Unconventional thinking about the Middle East.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Maliki's Driver Killed

Contrary to press reports, my sources are telling me that PM Nouri Al-Maliki's personal driver was killed in the ambush today.

15 Iraq policemen kidnapped, then killed By SINAN SALAHEDDIN, Associated Press Writer

...Gunmen also attacked an Iraqi government convoy and wounded a bodyguard of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, but the leader was not in the procession, officials said Sunday as violence rose in Baghdad after a post-Ramadan lull.

...Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh did not release the name of al-Maliki's bodyguard or give his condition, but said the prime minister was not in the convoy hit by gunfire in the volatile capital's southeastern al-Rashad neighborhood. He gave no other details on the attack.

Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

This qualifies as the stupidest thing the Maliki team has done…

…even stupider than Maliki believing that he’s got what it takes to run Iraq in the first place.

This is what the “genius” Da’awa Party apparatchik Hassan Al-Suneid, one of Maliki’s chief aides, had to say to the Associated Press today:

“…Al-Suneid, however, said al-Maliki was intentionally using the displeasure of American voters over Bush's handling of the war to strengthen his position.

"It's al-Maliki's chance to get what he wants. It's a chance for al-Maliki to force a better deal for himself," he said.”
So basically, this is very embarrassing for President Bush; he is being “manipulated” by the guy whose ass he is saving. Maliki knows that Bush is politically vulnerable, and is intentionally turning up the rhetorical heat.

Great. Except that in a month’s time, the Americans may pass a strong hint to the Iraqi military to take matters into its own hand, suspend parliament and form a “unity government.” This is not such a far-fetched scenario given that one of the key recommendations of Jim Baker’s Iraq Study Group will be to abandon the goal of firming up a democratic Iraq.

At that point, Maliki may find himself back in exile, in Damascus.

The anti-Bush camp is going to have a field day with this on the Sunday shows tomorrow. Ali Al-Dabbagh, the official spokesmen of the Iraqi cabinet, is asleep at the time of writing this post. The other “genius,” Yassin Majid, Maliki’s media coordinator, probably approved this statement too.

Maliki and his team are just way out of their league. This is not how strategic relationships are conducted.

This mistake comes at a time when many knives are out to stab Iraq’s democracy in its cradle. Only Bush had remained steady.

[The text of the AP story was posted in the comments section]

Saudi Love-Fest, Sistani and the Kidnapped Translator

Saudi Love-Fest

The Saudis, and their bushels of money, are back in full force in Washington DC. The Saudi ambassador, Prince Turki Al-Faisal, has been operating a low-intensity charm campaign for the last year and a half, and this Monday and Tuesday (October 30-31) marks the Grand Coming-Out Party for all those closet "petrosexuals."

They’ve picked the Ronald Reagan International Trade Center as their venue.

Some will misinterpret the sight of Saudis in dishdashas with smooch marks on their behinds as a sort of Halloween gimmick. No it isn’t, but it still quite scary. Anyone taking a close look at Washington’s policy towards the Middle East would be amiss not to factor-in the Saudi influence.

There was a short period of time after 911 when what the Saudis had to say did not matter for all the obvious reasons. But it seems that old habits die hard in this town, and there is an emerging market for benzene-coated, self-serving Saudi “wisdom.”

The Saudi refrain consists of four words: “We told you so.” Their talking points are entitled: “Democracy is Bad,” “The Shi'as are Bad” and “Wahhabis on a Leash.”

Democracy is toxic to any ruling family that fixes its own name unto a nation in the 21st century. The Shi'as live on top of the oil fields, and if they get too uppity and go their own way, then it’s back to camel hair as the nation’s top export. And of course, Wahhabi radicalism, like fire, can be kindled yet harnessed to keep enemies of the state, such as democrats or Shi'as, under control.

I wonder if any journalists in attendance would ask Prince Turki about a certain oil company he was affiliated with back in the late 1990s called Ningharco, which in turn enjoyed good relations with the Taliban. The question should be, “Why was that?”

[The 2-day program of the “15th Annual Arab-U.S. Policymakers Conference” is posted in the comments section]

Sistani=Evil Personified

The Washington Post’s Colbert I. King wrote an Op-Ed today titled “The Grand Ayatollah Behind the Curtain.” What King basically says is that Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani is a terrible guy for refusing to meet with American officials. And that his recalcitrance is a massive failure for America’s Iraq policy.

Oh, give me a break.

It is despicable how Washingtonians settle their election-season scores with Iraqi lives. Not only has Sistani prevented, through his cool-headedness, a massive wave of reprisals by Shi'as against Sunni provocation, he had also been instrumental in helping Iraq’s democracy stand on its feet—sometimes in contravention of the “strong man” fantasies held by some American policy-makers (I’m looking at you, Warrick) as King himself noted.

To say that Sistani has not met with American officials because “they are non-Muslims and thus he considers them to be kafir, or infidels” is a ridiculous assertion; Sistani has received many Iraqi Christian delegations and managed to charm their socks off. Plus, the founding thesis of the column is flawed, since Sistani had received Emad Dhia Al-Khirsan (an American citizen, and a Shi’a) in the past who, at the time, was technically a U.S. official.

Sistani not deigning to serve up tea and cakes to visiting American officials is the least of Iraq’s—or America’s—worries at the moment. The fact that he has been a maintainer of civil peace, and hence saved American lives, goes unacknowledged by King.

King also takes issue with Sistani forbidding “music for entertainment, dancing and playing chess, and forbids women from shaking the hands of any men other than their fathers, brothers or husbands. His whole purpose is to promote Shiite theology…” Yeah duh, that’s what the turban and beard are there for. That is Sistani’s job description. I don’t like it myself, but last time I checked they weren’t blasting Tupac at St. Peter’s either.

And what’s the big deal anyway? I’ve met Sistani and I didn’t even get a lousy T-shirt.

[The full text of King’s column is posted in the comments section]

Kidnapped Translator

The Washington Post got the story on the missing soldier wrong, as did Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki (John Ward Anderson, “Search for U.S. Soldier Spurs Sadr City Battles; Translator's Brother Was Freed, Premier Says,” The Washington Post, October 28, 2006). The translator, since identified as Ahmed Qusay Al-Ta’i (of Ann Arbor, Michigan) by Al-Sharqiya TV [I had known this information earlier due to personal ties to the translator’s family] was abducted alone, not with his brother.

You’d think that Maliki, who is guarded by American soldiers in the Green Zone, would put in some effort to at least get the story straight, let alone picking up the phone and asking Muqtada Al-Sadr to throw his weight around to secure Al-Ta’i’s release.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

New Column: Iraq is Succeeding

I have a new column out today: Iraq is Succeeding.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The Return of Juba the Snipe

The “Central Media Commission” of the “Islamic Army in Iraq” has released the second installment of the “Juba: Baghdad Sniper” series. This episode lasts 28 minutes. The first part had been released in November 2005, and even warranted an entry at Wikipedia, see here.

In this latest edition, the Islamic Army in Iraq (IRI) claims that in the preceding year (since last year’s Ramadhan), its “Snipers Brigade” had “harvested” the following results:

634 American soldiers killed.
206 American soldiers wounded.
23 American officers killed.
11 American snipers killed.

“Juba: Baghdad Sniper, Part II” is billed as the IAI’s Eid holiday “gift” to the “People of Monotheism”—or the Islamic Nation.

CNN had obtained similar footage from the IAI and took the controversial decision of airing some clips on last Wednesday’s (Oct. 18, 2006) “Anderson Cooper 360” program. Part II, released a couple of days ago on several jihadi websites, seems to be far better edited and packaged than the CNN footage.

This is what CNN had to say about it (from the show’s transcript):

CNN obtained the graphic tape through intermediaries from the Islamic Army of Iraq, one of the most active insurgent organizations in the country.

It is titled "Latest Sniper Operations in Baghdad." Accents, license plates and street signs seem to indicate the sniper attacks in fact have occurred here in the capital. A careful review of the entire video by CNN technicians found no evidence the images had been electronically manipulated.

The tape documents 10 incidents, all of which appear recent. But there's no way to confirm precisely when or where the attacks took place, or which U.S. units were involved, or what happened to the targeted soldiers.

The tape comes as the Islamic Army calls to renew talks with the United States, and as Islamist Internet postings call for a P.R. campaign aimed at influencing the American public.

The images are markedly different from insurgent sniper videos on the Internet. On this one, we hear the voices of the snipers selecting American targets.

Here, the spotter warns the shooter he only sees Iraqis, until he's sure he's identified an American.

I will read you his name. We wanted to ask the U.S. military about the insurgent sniper tactics, but no one was made available to CNN in Washington or Baghdad. Officials refused to discuss the sniper operations and related casualties, citing the safety of U.S. troops, though they acknowledge, the menace is real.

But it seems that the Islamic Army was only manipulating CNN to showcase a “promo” of the actual release. It is as if the jihadists used a global media giant to hype up their propaganda product and alert young Middle Easterners to stay tuned for when Part II becomes available for download in its entirety.

Part II opens with a stocky man in a ski mask entering a brightly lit room. The lens is in soft focus. He places his sniper rifle, Beretta gun, walkie-talkie and some ammunition shells on a white-clothed table, and then adds scratch marks to a calendar on the wall, presumably adding to his number of recent “kills.” There are 37 scratch marks.

The man then draws back a black plastic chair and sits at the table. From the back, we see him pull of his mask. The camera then angles above his right shoulder to focus on a lined notebook and a pen.

The man begins to write, and an “otherworldly” voice with a deep echo reads out the neat penmanship. There are English subtitles throughout.

“Oh Muslim Nation,” the man writes, “How can the eye turn away from the one who saw your land which was conquered yesterday by our Muslim grandfathers blood and today it is being desecrated by the Jews and Crusaders.” [English translation as appeared in the subtitles]

He goes on to lament the fate of our “brothers” in Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, Afghanistan and Palestine. The camera zooms in towards the notebook at the end of this tedious scene as the writer/narrator calls for the implementation of Islamic shari’a law.

Then we see victim no. 1 sitting in the revolving turret of a Humvee. The vehicle is parked in what appears to be a busy road in Iraq. The easily identifiable American soldier then appears within digitally added red crosshairs, and a shot is fired. He slumps dead.

By my count, this video release shows 27 American soldiers being shot, and by the looks of it, many of these ended up being probable fatalities given that they were hit directly in the head.

Another victim is a gunner of an Abrams M-1 tank. He is also hit in the head. For victim no. 9, the image is so crisp that we see smoke emerging from his helmet. Victim no. 10’s helmet actually flies off vertically after taking a hit.

Throughout these images, there are clips from an “interview with the commander of the sniper brigades in Baghdad,” who appears with a large white dot covering his face, and is also wearing a red kuffiah.

Judging by the shape of his hands, the “commander” is the same person who appeared earlier and wrote the diary entry.

He is well-spoken, and is clearly an Iraqi. At one point, he mentions a book called “The Ultimate Sniper” by a top ranked Marine sniper named “Major John Plaster,” which a textbook that the insurgents use to train a fresh crop of snipers. The way he pronounced the title of the book indicates that the “commander” is proficient in English. It is not a stretch of the imagination to assume that one way this person gets to lug around a sniper rifle without getting thoroughly searched at checkpoints is by having Coalition security badges. He may actually be working as a translator or guide for the Americans, then takes pot shots at them off-duty. Just a thought.

He claims that many more snipers are being trained, but “the one who uses [a sniper rifle] must be a unique person that meets special requirements to the job, like a steady hand, concentration and an eagle eye.” He claims that Saddam-era sniper rifles are abundant and that the previous regime used to manufacture such rifles in Iraq under the brand name “Tabuk.”

He is being interviewed by a long-haired person, either a female reporter or a Western male reporter with unkempt hair. He disputes a claim made on a German channel that the “Baghdad Sniper” had been killed. He also goes on to speculate as to why American soldiers began nicknaming him “Juba” and thinks that it has something to do with an “African death dance.”

The “commander” follows up by describing the psychological effect of the sniper weapon on the “enemy” saying that after taking a shot, the “frightened American soldiers” scurry around “running like mice” and not knowing what hit them.

He identifies himself as a member of the Islamic Army in Iraq.

This is funny, because Al-Hayat Newspaper reported on October 19 that American officials are holding secret talks in the Jordanian capital Amman with representatives of the Islamic Army.

Not only is someone from the American side negotiating with people who have American blood on their hands, but they are actually having a sit down with people who are openly gloating of having American blood on their hands.

Many policy experts are advocating a general amnesty for all insurgents minus Al-Qaeda. But that would also include “Juba.” It means that he would be off the hook, even after claiming responsibility for killing 668 American soldiers and wounding another 206, over the course of a single year.

I wonder how American families who’ve lost soldiers in Iraq through Juba’s crosshairs would feel about that.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Rumor with a bang...

Green Zone Rumor of the Week:

The Iranians are plotting to assassinate Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

What the ...?!??

Here is the reasoning: the Iranians want to preempt the Americans, whose only remaining card is to threaten the removal of Maliki’s government if he does not play ball by disarming the militias. If the Iranians go ahead and kill Maliki, then the political situation will be thrown into turmoil, and the Americans will be unable to push through a plan as ambitious as tackling the “Mahdists.”

The “Mahdists” are the part of Muqtada Al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army that no longer listens to him. They are infiltrated and run by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. They are also responsible for the vast proportion of the reprisal killings conducted against Sunnis, as well as the recurrent confrontations with Coalition troops. The “Mahdists” call themselves the mummehidoon, literally “those preparing for the advent of the Mahdi,” or the equivalent of the Messiah is Shi'a Islam. Another role for them is to keep long-time clients of Iran’s, like the Hakim family, from veering too far off from Iranian influence. The “Mahdists” represent Iran’s most important operational assets currently active in Iraq. And it seems that Iran’s current strategy is to keep Iraq chaotic.

Maliki is more or less beholden to the Iranians, and they can exercise firm control over his affairs and watch his every move through his staff and through other acolytes of Revolutionary Guard within the Da’awa Party. But at the end of the day, Maliki is expendable. Nobody would have ever considered him for the PM slot in the first place, and his passing from the scene will leave no serious political aftereffects.

The ones left with pie on their faces would be the Americans, rendering their threats of changing the Maliki cabinet superfluous. They would have to go along with whatever Shi'a PM candidate that is hurriedly agreed upon by the political blocs, which can only come about through Iranian connivance. Hence, it is a win-win situation for the Iranians.

Recently, many talented Iraqis security officers have been getting themselves killed in southern Iraq. Some people speculate that it is the Iranians killing them off in preparation for igniting the Shi'a south against the Americans.

The Iranians are a patient people, who play their cards carefully. They are often described as a nation of carpet-weavers (knotty and intricate) and chess players (plenty of strategic posturing). But as with chess the Iranians are afflicted with a recurring desire to bring the game to “checkmate” thus securing a sudden and overwhelming victory. This really doesn’t happen that often in politics or history, and has caused the Iranians to fumble many times in the past.

The Maliki assassination is supposed to coincide with some sort of Hezbollah action against the U.S. backed Lebanese cabinet of Fouad Siniora in Lebanon and a similar Hamas stunt against Palestinian PM Mahmoud Abbas. Both Hezbollah and Hamas are heavily influenced by the decision makers in Tehran.

America’s Middle Eastern strategy hinges on Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian authority. If all these places blow up in America’s face at the same time, the Bush administration would look very foolish.

Or it could be something else altogether. Maybe Maliki’s DNA tests came back positive, proving that he is indeed Jewish (check out IraqPundit’s interesting post here). The Iranians can’t possible live with that!

UPDATE: I have posted the transcript of Sunday's 60 Minutes show on corruption at Iraq's MOD within the comments sections. Fascinating stuff. In retrospect, the column I wrote back in August 2005 isn't bad. Here it is again: Rotten Fish.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Where Things Stand in Iraq

Here’s a quick read on what’s going on in Iraq:

State of the Sunni Insurgency:

There is something to Thomas Friedman’s analogy of a “Tet Offensive” regarding the spiked level of violence unfolding all over Iraq (see Thomas L. Friedman, “Barney and Baghdad,” New York Times, October 18, 2006). However, he falls short of calling it a coordinated attack. I believe he is mistaken.

The insurgency, in all its jihadist, Ba’athist and Sunni strands, has a “brain” or rather a “brain trust.” This “brain” resides in Amman, which has become a sort of Davos-like resort where the insurgent “elite” can brainstorm and ponder their future strategies. This is where they figure out their finances and decide whether to ratchet-up the scope of the insurgency.

Here is latest stuff I’ve been hearing from this “brain”:

-“We can’t maintain the momentum over an extended period of time.” The insurgency can only sustain itself in Iraq by projecting a sense of victory. It needs to do that because the losses that it is sustaining in terms of expertise, personnel and treasure are becoming harder and harder to replenish. The Americans and the Iraqi state are getting better at shoving back, and this is acutely showcased by improvements in intelligence gathering, as well as the increasing boldness of the Iraqi police and army in standing-up to the aggressors. The insurgency had previously maintained the rhythm of consecutive victories by carrying the fight from the rural periphery right up to the gates of Baghdad’s Green Zone. The next step would have been to storm the last bastion of the Americans and Iraqi state. But in the last 12 weeks (since the start of the “Battle of Baghdad” operations) the insurgents were pushed back and away. This has created a sense of frustration among the rank and file. The comments made yesterday by Maj. Gen. Bill Caldwell about the relative slow-down in Operation Forward Together are very surprising to me. Many parts of Baghdad where the Sunni insurgency had gone unchallenged over the last few months had significantly quieted down and reverted back to government control. Contrary to Caldwell’s assessment, things are going moderately well.

-“We need to make one last push before bringing the Americans to the negotiating table.” Hence the “Tet Offensive”-Lite now featuring in most major Sunni towns. Instead of storming the Green Zone gates, the insurgents plan to knock politely and ask for admittance. There isn’t a unified command giving marching orders. Rather, there is a generally accepted timetable by all the forces carrying arms in synchronizing their assaults. The “brain” is very much aware of the November elections coming up in the United States, as well as the report to be subsequently submitted by the congressionally-mandated Baker-Hamilton Commission on alternative policy options for Iraq. However, the “brain”’s intention for this particular offensive was to hold down territory in Ramadi, Baghdad, Mosul and some chunks of Diyala Province. Under such conditions, the Americans would surely cry “Uncle!”—the insurgents reasoned. But the latter were badly beaten back in Mosul, and failed to make a serious bid to control territory anywhere else.

-“Once we are ready to negotiate, we will have to break our alliance with the Saddamist-Ba’athists and with Al-Qaeda.” The Saddamist-Ba’athists would like to erase all that has happened since April 9, 2003 by re-instating the ancien regime, as is. Al-Qaeda harbors plans for launching the state of the caliphate from Iraq. Both these agendas are seen as unrealistic by the bulk of the “insurgent brain,” who would rather achieve a disproportionate measure of Sunni authority over Iraq’s other components and themselves replacing the Shi'as and the Kurds as America’s long-term allies. They include ideological Ba’athists, deeply sectarian Sunnis, and “moderate” Islamists. To do this, they need to purge the hardcore radicals from their midst. The Saddamists have sensed this impending outcome and so has Al-Qaeda. The Saddamists are reaffirming their “presence” through publicity stunts such as the recent demonstrations in Haweija calling for Saddam to be reinstated, while Al-Qaeda has hastily declared “The Islamic State of Iraq.” In the past few days, there have been press reports claiming that this “brain” is currently holding talks with the Americans in Amman, under the auspices of Jordan’s CIA-trained mukhaberat, the Jordanian Intelligence Directorate. I don’t think these negotiations will go very far: the American public will not stomach a peace treaty with those who have American blood on their hands.

State of the Shi'a Troublemakers:

The Washington Post has finally written up what’s been said for a while: Muqtada Al-Sadr is losing control over the Mahdi Army (see Sudarsan Raghavan, “Militias Splintering Into Radicalized Cells…” The Washington Post, October 19, 2006). This is not occurring in a vacuum: Iran has expanded its investment in and subsequent control over the Mahdi Army since August 2004—the last time the Sadrists clashed in a major way with American forces. At the time, Muqtada needed allies, and he turned to Iran to supply him with arms, intelligence and guerrilla expertise. Prior to that, most Sadrists would have loathed Iran, and not a small number of them would have held the Iranians responsible for assassinating Muqtada’s father, Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Sadiq Al-Sadr, in early 1999. Muqtada is now terrified that the Iranians would rub him out too, and is trying to keep quiet. He has been vocal, though, in denouncing the “renegades” within the Mahdi Army, most of who are also moonlighting in organized crime on the side.

The Iranian-backed Mahdi Army have succeeded where the insurgents had failed: yesterday, they held down territory in the southern town of ‘Amara. These guys are Iran’s shock-troops for any Iraqi eventuality. The sectarian bloodletting and criminal activity of these “Mahdists” (as opposed to “Sadrists”) is responsible for 80% of the chaos in Baghdad. This margin of chaos also enables the Sunni insurgents to maneuver around Operation Forward Together. The largest error made by the Americans in their bid to control Baghdad has been the reluctance to militarily engage the “Mahdists” and break them, while leaving Muqtada’s political hierarchy intact for the time being. This is an Iraqi political decision that needs to be taken by Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki, who has to juggle the fact that Muqtada is power-broker within the Iraqi cabinet and that Iran has tremendous influence across the political spectrum. The Americans want to stamp out lawlessness, while the Iranians are better served by making Iraq seem to be too much of a burden, thus disabusing the Americans of entertaining plans for any further regional adventures. Maliki needs to come down in favor of one or the other, but he is terrified by whisperings of an American-led military coup allegedly in the works against his government (see David Ignatius, “Beyond the Coup Rumors,” The Washington Post, October 13, 2006). Maliki does not want to sacrifice the “Mahdists” who are potentially the only Shi'a fighting force that could plausibly resist a coup attempt and save his regime.

State of the Iraqi State:

Although one hears jingoistic and grossly exaggerated put-downs made against the Iraqi state to the order of “there is really no functioning government south of Kurdistan, only power vacuums that have been filled by factions, militias and strongmen” (see Fareed Zakaria, “Facing Our Failure in Iraq,” The Washington Post, October 9, 2006), the Iraqi state is in fact doing very well. If there is truly no government, then who is paying the salaries of over a million state employees? Who is drilling up, transporting and selling the oil? Who is managing the incredibly complex food ration card system that delivers nutritional basics to every single Iraqi citizen, and does so every month? Sure, there are problems: for example, not all the trash is being picked up, but in a situation where picking up trash could mean instant death at the hands of insurgents, it is a great wonder that any municipal workers would ever show up to work in the first place. Sure, many university professors have fled Iraq after being threatened by the insurgents, but classes are still being given and enrollment levels have not diminished.

But the most incredible but underreported story coming out of Iraq are the anti-corruption measures being taken to investigate and prosecute current and former high government officials. Look at what happened to former Minister of Electricity Ayham Al-Samara’i, who will probably spend the rest of his days in prison for misappropriating tens of millions of dollars. Al-Samara’i thought, along with many other observers, that he was too much of an untouchable “holy cow” and would never be called out on how he had mismanaged his portfolio. He was very mistaken. Ditto for the likes of Misha’an Al-Juburi, who just got his parliamentary immunity rescinded to face charges of graft and terrorism. This is all being done “in-house” by the Iraqi state, with no prompting from the Americans. In fact, this is being done despite American efforts to protect allies such as Al-Samara’i, who is a well-connected Chicago Republican and an American citizen to boot. Next up: many prominent Islamists currently in office are also under investigation by the state’s anti-corruption body, according to the latest accounts leaked to the press.

This Sunday, don’t miss a 60 Minutes report on the massive corruption that had taken place under Hazem Al-Sha’alan at the Iraqi Ministry of Defense. The report is glibly called “The Mother of All Heists.” Al-Sha’alan and the rest of the indicted staffers around him were put in place by none other than the CPA’s Paul Bremer. What is incredible is that this sort of thing happens all the time in the Middle East, but in Iraq it is being exposed and prosecuted.

State of the Iraqi Cabinet:

One should distinguish the Iraqi state from the Iraqi cabinet. The Iraqi state is doing fine on its own. The Iraqi cabinet, conversely, is performing miserably. Maliki’s office is badly managed, and some ministerial portfolios are seriously incompetent. Even Muqtada has complained about his own bungling ministers. Maliki is more or less paralyzed and disconnected. He is seemingly too worried about his long-term prospects rather than the tasks at hand. And with U.S. ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad leaking discouraging reports to the New York Times from time to time, Maliki’s anxieties are not subsiding. Khalilzad is trying to absolve himself of the mistake made in picking Maliki in the first place, a mistake entirely his own.

State of the American Resolve:

One can judge the state of America’s resolve by how seriously the recent Lancet report, which claimed that 601,000 Iraqis had died violent and unnecessary deaths since April 2003, was taken is respectable circles. This bullshit report alleges that 500 Iraqis died every day for each of the last 1,200 days. That is patently untrue. There are some groups out there who would like it very much if indeed 500 Iraqis would die each day, for the simple fact that it may make the Bush administration look bad.

Washington is gripped by a hurried need to declare Iraq a “failure.” This is happening due to an artificial time-table that has nothing to do with Iraq—the November elections. If pressed to the wall to give a verdict on Iraq, I’d say that Iraq is succeeding.

The Baker-Hamilton Commission is leaning towards declaring the “Sudden Infant Death” of a democratic Iraq. Funny how that basically conforms to what the Saudis wanted all along. Sorry folks, our baby—our democracy—is alive and kicking, and is kicking harder. It is growing stronger every day and all the attempts to choke it off are failing. Even if removed from the American incubator, I have no doubt that a democratic Iraq will survive and prosper.

On the other hand, the prognosis for those Saudi geriatrics and their “realist” septuagenarian Texan buddies—yeah, that doesn’t look so good.

Most Interesting Rumor:

This is what the Iraqi political class is saying within the Green Zone: the Iranians intend to assassinate Maliki, soon.

Come back tomorrow for the juicy details.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

New Column: Alevis in the Balance

I have a new column on the Alevis in Turkey out today. I spent a lot of time of this story and got a lot of help from some great people (SS, IK, and AY) and went all around: Hajibektas festival and cemevis in Istanbul, and talked to Alevis from all walks of life. I even spent some time with the Nosairis in Hatay/Iskenderun trying to see if they have roots in common with Alevis. And yet, I still walked away with more questions than answers. The column attempts to present some of what I've concluded about the Alevis as well as an explanation as to why they are relevant to Turkey's future.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Imad Al-Far'oon Murdered Today in Baghdad

Imad Taklif Mubdir Aal-Far'oon, who was in his early 60s, was murdered today in Hai Al-Jami'a in Baghdad. His brother, Munqith Aal-Far'oon, is the lead prosecutor against Saddam in the Anfal Genocide trial.

The Far'oons are the chiefs of the Aal-Fatla tribe in Mishkhab, and their grandfather, Mubdir Aal-Far'oon, was one of the prominent leaders of the 1920 Revolt against the British.

Imad Aal-Far'oon was an affable lawyer with a wonderful sense of humor. He was brave and honest, and carried about him the confidence of a man secure in his secular and democratic convictions. Aal-Far'oon was a fierce opponent of the Ba'ath Party and Saddam's tyranny. He had never left Iraq during those dark years, and became a prominent political figure after the liberation of Iraq. He ran in the last elections as the lead candidate for the Iraqi National Congress in Najaf.

Aal-Far'oon was probably killed for the work being done by his brother, in a similar vein to the recent killings of the relatives of the presiding judge in Saddam's trial. This is reminiscent of the days when Saddam and his cronies would punish by death, torture and imprisonment all the loved one of the opponents to their regime.

It is a hard loss, and his vibrant and witty conversations will be missed. He died a martyr for the new Iraq of which he was proud. His memory will be honored, and his assailants will meet a grim end, soon.

Brother of Saddam Prosecutor Is Killed
Oct 16 10:39 AM US/Eastern

Associated Press Writer


The brother of the top prosecutor in the second trial of Saddam Hussein was shot dead in front of his wife at his home in the capital Monday, according to a key official charged insuring no former members of the Saddam regime hold positions of authority.

Imad al-Faroon died immediately after the shooting at his home in west Baghdad, Dr. Ali al-Lami, head of the government De-Baathification Committee, told The Associated Press.

Al-Faroon's brother is chief prosecutor Muqith al-Faroon, who is leading the Saddam prosecution on charges of crimes against humanity in his alleged killing of thousands of Kurds during the Iran-Iraq war.

A verdict against Saddam Hussein and seven co-defendants charged with crimes against humanity in connection with an anti-Shiite crackdown in the 1980s will be announced Nov. 5, a senior court official said on Monday.

Sentences for those found guilty will be issued the same day, chief investigating judge Raid Juhi told The Associated Press.

The former Iraqi leader could be hanged if convicted. However, he could appeal the sentence to a higher, nine-judge court. His co- defendants include his former deputy, Taha Yassin Ramadan, and his half-brother and former intelligence chief Barzan Ibrahim.

The trial began a year ago with the eight defendants facing charges arising from the deaths of nearly 150 Shiites from the town of Dujail after a 1982 assassination attempt against Saddam in the town north of Baghdad.

That trial adjourned July 27 to allow its five-judge panel to consider a verdict. The court was to have reconvened Monday to hear a verdict.

"The Dujail trial will resume Nov. 5 when the presiding judge will announce the verdict and the sentencing," Juhi said.

Saddam is the chief defendant in another trial, facing genocide charges in connection with a government crackdown in the 1980s against Iraqi Kurds. The prosecution alleges about 180,000 people died in that campaign.

Saddam, his cousin "Chemical" Ali al-Majid and five other co- defendants could face death by hanging if convicted.

Hearings in the second trial are to resume Tuesday.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Al-Qaeda Declares Government, Islamic State in Iraq

The “Official Spokesman” of the “Ministry of Information” of the “Islamic State of Iraq” has kindly informed the world, through a new Shura Council of the Mujaheddin video released on the internet today, that Iraq is now divided into two.

“The Alliance of the mutayyebin,” a new body announced on October 12 and consisting of several jihadi groups such as Al-Qaeda in Iraq that are now allegedly allied to several Sunni Iraqi tribal leaders, has declared the formation of an Islamic state within the Sunni areas of Iraq. “mutayyebin” refers to the gooey yellowish syrup called teeb into which those who pledged allegiance to each other dipped their right hands.

The “Official Spokesman” declared that the territory that the jihadists currently control in Iraq is roughly equal to the territory of the state of Medina founded by the Prophet Muhammad during the early days of the Islamic call, and that it finds itself under similar internal as well as external threats.

The new head of state is someone called “Abu Omar Al-Baghdadi”—a name previously unheard of. The spokesman called upon Iraqi Sunnis to pledge their allegiance to Al-Baghdadi. He also called upon Sunni Muslims everywhere to support the nascent state that act as the precursor to the Caliphal state to be resurrected in Baghdad, said the presenter.

The spokesman’s pronunciation of the prepared Classical Arabic text revealed that he was not an Iraqi. He appeared with an opaque dot shielding his face, and was wearing a white headdress.

Apparently, the laws of the shariah will be applied within this state.

Kofi Anan immediately extended diplomatic accreditation to the Islamic State of Iraq. Okay, so maybe that end bit is not yet true, but is it really that farfetched?

This latest declaration is a measure of the jihadist defeat gradually playing out in Iraq: they are getting increasingly frustrated over the outcome of the Iraqi battlefield turning against them. It is a publicity stunt meant to imply that they are expanding rather than contracting. They are most definitely being beaten back as evidenced by the latest fighting in Mosul and Diyala.

Today’s declaration is good news.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Jailbreak: Priceless

There is a major scandal in the making revolving around anti-corruption measures, Iraqi sovereignty and White House access. Is anyone paying attention? The former Minister of Electricity under both Bremer and Allawi, Aiham Al-Samara’i, was sprung out of jail today by American plainclothesmen brandishing guns. Al-Samara’i, an American citizen and well-connected Chicago Republican, had been under detention for two months now, and was charged today on one of the six cases of corruption, embezzlement and misappropriation of public funds leveled against him by the anti-corruption arm of the Iraqi government. He was sentenced for two years inn this case under consideration, but before he could be hauled back to an Iraqi jail in the Green Zone, a group of armed Americans (probably private contractors hired for the jail-break) rushed the courtroom and overpowered the Iraqi Police. They then funneled him downstairs to the basement and exited the building.

There are press reports suggesting that Aihem Al-Samara’i may be within the confines of the American Embassy in Baghdad. It should be noted that after leaving office, Al-Samara’i took on the role of a mediator between some insurgent groups and the Americans, and has met in this capacity with National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley and Bush’s advisor on Iraq, Meghan O’Sullivan. He may have had meetings with persons even higher up the chain. Time to check the White House visitation logs, people.

Allegations of corruption had been hovering around Al-Samara’i early on in his tenure at the ministry, but it was presumed that no one would touch him because of his connections in Washington. His arrest and subsequent prosecution was an incredibly positive milestone for anti-corruption efforts in Iraq. This latest incident, however, bodes very badly for all involved and will greatly embarrass Maliki’s cabinet.

Furthermore, it will be interesting to see who else will get implicated should Al-Samara’i actually end up serving time, and maybe striking some sort of deal with the prosecution to reduce his term.

Al-Samara’i, a Sunni Arab, was a leading Ba’athist among the Iraqi student community in Britain in the 1970s, and several of his security reports on his fellow students had surfaced within the archives of the Iraqi Intelligence Service. His brother-in-law was a member of the Ba’ath Party leadership but was purged and executed by Saddam in 1979, thus putting Al-Samara’i in bad odor with the regime.

Al-Samara’i is also a board member for several Arab-American groups.