Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Transform Iraq and impact the Arab world?

'After six years of immense strife and tears and some successes, the two great Iraq imponderables remain: the degree to which Iraq's leaders are ready and able to help themselves; and the willingness of the "international community", meaning principally the US, to go the extra mile down what has been a very long road indeed.

Iraq is yesterday's story, or at least most US policymakers hope it is. Yet even now, nobody really knows how the story will finish. "Iraq continues to unnerve and tantalise," said columnist Tom Friedman. "Watching Iraqi politics is like watching a tightrope artist crossing a dangerous cavern. At every step it looks as though he is going to fall into the abyss and yet, somehow, he continues to wobble forward."

Friedman added a salutary word about priorities for wobblers in Washington and London. "Remember: transform Iraq and it will impact the whole Arab-Muslim world. Change Afghanistan and you just change Afghanistan." '

Iraq wants nuclear plant

'Iraq has expressed an interest in reviving its nuclear technology, bombed into oblivion by Israel in 1981 and the US ten years later. An Iraqi minister says Baghdad has contacted the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), based in Vienna, to seek its approval to relaunch a peaceful nuclear programme.

Even though Iraq is one of the world’s biggest oil producers, its Government says it is unable to secure the country’s electricity needs. Iraq’s first French-made reactor at Osirak was damaged by an Iranian raid in 1980 and destroyed by Israel a year later. Israel feared Saddam Hussein’s regime was trying to develop a nuclear bomb.

US aircraft demolished further nuclear facilities during the first Gulf War in 1991, and concerns over Saddam’s nuclear ambitions were one of the triggers for the second Gulf War and the US-led invasion. No weapons of mass destruction were found, as it became clear that Saddam had been bluffing about his nuclear capability.

Iraq’s new masters insist they have no intention of trying to develop nuclear bombs. “We are co-operating with the IAEA and expanding and defining areas of research where we can implement nuclear technology for peaceful means,” the Science and Technology Minister, Raid Fahmi, told the Guardian.'

America is God

From Alaa's Third Law, Oct 8, 2006: "Just listen to any standard discourse of our Arab commentators, for instance. You will hear the word America or something to do with America, in every other sentence; if not in each one. America is deified, demonized, believed to be the source of everything that is happening. My son once told me that one of his teachers (of wahabi sympathies) emphatically told his pupils in class, that it was America that caused the Tsunami that struck the shores of Asia. Ordinary American folk may not quite realize or understand this; it is rather like some of these fairy tales when some quite ordinary person finds himself crowned as King or something of the sort."

An Iraqi on Sunday's bombing: ''We don't know whether it's the political parties, al-Qaeda, neighbouring countries or the Americans,'' said Ridah Mahdi Mohammed, 41, whose nephew was run over by a vehicle speeding away from one of the bombings. The Americans were primarily to blame, he said, because ''they control everything, from the sky to the ground''.

Iraq Pundit today: 'Few seemed to react today when a group with al-Qaeda links took credit for Sunday's suicide attacks. Iraqis are so exhausted that an old man swears that bystanders spat upon the deputy speaker Khaled Attiyah as he passed by. "Curses upon you and your politicians," the man said he heard them shout. "Curses upon you and your turbaned colleagues!"

When asked how he plans to vote in the upcoming elections, the old man said it did not matter. He said, "Jesus said you want it one way, I want it another, and what matters is how God wants it to be." Okay, no problem. "If I may borrow from that saying," he said. "You want it one way, I want it another, and what matters is how America wants it to turn out." '

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Sunday Bloody Sunday

"The double suicide bombing in Baghdad on Sunday was the deadliest attack in Iraq for over two years. It claimed more than 130 lives, and wounded hundreds more."

The resistance strikes again, at Iraqis of course, and our Arab brothers do not seem to be very concerned about it.

As Mish3an Jabouri dreams of unity between Iraq and Syria (but not unity with the Iraqi government), and as 3arab jarab praise Saddam and preach "resistance" from their homes in California, the "resistance" continues to mass murder Iraqis, targeting Iraqi security forces and government employees.

Well at least the "resistance" is no longer targeting markets and cafes. That is considered progress in the Arab world. Anthony Shadid (Arab American journalist) wrote: "Unlike the carnage unleashed by attacks in crowded mosques, restaurants and markets, aimed at igniting sectarian strife, these blasts appeared to rely on a distinctly political logic." I do not understand how "distinctly political logic" can result in the murder of 137 people, but I betchya the Arabs do.

From David Ignatius of the Washington Post: 'But my Iraqi friends were surprisingly upbeat about the future, even after Sunday's terrible bombings. "In every sector, Iraq is coming back to its normal mode," said one. "There is no way it will slip back," insisted the other. I wondered at their confidence on such a day, but that is part of the Iraqi toughness.

Rather than talking about the bombings, we talked politics. My friends sharply criticized the incumbent prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki. But as we were debating, one turned to me with a smile: "Here we are talking about who will run the government after the elections. Could you do that in any other country in the Arab world?"

Barack Obama on the bombings: "The United States will stand with Iraq's people and government as a close friend and partner as Iraqis prepare for elections early next year, continue to take responsibility for their future, and build greater peace and opportunity," President Barack Obama said in a statement that condemned the bombings."

From our friends in Europe: "Sweden, which currently holds the EU's rotating presidency, said in a statement: "The presidency of the European Union condemns today's car bombs in Baghdad."

It seems that only our Arab "brothers" cannot bring themselves to condemn these bombings that target Iraqi government employees, who are after all ordinary IRAQIS.

The Arabs never ask "why does the Arab resistance attack the Iraqi government by murdering innocent Iraqis?" They do not consider what was happening in Iraq before 2003 and wonder if Baathist extremists would mass murder Iraqis in order to gain power, like they did before 2003.

The bombings apparently do not make the "Angry Arab" angry enough to condemn the Arabs who continue to mass murder Iraqis in the most horrific ways. Instead, California Professor As'ad Abu Khalil wrote recently: "So the US comes to Iraq, sets up a puppet government and tells the puppets that they now have a democracy. So the puppets believe it. I find that quite amusing."

On the same day the Angry Arab wrote about Sistani, who has repeatedly called for peace and unity between all Iraqis. The professor wrote on Friday: "He [Sistani] is one of the worst puppets in the Middle East, and will go down in history as the Cleric of Foreign Occupation. So this man says that he does not interfere in politics but recently has been making noises insisting on open electoral lists."

Incredibly the professor wrote on the same day a post about the Saudis promoting a "Saddam TV satellite channel that will air Saddam speeches and songs non-stop". So Iraqis cannot count on even an educated, respected, liberal Arab American professor who has acknowledged the sadism and criminality of Saddam, to condemn the Arab extremists who continue to mass murder Iraqis.

I suppose I should not expect ordinary Arabs and Arab Americans to condemn the mass murderers of Iraqis, after Arab nationalist poets lauded Saddam, and after Arab American academics still call it a puppet government in Baghdad while ignoring the Arab insurgency that continues to kill Iraqis 6 years after the toppling of the former dictator. I have never seen an Arab or Arab American condemn the bombers, who are obviously Arab and who have killed thousands of innocent Iraqis this year, and this has been a relatively peaceful year in Iraq compared to the sectarian violence of 2006 and 2007.

So these are our Arab "brothers". They seem to have no problem fighting "imperialism" by mass murdering Iraqis. It makes me very sad.

Update (Oct 26): On the Palestinian Pundit, where blaming America for all of Iraq's problems is quite normal, the Arab American blogger Tony posted an article by an Iraqi British "senior lecturer" at London Metropolitan University: 'the Iraqi people are still paying with their blood for the US-led invasion and occupation of their country......the Iraqi people will not freely accept a pro-US regime in Baghdad and that the "exit strategy" will inevitably result in long-term occupation, and bring only more bloodshed and destruction. Why are the Iraqi people expected to elect a disparate collection of corrupt and sectarian pro-US politicians?'

Our Lebanese Australian friend who contributes to the Palestinian Pundit and to the Angry Arabs Comments Section, quoted Juan Cole, who pointed out that "The Minister of Public Works is Riyadh Gharib, a prominent member of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, which is close to the clerics in Tehran. Public Works as a ministry would thus have a lot of ISCI party members as employees and it is also a huge source of political patronage. Baathists or Sunni extremists would have every reason to hit it."

But this is the part of Cole's article that interested our respected Lebanese Australian friend: "The Republican's avaricious and illegal war on Iraq destabilized the eastern Mediterranean, perhaps for decades, creating long-term challenges to US and global security of which the Baghdad blasts are very possibly only minor omens."

I guess Iraqis should have stuck it out with Saddam so that the eastern Mediterranean would remain "stable" in the eyes of Juan Cole and non-Iraqi Arabs.

Also today the Angry Arab wrote about the bombings: 'Look at this language about the bombings yesterday: "leaving a scene of carnage that raised new questions about the government’s ability to secure its most vital operations." You would not know from this sentence that the US has some 130,000 troops.'

And you would not know from any Arab "intellectual" that Arabs murdered around 150 Iraqis yesterday, including 30 Iraqi children.

Update (Oct 27): "Iraq's government pledged tighter security the day after two suicide bombings claimed at least 155 lives, including two dozen children trapped in a bus leaving a day-care center."

Friday, October 23, 2009

Mish3an Jabouri Dreams of "Suraqia"

Mish3an Jabouri, the man who starred in the Al Jazeera interview below, dreams of uniting Iraq and Syria, like Saddam and the Ba3ath dreamed long ago. He dreams of good relations between Iraq and Syria. Given that the Syrians have allowed hundreds of suicide bombers to enter Iraq via the gates of Damascus since 2003, I also "dream" of good relations between Iraq and Syria!

'Mish'an Al-Jabouri: "We support good relations between Syria and Iraq, but not between Syria and the Al-Maliki government. We support good relations between Iraq and Syria regardless of who the ruler is, because we believe that this serves the people and their interests, and that it is a positive factor.

"Personally, I believe in the philosophy and notion of 'Suraqia' – Greater Syria and Iraq. This is what I dream about. Just like some people dream of Arab unity and others of Islamic unity, I adhere to the notion of Suraqia.

"Therefore, in the days of the late president Saddam Hussein, I used to call from Syria for good Syrian-Iraqi relations, at a time when they were very bad. Back then, Al-Maliki would curse me in the newspaper he had here, and would accuse me of working for Iraqi intelligence, and of being an agent for Saddam, just because I would call for good Syrian-Iraqi relations." '

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Justice in America

You may have read about the Massachussets man named Tarek Mehanna who wanted to kill Americans at a US shopping mall and US soldiers in Iraq. He is probably one of the many Arab Americans who was influenced by 3arab jarab who portrayed US soldiers as murderers of innocent Iraqis, not realizing that Arabs led by Saddam Hussein had been murdering Iraqis for more than two decades prior to the US invasion of Iraq. He may have been moved by images of US soldiers abusing Iraqis at Abu Ghraib, not knowing that Arabs led by Saddam had been torturing, raping, and murdering innocent Iraqis at Abu Ghraib and other Iraqi prisons for 24 years before 2003. I'm glad he was arrested before he killed anybody.

"If convicted, Mehanna faces up to 15 years in prison on the charge of material support of terrorism."

This morning I happened to be watching an excellent documentary (on IFC) about New York's Rockefeller Drug Laws and an African American man who was convicted of possession and sentenced to 15 years to life in state prison.

So the man who conspired to murder Americans may be given a lighter sentence than a man who received a package of cocaine in the mail. And they call this justice? In America?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Iraqi Poet Criticizes Arab Nationalist Poets for Supporting Tyrants

Another Iraqi recalls the methods of torture and murder by Saddam's regime and criticizes Arabs who praised Saddam. A must read, although gory and sad. Thanks Gilgamesh for posting the link!

Iraqi Poet Abbas Khidr Recounts His Experience of Torture in Iraqi Prison Under Saddam, Criticizes Arab Nationalist Poets for Supporting Tyrants

..."Renowned Arab Poets and Authors Kept Talking About Love and Freedom... They Lauded Saddam Hussein"

"I found it strange that renowned Arab poets and authors kept talking about love and freedom. They went to Iraq and lauded Saddam Hussein. Take Nizar Qabbani, for example. He wrote that the most beautiful poetry emerges from the [Iraqi] Revolutionary Council?! Is it conceivable that the number one poet of the Arabs mentions in the same breath poetry and the Iraqi Revolutionary Council, which waged war and executed people in the streets in Iraq?!

"Take a poet like Su'ad Al-Sabbah - the Kuwaiti princess who came to Iraq, and wrote a poem dedicated to Saddam Hussein... or rather, she wrote an article dedicated to Saddam Hussein. She wrote: 'A poet who does not write in favor of the war and the leader is a traitor. We must persecute him and burn all his poems.' Imagine that this woman, who should be talking about emotions and beauty, talks about burning and killing?! She was Kuwaiti and she said this in the 90s. She wrote in a poem about the sun and the sea: '... I feel like marrying a sword.' Sister, what is this? What is this cruelty? You want to marry a sword?! She dedicated the poem to Saddam Hussein."

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

85,000 Iraqis killed by violence 2004 - 2008

"Iraq's human rights ministry said on Tuesday that at least 85,000 people had been killed by bombs, murders and fighting in 2004-08, in a rare death toll release by an Iraqi government agency.

Mayhem and bitter clashes erupted after the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, followed by years of sectarian carnage that has only recently begun to abate. The number of people killed by U.S. and Iraqi forces or insurgents remains highly contentious.

"Outlawed groups through terrorist attacks like explosions, assassinations, kidnappings or forced displacements created these terrible figures, which represent a huge challenge for the rule of law and for the Iraqi people," the ministry said.

"These figures draw a picture about the impact of terrorism and the violation of natural life in Iraq," the ministry said in a draft report on deaths in Iraq.

The report -- which only represents death certificates issued by the health ministry -- also said that 147,195 people had been wounded from 2004 to the end of October 2008.

The data makes no distinction between civilians and others.

A senior rights ministry official said that the report did not include missing persons, estimated at around 10,000 people."

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Insurgents target reconciliation meeting

It seems that insurgents are determined to prevent reconciliation between Shia and Sunni Arabs.

'A series of apparently coordinated bombings aimed at a meeting for national reconciliation killed 23 people and wounded 65 others in western Iraq on Sunday, but they did not injure the officials who were at the gathering, the authorities said.'

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Iraqis protest

'Hundreds took to the streets Saturday throughout Iraq to demand open elections and improved public services, revealing a growing discontent among Iraqis that is overshadowing concerns about the ability of Iraqi forces to take over from withdrawing American troops.

Low oil prices have left the Iraqi government struggling to restore infrastructure after years of neglect, corruption and insurgent attacks, as well as to rebuild their security forces before a planned American withdrawal in 2011.

About 200 demonstrators took to the streets in central Baghdad, chanting: "No water, no electricity in the country of oil and the two rivers," a reference to Iraq's ancient name.

Protester Najim Abid said he and others were calling on the Iraqi government and international aid organizations to take immediate action to improve conditions for Iraqis.

"They must step in and save the Iraqi people, who are suffering because of poverty and deprivation," said Abid, 52, a retired government worker.'

Friday, October 09, 2009

Anti-insurgent Sunni cleric murdered

'A Sunni cleric known for denouncing insurgents in Iraq was killed Friday by a bomb that ripped apart his car, a police official said, in the second targeted attack on a religious figure in as many weeks.

Activists and clerics who speak out against al-Qaida in Iraq and other insurgent groups have been attacked with some regularity, raising the possibility that the waning insurgency has shifted to a more targeted terror campaign.

Jamal Humadi was driving home after delivering his Friday sermon in Saqlawiyah, 45 miles (75 kilometers) northwest of Baghdad, when a bomb attached to his car exploded, the official said. Two passengers were wounded.

Humadi was known for his opposition to al-Qaida and Sunni extremists, routinely calling on worshippers to turn away from the sectarian violence that engulfed the country two years ago.

Last week, Sunni cleric Bashir al-Juheishi was killed by a bomb attached to a car — known as a sticky bomb — in Mosul as he left a mosque there.

Al-Juheishi was also known for taking a stand against al Qaida in Mosul, a city the U.S. military has called the last urban stronghold of the group.

Insurgents carrying out such targeted attacks are using booby-trapped cans of food and toys, the military spokesman for Baghdad security warned on Friday.'

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

The ties that bind Iraq and Iran

'Iran and Iraq also have a unique relationship with each other. The neighbors hold regular security meetings, underlining their ongoing ties. Meanwhile, the Pentagon accuses Iran of supplying militias in Iraq with improvised explosive devices — particularly the especially lethal armor-piercing variety.

Given that Iran is predominantly Shiite and now ruled by a theocratic government, in contrast to Iraq where Sunnis, until the U.S. invasion, long ruled the Shiite majority, the schism between the major branches of Islam has played a major role in relations between the countries. This split dates back to disputes over the succession to the Prophet Mohammed. For the Shiites, Mohammed's son-in-law Ali was the rightful heir to the Prophet, while the Sunnis followed his father-in-law Abu Bakr, who became the first Caliph.

And while ethnically and linguistically distinct — Iran’s population is predominantly Persian and Farsi-speaking, while Iraq’s is dominated by Arabic-speaking Arabs — the two share an intertwining history and a border spanning about 1,000 miles.

Different but next door

The history of Iran, formerly known as Persia, spans many centuries. Its rulers battled the ancient Greeks and its series of empires have stretched as far as western and central Asia and the Caucasus Mountains.

In contrast, Iraq as part of the larger Arab "nation" has been a recognized and distinct country for a much shorter time. Even so, the area known for centuries in Europe as Mesopotamia has in the region been referred to as al-‘Iraq — the shore of a great river and the grazing land around it — since about the eighth century.

Sunni vs. Shiite

It has been Iraq’s fate to be caught in the middle between Persia and subsequent competing powers, according to Middle East expert Dr. Jubin Goodarzi, the author of the "Syria and Iran: Diplomatic Alliance and Power Politics in the Middle East."

“Both during the Romans and the Ottomans, Iraq became a battleground of empires," he says.

An important turning point for both came in 1501 when Shiite Islam became the state religion in Persia (Shiite Islam is distinct from the religion’s other major branch, Sunni Islam). Najaf and Karbala in Iraq, two of Shiite Islam’s most important centers, for which Iran pays for much of the upkeep, are still visited by thousands of Iranian pilgrims and clerics every year, as well as local Iraqi Shiites.

During the 16th and 17th centuries, Iraq became part of the Sunni Ottoman Empire, which stood in contrast to Persia’s Shiite one. Ottoman control over Iraq waxed and waned over the centuries but was finally relinquished in the years following the end of World War I in 1918 and the empire’s subsequent dismantlement. While Iraq was considered a backwater province during Ottoman times, Sunnis were elevated as the local ruling class. The British followed suit.

The victorious European powers carved up Ottoman holdings, with the British occupying the cities of Baghdad, Mosul and Basra in Iraq. In 1920, the League of Nations granted the United Kingdom the mandate for Iraq, and borders were drawn between the countries with little consideration to the communities being split up by them. Subsequent revolts were suppressed and Prince Faisal bin Husain al-Hashemi was placed on the throne within two years.

In 1932, the League of Nations granted Iraq its independence, although Britain left Iraq’s Sunnis very much in charge.

Path to revolution

During World War I, Persia was the scene of intense fighting despite having declared its neutrality, and the decades between the wars were also defined by great political tumult. By 1941, by which time it had changed its name to Iran, the country had sided with the Axis powers, leading to a brief Anglo-Russian occupation of the country at the end of the war.

Its great size, natural resources and, especially, its strategic position on the Caspian Sea ensured that Iran would be a battleground between the Soviet Union and the United States early on in the Cold War.

In 1950, nationalist Mohammad Mossadeq became prime minister of Iran, which led to tension with pro-Western Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who fled the country to Iraq in 1953. Later that same year, the intelligence services of Britain and the United States, which feared that Tehran might turn toward Moscow during that crucial stage of the Cold War, helped engineer a coup that deposed Mossadeq and reinstalled the shah.

While there was some tension between Iran and Iraq in the 1940s and 1950s, the countries were mostly governed by conservative, pro-Western regimes.

That changed dramatically in 1958 when a military coup deposed Iraq’s monarchy and established a republic. The secular Sunni government became a center of Arab nationalism, and in the following years struggled to grapple with and suppress its Kurdish minority and largely disenfranchised Shiite majority. Iran maintained ties to both restive groups during this time.

1979: A catalyst

The year 1979 was momentous for both Iraq and Iran. In Iraq, Saddam Hussein consolidated his rule of the Baath Party in a bloody putsch that eliminated possible competitors.

It was also the year that the shah and his family were forced into exile and the Iranian revolution installed a theocratic state led by Khomeini. Following the abduction of 52 American hostages in the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, the country found itself largely isolated internationally. (The hostages were released after 444 days.)

The toppling of the shah’s secular, pro-Western regime had a major impact not only on Iran’s standing in the world but also its relations with Iraq.

“The Iranian revolution was a catalyst, and it changed the equation overnight,” says Goodarzi. Saddam benefitted by convincing the West that he was a follower of the foreign policy doctrine that "my enemy’s enemy is my friend" and shored up support for his rule internationally.

From that time on the relationship between the two countries was defined by Iraq's Baathist secular Sunni government versus Iran's theocratic Shiite one, he says, although several events paved the way to hostilities breaking out.

In 1980, an Iran-backed militant Shiite group tried to kill Iraq's foreign minister, Tariq Aziz, and was suspected of trying to kill the minister of culture and information. The response was swift and ruthless: more than 40,000 Shiites of Iranian origin were deported. The government later executed Shiite religious leader Ayatollah Sayyid Mohammad Baqir al-Sadr, and his sister, Bint al-Huda.

During this time, Saddam tried and failed to sever the close ties between the religious hubs of Najaf and Karballah in Iraq and Qom in Iran.'

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Peter Galbraith dismissed from Afghanistan UN post

I have quoted and commended Peter W. Galbraith on this blog before. He seems to be trying to do the right thing in Afghanistan now.

'America’s top diplomat at the United Nations mission in Afghanistan has been ordered out of the country after a row with his boss over how to respond to last month’s fraud-riddled presidential elections, it has been alleged.

The alleged quarrel is threatening to spark a mutiny within the UN mission. At least a dozen senior staff are backing the American, Peter Galbraith, in the dispute with his Norwegian superior, Kai Eide.

Mr Galbraith, a close friend of the US special envoy Richard Holbrooke, left for Boston on Sunday after a heated meeting with Afghan election officials. His “pointed” questions to the Independent Election Commission (IEC) were evidence of a much tougher line towards the Afghan authorities than the “softly-softly” approach of Mr Eide, who heads the UN mission to Kabul.'


"Of all the voices alleging electoral fraud in Afghanistan one of the strongest to emerge is Peter Galbraith.

Until last week he served as the United Nations deputy envoy in that country and after being excused from his post, so to speak, he is speaking out about the fraud he allegedly witnessed.

Matt Frei spoke to him from Norway about those accusations and what he says led to his dismissal."

'Code Pink' rethinks its call for Afghanistan pullout

Interesting. I always wondered where these activists were during Saddam's reign of terror, torture, rape and murder.

'Code Pink' rethinks its call for Afghanistan pullout

'In Afghanistan, the US women's activist group finds that their Afghan counterparts want US troop presence – as well as more reconstruction.'

By Aunohita Mojumdar | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor
from the October 6, 2009 edition

'Code Pink, founded in 2002 to oppose the US invasion of Iraq, is one of the more high-profile women's antiwar groups being forced to rethink its position as Afghan women explain theirs: Without international troops, they say, armed groups could return with a vengeance – and that would leave women most vulnerable.

Though Afghans have their grievances against the international troops' presence, chief among them civilian casualties, many fear an abrupt departure would create a dangerous security vacuum to be filled by predatory and rapacious militias. Many women, primary victims of such groups in the past, are adamant that international troops stay until a sufficient number of local forces are trained and the rule of law established.'

Sunday, October 04, 2009

US & UK "chasing a phantom enemy"

So it turns out Al Qaeda does not exist as an organization. No surprise there. Wahhabi terrorism, however, has caused much death and destruction in Iraq and other parts of the world. Takfir and the notion that non-Muslims (from the Wahhabi perspective) are infidels or apostates must be combatted through education (and satire). Those who are influenced by Wahhabism and are determined to cause harm to innocent people must be arrested and jailed before they commit crimes.

This is a comment (Oct 5) for this post:

'If you have watched the video, please point out any inaccuracies you find. Where did the name "Al Qaeda" come from, if not from bin Ladin?

Thanks anan for pointing out that bin Ladin did set up an organization in 1998. In 1990 he volunteered to expel Iraqi forces from Kuwait and urged the Saudis not to invite infidels into the House of Islam. I wonder if he and his mujahideen really could have expelled Iraqi forces from Kuwait. That would have been an interesting turn in that story, if the Saudis had taken bin Ladin's offer before inviting the Americans.

The reason I posted this video is because what is discussed in it, including legal cases, seems to be true. I also wanted to emphasize that even IF Al Qaeda doesn't have an organization in the traditional sense, the Arabs and Muslims who were influenced by Wahhabi ideas were quite willing to be allied with a group that was responsible for the most horrendous sectarian violence in the history of the world. This video doesn't change the fact that jarab from Morocco to Salt to Riyadh volunteered to mass murder Iraqis. It doesn't change the fact that fundamentalist Muslims blew up Budhhist statues in Afghanistan and mass murdered Shia in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

It's also interesting to see the reaction of some Arabs to this video (and the person who posted it - "BBC now admits al qaeda never existed"), as if there are no Wahhabi terrorists who blow up markets in Iraq, as if 19 Arabs did not hijack planes and fly them into tall buildings in NYC 8 years ago.'

Update (Oct 6): Anand sent me this via email:

'AQ was a highly capable organization. It's name was written in the founding notes for the meeting in 1998 that formed the organization. There are detailed records of these founding meetings.

The Jihad against the Soviets in the 1980s has 13 major Mujahadeen groups. The 7 sunni extremist ones were:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamic_Unity_of_Afghanistan_Mujahideen (they were backed by the Pakistani and Saudi governments)

One of the important ones was:
This was founded by Osama Bin Laden and Abdullah Azzam in 1984. This was a very large and well funded group. It was very real; and a feared enemy of the Soviet Union. It also participated in killing Shiiites.

Abdullah Azzam and Osama Bin Laden formed Al Qaeda in March 1988. Again, it was an important group from the start.

OBL (Osama Bin Laden) really took off in 1998 when he founded the international Islamic front. {He was emir for the entire group.} This was a huge group with arguably over a hundred thousand fighters around the world. Fortunately for the world (especially India, China, Russia, Iran, the Stans, and the Shia), the dumb Takfiri extremists attacked America too. As a result they suffered a body blow after 9/11. Al Qaeda linked networks are much weaker now than they were at their zenith (1998-2001.)'

Thursday, October 01, 2009

How Bahraini Shia reacted to Iraqi democracy

'Bahraini Shias reacted somewhat differently from their cousins in Iraq and Lebanon. They constitute more than 70 percent of their tiny island country’s population of 700,000 and consider themselves to be the salt of the earth ruled by a minority of Sunni settlers who invaded from Qatar in the eighteenth century. Since Bahrain gained its independence in 1970, Shias have been heavily involved in every coup attempt, street agitation, uprising, and reform movement in the Persian Gulf emirate. Trouble began in earnest in 1994 as the poor and politically marginalized Bahraini Shias protested their lack of jobs and rights. The government reacted brutally, jailing and exiling political and religious leaders and perpetuating the cycle of violence and repression.

In 1999 the country’s new ruler, Sheikh Hamad Bin Isa al-Khalifa, decided to open up the political system. This happened at a time of Shia agitation that led to the imprisonment of the Shia leader, Sheikh Abdul-Amir al-Jamri. Eager to consolidate his rule in the face of unrest, the emir called for elections to give the country’s population a voice in governance. What he had in mind was not democratic but a parliament of notables that would allow him to control the population by coopting their leaders - “a cooptation of the effendis”, as Bahrainis called it dismissively. Many Bahrainis boycotted the elections, especially the restless Shia youth and those Shia activists who were enamored of the Iranian revolution and followed religious parties such as the al-Wifaq (the Accord) movement and the Front for Islamic Revolution in Bahrain (Al-Jibha al-Islamiya li’l-Tahrir al-Bahrayn). These voices instead called for a complete opening of the political system. Unhappy with limited access to power and the growing prominence of the Wahhabi brand of Islam and the Muslim Brotherhood among Sunnis, the more radical elements in al-Wifaq and the Front began to agitate. The boycott allowed the minority Sunnis to take twenty-seven of the forty seats in the parliament, which only aggravated the situation.

Thus when the second Gulf war came, Bahrain was already restless. The Shia youth, jobless and resentful, looked like the youth of Sadr City. What they lacked was a Bahraini Muqtada al Sadr. Pictures of Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei and Lebanon’s Ayatollah Muhammad Huayn Fadlallah adorned shops and homes. When a local newspaper printed an unflattering cartoon of Ayatollah Khamenei in July, 2005, large crowds marched in the capital, Manama, chanting, “Labeik Khamenei” (we are responding to your call, Khameini). Bahraini young people were not keen to follow the leadership their traditional elders, and less keen to heed their call for calmness and patience. Revolutionary fervor began to give place to democratic hope after Sistani began to clamor for “one person, one vote” and the Shia won the January 30 Iraq elections. As a measure of how closely Bahrainis now followed Iraq, in May 2004 large crowds protested the fighting between U.S. troops and the Mahdi Army in Najaf and Karbala. The mass of Bahraini Shias took the example of Iraq to heart and began to demand real democracy, which would mean a transfer of power to Shias and not just a “House of Lords” to legitimate the Sunni monarchy. In March and June 2005, thousands poured into the streets to ask for all-fledged democracy. They wanted what their numbers warranted, that is, to rule Bahrain just as their cosectarians were now ruling Iraq. Bahrain’s sectarian troubles will bear directly on Shia-Sunni relations in the UAE, Kuwait, and, most important, Saudi Arabia, whose Eastern Province sits a stone’s throw from the causeway that links Bahrain to the Arabian mainland.'

The dishdasha bomber

I'm sure you've heard the story about the ass bomber by now. I wondered how it would be possible, and it turns out it's not true. The Salafi was dedicated to Al Qaeda, but not that dedicated. He was, however, dedicated enough to hide explosives in his underwear. It's easy to do when you're wearing a dishdasha, the traditional robe that Arab men wear.

"The would-be assassin of Saudi Arabia's Prince Mohammed bin Nayef hid his bomb in his underwear, apparently believing that cultural taboos would prevent a search in that part of his body, according to a Saudi government official close to the investigation."

The underwear bomber was correct in his assessment of Saudi cultural taboos, which underscores the root of the problem: why have the Saudis treated these murderers with kid gloves? You may have read my post Saudi ex-Gitmo detainees get Royal treatment, which is about the "rehabilitation" of Saudi ex-Gitmo detainees and Saudis who committed terrorism in Iraq. This Al Qaeda member hid plastic explosives under his dishdasha and believed that Prince Nayef's security would not properly search him. He was right.

"Prince Nayef is responsible for overseeing the kingdom's terrorist rehabilitation program, and some two dozen important members of al Qaeda previously have surrendered to him in person, according to the Saudi government official."

The Saudi Royals are trying to rehabilitate Saudi Al Qaeda members by being nice with them. This also says something about Saudi security and how incompetent they must be.

How Lebanese Shia reacted to Iraqi democracy

"Shias in Lebanon, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia have all watched developments in Iraq with great interest. They all embraced Sistani's pragmatic approach to politics and were quick to echo his call for "one man, one vote". They all looked to gain from following in the footsteps of Iraqi Shias in adopting democracy to turn the tables on the Sunnis. Amal and Hezbollah leaders and preachers praised Sistani, hinting that once again Lebanon would look to Najaf rather than Qom for religious direction.

Hezbollah's endorsement of Sistani was less a spiritual matter than one of political self-interest. Hezbollah's leaders were noticeably cool toward Sistani's call for clerics to withdraw from politics but saw benefit in the symbolism of his leadership. Their initial reaction to developments in Iraq was quickly to adopt Sistani’s political formula as their mantra. “One man, one vote” in Lebanon would mean that Shia, who make up more than two fifths of the population, would dominate government. In the months after the January 2005 elections in Iraq, Hezbollah’s television station, Al-Manar, continually referred to the “one man, one vote” formula. Hezboallah’s endorsement of Sistani and its power play in Lebanon raised the ire of the Sunnis, who had until then stood in awe of the party for its anti-Israeli posture but who saw Iraqi Shias as American stooges and expected Hezbollah to support the Sunni insurgency in Iraq. Hezbollah, however, saw benefits in touting the Iraqi example. When the United States called for Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon and democracy in that country, Hezbollah became more aggressive in its rhetoric, anticipating that just as Sistani had used Washington’s call for democracy to force Bremer to concede on the “one man, one vote” formula, in Lebanon too Washington’s enthusiasm for democracy would only pave the way for the Shias’ rise to power, at the cost of Christians and Sunnis.

In February 2005, after Lebanon’s Sunni ex-premier Rafiq Hariri was murdered by the blast of a huge road mine in Beirut, hundreds of thousands of mostly Christian and Sunni demonstrators took peacefully to the streets to denounce Syria’s domination of Lebanon. Amal and Hezbollah joined hands to reply with a larger pro-Syrian crowd of their own. The issue of the day was Syrian presence in Lebanon, but the underlying message of these counterdemonstrations was to flaunt Shia power. Not to be outdone, the anti-Syrian crowds grew even larger. The demonstrations served as a prelude to elections in June 2005, in which the alliance of Amal and Hezbollah swept the Shia vote in the south to become notable voice in the parliament. The Shias had demonstrated their power, but it was clear that it would not be easy to use that power to change the country. A new census (the last one had been in 1932) and changes in Lebanon’s electoral map were unlikely to happen painlessly. So after the June elections Hezbollah had to work within the existing system and hope that as democracy gained momentum, political reform would follow. Given Sunni anger at developments in Iraq, it was prudent for Hezbollah to downplay its approval of Shia empowerment there. Sunni approval of Hezbollah’s politics was a great asset that the organization did not want to give up without the palpable promise of greater power in Lebanon. For now Hezbollah distanced itself from sectarian tensions in Iraq, joined the anti-Syrian government, and emphasized Lebanese nationalism (al watiniya) rather than calling for Shia empowerment. That would have to wait for another day.

In doing all this, Hezbollah was following the Iraq model. Shias in Iraq had distanced themselves from Arab nationalism, instead defining themselves as Iraqi and Shia. But without the Sunni domination promoted by Saddam and his brand of Arab nationalism, Iraqi nationalism in a Shia-majority country would become the vehicle for Shia identity. Lebanese nationalism was once promoted by the country’s Christian minority, but like the Iraqi Shias, Hezbollah has embraced Lebanese nationalism as defined by Shias, as a mix of Lebanese and Islamic and Arab identities. After resisting Israel, the Shias viewed themselves as defenders of Lebanon. Their Lebanon would continue to support Arab causes - fighting Israel, defending Palestinians, and resisting the occupation of Iraq - but the country’s politics and nationalism would not be defined by those causes. In fact, other transnational ties, especially those to Shias beyond the Arab world, would also feature prominently in this new conception of national identity. Shia revival therefore did not mean pan-Shiism or a unitary Shia language of power, but anchoring Shia interests in national identities. In time, “Iraqi-ness” and “Bahraini-ness” and even “Lebanese-ness” given the Shias’ favorable numbers there - may come to mean forms of “Shia-ness” just as Iranian nationalism has long been entwined with Shia identity. For the time being, new conceptions of nationalism, divorced from the Sunni-dominated Arab identity of old, are a convenient way of breaking apart the old order. In time they may transcend sectarian identities as well."

--Vali Nasr, The Shia Revival