Thursday, August 30, 2007

He is back! Iran’s Ahmadinejad apparently is feeling confident enough to opine publicly on regional politics. He has said publicly that there will be no war with the United States- at least not a hot war. This should disappoint some warmongering media in the Gulf monarchies- Uncle Sam is not going to do the little spoiled piggy’s bidding by beating on the big bad mullah wolf next door, not yet. Perhaps this will disappoint some extremists in Iran as well- they remember well how Saddam’s invasion in 1980 solidified the theocrats’ power quickly.
Yet yesterday both sides, Bush and Ahmadinejad, suddenly escalated the rhetoric again, with France's Nicolas Sarkozy putting in his two eurocents. Some in the Paris media have mentioned a new policy by Sarko of le carrot et le stick- but the French don't have much of un stick now in the Middle East.

The Iranian president took time out from cracking down on pretty ladies with too much hair showing in public, and young men flaunting the abs which he does not have, to opine on America in Iraq. He says that the US will leave a vacuum in Iraq and that Iran and her friends and neighbors, including Saudi Arabia, will fill. He is well aware that his term ends in 2009, just months after George Bush leaves office, and he is not guaranteed a second, and last, term with current economic conditions. It all depends on who is allowed to run against him.

Speaking of France, the foreign minister had apologized a day earlier for dissing the Iraqi government soon after leaving Baghdad. But being French and stubborn, M. Bernard Kushner reiterated today that "M. Maliki may leave us soon." I would find the statement ominous if I were in al-Maliki's sandals.

Alarbiya TV reports a new twist that on the face of it reopens the whole Lockerbie (Pan Am bombing) case of December 1988. It quotes an AFP and the Paris daily Le Figaro report that a vital witness in the case has said that he lied in his testimony that implicated Libyan agents. There are hints that the real culprits may be Syria, Iran, and the PFLP Palestinian group. The report hints that the Lockerbie bombing was a retaliation for the US Navy shooting down an Iranian airliner that killed over 120 people over the Persian Gulf in July 1988.
Sounds odd and very convenient though, given the regional poltical rivalries and tensions these days- but, then again, Le Figaro and AFP are not owned by Saudi Arabia. Are they???
The worst of it is that this assertion will wreak havoc, as the cliche says, on the emotions of the families of the victims.

Alzawraa, an Iraqi 'Sunni' site reports an odd but possibly telling development if it is true, quoting an 'unknown' Sadrist spokesman as accusing the government of helplessness in the face of Iranian encroachmnt in southern Iraq. But, the again, Alzawraa is not exactly a nuetral observer. Next day, al-Sadr tried to clarify matters by issuing a statement banning 'others' from speaking publicly on his behalf. He also froze all activities of al-Mahdi Army for six months., presumably to reduce intra-Shi'a tensions and clashes. His very own anti-surge.

Arab news websites today covered extensively the travails, and travels, of GOP Senator Larry Craig, with mucho comments.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Colonel David Sutherland in Iraq: "the insurgent group known as the Brigades of the Revolution of Twenty (as in 1920) has been helping the coalition forces in its campaign against al Qaeda in Dialy Province. Now we are calling this group the Baquba Guardians."
Aljazeera TV (August 25): "The Brigades of the Revolution of Twenty has denied their participation with the Americans in any operation against al Qaeda. They did speculate that some other breakaway group may be involved."
Sacrebleu, zee plot thickens, comme on dit en France! The Colonel can't be fibbing, so either Aljazeera is fibbing or there is a misunderstanding somewhere.
An ironic historical segue here: The original 1920 Revolution was led mainly by Shi'as against the British occupation.

Baghdad- J'accuse: A close political adviser to PM al-Maliki this week accused unnamed Gulf countries of fanning the flames of sectarian (inter-Shi'a) strife in southern Iraq. Sami al-Askari accused "Gulf' countries of sending millions of dollars across the border to buy and incite some tribal leaders and create instability in the heretofore stable south. This may explain a group of tribal leaders who declared to the media about a new'southern' alliance of tribes and shaikhs a few weeks ago. This also comes only a few weeks after senior U.S officials, including UN ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, expressed frustration with some of Iraq's neighbors who are considered US allies and their role in undermining Iraqi stability.
al-Askari cliams to the news site Elaph that the device that killed one governor in the south last week was made in a 'neighboring' country, and that there have been arrests and confessions (now, how did they get those?).

NIE Report: predicts that the Iraqi government will grow yet "more precarious"- someone mentioned yesterday on a news website, I forgot which one, that by stating it so publicly the NIE ensures that Iraq's government will become "more precarious". Aren't these guys so good at predicting and forecasting?

Ryan Crocker, ambassador to Baghdad: declares that Iraqi political progress has been "extremely disappointing. Progress on national level issues has been extremely (nice word, this 'extremely') disapppointing and frustrating to all us, to Iraqis, and to the Iraqi leadership itself." August 21

Senator Carl Levin, Chair Armed Services: "Iraq's prime minister can't bring peace to his country (ummm, but we have proven over the past four years that we can, senor Carlito?), so the Iraqi parliament should declare a vote of no confidence and replace him." August 21

Sen. Hillary (me too) Clinton: "Iraqi leaders have not met their own political benchmarks to share power (and we have met our security and military goals, senora?), modify the Baathification (that must be de-Baa....) laws, pass an oil law (does she know what is in the oil law and why it is not eagerly accepted by Iraqis of all stripes?), schedule provincial elections, and amend their constitution (she knows how long it took to hammer out and ratify the US constitution). I share Senator Levin's hope that the Iraqi parliament will replace prime minister Maliki with a less divisive (cute) and more unifying figure (does she know that Saddam is dead?)..." August 21

The Daily Standard, Stephen Schwartz: "Almost six years after 9/11....the American media and government have begun to admit something every informed and honest muslim in the world has known all along. That is: the "Sunni insurgency" in Iraq, as well as 9/11 and certain acts of extremist violence...are consequences of the official status of the ultra-fundamentalist Wahhabi sect in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Wahhabi clerics have preached and recruited for terror in Iraq; Saudi money has sustained it; the largest number of those who have carried out suicide bombings north of the Saudi-Iraqi border hav been Saudi citizens. "Counterproductive" is a euphemism for Saudi state subsidies to wahhabi clerics who demand the genocide of Shi'a muslim, urg young men to go north to suicide... It is also a diplomatic way to describe the official policy of ignoring financial contributiuns by rich saudis to support wahhabi terror in Iraq..." July 30

Christian Science Monitor, Sam Dagher: "This years pilgrims to Karbala come amid an unprecedented wave of anger toward Saudi Arabia. Government and religious leaders here charge that the neighboring kingdom is doing little to stem the flow of its national to Iraq to wage 'holy war' om Shiites (Shi'as)" August

Memorabilia from Saudi and Gulf media:

"The historical role and rights (i.e. entitlement) of Iraq's Sunni Arabs must be taken into account in any power structure."
"Al-Maliki and his sectarian government are on the way out. The Americans have already decided."
"Iraq is facing a Safawi (Safavi) Persian invasion."

"No Arab country should allow foreign influences, forces and agents to run amok and alter its culture (not clear if they mean Iraq, all of it, Lebanon, the Persian Gulf states, or all of the above)."

"The Americans are dealing secretly, or soon will be dealing secretly (also the Israelis, depending on who writes where and when) to divide the Arab world into spheres of influence."

"The (American) invasion (of Iran) is imminent. The date has been set."
"The (Ameriacn) invasion (of Syria) is coming soon. The date has been set."

"The system in Iraq is not realy democratic (unlike the ones in other Arab states, for instance?). It is based on a flawed constitution (unlike our nonexistant constitution: ours does not exist, ergo it can't be flawed)."

"Iraq's parliament is divided and sectarian (unlike ours which does not exist, ergo it can't be divided and sectarian)." Imagine, a divided parliament. What will they think of next, a two-party system?

"Bashar Assad inherited power from his father (true, great insight there- and our potentates ar presumably elected?)"

"Hassan Nasrallah (leader of the radical Shi'a Hezbollah) should return Lebanon to its people, so that Lebanon can become a healthy territory breathing the free air of 'real democracy'." Editor of the Saudi daily Asharq Alawsat, August 26.

Angry Arab News: "People in Lebanon have been wondering why there i no monument erected at the tomb of slain former prime minister Rafiq Hariri (it is common among all Lebanese religions and sects to erect headstones on graves). I am told that the reason is due to the Hariri family's deference to Wahhabi doctrine which forbids such measures." August 24

Cultural Coup de grace: Riyadh was selected Arab Cultural capital for 2000 (I know, I know).


Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Will Iraq's hapless prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki be scarificied by BOTH parties to gain some time for an extended surge?
The almost coordinated pressure on the PM from both Republicans and Dems seems to point that way. Nothing would give more time for the surge to continue than a new Iraqi government which would need more time, a courtesy 'grace period'. This would get the Republicans off the hook through 2008. It would also get the major Democrat presidential candidates off the hook through November 2008.

Add to that the suddenly renewed talk in some Arab media, especially the vast Saudi-controlled offfshore media, of an American shift toward the Sunnis in Iraq- and there may be a pattern. This shift seems to coincide with the arrival of Ryan Crocker as ambassador. Some Arab media claim that Crocker, who served in the region and is close to some Persian Gulf monarchies, believes that Iraq may need a Sunni ruling junta or clique to restore stability. There no doubt has been intense pressure on the Bush administration, as well as on receptive senators, to effect a shift in policy toward the Sunni minority. One clear result has been the decision to undermine one foundation of U.S policy in Iraq by arming and encouraging certain new militias who are hostile not only to the elected government but to the whole American enterprise.

All this is most likely wishful thinking, but then again it sounds eerily like the positions taken by Gertrude Lothian Bell when the Iraqi state was being patched together by the British Colonial Office over eighty years ago. Bell firmly believed that the 'moderate and pro-British' Sunnis should run the new Iraqi state. The Shi'a (Shi'ite) majority accommodated her bias by revolting against colonial rule and against a British mandate. They, and the Kurds, were 'severely reprimanded' by land and from the air and many thousands died. Those Sunnis who sided with the British, just as they had sided with the Ottoman Turkish occupiers earlier, were handed political power by the grateful Colonial Office. They lost no time revolting against the Brits and siding with the Nazis in the dark days of early 1941. Saddam Hussein and his Ba'ath henchmen were direct descendants of the political system installed at that time.

It is too late for direct foreign interference in Iraq's internal politics. This sounds odd nowadays, given the situation on the ground, but a foreign government, even the United States can't change the regime in Iraq, at least not to a regime that could survive. Besides, it is almost certain that any successor to Maliki will fail as well, and for the same reasons. The former ruling elites want power back, Iraq's neighboring absolute monarchies want a pliable Sunni elite reinstated (in case you did not know it: they are masochists besides having very short memories: why else would they want their former tormentors back in power?), and the Shi'as and Kurds are armed to the teeth.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Levin the Decider
Senator Carl Levin (D), Chair of the Armed Services Comittee today ordered the elected Iraqi parliament to replace the country's prime minister and his cabinet. He claims that the government is not doing its job. Mr. Levin also believes that the current Republican U.S administration is not doing its job properly- does he support impeachment to replace it as well, and would he condone such a call from al-Maliki or Talibani?
Such a statement by a high ranking senator, a member of the wider US government, only helps undermine claims that Iraq is an independent sovereign nation. The senator should remember that it takes two to tango. Mr Levin should specify how the al-Maliki government can become less 'sectarian' as he demands. Would that entail offering the opposition sensitive cabinet posts such as Interior, Security and Defense, the traditional springboards for Iraqi coups d'etat in the past? Would it entail dividing the cabinet posts based on population? Enlighten us, senator.

At the same time, a Saudi newspaper, al-Riyadh has published an article reviving the quite dead idea of a military take-over in Iraq. The author hints that the right military strongman should come from the 'old' Iraqi army, the same one that threatened the Gulf and Saudi Arabia. Ah, but things have changed so much, the toothpaste has been squeezed out of the tube, the genie is out of the lamp, but then again de Nile is a river in the heart of the Arab it not? The proposal is based on a study purportedly done at NYU. P.S: any study published by anyone in the U.S media or academia is accepted in the Arab world as solid evidence of a U.S government plan.

A fierce media war is being waged more openly now between Syria and Saudi Arabia. In the past, Syria refrained from naming Saudi Arabia directly, even as the Saudi press and media, owned mostly be royal princes, directly criticized the Syrian regime and its policies. Some Saudi-affiliated newpapers in the Gulf even gleefully expected a U.S invasion of Damascus. Now the Syrian have named names in a mild attack, so the Saudi press is intensifying its attack on Syria while pointing out that the Saudi government never ever directly criticizes an Arab government. Clever.

For a short time Arab media carried reports that six Iranian 'diplomats' held by US forces in Iraq have been released. That was earlier today, and by evening the news item was erased from all the websites. It was clear that the report was not true, since no American media carried it at the time.

In Kuwait, State Security agents have kidnapped two journalists from outside their offices and roughed them up. Apparently the kidnap/arrests were without warrants. One journalist was released some hours later but another remains in custody. The claim is that they published seditious ideas on their website. Independent media and Assembly members have warned the government not to engage in illegal acts of kidnapping and holding citizens without warrants.

Looks like Saif al-Islam, son of Libyan leader Qaddafi, is being prepared for the succession, just like the son of President Mubarak in Egypt, and like Bashar Assad before them. Both have assumed high visibility positions in government-controlled agencies. Qaddafi Fils is much more outspoken, though, of his criticism and his calls for 'reform' of the judiciary and the media. Chip of the old block? Still, does anybody believe that the Brother Colonel will pass away anytime soon? It is possible that President Saleh of Yemen is also preparing a son for the throne. Not exactly in the spirit of the res public that the early Romans had in mind when they overthrew their weird and 'obsolete' kings.

Soon the whole Arab world will revive its old bygone glory by becoming hereditary. An Arab citizen can take his pick: a hereditary police-state republic or a hereditary police-state absolute tribal monarchy, with the honorific kleptocracy thrown in the bargain.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

A not so subtle campaign is being waged to align the various forms of demi-democracy and plutocracy in the Arab states. It is the sort of campaign that always finds advocates, and perhaps financers, in the Arab world. The long and hard campaign by Arab rulers, aided and abetted by the likes of Mr Dulaimi and Mr. Allawi, to push for a coup of strongmen in Iraq seems to have failed- so far, the Bush administration seems unwilling to bite, and this is one intelligent thing it is doing in Iraq.

Now the campaign has shifted south along the Persian Gulf region, with the goal of cleansing it of any vestiges of 'unstable' participatory democracy. A couple of months ago Saudi Arabia's Interior Minister Prince Nayef (in charge of police, security, etc) publicly expressed his worries about the 'fate of democracy' in Kuwait. The man really seemed worried about its fate, which is admirable! Some local newspapers with close Saudi links (Alseyassah, Alwatan) have been pushing for an unconstitutional dissolution of the Assembly and a crackdown on dissent. In this particular case 'unconstitutional' means that free elections will not be held within two months as required by the constitution- the preference seems to be for free elections never to be held. Now the royal-appointed speaker of Jordan's pushme pullyou, half-elected half-appointed parliament has joined the fray, publicly calling for Kuwait to switch to a bi-cameral legislature, with one half to be appointed by the Emir.

It is not clear yet who put the Jordanian potentate up to it. This would put the Gulf country in line with Jordan and Bahrain, where half the assemblies are appointed by the rulers and the other half are 'sort of' elected. In Kuwait, fifty members of the legislature are elected and the Emir appoints the cabinet ministers, about 14, who are also allowed the same exact voting powers as elected members. The current Speaker of the legislature, Mr. Kharafi, lost the majority of elected members but won his position anyway with support from unelected government ministers. Still, a 20% unelected legislature is more democratic than a 50% unelected one with the other 50% semi-elected.

Any change would still be way out of line with Saudi Arabia which does not have a unicameral, bicameral or any-cameral legislature for that matter.
Then, on the other shore of the Gulf looms Iran, where all members of parliament are elected freely- except that not everybody is free to run for elections. All candidates are vetted by some uber-body that determines their suitability.
No word yet from the other moderate paragons of democracy in the Nouveau Moyen Orient.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

It looks like Iraq's Arab neighbors have largely given up the hope, and their tentative encouragement of regime change in Iraq. Saudi Arabia announced two weeks that it will send a delegation to 'look into' opening an embassy. It hasn't happened yet, and it may not. A couple of editorials in the Saudi offshore press critically analyze the Iraqi Sunni rejection of the political process. It is not clear if this is a price for the United States accepting and arming some Sunni militias in parts of Baghdad and western Iraq. Does this mean Mr. Iyad Allawi can stop spending a lot of his time traveling to Arab capitals seeking political support from those who can only give the 'kiss of political death' to an aspiring Iraqi leader?

This would be an unusually clever move by Iraq's neighbors, as it would fill a diplomatic void that mainly Iran has been filling for several years. Besides, Iraq's Sunnis do not necessarily consider many Arab regimes as their true friends. They know that they lost power not only because of American action- they know that American troops, tanks and airplanes entered Iraq across Arab borders, Arab waters and Arab airspaces. The logistics and communications for the invaion were also organized through various Sunni-ruled Arab states, including all the Gulf monarchies and Jordan.

This possible thawing with the Arab governments, which comes after visits to Arab capitals first by VP Cheney then by Secretaries Rice and Gates, also comes as the ruling Shi'a-Kurdish coalition forms a majority government excluding its unwilling former partners. The coalition is seeking independent Sunni politicians to join the cabinet. It looks like one more Shi'a party might join the coalition, and Vice President Tareq al-Hashimi, the leading Sunni politician, has hinted of supporting the new coalition.

It would also be helpful to the Iraqi people if two concrete financial measures are taken by the neighbors, especially the Gulf monarchies: reduction of Iraq's debt and cancelation of the exorbitant reparations that are paid to some neighbors as compensation for the first Persian Gulf War. Iraq's neighbors should remember the experience of Versailles and the German reparations after World War I.
President Bush appointed James Baker a few years ago to renegotiate Iraq's foreign debt, and he had some success with the country's non-Arab debtors. The Paris Club of official debtors did alter its standards three years ago to include Iraq as a target for debt relief. There was some talk of reducing Iraq's Arab debt, but it has not gone far- most Iraq's Arab neighbors seem to want to, foolishly, use the debt as a source of political leverage to influence internal Iraqi politics.
The country's debt exceeded $120 billion before the invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and almost certainly doubled by 2003.

After the al-Qaeda bombing that killed nearly 500 Iraqi Yazidis earlier this week, a group of prominent Moslem clerics from different sects and several Arab countries as well as India, Iran and Bosnia signed a declaration condemning the bombing and condemning the killing of Moslems, Christains, or 'other sects' (of course they shied away from mentioning Jews by name). Notably absent from the list was any shaikh or Imam from Saudi Arabia (, Aug 17).


Thursday, August 16, 2007

This week, the head of a Chinese plant that manufactures toys tainted with harmful chemicals hanged himself. He committed suicide rather than live in shame. The problems started with consumer complaints in the United States and the recall of millions of toys. Before that there was the recall of canned (tinned) food and toothpaste prepared in China.

Reading this, I recalled while we lived in the Gulf region, how most toys, childrens toys not adults', were imported from China- not only in Kuwait, but all across the Middle East. I have been looking through Arab media, especially in the Persian Gulf region- they cover the recall story briefly, but as something that does not concern them directly. Perhaps it is our famous fatalism. I have not seen anything in the Arab media about recalling toys or canned foods from the local markets. Nobody wants to hang himself, figuratively of course- not the potentates who always insist on presiding over what pass for consumer protection authorities, nor the merchants who import and distribute the products.

Falling on one's sword, so to speak, has not been part of the European repertoire in defeat and ignominy either, not since the days of the Roman Republic. But then, the Romans were not really 'Europeans' by today's definition: they were a Mediterranean people, like their early foes the Carthaginians. They also claimed descent from ancient Troy, which was Asian. Napoleon never tried falling on his sword even after two major defeats, preferring exile and perhaps living to fight another day, which he did once. Only a small German/Austrian guy with a silly little moustache did it 62 years ago- but then he was not a balanced man, and besides, he did not want to end up in a Slavic/Bolshevik cage in Moscow, the only alternative available to him. And he took his woman with him....just in case.
Can you imagine Rep. Dennis Hastert falling on his 'gavel' after the 2006 elections? Or Bill Clinton falling on his proverbial and abused 'cigar' after having to confess in public? That sounds painful.


Thursday, August 09, 2007

Rarely does one read an essay by a head of government, even if it is Lebanon, groveling in praise of a monarch. Today the Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Saniora did it in an article published simultaneously in the Saudi-owned daily Asharq Alawsat and her sister satellite TV station Alarabiya website (both media are owned by Saudi princes). It is in the worst tradition of mercenary journalism that still persists in the Gulf region, especially in the offshore Saudi media. I have translated from Arabic a few pararaphs only of the extremely long piece- The king seems like a simple and amiable fellow personally, but some of the words set my skin crawling.
Warning: the reader may want to have a barf-bag (sick bag) nearby- by the time one gets to the last paragraph one may need a whole bucket and proximity to a.....facility (the very last paragraph is a treat, you'll need a whole bucket for that one alone):

"Writing about King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, and he being a leader and policy maker, is different frm writing about just a famous person or a friend. But knowledge and impressions about His Majesty the King have been available since he was a crown prince and haed of the national guard.....I have talked to him many times, and I have talked to many who know him- all impressions were the same: a straight personality, with the characteristics of leadership and governance, prefers thr truth and openness over any other, prefres action over words.....but when he talks, the words come from his heart....It is known that Saudi Arabia does not join axes (not even axes of goodness?), and does not participate in inter-Arab and regional disputes.....

"The Saudi leadership has visions and goals related to Arab stability and enabling Arabs to regain control of their own affairs and causes. The KIngdom has deployed energies and resources into unitiatives and abilities to solve internal Arab problems, to correct inter-Arab relations, especially with her neigbors (well, perhaps excluding Iraq?), and to change American policies in the region (is that what has been happening in iRaq lately?)......

"As for King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz, the big human being, the great leader, the noble knight. may God smile upon him, extend his reign, allow us continuance of his existence, as a reward for what he has given and offered and what he has struggled for, toward the glory and progress of his kingdom, the impenetrable castle of Arabs and Moslems, and for the good of the Arab nation, and for the peace and Arab identity of Lebanon, and oits sovereignty and the stability of its democratic system...." Vive le roi!
It must be the King's birthday, it can't be his bar mitzvah. Maybe it is part of a periodic polishing of the image orchestrated by minions, because one or two other papers in the Gulf ragion published similar gusing tracts about the King today. It did not polish the image of Mr. Saniora much, though.

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