Unconventional thinking about the Middle East.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Shada, Shada, Shada

The Washington Post deserves a 'Well Done' for putting the story of Shada Hassoun's stunning success in Star Academy 4 on the front-page. [See full text in the comments section]

I think the vast majority of Iraqis would have placed Shada's story at the very top of the stories they were following last week, despite all the bombs and the violence.

Shada does two things:

1-She reinforces Iraqi identity; she's never been to Iraq, and is half-Iraqi by parentage, but because she chose to identify herself as Iraqi, she was embraced by Iraqis. It shows that Iraqi identity is still alive and kicking.

2-She successfully markets herself as a role model of the secularized and westernized modern Iraqi female; my mom and aunt were making phone calls from Baghdad yesterday celebrating Shada's victory as a big show-up to the mullahs. Maybe they're reading too much into it, but there's something to their instinctual reaction. Young Iraqis were watching this show on satellite dishes (...banned under Saddam and now banned by the Islamic State of Iraq), were freely discussing Shada on chat rooms (...the internet was severely limited under Saddam), and were using cell phones (...another post-Saddam novelty) to vote. Seven million votes were cast from Iraq for Shada. The only thing that was a throw-back to the old days was the celebratory gunfire. However limited the influence, this younthful frenzy over Shada and what she represents will definitely leave a mark on political issues (...popularity of religious based and sectarian parties in upcoming elections) down the road.

The New York Times makes no mention of Shada.

Yesterday I was watching Wolf Blitzer on CNN and Michael Ware came up and, honestly, I could have smashed the TV set in anger. I feel that this does not get said often enough: Michael Ware is a deceitful phony who BSes his way through the news.

Imagine my relief when I looked at the comics page this morning:

(click on image to enlarge)

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Relevant Claims of Responsibility for Recent Big Attacks

The Islamic Army of Iraq took credit for the rocket attack on the U.S. Embassy in the Green Zone (Arabic) on Tuesday that resulted in the deaths of one American soldier and one American contractor.

This incident was widely cited by the U.S. media as evidence that the insurgents are getting emboldened; no one has made the connection to the Islamic Army of Iraq, one of the insurgent groups that Zalmay Khalilzad had negotiated with in the past. Tuesday was Khalilzad’s last day as ambassador.

Al-Qaeda’s Islamic State of Iraq took responsibility for the two suicide attacks in Talafar (Arabic), also on Tuesday. These attacks on Shi’a civilians, euphemistically labeled ‘Mahdi Army’ militants in the ISI’s press releases, set off reprisal attacks on Talafar’s Sunnis.

If you scroll down the link to the very bottom, the Islamic State of Iraq also takes credit for the guerilla assaults in Fallouja over the last few days that were reported on by IraqSlogger.

Again and again, these attacks are attributed by the western media organizations to ‘insurgents’ even when groups such as the IAI and the ISI claim responsibility for the attacks in a timely and ‘newsy’ manner. I think that the press stands accused of being negligent and slothful in keeping tabs on these claims of responsibility and should do a better job of reporting the story, since the identity of those who are claiming to be behind these attacks seems like a big part of the story to me.

The 1920 Revolt Brigades organization continues to disintegrate: one faction has called itself 'Hamas-Iraq' and the other one has reclaimed the name '1920 Revolt Brigades' as its own (Arabic) in contravention to the treaty between the two factions. The 1920 Revolt Brigades used to rank fourth, after the ISI, the IAI and the Ansar al-Sunnah, in terms of insurgent activity over the last six months.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Khalilzad's past flirtations with 'Reconcilable Insurgents' is NOT a scoop...

The New York Times seemed ecstatic over getting the outgoing (...actually, he's gone) U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, to admit (...actually, he's bragging) to having had held talks with alleged representatives of major insurgent group in person, in Amman, early last year. (see Edward Wong, 'U.S. Envoy Says He Had Meetings with Iraqi Rebels,' Monday, March 26, 2007).

Nowhere in this story does the NYT mention that all this was reported back in December in the British press by the Sunday Times' Hala Jaber. I wrote about that at the time: Scandal: Khalilzad Negotiating With Killers.

The NYT piece seems geared to showcase Khalilzad's legacy, and his leak concerning the talks was clearly a deal struck with the reporter and the editors of the paper to sex up the 'newsy' angle of the story as Khalilzad leaves Baghdad to take up his post as U.S. envoy to the United Nations in New York City--this act of shameless self-promotion is the mark of a politician not a diplomat.

Here's my take on Khalilzad's legacy:

-Khalilzad saddled us with Maliki's ineffective cabinet: see my column, Dangerous Lineup (April 26, 2006).

This is the NYT version:

Displeased with the hard-line Shiite attitude of Ibrahim al-Jaafari, then the prime minister, Mr. Khalilzad helped engineer Mr. Jaafari's ouster, only to see Mr. Jaafari replaced by a party deputy, Mr. Maliki, who is beholden to the radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr.

-Khalilzad alienated the Shi'as: see my column, "Abu Omar" vs. the Shias (April 12, 2006).

This is the NYT version:

Some Shiite leaders began calling Mr. Khalilzad by the Sunni nickname of ''Abu Omar.''

But to its credit the NYT did pick up on the "Abu Omar" nickname back in July 2006 (Edward Wong and Dexter Filkins, 'In an About-Face, Sunnis Want...', July 16, 2006) so the Times was only 3 months behind my reporting at the time.

-Khalilzad pushed forward a flawed constitution that pandered to the Islamists, see my column Patronizing the Enemy (August 30, 2005).

This is the NYT version:

But critics of Mr. Khalilzad say that the painstaking and potentially rancorous review of the Constitution under way would not be needed if the Americans had shepherded a more balanced Constitution, instead of one that gave short shrift to the needs of the Sunni Arabs as it tried to appeal to the Kurds and Shiites.

-Khalilzad's cowardly negotiations with the insurgents (he fesses up to talking to the Islamic Army of Iraq and the 1920 Revolt Brigades, the Sunday Times version adds the Ansar al-Sunnah to the mix--the latter more closely affiliated with Al-Qaeda in the past) led nowhere, and it wasn't clear whether he was talking to anyone who could deliver a ceasefire in the first place, see my column, Dances with Terrorists (June 16, 2005).

Here's the NYT version:

An American official said it was difficult to determine whether the people Mr. Khalilzad met with really were influential representatives of insurgent groups, as they claimed. In addition, the Sunni insurgency has no umbrella leadership, and the groups have competing ideologies. While the Islamic Army of Iraq and 1920 Revolution Brigades are believed to be led by Iraqis bitter at being ousted from the government and the military, some of the most militant groups are radical Islamists, particularly Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, who have no interest in being brought into politics. ''We were never able to find people who could reduce the violence,'' the American official said. ''The insurgency itself does not have anything resembling a unified command. Even within different cities and different provinces, the insurgency is very fractured.''

The Ansar al-Sunnah and the Islamic Army of Iraq both adopted the anti-Shi'a rhetoric of Zarqawi's al-Qaeda, and the latter even went as far as tying the fighting in Iraq to what's going on in Palestine: see here and here.

Not to mention that both groups, as well as the 1920 Revolt Brigades, have killed and continue to kill Americans, including the security contractors hired to protect Khalilzad himself, see here and here.

Negotiating with the killers validates their terrorist strategy, and encourages them to continue killing; that's why one does not negotiate with terrorists, but somehow this lesson was purposely forgotten in Iraq.

Clearly, I don't like the guy, and in the wondrous ways of the U.S. bureaucracy, Khalilzad gets promoted instead of being fired for gross incompetence, to say the least.

(...Oh by the way, there's also that whole nasty business when Khalilzad was lobbying the Taliban on behalf of Big Oil in the mid-1990s, but nobody brings that up in respectable company...as well as some things that may or may not have happened in Dubai...)

In other news, Al-Qaeda seemingly off-ed one of the top leaders of the 1920 Revolt Brigades: Harith Dhahir Khamis al-Dhari (cousin to Harith Suleiman al-Dhari) was killed by a suicide bomber along with three others early Tuesday morning (...link takes you to the terrorist organization's official website, in Arabic...why is it still up?). The 1920 Revolt Brigades had split into two factions on March 9, ostensibly between one that wanted to fight Al-Qaeda and another that sought a reconciliation with Al-Qaeda. Al-Dhari was associated with the faction that wanted to fight Al-Qaeda. Ditto for Salam al-Zoba'i, Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister, who was gravely wounded in a suicide attack a few days ago because he and his cousins are associated with the anti-Al-Qaeda faction of the Islamic Army of Iraq.

Just a reminder in case Khalilzad and his ilk try to take credit for these intra-insurgent rifts: this all began when Al-Qaeda began forcing the smaller organizations to pledge allegiance to its new venture, the Islamic State of Iraq, and is not related to any ongoing negotiations to woo the insurgents to a ceasefire. This topic has been amply discussed here on Talisman Gate over the last few months and is just now getting reported by the majority of the media.

In such a situation, I wouldn't bend over backwards trying to placate the killers, as some are trying to do with watering-down the De-Ba'athification laws, rather I would let dogs devour dogs. But that's just me.

Friday, March 23, 2007

New Column: Absolutely Worth It

Have a look at this week's New York Sun column: Absolutely Worth It.

It's how I feel about the fourth anniversary of the Iraq war.

It was also interesting to see yesterday that Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda, this time represented by Abu Yahya al-Libi, is beseeching the Islamic Army of Iraq, the Ansar al-Sunnah and the Jaish al-Mujaheddin to join the Islamic State of Iraq, and to unify their ranks. It seems that the infighting has gotten so bad to the extent that the folks in Waziristan feel they need to weigh in and cool down tempers.

Can someone find the translation and analysis of al-Libi's speech and post it in the comments section?

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Oh great, they're finally catching up with Talisman Gate...

I don't relish sounding smug and boastful. But sometimes I have to do so, for the good of all mankind. (...Alright, so I'm a jerk.)

In today's New York Times, Michael Gordon (...consistently good) writes about a trove of information that was found on the laptop of a top Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia operative who was killed in December 2006. The "revelations" showed that:

As outlined in the captured documents and other material that was seized, the group’s initial strategy was to push Shiites out of western Baghdad. As part of the sectarian battle for the capital, the strategy also called for attacking Shiites in parts of nearby provinces, specifically southern Salahuddin, western Diyala and eastern Anbar, attacks that the group’s leaders also calculated would put American and Iraqi troops on the defensive...

But Shiite militias, particularly Mahdi Army operatives, responded with their own offensive, forcing the Sunni militants to retreat...

According to captured memos portrayed in American intelligence reports, the group was frustrated with the Shiite militias’ success, was unhappy with weapons shortages and was somewhat disorganized, according to an account by an American official who asked not to be identified because he was discussing intelligence matters.

If this sounds familiar, it might be due to the fact that you've been a Talisman Gate reader since October 2006.

Since then, and as I demonstrated in a series of New York Sun columns about Iraq (Iraq is Succeeding, Al-Muhajir's Evil Presence, Turaround in Baghdad, Blackout of the Media, and last week's Jihadist Meltdown), the following trends could have been spotted as far back as six months ago:

-Al-Qaeda was becoming the dominant force in the Sunni insurgency, and it had undergone a process whereby it was "Iraqi-fied": predominance of Iraqis in the rank and file, and more Iraqis in the leadership hierarchy.

-Al-Qaeda had provoked the Shi'as into a confrontation, but couldn't stave off the Mahdi Army "death squads," forcing Iraq's Sunnis to reconsider the long-term prospects of their insurgency.

-The strategists of the Sunni insurgency, whether they were jihadists or Ba'athists, began to realize that they'd eventually run out of steam as the sources for money and talent gradually get depleted, bring with it a sense of fatigue and aimlessness, and that clashes among the various insurgent groups were inevitable.

The Washington Post today has a similar set of "revelations", this time attributed by Walter Pincus and Karen De Young to intelligence sources (...both reporters seem to rely on CIA sources) and terrorism experts, chief among which is:

"In a year, AQI went from being a major insurgent group, but one of several, to basically being the dominant force in the Sunni insurgency," said terrorism consultant Evan F. Kohlmann. "It managed to convince a lot of large, influential Sunni groups to work together under its banner -- groups that I never would have imagined," Kohlmann said. In November, many of the groups joined AQI in declaring an Islamic State of Iraq.
But I completely disagree with this statement:

The Sunni extremist movement in Iraq owes its existence to the U.S. invasion, said Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert and Georgetown University professor. "There were no domestic jihadis in Iraq before we came there. Now there are. . . ."

I think there is a mounting body of evidence that radical Salafism had laid down roots in Iraq throughout the 1990s while Saddam's intelligence services looked the other way. More studies should be made of the regime archives on this matter (...monitored by the General Security Directorate) to determine why Saddam allowed this to happen--sometimes with direct Saudi funding. But this trend also grew out of control, forcing the regime to clamp down on it; something like 800 Salafists were arrested in security sweep during early 2002 under the command of Izzet al-Douri.

There are still many myths floating out there about the insurgency and who is winning the fight in Iraq, but I think many of these will be put to rest in short order.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Al-Baghdadi’s Third Speech--Sounding Worried

The Al-Furqan Institute for Media Productions released Abu Omar al-Baghdadi’s third public speech yesterday as an audio file on several jihadist websites under the title ‘Say I Am Made Certain By My God’; the speech runs for a little under 22 minutes and the speaker’s voice sounds like the one we heard in the two earlier speeches that were attributed to al-Baghdadi.

Al-Baghdadi sounds like one big unhappy jihadist: his whole speech is a long rant against all those who are undermining him and the Al-Qaeda-led ‘Islamic State of Iraq’. He doesn’t sound like someone who’s winning, in fact he sounds embattled.

Al-Baghdadi is clearly responding to a growing campaign of criticism against him and his Islamic State of Iraq, most of it coming from other jihadist groups. But instead of being endearing and trying to calm tempers, al-Baghdadi lashes out and portrays this 'smear' campaign as one orchestrated by the enemies of the Islamic State such as the Saudi royal family and others "who have jealousy and malice in their hearts."

Al-Baghdadi finds the need to clearly spell out the doctrine of his faction, and seems to indicate that he must do so because his supporters are losing faith in him, and that this atmosphere of recriminations is drying up the sources of money and fighters. He is clearly alarmed that things are not looking good for his venture, and he poses a provocative question to the effect: "Where would you be without Al-Qaeda or the Islamic State?" seemingly directed against his detractors.

He lays out 19 tenets, most of which we already know about. The notable innovations are judging that Jews and Christians who live among Muslims are no longer protected as Dhimmis, and that the Sunnis who participated in the political process, specifically Tariq al-Hashemi's Islamic Party, are apostates and infidels, who are marked for death.

Here is my rough translation of most of the speech with some of my commentary and explanations; I've left out all the religious stuff such as Koranic references for the sake of expediency:

Oh brave, marauding mujahid in the prisons of the tyrants, raise your head and laugh from the bottom of your heart, for you have brothers who do not accept that you should be in misery, and who have pledged to Allah before pledging to you that they will return you to their ranks, by Allah’s power…

For [recently] your brothers had shouted Allah’s name on the walls of Abu Ghaib prison and released over sixty prisoners [there], and then it was [the turn of] the Counter-Terrorism prison, then the prisons of the apostate policemen in Hai al-Amil, and the prison of the Shahreban [Muqdadia] police in Diyala, and today, with blessings and aid from Allah, the sons of the State of Islam broke into one of the lairs of the tyrant and one [of his] impregnable forts in an operation that the enemy confessed was highly accurate and quick, whereby the heroes distracted their enemies in more than one location, which brought on the force of the enemy and his attention to them, and they cut off the roads and suspended the electrical and telecom grids, and in less that 15 minutes they were, by Allah’s grace, knocking at the cell doors of their brothers, from the muhajerin and the ansar, and Allah relieved more than 220 mujahids; the enemy admitted to 140 and they were honest for they counted only the ansar from the people of Iraq, while the rest of the number were from the muhajerin towards Allah in Mesopotamia…

Here al-Baghdadi is referring to the mass jail break from the Badosh prison near Mosul a few days ago, an operation that the Islamic State of Iraq had taken credit for in a press release at the time. The muhajerin, ‘immigrants’, and the ansar, ‘hosts’ or ‘supporters’, are both terms from the early Islamic era when Muhammad followed his Meccan disciples in finding sanctuary and refuge in the oasis town of Yathrib (later renamed Medina), which was populated by the pagan Aws and Khazraj tribes that already encompassed large factions of Muslim sympathizers, as well as many Jews. The foreign fighters in Iraq--the Saudis, Syrians, Yemenis, Sudanese, Egyptians and others--would count themselves as ‘immigrants’ in Iraq, while the native Iraqi jihadists would be labeled ‘supporters’ in this analogy.

And while we were [basking] in this glory, and resolving ourselves and our brothers in facing a Crusader-Safavid campaign, that is unprecedented [in scope] since the occupation, [and while] asking everyone to cooperate, close ranks and unite our word, everyone was surprised by a fierce multi-pronged media attack on the nascent State of Islam that saddened all [our] sincere [supporters] in its content, its meticulous symmetry, its multiple means, and the synchronization of its leading lights, even though they make come from varying backgrounds, for the matter has been hatched in the dark, black night, as was stated by a study on counterterrorism by the Brooks [Brookings] Institute in cooperation with the Rand [Corporation] for research, and that was published before the current satanic campaign against the State of Islam, under the title ‘Al-Qaeda’s War’.

And if we wanted to find out who was behind this campaign, we have to know who stands to benefit [from it]. Let us pose this query: What would become of jihad in Mesopotamia if there was no Shura Council of the Mujaheddin or the State of Islam? And how would matters play out if the sons of the State of Islam put aside their weapons and sat out the jihad? The answer is known: honor would be desecrated and our [progeny] would be annihilated. And if you don’t believe [me], then I ask every fighting faction that claims the infallibility of its message, the purity of its banner and the strength of its resolve against the enemy, to publish three videotaped military operations of raiding American bases nay even one videotaped operation of raiding or breaking into an American military barracks.

Al-Baghdadi is essentially claiming that his organization is the only force that matters in the insurgency, and he is challenging all his detractors to prove their mettle by a benchmark that he arbitrarily sets at the act of overrunning American bases. This is what it would sound like in playground-speak: “We can and you can’t; nanana-booboo”.

Therefore, what are the goals of this latest media campaign against the State of Islam:

First: To unravel the strong bonds between the State of Islam and its large popular base.

Second: To set the State of Islam against the other jihadist groups.

Third: To banish the global jihadist movement from the battlefield to the advantage of nationalist movements that are more moderate and open, and to slander its global image.

Fourth and Last: To destroy the jihad in Mesopotamia and to disappoint the hopes of the ummah [the global community of Muslims] in it.

This comes in light of the state of collapse that envelopes the [government] institutions of Maliki the tyrant, and [comes] after the intriguing statement made by a team of American officers who revealed a fact that says that American forces have only six months ahead of them to achieve victory in the Iraq war or else they would face a Vietnam-like collapse. And this is what that cock of war, Cheney, who has suddenly become a chicken by throwing a defeatist media bomb [saying] that their goal now is only to come back with honor to [their] homeland.

And the Democratic majority in the American Congress declared that the security plan must bear fruit by the middle of this [upcoming] summer or else they will hasten the evacuation of forces at the end of this year.

This brief period has left the enemy and its agents in a state of preparation to quickly set up the Iraqi scene for a new successor or ally who will be more moderate and less threatening than the State of Islam especially if we learn that the Americans are inevitably embarking on a military campaign against Iran, for many reasons that are not for discussion here. Then it is imperative [for them] to sort out the Iraqi matter and to end the turbulent situation in it, specifically in the Sunni areas even if it were to the advantage of a moderate Islamist faction or even a fundamentalist one that can be controlled through an intermediary.

This is the reason that drove the [House of Saud] to quickly build up and strengthen Saudi Hezbollah under another name and with the blessing of the priests of the sultan, especially those who are famous for their animosity towards the sons of the Islamist movement. Thus, the oil money drenched them through he who is known as Muhammad bin Nayif and through the hands of the merchants of religion.

Muhammad bin Nayif is Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Minister of Interior, and often fills in for his father the Interior Minister, Prince Nayif bin Abdel-Aziz. I think that al-Baghdadi is referring to Harith al-Dhari, the head of Iraq’s Muslim Clerics Association, when using the terms ‘merchants of religion’ and ‘priests of the sultan’; al-Dhari is close to other jihadist factions that rival Al-Qaeda such as the 1920 Revolt Brigades and the Islamic Army of Iraq (...are these two groups what al-Baghdadi meant by "moderate Islamist faction or even a fundamentalist one that can be controlled through an intermediary"). Al-Dhari had traveled to Saudi Arabia soliciting funds in recent weeks, and allegedly met with Prince Nayif. Al-Dhari is wanted for questioning by Iraqi authorities (he’s hiding out in Syria now) and has been recently quoted saying sympathetic things about the ‘Islamic State of Iraq’.

I had no idea what al-Baghdadi means by his reference to 'Saudi Hezbollah'.

Then they started a three-pronged war on the State of Islam:

First: Through drying up the sources of money through a long-winded campaign of lies and rumors that were believed by many of [our] honest and sincere [supporters]…

Second: Through drying up the recruitment pools of those who are honest and sincere; especially after the failure of their fatwas in deterring those youthful Muslim mujahids who want to expend their monies and selves cheaply in the cause of Allah. So they conspired with that agent of the Mossad and the CIA, Yusri Fodah, to expose the points of entry for the mujaheddin and those seeking martyrdom…

Fodah (an Egyptian) is the host of Aljazeera’s 'Top Secret' program. I don’t know which episode that al-Baghdadi is referring to exactly. [[UPDATE, Friday, March 16, 2007: the rest of al-Baghdadi's take on this is "...despite what those decent folks who accompanied [Fodah and Aljazeera] and brought them in and facilitated matters for them had declared, on more than one occasion, that they do not receive the muhajerin [foreign fighters], so what compelled them to take this risk and expose this route and shine the spotlight on it, and that cruel one [Fodah] has himself admitted that he had given what he had gathered by way of information to the intelligence service of a certain country." It seems that by "decent folks"--probably said ironically--al-Baghdadi is referring to the Islamic Army of Iraq who collaborated with Fodah on this program, this according to today's al-Hayat newspaper and the analysis of al-Baghdadi's remarks on jihadist-friendly discussion forums.]]

Third: to enthusiastically join and belong to the three-pointed dagger whose heads are:

a) A gang of apostate and opportunistic merchants of blood and the thieves of jihad, who [follow in the steps] of Sa’ad Zaghloul and Bin Bella and Ali Jinnah, and to those we say that the era of stealing the jihad and bartering with the limbs of the disabled and the blood of the martyrs is over…

b) A group of those who profess Salafism but who are cravenly lying low and [encouraging others] to lie low, and whose only concern is to stab the mujaheddin, and hound them over their [mistakes].

c) A group of jealous [persons] who were compelled [to act in this manner] by the sight of their soldiers and units coalescing through pledging allegiance to the State of Islam, because the ego is inclined to liking the glamour of its high standing…

The poster-child for "category a)” would be Misha’an al-Jebouri, the owner of Al-Zawra’a TV. Many pacificist Salafist sheikhs who oppose conducting insurgent operations against and within civilian targets would fall under "category b)"; the Islamic State of Iraq has been accused of assassinated many such sheikhs. I guess jihadist groups such as the IAI, the Ansar al-Sunnah, and the 1920 Revolt Brigades would fall under "category c)" since the Islamic State of Iraq had earlier put out press releases claiming that individuals and units from these factions had splintered off and joined in pledging allegiance to al-Baghdadi.

They have barred the people from performing jihad in the cause of Allah because of the jealousy and malice they have in their hearts against the true believers, as well as the fear and trepidation that wrenches their hearts. They called upon their fellows and tribes to [take a] rest and be languid, even though it would allow the infidels to challenge Allah and his Prophet and the believers, and they put their hands in the hands of the tyrants of the Arabs, to rile them against the people of religion...claiming that all they want to do is to expel the occupiers.

This is an interesting distinction that al-Baghdadi is drawing between his group, "Constant Revolution", and the other Iraqi jihadist factions that counsel "Revolution in one country".

The people have libeled us with countless and unfounded lies about our doctrine, saying that we have cast the accusation of "infidels" against lay Muslims, and that we legitimize [the shedding of] their blood and [the looting of] their money, and that we force the people to enter into our State by the sword, and as such, here are a few of our tenets to answer those lies so that the liar would have no more excuse [to continue lying] and so that bewilderment is lifted from he who loves us:

1) We see the necessity of destroying and removing any forms of idolatry and to ban its methods.

This is a stringent Wahhabist doctrine that bars the veneration of saints, tombs or other holy places or objects (such as trees, rocks...etc.) and considers all such acts as cultural residues from the pre-Islamic pagan era. This has driven Al-Qaeda to destroy such cultural monuments as the Buddhas of Bamyan in Afghanistan, as well as the Golden Shrine of Samarra.

2) The rafidha [Shi'as] are an idolatrous and apostate sect, in addition to that, they are averse to enforcing many of the known rites of Islam.

3) We see the apostasy and heresy of the magician and the necessity to kill him and not to accept his penitence...

Watch out, David Blaine. This is a weird point to make: are the jihadists really that freaked out by magic? The reference here is to traditional witch-doctors who claim to counter demons and jinnis that may have possessed the ill or insane.

4) We do not excommunicate any Muslim man that prays to our [Mecca]...Our stance on faith is a midpoint between the extremism of the Khawarij and the laxity of the Marji'eh, and whoever pronounces the two testimonials and outwardly showed us Islam, and was not caught with anything that would annul [his] Islam, then we treat him as we treat Muslims...

5) We see the necessity of referring legal matter to the shari'ah of Allah through the shari'ah courts in the State of Islam, and to search for [legal solutions] in case it is an unprecedented matter...

6) We see the necessity to revere the Prophet [Muhammad]...

7) We believe that secularism, in all its different banners and varied sects such as nationalism or patriotism or Communism or Ba'athism, is clearly faithless and in contradiction to Islam and it takes [one] outside the [bounds] of religion. We also see the apostasy and heresy of whoever participates in the political process like the party of Mutleg and Duleimi and Hashemi and others. Because this process seeks to replace the law of Allah and pave the way for the enemies of Allah such as the Crusaders and the rawafidh [Shi'a] and all the apostates to lean upon the necks of the believers...

We also see that the program of the Islamic Party is one of apostasy and heresy that is no different from all the other infidel and apostate programs such as the parties of Ja'afari and Allawi. And as such, their leaders are apostates and there is no difference between a party branch head or an official in the government, but we do not see the heresy of all its members unless a judicial opinion is reached [in individual cases].

8)We see the heresy and apostasy of whoever gave any form of aid to the occupier and its acolytes, whether food or medicine or the such that would strengthen it because by doing so he becomes a legitimate target for us and [the shedding of] his blood is allowable.

9)We see that jihad in the cause of Allah is clearly compulsory since the fall of the Andalus, in order to liberate the lands of the Muslims...

The Andalus here is the once-Muslim controlled portion of the Iberian Peninsula (Spain), lost in the 15th century.

10) We see that the lands where the laws of the infidel are prevalent over the laws of Islam as lands of unbelief and this does not necessitate counting a resident of this land an infidel, but since the laws of the tyrant prevail over the laws of Islam in all the lands of Islam, then we see the apostasy and heresy of all the rulers of these lands [as well as] their armies, and fighting them is more pressing that fighting the crusading occupier. Thus we want to call to attention that we will fight any armies invading the State of Islam in Iraq whether they be under any Arab or Islamic name, and we advise and warn them that this army should not be the scapegoat for the occupier, as is being suggested to end the crisis of the crusading occupier in Iraq.

11) The necessity to fight the policemen and the army of the tyrant's state, and whatever offshoots such as the Oil Facilities Protection [units] and others, and we see the need to demolish or remove any building or institution that the tyrant may employ as a base for him.

12) We find that the sects of the people of the book and other from the Sabians and so in the State of Islam today are people of war who qualify for no protection, for they have transgressed against whatever they agreed to in many countless ways, and if they want peace and security then they must start a new era with the State of Islam according to [the Caliph] Omar's stipulations that they have annulled.

The 'people of the book' are the Jews and Christians in classical Islam, whereas the 'Sabians' traditionally incorporated the neo-platonists of Harran (northern Syria) but now describes the followers of the Mandean rite in southern Iraq. They are also referred as the tax-paying Dhimmis; the position of such non-Muslims within the expanding Islamic empire was codified under the second caliph, Omar. Al-Baghdadi is claiming that whatever protections and exceptions that Islam had extended to Dhimmis are void and no longer valid, and that the previous agreement with the Caliph Omar must be renegotiated; this sounds like a determination that only a caliph can make but maybe al-Baghdadi sees himself in such a role already.

13) We see that all the sons of the jihadist groups operating on the battlefields are brothers to us in religion and we do not libel them as infidels or deviants, but they are seditionists for lagging behind in performing the duty of our times, which is to unite under one banner.

14) Every group or individual conducting an agreement with the invading occupier, we find non-binding in anything and it is null and rejected, and we warn the occupier against striking any agreement, whether public or secret, without the permission of the State of Islam.

15) We see the need to revere the honest and working clerics...and to revile those who follow the tyrant or were accommodating to him in anything that pertains to religion.

16) We rightly acknowledge he who was pioneering in jihad and we give him his due and will take care of his money and family.

17) We see the need to save the Muslim prisoners from the hands of the infidels...

18) We see the need to teach the ummah the matters of its religion...

19) We find that anything that encourages deviancy and advocates for it such the satellite dish should be banned, and that the woman must lawfully cover her face...

Your brother,

Abu Omar al-Husseini al-Qurayshi al-Baghdadi

Monday, March 12, 2007

New Column: Jihadist Meltdown

I have a new column out: Jihadist Meltdown. It is my little macabre dance around the expiring corpse of the Iraqi insurgency. Some will take issue with it and point to every suicide bombing as if that's a refutation of the argument; these people are watching the day-to-day ups and downs of the insurgency as if it's the stock market while, in this analogy, I'd be looking at long-term economic trends.

To see me do this dance with sight and sound, check this interview:

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Al-Baghdadi is still on the loose…

So we keep hearing that he’d been nabbed, but it turns out that it’s not true. However, these recurrent stories indicate that the Americans and the Iraqis are closing in: it could be a case of releasing false information in order to discern a pattern in the digital communications, which may in turn give an indication as to where Abu Omar al-Baghdadi is hiding out. The reasoning is that the people who have a means of getting in touch with al-Baghdadi would panic upon hearing the news of the arrest and begin to make phone calls or use whatever channels to check if the news is true or not. Eventually the traffic would head to a phone number on al-Baghdadi’s person or near enough to him. Doing this later in the evening, when overall phone or internet communications usage is thinner, would be even more helpful; the latest arrest news was released late at night.

This is also what the jihadists think happened: someone posted something similar in reasoning on the al-Hisbeh jihadist forum, which also denied al-Baghdadi’s capture.

It a way, it’s a good thing that al-Baghdadi is still on the loose: he’s become such a controversial and antagonizing figure among the ranks of the jihadists who have been engaged in heavy fighters among each other recently. Keeping him out and about prolongs this feud that pits Al-Qaeda against all the other Sunni jihadist groups, and diminishes all.

Furthermore, an interesting question was raised yesterday: what happens to the pledge of allegiance if the 'Prince of the Faithful' is captured alive? For example, would those who have pledged allegiance put down their weapons if their captured leader orders them to?

But the real silver lining to yesterday’s drama is that al-Baghdadi finally got a mention in the New York Times; the editors of the paper of record can no longer ignore the guy who is credibly taking credit for the vast proportion of the violence in Iraq, or his links to Al-Qaeda.

Stroll down memory lane:

Al-Baghdadi’s first speech.

Al-Baghdadi’s second speech.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Parliament to Discuss Lifting Immunity From Leading Sunni Member

The Higher Judicial Council of Iraq has submitted a request yesterday to the Speaker's Office of the Iraqi Parliament to enact procedures lifting the parliamentary immunity from Sunni MP Abdul-Nasser al-Janabi, a member of the Tawafuq 'Consensus' Bloc, so that he'd face terrorism charges of enabling and sheltering insurgents near the southern town of Hilla.

Abdel-Nasser al-Janabi

Al-Janabi is one of the leading Salafists in the Iraqi Parliament, and had engaged in a shouting match last January with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki during a televised parliamentary session, in which Maliki accused Janabi of taking part in the abduction of 150 Shi'as who later ended up dead near Hilla.

A parliamentary source also confirmed that the Higher Judicial Council is preparing to bring forward a similar request against another high-profile Sunni parliamentarian, Muhammad al-Dayinni, who had recently collaborated on a slanted Channel 4 (UK) documentary about death squads at the Ministry of Interior that was full of uncorroborated information. Al-Dayinni also stands accused of aiding terrorists.

Yet due to heavy political pressure, the Higher Judicial Council seems unwilling to file yet another request against Adnan al-Duleimi, who has approximately 130 criminal complaints filed against him, his sons, and his bodyguards.

There is also an arrest warrant against one of Maliki's military advisors, Adnan Qassim, for executing two soldiers in the last days of the former regime when he was allegedly a commander in the Feda'iyeen Saddam militia. Maliki has held off the arrest pending the results of a investigative committee that he formed to look into these accusations against his advisor.

More on Abu Omar al-Baghdadi's Alleged Identity (Updated)

UPDATE, April 22, 2010: Khalid Khalil Ibrahim al-Mashhadani is NOT Abu Omar al-Baghdadi. Al-Baghdadi's identity has been conclusively confirmed as that of Hamid Daoud al-Zawi. The information I posted about al-Mashhadani was made public by me on the understanding, according to my sources, that he was active in the jihadist arm of the insurgency. If that proves to be incorrect at a future date, then first I apologize to him and to his family, and secondly, I shall hold myself legally liable under Iraqi and tribal law for any discomfort I have put him or his family through.

This is what the Iraqi government told us: ‘Abu Omar al-Baghdadi’ is the pseudonym for Khalid al-Mashhadani, who also goes by the name ‘Abu Zaid’.

This is what we know from following the bitter recriminations among jihadists on internet discussion forums: ‘Abu Omar al-Baghdadi’ was arrested under the Ba’athist regime as a Salafist (radical Islamist) activist who had broken into a school and defaced Saddam Hussein’s pictures and the Ba’athist slogans at the school.

This is what Al-Qaeda’s Islamic State of Iraq claims about his pedigree: ‘Abu Omar al-Baghdadi’ is descended from the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson, Al-Hussein bin Ali, which would make him a Husseinite from the Hashemite clan that is part of the tribe of Quraysh.

This is the best I could do to tie all this up together, according to my sources: al-Baghdadi’s full name is Khalid Khalil Ibrahim al-Mashhadani. He is in his early 40s, and is known as ‘Abu Zaid’ [Updated, April 22, 2008: before getting married, Khalid used to known as 'Abul-Walid', and then after his first daughter was born he was called 'Abu 'Aisha'. He was later called 'Abu Zaid' after his son Zaid was born]. He had been a Salafist under Saddam, and was briefly detained then over some unknown infraction. He has five brothers (that I know of), the eldest being Aggab (born 1954, served in the Iraqi Army’s 56th Battalion during Iraq-Iran War, last job was as principal of a secondary school in the Tarmiyah area north of Baghdad), and the second eldest is Hatim (a former NCO in the Iraqi Army). Khalid’s father, Khalil al-Mashhadani, used to own three lorry trucks that he would rent out for transporting gravel and the such, and after his death (about seven years ago) Khalid took over the business and converted their small office (at the entrance to the Dabbash neighborhood in Hurriyah, opposite to the Chalabi grove) into a service facilitating car registrations. However, Khalid seemed to have shuttered down his business during 2003. Khalid’s father was considered a respected person among the Mashhadani tribe and among the residents of Hurriya.

Khalid’s family belongs to the Albu Mu’alleg branch of the Mashhadanis [Update, April 22, 2008: specifically the house of Hussein of the Albu Mu'alleg (also known as Albu Ali) branch of the Albu Muhammad al-Hamed subsection of the Mashhadanis]. The Mashhadanis believe that they are descended from Al-Hussein bin Ali, which would make them Hashemites. They claim the following pedigree: through Ali bin Ja’afar al-Zeki bin Imam Ali al-Hadi, and more specifically through his descendant Muslim al-Kabir bin Bakr, who was the first of their ancestors to come to Iraq and settle at area near Haditha (in Anbar Province) called Mashhad al-Hajar, from which their name is derived. They then migrated to the Tigris River north of Baghdad, to the Tarmiya area. Some also settled in old Baghdad (since the late 18th century) and there’s a neighborhood called Mahalet al-Mashahidah near the Ma’arouf al-Karkhi and Hallaj cemeteries.

However, many genealogists and experts on Iraqi tribes negate this alleged pedigree that takes the Mashhadanis back to Al-Hussein bin Ali and the Hashemites; it is widely believed that the Mashhadanis go back to the Rabi’a tribe or otherwise may be an offshoot of the Ageidat confederacy.

Both Iraq’s Vice President, Tariq al-Hashemi, and the Speaker of the Parliament, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, who are the leading Sunnis in the Iraqi government, belong to the Mashhadani tribe. I wonder how it would have passed their notice that one of their own is allegedly the head of the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Qaeda’s candidate caliph.

Now, it is not yet fully established that Abu Omar al-Baghdadi is indeed Khalid al-Mashhadani, but it would make much more sense than the assertion that al-Baghdadi is Hisham al-Ghurairi, whose pedigree and background do not overlap to the other snippets of info we think we know about al-Baghdadi.

The other confusing matter is that Khalid has a first paternal cousin, Brig. Gen. Sabi’ Ismail Ibrahim al-Mashhadani (ex-Iraqi Army), who is also known as ‘Abu Omar’ [Updated, April 22, 2008: Sabi' is known as 'Abu 'Assim' and not 'Abu Omar] and who has been active in jihadist insurgent activity.

Khalid is tall (5 11”) and thin.

I just want to reiterate again that this information is the best that I know of at this time, and may be completely off the mark. So stay tuned until it gets confirmed. Oh, one more thing: al-Baghdadi hasn’t been captured as some press reports claimed a few days ago.

UPDATE, March 8, 2007:

The five brothers are: Aggab ‘Abu Nidhal’, Hatem ‘Abu Uday’ [Updated, April 22, 2008: Hatem is known as 'Abu Omar' and not as 'Abu Uday'], Khalid ‘Abu Zaid’, Ibrahim and Muhammad. They have at least one younger sister, Su’ad.

Their family home was near the entrance of the Dabash neighborhood, right across from that of their uncle Ismail’s house. They have at least one more uncle, Ahmad, who used to work as a butcher in the area, and was known as a troublemaker and a local rascal. The families of the three brothers seem to have relocated back to Tarmiya several years back.

Their father’s business partner was Abdullah al-Jirneh, another Mashhadani notable.

It seems that Khalid al-Mashhadani’s name and the locations of some of the Islamic State of Iraq’s HQs in Baghdad were revealed to the Iraqi government by other jihadist groups that have recently had a falling out with Al-Qaeda.

What continues to concern me about this whole matter—that Abu Omar al-Baghdadi is indeed Khalid al-Mashhadani—is that Khalid is not particularly well-educated: he seems to have gone to a technical college rather than attend a university. Would Al-Qaeda take such a gamble on an intellectual lightweight who wouldn’t necessarily be seen as someone with much of a background in religious education? Would they put him forward as their candidate for Caliph?

Furthermore, al-Baghdadi came across in the two speeches attributed to him as someone who was well-spoken and confident. The words could be those of a speechwriter’s but the delivery was all his own. This trait could have been picked up by Khalid from his father’s stature and standing as a clan elder among the Mashhadanis (plural Mushahiddeh, in Arabic).

The Mashhadanis were influenced very early on by Salafism through Ibrahim Khalil Ibrahim al-Mashhadani (a very distant familial relation to Khalid) who formed a clandestine Salafist organization in Iraq in the late 1970s that had some links with the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood and with Saudi Arabia. This organization may have been used at one point by Saddam's intelligence service as an arms and money conduit to the Syrian MB. The exact link between Ibrahim al-Mashhadani and Khalid's family is unknown to me, but it seems reasonable to see that they were introduced to Salafism through their relative, since this ideology was never prevalent in Iraq and it was rare to find adherents of it until the late 1990s.

For the record: the New York Times has yet to put the words ‘Abu Omar al-Baghdadi’ in print. For more on this, see my column: Blackout of the Media.