Unconventional thinking about the Middle East.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Sporadic Posting...

I'm traveling (...currently in Syria), so there will be less activity on this site. If I find or hear something incredibly interesting, then I'll blog about it.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Who's the Emir of the Islamic Army?

Well, we sort of know that he is referred to as 'Abu Osama'; we got this from a poem penned by a poet affiliated with Al-Qaeda's Islamic State of Iraq (...its Poet Laureate, if you will) who called upon the Emir of the Islamic Army of Iraq, 'Abu Osama', to pledge allegiance to Abu Omar al-Baghdadi in the wake of the latter's conciliatory yet subtly belittling message.

Running the pseudonym 'Abu Osama' through the gossip mill gives us two likely candidates:

-Khalil al-Mulla Kawwan al-Jebouri (civilian, former Saddam regime functionary, from Dhulu'iyyah, north of Baghdad).

-Brig. Gen. Muhammad 'Abid Mahmoud al-Luheibi (ex-Iraqi Army officer, his brother is Lt. Gen. Ali al-Luheibi, former commander of the Saddam Fedayeen who currently resides in Damascus).

Bets are being placed on the latter: the Saudi press (al-Watan Newspaper) put out a story on April 18 that Iraqi President Jalal Talabani's security adviser, Gen. Wafiq al-Samarra'i, had held negotiations on Talabani's behalf in the Jordanian capital Amman with insurgent leaders among whom was Lt. Gen. Ali al-Luheibi. This was untrue (...al-Luheibi hasn't been to Jordan recently) and the newspaper's account was denied by al-Samarra'i himself in a statement released last week.

Furthermore, negotiations with the Islamic Army of Iraq usually go through former Iraqi Army Col. Hussein Salman al-Shimmeri, the IAI's official spokesman, in Amman. Al-Shimmeri is close to Ali al-Luheibi who, according to one account, fronts for his brother, Brig. Gen. Muhammad al-Luheibi, the alleged Emir of the IAI.

The Lheibat are one of these obscure tribes that are spread out all over Iraq and whose origins are disputed. They are likely of a lower Arabian stock, probably of the Sulubba variety.

'Abu Osama' Muhammad al-Luheibi is believed to operate primarily from the Dhulu'iyyah area.

As always with these speculations about the true identities of insurgent leaders nothing is certain or can be ascribed to anything beyond speculation. But figuring out who they are and what their backgrounds are goes a long way towards figuring out their motivation and base of support, and what their next set of moves may be.

The Islamic Army of Iraq is the second most active insurgent group after Al-Qaeda's Islamic State of Iraq. Their actions probably account for 15-20 percent of the total violence against U.S. troops, Iraqi government forces and Shi'ite militias; they don't usually target civilians or make use of suicide bombings, but they arbitrarily accuse civilian Shi'ites of belonging to known militias based on very scant information.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

AP: Inter-Jihadist Fighting

The Associated Press put out a big story today on the inter-jihadist fighting.

Here are some excerpts: [full text in comments sections]

The clashes have erupted over the last two to three months, pitting al-Qaida in Iraq against the nationalist 1920 Revolution Brigades in Diyala and Salahuddin provinces north of Baghdad as well as Anbar to the west, U.S. officers said. In Diyala, another hard-line militant Sunni group, the Ansar al-Sunna Army, is also fighting al-Qaida, they said.

"It's happening daily," Lt. Col. Keith Gogas said Thursday in an interview at an Army base in Muqdadiyah, 60 miles northeast of Baghdad...

American commanders cite al-Qaida's severe brand of Islam, which is so extreme that in Baqouba, al-Qaida has warned street vendors not to place tomatoes beside cucumbers because the vegetables are different genders, Col. David Sutherland said.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Al-Baghdadi Names Pseudonyms—for ministerial portfolios

The “Official Spokesman” for the Islamic State of Iraq released the names of Abu Omar al-Baghdadi’s cabinet today in a 5 minute video message sent out through the Al-Furqan Institute for Media Productions.

The list includes one foreigner (…possibly two) and that is Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, who was picked as Minister of War. Al-Muhajir is also Abu Musa’ab al-Zarqawi’s successor as the leader of Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia.

The emphasis in the list of 10 ministers is on Sunni tribal names, however, the absence of important Sunni tribes such as the Dulaim, Zoba’, Shammar, ‘Anizah and ‘Ubeid, as well as people belonging to important Sunni towns as Samarra and Tikrit, is very conspicuous to Iraqi eyes. Maybe the Islamic State of Iraq is sending a message through this list.

Only one member is seemingly identified by his real name: Mustafa al-‘Araji, Minister of Agriculture.

And one member seems to have been changed at the last minute: Abu ‘Uthman al-Tamimi (see below).

Here’s the list:

1-Sheikh Abu Abdul-Rahman al-Falahi, 1st Vizier (The Falahat are a minor Sunni tribe north of and within Baghdad)

2-Sheikh Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, Minister of War (believed to be a non-Iraqi)

3-Professor Sheikh Abu ‘Uthman al-Tamimi, Minister of Religious Courts (Apparently the first choice that was read out by the “spokesman” was changed at the last minute, because a voice-over is done in someone else's voice with al-Tamimi’s name substituted for the first choice; the Bani Tamim are one of Iraq’s major tribes, and they are mostly Shi’a with important Sunni subsections. There are also Tamimis in Saudi Arabia—Muhammad bin Abdel-Wahhab, the founder of Wahhabism in the 18th century belonged to this tribe—so this fellow could be a non-Iraqi too. The first choice could have been Sheikh Abu Suleiman al-Uteibi, a Saudi, who was recently identified as the chief religious judge of the ISI; I have no idea why they would have changed it.)

4-Professor Abu Bakr al-Jebouri, Minister of Public Relations (The Jebouris are another of Iraq’s major tribes, with both Sunni and Shi’a subsections.)

5-Professor Abu Abdel-Jabbar al-Janabi, Minister of Public Security (80% of Janabis are minor Sunni, and the rest are Shi’a, and they are to be found to the south west of Baghdad.)

6-Sheikh Abu Muhammad al-Mashhadani, Minister of Information (The Mashahidah are a minor Sunni tribe north of Baghdad, and I've speculated that Abu Omar al-Baghdadi himself is a Mashhadani.)

7-Sheikh Abu Abdel-Qadir al-‘Isawi, Minister of Martyrs and Prisoners Affairs (The Albu-‘Isa are a predominately Sunni tribe to the south west of Baghdad, across the Euphrates River, and their main concern is smuggling. There have been recent clashes between Al-Qaeda and the Albu-‘Isa.)

8-Engineer Abu Ahmad al-Janabi, Minister of Oil (Yet another Janabi…)

9-Professor Mustafa al-‘Araji, Minister of Agriculture and Fish Resources (The ‘Arajis are a Shi’a family descended from the Prophet Muhammad, yet they have an important Sunni offshoot in Mosul.)

10-Professor Doctor Abu ‘Abdallah al-Zaidi, Minister of Health (The Bani Zayd are mostly Sunnis, living between Musayyeb and Suweira.)

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Abu Omar al-Baghdadi’s Fourth Speech: the ‘State of the Union’ is Iffy

The leader of the Al-Qaeda’s Islamic State of Iraq, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, released his fourth speech yesterday through his organization’s Al-Furqan Institute for Media Productions. The actual speech lasts approximately 35 minutes and is titled 'Harvesting the Years for the State of the Monotheists'—sort of a ‘State of the Union Address’ summing up the last four years of the jihad in Iraq from his perspective.

To my ears, the voice that read the speech sounded very much like the voice that read the three preceding speeches that have been attributed to Abu Omar al-Baghdadi: first speech (December 22, 2006), second speech (February 3, 2007) and third speech (March 13, 2007).

Once again, al-Baghdadi was introduced as ‘our master, Prince of the Faithful, Abu Omar al-Qurayshi al-Hussaini al-Baghdadi’ and, even though the speech was undated, it clearly addressed the recent flare-ups among jihadist groups and was thus recorded recently.

Al-Baghdadi begins by enumerating the gains made by the Sunnis after four years of jihad and at the very top of the list he states that:

The people of Iraq are today one of the greatest nations on the face of the earth in maintaining monotheism, for there is no polytheistic Sufism being propagated, or shrines being visited, or innovated festivals being celebrated, or candles being lit or a pilgrimage being made to a pagan totem, for the people of Iraq have destroyed these shrines with their own hands so that Allah will be worshiped alone…
Al-Qaeda has destroyed both Shi’a and Sunni shrines; the Sunnis of Iraq have a very rich Sufi tradition (Islamic mysticism) which is anathema to Al-Qaeda’s Wahhabi and Salafist doctrines.

Al-Baghdadi adds that public morality has been enforced over the last four years:

Go and delve into the country, so that you will see that [there are no longer] places that encourage sordidness or corruption, and no [unveiled women] present to infatuate the young, and to tempt the old, or to be devoured by wolves…Search and you will not find a dance party that angers Allah in His heavens…
Al-Baghdadi sees that an affinity to Islam has spread among the youth because of jihad:

Yesterday our mosques would lament the dearth of worshippers, and they would be aged men, but today, [the mosques] are frequented by the youth, the hope of the future…
And that the zakat, the Muslim tax, is being collected from everyone, including the herdsmen of the desert who willingly give what is owed to the mujaheddin.

Al-Baghdadi says that the all-important jihadist doctrine of alwala’ wel bara’ (‘Loyalty and Renunciation’) that had gone “forgotten” is now back in vogue due to the actions of the mujaheddin. This doctrine states that a Muslim’s first loyalty is to his faith and its tenets, even at the cost of his blood or national relations: al-Baghdadi marvels that now “a father kills his son, a spy, with his own hand, and a tribe would disown its own son who is a policeman for [Maliki’s government],” and that “a woman would leave her husband” if he supported the central government in Baghdad. Following up that point, al-Baghdadi points out that “the women of Iraq are shedding tears while begging to perform suicide missions, but we deny them that unless men cannot reach certain targets under special circumstances.”

One the battlefield, al-Baghdadi sees that the military successes of the mujaheddin have been epitomized by graduating a class of “officers of the jihad and that even the aircraft of the “enemy”, which had been the “weapon they terrorized the world with and which brought down the heretical Ba’athist state” have been neutralized by technological advances made by the mujaheddin. Al-Baghdadi also had “good tidings” for the “ummah [global community of Muslims]” that “Al-Quds-1 [Jerusalem-1] missile has entered the phase of manufacture and military production and that—with its high specifications regarding length, fuel, weight, range and accuracy—it would rival what [other] countries of the world had sought [to build].”

Furthermore, when “the mujaheddin speak today they are heard, and if they threaten then they are feared, and if they enter into pacts they are obeyed and such is the logic of politics in our days, for the world only respects those who tread heavily.” And because of the actions of the mujaheddin “the awe held by the nations of the world for the Marines and for American technology has been dropped” and that “the Iraqi jihad has restored vitality to [other] jihadist locations that had fizzled out” and that the jihad conducted in Iraq has “prepared for the raid against the state of the Jews and the retrieval of Jerusalem.” This last snipe seems directed against Osama Bin Laden and the old leadership of Al-Qaeda who were hesitant in supporting Abu Musa’ab al-Zarqawi’s venture in Iraq at first but then they reaped the benefits after the Zarqawists breathed new life into the world of jihad and managed to resurrect Al-Qaeda’s fame after the Taliban debacle.

With regards to the Americans, al-Baghdadi enumerates some of the alleged victories of the jihadists as:

Draining the American budget to the detriment of Social Security and health and education, and even the monies of the collaborative governments of the [Persian] Gulf have failed to cover the American deficits…

The fall of the pillars of Bush’s government who have ended up in the trash heap of History, to be tormented by the curses of God and the questioning of misled nations, and we may see them in the near future in the dock being tried for their crimes such as Rumsfeld and George Tenet and John Bolton and Richard Perle
Al-Baghdadi figures that the “total collapse of the American military institution” is at hand because the morale of the American forces has crumbled and that “it is expected that American strategy would change from volunteer service into the draft to cover the unbalance in fatalities.”

Doesn’t all this sound somewhat familiar to what gets said by some Democrats (...and Chuck Hagel) in Congress?

In addressing the recent rifts and infighting among jihadist groups, al-Baghdadi refrains from using the word ‘recalcitrance’ in describing the refusal of the other jihadists to pledge allegiance to him and to the Islamic State of Iraq as he had done in his second and third speeches. This time he dwells on the importance of jama’a, or community solidarity, which is the very heart of Sunnism whether ideologically, politically or socially.

Al-Baghdadi argues, with numerous citations from the Koran, the Prophet Muhammad and Islamic precedents, that jama’a is the “practical application of the [doctrine] of [Loyalty and Renunciation].”

The technical term for Sunnis is ahlul sunnah wel jama’a [People of the Sunnah and Community Solidarity]—the Sunnah is the oral and practical tradition attributed to the Prophet that is meant to complement the neglected or unclear areas of the Koran. At its simplistic core, it rejects any minority view if it threatened the consensus view, and that political authority can only come through the community of Muslims agreeing on a set of lowest common denominators and by rejecting major points of contention. Islamic (read Sunni) history allowed for much diversity yet still managed to get soaked in blood; modern-day jihadists have far less tolerance for dissent of any kind.

Al-Baghdadi is making a subtle case that the other jihadist groups, in not answering his call for unity under his banner, are acting against the jama’a and thus against Sunnism and Islam. The same could be said (and is said) by these other jihadist groups: al-Baghdadi himself is threatening the jama’a—whereby they all agree on waging jihad against the Americans and the Iraqi government—by forcing the issue of the Islamic State and the pledge of allegiance, and thus he has contradicted community consensus by introducing a schismatic claim for the sole leadership of the jihad.

Al-Baghdadi directs several messages for the Muslims of the world, for the Sunnis of Iraq, for the Sunnis who collaborate with the Iraqi government, and for his own fighters. But the most interesting section is his call for the other jihadist groups, which he refers to by name:

To our brothers in army of the Ansar al-Sunnah and the Army of the Mujaheddin: the affection between us and our bonds of ideology and fondness are larger and stronger and firmer than anything that could harm them. And to my sons in the Islamic Army: you should know that [I would sacrifice] my blood before yours, and my honor before yours, and by Allah you will only hear kind [words] and see kind [deeds] from us; so soothe yourselves for what is between us is stronger than what some people think, may Allah forgive them. And to the soldiers of the 1920 Revolt [Brigades]: yes, the devil has interfered between us and you—the devil of the [Iraqi] Islamic Party and its henchmen—but the wise men of your brigades have addressed this problem and sat down with their brothers in the State of Islam to stamp out the fire of sedition, and to plant the seed of affection…For by Allah, your blood and the blood of every Muslim is sanctified for us unless he perpetrated an unbelieving act or spilt forbidden blood.
These niceties didn't do much good for Muhammad al-Azzawi, one of the leaders of Hamas-Iraq (an offshoot of the 1920 Revolt Brigades), who was killed by "the hand of treachery" according to the group's press release two days ago; this is likely a reference to Al-Qaeda.
Notice how al-Baghdadi refers to the Ansar al-Sunnah and the Army of the Mujaheddin as “brothers” while he calls the Islamic Army “my sons”; al-Baghdadi is infantilizing and belittling the IAI. For more on the background of the inter-jihadist feuds, check out the statement made by the Islamic Army of Iraq against Abu Omar al-Baghdadi a few days ago.

In defending why he and his organization created the Islamic State of Iraq, al-Baghdadi says that they did not seek to pick the fruit before its ripened, but that they had simply caught the fruit, midair, as it fell off the tree; in other words, the time for the Islamic State of Iraq had come, with all its implications as the nucleus state for the caliphate. Al-Baghdadi adds that they wanted to prevent the jihad in Iraq from suffering the same fate as that which befell the jihadists in Bosnia and Afghanistan: not having a clear plan for what comes next after the phase of jihad.

At the end, al-Baghdadi is adamant that the ‘State of Islam’ will “persist,” and he gives many flowery reasons for that. But what’s interesting is that he says “we are certain that Allah will not break the hearts of the embattled monotheists and turn us into the object of ridicule by the oppressors.”

I’m afraid that Allah is planning to disappoint al-Baghdadi on this count: conducting state policy according to the perceived will of the Divine usually conflicts with the practicalities of reality.

Al-Baghdadi's overall tone regarding the other jihadist groups is conciliatory, but I wonder if this tone will be read as a sign of weakness by the others, who may be further encouraged to put a stop to Al-Qaeda's menace once and for all by smashing this rival jihadist organization.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Spotlight on 'Jihadist Meltdown', at long last...

On March 12, I wrote that:

There is no greater joy for someone who cares about Iraq than to watch Al Qaeda and these other jihadist groups go at each other with the bloodthirsty abandon and frenzy that only crazed zealots can muster. The bloodletting has gone far beyond the point of any possible reconciliation, for Al Qaeda must destroy all the others in order to survive, and ditto for the others as they face down Al Qaeda. It has turned into an all-or-nothing fight among the most dangerous insurgents, and it is heartening to see them engaged and distracted in destroying each other.

Now if only the American press would report on this jihadist meltdown so that policymakers in Washington can rally the martial spirit to bring this battle to a crushing end for the enemy.

That was from my column, Jihadist Meltdown.

A month later, the Washington Post made my wish come true: today, the paper published a front-page story about the not-so-recent-anymore inter-jihadist fighting, at long last.

Here are some excerpts [full text in the comments section]:

"We do not want to kill the Sunni people nor displace the innocent Shia, and what the al-Qaeda organization is doing is contradictory to Islam," said Abu Marwan, a religious leader of the Mujaheddin Army in Baqubah, northeast of Baghdad. "We will strike whoever violates the boundaries of God, whether al-Qaeda or the Americans."

The Islamic State of Iraq, a Sunni umbrella organization said to have been created by the group al-Qaeda in Iraq, has said it would kill any Sunni suspected of being an agent of the United States or the Iraqi government, according to Islamic State spokesman Abu Hasnah al-Dulaimi.

"Those armed groups have no choice," Dulaimi said in a telephone interview from Anbar's provincial capital, Ramadi. "They have to either join us in forming the Islamic State project in the Sunni areas or hand over their weapons to us before we are forced to act against them forcefully. It will not save them that they have fought the Americans and resisted them in the last few years."

About three months ago, al-Qaeda fighters began targeting insurgent leaders. Gunfights have taken place in Baghdad neighborhoods such as Abu Ghraib and northern cities such as Taji. In Diyala province, al-Qaeda killed or kidnapped several Sunni insurgent leaders and religious and academic figures, dumping at least one of the bodies into a river in recent weeks, police officials said.

Now, local insurgent groups have united to fight them, erecting checkpoints and patrolling Baqubah and nearby towns, said Abu Jasim, a leader of the Mujaheddin Army. More than 100 al-Qaeda fighters were captured in the towns of Buhriz and Tahrir, the core areas controlled by the Islamic State of Iraq in Diyala, he said.
"Frankly speaking, we don't want an inner Sunni-Sunni fight, and we do not want to have a military collision with al-Qaeda, like what the tribes did, although we have all the right to do so," said Salmani, the Islamic Army commander, referring to the decision of tribal leaders in Anbar to side with the Americans.

But the pressure from al-Qaeda fighters is growing. They have posted statements in mosques and on the Web warning that they will target any Sunni group that defies them. On March 27, they allegedly killed the nephew of Harith al-Dari, the most prominent Sunni cleric in Iraq. The nephew was a senior leader in the 1920 Revolution Brigades, police officials said.

On Monday, gunmen killed an Islamic Army leader south of Samarra, said Capt. Zuhair al-Badri in Samarra. The previous night, two other fighters were killed. Islamic Army leaders immediately blamed al-Qaeda, saying the attack was in retaliation for the letter to bin Laden.

My only question is this: if the Washington Post has so many stellar sources within the top factions of the insurgency, then how the hell did they miss out on the story that began, according to their own report today, three months ago?

Did they purposely sleep on the story until it was impossible for the editors not to make mention of it anymore?

And this is all the New York Times would deign to say about inter-jihadist fighting, in a 900 word story, on page 5, and reported second-hand off the AP:

At least one other insurgent group, the Islamic Army of Iraq, said on Al Jazeera television this week that it was fighting against the Islamic State of Iraq because it had killed members of the Islamic Army, The Associated Press reported.

This is so sad.

So there you have it: if you had been following Talisman Gate then you’d have known about this story months ago. Do I get a T-Shirt or something?

And lest anyone forget: the fighting started because Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia wanted to ram its own unique formula for the caliphate, the Islamic State of Iraq, down everyone else's throat, and they took that step because they concluded that the insurgency was being worn out and that it needed a fresh burst of purpose.

See my archives for all the supporting documentation.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Al-Qaeda Responsible for Fadhel Fighting (Updated)

This is what the Washington Post has on its front-page today: “Al-Qaeda Branch Claims Algeria Blasts”.

This is what the New York Times has on its front-page today: “Two Suicide Bombings by Unit of Al Qaeda Kill at Least 23 in Algeria”.

But when it comes to Iraq, there’s a different standard: both the New York Times and the Washington Post failed to mention that Al-Qaeda’s Islamic State of Iraq claimed responsibility for the fighting in the Fadhel neighborhood of central Baghdad, which both papers covered extensively on their front-pages yesterday.

The ISI’s claims of responsibility was widely circulated many, many hours before either paper went to print on Tuesday night. The ISI claims in its press release to have shot down three helicopters.

There’s one standard for writing up terrorism stories from Iraq, and another standard when terrorism happens anywhere else.

There has been no claim of responsibility for the parliament attack today that I know of up to the time of this posting. IraqSlogger think they saw one at muslm.net but I don’t see it there. I spoke to a member of parliament who says he left the cafeteria minutes before the explosion, and he says that the place was uncharacteristically empty this afternoon, which helped in keeping the number of casualties down.

Plus, I found this ISI “progress report” on their activities from March 16-31 very telling (…it’s in Arabic, and I can’t be bothered to translate it): the vast majority of their terrorist activity occurs within Baghdad province, rather than in the other Sunni provinces.

Clearly Al-Qaeda believes that the bulk of its terrorist output happens in Baghdad, which would make the success of the Baghdad Security Plan all that more important.

Drawing on his fresh take on what’s happening in Iraq, Fouad Ajami’s Op-Ed in the Wall Street Journal yesterday was masterful as always, and here are my favorite excerpts (full text in the comments section):

The blunt truth of this new phase in the fight for Iraq is that the Sunnis have lost the battle for Baghdad. The great flight from Baghdad to Jordan, to Syria, to other Arab destinations, has been the flight of Baghdad's Sunni middle-class. It is they who had the means of escape, and the savings.

Whole mixed districts in the city--Rasafa, Karkh--have been emptied of their Sunni populations. Even the old Sunni neighborhood of Adhamiyyah is embattled and besieged. What remains for the Sunnis are the western outskirts. This was the tragic logic of the campaign of terror waged by the Baathists and the jihadists against the Shia; this was what played out in the terrible year that followed the attack on the Askariya shrine of Samarra in February 2006. Possessed of an old notion of their own dominion, and of Shia passivity and quiescence, the Sunni Arabs waged a war they were destined to lose.

No one knows with any precision the sectarian composition of today's Baghdad, but there are estimates that the Sunnis may now account for 15% of the city's population. Behind closed doors, Sunni leaders speak of the great calamity that befell their community. They admit to a great disappointment in the Arab states that fed the flames but could never alter the contest on the ground in Iraq. No Arab cavalry had ridden, or was ever going to ride, to the rescue of the Sunnis of Iraq.

A cultured member of the (Sunni) Association of Muslim Scholars in Baghdad, a younger man of deep moderation, likened the dilemma of his community to that of the Palestinian Arabs since 1948. "They waited for deliverance that never came," he said. "Like them, we placed our hopes in Arab leaders who have their own concerns. We fell for those Arab satellite channels, we believed that Arab brigades would turn up in Anbar and Baghdad. We made room for al Qaeda only to have them turn on us in Anbar." There had once been a Sunni maxim in Iraq, "for us ruling and power, for you self-flagellation," that branded the Shia as a people of sorrow and quietism. Now the ground has shifted, and among the Sunnis there is a widespread sentiment of disinheritance and loss.

The Mahdi Army, more precisely the underclass of Sadr City, had won the fight for Baghdad. This Shia underclass had been hurled into the city from its ancestral lands in the Marshes and the Middle Euphrates. In a cruel twist of irony, Baathist terror had driven these people into the slums of Baghdad. The Baathist tyranny had cut down the palm trees in the south, burned the reed beds of the Marshes. Then the campaign of terror that Sunni society sheltered and abetted in the aftermath of the despot's fall gave the Mahdi Army its cause and its power.

"The Mahdi Army protected us and our lands, our homes, and our honor," said a tribal Shia notable in a meeting in Baghdad, acknowledging that it was perhaps time for the boys of Moqtada al-Sadr to step aside in favor of the government forces. He laid bare, as he spoke, the terrible complications of this country; six of his sisters, he said, were married to Sunnis, countless nephews of his were Sunni. Violence had hacked away at this pluralism; no one could be certain when, and if, the place could mend.

UPDATE (Thursday evening):

Now both the Ansar al-Sunnah and Hamas-Iraq (a faction that broke from the 1920 Revolt Brigade) are claiming responsibility for the fighting in Fadhel. Their press releases come a full two days after the fighting began, whereas the ISI’s was released on the same day.

Hamas-Iraq is firming up its account of allegedly shooting down an Apache helicopter in Fadhel (...U.S. military that the aircraft sustained fire but was not shot down) by releasing footage of “11 maps of Baghdad, 10 different IDs, and an American passport” they allege were recovered from the wreckage, but that they could only get the footage out today.

This sounds a lot like what happened when the Blackwater helicopter was shot down in the same neighborhood back in January (scroll down), when Ansar al-Sunnah, 1920 Revolt Brigades, and the Islamic Army of Iraq all claimed responsibility.

I think that what is happening in this particular neighborhood is that the criminal gang that controls Fadhel, the Zanabirah (from the Jubur tribe, Sunnis, they used to be employed in gathering re-usable building materials from old collapsing homes), have essentially opened-up a side business in terrorism and organized crime, and would conduct such operations and then sell the information or some captured paraphernalia to the groups mentioned above for bragging rights. However, it is very likely that the ISI/Al-Qaeda has its own independent cell operating in Fadhel outside of the control of the Zanabirah; there are plenty of Sudanese and Egyptian laborers who live there, and foreign non-Iraqi Arab fighters can easily blend in among them.

There is still no claim of responsibility for the parliament attack.

UPDATE (Saturday, April 14, 2007):

Just for the record: Al-Qaeda's Islamic State of Iraq took credit for the parliament attack.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Notes on Counterinsurgency and De-Ba'athification

Talisman Gate’s Counterinsurgency Recommendations: Al-Hayat reports today that Iraqi officials are planning to wall-in certain Baghdad neighborhoods within concrete barriers as part of the new security plan. An unidentified source at the Ministry of Interior told Al-Hayat that the neighborhoods that are to be walled-in are four predominately Sunni ones (Dora, ‘Amiriya, Al-‘Adel, and ‘Adhamiya), another predominately Shi’a one (Sadr City) and one mixed (Hai al-‘Amil).

This sound a lot like one of the counterinsurgency plans I was advocating four months ago: Go Smart (December 1, 2006). But I would have also added other Sunni neighborhoods and satellite towns such as Hai al-Jami’a, Khadra’, Yarmouk, Ghazalia, Jihad, Mushahdeh, Khan Dhari, Mahmoudiya, Yusufiya, and ‘Arab Jbour.

It doesn’t make sense to close-off Shi’a areas since the biggest danger from these neighborhoods would be death squads aimed at Sunnis; if the Sunni neighborhoods are already secure then there’s no need to close off Sadr City, which would have serious economic ramifications on Baghdad’s economy and services by bottlenecking the movement and circulation of the capital's workforce.

Here it is in full:

The ‘Fallouja Model’ and the ‘Kadhimiya Canton’: After the November 2004 offensive to take-back Fallouja from the insurgents, the U.S. military embarked on a drastically new experiment of controlling the turbulent town of 200,000 souls: fence the population in. Instead of bringing back old Ba’athists like the failed ‘Fallouja Brigade’ experiment of April 2004 to police the town, which only ended-up emboldening the insurgents, the Americans opted to turn Fallouja into a vast interment camp. But for a few incidents here and there, the plan worked very well.

All residents of Fallouja were issued special localized IDs, and unknown vehicles were barred from entering the town. The US forces set-up a perimeter around the dense urban center. However, this chokehold did not completely surround Fallouja’s ‘rural suburbs’ on the western back of the Euphrates River—hence, there is room for improvement on this particular model.

A ‘closed canton’ model was voluntarily imposed on the Kadhimiya suburb in northern Baghdad. This Shi'a center with a population of 500,000 is now virtually closed off: entry points have been bottle-necked to a handful, and no unfamiliar cars are allowed to pass through. The levels of violence in Kadhimiya have been drastically reduced over the past year since this model was put in place. In lieu of car bombs and suicide bombers, the insurgents now resort to lobbing mortar attacks to get the residents of Kadhimiya. But there is a feeling among the resident that their town is safe—a spectacular feat considering that it borders some major hotbeds of insurgent activity.

At least 90 percent of attacks on U.S. troops over the last year were conducted by Sunni insurgents, so isolating them and their operative bases should be the starting point in rolling back the insurgency.

I propose a ‘closed canton’ method for Baghdad’s Sunni-heavy suburbs of Hai al-Jami’a, ‘Amiriya, Jihad, Ghazaliya, Yarmouk, Dora, Khadra’ and ‘Adhamiya, closing each off unto itself. A similar fix should be extended to the rural Sunni satellite towns (the housing clusters) to the north, west and south of Baghdad: Mushahdeh, Khan Dhari, Mahmoudiya, Yusufiya, and ‘Arab Jbour.

This should be done using the Israeli method: fence them with concrete and technology. The Israelis have been building a separating wall between them and the Palestinians over the past two years. It is an expensive solution but not exceedingly prohibitive. According to Iraqi pricing, a 4 meter high and 1.5 concrete wide ‘T-wall’ barrier costs about 1,200 USD. That evens out to 1 million dollars per kilometer of concrete. Motion sensors, night-vision cameras, sniper observation towers and barbed wire would probably cost an additional 250,000 USD per Km. It is doable.

This would take 6-8 months to complete, and should be dismantled in two years time.

The benefits are the following: keeping the insurgents in, and the death squads out. The US military can pledge that all police patrols or raids in these enclosed areas would be accompanied by American overseers and advisors. The municipal councils should be encouraged to form sub-contracting firms from within their neighborhoods to undertake high-visibility development projects such as putting-in spanking new water mains and fiberglass optic cables (the ‘Sadr City model’). Instead of low-output neighborhood generators, the Iraqi government should bring in larger temporary electrical generators (…there are some that are worth 1 million USD a piece) to provide 24 hrs of electricity to these cantons.

Close it off, throw money at it and gather information. Such measures restricting maneuverability would render these Sunni enclaves useless for insurgents, driving them to find other locales.

A state-of-the-art biometric ID card system that incorporates DNA data as well as genealogical tables (…I’ll discuss this at length later) should be beta-tested on the residents of these cantons.

Furthermore, a systematic effort to match the Saddam regime’s personnel archives to the current residences of these ex-officers from the military and intelligence services should be undertaken. Most of these officers were given state-sponsored housing in the above mentioned neighborhoods during the Saddam era. The former regime kept meticulous files on all its officers and their extended families—these need to be updated and the officers placed under closer supervision for either recruiting or counterinsurgency purposes. We should match skills, such as sniper expertise, to sophisticated insurgent tactics. It holds to reason that if an ex-army sniper lives in a certain sector and there is sniper activity there, then that this person would be a good starting point for an investigation: he may be doing it himself or training others.

Moreover, the current rule that allows every Iraqi family to hold an unregistered Kalashnikov rifle for protection inside its home should be suspended in these cantons. Since these areas are closed off in the first place, they should have less to fear from death squads or criminal gangs. No weapons outside of state control would be registered; finding such a weapon (and ammunition) during a routine search should result in a fine and some prison time (two months).

Raid on Khalaf ‘Alayan’s House: Multinational Forces put out a press release yesterday detailing Tuesday’s (April 3) raid on a house in Yarmouk that yielded plenty of evidence of terrorist activity, but they did not release any information on the owner of the house or the affiliation of those 14 gunmen who were detained during the raid. The New York Times and the Washington Post both identified Iraqi Sunni MP Khalaf ‘Alayan as the owner of this house in their Sunday editions today, and described the detainees as members of his security detail.

News of this raid, along with all the pertinent details, was first reported here on Talisman Gate five days ago. The implication of this raid, as well as several others of late, is that the security teams of many of the top Sunni lawmakers seem to have been compromised by insurgent infiltrators, either with or without the connivance of those Sunni politicians, many of whom are facing investigations and are likely to have their parliamentary immunity revoked. Such an accumulation of evidence grinds against any logic behind rolling back de-Ba’athification; if anything we need to de-Ba’athify some more.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Six Degrees of Terrorism: Tentative Link Between Zarqawi’s Al-Qaeda and the Hariri Assassination

Today, Al-Hayat printed the full text of a Lebanese governmental report on an Al-Qaeda cell that was arrested early last year. This report, apparently released yesterday, reinforced and corroborated a tantalizing yet still tentative assertion that placed Zarqawi’s Al-Qaeda behind the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri over two years ago.

This is my condensed version of the report, followed by what I had written about this cell in the past:

Recruitment: Hassan Muhammad Nab’a, (Lebanese, Born 1981. AKA ‘Muhammad Said Mneimneh’, ‘Ramzi Khalil Hassan’, ‘Sheikh Rashid’. Later designated Emir of this Al-Qaeda affiliate group. He was also associated with the Dhiniyeh clashes in northern Lebanon in 2000, and had gone into hiding in Syria); was recruited by two persons connected to Al-Qaeda: ‘Jamil’, (Syrian from Homs, Al-Qaeda facilitator); and by Faisal Asa’ad Akbar (Syrian, AKA ‘Fahad Muhammad Hassan Al-Khadim Al-Yamani’, ‘Abdel-Ghani Walid Faris’, ‘Hassan Nassir Isa’. Pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan in late 1999, then pledged allegiance to Abu Musa’ab al-Zarqawi in Iraq, and was tasked by the latter to go back to Syria and recruit for Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia, and then tasked with conducting terrorist operations in Lebanon and Syria).

Hassan Nab’a sent ‘Jamil’ to Lebanon to recruit his brother, Malik Nab’a. Malik Nab’a recruited Khalid Midhat Taha (Palestinian resident in Lebanon. AKA ‘Muhammad Ali Safadi’, ‘Ghassan Said Khalil’) who later went and pledged allegiance to Hassan Nab’a in Syria. Taha recruited Hani Hashim al-Shenti (Naturalized Lebanese of Palestinian origin) who also went to Syria and pledged allegiance to Hassan Nab’a. Taha was the alleged recruiter and handler of Ahmad Abu Ades who took responsibility, in a video released by a terrorist organization, for the Hariri assassination on February 14, 2005.

At one point after the Hariri assassination, Hassan Nab’a, Faisal Akbar, and Khalid Taha were living in the same apartment in the Ein al-Rummaneh district of Beirut.

The chief characters in this cell are Hassan Nab’a, Faisal Akbar, Hani al-Shenti and Tariq Raja al-Nassir (Syrian neurosurgeon. AKA ‘Abdel-Salam Abdel-Wahab Khudayir’). All of them, as well as several other associates, are in Lebanese custody. Other important players such as Khalid Taha and ‘Jamil’ still at large, as well as some others listed in the report.

They are not being charged with anything to do with the Hariri assassination. They are being held for being members of Al-Qaeda, hoarding weapons, rockets and explosives, and plotting to target a Lebanese sect—most likely the Shi’as.

Abu Ades is connected to Khalid Taha, who is connected to Malik Nab’a, who was recruited by ‘Jamil’, who had recruited Hassan Nab’a, who was linked to Abu Musa’ab al-Zarqawi directly through Faisal Akbar. Count them: six degrees of separation! (But how is Kevin Bacon involved in all of this?)

Now it’s official: the Lebanese Prosecutor’s Office has linked Ahmad Abu Adas to an Al-Qaeda cell. But Serge Brammertz, the able Belgian prosecutor in charge of the UN’s investigation into the Hariri assassination, has ruled out placing Ahmad Abu Ades at the scene of the crime through some DNA evidence. This is what Brammertz says in his fifth and latest report that was released in March:

b) Ahmad Abu Adass
41. In this reporting period, the investigation has developed its understanding of how Ahmad Abu Adass was identified and chosen to be the person to make the video claim of responsibility, who involved him in this activity and where and when this occurred. A working hypothesis is that he was identified because of his personality and other specific characteristics. It is possible that his association and relationship with one or more individuals whom he met at his place of worship led him to depart his home on 16 January 2005, for reasons that are currently unknown.

42. The Commission is aware that Ahmad Abu Adass was acquainted with individuals associated with extremist groups, at least because they attended the same place of worship which he frequented regularly, and where he occasionally conducted prayers. The Commission has also conducted extensive analysis of communications traffic records associated with Ahmad Abu Adass, including analysis of the telephone communication at his home and place of work and on lines belonging to his alleged associates.

43. A working hypothesis is that Ahmad Abu Adass was either coerced or duped into making the video-taped claim of responsibility. The claim he read out on tape was made on behalf of a group, and Ahmad Abu Adass himself did not state he would be the one who would carry out the attack. In relation to the tape’s production, it is of note that relatives and persons who knew him before his disappearance have stated that his appearance on the video tape was physically different from that before 16 January 2005. To some, he appeared even thinner than previously; his beard had markedly grown, indicating that he may have made the tape towards the end of the approximately four week period between his disappearance and 14 February 2005. His clothing was also different from his usual style in that he had headwear and clothing that his close friends and family had not seen him wearing before."

44. It is of interest to the investigation that a note was included with the video on 14 February 2005 which stated that the bomber was indeed Ahmad Abu Adass. From its forensic findings, the Commission believes this to be highly unlikely. One working hypothesis is that the video and the accompanying note could have been designed to deceive. Another working hypothesis is that while an extremist group may have been involved in part in committing the crime as outlined in the tape and note, this group was actually manipulated by others for another objective not related to its own organizational aspirations.

But the Abu Adas tape was delivered to Al-Jazeera’s office in Beirut within hours of the Hariri bombing and in it a group calling itself Al-Nusra wel Jihad took credit for the attack.

Thus, a role for Abu Adas cannot be discounted, and now a role for Al-Qaeda—because of the information above—cannot be ignored either.

I first wrote about this Al-Qaeda cell when the news first surfaced in February 5, 2006, alleging an attempted cover-up:
I don't know for certain if the Addiyar story or what was relayed by my source is accurate in full, but it seems that the notion that Al-Qaeda (Zarqawi branch? Ansar Al-Sunna branch?) was somehow involved in the Hariri assassination has picked up a momentum of its own, and the members of the Lebanese political elite that are privy to this information are themselves preparing pre-emptive talking points for release upon public disclosure. The anti-Syrian camp is saying that the Asad regime is manipulating Al-Qaeda's activities in Lebanon, just as they supposedly do in Iraq, thus acting as enablers of jihadist terrorism. The pro-Syrian establishment is preparing for a big push to release the four imprisoned generals who stand accused of killing Hariri according the Mehlis report, and to divert some of Brammertz’s attention into an inquiry as to who ‘coached’ the three ‘false witnesses’: Zuheir Siddiq, Hosam Hosam and Ibrahim Jarjoureh.

[For more about the coached witnesses, see my column, The Mehlis Mess, from December 6, 2005. ]

But I also got the role of the Saudis in this completely wrong, or at least my source did, for it turned out that the Saudi national was actually a Syrian (Faisal Akbar) using fake Saudi papers. (I’m still a little antsy about the name ‘Akbar’—sounds South Asian or Afghani to me…)

And I wrote some more about the Al-Qaeda cell on February 11, 2006, and giving some analysis about the role of this group:

My own hypothesis is that this group was just one of four involved in pulling off the Hariri assassination, and their prime task was in picking and handling the suicide bomber, Abu Ades, and preparing the media package of him taking credit for the crime, thus I’d refer to them as the “Spotters and Handlers”. The other groups would have been respectively responsible for information gathering (general data about the Hariri convoy, his security detail, his usual routes…etc), ‘close’ surveillance (these would be the guys with the 6 cell phones tracking Hariri on the day of the assassination), and logistics (these provide safe houses, access to explosives, the stolen vehicle, rigging the car bomb, as well as covering tracks). Given the usual messiness that accompanies such big operations, it is possible that at some points there was overlap between the various groups, such as some of the “Spotters and Handlers” getting a peak at how the car bomb was prepared and where it was stored.

In a general sense, I’ve been following Al-Qaeda’s presence in Lebanon for a while: see my post from January 28, 2006 and my columns, Ashen Cedars (February 15, 2006) and Lebanon’s Fuse (September 7, 2006). At the time, the concept of Al-Qaeda being active in Lebanon, or that the Sunnis there were being radicalized, seemed ludicrous to many, but now it is accepted as certain fact.

And I first began to rethink my initial take on the Hariri murder in my September 28, 2005 column, Who Killed Hariri?

My interest in all of this is to gauge how much strategic vision Al-Qaeda possesses. Did they foresee the chain of events that killing Hariri would unleash: Syria’s withdrawal and isolation, and political chaos in Lebanon? Both these prospects are good news for Al-Qaeda should they wish to expand operations beyond Iraq. See excerpts from my column, Deadlock in Beirut (April 2006):

Why would Al Qaeda be interested in a place like Lebanon, full of quarrelsome non-Muslim or heterodox minorities and a penchant for loose values? The Lebanese civil war was sparked as the Palestinians sought a margin of chaos from which to operate against Israel. They were a catalyst in an already unstable situation. Zarqawi is interested in Lebanon as a staging ground to bring down the Syrian regime and install a militant Islamic sultanate in its stead that would fight Israel and lay the groundwork for a full-fledged caliphate. He also sees the Sunni birthrate as a recruiting pool for future generations of jihadists with an axe to grind against hated next-door neighbors such as Shias and Christians.

Of particular use is the piece of real-estate known as the Western Beka'a, a hilly landscape seasonally inhabited by wealthy expatriate Sunnis who have the funds and temperament to be good patrons of Al Qaeda's goals. This is an island of Sunnis surrounded on all sides by hostile sects, apparently engendering a deep sense of embattled orthodoxy. One of its more famous sons was Ziad Jarrah, one of the principal September 11 terrorists. From here Al Qaeda would be in striking range of Israeli settlements, and thus would enjoy periodic "good press" among Muslim masses whenever their shocking tactics had gone too far. And through the valleys to the east, they can access the environs of Damascus lying only a short distance away.

Another interesting sight is the abject poverty in the Sunni towns to the north of Lebanon that are bursting with children and teenagers. Over there, fundamentalism is apparent in the dress code and the numerous Islamic charities that provide services such as schools and clinics. Although the rhetoric of disenfranchisement and poverty was traditionally the realm of Shia politics, a whole swath of Lebanon dominated by Sunnis languishes in a state far worse than the Shia "ghetto" of south Beirut or the Shia towns in the south or east of the country. It is those Sunnis who are showing up as fighters in Iraq, or who are now coming under increasing suspicion as the perpetrators of Hariri's murder.

And because, symbolically-speaking, Syria would be a major prize for the jihadists, see my column Zarqawi’s Heartbreak (March 9, 2006).

Let’s wait and see what Brammertz will have to say about this Al-Qaeda cell: Did they kill Hariri, and what was their motive? Did they act alone? Were they manipulated by the Syrian regime? Did the Syrians know about their plans and turn a blind eye?

In his latest reports, Brammertz seems to be focusing on modus operandi to ascertain the identity of the culprits: a massive car bomb navigated by a suicide bomber seems to bear Al-Qaeda’s signature. Hariri was a secular Sunni, with deep ties to the Saudi regime and would be a difficult figure to challenge should Al-Qaeda want to lure Lebanese Sunnis over to their ideology; so it may have made sense to them to kill him and get him out of the way. And maybe some among them saw that if the Syrians took the fall and the regime there was weakened, then that would put Damascus in play for Al-Qaeda’s designs.

Are Al-Qaeda’s strategists that smart? Or were they just lucky? Or are they not part of this picture at all? The answers to these questions would allow us to determine what Al-Qaeda intends to do next, and where.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Assassination of Prominent Sheikh May Highlight Ba’athist Infighting

Sheikh Ghazi al-Hanesh (Arab Sunni), 66, paramount sheikh of the Ta’i tribal confederacy, was assassinated by unknown assailants in Mosul today as he was leaving Friday prayers at a mosque in the Wihdeh neighborhood near his home.

Al-Hanesh had arranged the surrender of his kinsmen Sultan Hashim al-Ta’i, Saddam’s former Defense Minister, in September 2003 to General David Petraeus, then based in Mosul, on condition that al-Ta’i would be removed from the 55 Most Wanted List and not be held liable for prosecution. The lead prosecutor for the Anfal Genocide trial currently underway in Iraq had asked for the death penalty for al-Tai a just few days ago for his role as the commander of an Iraqi Army corps conducting Anfal Operations against civilian Kurds in the late 1980s.

Al-Hanesh was arrested by U.S. forces in Baghdad during December 2003 along with three of his sons over allegations that he was harboring Saddam’s Vice-President, Izzet al-Douri, but was later released.

The Ta’i tribe is considered one of the major tribal groups in Iraq and is spread out all over Iraq and it encompasses Sunnis as well as Shi’as. However, there were always rumblings from Ta’i tribesmen that al-Hanesh was too mediocre of a tribal leader who was more interested in his business ventures than in managing the day to day affairs of such a major tribe.

There are two contradictory explanations being given to me by those who follow the Ba’ath Party closely as to why this high-level assassination took place:

-Al-Hanesh was killed by Izzet al-Douri’s men over money: Allegedly al-Douri had entrusted funds with al-Hanesh, who moonlights as a businessman and is independently wealthy, and that al-Hanesh refused to hand over the money when asked recently. Negotiations had been ongoing for the past two months between the two sides in Syria to reach a settlement over the money, but were cut off a couple of weeks ago by al-Douri’s side.

-Al-Hanesh was killed by Muhammad Younis al-Ahmed’s men for siding with al-Douri: Muhammad Younis al-Ahmad was the head of the Ba’ath Party’s Military Command, and became one of the top insurgent leaders after the fall of the regime. In the past few months, al-Ahmad, who commands a wide following among Ba’athists in the Mosul area, has sought the patronage of the Syrian Ba’ath Party and split from the Ba’athist faction commanded by al-Douri. Mosul is considered al-Younis’ turf and he could have killed off al-Hanesh as a possible al-Douri sympathizer.

I’m also speculating that al-Hanesh was killed by Sultan Hashim’s relatives for failing to keep his promise of amnesty. There is always the possibility that Al-Qaeda killed al-Hanesh, but my sources are discounting this scenario.

Either ways, the Ba’athists seem to be descending further and further into disarray and have become a marginal force in the insurgency.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Islamic Army of Iraq Lambasts Al-Qaeda, Al-Baghdadi


The Islamic Army of Iraq (IAI) issued a lengthy statement today on its affiliated websites (see IAI's official website and Al-Buraq Forum, both in Arabic) under the title ‘The Islamic Army of Iraq’s Response to the Speeches of Brother Abu Omar al-Baghdadi’ that amounts to a vicious rhetorical counterattack against Al-Qaeda’s Islamic State of Iraq and its recent statements and actions.

This communiqué came a day after Sheikh Hamid al-Ali issued a fatwa (Arabic) casting doubts over the validity of giving allegiance to Abu Omar al-Baghdadi and Al-Qaeda’s Islamic State of Iraq (ISI); this religious edict has sent jihadist forums abuzz with recriminations between supporters of Al-Qaeda and its detractors. Al-Ali is one of the more influential jihadist theologians, and he’s based in Kuwait. He goes as far as saying that Al-Qaeda should retract its declaration of the ISI and that it is unprecedented in Islam to give allegiance to an anonymous ‘Imam’ who holds no sway over territory. (Side note: Al-Ali regularly writes poetry hailing the killing of Americans in Iraq; Kuwait was liberated by American soldiers. Al-Ali, to my knowledge, doesn’t get hassled by the Kuwaiti authorities; Why is that?)

The IAI’s communiqué begins with a very long preamble explaining the IAI’s principles, which I have chosen not to translate. I translated some excerpts (see below) of what I believe are the important new developments brought about by this communiqué and I chose to leave out all the religious references to the Koran and Islamic tradition that are employed by the statement to anchor its points.

This is the first time, as the statement makes clear, that the IAI have openly expressed their disapproval of Al-Qaeda’s rhetoric and actions, and they didn’t want to do that earlier because it would have hurt the cause of jihad, the IAI says.

It is interesting that the IAI (the communiqué is not attributed to any individual or body within the IAI) never mentions the words ‘Islamic State of Iraq’ or its predecessor, the Shura Council of the Mujaheddin, and chooses to refer to al-Baghdadi’s organization as ‘Al-Qaeda’; they’re calling it as it is, which is more than can be said about the U.S. media (see my column, Blackout of the Media, which also gives some background on the ISI and its timeline. I’ve also speculated about al-Baghdadi’s real identity here). They also never refer to any honorific titles when addressing al-Baghdadi (…referred to simply as ‘Abu Omar’) and al-Muhajir (…referred to as ‘Abu Hamza’); they are deliberately being rude.

The IAI is responding to al-Baghdadi’s Third Speech (released on March 13, 2007) and they address several points or accusations in this speech that the IAI feels is directed against it: collaborating with the Mossad, being in Saudi Arabia’s pay, and negotiating with the Americans. It’s important to read al-Baghdadi’s speech beforehand to get a feel for all the points being made by the IAI.

The IAI also addresses some leaps taken by al-Baghdadi such as labeling other jihadists who have not pledged allegiance to him as seditionists, and beginning to terrorize them into submission. (I’ve written about this in my column from last month, Jihadist Meltdown)

The chief point of the IAI’s statement is made towards the end: the grown-ups of Al-Qaeda need to reign in their adolescents who are running amok in Iraq and ruining the jihad. The IAI appeals to Osama Bin Laden to reassert ideological and organizational control and authority over the branch of his franchise operating under the name ‘Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia’ and warns that if corrective steps are not taken then great harm will befall the jihadist venture in Iraq.

The leader of Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia, Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, and the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq to whom he pledged allegiance to, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, are not going to take kindly towards the IAI when invoking the authority of the ‘Waziristanis’, i.e. Bin Laden and Zawahiri, who al-Muhajir and al-Baghdadi have already written off as has-beens in the pantheon of the jihadist superstars.

I’ve been making this point on Talisman Gate ever since the Islamic State of Iraq was declared by al-Qaeda on October 12, 2006: this was a huge strategic mistake that has come back to bite them in the ass, and there’s no way out of this mess—no one, not Bin Laden or Al-Ali, can undo this damage.

The insurgency in Iraq is one of the top global security issues of our times, but it is being covered in an uninformed and shallow manner by the press. I would put this fight between Al-Qaeda and the other jihadist groups right up there at the top of what should be getting reported from Iraq—unfortunately, very few news bureaus are putting in the effort.
Here are the translated excerpts:
And since many people hold the mujaheddin generally, and the Islamic Army specifically, liable for remaining silent over what is being done by some brothers in the Al-Qaeda organization by way of judicial excesses, we justify [our silence] by [saying]:

1-We were busy fighting Allah’s enemies; the Americans, the Safavids and those who aid them.

2-To preserve the brotherhood of Islam and faith among all the mujaheddin.

3-To preserve the jihadist project which belongs to the entire ummah [fellowship of Muslims].

4-To be wary of being used by the enemies of Islam and the Muslims.

5-To give ample opportunity for reform and returning to what is just.

Thus we resolved to treat them with wisdom and pleasant patience

But it was to no avail, for their chief concern became to harm [our] blessed organization…using whatever means and methods such as:

-Libeling [our] group with arbitrary false and abusive accusations [such as] attributing us to the Ba’ath [Party], and they know and everyone knows that there isn’t a single Ba’athist in [our] group and there is no link whatsoever between us and the Ba’athists, neither ideologically nor organizationally or operationally, and at other times they attribute [our] group to other Islamist platforms and movements and that is patently false, and [at other times] they attach [us] to intelligence organizations, and at every turn Allah shows that which is just, and the falsehood of these accusations is made clear, and the numbers of the mujaheddin and [their] operations increase, and blessings fall upon this group and it becomes more acceptable to the people and spreads [among them]…and they should have been happy for us and to wish us well as we do towards them…

-And as such, they have threatened some members of [our] group with murder if they don’t pledge allegiance to Al-Qaeda or its other names, and we would [turn a blind eye] so that the fight would be limited to the enemies…

-And then those people went further and they unjustly killed some brothers [from our group]…the numbers [of those killed] have [climbed] to over thirty until now, and they weren’t satisfied with just that for they showed hostility towards other jihadist groups, and this hostility turned into confrontations with some groups such as the 1920 Revolt Brigades and until this hour there are recurrent confrontations between the two in Abu Ghraib, and the most recent was the murder of one of their field commanders and he is [our] brother Harith Dhahir al-Dhari, may Allah receive him, and they killed some members of the Army of the Mujaheddin and then some members of the Ansar al-Sunnah, and they threatened the Islamic Front, and all these group bore the burden of preserving the jihadist venture so that it would not veer off course.

-But this pleasant patience only made them more daring, and they made allowable the murder of a number of Muslims and especially the easy targets such as the sheikhs and [the criers for prayers] at the mosques, and unarmed Sunnis, some of them were members in the Muslim Clerics Association…Even lay Sunnis became legitimate targets for them and especially those who are wealthy, for they either pay what is wanted of them or are killed, and whoever criticizes them or disagrees with them and shows them their faults in such actions, then they seek to kill him for this is easy of them, and justifying it is even easier.

-Attacking peoples’ homes and taking their money is commonplace.

-Labeling people as infidels and apostates is a usual matter now.

-And then they slandered [us] in the media, as was clear in the two speeches of Abu Hamza and the speeches of Abu Omar, which were full of accusations…

All these speeches that are being referred have been covered on Talisman Gate: Abu Hamza al-Muhajir’s first speech and his second speech. See also Al-Baghdadi’s first, second and third speeches.

This is a useful backgrounder on the IAI and their gradual radicalization.

And we didn’t hurry in responding to what we were accused of, for we awaited the pious clerics to advise [Al-Qaeda] and to show them the mistakes and [their] judicial transgressions especially the ones in the last speech [by al-Baghdadi], so that we deflect this opportunity from being used by our enemies the Americans and the Safavids and those who are with them, and so that the advice would be like a healing tonic for all, but our imams did not speak out so it became necessary to address some points so that no one would think they were valid:

-There was a challenge to all the mujaheddin outside of Al-Qaeda to showcase one operation against an American base…The number of raids conducted by the Islamic Army against bases and barracks number in the tens, and [the IAI] seized major bases too by Allah’s reward, including the ‘Golden Base’ in Jurf al-Sakhr that was [annihilated] in 2003 even before Al-Qaeda was established in Iraq, and the ‘Eagle Base’ that was wiped out in 2006, and the bases of the Ukrainians who fled back defeated to their country, and many other operations that have recently topped a thousand operations per month…

-And the other groups conduct blessed and innumerable operations for all to see…So how can they all be cancelled [by al-Baghdadi]!!!

-There is also the accusation that [our] group conspired with the journalist Yusri Fodah and the Mossad…And it just so happens that the same journalist had met with the leaders of the Al-Qaeda organization, and produced programs and films for them, and went to their places and headquarters, so does that mean that all those leaders were conspirators aiding the Mossad? Such as Khalid Sheikh and Ramzi bin al-Shibh, may Allah release them, or does the Mossad link apply only to he who meets with the Islamic Army?

And we deal with every journalist individually or as a means that serves the causes of our ummah and especially the cause of jihad in Iraq irrespective of judging them, what is important is that we don’t have a harmful security lapse…

As regarding the dearth of men and exposing the route, everyone knows that is false for the crossing route of the mujaheddin is not hidden from anyone, and as such what would one say about the reports and films produced under Al-Qaeda’s supervision and the speeches of its leaders that did not leave a detail unstated, for we were not the ones who revealed the details of 911 and we were not the ones who uncovered the whereabouts of Al-Qaeda’s individuals in Arab and non-Arab countries, and all these things were mentioned in their speeches? So is this [also] cooperation with the Mossad?

-And as for [Al-Baghdadi’s] mention of the mujaheddin as ‘Saudi Hezbollah’ then we are thankful to Allah that we never followed any government or party or front whether internal or external, and we suffered a lot as did our Salafist brothers in Iraq and especially in the last decade of the last century, from accusations of links with the Wahhabis and the Saudis as they call them, and oddly they add the Mossad to them too!!!!!

And after the occupation, the labels increased to become ‘Terrorist Wahhabi’…etc, and then our brothers come to accuse their brothers who are with them in the same trench against the enemies with the same accusations hurled against us by the enemies of Islam…

Thanks be to Allah we have not received, to this hour, any aid from any government, neither from the Arab governments nor from Iran, and we have not sought to receive support for the jihad from any Arab country unless it was general support for the Muslims in Iraq, and even so all the governments advance one step forward then go back a thousand steps awaiting a clear American permit to aid the Sunnis of Iraq.

As regards to the oil money, well nothing has reached the mujaheddin neither from Iraq’s oil or the oil of any other country, neither directly or indirectly.

Then who are those ‘clerics of the tyrant’ and the ‘merchants of religion’? Why all these talismans?

And what has been put in reserve for future speeches that are set aside for the [Badr Forces] and the [Mahdi Army] and Chalabi and Allawi and the others?

The implication here is that “Al-Qaeda had said its worst against fellow jihadists, so what is left to tar the enemies with, then?”

And if matters had been left at this then they wouldn’t have needed a response [from us] to clarify them since they are clear…But brother Abu Omar transgressed against the whole ummah and against the platform of the ummah’s predecessors and its clerics by bringing forth weird laws and issues:

-Such as considering all the lands of Islam as lands of the infidels. If so, what is the verdict on his state which is under the rule of the Crusaders and their aides?

-His saying that fighting the armies of the Arab governments is more pressing than fighting the Crusader occupier?!

-To say that jihad is mandatory—with such comprehensiveness—since the fall of Andalusia; this is not backed-up.

-His judgment that the People of the Book in our land are people of war who have no protections; who of the learned men says so with such comprehensiveness?

-And he judged all the sons of the jihadist groups as seditionists…adding that they call upon their tribes and members to rest and be lethargic!!! Is there any rest and lethargy in Iraq? And he called the pledge of allegiance to him the ‘duty of the age’ and this is [indeed] very dangerous for those who understood him!!

This is a clear reference by the IAI that they understand that al-Baghdadi is setting himself up as the candidate caliph.

-He accused the [other] groups of seeking accords with the Americans, while not distinguishing between negotiations that are properly based on Shariah and the treaties of surrender being called for by the [defeatists], and he stipulated the permission of his state, but who acknowledges his state [in the first place] for him to permit [anything]?

-And even though we in the Islamic Army accept the legality of negotiations with the enemies, but we have not negotiated with any enemy until this hour whether they were Americans or Safavids or others, and it is unnecessary to go through the conditions for negotiations since they have been stated often, and we also do not know of any major jihadist group that had negotiated with the Americans…except for some hangers-on to the jihad who have been exposed.

On this occasion, we direct the following pressing calls:

First: to the learned men of the ummah, for them to take on their religious duty to save the jihadist project in Iraq and to stop the flow of Muslim blood by issuing fatwas in the important matters after determining the reality on the ground, and not to be silent…

Second: to the leaders of the Al-Qaeda organization, headed by the mujahid Sheikh Osama Bin Laden, may Allah preserve him, and who is famous for being very careful where Muslim blood and honor are concerned, and who is famous for his piety and fear of the Day of Judgment, to defend his religion and honor by taking upon himself judicial and organizational responsibility for the Al-Qaeda organization, and to clarify facts so that he can be assured, for he and his brothers in the leadership of Al-Qaeda are responsible for what is being done by their followers, and it is not enough to distance yourselves from such acts but you must correct the course…

Third: to all the members of Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia, to look inside [yourselves] and to fear Allah for what you have perpetrated and those who have been sinful should seek redemption in Allah

Fourth: to all jihadist groups and factions, they should advise their brothers in the Al-Qaeda organization since it is required to fix the matter of the jihad.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

More Allegations of Terrorism Against Top Sunni Politicians

A couple of weeks ago, members of the Deputy Prime Minister's security detail tried to blow up the man they were tasked to protect; at least two of Salam al-Zoba'i's bodyguards turned out to be Al-Qaeda infiltrators.

A short while before that, there was a move to strip Abdel-Nassir al-Janabi (Sunni) of his parliamentary immunity in order to face terrorism charges for the murder of over a hundred Shi'a civilians.

Today, a Talisman Gate source alleges that U.S. and Iraqi soldiers raided the home of top Sunni parliamentary leader, Khalaf 'Alayan, in the Yarmouk district only to find sizable amounts of TNT, detonators, heavy machine guns and raw footage material that had gone into earlier jihadist propaganda videos (...specifically the attack on the American mess hall in Mosul). Mr. 'Alayan is currently in Amman, Jordan.

And somebody still thinks it is a good idea to bring back the top Ba'athists from Saddam's olden days, no questions asked, by reversing De-Ba'athification. Yeah, that'll work out fine...