The magazine you need to read on Afghanistan
Wednesday, February 28, 2007
Mark Moyar makes some interesting points about the mainstream media's war coverage in today's New York Sun:
The Vietnam-era journalists began a tradition that today's press consistently upholds. We hear very little from most large press outlets about American heroes in Iraq and Afghanistan, men like James Coffman Jr., Danny Dietz, and Christopher Adlesperger, or about our military successes there. Instead of associating such names with these wars, Americans associate the words they hear most often from the press, like Abu Ghraib and Haditha. As in Vietnam, too, the shunning of heroes does not extend to the press's coverage of itself. Awards to journalists, both those who have spent time in Iraq and Afghanistan and those who have not, are considered worthy of lengthy news stories.
Publicizing American heroism and success is essential today for two reasons. First, it permits a nuanced view of Iraq and Afghanistan, one which cannot be discerned from the daily stories of sectarian murders and the photos of American troops who have just been killed. Second, American troops and the American people become more courageous and resolute when they hear of their countrymen's military heroism and success, past and present. In earlier times, Americans ingrained their traditions of heroism and victory into the country's youth through historical instruction. Today's history textbooks largely ignore America's military past, a reflection of the anti-military prejudices, lack of military experience, and cosmopolitanism that pervade the intelligentsia.
Most Americans outside of academia and the mainstream press, on the other hand, still understand the importance of military tradition, and they crave stories about valorous Americans at war. We are fortunate, therefore, to have "Don't Tread on Me: A 400-Year History of America at War, From Indian Fighting to Terrorist Hunting" (Crown, 464 pages, $27.50) to satisfy that yearning. In witty and irreverent prose, author H.W. Crocker III provides a broad survey of America's martial history, starting at the arrival of the first English colonists and ending with the present wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Among the great military men whom Mr. Crocker profiles are some who remain widely known because they later became president (Jackson, Taylor, Theodore Roosevelt), or because their renown is too enormous to hide (Douglas MacArthur, George Patton). But most are men whose fame has been dimmed by the neglect of the cultural elites.
The Arab News, Saudi Arabia's English-language daily, reports that the Riyadh International Book Fair 2007 which opened Tuesday, will feature over 200,000 books and hundreds of publishing houses from the Arab world. As the Arab News reports:
Recall that it was only a few years ago that the United Nations in the Arab Human Development Report 2002 revealed the following surely embarrassing facts:
Shoura Council member Muhammad Al-Zulfa described the event as “a national treasure.” “This is a national day in which we salute our poets, our authors and our thinkers,” he said, adding that the event plays an important role in Arab and Islamic culture, not just Saudi Arabia.
“Here in Riyadh we are proving to the world that we are a nation that embraces culture, civilization and productivity despite a small minority among us trying to cocoon us in a small environment isolated from world culture,” he said.
He said by sponsoring such an international book exhibition, Saudis joined hands in combating the ideology of an extreme minority in the Kingdom who refuses to open up to the world.
The Arab world translates about 330 books annually, one fifth of the number that Greece translates. The cumulative total of translated books since the Caliph Maa'moun's time (the ninth century) is about 100,000, almost the average that Spain translates in one year (Galal, S., 1999).The Riyadh Book Fair would seem to be an indication that the Saudis are serious about addressing at least part of the knowledge deficit the UN report was talking about.
Update: Bernie expresses some skepticism:
What booth would I find Writings of Martin Buber, IB Singer, and Philip Roth, and What booth would I NOT find the Protocols of the Elders of Zion!
Labels: Saudi Arabia
Tuesday, February 27, 2007
The New York Times reports that a British court has finally ruled that the government can deport a leading Al Qaeda spiritual advisor to Jordan, even though the country doesn't have a human rights record that would meet European standards.
Al Qaeda's advisor in this case is Abu Qatada who was convicted in absentia in his homeland of Jordan on bombing and conspiracy charges (along with his devoted follower, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the head of Al Qaeda in Iraq until his death in 2006).
Abu Qatada's significance to the organization can be deduced by the fact that tapes of his sermons were found in the possession of lead 9/11 hijacker, Mohamed Atta, as well as Richard C. Reid, the would-be shoe bomber. He was also the person the Madrid train bombers tried to call to get permission to kill themselves before they blew themselves up to avoid being arrested, according to Lawrence Wright of the New Yorker.
Abu Qatada also ran what Wright describes as the "first jihadi think tank," a magazine that was published out of London during the 1990s called Al Ansar. As the magazine was a vocifierous proponent of the jihad in Algeria, Abu Qatada came to be identified with the GIA, the outfit that gained notoriety for slitting the throats and otherwise massacring tens of thousands of Algerian villagers who the organization deemed to be insufficiently helpful to the jihad.
It was during his tenure at the magazine that Abu Qatada became familiar with Zarqawi, incidentally, when he covered Zarqawi's sedition trial in Jordan. According to Seif al-Adl, another Al Qaeda leader, it was Abu Qatada who introduced Zarqawi to Bin Laden and Zawahiri.
Zarqawi ran Al Qaeda in Iraq and was the person responsible for most grisly attacks against civilian targets from 2003 until his death in June last year. His attacks included the Samarra mosque bombing, the event which finally pitted the Shiites against the Sunnis and launched what many describe as Iraq's civil war.
It was also Zarqawi who was behind most of the hostage beheadings, including those of the American contractor, Nicholas Berg and Ken Bigley, the British hostage, which he personally carried out. He also orchestrated the 2005 hotel bombings in his native Jordan, suicide bombings that killed some 70 people, mostly members of a Palestinian family attending a wedding.
Given that these were the types of seeds Abu Qatada has sown, it should not be entirely surprising that Britain would want to be rid of this person. But it wasn't until the July 7, 2005 subway and train bombings, that the British government felt that Abu Qatada's right to live in Britain safely away from Jordanian authorities weighed less than the personal security of Britons, whose lives he was putting in danger with his fiery sermons and various writings.
Human rights advocates and Abu Qatada's attorneys, however, argued until the very last moment that au contraire, the human rights of men like Abu Qatada should prevail over any national security concerns. In particular, they objected to the fact that upon his return to Jordan where he would be headed for prison, he could likely be subject to torture.
The court rejected the defense's arguments in the end, saying that given that Jordanian authorities had promised to refrain from torturing returning terrorism suspects, and had further agreed to monitor the conditions of those incarcerated that should be all the protection that Abu Qatada should require.
Monday, February 26, 2007
In today's Wall Street Journal, the editors discuss the implications of Italy's decision to indict the 25 CIA agents, U.S. Air Force officer, and five Italian intelligence agents who allegedly kidnapped a terrorist recruiter in 2003 and "rendered" him to his native Egypt, so they could torture him to extract information about his various activities.
The WSJ characterizes the charges as "Exhibit A in how European politicians are working against the U.S., undermining the fight against Islamic terrorism and endangering the NATO alliance." As the WSJ points out:
[No] one, including the Italian prosecutors, doubts that [the recruiter, Osama Mustafa Hassan Nasr,] posed a security risk. In 2005, a Milan court, at [the prosecutor's] behest, issued an arrest warrant for Nasr, charging him with building a terrorist network in Europe that actively recruited terrorists, including for Iraq. Eight of his accomplices have been sentenced to up to 10 years in prison on similar charges, and Italian authorities believe more are at large.The WSJ acknowledges that the strategy in dealing with Nasr this way isn't obvious. To quote the Journal:
Why Nasr was captured rather than arrested in 2003 isn't clear. According to a July 2005 story in the New York Times, which cited unnamed current and former American officials, the CIA was concerned that Nasr was plotting to attack the U.S. Embassy in Rome. For whatever reason, the U.S. wanted him off the streets while the Italians weren't ready to arrest him. The CIA won't comment. The government of Silvio Berlusconi -- who was Prime Minister at the time -- denied any foreknowledge of the rendition.But regardless of the reasons for the action, as the WSJ goes on to explain:
No one seriously claims, however, that the CIA agents were in Italy without the explicit knowledge and participation of Italy's security services. This is the crucial point -- and explains why the indictments are a hostile act against the U.S. By long-established international legal practice, the official agents of one country operating in another with that state's permission are immune from prosecution.As the WSJ concludes:
European politicians are more at fault here than any prosecutor. Since the 9/11 attacks in the U.S., many European leaders have been playing a double game, working with the U.S. to root out terrorist plots on the sly -- and saving countless lives -- while publicly condemning "American methods" in rhetoric that has fed rising anti-Americanism...But do read the whole thing.
European officials need to understand the risks they're running if they keep this up. Italy and the U.S. are NATO partners, but such an alliance is meaningless if "allies" make a habit of prosecuting each other for cooperating against a common threat. Italy's political grandstanding is endangering NATO, as well as the lives of millions on both sides of the Atlantic.
In today's Wall Street Journal, the "Independent" U.S. Senator from Connecticut writes about the situation in Iraq - and the far more distressing political fight about Iraq going on in Washington:
Recall that Senator Lieberman was the Democratic Vice Presidential running mate of Al Gore in the 2000 presidential elections and would have been a fourth-term Democratic U.S. Senator from Connecticut had he not lost the Democratic primary election to Ned Lamont in 2006, causing him to run - and win- as an independent.
What is remarkable about this state of affairs in Washington is just how removed it is from what is actually happening in Iraq. There, the battle of Baghdad is now under way...
[The] fact is that we are in a different place in Iraq today from even just a month ago--with a new strategy, a new commander, and more troops on the ground. We are now in a stronger position to ensure basic security--and with that, we are in a stronger position to marginalize the extremists and strengthen the moderates; a stronger position to foster the economic activity that will drain the insurgency and militias of public support; and a stronger position to press the Iraqi government to make the tough decisions that everyone acknowledges are necessary for progress.
Unfortunately, for many congressional opponents of the war, none of this seems to matter. As the battle of Baghdad just gets underway, they have already made up their minds about America's cause in Iraq, declaring their intention to put an end to the mission before we have had the time to see whether our new plan will work.
There is of course a direct and straightforward way that Congress could end the war, consistent with its authority under the Constitution: by cutting off funds. Yet this option is not being proposed. Critics of the war instead are planning to constrain and squeeze the current strategy and troops by a thousand cuts and conditions...
Many of the worst errors in Iraq arose precisely because the Bush administration best-cased what would happen after Saddam was overthrown. Now many opponents of the war are making the very same best-case mistake--assuming we can pull back in the midst of a critical battle with impunity, even arguing that our retreat will reduce the terrorism and sectarian violence in Iraq.
In fact, halting the current security operation at midpoint, as virtually all of the congressional proposals seek to do, would have devastating consequences. It would put thousands of American troops already deployed in the heart of Baghdad in even greater danger--forced to choose between trying to hold their position without the required reinforcements or, more likely, abandoning them outright. A precipitous pullout would leave a gaping security vacuum in its wake, which terrorists, insurgents, militias and Iran would rush to fill--probably resulting in a spiral of ethnic cleansing and slaughter on a scale as yet unseen in Iraq.
Anyway, read the whole thing. (Yes, you too, Bernie.)
Sunday, February 25, 2007
Mohammed at Iraq the Model writes:
It's been less than two weeks since the Baghdad operation was officially launched. This period, though short, has been full of events; both good and bad ones. Here we are not in a rush to judge the operation unlike some media or politicians who seek anything they can use to serve their agendas. We, Baghdadis, only want this operation to succeed and we still have some patience to show.
Labels: surge plan for Iraq
Just as Baghdad seemed to be getting more secure, a female suicide bomber blew herself up at a Baghdad university on Sunday, killing herself and at least 40 others. This was among several explosions to hit the Iraqi capital today, making it one of the worst days in terms of violence since the start of the new Baghdad security plan according to a New York Times report.
Oddly, the radical Shiite cleric Moktada Al-Sadr took today's violence as the opportunity to distance himself from the Baghdad security plan up that up until this point he seemed to have been endorsing. He issued a written statement that was read to his supporters at a site near the blast in which he urged them to to cease cooperating with the United States military.
“There is no good that comes from a security plan controlled by our enemies, the occupiers,” the statement said. “If you stay away from them, God will protect you from horror and harm. Make sure your plans are purely Iraqi and not sectarian.”Go figure.
Meanwhile at the university site where the blast occured, the Times went on to report:
Hussain Ali al-Mousawi, a middle-aged blacksmith who said he lived across the street from the university, collected body parts on a notebook, placing severed fingers, pieces of skull and bloody flesh on pages covered with a student’s jottings notes on subjects like income brackets. His shirt was covered with blood. He said he had been carrying bodies; the sleeves of his beige cotton, striped shirt were soaked bright red.
...“We are burying here the minds of our society,” he said, pointing to the ad hoc graves dug by Mr. Mousawi. “We are planting them anew. How many of our great minds have they killed? They are targeting the students who are carrying pencils — our dirty neighbors.”
“We shall reconstruct the great Iraqi mind from the beginning,” Mr. Hasan said. “This land will produce more minds than ever.”
Conservative writer Patrick Ruffini has an interesting observation on news reporting in Iraq. In Townhall.com he writes:
Early indications are that the troop surge into Baghdad is working. It hasn't been reported on widely, but murders in Baghdad are down 70%, attacks are down 80%, Mahdi Army chief Moqtada al-Sadr has reportedly made off for Iran, and many Baghdadis who had fled the violence now feel it's safe enough to return.
The strategy that Congress is busy denouncing is proving to be our best hope for victory. In Iraq, there's a sense that change is in the air -- literally. Omar of Iraq the Model spots a B-1 Bomber in the skies of Baghdad for the first time since the end of the major combat. On the ground, Omar writes that the signs that Iraqis are getting serious about security are more palbable.
With the help of Compstat-like technology, security forces are cracking down at checkpoints (even ambulances are getting stopped) and getting nimbler about locating them strategically so the terrorists don't know what to expect. This turnaround in Baghdad is confirmed at home by the media's near-deafening silence.
If it seems like you've heard less about how Iraq is spiraling into civil war in the weeks since the surge was announced, this is why. Even some discordant voices in the media are starting to wonder what's happening. Time magazine worries that it's "Quiet in Baghdad. Too quiet." That's right -- a dramatic reduction in violence is actually bad news.
Labels: Iraq surge plan
Today's London Telegraph reports that "secret intelligence documents reveal" that "the terrorist threat facing Britain from home-grown al-Qaeda agents is higher than at any time since the September 11 attacks in 2001."
This follows a November report by Eliza Manningham-Buller, the Director-General of MI5, Britain's domestic spy agency, that warned there were some 1,600 'identified individuals" actively plotting terror in Britain, in 30 known networks, working on at least 30 different terrorist plots.
The secret document, says the Telegraph, also claims that al-Qaeda is now a "world-wide organisation with a foothold in virtually every Muslim country in North Africa, the Middle East and central Asia."
Saturday, February 24, 2007
We still don't seem to know, but he seems to be getting his troops in line.
Today's New York Times has a must-read article. Damien Cave reports that when Moktada al-Sadr, "the radical Shiite cleric" found that "two of his commanders had created DVDs of their men killing Sunnis in Baghdad" along with evidence they were being funded by Iran, he immediately "stripped them of power."
Now Cave wasn't able to say whether this was because Sadr was on-board with the new security plan for Baghdad, or whether, as Cave writes, he "grasped the risk of graphic videos and ties to Tehran and wanted to stave off direct American action against him."
But whatever the case, as the Times reports:
For now, American and Iraqi officials say that Mr. Sadr seems to be cooperating with the effort to pacify Baghdad, ordering his men not to fight even as American armored vehicles roll into Mahdi strongholds in eastern Baghdad. And he seems to be cleaning house of fighters who could taint him by association with Iran or with death squad killings. The assassinations and mass kidnapping of Sunnis that are often attributed to his militia seem to have decreased.
Mr. Sadr has [even] assisted the joint Iraqi-American campaign against parts of his militia, signaling whom to arrest and telling others to flee, said two Mahdi commanders and a Shiite politician in Baghdad. And on his own, they said, Mr. Sadr has “frozen” more than 40 commanders, including about 20 with links to Iran. ...According to Sadr aides and Mahdi commanders, Mr. Sadr’s recent purges aim to put Iran on notice that he is in charge and independent. They said he also wanted to remind members of his militia that he would use every available tool, including Iraqi and American troops, to maintain control of the militia, the source of any political power he wields.
Friday, February 23, 2007
The New York Times reports that the Arab Gulf states "have begun a rare show of muscle flexing, publicly advertising a shopping spree for new weapons and openly discussing their security concerns."
These states, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Bahrain, and Qatar, "normally prone to squabbling," the Times writes, are now "[emphasizing] their unanimity against Iran's nuclear ambitions." This is because, the Times says, they "see themselves as the likely first targets of an Iranian attack."
Emile el-Hokayem, a research fellow at the Henry L. Stimson Center, told the Times that the Gulf states are telegraphing a message to the world with this new openess. "The message is first, 'U.S., stay involved here,' and second, 'Iran, we will maintain a technological edge, no matter what.'"
Aside from today's news that Iran is ahead of some experts' estimates with respect to its program to enrich uranium (seen as the first step in creating a bomb), Iran's recent military maneuvers in the Strait of Hormuz have also alarmed its Arab neighbors. This is the waterway through which two-fifths of the world's oil supply moves and all of these Arab Gulf states depend on a stable flow of oil for their very survival.
The U.S. recently sent a second aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf, in addition to an increased number of minesweeping vessels. The U.S. denies that any kind of military strike against Iran is imminent.
The indication is that the Bush administration is hoping that more punitive sanctions backed up by the possibility of force will in the end be enough to persuade the regime in Tehran to abandon any ambitions it might be entertaining regarding a nuclear bomb. An ambition the Iranians insist is not part of their scheme.
And if they do, what is the message here?
As American forces sweep through Baghdad at considerable risk to themselves, trying to disarm Iraqi militias, reports such as the following about Shiite policemen are not encouraging.
Today's New York Times quotes a "translator working with the Americans" who claims he overheard Iraqi police "telling people in the neighborhood to hide your weapons from the Americans." While its not clear whether or not this translator may have an agenda from the Times report, his account seems to be at least somewhat corroborated by Americans in positions to know.
First Lt. Andy Moffit, a platoon leader, told the Times that "the major problem with Iraqi forces is not their tactical skill, but their 'loyalties and integrity.'"
As the Times reports, the cost in American blood has been high in this effort to bring peace to Baghdad. Since American troops have, as the Times puts it "increasingly returned to the front lines in Baghdad....they have suffered an average of 85 deaths a month since then [August] - a 50 percent increase over the previous six months."
The Times goes on to report (again, not helping the Iraqi case):
Even routine security tasks performed by Iraqi forces, such as operating traffic checkpoints, are frequently underminded by laziness, American troops say, if not outright sabotage through complicity with the militias.If Iraqis want American assistance to continue, let's hope they figure out sooner rather than later that news like this doesn't play very well in America.
David B. Rivkin, Jr. and Lee A. Casey raise a critical question in an op-ed piece in today's Wall Street Journal.
Using the term "lawfare" to describe the "blizzard of litigation initiated in U.S. federal courts on behalf of al Qaeda and Taliban detainees" the former Department of Justice officials refer to the lawsuits that, in their words, "range from habeas corpus petitions...to tort suits seeking monies from U.S. government officials, to challenges regarding the detainees' conditions of confinement."
Along with the litigation, as Rivkin and Casey write, "[then there are the 'progressive'] NGOs [who] routinely demand that irregular enemy combatants like al Qaeda and the Taliban can be treated as POWs or criminal defendants, claim that military force can be applied only to the minimum amounts necessary to neutralize a particular opponent (rather than with a view to achieving ultimate victory), [and who aim] to ban an increasing number of weapons and weapons systems as being 'inherently indiscriminate.'" They argue that:
The effect of this lawfare effort, were it successful, would be to make it exceptionally difficult - if not impossible- for a law-abiding state to wage war in anything like the tradtional manner, bringing the full weight of the national armed forces to bear against an enemy, without prompting charges of war crimes and efforts to intimidate individual officials with prosecutions on ersatz 'war crimes' theories.While this may be all well and good in theory, it would seem that Messrs. Rivkin and Casey raise a point point worth considering: Exactly what alternative method do those who would criminalize war suggest should be used to "[ensure] the welfare and security of the civilian populations that the armed forces of states, and of the U.S. in particular, are raised and maintained to protect"?
Today's Financial Times reports:
Brendan Nelson, the Australian defence minister, signalled on Thursday that his government might double its troop deployment to Afghanistan and will resist calls to draw down forces in Iraq.
Mr Nelson said he was concerned by reports that Taliban and other insurgents were planning a big spring offensive. “It’s hard for us in Australia to see it but it’s essential that we prevail,” he added.
Thursday, February 22, 2007
The (London) Guardian reports that 22-year-old Egyptian blogger Abdel-Karim Nabil Suleiman (aka Abdul Kareem), 22, a former law student at Cairo's Al-Azhar University, was sentenced to four years in prison for having insulted Islam and the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak.
As the Guardian reports:
There was no mention of Abdul Kareem's father in the Guardian' coverage of the sentencing hearing. Earlier we cited a news report that says his father called him a monkey, and to add insult to injury, so to speak, that he should be put to death in three days should he refuse to recant his criticisms of Islam
Suleiman was one of several bloggers arrested last year, most of whom have connections to Egypt's pro-democracy reform movement. Others were freed but he was put on trial - a sign of the sensitivity of his writings on religion. He was first detained in 2005 after criticising Muslim rioters in a post about sectarian clashes in his neighbourhood headlined The Naked Truth of Islam as I Saw it.
He also described some of the companions of the prophet Muhammad as terrorists and likened Mr Mubarak to the pharaohs who ruled ancient Egypt.
Stars and Stripes interviewed Col. Sean B. MacFarland, a brigade commander who just returned to Germany after a 14-month tour in Iraq, most of which was spent in Ramadi, the largest city in the restive Sunni province of Anbar. As MacFarland told the Stars and Stripes, Al Qaeda had selected Ramadi to be the capital of "Al Qaedastan." But thanks to the help of the local shieks, in particular one Sheikh Abdul Sattar, the mostly Sunni Arabs in Ramadi turned against the insurgents. “One thing Sheikh Sattar keeps saying is he wants al-Anbar to be like Germany and Japan and South Korea were after their respective wars, with a long-term American presence helping ... put them back together,” MacFarland is reported as saying. “The negative example he cites is
Stars and Stripes interviewed Col. Sean B. MacFarland, a brigade commander who just returned to Germany after a 14-month tour in Iraq, most of which was spent in Ramadi, the largest city in the restive Sunni province of Anbar. As MacFarland told the Stars and Stripes, Al Qaeda had selected Ramadi to be the capital of "Al Qaedastan."
But thanks to the help of the local shieks, in particular one Sheikh Abdul Sattar, the mostly Sunni Arabs in Ramadi turned against the insurgents.
“One thing Sheikh Sattar keeps saying is he wants al-Anbar to be like Germany and Japan and South Korea were after their respective wars, with a long-term American presence helping ... put them back together,” MacFarland is reported as saying. “The negative example he cites is
Twenty-five of about 31 tribes in Anbar, a vast, mostly desert region that stretches westward from Baghdad to the borders of Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, have united against insurgents and gangs that are “killing people for no reason,” said the tribal leader, Sheik Abdul Sattar Buzaigh al-Rishawi [yes, the man Col. MacFarland was referring to as Sheikh Sattar].
“We held a meeting earlier and agreed to fight those who call themselves mujahadeen,” Sheikh Sattar told the Times. “We believe that there is a conspiracy against our Iraqi people. Those terrorists claimed that they are fighters working on liberating Iraq, but they turned out to be killers. Now all the people are fed up and have turned against them."...
Sheikh Sattar estimated that the alliance of 25 tribes had some 30,000 armed men under its control, men who, the Sheikh said "were willing to confront and kill the insurgents and criminal gangs that he blamed for damaging tribal life in Anbar, dividing members by religious sect and driving a wave of violent crime in Ramadi."
Al Qaeda, not surprisingly, was not exactly thrilled to hear about the news of this tribal alliance. The Times quoted one Al Qaeda militant who told Reuters, “This tribal system is un-Islamic. We are proud to kill tribal leaders who are helping the Americans.”
And in spite of the progress MacFarland noticed during his stint, unfortunately, there is still an enemy that has yet to be defeated in Iraq. Just this week in fact, SITE Institute reported that the Islamic State of Iraq -the name Al Qaeda in Iraq has taken to using- claimed responsibility for three suicide bombings, two of which were targeted at the “apostate” followers of none other than Sheikh Sattar. While I'm happy to report that he survived the attacks, alas, some of those around him did not - five police officers and six civilians were reportedly killed in the blasts.
Don't just rely on the spin, check out what Prime Minister Tony Blair himself said in his remarks before Parliament. Here is an excerpt:
It is important to show the Iraqi people that we do not desire our Forces to remain any longer than they are needed; but whilst they are needed, we will be at their side...
The situation in Basra is very different from Baghdad. There is no Sunni insurgency. There is no Al Qaida base. There is little Shia on Sunni violence. The bulk of the attacks are on the MNF. It has never presented anything like the challenge of Baghdad. That said, British soldiers are under regular and often intense fire from extremist groups, notably elements of JAM...
As a result of this operation, which is now complete the Iraqi Forces now have the primary role for security in most parts of the city. It is still a difficult and sometimes dangerous place. But, many extremists have been arrested or left the city. The reported levels of murder and kidnapping are significantly down. Surveys of Basrawis, after the Operations had been conducted, show a much greater sense of security. There is reconstruction now happening in schools and health centres, around 300 projects altogether...
What all of this means is not that Basra is how we want it to be. But it does mean that the next chapter in Basra's history can be written by Iraqis.
In merde profondo. Or in English:
The Financial Times reports that Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi resigned Wednesday after he failed, in the words of the Times, "to persuade communists and other radical leftists in his coalition to support two cornerstones of Italian foreign and security policy. These were Mr Prodi’s determination to keep Italian troops side by side with Nato forces in Afghanistan and his decision to permit the expansion of a US military base in the north-eastern city of Vicenza."
While this would seem to be bad news for the United States (and Nato), it could be even worse news for Italy. As the New York Times' Ian Fisher reports:
[T]he government’s collapse also reflected its own inherent weaknesses, possibly signaling that Italy’s chronic political instability may be coming out of remission. In a nation that has had some 60 governments since World War II, Mr. Prodi has presided uneasily over a coalition of nine diverse parties, ranging from moderate Catholics to Communists.Update: The Financial Times adds this perspective to the story:
Mr [Giulio] Andreotti, who was prime minister seven times and is now a senator for life, says he found petty and unacceptable the government’s insistence that its foreign policy differed from that of Mr Berlusconi.
“I would have been inclined to vote for the government, but this position of always having to reduce everything to being either for or against Berlusconi seems to me really absurd,” he adds.
Labels: Italy-US-Nato alliance
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
The Washington Post has a fascinating article today on how young Moroccans are being recruited to fight jihad in Iraq.
"The big state for al-Qaeda is Iraq," said Mohamed Darif, a political science professor and terrorism expert at Hassan II-Mohammedia University in Morocco. "Al-Qaeda has the same strategy as the United States: It wants to win in Iraq so it can transform the whole region. They are fixated on Iraq."
According to the Post's sources, Al Qaeda has focused its recruitment efforts in Morocco in a small village in a hill station in the Rif mountains called Tetouan. As the Post reports:
Designated "watchers" hang around radical mosques and other places to look for young men angry about the conflicts in places such as Iraq and the Palestinian territories. For months, the watchers try to whip up the potential volunteers' emotions further and convince them that they have a religious duty to intervene.
"The recruitment does not exclusively take place in the poorest parts of society, nor in the category of illiterates," said Benmoussa, the interior minister. Instead, he said, recruiters "target a category of people that is extremely sensitive to what they consider international injustice."
Candidates are subjected to psychological assessments from a distance to determine if they are really willing to die for the cause.
This is because these Moroccan recruits are primarily used to carry out suicide missions once they get to Iraq. As Nick Pratt, a retired Marine colonel and terrorism expert at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, in Germany told the Post, "Suicide bombings are embraced by networks affiliated with al-Qaeda because they are more lethal and generate more publicity. He said a suicide attack, on average, causes six times as many deaths and 12 times as many injuries as a conventional attack, such as a roadside bomb explosion."
Moroccan authories believe that some 50 Moroccans have been lured to fight jihad in Iraq since 2003. According to the Post's sources, "the problem is worse in other Arab countries."
Lord Ahmed, the first Pakistani-British Muslim to become a life peer in the House of Lords, won a "Doha Debate" on Tuesday, in which he argued that Muslim women in the West should avoid wearing the face veil in the interest of the full integration of the Muslim community.
"The veil is now a mark of separation, segregation and defiance against mainstream British culture.
"But there's nothing in the Koran to say that the wearing of a niqab is desirable, let alone compulsory. It's purely cultural. It's an identity thing which has been misinterpreted.
"They were supposed to be worn so that women wouldn't be harassed.
"But my argument is that women, and communities as a whole, are now being harassed because they are wearing them."
He said that the veil was a "physical barrier to integration".
The peer said that Muslims in Britain had to become more sensitive to their surroundings, in the same way as westerners walking around Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, would have to wear a head covering and long clothing before they could expect to engage with local people.
He said that he did not want to see a ban on veils, but added: "Muslims need to have a debate among ourselves about whether we need them.
"We need to re-engage as responsible British citizens and be seen once more as contributors to society rather than people who are a burden, living parallel lives," he told the paper.
I should mention perhaps (ok, I'm calling attention to this) that I was one of the people who helped Lord Ahmed prepare for this debate.
But perhaps the next debate on face veiling should be held in Pakistan, where the Times of London has just reported, a female minister was just shot dead - yes, for refusing to wear the face veil. As the Times reports:
Zilla Huma Usman, the Punjab provincial minister for social welfare and supporter of President Musharraf, was shot as she prepared to address a public gathering in the town of Gujranwala, 70km (43 miles) north of the provincial capital, Lahore. As party members threw rose petals at her, the gunman shot her in the head, police said. They identified the attacker as Malulvi Ghulam Sarwar and said that he was opposed to the participation of women in politics and the refusal of many professional women in Pakistan to wear the veil.
“He killed her because she was not observing the Islamic code of dress. She was also campaigning for emancipation of women,” Nazir Ahmad, a police officer, said. ...
Mr Sarwar, a stonemason in his mid40s, appeared calm when he told a television channel that he had carried out God’s order to kill women who sinned. “I have no regrets. I just obeyed Allah’s commandment,” he said. Islam did not allow women to hold positions of leadership, he claimed. “I will kill all those women who do not follow the right path, if I am freed again,” he said.
Perhaps Pakistanis could weigh in on whether killing a woman who refuses to veil, um, impedes her full integration.
Or maybe Pakistan could host an even more germane debate - on whether this type of action is really in line with the teachings of Islam.
But Gandhi he is not, this former University of South Florida professor who pled guilty last year to assisting the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist organization.
As R.K. Joyad, a national security lawyer in Washington who writes under a pen name, observes in today's FrontPageMagazine:
A recent article in American Muslim magazine attempts to burnish the image of Sami Al-Arian....It is but the latest example of the American Islamic community asserting that terrorist operatives like Al-Arian, who is currently awaiting his deportation in a Virginia jail, are blameless victims of prosecutors run amok.
The article overflows with sympathy for Al-Arian. Quoting a friend's question to Al-Arian, the author, Sarah Shields, writes: “Has anyone told you that you look like Gandhi?”
In this case looks are indeed deceiving as Joyad goes on to remind the reader, citing the statement U.S. District Court Judge S. Moody made at Al-Arian's sentencing hearing (via the St. Petersburg Times):
Muslim groups are calling on supporters to support Al-Arian in his hunger strike, which has been going on since Jan. 21. Arian is refusing to eat to protest the fact that he is still in jail - not because of his PIJ conviction, but because he is refusing to testify in another investigation. A grand jury wants to know what he knows about the International Institute of Islamic Thought, another alleged terror sponsor.
Dr. Al-Arian, as usual, you speak very eloquently. I find it interesting that here in public in front of everyone you praised this country, the same country that in private you referred to as “the great Satan.’’ ...You are a master manipulator.
You looked your neighbors in the eyes and said you had nothing to do with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. This trial exposed that as a lie.... The evidence was clear in this case that you were a leader of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad...
When Iran, the major funding source of the PIJ, became upset because the PIJ could not account for how it was spending its money, it was to your board of directors that it went to demand changes. Iran wanted its representative to have a say in how its money was spent. To stop that, you leaped into action. You offered to rewrite the bylaws of the organization...
But when it came to blowing up women and children on buses, did you leap into action then? ... No. You lifted not one finger, made not one phone call. To the contrary, you laughed when you heard about the bombings, what you euphemistically call “operations.” ...And yet, still in the face of your own words, you continue to lie to your friends and supporters, claiming to abhor violence and to seek only aid for widows and orphans. Your only connection to widows and orphans is that you create them, even among the Palestinians; and you create them, not by sending your children to blow themselves out of existence. No. You exhort others to send their children... You are indeed a master manipulator.
Al-Arian says he can't testify in the case because if he did, he might put his life in danger. Now that statement alone makes me curious as to what he might know. But then Al-Arian went on to plead that he doesn't have any information that would be useful to prosecutors. Perhaps you have to be a former professor to be able to reconcile those two statements as apparently the judge before whom this argument was made couldn't follow this logic either. He placed Al-Arian in contempt of court until he agrees to tell the grand jury what exactly he knows.
As Joyad goes on to write:
[A] person as connected as Al-Arian has information that will allow our nation’s law enforcers to discern who else is out there living a lie.... [The] government can compel this information through a grant of immunity, which Al-Arian now enjoys. If Al-Arian persists in refusing to provide that information, following the court ruling that he has no right to refuse based on the Fifth Amendment, the remedy is more time in prison, until he sees the light.
Labels: Sami Al-Arian
Monday, February 19, 2007
Jackson Diehl in today's Washington Post asks the following question about Prince Bandar, the former Saudi ambassador to the United States:
Can Bandar bail the United States out of the multiple crises it has stumbled into in the Middle East? Maybe not, but Washington's old friend may be one of the best bets a desperate Bush administration has going at the moment.Bandar, as Diehl reports, has been feverishly trying to hammer out various peace agreements. According to Diehl, Bandar is now optimistic.
He reportedly told his contacts in Washington that Iranian officials were "taken aback by President Bush's recent shows of strength in the region, by the failure of his administration to collapse after midterm elections and by the unanimous passage of a U.N. resolution imposing sanctions on Tehran for failing to stop its nuclear program. The mullahs, he said, were worried about Shiite-Sunni conflict spreading from Iraq around the region, and about an escalating conflict with the United States; they were interested in tamping both down."
Bandar is supposedly hoping to break apart Syria and Iran by getting Iran to agree to a U.N. tribunal to try those responsible for the murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri. As Diehl notes, "That would [essentially] be poison to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who almost certainly was behind the murder."
While Riehl dismisses the "Mecca Agreeement," the deal Prince Bandar recently helped broker between the rival Palestinian factions as "disappointing" to Washington, Riehl does acknowledge that "the Palestinian deal was secondary for Bandar."
Bandar's "main aim" says Riehl "is to defuse the multiple threats posed by Iran. If he can find a way to broker a deal that stops the Iranian nuclear program, and kick-starts a strategic dialogue between Tehran and Washington, it will be his greatest feat of all."
If he succeeds will Michael Moore fans still derisively refer to him as "Bandar Bush"?
The FreeKareem website is reporting that the family of Abdul Kareem Nabeel Suleiman, the Egyptian blogger accused of "contempt of religion" and various crimes against the Egyptian state, has disowned him.
Abdul Kareem's father, a retired math teacher, reportedly said he thinks his son should be punished according to Sharia (Islamic law) - that is, if his son does not repent for having repudiated Islam within a period of three days, he should be put to death.
An Egyptian newspaper says that Abdul Kareem's father described his son as a "monkey" who "has imitated the athiests of the West in their intellectual thinking."
Was the New York Times trying to be funny with this opening paragraph in today's story, "No Progress in Middle East Talks"?
The first peace talks in six years between the leaders of Israel and the Palestinians, convened today by the American Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, ended without any apparent progress beyond an agreement to meet again.
Labels: Middle East peace
Just to complete our weekend round-up, in Thailand, the Associated Press reports:
At least 28 bombs exploded Sunday in apparently coordinated attacks in parts of southern Thailand plagued by a Muslim insurgency, killing three people and wounding more than 50, the military said.
The bombings targeted hotels, karaoke bars, power grids and commercial sites in the country's southernmost provinces, the only parts of predominantly Buddhist Thailand with Muslim majorities. Two public schools were torched.
As to why these attacks may be occuring now, the AP offers an explanation:
Violence in the south has been escalating in recent months despite a major policy shift by the military-imposed government, which is trying to replace an earlier, iron-fisted approach in dealing with the rebels with a "hearts and minds" campaign.
More than 2,000 people have died in the provinces bordering Malaysia since the insurgency erupted in 2004, fueled by accusations of decades of misrule by the central government. The insurgents have not announced their goals, but they are believed to be fighting for a separate state imbued with radical Islamic ideology.
"We believe that the attacks were planned to cause division, create fear among the people. They want to show that they are still capable (of carrying out attacks)," a military spokesman reportedly said.
Saturday's geography lesson about Waziristan came just in time for today's news. The New York Times is reporting that Al Qaeda is once again running terrorist training camps in this autonomous region of Pakistan.
The Times sources, described as "American analysts," say that the camps are being operated by Arab, Pakistani, and Afghan "militants" who report to Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Egyptian doctor who serves as Osama Bin Laden's right-hand man. Bin Laden himself is not believed to be playing an active management role.
While these new camps are reportedly smaller and less capable than Al Qaeda's camps were back in Afghanistan under the Taliban rule, the Times sources say that "the Qaeda infrastructure in the region is gradually becoming more mature."
The Bush administration is reportedly debating about what to do about these camps. A Pentagon faction, not surprisingly, is recommending a military strike but these "hawks" are being opposed by those who are worried about collateral damage - i.e., civilian casualties.
The State Department is supposedly cautioning that any American military action would likely undermind, as the Times underscores, "President Musharraf’s military-led government."
The "militants" reportedly found a safe refuge in North Waziristan last year, after "military leader" President Musharraf agreed to withdraw his, yes, military from the region in exchange for tribal leaders ceasing their support of cross-border attacks into Afghanistan. The tribal leaders have it would appear failed to live up to their end of the bargain.
Pakistani-trained terrorists were fingered by the director general of MI5, Britain’s domestic intelligence agency, Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, who said in November that terrorist plots in Britain “often have links back to Al Qaeda in Pakistan [and that] through those links, Al Qaeda gives guidance and training to its largely British foot soldiers here on an extensive and growing scale.”
Two of the four bombers who carried out the July 2005 subway and bus bombings in London, the reader may remember, were noted to have traveled to Pakistan prior to the attack, as have other British terrorism suspects, according to various trial transcripts.
While most of the Pakistani-trained "militants" are believed to be headed for Afghanistan, some, maybe an increasing number, may be training to attack American forces in Iraq.
The Times points ot the evidence of Al Qaeda's "increased international capability" (to use its phrase) that has surfaced recently in the attacks that its new franchisee, the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, the Algerian-based group, has been able to carry out in Algeria. These included last week's bombing in Algiers and the December attack on a bus carrying Halliburton contractors.
The New York Times is reporting that new studies indicate there may be far more oil and gas deposits underneath Sunni-controlled lands in Iraq than was previously thought.
As the Times writes:
The development is likely to have significant political effects: the lack of natural resources in the central and western regions where Sunnis hold sway has fed their disenchantment with the nation they once ruled. And it has driven their insistence on a strong central government, one that would collect oil revenues and spread them equitably among the country’s factions, rather than any division of the country along sectarian regional boundaries.As Brig. Gen. John R. Allen of the Second Marine Expeditionary Force, the deputy commanding general of Multi-National Force-West, which has responsibility for Anbar Province, told the Times, “What this [new information] does is it gives Anbar and the Sunnis an economic future different from phosphate and cement,” he said, referring to products of some of the aging factories in the area.
Two bombs exploded a few blocks apart in New Baghdad on Sunday, killing at least 40 people and breaking the temporary lull in violence that had followed the launch of Baghdad's new security program reports the Washington Post.
Faris Salman, 30, an automobile mechanic in the neighborhood of the blasts speculated on the motive of the bombers: "Those people might be challenging the security plan," he told the Post. "They are showing that they have the strength, that they are able to target innocent and poor people."
"I was expecting this," Addis Hadi, 42, a travel agent told the Post. "No one will be able to stop the terrorists in Iraq. I did not believe in this security plan."
Well, uh, that's depressing.
Labels: Iraq surge plan
Sunday, February 18, 2007
In what would appear to be a non-serious response to the Bush administration's allegations that Iraqi militias are using Iranian weapons, Iran's Fars News Agency has published evidence that well, American weapons are being using by Iranian militias.
As LGF reader Dar Ul Harb points out, it seems that this evidence is not much more than an elaborate Photoshop hoax. The presentation can be seen here.
LGF, the reader may recall, was instrumental in exposing another forgery, one that sent longtime CBS news anchorman Dan Rather into an early retirement.
What if the surge plan is working? It's obviously too early to break out any champagne but Iraqi blogger Mohammed Fadhil at Iraq the Model reports some good news from Iraq:
Since the multiple bombings in Shroja market district on the 12th, Baghdad hasn’t seen any major attacks and there’s a tangible decrease in all kinds of attacks.
Not only official statements say so (Defense ministry officials said today that attacks are down by 80% in Baghdad). It’s a reality I live in nowadays, at least in my neighborhood and its surroundings. It is also what I hear from friends and relatives in other parts of the city.
We are hearing fewer explosions and less gunfire now than two weeks ago and that, in Baghdad, qualifies as quiet.
I agree with what some experts say about this lull in violence being the result of militants keeping their heads down for a while. It is also possibly the result of the flight of the commanders of militant groups. Grunts left without planners, money or leaders wouldn’t want to do much on their own.
and watch your favorite politicians debate the merits of a non-binding resolution on Iraq, you should take time out to hear what the Hon. Rep. Sam Johnson(R-Texas) had to say.
Iraq war critics who rallied around Cindy Sheehan will no doubt appreciate the Congressman's references to his "moral authority" here - even if he is a Republican from Texas.
Yesterday yet another man blew himself up. This time, the suicide bomber detonated inside a small district court in Quetta, killing himself and 15 others, including a judge who was hearing a property dispute, the litigants, their relatives who were in attendance, and the six lawyers who were debating the case. Thirty-five people were wounded.
This was the sixth attack in a series of suicide bombings in the area that have left some 40 people dead.
As the New York Times reports:
A militant leader, Baitullah Mehsud, vowed to use suicide bombers to take revenge [for an airstrike against suspected militants in the tribal area of South Waziristan on Jan. 16]. Pakistani officials have not directly implicated Mr. Mehsud in the bombings while the investigations are under way, and he has denied any involvement, saying that his threat was an emotional outburst.
Mr. Mehsud is believed to have trained suicide bombers and sent them into Afghanistan, where there were 127 suicide attacks last year."
This is the area in Pakistan, incidentally, in which many experts believe bin Laden may be hiding. The Waziris are a subset of the Pashtuns, the primary ethnic group of the Taliban, the Afghan government that so kindly gave bin Laden refuge up until they were forced out of power by the U.S.-led coaltion in 2001.
Now while I suppose I can see why "militants" in the neighboring province of Baluchistan might want to avenge any act that aimed to harm their friends in Al Qaeda, I really can't see the logic in why they would have targeted a courtroom in Quetta.
I wonder if anyone who isn't an Other could kindly inform me of the strategy here. My email address is at the top of this page.
Friday, February 16, 2007
Thus wrote Middle East scholar Martin Kramer almost a year ago. I've been trying to pull my thoughts together about my own recent visit to Dubai but since it's impossible to compete with Martin Kramer when it comes to describing anything about the Middle East, I hope he won't mind if I quote him at length here:
Dubai is over the top, daringly cosmopolitan, and all about business and pleasure. Across the Arab Middle East, economically productive minorities have been driven out. The Emiratis of Dubai, by contrast, have turned themselves into a minority in their own country, bringing in foreigners of every kind to build up and partake in the boom. Anyone who can do anything better (and cheaper) is welcomed in Dubai. They've perfected the Arab version of the American ethos, short on democracy but long on opportunity.
The Arab world has always had privileged nodes through which it has transacted fast-track business with the world. In the colonial period, Alexandria in Egypt served as the great gateway, relying crucially on foreign minorities. Nasser put an end to that. In the immediate post-colonial period, Beirut in Lebanon emerged on top, building upon its long tradition of open exchange with East and West. Extreme brands of nationalism destroyed that. In our time, Dubai is the great entrepôt. It exemplifies that larger shift of power away from the decaying, ideology-ravaged Arab Mediterranean and toward the worldly crust of the Arabian Gulf.
Kramer then goes on to describe his visit to one of Dubai's many shopping malls:
I hope he won't mind if I post this picture here as well - to give you some idea of his eminence in the region.
One afternoon in Dubai, I had a bit of spare time on my hands, so I went out to the brand new Ibn Battuta Mall, named after the 14th-century Muslim traveler who journeyed from his birthplace in Morocco across North Africa and Asia to China. The mall is set up as a series of arcades, themed around the various highlights on Ibn Battuta's route: Andalusia, Tunisia, Egypt, Persia, India, and China.
The place gives new meaning to the familiar phrase "shopping mecca." The Persian arcade is a giant dome, itself a work of art on a considerable level, no doubt meant to be admired by the many Iranians who come through Dubai. Smack in the middle of it, as this photo shows, is a Starbucks.Orientalist kitsch? Definitely. But Arabs have built it. Such cross-cultural play is possible only where people are comfortable with amalgams. To see the incredible mix of people strolling this mall, happily shopping for designer labels and making their choice at the 21-cinema "megaplex," restores one's faith in the Arabs' potential for embracing a global future. It's no doubt fragile, this odd experiment in our own style of consumerism, on a stretch of hot sand a world away from us. That's all the more reason not to turn Dubai into a whipping boy for our disappointment with the rest of the Arab world.
"Just hold them in contempt of court. They'll languish there for years," quipped Bernie Kleinman, attorney for Ramzi Yousef, the 1993 World Trade Center bomber and nephew of the 9/11 mastermind, KSM, in a response to an article that appeared in today's New York Times - yes, a cover story - on one of his former clients.
Kleinman's former client, Martin Armstrong, an investment manager accused of securities fraud has spent the past seven years in jail because he says he does not have some documents that were requested by the courts.
Soon the number of years Mr. Armstrong will have spent in jail on civil contempt charges will exceed the maximum sentence he would have obtained had he been convicted of all 24 counts of securities fraud with which he was originally charged. (Prosecutors agreed to drop all but one of the charges in exchange for his guilty plea on one count.)
Asia-Pacific News is reporting that a leading Malaysian cleric, one Abu Hassan al-Hafiz, is recommending that women wear chastity belts to defend themselves against sexual predators.
"The best way to avert sex perpetrators is to wear protection," Abu Hassan reportedly told his followers at the mosque where he preaches. "My intention is not to offend women but to safeguard them from sex maniacs. Besides, husbands could also feel more secure, if you know what I mean."
Hassan apparently tried to assure his followers that this wasn't some medieval practice he was trying to resurrect by saying Malaysian women had only begun wearing them in the 1960s.
According to the New York Time's sources, Sadr is in Iran. Now did he flee because things are getting too hot in Iraq? Or was this just a routine visit?
This being the Middle East, there is always a third possiblity: That this is just a publicity stunt cooked up by the Americans, as one of his aides said in an interview on Al Arabiya.
“This is an American lie that aims to get information about the whereabouts of Sadr in any way possible,” Abdul Razzaq al-Nadawi, identified as one of the cleric's top aides, was reported as saying. “Through this they can accomplish two things: the first is that either Sadr shows up on TV and announces that he is here, and in this case they can make sure that he is in Najaf, Iraq. If he doesn’t show up they will also have achieved something, by depicting Sadr as a coward who fled to Iran fearing for his life.”
In any case, now that the borders with Iran and Syria are supposedly closed, let's hope this means we won't see him back in Iraq any time soon.
In today's New York Sun, Youssef Ibrahim, a former Middle East correspondent for both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, talks about the pervasive self-censorship that exists today when it comes to the study of Islam.
Ibrahim goes on to point out that such self-censorship has also become the norm in the media, publishing, and film business.
The 1978 work put the fear of God into any Western scholar who dared to discuss Islam, Muslims, or Arabs in anything less than superlatives — and it has succeeded beyond Said's wildest dreams.
In a prescient new book, "Dangerous Knowledge: Orientalism and Its Discontents," author Robert Irwin notes that "because of the possible offense to Muslim susceptibilities, Western scholars who specialize in the early history of Islam have to be extremely careful what they say, and some of them have developed
subtle forms of double-speak when discussing contentious matters."
But read his entire article.
Thursday, February 15, 2007
The Washington Post reports that about a week before the 9/11 attacks, members of the Turkish cell who carried out the Istanbul bombings in November 2003 - the four nearly-simultaneous truck and car bomb explosions that killed 58 people and wounded 750 that targeted Jewish and British interests - met with bin Laden and obtained Al Qaeda's support and blessing for the attacks.
The organization wanted to "take action against American and Israeli targets and break their dominance over Islamic countries," a suspect in the bombings told Turkish authorities. As the Post points out, this implies the attacks were being set in motion long before the U.S. even thought about sending troops into Iraq.
Like Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Al Qaeda's franchisee in Iraq, at least for most of his "substantial collaboration" with Al Qaeda (to use a 9/11 Commission phrase), the Turkish cell was not required to pledge their fealty to bin Laden in exchange for the financial, spiritual, and logistical support, and explosives training they received in Al Qaeda's terrorist training camps then still operating in Afghanistan.
As one of the cell members told the Turkish investigators, "We are different from al-Qaeda in terms of structure, but our views and our actions are in harmony."
We'll be following the news of this trial, about to commence in Istanbul.
Not if this news is true - that the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Ayyub al-Masri is wounded and his top aide, Abu Abdullah al-Majamiai is dead, as CNN is reporting.
Unfortunately, you must delay festivities until the U.S. military can corroborate this news.
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
Or is it just killing them???
The New York Times reports the Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb has claimed responsiblity for near-simultaneous explosions of seven bombs yesterday in the Algerian capital of Algier. The attacks left six dead and more than a dozen wounded.
As the Times reports, this was the worst terror attack in months by "North Africa's most active terror group." This Qaeda outfit was previously known as the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat - or more commonly by its French acronym, the GSPC.
Recall that in September, as the Washington Post reported, Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden's assistant, released a video on the Internet heralding the "great news" that Al Qaeda had joined forces with this group. "Our brothers," he said, "will be a thorn in the necks of the American and French crusaders and their allies, and a dagger in the hearts of the French traitors and apostates."
Since 2003, as the Post reported at the time, the GSPC the had "emerged as an umbrella for radical Islamic factions in neighboring countries, sponsoring training camps in the Sahara and supplying streams of fighters to wars in Iraq and Chechnya, according to counterterrorism officials and analysts in Europe and North Africa."
Recall that the jihad in Algeria has resulted in an estimated 200,000 deaths since its onset in 1991. The GSPC was ironically founded as a splinter group, a breakaway branch of the Armed Islamic Group, or GIA, which was famous for its massive slaughtering of any Algerian who didn't subscribe to their harsh reading of Islam or who refused to take up arms against the government.
The GIA's methods of elimination were brutal even by jihadist standards. A favorite practice was to enter a village and slit the throats of anyone deemed to be apostate - i.e., anyone who didn't enthusiastically embrace their views. Even bin Laden was reportedly appalled by the group's capacity for gratuitous violence against fellow Muslims.
Because of its roots in the GIA, the GSPC was not apparently entirely trusted by Al Qaeda. But the distrust began to melt away after the group started to court Bin Laden. For example, on the second anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, the Post reports, a leader of the GSPC posted a statement on the Internet saying: "We strongly and fully support Osama bin Laden's jihad against the heretic America." There were other such adoring statements until finally Al Qaeda succumbed to the GSPC's overtures and consented to a merger with the group in September.
As Algerian terrorism expert Liess Boukraa told the Post at the time of the "great news," "The leadership of al-Qaeda doesn't have a secure base left anywhere else in the world, so al-Qaeda needs the GSPC at the logistical level. The GSPC needs al-Qaeda at the ideological level."
Or as another Algerian terrorism expert, Mounir Boudjema, assessed the situation: "In terms of strategy, they have lost. The population doesn't want to have them anymore. The people in the villages refuse to give them blankets or water or food. The whole logistical network is falling apart."
I wonder if this latest attack will make them any more popular with their base in Algeria.
In a study released in March by the Saudi National Security Assessment Project on the foreign fighters in Iraq, it was found that some 22 percent were Algerian.
When news of these findings came out, I and my coauthor of Jihad and International Security (Palgrave, 2007) assumed that this was because the Algerian jihadists had worn out their welcome at home because of what was perceived as their senseless slaughtering of innocents.
As if what's now happening in Algeria isn't bad enough, the Post further reports that an Algerian underground in Europe is recruiting large numbers of Tunisians, Moroccans, Syrians and other extremists, according to Xavier Raufer, a French terrorism specialist. A cell linked to the GSPC was arrested in Casablanca in March on charges they were planning to attack a church and a subway system in Italy.
In today's Washington Post, Douglas Feith gets the opportunity to defend his pre-war questioning of the CIA's pronouncements on Iraq:
The CIA has a hard job. Some of its work has been good; some has been famously and disastrously bad, as everyone familiar with the Iraqi weapons of
mass destruction fiasco knows. Intelligence is inherently sketchy and speculative -- and historically often wrong. It is improved when policy officials freely probe and challenge it.
In evaluating our policy toward Iraq after Sept. 11, 2001, my office realized that CIA analysts were suppressing some of their information. They excluded reports conflicting with their favored theory: that the secular Iraqi Baathist regime would not cooperate with al-Qaeda jihadists. (We now face a strategic alliance of jihadists and former Baathists in Iraq.) Pentagon officials did not buy that theory, and in 2002 they gave a briefing that reflected their skepticism. Their aim was not to enthrone a different theory, but to urge the CIA not to exclude any relevant information from what it provided to policymakers. Only four top-level government officials received the briefing: Donald Rumsfeld, George Tenet, and (together) Stephen Hadley and I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby.
A 2004 Senate intelligence committee report praised the quality of the Pentagon's Iraq-al-Qaeda work -- the critical briefing and the related Pentagon-CIA dialogue. The policy officials "played by [intelligence community] rules" and asked questions that "actually improved the Central Intelligence Agency's products," it said. Levin and Sen. Jay Rockefeller both endorsed that judgment.
It was nice of the Post to give Feith this opportunity to defend himself as only days earlier, the Post had misreported the findings of a Pentagon investigation, and in doing so had skewered Feith. In a Page One story entitled "Official's Key Report On Iraq Is Faulted," Post reporters Walter Pincus and R. Jeffrey Smith had assessed the findings this way:
Intelligence provided by former undersecretary of defense Douglas J. Feith to buttress the White House case for invading Iraq included "reporting of dubious quality or reliability" that supported the political views of senior administration officials rather than the conclusions of the intelligence community, according to a report by the Pentagon's inspector general.
Feith's office "was predisposed to finding a significant relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda," according to portions of the report, released yesterday by Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.). The inspector general described Feith's activities as "an alternative intelligence assessment process." An unclassified summary of the full document is scheduled for release today in a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which Levin chairs. In that summary, a copy of which was obtained from another source by The Washington Post, the inspector general concluded that Feith's assessment in 2002 that Iraq and al-Qaeda had a "mature symbiotic relationship" was not fully supported by available intelligence but was nonetheless used by policymakers. At the time of Feith's reporting, the CIA had concluded only that there was an "evolving" association, "based on sources of varying reliability."
But as the Post itself later acknowledged, this assessment of the Pentagon report was almost entirely wrong:
Correction to This Article
A Feb. 9 front-page article about the Pentagon inspector general's report regarding the office of former undersecretary of defense Douglas J. Feith incorrectly attributed quotations to that report. References to Feith's office producing "reporting of dubious quality or reliability" and that the office "was predisposed to finding a significant relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda" were from a report issued by Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) in Oct. 2004. Similarly, the quotes stating that Feith's office drew on "both reliable and unreliable reporting" to produce a link between al-Qaeda and Iraq "that was much stronger than that assessed by the IC [Intelligence Community] and more in accord with the policy views of senior officials in the Administration" were also from Levin's report. The article also stated that the intelligence provided by Feith's office supported the political views of senior administration officials, a conclusion that the inspector general's report did not draw.The two reports employ similar language to characterize the activities of Feith's office: Levin's report refers to an "alternative intelligence assessment process" developed in that office, while the inspector general's report states that the office "developed, produced, and then disseminated alternative intelligence assessments on the Iraq and al Qaida relationship, which included some conclusions that were inconsistent with the consensus of the Intelligence Community, to senior decision-makers." The inspector general's report further states that Feith's briefing to the White House in 2002 "undercuts the Intelligence Community" and "did draw conclusions that were not fully supported by the available intelligence."
Interestingly a Powerline reader received this email from Jeff Smith, one of the Post's reporters on the story.
I agree with you that this was an egregious error. I also had nothing to do with it. All I did was obtain a copy of the unclassified summary of the IG report and write a precisely correct account, which I turned over to the other reporters. I'm not happy my name was put on that story by the editors, and I was astonished by the mistake. I blew the whistle on it internally. So don't attribute the mistake to me.
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
Only this time they might be allied in a military strike against Iran.
Or so reports Swoop, described by the Washington Post as a "well sourced foreign policy website."
On February 9, Swoop reported that a report out of Tel Aviv claims that the Israeli political and military leadership has concluded that "Bush is finished and the US is headed for a neo-isolationist phase." Because of this belief, Swoop says Israel is "increasingly open to unilateral action against Iran."
Swoop goes on to report that "area experts have learned that the Israelis have received assurances from Saudi emissary Prince Bandar bin-Sultan that, should they go ahead, they will enjoy tacit support from the Gulf Cooperation Council states and may even be able to use airfields in Qatar for emergencies."
Don't miss this digest by Michael Rubin, editor of the Middle East Quarterly.
First of all, Michael Rubin has some idea of what's been going on in Iraq. He's spent more than 22 months in Iraq since the US-led invasion in 2003 and nine of those months as a governance advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority.
As Rubin points out, some authors have used "their Iraq narrative to promote other agendas," while others 'have substituted theory for fact or tried to propel their experience into the center of the Iraq policy debate." And then there are the books that will have a lasting impact.
According to Rubin, these are some of the best books:
In the Company of Soldiers by Rich Atkinson
No True Glory: A Frontline Account of the Battle of Fallujah by Bing West
Embedded: The Media at War in Iraq by Bill Katovsky and Timothy Carlson
On Point: The United States Army in Operation Iraqi Freedom by Col. Gregory
Fontenot (Ret.), Lt. Col. E.J. Degen, and Lt. Col. David Tohn
Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq by Michael Gordon and Bernard Trainor
In the Red Zone: A Journey into the Soul of Iraq by Steven Vincent
Night Draws Near by Anthony Shadid
The Foreigners' Gift by Fouad Ajami
Thieves of Baghdad by Matthew Bogdanos (with William Patrick)
Reclaiming a Plundered Past by Magnus Bernhardsson
Memories of State by Eric Davis
And these, he says, are some of the worst:
Sleeping with Custer and the 7th Cavalry by Walter C. Rodger
Embedded: Weapons of Mass Deception by Danny Schechter
Losing Iraq by David Phillips
The Assassins' Gate by George Packer
Imperial Life in the Emerald City by Rajiv Chandrasekaran
The End of Iraq: How American Incompetence Created a War without End by Peter W. Galbraith
Squandered Victory by Larry Diamond
But read Rubin's whole analysis as there's much, much more there.
Monday, February 12, 2007
Really, guys, how bad would it be to outlaw this?
The Baltimore Sun gives some well-deserved op-ed space to a German NGO which has spent at least a decade trying to focus world attention on the practice of female genital mutialion, or rather cutting, if you prefer - the practice meant to perserve a woman's sexual honor (purity) before marriage. Even Ken Livingstone, the famous multiculturalist mayor of London condemns the practice.
WADI, which has had a presence in Iraq for over ten years, published a study in 2005 which suggested that FGM is well, normal in the Kurdish areas of Iraq. Sixty percent of the 1,554 girls and women they interviewed over age ten said they had undergone the procedure themselves.
Previously, most scholars believed that the practice was more or less confined to Africa (in Egypt some 90 percent of women are thought to have had this done).
Thus the WADI report that this was happening in Iraqi Kurdistan was surprising. I mean, Iraqi Kurds have been the biggest opponents of sharia, as the Christian Science Monitor observed in 2005 when news of this study first came out.
Iraqi Kurdish women told WADI staff members that any girl who did not have this procedure done would essentially be considered unmarriageable. Some thought the reason behind the practice was because women who didn't get circumcised were promiscuous or the food they cooked was unclean. Others thought the rationale had a religious component.
This is because, as one Kurdish cleric told the Monitor, most Kurds are Muslim and subscribe to the Shafii legal tradition in Islam which mandates that both men and women be circumcised. This is opposed to say the Hanbali tradition, the tradition in Saudi Arabia, which says that only men need be circumcised.
While this may be Kurdish legal tradition, a WADI staffer did tell the Monitor that in his experience, most Kurdish imams were pretty easy to convince that the practice should be abandoned.
The real die-hards the Monitor went on to report, were the older women. They apparently just can't be convinced that men would really stay with uncircumcised women over the long-haul.
(Were they also suggesting that this may be the reason for our high divorce rate here in the West?)
Anyway, the good news is that after some initial embarrassment and denial, Iraqi Kurdish politicos of all stripes seem to be finally swallowing their pride and are at least willing to discuss the problem.
As Thomas Von Der Osten-Sacken and Thomas Uwer write in the Sun, "perhaps the most important factor enabling an NGO to uncover the problem of FGM in Iraqi Kurdistan was the existence of civil society structures and popular demand for individual rights."
I think what they mean to say here is that if liberal seculary democracy survives in Iraq, female genital mutilation won't.
And now we end on a tragi-comic note. When WADI presented these findings in Vienna (i.e., in front of the UN and other human rights' organizations) this spring, some Iraqi groups suggested that WADI was only airing these ugly secrets because, yes, you guessed it, WADI is an Israeli agent.
Those Zionists, even behind the plot to eliminate female genital mutilation.
You can see a longer discussion of this issue in the latest issue of the Middle East Quarterly, "Is female genitual mutilation an Islamic problem?"