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A blog on the current crises in the Middle East and news accounts unpublished by the US press.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

Monday, December 31, 2007

Pakistan - A Coalition of Turpitude

Pakistan, a multifaceted crisis
by Deputy Foreign Desk Editor Frédéric Bobin of Le Monde

2007 was supposed to be a landmark year. It was meant to be the celebration of the sixtieth anniversary of the country’s founding on the blood soaked ruins of the British Empire of India. Instead, it was an accusatory year, a year of terrible indictment, an unending progression of accumulating evidence of failure for a state conceived and hoped to be the refuge for Muslims from the former British Raj, tragically dismembered in December 1947. It was a sad commemoration against a backdrop of Islamic insurrection among the Pashtoon tribes, the separatist rebellion in Baluchistan, the maneuverings of a general-president determined to keep his grip on power and a state of emergency meant to suppress a movement toward freedom, as well as an unprecedented wave of suicide bombings of which Benazir Bhutto, the ambiguous muse of the divided democratic camp, is the most recent victim.

Fingering al-Qaeda and its planet-wide plots is insufficient to fully comprehend of the disaster that is Pakistan. This sinister year of 2007 is only the manifestation of a profound, multifaceted indigenous crisis fueled by the dangerous intrigues of the State, the armed forces and the ruling class to which West –with the United States at the forefront–, blinded by its calculations of short-term realpolitik, is accomplice.

Radical Islam in Pakistan did not drop out of the sky. It has been flourishing for decades in ideological terrain sown by the state itself. Is the drift fatal, is the trap unavoidable because the state has defined itself as Muslim since its founding? Yet founding fathers of Pakistan led by Ali Jinnah were relatively secular. But their inheritors lost no time in playing the Islamic card in the hope of preventing the erosion of their power. From moment Islam became the sole uniting factor in a country riven by ethnic rivalry – Punjabis, Sindis, Balochis and Muhajiri (refugees from India) – the country's leaders never hesitated in instrumentalizing it to boost their crumbling legitimacy.

Even the father of Benazir Bhutto, the “progressive” Zulficar Ali Bhutto, who led Pakistan in the 1970’s, went astray. He extolled “Islamic Socialism”, was enthusiastically engaged in the Organization of Islamic Conferences, ostracized the Ahmadis by declaring them apostates, and, in the end, proclaimed Shar’ia as the law of the land. His successor, the putschiste General Zia-ul-Haq, who had Bhutto hanged in 1979, continued on the same course. He made zakat –the Islamic tithe– mandatory and fostered the spectacular growth of madrassas, the schools that would later become the hotbeds of radical Islam. In the short-term, the authorities could justify the concessions made to Islam by the necessity of integrating the religious parties into the institutional framework in order to neutralize them. But over the long term opposite has taken place. Islamism, confirmed at the highest echelons of society, has won over minds and institutions. Yet it was in a geo-strategic context that the military coddled jihadist groups, sent as “cannon fodder” to Kashmire –an issue of contention with its rival, India– and to Afghanistan.

The Afghanistan theatre was the second source of derailment of Pakistani policy. Here again, you must go back to the partition of the British Indian Empire to understand the issue. In 1947, Afghanistan voted against the admission of Pakistan to the United Nations. This was the time in which the Afghani monarchy, furious that the new state was able to keep Pashtoon lands that the British had amputated, decided to fuel the irredentist aspirations of the proud and turbulent Pashtoon tribes.

For Pakistan, already confronted with the Indian threat to its flank, the hostility with Kabul constituted a nightmare scenario. It was absolutely essential to reduce Kabul and to install reliable actors. Pakistani leaders were ceaseless in their efforts to “Finlandize” Afghanistan to open that country up as a vital strategic redoubt in its conflict with India. For Islamabad, the masters of Kabul were to have two essential characteristics: they must be of Pashtoon origin (a Pashtoon in control of the Afghani capital was viewed as a guarantee against frontier irredentism) and must support pan-Islamism (conceived as an antidote to Pashtoon ethnic nationalism). Even Benazir Bhutto, who fell victim to radical Islam, went along with this game. It was during her second government (1993-1996) that the Afghani Taliban movement emerged, fostered by her Interior Minister, Nasirullah Babar.

A third factor stoking the current chaos unquestionably resides in the irresponsibility of Pakistani ruling class. The new state very quickly came to be dominated by the Muhajir (refugees from India). Afterwards, power was won by the Punjabis, who controlled the military-bureaucratic apparatus. It should be recalled that it was the refusal of the Punjabi ruling class to respect the rules of electoral democracy that forced the Bengalis of Eastern Pakistan into a corner and set off the war of independence that gave birth to the state of Bangladesh in 1971. The arrival of the Bhutto dynasty to power – first father Zulficar Ali Bhutto then daughter Benazir – confirmed the entry upon the scene of the Sindis, who, it was thought, would turn things around. But despite their populist rhetoric, they behaved like feudal barons.

During her two terms of office as Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto was involved in shameless corruption benefiting her clan. The celebrated icon of her supporters, she ruled her own party, the Pakistani People’s Party, with an iron fist and was consecrated as chairman for life. The weakness of any liberal political tradition in Pakistan provides fertile soil to radical Islam and contributes to the grip on power by selfish elites.

There is a last key element of the crisis: the complicity of the West, especially the United States. Instead of promoting a free civil society, as they should have, Western democracies never failed to support military regimes when they believed that Pakistan was on the front lines: first under Zia ul-Haq during the anti-Soviet campaign in Afghanistan during the 1980’s, then under General Pervez Musharraf in the name of the fight against al-Qaeda. It was they who assisted in building the coalition of turpitude that has plunged today's Pakistan into chaos.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Anniversary of Saddam's Execution

Saddam is dead, the people rejoice! I'm sure this is what Fox News is reporting. However, the reality is that Saddam's tomb in Aouja has become a Sunni place of veneration as this photo from L'Orient-Le Jour shows...children and tribal leaders recite verses from the Koran.

In the Sunni neighborhood of Adhamiyah in Baghdad, portraits of Saddam were plastered on every residence and shop.

However, there was a celebration, as one might expect, in Shi'a-controlled Najaf.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

IDF sends Christmas greetings from the West Bank

Monday, December 24, 2007

An Ill Anatolian Wind

First, an obituary (Via Au Fil du Bosphore):

Fuat Deniz, a Swedish national and a sociologist of Syriac origin, was stabbed to death in his offices at the University of Örebro in Sweden. Mr. Deniz research fellow examining the Assyro-Chaldean massacres of 1915.

Turkish pianist Fazıl Say told Süddeutsche Zeintung: "The Islamists have won. They now represent 70% of Turks and the secularists 30%. I'm thinking of moving elsewhere."

Monday, December 17, 2007


That organization which the press would have us believe is so unpopular! This the the weekend rally in Gaza. [Via L'Orient-Le Jour]

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Annapolis followup to be held on the 4th of Never

Via L'Orient-Le Jour:

Russia does not intend to set a date for the follow-up conference unless it is assured that the understandings established at Annapolis are implemented, said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. At the conclusion of the Annapolis Conference, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner affirmed that Russia had proposed to hold the meeting, which would address the Israel-Syria peace process, in early 2008 in Moscow. The first Israeli-Palestinian talks following Annapolis on Wednesday, "ended badly", said Mr. Lavrov. During the 2-hour meeting, the Palestinians has asked the Israelis to end colonization of the West Bank.

Mobilizing the Office Workers of Ethiopia

Via the NYT

NAIROBI, Kenya — The Ethiopian government, one of America’s top allies in Africa, is forcing untrained civilians — including doctors, teachers, office clerks and employees of development programs financed by the World Bank and United Nations — to fight rebels in the desolate Ogaden region, according to Western officials, refugees and Ethiopian administrators who recently defected to avoid being conscripted...The rebels said the civilians were easy targets: “They don’t know the bush,” said Daous, a commander for the Ogaden National Liberation Front.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Mobilizing the Sunni Tribes of Iraq

Article by AFP's Hervé BAR

The new US strategy in Iraq to co-opt former rebels mobilized by traditional tribal chiefs to combat the insurgents grants the tribes a central role but their influence over the long term may jeopardize the stability of the country.

It is a risky wager, explains Father Nabil Mohammad Younes, who teaches Political Science at the University of Baghdad. Since the overthrow of the regime of Saddam Hussein in April 2003, the US military has been attempting to cooperate with the tribes, inspired by the example of the Ottoman and British empires.

In the October 2007 issue of Military Review, a US Army forum for intellectual inquiry, Lieutenant-Colonel Michael Eisenstadt deplored, deplores the unrealistic expectations due to a lack of knowledge of local and tribal history and politics.

Omnipresent throughout the Ottoman Empire, and progressively marginalized by the British occupation, Iraqi tribes inevitably lost their power with the independence and modernization of the country.

Relegated to the background under the monarchy, then by the Baa'th Party, the began to recover some influence at the end of the 1980's when Saddam Hussein, who considered them untrustworthy, attempted to buy the allegiance of some of them.

Beginning with their arrival in Iraq, American military officers, knowing nothing of the complex world of tribes, made missteps and errors. They also overestimated the power of sheikhs in the rebel city of Fallujah, when, in the midst of fighting Sunni insurgents, they insisted that the sheikhs end the violence. Moreover, US command collaborated in certain regions with sheikhs who had been appointed by the former regime and who had no credibility with their tribes. But at the same time, "they have generally proven useful as sources of information and advice and as vectors of influence among their tribesmen."

At the beginning of 2007, the mobilization of thousands of tribesmen, for the most part former insurgents, in Sunni Anbar Province (Western Iraq) to fight al-Qaeda gave a breath of fresh air to this strategy, according to a recent report by a Congressional think tank....The same approach is being tried in southern Iraq among the Shi'a to combat the Mahdi Army.

But the recourse to the tribes, distrustful of the central government, jealous of their independence and whose loyalty goes to the highest bidder is risky, experts warn. For Father Younes, the tribal policies of the US are grounded in the principal of divide and conquer and promote the fragmentation of the country by multiplying local powers to the detriment of a strong central government. "If the occupation continues, sooner or later the tribal militias will turn on the occupiers", warns Father Younes.

Strengthening the militias also risks undermining institutions and civil society, says Col. David Kilcullen, an Australian and one of the developers of his country's tribal policies under the Coalition, in his blog, Small Wars Journal. Indeed, the prestigious American publication, Foreign Policy Journal, warned in September, "the rescuers of today can very easily become the enemies of tomorrow."

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Christians fleeing the Middle East

Le Monde's religion report, Henri Tincq, takes a look of the fate of Christians in the Middle East. Read the entire article here.

"But, between the calvary of Iraqi Christians, (500,000 Chaldeans have fled the country since the First Gulf War) and the reaffirmed political authority of the Lebanese Maronite patriarch, between the apparent satisfaction of Jordanian and Syrian Christians and the marginalization of religious minorities (Armenians, Greek Orthodox Syriacs, Jews, etc.) in Turkey, how does on assess the situation of Middle Eastern Christians?

...Iraqi Christians see no end to the US occupation of Iraq. In Mosul, only 500 Christian families remain out of 2,000. The Christians of Mosul and Basrah have had to choose between the return of the ahl al-dhimma (a system of protection of non-Muslin minorities under the Ottoman Empire, a combination of subservience and a poll tax), emigration or death. "Terror has shattered coexistence", laments Monsignor Jean-Benjamin Sleiman, the Latin Rite Archbishop of Baghdad.

....The Coptic Bishop of Cairo, Monsignor Youhanna Golta, describes an Egypt where extremists are gaining ground everywhere: in public life, in schools and in the media (60% of religious programming on TV). For them, one's first loyalty is to Islam. A silent war pits them against modernizing or secular movement, which is attempting to save Egypt from a return to the Middle Ages...

Neither is Turkey, with its nationalist secularism, spared. The Kemalist ideology remains deeply rooted in the bureaucracy and in the courts that are responsible for unrecognized ethno-religious minorities. "It’s not a question of religious difference but one of the definition of citizenship", says Philippe Kalfayan, of the International Human Rights Foundation, expressing surprise at the lack of coverage of these policies.

...In one year, fundamentalists have murdered one Catholic priest and three Protestant missionaries. Jean-Francois Colosimo, an academic at the Saint-Serge Institute, has complained of the situation to Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, Honorary Orthodox Primate (250 million faithful) and recognized the world over, except in Istanbul where, for the Turks, he is merely a parish priest for a few thousand Greek Orthodox and forbidden from reopening Turkey’s only seminary at Halki.

...In Aleppo (Syria) the historical cradle of Christianity, the Christian population has fallen from 50% to 6% in 50 years. The Bishop of Aleppo, Jean-Clement Jeanbart, proposes an energetic initiatives to halt the Islamist onslaught. Initiatives to preserve the forms of conviviality (families, neighborhoods, associations) between Christians and Muslims to combat together the fertile ground for Islamism –misery, poverty, unemployment and illiteracy– with schools, dispensaries, hospitals and job training centers...."

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Prisoner Flow to US Prison Camps in Iraq

The big US-run prison camps in Iraq are rarely mentioned in the US media. But the foreign press was recently invited to take a look at Camp Cropper, the "small" prison camp (4,000 detainees) outside Baghdad Airport compared to sprawling Camp Bucca outside Basrah. In addition to the surprising news that retinal scans are made of all prisoners, two statistics jumped out at me. The first is that there are 30 new prisoner arrivals PER DAY. If there are 30 arrivals per day at Camp Cropper, you can bet your tin cup there's double that at Camp Bucca, bursting at the seams with 22,000+.
Second, in Camp Cropper alone there are 950 juveniles.

If there's any indication that the US plans to stay in Iraq for decades, it is the permanency and the dimension of the prison camps it runs.

Sabotaging Annapolis

What did it take? About a week?

L'Orient-Le Jour reports that Israel is issued an invitation to bid for the construction of 307 housing units Har Homa in occupied East Jerusalem.