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A blog on the current crises in the Middle East and news accounts unpublished by the US press.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).

Sunday, December 31, 2006

Moktada, Moktada, Moktada!

The New York Times reports on the raucous atmosphere in room where Saddam Hussein was hanged. The Mahdi Army was apparently put in charge of the execution on the Sunni celebration of the feast of Eid al-Adha, a traditional day of pardon and forgiveness. Abu Aardvark suggests the act of spite signals Washington's definitive embrace of the "Shi'a Option".

Meanwhile, here is La Repubblica's report on the burial:

The corpse was ferried by US helicopter from Baghdad to Tikrit, and sometime after 10 pm was handed over to Sheikh Ali al-Nida, the chief of the Abu Nasser tribe to which Saddam belonged.

The remains were loaded on a pick-up truck and escorted by over 30 automobiles belonging to the police and tribal members to a 40x40 meter audience room constructed by Saddam in his native village of Awja. Already present were all the Sunni dignitaries of the area, as well as relatives from Syria.

According to some of Saddam Hussein's cousins, as the body was laid to rest, there were more than 500 people present, who joined in a cry of "Allah Akbar". Outside, more than 100 men fired their Kalashnikov's into the air as dozens of women praised the martyrdom of Saddam. The crowd then began to shout the old slogan, "With our blood, with our souls, were are ready to die for you, O Saddam."

Before burying the coffin, relatives and clan members demanded to see the corpse. The coffin was opened and the crowd lined up to plant a kiss on Saddam's face. A cousin, Ibrahim al-Tikriti removed and kept the blue scarf placed around Saddam's neck before his hanging.

US troops remained a short distance away; the entrances to Tikrit were closed off. Mussa Faraj declared that the Americans had insisted on a rapid burial.


Meanwhile, Italy's Premier Prodi protested the death penalty to Prime Minister al-Maliki and received the sharp retort, "So what did you do to Mussolini?. Our decision is none of your business."

Update: I believe La Repubblica reported that the Iranian ambassador was present at the execution of Saddam


The War with Islam: Siege of Kismayo

Somehow the geniuses at the Pentagon and the State Department have conflated all manifestations of fundamental Islam with al-Qaeda. Isn't this like lumping the Pentacostals with the Branch Davidians? The Union of Islamic Courts in Somalia put the warlords to flight, reopened the ports, restarted the schools, fed the poor and swept the streets yet have been declared outlaw al-Qaeda. The country now faces long-term occupation by Ethiopia.

This dispatch from Nairobi in the Corriere della Sera says the warlords have moved back in as well:
December 29th, 2006: Warlords return with the provisional government. A problematic peace in Mogadishu. The Prime Minister of the transitional government, Ali Mohammed Gedi, enters the capital: “We have won”

NAIROBI: -“We have won! The 'holy men' (as the fundamentalists are called in Somalia) have been routed”. This is the first statement by Ali Mohamed Gedi, the Prime Minister of the Somali transitional federal government upon his arrival Friday morning in Mogadishu. Gedi, escorted by a group of Ethiopian soldiers, was surrounded by a rejoicing crowd which danced as it celebrated his. In another part of the city – in the northern quarters – groups of Somalis greeted government soldiers and their Ethiopian allies with rocks. This is a sign that the city is divided and that some will miss the Islamic Courts.

Most regretted is the security that the fundamentalists were able to impose on the capital after 15 years of civil war during which the population was subjected to hardship and exaction. Now, many testify that the transitional government will be unable to maintain the order imposed and maintained by the Courts. Should the capital fall again into the hands of armed groups and the chaos caused by an internecine war, should every movement necessitate an armed escort or be greeted by a Kalashnikov aimed at the head, it will be disaster.

THE RETURN OF THE WARLORDS. The warlords, the protagonists of that terrible period, have returned to Mogadishu among government followers and have retaken hold of their headquarters. The Islamists had confiscated them and when they entered, filmed the diabolical items found therein for their propaganda videos: bottle of scotch, Ethiopian gin, beer, and ordinary videocassettes and magazines labeled as pornographic.

One of the warlords, Mohamed Qanyare Afrah -once the powerful leader of the Murusad clan, and former owner of the Daynile Airport (the international airport was reopened by the Islamists after having been closed for ten years) at which planes laden with qat (a leaf that his chewed and considered a drug –and therefore outlawed by the Courts used to land)- gave a telephone interview to the Corriere della Sera in which he declared that he had no intention of collaborating with the government: “Prime Minister Gedi can’t even manage his own household. He and President Abdullar Yussuf are a pair of incompetents. I used to be a minister but now I’m merely an MP and I intend to wage political war from my seat. I shall not cooperate, but neither shall I begin a boycott.

On the phone, Qanyare, who, until the victory of the Islamic Courts last June had been one of the leaders of the Alliance for Peace and Control of Terrorism backed by the Americans, assured that he would neither take up arms no organize a personal militia. I shall collaborate with government provided all factions disarm. Somalia must now live in peace”.

THE SOMALI FLAG – However, Gedi, accompanied by the Minister for the Interior, Hussein Aidid, visited the airport and the seaport, both under the watch of Ethiopian tanks. The Somali flag had been raised over several police stations, where the fundamentalists had imposed a black flag with Arabic writing. So far, there has been no sign of uprising, but everyone is wondering how long this state of relative quiet will last.

The Islamic militias, headed by a hardened and pure group of shebab (“youth”) are concentrated around the port city of Kismayo and have requested military assistance from all Muslim around the world and have sworn that this time they will not only resist but will launch a counteraccack.

USA AND ETHIOPIA – Obviously, Kismayo, a key city where all recent wars in Somalia began, is under special observation by the United States, which intends to tighten the net meant to capture those responsible for the US embassy bombings in Nairobi and Dar Es Salaam in 1998. A C130 reconnaissance aircraft continuously overflies the city while on the horizon warships are thundering. No one believes that they will permit arms and fighters, determined to go into combat for Islam, to pass. It seems that the Americans and the Ethiopians intend to tighten the siege of Kismayo. Then, Addis Abeba, charged by Washington to do their dirty work for them, will ask the Courts to surrender and should this not occur, will proceed to wipe out the fundamentalists. Obviously, not. Massacres are excluded.

Massimo A. Alberizzi

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Somalia: A self -fulfilling crisis?

Le Monde's Washington correspondent Corine Lesnes looks into the new front in the War on Terror, Somalia, which looks as if it is manufactured, just like Iraq.

BTW, The Duck of Minerva reports that the invasion of Somalia by Ethiopia is underway.

When General John Abizaid, head of CENTCOM and the regional commander of US forces in the Middle East went to Addis Abeba at the beginning of December, he warned those with whom he met of the humanitarian consequences of an invasion of Somalia. But sources in the US media say the General did not demand the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops.

Since then, the media have been throwing around the fig leaf, “tacit support”. The Ethiopia of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has the “tacit support” of Washington in protecting the transition Somali government -the result of long and arduous negotiations among the different factions organized by the United Nations- against attack from the Islamist Courts, a movement installed in Mogadishu since July 2006.

Has the United States done the right thing by choosing a camp? Has it exaggerated the threat posed by the Islamic Courts so that it might manufacture the danger it most fears? As the conflict intensifies, certain questions must be asked of Washington.

In a December 14th press conference, the US Under-Secretary for African Affairs, Jendayi Frazer, expressed the fear of seeing al-Qaeda install itself in Mogadishu. She then went on to declare that the Islamic Courts were “controlled by individuals belonging to al-Qaeda’s East African cell.”

According to some sources, this intelligence was deployed by the government of Meles Zenawi, who is worried that Islamists may destabilize the Ethiopian border area of Ogaden, over which Addis Abeba and Mogadishu have fought three wars since 1960. Interviewed by the Washington Post on Thursday December 21sth, Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte was more cautious. He did not indicate if the Courts are the “New Taliban”. I do not believe that we yet have the right answer to this question, he said.

In any case, the support of Washington for the Ethiopian regime in the name of the war on terror has been reported by some experts. Matt Bryden of the International Crisis Group says that there are certainly some al-Qaeda members among Somali Islamists but on "a small scale".

By pushing the United Nations on December 6th to adopt a resolution authorizing the deployment of a regional force in Somalia to support the weak transitional government, the United States has added oil to the fire, Mr. Bryden explained while on NPR. Because of its desire to consider the Somali problem as a new front in the war on terror, the United States is in the process of manufacturing a new front in the war.

The two sides in the conflict have described their struggle in ideological terms, Bryden explains. The transitional government and Ethiopia have painted Somalia as an emerging front in the global war on terror to attract the attention of Western capitals. The Courts have drawn the sympathy of the Islamic world in presenting themselves as victims of Ethiopian aggression and Western Islamophobia. The United States must, says Bryden, avoid falling into the trap while there is still time.

Labels: , ,

A Christmas Tale of Two Cities

From L'Orient-Le Jour (Beirut)

Christmas in Baghdad

For the first time, the Christians of Baghdad are celebrating Christmas without Christmas trees: tree growers from outside the city no longer dare to face the gauntlet of checkpoints set up by the militias and resellers fear becoming a target of Muslim extremists.

Muslim retailers used to wish me a Merry Christmas before selling me my choice of tree, regrets Marie Hanna, mother of two children. This year there’s neither their wishes nor a tree. Without the green of Christmas trees, Christmas isn't Christmas, especially for the kids, chimes in Ban Zaki, also a mother. What a shame, we’ll have to get along with an artificial tree, she says with disgust.

Normally, many retailers in the capital make a tidy profit during this time of year selling hundreds of Christmas trees to the Christian minority. Growers in the city’s verdant northern suburbs used to line Saadoun Street in the Karrada quarter selling these symbols of the Nativity. About a week before Christmas, they’d drive into town with trucks loaded with fir trees and stake out a location in front of the churches or in the Christian neighborhoods of Karrada and Riyadh (central and southern Baghdad). But this year there is no one selling trees with the exception of a lone farmer on the corner of Saadoun Street. They are afraid to come to town, because they risk being shot by those who don’t like to see Muslims selling Christmas Trees to Christians, deplores Sammer Yunan, a Christian. The numerous checkpoints in the neighborhoods of Baghdad set up by militias and extremists discourage tree growers from coming to town this year. Resellers are also fearful of attacks on their shops. The tradition is dying and the Christmas tree no longer has a place amid the confessional violence tearing Baghdad apart. They want to divide our society, interjects Sammir, with a disgusted look. The Christian minority of Iraq has lived in harmony with the country’s other communities and remains spared by most of the violence perpetrated by mostly Shi’a militias and Sunni insurgents. With the invasion, many Christian families have gong into exile.

The Christians of Iraq, who represent 3% of the population, are almost all members of the Chaldean Catholic Church. As everywhere in the Christian world, Christmas is a big holiday for us. But this year, it’s different; life has become difficult, laments Bassam Sami, a legal adviser to one of Iraq’s ministries. We are constantly praying for the violence to end, he explains, his eyes turned to heaven and his hands joined over this chest, asking God to “end the bloodbath”. We are afraid that something really terrible will happen this year to ruin the holiday, he adds with a murmur, as if to ward off bad luck.

In January 2006, coordinated bombings against seven Baghdad churches and the residence of the Papal Nuncio killed three and wounded 17. Because of the danger, offices are now said on Sunday afternoon, instead of at night. This year, Christmas will be bitter, says Anwar Khudhir, a retiree. How can you celebrate Christmas in this kind of atmosphere, when our neighbors and Muslim friends are in constantly in mourning? We would like to invite our Muslim friends to our table, to celebrate with us, like we used to do, he adds.

Christmas in Gaza

The Christians of Gaza this year are not interested in celebrating. The years Christmas Parade as well as Midnight Mass were canceled. The giant Christmas tree that used to dominate the main square in Gaza City is gone.

This is a joyless Christmas, says Oum Tarket, an Orthodox Christian woman. This is our first Christmas under the Islamist Hamas government, marked by an unprecedented upswing in violence between Palestinian factions and a tremendous degeneration in economic conditions. The general atmosphere in Gaza is sad. Before, Palestinian children were dying under Israeli bullets. Today they are dying from Palestinians bullets. How could we celebrate Christmas under these circumstances?, laments Manuel Mussallam, a Catholic priest. It is estimated that there are 3,000 Christians in the Gaza Strip, living side by side with 1.4 million Palestinians. But most Christmas festivities were canceled this year owing to clashes between President Abbas’ Fatah and Hamas, which controls the government.

Gaza’s annual Christmas Parade used to bring together hundreds of people, including Muslim religious dignitaries and government officials. A giant Christmas tree used to gleam with multicolored lights. Most Palestinian Christians live in Gaza City, where they own shops and go to one of two churches on Sunday. The most well known and respected physicians, lawyers, jewelers and magistrates are Christian. Most of them are orthodox Christians, but Gaza is home to 200 Catholics, including refugees from Israel who left during the Arab-Israeli war of 1948.

Christians in Gaza rarely drink alcohol and observe the Muslim dress code. None are Hamas supporters but some back Fatah or Marxist organizations. But the violence of the last few months, aggravated by the call for early elections by Abbas, has resulted in the death of several schoolchildren, classmates of Oum Tarek’s children. They were slain by militants because their father was head of intelligence for Abbas. My children are still traumatized by what is happening among Palestinians. We’ve never seen this before., she says.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Kerry in Damascus

Nothing in the US press but Beirut's L'Orient Le-Jour reports that US Senator John Kerry in Damascus. The paper also reported that he would be traveling to Tehran.

As to President Bush's plan to send more troops to Baghdad, it's all about domestic US politics. Bush will seeking to split the Democratic Party by asking Congress for more troops and approval of an enormous military spending bill in early February. He'll attempt to out-"patriot" the Democratic Congress because its margin of majority is thin.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Hamas and Fatah: No civil war

Do not fall into the trap of facile analysis. Fatah vs Hamas has nothing to do with secular vs. Islamist. Read researcher Jean-François Legrain's analysis.

Fatah vs. Hamas, heading toward an internecine Palestinian war?
LEMONDE.FR | 14.12.06 | 13h04 • Updated 15.12.06 | 12h08

The unabridged debate with Jean-François Legrain, CNRS researcher, Friday, December 15th, 11:00 am

Q. What are the main differences between the Fatah and Hamas organizations?

These are two organizations with very different origins. Fatah is a national liberation movement that appeared towards the end of the 1950’s and the beginning of the 1960’s, which, over the years, has become the principal force for Palestinian nationalism. It is the most important organization within the PLO [Palestine Liberation Organization, composed of numerous organizations], and it is Fatah that is the backbone of the autonomous Palestinian Authority put in place by the 1993 Oslo Accords.

Hamas is a Muslim Brotherhood movement whose major activity was once the active preaching of a certain reading of Islam. But starting in 1987, during the First Intifada, the Muslim Brotherhood movement was compelled to join the national struggle against the Occupation. And Hamas was born of this transformation in the Muslim Brotherhood.

Q. What is the balance of power between Fatah and Hamas? What support have they found within the population and from neighboring countries?

The legislative elections that took place in January 2006 put on display the bi-polarity on the Palestinian political scene because Hamas and Fatah, and they alone, won 90% of the seats in Parliament and 80% of the vote.

Hamas won an absolute majority, with 56% of the vote, while Fatah won 34%. Concerning the number of seats, the gap was less significant, since Hamas got 41% and Fatah 35% The two movements today constitute the heart of the Palestinian political scene.
And everything leads to believe that today, ten months after the last elections, that Hamas will remain the principal political force in the eyes of Palestinian public opinion.

Q. What regional support has been garnered by these two organizations?

Fatah benefits from the support of traditional Palestinian and Arab nationalist movements. As a member of the PLO, it is represented in the Arab League; thus, Arab states have generally supported the PLO –recognized in 1974 as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.

Hamas has entered the national Palestinian political scene only recently. And in its struggle today with Fatah and the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, Hamas has the active support of Iran. But Hamas was very reluctant to play the card of financial support from Iran out of fear that such a policy would be read by the international community as a policy of political alignment with Iran.

It happens that the Palestinian cabinet, led by Hamas, has received a certain amouunt of support from the Arab League in the form of support for the Palestinian people and the expression of the will of the people through an election recognized as honest and transparent.

Q. Both organizations seek autonomy for their country. Is their internal struggle due to the difference in the choice of methods to attain this goal (recognition or not of Israel, establishment of an Islamist state…)?

The two organizations are agitating for the creation of a Palestinian state and the end to the Israeli military occupation, which may be direct or indirect, depending on the zone. The two organizations demand the implementation of different UN resolutions concerning the right to self-determination by Palestinian people and to have a country of their own.

The difference between these organizations, Fatah and the PLO, is that Fatah has recognized Israel’s right to exist as it demands the creation of a Palestinian state adjacent to Israel, i.e. it accepts as legitimate the division of Palestine between a Jewish state, which occupies 77% of the land mass, and an Arab state, which will be entitled to the remaining 23%.

Hamas supports the coexistence of two states in Palestine, while simultaneously refusing to grant to Israel the principle of the existence of a non-Islamic state in Palestine. Hamas therefore accepts the de facto partition of Palestine into two states with the frontiers that existed prior to the 1967 war when Israel withdraws from all territory occupied during this war, –i.e., the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and Jerusalem.

Both movements demand the creation of a state and the end to military occupation, but Hamas has never formulated a detailed plan for a state on paper. But then, neither has Fatah nor the PLO. One shouldn’t become entrapped in the fallacy of believing that the secular PLO is engaged in a struggle with a Hamas that seeks an Islamic state because both recognize the central role of Islam. The Palestinian Authority, under the control of the PLO, and just like the PLO, declares Islam and Islamic law to be the fundament of the laws of the State that it hopes to create.

This is also the position of Hamas, which has always sought to impose an Islamic vision on society. But in fact, since the takeover of the executive by Hamas, there has been no coercive Islamization of society.

Q. How is the balance of power between Hamas and Fatah evolving? What are the determining factors?

We are in a period in which tensions are forcefully manifested but these are not new tensions. Since the victory by Hamas in the legislative elections of January 2006, we are witnessing a permanent and multifaceted coup d’état by the President of the Palestinian Authority and by Fatah –the movement defeated in the elections– against the legitimately elected Cabinet.

This coup d’état has taken on different forms within the civilian, military and political spheres through a set of appointments of high-ranking civilian and military officials that aims to prevent the Cabinet from functioning normally.

This “coup d’état” has received both the active and passive support of Israel and the international community. Today, tensions between the President and his Fatah ally with the Hamas-dominated Cabinet has spilled over into the street, with armed clashes between elements representing one side or the other.

However, one should avoid the term, “civil war”, to describe the ongoing outbreak of violence. We are, in fact, facing a multiplication of “small-scale” events and not generalized clashes that would mobilize both camps.

The violence, in fact, takes many forms: assassinations, kidnappings, armed confrontations and threats against individuals and property. This violence has produced 330 deaths since the beginning of the year, but the claimed justifications for the violence are extremely diverse.

They can be political, but in most cases they are the result of mafia-like rivalries that are local and clan-based; reading politics into these events would be a mistake. But the problem is fundamentally that of generalized security chaos in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank being spared.

Q. Why is Hamas so popular in the Arab street?

The Hamas movement is popular, like a certain number of other Arab movements –and I’m thinking specifically of Hezbollah, in Lebanon. These two movements are popular because they consider themselves the inheritors of Arab nationalism in its struggle against Israeli military occupation and the multiform presence of the United States in the region.

And the second aspect explaining the popularity of Hamas in the Arab street is the identification of the Muslim Brotherhood with Hamas. The Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamists constitute the most important popular force in the near totality of Arab states.

Q. Is it normal and desirable that a single party runs a monopoly over the security services, as the Fatah of Abbas does in the occupied territories?

Obviously not. As I said earlier, we are now witnessing a sort of coup d’état because the prerogatives normally granted the Cabinet are refused by the President. Paradoxically, President Mahmoud Abbas is denying Prime Minister Ismaïl Aniyeh the powers which he snatched after a sustained struggle with Yassir Arafat as prime minister in 2003.

The Palestinian Fundamental Law differentiates between security services that depend on the Presidency and others that depend on the Interior Minister. Since the victory by Hamas, the Presidency has assumed control of all security services. For long months, it has refused to recognize the creation of a so-called “Executive” force –a police force created by the Ministry of the Interior.

Q. How are these movement financed?

Financing for the Palestinian Authority –the Presidency and the Cabinet– comes from three sources: the most important is financing derived from reimbursement by Israel of provisions transiting its territory; between 40 and 50% of the Authority’s revenue normally comes from this reimbursement, which is stipulated in economic accords. But since the victory of Hamas, Israel has unilaterally frozen these sums.

The second source of revenue comes from taxes collected by the Authority itself from Palestinians; this normally represents 20% of its revenues.

The remaining income –depending on the year– between 40 and 50%, comes from international aid. Aid that has been frozen by the international community. Any international aid now is being directed exclusively to the President or to civilian NGO’s.

Q. What is the role of other Palestinian political organizations?

Their role is both marginal and significant. Marginal, given the near monopoly of Fatah and Hamas on the political scene following the presidential and legislative elections. Important because they also represent Palestinian identity. These organizations can point to their common and effective role in the national struggle of these last decades. Any decision concerning the future of the Palestinian people must unite the entire political spectrum. Of course, the two largest organizations but also the small ones, whose presence is recognized as necessary in the building of Palestinian national consensus.

Q. How is the current power struggle between the President and the Palestinian government going to play out?

That is obviously hard to say. The problem is that today Fatah has so far failed to study the reasons behind its defeat; it simply rejects it.

For its part, Hamas entered the elections without recognizing the legitimacy of the institutions for which it competed. In fact, Hamas has always rejected the Oslo Accords in the conviction that they are unable to produce a legitimate solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

One of the exits to the impasse would be dissolution of the Palestinian Authority by consensus between Fatah and Hamas, which would force the international community to face its responsibilities. For decades, the international community has recommended the creation of two states in Palestine, one Jewish and one Palestinian, but it has never found the means to implement its own resolutions.

By dissolving the Palestinian Authority, the Palestinians would force the international community to follow through on its commitments, not only financially but politically and militarily.

But it would also signify a rupture with the international policy of the last few decades, which has gone adrift to the benefit, de facto, of the regional superpower, Israel, which enjoys the active support of the United States. And therefore, an abandonment to the logic of simple balance of power.

Chat moderated by Constance Baudry

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Principles of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Dick Cheney made a trip to Riyadh a couple of weeks ago. Some say he was "summoned". Mysteriously, the Saudi Ambassador to the United States then departed Washington for Riyadh in the middle of the night.

From what I can surmise, the US had plans to wipe out the resistance in al-Anbar Province in Iraq, which Saudi Arabia could not swallow and relayed its objections to Cheney personally. Here's the report in L'Orient Le Jour by AFP reporter Stephen Collinson.

The specter of a proxy war in Iraq between Saudi Arabia and Iran has given Washington the willies as George W. Bush prepares to announce his new strategy in Iraq.

"We could be on the eve of a Saudi intervention in Iraq on behalf of their Sunni brothers. We could be on the edge of a proxy war", says Charles Freeman, former US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia. The New York Times, citing US and Arab diplomats, wrote on Wednesday that "Saudi Arabia notified the Bush Administration that should US troops be pulled out, the Kingdom would lend its financial support to Sunnis in all conflict between them and the Shi'a". According to the newspaper, "Saudi warnings reflect the fears on the part of Sunni allies of the United States (Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt) before growing Iranian influence in Iraq, not to mention Teheran's nuclear ambitions".

This story, immediately downplayed by the White House, and the unexpected resignation of the Saudi Ambassador to Washington, Prince Turki al-Faisal, a scant 15 days after his appointment, have plunged the entire diplomatic world into anxiety.

While Iraq is on the verge of civil war, one of the options available to the United States is to adopt the classic military approach of supporting the faction most likely to win. But the tacit support of Washington for the Shi'ite community could sour relations between Washington and its Sunni allies. "If Washington implements this policy, the Saudis will certainly align themselves against it", predicts Mr. Freeman, who added that Saudi money may be used in equipping and heavily arming the Sunni camp.

Saudi Arabia "cannot permit itself to remain on the sidelines" in Iraq because, should a "a disaster occur at its gates", the kingdom will have to "bear the consequences", affirms James Dobbins, a former high US State Department official.

King Abdallah of Arabia is facing the pressures of opinion and a portion of the kingdom's clerics to support Iraqi Sunnis; US support of the Shi'a will worsen the problem.

"If you were Saudi, you would be very worried about this", says Michael Hudson, Professor of Arab Studies at Georgetown University.

"At this point, Saudi Arabia and Jordan are not prepared to admit that they would consider Iranian domination in Iraq or the destruction of their co-religionists", asserts Mr. Freeman.

This could have grave consequences for the United States in the conduct of the war in Iraq and in Afghanistan. "If Saudi Arabia is on one side, and the US on the other, do you think the Saudis would permit overflight of their territory? ", asks Mr. Freeman.

According to the Washington Post, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the flamboyant Saudi Ambassador to Washington for 22 years, recently made a trip to the US capital to meet with officials of the Bush Administration, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. As the Saudi National Security Adviser, the prince urged his listeners to refuse to negotiate with Tehran or Damascus.

"Closing one's eyes to the massacres of Iraqi Sunnis would be to abandon the principles on which the kingdom was founded. It is certain that Saudi involvement in Iraq would be a tremendous risk factor and could lead to regional war. But the consequences of inaction would be still worse", says Nawaf Obaid, a close adviser to the Saudi Ambassador to Washington.


Labels: , ,

Kerry prepares for trip to Tehran

I certainly did not see this item in the US press, but it appears that Senator Kerry is preparing for a trip to Tehran. [Via L'Orient-Le Jour, Beirut]. This follows the visit by Senator Bill Nelson (Florida) to Damascus.

Meanwhile, the 25 EU heads of government, led by Jacques Chirac, have condemned Syria and Iran. Lebanese Prime Minister is in Moscow to ask Vladimir Putin to restrain Syria (gee, couldn't Siniora just talk to President Lahoud? Siniora is allegedly a close friend of Asad, to boot). Mystery and intrigue abound.

Friday, December 15, 2006

The Year One

"Bush is the Napoleon of our age, trampling on whole peoples, a Jacobin Emperor mouthing the slogans of liberty and popular sovereignty while crushing and looting those he "liberated." And Kagan, Kristol and Bush are readying a further slaughter of our US troops, 24,000 of whom have been killed or wounded, and of innocent Iraqis, 600,000 of whom have been killed by criminal and political violence since spring of 2003.

And you thought a mere election would make a difference. No one had to elect the American Enterprise Institute. No one needs to crown the emperor, he can do it himself.

Welcome to Year 1 of the Empire."

Juan Cole

Labels: , ,

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Executive and Legislative Branches at War

Bush looks like he's lost control, that's for certain.

"The flood gates are opening and President Bush has lost control of his isolate-Syria policy. Congress is defying the President and heading for Damascus. Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida met today with Asad in Damascus. Others are on their way, including John Kerry, D-Mass., Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., and Arlen Spector, R-Pa."

Go read Joshua Landis!

Monday, December 11, 2006

Pinochet: Death of a Dictator

3,200 persons murdered, including 1,192 "desaparecidas", 40,000 tortured, and 300,000 political exiles. Of those murdered by DINA, only 46% had any history of political activism. To them, rest in peace.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Update: The Battle for Baghdad

Update: Prison guards spring the nephew of Saddam Hussein.

And another neighborhood falls. From the NY Times:

Bands of armed Shiite militiamen stormed through a neighborhood in north-central Baghdad on Saturday, driving hundreds of Sunni Arabs from their homes.


Angry residents of a village north of Baghdad fired weapons into the air as they buried victims of an American airstrike, Reuters reported. The American military said that the airstrike, on Friday in the village of Jalameda, about 50 miles north of Baghdad, was against militants of Al Qaeda who had fought with troops. The military said 18 men and 2 women were killed. Local officials in the village said there were 17 killed, but that they included 6 women and 5 children.

Hundreds of chanting residents of Jalameda, a predominantly Sunni village, marched through nearby Ishaqi on Saturday firing shots and carrying banners that condemned “mass killing by the occupation forces,” Reuters said.

It's Official...BLAM!

Here it is: the official policy of the Bush Administration is to use US bombs to coerce Iraqi Sunnis to surrender to the will of the Iraqi Shi'a Dictatorship while using Israeli bombs to coerce Lebanese Shi'a to surrender to the will of Saudi-leaning Hariri alliance while promoting the overthrow of the Syrian government and the destruction of Iran's nuclear facilites. Very simple and sure to win the hearts and minds of Sunnis and Shi'a over to Washington's point of view.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Diplomacy and Public Relations

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The right wing pulls out their knives

President Bush's "friends and supporters" (who are also likely friends and supporters of Likud-Kadima) are now attempting to stab the Baker-Hamilton report to death, squaring with Israel PM Olmert's statements (subject of a later post today):

Bill Kristol: "A disguised surrender"
Barry McCaffrey: "A recipe for national humiliation"

Well, yes, it is a humiliation, but now the issue is humiliation management. In other words, does Bush want to act in such a way that only the militias get the credit for undoing US designs on Iraq or can he arrange to share the credit among several, possibly more responsible players?

Bush's collapsing ego must be a preoccupation. He is a slender reed. I wonder what we will see him do in the coming weeks.

The Fixers: The Baker-Hamilton Report

Update: NYT reporter SHERYL GAY STOLBERG does a fine job analyzing the situation in the While House and Bush's reaction to the report.

What does it take a flock of former civil servants and politicos to travel half-way around the world put in black and white what is obvious to every observer: there are no good solutions to the Iraq debacle? The answer is that it has less to do with Iraq than politics on the Potomac.

Last spring, the Republicans admitted to themselves that they were going to take a beating in the House, and that they would likely lose control of the Legislative branch altogether. It seems to me that faction of Republicans in Congress collaborated with some centrist Democrats to dispatch the Baker-Hamilton Commission as a preemptive move to head off war between a future angry Democratic Congress and a defensive, self-righteous Administration.

The exercise recalls to me defense of Bill Clinton by Dale Bumpers: when a senior statesman is summoned to prevail upon the disputing parties to come to a level-headed decision, sparing the country much grief.

Meanwhile, Guillaume Parmentier, a French America watcher, weighs in:

Guillaume Parmentier, Director of the French Center for United States Studies at the French Institute of International Relations: “Iran and Syria could exact a high price for their cooperation
LEMONDE.FR | 06.12.06 | 18h11 • Updated 06.12.06 | 18h23

Q. How do you interpret the statements of rapporteurs Baker and Hamilton of Wednesday, December 6th, after they presented their conclusions on the Iraq situation to President George W. Bush?

The statements were clearly meant to ground the debate in bipartisanship to prevent the Democrats and Republicans from trading accusations over responsibility for the predicament in which the United States now finds itself. We also see that President Bush has presented things in the same way, portraying himself out to be the defender of a non-partisan viewpoint, which might seem a bit strange to the Democrats, who had been treated by the Administration as an ignorable quantity before their victory in the mid-term elections.

The danger in the situation is that Democrats and Republicans, in other words, Congress and the Administration, may begin to play beggar thy neighbor, that is, each side presenting itself as bipartisan while attempting to blame the other for the undesirable outcome of the policies pursued until now. If the Democrats and the Republicans are unable to agree on an issue as serious as Iraq, it is clear that the United States will be unable to escape the problem in a way that will permit it to maintain prestige and sufficient influence in the Middle East. The stakes are extremely high.

Q. Will the conclusion of the Baker-Hamilton report have an impact on US policies in Iraq?

The proposals of the report do not engage Bush Administration or Congress. The report’s main proposals are focused on allowing the United States to withdraw in a gradual fashion, leaving responsibility for maintaining order to Iraqi forces. To reach this goal, the report recommends giving the Iraqi government the following choice: Either accept the proposals made by the United States or the Americans will accelerate their withdrawal; it is up to you to assume responsibility now. The hope is that facing such a choice, the Iraqi government will be frightened into acquiescing to the terms imposed by the United States.

The report therefore recommends a regional conference involving all parties: the countries that would be willing to help stabilize Iraq are implicitly Syria and Iraq. The problem is, at this stage of the game, that Iran and Syria will likely extract a high price for their assistance: Iran, making thorny demands concerning its nuclear aspirations, and Syria, demanding the lifting of the prohibition on interfering in Lebanese affairs.

Does recommending the involvement of Iran in stabilizing the region imply normalization of relations between the United States and Iran?

Normalization of relations with Iran is desirable, but cannot be carried out in such a way that the US is caught in the international consequences, which could be quite grave –nuclear armament and domination over a portion of Iraq. Moreover, it should not be forgotten that the US is very restricted vis-à-vis Iran by powerful domestic politics –the US has not forgotten the humiliation inflicted by Iran in the hostage crisis during the Carter Administration.

Of course, any major policy shift by the US involves the question of relations between the Executive and the Legislative branches. On the one hand, it is true that the Administration wants to share with Congress the responsibility for a potential pullout of US forces from Iraq. On the other, it is undeniable that this constitutes a significant climbdown by an Administration that had set as its ambition the restoration of presidential authority to what it had been before the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal. Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney were the principle exponents of this point of view. Rumsfeld's departure is therefore highly symbolic.

Interview conducted by Gaïdz Minassian

Sunday, December 03, 2006


The Italians have officially pulled out of Nassiriya.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Civil War in Iraq

An assessment of the situation in Iraq: 2 million refugees in exile abroad. Hundreds of thousands of internal refugees. The churches of Baghdad in smoldering ruins. Schools and universities closed. The Sunni and Shia duel for the prize of Baghdad.

The face of civil war in Iraq
LEMONDE.FR | 29.NOV.06 | 15h25 • Updated 30.11.06 | 12h22

Debate with Patrice Claude, Senior Le Monde reporter for Iraq, Thursday 30 November, 11:00 am

Q. Since when have we been talking of actual civil war? Do conditions exist in Iraq for civil war?

A. The debate really does not interest most Iraqis. But as to my opinion, and having witnessed at least one other civil war, I believe civil war occurs when communities do not trust one another, whether next-door neighbors or even in-laws. No one in Iraqi is willing to reveal any details about their private life. Sectarian militias armed with heavy weapons fire on each other between neighborhoods. Police barricades or pseudo-police are installed in different neighborhoods and shoot down any pedestrian on the sidewalk who belongs to the wrong community. I call that a civil war –a civil war that is worsening every day.

Q. Has sectarian division between Sunnis and Shi’a reached the point of no return? What about the Kurds? What’s their position in the civil war?

A. I have to tell you that few Kurds remain in Baghdad, where before the war most Kurds lived. Today, most of the Kurdish community has abandoned Baghdad. You realize this in visiting the north of the country and noticing the number of Kurdish families from Baghdad living in refugee camps and in stadiums. As to the point of no return, who can say? But when Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki states that the crux of the issue is political, not confessional, he is correct.

I should tell you that a good quarter of the Arabs, both Sunni and Shi’a, have intermarried and are therefore mixed couples. I should also mention that most of the major tribes of Iraq have a Shi'ite branch and a Sunni branch. So, no, the point of no return probably has not yet been reached. The experience in Lebanon and elsewhere where there have been civil wars shows that nothing is final. I think with in a few years, we can hope that the Shi’a and the Sunni will reconcile.

Q. We now see that the big winner in the invasion of Iraq is Iran. How do the Arab states, especially in Saudi Arabia, feel about the creation of a Shi’ite Islamic regime in Iraq? Are they arming the Sunnis who are attacking the Shi’a?

A. Evidently the Saudis, the Jordanians and a few Sunni families of the Gulf petromonarchies are worried by what is going on in Iraq. The idea of seeing what King Abdallah II of Jordan calls a “Shi’ite crescent” forming in the region worries everyone, particularly all the Sunni regimes. Because all these countries have within their borders more or less significant Shi’a minorities with issues. If you take a look at a map of the Gulf today, you will notice that the petroleum reserves in Saudi Arabia and in all the neighboring oil producing countries have Shi’a minorities. Are Arab nations arming or financing the Sunni insurrection in Iraq? No one knows the answer to that question. These countries insist that they do not. But at the same time, all the Sunni autocrats in the region, beginning with Saudi Arabia, let it clearly be known that should the civil war worsen, they will not stand by.

Q. Does Moqtada Al-Sadr have links to Lebanese Hezbollah? Is the Lebanese Shi’ite opposition in the Siniora government aware of the sectarian rivalry in Iraq?

A. There are striking similarities between Hezbollah and the so-called “Sadrist movement” in Baghdad. After all, Moqtada Al-Sadr, like Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, share the same religious doctrine as regards the United States in particular and the West in general. This week, the United States accused Hezbollah of having trained several hundred Sadr activists, which Hezbollah has officially denied. But having interviewed Nasrallah, I know that he has greater sympathy for Sadr than for Ayatollah al-Sistani, who has refused to cooperate with the Americans but who regards them with a benign eye.

Q. How to the Americans fit into the civil war? Do they reject the idea of a civil war on the ground?

A. I don’t think they can deny that a civil war is transpiring. The US media has decided to call a spade a spade and is beginning to talk about civil war in Iraq. But the Americans on the scene reject the idea of partition of Iraq, which could worsen the war.

Q. Are the Ba’athists behind the armed insurgency in order to return to power?

A. Among the Ba’athists there are several schools of thought. Under US pressure over the last few weeks, the government has agreed to review the rules excluding former Ba’athists from public office. As we speak, nearly 95% of former Ba'ath pubic servants who were expelled by the administration in the wake of the U.S. invasion have gotten their jobs back, or retired. But as to high-ranking Ba’athists in the former dictatorship, especially in the military or in the security forces, many have gone into exile from where they direct the "resistance". Moreover, a reconciliation commission put in place by the Iraq government few months ago has met with many of them outside the country –in Amman, in Cairo and in the UAE. For the moment, there have been no concrete results.

Q. Is re-Ba’athification a positive factor in relieving social tension?

A. First, I don’t think "re-Ba’athification" exists. There are certainly former Ba’athists who got their jobs back in the administration but anyone attempting to re-Ba'athify the country would encounter no success. Today in Iraq it’s the Shi’ite and Sunni religious parties who rule.

Q. It’s hard to believe that people who used to get along are now ripping each other apart. What do you believe are the deciding issues?

A. Issue Number One for the Sunni and Shi’a armed militias is to control as much territory as possible in the capital, Baghdad. The second issue is to control as much territory within the country as possible. The phenomenon has already begun. For example, the Sunni minority in the south of the country, around Basrah and Diwaniyeh, which was never greater than 20% of the population, has fled en masse to the west, i.e., the Province of al-Anbar.

Q What effect will the execution of Saddam Hussein have on the “civil war”?

A. I think that certain groups, and in any case all those who were politically close to the Ba’ath Party or to old school Arab nationalism, will not let the occasion pass without conducting some large-scale operation for the purposes of propaganda and expressing their outrage. But overall, I really believe that no one in the insurgency imagines the return of Saddam Hussein or has much sympathy for him. I don’t think the execution would change much within the “resistance”.

Q. In the Arab media, especially al-Jazeera, there’s news of a proclamation of an Islamic state by armed Sunni groups. They demand imposition of Shari’a. How should we react to the news? Is this the reality on the ground?

A. No, there is no construction of a grand emirate. For the moment, it’s an announcement divorced from reality, except perhaps sporadically in some quarters of Baghdad run by small-time radical guerrilla warlords, who have imposed the veil, Shari’a and all the other trappings of radical Islam. That’s the extent of it for now.

Q. Given the quagmire, is there the possibility of involving all parties, including neighboring states, in a win-win solution?

A. I don’t know that there is a solution. In any case, a solution seems to me to be impossible without effectively including neighboring states, who risk suffering severely from a worsening of the civil war or a partition of the country.

Q. Does the conflict between Shi’a and Sunnis result from genuine tensions between the two groups or from the US invasion?

A. Without a doubt, it results form the US invasion. The Americans committed a host of errors from the beginning. They contributed in “communitizing” the government: for the Shi’a, the Sunni, the Arabs, the Kurds and the Christians. Through willing ignorance they set the stage for what is taking place today. However, I don’t believe for a second that they are promoting the spread of this confessional plague. I think they belatedly, as usual, realized their mistake, and now they don’t know how to put the country back together again.

Q. What is happening to Iraqi Christians in all this violence?

A. The Christians, who were protected under Saddam Hussein during the dictatorship, have nearly all abandoned Baghdad. Numerous churches have been attacked and set ablaze. Most Christians who have the means have gone into exile abroad or to Kurdistan, where they live in relative security.

Q. Do you think partition of the country in imminent?

A. No, I do not. But if you are talking about de facto partition, it is ongoing. But a partition de jure into three parts –Kurds in the North, Sunnis in the Center and Shi’a in the South– that seems to me to be totally impossible. First, because the Americans don’t want it; second, because the neighboring Sunni states don’t want it and, third, at least until now, no one in the government has suggested partition. Should this extreme solution be adopted, the bloodbath we’ve seen so far would be nothing compared to what would follow.

Q. Is there really an exodus of Iraqis towards neighboring states? Is there a risk of a humanitarian crisis?

A. The exodus is quite real. It is estimated that there are 800 thousand Iraqis in Syria, 500 or 600 thousand in Jordan and at least 100 thousand in the UAE. And we’re only speaking of those who are officially registered. The United Nations estimates that in 2004, more than 2 million Iraqis left the country in order to survive. The worst of it is that the refugees represent the country’s social, economic and political elite.

Q. What are the chances for the reconstruction of Iraq should the Americans pull out as quickly as possible?

A. I’d hand it to someone who could answer that question. I think that eventually Iraq will be reconstructed. But probably not in a way that will match the aims of American Neo-conservatives. History will decide.

Chat moderated by Gaïdz Minassian,46-0@2-3218,55-840087,0.html