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A blog on the current crises in the Middle East and news accounts unpublished by the US press.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

Wednesday, February 28, 2007


Update 2 March 07: Iran has not accepted. Moreover, it looks like the US plans on representation at the ambassadorial level, thus making it highly unlikely that the Iranian negotiator who counts, Ali Larijani, will not show up for this apparent low-level conference.

Well, George Bush is finally desperate enough to negotiate with Syria and Iran in a regional conference on Iraq security. It only took 100,000+ civilian dead, probably half a million wounded, US 3000 KIAs and another 20,000 severely wounded, 3 million refugees and a trillion dollars.

People like us could have produced tremendous savings, but our advice was ignored. Meanwhile, the French and the Russians have been calling for an international conference since late 2003. But some geostrategists have been saying it's now too late to do anything that doesn't hand victory to the jihadis, with further destabilization in the Middle East.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Italy, Prodi Resigns

Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema succeeded in bringing down the Prodi government today by drawing a line in the sand and challenging Italy's Left. D'Alema never seemed to me to be exceptionally astute, confirmed by his breach of the rule that you cannot be inflexibly arrogant in dealing with your coalition when you command a razor-thin majority. Foolishly, D'Alema went where no wise politician would have gone: he declared that the Government would resign if the vote of confidence failed (they're calling it the "Kabul or Bust" gamble.)

Today's vote in on Prodi's foreign policy lost in the Senate by two votes over troop presence in Afghanistan and extension of the US bases at Vicenza and Sigonella. Truth be told, until now the Left had swallowed the entire package of deregulation/liberalization measures, at odds with its historic positions, but was not prepared to surrender on war. The recent US action in Somalia, a former Italian colonial possession, probably did much in convincing Italy's Left to entrench in opposing Italy's cooperation with further US military undertakings. Already simmering because of Italy's participation in the war in Iraq, the Left and the Greens were pushed to the wall with the announcement of the NATO Spring Offensive in Afghanistan and saber rattling by Washington at Tehran.

Prodi tried to save the bacon by calling a hasty "summit" with Spain's Zapatero on the of Ibiza to placate the Left. It was something of a simple-minded pantomime, like Bush bussing the Saudi Crown Prince: "See, Zapatero is okay with keeping his contingent in Afghanistan, and so should we."

What is pathetic was that because of his decision to pull out of Iraq, Prodi was declared persona non grata in Washington, like Zapatero. [Note: Unprecedented: they are both NATO heads of government]. Pretending nothing was amiss in the rapporto speziale, Prodi soldiered on in traditional pro-American Demo-Christian fashion. But within Italy, where it matters, he apparently lost sight of the necessity of the support of the Greens and the Communists in keeping his government afloat. The resignation is unlikely to put the fear of God in them.

However, it may not be over: There will now be a second vote on confidence -this time whether Mr. Prodi should form a new government.

Labels: , , ,

Somalia, US botches coup

Having outsourced the coup in Somalia to the Ethiopians, the US has sent the country to hell.

"Somalia is actually becoming a more violent and chaotic place. That is not how it was supposed to be....confidence in the [new] government — never very high — is rapidly bleeding away....Somalia seems to be just shy of total collapse — again...Hundreds of families are streaming out of Mogadishu...." [Via the NYT]

Begs the question, just what did the Bush Administration think it was doing? The answer is same old, same old. Invade, then implement no plan at all. Notice that this took place during the Congressional recess/turnover.

Labels: , , ,

Blair orders partial pullout from Iraq

Update: Juan Cole says it's not the PR, it's a rout:
his is a rout, there should be no mistake. The fractious Shiite militias and tribes of Iraq's South have made it impossible for the British to stay. They already left Sadr-controlled Maysan province, as well as sleepy Muthanna. They moved the British consulate to the airport because they couldn't protect it in Basra. They are taking mortar and rocket fire at their bases every night. Raiding militia HQs has not resulted in any permanent change in the situation. Basra is dominated by 4 paramilitaries, who are fighting turf wars with one another and with the Iraqi government over oil smuggling rights.

This has PR written all over it, from the Public to the Relations.

Dauphin Gordon Brown has just polled the lowest favorable opinion of a Labour leader in 25 years. Moreover, Labour is expected to do exceedingly poorly in the upcoming May local elections, especially in Scotland. Tony Blair thinks pulling out 1,500 troops will mitigate the damage. Too little, too late.

Labels: , ,

Thinking Blog Awards

Nur is pretty delighted about being tagged by David Kaiser at History Unfolding as part of the Thinking Blog pyramid! I enjoy all the blogs I link to so it's somewhat embarrassing to have to create a short list, but here goes:

1. Duck of Minerva: International Relations profs run this joint, with an accent on US foreign relations. Includes sharp commentary on current events.

2. Sci Guy: Eric Berger is the science reporter for the Houston Chronicle but somehow finds the time for at least one wonderfully interesting blogpost a day. Engages the commenters, too!

3. Syria Comment: Josh Landis, US area expert on Syria. A must-read to cut through the fog of disinformation and threatening rhetoric

4. Postman Patel hasn't revealed his identity, (I think he's an engineer) but who else can update you on the progress of construction of the US embassy in Iraq (600 luxury apartments, swimming pool, tennis courts, the works...) while providing a scathing portrait of Labour politics.

5. 12 Byzantine Rulers. A blog of sorts, if you count podcasts. A through, utterly amazing introduction to the Second Rome (Byzantium) by Lars Brownworth.


1. If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think;

2. Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme;

Optional: Proudly display the 'Thinking Blogger Award' with a link to the post that you wrote.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Surge in Iraq: Responding to US Domestic Imperatives

Yesterday the Senate refused to debate the options on the Iraq crisis. Although to some this represented a validation of President Bush's Iraq policies, in reality there may have been no choice. Strategist Etienne de Durant explains that if the US pulls out, it is a certainty that a catastrophic civil war will ensue. Yet the Senate could have insisted on a an international peace summit involving all the actors. Instead, there is silence. The implication is that an even bigger crisis looms.

If Mr. Durand points out one thing, it is that current crisis is the result of continual missed opportunities in both Iraq and Afghanistan. In other words, both invasions were undertaken without mid- to long-range planning. Once the US was inside the occupied country, it had no plan at all. The ensuing lack of preparedness and disarray in Washington left a gap of 18 crucial months, which may have permanently turned the tables against the US.

Chat: The New US Strategy in Iraq

LEMONDE.FR | 10.JAN.07 | 18:10 • Updated 11.01.07 | 17:59

Debate with Etienne de Durand, Fellow, IFRI and expert in strategic issues, Thursday January 11, 15:00

Q. IS 20,000 troops too little, too late? Can they produce change and take control of a difficult situation?

A. The answer is sadly, yes. Too little, too late. But we should not merely consider this figure in itself but the way in which the troops will be used, and especially where they are concentrated, as Bush said himself: They will be concentrated in Baghdad. It also remains to be seen whether these are combat units or not. You should know that the great majority of the 130,000 men already in Iraq and who have been there for the last few years do not include combat troops –front line troops– but support units. It does appear that the five brigades to be deployed are combat brigades. So yes, they could make a difference in Baghdad, at least temporarily.

However, the troops are insufficient for the entire country because, that would require 400,000 men, not 150,000. The plan relies heavily on Iraqi security forces and especially their attitude. And we know that the Iraqi police are widely infiltrated by Shi'ite militias, especially those of Moqtada al-Sadr. Those militias are more a part of the problem than the solution, if I might say so. In other words, everything will depend on the attitude of the Shi’ite government.

Q. Sending 20,000 additional troops seems like an aberation. However, perhaps it’s finally a responsible attitude on the part of President George W. Bush.

A. As Bush said himself, it’s a question of the least bad option. It was never meant as an ideal solution. Over the short term, it appears very difficult to prevent the situation from deteriorating. But over the long term, the problem is that a counter-insurrectional strategy implies a long-term effort. A timely effort lasting only a few months will not improve the situation.

I think that there are two potential contradictions in the Bush plan. The first, as I said before, is the attitude of the Shi'ite government and the Shi'ite population. The current plans assumes that the problem consists in reinforcing the Iraqi government, which is too weak, and that if it is given enough time and the right means, it will succeed in strengthening itself and improving its control of the country.

However, contradictorily, if the Shi’ite government intends to represent only the Shi'ites and to make no real concession to the Sunnis, short-term reinforcement of the capacities of this government and improving the security situation will not resolve the problem. It may well worsen it.

A certain number of Shi’ite leaders have indicated that they want the Americans to use their troops against the Sunnis exclusively. In other words, the Americans are doing the work of the Shi’a. But the US plan consists of fighting the Sunni insurgency and controlling the Shi’ite militias and the Shi’ite death squads.

There is a second contradiction, which is a fundamental problem: Bush’s strategy is a short-term strategy responding to a political imperative –that of the domestic US politics. We know very well that a counter-insurgency strategy requires years. When you read the statements of certain US military officials, starting with those of General Petraeus, the new commander-in-chief in Iraq, it is clear that he envisages success over the medium term, –even the long term–, i.e. over several years.

Q. How do you interpret Mr. Bush’s new strategy relating to the war in Iraq? As a desire to be done with “limiting collateral damage” or to continue in the direction he has followed since the start of the war?

A. I think that the new US plan must be seen through the lens of US domestic politics. George Bush is prisoner of a very complex situation. There are two urgent aspects: on the one hand, to rapidly respond to the war-weariness of the US population –especially since the Democrats now control Congress, and on the other George Bush pride himself to being very determined and very willing –some would say very stubborn– and he does not want to concede defeat. But from the moment in which he can no longer do what he has been doing until now (the "stay the course" formulation that has characterized his program over the last few years), he’ll certainly have to try something else. Which is either withdrawal or the start of a withdrawal, or, conversely, one last try.

Within the context of US domestic policies, it is very bad to be an administration that concedes defeat. And I think that Bush would not only prefer to withdraw with a half a success or even a failure –but not a defeat– but would like it to happen under the Democrats, assuming they win the elections in 2008, who will have to pick up the pieces and assume the blame for the defeat.


Q. Why does Bush continue to ignore the recommendations of the Baker Commission, a pullout plan but with a diplomatic aspect involving neighboring states?

A. The problem with the recommendations of the Baker Commission is that they are partially contradictory and, moreover, do not say how things would work. Let use take the question you raise as an example: opening negotiations with Iran and Syria assumes willingness on the part of the Syrians and the Iranians to talk as well as diplomatic concessions that would not too costly. I’m not informed on the secret negotiations that may be going on, but from what we know about the Iranian government, nothing permits the assumption that they would be willing to make concessions, since they are in a position of strength. One of the rules of the game is to avoid negotiating from a position of weakness. In other words, if the current plan stabilizes the situation slightly, and even temporarily, the Americans would be better placed to negotiate with Iraq’s neighbors.

Q. Doesn’t Iran have a vested interest in a worsening situation to advance its nuclear program and become the dominant power in the region?

A. Yes and no. It is quite clear that the current situation serves the interest of Iran and that, in particular, the heavy American military presence in Iraq places the US in a difficult situation should the US envisage using military force against Iran to counter its nuclear program. However, it’s undeniable that the Iranians “jumped aboard a moving train”, and took advantage of the situation. However, Iran has no interest in seeing Iraq sink into all-out civil war because this could easily transform itself into potential overt regional war: pitting the Shi’a against the Sunni. Finally, they would like to see the US mired in Iraq and weakened militarily and politically, without, however, a civil war and the potential regional conflict.

Q. How are the other great powers (China, Russia…) intervening in Iraq? In other words, are these powers throwing a wrench in the works to counter US strategy and weaken the US?

A. It is hard to find anything out about potential secret negotiations conducted by China or Russia. But what is certain is that a weakening of the US would not be unwelcome. We see this in the management of the Iran nuclear dossier in the UN Security Council. And again, over-interpretations should be avoided, such as a defined and caricatured Chinese policy. Given her energy needs, China does not want the Middle East, the largest supplier of hydrocarbons, to sink into chaos. This is one of the reasons why they are reticent to sanction Iran.

Q. What roles does the falling price of oil play in US strategy?

A. I am not an expert in energy issues. Anything I say should be treated with caution. I do not think that the declining price of oil plays any role in US strategy in Iraq. I think you’d have to attack the question from the opposite direction: a precipitous retreat from Iraq would end in civil war and widespread chaos and would inevitably have a negative impact on the price of a barrel of oil. And this strengthens the desire of George W. Bush to persevere. And in general, I think that the decline in oil prices plays more of a role in relationships with Iran. It is clear that the prospect of financial sanctions, even military sanctions, is difficult to contemplate when the price of oil is high. In other words, the potential stabilization of Iraq or a partial US pullout while keeping the price of oil low would give the United States and the West in general greater margin for maneuver vis-à-vis Iran.


Q. Is it true that the current Iraqi government, and especially the president, are incapable of independent action? If it can’t do anything without US approval, why does it exist? Does the new US strategy include granting more power and credibility to this government?

A. I believe that the Iraqi government does indeed have a certain amount of autonomy. Things have changed since 2003 and 2004. However, it is true that the government is heavily dependent upon the United States, militarily as well as financially. The classic problem is that in this type of situation, if the foreign occupation goes overboard, the local government would no longer have an interest in cooperating, such as in fighting corruption or pro-Shi’ite sectarianism. If, on the other hand, the Americans drastically diminish their assistance, or cut it off, the risk is seeing the Iraq government collapse and the country sink into total chaos. This is the classic problem the US had in South Vietnam.

With this prospect, Bush’s most recent plan is to briefly reinforce his military and to provide economic aid to the Iraqi government in order to facilitate the transition. Once again, the problem is that this plan assumes that the Iraqi government has a real desire to quash the Sunni insurrection, and, in the end, to become the government of all Iraqis and not only the Shi’ites. Moreover, in his speech, George W. Bush insisted that the US intends to gradually hand over responsibility to the Iraqi government and that its support will not last forever. In other words, if there is no significant improvement of the situation in 2007, the United States will certainly change its strategy.

Q. With or without the presence of US troop, Iraq seems doomed to sectarian war. In other words, the current Iraqi government desperately lacks legitimacy in the eyes of the Sunni fringe. What do you think?

A. Despite what a Western viewpoint would tell you, political legitimacy does not depend solely on elections. Right or wrong, the Sunnis see themselves as the country’s élite, who not only fostered the modernization of Iraq at a certain period in time but also its national unity, especially towards Iran. On the other hand, the Shi’ites, both objectively and subjectively, have always constituted an oppressed “minority” (despite being a majority), and now intend to hold on to the power that has come to them for the first time. In other worlds, significant reciprocal concessions are needed for the two communities to reach an agreement. But these concessions are likely to be unacceptable within both communities by a certain number of people and politicians. There is no certainty that overt civil war is avoidable but it is certain that in the short term a US pullout would bring about a civil war.

Q. Are the former Ba’athists being reintegrated into Iraqi life? Or is "de-Ba'athification" still going on? Wasn’t this the biggest strategic mistake of US policy to have applied in Iraq the principle of "de-Nazification”?

A. It is certain that the de-Ba’athification policies implemented by Paul Bremer when he arrived in Baghdad in June 2003 were a big mistake. Disbanding the Iraqi Army was even worse. Under Saddam Hussein, anyone who wished to rise to a certain level had to be a party member. Consequently, Bremer's decision alienated most Sunnis, who had no direct role in the regime. On the other hand, keeping persons who were directly implicated in Saddam Hussein’s repressive police state in positions of power would have been unacceptable to the Shi’a and the Kurds. Moreover, it was a precondition for national reconciliation. It’s likely an inextricable situation: those people should have been kept in their jobs to preserve state structures and to avoid the anarchy that reigned during the first few weeks of the occupation but in doing so the Americans would have alienated the vast majority of the Iraqi population and would have betrayed their own ideals of democracy.

Since then, the situation has changed somewhat, and it is true that the Americans, like the Shi’ite government, have made a certain number of overtures to the Sunni community and to a number of former Ba'athists who were not terribly compromised by the former regime. Unfortunately, the situation on the ground and inter-community tensions developed faster than political overtures. The inclusion of a certain number of former Ba’athists, as, by the way, the change in posture on the part of US troops to stabilization efforts and the reconstitution of the security forces should have happened far earlier, in 2003-2004.


Q. Do the Democrats have a strategy in the Iraqi crisis?

A. That’s a very good question! The answer is sadly, no. The big weakness of the Democrats, structurally, is not having had much input on security questions for a number of years. And their weakness in the short term is their incapacity to propose an alternate strategy that is not a variation on the theme of a pullout.

Nevertheless, the Democratic victory in the November elections was above all a defeat for the Republicans and a repudiation of Bush’s policies. Given the current circumstances, it is very difficult to come up with a credible strategy, even one that successfully leads to an orderly disengagement.

Q. Senator Joe Biden, a potential Democratic candidate for President in 2008, announced two months ago the idea of splitting Iraq into three parts: the North for the Kurds, the South for the Shi’ites and Anbar Province for the Sunnis, with Baghdad as the national capital. Is this a valid solution?

A. The art of prediction is very difficult, especially when it concerns the future…

The problem with this type of solution is that that it’s abstract and only on paper, rather than a practical, immediate solution. It should be recalled that there are several areas inhabited by multiple communities. Take the example of Kirkuk, which is both Sunni and Kurd. And especially Baghdad, which is multi-confessional, I might add. And you’ll find Sunni communities in Shi’ite areas, and vice versa. In other words, a policy like that would sanction the ongoing ethnic cleansing. Recall also that such a solution finally worked in Bosnia but at the cost of a civil war that produced many victims that was only successfully contained with the deployment of 60,000 NATO troops. For Iraq, 300,000 to 400,000 troops would probably be needed.

Finally, Iraqi power would have to be federalized, with a large Kurdish area, a Western Sunni area and a Shi’ite area, which already exist de facto. This is the direction that would have to be taken to achieve a peaceful political settlement. Creating three distinct areas, all quasi-states, assumes: 1) Solving the problem of mixed areas; 2) finding an agreement on petroleum revenue and 3) finding a solution for other Iraqi minorities which is all too often neglected: Turkmen, Assyrians, etc. I don’t think Senator Biden’s approach is very serious, beyond political posturing.


Q. The US talks about a pullout by the end of 2009, yet it keeps increasing its troop levels. Do they really intend to withdraw some day?

A. The answer is easy. Of course they want to withdraw and if they could they would do it tomorrow given the high political, financial and strategic toll.

Q. Should the US withdraw, what would be the European strategy?

A. It should be recalled that the European countries have had a disparate approach to the Iraq crisis. Some were opposed to the invasion –like France and Germany–, while others were largely in favor and yet others actually participated: the UK, the Netherlands and, at least at the outset, Italy, Spain and Poland. There has been no European strategy on Iraq, rather the opposite.

Today, and especially tomorrow, with the perspective of a US pullout, the Europeans, even if they were able to agree and possessed the will, would not be able to intervene militarily in Iraq, even as “peace keepers”. The only paths that would remain open to them would be diplomatic efforts with Iraq’s neighbors and potentially, if conditions were right, economic and reconstruction assistance.

Chat moderated by Claire Ané

Labels: ,

Saturday, February 17, 2007

The Vicenza Protests

Via La Repubblica.

My sentiments exactly! 50,000 100,000 Italians are protesting the extension of the US airbase in Vicenza, scene of the torture of Abu Omar and a platform for the bombing of Baghdad in '03 and potential operations against Iran. Not to mention the rendition flights.

But the Italian government says its hands are tied by a the extension agreement, signed by Berlusconi. Personally, if my Prime Minister were not allowed to set foot in Washington, then I'd close down the base!

Labels: , ,

The Return of the Taliban

Defense and security expert Etienne de Durand appeared for the second time in a week in the pages of Le Monde to discuss Afghanistan. The obsession of the US with the military effort in Afghanistan has caused a disillusionment among the population and an opportunity for the well-financed Taliban.

Afghanistan: NATO challenged by the Taliban Threat
LEMONDE.FR | 12.FEB.07 | 11:31 • Updated 15.02.07 | 16:04

Chat with Etienne de Durand, Fellow, IFRI, expert in defense and security matters, Thursday, February 15th, 2006

Q. What are the reasons for the initial withdrawal by the Taliban, then their return in force today?

A. This looks like an innocent question, but in fact this question raises the issue of Western intervention in Afghanistan. We should recall the context in which intervention occurred. The US invasion to place following 9-11 –a plot that directly implicated the Taliban in that they had close ties to the leadership of al-Qaeda.

This time, the Taliban were attempting to win a victory in the long civil war in Afghanistan and to put an end to the Northern Alliance for good. It was no accident that Commander Massoud was assassinated just before 9-11, on September 9th. Locally, the Taliban were in the process of winning their victory.

At the same time, the policies that they conducted alienated the vast majority of the Afghani people, including the Pashtoon. Consequently, when the Americans and the Westerners arrived, they were welcomed at first as liberators, both in the political sense (because of the extremely repressive measures put in place by the Taliban, especially the moral clampdown with prohibitions on music, film, dancing, and even kite flying, a traditional Afghani pastime) and in the economic sense-the Taliban period proved to have been a catastrophe.

In fact, the only satisfaction achieved by the Taliban in the eyes of the Afghani population was the restoration of security following the ravages of the warlords.

Once again, the Westerners were relatively well regarded by a population that is relatively suspicious of the foreign presence in Afghanistan. But the population had great expectations of the Westerners, most of which were unrealistic, as to reconstruction and economic development. The Afghanis had less desire for “civilization” –the Western political model– than for Western prosperity.

From this point of view, there was actually a window of opportunity in 2002 and 2003. Unfortunately, the window was not correctly leveraged by the West. On the one hand, the Americans were satisfied with merely pursuing al-Qaeda militants and the remainder of the Taliban as they turned their attention more and more to Iraq. On the other hand, the Europeans were at first extremely timid and contented themselves with patrolling Kabul.

But the expectations of the population, especially in the Pashtoon areas, were not satisfied and the progress achieved by the West in rebuilding the economy and stability was not rapid enough to compensate for popular disappointment. We now find ourselves in a situation in which the insurrection has been able to reestablish itself politically and therefore civically, especially in the Pashtoon areas, as the West concentrated on the military and financial aspects.

Q. Will the intensification in combat and the increasing losses lead to a retreat of the contingents of certain contributors? Can we expect the Taliban and their allies to strike Europe?

A. The first question is pertinent, because this is certainly the strategy of the Taliban. The Taliban know very well that they cannot take Kabul by force as long as the West and especially the Americans remain.

They have adopted a classic insurrectional strategy: discourage the Western powers by increasing the political costs of their presence, especially by killing Western troops, and generating an atmosphere of insecurity throughout the country in order to slow and even block the reconstruction of infrastructure and the Afghan economy, thus sowing discontent among the population and therefore stronger support for the insurrection.

The second question is far different -predicting what will happen if we abandon Afghanistan as we did after the Soviets withdrew. The first consequence would surely be the resumption of the civil war, with on the one side, a stronger Taliban supported by the Pashtoon and backed by Pakistan, and the other, a heteroclite alliance essentially composed of minorities (Tadjiks, Hazaras, Uzbeks) and supported to varying degrees by India, Iran and Russia.

If the neo-Taliban regain power, the fallout could be the reversion to the situation prior to 9-11 and the use of the country as a gigantic sanctuary in which Bin Laden's organization could recruit and train a new generation of Jihadists.

Q. It is certain that NATO will deploy troops to Afghanistan who can do the job? Should they convince or win a victory?

A. That’s a very good question! NATO has to do both. NATO cannot win until it convinces the Afghanis. NATO troops are perhaps in a position to do so. The main problem is the lack on a genuine agreement among the Western powers as to the objectives to be pursued. This fluid situation can be translated into rules of engagement (“caveats”) that vary widely, introducing losses in efficiency.

Q. Is NATO intervention sees as backing President Karzai? Is Karzai discredited? Is NATO doing the right thing?

A. The question is whether the West entered Afghanistan with a strategy in the first place. NATO deployed to Afghanistan only progressively and there was a dual chain of command between Operation Enduring Freedom and NATO until 2005.

Q. How do you explain NATO’s diverging objectives?
A. The aim of an alliance is to unite member states which could have very divergent points of view on the nature of the mission and the most suitable methods.

Q. Since it is known that the insurgents (the Taliban, al-Qaeda, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar) use Pakistan as a refuge, how can the conflict be settled in Afghanistan if Musharref does not “clean up" his own country?

A. It’s true that historically it is very difficult to defeat an insurrection that benefits from a cross-border refuge. From this point of view, the cooperation of Pakistan has been essential.

Unfortunately, given the instability in the country, the fragility of the Musharref régime, the existence of strong currents of extremism in Pakistan itself, and –last but not least- Pakistan’s possession of a nuclear arsenal, it is very difficult and dangerous to put heavy pressure on that country. We’ll have to get along with Pakistan’s half-measures.

Q. How long and at what price can Pakistan continue to support the Taliban?

A. As long as it takes, because Afghanistan represents a vital interest to Pakistan. Pakistan’s nightmare scenario is an alliance between India and a hostile regime in Kabul. Give this perspective, the Afghan government is going to have to make a few concessions to Islamabad, such as recognizing a permanent frontier between the two countries.

Q. You mention the support of Pakistan for the Taliban. So what about this “War on Terror” that the US and Pakistani government are allegedly waging together?

A. At the outset, Pakistan cooperated rather well with the West, probably until 2005. However, they were never prepared to go all the way given the political danger that overly repressive policies would pose to Pervez Musharraf.

But later, either the Pakistani government or certain elements within the ISI (Inter Service Intelligence, the Pakistani clandestine services) decided that the war was taking a new tack and that it was necessary to revert to the strategy prior to 9-11.
Given the Taliban’s weapons and training observed last fall, it is almost certain that these recruits were receiving high-level support from the other side of the frontier.

Q. Bin Laden is still at large. Do you suspect that the United States and Britain have no desire to capture Bin Laden? Could the US and the UK possibly be using Bin Laden and the Taliban in their strategy for the Middle East?

A. That’s just not believable. Number 1, because it is extremely difficult to pinpoint in a land of almost inaccessible deserts and mountains. With drone cameras or satellite images it is very difficult to discern an Afghan civilian from a Taliban: both would have a turban, a beard and a Kalashnikov.

Number 2, a cynical manipulation like that, if uncovered, would cause an unprecedented political scandal. In the United States especially, there are always leaks and in the end, everything is revealed (e.g., the political machinations preceding the war in Iraq).

Q. Would Iran use Afghanistan as a nursery and a lever against "The West”, despite the traditional schism between Sunnis and Shi’a?

A. It is certain that a Western military operation against Iran because of its nuclear program would create innumerable problems in Afghanistan, especially where it enjoys local support (the Western Tadjiks and the Hazaras). In general, the Iran’s main concern in Afghanistan, if not to counter Pakistan, it is to ensure that the regime in Kabul is not hostile to it (in 1997, Iran nearly went to war with the Taliban). In this situation, like many others, Iran is playing a double game at several levels (it sheltered Sunni extremist Gulbuddin Hekmatyar for quite some time).

Q. Is the Karzai administration, supported by Western forces, especially the United States, sufficiently solid to introduce reform across the country and begin rebuilding?

A. It is obvious that the Karzai government is very weak. That said, Afghan governments are traditionally weak, and it is not certain that it wouldn’t create more problems than it would solve should it attempt to build a strong central government.

Moreover, in the short term the country has more of a need for economic gains and improvements that would be apparent to the Afghani people rather than deep reform. It is up to the Afghani people whether to make these reforms.

Q. Opium production has recovered since the fall of the Taliban. How does this complicate NATO’s mission? Is it marginal or central?

A. There is a lot of debate about that. Some believe that the cultivation and trafficking of opium are at the heart of the instability in Afghanistan. If this is correct, then the revenue from opium permits not only the local warlords to assert their power to the detriment of the government but adds to the generalized corruption that rages throughout the country and provides financing to the Taliban.

Others believe that it is necessary to distinguish the "geographic security" of Afghanistan, i.e. the battle against the Taliban, and the repair of the internal situation. In other words, should the West become massively engaged in the prevention of opium trafficking, that carries the risk of alienating large swaths of the population, because the Afghanis heavily rely on opium revenue. But if this is so, then fighting opium trafficking plays politically into the hands of the Taliban.

Q. What is the role of the Afghani people in all this? Could they promote a new era, oriented to the West, or restore the Taliban to power?

A. Given the insurrectional context, the population is naturally a central strategic stake. It is their attitude that will determine whether the current pro-Western political system survives in power or whether the country is plunged back into civil war. That said, the Afghani people are less preoccupied by big questions of an ideological nature (rapprochement with the West or not) than with daily survival.

Once again, rapid and visible improvement in the conditions of daily life (economic growth, access to a minimum of health care, the safety of persons and things....) is likely to rally the population to the Karzai government. The West can only offer assistance to the rebuilding process, which is up to the Afghanis.

Chat moderated by Philippe Le Cœur and Gaïdz Minassian

Labels: , , , ,

Friday, February 16, 2007

WANTED in Italy 2

Robert Seldon Lady, ex-CIA station chief in Milan, Jeff Castelli, CIA Director for Italy and another 24 Americans have been indicted in kidnapping of Abu Omar, an Egyptian imam living in Milan. Abu Omar was kidnapped in Viale Jenner (Milan) on February 17, 2003, spirited to the NATO airbase in Vincenza then rendered to Egypt, where he was tortured.

Among the Italian indicted (mostly from military intelligence) are:
1. Former Military Intelligence (SISMI) Chief Nicolò Pollari
2. Former SISMI Chief of Counterespionage Marco Mancini
3. SISMI station chief Raffaele Ditroia
4. SISMI station chief Luciano Di Gregorio
5. Giuseppe Ciorra, former aide to Marco Mancini
6. Pio Pompa, aide to SISMI Director Niccolò Pollari
7. SISMI officer Luciano Seno
8. Carabiniere Special Intelligence Chief Luciano Pironi.

As Juan Cole pointed out a few years ago, SISMI is well known as a proto-Fascist lair, with close connections to Michael Ledeen and Harold Rhode.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Surge, Baby, Surge

Is it my imagination, or has the "surge" enabled the Sunni terrorists? Indeed, I was reading an article a few days ago in La Repubblica that US threats against the Mahdi Army caused them to end their vehicle inspections at markets. What a bloody SOB Bush is, al-Maliki won't resign so Bush can put in his Saddam replacement. Bush has essentially given the green light for a surge in mayhem. US Congress, of course, is engaged in a useless arm-wrestle over meaningless resolutions, at which the President jeers.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Enemies List

One more addition to Dick Cheney's Enemies List.

In Japan, Dick Cheney has refused to meet or been seen with Defense Minister Fumio Kyuma because the Minister dared to criticize US foreign policy.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Collectively disunited: the patchwork coalition in Afghanistan

The Spanish in Farah, the Italians in Herat, the Germans in Mazar e Sharif, the British in Kandahar, the US in Gardez, the French in Kabul...and no one is there for the same reasons. The US is screaming for more troops, but the truth is, it lost the initiative in 2003-2004 chasing around Saddam Hussein. Moreover, Bush's incredibly unadvised move of landing a nuclear deal with India have convinced the Pakistanis that they have no choice but to destabilize Afghanistan. French defense and security expert Etienne de Durand analyzes the hopeless situation in today's Le Monde:

Etienne de Durand, Fellow, French International Relations Institute and a specialist on security and defense issues.

Etienne de Durand : “The countries that make up the International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF) are not in Afghanistan for the same reasons.”

LEMONDE.FR | 09.FEB.07 | 20:50 • Updated 09.02.07 | 21:12

Q. In what situation do NATO forces in Afghanistan find themselves on the eve of a widely expected Taliban offensive?

A: Both NATO and ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) are in the same situation they were in last year, but with US reinforcements, i.e. 35,000 men in total. The situation on the ground introduces three types of problems: The first is the geography of Afghanistan: the topography, the political, ethnic and tribal divisions of the country complicate the anti-insurgency operations. Afghanistan, like Lebanon, deserves the label of "complicated country".

There are also political and military divisions within NATO itself. Politically, the countries that make up the International Security and Assistance Force are not in Afghanistan for the same reasons. Some of them, like Poland and Germany, are participating in operations against the Taliban to demonstrate their loyalty to the United States. Following operation “Enduring Freedom”, launched in 2001, a number of European states wished to show their solidarity with the US, especially those which did not send troops to Iraq. In Afghanistan, the presence of certain Western states had nothing to do with strategic considerations. Some states which have sent troops to Afghanistan do not believe that the mission is worth accepting the risk of reestablishing stability at all costs.

This can be seen on two levels: the ambiguity and the muddle of rules of engagement differ from country to country. Some states sent in expeditionary corps as part of the war on drugs. Others, like Sweden, completely refused any participation. Another observation: the risks that the different contingents are willing to bear in terms of human life are different. So, depending on the nature of the mission and the risks involved, you may find some troops here and others there. In other words, NATO does not know in which direction to turn. Take, for example, the timidity of Germany. This points to a paradox: German is willingly in Afghanistan and is politically more engaged in central Asia than France, but when its troops are sent out on a mission, they insist on the protection of US forces.

Finally, militarily speaking, we are dealing with a patchwork of NATO and allied contingents which are neither equally equipped nor enjoy the same political and operational room for maneuver to carry out all types of missions. In fact, the material means (human resources and equipments) necessary for stabilizing Afghanistan are insufficient.

Q. Why are NATO forces having so much difficulty in the region?

A: I would like to cite this well-known quote from (Marshal) Ferdinand Foch:
Since I’ve been placed in command of a coalition, I have far more respect for Napoleon.
You might say that we are collectively disunited. We neither have sufficient means nor a clear idea of what we can do in Afghanistan.

The loss of time since 2001 is the second reason for the difficulties of NATO in Afghanistan. On the one hand, the Europeans have decreased their presence around Kabul. On the other, the Americans have dedicated themselves to the pursuit of al-Qaeda, and have often used indiscriminate firepower in the Pashtoon areas of southern Afghanistan. Because of this, the expectations of the Afghani population have been disappointed, especially in the south of the country. This paved the way politically for the Neo-Taliban insurrection. In other words, the West did not take advantage of the opportunity presented in 2002-2004.

Pakistan’s change in attitude should also be mentioned.

Q. How could more NATO support for Pakistan transform things in Afghanistan?

A. We’ve seen that since the autumn of 2006, the Taliban has made tremendous progress militarily and in terms of equipment and training. It seems to be clear that they are getting logistical support from Pakistan. But whether it’s the Pakistani government, the ISI or a laissez-faire agreement between President Musharraf and politico-religious organizations on the other side of the border, it makes no difference. For, historically, it is extremely difficult to stop an insurrection when it has accessible sanctuary on the other side of an international frontier.

Exercising pressure on Pakistan is a very delicate matter, since the country represents a security consideration that goes beyond stability in Afghanistan. The security of the subcontinent depends on proliferation issues and relations with India. The fragility of the Musharraf regime should be borne in mind.

This is why neither the West nor the United States can put very much pressure on Pakistan beyond a certain point. Order must be reestablished in the border regions of Afghanistan, and, at the same time, concessions must be wrested from Kabul, such as recognition of the border with Pakistan (the Durand Line), which Afghanistan has never recognized. This would reassure Islamabad concerning its worst fear, an India-Afghanistan alliance.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

The Muhammad Cartoon Trial in France

Cartoon by Cebu, cover of Charlie Hebdo: Muhammad exasperated by the radicals. It's not easy having these assholes as your faithful.

Plantu in Le Monde: "I must not cartoon Muhammad, I must not cartoon Muhammad...!"

France Soir: "Quitcher whinin', Muhammad, we've all be cartooned up here!"

Cartoonist Cebu heads toward the courtroom.

The Muhammad Cartoon Trial is claiming the media space in France. The satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo has been sued by the Grand Mosque of Paris, the Union of Islamic Associations in France and the World Islamic League for publishing anti-Muhammad cartoons of its own as well as reprinting the infamous series of cartoons originally published in the Danish populist newspaper Jyllands-Posten. The trial opened yesterday, as students jammed the spectator galleries waving their own cartoons of Muhammad in front of the judge. Judge Jean-Claude Magendie made no effort to control the tumultuous courtroom, as both side engaged in nine hours of outbursts, laughter and repartee.

There was even an expert witness: Antoine Sfeir, Director of Les Cahiers de l'Orient, an Arab-Muslim review. Mr. Sfeir declared that faith resists all and that the lawsuit should be dismissed.

Of course, the sensational trial drew in the presidential campaign. Candidate Nicholas Sarkozy couriered a letter of support to the defense, which read it aloud. Socialist Party Chairman François Hollande entered the courtroom himself and chided the plaintiffs for undermining their cause in bringing the matter to trial.

To add to the fireworks, big bad Suspect No. 1, Fleming Rose, the Editor-in-Chief of Jyllands-Posten, is expected to make an appearance.

The courtroom hijinks may go on for some time but it is likely that the tribunal will rule against the plaintiffs. How this will play to French Muslims and the rest of the Muslim world remains to be seen.

[Info for this post gathered from this article in Le Monde.]


WANTED, in Italy

New York Army National Guard Specialist Luis Mario Lozano has been indicted in Italy for the 2005 fatal shooting of Italian intelligence agent Nicholas Calipari and the wounding of reporter Giuliana Sgrena and Carabiniere Major Andrea Carpani.

There is a judicial mutual assistance treaty in force between Italy and the United States that would require the extradition of Specialist Lozano but don't expect it to be enforced. Prime Minister Prodi has been declared, like Spain's Zapatero, persona non grata in the United States by the Bush Administration. If Prodi applied for a visa, to visit the US, it would not be granted! Imagine --these gentlemen are NATO allies who have lose valuable personnel, both military and civilian, in Iraq and Afghanistan!

Labels: , ,

Monday, February 05, 2007

Sans titre

Courtesy of Dependable Renegade