Friday, May 28, 2004

The nature of the Iraqi conflict is about to change if promises for December 2004 elections are taken seriously. From today's Independent:

US retreats after failing to capture militia chief

United States forces agreed yesterday to withdraw from the Shia holy city of Najaf and end fighting with the militia of the radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. In a climbdown by the Americans, who had vowed to kill or capture Sadr, it now appears he will be allowed to remain free. His Army of Mehdi militia will also withdraw under the deal.

The Americans appeared to have given up their two main demands to end the fighting in Najaf: that Sadr surrender to them and that the Mehdi Army be disbanded immediately.
The American agreement to withdraw without capturing Sadr will be seen in Iraq as a second embarrassing capitulation in as many months, after US forces ended their April siege of the Sunni city of Fallujah without capturing those responsible for killing and mutilating the bodies of four American contractors - the original reason for the siege in which hundreds of Iraqi civilians are believed to have died.


Mohammed al-Musawi, a Shia leader who was involved in extensive efforts to arrange a peaceful end to the fighting in Najaf, claimed the deal included an agreement that Sadr will not face any prosecution until after an elected Iraqi government takes office, which will not happen until next year. He also said that under the deal the Mehdi Army would become a political organisation.

Whether Sadr will get that much remains to be seen, but at any rate he appeared to have got the most out of yesterday's deal. It was a good result for him after scores of his militiamen were killed in the past few days.

Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mehdi Army is about to become Iraq’s version of the Lebanese Shiite militia/political party Hezbollah. For an excellent bckground article on Hezbollah and its leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, I recommend Adam Shatz’s recent article, “In search of Hezbollah,” from the New York Times Review of Books.

Most of the residents of southern Beirut, where Nasrallah has his headquarters, are Shiites, who account for 40 percent of Lebanon's population, outnumbering both Christians and Sunnis. Until the 1960s, Lebanon's Shiites were a neglected, invisible community, oppressed by feudal landlords and disdained by their fellow Lebanese. Today, they are a rising political force, thanks in large part to the militant political movement Hezbollah. It is now a virtual state-within-a-state, with an army of several thousand men, an extensive social service network, a popular satellite television station called al-Manar ("the Beacon of Light"), and an annual budget in excess of $100 million, much of which comes from Iran, Hezbollah's major patron.

The movement first emerged during Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon, in which between twelve and nineteen thousand Lebanese died, most of them civilians and many of them Shiites. Militant followers of the Ayatollah Khomeini, Hezbollah's original cadres were organized and trained by a 1,500-member contingent of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, who arrived in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley in the summer of 1982, with the permission of the Syrian government. For Iran, whose efforts to spread the Islamic revolution to the Arab world had been stymied by its war with Iraq, Hezbollah provided a means of gaining a foothold in Middle East politics.

Syria's vehemently secular leader Hafez Assad, for his part, had no affection for Hezbollah's religious ideology but keenly grasped its potential as a proxy militia. For Syria, whose principal goal has been to reclaim the Golan Heights, captured by Israel in the 1967 war, Hezbollah is the only "card" it has to pressure its far more powerful neighbor. Unlike the leftist Lebanese forces that, until that point, had led the resistance to the Israelis, Hezbollah guerrillas could not be penetrated by Israeli intelligence. And in their discipline and willingness to die for their cause they had few rivals, as the world was to discover the following year, when members of the clandestine "Islamic Resistance" (a precursor to Hezbollah, which did not yet officially exist) launched a series of terrifying suicide attacks in Lebanon against American, French, and Israeli targets.

Following the bombings, the Western forces made a fast exit from Beirut; in 1985, faced with fierce resistance from Hezbollah fighters, Israel withdrew to a so-called security zone, a strip of territory along Lebanon's southern border that soon became known as its "insecurity zone." Over the next fifteen years, Hezbollah waged an efficient, disciplined, and popular guerrilla war against the Israeli military.

In May 2000, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak decided to bring an end to an occupation that had cost more than one thousand Israeli lives, and ordered a unilateral withdrawal from southern Lebanon. The withdrawal did not include a formal peace agreement with Lebanon, and the Israeli army continued to occupy the patch of border territory called the Shebaa Farms, which Hezbollah regards as part of Lebanon. But Lebanese Shiites (as well as a number of Barak's Israeli critics) saw the withdrawal as a major Hez- bollah victory—"the first Arab victory in the history of Arab-Israeli conflict," as Hezbollah often proclaims. It is an event that has helped make Nasrallah, Hezbollah's leader, one of the most important men in Lebanon.

Hezbollah now has some 100,000 supporters, about half of whom are party members. When Nasrallah raises his voice, the Lebanese pay close attention to what he says, whether or not they like him. Bashar Assad, Syria's young leader and Hezbollah's other major sponsor, is said to revere him. Although Nasrallah depends on Iranian arms and Syria's support for his military operations, he has achieved a significant degree of autonomy from both parties, which may complicate future efforts to disband it. Hezbollah, which adheres to the principle of wilayat al-faqih, or rule by the Islamic jurist, regards Iran's supreme leader, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as its ultimate leader, and maintains close ties to Iran's leadership, especially to the hard-line clerics who helped organize the party in the early 1980s. It was Khamenei who reportedly influenced Hezbollah's decision to maintain its armed wing rather than devote all its energies to Lebanese politics after Israel's withdrawal from southern Lebanon in May 2000. But Hezbollah has long ceased to be an Iranian-controlled militia. (The last remaining Revolutionary Guards left the Bekaa Valley in 1998.) Although Hezbollah is believed to coordinate foreign policy matters with Iran's Revolutionary Guards, the Lebanese and Western experts I've talked to say it reaches most of its everyday decisions without consulting Iran. Moreover, they say, Khamenei has never overruled Nasrallah.

So far, one excellent historic parallel throughout the second Iraqi conflict has been the 1954-1962 conflict in Algeria. As we move towards possible elections, a new parallel might be the annulled second round of Algerian elections in 1991:

The populist appeal of the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) resulted in its astonishing successes in the June 1990 local elections (the first free elections in the nation's history) and the December 1991 first round of delayed parliamentary elections, although the top FIS leaders had been imprisoned since June 1991. Stunned "secular" military and civilian elites fearing the establishment of an Islamic state overthrew President Chadli Benjedid in January 1992. The new High Council of State (HCS) quickly annulled the elections and outlawed the FIS. The 1992 coup outraged many Muslims and led to protests and mounting violence, including the June 1992 assassination of HCS-installed president Mohammed Boudiaf. There was international condemnation of both the government's repression of political liberties and often brutal efforts to suppress the opposition and the increasingly divisive and radicalized Islamic movement's targeting of intellectuals, journalists, feminists, and foreigners.

Again from Adam Shatz, this time from the July 3, 2003 New York Review of Books (no link):

The FIS was about to defeat the FLN in the second round of elections, but Nezzar and his army colleagues made sure that never happened. Always suspicious of the democratic experiment that began in 1989, General Nezzar, who was then Algeria's minister of defense, forced President Chadli Bendjedid, who came to power with army support in 1979, to resign. The elections were canceled, and two months later the FIS was banned. Nezzar declared a state of emergency. The Islamic Salvation Army, the FIS's armed wing, responded with attacks on government security forces. They were soon joined by more radical outfits like the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), a nebulous network of jihadists that included a number of self-described "Afghan Arabs." The jihadists assassinated secular intellectuals and unveiled women; they finally turned against their own followers when they showed insufficient zeal for holy warfare.

The "conciliators" among Algeria's political leaders, among them several former ministers, advocated a political solution, starting with negotiations with the FIS; but the hard-line "eradicators" led by General Nezzar won out. They struck back ruthlessly, borrowing tactics the French paratroopers used against the FLN, including torture, summary execution, and secret detention in camps in the Sahara. Tens of thousands of Algerians, some of them Islamic radicals but many of them ordinary civilians and soldiers, have been killed since 1992; about seven thousand have disappeared, mostly at the hands of security forces, according to a damning report released late this February by Human Rights Watch. The violence has subsided since 1997, when the FIS laid down its arms, but the GIA and other rebels remain active. Almost every day, a few people die in political violence, a pattern that has become so familiar that no one in Algeria pays much attention. The regime, now headed by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who was elected in 1999, appears to have no interest in stopping the violence; one former high-ranking Algerian official told me, "The state can't let terrorism die. It's the only thing keeping it afloat."

On his recent visit to Algiers, William Burns, the US assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, told President Bouteflika, "Washington has much to learn from Algeria on ways to fight terrorism." But what exactly does it have to learn? "If we had let the Islamists win, Algeria would have become Afghanistan and you would have had to bomb us," Nezzar said, laughing loudly. I passed on Nezzar's remark to Ahmed Djeddai, the secretary of the Socialist Forces Front, a social-democratic opposition party, largely made up of Berbers, the non-Arab minority who speak their own language and make up between 15 and 20 percent of the population. He sighed with a weary, theatrical air. "If you look at Algeria today—100,000 dead, maybe more; thousands handicapped; a million displaced—it seems to me that the generals are the ones who've turned this country into Afghanistan."

Clearly the fake democracy of Algeria is the best existing model for an occupying power to use to continue their rule by proxy. The government is extremely pro-western and the country has a secular tradition that is somewhat similar to Iraq. If a moderate State Department official is praising the Algerian leader, this is a sure sign of the current US position towards democracy in the Middle East.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

My Enemy is my Liberator is my Enemy

The Guardian is staying all over the Chalabi is an Iranian spy story. Yesterday it was Andrew Cockburn adding some nice details to the story:

In the aftermath of last week's raid by Iraqi's police and US forces on the elegant Baghdad mansion currently inhabited by Ahmad Chalabi (it actually belongs to his sister), his angry spokesman cited as evidence of the intruders' barbarity the fact that they seized "even his holy Koran - his personal holy Koran was taken as a document".

If reports that US intelligence has at last woken up to Chalabi's Iranian connection are true, then taking his Koran may have been more than personal spite, since, according to a former close associate, the Pentagon's erstwhile favorite Iraqi owns one bearing an affectionate inscription from the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini himself, evidence of how deep and long standing a relationship he has had with the Islamic Republic. "Ahmad helped Iran very much during the war [the Iran/Iraq war of the 1980s]," recalls this former associate and friend. "Khomeini was very pleased, and he sent him a copy of the Holy Koran inscribed 'To My Son Ahmed.'"


Chalabi was not shy about his Iranian intelligence connections. "When I met him in December 1997 he said he had tremendous connections with Iranian intelligence," recalls Scott Ritter, the former UN weapons inspector. "He said that some of his best intelligence came from the Iranians and offered to set up a meeting for me with the head of Iranian intelligence." Had Ritter made the trip (the CIA refused him permission), he would have been dealing with Chalabi's chums in Iranian Revolutionary Guard intelligence, a faction which regarded Saddam with a venomous hatred spawned both by the bloody war of the 1980s and the Iraqi dictator's continuing support of the terrorist Mojaheddin Khalq group.

However, the most stupefying statement comes in the last paragraph of the story:

[Bob] Baer, who served in the CIA outpost in the mid 1990s, says that "a lot of people in the CIA believe that the Iranians used Chalabi, and or Arras, to manipulate us into a war. Maybe they just thought they were steering us to keep up the pressure on Saddam, keeping him under sanctions and no fly zones, never dreaming that he would actually get the US to go to war and put the US army right on the Iranian border. It's the law of unintended consequences."

This statement reeks of denial and wishful thinking. The US military is far more of a threat to Iran while sitting in its US bases, ready to be deployed at a moments notice. The 135,000 troop currently tied down in Iraq are of absolutely no concern to the Iranians. With these troops currently unable to successfully complete their missions in Iraq, I hardly think that invading and occupying Iran is likely to be added to their task lists any time soon.

There is no evidence at all that the Iranians preferred containment over invasion. Chalabi was pushing the WMD line hard, he was feeding lies to nine different western intelligence agencies about the horrific weapons that Saddam possessed. Shiites are a majority in Iraq and there is no way they--or the Iranians--would have actively worked to only contain Saddam and therefore accept Sunni domination for generations to come. No, they wanted Saddam gone and they wanted the US to do it for them.

There is an historic precedent for Shiites using their enemies to liberate them. In the early eighties, during the Lebanese Civil War, the Shiites of southern Lebanon were basically occupied by the PLO. Israel, in 1982, retaliated for the attempted assassination of its ambassador in London, Shlomo Argov, by invading Lebanon to crush the PLO. Never mind the fact that the gunmen worked for Abu Nidal, a sworn enemy of the PLO. The Shiites of southern Lebanon at first tolerated the Israeli invasion because it rid them of their hated PLO oppressors, but in 1984 Hezbollah was formed to fight the occupation. In 2000, along with its rivals Amal, they succeeded in forcing an Israeli retreat from Lebanon.

In this light one can see Chalabi not only pushing for an invasion but also promising Shiite cooperation in order to keep the number of American troops down. It is true that if the US had sent 500,000 troops into Iraq, Iran would have had something to worry about. At a little more than 100,000, the Shiites in Iraq--heavily influenced by Iran--hold the keys to a successful American occupation. The second the Shiites became dissatisfied, they can pull the rug out from under the US’s feet since occupying Iraq with a hostile Shiite population would in fact take 500,000 soldier, or about 300,000 more than the US has available. Even better, by having the US dependant on its acquiescence towards the occupation, Iran is assured that Israel will not by striking at its nascent nuclear programs any time soon. For the time being, the Shiites and Iran are content to allow the US to pour money into Iraq and to battle the potential Sunni enemy, knowing full well that at an appropriate time, they will ask the US to leave, and the Shiites will be running Iraq.

I think it would be going to far to say that the Iranians totally created the invasion of Iraq out of thin air, that the idea would have never otherwise occurred to Bush. What can be said for certain is that the Iranians enabled the invasion and helped spread the fatal overconfidence, through the optimistic reports and empty promises of Chalabi, that were ultimately to doom the invasion into a US strategic defeat, and an Iranian victory.

Not So Fast

Four Nations to Seek Delay on U.S. Resolution on Iraq

May 26 (Bloomberg) -- China, France, Germany and Russia say a U.S. and U.K. draft resolution on Iraq shouldn't be adopted by the United Nations Security Council until the Iraqi people and neighboring countries accept the interim government that is scheduled to take over from the U.S.-led coalition June 30.

``Our positions are similar,'' Russian envoy Alexander Konuzin said. ``If the government is accepted by Iraqi society it will be very easy to quickly finalize the resolution. We shall consult the new leaders. We shall invite them here.''


Konuzin repeated Russia's call for a conference in New York that would include leaders of the interim government and representatives of neighboring countries such as Iran, Jordan, Syria and Turkey. He called acceptance of the interim government by Iraq's neighbors ``very important'' to the resolution's adoption.

The Gang of Four (China, France, Germany and Russia) are holding all the cards this time around at the UN. George W. Bush, for domestic political purposes, wants a light coat of sovereignty to be applied to the next Iraqi “government”, at least until after the November US elections. He needs the UN to sovereignty-wash Iraq in order to counter growing criticism that he a unilateralist.

The Gang of Fout want contracts, oil contracts. No vetoes will be necessary, the Gang control more than enough votes to prevent any resolution being passed. In fact there is no law against them presenting their own resolution that would go far further than the current Anglo-American resolution towards giving the new Iraqi government real powers. Then it would be the US that would be forced into a position of vetoing Iraqi sovereignty.

My guess is that the Gang of Four will win this round but that after the November elections, growing chaos will force the US to desolve the caretaker government and the occupation will resume.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

The Maximum-Security Iraqi Penitentiary for Traitors and Collaborators.

It was made perfectly clear in George Bush’s speech last night: that talk of Iraqi sovereignty is meaningless.

A new Iraq will also need a humane, well-supervised prison system. Under the dictator prisons like Abu Ghraib were symbols of death and torture. That same prison became a symbol of disgraceful conduct by a few American troops who dishonored our country and disregarded our values.

America will fund the construction of a modern maximum security prison. When that prison is completed detainees at Abu Ghraib will be relocated. Then with the approval of the Iraqi government we will demolish the Abu Ghraib prison as a fitting symbol of Iraq's new beginning.

First of all has anyone polled the citizens of Iraq as to whether they want a new maximum-security prison? And if they do want a prison, does anyone really think that the people of Iraq want the United States of America to finance (and surely build) this new prison?

Saddam Hussein’s brutal police state surely excelled at one thing; building prisons. I find it surprising that there is such a shortage that Bechtel needs to start building a new prison right away.

My guess is that if the Iraqi people decided they needed a new prison, they would prefer to design and build it themselves or get help from any other country except the US. It is not really going to be a vote winning idea for an Iraqi politician to be saying the words US and prisons in the same sentence. The signal it sends is a strong one, the US will still be in charge of Iraq after June 30th.

Dachau and Auschwitz were preserved after the Second World War as a reminder of Hitler’s genocidal policies, it is possible that Iraqis would want to preserve Abu Ghraib as a monument against torture, perhaps with help from Amnesty International It would be a huge tourist attraction if and when things finally settle down in Iraq.

Decisions like these should be left to the “sovereign” government of Iraq. Perhaps an idea competition for Iraqi architects and designers could be held, after elections, to settle Abu Ghraib’s future. The sovereign government of Iraq, and not George WTF Bush, could then make the announcement concerning the fate of Abu Ghraib.

Bush’s statement also shows that the US has no plans to leave Iraq any time soon. Designing and building a modern high-security prison is a complicated project, in the best of situations it would take three years from conception to completion. In a war zone, with an American designed building being built in a desert by workers unfamiliar with American building techniques, it will take much longer. Just getting the Iraqi workers up to speed with feet and inches is going to take some time, since surely the incompetent Young Republican project manager, that will be running his first project ever, would never let a system of measurement created by the French to be used in Iraq.

So we are looking at five to six years minimum before Abu Ghraib is torn down and there is no chance that the US will still be in Iraq at that time. If a new prison is ever built it will be by the new Iranian backed Islamist government of Iraq, led by Ayatollah Sadr, and the prison will most likely be built to house all of the Iraqis who collaborated with the US during the occupation. Ahmed Chalabi may even get his own suite.

Operation Iranian Lebensraum

America’s Newspaper of Record is, as usual, performing its job in an exemplary manner.

From today’s Guardian:

US intelligence fears Iran duped hawks into Iraq war

An urgent investigation has been launched in Washington into whether Iran played a role in manipulating the US into the Iraq war by passing on bogus intelligence through Ahmad Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress, it emerged yesterday.

Some intelligence officials now believe that Iran used the hawks in the Pentagon and the White House to get rid of a hostile neighbour, and pave the way for a Shia-ruled Iraq.
According to a US intelligence official, the CIA has hard evidence that Mr Chalabi and his intelligence chief, Aras Karim Habib, passed US secrets to Tehran, and that Mr Habib has been a paid Iranian agent for several years, involved in passing intelligence in both directions.

The CIA has asked the FBI to investigate Mr Chalabi's contacts in the Pentagon to discover how the INC acquired sensitive information that ended up in Iranian hands.
The implications are far-reaching. Mr Chalabi and Mr Habib were the channels for much of the intelligence on Iraqi weapons on which Washington built its case for war.
"It's pretty clear that Iranians had us for breakfast, lunch and dinner," said an intelligence source in Washington yesterday. "Iranian intelligence has been manipulating the US for several years through Chalabi."

Larry Johnson, a former senior counter-terrorist official at the state department, said: "When the story ultimately comes out we'll see that Iran has run one of the most masterful intelligence operations in history. They persuaded the US and Britain to dispose of its greatest enemy."

This is the kind of story that can “LBJ-ify” the Presidency of Bush II. This strikes right into the heart of his base, lays bare for all to see the utter ineptness of the current administration’s foreign policy, and makes laughable any claims that the invasion of Iraq has anything to do with “fighting” terrorism. A far better argument is that this military adventure is actually nurturing and promoting terrorism.

Elements within the intelligence community are obviously pushing this story, just as they have been feeding Seymour Hersh at the New Yorker on Abu Ghraib , and adding fuel to the fire on the Plame Affair, where an active CIA agent was outed by the Bush White House.

I find it highly unlikely the George W. Bush will remain the Republican Party’s candidate for the presidency of the United States in 2004.

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