Unconventional thinking about the Middle East.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Two Takes on Maliki

Here is what I wrote in my column today, A Dangerous Lineup.

And below are some segments from David Ignatius’ revealing piece on the same subject published today in the Washington Post. What is strikingly surprising about David’s piece is that Khalilzad basically takes personal authorship for this new government with Nouri Al-Maliki at its head. He even considers it a personal victory, as Ignatius insinuates. The thrust of Khalilzad’s supposed rejection of Ibrahim Jaafari is supposed to be the latter’s good standing with the regime in Iran, which Khalilzad claims went out to bat in order to get their man back in the saddle, even going to the extent of issuing veiled threats.

As someone who has closely watched this situation (see my previous column two weeks ago, Abu Omar vs. the Shias), I think that Khalilzad is either being misled or is not telling the truth. He is now on the record saying that the Iranians pressured key players—including SCIRI’s Abdel-Aziz Al-Hakim—to hold on to Jaafari and that Sistani also came down against Jaafari. These two claims are a serious distortion of how events played out, and I really wonder how Khalilzad thinks he can get away with this. Maybe he is betting that no one will challenge him on these claims, but he is gravely mistaken, and he will be surprised at to where this challenge comes from. It will begin with SCIRI and Hakim, and it will continue through Talabani. The Iranians hold too many cards in this game, and they will not let it pass; they cannot leave the impression that their clout and long-term investment in the Iraqi political scene had come to naught. Furthermore, Khalilzad distorted the stance of Sistani, and he did this on the record. I think Najaf will challenge his claims.

Plus, Jaafari will not allow an accusation as heavy as libeling him as an Iranian toady to fly. He will come out swinging.

I really do not know what compelled Khalilzad to go on the record, and say things that are blatantly contradictory to the line from Washington, namely that the United States government did not interfere in the political process. Khalilzad, in today’s piece, admits to cobbling together a parliamentary block to challenge the UIA. He has taken authorship for this, and had done so on the record.

This interview will come back to haunt Khalilzad.

"His reputation is as someone who is independent of Iran," explained Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to Baghdad. He explained that although Maliki initially went into exile in Iran, "he felt he was threatened by them" because of his political independence, and later moved to Syria. "He sees himself as an Arab" and an Iraqi nationalist, Khalilzad said…

“…The Iranians "pressured everyone for Jafari to stay," Khalilzad said. One senior Iraqi official said the gist of Iran's letters was "stick with him, or else." The phrasing was more subtle, including warnings that replacement of Jafari could "create instability" and damage the political prospects of those who opposed Iran's diktat. The decisive blow came from Iraq's Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who let it be known in the final days that Jafari had to go.

“Maliki's selection is something of a victory for Khalilzad, who has been a match for the Iraqis in his wily political wrangling. The American ambassador viewed Jafari as too weak and sectarian. When Jafari was renominated by the Shiite alliance in February, Khalilzad warned, initially in this column, that the United States wouldn't support a government that did not put unity first. Khalilzad helped organize a rival coalition of Kurdish and Sunni politicians that represented 143 seats in parliament, more than the 130 seats of the Shiite alliance that had nominated Jafari. Meanwhile, he began holding marathon meetings with all the Iraqi factions to hammer out the political platform for a unity government.

“Khalilzad explained that the logjam on Jafari was broken by two political forces. First, the Shiite alliance realized that the non-Shiites, with their 143 seats, were serious about creating an alternative government. The second was pressure from Sistani to resolve the dispute. The rejection of Jafari "showed great courage on the part of key Shia leaders," Khalilzad said. "It showed that Sistani doesn't take Iranian direction. It showed that [SCIRI leader] Abdul Aziz Hakim doesn't succumb to Iranian pressure. He stood up to Iran. It showed the same thing about the Kurdish leaders."

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Zarqawi, In Living Color

Jihadist discussion boards have gone wild with exhilaration as Jordanian terrorist Ahmad Al-Khalayleh, 39, otherwise known as Abu Musa’ab Al-Zarqawi, appeared in person for the first time in a 34 minute video that was posted on various jihadist websites today. Some are elated because it seems to address a key concern that was bandied about for a while: "is Zarqawi for real?"

Well, apparently he is. Zarqawi had made numerous voice recordings over the past three years, but this is the first time anyone gets to see him in recent footage from Iraq.

The video starts by previewing the upcoming sequences, which include Zarqawi firing a heavy machine gun—Rambo style—into the horizon. Then Osama Bin Laden’s most recent audio recording is heard as he beseeches the youths of Islam to support “your brothers in the land of the two rivers” as Iraq was historically known.

Zarqawi then appears, seated against a white wall, and with a paratrooper Kalashnikov on his right in a manner very similar to Ayman Al-Zawahiri’s latest video, although the latter’s AK-47 comes equipped with a grenade launcher.

Zarqawi suffers from “helicopter-eyes” as he speaks since he does not look into the camera, and it is unclear whether he is reading from a prompter. The Arabic wording is ornate and powerful.

This is an attempt to paraphrase what Zarqawi says [This is NOT a word-for-word translation and some parts have been excised for brevity]:

The Crusader enemy is trying to control the lands of Islam to aid the Zionists in setting up their state from the Nile to the Euphrates. The jihadists have stood in the face of this fierce attack for over three years, and have sacrificed much. The Sunnis of Iraq are wedged between the treacherous Shias and the hateful Crusaders. We are a stone’s throw from where the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven; we fight in Iraq while our eyes look towards Jerusalem.

We say to Bush, the bearer of the Crusader banner, that you will never enjoy your stay in the lands of Islam. Sheikh Osama bin Laden had extended an offer of a long-term truce, but in your arrogance and deceit you turned it down. You have been exposed as a liar in telling your people that the situation is under control. You have become like an alcoholic who tries to heal himself by drinking more alcohol. The fighting spirit of your soldiers is collapsing. Why don’t you tell your people about the suicide rate among your soldiers in Iraq, who have to take sleeping pills and hallucinogens to be led like sheep by your generals [Zarqawi calls them the “Zionist evangelicals.”]

Again addressing Bush: you are a liar, you brought forth the charade of democracy to Iraq, promising the people freedom, happiness and material security, but all that has gone to the winds. Now you are trying to bring together the various factions of your agents in order to form a government, to save yourself from the quagmire. This government of hateful Shias, secular Kurdish Zionists, and those who falsely represent the Sunnis is like a poisoned dagger in the side of Iraq.

America has concluded that it cannot win this battle with its tanks and planes, so they are employing a devious plan to use its agents among the Sunnis to choke the jihadists. We warn all those who want to build-up the army and the police that we will bring down God’s judgment on you with the sword.

There are two kinds of people that are being led astray to the parliamentary farce, and who are trying to reap the fruits of the jihad. The first being those who try to ingratiate themselves with the jihadists but have not suffered or sacrificed for jihad. The second group was involved in the fighting during the very beginning but now think that they can implement the Shariah through political means. The parliament is controlled by the Shias and the Kurds who will never allow them to do that.

To all the jihadists, continue your attacks because we are witnessing the last moments before the Crusaders declare their defeat. Their morale is crashing, so increase your efforts and don’t give them a breather. Do not lay down your arms or you will face eternal shame.

I bring you the tidings of the formation of the Shura Council of the Mujaheddin, which shall be the nucleus of an Islamic state where God’s word will govern all. I am one of its members, even though I am still the leader of Al-Qaeda in the Land of the Two Rivers.
Zarqawi then gives his name as “Abu Musaab Al-Zarqawi” and gives the date in the Islamic calendar as well as saying that it corresponds to “April 21, 2006”.

Then we see him walking around a hilly desert landscape with dozens of armed men in black masks briskly strolling alongside him. They are brandishing their weapons and we even see a truck with a mounted machine gun on it. Zarqawi shakes hands, and it looks at if he is inspecting the troops.

The next scene is of him getting a briefing. He is welcomed by a man in a black mask “to the land of Anbar” who proceeds to describe a recent operation where the jihadists managed to take over the major city of Ramadi for a few hours. “The Americans did not dare to show up for four days,” the masked man adds, claiming that it was done in retaliation to the recent visit by Condi Rice and Jack Straw to Baghdad. He then shows Zarqawi two projectiles that were “developed in Anbar”, one of which is called “Al-Qaeda-1” with a range of 40 Km and can carry 50 Kg of explosives. A video of the launch is shown on a laptop. The other missile is then shown to be a shoulder-borne rocket with a range of 1 Km that can allegedly penetrate tank armor.

The following scene shows Zarqawi discussing a map with his lieutenants, all in black masks, shirts and pants. Chanting is heard, then a smattering of Koranic recitation, followed by Zawahiri’s voice imploring the Muslims to support the jihadists in Iraq and then some more chanting.

Then we see Zarqawi walking alone, and he is handed a heavy machine gun. He empties two magazines in two different positions, then he turns to the camera and says, “By God, America will be defeated in Iraq, and God willing it shall leave the land of the two rivers defeated and belittled, with God’s aid.”

Initial Analysis: Yikes! The video is powerful, and jihadist-sympathizers will be buoyed by it. Clearly, Zarqawi is basically telling everyone that he is still around, and prospering. The one scene where he confidently walks around escorted by his fighters is very reminiscent of the famous one of Bin Laden doing the same in Afghanistan, and the positioning of the paratrooper Kalashnikov looks a lot like Zawahiri’s videos as discussed earlier. It is as if Zarqawi is visually comparing himself to Bin Laden and Zawahiri, both hiding somewhere in the Hindu Kush, while he is fighting America on the plains of Iraq. In such a comparison, Zarqawi comes out ahead.

This is a major breakthrough for Zarqawi’s ever-expanding stature, and in it he answers speculations that he had been demoted by making clear that although he is merely a member of the Shura Council of the Mujaheddin, he is still the head of Al-Qaeda in Iraq.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Let’s get this blog rolling again…

Hello everyone. Sorry for the lull. I hope to get back in form over the next few days, so bear with me.

Meanwhile, check out my last column on Mubarak.

Oh, and BTW, Saudi tax payers should be outraged: The Saudi Secretary General of the National Security Council Prince Bandar Bin Sultan has been roaming about Washington DC for the past several days while delivering some very sensitive messages to the Bush administration. He is allegedly talking about Iran and the delicate matter of the Saudis bankrolling the Hamas government. It is further alleged that he is also empowered to talk about oil and what to do about rising prices. It all adds up to: “We Saudis have decided to go our separate way on Iran and Hamas, and we’ll earn back our good favor by bringing crude prices down.”

It is interesting that the current Saudi ambassador to Washington, Prince Turki Bin Faisal, has decided to vacate the city and has gone on an overseas trip. He was not the one tasked by Riyadh with delivering these sensitive messages. Weird, ain't it?

But what really shows that something is up is that Prince Bandar decided to stay at a suite in the Four Seasons Hotel rather than bunk-up in the ambassador’s massive mansion overlooking the Potomac River near the Chain Bridge. Prince Bandar used to live there, in fact he did so for over a decade, and the current occupant is his own brother-in-law (Bandar is married to Turki’s full sister). So what is the deal? They couldn’t find a pull-out futon for the guy? Or is Bandar overstepping on Turki’s toes and trying to grab back the Washington portfolio?

For now, Bandar sips cognac at the Four Seasons, which is an unnecessary expense. The Saudi Public Accounting office should get on this right away, oh wait—I forgot what Bandar had said in this Frontline interview some years back:

But the way I answer the corruption charges is this. In the last 30 years, we have implemented a development program that was approximately ... close to $400 billion worth, OK? Now, look at the whole country, where it was, where it is now. And I am confident after you look at it, you could not have done all of that for less than, let's say, $350 billion.

If you tell me that building this whole country, and spending $350 billion out of $400 billion, that we misused or got corrupted with $50 billion, I'll tell you, "Yes." But I'll take that any time. There are so many countries in the Third World that have oil that are still 30 years behind. But, more important, more important -- who are you to tell me this? ... What I'm trying to tell you is, so what? We did not invent corruption, nor did those dissidents, who are so genius, discover it. This happened since Adam and Eve. ... I mean, this is human nature. But we are not as bad as you think. ...

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

New Column: 'Abu Omar' vs. the Shias

Check out my new column about the Jaafari impasse and US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad's role in it, 'Abu Omar' vs. the Shias.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Recent Columns: 'Shabby Inheritance' and 'Deadlock in Beirut'

I returned to DC yesterday, and I hope to get back into the rhythm of writing for this blog soon. Until then, here are a couple of columns that I've written from this trip: 'Deadlock in Beirut' and
'Shabby Inheritance'.