Thursday, September 28, 2006

Another unsolved mystery

This appeared on the front page of the Saudi newspaper Al-Jazirah on Thursday September 27. Datelined Beirut, it quotes Lebanese Hizbullah leader Nasrullah praising Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah to the skies and extolling the vast benefits of the Saudi postwar aid. A passage in the middle of this gives the flavor:
...the initiatives of the Kingdom have been full and comprehensive, and have not been limited to one area and not another; they have covered all areas; and all of the sons of Lebanon have benefited; and this is not unexpected under the reign of the custodian of the holy places King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, may God protect him...
Nasrullah is quoted as adding that he plans "to visit the Kingdom soon, once there is more stability in conditions in the region, given the continuing Israeli arrogance, whose ambition is to spread ruination and destruction to all of the Arab and Islamic lands..."

Here's how the piece looked:

الأمين العام لحزب الله السيد حسن نصر الله لـ« الجزيرة »:
سأزور المملكة قريبا لشكرها على ما قدمته

* بيروت - خاص - محمد المناع:
أكد السيد حسن نصر الله (الأمين العام لحزب الله) عمق العلاقات الأخوية التي تجمع حكومة وشعب المملكة باللبنانيين؛ حيث وصف هذه العلاقة بالأزلية والدائمة، وخير دليل على ذلك هو المساعدات والمبادرات التي تقدمها المملكة العربية السعودية ممثلةً في حكومتها وشعبها الكريم؛ حيث وصف تلك المبادرات بالعظيمة وأنها خففت الكثير من العبء عن الشعب اللبناني؛ فمبادرات المملكة كانت شاملة وكاملة ولم تقتصر على مجال دون الآخر، فشملت جميع المجالات ليستفيد منها جميع أبناء الشعب اللبناني، وهذا ليس بغريب في ظل حكم خادم الحرمين الشريفين الملك عبد الله بن عبد العزيز حفظه الله؛ حيث إن الشعب اللبناني يثمن تلك المبادرات وتلك الوقفات التي وقفتها المملكة العربية السعودية؛ فالمملكة لم تتأخر في يوم من الأيام عن الوقوف إلى جانب الشعب اللبناني. ويضيف نصر الله أنه سيقوم بزيارة إلى المملكة عما قريب، وذلك بعد استقرار الوضع الذي تعيشه المنطقة في ظل الغرور الإسرائيلي الذي يطمح لنشر الخراب والدمار في جميع الدول العربية والإسلامية وينطلق من مبدأ الحق الصهيوني على عالم مليء بالسلام والأمان؛ لكي يتسنى لي لقاء خادم الحرمين الشريفين وولي عهده الأمين، بالإضافة إلى تقديم واجب الشكر لحكومة وشعب المملكة العربية السعودية التي ساندت وما زالت تساند وتقف مع الشعب اللبناني.

And here is the link.

Pretty meaningful stuff, the friendly face and flowery greetings of Nasrullah on the front page of a major Saudi newspaper. There's only one problem. According to Al-Quds al-Arabi today (Friday September 29), Nasrullah's office said Nasrullah didn't have any interview with Al-Jazirah. Al-Quds al-Arabi notes that al-Jazirah said he did, and quoted him as promising to visit the Kingdom to thank the government and people for the post-war aid, including meetings with the King and Prince Sultan.

Another illustration of "federalism" in the bad sense

Al-Seyassah on Thursday September 28 reports, as most Arab papers did, the remarks of Talabani in favor of permanent US bases in Kurdistan, then Al-Seyassah adds this paragraph as an indication of Iraqi/Sunni feelings about what is going on here. My specific point here is that at the end of his quoted remarks, the Speaker of the Iraqi Parliament equates "foreign agendas for the imposition of a federalism based on sectarianism", with the traditional idea of "fitna" which means, in effect, all-out, chaotic, sect-based violence.

Meanwhile [the journalist writes] the president of the Iraqi Parliament Dr Mahmoud Mashhadani said 'The nation needs those of her sons who are sincere, and it needs Arab support, to rescue the country from fragmentation, which will only result in the fragmentation of the region as a whole.' And he warned in remarks on Arab Voice Radio of what he called the 'historic crisis' through which Iraq is going right now, warning also of the risk of igniting of sect-based fitna, thus in effect 'realizing the foreign agendas aimed at bringing about federalism on the basis of sectarianism.' And Mashhadani said in his opinion the cause of what is going on in Iraq right now is the reality of the occupation, [and also] the weak behavior of some sects, and the suspect behavior of others that are igniting this sect-based fitna.
Here is the Arabic text from the middle of the linked article:
في غضون ذلك اكد رئيس مجلس النواب العراقي الدكتور محمود المشهداني ان بلاده " تحتاج الى المخلصين من ابنائها والى دعم عربي ينقذ البلاد من التفتيت الذى سيتسبب في تفتيت المنطقة كلها", وحذر في تصريح لاذاعة " صوت العرب " مما وصفه "بالمأزق التاريخي" الذى يمر به العراق حاليا منبها الى خطورة تأجيج الفتنة الطائفية "تنفيذا لاجندات خارجية لتحقيق الفيدرالية على اساس طائفي", ورأى المشهداني "ان ما يحدث في العراق حاليا سببه وجود الاحتلال وضعف اداء بعض الطوائف والاداء المشبوه للبعض الذى يؤجج الفتنة الطائفية".
This negative use of the term "federalism" harks back to the Nasrullah victory speech in which he said discourse about splits, or about federalism, or about cantonization, "is an Israeli discourse", and the Iraqi newspaper Azzaman reported the speech as Nasrullah saying "no to federalism". I think it is noteworthy that for some Sunni as well as Shiite leaders, the ideas of cantonization, fitna, occupation, and federalism, all go together.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Al-Seyassah: US congressional delegation to discuss federalism for Lebanon, and/or military escalation

The following excerpts from the big Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Seyassah raise a lot of questions, starting with the fact that the journalist doesn't name any particular person or other verifiable source. However, there are parts of this that could be checked, for instance:

(1) Who is in the Congressional delegation.
(2) What is the basis for saying they are going to have discussions and/or make decisions about federalism for Lebanon, not to mention UN trusteeship and recommendations for military escalation?
(3) When is this project going to be announced and discussed in public, or is it to be a secret throughout?

Here are some excerpts:
Sources in the Lebanon lobby in Washington told Al-Seyassah that a delegation of US congressmen and senators will be visiting Beirut, to meet with leaders of the governing March 14 coalition, in order to discuss the issue of federalism in Lebanon.

The sources said the delegation, to include four congressmen and two senators, will put before the Lebanese leaders a proposal for establishing federalism, along the lines of what is set out in the constitution of Iraq, in the event that the [geographic] sectors and major [religious] groups are unable to arrive at a consensus on the future of Lebanon.
The above appeared on the front page of the big Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Seyassah on Monday September 25, under three lines of heading: The small top line said "American delegation to Beirut to discuss federalism". Big type under that said: "Western tilt toward putting Lebanon under international trusteeship." An under that a line indicating the Lebanese government said "No discussions with those connected with the Syrian regime (meaning Hizbullah)".

Following the passage translated above, the story moved inside to the international page, where the headline said: "US congressional delegation to decide the question of federalism." And the text opens by saying the six-person delegation will be in Beirut the middle of October, to discuss with the March 14 leaders their ideas on "internal federalism for Lebanon," of the type envisioned by the Iraqi constitution currently under discussion in Baghdad, in the event that the sectors of Lebanese society can't come to an agreement on the future of the country, as indicated by the failure of a recent discussion program to arrive at any tangible result. And the journalist goes on:

[His Lebanon-lobby source told him] the US delegation plans to ask the leaders of the "Cedar Revolution" to intervene a second and last time in the national discussion, following the radical changes that have resulted from the war between Israel and Hizbullah, a war in which the nation itself had no interest, direct or indirect.
Everything depends on whether Hizbullah is disarmed of not. If it is not, then it is incumbent on the leaders of the March 14 movement, or the majority of them, to declare clearly that are not prepared to see this state of affairs continue, with these two major destabilizers: namely the threat of Hizbullah arms, and the threat of Syrian intervention "into the heart of the Lebanese democracy". Consequently, they [the March 14 people] should state their willingness to try some form of tentative self-separation, involving the four groups: Shiite, Sunni, Christian and Druze, with the idea that eventually, later, a final state could be agreed on: either separation, or perhaps some version of the Iraq-type federalism. (It isn't clear how much of this is supposed to be attributed to the US person, and how much is the Lebanon-lobby person's own elaboration).

The journalist says one member of the House of Representatives who will in part of the delegation said this isn't coming from the White House, which continues to support a unified democratic Lebanon, but rather is a result of Lebanon-lobby pressure for help in arresting Lebanon's "quick and frightening slide" into civil war. He quotes the House member to the effect Hizbullah is free to choose its allies, for instance Syria and Iran, but it isn't free to impose this on the other three groups in Lebanese society. (The implication being that this would somehow be reconciled via a form of federalism).

Then the US legislator (as told to the Lebanon-lobby person as told to the journalist) went on to another theme. He said when the delegation returns to Washington it will know what has to happen in Lebanon in the foreseeable future, and it will decide on the basis of that whether Lebanon continues as a free and democratic nation where everyone is on an equal footing, or whether on the other hand, they will recommend that the nation be placed, in the final analysis, under UN trusteeship "as has happened with many countries in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East, to protect its people and prevent wars".

In the worst case, the House member told the Lebanon-lobby person, the congressional delegation would support a US motion in the Security Council, supported by other countries, to increase UN forces in Lebanon to 30,000 troops, with all kinds of modern weaponry, including fighter-planes, rockets and so on, converting them into a multi-national force like those in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Bosnia.

The source connects the ideas of military intervention and federalism in the following way: He says that the process of separating antagonistic parties and preventing friction between them, would "spontaneously" result in a kind of quasi-federalism, in the sense that the major areas of the country would be separated from each other. He adds they (the US delegation) know that the France, Germany and Italy are prepared to increase their forces in Lebanon if the Security Council asks them to.

And he adds in by-the-way fashion: We and they (the Europeans) also know that Hizbullah received 3,000 anti-tank projectiles and rockets via the Syrian border as soon as the war was over on August 14, which proves that Iran and Syria are making preparations to fight the international forces, via Hizbullah.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Just for the record...

The Iraqi newspaper Al-Mashriq, in its web edition on Tuesday September 26 says Iraqi president Talabani met in NY with former president Clinton (presumably on Monday the 25th), and the headline over the article says "Talibani calls for leaving Iraq out of American official fighting". The journalist explains: After meeting with Clinton, the office of the Iraqi president put out a press statement that included the following: "[In speaking to Clinton, Talabani] urged on the American side the need to keep Iraq out of domestic [political] party fights in the United States, and the statement added that the former US president expressed his understanding of the request, and said he would work to convey that attitude in his domestic political meetings."

(This news is of course in addition to the big item about Talabani, in his WaPo interview, calling for 10,000 US troops and two air bases permamently in Kurdistan, something that hasn't really hit the Arab-media fan yet).

The writer went on to say Talabani was then off to Washington to meet with people including Stephen Hadley, Rumsfeld, Negroponte, and members of Congress.

Al-Mashriq doesn't appear to have a functioning archive function, so I am attaching the actual text of the article to this. Here goes.

طالباني يدعو لإبقاء العراق خارج صراعات المسؤولين الاميركيين

بغداد/ واشنطن/ وكالات : دعا الرئيس العراقي جلال طالباني المسؤولين الاميركيين الى إبقاء العراق خارج الصراعات الحزبية الداخلية في بلادهم .. فيما طالب مواطنيه بالعمل على رص صفوفهم ومواجهة مثيري الفتن ودعاة التفرقة. واثر اجتمع عقده الرئيس طالباني في نيويورك مع الرئيس الأميركي الأسبق بيل كلنتون على هامش أعمال الجمعية العمومية للأمم المتحدة قال بيان صحافي رئاسي عراقي امس ان طالباني قدم شرحا لتطورات الأوضاع في العراق وسير العملية السياسية في البلاد كما حث الجانب الأميركي على ضرورة إبقاء العراق خارج الصراعاتفي الحزبية الداخلية الولايات المتحدة. واضاف ان الرئيس الأميركي الأسبق ابدى من جهته تفهمه للمطلب العراقي وأكد حرصه على نقل هذا الموقف خلال لقاءاته الحزبية داخل الولايات المتحدة. كلنتون شدد ايضا على أهمية مواصلة الدعم للحكومة والشعب العراقي في سبيل تعزيز الأمن و الاستقرار و إنجاح عملية إعادة الاعمار في العراق. وقد غادر رئيس الجمهورية و الوفد المرافق له مدينة نيويورك متوجها الى واشنطن حيث من المقرر أن يجري لقاءات مع مسؤولين أميركيين رفيعي المستوى بينهم مستشار الأمن القومي ستيفن هادلي و وزير الدفاع الأميركي دونالد رامسفيلد ومدير الاستخبارات القومي جون نيكروبونتي بالاضافة الى كبار زعماء مجلسي الشيوخ و النواب و ممثلين عن وسائل إعلام بارزة في العاصمة الأميركية واشنطن . ومن جهة اخرى دعا طالباني العراقيين في رسالة لمناسبة حلول شهر رمضان المبارك إلى رص الصفوف من اجل بناء عراق المحبة و التسامح .وطالب رجال الدين وخطباء الجوامع إلى التبشير بمبادئ الإسلام السمحاء والدعوة إلى البر والتآخي والوئام ونبذ التطرف والعنف والغلو.

Hamas: Well done, Ms Rice

US Secretary of State Rice explained to newspaper people in New York that there is Hamas in the territories, and there is a branch in Damascus, and she went on to explain that the US strategy is to drive a wedge between them on the issue of recognition of Israel, based on the idea that the Hamas people in the territories will be getting hungry, whereas the branch in Damascus is still eating well. Palestine Information Center has the first report of the Hamas reaction to these statements, and the gist of it is: Thank you, Ms Rice, for spelling out one of the important hidden motives behind your activities. Israel having so far failed to starve the Palestinians into submission, you have explained to us that yours is the diplomatic extension of that approach. Borrowing from the language of Nasrullah on Friday, the Hamas source said: A bet on the split-up of Hamas is going to be a losing bet. Here's my rendition of the full PIC item:

Hamas criticized the statements of Rice, in which she spoke about the US wager on the occurence of an internal split within Hamas, and said this is bound to be a losing bet.

In her statements, Rice said such internal splits in Hamas would serve to promote what she calls 'the peace process'. An authoritative source in Hamas said: 'We in Hamas denounce these statements by the American minister, which in fact serve to expose an aspect of the motives of her administration, and of the Zionist entity behind it, [motives] vis-a-vis Hamas and the people of Palestine, namely that this [US] administration has come to bet on a split within out unified ranks, after the Occupation has failed to subdue us or to break out will.'

The source added: It is quite possible that these statements [of Rice] give us the explanation what compelled president Abbas, after his return from NY and his meeting there with Rice, to say that the discussions [with Haniyeh] were "back to zero" and that he was waiting for recognition of Israel as a condition for forming a government of national unity.

And the source said the bet on the occurence of a split in Hamas is a losing bet; and the efforts of the US administration along with some of the local and regional governments, would prove to be wasted effort.

(The statements of Rice are summarized here).

Monday, September 25, 2006

Next on the agenda: Palestine

Fresh from her diplomatic triumphs in Lebanon and elsewhere, US Secretary of State Rice will next turn her attention to Palestine, having announced a visit to the region soon. Already the market prices for Kalashnikov rifles in the West Bank have doubled to around $4500, and M19s tripled to around $9000 (according to Al-Quds al-Arabi on Monday September 25), as Hamas and Fatah militants prepare to battle one another over how best to deal with the situation.

The newspaper says Hamas has been concentrating its weapons-buying in the West Bank, where rival Fatah is strongest, adding there has been noticeable smuggling from arms dealers in Israel drawn by the attractive profits. Fatah, for its part, is said to have benefited from a wholesale deal arranged by one of its parliamentary members, involving smuggling from Egypt of some 2500 "units" (guns) along with 100,000 rounds of ammunition for the Kalashinkovs and a quantity of ammunition for for the nine millimeter as well (readers are expected to know what that is). The Hamas buying in the West Bank started in back in April, the Fatah deal is described as having been concluded around two months ago. The newspaper's intelligence source says the purpose behind all of this buying and stockpiling is the prospect of Hamas-Fatah fighting.

Naturally, to a lot of Western readers, this won't compute. Why would the two main political umbrella groups be preparing to fight one another, rather than a common enemy?

Good question. But I think this is also a good illustration why the standard narrative about enlightenment and good intentions by the West in the Middle East isn't necessarily the best-suited for understanding these events. According to the point of view represented by Al-Quds al-Arabi, for instance, Fatah has become functionally part of the corrupt Arab-regime establishment, manipulable either directly by Washington, or indirectly via Egypt. The recent Hamas electoral victory was primarily a case of throwing out the corrupt old guard, and installing clean government.

The Israeli blockade and the Western aid-cutoff have stymied the Hamas government, making it impossible to pay state employees or alleviate hunger. A practical solution seemed to be for the two sides (Hamas and Fatah) to dial down their differences, forming a coalition government that could somehow find a formula at least for the resumption of Western aid and the alleviation of suffering.

Palestinians awoke Monday to newspaper headlines about the resumption of Hamas-Fatah talks to this end. But by afternoon Abbas was refusing to meet with the Hamas Prime Minister Haniyeh over the issue of "recognition of Israel". There is speculation that instead of forming a unity government, Abbas, bolstered by his meeting with President Bush late last week, might be looking to "dismiss" the Hamas government. Views differ on what would take its place. Meanwhile a Hamas minister accuses the office of president Abbas of hoarding large sums of money that could be paid out to alleviate suffering; this is indignantly denied as another example of Hamas perfidy and provocation. Another Hamas official accuses Fatah of deliberately trying to sink the government. Four paramilitary groups have said they would treat any government that recognizes Israel "as an extension of the occupation" and a "legitimate object of attacks". And so it goes.

While Hamas-Fatah fighting might seem unexplainable for a lot of Western readers, it is less so to those accustomed to interpret events through the lens of spreading corruption and subservience to the West.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Two readings of the Nasrullah speech

Hizbullah's Al-Manar TV, on its website, summarizes Nasrullah's speech in point form as follows:

Nasrullah...gave a comprehensive speech taking up all of the topics and political issues in Lebanon and the region.

He said there is a political split in the nation, not a sectarian split.

The natural approach to alleviating this would be formation of a government of national unity

What we want is a nation that is strong, just, clean, and future-oriented, that will reject any foreign dictation

Any discourse in Lebanon that talks about splits, or about federalism, or about cantonization, is an Israeli discourse

The arms of the resistance are not internal, but are Lebanese, for the defence of Lebanon and its independence

Any bet on the ending of the resistance via pressure, or intimidation, or blockading, is a losing bet

Different national media found quite different messages in this. For instance, the NYT reporter said it was a speech "steeped in defiance: at the United States, Israel, Arab heads of state, and those political forces in Lebanon aiming to clip Hezbullah's political and military power".

The Iraqi newspaper Azzaman, no enemy of the United States, heard a completely different speech. Its page one headline on the speech said: "Nasrullah attacks calls for federalism in Lebanon." And inside the newspaper, over its more-detailed piece, the newspaper said: "Nasrullah in his first public appearance since the war: [It would be] A losing bet [to bet] on fitna [meaning complete turmoil] between the Lebanese army and Hizbullah."

(The parts of the speech that Azzaman was referring to were those passages where Nasrullah said the split in Lebanon is political, not sectarian; and where he said the weapons of the resistance are Lebanese, not internal).

To the Iraqi readership, the main point was preservation of national unity in parallel with defence against external threats. The Israeli war was an attempt to split the nation, and, said Nasrullah, it failed. To the Iraqi readership, part of the "national victory" was summed up in the front-page headline about "rejection of federalism".

This is interesting for a number of reasons: First of all, "federalism" has taken on a negative connotation, reflected in Nasrullah's reference to "discourse about splits, or federalism, or
cantonization". In other words, "federalism" seems to mean "sectarian splits", or being on the losing side of a divide and conquer campaign. And there is the referrence to what from an Iraqi standpoint could be a major pitfall: Hizbullah tangling with the Lebanese army, leading to an Iraqi-style internal disintegration.

It seems "federalism" isn't just a neutral political-science term any more in the Middle East. To Hizbullah it means national disintegration and defeat. And if the major newspaper Azzaman is any indication, that meaning has resonance in Iraq too.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Two takes on the Lebanese crisis

The newspapers Al-Hayat and Al-Akhbar focus on two different parts of the brewing political crisis in Lebanon, the first focusing on the Hizbullah-arms issue, the second on aid and reconstruction. But they both illustrate what is fundamentally the same point: For people in the South, dissatisfaction with the central government makes direct action the preferred alternative. While on the arms issue Hizbullah is subject to demonization in much of the Western media, the fact is that in aid-and-reconstruction the issue for the South is exactly the same: Relying on the central government is demonstrably not a good idea.

Al-Hayat, on Friday September 22, spells out what it says is the core issue responsible for the escalating tensions since the beginning of this month between Hizbullah and the governing majority, citing what the journalist calls neutral political and parliamentary sources. Clause 8 of the UN resolution 1701 calls for the zone between the Israeli border and the Litani River to be free of arms and armed personnel except for the government Army and the UN forces (Unifil), and Clause 11 calls for the UN force to cooperate with the Lebanese army in seeing that this is the case. The key issue, this journalist says, is this. Prime Minister Siniora says the Army has the right to seize any Hizbollah arms it finds out about, and this would mean that Unifil could tell the Army about weapons locations, and the Army could act on that and seize them. Hizbullah and its supporters say a series of cabinet meetings resulted in agreement that any disarmament issues are to be taken up "internally", meaning via Lebanese inter-party negotiations, and this should be kept separate from implemention of Resolution 1701. The Hizbollah position is that in connection with implementation of 1701, they agreed not to display weapons in the South, the idea being that only displayed weapons could be seized.

The journalist says relations between Hizbullah and the governing majority have been getting worse over this point since the beginning of the month. Normally, he says discussions between Hizbullah supporters and Future movement leader Saad Hariri have been able to provide a forum and "ventilation" for this kind of thing, but he says that relationship has recently been cut, and that is something particularly worrying.

Al-Akhbar, for its part, has been focusing on the implementation of reconstruction aid as a way of illustrating the Hizbollah-government tensions. On Tuesday Sept 19, it ran a big front-page piece offering several examples of what it said look like government obstructionism, either in order to allocate funds to its political allies to the detriment of the afflicted South, and/or to extract political concessions from would-be recipients. The main specific issue is PM Sinoira's insistance on channeling aid money through the Higher Relief Council (HRC), a political body often associated with corruption, and more generally channeling money through the government's general budgetary account, to help make the fiscal books look better. One donor, Qatar, refused to make the check out to the HRC for its $300 million contribution to rebuilding Southern housing, and instead did its own needs assessments and engineering work,
and disbursed the monies directly, following discussions with groups local to the regions being helped. Other stories are left hanging: A big UAE aid offer went unanswered for 15 days and Nabih Berri had to intervene three times with Sinoira to get him to reply; Saudi Arabia is described as wanting a meeting first with Hariri before disbusing its funds (the writer seems to be hinting at Saudi political pressure for something in connection with this); bridge-construction orders haven't gone out yet, while Ministries continue to allocate pieces of the pie; a Saudi food-donation intended for the South got allocated to groups supporting the governing majority (i.e., not in the South), and to add insult to injury, some of it was held back to give these government supporters special gifts during the holy month of Ramadan.

Each example is a little different, but the one theme is clear: Funneling aid through the central-government institutions, as Sinoira is intent on doing, means for Southerners a very high risk of aid intended for them getting diverted elsewhere. Qatar isn't the only foreign donor that is balking at this approach. And the writer says this is the reason why, according to a recent statement by Sinoira, the government has only actually received $124 million (of the over $1 billion pledged). It isn't that donors are welshing, it is that some, like Qatar, are going the direct route, and others are still looking for satisfactory guarantees that their funds will be used as intended.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

A Saudi version of what's happening in Iraq, with interesting historical references: Safavids versus Arabs

I don't really know anything about the Saudi newspaper Al-Jazirah, available at (no relation to the satellite TV channel), except for the fact that there is generally a photo of a member of the royal family on the front page, and that the "International" page from time to time offers some pretty hair-raising perspectives. Here for instance is a summary of what writer Jasar Abdulaziz Jasar had to say in a pair of feature pieces on Sept 6 and Sept 7 on the Iraqi situation.

Here's Part I: Prime Minister Maliki, he wrote, as part of his National Reconciliation project, has the particularly difficult task of trying to thwart an effort to fragment the country. Not to split it in three parts, but to break it up, starting with the South and the Middle Euphrates regions, into "Sheikhdoms", meaning de facto citi-states. In his task, Malaki is supported by three important groups: National-minded Iraqis and Iraqi groups; neighboring countries; and the US occupation forces. Neighbouring countries support him because of the principle of national integrity; the occupation forces support him for a "special reason, namely so that the occupation doesn't end up endorsing the interests of one particular power in the region [meaning Iran]".

Maliki has gone all over the country wherever this has flared up, trying to promote National Reconciliation and to ease the security situation, but one major milestone in the process was his visit to the Ayatollah Sistani in Najaf [in August]. The purpose of his visit was to ask Sistani to use his good offices to advise those who listen to him to restore calm and not to aggravate the situation. Leaving the meeting, Malaki was optimistic. [Here the account definitely takes on the fly-on-the-wall characteristic indicative either of a vivid imagination or a reliance on one of the national intelligence services]. He was optimistic, but "to the surprise of observers of the Iraqi situation", Sistani's office followed up on the meeting by issuing a statement warning that if the government didn't establish security, "other parties" would do so. "To Iraqis," this writer explains, "the expression 'other parties' meant Shiite militias. And more particularly, he says, observers saw in this the start of what he calls an "Iraqi version of the Pasdaran", or paramilitary. That's Part I.

In Part II of his series, the writer reviews some of the specifics he says are part of the movement by the "Safavids" (I believe Safavid is to Persian as Zionist is to Israeli) to establish "Sheikhdoms" or de facto city-states in the South and Middle Euphrates regions. Najaf will be the center or capital of this grouping of Sheikhdoms, and it will be run by the Hakim family. The city, he says, is mostly populated by people of Persian extraction, the result of centuries of pilgrimages, in many cases where the pilgrims decided to stay and settle, to be close to their holy sites. The children naturally have Iraqi citizenship, but racially they are still Persians. The surrounding areas are populated by Arab tribes, he says, but that doesn't alter the "Safavid" racial makeup of the city proper, or the loyalty of its citizens to the religious authorities that are based there. Signs that the city is being groomed for its new status are work on a new civilian airport, and an urban renewal project for the city center, where an initial contract, this writer says, has already been signed with a UK firm.

His next point is that the area around the ancient site of Ctesiphon (modern town of Salman Pak or Madain) has been ethnically cleansed for the introduction of "Safavid" residents from the surrounding area, a major aim here being the restoration to its former glory of "their pagan site" (referring to the famous arch of Ctesiphon). In the Baghdad area proper, he says the Shiites failed to conquer the whole municipality, and there was a tradeoff, with certain areas, including Karkh, Adhamiya and Al-Dawra being left to "Sunni parties that cooperate with the occupation forces", in exchange for their closing their eyes to the Shiite takeover of Al-Rasafa, Al-Thawra and Al-Shala. Moreover, the parceling out process included, he says, assignment of the different Shiite areas to different sect leaders, Al-Thawra and Kufa to Sadr, for instance, Al-Shala to one of the Daawa party leaders, Najaf to the Hakim family, and so on. The writer ends with a summary and a warning. Via the formation of these Sheikhdoms, he says, the Safavids think they can go on to create a regional federation in the South and Middle Euphrates, "in spite of the fact that this region is full of Arab Shiite tribesmen who although they are Shiites, they will reject the Safavid hegemony, because they are Arabs first".

The writer adds extra color to his account, when he accuses the Iraqi national security advisor Mowaffaq al-Rubiae of having supervised the ethnic cleansing of the Madaen area, calling him "Shahpur," probably referring to one of the ancient Persian kings who defended Ctesiphon in an actual military battle.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Engineer, tribal chief, and cultural rep on the same page in National Reconciliation critique

Al-Hayat reports on Tuesday September 19 substantial dissatisfaction with the way the National Reconciliation process is being handled. Announced on July 25, this was to be launched with four big assemblies, the first of tribal chiefs, then a meeting for representatives of groups in "civil society", then two meetings for representatives of political parties and religious groups respectively. The second of these assemblies took place in Baghdad on the weekend, with around 1700 people attending. There was acrimony and shouting at the final session, and although committees were formed, and everyone apparently signed the pre-ordained "charter" (against violence and extremism and so on), nothing was really accomplished. Al-Hayat quotes three people who attended:

One was a representative of the Association of Engineers, Ahmad Murtadi (sp?). He told the reporter he and his colleagues weren't afforded the opportunity to express their own points of view, instead they were forced to listen to speeches by the "authorities" who were trying to dictate to the assembly the established points of view. He said he and his colleagues found themselves faced with what he called a "pre-ordained scenario supporting the views of the government from A to Z." "We had no feeling of being a part of a national political project at all." One of the problems, he added, was that most of the participants who weren't government-related people, were with groups associated with one or other of the political parties, and they devoted themselves to "trying to block any move to put the government or the political parties on the table as topics of questions or discussion".

Similar views were expressed by Nisan Abdul Radha (sp?), representing a cultural group, who also thought ordinary delegates were robbed of any chance to express their views, in the interest of hewing to the bureaucratic schedule.

Finally, the reporter says the first meeting, held a few weeks ago, that of the tribal chiefs, was no less problematic. Here he quotes Abdulkarim al-Ayshawi, described as one of the tribal sheikhs in the Western region, who put his finger on an interesting point. He said: "There was a failure to put in place any actual mechanisms to implement the declaration of the tribal leaders' meeting, and this failure is one of the main reasons why the whole process is stalling". He explained: "The government and the other parties [at that earlier meeting] agreed on one basic principle, but they ignored or overlooked the issues relating to defining the authority of tribal sheikhs in those difficult areas where armed groups are in control." After stressing what a difficult position they are currently in, being under armed threat all the time, he urged all the "participants in the political process" to pay more attention to the views of the tribal leaders and to be more cooperative with them, in the interest of moving the whole national reconciliation project forward.

Sunday, September 17, 2006


There is a piece Sunday Sept 17 in the LA Times on US government "frustration" with the Malaki government, and that quotes anonymous US sources in the Green Zone to the effect maybe it would be better to just scuttle the elected Iraqi government and install a "strongman", adding of course that that is not actually US government policy.

The point being overlooked here is that this isn't the first time the US has in one way or another threatened to preempt the democratic process. Below is an article from an Iraqi newspaper (something called al-Qasim al Mushtaraq, then available at, now apparently no longer on the web) dated February 6 2006, from the news agency Elaph. (By way of reminder, this was after the most recent Iraqi general election, when the victorious UIA was in the process of trying to pick who would he its nominee for Prime Minister. In a nutshell, the anti-US "firebrand" Sadr supported the incumbent Jaafari, who was later to narrowly win a UIA caucus vote, only to be eventually blocked, while the US ambassador Khalilzad supported the opposing candidate Adel Abdul Mahdi, a person popular in the West in spite of his position in the Iran-friendly Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, SCIRI). Mahdi was someone the US felt they could deal with; Jaafari, supported by Sadr, was not). Here are the key passages in this February 6 news item:

"[Informed Iraqi sources] added that the ambassador [Khalilzad] sent a message to the UIA leadership to the effect that in the event they nominated anyone other than Adel Abdul Mahdi of the four candidates [i.e., the four UIA candidates for PM]...he would work for the establishment of an opposition front in Parliament" that would be able to outvote the UIA.

Moreover, the journalist goes on, still citing his Iraqi sources:

"The sources explained that in the event they [the UIA] nominated someone other than Mahdi, Khalilzad was issuing indirect threats to the effect he would create a number of problems and put down obstacles in the way of such a government, thwarting its aims, and forcing it to resign," and this would be followed by creation of a non-UIA government based on the coalition Khalilzad was threatening to create.

Why Mahdi?

The journalist says this move by Khalilzad was based on the "Western and regional agenda" aimed at thwarting "Shiite hegemony" in Iraq, adding that in the case of Mahdi, there was an "unwritten agreement to diminish the Iranian influence" in Iraqi affairs. This point isn't elaborated on.

اخبار: ضغوط من خليلزاد لترشيح عادل عبدالمهدي لرئاسة الحكومة الجديدة

ايلاف : كشفت مصادر عراقية مطلعة عن ضغوط يقوم بها السفير الاميركي في بغداد زلماي خليلزاد لترشيح عادل عبد المهدي نائب رئيس الجمهورية القيادي في المجلس الاعلى للثورة الاسلامية لرئاسة الحكومة الجديدة وبعكسه فأنه سيسعى من اجل تشكيل جبهة عريضة معارضة للائتلاف تضم جميع القوى الاخرى الفائزة في الانتخابات الاخيرة وبضمنهم الاكراد الحاصلون على المرتبة الثانية بعد الائتلاف في هذه الانتخابات.

وابلغت المصادر التي تتابع الاتصالات الجارية حاليا لتشكيل الحكومة الجديدة "ايلاف" في اتصال هاتفي من بغداد ان خليلزاد يلقي بثقله الى جانب ترشيح عبد المهدي للمنصب السيادي وانه لم يخف رغبته هذه لقادة الائتلاف الشيعي الذي تنتمي اليه هذه الشخصية والقوى الفائزة الاخرى التي طلب منها ابداء موافقتها على هذا الترشيح.

واضافت ان السفير اوصل رسائل الى قادة الائتلاف بانه في حالة ترشيح شخصية اخرى غير عبد المهدي من بين الاربعة المرشحين للمنصب وهم ايضا ابراهيم الجعفري رئيس الحكومة المنتهية ولايتها ونديم الجابري الامين العام لحزب الفضيلة الاسلامي وحسين الشهرستاني مرشح المستقلين داخل الائتلاف فانه سيعمل على قيام جبهة معارضة داخل البرلمان تضم القوى الفائزة من غير الائتلاف ومن بينها التحالف الكردستاني لتشكل كتلة معارضة لايستهان بها في مجلس النواب الجديد الذي يضم 275 عضوا حيث ان عدد اعضاء هذه الكتلة سيبلغ 145 في مواجهة 130 مقعدا للائتلاف اذا انضم له عضوا قائمة "رساليون" المؤيدة لرجل الدين الشاب الشيعي المتشدد مقتدى الصدر .

أجندة دولية واقليمية
وتقول المصادر ان مساعي خليلزاد هذه تأتي تنفيذا لاجندة غربية واقليمية ترفض هيمنة الشيعة على السلطة بشكل مطلق لما لذلك من تاثيرات سلبية على الوضعين الداخلي والاقليمي حيث ان واشنطن عقدت اتفاقات غير مكتوبة مع عبد المهدي على مايبدو للتخفيف من التدخل الايراني في الشؤون العراقية مشيرة الى ان وضع الاتلاف الحرج وعدم تمكنه لحد الان من الموافقة على مرشح لرئاسة الحكومة يثير مشاكل جديدة امام الائتلاف الذي يقوم بالضغط على المفوضية العليا للانتخابات العراقية لتأخير اعلان النتائج الرسمية للانتخابات برغم مرور 50 يوما على اجرائها نظرا لان الدستور العراقي الجديد ينص على انعقاد مجلس النواب الجديد بعد 15 يوما من هذا الاعلان الامر الذي يعني ذهاب الائتلاف الى جلسة المجلس موحدا ويحمل ورقة ترشيحاته لبعض المناصب السيادية وفي مقدمتها رئاسة الحكومة للحصول على موافقته عليها .

ومعروف ان الاتلاف حصل في الانتخابات التي جرت منتصف كانون الاول (ديسمبر) الماضي على 128 مقعدا في مجلس النواب الجديد والتحالف الكردستاني على 53 مقعدا وجبهة التوافق السنية على 44 مقعدا والقائمة العراقية برئاسة اياد علاوي على 25 مقعدا ومجلس الحوار الوطني برئاسة صالح المطلك على 11 مقعدا والاتحاد الاسلامي الكردستاني على خمسة مقاعد وجبهة المصالحة والتحرير على ثلاثة مقاعد ورساليون على مقعدين وكل من الجبهة التركمانية والحركة الازيدية والمسيحيون وقائمة مثال الالوسي على مقعد واحد لكل منها .

واوضحت المصادر انه في حالة ترشيح الائتلاف لشخص آخر غير عبد المهدي فأن خليلزاد يطلق تهديدات غير مباشرة بخلق مشاكل عديدة امام الحكومة التي سيشكلها ووضع عقبات لافشال مهمته لارغامه على تقديم استقالته ومن ثم قيام التكتل الجديد بتشكيل حكومة بديلة من خلال ترشيح القيادي في الاتحاد الوطني الكردستاني بزعامة الرئيس العراقي جلال طالباني وزير التخطيط والتعاون الدولي الحالي برهم صالح لرئاسة الحكومة مع ترشيح شخصية سنية لمنصب رئيس الجمهورية . وكان عبد المهدي قام اواخر العام الماضي بزيارتين الى واشنطن ولندن حيث كان موضوع توليه لرئاسة الحكومة الجديدة من بين القضايا التي جرى بحثها .. وفي لندن التي عقد فيها عبد المهدي مؤتمرا صحافيا مع رئيس الوزراء البريطاني توني بلير همس مسؤول لصحافي حضر المؤتمر وهو يؤشر على الزائر العراقي "هذا هو رجل العراق القوي المقبل" .

حظوظ الجعفري في التصويت اعلى
وتقول المصادر ان الاوساط السياسية تدرك انه في حالة اجراء تصويت لاختيار مرشح الائتلاف فان الفوز سيكون من نصيب الجعفري الذي سيحصل على اغلبية الاصوات التي تتشكل من حزب الدعوة الذي يتزعمه وله 28 صوتا والصدريين ولهم 30 صوتا اضافة الى اصوات عدد من المستقلين و اصوات نواب حزب الفضيلة الذين سيصوتون للجعفري اذا ما خرج مرشحهم نديم الجابري من عمليات التصويت التي ستجري على شكل تسقيط المرشحين واحدا بعد الاخر حيث سيكون مجموع الاصوات التي سيحصل عليها الجعفري تقارب 80 صوتا من مجموع 128 .

وفي هذا الاطار تشير المصادر الى انه لان زعيم الائتلاف الشيعي السيد عبد العزيز الحكيم يدرك ان أي تصويت داخل الائتلاف سيسقط مرشحه عبد المهدي في السباق نحو رئاسة الحكومة فهو لايخفي تفضيله لاسلوب التوافق في اختيار مرشح الائتلاف .. ولذلك فهو قد ناقش امس مع قيادة المجلس الاسلامي الاعلى الذي يترأسه وهو اكبر مكون للائتلاف النتائج التي توصلت إليها الاجتماعات التي عقدتها كتلة الائتلاف على مدى الأسبوع الماضي والتي كان أبرزها التصويت على المبادئ الإساسية للائتلاف والنظام الداخلي وآلية انتخاب رئيس الحكومة في المرحلة المقبلة حيث شدد على ان آلية التوافق هي الطريق الامثل لاختياره فضلاً عن باقي القرارات السياسية موضحاً ان التوافق حالة تحافظ على وحدة وتماسك الائتلاف العراقي الموحد "وهي مطلبنا الأساسي مؤكداً على ان آلية التصويت هي الوسيلة الأخيرة في حالة عدم حصول توافق" كما قال .

موقف كردي لصالح عبد المهدي
وتترافق هذه المساعي مع موقف كردي لايخفي عدم ارتياحه من ترشيح الجعفري لرئاسة الحكومة الجديدة مفضلا عليه عبد المهدي وفي هذا الاطار يقول السياسي محمود عثمان عضو قائمة التحالف الكردستاني وعضو مجلس النواب الجديد أن قائمة التحالف لها مشاكل مع الجعفري حول المادة (58) من قانون الدولة المؤقت الخاصة بكركوك.

ويضيف عثمان ان التحالف الكردستانى رفع مذكرتين الى الجعفري حول تطبيع الأوضاع فى كركوك شمال العراق ولم يف (الجعفرى) بوعده." ويسعى الأكراد الى تفعيل المادة (58) من قانون ادارة الدولة حول تطبيع الأوضاع فى كركوك, حيث يصرون على ضم كركوك الى اقليم كردستان. واكد عثمان إن "الأكراد انطلاقا من هذا فانهم يدعمون مرشح المجلس الأعلى للثورة الاسلامية عادل عبد المهدي لتولي منصب رئاسة الحكومة بدلا الجعفري."

وعن رؤية التحالف الكردستانى للتحاور مع القائمة العراقية الوطنية بزعامة اياد علاوي التي يضع بعض قادة الائتلاف الشيعي خطوطا حمراء امام هذا التحاور معها قال عثمان "اننا نؤيد اشراك القائمة العراقية في تشكيلة الحكومة القادمة وليس لدينا اي خطوط حمراء مع اي قائمة " وأعرب عن اعتقاده بأن "العراق بحاجة الى حكومة وحدة وطنية لانه في حالة شبه حرب."

وعن رؤية قائمة التحالف الكردستاني فى الكتلة التي ستتولى حقيبتي الدفاع والداخلية التي يصر الائتلاف على الاحتفاظ بها اكد عثمان ان "من الضروري أن يتصف كل من يشغل هاتين الحقيبتين بالحايد والتكنقراط .. وأن يتمتع شاغل الحقيبتين برضاء كل الأطراف وأن لايمتلك مليشيات لكي لايستخدمها في القمع , وأن لايتنمي لاي حزب وان لايكون طائفيا."

وشدد على ضرورة "عدم وضع الشروط المسبقة من قبل الكتل المتحاورة بغية الوصول الى حلول مرضية من قبل الكل والاسراع بتشكيل الحكومة."
ومعروف ان الهيئة العامة للائتلاف أقرت الاسبوع الماضي آلية التسقيط الفردي للتصويت على مرشحها لمنصب رئيس الحكومة .

وتعطي هذه الطريقة الحق للاعضاء لاختيار المرشح الأقوى بين المتقدمين الاربعة وتنهي كل الخلافات او الاتفاقات التي ممكن ان تجري خارج اطار العملية." وفي هذه العملية يجري حذف الاصوات أي ان الذي يحصل على اقل الاصوات يخرج من المنافسة .

صفحة للطباعة صفحة للطباعة

أرسل هذا الخبر لصديق أرسل هذا الخبر لصديق

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من غرائب عمليات الخطف في العراق ..

© جميع الحقوق محفوظة لجريدة القاسم المشترك 2005
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Thursday, September 14, 2006

Al-Hayat focuses on the question who is feeding the flames of Sunni-Shiite antagonism

Al-Hayat says the re-emergence yesterday of the "death squad" style of leaving corpses on the streets of Baghdad is widely believed to be in reaction to signs of a rapprochement between Sadrists and Sunni groups. The rapprochement in question includes the idea of a timetable for US withdrawal, as well as shelving the federalism project. At least one politician points the finger at the US as among those working to keep the Sunni-Shiite antagonism going. Juan Cole, in his summary today, cites the Al-Hayat item, but leaves out the above points. The points being important, I offer my version of the article as follows:

Al-Hayat, Thursday September 14, 2006

The unidentified bodies were back on the streets of Iraq yesterday, with the discovery of 70 corpses by the Security Forces. A police source said some of the victims had been dead for some time, and yesterday marked the resumption of the exposure of the bodies, some of which were decomposed, and there were signs of shackling, torture, and bullets to the head. It was the return of the "death squad" phenomenon which the Malaki administration had promised to put an end to. Some politicians noted that every time there is any rapprochement between the Sadr movement and the Sunni groups, this phenomenon of the corpses and sectarian killings increases.

[The writer reviews statements by Khameni and Kofi Annan respecting US withdrawal, then continues]

The Shiite UIA yesterday agreed yesterday to a postponement in the application of federalism, and this coincided with a move by the Sadr grouping toward an alliance with the Sunni [Iraqi] Accord [Front] to thwart this [federalism] project. The "exposure of the corpses" came a day after the announcement, by political groups from a variety of coalitions and political orientations and various different [religious] confessions, of what they called a "comprehensive plan" to set a timetable for withdrawal of the multinational forces and a joint stand against the application of federalism.

Nasr Saadi, a leader in the Sadr alliance, said there are elements that don't support any rapprochmenent of attitudes between Shiite and Sunni groups in Iraq, particularly if the Sadrists are a part of that rapprochement. And he accused the US of being involved in attempts to solidify (or confirm, literally "bless") the fissures between Sunni and Shiite in the country.

[And Saadi confirmed that the Sadrists had agreed to a postponement in the application of federalism in the event it is decided upon]

Salih al-Matlak, leader of the National Dialogue group, confirmed that political groups have been trying to find an opening between the Iraqi Accord Front and the Sadrists and the other groupings that are close to them (to the Sadrists), however they [not exactly clear to me who the "they" refers to] tried to exploit the security escalation in order to "split any rapprochement of points of view between groups either inside parliament or outside of it. particularly with respect to crucial issues".

Thafer al-Aani, of the Accord Front, shared with Sunni and Shiite leaders their optimism on the possible "emergence of a national alliance to get beyond the stage of sectarian sensitivities that has cnaracterized the political process since its beginning, in favor of projects that don't concern themselves [with these types of differences], the most notable being the project for ending the occupation".

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

US Media waiting for the authorized spin on this one

Al-Quds al-Arabi, Tuesday September 12, says 902 Kurdish farming families have been forced out of their homes in the area where the Turkish-Iranian-Iraqi borders meet, because of continued shelling of the area by both Turkish and Iranian forces. The shelling has already caused several deaths and injuries, as well as the destruction of hundreds of head of cattle. The newspaper cites Kurdish journalistic sources, the main one apparently being Kurdish News Network (KNN TV). Al-Quds adds that the families are in dire straits economically because they have had to miss the end of the fruit-harvesting season. Al-Quds says the Iranian-oriented Party of Life, or Freedom Life Party of Kurdistan, PEJAK, and the Turkish-oriented Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) have used this area as a refuge for years, adding that there has been massing of Iranian and Turkish troops in the area for a considerable time now. You might think that cross-border shelling, displacement of families, and massing of troops would catch the attention of the great institutions of American journalism, and maybe it has, but probably they are waiting to be told what the spin on this is supposed to be.

UPDATE: Finally on Sept 20, the UN-affiliated INRI news service (Integrated Regional Information Networks), part of the humanitarian and relief side of things, put out a release on tough conditions faced by the over 900 families displaced by the above-mentioned Iranian and Turkish shelling. From there Reuters' AlertNet (also a disaster-alert thing) picked it up, which caused Juan Cole to notice it. Further illustrating the point that until the man decides who's wearing the black hats, all you really have is a natural disaster.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

High- and Low-Tension Versions of a Border Incident

Iraqis say five Iraqi soldiers and a Humvee were captured by the Iranian side on Thursday in a clash near the small town of Mandali, 100 k NE of Baghdad. The rest of the story differs considerably depending on who you rely on. Azzaman on Saturday says the Iraqis were captured by the Iranians in an attempt to secure an exchange for two Iranians the Iraqis had taken earlier, having caught them red-handed smuggling arms and ammunition into Iraq. Reuters, which was the basis for most of the Azzaman story, doesn't mention the "exchange-for-arms-smugglers" part at all. There are other peculiarities in the Azzaman story, including this: In the middle of the prisoner narrative, the journalist says by the way, there has been a recent escalation in attacks on British forces in Basra, and the escalation is thought to be in connection with the Iranian refusal to stop their nuclear program. In contrast to the Azzaman Iran-Iraq high-tension approach to this, Reuters goes out of its way to note that Iraq-Iran relations are "warm", in contrast to the Saddam era; and to point out that there have been "arrests" like this from time to time in the past in connection with border-protection activities on both sides.

(Washington Post, relying on its own reporter, cites the police chief in Mandali with this explanation: The Iraqi-American patrol was responding to reports that there were large numbers of Iranians crossing into Iraq at that spot, and when the Iraqis got within 50 years of the border they were fired on. They returned fire and retreated, noticing later that they were minus six men and the vehicle. Nothing about arms-smuggling).

Thursday, September 07, 2006

The Peace Process

Al-JazeeraNet has an item Thursday September 7 on the discouraging aftermath of the Arab League decision to ask the Security Council to authorize later this month startup of a "new mechanism" for the peace process. The decision was taken at a ministerial-level meeting in Cairo yesterday, based on prior discussions that had started last month. The first ill omen is that the Palestinian delegation at the meeting yesterday wasn't authorized by the Hamas-led Palestinian government, and in fact the foreign minister Mahmoud Al-Zahar (the same individual whose narrow escape from an attempt on his life was reported by Al-Quds al-Arabi earlier this week) said the people purporting to represent the government hadn't even consulted him. The government added that it isn't responible for any undertakings the bogus delegation might have purported to make in the government's name. There aren't any other details, only a reference to Al-Zahar's "regret" that certain Palestinian elements were trying to "go around the government".

Then the reporter notes that Israeli foreign minister Livni said Olmert is ready for a direct meeting, not with any Hamas officials, but with president Abbas, provided of course he gets the kidnapped Israeli soldier back first. Next up is the Finnish foreign minister, that country being current leader of the EU. He said Israel should immediately release all of the Palestinian parliamentarians it is holding in jail; and that Israel should discontinue the plan to build 690 new dwelling units in the occupied West Bank. Best of all, the reporter says Tony Blair will be visiting Palestine next week, hoping for a revival of the peace process.

On overall prospects for the Arab League proposal, Joseph Samaha, writing in the new Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar yesterday September 6, said the whole idea is going to prove to be another huge embarassment to the official Arab establishment, first of all because they haven't got support from any of the parties whose support they need for this: For instance the US hasn't even bothered to comment; Kofi Annan wasn't sure he will be in New York for the proposed meeting; the EU said yes we think the Roadmap is a good idea (not having noticed that this proposal is the opposite of the Roadmap in its underlying approach, being a proposal for direct talks aimed at a comprehensive solution).

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Parallel Universes, part II

Yesterday's Al-Quds al-Arabi front page offered a good example of the "corrupt systems in decline" perspective, with reports of unorganized street-level violence in Gaza and Jordan. Today's front page (Wednesday Sept 6) of the Iraqi newspaper Al-Mada gives a good illustration of the liberal or reformist slant.

The lead item reports remarks by Iraqi president Talibani on the occasion of the visit of UK foreign minister Beckett, and it highlights a couple of things he said about the national reconciliation project. For one thing he called on all armed groups "except for the takfiiris and the Saddamists" to participate in this (in other words, except for groups that deliberately persecute other Iraqis), the idea being that there are armed groups and individuals that are not in either of those two categories, being opponents of the occupation only. And he says there have been new contacts from groups of this type both with his office and with the office of Prime Minister Maliki. This might not seem like much, but his point is that the process of sorting out groups, and negotiating with those you can negotiate with, is ongoing. Similarly with the flag, Talibani said Kurdistan is part of Iraq, and will fly the Iraqi flag once there is a genuine Iraqi flag to fly, not the current one which is really the flag of the Baath party.

The other item at the top of the first page quotes remarks by the representative of the permanent embassy of the Arab League in Baghdad, in which he told the Al-Mada reporter of the formation of a three-member group (Arab League, Sunni Waqf, and Shiite Waqf: Waqf is the name of national agencies charged with the management of "religious endowments") in order to jointly monitor public discourse (mainly Friday sermons) and denounce any cases of incitement to sectarian hatred. Spitting into the wind, you might think. But again, the point is that reasonable non-violent efforts are continuing and are worthwhile given the alternatives.

This is a simple point and surely representative of what a lot of people think. But it can get drowned out by the extremes. By the way, it appears no serious Arabic newspaper put the Tuesday Bush speech (demonizing all his regional adversaries lumped together) on its front page. It doesn't matter any more: Bush's wars and their rhetoric are so extreme that they are implicitly considered Acts of God. On a human level, the Bush speech would have to be classified as super-takfiiri (excommunicating all groups who disagree with him), and even the most even-tempered liberals in the region realize there isn't any point talking to takfiiris.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Parallel Universes

Tuesday September 5: Al Quds al-Arabi has two stories across the top of its front page, one on the shooting of a British tourist in Amman, and the other the narrow escape of a Hamas cabinet minister from an attempt on his life in northern Gaza. The Gaza attack was by a local Palestinian dude, apparently triggered by inflammatory remarks against the Hamas minister in a Palestinian TV show, Palestinian TV being controlled by the PLO, which is Abbas' group, the writer reminds us. The article highlights the idea of Hamas-PLO rivalry spiraling out of control. There is a similar focus in the Amman-shooting story, where the writer points out there isn't any indication of terrorist-group involvement in this, pointing rather to the idea of generalized street-level rage connected with Lebanon (Jordan has excellent official relations with Israel, the writer notes), and possibly with the recent enactment of a new anti-terror security law. The underlying theme is the disintegration of political systems under the combined pressure of internal corruption and oppression on the one hand, and external US-Israeli pressures on the other.

It is a good example of the difference in approach between Al-Quds al-Arabi and the other two major London-based pan-Arab dailies, al-Hayat and Assharq al-Awsat. The al-Hayat story on the Amman shooting features a Jordanian security official to the effect that no matter how you slice it, this man is a terrorist; with a headline calling him a "Zarqawi", because he is from the same hometown as the famous former leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq. And both of these papers appear not to cover the West Bank episode, no doubt considering that type of thing beneath the notice of high political coverage. The theme of system-collapse in the Arab world is completely absent from these two papers.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

What's the Policy? James Baker offers assurances; Rumsfeld says "No appeasement"

The Baghdad/London based daily Azzaman said on Saturday Sept 2 that James Baker was in Baghdad talking to the senior Sunni officials in the Iraqi government. That much Reuters said too. What Azzaman added, and no one seemed to pick up on, was that Baker came bearing a message from Bush to the tribal chiefs and other Iraqi leaders not currently part of the political process, the gist of which was to offer assurances "to all parties" in exchange for serious efforts to stop the violence. In other words, Azzaman's point was that Baker appeared to be trying to re-start or give a legup to PM Maliki's national reconciliation project, currently stymied on issues including the "timetable for withdrawal" issue, and also Sunni groups' demands for "recognition of the national resistance," something the US had adamantly opposed.

If, as it appears, Baker is trying to promote this delicate process of negotiation and assurances (actually the Azzaman journalist uses the word tatmiinaat, which my Hans Wehr dictionary translates with "appeasement" [!] among other words), then surely it is noteworthy that at the same time we have Defence Secretary Rumsfeld shouting "No appeasement!" It is hard to know what to make of this. Is one position an actual policy and the other a smokescreen? Or are the neocons and Rumsfeld on one side of this and the adults on the other side, with Junior on the sidelines letting them battle it out?