Friday, December 01, 2006

Big resistance group appears to react negatively to the US-Sunni alliance

(Notes on this after reflecting on all the comments:

(1) I should have left out the last sentence, because it opened the door to the worst thing that can happen on an information-site like this one: Mixing up interpretation with picking sides.

(2) MarkfromIreland points out you can read the "Shiite threat" and the "Baathist traitors" parts of the Islamic Army interview (cited below) as relatively "pro forma" in the sense that first of all a lot of families lost members in the Iraq-Iran war, and even more have heard horrible stories of POW treatment, so that playing on those resentments would be little more than common-sense politically. And secondly, given that the Islamic Army is Islamic and the Baath are not, it could be seen as standard-issue rhetoric to call them traitors. So this kind of thing wouldn't call in question their nationalist core. I hadn't thought of it that way. As Helena reminds us, also in the comments, we need to put our heads together.

(3) What I'm trying to do in this post is to put these two reported events in the context of what the US is probably up to, and in the context of what know about the parties. Which isn't much and needs to be a lot more, is my other point).

Here's the original post:

Aswat al-Iraq, an independent (really) news agency says its person in Hit (Al-Anbar province) reported that armed persons were distributing leaflets to residents informing them that from now on the Islamic Army in Iraq will be part of the Islamic Emirate that was founded last month. In particular, the leaflets said from now on the operations of the Islamic Army in Iraq that are directed against the American occupation will be carried out under the name of the State of the Islamic Emirate of Iraq.

This comes on the heels of an announcement yesterday by the Islamic Army in Iraq, via a taped message broadcast on the internet (which I have not seen), which according to a brief AFP account published by Al-Quds al-Arabi today, urged Sunnis to engage in a fateful or final struggle for Baghdad with the Shiite militias and the "aliens who are gaining strength in Baghdad and are driving you out..."

These announcements raise two questions for those of us still struggling to emerge from our cloud of ignorance about Iraqi resistance movements. (1) What has been the traditional view of the IAI with respect to the Shiites, and does this represent a big shift for them; and (2) given that the Islamic Emirate is fighting a tribal confederation dressed in the uniforms of Saddam's Special Forces and supported by the Americans, what is the IAI's view of the Baathists/American connection, and how big of a shift would it be for them to join the Islamic Emirate.

For background I went to the Islamic Army in Iraq website, where the there is a lengthy transcript of an interview with the Emir of the Islamic Army in Iraq published in an August edition of the IAI's magazine Al-Fursan, explaining the group's fundamental views in a lot of areas.

On the first point:

It appears that the IAI is no stranger to the idea of a "menace from the East". For instance, in explaining the meaning of the IAI's insignia, the official explains that there is an "eye open to the East" which signifies just this awareness and alertness to the "Safavid" threat. Given the fact that available descriptions of the IAI stress (correctly) the purely domestic-Iraqi nature of this group, it has been easy to assume that they don't share the takfiiris' qualms about the "Safavid threat", but it appears to some degree they do. So a declaration of civil war against Shiites in Baghdad doesn't represent any 180-degree shift in attitudes.

On the second point:

The Islamic Army Emir says: the Islamic Army there is not a single Baathist. In fact our aims and our program and our projects are completely different from theirs. And each of them bears the responsibility for what he did and for whatever he gained from it. A faction of them are now [remember this is August 06] at work trying to strengthen their relations with the occupiers, so as to obtain whatever crumbs the Americans might throw their way, while at the same time they insist they are standing up to the occupation, and occasionally they even boast that they lead the resistance... And many of them fled [after the fall of Saddam], and some of them act as spies for the occupation and as enemies of the resistance, and it isn't a secret to anyone that their project is that of agents [for the occupation] and completely opposed to the Islamic project.
Which is his way of saying the Islamic Army doesn't have a high opinion of the Baathists, and in fact doesn't differentiate functionally between them and the occupation itself. So when the Al-Anbar tribal group led by Abu Risha, with American support, formed an alliance with Baathists to fight the Islamic Emirate people, there was never any question which side was the enemy as far as the IAI was concerned. For them, the Americans and the Baathists were badgers from the same hole anyway. (I naturally find that expression hurtful, but there it is, it just came out).

The two announcements (assuming their authenticity) would thus be consistent, not with some huge upheaval in the views of the Islamic Army in Iraq, but rather they would appear to be a logical reaction to news of a US-Sunni alliance. If the US is going to be backing the tribal/baathist confederation in Al-Anbar, then it might seem necessary for the anti-occupation groups to join forces too. And if the post-Amman situation is going to degenerate further into civil war, then there would be--how to say this--"logic" in the idea of mobilizing against the Shiite militias.

(There is another useful point in the above-quoted remarks of the Islamic Army official, and that is his view of the moral character of the ex-Baathist individuals whom he describes as scrambling for any crumbs the Americans might offer them; these will perhaps be the Chalabis and the Alawis of the new Sunni Iraq, at least in the dreams of the Americans).


Anonymous Anonymous said...

GREAT GREAT post! You have established yourself as the premier Iraq blog analyst surpassing Cole, Cobban, and Abu Ardvark.

Regarding the "Hurtful Badgers in the same hole" comment- perhaps you should change your 'nom de plume' to Gadfly. Your analysis is very Socratic. Instead of presenting yourself as an authoritative analyst, you, in the tradition of Socrates, “struggling to emerge from our cloud of ignorance.”

4:43 AM  
Blogger badger said...

you'll get me in trouble

6:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Two quick points: 1) It's important to distinguish between Baathists and ex-Baathist collaborators; 2) At least one wing of the Islamic Army is affiliated with Sunni political parties which are part of the puppet government. Those sitting in glass houses shouldn't throw stones!!

7:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Further to my previous two points here's a third one to ponder: The Baath Party rightly points out that those who declare Emirates and engage in sectarian warfare are witting or unwitting participants in the Zionist, neocon and Iranian plot to fragment and ultimately destroy Iraq!! It is worth considering whether the IAI has been infiltrated...

8:02 AM  
Blogger badger said...

My point is to sort through the reported events based on what we can find out and document, not to "throw stones" (and in that context the last sentence in my post was probably ill-advised)...

In the context of assembling what we know or can find out, it would be a big help if you could cite the source for the Baath party statement you refer to about "those who support Emirates and engage in sectarian warfare..." I haven't been able to find that.

9:52 AM  
Blogger markfromireland said...

Badger I'm not convinced that interview is the announcement. Well done for finding it and it certainly provides lots of context but this just doesn't "feel" right to me. I just don't see them making that much effort for that particular interview. I think there's another statement, a new one, I could very well be wrong about this, nobody really knows the detail of what the hell is going on in the US created chaos of al-Anbar but this just doesn't feel right to me.

I'm going to keep looking it might be an idea for you to keep an eye out as well just in case.

I'm afraid I can't agree with Anonymous' comment that you should change your name. Badgers are famous for not letting go and you worry at a problem until you hear its bones crack.

There is also the aesthetic aspect to consider. Socrates was famously ugly, whereas (speaking as a silverback gorilla) I think that your silver stripe running framed by elegant black is very fetching and guaranteed to attract the approving interest of all female badgers possessed of good taste :-)

10:21 AM  
Blogger badger said...

Mark, Just to be clear: The interview is dredged up out of the past (Aug 06) and I quoted from it merely as background on Islamic Army attitudes and so on. The actual events are the distribution of those Islamic Army leaflets in the city of Hit reported in Aswat al-Iraq (yesterday), and the Islamic Army declaration about digging in against the Shiites in Baghdad (Thursday). The interview predated all of that.

I agree there is something that "feels" a little strange here. Certainly nobody of good will wants to see a bona fide domestic resistance group go down that road... We need more and better information, as you say. The Ashcroft-Gonzales years have been a period of shutting down any of this kind of information, so there's a lot of catching up to do...

I like that about hearing the bones crack...

10:42 AM  
Blogger helena said...

I want to say I unreservedly welcome Badger's entry into the blogosphere and the real contribution he's making here. I know that all of us are struggling to understand what is going on, and no one of us can hope to either cover it all or always get things right.

I have always thought that "knowledge" as such is a social product (hence my wariness toward the concept of intellectual "property".) But with the creation and development of the WWW, this fact has become more evident than ever before...

This prospect is realy exciting for us. I think it's very destructive to the potential of the web, however, to harbor any view that participation by good-faith bloggers is a "contest" of any sort. It's not. It's extremely synergistic. Badger, for example, has really helped me think through some tough analytical questions and makes a distinctive contribution in an area of knowldge/understanding that is woefully under-covered by other bloggers.

Bottom line: definitely NOT a zero-sum game here.

11:06 AM  
Blogger markfromireland said...

If you go back over that interview Badger - and put it in the social context.

# The IAI are intensely nationalistic. It's not surprising that they emphasise detestation of the Iranians. I doubt there's a family in those provinces who didn't lose members during the Iraq - Iran war. I doubt there's a person alive in those governorates who hasn't heard from someone who experienced it first hand what sort of treatment Iraqi POWs got meted out to them. Playing upon those resentments is just good politics.

# Ditto their contempt for the Ba'ath for them secularists are by definition traitors to Islam, if they're traitors to Islam then by definition they're traitors to everything else as well.

Does it not seem to you that the sectarian tone was pretty "pro forma?"

11:26 AM  
Blogger markfromireland said...

oops that last should have read:

Does it not seem to you that the sectarian tone was pretty "pro forma" and that it's the nationalism that's paramount?

11:29 AM  
Blogger badger said...

Mark, Good point, and an extremely important one. The thing with badgers, sometimes you have to whack them on the head...

Helena, Well said about the cooperative nature of this. I was hoping someone else would say that so I didn't have to. Actually in this particular case, I was directed to the two events in question by the aardvark site, so I was feeling a little strange about that first comment.

11:52 AM  
Blogger Moloch-Agonistes said...

A few questions:

1) Regarding Abu Risha, how skeptical do you think we should be about this? Certainly it's what the U.S. would like to see happen, but unless you've heard anything since, it feels like (yet another) one-off: a tribal chieftain takes a big payoff from the Americans for making nice sounds. I mean, from his point of view, what are the percentages? It's obvious at this point that the Americans are going down the drain, and unless Abu Risha has fancy digs marked out at one of those top-secret bases with room for kith and kin, I've gotta think he's telling everybody on the QT that it's a bunch of hooey.

2) Dressing his Potemkin patrolmen in Ba'ath era uniforms may feel to the Americans like good psyops, but do you really think there are real Ba'athists involved in that endeavor? Given the weak American hand, it would seem to be a pretty remote possibility.

3) I agree with Mark that the August IAI pronunciamento is more or less chest-beating rhetoric: "we're the real resistance!" That is, not beholden to anybody, and not stained with any past sins. But the thing is, shouldn't we assume that the Ba'athists are now posing as Islamists when expedient, rather than organizing under their own flag? Given the brutal divisiveness of Saddam's rule they'd be kind of silly to do anything else at this point (even Saddam himself was dressing up in mufti towards the end). You'd have to think that some significant percentage of the cash and materiel flowing into Iraq from Ba'athist sources has been funnelled to groups like the IAI.

4) So having said all this I guess the question left in my mind is whether the leaflets in Hit are an attempt to milk the Qaida supply chain or a false flag operation, either by the Americans or by AQ. Any of those three scenarios seem possible, and we don't really have enough information to tell the difference. They certainly imply very different states of affairs.

1:02 PM  
Blogger badger said...

I guess your final points are: (1) The leaflets in Hit could be motivated by a desire to benefit from the AlQaeda support network. But I guess you could put that another way and say the IAI people haven't really drunk the takfiiri cool-aid and this a tactical move. No argument there. In fact my whole point was that this makes sense in the face of what it seems the US is up to. Or:

(2) "False flag" possibilities. Without any supporting evidence, I think its more likely you'll find false-flag operations in what you read in the NYT or the WaPo than in cases like this, but that's just the way I am. But I think you'd have to make some kind of a case, at least.

By the say, I don't think Mark was saying the IAI interview contained "breast-beating". He was saying that the negative remarks about the Iranians and about the Baathists are understandable in the social and historical context as more or less pro-forma ideas, that don't detract from their nationalist core. He wasn't calling it breast-beating. Far from it.

Anybody could be posing as anybody, but...

1:45 PM  
Blogger Moloch-Agonistes said...

No, my point is more general: trying to figure out what's going on on the basis of news reports like this is kind of an exercise in gestalt psychology. We have no way of knowing who distributed those leaflets, but can build a plausible a priori case for at least three parties, if not more: IAI if they are either committing to the takfiris or hedging their bets; the Green Zone if they want to sow the seeds of division; or the takfiris if they want to commit IAI prematurely. Beyond laying out those possibilities, I think it's unwise to make any assumptions.

False flag operations only in the NYT? Hmm. You don't think people are trying to manipulate public opinion in on the ground Iraq??? Perhaps I'm misunderstanding you. I'm sure we agree that there's a mindbending propaganda war going on at the local level, using all the crazy word-of-mouth information dynamics that a wartorn and terrorized envirnment has to offer.

Then too, I'm saying that the apparent attempt by IAI to seal itself off from other (Ba'thist) constituencies is almost certainly more normative than descriptive. The August pronouncement can just as be read as a defensive move by people who had been taking flak for getting too close to Saddam's old network. Certainly it's in the interests of anyone who wants to build an effective insurgent movement to momentarily ignore all sorts of doctrinal differences--except insofar as it threatens to harm their relationship to the populace. The Menshaviks and Bolsheviks are a classic example, but there are thousands of others. Here again, I don't think we have the capacity to know based on a posting on a resistance group's website what the subtext is.

As for "nationalism" versus "chestbeating" ("breast-beating" has different connotations, n'est pas??) I guess that's a matter of tone. I'll cop to a pretty jaundiced attitude toward violent groups of all stripes, even when they set their caps against foreign imperialism. I've seen a few too many shrapnel wounds. But whether you call it 'trash talk' or 'understandable resentment nonetheless consistent with nationalism,' the key point is that it is on the face of it a rhetorical expression which doesn't necessarily have policy implications.

3:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Science is a zero sum game.

Somebody is right (i.e. discovers the truth) and somebody is wrong. This fact is especially important when the science has profound moral implications. Renowned journalist and popular bloggers write with a mind to affect opinions and public policy; which is to say they engage in moral actions. If they succeed in affecting opinions and behavior based on untruths then the morality of their behavior is subject to question.

Socrates was described as ugly by those who bore the brunt of has badgering. He sought truth which would result in moral public policy. Blogging about Iraq is not an “I’m OK, your OK” type of thing; its moral action. If the blogger gets it wrong, no matter what the good intentions or how much liked and appreciated, Socratics and Badgers feel morally obliged to say so.

4:36 PM  
Blogger badger said...

believe my, anonymous, I understand your point. I will be steadfast.

Moloch, you have left me in the dust with these subtexts, gestalt psychology, normative policy implications and the rest of it. To be perfectly frank with you (as anonymous would want me to) all you are saying is that you don't trust the local media any further than that "a piece of paper was distributed, to someone by someone else, and this was written on it". I give them a little more credit than that.

5:38 PM  
Blogger Moloch-Agonistes said...

Who said anything about not trusting local media? The article hedged its bets impeccably: "A leaflet distributed by unknown armed men on Friday in al-Hit said [or 'claimed'] in the name of the Islamic Army in the Anbar region that [it] proclaimed its participation in the so-called 'Islamic State of Iraq.'"

These journalists have done exactly what they're supposed to: not claiming anything more for this leaflet's authenticity than what they were able to observe. They didn't say definitively that the "unknown armed men" were members of IAI; in fact, they implicitly expressed skepticism on that front.

If you want I guess we can disagree on who the "mussallihuna majhuluna" actually were, but since we don't know any more than the reporter on the ground did, that doesn't seem especially useful. I think you're jumping to conclusions here. Hard not to, since the situation is so confused, but it can lead to a distorted picture.

Anyway, I've said my piece, and I do that you for tracking this article down.

6:16 PM  
Blogger badger said...

No but it's an interesting question of method.

I've taken a situation with limited information, done some additional research, and said what this would be consistent with. You require more information before I can say even that.

But the point is that you, faced with limited information in a case like this, will take any additional information and challege it in turn as potential bullshit, A could be posing as B, and so on ad infinitum, so that deriving any meaning at all would be jumping to conclusions, "distorting the picture" and so on, making it futile to do any research in this area. But this is applied only in certain areas. I think that is the politics of it. Did you ever look at it that way?

7:35 PM  
Blogger Moloch-Agonistes said...

You lost me, dude. This isn't about politics, this is about a guy getting defensive.

An Iraqi news agency reports that "unknown gunmen" distributed leaflets in the town of Hit, claiming an alliance between a local insurgent group and AQ: an alliance that had previously been rejected. Refusing to vouch for its authenticity, they add only that some random shuhud 'ayan to the demonstration said "oh yeah, that expresses the views of the Jaysh al-Islami," at which point the reporter (quite appropriately) says "thanks very much" and jumps back into his Toyota before someone executes him. I point out that this is all pretty uncertain, and that a lot of people would have an interest in making local people think AQ and IAI are connected, at which point you accuse me (based on nothing) of having it in for the local media! You likewise take umbrage at the suggestion that a month-old news item on a tribal leader from Anbar needs more information to be meaningful, let alone relevant.

Where's the politics? I'm questioning your critical thinking skills. It's true that news analysis -- especially in a war zone! -- is always better with some non-google legwork and a familiarity with similar situations. My objections to your post have been of a different nature however. It seems to me that you're making no effort to assess your sources and think about what the information actually means in the context it emerged from.

You can't just pull down a few reports from the Web and come up with a scenario that connects the dots. If that's what blogging is about then yes, I think it's worthless for anything but aggregating other people's reporting. But that doesn't have to be what blogging is about. It's not impossible to be thoughtful. For example, "local news sources" aren't ipso fact more reliable than the New York Times--especially when the claims they make are so much more modest the ones you make based on their reporting. Every source has its bias, whether that bias is ideological or (as is likely in this case) safety related. Once you have a sense of that bias you have an idea of where to look next for more information.

By all means, go on researching. But "research" needs to have some standards, otherwise there's no reason anybody should pay attention. That's not about politics, it's about time management. And definitely don't have a cow when someone asks you to defend your argument. I for example ain't coming back--which at this point is a relief I suppose to both of us.

Good luck.

9:02 PM  
Blogger badger said...

interesting fellow. political scientist I figure...

4:39 AM  
Blogger Moloch-Agonistes said...

Well, no. Civilian. Speaking of unwarranted assumptions based on inadequate information....

3:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Reply to Badger regarding Baath Party Statements: the Al-Moharer website provides an archive of the most important statements issued by the underground Arab Baath Socialist Party in English translation. I would refer you in particular to one dated 15th October entitled: Glory to the President overwhelming support day and shame and dishonor to the three Zionist "Emirates"!

The following passages merit particular attention:

“It has been proved that the masses, which are subject to death and detention are defying the Occupiers by backing the leader Saddam Hussein…. The Iraqi masses knew that the fabricated lies against the patriotic regime were nothing but a plan to draw Iraq into the Occupation, division, hell and the dispersion of millions of Iraqis outside their homeland, and practice ethnic cleansing on racist basis, in the north, and sectarian ones in the south. That is why Iraqis were more and more convinced that there is no hope for Iraq and its unity without the return of the Baath leadership and its allies’ forces to the affairs in Iraq. … Moreover, it has been proved that the parties behind this plan were the Zionist US, Safawide Iran and the Sunni sectarians which work to divide Iraq under the pretext to protect the Sunnis only and not all Iraq…. Our great party, the spokesman of the Iraqi national unity, its protector and guardian as proved the invasion events, asserts again its stand concerning its total and utter not negotiable rejection of any orientation under whatever names or titles to divide Iraq to confederations or to emirates, and condemn every party or group whatever their background which undertake such a step to execute the Zionist entity plan. Our Party declares once more that the democratic Iraq, the Iraq of legal and constitutional institutions which respect pluralism in the framework of the legal and effective equality in amongst citizens and to develop the self rule, is the only context to solve all the problems.. Our Party warns too from backing any divisive plan under the pretext to protect whatever community…. Your army, your heroic army the nourishing breasts of the armed Resistance, developed by the imam of the Mujahideens’ Saddam Hussein, has completed its preparation for the victory decisive day. Your Arab Baath Socialist party is resolved to reestablish the global national Front as a sine qua none condition to rebuild liberated Iraq, to protect it against every kind of plotting and learn from the painful errors since 1958.”

4:56 AM  
Blogger badger said...

Thank you. It does say that, and I completely missed it. As you originally pointed out, it seems kind of unfair for one nationalist group (IAI) to very broadly berate another one (Baath) while at the same time joining hands with one of the "divisive-scheme" groups (The Islamic Emirate). That's one point.
But there is also the other question whether or to what extent the IAI feeling that Baath factions are collaborating with the occupation is justified as a reason for keeping them out of the nationalist camp. This seems like the nub of things right now. Already today (Dec 4 in the Azzaman posting) a commenter (you perhaps?) expressed indignation that Sadr doesn't seem to be trying to bring the Baath into the nationalist front, and this calls in question his credentials as a nationalist.

12:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are right, Badger, the critical observations about Sadr were mine. I regard the latter as a slippery character, an Islamic fundamentalist posing as a nationalist, who acquiesces in the occupation when it benefits him to do so, and opposes it whenever he is under pressure.

With regard to the underground Baath Party led by the fugitive al-Duri, there is no evidence that it has ever co-operated with the occupation. It is an open secret that Saddam would not be facing the imminent prospect of execution if he had accepted the presence of American bases on Iraqi soil as a fait accompli. The death sentence against him was a deliberate kick in the teeth for the Baath, which happened to coincide with cynical overtures to those former Baathists who are happy not only to abandon Saddam but to accept US hegemony in order to come in from the cold and receive a share of the spoils.

1:20 AM  

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