Monday, December 31, 2007

AbuRoman versus BinLaden

Mohammed AbuRoman is a Jordanian journalist who writes op-eds, sometimes in the Jordanian paper Al-Ghad, but today in Al-Hayat, titled "AlQaeda: No longer the option for the Sunnis of Iraq", making the point that while the one-sided oppression of Sunnis by the occupation in the early years of the occupation created an atmosphere conducive to Sunni-AlQaeda cooperation, the atmosphere has now changed, and broadly speaking the Sunni community is tending to ally with the United States against the Iranian influence in Iraq. Abu Roman often writes from a Muslim Brotherhood perspective, and in this account a couple of points stand out:

One point is his praise for the MB-affiliated Islamic Party of Iraq (Tareq al-Hashemi's party) in fostering alliances between the Awakening Councils and some of the traditional Sunni armed-resistance groups on the other, while at the same time ensuring American support for these coalitions. Basically his picture seems to be that the factions in the so-called Political Council for the Iraqi Resistance have in many cases allied with the Awakenings. But he notes that the constellation of groups allied with the Association of Muslim Scholars of Iraq (Harith al-Dari's group) have maintained their distance from the Awakenings, and AMSI has in fact criticized them quite harshly. (Recall the Dari pronouncement in his Letter to the Iraqi Tribes: "They [the Iraqi ISI rank and file] are of us and we are of them").

Another point is that AbuRoman seems to view the Sunni-US alliance as an almost unequivocally positive development, noting only in a single sentence that this does bring with it the risk of seeing the Sunni community organize itself into militias to combat Shia militias. But he doesn't pursue that point at all. Rather, his point is to query whether or not the Sunni-US alliance will be able to carry on and completely wipe out AlQaeda in Iraq as a threat.

And his answer to that question is that it depends on the ability of the Sunni groups to come together with a single program, overcoming their differences in ideology and strategy. He doesn't spell this out, but clearly the main differences seem to be tetween three blocs: the possibly MB-leaning groups of the Political Council for the Iraqi Resistance (Hamas-Iraq, Islamic Army of Iraq and others), the more-rejectionist AMSI-affiliated groups including the Brigades of the 1920 Revolution and others, and the most-rejectionist groups loyal to Izzat Ibrahim including the Naqshabandi Sufis and others.

AbuRoman raises the question of whether they can come together in a unified program, but he does so in the context of how to finally wipe out AlQaeda, not in the context of the role of America in Iraq.

What is particularly odd is that he doesn't even mention the current discussions going on ahead of the Cairo conference apparently scheduled for next month, where the US is aiming to bring as many as possible of the Sunni factions on board the GreenZone political process. You'd think he might have mentioned that as a factor in the Sunni-faction political arena.

In fact, you could look at it this way. Bin Laden in his latest talk on "How to foil the Conspiracies" says among other things that the Riyadh government, acting for the US, enticed Hamas into government (on American terms) in Palestine, and look where that got them. Their scheme now is to entice the Sunni groups into government on American terms in Baghdad; don't fall for it. AbuRoman says, in effect, no, that's not the main political issue for the Sunni factions. The main issue is eradicating the takfiiris (with the Americans help).

Both BinLaden and AbuRoman make it seem as if these two issues are inseparable. If you oppose participating in government on American terms, then you have to be with us fundamentalists, says BinLaden. AbuRoman says--or rather implies--that if you oppose the takfiiris all the way, then you have to come together in a position that includes allying with the Americans.

Each of them is talking their positions, as they say in the markets. So hard to find an independent analyst these days.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Osama finally goes to bat for Abu Omar al-Baghdadi

Jihadis were excited yesterday to note that Osama bin Laden, in his latest tape, mentions Abu Omar al-Baghdadi and the Islamic State of Iraq, both by name, by way of specifically endorsing them, something he had not done before. One post transcribed this part of the bin Laden speech:
The emir Abu Omar and his brothers are not among those who bargain with their religion...or who meet the enemy half-way. They are persistent in the right, and seek to please their Creator even if they anger men... If the leaders of the Islamic State of Iraq put their hand in the hand of any of the neighboring countries to be a support for them, as some of the groups and parties have done, that would not be a solution, because those budgets of tens and hundreds of millions put them under their protection...[as a result] they lose their stability and independence because of the support of those countries, when America and its agents put pressure on those supporting countries, until they transmit that pressure onto the head of the party or the emir of the group [concerned], as people have seen in the case of Lebanon...

And there is another type of case where the supporting and financing country pressures them to require their army [referring here to the Mahdi Army] to take an open ended vacation of six months , renewable! Has anyone heard of an army taking a vacation when the enemy has their country pinned down? ...

Now as to the question of a lot of people not being familiar with the history of the commanders of the mujahideen in Iraq, I say: This is on account of the circumstances of war and its security implications. I judge that this lack of familiarity with the leaders of the mujahideen in Iraq is a lack that does no harm because they are vouched for by the confidence of upright persons like Abu Omar, who is vouched for by upright persons among the mujahideen. Abu Musab [Zarqawi] vouched for him, and the minister of war Abu Hamza al Muhajir, and these are people who are vouched for by their patience and steadfastness in the thunderbolts of the attacks in the heights of the Hindukush, and these are people known to your brothers in Afghanistan... The failure to pledge allegiance to the emir of the commanders of the mujahideen on the excuse of not knowing their history, after they have been vouched for in this way, leads to enormous problems, the main one being the inability to form a large group of Muslims under a single Imam, and this is wrong [or null and void].
The excerpt is cited on the jihadi boards by way of trying to bolster support for Abu Omar and his team. The point about not having financial support from any of the neighboring countries could merely mean that the group doesn't enjoy the support of Saudi Arabia and other countries any longer, possibly as a result of American pressure. And the point about the thunderbolts on the peaks of the Hindukush clearly reflects a need to try and somehow graft the mysterious and unknown Abu Omar al-Baghdadi onto the folk-hero traditions of those close to bin Laden in their finest hour in Afghanistan.

The two sides of the Sunni Awakening movement

So far we've seen a couple of theories of what's going on with the Sunni awakenings: (1) that they are part of an American scheme to combat the Shiite GreenZone government should that government prove to be intransigent in its Iranian leanings (Nahrainnet, summarized here); and (2) that whatever the plan, there is a chance that the Sunni awakenings could turn into an Iraqi-nationalist force, with anti-occupation implications (Al-Hayat, summarized here).

Today, Iraqi journalist Daoud Al-Basri writing for Sot al-Iraq, (thanks to abu Aardvark for tagging this) offers an explanation that in a way brings those two views into a single framework. He says first of all that it should be clear to any observer that the military success of the Sunni awakenings is due primarily to the participation of former Iraq-army people, Baathists, who have had a lot of experience in this kind of fighting since the invasion, only now they are receiving assistance from erstwhile enemies to fight the new enemy, AlQaeda. And the GreezZone government, led by sectarian Shiite parties, are naturally concerned about this because of their particular histories of enmity with the Baath. The GreenZone people see this as part of a two-pronged pressure campaign by the Americans, one in the form of these (what they see as) crypto-Baathist awakenings, and the other in the form of the American "opening" to the Baath in the series of negotiations including the recent Dead Sea talks and the upcoming Cairo talks.

But the journalist points out something else about these awakening councils. While their military success may be due to the participation by ex-Army people, at the same time, there is another current. He puts it this way: While the GreenZone people see the awakenings as a Trojan Horse for the Baath, they are thinking that way spite of the fact that the tribal leadership of the Awakening Councils sees in their groups a national[ist] requirement to cleanse the Iraqi scene of the meddlers and the foreigners and the agents ofAlQaeda, and they have no real interest in Baathist zeal or any other kind, but this is something the Iraqi government authorities disagree with: They see ghosts of the Baath party still standing behind these internal struggles, which are today turning into a test of wills for the approval of the biggest ally and sponsor of the political process, which is the United States.
What this writer is saying is that there are features of the Sunni awakenings that the GreenZone people see as threatening for perhaps good reason (the "ghosts of the Baath still standing"), and hence as part of an American scheme to pressure them; but on the other hand the tribal-leadership component of the movement is nationalist, with no real interest in pursuing sectarian struggles, but rather focused only on throwing out the interlopers and the foreigners. He doesn't go any further in his analysis, instead just calling attention to the complexity and strangeness of the situation.

But I think it is fair to say that if he is right about the composition of the Sunni awakenings, then the point is that they have potentially both the character of tools for the Americans in pressuring for an opening to the Sunnis in the GreenZone, and at the same time the potential to be turned into an anti-occupation nationalist force.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Sunni groups smell a sellout by Hashemi in the North

Most of the mysterious three-party memorandum of agreement between Hashemi's Islamic party and the two big Kurdish parties (signed Dec 24; consisting of 21 very brief clauses) is boilerplate about righting the wrongs of the past via democracy, Clause 140 of the Constitution, and amicable arrangements mentioned only in very general terms, but there is also clause 17, which reads:
[The parties agree on] formation of branch committees in contiguous areas and disputed areas, to arrive at solutions in those areas in pursuit of a sound relationship (the attached addendum which relates to the governate of Ninawa is part of this memorandum of understanding).
The addendum on Ninawa appears not to have been published anywhere, but today some of the jihadi forums were paying attention to a news item yesterday in the Sunni-oriented Haq news agency, which suggested an explanation. The news agency said:
Informed sources...[said the agreement] could cede in an obscure way two-thirds of the governate of Ninawa to the Kurds, and [could also mean commitment to] the rejection of inclusion of Mosul in any future [federal] region, in the event the Sunni Arabs were to agree on formation of a region of governates that have a Sunni-Arab majority.
The journalist goes on to note that the "text relating to Mosul" hasn't been included in the text of the agreement published by any of the news media, and the reason for that is:
fear on the part of the Islamic Party and its director Tareq al-Hashemi who signed the memo of understanding, of the reaction of the Sunni street, which is absolutely against any infringement on the Arab character of Mosul, or any attempts by the Kurdish parties to take over big parts of it.
The journalist adds:
The sources say that the unpublished part of the agreement relating to Mosul includes an agreement on the administration of Mosul that gives two-thirds of the city to the Kurds and one-third to the Arabs and the other ethnic groups, in addition to adding the district of Sinjar to the Kurdish administration.

If the truth of this is confirmed, then the Islamic Party has placed itself in a very difficult position vis-a-vis the Sunni-Arab street, which will not be able to allow this to happen under any circumstances. So far the Islamic Party has refrained from commenting on this very serious report.
That's the extent of what they have to say about the agreement itself, and obviously it isn't clear whether they are saying the agreement risks giving two-thirds of Ninawa governate to the Kurds (first paragraph), or two-thirds of the city of Mosul (the text quoted above). But there's more.

This same Haq Agency report quotes extensively from more general remarks by a member of the national parliament representing Mosul, by the name of Osama al-Najifi. The reporter writes:
Elsewhere, but on the same topic, [Najifi said] the Kurdish parties have penetrated into lands belonging to the governate of Ninawa in an effort to alter the demographics of the area. And Najifi said in a press conference in Mosul that the current situation in Ninawa is inundated by fog on every side, and is victim of extremes of negligence and marginalization by both local and the national governments alike. It is a situation that has given the Kurdish parties the opportunity to penetrate, and to undertake the extension of their security apparatus into the districts of Sinjar, Hamdaniya, Zamar, Bashiqa, and Bartala, as part of their effort at demographic change.
(The first two of those are identifiable on the Ninawa map on Wikipedia, but the last three are not, so I'm not sure what they refer to).

Al-Najafi said "this unnatural situation compels us to reject the idea of applying Clause 140 of the Constitution (referendum respecting regional affiliation) to Ninawa", and in any event he said the clause doesn't legally apply to that governate.

Al-Najafi concluded with a remark on the Awakening Councils. He said he blames the Governate Council for the damage that is being done, and for the delays in development projects, adding:
The governate's security problems are not capable of being solved in the framework of the Awakening Councils which are related to parties and militias having no connection to the people in Ninawa.
Myself, I think this type of horse-trading or attempted jurisdiction-swapping in the north would be consistent with a coming GreenZone musical-chairs restructuring, in the form of Hashemi buying some support from the Kurdish parties. And the musical-chairs concept, I think, is what is probably going to come out of the current "reconciliation" process, of which the next step is the officially unannounced Cairo meeting, where I think the outreach to the resistance is going to turn out to have been mostly for show.

Strange pussyfooting on Cairo

There is confirmation of plans for a "reconciliation" conference in Cairo next month that is supposed to include representatives of Baathists and armed factions, in the form of remarks by three Iraqi-parliament officials to the newspaper Al-Hayat, which however publishes the story only in its Saudi edition, and not in the edition that is published on the web. (The independent news agency Aswat al-Iraq reports the remarks, citing the Saudi edition of Al-Hayat). Arabic here, English here.

The Cairo conference, if it comes off, will be followup to earlier such meetings in Beirut (has anyone heard of that?) and then mid-October at a Dead Sea resort, reported in prior posts here. The Cairo plans were described extensively by Haroun Mohammed (posts on that here and here), who said the principal motive for this as far as the Americans are concerned is to somehow create GreenZone entity that would have enough breadth and weight to legitimate the bilateral Iraq-US agreement that is going to be necessary once the current UN mandate runs out the end of 2008.

There are signs of continued pussyfooting by the Americans, presumably to give plausible deniability in case nothing happens. Not only has there not been any announcement of these plans, but also, for instance, today's Al-Hayat account says it wasn't the Americans at all, but Iraq president Talabani who is behind this idea. Delivery of the invitations to this meeting continues to be described in funny ways, for instance Al-Hayat quotes one Iraqi parliamentarian who says the invitations are being delivered by "independent persons," to invitees "according to the measure of the moderation of their stances and their demands." (A phrase Aswat al-Iraq quoted from Al-Hayat but their English translator took one look at it and did what we all do from time to time: He decided to leave it out).

Wathab Dulaimi, chairman of something called the Council on National Dialogue, who also confirmed these plans, said topics for discussion (in addition to the standard items of federalism, participation in the "political process", and so on) will also include the Awakening Councils and the Political Council of the Iraqi Resistance. And he added: "The Awakening Councils have broken the barrier (logjam?) that was standing in the way of discussions between us and the opposition," without explaining exactly what that means.

And there doesn't seen to be complete unanimity what topics will be at the top of the agenda either. While Dulaimi and the Minister of National Reconciliation stressed issues like amnesty and De-Baathification (without mentioning US troop withdrawal), another of the newspaper's informants, Wail Adbul Latif, a member of the parliamentary committee dealing with this, said the conference "will take up three core issues: Federalism; participation in the government; and presence of the foreign troops in the country".

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The nationalist version of tribal mobilization

There was a brief reference to the Central Council of the Arab Tribes of Iraq in Al-Hayat last week (referred to in this post), where the point was that one of the sources of GreenZone anxiety about the "awakenings" is the fact that they might serve as a vehicle, or an occasion, for the mobilization of pan-Iraqi nationalism, with anti-occupation implications. This has been overlooked in the Western accounts of the whole awakening phenomenon, which talk about GreenZone (and US military) anxiety about the awakenings only in its other form, which is--you guessed it!--the sectarian "Sunni versus Shiia" perspective. The more things change (in Iraq), the more they stay the same (in the Western accounts).

Today Al-Hayat reports on another meeting of this tribal council, this one held in Damascus, and the journalist names a number of the participating tribal leaders with their regions of origin, noting that they included Shia and Sunni, from Anbar, Mosul, Basra and other regions, along with some religious leaders. The journalist leads the story like this:
Sunni and Shia tribal sheikhs and religious leaders affirmed in a declaration yesterday that the unity of Iraq is a red-line that is not to be violated under any circumstances, and they affirmed the unity of stance among the tribes respecting the main principles guaranteeing the independence of Iraq and the unity of its land, preventing external interference in its affairs, and the eliminating sectarian designations from the current political agendas.
In his concluding paragraph, the journalist summarizes the declaration this way:
[It] outlines the commitment of the tribal leaders to protect the unity of Iraq, and reject its partitioning, and to demand the exit of the foreign troops from Iraq and the prevention of interference by neighboring countries in the affairs of Iraq, and the preservation of the national Arab character of Iraq as a country in the Arab and Islamic sphere. [The declaration also outlined] a challenge to the neighboring countries not to use Iraq as a locus for settling of accounts or for the extension of their influence; and a demand on the Iraqi government to broaden the scope of national reconciliation to include all Iraqis, and to end the spirit of [sectarian] monopolization and "allocations" which has been dominant in the Iraqi political scene; and to open the door for the return of members of the former army.
The program of troop-withdrawal, blocking of (Iranian and other) foreign interference, along with the call for ending the spirit of sectarianism, is very similar to the usual programs of the largely Sunni resistance groups, but with these differences: (1) There is explicit Shiite participation, and the program is explicitly pan-Iraqi in terms not only of its ideals, but in its roster of participants as well; and (2) it is missing the call to armed resistance.

Finally, the journalist explains what this declaration has to say specifically about the awakenings.
[The declaration said] the tribal leaders can appreciate some of the motives that caused the creation of some of these Awakening Councils in Iraq, [but] they affirm that these councils are not acceptable when the intent is to strike against the national project in Iraq and cooperation with the occupier against the national people, while at the same time affirming [that the tribal leaders should] encourage their people to preserve security in their areas and deter oppression and attacks on the people [no doubt referring to takfiiri excesses].
In other words, let's channel tribal mobilization in the right direction!

Sunday, December 23, 2007


Here, as the year winds down and we wonder what it's been all about, are some excerpts from the classic history of Iraq by Hanna Batatu called "The Old Social Classes and the Revolutionary Movements of Iraq" telling about some of the events of 80 years ago in Iraq, 1927, six years into the reign of Faisal, Britain's recalcitrant puppet-king of Iraq. That monarchy lasted from 1921 until its overthrow by the Baathists in 1958. The book was first published 1978. (I got mine via a US distributor at It takes a while to arrive, and besides, weighing in at 1200 pages, it's a little bulky for a last-minute stocking-stuffer).

Batatu, Jerusalem-born, emigrated to the US in 1948 where he had an illustrious academic career, mainly as a historian of Iraq. He died in the year 2000. The book is non-partisan, and even though Batatu had access to many smoking guns in the form of British intelligence and other reports, he doesn't harp on things the way some of us are prone to do nowadays. Still, his description of these events of 1927, taken from pages 327 through 329 of his book, is excellent background for those of us skeptical about the standard corporate-media account of the US in Iraq as a history of more or less innocent bungling.

The British installed Faisal, son of Sharif Husain of Mecca, to be king of the new British-controlled Iraq in 1921, and immediately there was a struggle over what form the British control should take, Faisal favoring the informal and indirect approach, while the British insisted on, and finally obtained, a treaty acknowledging that Iraq was their "Mandate". Hanna Batatu wrote: "By deferring to the English, Faisal alienated popular opinion. Nor was his position made any better by the banishment in 1923 of the anti-treaty Shi'i [clerics] or by the pretext given for a measure so serious and which he had only reluctantly approved" [namely that the Shiite clerics were "foreigners", which in fact they weren't but obviously Faisal himself was].

The struggle between popular pressure for real independence and the English Mandate continued, and by 1927 it had taken the form of a dispute about military defense. England wanted to keep control of the volunteer Iraqi armed forces, while Faisal, backed by popular opinion, was for universal military service with Iraqi control.

Here's what happened: The English decided it would be a good idea to get Faisal out of the country, so they invited him to London, where he stayed for almost four months, while the English conducted sham negotiations with him. What is particularly instructive, Batatu wrote, is what happened in Iraq "behind his back". He lists four developments, negative as far as Faisal was concerned, all showing some evidence of colonial-power instigation: Fanning of Shiite-Sunni animosities; problems with the Shiite clerical establishment; separatism; and British exploitation of attacks by salafi fundamentalists from the Arabian peninsula. And running through it all, the question of who controls Iraq's military capabilities.

(1) A Shiite party newspaper called An-Nahda, just four days after Faisal's departure for London, began to publish a series of fierce attacks on Faisal and his government. "The bitter articles were calculated to provoke communal animosity and embitter the feelings between Shi'is and Sunnis. They dwelt upon and exaggerated past conflicts and old grievances. Simultaneously there was a surreptitious agitation against the Sunni dominance of the government and for the continuance of undiminished British control....'It is commonly believed throughout the Euphrates,' affirmed a British intelligence report, 'that His Excellency the High Commissioner is supporting the Shi'i agitation, and [the Shiite party leader in question and newspaper publisher] in his conversation has always managed to convey this impression.'"

(2) Prominent Shiite clerics, "and this is a stratum that was, as a rule, politically quiescent", suddenly began discussing the desirability of abolishing the monarchy and establishing a republic. Here too Batatu found British intelligence reports pointing to British control over the campaign:
"It is understood," maintained a British intelligence report, "that they have been encouraged by articles which have appeared in the British press but will be governed by the attitude His Excellency the High Commissioner takes up with regard to his Majesty the King on his return, and will not do anything unless they are sure of British support."
(3) "In the third place", Batatu wrote, "a number of influential mallaks of Basrah revived their old demand for 'a separate Basrah under British protection.' The promoters of the movement 'insinuated' that their cause had the support of Abdul Muhsin as-Sa'dun, an oftentime premier who was considered to be specially favored by the British government."

(4) Finally, during this period of time there were groups of what are today called takfiiri, based in the Arabian peninsula, prone to attacking the Shiite holy sites in Iraq, one such group called the Najd Brotherhood. During Faisal's absence in London, in addition to the three above-mentioned challenges to the king's authority, there was also this:
In the fourth place [writes Batatu] the Ihwan of Najd, led by Faisal ad-Dawish, chief of the 'Ilwah Mutayr, launched in this period repeated attacks on Iraq, which continued after Faisal's return from England....The student of Iraqi history cannot help noticing that Dawish carried out his raids precisely on those occasions when the Iraqis or their government would not bend to British wishes, that is,in 1922, when the King stood against the "Mandate;" in 1924, when a powerful anti-treaty opposition developed within the Constituent Assembly; and lastly, in the circumstances now under discussion.

It appears unlikely that Dawish should have attacked, at least in 1927-1928, unless he knew beforehand that the British air force, which was still committed by treaty to the defense of the Iraqi borders, would give him a free rein. Interestingly enough, on 11 January 1929, the secretary of state for the colonies directed the high commissioner "to exercise [his] judgment in using the present situation on the Iraq-Nejd frontier to emphasize the necessity of British support and the dependence of Iraq upon such support."
The roles in 2007 compared to 1927 are partly reversed, with a Shiite instead of a Sunni puppet under pressure by the colonial power to toe the line, but at least some of the ingredients of pressure are the same, notably Shiite/Sunni animosity fanned by the colonial power. When it comes to the colonial power's manipulation of takfiiri raids as a way of enhancing the puppet government's sense of weakness and sense of reliance on the colonial power, that is something where Batatu saw circumstantial evidence, in the first place, and also documentary evidence in the form of the colonial secretary's memo. We ourselves in 2007 haven't had the benefit of any documentary evidence of the Americans' manipulation of the takfiiri Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), but the circumstantial evidence seems strikingly similar.

It is almost as if Hanna Batatu is telling us: Been there, done that. Because eerily enough, he even takes up and disposes of the straw-man argument that has been seen so often in the comments here and elsewhere in the past year: "How can you say that Iraq was previously a Garden of Eden?" In answer to that argument he writes:
Of course, the British did not create the separatist proclivities of Basrah's mallaks or the animosity of Shi'is and Sunnis, or of Sa'udis and Hashemites. All these issues have deeper causes. But it looks as if there were gentle British pushes with the elbow somewhere along the line.

Al-Hayat: The GreenZone fears the awakening movement as a potential Sunni-Shia nationalist alliance

The Central Council of Iraqi Arab Sheikhs (representing tribes--mostly Sunni--in the West and North of Iraq) issued a statement in support of the nationalist, anti-federalism stance adopted by Arab tribes--mostly Shiite--in the South of Iraq, and Al-Hayat says it was this emerging sign of Sunni-Shiite solidarity on the tribal level that frightened Hakim and the Maliki government into their new-found opposition to continued organizational existence/expansion of the awakening-council movement.

To put it another way: Where the recent Nahrainnet reports pointed to a plan by the Americans to organize the awakening councils into fighting units in the interests of the occupation (whether contra resistance movements or contra a recalcitrant Iran-leaning GreenZone administration), this Al-Hayat account says Hakim and the government have a quite different fear: namely that the awakenings could end up joining together as a nationalist front against major parts of the American/Hakim scheme.

After summarizing the statements of Hakim and the Defence Minister against any institutional existence for the awakenings, the Al-Hayat reporter says this:
This new government attitude on the "awakening councils", which enjoy American support and now have over 71,000 members, comes in the wake of a political and public-relations campaign led by the Supreme Council and other influential parties in the South rejecting the formation of awakening councils in the South. ... These parties that hold the reins of power in the South [meaning local-government control] fear the emergence of councils of tribes because they could be political and military rivals who reject the implementation of a federal [region] in the Center and South, which is considered the [flagship] strategic project of powerful Shiite forces.
In other words, the Supreme Council, and the other GreenZone powers that be, are adopting this "new" stance of reining in the awakening council movement, because they fear it could turn into a nationalist and anti-federalist ("federalist" in the Supreme Council sense of a large nine-governate region of the Center and South) alliance between the Sunni Arab tribes of the North and West, with the Shiite Arab those of the South. By way of indicating a likely trigger for this new concern, the journalist quotes from a declaration issued recently by the Central Council for Arab Tribes (mostly West and North, mostly Sunni) which reads as follows:
The stance of the Arab tribes of the South of Iraq in opposition to the proposals for the partition of Iraq and the dissipation of its culture and natural resources, and in opposition to the blatant Iranian intervention in the affairs of Iraq aimed at spreading fitna among the people of a single house--this is an expression of the essential nature of the noble Iraqi tribal personality, and it refutes all of the proposals [or claims or propaganda] and all of the lies that they have they have tried to get our people of the South to adopt.
The isn't any further detail (apart from a summary of the government's plan of absorbing only a portion of the Sunni awakening fighters into the police and army). But the journalist does take the trouble of earmarking the whole tribal-awakening issue as a major challenge for the coming year. He notes the possibility that this could end up threatening the recent "security progress" in Iraq, and he also refers to what he calls an "escalation in coordination between Shiite and Sunni tribes to work out a common stance".

Saturday, December 22, 2007

"There will be new rules of the game"

There are two interesting cases of stick-figure reporting on Iraq, the first courtesy of David Ignatius in the Friday WaPo, where he says:
In January, the United States will also invite the Iraqis to negotiate a new "strategic partnership agreement" to replace the existing U.N. mandate for U.S. troops, starting in 2009. David Satterfield, Rice's special coordinator for Iraq, will ask Baghdad to appoint a negotiating team that represents all the country's factions and ministries. This new agreement will be sensitive for both sides, since it will cover everything from imprisonment of Iraqi detainees to future U.S. basing rights to Special Forces operations against al-Qaeda terrorists. Explains a senior Bush administration official: "There will be new rules of the game. There have to be. It cannot be business as usual."
That is very interesting, because while it confirms that the US is concerned about the legitimacy of its presence after the current UN mandate runs out, it suggests there will be nice and polite, if somewhat ambiguous, process. Satterfield will "ask", for a broader-based negotiating "partner", by having "Baghdad" somehow "appoint a negotiating team that represents all the country's factions..." By using words in this way, the WaPo columnist is able to represent the coming process as a very civilized thing, "asking", for a "partner", that will "represent all factions." What a nice man! But wait! In the background there is the unnamed "senior Bush administration official" talking about "new rules of the game". Wonder what that means? A more detailed account gives you part of the answer.

The relevant story circulating in Arab capitals as related by Haroun Mohammed (see prior posts here) talks about the same basic motive, namely the need by the US to obtain a broader base of support for its new Iraq "mandate". But there is more detail, and the detail is very telling. First of all, according to this account, Satterfield and others in the State Department are convinced that Sunni representation has to be obtained for the new mandate to have any appearance of legitimacy. So the expression "all the factions" phrase in the WaPo piece has a specific meaning. Secondly, the attempts up to now, including the meetings organized by Richard Murphy at the Dead Sea resort last month, have been unsuccessful in bringing them in. Third, Condi has decided to ask Cairo, Amman and Riyadh to start turning the screws on the Baath persons living in their capitals, to force them to come forward and play the game. And fourth, just as a reminder, Haroun Mohammed notes that the conditions laid down by the Sunni resistance would have to be dealt with first, and that includes a withdrawal-schedule. So his conclusion is that the whole effort is unserious.

What then? Is there anything different about this doomed US effort to arrange a reconciliation with the Sunni opposition/resistance, compared to the prior doomed efforts? Actually, on one reading of the Iraq news, yes there may well be.

Abdulaziz al-Hakim on Friday, and then Defence Minister al-Obaidi (who happens to be Sunni) on Saturday, and perhaps more to come, have quite abruptly raised the issue of potential institutionalization of the Anbar-style "awakening councils". Hakim said they have to be under the control of the government, and Obaidi said they won't be allowed to have their own organizational structure, moreover only those who are qualified will be accepted into the regular Iraqi armed forces. This is another set of reports that has the familiar one-dimensional stick-figure character, as if the background or the other dimensions had been eliminated.

Here's some of the background. This sudden outbreak of concern comes days after a report in the Sadrist-oriented citing warnings coming from European-embassy people in the GreenZone (via Brussels) to the effect that American intelligence officials have undertaken a project aiming precisely at organizing the Sunni awakening councils as a potential fighting unit in the interests of American policy.
The real anxiety in European capitals relating to these developments is the following: That the awakening councils could be used in the service of plans [that could be] implemented by the American intelligence agency against Iraqi forces opposed to the American presence, and specifically against Shiite organizations or a broad Shiite movement against the American presence in Iraq in the future, something that would contribute to a bloody civil war in Iraq, working in the long term against the desired stability in the country, and [instead] tearing it up into city-states.
A few days later, the same Nahrainnet cited sources in Washington who said they have seen
reports on an American plan to recruit Shiite tribal leaders in the South and Center of Iraq to form an alliance with Washington to "guarantee the existence of a military force on the ground to face down Iranian influence in Iraq...and to confront the Shiite political parties currently participating in the government, which form bulwarks for this Iranian influence." The reports say the contacts with Shiite tribal leaders have been undertaken by US intelligence officers in Iraq, sometimes with the assistance of regional governments including those of the UAE, Saudi, and Jordan.
The expressions of concern from Hakim and Obaidi come on the heels of these reports.

Apart from questions of the actual ability of the CIA to pull off something like this, the reported aims are quite straightforward and easy to understand. The concept would be the creation of two Contra organizations, the first based on the hypothesis of fighting any serious resistance movement by the Sadrists (or other groups opposed to the American presence); and the second based on the hypothesis of fighting a recalcitrant pro-Iranian government.

So if your question is: How does the current US attempt to get the Sunni opposition/resistance and the Shiite sectarian government to play the American game differ from previous attempts, I think possibly the question answers itself. What is different this time around is the availability of the awakening groups, which if organized in the ways suggested could be used as military pressure. That the Bush administration would be too noble or too unimaginative to try and make this kind of use of them seems a little unrealistic. (Incompetent? Quite possibly, but that's a different question entirely). Plus this would explain what the unnamed Bush administration official meant when he told Ignatius: "There will be new rules of the game. There have to be. It cannot be business as usual."

Friday, December 21, 2007

The "new" American project: Part II, What is it?

I divided up the summary of Haroun Mohammed's op-ed (Al-Quds al-Arabi Dec 20, p 19, if you have to use the archives) into two parts, the first dealing with follow-up to the Dead Sea meetings of last month organized by Richard Murphy, starting with his report to Condi. (See the prior post). My reason for focusing first on that part of the op-ed is to highlight the incapacity of the Western media/blogging establishment to follow important Arab-world events where the American principals don't provide the requisite leaks with the requisite spin. In this case, there was not so much as a "no comment" on the Dead Sea meetings recorded anywhere from Murphy or anyone else in Washington. Moreover, when his report to Condi was leaked and as Mohammed says "circulated" in Arab capitals, no Western media picked it up even then. So that was my first point, namely Washington coverage is so bad that the Washington news (when it lacks, as here, any promotion from the powers that be in Washington) is sometimes best captured through the lens of Arab repercussions, because you are actually more likely to find an Arab journalist and an Arab paper with the antennae and the will to follow up, than you are an American paper. Not to mention the fact that newsworthy material from papers like Al-Quds al-Arabi is in turn shut out of American media on account of that paper's consistent opposition to American policy. So much for my editorial.

On to the content of the "new American project", as Haroun Mohammed was able to glean from the reports circulating in Arab capitals. The new project is something
[Condi] has been cooking over a slow fire for a couple of months now [he writes], under the rubric of the so-called national reconciliation, preparations going on now for the first political event [in this project] namely a conference in Cairo to be sponsored by Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, to which [conference] Washington has promised in advance that it will execute its decisions and recommendations, and will impose them as requirements on the government of al-Maliki and on successor governments. Probably the most striking feature of this project, which is supported also by the UN, along with Britain, France and a number of other European counties and Japan, is the idea of preparing a new political road-map for Iraq, the various stages to be carried out in the course of the first half of the coming year, starting with the formation of a new [Iraqi] government in the month of February, and it is this topic that has been the subject of elaborate discussions with Secretary of Defence Robert Gates in Mosul and Baghdad last week, and they were completed by Secretary Rice in her discussions with Jalal Talabani in Kirkuk and Baghdad, along with his two vice-presidents Tareq al-Hashemi and Adel Abdulmahdi. And this is what caused the former [referring to Talabani?] to issue a series of statements from his office referring to resolute decisions and reform measures to be announced in the course of the first month of the coming year.

With reference to the Cairo meeting, Rice stressed to her counterparts in Egypt, Saudi and Jordan the necessity of convincing the Sunni Arab organizations, movements and individuals to attend, even if that requires applying pressure and tightening (or restricting, in other contexts, strangling) residents of their capitals to make them participate in the conference, and set out their political program, provided its contents are moderate--in Rice's view--and take into consideration the shape of the future America-Iraq relationship, which Washington wants to be on a par with its relationships to Egypt, Saudi, Jordan and the states of the Gulf, and treaties and agreements of cooperation in the fields of politics, military and economics, in addition to other agreements required by circumstances from time to time, for instance the attitude toward Iran.
In other words, according to this version of the stories circulating in Arabcapitals, the US appears to be very anxious to get good representation from the opposition/resistance Arab-Sunni groups, and is even prepared to ask the authorities in Cairo, Amman and elsewhere, to apply some pressure on those residing there to come forward and participate. So the question arises: Why is Washington so anxious for speed at this particular time? Haroun Mohammed writes:
It is clear that the American administration, working through its diplomatic channels to speed up the holding of this Cairo conference within the next three months, wants to pull together bigger Iraqi support for the America-Iraq treaty on which bilateral talks are to start the middle of January, because it has grasped that signing such a treaty with the government of Nuri al-Maliki--a government that is going through a ministerial and political crisis, and conditions of isolation and failure in security and the provision of basic services--will not provide complete legal cover as long as many popular and political sectors and organizations oppose this treaty root and branch, and consider it nothing but another aspect of the occupation or "mandate".

And it is also clear that a milieu ("circles") in the American foreign [service], and particular ambassador Satterfield, Rice's adviser for Mideast affairs, want the participation of the Baath party in the conference, and its participation in the future political process [in Iraq]...
And the writer continues on with a a description of attempts to get the Sunni Arab opposition/resistance into the process, and at that point he reviews the events since the Dead Sea meetings of last month, taken up in the prior post here, notably including a summary of some of the points said to be included in Richard Murphy's report to Rice.

America's "new" project in Iraq--Part I

Richard Murphy, the retired State Department Mideast adviser who organized the Dead Sea "reconciliation" meetings last month, has reported to Condoleeza Rice on the conclusions he has drawn from those meetings, and portions of that report have been leaked to government circles in Jordan and Syria. This according to Haroun Mohammed in his regular op-ed in Al-Quds al-Arabi. (Once that link is scrubbed, you have to use the archives, where it's Dec 20 [not the 21st] on page 19).

Murphy's bottom-line conclusion, according to this, is that the Dead Sea talks were not successful in bringing AMSI or the Baath or other Sunni opposition/resistance parties into negotiations, one major problem being that no one working or acting as adviser for the currrent American administration, including himself, has sufficient credibility to achieve any meaningful results in Iraqi political reconciliation. One of his recommendations therefore is that the negotiating process, or parts of it, be assigned to a bipartisan congressional team, which unlike administration agents, would have great "flexibility and freedom" in such discussions*. (There isn't any elaboration on what form this deployment of the very flexible and free Congresspeople is supposed to take). In particular, he reported that no reconciliation will be meaningful if it doesn't include the Association of Muslim Scholars, the Baath, and other socially and politically influential Sunni representatives both inside and outside of the current "political process", and these are among the parties that don't have any confidence in anyone acting for the current US administration.

Haroun Mohammed says the story being talked about in Arab capitals is that Rice is also relying heavily on the governments of Egypt, Saudi and Jordan to encourage some of the Iraqi-Sunni movers and shakers living abroad to get involved in this reconciliation process, the next stage of which will be a meeting in Cairo sometime in the course of the coming three months. The initial impression, this writer says, is that the Arab regimes are keen on the idea, and anxious to see a very broad participation in the Cairo meeting. And there is this:
Focusing on Iraqi opposition personalities living in other Arab capitals, there have been communications from [the administrations in] Egypt, Saudi and Jordan, to sound them out and get their views on the Cairo meeting. The first impression is that the three Arab states are not only convinced of the necessity of the meeting, but want to see a broad participation, being prepared [at the same time] to exclude Iraqi government or political-party [representation] if it appears that they are fitful against reconciliation, or attempting to dig up problems and difficulties to block a successful outcome.
In other words, the first impression is that the regimes in Cairo, Riyadh, and Amman are more than willing to try and do their part in encouraging Sunni leaders outside the political process to get involved, starting with the coming Cairo meeting, on the idea that if the GreenZone Shiite/Kurd party doesn't cooperate, they could be just left out. And there is more:
According to some reports, influential Arab officials have said that Condoleeza Rice has told them that the American administration would be quite happy if it turns out that the Maliki government and some of the governing parties decided to pass up the Cairo meeting, because important people in the [US] administration have become convinced that Maliki and the conservatives [or hold-outs] with him are not desirous of national or political reconciliation with parties that have presence and membership and influence in Iraqi society and on the Iraqi street, and that consequently it would be too difficult for these frightened persons and closed minds to merge and participate in a broad political operation like that of national reconciliation.
This anyway, writes Haroun Mohammed, is the story that is being "circulated" in official circles in these Arab capitals, and his choice of the expression for "circulated"(which could also be read "propagated" in the propaganda sense of the word) and he adds in conclusion:
And if indeed it is serious, then to guarantee success there would have to be steps taken by the Americans starting right now to pave the way for the presence of AMSI and the Baath and the other opposition forces, and the first of these measures would be a plain and clear statement of the American position on a number of issues, including their position on the Iraqi resistance; on withdrawal of the American forces according to a defined timetable, including the necessary agreements; on the role of the United Nations; on the solution of the issue of the prisoners, and compensation for Iraqis that have been harmed, and the related issues. Once that has been done, the Cairo meeting can be a success, otherwise the Cairo meeting will be just another of the many conferences and meetings that they have called and that have ended, in the manner of clubs for tourism and recreation and nothing more.
The title the Al-Quds editors put on this: "America's new project in Iraq: Short on seriousness".

*Haroun Mohammed puts the credibility issue this way:
[The report from Murphy to Rice, on the results of the Dead Sea meetings, said:] These kinds of meetings are defective as long as there are parties with influential political presence who stay away, and he named some of them, and he said any American efforts in the direction of pacification in Iraq and the establishment of cooperative and allied relationships, will not make any positive breakthroughs as long as parties like the Association of Muslim Scholars and the Baath and other Sunni representatives aren't part of it, and he invited the Foreign Minister to assign a team of members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans, to have negotiating and discussion tasks rather than her own employees and advisers, many of whom, in Murphy's view, think they are just going around in empty circles because many of the Iraqi parties view them with suspicion and have no confidence in them, and because many of those advisers don't have freedom of movement with others, being bound by official instructions from which they are unable to free themselves, while a member of Congress has a broad area of flexibility and freedom in discussions with those who oppose American policy and resist the occupation.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Could this be what Pat Lang is talking about ? cites "western diplomatic sources in Washington" who have seen reports on an American plan to recruit Shiite tribal leaders in the South and Center of Iraq to form an alliance with Washington to "guarantee the existence of a military force on the ground to face down Iranian influence in Iraq...and to confront the Shiite political parties currently participating in the government, which form bulwarks for this Iranian influence." The reports say the contacts with Shiite tribal leaders have been undertaken by US intelligence officers in Iraq, sometimes with the assistance of regional governments including those of the UAE, Saudi, and Jordan. This summary indicates there are currently around 30 Shiite "awakening councils", but so far their scope is limited, "because of lack of guarantees and fear [on the part of the Americans] of influence [over these groups] by Shiite religious and political leaders not favorable to the American military presence in Iraq". (This doesn't offer any hint how they plan to deal with that particular problem). Another reason the scope of this is limited so far, this says, is because "not a few [of the Shiite leaders approached] refused to respond to this proposal".

"In spite of these anxieties, American intelligence officers in Iraq are continuing their efforts to contact tribal and other local Shiite leaders to encourage them to form awakening councils in exchange for promises of support in the form of weapons and money and political protection from the current government for their activities". (The "political protection from the government" idea is left unelaborated here, but the Nahrainnet reporter returns to this issue at the end of the piece in the form of questions and a hypothesis).

The reports are said to include also a second theme, in addition to this point about creation of an armed force capable of confronting Iranian influence. The second point is that Washington is intent on igniting a Shiite-Shiite war at the earliest possible opportunity, and the Nahrainnet reporter puts it this way:
These sources say the Americans are trying very hard, and in a race against time, to ignite a Shiite-Shiite war in Iraq on the model of the war between the Sunni awakening councils and AlQaeda, utilizing the "awakening" phenomenon ...and the creation of armed groups to confront the Shiite political parties...
The reporter says the reports refer to one factor favorable to this plan, and that is the "growing irritation" among Shiites in the Center and South with the Shiite political parties that are participating in the government.

The reports say the US administration considers the year 2008 the time-limit the US administration has given its military and intelligence people for implementation of important parts of this plan, "while the American forces still hold the reins of the security file almost completely". The discussion shifts to the Sunni-awakening project, noting that there is a degree of "official cover" for this, in the form of government acquiescence and often government-funding of the monthly pay for members of these groups. The discussion gets a lttle confusing, but I think the point is that there is only a limited amount of time still available to take advantage of this kind of "covered" creation of America-friendly militias. In any event, the reporter concludes with questions:
The big question is: Why the official silence from the government on the implementation of this plan? Or is this silence the price the government is paying to Washington, in exchange for Washington continuing to support it?

Or is the government simply incapable of countering it? At the best, is the government perhaps unaware of the very serious security dimension of this scheme for expanding the "awakening" phenomenon into an actual army outside the control of the government? And yet the government officials and officers continue to try and assert that these groups are under the control and subservient to the orders of the state!

...The continuing statements by the government and its agencies are to the effect that the security file is under the complete control of the government! But reality refutes this, as does the behavior of the American military leadership, which openly exercises a secret command, considering themselves to be the only party entitled to make security decisions in Iraq. And that much is an established and observed fact among all of the senior officers in the army and the police.
Making allowance for the differences in language and outlook, this appears to be much the same strategy as that advocated by Pat Lang, who is said to have written the book on the awakening strategy. Lang writes, in relation to Iranian influence in Iraq:
Clearly, the US should look at the possibility of applying the "divide and rule" methods it has applied elsewhere in Iraq to this problem. There is no reason to treat the Shia population as a monolith. There are analogous fissure lines among the various Shia factions and between them and the Shia tribes. Is a diagram necessary?
And then he writes this too:
At present the US has accepted as temporary allies many of those who fought against us before the "Anbar Awakening." That is as it should be. We should continue that policy in other parts of the country.
Adding the usual and meaningless boilerplate about "no permanent occupation".

Probably the question in the minds of many is: If you are not aiming for a permanent occupation, what then would be the need for a non-government army of over 100,000 fighters supported and funded by the [non]-occupier?

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Cantonization: A key concept

Harith al-Dhari repeated in an AlJazeera interview on Sunday his warning to the Iraqi tribes about the implications of the so-called awakening movement, summarized as follows at and picked up by other Islamist sites: "[T]he war being waged by the American occupation forces and the forces that are called 'awakening against AlQaeda' is tantamount to a war against the Iraqi resistance as a whole".

After repeating other points earlier included in al-Dhari's open letter to the tribes of Iraq, including the point AQI membership being overwhelmingly Iraqi and not foreign, this summary adds:
He invited the tribes of Iraq to not become part of the American plans, which aim at weakening and dismantling Iraq and turning it into Cantons and armed regions.
This emphasis on the idea of an end-result of the American plans, described here as taking the form of "Cantons and armed regions", is an idea that resonates, and not just with the Sunni resistance. For instance, the GreenZone newspaper AlSabaah after telling the story of Barzani's pilgrimage to Najaf to seek Sistani's assistance in the Kirkuk issue, takes the trouble to summarize press-conference remarks of another Shiite authority, Mohammed Jacoubi, spiritual leader of the Fadhila party. The journalist writes:
[Jacoubi said to journalists] the chances of engendering a dictatorship through a federal regime are much greater than the chances of [dictatorship] through a centralized system relying on the ballot-box". He explained: "If we set up a number of federal [entities], there will be diminished chances for the opposing view, because these will be partitioned Cantons, and each Canton will represent a particular point of view", making the point that there would be greater chances of producing dictatorship in a region. And he stressed the importance of having proper policies at the center with decentralizing administration in the governates so as to promote their flourishing and the provision of services to the people.
(When Jacoubi says "diminished chances for the opposing view", he is talking in general about the political process within one of these entities which he conceives as a "partitioned" or closed Canton where presumably the local-patriotism will have the upper hand and multiplicity of views will be discouraged).

The journalist concludes:
Jacoubi thinks a central-government system is the solution for the conflicted problem of Kirkuk. And addressing the journalists, he asked them: Do you see any cases of a problem in a particular governate that can be solved otherwise than by having a strong center that can intervene in a solution? Any number of problems have come up in governates, that the local governments aren't able to solve, even Kurdistan, now subject to the Turkish threats, hasn't been able to solve that problem except by the central government standing with it...
Dhari and Jacoubi, from their different political perspectives, both warn against an end-result of turning Iraq into an array of "partitioned" or "armed" Cantons. Naturally it is a coincidence that these two sets of remarks are reported on the same day. I'm just taking advantage of that coincidence to point out that this anti-Cantonization stance is part and parcel of a nationalist viewpoint that by definition and in fact isn't limited to a particular sect. It comes up in tactical thinking about the implications of the "awakening" movement, and in strategic thinking about federalism. These are two sides of the same nationalist attitude.

The western media strategy in this respect is circular: The likes of Dhari are demonized and the likes of Jacoubi are ignored, so that any corporate-media or big-blog reference to the anti-Cantonization view will--take my word for this--be represented as just another expression of some exotic sectarian position.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Europeans described as worried about an American plan to convert any Shiite resistance into full-scale civil war

This is from the Sadrist news-site
Diplomatic sources in Brussels said many European countries still have major fears about surprises in the security situation in Iraq...

The sources said reports from several European embassies in Baghdad strengthen convictions that there exist threats to Iraqi security in the event American policy is put in peril, or in the event there emerge factors dramatically threatening to American interests in the future.
The journalist says the Europeans note that the awakening councils have resulted in putting 70,000 Sunni fighters under arms in a form not subject to the Baghdad government, and although they concede that these groups have served the Americans well in fighting AlQaeda, they fear
... that they could be used to open broad fronts against Shiite organizations should these organizations come to constitute a real threat to the American presence in Iraq.
He says the European embassy reports talk about involvement by the CIA in the guidance of these awakening councils
...on the orders of the Bush administration and major advisers, to involve members of the CIA in communication and coordination with many of the awakening councils...and the sources concluded by saying: The real anxiety in European capitals relating to these developments is the following: That the awakening councils could be used in the service of plans [that could be] implemented by the American intelligence agency against Iraqi forces opposed to the American presence, and specifically against Shiite organizations or a broad Shiite movement against the American presence in Iraq in the future, something that would contribute to a bloody civil war in Iraq, working in the long term against the desired stability in the country, and [instead] tearing it up into city-states.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Posting less

I'm going to post less here. Not necessarily nothing, but less. Here's the problem. The original idea back in fall 2006 was to fill in gaps in the English-language Iraq news with a limited amount of Arabic material, more or less a diary of reading I would be doing anyway. What I now understand, and didn't understand then, is that what goes by "English-language Iraq news" is usually little more than a vehicle for the denigration of Iraq and Iraqi groups (Informed Juan consistently going after the nationalists as part of the what he now calls "Sunni Arab guerilla movement"; various bloggers generating page-hits by ridiculing "Mookie" and by extension the blue-collar Shiite organizations; corporate media and the think-tanks making sure any Islamist resistance groups get confused with AQI; and so on). At first I thought these were just occasional riffs; the pattern only gradually dawned on me. As everyone knows, when something is dawning on you it can be interesting, but once it sets in it can become depressing. It also dawned on me that the only way to contribute something is not to try and fill in any gaps anywhere, but rather to confront this head-on, by trying to convey what it is the various groups are all about, what are they actually saying, what kind of a world do they see. To re-represent, you might say, the world of human meaning in Iraq and among Iraqis that the corporate media and the others are continually working to ridicule.

This however presents a number of problems, the most important one being this: To do what I have in mind is going to require a lot broader and deeper reading than what I had in mind back in fall 2006. Right now I don't have enough Arabic to do the job under my new definition, so this is going to require me to do some restructuring. Up or out. There are other problems too, but that is the main one.

I do have a few thoughtful readers, I understand that. I'm grateful for them, and they're another reason I'm going to try and pull up my socks and do this right.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Federalism and the "awakening" strategy said to be behind the growing violence in the South

Al-Hayat says the chronic violence in the Southern governates of Iraq, highlighted by the assassination of the highly-regarded and non-sectarian police chief of Babel yesterday, is a part of an escalation of intra-Shiite tensions in that region having a lot to do with the issue of federalism. They lead their story by mentioning a curfew that has been imposed in the province as a result of the latest assassination, adding:
[This comes] as differences between the two main Shiite currents, the Supreme Council headed by Abdulaziz al-Hakim and the one headed by Moqtada al-Sadr have been renewed, with the latter accusing Hakim of "submitting to the tyranny" of the Americans. And the fight between the two currents has expanded to include an attempt to polarize the tribes [of the south], with Sadr's followers holding a council where they called for opposition to the federalism that Hakim is anxious to implement, calling instead for the preservation of a unified Iraq with its Arab nature. ...

Politicians say that the escalation in killings in the cities of the South has its cause in the political struggles between the powerful currents and parties, particularly the Supreme Council and the Sadrists, who consider Hakim's visit to America tantamount to "submitting to tyranny".
A Supreme Council spokesman said these Sadrist accusations were tantamount to a breach of the agreement signed by Hakim and Sadr in August that was supposed to end the differences between them. Moreover,
The struggle between the two currents has taken on a new dimension with prominent roles for the tribes of Southern Iraq, and attempts to polarize the tribal leaders within the terms of reference of the political parties in many subject-areas, the most prominent being Hakim's promotion of a federalism project for the Center and the South.
The journalist says a recent meeting in Basra of 74 leaders of Arab Shiite tribes agreed "to call for opposition to the federalism project, and insistence on the unity and Arab nature of Iraq". He quotes the head of something called the Council of Arab Tribes of the South to the effect that his group represents a half million Iraqis and includes 600 important tribal persons. He said his group stands for an Arab position that rejects federalism and partitioning of Iraq and the Oil Law and being an adjunct to neighboring states, and calls for an end to the occupation, and for the preservation of the Arab character of Iraq. His group also calls for release of prisoners and a schedule for American withdrawal.

The journalist also notes that similar tribal meetings are being held by groups that support the Supreme Council positions.

In conclusion, the journalist has this to say about the origin of the recent escalation. He writes:
The parties in the South resorted to this strategy of polarizing the tribes following the growing calls for extending the experience of the "awakening councils", which were formed in Sunni areas and were able to break the back of AlQaeda in those areas, to the South to fight the militias.

Signs of a major turning point

Iraqi Interior Minister Jawad Bulani, in a follow-up to the highly-touted seizure of documents near Tikrit late last week, said yesterday his ministry has recruited 3000 special police agents to track down resistance Baathists. There were a couple of particularly noteworthy points in what he said.

First: He said this is going to involve pursuit of people from both the Izzat al-Douri wing and the rival Yunis al-Ahmed wing. This is noteworthy because of what sketchy information we have about talks or negotiations between the US and the GreenZone on the one side and Baathists on the other. The split between the two wings occurred immediately after the execution of Saddam, and the Douri loyalists accused the Yunis wing (and the government of Syria) of preparing to sell out to the Americans. And there has been continuing tension over the question of who is talking to the Americans and who is not. There was a report by ConflictsForum this past summer about meetings between the Americans and the Yunis wing. And more recently, at the Black Sea "track 2" reconciliation meetings arranged by Richard Murphy, reports said there was representation there from both the Douri and the Yunis wings of the Baath. The cloud of silence then descended over the these talks, so dense that there hasn't even been a "no comment" from Murphy.

Now the GreenZone government says it is assigning 3000 new secret agents to tracking down members of both of these wings of the Baath. (The reporter says the total number of target individuals involved is estimated at between 20,000 and 40,000). This suggests that perhaps we don't need any comment from Murphy after all, in order to figure out what has happened with the talks, at least as far as the Baath are concerned.

There is a second noteworthy thing about Interior Minister Bulani's remarks, pointing in the same direction: He said "the two suicide women who blew themselves up in Diyala and Baiji last week were members of the Baath." The reporter doesn't refer to any evidence cited by the Minister, and he apparently didn't feel the need to remind readers that suicide operations are a hallmark of the religious end of the resistance spectrum, distinguishing them very clearly from the more conventional methods of the secular nationalists. The implicit message being that the new initiative against the Baath will not only involve allocation of significant human resources, but also that the information-operations side of the campaign will not be constrained by logic or common sense.

Another probable indicator of collapse in the US-Baath discussions: The US Treasury Dept issued a fatwa declaring takfiir on the dealings and assets of seven individuals connected in various ways with the Baath, both wings, and the Azzaman reporter describes this as a list of people "whom the authorities in Baghdad say live in Syria and promote armed operations within Iraq." Again, the reporter doesn't need to point out to his readers how the Bulani announcement and the Treasury Dept announcement fit together. (The Treasury Dept order is dated Dec 6, the same day as the highly-publicized Tikrit documents-raid).

And finally, by way of real-life background to all of this, the Azzaman reporter also refers to an AFP story relating a group interview in Adhamiya with mid-level Baath individuals, in which they said the current proposal to amend the DeBaathification law would make matters worse for them, not better, one of the interviewees describing the so-called reconciliation process as a "death-sentence" in the sense that it is merely aimed at finding out names and identities.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

So it goes

Al-Hayat ties current wave of suicide bombings throughout Iraq to the campaign announced by Abu Omar al-Baghdadi in his recent speech, writing:
The steep growth in suicide operations targeting tribal leaders and the awakening councils indicates that "AlQaeda" [in Iraq] is continuing to carry out the warnings of its leader Abu Omar al-Baghdadi who announced a few days ago the formation of the "Al-Sadiq Brigades" to take revenge on the Sunni "rebels" who formed, with the assistance of the Americans and the government, armed militias and rebelled against AQI expelling them from most of their areas."
(Baghdadi speech outlined here). The two incidents in Diyala province in Friday at awakening-council locations killed 26 people in all. And there was another pair of suicide bombings in Baiji on Saturday that reportedly killed 17 people in all, these targeting not the awakening councils but Iraqi police.

The current suicide-bombing campaign is clearly the work of Baghdadi's group, as the Al-Hayat reporter says. As he explained in his speech, the point is to kill apostates in the interest of promoting the one true state. This is the mirror opposite of the ideology of the national-resistance groups, whose theme is not true-religion/apostates, but rather Iraqi/occupation, and for that they need to bring anti-occupation groups together, not have them killing each other.

The American information-operations people are intent, as always, on blurring this distinction, grouping takfiiris and nationalists together under the heading of "the Sunni Arab guerilla movement", as if this opposition between takfiiris and nationalists didn't exist.

The writers' strike continues in Hollywood, but this hasn't affected Washington or Baghdad. Remember Baath resistance leader Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri (or al-Duri)? He was killed in fall 2004, then he was arrested in fall 2005, and in December 2006 he ordered his followers to lay down their arms following the execution of Saddam. That was according to the NYT, AP, and the rest. In real life none of that happened. He wasn't killed, or arrested, nor did he order anyone to lay down their arms. Obviously the arrest/killing story was getting a little stale, but al-Douri is still in play as far as the writers are concerned, precisely because he hasn't ordered his followers to lay down their arms. How to go about this? To make a long story short (NYT version here), what happened last week was that they discovered, not the man himself, but a cache of documents which amazingly enough showed that he is linked to AlQaeda! No actual documents have been, or will be, produced, but it is enough of a leg-up for Juan Cole and the others to resume their descriptions of the takfiiri depredations as part of "the Sunni Arab guerilla movement".

Plus ca change...

Friday, December 07, 2007

"The smell of deals is getting stronger..." (Updated)

In connection with the 2007-version NIE on Iran, two of the big questions are (1) why was it published now; and (2) if it is true that Iran stopped its nuclear weapons program in 2003, why did it do so?

The Western mind seems to be divided on the second question between the Bush-administration line that Iran was responding to international pressure (and perhaps also the military pressure of having the US forces next door), or on the other hand that it didn't need such a program any more after the fall of its potential nuclear enemy Saddam. On the "why publish it now" question, the only candidate seems to be the idea that the powers that be are trying to de-link the nuclear issue from the attack-Iran issue in order to gain a little respect for the "intelligence community" held in generally low esteem since the Iraq WMD fiasco. Not convinced?

Raghida Dergham, Washington correspondent and columnist for Al-Hayat, proposes in her column today (Friday December 7) a different hypothetical explanation, (Arabic version from the paper here; an excellent English version on her own website here) which answers both the 2003 nuclear-abandonment question and the "why now" question. It is a version of the US-Iran-Israel cooperation theory, with some but not all of the blanks filled in. The explanation goes back to the motives for the US invasion of Iraq. She introduces the idea this way:
But there is another interesting theory. All of the indications at the time pointed to the pro-Iraq war group - from neoconservatives to those advocating the unleashing of what they called the "Shiite force" - all worked on the basis that the enemy were only Sunnis, who produced terrorism and the 11 September 2001 attack on the US. The basic idea for these people was Iraq, and its president, Saddam Hussein, constituted the "ideal" cover to justify a strike at the country, on the pretext of WMD. They said that the oil-rich Arab lands were inhabited by Arab Shiites, and that the best way to create an oil belt (a "Petrolistan") is to produce chaos in these areas. Then, it would be able to create a Shiite extension of influence in the Arab Gulf for Iran, and via the special Syrian-Israeli relationship, one could link to Israel via Syria and Lebanon.

The next pair of sentences is a little difficult to follow in either language. I believe she is saying that if the Iranians' motives for freezing the program in 2003 had to do with international pressure and military pressure, then the decision was indeed the "correct" one. "But if history proves that the real reasons for the Iraq war involved a desire to partition the country", then the Iranians' decision to abandon their nuclear-weapons program--no longer needed because the Americans were doing their work for them--will turn out to have been "wisdom" itself.

On this theory Ahmedinejad has provided a convenient distraction and cover for the strategy that Rafsanjani and Khamenei have been patiently pursuing. She writes:
What these men can deliver in a big deal - if such a thing has truly taken place - is a strategic partnership with the US and Israel in containing the Arabs. They offer considerable influence in controlling things in Iraq, provided that Iraq is "Iranian." Iraq is the big prize for Iran: an Iraq free of nuclear weapons-making capacity and cowed, unable to be independent… and Iraq subject to Iranian influence, representing a launching-point for influence in the Gulf state, in the name of Shiite leadership, even though it is in fact Persian influence to exercise hegemony over the Arabs.
She says it is still too early to tell what the US is likely to get in return for this out of their wish-list of issues in the Levant. Moreover,'s still not clear if the truce between the US and Iran has launched similar moves by Arab countries toward Iran and Israel, to start a qualitatively new chapter in the entire Middle East. The smell of deals is getting stronger and the timing is intriguing, especially in Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon - three issues that distinguish regional and international relations. The preparations are underway to create a US military base in Iraq, by virtue of the understanding and agreement governing bilateral US-Iraqi ties, and this requires an understanding with Iran, according to the analysts.
At this point Dergham's hypothesis starts to sound a little like the proposal by Vali Nasr and Ray Takeyh in the January/February issue of Foreign Affairs (subscription; Josh Landis reproduces the main parts here; whole text here.) But while Nasr and Takeyh present this as a desirable alternative to present policies, Dergham suggests it may already be in large part a done deal.

Finally, her hypothesis serves to explain why the NIE is being made public now. She writes (here I had to restore a negative that dropped out in their English translation):
Thus, it is perhaps not the "history of failure" in the Iraq leading the intelligence agencies to work for the recovery of their honor...Rather, it was the future of shared interests that meant both of the United States and Iran need to avoid war, and work instead on arranging a division of influence in Iraq, and making use of a new strategic partnership for influence of another kind in the Middle East.
One of the other things that is unclear in all of this, she concludes, is whether the publication of the NIE and presumably the implementation of the above ideas, is something that has been imposed on the lame-duck Bush by the American establishment, or whether it is something he actually agrees with.

UPDATE: Pat Lang says: "The 'jungle telegraph' in Washington is booming with news of the Iran NIE. I am told that the reason the conclusions of the NIE were released is that it was communicated to the White House that "intelligence career seniors were lined up to go to jail if necessary" if the document's gist were not given to the public. Translation? Someone in that group would have gone to the media "on the record" to disclose its contents."

In other words this appears to have been a pre-emptive strike by the "intelligence community" against the war party. Which however, isn't in itself enlightening about the actual policy alternative. To get to that, you need to start by reading the Dergham piece. It is true that Al-Hayat is Saudi-owned, and that a US-Iran alliance has been one of the nightmares of the Saudi regime in recent years (probably only a little less worrisome to them than the other extreme of war with Iran). So it is to be expected that their Washington person would have particular sensitivity to this hypothesis. But her reasoning stands on its own.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Baghdadi speech

(A website called has posted a very nice summary of the latest speech by Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, with pointers to some of the references from Islamic history, obviously by a native Arabic speaker with a nice clear English style. Thanks to a commenter in the previous post for that link).

As the newspaper summaries said, Baghdadi's speech, posted on the internet on Tuesday, is a call for the mujahideen to carry out a special campaign against the "rebels" the "awakenings" and all who cooperate with the occupation, with a unique quota system: Each fighter is responsible for detonating at least three bombs by the end of the campaign on January 29, or it that isn't possible, then to kill at least three "rebels".

But the greater part of the speech is addressed to the Sunni tribes of Iraq and the purpose is to lay out the stark choice between "apostasy" on the one hand, and loyalty to genuine Islam, which for Iraqis, Baghdadi implies, is tantamount to a requirement of loyalty to the Islamic State of Iraq. Apostasy, in his speech, includes any help for any individuals or groups that are not (1) Sunni Muslim, and (2) loyal to the ISI and its territory. This includes, for instance, a denunciation of the idea of resettling the Yazidis in areas from which they have been driven, given that they are "servants of Satan and the crosses"; and an exhortation not to give up any of the territory currently claimed by the ISI to any of the "apostates", or have any contact at all with tribes not loyal to the ISI. In short, the political gist of this is to reject the compromise approach suggested in the letters of Harith al-Dhari and elsewhere, on the basis that any compromise with any group other than the ISI itself is already a manifestation of apostasy. This is best summarized in the five concluding points. Here are the first four of them:
(1) Preserving what God has conquered for us by way of territory, and not sparing any efforts [in this] or the blood of your brothers...

(2) Prevention of the taassub (joining together in a group sometimes in the sense of being fanatical about it) of the clan (or tribe) or of the glamor and the spurious worldly benefits or rank [connected with this]. (The WorldAnalysis person says this is essentially a warning against tribalism or nationalism).

(3) Keeping the Sunni collective from the malice of the "Awakenings", because they spread vice, and they tear up honor, and they steal assets. And moreover they compel people to fight along with them, and participate in their apostasy.

(4) Cut the cycle of treachery and mercenary dealings of those who believe in the occupation of the land and the rape of honor, returning jihad to its natural course, with the cutting off of the serpent's head of the Americans and of the Majusi (Iranians).
I think his fifth point is important for an understanding of his military strategy (or as he would call it, his religious strategy). In his declaration of the new campaign of bombings and killings, he mentions all of those who cooperate with the occupation, but he doesn't actually mention the Americans. I believe this is explained in his fifth concluding point:
(5) Unifying the ranks of the Sunnis as a whole, after having been disturbed by the sects and split by treachery, restoring respect for the clerics and the tribal sheikhs. Because as the Sheikh of Islam Ibn Taymiyya wrote: "Al-Sadiq [Abu Bakr] and all of the companions began their jihad with the rebels, before launching jihad against the heretics of the people of the Book...
In other words, it is built right into Baghdadi's reading of history that the primary targets of his "campaign" at the present time should be, not the occupier, but other Iraqis. Probably this is something to bear in mind when trying to figure out who he really is.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

I read the news today, o boy

There is an interesting world-turned-upside-down character to the Iraq news today (Wednesday Dec 5), which beckons us to pay attention.

The Mubarak administration in Egypt, the sickest man in the Arab-regime hospital, has suddenly become a diplomatic powerhouse, laying the groundwork for a meeting in Cairo in January on Iraqi national reconciliation (although the only party mentioned in this Al-Masryoun article as invitee that isn't one of the GreenZone political parties is AMSI and arguably the Sadrists). It is making sure regional Arab regimes support this, and so on and so forth.

And Abdulaziz al-Hakim, leader of the SIIC and the (Maliki-loyalist remains of the UIA) made statements in Washington praising Saudi Arabia for its efforts in supporting the Sunni awakening-councils in Iraq. Azzaman describes this as noteworthy because it is the first-ever praise from the UIA leader for the Saudi administration.

Egypt the powerful regional broker, and Saudi the great friend of the Shiite-controlled GreenZone? The whole implausibility of it suggests that Condi has finally corralled Egypt and Saudi into some kind of a joint public effort to try and support the GreenZone "political process".

Meanwhile the Dead Sea meetings of last month, arranged by State Department big-name Richard Murphy, and which did reportedly include some form of representation from those outside of the "political process", and even talk of a six-month truce with the resistance, in other words reconciliation in the potentially meaningful sense, have disappeared down the memory-hole, with no one in Washington (I will be corrected if I am wrong) having bothered to elicit so much as a "no comment" from Murphy about this event and its meaning. So there's a question mark there.

And AQI? In the latest reported statement by Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, considered an American stooge by the Baathists, and a fictitious person by the Americans (only a slight difference of opinion there), makes him sound like nothing so much as an exasperated brokerage-firm sales director. He calls for a special campaign to last until January 29, and he says "everyone should blow up at least three bombs by the end of the campaign period". (That is the part quoted in all three summaries I have seen, in two pan-Arab papers and BBC Arabic; I haven't listened to the tape and I don't think there is a transcript). [Actually there is a transcript, which now I'll have to read...]He wants people to target the "rebels" (his jargon for the Iraqi security agencies) the "awakenings", and all who cooperate with the occupation, but perhaps oddly not mentioning the Americans themselves. In any event, this numerical-results approach is certainly the opposite of the charismatic-type appeal you would expect from a bona fide jihadi leader.

Meanwhile, Azzaman (same link as above) adds that the Sadrists are warning against any attempt to set up an "awakening" type system in Basra, where this would apparently amount to a Shiite version of the concept, strengthening SIIC and the GreenZone forces against the Sadrists and pouring fuel on that fire.

So: The yes-men in Cairo and Riyadh seem to be on board for some kind of a GreenZone "reconciliation", perhaps only surprising because it took so long to arrange. But rather than this movement having produced warm feelings of rapprochement on the part of the Sadrists, for instance, the latter are warning of new tensions with the spread of the "awakening" movement to Basra.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Philosophy and the Iraq War: Chapter 2

(This is more like an extended comment following on the series of interesting comments by others on the prior two posts).

Mulling the last two posts with the comments has made me think: On the "awakening-council" strategy, we have two apparently bona fide (please bear with me everyone) interpretations that couldn't be more contradictory. Some, mostly Americans, say this is something that makes sense as a way of reducing violence, admittedly maybe only in the short term, with possible longer-term negative implications, but still something that "makes sense". Others, mostly Iraqis, say with Harith al-Dhari this is nothing but the latest implementation of a plan to reduce, not only the country as a whole, but also the individual social units within it, to fragments, "so that he [the occupier] will be the master." Unconscionable, in other words.

The usual way of dealing with this would be to put the forked tail and horns on one side or the other, and explain the difference that way. For the sake of argument right at the moment, let's not do that, and let's assume that each side came to its views more or less the way reasonable people do.

If we do that, then I think gradually something might dawn on us. Let's assume the difference between these two interpretations has to do with what you could call the unspoken and mostly unacknowledged background assumptions. Try looking at it this way: Suppose the Americans instead of invading Iraq had decided to build a shopping-mall in the Amazon rain-forest. After four years of being accused by the opposition of having done insufficient pre-planning, finally a strategy is developed. They are being harassed by wild animals and by aborigines. The new plan: Befriend the aborigines by giving them guns, and the aborigines will massacre the wild beasts. Two birds with one stone! Better still, the aborigines traditionally relied on the wild beasts for food and clothing, so now they are entirely dependent on the benevolence of the occupiers. Three birds with one stone! (There is also another aboriginal tribe to whom the colonizers had rashly promised management of the new mall, but they have been weakened by the newly-armed tribe so they won't be threatening any takeover the mall either). Peace! We're winning!

And it was all because someone had the "logical" and "reasonable" idea of trying to cull the wild beasts. What could be wrong with that?

But if you change the background assumptions and think of a foreign invasion of Michigan where the occupiers are harassed by the university professors and the bikers, so the invader arms the university professors to cull the bikers, then the "logic" and the "reasonableness" gets a little cloudier. And so on.

I believe thinking along those lines makes it clear where the difference between these two positions fundamentally comes from. If everyone in the world was as universally revered as the people of Michigan, then any strategy like that of arming some of them in opposition to others, would be seen as unacceptable--and as aimed at tearing the society apart--no matter what the other surrounding conditions were. (Never mind that bikers in America have always lived in a fundamentally violence-free relationship with the university professors in the context of the revered American cultural traditions). But if at the other extreme, somehow there was a story about arming people just to cull animals in the natural environment, then perhaps you could see it as a "logical" or a "reasonable" strategy even if the only aim was just to protect yourself from harm.



"Racism" isn't really an adequate term for the denigration and de-valuation of human beings that goes on behind the scenes here and props up this whole "debate".

As I tried to intimate in the earlier post called "Philosophy and the Iraq War", western corporate media have done a very good job in suggesting that there really isn't any sense of positive civic loyalties in Iraq: only religion (Sunni-Shiite) and race (Arab-Kurd-Persian) with their negative and mutually-antagonistic coloration. It is part of that background process of denigration and de-valuation that surrounds us every day, and we don't see it. Only sometimes when it kind of hits us in the face. Or am I wrong?