Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Maliki to opposition political bloc: Shut up or we will prosecute you too

Prime Minister Maliki gave his reponse on Wednesday to the cross-party group of legislators that conducted a sit-in in Sadr City on Sunday and demanded and end to the fighting and an investigation of human rights abuses. Maliki told them the attacks in Sadr City will continue until the Mahdi Army is disarmed and dissolved (this is the first time Maliki has openly said that is the aim); he associated the Mahdi Army with AlQaeda and others as groups to be terminated; he said nothing about the Badr organization; he told the legislators it is they who are are responsible for the prolongation of the fighting; and in not-so-thinly veiled terms he threatened the legislators, telling them that if they continue to object, they could be charged with inciting to violence and fitna.

The remarks were made during a Baghdad press-conference Wednesday April 30. Here are the key points in the AlJazeera summary of what he said:
"The final objective", Maliki said, "which we will not desist from, is the disarming of the militias and the dissolution of the Mahdi Army, and the Islamic Army, and the Army of Omar, and the termination of AlQaeda". He said this will be the final solution and the gateway to security and stability for the political process.

Maliki accused the Mahdi Army of being a group of outlaws, and of taking human hostages during the Sadr City fighting. [This could be in view of the fact that the latest post-March25 death toll is 925*, not around 400 as previously reported. So there needs to be spin for that].

Maliki said "they use the lies and the morals of the prior Saddam regime, and I know that they strike electrical facilities, prevent [the delivery of] food..." [and so on and so forth].

And he defined [says this very respectful-sounding AlJazeera report] the government's conditions respecting the attempts undertaken by a number of blocs and parties and political personalities to end the security tension connected with these armed operations. He explained that these conditions include: dissolution of the militias and no intervention in the affairs of the state or its patrols or its institutions or ministries; no establishment of tribunals and no intervention in the security apparatus; turning over of wanted persons and coooperation with the state in prosecuting them.

And Maliki threatened the voices of those within the system who criticize the government's military operations against armed groups, and he accused them of being instigators stirring up the state, adding: "These people--whether they are members of parliament or members of political blocs or parties, or [even] members of the government, who are not hesitant about stirring up fitna--these people will bear the responsibility". The Prime Minister said: "I say to them: Be patient because the affair will come to an end, and the judiciary is available, because it is you who are pouring oil on the fires and fanning the flames of fitna."

* 925 was reported on Wednesday as the death-toll for Sadr City, but Azzaman on Thursday describes the figure as for Sadr City and Basra together, and AlHayat also implies it could be a global figure for the period since the campaign started on March 25.

Sadr City info-ops

Colonel Stover said it was with the greatest regret and the highest level of professionalism that his gallant men yesterday fired a "200-pound guided rocket that [American] officials said killed 28 militiamen." After all, he said, "It was these militants who initiated the engagement by attacking US soldiers." Iraqi officials said those killed weren't all militiamen, and included nine civilians including women and children, but Stover was not at a loss for words there either: He said, "The enemy shows little regard for the lives of innocent civilians, as they fire their weapons from within houses, alleyways and rooftops upon our soldiers." Just so you know: The American forces show the highest level of professionalism, but when they do fire on houses, alleyways or rooftops, it is because people in those houses and alleyways, and on those roofs, were the aggressors, not the American troops.

Residents said there were also two helicopter airstrikes which heavily damaged four houses, and AFP said it has photos showing several bodies buried under the debris of collapsed houses. Stover denied that. He said the sandstorm made it impossible to conduct airstrikes. Possibly the truth is that sandstorms made it impossible to conduct airstrikes with the usual level of precision-guided professionalism.

The best part of Stover's mental orientation is that he thinks the US forces are actually more loyal to Sadr than the militants who are firing on them. As AFP explains: "The US military says those fighting its troops are not loyal to Sadr, who has frozen the activities of his Mahdi Army militia since last August." The implication being that the US forces in Sadr City are not only merely defending their legitimate positions when fired upon by the aggressors, but also are helping Sadr enforce the freeze!

In fact, when you look at the whole information-picture you will see that the US forces in a sense do not know that they are a reviled army of occupation. They think they are a highly professional peace-keeping force. Which is perhaps not that unusual: Probably any army of occupation, no matter how brutal, is made to believe something like that, though maybe not to this level of hypocrisy.

The truly amazing thing, however, is that the American people, and by and large the American left, seem to believe the same thing. US forces are defending legitimate positions in Sadr City; anyone firing on US forces is defying Sadr; the US only fires when attacked; the aims are either "quelling violence" or "stopping rocket attacks" (or both), and have nothing to do with crushing a major anti-occupation movement. And so on. In other words: This is a peace-keeping operation.

Is this a case of info-ops originally designed for local battlefield morale (the enemy are common criminals, etc) being re-imported into the United States and massively misleading the American electorate? Or was misleading the electorate the original purpose? Who cares? But just because this question of original intent is so irrelevant, it has earned a place in the white-collar policy salons, where the issue of the Big Lie is known to the so-called "public diplomacy practitioners" as "strategic communications" (meaning public-media lying for strategic national aims). As you can see via the following link, there has been something of a discussion about this question whether or not it is possible to keep the lying overseas, and not have it come back and corrupt the purity of the American democracy.

That seems to be at least partly what is happening here. But it is election season, and among the Democratic groupies a big part of the internal policy struggle is to out-maneuver others to the right. Consider this from Marc Lynch:
Unlike many public diplomacy scholars and practitioners, I have no principled objection to strategic communications and agree that they have an important place in national strategy.
His specific examples have to do with demoralizing AlQaeda, which is a very fashionable conversation topic these days. But try this: Think about the Sadr City attacks, and the fact that Lynch himself and the rest of the food-chain under him are completely silent about the war-crimes implications and the long-term political implications of these attacks, and while you are thinking about that, read this:
It's one thing to "fabricate stories" [he's talking specifically about AQ, but think about the Sadr City issue here]... It's another when such information operation stories then filter back into our domestic policy debates or into the policy-making process, (or, worse yet, if shaping the domestic arena is actually the point--but that's a slightly different set of issues).
It's what they call a thumb-sucker, and there apparently are going to be whole seminars on this question of large-scale, public lying for purported national-interest reasons.

Meanwhile the damage in Sadr City is already being done, and it will get worse, if we can't find people with the courage to stand up and say this is a policy that is as damaging to America morally as it is brutal to its direct victims, and the Democrats shouldn't be silently lining up behind it.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Sunni parliamentarian: "Sadr City attacks are killing mostly unarmed civilians" (UPDATED)

A member of the Iraqi Accord Front (biggest Sunni bloc in parliament) Ahmed Radhi, who was in Sadr City on Sunday as part of the multi-party sit-in, repeated yesterday the call to implement the group's demands for an end to the crisis, and he said: "The majority of those who are being killed are civilians, and not armed persons."

And another Sunni deputy, Mustafa al-Heeti, from the Iraqi Dialogue Front, said at a press conference with other members of that group: "I urge an end to the military operations, an adoption of the language of dialogue, and an prompt meeting of the council (government executive committee, the so-called three plus one) in order to end the military operations."

Both statements are reported by Aswat al Iraq.

Rather than any easing, there was a dramatic escalation in military operations in Sadr City, where US forces intervened in one case with Abrams tanks, killing 22, and in another case with airstrikes killing 16. (See this summary in AlHayat, among many other accounts). *

And at the same time, the GreenZone and US accusations against Iran have taken on a new stridency. For instance, AlHayat reminds readers that US officials have said the Sadr City campaign is against "special groups" of criminals that are supported by Iran. And here's how Azzaman leads its main story this morning: "Armed groups linked to Iran took advangage of the bad weather for the third time, launching a round of self-propelled Katyusha rockets at various locations in the Green Zone..."

So along with (1) signs of domestic political solidarity against the attacks on Sadr City; and (2) dramatic military escalation in Sadr City; there is also (3) a sharper framing of this as a struggle between Iraq on the one side, and Iranian proxies on the other.

It's worth trying to keep the overall picture in mind, because there is a tendency not only in the corporate media, but in the Washington-based commentary as well, to talk exclusively about the third point, to the almost complete exclusion of the first two. As if America, politically and militarily, was some kind of a passive bystander.


* Update to Tuesday evening Baghdad time: VOI quotes a medical source who said in the period from 11 am to 6 pm Tuesday April 29, US forces shelled sectors 10 and 11 of Sadr City, causing 24 deaths and 60 injuries. The medical source said most of the victims were women and children. And everyone is silent.

Monday, April 28, 2008

More on how the American forces keep the pot boiling: The view from Baquba

Local civic and tribal leaders in Baquba, capital of Diyala province northeast of Baghdad, accuse the US of trying to promote and revive sectarian and racial divisions in the region, rather than working for stability. They say the main tool the Americans are currently using is the arrest of persons in Shiite areas on charges--often malicious charges--of belonging to the Mahdi Army (one tribal leader complaining that the charge of belonging to the Mahdi Army today is just like the charge of belonging to the Dawa party under Saddam), and then turning the areas over to "popular committees" composed of American-armed fighters formerly loyal to takfiiri organizations. An AlHayat journalist explains:
Civic notables and tribal sheikhs in Baquba accuse the American forces of using a double standard in dealing with the security situation in the city, where a Sunni militia loyal to them [meaning loyal to the American forces] controls most of the areas and neighborhoods, while [in Shiite areas] arrests continue of members of the Mahdi Army loyal to the Shiite leader Moqtada al-Sadr.

Sheikh Abdullah Salam al-Hamidawi, one of the leaders of the Hamidat tribe in Diyala, told AlHayat: "The arrest operations that are being carried out by the occupation forces in [various parts of the province of Diyala], on charges of belonging to the Mahdi Army, have as their aim the summoning-up [he means the promotion] of new armed formations, and consequently the keeping of the security situation in a state of uncertainty in Baquba, and the stirring up of sectarian and racial differences." He added that "The arrests are not based on the well-known legal basis, but rather are based on malicious accusations by agents of the American forces. And most of the people being arrested are people who have fled to Baldruz (one of the Diyala-province districts in question) to escape the terror of AlQaeda.

Sheikh Asaf al-Saadi [another tribal leader] said: "The charges of belonging to the Mahdi Army have become just like the charges of belonging to the Dawa Party under Saddam Hussein". And he urged the Iraqi forces to follow local and district [leadership] rather than following the American Forces, which are trying to instigate them by every possible way and means, not to mention their ignorance of the concepts and traditions of the Arab tribes.
So the first point has to do with arbitrary arrests of persons on often trumped-up charges of belonging to the Mahdi Army, with Iraqi forces following the lead of the Americans in this, rather than having regard to local requirements and circumstances. This AlHayat piece is headed: "Baquba: Tribal sheikhs accuse the Americans of turning over Shiite areas to "popular committees". So the next question is: What are these "popular committees", and why do these tribal leaders say they are an American instrument for promoting instability?

The final paragraph says this:
[A security source] who asked that his name not e disclosed said: "The security situation in Diyala has ecome fragile since the permission for armed-group members who were formerly loyal to AlQaeda to take over and control certain areas in spite of the existence of the Awakening Councils. He warned that once these militias armed by the Americans are able to control these majority-Shiite areas, the result will be a return to sectarian hatred and assassinations and kidnappings. The security source said there have already been official turnovers of control from the Americans to so-called "Popular Committees" of [some of these majority-Shiite areas], a process facilitated by having popular-committee people hired by the provincial security apparatus.

Cross-party group called for a human-rights investigation into the Sadr City attacks

There has been unusually blatant mis-representation of the parliamentary sit-in in Sadr City yesterday in the corporate media and elsewhere, the gist of the media strategy being to leave out three key points.

(1) The group included members of every major parliamentary political party except for the Supreme Council, and the Dawa Party, which are the main Shiite parties supporting the Maliki administration.

(2) The delegation, in its final statement, called not only for an end to the military operations against Sadr City, and a lifting of the blockade. It also called for an investigation into the human-rights violations that Sadr City residents have been subjected to.

(3) The delegation said the government should coordinate with the Sadrist organization in any arrest operations it wants to carry out in Sadr City, rather than attacking them.

AlQabas writes:
An Iraqi parliamentary delegation visited Sadr City yesterday and demanded of Maliki that he "end the military operations and lift the blockade of the City, stressing the need for an investigation into the violations that have been perpetrated on against human rights."

In their final statement, after meeting with Sadr trend officials and deputies in the Sadr office in the City, the members demanded that the government and the American forces work toward "stopping their military operations and raids in Sadr City".

And the delegation, which was missing representation from the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council and the Dawa Party, to which Maliki belongs, demanded "coordination with the Sadr trend in operations for the arrest of wanted persons in the City.
The reasons for leaving out the demand for a human-rights investigation is clear. It is the same reason that led to non-reporting of the cluster-bomb allegation and minimal reporting of the whole program of airstrikes in this densely populated area.

The reason for leaving out the point about the composition of the group is also fairly clear. It indicates a degree of broad-based support for the Sadrist trend, even among the other GreenZone parties, in the face of Sadr's declaration of open war against the occupation. This raises that not only is the Sadr-on-the-ropes theme not right, but that conversely, the Americans' GreenZone political-party support could be starting to erode.

As for leaving out the part about coordinating with the Sadr trend in law-enforcement in Sadr City, the point is basically the same. Sadr has called for solidarity among Iraqis and a halting of bloodshed, and this is would be a logical application of that principle.

I won't waste time showing the various types of misrepresentation in the various media accounts, except to note that wonderful McClatchy also participated in this, leaving out the demand for a human-rights investigation, and reporting point (3) above as an agreement to work together "for the removal of insurgents and weapons from the area". They arbitrarily added the "insurgents" expression in order to make this look a little like a Sadrist surrender. The actual point was to work together where there are bona fide cases where "wanted persons" are to be arrested.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Miscellaneous (Update: US Forces playing chicken with parliamentary group?


There is an article on this in AlHayat this morning, but the site seems to be unavailable right now, so I'll cite this right from the horse's mouth, so to speak. The Baath-party website says Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, head of the main or loyalist wing of the party (described by AlHayat as still the "main" wing of the party, as opposed to the breakaway group headed by Ahmed Yunis al-Ahmed) paid a visit to Wasit province April 10, the fifth anniversary of the American invasion, where he met with tribal and military leaders that are in his camp. His statement to these group-leaders is published in an English-language version by the website (just click on "English" at the upper left corner of the main page), but for some reason I don't see it in Arabic, which is why I was hoping to cite the AlHayat report. In any event, the statement is there to read. He calls for "jihad, jihad, and then jihad, in order to oust the enemy and force him to withdraw, covered with humiliation and defeat, and draped in ignominy, shame, infamy and dishonor." Which is Izzat Ibrahim's way of saying he doesn't think much of the ex-Baathists that have been holding talks with the Americans.

(Comparing in a very broad way the appeals of Sadr and of Izzat Ibrahim, it is noteworthy that Izzat Ibrahim is being very strictly institutional, stressing the "reinstatement" of the Iraqi army, and the historic roots of that institution and so on, as the specific guarantor, so to speak, of the unity of Iraq. Sadr, whose expressed aims are the same--expelling the occupier, no compromise with foreign intervention of any kind--when he says "we" he refers of course primarily to "the followers of Al Sadr" (and he refers to the history of suffering and "patience" just as Izzat Ibrahim refers to the history of glorious triumphs), but Sadr is careful to broaden his appeal to include, for instance, the members of the government security services, and what he called in his latest statement "the honorable resistance"--clearly alluding to the Sunni resistance. For now I merely point out that there is a difference in the breadth of the appeal. Harith al-Dhari, speaking to the Islamist resistance groups, has clearly been trying to broaden his appeal in his own way, but I don't think we have heard from him lately (since the announcement of the Awakening/political initiative anyway).


A group of over 50 parliamentarians staged a sit-in in Sadr City to demand the lifting of the siege on that city, and the attacks on it*. They said if normality isn't restored they will do the same again on Monday. Voices of Iraq takes the trouble to point out that the group included not only Sadrist members of parliament, but also two members representing Sunni groups, the IAF and the Dialogue Front, along with one representing the (remains of the) United Iraqi Alliance.

What is particularly noteworthy here is that no one at the Democratic-party, or center-left, or progressive end of the political spectrum in America has had even one word to say in condemnation of the American policy of blockade and airstrikes against this densely-populated urban area. And as I noted earlier, this includes in particular the two people who are most looked-to for guidance in this, messrs Cole and Lynch, both of whom have conspicuously declined to say anything about this. It's possible they are constrained by relationships of one kind or another with US government people or institutions. If they have conflicts they should disclose what they are. Already too many people assume the Democrats will just continue the universally-reviled policies of the current regime. You'd think these experts would want to show something different.


* A commenter reminded me to check with the AlMalaf version, which originally estimated the group at around 80, but later in the day settled on 50, same as YOI, with this additional information: "A Sadrist member of the group, Maha Al-Douri, said American planes dropped munitions on Sadr City during the sit-in, in spite of the presence of the members of parliament in Sadr City". AlMalaf, which is a traditionally bedrock Sunni-oriented site, describes the sit-in as an attempt "to put a stop to the bloodbaths that are being carried out in Sadr City..." That kind of language, and the presence of Sunni legislators as participants in the group, suggests (to me at least) that if the Sadrists' anti-occupation credibility with Sunnis is an issue, then certainly a continuation of the current barbaric American policy could be just the thing to help clear away that problem.

The same allegations are described as follows in VOI, (which calls the Sadrist member Maha Adel). She told VOI that armored American aircraft "launched a reckless attack on Sadr City" on the eve of the sit-in, and she added that the delegation got to witness the "viciousness of the campaign against Sadr City." She added that they witnessed one Iraqi being shot dead by an American sniper. She said they are going to report what they have witnessed to parliament, and possibly conduct a second sit-in in Parliament.

Separatist political blocs favor a national draft !

It was reported yesterday that a Supreme Council member of parliament (who is also the head of the Badr Organization) called for re-institution of the Law on Compulsory Military Service--in fact he claimed, according to the report in Azzaman, that "the state" had already decided on this.

Today Aswat al Iraq reports that other politicians are in favor of this idea too, highlighting statements in support of the idea by Kurdish and Supreme Council members. For instance, they quote one Mohsin al-Saadoun, a member of parliament for the Kurdish bloc, who said a compulsory draft would be the answer to those who claim that the army is sectarian. Al-Saadoun added (in answer to an objection raised in the Azzaman report yesterday) that "a compulsory military service law is referred to in paragraph 9 of the last chapter of the Constitution." He said the Kurdistan alliance supports legislation for establishing a draft, but with "different standards" from those of the prior law (which was abolished five years ago by Bremer).

The other strong advocate of a draft law quoted in this article is a Supreme Council person who is a member of the parliamentary committee on security and defence, one Hasan al-Saneed. He said a Compulsory Military Service law will be legislated in the current legislative session, once it has been studied by the Defense Ministry. And he said the Constutition says such a law is, in his words, "necessary".

However (the VOI journalist goes on), the Defense Ministry thinks a law setting up a draft is "needed in Iraq", it would be difficult to "apply" at the present time. In the words of Mohamed al-Askari, a Ministry adviser, "There has been a discussion of the pros and cons of this law, and we find that it is necessary to enact such a law in Iraq, but that it would be difficult to apply at this stage."

Like the Kurdish and SupremeCouncil politicians, this Defence Ministry spokesperson says "the application of such a law will free us from sectarianism in the army", but as for implementation he says only that it "may be possible in the future". He referred specifically to the lack of adequate facilities for training large numbers, adding "especially considering the present times require a particularly well-trained army." Al-Askari said it is possible to have a scaled service-requirements, for instance exemption for people with bachelors or masters degrees, one-year for people with high school diplomas, one and a half years for middle-school, and two years required service for those having graduated only from elementary school. He said a draft law will be sent to the government once the Defense Ministry is finished studying it.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Deputy says there is proof the US is using cluster bombs in Sadr City

A member of the health and environment committee of the Iraqi legislature, Liqaa Al-Yassin (Sadrist) says Iraqi authorities have medical and forensic proof that the Americans have been using cluster bombs in their air-strikes on Sadr City, the proof being in the form of the type of marks these weapons leave on the bodies of the dead and wounded. According to Wikipedia, anti-personnel bombs are one type of cluster bombs, other types being incendiary, anti-tank, and so on. Anti-personnel, or fragmentation bombs, were widely used in Vietnam. Al-Yassin referred to them as internationally-banned weapons, which surely they are in some basic sense, particularly in this kind of a densely-populated urban area. Wikipedia says: "Cluster bombs are not specifically covered by any international legal instrument, although the general rules of international humanitarian law aimed at protecting civilians apply as they do to the use of all other weapons".

Aswat al Iraq, which is so far the only agency to report on these charges, quotes the US Army mouthpiece as having said: "There is no basis in truth for these charges, because what we are doing in Sadr City is targeting armed groups that are firing rockets at the Green Zone." Doesn't really answer the charge, does it?

The American attacks in Sadr City on Friday, April 25, according to various reports, resulted in 11 dead and 74 wounded. Which to the layman doesn't look that much like a precision attack, does it?

(The Aswat al Iraq English language version of this refers to "fissile bombs", which is a little hard to understand, possibly leading to people overlooking this. The type of bomb in Arabic is "inshitariyya" from a root meaning dividing or splitting, and it can only refer to cluster bombs. If it was an actual fissile bomb, they would have needed only one, and there would be no one there to report on it).

AlJazeera's pro-US shift seen reflected in its misrepresentation of the Sadr statement

BadeelIraq (Iraq alternative), a resistance-oriented site, takes AlJazeera to task for misreporting the purport of the Sadr statement yesterday (see two posts back, Friday April 25), when it reported on its Friday telecast that Sadr had "called on his followers for a truce".

The gist of what Sadr actually conveyed, BadeelIraq points out, was not that at all.
The bottom line of the statement was clearly about bolstering nationalism, and the war against the occupation until liberation, rejection of security agreements with the occupier that are enslaving, inviting the Iraqi army and police to fight alongside them against the occupation. This was an attempt to drive a wedge between the government and its armed forces, building on the precedents of what happened in Basra, when the Iraqi forces refused to fight, and the repeated news of [similar] uneasiness among the Baghdad forces, particularly considering most of the those people [in the Baghdad Iraqi forces] are from Revolution/Sadr City and Shaala.
When AlJazeera reported that this the statement constituted a "call for a truce", the BadeellIraq writer says, "What AlJazeera said and what it intimated, rises to the level of a clear falsehood, propaganda and sectarian bias, inappropriate for any news agency of weight and importance..."

And they reproduce yesterday's entire statement by Sadr, and they link to the Sadrist website where it was posted. It is worth noting that BadeelIraq is not a "Shiite" website by any means, rather it is located somewhere on the secularist end of the Islamist/Sunni/secularist spectrum of traditional resistance-supporters. And what it is doing here is defending Sadr's nationalist position against the distortions of an Americanized AlJazeera.

As far as the basic Sadr-enemy-of-Iraqi-forces theme is concerned, there are of course just as striking illustrations in the English-language reporting of yesterday's message. For instance: "Sadr changes his tune, calls Iraqi forces 'brothers'" (McClatchy). "Iraq's Sadr tells fighters to observe truce" (Reuters). And of course the best of all, with that special sauce, this summary by the friendly blogger: "Muqtada is offering an olive branch to his former ally turned deadly foe, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. Al-Maliki seems in no mood to accept it".

The BadeelIraq writer explains that it is in the Americans' interests to foster sectarian fighting, and to suppress any indications of a common anti-occupation stance. This item is headed up with a mocking image superimposing the pastel-and-music American-owned Radio Sawa logo on top of the AlJazeera logo.

Preparations for the Mosul campaign stalled; Supreme Council wants to reinstate the draft

An Iraqi military official said the preparations for the big campaign in Mosul--described by Maliki as the final and decisive campaign in the pacification of Iraq--are stalled, because the number of police and army troops assembled is insufficient, and they are inadequately equipped. They need at least two more brigades, he said, adding he was hopeful that two brigades currently deployed in Basra and elsewhere in the south would join the Mosul operation. Azzaman, which reports these remarks without naming the official, reminds readers that the Ninawa tribal council has asked that the "protection of Mosul" be put in the hands of local people, and that the army accept local volunteers for this. Otherwise, the provincial council warns, the operation will be a failure.

Meanwhile, says Azzaman, a delegation from Mosul led by provincial governor Duraid Mashmula and including tribal leaders and others, is in Baghdad and has told President Talabani that the situation in Mosul is deteriorating as the security operation is delayed. The reporter puts it like this: "Tension prevails in Mosul, the result of raids being carried out by the government forces, and control of neighborhoods by armed groups, amid delays in the start of the security operation, which was supposed to restore order, and [amid] demands by the locals that the security file be handed over to them".

So the picture is of insufficient government troops, demands by local people to be permitted to handle the situation themselves, and a deteriorating situation as the existing government troops conduct raids and the armed groups control neighborhoods. (This Azzaman piece doesn't take up the Peshmerga issue. Earlier reports have said that one of the ominous features of this standoff is that Sunni Arabs, who are in the majority locally, fear the government's use of Peshmerga troops could make this more of a Kurdish-control issue than a bona fide law-enforcement operation. The Red Crescent has warned of another wave of catastrophic internal migration if the situation deteriorates).

The same Azzaman piece reports remarks by the chairman of the parliamentary committee on security and defence, a Supreme Council deputy by the name of Hadi al-Amari, apparently posted on a Supreme Council website, to the effect that "the state" has decided to revive the Compulsory Military Service Law that was in effect under Saddam and before, with some modifications. The reporter doesn't seem to have gotten the opportunity to question al-Amari about this, so the only elaboration is by way of background: In-principle mandatory service by males over age 18 for a period of 18 months. In particular, there isn't any discussion of the little matter of getting something like this past the legislature. (The journalist does note that the current Iraqi constitution calls for a voluntary army, so presumably a compulsory draft would be unconstitutional. He notes that al-Amari failed to mention that).

The reporter doesn't link these two points together in the text of his article, but the headline makes the connection clear: "Return of compulsory military service in Iraq, and the Mosul campaign is stalled for insufficient forces".

(Lest you think it is only the Arabic sources that make your head spin, consider this: A Pentagon report now says Iraq needs 646,000 troops to cope with what it calls "the insurgency", up from an estimate of only 390,000 troops in a Pentagon report only seven months ago. Moreover, they're not sure what portion of the current payroll is for the dead and AWOL).

Friday, April 25, 2008

Moqtada: Open war against the ocupation "and no other"

A statement by Moqtada alSadr was read out at a mosque in Sadr City on Friday April 25, explaining the meaning of the "open war until liberation" that he warned of in a statement last Saturday.

He begins by praising the followers of Al-Sadr for their patience, denouncing the continuing American attacks in Sadr City and elsewhere, and reminding his followers of their steadfastness in the face of Saddam, and in the two uprisings following the American invasion. But he stresses that the "open war" that he spoke of a week ago refers to war "against the occupier and no other". He reminds his followers that Iraqi security forces were given olive branches and copies of the holy book when they refused to fight against the Sadrists in the recent events in Basra and elsewhere, stressing that this is exemplary for the kind of unifying dynamic that should take place in this resistance to the occupation, as opposed to shedding one another's blood.

And he then turns to the other sectors of Iraqi society:
And at the same time I address all of the government forces, security and otherwise--indeed all of the religious and political forces as well: This open war is between us and the occupier only, and it is incumbent on you that you not intervene in the interests of the occupier, because our aim is to liberate you and to liberate your land from the filth of the occupier. And our government will be one of complete sovereignty, not impaired or doubtful in any way, and there will be no long-term security agreement between it and the occupier, and no matter how war is waged against us, or how much of our blood is shed, we will not permit that agreement, even if some of you are [its] supporters. And we will not accept the division of Iraq or the theft of its riches, or anything but service to the people and distribution of the riches in a manner that is just and equal. And we will not accept attacks on the Iraqi people no matter from what direction or for what reason.

This is in fact the aim of the honorable resistance, which should be our pride and that of all Iraqis--indeed of all Muslims and of all free people throughout the world. And we will not permit the resistance which targets the occupation, without [targeting] Iraqis, to become criminal*, in the way that the destroyer turned pilgrims of the Imam Husayn to crime ...--which god forbid--because jihad is until victory.

You, brothers in the Iraqi army and police, and you, brothers in the Army of the Imam Mahdi: Enough of spilling of [each others'] blood. Concentrate on the infiltrators and the defamed [occupier]. And let us become a single hand for the implementation of justice, and security, and the good, and support for the resistance in all its types, so that Iraq can become a secure and confident Iraq, with respect to its land, with respect to its people, and with respect to its neighbors.
(There are a couple of spots that could no doubt be cleaned up a bit by someone whose mother tongue is Arabic, but I don't think I've actually screwed anything up. But see the footnote below).

The expression "honorable resistance" is the expression some Sunni armed-resistance groups have used to refer to themselves, to distinguish themselves from takfiiris and others who target Iraqis. In other words, it has the same meaning in Sunni circles as Sadr's idea of "open war against the occupier and none other" is intended to have for his followers.

The point of the appeal to the Iraqi security forces is one that I predict will be (intentionally) lost on those who speak to Western audiences. Moqtada's idea is to subvert the government from within by a form of non-violence against the Iraqis who are members of the security forces, together with a declaration of open war until liberation against the actual occupiers, which should be something that everyone can agree to. And he makes a special point of urging followers to support the resistance "in all its types". There will be grey zones. And for the corporate media and others, these grey zones will be the focus of renewed and redoubled efforts to show that civil war is endemic to Iraq, with a view to showing that the continued presence of American troops is the only way of calming the situation.

* That's the way I read that sentence at first, but, which knows better, explains the remark a little differently. In fact it leads its article on this as follows: "[AlSadr] rejected the accusations of government authorities and their allies that call the resistance, which stands against the occupation, "outlaws", and he said, addressing the government: 'Our aim is to liberate you and to liberate your land....' In other words, their reading is that Sadr said he would not allow the Sadrist resistance "to be called" criminal. As for the following clause, it would mean "as the destroyer called the followers of the Imam Husayn criminals... which god forbid, because jihad is until victory. In any event, no matter how you read that sentence, Sadr repeats throughout the statement the prohibition against killing brother Iraqis, so the point is: He rejects both the resistance becoming criminal and he rejects it being called criminal.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

A real one

Everyone knows Admiral William Fallon has denied calling General David Petraeus an "ass-kissing little chicken-shit", but it still seems a pretty good summary after a year as Bush's yes-man in Baghdad. Now, "progressive" blogger Spencer Ackerman, writing about Petraeus' promotion to Centcom, says the promotion "reaffirm[s] [Petraeus'] status as his generation's most respected general officer..." Now that's an ass-kissing little chicken-shit.

Killing anti-occupation Shiites seems to be good for Baghdad-Saudi relations, and also for Petraeus' career

It was back in December 2006 that Mamoun Fandy (formerly of Georgetown, USIP and the [James] Baker Institute, among other things, and also a person close to the Saudi king) predicted in an op-ed in a Saudi newspaper that John Abizaid would be fired as Centcom chief and be replaced by David Petraeus. Shortly thereafter Abizaid was fired and Petraeus was appointed, not Centcom chief, but head of Iraq operations. Now he is being appointed Centcom chief. So Fandy was a little off on the timing, but he had the concept right. Let's go back and see why he thought this would happen.

(The following two chunks of text are from a missing-links post dated January 5, 2007, after the firing of Abizaid and the announcement of the Fallon/Petraeus appointments, looking back and quoting from Mamoun Fandy's prediction). Fandy had written:
David Petraeus, or whatever other general takes the place of Abizaid, will have to be a part of the new strategy of the US administration, and will have to be more proactive, and perhaps less diplomatic, in explaining conditions in the field to Washington and to the neighboring states [neighboring Iraq]. We read the leaked Hadley memo that was printed in the New York Times, and that implied changing the head of the Iraqi government. The fact is that stability in Iraq and the region requires change not only in Iraq, but on both sides, that of the government of Iraq and the American administration. Change in Centcom leadership in Qatar is part of the overall change that is required by the new strategic balance.
And what exactly is the strategic change that Fandy was predicting?
The first thing this change will mean is a change in the operating strategy, in the way CentCom deals with the terrorist groups in the region, and there will be two parts to this, military and political. Perhaps we will be seeing more visits [to CentCom] from countries that border Iraq, and from other important countries in the region, looking for the application of security measures to limit entry of terrorists into Iraq, along with a request for an increase in US forces in the region in keeping with the size of the danger. (The italics are mine). And perhaps the new general will see the need for confrontation, and not for discussions, with Iran! (The exclamation point is Fandy's)
(Both of the above chunks of text are my Jan 5 07 rendition of Fandy's Dec 06 predictions)

Why go to the trouble of showing that this Saudi-regime person was right?

For one thing, consider the recent interview remarks of Maliki's national-security adviser Muwaffaq al-Rubaie, (in Asharq alAwsat, as it happens, the same place Fandy's op-eds appear). Rubaie indicated all was not failure at the Kuwait Iraq-neighbors meeting. Rubaie criticized Syria because he said 110 suicide fighters were entering Iraq each month via Syria, and "if the Syrian security apparatus was working seriously on this, they would be able to stop these suicide-fighters from getting to Iraq". He repeated more than once that these people are all coming into Iraq from Syria. And he said the reason Syria wasn't stopping this is political: "They think of stability in Iraq as a victory for democracy and freedoms, and they read that as a victory for the Americans and for the American project in the region."

Rubaie also criticized Iran, but not as an ideological and anti-American, anti-democracy enemy like Syria. He described Iran as having a "complex" strategy, supporting both the Mahdi Army and AlQaeda, with the ultimate aim of seeing a sectarian Shiite regime amenable to Iran, "which isn't going to happen".

By contrast, Rubaie described the relationship with the Saudi regime as "ideal".
[Baghdad and Riyadh] have a hotline, and we will have Iraqi officers stationed in Saudi Arabia, and there will be Saudi officers stationed in Iraq.
So here we have the Saudi-favorite Petraeus finally being promoted to overall regional command, and at the same time a strong and "ideal" (according to Rubaie) security-cooperation relationship between the GreenZone and the Saudi regime.

What held up the development of this relationship, no doubt, was the fact that Maliki had yet to show his "impartiality", and earn Saudi respect, via willingness to kill anti-regime, anti-American Shiites. So to that extent you could say that the post-Hadley-memo process has been productive. Not, of course, in any of the ways that the corporate media or the food-chain people would have had you believe.

GreenZone info-ops people trying to adapt (updated, twice)

There appear to have been a number of adjustments yesterday in the American/Maliki info-ops strategy in Baghdad:

(1) For the first time, the US military gave a daily total for the number of Iraqis it had killed in ground and air attacks in 24 hours in Sadr City: 15, plus another four just to the north for a total of 19, which corresponds exactly with the numbers reported on Sunni-resistance websites. So we can take it that the scale of air and ground attacks in Sadr City is pretty much unchanged (see prior post). (This is only a guess, but possibly the US authorities realized it isn't in their interests to have their daily Shiite-killings being reported mainly on Sunni-resistance websites).

(2) Also for the first time, the Americans said why they are attacking Sadr City in this way: According to AFP, "US commanders have said the aim of intensive operations now under way against Shiite militiamen in Sadr city is to stop the rocket and mortar fire [on the Green zone]," and another US general gave what he said were total numbers of rocket and mortar attacks in recent weeks. He said 82% of the projectiles landing in the Green Zone came from Sadr City. (Take it or leave it: there isn't any supporting evidence or discussion).

(3) Still another US general said the US was appealing to Sadr to use his influence to stop the violence in Baghdad, where 21 people were killed yesterday. This was odd, considering 19 of the 21 casualties were the result of US ground and air attacks on Sadrist areas, so it is a little hard to see what Sadr could do to stop the killing, short of ordering a round of rose-petals and sweets for the American troops. So that particular initiative (reported in a somewhat confusing way in Azzaman, and more clearly on the Sadrist website didn't make it to the big leagues.

(4) Another info-ops initiative, however, did filter its way up to the big time. AlHayat quotes a named Sadrist leader in Sadr City to the effect Sadrist leaders are meeting in Najaf to discuss the future of the movement and make recommendations to Moqtada al-Sadr. Then he quotes "sources close to the Sadrist trend" who said a group of political and religious leaders in the trend are in favor of dissolving the Mahdi Army, while another group, "mostly military leaders" warn against that and warn of a revolt.*

(5) There were also a couple of interesting conceptual initiatives. If I show you a carton of eggs and tell you that some of them are "special" eggs and some are not; or that some of them are "special" eggs at night and then normal eggs during the day, you will look at me strangely, perhaps thinking me a lunatic of some kind. And at that point I will play my trump card, as Colonel Batchelet did yesterday, when asked about this line of argument.
"These two groups are so amorphous. They cross back and forth between one and another. It is difficult to say who is who," he said.
(6) Finally, political scientists will surely have interesting things to say about the latest Maliki pronouncement about his authority. Following a meeting with David Milliband, foreign secretary representing the birthplace of the Mother of Parliaments, Maliki, whose cabinet includes no Sunnis, no Fadhila, no Sadrists and no Iraqi List people, issued a pronouncement that read in part** as follows:
National Reconciliation has been a success, and We have political and national authorization, via the support and backing which all of the political blocs have offered to take the measures that the Iraqi government has taken.
Meanwhile, a parliamentary delegation visited Sadr City to view the damage, and most blocs were represented, except for the conspicuous absence of any representative of the Supreme Council (political counterpart of the Badr Organization). The Kurdish representative said the government should be more careful about the humanitarian situation. The Iraqi List person said the government is resorting to collective punishment, and this is a very dangerous thing to do because of the repercussions. The delegation recommended lifting the siege on Sadr City. The government replied that there is no siege.

* You can get a better feel for this in the version reported by the "news"-site (Supreme Council affiliated, to all appearances), which says the Sadrist trend is preparing to hand over the names of "special groups" people wanted by the Americans, in exchange for a halt to the American attacks. The site says: "And these preparations have reached a critical stage, because these leaders have indicated that they are prepared to sell out their brothers and their own flesh and blood, which is something you only see among the Baathists and the criminals, which is undoubtedly what these people are." Another element of the deal, this site says, is that the Sadrists will promise not to attack the Americans for over a year.

** "Sunnis agree to end boycott, rejoin Iraq government", says the NYT, and the news immediately hit the food-chain via Kevin Drum of Washington Monthly, who reports breathlessly: "Aside from everything else, this seems to be yet another step in the campaign to isolate the Sadrists — now the only significant group completely outside the government [except for the other groups also resisting the American occupation, he means]— and put the Mahdi Army out of business. Is that good news on the stability front, or does it mean that full-scale war with Sadr and his troops is becoming ever more imminent? Or both? Stay tuned." Actually, what the IAF spokesman said was that he will soon be submitting to Maliki a list of proposed IAF cabinet ministers, which will then be presented to Parliament. This is something the IAF has said before, and as even the NYT notes: "the deal [sic] could still fall through." The less fluffed-up Reuters report on this is here.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Sadr City death toll: 400 killed in three weeks, "and everyone is silent"

Such is the disinterest on the part of the controlled media respecting the fighting in Sadr City, that for regular reports on deaths and injuries you have to go to the resistance-oriented, which is a news-site affiliated with the Brigades of the 1920 Revolution, for the daily numbers from the hospitals. It is not that the 1920 Brigades are great admirers of Sadr's strategy (the site calls his recent open-war warning a "tempest in a teapot") but it does pay enough respect and attention to at least keep track of the numbers. These are Iraqis, being killed in attacks led by the Americans.

Its latest report, citing Iraqi police sources who in turn checked with the two big hospitals in Sadr City (Imam Ali and Al-Sadr), says in the 24 hours to Monday morning there were 14 dead and 55 wounded brought to those two hospitals, noting there isn't a breakdown by fighters and non-fighters. Given the recent report about 300 deaths since March 25 (and a commenter says AlJazeera even more recently reported 400 deaths in Sadr City since that date), that would make the daily average somewhere between 10 and 15 reported deaths, and a multiple of that in injuries. Try to imagine what would be the outcry if 10 to 15 Americans were killed in a densely populated urban area for a period of a month and more in a foreign-army assault that included airstrikes.

[Today Wednesday April 23, Sadrist deputy Falah Shansal told Voices of Iraq that at least 400 people have been killed and 1720 others, including women and children wounded in armed confrontations and airstrikes in the three weeks since the US imposed its blockade on the area three weeks ago. That would be around 19 casualties a day and over 80 wounded. He said a parliamentary delegation is studying the humanitarian situation there, and will be reporting to parliament with a view to demanding the lifting of the blockade].

And the amazing thing is that the people, experts and otherwise, whom the left looks to for guidance, are saying nothing critical about this. Perhaps amazing is the wrong word. But you do have to ask yourself: If the Democratic Party policy-groupies can't bring themselves to criticize this, or even to raise the obvious war-crimes issue, then what confidence can you have that a Democratic administration will be appreciably less brutal than the present one ?

Commenter to Juan: Enough!

Beloved blogger Juan Cole was in full flight this morning (Tuesday April 22), explaining that Maliki is attempting to "reduce the power" of the downscale Sadrists, "in favor of his new ally", the upscale Supreme Council, as if this was some kind of a gentrification program. He wrote:
The government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is attempting to reduce the power of the Sadrist political movement, backed by the Mahdi Army, in favor of his new ally, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), headed by Abdul Aziz al-Hakim. Al-Hakim's movement is more middle and upper class and more tied to Iran, while the Sadrists are working class or poor slum dwellers and Iraqi nationalists.
Commenter Christiane, who reads this stuff regularly, finally had enough:
Day after day [she writes], I'm reading you in this blog telling about the deeds (or the non/deeds) of Al'Maliki's government and of internal Iraqi politics, as if Iraq was a free country. In the end, these kind of sentences (like the one above) are misleading. They give the illusion that the Iraqis and their government are free to act as they wishes. But let's be clear, they don't operate in a vacuum : your country and your military, following a decision taken by your twice elected president, has illegally invaded Iraq and is now occupying it. As a result, one can be quite sure that Al' Maliki can't blink or cough without the US acknowledgement and agreement. Since Al'Maliki was chosen thanks to the support of the Sadrists, why would he go after them, if he wasn't pressured to do so by the US ?

The worst scenario for the US and the one they fear the most is if the Sadrists are able to unite with the Sunnis resistance. It's quite clear that the US autorities fears a Sadrists landslide in the next elections and are manoevring in order to prevent it.

And these manoevres, we can be sure, include intimidations and war crimes : you can't bomb a slum home of 3.5Millions inhabitants [or 2.5 million] without at the same time massacring civilians, especially when resistant fighters merge in the population, as is the case in all guerrilla war.

Why the Arab states won't get involved

Abdullah Khalifa Al-Shayji, a political science professor at Kuwait University and a former adviser to the speaker of the Kuwaiti parliament, yesterday summed up the nub of Gulf-region thinking on the question of Iraq, where Condi today is urging more "support" for the Maliki government.

(Others have pointed out that there are many reasons to smile and do nothing, including: (1) Lack of security argues against re-opening embassies, considering there isn't such a thing as a tradition of martyrdom in the diplomatic community; (2) the fact Iraq is "the most corrupt nation on the planet" (Abdulbari Atwan) argues against debt-relief as long as this regime is in power; (3) the fact Bush invaded Iraq against the advise of Gulf leaders argues against rushing in to help him out now that he is trying to slough off responsibility onto others.)

But Shayji focuses on one core point:
It does not appear that the Arab neighbors of Iraq, particularly Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, are desirous of getting involved in the affairs of Iraq, or of supporting the Maliki government, as long as it isn't more representative, for instance it supports some political blocs while Sunni and Shia blocs boycott it, and there are accusations of sectarianism from Iraqi groups and Arab countries.

We do not want to be the party that bears the repercussions of a bitter war that began five years ago or to plunge into the dangerous swamp at this late date....And there is no use talking about opening embassies and sending ambassadors in the absence of a clear political movement towards preparation for anchoring the national interest and reconstruction. There's no sense in drawing up ambitious road-maps for prosperity and stability and security, while the fires are still raging in Iraq. The American researcher Suzanne Maloney spells out the repercussions and the result of the American war on Iraq: "The disastrous Bush policies fostered a sectarian Iraq that has helped empower Iranian hardliners. Rather than serving as an anchor for a new era of stability and American pre-eminence in the Persian Gulf, the new Iraq represents a strategic black hole, bleeding Washington of military resources and political influence while extending Iran's primacy among its neighbors." (Her Brookings report here)

Shayji concludes by talking about the other parts of the region where Iran and the anti-American forces have influence, by way of stressing what a great danger it would be to get involved via Iraq.

But while his discussion, like that of many other Arab commentators, includes the question of Iranian regional influence, and even ends up focusing on it, the point with respect to Iraq is that an occupation that began five years ago with sectarianism, has fostered a government that is still sectarian, and as long as it is sectarian, any intervention "in support of the Maliki administration" would itself have sectarian implications, and that is something the Gulf states very naturally do not want to do.

The Arab commentators are probably too polite to put it this way at least in print, but what this comes down to is the following: Would it really be a good idea for the already-unpopular Arab regimes to support a government that invites US warplanes to carry out airstrikes against its own most densely-populated residential areas? Would this be a genuine feather in their caps and a manifestation of true pan-Arab solidarity?

American commentators, by and large, prefer to draw a veil over the American involvement in current fighting in Iraq--there are no major reports recently on the continuing airstrikes on Sadr City, for instance--and this reflects what seems to be now a bipartisan view: America is basically a mere bystander, trying to help bring quarreling parties together. That being the case, why on earth won't our Arab allies in the region pitch in and do their part, unless it is because of the nefarious Iranian influence. That way the war for continued sectarianism and continued occupation is left out of the picture.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Info-ops in real time

There was a reason Bush thought this current period of time was to be a "defining moment" in his Iraq adventure: it was to be the summing-up and fruition of the year-and-a-half process since his meeting with Maliki in Amman in November 2006 (see the famous Hadley memo for the briefing): Sidelining/eradication of the (Shiite, anti-occupation) Mahdi Army; and in so doing, earning of the support of Arab nations and groups for the Maliki administration ("strong leader", "curbs Shia extremists" and so on).

And one of the celebratory moments was to have been the meeting of the countries neighboring Iraq (and some others) in Kuwait, starting tomorrow. (Attendance at that meeting was the primary reason for Condi being in the region; her excursion to Baghdad was unexpected). This was to have been a celebration of the fact that Arab regions, now more respectful of the Maliki administration, would announce the opening of embassies in the Green Zone, and other fraternal support.

The problem is that the crush-Sadr/earn-Sunni-respect program didn't go as planned. Violence escalated. The Green Zone is under daily rocket and/or mortar attack, and Arab regimes are less likely than ever to open embassies there. Moreover, the story that fighting Sadr equals fighting Iran hasn't really taken hold of the Arab-regime hearts and minds either.

The most important thing to bear in mind is the nature of the original plan--crush or neutralize the Mahdi Army and thereby draw Sunni groups and nations into alliance with Maliki. How far would you have to go in order to achieve the first objective? Could it include risking civil war? And the secondary point is: What will be the actual nature of the Sunni Arab support you would obtain even if you could crush the Mahdi Army. Because obviously it will tend to be the worst kind, appealing to sectarian animosity instead of appealing to actual common desires to live together in peace and fraternity.

In terms of the neighboring countries and other Sunni-based regimes in the region, it is the that first point--suppressing the Mahdi Army--that is the problem. The crush-Mahdi program, if it gained an inch in terms of the Maliki-the-leader meme, it lost a mile in terms of having destroyed the semblance of improved security, including in the Green Zone. That is the situation that Condi will be facing tomorrow in Kuwait, where we can expect more comic-rhetoric from her about Arab solidarity, and little else.

In terms of domestic Sunni-group support for Maliki, the story is more complicated, but we should remember that it wasn't supposed to be complicated. Maliki-the-leader--Maliki the fearless combatant of Iranian influence--was supposed to inspire the other groups: that's what leadership is. So that didn't happen either.

But the point about Bush strategies seems to be this: There is a "Plan A" to influence people by military force to do what you want, and behind it there is always a "Plan B" which is to continue and escalate that military force, right up to and including civil war, in the event that Plan A doesn't work out. In this case, Basra and Sadr City, the lack of any outpouring of Sunni Arab support, and finally Moqtada's weekend ultimatum, have shown that Plan A didn't work. So it will be Plan B. A defining moment to be sure.

Meanwhile, back in the USA, something unusual happened yesterday in the "progressive" food-chain, in connection with this defining moment. At the top of the chain, Marc Lynch linked to a wire-service story about the Sadr ultimatum, adding only the sneering comment: "Nothing to see here". And Juan Cole gave the Sadr statement a short sentence, followed by another one about a Sunni-takfiiri attack piece, as if these were two peas in a pod. That left Kevin Drum of WashingtonMonthly without any correct-line source to link to, so he naturally resorted to quoting the New York Times, to the effect it was possible Iran had abandoned Sadr. Finally, at the very bottom of the food-chain, Matt Yglesias, linking to Kevin, opined: "Meanwhile, it seems that the Iranians have decided to cut Muqtada loose and fully line up behind the ISCI government. That counts as good news, I'd say..." confusing at least one of his readers, who noted that a couple of short weeks ago, Matt was in Moqtada-good/Maliki-bad mode. Suddenly, it was: "Moqtada the Iranian puppet whom Iran has abandoned." Elaborating, really, on the theme: "Nothing to see here".

These strange intimations of info-ops happened on the same day that the NYT, after six years of saying nothing about it, finally managed to put together a lengthy piece on the former info-ops: How the Pentagon, corrupt retired generals and the TV networks worked together to whitewash the military/torture operations.

There was one big-circulation progressive site that was paying attention:

Siun at Firedoglake posted last night an informative piece about what Sadr actually said, and about what is actually going on in Sadr City and elsewhere, and there was an active discussion.

Elsewhere, however, it was "Nothing to see here". Which seems strange, given the fact that this was supposed to be the time of fruition of a year-and-a-half US policy for bringing into being a stable, generally-accepted government in the Green Zone. And when the full implications of that policy for civil-war creation and mayhem become apparent, the left is told: "Nothing to see here".

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Moqtada al Sadr: Enough !

Here is my version of the last few paragraphs of Moqtada al-Sadr's statement, issued Saturday, April 19, warning of "open war until liberation". See also other excerpts and helpful explanations on the RoadstoIraq site.

The text follows:

And look, what is the sin of the followers of Al Sadr that they should emerge from the oppression of the destroyer [Saddam] to fall, thereafter, under the oppression of the occupation, and of the government and the nawasib, and the great and the pulpits and the rumors and the assassinations and the policies that have come to us from beyond the borders, and the silence of the religious powers, and of the political powers, domestic and foreign and international? The beloved Gaza was blockaded and everyone was silent, and [likewise] now the city [Sadr City] is blockaded and everyone is silent, and where now are human rights, and [the rule of] laws, which they wish to impose for the sake of their spurious "freedom and democracy"?

Is their sin resistance which is the honor and strength of this world and the next, because the people have not and will not compromise their right to resist the occupier of any nationality. And we will announce, if they do not come to their senses, war until liberation and by God the blood of martyrs for liberation is in our veins, and it will be received by God with the best acceptance.

Or is their sin that they are the popular base which has not accepted your politics and your ugly worldly fighting, because they do not accept the partition of Iraq, nor do they accept the theft of its wealth, or any long-term agreement that favors the occupier more than it favors Iraqis, or leaving camps or fixed bases for the occupier... How many times have we extended our hand to our Sunni and Shia compatriots, sometimes praying together in the Abu Hanifa mosque [Sunni], and sometimes in the Buratha mosque [Supreme council]. And look how we were received! And we do not forget in our tribulation--in fact we are a tribe that favors them even in our penury--the Iraqi minorities, because we have defended the Christians, and the Shabak and the Turkman and the Chaldeans and others, and we still do. And what has been our reward for that except attacks on our Messenger, and the Pope going to visit the biggest country occupying our Iraq, forgetting the oppression that the Iraqi people face--both the majority and the minority. And forgetful likewise of the suffering of the people from poverty and want and lack of basic services and security and in other ways.

And therefore I direct this last warning and last word to the government of Iraq: Either it comes to its senses, takes the path of peace and renounces violence against its people, or else it will be like the government of the destroyer [Saddam], and even if everyone has allied with them [the present government], earlier they were allies of ours, and they could be [allies of ours] again...If [the government] does not come to its senses and sweep away its recalcitrance, and that of the militias that are part of it, then we will declare open war until liberation. For there is no charge of wrongdoing in against a person who is forced [to do something] against his will.

Finally I wish to thank those of the authorities who have spoken out through their preachers in rejection of the blockading of cities and particularly Sadr City, and against the government attacking persons for political reasons. And I criticize the silence of those of them who merely listen, and look--desiring from them and from the government of Iraq that they should demand from the occupier a schedule for its withdrawal at the earliest possible time.

The two faces of the Honor Front

AlHayat prints a summary of interview remarks by "Abu Azzam" (real name Thamer) AlTamimi, spokesman for the "Iraqi Honor Front" whose formation was announced recently, now describing Tamimi as head of the Front's political office. There are interesting contrasts compared to the image of the Front presented in the earlier interview in AlArab.

The main point in the AlHayat summary is Tamimi's stress on the fact that the front will include not only "technocrats", tribal leaders, and Awakening leaders, but also previous members of armed factions "that fought against AlQaeda" (not even any mention of armed resistance to the occupation, only to "AlQaeda"). Tamimi mentions in particular that the Front includes former members of the Islamic Army of Iraq, the Brigades of the 1920 Revolution, and the Army of the Mujahideen. These are described as people that used to fight AlQaeda, and that now are going to participate in the political process. In the AlArab interview, Tamimi repeatedly used the expression "give up armed activities at this stage", referring to armed resistance to the occupation, and to the fact that this is being given up only for "this stage".

The second point is that the AlHayat picture has Tamimi and the other Honor Front personality Ahmed abu Risha repeating a couple of stock-phrases: "the political process in a constitutional form" (Tamimi); and "the political process in a legal and constitutional framework" (Abu Risha), with no suggestion that there is anything temporary about it. This contrasts with the AlArab interview, where Tamimi is quoted:
"We are convinced that the current stage is the stage of political activity, and there is no place for weapons at the present time. Otherwise why would we abandon arms and resort to politics. And for that reason I call on armed groups to leave their armed activities in the current stage, and to take up politics, and in this way we will work toward the expulsion of the occupier".
So where the AlHayat picture is of a group firmly commited to the "legal and constitutional", the AlArab picture is of a tactical move.

The third point about the AlHayat picture is that there isn't any mention of planned attitudes to occupier-sponsored legislation. In the AlArab interviews, Tamimi said they would stand firmly opposed to any laws connected with the occupier, including the Oil and Gas Law, while in the AlHayat summary there isn't any mention of that at all.

So we have a choice: Is this an initiative looking for tactical advantage from a temporary abandonment of armed resistance, for its own good and autonomous reasons? Or is it a group of people that have sold out to the occupation-sponsored process entirely, for some so-far unknown price? If the latter is the case, then the AlArab interview was for the purpose of creating a veneer of nationalism for electoral purposes; if the former, then the Al-Hayat piece was part of a continuing effort to bamboozle the occupier into thinking of them as allies.

For me, I will go out on a limb and say I don't think the answer is necessarily obvious. What I do think is that this Honor Front initiative is pretty clearly the fruit of that series of "reconciliation" meetings that included the meetings at a Dead Sea resort in Jordan in November 07, and similar meetings before and after that. Fragmentary reports at the time suggested the American go-betweens had in mind some kind of combination between "reconciling" with the nationalist armed resistance, and these "bottom-up" Awakening schemes. As I noted after the Dead Sea meetings in November, our eyes and ears in Washington went completely silent on this process. Even though it was known who organized the Dead Sea meetings (former State Dept big-shot Richard Murphy), no one ever bothered to report so much as a "no comment" from him, let alone attempt any follow-up). And now that the Honor Front has been announced, it seems we can look forward to more of the same from our eyes and ears in Washington: Silence. That way you don't see Washington's fingerprints on this at all.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Must read

A commenter on the "Relevance..." post two items back pulled together in a nice summary the ways in which Iraq policy is being pushed in the wrong direction, his point being that the whole package has to be taken together in order to grasp how bad the implications are going to be for Iraq and no doubt for America as well. Here are a couple of paragraphs from that:
The tactics that Washington is pursuing in Iraq appear to be exacerbating several long-term trends that risk destabilizing Iraq even further and may well also undermine U.S. influence.

Washington’s militant intervention into intra-Shi’ite factional politics is pouring gasoline on that dispute, fomenting civil war between the two most powerful Shi’ite militias in Iraq by encouraging (or ordering?) Maliki to suppress Moqtada’s Mahdi Army. Washington is simultaneously laying the groundwork for a civil war between Iraqi Shi’a and Sunni by funding the organization of numerous local Sunni military units (e.g., the Awakening groups), which could evolve rapidly into a Sunni militia that would challenge the Shi’a since these units are gaining power without a commensurate move toward satisfaction of Sunni grievances. Washington is also fighting Iran’s war in Iraq by intervening in Shi’ite factional disputes on the side of the pro-Iranian Badr faction that constitutes Maliki’s main support. And finally, since Moqtada represents the poor urban Shi’ite underclass beyond the reach of government services, Washington is making war on the poor, a bad foundation indeed for building democracy.

A policy of marginalizing the poor by emphasizing the use of force to suppress their representatives, not to mention collective punishment against the poor themselves through both neglecting to provide services and turning Sadr City into a blockaded ghetto, sets up society for a long period of conflict. (For parallels, check out the impact of Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon, which provoked the formation of Hezbollah; the half century-long civil war against the rural poor in Colombia; and of course the endless sad saga of the mistreatment of the population of Gaza.)
There's more. It's from a post of his on his own blog, at I'm not sure if there's a url for that particular post, but it's April 18.

The point is that he lays out the whole set of implications for following the current policy, versus the implications of turning the thing around. I haven't seen the whole issue laid out so clearly before. Moreover, he agrees there are some key people whose help needs to be enlisted, if there is to be any hope of waking up the Democrats. At the start of his comment, he writes: "I too would encourage Iraq experts like Professors Lynch and Cole to help us think about the future implications of current U.S. behavior."

It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness...

Mosul governor brushes off concerns about Peshmerga involvement in the coming campaign

The governor of Ninawa governate (aka Mosul governate, after its capital), Dureid Kashmula, made remarks in an interview with AlHayat on how things look ahead of the expected military campaign in Mosul (the initiative originally announced by Prime Minister Maliki in January for the eradication of "AlQaeda," then postponed pending the famous battle of Basra). The governor said military preparations are under way, and the offensive will begin shortly.

The first point emphasized in the AlHayat summary of his remarks is that the recent decline in security in Mosul city is because of re-assignments of police and army away from their traditional areas of policing, in preparation for the big push, and this has left the areas they used to patrol vulnerable. A resident said some areas are in government control, others in the control of armed groups, while the Americans limit themselves to secure areas. Another said the government controls the streets in the daytime, and the armed groups have control at night. The governor denied this and said the government is in control at all times.

Another resident said most roads in Mosul are closed ahead of the attack, and this along with endemic violence are making it difficult for people to get to work and so on. The journalist says families have been stockpiling food, in expectation of being shut in during the fighting, and this has led to recent rises in food prices, adding to their problems.

On the campaign itself, the governor said it will include all areas of Ninawa province where there are armed groups. It will be undertaken by the "Iraqi forces, supported by the American forces". The governor "emphasized the [positive] position of the Kurdish parties and the their military affiliate the Peshmerga with respect to the "enforcing the law" initiative [original "surge" scheme], and their desire to see the end of terrorism and the preservation of security in the city. And he said anyone who says differently is just trying to spread fitna and cause anxiety in the city, and he described such people as "fishing in troubled waters".

And then there is this:
Armed social and political groups have accused the Peshmerga of being responsible for bombings throughout the governate, which has been subject to attempts to join parts of it to the Kurdistan Region, and [they allege that] the coming military campaign is part and parcel of these Kurdish aims, but the Kurdistan Regional government has denied these charges in a statement that called them an attempt at disinformation.
Indications of Sunni Arab anxiety about Peshmerga or other sectarian involvement in this have been briefly noted here and, even more important, here, (toward the end of the post) where the Ninawa tribal council is quoted warning that the Iraqi military is penetrated and melded with sectarian people right up to its leadership level, and pleading for an opening to local volunteer recruitment to protect the city.

US Embassy to Arab states: Remember: Iraq is Arab! Come join us under the rocket fire

A medical source told Aswat alIraq that figures from the two main hospitals in Sadr City (Imam Ali and Al-Sadr), together with cases from Sadr City received at Al-Kindi hospital show that since March 25, there have been 300 Iraqis killed in the fighting in Sadr City, and another 1621 wounded. That is a lot higher than what has been reported.

Meanwhile, in another area where news reports have become very sketchy lately, shelling of the Green Zone intensified yesterday (Thursday April 17), apparently taking advantage of the sandstorm, which hindered US aerial surveillance. An AP reporter said:
Apparently taking advantage of the reduced aerial activity, militants from eastern Baghdad repeatedly shelled the Green Zone, which houses diplomatic missions and much of the Iraqi government.

Explosions were heard across the city as salvos of rockets or mortar shells were fired into the high-security district. The U.S. Embassy confirmed the attacks but said no casualties were reported.

And the New York Times reports that the US forces have started building what it calls "a massive concrete wall that will partition Sadr City."

Meanwhile, a US embassy spokesman told AlHayat that the Green Zone is under daily attack, but he said this in connection with an interview in which he said Arab states should upgrade their diplomatic representation in the Green Zone. The story starts like this:

The official responsible for public relations at the American Embassy in Baghdad Philip Ricker, admitted that "rockets are raining down daily" on the Green Zone, but he invited the Arab states to strengthen their diplomatic presence in Iraq, because they have the ability to deal with security at their missions, as the security situation in Iraq improves, in his words.
Ricker said the continuing presence and activities of the US embassy is proof that the security problems can be dealt with, and he pointed out that there are European and Asian countries that also have active diplomatic representation in Iraq. Ricker continued:
"Also the Iranian ambassador and his embassy are very active, but those who are lacking are the Arab diplomats. This has nothing to do with granting legitimacy to Iraq. Rather, it has to do with the interests of those [Arab] countries in playing a role in this country." He stressed: "Iraq is a founding member of the Arab League, it has a strong Arab identity, and it has been part of the Arab world for centuries. And he emphasized that Iraqis "feel this lack, and they expect the Arab world, and they are saying 'Where are they?'"

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Relevance versus irrelevance (with a reply of sorts)

Reidar Visser says the de facto firing by Maliki of the two top security officials in Basra is probably part of an attempt by Maliki to effect a closing of the ranks within his minority government. (, free email subscription) The top Defence Ministry official, General Mohan al-Firayji, had been opposed by Supreme Council people locally in Basra long before the recent fighting, and his firing, Visser thinks, reflects a belated concession by Maliki to one of his very few supporting parties in the GreenZone. Visser thinks recent evidence of "more pragmatism" by Maliki vis-a-vis Kurdish claims in the oil-and-gas debates is probably another indication of the same thing. Or as he puts it:
Recent reports of increased pragmatism on the part of Maliki vis-à-vis Kurdish claims in the oil question could be another expression of a ruling clique that sees the necessity of first and foremost staying united in the face of growing parliamentary opposition of the kind seen in the debate over local elections - where Sunni and Shiite Islamists as well as secularists came together to challenge Maliki in a demand for early elections. The tension between a minority government and the parliament which was exhibited on that occasion seems far more profound than the shaky and rather hollow “anti-militia consensus” that was recently touted so enthusiastically in the US Congress hearings as evidence of broadened support for Maliki and his government.
As for persons named to replace Mohan and the the police chief as top officials in Basra, Visser has this to say:
The replacements for the two demoted officers are reported as Muhammad Jawad Huwaydi (chief of operations) and Adil Dahham (police chief). Background information on the two is sketchy so far, but it is noteworthy that Huwaydi seems to have had some kind of special operations background before he assumed control of the 14th division of the Iraqi army. Unlike Mohan, he is thought to be from outside the area. As for the new police chief, who was previously employed in Baghdad, someone in the defence ministry with an identical name (the new appointee is sometimes referred to as Adil Dahham al-Amiri) was cleared by the de-Baathification committee in early 2007. If this turns out to be the same person, it would suggest a background from the old Iraqi army rather than a long-time connection with ISCI’s Badr Brigades.
I don't want to alarm anyone, but there was a report yesterday in AlHayat (referred to in a recent post here) quoting a Baghdad-area Awakening official who said there is an agreement for the Interior Ministry to hire a lot of Baghdad-area Awakening members, essentially to replace Sadr-sympathizers who have been kicked out for not fighting in Basra and elsewhere. (And there was an immediate knee-jerk reaction from Sadrists at, who see this as a sign of the dreaded Baathist return to the Green Zone).

Logically, if this Interior Ministry hiring policy is confirmed, it could well be seen in conjunction with the reluctance of many existing Iraqi forces to fight against fellow-Iraqis in Sadr City, and their possible replacement by more motivated forces, implying a ratcheting up of the possibilities for a new round of civil war. And if in fact the new police chief in Basra is in fact a former Baath official, the implication might well be the same.

And meanwhile, it is worth noting that Sunni Arabs in the Mosul area have the same kind of civil-war/fitna concerns about a major Peshmerga role side by side with US forces in the coming battle to regain central-government control of Mosul from a variety of Sunni Arab resistance groups. See this warning from the Red Crescent last month. And there is this report in Azzaman today in which Mosul-area tribes are described as concerned about the sectarian loyalties of military units sent from Baghdad in the coming fight:
In Mosul, the Tribal Council of the governate of Ninawa [mainly Sunni] asked the government to open the door to volunteers from the city of Mosul [to join] the armed forces in order to guarantee the protection of the city from a variety of threats to it. A spokesman for the tribes said: "We are concerned about the effects of operations by military units sent from Baghdad. It is well-known that [the Iraqi army] is penetrated or melded with militias right up to its leadership sectors. That is a screaming outrage to the city, and responsibility for the results will be laid to the Maliki government if it does not take speedy action to get away from the dynamics of militias and parties and certain influential persons in the government".
So that's the picture. Maliki closing ranks with his allies the Supreme Council (Badr Corps) and the Kurdish parties (Peshmerga), while those on the outside (Sadrists in Sadr City, and Sunni tribes in Ninawa/Mosul) see trouble.

Needless to say, the debate raging between the war party and the Democratic policy establishment about what would happen if the US were to declare a withdrawal schedule bears no relation to any of this. That's because it is a debate about something that isn't going to happen, rather than a debate about what is in fact happening.

Here are the results of my request yesterday for comments on the US role in fomenting a Gaza-type civil war via a combination of airstrikes and Awakening councils in Sadr City:

Juan Cole: no response
Marc Lynch: no response *

Is it possible that the Democratic Party is on board with this, and that's why it isn't being raised as an issue? I don't know.

* Marc Lynch has now graced me with reply of sorts, on his website. Unable to hide a degree of irritation about the lack of a prior e-mail, he promises not to write about this issue, in order to teach me a lesson! But I think he honors me excessively when he calls these posts a grand theory of civil-war promotion. They are about Sadr City (where today VOI says at least 300 have been killed and 1621 injured in the American-led attacks since March 25, without any significant mention of this by big-circulation left), with today some further questions, including about the plans for Mosul.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Tamimi: Let's abandon arms for politics "at this stage"

The Qatari paper AlArab conducted an interview with "Abu Azzam" Al-Tamimi, real name Thamer Al-Tamimi, recently the head of the Abu Ghraib regional Awakening, and the man who a couple of days ago announced he was heading a new "Iraqi Honor Front" to act as the political arm of the Iraqi Awakening councils. (This is the same man who was earlier interviewed, also by AlArab, in connection with his disagreements with the Islamic Army in Iraq, to which he used to belong).

In the new interview, Tamimi explains the thinking behind the Iraqi Honor Front, including an admission that many members will be former armed-resistance fighters who have decided to give up the armed struggle for the time being; opposition to American-sponsored legislation including the Oil and Gas Law; and control of resources by the central government.

He said this new political front will include different types of people, including "technocrats, officers in the former army, and tribal leaders, in addition to Awakening leaders from all over Iraq. He repeated the basic orientation, namely that "there are parallel regional interventions, which perhaps surpass [in importance] the American occupation." And having admitted that a lot of his people are former armed-resistance activists, he said a condition for joining the political front is not to belong to any armed party or faction. And the interviewer explains:
He invited the members of armed Iraqi factions to turn to political activity and to abandon armed activity at this stage, and he said this: "We are convinced that the current stage is the stage of political activity, and there is no place for weapons at the present time. Otherwise why would we abandon arms and resort to politics. And for that reason I call on armed groups to leave their armed activities in the current stage, and to take up politics, and in this way we will work toward the expulsion of the occupier.
With respect to pending legislation (should his group win seats in the next general election), Tamimi said:
"The Honor Front absolutely rejects any law that aims to tie Iraq to the operations of the occupation, and that includes the Oil and Gas Law." And he stressed that the Front demands that the riches of Iraq are to remain in the hands of the central government, and not be at the free disposition of any person or entity."
Tamimi's only reference to the Mahdi Army in this interview is to insist that no Awakening group participated in the recent fighting against them, nor did Maliki ask for such participation; and that his Front supports any moves to impose law and order.

Finally, there appears to be some disagreement about who speaks for the Awakenings in this. The AlArab interviewer, concluding with a thumbnail biography, says Tamimi used to be a field commenter with the IAI, then headed the Abu Ghraib area Awakening, "before being given responsibility for arming of the Awakening forces throughout Iraq". But in an AlHayat article, another Awakening leader, from Taji (north of Baghdad), spoke about the aim of forming a political bloc including most of the Awakening leaders from Baghdad and the province, and he added: "It would be natural that the key person [or decision maker] in this would be Ahmed abu Risha, leader of the Iraqi Awakening, and the person who supervises all of the Awakening Councils in Iraq."

The Taji Awakening leader (who recommends abu Risha in this way) is also the source for AlHayat's report to the effect that the Interior Ministry, with the agreement of the Americans, has asked for renewed applications from Baghdad-area Awakening rank and file for employment with the Interior Ministry, described as a move to fill the gap left by around 1300 Sadr sympathizers who are being kicked out. (Same link as above). The report says the idea is that roughly two-thirds of the Baghdad Awakening people would be eligible for this government employment.