Unconventional thinking about the Middle East.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Op-Eds, Friedman and Obaid

Two fellow Brandeis alums have interesting, but completely over-panicked, Op-Eds out today:

Thomas Friedman writes (New York Times, ‘Ten Months of Ten Years,’ November 29, 2006) that “[Iraq] is so broken it can’t even have a proper civil war…Iraq has entered a stage beyond civil war—it’s gone from breaking apart to breaking down.”

This is a fresh take on the “Is it or isn’t it a civil war yet?” debate. But ultimately is a convenient way of not admitting that one had been hasty in labeling the mayhem a “civil war” in the first place. Friedman does not seem to have the intellectual honesty to admit a mistake on this one so he resorts to a rhetorical exaggeration. This is the “if you can’t solve a problem, expand it” school of fig-leafing a flawed assessment. Plus, it is much more self-gratifying to argue, as he condescendingly does later in the column, that Iraq just wasn’t primed to be “progress-prone.” Never mind that all sorts of dark forces came out of the woodwork—sometimes egged-on by Friedman’s First-Class-ticket-paying Persian Gulf hosts (…I know it’s a low blow)—to hobble Iraq’s progress.

Then there’s Nawaf Obaid’s piece in the Washington Post (‘Stepping Into Iraq; Saudi Arabia Will Protect Sunnis if the U.S. Leaves,’ November 29, 2006) that argues that the Saudi royals would be compelled to take on the role as defender of Iraq’s Sunnis in facing down Iran’s Shi'a menace. Obaid is the “anti-Adel Jubeir,” and he speaks for Prince Turki al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Washington and ex-intelligence chief and one-time patron of Osama Bin Laden.

The Op-Ed makes sure to point out that “The opinions expressed here are his own and do not reflect official Saudi policy,” which in the inverted jargon of the region means that this is indeed Saudi policy. The context is that the Saudis feel that the U.S. is allowing Iran to win in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, and will soon accommodate Iran’s expansionism and projection of strength throughout the region. The Saudis have decided to do take on the role of propping up the ‘fighting’ Iraqi Sunnis “with weapons and financial support” along with Jordan, after the lesser financial powers like Qatar and the Emirates decided to acquiesce to a larger Iranian and Shi'a role. Of course, this little Saudi memo came in the wake of VP Cheney’s “huddle” with King Abdullah.

In the autumn of 2003, a Belgian-made semi-automatic rifle bearing the insignia of the Saudi National Guard was purchased in Fallouja for $350. Saudi weapons coming into Iraq is not a new phenomenon, and neither is the money flow. Official Saudi culpability is this long-standing supply chain is a debatable issue.

The Saudis have recently pledged to built a multi-billion dollar barrier all along the Saudi-Iraqi borders to prevent smuggling and terrorist infiltration. This project is support to take 5 years to complete. In light of Obaid's piece, it seems that the Saudis simply want to keep the fire they are kindling in Iraq contained beyond their borders.

But the precedent of extending Saudi patronage as the “defender of the Sunnis” outwards to Iraq (and to Lebanon and consequently to Syria) can be mirrored by Iran’s “defense of the Shi'a” in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf. Sunni Iraq is resource-poor, while the Shi'a portion of Saudi Arabia is where all the oil is. Iran has plenty of incentive and past experience (go back to the early 1980s) in trying to do win this lucrative prize. They also have a more sophisticated intelligence and logistical network. But for the most part, the Iranians have been dormant. Now, the Saudis have declared that the race for dominion of the region is on. Iran can cite Obaid’s Op-Ed as the opening salvo.

And this whole line cannot be good for America, because the Saudis are basically encouraging the Iraqi Sunnis to keep fighting by promising them aid and support for their pipe-dream of taking back Iraq and fighting Iran. But these same Sunnis are killing Americans too in the meantime, and prolonging their fight means more American casualties.

Forget all the above and focus on this rumor—and be mindful I am calling it a rumor and nothing else: Soviet-era Russian light-arms shipments (most notably anti-armor projectiles) are arriving at Saudi ports and not ending up in the Saudi arsenal. They were supposed to be sold to Syria but the Russians backed out of the deal. Why did that happen and where are these arms going after making it to Saudi shores?

Marine Intelligence Report: Al-Qaeda Controls Anbar Province. Huh…?

The Washington Post carried a story yesterday detailing a leaked Marine Corps intelligence report that had concluded that “the U.S. military is no longer able to defeat a bloody insurgency in western Iraq or counter al-Qaeda’s rising popularity there.”

But even al-Qaeda doesn’t think it is doing that well: the terrorists had to justify their declaration of an ‘Islamic State of Iraq’ by citing the historical precedent of the tiny size of the city-state of Medina where the Prophet Muhammad declared his first de facto state:

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

And as part of Abu Hamza al-Muhajir’s latest message, Al-Qaeda felt compelled to answer accusations that it was trying to break-up Iraq by declaring this Islamic state by arguing that the Prophet did not seek to break-up Arabian Peninsula when he unfurled the banner of Islam. Al-Muhajir goes on to urge his fighters to be “nicer” to the Sunni townspeople of Anbar and elsewhere in a clear indication that there were tensions between Al-Qaeda and the lay non-jihadi Sunnis of the area.

Furthermore, these new anti-Al-Qaeda tribal levies under Sheikh Abdel-Sattar Bizai’ of the Albu Risha branch of the Dulaim tribal confederacy seem to be having a far more significant effect in battling the jihadists than the previous attempt under ‘Usama al-Jada’an (of the Karabila tribe in the Qa’im area on the Syrian border, who was assassinated a few months ago in Baghdad).

I think this Marines intelligence report is a harbinger of a new trend: skewing intelligence in the totally opposite direction of saying that things are fine. If one paints the picture as dire and unworkable, then one abdicates responsibility for suggesting an alternative strategy. Plus, no one would be held accountable should things go worse; It is a smarter career move to hop onto the bandwagon of the “Iraq is Failing” line that is currently the craze in DC. Predict defeat and be pleasantly surprised by victory—and no one gets hurt. Problem is, by predicting defeat when there is room for victory, one is liable to keep making the mistakes that lead to defeat.

By validating the biases of the editors at papers like the Washington Post, such leaked intelligence reports are treated as Gospel. But we must keep in mind that someone consciously leaked this assessment to the press, which means that someone is pursuing an agenda. But has US intelligence been fixed, already? Weren’t people complaining that the system is broken, and that is why we needed Goss/Hayden and Negroponte to overhaul it?

ABC News reported yesterday that the Marines will pull back their 30,000 troops to Baghdad after writing-off Anbar. What, and allow Fallouja to happen all over again? I think this ABC leak is total BS and there is no intention among the officers of doing that.

[Full text of the Washington Post story was posted in the comments section]

'Juba The Sniper' in Iraqi Police custody?

A Ministry of Interior spokesman has stated that 'Ali Nezar al-Jubouri' (aka 'Juba the Sniper') was arrested today along with another person believed to be his chief assistant. The pair were captured off Palestine Street in the Hai al-Nil neighborhood of Baghdad by policemen who had been tipped off by an informant.

However, this is not the first time that 'Juba' was believed to be captured or killed. And yet the Ministry spokesman, Abdel-Karim Khalaf, seems confident that the Iraqi police got their guy. Good news if true. Hope the Iraqi media makes as big a case of it as the propaganda effect of Juba's videos. I wonder if CNN will run a story on the arrest, after they had aired Juba's footage? Hey, Michael Ware, make yourself uselful and justify that big pay raise!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Rubin sums it up...

I really liked this following piece by AEI's Michael Rubin in USA Today's blog; he says so much with so little:

Opposing view: Right war, botched occupation

Iraq was undercut by naive faith, not in democracy but in diplomacy.

By Michael Rubin

As U.S. troops entered Iraq, President Bush promised freedom and democracy. But rather than establish a stable democracy, today terrorists and militias tear the country apart. After billions spent and the sacrifice of almost 3,000 U.S. troops, it is right to ask whether democracy in Iraq was not a fool's dream.

It was not.

President Truman faced similar questions about Korea. Critics accused him of embroiling America in open-ended war, ignoring his generals and losing touch with reality. They said democracy was alien to Korean culture. Time proved them wrong. Any juxtaposition of nuclear North Korea with democratic South Korea shows the value of Truman's policy.

Bush was right to liberate Iraq. Saddam Hussein had started two wars, used chemical weapons and subsidized suicide bombers. He claimed to have weapons of mass destruction. Sanctions had collapsed; containment failed.

With military action inevitable, the White House was right to pursue democracy. Cynical realism created Saddam. Iraqis who fled their country, meanwhile, had no problem accepting democracy; Iraq's problem was both its rule of law and its dictator's unaccountability.

What went wrong? Iraq's transformation was undercut by naive faith, not in democracy but rather in diplomacy. Instead of securing Iraq's borders, the Bush administration accepted Syrian and Iranian pledges of non-interference. They believed the canard that Iraq's neighbors sought a stable, secure Iraq. Both countries exploited U.S. trust.

Then, to win United Nations support, the White House defined itself as an occupying power. Overnight, liberation became occupation, and Iraqi democrats became collaborators. To appease Paris and Berlin, the Bush administration justified insurgent rhetoric.

Iraqis embraced democracy, but the wrong kind. U.N. experts sold the White House an election system based on party slates rather than on districts. Any system in which politicians are more accountable to party leaders than constituents, though, encourages ethnic nationalism and sectarian populism. Add militias to the mix, and the result is explosive.

Iraqis greeted U.S. troops as liberators, but the Bush administration fumbled the occupation. Blaming democracy does not address the cause of strife; rather, it absolves policymakers for poor decisions and implementation. Too much is at stake, not only for Iraq but also for U.S. national security, if policymakers learn the wrong lessons.

Michael Rubin is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Jordan’s King Receives Harith al-Dhari

See the picture to believe it. And today’s accompanying news report (in Arabic).

Why is no one talking about al-Dhari’s recent on-air comments in support of al-Qaeda?

Here we have al-Dhari, who is wanted back in Baghdad for questioning over sectarian incitement and alleged complicity in acts of terror, getting the royal treatment. And in a couple of days, President Bush will arrive in Amman to be hosted by King Abdullah II of Jordan. Bush is supposed to meet Maliki there.

Wouldn’t it be interesting if Maliki cancels his visit over the fact that Jordan is harboring (and honoring) a wanted fugitive?

This has ‘crisis’ and ‘diplomatic train wreck’ written all over it. If Maliki ignores it, he is humiliated. If Maliki challenges it to the point of a no-show in Amman, then Bush is humiliated. If Maliki challenges it to the point whereby the American arm-twist the Jordanians into some sort of apology, then King Abdullah is humiliated. Whichever, way you look at, the Amman summit has been soured already—almost as if somebody went of out their way to sabotage it; State Department? Jordanian intelligence?

The message this meeting sends is that a small neighboring country like Jordan can get away with acknowledging the existence of two governments in Iraq; the sovereign and elected one under Maliki, and a Sunni one under al-Dhari. Needless to say, this can’t be helpful for America’s mission in Iraq.

Two important articles, and a comment on the coverage

Here are two essential articles I’ve enjoyed reading recently:

John Keegan and Bartle Bull, ‘What is a civil war?Prospect Magazine (UK), December 2006

Frederick Turner, ‘Baghdad Vigilantes and the Dark Side of Civil Society,’ TCS Daily, October 25, 2006

My only qualm about Turner’s thought-provoking piece is that the Sadrist ‘death squads’ are not directing their viciousness at Sunni insurgents exclusively but rather at lay Sunnis too. I think that Keegan/Bull’s point about chaos in Iraq being mistakenly characterized (conveniently for some, I may add) as civil war is spot on.

My little quip of the today: I have this sneaking suspicion that most Western news bureaus in Baghdad are being subjected to a very sophisticated disinformation campaign. I've been looking at the recent coverage and something does not add up; it goes beyond the bias most of these reporters have against the war to begin with, or the backgrounds of their Iraqi stringers and fixers. I think they are being played. I don't have much information to back it, just instinct at this point. But played by whom? And how? Editors back in the States should look into revising sourcing methods for Iraq before it becomes apparent that they may have been duped.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

AP: "Fighting rages as Iraq leaders seek calm"

Fighting rages as Iraq leaders seek calm

By THOMAS WAGNER, Associated
Press Writer

Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish leaders called Sunday for an end to Iraq's sectarian conflict and vowed to track down those responsible for the war's deadliest attack.

But as they went on national television to try to keep Iraq from sliding into an all-out civil war, fighting between Iraqi security forces and Sunni Arab insurgents raged for a second day in Baqouba, the capital of Diyala province north of Baghdad.

By the end of the day, the province's latest casualty figures were a microcosm of the brutality in Iraq: 17 insurgents killed, 15 detained, 20 civilians kidnapped and three bodies found. The mayor of a municipality also narrowly escaped an assassination attempt that killed one of his guards and wounded three.

During Saturday's fighting in Baqouba, police killed at least 36 insurgents and wounded dozens after scores of militants armed with assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades attacked government buildings in the city center, police said. The fighting raged for hours in the city, about 35 miles northeast of Baghdad.

What is wrong with this AP story? Can you tell?

The folks over at AP are using “insurgent deaths” as a measure of todays “brutality.”

No, my dear AP—the same network that has yet to pull the bogus story of the “six Sunni
worshippers doused with gasoline and set on fire” that it ran two days ago—“dead insurgents” is a good thing. And when Iraqi policemen kill insurgents, it is not happening because the policemen are Shi'as and the insurgents are Sunni, no my dear AP, it is happening because the insurgents are trying to kill the policemen.

So, everyone, here is the basic formula:

dead insurgents=good news from and for Iraq

This was the fourth major offensive launched by insurgents against the Iraqi police and army in Baqouba over the past six weeks. The size of the attacking force gives every indication that the insurgents are trying to take over the city and hold down territory. But they have been driven back four times, and have sustained many casualties.

I don’t know why the Associated Press (or the New York Times for that matter, see today’s story by Kirk Semple, ‘47 Sunni Militants Die in Iraq Gunfights’) are misleading readers as to what is happening in Baqouba. I think that it is simply a symptom of a general misunderstanding of what is going on in Iraq as a whole on the part of the press corps and consequently on the part of the analysts who build their theses on the reportage coming out of Iraq. Here is the clearest example: Iraqi policemen are engaging and defeating insurgents. This is not Shi'a on Sunni violence. These policemen are standing their ground and firing back, before going on pursuit, as policemen are expected to do. Whether it’s a case of the policemen getting better at their jobs or the insurgents getting lousier at theirs, the story out of Baqouba should say that the Iraqi state is defeating those carrying arms against it.

It should be that simple.

But it isn’t, and that is why when the BS piles up, the toxic fumes drive juvenile authors like Jonathan Chait to pen a column with the title Bring back Saddam Hussein’ on the pages of the Los Angeles Times. This silly and misinformed column is the inevitable result of the shoddy reporting being done by most of Chait’s peers. Counterintuitive-ness should only go so far before being labeled egotistic and irresponsible. I wonder what Chait’s next piece is going to say? I hope it's not going to be “The Arabs hate America because we support Israel; Bring back Adolf Hitler”…? Because that would be just going too far, right? Well, now you know how an Anfal survivor would feel about Chait's title and thesis.

Top Maliki Advisor May Be Wanted Terrorist (Updated)

Oh, this is so juicy!

Sources “close to the Iraqi National Security apparatus” tell Kuwait’s leading daily Al-Rai Al-‘Am that a top Iraqi official, who still goes by the pseudonym “Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis (The Engineer),” was a participant in the terrorist attacks on the American and French embassies in Kuwait City in 1983, and was also “probably involved” in the assassination attempt on the late Emir Jabir al-Ahmad’s life two years later.

The story was filed out of London by Al-Rai’s correspondent Ilyas Nasrallah and was reported on from Kuwait by Hussein al-Harbi. These Iraqi “sources” were in London on a “private and undeclared visit” when they spoke to the reporters. According to these sources, al-Muhandis’ real name is “Jamal Ja’afar Ali al-‘Ibrahimi.” Al-Muhandis is now a member of the United Alliance List bloc in the Iraqi parliament, and is also a close advisor to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

The story says that al-Muhandis started out as a Da’awa Party member, and then joined the splinter group headed by Izzeddin Selim when Da’awa began to break-up in the early 1980s. Al-Muhandis then joined SCIRI’s Badr Brigade and slowly rose up the ranks and garnered favor with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard—the patrons of SCIRI.

Al-Muhadis allegedly participated in the attack on the American and French embassies in Kuwait in 1983 (Note: this is what the Saddam regime’s archives suggest too), and may have had a role in the suicide car bomb that targeted Kuwait’s Emir in 1985 and killed several members of the royal guards.

But the major assertion of the story is that “[al-Muhandis] was appointed by the commander of the Quds Corps of the [Iranian] Revolutionary Guard...General Qasim Suleimani to become his personal representative in Iraq, to coordinate with the various Sunni and Shi'a parties.”

Al-Muhandis was “born in Basra and finished his bachelor’s degree there in Mechanical Engineering.”

Analysis: Some people dealing with Maliki’s office these days tell me that al-Muhandis is super-influential. His expanding stature must have rubbed someone the wrong way and hence this leak in a Kuwaiti newspaper. Al-Muhandis is the quintessential deal-maker in Baghdad these days and he is feared by all the Islamist groups. He speaks with authority and that is something—if viewed within the Shi'a Islamist context in Iraq—that could credibly suggest that he speaks for Iran’s Sardar (General) Suleimani, who is also in charge of Lebanon’s Hezbollah and the PA’s Hamas.

Will al-Muhadis assume the role of facilitator of an American-Iranian channel for talks over Iraq’s future? Was someone threatened by this prospect and felt compelled to dig up these two-decade-old terrorism charges against an obscure figure on the Baghdad political scene? This latter group could include those who are against setting up such a channel in the first place, or others who are competing with al-Muhandis (or the Revolutionary Guard) in taking on this crucial role.

I wonder if al-Muhadis will be included in Maliki’s delegation to Amman on Thursday where a raptly-watched summit between President George Bush and Maliki is supposed to be held.

NB: A couple of you have written to me about moderating the comments section. I appreciate the concern but I think the best approach is to let everyone have their say, even if it contains profanities and wild allegations. Reasonable readers of Talisman Gate should be able to discern for themselves what is useful from what is not.

UPDATE, November 27, 2006: Al-Ra'i al-'Aam carried a follow-up story on al-Muhandis today citing Kuwaiti sources as saying that "Jamal Ja'afar Ali Muhammad al-'Ibrahimi" (aka "Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis") was a long-term resident in Kuwait ("residency no. 2722174") before participating in the terror attacks. Then the story provides two versions as to what happened to him subsequently with one claiming that he went into hiding inside Kuwait until Saddam's 1990 invasion of that country, and the other being that he managed to escape to Iran shortly after the 1983 attacks. Al-Muhandis "was born in 1955 and lived in Jabiriya" while staying in Kuwait. He also carried a Pakistani passport (there are hundreds of Iraqi families of Pakistani descent, including that of ex-PM Ibrahim Ja'afari) under the name "Jamal Ja'afar Muhammad 'Ali Abdul-Nebi." The second version that has him escaping to Iran seems to be the more accurate one to my eyes.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Talk on Iraq at the Hudson Institute

I participated in a talk about Iraq at the Hudson Institute today. It was carried by C-SPAN, so you can watch it here (automatically opens a RealPlayer window). The other speaker was Abdul-Aziz Wandawi, Director General of Information at the De-Ba'athification Commission.

Monday, November 20, 2006

New Column: Al-Muhajir's Evil Presence

Check out my new column, Al-Muhajir's Evil Presence.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

The IAI, a Ba'athist Poll, and Ali al-Adhadh RIP

I continue to believe that it is very bizarre for the United States government to hold talks with the Islamic Army of Iraq (IAI) even after all the recent communiqués from this terrorist group. These talks are allegedly taking place in Amman under the auspices of the U.S. embassy there and the Jordanian Intelligence Service.

Not only has the IAI claimed to have killed 668 American soldiers in Iraq over the last year but they have also issued a “press release” on November 10 stating that they conducted three attacks on American military targets in reprisal to the Israeli attack on Beit Hanoun in the West Bank. Hello? American soldiers are being killed in lieu of Israeli one? Is this a precedent?

The statement, attributed to the 'Military Command' of the IAI, reads: “We have often said that the battle of Iraq and [the battle of] Palestine are one…The Zionist shells that fall on our kin in Palestine are the same as the ones that fall on our kin in the land of Mesopotamia and the tears that runs in the eyes of the [mothers who have lost their children] in Palestine runs too on the cheeks of our mothers in Iraq.” The statement justifies the attacks on American soldiers by blaming the ‘Christians’ for creating Israel in the first place: “…the worshipers of the Cross (‘Christians’) that planted the rapist entity in the land of the [Prophet’s ascent].”

Three videos are released under the title “Vengeance for Our Brothers in Beit Hanoun.” The first video consists of 57 seconds of footage showing projectiles being fired from a variety of locations against presumed American bases. The second video (14 seconds) shows a Humvee being hit by a projectile, and the third segment (13 seconds) depicts a personnel carrier being hit by an IED.

Today, the IAI released its reaction to the “arrest warrant” against Sheikh Harith Al-Dhari, head of the Muslim Clerics Association that fronts for Sunni salafists in Iraq. The release was put up on the IAI’s official website: www.iaisite.info (BTW, why is this website still up? Isn’t the CIA/NSA supposed to be shutting down these propaganda tools, especially if they tout the murder of Americans?)

Here are some segments from the statement:

“The yellow Safavid winds from the mahkooma [this is a play on the word ‘hukooma’ (government) that is distorted to mean ‘enslaved’) of al-Maliki is spreading its poisons…by issuing its vile decision to arrest his eminency Sheikh Doctor Harith al-Dhari.”

“The goal of this decision is to malign the scholars and the sheikhs and every symbol of the symbols of the Sunnis…And it is an offense to every Arab and every honorable man on the part of the Safavids and their acolytes.”

“This confirms what we have always repeated that waging jihad against these Safavids is the only solution and especially the questionable bodies represented by servile mahkooma and whoever aids it…And we believe that this warrant was devised in a Safavid and sectarian manner ever since [Sheikh Dhari] demonstrated that those who kill Sunnis are the milishiyat ghadr (the ‘militias of treachery’ another word play on the Badr Brigades) and the jaish addajjal (the ‘Army of the Dajjal’ referencing the Mahdi Army)…”

The IAI calls for “shutting the door of what is called national reconciliation and we warn any honorable Iraqi against sitting at the table of treason under the guise of the so-called national interest…And that all mujaheddin must continue to hit at this sectarian and treasonous government.”

The Safavids ruled Iran many centuries ago, and fought over territory with, and fomented rebellions against, the Ottomans. One piece of real estate that went back and forth is Iraq. The Ottomans outlasted the Safavids by a couple of centuries, but I assure you that they are all very dead. The IAI are employing talking points that went stale several centuries ago. The Ba’athists delved even deeper to Iran’s pre-Islamic past to highlight the latter's alleged designs on Iraq’s territorial integrity. So, what does that have to do with the Americans, right?

But anyway, by marking out Harith al-Dhari for arrest, the Iraqi government had inadvertently turned him into the foremost post-Saddam “symbol” and hero of the Sunnis. And when US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad’s minions in the Maliki government—Deputy PM Barham Salih for one—began to backtrack on the warrant by saying that al-Dhari was only wanted for questioning, then the initiative was lost and the government appeared to have lost face in the stand-off with al-Dhari, who was very vocal in defying the government’s authority from the distant safety of Amman.

This whole affair came as a welcome relief to the Sunnis political class who scrambled to coalesce around al-Dhari’s leadership, especially now that Saddam is inching towards oblivion.

Moreover, by putting two and two together, one can assume that al-Dhari is in Amman as part of the ongoing negotiations between the Americans and the Islamic Army of Iraq. So it would seem that some people back in Baghdad intended to sink those negotiations by issuing the arrest warrant, and then there are those, such as the State Department and the CIA, who moved quickly to limit the damage and force the Maliki government to eat its words and dilute the warrant to a summons for questioning.

I wonder if dismantling Israel as an “entity” is on the negotiating agenda between the Americans and the IAI. Shouldn't Democratic Congressman (now Chairman!) Tom Lantos be asking these questions?

* * *

In other news, the Ba’athists seem to be in a state of total denial over Saddam’s fate. Check out the online poll being conducted by www.albasrah.net (one of the most important propaganda tools of the Ba’athists; the English parts are downright timid compared to what gets said in Arabic—again, why is this site still up?):

“How will [our] captive president Saddam Hussein be liberated?

4,264 respondents (46.8%) answered “through [the actions] of the mujaheddin
1,899 respondents (20.8%) answered “through negotiations between the insurgents and the [American] occupation”
2,954 respondents (32.4%) answered “through a popular uprising”

Total number of participants as of November 18, 2006: 9,117

* * *

Also today, insurgents killed a prominent member of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, Dr. Ali al-Adhadh by intercepting his vehicle in the Yarmouk neighborhood of Baghdad and shooting him. His pregnant wife also died in the attack. al-Adhadh was a Geneva-based physicist who often represented SCIRI as an envoy to Europe and the United Nations. He was traveling without a security detail. I wonder how those who disdain “the exiles” would deal with this tragedy: here was an able man who left Switzerland in order to serve his country, and he died for it at the hands of terrorists. He chose to continue living outside the Green Zone, and traveled without pick-up loads of Badr Brigade militiamen. Too often, those who write about Iraq reduce the leaders of this new enterprise to nefarious caricatures. al-Adhadh is inconvenient because he doesn’t fit their prejudices—in fact, many of our patriots don’t. May he and his wife rest in peace.

* * *

One more thing, Iraq has earmarked 11-13 billion dollars over the next few years to build a massive port in Basra. I don’t know the details of the plan, but it sound like they are finally going to act on a proposal to build a giant concrete and steel pier out into Iraqi territorial waters. If done right, and in conjunction with a Basra Free Zone, this new port would rival Dubai’s. I am sure the Aal-Maktoums (princely rulers of Dubai) are not happy over this news. But they must have been expecting it for a while, since they seem to have given aid and comfort to many forces that sought to damage the new Iraq.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

"Unleash the Shi'ites?"

Laura Rozen is reporting an interesting story in her Op-Ed in the LATimes today. Rozen is saying that the Bush administration is seriously considering throwing its weight behind the Shi'as in Iraq versus the Sunnis, thus reversing the 2-year policy of bringing the Sunnis to the negotiating table.

Some Iraqi websites are carrying a breaking story from Al-Iraqiya TV reporting that the Iraqi Interior Ministry has just issued an arrest warrant for radical Sunni leader Harith Al-Dhari. Al-Dhari had been recently accused by President Talabani and PM Maliki of inciting sectarian hatred. However, Al-Dhari has been fanning the flames for years now, and it is interesting that the government has finally decided to go after him.

Rozen's story comes amid threats of withdrawing from Maliki's cabinet made by the leading Sunni partner in the government, the Tawafuq 'Consensus' Bloc, which includes Vice-President Tarek al-Hashemi, Deputy Prime Minister Salam al-Zoba'i, and several ministers, as well as Speaker of the Parliament Mahmoud Mashhadani.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Academic Mercenaries

The policy debate on Iraq is turning more and more bizarre; now it is the “civil war experts” chiming in on what they think is going on in Iraq. Enter Monica Duffy Toft on today’s Op-Ed page of the Washington Post, who is described as “an associate professor of public policy at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. She is the author of “The Geography of Ethnic Violence” and is finishing off a book on the termination of civil war.”

The title of her essay is “Iraq Is Gone. Now What?” The whole thesis is based on this assertion: “Most scholars and policy analysts accept that Iraq is now in a civil war.” And she concludes by saying: “Either way, what we now think of as Iraq is almost certainly as gone as what we once thought of a Yugoslavia, and for the same reasons.”

I just got off the phone with Iraq. Apparently, the place is still very much in place.

I think that Professor Duffy Toft is jumping the gun. It is a sad fact of public life that “intellectualism” is a market commodity, and that various groups of experts are constantly trying to seek out new niches for media appearances and book deals. Now, we have a whole host of “civil war” and “ethnic strife” experts stampeding towards the “Iraq Is No More” limelight. This will only further distort whatever picture emerges out of Iraq, especially at a time when supposedly straight news stories in the NYT and the WaPo melodramatically editorialize the situation in Iraq as “a catastrophe” and “a mess.”

Sadly, there is very little oversight and accountability within the ranks of irresponsible academics. Ditto for journalists with a clear and petty bias.

NYT: Fragmenation of Mahdi Army

Sabrina Tavernise has an interesting front-page story in today’s New York Times (Sabrina Tavenise, “Influence Rises But Base Frays For Iraqi Cleric,” New York Times, November 13, 2006) about Muqtada al-Sadr’s current political fortunes, and the fragmentation of the Mahdi Army.

But she gets some facts wrong: “One result is a small proliferation of senior militia leaders—a coalition intelligence official said in September there were at least six—striking out on their own. One new commander is a fishmonger who goes by the name Abu Dera, meaning “man of the shield.””

According to what I’ve heard, Abu Dera’s real name is Isma’il Hafidh al-Hilfi, but I have heard some others give his tribal affiliation as al-Lami or al-‘Izerjawi, and he was born and raised in the southern town of ‘Amara. He is the illiterate son of a fishmonger. He served as a Master Sergeant (Artillery) in the Iraqi Army and saw front-line action during the Iraq-Iran war (1980-88), but was discharged after receiving a debilitating wound. Some claim he was wounded in his left foot, and he presently walks with a slight limp. Abu Dera rose to prominence in Sadr City as a projectiles expert during the second round of clashes between American forces and the Mahdi Army in November 2004. He also seemed to be well funded. After the Samara Shrine bombing last February, Abu Dera’s stature as the “protector” of Sadr City reached its zenith. One myth had him atop the dome of the Abu Hanifa Mosque (the most important shrine for Iraq’s Sunnis) within hours of the Samara bombing. He was allegedly rigging the dome with explosives when a call came in from Muqtada al-Sadr himself asking him to stop.

Abu Dera’s gang was responsible for much of the sectarian reprisal killings in the mostly Sunni neighborhood of ‘Adhamiya.

The most interesting piece of information I have heard about Abu Dera is that he had gone into hiding in Iran in July and stayed there for six weeks. Recently, there have been many reports of Abu Dera sightings in Sadr City (at funerals, rallies…etc.) and in Basra, prior to the most recent arrest attempt against him. He is now, according to a source, in Iran. I believe Abu Dera is an asset of the Iranians Revolutionary Guard, although I can’t prove it. All I know is that is that in the summer of 2004, the Iranians were very much interested in penetrating the Mahdi Army and placing commanders such as Abu Dera at its helm.

Tavernise also writes that “Mr. Sadr has disavowed a number of his commanders. At a Friday Prayer last month, the names of 40 dismissed Mahdi Army commanders were read aloud at a lectern in front of a sea of men holding umbrellas against the hot sun. Among them were Hassan Salim, the leader of the Mahdi Army in Baghdad, and Hajj Shimel, a prominent cleric.”

“Hajj Shimel” should read Hajji Shibil al-Zaidi, who is a short man in his late forties, and was a member of the Shi'a Political Council. Shibel is not a cleric, and has had his ups and downs with Muqtada. He was commander of the Mahdi Army during the April 2004 clashes with American forces. Shibil had also gone into hiding in Iran in the past, and could very well be there now. Shibil was not expelled in the latest “purge” but rather received a “warning” to toe the line.

Hassan Salim is also known as “Abu Rabi’.” He took over command of the Mahdi Army after Shibil, but resigned seven months ago in a dispute with some of Muqtada’s inner circle.

(The full text of the article has been posted in the comments section.)

Friday, November 10, 2006

Al-Qaeda in Iraq Supports US Election Results

The “Al-Furqan Institute for Media Productions” in the “Ministry of Information” of the “Islamic State of Iraq” released the following 20 minute audio file containing a speech by “the soldier Abu Hamza al-Mujahir” (head of Al-Qaeda in Iraq) under the title of “Lordship is Allah’s Only.” The following are the most interesting excerpts of what al-Muhajir had to say:

“The day has come…the day of Apparent Victory” where the banner of the Islamic state in Mesopotamia is flying for all to see, and “the enemy is tottering” and “its burden is like mountains.” The enemy is “determined to leave” and “unable to stay.”

Al-Muhajir congratulates the “stupidest president” that the nation of “slaves and drugs, America, has ever known” for bringing his armies to Iraq where a “faithful Iraqi farmer who is probably illiterate has used his IED to blow-up the fake civilization of America” resulting in the “flying remains of her soldiers and experts” and thus putting an end to “the dreams of Uncle Sam in the land of oil and water.”

“This retarded fool [Bush] managed to resurrect the glory of the ancient civilization of Persia” in the process, and hence Bush was “more unfortunate for his nation than Gorbachev was for his Union.” Bush allowed Persia to “control Afghanistan” and “suck the oil of Iraq and pillage its treasures and enslave its men.”

Then Bush terrified the “rafidhi [derogatory term for a Shi'a] Nusayri [alternate term for an Alawite] tyrant of the Land of Sham [Syria, reference is to Syrian President Bashar al-Asad]” who in turn opened up his country to “hundreds nay thousands of Persians to get naturalized” to become a bulwark for “that charlatan traitor Nasr-Al-Lat [Al-Lat was pre-Islamic pagan deity for the Arabs, and Nasr-Al-Lat means the “Victory of Al-Lat” or the victory of the pagans] who is called Nasrallah and who allegedly emerged from a fictitious victory over the elite of the military machine of the Rum [Note: Rum is geographically a province in Anatolia, but in Islamic terms connotes the Christian “West”].” The “ancient Persian Empire has been reborn and it spreads from the land beyond the river to Iran and through Iraq and ending in Sham.”

Al-Muhajir asks “will the Persian majus [Islamic term for Persian Zoroastrians] be able to fully give that fool Bush his due for resurrecting their glory without them having to fire a single bullet or sacrifice one soldier?” He continues by questioning whether “the wise men of Rum will realize that they have become the slaves of Persia and her mercenaries that are fighting without pay?”

Al-Muhajir commends the American people for “putting their steps on the correct path to save themselves from the quagmire they are in and they have begun to realize the treachery of their president and his Israeli gang by voting for something more reasonable in the last election,” but al-Muhajir asks, “Will the politicians [who were elected] deliver on what they have promised to their citizens…to help the mothers in pulling out their sons from the clutches of the lions in the land of the two rivers [Iraq]?”

But he tells “the lame duck” to not “hurry in running away as your Defense Secretary did” for “we have not quenched our thirst for your blood.” So, “stay in the battlefield, you coward!”

Al-Muhajir rejoices in declaring that today marks “the end of a phase in the phases of jihad” and the beginning of a new phase “where we set down the foundations for the project of an Islamic caliphate and return our faith to glory. We are the sons of Muhammad bin Abdullah [the Prophet] not the sons of Sykes-Picot [the World War I treaty between England and France to carve up the Ottoman Middle East].” Al-Muhajir then answers those who have described the formation of an Islamic state in Iraq as an attempt to break-up the country by asking “did the Prophet Muhammad aim to divide the Arabian Peninsula by brandishing his faith and fighting his kin in Mecca?”

Adding, “Oh Monotheists, we shall not rest from jihad until we seek the shade under the olive trees of Rumiyeh [presumably the Christian countries of the Mediterranean] and blow-up the House of Filth known as the White House.” Al-Muhajir then calls out to those who are negotiating with the enemy and have met “with the traitor Abdullah [whether of Jordan or Saudi Arabia, is not clear]” to “Repent! Repent!”

The highpoint of the speech is a full and binding pledge of allegiance to the “Qurayshite and Hashemite, descendant of Hussein, the Prince of the Faithful, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi [This is important because in theory, at least, the Caliph must be descended from Banu Hashim, the Prophet Muhammad’s tribe].” He pledges the “12000 fighter” strong “Army of Al-Qaeda” as well as another “10,000” men “whose preparation are still not complete” to fight alongside Abu Omar al-Baghdadi “to the death.”

Al-Muhajir then addresses the other factions of the jihad in Iraq, namely the “Jaish Ansar Al-Sunna,” the Islamic Army of Iraq, and the Army of the Mujaheddin and extols their bravery and achievements, and calls upon them as Al-Qaeda’s brothers in purpose to unite under al-Baghdadi’s banner.

In conclusion, al-Muhajir turns to Al-Qaeda’s fighters and asks them to be benevolent to the Sunnis of Iraq, “the peasants, the teachers”…etc, even the ones who don’t support the jihadists and to forgive them their sins for the “infidel Ba’ath Party distorted their religion.”

What happens to Osama Bin Laden after al-Baghdadi gets the pledge of allegiance? Why is Al-Qaeda happy with the election results in America?

An interesting speech, to say the least.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Ba’athist Ceasefire?

The Associated Press is reporting today that Izzet Al-Douri, Saddam’s former Vice-President and the currently at-large figurehead of the Ba’athist renegades, has called for a general ceasefire. Allegedly, Al-Douri’s couriers carried his message to the various midlevel commanders of the insurgency only after Saddam was found guilty and sentenced to death.

If this story is true, then it bolsters the claims made recently on Talisman Gate that the Sunni insurgency is experiencing fatigue, and that the guilty verdict issued yesterday knocked the wind out of the insurgents’ resolve to fight for re-instating Saddam. It is also seems to confirm the notion that the most recent spike in violence over the last two months was timed to coincide with America’s midterm elections.

And if indeed Al-Douri gave the order, we will see many Ba’athist groups refusing to acknowledge his overall leadership or guidance over the insurgency, and shall continue to fight. But the overall picture will be that of a diminishing atmosphere of chaos, as the insurgents lose momentum and the Iraqi state catches its breath.

Some will tie this new development to ongoing negotiations between the Americans and some insurgent groups in Amman, as well as to the imminent relaxation of some de-Ba’athification regulations. That would be missing the many signs that have demonstrated that the insurgency sees itself being reversed by the combination of shrinking resources, an emboldened Iraqi state, and better information-gathering and counter-insurgency techniques on the part of the American military.

[The AP story is posted in full in the comments section]

Monday, November 06, 2006

Chalabi in Sunday's NYT Magazine

The extensive feature on Ahmad Chalabi by Dexter Filkins in yesterday's New York Times Magazine is not to be missed: Where Plan A Left Ahmad Chalabi.

New Column: Something Is Changing

I have a new column out today addressing the alleged recommendations of the Baker report: Something Is Changing.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Death By Hanging

This was an interesting day for me. It was a chance to speak to many people, even those who had fallen out of touch. It was a day that is not likely to be repeated in my lifetime. Personally, it was the culmination of a decade of work, and two generations of hopes. I am happy to have lived this day.

But enough of this gushy business—let’s talk politics.

Saddam Hussein is to hang for one of his many crimes.

The verdict today was a revelation for me: I am finally convinced that the whole insurgency is a fool’s errand.

From the very beginning, the Ba’athist strategy in launching the insurgency was to re-instate Saddam Hussein. It is partly due to the established fact that Saddam himself plotted for a post-invasion comeback through precisely such an insurgency during his last days in power. The Ba’athists furnished the insurgency with funds, logistics and talent. They widened its scope by bringing in and enabling the foreign jihadists and their alien form of Islamic radicalism. The latter have since gone their own way to become one of the driving forces behind the violence in Iraq, but the Ba’athists remain at the core of the insurgency.

And all this energy expended in cunning, propaganda, guerrilla warfare and bringing the country to a sectarian boil was for one crazy goal: bringing back Saddam. All the sophistication and expertise as well as resources available to the Ba’athists from their long years at the helm of the Iraqi state—all the ingredients for a hard and bitter battle—were geared not for such feasible outcomes such as a rehabilitation of the Ba’ath Party or putting the Sunnis back on top. Nay, all this destruction visited upon Iraq had been for one purpose only: the near-impossible return of Saddam, which will become very impossible should he hang.

I think Saddam’s own reaction was very telling too; as Judge Raouf read the guilty verdict, it seemed that only then did Saddam realize that it had all been for real: getting deposed, held accountable and securing an appointment with the hangman’s noose.

My revelation will be met by skepticism. I have long suspected that the whole point of the insurgency was for as futile a goal as re-instating Saddam. But I couldn’t match the sophistication that went into tactical movements of the Ba’athists to such a fundamentally stupid desire. But the reaction to the news today, from those saddened by it, was a breakthrough in understanding the very spirit of the insurgency.

This is my basic explanation: we are witnessing the very complex reaction of the “totalitarianized” citizen in setting aside the legacy of an ancien regime. Saddam had become at once the symbol and the “reflection in the mirror” for these Ba’athists: his guilt, if acknowledged, would be their own, and his acquittal through the legitimizing force of victory would be their own spiritual redemption. They were creatures of Saddam, not of the Ba’ath or the Sunni sect. They were Saddam and his orphans all at once.

Those Muscovite pensioners reminiscing over Stalin, or those supremacists enthralled with the fantasy of Hitler’s survival from the bunker, would understand this Ba’athist yearning for the “Father.”

The Ba’athists failed to find an alternative leadership, and failed to compromise over their role in a new Iraq, because they have been unable to move beyond Saddam and the fantasy of his return. So they reject all that is not Saddam, and will bear arms against any pretenders to their master’s throne.

We are witnessing an incredible moment in the history of freedom. I had no idea that the verdict would release such an intense bond of fealty to Saddam among those who reject and fight the new Iraq.

Today, we learn that the insurgency is doomed, and that the insurgents know that they are facing doom. And today, they have come to recognize doom in whatever length of rope is necessary to hang a man—indeed, to hang an era.


I was surfing around, and I found this video of a Ba’athist song recorded just prior to the liberation of Iraq. Its title is roughly translated as “Go ahead and pick a fight and us men will take care of it” and it is addressed to Saddam.

Here are some more words from it:

“If you beckon the star it will come to you, and we will wipe America off from the map.”

“We will overturn the world until you tell us to stop.”

“Go ahead with Uday and Quday, for in the darkness your sons will illuminate your way.”

“We will block out the sunlight with our [raised] swords.”

“We will even out the necks of the enemies.”

“Our chests will be your armor.”

“Carry the world in your hands and leave the taste of pain in the chest of your enemies.”

“The nation, the army and the men of the [Republican] Guard are with you.”

There are more words and images that shamelessly exploit the religious sentiments of Iraq’s Shi'as and the song relentlessly invokes the name of Imam Ali, the patron saint of Shi’ism. There is even a “shout out” to Imam Hussein, Ali’s son, and his shrine in Karbala. The shrine was heavily damaged when the Republican Guard wrested the city from the Shi'a rebels in 1991, and allegedly fired upon the shrine on purpose. I have also heard from several eye witnesses that some RG tanks were emblazoned with the slogan: “No Shi'as After Today.”

There is also a shot of the Parade Ground and Saddam’s former legions marching in unison. This Parade Ground has been earmarked as the site of a museum commemorating the victims of the Ba’ath.

America has not been wiped off the map. Uday and Qusay can no longer provide illumination since they were extinguished on July 22, 2003. There is a Shi'a Prime Minister from the Da’awa Party. Jalal Talabani is the president. Saddam Hussein—far from being able to whimsically “beckon” celestial bodies or “carry the world” in his hands—is to be hung.

The Ba’athists will go on to “even out” necks and “overturn” things, for a while.

But this video is a reminder of what the Saddam regime was all about: Saddam worship in all its delusions.

It is over, and it will never return. There is something powerful and just in that realization.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Missing Soldier Update

There is a detailed story in the Washington Post today (“Missing Soldier Believed Alive, U.S. Says,” The Washington Post, November 3, 2006) about Sgt. Ahmed Qusai al-Taayie, the kidnapped American soldier. Shaimaa Abdul Satar, al-Taayie’s Iraqi sister-in-law, identified the leader of the group that kidnapped al-Taayie as “local gangster Abu Rami, whose real name, they said, is Majid al-Qaissy. They said he is a Sunni Arab, as is their family and Taayie’s.” This information matches what other sources have been saying to me about “Abu Rami.”

“Abu Rami” was the head of a highly-active 300 man unit of the Mahdi Army in the Karrada neighborhood of Baghdad. That is, he was leading this unit until four months ago, when he was expelled by the Sadrists after his Ba’athist past was uncovered. He was allegedly a 4th tier Ba’athist (‘udhoo firqeh) during the Saddam regime. Most of the men under his command stayed along with him, and it is likely that many of them did not know that he had been expelled to start with. Around 12 of the 15 leaders of this gang are Sunnis or prominent ex-Ba’athist security officers, according to a knowledgeable source.

This area of Karrada is a predominately Shi'a urban center. It used to be the traditional bastion of many prominent Iraqi Shi'a families during the last century. Nowadays, the predominant political force there is Shi'a parliamentarian Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim, head of SCIRI, who had inherited the mass following enjoyed by his father, Grand Ayatollah Muhsin al-Hakim, in Karrada during the 1970s.

Why are there ex-Ba’athist Sunnis leading the Mahdi Army in Karrada?

It is a big mystery, and a major embarrassment to Muqtada al-Sadr’s political network in Baghdad. It partially explains why the Sadrists have been more or less paralyzed on this issue, and have been unable to secure the release of al-Taayie to stave-off a clash with the American military.

“Abu Rami” suffers from a persistent skin condition that scars his face, but is reportedly very charismatic. He must have posed as a Shi'a convert in order to control his gang. But he had also openly told al-Taayie’s in-laws that he was a Sunni, and fashioned himself as the protector of the few Sunnis families living in the area. He was a regular visitor to their home, again according to the aforementioned source.

Abu Rami’s fellow gangsters are highly disciplined, and exhibit signs that they have intelligence or security backgrounds.

What is going on here? Is there a Ba’athist plot to provoke a confrontation between the Americans and the Sadrists, or was it a lucky strike?

Either way, the American military, which has collected plenty of accurate information on Sadrist-related death squads, is planning a major offensive in tandem with Iraqi Army units for the couple of weeks ahead.

The operation had been delayed so as not to generate bad press prior to Tuesday’s election. It shall be subsequently enacted without the support of Maliki’s government, leaving the latter looking ineffective and irrelevant.