Nur al-Cubicle

A blog on the current crises in the Middle East and news accounts unpublished by the US press. Daily timeline of events in Iraq as collected from stories and dispatches in the French and Italian media: Le Monde (Paris), Il Corriere della Sera (Milan), La Repubblica (Rome), L'Orient-Le Jour (Beirut) and occasionally from El Mundo (Madrid).

Friday, June 09, 2006

Portrait of al-Zarqawi

Zarqawi, the chief of al-Qaeda in Iraq, is dead. [Le Monde]

39 year-old Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, the husband of three wives and father of four children and the chief of al-Qaeda in Iraq, was killed Wednesday evening in a US air strike. Iraqi Premier Nuri al-Maliki and US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad announced the news on Thursday morning, June 8th, in Baghdad. Zarqawi, killed near Baquba, north of Baghdad, was idenfitied “by fingerprints, his face and his scars”, said General George Casey, Commander of the Multinational Force in Iraq.

Zarqawi was “eliminated”, according to the Iraqi Prime Minister, along with seven of his companions during a joint US-Iraqi military operation. What happened today is the result of the cooperation of the Iraqi people. This is a message to all those who have chosen the path of violence, so that they can change course before it is too late.

The US Ambassador, flanking Mr. Maliki, congratulated the success of the mission. Zarqawi is responsible for the deaths of thousands of persons in Iraq and abroad. His death is a step in the right direction for Iraq and the global war on terrorism.

The journey of Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, in reality Fadel Nazzal al-Khalayleh, begins on 20 October 1966 in the town of Zarka, Jordan, 20 km from the capital, Amman. Zarka is a bastion of Salafism, a radical branch of Islam, which Fadel will join when he becomes a “warrior for Allah”. His parents are Bedouins.

But the real journey of Zarqawi along the bloody path of Jihadism will begin, for him as for many other men of his generation, in Afghanistan in the 1980’s. It is there, in the war aginst the Soviet Army, that Jihadists from the world over would assemble. It is there, on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, in Peshawar, that a young Saudi, Osama bin Laden, will create an organization that will become the worldwide Jihadist movement, al-Qaeda.

The habitually unemployed young man of Zarqa, a tattooed street tough and a brawler, will find a purpose in life. He loves war and has charisma. Bassel Ichak Abu Sabha, the prison doctor in Jafer, says that once having become a Jihadist, he obliterated his tattoo, a navy anchor adorning the body of a young and impious man, with acid.

Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi returned to Jordan at the beginning of the 1990's. In 1991, he joins the extremist Salafist group, al-Tawhid wal-Hejra-al Mouwahideen (the Uniters). He was arrested in 1994 and thrown into prison. It is there that he perfects his profile as a Jihadist, finds refuge in the Coran and hones his profile as an “emir” – a leader of men. But he is considered dangerous and the inmate population fears him. He commands the jail. Prisoners recount that he would personally carry a man who lost both his legs in the premature explosion of a bomb he was placing outside a cinema to the bath and wash him. Granted amnesty in 1999, he again embarks on the road to Pakistan and Afghanistan. Having become a Taliban “emir” and a member of the al-Qaeda base, it is in Afghanistan where he is presented to “Sheikh” Osama bin Laden.

The two men do not see things the same way. Bin Laden wants to strike the West and Saudi Arabia. Zarqawi cultivates his hatred for Israel and for the Shi’ites. Tolerated by al-Qaeda without ever becoming a leader, he builds his own military training camps in the north of the country, near Herat.

After September 11, 2001, and the US invasion, when the Jihadists are forced to flee Afghanistan, Zarqawi chooses an exit through Iran, then transits Kurdistan. He is also accused of having planned the assassination in Amman of US diplomat Laurence Foley in 2002.

But the journey of Zarqawi as an uncontested Jihadist leader begins in Iraq. He claims credit for the first bombings, most notably that targeting the headquarters of the UN in Baghdad in August 2003. He is very quickly distinguished through his cruelty. He is identified by the CIA in video recordings of decapitation of Western hostages. He then intensifies his bloody attacks on the Shi’ite community.

Despite persistent political differences with Bin Laden, he is finally recognized by al-Qaeda as head of its operations in Iraq. For the former Jordanian street tough, it is a consecration. The US puts a price on his head of 25 million dollars, the same bounty offered for Bin Laden.

But now we have a different consecration: an end to killing.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

In the Wake of Zarqawi

In March 2003, when Bush was bombing Baghdad and Tony Blair was before the microphones demanding that the hunt for WMD be set aside and urging the "Coalition" to take the capital, Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi was completely unknown to them. So how can his death be construed as a "great victory"? If there is to be a great victory to be cheered, then maybe it'll be when the Kurds renounce their claims to Kirkuk or when the Sunni and Shi'a settle their differences.

Patrice Claude Q&A (from Le Monde)

Have al-Qaeda and the Iraqi insurrection been weakened by the death of al-Zarqawi, the presumed leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq?

That is very difficult to say. We have no information on most of the groups that existed and continue to exist around Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi. We do know that a few months ago he created the Council of Mujahedeen, a loose federation of a half-dozen Salafist armed groups. How would such a small association be disorganized by the death of al-Zarqawi? We just don't know. The man was never a brilliant tactician or strategist. It was his brutality and savageness that distinguished him. We do not know how his disappearance will affect the tactics of the armed groups.

What was the real weight of the presumed leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq in the violence committed across the country?

We do not know how many men al-Zarqawi had under his command. However, we do know that 80 to 90 per cent of the suicide bombings were organized by his group. These are the most murderous attacks, which have stricken Iraqi civilians, particularly the Shi’ite majority. But the United States itself has been saying over the last two or three months that the number of suicide bombings was declining. But there are still a large number of attacks, for example, booby-trapped cars.

Al-Zarqawi’s strategy was successful. For the last two years, he gambled that the large-scale attacks on the Shi’ites in power would provoke a violent backlash against the Sunnis. And that’s what we’re seeing now with the civil war and the death squads, which are Shi’ite.

What will be the consequences for the US and the international forces in Iraq?

As to foreign forces, they are primarily threatened by the nationalists and the ex-Ba'athists (the party in power under Saddam Hussein). The death of al-Zarqawi will have no direct impact on the war against the multinational forces.

What is the reaction among the Iraqi people?

There should be a general sigh of relief, even from many Sunnis, especially because al-Zarqawi was a foreigner and a member of a big Jordanian tribe that stretches into Iraq. This prompted many Iraqis, whether pro- or anti-American, to say that al-Zarqawi had no business in Iraq and that in any case, he would never come to dominate the insurgency. Moreover, there has never been the slightest defense of al-Zarqawi’s modus operandi among Iraqi political leaders, even among the most radical of the Sunnis. His brutality and the
decapitations he performed were shocking to most Iraqis.

Does the death of al-Zarqawi represent a great victory for the United States?

George W. Bush and Tony Blair have declared that this is the case and have underscored that his organization has been weakened. This is correct but no one, not even the US President, has ventured to predict a decline in the violence. To the contrary, we may witness over the next few days a upsurge in attacks carried out by al-Zarqawi partisans, if only to show that whether Zarqawi is dead or alive, the violence will endure.

Interview conducted by Alexandre Piquard.

A Government without a State

Zarqawi dead in Baquba? But he's only identified by his "fingerprints"? That sounds so flimsy --but convenient. Notice how Blair is trumpeting yet another "turning point".

Anyway, another Le Monde article on Iraq. This opinion piece by Patrice Claude focuses on the impossible task of "disarming the militias".

Iraq: A government, not a State

George W. Bush and Tony Blair, the commanders-in-chief of a 145,000-man expeditionary corps fighting in Iraq for the last three years, seem to have finally decided to stop feeding public opinion dangerous illusions. In short, these two “wartime leaders” are today weakened by the conflict. And yes, there were numerous and tragic tactical and strategic "errors" committed by their civilian envoys and military commanders in the field. No, it is not possible to say at this time when or how the troops of the so-called multinational force will leave, without risk, a gravely destabilized country which is, moreover, about the implode before their eyes.

US military command, which just decided to send in 1,500 additional GI’s to “temporarily” reinforce a contingent already numbering 133,000 seems to have understood. The war, or rather, the wars that are killing nearly a thousand Iraqi civilians a month, seem more bloody and murderous than ever. For months now, twenty, thirty, even forty corpses with their hands bound and having been savagely tortured or mutilated turn up daily in and around Baghdad.

A genuine “ethnic cleansing” aiming at creating neighborhoods, towns or even entire cities that are ethnically or confessionally homogeneous is underway in the country. As of the beginning of April in Baghdad, no less, 100,000 people have fled their homes and are now “displaced persons”. The phenomenon has spread to the South, under Shi’ite Arab domination, especially in Basra, the country’s second largest city, where the Sunni minority has been has become a target for assassination and entire families, terrorized, are beginning to seek exile. Faced with the chaos brought about by rival Shi’ite militias, the government decided at the end of May to impose for at least a month a temporary State of Emergency on the entire region, the most important outlet for Iraqi oil.

The same goes for the North. Numerous Kurds, who wish to reverse the policy of Arabization practiced by the former regime, live in and around Kirkuk and Mosul, where they hope to establish themselves as the majority. In progress is a civil war, which can be compounded with the “anti-terrorist” campaign led by the Americans against armed groups whom they term “the resistance” and “jihadists” --more often than not Iraqis, according to a Pentagon report, commanded by the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi.

Since the March 2003 invasion we have seen highs and lows. Out of charity, we will not make a list of the dozens of triumphant military communiqués predicting “imminent victory” or “a decisive turning point” emanating from Baghdad, Washington and London. But right now, one thing is certain: Although approximately 50,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed and 28,700 are currently interned, the insurgency, predominately Sunni, appears to be more powerful than last year. In its most recent quarterly report, the Pentagon believes that the forces of the rebellion “will remain probably level” with those at present, at least until the end of the year.

In such a context, one can understand why George Bush and Tony Blair are multiplying the number of their prudently optimistic declarations on the future along with promises of “unity” and national “stabilization” to come about with the new Iraqi government. After all, the only chance for these two men to save their parties at the polls in the upcoming elections – November for US Republicans – rests on the shoulders of the new Prime Minister in Baghdad, Nouri al-Maliki.

Will this Shi’ite politician with a reputation for “toughness”, back from years of exile in Syria, then Iran, and a member of the religious Daawa Party, as was his predecessor Ibrahim al-Jaafari, reveal himself to be more “consensual” vis-à-vis Iraq’s minorities and more capable of purging the Iraqi forces of thousands of “sectarian militias” –without mentioning the spies of the Sunni guerrilla movement who have infiltrated them? It remains a mystery. The will is there and one hears affirmed and reaffirmed far and wide: “We must eliminate sectarian forces from the army and the police; (…) we must eliminate the militias and ensure that only troops loyal to the government carry arms.” But how is this to be done, when every political party, mosque, community, tribe, clan and neighborhood, and even groups of residents of a single street or building, have formed their own militia, protection team or vigilante squad? Some experts say that today in Iraq there are practically as many militiamen and irregulars as soldiers, police and paramilitary combined, i.e. 260,000 men. Who is going to disarm them? The State?


According to sociologist Max Weber (1864-1920), “A State is a human community that, within the limits of a territory, successfully claims for itself the monopoly on legitimate physical violence”. Using this measure, there is no State in Iraq. The primary allegiance of most police, paramilitary members and many soldiers is not to Iraq but to the different political or religious leaders of their respective communities. There is no State when citizens are forced to seek justice and protection from their tribes. There is no State when the central power shows itself to be incapable of ensuring a minimum of public services – water, gas, electricity, fuel – to their citizenry. There is no State when the majority of elites and members of the middle class are fleeing the chaos and the anarchy to settle in neighboring countries. Neither is there a State when several large ethnic and confessional communities in a given geographic space dream only of permanently cutting themselves off from the rest.

Following the 15 December 2005 elections, it took six long months of negotiations among the different Iraqi political factions to come up with a “national unity government” – including Sunnis – as demanded by Washington. Three weeks later, the country is still waiting for those non-sectarian rare birds able to occupy the three crucial ministries of Defense, Interior and National Security. Unity? What “unity”?

Patrice Claude
Article published in the 6 June 2006 edition.

Friday, June 02, 2006

They don't understand empire!

Nur is taking a few days off --to attend the biennial meeting of The Historical Society, which brings together the USA's top historians and foreign "Big Names". An academic expert in the Roman Empire, says he has been invited to the National Defense University several times to explain how the Imperial Rome worked--militarily. He keeps trying to tell them about the other aspects of empire but they don't want to hear it!