tape. Subsequently, he was killed in Syria. The videotape was sent to Beirut on the morning of 14 February 2005, and handed over to Jamil Al Sayyed. A civilian with a criminal record and an officer from the Sûreté Générale were tasked with putting the tape somewhere in Hamra and then calling Ghassan Ben Jeddo, an Al-Jazeera TV reporter.

101. General Jamil Al-Sayyed, according to the witness, cooperated closely with General Mustapha Hamdan and General Raymond Azar in the preparation of the assassination of Mr. Hariri. He also coordinated with General Ghazali (and, among others, people from Mr. Ahmad Jibreel in Lebanon). General Hamdan and General Azar provided logistical support, providing money, telephones, cars, walkie-talkies, pagers, weapons, ID-cards etc. Those who knew of the crime in advance were among others, Nasser Kandil and General Ali Al-Hajj.

102. Fifteen minutes before the assassination, the witness was in the vicinity of the St. George area. He received a telephone call from one of the senior Syrian officers, who asked the witness where he was. When he answered, he got the advice to leave the area immediately.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Hosam Taher Gets A Face...

Ladies and gentlemen, introducing Hosam Taher Hosam...

He had apparently made it to Syria early Sunday morning, and was put on the 10 PM Evening News on Syrian tv. His interview/confession--that ran for an hour and fifteen minutes--was originally taped for Aljazeera.

Lebanon's Assafir Newspaper claims to have corroborated Hosam Taher's assertion that he is Mehlis' witness no. 1 from a "security source."

For the events that led-up to this news bubble, read my posts here and here.

Coming up next...the counter statements from the Mehlis and Hariri camps; now, they have to respond one way or another...

The 400-pound Turbaned Gorilla Weighs In…

It’s official: a source close to Sistani’s “political office” has confirmed to me in a phone interview from Baghdad this afternoon that Muhammad Ridha Sistani, the Grand Ayatollah’s son, has been putting out the word that the faithful should vote for the United Iraqi Alliance list no. 555.

His exact message—delivered over the course of last week to Sistani’s representatives across Iraq—was “tell the people to vote for Islamist lists, and then tell them not to vote for small or marginal lists, to forestall the fragmentation or dissipation of the Shia votes.”

This is a de facto fatwa from Sistani to vote for the UIA list, headed by Abdel-Aziz Al-Hakim and Ibrahim Jaafari.

Although this source is adamant in saying that Papa Sistani stands behind this policy, I tend to think that this is the initiative of Muhammad Ridha; a diminutive busy-body with all sorts of insecurity complexes, who is also exceedingly ambitious. Gossip in Najaf, emanating from the offices of Sistani’s rivals, has it that the Grand Ayatollah is not feeling too well—in the head. Well, we’ve been hearing these sorts of rumors for a while, but recent visitors have described Sistani as “extra cranky” these days.

Usama Mahdi of Elaph, demonstrating again that he is the go-to guy in putting out sensationalist election news, wrote a story on the same topic, but I believe he got some basic facts on what was said wrong. He sources his information to Akhbar Al-Najaf news agency.

I’ve also been hearing that the Iranians are doing feverish polling activity around Iraq, and have concluded that their acolytes in the UIA list are in trouble. The only person that could have saved them was Muhammad Ridha Sistani, who had a big hand in picking Jaafari for Prime Minister, even though sources close to him deny that. The Iranians, on the other hand, claim that he did in fact choose Jaafari and that they had nothing to do with it.

There must have been some sort of deal between the Iranians and Muhammad Ridha…Who brokered it, and what did Muhammad Ridha Sistani get out of it?

Don’t You Just Love Tags?

In today’s New York Times, Edward Wong tags Hajim Al-Hassani (speaker of the transitional National Assembly and an ex-Minister of Industry) as a “secular Sunni Turkmen.” This is quite a remarkable transformation from last April, when Wong used to tag Hassani with such labels as “a prominent Sunni Arab” and “was a member of the Iraqi Islamic Party, a religious Sunni group” and that “his former ties to the Iraqi Islamic Party indicate that he could support conservative Islamic policies for the new government.” (‘Iraq Takes Step Toward New Government,’ New York Times, April 4, 2005)

Quite a transformation indeed: not only did Hassani change his politics, but he managed to change his ethnicity too, in less than seven months! And oh, his brother Emad was recently arrested in Kirkuk on terrorism charges; apparently he was a top dog in the insurgency…

BTW: Hassani ain’t a ‘pure’ Sunni; his mom is a Shia (Turkmen).

Master of disguise...?

I've always had the eerie feeling that Hajim Al-Hassani (well, now that he has been ‘officially’ anointed as a Turkmen, we can properly pronounce his name as Hajim Hosni) uncomfortably resembles Orson Welles. Could it be that the versatile actor, who allegedly died in 1985, had simply re-invented himself as an Iraqi politician? Somebody should sneak up on him and whisper ‘Rosebud’ in his ear; just to see if he freaks-out or something.

Hassani (or Welles…) is running as no. 2 on Ayad Allawi’s list.

No. 5 on Allawi’s is none other than Adnan Pachachi, whose tag is also in need of an update. The nonagenarian “Sunni Arab” politician is half-Shia (his mom is from the Haymus clan near Hillah), his wife is Shia, and he officially converted to Shi’ism in an Iraqi court. He has grown daughters and no sons, and Shia inheritance laws favor daughters.

Furthermore, there is evidence to suggest that the Pachachis, imported by the Ottomans as Georgian Mamlukes, were in fact alevis, or members of a pseudo-Shia cult.

The New York Times should be a bit more careful with its tags. That’s all I’m sayin’.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

سوالف الحشاشة

آخر تعليق على شعار القائمة العراقية الوطنية أعلاه ورقمها 731 بقيادة أياد علاوي

"...من قلة الخيل"

والتكملة عليكم وعلى ضميركم

Allawi Being Too Honest

Asharqalawsat newspaper is commencing a series on the ‘memoirs’ of ex-PM Ayad Allawi, who is running for the December elections.

The newspaper is Saudi owned. During last the election cycle, another Saudi-owned media outlet, Al-Arabiya TV, ran so many segments on Allawi that earned it the moniker “Al-Allawiya TV.”

Ma’an Fayadh, who is usually based in London, is conducting the interviews with Allawi. Fayadh entered Iraq in April 2003 along with the late Majid Al-Khoei, who was flown into Najaf as part of a CIA operation. Fayadh’s recent reporting on the run-up to elections has been ‘sympathetic’ towards the Allawi camp. Allawi was a long-time CIA asset. Go ahead, be my guest, and put two and two together.

Maybe this is a good time to re-read Sy Hersh’s article in last July’s issue of the New Yorker: Did Washington try to manipulate Iraq’s election?

In today’s interview, Allawi is vowing to come out clean and tell the world the truth.

But his party’s website may be too truthful for his own good: the section “Allawi’s Achievements” rings up a total blank. So does the section “The Top Cadres of the Party.”

Maybe someone should write-up some ‘filler’ content; Fayadh seems pliable and up to the task. Hey, I’m just being helpful here.

Jaafari's "Dukakis Moment"

Maybe this picture would drive home to an American audience the magntitude of how ridiculous Jaafari (the current Iraqi Prime Minister) really is, and what his prospects in holding on to the job would amount to.

Does anyone have the picture/footage of Jaafari firing an AK47 that was shown on al-IraqiyyaTV?

Friday, November 25, 2005

Ricciardone the Mischief-Maker

Francis J. Ricciardone, America’s ambassador to Egypt, is probably one of the most capable Arabists ever to walk the haunted halls of Foggy Bottom. His latest stunt was visiting the shrine of Al-Seyyid Al-Badawi in Tanta during that saint’s Sufi-inspired mawlid, or birthday celebration. The Sufis are a very important line of defense against the Jihadists; the latter hate the former almost as much as they hate the Shias. I read about this visit on the jihadi websites...they were going hopping mad.

Let’s hope that Ricciardone—fondly remembered from the Iraqi opposition days as the bureaucracy’s most adept obstructionist—had battling Al-Qaeda in mind, rather than just a day among the ‘quaint’ little people.

Ricciardone was so good at making sure that the Iraqi opposition never got anywhere (he was tasked to do this by the Clinton administration) that his ornate conspiracies were almost ‘oriental’ in flair. For a goomba from Boston’s North End, Ricciardone can certainly think ‘Middle Eastern.’ Let’s hope he puts his talent in the dark arts to good use against the Wahhabis and Salafists, instead of taking the usual Arabist route of working or ‘consulting’ for the Saudis.

Arrest This Journalist, Now

This story by Reuter's Michael Georgy about one of Saddam ex-executioners says it all. The not-so-funny punchline is that "Abu Hussein" still works in a law enforcement capacity at the Iraqi Interior Ministry. What Interior Minister Bayan Jabr needs to do first thing tomorrow morning is arrest Michael Georgy and have him reveal the identity of "Abu Hussein." Hey, Pat Fitzgerald put Judy Miller behind bars, and what's good for the goose, is good for the gander.

Let's see a show of hands from those who object? What, would you allow this psychopath to roam free? What if this guy was part of your friendly neighborhood police squad? Would you want him protecting your family?

While Jabr is at it, he should also round-up the Guardian's Ghaith Abdul-Ahad and have him 'share' his notes on 'Abu Theeb'; the insurgent leader in Khan al-Mashahdeh...

What sort of journalistic ethics would protect a source that might kill people? Or is everything permissible in the never-ending quest for a 'hot lead'...

The foreign media is already writing story after story about the flaws of Iraq's democratic experiment. Jabr should not be concerned about negative press; his priority should be to ensure that people like "Abu Hussein" are no longer acting as prison wardens, but are prisoners themselves. And certainly, they should not be cocky enough to gloat to Reuters about their constitutionally-outlawed political loyalties. [Yes, we do have a constitution, and yes, anything to do with the Ba'ath Party or the ancien regime is incriminating.]

More Info on Mehlis’ Alleged Witness No. 1

It’s been a couple of days since New TV’s broadcast, and an eerie silence still lingers on this topic. There haven’t been even posts or articles spoofing and ripping into Hosam Taher’s claims, and certainly nothing by way of a denial from either the Mehlis team or the Hariri camp.

Why is this story so radioactive?

But regarding Charl Ayoub, we now know why he hasn’t commented yet on this story: he’s been busy being interrogated by the Mehlis team. I wonder if they are asking him about his source on Mehlis’ ‘yacht outing’ in October

Again, add the word 'allegedly' where approporiate...

More info from the Elaph story: Elaph’s correspondent in Beirut, Elie Elhagg, seems a bit biased against the story, for he chose to use epithets such as “close to the Syrian regime,” “sensational” and “skeptical of the Mehlis report” to describe New TV.

The claim is made that Hosam was taped without him knowing it.

But Elhagg put in direct quotes from Hosam Taher Hosam, who was shown speaking to someone called ‘Zahra’, such as:

“You need to know that 23 or 25 thousand dollars is a small amount. If I wanted to make a business out of this, you know Aljazeera or Alarabia would pay 200 or 300 thousand dollars…why all this explanation? [owner of New TV] Tahseen Khayat is a billionaire, would this sum affect him? You’ll get a scoop that everyone’s been waiting for...”

“…I think this whole topic will land on my head. If the Syrians don’t liquidate me then the Americans will, and if they don’t then the Islamic terrorist group will do the job, they might do it and stick it on the Syrians…I stand before death.”

Hosam claims to have been debriefed by the FBI, who offered him money and US citizenship in return for information on Syria’s secret weapons programs. He also claims that witness no. 2, Zuhir Saddik, was at the scene of the crime when it happened and is in possession of a 4 minute 50 second video tape. This may be the ‘information’ that is referenced in the Mehlis report in point no. 114: “At the present stage of investigation, a certain amount of information given by Mr. Saddik cannot be confirmed through other evidence.”

Hosam claims that "Mr. X" is Nabih Berri. This last claim must have been made after the Mehlis report was published, whereby it denoted the role of a certain Mr. X.

More info from the SyriaNews story: this is, of course, a Syrian governmental media outlet. They add that, according to New TV, Hosam Taher Hosam was born on August 11, 1975.

[Note: the name in Arabic is spelled in a peculiar way, and if Iraqi cultural parameters are also the standard for Kurds in Syria, then the name Hosam as spelled in the report would indicate a Yezidi faith. Would appreciate corrections if I’m mistaken.]

Hosam had told New TV plenty of information that they did not air and that he claims to have shared with the Mehlis investigation. Oddly, he gives the tag number for Brigadier General Jumaa Jumaa’s car, 1831983 BMW 318, that he says was parked in front of “Tazej” restaurant in ‘Ain el-Mereeseh approximately 45 minutes before the blast that killed Hariri.

Zuhir Saddik: the 'witness' that may have duped Mehlis...

Hosam also alleges that the claim about the suicide bomber believing that he was targeting Iraq’s then Prime Minister Ayad Allawi was not true. This claim is attributed to Saddik in the Mehlis report.

Here’s a question: did Hosam and Saddik ‘mingle’ during this investigation? Did they know each other previously? When was the first time they met? And how on earth would the Mehlis team allow them to cross paths, and pave the way to accusations of allowing the two to get their stories ‘in sync’?

Why haven’t we heard a denial from the Mehlis camp? Or the Hariri camp? Or the Junbulatt camp?

Thursday, November 24, 2005

"Locally Led Nascent Peace"

Remember President Bush’s Inaugural Address last January? Remember when he said all those ‘lofty’ things about democracy and freedom? And how it is America’s mission to bring liberty to the Middle East?

Well, apparently, the State Department has decided that the ceiling for these goals is too high, and the U.S. government should aim lower as it tries to rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan. The new term for this policy shift is ‘Locally Led Nascent Peace.’

In the lands of Nascent Peace, we don’t label anti-democracy forces as ‘terrorists,’ but rather they are ‘resistors’ and ‘rejectionists’ who can be brought over to the political process by dialogue. This was the gist of the Cairo conference. Democracy is too difficult of a concept for these towel-heads; the best that can be hoped for is that they stop clubbing each other to death. It appears there has been a policy shift.

The Bush administration seemingly supports this ‘exit’ strategy. They want out of Iraq, and are now content to turn Iraq into yet another Middle Eastern autocracy; they are keeping their fingers crossed for a Mubarak-like regime rather than a ‘mullah-cracy’. But hey, you don’t always get what you wish for…This harried approach is producing all sorts of disastrous blunders.

So instead of “Ma’am, your son gave his life for Operation Enduring Freedom,” the headstones in Arlington National Cemetery would be etched with the words ‘Operation Locally-Led Nascent Peace.’

And what do we say to all those Iraqis and Afghans who are braving all sorts of dangers to make it to the ballot box? “Your little elections don’t matter as much as the midterm gubernatorial elections next year…After all it’s going to be tight race for governor of Rhode Island.”

Ladies and Gentlemen, watch out for this term: ‘Locally Led Nascent Peace.’ It sets a whole new benchmark for shameful cowardice.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

The Plot Thickens: Mehlis' Witness No. 1 Exposed?

Okay, so this should have the makings of a major scandal, but oddly nobody is mentioning it. Not even Charl Ayoub of Addiyar newspaper who would have a stake in such a story…Weird, very weird.

New TV, a not-so-trustworthy Lebanese satellite channel, aired a tabloid-ish report during its evening news yesterday (Nov. 22) about a man it claims is the first ‘witness’ cited in the Mehlis report (…officially the ‘Report of the International Independent Commission Established Persuant to United Nations Security Council Resolution 1595,’ published on October 21, 2005, see points 96-102 as relates to this witness). Whereas doubts have been cast on the veracity of witness no. 2—a certain ‘Zuhir Ibn Mohamed Said Saddik’—the remaining certainty regarding Syrian culpability in Hariri’s murder hinges solely on the man who became known in media-jargon as ‘the masked witness’; now allegedly identified by New TV as ‘Hosam Taher Hosam.’

[For the record, I did not view the segment myself, but read an extensive description of it that appeared in an Arabic newspaper.]

Add the word ‘allegedly’ where appropriate to the following:

Mr. Hosam is a Syrian Kurd, born in 1975 in Tel Al-Hefzeiz in the Hasaka Province, Syria. His mother’s name is Zainab Hassan, and his employer is supposedly ‘Syrian Intelligence.’ He claims to have worked directly under people like Assef Shawkat and Rustum Ghazaleh.

Mr. Hosam contacted New TV shortly after Ghazi Kanan’s death. It should be noted that New TV was the station that broadcast a story about Kanan confessing to corruption charges during his ‘interview’ with Detlev Mehlis. Kanan cited this story in the phone call he made to a radio station shortly before committing suicide. [Note: I am one of the few pundits who maintain that it was in fact a suicide brought about by depression, and criticism over corruption charges. This is not where most Syria-Lebanon observers stand.] The act by which Mr. Hosam contacted the television station after it had aired what it claimed was a scoop about the Mehlis investigation would make rational sense.

I have been apprehensive about the ‘evidence’ being cited against Syria and I first mentioned this in a column ‘Who Killed Hariri?’ back in September. To my way of thinking, things just didn’t add up. I threw in a further twist after the Mehlis report came and said the following in another column:

“The Mehlis report came out last week, and it was spun - by the Mehlis team itself and by other interested parties - as an indictment of the Syrian regime. The actual evidence cited by Mehlis to prove this claim is flimsy at best. It all revolved around the testimony of two witnesses; one thoroughly discredited to the point where he has been arrested as a probable source of disinformation, and the second witness falls under the category of "too good to be true." The only compelling part of the report was the excellent analysis of the cell phone communications that probably were related to the Hariri murder. But there are two ways to look at this information: either to find any way, even if far-fetched, to pin it on the Syrians, or to look at the political and cultural context within which these communications took place. Based on what came out in the Mehlis report, this conspiracy was plotted and hatched in a Sunni Lebanese bubble, surrounding the northern Lebanese town of Trablous.”

In its news story, New TV broadcast snippets of recorded conversations with Mr. Hosam, in which his account mirrors the information attributed to ‘witness no. 1’ by the Mehlis report, including the ‘expunged’ part identifying the role of Assef Shawkat. New TV claims that he shared most of this information before the Mehlis report was published.

Witness no. 1 and Mr. Hosam claim to be have been in too many critical places, and claim to have witnessed too many incriminating circumstances, to be true by my book. Maybe intelligence plots unfold neatly in Le Carre novels, but the ‘business’ is certainly far too clumsy and capricious in the real world.

Furthermore, witness No. 1’s testimony against Gen. Jamil Al-Sayyed, according to a source familiar with it, sounded ‘clownish.’

One interesting addition that Mr. Hosam makes and that is not cited in the Mehlis report is that he took 60,000 USD in cash and went to Syria to pay-off several Syrian intelligence officers such as Samih Al-Qasha’ami in return for documents and recordings of the trysts that plotted for Hariri’s murder. Al-Qasha’ami—once cited as a Lt. Col. according to a published report —had supposedly been a Syrian intelligence officer in the Lebanese region of Talia. What is the origin of this money? Why was Qasha’ami identified as a target for recruitment? Wouldn’t he have alerted the Syrians about Mr. Hosam? And wouldn’t this lead the Syrians to publish Mr. Hosam’s ‘life story’ as they did with Zuhir Saddik?

Furthermore, New TV suggests in a statement published on its website that Mr. Hosam offered to sell his story for a lot of money, and that he made this offer to them as well as to several other media outlets.

The weakness in Mr. Hosam’s claims are the following: how and why would the Mehlis team allow their star witness to roam around Beirut—unprotected and unmonitored—while he tries to peddle his story for fame and money? And could Mr. Hosam be a Syrian plant out to discredit the ‘real’ witness no. 1? If that were the case, then the Syrians should have known the content of the Mehlis report even before its publication, and coached their ‘plant’ to keep his ‘legend’ synonymous with the account of witness no. 1. But how would the Syrians gain access to such information?

There is an interesting story from ‘Syrian sources’ (i.e. Syrian intelligence) in Elaph authored by Bahiyyeh Mardini from Damascus that claims that Marwan Hmadeh, Junbulat’s sidekick, coached—as part of a larger plot—witness no. 2, Zuhir Saddik, and instructed him on what to say to Mehlis.

I think Hosam Taher Hosam was similarly coached, but by whom?

I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that the New TV story be taken somewhat seriously if indeed Mr. Hosam gave the same spiel to the station that ended up in Mehlis’ report, even before its publication. I think there is more there to be explored, and I find this atmosphere of complete silence—in the rest of the Lebanese media and on blogs—unhealthy. I know, I know, I’m an awful person for suggesting that Mehlis was duped, and that this line of argument would inevitably get the Syrians off the hook. But I’m less certain today that the Asads performed this particular crime. And there is plenty more we need to know, and consider, because, those who killed Hariri may still be out there and plotting more mayhem and destruction.

PS: To save face, I should probably take out the flippant quip suspecting Junblat of Hariri’s murder that is mentioned in the intro to this blog. But that wouldn’t be intellectually honest; I did suspect Junmulat at one point in my research, and will publish my analyses soon. For the record, I believe I was mistaken about his role. But hey, a good rule of thumb when analyzing Lebanon is keeping Walid Beg near the top of the usual suspects list every time something bad happens.

Dirtier by the Minute…

All of a sudden, a newspaper emerges called “Al-Bayyna Al-Jadidah”, or New Bayyna, that replicates the layout of the ‘old’ Bayyna. The latter is owned and managed by Hizbullah Iraq under the leadership of Hassan Al-Sari. The New Bayyna is staffed by some defectors from the ‘old’ Bayyna, and seems to be aligned with Jawad Al-Bolani, a member of the National Assembly from the UIA List, who is currently running—as head of the Iraqi Constitutional Party—on Ahmad Chalabi’s list. Al-Bolani used to be Abu Hatem Al-Muhammadawi’s deputy on the Governing Council, and previously (during the regime days) held a low rank in the Iraqi Air force. Al-Muhammadawi heads an organization called Hizbullah, which should not be confused with Al-Sari’s Hizbullah-Iraq.

Still with me? This info matters because of an interview with Laith Kubba that the New Bayyna ran last week. This was paraphrased by Usama Mahdi in Elaph today. Kubba, who is Prime Minister Jafarri’s spokesman and is fielding his own National Peace list for the elections, is quoted as saying things like, “the Kurds want to destroy Iraq” and “Mithal Alusi tortured me in the mid-1970s.” This would be dynamite stuff, except that Kubba has issued a denial stating that he only spoke to the New Bayyna’s correspondent in passing and did not give an interview, and that what was attributed to him was distorted and made-up. Kubba asserts that he does not indulge in character assassinations.

Well, if Laith Kubba is telling the truth by denying that he had made these comments, then who is putting words in his mouth and why? Most of the other headlines in this issue of New Bayyna are pro-Chalabi. Furthermore, I would doubt that Usama Mahdi of Elaph (who used to work for Chalabi) would have had access to it from London; someone must have called him up and told him about the content…

Kubba used to be Chalabi’s right-hand man, but they separated on hostile terms in 1992. Again, who would want to make Kubba look bad?

I guess some mysteries are just never going to be solved…

Desperate for 'Authentic' Sunni Voices...

This week’s Kazimi Award for Clueless Commentary on the Middle East (KACCME) goes to David Ignatius for his column, In Cairo Clarity on Iraq, published today. Sorry David, but you qualified for this award solely on the basis of citing Mishaan Jabouri as a credible person. Your judgment on the cast of unreliable ‘Iraqi Sunnis in Amman’ whose opinion you take into consideration began spiraling downwards when you cited Talal Gaood (Ignatius, Iraq Can Survive This, July 29, 2005, and How Iran is Winning Iraq, December 17, 2004, Washington Post) as one of the building blocks of a new Iraq. But Mishaan is particularly onerous. This is how Ignatius put it:

“I discussed the outlines of the Cairo package with several Iraqi Sunni leaders while I was in Amman last week. They viewed it as a way to consolidate support among Sunnis for the new Iraqi political process and for the government that will emerge in December. They link any U.S. pullout to development of Iraqi security forces that can co-opt and contain the insurgency.

"We support the insurgency, but we don't support the suicide bombings," Sunni politician Mishan Jabouri told me. He heads a party that's running in December's elections on a platform that opposes U.S. occupation -- but is also quietly working to build up Iraqi security forces so the Americans don't leave a vacuum.”

Some questions Ignatius should have asked Mishaan Rakkadh Dhamin Al-Jabouri, and then corroborated:
-What was the nature of your relationship with Saddam Kamil, son-in-law of Saddam Hussein?
-Under what conditions did you leave Iraq? And how is it that the Syrian authorities allowed you to set up shop in Damascus and open a newspaper, alitijahalakher?
-What is your relationship to Massoud Barzani? Do you receive funding and other forms of support from him?
-How do you answer allegations that Barzani's Kurdish Democratic Party rigged the elections in Sherqat that gave you a National Assembly seat?
-On May 5, 2005, you were detained in Baghdad International Airport, along with your Syrian wife, son and Indonesian maid, for carrying approximately $400,000 in cash out of the country while attempting to board an Iraqi Airways Damascus-bound flight; where did you get this money from?

Jabouri: quote him at your own risk...

Furthermore, a cursory search would have revealed this story in the New York Times (byline, David Rohde) from way back on April 18, 2003, when U.S. Marines killed at least 10 Iraqi men and wounded as many as 16 others in a chaotic clash with thousands of protesters in Mosul:

“Wounded Iraqis in the city's general hospital on Tuesday gave a different version of events. They said an Iraqi opposition leader, Mishaan Jabouri, started speaking to the crowd and hailing the arrival of American forces in Mosul.

”It was unclear how Jabouri, who has been in exile in Syria and has a checkered past that includes allegations of corruption and theft, got into Mosul. But his message angered the crowd, Iraqis said. "After we threw stones at Mishaan Jabouri," said Sadullah Ghanal, "the Americans started to fire on us."

When politicians are cited, it is necessary to provide one’s readers with a brief description of their ‘baggage.’ This is especially true in the Middle East and Iraq. A lot of people in Washington take what Ignatius writes seriously, and whoever gets mentioned in his columns become ‘kosher’ with a large chunk of the foreign policy and intelligence communities. Thus, it is downright irresponsible to ‘whitewash’ Mr. Jabouri.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

هلا بصالح المطلك يا مية هلا...واخبار المدام سجودة؟

...و يكول المثل...لو تطلع نخلة إبراسه

في فلتة من الزمن...اصبح صالح المطلك زعيم...غريب امور عجيب قضية

Aren’t We Bitter…

Mr. Jihad Al-Khazen of Al-Hayat newspaper is the paramount pundit of Arab letters, and he is also the living embodiment of all that is wrong with the Fourth Estate in the Middle East. Previously, he had been the Editor-in-Chief of Al-Hayat, but now slobbers a daily column for that paper’s last page. He is also recognized as Prince Turki Al-Faisal’s mouthpiece. Not to be confused with the princely—and very Maronite—Khazens of Mount Lebanon, Jihad Al-Khazen hails from a Palestinian Orthodox family that immigrated to Beirut early last century.

His column today is entitled “Solagh is Solagh” and its last part is an attack on Iraq’s Interior Minister, Bayan Jabr Solagh, whom he denounces as an Arab-Iranian “mutt”. The occasion is the Jadirriya Prison, and the origins of this deep antipathy can be found in statements made by Solagh in response to Turki’s brother, Prince Saud. Solagh dismissed the Saudi prince as a ‘camel driver’.

Ever since Jabr’s remarks, there has been a rabid interest in his origins and a desperate scramble to prove that he is not of Arab genetic stock—a campaign mounted by Arab pundits in the pay of the Saudis. There is also an etymological fascination with his grandfather’s name “Solagh”: is it Arabic, Turkish, Kurdish or Farsi? Sometimes people cite a February 29, 2000 interview with Aljazeera where, in defense of his ‘Arabness’, Jabr recites his full name as “Bayan son of Solagh son of Jabr son of Hadhir son of Itmais son of Abed ‘Ali Al-Zubeidi”. But after the liberation, his first name turned out to be “Baqir” and not “Bayan”. He was born in Kut but raised in Kadhimiya. Hey, if the guy wants to be an Arab of the Zubeidi tribal confederation, all power to him, and short of DNA testing, we simply will never know if he is indeed descended from the progenitors of the early Arabs.

Al-Khazen, a Crusading extra in "Kingdom of Heaven"?

But it is a bit indigestible when a Christian Orthodox Palestinian—with fair features (hint, hint)—like Mr. Al-Khazen calls out Mr. Solagh on racial purity, and does so across the pages of the leading Arab newspaper. Some would call that uncouth—reflecting, say, the mannerisms of camel drivers.

Maybe this would be a good time to bring-up the fact that basically all the media that matters in the Arab language is owned by the Saudi royal family. Except Aljazeera, which is owned by another Wahhabi-leaning brood: the Al-Thanis of Qatar, who endlessly proclaim their elevated ‘mule driver’ status…

Monday, November 21, 2005

Chalabi Hat Trick: American Spy, Iranian Spy, and Ba'athist Spy?

Documents purporting to show cooperation between Ahmad Chalabi and Saddam’s mukhaberat were highlighted in Elaph today. Usama Mahdi, the Elaph correspondent in London, sources the documents to Jordan’s “Al-Malaf-Net”. His story also carries a denial by an Iraqi National Congress spokesman who speculates that these documents are forgeries.

I’ve seen them before and they are genuine, but they don’t reveal Chalabi as a sleeper agent for Saddam. The ones that deal with the late 1980s refer to two incidents: the first was a 50 Jordanian Dinar donation to the war effort against Iran that the Iraqi Embassy in Amman had solicited and received from Chalabi’s secretary, and the other to several trucks donated by Petra Bank to the reconstruction effort after the war.

The other batch from the mid-1990s and later cover Chalabi in his role as an opposition figure, and mostly revolve around the mukhaberat’s habit of pressing relatives into making contact with someone involved in activities against the regime, and then beseeching them to stop.

Did Chalabi feed Saddam bad intelligence, too?

The original master file from the mukhaberat about Chalabi is in Chalabi’s possession. But the regime used to keep copies of some paperwork stashed around in other related dossiers that may have ended-up in the possession of a variety of parties after the mukhaberat offices were looted. Sorry folks, nothing nefarious here; just the sad fact of 'collateral damage' done to relatives of those who stood up to Saddam.

The timing of this leak is interesting: someone is worried that Chalabi would use his own arsenal of Saddam’s archival treasures to expose opposing candidates. Mr. Mahdi of Elaph (a former editor at the INC's newspaper and whose full name is Usama Abdel-Hadi Mahdi Al-Salihi—I’ve seen his mukhaberat file…clean) has been tilting his reporting towards wealthier election campaigns. It would be interesting to see who put him up to this, and if Chalabi’s people would retaliate with dishing all sorts of dirt.

The electioneering is already getting pretty dirty from what I hear, and we can all expect more drama to come.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Bizarre: Mithal ‘Peace with Israel’ Alusi Being Trumpeted by Iranian Agents?

Iraqis want Jaafari to remain PM - newspaper poll
19 Nov 2005 10:53:15 GMT
Source: Reuters
By Mussab al-Khairalla
BAGHDAD, Nov 19 (Reuters) - A newspaper poll of nearly 40,000 Iraqis showed half want Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari, an Islamist Shi'ite, to retain his position after elections in December for Iraq's first full-term postwar government.
The poll, conducted by al-Bayyna newspaper, which is run by the Shi'ite party Hezbollah Iraq, surveyed people in six of Iraq's 18 provinces, including the major population centres of Baghdad, Basra and Mosul.
Of the 38,500 questioned, 51 percent backed Jaafari, saying they wanted him to stay in the job after the Dec. 15 vote.
Mithal al-Alusi, a secular Sunni who heads his own election list, came second in the poll, with 21 percent saying they wanted him to be the next prime minister.
Former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, a secular Shi'ite and former Baathist, came third, ahead of Deputy Prime Minister and former Pentagon ally Ahmad Chalabi.
The survey was published as more than 50 Iraqi politicians from across the country's volatile sectarian divide held reconciliation talks in Cairo aimed at easing bloodshed that has plagued Iraq since a U.S.-led invasion in 2003.
Iraq's U.S. allies hope the elections will advance the political process and lead to stability.

Elections in January swept Shi'ites and Kurds to power, marginalising the Sunni Arab minority that dominated Iraq's corridors of power under Saddam Hussein and before.
Sunnis, who largely boycotted the January polls, are expected to rally their communities to vote in large numbers this time around in a bid to increase their representation in the next parliament.
Jaafari's government has come under fire for failing to tame a raging insurgency of suicide bombings, assassinations and shootings that has left thousands of civilians and members of the security forces dead.
The discovery of more than 170 malnourished and beaten prisoners in a secret Interior Ministry bunker on Sunday has embarrassed his administration and raised questions over promises to guarantee human rights after Saddam's fall.
The ruling United Iraqi Alliance, which includes Jaafari's Dawa Party, has been assailed by insurgents and the broader Sunni Arab community, criticised by its own voters for economic stagnation and been deserted by former allies.
But it hopes to beat opponents by keeping the loyalty of the 60 percent Shi'ite majority that backed it in the last vote.
Alusi, who gained notoriety after a controversial visit to Israel, survived an assassination attempt that killed his two sons. He has won popularity with outspoken criticism of former members of Saddam's Baath party and the Sunni insurgency.
At the same time, he has voiced concern over the influence in Iraq of its powerful Shi'ite neighbour Iran.
Allawi, who came to power in 2004 with a strongman image, enjoys some support among both Shi'ites and Sunnis despite a history of ties to British and American intelligence agencies during his years in exile plotting to bring down Saddam.

Al-Bayyna is a popular newspaper; it gives vent to a lot of Shia frustration. But it is operated by Hezbollah-Iraq (headed by Hassan Al-Sari, as opposed to the other ‘Hezbollah’ organization headed by Abu Hatem Al-Muhammadawi), which is a thoroughly Iranian intelligence operation. Its leader, Al-Sari, had been previously arrested by US forces, and is currently a delegate to the National Assembly on the UIA list, and is running on the same list for the next elections.

I can understand why the Iranians would want to trumpet Jaafari, who comes out with 51% in the poll. The mullahs and their associates in Iran would be humiliated if their inept acolytes running Iraq were to be castigated at the polls by Iraqi voters come December. So, creating the myth of popular support would rally people towards a ‘winner’.

But why doctor the numbers so that Mithal Alusi comes in second with 21%. This is free propaganda for Alusi. I don’t dislike this fact: I voted for him in the last elections and intend to vote for him again. But why would the Iranians do this favor for the only Iraqi politician who has publicly visited Israel?

Propaganda for Alusi?

Alusi is indeed popular: he has charisma and gravitas, and has seized on populist issues such as basic services and a more hard line approach to terrorism. But 1/5 of Iraqis are now supporting his bid for premiership? Sounds far-fetched.

Unless, that is, if there is a liberal democratic near-majority in Iraq that nobody had noticed...We'll know in three weeks...

[For the record: Al-Bayyna's website, at the time of this post, does not carry the poll story, which may have appeared in the print edition]

Muqtada Can Speak in Full Sentences?

Who knew? But apparently Muqatada Al-Sadr put up a stellar performance when he recently received his fellow mullah and erstwhile adversary Abdel-Aziz Al-Hakim (Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution) in his home in Najaf, so much so that Sadr’s people felt compelled to leak a recording (not clear if audio AND visual…) to several news outlets, and the transcript of their meeting ended-up in yesterday’s Al-Hayat newspaper.

This is was an important moment in the annals of the Sadr-Hakim rivalry; ask any prominent Sadrist "who killed Muqtada’s father in February 1999?” and the answer would be “the Iranians and the Hakim family”. Of course, it is politically useful to blame Saddam’s regime for the highway shoot-out, but everything in the regime’s archives suggests that they were caught off-guard by what happened. And then there is that little spat that occurred last month when Sadr’s people tried to re-open their offices in ‘Old Najaf’, but were stoned and fired-upon, and this quickly escalated into an all-out fight between the Sadrists and SCIRI across Iraq. BTW: it wasn’t the Hakims who whipped-up the crowd, but rather Muhammad Ridha Sistani, the powerful son and ‘office-manager’ of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani.

But Muqtada (sometimes derided as ‘Quday’, a-la ‘Uday’ and ‘Qusay’) sounds downright sober and somewhat witty; coming off as ‘patriotic’ (that is, anti-‘occupation’) and knowledgeable about Islamic jurisprudence.

Muqtada: not just another pretty face...

Muqtada dominated the conversation, but he was stumped when Abdel-Aziz suggested that Ayatollah Sistani would obligate the faithful to participate in the next elections.

Muqtada the Coherent, as opposed to Mr. Dimwit? Is he on a new set of meds? Or is he indeed the Mahdi, or Messiah, as his inner circle have been whispering for about two years now. Time to hit Papa Sadr’s book, Al-Ghaybah Al-Kubra, and keep searching for clues…

Friday, November 18, 2005

Zarqawi Caught Fibbing...World in Shock!

Well, to my ears at least, that was definitely Zarqawi today in the audiotape that got posted around. An interesting addition to his litany of justifications for hitting Amman was the following article in the Los Angeles Times on November 11, 2005. I am pretty sure that this is the piece Zarqawi is talking about because he paraphrases this following sentence in his 27 minute tirade:

“Jordan's General Intelligence Directorate, or GID, has surpassed Israel's Mossad as America's most effective allied counter-terrorism agency in the Middle East. Since the Sept. 11 attacks, its cooperation with the CIA has grown even closer.”

Sort of makes you wonder about the culpability of the MSM in providing more fuel to the jihadist fire. I'm looking at you, Dana Priest...

I must say, Zarqawi is very eloquent, and electrifying. If I were a Jordanian simpleton—say, someone chronically pissed-off at the Jordanian government—I would find what he says very compelling. He plays on all sorts of conspiracy theories that would make plenty of sense in the turbid ‘hearts and minds’ of Middle Easterners.

Zarqawi also tries to display a familiarity with all things Jordanian by citing the targets he would not hit because these are civilian hang-outs, such as Safeway Supermarket.

Is there another Israeli spy also going by the copycat name 'Azzam Azzam'?

Zarqawi, though, makes a big doo-doo when he claims that Azzam Azzam, the Israeli-Druze spy, used to lounge around in the Grand Hyatt Hotel to meet his Mossad paymasters (listen to minute 10:25 of the audio). But Azzam was arrested in Cairo in November 1996, while the Hyatt was built two years later in 1998. Could it be that Zarqawi is making things up, again?

Zarqawi chides the Jordanian people for gullibly believing what their government is saying about the attack. If the Jordanian authorities had any sense, they would turn their media focus on Zarqawi's justifications and prove him wrong on each point he raises; the Azzam Azzam reference could be the starter.

What is Kurdish for ‘Ouch’?

Michael Rubin—recognized as a friend of the Kurdish cause—plowed into the Barzani clan today in an article on Middle Eastern corruption:

“Take the case of the Iraqi Kurds. Long championed as a model of liberalization, they are becoming a regional embarrassment. Rather than pursue democracy, the Iraqi Kurdish leadership is more consumed with self-enrichment. Following Iraq's defeat in 1991, the Kurds rose in rebellion against Saddam Hussein. The leader of the Kurdish Democratic Party, Massoud Barzani, returned to Iraqi Kurdistan with little but respect for his family name. Fourteen years later, his personal worth is estimated at close to $2 billion. Corruption and nepotism are rife. No foreign businessman can strike a deal in his region without entering into partnership with Barzani or a favored relative. Human rights workers in Irbil say they have met Kurds imprisoned for failing to pay kickbacks. Across the region, the Barzani family conflates government, party, and personal property. Local militias uphold not the rule of law, but rather serve as Barzani's enforcers. The Kurdish Parliament, meanwhile, is flaccid; its power no greater than that of its Syrian or Libyan counterparts.”

The protective aura of ‘victimhood’ that had protected the Kurds from criticism, is finally wearing off. Irresponsible leadership (see my column, Kurds Marching Off, back in March 05) brought them to this point. However, there is plenty to say about Jalal Talabani’s nepotistic corruption, too. I had hoped that Mr. Rubin could have leveled his criticism more evenly.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

A Different Angle on Jordan’s Mukhaberat

In a previous life as an Iraqi opposition activist, I had many run-ins with the Jordanian mukhaberat, or secret police. From being arrested in Karak during a Shia festival, to raising all sorts of red flags at Queen Alia airport, I would say that reading Neil MacFarquhar’s important front-page piece in the New York Times on November 14, 2005, was slightly curative for past humiliations. But I also felt that he was being a bit too harsh, and thereby distorting how the Jordanian spooks conduct business.

I never thought that I would be an apologist for the Jordanian mukhaberat, but here goes: they really are sophisticated in facing down the challenges that threaten Jordan, and there is plenty that can be learnt from the kind of balanced relationship they hold vis-à-vis the Islamists. They may not be superb in tradecraft (I should have been deported, often) but they do operate masterfully within the gray scales of Middle Eastern political culture.

Let me explain: once I was being held in the mukhaberat HQ with a large number of people who were carrying similar ‘Show-Up or Else’ slips like the one I was given at the airport. We were all waiting to be individually 'questioned'. I had a bushy beard at the time, and my accent can pass for a regular Levantine. I found myself gravitating to the back-rows with the other misfits, most of whom had bushy beards, who took me for one of their own: a fundamentalist.

And like naughty schoolchildren, we were making a ruckus, thus prompting the ‘hall monitor’ to periodically shout us down. Here is what I gained from this experience: I was happy the Jordanians were monitoring these dangerous elements, who nonchalantly expected to be beaten later on in the evening (many were missing teeth) and get locked-up for a night or two. I believe the rot is so deep that redemption of violent Islamic radicals will not come about by being nice to them; they need to fail in their utopian dreams of an Islamic Empire and to realize that they have failed before they can be defeated. For the time being, I can live with the Jordanians harassing me, as long as they harass and intimidate those other bearded fellows.

And to the mukhaberat’s credit, once they went through the motions of trying to recruit me (for the record, didn’t) and trying to get favors in return for favors (what can I say? I’m a useless scatterbrain that can’t get much done…), they became absolute gentlemen when it turned out that I wasn’t a threat to their national security. I have been very critical of their government’s actions regarding Iraq, and they have been obliging in hearing me out. At no time did I feel I had to dissemble and shudder in their midst since I was not out to destabilize their little country, and they had the unique good sense to realize that, which is much more than can be said about other regional intelligence services.

Jordan is indeed a small country, and its political elite is going to scurry about frantically because of a negative NYT front-page article. Already, heads have begun to roll. But one thing should remain clear: the mukhaberat were doing something right up until last week when the bombings occured. Their failure, I believe, is less an indication of ineptitude, but rather a measure of the growing menace of Zarqawi. See my column this week.

MacFarquhar makes a salient point about the octopus-like influence of the mukhaberat beyond its scope of providing security. But when faced with something like the jihadist nightmare, the myths of brutality and omnipresence can be very useful as deterrents.

But then again, I support torture, so my opinion shouldn't really matter. (We’ll leave further exploration for an upcoming post…)

Oh, one more thing: yours truly—together with an unnamed friend—would like to start-up a Center for Humane Demoralization, which should not be confused with the genre of ‘creative torture’. Anyone interested in being on the Board of Directors? ;)

Eat My Dust Arianna, almost

Suffering from blog-envy, and vaingloriously deeming myself a should-be (as opposed to wanna-be) celebrity, I thought that I could steal a march on Huffington’s post about her soiree with Ahmad Chalabi, and thus put ‘Talisman Gate’ on the map. Chalabi was the flavor of the news cycle. Of course, I have privileged access to Chalabi, so I was sure to get all the hot stuff. What I ended-up getting on his farewell ride back to Dulles Airport last night were indeed some red-hot insider scoops, except, I can’t quote a single line. Something about things being off-the-record and journalistic integrity, or something.

Damn you Arianna…I will get you yet!

Et tu, Sally Quinn?

PS: During the interview, John Cusack called my cell phone, which was weird and random because it was a wrong number, and we ended-up chatting and I mentioned Chalabi and Cusack asked if he could join us, so the limo picked him up on our way to the airport. Wow, I thought, this guy is everywhere. Or maybe he is just a stalker. And then, Martians invaded, and the earthlings welcomed them with sweets and flowers.

[For legal purposes: the Cusack incident is a lie. For the purposes of public order: ditto about the Martians].

Just to tease people, these are some of the questions that I asked Chalabi, which I thought ‘real’ journalists (as opposed to me) should be asking:

-How many seats do you expect to win in the elections? What is the minimum number of seats you need to win that would not be politically embarrassing?

-Where are you running strongest? Who are the top vote-getting candidates that you are fielding? Why did they choose to run on your list?

-Why did you leave the UIA list? What steps did you take to build a liberal Shia constituency?

-What would a ‘Chalabi Block’ in the next parliament look like? How big does it need to be for you to become Prime Minister?

-Who gets what portfolio in the cabinet? What compromises do the Sadrists expect?

-If Allawi can expand his parliamentary block beyond 40 seats, would Barzani buck Kurdish consensus and support the Allawi’s bid for premiership?

-Who is running the insurgency now?

-Why is head of Iraqi intelligence, Gen. Shahwani, still at his job?

-What do you plan to do if you don’t become Prime Minister? Would you take a consolation prize?

-Do you plan to write your memoirs anytime soon?

Monday, November 14, 2005

Ah, So Sweet, Chocolate Cake for Condi

According to the Saudi daily Asharq Al-Awsat, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice was surprised with a chocolate cake adorned with ‘Happy Birthday Condi’ on Sunday while visiting Jeddah for talks with her Saudi counterpart Prince Saud Al-Faisal. After they were done discussing his country’s imminent decision to allow Saudi women greater freedoms such as driving and voting (…don’t get your hopes up, I made that up) Prince Saud said there was one more item on the agenda; seconds later, a chocolate cake bearing the flags of Saudi Arabia (minty flavor…?) and America (definitely raspberry-ish) was rolled out. Everyone sang along for Condi’s 51st, and then dived into carbohydrate heaven.

Go ahead, have some cake, infidel.

However…the Saudi flag has the Islamic creed ‘There is no God but God and Muhammed is His Messenger’ emblazoned on it. According to everything I have heard since childhood, the simple act of uttering that sentence makes you a Muslim. Now, what happens when you devour that sentence, say, as a piece of delicious chocolate cake? Does that make Condi a Muslim? Fatwas, anyone?

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Truth Refracted Through Kristof’s Prism

Nicholas Kristof, the New York Times columnist, was busily propagating this following myth in today’s (Nov. 13, The Exit from Iraq) piece:

“I came to realize how much the neocons lived in a dream world when I visited Najaf, Iraq, in September 2002 and quoted ordinary Iraqis as saying they would fight against any U.S. invaders. Neocons who favored an invasion were apoplectic and felt sure that they had a much richer understanding of the situation -- even though they had never been to Iraq, spoke no Arabic and didn't know a minaret from a mihrab. They were well meaning but didn't have a clue about the horror that Iraqis felt for a Western military occupation.”

I don’t get it…If the necons are supposedly led—according to other made-up myths— by the likes of Bernard Lewis and Fouad Ajami who are, even according to their fiercest detractors, pre-eminent scholars of Islam and the Middle East, then how is it that they don’t ‘know a minaret from a mihrab’?

And how did the necons become the proponents of ‘occupation’? The rear-guard mutineers throughout the State Dept. and CIA bureaucracies as well as their current government-in-exile leaders Powell and Tenet were the ones FOR occupation. This is what Richard Perle had to say a year ago:

“Appearing on Fox News' "O’Reilly Factor" Monday night, Perle said the U.S. made a most serious mistake after Iraq was liberated and the "keys" were not handed over immediately to Iraqis to run their own country.”

More Freaky Numerology

The UIA list has chosen to spin its assigned number ‘555’ away from homosexual and pedophilic connotations towards something more poignant by finding the relevant verse 5:55 in the Koran. They struck propaganda gold. This, naturally, has become their campaign motto:

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

إنما وليكم الله ورسوله والذين آمنوا

السورة5 آية 55

Sura 5: Al-Ma’ida (The Tablespread) Surra
Verse 55: “Your (real) friends are (no less than) Allah, His Messenger, and the (fellowship of) believers,-those who establish regular prayers and regular charity, and they bow down humbly (in worship).”

Transliteration: “Innama waliyyukumu Allahu warasooluhu wallatheena amanoo allatheena yuqeemoona assalata wayutoona azzakata wahum rakiAAoon.”

This is the Yusuf Ali translation, in other words, where Sunnis like to qualify the term “wali” (from which “waliyyukumu” is derived) as ‘friend’. The Shi’ites attach a whole different meaning to this word, and they go for a ‘patron’ with temporal authority. This all goes back to Ghadeer Khum, where the Prophet Muhammad, shortly before he died in 632 AD and while en route to his last Hajj to Mecca, said the following:

“O people don't you know that I am awla with the believers from their selves. They said: Yes. Whosever's mawla I am from now on Ali is his mawla”.

Which either meant: lay off my recently-arrived cousin and son-in-law Ali for messing-up the mission he was assigned to perform in Yemen and consider him a ‘friend’, OR (and pay attention because this alternative interpretation is why we have Shias and Sunnis in this world) Ali is my successor and your ‘patron’.

So in the Shia sense, which is where the UIA is seeking votes, verse 5:55 instructs Iraqis to cast their votes to whom God has assigned as their ‘patrons’: those in the ‘fellowship of the believers’.

Gotta say, the fundamentalists spun this one very nicely. But is it enough to get people to picture anything other than Sa’adi Al-Hilli when they hear the number 555?

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Lacking Washington Street Smarts

Adil Abdul-Mahdi, one of Iraq's two Deputy Presidents, is in Washington in an attempt to shore-up Bush administration support for his candidacy as Prime Minister beyond the December 15 elections. He is uncomfortably sharing the Ritz-Carlton (M Street) Hotel lobby with Ahmad Chalabi's (one of three Deputy Prime Ministers) delegation, who is also hoping to be anointed Prime Minister. Never mind that it is election season and one would assume that these gentlemen should be in Baghdad, campaigning.

But maybe it wasn’t very smart for Abdul-Mahdi to be seen in public with vociferous critics of the Bush administration: Brent Scowcroft (breakfast at the Ritz Carlton on Wednesday), and Paul Bremer (late lunch, same location, on Thursday)…

Moreover, Scowcroft (‘no aid to 1991 uprising’) and Bremer (‘I am emperor’) are not very popular in Iraq.

Bonus for Arabic readers: tongue-in-cheek commentary overheard from the Chalabi crowd about the Abdul-Mahdi/Chalabi competition for Washington’s attention:

إذا جاء الماء بطل التيمم

This one is too hard to translate…

This week's KACCME goes to...

This week’s prestigious Kazimi Award for Clueless Commentary on the Middle East goes to Milton Viorst for suggesting that the Arab League in Cairo is anything more than an utterly dysfunctional and ridiculous organization. What will these loony journalists—compromised by too-close for comfort relationships with Arab tyrants—come up with next?

Rice Showers More Love on the Sunnis

So Condi made it to Mosul yesterday and visited with some Arab Sunni ‘dignitaries’. Did she ask them how they voted on Referendum Day? The constitution squeaked by with no help from the Arab Sunnis of Nineveh Province (where Mosul, Iraq’s third largest city, lies…) who along with other Arab Sunnis in Salahuddin and Anbar provinces nearly matched the stipulation by which the constitution can be knocked down: a two-thirds majority of active ‘No’ voters in any three Iraqi provinces. This condition was not met in Nineveh, although 55% voted against the constitution.

Thus, the constitution (and the Bush administration’s credibility) was probably saved by the minorities who live there: Turkuman Shias in Talafar, Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriac Christians in Mosul and the plains to the east, Yezidis in Sinjar Mountain and to the north, and the Shabaks to the east of Mosul. Not to mention Sunni Kurds, who number a third of Mosul’s residents. But Rice didn’t have time for all these unappreciated minorities that have been taking a beating by the Ba’athists and Zarqawists for their support of Iraqi democracy. Condi, how about a 'thank you' note?

Sunniphilitis--a containable disease afflicting Arabists at NEA and the MEI--has been a endemic at the State Department for some time, but is breaking-out with increased infectivity under Condi’s tenure. See my column of June 2005 on this, Dances with Terrorists (scroll down to June 16, 2005).

555 = 666

God went out of his way to screw the United Iraqi Alliance List, whose identifying number on next month’s ballot for the parliamentary elections is '555'.

Imagine if the United States had adopted the same system and the Christian Coalition got saddled with the satanically-tinged number 666: the famous ‘Mark of the Beast’ of Book of Revelations-fame. (BTW, the scientific term that diagnoses the fear of the number 666 is Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia). That is exactly what happened to Seyyid Abdel-Aziz Al-Hakim and the current Prime Minister Ibrahim Al-Jafari, except that ‘555’ carries an even more vulgar stigma.

Iraq—as any other place in the world—has its share of cultural icons. Our Liberace was also a singer-songwriter who went by the name of Sa’adi Al-Hilli, also affectionately known as Abu Khalid. He is the butt of every homosexual-related joke in Iraq. Plus, there is an added twist, Sa’adi had a fondness for young boys, sort of as the honorary head of the Baghdad Chapter of NAMBLA

Iraqis can be mean, very mean. Poor Sa’adi died last spring, and immediately people concocted jokes about God’s chastity coming under threat by the heaven-bound crooner. Sa’adi—as a famous joke with many spin-offs goes—was also very fond of the number ‘5’, which in Arabic, has an oval shape. Oval, implying sphincter-ly. I know, I know: this is kitschy and childish…but utterly devastating if your campaign posters are boasting the number ‘555’.

Abu Khalid, in an oval portrait...

Sa’adi’s representation of homosexuality is so pervasive, that his home town of Hilla now bears the brunt as Iraq’s Sodom and Gomorrah. Oddly, most Hillawis don’t seem to mind. One recent joke has the UIA list polling very well in Hilla.

In the last elections, Sa’adi Al-Hilli was invoked as political humor directed against Prime Minister Ayad Allawi: back in the day, Sa’adi had performed a song in which he serenades a young boy by the nickname of ‘Allawi’, a tender derivative of the name Ali. The joke had PM Allawi banning that song from Iraqi radio.

It would be irresponsible punditry to suggest that the UIA list has been damaged politically because of this number that came out with the luck of the draw. These numbers—starting from 501 and ranging to the mid-700s—were assigned by lottery to the various political coalitions and groupings competing for the December 15 elections. But that is exactly what is going to happen: the UIA list will be damaged by snickering childishness, and the late Sa’adi Al-Hilli.

This issue, coupled with Muqtada Al-Sadr’s refusal to bless the list, and the Fadhila Party—one of the main components—publicly asking to be withdrawn from the coalition, does not bode well. Of course, Sistani is staying clear of this train wreck.

God clearly does not want Iraq to turn into an Islamist theocracy. Thanks God, and don’t drop the soap!