Monday, December 08, 2008

Debating Iran's Nuclear Program

The editors of my school’s biweekly Communiqué asked me and one of my colleagues to write two Op-Eds on the issue of Iran’s nuclear program.
Below is my contribution and you can also find it, along with that of my colleague’s on pages 2 and 3 of the pdf version of Communiqué here.

Nuclear proliferation in the Middle East is not a new source for concern. Dating as far back as the 1950s, several countries in the region have sought to build nuclear programs and ultimately, to acquire nuclear weapons.

As is the tradition in the Middle East, countries are suspicious about their neighbors’ power potential, particularly when it comes to achieving a nuclear breakthrough, even if that means just a few weapons could be produced. This suspicion is logical. Nations in the region are relatively small and only have a limited number of urban centers and no vast or redundant industrial infrastructure. In my country for instance, an attack on Baghdad and Basra with one nuclear warhead each would incinerate or irradiate a third of the population and simultaneously strip Iraq of 90% of its national income. This is one reason why we tend to be wary of nuclear weapons in the hands of neighbors, perhaps more so than people elsewhere.

Iraq and Iran fought a long war during which both countries worked furiously to build nuclear weapons. During the fighting, both countries attacked each other’s nuclear facilities. It took Iraq several air strikes over a span of five years to cripple Iran’s program. Iraq’s reactor was only slightly damaged in an Iranian raid in 1980, but was dealt a grave blow in the Israeli Operation Opera of 1981. Looking back at all the havoc Saddam Hussein wrought, many in Iraq were not unhappy with that attack—nuclear weapons in the hands of impulsive militarist dictators are more likely to undermine national security than reinforce it.

Tensions between Iraq and Iran may have eased now as a result of Operation Iraqi Freedom, but not as much as you’d think. Iraq and Iran are officially not hostile to each other and they maintain formal diplomatic relations. Moreover, the current government in Baghdad is friendly towards Tehran, largely due to the fact that both are Shiite Islamists. However, this does not mean that things are rosy between the two neighbors.

Interests conflict quite often and when that happens, tensions and the possibility of conflict lurk in the background. Iran needs to understand that its pursuit of total security brings with it a sense of total insecurity among its neighbors. In other words, in the Middle East as in other places, states have neither perpetual friends nor eternal enemies. Iraqis are no exception to this rule. Despite their limited experience, Iraqi leaders understand this intuitive balance of power and do not put full trust in anyone. This is exacerbated by the fact that Iranians have played the factions of the Iraqi Shiite majority bloc against one another at different times. As for other Iraqi groups, Kurds don’t really trust Tehran either and consider Washington their main ally. On the other hand, many Sunni Arabs, whether pan-Arab nationalists or Islamists, consider Iran their number-one enemy – even ahead of Israel and the U.S.

To put it bluntly, Iran’s nuclear program is a threat to Iraq and the rest of the Middle East and it will continue to be perceived as such until proven otherwise.
Iran’s nuclear ambitions are not the challenge, per se. Nuclear power doesn’t threaten people—people threaten people. In fact, I would not have any objection to a guaranteed peaceful nuclear program that can be subject to unconditional inspection.
The problem is that with the current system in Iran, that guarantee is all but impossible. For those Iranians who aspire to the pride and benefits of technological advances in nuclear energy, a clear choice must be made: the regime or the nuclear program, but not both.

Iraqis simply don’t trust Iran and we don’t have a reason to do so. Even if our current leaders in Baghdad seem to befriend Iran, the state and the people are not willing to be hostage to Iranian preponderance. If the goal is nuclear weapons, which I believe to be the case, then we in Iraq and others in the region have justified concerns.

As a student of international security policy, I was taught that threat is a function of the potential adversary’s capability multiplied by his hostile intentions. I’m a realist—that is I believe relations among states are governed by power and interests—and therefore believe that intentions are neither measurable nor do they matter: what matters is capability.

Complaints about “double standards” that tolerate Israel’s nuclear capability, but not those of Iran, do little to convince. Conflict of interests and the potential for hostilities between Iraq and Iran exist, whereas those between Iraq and Israel don’t. Additionally, nuclear weapons in the hands of Israelis have always been for deterrence on the regional level whereas in Iranian hands, they will be used as to coerce others. In any case, Iraq doesn’t want to be in the crossfire between a crazy regime in Tehran and a wary Washington or Tel Aviv. We have had enough.

The solution to this crisis is in Tehran’s hands. If the Iranians decide to avert catastrophe, then they must come clean and let the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors do their job. By obstructing inspections, Iran appears to be hiding something fishy. Tehran needs to reverse course and honor the Non- Proliferation Treaty it signed and begin implementing the obligations the document entails.

Unfortunately, I don’t think Iran will wise up and spare us yet another war in the Gulf. The signs are ominous and there is a striking resemblance between the way Tehran acts today and the way Baghdad did under Saddam. The missile tests, the gloating about military industrial breakthroughs, the work of Quds Forces and yes, talk of annihilating Israel sound all too familiar to me. As we say in Iraq, “I’ve seen this movie before.”

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Sadr Takes Aim at New U.S.-Iraq Agreement

After the Iraqi cabinet voted in approval, Iraq’s Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker met in Baghdad to sign the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA).

Both diplomats hailed the event as a “historic” one — not an overstatement as their meeting was the fruit of many months of deliberations and negotiations.
Reportedly, SOFA has a sister document whose details are yet to be made public. Radio Sawa reported that Zebari and Crocker signed “another long-term strategic agreement, which the U.S. ambassador said would shape relations between the two countries in all areas for years to come.” It’s actually surprising that there’s no mention of this second document anywhere in the media.

After the cabinet approved the agreement, movement began immediately in the parliament to found coalitions among parliamentary groups that are in favor of the agreement and among those opposed to it as well.
A parliamentary source told al-Sabah that a number of parliamentary leaders started working yesterday to build consensus over the agreement. The source said the positions of parliamentary powers are not clear yet but also added that “there is inclination toward approval, especially that cabinet members from the major groups approved the agreement yesterday. Ratifying the agreement in the parliament will not be impossible but also might face great obstacles.”

Once the news broke, Moqtada Sadr responded in his usual way. He called the agreement “a disgrace” and called on the Iraqi parliament to reject it.

Sadr said in a statement that “here is disgrace and humiliation brought by the United Iraqi Alliance and some Iraqi parties.” He added, “the government signed the agreement with the occupier with the help of the [Shiite] Alliance and some Kurdish parties under the pretext of ending the occupation. Overthrowing occupation is a religious and patriotic duty supported by logic and [religious] texts. Therefore it requires no agreement with those who respect neither faith nor promises.”
In his message, Sadr stressed that he considers the agreement void even if ratified and asserted that the “faithful will not be bound by it.” He called on the parliament to reject it without the least hesitation so that “Iraq and its people do not get sold out the way other Muslim countries were.”
Sadr also announced the formation of the Promised Day Brigade from Sadr movement elements and other sympathetic armed groups in order to fight American forces.

Previously Sadr communicated through his spokesmen that there shall be no negotiations with the United States without a timetable for withdrawal on the table. This expected insistence on “resistance” exposes the way Sadr and other Arab “resisters” think and operate. They try to obstruct solutions and agreements even if they include what they have been demanding. This should be something to keep in mind for Western leaders who advocate unconditional talks with people like Sadr. There must be a clear distinction between parties one can negotiate with and parties with which negotiations are all but impossible.

There was one interesting part in Sadr’s message. He said he “extends his hand to the mujahideen in the so-called Assa’ib [عصائب أهل الحق] but not their leaderships who have been distracted by politics and mortal life from the [two late] Sadrs and the interests of Iraq and Iraqis.” The group Moqtada mentions is one that used to operate under the umbrella of his Mahdi Army. Video clips of their operations posted on the web often came as part of compilations of footage of operations by other Sadr-linked groups, namely the Imam Hussein Brigades and Hezbollah Brigades in Iraq.
This sentence shows beyond doubt that there’s actually a huge rift between Sadr and his lieutenants and that he made the decision to go public about it.
Sadr’s loyalists in the parliament pledged to obstruct the ratifying of the agreement. In fact they already tried yesterday to obstruct the first reading of the document but were stopped by speaker Mahmoud Mashhadani.

The parliament is on alert now to discuss and vote on the agreement. All leaves and out-of-town tours have been canceled to secure quorum for the sessions that will last through November 24, one day before the parliament goes on recess.
Meanwhile the presidential council ruled that the agreement should be approved by a “clear and comfortable majority” of the representatives of Iraqi constituencies — previous agreements were passed by simple majority vote.
Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, always the optimist when it comes to SOFA, expected the parliament to finish discussing the agreement and ratify it before the end of the month. That will be followed by a step of diplomatic formality where Prime Minister Maliki and President Bush will sign the document.

Of course our lovely neighbors in Syria and Iran were the first in the region to offer their own two cents. Syria did no more than reiterate worn-out slogans, as expected. The Syrian information minister said the agreement “rewards the American occupation” and added that “Iraqis should have demanded an apology from Washington for the destruction it caused in Iraq instead of passing this agreement!”
This suggests that Syrians are unaware of what their Iranian allies have been doing. The surprising Iranian position was announced by Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi. Shahroudi, who is close to Supreme Leader Khamenei, lauded the agreement and said the Iraqi government “did very well” by approving it.
It seems that this is a message to the next American administration: that Tehran is capable of steering some influential politicians in Iraq and that it has something to offer in exchange for American concession regarding — my guess — the nuclear program.

I think the fact that prominent Sadrist leader Hazim Aaraji said they were shocked by the developments reflects the complexity of Iran’s manipulation of Sadr and the SIIC by letting the latter agree on the deal while encouraging the former to oppose it — a miniature carrot-and-stick game. I doubt the Iranians are happy with the agreement per se; they are only happy with their self-proclaimed ability to play Iraqi Shiite parties against one another. I would even say that Iranians are doing exactly what diplomacy textbooks would instruct regarding presenting one’s own chips. What they didn’t understand of the textbooks, though, is that they also need to know how much the person across the table is interested in those chips. In fact, Iran is overlooking the fact that across the table sit more than America alone, when it comes to the nuclear question.

What the Iranians don’t understand is that their carrots and sticks are not big enough to change world opinion on their nuclear ambitions. There is a multitude of states that couldn’t care less about American success in Iraq but to whom Iran’s going nuclear is a red line — the nuclear issue is not a U.S.-Iran duel on Iraqi soil.

Anyway, I think the Iraqi decision to accept the deal was a result of the tough stance of the American administration. This actually surprised Iraqis who were used to a softer American tone. Moreover, many parties in Baghdad have matured to deal pragmatically and realistically with the issue of a strategic partnership with America — America is the best ally we could possibly have. Even though Iran holds a few strings, most of the strings now are in more capable Iraqi hands backed by the mighty United States of America.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

U.S. Elections in Iraqis' Eyes

As an Iraqi I worry about the future of Iraq’s security and democracy. This simple fact has made me hope for an American leader who will perpetuate the strategy of supporting Iraq for the good of the two nations and for the world, in the war on terror.
In spite of my Republican leanings, I view the result of the presidential election as a victory for the values of the American nation.

I certainly have great trust in Republican leaders who liberated my people from tyranny. I trust the American nation as a whole even more. America has offered the world — through her pluralism and temporary divide — yet a new lesson in humanity.
From my perspective, the result of the election was not a defeat for America but a victory. Americans have demonstrated that country matters more than party.

Americans, especially those who are used to voting for Republicans, have demonstrated their patriotism and their adherence to what America stands for. People in the Middle East are amazed by the large number of white people and Republican voters who voted for the “other.” America — who is always accused of racism — has shown us that in fact our countries in the Middle East are where racism flourishes. We didn’t choose that, but it’s the rule of tyranny and repression that uses hatred and intolerance to further itself.
It is liberty and democracy that allowed America to become the great humane and mature nation that she is.

It’s days like November 4 that make people in the Middle East yearn for answers to questions like: When will we see a Copt become president in Egypt? When will we see a Kurd become president in Turkey? Will we ever see Iran led by someone who isn’t Shiite?
Throughout her relatively short history, America has always been the nation to spearhead progress. Indeed, America became the leader of human civilization, surpassing other nations whose histories stretch over millenia.

The victory is for whites and blacks and for Republicans and Democrats; it’s America’s victory. America presented a rare example that other nations aren’t familiar with — a magnificent case of bringing down the walls of partisanship and race for the sake of the country. In our part of the world, immigrants are refugees, and they and their offspring are destined to remain inferior and despised for as long as they live. Not so in America.
Even more amazing was the scene of losing leaders saluting the winner with utmost sincerity and graciousness. In my opinion, McCain’s speech was more powerful and moving than Obama’s. I wish our leaders in the Middle East enjoyed half the courage of America’s leaders to acknowledge loss when they experience it and respect the winners.

Finally, I would like to take off my hat for the man who’s leaving the White House: President George Bush, the liberator of Iraq. Invading Iraq was a sound decision in spite of the mistakes that were made. He and Senator McCain, whose surge strategy saved Iraq from slipping down the brink of civil war, will be remembered as heroes by millions of freedom-loving Iraqis.
I disagree with Mr. Obama on many issues, but I do trust America and I wish her people and my people all the best.
God bless Iraq and America.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

US-Iraq Negotiations Come Down to the Wire

Negotiations over the Status of Forces Agreement have reached a very difficult moment as time runs out quickly. Tension and an exchange of blunt statements and warnings have dominated the environment in the last few days. On the one hand, the Iraqi cabinet and many in the parliament rejected the final draft, demanding unspecified adjustments. On the other hand, the American administration largely rejected those demands and warned of the consequences of an Iraqi failure to ratify the agreement.

It appears that direct communications are not in their best shape, to the extent that the British commanders in Iraq are playing the moderator role between the Iraqi and American sides, according to state-owned Al-Sabah:
A parliamentary source said that Britain has become the moderator between Washington and the parliamentary powers. The source revealed that a meeting was held between Ali Adeeb of the UIA [United Iraqi Alliance] and the deputy commander of British forces, and lasted for an hour. This meeting was followed by another meeting [between the British commander] and members of the Accord Front and a third one with a number of other parliamentary powers.

Not all members of parliament share the cabinet’s rejection of the agreement. In fact some suggest that refusing to sign the agreement is tantamount to opening the door for coups. Al-Bayyna al-Jadida quoted three prominent Iraqi lawmakers speaking along these lines:
Chief of the Kurdistan Alliance Fouad Masoum said if the agreement is not signed by the end of the year, U.S. troops will be left without legal cover from the UN. This means they will not have to perform security-keeping operations. This justifies concerns about the possibility of a coup. … Chief of the Accord Front Adnan Duleimi also warned of a coup toppling the government. Meanwhile MP Iyad Jamal Ad-Din says that the departure of U.S. troops — or their presence with no operational significance if the agreement is not signed — exposes Iraq to security threats, top of which is a coup against the democratic system in the country.

In Tehran, Iran’s President Ahmadinejad again attacked the agreement and told the visiting president of Kurdistan Masoud Barazani that the agreement aims at keeping Iraq weak and helps the Americans steal Iraq’s riches. Barazani’s response didn’t come off as supportive of his host’s attack. He defended the agreement, saying it would make Iraq better off.

Meanwhile, a smoking gun was reportedly found regarding Iran’s alleged bribes to some Iraqi lawmakers. Mithal Aloosi, leader of the Iraqi Umma Party and whose immunity was removed over his recent visit to Israel, told Asharq al-Awsat that Iran’s ambassador Hassan Kadhimi Qomi offered him “millions of dollars and a top post in Iraq in exchange for cooperation.” Aloosi added that:
Qomi visited us at the party offices in Baghdad and said in front of everyone there that he wanted to support the party, then offered us an amount of money. The ambassador told us that “Iran supports a small organization like Shaheed al-Mihrab [belonging to Ammar Hakim, son of Abdul Aziz Hakim] with two million dollars a month. Imagine the support for a large party such as the Iraqi Umma,” implying they want to offer us more than two million.

Al-Sabah actually offers a clear and simple summary of the situation: “Whereas the UIA demanded revisions for a number of articles [of the draft agreement], the Accord Front called only for rewording the draft, and the Kurdistan Alliance gave approval for the draft.”

The paper also reports that Maliki and other political leaders will meet next week to identify the controversial articles and inform the American side of them in order to reach compromise on these issues.

There are reasons to keep expectations low about the outcome of such meetings. That’s particularly because the focus of rejection lies within the UIA, whose members are under severe pressure from the Shiite clergy. Until now, at least four prominent ayatollahs voiced fierce opposition to the agreement. Those are Ayatollahs Kadhum Ha’airi (in Iran, considered Sadr’s mentor), Mohammed Taqi Mudarrisi, al-Shirazi, and last but not least Mohammed Hussein Fadhlallah of Lebanon. The fatwa of the latter was indeed solicited by some Shiite lawmakers. He ruled that any agreement must include the immediate unconditional withdrawal of U.S. troops — further complicating and regionalizing the situation.

That the door isn’t completely closed yet is the message Washington sent to Baghdad. It’s up to the Iraqi leaders to decide really soon whether or not they want to come out of the door with something good for them and the country, before it’s too late.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Obama’s Meddling Undermines Future U.S.-Iraq Relationship

The status of forces agreement (SOFA) can be regarded as the crown jewel of the U.S.-led change in Iraq. It’s not an overstatement to say that it represents an aspect of victory in this war. By victory I mean that it will mark the beginning of a time in which Iraq is officially a partner of the U.S., as it will join Iraq and the U.S. in a new relationship that serves the national interests of both countries.

Above all, it will be a major boost for the effort in the war on terror as it will guarantee that Iraq will not fall prey to extremists. It will ensure that Iraq becomes a barrier against the aspirations of extremists, not a vessel that conveys them. In my opinion this treaty will set the foundations for a new Middle East ripe for transformation and for joining the free world. For these reasons and for others that we’re still trying to understand, this treaty has been receiving fire from virtually all directions.

I understand why Iran and other enemies of democracy in the region stand against it. They know that it will stand in their way and further undermine their position. In fact, whenever I pass through a period of intellectual laziness, I look at where dictators and religious extremists stand on any issue and take the opposite position. Whenever I see them opposing something I can automatically — with a very low error margin — assume that the thing they oppose is good for me, for I absolutely wouldn’t suspect at any moment that they care about the welfare of the people of the region or that of the world. For this reason I wasn’t surprised by the vicious attack on the treaty from Arab and Muslim media and leaders.

If I’m not mistaken the last of such attacks came from Iran, whose president went as far as telling our speaker of parliament, so arrogantly, that it was our "duty to resist the Americans" while another official said the treaty would be a "disgrace" and stigma in the history of Iraq . I have no idea when Iran became concerned about keeping my country’s history bright!

While Iraqi and American negotiators and decision makers are doing what they can to finalize the agreement and reach a compromise on disputed issues, we find that everyone outside the negotiations is trying to put the stick in the wheel. But those are mostly parties that don’t want any good for Iraq and consider America a malicious intruder at best and a blood enemy at worst. What I find surprising is that someone from America is trying to obstruct the treaty. Believe it or not, there’s actually a guy who has no executive authority whatsoever — except in opinion polls — who is trying to bypass the actual top diplomats of the United States and undermine their negotiation efforts with a friendly state, at a time of war.
I was hoping that presidential candidates would not put their electoral objectives above those of their nation. Alas, blinding greed and selfishness seem to prevail sometimes.

I don’t dare suggest that Obama wanted to obstruct the treaty because it threatens Iran and other despots in the Middle East; I’m sure his purpose is different. The thing is that his purpose is also different from that of the U.S. or of Iraq — two friendly states looking forward to building long-lasting cooperation based on shared interests and mutual respect. We want victory in the war; Obama wants victory in elections — this is the problem.

I’m not sure how or if people here think the treaty might affect the presidential race, but in Iraq and the Middle East people think that signing the treaty before elections would be regarded as a victory for Republicans that could propel McCain to the White House. Again Iran and many in the Middle East don’t want McCain to be in the White House. I guess that’s one thing they have in common with Obama.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Iraqi Leaders Closely Watching US Elections

I mentioned this past summer that pressing priorities in Iraq made Iraqis show little if any interest in the upcoming U.S. election. That was the case when November seemed too far to worry about. We’re almost in October now and things are changing.

Comments made by MP Sami al-Askari are evidence of such a trend. As an adviser to Prime Minister Maliki and member of his Da’wa Party, al-Askari’s comments are definitely indicative of what’s being discussed in that small circle and probably reflect Maliki’s own viewpoints.
As recent as June, al-Askari’s position echoed Maliki’s approval of a 16-month timetable for withdrawal. But three months can indeed make a difference, “Iraqis are better off with Republicans.” al-Askari said in an email to Kathleen Parker at NRO last week.

What I understood from the MP’s statement is that the Da’wa Party now thinks it would be better off with Republicans. As for ordinary Iraqis, they have always been in favor of determined allies who want to correct the mistakes of the past and help Iraq pass the bottleneck — quitters have never been popular.
The difference in the tempo of developments that I pointed out above is not the only reason behind such shifts in the Maliki team’s rhetoric with respect to the U.S. presence and future relations with the next U.S. administration.

Two other important factors can be identified. First of all, when Maliki flirted with Obama’s plans for withdrawal from Iraq, the latter was celebrating a significant lead in polls and an ultimate landslide win didn’t seem improbable. Again, this is not the case now as McCain’s position has significantly improved in recent weeks. Maliki may have realized that he threw his lot in with the Democratic candidate too soon and now wants to change course.

Second, there’s the ever-changing domestic political dynamics in Iraq. Maliki has two distinct sources of power. On one side of the scale he has support from the U.S. for his government as well as support from the public in Iraq, which he gained from the undeniable improvement in security. On the other side of the scale there’s his alliance with the powerful SIIC and the clergy in Najaf. I still think that Maliki remains undecided as to which source of power he could rely more on — attempting to secure perpetual support from both sources is extremely difficult.
Relations between the Da’wa Party and the SIIC have gone through turbulent paths in the last few months — major disagreements have arisen.

Primarily there’s the issue of “Support Councils.” These are local paramilitary units made up of tribal fighters similar to the “Awakening Councils” or “Sons of Iraq” that were formed of Sunni tribal fighters in Anbar and Baghdad. Here Maliki and the Da’wa Party are in favor of having the government sponsor these units in Shiite-dominated provinces. This is a classic case of a security dilemma. The Da’wa Party does not have any significant armed wing.

In contrast, their allies in the SIIC have one of the most organized and efficient militias in Iraq, the Badr Brigade. Now apparently Maliki is developing plans to buy tribes’ allegiance with state money. The SIIC stands strongly against this plan and has recently accused Maliki and his party — on the SIIC’s semi-official news website — of abusing the powers vested in the prime minister’s office for partisan purposes. Early signs of a rift between the two parties are already visible in Babil province, where the Da’wa Party is working with tribes to form a “battalion” of 1,400 tribal fighters.

The Da’wa Party used to rely on Sadr’s militias in the past when they were allies. This is no longer the case as Sadr’s Mahdi Army has been largely decimated. The SIIC and Maliki worked together to get rid of their former strong ally. Now that provincial elections are coming, Maliki has every reason to worry about the survivability of his Da’wa Party vis-à-vis the powerful SIIC during the coming election. The SIIC, as naturally expected, opposed Maliki’s plans to sponsor “Support Councils.” This opposition feeds back to make Maliki and his party even more wary of the SIIC’s intentions.

With uncertainty growing between the two suspicious Shiite allies, Maliki may have decided to once again seek American protection for the fledgling democracy in general and for his political future in particular. As for ordinary Iraqis and Iraq as a state, not much has changed. U.S. presence for a few more years and U.S. friendship in the long run remain essential to guarantee the realization of the Iraqi dream.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

America Should Pick Georgia Over Russia

Mohammed's piece on today's Wall Street Journal;

The war between Russia and Georgia -- and particularly what Russia aspires to gain from this showdown -- may have future consequences for the situation in the Middle East. It may also have the potential to alter the existing world order and restore a condition somewhat similar to what we had in the Cold War era.

A recent statement by Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov caught my attention: "We understand that this current Georgian leadership is a special project of the United States, but one day the United States will have to choose between defending its prestige over a virtual project or real partnership which requires joint action."

Continue Reading...

Friday, August 08, 2008

British Deal With al-Sadr Betrayed Iraqi People

The news about a secret deal between the British and anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr did not come as a surprise to us. Britain’s war policy has been clear for the past several years: the country demonstrated no readiness to make sustained efforts in a prolonged war, nor did it act as a serious partner determined to win the conflict.

There are three aspects in this British betrayal. First, striking a deal with the enemy; second, selling an Iraqi city to the enemy of their Iraqi hosts and partners; and third, by not informing their American partners of their plans, enabling the U.S. military’s reliance on an untrustworthy partner — something the British military leadership turned out to be.

What’s worse — even assuming the “accommodation” was a thoughtful plan with good intentions — is that Britain upheld the deal even when the militias violated it. The militias did not renounce violence (attacks continued), and they did not switch to civil political activity. Still, the British didn’t take action.

To be fair, Britain deserves credit for being a good team member during the good days in the beginning of the war. They sent in some 40,000 troops and were enthusiastic about contributing to the quick collapse of Saddam’s defenses.
They sent the largest number of troops after the U.S. and celebrated the initial victory, showing themselves as allies of the U.S. But it looks like Britain wanted to share only the good days, nothing more. Things changed fast soon after. In fact, over the last two years, Britain has adopted a policy in Iraq that is opposite in direction to that of the U.S.

On the one hand, the Americans and Iraqis summoned all the power and resources they could get, and deployed them in an effort to enforce the law and combat the bad guys under a fresh strategy and counterinsurgency doctrine that emphasized having troops as close to the community as possible. Meanwhile, the British were doing exactly the opposite by shrinking away from the fight and from the community.

As residents of Basra for a year, we recall how the people perceived British troops. Basically people felt the British were both weak and largely indifferent to the situation. To the militias, that was seen as a golden chance to consolidate their power and take over the city; while among the ordinary people, it dealt a blow to morale and was a reason that people had little — if any — trust in the British.

What’s even more humiliating for Britain is that British leaders couldn’t exploit the advantages they had over their American counterparts in terms of past history of military operations and involvement in Iraq. It’s not an overstatement to say that the British had been fighting on their own turf in Basra. When they returned to that city in 2003, they returned to the very bases they had built only half a century before. Moreover, they had accumulated comprehensive knowledge of the people and tribes of the region that even many Iraqis don’t have.
Yet, their performance has been disappointing. British troops are not to blame for this poor performance; it’s the political leadership in London.

The Americans handled places such as Baghdad and Anbar that used to be the most volatile parts of Iraq in 2004, and now, four years later, they largely succeeded in bring peace and order, making huge progress toward that goal. The British, by contrast, had been assigned what used to be the calmest parts of Iraq in 2004, but by spring 2008, under their watch, Basra became the most lawless city in the country. The British leaders managed to do this either with exceptional stupidity or exceptional and deliberate carelessness.
In our opinion, although the deal was made last year, Britain made the decision to offer basically the same deal unilaterally years before that by watching the monster grow under their noses without doing anything serious to stop it.

If the British truly don’t see themselves as part of the war, it would’ve been better for everyone to have the British admit it and tell the Americans and Iraqis that they wanted out. Then we would’ve thanked them for what they did, gave them a nice send-off, and struck them off the list of reliable allies, just like Spain.
To fight alone, knowing that you’re on your own, is much better than to have an ally on your side that strikes deals behind your back and exposes your flank to the enemy.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Iraq Requests to Buy $11 Billion Worth of American Arms

For the last few years, Iraq has been working to build its new armed forces with invaluable American support. In the course of the process Iraq purchased large amounts of arms and equipment from the US. But a tendency towards getting eastern bloc arms was evident, largely due to decades of dependence and familiarity with such arms.

This trend seems to be changing fast recently.

From time to time we hear about Iraq trying to strike some small/medium size deals to buy arms. The past seven days saw a spike in requests to buy arms; this time, all are American-made.
The Defense Security Cooperation Agency notified Congress of six major requests by Iraq to purchase arms, equipment and services with a total value of about $11 billion.

The list of items requested by Iraq is long but to name a few, it includes 24 armed helicopters, hellfire missiles, hundreds of various vehicles (engineering, transportation, light armored vehicles and evacuation) 1,200 mortar systems, machineguns of various calibers, radio systems, anti-tank systems, 6 C-130J aircraft and above all, 140 M1A1 Abrams tanks.

The memos state that these proposed deals will “not alter the basic military balance in the region”. But clearly the deals-when executed-will definitely change the military balance between the state of Iraq and its allies on the one hand and the terrorists and outlaws on the other…It will be another milestone on the road to build a true strategic partnership between Iraq and the United States as two nations fighting terrorism and building democracy in the middle east.


The deals have in fact been approved by the Pentagon.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Talabani Rejects the Provincial Election Law

Disagreement erupted between the parliament and presidency council over the provincial elections law. After the parliament passed the law with 127 votes out of 140 that attended the session, president Talabani and VP Adbul Mahdi rejected the law and returned it to the parliament for revision.

The key point of disagreement is an article that provides guidelines for the future of Kirkuk. Spokesman of parliament Mahmoud Mashhadani ordered a secret vote for this particular article, the thing that outraged Kurdish MPs and some Shiite MPs who then decided to boycott the vote.

No wonder Kurds reject the article. I’ve translated the important parts of the article, which was posted on Azzaman, that are the most likely source of disagreement:

2-Authority shall be divided among the three main constituencies by giving them (Arabs, Kurds, and Turkmen) 32% each and 4% to Christians. Authority means [posts in] all military and civilian institutions as well as the top three posts (The chairman of the province council, the governor, and the deputy governor).

3-During the mission of the committee mentioned in (4) below, security responsibility in Kirkuk province shall be assigned to military units deployed from central and southern Iraq, that will replace existing units. This is to ensure the professionalism and freedom of the committee and to end the presence of security forces affiliated with political parties.

4-A committee shall be formed to oversee the implementation of (2) above and (5) below. Each major constituency will have 4 representatives in the committee. Christians will have 1 representative. The committee makes decision by a majority vote. The prime minister nominates officials from the trade, planning and interior (citizenship department) ministries for membership in the committee. This is to be done under supervision by the UN and Arab League who will provide support, advice and inspection. The committee should be formed and embark on its mission by October 1, 2008.

5-The duties of the committee include:
a)Setting a mechanism for power-sharing.
b)Identifying violations of public and private property that took place in Kirkuk province after April 9, 2008.
c)The committee submits recommendations to the electoral commission to update voter records based on the finding.
d)Provincial elections in Kirkuk will be held after the committee submits all findings and recommendations.
e)The federal government provide necessary security and resources for the committee to conduct its duties.
f)In case of obstruction or incompletion of the committee’s mission, provincial elections will be held on basis of [a fixed quota of] 10 seats to each of the major constituencies and 2 to the minorities no later than December 31, 2008.

Anyone familiar with Kurdish ambitions in Kirkuk and their current weight in the province can agree that the above points are not even close to anything the Kurds are willing to accept. Particularly (3) and (5-b) are in my estimation out of question for the Kurds. These points if approved would mean that Kurds would have to end the presence of the Peshmerga in all of Kirkuk province and reverse the influx of thousands of Kurdish people settled in the province since 2003. The latter is one of the most controversial issues when it comes to Kirkuk. Kurds claim that those people were simply reclaiming homes and farms from which they were displaced by Saddam in earlier times, while Arabs and Turkmen claim that Kurds are working to change the demographics of the province to ensure winning in elections.

Objectively, the document represents over the top demands of powers opposed to Kurdish domination in Kirkuk.

A source in the UIA speaking on condition of anonymity to Azzaman described what happened as a “tactical rift in the UIA…prominent members walked out and didn’t vote on the legislation while other major factions remained and voted including Badr organization, independent MPs and part of the SIIC and Da’awa Party” and added that “friction between the UIA and Kurdistan Alliance has reached a dangerous zone that may well change the future of this coalition”.
Another source, this time from the Kurdistan Alliance said “we had signed an agreement with the UIA prior to the vote. We signed an agreement with Ali Adeeb and representatives from the SIIC, the independent group, Badr and Da’aw not to pass the law, but we were surprised [by the result]”

What became evident from both the wording of the document and the results of the vote is that the capacity of the Kurdish-UIA coalition, that dominated Iraq’s decision-making process for several years, to pass legislation is being seriously challenged; especially with the disintegration of the UIA.

I think this experience represents a milestone in the redistribution of political power amid constantly changing conditions on the ground. On the one hand there is the rise of Sunni Arab tribes as an influential legitimate player with the expanding power of Awakening councils and the return of the Accord Front to the cabinet, and on the other hand there’s the fact that the Kurds’ main ally-the UIA-now controls dozens of seats less than it did in the past.

One serious limitation that will face attempts to resolve the issue is time. The parliament is due to have its month-long summer recess on August 1st. According to Al-Sabah, political leaders want the parliament to rework the draft law and agree on a version more acceptable to all blocs so that a second vote can be made in seven days. Otherwise holding provincial elections on time will be unlikely.

However, the document offers a lot of leeway for the parties that endorsed it to make acceptable concessions in future negotiations, which offers a good ‘emergency exit’ to avoid a deadlock. If this is combined with a Kurdish respect for peaceful ways and acceptance of the changes in political balance of power, then a compromise may ultimately be possible.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Obama's Fact-Fudging Mission in Iraq

Obama arrived in Iraq on Monday for what is described as a fact-finding mission. However, it’s hard to believe Obama is actually searching for facts in Iraq, nor will the facts he finds change his position. The position he chose for himself, as well as all the comments he has made so far about Iraq, reflect a disregard for facts, and there is no reason to expect a change now.

This visit, for Obama, is just a necessary evil — part of an electoral campaign and not a sincere fact-finding mission. The fact that Obama made Afghanistan his first stop (after arriving in Kuwait, just next door to Iraq) suggests that it’s his electoral campaign that sets his priorities when it comes to the war on terrorism, not the actual map and course of the war.

Obama is lucky in that his host, Prime Minister Maliki, is also going through an election season. He’s even luckier that Maliki has been convinced by the close circle around him that Obama is going to win the American presidential race.

The state-owned Al-Sabah quoted a senior official, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the subject, as saying: “The change in the prime minister’s position has to do with his own perception of the political developments in the United States…Maliki thinks that Obama is most likely to win in the presidential election and that he will withdraw his country’s troops from Iraq as he pledged in his campaign.” The official added that Maliki sees that “he’s got to take preemptive steps before Obama gets to the White House.”

This is why both men have appeared to be in perfect harmony recently; one lending generous support to the other. But this is not solid harmony because both men are acting like this due to mere speculations and/or flawed advice from their aides during critical moments in election seasons. Maliki, for example, knows very well that had Obama’s vision for Iraq been adopted two years ago, he wouldn’t be enjoying the position and power he does today, and the progress in Iraq wouldn’t have been achieved.

The call for disengagement in the way Obama proposes (and Maliki cautiously endorses) is based on a vision that goes no further than the upcoming elections in both countries and thus an indicator of dangerous selfishness. The two men are gambling with victory against true enemies of their nations in the hope of achieving victory against personal electoral foes. The obvious confusion in Maliki’s recent statements forced government spokesmen and top officials to appear several times to correct or retract what he said. This indicates that much of what Maliki is saying these days is for personal/partisan electoral purposes and does not represent the strategy of the state of Iraq.

The problem with Obama’s vision for the future of America’s role in the region is that his understanding of the war and the consequences of victory or defeat is stagnant and superficial. He hasn’t changed his proposed policy despite all the changes on the ground over the course of the war. He says that Afghanistan, not Iraq, is the main front in the war on terror and backs this claim with the recent increase in violence over there. This raises the question of why he didn’t see Iraq as the main front when Al-Qaeda was wreaking havoc on Iraq and not only redirected almost all of its resources and fighters to the country but even declared it an Islamic state.

“The road to Quds [Jerusalem] passes through Karbala,” Khomeini said in the 1980s. “We must not forget that Jerusalem is a stone’s throw from Baghdad,” Zawahiri said two years ago.

History proves that every terrorist and extremist in the region sees Iraq as the epicenter of their war. Neither Khomeini nor Zawahiri had Jerusalem as a priority. The priority has always been Iraq; that’s why one wanted to export the revolution and the other sought to establish the Caliphate in Iraq.
Obama insists that he wants to end the war, as if that would achieve victory. This too indicates a lack of understanding of the nature of the war. Victory in a war on terror requires first and foremost that the ideology of extremists be made unattractive in the hearts and minds of the peoples of the region. The people are the center of gravity in a war of this type, and the winner is the one that attracts the people to his side. This goal can only be achieved by presenting a successful model for stability, liberty, and prosperity; a model that proves beyond a doubt that the people have a path that can lead to a bright future — a choice other than status-quo dictatorships and suicidal ideologies of extremism.

Terrorism cannot be defeated by killing Bin Laden or even killing every single existing member of Al-Qaeda, especially considering the decentralized structure of terrorist organizations. Terrorism can be defeated by offering a model for a bright future that gives people who have suffered for so long hope and saves them from despair.

Iraq is now closer than ever to becoming this model, and victory in this chapter of the war is within hand…unless Obama succeeds in ending the war his way.

Monday, July 21, 2008

In the Midle East, Diplomacy = Weakness

In a matter of just a few days several important developments have taken place in the Middle East, all likely to have negative repercussions on the already tense situation in the region.

The first development was the awkward prisoner exchange between Israel and Hezbollah. Then there were the unprecedented decisions by the American administration to take part directly in negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program, and reportedly to resume some level of diplomatic ties with the country. Finally, we had the White House agreeing to set a “time horizon” for troop withdrawal from Iraq.

Such decisions may be viewed by many in the West as steps in the right direction since they offer more room for diplomacy in resolving outstanding issues in the Middle East. And in Iraq, this “time horizon” may be seen by the public as a reassertion of progress towards restoring full sovereignty, and by Maliki as an easy PR gain in election season.

But the regime in Tehran and its surrogates in the region view them very differently: as concessions by the enemy and as an episode of successful employment of salami tactics. Even some of the powers and politicians who are against Iran and its allies will probably read the news in the same way Iran did.
When I saw Lebanon’s president and the parliamentary majority leaders (among whom are the most outspoken rivals of Hezbollah and the staunchest figure of opposition to Iranian and Syrian influence) welcome convicted murderer Samir Quntar home, I was certain it was fear from the effect of these concessions on the balance of power that made them do that, rather than actual respect for Hezbollah.

I particularly hope that these developments will not affect the nascent move for peace talks with Israel that Syria has recently shown. Although I don’t trust the Syrian regime, I think they are now closer than ever to starting serious peace talks. And there are indicators that Assad is now considering jumping off the Iranian wagon. Assad is, after all, a young president who isn’t excited about ending up like Saddam Hussein, and doesn’t share the apocalyptic visions of Ahmadinejad and the elderly clerics of Qom. I think two factors made Assad consider taking a path different from that of Iran. First, he may have realized that Iran will be doomed if it insists on going nuclear. Also, the persistence of the international court in investigating Syria’s role in assassinations in Lebanon may have played a role. Dialogue and diplomacy can be successful with a scared young Assad. I only hope the recent sequence of “victories” does not send Syria back to Iran’s lap.

What I want to say here is that the Middle East has a different understanding of diplomacy than the West. Acceptance of demands or opening up to dialogue can very well be mistaken for weakness. On one hand, it will frighten America’s allies and those sitting on the fence. On the other hand, it will embolden Iran and will most likely lead to further more ambitious demands.

Dialogue and giving diplomacy a chance is not a bad idea, but understanding the mentality of the people sitting across the table is an important prerequisite.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Najaf tribes to compete against religious parties in provincial elections

A large coalition of tribes in Najaf conferred and made a decision similar to that by the Anbar tribes last week.

In televised interviews, tribal chiefs said they will join forces with technocrats and enter the upcoming provincial elections in slates independent from existing religious parties.
The sheiks voiced their frustration with the outcome of previous elections in which religious parties prevailed. They also criticized the current political class for “ripping apart” the fabric of Iraq’s society, pushing the country to the brink of civil war and failure to provide services to the people.

Friday, July 11, 2008

IAF using Iraqi airspace?

The IDF and Iraq’s defense ministry deny that Israeli air force is using Iraqi airspace to prepare for attacks on Iran.
The claim is obviously part of Iran’s propaganda campaign which is based on deterrence through threats to expand the war. After all, to travel the 200 miles that separate Iraq’s most southern territory from Bushehr in five minutes means that aircraft will have to fly at the speed of Mach 3. This is technically impossible, and it gets even more impossible if the presumed airbases from which Israeli aircraft are supposed to operate (like Assad and Tallil) are many miles farther to the northwest in Iraq.

Anyway, if I were the PM of Iraq, I would gladly allow the Israeli air force to use the desert south of Samawa as a forward operating base-Tehran’s threat to Israel’s long-established democracy and to Iraq’s fledgling democracy must be stopped at all costs.

Anbar tribes to enter politics

The Anbar Salvation Council announces plan to nominate candidates for the upcoming provincial elections and accuses the Islamic Party of plotting electoral fraud:

Chief of the Anbar Salvation council sheik Hameed Hayis announced the formation of “The Democratic Bloc of Anbar” that will enter the upcoming provincial elections in November and later general elections in 2009.
Hayis said the salvation council will work to expose plots by the Islamic Party that is trying to sideline technocrats and intellectuals, manipulate election results and establish a one-party reign “this we shall not allow”.
Hayis affirmed that “the Islamic Party lost its voter base in Anbar because it [the party] was not here for the people of Anbar and was busy minding its partisan interests…the Islamic Party has gone bankrupt”
Hayis expressed concerns that “provincial elections in Anbar will see a lot of fraud by the Islamic Party…we in the Salvation council believe that the Islamic Party has no other means than fraud to save face and occupy some seats in Anbar’s province council. [they can do that] because the elections commission in Anbar is completely taken over by the Islamic Party and most commission officials are members of the [Islamic] Party”

From following the course of security and political events in Anbar, it appears that this particular province will witness the most dramatic political reshuffle when provincial elections take place later this year.

The situation in Anbar is unique when compared to other parts of the country, especially the north and south. The latter regions are going to only see a redistribution of political power among existing religious/ethnic parties because until this moment, and elections are only a few months away, no new competitors emerged. Only in Anbar there’s a formidable challenge to Islamic powers represented by the Awakening and Salvation councils.

While these powers are overwhelmingly tribal in nature, they had never identified themselves as Islamic and they are showing signs of modernization by adding professional technocrats and intelligentsia to their ranks.

Iran sends "sticky IEDs" to terorists in Iraq

First, it was flying IEDs...Now, sticky IEDs

Iraqi newspaper Al-Madad reports:

The government is taking measures to prevent assassinations by magnetic IEDs that militant groups have been using to target members of security forces, judges and civilians.
A source in the government said the cabinet asked all state officials to take utmost caution and to constantly inspect their vehicles before traveling even if the vehicle was left unattended for a short period of time.
The statement comes amid increasing attacks with sticky IEDs against government officials of various levels. Military analysts in Baghdad see that the successful operations by security forces in many parts of the country forced militants to change their tactics and switch to sticky IEDs that can be remotely detonated and do not require teams to place.

General Qasim Ata had accused Iran last April of supplying large amounts of sticky IEDs to militant groups. Ata also confirmed the discovery of such Iran-made sticky IEDa in different parts of Baghdad.
Security sources told Al-Mada yesterday that counter-explosives services proceeded to offer lectures to inform security personnel and government officials [about these devices] and distributed posters that show samples of these sticky/magnetic bombs.

Whether you're looking for 2,000km rockets, 150 meter flying IEDs, or palm-sized sticky IEDs...Iran is the one-stop-shop for all sorts of terrorist gear.

Coalition forces, US embassy ban Iranian media from accessing coalition bases

Coalition forces and the US embassy decided to ban reporters working with Iranian media from accessing coalition bases and American offices in Iraq.

Coalition forces media advisor Abdul Latif Rayan said security concerns are behind the decision and added “From a security standpoint, we think it’s inappropriate to grant Iranian networks or their employees the permission to access American or coalition bases and offices in Iraq”...Source: Radio Sawa.

Stopping potential spies from entering sensitive facilities is a long overdue decision. It makes perfect sense!

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Why Iraq Is Changing Its Tune on Withdrawal

In a surprising development, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and his national security advisor Mowaffak al-Rubaie made a dramatic shift in their positions in the SOFA negotiations with the US.
By referring to the negotiated deal as a “memorandum of understanding” instead of using its official name, they are signaling that they are doing more than just taking a tougher stand: they are scrapping all that has been negotiated since February and starting new negotiations for a whole new deal.

In other words, Maliki is saying that he wants to negotiate the withdrawal of US forces, not their presence, after the UN mandate expires.
In order to understand why Maliki made this sharp turn from his formerly pragmatic neutral position, we need to examine three issues: the timing of the statements, the place from which they were made, and the parties that made them.

As to their source, it is noteworthy that the statements came from only religious Shiite leaders. Sunnis and Kurds who have been close to the negotiations and often spoke about the progress and obstacles concerning SOFA do not seem to share Maliki’s new demand.

The timing and location somewhat overlap with Maliki’s visit to the UAE, and almost coincides with Rubaie’s visit to Ayatollah Sistani in Najaf.
In my opinion, the only reason that Maliki made his demand from the UAE and not from Baghdad is that he wanted to send a message of reassurance to Tehran: basically to reassure the Iranians that recent reinforcement of ties with Arab states and the planned reopening of their embassies does not necessarily mean that Iraq has become part of a US-Arab alliance against them.

Of course the message was not received by Iranians only. Some Arab leaders may have seen this message as a sign of Maliki’s possible insincerity towards them. At least one of them (King Abdullah II of Jordan) postponed his planned visit to Baghdad — and I doubt “security concerns” are truly behind the decision.
As I predicted in an earlier post, Maliki waited before making adjustments in his position towards the deal. However, the change came more dramatically than expected. Maliki apparently yielded to Shiite pressure from Najaf and made his choice. He made two mistakes here.

First, he forgot that while he feels that he’s got to listen to what Najaf says, America does not. Neither do Sunnis, Kurds or even many among Shiite Iraqis. Second, by making unrealistic and unacceptable demands he put himself in an embarrassing position. He may have thought that America needs the deal so badly that it will be willing to make huge concessions that he can exploit in order to please Tehran and Najaf.

Something must have made Maliki and his security advisor think that they have the upper hand in the negotiations. After all, they declared: “Our stance in the negotiations under way with the American side will be strong… We will not accept any memorandum of understanding that doesn’t have specific dates to withdraw foreign forces from Iraq”
Here, we’re facing a typical case of the manifestations of the dual loyalties of many Iraqi politicians. The government as a whole has made achievements, especially in terms of security improvements. But these achievements have now been turned into a check that is being cashed to serve the sect and its allies.

For a long time, when the government was very weak, Maliki and Rubaie (especially Rubaie) were clearly against the idea of setting timetables, at least in public. What has changed now is that these politicians have gone to the Ayatollah and told him that their domestic foes have been more or less neutralized and that they are ready to use these gains for the benefit of the sect.
What I am saying here is that the statement “we are strong” does not reflect the Iraq-US balance of power in terms of two states negotiating a deal. It reflects the presumed balance of power between Shiite faith (in its regional context) on the one hand and the US, Sunni Arabs and Kurds on the other.

This calculation is obviously flawed. Maintaining the presence of American troops is crucial for the survival of Maliki and the future of Iraq — it is not as crucial for America. If America insists on a position of refusing to include a timetable for withdrawal in the agreement, it will be Maliki who will have to make concessions.
That will be very bad for his image.
People make mistakes, but the mistake here is aggravated by the fact that Iraq’s leader has allowed his misperceptions to drive him into making demands that are not in the best interest of his country.

Frankly, I’m disappointed by Maliki’s unjustified maneuver. Gambling with the future of nation and its people is an insult that will cast a shadow on his record as a leader of Iraq.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Support Freedom of Speech

Our friends and readers remember the Arabic blogging tool that we helped develop nearly 4 years ago. It was a pioneer project in making blogging easy for Arabic speakers in the Middle East. It’s been a story of exceptional success in dangerous times. Only with the strong will of good Iraqis and Americans the idea became solid reality.

The project did not wait for or receive any support from the Iraqi or US government; the success was only the fruit of cooperation between enthusiastic supporters of free speech in both countries.

It was a long journey to help introduce the idea of dialogue over the internet and activism to the Iraqi people. It’s been a real challenge on a land that witnesses the most brutal attacks of terrorism. However this did not discourage the volunteers who continued to move across the country offering training and promoting the culture of blogging and free speech. That journey reached even some of the most remote villages and most volatile zones. During that we lost two dear colleagues on what was known back then as the ‘death road’.

The project was built with generous donations and enthusiastic volunteer work, and above all blood. Today we’re proud that the blogging network has more than 2,300 users using the tool to express themselves and interact with one another. The community received more than 20 million readers since its inception three years ago and the average hits today reaches as many as 25,000 and continues to rise. The network of users expanded beyond Iraq to the rest of the Middle East where hundreds of blogger are now using the network, adding new dimensions to it by connecting all these bloggers, activists and NGOs.

On behalf of all the people using the service, I'd like to thank all those who took part in the first fund raising campaign that Spirit of America led which our dear readers and many respectable bloggers had an honorable role in. also thanks to Cato Institute and Dr. Tom Palmer for covering the expenses of the service for a full year, and to all the Iraqi volunteers who still manage the main site for free.

This project is now facing the danger of being shut down because we couldn’t find resources to pay the firm that hosts the service…the network will no longer exist by the end of the month, unless we find a way to save it.

We hope that the lovers and supporters of free speech and democracy will help us find the resources necessary to keep the project alive.
The managing and editing of the main site, as well as occasional Arabic-English translation are taken care of by Iraqi volunteers free of charge. What the service needs to survive are the expenses of the hosting firm and sufficient legal expertise to help with the negotiations and oversee the financial issues.

At a cost of less than $2,000 a month we can keep 2,300 bloggers online, their 25,000 daily readers informed and keep the doors open for many more to join. Please spread the word and email us in case you know individuals or groups that might be willing to offer assitance.

Related links and previous stories:
Friends of Democracy Home Page
Blogs Directory
Activities made possible by the network

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Iran and the Coming War

The possibility of military action against Iran’s nuclear facilities is increasing every day: some even expect it could happen as early as the end of this year.

The strange thing is that Iran has been directing most of its recent rhetoric not against the most likely attacker — Israel — but against the United States.
On Monday, General Meer Faisal Baqir Zadeh of Iran’s armed forces general command declared that Iran will be digging 320,000 graves in a number of provinces bordering Iraq and the Gulf to bury dead American attackers. One wonders: why Americans and not Israeli attackers?

The answer to this question - and why the US is clearly worried about the threats - becomes apparent after examining the likely scope and nature of such a confrontation that takes all of the potential actors into account.
The most likely starting point is a quick and intensive Israeli air strike targeting Iran’s uranium enrichment plants and other nuclear facilities crucial to the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program. What would follow remains unclear right now. However, a logical path can be deduced from the initial action given the declared and implicit policies, fears, and ambitions of Iran.

According to the chief of the IRGC General Mohammed Ali Jaafari, Iran would seal off the Strait of Hormuz and the Gulf if attacked. It will even attack any countries from which an American attack comes.
Iran has long wanted to believe that America can’t take action against it because of America’s involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan and the U.S. public’s distaste for opening yet another front. Iran is trying to use this presumed situation to deter an Israeli attack by threatening to force the U.S. to participate in a large-scale operation against it should such an attack occur.

Tehran is thus strategically threatening to expand the war beyond the presumed limits of a) the American public’s tolerance or b) the price the U.S. is ready to pay to eliminate a threat to Israel, the Gulf, and maybe European — but not American — soil.
Iran has also threatened to use its surrogates in the Middle East to escalate operations against Israeli and U.S. troops. This means that Iran wants to have concerned countries apply pressure on Israel not to attack by threatening open war in the Middle East.

If Iran’s deterrence plan fails — and it most likely will since the threat is existential to Israel — it will clearly still try to expand the conflict. Dragging the U.S. into a war that cannot be won would provide Tehran with a propaganda victory that could be used to relieve the pain of losing their nuclear program. Not a bad trade, especially that Israel is going to bomb it anyway.
Seeking to expand the breadth of such a war could also help Tehran save face if, as seems likely, severe blows are dealt to its war machine.

Appearing helpless in the face of an offensive by a small state like Israel would severely damage the image of the regime among the population beyond the inflicted material loss. But losing in battle to a coalition of several states including the world’s sole superpower could be used to turn a defeat into a domestic propaganda victory that revolves around the survival of the regime.
Iran is relatively better positioned for something like this than Saddam was in 1991, at least in the sense that the nuclear program is seen as a more legitimate cause among Iranians than Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait was among Iraqis.

Iran could claim that the U.S. Air Force took part in the strikes, or at least that it provided logistical support to the waves of Israeli fighter jets. Such involvement, in their thinking, would justify attacks on U.S. bases in Iraq and the Gulf region, inviting American retaliation.
Tehran will be betting on the following as a plan to avoid the toppling of their regime:

First, the declared and internationally to-be-accepted objective of an Israeli/American strike is to stop Iran from going nuclear, much like the declared objective of Desert Storm was to liberate Kuwait. Toppling regimes is something that coalitions weren’t supportive of in 1991 and won’t support in the coming war.
Second, Iran has mastered the ways of guerrilla war. They may be justified in their belief that if their surrogates in Lebanon and Iraq can continue to survive Israel’s attacks or disrupt post-invasion efforts, then their own similarly trained forces in the IRGC would be able to perform even more spectacularly. The chaos could be multiplied if accompanied by simultaneous escalations against U.S. forces in Iraq and against Israel.

Furthermore, Iran believes it has a better organized and more loyal military than Saddam had in 2003 and that its nuclear and vital command-and-control facilities are considered more challenging targets than Saddam’s were.
The Tehran regime has chosen to set itself on a crash course with the rest of the world. They know war is coming and they hope they can escape with minimal damage to the regime.
A dictator’s mentality sees anything else as expendable.

Sadr movement, Mahdi army shrink under pressure

Special Analysis for The Long War Journal

Over the space of several days in early June, Muqtada al Sadr has issued two consequential orders that will affect the future of his movement and that of Iraq. Sadr has ordered the reorganization of his infamous Mahdi Army and has forbidden the Sadrist movement from participating in the upcoming provincial elections.

Sadr’s first declaration addressed the organization and operations of the Mahdi Army, the military arm of the Sadrist movement. Sadr ordered his militiamen to halt the fighting and announced that a small, specialized unit will have the exclusive right to fight the “occupier.” The unit, ironically called the “special groups,” is forbidden to attack Iraqi security forces or government officials.

Sadr’s second declaration addressed how the Sadrist movement would participate in the upcoming provincial elections, tentatively scheduled for October of this year. In the second order, Sadr told his followers not compete directly in elections that take place under “occupation” but said the movement would support “technocrat and independent politicians” to prevent rival Shiite parties from dominating provincial governments.

The two orders show that Sadr is being forced to scale down both his political and military ambitions as the Iraqi government and Iraqi security forces continue to pacify Mahdi Army strongholds during a series of offensives that started in Basrah at the end of March, and moved through Sadr City and the wider Shia South. Operations in Maysan, a Mahdi Army bastion, are currently in progress. The Maysan operations so far resulted in the capture of 354 wanted militiamen and the discovery of hundreds of rockets, artillery rounds, RPGs and surface to air missiles and various other weapons and munitions. More than two hundred militiamen also surrendered to the Iraqi security forces, according to Ministry of Interior spokesman Abdul Karim Khalaf.

Continue Reading...

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Where is the Middle East heading?

It’s probably one of the most difficult questions to answer.
One of the main factors that make it very difficult to understand the Middle East especially for Westerners is that the region has been moving on an opposite course to that of Europe when it comes to socio-political evolution. Europe’s evolution took it from religious monarchies to nationalism-based states through socialism until it finally became the secular democratic mass that it is today. But the Middle East moved from constitutional monarchies a century ago to communism then to nationalism and now the growing trend appears to have been religion.

What makes it very difficult to understand and predict the future stops of this backwards movement is that change from one system to another was virtually never a genuine change from within, but largely a result of influence from without.
Growing up in a traditional dictatorship in a predominantly Arab Muslim country we were told that all our problems were the result of centuries of Western colonialism, domination and later manipulation and conspiracies. By told, it means that governments, intellectuals, opposition groups and everyone with a voice tried to convince us of this claim; for different purposes of course. In order to find excuses for their failure or to distract us from domestic causes of our misery, governments blamed the West for everything from the pillaging of our natural resources by greedy colonial Europeans, to the creation of Israel, to the borders the West sketched on a piece of paper to rip apart the so called Arab homeland to even the levels of illiteracy in our remote villages, you name it!

Opposition groups and intellectuals on the other hand blamed America and Europe for our underdeveloped undemocratic conditions which they say were a result of manipulating our political systems and public opinion since the creation of the modern states of the Middle East in the early 20th century. They also blame the West for planting and toppling regimes as they pleased; they’d tell you that the West aided the Hashemite against the Ottomans once, left the monarchs to fall later, then aided the nationalists against the communists and then the Islamists against both nationalists and communists and most recently an assortment of the above groups against fascists…the list goes long.

Coming to the West, we saw that the issue here too, surfaces quite often. We hear people to the left say they’re ashamed of what the West did in the Middle East. They blame Europe and America for the mess that the Middle East is, and for two purposes. For self-flagellation and, for attacking their political rivals in the conservative right. At least this is our perception of the debate.
People to the right, are perhaps equally embarrassed by the history of Western involvement in the Middle East, if in a different way. It can be felt that they regret the fact that doing what had to be done in the past led to undesirable outcomes.

What we want to say here is that we-east and west, left and right-all acknowledge that the West has a long history of successfully manipulating the course of events in the Middle East. Let’s look at a bunch of milestones in recent Middle East history. The creation of Hashemite monarchies, the creation of Israel, the counter-Mosaddaq coup in 1953, the Iraq-Iran war, the nationalists’ rise to power, or the Soviet’s defeat at the Mujahideen’s hands. These are all facts, and the decisive role of the West in shaping the outcome of all these events and many more is also a fact.

Now some may wonder why we think this can be useful. Here’s why;

This ability of the West to influence or induce a change in the Middle East can be used to consolidate our efforts to bring about, and sustain, a change in the right direction to produce a democratic secular mass similar to that in the West. This is what America has been trying to do for a while, alas with great opposition in Europe and inside America itself.
The time is perfect to push forward with this now, especially that in the first phase of US-led democratization, Islamist powers have been tested and their shortcomings are being exposed, at least in Iraq and the Palestinian territory.

One of the key questions that usually arise is whether Islam is compatible with democracy or if there’s an inherent obstacle that makes democracy impossible in Muslim societies.
It’s a good question, but it’s also irrelevant. Let’s consider the following questions:
Is Islam compatible with nationalism? Or better, could Islam ever be compatible with godless communism!? Recent history shows that religion did not prevent nationalism or communism from taking root in the region; there were times both ideologies took turns in becoming the prevailing trends.

What many people forget is that in the Middle East, religion is only one identity, among many others, that people adhere to or use to describe themselves. I mentioned the two other identities; communist ideology and nationalistic sentiments because both were at times so strong in the Middle East. So strong that in Iraq in the late 50s and 60s the bloody competition for power was exclusively between the communists and nationalists-one is non-religious and the other is anti-religious.

Given the above points, we believe it is very possible to make the Middle East accept and endorse secular democracy, especially that this is the best among all systems of governance.
The West excelled at manipulating the course of events in the Middle East and we in the Middle East have always gone with the flow. Virtually everyone on the Middle East switched sides more than once and elder people of our parents’ generation for example knows this first hand. Pick a man from that generation, look at his path and you’ll see that he or she was a staunch supporter of the kings in the 1940s, then became a Marxist in the 1950s, then a nationalist in the 1960s and 70s, only to become an Islamist in the 80s or 90s. Some, however, were on the other side and did this course the other way around because of socioeconomic factors, location or mere personal impulses. Anyway, the former path was dominant among a majority of people.

The feeling that things have gone out of control in the region should not discourage us. Western powers have always managed to shepherd the Middle East into positions that seemed to best serve their interests. Now if the West believes that a secular democratic Middle East is in everyone’s best interest, all it has to do is push for it the same way it did at any time in the 20th century. And when we get there all it will have to do is to not rock the boat.

By Mohammed and Omar Fadhil

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Can the US and Iraq Have a Long-Term Relationship?

The debate over immediate security conditions is taking a back seat in Iraq now as the debate over long-term fixes, particularly the U.S.-Iraq agreement, takes the lead.

The national scope of this debate goes beyond the talk of politicians –who are trying to use their position on the agreement for electoral campaigning– and people’s talk in the streets to Friday prayer sermons. Interestingly, the issue has also attracted curiously broad attention from Arab and regional leaders and media. Most notably, in his first speech following a crisis that brought Lebanon to the brink of a new civil war and on a day no less than the anniversary of his “victory” in the south, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah dedicated a significant portion of his speech to the U.S.-Iraq agreement. In Iran, hard-line cleric Ahmed Khatami also denounced the proposed treaty in an earlier Friday sermon, warning Baghdad’s government that signing the agreement would be a betrayal of the Muslim world and particularly of the Shia faith. This frenzy with which Iran and allies scramble to preempt the agreement has a downside — their speeches embarrassed their allies in Iraq, making them appear as mere puppets.

It’s neither strange nor ironic that the pro-Iran extremists have made such a fuss about an agreement whose terms are yet to be fully made public — rumors and exaggerations of half-truths are enough to make the public in a place like the Middle East feel uneasy about any given issue. It’s enough for an aide of Sadr to tell fanatic followers that the treaty would grant the U.S. control over 99% of Iraq’s riches to make them take to the streets to denounce the agreement. This cleric didn’t need to find facts to back his argument: the crowd is easy to convince, thanks to widespread ignorance; sentimental rhetoric is more attractive to them than facts, numbers, and science.

Like I wrote a moment ago, some politicians have already begun using their positions from this agreement for electoral campaigning. Former PM Ibrahim Jaafari emerged with a new political alliance with supposed backing from Iran and Ayatollah Sistani. He showed his true colors too early when he made his main theme that the agreement is bad and our neighbors don’t like it. By “neighbors” I can only think of Iran and Syria, as I don’t see a reason for any other neighbor to be upset with the agreement.
I personally don’t have a full text of the agreement’s draft but I’ve always been a proponent of establishing a strategic alliance with the U.S.
For our government, I hope that accepting or rejecting it would be based on its impact on Iraq’s interests.

Will Iraqis accept the agreement? No one can tell at this point, and this is the difference between democracies and non-democracies. Had the question been posed in Iran or Syria, it would take one man’s word to offer an answer. I am pleased to see that our government is dealing pragmatically with the issue and is seeking the opinion of countries that have experience with long-term U.S. military presence. The government sent delegations to Germany, Japan, and South Korea to listen to what they, not the mullahs, have to say about it.

If not for the lack of information about this agreement, the clergy in Najaf wouldn’t have considered calling for a referendum on it. The ignorance of the public as to the content of the agreement makes it easy for a cleric to manipulate the outcome of such a referendum and still make it look as if it was the people who made the decision. All he needs to do is issue a fatwa that tells the simple, faithful citizen that his or her vote today could make the difference between hell and heaven. Such a disgusting exploitation of the trust of people who are just beginning to learn the alphabet of knowledge!
The political map when it comes to positions on the agreement looks something like this:

• For: Kurds, the Iraqi list of Ayad Allawi, and part of the Accord Front (Sunni)
• For, with reservations: the Islamic Party of VP Tariq Hashimi
• Undecided: SIIC of Abdul Aziz Hakim
• Against: Sadrists and Ibrahim Jaafari’s new group

As to PM Maliki and what’s left of the Da’wa Party (Jaafari took part of the party with him when he split), the man is being very careful here. He’s trying to make a choice between two sources of power, and it’s indeed a difficult one for a Shia Islamist. On the one hand he’s got the political achievements he made on his own as a statesman and his recent successes in terms of security and reconciliation; on the other there’s Shia unity and the blessings of the Najaf clergy.

The scale is very delicate and I think Maliki will wait for it to stop before he makes adjustments to his position. However, these adjustments are unlikely to move him far away from his current position and I see that ultimately the agreement will be signed, if with some modifications. Sorry, Tehran!

Sunday, June 01, 2008

The Mideast Won't Change From Within

The Middle East has witnessed dramatic changes over the past few years, including the adoption in some countries – Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories – of the democratic system as the means for the transfer of political power. Though all of these countries are still troubled, the huge turnouts in all three electoral processes were clear evidence of the willingness of their peoples to switch to ballots over bullets.

Unfortunately, some Arab intellectuals seem bent on rejecting democracy as a foreign – in particular, Western – concept. I recall before Saddam's fall that many were repeating a slogan that says "No America and No Saddam," which ostensibly aimed at touting a nationalistic project for change. Today the same slogans are reiterated; sometimes out of good will and naïveté, other times to support the totalitarians and the extremists. People keep saying that if both Iran and the U.S. had stayed out of our business we would have been able to solve our problems on our own.
In my opinion this fantasy about change in isolation from foreign influence is ridiculous...

Continue Reading...

Monday, May 19, 2008

Iraq Hunts Al-Qaeda in Its Last Urban Stronghold

Although we haven’t written anything about the operation in Mosul which started a week ago, I’ve been closely following its developments. The reason why I waited is that we had often heard about a new operation, which would then turn out to be just a rumor. Anyway, the operation this time has actually started, and the arrival of Maliki and his defense and interior ministers in the city leaves no room for doubt about the seriousness of the government in seeing to the plan’s success.

The interesting thing about the operation is that it’s been suspiciously quiet, to the extent that one wonders if there’s actually any operation going on. In fact, Mosul has seen the calmest eight days of the last five years.
The operation won broad approval and support even before it started, which -especially among Sunni blocs- is another positive product of the Basra operations. As we can see, the usual sectarian rhetoric about biased targeting of Sunni regions without Shia ones has been absent this time. In addition to the parliamentary approval, the operation won public support represented by the tribes’ willingness to take part in the operation. The chief of the awakening councils in the province, Fawaz Jerba, said that there were ten thousand men ready to take part in the operation.

However, the government preferred not to get them involved right now and is moving forward to form seven battalions of police from the residents of the province. These battalions are likely to have an important role in maintaining security and order after the operation ends. Two of these units will be assigned to Tal Afar: one will guard the bridges in the city, another will operate fixed checkpoints on the main highways leading to the city. The rest will be added to the existing security forces in Mosul. All are to be led by former army officers.

Initial results of the operation included the capture of 1,100 suspects and wanted individuals, according to the spokesman of the defense ministry, Mohammed Askari. Most of those are officers in the former army and members of the military bureau of the Ba’ath Party, along with a bunch of al-Qaeda emirs; yet to be named, three of them are described as being among the most dangerous in Mosul.

What’s special about the name of the operation - “the Mother of Two Springs” - is that it’s the adorable second name of the city which it gained from the relatively nice climate it enjoys. It’s a smart replacement for “Lion’s Roar,” which some found to be needlessly scary, especially since we need a real lion more than we need the roar!

What’s unique about this city is its prestigious military history. The Iraqi army had long relied on Maslawis to build its officer corps, which is a source of pride for the city. In the beginning there were rumors in the Sunni community that stemmed from the fear that the operation might turn into an organized act of cleansing against those officers or a twisted implementation of the de-Ba’athification law. However, the defense and interior ministries strongly rejected that allegation and announced that 80 of those detained were released after they were not found guilty of crimes. The Ministry asserted that arrests were based on accurate intelligence. Actually, some in the government are boasting that this is the first operation in which most arrests have been made according to legitimate warrants.

In my opinion, the suspicions of both sides are understandable due to many years of distrust between Mosul and the government. On the one hand, the targeting of former officers and Ba’ath Party members is based on the fact that they made up the bulk of al-Qaeda hosts and supporters in many places in Iraq. On the other hand, there are former officers who don’t have blood on their hands but are terrified by the countless stories of Shia militias –particularly the Badr Brigades– undertaking acts of revenge against officers who fought against Iran in the 1980s.

As in Basra, the government gave an ultimatum for militants to hand in their weapons and offered amnesty to those not involved in crimes involving murder in order to make the operation as bloodless as possible. And indeed reports indicate that scores of militants have already handed in their weapons - an encouraging sign in a turbulent city that hardly ever trusted the government.

Among the results of the operation was the discovery of many weapons caches, which included several thousands of pounds of explosives and hundreds of rockets and artillery/mortar rounds. The amount may sound small given what’s expected to be found in a city that is the last urban stronghold of al-Qaeda, but it’s still an encouraging start since the operation began only a week ago.

Another important thing that distinguishes this operation from previous ones is the active participation of the infant Iraqi air force through transportation and daily reconnaissance sorties. Iraqi officers say that this is the first time they are able to rely on the Iraqi air force for valuable live imagery of the spread-out city.

Some of the critics of the operation noted that announcing the operation before its launch gave al-Qaeda a chance to leave the city for other places, including neighboring countries, thus enabling them to dodge the strike which might waste the chance to crush them in their last remaining stronghold. I personally disagree with this argument. What matters, after all, is to clean the city of al-Qaeda, preferably without fighting. This illustrates a very important trend that we first saw in the Baghdad operations last year; that al-Qaeda now knows that it cannot afford to confront the security forces anymore. Now, instead of digging in and fighting “glorious battles” in Fallujah or elsewhere, al-Qaeda is more inclined to run away than fight. This is a true sign of al-Qaeda’s weakening and of their ultimate defeat.

Last but not least, I was surprised to see the leading opposition newspaper Azzaman, which had always been skeptical of everything the government does, praise the operation. To see a headline on Azzaman that says “Al-Qaeda Is Limping, Its Leaders Flee Mosul” means a lot to anyone familiar with Iraqi affairs.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Iraq Quietly Confronts Iran With Evidence of Weapons Trafficking

The Iraqi minister of defense pushed the debate with the Iranians over their provision of weapons to Shia militias one more step on Monday. Minister Abdul Qadir Obeidi indirectly confronted the Iranians, without naming them, with new findings that prove their involvement in the arming of Shia militias.
On Monday, state-owned al-Sabah published a statement by the minister in which he spoke of the capture of a certain type of rocket that was never found in militia-held caches until now:

Defense minister Abdul Qadir Mohammed Obeidi revealed that army troops found a 200-mm ground-to-ground rocket manufactured in 2007 during a search operation by the troops north of Basra. Obeidi told al-Sabah in an exclusive interview that, under international laws and norms, this kind of rocket can be traded only with the approval of parliaments and is used only at times of extreme necessity during wars … and wondered how this rocket entered the country. Obeidi added that this rocket can be launched only from a special platform and by specialized crews.
From what I read in Iraq’s two biggest newspapers, it seems that the government is trying to step up the rhetoric against Iranian interference in Iraq and to induce uproar among the Iraqi public. Azzaman had the following information about the found rocket, provided by “intelligence officials“:

The rocket was manufactured in 2007 in Iran and is called Falaq-1. Falaq-1 is a strategic missile of immense destruction power and was used by Hezbollah against Israel in the July 2006 war. …The sources mentioned that launching this type of rockets requires a crew of several people with advanced technological expertise…The sources, that preferred to remain unnamed, said that if this rocket was launched at a target, it could obliterate an entire city and kill all of its inhabitants even if those numbered by the tens of thousands…the same sources added that increasing the range of the rocket is not a complex process and can be done inside Iraq and clarified that the discovery of this strategic rocket in Basra poses a threat to security in Iraq and the Middle East. The sources expressed fear that large numbers of this rocket might have entered Iraq with crews to launch them. If that happens then we'd be on the brink of a domestic and regional security crisis"

The exclusivity of the first statement and the anonymity of the "intelligence sources" that provided the second indicate that the message is selective in choosing the target audience; that is primarily the Iranian government and, as an inevitable byproduct, the Iraqi public. Iraqi government officials seem to have exaggerated the material significance of the finding on purpose. They also realize that western journalists and readers very unlikely to buy these exaggerated statement-that's irrelevant anyway since this is a conversation meant to be between only Baghdad and Tehran.

The minister of defense is of course no idiot when it comes to weapons and their uses and specifications and he knows that bigger rockets have occasionally been found or destroyed. He served in the former and new army and his old colleagues including the ITM father testify to his professionalism and knowledge. It's timing and attitude in Baghdad that decided the sudden intensification of the tone, not the caliber of rockets.
I think the government in Baghdad is trying to say the following to the Iranian counterpart:
1-the provision of small arms is one thing but the provision of heavy weapons that can cause panic and relatively much more destruction is another.
2-if we can accept that machineguns, RPGs and mortars can be smuggled into Iraq without the Iranian government's knowledge; we can't accept the same claim when it comes to weapons of this magnitude.
3-we know and you know that you're providing these weapons and we can't remain silent anymore. At the same time neither of us is going anywhere anytime soon, so we must learn to coexist. You don't wan us to be your enemies and we can't afford to make you ours at the moment, so knock it off and let's not show the world the dirty laundry.

The message is quite clear and simple. Baghdad sent a delegation last week to ask Iran to stop the flow of weapons and support to Shia militias. When the delegation returned empty handed the government immediately announced through spokesman Ali Dabbagh that it will work to collect and display evidence of this support-A day later the conversation escalates with the above statements. The question is; is Iran going to respond reasonably or is it going to keep denying its involvement in the crime? And if it does, I wonder what the next escalation in the conversation is going to look like.