Monday, April 30, 2007


(1) By way of followup to the "Showdown in Basra" story: Iraqi papers don't seem to mention this, but there is a one-sentence remark in Al-Hayat's Iraq news story this morning that says this:
Al-Hayat learned last evening that the Basra provincial council voted to remove the governor Mohamed Al-Waili, a leader of the Fadhila party, following a security and political firestorm against him, led by the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), following the exit of the Fadhila party from the governing United Iraqi Alliance (UIA). Sources in Basra say British forces escorted Al-Waili to the airport, where he left for an unknown destination.
Although he doesn't offer any details, it is significant that the journalist focuses on SCIRI as the instigator of this, leaving open the question of the role in this of federalism policy, on which Fadhila and SCIRI are at loggerheads. (Fadhila in favor of a small three-province unit; SCIRI in favor of a big nine-province unit that would include its stronghold around Najaf).

(2) There were some doubts about the story last Thursday about the Saudi king having insulted Maliki by failing to be available to meet with him on his Arab-capitals tour last week, because of anonymous sourcing, but since the WaPo has repeated the story as a Certified Fact (also with anonymous sourcing), these doubts have dissipated. And this morning, Al-Quds al-Arabi, in its lead editorial, takes the Saudi insult as Exhibit A in a review of the various ways in which the Maliki administration is weakening day by day, both in terms of internal support (citing the Sadrists defection) and external support. The Al-Quds editorialist connects this with growing speculation about whether the Maliki administration can survive, writing:

The decision of the Saudi king to refuse to meet [with Maliki last week] constitutes a serious blow to Maliki's government, at a time when he faces major difficulties in trying to stay in power, and many observers expect the collapse [of his government] at any moment.

(3) Khalaf al-Alyan, one of the three leaders of the Iraqi Accord Front, the biggest bloc in Parliament, was quoted last week from Amman predicting announcement soon of a multi-bloc coalition to oppose Maliki, is quoted this morning in several Iraqi papers as calling on the rest of the IAF leadership to issue a clear warning to Maliki that they will leave the government if the Adhamiya wall policy is continued, but in the current statements, he appears to have dropped the multi-bloc aspect of this, talking only about the IAF itself. (See this summary of Iraqi papers by Aswat al-Iraq). Alyan's house was raided recently by government forces, who said they found a quantity of weapons there, and his security people arrested. Aswat al-Iraq adds in a later item this morning that Harith al-Abidi, another IAF deputy, said the time hasn't come for the IAF to withdraw from the government. He said he still thinks there are possibilities for intra-government agreement, but "when it becomes clear that the door of discussion is closed, at that point we will say our efforts have no further point, and we will withdraw from the government".

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Hamas--Iraq: A new factor in the Iraqi resistance ?

Apparent efforts by some parts of the domestic Iraqi resistance to negotiate with the Americans, coupled with the efforts by the Qaeda-related Islamic State of Iraq to monopolize the resistance (among other reasons to block any such negotiations), have led to a number of interesting developments, one lasting one being the formation, or re-formation, of something called "Hamas--Iraq," following the split-up of the Brigades of the 1920 Revolution.

There is a lot of background available here on the birth of Hamas--Iraq and its ideology, the most important point being that according to its manifesto, this looks like a group that could be inclined to follow the kind of combined military-political strategy for which the original Palestinian Hamas is known. In theory this might give the Americans a counterparty to negotiate with. Marc Lynch (see the link above) emphasizes that their willingness to negotiate depends on a convincing withdrawal-commitment from the Americans. But there are other issues too.

The Jordanian journalist Mohamed Abu Roman devoted a couple of recent articles to the meaning of Hamas Iraq, and his main point has been to locate the group within the Muslim Brotherhood trend, as opposed to the Salafist trend that has so far dominated the Iraqi resistance. The Muslim Brotherhood, originally Egyptian, now has sub-organizations in a large number of Muslim countries, the most famous being the Egyptian parent organization, and Hamas in Palestine. There are often dramatic differences in the views of these groups between countries, depending on the local political situation, and in fact that is one of the main features of the Ikhwan culture, namely the willingness to work within existing political systems, making alliances and so on, as opposed to Salafi fundamentalism.

Naturally, the formation of an Ikhwan-leaning group within the Iraqi resistance was anathema to the jihadis of the AlQaeda persuasion, and Abu Roman describes their reaction this way:
Within hours of the announcement of the formation of Hamas--Iraq, the public-relations fighting started, with the discussion boards where AlQaeda members are active started a broad campaign against Hamas--Iraq, linking its formation to a Saudi role and a role of other Arab [states], going so far as to call the new group "the Saudi Hizbullah", and they accused the Islamic Party and its leader, Tareq al-Hashimi, vice-president of Iraq, of being behind this. And they said this was tantamount to preparations for a withdrawal of the occupation from the Sunni areas, and handing them over to a force acceptable to the Arab [states] and to the Americans, on condition [this force] would confront the AlQaeda organization.

On the other side of things, the Association of Muslim Scholars welcomed this [via statements by among others] Mohamed Ayesh, considering this an important step as long as the group represents the Muslim masses, adding there was an urgent need for this... There was also clear interest in the birth of a new Hamas movement on the part of Muslim Brotherhood organizations in a number of other countries, and the name was connected with the [Palestinian Hamas] political and ideological program.

And while we can't exclude the idea of an Arab[-regime] "hand" or at the very least an "eye" being involved in the formation of Hamas Iraq, as the AlQaeda people charge, still, the more important point is that this group is closer to the Ikhwani ideas than to the Salafis, and that it represents the beginning of a clear and public military-political role for the Ikhwan on the Iraqi scene, where the resistance has been dominated by a salafi coloration...
So there you have round one: Emergence of an Ikhwan-type "pragmatic" resistance group, immediately denounced by AlQaeda types as a Saudi front, or an instrument by which the Americans would be able to continue their control of Sunni Iraq with Saudi or other Arab-regime help. Abu Roman concedes there could be some degree of involvement by the Arab regimes in the formation of Hamas--Iraq, but he says the more important point is this establishment of an Ikhwan-type organization in the first place, in clear contrast to the salafi fundamentalist approach that he says has characterized the resistance up to now.

But another one of Abu Roman's points was that the Association of Muslim Scholars (the group headed by Harith al-Dhari) welcomed the formation of Hamas--Iraq, another indication, he thinks, of the possibilities for the Iraq-ization of the Ikhwan approach. But immediately there was a protest by an AMS spokesman, who said (1) one of the AMS people Roman cited (Mohamed Ayesh) had left the group to join what is apparently a rival association of Iraqi clerics, and (2) in any event the AMS doesn't have any affinity for the Ikhwan. Abu Roman conceded the first point, but disputed the second, on the basis a lot of the AMS people have Ikhwan backgrounds. We are getting into deep water here, but the point is that the AMS, for its part, immediately distanced itself from the Hamas-Iraq formation, with its Ikhwan-leaning implications.

And there was a second disavowal too. Mohamed Mursi, described as a member of the MB Executive Bureau, issued a statement on the MB website, in which he "denied any links" between the MB and Hamas--Iraq or any other militant organizations in Iraq, adding only that resistance to foreign occupation is legitimate anywhere. Apparently not a very warm welcome from the theoretical allies.

But given the fragmentary and uncertain nature of outside knowledge of the resistance, probably what is important in all of this is that a well-connected observer like Abu Roman sees in the formation of Hamas--Iraq an important new element in the Iraqi resistance, presumably of an Ikhwan-type "pragmatic" inclination, for whatever that might mean, and whatever the support of lack of support they may garner from their theoretical allies in the Muslim Brotherhood.

(There are other issues too: Abu Roman says the original 1920 Brigades, of which Hamas--Iraq is a part, were only third or maybe fourth in importance among the resistance groups (first is Al-Qaeda and its affiliates, and second is the Islamic Army, he says), so it isn't immediately apparent what the relative heft of Hamas--Iraq will be in the overall picture in any event. And secondly, the whole idea of "negotiation" depends on the willingness or otherwise of the Americans to commit to a meaningful withdrawal. Unless of course the chat-board jihadis are correct and this is merely a scheme to put an Arab face on the occupation.)

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Showdown in Basra: The federalism angle

Azzaman, in its London edition (but apparently not in its Baghdad edition) says this:
Meanwhile, in the field, the religious parties in Basra have rallied their militias in preparation for a final showdown over the governorship of the municipality, while residents, frightened, have have been laying in stores of necessities since the violence started spreading three days ago, involving light and medium weapons and mortar. And meanwhile the Iraqi government, which is led by Nuri al-Maliki, continues to adhere to its policy of silence on this issue, demonstrating yet again its inability to stop this expected outbreak of violence in Iraq's third-largest municipality, source of fully one-third of Iraq's crude oil, which is now threatened with stoppage in the event of an outbreak of violence between these militias.
The reporter quotes a government source who said the main opposing militia forces are those of the Fadhila party on the one side (the party of the current governor), and those of a group led by SCIRI and the Badr orgainzation on the other.

Reidar Visser yesterday sent out an explanatory note to bring people to speed on what is going on, and it included this:
In January 2005, the Fadila party won control of the provincial council in Basra, by establishing an alliance with three other parties and thereby sidelining the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). Until now, the junior coalition partners have stood shoulder to shoulder with Fadila during its various challenges - whether from SCIRI, the central government, or, more recently, from Basra supporters of Muqtada al-Sadr. The Harakat al-Daawa (a breakaway faction of the Daawa movement) has been particularly supportive of Fadila’s campaign to establish Basra as a small-scale federal region, either on its own, or along with its two neighbouring governorates.
Recently, Fadhila's junior coalition partners, or some of them, have reportedly switched sides and agreed to vote with SCIRI in a motion of no-confidence in the governor. That group calls itself al-Wasat, or "the middle", and it reportedly includes: the Basra branch of Allawi's Iraqi List, the Harakat al-Daawa, and another Islamist party. Visser says the voting line-up isn't clear. And in any event, there isn't any legal basis for a majority vote of no-confidence. Rather, what would be needed is a two-thirds vote for termination, pursuant to the Bremer-era Coalition Provisional Authority pronouncement on local-government issues, and that makes the situation even more uncertain. What today's Azzaman story appears to indicate is that this might well end up being settled by force instead.

What is the underlying issue (or issues)? Visser mentions Fadhila support for a small Basra-centered federal unit in the south (in contrast to SCIRI's support for a nine-province unit that would include its stronghold in the Najaf area). For what it is worth, Azzaman this morning adds another, related angle. It says:
The Azzaman reporter says independent Kurdish politicians in Washington told him that "there is a deal that SCIRI is trying to work out with Kurdish leaders, and with Talabani in particular, that would impose SCIRI control in Basra, in exchange for a manifestation of flexibility [by SCIRI] on the question of Kirkuk."
SCIRI control of Basra would be via this takeover of the provincial council and the governorship. There isn't any detail on what contribution the "Kurdish leaders and Talabani in particular" might be making to this project, but Azzaman does note that the Maliki government, of which Talabani is president, is maintaining a studious silence on the Basra events.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Iraqi positions on the Democrats' "withdrawal" initiative

An Al-Hayat reporter prepared a round-up of comments by people from some of the main political groups in Iraq, on the Democrats' passage of the bill that would tie war-funding to the announcement of a schedule for withdrawal. (This assumes "withdrawal" means what it says. Critiquing that is another question entirely).

What this comes down to is that spokesmen for the Maliki administration, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, and the main Kurdish coalition in parliament, all think the bill is a bad idea, and mostly for the same reason: Namely, that US "withdrawal" should be tied to the ability of the Iraqi forces to take over all security responsibilities, and should not be scheduled independently of that. In various ways, these groups all warn about chaos if that factor is ignored.

On the other side of the question is the Sadrist spokesman:
Nasr al-Saadi, deputy for the Sadrist block, said: "The occupation forces are the root cause of all of the security and political problems from which the country is suffering. ...The American administration controls the decisions of the Iraqi government, and consequently the latter lacks autonomy and desicion-making power. Once the occupation withdraws from the country, the government will be able to extend its control over the Iraqi scene".

[The Sadrist representative added] "Some have the impression that the American administration is incapable of shutting down the sources of terrorism and rooting it out, and what this leads to is the attrition of all the economic, material and human resources of the country. We support that [withdrawal-timetable] bill completely, and its implementation at the earliest possible time".

And the journalist notes the Sadrists aren't the only group supporting the withdrawal idea.
The issue of American withdrawal from Iraq is a core demand of the main armed resistance groups, which have made [withdrawal] a condition to their entering into any negotiations with the American forces that would involve disarming and entering in to the political process.
So those are the two poles of the argument: Maliki-SCIRI-Kurds against withdrawal because the Iraqi forces aren't ready, with the Sadrists and the main resistance groups in favor of withdrawal which they see, from their different perspectives, as a precondition for normalization.

The remarks of a representative of the main Sunni parliamentary bloc and also Allawi's Iraqi List, are ambiguous, and talk around the question of withdrawal. Here is the Iraqi Accord Front person:
Deputy Hussein al-Faluji from the Iraqi Accord Front said "we support any measure from any party that promotes national reconciliation....What we're interested in is the stability of the country and the solution of problems, starting with security. ...This latest bill shows that the Americans have admitted that the occupation of Iraq was a big mistake. ...We will be preparing demands on the US for compensation for all who suffered damage in the occupation, [and this will involve] over three trillion dollars in damages...
The Allawi person, for his part, stressed that you have to understand this latest bill as part of a political struggle in Washington in which the paramount interest of each of the parties is to make the other look bad.

As I noted above, the assumption in this collection of reactions is that the bill really does refer to a "withdrawal" plain and simple. Once the Iraqi parties study the fine print and realize that what the Democrats are intent on defeating is the Republicans, not the Iraq-control project, the configuration among Iraqi parties could be different. For instance, if it became clear that the Americans could in effect garrison Iraq and protect their friends via mega-bases over or under the horizon, or whatever the expression is, or with special forces, or what have you, then it stands to reason that the status quo parties could well support it. But that is another question. The point about today's piece is that the opponents of even talking about withdrawal at this point are the Maliki administration backed by SCIRI and the Kurds, with the "yes to withdrawal" position represented by the Sadrists and important parts of the Sunni resistance.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Mubarak and the Saudi king decide to dispense with the traditional Arab hospitality

Not only was Prime Minister Maliki rebuffed in his attempt to meet with Saudi king Abdullah bin Abdulaziz on his current tour of some Arab capitals, it is seems doubtful Hosni Mubarak would have let him in the door either, if it hadn't been for the niceities surrounding the upcoming meeting at Sharm el-Sheikh. Al-Quds al-Arabi headlines the Saudi rebuff, but the Iraqi paper Azzaman has more detail on the whole picture, reporting in its top story this morning as follows:
[Maliki] failed in his efforts to meet with Saudi king Abdullah, who initially excused himself from such a meeting for reasons of protocol and because his schedule was full, but it wasn't long before a Saudi diplomatic source told the German news agency that one reason for the refusal was "his unhelpful attitude toward certain groups in Iraq, and his favoritism toward other groups, along with his efforts to strengthen the role of Iran in Iraq." Maliki had relied on the Americans to arrange the visit [to Riyadh] before going on to the Sultanat of Oman for a protocol visit described by observers as without political value, [adding] Maliki was anxious to visit Muskat, on the heels of a visit there by former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi.

[In Cairo, Mubarak] received Maliki at the beginning of his Arab tour, and appeared sullen. A political source told the Azzaman reporter in Cairo that Mubarak insisted the meeting include Maliki himself only, and refused to allow the participation of Iraqi security officials who were accompanying [Maliki on his tour]. Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmad Nazif said after the meeting: "Egypt urges the government of Iraq to carry out reconciliation [or reforms]". And the same Egyptian source said the visit of Maliki to Cairo was in trouble from the start, and likely [a Maliki-Mubarak meeting] wouldn't have happened at all, if not for the fact there is to be a conference soon in Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

US policy takes a step closer to the abyss

Khalaf al-Alyan, one of the three leaders of the Iraqi Accord Front, has said for the moment he can't return to Iraq because his home has been wrecked and his security people arrested, in an Iraqi-forces raid on his Baghdad home last week, in which they say they found a quantity of weapons, implying Alyan could be charged criminally. (This was reported in Al-Hayat a couple of days ago, as part of an article on attempted political unification among various Sunni groups). Today Al-Quds al-Arabi says a number of Sunni parliamentary deputies say they have been forced to rely on members of their immediate and extended families for security and protection, since the government no longer provides them with security. The journalist notes this is in the context of charges by the Maliki administration that IAF members have been involved in attacks on the occupation forces, and that unregistered weapons have been found in their homes. Recall that there were similar charges made against prominent Sunni deputies just ahead of the hotly-disputed parliamentary vote on federalism procedures last October. And recall too the arrest-warrant against Harith al-Dhari, head of the Association of Muslim Scholars, at a time when he was touring Arab capitals and talking to heads of state about Iraqi political arrangements.

Personal escalation against Sunni leaders has become a pretty clear sign of an approaching crisis.

Meanwhile, a lot of Sunni commentary on the Adhamiya wall focuses on the element of military escalation. The Association of Muslim Scholars stresses the idea of "collective punishment against the Sunnis". The Baath party, in a statement issued yesterday, calls it part of a "scorched earth policy". The author of the piece summarized in post just prior to this one called it "a message to the Sunni Arabs that Adhamiya is just the beginning..."

Obviously there is a conflict between the expressed US-Maliki program of national reconciliation, and this apparent escalation, both personal and military, against Sunni leaders and groups. Some will attribute this to vacillating US policy. Others posit a distinction between two factions of the Bush right wing, one favoring a return to Sunni control of Iraq (and finding the Allawi-coup theory, for instance, plausible), and the other favoring a Shiite-led eradication of the Sunni establishment once and for all (a position represented by the loony tunes people at the AEI and elsewhere who say that from this perspective, things are going really well, because not only the armed Sunni resistance, but the political Sunni groups as well, are falling apart).

But the apparent contradiction between reconciliation and escalation can be explained in a much simpler way, based on what you could call the Bush "two carrots, two sticks" policy. As Hamoun Mohammad wrote in the piece summarized here yesterday, Bush appears to have deputized the Islamic Party to offer the Sunni-Arab leaders the prospect of a return to power, if they will cut their ties to the resistance, and join in the "political process". (Otherwise, the implication is, they should contemplate the "message" of the Adhamiya wall, or what the Baath party calls the scorched earth policy). This is the mirror image of the offer to Maliki, outstanding since at least the November Bush-Maliki meeting: Pacify the country, or else we will oust you from power.

What appears to have changed is in the details of Bush's assignment to Maliki: In dealing with the Sunnis, Bush has said, via Petraeus, go heavier on the stick, relatively less focus on the carrot. And in his message to the Sunni groups: Join the political process now, or else.

While the purpose is to bring resistance groups into the political process, by adding fear of annihilation to hope of power, the obvious risk is this could backfire, and Bush ends up driving some of the Sunni political groups already involved in "the political process" into joining the resistance instead. In which case the Bush assignment to Maliki could well become even clearer: Forget the carrot entirely and wipe out the Sunni strongholds.

In which case we would be back to our examination of the Krepinevich briefing on military strategy. (See "Flim-flam" and post immediately prior to that).

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Adhamiya Wall and the "political process": One man's view

Haroun Muhammad writes in an Al-Quds al-Arabi op-ed:
When the American invaders and their agents ...decided on Adhamiya city to build their separation wall to surround it and to impose [all forms of] compulsion on the million Iraqi persons who live there, this was not some random choice. Rather, there was a prior plan aiming at the collective punishment of its people, because it is a city that is known historically and politically as a proud Arab stronghold, home to the forces of nationalism, that has played an unforgettable role in the resistance to the occupation, and in standing up to its policies and its methods and its governmental structures, and they have written splendid pages in [the history of] the spite of all that they have faced and still face by way of military sieges and oppressive break-ins and security-raids over the course of the past four years.

And Adhamiya is also an outstanding cultural landmark in Iraq, and was for many years the beating heart of Baghdad, when it extended from Adham Gate [and he names the neighborhoods, each with its cultural resonance]...

So his first point is that this isn't just a random neighborhood. This was picked because it is known both for its steadfastness in resisting the occupation, and something of parallel importance, its cultural weight in Iraq.

The writer then adds:
So it is clear that the American occupiers, with their well-known stupidity and their swagger, were responding to the instigations of their own agents, the sectarians, and began to build this wall to separate Adhamiya from Baghdad, as a message to the Sunni Arabs that Adhamiya is just the beginning...
And the reason the Americans didn't believe Maliki when he told them to stop construction of the wall, this writer says, is that Maliki's own appointees in the Iraqi military are dead set against backing down in the execution of this plan.

Pointing to the symbolic significance of Adhamiya as starting point for this strategy in Baghdad doesn't mean there haven't been instances of the walling-off strategy elsewhere in Iraq.

And here is where the writer gets down to his main point about the relationship of all of this to the "political process".

In particular, the writer says, there have been reports of this isolation strategy in
several cities in the provinces of Anbar, Mosul, Diyala, Kirkuk and Salahaddin, including Haditha, Hit, Falluja, Tal Afar, Samarra [and others], that have been surrounded by earthen berms of various heights, with the cutting-off of food supplies, electricity, drinking water, even the distribution of the food-rations... in collective punishment, without the slightest response from even one single individual from among the participants in the so-called political process, and especially the Islamic Party...
And there is a reason why the writer picks on the Islamic Party in particular.
The latest news about the Islamic Party is that they have become evangelists for the occupation, going around sending messages to tribal leaders and other personalities in the Sunni Arab provinces, inviting them to work with the Americans and cut their ties to the resistance, telling them that the Americans are prepared to end their connections with the Shiite organizations and substitute for them an alliance with the Arab Sunna, if only they will cease their resistance, and pacify their areas.
In other words, the leaders of the resistance are being invited, by people in the Islamic Party among others, to raise the white flag, in the hopes that eventually the Americans will deign to name one of them as the new representative of the occupation.

His conclusion:
The geographical and sectarian isolation strategies ...have failure pre-written upon them, because they rely on the brute force of the foreigners and the coertion of power. The brave persons who have blown up their tanks and their vehicles protected by armored steel, are capable of blowing up the Adhamiya wall or any other wall, or concrete or cement dividers, and proud Adhamiya will remain, protected by its people, dead-set against the occupation and the miserable mercenaries who are its agents, a thorn in the side of the invaders, and in the chest of the Shuubiin and the Safavids.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

What the separation-walls mean

Al-Hayat brings together some comments on the Great Wall of Adhamiya:
A member of parliament for the Islamic Party said resort to this policy reinforces the tendency to sectarianism among the population, in fact this decision relies on [or sanctions] the sectarian factor in isolating the area, pointing out that "this is an index of the fact that this government has not yet grasped that while military effort is needed, it is not he solution of every problem."...

The official spokesman for the Sadrist trend told Al-Hayat "A policy of enclosing neighborhoods is not going to make the Baghdad security plan succeed. Adopting this approach is a result of the fact that the Iraqi military forces have voluntarily submitted to the American occupation". ...

A resident by the name of Ali Ibrahim said "it appears that federalism, with its desire to partition Iraq, will also include Baghdad in its partitioning. People here are talking about a decision by the government to issue special identity [cards or badges] to the residents of Sunni neighborhoods."...

Computer programmer Mustafa, age 25, stressed "uneasiness with the thrust behind the wall [policy] because it will turn Adhamiya into a giant prison."
The journalist balances this with explanations by government people, and a mocking comment by the Islamic State of Iraq. But the gist of the above-noted comments, representing Sunni political opposition, Shiite political opposition and the views of residents, is that this wall isn't just a random bad idea. On the contrary, the idea here is that the wall embodies and symbolizes the fact that "Iraqi forces have submitted to the occupation"; that the Maliki government and the Americans are relying on and sanctioning the principle of sectarian separation; and that the occupation appears to be taking the partition/federalism scheme right into the heart of Baghdad. In a word: The wall embodies and symbolizes the fact that the Americans are not merely responding to violence to try and minimize it. Rather, they are implementing by force a proactive strategy that exploits the sectarian problems in the interests of partition and further weakening of the country; and the Iraqi forces are going along with that.

A lot of the "progressive" American criticism of the war is based on the contrary idea, namely that the Bush administration lacks a coherent plan, that they are buffoons, that they are already way past plan B, and absurdly up to the letter F or G. That they are continually being outwitted by the mercurial action-hero Sadr. And so on and so forth. This is the view that sees the Bush administration as the short guy in the old tall-guy/short-guy vaudeville routine, a sad story, supposedly, that will lead to inevitable defeat and withdrawal. The point here is that a discussion that stays within that framework is missing the other side of the story, namely that there really is a proactive American strategy, and that they are not really there as peacekeepers.

Let's give credit where credit is due. The building of isolation-walls around troublesome residential areas in Iraq was part of a series of war-winning ideas published over four months ago by the neo-con Nibras Kazimi, former Chalabi employee and De-Baathification implementer, now at the Hudson Institute (see his personnel blurb there), in a December 1 2006 post that included this:
I propose a ‘closed canton’ method for Baghdad’s Sunni-heavy suburbs of Hai al-Jami’a, ‘Amiriya, Jihad, Ghazaliya, Yarmouk, Dora, Khadra’ and ‘Adhamiya, closing each off unto itself. A similar fix should be extended to the rural Sunni satellite towns (the housing clusters) to the north, west and south of Baghdad: Mushahdeh, Khan Dhari, Mahmoudiya, Yusufiya, and ‘Arab Jbour.

This should be done using the Israeli method: fence them with concrete and technology. The Israelis have been building a separating wall between them and the Palestinians over the past two years....
Israeli separation walls for Iraq seemed a bizarre figment of the neocon imagination at the time, but now that it appears to be US policy, it's worth taking a look at the politics of this. Kazimi called for high-profile development projects to be undertaken in the walled-off areas, and also this: "...a systematic effort to match the Saddam regime's personnel archives to the current addresses of these ex-officers from the military and intelligence services should be undertaken. Most of these officers were given state-sponsored housing in the above mentioned neighborhoods during the Saddam era..." In other words, if we take Kazimi as an index of the neo-con approach, it would appear a major political aim of this walling-off strategy has to do with more-efficient hunting down of ex-Baathists, contrary to the supposed US strategy, which is to ease de-Baathification and try and negotiate with the domestic (non-AlQaeda/ISI) resistance.

So while we are being told that the US recognizes the damage caused by the initial de-Baathification excesses, and is supposedly pressing the Maliki administration to do more by way of national reconciliation, the Israeli-wall strategy points in the other direction, toward an intensified exploitation of the sectarian issue, hand in hand with an intensification and militarization of de-Baathification.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

"US training Sunni extremists to attack Hizbullah; operations to be attributed to AlQaeda" (with an added note)

Issam Naaman is a Lebanese lawyer and writer, former Minister of Telecommunications under one of the governments led by Salim al-Hoss, and a member of a small political group that considers itself a third alternative beween the Hariri-led establishment, and the Hizbullah-led opposition. He wrote on April 18 in Al-Quds al-Arabi about information gleaned from the recent Pelosi delegation, and other US delegations at about the same time, mostly by a friend of his who is a think-tank type and didn't want his name used.

His main points were that Bush seems to be stymied in his desire to attack Iran, both by the political opposition of the Democrats, and the popular revulsion in the US against further military adventures that would be seen as at the expense of things like health insurance and the US standard of living. (By contrast, Bush policy on Palestine will be unchanged, because in the case of Palestine there is no pressure for change from Congress, in fact the Democrats outdo the Republicans in their support for Israel). As a "substitute" for not being able to strike Iran, the Bush administration plans an escalation in Lebanon. And here he mentions two specific points: (1) Tom Lantos said they are convinced Hizbullah is weak and this is the time to step up efforts to disarm it. (2) An airport in northern Lebanon will be used as a base for pressuring Syria, and also as a place for training of groups opposed to Hizbullah and opposed to anti-Abbas elements in Palestine. Then there was this:
It was learned from influential members of the US delegations that the Washington special[-forces] apparatus has begun assembling, arming and training members of Islamic extremist groups to undertake assaults on Hizbullah, in the framework of the conflict that it [the Bush administration] plans between the Sunni and the Shiite population, in districts where the two groups are contiguous. And it will be arranged to camouflage the agents in this by attributing the attacks to AlQaeda.
The writer's conclusion is that these exchanges with the American visitors confirmed that the Bush administration will not allow there to be any compromise in the dispute between the Hizbullah-led opposition and the Hariri administration over power-sharing, new elections and so on. Rather, the US administration will be working hard to promote confrontation, as part of its region-wide policy of fostering Sunni-Shiite conflict. In this context, the writer doesn't seem to regard the covert sponsorship of fake-AlQaeda US agents to be anything but one more ingredient in the overall plan.

This planned use by the Bush administration of Sunni extremists to stir the pot in Lebanon was discussed at length by New Yorker article called "The Redirection" last month, eliciting only an eerie silence from the policy elite. Judging from this Naaman piece, it would appear the scheme is pretty much a bipartisan open secret, which raises the question why no criticism from the Democrats. Or maybe answers the question.

ADDED NOTE: See also this post, which fills out the picture a little more.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

A Baathist looks at the big picture

Salah al-Mukhtar was a prominent Baathist in the late Saddam era, serving in diplomatic positions in India, Vietnam and the UN, and although he doesn't have an official position currently, he often comments on the Iraq war from a Baathist perspective. This article was published on the resistance website April 15, and a commenter suggested this would be a good introduction to a point of view that doesn't get much coverage here in the anglosphere. And it is hard to argue with that.

One of his major points is that it seems to him that at the point when the Americans realized they were in trouble militarily, they came up with the idea of covertly helping the takfiris attack other Iraqis, as a way of helping turn the war against the occupation into an Iraqi-on-Iraqi war. Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, this writer implies, without mentioning the name, is a likely a nobody who rose to prominence with covert American aid.

His title is "From the blowing up of bridges to the attempts to split the resistance: what's going on in Iraq?"

Al-Mukhtar begins by talking about the recent blowing up of two major bridges over the Tigris in Baghdad, and the intensified popular sense of foreboding this caused, because it suggests to people the idea of Iraqi partition extending to the heart of Baghdad, and it suggests too the idea that there are some with a strategy of not leaving stone upon stone, and finishing the work of destruction that the Americans began. He then segues to the execution of Saddam and his associates, with its "artificial creation of a sectarian atmosphere", the idea being that these apparently separate events, and many others, are part and parcel of a scheme to foster sectarian warfare, split the resistance, and weaken the country to the point where the occupation can succeed. The Saddam execution was followed by an attempt by a group in Syria to split the Baath, and American-led persecution of the Party and its members and supporters throughout Iraq. The writer goes on:

And in addition to the attempts to attack the name of the [Baath] Party, the American Mukhabarat has undertaken another project, this one with the clear support of Iran, whether by direct arrangement or by a meeting of the minds, namely the plan to cause fighting between factions of the Iraqi jihad, by encouraging Islamist takfiris within some of the factions to announce their intention to monopolize, from now on, the control of Iraq or at least of the field of jihad, giving the other factions the choice of having their necks cut, or pledging allegiance to them and proceeding under their leadership--and that even though they only represented a small group! Likewise other members took to applying takfir to the progressive and arabist nationalist factions. ...And they went so far as to kill dozens of military cadres fighting against the occupation from among the Baathists and arabists, for the purpose of igniting a fight among the jihadi factions, serving in this way the primary purpose of America and Iran, namely the division of the Iraqi resistance, because that is the basic prerequisite for turning the American defeat in Iraq into victory.
The writer then explains the meaning of the expression "moles" in organizations like these. And he says what has been going on is this: The Americans,
Once they understood that they had well and truly fallen into the Iraqi trap, from which they wouldn't emerge safely unless they could come up with an elaborately thought-out scheme, started putting moles in specific factions, and via these moles they offered the groups generous material and PR support. This enhanced the credibility of these moles, and raised their profile and role within these factions, and some of them came to have leadership roles within those factions.
Without mentioning names, it is pretty clear he is referring to people like Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, a person no one had ever heard of before, who suddenly emerged as the emir of the Islamic State of Iraq.

Overlooking this role of agents, the writer says, would be a fateful error no matter how you look at it. And he asks:
Why is it that there was never, ever, any disclosure of any new American agents after the original disclosure of the roles of the old agents Allawi, Hakim, Chalabi and the others? Are they the only agents, or are there other agents who are more important because they operate within the national ranks and haven't been exposed yet?
The writer then compares the role of moles in the jihadi organizations to that of Iran in the macro picture, in the sense that Iran
...appears with the appearance of opposing America for the good of the cause of Islam and Palestine...[but] this is in preparation for dividing [Iraqis and Palestinians] and changing the fight from a fight for liberation against America and Israel, into sectarian fights between muslims, instead of focusing all guns on the Zionists and the Americans.
As far as Iraq is concerned, the writer says, the result has been that most attacks carried out by these groups are now against Iraqis, Shiite and Sunni, and not against the occupation forces except peripherally.

America has spent a lot on this war, and that in Afghanistan, but since success would give them control over the world's major oil reserves, and and with it a global dictatorship, the price will have been cheap considering the result. It would be naive, the writer says, to think that everyone who fights America or Israel in Iraq or in Palestine is necessarily engaged in struggle or jihad. Because you have to look at the final result, and not at half-way results. You can't judge military efforts against the occupation except in the light of real aims and real results, and the one necessary condition for victory in Iraq is maintenance of the unity of the resistance, just as the one necessary condition for the occupation to succeed is to split the resistance.

The writer offers a couple of observations in conclusion:
The first observation is that at the same time that the American Mukhabarat toughens its campaign against the Baath by various means...[including] its extreme efforts to dry up the sources of funding for the Party and its resistance, and its arrest of tens of thousands of its fighters and mujahideen, at the same time it is making life easier in a remarkable way for the sectarian Sunni takfiris, offering them financial and military support, whether directly, or channeled via the Gulf, and this at a time when their takfir is being intensified against the nationalists and the patriots and the true Islamists....
People shouldn't lose sight of this for even a moment, the writer says, because what this American strategy amounts to as an attempt to change the war from one against the occupation to a sectarian Shiite-Sunni war, which will not stop until the sectarian takfiri power is the dominant one in Iraq. And this is particularly ungent for Baathists to understand, because the first requisite for this American strategy is the crushing of the Baath Party, conceptually, organizationally, financially, etcetera, because the Baath is the only nationalist party that covers all of Iraq and includes Sunnis, Shiites and others.

His second concluding observation is that Iran, even though it is naturally an enemy of the Sunni takfiris, still provides them with support and assistance in their attacks on Iraqi Shiites, and the reason is to make the Iraqi Shiites side with Iran, in a way that will ultimately further feed the conversion of this war into a sectarian one, in order to weaken the country.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

No hard feelings

Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, the head of the Islamic State of Iraq, issued a statement in response to criticisms from the Islamic Army and others complaining about intolerant and aggressive behavior by ISI people against non-ISI resistance groups. Marc Lynch outlines the initial summaries of it. The text is available here. Here is my version of the section where al-Baghdadi addresses those groups by name:
To our brothers in the Ansar al-Sunnah army and the Army of the Mujahideen: The love that is between us is deep, and the bonds of our conviction and our attachment are not something vulnerable to adversity. To our sons in the Islamic Army: Know that I would sacrifice my blood and my honor for yours, and by God you will not hear of us anything but good. So be of good spirits and investigate us, because the that which joins us is stronger than some imagine, may God forgive them. And to the soldiers in the 1920 Brigades, yes, it is true that the satanic Islamic Party has put the insinuations of the Devil between us, but the leaders of your brigades understood and they sat down with their brothers in the Islamic State to disenable the fuse of fitna and scatter the seeds of love, and...[I am obligated] to spare your blood and that of every muslim who has not incurred heresy in spirit or in blood. Fear God and don't forget that ultimately it is the word of God that is the highest, and not the nationalist (wataniya), and not the loathesome racial (qaumiya). are all equally responsible for it [the word of God] on the day of resurrection.
In specific terms, he acknowledges there was a problem between his people and members of the Brigades of the 1920 Revolution, which he attributes to the meddling of the Islamic Party, no doubt referring to proposals for negotiating with the Americans. I think it could be significant that al-Baghdadi refers to this issue, but not to any others. This would be contrary to statements issued recently by various government people implying a much wider range of negotiations. (For instance, just today Maliki issued a statement to the effect the government is negotiating with several resistance groups, which he didn't name, but which the reporter says probably include Islamic Army, 1920 Revolution Brigades, Army of the Rashideen, and others).

Sunni warns of Shiia on Shiia clashes as a result of the recent "provisional government" scheme

Iraqi League, a predominantly Sunni organization, reports on its website about the recent announcement of a "provisional leadership for the South" by a group meeting in Baghdad. (The initial and very sketchy news about this in Al-Hayat is summarized here). Iraqi League's main points, quoting the views of a Sunni member of the national Parliament, are: (1) The move was illegal and unconstitutional, because not in conformity with the law on the creation of federal regions; and (2) the fact that this is being attempted increases the chances of Shiite-versus-Shiite clashes. And in particular it cites an anonymous source to the effect the meeting and the announcement of this provisional government are sponsored by SCIRI and in particular by its leader Abdulaziz al-Hakim as part of a partition-Iraq strategy.

The Iraqi League report says:
Hashem al-Taiya, a member of the national parliament for the Iraqi Accord Front, warned of what he called "Shiia-Shiia clashes" that could result from this announcement by a few tribal and political figures of what they call a "provisional government for the southern region". He said in remarks to the press that this move was not constitutional or legal, because you can't have just anyone of the sheikhs going out and saying "I am president of the Southern region", stressing what a bad precedent this is.

Al-Taiya said: This group will be opposed by [other] parties that have proposed federalism and have also proposed a southern federal region. And my worst fear is that this will lead to Shiite-Shiite clashes in the South, increasing the level of resentment throughout Iraq, and increasing the level of instability and chaos, and the chances for clashes, with unforseeable consequences. [On a technical point] he said clauses 115 and 122 of the Law on Regions are no support for this creation of a [purported] regional government.
On the question of who is behind this project, the Iraqi League report says this:
High-level Iraqi sources told* that the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), and specifically its leader Abdulaziz al-Hakim are who stand behind this tribal movement, as a preparation for the creation of a political atmosphere for the partition of Iraq.
*I haven't found this, either on which is an Iraqi site, or, which is Jordanian.

Al-Hayat's reading of the Sadrist withdrawal

Al-Hayat explains the decision by Al-Sadr to have his six ministers resign from Prime Minister Maliki's cabinet as primarily motivated by issues internal to the Sadrist current, concluding its account this way:
This latest move by Al-Sadr adds to the problems of the Maliki government; officials in the movement say this was in response to the persecution of its members, and is a serious attempt to regain reputation in the resistance to the occupation, and to prepare for a role once the foreign forces have withdrawn.
The journalist says this move wasn't a surprise, because those factors--government forces targeting the Sadrist base, and failure of Maliki to demand a withdrawal-schedule from the Americans--have been at work for some time. In connection with the withdrawal-timetable issue, the journalist says there was a memo of understanding signed between Sadr and the Dawa party in early 2006 (when Dawa candidates Jaafari and later Maliki were struggling for support with the SCIRI candidate Adel Abdul Mahdi) that commited Sadr to support the Dawa candidate provided among other things they would demand a withdrawal-schedule. The point being that this issue is a long-standing one.

On the issue of problems with the base, the journalist says this was not simply a question of responding to the fact there have been military attacks on Sadrists. He writes:

One shouldn't try and read this latest move without mentioning profound differences that have emerged within the Sadrist bloc [in Parliament] and the Mahdi army, differences that go back to infiltrations [word could also be read "excesses"], which people close to Al-Sadr say were attempts to distort the reputation of the [Sadrist] current, which was involved in bloody fights with the occupation forces over sectarian killings, and [which go back to] connections between some leaders and certain American-Iraqi parties.
This is not the most crystal-clear expression you could imagine, and possibly the journalist's introductory remark about "not trying to read this without mentioning..." is his way of indicating he knows these are important internal factors, but he isn't sure exactly how all of it fits together. He recalls too that Al-Sadr had earlier expelled from the movement two former leaders for meeting with the Americans, and had recently asked Maliki to suspend the Parliamentary privileges of Sadrist ministers who signed a resolution moving ahead with the Section 140 procedures on Kirkuk.

Finally, the journalist notes that Al-Sadr has permitted Maliki to name non-Sadrist replacements for the six ministers. In the context of his overall account, this serves as another supporting factor for his idea that the motivation for the latest move has more to do with unity and reputation of the Sadrist movement, than with trying to determine a particular macro-political outcome. But he does note that in its effect, this move certainly does add to the problems of the Maliki administration, following as it does the defection of the Fadhila party.

Monday, April 16, 2007



Time magazine still has on its website the article "Al-Qaeda Sends a Message", which puffs up a personal chat-board posting on a jihadi forum to concoct a story to the effect the Green Zone bombing was motivated by AQ's desire to chill negotiations between the government and a faction of the insurgency. (See the prior post called "Questions version 2.0" and the comments there). The message in question was posted by an individual who addressed the Islamic Army in Iraq and warned them that "we will find you wherever you are", but if you click on that poster's name and peruse the list of his other postings, as anyone visiting the site can do, you will immediately see that he is not an official spokesman for anything, but simply a fired-up partisan. One of his posts shows twisted bodies and so on, and asks the leader of the Islamic Army what he is going to say to his God; in other cases he relays news posted elsewhere: that kind of thing. There is no rational basis at all for a conclusion that what he posted re the Green Zone attack was an AQ or ISI statement.

The only possible conclusion to be drawn is Time has decided to do what it takes to dramatize and exaggerate the split between the foreign jihadis and the domestic resistance. The split exists, but like any political issue, it is a complex thing. For instance, as Abu Aardvark has been preaching, it's wrong to assume that the Islamic Army has suddenly become a patsy for the Americans just because they disagree with AQ tactics. I have put the magnifying glass on this Time Magazine story because it appears to be a step in the direction of incorporating this issue into the simple cartoon-like representational style that makes US public opinion so easy to manipulate.


I think a similar lesson can be drawn from big-blogs' treatment yesterday of the LA Times story called "Divided Iraq has two Spy Agencies". Spencer Ackerman linked to it with some comments of his own; then Matt Yglesias linked to Spencer and quoted one of Spencer's comments. Which went like this: "[The parallel Shiite intel agency] serves as a manifestation of the fears that led the U.S. to install Shehwani [head of the original CIA-funded intel agency] in the first place: the return to a mukhabarat-style security structure, this one loyal to the Shiites instead of Saddam." And that reflects the major theme of these comments: Shiite sectarian intel agency bad.

As it happens, the Baghdad paper Azzaman reported this past November that John Negroponte, then ex-ambassador, met with Maliki and told him there was a need for a "new" Iraqi intelligence agency, adding that there was nothing against the idea of hiring experienced ex-Saddam people for this. This was in the context of the run-up to the Amman meeting between Bush and Maliki, and the US pressure to crack down on the Shiite militias. (There is obviously a lot about the Iraqi intel-agency issue that is obscure: for instance, other reports at the time said the CIA person Shehwani had to be airlifted to Amman because of an assasination threat, and in any event his term was up. Another report said Shehwani was a candidate to be one of the military leaders in a future Baghdad coup. You could punch in Shehwani or Shahwani in the search box at the top of this page.) But my only point here is that any familiarity at all with any of the Arab-language coverage of this would immediately clue a reader into the Arab reading of this, which is that the US, having funded and supported Shiites to go after Sunnis in the post-invasion period, were now changing course and looking for Sunnis to help go after the Shiites. This would have given the bloggers a second theme to modify their echo-chamber "partisan Shiite intel-agency bad" idea, namely this one: "Partisan ebb and flow reflects US policy".

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Ansar al-Sunnah calls for patience

A statement by the jihadi organization Ansar al-Sunnah, posted on various forums on April 12, takes up he question of differences and disputes between different groups of mujahideen. Abu Aardvark called attention to it the other day.

The text is divided into three parts, the first dealing with the question of the meaning of "groups" in the moral and religious order of things. The writer's point is that for an individual, his obligation is first and foremost not to a group or to a group-leader, but rather to what is right and legitimate according to scripture and the authentic traditions. He says:
We don't judge a preacher by his wealth or the magnificence of his building or the number of his followers, but by his closeness to the authentic truth... Likewise a mujahid should strive to follow the authentic truth, and not to fixate on a clique, or on a sheikh, and not on a sect or on a group. His only concern should be the truth that Allah disclosed to his messenger, peace be upon him, because the one who will be asked what he has to say for himself will be [the individual], and not a group or a sheikh or a sect...
So the writer's first point is that those who ally themselves in an absolute way with "a sheikh or a group" are wrong, because what counts is for each person himself to do the right thing. Belonging to a group doesn't let out of that obligation. No doubt the implicit target here is ISI people who kill other Muslims just for failing to swear allegiance to the leader of the ISI.

Next: Under the heading "Schemes to weaken the mujahideen: America and its allies", the writer the writer criticizes the non-ISI resistance groups, but since he doesn't name names, it is a little difficult to tell what specific errors he finds in which groups. Just by way of giving the overall gist of this part, the first couple of sentences go like this:
The heretic occupiers will not leave the country with their forces and their people until they are convinced there is a sect among the people of the country that is able to serve as the anchor supporting them, and that is the primary aim of all of the secular sects in all of their variations. And their second filthy scheme aims at separating muslims from the mujahideen, cutting off their support [in that way], after they have failed to do so militarily.
The writer's point is that in various ways, the nationalist groups are playing into the hands of the Americans and weakening the overall effort. The details here become quite hard to follow, for me anyway, so I'm leaving out a big chunk here, but his overall point is clear: While there are errors among the ISI people because of blind faith in their group and their leader, there are also errors on the nationalist side.

The writer talks at length about the virtue of patience. And in conclusion he says the most important specific obligations for mujahideen right now are:
Efforts to resist their corrupt schemes, and exposing them, and you should also relate this to the leadership... And taking care not to enter into fights with them, but to urge muslims not to give in to their corrupt methods.
To which he adds the obligation to make preparations for self-defence, and to take measures to ensure that organizations are not penetrated by them, but his main point has to do with persuasion and perseverence: Not getting sucked into their corrupt schemes, but not getting into fights with them either; and explaining their errors to people.

Very broadly speaking, this writer sees a problem with groups of hotheads on the one side, and groups that are too close to the Americans on the other. But interestingly, he seems to understand this as a political problem: The corrupt scheme, he said, involves an attempt to "separate (or alienate) muslims from the mujahideen". In the case of a political problem, he seems to be saying, the solution isn't for one side to take up arms against the other, rather it is going to have to involve a lot of "patience".

So it goes

Al-Hayat says:
An organization called the Federal Democratic Iraq Gathering (Southern region council) held its first convention yesterday to announce the provisional leadership of the South, but there was a noticeable absense of political authorities and parliamentarians, something some observes take as a clear message of complete rejection [of the project by the politicians].
So reads the concluding paragraph in a news item that is otherwise devoted to detailing the criticisms of this project by a variety of members of the national parliament. The piece opens like this:
A number of members of the Iraqi parliament criticized the convention that was held yesterday in Baghdad which announced what it called "provisional leadership for the South" comprised of the three provinces of Basra, Dhi Qar and Maysan. [The parliamentarians] stressed that most of the political blocs agreed on postponing the question of decisions respecting [establishment of federal] regions.
And the journalist quotes parliamentarians representing the Sadrists, the UIA (Shiite) generally, and the Iraqi Accord Front (Sunni), all in opposition to the idea of raising this kind of issue at the present time.

There is a prominent report this morning that has the meaning of this backwards. Juan Cole writes:
In Baghdad, al-Hayat says that a group of Iraqi parliamentarians held a conference to announce the formation of the "Provisional Command of the Southern Region," comprising Basra, Dhi Qar and Maysan provinces. The politicians said that most blocs in parliament agreed with the establishment of such a provincial confederacy. [140 MPs voted to expedite this process last October.]
This is apparently a case of mistranslating the initial verb "they criticized" as if it meant "they agreed", and then somehow scanning the rest of the piece to suit. (UPDATE: I figured out what he probably did: The verb intaqada "[the politicians] criticized", looks a lot like the verb aqada "[the politicians] held" (a meeting), so he thought it was the politicians that held that meeting, and that got him off on the wrong foot.)

In any event, the Al-Hayat piece doesn't say anything else about the conference itself. For instance, the reporter doesn't say who attended the conference, or who the "provisional leadership" is. And when he says most parliamentary blocs oppose bringing this up right now, he implies that some blocs support the idea, but he doesn't say which ones.

(For background on the idea of a three-province federal unit in the South, see Reidar Visser's essay Basra Crude: The great game of Iraq's "Southern" Oil, discussed here.)

Friday, April 13, 2007

Questions (version 2.0)

(This is an expanded version of an earlier post called "Questions for Time magazine"; the material relating to Time is down in the second half of this. And there are some answers, of sorts! See the italicized part below, and the comments.).

The Islamic State of Iraq has posted claims of responsibility for the Green Zone bombing, (thanks to veteran chat-site navigator Abu Aardvark for calling attention to that) which the ISI says was carried out by a suicide bomber. These claims, which can be found among other places on the "news" forum of, are signed by something called the Fajr Media Center, and there isn't any question they have been issued by the ISI organization. The following comments have to do with a different question: Assuming ISI responsibility, there are reports about a relationship between the attack and the emerging dispute between AlQaeda/ISI on the one side and the domestic resistance groups apparently led by Islamic Army in Iraq on the other.

Al-Hayat says there was a video announcement yesterday by someone known as Abu Suleiman al-Oteibi who calls himself the "lawful judge of the Islamic State of Iraq", and the paper has this to say about it, after describing the events of the bombing:
The AlQaeda organization had threatened yesterday to "cut off the head of those who resist [us], and [he said] in a video message, "I warn the tribe of those among the proprietors of party and politics, who make a weapon of double-dealing..." and he added, tacitly referring the differences that have widened recently between AlQaeda and Iraqi armed groups, "we will cut off their hands and we will strike them in the neck".
The Al-Hayat reporter then refers to recent interview statements by the head of the Islamic Army in Iraq that have been taken loosely to mean a degree of openness to the idea of negotiating with the occupation. But at least for English-speaking readers it is worth noting what the Islamic Army person actually said (in an Al-Jazeera interview), because the reports in English having passed from hand to hand, have gotten a little distorted. Here's the relevant quote from the interview:
We do not reject in principle talks with the Americans or others, and we have laid out many times in official and other media our conditions for such talks, and we have emphasized that there are two conditions for successful talks, first that the American congress issue a binding decision announcing a complete withdrawal by a fixed date, and second, recognition that the resistance is the legitimate and sole representative of the Iraqi people.
(This interview was published April 10, so the Awni Qalamji piece in Al-Quds al-Arabi, summarized in the prior post, was probably at least partly a reply to this, warning against thinking there is any possibility of any voluntary American withdrawal. Qalamji is associated with the domestic resistance. I'm sorry I'm reporting these out of chronological order).

In any event, if the statement by the "judicial officer" cited by Al-Hayat this morning is authentic, and the paper's acceptance of it suggests it is, then apparently the the hard-line domestic resistance represented by Qalamji wasn't the only group alarmed by even this conditional suggestion of negotiations.

Still, there is something considerably fishy about what Time magazine is reporting on its website about this.

In its article yesterday on the Green Zone bombing, Time said this:
Within an hour of the explosion, a message from the al-Qaeda-controlled Islamic State in Iraq was posted on a prominent militant website,, calling the blast a "message" to anyone who cooperates with "the occupier and its agents." It said ominously, "We will reach you wherever you are"
And Iraqslogger printed what it said was a screenshot of the item referred to, which you can see here. The text in red says: "This (referring to the GZ bombing) is a message of the Islamic State of Iraq to the Islamic Army: Anyone who is going to negotiate with the occupiers and their agents, we will find them wherever they are".

But notice the light blue strip at the top, right above the yellow exclamation point. In an authentic posting, that light blue strip is a little wider, and serves as the background for a couple of important pieces of information printed in black. At the right-hand side, there is always the screen-name of the poster, and a button next to that name, triggering a pull-down menu with two items: You can look at all of the postings of this particular individual (even if you are not a registered user); or you can look at his personal information (for which you have to be registered). And at the left-hand side, also against the background of the light-blue bar, there is the date of the poster's registration as a user, and the number of his "participations", which means either postings or postings and comments. This obviously serves as a rudimentary or entry-level check on reliability, because it shows how long the person has been posting, and what he has been posting.

Anyone with the expertise to find a posting like this would obviously first check the name of the poster and his posting history, to see if he is a known quantity or not. Iraqslogger said it wasn't taking this as necessarily an Al-Qaeda message. "The statements" of the Islamic State of Iraq, it said, "are usually more detailed with more verifiable information, often containing florid prose and multiple references to the Quran." But really, the first question is where Iraqslogger got this screenshot, because it would seem if they went to the site and saw it there themselves, the light-blue bar would in fact be the background for the name of the poster and the other information to be found there. And if they got it from Time, then the same question: Where exactly did Time find it, and where is the basic information one looks for printed on that light-blue bar?

The solution, of course, is to go to the site and find the posting ourselves. But I do not see it there, and as far as I am aware, no one else has found it there either.

See the comments, where a kind reader sent along the link for this. I'm going to leave the next paragraph the way I wrote it, but given the new information, I think the gist of this is that the post could have been easily debunked as any kind of official ISI or AlQaeda statement if there had been any disclosure who the poster on was and his posting history.

This is not just a question of the authenticity of a posted message, if in fact there was one, because unless there is some explanation, this would be a question of Time magazine relying on an obvious, clearly recognizable forgery to anchor a news story. The lead to its story yesterday went like this: "In an assault apparently aimed at chilling negotiations between the Iraqi government and a faction of the insurgency, the Iraqi Parliament, located in Baghdad's high-security Green Zone, suffered a bomb attack." The phrase "apparently aimed at chilling negotiations..." refers to the supposed posting in question.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Advice for the Iraqi Resistance on US politics

An Al-Quds al-Arabi op-ed writer and supporter of the Iraqi resistance, Awni Qalamji, has some advice for everyone, and particularly for the resistance, about the American political process. First, he notes, the confrontation between Democrats and Bush over Iraq policy will no doubt escalate between now and the 2008 presidential elections, so it shouldn't come as a surprise if this continues to dominate American and world attention. And the word the Democrats will be using is "withdrawal" because it was successful for them in 2006. But it is important not to lose sight of the fact that both parties are equally dominated by American capital, starting with the military firms, oil companies, and so on, and even more important that both are dominated by the "Zionist lobby", and here he cites the Walt-Merscheimer report. The result is that both parties share the same outlook on the world.
And so on this basis, when the Democrats focus on "withdrawal from Iraq", this by no means implies an acceptance of the defeat of the occupation project, which would be tantamount to a global American-Zionist defeat. Rather, the real aim in all of this [for the Democrats] is the defeat of Bush and his party in the 2008 presidential elections, seeing that the word "withdrawal" worked for them in the congressional elections [of 2006]....
Then he takes up the question what the Democrats are actually aiming for with respect to the deployment of American forces in Iraq. Quoting first Senate majority leader Harry Reid: "We are going to continue our pressure on the president to change the course of the war in Iraq, which has been so damaging to the American people", the writer explains:
The expression "change the course" means, according to prior statements by the Democratic party, is limited to the idea of withdrawing the occupation forces from the centers of cities, and from areas contiguous to [areas dominated by] the resistance, in order to minimize further human and material losses, and instead getting the armed forces of the [US-]agent government and the armed militias that are associated with it to confront the resistance, with [the US forces] limiting themselves to a support role.
And he says proof of the American intention to keep their forces in Iraq indefinitely is the fact that that the US is constructing 14 megabases in various parts of Iraq, along with 145 other installations to act as connectors.

Next he outlines what he thinks the political objectives are with respect to the Iraqi resistance. There are two major American aims here, he says:
The first aim is to change the war from a war between the resistance and the forces of the occupation, into a war between Iraqis themselves. Secondly: If the Americans can make the weak nationalist forces believe that they [the Americans] are actually responding to their demand for a withdrawal timetable, and that the time has therefore come to join in the political process--if they can make that happen, then it would be a blow to the Iraqi national resistance, or at least it would complicate the fight between the resistance and the occupation, and delay the liberation of Iraq.
The writer explains what he thinks the American imperial project is, focusing on oil, and he says the continued occupation of Iraq is central to that project, and therefore any voluntary abandonment of the occupation of Iraq would be unthinkable for either party. And the latter is the point he wants to drive home to the resistance.
In summary, the continuing dispute between the two American parties doesn't have to do with the occupation project itself or the building of the American empire; rather, it is limited to the question of how to manage the occupation project in a sound and successful way, after Bush has managed it in a bad way, bringing calamity and disaster to the United States of America...
So it would be a major error, he says in conclusion, for anyone in the resistance to fall for the idea that the United States will ever actually withdraw from Iraq voluntarily.

Al-Hayat reports progress in unifying the domestic resistance versus AlQaeda

Al-Hayat says:
High level sources expect the establishment soon of an "alliance of Sunni armed groups" to be led by the Islamic Army in Iraq, and the formation of a front to include most of the major forces that are resisting the occupation. The sources, which are close to these groups, said the aims include, in addition to resistance itself, the aim of replying to the heterodox ideas that the AlQaeda organization is spreading around in Iraq, and [replying to] the armed operations they carry out against various sectors of the Iraqi people. The groups have decided to meet and to join together under a single point of view, and to commit to legitimate and true jihad, as determined by the clerics of the ummah and the main imams; it is fitting that they should nurture the Sunni people as a whole, and that they should be qualified to lead them, and to extricate them from the serious crisis that they are in. The sources said this is a major project, participated in by several jihadi factions. It grew out of meetings between the leaders, and it has now reached a very advanced stage.
By way of background:
(1) There was a recent report, from Amman I believe, about formation of a new association of Iraqi Sunni scholars where it was stressed they would be issuing rulings that keep away from the "takfiri" approach. I regret I can't find the text or the link for that right now. It seems clear that was part of the same movement reported on today.
(2) Another related and explanatory document is the recent statement by the Islamic Army in Iraq setting out its principles, and on that basis criticizing AlQaeda for intolerance and lawlessness. The most complete summary of that document in English is to be found on a resistance web-site called I think the first 17 points, where the IAI sets out its operating principles, are particularly worth keeping in mind in connection with this ongoing story of conflict conflict between domestic-nationalist aspirations on the one side and the more grandiose transnational ambitions on the other. To me, the analogy is this: It is as if the James Baker wing of the Republican Party had the political courage to issue a manifesto against the neo-cons.
(3) It is true that Al-Hayat has recently had a penchant for focusing on the two somewhat related issues of fighting AlQaeda and reorganizing the resistance, starting last fall with repeated reports of successes by the anti-AlQaeda tribal confederation in Anbar province that are still a little uncertain, at least insofar as the news doesn't seem to have been picked up elsewhere. The Anbar-tribal issue is a separate issue from today's topic, or at least a sub-issue, but still, the uncertainty of the earlier reporting suggests not jumping to conclusions.

For me, as I said, I think for people trying to follow the thread of this, a useful thing at this point is to study the IAI document linked to above, because it really does break new ground in the area of resistance ideology. I would have posted something elaborate on it, but the original Arabic text is filled with Quranic texts and commentary, and I am not up to that. The summary is a good substitute.

(And there's more discussion in a three earlier posts on this by Marc Lynch, and one more today. See the comments for links).

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Straws in the wind

The large-circulation paper Azzaman, often a voice representing the Sunni establishment or a major part of it, treated the Najaf demonstration this way: On their front page, in both the Iraqi and the UK editions, they ran a big picture from Reuters showing the crowd and the massed Iraqi flags (but not showing any of the "No to America" or other slogans), with a caption referring to the fourth anniversary of the fall of Baghdad "where there continues to be lack of security and kidnapping and killing on a sectarian basis, and unemployment", not mentioning Sadr. And there wasn't any article about the demo anywhere on the front page. The lead story started off with an account of the war of words between the Kurdish leader Barzani and the Turkish Prime Minister over Kirkuk and other issues, followed by a mention of surge-related military moves, and only then, very much in passing, does the journalist mention the demo, as follows:
The White House, for its part, minimized the importance of the Najaf demonstration, and affirmed that Moqtada al-Sadr is in Iran. On another issue, American and Iraqi forces succeeded in cleansing Diwaniya of the militias of the Mahdi Army, and arrested 60 of its members. Meanwhile, the American army announced a curfew in Falluja and Hit...and threw a cordon around Ramadi. In the Turkish-Kurdish crisis, the Kurds want to hold a referendum on Kirkuk... [and the subject of the Najaf demo doesn't come up again]
Azzaman has been a vociferously nationalist and anti-occupation paper, one dramatic example being its crusading opposition to the parliamentary vote on federalism procedures last November. It is true that there has never been any love lost between the Baathists and the Sadrists (and the video of the Saddam execution didn't help matters), but what appears be happening is that, as far as Azzaman is concerned, anti-Sadr feelings have morphed into a species of support for the occupation. Hence the reporter here drops the news of the demo entirely (after noting only that the White House minimized its importance) and touts instead the fact that the American and Iraqi forces have "succeeded in cleansing Diwaniya" from the Sadrists.

(The same process seems to be going on in other corners of the world, for instance in the "progressive" American blogs. Swopa at Needlenose, reporting about the demo, calls Sadr a "populist cleric/thug", while most others, following the lead of Azzaman and the White House, are content to minimize the importance of the Najaf demo by ignoring it).

These are what you could call the "commonplace-truth" building blocks for a "new" policy on Iraq, one that will be transferable to the Democrats, modeled on the "Saddam the devil" propaganda of the 2003 period: The first of these building blocks is the "social-science" campaign to establish a commonplace truth to the effect Iraq is no longer a case of resistance to foreign occupation, because it is now a case of "civil war", where the fact of social disintegration, a result of the occupation, is being turned into its justification. (See Flim-Flam and earlier related posts). The second of these building-blocks is the demonization of Sadr, supposed catalyst of the civil war. The aim is to set up a structure of unassailable commonplaces in support of prolonged US military involvement in Iraq, based this time on the idea of saving the Iraqi people from themselves. It wasn't just the lies about WMD that were decisive in 2003, it was more fundamentally the climate of know-nothing demonization. Opponents of the "preventive" invasion were vilified as coddlers and facilitators of a mass-murderer, and believe it or not the same is going to be said about opponents of a prolonged "humanitarian" military involvement.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Politics in flux

Muhamad Ahsan, minister in the regional Kurdistan government for external affairs, accused the national government of Nuri al-Maliki of "losing their nerve" with respect to moving ahead with the "normalization process" for Kurkuk, according to Al-Hayat. He particularly criticized what he said was a decision by Maliki to transfer the right of final authorization of steps (referendum and so on) from himself personally, to his cabinet. Ahsan said Maliki has told him that "minister so-and-so is a terrorist", so how can he expect Kurdistan to agree to putting their fate in the hands of a group including such people. (This apparently indicates there had earlier been an agreement that decisions authorizing the recommendations of the council on Kirkuk-normalization would be up to Maliki personally, not the cabinet).

What this indicates is that in spite of reports elsewhere, the decision on Thursday of last week respecting the Kirkuk process was not entirely to the liking of the Kurdistan government. Moreover, Al-Hayat says it became clear in parliamentary discussions of this that the issue has caused disunity within the major blocs, with some members from the UIA (Shiite), the Iraqi Accord Front (Sunni), and the Iraqi List (Allawi's group), supporting the proposed legislation, and some opposing it. One member described as a leader of the Iraqi List said his group plans a court challenge to the proposed legislation alleging overlooking the rights of Turkmen and Arabs in Kirkuk makes this unconstitutional.

And in the same Al-Hayat story, there are references to similar cases of splintering of the traditional voting blocs on issues relating to the two other pending legislative issues: DeBaathification and Oil. On DeBaathification, the journalist says the Allawi group along with others is proposing an alternative to the government proposal (that would be closer to a complete shut-down of Chalabi's existing DeBaathification Council); and he adds that the Chalabi group has proposed its own version of a revised DeBaathification plan (presumably closer to the existing system). And the journalist suggests there are other alternative proposals too.

On the Oil and Gas law, it appears the Parliamentary president Mahmoud Mashhadani has proposed that parliament sponsor a study session or something of that kind, in Dubai on the seventh of this month, and the Al-Hayat reporter quotes a couple of members as supporting the idea of trying to explain the provisions of the law in an environment away from the "various pressures" of the Green zone.

The Al-Hayat reporter summaizes the legislative free-for-all atmosphere in his lede as follows:
The sessions of the current third legislative period of Parliament are witnessing a paroxysm of disputes within [or "among"] the parties and the political blocs. Discussions on the draft laws with respect to oil and gas, and with respect to DeBaathification, in addition to the Kirkuk proposal, have intensified deep divisions between the parliamentary blocs and within each of the blocs on the one side, and between them and the government on the other.
In a separate piece, Al-Hayat quotes the leader of the Fadhila party, who says his group is still a work on its attempt to find or foster a nationalist program for Iraq that would rescue the country from its current crisis. He said Arab countries in the region have an important role to play in this, describing current efforts as taking place inside and outside of Iraq. He said the parties to any such nationalist program will be bound together not by personalities, but by the program itself, and the ties will not be Islamists but nationalist. But there aren't any specific details.

Monday, April 02, 2007


The NYT, having published last week an exaggerated account suggesting there were real prospects for a meaningful deBaathification law, today prints a matching and equally over-wrought report about the demise of those prospects. The excitement last week in the NYT and elsewhere was part of the up-beat Western press converage congratulating Khalilzad on the conclusion of his highly successful ambassadorship. Local Baghdad coverage was minimal. Same for the disappointment today. I mention this in order to illustrate what I mean by "volatility".

Another current example: A Newsweek writer says "word spread" last summer that the Saudi regime was ready to take agressive action against Iran, Hizbullah and Hamas, but more recently it has become apparent that was completely wrong and that the Saudi king's approach is actually at the other extreme of the spectrum of human attitudes. This in a story based on the theme of a heroic and peace-loving king entitled "Can the Saudi king save the Middle East"? Volatility.

These are small examples, but the principle is the same what you see in the great war-mongering campaigns. Certainly the lies in and of themselves are important, but equally important is the news-approach that eliminates local background, making people tend to accept cartoon-like lack of background as something perfectly normal.

Kirkuk in play ?

It's easy to forget, but the question of the status of Kirkuk was one of the main issues that eventually sunk the candidacy of Jaafari to succeed himself as Prime Minister following the December 2005 general elections. The reason was that the two big Kurdish parties thought he had been dragging his feet on implementation of the constitutional provision that calls for a referendum in Kirkuk by the end of calendar 2007 on whether or not to join the Region of Kurdistan. Kurds expect to win any such referendum. The Kurdish parties rejected coalition with Jaafari mainly because of his stonewalling on that issue, and the result was the Prime Ministership of Nuri al-Maliki. Under Maliki, a commission was set up to make recommendations, headed by Justice Minister Hashem al-Shabali, who under the party-allocations system was the nominee for that post of Allawi's Wifaq or Iraqi List party. The commission apparently recommended not only going ahead with the referendum, but also going ahead with a plan to offer compensation to Arab families that had been moved to Kirkuk by Saddam under his "Arabization" scheme, if they would move back to their places or origin in central and southern Iraq, something that would also please the Kurdish parties. Last Thursday, apparently, the Maliki cabinet approved the commission's recommendations (with some unspecified changes, according to one report), and at about the same time, al-Shabali announced he was resigning as Justice Minister.

Reporting on this recent series of events has been vague. The only reported explanations for the timing of the Justice Minister's resignation have to do with the fact he had differences not only with Maliki, but also with Allawi, and since a cabinet shuffle is expected soon, he decided to jump instead of being pushed. Allawi has reportedly proposed a list of three candidates to replace him, for Maliki to pick one of them. So the post still belongs to Allawi, and the big event that has occurred (according to these sketchy reports) is that Maliki seems to have in some way delivered on his commitment to move ahead with the "Kirkuk normalization" scheme.

One possible interpretation could be that Maliki made this concession to the two big Kurdish parties in order to keep them in his governing coalition, so that they wouldn't join with Allawi in toppling him. One problem with that is that the Justice Minister who was in charge of managing the process was Allawi's nominee. Another bit of food for thought is the top headline in the Iraq edition of Azzaman this morning: "Iraqi List [Allawi's group] flirts with the Kurdish [Alliance] in order to lead a future Government".

Azzaman reporters in Amman and Baghdad report: Allawi is still at work on the creating of a large parliamentary coalition that would permit him to lead a future government. The "core" of this, so far, is his alliance with Adnan Dulaimi who (nominally at least) heads the Iraqi Accord Front, to which Allawi still hopes to add the Fadhila and some of the smaller parties, to arrive at a coalition that would have a little over 80 out of the 275 parliamentary total. The purpose of this is described as follows: The formation of the core group is described as "preparatory" to entering into discussions with the Kurdistan Alliance in order to form a voting bloc big enough to take over the government, and this "in spite of the fact that [Talabani and Barzani] have insisted more than once on their alliance with the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) led by Abdulaziz al-Hakim, which (Kurd-UIA grouping) enjoys a parliamentary majority." The reporters don't say on what basis Allawi hopes to make progress with the Kurds.

But I think it would be fair to say, first, that the Kurds will favor the side that will best promote their cause with respect to Kirkuk. And second, that given the sketchy nature of the reports on last week's cabinet decision and the resignation of the Justice Minister, it would be premature to conclude that one side or the other (meaning Maliki or his would-be successors) has already won the everlasting love and loyalty of the Kurdish parties in this issue.

(Footnote 1: The Azzaman piece also says Islamic Party head Tareq al-Hashemi, in Amman, is engaged in "similar" talks with other parties, including Fadhila for example, also with a view to formation of a parliamentary coalition that could take over from Maliki at some future time. The reporters don't say anything about any relationship between the two reported efforts, so this is uncertainty squared).

(Footnote 2: Back in early 2006, Jaafari, whom the Kurds accused of foot-dragging, was seen as closer to the nationalist position of Moqtada al-Sadr than the US-favored SCIRI candidate, and the eventual choice, Maliki, was seen as a compromise. I mention this only to remind readers that "pleasing the Kurds on Kirkuk" and "Iraqi nationalism" are going to be a tough set of issues for Allawi to bring together, if that is in fact what is going on.)