Talisman Gate

Friday, February 16, 2007

Fiery, Dangerous Words

February 16, 2007 Edition > Section: Opinion >

Fiery, Dangerous Words


February 16, 2007
URL: http://www.nysun.com/article/48783

Some very incendiary words are being said these days in the Middle East: Sunnis and Shiites are trading insults, barbs, and, most ominously, threats on a scale not heard before.

This agitation is being cynically manipulated by some Sunni Arab regimes — namely the rulers of Saudi Arabia — that hope that sectarian demarcation will ward off alleged Iranian and Shiite designs for regional domination.

The Saudis think that the damage done by dividing societies into warring sects can be contained, but hate-filled myths have a way of taking on a life of their own. What gets said today may result in setting the Persian Gulf ablaze in a few years time, sending the global economy into tumult.

After the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime, the Saudi regime understood that the power balance of the Middle East had undergone a historical shift when the Shiites began to lord over Baghdad. They saw that three important regional countries — Iran, Iraq, and Syria — could form a bloc against the Sunnis, whose two major powers in the region, Egypt and Turkey, were either too weak or too disinterested in joining the fight. When Hezbollah made a bid for the takeover of Lebanon, thus displacing Saudi Arabia's Sunni acolytes there, the Saudis felt they must act quickly to save themselves.

The Saudis needed to do that because there is a basic demographic formula they must always be mindful of — the Shiites constitute a majority of the populations on the Persian Gulf littoral, essentially making that body of water a Shiite lake. This wouldn't matter too much except that under the rim of this lake lies most of the world's oil reserve. Should the Shiites get too uppity, they may make a bid for the control of the one thing that keeps the Saudis and other Gulf Sunni regimes in power — oil wealth.

Therefore, it was convenient for the Saudis to forestall any Shiite notions of hegemony by agitating anti-Shiism across the region. The jihadists and the Saudi regime seem to be reading from the same page when it comes to sectarianism, for they both share Wahhabi roots — an Islamist ideology that is virulently anti-Shiite.

Some in the American government seem to have jumped on board by thinking that anti-Shiism distracts the jihadists from attacking the West and that it keeps Iran on the run.

This is a stupid, stupid policy.

When cornered and in danger of extermination, the Shiites will fight back — and with vengeance. The first to do so will be Saudi Arabia's own 2.5 million Shiite minority, which is concentrated on the eastern edge of the country — where all the oil is.

The two leading global authorities of Wahhabism, very much part and parcel of the Saudi establishment, have authored fatwas, or religious edicts, essentially holding all Shiites as fair game for Sunni attacks. The biggest recognized Wahhabi authority, Sheik Nassir al-Barak, issued a fatwa denouncing the Shiites as "worse than the Christians and Jews" in December, which was followed a month later by another, even harsher fatwa dictated by the second biggest recognized Wahhabi authority, Sheik Abdullah al-Jebreen.

The latter put forward seven reasons why he sees the Shiites as heretical polytheists and concludes that "we must be careful and should warn others of their tricks and plots, and we should boycott them, and expel them and cast them off to protect the Muslims from their evil."

But the jihadists will not allow the Saudi royal family, whom they accuse of hypocrisy, of outdoing them, and they are apparently making anti-Shiism one of the central tenets of their jihad inside Saudi Arabia itself. After a 22-month lull, the "Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula" organization has resumed its monthly magazine, Sawt Aljihad, whose 30th electronic issue was released just last week on jihadist Web sites.

One lead article, written by someone calling himself Abu Ali al-Shimali, warns that "every Muslim must be aware of what might happen in the near future concerning the role to be played by the [Shiites] of the Gulf in the next phase which I believe will be similar to what the [Shiites] of Iraq did after the American occupation." In other words, Mr. al-Shimali is cautioning that the Shiites, who live in places like Saudi Arabia, may become allies of America, and must be dealt with before that happens. How is this Saudi jihadist's rhetoric different from that of Mr. al-Jebreen's?

Interestingly, this current issue of Sawt Aljihad is mostly focused on Al Qaeda's attack on the Abqaiq refinery in eastern Saudi Arabia on February 24, 2006, lauding it as a model of future operations that would bring the world's economy to its knees. But the real threat to the oil fields is not spiteful jihadists, but rather desperate Shiites.

For 300 years, the Shiite oasis-dwelling peasants and tradesmen of the Gulf have been mostly docile as Sunni tribes, fledgling states, and naval powers fought over their lands. The Islamic Revolution in Iran excited some fantasies of Shiite virility in the early 1980s, but Shiite radicalism was soon snuffed out by state brutality and watchfulness, especially in Saudi Arabia.

Nowadays, the Saudi regime can legitimately claim to be in full control of its security situation, but it is only a matter of time before young Saudi jihadists figure out that killing Shiites in Saudi cities and towns is far more convenient than traveling to Baghdad, Beirut, Kabul, or even Damascus.

Will the Saudi regime protect its Shiites then, even after allowing its leading clerics to bray for their blood? If it does, it risks losing its anti-Shiite credentials and would further inflame those jihadists to lash out against the royal family itself.

The attacks will come regardless, and the only defense the Shiites would have, when faced with being annihilated or deported, would be to set the oil fields on fire to grab world attention. The irony is that the Saudis will sell this to the rest of the world as Shiite "terrorism" just as the arrest of Saudi democracy advocates a couple of weeks ago was spun by the authorities there as "counterterrorism."

But can those Shiites really be blamed for acting in desperation? And will newly empowered Iraqi Shiites sit idly by, especially given that the Saudi Wahhabis have been fanning the flames of the Sunni insurgency thus setting a precedent for cross-border meddling between the two countries?

I guess we'll know the answers soon enough if sectarian hate-speech proceeds unabated, but what can be certain is that igniting irresponsible sparks in the Middle Eastern tinderbox may not be very wise for anyone.

Mr. Kazimi can be reached at nibraska@yahoo.com

February 16, 2007 Edition > Section: Opinion >

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Media Blackout

February 8, 2007 Edition > Section: Opinion >

Blackout of the Press


February 8, 2007
URL: http://www.nysun.com/article/48291

Abu Omar al-Baghdadi made his grand entrance onto the jihadist stage on October 12, 2006, and since then he's delivered two very important speeches — the more recent one came out last week — and has taken credit for much of the spectacular outbreaks of violence in Iraq of late, yet he still can't get his name in print on the pages of the New York Times. Why are the editors and reporters of that paper not telling their readers anything about Iraq's top terrorist?

Abu Omar al-Baghdadi is Al Qaeda's guy in Iraq, and nowadays, the Sunni insurgency is being whittled down to Al Qaeda's activity in Iraq. It's that simple, and he's that important.

So why isn't the Times writing that? I think the answer has something to do with what seems, to my eyes, to be a determined campaign to keep the American people from knowing the nature of the enemy in Iraq because identifying this enemy as Al Qaeda casts the debate about the war in a whole different light.

Here the timeline behind al-Baghdadi's emergence on the scene:

— On October 17, 2004, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi changes the name of his organization, Monotheism and Jihad, to Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia after swearing fealty to the mother Al Qaeda organization under Osama bin Laden.

— On January 15, 2006, Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia expands its writ by forming an umbrella organization called the Shura Council of the Mujaheddin, whereby Zarqawi cedes the public face of Al Qaeda to an Iraqi figurehead, Abdullah Rashid al-Baghdadi, but maintains full authority over the new entity.

— On June 7, 2006, Zarqawi is killed, and he's succeeded shortly thereafter by Abu Hamza al-Muhajir.

— On October 12, 2006, Al Qaeda further expands on the Shura Council of the Mujaheddin by forming yet a larger umbrella group, the Islamic State of Iraq. Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, not to be confused with the aforementioned Abdullah Rashid al-Baghdadi, is declared emir, or ruler, of this "state."

— On November 10, 2006, al-Muhajir, speaking as Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia's chief, pledges his allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and to al-Baghdadi as its head, and makes a point of highlighting al-Baghdadi's pedigree: He is of the tribe of Quraish, a usual prerequisite for a would-be caliph.

— On December 22, 2006, Al-Baghdadi gives his first speech, addressing Muslims everywhere. The presenter introduces him as the "Prince of the Faithful"—a title usually reserved for caliphs.

Thus, there is no entity that describes itself as Al Qaeda operating in Iraq anymore. There's only the Islamic State of Iraq. As head of that state, al-Baghdadi is a big deal. And it doesn't stop there, for all the hints being dropped about the caliphate seem to indicate that al-Baghdadi is Al Qaeda's candidate for that job.

But it's not only the anti-war crowd in the press that doesn't want the American people to know that America's soldiers are fighting an Al Qaeda-led insurgency in Iraq. The Central Intelligence Agency and most of America's intelligence community don't want to do that either, according to a major scoop reported by the Sun's own Eli Lake on Monday. Mr. Lake writes that the CIA and others are still concluding that the insurgency is, for the most part, Baathist in nature, while those actually battling the insurgency on the ground, namely the intelligence arms of the Army and the Marines, are contesting that assertion claiming instead that the Sunni insurgency is largely driven by Al Qaeda.

The generic term "insurgent" — preferred by most press organs — is bland and insipid, while the term Al Qaeda may strike an emotional note with many Americans. It is one thing for congressional Democrats and presidential hopefuls to pledge withdrawing the American military from a melee with insurgents, and a whole different thing for them to sound a retreat in the face of an Al Qaeda offensive.

And an Al Qaeda offensive is exactly what al-Baghdadi promises in his February 2 speech, posted as an audio file on several jihadist Web sites, and which may be read in full at my blog, talismangate.blogspot.com. Al-Baghdadi says that his Dignity Plan is supposed to counter President Bush's "surge" and that it will only end when Mr. Bush signs a treaty of surrender. And what would this surrender look like? Al-Baghdadi spelled out the terms in an earlier speech: "We order you to withdraw your forces immediately. But the withdrawal must be via troop transport trucks and passenger planes whereby each soldier is allowed to carry his own weapon only. They may not withdraw any of the heavy military equipment and the military bases must be handed over to the mujaheddin of the Islamic State and the duration of the withdrawal may not exceed a month."

Not very favorable terms, but I wonder whether some in the Senate would go for it anyway: Too many in the congressional chamber seem to think that surrender is the only option left.

This is a shame, since if one listens closely to what al-Baghdadi was saying last week, one would be able to detect a note of palpable concern over the "surge," as well as hints of jihadist-on-jihadist strife. In other words, Al Qaeda seems to be on a losing streak. Al-Baghdadi was reduced to cajoling his fighters to stand fast in front of the Americans and warned them against laying down their weapons until the battle is over. He cited a particular verse from the Koran that was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad after the early Muslims were roundly defeated in battle, as a means of telling the Al Qaeda rank and file that the setbacks they've endured lately are only temporary.

Al-Baghdadi also feels compelled to tell his fighters to take it easy with the other jihadist groups, which have yet to join the Islamic State of Iraq, while at the same time telling the holdouts that their obstinacy smells of sedition. There are other reports that insurgents are clashing among themselves as Al Qaeda imposes its hegemony over one and all, to the point that al-Baghdadi is compelled to tell his guys that "I am certain that the sincere monotheists are surely coming" our way "eventually, so be tender, be tender."

And in yet another gambit that smacks of desperation, al-Baghdadi tries to rile up the French and the Chinese against American global hegemony, and addresses those nations as "the freemen of the world." Not only that, but he adopts a scolding tone with North Korea, essentially invoking the "sharing is caring" line, when he says, "And let North Korea know that it owes its nuclear tests to the mujaheddin in Iraq." Translation: "Al Qaeda's actions distracted America from dealing with your evil, and the least you can do is share a nuclear device with us."

But why would the Times want to tell its readers that Al Qaeda is petitioning Kim Jong Il for a nuclear weapon? I guess I'm mistaken in thinking that this is newsworthy. Wait, I just realized something: No, this is indeed important, and the American public needs to know.

Mr. Kazimi can be reached at nibraska@yahoo.com

February 8, 2007 Edition > Section: Opinion >