Talisman Gate

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Dangerous Lineup

April 26, 2006 Edition > Section: Opinion >

Dangerous Lineup

April 26, 2006
URL: http://www.nysun.com/article/31661

As recently as a year ago, laughter would have met anyone speculating that Nouri Al-Maliki would one day become a candidate for the prime minister's job. In fact, plenty of people in the Iraqi political class wondered whether I was joking or had flipped out when I began warning them two weeks ago that should Ibrahim Al-Jaafari relinquish his mandate to form a government, then Maliki would be the United Iraqi Alliance's choice.

It is gratifying that my speculation panned out, but this outcome is hardly reassuring. For there was a reason as to why no one took Maliki seriously - he is just not cut out for such a role in history.

Around this time last year, as Jaafari announced the nucleus of his transitional cabinet, windowpanes around Baghdad violently shuddered to the thumping of several explosions that I, in an early morning daze, presumed was a mortar attack far away enough to warrant staying in bed rather than taking cover. On Monday, Baghdad was yet again shaken by a very similar string of explosions, suggesting that, in the very least, things have not improved over the course of last year.

This slide is partly a reflection on Jaafari's lackluster tenure. For all his faults, though, he was a known quantity whose shortcomings were revealed and could have been mended by forceful American advice to help him perform better. The current line-up, with Maliki as prime minister, and Sunni politician Mahmoud Al-Mashhadani as speaker of parliament, opens Iraq up to many unknowns.

It was a bit of a shock at the time when Jaafari was picked as prime minister, for, like Maliki, he seemed to be an improbable figure for such a task. Many cautionary voices were raised, but the Americans in charge welcomed him and inaugurated a charm campaign on his behalf whereby the operative words to describe Jaafari were "popular" and "soft spoken" - the western press ate it all up. The American ambassador in Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, emerged a couple of days ago to describe the newly picked Maliki as "forceful" and "straightforward." I would rather go with the word "gruff."

Khalilzad, and the deputy national security adviser Meghan O'Sullivan, had previously prepared words like "amiable" and "experienced" to describe Adel Abdul-Mehdi, their favorite contender for the top executive slot in Iraq, but his candidacy could not get traction after being objected to by the anti-American Sadrist faction within the UIA parliamentary block. So they went down the list to the name of Ali Al-Adib, who like Jaafari is a long-time Da'awa Party apparatchik, but was a man that Washington knew hardly anything about. Yet that did not stop Khalilzad or O'Sullivan from sending out the word in the previous ten days that he was far more favorable than Jaafari.

At this time, a wild rumor circulated among the top echelons of the UIA block that had Khalilzad warning of an American-backed military coup should Jaafari not relinquish his candidacy. But this unfounded rumor had an effect, and the morale of the Jaafari camp was squashed, leading the top man to back down. The Americans were still doing due diligence on Al-Adib when it transpired that the UIA top brass had decided that he simply could not be the candidate - he was ethnically Persian and had only gotten his Iraqi citizenship papers done very recently. Picking Adib would have given credibility to accusations made by Arab leaders such as Egypt's Hosni Mubarak that the Shias owe allegiance to Iran, historically known as Persia.

Khalilzad and O'Sullivan kept their fingers crossed that other more palatable names would be put forth by the UIA, but they must have been surprised as much as anyone when the choice landed on Maliki. The key question that official Washington should be asking is this: did the Khalilzad-O'Sullivan duo advise President Bush that Washington's policy of hobbling Jaafari's candidacy would lead to the unfortunate situation of Maliki as prime minister?

Those American diplomats and strategic advisors can put a brave face on things and give Maliki the benefit of the doubt - as he is owed. However, there are many points against him from those in the know. He can be petty and quarrelsome, and forcefulness does not translate well into good managerial skills where the out-sized egos of Iraqi politicians are concerned: as deputy head of the De-Ba'athification Commission, Maliki initially expended his efforts to stymie the efforts of political foes such his party's rivals, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution, in divvying up the job positions, budget and office space assigned to the commission. It later fell to Maliki to hire a general director of the commission's legal department, and since he had not built up a dedicated staff of his own over the years - a situation that still stands today - he quickly picked a candidate who it later transpired had a criminal record for fraud. To compound matters, Maliki refused to fire him even when confronted with the legal evidence and kept him at the job.

More skeletons will emerge from the convoluted alleyways of the Shia-dominated Al-Amin quarter of Old Damascus, where Maliki lived for many years and worked as a Da'awa Party official. There will be persistent allegations about his mysterious relationship with Major-General Mohammad Nassif of Syrian intelligence, better known as "Abu Wael," who has been recently promoted to Syria's tight decision-making team, and who generally handles the files that have to do with Iraq's Shia, Iran, and Hezbollah.

It is surprising that Sunnis who, with Khalilzad's tacit encouragement, put up heated resistance to Jaafari's nomination seem to have acquiesced to Maliki, even though he is clearly more of a hard-liner on all the matters the Sunnis take issue with such as de-Ba'athification. But apparently their goal from the very start was to thwart Jaafari's prospects as an act of spite, and to show the Shias that they will not get their way.The Sunnis were out to show they are not mellowing out as they continue to chip away at Shia power. The Sunni block's choice of a parliamentary speaker is a harbinger of further recalcitrance: Mashhadani emerges from the hardliner Salafist block as an unrepentant supporter of those who kill American troops.

Furthermore, the Sunnis are certainly not showing gratitude in return for America's favoritism; the bombs continue to go off, and the Sunni "leaders" seem unwilling or incapable of toning down the insurgency.

Any well-calculated policy from Washington would never have entailed drafting men such as Maliki or Mashhadani to round out the team tasked with pulling Iraq back from the precipice of civil war. There is the slightest ray of hope that such men might mend their ways and respond to coaching. Let's hope that Khalilzad and O'Sullivan will be able to provide good advice to these incoming players - or at least better advice than what they have given to President Bush that led to this dangerous lineup in the first place.

Mr. Kazimi is an Iraqi writer living in Washington, D.C. He can be contacted at nibraska@yahoo.com

April 26, 2006 Edition > Section: Opinion >

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Mubarak the Shameless

April 20, 2006 Edition > Section: Opinion >

Mubarak the Shameless

April 20, 2006
URL: http://www.nysun.com/article/31350

Nowhere have the enemies of democracy taken as much heart as in Hosni Mubarak's Egypt. Whether it is the Egyptian strongman himself, or Egyptian terrorist Ayman Zawahiri, those enemies seem to relish the fact that President Bush's doctrine of spreading democracy has been so thoroughly undermined in Cairo. In fact, they would hasten to add that it is practically dead and over with, and the Middle East must get back to the usual way of doing things.

A while ago, I watched a group of Syrian dissidents huddle around a State Department official as he sang the praises of America's new policy of spreading democracy. One of them asked, "What about Egypt?" and the official answered that Foggy Bottom's policy was one of big-brotherly scolding, that is, embracing Mubarak with one arm while wagging a disapproving finger in his face. The implication was that they were teaching a naughty boy right from wrong by shaming him into reform. The Syrians nodded their heads in a patronizing manner; it was the official himself who seemed wet behind the ears, for they knew all too well the nature of tyranny.

Last week, President Mubarak emerged to rally the Middle Eastern status quo against the vestiges of change. Mubarak launched a blanket attack on the Arab Shias, questioning their loyalty and rehashing some talking points from the early 1980s that painted them as proxies of non-Arab Shia Iran. But Mubarak intended for a far greater effect than a broadside against the Shias. He was dispatching a message to all the uppity minorities of the Middle East: "know your place."

Anyone who thought that reform in Egypt or anywhere else would include changes like equal citizenship for all was gravely mistaken, Mubarak was insinuating. Sure, the fall of Saddam liberated harassed minorities like the Shias and the Kurds, raising the expectations of deliverance on the part of their equals elsewhere, such as the numerous Coptic Christians in Egypt. Yet Mubarak was subtly making the case that the moment had passed and change would not come anymore.

Mubarak had gloated some months ago that even Secretary of State Rice had not brought up issues of reform during her last sit-down with him, and that this was a reflection of America's troubles in the region. But Washington's apparent disarray - or "tottering" as Zawahiri put it - also gave an opportunity for Al Qaeda to harp on the theme of America's broken promises.

In Zawahiri's latest half-hour message, titled "Four Years After Tora Bora," which began circulating on the Web a week ago, Al-Qaeda's No.2 used a belittling Arabic proverb to suggest that for all of America's rhetoric concerning democracy, the "mountain went into labor and gave birth to a mouse." To prove his case, he cites the re-election of Mubarak. Sadly, Zawahiri makes a compelling case, especially when considering that Mubarak's chief challenger is now serving a prison sentence, while the candidate who came in third in the voting tally awaits a similar fate. Both were undermined by libelous acrimony from within their own parties, allegedly at the instigation of Egypt's shady security services.

To understand how the regime sets out to discredit and cripple the political chances of its detractors by blackening their names in the courts of public opinion and in real ones too, one should take a look at how Mubarak's security goons have dealt with the handful of Shia Egyptian converts in their midst. The story started out with a serious awakening of intellectual interest in Shiism among the Egyptian public after the Iranian revolution broke out into the scene, and this interest was helped by deep-rooted Shia cultural tendencies in Egyptian Islam harking back to a time eight centuries ago when Egypt was under Shia rule. The first crop of Egyptian Shia converts were professionals such as Dr. Ahmad Al-Nafis. But from the get-go, the Shias came "under fire," as he told me over the phone Tuesday, and a coordinated campaign to "stoke Shia-Sunni hatreds" was unleashed by the regime through its official publications.

The regime's next move was to invent a leadership for Egypt's Shias, and they turned to a colorful character whose range of affiliations ran from being pro-Saddam to having a conduit to Saudi intelligence. This man, Muhammad Al-Dureini, was unleashed to form something called the Shia Higher Council of Egypt, even though by most estimates the numbers of converts did not exceed the low hundreds. By bringing such a man onstage, the regime was able to control the shrillness of the debate and turn into something of a circus act, thus cheapening it. Scholars like Dr. Al-Nafis were sidelined, for they couldn't compete in the acrobatics of controversy.

However, Dureini ran afoul of the regime at one point and he was imprisoned for 15 months, and an aide called Muhammad Al-Mersi was enabled to tarnish his former boss's name. Meeting Al-Mersi is a grimy pension house in downtown Cairo in September, and listening to him deliriously rattle on in a hushed voice about divine visions, and how he was unsure who was sending out e-mails from his organization's account denouncing Dureini as a "cockroach," gave me an insight into what it takes for a dictatorship to put a face to an accusation: the Mubarak regime can always recruit such shameless mercenaries to come to the fore and bring down whoever is deemed a threat.

It is astounding that Mubarak's goons went to all this trouble to simply cripple something as numerically insignificant as a nascent Shia movement for conversion. But they were not threatened by Shiism as such rather they were threatened by the idea that the individual Egyptian should have a choice - uncontrolled by the regime - to chose a spiritual or political path other than what was already under the regime's thumb.

It was thus easy for the regime to coax hacks into accusing Ayman Nour of all sorts of crimes. He himself was a politician used by the regime to bark at others, but having seized upon America's promises for change, he decided to try out his luck in standing up to Mubarak. But Mr. Nour, who was once such a cause celebre that Secretary Rice would cancel a state visit to Egypt to protest an earlier arrest, now finds himself in jail on trumped-up charges, bereft of friends and attention.

Mubarak's comments were bad news for the Copts as well. They had attracted some attention in Congress, pressed by Coptic Americans. But the recent violent attacks on their community and the Egyptian government's apparent nonchalance seem to reflect yet another message from the Mubarak regime to the Copts: "we are no longer afraid of a few noisy congressmen decrying your plight."

Washington has yet to understand a basic tenet of dealing with bad men: one cannot shame the shameless. The Egyptian dictator is flaunting his disregard for the changing political landscape of the Middle East by implying that this was all a historical blip and things will revert to as they have always been. No amount of soft-spoken scolding will be enough to change his antics; he is a major embarrassment that the terrorists can point to as an example of President Bush's perfidy.

Mr. Kazimi is an Iraqi writer living in Washington, D.C. He can be contacted at nibraska@yahoo.com

April 20, 2006 Edition > Section: Opinion >

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

'Abu Omar' vs. the Shias

April 12, 2006 Edition > Section: Opinion >

'Abu Omar' vs. the Shias

April 12, 2006
URL: http://www.nysun.com/article/30860

The American government, acting upon the advice of its ambassador in Baghdad, has unwisely maneuvered itself into the anti-Shia camp, which is a problematic development since the Shias are more than 60% of Iraq's population and have been consistent in their support for the democratic process. By picking sides as to who gets to become prime minister for the next four years, and in contravention of the voting tallies, America is making an unstable situation far more volatile.

America is not actually out to harm the Shias as a sect, but perceptions are important. Shia resentment is so acute that the American ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, is referred to as "Abu Omar" in Iraqi political circles - meaning "father of Omar," with Omar being a quintessentially Sunni name as far as Shias are concerned. It doesn't help that the Afghan-American ambassador is in fact a Sunni by birth. He had been riding high on the coattails of good press lately, all stressing how his religious and cultural background were useful assets in going about the business of coaxing Iraqi leaders in national bargains. Much was made of his brief stint as a student in Beirut, and his supposed mastery of Arabic, a language he never employs in communicating with Iraqis, which suggests that perhaps his language skills have been exaggerated.

Most reporters also skim over his earlier experience as the representative of the American government to the Iraqi opposition prior to the liberation of Iraq. A key opposition conference in London almost went up in smoke because Mr. Khalilzad foolishly affronted Abdel-Aziz Al-Hakim, who has since become one of Iraq's primary power brokers. Mr. Khalilzad is a bureaucrat who, according to many who have worked closely with him, has the careful, almost obsequious demeanor of a careerist when answering to higher-ups, but takes on the airs of a haughty colonial sahib when dealing with the "natives." The task of fixing Iraq has been relegated to this man - probably the wrong thing to do.

The election results presented a dilemma to the Bush administration: a Shia victory at the polls can never be allowed to turn into a victory for Iran's widening interests in the Middle East. The other goal was to prevent the Sadrists - enemies of America who have done battle twice against the democratic Iraqi state - from becoming de facto kingmakers due to their large showing in parliament. This was the right strategy, but somewhere down the line, America lost sight of its objectives and got lost in a silly game of pride and personalized politics. The electoral victors were all long time assets of the Iranians regime, and at their head was Mr. Hakim, a man Mr. Khalilzad communicates with in Farsi, the language of Iran and its derivative form that of Afghanistan.

American diplomats and spies on the ground in Baghdad had been keeping their fingers crossed for the return of Ayad Allawi, the ex-prime minister appointed by the Americans when sovereignty was handed back to the Iraqis. However, Mr. Allawi failed to deliver at the polls, and the first instinct was to contravene the numbers and bring him back to the top. To do that, Mr. Khalilzad put forward a plan to split the winning Shia block by promising American support to several hopefuls for the prime minister's job. The natural contender was Ibrahim Jaafari, the current prime minister who hoped to continue his mandate into a four year term. Another was American favorite and acolyte of Mr. Hakim's, Adel Abdel-Mahdi, and a third was the chairman of the Fadhila party, Nadim Al-Jabiri. Mr. Jabiri was the most ambitious and least talented of the lot, and thus, the easiest to dupe.

On January 20, a meeting was set up between Khalilzad, Allawi and Jabiri. According to sources privy to the discussions, Mr. Jabiri was promised the prime minister's slot if he could tear away his Fadhila Party faction and join the Kurds, the Sunnis, and Mr. Allawi's block. Mr. Allawi would later tell his lieutenants that the plan involved breaking off Fadhila and then forcing Mr. Jabiri - freshly out of friends - to deliver his votes to Mr. Allawi's bid for the top job.

This was a fine intrigue had it been employed anywhere else, but events are unfolding in Iraq that no amount of planning can keep up with: American meddling is no longer understood as a justifiable strategic move to ward off the Iranians, rather it is seen as a move to weaken the Shias at a historical juncture when the denominational components Iraqi nation must decide on toughing it out or parting ways. This is the wrong time to play political games and further complicate a difficult situation.

And it was made more difficult when Mr. Jaafari actually secured enough votes within the Shia block for a second term, narrowly defeating Mr. Abdel-Mahdi. Now Mr. Jaafari can claim to have been the democratic choice of the Iraqi people, even though his administrative track record was abysmal. But that did not hold people back from voting for the list he was associated with, or with its members choosing him to continue in his post.

The Americans should have considered this the point at which their undermining of Mr. Jaafari was to be formally over and a period of mending bridges with him should have commenced. But Mr. Khalilzad was miffed that his plan was not going as planned, and he convinced Washington that Mr. Jaafari could still be defeated, and Mr. Abdel-Mahdi would take his place, or even better, Mr. Allawi would re-enter the picture. This was two months ago, and since then, stalemate.

Having been exposed as a dupe, Mr. Jabiri was sidelined by the spiritual head of the Fadhila party, effectively turning Mr. Khalilzad's plan inside out. In fact, what has become clear is that America may have paralyzed Mr. Jaafari's bid for the top job, but it won't be getting either Mr. Allawi or Mr. Abdel-Mahdi in his stead. The next two names on the roster involve one gentleman who is yet still cozier to Iran's mullahs, and another who is close to the Syrian intelligence service.

Iraq could not afford these two months of political wrangling while events further lacerated the Shia. One of their holiest shrines, in Samarra, was blown up in late February, while in late March, an Iraqi "death squad" entered a Shia house of worship and killed two dozen civilians. Some shadowy Sadrist elements operated from that mosque, but it was also a place frequented by worshipers. The military objective, the capture of a Sadrist ringleader, was thoroughly botched; the wanted man managed to hide in one of the mosque's classrooms, climb over a wall and escape. This was followed by last week's triple suicide bombing of the Baratha Mosque in Baghdad, another symbolic emblem of Iraqi Shiism.

The good behavior of the Shias has gone unappreciated in light of these massive provocations. Having Mr. Khalilzad come in and disrupt their political ranks by undermining their democratic choice at this time is asking too much patience of them. If the violence in Baghdad subsides, there is yet a chance that the Shias would remain committed to a unified Iraq. Otherwise, with America seemingly turning against them, they may see no way out but to blow Iraq apart. The last ingredient to the much-debated civil war in Iraq is unrestrained Shia wrath. Mr. Khalilzad, after breaking too many eggs, should get on with the business of making an omelet; it is time for him to start working with Mr. Jaafari.

Mr. Kazimi is an Iraqi writer living in Washington, D.C. He can be contacted at nibraska@yahoo.com

April 12, 2006 Edition > Section: Opinion >

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Deadlock in Beirut

April 7, 2006 Edition > Section: Opinion >

Deadlock in Beirut


April 7, 2006
URL: http://www.nysun.com/article/30643\

The next "dialogue" session among Lebanon's political bosses has been postponed until much later this month, bringing welcome news to Beirut's motorists and those who fear the outbreak of sectarian strife.

Whenever the heads of Lebanon's six major factions get together to sort out their latest spate of feuds - this time over who gets to appoint a president for the republic - on the neutral grounds of parliament in Nejmeh Square, traffic between the three lobes of Beirut grinds to a halt as everyone scrambles to find a way around this central knot of heightened security. Six of these sessions have been held since early last month. Traffic jams reflect what is going inside the chamber where the heavyweights are supposed to reach accord: everyone knows that things are at a standstill, but everyone hopes that this charade will keep going for much longer since forcing an outcome will spell violence.

Of the six, one heads an internationally recognized terrorist organization, another is a contender for the president's job that he has pursued for 17 years and was willing at one point to lob artillery fire against those who stood in his way, and a third is a political neophyte whose eyes are glazed most of the time, fueling speculation in rumor-rife Beirut. The other three may be even worse. For all of Lebanon's sophistication, human potential, and cosmopolitanism, the individual Lebanese is a willing droid in the militias of these sad excuses for leadership, and will gladly follow them to the end if that is in the interest of one's particular sectarian or religious denomination.

Looming on the sidelines of this "dialogue" are the interests of Syria on one side, and those of the America, France and Saudi Arabia on the other. Too add a further complication, an American diplomat, Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman, has gone native and is playing the macabre game of Lebanese politics as a Lebanese entity, rather than as a representative of American interests, giving promises and access in cavalier fashion without a clearly thought-out policy coming from Washington. Out of this motley assortment of clashing personalities, loyalties and agendas, a much awaited accommodation over the destiny of Lebanon is being expected.

It will not happen. And that is a good thing: as things stand, one side will win, and one side will lose, if the political equation in Lebanon is tampered with. Whichever side loses will go off to sulk in the corner awaiting the opportune moment to strike back. Such a moment may come very soon as Al Qaeda nests in Lebanon and seeks to sow an atmosphere of chaos, as increasing indications show. So the best that can be hoped for is a long drawn-out draw, while tempers are allowed to subside.

The last several times the contenders walked away in a huff from the table resulted in stretches of civil war that altogether ran for 15 years. Near the rebuilt downtown of Beirut where parliament holds its sessions is a stark reminder of darker days: the burnt-out and pockmarked hulk of the former Holiday Inn Hotel stands out like a rectangular tombstone over the capital, marking the fact that for a very long time, the Lebanese went at each other's throats with bloodcurdling malice.

All those meeting at the roundtable realize the simplest fact about Lebanon: the volatile mix of angry and vengeful sects and religions is ever ready to blow, and all it needs is an aggravated political situation and a spark. Since the murder of former Prime Minister Rafiq Al-Hariri some 400 days ago, as marked by digital counters all over Lebanon, the country has been roiled by a political crisis that may seem simple on the face of things - variously packaged as a drive to push the last vestiges of Syrian occupation out - but conceals ominous outcomes such as a sectarian clash between Shias and Sunnis.

The sad story of Lebanon is one of competing birthrates, fear and a very superficial understanding of democracy. The numerically dominant sect interprets the system to give it privileges and rights over other sects, and this has been the situation encased in the unwritten national charter that was reached as a gentlemen's agreement between Maronite Christian and Sunni Muslim political chiefs in 1943. But chiefdom in later years fell to ambitious adventurers who were not gentlemanlike in behavior. Lebanon was set up when the Maronites were the majority, but dwindling birthrates and immigration compelled the Muslims to try to renegotiate the charter to their advantage, and when talks broke down, bullets were employed to bring the numbers of rival sects down.

Today, the Shias are the plurality, and that will give them an edge of in the coming decade. But a closer look at other parameters suggests that another group is ascendant, the Sunnis, and there are those such as Abu Musaab al-Zarqawi and Al Qaeda who are interested in opening up a franchise in Lebanon, and scaring the heck out of the Shias and Christians.

Why would Al Qaeda be interested in a place like Lebanon, full of quarrelsome non-Muslim or heterodox minorities and a penchant for loose values? The Lebanese civil war was sparked as the Palestinians sought a margin of chaos from which to operate against Israel. They were a catalyst in an already unstable situation. Zarqawi is interested in Lebanon as a staging ground to bring down the Syrian regime and install a militant Islamic sultanate in its stead that would fight Israel and lay the groundwork for a full-fledged caliphate. He also sees the Sunni birthrate as a recruiting pool for future generations of jihadists with an axe to grind against hated next-door neighbors such as Shias and Christians.

Of particular use is the piece of real-estate known as the Western Beka'a, a hilly landscape seasonally inhabited by wealthy expatriate Sunnis who have the funds and temperament to be good patrons of Al Qaeda's goals. This is an island of Sunnis surrounded on all sides by hostile sects, apparently engendering a deep sense of embattled orthodoxy. One of its more famous sons was Ziad Jarrah, one of the principal September 11 terrorists. From here Al Qaeda would be in striking range of Israeli settlements, and thus would enjoy periodic "good press" among Muslim masses whenever their shocking tactics had gone too far. And through the valleys to the east, they can access the environs of Damascus lying only a short distance away.

Another interesting sight is the abject poverty in the Sunni towns to the north of Lebanon that are bursting with children and teenagers. Over there, fundamentalism is apparent in the dress code and the numerous Islamic charities that provide services such as schools and clinics. Although the rhetoric of disenfranchisement and poverty was traditionally the realm of Shia politics, a whole swath of Lebanon dominated by Sunnis languishes in a state far worse than the Shia "ghetto" of south Beirut or the Shia towns in the south or east of the country. It is those Sunnis who are showing up as fighters in Iraq, or who are now coming under increasing suspicion as the perpetrators of Hariri's murder.

As the politicians quibble, the badly woven fabric of the Lebanese state comes under further strain. If one side pulls hard enough to force a breakthrough in the political deadlock, then the fabric will tear. This eventuality will drive one side or another to arms and violence, further expanding the margins of chaos. It is exactly in these margins that Al Qaeda seeks to operate. The talks being held in Beirut will lead to nowhere, which is a far better destination than an Islamic sultanate ruled by Zarqawi.

Mr. Kazimi is an Iraqi writer living in Washington D.C. His current travels around the Middle East included a visit to Lebanon. He can be contacted at nibraska@yahoo.com