Sunday, October 29, 2006

GCC Monetary Union: (Heathen Roots?), Coup Plot in Iraq

(The Face of Agony & Misery)

Gulf Monetary Union:
GCC monetary authorities are meeting in
Abu Dhabi this week.Among the topics of discussion will be the plan for monetary union between member states. This will be based on the European example, with a central Monetary Authority based on the ECB. Leaders of the GCC had agreed in 2001 to aim for monetary union by January 2010. It is not clear whether the real implications of monetary union are understood by the political leaders, or whether the finance and economic officials understand them to a degree that they can explain what they entail to the leadership- provided that they have the gumption to do so. It is not clear if broad and serious policy coordination steps are being take to make it possible to achieve the union by 2010. Recently some officials have been backtracking about the likelihood of meeting the deadline. GCC officials claim that the union will eliminate the costs of currency conversion and ‘increase trade between members’. Does this mean they will export more petroleum and natural gas to each other?

The issue of a unified currency was first discussed in 1975, long before the GCC was formed- it was originally discussed only between Kuwait, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, and Qatar. That was before Saudi Arabia came to be considered a 'Gulf' country. Studies were commissioned by some well-known international economists of the time, foremost among them Robert Mundell who prepared the first study in 1975-76 and later won the Nobel Prize (definitely not for that paper). Later, with the inclusion of Oman and Saudi Arabia, currency unification was dropped. At one point in the 1970s even Iraq was included in monetary consultations among Gulf Arab countries, although some of the members resented that. Oman used to be a pariah among the pan-Arabists of the time who dominated the Kuwait foreign ministry for decades (until the Iraq invasion of 1990), because the Sultan was involved in a mini civil war against some guerrillas and had enlisted British and Iranian (under the Shah) help.

It is also not clear what this new currency will be called. The problem in this age of fundamentalism, actually petro-fundamentalism because that is what has been fueling it, is that all national currencies have foreign kaffir (that is heathen to most of you) names. The Dinar (Kuwait and Bahrain) has pagan roots, since it comes from the ancient Roman Dinarius, used over two thousand years ago, since before Christ and before Caesar. The Riyal or Rial (Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman) comes from the Spanish 'Real' meaning Royal. So will we use a currency named for Fernando and Ysabel, the conquerors of Grenada- perhaps the very Catholic currency of the distasteful Torquemada who dreamed of oro of los Indios in this world and heavenly edification in the other? As for the Dirham (UAE), it is most likely named after the old Greek Draxma. But don't tell the fundamentalists what they probably know, because if you do, then they might have to do something about it. Some of them probably believe that these currency names came with the scripture.

Iraqi Coup Report (Again):
London-based has Alhayat published a report by one of its columnists about the rumors of a coup in Iraq. The report (10/29/06) says that even though these rumors have been discounted publicly, they are in fact taken seriously within American research centers, among the security agencies, policy advisers and among ‘decision makers’ in Washington. Presumably the initial rumors were spread by U.S agencies as trial balloons, with the possibility of implementing them by suspending the (Iraqi) constitution, dissolving parliament, dismissing the government, and declaring emergency law. Discussion within the ‘Green Zone’ has now gone beyond the ‘if and how’ and it now centers on the persons who will be the front for this coup. US and British troops will defend the new regime against opponents- perhaps they will do a better job than they have been doing so far. The new mantra will be ‘security and stability’ instead of ‘democracy and freedom’. Does this ring a recent bell?

This coup plan includes measures to crush the expected opposition, mostly from the majority Shia’s who stand to lose the most. It also includes plots to assassinate some leaders who are expected to cause the most trouble after the coup. The new regime will be called a government of ‘National Salvation’- not very original, but telling. It is claimed that the Baker-Hamilton group has emphasized the importance of ‘security and stability’ as well- that is, post-coup stability. The report claims that this explains the increased ‘flirting’ as it is called, recently between U.S authorities in Iraq and the Sunni terrorist/insurgent groups. The leaders of the coup will be some high-ranking officers of the old ‘Ba’ath’ military, many of whom have established close relations with the U.S intelligence services and with several neighboring autocratic Arab regimes.

However, the report cautions that Iraqi military units might respond to a coup by siding with their respective sectarian sides, which would effectively mean a classic civil war. The report says that the U.S administration is mainly concerned with extricating itself from Iraq soon, and that some Iraqi politicians (has beens) are encouraging a coup as the only means for them to have a leading role in Iraq again. On the other hand, this will be considered a betrayal by the Coalition of the values and principles that were used to justify the invasion, post-invasion.

Back in Iraq:
Looks like Prime Minister al-Maliki has finally had his inevitable confrontation with U.S ambassador in Baghdad, during which he said that he is a friend of the US but that he is not 'the United States's man in Iraq'. Al-Maliki apparently is as frustrated with the Americans over there as they are with him, and has complained about the confusing array of American commands (military and civilian) that he has to deal with- it is confusing even to most American experts. Reading Bob Woodward's 'State of Denial' is helpful in understanding the roots and the degree of confusion of United States policy 'inside' Iraq, and why it is even more confusing to al-Maliki and other Iraqi officials. Now the Prime Minister and President Bush have agreed to form a team of four high ranking officials to sort things out.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Gulf Finance & Politics, Rafsanjani's Last Tango, Dysfunctional Iraq

GCC Finance & Politics:
A report by the Dubai National Bank warns of a looming serious debt crisis for the middle classes in the Gulf oil states- that would be a serious problem of non-performing loans for the region’s banks. The Kuwaiti banking system went through two such crises, mostly related to stock market speculation and crashes, and the government had to step in and bail out the banks through bailing out the individual and corporate debtors. The Kuwait government had to bail out the banks during 1970s, and again during the 1980s when it ended up owning controlling shares of most of the companies in the country. It had to step in again after the Iraqi invasion in 1990-1991. In a phrase that is purely deja vue, the Dubai report warns that the quality of bank assets in the GCC, including the UAE, could deteriorate noticeably by 2007 or 2008. As asset prices have declined, many borrowers may be unable to pay off their loans, which would put severe pressure on the banks’ loan provisions.

The media in Kuwait is already talking about the specter of a new stock market crisis, as the losses of the local investment companies in the stock market have reached near one billion Kuwaiti Dinar this year (Alqabas: 10/28/06). The front page of Alwatan, whose owners may have their own axe to grind in personal disputes with a major merchant family that also operates the rival Alqabas newspaper, has compared the current situation to a new 'Manakh crisis'- that was when the market crashed in 1982 (Alwatan: October 28). This is part of an ongoing rivalry and political dispute between various political and financial heavy-weights in Kuwait. This dispute dates back to political disagreements and some major financial scandals extending from the early 1980s through the early 1990s, involving the ministries of Finance and Oil.

In Saudi Arabia, the stock exchange will start a new system of one-session trading every day. Under the old system there were two trading sessions each day: one in the morning and one in the evening. This is seen by some as one way to reduce the level of speculation and trading losses by inexperienced civil servants and students who spent their evenings trading (there are not many other known evening diversions in Saudi Arabia). One very likely result of the change would be for government civil servants to skip some work hours during the day and head for the market- this in itself might actually improve the performance of the state bureaucracy by keeping some of them away from their offices.

Meanwhile, the media war continues between Saudi Arabian outlets and little neighboring Qatar, but it is mostly a one-sided war, initiated by the Saudis against Qatar and her policies. Qatar has been the maverick of the Persian Gulf region for some years now, as well as a thorn in the side of the Saudi government. It is hard to classify the country other than a maverick because it has for years rejected the Saudi claim and obvious sense of entitlement to leadership of the GCC. It is home to the most popular and most controversial Arab TV station, Aljazeera, as well as home of the US Central Command regional HQ. It probably has the largest natural gas reserves among Arab countries. It also has the only Israeli 'trade' office in Doha, and Israeli foreign minister Tsipi Livni will make her first visit of the Gulf to Doha next week. Qatar is sort of like France was under General De Gaulle, independent but keeping one foot in the alliance. In fact it is like France is today under whoever occupies the Elysee Palace.

Iran Accused in Argentina:
Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, former Iranian President and still an influential figure in the clerical regime, is in some trouble- or he can be if he ever leaves Iran to travel to the West. The degree of trouble he will be in varies directly with how close he gets to Argentina- if he ever sets foot in Buenos Aires he will be up the proverbial fecal creek. Two Argentine prosecutors have asked that Rafsanjani and other Iranian officials be arrested for a bombing of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires in 1994 that killed 85 people. At the time Rafsanjani was president of Iran. The prosecutors claim that the Iranians recruited Hizballah to do the job. Hizballah does not normally have a geographic interest beyond Lebanon and Israel. In any case, it looks like no more tangos for that ayatollah.

Iraq Dysfunctional:
Muqtada al-Sadr has warned against violence committed by some renegades among his followers, and said that the incidents that occurred between some of his followers and the government forces were the result of ‘disobedience of orders’.

In an interview with Reuters, P.M. al-Maliki of Iraq discounted reports that the US was considering replacing him, and said that would be against the stated American goal of allowing Iraqis the 'freedom of choice'. He also complained that: “As Prime Minister I am the Commander in Chief or the armed forces, but I cannot move a single brigade without getting approval from the Coalition (U.S) because of United Nations authorization (?)” He also said he approves of the attempt to arrest the Sadrist leader Abu Dir’a who was responsible for some sectarian killings, but he objected to the violent method used because it could lead to undoing a compromise reached with al-Sadr.

Northern Iraq should heat up within the next few months. Already the Sunni Fundies have declared it part of their Emirate (apparently they need some oil fields to make it look like a real Arab Emirate). The Kurds and others are bracing for a referendum in December 2007 on whether Kirkuk will join the Kurdish autonomous region- right now it looks like it will vote to join Kurdistan. The Fundies in al-Anbar are certain to escalate and shift some of their efforts north, since they will want to preserve their declared Emirate intact. The Kurds already have some problems with the central government over their oil contracts.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Iraq Coup Rumor, Proselytizing Shi'as, Worried Wahabis

Rumors of a Tabloid Coup:
A Kuwaiti tabloid, alseyassah, claimed again Tuesday that 'reliable Iraqi and Arab sources' (oxymoron?) have revealed to it that the United States and Gulf GCC countries are coordinating toward a military coup that would overthrow the elected Iraqi government. Al-Siyassah, close to some fringe elements in the country's political circles, is not known for its reliable reporting. The tabloid claims that the Ba'ath Party has been contacted through Arab governments and offered a role in the new Iraqi regime. The report claims that the coup will be a joint American-Iraqi effort that would lead to dissolving the parliament and suspending the constitution- and no more New Middle East, birth pangs and all. The paper claims that the governments of Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt have been consulted- not a very good way to keep such a secret plot....secret. Three generals a Sunni, a Shi'a, and a Kurd (cute) are slated to run the country.
Versions of this plan have been repeated in the same newpaper in different forms over the past three months- it is noteworthy that few other media outlets have treated these reports seriously. Apparently the authorities in the four accused Arab countries do not take this report seriously enough to deny it- perhaps they are not good at dissembling.

The Saudi Drums of Sectarianism:
The tightly-controlled Saudi media continues to beat the drums of sectarian conflict in the Arab World. They are now talking as if Iraq is already a lost cause, taken over by Shi'ism and Kurds. They seem to be worried about holding the next line of defense, wherever that might be.
London-based Saudi daily Asharqalawsat reports in a column by an editor of Alarabiya TV, also Saudi-owned, about the dangers posed by the spread of Shi'ism in the Arab World. The report claims that even the Moslem Brotherhood, long nursed by the Saudis in the days when Nasser of Egypt was persecuting the fundamentalist group, has been infiltrated by Shi'ism. The report complains that some venerable Egyptisn media outlets have also been infiltrated by Shi'ism. It is beginning to sound like The Invasion of The Body Snatchers all over again, the older b/w version. The writer argues that this proselytizing is dangerous and unacceptable for some vague reason. Interesting insight. Then again, if this is the case......what about Riyadh? Will we see Shi'a houses of worship as well as churches and synogagues in Riyadh soon? Will we still continue to see Wahabi mosques built in Europe and America, and new converts?

A high-ranking Saudi theologian and thinker, a paid official of the state (they all are), a Sheikh Dr. Salman al-Ouda (aka Suleiman or just plain Shlomo) has warned of the spread of Shi'ism in mainly Sunni Arab countries.
( Sheikh Dr. Ouda the cheerful chap in the pic)

He has said that this is a dangerous phenomenon that is unacceptable (mass lobotomy may be in order here) and that it has spread through some dastardly sneaky methods, including financial incentives. He also told Aljazeera TV that the American occupiers have used the Shi'as in Iraq to destroy the Sunnis, and that they, the Americans, are now trying to create conflict among the people. He also condemned the spread of Shi'a mosques and Husseiniyah houses of worship in many countries like Syria and Palestine. The sheikh did not, however, claim that children's blood are being drunk in secret rites or that water wells are being poisoned- not yet, but stay tuned.

Unrepentant Hamas and Iran Echo Each Other in the Wilderness:
Hamas Foreign Minister has finally settled all doubts about the possibility of peace. He repeated the hardline position of Iran's Ahmadinejad, that Israel is an 'alien body' in the Middle East, claiming that it has no religious, cultural, or historical legitimacy. He claimed that his group seeks a Palestine that will spread from the 'Mediterranean to the River Jordan'. This will definitely not endear him to most of the world, but perhaps it will win him the next elections that are now looming- he is lucky that the 5-6 million Jews of the area he claims will not be voting in the next Palestinian elections. Perhaps he sees the writing on the wall and has decided to go down fighting.
Ahmadinejad had delivered his newest anti-Israeli wisdom after a long silence while world attention was focused on petulant little Kim Jong Il. Perhaps he missed the limelight of his days in New York. But the Iranian president is a close second to Kim, and trying hard, literally coming in from the outside. Yesterday he claimed that his country has increased her nuclear 'capability' tenfold within the past year. His problem, and that of Iran, is that his country is not stuck somewhere on the northeastern edges of Asia. It is in the middle of the world's main supply of petroleum.

New News:
Israel has announced that Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni will visit Doha to attend a conference on democracy. This is quite a development in the Gulf region, and it is a sign of the times that it does not to shock anyone. Perhaps Sheikh Dr. al-Ouda in nearby Riyadh (the pic above) will agree to see her.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Sitting Ducks in Iraq, Saudi Succession, and How to Marry a Genie

Iraq Turns Grimmer:
Looks like it is time for someone to finally crack down in Iraq. This week al-Qaeda terrorists have paraded in Ramadi and other towns west and north of Baghdad, while the Sadrist Mahdi militias took over al-Amarah for a while. This is no good. Even in Vietnam, during thr worst days, militias could not parade with impunity in the cities- with the exception of the Tet Offensive- but at the time they did not parade, they fought and got salughtered, and still inched closer to winning the war.

Iraq will never stabilize as long as its government has no authority on the streets. This must be the message of General Abizaid's return to Washington yesterday. But this does not require a trip back to DC, so there must be something big afoot to resolve the security issue quickly. Otherwise there is no sense for the coalition troops to remain as sitting ducks, albeit well-armed sitting ducks, between warring sectarian factions. It is clear now that this is a war that is truly being fought in a half-assed fashion. Doing it this way only emboldens the enemies and sends a terrible message about American resolve to the peoples of the Middle East.
Perhaps later in November, after the political process has played out, when the only remaining unfinished things are the things that really matter.....

A meeting sponsored by the Orqanization of Islamic Conference (OIC) in Mecca has apparently reached agreement on an 'Accord' to stop the bloodshed and sectarian tensions in Iraq. The problem with this conference is that the main sources of bloodshed and sectarian conflict are not represented: Al-Qaeda, the Ba'ath, and Al-Sadr's Mahdi militias have not attended. The Sunni clans are still not convinced that they have lost their political supremacy- otehrwise they would eagerly accept federalism and autonomy. Ayatollah al-Sistani has not attended or sent a representative although he approved of the meeting. That could be because he is not part to any sectarian conflict or because he does not think the agreement will amount to a proverbial American hill of beans on the ground where it matters. If it is the latter then al-Sistani is absolutely right.

Saudi Arabia:
The Saudi ruling family is preparing for the inevitable. The King has issued a royal decree forming Hei'at al-Bei'a, or the Committee of Allegiance (as in pledging allegiance) for the selection of the Heir to the Throne in the future. That is, for the time after the direct sons of King Abulaziz Ibn Saud die off. They foresee, rightly, the possibility of rivalry and conflict within the family once the first line of heirs die off, something that has happened within other extended ruling families in the GCC. The commitee is composed of princes from the family.

Saudi Arabia-The Lighter Side:
Alarabiya TV reports that a Saudi businessman from Jeddah, that would be the Manhattan of Saudi Arabia, fell for a clever trickster. The man was promised an arranged marriage to a daughter of the King of the Jinns- that would be an actual flesh and blood King of all the jinns not Elvis from beyond. This man was clearly more interested in flesh than blood for he paid more than one million Saudi Riyals as dowry and finder's fees. He paid dearly for the chance of coupling with a princess of n-dimensions (n>3) or perhaps no dimensions (n=0). But he was also told that she would help him make over one billion during the first week of the homeymoon (did not disclose the location of the honeymoon). He was promised about ten billion within the first year.
Saudi media report a marked increase in these unusual cases of fraud and scams in recent months. A sociologist attributes this phenomenon to increased unemployment and the pervasive mentality of making a fast buck (that would be making a fast Riyal in this case). He also noted that many of the gangs that practice this type of fraud originate in Africa for some reason. Still, it takes two and there is one born every....


Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Terrorism, The NFL and Microbrews

The Department of Homeland Security has notified the NFL of terrorist threats that are called 'not credible'. The purported threats involve dirty bombs at 7 venues where football games will be played next Sunday. Al-Qaeda and its affiliates are probably the only group that would contemplate such acts, and they are not the type that would give false warning, or any advance warning. They would rather have the 'events' speak for themselves. Besides Wolf Blitzer did not look like his hair was on fire when he delivered the news. So, this is most likely a concocted attempt to disrupt the games. Maybe some fundamentalist (not of the Moslem variety) would like all the hipflasks that keep people warm, up here in the Northwest and in other places, on a cold Sunday afternoon expropriated. Perhaps some Viking fan does not wish to see his team shellacked by the Seahawks at Qwest Field. Or perhaps it is a Raiders' fan whose heart can't handle a (0-6) record now that Matt Leinart has been edified as a bona fide Quarterback by outplaying Rex Grossman. I for one will sit back and enjoy the game. Unfortunately I could not get tickets for Qwest Field, so it will have to be from the discomfort of my den at home.

It is wise to take precautions in these cases, if only because there are groups that would love to be able to do just that, get dirty bombs- or even clean bombs (that is how desperate they are)- and blow them up in public. But the most likely dirty bombs next Sunday may be the mini ones produced by tens of thousands of screaming micro-brew-soaked spectators.

Mr. Bush and al-Sadr In Agreement

Defiance and Flirting in Iraq:
Aljazeera TV, by far the most popular Arab news outlet, quotes President Bush that the current violence in Iraq cannot be summarized simply as an insurgency encouraged or fed by Iran- although he said he was worried about Iranian interference in Iraq. The Iranian mullahs often claim that they are worried about American interference in Iraq as well. Bush said the enemy in Iraq is ‘more complex than that’, something that may surprise the folks at some U.S cable news networks. He also rejected the idea of three autonomous regions in Iraq, perhaps echoing regional worries that it is a prelude to partition. It is not clear what this rejection means on the ground. He did not mention the Kurdish fait accompli in the north, which seems to be thriving politically and economically, thank you very much.

In this position, the President finds himself among an odd mixed company, strange bedfellows, metaphorically speaking. These include first and foremost the troublesome anti-American Muqtada al-Sadr, often called a Shi’a firebrand in the media- his people in the parliament refused to support regionalism. They also include the many Sunni politicians who flirt with the insurgency publicly and perhaps go much farther with the insurgents privately. Arab governments, Iran and Turkey also profess strong support for a unified Iraq. Of course there is nothing sacred about a unified Iraq, anymore than was about a unified Yugoslavia or the Soviet Union, or Czechoslovakia (I was not sure I could still spell it), or the Austro-Hungarian state. Most of these strange regional bedfellows like Iran, Turkey and the Arab countries support a united Iraq based on calculations of their own national interests and especially the interests of their current governments.

Nevertheless, the Iraqi parliament last week went ahead and approved a law for autonomous regions within a federal system- which shows that they do not give a ripe fig what foreigners, all foreigners including their liberators, wish them to do in their own country. Which shows that even though many Iraqis may feel miserable, they also feel politically empowered, even with 130,000 foreign occupation troops. Which in itself says a lot about both the potential of the new Iraqi political system and about the occupying power itself.

On the Other Hand....:
Arab media reports that Jordan’s King recently released from prison two errant Islamist ‘elected’ members of parliament who had been kicked out of the legislature and jailed for giving condolences to the family of terrorist leader Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi after his death in Iraq. The two members and the Moslem Brotherhood are now petitioning the King to ‘re-instate’ them in parliament as well. Interesting, elected legislators are asking an un-elected king to reinstate them to the seats to which the people had elected them.
Now that is real executive power- almost unbridled executive power.

Monday, October 16, 2006

An Iraqi Emirate, Persian Gulf War of Words

Iraq- A Declaration of a new Islamic Emirate:
The Mujahideen Shoura Council, consisting of Al-Qaeda and some other Sunni insurgent groups, has announced the establishment of 'The Islamic Emirate in Iraq', to cover parts of northern Iraq as well as the western part which includes Al-anbar province. The new Emir was named as Abu Omar Al-Baghdadi, which is clearly a made-up name with strong implications that the man is a Sunni from Baghdad. No doubt he is a Sunni but he could be from anywhere, including Algeria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, or Jordan. The news and reports about these shadowy groups indicate that some former Iraqi military officers are allied with the Salafis and Ba’athists. A new name that crops up is Abu Osama Al-Iraqi, aka Khalid Othman, reported to be a former high officer of the Saddam-era armed forces.

On the other hand, it looks like tribal factors among the Sunnis are playing a strong role in exacerbating the inter-insurgent divisions now. It is not clear if the Coalition efforts have had a role in this shift, or if it is a natural outcome of events, given the strong tribal assabiya, the blind loyalty to the tribe and clan that is powerful and supercedes national identity in most Arab countries of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Gulf. Some of the dissidents are criticizing the new leader of Al-Qaeda-Iraq for harming the Sunnis in their terrorist operations. Presumably some of the tribes have been angered that their own members are being killed and injured during indiscriminate operations in mixed neighborhoods.

The announcer of this new Emirate on the web vowed: “We swear by Allah to work and struggle (Jihad) in order to free the captives, lift injustice and tyranny off the Sunna people who are oppressed by the hateful Rawafidhia rejectionists (a term used for the Shi’as, who do not follow the Sunna orthodoxy) and the Crusader occupiers (guess who?).” The announcement condemns the Kurds (agents of Zionism) as well Shi’as (agents of Persian Safawis, a favorite term used by Ba’athists and Salafis for Shi’as). Speaking of which: Aljazeera TV reports the Iraqi government has announced the formation of a joint working team with Iran for ‘security coordination’ between the two countries. Presumably this will involve exchange of intelligence as well as anti-terrorism and border security. It was not reported if they will discuss the Shi'a militias that also plague Iraqi cities.

A New Persian Gulf War (of Words):
To understand the sectarian emotions that Iraq has unleashed in the Arab World, one needs only to look at recent political developments in the Persian Gulf region:

Fear of a continuation of majority rule in Iraq has already pushed many in the Gulf states toward urging an American-approved coup in Iraq- this is almost an oxymoron, any coup will have to be American-sanctioned. These rumors of a coup have been fed by leading Iraqi Sunni politicians and journalists who have established contacts in the GCC states. While most Americans would consider these rumors as absurd manifestations of certain Middle Eastern or Arab peculiarities, they are taken seriously in the Arab World, especially in the politically pre-adolescent Gulf region. In turn, these rumors feed the terrorist insurgency in Iraq, raising its hopes of a return to power.

Many of the elites in the Arab world, and especially in the Gulf, now believe that they were better off with Saddam in power in Baghdad. One can sense it from what is written in some of the media, either openly or between the lines. It is not often clearly expressed because most of these states would not want to irritate or embarrass the American protector, the only power that keeps the big bad regional wolves at bay. These feelings and worries are understandable, given the regional uncertainties unleashed in the aftermath of the fall of the Ba'ath, and given the history of Iraq with her neighbors.

In looking through some of the mainstream media outlets of the GCC countries, one would think that a hot Shi'a-Sunni civil war has already started on the shores of the Persian Gulf. This is especially the case with parts of the Saudi and Kuwaiti media. The website of Alarabiya TV, Saudi-owned but operating from Dubai, last week carried almost daily news reports about alleged mass conversions of Sunnis in Arab countries to the Shi'a sect. Fundamentalist Salafi deputies in Kuwait have accused the token Shi'a minister in the government of distributing pro-Shi'a literature to other cabinet members. Two Kuwait daily rightwing tabloids, al-Watan and al-Siyassah, have hinted at disloyalty among the Gulf Shi'as, as well as reporting that the Mufti of Syria, that country's leading Islamic Sunni scholar and arbiter, has been forced to convert to Shi'ism in order to keep his job. Now it is not known how one converts to Shi'ism or Sunnism, since there are no rites for conversion between sects in Islam. It has to do with how one thinks, what he believes and also on how he or she perceives certain old historical events in early Islam.

The oddest, and perhaps most amusing, report appeared in Al-watan (Oct. 15), where a regular daily columnist published an open letter to President Bush (Oct. 15) telling him that North Korea has developed nuclear weapons only because she fears a 'repeat of past American aggression', urging him to leave North Korea alone and attack Iran and Syria. He said these two countries tend to subvert citizens of Gulf countries. They probably do try to recruit agents in the area, perhaps try to win some hearts and minds, although I can't see how they can win any given the dismal economic and human rights performance of both countries. A piece of advice is in order here: this may not be considered a casus belli (he'll have to look this one up), not by the men and women who will have to do the fighting or their representatives, probably not even by those who will have to give the orders.

The Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) will hold a conference in Mecca to discuss peace in Iraq. A representative of Ayatollah Ali Sistani has publicly urged the conference to include an item discouraging the public use of sectarian language, especially among preachers at the mosques. Some extremist preachers periodically denounce the Shi'as publicly from the pulpit as heretics and encourage others to fight them- apparently the place to do just that is Iraq.

One positive result of these sectarian tensions, and the Iraq war, is that many domestic issues that were swept under the rug will have to be faced now. Still, these are things that can rock a boat, as they say.


Thursday, October 12, 2006

Iraq's Gruesome Insurance, Gulf Markets

Iraq, Syria and Israel:
Iraq's parliament has approved a law on 'Mechansims and Procedures for Forming Federal Regions'. Regionalism within a federal Iraq is supported by most Shi'as and Kurds who control the legislature. Sunnis, who had dominated the country since its creation by the British after WWI, oppose federalism and regionalism. This is a watershed step for Iraq, and perhaps for other unstable and too-centralized states in the Middle East and Africa.
Perhaps three people were instrumental in the creation of Iraq and its current borders and centralized form of government, as well as that of Jordan: Sir Winston Chrchill, Sir Percy Cox, and Miss Gertrude Bell (Ms did not exist at the time. Gloria Steinem was nowhere to be seen, and people were just getting used to saying 'tovarisch' in Russia in those days).

A gruesome sign of the terrible times in Iraq. London-based daily Alhayat reports (10/11) that some Iraqi men now resort to new measures that ensure that their corpses, or cadavers, can be identified in case they are kidnapped and murdered in this atmosphere of sectarian violence. Some men now tatoo their names on different parts of their bodies. Others add the names of family members and telephone numbers on their bodies. Iraqi families nowadays do not wait long after a member is overdue from an outing- they head to the Central Morgue as a first step, before trying detention centers operated by the Iraqi security forces or the U.S military. Tatoos have helped some families identify the mutilated and decomposed bodies of loved ones.

Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Perez has invited President Assad of Syria to visit Jerusalem and talk peace with Israeli leaders. It is highly unlikely that Assad will accept. Sort of like, 'I knew Anwar Sadat, Anwar Sadat was a friend of mine. You are no Anwar Sadat....etc'

Gulf Financial Markets:
Newsweek reports Qatar might try to host the 2016 Olympics. Qatar has the money to build the facilities and after the UAE is probably the only GCC country that could conceivably organize the event. But it does not have the population, not enough of them to pay for Olympic size tickets. Like other GCC states, the majority of the population are expatriate workers and housemaids, who can hardly afford the money or the time to watch international sports.

Kuwait officials are again talking about a future for the country as a world Financial and Trade Center. Both the Kuwaiti Finance Minister and Central Bank Governor have resumed public statements in this regard. So did the old Commerce Minister, among others. Come to think of it, even the Minister of Awqaf and Religious (Islamic) Affairs has talked about this issue at some point. Some Kuwaitis would jest that perhaps even the Nabat Poets Society (a local Bedouin Dead Poets' Society) have opined about this issue. But this is sort of like a deluded middle-aged spinster who still talks of getting married and having children. Except that a much more attractive and younger bride, the UAE in this case, especially Dubai, has taken the only eligible bachelor in town, and in an irrevocable Catholic (gasp) marriage, which allows for no polygamy. Besides, the powerful local Fun-dementa-lists of the Salafi variety do not have much use for monogamy.

Alhayat quotes a report by Abu Dhabi National Bank that the Saudi Stocks Index lost about 45% of its value during the period between February's high and September of 2006. Qatar lost 31.5%, UAE 30.8%, Kuwait 11.5%, Oman 11.7%, and Bahrain 1.7%. During the first 9 months of 2005, these markets achieved huge gains of between 19% (Bahrain) and 116% (Saudi Arabia). These periodic' moderate' corrections, following exuberant rises, are a good thing for the markets in the long term- except few individuals in the Gulf invest in the local market long-term.

Interesting Item(s):
African media report that a man and a woman were discovered having intercourse in a mosque in Nairobi (Kenya) one night last week during Ramadan. When arrested, the man claimed he did it because he was drunk.

Almost Deja Vue All Over Again:
For a few horrible minutes yesterday morning, hearing the news from sounded and looked like deja vue all over again...


Tuesday, October 10, 2006

A New Iraq Policy? Gulf Finance

New Direction in Iraq Policy?

There are several reasons to think some changes are on the way in Iraq:

- James Baker, head of a bipartisan Iraq Commission appointed by the congress with White House approval, has been making the media rounds. The commission is supposed to look into possible changes in the Iraq policy. Baker has a long resume as a Republican honcho: Secretary of State, Secretary of Treasury, White House Chief of Staff, Campaign Manager, Bush Florida Recount Legal Council. Mr. Baker is not normally interested in media appearances.
Arab newspapers like Asharq Alawsat and Alquds Alarabi, both London-based, report that the Baker commission will recommend splitting Iraq into three Federal regions, Shi'a, Sunni, and Kurd. Each region will control its own internal security. This would solve the problem of the militias, except in Baghdad.

- Senator John Warner, Chair of Armed Services Committee, back from another trip to the Iraqi front, has been making noises to the effect that things are not going right, and that 'something, some progress, must be done within two or three months' in Iraq.

- Secretary Rice flew to Baghdad last week, met the leaders, then went to Kurdistan and met with Kurdish leaders.

- U. S. Ambassador in Baghdad Zalmay Khalilzad has been quoted (ABC, George Stephanopoulos, Oct 8) as saying that "the problem in Iraq is not the terrorism, but the sectarian violence". Try telling that to the families of the daily victims, Iraqis and Americans, who are maimed and killed every day. Clearly Iraq's main problems, terrorism and sectarianism, are related: without the Salafi and Ba'athist terrorism, which is basically sectarian instigated, people would not seek the dubious and illusory protection of the sectarian militias. As mentioned in an earlier posting here, the failure of the Iraqi government to contain the militias is a direct function of the failure of the Coalition (U.S.) policy to control the terrorism. Nevertheless the terrorists are invisible, especially around Baghdad. The militias are quite visible, and by their visibility they weaken and undermine the sovereignty of the state. This is something that no government can tolerate and survive.

- Some media in the Persian Gulf oil states have been hinting at the possible overthrow of the elected Iraqi government. There have been claims that al-Malki's government will be replaced with a regime of 'National Salvation' or 'National Unity'. If these reports are beyond wishful thinking, and have some elements of truth, then prehaps Secretary Rice's visit had something to do with that as well. This is the least likely and most dangerous scenario, because it undermines the post-war rationale for the war- in this case the Liberation of Iraq becomes the mere Invasion of Iraq. The United States has never invaded an independent country and then forced a dictatorship: Germany, Japan, Italy, Austria, even Grenada and Haiti were eventually allowed to hold elections. It is not likely to depart now from this quintessentially American principle that has defined United States policy since World War I.

GCC Finance:
Dubai is working to attract biotechnology industries, by developing a Dubai (Complex) Center for Biotech, with extensive laboratories and advanced research centers. The plan is code-named Dubiotech (Du-Bio-Tech). Apparently the major competitor anywhere within reach is India, which has a huge reservoir of skilled staff in the field of technology and presumably in biotech as well. India, however, has not been known for its research in biotech, so this may not be an issue. But it has the advantage of low cost of operations. Dubai has the advantages of a more cosmopolitan environment and an interesting lifestyle which will make it easier to attract talent.
The Gulf Emirate was edified by having the IMF meetings held there in 2003, the first Arab country to host the annual meetings.

One problem with Dubai is the extremely high inflation rate. According to media reports many expatriate workers in the UAE already seek second or third jobs in order to be able to meet the costs of living and send money home for their families. reports that price increases have ranged between 30%-70% during the period 2003-2006. Rents are reported to have increased by up to 90% for that period. The report said that many people have started speculating in the stock marke in order to supplement their incomes. IMF data show inflation for the GCC countries at 3.2% for this year (for the Middle East oil producers as a group it is 7.6%). These figures, officially sanctioned, do not seem to match anecdotal evidence.

In the Gulf states (GCC) the effects of collapsing stock markets effects tend to be less than in other regions. Government intervention often keeps a floor under share prices. Authorities occasionally purchase shares through their local investment arms in order to shore up prices (the Kuwait Investment Authority is a clear example of this, as well as a new public fund started in Saudi Arabia by the King earlier this year).


Wednesday, October 04, 2006

New Arab Alliance- Jordan (The Country) Suffers PMS.

GCC+2 and Iraq:
There is talk in the Arab media about a new 6+2 conservative alliance in the Middle East. This includes the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) plus Egypt and Jordan. Overseeing this group of 6 will be number 7, Washington. Some officials at the ministerial level in the GCC have denied that such an alliance exists, but the recent meeting in Cairo with Secretary Rice has been noted in the press as an indication that Washington is pushing for an alliance that would be anti-Iranian, anti-Syrian, anti-Hizballah, anti-Hamas, and presumably anti-AlQaeda as well. But perhaps not anti-North Korean, not yet.
Some Islamist political groups in the GCC and in Egypt, and the remnants of the old Secular pan-Arabists, have cautioned of such a Western-dominated alliance. This is reminiscent of the old CENTO (Baghdad Pact) that stretched from Pakistan through Iran to Iraq and Turkey and was rendered defunct after the Iraqi generals started their series of coups in 1958. Such a new alliance will most likely depend heavily on the financial resources of the GCC countries. It looks like the immediate emphasis for this group will be on Iraq, and perhaps the Palestinian-Israeli issue- the New democratic Middle East might be put on the agenda at a much later date, perhaps after the oil wells dry out. I have a suggestion here: perhaps they should start by discussing the crippling foreign debts of Iraq, especially the Arab debts, including the reparation payments?

Troubled Jordan:
Jordan has withdrawn her ambassador from Doha, apparently in protest over Qatar declining to vote for her candidate for UN Secretary General. Qatar is the sole Arab member of the Security Council for the current term. The Jordanians claim there had been an Arab consensus to vote for a Jordanian prince to succeed Kofi Annan, but the Qataris deny that they promised any such thing. Interesting, last time I checked Qatar was an independent country, free to vote for whomever she wanted to. Besides the South Korean who seems slated for the job is a man with much experience, and he would have won anyway.
Jordan has been at the center of several controversies in recent months, some of it of her own creation, and this is something quite uncharacteristic for Jordan, which has a very presentable pair of monarchs- in fact they are the most presentable of all the 20 Arab monarchs (yes they are 20 of them). Well, almost all because I have not seen Her Majesty the Queen of Morocco, and I know King Mohammed VI looks better than Abdullah II.

Perhaps a change of Foreign Minister is in order in Amman. Or is it just a case of national PMS- that is Post Menstrual Syndrome in case you need to look it up? After all, it has been about 80 years since the British took away part of the Palestinian desert (TransJordan), and made it into a Kingdom- at about the same time they patched Iraq together from various Ottoman provinces and handed it to the Sunni potentates and officers corps. I thought 80 years was past it, but perhaps nation- states have a different biological clock. Does that explain the situation in Iraq as well? Does this mean Washingtom chose the wrong year to get rid of the Ba'athist regime?

Oh Oh, Them Cartoons, Again:
A Norwegian media outlet, TV2, has broadcast a documentary Monday (Oct 2) that includes the controversial Danish cartoons about the Prophet Mohammed. Alarabiya TV reports that all Norwegian embassies were forewarned to allow for security precautions. Keep your eyes open for the new snowball.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Iran's Troubled Economy and The Diabolus Magnus

Iran Comment

Supreme Leader Ali Khamenai has lashed out at President Ahmadinejad over the state of the Iranian economy. (Why is it that supreme leaders are never elected? Would elections reduce their supremacy?) This sharp criticism may help bring Mr. Ahmadinejad back to earth, down from his perch in the glare of international media and nuclear crisis management. Perhaps the media party is almost over for him. He came to power with promises of reform and improving the economy, something he has not done and is not likely to succeed in doing even if he knew how, not against the wishes of the clerics.
Official figures have mentioned an inflation rate of 10%, and in the Middle East one must add a political cheat premium of at least another 5% (actually another 10% is more reasonable). The unelected Ayatollah has put the economic blame on the elected president, an easy ploy, but attempts at economic and political reform in the past were aborted by the entrenched conservative clerics and their parliamentary allies.

The reality or Iran is that, beyond all the publicity about confrontation with the West (read Washington), and the adulation in some regional Arab media about its nuclear ambitions, the country is as besieged today as it has ever been. True, the hated throat-slitting, chastity-belt peddling, serial-marrying Taliban are gone from next door in Afghanistan, but now there are the forces of the Great Satan and her allies. And the Afghan warlords, poppy-growers and opium smugglers next door are thriving as well. True, the unstable Saddam Hussein, who was never able to resist a war that he could start, has gone into full O.J. courtroom mode. Now the forces of the Great Satan are in tenuous control of Baghdad, and Arab leaders, once shameless hairy cheerleaders for the murderous Ba'ath, are brazenly trying to shift the blame to Tehran for the mess in Iraq.

In fact the whole neighborhood, that is the Arab World from the Tigris to beyond the Nile, is today American territory, covered by a Pax Americana unprecedented since the days of the Roman Empire. Even the Roman Empire never reached the Tigris- that remained Parthian (Persian) territory until the Moslem conquests. Old triumvir Marcus Crassus did a Saddam more than two thousand years ago and invaded across the Tigris- they never found him or his legions nor, more imporatnt for the Romans, did they recover the sacred eagles that he carried.
This is a painful Pax Diabol(ic)us Magnus to the clerics in Tehran. The only exception, the only regional wriggle room the mullahs have, lies in a strip along the southern border of Lebanon and perhaps in Gaza.

Most of the people in Iran are fed up with the leadership, especially city folks, and are unlikely to worry much about the proximity of this Diabolus Magnus, a name often used by the mullahs that most of the people do not agree with and none use privately. Most likely, most Iranians could not care less what happens in the Arab lands to their south and west, across the Persian Gulf or the Zagross Mountains. They have their own tenacious local fundamentalist demons that they would dearly love to shake off. Still, it is wise to know that foreign forces or bombers will not be met with flowers in Iran.


Sunday, October 01, 2006

Two Faces of the Iraq Coin- Is a Kabbalah on the Way to Baghdad?

Iraq News Analysis

Criticism has increased recently in both the United States and some gleeful media outlets in the Arab World about the failures of the Nouri al-Malki government to rein in the militias in Baghdad. Reports leaked almost every day to the U.S media hint at dissatisfaction with al-Malki's government for its slow pace of restoring security.

On the other hand, criticism of the U.S government failure to control the Jihadist and Baathist Sunni terrorists in Baghdad and other areas has been around for some time now. The new Bob Woodward book, which will come out tomorrow, will add fuel to the fires of criticism of Washington's policy in the aftermath of the invasion.

These two failures in Iraq, specifically in Baghdad are, to repeat a justifiably overused cliche, two faces of the same coin. As long as the Coalition (i.e the U.S) fails to destroy or at least control the Sunni terrorists, it will be impossible for the government in Baghdad to control the Shi'a militias. It will be hard for the politicians to make the case, to their own people, for disarming or redeploying these militias. The militias are not doing anything visibly effective to combat the terrorism either, but that fact is lost in the emotions on the Iraqi street.

Yesterday's news about uncovering Al-Qaida operatives working in the offices of a leading Sunni politician, Mr. Adnan al-Dulaimi (al-Delaimi) will not help matters. Only one man was apprehended, but Jihadist terrorists are like the proverbial (?) cockroaches of the Middle East, if you see one of them in the bathroom you can be certain there is a nest of them in the house.

In the Arab World, it looks like they are trying to make the case in the media, and to their own restless and skeptic peoples, for a grade of 'F' for the Baghdad government, based on the security issue. The potentates in the Arab World would like to push for an unelected government of selected political-military strongmen, a cabal, a ruling Kabbalah to borrow a Hebrew term, which will be politically in line with the rest of the region that extends from the Indus River to the Atlas Mountains. The Jihadists are useful for this purpose because they make the case for a failure of elected governance. These Salafis, however, have a different agenda, they want to make the rest of the region in the image of their townships in al-Anbar, a Talibanesque hellhole.

The Arab potentates should learn a lesson from their experience with the Palestinian Islamic Hamas. After the first Persian Gulf War, Arab oil money poured into Hamas coffers- telethones were even held on Saudi Television to collect money for it. Today Hamas is in power, and they are all trying hard to unseat it.


Baghdad failures,

Iraq News Analysis

Criticism has increased recently in both the United States and some gleeful media outlets in the Arab World about the failures of the Nouri al-Malki government to rein in the militias in Baghdad. Reports leaked to the media hint at dissatisfaction with al-Malki's government for its slow pace of restoring security.

Criticism of the U.S government failure to control the Jihadist and Baathist Sunni terrorists in Baghdad and other areas has been around for some time now. The new Bob Woodward book, which will come out tomorrow, will add fuel to the fires of criticism of Washington's policy in the aftermath of the invasion.

These two failures in Iraq, specifically in Baghdad, to repeat a justifiably overused cliche, are two faces of the same coin. As long as the Coalition (i.e the U.S) fails to destroy or at least control the Sunni terrorists, it will be impossible for the government in Baghdad to control the Shi'a militias. It will be hard for the politicians to make the case, to their own people, for disarming or redeploying these militias.

Yesterday's news about uncovering Al-Qaida operatives working in the offices of a leading Sunni politician, Mr. Adnan al-Dulaimi (al-Delaimi) will not help matters. Only one man was apprehended, but Jihadist terrorists are like the proverbial cockroaches, if you see one of them in the bathroom you can be certain there is a nest of them in the house.

In the Arab World, it looks like they are trying to make the case in the media, and to their restless and skeptic peoples, for a grade of 'F' for the Baghdad government, based on the security issue. The potentates in the Arab World would like to push for an unelected government of selected political-military strongmen, a cabal, a ruling Kabbalah to borrow a Hebrew term, which will be politically in line with the rest of the region that extends from the Indus River to the Atlas Mountains. The Jihadists are useful for this purpose because they make the case for a failure of elected governance. These Salafis, however, have a different agenda, they want to make the rest of the region in the image of their townships in al-Anbar, a Talibanesque hellhole.

The Arab potentates should learn a lesson from their experience with the Palestinian Islamic Hamas. After the first Persian Gulf War, Arab oil money poured into Hamas coffers- telethones were even held on Saudi Television to collect money for it. Today Hamas is in power, and they are all trying hard to unseat it.

Blog Directory