Unconventional thinking about the Middle East.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

“The Enemy Has a Vote”

Tucked deep within the recesses of the New York Times today are a couple of opinions that one doesn’t get to hear too often from Americans involved in the Iraq effort. Commenting on President Obama’s withdrawal timetables…

Others, like Capt. Craig A. Giancaterino, the commander of the 287th Military Police Company from Fort Riley, Kan., said they were concerned that a deadline for withdrawal was a horizon for the insurgency, too.

“It’s our own worst enemy,” he said. “You’re setting a target for the enemy to wait us out.”

Col. Burt K. Thompson, the commander of the First Stryker Combat Brigade, said more than once in an interview in his headquarters that “the enemy has a vote,” suggesting that even the president could be forced to adapt his well-laid plans.

“I don’t think the war is over,” he said. “We’ve thwarted the main objective of the insurgency, but the enemy has a vote, and the moment you let your guard down, something bad will happen.”
These points are theoretically compelling, but practically invalid at this point. The war is over. The insurgency is dead. The insurgents and militias won’t come back to life. And U.S. troops will have to leave far ahead of Obama’s stated schedule.

The SOFA referendum won’t pass. It will likely undergo the same mechanism by which the referendum on the constitution (2005) was conducted: it SOFA is rejected (over 50 percent) by three provinces, then it is rendered null. This is a very likely possibility, and it shall be very difficult to any political party, even ones in the ascendancy such as Maliki’s, to make the case to the public to vote for SOFA. Amendments to SOFA, or a whole new SOFA will likewise be very difficult to pull off, both politically and legislatively.

Which means that in one year’s time after the date of the referendum (…likely to be around the end of the summer), all U.S. troops, combat or otherwise, would have to depart Iraqi soil.

As most of you know, I support this eventuality. Though I am extremely grateful for all that America has done for Iraq, I do believe that it is in Iraq’s strategic interest to watch the Americans leave, not only to speed up internal political maturation (…the anomalous situation of the State Department and the CIA meddling in the minutia of Iraqi politics will have to diminish) but also to allow Iraq free reign to project its newfound strength across the region, sometimes in direct opposition to U.S. interests (…such as the stability of the Saudi regime).

Related to the points made above by those U.S. officers, here’s what I wrote recently about the al-Daini affair for Hudson-NY. The last paragraph reads:

A war came and went without Americans even having much clarity as to who the enemy was. Well, men like Daini were the enemy. And some Americans colluded with him. In another time, this would have been called treason. But in our ethically-lapsed times, such collusion is called activism.
The added bonus of American withdrawal is that it leaves the Obamists with less leeway to shape the future political trajectory of Iraq. That is, an early withdrawal puts some distance between Baghdad and the fools in DC who’d championed Daini, and some of whom have suddenly become influential in informing the new administration’s policies for the Middle East region.

Monday, February 23, 2009

More Shamelessness from the NYTimes and the WaPo

The lead stories in both papers today should become textbook examples of media manipulation. First, the NYTimes: a compelling story about Iraqi widows and how they are being mistreated is turned into an attack piece on former President Bush. The piece, by Timothy Williams, seems to imply that Iraq’s widow problem only began in the last “six years of war”. Forget Saddam, forget Saddam’s wars. Such minor details—ancient history, if you will—didn’t leave any impact on the situation of widows in Iraq.

What’s important is that an Iraqi journalist threw a shoe at Bush on “behalf of the war’s widows and orphans”. Clearly, it’s all W’s fault.

Next, the WaPo: the second installment of a two part series on Abdallah al-Ajmi, the Kuwaiti suicide bomber. The story, by activist distorter/reporter Rajiv Chandrasekaran, is meant to tackle one of the most compelling cases of why shutting down Guantanamo—a leftist battle cry—is such a bad idea, considering the alternatives. We are meant to suspend disbelief and go along with the fantasy that al-Ajmi became what he became as a result of Guantanamo.

The money quote is: “Before he went to Afghanistan, he was a normal teenager. He spun the car around in circles. He smoked. People liked him,” Mansur [al-Ajmi’s brother] said. “After he came back from Guantanamo, he seemed like a completely different person. He stared all the time. You could not have a normal conversation with him….It seemed as if his brain had been washed.”

As you can tell, the Taliban regime left no negative impact on al-Ajmi. It was all Guantanamo’s fault—and Cheney’s. If the results in Florida had gone another way, none of this jihad stuff would have happened.

And why isn’t there a Part 3 to this story, dealing with the lives of the Iraqi soldiers that al-Ajmi killed. Shouldn’t the families of those soldiers have a say?

Or at least get their religion right: Chandrasekaran asserts that the 13 dead Iraqi soldiers were, in his words, "all of them Muslims". But when I wrote up the al-Ajmi story last June, I had indicated that at least six of them were Yezidis, that is, they were non-Muslims. That's what I dug up at the time, and can't be bothered to look for my notes. I'll trust my own reporting, thank you very much.

One day, way after this jihad stuff keeps catching fire despite Obama’s best efforts, a discerning news consumer would be in the market for a book describing how the ‘responsible’ media distorted the ‘war on terror’ story to suit its own pedantic biases, and in the process impeded the West’s ability to fight back.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Maliki Expends Political Capital on Daini

Iraqi MP Mohammad al-Daini, a hyper sectarian once coddled by Channel 4, U.S. congressmen and the inventor of Tweezerman, is being accused of ordering terrorist attacks or at least harboring those who carry them out such as his nephew, Riyadh al-Daini, charged with bombing the parliament building less than a couple of years ago.

But that’s not what’s interesting here; it’s certainly not as interesting as Maliki leaping to Daini’s defense. According to Maliki’s media advisor, the prime minister has instructed Iraq’s security services to respect Daini’s parliamentary immunity and to basically get off his back (Arabic link).

“Why is that?” one may ask…

Well, it so happens that Daini is a member of Saleh al-Mutlag’s bloc, and if my speculation in the post below has any value—that Maliki is seeking a long-term alliance with Mutlag—then this whole thing makes a lot of sense.

But then again, the raids that netted Daini's nephew were seemingly approved by Maliki personally ...or were they?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The 'Speaker of the Parliament' Saga Continues

I had written this piece for Hudson-NY yesterday (...it ran today), and it seems that the latest news from Baghdad have validated my points: Ayad al-Samarrai only got 136 votes (he needed 138 to become the new speaker of the Iraqi parliament).

The drama took a whole new twist, again as predicted, with the emergence of two competing legal intrepretations of today's results: the Islamic Party (IP) claims that its candidate Samarrai is the new speaker, since he got a simple majority (50 percent plus 1) of the total number of attendees of today's session, after quorum having been achieved. On the other end, the anti-IP camp claims that Samarrai failed to pass the threshhold of a simple majority as calculated by the total number of parliamentarians (275) irrespective of the number of attendees. According to the latter, Samarrai is now barred from running again.

Furthermore, some Iraqi media outlets are floating the idea that the speakership will go to a "consensus candidate" such as "Adnan al-Pachachi or Hachim al-Hassani". The first is a cranky and venal diva much unsuited to the world of political compromises (plus, he's legally a Shii), and the second is seen as a turncoat to his sect, party, coalition, ethnicity and so forth. In other words, fat chance that the most coveted "Sunni" slot up for grabs will go to such characters; whoever gets the speakership gets to pretend to be the leader of the Sunnis. As I speculated in the piece, I'm wagering that Salih al-Mutlag will make a go at it.

Friday, February 06, 2009

NewMajority.com: Maliki's Plurality Adds to His Woes

I have a new piece out about the provincial elections that ran today on David Frum's new website, New Majority: Why Maliki's insufficient victory made things all the more complicated for him.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

First read on elections, and 'Zany' Zinni

Here's my first take on the provincial elections. I'll write-up a more detailed analysis once the initial results come out.

But there's one thing that's happened that speaks to the new Obama administration's understanding of Iraq, and that would be the farce-like pick of retired General Anthony Zinni for the job of U.S. ambassador to Iraq.

Zinni was told he had the job. Then he was snubbed. And later he was told he wouldn't be getting it; the White House had settled on Christopher Hill, a veteran diplomat with very little background on the Middle East.

The real scandal is that Zinni was being seriously considered for the job in the first place. One wouldn't expect him to have too many brownie points with the current Iraqi political class, having ridiculed and fought them hard in the days when they were still the Iraqi opposition. He was dead set against any serious attempts to bring down the Saddam regime.

Who in their right minds would have thought that Zinni would be a good fit for Baghdad?

In 2000, Zinni made some very caustic comments about the Iraqi opposition while at a reception at the Bahraini Embassy in Washington DC. These were carried by the equally caustic Al-Quds Al-Arabi newspaper, a London-based paper edited by the odious Abdel-Bari Atwan, who had turned it into a beacon of apologia for Saddam and Al-Qaeda. It should be noted that several U.S.-based analysts find this rag credible.

I wrote an Op-Ed for that paper as a response to Zinni, published on May 10, 2000. You can view it here (PDF file, in Arabic). There's a typo in the published version where the Arabic word for 'general' was, deliberately it seems, rendered into 'butcher'. In this piece I wondered whether Zinni, who was still in uniform at the time, would turn out to be one of many soon-to-be retired generals and diplomats who'd moonlight as deal-fixers between Gulf states and arms contractors, as an explanation for his relentless defense of the status quo in the region.

On the day the column came out, a top-ranking U.S. diplomat fired off an e-mail chiding me for this ad hominen attack on Zinni, describing the general as a "a hero to many in washington, including me, and more to the point, many, many people in the Congress".

This was my response back:

Dear ______,

General Antony Zinni is no hero of mine. He is not the
hero of many, many other Iraqis, nor of the cause for
democracy and freedom in Iraq. That is all I am
concerned with.

Furthermore, what good is an active INC media
operation that cannot even defend itself in the face
of slander?

Should we just roll over and play dead when El
Generalissimo says so?

We are no lackeys to U.S. officials...We are partners,
and we behave with poise, professionalism, patriotism
and pride: that is why we are resented by some in
Washington and others in the Gulf.



....Apologies to the English language: I was obscenely alliterative in my younger days.