Unconventional thinking about the Middle East.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Wow: Even the Associated Press is saying that Iraq has been won

Welcome home, Ms. Media Narrative.

Check out these excerpts from the usually negative Associated Press:

The United States is now winning the war that two years ago seemed lost. Limited, sometimes sharp fighting and periodic terrorist bombings in Iraq are likely to continue, possibly for years. But the Iraqi government and the U.S. now are able to shift focus from mainly combat to mainly building the fragile beginnings of peace — a transition that many found almost unthinkable as recently as one year ago.

Despite the occasional bursts of violence, Iraq has reached the point where the insurgents, who once controlled whole cities, no longer have the clout to threaten the viability of the central government...

Scattered battles go on, especially against al-Qaida holdouts north of Baghdad. But organized resistance, with the steady drumbeat of bombings, kidnappings, assassinations and ambushes that once rocked the capital daily, has all but ceased.
This amounts to more than a lull in the violence. It reflects a fundamental shift in the outlook for the Sunni minority, which held power under Saddam Hussein. They launched the insurgency five years ago. They now are either sidelined or have switched sides to cooperate with the Americans in return for money and political support...

Shiite militias, notably the Mahdi Army of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, have lost their power bases in Baghdad, Basra and other major cities. An important step was the routing of Shiite extremists in the Sadr City slums of eastern Baghdad this spring — now a quiet though not fully secure district.

Al-Sadr and top lieutenants are now in Iran. Still talking of a comeback, they are facing major obstacles, including a loss of support among a Shiite population weary of war and no longer as terrified of Sunni extremists as they were two years ago...

Statistics show violence at a four-year low. The monthly American death toll appears to be at its lowest of the war — four killed in action so far this month as of Friday, compared with 66 in July a year ago. From a daily average of 160 insurgent attacks in July 2007, the average has plummeted to about two dozen a day this month. On Wednesday the nationwide total was 13.

Beyond that, there is something in the air in Iraq this summer.

In Baghdad, parks are filled every weekend with families playing and picnicking with their children. That was unthinkable only a year ago, when the first, barely visible signs of a turnaround emerged.

Now a moment has arrived for the Iraqis to try to take those positive threads and weave them into a lasting stability.

"Something's in the air"...?

The AP turns lyrical?

Remember when I began to discuss these trends in late 2006? When some (okay, everyone) was calling me crazy?

Now, how about all those Middle East 'analysts' (...the same ones who were busy lecturing us on why Iraq was lost) telling us what a stable, democratic and wealthy Iraq may portend for the future of the region...

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

'The Caliphate Attempted,' Now in Arabic

My paper 'The Caliphate Attempted' was translated into Arabic (click on link, opens as a PDF file):

Monday, July 21, 2008

Alusi Survives Yet Another Assassination Attempt

Liberal Iraqi MP Mithal Alusi’s family home in West Baghdad's Hai Al-Jam’ia neighborhood was reduced to rubble this morning after terrorists had rigged the structure with explosives in an apparent assassination attempt. Alusi, a Sunni, had been leading in recent weeks the drive to repatriate internally displaced Shia and Sunni families back to their neighborhoods in Western Baghdad.

A couple of days ago, Alusi visited the house that his late father, a college professor, had built in the 1970s but did not enter the premises. There is a ‘Sons of Iraq’ checkpoint manned by ex-insurgents directly across from the house. An investigation as to the causes of their negligence (surprise, surprise) is underway by the Iraqi Ministry of Interior.

Today’s event is a reminder that men such as Alusi, whose two sons were killed in a previous assassination attempt in February 2005, are still active in Iraqi politics and had never given up on the country despite being embattled and unfunded. He always stood for a secular and non-sectarian patriotic agenda, one that is being emulated by many Iraqi politicians now. It is even being parroted by the Consensus Bloc that rejoined Maliki's cabinet a couple of days ago. They have come a long way since their previous candidate for the Ministry of Culture fled Iraq over a year ago--with U.S. official connivance--ahead of an arrest warrant charging him with the murder of Alusi's sons.

I’ve wiled away quite a few afternoons in that living room—now gone—surrounded by the beautiful paintings that the Alusi family are renowned for. Always fearful of the Doberman outside, I preferred the indoors to the garden, where I was in the company of Alusi and his sons, talking and joking over coffee, cigarettes and sometimes a beer. It was a short walk from my aunt’s house.

Is Senator Obama going to make time during his brief ‘fact-finding’ stopover in Baghdad today for the likes of Alusi, who survives as a living testament to the tremendous sacrifices paid by Iraqis for the cause of democracy? Does Obama even know of Alusi?

Doubt it. I wonder how many Americans know of him either.

Oddly enough, Alusi was pondering selling his share of the house to other family members in order to finance his upcoming provincial election campaign.

New Column: Stop Terror's Next Act

Obama, Iraq, the caliphate, Afghanistan and a massive terrorist attack on Europe. It's all here in today's column: Stop Terror's Next Act.

Here's an excerpt:

And now that they have been defeated in Iraq — anyone saying otherwise is either clueless or being purposely mendacious — America has in fact achieved something far greater than a military victory: America's soldiers have smashed the nascent state of the caliphate; the dream is no more. This is a fate far worse than death for the jihadists, who enthusiastically embrace dying for their cause of resurrecting an Islamic empire as a noble act of martyrdom. Should Mr. bin Laden be killed or captured, then he would remain an undiminished hero in their eyes; while Americans may think that this would count as victory, the jihadists may simply shrug it off. However, seeing their state collapse in Iraq is their own nadir of demoralization and ideological defeat.

I wonder if Mr. Obama understands all of that. Keeping troops in Iraq is not an end unto itself, yet victory is. Stationing more troops than are necessary to maintain the fruits of victory was never one of America's war aims. Victory is easily defined as having a democratic and independent state of Iraq (check) and preventing another "Islamic State of Iraq" (check).

Prime Minister Maliki recently welcomed Mr. Obama's withdrawal plan with caveats and this sent the usual pundits a-twitter, but whereas Mr. Obama was thinking in terms of retreat, Mr. Maliki on the other hand was suggesting the natural outcome of victory: that America's soldiers, who had fought a hard won yet incidental battle against the ultimate jihadist aim of resurrecting an Islamic Empire, could go home with laurels and to acclaim.

I also wonder whether the European crowds cheering Mr. Obama and giving him a super-star's welcome this week understand the implications of victory in Iraq. Sadly for them, the jihadists are not going to give up especially now that they have something more to prove after the humiliation of losing their state: the jihadists intend to hit the reset button on worldwide jihad by launching painful attacks on Europe, and these painful attacks will involve whatever weapons of mass destruction they can get their hands on.
For more on the jihadist attempt to resurrect the caliphate, see my paper on the topic.

(Oh, BTW, I am traveling so that should explain the sporadic posting.)

Friday, July 04, 2008

Obama Chooses Kahl Over Katulis

It seems that Senator Barack Obama has finally taken sides: in light of his new "refining" re-examination of Iraq, Obama is taking the centrist approach being mapped out by Colin Kahl, rather than the leftist hyperventilation of the likes of Brian Katulis.

Many are describing this as political opportunism. Yes it is that, but it is also to be welcomed as a sign of maturity in Obama's Iraq discourse. I think the end result of all this is that Iraq will not be as critical an issue in the election debate come November, which means less Iraq-related assignments for leftie journos (...and less money).

I've always respected Colin Kahl, even though I may disagree with some of his conclusions. I've always had good things to say on this blog about his sober, methodical and rational approach in understanding Iraq. He's one of the very few real Iraq experts, on either side of the left-right divide, that I truly admire.

And even though I'd like McCain to win (...I just pasted McCain bumper stickers to my car yesterday!) and I know that Iraq is one of his strong-points, but I think that keeping Iraq out of the charged rhetoric of U.S. elections would be better for the people of Iraq, especially as they head into contentious elections of their own. McCain has plenty of other things going for him: he's a man of honor that one can trust, which can't be said about Obama.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The Jihadist Caliphate Fails

My paper on the failed jihadist attempt to resurrect the caliphate in Iraq was published online today, [cue trumpets and cymbals] so without further ceremony, here it is:

The Caliphate Attempted: Zarqawi’s Ideological Heirs, their Choice for a Caliph, and the Collapse of their Self-Styled ‘Islamic State of Iraq’ (opens up as a PDF document).

Here are a few paragraphs from its conclusion that may give you all a feel as to its relevance:
It has been the purpose of this paper to demonstrate that not only did al-Zarqawi (who was killed in June 2006) and his successors choose to turn Iraq into a battleground on their own initiative but that they subsequently chose Iraq as the incubator for their grand vision of a unified Islamic empire under the aegis of a ruling caliph. They did so without instructions from or consultations with the traditional leaders of Al-Qaeda hiding out in the Hindu Kush Mountains. Rather, they presented the jihadist world with a fait accompli: the Islamic State of Iraq, thereby capturing the imagination of a new generation of jihadists who were already enthralled by the alleged victories of the Zarqawists in Iraq.

The Zarqawists believed that they were winning at the time when they declared their state, taking the gloomy forecasts of an American ‘quagmire’ and ‘defeat’ in Iraq, as peddled by the U.S. media, as a sign that they were about to turn a corner in the war. As far as they were concerned, there was no greater service to Islam—not even ‘Servitude of the Two Holy Shrines’ of Mecca and Medina—that would compare with what the jihadists were proffering in Iraq, a distinction that ranked them as the elite and vanguard of a victorious Islamic regeneration. The merit of a successful jihad, waged against the world’s greatest power, earned them the authority and responsibility for resurrecting the caliphate, since they alone were the rightful ahl ul-hel wel-’aqd of their time…Their ‘state’ would be the “real caliphate” once again, set to expand under Muhammad’s own banner from the very heart of the Dar al-Islam, from ancient Baghdad and its environs; a venture far more ambitious and daring than a marginal emirate within the remote folds of the Hindu Kush.

The Islamic State of Iraq was to be the shield and spear of Islam, facing down infidel foes from within and without. It was to be the harbinger of glory and redemption, the “ummah’s hope” for an avenger to its many humiliations. And should the jihadists meet some slight setbacks here and there, then that too shall pass, for as al-Baghdadi says when giving his reasons as to why he is confident that the Islamic State of Iraq shall persist: “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.” Yet, it does not seem as if the Islamic State in Iraq is about to make a comeback, especially since the Iraqi Sunnis that it claimed to be fighting on behalf of, and to whom its laurels shall accrue in victory, seem to have irreversibly turned against it. So could it be, after all the blood, treasure and prayers that went into the Islamic State of Iraq, that Allah too had turned His back on the jihadists?

The corollary to the military defeat now being experienced by the jihadists is the even more agonizing prospect of doctrinal collapse: the heralded caliphate is stillborn; the glorious vision of a reinvigorated Islamic State has been smashed. The anguish and demoralization brought about by this byproduct of battlefield victory cannot be overstated, for to smash the dreams of a man who lives for a cause, who endures cruel deserts and damp caves while awaiting martyrdom, is a fate far worse than death. In a battle of wills where a young man is able to summon the necessary willpower to press a button and to detonate himself among innocent bystanders for the cause of jihad and for a deferred utopia of a resurrected and avenging Islamic world power, nothing breaks the will of the individual jihadist than to see, in real time, his ideology bear fruit and to watch that fruit rot away right before his eyes. Such has been the impact of the ‘Zarqawist’ Islamic State of Iraq—the caliphate to be, under the Commander of the Faithful Abu ‘Umar al-Baghdadi the Qurayshite—and the bitter aftertaste of its ruinous downfall.

For a (short) backgrounder as to the auspiciousness of this outcome, check out my 2005 column, Calling All Caliphs, where I wrote:

Given time to ponder and compromise, the jihadists may figure out a formula, so let's light a fire under their camp and keep bombarding them with the question "Who is going to be caliph?" This would throw them into utter confusion; what are they fighting for exactly? If it is to reestablish the Islamic Empire, then how do they intend to govern it, and how would they go about picking a caliph? They should be taunted into announcing the name of a candidate, and not simply stating a concept…

We must not allow the crazies to set the timetable in this ideological war…The initiative for attack must be seized by embarrassing the jihadists in the eyes of their would-be recruits: they must be immediately dared into articulating their vision for what comes next. In the meantime, democracy as a model of government would seem far more viable for the Middle East than the idea of the caliphate with its legacy of upheaval and cataclysm.

This column was published on October 12, 2005. Exactly one year later to the day, Al-Qaeda in Iraq and its allies formed the so-called ‘Alliance of the Muttayebin.’ It was this ‘Alliance’ that, three days after its inception, established the ‘Islamic State of Iraq’ on October 15, 2006.

Nutty coincidence, or neocon conspiracy? ;)

Folks, I deserve a vacation.