Monday, June 30, 2008

Nothing to see here (with an update on the expectation of rose-petals and ecstatic dancing in the streets)

AlArabiya this morning says "the American forces postponed the turnover of the responsibilities of the security file in the governate of Diwaniya to the Iraqis", adding that the last that has been heard from the governor of the province was his announcement yesterday (Sunday June 29) of a curfew in order to provide better security for the transfer ceremony that was to take place today (Monday June 30). Diwaniya is south of Baghdad. The report notes that there are now nine provinces where security has been transferred to the Iraqis, namely the three in the Kurdish region in the north, and six in the South and Center (including of course Karbala, where American special forces, predawn Friday, without consultation with the Iraqi authorities, raided prime minister Maliki's homestead, killed a relative of his, and arrested another man).

The postponement of the turnover in Diwaniya follows on the heels of the indefinite postponement of the security turnover in Anbar, which was scheduled for Saturday June 28. So AlArabiya says Diwaniya was now expected to be the tenth, just as Anbar had been expected to be the tenth. In the Anbar case the Americans blamed sandstorms.

Nahrainnet also focuses on the Diwaniya case this morning, in a piece that starts like this:
There was a surprise announcement in Diwaniya this morning (the morning of Monday June 30) about the postponement of the security turnover in the province from to the government forces from the Americans. The local authorities started lifting the curfew at nine this morning--a curfew that they had imposed yesterday with the aim of providing better security conditions for the turnover ceremony! The announcement stressed the expression "postponement of the turnover until further notice", without mentioning any specific date!
The announcement didn't offer any justification for the postponement, but the reporter says the one being mentioned is bad weather, which he notes is a little hard to believe, considering the fact that (1) bad weather wasn't a surprise, but has been there for several days and (2) in any event, American occupation helicopters have been circling over the city Sunday evening and this morning.


AlSabaah, the newspaper that speaks for the dominant GreenZone parties, thought up until its Sunday-night deadline that this turnover ceremony was in fact going to take place. Here's the page one headline for the story in their Monday morning edition:
Iraqis receive today the security file for Diwaniya. Amid rejoicing and the official and popular welcome of Diwaniya--AlSabaah
And here's how the story begins:
Local authorities in Diwaniya imposed a curfew yesterday evening at six o'clock to get ready for the official ceremony, which it is expected that prime minister Nuri alMaliki will attend today, for the turnover of the security file for Diwaniya, from the multinational forces.
Perhaps there is a hint here. Maliki was expected to attend in person, and this would have involved in effect shaking hands with the American military authorities who presumably are responsible for the killing of Maliki's relative and the raiding of his homestead three days earlier (predawn Friday June 27). The point being that the statements of Iraqi authorities, so far uncontradicted from the American side, describe this has having been blatantly illegal--an extra-judicial killing, in other words. So it is possible that the "rejoicing" that AlSabaah referred turned out to be perhaps lacking.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

As the world turns

Maybe you were as surprised and pleased as I was to see Badger sharing top billing with ex-Chalabi attack-dog Nibras Kazimi on Marc Lynch's recent blog-post about bad behaviour. I don't think it was lost on anyone that this was essentially a cheap attempt to try and boost my name-recognition and readership. Still, in Marc's defense, I should note that he says 98% of his blog-relationships are positive, and since I am considered somewhat hard to get along with, he probably felt this was his only way of reaching out to me to make it a round 99%.

We also have to realize that he is in Washington, where influence is the air you breathe, and he must get very tired indeed dealing with government officials, hangers-on, toadies, professors, and others looking for access and a positive relationship with the aforementioned. As he says: "emotions run high". So it isn't hard to imagine the pleasure he gets from an acquaintance, however superficial, with someone like myself who stands outside of that group, and I guess he succumbed to the temptation to try and lend me a hand, however awkwardly, in my endeavours. Thanks Marc.


This just in: The most prolific commenter at the coinblog of one of Marc's many Washington friends immediately picked up on the promote-Badger theme, with a note that said in part:
I'll be kinder than Lynch.

Don't read Badger, unless you want the same antiseptic screed every day. You don't even need to click on the site because you know exactly what it will say, no matter what the actual facts prove to be.

Don't go to "Long War Journal." Don't go to "Blackfive." Don't go to a lot of very simplistic agitprop sites, no matter where you believe your preconceptions would best be assuaged.
Badger/Kazimi. Badger/Long War Journal. What do you think? A marketing strategy? In any event, the above-mentioned commenter notes he prefers to read Mark Lynch, because he is "a nimble thinker". Amen to that.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

"US raid on Maliki homestead connected with the current negotiations": Karbala governor (Updated)

Security for the province of Karbala was turned over to Iraqi authorities last October (Reuters), so it was with consternation that Karbala security authorities found out about an operation conducted at dawn Friday by the Americans, in which they airlifted 60 soldiers into the town of Janaja, and specifically into an area that is the birthplace of Prime Minister Maliki and the residence area of his extended family. The operation resulted in the killing of one man (said by McClatchy to be a relative of Maliki's), and the arrest of another man, said to be not a resident of the area.

The McClatchy account gives most of the details, but there are a couple of points that the McClatchy account doesn't make clear:

(1) The Karbala governor didn't just call for an investigation of the incident, on the basis that it was dangerous and illegal, having been carried out with absolutely no coordination with Iraqi authorities, local or Baghdad. Rather, he called for the handing over of the American soldiers responsible for the killing to the Iraqi justice system for prosecution.

(2) He said he thinks this operation "was connected with the negotiations about a security agreement with Washington."

Here is what he said in a telephone interview with AlHayat:
Karbala governor Aqil al-Khazaali condemned the operation ... and he said "The municipal administration in Karbala was dumbfounded when they found out the American forces had committed this outrageous and illegal violation of the precinct of the Prime Minister of Iraq". And he demanded "the handover of those American soldiers and officers involved in the airlift operation, to the Iraqi judiciary for the killing of an innocent and unarmed civilian, for their arrest of another, and for their terrorizing of families".

Al-Khazaali added: "The airlift operation was against the law, because the security responsibilities were turned over [to Iraq] last year". He stressed it is the Iraqi security forces in the city who are authorized to conduct pursuit of wanted persons or outlaws. He said this operation was dangerous and illegal because there was no coordination with either the [local] defence or interior ministry, or even with the central government. He said his view was that the airlift operation "is connected with (in the sense of entangled with) the negotiations for a security agreement with Washington."
In a separate story, AlHayat quotes a Dawa party official by the name of Hasan Saneed to the effect that the Americans have presented a revised draft of a proposed agreement, and this is under study by the UIA and the Dawa leadership, but the other remarks are ambiguous. He said an agreement won't be signed "before July"; that the Americans have added some "new concepts that aren't clear"; and so on. There aren't any specific details.

A spokesman for the main Sunni parliamentary bloc said the government has promised to present this to Parliament once it has finished studying it; that parliament won't approve anything that infringes national principles, as was the case with the former draft; and so on and so forth. The gist of this is that the negotiation process isn't over, in fact the language suggests a document will be put to parliament, the only questions being when and including what details.


Nahrainnet adds: As for the specific trigger for this operation, a security source in Karbala "pointed the finger at the American 'development office' that was recently opened, and that is thought to be in reality the office of an American consultate on the model of the American consulate in Hilla where they conduct spying and intelligence-gathering operations, and where they recruit agents. The source said the initial information circulating at the provincial level tends to the conviction that there was involvement by those responsible for the American office that was opened recently in the province--this is a security office opened recently under the guise of participation in the development of the province, located in the district of Ibrahimiya, where it is surrounded by heavy security walls, having the character of a security and intelligence [installation], covering its missions with the appearance of development, in order to make contact with various levels of the population."

The operation itself was conducted by American special forces, and the location, the town of Janaja, is located about 10 kilometers from this office. The source said "We are starting to understand that among the missions of this office is the takeover of the security and intelligence file of the whole province..."

Military reinforcements called for in both Anbar and Mosul

The head of the Interior Ministry's national command center, AbdulKarim Khalaf, said additional military forces are needed in Anbar province, and in a similar vein, the governor of Ninawa province attributed the latest problems there to "insufficiency of military capacity".

With respect to Anbar, AlHayat quotes the Interior Ministry officer Khalaf as
admitting ... the existence of problems in Al-Anbar, and he told AlHayat: "This is manifested in the return of AlQaeda to activity in some of the regions remote from the city (Ramadi), and particularly in Faluja, which he called the center of tensions in Al-Anbar, in addition to penetrations of the security apparatus". And he said: "Restoration of security in Anbar requires the carrying out of a wide-ranging purge operation by the security apparatus here, and the support of the province with additional forces.
The journalist notes that Ramadi already has over 5000 Awakening members, and 3500 police. The journalist also quotes the provincial governor to the effect that even when the Americans turn over the security file to the Iraqi authorities, they will still remain for a period of time, and he mentioned there are 5000 US military people in Camp Mesack (?).

With respect to Mosul, the same AlHayat reporter quotes provincial governor Duraid Kashmula:
"It is the insufficiency of military capacity connected with the recent security campaign ("Lions roar"/"Mother of the two springs") that has led to the renewed activity of AlQaeda sleeper cells". He emphasized [there is a] request for more reinforcements to confront the security deterioration.

Friday, June 27, 2008


The news-site AlFatehoon reports:
Fatehoon correspondents in Adhamiya, Taji, Tikrit, Baaquba, Ramadi, and Hilla report that a large number of Awakening members have been in contact in recent days with armed Iraqi factions that are still at war with the Americans and the government forces in those areas where they [the Awakening people] were active, asking them for forgiveness and for the acceptance of their return to the ranks of the fighting factions, including those [factions] that have a strong relationship with the AlQaeda organization. And some of our correspondents have learned that there was a welcome, in more than one location, for their return once again to the fight.
The reporter cites specific instances of decline in popularity and membership of the Awakenings and loss of confidence in the government and the Americans, and adds:
All of this coincides with the statements made by Abu alAbd, the former Islamic Army leader who a year ago formed the Knights of Amariya, which was the starting point for the whole Awakenings experience in Baghdad--statements made by him in London to a journalist expressing his fear that the government was trying to liquidate him and put an end to the Awakenings not that they are no longer needed.
Right on schedule, and almost as if to promote this process of re-confrontation between ex-Awakenings and the US forces, AlHayat reports interview remarks by Bergner of the US forces to the effect that there is no longer a need for some of the Awakenings, and adding that there will now have to be a difficult process of directing them to other spheres of activity.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Fadlallah's argument for saying an absolute "no" to Bush (Updated)

Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, religious leader of Lebanese Hizbullah, issued a fatwa on Sunday June 22, in which among other things he paid special attention to Iraq and the American attempts to obtain security and other agreements with the government of Iraq before the end of the term of the current US administration.

He laid out the historical context like this: The US administration, which has been engaged in more than one war in the region without success, is now in its final months "trying to suggest to those resisting it that it is confronted with two options: Either an escalation, and everyone knows how it launched wars in the region, in order to obtain control over the sources of oil and strategic points, and not for the purpose of toppling dictatorships and fostering democracy. Or--the second option--it would like a truce is order to provide the occasion for forming agreements, that will obligate others to affirm its own (the US administration's) interests, and those of Israel, at the expense of our people, who have already paid in the blood of our young and old, women and children, more than has ever been paid by any other countries or people...
And for this reason we warn states and governments and people against responding favorably to what the American administration is attempting at the present time under the guise of making peace, and which it was unable to achieve by war.

And from this point of view it can be seen that it is not permitted in law (shariah) for any government or authority to work toward facilitating matters for the current American administration in the realization of any political victory on the ruins of its failed wars, because that [meaning any such agreement] would only create further economic, political and cultural destruction, which [destruction] has already extended its effects beyond the borders of the region.
I do not know this for a fact*, but some say that Fadlallah is an--or the--authority looked to by Maliki and his branch of the Dawa party (perhaps we will be enlightened about this), and certainly such a connection to Iraq would explain the careful attention he pays to Iraq in this fatwa.

*Actually I do. We have a nice range of authorities for the fact that Fadlallah is looked to by many members of the Iraqi Daawa party as an object of emulation: The folks at GorillasGuides (see comments to the prior post) and Reidar Visser (see the comment to this post). Thanks to both of them.

In any event, the fatwa is interesting because it is an example of a third way of arguing for an absolute rejection of any agreements with Bush. (1) Sadr and AMSI have argued from the common-sense standpoint that a country under occupation isn't autonomous and therefore doesn't have the qualities or the status that would be required to enter into any long-term agreement freely and of its own accord. (2) The "mainstream" Sunni group whose fatwa-issuing authority is Abdul Malik alSaadi has a more erudite and tradition-based argument, starting with examples where the Prophet himself shows that you can make certain types of agreements with non-Islamic groups, but it is not permitted to form a security agreement with a power that is occupying your territory. (3) Fadlallah has more of a contemporary-history approach. He says this American administration has demonstrated its inimical aims and objectives via having launched more than one war in the region during its administration, so it is clear that any exit-period agreements that it is inviting regional governments to sign are merely an extension of that, and an attempt to achieve by political pressure what it has failed to achieve by war. So signing any such agreement would in effect represent capitulation and submission to further destruction.

"Moderate" Sunni religious leader to the occupation: "Get out"

There was elation in the long-war community in April 2007 when it was announced that an association of Sunni religious scholars was being set up to challenge the authority of the Association of Muslim Scholars of Iraq (AMSI), led by Harith al-Dhari, because this was regarded as a repudiation by Sunnis of the resistance-oriented AMSI. Included within the new "mainstream" group was a fatwa-issuing team, and it was headed by one Abdul Malik alSaadi, a highly-regarded Sunni scholar.

This morning we learn that Sheikh alSaadi has issued a fatwa that bars anyone from signing any agreement in any sphere of activity with the occupation until such time as there has been a total withdrawal of their military forces from Iraq. Haq News Agency says the fatwa "absolutely bars the formation of any agreement in any sphere with the occupation, unless after their complete withdrawal from Iraq and their giving back of complete and real sovereignty to the state....And after their withdrawal, this [agreements] will be permitted economically, not with respect to security". The fatwa is based on Islamic history, the principle being that since the time of the Prophet it has not been permitted for Islamic governments to form agreements with powers that are occupying their territory militarily, but that non-security agreements are permitted with non-Islamic entities otherwise.

There is also this:
"Those who govern Iraq at the present time, although they have lost sovereignty, still most of them are members of Islamic parties, and it is incumbent on them to follow the Islamic word, particularly since it is now clear to them what was the game of the occupation or the waging of war against Iraq under the pretext of weapons of mass destruction, or the toppling of the former regime, which did not do one-hundredth of what the occupation has done to the people of Iraq".
Which means that the position of the Sunni religious authorities, both AMSI and the "mainstream" is essentially the same as that of the Sadr trend, namely that no agreement is permissible until the foreign forces withdraw from Iraq completely, and full sovereignty is restored to the country.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008


"American relapse [or deterioration] in Iraq", says the heading on the lead editorial in AlQuds alArabi this morning. The editorial writer notes that although AlQaeda in Iraq is in a period of retrenchment and reflection on its many errors, not least its kneejerk support for the ISI and takfiiri impositions on a traditionally diverse country, there is no guarantee that it won't recover from this period, just as it did in Afghanistan. But that isn't his main point. His main point has to do with the Sadr trend, and he puts it like this:
Perhaps the key turning point in the Iraqi political map is the revolution within the Iraqi Shiite group, with the Sadr trend leaving the alliance that is loyal to the occupation and that supports its projects under the leadership of the Supreme Council. Because this trend's aligning itself with the principle of resistance to the occupation, with the support of a foreign power (Iran), and with domestic support--this perhaps puts the American forces in a war of attrition that will be very costly in human and political terms.

[The Americans have again blamed Iranian finance and weapons following yesterday's Sadr City blast; but] what that means is that the new resistance front that has been opened against the Americans will be perhaps more dangerous to them than AlQaeda itself.

That is because these Shiite groups, in contrast to AlQaeda, have the direct support of a regional power that has not only a long border with Iraq, but also an interest in wrecking the American projects, and in draining America financially and in human terms via internal wars [meaning in Iraq and presumably Afghanistan], because in the final analysis this will lead to strengthening of Iranian influence in Iraq.
One point to notice is that this is a paper that has been among the staunchest supporters of the Sunni resistance in Iraq, and from time to time, at least in their coverage of some of the Sunni-resistance groups, it has reflected the anti-Iranian animus of some of those groups. With a new focus on Shiite resistance groups, that animus is shelved, if not abandoned, and their focus continues to be on the American occupation.

The editorialist concludes:
The political and military equations facing the Americans are changing rapidly and sharply, with allies of yesterday and today gradually becoming enemies, and enemies of yesterday, or some of them (Sunni) becoming allies, even if only for the moment. And all of this is happening because of the Americans' stupidity, and their wading into the swamp of occupation in a country that is among the most intractable in the world.
If one were to take the argument a step further as far as the Washington center-left consensus is concerned, the American stupidity currently takes the form of refusing to acknowledge the seriousness of resistance based in the Sadr movement. There are two reasons for this: (1) There has grown up an AlQaeda specialty in the academic and pseudo-academic circles, and the inertia works against focusing on the Shiite side; and (2) there seems to be some kind of an allergy at work here, whether owing to class-based distaste for the "slum-dwellers"; or intellectual distaste for a proto-millenarian undertone to the movement that isn't understood; or to infection by Sunni-sectarian assumptions; or for other reasons, personal or otherwise, I do not know.

Just in passing, I note that the above editorial was thumbnailed by Marc Lynch this morning, and he had this to say about it:
AlQuds alArabi reviews the balance sheet in Iraq...mixed for all sides--AQI in a period of self-criticism over the rush to declare ISI and alienating of Sunnis, US still trapped in a disaster of its own making despite changes, and then Iran.

"US soldiers and diplomats have waded deeply into Iraqi politics"

The SF Chronicle talked to the son of one of the Americans killed in the Sadr City blast yesterday (originally this is from the WaPo), and that story goes like this:

Steven Farley, a State Department official working to build up the local government in the Baghdad enclave of Sadr City, knew he and his colleagues had taken a bold step, his son Brett recalled Tuesday.

Farley and other U.S. officials had learned that the Sadr City District Council's acting chairman was loyal to the anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and had urged other members of the local advisory group to force the man to resign.

That was last week. On Tuesday, Farley, 57, and three other Americans were killed after a bomb exploded in the District Council building, just minutes before the selection of a new chairman was to begin.

Capitalizing on recent security gains in Iraq, U.S. soldiers and diplomats have waded deeply into Iraqi politics in an effort to build moderate and responsive government bodies that they hope will erode the appeal of extremists.

This is of course politically incorrect, because the Americans are supposed to be merely supporting the Iraqi government in law-enforcement and reconstruction, not shaping the politics of local councils.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Targeted killings: Updated

Nahrainnet publishes this today (Tuesday June 24):
A violent blast at noon Monday [I think they mean Tuesday] shook the municipal council building in Sadr City, where American army officers and employees of the American embassy, thought to be with the American intelligence agency, were holding a meeting with city council members to study problems caused by the closures effected by the American and government forces on the City, which has suffered from blockades and military actions that have caused the fall of hundreds of martyrs and thousands of persons being wounded, many of them seriously.

The American army admitted four Americans were killed, two of them with the Army, without giving their ranks--it is thought that one of them was of the rank of colonel, according to an eyewitness--and the other two were said by the American ambassador to be employees of the embassy. However there is [couple of words missing here] that they are members of the CIA, the American intelligence agency, who regularly work under diplomatic cover to carry out their real work in Iraq.

Six Iraqis also died in the blast, three of them in the Iraqi army, and the others officials in the Sadr City administration.

This comes a day after a member of the municipal council in Mada'in--Salman Pak--opened fire on a group of American soldiers that arrived at the municipal building in Mada'in, killing two of them and wounding four others, some of them seriously. He himself was shot dead by other American soldiers who were on the scene.
As a sidebar, Nahrainnet runs a picture of American soldiers in action, with this thumbnail caption:
The American army decimated Sadr City and caused the death of hundreds of civilians; arrested hundreds of others; and wounded thousands. But in spite of all of that violence, the city still is not a safe place for the American Army. Four of them died in an obscure explosion that shook the office of the president of the council of this afflicted city!!

AlQuds AlArabi reports this on its front page headed: "Sadr trend starts its war of Special Groups against the occupation", with mostly the same details, except for the explanation why the Americans were to be present at this planned meeting of the municipal council. According to AlQuds AlArabi, a member of the council who preferred not to be named said he was told by the council vice-president that there were to be elections of new council-members to fill vacancies created by the withdrawal of Sadrist members, and the Americans were there to "supervise" those elections. This suggests a direct American "supervision" with respect to questions of shifting local government control away from the Sadrists, but the point isn't elaborated on.

(If you follow as I do the fashions in the Washington-based nimbus of bloviators you will note that the current trend is to sneer at the national resistance, on the basis that everyone is involved in a giant struggle for a piece of the corrupt GreenZone action, just as the trend in the first five years of the occupation was to sneer at the national resistance on the basis that everyone was involved in a giant struggle for sectarian dominance. It is the way the beautifying mind works when you continually have to come up with a new concept of the white man's burden to replace the recently-discredited one. My own view is that this won't end until we have rotated through the entire list of the seven deadly sins being attributed holus-bolus to the Iraqi people. We are still early in the game: We've been through "sectarian idolatry" and we're just starting to work on "greed"; in coming years they will be saying we need to stay in Iraq to protect the people from their "wrath"; and on and on it will go). Meanwhile...

Badr Org reports: Government will reverse the sectarian cleansing, by force if necessary, "before year-end"

From the Badr Organization news-site yesterday (Monday June 23):
The spokesman for the Baghdad security program ... and the spokesman for the multinational [!] forces ... disclosed that next month will witness the group return of families that were displaced in all areas of Baghdad, as part of a plan that has been prepared by the Baghdad law-enforcement program. In a joint press conference on Sunday, [the Baghdad law-enforcement spokesman] said next month will see the announcement of a final deadline for the departure of all occupants of houses of families that were displaced, following which the security forces will enter these houses and clear them of their occupants immediately and quickly. [And the discussion switches to the program for disarming Baghdad residents, later to repeat this plan as follows]:

[The law-enforcement spokesman also said] next month will witness the launch of a comprehensive program that will involve giving a moving-out deadline to the occupants of houses of families that were forced out [and here the discussion switches to the question of protecting embassies and consulates].

[In conclusion, the law-enforcement spokesman] stressed that the law-enforcement program has defined a number of targets that are to be met before year-end, among them settlement of the issue of volunteers in the Sons of Iraq and the Awakening Councils, via the incorporation of the good members into the security forces, and grouping the others into service jobs, in addition to having established a special plan to clear buildings and residences belonging to the state. And he said the leadership of the law-enforcement program is prepared to guarantee the protection of the embassies and consulates that are expected to be opened in the capital.
The article is headed "Comprehensive plan for clearing the houses of those who have been [forcibly] moved". There isn't any discussion of the relation of this to the provincial elections, or to the issue of the bilateral security agreements.

There you have it: A ambitious plan to reverse the post-2006 "sectarian cleansing",

(1) to be carried out "before year-end"

(2) touted by the Badr organization (I haven't seen this reported anywhere else), and

(3) announced at a time when the current governing administration, with the support of the Badr Organization, is as narrowly sectarian as it can be, fighting "outlaws" in the strongholds of opposition groups (Basra, Sadr City, Mosul, Amara).

If there were genuine cooperation between the governing administration and the other interested parties including Sadrists and Sunni groups, this would be another story. But in present circumstances...

Monday, June 23, 2008

Babil police worried about calls for national resistance

In AlHayat this morning (Monday June 23):
Leaflets are being distributed on a daily basis in Babil urging a fight against the Americans and the stockpiling of weapons, and some residents awake to the sound of explosions preceded by enemy gunfire.

[A Babil police official] told AlHayat that "there are many sleeper cells in the governate, which have perhaps taken the occasion of the announcement of Sayyed Al-Sadr to appear and be activated, under the umbrella of that announcement. And he added that among these cells some are connected with the Baath party, and others are connected, perhaps, with the Army of Heaven or other extreme Shiite movements.
(But none of the leaflets are signed, and AlQuds alArabi, in a story this morning relating the same facts, says: "This [no claim of responsibility] has led many experts to think that this coincides with the call by Al-Sadr for the formation of special groups to fight the Americans").

The Babil police official said those caught distributing the leaflets are referred to the courts under the relevant laws, stressing: "Under no conditions should we minimize these developments, which could have such tragic ends". The reporter continues:
AlHayat has obtained a copy of a leaflet which begins: "National resistance is the only option for Iraqis for expelling the occupation and its agents". The leaflet urges citizens to obtain sufficient materials and to stockpile them "for when the zero hour comes", and invited them to follow the internet and what is broadcast there respecting "the armed Iraqi revolution", asking all who become aware of these directives to distribute them among the citizenry.

The leaflet said fighting in the ranks of the armed national resistance is a sacred national obligation. This leaflet is not the first of its kind in Hilla and environs. There were earlier leaflets in the district of Abu Gharaq calling for fighting the Americans, and another in the district of Wardiya Hajam (?) distributed by the "high Islamic council" which they described as a terrorist organization.
The other major Iraq story this morning in AlHayat is headed: "The founder of the Amariya [Baghdad] Awakening says the Americans have cut him loose and the [Iraqi] government is pursuing him." The person in question, Saad Aaribi, alias Abu Al-Abd, is said to have been a former Islamic Army in Iraq fighter, who was instrumental in facilitating the spread of the Awakenings concept from Anbar to Baghdad. The implication in this story is he is now being "prosecuted" for pre-awakening resistance activities, but that isn't spelled out. He is quoted to the effect his home has been broken into, he doesn't know where his family is, and regrettably this shows there was some truth in what AlQaeda said at the time, namely that the he and other Awakening people would be liquidated once they had served their purpose. Another Baghdad awakening official said the same thing could well happen to him. A government person is quoted to the effect this is nothing more than impartial application of the laws.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Government newspaper: Agreement could be "non-strategic" so as not to require parliamentary approval

The GreenZone newspaper AlSabaah says today (Saturday June 21) there is a move to "change" the aim of the current SOFA negotiations into something called a "framework of operation, " in order to avoid the requirement for parliamentary approval. Reporting on last week's video-conference between Maliki and Bush, the paper says in the story-headline: "Bush and Maliki study SOFA and move toward converting it into a 'framework of operation', and [something completely unrelated] there is support for inclusion of Iraq in the Gulf Cooperation Council."

The story begins like this:
In parallel with the efforts of Maliki to arrive at agreement with Washington on a joint security agreement that would not infringe on Iraqi sovereignty or on the interests of the Iraqi people, informed sources disclosed a move to sign a "framework of operation" pact, that would [include] certain obligations, but in a non-strategic form....
And further down in the story, the reporter elaborates:
Foreign minister Zebari agreed [in Washington] with the American administration on finding a suitable solution for the pending issues in the way of an agreement that will respond to the current needs of both sides, and that will include sufficient flexibility to leave options open for subsequent governments. And in that respect an informed source told AlSabaah of a move to convert the security agreement into a "framework of operation" pact, to be signed between the Iraqi and American governments, that would set out mutual obligations in some matters, but that would not include long-term "strategic" cooperation. The source explained that strategic agreements have to be approved by the parliaments of the two countries, and "that is something that would be difficult to achieve in at the present time with respect to this agreement", in his words.
The reporter's version of events is this: the "hope" was that the "announcement of principle" Maliki and Bush signed last November would be ratified by the end of July for implementation in January 2008, in order to regularize the presence of the American troops in Iraq, but in order to be effective this would have needed parliamentary approval. Given the political difficulty of that, so his story runs, the move now is to try and craft an agreement that would only be "operational" and not "strategic", leaving options open for subsequent governments. Of course, the Bush administration has already been claiming that the proposed agreement wouldn't bind future governments, and doesn't require American congressional approval, so it isn't clear whether the direction indicated in this AlSabaah article represents merely a marketing shift for the Iraqi market, on the theme that the agreement is so "non-strategic" that it doesn't require Iraqi parliamentary approval either, or whether there is any substance to it, in the form of a retreat from any of the American demands.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Good news

The names and orientations of political parties registered for the upcoming provincial elections show a dramatic shift from sect- and other small-group orientations to a focus instead on nationalist themes (summary of the trend by Visser here; report by AlHayat here).

Following on the heels of that, Zaid al-Zubaidi, writing in Al-Akhbar, says his discussions with leaders of some of the armed resistance factions show they too are implementing a shift away from "sectarianism" (or the appearance of sectarianism) to a similar focus on a more open attitude--in their case the gist of the change being to try and incorporate or amalgamate the "secular, leftist and nationalist" groups that oppose the occupation, in part by abandoning some of their sectarian trappings, and also by working together on substantive issues of post-occupation policy.

In particular, the journalist quotes a leader of the Reform and Change Front (Brigades of the 1920 Revolution and other groups, close to the Association of Muslim Scholars) who told him his group "has announced it is prepared to cooperate and ally itself with leftist, secular and nationalist forces that oppose the occupation, whether they follow programs of armed resistance or of peaceful resistance."

The discussions within the Jihad and Change Front are continuing, and they include for instance a proposal that the group announce its intention to abandon its arms once the occupation withdraws, and commit also that its members won't seek political positions thereafter, relying instead on experts and specialists, no matter what their political orientation. The spokesman said the majority are in favor of this proposal, but there are some who see it as an attempt to do an end-run around those who have borne the brunt of the fighting, in the interests of the secularists and Baathists and so on, who are stronger in terms of the type of expertise referred to.

The journalist also talked to a leader in the Rashideen Army (one of the Jihad and Change groups) who elaborated on the problem of attracting secular resistance people to these groups as long as they retain their religious and/or sectarian names and identities, suggesting this will have to be changed if the resistance is to finally unite all of its elements in a final push against the occupation. Unifying now with the secularists, he said, would help eliminate the feeling that some of the fighters have that the fruits of their efforts are going to be usurped by others (meaning the secularists).

The journalist says this new mood is a result of recent experiences, including: (1) Generally, the fact that a "sectarian" image has cost the resistance dearly in terms of popular support; and (2) more particularly, the following:
According to those who follow the affairs of the resistance, the factions have been facing a major difficulty, since their enemies (or rivals) among those who participate in the political process have grasped the dangers of sectarian and religious confrontations, and some of them have announced they are abandoning their sectarian blocs and staying away from religious-political disputes, while the resistance is lagging behind in this proposition...

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Things fall apart

There has always been a problem trying to piece together anything but fragmentary and discontinuous accounts of Iraqi affairs, but the problem is getting noticeably worse. What's happening in Mosul following the publicized security campaign there, or is that campaign still going on? What about the provisional Sadrist okaying of the campaign in Amara; what does it say about conditions in the Iraqi army and police? And what is the meaning of "foreign minister" Zebari touting in Washington the near-certainty of a bilateral agreement by the end of July, in the face of more or less contradictory statements by the Prime Minister?

If we take up these questions one by one, a pattern emerges, and it is that the Maliki government, narrow-based as it is, is increasingly losing coherence even within that narrow base. (1) In Mosul, there seems to be a confrontation between a Kurdish/SupremeCouncil alliance on one side, and Maliki/Islamic Party on the other. (2) In Amara, the issue is going to be that the Iraqi forces contain both good and bad, and it isn't certain how far centralized chain of command will be effective. (3) And in Washington, the conclusion some are drawing is that foreign minister Hoshyar Zebari is running his own show, unconstrained by the technicality of being a part of the Maliki administration.

(1) Judging from a recent article in Fatehoon, a news-site that has provided a lot of recent Mosul coverage, Mosul politics seem to have broken down into a conflict between groups that were supposed to have been allied among themselves: namely the so-called five-party pact involving the two big Kurdish parties, the two Shiite government parties SupremeCouncil and Dawa, and the Islamic Party of Iraq (Hashemi's party). Fatehoon says there was a meeting June 15 involving representatives of the two big Kurdish parties and the SupremeCouncil, whose aims included: setting up methods for cooperating in gathering intelligence on troop-movements among the forces under the control of Maliki; discussing the possibility of a joint (Kurdish-party/Supreme Council) electoral list with the aim of keeping the Sunni Arabs out of the Ninawa provincial council; SupremeCouncil cooperation in helping the Kurdish parties relocate from Mosul locations where the Maliki security-campaign aims to evict them; and so on. (There is even mention of setting up a joint security committee to assassinate intellectuals who are thought to be potential candidates and/or supporters of the Sunni Arabs in the local elections, with particular reference to the Islamic Party of Iraq, in order to chill the Sunni-Arab participation). Fatehoon is SunniArab-leaning, so one would want to be alert to the possibility of exaggerations in this. However, I don't think they could have made up this entire framework of a split between the Kurdish/SupremeCouncil alliance on the one side, and Maliki/Islamic Party on the other. In other words, it appears the "government" five-party coalition has split down the middle over Mosul policy. If this has been reported anywhere, I missed it.

(2) What about the Maliki campaign in Amara, and the relationship between bona-fide law-enforcement on the one side, and sectarian attacks on the other? By way of enlightenment, here is how one Sadrist spokesman described the situation to an AlHayat reporter:
Ismaa Musawi, a member of the politial council of the Sadrist trend said Maliki's initial statements are "a good proposal, and he hopes he will carry through on them in a serious and focused way, avoiding the interventions (or meddling) of some". He told AlHayat: "There are some parties [not political parties, just "some parties" meaning people] who are not pleased with the idea of stability in regions that are popular strongholds of the Sadrist trend. And unfortunately these parties are scattered (or distributed) throughout some of the security and military institutions. [If there are] some violations and excesses, it is in confrontation with these parties, and not with the government, which has said on more than one occasion that it is targeting outlaws involved in violence against innocent persons, and this is what we ourselves are for, in rallying the followers of Sadr and excluding those who use the Sadrist trend as an umbrella for criminal activities."
Musawi's point is that government law-enforcement policy is one thing, but at the same time there are "some parties" scattered throughout the army and police who have anti-Sadrist agendas. His particular point is to make sure the journalist understands the agreement on the policy level, but at the same time, he is also highlighting a lack of confidence in government implementation of that policy. (He doesn't say this, but clearly the "some parties" dissatisfied with Sadrist stability anywhere in the South are mainly SupremeCouncil people with their nine-governate "federal region" plans).

(3) Finally, foreign minister Zebari's statements in Washington illustrate the same picture of incoherence within the "government". This is expressed most clearly by Nahrainnet, in an item this morning with this title: "Zebari after meeting Dick Cheney: "The security agreement will be signed by the end of July, in spite of all the objections". The journalist points out that in none of his statements did Zebari mention any of the objections to the agreement, whether parliamentary or from the Najaf authorities or anywhere else, nor did he one even mention the name of the Prime Minister. It was exactly as if Zebari were unilaterally in charge of this file for the Iraqi side, he says.

What these three situations have in common is that they all raise the problem of disintegration within the Iraqi government. In Mosul, the Supreme Council and the Kurds (allies of Maliki in parliament, supposedly) appear to be laying plans to thwart Maliki's support for Sunni Arab groups, siding instead with the expansion-minded Kurdish parties. In Amara, the question is whether or to what extent sectarian militants affiliated with the Supreme Council will be able to turn a law-enforcement campaign into a military-political attack on the Sadrists. And in Washington, the focus is on whether or to what extent the Kurdish foreign minister actually controls the issue of signing a bilateral agreement with the US.

My point here is not to speculate on what is happening behind the scenes in the Maliki administration: is he moving this way or that. On the contrary, the point is that these issues are not being followed or monitored or reported on in any coherent way, so that really these are unanswerable questions. Partly this is a continuation of the pattern of fragmentary coverage of the whole occupation story since the beginning, but I think there is something new here too, and it is the further fragmentation of an already-narrowly-based government. The Kurdish foreign minister is behaving as if he controls the US negotiations; SupremeC0uncil militants are in a position to turn the Amara campaign to their own ends; and in Mosul, the Kurdish parties and the Supreme Council appear to be cooperating in a project for Kurdish expansionism, contrary to the stated intentions of the Mosul campaign.

It is tempting to think that this is becoming a case of the de facto separatists and US allies--the Kurdish warlord parties and the Supreme Council--against everyone else, because this in some sense would put "everyone else" in the nationalist resistance camp. But the real lesson is that the issues aren't being covered in any coherent and continuous way, so there is way too much room for the imagination.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Asymmetric politics

Nahrainnet points out this morning that really and truly, what is happening in Amara is a case of Maliki doing the occupation's work for them:
The southern city of Amara, which has been in de facto defiance of the American and British occupation forces for the last four years, is now surrounded on all sides by government forces with over 200 tanks and armored vehicles, along with air cover from American and British fighter planes. The aim is to impose government control over the city, end the existence of the Army of the Imam Mahdi in it, and squeeze the Sadrist movement, particularly given the fact that this is one of its most important strongholds in the provinces of the South. This has been one of the aims of the occupation forces, but one that they have been unable to carry out. The task has been turned over to the government, to carry it out with an Iraqi hand.
But at the same time, as Nahrainnet has also noted, the governor and other Sadrist authorities locally have been very careful in their statements to welcome the operation in principle, as a manifestation of legitimate national-government jurisdiction in cooperation with the local government. The concerns that they have expressed have been about possible abuses in the course of the operation, not about the operation itself.

It is an apparent paradox: A frontal assault on the Sadrists that the local Sadrists officials themselves have not seen fit to criticize in principle. And it is twinned with another apparent paradox, which has to do with the "militia" and "political party" concepts within the Sadrist movement. By designating only specific elements as qualified to fight the occupation forces, Sadr has made the default position in the movement one of non-violent or "cultural" activity. And likewise, by indicating possible participation in the local elections, not as a "party" but in effect as a "movement", with movement support for candidates on the lists of a variety of blocs and parties (there has been particular mention of working in this way with Jaafari's new group, and with Allawi's), the movement is positioning itself not only as a non-militia, but also as something more even than a political party.

The lack of vocal opposition to the military operation by Amara Sadrists has been explained as a sign of weakness. And similarly, the "no militia" and "no party" moves have been explained as an election-ploy to get around a potential ban on participation by "parties" that have "militias". But I don't think these explanations get to the root of the matter.

By way of background: The list of parties registered for participation in the coming local elections shows the enormous popularity of the idea of a "national" ideology, something that has been pointed out by Reidar Visser in a recent essay, and also by AlHayat in a piece this morning that reviews some of the bigger new formations, including Jaafari's "National Reform Trend", and Allawi's "National Iraqi Front" (to be announced in a few days, the AlHayat journalist says). The common theme is renunciation of narrow loyalties in favor of national loyalties, and what that means in particular, the writer explains, is renunciation of the idea of parceling out spheres of influence based on a supposedly equitable division of small-group interests, something that has proved to be a failure; and also renunciation of militias.

I think a lot can be explained by the hypothesis that the Sadrists and others are primarily interested in getting solidly aligned with this nationalist (as opposed to sectarian) ideology, in the face of particular challenges or provocations from Maliki and the Americans. In particular: (1) If there are to be problems in the Amara operation, it will not be because the local Sadrists resisted the legitimate law-enforcement claims of the national government; rather, it will be the result of sectarian implementation by forces that only claim to represent the national interest, but that has yet to be demonstrated. (Or by American participation via air-strikes, which has also yet to be demonstrated). (2) Similarly, in terms of electoral strategy, if there are to be maneuvers against the Sadrist trend (and in this case there already are), then the correct response is not to intensify the Sadrists' own group-identity, but rather to go in the other direction, and emphasize the fact that their aims and objectives go beyond small-group identity and instead are compatible with the nationalist aims of others coming from a variety of different groups (Allawi's collection; Jaafari's break-away Dawa group).

Overall, the continuation by Maliki of his "enforcing the law" campaigns in cities that are strongholds of political movements that oppose him, and oppose the American occupation (Basra, Sadr City, Mosul, now Amara) clearly represent what you could call a "sectarian" strategy, based on vilification of political enemies as common criminals, and this is obviously a strategy that the Americans have been quite comfortable with. The expectation would be that the groups in question would fight back as groups. But what I think the Sadrists and others recognize is that this would intensify the pattern of sectarian conflict, and because the sectarian approach is no longer broadly acceptable (if it ever was), those fighting in principle as particular groups against the national government, no matter who they are, would eventually lose popular support. Hence the acceptance, in Amara for example, of a national government role in law-enforcement until such time as the sectarian-American nature of Maliki's intervention is demonstrated; and similarly the acceptance of the idea of a broad-movement type of participation in the local elections, as opposed to specific Sadrist-party lists. In each case, it is a question of not taking the sectarian bait, and instead stepping back and responding to sectarian attacks with a nationalist response.

The problem for America is that the part I have italicized above hasn't been understood. America continues to support Maliki in his sectarian attacks on rival groups, attempting to prolong and eventually "win" a sectarian battle where any group opposed to the Maliki-America alliance is eventually attacked with tanks and warplanes. There has grown up in America a whole industry devoted to the issues of "asymmetric warfare" that result from this strategy. But I think it is possible that what they are facing now--whatever the situation may be with the armed resistance groups--includes something quite different, possibly new. The normal routine has been to pick a tribe and then manage the ensuing civil war and eventual elections and so on. In this case there seems to have been a learning curve, but only on the Iraqi side, not the American. America continues to pick its tribe (in this case Maliki and his circle), but the Iraqis are failing to behave as expected: Instead of taking up arms (or even political activity) in a direct confrontation with the Chosen Tribe (and implicitly on behalf of the "other" tribe), the prevailing Iraqi strategy seems to be to deny the paramountcy of any such "tribal" concept. This means that the Maliki-American campaigns--attacks on their rival groups in Basra, Amara and elsewhere--are accepted insofar as they have any bona fide national-government law-enforcement element, and rejected insofar as they go beyond that into collusion with the occupation and sectarian attacks. It is a bit subtle for the likes of the American media and punditry, where it is assumed that the only alternatives are sustained armed resistance on the one hand, or defeat on the other.

The prevailing view in America seems to be that the Sadrists (along with other enemies of the American occupation) are on the ropes because of having backed off from sustained armed resistance. I think the mistake is that the Americans still see themselves as fighting a sectarian war--because that is what they have brainwashed themselves into thinking is the natural state of affairs--while the prevailing view in Iraq is that there isn't a sectarian war, but rather a struggle against the whole idea of sectarianism (and its godfather the foreign occupation). And in a kind of cross-fertilization of political and armed-resistance thinking, the result is that anyone who behaves as if there is such a sectarian war is only showing himself to be a friend of the occupier.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Taking sides

Just popping in to make a couple of observations:

(1) AlHayat this morning (Monday June 9) says:
An armed Shiite organization calling itself the Brigades of Hizbullah-Iraq, whom the American forces accuse--along with "the Troops of the people of Right"--of being so-called Special Groups, split off from the Mahdi Army with Iranian support--[this armed Shiite organization] threatened to escalate its operations to topple the government if [the government] forms a treaty with America.

The group, which the United States considers an enterprise like AlQaeda, said: "The resistance did not grant the occupation five years grace-period so that it could ultimately carry out its project in peace. All that this has led to is a military presence that is uneasy and conflicted. Now that Bush is nearing his end, suddenly there is this plan to arrange things in Iraq, by having the people in the so-called "political process" sign a treaty to pledge Iraq--land, people, wealth and national will--to the determinations of the America occupier.
There is also a quote from one "Abu Zahra al-Yasiri", described as a leader of one of the "special groups", pointing out that his groups aren't committed to Moqtada al-Sadr because "We find that he has retreated a great deal from his stance of resistance to the Americans and of driving them out of Iraq."

Hizbullah Iraq, which has no relationship to Lebanese Hizbullah, is a Shiite group originally from the marshes north of Basra about whose recent activities little is known. Their weekly newspaper, available on the net at, includes this latest lead-editorial, arguing against policies that would include violence, in spite of the dire nature of the current situation:
When talking about the long-term agreement with the Americans, it is important to bear in mind the fact that Iraq is obviously deficient in sovereignty, and there is an unnatural relationship between the two sides, which it is important to put an end to by peaceful means. Because the non-peaceful alternative would involve a vortex of violence and blood that would exceed what is acceptable in today's world...

There are a lot of questions: The AlHayat journalist doesn't say how this Hizbullah-Iraq offshoot, if that is what it is, is related to the Mahdi Army, nor does he cite any particular American source for the charge that these are Iranian trained "special groups"; nor, finally, does he say anything at all about the other group the Amerians are said to accuse of this, namely the Troops of the People of Right. This unsigned article might be an indication of armed Shiite groups announcing themselves, or it might be a vehicle for the Amerians to launch a campaign that says: Armed Shiite groups are like AlQaeda. Or it might be a little of both.

A similar crisis of confidence in nominal leadership has sharpened the division in the Dawa Party between Maliki-loyalists and the group associated with former Prime Minister Ibrahim Al-Jaafari. AlHayat devoted a lengthy article on the weekend to statements by Maliki to the effect that he or his group is severing relations with Jaafari and his group. The journalist notes that the Jaafari group is said to have taken control of a number of offices in Najaf, and one Maliki loyalist described what Jaafari is doing as a "white coup". What appears to be happening in both the Sadrist and the Maliki camp is that the unexpectedly uncompromising challenge from the Bush administration has led to situations where previously existing differences are leading to open partings of the ways.

(The same can be said for the GZ Sunni parties. For instance, Mahmoud Mashhadani the Sunni president of the Iraqi parliament was quoted in AlMannara on the weekend as saying: "Sunni Arabs support the expected security agreement with America, because Iraq is an oil country and it is in need of strategy cover to protect its wealth, if the Arab regimes don't guarantee that for us..." A position opposed to that of other Sunni Arabs politicians like Khalaf al-Alyyan, for example).

What it all seems to mean is that there will be a natural coming-together on both sides of this issue: Supporters of Maliki and an agreement with the United States on the one side (so that eventually some parties from the IAF will no doubt eventually join the Maliki cabinet), and opponents of the occupation--armed, unarmed, and perhaps some in-between--on the other.

So that even though the loose nationalist coalition in the Green Zone probably won't come together in any formal "political bloc" sense, still the dynamics set in motion by this Bush initiative favors polarization. It is as if the Bush policy, after several years of trying to lure all and sundry into the "political process", had suddenly been shifted into reverse.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Badger Bulletin

Off for a few days

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Bait and switch

The UK newspaper The Independent describes the "secret plan" by the Americans to dominate Iraq, citing clauses in a draft of the proposed bilateral agreements; but the main points were already reported in this report in AlHayat two days ago--these main points being a demand for complete freedom for American forces to enter and exit Iraq, control the land, sea and air-space, arrest any Iraqi on made-in-America terrorism charges, exemption of Americans from Iraqi legal process, and so on.

What the AlHayat piece reported, and The Independent does not, is the nature of the negotiating reaction from the Iraqi side. The AlHayat reporter says his sources indicated:
The Iraqi side posed a number of demands, including "disussions with the Iraqi government as a sovereign government, and the denial of any privileges to the American side without the agreement of the Iraqi government; the establishment of temporary American bases, whose existence would be reviewed each year, as is the case with the American bases in Turkey; the denial of movement of the Americans outside of their temporary bases without the knowledge and agreement of the Iraqi government; that financing in- and outflows for the American forces be subject to the Iraqi Central Bank; and that the American forces conduct no military operations without the written authorization of the Iraqi government".
In other words, the Iraqi side was proposing something like the Turkish model for hosting temporary American bases with annual renewal clauses, with US operations within Iraq to be permitted only subject to Iraqi government knowledge and consent.

Recall that there have been two types of "Iraqi rejection" of the agreement. The strong type is based on the idea that a military occupier can't legitimately negotiate a bilateral agreement with the country it is occupying, because the occupied country is under constraint: the occupation has to end first. This is the nature of the rejection expressed by the Association of Muslim Scholars of Iraq and (implicitly at least) by the Sadrist current, which includes withdrawal or at least a withdrawal-schedule along with its rejection of the agreement. This is also the type of rejection that was put to the Congressional committee yesterday by Khalaf al-Alyan (Ulyyan) and Nadeem al-Jaberi. Alyan is National Dialog Council and Jaberi is Fadhila, and both are decidedly outside the government. The NYT account of their appearance yesterday didn't mention that, (nor did this other blog-account), thus helping foster the impression that their strong-form rejection was the consensus, even in the Green Zone.

The weak type of rejection, on the other hand, relates to particular clauses, and tries to restore a semblance of "sovereignty" to the Iraqi side, via these types of "knowledge and consent" provisions and so on. It is in that context that we should read what happened on Tuesday when Hakim visited Sistani in Najaf and spoke to reporters afterwards. He said Sistani only deals in generalities, not specifics, and there were four points that should be kept in mind in the negotiations, namely: National sovereignty; transparency; national consensus [using the word for a general "coming together", and not the word for a "referendum"]; and exposure [using the word for "displaying" something to someone, and not the specific word for "agreement"] to Parliament. And the details, how are they to be handled? Here's what Hakim said:
There is substantial agreement in general views between us and the marja'iyya. and the details are left to the government and to the other parties that are involved in the arena. We are working in agreement with the general view of the marja'iyya.
So: Differences in detail between the American "free hand" demands, and the Iraqi government's "knowledge and consent" ideas will be negotiated by "the government and the other parties that are involved in the arena". Based on a list of general principles that could hardly be more vague. Even Sistani's latest (reported) principle of parliamentary "exposure" seems, on this reading to be perhaps a little less than reassuring, particularly given the mysterious disappearance of the earlier hints about a referendum.

Meanwhile, the big media and others are touting the Ayatollah Sistani as the best hope for a satisfactory outcome.

As an exercise in US info-management, this is looking more and more like a classic case of bait and switch. For Iraqis, this is shaping up to be the same old story: Nationalists on one side, and Maliki/Hakim and their support-group on the other.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Storm clouds over Amara? Or more dis-information?

One of the current-events/policy websites of the Badr Organization (formerly Badr Corps) publishes today a brief report written by someone who visited Amara (Maysan province, southeast of Baghdad) recently. But his report has one point and one point only: He says people in Amara he spoke to expect the Baghdad government will grant them a third implementation of the anti-crime cleanup drives that have been so successful in Basra and Mosul.

The funny thing is that Amara is not particularly known for its crime-rate, but rather for the fact that the local government is controlled by the Sadr trend, who are said to be running one of the better administrations in the South-center region. Anyway, the BadrToday correspondent puts it this way:
It seemed to me when I visited Amara the other day, and met with a number of political and social leaders and citizens there, that the city is in anticipation of the promised day when they will be freed from the gangs of outlaws, especially since talk about them has escalated during the last two months, after the success of the Charge of the Knights in nearby Basra province, and the beginning of a similar campaign that is still going on in Ninawa province, whose success will be the latest to spread stability and security and political movement and positive developments to more areas of Iraq. This comes after the provinces of the South and Center made considerable progress in this, and then they were followed by other provinces including Anbar and Diyala, where the forces of the Iraqi army and police fought battle after battle to pursue the remnants of the terrorists belonging to the AlQaeda organization, and took them apart, not to mention taking down all of the remnants of the defeated Saddamists and the members of the outlaw gangs, restoring all of the provinces to their earlier era of security and stability, so that the efforts of politicians and the specialized organs of the state could turn their attention to struggles in the areas of redevelopment, culture and economy.

Those I met in Amara, including political-party and religious officials, tribal leaders, and government officials who hold important jobs in agencies of the local government, agreed that a quick and limited military operation, not reaching the size of the the Charge of the Knights or the Lions Roar operations, would put an end to the activities of the outlaws and their troublemaking leaders.
Much of this sounds like talking-points for the rightwing milblogs: Generic bad guys everywhere--AQ, Sadaamists, criminals--unrelieved gallantry by the Iraqi armed forces in exterminating them; little or no mention of airstrikes or other American contributions to the effort (none here); little or no mention of the Sadrist/nationalist versus Badr political context (none here), and so on.

By contrast, here (pdf: scroll to p 4) are remarks by historian Reidar Visser on the subject of Amara and the intra-Shiite struggle:
As a substantial component of the social structure of the South, the Sadrists can neither be ignored nor annihilated; so far, even modest operations against tiny southern factions under the Sadrist umbrella have glaringly illustrated the limited capacities of the Iraqi security forces in handling this kind of Shiite-on-Shiite challenge. On the other hand, more positive scenarios can be envisaged. If unobstructed Sadrist participation in the 2008 local elections can be enabled, more predictable trends can once more come to dominate in the south. In that case, the pioneering example of Amara can become relevant as a model: here, Sadrists have run the local government since 2005, and have now reached the point where they boast of being the Iraqi governate with the highest implementation rate for local development projects.
On the other hand, there are also the more negative scenarios. There is, for instance, this report on alleged rumors about "preparations" for a major military strike on Maysan province that would involve not only trying to dislodge the current Sadrist administration, but also a military escalation with Iran. Notice, however, that the person reporting this is the person who headed the research department of Ahmed Chalibi's Iraqi National Congress including the period of time when the Pentagon was devising and implementing the mother of all dis-information campaigns (see Kazimi's bio at, so this should probably be treated as raw material in every sense of the word.

A "package deal" re Kirkuk and oil-policy?

Nechirvan Barzani, who is Prime Minister of the Kurdistan regional government (and a nephew of Masoud Barzani who is President of the regional government) made a number of potentially significant remarks during a visit to the UAE yesterday that have been prominently noted by Azzaman and AlHayat, both of which pointed out important policy implications, but the remarks have been noted only in a routine way in English: (1) He said the Kurdish regional government is not necessarily going to insist on the application of the provisions of Section 140 of the Iraqi constitution for the normalization of Kirkuk, but would consider instead a negotiated power-sharing agreement. This is apparently the first time any Kurdish authority has indicated a willingness to abandon the insistence on Section 140 (an insistence that has had an aggressive tone, since it includes the idea of a referendum with a winner-take-all result). (2) He said within the next two weeks a Kurdish delegation will travel to Baghdad to negotiate a global oil and gas agreement with the central government. And (3) he signed a $4.5 billion agreement with a Dubai real estate development company for a large tourism and mixed-use development project in the Irbil area.

Reuters covered the statement about flexibility on Kirkuk with a short item that didn't get prominent play elsewhere in the corporate media. AP, for its part, reported the oil-sector comments only insofar as Barzani called for greatly increased national oil-production, apparently not knowing what if anything to make of the remarks on renewed political negotiations with Baghdad.

It seems possible, however, that the combination of remarks on Kirkuk and on the political oil-sector talks reflects something suggested by Joost Hilterman in a recent interview with the Turkish news-site "Today's Zaman". In an interview published a little over a week ago, Monday May 26, Hilterman said:
“In a potential package deal, the Kurdistan Regional Government [KRG] in Iraq would gain the rights to develop its own oil fields. In exchange they would not incorporate Kirkuk into the Kurdistan region. And it may become a stand-alone region with a power sharing arrangement,” he elaborated.

As part of that deal, he said, the Iraqi Kurdish administration would restrain the PKK’s freedom to maneuver: “If Turkey then also agrees to an amnesty for lower and mid-level officials [of the PKK] and lets refugees from the Makhmour camp return safely to Turkey, the KRG in exchange will absorb the senior levels of the PKK -- they will be disarmed, of course, and no longer politically active.”
Hilterman is based in Turkey and follows Kurdish affairs closely. So I think the combination of Barzani's remarks indicating flexibility on Kirkuk, with an announcement about renewed negotiations for an oil and gas law, coming just a week after these suggestions by Hilterman about a possible "package deal", are worth paying attention to.

How this might or might not relate to the embarrassing "Lion's Roar" campaign, the apparent standoff relating to Peshmerga strength in Mosul, the reported suspension of the Ninawa governor and the flight of his deputy to Irbil, I do not know.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Mosul followup

Prime Minister Maliki issued an order last month for the vacating of all government buildings by whatever non-government entities have been occupying them, (one famous result of that was the widely-publicized agreement of the Sadrist current to vacate the former Olympic Committee building in Basra last month), and the latest newsworthy implementation of which was supposed to be the vacating by the Peshmerga militia of buildings in the Arabi district in northern Mosul. As noted in an earlier post, the vice-governor of Ninawa province Khosro Goran (if he has not been officially fired yet) said in Irbil, where he has fled, that this would not be vacated, and reports said the buildings in question were being reinforced and armed--including with anti-aircraft rockets--in order to defend them against any possible attack by the Iraqi government forces. (The link to this news-item that was cited in the earlier post appears to have been scrubbed, but the same news-item on the same site, Badeel al-Iraq, is now available here).

GZ politicians appear to be following this story, even if the news agencies aren't, because the Iraqi parliament today voted in favor of a measure asking Maliki to please postpone implementation of the order for vacating government buildings. Aswat al Iraq reports this very briefly along with other parliamentary news. The writer doesn't explain what was behind this, but it seems very likely that this reflected anxiety about a confrontation between the government and the Peshmerga in Mosul at a time when the news is supposed to be that the city's problems have been essentially cleaned up.

And in another report that doesn't seem to square with the official story, the Iraqi-resistance site says there was quite a large demonstration by armed resistance groups in Mosul--over 1000 people with light and medium weapons and vehicles, their correspondent said--the first such show of force since the "Mother of the two Springs", nee "The Lion's roar in justified Assault" operation was begun some three weeks ago.

The Yaqen report in effect taunts the American/Iraqi/Peshmerga forces. The reporter writes:
And the city of Mosul witnessed yesterday (Monday May 2) a number of armed operations against the American occupation forces, the Iraqi government forces, the Peshmerga, and the so-called Awakenings, as members of the resistance stepped up their operations, taking various forms, while members of the occupation and government forces are still issuing statements in their press conferences in the Green Zone that it is they who control the ground in the Mosul operations.
The demonstration today, says the Yaqen writer, was confirmation by the resistance that it is they who will be deciding the time and timing of the confrontation, and nature of it.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Mosul operation: The comic framework

What follows is a summary of the last part of an essay by Ali Al-Hamdani published on the Sunni-resistance website, in which he provides a step-by-step guide for those of us who are still scratching our heads trying to figure out what the whole Mosul operation was supposed to be about in the first place. I haven't picked this because it is the best overall account, or because it is the most convincing overall account. I have picked it because it is the only overall account (that I have seen). In particular, the writer tries to answer the question what was the primary purpose(s) of the Mosul operation, and what was merely embarrassing fallout (thus perhaps helping put the stories told in the previous two posts into better perspective).

In a nutshell, he concludes first of all that we can't assume there is any truth to the idea of "wiping out the last bastion of AlQaeda in Iraq", given that against an enemy like AQ the first element is surprise, and in this case they were given over six-months advance warning. We're talking about professional military people, after all. So that hypothesis is out. In fact, he writes
There remains only one possible reasonable justification for all of that [media] storm, and it is that it was an attempt to draw the Iraqi resistance from a variety of places in Iraq, to draw them out and to cram them together in the area of Mosul, and that throughout all of those months preceding the start of the operations, convinced that would happen, and that the resistance, including those already present in Ninawa province, would come together in defense and to confront the Iraqi forces and the American forces allied with them, and enter into an organized war with them, repeating for a second time the experience of Falluja. This time they would suffer a decisive blow, and they would be completely crippled!

But it didn't happen, and the leaders of the resistance didn't fall into the trap, because the game was apparent. And so it was that Falluja again offered its lessons to Mosul and to other regions throughout occupied Iraq.
Just to make the rest of his account crystal clear, his point is that what followed was more along the lines of trying to over up the embarrassment of having declared a decisive battle without an enemy, than any expression of actual strategic aims. He continues:
When the American and the Iraqi armies entered Mosul, and with them the Peshmerga forces within the city, there was not a single shot fired! And what happened then to cover this scandalous situation? They arrested former Baath officers on the pretext of conducting investigations, and government sources said they arrested up to 1500 people! And they wanted to show some kind of victory so they talked about saboteurs and gangs and so on, and all those expressions that Iraqis have grown so fed-up with.

And then Maliki came to Mosul, with his Ministers of Defence and the Interior, and his national security adviser and others from the "leadership". And the only thing he could do was to utter that miserable explanation where he announced that he, after examining the situation, regretted that Mosul had been left for five years under the control of the Peshmerga... What we don't understand is what is the role of the Prime Minister of Iraq if it is not to have a grasp of what is going on in one of the provinces of Iraq. And after that we heard news of [Maliki's] meeting with local tribal leaders and recruiting 11,000 of their members into the army--and the flight of Khosro Goran to Irbil--and Maliki's communications with Barzani--and suspending Dureid Kashmula the governor of Mosul--and the firing of Mataa Al-Khazraji, commander of the Second [Iraqi Army] division in Mosul, and subjecting him to investigation...

And then--Maliki returned to Baghdad!!!
And now, says Ali Al-Hamdani, the Americans are starting to build a dirt wall around Mosul, cutting off the three roads to the outside world, one to the Syrian border, the other to Baghdad and the third to Irbil. He mockingly compares this to the Maginot line, and to the Barlif (Bar Lev; thank you Helena) Line in the Sinai in 1967, and to sum up he says they are calling this the Riyadh project, after the first name of the Iraqi army officer who led the Mosul operation. You an see pictures of it on the website of Stars and Stripes, he says.

His final point is that bottling up the resistance and destroying it was only the first part of the Maliki/US strategy. The second part was to allow the Kurds to exploit the situation of war and chaos to implement their plans for control of Mosul and the entire Ninawa region, for incorporation into the Kurdish region.

Mosul: Peshmerga reported digging in, claiming a promise from Maliki

Having supposedly cleared Mosul of "insurgents", and ordered all non-government entities to vacate government buildings they have been occupying, the Maliki administration now faces a situation where the Kurdish Peshmerga forces not only refuse to vacate their stronghold in the city, but are reportedly fortifying it, and defying the Iraqi Interior Minister to try and dislodge them. The deputy governor Khosro Goran (central figure in the Al-Akhbar story on Saturday), in Irbil, is quoted as saying Maliki has made a promise to Kurdistan regional president Barzani in this regard. Badeel al-Iraq, citing a news agency called Iraqiun, quotes Goran as follows:
For his part, Khosro Goran, from his headquarters in Irbil, said Maliki will back off, because he has promised Barzani that he would exempt the Kurds from the decision to vacate [government buildings]. And [Goran] said of the current Interior Minister Jawad Bolani that he is playing with fire, and that the Peshmerga is prepared to protect the strongholds [in Mosul] and "we will expel from Mosul any force that tries to dislodge us from the buildings."
The gist of the Saturday story in Al-Akhbar was that Iraqi authorities are getting ready to arrest Goran on charges of running a death-squad in Mosul. A feature common to these two stories is the odor of undisclosed agreements in favor of the Peshmerga. Al-Akhbar referred to a request by Barzani to Hashemi (vice president of the republic and head of the Islamic Party of Iraq) to let him (Barzani) deal with Goran quietly and keep the affair out of the press; and here Goran is quoted as claiming a "promise" by Maliki to exempt the Peshmerga from his order to clear out of all government buildings. As it was originally reported before the start of the "Mosul operations", the Sunni community feared that this operation would be used to extend Kurdish control to parts of Mosul.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

The other "Mosul operations" story

Here are the main parts of an article by journalist Zaid Al-Zubaidi that appeared in the Lebanese paper Al-Akhbar yesterday (Saturday May 31).

The security operation by the Iraqi government in Ninawa province has uncovered the fact that a large part of the provincial [security] agency has been implicated in corruption and in feeding operations of violence, since the fall of Baghdad in 2003. But the recent disclosures, connected in their overwhelming majority with the Democratic Party of Kurdistan--led by the president of the Kurdistan Region Masoud Barzani--have not led to confrontations between the [Iraqi] government and the Kurdish parties, unlike what happened between the Baghdad government and the Sadr trend [in Basra and elsewhere].

The names of responsible officials in the Democratic Party of Kurdistan, involved in violent operations, have been piling up at the [Iraqi] security agency since the disclosure of the involvement of Khosro Goran, the Deputy Governor of Mosul who is close to Barzani, in running a network of assassinations and liquidations in this northern province. After this affair having remained for a long time subject to bargaining, or under cover of silence, day before yesterday [that would be Thursday May 29], there was a public confirmation from security sources that are reliable, to the effect that "the leadership of the Ninawa operations have issued arrest warrants against Goran's deputy Mehdi al-Harki, who is a leader in the Kurdistan Democratic Party, and a number of members of the provincial council".

Investigations with a number of arrested people disclosed that they had been operating in a private network of assassinations and bombings connected with Goran, who works also as the head of the Mosul branch of the Democratic Party of Kurdistan.

People close to that investigation said the confessions indicated participation in the network by Major Ahmed al-Jawari, who worked for a time as office-director for the governor [that would be Dureid Kashmula] , and he [al-Jawari] was arrested immediately.

And the source said that admissions by the arrested persons indicated that Goran had encouraged them to communicate with a number of people connected with the AlQaeda organization and asked them to give this Islamic organization financial and logistic help.

And the source said that a group of people connected with Goran admitted having carried out the assassinations of Sheikh Faidi al-Faidi, a prominent Imam in the Buldiyat district of Mosul, and of the general secretary of the banned Baath party in Mosul, Najam al-Iraqi, and of the former director of that party, Nazar Yunis, in addition to a number of specialist doctors and university professors. The total operations of which Goran is accused, represented by his management of this network of assassinations done under his direct orders, comes to 900 assassination operations, in addition to his secret support for gangs within the city that have the aim of forcing citizens turn over security to the Peshmerga, in order to make the city more linked to the Kurdistan region.

Prime Minister Maliki had originally planned to make Goran one of his advisers in the Iraqi government, but Iraqi intelligence under Abdullah al-Shahwani informed him, just before he went to Mosul, of reports that Goran was involved in assassinations, and as a result Maliki eliminated the Mosuli authority [meaning either Goran, or Goran and others] from his operation planning group. Sources in the leadership of the Mosul operation said Maliki was "not ready for the size of the surprise that was waiting for him in Mosul," adding that he later expressed regret that Mosul had been left under the control of Peshmerga for five years.
The journalist names others connected with the administration of Mosul who were also subject of arrest warrants. But he doesn't mention Goran himself, leaving open the question what has happened to him. Here is the only hint:
Media sources in Mosul said Goran's deputy in the party, Al-Harki, conveyed a message from Barzani to vice president of the republic Tareq al-Hashemi, asking him "not to stir up the Goran affair in the media", but to transfer [Goran] out of the city, and Barzani would settle the matter quietly, fearing vengeance of the people of Mosul against the Kurdish parties. And Barzani asked that the replacement of the governor of Mosul be announced simultaneously with the firing of Goran, and before the issuance of an arrest warrant [against Goran], so that this will have the appearance of being natural administrative changes following the security operation.