Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Al-Quds al-Arabi on a "deal" between Maliki and breakaway Baathists

A couple of weeks ago, both Al-Quds al-Arabi and Al-Hayat reported on a split within the outlawed Iraqi Baath party, with the splitoff group planning a meeting in Damascus, to do the following: Unite the Iraqi and Syrian wings of the Baath party (which have been estranged for 30 years); and enter into a deal with the Iraqi government that would legalize the party and commit it to participation in the official Iraqi political process. Today Al-Quds al-Arabi reports on what it says is a prior agreement between the Maliki administration and certain Baath party members that led to this split. The paper says:
Sources close to the Baath party said a deal between the Maliki government and a number of party-members led to the split that resulted in the recent special council in Damascus under the protection of the Syrian government. They said that the breakaway branch has no actual presence on the ground in Iraq, particularly since all of the tribes in the provinces of Diyala, Salahhadin, Anbar, and elsewhere, pledged allegiance to the party's General Secretary Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri following the execution of former president Saddam Hussein last month.

The sources added that the deal involves the breakaway group entering into talks with the government aimed at an offer of amnesty and other concessions in exchange for the endorsement [of] the legitimacy of the occupation, and of the political process that supports it, thus striking a blow at the resistance.

The sources minimized the importance of the split and said the recent escalation in military operations against the occupation shows that this hasn't had any effect on the resistance. And they said they think the support of Syria for this split in the Baath party aims at obtaining a political card [earning political points] in support of the efforts by Damascus to improve their relationship with the United States.
This is followed by a certain amount of Baath organizational jargon, the gist of which appears to be that the Damascus meeting elected interim leadership, which is now trying to organize an "Iraq-region" general meeting to elect a new secretary-general, in other words to oust Izzat Ibrahim. This report says the efforts to hold a general meeting haven't been successful yet. The leader of the breakaway group that is trying to do this is Muhamad Yunis al-Ahmad.

There isn't any detail on the alleged deal between Maliki and the Yunis group, only this: A spokesman for the Izzat loyalists noted that the scism originated "at the time of, and with agreement for, the execution [of Saddam], and [at the time of and with agreement for] the invitation of Maliki for a group of Baathists to join in the so-called political process, and it comes at the time of the launch of the so-called new Bush strategy and his new policy in Iraq."

The reporter doesn't say what is expected to happen next. Al-Quds al-Arabi supports the resistance and the Iraqi Baath party, and certainly the reference to the breakaway group as having "...agreed to the execution of Saddam" gives this a particularly polemical flavor. However, any reference to any agreement between the Maliki administration and Baathists is important, particularly, as here, on the front page of a widely-read paper. It can probably be expected to alarm not only the Baath loyalists, but died-in-the-wool Shiite supporters of a continuing SCIRI-Dawa dominated government too.

Squaring the circle

Let's try and sort this out. There are three groups that are, among other things, anti-SCIRI and anti-Dawa (let's call them anti-establishment) involved on the receiving end of the massive military action outside Najaf on Sunday, namely the millenarian group, the Hawatim tribe, and the local tribe.

Abdulhuseyn Abtan, who is vice-governor of SCIRI-controlled Najaf and has been a de facto SCIRI spokesman in this, says the millenarian group was run and manipulated by foreign fighters, with the aim of taking over first Najaf, then killing the Najaf authorities, then taking over the whole province, then other provinces. They used fake slogans and they weren't even themselves Shiites. This was the danger, very AlQaeda-like, so naturally any use of force was justified. This is in justification of the actions of the Najaf authorities in handling this the way they did. Abtan's riff in its fullest form can be found here, on the SCIRI news-agency website.

The account of this at the other end of the Iraqi political spectrum is that the fighting was triggered by and centered on the Hawatim tribe, who were anti-Iranian, hence would be regarded as persona non grata by the Iranian-oriented Najaf authorities. (The millenarians of course were also persona non grata), but the point would be that this was more of a settling of accounts with undesirable elements than a reponse to a threat. This is by way of criticising the Najaf authorities for wiping out groups they didn't like. There is a version of this in Azzaman this morning.

Those are the two poles of the debate in Iraqi-political terms.

In American terms, the debate has one, obvious side, namely that whatever the situation between the Iraqi parties to this, the Americans haven't even been able to explain who are the upwards of 200 people killed by their bombs and rockets, in what the Al-Hayat reporter today notes was the most intense such air attack since Falluja II at the end of 2004. At best, the Americans seem to have been lured into this blindly.

The other side of the US debate, which supposedly would be that the threat justified this response, hasn't materialized. In fact as the Al-Hayat reporter notes, the US military authorities haven't made any announcement about what happened, except to say that the operation was led by the Iraqis. And the NYT and others seem to have let the matter drop.

So that's the picture: On the Iraqi side the Najaf-good party adopts all or parts of the frightening story told by vice-governor Abtan, up to and sometimes including the AlQaeda-like coloration and the whole story of the plot to take over Najaf and other provinces. And on the other hand the Najaf-bad party, which points out that the victims were all "politically" opponents of the Najaf regime, and that was the main reason for the fierceness of the attacks against them.

On the US side, there is a Bush-bad interpretation of this, but so far no Bush-good side of it has been developed.

Enter Dr Cole. In an unusually detailed argument this morning, he develops a self-contradictory Bush-bad/but-Najaf-good argument. Bush-bad because he hasn't recognized the incompetence of the Iraqi forces, who were overwhelmed by "a few hundred cultists", something either he wasn't told, or if he was he lied about it. But Najaf-good because there really was a very major threat after all, and for this he hypothesizes that the Hawatim had actually come to back up the millenarian group in their Najaf-takeover scheme.

It is an argument full of ad-hominems (an extremist Sunni site also takes the Najaf-bad position, so it must be wrong), non-sequiturs ("SCIRI, which controls Najaf, is Bush's major ally in Iraq even though it is close to Iran. Those fighting the Najaf government and Iraqi army forces were anti-Iranian. Rightwing bloggers seem confused on these points"), and those little errors that can mean so much. (For instance, Cole says Al-Hayat interviewed residents in the area who said the cult leader was Diya' Kazim Abd al-Zahra from Diwaniya, a point central to his speculation that the Hawatim tribe had come to back up the millenarians, the tribe being also from Diwaniya; but in fact the ID of the dead cult leader as from Diwaniya comes from the SCIRI spokesman and the SCIRI news-site. Others identified him with a different name and no reference to Diwaniya).

But the main point is this: Cole goes through all this because he is trying to square the circle. There is his crowd-pleasing attack on Bush for not recognizing the incompetence of the Iraqi military, alongside a defence of the Najaf establishment based on the frightening seriousness of the threat. Bush bad, Najaf good. It is vintage stuff.

To get away from all this kind of tendentious argumentation, the best thing is the series of recent reports by Reidar Visser available here. He has an update today.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

More questions about the official Najaf story

Zeyad at his Healing Iraq website has new information on circumstances surrounding the Najaf fighting, including this:
Another story that is surfacing on several Iraqi message boards goes like this: A mourning procession of 200 pilgrims from the Hawatim tribe, which inhabits the area between Najaf and Diwaniya, arrived at the Zarga area at 6 a.m. Sunday. Hajj Sa’ad Nayif Al-Hatemi and his wife were accompanying the procession in their 1982 Super Toyota sedan because they could not walk. They reached an Iraqi Army checkpoint, which suddenly opened fire against the vehicle, killing Hajj Al-Hatemi, his wife and his driver Jabir Ridha Al-Hatemi. The Hawatim tribesmen in the procession, which was fully armed to protect itself in its journey at night, attacked the checkpoint to avenge their slain chief. Members of the Khaza’il tribe, who live in the area, attempted to interfere to stop the fire exchange. About 20 tribesmen were killed. The checkpoint called the Iraqi army and police command calling for backup, saying it was under fire from Al-Qaeda groups and that they have advanced weapons. Minutes later, reinforcements arrived and the tribesmen were surrounded in the orchards and were sustaining heavy fire from all directions. They tried to shout out to the attacking security forces to cease fire but with no success. Suddenly, American helicopters arrived and they dropped fliers saying, “To the terrorists, Surrender before we bomb the area.” The tribesmen continued to fire in all directions and in the air, but they said they didn’t know if the helicopter crash was a result of their fire or friendly fire from the attackers. By 4 a.m., over 120 tribesmen as well as residents of the area had been killed in the U.S. aerial bombardment.
Note that this describes events in the Zarka (or Zarga I guess is better) area just outside Najaf. This is where the messianic followers of Ahmad al-Hassan had their colony, according to Azzaman and others, but according to this account the trigger-event had nothing to do with them, rather with a group from the Hawatim tribe, passing through the area, or trying to, in order to participate in the Ashura processions in Najaf. Trigger-happy persons initiated an exchange of fire at an Iraqi army checkpoint, which was then joined in by another tribe, the Khazail, which lives in the area. American helicopters appeared, dropping leaflets warning the "terrorists" they were about to bomb the area.

Zeyad tells us that both the Hawatim and the Khazail tribes are non-SCIRI, non-Dawa Shiite. He writes:
Both the Hawatim and Khaza’il tribe are anti-SCIRI and anti-Da’wa. Last July, they threatened to kill any of their members who join the Mahdi Army or the Badr Organization. SCIRI, on the other hand, accuses the tribes of being Ba’athists and Saddam loyalists.
This provides an interesting explanation of the Azzaman statement this morning, to the effect that the Ahmad al-Hasan's messianic group had settled in an area that was not submissive to either the SCIRI or the Dawa parties. Thus there were three groups involved, all of them no doubt regarded by the SCIRI/Dawa Najaf authorities as enemies: A tribe passing through and challenged at a checkpoint, a resident tribe, and the messianic group itself. And since SCIRI/Dawa are the core of the Baghdad government, it is easy to imagine all of these groups being targets of the central government forces too.

Which only adds to the urgency of the question: Where is the actual evidence that any of these groups posed any actual danger, apart from self-serving statements by the Najaf and Baghdad authorities. Or was this more like a massacre, premeditated or accidental?

A Najaf settling of accounts, or a glorious battle ?

If you have to use these classifications, then Azzaman is not a Shiite paper, it is a Sunni paper, with no particular vested interest in intra-Shiite politics. This morning Azzaman prints an account of the recent Najaf events that suggests a pattern of misinformation emanating from Najaf, and embellished by others.

(1) Who were the "Army of Heaven". Azzaman describes the group in question as an unknown group, followers of Ahmad al-Hasan, who called himself "al-Yemeni" and "Ali bin Ali bin Abi Talib", the latter name connecting him to the fourth of the rightly-guided Caliphs, and his followers thought of him as the Twelfth Imam or Mahdi. The newspaper says this group had established a colony on rural properties that the leader had purchased in the Najaf area, and this colony was surrounded by sand berms. His followers lived there with their wives and children, and the population was perhaps around 600. All of this Azzaman reports based on local witnesses.

(2) Local politics. The district of Al-Zarka, where this colony was located, was not submissive to the influence of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), or of the Dawa Party either, and for that reason a view of them was taken [by the Najaf authorities] that looked askance at them because of a suspicion of closeness to the Shiite authority Hassan al-Sarkhi of Baghdad. This is from a local source, who added: "The question was a question of loyalty".

Let's pause right there. Al-Sarkhi and his group are one of the three branches of those who pledge loyalty to Moqtada's father (the other two are Moqtada's group itself, and the Fadhila-party group whose spiritual leader is Mohammad al-Yaqubi). Al-Sarkhi's group is the only one of the three that is outside the political process, and of the three it is the most inimical to the Najaf authorities. And the group in question had established itself in a neighborhood that stood outside the Shiia (SCIRI-Dawa) political establishment. So to the Najaf authorities and their allies in local government, Al-Sarkhi would be the logical PR target when bad things happen, particularly in that neighborhood. This would account for the early news reports that this was Al-Sarkhi's group, and also for the completely unsubstantiated reports about significant "foreign-fighter" involvement, Baathist support, and so on. Juan Cole went further and actually conflated the two people (Al-Sarkhi and Ahmad al-Hasan) into the same person, by combining their names into a fictitious "Ayatollah Ahmad al-Hasani al-Sarkhi, called al-Yamani", and then our Shiia expert goes on to amplify the mistake by saying: "It seems most likely that the Mahdawiya is the sect of Sheikh Mahmud al-Hasani al-Sarkhi and that al-Basri was the founder of the sect". All of this misinformation was presumably part of the Shiia establishment's having taken this opportunity to bad-mouth their enemy Al-Sarkhi, even though he was completely unconnected with this.

(3) The Najaf governor's story (which has become embellished in the NYT story): Azzaman reports: "Local people in Al-Zarka expressed skepticism, in conversations with Azzaman, about the story put out by the governor of Najaf Saad abu-Kalal [about an attack or planned attacks by this group]. They said the fight occurred because of behavior by the police in preventing the people from entering a particular place in the procession. And Wail Abdulhadi, a Najaf person, said this was "clearly a fight between different schools of thought respecting Shiite ijtihad [interpretation of holy scriptures], and you can see the effects of that here on the ground".

So there you have it, for the moment anyway. Was this was a Najaf settling of accounts involving the bombing of a colony of 600 people including women and children located on politically unfriendly territory, hoping only to participate in the Ashura processions? Or was it, as the NYT says, a defence by US and Iraqi forces against a well-armed military establishment? The early misidentification of this group with that of Najaf's public enemy # 1 al-Sarkhi and the Baath connections and so on, suggests a pattern: Misinformation from Najaf and the government, with amplification by Cole, the NYT and others. Then there is the fact that the NYT studiously avoided talking to any local people at for its report this morning, limiting itself to Iraqi and US authorities, and one unnamed individual who is clearly part of the Najaf establishment.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Cleaning up after Dr Cole

Historian Reidar Visser says in a report that if some press reports are correct, the group involved in fighting near Basra on Sunday (with causalties up to 300 at last report) were followers of messianic leader Ahmad al-Hasan, also known as "al-Basri" and "al-Yemeni", and he says this group represents what he calls "full-blown Mahdism", the leader being considered the representative of the Hidden Mahdi. Their ideology includes rejection not only of the persons who represent official Shiite authority in Najaf, but also rejection of the whole idea of learned interpretation of the law, the sole authority being Ahman al-Hasan himself as representative of the Mahdi. And their involvement in large-scale fighting would mark "a dramatic new development" in the Iraqi situation.

This is in contrast to another version of events, according to which these were followers of a completely different individual, Mahmoud al-Hasani al-Sarkhi, whom Visser describes as follows: "Ultimately, Mahmud al-Hasani represents a variation of the Sadrist phenomenon also seen in Muqtada al-Sadr and Muhammad al-Yaqubi – i.e. he claims to be the true custodian of the legacy of the late Muhammad al-Sadr (Sadr II), and he pays lip service to the orthodox view of the Shiite hierarchy in that he claims to be a mujtahid (a cleric who has the authority to interpret Islamic law)."

Visser's point is that if in fact the millenarian group following "Ahmad al-Hasan from Basra" were the protagonists, then this represents an important new departure in Iraqi conflict.
If it is indeed his followers that are currently fighting in such large numbers outside Najaf, this would mean that Mahdism has now entered Iraqi politics on a larger scale – with the inevitable evocation of past schismatic movements in Shiism similarly inspired at least to some extent by Mahdism, like Shaykhism and Babism, which for long periods during the nineteenth century created civil-war like conditions in Persia and the Ottoman provinces of Iraq.
Here in America, the widely-read Shia expert Juan Cole for some reason writes as if these two individuals are one and the same. He writes:
The group follows Ayatollah Ahmad al-Hasani al-Sarkhi, called al-Yamani, who is said by his followers to be in direct touch with the Hidden Imam or promised one.
Which would completely confuse anyone trying to make sense of the reports.

Saudi bigshot presents the hard-line interpretation of the king's interview remarks

Mamoun Fandy is a former senior fellow at the James A Baker III Institute of Public Policy and now a columnist for Asharq al-Awsat, a paper run by Salman bin Abdulaziz, a half-brother of the Saudi king. Today he devotes his column to an explanation of what the Saudi king was really trying to say in his lengthy interview with the Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Seyassah, published on Saturday.

His theme is based on the king's call for Arab control of Arab affairs. (In terms of the summary yesterday, this refers to the point about hopes for a rebirth of the ummah, unified Arab decision-making, and rejection of non-Arab interference in Arab affairs). Fandy says this was directed Iran, plain and simple.

He elaborates as follows: First, the remarks of the king on not supporting any enemies of Iran (summarized in that way in the Al-Seyassah headings) was part of a longer statement in which the king said: "I advised Larijani and I impressed on him that the policy of the Kingdom requires us not to intervene in the affairs of anyone, and not to support anyone who is the enemy of anyone else, whether [the enemy of] Iran or of anyone else, and by the same token the Kingdom doesn't want anyone to be inimical to it, or to any of its brother countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council or any other Arab country linked [to the Kingdom] by a common defence agreement."

And Fandy says the king's whole point in talking about an "unsatisfactory situation" in the Middle East was to warn Iran: First against underestimating the danger it is facing from the United States; and second against the consequences of its continued involvement in Palestine.

On the first point: Fandy says the decision by Bush to permit the killing of Iranian agents in Iraq (estimated at between 32,000 and 100,000, Fandy says) is extremely serious, and could result at any time in war between the US and Iran, whether that war was confined to Iraq, or whether is were to spill over across the borders of Iraq. It was on account of the seriousness of the situation, Fandy says, that the king sent Prince Bandar to Tehran for talks. Bandar is the person that is used when a tough message has to be presented bluntly and unvarnished. He is like Cheney in that respect, Fandy explains.

On the second point: Iran, directly via its support of Hamas, and indirectly via its support of Syria and Hizbullah, is a major player in the Palestinian issue, and in fact this is an issue whose nature is not completely changed: It used to be an Arab-versus-Israel issue, but now it is an issue of Iran versus Israel, via the use of Arab agents. Moreover, Iran has been able to use the Palestinian situation as a way of settling accounts with other countries (probably referring to the nuclear issue). Is it reasonably to be expected in these circumstances that Iran will adopt the interests of the Arabs as its own, over and above its own interests? If the Arab world is not alarmed by this state of affairs, says Fandy, then perhaps it will never be alarmed again by anything.

Fandy raised a third point as part of the "unsatisfactory situation", namely the Israel-Iran enmity, but his point there is merely that both Olmert and Ahmadinejad are acting irrationally, partly because they are both ex-mayors, unfamiliar with international affairs.

The situation is slipping out of our hands, says Fandy.

And by way of further elaboration of that general point, he says it has now come to this, that "every Tom Dick and Harry" (kullu min Habba wa Dabba) has something to say about Arab issues, "from Hugo Chavez to Ahmadinejad". Badger is not sure whether to be personally offended by this. In any event, this leads Fandy to his last point, which is that the king referred in the interview to "nests" or "dens"--Fandy doesn't quote the exact interview remarks here--but Fandy says this is a reference to "cancerous colonies" broadcasting on internet sites of unknown origin deceptive and lying reports about Arab affairs, and more than that, they have penetrated Arab news (outlets) "including the official ones" with the aim of upsetting regional stability, and making it appear that any Arab effort to stand up to Iran is merely a case of doing America's bidding.

It is possible that Fandy's remark about penetration of Arab news outlets "including the official ones" is tantamount to an admission that the Fandy hard-line position isn't the only position, even within the sphere of Saudi officialdom.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Saudi king stakes out his position

Saudi king Abdullah bin Abdulaziz made remarks in an interview with the Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Seyassah, published under banner headlines yesterday (Saturday January 27), in which he talked not only about the Shiite question, but also about what he sees as the role of Saudi Arabia in the mideast region, and what he has told Iranian national security chief Ali Larijani about that.

The headlines read: "At a perilous juncture where some are trying to awaken fitna and provoke the region into danger--Custodian of the two holy places to Ahmad al-Jarallah on the attempts at religious evangelization: We know our role as a nation, and the Muslim majority will not be changed in its faith."

The king is echoing expressions of opinion across the region to the effect there is not only new Shiite political influence in Iraq, but that "some" are trying to turn this into region-wide religious influence and conversions as well. He sees himself reasserting his own quasi-religious role to assure people that the Sunni faith is not in danger. Putting the newspaper editor's name in the headline probably indicates what a feather in their cap the paper thinks this exclusive interview is.

Below the headline, there are summaries of six points from the interview:
We take the igniting of Sunni-Shiite strife as a warning, and we will deal with it in a way so as to avoid [having the region] fall into the peril

The message to the majority of Muslims is that it does not appear other sects will be able to penetrate or to take away from it

The situation is not satisfactory, and the ummah should unite and not permit other countries to intervene in its affairs or to traffic in its issues

Those who wanted to put our society into mazes that are not part of the teachings of religion, and who interpret texts outside of their meaning--they have failed

I told Larijani that the Kingdom does not intervene in the affairs of anyone, and it does not support any party that is an enemy of Iran

We do not operate according to the policy of axes, and we advised Iran on how you go about international cooperation, and avoid exposing the Gulf region to dangers
The text of the interview is inside the paper, on page 35, and there two there are point-form summaries at the top, as follows:
Our country has importance in religion and also geographically in the Gulf region, and with respect to its neighbors and international relations, and we bear that importance with complete tranquillity

The massed welcoming of Prince Abdulmajid [back from Europe where he had an operation or something] was by way of reaction to all those who have been talking about the existence of differences in the [ruling Saud] family

We have no foreign borrowings to burden us, but rather some domestic debt, most of which is paid, and what remains is very small

I have not lost hope in a rebirth of the ummah, and in the unity of its decisions; the Palestinian issue should be settled by Arabs and by nobody else

Moderation is of the essence of the [Muslim] call, and by observing that, our society has been able to thwart extremism, and terrorism, and concepts that are excessive, and takfiir [calling others heretics]

Our security people have been able to thwart acts of terrorism before they happen, thanks to the cooperation of the population with the authorities
Taking the most prominent points first, the king is saying:

(1) I am aware of the threat on the religious level. I can assure everyone, first that I am aware of my responsibilities as the top Sunni leader, and secondly I am aware of what is going on and this is not going to have any major effect.

(2) Among the things that Muslim moderation rejects, in addition to terrorism and so on, is the practice of excommunicating or denouncing those of other sects as un-Muslim (takfiir, or "making heretical"). This refers to recent statements by some Saudi religious authorities that did just that, against all Shiites. The king is distancing himself from that.

(2) On the political level, the king says he assured Iran that Saudi Arabia is not in league with the United States or any enemy of Iran in any so-called "axis", and that his "advice" to Larijani had to do with expertise in managing international relations, something he said Saudi has a lot of experience with. The idea of "avoiding peril to the region as a whole" seems to refer to the danger of a military strike from somewhere against Iran, which could then involve the region as a whole.

(3) The king refers to rumors about a split in the ruling family in order to deny them, presumably using the welcome-back gathering as a form of proof that there isn't any real estrangement because everybody was there.

(4) There is the reference to hopes for a rebirth of the ummah and for unity in its decision-making, and a rejection of non-Arab involvement in settling the Palestine question. This is of course bizarre given Saudi support for the US-Israeli policy respecting Hamas and Fatah, but the point is that this no-outside-intervention rhetoric is part of the king's theme.

This set of ideas can be compared with the points mentioned in a recent Al-Quds al-Arabi piece that cited an Arab diplomatic source on signs of a friendly exchange between Prince Bandar and Larijani in the last few days:
The meeting resulted in an implicit agreement about the need to contain the growing sectarian-political tensions in both Iraq and Lebanon. The source said Bandar gave an oral commitment that he would stop the recent fatwas issued by Saudi clerics declaring Shiites heretics, and that he would ease the campaign of attacks against Tehran in the Saudi media, a campaign which climaxed during the recent tour of the region by US secretary of state Condoleeza Rice.

Ali Larijani, who is the top Iranian national security official, denied Iran has any direct influence in either Iraq or Lebanon. And he had given to Saudi king Abdulaziz, just before the recent Rice tour, a message indicating Iran's desire to be cooperaive, but including an implicit warning against [Saudi Arabi] joining in any American diplomatic-military campaign against the Islamic Republic.

The source denied something frequently reported in the media recently, namely that the meeting had resulted in a Saudi-Iranian deal respecting Lebanon. However, he said there was a proposed agreement between the two countries respecting mutual recognition of minimum rights and fears, including Saudi anxiety about what it calls the Iranian nuclear threat, but at the same time recognition of a leading regional role for Tehran, not limited to Iraq and Lebanon, in keeping with its size and influence in the region.
The Al-Quds account of the Bandar-Larijani meeting seems consistent with the the king's points in the Al-Seyassah interview, at least in the these two very general areas: Rejection of the "takfiiri" based attacks on Iran; and offer of a cooperative approach to political issues. It goes without saying that only time will tell what this will mean in practice. The other point is that since this comes at a time of rumors of a split in the ruling family, it is quite possible that the king is aiming to provide assurance to different domestic constituencies at the same time.

A word about the Western coverage of all of this: For the Al-Quds al-Arabi piece, zero. For the king's interview, one AP release, that mentioned only the Shiite issue and left out all the other points.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

The events in Lebanon last week were an early implementation of the new Rice strategy

Joseph Samaha comments on where Lebanon fits in Condoleeza Rice's new "realignment" strategy, outlined in a WaPo column by David Ignatius yesterday. There are the "moderates" on one side and the extremists on the other, but in the middle are the Iraqis, Palestinians and Lebanese, democracies that need to be helped and supported by the (non-democratic) "moderates" to resist the "extremists", but these target administrations are also required to take aggressive actions themselves in order to earn this support. That means, for instance, that Maliki is supposed to support the occupation in exchange for US help, and if he doesn't then there are the threats that will be implemented; Abbas is supposed to topple the elected Hamas government with the help of US arms and funding; and in the case of Lebanon, we had the very instructive picture of moderate nations pledging billions of dollars in aid on the same day, last Tuesday, that government factions were working to escalate the general strike into a sectarian confrontation with Hizbullah. The domestic crisis resulted in more pledges, and the pledges presumably further encouraged the government factions. With all the differences, the overall picture, at least in the mind of Condoleeza Rice, is the same: Aid from the "moderates" to encourage the target populations to confront the "extremists." This is the "realignment".

Going back to origins, Samaha says this new policy is the result of the failures of the US in Iraq and of Israel in Lebanon, which presented Bush with the choice between Baker-Hamilton on the one hand, or Kagan on the other. Bush chose escalation, and Samaha says it is important to realize just how wide-ranging and all-encompassing this escalation is: More battleships to the Gulf; deployment of Patriot missiles in the region; invasion of Somalia; provoking Iran; cutting off any chance of talks with Syria; sharpening the Hamas-Fatah split; more troops to Iraq. The events in Lebanon this past week have to be seen in that overall context, he says, and for one thing that means Hizbullah has to consider more than mere tactical issues.

Samaha's point is that Lebanon, formerly a "moderate" government, has now been reclassified, along with Iraq and Palestine, as a target, which in exchange for assistance from the "moderates" is required itself to take specific action to confront the "extremists". And that is what played out for the first time in Lebanon lasts week. Instead of just offering its American and Israeli allies relatively soft or passive "services" (such as keeping the Hizbullah-led opposition out of meaningful participation in government), the governing factions were proactive in trying to escalate the general strike into a secarian confrontation. And the quid pro quo for this more active participation in the Rice strategy was the increased commitment for financial aid. It was the new Rice strategy of "realignment" in action.

Of course, Samaha concludes, the whole thing is a shell game.
The Bush administration itself is even more isolated domestically than the Siniora administration; it is less popular; it is more of a burden to its people, and more bereft of parliamentary support than the Siniora administation. And yet, the Lebanese administration wants to assist it [Bush] even more, it seems, than it wants to help itself! No. It cannot be done. It is not conceivable that Bush would be able to mount a scheme of this nature when he has already wagered himself into this place of his in history and his party into its current place in the US politics.

Al-Quds al-Arabi: No Iran-Saudi deal on Lebanon, but signs of a thaw

There have been newspaper reports over the past week about Saudi contacts with Iran, and speculation about the possibility that a Saudi-Iran deal might have had something to do with the decision to end the general strike after a single day. This morning Al-Quds al-Arabi, citing an Arab diplomatic source, says there wasn't any specific deal on Lebanon, but rather an agreement between the respective national security officials, Bandar and Larijani, on the need for the two countries to start sorting things out between them on a region-wide basis.

Al-Quds al-Arabi cites an Arab diplomatic source who summarized the results of the recent visit to Tehran of prince Bandar bin Sultan, head of the Saudi national security council, as follows:
The meeting resulted in an implicit agreement about the need to contain the growing sectarian-political tensions in both Iraq and Lebanon. The source said Bandar gave an oral commitment that he would stop the recent fatwas issued by Saudi clerics declaring Shiites heretics, and that he would ease the campaign of attacks against Tehran in the Saudi media, a campaign which climaxed during the recent tour of the region by US secretary of state Condoleeza Rice.

Ali Larijani, who is the top Iranian national security official, denied Iran has any direct influence in either Iraq or Lebanon. And he had given to Saudi king Abdulaziz, just before the recent Rice tour, a message indicating Iran's desire to be cooperaive, but including an implicit warning against [Saudi Arabi] joining in any American diplomatic-military campaign against the Islamic Republic.

The source denied something frequently reported in the media recently, namely that the meeting had resulted in a Saudi-Iranian deal respecting Lebanon. However, he said there was a proposed agreement between the two countries respecting mutual recognition of minimum rights and fears, including Saudi anxiety about what it calls the Iranian nuclear threat, but at the same time recognition of a leading regional role for Tehran, not limited to Iraq and Lebanon, in keeping with its size and influence in the region.
By way of background, the journalist adds: Saudi foreign minister Saud al-Faisal, when he made statements last week with Condoleeza Rice on the new Bush strategy in Iraq, said only that supported the aims of the new strategy, adding that success would depend on cooperation from Iraq. And in remarks on Al-Arabiya TV broadcast on Thursday of this week, Al-Faisal appeared intent on not directing any criticisms at Tehran, declining to accuse it of interference in Iraqi affairs.

Faisal added (in the TV interview) that he Saudi Arabia supports anyone who supports the stability and national unity of Iraq, and equality of all Iraqis, whether Sunni or Shiia. He said the fire of sectarian tentions are no longer merely latent in Iraq, but have burst out into the open, and he expressed strong anxiety about the effects of any spreading of that in the region.

Finally, the journalist says this: "Observers noted that Faisal's remarks lacked the tone of escalation against Iran that he had adopted following the Israeli attack on Lebanon last summer, in which he had implicitly warned of an Iranian threat to the Arab nation".

Friday, January 26, 2007

Efforts are continuing to organize a joint Shia-Sunni program in Iraq

This was published by Aswat al-Iraq yesterday, and it speaks for itself.
A Sunni-Shiite fraternal council, organized by [an institution commemorating Moqtada's father] and the Islamic Party of Iraq, wound up two days of activities in Basra today. Abdulkarim Jarrad, head of the Islamic Party in Basra, told Voices of Iraq that attendees, in addition to representatives of the two sides, included also other religious and social leaders, and he said these meetings "differ from earlier meetings we have had together with [the Sadr group] in that it included legal and political studies and [the creation of] working groups that will continue efforts to make sure the recommendations are translated into action".

Jarrad added that the council issued a final statement that included disavowing takfiiris and Saddamists, agreeing on rejection of the occupation, and declaring that it [the occupation] is the first and the last cause of sectarian fitna.

He said the final statement also stressed the need to work to spare the blood of Muslims, Shiia and Sunni alike; to end the practice of forced migrations on both sides; and to invite the return of those who have been subjected to that; and to set up a council to implement that.

The final statement also urged the following: that other religious, tribal and political leaders organize similar fraternal meetings; that there be a timetable for the withdrawal of the occupation forces from Iraq; and that security in Basra be turned over to the Iraqi government once there has been established a sound security force based on national loyalty.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Why Lebanon is on the road to Sunni-Shiia confrontation

What happened yesterday in Beirut? Here's the quick summary:

Daily Star: "Clashes erupted between government loyalists and opposition supporters...

NYT: "Violence erupted in Beirut on Thursday..."

Stuff erupted (namely between the party in authority and those not in authority). This is what the English professors call parataxis, and you see it in the Iraq coverage every day: Coalition forces clashed with [guerillas, terrorists, etc]. People died. People were wounded. The paper gets to stick the labels on, and you're all set. Same exact thing the next day.

But there's syntaxis too. That's when you use language to join events together with complex things like subordinate clauses, cause and effect, aims and implementation, that sort of thing.

Here's a good example of that, from the start of the today's Al-Akhbar front-page version of what happened yesterday:
The governing faction responded with bullets to the opposition's strike of Tuesday, while for a few hours dozens of armed individuals from the factions including the "Future" movement [Hariri's group] and the Progressive Socialist Party [Jumblatt] were deployed in the streets and fired on those who opposed them, burned cars, and offices of the Syrian National Socialist Party, the result being 3 dead and around 250 wounded... And Jumblatt repeated several times on Arab satellite TV that what happened yeterday was the response to the Tuesday of the opposition, and a demand that they leave Beirut.
And Al-Akhbar explains in a lengthy piece inside the paper by Ibrahim al-Amin what the government factions are hoping to accomplish with this, under the heading: "The government accelerates fitna and bloodshed, having felt that its collapse is near". His introductory point is that while the government continues to say it is being opposed by a minority sponsored by Syria and Iran, what it is doing is working to change nature of the confrontation from a political one to a sectarian one, by relying on "mobilization" by its constituent factions (Jumblatt's group and others), with the particular aim of making this a matter between Sunni and Shia, thus drawing in regional and international support.
And they [the government faction leaders] think that the occurrence of a catastrophe of that nature would bring them two things: (1) First, it would pull Hizbullah, as the top Shiia organization, into direct controntation with the "Future" [movement led by Hariri] as the top Sunni organization, and this would mean that both the official Arab establishment and the Arab street would get involved, making this a situation like that of Iraq in that respect (in spite of the important differences). And the United States, along with France, have found the most fired-up people for this task in Walid Jumblatt and Samir Geagea [leader of the "Lebanese Forces" Christian group] and leaders of the "Future" movement, all of whom find in this strategy the only way to prevent comprehensive political change in Lebanon...and [I think this is his point number (2)] Jumblatt wants to recover complete and absolute leadership of all of the Druze population of Lebanon, with all the revenue that goes with it in blood and money in times of civil war; and Geagea, for his part, thinks this strategy will make the Christian street turn to him as the person who knows best how to defend them. And one of the things they get from their alliance with the "Future" movement is regime-leadership [and hopefully a way to finesse the eventual need for a Shiite partner in the coalition].
In other words, what the opposition paper Al-Akhbar is saying is that the proponents of violence and fitna are the gangs that constitute the governing coalition, and they have motives both local (recovery by Jumblatt and Geagea of complete control over the Druze and Christian areas respectively) and non-local (since they can't put down Hizbullan on their own, they need to get the region and the US involved by turning this into a Sunni-Shiia conflict).

Al-Akhbar focuses on the threat of violence from within the Christian factions

Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar, which supports the opposition, said the main follow-up actions by the Lebanese army, following the general strike on Tuesday, consisted in searches and arrests relating to alleged arming and mobiliation of groups connected to the militia of the right-wing Christian group called "Lebanese Forces", led by Samir Geagea. The Al-Akhbar piece says there were indications during the confrontations on Tuesday that the LF was planning to attack the other, rival, Christian group, led by Michel Aoun, the "Free Patriotic Movement", which is allied with Hizbullah.

In other words, it appears immediate threat of armed escalation was seen to be in a confrontation between the right-wing Christians of the LF, and those of the Aoun group that support the opposition, and not in confrontation either between the government and the opposition, or even between opposition-groups and government-supporting groups. This could be seen as an illustration of the point made yesterday by the Al-Akhbar columnist Joseph Samaha, to the effect that the patchwork nature of the alliances, rather than any coherent government approach, that accounts for the current danger (the first of the three points listed there).

Al-Akhbar offers little detail beyond what has been in the fragmentary Reuters reports, on the unexpected Saudi-Iranian talks, reportedly aimed at finding a solution to the Lebanese crisis. The Al-Akhbar piece starts off like this:
On the day following the general strike, called by the opposition and accompanied by protests, which forces within government-factions turned into a bloody day, the political picture appeared exceptionally complicated, with the continuation of Saudi-Iranian communications, about which little is know, except that Arab diplomatic sources said this could result in an agreement that would be announced by Saudi foreign minister Saud al-Faisal at the end of the "Paris 3" conference in the form of an initiative destined to find a solution, and meanwhile tension continued in statements by government-factions which are intent on mobiling their masses in order to take action soon. ["Tension" is involved because it is] known that security and political follow-up yesterday showed that the "Lebanese Forces" had recruited over 800 members with all their arms, intending various types of activity, and that persons in the government factions were involved in transporting them from place to place along with quantities of arms, which prompted government security officers to step up searches in various districts, which resulted in the arrest of a32 people, most of them from the "Lebanese Forces".
And among the details, we read things like this:
And there appears to be information about the involvement of other government-faction people, including members of parliament, who tried to use their vehicles, which enjoy immunity, to transport armed members of the "Lebanese Forces" intent on wiping out people they said belonged to the "Free Patriotic Movement" [and other factions]...
In other words, although nothing seems to be known with certainty, there does seem to have been a sense of urgency, at least on the part of the Saudis (who initiated the contacts with Iran), and that the immediate trigger may well have been the threat of seeing this turned into armed confrontations, starting with intra-Christian settling of accounts.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

An Egyptian liberal looks at an Iraq-Egypt parallel

Egyptian authorities arrested more Muslim Brotherhood members yesterday, continuing the regime's intensified campaign to intimidate and weaken the group. There was a lengthy analysis by Fahmy Howeydi recently in Asharq al-Awsat that helps to bring this into focus in conjunction with events in the Mideast region as a whole.

Having reviewed recent features, extent and implications of the Egyptian government's attack on the Muslim Brotherhood, the writer outlines three theories on why the government is doing this at the present time. (1) It could be to build justification for proposed constitutional amendments further limiting a variety of civil freedoms; (2) It could be specific to the Brotherhood, to weaken it ahead of expected regime-rollover in 2010, and to clip its wings following the Hamas election, the Hizbullah victory, and the election of Brotherhood affiliated persons in a number of other Arab countries recently; or (3) Possibly the aim is to push Egyptians to look for alternatives to the Brotherhood by casting this pall of terror over their activities.

This is all still speculation, the writer says, but two related points are crystal clear:
The first is that the door has been shut in the face of the Brotherhood, eliminating any prospect of its participation in the political life of Egypt at least until further notice [this is a group that has 88 members in parliament as a result of the recent election]. And the second is that the civil war that the country has witnessed for at least the last half-century, in which the government supports certain secularists on one side, with the Islamists on the other side--this war has become open and wide-ranging, for reasons that are known only to Allah. Both of these points are harmful to the country and offer no benefit whatsoever.
In the broader Mideast context, Howeydi makes this observation:
It is one of the paradoxes of our times that just when Iraq is slipping into a futile war between Shiia and Sunni, and there are repeated reports about a supposed Arab closing of the ranks, for the formation of a Sunni alliance to face the co-called Shiite crescent, and Egypt is a candidate to be a leading member of this--at the same time this "Sunni" Egypt is drifting into its own futile war, this one against political Islam, represented by the Muslim Brotherhood. It is as if we are facing two futile wars, one Shiia-Sunni of a sectarian character, and the other Sunni-Sunni, primarily of a political character.
With respect to the Egyptian regime's war against political Islam, Howeydi says it isn't even the specific threat to the Brotherhood that concerns him so much as the new campaign to limit the scope of political activity generally. And he offers a spirited nutshell version of the liberal-democratic creed about common strength and energy through diversity, concluding that even a problem like like normalization with Israel might actually be easier if the Brotherhood was in charge, given that one of their themes is "acceptance of the other"...

It is a statement with the strengths and weaknesses of liberalism. He underlines the common futility of both of these "futile wars" and shows how they both work to no common advantage. But he doesn't broach the question: how did this situation come about. What factors or forces common to the region are squeezing the political life out of Egypt? In this respect, the theme of "subservience to America to the point of exhaustion" broached by Abdulbari Atwan recently in an Egyptian paper has perhaps more resonance.

Lebanese government looking for a security-related solution to a political crisis

No doubt there are readers who know a lot about Lebanon, and those who know little, like myself. The general strike yesterday, in the opinion of everyone, represented an important new stage in the controntation between the government and the opposition, so it seems like a good idea to try and orient the know-little party including myself, via this summary of the meaning of yesterday's events by a widely-read Lebanese columnist. He makes three main points: (1) The standoff in the country is in part geographical, with areas yesterday under the control of the strikers, other areas not, and other areas mixed; the patchwork nature of this, underlined yesterday, contributes to instability. (2) Not only does the government not control the country as a whole geographically, it doesn't even control major "national" institutions, many of which have severed their relation to central authority, so what the government is defending is not a true government, but a phantom government. (3) The government sees the problem as one of the good citizens versus the scoundrels and the criminals and the terrorists, hence is looking for a security-related or military solution to the problem; luckily in this case the military authorities are the more politically sensitive. But this does not make for stability, rather for further buildup of tensions.

Joseph Samaha writes in Al-Akhbar about the general strike yesterday in Lebanon:
My first point is that there was deliniated a political (military?) map that was quite clear, with areas comletely participating in the general strike, those not participating, and those conflicted about it, with new lines of contact, and so some degree the tensions rose with any interactions between the areas, and the conflict penetrated within sects themselves pitting one part against another.

Secondly: The opposition accusation against the government to the effect that it monopolizes power needs to be modified, because it was obvious yesterday that there are areas, neighborhoods, towns and cities where the authority of the government is practically non-existent. The government is unable to administer the national life generally, and in fact it is unable even to call together all of the members of its parliament...There are ministries and national institutions that have severed any connection with the government, making it impossible for the "center" to operate or to have any oversight over them [the ministries and national institutions in question]. And the most starkly obvious case of that is the gap between the government and the security forces, and we will come back to that point [below in point 3].

It was made obvious yesterday that the opposition is able to prevent the government from governing, in other words they are able to demonstrate the full scope of the fictitiousness of its "authority", so the logical upshot would be to have the government restructure itself so as to include more of the elements that are now outside of it, thus becoming more in line with the actual reality of the country. What president Fouad Siniora is doing, and at great cost, is not the defence of authority (sulta: in this case meaning governmental authority), but rather a defence of a phantom of authority.

Third: Since the first announcement of this general strike, the PR and political machine has mounted a campaign to put extraordinary pressure on the security forces, and this reached a climax yesterday with March 14 leaders making accusations aganst the military [for not doing enough]...but the role that they [purport to] assign to the military is based on a fundamentally wrong view of the crisis: The government side says this is an eternal battle between the tradesmen and fellow-citiens and government employees and students and persioners on the one side, and on the other side the crooks and the coup-schemers and the troublemakers and the mercenaries and the terrorists and the highway robbers, and this kind of designation leads to an obvious conclusion in terms of "orders of the day".

By contrast, it appears that the army leadership itself has a better grasp at the political level of what the country is facing.... In other words, the political invitation to solve this political question via security measures has not met with the consent of the military leadership.
Samaha adds this situation only leads to further buildup to dangerous levels of tension, as long as the government side continues to see the crisis in the above-described way.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

A word to the wise

Al-Hayat tells about yesterday's big car-bomb attack at a central Baghdad market in this way:
"Unknown persons" anticipated the beginning of the new security plan in Baghdad by blowing up two cars in the "poor peoples' market" leading to the deaths of 88 persons of various affiliations [meaning not predominantly Shiite or Sunni] and injuries, many of them serious, to a large number of marketers and customers. ... The vehicles exploded yesterday afternoon at the Haraj market, which specializes in used goods and clothing. It is only separated from the fortified Green Zone by the Bridge of the Republic, and it is considered a central meeting place for poor people of Baghdad of all sects.

And these violent operations--which follow the start of implementation of the new American strategy of sending 21,000 additional troops to strengthen security in Baghdad--shed light on a change in the nature of the violent operations, which have now come to target large groups of people of mixed affiliations, on the model of the [recent] targeting of Mustansariya University and the Bunuk neighborhood in east Baghdad. And this is being done at the same time as the security plan announced by Prime Minister Maliki, to divide the capital into nine districts, each to be controlled by a special force of 3000 Iraqi and American soldiers.
The Al-Hayat reporter doesn't elaborate or speculate on possible reasons for this tendency to target mixed-sect groups. But it is clear than as between sectarian-motivated and resistance-motivated, his interpretation is that this has many of the earmarks of the latter: Timed for the start of the new American strategy; right next to the Green Zone; and targeting a group that isn't particularly of one sect or the other.

(At the same time, Americans are being told this is sectarian-motivated. See this:
The Sunni guerillas killing of over 100 Shiites [!] in Baghdad and Khalis on Monday was therefore no ordinary carnage, even in an Iraq where to have 70 persons blown up by a single bomb is no longer a novelty to say the least. But for it to be done during these days is to drive Shiites wild with grief, to push them to take revenge. It is to universalize the martyrdom of Husayn, making all Shiites martyrs. The guerrilla movement depends on people taking revenge, from every side. )

Monday, January 22, 2007

Opposite interpretations of the Sadrists' return to Parliament

Aswat al-Iraq published yesterday the bare bones of the Sunday press-conference at which the president of Parliament announced the return of the Sadrist bloc to parliamentary and government activities, citing an agreement to study the Sadrist demands by a five-party parliamentary committee, and a remark by a non-Sadrist in the UIA to the effect all the parties agree on the essence of what the Sadrists are demanding, and the differences have to do with technical issues of implementation. Al-Hayat this morning adds important details. Among the demands are a resolution to the effect that the American military presence in Iraq will not be extended (beyond its current UN justification) without the approval of the Iraqi parliament, and that there will be deadlines for the handover of security to the Iraqi forces.

And one of the Sadrist members at the press conference said there was also agreement with the government that Sadrist persons arrested will be released over the coming weeks, starting with Abdul Hadi al-Darraji who will be released "in the coming hours". The Sadrist member, Nassar al-Rubaie, added that the negotiations that have been going on over the recent period of time have resulted in "cutting down major ostacles separating the political parties, respecting the need to expel the American forces from the country since they have become persona non grata".

A spokesman for the Kurdish coalition in parliament welcomed the return of the Sadrists, noting that their absense has contributed to the inability deal with major issues in Parliament for the lack of quorums. There isn't any elaboration on what issues they have in mind in particular.

It should be noted that of course Al-Hayat has no pro-Sadr or even anti-occupation tinge whatsoever, and this is something that should lend weight to their representation of this event as a bona fide rapprochement of some kind between the Sadrists and the other parties.

(The opposite view is that this is nothing but a mililtary tactic, with "Moqtada and his followers ly[ing] low in times when they are under direct military pressure...and are storing their arms in their closets". Cole cites with approval an AP story that says "Iraq's prime minister has dropped his protection of an anti-American cleric's Shiite militia after U.S. intelligence convinced him the group was infiltrated by death squads, two [anonymous] officials said Sunday.")

Saturday, January 20, 2007

What America wanted Mubarak to do (but they found him useless)

(With apologies to reader anonymous who called attention to this interesting article, this is only a short summary, with a few extracts. The article is by Abdulbari Atwan, who is editor in chief of Al-Quds al-Arabi, but this piece isn't in that paper, but rather in today's edition of the Egyptian paper Al-Shaab, from where it was also picked up by a Libyan paper called Akhbar Libya).

Atwan writes that anyone who knows Hosni Mubarak knows what when he is upset with something he can't help letting people around him know about it, so people know that following the recent visit of Condoleeza Rice he has been quite upset and puzzled about why the United States seems to be so angry: What to they want us to do that we aren't already doing, asks Mubarak. Atwan says the anxiety and the bitterness are understandable, but what he doesn't get is why Murarak is in the dark about the reasons. America is facing deteriorating crises in the region: Afghanistan is going from one failure to another. Iraq has turned into a nightmare. Confrontation with Iran is extremely close if not closer, and is awaiting only the trigger-mechanism.
In these circumstances, the United States is looking to its allies in the region for help, but what the United States finds is that these allies themselves [far from being able to help the United States solve any of its crises] are themselves in need of help, in fact they are a millstone around its neck.
Things were different back in the day, when the US picked Egypt along with Israel to be its bulwark in the region, giving Egypt $50 billion over 30 years to make it an economic power; or before than when Egypt was leader of the non-aligned movement, and a highly-regarded leader in Africa as well. Now Egypt is none of those things. It no longer has anything to do with security in the Gulf, its mediator role in Palestine has shrunk to almost nothing, and as for Africa, Egypt attends the opening session of regional meetings then packs its bags again for home, adopting as its position whatever the Libyan authorities say, and far from being widely influential Mubarak doesn't even have a clear idea what the nature of the conflict is in Darfur, which is right on his border.
It is this lack of seriousness, the miniaturiation of the Egyptian role to its lowest limit, the lack of prestige in the Arab or the wider world, that have made it a punching-bag for the Americans, and caused the recent anger of the American administration. It is because American has counted on an Egyptian role in the Arab and the wider world, only to find that the Egyptian role not only no longer offers America anything useful, but on the contrary has become a liability.
And Atwan explains what the Americans were hoping Egypt could do for them, as follows:
What Ms Rice wants from Egypt is to lead the Arab world in boxing in Hamas and voiding their recent election of any meaning, but it turns out that the Egyptian leader hasn't the ability to play that role, and how could he, when he refused to even meet with a Hamas delegation when they were in Cairo, for fear of offending Israel! And she wants Mubarak to lead a campaign of incitement against Iran and its nuclear program and its growing influence in the region; but he isn't able to to that either, his domestic position being too weak, his Arab influence is even weaker, and his PR without influence or credibility...
But most important of all, writes Atwan:
Ms Rice wants President Mubarak to create an Arab situation or state of affairs in Iraq, based on the American approach in Kuwait, namely via a strong Arab/Islamic core that would be able to fill any gap left by any withdrawing foreign power. But that too he is unable to do, first because he fears his own people, second because of his inability to convince any of his neighbors, and third because there isn't any respect for his leadership in the Islamic world. To be really brief about it, the United States has used the Egyptian regime in an exaggerated way, squeezing it to the limit, and now it finds that the Egyptian regime is of no more use to it, just as it is of no use to its people, or to the region either. It has become a giant, but without teeth and without charm or grace either.

Allawi positions himself as nationalist savior of Iraq, and a big Saudi paper supports him

Asharq al-Awsat prints a lengthy interview with former Iraqi prime minister Iyad Allawi, head of the parliamentary group known as the Iraqi National List, and also known as the Wifaq (accord) Movement. There are a number of points worth underlining, among them: (1) This Saudi-oriented newspaper appears to be supporting Allawi in his not-so-veiled suggestions that the Maliki administration could be ousted by parties holding the positions Allawi holds; (2) although Allawi's group is part of the government in the technical parliamentary sense, he very clearly distances himself from it; (3) he attributes failure of negotiations with the Baath, in part, to the fact that the Maliki government isn't serious about what has been called the Sunni outreach or national reconciliation; (4) In saying that the Maliki administration doesn't have much more time, Allawi ties together a number of conditions: he says Maliki has to disband the militias and get serious about Sunni outreach and appoint "non-sectarian" people to the key positions in government. A tall order, suggesting that Allawi, like Bush, probably sees toppling him as a matter of time. Here are a few of the specific points in the interview:

Allawi told the interviewer that although his Iraqi List voted for the appointment of Maliki as Prime Minister and supports him in parliament, there are two qualifications: First, his group has no participation in the executive function of the government, and second, the group is thinking of "changing its position", something Allawi explains as follows:
This is not a government of national unity but a government of sectarian quotas, and it doesn't represent national accord. We reluctantly participate in it, in an attempt to cause improvement so that the government might be admonished and become a true government of national unity. However, since the time-limit we set for that has passed, we are taking a different and a new position which we are starting to study internally, seeing that there is a limit to the usefulness of participating in an executive government where we have no participation in the actual executive function...
One of the big failures of the Maliki administration, says Allawi, is the failure to get anywhere in negotiations with the Sunni resistance. He puts it this way:
Question: Is there a real Iraqi resistance?

Allawi: Certainly there is a real resistance, and the Americans are talking to them just as they are talking to the Baathists, and that is currently going on, but it doesn't look as if it is going anywhere.

Question: Who do you mean by "Baathists"?

Allawi: I am talking about the official representatives of the Baath party, and they have been talking to the coalition states at a high level, and among [the interlocutors] are the Americans, but it hasn't gone anywhere, and one of the reasons for that is that one of the coalition states told them to negotiate with the [Iraqi] government, and the answer came back that they don't recognize the Iraqi government because it doesn't represent Iraq in reality, moreover our brothers in the government don't want to change their policy with respect to de-Baathification. On the contrary, they want to confirm that approach, and they oppose any of the nationalist approaches, even those that aren't connected to the Baath, for instance that is what happened to us as the National Iraqi List or as the Wifaq (accord) Movement...
It should be noted that Allawi joins together the issues of (1) Sunni outreach (negotiations/national reconciliation); (2) dissolution of all the militias (but clearly mainly the Mahdi Army); and (3) what he calls the system of quotas. In expressing this, Allawi is suggesting his group shares with the Baathists the status of victims of government persecution. For instance, Allawi said a member of his Iraqi List who won a seat in the December 2005 election was disqualified under the de-Baathification system even though he was never a Baathist, but a Communist who opposed Saddam. And he said there are other examples of persecution of members of his group under the Maliki administration. In fact, Allawi goes on:
There is a big campaign against us, and this reflects the lack of any real drive [by the government] in the direction of national reconcilation, which was started by participants in the political process, and we are ourselves played a fundamental role in that...and for that reason we have decided to withdraw our earlier stance [of active cooperation] and be very precise: If the government is serious about ending the [system of sectarian] quotas, and disbanding the militias, and being serious in the matter of national reconciliation, then I have told Maliki that we will be his strategic support, but if the government is not serious about this program, then it is a different story.

Al-Hayat: US provocations could foreshadow military confrontation with the Sadrists

The US military said the following in a statement yesterday: "In an Iraqi-led operation, special Iraqi army forces captured a high-level, illegal armed group leader during operations with coalition advisers." The person in question was Abdul-Hadi al-Darraji, described by the Sadrists as a media spokesman for their movement.

Al-Hayat notes the peculiar fact that although this was an Iraqi-led operation, the announcement was by the American forces. The newspaper explains:
The opinion of observers is that the announcement by the American forces, affirming the execution of this by Iraqi forces, is an attempt to present the Maliki administration with new provocations [or challenges]...[given the fact that] the government is still concerned about its lack of control over part of the Iraqi army which takes its orders directly from the Americans, and carries out special operations, most notably raids on Shiite mosques or the arrest and killing of politicians and religious figures. And Shiite politicians call this the "dirty unit".
There are two issues here: One is whether or not the people being targeted are persons genuinely involved in violence, or whether on the contrary they are Sadr-organization civilian officials whose targeting is designed to draw the entire Sadr organization into a military confrontation. Sadrists said al-Darraji is a media-relations person and isn't even in the Mahdi army. On this issue, the Al-Hayat reporter reminds readers of the killing late last month by American forces of Sahib al-Amari (or Aamiri, if you're doing a search), a well-known member of the Sadrist current in that city [active in charitable work and by all accounts the least likely person imaginable to accuse of violence], in spite of the fact that supposedly the security responsibilities there had been conveyed to the Iraqis. [On the important and under-reported story of Sahib al-Aamiri, please see the attached comment by MarkfromIreland.]

The second issue is the one raised by the above remarks by the Al-Hayat reporter. If these are units of the Iraqi army that answer directly to the American forces, and the targets are political and provocative rather than bona fide law-enforcement, then this is not a case of Bush-Maliki cooperation in the eradication of violence. Rather these events would appear to be forerunners of an all-out military attack by the Americans against the largest popular movement in the country, and one that supports the Prime Minister in parliament. And in that case the model isn't any war on violent extremism or whatever the term is supposed to be, but rather something much more dangerous for everyone concerned.

Friday, January 19, 2007

The plot thickens: Baath resistance accuses Syria of plotting with America

Al-Hayat, in an article datelined Baghdad-London-Washington, explains the Maliki-Bush exchange of critical remarks as follows:
Observers said this kind of criticism [by Bush] is something he needs to do to placate his political opponents both domestic and foreign. [And later in the piece the reporter adds] "this is to emphasize Washington's seriousness in the application of this new policy, and the fact that there isn't unlimited time for [Baghdad] to bear its responsibility"]. And on the other side, it makes the Iraqi government appear to its own people to be in the commanding position.
An American official familiar with the Iraqi developments explained to the reporter, with reference to Maliki's continuing complaints about not enough power and authority for the Iraqi army:
Everyone is in agreement that the strengthening the Iraqi army and training the Iraqi security forces are the key to stability in Iraq, and there is common disappointment at the slowness. And the American official added that strengthening Iraqi government authority in security matters is directly related to [the ability to] make progress on the political level and in the process of [domestic] agreement and reconciliation. But he added that Washington isn't offering any free lunch to the Iraqi government in this, and it has to live up to its comitments.
So in the matter of the mutual accusations between Bush and Maliki, Al-Hayat's Washington sources say this is merely to let each side score points with its domestic audience, and not a sign of any real breakdown in the common effort.

On a topic of more structural importance, both Al-Hayat and Al-Quds al-Arabi report on an apparent split among the Iraqi Baathists, with one wing, led by one Muhamad al-Yunis al-Ahmad, making what appear to be plans for joining the Baghdad political process. And the move is bitterly criticized by the resistance group headed by Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri. The news-hook for this is a plan by the Yunis group to hold what is described as a joint council in Damascus, which among other things would join together the Syrian and Iraqi branches of the Baath party, estranged for 30 years now, but whose more important function would be to offer to join in the Baghdad political process based on the following deal: The de-Baathification law would be repealed, the party would be legalized, it would agree to participate in the political process, including competitive elections and so on, and it would agree to criticize terrorist groups that kill civilians.

There are two documents expressing the resistance wing's opposition to this. One is a personal message signed by Douri (who was a vice president under Saddam, the only one of his top people who are still at large, and is thought to be leading the Baath armed resistance), and the other a declaration signed the "national leadership" of the Baath party. The latter said this is a plot or a scheme by the American occupation against the Baath party, and it accused Syria of having a hand in it by hosting the proposed conference. The aim, the statement said, is to get rid of the leadership in the defence of Iraq, namely the [Baath] party, and insert it [the party] into the regime of Syria, which is a natural ally of Tehran.

The document signed by Douri attacked Yunis and his group, and urged "defenders of the party outside of Iraq to oppose these people who are scheming with the occupation and with Syrian intelligence, and isolate them [the Yunis group]."

Meanwhile, Iraqi president Talabani, in Damascus, said Baghdad is preparing extradition requests for the return of former-regime persons accused of crimes (embezlement and so on) living in Syria. He added he thinks Douri is living in Yemen.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Baath Party urges the resistance to focus on Iran and America, avoiding "sectarian provocations"

The Iraqi Baath party, in a statement following the execution of Barzan al-Tikriri and Awad Bandar, summarized in Al-Quds al-Arabi, today Thursday January 18, condemned the executions as further crimes by the joint American-Iranian occupation designed to inflame civil war, and stressed the following point:
The spirit of hatred against Arabs and Arabism is the main common characteristic in the Iranian-American alliance in Iraq....[The executions will eventually be avenged; however] The important and basic thing for the party and for the resistance at the present time is the liberation of Iraq and not being turned aside from this aim in any way, whatever the two American and Iranian occupations may do to try and draw Iraqis into a civil war. For this reason we urge the people of our great Iraq to avoid the machinations of the occupation, and not be drawn into sectarian temptations even if they are dressed up as revenge for the execution of the martyrs and as a response to the crimes and provocations of the Safavid sectarians. These represent the ambitions of the Persians, and not of the Alawi Shiia ["Alawi" being used here possibly in a general sense--the word originally comes from the name of Ali ibn Abi Talib, son-in-law of the Prophet Mohammed-- as a way of referring to Shiites or some Shiites as true Muslims, as opposed to other terms that imply they are not]. The killer of our heros is America and Iran, and not any true Iraqi, in the final analysis it is Iranian intelligence and its agents of Iranian origin. Our people must remember this, and focus all of their attacks and their responses against the Iranian and the American occupations, avoiding all sectarian provocations, and in response always adhering to the national bond that unites all of the Iraqi people from the south to the north, and not sectarian rhetoric.

Samaha warns that the Arab states have significant popular support in signing on with the US

Joseph Samaha in his regular column in Al-Akhbar says Condoleeza Rice returned to Washington with the "moderate coalition" in her handbag, and he stresses this isn't just another minor Arab concession to the Americans. He describes the communique of her Kuwait meeting of the eight Gulf foreign ministers plus those of Jordan and Egypt as
...a declaration we can think of as the founding document of the new axis, or as the working document for the establishment of an important turning-point in the history of our region, because it is tantamount to the Arab states signing on unconditionally to the American policy, and the outline of a procedure for the demise of Arab specificity, and the establishment of dangerous internal and regional tensions.
He describes with mock-admiration Rice's "surreal" accomplishments in getting the Arab ministers to agree to an augmentation in the US occupation of Iraq as a thwarting of outside intervention in that country. And while he agrees that while the clause about modifying the Iraqi constitution to permit wider (Sunni) participation is perhaps justified, he notes that the ministers' stance on Lebanon, echoing the American position, is for exactly the opposite, namely absolute defence of the status quo and denial of the opposition's efforts to secure wider participation.

Samaha says there appear to have been some minor differences between Rice and the Arab ministers respecting Iraq policy, but he adds:
...they put all their conditions in a form so as to be consistent with the American conditions, the focus of their concern in this being the relationship with the occupation. In fact, it is clear that Iraqi sovereignty was not on their minds. Rather, they were doing what they have learned from historical experience to do: keeping their sect or tribe or family in power by mortgaging it to good relations with the foreign colonialist.
But Samaha emphasizes the regional tensions being set up by this particular agreement make this a particularly dangerous thing for the Arab states to do. And he warns in conclusion that there is popular support for this, because it is seen by many not as linking up with the Americans, but rather as confronting the Iranian threat. He writes:
It is important to grasp that this official Arab stance has significant popular support, because it can be marketed from the standpoint of standing up to Iran and its ambitions, rather than from the standpoint of joining with the Americans. This is a thesis that has a resonance that cannot be ignored....

Saudi paper prints speculation on Allawi as head of a military government in Iraq

Asharq al-Awsat this morning summarizes interview comments by four Iraqi politicians all of them predicting the demise of the Maliki government and speculating on or predicting the establishment of an emergency government of national salvation or a military government. However the choice of interviewees is not exactly a representative sampling. The four are: Adnan Pachachi, who is currently a member of Ayad Allawi's group and a supporter of his; Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish member of the Iraqi parliament who is not associated with either of the two big Kurdish pasrties but is a member of the Kurdish parliamentary coalition; a spokesman for the Muslim Scholars Association; and Izzat al-Shabandar, another member of Allawi's group.

All four criticize Maliki for failing to live up to the commitments that were made at the time his government was formed, and for failing to control the Shiite militia, and all four say this disqualifies him from continuing to head the government. All four speculate about the demise of his administration, and none of them talks about succession in parliamentary terms. More particularly:

Pachachi said the new American strategy has to be implemented in collaboration with a competent Iraqi force, which however doesn't exist, and it would require a big effort to restructure them. He suggested replacing the American troops with an international force under the commend of the UN and including Arab forces. He also said that as for the Maliki administration, it should be replaced by an emergency government or a government of national salvation, to be led by "a strong person who is not sectarian," and he said he likes Ayad Allawi for that position.

Othman said: The new American "strategy" isn't a strategy at all, but merely a stop-gap, adding that the Bush administration expects more chaos this year than last, and probably they will have recourse at some point to forming an "emergency national salvation government" or a "military government". Othman added this isn't something that will be doable without big problems and strong opposition. He apparently didn't elaborate, or if he did the journalist left it out.

Izzat al-Shabandar, another member of Allawi's "Iraqi List" parliamentary coalition, agreed that the US will probably consider switching from Malaki to a government of national salvation, and he said the strongest opposition to that will come from the United Iraqi Alliance, "which is not prepared to lose its grip on the government under any circumstances". (Shabandar said Maliki seems to be on the same page with Bush, or at least he has convinced Bush of that, and Maliki should be able to use the support of the US, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan to stabilize the situation, but if he can't then the emergency government scenario will kick in).

The journalist also interviewed a spokesman for the Muslim Scholars Association who said Maliki should resign before the people kick him out. But he didn't speculate on whast might follow.

As noted above, this is far from a representative sampling of Iraqi, including as it does two Allawi supporters out of three members of parliament, but it is interesting at least as an expression of one line of thinking. Asharq al-Awsat said to be owned by one of the members of the ruling Saud family, and in any event it is close to the regime. So this apparent cheerleading for Allawi as a potential leader of a "non-sectarian" military government is worth paying attention to.

(Juan Cole says Pachachi "urged that a new government be formed around Nuri al-Maliki", but that is something he inadvertently made up. The reporter wrote: "Pachachi [said he] thinks the alternative to the present situation is 'the formation of an emergency government, or a government of national unity, able to assure security and stability, led by a strong and non-sectarian person, who doesn't believe in sectarian quotas, and I think Dr Ayad Allawi is the right person for the job, because he is a Shiite but would be acceptable to most Shiites and Sunnis and Kurds and non-Muslims in the formation of a government to face the current situation, especially as to security and ending the militias' control of the streets'".)

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Informed Comment

Here's an interesting exchange between a belligerent anti-Sunni position on the one side, and a national-reconciliation position on the other. First the triumphalist position:
I was at a public event on Thursday night and someone asked me why the Sunni Arabs didn't just take the best deal they could get. I replied that they think they are the real majority of the country, or that is the public pose (requiring them to invent a million Iranian Shiite infiltrators to explain all those extra Shiites). They think they can push the Americans around and maybe even push them out of the country. They think once the US is gone, they will have a better, not worse chance, at regaining something like their former political ascendence. In other words, they seem to be living in a dangerous fantasy land. Juan Cole on the Sunni Arabs of Iraq on December 10, 2004
Here's the rebuttal:
We should be clear why these bombings are taking place. It is because Bush's policy in Iraq was total victory, along with his Shiite and Kurdish allies, over the previously dominant Sunni Arabs. Bush did this thing as a zero sum game, one where there is only one pie and if one person gets a bigger piece, someone else gets a tiny sliver. The Sunni Arabs-- among the best educated and most capable people in the country-- were offered the tiny sliver. They won't accept US troops in their country for the most part, and won't accept reduction to a small powerless minority. They have succeeded in provoking the Shiites to form guerrilla groups and engage in reprisal killings, as well, as a way of destabilizing the country. Bush's allies won't share power and wealth with them, and Bush himself keeps pushing for what he calls "victory." Today is what his victory looks like after nearly 4 years, and it is highly unlikely to look different any time soon. Juan Cole on the Iraqi Sunnis on January 16, 2007
OK, so it isn't really a debate. It looks like a debate, but really the conflict of opinions reflects the fact that in December 2004 it was American policy to foster the SCIRI/Kurd alliance and limit the Sunnis to "the best deal they could get." Now it is American policy to lure more Sunnis into the political process with promises of constitutional change, de-deBaathification and so on, in other words to reverse the former policy and offer them more than that "tiny sliver".

Had Cole criticized the Bush "total victory" strategy back in December 2004, when the chances of national reconciliation were a lot better than they are now, he would have made a valuable contribution to creating an enlightened American public opinion.

(Cole isn't alone in saying enlightened things only once they are enshrined as US policy. Here is Saudi foreign minister Saud al-Faisal, speaking yesterday about Iraqi political strategy: "[He] renewed his insistence on bringing about Iraqi national unity among all its population, with their different organizations and races and political orientations, although of course that is to be done on the principles of equality and of equal rights and duties, and sharing in the wealth [of the country]." And the Al-Hayat reporter explains that the Saudi statement included a call for "making certain adjustments in the Iraqi constitution to ensure the participation of all groups in the political process," a reference to the national-reconcilitation themes of easing de-Baathification and/or the federalism issue.)

In December 2004, a national-reconciliation approach might have offered hope for stability in Iraq. A Badger T-shirt to any reader who can provide a link to an American opinion-maker who pointed that out at the time. Now, by contrast, the rhetoric of national reconciliation seems to have mostly the function of providing cover of various kinds, most important being cover for Sunni Arab regimes to support American belligerence vis-a-vis Iran.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Atwan: Qualms about Iraq won't affect the countdown to an attack on Iran

Abdulbari Atwan says in front-page editorial in Al-Quds al-Arabi Tuesday January 16 that the Gulf states plus Jordan and Egypt are going to approve, at their meeting in Kuwait with Condoleeza Rice, the new Bush strategy in Iraq, "and in particular that part relating to blocking the influence of Iran and Syria, and preparing for a major confrontation with Iran". The particularly dangerous nature of this, he says, lies in the fact that Bush in his final two years in office is trying to save face, and obtain "some kind of a victory in Iraq", that he can use as a basis for his next war against Iran to wipe out its nuclear program.

He says the "reservations" that were expressed by the Egyptian foreign minister, respecting promises to the Sunnis in Iraq (changing the constitution, dealing with the militias, and so on) are nothing more than a smokescreen, and won't affect the granting of Arab cover for American military action against Iran.
The countdown to an attack on Iran has begun [Atwan writes] and practical steps for implementation are proceeding, and it can't be ruled out that Israel could start with air strikes using tactical nuclear weapons, with America standing ready to defend it in the event of retaliatory attacks by Iran. American warships are pouring into the Gulf; the price of gold is on the rise; stock prices on the Gulf stock markets are in continuous collapse, for instance the Saudi stock index has lost 50% of its value in the past year, and these are indicators that war is practically a sure thing.
Atwan says the "temporary borders" scheme in Palestine is to placate the Arab states, who have asked Rice to do something for the Palestinians, in order to give them cover for allying with Israel in this confrontation with Iran. And to add insult to injury the "negotiations" are being conducted by Abbas on his own, as if the majority Hamas government didn't exist.

But the focus of Atwan's attack is the Arab heads of state. While Europeans and even US Republicans have demanded that Bush concede defeat in Iraq, the Arab leaders are too stupid to see that backing him up in this new strategy will lead them to a new and greater catastrophe: that of being caught in the crossfire of a regional confrontation, and being seen as allies of Israel at the same time.

Sunni resistance urged to adapt to the new Bush strategy

Awni al-Qalamji, writing on the opinion page of Al-Quds al-Arabi, urges the Iraqi resistance to unify militarily and politically, something he says has become a more urgent priority in the face of the new Bush strategy. His analysis of the Bush strategy goes like this:

First, this is not just one of those showy displays of arrogance for which Bush is known. Rather, it is an expression of the determination of America not to admit defeat in its imperial effort, whether in terms of control of Iraqi resources, or in terms of Israel and regional power. It isn't just a question of re-occupying Baghdad and Ramadi. Rather it is the start of the decisive battle to finally eradicate the Iraqi resistance. All of the American harping on the Iranian and the government militias, on ending the sectarian violence, and so on, is all a propagandistic red herring. Which doesn't mean that the resistance and its leaders have been taken in by this, because in fact they are prepared for a fight that is going to be long and debilitating, recognizing as they do the fact that America's vital interests are at stake. In fact it is the seriousness of this for America which forced Bush for the first time to abandon his usual pushy arrogance and instead adopt reason. Thus he admitted mistakes, accepted responsibility, talked about the possibility of defeat, and contronted the American people with what defeat would mean. Even the "reservations" expressed by the Democrats, says Qalamji, suggested basic agreement.

Look at it this way, says Qalamji. Bush warned Maliki that he had to agree to the more-aggressive US military approach; Bush warned Hakim not to put the interests of Iran above those of the United States; Khalilzad warned both of them that the patience of the Americans is running out. Bush warned Talabani and Barzani they have to commit Peshmerga forces to the battle of Baghdad, and they have complied.

And the Sadrists? Here Qalamji says something perhaps unexpected. He says: "Sadr and his army are going to end up as part of the government forces and their armed militia, contrary to the opinion of some who think Sadr is going to be the first target [of the new strategy]. Sadr has served the occupation by turning his army into a promoter of the sectarian violence; he has served the occupation by participating in the "political process"; and also by being a close ally of the US-agent Maliki government. [The implication is that he will serve in other ways too].

Continuing with the "Bush warned" series, Qalamji writes: Bush warned Saudi Arabia and Jordan and Egypt that an American defeat would turn their countries into hotbeds of extremism, threatening their regimes. And more particularly, ahead of the current tour by Condolezza Rice, these Arab regimes were told that Iran had gone too far [in its Baghdad political inroads] and the Arab regimes are expected to make sure that balance is redressed. Qalamji writes: "[Bush supported the Rice tour with] long telephone calls to Hosni Mubarak and the Saudi and Jordanian kings, telling them that Iran had exceeded the bounds of its agreements...and that he [Bush] wanted the restoration of the Sunni position in the Iraqi political process, and if that didn't happen, then the flames of Iranian sectarianianism would burn down their shabby wooden houses". Not surprising, says Qalamji, to see Mubarak recently bestirring himself with suddenly escalated verbal attacks on Iran.

Bush is including Turkey in the group, in exchange for a promise to keep Kirkuk out of the Kurdish bailiwick.

With respect to Iran, Qalamji says the Bush plan is not to attack Iran, as some think, but rather to stop Iran's "encroachments" on what Qalamji calls its "share" or "quota", at the same time using the Iranian issue as a way of getting other Arab states involved in encouraging some of the Sunni resistance to join in the political process.

If Bush is successful in these efforts [to bring about a degree of unity in support of the occupation], and it is quite possible he will be, then, says Qalamji, then "The resistance camp needs to be unified too, militarily, politically and informationally. What the leadership has to do is declare a general mobilization, and at the same time, immediately open lines of communication among all of the forces that oppose the occupation," calling in particular on those groups that have been "hesitating between the two camps [resistance and politics]" to make up their minds and bear their share of the historic responsibility. Qalamji calls for the "establishment of a broad national front, and for the political leadership to announce a joint political program based on the liberation if Iraq, and the establishment of a democratic and pluralistic regime".

(In an op-ed in Al-Quds al-Arabi on October 24, following the disputed vote on procedures for federalism, Qalamji said the environment for the resistance had been made that much better, because of the damage that vote had done to the political process. Now, in the wake of the sectarian troubles and the related Sunni anxieties, Qalamji appears to be saying the environment has become worse again, partly for the opposite reason, namely that Bush is now able to exploit factors pushing Sunnis in the direction of the current political process, and the resistance needs to respond to this).