Unconventional thinking about the Middle East.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Today is Ashura...

Today is Ashura; a yearly religious event held to commemorate a battle that occurred 1327 years ago. I remember the first time I realized there was such a thing as Ashura: I was 14, I had just woken up, around noontime, and I found my dad in the kitchen listening to the radio with tears brimming in his eyes. It was just the two of us at the time, stuck in a Baghdad summer. He was making lunch on an industrial scale; pots of various stews that would last us for the rest of the week. He liked to get such things out of the way. But on that day, he struck me as very odd, he was listening to something, and acted all flustered when I walked in, as if he’d been caught doing something illegal. I don’t know if it was a look of caution that he threw my way, or a sense that I probably wouldn’t understand, or care much.

There was only one time when he tried to make a point of our family’s Shi’ism. We were at the Ummayad Mosque in Damascus, facing an edifice that has something to do with Hussain, the martyr of Karbala. I was 7 or 8 at the time, and along with us was my older brother, and my dad’s driver from work, Bolous, an Orthodox Christian. I don’t remember the exact circumstances, but my father told me to fix my arms to my sides as Shi’as do, while I obstinately placed my right hand over my left at my mid-center, as I had been taught in school. We were living in Amman at the time, and Jordan is an almost exclusively Sunni country. I may have even told my dad, “I am not a heretic,” as a way of explaining my refusal to follow orders. I remember my father turning to Bolous, who was also pretending to pray in the Shi’a manner, and sharing a smile.

But back to my pubescent years and the Baghdad heat, why was my late father so visibly moved as he listened to a barely-audible signal from Iran Radio? He saw the questioning in my eye, and very calmly, as if initiating me into some sort of ancestral secret, began to paraphrase what to my ears back then was archaic Arabic, spoken and sometimes sung by a legend in the recitation of the Maqtal, or the ‘Death [of Hussain]’, Sheikh Abdel-Zahra Al-Ka’abi.

A baby’s neck is slit through by a wayward arrow. A brother bids a sibling goodbye; a father sends off his sons to battle. A Christian slave, asks his master for permission to carry a blade and die fighting. A commander of the enemy forces, stuck midway between the two warring camps, weighs the rewards of this life or the hereafter, and throws in his lot with the handful of rebels against the tyrant’s army of several thousand. A warrior fights his way to the riverbank, to bring back some water to parched lips. A son, ill and bedridden, is hidden away, he will survive to carry on the name of this noble house. And then, in the final scenes, Hussain, the grandson of the prophet, now an old man with his sons, brothers, kin and followers dead around him, mounts his steed and exchanges last farewells with his sister and the wailing womenfolk. He launches into the enemy lines, and is cut down. A villain, Shimr Bin Dhil-Goshen, finally overpowers Hussain, who is weighed down with arrows and gashes, and severs his head.

This was powerful stuff, and this piece of propaganda left its intended mark on me. For, on that day, a link in a chain, which had been unbroken for almost 14 centuries, was added: according to our family lore, we are descended from a man who commanded the armies of Ali—Hussain’s father. I was now heir to a tradition; carried on from the earliest Shi’as through the loins of my ancestors to our modern day.

Religion was never an issue in our family, which was a mixed Shia-Sunni one. My parents had worked around it by banishing religion altogether from our lives, even though they remained fiercely proud of their cultures. There was also a message there that bristled at the thought that one would be persecuted for being a Shia, or a Sufi, or a Kurd, and actively defied it.

That day ignited a keen interest in my family background; it was as if this one secret had whetted my appetite for more and more. There was a whole universe of secrets, loyalties and grudges to be passed on for the simple association of hailing from the little Shia enclave (more ‘gated-community’ than ghetto) of Kadhimiya—a town north of Baghdad, and a now a suburb of it. That summer, I was given a tour, mostly of remembered houses and shops that no longer exist, of a Kadhimiya wedged into my father’s memories of childhood and early life; before college in Beirut and New York, before marriage and teaching in Baghdad University, before the Iraqi Communist Party, before the Ba’ath Party, before imprisonment and exile, before a life with the United Nations, before raising a family all over the planet (I was born in Nigeria, for example), before retirement, and before waiting out the demise of the Ba’ath so that we can go home.

My dad passed away before he could show me Ashura as it should be in his most favorite place in the world: Kadhimiya, and among his favorite people: the people of that town. Because for that to happen, there would have to be no more Saddam.

This is why, when Shias in Kadhimiya, in early 2004, commemorated Ashura, I made it a point to show up every day during the ten day ‘celebration.’ And it was indeed a celebration.

In the days leading up to Ashura of that year, which fell on March 2nd, I had been tasked to put together a presentation on the history of Baghdad for the officers of the 1st Armored Division. On the proscribed day, the presenter’s presentation was being mangled by two young Iraqi interpreters who were awkwardly conveying his Arabic words to an American audience filling out a large auditorium in the Green Zone’s Conferences Palace. General Dempsey, then in charge of the 1st AD, seemed unimpressed by what was going on, and I could see that the officer who I had coordinated this event with was getting anxious. So I asked to go up to the podium and give some respite to the translators, and make better sense of the historian’s words, which had begun to slur from the onset of nicotine deprivation. It wasn’t going well, so I took the initiative and spoke about Ashura—something all those officers in that hall would have to deal with in the next couple of days.

I thought the easiest way to describe this ritual to a western audience was by portraying Ashura as a passion play—something the Catholics in the audience may have picked up on more easily than others. The battle of Karbala is enacted by troupes of seasonal actors (lay townsmen whose ‘day’ jobs would be spent as bakers, jewelers, street-sweepers, and the occasional petty thievery!), who take on the roles of the righteous and their oppressors, and dress up in era costumes. Swords (real) are swung, fake blood is applied, tethered horses trammel back and forth between the cardboard props, and many odes are sung to the bravery of the heroes of that day. And tears, so many tears, gushing out with the howls and shrieks of the female onlookers as each warrior was dramatically cut down. And so much cursing in a mishmash of Farsi and Arabic, as the self-appointed morality enforcers shoved the males in the crowd away from pressed-upon females, whose bottoms would turn sore from uninvited pinching.

And woe be the actor who plays the ultimate bad-guy, the aforementioned Shimr bin Dhil-Goshen, who’s usually festooned in bright red, and who beheads Imam Hussein towards the end of the battle. Hussein is the headlining act of the good-guy crew, who’s usually played by a handsome young buck—the real Hussein was killed when he was a graying man in his early 60s. His executioner, that actor playing Shimr, is always surrounded by a squad of extras whose job it is to ensure that no frenzied audience member, usually a woman crazed would grief, would lunge at him with a menacing slipper and smack him across the face. The worst part is when the passion play is over and that actor needs to be escorted through the hostile crowd back to the safety, and anonymity, of a life outside of the red costume.

Alternatively, Ashura can be described as a tourist-trapping carnival: each of the shrine cities—Najaf, Karbala, Kazimayn, but not Sunni-dominated Samarra—tries to outdo the other in spectacle; drawing out the oohs and aahs of Iranian pilgrims. And with these pilgrims, most of whom are peasants, come life savings set aside many years back to splurge on a crying tour around the shrines of the Middle East. These savings end up lining the pockets of the merchants of these shrine towns, who themselves are the main financiers and choreographers of the Ashura processions.

And then, there’s the paganism of it all. I tend to agree with the Wahhabis on this point: Ashura rituals have very little to do with Islam. But unlike the dour-faced Wahhabis, the anarchist within me—the one that resents all forms of authority—is encouraged by that fact. In the face of conformity and orthodoxy, all those little colorful faiths that preceded Islam are still with us, although in barely recognizable forms. C’mon, how else can one explain a contraption called the Zengi ‘flag’ or rather, the Zengi standard?

Before explaining the Zengi standard, I need to explain why no two Zengi standards are the same. The Ashura procession is actually made up of tens of individual processions divided up by neighborhood, guild, ethnicity and tradition. Each mini-procession has a unique Zengi standard. Thus, the bakers’ guild has its own procession in Kadhimiya—unimaginatively called the Bakers’ Procession—while the residents of the Anbariyoon Quarter (immigrants many centuries ago from the ancient town of Anbar, which would be located in today’s predominately Sunni Anbar Province) also puts together a procession bearing their neighborhood’s name.

Traditionally, the overall procession in Kadhimiya has been dominated by two rival processions: one organized by Jumhour (‘Populace’) Procession, one that my grandfather and his grandfather before him had supported, and which claims the tomb/mosque of Sharif Al-Radhi (an 11th century Baghdad jurist and poet of considerable renown) as its ‘tent’—its headquarters and operations center during the Ashura festival where donations are collected, food and alms are distributed, and last-night eulogies are sung. The rival procession is called the Jawahiriya (‘the Jewelers’) Procession, and it sets up its tent at the Bab al-Murad entrance. I had more friends in common with the Jawahiriya, so that is where I used to hang out.

It would seem that way before my grandfather’s time, the Jumhour and the Jawahiriya have been jostling for the privilege and prestige of going first in the overall procession, leading to many bouts of fisticuffs, which were fondly remembered by the elders over endless cups of tea served all around in the tents. After the Jumhour and the Jawahiriya come through, the less prominent processions follow suit, including the ones that have established much more recently such as the one organized by the ethnic Persians who were deported from Iraq in the 1970s (by the tens of thousands, along with hundreds of thousands of ethnically Arab and Kurdish Shi'as); their procession had the heartbreaking name of ‘House of Sorrows.’

On the 40th day after Ashura, everyone congregates in the town of Karbala. There, all the Kadhimiya processions unite as one against their erstwhile enemies, the people of Najaf. And there they get to fight over who goes first. Eighty years ago, a Najafi butcher called Da’aboul was killed in a melee over who gets right of way, and this blood feud still lingers unavenged (…because the Najafis are sissies and girly-men. Ahemmm.)

Let’s get back to the Zengi standard. First, most Zengi standards feature silver or metal peacocks. The peacock used to be worshiped as a sacred symbol by the pagan Zoroastrians and others. Then, there is usually a little bell dangling from the front that is fastened with a cord. The Zengi standard is carried for short distances at a time by one of the more muscular members of the processions, who for some reason have to do it barefoot. Several such ‘jocks’ take turns hauling this heavy standard around. At certain points, the standard is advanced towards the crowds lining the processional way, and men and women stretch out their arms to pluck the chord, chiming the little bell, and thus making a wish come true, or whatever other superstition is associated with it.

Apart from expensive silks and what look like pagan stars, the Jawahiriya Zengi standard is adorned with at least a dozen bejeweled swords, testimony to the workmanship of the jewelers. Each year, a new sword is prepared, and the best swords from generations back are picked to be attached to the standard.

Those ten days in late February and early March 2004 were incredible: it was the first Ashura held after the demise of the Saddam regime, which had restricted the ritual from public spaces in 1979. After Saddam, the rituals were held without any restraints and with much order; there was no secret police to fear. Although they are supposed to be about sadness and mourning, one could easily sense the giddiness pervading the air. People were happy, ecstatic and almost relieved, as if they were finally scratching an itch that had pestered them for decades. Most younger Shi'as under the age of 25 had never seen a Shi'a procession in Iraq; my only experiences were two furtive attempts in Jordan in the 1990s, one of which ended up with my arrest and having to spend the evening explaining the Ashura ceremony to bored Bedouins in police uniforms in the southern Jordanian town of al-Mazar, the site of a Shi'a shrine.

But during those days in Kadhimiya, it was as if an innate instinct—a behavioral gene—had been suddenly animated. Everything seems to flow with a perfect rhythm, and in perfect pitch. Nighttime torchlight processions, candles lit for the dead, poetry processions whereby each band of men would read a line of poetry from a banner held aloft up ahead, so that at every 30 seconds, the stationary audience member would hear a different stanza, and then at every four or five verses, the refrain is sung by one and all.

And picture this: processions with drums and trumpets, with huge colorful flags each denoting one of the heroes of the battle, and with beautifully sung lamentations, all in conjunction with the spectacle that most in the West see reported on the nightly news and get spooked by: young men and boys rhythmically slashing their backs with chains, and drawing blood. This self-flagellation commemorates the betrayal of Hussein by his supporters, who failed to show up to battle and left him to die along with 72 of his family members and closest aides.

And then, there’s the ‘try’—which, I think is derived from the English word ‘trial.’ This word may have seeped into the Shi'a lexicon from the Indian pilgrims who lived under British colonialism, and who were influenced by European precision. For the ‘try’ is in fact a ‘trial’: it is the attempt to rehearse the most spectacular procession yet, that which involves swords and gashed scalps.

Around 1 AM on the ninth and final night, all the processions come together and perform a run of the next day’s procession. Everyone is dressed in white, and everyone has their swords ready. They go through the motions and the fanfare, but don’t draw blood just yet.

Then, after sun-up, the real thing goes down. Blood everywhere! Mists of blood, in fact, coalesce into droplets of reddish dew on the clothes of the onlookers. This is when it becomes at its most pagan: swords waving, horns blowing, drums beating, and one word chanted over and over again: Hussain, Hussain, Hussain. Yesterday’s white shrouds are soaked with blood. The spectacle of devotion and discipline is spellbinding.

I wonder if these processions looked anything like those put together in Babylon many millennia ago; the genetic thumbprints of the Babylonians abound among the people of Iraq, so that even some of their rites may have lingered.

And after the last procession had circumbobulated the shrine, everyone seemed to go home for a rest. It was done: ten days of frenzied ritual, and much spiritual and physical energy expended.

By the way, the bloodletting ritual has been banned by Khomeini, ostensibly over concern that these men were hurting themselves, but I think the real reason is because the Shi'a establishment realizes the pagan undercurrent behind the ritual. On Ashura, men are encouraged to donate blood by the Iranian government. The Shi'a religious establishment in Iraq also frowns upon the ritual, but an Ayatollah risks loosing much of his support should he come out openly and categorically against it. Some habits are hard to kick, pagan rituals included!

By the time it was over, the townspeople of Kadhimiya went to wash away the blood, get some sugar into their depleted bloodstreams, and enjoy a well-deserved nap. So did I. As I was leaving, I saw throngs of people who lived in such places as Sadr City, and who had set out on foot from their homes in the furthest east of Baghdad, had begun to arrive at the shrine.

Twenty minutes later, a suicide bomber blew himself up inside the shrine’s courtyard, within meters of where I had been observing that morning’s procession. Another detonated himself at the Bab al-Murad entrace, shattering the centuries-old gold encrusted timbers of the gateway, and taking many more lives. And yet a third suicide bomber killed many others at nearby market.

I saw the news as I walking into my home. It took a few minutes to sink in, but I instinctively began gathering ammunition. I was convinced that a civil war would start that evening. At least, it should have: this was an unprecedented provocation in the annals of Sunni-Shi'a relations in Iraq. Unprecedented because even if there were sporadic massacres back and forth between the two communities over the centuries, nobody would have dared to damage the shrine, save if they were complete aliens to Iraq like the Wahhabis, who desecrated the shrine in Karbala in 1802. The current structure of the Kadhimiya shrine—uniquely featuring two golden domes for the fact that two of the twelve Shi'a Imams were buried there, Musa al-Kadhim and his grandson, Muhammad al-Jawad—was started by a Safavid Shah, and completed by an Ottoman Sultan.

I was wrong: a civil war did not break out that day. The Shi'a leadership under Sistani chose to hold the Americans responsible for not providing enough security. After that, an angry mob had turned against American soldiers trying to provide medical assistance to the wounded, and began pelting them with stones and shoes, just like Shimr.

Their anger was misplaced. Later that evening, I went back to the shrine and ran into people like Muqtada al-Sadr’s representative in Kadhimiya, Hazen al-‘Araji, as well as my friends at the Jawahiriya procession (the second bomb had gone off near them, the bomber’s head had landed on their tent’s canvass). Everyone was dazed and confused.

How could this happen?

Almost two years later, the Samarra shrine was blown up, and this time, the Shi'as did not hold the Americans responsible. But Sistani, to his credit now I see, refused to hold Sunnis responsible either. However, a fringe that had never listened to Sistani in the first place, a fringe dominated by Sadrists such as al-‘Araji, focused their anger at Sunnis and initiated cycles of reprisal killings.

And even after all that, the civil war I had predicted would start in March 2004 never materialized.

Today, Iraqi authorities are saying that they foiled a massive attack against the chief shrine city of them all, Najaf, home to the tomb of Imam Ali, Hussein’s father, and to a prominent scion of Hussein’s, the black-turbaned Ayatollah Ali Sistani. The authorities are claiming to have killed 250 militants in the day-long battle. It is still unclear whether the aggressors were millenarian Shi'as or Sunni jihadists, or both.

These religious festivals and rituals can be harnessed by dark men towards violent ends; to spread radicalism and sectarianism. But they can also be the antidote to fervor and closed-mindedness, for they still reflect all the colors and hues of faiths and rituals from more ancient times, and make a place for them in the cultural pantheon of the modern Middle East. These rituals also serve to let off steam and vent ancient hurts, and after they’re done, the actor playing Shimr can go back to being a grocer (…albeit with a few bruises), and the actor playing Hussein can take fares in his taxi, and the Iranian pilgrim can go home, all cried-out.

It doesn’t have to be about fighting a battle whose original generals have been dead for a millennium and a half. These rituals, rather than inciting further hatred, can be cathartic.

As a secular person, I choose to revel in the complex cultural messages of Ashura. I think the festival is beautiful. I think the shrine is wondrous. And I think regular folk derive much consolation and joy after exercising their spiritual muscles during this time of year.

During my talk to the American officers, I told them to encourage the men and women serving under them to take pictures and to show an interest, and not to refuse the free food and beverages that would be handed out to them as a courtesy. I saw many Iraqis taking plates of food, fruits and sweets to bored American soldiers running patrols during those days.

I look forward to the day when American and Western tourists would get to see the ‘cultural’ festival of Ashura, and to do so safely and without harassment. I look forward to the day when enlightened Shi'a clerics, mindful that they wouldn’t have been able to celebrate Ashura had it not been for those American soldiers who tore down the Ba’athist regime, would welcome these tourists and give them right of place, and encourage their flock to be hospitable and friendly, and to painstakingly explain all the little aspects of the ritual.

Maybe one day, novelty shops in Kadhimiya will sell miniature Zengi standards, and tourists would take pretty pictures of the Ashura ‘carnival.’

Hey, maybe they can even throw pies at Shimr for $1 a pop.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Interesting Controversy Surrounding CBS’s Lara Logan

You can read all the details here on IraqSlogger.com (...an anti-Bush website).

What I'm interested in is the footage of dead Iraqi soldiers that Lara Logan claims was “obtained by CBS.” But this footage was first released by Al-Qaeda!

Al-Qaeda’s Islamic State of Iraq released 8 minutes of cell phone footage through its media arm, the Al-Furqan Institute for Media Productions, under the title ‘Some of the Casualties of the Heretics in Haifa Street After Sunday’s Fighting, January 7, 2007, in Baghdad.’ The grainy images were of six or seven bodies wearing Iraqi military fatigues with ‘carry-out’ lunch boxes strewn about them. The images were probably taken by a cell phone, judging by quality. In one scene, a close up is shown of a soldier shot through the head, probably executed.

At the time, the Iraqi military claimed that some of its soldiers were cornered on Haifa Street and killed after running out of ammunition. This incident set off the subsequent battles there. Al-Qaeda also released written statements at the time taking credit for the initial phase of fighting.

The video released by Al-Qaeda two weeks ago moves on from the bodies (referred to in the caption as the ‘rotten carcasses of the Pagan Guard’) to show burnt out cars on Haifa Street, and the following caption reads that these vehicles belonged to ‘plain-clothed’ Mahdi Army militiamen who had arrived to relieve the Iraqi soldiers. Bloodied walls were also shown, seemingly to indicate that the militia members were shot.

These may have been the executions of civilians that Dr. Kassir, who is quoted in the CBS story, was referring to.

The footage “obtained by CBS” is identical to that put out by Al-Qaeda. But Logan makes no mention of Al-Qaeda’s video and does not address the implication that the footage she used was off an Al-Qaeda video. And if it’s not off the Al-Qaeda video, then how did she get footage identical to the one used by Al-Qaeda? This needs to be explained.

Furthermore, and this is the most damning indication of journalistic incompetence, Logan makes no mention about the affiliation of these insurgents fighting on Haifa Street. Not even the slightest mention is made that Al-Qaeda is taking credit for the fighting there. On the contrary, the audience is treated to a blanket accusation by an anonymous civilian (wearing a headdress in the insurgent manner) denouncing the Americans and the destruction they’ve brought to bear on Haifa Street. Hey Logan, how about tempering your report with something about insurgent activity? The report sounded as if the American and Iraqi forces were pounding Haifa Street for the fun of it.

It would seem that the Al-Furqan propagandists exhibited more journalistic accuracy than CBS News on this count.

Al-Dhari Allegedly Supports Al-Qaeda’s Islamic State of Iraq

The head of the Muslim Clerics Association (Sunni Salafists), Sheikh Harith al-Dhari, is said to have spoken in support of the Islamic State of Iraq that had been established by Al-Qaeda last October. al-Dhari is said to have made this statement at a reception held in his honor in the Saudi Arabian city of Jeddah, according to an anonymous (and sympathetic) report that has been circulating around jihadist websites for a couple of days. The report, which I found at muslm.net, was accompanied with still pictures and footage (…although I didn’t view it) documenting the gathering. The reception was held at the home of a Saudi doctor by the name of Saud al-Hashemi.

Al-Dhari is wanted by Iraqi authorities for inciting sectarianism and supporting terrorists; the warrant was issued by Iraq’s Ministry of Interior on November 16, 2006.

Al-Dhari was accompanied to this reception in Jeddah by the official spokesman of the Muslim Clerics’ Association, Sheikh Abdul-Salam al-Kubaisi, as well as Sheikh Isma’il al-Badri, one of its top leaders. Also attending the gathering in a separate capacity was Tunisian Islamic thinker Rashed al-Ghanoushi.

Part of the evening, in which Al-Dhari spoke about the general conditions of Iraq, was covered by Al-Majd TV (Saudi Islamist) and the mainstream network Al-Arabiya (owned by Saudis close to the royal family). At one point, the moderator of the gathering, Dr. Ibrahim al-Jarallah, asked the media to turn off their cameras but allowed pictures to be taken by cell phones.

Al-Dhari then began to explain how the insurgency was started, and the stages it went through. He also told his audience that the number of American casualties that gets reported is not accurate, and that to get to the truth one must multiply the stated numbers by tenfold.

Al-Dhari claims that the Americans have lost approximately 475 billion dollars in Iraq, and that the number of Iraqi dead exceeds 500,000—most of them being Sunni, according to him.

Al-Kubaisi, the spokesman, then spoke about how the fall of Baghdad into ‘Safavid’ hands would be a prelude to the fall of Mecca and Medina. He also said that the respective numbers of Sunnis to Shi'as have been falsified by (former CPA proconsul) Paul Bremer, stressing that, according to government figures, Shi'as constitute 37 percent of the population, while the Sunnis make up 50 percent and the Kurds (who predominately Sunni) form another 13 percent.

Both al-Dhari and al-Kubaisi spoke in conciliatory terms towards lay Shi'as, saying that Sunnis and Shi'as have been living together without incident for many centuries. But Al-Kubaisi justified some of the attacks on Shi'a places of worship as being alleged to be recruitment center for death squads. Al-Badri, who is charge of issuing fatwas for the MCA, also tried to distinguish between lay Shi'as and those in government. This line towards Shi'as—‘there are some tolerable Shi'as that we don’t have to kill’—is the traditional Salafist approach.

Then a cleric from Baqouba told the listeners that even packs of wild dogs are fighting alongside the insurgents, for they only attack Americans.

Al-Dhari then invited his audience to support the Iraqi insurgency with financial donations.

After dinner, the author of the report asked al-Dhari, al-Kubaisi and al-Badri separately about Saddam Hussein’s alleged repudiation of Ba’athism and his embrace of Islam right before dying. Al-Dhari said that it is enough that Saddam announced that there is “no God but Allah and that Mohammad is his prophet” right before his death to count as an act of repentance. Then he said that Saddam’s jailers had seen him read the Koran feverishly while in prison, implying that that was another sign of atonement.

Al-Dhari also spoke favorably about having multiple insurgent groups and added that this way it is harder on the Americans to fight back. Then he added that the “Islamic State of Iraq aims to spite the enemy and show [America’s] weakness.”

The main insurgent faction behind the Islamic State of Iraq is Al-Qaeda. Al-Dhari’s words essentially imply his support for Al-Qaeda, which is how the author of the report understood it—in fact, it was the title of the report!

Al-Kubaisi said that there is nothing wrong with supporting the Islamic State of Iraq since this was “one of the methods of making war against the infidels.”

Analysis: In case people are still wondering how the insurgency gets funded, well, this report highlights how the fundraising is conducted in such places as Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt—all places to which Al-Dhari travels regularly. Al-Dhari’s crew shows up to talk about the insurgency and its long term plans, telling the audience that the Sunnis are the majority of the population, and asking for funds to maintain the momentum of the insurgency. Then they eat and checks are cut over tea and dessert.

These fundraisers are supposed to be under wraps, but the anonymous author did us a great favor is uncovering this one, held at the home of a wealthy Saudi doctor.

Al-Dhari is received at the highest levels of state in Amman, Riyadh and Cairo too. In between his fundraising and advocacy for the insurgency, al-Dhari allegedly finds time to negotiate with the Americans. I’ve heard from one source that the American Embassy in Baghdad has been leaning heavily on Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to rescind the warrant for al-Dhari’s detention; saying that it is not the time to question him about his role in supporting the insurgency. As far as I know, al-Dhari has not been back to Iraq since the warrant was issued.

Al-Dhari seems to be closely affiliated with the Islamic Army of Iraq and the 1920 Revolution Brigades.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Very Interesting Article: What are the consequences of victory in Iraq?

The author of this article wishes to remain anonymous. I think it's great:

Is Iraq This War’s Guadalcanal?

David Brooks; Reinventing the Wheel

David Brooks writes in his column today that Iraq should undergo a ‘soft partition’ (The New York Times, ‘Breaking the Clinch,’ January 25, 2007—full text in the comments section).

Brooks makes the case that Iraq is currently in the opening stages of a Rwanda-style civil war. For this, he cites, among others (…all non-Iraqis), someone of the stature of John F. Burns, the long-serving New York Times bureau chief in Baghdad, who is quoted as saying (on the Charlie Rose show): “Friends of mine who are Iraqis—Shiite, Sunni, Kurd—all foresee a civil war on a scale with bloodshed that would absolutely dwarf what we’re seeing now.”

Has anyone seen what Burns looks like recently? He is occasionally hosted on CNN’s Wolf Blitzer show. There is something funny about his hair; and it cannot be dismissed off hand as run-of-the-mill British/Canadian eccentricity. I mean, I have a hard time taking anyone with a clownish hairdo seriously. It would be like taking policy advice from Bozo. And then, what Iraqi “friends” is he talking about? Burns is infamous among Iraqi stringers working for western news bureaus as being callous, demeaning and downright rude and imperious to Iraqis.

Brooks’ column is rife with oversimplifications: everything is boiled down to Sunnis vs. Shi'as, which seems as far as his intellectual curiosity on Iraq is willing to take him. This is a symptom that many commentators suffer from when writing about Iraq: when you can’t make sense of the details, just ignore them. So then, “the Shiite finance ministries now close banks that may finance Sunni investments.” Come again? Do you know anything about how Iraq is running? How contracts are being awarded? How banks function? It isn’t a pretty picture, but the Sunnis are certainly not getting shafted. Corruption hovers above sectarianism, and when anti-corruption measures are taken, the corrupt claim to be victims of sectarianism. An example would be Aiham Alsamarrae, a Sunni whose wife is a Shi'a lady from Najaf. Details, shmetails!

Then, as a way of fixing things, Brooks gives us the Grand Idea: Soft Partition. Just what is Soft Partition supposed to look like? Brooks promises more in next Sunday’s column, but for now, he tells us about a “central government to handle oil revenues and manage the currency, etc., but a country divided into separate sectarian areas to reduce contact and conflict.”

Yeah, it’s called federalism, with a healthy dollop of central control over resources and national security. The Iraqi opposition, which at the time encompassed most of the major players on the scene today, agreed on this back in 1992. After liberation, these ideas were worked into the constitution, which passed by a two thirds majority in a nationwide referendum. Now, these clauses are getting fine-tuned by the parliament, and are being debated and worked out; the oil law is almost ready, for example. All this has already been done, Mr. Brooks, and it didn’t need your gracious prompting.

Maybe if your newspaper had done a better job of covering these developments and highlighting why they’re so important, then you wouldn’t have gotten so ahead of yourself.

Brooks promises us that he will discuss the ideas of Soft Partition as enunciated by the likes of Senator Joe Biden and Peter Galbraith. I wrote a column (read it here, ‘What About the Druze?’) back when Joe ‘Hair-Plug’ Biden first made his ideas known. (On a side note, you have read Dana Milbank’s hilarious article on Biden and his proclivity to be full of himself in today’s Washington Post).

Peter Galbraith, a man I respect for all that he’s done for Iraq (…I even volunteered for his failed congressional bid), should be introduced today as a lobbyist for the Kurds. Today, this is his money-making profession, and his ideas about Iraqi partition (see his book, The End of Iraq, 2006) should be judged in that light.

Just one more unrelated thing I saw today in the NYTimes: a macabre practical joke by an Iraqi private probably led the embedded reporters to write a negative story about Iraqi troops. Damien Cave and James Glanz (‘In a New Joint U.S.-Iraqi Patrol, the Americans Go First,’ January 25, 2007) write that “One Iraqi soldier in the alley pointed his rifle at an American reporter and pulled the trigger. There was only a click: the weapon had no ammunition. The soldier laughed at his joke.”

One can see how a reporter would be spooked by this. And one can also see the psychological cascade that would lead the traumatized reporter to exact revenge by badmouthing the Iraqi troops. Memo to the Iraqi Defense Minister: Remind your officers that western reporters have brittle egos. No more horsing around with guns.

Khalilzad and the Killers

The U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, expressed sincere and heartfelt sorrow over the Blackwater casualties in today’s Washington Post (E. Londono and J. Paltow, ‘Troops Battle Insurgents in Central Baghdad,’ January 25, 2007):

Khalilzad also discussed briefly the five American security contractors, employees of Blackwater USA, who were killed in Baghdad on Tuesday. U.S. officials have said a Blackwater helicopter was shot down while assisting a U.S. Embassy convoy that came under attack in central Baghdad.

"We lost five fine men," Khalilzad said. "They helped me, I've traveled with them, so I went and visited them and saw them while in the morgue yesterday. I felt very bad, because as I said, I knew these people."

Khalilzad said the helicopter crash was under investigation. U.S. officials on Wednesday did not confirm reports that some of the contractors might have been shot after their small helicopter crashed.

A Sunni insurgent group known as the 1920 Revolution Brigades posted a video clip on the Internet that purports to show the downed Blackwater helicopter smoldering near a building and the corpses of at least two men. The authenticity of the video could not be verified.
The 1920 Revolution Brigades was one of three insurgent groups that claimed credit for shooting down the Blackwater helicopter, the other two being the Islamic Army of Iraq and the Ansar al-Sunnah. All three groups were allegedly involved in secret negotiations with Khalilzad in Amman early last year. I wonder how the ambassador feels about those talks now…?

New Column: Turnaround in Baghdad

My NYSun column today is titled Turnaround in Baghdad.

The key sentence is: "In other words, battling the insurgency now essentially means battling Al Qaeda. This is a major accomplishment."

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The American Media’s New Burning Hoop for Maliki: Arrest Muqtada

Wolf cries wolf, that’s basically it. Wolf Blitzer, in his interview today with VP Cheney on CNN’s The Situation Room, has revealed that the next burning hoop that the media is artificially putting in PM Maliki’s path is going to be the arrest of Shi'a cleric Muqtada al-Sadr: Blitzer is implicitly saying that if Maliki doesn’t put Muqtada behind bars, then it’s as if nothing has improved in Iraq.

Shameless. Simply shameless.

CNN, and other media outlets, have become so entrenched in the ‘Iraq-is-a-Disaster’ storyline that any positive developments in Baghdad will be matched by the media raising the bar on what counts for success, just to save face and tarnish Bush and Maliki.

Sure, Muqtada should be behind bars. But folks did you forget about the other priorities that you’ve been harping about? Like putting out the sectarian wildfire? Like going after the death squads? Like securing Baghdad? Like restoring basic services? Like fighting corruption?

And speaking about corruption, Mr. Blitzer, what was that piece of sloppy reporting done by that mediocre reporter, CNN’s ‘senior’ national correspondent John Roberts, on the Aiham al-Samarrai story supposed to be, huh? It was a total whitewash of someone who could turn out to be the most corrupt swindler in Iraq's history if the charges hold, while the Iraqi government’s version of events was disdainfully given by Mr. Roberts as he sarcastically talked out of the side of his mouth! Why wasn’t someone brought on to counter Samarrai’s charges and to explain why he is being prosecuted for corruption, and how corruption has enabled the insurgents? [The relevant transcript from the January 17 show is posted in full in the comments section—try to read it without smashing the screen]

And speaking of reporting, does CNN’s Michael Ware, who is constantly featured on Blitzer’s show, ever say something new? I mean, what is he actually saying? It all sounds so neat and ornate, especially with that Australian accent, but where is the actual reporting in what he says? It seems Mr. Ware is big on hyperbole, but thin on the facts. I’d like to know what his sources are saying about Haifa Street. I’d like to know what his sources are saying about the alleged arrest of Juba the Sniper. But we don’t hear that at all; we just hear blah-blah-blah, Iraq-is-a-Disaster.

Now, so as not to concede any measure of success to Bush or Maliki, Blitzer & Co. are pushing for the near-impossible-at-the-current-time political and logistical feat of arresting Muqtada. Sure, it is the business of the media to keep pushing those in power on getting right, and certainly, Muqtada answering charges would be a good thing.

But when the media’s refrain of ‘Iraq-is-a-Disaster’ continues to give heart to the hold-outs of the insurgency, who will be fortified in the illusion that the Americans cannot salvage Iraq (…believe me, the insurgents watch CNN all the time), and that encourages them to go out and kill more Iraqis and Americans in their murderous quest, then yeah, I’ll get angry at Wolf Blitzer for artificially creating a new and impossible task for Maliki just so that he—as well as Messrs. Roberts and Ware—can save face over getting the story wrong.

Here’s the transcript of the relevant segment:

BLITZER: Do you trust Nouri al-Maliki?

CHENEY: I do. At this point, I don't have any reason not to trust him.

BLITZER: Is he going to go after Muqtada al Sadr...

CHENEY: I think...

BLITZER: ... this anti-American Shiite cleric who...

CHENEY: I think he has demonstrated...

BLITZER: ... controls the Mahdi Army?

CHENEY: I think he has demonstrated a willingness to take on any elements that violate the law. He has been...

BLITZER: Do you want him to arrest Muqtada al Sadr?

CHENEY: He has been active, just in recent weeks, in going after the Mahdi Army. There have been some 600 of them arrested within the last several days.

BLITZER: Should he be arrested, Muqtada al Sadr?

CHENEY: That's a decision that's got to be made...

BLITZER: Because, as you know, the first U.S. general there, Roberto Sanchez, said this guy killed Americans, he has blood on his hands, he was wanted, basically, dead or alive. Whatever happened to that?

CHENEY: Wolf, you've got to let Nouri Al-Maliki deal with the situation as he sees fit, and I think he will.

BLITZER: You think he's going to go after the Mahdi Army?

CHENEY: I think he will go after all of those elements in Iraq that are violating the law, that are contributing to sectarian violence. There are criminal elements, there are Baathists -- former regime elements -- all of them have to be the target of the effort. He'll have a lot of help, because he'll have 160,000 U.S. forces there to work alongside the Iraqis to get the job done.

But Cheney calls out Blitzer on his bias later in the interview:


CHENEY: Just think for a minute -- think for a minute, Wolf, in terms of what policy is being suggested here. What you're recommending -- or at least what you seem to believe the right course is -- is to bail out...

BLITZER: I'm just asking a question.

CHENEY: No, you're not asking a question.

BLITZER: Yes, I am. I'm just asking...

CHENEY: Implicit...

BLITZER: ... the questions...

CHENEY: Implicit in the critics...

BLITZER: ... that your critics are asking.

CHENEY: Implicit in what the critics are suggesting, I think, is an obligation to say well, here's what we need to do or we're not going to do anything else, we're going to accept defeat. Defeat is not an answer. We can, in fact, prevail here and we need to prevail. And the consequences of not doing so are enormous.

Jihadist Ratings War?

On December 30, 2006, the Ansar al-Sunnah organization released a video under the title ‘Merciful Amongst Themselves’ highlighting celebrations in Iraq around the time of the Muslim holidy Eid al-Fitr at the end of last Ramadhan (October 23-25, 2006).The video commences with Eid prayers and a sermon held at a rural mosque (the name of the mosque on the outside is purposely obscured), and we never get to see the face of the preacher, who is assumed to be one of the leaders of Ansar al-Sunnah. This 21 minute video even comes with an e-mail address (asdarat@yahoo.com) to which commentary about the production can be sent. The rest of the video shows jihadists doing a meet-and-greet in what seems to be a rural town in Diyala Province (…I’m guessing). They stop cars and do spot-interviews with random men who are asked what they think about the jihad and the jihadists, all of whom answer positively and in glowing terms; it is a propaganda video after all. Candy is given out to kids, and in one shot, the main jihadist (all the militants wear ski-masks) gives a 10,000 Iraqi Dinar bill to another man carrying a child in his arms.

The whole point is to show that the regular folk support the jihadists, or more specifically support the Ansar al-Sunnah, and that the jihadists can move around freely.

Yesterday, the Islamic State of Iraq, an umbrella organization in which Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia holds sway, released a 43 minute video under the title ‘The Joy of Muslims over the Establishment of the State of the Monotheists.’ What is interesting is that Al-Qaeda’s video is very similar in content to the aforementioned Ansar al-Sunnah one. Again, we see vehicle convoys of jihadists parading in the streets and doing a meet-and-greet among the townspeople. Al-Qaeda seems to upstage the Ansar by doing so on some of the main thoroughfares of Baghdad and Ramadi, and the video is interspersed with excerpts from the recent speeches of current Al-Qaeda head Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, as well as the ‘Prince of the Faithful’ Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, the head of the Islamic State of Iraq to whom Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia has pledged allegiance to. Earlier audio excerpts and footage from Zarqawi and Bin Laden, as well as the segment in which Zawahiri calls upon Muslims to support the Islamic State of Iraq, are also shown throughout. There is also footage of similar parading that was covered on al-Sharqiya TV and Aljazeera. Several groups of jihadists are shown (again all are in ski-masks) pledging allegiance to al-Baghdadi, and the group in Salahuddin Province even pledges that “If you want to lead us to Washington, we shall brave the seas with you.”

The Al-Qaeda video also shows kids rejoicing and jumping up and down around a cloth banner heralding the establishment of the Islamic State of Iraq, and then in another shot insurgents are shown handing out new clothes to children. At one gathering in Haditha, the face of an elderly woman, in full hijab and abaya, is blotted out because she is insufficiently covered up, I presume.

These two videos seem to be a tit-for-tat among the Ansar al-Sunnah and Al-Qaeda; two groups that have traditionally been rivals in Iraq, but this rivalry had not resulted in a confrontation, so far.

I could be reading too much into the timing and content of these videos, since both could be inadvertent. But what I keep hearing is that Al-Qaeda insists on being the only game in town and that all must submit to its Islamic State, while Ansar al-Sunnah have been basically cast in the role of hold-outs. Al-Muhajir had earlier invited the Ansar to join, and I haven’t seen a negative response from the latter. Yet it is clear that there hasn’t been a positive response either.

The Ansar had always stuck their noses up at Zarqawi, and considered themselves to be more senior in the hierarchy of jihad.

Let’s watch for an imminent split among the two, which may even escalate into clashes as the funds dwindle and insurgent sanctuaries become harder to come by.

On a related note, the Ansar al-Sunnah are claiming that they shot down the Blackwater helicopter in the Fadhel neighborhood of Baghdad yesterday, and to bolster their claims, they showed the ID badges, credit cards and California driver’s license of one of the victims in that crash. However, on the Iraqi Rabita website, the claim goes to three ‘youths’ from that neighborhood who don’t seem to be affiliated with any single organization, and the pro-Ba’athist website suggests that these ‘youths’ have proof for their claim. The Islamic Army of Iraq also claimed responsibility for this attack.

Jihadists and Wife-Swapping

Well, we seem to have a theme going here on Talisman: last week I wrote about Sadrists and Sex Orgies, and this week we have a captured jihadist allegedly spilling the beans about the practice of wife-swapping among insurgents. Aswat al-Iraq (Voices of Iraq) website carried a story from Karbala on Sunday (Arabic text) where the chief of police of Karbala, Maj. Gen. Muhammad 'Abul-Walid' [Muhammad Zaidan al-Qureishi, former commander of the Wolf Brigade], claims that his forces had arrested a commander of the Tawhid wel-Jihad (the old name for Zarqawi’s outfit) cell by the name of Hussein Abdullah al-Khalidi, who had confessed to 35 instances of violence ranging from car bombs to abductions in the Baghdad area. Khalidi was arrested in the northern part of Karbala Province, which contains several Sunni towns and villages.

The story carries details of specific crimes that Khalidi had confessed to, and how much he was compensated per crime; for example, the beheading of three female employees of the Ministry of Education in Baya’a (south-western Baghdad) and discarding their bodies in the Radhwaniya desert earned him 200 U.S. dollars.

According to the media spokesman of the Karbala police, Rahman Mishawi, Khalidi also confessed that the head of his group, a man by the name of Mahdi Talib, had issued a fatwaallowing wife-swapping to strengthen the bonds [between the insurgents]”.

Khalidi is also alleged to have given his own wife to the head of the group, and received the deputy commander’s wife in her stead.

So the Sunni jihadists would like to peg Shi'a Sadrists as sex-orgy perverts, while the Shi'a-led police label Sunni jihadists as deviant swingers. When the Kurds arrested one of their own, Sheikh Zana, for being jihadist terrorist in the summer of 2005, they made sure to label him a sodomist. Do you see a pattern here?

The Washington Post had an interesting story recently (January 20) on temporary marriages, something I wrote about in the post on the Sadrists. [See comments section for full text of the WaPo story]

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Yeah, I’ll Say It: Witness the Death Throes of the Sunni Insurgency

The average Sunni insurgent today feels demoralized, disillusioned, defeated, and hunted. The more cynical insurgents are focusing on turning a quick buck to ‘retire’ to a calmer life outside of Iraq.

Don’t take my word for it; here’s Ghaith Abdul-Ahad reporting the situation on the ground in yesterday’s Guardian:

"Its not a good time to be a Sunni in Baghdad," Abu Omar told me in a low voice. He had been on the Americans' wanted list for three years but I had never seen him so anxious; he had trimmed his beard in the close-cropped Shia style and kept looking towards the door. His brother had been kidnapped a few days before, he told me, and he believed he was next on a Shia militia's list. He had fled his home in the north of the city and was staying with relatives in a Sunni stronghold in west Baghdad.

He was more despondent than angry. "We Sunni are to blame," he said. "In my area some ignorant al-Qaida guys have been kidnapping poor Shia farmers, killing them and throwing their bodies in the river. I told them: 'This is not jihad. You can't kill all the Shia! This is wrong! The Shia militias are like rabid dogs - why provoke them?' "

Then he said: "I am trying to talk to the Americans. I want to give them assurances that no one will attack them in our area if they stop the Shia militias from coming."

This man who had spent the last three years fighting the Americans was now willing to talk to them, not because he wanted to make peace but because he saw the Americans as the lesser of two evils. He was wrestling with the same dilemma as many Sunni insurgent leaders, beginning to doubt the wisdom of their alliance with al-Qaida extremists.

Another insurgent commander told me: "At the beginning al-Qaida had the money and the organisation, and we had nothing." But this alliance soon dragged the insurgents and then the whole Sunni community into confrontation with the Shia militias as al-Qaida and other extremists massacred thousands of Shia civilians. Insurgent commanders such as Abu Omar soon found themselves outnumbered and outgunned, fighting organised militias backed by the Shia-dominated security forces.

He looked nervously at them: suggestions of talking to the Americans could easily have him labelled as traitor. "Where is the jihad and the mujahideen?" he continued. "Baghdad has become a Shia town. Our brothers are being slaughtered every day! Where are these al-Qaida heroes? One neighbourhood after another will be lost if we don't work on a strategy."

The taxi driver commander, who sat cross-legged on a sofa, joined in: "If the Americans leave we will be slaughtered." A big-bellied man waved his hands dismissively: "We will massacre the Shia and show them who are the Sunnis! They couldn't have done anything without the Americans' support."

When the meeting was over the taxi driver went out to check the road, then the rest followed. "Don't look up, we could be monitored, Shia spies are everywhere," said the big man. The next day the taxi driver was arrested.

By December Abu Omar's worst fears were being realised. The Sunnis had become squeezed into a corner fighting two sides at the same time. But by then he had disappeared; his body was never found.

[The full text of the Guardian story is posted in the comments section]

Despite coming at the height of political and bureaucratic mismanagement, the situation in Iraq has turned around—and that for the better—on its own, and it did that because of the sense of fatigue and aimlessness that has set in among most of the Sunni insurgents, and because the Iraqi state took the worst of the storm and is still standing.

Staying the course actually brought forth dividends: all the vectors for an eventual victory look good.

Sending 21,500 fresh troops to Baghdad and Ramadi is more or less superfluous, yet it will catalyze these vectors for the better, but make no mistake: the ‘surge’ did not turn matters around since they’ve already turned already. The new batch; Gates, Petraeus, and Crocker will get all the kudos from the commentators who’ve staked their name on the ‘Iraq-is-Over’ storyline. These folks will call the ‘turnaround’ a miracle, and they will sing the praises of the aforementioned trio—possibly even paving the way for a likely presidential bid (2012, 2016?) for that ultra-ambitious chap, Petraeus; a consummate showman.

McCain also stands to reap some fruits for 2008.

The commentators will begrudge Bush and his team—especially those ‘nefarious’ neoconservatives—any credit in getting it right; those who have been so thoroughly maligned will await that scrupulous revisionist historian who’ll put together the story of this war after all the shrillness had subsided.

I began to write about this sense of fatigue creeping into the insurgency back in October:

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.

I also wrote a related column under the title, Iraq is Succeeding, followed by Something is Changing.

I also realized that Saddam’s hanging would knock the wind out of the Ba’athist sails. That horrible party had become so fixated in its Saddam worship to the point that life and purpose after Saddam were beyond contemplation. I was taken back when I first observed this phenomenon in November, and wrote about it then. The aftermath of the tyrant’s hanging showed that all those clenched fists of rage punching the air did not materialize into a spike of violence. If anything, the violence seems to be damping down.

And the Ba’athists will not find another ‘real’ leader: c’mon Izzet al-Douri? Are you kidding? The only person with leadership potential is Muhammad Younis al-Ahmad, but a source tells me that he’s been expelled from the Ba’ath command, and is sulking somewhere in Syria.

The remaining Ba’athist insurgents will dissolve into Al-Qaeda’s Islamic State of Iraq. Al-Qaeda has been putting out its own ‘tough love’ brand of expansion lately; they’re ‘bitch-slapping’ the likes of the 1920 Revolution Brigades into submission. For the most part, this expansion is working because of the pervading sense of aimlessness among the other insurgent strands, whereas Al-Qaeda enjoys the clarity of zealotry and fantasy. But Al-Qaeda is really taking a beating as the events on Haifa Street, Baladruz and others are showing. The Americans and the Iraqis are getting better at counterinsurgency.

It should also be noted that Saddam was hung on the first day of 'Eid, while the last day of 'Eid was supposed to mark the end of a massive Al-Qaeda offensive, declared by Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, against the Americans and the Iraqi state. So the anger over Saddam’s hanging, and the Al-Qaeda offensive, overlapped by a few days, and yet there really wasn’t an upsurge of mayhem. That’s something to ponder.

The other interesting story is that the insurgency became about communal survival for the Sunnis, rather than communal revival. Suddenly, the Sunnis became victims on the run, and not the ones fighting to recapture power. Sunni sectarian attacks provoked the Shi'a who turned to their most brazen militias—the ones who would not heed Sistani’s call for calm—and unleashed reprisals against Sunnis. It turned out that the insurgents could not keep their communities safe, and they began to cede more and more ground in the all-important turf war for Baghdad.

After tasting the bitter appetizer of what a Shi'a militia backlash would be like, I can bet that most Sunnis do not want to fight a civil war: they know that they will lose, and lose badly, and that comes through very clearly in the Guardian report.

All this added pressure and the resultant hardship of living outside the benevolence of the state, as well as the leadership vacuum that resulted from Saddam’s hanging, has opened up an opportunity for new, more moderate Sunni leaders to emerge. I discussed in a comment I posted here on December 6, 2006:

Let me answer this with a fresh piece of information from a top Ministry of Education official: “40 percent of schools in Baghdad are deserted. Almost all of them are in the Sunni bastions.”

The insurgents are denying Sunni children an education. The insurgents—as the Ansar al-Sunna leaflets that were distributed in Hai al-Jami’a and 14 Ramadhan Street over the last couple of days indicate—want to protect Sunnis from abduction at the hand of death squads. But death squads (and most government bodies including the police) wouldn’t dare enter into the side-streets of a place like Hai al-Jam’ia in the first place.

The insurgent agenda is to paralyze Iraq, but in effect they are only succeeding in paralyzing Sunni areas. Shops in Kadhimiya, Karrada and Sadr City stay open until late at night. Shops in mixed neighborhoods like Mansour close around 5 pm. Shops in Sunni bastions hardly open.

At one point, lay Sunnis are going to realize that they are being held behind by the same people who are claiming to defend them. This is an opportune movement for the elected Sunni leaders from Tawafuq and the rest to rise to the occasion: they will use their influence within the state to bring normalcy back to Sunni neighborhoods while at the same time keeping the death squads in check.

Saddam is to be out of the picture soon, and someone like Harith al-Dhari is already being deflated by the Iraqi government. The Sunnis are going to suffer from an acute leadership vacuum.

I think that these plans can win over the vast majority of Sunnis who are fed up with the heavy price they must pay, and who have begun to see that the insurgency is a dead-end. The Baker report tells them that America’s withdrawal is not imminent and that the Americans will try to improve their counterinsurgency skills, while other press reports suggest that the Americans may even turn against the Sunnis as a whole despite regional Arab support for them. All this adds up to a sense that the insurgency may not be going anywhere and that it is time to accept a new Iraq.

Al-Dulaimi, Hashemi and Mutlaq will continue railing against the issues that Sunnis dislike such as de-Ba’athification, arresting al-Dhari and the such, but they will facilitate the procedures I’ve been describing. Their own lives are physically threatened by the insurgents, and they have the most to gain from defeating the Ba’athists and jihadists and thus removing them from the Sunni leadership. I sense an opportunity coming up.

Moreover, the Iraqi middle class, those ‘refugees’ who took their savings and fled for the safety of Amman, Damascus, and Cairo, are returning to Baghdad as their money runs out and as the authorities in the host countries increase their harassment. Those returnees do not harbor any more escape fantasies: they are trapped in Iraq, their home and the locale of their livelihood, and they need to make a go of it. These pseudo-desperadoes will put up more of a fight when militias and insurgents try to impose their jungle law upon them; they will be the most loyal foot soldiers of a nascent state.

So yeah, I’ll say it loud and clear: enjoy the show; the bad guys are losing. This thing is winnable, and it is being won.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Sadrists and Sex Orgies

See, I thought long and hard about writing about this topic, since it may smut-‘tify’ Talisman Gate, but I think it is relevant: it demonstrates just how much the Sadrist movement is actually a symptom of a weird cult that’s sprung up in Najaf.

Before reading any further, kindly go through this post that I had written back in May 2006 about the so-called Sulukiyya sect—very relevant to what is to come.

I found this most recent fatwa (dated November 25, 2005), where Muqatada al-Sadr signs off on Mahdi Army-sponsored sex orgies, posted on a jihadist website that is very much anti-Shi'a. It was being used by the jihadists to demonstrate the supposed depravity of all Shi'as. Apparently a picture of the fatwa has been floating around jihadist websites for several months now, but this is the first I see of it. Given the source, the document would be highly suspect—someone may be trying to libel the Sadrists. However, the wording of Sadr’s fatwa seems authentic and in keeping with the usual style employed in such matters. It also bears his seal. However, all this can be concocted by a jihadist (…or a Hakim follower) with some reasonable knowledge of writing up Shi'a fatwas and with Photoshop. But given what I’ve heard about the Sulukiyya sect, I am inclined to believe that it is authentic.

The fatwa was covered by the Saudi-owned alarabiya.net (I don’t know if it was carried on its TV programming—doubt it) on December 5, 2006, and in it the Sadrists vehemently deny the fatwa’s authenticity on the grounds that Muqtada does not have the clerical seniority to issue fatwas (this is false, he has issued plenty of ‘instructions’ that carry the weight of fatwas among his followers), and that muta’a (see below for definition) rules cannot apply under any legal frameworks to group orgies. This makes sense since the offspring of muta’a marriages are considered legitimate, and there are strict rules to match pregnancies to husbands even if the temporary marriage would have lasted but a few hours. However, in practice, muta’a marriages are a form of prostitution and ‘rules’ fly out the window where there’s money to be made. The Sadrist naysayer quoted in the Arabiya piece also implies that this was produced by someone trying to tarnish the Mahdi Army and to foment dissent between Muqtada and another leading rival cleric, al-Ya’aqoubi (see below).

But even with this denial, the fatwa still seems plausible to me: it would be something that Muqtada would author if he were indeed influenced by the Sulukiyya sect as I’ve been told, and as is heavily rumored among the mainstream clerics in Najaf. But still, the strongest case lending this fatwa to being a forgery would be that it does not deal with the issue of who fathers the offspring.

Here’s my translation, with explanations in italics and parentheses:

In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful,

His Benevolence hujjet al-islam wel muslimeen [Ed.: clerical rank below that of Ayatollah] the mujahid Seyyid Muqtada al-Sadr (Honored by Allah):

[Dear] mujahid Seyyid, May Allah Preserve You:

We are a group of Zaynebite [Ed.: in Arabic, zaynebiyyat, in reference to Zaynab bint ‘Ali, daughter of the patron saint of Shi’ism, Imam Ali, through his wife, Fatima al-Zahra, daughter of the Prophet Muhammad. Zaynab was the most senior member of Muhammad’s family to survive the massacre at Karbala, and she was turned into an iconic female figure in early Shi’ism. Her popularity is reflected in the number of alleged burial tombs that she has; one in Cairo, another in Medina, and yet a third south of Damascus] devotees who support the Mahdi Army (‘May Allah Hasten the Advent of the Mahdi’) and we would like to ask Your Benevolence, hujjet al-islam wel muslimeen, Seyyid Muqtada al-Sadr, May Allah Preserve him, about an invitation extended to us by the [Mahdi Army] to attend a [group sex orgy] [Ed.: in Arabic, haflet muta’ah jama’iyyeh, with ‘muta’ah,’ literally meaning ‘pleasure,’ being the accepted practice of temporary marriage in Shi'a Islam; whereby a marriage is set for a temporary period of time and for a fixed dowry, and does not need the consent of parents if the wife is not a virgin. Any issue or progeny from the marriage is considered legitimate offspring] at a certain husseiniya [Ed.: a Shi'a place of worship and ritual]. And they said that the [spiritual] bonus of a [sex orgy] is seventy times as much as an individual muta’a. We consulted one of the seyyids [Ed.: descendants of Muhammad] who represents Sheikh Muhammad al-Ya’aqoubi [Ed.: the followers of Muqtada’s father split among the majority that continues to support Muqtada, and a minority that supports Sheikh Ya’aqoubi, who is the spiritual head of the Fadhila Party, which controls two dozen seats in parliament)] about [sex orgies] but he denied knowing anything about this type of muta’a and said that it is an innovation [Ed.: the usual connotation of an ‘innovation,’ bida’a,' is negative]. Is it lawful to have [sex orgies]? Given that it is limited to several hours only (that is, less than one night), and the purpose of this orgy is to fulfill the desires of the Mahdi Army, specifically of those who cannot [find] intercourse due to the distraction of doing battle with the nawasib [Ed.: derogatory Shi'a term for Sunnis, connoting hostility to the progeny of Muhmmad], and that the revenue from this [orgy] will go towards providing the Mahdi Army with arms. Answer us may Allah reward you with the best of rewards.

The Zaynebite
Azhar Hassan al-Fartousi
On behalf of a group of Zaynebites
17 Shawwal 1426 [Ed.: November 19, 2005]

[Response: ]

In His Blessed Name

It is known that the muta’a marriage is blessedly accepted in our creed and the nawasib have tried to make us skeptical about it and to bar us from it; for fear that the sons of our sect will increase [in number] and we may become a mighty force, therefore we call upon the children of our creed not to be discomfited by anything to do with muta’a marriage. Holding [sex orgies] is one of the matters that have been made allowable by our higher authorities but by taking due notice that no non-Muslims are allowed to enter, along with laypersons, into those orgies so as not to view the taboos of our [female] devotees; and that is probably why the seyyid [who speaks for] al-Ya’aqoubi frowns upon it. That said, it is [also] known that having muta’a with one of the soldiers of the [Mahdi Army] is more [spiritually] beneficial than [having it] with others because [the soldier] is sacrificing his blood for the advent of the [Mahdi] therefore we ask the Zaynebites not to be stingy with what Allah has given them by way of physical attributes and money. We ask our sister the Zaybebite to refer to one of our [official] representatives to seek permission to hold these [orgies] so that they would be under the strict supervision and control by the [Mahdi Army]. May Allah reward you the best of rewards.

[Sealed with Muqtada al-Sadr’s official seal]

[Signed, Muqtada al-Sadr]

[Dated:] 23 Shawwal 1426 [Ed.: 25 November 2005]

Now we have all this talk in Washington and Baghdad about the need to confront the Mahdi Army militias and their death squads. I’ve recently written about the fragmentation of the Mahdi Army, as well as some bizarre cases of members who were originally Sunni or Ba’athist.

It is important to remember that the Muqtada al-Sadr movement is an aberration in Shi’ism, but that such aberrations are nothing new. There is an inner circle around Muqtada that has seriously convinced itself that the Mahdi, or Messiah, is about to emerge out of occultation, and that the Mahdi could either be Muqtada himself (I mentioned this here once; Muqtada’s father would be the nafs al-zekiyya in this line of thinking) or that Muqtada is one of the ‘signs’ of this messianic advent. We’ve seen this multiple times in every era of Shi'a history; the last major disturbance was the Babi movement of Seyyid Ali Muhammad al-Shirazi in 1844-1850, who seized upon the embitterment of the Sheykhi faction of Shi’ism (…more mystical in its approach to religious texts; lost out to the Usuli school of scriptural interpretation, which is more literal in its methodology and reigns supreme in Najaf and Qum to this day) to unleash a messianic movement that spread throughout Iran and Iraq, and eventually morphed into the Baha’i faith.

Moreover, this business of sex orgies has been around as a ready epithet against Shi'as and all heterodox Muslim sects for a long time. Sunni orthodoxy has always employed this accusation to highlight the alleged depravity of Shi'as: in Ottoman times, the Kizilbash were denounced as ‘mumsondu’—literally, ‘the candle is out’—in reference to the rite, which still survives among Turkey’s Alevis, of putting out three lit candles at the end of the cem (the Alevi form of prayer where Shi'a symbols are employed but not proper Islamic prayers) ritual. Because cem rituals feature men and women praying and dancing together, the imagination of Sunnis led them to believe that the communal gathering would break out into an orgy after the candles are out. Modern Sunni Turks still believe the Alevis are ‘mumsondu.’ I attended two cem rituals this summer, but alas, no orgies.

The same accusation has been made against the Nusayris/‘Alawites of Syria and Turkey’s Hatay province, even though this sect does not perform anything like the cem ritual. The accusation here has more to do with the pre-Islamic fertility cults that were dominant along the interior of the Mediterranean coast: in Hatay, this was centered around the temple complex at the waterfalls of Daphne, now situated in the town of Harbiyye, where the temple ‘nuns’ would offer their sexual services for the pleasure of the paying ‘supplicants,’ and the money would go towards the upkeep of the shrine. The town of Harbiyye and the surrounding mountain villages are exclusively Nusayri/Alawite. Note: I went there this summer too, and no orgies either. Strike two.

My favorite ‘there’s-no-smoke-without-a-fire’ echo of this accusation concerns the temple of ‘Afqa at the very top of the Nahr Ibrahim valley in Lebanon. This temple was dedicated to the Greek deity Adonis, who has other Levantine and Egyptian manifestations and was worshipped under different names. Myth had it that ‘Afqa was the site where Adonis was slain by a wild boar, and the stream (especially the one emerging from the nearby spring in the village of Mugheiriya) turns red every Spring. That has more to do with the increased torrent of the water after the rain season (which churns out reddish mud) than with any mythical magic, but that didn’t really matter to the religious pilgrims who followed a route along the northern ridge of the Nahr Ibrahim valley dotted with ‘way’ shrines. The 'nuns' at the temple of Afqa employed the same set-up as at the waterfalls of Daphne: sex for alms. The Byzantines tried to stamp out this cult, but it apparently stuck. Then Islam came along, and the villages, especially in the vicinity, took up some Islamic symbols, specifically Shi'a ones, to mask their pagan faith (…this is my theory, at least). But afterwards the Mamlukes of Syria—who were fired up by the Damascene religious fanatic Ibn Taymiyya—ran expeditions into the mountains of Kisrawan seven hundred years ago, and massacred many crypto-Shi'as; most of the survivors headed east and settled the harder-to-defend Beka’a Valley (…where they remain today). These depopulated mountainous areas that were left behind were soon taken up with the expanding Christian Maronite communities to the north around the Qadisha Valley (…who now claim Kisrawan as their heartland).

But here’s the interesting thing: the village of Afqa is still 100 percent Shi'a today. Most of the villages along the northern pilgrimage route are still majority Shi'a or with large Shi'a minorities (living among Maronites). There are Shi'a pockets nearby in all Maronite country. The history of human spirituality shows than people can remain very sentimental about holy places; Shi’ism may have survived in these villages after the Mamluke massacres because the villagers may still have been attached to their pagan roots (…and the money that would have been generated in the olden times from pilgrims). My own theory is that prior to becoming mainstream Shi’as, these villages would have believed in something akin to what some of the surviving ‘Alawite sects in Syria adhere to, but then would have come under the influence of the mainstream Shi'a centers of learning in Jabal ‘Amil, in southern Lebanon. Ahem, ahem, no orgies in Afqa either, or at least none when I went exploring last spring. Damn you jihadists and your misleading and outdated propaganda about Shi'a orgies!

Could those aforementioned Zaynebites be the latter-day priestesses of Afqa and Daphne? I know, I know: it's a stretch. But the jihadists who are cross-posting Muqtada's fatwa on their sites certainly seem to think so.

So in conclusion, weirder things have happened in Shi'a history, and similar accusations have been made, way before the publication of this alleged fatwa being attributed to Muqtada. The rumors about the Sulukiyya cult ring true, and one needs to view the Sadrists as a historical aberration—albeit one with Kalashnikovs, cell phones, websites, and cabinet ministries. They will survive as a weird, marginal sub-sect of Shi’ism, and will be remain nuisance for the mainstreamers of Najaf. But that’s about it: they are a nuisance, and not a real threat. Which means that their growth potential is limited. Which means that they can be isolated and confronted. Which means now.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Interesting Jihadist Critique of the ‘Islamic State of Iraq’

An emerging jihadist ideologue, who goes by the pseudonym ‘Attiyet-Allah,’ published a very interesting critique of ‘Islamic State of Iraq’—established by Al-Qaeda in Iraq last October. This critique is dated December 13, 2006 and was posted on several jihadist discussion forums.

Attiyet-Allah first came into prominence when one of his internet postings criticizing Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia’s bravado, following the withdrawal of Italian troops, elicited a response from Abu Musa’ab al-Zarqawi in early July 2005, in which the latter was deferential and apologetic to Attiyet-Allah and seemed to be familiar with him. Since then, Atiyet-Allah’s stature has risen among jihadists who repeatedly turn to him for advice on internet discussion boards. The majority of Attiyet-Allah’s responses—more aptly called fatwas, or religious pronouncements—that had been posted on al-Hisbeh website were recently collected and collated as one downloadable file.

Not much is known about Attiyet-Allah, expect a brief and obscure autobiography he gave in reply to a question about his background (that was cross-posted to www.muslm.net during late June and early July 2005, around the same time of the Zarqawi response). In it he says that he is from the Greater Maghrib (which includes Libya, Tunis, Algeria, and Morocco), and that he was 37 years-old (in 2005); married with four children. He joined Islamist circles in the early 1980s while still in secondary school, and studied engineering in college but could not graduate due to the political conditions at the time in his country of origin (…most likely Libya or Algeria). He went to Afghanistan in the early 1990s and witnessed the last phase of the Soviet withdrawal and the fall of Kabul. But he was disheartened by the internecine fighting that followed among the mujaheddin and returned to his country. Then he spent three years studying Islamic law in Mauritania, and now he is self-described as unemployed. He claims to have met Osama bin Laden, as well as some other prominent jihadists.

Attiyet-Allah critique primarily deals with the fuzzy allusions to a caliphal ‘state’ under Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, and tries to play down the significations of some of the hints that have been dropped, and asks those involved with the Islamic State of Iraq to clarify these matters further to dispel rumor-mongering. I wrote about these ‘hints’ of Al-Qaeda’s ‘candidate’ for Caliph on December 23, a day after al-Baghdadi’s ‘inaugural’ speech. Attiyet-Allah’s critique on this point went unanswered and unacknowledged—very interesting. Al-Qaeda’s current leader, Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, gave his allegiance to al-Baghdadi in early November.

However, the bulk of Attiyet-Allah’s piece deals with answering some of the detractors who have emerged, from jihadist ranks, to deride the Islamic State of Iraq and question its legitimacy, and its necessity at this time.

I have translated what I can from this important critique, and will post the full Arabic text in the comments section. I invite other folks to mine the text for more implications (…there’s plenty more!) and to take a closer look at Attiyet-Allah body of work, given his rising stature. Here goes:

"Regarding the choice of the word ‘State’:

“Someone may ask: why this name in particular?

“We say: this was the initiative of our brothers and their choice…but why didn’t they call it an ‘Emirate’ and chose to call it a ‘State’? This is a good question…But we need to realize that this is all within the realm of initiative, and our brothers chose was they saw as appropriate, after studies and consultation…One can say that, “I would have preferred that it be called so and so” and that is one’s prerogative, and no one is preventing him from [saying] that, but should it reach the point of troublemaking and generating dissent, then one should be barred!!

“There is much recommending the term ‘Emirate’…

“But there is much recommending the term ‘State’ too; and our brothers probably realized that the term ‘State’ is more in keeping with current mores, and more relevant to the current political situation in Iraq and the region, and closer to bringing about the required political effect…

“And as with the term ‘State’ so goes the term ‘Prince of the Faithful’:

“It is the title of the Emir of this State and its head, and he is the authority and man to be followed in this political entity of a ‘State.’

“It is another title that [was chosen by initiative]…

“It is not mean to signify the ‘Greater Imam’ and ‘Caliph,’ to whom allegiance is directed from lay Muslims or the men of standing amongst them, or one who’s secured the land of Islam to be called ‘Prince of the Faithful’ in the sense of being considered the Greater Imam and Caliph.

“And what can be said here is as was said regarding the term of ‘State’ or ‘Emirate’: probably our brothers chose this particular term for reasons that they saw fit and that are unseen by us who are far away, even though my initial opinion is that the choice of some other [title] would be better and more proper, and I said as much when giving my opinion on the ‘Prince of the Faithful’ Mullah Muhammad Omar, may Allah preserve him.”

“It probably would have been better to call him ‘Emir’ [‘Prince’] without adding ‘of the Faithful’ so that the evident reference would be to ‘Emir’ of this ‘State,’ because the term ‘Prince of the Faithful’ gives the illusion that he is the Greater Imam, and gives the impression that our brothers may consider him so! And it has been accepted as a tradition among Muslims from the time of our master Omar bin al-Khattab, may Allah regard him well, that the title is synonymous with ‘Greater Imam’ who is also the Caliph.

“And if it were added to that he—may Allah preserve and aid him—is a Qurayshite and a Husaynite, then the illusion is strengthened!

“…I hope our brothers would clarify these issues more as the opportunities arise, Allah willing…

“The nucleus for the Greater State of Islam and the Righteous Caliphate:

“We believe that our brothers—may Allah enhance them and make them victorious—meant and wanted was that this State would be a nucleus, and [to be considered as] the initial establishment of the Greater State of Islam and the Righteous Caliphate following the teachings [of the Prophet Muhammad], so this State is a nucleus and start, gathering the people of Islam and the Sunnah in that country and region of the lands of Islam, that being Iraq and what is near it as possible, to dissolve their smaller entities into it in order to increase in strength and fortitude, and [serve as a launching pad] to coming phases…

“Nature of the Pledge [of Allegiance]:

“The nature of the pledge [of allegiance] to this blessed state…and its Emir…is that it is a legal pledge on the basis that he is the Emir of the Muslims in that country and that region, and its precept…is that it is like the pledge to the ‘Greater Imam’ in all its stipulations, but that he is not a ‘Greater Imam,’ meaning that he is not an Imam for all Muslims, but rather he is Imam and Emir for the Muslims in his country and under his authority.

“Some Misperceptions and [Our] Responses:

“They Say: There is no land for this State to be established:

“So find this land to be small, and [we] say to them: it is larger than the land on which the [Prophet Muhammad] established his state in Yathrib [Medina]…”

“The people of Monotheism already know the story of Sheikh Muhammad bin Abdel-Wahhab, may Allah bless him, and how he set up his state in Dir’iyya, which is the size of one of the villages of Anbar!

“The Division of Iraq:

“They say that the declaration of this State divides Iraq or prepares the ground for its division, or is a manifestation of this division!!

“This is a false misconception…

“Sheikh Abu Hamza, Allah preserve him, countered this in his speech declaring his allegiance to the State, whereby he asked: Did [Muhammad] divide the Arabian Peninsula and Arab society by declaring his state in Medina?!

“And one can add other implications on the same theme…by saying that what our brothers in the Islamic State of Iraq did was not innovation if [judged by] the record of the [predecessors], for as we showed by [referencing] the State of Sheikh Muhammad bin Abdel-Wahhab, Allah bless him, whereas in his day a unifying Islamic State was already in place [Ed.: reference to the Ottoman Empire], as acknowledged by many…So what is the case today when there is no State for Islam…And when Muslim lands are ruled by heretics and apostates…And all of Iraq and Sham [Greater Syria] are under the hands of infidels?!

“This misconception is born from one of the rots of modern pagan thought, that of parochial patriotism, which is in fact neo-paganism, and nationalist thought, which resulted from bondage to Western infidel designs, that forced upon us borders and divisions…”


“This is the most poignant [criticism] from our good natured brothers, for they say: those who established this State and declared it, are the Shura Council of the Mujaheddin, headed by al-Qaeda, and then those allied with them in the Mutayyebin Alliance, and then some of those who agreed with them from the ranks and wings of some other groups, and not all of them were the authorities [in these groups], and do not represent all, and they don’t have the right to [make] this declaration without the acceptance of the other active factions in the field.

“The answer is that we have learnt from our brothers that the majority is with them, from the ranks of the mujaheddin, and from the tribal fighters, and from the laypeople among the Sunnis in Anbar Province and those adjacent to it…In addition to that, they (I mean our brothers in the Shura Council…) are the biggest and strongest of factions.”

“The People of Mecca Know Its Valleys Better [Ed.: Arabian proverb, meaning that the native sons know their own affairs better than strangers]:

“This is supposed to mean that the State is in fact the State of al-Qaeda, and that it is not purely Iraqi, but this is a bogus misconception like that of dividing Iraq…

“In addition…the Prince of the Faithful who heads this State and is its Emir is from…the core of the people of that country [Ed.: referring to the Abu Omar’s moniker, ‘al-Baghdadi’—meaning ‘of Baghdad’]…


“What is also said is that the ‘Prince of the Faithful,’ who is the Emir of this State, ‘Abu Omar al-Baghdadi’…is unknown and [had] not been identified…

“If the implication is that he is unknown to all then that is a clear falsehood, rather he is known thanks to Allah, and known by the people of Baghdad and Anbar and many of the people of the neighboring environs…”


I forgot to mention that the al-Baghdadi's 'Islamic State of Iraq' has taken credit for the recent fighting on Haifa Street in Baghdad, and the clashes to south of Baladruz (...the area inhabited by the Dainiyeh tribe) in Diyala Province; the al-Furqan media productions company of the ISI also put out an 8 minute video consisting of cell phone footage of seven or eight dead Iraqi National Guardmen on Haifa Street, dated January 7, 2007. However, subsequent fighting on Haifa Street seems to indicate heavy loses for the ISI (...which is essentially Al-Qaeda). The US military is also reporting heavy insurgent losses near Baladruz. Plus, there are clashes being reported by the Arab press among Al-Qaeda and another insurgent group, the 1920 Revolution Brigades faction, to the north west of Baghdad. The 'emirs' of both Al-Qaeda and the 1920 Revolution Brigades in the town of Yusufiyah (south of Baghdad) were arrested by the Iraqi Army a few days ago.