Saturday, September 29, 2007

Iraq and the Iowa primary

Preachers including those representing the Ayatollah Sistani warned in their Friday sermons yesterday against foreign interventions aimed at breaking up Iraq, implicitly and sometimes explicitly denouncing the Biden plan. But at the same time, a spokesman for the major Sistani client SIIC said the mention of federalism in the "National Pact" announced last week by Tareq al-Hashemi was a positive step and one that should be subject to further inter-party discussions and elaboration. In other words: The three-part federalism scheme is alive and well as a GreenZone collaboration, with the new, tentative, involvement of Hashemi and his Islamic Party (Sunni). But the foreign trumpeting of such a scheme is denounced as a scheme for partition. The apparent contradiction is easily understood. It isn't that anyone has ever doubted American influence on the Green Zone politicians like Hakim and Hashemi. What is new with Biden is the blatant nature of the foreign pressure for a dismemberment of the country. His scheme is seen as the extended middle finger to Iraq and Iraqis.

Which brings us back to the question: Why was the "Biden plan" trumpeted in this way, and why now?

The only available explanation in Washington is that the event--touted as showing Biden's bipartisan skills-- must have been part of his strategy for the Iowa primary. Political junkie Marc Ambinder quotes Biden's Iowa state director Danny O'Brien to the effect Biden is throwing everything into Iowa, featuring a push for endorsements from state legislators, including this: "Third, he’s stress[ing] his Iraq message – “a broader policy offering than they normally expected,” O’Brien says." And when the Biden-Iraq measure passed the Senate on Thursday, Matt Yglesias ran a picture of Biden, with a puff on his Iowa prospects--"Iowa Democrats buzzing about a coming Biden surge"--ostentatiously leaving out any actual mention of the Iraq amendment. It was about Iowa. Iraq as an actual country was beneath anyone's notice.

So the Iraqi perception of this as another screw-you message from America--bipartisan America this time--was no doubt the correct one. One of the Baghdad preachers yesterday put it this way (according to Al-Hayat):
[The preacher] denounced the decision of the American Congress with respect to partitioning Iraq, and warned that this will serve to "promote the process of tearing-apart and internecine fighting in the country", and he asked Iraqis to come to their senses and rise to the level of the responsibilities that have been placed on their shoulders, and he called America the Pharaoh of our modern age, striving for the partitioning of the Iraqi people by faction and by sect and by race.
"America the Pharaoh of the modern age" used to be a signature line of AlQaeda, but the idea is clearly gaining ground. And the primaries haven't even started yet.

Friday, September 28, 2007

The Hashemi -Biden "National Pact"

Biden's Iraq-partition amendment wasn't mentioned at all by the netroots watchdogs before it happened, and very little afterwards. Watchdog Laura Rozen, in her early warning on the bill, mentioned only the Kyl-Lieberman amendment, keeping completely silent about the Biden amendment, and the widely-read fop Yglesias, in his very witty "Kyl-Lieberman post-game", didn't mention it either. It was as if the thing didn't happen. I first found about it from the Baghdad newspaper Azzaman on Wednesday morning, and by Wednesday evening the deed was done. Some people say the whole thing was "meaningless".

Let's look at the context. Please recall that there were two Iraqi politicians who had the immense privilege of one-on-one meetings with Bush after the Amman Bush-Maliki meeting last fall (the "Hadley-memo" meeting, if that helps you place the event). They were Tareq al Hashemi, head of the Islamic Party of Iraq (Sunni), and Abdulaziz al-Hakim, head of SCIRI (Shiite). For convenience, lets refer to them as the two leading politicians clearly in Bush's pocket. Now as it happens, two days ago this man Hashemi announced with much fanfare what he called a "National Pact", touting this as a new departure in national reconciliation, and one of the clauses included recognition of Iraq as a "federal" country. This, as Aswat al-Iraq noted at the time, was the first time ever that a major Sunni party had officially endorsed federalism in any form. (Recall that the fall 2006 disputed parliamentary vote on federalism-procedures was something pushed through by the SCIRI-Dawa-Kurdish bloc, and was bitterly opposed by the Sunni parties. This was, along with the execution of Saddam, one of the major late-06 events that did so much damage to the so-called "political process"). And since then, there have been reports of a very promising meeting between Hashemi and the Ayatollah Sistani on this "National Pact" idea, creating the odor of possible rapprochement between Hashemi's Sunni party, and Hakim's SIIC (one of the major Sistani clients). Thus: Based on a document including the first-ever Sunni-party recognition of "federalism", we have the hint of a rapprochement between the two leading politicians clearly both in Bush's pocket.

And here it is important to understand that these two characters represent, or purport to represent, two of the "big three" slices of the fairy-tale cake that the partition-advocates imagine represents Iraq: "The Sunnis", and "the Shiites". And so what a pleasant surprise to partition-advocates to see that at the same time a character by the name of Joseph Biden has introduced a "sense of the Senate" amendment that advocates just this fairy-tale three-part division. True, it is covered in multiple layers of fine rhetoric, but it is the same division of the spoils: One part for "the Sunnis" (but only that tiny minority that is participating in the Green Zone "political process"), and one for Hakim's SIIC (leaving the status of the Sadrists, Fadhila and all of the other non-SIIC Shiite groups up in the air, or out in the cold).

And here we should refer to the main refutations of the whole Biden dipsy-doodle, one from Reider Visser, cutting through the Biden rhetoric and showing that the Biden plan is unconstitutional even in terms of the existing Iraqi constitution; another by Toby Dodge underlining the depth of Biden's ignorance, wilful or otherwise, about the social and political realities in the country he purports to be talking about. And of course, thirdly, there is the Iraqi resistance, somehow overlooked in the Biden proposal. In other words, the Biden proposal which so many Democrats voted for is bogus in many different ways: It is multi-dimensionally bogus.

But meaningless? Consider the nice fit between the stealth passage of the Biden amendment in Washington, and the "National Pact" announced by Hashemi on the same day in Baghdad and already semi-endorsed by Sistani: both of them, when you look at the fine print, aiming for this same three-part division of the spoils between the Bush-allies. It's true that the Hashemi document talks about "all Iraqis", just as the Biden amendment talks about "agreement" of the Iraqis, but first of all Biden is a known character by this time, and as for the Hashemi scheme is concerned, consider this (from Aswat al-Iraq's summary of the document):
The "National Pact" document proposed procedures and methods for arriving at agreement... and referendums would be one such method or agreement by the leaders of the main political formations in direct meetings, or mass meetings ...
and there follows a list of the types of broad-based meetings that have already been convened in the government's already-discredited and highly unsuccessful "national reconciliation" program.

What obviously jumps out at you, is not the mass-meeting boilerplate, but the suggestion that one possibility for national agreement would simply be agreement by the leaders of the main political formations. That would be people like Hashemi, Hakim and Talabani. The fiction of a "national reconciliation" achievable by this kind of a top-level Green-Zone concordat between the "main political formations" (read: the main Bush allies) is just what the Biden proposal is based on too. Naturally, the Green Zone politicians were unhappy about the publicity attached to the Biden event, with even a SIIC politician accusing him of having done damage to the political process (sorry I can't seem to find that link again, I thought it was in an Aswat al-Iraq item this morning). Agreement on three-part partition is one thing, but publicizing America's support for this is something else again.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Biden on the move

Democratic Senator Joseph Biden is getting ready to introduce this week a non-binding Senate resolution calling for the partitioning (taqsiim: partitioning) of Iraq, according to the Azzaman reporter in Washington, Marcy abu Tauq. Biden is running for president, and he was helped in this by former Carter administration official Leslie Gelb. The Azzaman reporter adds: Several Republican members of the Senate have also shown an interest in this bill. They are politicians who have supported the troop-surge, but at the same time they denounce the political crisis that persists among the Iraqi leaders. Sam Brownback, one of the eleven signers of the bill (and one of the Republican candidates for president) said: [He supports this bill because] "we are currently supporting a failed political strategy in Iraq". And the reporter adds: The supporters of the bill think it is "the political key to withdrawal of American troops before the advent of anarchy".

In other words: This is a project that is being reported--correctly--as a purely political exercise, enabling American politicians to square the circle between "supporting the surge" and "getting the troops out". Because: Having supported the troops and supported the surge for the sake of the Iraqi nation, the only consistent justification for now withdrawing the troops now is that the nation itself is finished. That's what they mean by the "political key to withdrawal." There isn't any discussion of actual feasibility of desirability of this, or even what it actually means in reality.

What about this, netroots watchdogs? Heard anything about it?

(Update from our boldface reporter:

Steve Clemons reports that many if not most of the watchdogs are over at the Clinton Global Initiative, mingling with people who paid $15,000 to get in. It is good practice for them. Steve says he has already spotted Matt Yglesias, Ezra Klein, Brian Beutler, Blake Hounsell, and Sameer Lalwani.

Badger will have updates throughout the day.

This just in: Steve says Angelina Jolie is there! And Steve ran into a former Secretary of Commerce of the United States of American, and Michael Eisner formerly of the Disney organization!

3:00pm: They have fallen asleep)

Meanwhile, the measure passed the Senate this very afternoon, as a non-binding amendment to a budget measure. It is being touted as evidence of strong bipartisan leadership by Biden, a rebuff to the Bush administration, and the long-awaited first step to bringing the troops home. Not bad packaging for a measure that calls for Iraq to be split up into sectarian units over the heads of the Iraqis.

Monday, September 24, 2007

More on the ISI puzzle

Al-Hayat says the statement yesterday accusing Hamas Iraq and the 1920 Brigades of treachery, and classifying them as belonging to "deviant" groups (a statement summarized in the prior post here) was actually an official Islamic State of Iraq pronouncement, and not just a discussion-piece as I had thought. Which also means the other side of that argument (namely: don't adopt this polarizing attitude) was amounted to a direct criticism of the ISI.

Today, following up on the puzzle that is the ISI, I would like to outline some of the points in a little essay that appears today on that same website (, flagged with their thumbs-up icon, by a long-time participant there calling himself Muhib ibn Uthaymeen. It is addressed to the Iraq jihadi community and two of the introductory attention-grabbing questions are: What the heck happened to al-Baghdadi's threat to wage war on Iran, made two months ago with a two month grace period (Baghdadi's latest speech a week ago said nothing about it). And what the heck happened to that threat of a new wave of suicide attacks, something that also hasn't happened?

The writer explains: The ISI has three enemies: The Americans, the nation of the rejectionists (Iran and Iran-in-Iraq), and the Sunni turncoats (groups including that of the late Abu Risha, Hamas Iraq, and others). Priorities change as conditions change, and right at this moment, he says, the top priority is fighting the Sunni turncoats. He says it is pointless to try and minimize the damage they have done to the ISI cause; true leaders like al-Baghdadi don't hide their heads in the sand.

He explains that in spite of their other differences, these three enemies generally work together when it comes to fighting ISI, so the ISI leadership, in fighting the Sunni turncoats, has been working to clear the field of those who would otherwise support them, namely the Iranians and the Americans.

First, the threat against Iran has had the effect of fending off Iranian influence in Diyala province (currently the biggest ISI base if there is one). I don't completely understand his tactical discussions here, but the gist of his point is that the warning to Iran was part of a strategy of keeping them away so that the ISI fighters could better concentrate on fighting the Sunni turncoats.

Second, the recent threat of a new wave of suicide-bombings was a ruse to get the Americans to withdraw to their bases for Ramadan, and this has had the effect of leaving the turncoat-Sunnis without effective American protection, thus enabling the ISI fighters to make new inroads against them in face-to-face fighting. Because in this type of fighting air-support isn't effective because of the inability to tell which side is which.

In other words, these two questions both have the same answer: The aim has been to clear the field for a Ramadan campaign by the ISI against the Sunni turncoats, by depriving them of Iranian and American support.

Moreover, this writer says, the ISI has been able to use the turncoat-US agreement to its own benefit. That is because the US agreed, in exchange for the turncoats' help in fighting the ISI, that it would in effect shut down the Mahdi Army, and this is what has happened with the recent declaration by al-Sadr of a suspension of activities. The writer says this has been felt particularly in Diyala province, where the Mahdi army opposition is much weaker than it had previously been.

Finally, the writer asks one of the obvious questions: If the chief enemy is the Sunni turncoats, why not name them and go after them openly?
But it would perhaps be undesirable to put this before ordinary people, who are still pretty much in the dark and don't yet see things clearly. Because the turncoats don't have any badge or mark to distinguish them from the ordinary run of people, or any distinctive way of dressing. Unfortunately you can't identify them without associating with them and getting to know them-except for a few of the famous names.
That's why the statements by al-Baghdadi, declaring war on the rejectionists and so on, don't also declare war on "the tribes" or on "Hamas Iraq":
[These turncoat groups] have not done actual damage to the common people, who don't yet see things clearly. Moreover what is the point of giving our enemies [this kind of an] occasion for a public-relations attack on the ISI?
There you have it: The ISI considers its main current enemy to be its own Sunni compatriots, but they can't declare that too openly because people "don't yet understand things clearly". Admitting, in effect, that they have to continue to forfeit any mass support. And secondly, they appear to be losing support among the jihadi community as well. Because why else would it be necessary to publish this kind of a convoluted justification of what on the face of it would appear to have been a series of empty threats, if not to stem a loss of support even among the jihadi community itself.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

"The current realities of jihad in Iraq" (with an update)

There is an interesting debate going on at one of the jihadi websites (not one that hosts official announcements, but one that hosts discussions) concerning accusations against the Brigades of the 1920 Revolution and its offshoot "Hamas Iraq", to the effect that they have been cooperating with the American forces. My purpose isn't to try and track down what happened, which would no doubt be impossible anyway. Rather, what is of real interest is the clash of attitudes respecting the problem of unity versus fragmentation in the ranks, now that people are starting to think about an American withdrawal.

One recent post is headed: "Salafist jihad versus the [Muslim] Brotherhood": an expression that needs to be changed, O Islamic State", the commenter's point being that it is a grave tactical error for the ISI to put itself in a confrontational posture, not only with the Muslim Brotherhood and its affiliates (including Hamas Iraq) but also with respect to other islamist groups that don't necessarily consider themselves "Salafist". If there are people and events to be criticized, the criticism should be made very specific. The AQ program is supposed to be inclusive in the sense of leading all Muslims to the true religion. The Muslim Brotherhood people aren't evil, so what is the point of deliberately pushing them to be your enemy. And a commenter adds: "Treachery should be exposed, but generalizing and lumping together all who belong to the Muslim Brotherhood is what I don't see the point of. It serves to limit the Islamic State of Iraq to people who consider themselves Salafi jihadis and this is neither the time nor the place for that kind of limitation...[Ibn Taimiyya] against the Tartars didn't distinguish in the ranks of the jihadis between the shaariya and the salafiya."

They are responding to a lengthy post by someone who argued that the time is ripe for spelling out just where each of the various factions stand with respect to basic principles. If you eliminate the Baathists and the nationalists, this person says, you are left with three broad categories of islamist jihadi classifications: (1) "First, there are the factions that belong to the Muslim Brotherhood trend, and they are known for their doctrinal softness, and for their support of the concept of democratic elections, for which they claim legal status, and they permit participation in agent governments at the invitation of corrupt interests". (2) Second, there are groups that raise the banner of salafism, but inwardly they participate, whether knowingly or not, in many of the Brotherhood practices. They are known as "awakening (sahwa) Salafis". The unclarity of their program permits them to appear in many guises, and they are considered (among the three trends described here) as the "moderates". (3) "Finally there are the groups that hold to Salafist jihadi methodology that is clear and well-known in its theses respecting method, and law, and politics, all of which aim for the government by the law of God, and the establishment of this religion on earth".

The writer claims his purpose in spelling things out in this way isn't to classify people, or even to rule out the possibility of tactical cooperation with the deviant groups. Rather, he says, his motivation is that the current state of things in Iraq requires us at this particular time to be clear on these matters of principle:
The present realities of jihad in [Iraq] require us to explain the truth and to clarify [what is involved] for the ummah and not to dress things up. Because the present reality confirms that we are in a battle of methods with certain deviant methodologies, and it is necessary to explain this to the ummah. It is in this context that I would like to explain the truth of the Brigades of the 1920 Revolution and what happened by way of serious deviations in its path, because it has been converted from a faction of resistance to the occupation into a militia that fights against the mujadiheen, and goes along with the American project.
It seems pretty clear what this writer means when he talks about the "current realities of jihad". He is talking about idea of unity and compromise in the ranks of the resistance (see for instance the recent statement by the Association of Muslim Scholars of Iraq on this point), given all the talk about an imminent American "withdrawal". His point is that while tactical cooperation is still possible, this broaching of the idea of compromise on basic principles is tantamount to a crisis that needs to be met. There should be no such compromise. Naturally, according to this writer, AMSI is associated with the deviant groups, namely those that are open to the idea of democratic elections. This rejection of the idea of compromise echoes the hard-line "pure salafist methodology" explained by Abu Yahya al-Libi in his recent video.

Here, then, is another possible explanation why Washington is turning out the lights on jihadi announcements and discussions: There is evidence of serious fragmentation between the MB-types (not to mention the Baathists and the nationalists) on the one side, and the ISI types on the other. For an American administration that wants to continue to scare us with the AlQaeda in Iraq bugbear, the obvious move at this point is to bring down the curtain on the whole discussion.

(Update on the Bridages of the 1920 Revolution: Their official spokesman Abdullah Suleiman al-Ammari was on AlJazeera from Baghdad to stress again that the 1920 Brigades deny any cooperation with the Americans in any of the Iraqi provinces, and backing that up with numbers for Americans killed and wounded and vehicles destroyed by the 1920 Brigades alone, in July and August. He was then asked specifically about the rumors of an American attack on Iran and where his group stood on that issue.
Al-Ammari denied there have been any contacts with the Americans concerning the frequently mentioned possibility of the Americans launching a military strike on Iran, stressing that the 1920 Brigades sets its tactics independently depending on changes in what occurs and according to each stage. And Al-Ammari replied to a question about the Brigades' attitude to such a possible American strike on Iran, by saying "If that were to happen we would consider that to have been a divine judgment from God, because Iran has been supporting the United States in its occupation of Iraq," adding, "We would not support one side over the other.")

Friday, September 21, 2007

This could be why people are pretty quiet about the latest "AQ" releases

The Al-Hayat account today of the latest "Bin Laden" tape is accompanied with a screen-capture or whatever you call that, a still, showing the SITE Institute moniker in the upper corner. And AlQuds al-Arabi, for its part, refers to the same SITE institute as an authority for saying the latest tape is "new". The Hayat picture suggests that that London-based pan-Arab paper possibly wasn't able to find the tape on any of actual "jihadi" sites. And the Al-Quds reference is probably an indication that there wasn't any better "analysis" to rely on. Peculiar.

What has happened is that in recent weeks or is it months, the web-sites where normally you could browse the jihadi comment-boards, and find the latest releases, have become unavailable. (You needed registration to comment, but anyone could read). These included,,, and others. Most or all of these, reportedly, were hosted in the United States, which also seems a bit strange. Just to be clear, it isn't clear how or by whom (or as far as I am concerned, exactly when) these were shut down. The fact that Al-Hayat is showing the version released by SITE Institute (and that Al-Quds refers to the SITE "analysis") seem to imply that the shut-down has been fairly thorough.

After the above sites were shut down, I became aware of another site called, which however required registration even to read (not a good idea; don't try this at home, as the saying is). Today, however, the site is headed with an announcement that says "Al-Ekhlaas has been made open for a limited time" and beneath that there are banners advertising an Ansar al-Sunnah forum, a message to the people of Pakistan with a picture of Bin Laden, a declaration of war on Musharraf and his army, and the lengthy composite release starring Zawahari (the one that includes his statement: "Taking back al-Andalus is a responsibility borne by the Ummah as a whole, but particularly on you in particular [to the Islamic people of the Maghreb], and this cannot be done without cleansing the Muslim Maghreb of the children of France and Spain...") The files are on file-hosting sites, from which theoretically you should be able to download them, but in all the cases I tried, these file-hosting sites have already deleted the files, either because of "complaints" or else it is just that the files don't exist there.

Without any expert knowledge in the area, it seems to me clear that the neck of the funnel is tightening, and via whatever technical methods, the news from "AlQaeda" is increasingly filtered through anti-Islamist entities like SITE, and also (you can check some of her antecedents on the Wikipedia, or you could just check the sites listed on her blogroll which include Daniel Pipes, Michelle Malkin and other superstars of the extreme right).

What strikes me as even more peculiar is that this is heppening at the same time that the "AlQaeda" message is becoming noticeably more Bush-like, by which I mean that the stress is more and more on the irreconcilable and open-ended "war of cultures" nature of the conflict, (as opposed to earlier positions that in effect said "as you kill you will be killed", suggesting that the conflicts were thought of as defined). And in this context the Zawahiri remarks about killing the French and Spanish in the Maghreb are particularly telling.

So these two things are happening at the same time: These messages are filtered through Washington-based groups, and the content of the messages is increasingly supportive of the idea of an open-ended and endless war between Islam and the West.

There is another piece of this picture. Increasingly people are speculating about the possibility that Bush will have to forego some of his warlike plans because at some point his term of office will run out, and the question then becomes how he will go about setting the table to make sure that a successor Democratic administration is faced with no alternative but to continue down the same road. Surely (just thinking of the logic of it), if the Bush-Cheney people were able to ratchet up the "AlQaeda" issue as an imminent threat to, say, the nuclear state of Pakistan, or to a cleansing of white people from North Africa, that would go a long way to serve that purpose.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

America's Sampson option

First the Bush administration had the US forces invade Iraq on the absolute certainty that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. Then after the American people discovered that wasn't true, instead of punishing Bush and his people for the lies, instead they re-elected him! It is one of those stories whose telling still evokes a sense of wonder and amazement among people in the Arab and Islamic worlds, not just for the history of it, but also for the awful sense that the story is going to be repeated. So it is that the recent discussions about the well-foundedness or otherwise of American allegations about an Iranian proxy-war in Iraq, or the Syrian nuclear connection with North Korea, seem so ludicrous and so frightening at the same time.

As lawyer and op-ed columnist Issam Naaman puts it, the question before us is not the truth or otherwise of the recent allegations and insinuations by America and its cohorts about the Iranian threat and the Syrian threat. The implication: We've had six years of Bush and the American corporate media to teach us how to deal with that question.

I call attention to this not just as an illustration of how irrelevant and contemptible American discussions can be in the Arab and Islamic worlds. There is also an analytical interest. Naaman discusses in an op-ed this morning in Al-Quds al-Arabi a novel interpretation of the recent saber-rattling, namely that in addition to the obvious targets of attempted intimidation, namely Iran and Syria and their allies, it is quite likely the creation of an atmosphere of menace is also designed to keep the supposedly pro-American cohorts from deviating from the American line, as they clearly show signs of doing, by intimating that their failure to help America rack up political gains could result in nothing less than war.

Maliki, for instance:
In Iraq, Prime Minister Maliki is on the verge of escaping from the American clutches. Possibly he is already in the Iranian clutches, at least he is starting to take more positions independent of Washington [for instance yanking the Blackwater licence]...By escalating its talk of war with Iran, Washington is hoping to rein in Maliki, before his behavior causes America to suffer a political defeat in Iraq following on the heels of its military defeat.
Similarly, Washington is exasperated by the backsliding not only of Abbas, but of the Saudi King and also Mubarak, who are insisting on some tangible concession from Israel in exchange for going along with the charade of a November "peace conference" with Bush and Olmert in Washington. Here too, says Naaman
we can say that the American campaign of intimidation and fear is designed to convince Abbas and Abdulaziz and Mubarak that there are more serious challenges that require being faced up to, and this requires putting first things first [meaning the Iran-Syria threat is more important than this question of concessions from Olmert on Palestine].
And similarly in Lebanon, the current US concern is to get their puppet Siniora to go along with the compromise agreement on election of a new President, something the March 14 people still haven't agreed to. The argument is the same, namely that there are bigger fish to fry in the longer term leading to confrontation of Syria and Hezbollah. He says the implicit warning is the same in all three cases: Without this short-term political progress the US needs, the alternative for the US would be to detonate the situation instead by military means.

It is an interesting argument, suggesting that the Bush administration is adopting a modification of what the Al-Quds editorialist sometimes refers to as the "Sampson option", namely pulling down the pillars of the temple over the heads of everyone, as a last resort. One problem for the Americans being that this isn't really a modification of the Sampson option, it is the real thing. Because it isn't only the Arab region that will be devastated if this strategy goes forward.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Advice to the resistance: "Let's not be lured into fighting Iran too"

One reason for the recent American exaggeration of the Iranian role in Iraq, most notably in the Petraeus testimony, is to invite the Sunni resistance to enter into an arrangement of convenience with the American occupation, either by the Sunnis joining the so-called political process in order to help fend off Iranian influence in the Green Zone, or else by suspending or easing their attacks on the American occupation in the interests of a tacit agreement to focus on the Iranian threat. This is the reading of Awni Qalamji, a Sunni-resistance ideologue writing in his regular Al-Quds al-Arabi opinion column. Naturally Qalamji's point is to warn against getting sucked into taking any such attitude.

Of course, he writes, no one can or should underestimate the damage that the Iranians have done to the interests of Iraqi unity and independence. However, he warns:
All of this doesn't give us the right--and particularly it doesn't give the Iraqi resistance the right--to alter the arrangement of our priorities and make secondary struggles more important than the main struggle against the occupation. In fact it has been said, always and everywhere since the beginning of the Age of Colonialism, that it is the occupation that gives birth to the legitimacy of the resistance, and it follows that the main battlefield in the liberation of Iraq is to focus our fighting on the American occupation, as the spearhead and leader of the occupation and its main force.
It is one of the lessons of all colonial struggles including Vietnam and Algeria that resistance begins and ends with the preservation of one's own forces and the demolition of those of the occupier, and under no reasoning or pretext, no matter how apparently convincing, should the resistance forces be dissipated in more than one front. Dispersal of resistance forces among different fronts makes them easier targets for the occupation forces, and Qalamji says this is particularly the case now, considering that the resistance is still weak in rear-guard support and fixed bases.

He says the requirement for overall strategic unity doesn't mean the resistance can't from time to time allocate forces to secondary or supporting aims, but his main point is the need for overall strategic unity against the American occupation. For one thing, he adds, unity will prepare the way for the establishment of fixed bases for the resistance, a very important condition for final victory.

Underlying this discussion of strategic singleness of purpose with tactical flexibility is the following idea: The techniques used against the Americans are also applicable against the secondary or derivative parties that support in many ways the occupation . Luckily for our understanding of what Qalamji is saying, there is a saying that is common to English and Arabic:
Taking the battle against the American occupation to the other circles of the occupation is not a case of the chicken and the egg where the question is which comes first. Rather it is an application of this principle: [The battle against the American occupation itself is] the only way to weaken the forces of the occupation and weaken their underpinnings, and this will lead necessarily to the weakening and convulsion of the helpers and the cooperators with the occupation, whether they are Iraqis or whether they are Iranians, or whether they are mercenaries or Israeli Mossad, or [Kurdish] separatists.

An editorial note from missing links: There is a pronounced tendency on the part of most commentators to do two things: (1) One is to aggressively ignore any statements expressed by Iraqis or others in Arabic, unless these have been refracted at least once, or better still twice or many times, though the interpretative lens of reliable authorities such as AP or Juan Cole or one of the netroots authorities. One thing I have been trying to do here is to bring the discussion back to Arabic discussions in Arabic, so far as that is possible. Often, as in the case of the Istanbul Conference at the end of last year, just to take one example out of many, the Arabic views are completely washed out of the English language discussions, and what you get instead is a monotone. So I think one reason for the unpopularity of this blog is its strangeness: a lot of the material stands outside of what people are used to seeing.

(2) The second unfortunate tendency is to never admit you don't have the Complete Answer. Of course Juan Cole is the worst at this, but it is a disease that affects all of us. I myself sometimes hate to admit I don't know how the pieces fit together. What's lacking in myself and others is an ability to hold different viewpoints and different explanations in the mind at the same time, while sorting them out. Of course, we all have first principles, and it goes without saying that mine is that foreign occupation is wrong, and everything else follows from that. But that doesn't mean there aren't twists and turns. What is AlQaeda in Iraq: A Saudi/CIA supported entity? Or possibly a group that is starting to see its ideology challenged and rejected in ways it hasn't experienced up to now? A little of both? I do not know. I did my best to report on the cats paw hypothesis, and more recently on the ideological-challenge idea.

All of which is by way of explaining why I posted today's post. It is because it illustrates an important factor in resistance thinking: namely that the US is in the process of trying to lure the resistance into a tacit deal that would have the effect of focusing on the Iran as the enemy. Part of the run-up to a war with Iran? I don't know.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Former ally attacks Bin Laden

Saudi preacher Salman al-Awda was up until the early 90s one of the big names in the so-called Islamist-awakening opposition to the Saudi regime. This was a movement that denounced the Saudi regime for deviating from the principles of Islam, and particularly for permitting the basing of American troops on the holy land. Those including Bin Laden who became activist jihadis starting with the Afghanistan resistance were strongly influenced by this school in their early orientation. Al-Awda has toned down his criticism of the Saudi regime in recent years, and has criticized certain actions by the jihadis, for instance he criticized the Khobar Towers bombing. (You can find a good summary of the movement, including Awda's place in it, by International Crisis Group, Mideast Report # 31, here). In other words, when Yahya al-Libi referred in his recent video lecture to those he accuses of conniving with the Saudi regime and working to "isolate the jihadis from the ummah", Al-Awda was no doubt close to the top of the list of people he had in mind. But until now al-Awda had not gone so far as to criticize the jihadi project as a whole or to denounce Bin Laden by name.

All of which is by way of background to something Al-Quds al-Arabi put on its front page this morning, headed: "Former Saudi regime opponent criticizes Bin Laden". The article says
A former Saudi islamist opposition person attacked for the first time the leader of the AlQaeda organization Osama bin Laden, who recently renewed his challenge to the United States on the occasion of the sixth anniversary of the attacks of September 11.

In a message to Osama bin Laden published on the website Islam al-Yaum, Sheikh Salman bin Fahd al-Awda, the fundamentalist preacher who was arrested in 1994 for his religious and political activism, questioned bin Laden: "How much blood has been shed and how many innocents and old people and children have been killed and displaced in the name of AlQaeda? Do you take lightly the fact you will be meeting your god bearing this burden? And who bears the responsibility for all the youth and the young girls in the prime of their life and of their passions who have embarked on paths of which they do not understand the outcome. Perhaps they were deceived, and lost their way in the labyrinth of which there is no end.

What have we gained from the destruction of an entire people as happened in Iraq and Afghanistan? Who benefits from the attempts to turn Morocco, Algeria, Saudi Arabia and other places into panic-stricken countries where people can have no confidence...
It goes on, but you get the picture. These passages were also quoted in a short piece on yesterday, with the same news-hook, which is that here we have one of the iconic figures of the modern Saudi Islamic-awakening movement, criticizing, not just particular mistakes and excesses of the jihadis, but rather attacking the project in its entirety, and attacking Bin Laden by name.

Just to review the chronology, what is happening is that AlQaeda via Bin Laden and Al-Libi, and no doubt others, are re-affirming the hard-line approach that says all are enemies who are not adherents of the pure jihadi method, and on the ground in Iraq this is reflected in the declaraction of war by Al-Baghdadi, naming a number of the domestic Iraqi-resistance groups by name. And at the same time, on the other side, there seems to be a stepped-up ideological attack against these people, something that was implict as background in the defensive tone of Al-Libi's lecture, and that here in the attack by Al-Awda is a little more visible.

AlQaeda clearly feels itself under the gun ideologically, and I think this is important background to understanding the outbreak of open warfare between the ISI and domestic Iraqi-resistance groups.

Sunday, September 16, 2007


Reuters says it appears "suspected AlQaeda militants" are following through on a threat by ISI head Omar al-Baghdadi to launch attacks during Ramadan against those who cooperate with the Americans and their agents, noting in particular an attack that killed 14 people in Muqdadiya (Diyala province, north of Baghdad) and torched at least 12 shops. Meanwhile, Al-Hayat reports that the concern about the AlQaeda takeover of Hur Rajab south of Baghdad has triggered a broad-based meeting between tribal leaders throughout the region south of Baghdad as far as Latifiya and Yusufiya (the so-called triangle of death) with the ranking Iraqi army official in charge of security for that region, to plan "methods of cooperation", but the results of the meeting aren't indicated any more specifically than that. Needless to say, fighting between armed groups on one side and US allies on the other in these two broad areas isn't anything new, given their strategic importance as the "gateways" to Baghdad. (See for instance this March 07 post called "AlQaeda/ISI making inroads north and south of Baghdad").

What seems to have changed a little, perhaps a lot, is the politics. As noted in the prior post, Sunni residents of Hur Rajab were able to take refuge in a Shiite neighborhood; moreover, today's Al-Hayat article says the region-wide meetings to plan countermeasures have included the heads of Shiite as well as Sunni tribes. So at the very least, this isn't a reflection of any Sunni/Shiite antagonism; and at best, it could help bring the two confessional groups together in a common cause. And there is another side to this, more immediately dramatic, namely the open nature of the split between the AlQaeda/ISI camp and the domestic resistance groups that ISI considers not sufficiently Islamist/fundamentalist. A good illustration of that is offered by this item posted today on the resistance website It is self-explanatory:
Al-Qa‘idah suspected in murder of Iraqi Resistance leader, former Iraqi Army General in Ba‘qubah.

In a dispatch posted at 9:28pm Baghdad time Saturday night, the Aswat al-‘Iraq news agency, which was set up by Reuters and the U.N. Development Agency, reported that a prominent commander in the Brigades of the 1920 Resistance organization was killed in an armed attack by gunmen that took place in the Ba‘qubah al-Jadidah section of Ba‘qubah, 65km northeast of Baghdad on Saturday.

Aswat al-‘Iraq reported a source who asked to remain anonymous as saying that six men in an ambulance attacked Brigadier General Khalid Rashid Matar (of the Army of the Republic of Iraq prior to the US invasion) and the 1920 Brigade commander who was with him. Both men were killed in the attack.

The source declined to identify the 1920 Brigade commander who was assassinated. He said only that the commander was “prominent” and had been one of those who took part in the counteroffensive of Resistance forces against the al-Qa‘idah organization. Iraqi Resistance groups launched a counteroffensive against al-Qa‘idah after that organization began attacking Resistance men and families who refused to pledge allegiance to al-Qa‘idah and its Sunni sectarian so-called “Islamic State of Iraq” which was facilitating the implementation of US and Zionist plans to partition Iraq along sectarian lines.

Aswat al-‘Iraq reported that the Resistance organization known as the Brigades of the 1920 Revolution was formed in the first few months after the American invasion in the spring of 2003. Many of its members belonged to the Zawbi‘ tribe, a Sunni tribe that played a prominent role in the historic Iraqi revolt against the British colonialists in 1920 in which the Zawbi‘ tribe’s Shaykh Darri Al Mahmud ash-Shamari killed British Colonel Gerald Leachman in August that year.

And in fact this idea of "AlQaeda versus the Iraqi Resistance" is brought out even more clearly in another Al-Hayat article this morning by Mashraq Abbas. As part of his history of the Abu Risha phenomenon, he calls attention to something that has been generally unnoticed about the ISI declaration of its special Ramadan war against collaborators. At about the same time that statement was posted in the internet, he writes, there was also an audio message from Omar al-Baghdadi which he urged the prosecution of the representative leaders of the Islamic Party, and "the brotherhood" in Iraq [meaning those affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, including the Islamic Party of Iraq], and the leaders of groups like the Brigades of the 1920 Revolution, and "Hamas Iraq", and the "Front for Jihad and Change" which was recently announced. [Al-Baghdadi] stressed that these are more serious dangers to the Islamic State than others, and in this connection he named the operations they are planning for Ramadan after the former AlQaeda head Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

And why are the resistance groups "dangerous"? That is something AlQaeda's up-and-coming ideologue, Abu Yahya al-Libi, spelled out in his recent video lecture: The biggest danger comes from those who promote "the methodologies of adaptation and compromise, whose adoption has become one of the characteristics of the age..." The background was the proposition of the Association of Muslim Scholars of Iraq and others to the effect that there is an urgent need for unity among all of the groups opposing the American occupation. For Al-Libi, and no doubt Al-Baghdadi or whoever is running that show, the AMSI suggestion represents a mortal danger to the purity of the jihadi method. Al-Libi explains there are many ways that their enemies attempt to isolate the jihadis from the ummah, and one of the most dangerous is this idea of compromise, coming from those who promote, as he put it
...some of the methodologies adopted by Islamic movements far removed from jihad, especially those with a democratic approach and those groups that melt and bend the source texts and iron them out so that they agree with the civilization and methodologies of the West, and portraying these groups as moderate, balanced...pushing them into ideological confrontation with the jihadist groups. (this is at minute 44 of the video).
In other words, where the end-game for AMSI and many of the Iraqi Resistance factions has to involve compromise on political aims and a political program, for the ISI/AQ types the end-game involves just the opposite: standing firm against just these distortions of the purity of the jihadi method. I think the Ramadan campaign is a manifestation of this polarization.

(And if it is, then the good side of it could be that the Resistance, freed from any association with the crazies, might find itself that much closer to the possibility of a rapprochement with the Sadrists and the formation of a truly national front. A pious thought for the start of a holy month.)

Saturday, September 15, 2007

"May God punish those who divide us"

Over 100 Sunni families from the Hur Rajab district in south Baghdad took refuge during the last few days in a nearby Shiite neighborhood (Abu Dsheer, south Baghdad) where they are being housed and sheltered, after being driven out of their homes in Hur Rajab by heavily armed takfiiri groups the refugees call AlQaeda. Reuters had a TV clip on this last Wednesday September 12, and today the story is taken up by the Sadrist news site
Salman Abdul Awda, head of one of the households that took refuge in Abu Dsheer, told Nahrainnet: "AlQaeda slaughtered men and women...and they blew up dozens of houses belonging to members of the tribal awakening of Hur Rajab. It was God who delivered us from their evil, and we took refuge with our Shiite brothers in Abu Dsheer, and they have been brave and honorable with us."

According to a woman who lost her husband and took refuge in Abu Dsheer with her children, The fighting ...started Tuesday (Sept 11), and there was no intervention by the American or Iraqi forces. We have seen dozens of bodies in the street, some decapitated. Today we received news that AlQaeda has won complete control of Hur Rajab with the withdrawal of the tribal awakening fighters because of inadequate ammunition and weapons. [A member of the local tribal awakening told Nahrainnet they fought for three days without any sign of assistance of any kind from the Iraqi or American forces].

Residents of Abu Dsheer said "This is a serious development for the neighboring areas like ours, because AlQaeda is going to use this to expand into these surrounding areas. [They said] Abu Dsheer is going to be a target of AlQaeda mortar and rocket fire, having already been subject to daily mortar attacks. And this is in addition to what Abu Dsheer has to put up with by way of continuous pressure from the American forces, which invade our area and simply forget about the areas that are under the control of AlQaeda. In fact what they [the American forces] do is arrest volunteers in those groups that are bearing the burden of fighting the takfiiris and the Baathists. What they do is they arrest those young men, and at the same time they completely ignore the areas that are under the control of the terrorists."
From the Wednesday Reuters story:

More than 100 Sunni families fled their homes in Hur Rajab,
south of Baghdad on Wednesday (September 12) after what they said was an
attack by al-Qaeda fighters.
Leaving their possessions behind, women, children and young people
fled in pickup trucks and small cars to the neighbouring Shi'ite neighbourhood
of Abu Dsheer were they were hosted by the Shi'ites.
"They deported us saying that they will hit us. We fled with our
children. My husband is a detainee and now I am afraid for my sons. I fled and
we are considered now as displaced and we are afraid of being killed,"
said Amal Abdul Razzaq.
"There is no difference between Sunnis and Shi'ites. All of us are
Muslims. May God punish those who divide us.
On the face of it, this story, essentially the same in Reuters and Nahrainnet, appears to show the American forces implicitly supporting AlQaeda, by harassing the non-takfiiri citizenry, with the latter taking refuge in Sunni/Shiite solidarity.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Shiite views on Abu Risha

Azzaman, which is of Sunni orientation, cites laudatory remarks about Abu Risha by the official Sadrist spokesman in Najaf, who denounced his assassination, and added
Abu Risha was the person who was able to establish the possibility of fighting terror and restoring security and peace to many areas of Iraq...
And the Sadrist news site says this:
The news of the killing of Abu Risha, a Sunni by creed, had a major resonance among the Shiites of Iraq, something that once again gives the lie to the accusation that there is sectarian war struggle between Sunnis and Shiites, so much so that the satellite television channel "Light" known for its [Shiite] creedal orientation, when it made room for receipt of messages from viewers of condolence for the martyrdom of Abu Risha, the volume of messages was amazing, amounting to thousands between the time of the announcement and midnight of last night, and they were all from Shiite Iraqis from all over the country, and particularly from the South. They called him a hero and a martyr and a fighter against terror, and this reflected the place Abu Risha had in the hearts of Shiites for his courage in fighting the wahabi takfiiri terrorists of AlQaeda....
The SIIC (SCIRI) site carries a number of very flowery eulogies of Abu Risha, but the tone is a lot more aggressive and broad-brush. Where the Sadrist expressions of condolence and admiration seem to have put the emphasis of the specific acts of clearing away terror, the SIIC statements (or at least those on the SIIC site) tend to talk more about the alleged structure that Abu Risha was supposedly fighting: namely not only takfiiri terror, but also the Baathist environment that they say fostered and continues to cooperate with the terror. Here is an example:
[Abu Risha] is surely among those who have dedicated themselves to the national spirit and the defence of Iraq as against those from within and without who would pollute it, and who are those gangs that would devastate Iraq from within if not the Baathist remnants and those who defend them. ... Those who target the [truly] national persons of Iraq [like Abu Risha], are not as is so often said from AlQaeda, but rather from the Baathists and the Sadamists, because what is AlQaeda but a group whose entry into Iraq was permitted...and they have been mostly exterminated...and the Baathists and the Sadamists have taken over the name and the commentary, and issue statements [in the AQ name] on every event... The person who placed the bomb that martyred Abu Risha, who knew his habits and his movements, wasn't from AlQaeda but was someone close to him...

In neither case (Sadrist reactions or SIIC ones) is there any mention of Abu Risha's cooperation with the Americans. In death that seems to have been forgiven him, or at least forgotten. But beyond that, it is important to notice the big difference between the Sadrist reactions and those of the SIIC coloration. For the Sadrists, it seems this was a man whose fight against takfiiri terror wasn't particularly polluted or negated by his cooperation with the Americans, any more than the political arm of the Sadrist movement itself, in and out of the US-sponsored government, is considered by Sadrists to have been compromised by that. But for the SIIC eulogists, what is in question isn't specifically the fight against terror, it is rather the fight against the Baathist remnants and those who protect and cooperate with them. In this, the SIIC eulogists seem to be harking back to the original Bush-administration propaganda to the effect there is no genuine domestic resistance to the occupation, only a bunch of dead-enders and a few left-over terrorists. (This is somewhat impressionistic: The Buratha site does take the trouble to note that the opinions expressed there are those of the respective authors only).

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Abu Risha's place in history

Western readers' introduction to the late Abu Risha was in a memorable NYT article back in November, now regrettably behind a pay-wall, but an outline of it is still available to my premium customers here. Two points are worth remembering. First: Abu Risha's arch-enemy was the head of the Association of Muslim Scholars of Iraq (AMSI) Harith al-Dhari. It was Dhari whom abu Risha had sued for calling his group a band of thieves and highway robbers, and it was Dhari whom abu Risha, backed up by the NYT in that memorable performance at the Mansour Hotel, called a thug.

The second point worth remembering from those days is that there was a lot of discussion and skepticism among the tribes and other Sunni groups whether abu Risha was a good choice as a unifier of the tribes. Here's my summary of part of what Al-Hayat had to report on that score, also back in November:
This Al-Hayat piece also cites remarks by Khalif Alyan, a leader in the Iraqi Accord Front, which is the biggest of the Sunni coalitions in parliament. Alyan's remarks are particularly interesting as an expression of the new Sunni rejection of the Maliki government [this was just after the disputed vote in parliament on the federalism-procedures law]. Alyan said the followers of his group would object to joining in the Anbar Salvation Council if any of the tribes were to accept Iraqi government support or US support. And he said he was skeptical of the ability to Abu Risha to actually bring the tribes together in the way that he claims to be able to do. Alyan added that the clan leaders in Ramadi and other cities in Anbar that he has spoken to object to the idea of any group "based on Abu Risha". And to drive the point home, he said if the Salvation Council ends up accepting Iraqi government or US government support, the result will be fitna or all-out civil war in Anbar.
Making allowances for the fact that in those days there was still room for contemplating Sunni acceptance of assistance from the US-backed Maliki administration (rather than the US directly), the breakdown was like this: Abu Risha and those ready and anxious for support from the US side; versus those who rejected the idea of US support and saw acceptance of US support as a prelude to fitna.

As things worked out, Abu Risha got all the US support anyone could dream of, sealed with that famous Bush handshake, while on the other side, Dhari's AMSI has taken on the role of a would-be leader/coordinator of the combined Sunni resistance, namely the groups that have consistently fought the US in Iraq since 2003.

But my point is that it has been apparent since at least November that this was abu-Risha the collaborator on the one side versus the principled Sunni-resistance on the other.

But "resistance" isn't an allowed expression in American media, and so the cartoon-version of this for Western consumption was "locals fighting AlQaeda". And that's why I recommend people refer back to the introductory article in the New York Times linked to above, because there you have the images to go with it: the charismatic figure in the flowing robes and the rest of it.

What Petraeus has been doing in Washington is merely extending that cartoon story about helping Abu Risha and the other virtuous locals fight the outsiders (now described as AQ and the Iranian agents). Meanwhile, if the Americans were ever to be serious about arranging for an orderly withdrawal from harms way, they would need to negotiate this with the people who have defeated them, namely the Sunni resistance. But even if other parts of the cartoon-story get debunked, still the resistance is merely referred to as those who are "killing American troops", and this is by way of chilling any idea of negotiating with them. The point is not that they are killing American troops, which is what resistance movements do, but rather that they need to be negotiated with.

What it is is flim-flam: Inundate the Americans with stories about the humanitarian efforts being exerted by our troops to save Iraqis from each other, and shut the hell up about the fact that the main struggle, against the domestic resistance, has been lost and the troops need to withdraw.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

What's on Al-Libi's mind

Abu Yahya al-Libi, in a 90 minute video lecture released on the weekend, took up all of the tactical issues Bin Laden left out of his recent talks. Al-Libi appears to have become one of the movement's main ideologues, having also the cachet of having escaped two years ago from the Americans' Bagram air-base prison. He responds to questions posed by an invisible Al-Sahab interviewer, prefacing his answers by thanking the organization for its efforts in clarifying for everyone "the true metholodogy and a clear picture" of the jihadi movement, and he at once contrasts this methodology with "the methodologies of adaptation and compromise, whose adoption has become one of the characteristics of the age." (The English subtitles say "methodology" where they might as well have said "method", and the same with "ideology" where they could have said "thought" or "ideas", and in fact it almost seems that the linguistic thickening played back into some of the formulations in Arabic: for instance al-Libi refers to this methodology as "ilmii/manhajii/fikrii, making this "scientific/methodological/ideological" in the English subtitles). In any event, al-Libi says this development of a "complete method" is one of the recent accomplishments of the movement, alongside the military and PR accomplishments. He explains there are two sides to this:

Internally, the jihadi movement has been able to develop a consistent explanation of "legal foundations, analysis of state of affairs, outlook on events, explanation of issues" for members. One of the key elements in this is the rejection of established authority of the fatwa-issuing authorities, in favor of a habit of deciding issues independently based only on holy scripture and the sunna. Another, and related element of this, is the ability to contest and refute the "retractions" that have been issued by some members under pressure from the Saudi authorities.

Externally, Al-Libi seems to be a little less clear on the meaning of the "complete jihadi methodology". His main point seems to be that for the West, military defeat leads inevitably to ideological weakness, but I don't think he explains what use the jihadi methodology is supposed to make of that. It is possible that this is a point of contact with Bin Laden's bizarre call for Americans to embrace Islam.

You can read the whole lecture in the form of English subtitles, although it takes a while. What he seemed to me to be most urgently concerned with was one particular aspect of this "ideas and methodologies" discussion: namely the inroads and potential further inroads that can be made by those advocating the "adaptation and compromise" approach. Implicitly referring to the recent Saudi program of "re-education" and "war of ideas", Al-Libi says these people are trying to "lend a foundation to ideas and methodologies which anyone with the least bit of understanding realizes couldn't be further from having a connection to legal evidence and scientific foundation." In other words, they can be refuted on scriptural-legal grounds. And secondly, he says the Saudi clerics involved in this are part of a system that jails and tortures people and at the same time exposes them to arguments from authority. Al-Libi says none of this can be accepted until the proponents of these "newly-proposed ideas and methodologies" express these ideas "in complete freedom and of their own accord." I don't know in particular what "newly-proposed ideas and methodologies" he is talking about, but clearly they are one form of the "adaptation and compromise" approach.

So "shaking the convictions on which the mujahideen build their march" is one part of the current challenge. The other main challenge comes from attempts to "isolate the mujahideen from the ummah" as an "alien body". This naturally involves fatwas, and it involves the above-mentioned retractions, but it also involves blowing up mistakes that have been made as if they were a necessary and integral part of jihad. His specific complaints refer to charges the jihadis targeted civilians in a couple of highly-publicized bombings. He doesn't mention Iraq in particular, in this connection, but it seems clear he is referring to similar charges against the Islamic State of Iraq.

Another challenge comes from those dedicated to
strengthening and backing some of the methodologies adopted by Islamic movements far removed from jihad, especially those with a democratic approach and those groups that melt and bend the source texts and iron them out so that they agree with the civilization and methodologies of the West, and portraying these groups as moderate, balanced...pushing them into ideological confrontation with the jihadist groups. (this is at minute 44 of the video)

Meanwhile in Iraq, it will be remembered that the Association of Muslim Scholars of Iraq issued an open message to all of the resistance groups urging on them the necessity of coming together in a common political program, before the Americans withdraw, lest their differences harden and turn into internecine fighting. One part of that message (cited in this earlier post) that wasn't widely noted was this: AMSI, addressing the groups, said some of you are for the great Caliphate, some for an Islamic government but limited to Iraq, and others are for establishment of modern institutions with only a rule against un-Islamic laws. In other words, AMSI was addressing this not only to the homegrown resistance groups, but was including the caliphate-oriented jihadis as well.

Assuming there isn't a great deal of lead-time required for the Al-Libi releases (compared with the Bin Laden releases, for instance), it seems quite possible that one of the targets of Al-Libi's lecture against these new-fangled "democratic" ideas, that he says distort the source texts and threaten the jihadi movement by "isolating the mujahideen from the ummah" is this movement for unity in the Iraqi resistance. The bad, if not surprising, news is that Al-Libi, and by extension the movement for which, or to which, the Al-Sahab Media Productions organization speaks, are dead-set against any such unity. The good news is that judging from Al-Libi's performance, they are quite worried about being put on the defensive in this.

The implications for US policy are obvious, but what's the use of talking about that?

My observations

The two sides in the Washington hearings clashed over interpretation of statistics relating to dead bodies: how many, location, and manner of death. And naturally, the more this kind of discussion continued, the more the distinction between the war party and the anti-war party blurred and finally melted away. It was the equivalent of analyzing 9/11 by breaking out the victims by manner of death, race, social class, and so on, as if the issue was the social structure of the World Trade Center, and it had never been hit by aircraft. The fact is that in the discussions about Iraq, maintenance of that level of discussion is taken for granted. That is the insult and the vulgarity of it.

The social chaos that the war party now relies on as the basis for continuing the occupation is something that came to Iraq with the occupation itself. The occupation was wrong. It was based on lies (or was it honest misapprehensions?), and it was conducted in a way guaranteed to bring about the collapse of the state infrastructure and the emergence of sectarian strife (or was it merely unclear lines of authority between Washington and Baghdad, followed by mistaken policies?). But at every turn, the discussion is turned away from the question of aims and objectives and their moral underpinning, and morphs instead into a discussion of techniques. And so it shouldn't be surprising if the current discussion of the surge has turned into a debate among statisticians. The point is, there are other issues.

But in Washington they dare not speak their name.

There were a lot of bin Laden jokes following his video appearance on Friday, on the theme that he would make an ideal Republican presidential candidate, being a charismatic person in favor of a flat tax, an opponent of gay marriage, and someone serious about the War on Terror. In short, a values person.

But what is even funnier is that there is something behind the jokes. It had been three years since the last bin Laden video, and there was a long list of issues, internal and external, that some expected him to discuss and rule on: The much-debated question of whether Islamic State of Iraq was a good idea or not, the polemic between Zawahiri and the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, how to cope with the Saudi "reeducation" campaign, and so on. Bin Laden dealt with none of those, and so the commentators were left to discuss the significance of things like the color of his beard. But even though he didn't raise any of the specific issues, he was saying something. It was above and beyond those specific practical issues. It had to do with "values". True, the idea of large numbers of Americans converting to Islam is a ridiculous one. But his point was that if you Democrats and progressives can't end the war even when you are in a majority, then perhaps the problem is one you can't deal with merely by the manipulation of your democratic system. In bin Laden's world, the only way to illustrate that is with Islam. (And what exactly he was trying to accomplish with that is unclear. Hence the jokes).

But forget about Islam, and think about the fact that the debate in Washington has resulted in reducing Iraq to a statistical aggregate of dead bodies. Really laudable amounts of effort have been spent on exposing the manipulation of those statistics. But what of it? Doesn't the question of American policy go somewhat beyond those issues? And Washington can't find the words or the concepts to lift the debate to that other level. Don't we stand for something?

I think what's happened is that the "progressives", by tying themselves to the Democratic Party with all of its Washington-system baggage, have made sure that policy debate and discussion never goes beyond the system of partisan calculations. But the dynamics of those calculations ensure that it is in moral terms a race to the bottom. Policy aims can't be critiqued (perhaps because of the unpatriotic war-crimes implications, or perhaps just because it's better for Democrats not to talk about aims, so as not to have to propose their own, and expose themselves to criticism); in the absence of saying anything about policy aims, the debate is reduced to discussion of implementation techniques; and as far as that goes, the Democrats can't be seen as soft on national-security; so the differences become more and more minute; until finally the only way they have of discussing Iraq is in terms of the distribution of the dead bodies, such as we are seeing now.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

AMSI on the need for a resistance-wide agreement on political aims (Updated)

The open letter of the Association of Muslim Scholars of Iraq (AMSI) to the Iraqi resistance, to which the indefatigable Marc Lynch draws everyone's attention, includes this passage that I think illustrates better than anything where they see themselves in the history of Iraq:
The current that the occupation is on the verge of withdrawal and defeat...with the help of God and his strength. And just as the American administration was put to the test of drawing up a successful policy for the country, once they occupied it, and met with devastating failure, for many reasons, the main ones being your jihad and your sacrifices, so now you are going to be faced with the same test, and you are going to have to be at the level of this responsibility, and draw up a policy for the country that will be successful.

And this is not something that can be minimized, as some might do who have no experience in the area, because in fact there are obstacles in the way of that aim.

The first requirement is for a unified political program, in which you outline the future of this country, whose people have put confidence in you, and look to you to be extricated from the crisis. We stress the need for agreement because it is the first step toward success. As far as we understand your positions, you have clear program, but there are differences in your view of how Iraq should be in the future. Some of the factions among you support the project of the great caliphate. Other factions are for an Islamic government in Iraq but they limit their ambitions to within the borders of Iraq. And there are other factions that support the option of working for the establishment of a nation of modern institutions, in which Islam would be the official religion of the country, and the basic model for legislation, so that no law could be contrary to it, and they make this the basis of their aims.

These differences have to be resolved now, and before the exit of the occupation, because they will otherwise lead to final differences, and then to the internal fighting about which we warned above... We in the Muslim Scholars Association issued an urgent call to the sons of jihad to consider this question thoroughly, and prepare to take up their responsibilities on the front lines with the people of Iraq, and we asked them to start discussions among themselves and begin to show flexibility in this matter...And as a preliminary measure we have been urging for months that the factions agree at least on the level of meetings and coordination [apparently referring to tactical coordination in the resistance] and we now see that this is happening, praise God, and we support that...

The day when that happens [meaning agreement among the factions on a unified political program] the occupation will find itself forced to deal with it--directly or indirectly--because it will have become the Front that has become, on account of the unity of its aims and projects, a great power than cannot be ignored. Either that [dealing with the Front directly or indirectly] or else it will be forced to simply leave the country to its people. And in either case it will be within our power to direct our convoy in the direction that we choose, and not in the direction that the occupation dictates.
[Al-Hayat, in its Friday edition, quotes this same passage at length, and also what came next in the statement, namely this:
You must also understand something extremely important, and it is that it is not you alone who represent the Iraqi people or who own the jihadi project. There is an environment that fosters the jihadi resistance, without which the work would be impossible--there are those who finance the work; the political and non-political forces that reject the occupation; those with functions and expertise of all kinds in the military and the civilian spheres who refuse to work with the occupation; and the population as a whole of all sects and races who have not connived with the occupation.
The reporter notes that elsewhere the statement reminded the armed resistance groups that the mere fact of bearing arms doesn't necessarily qualify someone for running a country. And that internal fighting in the resistance will in effect throw Bush the life-jacket he needs to claim a form of victory, and it further warns that if there isn't unity soon in the ranks of the resistance, it is possible that the result could be a "bitter harvest" that will make the people yearn for a return to the situation as it is now, just as now some yearn for the prior regime, even though those days were not peaceful either.]

For my part, I think this conveys a little different overall picture of the resistance, compared with what we have seen so far, because from this point of view, the biggest problem is no longer how to defeat the Americans, something that is already basically done, nor is it how to foil other post-occupation schemes (although this letter does take up that problem too), or merely the need to avoid premature negotiations with the occupation. Rather, the biggest problem is how to get together and compromise on a unified political program. When and if that can be done, according to this point of view, in terms of the end-game, if the Americans want to negotiate, they will have a stable and representative negotiating partner, and if they don't, then they can just leave. It is a point of view that reflects confidence in the American defeat, but at the same time perhaps a high level of anxiety respecting the need for political skills among the resistance factions.

The perfect non-storm

Prince Talal bin Abdulaziz, a half-brother of the Saudi king, said in an AP interview that there should be a political party in Saudi Arabia that includes reformists now in Saudi jails, and he accused a small group within the royal family of monopolizing power. Political parties are illegal in Saudi Arabia. Such criticism from within the Saud family is unheard of in recent times, and there are signs this reflects an important split within the family.

Al-Quds al-Arabi, editorially a staunch opponent of the Saudi regime, offers some background in its lead story this morning. The "small group" that Talal was referring to is the so-called "Sudairi" group, the core of which are seven sons of Abdulaziz ibn Saud, by the same mother who belonged to the Sudairi clan, and these include: Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz, Defence Minister and currently the crown prince; Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz, Interior Minister; and Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz. (The famous Prince Bandar bin Sultan is a son of Prince Sultan the Defence Minister). These three the Al-Quds writer refers to as the "Sudairi triangle", and sources told him that the Prince Talal's dispute with them reached a point of no return a couple of months ago when they excluded him from meetings of the family council. The source said they told Talman this was because he was too often out of the country, but they also told him it was because of his support for reforms and for the election of the Shura Council (the appointed group that is the Saudi version of a legislature).

King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz is not a member of the Sudairi group. He has been described as a would-be reformer, and Prince Talal is said to be close to him. The Al-Quds writer says it isn't know whether or not the king was made aware beforehand that Talal was about to make these statements. Although as expected there are no public comments whatsoever from any other member of the royal family, the writer notes that Saudi officially-supported websites are full of invective against Talal, while reform-oriented sites support him.

The Al-Quds piece is limited to sorting through the domestic background to this, but it is also worth noting that key people in the anti-reform Sudairi group, including the Defence and Interior Ministers, in addition to Bandar, have been associated with the hawkish attitude to Iran.

But for Western media, this is the perfect non-storm. On the one hand, human rights and democratization preachers are focused on Iran, and nothing of any consequence is said about US ally Saudi Arabia. And on the other hand, Al-Quds al-Arabi, which has expertise in this area, is newspaper non grata because of its support for the resistance movements in Iraq and Palestine.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Maliki's own "new government" idea

Prime Minister Maliki met yesterday with Ayatollah Sistani, and the Lebanese paper Al-Akhbar puts this in the context of recent events. The paper says:
For the first time since the start of the current Maliki government crisis, the Prime Minister admitted he plans to put together a new government of technocrats... Maliki met yesterday in Najaf with Ayatollah Sistani and he told reporters after the meeting that they discussed the possibility of a government based on technocrats, and not an emergency government, and he showed Sistani the names of persons he was proposing as ministers.
The reporter notes that since the departure of the Sadrist and the IAF and Allawi ministers, Maliki's people have often hinted at the idea of a complete cabinet shakeup and installation of non-partisan ministers.
but this clear statement by Maliki of [the idea of] a complete shake-up, and the exchange of views with Sistani, are clear indications that the time for this step is drawing near, and this comes the day after the government's announcement of its overall "Iraq First" strategy, which includes political, security, and economic targets, "taking into consideration the long-standing relationship with the United States of America" [the journalist quoting from the official announcement of the day before].
The inclusion of the phrase about the "long-standing relationship with the USA" in the announcement by Mowaffaq Rubaie Tuesday, and the journalist's underlining it again today, serve to highlight the American fingerprints on this.

And the reporter twins the "government of technocrats" remarks with another issue having an even clearer bearing on Bush's domestic political problems.

The reporter says there was another "first", and it was the first public suggestion by Petraeus of the possibility of a US troop-reduction, by March 2008 (referring to his ABC News interview). The reporter comments:
It isn't clear whether the remarks of Petraeus indicate that the military leadership thinks that the 30,000 additional troops...improved the security situation sufficiently to call for a reduction in the force-level, or whether this represents knuckling under to the pressure the administration is under from politicians and the people, for a schedule for withdrawal from the Iraq quagmire.
It is the journalist's way of drawing attention to US-domestic political dimension of this, without having to be too blunt about it.

There isn't any news about the earlier-reported plans for a Sunni-Allawi delegation to Washington. Instead, on that general topic, there is this:
A statement issued by the National Dialogue Front, headed by Saleh al-Mutlak, said: "Over 100 Iraqis, including dozens of parliamentarians from a variety of parliamentary blocs, have sent a message to Bush, asking him to support the formation of a new government headed by Ayad Allawi replacing Maliki, describing the latter as a 'follower of the Iranian regime'".
There isn't any elaboration.

Allawi-Sunni tieup: "A major achievement for the regional Arab regimes"

The Sadrist-oriented news site publishes a report that dovetails with the reports (see prior post) that a delegation including Allawi and the Sunni-Arab political-party leaders will be holding discussions with US government and congressional people in Washington soon. As far as the visit is concerned, this Nahrainnet report says the group is going to be touring a number of Western and Arab capitals to gain support, and Washington will merely be the first stop.

But this report also has a lot to say, citing "diplomatic sources in Brussels", about the nature of this tieup between Allawi and the Sunni-Arab parties. In fact it calls this a "new alliance" which has resulted from three months of difficult negotitions, centered in Amman, and aided not only by the CIA but also by Arab intelligence agencies, and the report names Prince Bandar bin Sultan, head of the Saudi national security agency, and the head of Jordanian security, as two of the major facilitators.

The "new alliance", this report says, represents a major achievement for the Arab regimes, which have been unhappy with Shiite influence in Baghdad, which they see tantamount to an Iranian threat to the stability of the region. As far as the actual content of the agreement is concerned, the this report says:
These diplomatic sources in Brussels say the agreement between Ayad Allawi and the Sunni Arab political leaders, supported by the regional Arab powers, especially Saudi Arabia which is putting a lot of stock in this, will represent a new political axis in Iraq with a weight that has to be taken into account, particularly since this agreement talks about [concrete and meaningful matters, including] political apportionment to each of the parties in future, in the event of success in Parliament or outside of Parliament, and there is complete agreement on toppling the government of Nuri al-Maliki and on working to exploit the differences that are raging within the [United Iraqi] Alliance, and taking advantage of the strong American pressure on the government for the return of the Baathists to their former positions in the political and security areas.

And the sources said: This agreement between Allawi and the Sunni Arabs represents a major political achievement for the regional Arab regimes, which have a negative attitude to the Shiite influence on the Iraqi government, which they regard as an extension of Iranian influence, which has come to represent a threat to Arab national security.

Representatives of this alliance are expected to visit a number of Western and Arab capitals to gather more support. Their first stop will be Washington, where they will meet with Democratic and Republican members of Congress, and with administration people concerned with Iraq.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Abu Risha the big winner ?

For Sattar abu Risha, leader of the Anbar Salvation Council, the meeting with Bush on Monday was a story-book affair. He told Al-Hayat that Bush called him a hero and immediately granted two of his requests, namely for the release of all innocent prisoners in American and Iraqi custody, and compensation for those damaged by military operations. Bush said he would study abu Risha's other requests, which included repealing de-Baathification and national reconciliation. The two also talked about increased American aid for an expansion of the Anbar model to other areas of Iraq. Enthused, abu Risha decided to change the name of his group from Anbar Salvation Council, to Congress of the Iraq Awakening.

In a parallel universe more resembling our own, Al-Hayat says three leaders of the Sunni parliamentary parties, Adnan Dulaimi, Khalaf al-Alyan and Saleh al-Mutlak arrived in Washington (another report puts this in the future tense), to get ready for a Congressional hearing September 13 where they have been invited to testify on all aspects of the Iraq crisis, including withdrawal, Iranian meddling, political process, reconciliation, you name it and they will be asked about it. A spokesman said they have brought with them a Working Paper, which the spokesman described like this: "It will center on the need for a complete refurbishing of the current government, rather than continuing to support it". Sot al Iraq, quoting an Alyan interview with Radio Sawa, says the delegation will include Ayad Allawi too. Asked why the delegation is limited to these people, Alyan said the Congressional people wanted to hear the views and demands of the Iraqi opposition.

And in Baghdad, Maliki's national security adviser Mowaffaq al-Rubaie unexpectedly announced a "new government strategy" which will be called "Iraq First", covering the coming three-year period of time, with targets for national security, political reconciliation, and economic development. Rubaie denied the timing of this had anything to do with the Bush visit, and the reports in Al-Hayat and Azzaman don't explain what the real point is, beyond perhaps the implication that the Maliki administration wants to show sufficient confidence to talk about a three-year plan. There also isn't any explanation why this policy announcement wasn't made by the Prime Minister or the President. Because the fact is that Rubaie is considered among the more polarizing members of the Maliki government, for instance when Maliki visited Damascus recently, the Syrians told him not to bring Rubaie with him.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Bold-face names, updated

Prime Minister Maliki announced at a press conference yesterday that Judge Radhi al-Radhi, head of the Commission on Public Integrity, had fled Iraq. [But Al-Radhi responded angrily from the US, where he said he is attending an international gathering of anti-corruption officials, and will return to Iraq later this month]. Maliki added he was surprised to learn that the Judge had been able to leave the country, because his name was on a list of those barred from leaving the country. [Al-Radhi said there is no such order]. Maliki said his administration had been about to request Parliament officially withdraw its confidence in the Judge, in preparation for firing him and charging him in court with a "group of charges." The Al-Hayat reporter notes this "group of charges" emanates from Parliament, which set up a commission antagonistic to Al-Radhi's. The reporter refers to a report by the US Embassy (the same one outlined in a recent article in The Nation), criticising the Maliki government for endemic corruption; for blocking of Al-Radhi's investigations into its political allies; and for cutting off its budgetary funds. The report said Al-Radhi has been object of many death-threats. What this Al-Hayat article makes clear is that Maliki himself has been himself on the side of those trying to shut Al-Radhi down, and is now expressing his disappointment that he was able to flee the country. [But Al-Radhi's denial suggests this was more like wishful thinking on Maliki's part]. The Embassy report had urged the US government to give him more support. Al Hayat

Ahmed Chalabi gave a talk in London on Saturday to a group of Iraqi academics, and these are some of the things he said:

(1) In spite of media reports about a draft law revising the De-Baathification Law being presented to Parliament, Chalabi said there is no such draft before Parliament, and he implied there won't be. He defended the existing law, which he said has had the beneficent effect of preventing collective reprisals against the Baathists. And he criticized proposed amendments on the basis that they would permit senior people to be appointed to posts similar to those in which they have already failed once; and on the basis it would exempt from legal sanctions persons who aren't charged within a 60 day period. The gist of this is that Chalabi, who remins head of the De-Baathification Commission, still stands foursquare against any changes in the existing law or procedures.

(2) Chalabi said the US has armed 12,000 tribal people in the areas surrounding Baghdad, and put them under the command of persons who formerly were officers in Saddam's Republican Guards, something that equates to a division in any country's armed forces, and this in spite of the opposition of the government of Iraq. Chalabi said the US is doing this out of concern for "finding a balance", meaning between Shia and Sunni, in other words denying or forgetting the US talking point to the effect this isn't sectarian but rather is directed against AlQaeda. Al Hayat

Ayad Allawi, via another of his many spokespersons, has let the newspaper Azzaman know that he is in detailed talks with the Sadrist current on issues connected with forming a new government, but these talks have been slowed down a little on account of the Karbala problems. The spokesperson confirmed an earlier report of Allawi's talks with the big Kurdish parties in Sulaimaniya, and said Allawi's project of a "national and liberal" government met with a warm welcome from the Kurdish parties. Azzaman

Saturday, September 01, 2007

More window-dressing

It appears Tareq al-Hashemi, leader of the Islamic Party of Iraq and vice-president of the republic, will be another major player (along with Ayad Allawi, see prior post) in the drama of "reconciliation" ahead of the Petraeus report. Azzaman, in its Iraqi edition this morning, headlines the good news: "1500 prisoners to be released during Ramadan" (which starts this year on Sept 13 this year), specifying that these will be innocent prisoners held in American-forces prisons, and that they will be released at the rate of 50 per day. The report also cites what it describes as a "working paper" prepared by Hashemi that includes three points: Release of prisoners; human rights issues and the condition of those in custody; "and the question of those involved in human rights violations, and compensation for prisoners." Omar al-Jabburi, described as human-rights advisor to Hashemi, says Hashemi is continuing to work for full implementation of the working paper. And Jabburi also Hashemi has achieved agreement on the working-paper "with the political blocs and with the Americans".

In support of this, Azzaman refers to a press-release by the American forces dated Monday August 27, but is able to quote only a phrase about agreement with Hashemi for an "expanded rehabilitation program" for prisoners, and an agreement about some Ramadan releases, not including any numbers or orders of magnitude. Nothing, naturally, about human rights or compensation.

(As if by way of a wink and a nod, the MNF release concludes by observing that "Hashemi [will] attend a number of special Ramadan Release Ceremonies that will take place throughout Iraq").