Unconventional thinking about the Middle East.

Saturday, December 31, 2005

One Year Memorial Tribute: Sheikh Haitham Al-Ansari 1971-2004

Sheikh Haitham Al-Ansari الشيخ الشهيد هيثم الأنصاري

This is what I wrote on January 6, 2005:

Evil men trampled on one of God's flowers that had been planted in His good earth. Sheikh Haithem Nayif Ahmed Al-Ansari, 33, was walking to Friday prayers from his Baghdad home on December 31, when a gray BMW slowed down and sprayed him with a machine gun. One of the assailants then disembarked and hunched over the writhing body while emptying the rest of the magazine into my friend's head.

Haithem was both kindred spirit and close friend to me. His political affiliations were contradictory, and many sides will claim him as one of their own. Good, many sides will be out to avenge him. The crime of his murder has many possible leads, and that is due to the list of enemies Haithem chose to keep: Baathists, Wahhabis, and assorted regional intelligence services. A lamb in demeanor and a lion at heart, his loss made Iraq less of a home for me to get back to. Tall, thin, his movie-star face was ignited by fiery green eyes and offset by the sweet melancholy smile of a mystic. Since we had met and began working together three years ago, our conversations invariably started with "Is it possible that you are still alive? God must have a sense of humor." Haithem was a hero, and it may still be early to recount publicly his victories against evil. He was a Shia mullah grappling with existential issues of personal faith in God, but he had no illusions about fighting evil in all its guises. What a horrible loss. Haithem, in your release from the hard circumstances of the battles you chose to fight, has your spirit made it to Paris? He had wanted to see Paris before he died.

Haitham, I take solace from what I’ve heard from better friends that me; you have been fully avenged. What we had worked for, and what he had hoped for, is imperiled. We never thought it would turn out like this. I still have that conversation recorded on my cell-phone; your voice, your laughter and that comfort that comes from a long friendship, lost and sorely missed in these dark days. I went to the spot where you’d been killed. It is back to being the storefront of some neighborhood grocery. But your memory lives on in all the lives you have touched, and your four kids are growing-up and bearing your name. But the further I seek, the less likely that your place can ever be filled.

Friday, December 30, 2005

An excursion to Mukhtara, or how I came to suspect Junbulatt in Hariri’s killing

I had 48 hours left for my stay in Lebanon, and Walid Junbulatt’s people had still not given me an appointment. Granted, the Lebanese political class was busy drawing up electoral lists, but no political tourist such as me could leave without dropping a visit to the famously mercurial Druze chieftain.

It was a Thursday in May, and a moldy humidity had hung heavy over the coast since my arrival. A friend dispatched a driver and a fancy Mercedes at my disposal, and I thought this would be as good an air-conditioned conduit as ever to catch a ride out into the mountains for some brisker air. I was told to mope around Hamra Street waiting for a call from Sh., the driver, but I began to realize that this day would drag out longer than projected when he began losing his bearings along the capital’s main thoroughfare. See, Sh.—a boisterous middle-aged man with heavy whiskers and bottle-bottom glasses—hails from the Maronite canton of Kisrawan that sees itself more as a suburb of Paris, rather than Beirut’s.

I called my contact in the Junbulatt camp and told him that I am on my way to Mukhtara—Walid Beg’s ancestral home. Should I get my appointment, then all is well, otherwise, a brief sojourn through Druze country would be interesting in of itself. He said he’d get back to me.

But it took more cigarettes than necessary to calm my brooding irritation at Sh. who would stop every two hundred meters or so along the highway and ask directions from whichever sun-stroked peasant was vending his produce. Of course, we kept getting conflicting directions from these barely-cognizant roadside sages, even though the highway signs to Deir Al-Qamar, a town on our way, were clear enough.

And as we heaved up switchback mountain roads and cliff sides of pine and brush, I was suddenly aware of this beautiful but troubled land, leaving behind the pockmarked testimonials to a savage civil war etched in concrete and stone around downtown Beirut. Majda Al-Roumi’s aching voice, wafting through a fading and static-ridden radio signal, only accentuated a bitter-sweet epiphany.

While driving through the tranquil charm of Deir Al-Qamar, my cell phone rang and someone in Mukhtara was berating me for keeping Walid Beg waiting. This was a good opportunity to ask Sh. to stop so that I can lay some ground rules: “if asked by Junbulatt’s people about how you came to know me, keep your mouth shut or change the subject.” It took another fifteen minutes of repeating myself to get through to Sh. that this was an urgent matter.

I had cause for concern: since coming to Lebanon, I had a change of mind as to who killed Hariri, and the list of suspects invariably included Junbulatt; a man responsible for a sizable chunk of the wartime mayhem. It was reflexive to peg the blame on Hezbollah’s terrorist A-Team: Imad Mughniyah acting on Syrian orders. But the blast site did not bear his signature. No, whoever killed Hariri was flashy and reckless, and had pulled off the terrorist act with equal parts tradecraft, bravado and luck.

Arriving in Mukhtara, I was surprised that the clunky metal gates were widely opened for me, Sh. and the Merc upon identification and without inspection. I got out and put on my jacket, taking stock of a panoramic view of rural idyll and the hazy horizon of a distant sea: the Junbulatt tribal chiefs had picked well for a home. A bald and self-assured man approached, clearly the guy in charge of security. I followed him across a mountain spring gushing out from the foot of the sandstone mansion, and up a winding stairway to the front door. He extended his hand and I physically braced for a pat down, but he had only meant to fix my collar. Coming from terror-stricken Baghdad, I found it odd that a controversial politician targeted for murder would allow such a lax security protocol.

Droopy-eyed Walid Beg Junbulatt emerged and feebly took my hand. I followed him inside and glimpsed his unkempt bed to my left before being ushered to his high-ceilinged home office on the right. He gestured to a couple of seats in the corner, as his baby-blues sized-me up. Offering Arabic coffee served from a pewter pot and some niceties, he was distracted by a call, allowing me an opportunity walk around to appreciate his sense of style. First, there is a huge stainless-steel plane propeller hanging from the ceiling in lieu of a fan. Then, there is assorted paraphernalia from the now-defunct Soviet Union, “the greatest empire” as Walid Beg described it. Rows upon rows of medals, “the whole collection,” he boasted, and officers’ uniforms in full regalia draped over headless mannequins. Heavy tomes on the Bolshevik Revolution lined the tastefully arranged book-cases, as well as an arsenal of high-end machine guns and hunting rifles. A fiberglass Glock pistol—my favorite—with two magazines alongside it, lay within reach of his laptop.

Skipping over the evident contradiction of being a hereditary feudal lord as well as a head-over-heals admirer of all things Red, one would not have guessed that, if anything, Walid Junbulatt was a flashy man. And this was all I needed to know about this enigmatic fellow, perennially-clad in white shirts and jeans, and the long-time chief of the Progressive Socialists Party, a title inherited from his father Kamal: founder of the party and one-time warlord.

In my eyes, his flair in interior design made him a suspect in a flashy and brazen murder back in February.

The conversation was off-the-record, and insubstantial as to who killed Hariri, a topic I did not raise. He autographed a book on his father with this Arabic sentence: “In the words of Fouad ‘Ajami: an open-minded and democratic Arab nationalism remains a better option than returning to the rule of the traditional elites.”

That’s rich, coming from a chieftain of Kurdish ethnic stock.

I thankfully took my leave, and headed outside. Sh. eagerly yelped, “I didn’t tell them a thing,” within earshot of the security guy. I sheepishly grinned and waved good-bye to Mukhtara; watching for any suspicious cars tailing us on the road back to Beirut— Junbulatt had given me the creeps.

But Sh. wanted to stop: he had heard that a childhood friend of his had relocated to the general area twenty-five years ago, that is from the early days of the civil war, and had opened a barber shop. They had been neighbors and played hide-and-seek before the fighting forced the Druze to leave mixed areas, and I thought to myself “might as well, for it was clear that Sh. wasn’t going to venture out of Kisrawan that often in his lifetime and especially not into an area hostile to Maronites like the Shouf Mountains.” Our excursion ended on a happy note as Sh. climbed back into the car after several detours and tearfully rejoiced over embracing a long-lost pal. But it was too bad that he had—in the excitement of the moment—forgotten to take a phone number.

So, now I had to ‘walk back the cat’ as to Junbulatt’s suspected complicity in Hariri’s murder, which was basically a journey to the foggy days of the civil war, and the macabre cast of characters who had worked for Walid Beg. In order to firm up my suspicions, I had to track down the kinds of lowlife who would be able to pull-off a complicated assassination, and then keep mum about it. I came across names such as ‘Isam ‘Anterazi, made infamous in a front-page photo in the late 1980s depicting him shooting a young PSP hoodlum for not following orders, and Abu ‘Abid Al-Kurdi Electron, so called because a bullet had punctured his larynx, and so spoke through his neck through one of those voice-actualizing gadgets. ‘Anterazi now runs a couple of gas stations in North Carolina, while Mr. Electron is dead.

Mr. Electron was in charge of a Kurdish gang that fought on behalf of Walid Junbulatt in the 1985-87 skirmishes with Nabih Berri’s Amal forces. Some of these guys were subcontracted out by Junbulatt to Qadafi as mercenaries in the Libyan war against Chad; most cashed out and nowadays lead idle lives in Lebanon. Some others went to Afghanistan to join the jihad against the Russians, but I’ve been unable to track the whereabouts of the fellows in this latter category.

But in this exercise in conspiratorial theorizing, I had to establish motive. Hariri was killed at a time of increasing tensions between a group of Lebanese politicians that included Junbulatt, and the Syrian leadership. There was a mounting expectation that Syria’s thugs would lash out at someone, and it could be possible that Walid Beg, who supposedly told Hariri “it’s going to be either you or me” according to subsequently published accounts, had made a survivalist’s calculation: “better Hariri than me.” In a sense, Hariri’s murder, and the international indignation it was sure to engender, would be a catalyst facilitating Syria’s expulsion from Lebanon, and getting Walid Beg off the hook.

It isn’t much of a theory, but then again, neither is the one that says that Syria went ahead and killed Hariri knowing that the world would erupt in uproar.

There was another name that came-up, but this time of Walid Beg’s own volition in an LBC interview on June 9th. He asked, “Where is Abu Haitham, and who let him go?” Junbulatt was, of course, referring to an ex-aide of his who had grown to big for his brooches: Jamal Karar, a half-Egyptian, half Maronite psychopath and terrorist of the first order. Abu Haitham got so haughty and crazy, that he even plotted to kill Ghazi Kana’an—Syria’s strongman in Lebanon—which prompted Junbulatt to hand him over to Damascus in 1987. Abu Haitham was convicted of being an Israeli spy and rotted away in a Syrian prison cell until 2001, when he was unexpectedly released. His whereabouts are unknown, and Junblatt was insinuating that Abu Haitham had a hand in killing Hariri.

There was even a weird story in Elaph back in June quoting a Syrian opposition figure (almost certainly Nazar Nayouf in Paris) as saying that a certain ‘M. S.’ was responsible for killing Samir Qassir, another Lebanese opponent of Syria. The source implied that M.S. works for Junbulatt, and the murder of Qassir was another attempt to provoke an international outcry against the Asad regime.

Somewhere along the line, and as it became increasingly clear that the bomb-laden Mitsubishi truck that detonated beside Hariri’s motorcade was driven by a suicide bomber, I began to suspect Junbulatt less and less. It seemed unlikely that the now seemingly docile parliamentarian would be able to compel anyone to die for him.

But this mental brainstorming was important to understand a crucial point about political violence in Lebanon: nobody has been held accountable for prior violence. People like Junbulatt, Samir Geagea and Michel Aoun are dealt with as respectable statesmen, even though there were responsible for some of the most horrendous episodes of the civil war. When things go wrong in Lebanon, they shouldn’t be above suspicion given their track-records. Even their sidekicks at middling levels such as ‘Anterazi were never questioned or castigated as to their roles, and some like Elie Hobeiqa went on to bigger and better things. And in a country where nobody stops at fully-functioning traffic lights, the mindset of ‘anything goes’ still goes strong.

All that is frivolous at this point for there is yet another suspect: Al-Qaeda. I’ve written about this in my columns (The Saudi Mega-Plot, Who Killed Hariri? and The Mehlis Mess), but my thoughts were met by institutional friction. It is easy to point the finger at Syria, but “Sunni Wahhabis operating in Lebanon?” That seems ridiculous to many. But if I were Al-Qaeda, and specifically its Zarqawi-led Jund Al-Sham arm (previously headed by Abul-Ghadia Al-Suri), wouldn’t I want to get rid of a galvanizing figure among Lebanon’s Sunnis like Hariri, and have the blame for the crime cast on another hated regime I seek to overthrow?

Late on Tuesday night, three projectiles landed in the Israeli town of Kiryat Shmona. Zarqawi’s organization, Al-Qaeda in Iraq, claimed that this was its doing and that it had fired 10 GRAD (BM variety) missiles from Lebanon. The GRAD has a range of 25 Km at best, and guess what? There is a Sunni enclave just north of Marj ‘Ayoun along the Litani River, some 25 Km from that Israeli town.

Do the math.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Preliminary Parliamentary Seat Distribution

I’ve been getting similar numbers from a source today; but this is what is being reported in a bunch of Arab and Iraqi newspapers for tomorrow: [Note: results for 16 out of 18 provinces, and this tally also excludes 45 ‘compensatory’ seats].

UIA: 35
Consensus: 11
Allawi: 8
Kurdish: 1
Mutlag: 1
Risaliyoun (Sadrist): 1
Mithal Alusi: 1
Rafidayn (Christian): 1

2-Ninevah (Mosul):
Consensus: 7
Kurdish: 4
UIA: 2
Allawi: 2
Mutlag: 2
Misha’an Jabouri: 1
Yazidis (Kurdish): 1

Kurdish: 13
Islamic Kurdish: 2

Kurdish: 12
Islamic Kurdish: 1

Kurdish: 6
Allawi: 1

6-Dhi Qar (Nassiriya):
UIA: 11
Allawi: 1
Note: there must be something wrong with this number, because Nassiriya only has 9 seats.

7-Babil (Hilla):
UIA: 9
Allawi: 1
Note: Hilla should have 11 seats, not 10.

Consensus: 4
UIA: 2
Kurdish: 2
Allawi: 1
Mutlag: 1

Consensus: 7
Mutlag: 2

Kurdish: 5
Consensus: 1
Mutlag: 1
Misha’an Jabouri: 1
Turkuman: 1

11-Salahuddin (Tikrit):
Consensus: 3
Mutlag: 2
UIA: 1
Allawi: 1
Misha’an Jabouri: 1

UIA: 7
Allawi: 1

UIA: 7
Allawi: 1

UIA: 7
Allawi: 1

UIA: 5
Allawi: 1

UIA: 5

Total excluding the 45 ‘compensatory’ seats, and the results for two remaining provinces and Nassiriya (see note above):

UIA: 100
Kurdish: 43
Consensus: 27
Allawi: 19
Mutlag: 8
Misha’an Jabouri: 3
Islamic Kurdish: 3
Mithal Alusi: 1
Turkuman: 1
Rafidayn: 1
Yezidi: 1
Risaliyoun: 1

From the looks of it, Mithal Al-Alusi may have won a seat in Baghdad Province through a fluke in the electoral law! Here he is in today's Washington Post. BTW: the two persons quoted for the story, Wamidh Nadhme and Saleh Mutlag, have publicly sparred with Alusi in the recent past.

New Videos from Al-Qaeda in Iraq

Zarqawi’s outfit, Al-Qaeda in Iraq, released three new videos of its exploits yesterday. The first video (approx. 5 min) shows a confrontation between jihadists and an Iraqi National Guard unit in the vicinity of Al-Adheim. It is dated Saturday, December 3, 2005. Al-Adheim is the area north east of Baghdad along a now-dry river bed of the same name. The Adheim River been diverted into a canal during Saddam’s era, and used to transverse the provinces of Kirkuk and Diyala. The demographics of that area reflect the confluence of three major Sunni tribes, the Ubeid, the ‘Azza and the Bayat—the latter two of dubious Arab origin and probably originate from Arabized Turkuman clans.

The action starts with the camera showing a heavy machine gun—mounted on a pick-up truck—firing into the horizon. Then we see about seven or eight jihadists casually walking, yes, walking and firing at several burning vehicles. The accompanying textual commentary, issued by Zarqawi’s publicist Abu Maysara Al-‘Iraqi, claims that Al-Qaeda had ambushed two vehicles in the beginning, and then destroyed another eight vehicles, mostly Russian-made jeeps and Toyota pick-up trucks from the looks of it, that had arrived as back-up to the besieged Guardsmen. Four soldiers are taken prisoner, as a voice off camera hurls abuse at them for fighting on behalf of the Americans. The prisoners seem to have run out of ammo. The voice is trying to speak in an Iraqi accent (using the Iraqi word for idiot, qashmer) yet it doesn’t sound right, but it could just be a local accent that I’m unaccustomed to. It is also claimed that 30-40 Guardsmen had been killed, and that some officers were among those captured.

Shouldn’t Predator spy planes be on the look-out for training-suit clad terrorists zipping around a flat and barren countryside that is a hot-bed of the insurgency? Wouldn’t heavy machine guns jutting out of pick-up trucks be a dead giveaway?

Here are some stills from the video:

The second video (7 minutes) features a ‘behind-the-scenes’ interview with an unmasked Saudi jihadist going by the nom de guerre Abu ‘Ubada. He is a young man, and in response to a question of “what can you tell the young Muslims of the world?” answers, “For how long will we be enslaved by our enemies?”

The setting is tranquil, under a tree canopy and by a running stream. The camera then zooms into the distance to reveal a busy highway, not more than 100 hundreds meters away, glimpsed through tall reeds.

Abu ‘Ubada, sporting a digital watch and a Kalashnikov, then breaks out into a song, and renders three ballads on Fallouja, the jihad and the awaited gardens of paradise. It is unclear whether the words—poignant and ornate—are his own. With some training, his melodic voice would hit those higher notes. But that probably is not going to happen, since he intends to die soon. This video seems to be a response to recently publicized “confessions” of young Saudis who had returned from Iraq that were carried in the Saudi media. Those other Saudis lamented the hard conditions of the jihad, and claimed to be disillusioned by what’s going on. But not Abu ‘Ubada, who in his quiet repose in the Iraqi countryside, seems to be having a swell time.

The third much shorter video is about a Bradley tank that had been disabled by an IED in Tel ‘Afar. The date is only given as ‘Wednesday.’

All three videos end with the mild admonition, “Remember us in your truest prayers,” which is another way of saying, “Young man, stop downloading the jihad and come out here and fight alongside us.”

As most of America’s commentators hyperventilate over pro-American stories being placed in the Iraqi media by the Lincoln Group and the such, it would be useful to remember that Al-Qaeda is putting out increasingly sophisticated propaganda aimed at the young Arab demographic. Al-Qaeda doesn’t seem to have any qualms about bending facts in order to recruit more youngsters to kill Americans in Iraq, but that doesn’t concern the same people in the west who constantly fret about mounting casualties, and would rather rake the Pentagon over the coals for paying for some good press.

The bad guys are playing dirty, and this is no time for sissies. Just remember that those four Iraqi National Guardsmen probably had their throats gruesomely slit shortly after the tape stopped rolling.

Is the Anti-Christ a Cyclops or Just Plain Cross-Eyed?

I kid you not, this was an actual discussion on a couple of the jihadi websites: It seems that the Anti-Christ, who in Muslim lore is called Al-‘Awer Al-Dajjal (‘The One-Eyed Deceiver’), has made his sinister appearance in the person of ‘Ma’asoum,’ a poor Pakistani orphan from the Lahore area.

According to an Arabic magazine, that had reprinted the story from a Pakistani newspaper, Ma’asoum’s father had been killed in a tribal feud and his mother, who feared disgrace because her son was born with one eye smack in the middle of his face, kept him hidden from public view. But Ma’asoum was born with supernatural powers, such as being fireproof and boasting the ability to drink seawater and munching on pebbles. He could also move things around through telekinesis and was constantly protected by a black cat. Add to that some alchemical flair, and mind-control—apparently he convinced the policemen who threw in the slammer to let him go—there was nothing for the local mullahs to do but destroy him. However, Ma’asoum turned out to be immortal and impervious to bullets. One seer predicted that Ma’asoum was indeed the Anti-Christ and that he would soon disappear into the mountains of Khurasan (north-east Iran) as foretold by the prophecies.

Click on the pic to enlarge

And guess what? Ma’asoum has disappeared, and may have gone to Khurasan.

Now, such stories often appear in the Middle Eastern print equivalents of the National Enquirer, but the funny thing is that some eager jihadists are spotting hints of the apocalypse in such stories. And how do the more sober jihadists repudiate the story of Ma’asoum the Cyclops? They claim that the Prophet Muhammad had never described the Anti-Christ as one-eyed, but rather he had the symptoms of somebody with a lazy eye, whose off-kilter pupil was the opaque color of an unripe grape.

The posts were removed after a couple of days, especially since they got more traffic than Al-Qaeda’s videos of blowing up American tanks. It seems that the higher-ups look with disfavor at the tendency of the rank-and-file jihadists to be swayed by such yellow press clippings.

Now, although the prophecies also say that the Anti-Christ will be eventually defeated, we should keep in mind that we only have God’s word for that outcome, and He is definitely not an objective observer in this impending intergalactic battle. So, there’s a fifty-fifty chance that Ma’asoum will come out on top. I, for one, am taking no chances and have already framed a picture of the Dark Lord for hanging in my living room, and I suggest you do the same—just in case.

New Column: Iran's Retro-Revolutionaries

Check out my new column here; it's about Ahmadinejad and Iran's new rulers.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Discrepancies, and a new ambassador in DC

Fuzzy Math: Help me out with this one: a candidate no one had heard of before, Tawfiq Hashim Ali Al-Hashemi, running as an independent, gets 1,782 votes in the out-of-country poll, and a further 2,405 votes from the Iraqi military for a total of 4,184 votes in the ‘special poll’ tally. However, Al-Hashemi—who only ran in his home province of Misan—got a measly 463 ‘ordinary’ votes. So why did this obscure candidate running on the number ‘532’ get ten times more votes among the expatriate/military constituency when compared to his own backyard? Either someone inflated his numbers in the ‘special’ count, or deflated his home-base score. Either way it seems fishy, and it’s not as if he was getting the Florida treatment whereby elderly Holocaust survivors voted for Pat Buchanan by mistake; he is sandwiched between lists no. ‘531’ (Najib Salihi’s Free Officers and Civilians Movement) and no. ‘533’ (The Karbala Independent Coalition) on the ballot—both of which did poorly.

I’d hate to sound like the MARAMists, but the discrepancies keep piling up. For the record, it is now clear that the two ‘Sunni’ lists, the Consensus and Salih Al-Mutlag’s, were themselves involved in massive cheating in the three provinces of Nineveh, Salahuddin and Anbar. Many of the ballots from Sunni areas were disqualified (65 ballot boxes to be specific, from the Al-Rashid and Yusufiya suburbs of Baghdad), but part of the deal now with the Electoral Commission is to factor in these questionable votes as part of the final tally in order to placate the MARAMists and win them more seats in the parliament.

The Manchukuan Candidate: It seems that the Iraqi Foreign Ministry has designated Iraq’s head of mission to the United Nations, Samir Al-Sumaida’ie, as its new ambassador to Washington, even though the Bush administration had quietly informed the folks in Baghdad that it will hold off receiving his diplomatic accreditation until the new government is formed.

Al-Sumaida’ie was a member of the Iraqi Communist Party, and in his socialist youth and for most of his life he was known by the more egalitarian moniker, Samir Shakir Mahmoud (first name, father’s name and grandfather’s name), that usually drops the surname. But when he made it to Baghdad post liberation, he found that Sunnis were a hot commodity in the marketplace of post-Saddam politics, so he changed his name to Samir Al-Hadithi, in relation to the town of Hadhitha in Anbar Province from which his family hails. This was seemingly enough for him to get appointed by Paul Bremer as a member of the Governing Council, even though he was a marginal figure in Iraqi opposition circles. Then he figured out that there is some currency in a tribal affiliation, so he changed his name once more to Samir Al-Sumaida’ie.

Mr. Mahmoud/Al-Hadithi/Al-Sumaida'ie Goes To Washington

He had been active in Iraqi opposition circles since the late 1980s, and in 1993 he formed the Iraqi Democratic Party with Aziz Aliyan and Aida Osseiran. The party was a front for the Iraqi National Congress in northern Iraq, and received its funding from Ahmad Chalabi, according to signed receipts I had perused in the late 1990s.

In one of the regime’s General Security Directorate files for communists who had recanted their Marxist affiliation, there is an entry for ‘Samir Shakir Mahmoud.’ He is described as an Iraqi who had returned from London in the late 1970s, but was briefly arrested on the charge of possessing counterfeit dollars. He is categorized as a member of the Ba’ath Party in the rank of nassir, or supporter.

I am not sure whether Saddam’s goons are describing the same person, since Al-Sumaida’ie’s biography on the Iraq Mission’s website says that he left Iraq to London in 1973. But I can’t imagine that there were two ex-communists called ‘Samir Shakir Mahmoud.’

In the 1990s, Al-Sumaida’ie would show up to opposition conferences arriving from China, where he had set-up a business.

Al-Sumaida’ie served briefly as Iraq’s Minister of Interior in the waning days of Bremer’s Coalition Provisional Authority. He obligingly signed the arrest warrants against INC officials per Bremer’s recommendation in the summer of 2004. He was then assigned the plush job of ambassador to Turtle Bay.

Many people found it odd that the Americans were so invested in the career of this China-based businessman, who does not boast any real political heft of his own within the Iraqi political class.

Al-Sumaida’ie lent his support to an electoral list running in the most recent elections even though his name was not on the ballot. They had even printed posters brandishing his picture in his UN seat. The list fared poorly at the polls.

Some of his poetry can be perused here, at his personal website. Note how many pictures he has of himself. Call Iraq’s mission to the UN at 212-737-4433, and ask for Samir. Whisper ‘Queen of Diamonds’ and see what he’s programmed to do. Should be fun if you have nothing else up your sleeve.

Friday, December 23, 2005

CFR Report on Sunnis

I'm quoted several times in this Council on Foreign Relations report on Iraq's Sunnis.

The Electoral Commission Responds To 'Extortion'

December 23, 2005 Edition > Section: Foreign >

Iraq Election Official Accuses Critics of Extortion

BY ELI LAKE - Staff Reporter of the Sun
December 23, 2005
URL: http://www.nysun.com/article/24889

CAIRO, Egypt - The head of Iraq's election committee yesterday told The New York Sun that a call for new elections from 35 largely Sunni political parties is "political extortion," and vowed not to bend to their demands.

In a telephone interview, Adel al-Lamy said he believed most of the disappointment of groups calling for the abolition of the panel he heads was more appropriately directed at their constituencies. He said that claims of fraud and abuse in the December 15 parliamentary elections were overblown and politically motivated. He also said that reports that more than 200,000 votes in Baghdad for Ahmad Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress went missing or were disqualified were overblown and that he did not think there would be more than a couple thousand more votes for Mr. Chalabi's party in the final tallies.

Yesterday, 35 Iraqi political parties and organizations, largely representing Sunni Arabs, called for Iraq's electoral commission to disband. They threatened not to recognize the next parliament unless allegations of fraud are addressed.

The protest could undermine the prospects of a unified government in Iraq, even as many Sunni leaders are privately meeting with the leaders of the large, Shiite-dominated United Iraqi Alliance to negotiate the new government. According to preliminary results released Monday and Tuesday by the commission, the alliance will likely hold onto its numeric majority in the parliament, winning between 120 and 130 seats. Meanwhile the two main Sunni Arab parties will likely end up with 40 seats and Kurds will hold between 40 and 50 seats in the 275-member legislature.

"Political parties have been talking about disbanding the commission," Mr. al-Lamy said yesterday. "This is extortion to which we will not succumb." Mr. al-Lamy said that given the heated atmosphere, the commission was "demanding" the same kind of immunity and protections afforded judges of the constitutional courts.

In another phone interview yesterday, a former debaathification commissioner whose sons were murdered earlier this year said he did not join the protest statement issued yesterday. "I have not joined these protests. Most of the Sunni parties have done the same thing in the Sunni areas, they forged results in Mosul and al Anbar," Mithal al-Alusi told the Sun. He said he viewed the protest as an effort to gain influence over the selection of a prime minister.

Mr. al-Alusi, whose party has eschewed sectarian politics and criticized the influence of Iran and neighboring Arab states, could end up sitting the next parliament out." I am so afraid the Sunni politicians are trying to use the same political method as the terrorists to put their game to the parliament. I don't agree with it," he said. Mr. al-Alusi has also criticized the United Iraqi Alliance for its ties to Iranian intelligence.

While Mr. al-Alusi did not join the protests, former prime minister Ayad Allawi yesterday did. A spokesman for his party was particularly heated. The Associated Press quoted Ibrahim al-Janabi as saying, "These elections are fraudulent, they are fraudulent, and the next parliament is illegitimate. We reject all this process."

Responding to the charges from the 35 Sunni parties, a representative of the United Iraqi Alliance, Ali al-Adib yesterday said these allegations could lead to "chaos." "They have to accept the will of the Iraqi people, the will of the majority. The political process will continue even if they boycott it," he said. The rhetoric has raised concerns among some Iraqi observers that a civil war could result if the two sides could not reach an accommodation. But yesterday both Mr. al-Alusi and Mr. al-Lamy said they did not think things would come to that. "The Iraqi people are above that. Even those who have showed doubts on the elections, I don't think they will go this far," Mr. al-Lamy said.

In many ways the controversy this week was sparked by the preliminary results released on Monday. Mr.al-Lamy yesterday said he made the decision to release them for the sake of transparency. "Any transparent elections will give preliminary results. And we gave preliminary results in the last two elections. I don't know why there is so much noise about it this time," he said.

The decision, however, appeared to be a reversal at the time. Only 24 hours before the results were released Monday, commission officials said they would not release the results for days because of investigations into fraud. When asked about this, Mr. al-Lamy said that there were 20 cases he had identified that warranted serious investigation. Nonetheless, he said he did not expect these incidents would affect the general outcome he announced earlier this week.

Mr.al-Lamy said he personally investigated claims that Iran had sent trucks of phony ballots on the eve of the election to the province of Dialla. "One day before voting it was reported by a member of a political party that two or three trucks have come through the borders having printed ballots inside of them," he said. "I reached the people actually in the trucks and discovered they had worked for the commission. These were Hyundai trucks with 5 tons of ballots. I made my connections to the security apparatuses and there was nothing. It is my responsibility, I might be wrong, yet there was no evidence after the results of extraordinary high rates of voting in these places."

December 23, 2005 Edition > Section: Foreign >

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Fudging the Numbers, or a Blood-Bath?

The leaders of the elected Sunni lists have gone crazy: they have banded with Ayad Allawi in calling for ‘civil disobedience’ following the release of the initial elections results, and things should come to a head tomorrow after Friday prayers. The leaders of 26 electoral slates, including Ayad Allawi ‘731’, Adnan Al-Duleimi ‘618’, Saleh Al-Mutlag ‘667’, Misha’an Al-Jabouri ‘516’, Ayhem Al-Samara’i ‘565’, and Hazem Al-Sha’alan ‘511’ have signed a “Charter of Honor” and set-up a new group whose Arabic acronym phonetically transcribes into ‘MARAM.’

The MARAMists reject what they call the “fraudulent initial elections results,” and call for an international investigation into the activities of the Independent Electoral Commission in Iraq. They also call for convening a national conference to sort matters out. If these conditions are not met, the MARAMists (with a total of 80 seats, probably) intend to boycott the parliament while conceding that such actions “would renew the state of strife and blood-soaked violence and threaten the real existence of the Iraqi entity and the unity of its land and people.”

Introducing the MARAMists...

So, they are basically threatening civil war, and the driving forces behind this ultimatum are the Sunni candidates, even though the venue was Allawi’s HQ. Allawi himself, according to several reports that I have been unable to confirm, is actually in Washington DC—or Langley, Va.

What apparently freaked out the Sunnis was the realization that the Shias outnumbered them three to one in Baghdad, the capital. In their mind’s eye, they had always believed that Arab Iraqis were divided equally among Sunni and Shia sects. Thus, the MARAMists are essentially rejecting the notion—held by almost all experts—that the Sunnis are a minority in Iraq.

Mithal Al-Alusi refused an invitation to join the MARAMists, telling me today that "these accusations, even if valid, are irresponsible given how tense and angry people are on the street, and the situation is ready to blow."

A Shia cleric and a Shia tribal chief were both assassinated in seperate incidents in Baghdad today.

For the time being, the Sistani camp and the United Iraqi Alliance seem caught in the headlights of this approaching wreck. All they can muster is a mumbled retort of “sore losers” when describing their detractors. But then again, the price of an AK-47 has tripled in Maysan Province, near the Iranian border, and there is chatter that Iran is moving 150 armored vehicles (antiquated tanks and transports from the Iran-Iraq War) to the border for eventual delivery to the Badr Brigade. So there are some indicators that someone in the south is preparing for a confrontation. One source in Baghdad described a surreal situation today whereby he was sitting among Sunnis and an ex-officer from the restive Anbar Province was describing a military plan to conquer the holy shrine city of Karbala and trade it back to the Shias in exchange for Baghdad.

Now, had the Sunni leadership been smart, they could have entered into a coalition government with the UIA, and that would have ended the careers of American favorites such as Allawi and Chalabi. Then they could open a channel with the Americans themselves, and keep feeding them information about Iranian encroachment into the affairs of the Iraqi state through the UIA. Who would America choose at the end of the day, Saudi Arabia’s friends (the Sunnis) or Iran’s friends (the UIA)?

The behavior of the Sunni leaders shows that nothing has changed; they are not ready to compromise and share what had been their sole domain: power. They could have played it smart, but are too cocky and assured of imminent victory and at the same time they are terrified of Iran solidifying its influence.

The UIA and the Iranians had their bluff called by the MARAMists: they had overreached by cheating. This is odd since they were going to win anyway: the cheating, at worse, accounts for only %10 increase on the total tally in the most egregious incidents in the south. So instead of %75, they got %85, but what ended up happening was the whole atmosphere got poisoned and the results have been nullified to a large degree in the public perception.

And it seems that the Americans are a doing a bit of arm twisting; Baghdad was abuzz two days ago with the rumor that the Interior Minister, Bayan Jabr, had been arrested by American forces on charges of allowing torture under his watch. The details as to what exactly happened are still hard to come by, but Jabr is apparently under house arrest pending further investigation. He was arrested by Iraqi police in the spring of 2004 over misinterpreted reports of stolen vehicles in his home garage, when he was Minister of Housing under the Governing Council, from what I recall. But this most recent rap sheet is a slap in the face of Iraq’s sovereignty and a clear message to Iran: “We still have 150,000 troops of the world’s finest army here, and it won’t be so easy for you to take over.”

Meanwhile though, there is an attempt by level-headed people to ease the tension, and they think that they can do this by fudging and smudging the numbers of votes tallied, and could consequently tailor a trim and prim distribution of parliamentary seats so that most sides can be placated. Under such an arrangement, Ahmad Chalabi and Mithal Al-Alusi are being promised seats. But this is extremely difficult and dangerous act of political fine-tuning that is more likely to piss off everyone rather than ameliorate the tension. It has already given electoral commission officer Izzudin Al-Muhammedi a heart attack, and sent Farid Ayar, the spokesmen, to deliver his resignation to PM Jaafari.

To confound matters further, Jaafari is not budging from his premiership seat, and Adil Abdel-Mahdi cannot deliver the Sadrists, so the UIA itself seems shaky as a coalition, and that partly explains why we haven’t heard a clear and forthright response by the Islamists to the MARAMist allegations.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

What goes for journalism in an Egyptian newspaper...

Eli Lake has this important and revealing piece on the state-controlled Egyptian media. The question all Middle Eastern reporters need to ask themselves is: why didn't I write this story first, and had I done so, who would publish it?

December 21, 2005 Edition > Section: Foreign >

Meet the Egyptian Editor Who, Once Aided by U.S., Denies Holocaust

BY ELI LAKE - Staff Reporter of the Sun
December 21, 2005

URL: http://www.nysun.com/article/24767

CAIRO, Egypt - Hisham Abd al-Rauf, the foreign editor of Egypt's largest-circulation afternoon paper, would like the readers of The New York Sun to know that he does not hate all Jewish people. But that nonetheless, he is entitled to his opinions that the Holocaust never happened, that the Romans did not destroy the Second Temple in Jerusalem because it was never built, and that Jews ordered President Bush to unseat Saddam Hussein.

But as for the Jews, Mr. al-Rauf grew up with many in his Cairo neighborhood before the Six-Day War. His father's jeweler was Jewish. In 1993, he met many more Jews, whom he claims to genuinely like, on an American government program to train foreign journalists in Boston. "I have even met some rabbis. I liked them," he said in an interview yesterday where he defended a recent column praising the Iranian president's recent remarks questioning the historical truth of the Holocaust.

Mr. al-Rauf's column, titled "Israel's Lies," argued that the gas chambers were actually rooms to disinfect clothing, and that Adolf Hitler was "not against the Jews," he even allowed 120,000 of them to immigrate to Israel. At the end of this screed, Mr. al-Rauf scolded the Europeans who have expressed outrage at the comments of Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. "If you feel sorry for the poor Jews, why don't you establish their country on your lands?" he wrote, according a translation by the Middle East Media Research Institute.

The column appeared on December 12 in al-Masaa, a government funded paper that has 200,000 daily readers.

One might think these sorts of assertions would draw controversy. But not here in Egypt. Mr. al-Rauf and al-Masaa's editor in chief, Khaled Imam, say they have received no letters to the editor.

In an interview following Mr. Imam's midafternoon prayers, the editor seemed puzzled that the column would even warrant a news story. "I did not even read this," he said. "Some people say the Holocaust happened, other people say it did not." The editor then explained that researchers and historians differed on the facts of the matter. For his part, he thinks Hitler did attempt the extermination of European Jewry. "There is no smoke without fire," he said. "Israel cannot propagate something like the Holocaust if it was made up 100%. But some of it might be exaggerated."

Mr. al-Rauf, however, is sticking by his story. He says that his column is supported by a British historian, David Irving, the author of "Hitler's War." That book, which has drawn severe criticism from reliable historians, argues that Hitler never ordered the Holocaust. "I cite David Irving," he said. "These are facts."

When asked however, if he ever read the Nuremburg Laws, for example, or the transcripts from Adolf Eichmann's trial in Jerusalem, he admitted he did not. "I do know the Mossad kidnapped Eichmann from Argentina," he said however. When pressed for more sources for his assertions, he got testy. "I am not the only one writing this. There are researchers in Europe and the USA who say this. This is my own opinion. You cannot be a journalist if you don't have an opinion."

Throughout the hour-long interview, Mr. al-Rauf asserted, among other things, that Jews secretly control the governments of Britain, France, and America; that there was never a Second Temple on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, and that as a general rule Jewish people are "greedy." In the interest of fairness, however, he did concede that Jews were persecuted by the Spanish during the Inquisition, and that it's likely Russian tsars ordered pogroms against Jewish villages in the 19th century.

The journalist exchange program in which Mr. al-Rauf participated in 1993 was funded by American taxpayers. He says he treasures the trip to America, arranged by the U.S. Agency for International Development. During the visit he remembers meeting colleagues at the Boston Globe and the Christian Science Monitor. When asked if he could recall a particular lesson from the exchange program, he recalled the 1979 Iran hostage crisis. "There are times when you have to be responsible. The American reporters did not write that some of the hostages were CIA until after they arrived home safely," he said.

"I saw Jackson, Miss.; New Orleans; Washington; New York, and of course Boston," the foreign editor said. "It's a very good country with very good people, but a very bad government." When asked his thoughts on President Bush, he said, "He is turning America into the Soviet Union," an odd comment for the foreign editor of a state-funded newspaper that nearly every day features an above-the-fold photo of President Mubarak.

Mr. al-Rauf got his start in journalism in 1980 working for a sister paper to al-Masaa translating wire copy. He remembers at the time that the hot story was the Iran-Iraq war. "Many journalists here were bought off by Saddam Hussein," he said. "Just like how America is buying the Iraqi journalists today." He noted that no one in Egypt wrote about the plight of the Kurds during the 1988 Anfal campaign, but suddenly journalists remembered this in 1991 after Egypt supported the first Gulf War.

But Mr. al-Rauf is not particularly sympathetic to the plight of ethnic minorities. In fact he thinks journalists have a responsibility not to write about massacres and discrimination if the stories shame their native governments. This is the theme of his next column, at least. It is an attack on a Turkish novelist, Orhan Pamuk, who faces possible jail time for telling a Swiss newspaper this year that Ottoman forces killed 1 million Armenians between 1915 and 1917.

"Some Turkish people are selling out their country," he said with an almost conspiratorial nod. "For someone to say that the Turks killed 1 million Armenians, well they should prove this. And even if it is true, they should not say this because it is damaging to their country."

Mr. al-Rauf sees a similarity between Mr. Pamuk and his country's renowned sociologist and human rights activist, Saad Eddin Ibrahim. Unlike many of the world's journalists, Mr. al-Rauf says he supported the regime when Mr. Ibrahim was arrested in 2000. "He is always speaking about the persecution of the Copts in Egypt, which is not true. And even if this was true, it should not be propagated because it harms Egypt," he said.

Ali Salem, a playwright and columnist who was shunned by Egypt's literary and journalistic establishment for visiting Israel in 1994 and writing a book about it, described Mr. al-Rauf's approach to journalism as "mercenary."

"These sort of people think they are soldiers fighting a war of liberation. They are part of an intellectual brigade," Mr. Salem said with a laugh. "They think this sort of thing is defending Egypt." He says this attitude is a byproduct of Arab socialism.

Mr. Salem in 1994 was kicked out of Egypt's writer's guild. He sued the organization to get his membership back and won, only to resign from the club as soon as he was allowed back in. Today Mr. Salem is still writing plays but he is recording them on to compact discs and cassettes because almost all of Egypt's theaters are run by the state and will not allow his creations to see the stage.

Meanwhile Mr. al-Rauf is the foreign editor of Egypt's largest afternoon newspaper.

December 21, 2005 Edition > Section: Foreign >

New Column: A Lost Round

I have a new column on the elections out today.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Eli Lake's Report on the Election Results...

December 20, 2005 Edition > Section: Foreign >

Parties Linked To Tehran Gain in Iraq

BY ELI LAKE - Staff Reporter of the SunDecember 20, 2005URL: http://www.nysun.com/article/24683

CAIRO, Egypt - Early estimates from Iraq's election commission suggest sectarian and religious parties trounced liberals in last week's parliamentary elections.

The first results are particularly troubling for deputy prime minister Ahmad Chalabi's party. The electoral commission's preliminary voting results from Baghdad, Basra, Najaf, and Irbil, which were released yesterday, show a sweep among Shiite voters for the United Iraqi Alliance, the party comprised almost exclusively of members of Shiite religious parties with close ties to Iran. Mr. Chalabi's party, however, is in danger of failing to win even a single seat.

In a press conference yesterday announcing the preliminary results of the vote count, the electoral commission's general director, Adel al-Lamy, did not mention Mr. Chalabi's party in reading the results so far in Baghdad, presumably because it failed to gain more than a few thousand votes. Roughly 40,000 votes are necessary for one seat. Meanwhile, the head of another liberal party that had polled well before the elections, Mithal al-Alusi, told The New York Sun that he believes the dominant Shiite Arab party cheated his party out of seats his party rightly won.

If Mr. Chalabi's party could secure a small bloc of seats in the new parliament, many observers predicted he would be a contender for the prime minister position. But if he is humiliated by the election results, the chances he will lead the new government in Baghdad are almost nil. More important, the strong showing by the United Iraqi Alliance - predicted to maintain a slim numeric majority in the parliament - could embolden the factional militias affiliated with its three main parties to continue their attacks on Sunni Arab civilians and political rivals.

The results yesterday were announced after American military leaders released about 24 top former officials in Saddam's regime, including a biological weapons expert known as "Dr. Germ," from jail. President Bush yesterday, in a year-end press conference, said that while the elections in Iraq would not mean an end to violence, they represented the "beginning of something new: a constitutional democracy at the heart of the Middle East."

But Mr. al-Alusi, a former de-Baathification official who had two sons assassinated and has praised Mr. Bush in the past, said he is worried that the prospect of a constitutional democracy is now in peril. "Somebody has given the president false information," he said in an interview from Baghdad. "We have had a great Iraqi day, the election day on Thursday. But someone who was well organized has stolen our election day." He added, "We may have just traded the Baathist fascists for the religious fascists."

In a press conference yesterday, Mr. al-Lamy said the United Iraqi Alliance had already won 1.4 million votes after counting 89% of the ballot boxes in Baghdad, which make up a little less than 60% of overall vote. Coming in second in results from the capital, with 19% of the vote, was the Sunni Arab Islamist party, known as Iraqi Accordance front, scoring a little more than 403,000 votes. The party of a former prime minister, Ayad Allawi, won a little more than 327,000 votes, accounting for 14% of the ballots counted.

The decision to announce the early results was a turnaround for the electoral commission, which had announced Sunday that it would take at least two weeks to analyze the votes because of fraud. "We should analyze all the voting problems that we've heard about and concentrate on alleged fraud, especially in the north of Iraq," a senior commission official, Hussein Hendawi, told Reuters on Sunday.

Mr. al-Alusi said yesterday that he felt his party was cheated. He said that monitors from his Iraqi Nation Party were so intimidated at polling stations in Najaf and Basra that they were afraid even to file reports on election day. One of the party's leading candidates in Basra yesterday, Majid al-Sari, was nearly killed after his car hit a land mine only 100 meters from his home. "It's impossible that this land mine got there accidentally," Mr. al-Alusi said yesterday. Mr. al-Alusi also said he could confirm a report last week from the New York Times that a truckload of phony ballots had been intercepted by Iraqi police driving into Iraq from Iran.

An adviser to Mr. Chalabi in Baghdad, Francis Brooke, however, yesterday seemed less concerned about potential cheating. In an interview he said, "The announcement that was made yesterday is preliminary and unverified. We are saying as an official statement, the preliminary, unverified results are inconsistent with our reporting from our election monitors."

Earlier in the day, Mr. Brooke said the INC would get anywhere from 9 to 15 seats in the new parliament. Mr. Chalabi over the weekend privately predicted to Iraqi politicians that his party would likely win 10 seats in the new parliament. Mr. Brooke yesterday said Mr. Chalabi held a meeting with America's ambassador in Baghdad, Zalmay Khalilzad, to discuss the contours of the new government.

A Washington representative for the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, Qubad Talabani, who is the son of Iraq's president, yesterday said he thought Mr. Chalabi would still have a role in the next government. "In my opinion Chalabi will always have a future in Iraqi politics regardless of whether he gets a high turnout of votes or not. He will always have a lot to offer Iraq," he said.

A former Pentagon adviser on Iraq and current scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, Michael Rubin yesterday cautioned that the results from the vote in Baghdad were preliminary. But Mr. Rubin also said that it was likely Messrs. Chalabi and Allawi would not do well in the election." Ayad Allawi did poorly, and Ahmad Chalabi did poorly," he said. "When we see how fractious the liberal opposition is, it makes us wonder why we have been so anxious to let a thousand flowers bloom rather than encouraging them to unite."

December 20, 2005 Edition > Section: Foreign >

Monday, December 19, 2005

Results for Eight Provinces, including Baghdad

Baghdad Province:
-UIA: 1,403,901
-Consensus: 403,900
-Allawi: 327,154
-Risaliyoun: 4,410
-Al-Mutlag: 451,782*
-Kurdish: 25,308
-Alusi: 13,185

Duhok Province:
-Kurdish: 344,717
-Islamic Kurdish: 28,401
-Rafidayn Christian: 4,095
-Allawi: 2,327
-Masoud Brifkani (Independent): 1,341
-Yezidi: 495

Arbil Province:
-Kurdish: 575,890
-Islamic Kurdish: 19,515
-Allawi: 2,420
-Action Party: 1,720
-Rafidayn: 1,599
-Turkuman: 1,144

Suleimaniya Province:
-Kurdish: 671,814
-Islamic Kurdish: 83,208
-Other Islamic Kurdish: 10,330
-Allawi: 1,806
-The Solution Party (PKK affiliate): 1,140

Babil Province:
-UIA: 417,070
-Allawi: 84,388
-Consensus: 31,455
-Risaliyoun: 8,999
-Al-Mutlag: 2,978
-Islamic Loyalty party: 2,670

Karbala Province:
-UIA: 209,790
-Allawi: 35,452
-Risaliyoun: 8,059
-Islamic Loyalty party: 3,413
-Islamic Coalition: 2,662
-The Reformers: 1,437

Najaf Province:
-UIA: 323,820
-Allawi: 28,755
-Risliyoun: 14,805
-Al-Zurfi: 3,044
-Al-Dabagh: 2,398
-Iraq Future: 1,843

Misan Province:
-UIA: 275,128
-Allawi: 13,739
-Risaliyoun: 10,699
-Islamic Movement: 2,707
-Islamic Loyalty party: 2,054
-Reform Coalition: 1,490

Basra Province:
-UIA: 612,206
-Allawi: 87,134
-Consensus: 36,997
-Uprising Movement: 10,476
-Iraqi National Congress: 2,723

Analyses: These were the numbers released by Adel Al-Lami of the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq in a press conference today. Many people, including myself, are in disbelief. Personally, these numbers translate into no seats, not even compensatory ones, for either Ahmad Chalabi (who I worked with for seven years) or Mithal Al-Alusi (a close friend who I voted for in these elections and the previous ones).

Having had the opportunity of a front-row seat during the INC years, I find it heartbreaking that Chalabi—without whom these elections would have never happened—be so crushed. Al-Alusi, whose bravery and fortitude for the cause of a secular and liberal Iraq, even after the murder of his two sons last February, was an inspiration.

Even people like Abdel-Karim Al-Mohammadawi, the so-called 'Prince of the Marshes,' who bravely fought Saddam for 15 years under terrible odds, will walk away with nothing. To watch Iraq lose some of its best political talent at this critical time makes me very afraid.

At least judging by Al-Alusi’s numbers, I’d say that somewhere along the line his votes in the southern provinces evaporated. He wasn’t doing so well, but he was ratcheting-up numbers in places like Najaf, Karbala and Basra, according to my sources at the vote-counting process. I can’t say for sure, but at point I think Al-Alusi was cheated of some 18,000 votes in these three provinces. It is too early to point fingers, but there are early indicators of foul play at hand. According to Al-Lami, Chalabi only got 2,723 votes in Basra Province, which doesn’t make sense given that Chalabi’s list in this province included political and tribal heavy-weights like Salamah Al-Khafaji (an inspiring woman whose son was killed last year), Saad Al-‘Aidani and Muzahim Al-Timeemi.

Allawi did very poorly too. It is rumored that he has already left Iraq in a huff, although the source is not totally credible. But whichever way one looks at it, Allawi is out of the picture.

Which leaves us, incidentally, with all the people Iran has been cultivating for decades as the soon-to-be-crowned heads of the Shia community. They will have to do business with the soon-to-be-crowned heads of the Sunni community, who are loathed by ordinary Shias. Adnan Al-Dulaimi, the head of the largest Sunni block ‘The Consenses,’ was elected by a strictly sectarian bias; Sunnis did not listen to him or his allies in the Islamic Party when they called for voting ‘yes’ on the constitution back in October. So, Al-Dulaimi is hobbled by the fact that his constituency controls him rather than the other way around, and thus he must stand as a hardliner against policies such as de-Ba’athification, which would further aggravate the Shia.

The distribution of parliamentary blocks that I had predicted a day after the elections hold true. I got a lot of flack for it. More than anything in the world, I had hoped to be mistaken. Guess I wasn’t, and now Iraq really does need a miracle.

UIA: 130 (likely to increase slightly, includes satellite Sadrist lists)
Consensus: 45 (likely to increase slightly)
Kurdish: 55
Allawi: 20 (likely to decrease slightly)
Mutlag: 15 (likely to decrease slightly)

*CORRECTION UPDATE: Al-Mutlag got 36,670 votes in Baghdad Province and not 451,782. It was my mistake in typing up the info...

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Najaf Results, Supposedly

These ‘unofficial’ numbers are from a pro-Islamist website, Alnajaf News:

Total no. of voters: 391,011
UIA list: 313,631 (approx. %80)
Allawi list: 29,160 (approx. %7)
Risaliyoun list (Sadrist): 15,109 (approx. %4)

All other lists: 33,111 (approx. %8)

There are eight seats for Najaf Province in the upcoming parliament, which means that every seat would be equivalent to upwards of 48,800 votes.

IMPORTANT: Earlier in the day, the Electoral Commission of Iraq had announced that the results for %80 of Baghdad Province's ballots (the other %20 are contested...) would be revealed tomorrow. The UIA has declared that, judging by their own tallies, they expect to win 42 of Baghdad's 59 seats.

Mehlis' "Naïveté," according to the NYT

The Cairo-based New York Times reporter Michael Slackman has an Op-Ed in today’s Week-in-Review section of the paper under the title, Who Killed Hariri? Searching for the Truth in the Middle East.’ Here are the interesting segments:

Hussam Taher Hussam, for example, told the Mehlis team that he had worked for Syrian intelligence and had crucial information about the assassination. He told investigators that a final meeting to plan the February assassination was held in the home of President Bashar al-Assad's brother-in-law, Asef Shawkat, the head of Syrian military intelligence. And he offered testimony linking the Syrian government to the white van packed with explosives that killed Mr. Hariri.

Then Mr. Hussam asked a Lebanese television reporter, Zahra Badran, for $25,000 to tell his story on television. But when Ms. Badran broadcast his name and role as a witness on the news, he rushed back to Syria where he said he had lied to the Mehlis team about everything after being tortured, kidnapped and drugged by Lebanese officials.

Top Syrian officials noted soberly that Mr. Hussam was not a credible witness.
But even before Mr. Hussam's self-exposure, many analysts outside the investigation doubted his spectacular account because it did not ring true to Syria. People like Mr. Shawkat, they knew, rarely get their hands dirty, and would be unlikely to let someone like Mr. Hussam, who worked as a barber in Lebanon, know about it.

"For him to know that would be very difficult socially," said a political analyst with residences in both Lebanon and Syria who spoke on the condition that he not be identified because his remarks could compromise his ability to work in both places. "Syria is a country where the leadership and the security chiefs have a small circle around them. They are not deeply engaged in society."

And yet to many political analysts and diplomats involved the region, the investigation also appeared to reflect a certain naïveté about political and cultural realities.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Some Thoughts on the Election Results

Chalabi’s Delusions: Whereas the Chalabi camp is still maintaining that they got about 15 seats in the next parliament, most indicators from Iraq today stress that these assertions are not true. Unless, of course, the Chalabi block is cheating at one stage of the vote counting process. But most of the initials hand counts from all over southern and central Iraq show an extremely weak showing for the INC, and its two ‘shadow lists.’ These so-called ‘shadow lists’—no. ‘829’ headed by Abdel-Aziz Al-Kubaisi and no. ‘673’ headed by Abdel-Aziz Al-Wandawi—were supposed to decant some support from Allawi’s lot among secular Iraqis who wouldn’t vote for Chalabi due to a variety of reasons; sectarian background, class identity, personal animosity…etc. There is even one source claiming that Chalabi had received less than 2,000 votes in all of Western Baghdad (out of 600,000)—a claim that I find less and less outlandish as more projected results come in.

The Islamic Republic of Iraq: Many factors contributed to the United Iraq Alliance victory at the polls:

1-Sistani’s Edict: This was the doing of Muhammad Ridha Sistani, the Grand Ayatollah’s son, and it was first reported here at Talisman Gate on November 27. Through mosque sermons and catchy jingles, the Shia faithful got the message that voting against ‘Haydar’s Candle’ would anger Imam Ali. [‘Haydar’s Candle’: Haydar is an alternate name for Imam Ali, and the ballot symbol of the UIA list no. 555 was a candle, the same as the January election.]

2-Undeclared Civil War: Shia-Sunni tensions are at historical highs, and Shia voters still feel vulnerable and insecure as to their political future, so they voted UIA to spite the Sunnis who have been waging a low-level campaign of extermination against Shias in mixed areas. Seemingly, the Sunni leadership such as the likes of Saleh Al-Mutlag, who is particularly hated among the Shia, keep pointing the finger at SCIRI’s Badr Brigade for any retaliatory actions targeting the Sunni population, and the communal antipathy is so acute that the Shias would band together with Abdel-Aziz Al-Hakim just to piss off the Sunnis. Iraqi Shias were unconcerned with deteriorating basic services under Jaafari as they headed to the polls; they could live with little electricity and water, but they can’t go on looking over their shoulders for a suicide bomber whenever they do grocery shopping.

3-Aljazeera’s Godsend: The fluke occurrence of an anti-liberation Iraqi commentator called Fadhil Al-Rubaiee appearing on one of Aljazeera’s most controversial shows and saying nasty things about Sistani a day before the polls opened did plenty to bolster the impression that Shias are under attack and need to close ranks behind their Grand Ayatollah and his blessed list, the UIA. Al-Rubaiee is a regular commentator on Aljazeera, and even has a personal website, while his political affiliation belongs to a pro-insurgency group called the Iraqi Patriotic Alliance. The head of the IPA, Abdel-Jabbar Al-Kubaisi, was arrested by American forces in Iraq last year.

Al-Rubaiee: History threw a curveball...and broke a window. Maybe Bush should have bombed Aljazeera afterall...?

Al-Rubaiee’s outburst allowed Muhammad Ridha Sistani and Iranian intelligence to orchestrate massive demonstrations across Baghdad and southern Iraq that came out denouncing Aljazeera, supporting the UIA and burning and tearing down all rival election posters and related paraphernalia. This was the clearest and most timely opportunity afforded to the Sistani camp to strongly suggest to their flock the virtues of voting for the UIA.

4-The Iranians Show Their Hand: And just in case Sistani and the threat of ethnic cleansing don’t do the trick, Iranian intelligence came out swinging to systematize the electoral victory of their acolytes in the UIA by stuffing ballots, intimidating rivals and conducting other massive violations of electoral law. The Iranians showed how weak the institutions of the Iraqi state really are; the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq was feckless in the face of flagrant abuses such as showcasing Sistani’s picture of ‘555’ posters and the use of the police and state entities in putting-up/tearing-down candidates’ propaganda. Farid Ayar, the commission’s chairman, keeps telling foreign journalists that he can’t wait until this is all over “so that I can go back to my garden in London.” Ayar is clearly not going to hassle the gun-totting fundamentalist militias, especially if the Americans and the Brits seems unconcerned with what is happening right under their very noses.

5-Rumors: The rumor that spread around Baghdad on the eve of the election about the city's water supply being poisoned was quickly spun as a Sunni attempt to embarrass the 'Shia' government. Shias were reminded once again that they are under attack and do not have the privilege of political choices in these dire circumstances: they must coalesce around their sectarian identity as embodied by the UIA list.

The Iranians are attempting to turn Iraq into a sister Islamic Republic. They have recently shifted their policy in this regard from one by which they sought to strike a far-reaching deal with the Americans on a host of issues, including Iraq. But with the oil windfall so cushy and plentiful, the Iranians feel adventurous: what do they lose if Iraq is cut up into three pieces and its Shia segment is turned into a satellite state? Of course, the UIA’s election victory does mean that Iraqis are ready for a Shari’ah-based ‘Vilayet-el-Faqih’ spin-off, but that gets lost in the translation over in Tehran. This Iranian attempt will only further infuse an explosive situation with more instability.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Iraq’s Inevitable Cluster-F*ck

This is the definition of a Cluster F*ck for all you squeamish people out there and I believe the term is apt for this blog entry.

It was a phenomenal election: not that some eleven million Iraqis came out to vote, but that they managed to turn the act of choosing their political affiliation into an allegory for civil war.

For 95% of the population, each voted according to his or her sect or race. Iraq’s Shia did not vote as a confident majority: they followed the voting pattern of a ghettoized minority still scarred from many years of dictatorship. Rather than think for themselves and exercise their individual right to choose, they have abdicated this responsibility in favor of their behemoth communal shepherd: Grand Ayatollah Sistani. This behavior is dangerous, and it marks the prelude to all-out civil war.

Apart from the United Iraqi Alliance list (no. ‘555’), the Consensus list (sometimes called ‘Accordance’ list in the western media, no. ‘618’) and the Kurdish list (no. ‘730’), the next contenders in line, Allawi’s ‘731’ and Saleh Al-Mutlag’s ‘667,’ got puny numbers that probably would not afford them more than 35 seats between them. According to multiple sources and some slight extrapolation, I’m predicting the following approximate distribution:

UIA: 130 (likely to increase slightly, includes satellite Sadrist lists)
Consensus: 45 (likely to increase slightly)
Kurdish: 55
Allawi: 20 (likely to decrease slightly)
Mutlag: 15 (likely to decrease slightly)

Mithal Al-Alusi will probably walk away with two seats. Ahmad Chalabi—in the rosiest scenario—would get two seats.

Chalabi’s performance was particularly disappointing: in 10 polling station in his home town of Kazimiyah (approximately 20,000), his slate received only 320 votes, according to a well-placed source.

Al-Alusi is registering at fourth or fifth place in most areas of Iraq, but even that translates into a small proportion of the votes: in the whole of Province of Karbala, Al-Alusi only got 4,000 votes.

The vast majority of the out-of-country votes cast (around 310,000) seem to be in favor of the UIA and the Kurdish slates.

The formation of the government will turn into a stomach-churning nightmare of brinkmanship and heightened tension at a time when sectarian and racial battle-lines have been clearly drawn in the sand.

I believe that Allawi is out of the picture at this point: he cannot form a coalition composed of his block, the Sunnis and the Kurds and get his cabinet to pass the 50% mark of parliamentary approval. And so, a notorious political career is folded.

Which leaves two rivals in the UIA block: current-PM Ibrahim Jaafari and current-VP Adel Abdel-Mahdi. Jaafari is an obstinate man who never knows when to call it a day, and he will argue that the victory at the poll was a vote of confidence in his administration. He will not even entertain the thought that Sistani’s opaque endorsement was the contributing factor to the survival of his dismal political career. He will also not realize that the Kurds would do everything they can to scuttle his chances. Abdel-Mahdi, a favorite of the Kurds, would be lurking in the shadows, but he is hobbled by antipathy from the Sadrist/Fadhila block—the largest component within the UIA.

The Sunnis, who have been howling ‘wolf’ about the abuses of Jaafari’s government, cannot stand before their constituency (who happen to carry guns and are prone to shooting them…) and counsel a rapprochement with the likes of Al-Hakim.

Unless something as random as the Kurds demanding the post of Prime Minister happens, a consensus Shia candidate will have to emerge. Too many people now recognize that Hussain Shahrestani is a little ‘cuckoo’ after his public stint as Vice-Speaker of the defunct National Assembly. And so, there remains one candidate: Ahmad Chalabi.

But Chalabi would have needed to win five seats independently in order not to be embarrassed at the polls: he needed to demonstrate that he has something of a base, which is clearly not the case. He enters the next parliamentary session to the sound of sneering and cajoling from long-time and envious political rivals, which in a sad way is ironic, since Chalabi is the reason why all those politicians are now in Baghdad—the former realm of Saddam Hussein.

I also predict that the US government is not going to help things by pushing a triumphant UIA block to bend over backwards for the Sunnis, especially on hot-button issues like de-Ba’athification and altering the constitution. The mullahs of next-door Iran, the real patrons of the UIA, are not interested in striking a deal with the Americans, and would love, more than anything, to have Iraq bubble over at this point.

Whichever way I look at this situation, I find it to be very bad. Hey, miracles can happen, right? For now, I suggest anyone in Baghdad should stock-up on liquor: it’s going to be a long four years.

UPDATE: Some have called to say that the above post is too depressing. I agree: let's hope that my sources are completely off-the-mark and that all the numbers I've been hearing are wrong. After all, didn't a usually sober and credible source in the Chalabi camp tell me that they've got 280,000 votes in Baghdad with only half the ballots counted? Chalabi's list is counting on 13 to 18 seats in the parliament. Maybe the INC people are right...That would be a nice thought to have as I'm going to sleep. But my gut instinct tells me to trust my own guys on the ground, and accept the harsh fact that the Islamists have carried the day.

Thursday, December 15, 2005


Preliminary results being circulated among the Iraqi political class are showing a complete rout by the United Iraqi Alliance of rival contenders in all Shia domains of Iraq. The Islamists (list no. ‘555’) are winning by a landslide in almost all precincts, and by landslide I mean over %80.

Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea for me to be so vocal about being an unbeliever—now that Iraq is going fundamentalist. Does anyone have the daily prayer schedules, and what was it again, five times a day or something?

Yup, things look pretty bad, while list no. ‘618’ The Consensus seems to be sweeping most Sunni areas.

Awkward Moments in the History of Attempted Populism

Ahmad Chalabi heaving Sistani’s likeness over his head at a rally in Sadr City on Wednesday.

Sad, very sad. There are more pictures on the INC's website.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Oh Captain My Captain

Oh Captain My Captain: Some guest on an Aljazeera TV program insulted Sistani yesterday, and this prompted every John, Dick and Harry of Iraqi politics to jump at the opportunity of expressing fealty to the Uber Ayatollah today. The United Iraqi Alliance (no. '555') organized demonstrations all over the south denouncing Aljazeera, and Ayad Allawi sent a telegram of indignation at the incident and eternal adoration to Sistani. There is even footage (that has been given to AP) of Ahmad Chalabi joining a demonstration in Sadr City and actually carrying a picture of Sistani over his head, according to an eye-witness.

Hopping a ride on the Sistani bandwagon is the Iraqi political equivalent of being firmly in "support of motherhood."

Chalabi Watch: Chalabi toured southern Iraq last week, and images of the campaign are up at the INC website. Chalabi's daughter, Tamara, is keeping a weblog of her observations in the run-up to tomorrow's poll over here at Slate. The Iraqi political class is circulating a rumor that angry crowds had hurled heavy Pepsi cans at Chalabi during a stump speech in Samawa, which was denied by an independent media source accompanying Chalabi's entourage. Chalabi did visit the Imam Ali shrine in Najaf without incident, in an apparent jibe at Allawi who got pelted with shoes by pilgrims at the shrine a few days ago. Interestingly, the Allawi incident probably earned him votes among the middle-class, anti-Muqtada Shia demographic, according to observers I've talked to.

There was even a wild accusation that Chalabi had backtracked on de-Ba'athification; an accusation that was mildly denied by his camp. The accusation first showed-up in an Italian news wire story about a speech that Chalabi--head of the de-Ba'athification Commission--had made in the southern city of Basra, and that was later carried on Al-Arabiya TV. Mithal Al-Alusi, a gun-ho de-Ba'athifier, quickly put out sound-bytes on Alhurra and Radio Sawa denouncing Chalabi as a vote-grabbing cameleon for wavering on the constitutionaly-mandated policy of de-Ba'athification.

Is that a Gucci hijab? My favorite picture of the day comes from Reuters of these two Iraqi hotties voting in Tehran; I'm betting that these two residents in the Islamic Republic of Iran did not vote for the United Iraqi Alliance...

Hint, hint: Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya TV hosted Tarek Al-Hashimi (‘The Consensus List’ no. 618), Masoud Barzani (the ‘Kurdistan’ list no. 730) and Ayad Allawi (list no. 731) on its Min al-Iraq show yesterday. The presenter, Elie Nakouzi, gave each candidate one minute towards the end of the show to speak directly to the voters. It just happens that there may be a political alliance in the making between Hashimi, Barzani and Allawi to prop-up the latter’s bid for premiership. And just in case it escaped anyone’s notice, Nakouzi directed a question about the proposed alliance to Barzani. Call this a hunch, but I believe that is exactly what the Saudis are hoping for; let’s see if the media blitz they have afforded to Allawi and ‘The Consensus List’ on the various media outlets that they own would translate into votes tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

I'll trade you a gas heater for a vote...

This picture from the Reuters photo wire is captioned with the claim that this chador-clad woman got a gas heater from Ahmad Chalabi's campaign HQ in Najaf today. I bet she's thinking, "Now if only the head of the Energy Council can manage to deliver some liquid gas so that we can light this gizmo...." Someone should break the news to her that Chalabi is the head of the government's Energy Council.

BTW: This, that is giving away gifts or cash in return for votes, is a violation of election law in case anyone is wondering...

UPDATE: "I Voted For Mithal Al-Alusi and All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt" Yup, I voted this morning at the McLean, Virginia polling station. Come to think of it, I could have used a gas heater myself...or maybe a gas grill? How about fifty bucks in cash?

Fun With Photoshop

Someone associated with Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress sent these two 'doctored' pictures along: one shows the imprint of Ayad Allawi's face on the sole of a high-end sandal, and the other has Allawi in military uniform mimicking Saddam Hussein. The Arabic text on these two pictures is full of glaring spelling mistakes.

Monday, December 12, 2005

More Bullets, More Ballots

So much for keeping the military depoliticized. In these two pictures, Iraqi soldiers hold aloft posters supporting Sadr, and Allawi.

Even the insurgency is getting politicized: in this picture, guerillas in Ramadi are carrying a banner in support of the ‘Sunni’ Consensus list (no. 618) and Saleh Al-Mutlak’s list (no. 667)

Tags, Other Prospects and Soccer

Tags Gone Wrong: The Washington Post’s Anthony Shadid profiles Wamidh Jamal Omar Nadhme today. Nadhme, a Sunni Muslim, is also tagged as an ‘Arab.’ Although Nadhme’s personal General Security file (captured from Saddam’s archive) has been scrubbed clean of any embarrassing non-Arab origins, his paternal uncle Badee’ (a lawyer whose General Security file starts in the era of the monarchy) is described as a ‘Sunni Kurd’ with socialist leanings from the ‘Wandawi family.’ Furthermore, I wonder why Shadid didn’t push Nadhme on further details concerning his career under Saddam, an era glossed over in the profile? Was Nadhme involved in the ‘Studies Department’ of the General Security Directorate? Did he author, along with the likes of Baghdad University professor Hamdiyya Smeisim, treatises on controlling ‘Violence in Soccer Stadiums’ and analyzing current anti-government jokes and rumors? Did he write ‘reports’ denouncing left-leaning fellow academics to the regime?

We'll Always Have Beirut: This sentimental story about three Baghdad College alumni vying for premiership that ran in the New York Times today under Dexter Filkins’ byline missed another important piece of background linking Ayad Allawi, Adel Abdel-Mahdi and Ahmad Chalabi: Lebanese Shia familial links. Allawi and Abdel-Mahdi both have Shia Lebanese mothers, and Chalabi is married to a Shia Lebanese lady. If Chalabi becomes Prime Minister, then Allawi and Abdel-Mahdi could always vie for Nabih Berri’s job as Speaker of the Lebanese Parliament—a job once held by Chalabi’s father-in-law. Hey, if Saudi-national Prince Alwaleed bin Talal can fancifully posit himself as the Sunni successor to Rafiq Al-Hariri’s PM seat (Alwaleed’s maternal grandfather was ex-Lebanese PM Riyadh Al-Solh), then Allawi and Abdel-Mahdi should give Berri a run for his money.

A FIFA Lobby in the Making: The ‘Sunni’ Al-Tawafuk list (‘The Consensus,’ no. ‘618’) headed by the seemingly senile former head of the Sunni Religious Endowment Adnan Al-Duleimi is appealing to younger voters by heavily showcasing its candidate for Baghdad Province and former soccer star Ahmad Radhi. Radhi first made his foray into politics in late July 2004 when he ran for one of 40 seats for Arrasafa (Baghdad’s east bank on the Tigris River) in the run-up for the 1000-plus member National Assembly conference that convened on August 18, 2004. There were about 800 people in attendance at a Baghdad University auditorium that day to pick out 40 members out of 400 competing candidates—half of those in attendance had put up their names, including Radhi.

Radhi keeping his eye on the ball, and then doing nothing...typical

Radhi used to annoy the hell out of me; he never ran at the damn ball! Too good for breaking a sweat?! But he did score Iraq’s single goal in the 1986 World Cup, and thus enjoys cult status among Iraq’s soccer-crazed population. [More bullets were fired in Baghdad when Iraq qualified for the Athens Olympics Soccer Games than when Saddam was captured.] Radhi was arrested last year over accusations that he was plotting the murder of another soccer icon, Hussain Said, who had beat out Radhi for chairmanship of the Iraqi Soccer Federation.

However, with all this hype surrounding Radhi’s bid for a parliamentary seat on the ‘618’ list and all the posters of his face adorning Baghdad’s streets, one would have assumed that he ranks higher than no. 32 on the electoral slate. A nice touch would have placed him at no. ‘8’—his jersey number from the good old days.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Election Quickies

Iraq’s Third Ba’athist Coup? The jury is still out among historians regarding the role, if any, of the Central Intelligence Agency is the military coups that took place in Baghdad in 1963 and 1968. But one guy heavily involved in both events seems to be making an implicit threat of a future coup should the elections results not go his way. This is what Ayad Allawi was quoted as saying to the Los Angeles Times today:

"If things turn out to be very sectarian and sectarian forces would be in power," he said, "then we have to rethink our strategy and continue fighting to restore democracy to the country — one way or another — as we did before, fighting Saddam."

You Broke My Heart, Muqtada. Afkar website—reports stuff with a sort of Shia liberal bent—is claiming that Abdul-Hadi Al-Darraji, Muqtada Al-Sadr’s representative in Sadr City, is now telling his flock to vote for a list called Risaliyoun (no. ‘631’) in the upcoming elections. Sadr also has candidates on the main Islamist list, the United Iraqi Alliance (no. ‘555’). The UIA list was hoping that Muqtada’s constituency would land them at least 20 seats on its own, but Muqtada apparently has other plans in his muddled mind. Fun times up ahead.

Kurds Foil Reforms, Again. Azzaman Newspaper carried a story yesterday that claimed that attempts by current Sunni Arab Defense Minister Sa’adoun Al-Duleimi to remove or transfer 13 top Kurdish officers (including Chief of Staff Babeker Zebari) have been foiled. The story is spun in such a way to make it seem as if the initiative came from the Islamist cabinet of PM Jaafari. The real story is that Zebari and those officers from the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) were involved in the corruption scams that gouged the ministry under Shaalan and Allawi. Azzaman is owned by Saad Al-Bazzaz and the daily is financed by a variety of backers including the KDP’s Nechirvan Barzani.

Shameless Shaalan. As reported here, ex-Minister of Defense Hazem Al-Shaalan is back in Baghdad, “to counter allegations besmirching his name, and to challenge his detractors to a televised debate,” as told to an interviewer from Asharq Al-Awsat (it’s Maad Fayadh again…) But I finally managed to find a picture of one of those posters that has Al-Sha’alan campaigning on the fictional ‘Haramiyoun’ (‘The Thieves’) electoral list. This one is from Basra, enjoy:

This Guy Also Has Determined Enemies. Adnan Al-Zurfi survived an assassination attempt today near Najaf. For background, check out this recent post.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

'Tony' Goes All Out For Allawi

BANG! This story in Britain's The Independent by Patrick Cockburn portends a fantastic mess of acrimony when it breaks tomorrow. Basically, Tony Blair is covering up Ayad Allawi's alleged thievery so that the self-described ex-MI6 'favorite' would do well in the elections. Cockburn reports that the British ambassador in Iraq asked Allawi-rival Ahmad Chalabi to hold-off on publicizing cases of graft under Allawi's tenure until after the vote. The other 'Allawi' quoted in the report, current Minister of Finance Ali Abdel-Amir Allawi (ex-Minister of Trade, and then Defense during Governing Council days), is a second cousin of Ayad's and a nephew of Chalabi's.

Here's something unreported in the above story: in the voice tape of Ziad Cattan talking to Naer Jumaili, an allusion is made to kick-backs paid to then President Ghazi Al-Yawer. Al-Yawer is now Vice-President of Iraq and running on Allawi's slate for Nineveh Province.

BTW: Patrick Cockburn is a scuzzbucket for stealing Hannah Allam's breaking stories and passing them off as his own. Allam was Knight-Ridder's bureau chief in Baghdad, and currently heads KR's Middle East bureau out of Cairo.

CIA 'ROCKSTARS' To Headline Iraqi Elections Gig

Two brothers who had worked closely with the Central Intelligence Agency in the run-up to the Iraq war are campaigning and fielding candidates for the Dec. 15 parliamentary elections. Ghandi Muhammad Abdel-Karim Kasnazani and his brother Nehru are contesting seats in the Nineveh and Diyala provinces respectively, and their Coalition of Iraqi National Unity electoral list (number ‘552’) is on the ballots in several provinces. The Kasnazani brothers, Sunni Kurds, are not fielding candidates in any of the three Kurdish provinces or the disputed region of Kirkuk--their traditional base. It is unclear whether the laws set down by the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq prohibit siblings from running on the same list.

Nehru Kasnazani is a large man...

Ghandi and Nehru, whose father, Muhammad Kasnazani is the head sheikh of Kasnazani Qaderi Sufi order, are the ‘two brothers’ that were referred to in Bob Woodward’s book, Plan of Attack (Simon & Schuster paperback edition 2004.) Their father was codenamed by the CIA as ‘the Pope.’

Here are some relevant segments from the book:

P 302-303
“So rare, so mind-blowing were Tim’s informants that the CIA gave them the crypt or secret designation DB/ROCKSTARS. (DB was the designator for Iraq.) Tim was now paying the two brothers $1 million a month for ROCKSTAR intelligence. The
brothers seemed to spend the money in about six days, so Tim would offer several hundred thousand more if they provided really good intelligence.

“Swimming in a sea of $100 bills, the ROCKSTARS were buying up weapons on the black market that the [Patriotic Union of Kurdistan] was also trying to buy. The Pope, his two sons and their followers were guests of the PUK, and Tim was running their agent network without the PUK’s knowledge. The PUK leaders were growing increasingly suspicious as members of the religious groups started dressing in military uniforms and running around well-armed. Who are all these religious people playing army?”

Although Ghandi and Nehru’s association with the agency in the northern Iraqi town of Kalachualan was widely known even at that time, their status as CIA assets was only alluded to in the public domain at first in a New York Times story (written by Edward Wong) on August 21, 2005:
Martin van Bruinessen, a professor of Islamic studies at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, said that in the 1970’s and early 80’s Sheik Kasnazani, with the backing of Saddam Hussein, led a militia against the Kurdish forces of Jalal Talabani, who is now Iraq’s president.

Sheik Kasnazani then established himself in Arab Iraq, increasing his following and acting as a middleman for Mr. Hussein’s oil sales. He became close friends with Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, now Mr. Hussein’s most-wanted aide.

But the sheik had a falling-out with Mr. Hussein shortly before the American-led invasion. In a measure of his lasting power, he was able to flee to the Kurdish capital of Sulaimaniya, where he now lives under Mr. Talabani’s protection. From there, the sheik almost certainly helped the United States plan for the invasion of Iraq, said Mr. Bruinessen, who suspects that Sheik Kasnazani was a valuable informant whom C.I.A. officers called "the pope."

Kasnazani dervish 'rockstars' combine heavy metal (not the music, but rather daggers and skewers) with Muslim chanting...

The patron of the Kasnazanis was the Sufi-leaning Vice-President Izzet Al-Douri, who is still at large and recently issued a statement denying reports of his demise. They were given prime real estate to set-up dervish lodges in Dora, Kirkuk and Hai Al-Jami’a. However, in the late-1990s, a third brother, Malas, felt so emboldened by the family’s links to the Ba’athist regime that he forged Saddam’s signature on a document allowing the family to sell oil products to the Kurdish enclave that was then protected by an American enforced no-fly-zone. When Saddam was told of this, he had the three brothers imprisoned and sentenced to death. Their father tried to intercede with Al-Douri, who refused to be involved, citing the dictator’s wrath. Sheikh Muhammad then turned to a Kurdish Communist politician living in Baghdad, who had been a minister in a Ba’athist-Communist coalition government in the late 1970s. This ex-minister, who has Sufi ties of his own, managed to get the Kasnazani family a reprieve, according to sources familiar with the incident. The father and his three sons relocated to northern Iraq, where they were welcomed by anti-Saddam Kurdish strongman, Jalal Talabani.

Some more interesting segments from Woodward’s book:

P 305
“Tim knew the intelligence assets hung by a thinner thread. The primary guy in
the PUK with the inner circle connections, who had helped recruit the ROCKSTARS,
was an alcoholic, and Tim had paid him hundreds of thousands of dollars so he had all the booze he wanted. The ROCKSTARS wouldn’t meet with Tim unless the PUK man approved or was there. So Tim found himself acting as an alcoholic counselor. Every Sunday morning it seemed Tim would go sit with him.

“The man had a litany of complaints. “I want to quit,” he would say regularly. “I hate you.” He complained he was not being paid enough. “You don’t have any respect for me.” Tim had to sit for hours with the man, who was working behind the back of the PUK, which was a kind of blessed organization in his family. Out poured all the resentment and self-loathing, magnified by a huge drinking problem.”
According to two informed sources, the ‘alcoholic’ PUK official was none other than Helo Ahmed, Talabani’s brother-in-law.

Talabani attended a toga party in Mecca two days ago...

At least one document captured from the mukhaberat archive in Baghdad that I’ve been privy to suggests that Ghandi and Nehru was operating as double-agents for Saddam while in the service of the CIA. The CIA’s ROCKSTARS operation climaxed on March 19, 2003 when President George Bush ordered the so-called decapitation strikes against a stretch of farmland in Dora in southern Iraq where Saddam and his sons, Uday and Qusay, were believed to be hiding in a bunker, according to information supplied by the Kasnazani network. Not only were the top ‘heads’ of Iraq absent from the location, but no physical signs of bunker were found upon inspection of the site after the war.

Since then, the Kasnazanis—who are still believed to be CIA assets—tried to find a footing in Iraqi politics. They ran in the last election, predicting to win 20 seats, but failed to garner even one. The portly Nehru even became the benefactor of several sports associations in Baghdad, and claimed the honorary chairmanship of the famed Air Force Soccer Club. He also publishes a daily newspaper in Baghdad called Al-Mashriq ("The Sunrise"), that is considered one of the better financed papers in Iraq and has a modest circulation in the Jordanian capital Amman as well.

The Kasnazani family is now in the construction business, having won major contracts on American military bases, according to Iraqi business sources.