Saturday, September 22, 2007

Al-Qaeda's War of Villages

Apparently this is the latest chapter in al-Qaeda's war manual in their war against the Iraqi people and the coalition; raiding remote peaceful villages, burning down homes and slaughtering both man and beast.

This campaign I will call a campaign of self-destruction. For probably a year al-Qaeda was trying to build their so called Islamic State in Iraq and several times they declared parts of Baghdad or other provinces as the capital of that state.
But now that they have been losing one base after another their objective changed from adding more towns and villages to the "state" to destroying the very same towns and villages! Obviously it's all about making headlines regardless of the means to do that!

This change in plans began to take face with the battle between al-Qaeda and the joint forces on September 6-7 in Hor Rijab and then the massacre that followed in the same spot a week later and finally the attacks on other villages north, south and east of Baghdad in the last week or so.

Actually first I'd like to recommend reading a good post by Jules Crittenden about the flawed timing of this Little Tet.
Anyway, our interest today is more about the field situation and strategy than about timing since the latter seems to be not so friendly to al-Qaeda. Well, actually timing is very important here too but at a rather different level.

In my opinion al-Qaeda found itself forced to start this villages war. It wasn’t a choice as much as a last resort because villages are among the few fighting spaces that al-Qaeda can still utilize as large cities become increasingly difficult for them to operate in.
They know that without engaging the enemy-that's us by the way-their existence and influence would end and I'm almost positive that they feel bitter about having to fight this way.

In order to fight a "good" guerilla war one has to stay in fluid state, have no permanent bases or barracks, no distinguishable uniform and above all one should be able to always have civilians around so as to deter the enemy-that's again us-from attacking out of concern about collateral damages and casualties among innocent civilians.
No one questions the fact that no army in the middle east, and I doubt there are any elsewhere, that can engage and defeat the US military power in open terrain, in other words in a case of two traditional armies fighting on traditional battlefield.

The last factor is exactly what al-Qaeda is sacrificing by waging this war on villages;

But how can we make advantage of this situation? The greatest challenge I guess would be to have an alarm and information system through which the nearest available troops could be notified when an attack begins so they could interfere and repel the attack. This might be logistically difficult to establish in a short time since villages are usually far from the cities. In fact I worked in some such villages and I know that most of them are outside the administrative divisions or "civil planning" of provinces therefore they lack their own government offices and departments which means the nearest hospital, fire department, even phone and above all police station could be many miles away.

But even then if the troops fail to arrive in time to intercept the attack, which would be truly sad, the long distance that al-Qaeda fighters would have to travel to go back to their base would require them to lose precious time since they have to rely only on ground transport on mostly exposed terrain while the troops very often have the advantage of the much faster air transport.

In the worst case scenario what's left of a village if the attack is not intercepted would be only al-Qaeda fighters and the remains of what used to be a village. Now isn't that the perfect target for the countless aggressive fire units of the US military?
Now please let's put emotions aside for a while because this is war we're talking about and if sacrifices cannot be avoided we should make sure the enemy pays the heaviest price possible.

If reaction is quick enough-and timing here is of crucial importance-the hunt would be great and the results would be spectacular.
Again, of course it would be much more pleasant if the attacks can be prevented or repelled but since I doubt there's such an alarm system we could at least make benefit of the gap in time that immediately follows the action of the attackers taking advantage of faster transportation means and the old principle in combat that says the enemy can be best attacked immediately after he makes his move.

For the duration of the war on al-Qaeda in Iraq so far, the most frustrating fact for soldiers and military commanders has been that they were asked to identify terrorists who move like ghosts, separate them from civilians and kill or capture them and that's a truly difficult mission. That's partly because a soldier would have to be careful when and where each bullet he fires would hit. But when the ghosts are identified, isolated and far from any friendly objects/personnel a pilot could drop even as gruesome a weapon as a napalm bomb and rest assured that even if it misses the enemy which is quite unlikely, it couldn't hurt a friend.

That's why I think the troops should seize each and every such opportunity (which are technically moments during which the crippling rule of engagement become much more flexible) and strike as hard as they can once they are sure the battlefield falls in the category we just described.

Monday, September 17, 2007

An Iraqi Alliance Breaks Apart

On Saturday, exactly six months after the Fadheela Party announced its defection from the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA), the Sadr bloc made a similar decision and withdrew from the alliance as well.

Abdul Kareem Inizi, the chief of Dawa Party-The Iraqi Organization (this is the other half of the Dawa, has 10 seats in the parliament) was the first to comment on the news:

“The first spark that marked the beginning of the UIA collapse was the announcement of the coalition of four, which is considered a bad move because [it implies that] the SIIC and the supporters of Prime Minister Maliki within the Dawa Party consider themselves to be the main powers [in the UIA] and this is arrogant and despotic thinking….after the withdrawal of the Sadrists nothing that counts remains in the UIA.”

Inizi said that his party too is thinking about following the steps of the Sadrists:

“The Dawa Party-The Iraq Organization is currently engaged in negotiations with the Sadr movement and Fadheela Party over the formation of a new bloc and in light of these negotiations we will announce our withdrawal from the UIA.”

Developments are moving so fast that the Sadrists and Fadheela have already announced that they have joined forces in a new political alliance, according to MP Hassan Shemmari from the Fadheela who made the announcement at a joint press conference with the Sadrists in Najaf yesterday. [Arabic Link]

The other opposition groups were also quick to seize the opportunity and flirt with the Sadr bloc, though a day later than Fadheela did:

“The Accord Front and Iraqi List welcomed the decision by the Sadr bloc to withdraw from the UIA, and pointed out that they will soon negotiate the formation of a new parliamentary front with the Sadr movement.”

This feverish movement to attract the Sadr bloc seems strange given the long history of rivalries between the Sadrists on one hand and the Iraqi list and Accord Front on the other - and it looks even stranger in the case of Fadheela with whom the Sadrists have been technically at a state of war in Basrah for a long time now.
But then it’s not strange at all since they all share the common goal of weakening Maliki’s ruling coalition and ultimately succeeding it.
So as expected, announcing the coalition of four is doing more harm than good to its members, especially Maliki so far.

Just before the two Kurdish and two Shia parties announced their coalition, the ruling coalition held a total of about 170 seats in the parliament; only a dozen votes short of the majority enough to pass legislation.
Now that the Sadrists have left it has been reduced to only 140 with a high possibility to go further down to 127 if the group of Inizi decides to go forward with their threat to leave the UIA.

Until now our math has been based on the assumption that the independent MP’s in the UIA (20 plus seats) preserve the status quo, but those too had flirted with the idea of abandoning the UIA and were just shy of declaring the step: now if the defection of the Sadrists encourages them to do so, the loss would go up to about 55 seats, leaving Maliki with little more than a 100 votes to work with on his side.
On the other hand, the Sadrists are unlikely to be successful in future political adventures in other coalitions be it with the Fadheela, Iraqi list or the Accord Front.

Largely because all four more or less believe their visions are representative of those of the Iraqi people. And so to them, entering any alliance won’t be about promoting the mutual interests of the members of an alliance but about using other members’ votes to impose the vision of their party - not exactly a recipe for a cohesive coalition.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Iraq Invades Washington

The American capital is going to witness intensified Iraqi presence and political activity in the coming few weeks.
First there are Sunni leaders who have been invited by members of Congress. The Sunni leaders are likely to make this visit coincide with former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi expected visit to Washington since the Sunni alliance with the Shia Allawi became more evident recently, especially after the latter confirmed that he had meetings with former leaders in the Baath Party to persuade them to join the political process.

A Sunni delegation at the level being reported wouldn’t go without a countermeasure from the current Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who represents the Shia-Kurdish coalition of four. In order to avoid any threat for this ruling coalition, the government announced that Maliki is going to head a big delegation to Washington later this month as well. I am certain that it will include important leaders that have good relations and contacts in Washington, such as Mowafak Rubaie and Hoshyar Zebari.

The Sunni-Allawi visit seems to be an effort to give more momentum to the emerging Sunni-American friendliness following the progress that has been made on the ground in several Sunni-dominated regions, and the dramatic change in attitude among the Sunni who turned from fighting the American presence to fighting al-Qaeda.
Add to this mix the dialogue between Allawi and former Baathist leaders, which actually diluted the enmity that some Sunni groups had towards America and made them think deeply about the end result should they keep up the fight against America and the Iraqi government. This proximity was crowned by Bush’s visit to Anbar and the praise he gave to its people.

Returning the visit aims to take advantage of what we just mentioned: it would serve the case of the opposition represented by the Sunni and Allawi, and to convince the American administration that it should cut the support for Maliki whom they’re going to undermine by describing him as a sectarian leader who puts Iran’s interests above anything else.

Tracking the statements coming from Sunni leaders we find a huge difference in the tone between the past and nowadays.

Until recently, most of the Sunni leaders used to say that the only solution for the situation in Iraq lied in the immediate —whether complete or gradual— withdrawal of “occupying” forces. Today, we see a firebrand leader like Salih Mutlaq say that he returned to the parliament because “we’re getting hints from America about an imminent change in the government.”
Yes, that Mutlaq: the politician famous for his firebrand statements is now ending his bloc’s boycott of the parliament because of “hints” from America!

On the other hand, the coalition of four realizes the threat posed by the initiatives of the opposition and so it will try hard to remind Washington of the old Shia-Kurdish-American alliance. Yet this attempt will probably have limited chances for success given the failure to bring about national reconciliation among rival parties, the disappointing performance of the government and the obvious tendency to side with Iran.

The last factor is very clear — not a single time al-Maliki did find the courage to criticize Iran; not even when Ahmedinejad made his extremely dangerous statement and offered to “fill the vacuum in Iraq”.
A few days ago one of the members of parliament asked al-Maliki what he thought about Ahmedinajad’s description of the opposition to the coalition of four in Iraq as “corruptors”. Maliki’s response was “and are they all good people?”
This kind of answers reflects the deeply rooted fear inside al-Maliki and his awareness about Iran’s reach. It obviously makes him afraid of responding to what the leaders in Iran say; even when he knows he’d be right in what he’s say.

Al-Maliki’s job will be very difficult this time, and it won’t be easy for him to convince his hosts. That’s why I think he will rely on his two right hand men, Rubaie and Zebari, who are still well-received in the American administration, to plead for more support and a second chance for his limping cabinet.
In my opinion the most exciting part of this is that the Sunni, Shia and Kurds all have come to realize and accept that America is the main player in Iraq.

On the one hand the Sunnis now understand that listening to those who pushed them to resist the political process made them lose so much. On the other hand al-Maliki, who just a few weeks ago responded to criticism from President Bush by saying that “Iraq could find friends elsewhere,” now clearly sees that those friends are not serious enough about their support when he is in the crosshairs. So now al-Maliki thinks, with advice from the Kurds, that the visit of the opposition poses serious threats to his position and that seeking help from Syria and/or Iran one more time wouldn’t be the right countermeasure.

I believe this will be a good opportunity for Washington as well. As long as everyone in Baghdad fears that the US would support one party and not the other, and as long as they know the consequences of this and that the solution is in rushing to Washington before the others, then Washington can apply more pressure on all three parties to put some serious effort into building true political reconciliation and rise above sectarian and ethnic considerations.
Washington can also say “Hey! We’re not here just to listen to you whining and complaining from each other. It’s time you listen to us and act as serious partners.”
So I believe this would be a good opportunity for the administration to convince the Sunni, Shia and Kurds that it’s time to accept one another and that there’s no other choice but to learn to coexist and work together. And, most importantly, to tell them that America doesn’t want to meet Sunni, Shia or Kurdish leaders defined as such; that it’s more interested in speaking to leaders who identify themselves as Iraqis first and foremost.

If those leaders continue to put their sectarian and nationalistic feelings first then they are bound to failure sooner or later: they will be rejected not only by Washington but most importantly by Iraqis themselves.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Abu Dsheer, a massacre and a moment of unity

A story of the savagery of al-Qaeda and the compassion of Iraqis took place two days ago in one of the southern suburbs of Baghdad.
The story began when the people of Hor Rijab, a village inhabited by mostly Sunni farmers, made up their mind that enough is enough and formed a "battalion" of local fighters to confront al-Qaeda hardly two weeks ago.
Al-Qaeda was definitely not happy with this rebellion and on Tuesday morning attacked the village, Radio Sawa has the details: [Arabic]

Locals fleeing the area said the attack started at 10 in the morning and the shooting didn't stop until after 5 in the evening. Al-Qaeda militants who are mostly Afghans and non-Iraqi Arabs killed dozens of the locals; some were beheaded and their heads were put on top of their chests; among them were women and children.

One woman who was fleeing the fighting added:

The people of Hor Rijab turned against al-Qaeda but since there was no support for them al-Qaeda returned back, broke into the homes and slaughtered men, women and children. And the Americans did nothing…

So, the terrorists of al-Qaeda attacked the Sunni families in this poor village and no one was there for the rescue; not the government and not the MNF. The rescue came from was thought to be a very unlikely source; the Shia families in the neighboring district of Abu Dsheer:

Al-Qaeda started to kill people and burn down homes. They killed women and children. The people of Abu Dsheer received us they way noble people do, and they started to offer us water and food…they told us we are family…

The tragedy of this village offers us a lesson that we must learn. First, al-Qaeda wanted through this barbaric massacre that belongs to the dark ages of history to prove that anyone regardless of sect who dares turn against them would become the target of the most horrific ways of revenge. Second, the noble behavior of the neighboring Shia town proves once again that violence in Iraq isn't civil war and that the reconciliation we should be looking for is one among politicians, not among ordinary Iraqis.

Third, it is really disappointing that neither the government nor the MNF was quick enough to intervene and stop the massacre. This means the government and MNF are likely to lose the trust of those families and this is a precious asset that we can't afford to lose at this critical stage of the war.

The government and MNF must pay the utmost attention to such movements of awakening in Baghdad and elsewhere and make sure that they get all the support they need.

Today al-Qaeda also assassinated the leader of the Anbar Awakening; a hero who will not be easily forgotten. This crime will not pass without punishment and I believe this will even strengthen the resolve and morale of the tribes of Anbar. Al-Qaeda have always miscalculated its role and chances in this province and I think killing Abu Risha is going to cost them a lot.

But as we lose Abu Risha, more patriots arise to stand up to al-Qaeda; this time in Mosul and the movement is lead by another tribal leader; sheik Fawaz al-Jarbah of the giant Shemmar tribe: [Arabic]
When terrorism became a serious threat we all felt that we had a duty to stand up to this threat, and so was the agreement with our brothers in the tribes of Mosul. There was a meeting that hasn't been made public yet and there we decided to create the awakening and salvation council of Mosul to confront terrorism in cooperation with the government forces and MNF.

The active forces of this movement will consist of 3,000 volunteers and with the size of Mosul and its suburbs we can expect those men to be distributed in a large number of small units. So I hope the government and MNF be serious this time about the support they pledge. Otherwise those men would be facing the risk of being outnumbered and overridden by the focused terrorists of al-Qaeda and that could mean more massacres of innocent people. We must not allow this to happen again.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Islam, The Solution..!? (Part II) The Bin Laden Video

It looks like Bin Laden didn't read my last post about Islam being the solution so I will repeat the question to him.
First of all what form of Islam are you inviting America to endorse? If it's Sunni Islam then do you reccomend the Hanafi, Shafi'i or Salafi doctrine? And if it's Shi Islam, which hierarchy would you recommend? The Iranianone of Khamenai, the Iraqi with its four great Ayatollahs, or the Lebanese represented by Hussein Fadhlallah? Or maybe sheik Bin Laden is going to graciously leave America to choose its new faith freely!?

Second, Bin Laden didn't specify how this endorsement of Islam would be enforced; should it be by an executive order from the Bush administration, a legislation from the Democratic Congress, or would it be up to the American people to answer Bin Laden's call, voluntarily?

The sheik had better leave people to choose their faith as they please but of course this isn't part of the ideology of dark intolerance that sees an enemy in anyone who doesn't endorse his exact same path.

This extremist path declared democracy an enemy and here although Bin Laden was referring to the Iraqi experiment he certainly doesn't limit this animosity to this case alone. I don't think he likes other democracies and that's why arguing that it was America that provoked al-Qaeda to interfere in Iraq, or that al-Qaeda didn't exist in Iraq under Saddam, is a stupid thing to say.
The man clearly says that he despices democracy as well as those who believe in it whether in Iraq or elsewhere. Now if he has the right to invite others to Islam then it should be equally our right to invite others to democracy. Except only if we admit that democracy is a sinful path and that Bin Laden is right, then America and the world should retreat from Iraq, abandon the mission to support the fledgling democracy over there and sit back and wait for other democracies to have their turn on Bin Laden's death menu.

America didn't bring al-Qaeda to Iraq, it's democracy in Iraq that made the extremists panic—their greatest fear is that if the once capital of the Islamic empire fell in the lap of democracy, what would "protect" other parts of the "land of Islam" from "falling" too!?

The conflict is not about Bin Laden and America; it's an ideological conflict in which there are people and regimes across the world that support one side or another, meaning that the conflict was inevitable even if America hadn't taken part. Otherwise the region would have been living in peace and prosperity now!

In fact, and I think many people agree with me, the American-led intervention was defensive rather than offensive when Bin Laden's ideology jumped to strike the towers in New York. At that point it became evident that such an ideology, in the presence of regimes that support it, could threaten any spot on the map with no exception from Bali to Madrid—and although the victims of this ideology have been mostly from the middle east, this could well change in the future if the extremist manage to take over the region.

We shouldn’t think that such crazy messages could come only from a Salafi extremist like Bin Laden; because it actually reminds me of a similar call from Khomeini to the leaders in Moscow to convert to Islam shortly before the collapse of the Soviet Union. The late Ayatollah also said that Islam was the solution, so the point we should realize here is that this way of thinking is not an aspect of one particular sect as much as its part of the totalitarian ideology of Islamists that is deeply rooted in the minds of those, from one sect or another, who want to revive the Caliph rule.

Like we said in the previous post, regimes that follow this ideology, be it the Sunni Taliban or the Shia Mullahs, have failed to offer a civilized model of life so they chose instead to beautify and sell the idea of death under the old slogan of "Our dead are in heaven and your dead are in hell".

It's even more interesting in a way that this call for converting to Islam is a big fantasy since Bin Laden and the like know very well than America or other countries in the west would never impose a certain faith on their people. This message marks a deep trouble in the way extremists think; they live in illusions with complete disregard for facts, which is a very dangerous phenomenon when it's at this magnitude. And it leaves no room to doubt that they would do anything to drag the region, and the world, to an uncalculated confrontation.

It is evident from the naivety of the message that logic is completely missing in their ideology which means that dialogue with those people would be equally nonsense.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Islam, The Solution...!?

Yesterday Maliki went to visit Sistani to discuss the latest security and political developments with him.
It's the kind of a move that reflects the government's persistence to let clerics make the political decisions for the country. As if they haven't done enough harm so far!

Instead of reaching out to his partners in the political process from other groups he goes in the exact opposite direction and I really don't know what he thought such visit could do to improve his position, especially at a time when he's in desperate need to mend the rift in his cabinet.

When I think of this meeting I see that it can't do anything good for Iraq. It probably can serve one particular segment of the people but most likely it's an attempt to fix the damage caused by the Shia-Shia conflict following the recent incidents in Karbala which further isolated the "coalition of four" from the rest of Shia parties.

It remains difficult for Sistani to deal with that too because he doesn't only not represent all Iraqis; he doesn't represent all the Shia either. This man had isolated himself in a small room in the back alleys of Najaf and he communicates with the world only through his agents and representatives so he can't be expected to offer much help to anyone. And it's wrong to think that the man can solve any problem with a single fatwa—we had seen many examples where fatwas and statements by dozens of clerics of both sects that called for calm and rejecting violence got ignored and couldn't change a thing in the situation on the ground.

The problem with Maliki who's the leader of the Islamic Dawa Party is that he's just like all other Islamists who insist that Islam is the solution and that clerics are the ones who can deliver that solution.

But reality proved that political Islam is in fact the problem, not the solution. And this is true not only in Iraq but in many other countries in the region that are full of political Islamist movements. They build their rhetoric on what they like to call the golden age of Islam and promise that a new golden age could come if people returned to the roots of Islam…but what happened when Islamists ruled? Definitely not a golden age of any sort.

The first problem with their theory is that they can't say which version of Islam represents the solution. With all the sectarian differences we can see, saying that Islam is the solution is an empty slogan that requires a lot of clarification.
But the truth is, every rival party believes that their faith is the only true faith and when this dispute infected the political scene in the most violent way Islam became the most prominent problem. And that's how we ended up in the middle of a Sunni-Shia conflict as well as Sunni-Sunni and Shia-Shia conflicts.

The recent incidents in Karbala are striking evidence on how mixing politics with religion made brothers slaughter one another in a bloody war for power. Even the holy shrines were not spared in the fighting.
It's ironic that when a Muslim kills another Muslim or destroys the sites revered by his own people no one speaks of it here as a major problem but if a non-Muslim does that the uproar would be legendary!

In spite of all that Islamists still insist on their slogan and after all what happened Ahmedinejad wants Shia Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia to "fill the vacuum" when America leaves Iraq…I can only imagine the way in which the vacuum would be filled and levels of violence that would accompany that!

The people remain the most important item in the equation as they are the ones who have the actual power to decide the long-term strategic choices with their votes.
In Iraq the experience with the rule of Islamists has certainly reduced the numbers of people who support the idea of Islamic rule and a there's a growing number of people who now began to question the idea about Islam being the solution.

So, there will be a great long battle between the two ideas; between Islamic rule and the separation between religion and the state--the current problem is that the people are divided into two, almost equal, groups in this respect. This means none of the two can prevail at this stage but at the same time the performance of the government made mostly of Islamists will no doubt lead to a steady decrease in its popularity.

Islamists have failed to offer a chance for a better life whether when they were in the opposition or when they got to rule the country. I think that's why they try to sell the idea of death instead of life; they failed to offer a better life so they picked up the slogan of death and "martyrdom" to promise a better life, but in an imaginary heaven; not in real life.

This strategy, in some time that cannot be specified right now, will mark the beginning of actual death but it will the death of political Islamist movements and maybe Iraq, the country where people have the right to make a choice, will become a grave for political Islam.
It will take more than one round of elections to declare them dead but I see that time is not on the Islamists' side.

The war is going to be long because it's a war of ideas—the conflict is not going to be a localized one and will have different forms because I believe the whole world is concerned and will take part in one way or another.

Identifying and supporting the true moderates would be a fair weapon to use in this war and I think American and the rest of the free world will keep trying to support positive reforms towards a better life to defeat the ideology of death.


Today I have an announcement to make...

Just two days ago I arrived in New York City and for the coming two years I will be studying international affairs at Columbia University, hopefully by the end of that I will get the master's degree I want!

So far I'm still in the process of settling in and figuring out what I need to do in order to actually start my studies.
However posting on this blog will continue and a new post will be coming tomorrow if not tonight.

And by the way, in case some of Ali's old readers are wondering where he is and like to contact him, he's going to college at Stony Brooks in Long Island.