Wednesday, October 31, 2007

About that map (with another update)

One of the institutes run by the Hakim (SIIC) family has been distributing in the province of Karbala a map showing a three-part federal division of Iraq, with two (not three) hands clasped over by the Iranian border, and rays emanating from there to the Kurdish region in the north and the "region of the center and the south" in the south. Abu Aardvark dug this up (via jihadi forums and Haq agency, who said they found it on a international resistance website called Qawm (?)), and you can see the image there. One of his commenters notes that the Sunni region in the west looks like Mordor, which is true, it does. There is something particularly odd that contributes to that.

The Southwest portion of Anbar province has been lopped off from Anbar and assigned to Karbala province. And Haq says the member of parliament who first publicized this map called attention to that, and said the reason was to eliminate any common border between Anbar province and Saudi Arabia. (Actually he calls it Ramadi province and says the map purports to transfer the "western one-third of Ramadi province" to the "region of the center and the south", so as to eliminate the "Ramadi" border with Saudi Arabia). So this is a document distributed by the Hakim organization in Karbala, showing Karbala having annexed a major part of Anbar province, thus purporting to eliminate any Sunni-Saudi border. Moreover the heading says "Federalism: Our only path to security and freedom", so it isn't too much of a stretch to think that "security" in this case includes the point about having direct "federal" Shiite control of the whole border with Saudi, via annexation of that big part of Anbar.

Biden and the Democrats have been marketing Iraqi federalism as a neutral concept that only recognizes facts on the ground. But if you scratch around even a little, you will see it is just as likely the opposite: A formula for internal border wars between the sects. At that point, once that gets going, Biden and his cohorts will say: Ah, but these border wars are already going on, forgetting that they helped foment them. Sounding familiar?

UPDATE: The Roads to Iraq blog identified the original mecia source for this, and in addition to the Ramadi-Karbala switch, also noted something funny in the north, where it appears Kirkuk province has been given to the (Sunni Arab) region of the center.

ANOTHER UPDATE: See the comments. Looks as if Karbala at one time was the size the federalists are now (again?) ascribing to it.

Strange or not so strange

Some think it strange so many Americans still think Saddam had something to do with 9/11. Not so strange, however, once you weigh up all the propaganda against "those people".

Personally I found it strange so few Americans criticized the announcement of Israeli punishment of the 1.5 million inhabitants of the Gaza Strip as a weapon against Hamas. But I guess it's not so strange when once you weigh up all of the propaganda against "those people".

And how strange, some think, that one of the oldest forms of organized torture, is in effect okayed by the nominee for Attorney General, provided it is done by nameless US officials carrying out orders, against nameless Arab detainees so designated by other nameless US officials. But I guess that too can be explained by the animus against "those people".

Racism is an inadequate expression for what is going on in America. But it is a good first approximation. What is genuinely strange is the lengths to which people--intellectuals and non-intellectuals, leftists and "progressives," Jews and gentiles, the famous and the obscure--will go to not talk about this.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Hijazi and Salafi-Resistance relations

Akram Hijazi, described as a writer and university professor, someone Marc Lynch tells us is a frequent and apparently influential contributor to the jihadi forums, has a recent post entitled "Slow down there! This speech [of Osama bin Laden] wasn't a confessional, it was a call to arms". Marc gives us a head start by locating this in the context of one of Hijazi's themes, namely the important difference between the fundamentally religious "salafi jihadi" approach and that of the non-salafi resistance groups, the idea being that any "mistakes" referred to in the Bin Laden speech are mistakes in the application of Islamic religious law, not "mistakes" in the sense of political errors. Hijazi sees the need to really harp on the point at the present time, because otherwise there are those who will interpret the Bin Laden speech as a specific criticism of the Islamic State of Iraq in political terms, maybe even suggesting it should be dissolved. A grave misreading, says Hijazi.

And with this as a legup thanks to the Abu Aardvark blog, let's see where this takes us in the question of jihadi-resistance relations. Because even after admitting the radical difference between salafi jihadi groups that refer only to religious law and their allies who recognize in some sense positive law as well, the fact remains that the Bin Laden speech raised for the first time (from the AQ side) the idea of points of contact, and Hijazi seems to recognize that, albeit in a very roundabout and tendentious way.

I think it's worth getting into the tall reeds here, because of the importance of the underlying question about the relationship between the salafi jihadis and the non-salafi Iraqi resistance.

We know that Bin Laden spoke about the necessary unity of the "honest groups" and about the damage that "taassub" or absolute and narrow devotion to a particular group and its leadership. Hijazi asks: "...whether the unity Bin Laden calls for among the jihadi groups is the unity of creed, or whether on the other hand is it a general political unity?" He says if you read the speech from the standpoint of positive law and existing political arrangements, then the reading is likely to be that a focus on the idea that AlQaeda for the first time admitted mistakes in Iraq, and then
"[T]he initial gist of our conclusion will be that AlQaeda is intent on dissolving he Islamic State of Iraq, on the basis it is the biggest mistake leading to "the crisis it is undergoing, which centers essentially on the loss of a popular supporting environment for it, and the alienation of a good part of the masses from it after it tried to impose its views on the other groups and set up the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and requiring everyone to pledge allegiance to its leader." But does this reading, and that result, actually correspond to the essence of what Bin Laden was saying, and to the essence of the mistakes he was talking about?
(The part I italicized is something that Hijazi encloses in quotation marks. I don't know who he is quoting, but clearly it is meant to be representative of what he considers to be the unacceptable conclusion from a non-religious mis-reading of the speech).

Hijazi's answer is obviously no. That isn't the right reading. But my point here is that he says it isn't the right reading because it leads to an unacceptable conclusion, as a form of reduction ad absurdum. The right reading, and the one that doesn't lead to the danger of thinking about dissolving the ISI or anything like that, is the careful reading that puts the whole speech in its religious context, where mistakes are universal and human, to be corrected by the application of religious law by persons who are qualified to do so. In support of this Hijazi quotes the religious texts that are the source of ideas like human fallibility, and he shows how glorifying the orders of your own group as if they were infallible is one type of error, and participating in democratic forms of government is another. So from that point of view too, the Bin Laden speech clearly wasn't intended as a political criticism, veiled or otherwise, of the ISI.

Of course, Hijazi's choice between "unity of creed" and "general political unity" is quite limiting. And in a way the arguments are spurious in other ways: No political unity is possible outside of unity of creed, but the person saying that defines "creed" as he sees fit. Or to put it another way, the aim of jihad is the actual implementation of transnational Islamic justice, and therefore this particular Islamic State (Omar al-Baghdadi's) is not to be specifically criticized in a political sense. He hides the political reality of the ISI behind an argument that the whole idea isn't political but religious.

Fine. Now, having limbered up by practicing how to differentiate between two different readings of the Bin Laden text, let's return to the question of the relationship between the salafi jihadis and what Bin Laden referred to as the "honest groups", because the latter expression is clearly intended to refer to a group broader in scope than the former, raising in many minds the question of jihadi/resistance unification. Here's how Hijazi treats the question. In his concluding section he lists points to be taken from the Bin Laden speech, and the first four have to do broadly with the question of admitting error among jihadis, dealing with error, and not confusing that with declaring war on jihad itself. The fifth and sixth points are as follows:
Fifth: There was a new term in the speech, namely "the honest groups (jama'at al-sadiqa)", and it appears to have been a definitive and clear reply to those who promote the expression "the honorable resistance and the resistance that isn't honorable". Because in shariah there are distinctions between the believers and those who lie, and between the honest and those who lie, between believers and non-believers, between believers and muslims, between unity and poly[theism], but there isn't [any equivalent specific differentiation] between honorable and non-honorable. This is a good example of the need to interpret salafi jihadi discourse based on religion and not based on political reality.

Sixth: People refer to statements by Sheikh Harith al-Dhari a few days ago where he said that 90% of AlQaeda in Iraq are Iraqis, and consequently they are of us and we are of them, and it isn't permitted to fight against them on the basis of mistakes they make. [Hijazi refers to an essay of his own dating from August, apparently taking up the same point, about the local-Iraqi nature of AQ in Iraq, and he continues], but nobody took up that point, and meanwhile the storm raged and it hasn't calmed down yet...[but in any event] the statement [of Al-Dhari] was the first from an Iraqi, and it means that the idea of fighting AlQaeda as an extraneous group has disappeared not to return. And does this have the meaning of a lead-in to the expression about "honest groups" capable of achieving a "year of the group", and the elimination of the war-cries like those about "honorable resistance" and "non-honorable resistance"? Or [the talk about] the "mistakes of AlQaeda" or about the "awakening councils", particularly after hitting a number of their leaders?
Obviously a one-way street, you will say. People of good will like Al-Dhari help to discourage the idea of fighting against AQ and the ISI, but what do they get in return, beyond an implied designation from Bin Laden as part of the universe of "honest groups"? The answer could be: First, given the "scholastic" nature of the whole discussion, the distinction is an important one from the point of view of mutual respect. And second, as I tried to indicate, Hijazi seems focused in this little essay on fending off an anti-ISI interpretation of the Bin Laden speech, so it is highly polemical, and for that reason not conducive to being generous to the other side.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Israel: Tactics and strategy of collective punishment

AlHayat, summarizing the Israeli press, says this about the recent decision to punish Gazan civilians by gradually cutting electric power and gasoline supplies from Israel to the Gaza Strip:
Senior Israeli security officials expressed skepticism whether the punitive measures against the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip that were okayed Thursday by the Defence Minister Ehud Barak will have the desired results, namely incitement of the population against Hamas. They warn that the result could be the opposite, not to mention military escalation by Hamas, which could, in turn, justify Israel in undertaking the broad military operation in the Gaza strip, which its military leaders have wanted for some time, and which the political leadership has postponed until after the Annapolis Conference.
AlHayat continues with summaries from Maarif, Yehdiot Ahronot and Haaretz, citing various officials with differences in nuance, but with the common theme: The logic of collective economic punishment of the civilian population of the Gaza Strip is twofold: (1) Likely escalation from Hamas to justify an eventual post-Annapolis re-invasion; and (2) a further step toward complete economic and physical isolation of the Gaza Strip. The language seems to tread a line between people being "skeptical" about the announced purposes, and the idea that those announced purposes are only window-dressing anyway, the actual aim being preparation for the post-Annapolis reinvasion, as the AlHayat lead implies. The YA and Maarif articles aren't available in English, but the Haaretz piece is, and it goes like this:
There is an enormous gap between the reasons Israel is giving for the decision to impose significant sanctions against Hamas rule in the Gaza Strip, and the real intentions behind them. Defense Minister Ehud Barak authorized Thursday a plan for disrupting electricity supply to the Gaza Strip, as well as significantly shrinking fuel shipments. This is supposed to reduce the number of Qassam rocket attacks against Sderot and the other border communities. In practice, defense officials believe that the Palestinian militants will intensify their attacks in response to the sanctions.

As such, the real aim of this effort is twofold: to attempt a new form of "escalation" as a response to aggression from Gaza, before Israel embarks on a major military operation there; and to prepare the ground for a more clear-cut isolation of the Gaza Strip - limiting to an absolute minimum Israel's obligation toward the Palestinians there.
AlHayat limits itself to talking about these tactical issues, but what is much more important in the long run is the fact that Israel is resorting openly and admittedly to collective punishment of the civilian population. Among the big Arab-language papers, it was left to Al-Quds al-Arabi to highlight the point in its lead editorial yesterday, not only from the point of view of even darker days ahead for the Gaza population, but also from the point of view of Israel's more-open disregard for international law. The editorialist notes
The United Nations recently warned the Jewish state against any collective punishment against the Gaza Strip which is subject to the control of Hamas, but this did not fall on attentive ears, just as more generally the concern of the West for the suffering of the Gazans is extremely limited, not to say non-existent.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Why the AQ brass is up in arms about AlJazeera

Al-Fajr Media Center has posted on the internet a more-detailed explanation of the complaint the AlQaeda media establishment is pressing against the satellite news channel AlJazeera for its broadcast, this past Monday, of only excerpts of the Bin Laden statement. (And Al-Fajr posts the statement not only in Arabic but also in an English-language rendition, suggesting that for some reason even the AQ brass have become sensitive the state of opinions in the anglosphere).

The Al-Fajr statement naturally complains about the fact that the AlJazeera excerpting left out any mention of Bin Laden's warning against allowing jihadis to participate in the electoral or parliamentary process, his warning against the "hypocrites" who join the factions in order to sow fitna, and against listening to the bought-and-paid-for Saudi clerics, and so on. But their main point is a more general one, namely the idea that AlJazeera deliberately misrepresented who it was that Bin Laden's advice and criticism was directed to. The statement says:
While the speech was intended as advice to the people of Iraq generally, and to sincere (or creditable) people of jihad in particular, in that it advised them to settle their disputes via the precise application of law (shariah) and he invited all to submit to the judgment of God almighty, and warned them not to submit to jurisdiction of the clerics of the [Arabian] peninsula...
In other words, Bin Laden, according to the AQ brass, was addressing himself to everyone--the whole ummah or that part of it living in Iraq--and more in particular to everyone in Iraq who has genuinely taken up the obligation of jihad. The "advice" respecting settlement of disputes and so on is intended as advice to that whole universe of Muslims and then to the subgroup that has taken up jihad, and not to some particular defined group or faction called "AlQaeda". That is their point. And it means that the whole speech on avoiding "taassub" (which means clinging together in a narrow group; and more particularly "fanatical adherence" to a narrow group) was intended in that way. If you want to talk on the level of "factions", then you could say AQ is just as much a bundle of "factions" as any of the other group and "mistakes were made" and so on and so forth, and of course that is true, but the whole point is to get beyond this thinking in terms of factions. Mistakes were made everywhere. That's what the culture of the "men of knowlege and virtue" is supposed to be able to address. So the Al-Fajr complaint is this: Bin Laden was addressing the ummah in Iraq and telling them to abandon factionalism and think in terms of the whole, submitting to a system for the resolution of disputes by those who are qualified to do so. And what AlJazeera did, according to this complaint, was to turn that around and make it appear that this was addressed to only one particular "faction", namely AlQaeda, and the Al-Fajr statement goes on:
The editors at the [AlJazeera] channel turned this matter on its head and make it appear that the words of Sheikh Osama were directed [only] to his brothers and sons in the AlQaeda organization, as if he was inculpating them, and in effect absolving them of jihad and of their commitment to it.
Which is not, of course, what AlJazeera was doing, or what Atwan, or what any of Iraqi resistance-supporters think they were doing. This is where it gets interesting.

In fact, if you look carefully at the statement of Bin Laden, and then at the AlJazeera excerpts and then at the Al-Fajr complaint, you will see something that, speaking just for myself, completely escaped me up to now. It is that in fact Bin Laden was making an important concession on behalf of his group, and it wasn't really just about "mistakes". It was that AlQaeda is not the exclusive vehicle of legitimate jihad. AlFajr's point about his addressing the whole of Iraq and more particularly the "genuine people of jihad", with recourse to authorities "of understanding and virtue" for dispute-settlement means that he was addressing the whole range of resistance groups, and by implication a whole range of mistakes, on all sides, without distinction. That's what he was getting at. On the ideological level that is.

In reality, some in Iraq see the mistakes overwhelmingly on the side of ISI brutality and arrogance; others see the mistakes more on the side of caving in to the American-sponsored political process. But it would be wrong to focus exclusively on this as a matter of taking sides, because the bigger importance of the Bin Laden message is that it has started people thinking about the need to get past that particular form of "factionalism" and start focusing instead on common aims. Or not that it started people thinking along those lines, but that it takes up the idea that Harith al-Dhari expressed in more partial terms in a widely-quoted AlJazeera interview recently, to the effect that AQ operatives are overwhelmingly Iraqis and "they are of us and we are of them."

All of which has caused me to reflect: When reading and thinking about material that is strange to you, you really have to be careful not to be too dogmatic or absolute about what you take from it. If you wanted a really ugly phrase for what I am getting at here, it would be "English language absolutism". Speaking just for myself, when I looked at the whole Bin Laden tape I thought it would be quite a stretch to interpret it as having to do with cross-group unity (I thought it sounded a bit more like domestic AQ housekeeping). Of course that was completely wrong, because I wasn't paying attention to the underlying assumption about the unity of the ummah and of jihad. That's what happens when you take someone else's ideology and dismiss it as mere words, because what then happens is that unbeknowns to yourself you substitute your own ideology. Sometimes it makes a difference. One example of that would be the assumption in 2003 that the American tanks were going to be garlanded with rose-petals or at least that organized or un-organized resistance wasn't something that needed to be worried about. And here we have a smaller example, but of the same phenomenon. If you throw out and disregard the ideology of the unity of the ummah and of jihad, and you thus interpret current resistance-group jockeying as mere oneupmanship such as you might see in Washington, say, then you will surely be caught flat-footed when and if there is in fact a meeting of the jihadi-resistance minds. It might not happen, but then again it seemed to many in the anglosphere that organized resistance to the American invasion might not happen either.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Atwan's view: Bin Laden responding positively to Al-Dhari

Abdulbari Atwan, for his part, thinks the Bin Laden message in fact has the meaning that was implicitly attributed to it by the AlJazeera excerpts of Monday, namely the admission of important mistakes and excesses by members of AlQaeda in Iraq, along with a request [implicit in the text, according to this reading] of the other resistance factions that they forgive these errors, turn the page and begin again. That, says Atwan, was the meaning of the lengthy passages in the tape about how the people who committed these errors are only human, and so on.
The errors, writes Atwan, which Bin Laden did not itemize clearly, including cutting off of hands and fingers, declaring takfiir on others, imposing a designated [religious] practice and rejecting those who opposed it, these errors were exploited by the enemies of AlQaeda, and by the Americans in particular, who were able to buy the protection of some tribal leaders, and to form the so-called awakening forces, and to make it so that the [AlQaeda] organization seemed to be the primary enemy, and not the occupation forces and their collaborators...
Moreover, he says this weakening of AlQaeda has spilled over into a weakening of the Sunni resistance in general and in all its factions. Thus, he says, the importance of this latest Bin Laden message, in which for the first time he goes to the root of this crisis. (First time for Bin Laden, says Atwan, but he reminds readers that already three years ago Ayman al-Zawahiri was writing to Zarqawi warning him against killing Shiites and executing foreign hostages in barbaric ways and so on. Atwan says Bin Laden has been slow to grasp the meaning of this danger.)

The American invasion of Iraq and their sectarian approach to occupation gave AlQaeda a new lease on life, following the destruction of their infrastructure in Afghanistan and the death and arrests of many of the AlQaeda leaders and members in connection with that. But now, writes Atwan
It appears that the US, with the cooperation of neighboring and regional countries, and with the cooperation of some Iraqi groups that have been involved in their plans, has succeeded, if only partially, in isolating the [AQ] organization, and in inciting Iraqis or some of them against it, and to wear it down in internal struggles against those who were until very recently its allies. And this is reflected very clearly in the diminution in the number of its operations and those of other resistance groups, as has been the case for at least a year now.
This is reflected in the relative calm in Anbar and the Sunni triangle and in the fact tribal leaders are not afraid to sit with Bush, or Maliki to visit Tikrit "as if he were the lawful leader of Iraq". The Crocker-Petraeus team were able to exaggerate and exploit AQ mistakes, says Atwan, (echoing here the language of the Bin Laden tape where he said those with a sickness in their heart will exaggerate the mistakes and attribute them to devotion to Jihad under the rubrics of violence and terror); and at the same time buy off tribal leaders. Atwan lists some of the others contributing to the current crisis of AQ, for instance the Islamic Party of Iraq led by Tareq al-Hashemi, who was a leader in setting up communications between tribal leaders and the Americans, providing them with the necessary money, and eventually "linking them with the Americans directly, sometimes by exaggerating the threat of AlQaeda, and sometimes by exaggerating the Shiite/Iran threat to control of Iraq". Other cooperators include the Saudi religious authorities, led by Al-Sheikh who recently declared going to fight in Iraq was not jihad. These fatwas, says Atwan, came at the same time as a drying-up of Gulf-region funding for all the resistance groups, and AQ in particular, suggesting this was something also orchestrated by the Americans.

Atwan says Harith al-Dhari was right in his recent open letter to the resistance factions, when he said that 90% of the AQ fighters are Iraqi, that "we are of them, and they are of us", and that differences and errors could be corrected. He says the Bin Laden tape appears to him to be a response to that, and a response that implicitly recognizes the scale of the crisis as Atwan has just outlined it.

If Atwan is right, then it would seem that the AlJazeera presentation of the excerpts on Monday was essentially an attempt to highlight what could be regarded as the positive and urgently necessary aspect of the Bin Laden message, namely the need to unite across group-differences. And the bitter protest by the AlQaeda media arm against that very attempt, highlighted in Marc Lynch's post, would seem to suggest there isn't unanimity in the AQ leadership ranks on this, and that could certainly account for lack of clarity on this point in the actual Bin Laden message.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Correcting for the cut-and-paste version of the Bin Laden talk

It's now clear that the brief taped material broadcast Monday by AlJazeera (the basis for the prior post here) was a cut-and-paste from a longer, 33-minute audio tape, which was released on the Internet by the AQ media arm Al-Sahab today, Tuesday, with English subtitles, along with a bitter complaint from Al-Sahab about the distortions in what AlJazeera presented on Monday. And it seems they have a point.

The first eight minutes or so of the full tape are devoted to praise of the Iraqis for their exploits and their courage in fighting the occupier. This is followed by a thumbnail outline of the geo-politics of the AQ-jihadi struggle. "The map of the region will be redrawn," says BL, "at the hands of the mujahideen, and the artificial borders placed by the Crusaders will be erased, for the state of truth and justice to be established..." a project that is being thwarted by enemies global and local, for instance the Taliban government was toppled in Afghanistan, and in Sudan, where the president declared that he planned to apply Islamic Shariah, "the governor of Riyadh again sought to convince the Sudanese president this time to implement the demands of the atheist United Nations, to allow the entrance of Crusader forces to Darfur." This is something that places an obligation of jihad on people both in Sudan, and in the Arabian Peninsula as well. Bin Laden says: "I mention these events to remind you (Iraqis) of the full size and weight of the responsibilities placed on your shoulders, and of the full magnitude of the conspiracies being hatched against you." In other words, BL's point is to place Iraq in the context of the struggle for Islamic justice regardless of existing national borders.

And it is at that point that he raises the problem of unity in the ranks. There is a duty to unify the ranks, and there is a duty on "sincere people of knowledge and virtue" to promote that. There isn't any hint or any suggestion that this involves any thought of unity between AQ and any nationalist-oriented group or groups. On the contrary, he has just devoted a lot of time to explaining the whole struggle in uncompromising terms of transnational Islamic justice. Moreover, when it comes to his "advice", he talks about the "mistakes that take place between brothers," and he talks about the need to refer all disputes to judgment according to Islamic law administered by men of knowlege and virtue, "for it is there that claims are sorted out and proof is presented... and the two disputing parties must respond to those sincere men of knowledge calling for reform." All of which suggests it would be quite a stretch to think that BL is raising this "unity in the ranks" issue by way of looking to reconcile with any of the groups that aren't already of the ideologically AQ-oriented persuasion. Rather in the full context it reads more like a call to order respecting internal discipline.

Moreover, the section on avoiding "taassub", which was the lead section in the AlJazeera presentation, follows the above exhortation to settle disputes with due Islamic-law process, and here likewise there isn't any actual indication that he means his denunciation of "fanatical partiality" as implying any hint of criticism of the concept behind the Islamic State of Iraq. There isn't any explicit reference to Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, so it isn't possible to exclude the idea that he could be one of the leaders in whom BL sees the danger of people taking his orders as infallible, but there isn't any hint in that direction either. The Al-Sahab subtitle writer quotes Bin Laden at this point as saying "Beware of fanatical partiality to men, groups, and homelands. Truth is what God and the Messenger have said...The brotherhood of faith is what ties Muslims together..." And he does end the "A is more important that B" series with "The ummah is prior to the [Islamic] state," so theoretically, there could be a suggestion that he is reminding AQ members that even the leader of the "state" has to be assessed according to law. But the main scriptural citations are to strict application of the law generally, without any hints about current circumstances, and then this: "And even worse than that (doing something generally unlawful just because it is ordered by the group's leader) is when his group and its commander embark on the greatest of cardinal sins and order him to embark on them, like entering the polytheistic parliaments...and electing its members [because government is from God not from men]. I advise myself any my brothers to be pious and patient, for that is the provision and weapon of he who hopes for victory." So the one specific example is in the opposite direction to that of inter-group reconciliation: it is a denunciation of backsliding against his view of Islamic law.

Finally, the "beware of hypocrites" section comes last of all, following on the denunciation of those who dabble in the democratic process. BL says: "And I tell my brothers: Beware of your enemies especially hypocrites who infiltrate your ranks to stir up strife among the mujahid groups and refer such people to the judiciary. And you must check and verify [so as to avoid judgment based on suspicion only]. So the placing of that in the context of the overall speech suggests, again, that what BL is concerned with is unity and good order within the AQ organization, not any "avoidance of fanaticism" in the sense of reconciliation with non-AQ entities.

(Now that I have everyone's attention, please note the film "Meeting Resistance" is showing for another week in DC and NY, then LA and other cities, don't forget to go to the site to see clips and sign up for their newsletter to keep up to date. Steve Connors has an interesting observation (in a comment to the prior post) on what post-film discussions show about how far the media megaphone has gone in screwing up people's understanding of the resistance...)

Monday, October 22, 2007

Bin Laden statement taken as a climb-down from the ISI concept (But the full talk, released Tuesday, seems to tell a different story: see next post)

The audio tape of Bin Laden broadcast yesterday on AlJazeera is being widely interpreted as a combination of two new points: (1) confession that some members of the AlQaeda affiliate in Iraq has made "errors" (or commited "wrongdoing": same word) and should be brought to justice, following due process; (2) that among the errors has been a failure to appreciate the urgency of establishing unity among all of the jihadi factions; and in connection with this Bin Laden urges religious, tribal and other creditable authorities to to their utmost to try and bridge differences between factions.

AlJazeera itself, in the summary on its website, notes immediately that the official spokesman for the so-called Political Council for the Iraqi Resistance (the recently-announced union of Islamic Army in Iraq et al, with Hamas Iraq and an affiliate) has said this was a good statement
Noting that some of these errors have been lethal to some resistance factions, and these errors need to be corrrected. He referred in particular to the establishment of the so-called Islamic State of Iraq.
Abdul Wahab al-Qassab, described as an Iraqi political analyst, told AlJazeera this acknowledgement of problems has been a long time coming, noting that a big mistake was the original idea of trying to impose a system that large sectors of Iraqis find unacceptable. He said AlQaeda, having lost its popular base early on, is now trying to hook up with the Iraqi resistance, which has a clear program fighting the occupation and turning away from splintering Iraq, to re-uniting it. And in a similar vein they quote a specialist in Islamist groups, Diya Rashwan, who said Bin Laden has come to understand the crisis of AlQaeda in Iraq and elsewhere, and is trying to turn the program toward flexibility.

Given the fact that the spokesman for IAI and other resistance groups is taking the latest Bin Laden statement as a possible admission that the whole Islamic State in Iraq episode was a bad idea, it is worth taking a closer look at the text of what Bin Laden said. The following is my rendition of transcript excerpts published on the website.
I advise myself and all Muslims and particularly those in AlQaeda everywhere to avoid the clannishness (taassub) of persons or of groups or of the homeland (watan). The truth is what has been said by God and by his messenger...and everything that is derived from that and responds to the messenger [is good]. But O, your understanding of this question has been theoretical only, but you deviate from it in actual practice. You should refer whatever anyone says to the book of God and to the acts of the messenger, and whatever accords with the truth, take it up, and whatever does not, leave it....It is the brotherhood of belief that binds Muslims together, and not the membership in a tribe or in a homeland or in an organization. The good of the group is prior to the good of the individual; and the good of the Muslim state is prior to the good of the group; and the good of the ummah is prior to the good of the state....We repeat these things in order to dispel the proliferation among some of them of the glorification of the group and of its leadership, where they imagine that one of them is necessarily infallible, and they behave, in practical terms, with him as if he were a sacrosanct manifestation, even though they understand [in theory] that only the messenger is holy. They cling (yataassub) to the group and to its leadership, and they are not guided by any of the holy writings or of the sunna. And I advise myself and my brothers to have strength and patience...

And I say to my brothers, beware of your enemies, particularly hypocrites who have penetrated your ranks to spread fitna among the mujahid groups, and if someone repents of this shame refer him to a court, and you should require corroboration, and avoid judgments on mere suspicion.

Building confidence among the people in [our] teaching and our jihad with strength, and not with relationships or organization--this depends on a return to our purpose. Erring is in the nature of human beings, and the messenger of God says: "All children of Adam err, and the best of those who do wrong are those who repent..." And perhaps those with a sickness in their hearts follow the failings and oversights of the mujahideen, and amplify them, and perhaps they attribute them to a worship of jihad under the rubrics of violence and terror. May God deal with them, because the mujahideen are part of this ummah, [and some of them do wrong, and if any are accused let them be brought before a court]. There is no place for fights between Muslims who are genuinely devoted to the cause of God... All matters and all disputes are referable to God almighty and to his messenger, and it is incumbent on clerics, and persons of jihad, and sheikhs of the tribes, that they exert every effort to conciliate between differing factions, and it is incumbent on the factions that they respond to the exhortations for improvement of creditable men of knowlege.

[Addressing "my brothers the mujahideen of Iraq", Bin Laden says you have lived up to one of the great obligations, and that is to beat back a powerful enemy, but "some of you have been slow" in living up to another equally important obligation, and that is to unify your ranks, and he cites scripture to drive home the importance of this. Then he concludes:] My brothers in the mujahid groups: Muslims are waiting for you to unify under a single banner in order to bring about the right.... How great is the yearning for that. So hurry and fulfill this great obligation, may God be merciful to you. And it is incumbent on those of knowledge and virtue that they exert every effort to unify the ranks of the mujahideen, and to see that they do not deviate from the path that leads to that. And I pray that God strengthen them.
There you have it. As an initial reaction, I think you could say there could be a strong reading and a weak reading of this. The strong reading would be that among those BL is urging to get involved in reconciliation are the likes of Harith Al-Dhari of the Association of Muslim Scholars of Iraq, but for that to be the case, political reconciliation would have to involve major concessions from the traditional AQ position, and at least a tacit admission that whole ISI scheme was a mistake from the beginning. Fans of an even stronger reading might think of the "hypocrites" who have "penetrated the ranks" as including the likes of Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, self-appointed head of the ISI. On the other hand, Bin Laden did couch his warning against "taassub" as a warning against not only the clannishness of groups and factions, but of nationalism too. The weak reading assumes Bin Laden was referring only to individual killers in the AQ network, and on the organizational level, only to the inability to deal with other groups, not to any fundamental mistake built into the whole ISI concept.

What the war in Sadr City means reports on the deaths of civilians in the Sunday morning US raid on Sadr City, adding that as usual, the US army denied any civilian casualties. And it puts the military operation, with the implied "rules of engagement", in political perspective, as follows:
It should be remembered that the US began, in the recent period of time, to aim the rockets of its Apache fighter helicopters at its targets without paying any attention to the the killing of civilian victims, as happened in the Al-Siha neighborhood the beginning of this month, and the same thing happened in Al-Khalas a couple of weeks ago, where a large number of civilians were killed, including those who were getting ready for the Ramadan meal... and it was disclosed later that the victims included women and children. The horrible thing is that the government is powerless to even respond to any of this, even via any statement criticising the targeting of civilians. And the other disaster is that there aren't even any members of the Legislature--"asleep...or out cold" as Iraqis call them--who respond to any of these American attacks with criticism or protest.
In other words, Nahrrainnet sees what looks like a recent ratcheting up of US military "rules of engagement" in Shiite areas and ties this in to the complete stripping away of Shiite popular confidence in the Green Zone government. Unfortunately, for all the media and blogosphere blather about COIN best-practices and the rest of it, our militarily-expert pundits--"asleep or out cold", I call them--are paying no attention to this, or to the issue of political and wider-war implications. There is, however, a hint in today's WaPo of the connection. They write:
Gen. David H. Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker have concluded that Shiite extremists pose a rising threat to the U.S. effort in Iraq, as the relative influence of Sunni insurgent groups such as al-Qaeda in Iraq has diminished drastically because of ongoing U.S. operations.

This judgment forms part of the changes that Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, approved last week to their classified campaign strategy for the country, which covers the period through summer 2009. The updated plan anticipates shifting the U.S. military effort to focus more on countering Shiite militias -- some backed by Iran -- that have generated new violence as they battle for power in the south and elsewhere in Iraq, said senior military and diplomatic officials familiar with the plan.

In other words, escalation against Shiite groups as part of an anti-Iran turn.

Friday, October 19, 2007

US military plans for Lebanon

The Lebanese newspaper As-Safir reported yesterday that a US delegation led by Eric Edelman (Assistant Defence Secretary for Political Affairs) recently presented to Lebanese prime minister Fouad Siniora and other Lebanese officials a draft military-cooperation agreement between the US and Lebanon, something the paper said was the culmination of a whole continuous series of US delegations to Lebanon that have been going on since the Israel Hizbullah war of summer 2006.

A Lebanese military expert cited by Press TV, Amin Hotait by name, said the project for a new US-Lebanon military arrangement has been under discussion for longer than that, at least since 2003, and he added that one of the key points is the American inability to secure the use of its big airbase at Incirlik in Turkey in the free and unregulated way that it wants. Hotait said this is part of an overall American plan for six new bases, three in Iraq, and one each in Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon. He said the Lebanese base at Kleiat near Tripoli in the north will be called the center for the rehabilitation of the Lebanese Army, "in order to cover its real activity". (The Press TV clip is available thanks to, here; there is also a summary from Al-Manar, whose main additional point is that politicians have started buying up land around the Kleiat base in anticipation of speculative profits once the plan is approved).

US ambassador Feltman initially ridiculed the As-Safir report, but then Edelman himself, in an interview with AP, acknowledged some of the key points, including the plan for a new strategic partnership, and tying the rearmament of the Lebanese army with the eventual disarmament of Hizbullah.

There are some important points in the As-Safir report that should be of particular interest to Americans:

(1) Military policy immune to politics
Edleman is quoted as having told the Lebanese authorities that America itself is about to see changes, but "politics is one thing and security is something else entirely," in effect assuring them that US military policy is immune to politics. And on the Lebanese side, the newspaper noted the proposed agreement is something that wouldn't have to be taken up by the Lebanese parliament either.

(2) A new cold war with Russia
As-Safir says the proposed military package includes more money for the Lebanese army, more US technical assistance, and most important of all, additional US military bases in Lebanon, including a US military base on the site of the existing Kleiat airfield in the north. The US delegation under Edelman talked America responding to a Russian threat via Syria:
The delegation stressed that the strong (?) Russian presence in northern Syria has come to pose a threat to the American presence in he region. They alluded to a "Russian-American cold war" and to new Russian movements and strategies in the region, that will require changes in American strategy...
The interpolated question mark is in the newspaper article itself.

(3) Ideological takeover
As-Safir said the US delegation went so far as to call for changing the official statement of basic guidelines for the Lebanese army, to eliminate the clause that talks about fraternal and special relationship with Syria, on the basis this is no longer justified, and also the clause that talks about supporting the resistance, on the basis that strengthening the army will eventually make that unnecessary. At the same time, the US delegation talked about the need for monitoring systems to make sure that weapons supplied to the Lebanese army don't fall into the hands of other groups.

As-Safir said if the Lebanese government doesn't come clean about the discussions, it will publish documents in its possession connected with these meetings. Press TV, for its part, noted that the proposals haven't been implemented yet, and won't be as long as the opposition stands firm against them.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

First steps

"When you are surrounded by nothing but failure, then any success you can achieve will have a magnified effect," writes historian Bashir Nafie in an overview of Iraqi politics. His starting point is the recent announcement of a six-faction resistance alliance (the gist of which was to unite two MB-related factions with the four-faction Iraqi-Islamist Reform and Jihad grouping led by the Islamic Army in Iraq). A small step, to be sure, says Nafie.

But look at what is going on in the other camps. The initial push from the National Pact proposed by Tareq al Hashemi (for instance he talked to Sistani about it) has quickly died, the problem here being that Hashemi, for all his occasional displays of courage, refuses to see things as they are. Under foreign occupation, proposals and visions and so on will inevitably be mutually conflicting, moreover they will, each of them, benefit from only the narrowest of popular support. Proposals based on "good will" alone in these circumstances will go nowhere. There needs to be a "central political force" with broad support (and Nafie doesn't find it necessary to spell out the obvious, namely that this includes rejecting the foreign occupation).

Then there is the issue of the phony education credentials of a number of Iraqi political leaders. This isn't some marginal phenomenon, Nafie says, rather, in the popular mind it goes to the character and essence of that group that has risen under the occupation to represent the "political class of the new Iraq". And he notes in connection with this that the political struggle in the provinces of the south between the Sadrist and the Hakim groups is continuing, despite the fact that the recent accord seems to have eased the level of violence.

Or take the Kurdish situation. It is clear, Nafie says, that the Kurdish political leaders have overplayed their hand, thinking that the recent relative stability and development of their region has been due to some combination of their own efforts and the local balance of power, when in fact their privileged position in recent years has been owing to the American and British military presence.

The Erdogan policy of restraint, earlier based on fear of empowering the Turkish armed forces, has come to an end now that Turkish popular opinion has sided with the generals on the need to deal with the PKK incursions, "or otherwise miss this historic chance to build a new Turkey". (Referring to unity between the secularist armed forces and the Islamic government on the one hand, and declaration of independence from Western pressure as the other side of the same coin, all of this in the context of the American defeat in Iraq). And Nafie goes on to link the PKK issue with that of the status of Kirkuk, writing: "The Kurdish parties don't want to face up to the actual power environment in which they live and will continue to live once the tanks are gone and the fighter-planes have disappeared from the skies. The hysterical push to change the status of Kirkuk enjoys only the hysterical support of the Turkish branch of the PKK (and its Iranian counterpart)..." without, however, spelling out explicitly the connection between Turkish response to the PKK and the Kirkuk issue.

Instead, having talked about the "new Turkey" implied in this issue of standing up to the PKK, Nafie also talks about a "new Iraq."
Although it is always tough to predict the wind-direction in the Arab-Islamic east, it is perhaps not so risky to say that any crossing by Turkey of the border with Iraq will be different this time. If the Turkish forces enter northern Iraq, whether for a limited operation or for a comprehensive one, whether for a short or a long term, this will only the beginning of a process (literally it "will not stop at the entrance") instead it will be the start of a completely new Iraq, with all that means in terms of effects on the form and the structure of the new Iraq.
Not very elegant prose for the expression of such high concepts, you may say. But let's forget for a moment the prose and look at those concepts. (I left out of this summary Nafie's lengthy analysis of the Petraeus show and all that indicates by way of American failure, because it would seem trite to English-speaking readers). What Nafie is saying is that the pattern of unremitting failure in occupied Iraq, from the collapse of any popular respect for the new political class, to the hollowness of the "reconciliation" schemes by the likes of Hashemi, and the approaching collapse of the Kurdish quasi-separatist dream--all of this creates an environment where any progress, and particularly success in political unification on the part of the resistance stands out and is highlighted by comparison.

If we could offer Nafie a little rhetorical help, we could say the dead end and the midnight of the occupation's dismemberment-scheme for Iraq signals the dawn of a new sovereign and unified Iraq. Of course, these resistance groups are all Sunni-based. Nafie acknowledges that, writing:
The truth is that all of these factions are Arab-Sunni as to their base. Still, if these factions can change into central political forces, there is a chance they will be able to move Iraq in the direction of a broad national alliance, that would include a large number of the tendencies and personalities, united by a single political vision, or [if not identical then at least] closely similar visions respecting the major Iraqi issues. Because where failure rules the roost all around you, even a small success, quite apart its limited actual weight, will have a magnified effect.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

A different pattern

Issam Naaman, in his regular op-ed in AlQuds AlArabi, compares the effects of Bush administration policy in Kurdistan with what he sees as a parallel situation in Lebanon. With respect to Kurdistan and Turkey, his first point is that the Bush policy has clearly been unbalanced in favor of the Kurds as against the central Iraqi government, and his second point is that the weakness of the executive branch under Bush has invited the intervention of the legislative branch and this has only added fuel to the fire (referring to the Biden and then the genocide resolution). The result has been to almost "invite" Turkish intervention, because in the absence of such intervention, the momentum is all in the direction of an eventual establishment of a Kurdish nation in the north, with effects not only on Turkey, but on the Kurdish minorities in Syria and Iran too.

In Lebanon, where the Bush administration supports the March 14 group in the same unbalanced way, the latter group is calling for the disarmament of Hizbullah and normalization of relations with Israel, with an implied corollary of "cantonization" of Lebanon, which would involve walling off or separating in some way the Shiite, Sunni and Christian regions respectively. Naaman recalls that in the 70s, the same, or at least the analogous, pro-Western forces reacted to Palestinian resurgence with a similar proposal for cantonization, and the result in that case was intervention by Syria to prevent that. The pattern, he is suggesting, is the same in the Kurdish and Lebanese cases: Bush-administration going with the flow in terms of unconditional support for its local client, leading on a straight path to the dilemma of either instability, or else a neighboring country's intervention to prevent that instability. By way of grabbing the reader with an arresting paradox, he suggests, whether seriously or not I don't know, that the result in Lebanon could end up being US support for another round of Syrian intervention in the interests of preventing a meltdown.

Talk of federalism or cantonization for Lebanon in recent months has not been uncommon. Nasrullah referred to it as the "Israeli option" in a famous speech at the end of last year's Israel-Hizbullah war, and Naaman said a congressional delegation to Lebanon last April talked about the idea (I didn't mention the point in my summary of that piece here, but I think you will find it in the pdf version of the AlQuds story for that day).

I mention this Naaman op-ed today, not for any predictive claims or anything like that (although depressingly that seems to be almost the only way of reading things these days), but rather as an illustration of an overall view about the current role of the US Congress. Bush administration weakness creates a void, which Congress then purports to fill, but whose effect is merely to push an unstable situation into a condition of even greater instability, (by in effect out-maneuvering Bush to the right, although Naaman doesn't put it that way).

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Badger goes out on a limb

The prior post reflects newspaper reports of Monday Oct 15. Today, Tuesday Oct 16, Al-Hayat puts the results this way:
Ammar al-Hakim, the son of the SIIC leader, failed to convince Sunni tribal leaders to fight for the establishment of a federal region in [western] Iraq. The Anbar Awakening Council, which includes those tribal leaders, said it rejects federalism utterly and completely [literally "in its details and in its entirety"]. ...

In Anbar, Sheikh Ali al-Hatem, head of the General Council of Arab and Iraqi Tribes, which is the political wing of the Anbar Awakening Council, told Al-Hayat that "Sheikh Ahmad abu Risha (head of the Iraq Awakening) is not able to take any decision without reference to the major parties," adding that "the proposal by SIIC to fight for the implementation of federalism in the country is not acceptable, and it cannot be proposed at the present time, because those clauses in the Constitution which talk about federalism were decided on by the Americans, and not by Iraqis," and he added that the Anbar Awakening Council completely and utterly rejects the proposal."
My italics, for this reason: The defining characteristic of the Sunni political parties and the other "reconcilables", as opposed to the Sunni resistance, is that the former group has bought into a political process that was set up under American auspices. The Sunni resistance demands not only an end to the occupation, but also an end to all of the political trappings that the Americans brought with them. Where the factions differ is with respect to how to go about reconstituting a political system once the Americans are out. So when Ali al-Hatem tells the Al-Hayat reporter is that their rejection of the SIIC proposal is based on their rejection of that part of the "American" constitution, he is in effect taking a position closer to that of the resistance than to any of the Sunni political parties.

Given that this Anbar group is supposed by Washington and the corporate media establishment to be a model of a "reconciliable" movement, this could be tough to explain away. I therefore confidently predict this is therefore not going to be a big media story, in spite of its importance.

(The rest of this Al-Hayat story rehashes: Sadr movement criticizes the SIIC idea as a cozying up to the Americans; SIIC officially denies this has anything to do with the Biden congressional resolution; and as for the SIIC account of the Anbar meetings, an official is quoted as insisting abu Risha personally seemed positive about the SIIC idea and didn't reject it, but declined to take a clear position).

Monday, October 15, 2007

Sunni tribes are being urged to declare their own federal Region: Hakim thinks this would present Sadr with a fait accompli

Ammar al-Hakim, son SIIC leader Abdulaziz al-Hakim and his apparent successor as SIIC leader, visited Ramadi on the weekend with the head of the Badr Corps, and SIIC sources said he met with the leaders of the "Anbar Awakening" (including the brother of the late Sattar abu Risha) and other Sunni tribal leaders. The purpose was the following (according to Al-Hayat):
Informed sources said the meetings focused on the importance of declaring a federal [entity] in Sunni west Iraq, at the same time as announcements of a Shiite region in the south and a Kurdish one in the north.

Informed sources told al-Hayat this was an initiative of Ammar al-Hakim with the idea of aligning views on the occasion of Eid al-Fitr, with the aim of settling problems and normalizing relations between Sunnis and Shiites....[The sources] added that Ammar al-Hakim, whose party backs a federal region in the south, faces strong opposition from [other Shiite] parties and forces that reject the concept of federal regions, and favor that of a unified central government, with additional powers for the [existing] provinces. Al-Hakim is trying, via this encouraging the Sunnis to form their own region, to meet this resistance, by leaving the Sadr movement, the Fadhila party, the Dawa Party and other opponents, with no alternative but to acquiesce in the reality.
The tribal leaders didn't agree, but their comments, according to this al-Hayat summary, were couched in the following way:
A leader of the Anbar Awakening Council who didn't want his name used, said the tribal leaders are opposed to pressure from both the Iraqi and the American sides for the announcement of a Region in west Iraq.
But here is the important part:
[This Anbar Council person added that] Sunni political parties, and officials in the government and the parties have been in contact with tribes in Anbar and Salahaddin and Mosul, to urge them to support the concept of a Region. He added: "The weight of opinion in Sunni circles is that they won't undertake a request for a separate Region unless and until the Shiite Region in the south and the Kurdish in the north have become a reality that leaves them with no alternative but to declare their own Region."
Two points: The reference to Sunni political parties, no doubt includes the Islamic Party of Tareq al-Hashemi, the one Sunni political figure who had the privilege of meeting with Bush last fall (the other political leader who met with Bush was Abdulaziz al-Hakim). It was Hashemi whose "National Pact" announcement late last month included a reference to Iraq as a "federal" country, a first for any of the Sunni political parties. (See the earlier post here called "Hashemi-Biden National Pact"). And the Anbar tribal source's reference above rejecting "pressure from the Iraqi and the American sides" reflects very clearly the commonplace Iraqi idea that this is a Washington-backed scheme.

Secondly: The comments refer to point-blank "declarations" or "announcements" of federal regions, not the initiation of referendums and other legal proceedings set out in federalism-procedures law that was enacted last fall.

(Al-Quds al-Arabi, which relegates the meeting to page three, has a more conventional account, not mentioning the Sunni-region idea, and talking instead about the Oil and Gas law and De-Baathification. Their reporter notes that al-Hakim was preceded in his Ramadi meetings by another UIA official on Saturday, and he notes too that the Islamic Party leader Tareq al-Hashemi had talks with Ayatollah Sistani in Najaf recently. He reminds readers that al-Hakim devoted his Friday sermon to the need for a federal region in the south, on the basis that federalism is the only way to preserve the unity of Iraq, but as for the talks with Hakim talks in Ramadi yesterday, he doesn't mention anything about a proposal for a Sunni region. Instead he puts the meeting in the context of general "reconciliation", putting it this way:
This political activity is in the context of efforts to bring together the points of view of the Sunni and Shiite groups in Iraq, in order to realize national reconciliation and bring about agreement for the passage of a number of pieces of legislation in Parliament, starting with the Law on Oil and Gas, and the one on DeBathification in its revised form.)

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Two ways of reading the recent Iraq-Resistance statements

On October 2, Hamas Iraq issued a statement attacking the Islamic State of Iraq and its leader Abu Omar al-Baghdadi for their continued oppression and attacks against Hamas Iraq and other jihadi groups, detailing ISI atrocities against members of other groups, and refuting the ISI charges to the effect that Hamas Iraq is compromised by being involved in the Baghdad political process. But the nub and the essence of that Hamas Iraq had to say was the following:
Brothers, this is the first time we have spoken clearly about what has happened between us and AlQaeda, and of what we have put up with from them by way of oppression and attacks, as have our brothers in other factions. We had thought words would damage the jihad, but now that we have a clear picture of the their destructive role in Iraq, that is clear to everyone, we have spoken. There was an additional reason for holding back, and it was the fear that some would use this to split the ranks of the Muslims and build up their particular ideology, because this one is Salafi, and this one is Ikwahi, and this one is Sufi. By god, we say that this [concentration of differences] is the instrument that tears down the jihadi will. And [ISI leader] Baghdadi has tried to exploit this, making it seem as if the struggle is beween the Salafi movement and the Brotherhood.... But what we say is that [each of] the Islamic trends has split on the question of jihad in Iraq. Some of the salafis, like Abu Manar and others, were in the forefront of those who cooperated with the occupiers and proscribing jihad and oppressing the mujahideen, while on the other hand there were salafi mujahideen in their well-known groups like the Islamic Army and the Army of the Mujahideen...There were Sufis who never fired a shot against the occupation..., while on the other hand there have been Sufi mujahideen like Sheikh Abdullah al-Janabi and the men of the Naqshabandi group. Similarly in the Muslim Brotherhood there were those like the Islamic Party who saw in the political process the solution to the problems of Iraq, while there were others in the Muslim Brotherhood who raised he banner of jihad at the very beginning, and they have been part of many factions with memorable effectiveness, first in the Brigades [of the 1920 Revolution] which acknowledged them from the very start, then in the Islamic Resistance Front (Jaami'), and now in Hamas Iraq....

The point is that the Islamic denominational classifications don't have anything to do with jihad. Whether you look at the salafi sects, or the Brotherhood groups, or the Sufis, no matter where you look in the spectrum of Islamic denominations, you will find some that are with jihad, and some that are not. That is his point. There isn't any criterion for accepting or denying someone's credentials as a mujahid other than his jihadi orientation itself. The picking of any other criterion is nothing but a way of splitting the ranks. This is the nub and the essence of what al-Baghdadi stands accused of, according to this Hamas Iraq statement. His and ISI's oppression of other, non-salafi, jihadi groups, is the natural and logical outcome of that sectarian and divisive starting point.

This wasn't really brought out in the Kohlman translation or in his related comments. Perhaps that's because it is what you could call a rational argument, expressing an attitude that, compared to the wartime with-us-or-against-us sectarianism of both their American and their ISI adversaries, you could call "liberal". Jihad, in this view, is something people engage in as a means to a political end, namely the freeing of the country from foreign occupation. Any Muslim can join, and many different types of Muslims have done so. Persecution of jihadis for extraneous reasons, like failure to swear allegeance to some individual, is the antithesis of jihad; it hurts the effort and helps the occupier. The Kohlman approach is to show that various groups are attacking the ISI, which is very true, but in pointing this up, he fails to point up what binds these other anti-ISI jihadi groups together. Instead, his theme is that the attacks on the ISI are symptomatic of a decline in what he calls the "insurgency" overall, something that isn't supported by any of his texts.

Following up on this general idea, if you look at a more recent, October 9, text by the Brigades of the 1920 Revolution, also in self-defence against attacks by the ISI, you will see the next stage of this line of thinking, namely the questioning of just where these sectarian "al-Baghdadi" statements are coming from. The statement is in response to an ISI pronouncement of September 22, and among other things the Brigades statement notes that the recent statement is quite different from earlier ISI statements, both in terms of language and structure, and in terms of content.
It is noteworthy that this statement is written in a style that doesn't jibe with earlier statements of the ISI in general flow of ideas or in vocabulary, the most recent being the statement of Omar al-Baghdadi in mid-April of this year, and this is something that causes kind of a lack of confidence in the extent of the seriousness or the degree of representativity of the official word of the [Islamic] State, and this opens the door to skepticism about the circumstances of its publication and about the route it took to publication, and who published it, and why.
And later in the statement there is this remark, questioning the motives behind the ISI attack on the Brigades:
Perhaps it was the time for a settling of accounts, possibly of a personal nature, with a faction [namely the Brigades] that has priority and weight and influence in the jihadi arena. What is really surprising is what we hear about some of the organization (AQ) leadership being unhappy with the publication of this statement, and about their having been compelled to submit to pressure from certain sources, without having a grasp on the extent of the damage they are doing to themselves and to the jihadi project.
There is a lot more in this statement, but I think the main point is that the Brigades have gone a step further and publicly impugned the "al-Baghdadi" statements not only as to their general sectarian orientation, but more importantly as to "who published it and why." Given the prior reluctance of all the factions to get into open conflict with the ISI, in the interests of the overall effort, these recent statements do, as Kohlman says, represent an important development.

But Kohlman's approach, summarized in this recent MSNBC piece (where he is decribed as their "terrorism consultant") focuses almost exclusively on the issue of ISI brutality, and describes the jihadi groups making these allegations as "former alQaeda allies", setting out a picture, in other words, of violent groups of essentially a uniform type, in disarray, and concluding that this is a "huge opportunity the US should exploit". But what the groups are saying is that once you have a clear picture of how the ISI "leadership" behaves, you will see we are not the same at all. That is their whole point. And understanding that point helps in the understanding of the difference between what is essentially wartime propaganda and a dispassionate hearing for what people are actually saying.

It's the same attitude that got America into this quagmire in the first place.

Friday, October 12, 2007

By the way

It seems kind of pointless to even bring this up for a readership steeped in the conventional rhetoric of Cole and that ilk, but there is an Iraqi-nationalist view of the Turkey-Kurdistan crisis.

It goes like this: First of all, the PKK guerrilla activities are embarassing to the Kurdistan regional government, because it has been taking advantage of the US occupation and the weakness of the Baghdad government to nourish separatist aspirations, so this Turkish threat puts it on the horns of a dilemma. If it declares war on the PKK, it will seem to have abandoned its claim to Kurdish nationalism, but if it doesn't, and Turkey invades the north, then it loses prestige as an effective power. And the US is on the same page. For the US, Kurdistan is a model of stable separatism, and it does not want to see this model destroyed via a Turkish invasion. Hence its recent warnings to the Turkish government to put away the tanks and deal with the PKK issue via the usual back-channels.

When all is said and done, says Al-Quds al-Arabi in its editorial yesterday (Thursday Oct 11), the Turkish government will listen to the Americans and refrain from an invasion.
First of all [the editorialist writes], they aren't really interested in angering Washington. And secondly, Turkey has no real desire to mix it up in northern Iraq, because it understands quite well that such an involvement could lead to the exact opposite to the desired result, in the sense of failing to put an end to the Kurdish Workers Party in any definitive way, and instead leading to the worst possible result, namely turning Kurdistan into a platform for real and broader attacks in the future. [Turkey remembers that] the military attacks it launched in 1995 and 1997, using 120,000 Turkish troops, didn't succeed in putting an complete end to the PKK or its bases.
This is an analysis that points the way to a likely result, with important implications for the political development of the region. The editorialist puts it this way:
Most likely, the Turkish government has used these threats of an invasion to press the United States to get a move on, and pressure its allies in northern Iraq to prevent the PKK from operating from bases in its territory, in the same way that [the United States] did with some of the Iraqi tribes that it pressed to form so-called "awakening" forces to declare war on the AlQaeda organization and expel them by force from Sunni regions in Anbar and elsewhere.
The editorial is called "The cleverness of Erdogan and the American-Kurdish entanglement". Its starting-point is that this is another manifestation of America having turned Iraq into a failed state in which every interested party has its hand in the stew, militarily or politically or both, so whatever you think you saw in the "tribal awakening" movement, you could well end up seeing in a Kurdish version of it.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

New spin on an old smear

In the early stages of the armed occupation of Iraq (still being called a "war" for some reason), the US propaganda machine was intent on denying the existence of any legitimate national resistance, referring famously to "Baathist dead-enders" and so on. But where I came in, and for much of the past year, the propaganda machine had shifted focus a little, and was intent on blurring or smearing the distinction between takfiiri crazies some of whom kill for religion, and the nationalist resistance fighters who target the foreign occupation (whose existence was now acknowledged, but whose legitimacy was attacked by the takfiiri smear), all referred to collectively as "Sunni insurgents".

Now that US-armed Sunni groups are fighting AlQaeda, the propaganda effort has had to shift focus again a tiny bit. It is still true that key facts are passed over in propagandistic silence: The need expressed by AMSI for political unity in the resistance to meet the challanges of "US withdrawal"; the rejection of any such political compromise by the "AlQaeda" leadership; the accusation by the leading Saudi authority and others to the effect "AlQaeda" leadership is a catspaw of foreign intelligence agencies. All of this suggests that a lot turns on understanding the relationship of "AlQaeda" to the domestic resistance. But instead of taking up any of these issues, the great portal of informed comment has elected merely to take up the takfiiri-nationalist smear from another angle.

On Friday, AMSI head Harith al-Dhari made remarks in an interview with AlJazeera in which for the first time he directly criticized the "Iraqi Awakening" groups that are using US funding and support to attack AlQaeda. Here's the summary on the AMSI website:
[AlDhari] invited Iraqis to abstain from joining in the forces that are led by the United States of to wage war on AlQaeda, because in doing so they are assisting the occupier against their own countrymen.

[He said] "We do not accept the operations of AlQaeda and we have rejected the operations of AlQaeda, but the fact remains that ninety percent of AlQaeda are Iraqis....It is possible for us to dialogue with them and to bring them around... it is possible that almighty god can restore them to wisdom and common sense."
Al-Quds al-Arabi, recalling that al-Dhari has recently seen one of his brothers killed by AlQaeda in one of their "operations", makes an obvious point: What al-Dhari is trying to do is to distinguish between his critical position with respect to some of their activities, on the one hand, and the idea of Sunni tribes fighting them armed by the Americans and in the service of the Americans' aims and objectives.

So here's the new version of the smear: Al-Dhari's attempt to prevent Iraqis from taking the takfiiri bait and launching another internecine war are being spun as a sellout to the takfiiri crazies. Here's how Juan Cole puts it today:
Al-Dhari's willingness to see the violent, foreign-inspired group as essentially Iraqi and as a group one could dialogue with is startling and, I think, puts him beyond the pale in mainstream Iraqi politics (he is in Amman, Jordan, and I think there is an arrest warrant out for him.)

We saw the same smear from the widely-read Cole the end of last year with respect to the Istanbul Conference, where Dhari was espousing the same cause and the same viewpoint, only in the Shiite-Sunni context. Some speakers at that conference focused on the "Shiite threat", but Dhari fought back:
Harith al-Dari disagreed and said this is "a political struggle plain and simple". He said (according to this summary): "There are both Shiites and Sunnis on the one side under a single banner, and on the other side, arrayed against them, is the Occupation along with its Iraqi agents, aiming at the realization of its colonialist aims. [And this is the case] whether or not those [agents] connive with the Iraqi government and its institutions, or with the death-squads and the militias that are supported from outside".
At that time, there was no English-language coverage of the conference, just as recently there has been no coverage about the key points mentioned above. Then when people did hear, it was from Cole, and it was a smear, implying the whole conference was some kind of a celebration of takfiir.
Americans got their first report about the Istanbul conference this morning [Dec 20 2006], via Juan Cole, who (1) called statements of Dulaimi "incendiary", but failed to mention the more enlightened comments that Harith al-Dhari made in rebuttal; (2) quotes a Shiite website that reported allegations about an arrest-warrant against Dulaimi, without telling readers that this was false; (3) failed to pay any attention to the more balanced Al-Jazeera summary of the Istanbul proceedings (mentioned here in a prior post). Cole presents a one-sided account, followed up with something equally incendiary (and false to boot). It is a case study in how to go about taking a contentious event, and instead of explaining the dynamics in an even-handed way, using it instead in a partisan way to fan the flames higher.
As you can see, he likes that "arrest warrant" touch.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007


Abdulbari Atwan attacks the fatwa of sheikh Abdulaziz al-Sheikh (see prior post) on the basis that it serves the interests of the corrupt Saudi regime and their American allies, so when the sheikh referred to those who manipulate the passions of young Saudis in furtherance of their own ulterior motives, the best example of that would be the sheikh himself and the other clerics who serve the interests of the Saudi regime. The fatwa didn't mention any particular country, but Atwan draws particular attention to the timing of this fatwa, coming as it does at a time when Saudi Arabia and other American allies in the region are trying to work out a scheme that would facilitate the continuation of the American occupation of Iraq. When the mosques of Saudi Arabia were made centers of contributions and mobilizations for Arab and Islamic jihad in Afghanistan, the Balkans, south Philippines and elsewhere, the religious authorities backed these movements, and there was never the kind of prohibition that we have here in the case of Iraq. The point being that the fatwa is politically motivated in the interests of a corrupt and America-allied regime.

And when Al-Sheikh refers to the obligation of obedience to constituted authority, for instance for the organizing of jihad, Atwan says that was so in the early days of Islam when the rulers were honest. Nowadays, it is true that the constituted authorities carry out the organization of military force, but it is not for combatting oppression, rather for fighting alongside the oppressors, and for generating huge commissions (alluding to Prince Bandar and others) for the ruler and his offspring. If it is not permitted for Saudi youths to travel to Iraq to help the resistance, how is it that it is permitted for the American youths to travel all the way from their country to Iraq in order to occupy and oppress that people, and there aren't any fatwas against that? It is a rhetorical tour de force.

Unfortunately, demolishing the sheikh as any kind of a moral authority, isn't the same as answering the questions about the relationship of the jihadi network to the domestic Iraqi resistance.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Better late than never: Saudi authority says the jihadis are tools and commodities in the hands of the intelligence agencies

The Saudi Arabian religious hierarchy has in the past issued statements denouncing the enlistment of young Saudis in the cause of "so-called jihad" in foreign countries, but the statement issued yesterday by the top person in that hierarchy sharpened that criticism to include an additional important point. What was new in this statement, and the reason why Al-Quds al-Arabi made this its top story this morning, is that the the mufti went a step further and said: These young men are not only being themselves misled: They are allowing themselves and their misguided passion to be used as "commodities that are being bought and sold among parties of the East and the West, in the interests of aims and objectives, the full extent of whose harm is known only to god almighty".

The AlQuds account begins:
Sheikh Abdulaziz al-Sheikh, general mufti of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, criticized sharply Saudi islamists who leave the country in the cause of jihad, because their actions damage Islam, and they are changed into people who carry out dirty operations.

In a statement published by the Saudi news agency, the mufti said "It has been evident for years that our sons have been leaving the country in pursuit of jihad in the path of the lord, but they lack the understanding to distinguish between what is true and what is completely baseless. And this is the reason" he continued, "why they have been seduced and used by notorious (or "dubious") parties. They have been tools in the hands of foreign agencies (using a word often used as shorthand for Mukhabarat agencies) who manipulate them in the name of jihad, and who use them for the attainment of their dishonorable aims, and realize their purposes via them, with dirty operations that are as far removed as can be from any religion, so that now our youth have been made into commodities that are bought and sold among the parties of East and West, for the attainment of their ends, and just how far the damage that has been done by this extends, is something known only to god almighty".

The mufti said: "The rebellion of these youths against their custodians and their authorities, and their going abroad in what they call jihad--this has led to atrocious scandals, including rebellion against their lord and tyrannizing over him, and this is one of the great sins. Among the other atrocities", according to the mufti, "is the fact these Saudis have become convenient knights for whoever wants to foster corruption in the land, and for whoever wants to exploit their zeal, even up to the point of turning them into walking bombs who kill themselves in the interests of the political or military aims of these dubious parties".
Kind of hard to miss the point.

By way of background the Al-Quds reporter offers an abbreviated history of Saudi regime's domestic problems with the jihadis, but the focus is on recent regional embarrassments including the participation of a number of Saudis in Fatah al-Islam in Lebanon, and a July statement by Iraqi national security adviser Mowaffaq al-Rubiae to the effect his government is getting ready to prosecute 160 Saudi individuals involved in "rebellion" adding there are thousands more in awaiting referral to the courts.

There can be a lot of speculation on the question why the Saudi establishment has chosen this exact timing for an attack on the region-wide role of AlQaeda and its look-alikes. Probably an omniscient narrator would be able to tell us something about the degree of control the Saudi regime used to have, or thought it had, over this network and how this control has been wrested away by others, no doubt including the CIA in pursuance of whatever are the latest US aims in Iraq.

But the clear and indisputable point is this: The Saudi mufti, who knows a thing or two about the network, says it is a tool in the hands of foreign intelligence agencies. Think about it. If there was even a grain of truth in this, how much of the history of atrocities and civil war in Iraq would have to be rewritten.

But the point won't be taken up in the Western media. And the reason is because it would call in question the narrative of a nation's descent into the chaos of warring factions, and eventual dismemberment.