Unconventional thinking about the Middle East.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

I hope Abu Abed moves into Ned Parker’s neighborhood

Last August, I made the following prediction about the eventual fate of ex-insurgents that came to be known nowadays as the ‘Sons of Iraq’:

They may be arming the insurgents for the time being, but these murderers may have to be the ones who need to be airlifted out when the Americans eventually withdraw in order to dodge reprisals. It’s quite a prospect to consider: former insurgents being resettled in Minnesota.
Such seems to be the likely fate of Abu al-Abed, the ex-insurgent turned leader of the ‘Knights of Amiriyah,’ who is now in hiding outside of Iraq, dodging arrest warrants and preemptive whacking at the hands of his top hoodlums.

In a highly sympathetic portrait drawn by the Los Angeles Times’ Ned Parker, reporting from Amman today, Abu Abed (Saad ‘Uraybi) is depicted as a broken man who’s on the run after being betrayed by his American masters. This story appeals to the leftist sensibilities of anti-war journalists in that it supposedly exposes the perfidy and malice of America’s ‘occupation’ of Iraq, that oft-flogged and very dead equine of Iraq reporting.

The Iraqi government has an arrest warrant out for Abu Abed, relating to the murder of a family of three (allegedly killed after he had turned pro-American) whose corpses were found encased in concrete under some residential garden in Abu Abed's turf. There are tens of other allegations winding their way through the courts regarding Abu Abed’s former role as an insurgent leader in the neighborhood of ‘Amiriya, ranging from mass executions, to abductions for ransom and to sectarian cleansing.

Abu Abed alleges that he had been a mid-level commander of the Islamic Army of Iraq (…a really nasty insurgent outfit that had claimed to kill “thousands” of U.S. soldiers and many more Iraqis; a point unacknowledged in Parker's piece) and before that a junior officer in Saddam’s brutal intelligence services. However, he ostensibly redeemed himself in the eyes of his American patrons by turning against Al-Qaeda/Islamic State of Iraq. But whereas the Americans were so hasty in embracing their former enemies, those Iraqi victims of Abu Abed’s were in no hurry to forgive.

I think this reaction has something to do with one’s outlook to the future. The Americans officers who burnished Abu Abed and his fighters with uniforms, paychecks and media attention are motivated by quick fixes; the Americans get to go home and forget about everything while Iraqis need to sort out the traumas of the Ba’athist/post-Ba’athist past inflicted by the likes of Abu Abed. That’s why Abu Abed gets high marks from his American handlers who spoke to Ned Parker and are quoted extensively in today’s story. And that’s why, for completely different reasons that I cited earlier, Parker can justify turning such a reprehensible subject into an icon: Parker doesn’t delve into the accusations made against Abu Abed, and contradicts himself by suggesting at first that they are motivated by anti-Sunni sectarianism but then writes that the Sunni Islamic Party is behind making those charges against Abu Abed.

But the tables have turned: it is very likely that Abu Abed’s next destination is somewhere in the United States or Western Europe; he’s likely to get asylum and he can use a story such as the one in the Los Angeles Times today to demonstrate that he is indeed the victim in all of this. I don’t know whether Parker is American or British, but I’d like to see him welcome Abu Abed as his next door neighbor; I wonder how comfortable Parker would feel knowing that such an unwholesome character is living down the street, or delivering his pizza, or mowing his lawn (...what else would Abu Abed do for a living? It's not as if there's much career demand for IED expertise). Otherwise, the officers quoted in the piece and their families can invite Abu Abed to pot-luck BBQs on the 4th of July. Oh what fun! Maybe they can form a ‘Knights of Suburbia’ neighborhood watch group. Soccer moms with Obama stickers on their Kalashnikovs! Yaaaaay!

Yes, it is quite macabre of me to make light of Abu Abed's imminent arrival to a community somewhere near you, but the Iraqis who've suffered at the hands of these villains likewise think that America's insistence that Iraqis should re-admit Abu Abed into their midst and their neighborhoods is a very bad joke too.

I don’t have much of a problem with the tribal elements that had been turned into the Awakening Groups; for the most part they had very little to do with the insurgency and opportunistically exploited the security vacuum created when the ‘Zarqawist’-wing of Al-Qaeda decided to create the self-styled Islamic State of Iraq as the resurrected caliphal empire, which set it at doctrinal odds with other jihadist groups. Pretty soon the thugs of the Islamic State of Iraq started beating up on groups such as the Islamic Army (Abu Abed’s ex-outfit) and the 1920 Revolt Brigades demanding submission and a pledge of allegiance to the caliph-in-waiting, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi. When other jihadists baulked at this demand, blood began to spill and then gush. Coming at the heels of other factors depleting the insurgency, such an outbreak of jihadist-on-jihadist violence created the necessary breathing space for Sunni tribal leaders—many of whom stood with the new Iraq from the very beginning but had been cowed by Al-Qaeda—to seize the opportunity and attack the much-weakened jihadists, a venture that was supported and bankrolled at first by Maliki’s office before being adopted by American generals.

Whereas I can tolerate the ‘tribals’ for being opportunistic (…in the past their contribution to the insurgency was limited to highway robbery and playing ‘inn-keeper’ to the jihadists), I cannot accept that former insurgent commanders such as Abu Abed who had actively killed so many Iraqis, both under Saddam and afterwards would simply walk-away from their crimes without justice taking its course. And I don’t think that Iraq’s political elite, many of whom lost loved ones, family members and comrades at the hands of these murderers, would ever accept that either.

That’s why, try as they may, the Americans will fail to turn goons such as Abu Abed into ‘acceptable’ political players in Iraq, and are more likely to resettle them back in the United States. Good riddance, until such a time as Iraq and America sign extradition treaties and then Abu Abed, as well as Aiham Alsammarae, can stand trial in Baghdad for their crimes.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Ex-Guantanamo Prisoner Encourages Jihadists to Obey al-Baghdadi, Before Embarking on His Suicide Mission

I don’t have much time to fully examine Al-Furqan’s new 38 minute video, which was posted a couple of days ago on the Al-Ekhlaas jihadist internet forum (Arabic link, password protected) under the title ‘The State of Islam [Shall] Endure’—referring to the self-styled ‘Islamic State of Iraq’ that the 'Zarqawist'-wing of the jihadists declared on October 15, 2006.

There’s been a weird disconnect in jihadist propaganda from Iraq over the last six weeks or so. First of all, it has been reduced to a trickle and, while promptly doing so in the past, had failed to refute media reports concerning the fate and identity of its leaders; the head of state, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi was identified as Hamid al-Zawi on May 7, 2008, while the Mosul Police claimed to have captured the ISI’s Minister of War, Abu Hamza al-Muhajir on May 9, 2008.

This new video is basically a compilation of several earlier speeches from al-Baghdadi and al-Muhajir, and it derives its title from a segment about the persistence and endurance of the Islamic State of Iraq that was made in al-Baghdadi’s fourth speech (April 16, 2007).

However, there is some new material, especially as it relates to details about the Iraqi government’s recent military campaign in Mosul—dubbed Operation ‘Umm Al-Rabi’ayn—and the voice narrating this stuff is not al-Muhajir’s, nor is it the ISI’s Mosul Spokesman, and I cannot tell for sure if it belongs to al-Baghdadi. But what’s clear is that the jihadists had been planning a big showdown in Mosul but either opted not to go through with it or they weren’t able to muster enough force.

The last part of the video showcases two Kuwaiti ‘martyrs’ and their operations: ‘Abu Omar al-Kuwaiti’ (identified elsewhere as Badr Mishel Gama’an al-Harbi) and ‘Abu Juheiman al-Kuwaiti’ (a.k.a. ‘Abu Hajir al-Muhajir,’ who is identified elsewhere as Abdullah Salih al-‘Ajmi, 29, a Kuwaiti jihadist who had been released from America’s Guantanamo Prison in 2005). Al-Harbi is clearly the domineering character (…he’s older, and claims to be a veteran of the jihad in Afghanistan) and it is likely that both al-Harbi and al-‘Ajmi left Kuwait together for Iraq.

Al-Harbi (…who kinda looks like Jack Black, and reveals a good singing voice) rebukes other Iraqi jihadist groups, such as the Islamic Army of Iraq that had turned against the Islamic State of Iraq, for allowing their honor to be desecrated through cooperation with the Americans, adding “we are not from Iraq, but we are Muslims, and we couldn’t sleep” over what was being allegedly done by the Americans on Iraqi soil. Al-Harbi says that it is useless for young Muslims to sit behind the keyboard and that they must flock to the Islamic State of Iraq and fight under its banner since “in it is the nucleus of the Islamic Caliphate on this earth.”

Al-‘Ajmi then takes the microphone and says that ever since he left Guantanamo Prison, where he alleges to have been tortured, he’s been wanting to find a way to reconnect with the jihad. He encourages other jihadists to pledge allegiance to “Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, the Commander of the Faithful,” directing his remarks specifically to the Ansar Al-Sunnah jihadist group and tells them that it is not enough to claim to support the Islamic State of Iraq without pledging allegiance to al-Baghdadi.

The camera then captures al-Harbi in his last moments before driving off in a bomb-laden tanker truck saying that even though he owns “a car, a house, two wives, and eight children [back in Kuwait],” he cannot lead his comfortable life knowing that Muslims are being oppressed, and he looks forward to killing Maliki’s “dogs” and to martyrdom. It seems that al-Harbi was responsible for the suicide bombing of the Tel al-Rumman Police Station in Mosul on April 26, 2008 that left six policemen dead.

Al-‘Ajmi, the ex-Guantanamo guy, is seemingly responsible for an earlier truck bombing at the Iraqi Army HQ in the Harmat neighborhood of Mosul on March 23, 2008 that left 13 Iraqi soldiers dead and 30 injured, including 12 civilians. At least six of the dead soldiers were from Iraq’s Yezidi minority.

Today, there was another suicide bombing targeting a police station in Mosul that left scores dead and injured. I wonder if today's terrorist was yet another Kuwaiti or Saudi that had been released from Guantanamo...

Monday, June 23, 2008

‘Tis the Season to Bash Al-Hurra

Al-Hurra is that Congress-funded Arabic-language satellite TV station that’s been on the air since 2002. It periodically comes under attack on one of many charges that run from Al-Hurra being too controversial, not being controversial enough, being too American, not being American enough, being too Lebanese, too corrupt, too mismanaged, too irrelevant or too redundant.

Al-Hurra is not perfect, but it is pretty good, and in some areas, such as the Iraq-market, I tend to see it as the market leader. When Iraqi politicians want to be heard and seen, they rush to get airtime on Al-Hurra. Their second choice would be Iraq’s own Al-Iraqiya Channel. Their third choices would be one of the two dozen or so other ‘local’ Iraqi satellite channels. Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya TV seems to push the candidacy of Ayad Allawi, the preferred politician for the House of Saud. While Aljazeera is just plain venal, standing against anything good that may develop in Iraq.

Today, there’s a front-page story in the Washington Post about Al-Hurra, and it’s the same ol’ reheated rubbish that we’ve seen in the past.

It’s important to understand where such stories come from; it’s not as if Craig Whitlock, the WaPo reporter who penned today’s article just woke up one day and decided to write about Al-Hurra. American investigative journalism doesn’t work that way, for there’s always an agenda out there that lures a journalist into doing its bidding. In order to understand the array of anti-Al-Hurra agendas, here’s a breakdown of Al-Hurra’s American and Arab enemies and my take on their probable motivations:


-Leftie journalists who suspiciously view Al-Hurra as a Bush administration creation, and hence it’s considered fair game in Washington’s atmosphere of partisan blood-letting. Same goes for Congressional Democrats, and their staffs.

-Voice of America apparatchiks (federal employees, many of them leftie journalists too) who covet Al-Hurra’s budget, and resent being frozen out of its control.

-State Department apparatchiks, especially the Arabists and the Public Diplomacy crowd, that view anything outside of their reach as a bureaucratic heresy.

-U.S. academics who are overly chummy with an Al-Hurra competitor, either because they get consultancy fees or because they’re given access. For example, Marc Lynch is an unabashed Aljazeera partisan and continuously does keyboard 'battle' on its behalf against both Al-Arabiya and Al-Hurra; the very nature of his relationship to that station is a bit of a mystery to me.


-The Saudis have spent billions upon billions of petrodollars gobbling up Arab language newspapers and TV stations but though their money carries plenty of clout in Washington, they won’t be able to purchase Al-Hurra from the U.S. government. So what the Saudis tried to do is convince the Bush administration and Congress to scrap Al-Hurra (…I presume the WaPo’s story is part of that Saudi effort) and to subcontract America’s message about democracy and America’s justifications for its war on terror to the Saudis by using Al-Arabiya as Washington’s platform—yeah, right, as if that's ever gonna work! But it’s not that much of a stretch to get the administration to play along with such dangerous ploys, since America had previously subcontracted its Lebanon policy to the Saudis and even though that policy proved disastrous, nothing has been done to rectify it. By taking on such subcontracts, the Saudis would make sure that America’s policies in the Middle East would not endanger the survival of the Saudi regime. In that vein, the ratings numbers were cooked to give the impression that Al-Arabiya is the market-leader in Iraq, and consequently Bush administration officials gave face-time to Al-Arabiya thus further undermining Al-Hurra—this point goes unmentioned in the WaPo story.

-Arab journalists in the pay of the Saudis: I’d reckon that seven out of ten ‘serious’ Arab journalists get a paycheck from the Saudi royal family or one of its acolytes (e.g. the Al-Arabiya owning Al-Ibrahim family, or Lebanon’s Al-Hariris). By buying-up journalists, the Saudis hope to stem any criticism of their rule. Some Christian Maronite journalists have even been known to drop their ‘foreign’ sounding names (‘Richard’, ‘George’, ‘Michel’, …etc.) in exchange for solidly Sunni names just to please their Wahhabi patrons; some go as far as giving their first-borns the name of the second Muslim caliph, who ostensibly laid down the dhimmi rules for the Levant’s Christian minorities. One such journalist is quoted at some length in the WaPo story.

-Arab journalists in the pay of retro-Arab autocracies: I’d lump much of Egypt’s press (with notable exceptions) and of course that of Syria, Jordan, Qatar (Aljazeera’s owner and sponsor), and the United Arab Emirates (flush with cash, and now trying to compete with the Saudis for influence). It should be clear why such regimes would want to tarnish and undermine a media outlet that they can’t control. Another way they do this is by intimidating Al-Hurra journalists that operate in Arab capitals. For example, the WaPo begins with a scene-setter in which the Al-Hurra bureau in Cairo was unplugged from its satellite link but does not tell us why the Egyptian authorities seemingly did so. I remember that during Egypt’s presidential elections in September 2005, Al-Hurra had the best and most daring coverage of all the Arab TV stations, and I saw many Egyptians, in barber shops, in local groceries, in street ‘cafes’, tuning in to its programming. So what did Al-Hurra do in Cairo to incur the wrath of the Egyptian regime these days? And why doesn’t the American Embassy in Cairo pull its weight to ward off the regime’s intimidation campaign? But then again, even the New York Times and the Washington Post tip-toe around the sensibilities of such regimes, ever fearful that their journalists would be denied visas. And we all remember CNN’s scandalous editorial policy in cowardly toeing the line set by Saddam’s secret police. (Heck, it seems that that relationship survives: Ba’athist insurgents still use certain CNN journalists in Baghdad as disinformation channels!)

-U.S.-based Arab journalists and academics who have been angling for years to get a top managerial or consultancy job at Al-Hurra. One such character is the University of Maryland’s Shibley Telhami, who puts out public opinion polls as to what the Arab audience is watching, and whose work is cited in the WaPo story; he's allegedly been lobbying to get the job of news director at Al-Hurra.

-Former Al-Hurra journalists and staff who’ve been fired for a variety of reasons. C’mon, do I really have to explain the gripe reflex of such outcasts? Many of them have axes to grind with those who fired them (…they’re usually also the ones who hired them in the first place) and they get plenty of soap-box space in today’s WaPo hatchet-job.

Full Disclosure: Mouafac Harb, Al-Hurra’s creator and former news director, is a close friend of mine. He’s been the target of many smears in the past (and in today's WaPo): he’s been accused of being a Hezbollah-agent (he’s Lebanese Shi’a, and the bigots usually associate all Shi’as with an Iranian conspiracy), a Mossad-mole (…the bigots also associate all Shi’as with Zionist plots), a dilettante who knows next to nothing about journalism, and/or a corrupt swindler. This last accusation had launched half a dozen federal and congressional investigations that came up with nothing, but it doesn’t seem to stop those shameless detractors of his from leveling the same charges over and over again, and gullible journalists from printing them.

Harb is one of the smartest Middle Easterners I’ve ever come to know; his ability to concoct messages against terrorists and autocrats borders on ‘evil genius.’ He’s one of a handful of Arab journalists who had always taken a principled stance against the Saddam regime, even during the time when Saddam’s diplomats were the toast of the town in DC. He put together Al-Hurra in a matter of months; I’ve never seen someone operate within Washington’s bureaucracy with such agility and results.

I feel that I can defend him because I’ve never ever been associated with Al-Hurra financially or officially, in any capacity. Harb’s just a friend. I didn’t speak to him about the WaPo story before writing this post.

Al-Hurra has many deficiencies, but it ain’t responsible for many of them. In many cases, the U.S. government does not have a clear cut policy vis-à-vis individual Arab regimes; even though the Bush administration may loftily talk about democracy, it won’t, for example, tongue-lash Jordan’s monarch for his regime’s anti-democratic practices and as such would prevent Al-Hurra—as a media outlet funded by the U.S. government—from doing so lest Jordan’s ambassador protests the negative coverage. It won’t even protect Al-Hurra’s journalists from harassment at the hands of the region’s multitude of secret police outfits, not even in states that are nominal allies of America. That's why Al-Hurra can't always push the envelope.

Another impediment is pay-scale: the rise of oil prices have made it possible for Middle Eastern regimes to offer incredible pay packages for Arab journalists (that is, selling-out one’s journalistic scruples pays way better these days; there’s even a chauffeured-car and a dental plan). Al-Hurra simply cannot compete with what’s on offer out there, and there isn’t much available and recruitable talent to begin with, since journalism as a career with the middle-class virtue of financial stability is a relatively new concept in the Arab world and only now are larger batches of students being trained for a life in journalism.

These periodic attacks against Al-Hurra from its American and Arab enemies have created a poisonous atmosphere at the station, as any corporation would likely go through when its demoralized staffers are told that their work is useless and redundant. This naturally adds to Al-Hurra’s woes. But the very fact that Al-Hurra has 9 million weekly viewers in Iraq (the WaPo tries to question these numbers, but I feel that they are accurate) is a massive achievement.

The Saudis should not be allowed to get their way and have Al-Hurra shut down. If there’s room for improvement, then Congress must demand it. There should always be an alternative for Middle Eastern audiences other than Saudi-owned or autocrat-funded media outlets, and America cannot allow anyone to speak on its behalf especially at a time when the Russians, the Germans, the French and the British are all jump-starting and funding their own mini-Al-Hurras.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

When 'Leftie Obamists' Attack

Robert Dreyfuss, the leftie Obamist who in his spare time pretends to be a journalist, attacked Iraq’s Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari on his The Nation-linked blog today and denounced him as a “puppet” for presuming to give leftie candidate Barack Obama a much-needed geography lesson on Iraq. Marc Lynch, another leftie Obamist—he of that curious knack for passing the original thoughts of others as his own—summoned the meager reserves of Iraq ‘expertise’ at his disposal to snidely peg Zebari as the “epitome of Green Zone elite” while commenting on Dreyfuss’s piece.

Zebari’s four brothers were executed by the Saddam regime. Zebari has endured the crappy life—and I mean really, really crappy life—of guerrilla warfare in the service of the Kurdish cause. He was then tasked with being the international face of this cause, leading a thankless life full of dearth, aggravation and bone-crushing despair, the abject darkness of which can only be attested by those who’ve gone through such an experience. In a testimony to his skills, his cause found more and more traction over the years, and he’s rubbed shoulders with some of the world’s craftiest politicos, spooks, journos, and diplomats.

But I guess his greatest virtue was to be forgiveness: to compromise on the goals that he had sacrificed so much for, in exchange for what may pass as happiness for both Arabs and Kurds in Iraq. Consequently, he chose to represent the new Iraq to the world, a job that’s he’s been doing reasonably well.

In other words, he is far more accomplished and seasoned, as his record clearly demonstrates, than that wet-behind-the-floppy-ears novice they call Barack Obama.

Yet in times like these, wanna-be sissies such as Dreyfuss and Lynch, those glamorous play-it-safe ‘guerilla’ bloggers, allow themselves to condescendingly belittle a man such as Zebari.

I know Zebari personally, and I’ve been a critic of his, both publicly and to his face. But I am always mindful of his ‘mileage’, the mileage of suffering and forgiveness, endured for a noble cause. I am forever awed by such people, and even though I may disagree with them, I would never belittle such a man or his past.

Obama would do well to seek the counsel of such a man. I'm sure John McCain would; he'd know the value of Zebari's adversity-tested wisdom, for I guess it takes one to know one.

Plus, Zebari is probably the best dancer I've ever seen--by my reckoning he can out-perform any professional in pulling off those Kurdish dances--for, as his brother-in-law the legendary Mulla Mustafa Barzani once said, "He who can't dance is not a Kurd."

PS: My conspiratorial imagination has always presumed that certain pretend-journos are an unwitting conduit for smear campaigns originating from Langley, Va. But don't listen to me, I'm crazy!

Story Update: IRAQI JUDGE: Alsammarae Will Go to Prison if He Steps Onto Iraqi Soil

In a fascinating update to my story of a few days ago regarding Aiham Alsammarae, the slimy pro-Obama Iraqi-American ex-convict who called for more insurgent attacks on American soldiers, the Iraqi Higher Judicial Council has declared today that Alsammarae will face prison time and more charges should he return to Iraq.

The official spokesman of the Higher Judicial Council, Judge Abdul Satar al-Bairaqdar told Aswat Al-Iraq News Agency today (Arabic link) that there are several verdicts concerning Alsammarae that are still in effect and that carry varying prison sentences. These verdicts were rendered by Iraqi courts against Alsammarae on charges of corruption, such as misuse of public funds and receiving kickbacks, during his tenure as Minister of Electricity in the Bremer and Allawi cabinets (2003-2005).

Alsammarae’s financial crimes are widely perceived by the Iraqi public as the reason behind the government’s continuing failure to provide enough electrical power to Iraq’s population. Another widely-held perception is that Alsammarae embezzled hundreds of millions of dollars during his tenure.

Judge al-Bairaqdar clarified that some verdicts and charges against Alsammarae fall under the newly-passed Amnesty Law, but that there are still others that were not covered under the amnesty and hence are still in effect. He added that the documents that Alsammarae had presented at the press conference he held four days ago in Amman are not enough to exonerate him from a legal standpoint.

Alsammarae had indicated that he shall be returning next July to resume his role in Iraqi politics.

Y'know, given how close Alsammarae was to Antoin Rezko, and how close Rezko was to Barack Obama, I'm certain that Alsammarae and Obama are intimately connected, and that at least some of Obama's worldview of Iraq was inferred by a slime-bucket such as Alsammarae, who now wants insurgents to kill more Americans and says so at the top of his voice. Yet even though in the past Alsammarae's story has been extensively covered by CBS, CNN, the New York Times and many others, his current shenanigans are being studiously ignored, presumably lest they reflect badly on the media's preferred presidential candidate: Mr. Obama, the anti-Iraq War candidate.

Part of why America went wrong in Iraq was its reliance on the likes of Alsammarae. His prosecution and conviction are part of the remedy; the likes of Alsammarae should never again be allowed to sabotage the Iraqi economy, and then get a free pass from U.S. officials. Does Obama agree? Is there a journalist out there that cares to ask him about that? And it's not as if Obama is being asked about some obscure angle of foreign policy; the course to be taken in Iraq will be one of the most important issues, if not the most important issue, of this election. Alsammarae and Obama's relationship to him are two storylines that are consequently, and definitely, relevant to the latter's candidacy.

But it's real hard to bring-up the Alsammarae affair within the format of a fluffy, soft-ball question, ain't it?

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Pro-Obama Iraqi-American Ex-Convict Supports Increased Attacks on U.S. Troops

There’s so much vileness here that I really don’t know what to mop up first.

Ayham Alsammarae, Iraq’s slimy ex-Minister of Electricity under the Bremer and Allawi administrations, who had escaped from an Iraqi prison by hiring an American security company to break him out back in December 2006, has resurfaced in the Jordanian capital Amman where he gave a press conference today saying, among other things, that he hoped that the insurgency in Iraq “would continue [against U.S. occupation] and avenges the Iraqi people.”

Alsammarae, an Iraqi-American Chicagoan, added during remarks carried by Radio Sawa (Arabic link) that he had contributed the maximum allowable of $2,300 to Barack Obama’s campaign. But there’s another Obama link to Alsammarae: while serving as electricity minister Alsammarae had been involved in brokering deals in the Iraqi electricity sector for Antoin Rezko, Obama’s long-term friend and patron. Rezko is the Syrian-American hustler who was convicted of fraud in an Illinois court on the day that Obama secured the Democratic nomination.

Alsammarae had been appointed minister under the Coalition Provisional Authority upon the recommendation of senior State Department officials who were involved in Iraqi affairs at the time. After leaving office upon Allawi’s election loss, Alsammarae reinvented himself as a mediator between insurgent groups and the U.S. ambassador to Iraq at the time Zalmay Khalilzad, who in turn arranged for Alsammarae, a onetime Republican Party fundraiser and activist in Arab-American circles, to meet with senior Bush administration officials. He was arrested by Iraqi police in Baghdad soon afterwards, an act that Alsammarae, a Sunni Arab, claimed was motivated by sectarian animosity.

Alsammarae escaped from prison after facing multiple corruption charges brought against him by Iraq’s Public Commission for Integrity; he was sprung from jail by hired U.S. mercenaries and left Iraq on a forged Chinese passport, he flew out to Amman on a private jet almost certainly with the knowledge and connivance of some U.S. intelligence officials. He returned to his multi-million dollar mansion in Chicago and, save for a few press interviews here and there, stayed under the radar. But Alsammarae seems to have been a beneficiary of the Amnesty Law that was recently passed by the Iraqi parliament, which was a benchmark for progress actively pushed for by Senate Democrats in Washington DC, and he’s eagerly touting his return to Iraqi politics, as he did in today’s press conference.

In an astounding and blatantly treasonous assertion for a U.S. citizenship holder, he stated that “the [insurgency] in Iraq is a legitimate resistance [movement] and it is against occupation and any resistance in the world against occupation is considered legitimate, and I hope that the [insurgency] continues and avenges the Iraqi people and I look forward to expanding its political agenda.”

I know there’s free speech and all, but isn’t calling for more attacks on U.S. troops a violation of sorts? Isn’t it ethically reprehensible? If Alsammarae’s citizenship can’t be revoked, can’t he be prosecuted on something else?

I’ve heard that Alsammarae allegedly fled Chicago because the authorities were going to get him on tax evasion. I guess his resemblances to Al Capone’s lifestyle—something that Alsammarae once boasted of in a press interview—go all the way.

Now, he wants more insurgent attacks on U.S. troops. What a slime-bucket, but he’s the same slime-bucket that I’ve always thought he was, from the days before the war when he opportunistically hopped onto the anti-Saddam bandwagon when it began revving up for real.

I had seen part of Alsammarrae’s General Intelligence Directorate file back in Baghdad, and he’s identified as a snitch that had worked for the Saddam regime while he was a student in the 1970s, reporting on the political activities and utterances of fellow Iraqi students then pursuing their degrees in the UK.

In another vein, Alsammarrae also tells Radio Sawa that he’s contributed money to the Obama campaign. I wonder how Obama would react to a paycheck and an endorsement from ex-con buddy of Rezko’s who is now braying for more American soldiers to be killed.

Alsammarrae claimed that he was on his way back to Iraq after being let off the legal hook under the amnesty law, and that he is set to re-join Ayad Allawi’s political coalition.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Ultimate Sadrist Spin

Muqtada al-Sadr throws down his arms at Maliki’s feat in the last act of his months-old saga of surrender; he officially disbands the Mahdi Army to everyone’s disbelief, including mine, yet the Washington Post chooses to interpret his submission as a reactivation of his militia.

In a story bylined under the names Amit Paley and Karen De Young that ran as the WaPo’s lead front-page copy today, it is alleged that Sadr has created a new armed wing of the Mahdi Army militia that is tasked with attacking U.S. targets in Iraq.

I read Sadr’s directive yesterday: I have to admit that at first I dismissed it as a forgery, seeing that it appeared on an anti-Sadrist website that had peddled forged statements attributed to Sadr in the past. Not only was the wording weird and disjointed, but Sadr actually demobilizes the Mahdi Army, going far beyond “freezing” its activities as he did twice in the past year. He limits “resistance” to a “group that shall be authorized to do so by us in writing soon” and that they alone were the ones allowed to carry arms. Everyone else must turn pacifist.

Blustering about “resistance” is nothing new, as the WaPo sensationalizes, after all, who was doing all that shooting in Basra, Sadr City and elsewhere if not Sadr’s minions? Who were those 700-800 militiamen who ended up dead in the last two and half months?

The only value behind the WaPo’s story is that it seemingly confirms that Sadr did indeed release this statement, as evidenced by the alleged reactions of his aids “some of whom appeared surprised by the cleric’s announcement”—surprised? Why of course, that would be the natural reaction to a declaration of surrender!

But Mr. Paley, the cub reporter with no grounding in Iraqi affairs whose prior wilted laurels were earned reporting on education issues back in the U.S. (…he had to retract some of his reporting, it seems); this hapless wanna-be that’s been dispatched to cover really confusing and convoluted political terrain in the WaPo’s infinite staffing wisdom; has seemingly internalized every high note of the Sadrist chime: no matter what the story may be, Muqtada always wins.

So if Sadr would appear in a YouTube video snuffing himself in a dank apartment somewhere in Qum, the WaPo would run ‘Radical Cleric Sheds Earthly Body, Gains Celestial Powers’ across its masthead.

What an exercise in redundancy!

But the real surprise is the New York Times editorial admission today: “…in recent months there has been some tentative progress in Iraq. American and Iraqi casualties have declined, and there are signs that the central government is beginning to assert its authority against Shiite militias in Basra and Sadr City and against allies of Al Qaeda in Mosul.”

However, as Paley chases phantoms, and the NYTimes begrudgingly updates its gloomy forecasts, the Iraqi Army is just now beginning the operation to smash the last Sadrist stronghold in Maysan Province, as first revealed on this blog about three weeks ago. It’s only natural that neither the Washington Post nor the New York Times mention Maysan in their Iraq stories today; hey it took the latter paper seven weeks to send a reporter down to Basra after the fighting had started, so we can expect that the Maysan story may get the same treatment. It’s not that Maysan won’t get written about eventually, it’s just that the writing will get done without the facts on the ground getting in the way, given the journalistic trends that we’ve been seeing as of late.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

An Initial Look at the Registrants for Provincial Election

Iraq’s Higher Electoral Commission released the names (Arabic link) of the politicians and political entities that had registered by the deadline that it set, and hence are eligible to compete in the provincial elections set for October.

The operative word to describe the list is ‘fragmented’.

Here are some quick notes:

Individuals: there are 224 registered candidates who are running individually out of a total number of 504 registrants. This colorful bunch includes a famous TV personality Fayiq al-Iqabi (no. 810) and a crazy ex-interim head of the Public Integrity Commission, Mousa Faraj. There are only five women running under their own names.

‘Independents’: SEVENTY-FOUR of the registered political entities use a variation of the word ‘independent’ in their names; I guess they are trying to draw a distinction between themselves and more established political parties, especially the ones that have been in power and hadn’t offered much to the voter.

What is also significant is that most of these ‘independent’ entities are selling themselves as non-sectarian and are, for the most part, using Iraqi patriotism to draw attention to their agendas.

Sunni (Tribal): Again, plenty of fragmentation; it seems that Sunni tribal associations were unable to coalesce around a single anti-Islamic Party platform. By my count, the Sunni tribal vote in Anbar is split FOUR ways (at least): Ahmad Abu Risha (no. 468), Ali al-Suleiman (no. 513), Amer al-Suleiman (no. 529), and Hamid al-Hayess (no. 638). The Sunni tribal vote in Nineveh Province, particularly among the Shammar tribe, would (at minimum) be split two ways among Fawwaz al-Jarba (no. 386) and Ajil al-Yawer (no. 867).

Sunni (non-Tribal): At least EIGHT contenders, with the Consensus bloc breaking apart: Jamal Karbouli (former [?] head of the Red Crescent, no. 469), Salman al-Jumeili (MP, former Consensus spokesman, no. 470), Khalaf Al-Alayan (no. 322), Adnan al-Duleimi (no. 270), Tariq al-Hashemi (Islamic Party, no. 262), Thamir al-Tamimi (Abu Azzam of ‘Sons of Iraq’ fame, no. 771), Salam al-Zoba’i (former Deputy Prime Minister, no. 766), and Hachim al-Hassani (formerly of the Islamic Party, no. 390).

Shia (Islamist): the “Da’awa” franchise is available under EIGHT disparate entities, NINE if one includes Adnan al-Zurfi (no. 66) who is also running but his group is not using the Da’awa tag as the others do. Take your pick: Nouri al-Maliki (Prime Minister, no. 483), the Abdel-Karim ‘Anizi faction (no. 321), Mazin Makiya (no. 527), the Izzeddin Salim faction (no. 52), Ibrahim al-Ja’afari (former Prime Minister, no. 562), and three more (no.s 706, 416, 312).

Even the much smaller Islamic Action Party is running as three fragments, no.s 5, 568, 224. One also has the option of voting for two registrants using the name ‘Hezbollah’.

Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim’s ISCI (no. 512) is a bit of a surprise too, for Hadi al-Ameri is running as ‘Badr’ (no. 8), while Adel Abdel-Mahdi (no. 756) is also striking out with his own band. In a similar manner, the imam of the Khallani Mosque, Mohammad al-Haideri, who resigned from SCIRI in 2005, has formed his own group under the name of the ‘Independent Solidarity Coalition’ (no. 518).

The pro-Sadrist Risaliyoon group, which ran in the last parliamentary elections and garnered three seats, is registered under no. 439. I couldn’t identify any other registrant as ‘Sadrist’ or pro-‘Sadrist’. The Fadhila Party bears the no. 550.

Bureaucrats such as Hussein Shahrestani (Minister of Oil, no. 508), Ibrahim Bahr al-‘Uloom (former Minister of Oil, no. 53), Ali al-Dabbagh (Government Spokesman, no. 250) and their posses are likewise in the running.

Shia (Tribal): there are dozens of contenders, but the ones that I’d watch are Hussein al-Shaalan (no. 149), Reshash al-Imareh (no. 515), and Nadim al-Sultan (no. 94).

‘Seculars’: Interestingly, Ayad Allawi is back to using his old party’s name Al-Wifaq (no. 82). There’s also Hdayb al-Haj Mahmoud (no. 84), Mithal Alusi (no. 566), the Iraqi Communist Party (no. 17), Sebham Mullah Chyad (no. 622), Ahmad Chalabi (no. 85), Abid Faysal al-Sahlani (no. 776), Tawfiq al-Yaseri (no. 634), and at least a dozen more. Ex-CIA assets such as Saad Janabi (no. 43) and Nehru Kesnezani (no. 75) are making another go of it, even though all that spook money didn’t get either much traction in the last election.

Adnan al-Janabi, a former Allawi ally who was not allowed to run in the last elections by the De-Ba’athification Commission because he had been a recipient of Saddam’s oil coupons is even listed twice for good measure.

Ethnicities: there are ELEVEN entities claiming to represent Turkumans, THREE representing the Arabs of Kirkuk, TEN Christian groups (including one for the Syriac minority), THREE scrambling for the Fayli vote, and one for the Shabaks.

Now, I don’t know how all these groups are actually going to sort things out like nationwide coalitions or province-by-province alliances come October because the Iraqi parliament has yet to pass the provincial electoral law! But it is doubtful to me that any serious coalitions—especially ones along the sectarian lines that we witnessed in the 2005 elections—can be formed in the current political atmosphere.

What’s more, apart from Baghdad, Diyala, Kirkuk and Nineveh, sectarian or ethnic coalitions would be redundant. Why would Sunnis need to run on a single slate in Anbar? Why would Shias do the same in Basra? Most of the October races are going to be intra-sectarian or intra-ethnic; most sectarian-based political parties and entities will be out to prove a point about their individual popular appeal within their own communities, while ‘patriotic’ and ‘secular’ candidates and entities will attempt to show a broader base.

If anything, the fault lines will break along Da’awa (Maliki) vs. Da’awa (Ja’afari), Hakim vs. Sadr, Sunni tribes vs. Islamic Party, and even Talabani vs. Barzani in Kirkuk.

However, the key dynamic to watch is Islamist vs. Secular, with the seculars making some inroads.

With all that I know about Iraq, I still find this stuff confusing. However, there’s an exhilaration over the ‘newness’ of if all. These are real elections, with unknown answers that only the ballot boxes will reveal.

Quick word on SOFA: it’s all hot air that’s being sensationalized for election purposes, both American and Iraqi. There’s a negotiation going on, and it’s natural to try to game the media in order to get the upper hand. But casting it as an imminent collapse of U.S.-Iraqi bilateral relations is plain ol’ silly.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Sunday Happy Sunday

Ouch, what a gloomy Sunday for Washington’s doom-n’-gloom crowd! The Washington Post ran a front-page story on Basra that opens up into two whole pages deeper inside; who in DC can turn their backs on such genuine aspirations for liberty?

Then, there’s a lead editorial in the same paper “warning” Obama & Co. that Iraq is turning into a success, and that he needs to come up with a strategy quick to build on that victory, rather than retreat, and retreat, and retreat so more.

Now for those of you who’ve followed my reporting on Basra from Day 1 of Operation Cavalry Charge, isn’t it satisfying to have gotten two months’ prior notice of what is now universally being billed as a success?

For its part, the New York Times grudgingly describes another success story in Mosul in its Sunday edition, but they got the name of the military campaign that’s still unfolding there wrong. Otherwise, the NYTimes rehashes the sob story of Iraq’s Jews that had been covered in detail five and four and three years ago in the New York Sun, among other publications. Sure, the story of the Jews is saddening, but it’s quite a thing for the NYTimes to retell it just to keep the momentum of gloom going—could it be because they’ve run out of other gloomy tales to tell?