Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Battle for Baghdad, How Arabs Radicalized Iraq

The Battle of Baghdad:
The picture in Iraq got a little muddier this week, just before the Ashoura commemorative on Monday. According to some Arab media reports, the fighting around Najaf involved a mysterious group of Sunnis, including Al-Qaeda, as well as a fringe Shi'a group called Jund al-Samaa', Soldiers of Heaven. This would be quite an oddity, to have Al-Qaeda cooperating with fringe Shi'a groups, since the Wahabis consider all Shi'as heretics. It is almost as unlikely as Nazis and Jews making common cause. The Iraqi satellite TV station AlFayhaa quotes a Najaf security official that this was actually a wholly al-Qaeda operation, and that the name 'Soldiers of Heave' is a fake title used to imply that Shi'as are involved. The reports indicate that they had planned to murder top Shi'a clergy and kill as many pilgrims to the shrines as possible. They were also reported to be quite well armed, not your usual low-budget Al-Qaeda suicide operation.

It looks like the Iraqi government, and the United States, may get their wish in ejecting the Sadrist al-Mahdi militias from the streets of Baghdad, thus avoiding a messy confrontation. Yet the continued terror bombings by Sunni groups may encourage support for splinter Shi'a groups. This might weaken the Sadrists in the capital, but at a cost: the splinter groups will have no part of the political process, and they will be more likely to take the law into their own hands. As long as the Wahabi/Salafi terror bombings continue, there will be some popular gravitation among the Shia's to these militias.
Some Arab media, esepcially the Saudi media, are unhappy with the Sadrist shift back toward the political process: they were hoping for a battle that would destroy al-Mahdi army, thus clouding the situation in Baghdad. Now that battle may not come, which is a good thing because nobody should want all of Baghdad to look like Haifa Street with splinter Shi'a militia groups fighting Iraqi and American forces.
Interesting how the situation in Iraq is now being summarized as the "Battle of Baghdad". That is because the rest of Iraq is already divided along sectarian/ethnic lines. Baghdad is the main point of contention now, and perhaps Kirkuk will be later this year.
Those who criticize the regionalism proposals for Iraq, including U.S government officials, are probably trying to assuage allied Arab feelings. Iraq is in fact divided into semi-autonomous regions whether we like it or not: the Kurds are firmly in control in the North, the Shi'as are firmly in control in the South, and the Sunnis can control the West unmolested if they would not carry on suicide bombings in other parts of the country.

How The Arabs Radicalized Iraq:
The Arab regimes, and their elites, bear much responsibility for the ongoing disintegration of Iraq. The Arab media complain about American ineptness in handling the post-Ba'ath situation, yet they and their rulers have done much to exacerbate the sectarian tensions that feed the situation in Iraq. They have refused to deal on an equal basis with an elected Iraqi government, and their monarchs and dictators have made inflammatory statements about the dangers of the Shi'as gaining majority rule. King Abdullah of Jordan started the ball rolling with his irresponsible, and plagiarized, warning about a "Shi'a Crescent", then Egypt's aging President-For-Life Mubarak stated to the press that "Shi'as were more loyal to Iran than to their own countries". Saudi state-employed Wahabi sheikhs started issuing fatwas reiterating their well-publicized views that the Shi'as are heretics who are out to convert and control. Now we have the seeds of a regional sectarian conflict. Old derogatory sectarian terms like Safawis and Shoubis, often used by the Ba'ath in the past, are being dusted up and used to refer to the Shi'as on a daily basis by mainstream Arab newspapers in the Persian Gulf monarchies. These terms were last used by the same media during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, when the Gulf states were cheering Saddam on, acclaiming him a hero.

Now the regional media, as usual echoing their absolute rulers, are calling for a reversal of Iraq: reinstate the old gas-throwing, chemical-using army that murdered Kurds, the same army that invaded Kuwait and was poised to take over the rest of their oil fields. They want an old and reliable military man, i.e a Sunni, installed as a benevolent dictator: perhaps they guess that they can easily buy off such a man, even though they could not completely buy off Saddam. They have a mind-set that does not accept change: they still believe that the Americans run everything in Iraq, that we can change the government at will. Just like the older generation, our parents, always believed that the Brits ran the Middle East overtly or covertly, which they did for a while. Perhaps they should stop watching novellas, or is it Looney Toons, and switch their television sets to the hearings on C-Span occasionally to appreciate the struggle that is raging within the United States about the Iraq situation.

Love and Tribalism in Arabia- The Tragedy of Fatima and Mansoor:
Al-arabia TV reports that a Saudi appeals court has ruled that the court-ordered divorce of a young couple is valid, even though both the man and woman, and their children want to remain married. The original case was brough to court by the wife's male relatives, her brothers, who claimed that they have discovered that the husband was not 'tribally compatible' with the family. The couple had escaped after the first ruling but were caught by the police and charged with living in sin. The woman, Fatima, has refused to leave the prison where she is staying with her infant child, for fear that her family will marry her off quickly to an old man.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Iraq's American Values, Saddam's Virgins, Jordanian Honor Killings

I have been reading and hearing reports and comments about the training and arming of the Iraqi Army. Several U.S and Arab commentators have warned that the United States, in training the Iraqis, is training unreliable people who do not share American values and goals. Yet the United States trains other Arab armies, including the Saudis and Egyptians- it is highly doubtful that they share American values and goals (September 11, 2001 reminded us all of that). There is one major difference, however: unlike all other Arab armed forces, the Iraqi army answers to a freely elected government- this is one value they share with America that other Arabs do not.

At a conference in Doha to staunch Moslem sectarian tensions, a top radical Egyptian Sunni cleric, a Dr. Yosouf al-Qardawi, called on Shia's to stop converting Sunnis to their sect. That went a long way toward sealing the fate of the conference. Later al-Qardawi eulogized Saddam Hussein at a mosque, and almost guaranteed him a place in paradise. He did not, however, mention whether Saddam will also have unlimited access to virgins in his new domicile.

It looks like Lebanon is on the verge of a new civil war, unless the various factions and parties agree to a restructuring of the political system. It is clear now that the current system is untenable, simply because the largest group of the Lebanese demographic/ethnic mosaic, as represented by Hizballah and Amal, will not accept it. It is highly unlikely that the recent Paris agreement on aid will do much to change that. There are reports in Arab media that the Iranians and the Saudis, the two main influences on the opposing Lebanese factions, are working to reach an agreement. Even if they do, will their purported proxies, Mr. Nassrallah and Mr. Hariri agree? Unfortunately for Lebanon, it is unlikely that the $ 7+ billion aid money, whenever it becomes available and at whatever conditions, will flow fast enough to affect the situation on the ground.

Alarabiya reports from Jordan that a young girl was shot by her family for 'dishonoring' them by running away from home for a few days. Posthumous medical examination showed that she was still a virgin- whatever bit of family honor that strip of membrane represented was still intact. Reports claim that at least 12 women have been honor-killed by their families in Jordan over the last year, and it is very likely that many more such murder cases are not even reported, perhaps not as 'honor' killings.

Looks like most commentators agree that the Pakistani ISI, the inter-service intelligence, has resumed helping and arming the now-resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan. Most publicly agree with this assessment, except U.S officials in Washington. And we all know who is allied with and bankrolls the Taliban, or do we?

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Reckoning in Iran, Little Nuclear King, An Islamic Crusade

Ahmadijejad's Reckoning: Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been riding high over the past two years. The time of reckoning, however, is drawing close. He was elected on promises to improve economic conditions, and he has clearly failed to deliver. Instead, he seems to have focused on foreign policy issues, even traveling far and wide and literally meddling in various foreign issues that do not concern his people. He even managed to antagonize European leaders who are the quintessential anti-neocons, by going back in time, literally backwards, to adopt the seemy issue of holocaust denial. He has not endeared his regime or his country to those who really count nowadays in the world economy, the industrial nations that control the executive boards of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. He does not have much time before the next election, and he looks set to lose. The local media and politicians are accelerating its criticism of him. If he could not fulfill his promises when petroleum prices were near $ 70 a barrel, he certainly will not be able to do so with prices near $ 50. Unless a certain major super-power makes the huge mistake of attacking his country within the next two years. That is precisely what Saddam Hussein did in 1980, thus allowing the embattled mullahs to eliminate their powerful secular and democratic opponents.

Funniest Statement of the Week: The Israeli newspaper Ma'arev quotes King Abdullah of Jordan that his country will develop nuclear energy, for peaceful purposes of course. There remains one simple question: where the hell will Jordan get the money (billions of dollars) from? Foreign aid and development assistance, major sources of Jordanian foreign exchange earnings, do not cover nuclear research- the U.S Congress will never stand for it. Then there is the issue of the brains and the knowledge needed: it is almost impossible to B.S. your way into the nuclear club. Even an Arab leader cannot get that far with pure B.S.

Iraq, Again: In discussing the Middle East, there is no escaping Iraq. It has replaced the Palestinian issue as the focus of the struggle for the region. At least, the Arab regimes, which for decades used Israel and the Palestinian plight as the excuse for continued dictatorship and corruption, have now shifted almost their total attention to Iraq. Re-instating the Sunni elites back in power in Baghdad is the goal of all Arab regimes. Except they do not know how to go about it, now that all Iraqi factions are armed to the teeth. Certainly the escalated and vicious media war being waged against the Iraqi constitution and the weak government will not lead to that. Perhaps the Jordanian Fredonian nuclear threat (look above) will help tip the balance?

Speaking of Iraq: the Turkish parliament has been discussing Iraqi matters in closed session- especially the city of Kirkuk, fomerly mainly Kurdish but ethnically-cleansed by the Ba'ath and the former Sunni rulers of Iraq. The Kurds prepare for a referendum by the end of the year that might join the city to their autonomous region. The Turks threaten intervention if that happens. In this the Turks are making common cause with the Salafi fundamentalists and former Ba'athists who are at the core of the terrorism in Iraq.

Interesting Arabia: Alarabiya TV website, when it is not carrying the Sunni-Wahabi Crusade (this is not a pun, otherwise it would be a bad one) about Iraq, does publish interesting items. It reports that a young Saudi man parked his car, a Mercedes of course, outside a butcher's shop, entered the shop and proceeded to cut his own throat on the meat machine. He succeeded. A leading Saudi shaikh (there are many over there) said that this is an unusual case, an aberration, in the Saudi Moslem society, presumably just like hypocrisy, corruption, nepotism, and embezzlement. He said suicide may be caused by mental illness (also one of the causes of political nonconformity), using illegal drugs (another cause of noncomformity), or perhaps he was exposed to some magic perhaps from the Jinn (also can cause serious political nonconformity and general anti-government views). The Shaikh, Abdulmuhsin al-Obeikan, did say, however, that the mentally ill is not responsible and will not be punished on the Day of Judgement. Even if the said mentally ill espouses unusual political views? What if the mentally ill person decides to convert from Islam to, say, espiscopalianism? Or even Catholicism (I used episcopalianism first because it has a certain ring to it)? Everybody can spell Catholic, or Moslem- but espiscopalian can be a challenge.

Friday, January 19, 2007

How Arab Rulers Seek to 'Reform' Iraq

Arabia Deceptia: this terms was the title of a column written by the late Walter Lippmann after the Arab-Israeli Six-Day War of 1967. It is as relevant today as it was then.
With the political mood in Washington shifting away from pushing democracy and toward a return to the old cold-war era emphasis on 'stability', regional rulers feel 'off the hook'. There is still the messy business in Iraq which they would like to deal with, on their on terms, if they can swing it.
The Arab political system has convinced itself that events in Iraq must be the work of 'foreigners', part of some grand scheme. Some blame Iran, which is certainly involved in Iraq. Some blame a joint Israeli-Iranian plot: considered far-fetched anywhere in the world except in Arabia. Others see a secret American-Iranian plan to divide up the region- a sort of modern day Sykes-Picot deal, just like the Brits and the French did after World War I. Others throw in Israel as the third partner in this plot. Some old habits do not die: self-delusion and denial are alive and well, as ever, in Arabia. 'De Nile' is a river in Egypt, as they say.

President Mubarak of Egypt supports the new Bush plan for Iraq. But he demands that the "Iraqi" constitution be amended. To make the political process more inclusive. Mr. Mubarak, 79 years old and by now 26 years in absolute power, is planning to hand over the throne of Egypt to his son when he departs. Only once has he had to face an opponent in an election, a rigged sham election- even Jimmy Carter did not bother to show up to validate its results. That opponent in question, Ayman Nour, has been in prison on trumped up charges ever since. And Mr. Mubarak wants the "Iraqi" constitution amended to make it more inclusive.

The Saudis have also welcomed the new Bush plan, after some explanations and clarification by Secretary Rice. But they are also demanding, through their foreign minister and through the best-financed media in the third world, that the "Iraqi" constitution be amended to make it more inclusive. Saudi Arabia does not have a constitution, and 15% of its citizens who happen to be Shi'as (Shiites to some westerners) sit atop the vast petroleum fields of their ancestral lands, and these 15% aspire to be treated better, perhaps at least as third class citizens. They are not as ambitious as their counterparts, the 15% Sunnis of Iraq. You see, they are being realistic. And Saudi Arabia demands that Iraq's constitution be more inclusive.
Saudi women cannot drive a car, a motorcycle, or ride a bicycle or a mule at home. They cannot travel without being accompanied by an adult male relative. They can be divorced by a husband simply repeating "You are divorced" three times, and that divorce cannot be reversed until after the woman remarries someone else and the new marriage is 'consummated'. Not 'very nice' as Borat would say. Yet Saudi Arabia wants to improve the 'Iraqi' constitution and to reform the freely elected, albeit hapless, Iraqi government.
So do all Arab despots, kings, dictators, and presidents-for-life (the only kind of president in the Arab World, with one exception).

The problem with the Arab system is that it failed the Iraqi people time and again over 35 years. It ignored and denied the genocide against the Kurds even as the Anfal operations were at their peak. It sided with Saddam when he launched his war against Iran. Half of it sided with Saddam when he invaded Kuwait. Now they and their paid media are foolishly questioning the patriotic credentials of 85% of the Iraqi people, the Kurds and the Shi'as. Don't get me wrong: the other 15% of Iraqis, the Sunnis, have no love for the existing Arab system either. After all, this system and its governments either condoned or actively supported the war that ended their domination of Iraq.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Rehabilitation of Saddam, A Burning Reichstag in the Middle East

The Ba'ath Redux?
In most Arab states, Saddam’s ‘bloody shirt’ is being waved daily, and used to discredit the hapless but nevertheless democratically elected government in Iraq. It is also used to discredit the whole electoral process and the ideal of real democracy in the Arab World. The argument is simple, primeval: look what happens when big daddy is deposed?
In Jordan, where Saddam was considered a hero (by people who never had to live under his regime) there has been all but official mourning. A cabinet minister appointed by King Abdullah to his government even attended funeral services that turned into a political rally. The Saudi press, the best financed in the third world, hammers daily on how he was abused on his last days, how his execution was blatantly ‘sectarian’.
Saudi-owned Alarabiya TV, however, gets the prize for post-Saddam chutzpah (not exactly a good Arabic word). It reported on its web site today about Saddam's 'efforts' to Islamize the Ba'ath Party. These efforts, the report gushes, started with his converting Michel Aflaq, the Christian Syrian co-founder of the Ba'ath, to Islam. The report claims that Saddam realized that 'the Party' had erred and he was on a path of reforming it- if only those kaffir Amrican heathen invaders and those rebellious Shi'as had not interfered. The report also claims that even though Saddam was 'disappointed' with the behavior of some Arab leaders, he 'understood' their positions and the pressures they were brought under. Now isn't that nice and convenient for the Saudi owners and financiers of Alarabiya and for the other Gulf potentates who aided the invasion? It looks like posthumous kiss and make up with Saddam and, more important, those who are fighting to return Iraq to minority rule domination.
London-published Azzaman daily, a mouthpiece of the old Iraqi pan-Arabist ruling elites, has now come out openly against the new political system. Apparently the Sunni elites have lost hope of regaining power through political means and are ready to throw in their lot with the Jihadists. Their only hope now is to coax the American liberators/occupiers to overthrow the regime and replace it with a ‘moderate’ unity government. That would be tantamount to taking a direct hand in the quasi civil war, thus setting the whole southern half of Iraq on fire.

The Iraqi government has clearly and ineptly provided some fuel to its enemies, all Arab dictators, potentates and absolute monarchs. This unfortunate incident does not change anything in Iraq: it merely provides a pretext to continue the war of terror inside Iraq, and the anti-Shi’a campaign outside Iraq. Executing Saddam under the camera lens was not exactly the Burning of the Reichstag, but it is being used as such by Arab regimes that once glorified the dictator as well as by Arab regimes, especially in the Persian Gulf, that provided at least logistical support for the war that deposed him. This is not just a rehabilitation of Saddam, but is also part of a process of rehabilitating the Arab regimes in the eyes of the Arab (mostly Sunni) masses. Already, some Arab media in the Gulf is using quasi-Goebbelsian Ba’athist slogans: calling the Shi’as ‘Safawis’, digging deep into medieval history implying that the regime in Iraq is Iranian rather than Iraqi. The Safawis (Safavis) of course, where rivals of the Ottoman Turks who ruled all Arab lands for several centuries. The implication is simple, tribal, and clear: the Safawis, like most Persians, were Shi'as, the Ottoman Turks were Sunnis- the Arab Sunni minority were favored by the occupying Turks whom they betrayed in World War I. The British, when they inherited Iraq, promptly handed power to the Sunni minority as a reward and because they seemed more accommodating and docile than the suspicious Shi'as (Shiites) and the Kurds. Recent articles in some media have even reverted to calling Saddam by an old now-discredited title once favored by the Ba’ath: protector of the Arab Eastern Gateway.
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