Unconventional thinking about the Middle East.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Obama, Apostate?

I'm wondering why no one in the Arabic media has made this point: technically, Barack Obama was born a Muslim (...according to Muslims) but he chose Christianity. Doesn't this make him an apostate by shari'ah law and existing "secular" law in most of the Islamic world?

Some Western pundits have made the case that electing Obama as president would win over Muslims who are skeptical over America's "crusading" image. But isn't the opposite true? Isn't it illegal for Obama to exist in countries like Pakistan, Indonesia and Egypt, let alone a place like Saudi Arabia?

Turkey has had a spate of murders targeting Christian missionaries over the perceived slight of turning Muslims against their faith; something that in Turkey is far from being universally condemned. How would lay Turks deal with a President Obama making a state visit to Ankara? Would he be seen as a "friend" or as a walking, talking provokation?

Apostacy is one of these black and white issues in most of the Islamic world. Shouldn't these gushing, clueless pundits address such an angle before making the case to elect Obama based on his "unique" background--which is Obama's own main selling point?

Shouldn't the NYT bureau in Cairo pose this very question to the scholars of al-Azhar Islamic University?

Obama should immediately make a campaign pledge that as president he would coerse America's Muslim allies into enacting wide-ranging religious freedoms reforms. Most of these countries have a terrible record accepting their own long-established religious minorities let alone an individual's right to choose another faith. Of course, freedom is not a piece-meal affair; it too is either black or white. Only democracy can guarantee such rights...But would Obama be brave enough to adopt George Bush's freedom agenda?

US Casualties for December stand at record low of 15

As of December 26, the number of US deaths from combat-related situations stand at just 15, one of the lowest tallies (if not the lowest tally) since the war started in April 2003.

Shouldn't this number be relevant to Iowa and New Hampshire?

An Iraqi official source has also confirmed that Sunni-on-Sunni violence has consistently exceeded all other forms of violence during the last two months.

Furthermore, General David Petraeus is telling Iraqi leaders that he will be leaving his post in Iraq in March, after he delivers his upcoming testimony to Congress. Is this early enough to get drafted onto a VP ticket? Alongside McCain?

Maliki has been ill for a while (...blood pressure issues and diabetes), and yesterday he had the symptoms of a stroke, even though he was able to walk unassisted through the halls of Baghdad Airport as he got onto a London-bound plane together with the British ambassador to Iraq. This health emergency is for real, and could be serious enough for Maliki to resign, throwing the political process into further confusion.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Shady Deals Catch-Up with Al-Bunnia Family

IraqSlogger reported this first a few days ago, but nothing about it made it to the major media outlets even though the story carries serious implications for doing business in Iraq. The Higher Council of the Judiciary has issued arrest warrants for Khalil Bunnia, Sa’adoun Bunnia, and two other members of the Bunnia family as well as one of their managers on the charge of terrorism. Furthermore, the court has instructed Iraqi banks to freeze the assets of the Bunnia family. It should be noted that the Bunnias control the private Al-Warka’ Bank.

The founder of the family’s fortunes had three sons and they established three branches in the Bunnia family: the Abdel-Latif Bunnia branch, the Abdel-Wahhab Bunnia Branch and the Sa’adoun Bunnia branch. The family claims descent from the ‘Ubeid tribe, but they could be of South Asian extraction.

The charge stems from an official inquiry into a murder that occurred on July 10, 2007 in Sadr City in which several members of the Bunnia family are allegedly implicated. This could be the tip of the iceberg since there are many allegations against the Bunnia family, especially against Khalil Bunnia, for his mercantile role as a front for Saddam’s intelligence service, the mukhaberat, especially in Athens. The Bunnias have allegedly maintained their relationships with members of the ex-regime which could account for other allegations of shady wire transfers that may have ended up supporting the insurgency.

The family is decrying these investigations as “sectarian-driven” (the Bunnias are Sunni) and are claiming that it is all part of a shake-down racket involving an investigator called Salim Muheibis.

This is a copy of the order from the Central Bank freezing the Bunnia assets:

Here's the translation:

In the Name of Allah the Merciful

[Republican Logo]

Central Bank of Iraq

General Directorate for Overview of Exchange and Credit
(The Credit Information Sharing Branch)

[handwritten, Issue no. 9/4/3564]
[handwritten, Date December 4, 2007]

To: Banks licensed to perform all exchange [operations]

Subject: Putting the term of “hold”

In reference to the order from the Higher Council of the Judiciary, the Central Investigations Court, Kharkh [District], serialized 10640 and dated on November 14, 2007.

We are listing the full names of the following escaped defendants in whose names an arrest warrant has been issued according to article 4 “Terrorism”; kindly fulfill the decision of this court in their case by freezing their mobile and immobile assets.

1. Saad Sa’adoun Mahmoud Jasim [Bunnia] Mother's Name: Samira Sa’id
2. Khalil Abdel-Wahhab Mahmoud Jasim [Bunnia] Nahideh Ibrahim Rahmani
3. Jasim Abdel-Wahhab Mahmoud Jasim [Bunnia] Nahideh Ibrahim Rahmani
4. Hassan Abdel-Wahhab Mahmoud Jasim [Bunnia] Nahideh Ibrahim Rahmani
5. Abdul-Ghaffar Ahmed Muhammed ____________

Kindly do what is appropriate to execute what was ordered by the decision above and to disseminate this to all your branches and to let us know of that.

With Regards…

General Director
For the Overview of Exchange and Credit
Ali Hassan Abu Nayleh

Copy to:
-the Office of the Chairman [of the Central Bank] …
- Higher Council of the Judiciary, the Central Investigations Court, …

The Bunnias have made hundreds of millions of dollars through subcontracting deals with American corporate giants (such as Bechtel) and the US military over the last four years, according to several sources. However, there have been persistent rumors that part of the Bunnia family “style” is to bribe US executives and officials in order to have business diverted their way.

One of the initial goals set for the Higher National Commission for De-Ba’athification was to go after families like the Bunnias who had made a lot of money under the Saddam regime and by performing intelligence services for the latter in order to deny them prosperity in the new Iraq. Yet it seems that the Bunnias seem to have deflected these attempts by “sharing” their good fortune with some Iraqi officials. Other leading targets that seem to have gotten off the hook and have made billions of dollars over the last few years in addition to what they managed to get under Saddam are the Khawwam family, Tariq Al-Abdullah [Al-Halbousi], the Khirbeet family and the Hmayim family.

It should be noted that one of the defendants, Sa'ad Sa'adoun Mahmoud Bunnia, was briefly detained in May 2005. But in October 2006, new arrest warrants were issued for Saad Bunniya in relation to the Hazem Shalan, Ziyad Gattan, and Na'er al-Jumaili Ministry of Defense scandals. Here are copies of the warrants:

UPDATE (December 31st, 2007):

The Bunnias are intent on selling at least half of al-Warka' Bank given their recent troubles, sources say. However, the deal is at stake because the person who is supposed to be buying up this half from behind the scenes is Emad al-Juburi, former owner of the bankrupt al-Baraka Bank. Al-Juburi is prohibited by Iraqi law from doing such things, so he is operating through a frontman. Too many people know about this nefarious deal at this point, so all bets are off.

UPDATE (December 3rd, 2007):

In addition to the threat posted by Saad Bunnia in the comments section, he also sent this letter to my e-mail address:

From: saad al-bunnia (ceo@warka-bank-iq.com)
Message: dear Mr Kazimi,i have read your article that was published in the net regarding the bunnia family problem and i would like to draw your attention to the real issues behind all these alleged fraudilant cases which was put against me. i have actually replied my comments on the same page but i wanted you to know the real issues. but before i start, i would have asked you to think twice about what false allegations that has been put forward to you since you are a respectable person and should not be directed by some people who ask you to write bad issues about me. i would like you to publish this letter in the net so that people know the truth of what is going on and i would have thought that a good person like you should investigate the issues to give a true and clear vision on the issue so that people have respect in what you write.You should have read what the bayana aljadida newspaper who speaks for a the lot of the people in the government and compare it with some of the juridical system that we already have in iraq. i am sure you will be astonished.it would have been much better if you have investigated what the local papers that are printed in iraq which represent the voice of the peoiple of iraq and not what people send copy of documments that does not extend to the truth of the issue because the legal law in iraq after the war permitted anybody to direct terrorist cases against people which is due to the corruption of the system that we have in iraq. if you want, you can send me your e-mail so that i can send you this and other press releases which was made. you can find my e-mail address from our bank website.i hope that i can exchange letters between us so that you can give the true picture of the case as this issue does not worry me as people in iraq know who saad al-bunnia is and the truth will be open top everybody very soon and as the say says if you get stabbed in the back , do not worry because you are in front.dear sir, we remain

saad al-bunnia

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Marc Lynch Again

Okay, so it’s either that Marc Lynch doesn’t know Arabic all that well, or he’s purposely misrepresenting what’s being said to serve his own political goals. This is how he wrote up Sheikh Ahmed Abu Risha’s interview with the Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya TV that was conducted last week:

The most interesting parts of the interview revolved around the question of Sunni political representation. The interviewer asked Abu Risha who gave him, or the Anbar Salvation Council, the right to claim to represent anyone. Abu Risha replied that their success against al-Qaeda was the basis of their legitimacy, a fascinating mirror of the claims of the insurgency factions that their legitimacy derived from their military success against the American occupation. (He repeatedly praised the institutions of the Iraqi state, especially the the Army - but said little about the Iraqi government.) Power indeed flows from the barrel of the gun, in Abu Risha's answers, rather than the ballot box. Abu Risha dismissed the electoral legitimacy of both the local councils and the Tawafuq Bloc due to the low levels of Sunni participation in the elections. He pushed the idea of an Iraqi Awakening (Sahwa Iraq) as a "political entity" as the legitimate representative of all Iraqi tribes and all the various Awakenings. He claimed that there could be no conflict between the Awakening and the armed factions, but never got specific despite some pointed questions from the interviewer. Whenever the armed factions came up, he would change the subject to tribes - an obvious finesse of a politically major question. Finally, as always with the Awakenings, his position ultimately came down to money: he complained that under "the former government", Anbar received 870 million dinars a year from the central government, but in the 2007 budget (he claimed) it got only 289 million dinars, which weren't being spent appropriately. Hint, hint.

I watched the interview too (full Arabic transcript here), and I found Sheikh Ahmed Abu Risha downright reasonable and sophisticated: his primary point was that the tribes were not a substitute for the state, rather their goal in the Awakening Council was to fortify the institutions of the state. The tribal role aims to nominate young men for the Iraqi Army and the security services, much like a pillar of civil society augmenting the performance of the state. But rather than dwell on military bluster and how they managed to fight Al-Qaeda in Anbar Province, Sheikh Abu Risha was more interested in talking about economics: he wanted the state’s help in creating jobs, in re-invigorating the province’s industries and in re-building what had been destroyed.

However, Lynch glosses over all that (…the bulk of the interview) and focuses on two points:

-Political representation: Sheikh Abu Risha didn’t call into question parliamentary representation but rather took issue with the provincial council. Sheikh Abu Risha claimed that there were no elections in Anbar Province for the provincial council that was subsequently dominated by the Islamic Party; the sheikh said that these results were determined at a time when 500 to 1000 refugees from Anbar were bused to a school in the Mansour neighborhood where they gave their votes. Lynch may not realize that Mansour is not in Anbar since he’s never been to Iraq. Abu Risha makes a salient point if his information is indeed correct. Abu Risha is asking for new elections, not a coup: he wants elections to be held in Anbar proper, not at some school in Baghdad.

-Money: Lynch mistranslated or misheard: Abu Risha said that 289 “billion dinars” (…around 220 million dinars) have been allocated to Anbar for 2007 alone as opposed to the 870 “million dinars” allocated in the Saddam years. He was making the point that a lot more money has been given to the Islamic Party-led provincial council nowadays than under the previous regime but much less reconstruction was accomplished. He is charging the Islamic Party with corruption.

Why would Marc Lynch do this? Lynch serves to validate the political positions of the American left; his alleged expertise is excessively cited by journalists to lend credibility to all sorts of talking points. Except, he’s not an expert on Iraq: his expertise ranges from the Arab media (he watches Aljazeera and Al-Arabiya, but doesn’t comment on Iraqi TV media; he reads some Sadrist and marginal Iraqi websites too) and Jordan.

I have taken issue with how General Petraeus and his counterinsurgency advisors have handled the issue of the tribes, but I have no problem with how Sheikh Ahmed Abu Risha has presented his goals. If the tribes are used to bolster the state instead of being an alternative to it, then I support this goal wholeheartedly—it is realistic and doable. Tribes should be used as job placement agencies, not as embryonic fiefdoms controlled by warlords, and that is Abu Risha's position. I would much rather prefer that the respectable tribal leaders suggest new recruits for the Iraqi Army than have ex-insurgents draw up the rolls.

But the American left doesn’t dabble in nuances because fixing Iraq is not their intent—they want to win elections. Therefore, their objections to the tribal policy are inferred by their hostility to the Bush administration rather than its feasibility. That is why Lynch would misrepresent the words of Sheikh Ahmed Abu Risha because the latter’s reasonableness doesn’t serve the political interests of his fellow-travelers in the leftist blog-mob.

It is also the reason why Marc Lynch seems to champion Adnan Duleimi and the Tawafuq bloc since they are obstructing political development in Iraq. Not only that, but Duleimi’s three sons are heavily involved in violence and they’re all on the run due to various arrest warrants that have been issued for them. Lynch and Co. are willing to give Duleimi the benefit of the doubt because they relish his shrillness, but afford no such tolerance to the Maliki government. Similarly, that is why so many leapt upon the bandwagon of the bogus Dhiya al-Kawwaz story and still insinuate that the issue remains foggy even after several news outlets (like the U.S.-funded al-Hurra TV) have interviewed the family that the ‘anti-Maliki’ al-Kawwaz had falsely alleged were massacred.

Hey, I’m willing to see all this as innocent mistake: maybe Marc Lynch doesn’t have a firm command of the Arabic language and that’s why he misunderstood Sheikh Abu Risha. But Lynch will never admit to that; he will start pointing fingers left and right rather than being humbled.

He has a right to his opinion and I am interested in hearing what he has to say about Iraq, but I take issue with the certainly with which he pronounces about Iraq, and how he uses this perceived expertise to bolster mistaken positions.