Talisman Gate

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Let Beasts Devour Beasts

June 19, 2007 Edition > Section: Opinion >

Let Beasts Devour Beasts


June 19, 2007
URL: http://www.nysun.com/article/56857

I hereby declare victory. I believe the Sunni insurgency in Iraq has collapsed, and all the casualty tallies that the insurgents are desperately trying to ratchet-up won't convince me otherwise. The odor of defeat hangs heavily around the "dead-enders" — a term I'd like to bring back into vogue because it's an apt description for those gangs that remain to be hunted down, and who will be responsible for the baseline violence we will continue to see there, but at levels Iraqis can live with and still prosper.

Three months ago, I wrote a column on these pages, "Jihadist Meltdown." In it, I envisioned the endgame of the insurgency — the prospect of jihadists turning on jihadists. Over the last two weeks, the Sunni strongholds of western Baghdad have witnessed street battles between the two main insurgent factions responsible for the bulk of violence in Iraq: Al Qaeda's Islamic State of Iraq and the Islamic Army.

This is how it ends, with the remaining vigor of the insurgency being marshaled by violent men against like-minded violent men, releasing that unique anger and resentment that splintering groups reserve for those nearest to them in ideology. The Sunni insurgency, initially unleashed against the American project for a new Iraq, has become an internal Sunni problem. Its concluding phase shall be a process of attrition among Iraq's Sunnis that they must endure over the next decade — to be spent stamping out the embers of the fire they so foolishly started.

But before adopting a celebratory tone, we must be alerted to a disturbing symptom of America's stomach for sacrifice. Washington at war is a city of artificial deadlines, ones tending toward a hasty declaration of defeat rather than being engaged for the purpose of victory.

The next such deadline is supposed to be General David Petraeus' testimony in Congress sometime in September on the results of the Baghdad security "surge" he'd been tasked to conduct. Will the politicians fathom the positive trends of jihadist infighting, or will they play up the panic of mounting American casualties to score a resonating sound byte in the election tussle?

Another persistently dangerous symptom of America at war is the inability of its diplomats and bureaucrats to tell friend from foe. There is reluctance among America's leaders to hold diplomats and bureaucrats accountable for not toeing the line when it comes to sticking by America's principles.

American character should loathe an alliance of convenience with those who have American blood on their hands. But the bureaucratic instinct is to empower the Islamic Army — who remain boastful of killing American soldiers — by throwing them a lifeline of reprieve should they turn on Al Qaeda.

The architects of this approach are still in charge or have been promoted. The former U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, is being feted around New York City as the new envoy to the United Nations, and the point person on Iraq at the White House, Megan O'Sullivan, has just been delegated as President Bush's political envoy to Baghdad. Both have nothing but shame to show for two years of backburner negotiations with the Islamic Army.

The quick fix is in: inviting the Islamic Army to the table among the forces that have joined the Iraqi political process. Wait a minute. Is this the same Islamic Army that adopted Al Qaeda's anti-Shiite rhetoric? The same Islamic Army that blew up American soldiers in retaliation for Israeli incursions into the West Bank? The same Islamic Army that has assassinated the family members of those Iraqis who are already at the table? To hell with this macabre banquet of ghouls, beheaders, and murderers. Let Al Qaeda weed out the Islamic Army, let beasts devour beasts.

The Islamic Army didn't listen to the reasoning of Messrs. Khalilzad and O'Sullivan. It turned on Al Qaeda because the latter went too far with her declaration of an Islamic State, and then promptly tried to force the Islamic Army to pledge allegiance to it unwillingly. They split over shades of ideology, not on practicalities or any hints of reawakened scruples.

The Islamic Army may be more numerous, but Al Qaeda is more active and ferocious. Al Qaeda shall triumph in a test of wills between the two. It shall squelch the Islamic Army in the ongoing battle over diverging ideology and diminishing turf and resources, but it shall do so at much cost.

A weakened and unpopular Al Qaeda will be easier to pick off by American and Iraqi forces. The Islamic Army has recently resorted to leaking critical intelligence of Al Qaeda to the Iraqi government in a desperate attempt to hold their new enemies at bay. They know each other intimately, having fought alongside one another for years. They also know where they live, and where they hide their arms caches.

A measure of the intelligence windfall is that we know the identities of those who lead both groups. Al Qaeda's candidate for the caliphate, an Iraqi, "Abu Omar al-Baghdadi" cannot hide behind a pseudonym any longer. It is almost certain that he is Khalid Khalil Ibrahim Al-Mashhadani, a Sunni fundamentalist who used to own a car registration business during the Saddam days.

The head of the Islamic Army, who goes by "Abu Usama," is likely one of Saddam's ex-generals, Brigadier General Muhammad Abid Mahmoud Ali Al-Luheibi, whose older brother, Lieutenant General Ali Al-Luheibi, used to lead the notoriously savage Saddam's Feddayeen and now manages negotiations for his brother from Istanbul.

Feeling the pressure, the Islamic Army has declared a one-sided truce with Al Qaeda on June 6. But truces and ceasefires are made to be broken in the Middle East. Both sides are gearing to finish off the other one. Iraqi and American interests converge in sitting back and comfortably watching the enemy fight itself.

Yet another of Washington's follies is its tendency to scapegoat others when things don't turn up peachy. The bête noirs of the day are the neoconservatives and the government of the prime minister of Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki. Unfortunately, a cowed President Bush is more than willing to pass on blame and offer sacrificial lambs to the partisan bonfire. Hence his administration's shameful stance on the Scooter Libby trial and verdict.

Another easy target is Mr. Maliki, who is being burdened with an impossible political timetable that Washington has convinced itself will bring peace in Iraq. Those closer to the fire though understand that it will only conflagrate the flames.

Washington wants a full reversal of de-Baathification, even to the point of bringing back to their jobs the worst of Saddam's torturers and thugs. The thinking is that these mass murderers — many of whom found work with Al Qaeda and the Islamic Army — will stop killing American soldiers if they can get back to the habit of taking out their evil on Iraqis. This will not fly in Baghdad, and there's nothing that Mr. Maliki can do when someone of Ayatollah Ali Sistani's stature has signaled his opposition to this particular revision of the Iraqi Constitution — in which de-Baathification is enshrined.

The political process is maturing in Iraq according to its own pace, giving Mr. Maliki and the state he heads the confidence to battle the terrorists more determinedly and effectively.

Another measure of how much things have improved was the ability of Mr. Maliki's government to contain widespread sectarian violence in reprisal for Wednesday's repeat bombing of the holy Shiite shrine in Samarra — an act that the "dead-enders" thought would turn the tide back in their favor, but were sorely disappointed.

Iraq is heading toward safety, but America is mistaken if it believes that its battle with terrorism is over. History is being propelled forward according to a timetable set by the violent acts of violent men, and the malicious spirit that perpetrated the attacks of September 11, 2001.

Such violent men will find many other opportunities, and battlefields, to do much harm. If America intends to continue winning, then we can't assume to win by default, whenever the enemy blunders. Washington at war needs to take a deep look at its poor political conduct toward Iraq so that the same mistakes are not repeated — giving comfort and encouragement to a jihadist enemy determined to win whenever the next round presents itself.

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

June 19, 2007 Edition > Section: Opinion >

Monday, June 11, 2007

Enduring Legacy, Defunct Policy

June 11, 2007 Edition > Section: Opinion >

Among the Believers in Liberty


June 11, 2007
URL: http://www.nysun.com/article/56257

President Bush came to Prague and mapped out a legacy, but offered no immediate policy. Standing before an audience consisting of former and current dissidents from around the Middle East and the world as well as sympathetic European heads of state and officials at the Democracy and Security Conference held within the halls of the Foreign Ministry of the Czech Republic, Mr. Bush said most of the right things and occasionally in the right way — words and ideas that will be long remembered — but offered no punch.

It was gutsy of Mr. Bush to stick to these same words and ideas that he put forward to the world as the guiding principles of his second inaugural address, principles that have been maligned and ridiculed as the democratic start-up in Iraq seemed to sow nothing but mayhem. Mr. Bush had been clear as he began his second term: young angry men, oppressed by tyrannical regimes, tend to drift towards the path of terrorism to express their anger, usually in the misguided direction of Western societies. What Bush would do is push that part of the world that is lagging behind in the age of liberty and human rights to catch up and extend to all their citizens the inherent dignity that is unalienable to all mankind. The idea seemed to make sense, and it was particularly sensible for the leader of a country founded on such principles, and at the frontlines of terrorism, to make the case.

Yet powerful forces, sometimes acting with the collusion of the president's own bureaucracies, conspired to thwart this vision and render its application a bloody mess. In allocating blame, one cannot but call out Mr. Bush on his own leadership: his forceful conviction — that democracy ensures stability — was not translated into forceful action. He hesitated and blinked, and the bad guys grew more audacious and confident.

I found a seat next to Russian dissident Gary Kasparov, who spent 20 years as the world's top ranking chess player before retiring from the game to dedicate his time to the Other Russia Alliance that seeks to fortify his country's democracy. I asked him, moments before Mr. Bush took the podium, whether he expected the president to address the belligerent threat made against the West by Russia's Vladimir Putin just days ahead of the conference. Mr. Kasparov responded, "If not now, then when?" In the event, Mr. Bush made an oblique comment about the slide backwards in the anti-democratic direction that the world has been witnessing in Russia. Mr. Kasparov's first reaction as the audience rose to give Bush its last applause: "I'm appalled. He said nothing." And in a way he's right; why is it that Mr. Putin speaks so clearly while Mr. Bush must respond subtly? Why do thugs yell with clarity, yet the righteous mumble away?

The eerie part was that the ex-KGB officer, Mr. Putin, was left unchallenged in a hall that overlooked a courtyard where the KGB had, in 1948, murdered the former foreign minister of our Czech hosts, as Stalin set out to break the small, liberal European nations within his imagined orbit, and an exhausted and complacent West looked on, only to have to deal with the Soviet threat over the ensuing decades.

It was good of Mr. Bush to mention Ayman Nour, the Egyptian dissident who challenged Hosni Mubarak's three-decade long authoritarian rule in the presidential election of September 2005, only to be subsequently tarnished on trumped up charges and hauled to prison. That is the nature of all dictatorships dealing with dissent — a course of punishment that two of the conveners of this conference, Vaclav Havel and Nathan Sharansky, experienced first-hand. But why is it that Mr. Mubarak, whose people's food security is tied to subsidized American grain, can get away with stonewalling and ignoring the president of the United States, the most powerful man in the world? Would an Egyptian president have been able to pull off a similar stunt if faced with the resolve of a Soviet Russia of the past, or a Mother Russia of the unfolding future?

We must realize that tyrants only respond to sticks and stones, and they certainly must not be left with the impression that they can push America around. The soft-touch diplomats around Mr. Bush counseled soft words as the fog of Iraq enveloped Washington, leaving Mr. Nour in jail and Mr. Mubarak in power; with Egypt remaining a net exporter of angry, young terrorists.

The staff accompanying Mr. Bush, ranging from the Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte, and National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, were intently watching the faces of the seated dissidents listening to the speech, and their searching glances seemed to suggest the question, "Are they buying it?"

Well, Mr. Kasparov certainly didn't.

The president also didn't focus on the issue at the center of all this, Iraq and the democratic incubator there. The Independent senator from Connecticut, Joseph Lieberman, didn't dodge that bullet at an address he gave to the delegates the previous day. Mr. Lieberman made it clear that the forces thwarting democracy are in league with those who perpetrated the attacks on September 11, 2001, and that more attacks are on the way if America doesn't win in Iraq and bear down hard upon the enemies of liberty the world over.

The sacrifices of American soldiers and Iraqi civilians have lit a bonfire to alert all those who love and cherish life that the enemy is on the march and that this enemy is soul-crushingly cruel and manifestly ambitious. At the conference, many would come up to me, as a former Iraqi dissident, and ask, sheepishly and sympathetically, about how things are going in Iraq — more in the way of holding my hand than serious inquiry. Their tone seems to suggest that they've already given up on the prospects of eventual victory. They are so utterly mistaken, but it will take a long time to convince them otherwise.

Sadly, this sense of despair is all too prevalent among the believers in liberty, and hence the easy cynicism of those who detract the strategic value of liberty. Mr. Bush's vision will be remembered and put into force, but only when the world realizes that there's no other antidote to the poison of terrorism. That will only come in a decade's time to my thinking, after the images of a scorched Levant, a burning Persian Gulf, and a Europe in turmoil are seared unto our collective awareness. Then the world will find a relatively prosperous and democratic Iraq, and they will seek to replicate the model around Iraq.

One delegate from Lebanon who played a critical part in the Cedar Revolution two years ago put it best, "We are ready to sacrifice, all we want is your attention." The cohorts of the press, who play such a critical role in alerting us, are too inclined to be dismissive of such heroism, especially when the leaders of the world are not on hand for a sound-byte. Mr. Bush tried hard in Afghanistan and Iraq, but could not find the wherewithal to visit his resolve upon the remaining lairs — too many remain — of the enemy. We are left with words and photo-ops for now, and the tingling shivers of impending doom.

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

June 11, 2007 Edition > Section: Opinion >

Friday, June 01, 2007

The Perfect Enemy

June 1, 2007 Edition > Section: Opinion >

The Perfect Enemy

June 1, 2007
URL: http://www.nysun.com/article/55690

Let's take a look at a map of the Middle East through the eyes of a jihadist strategist and ask, "Where to next after Iraq and Afghanistan?" A plausible answer would be Syria and Lebanon, and the latter would only be useful as a base from which to operate within Syria — the real prize for the jihadists.

The ruling regime in Syria embodies the "Perfect Enemy" from a jihadist vantage point: it is equally tyrannical, ideologically abhorrent, and controlled by a sect that the jihadists view as heretical.

The Asad regime is easy to hate: it embodies the brutality of a dictatorship, the secularism of the Baath Party, and the heterodoxy of the Alawites. These are all things that the jihadists loathe, and they are betting that they can whip up enough support among regular Syrians and other Muslims to support waging jihad against such a regime.

Yet, why would the jihadists risk the hostility of the Syrian regime when Syria is their main logistics conduit point for foreign fighters and money going into Iraq?

In the very least, the Syrian regime has been turning a blind eye to jihadist activity on its soil ostensibly because turmoil in Iraq would keep America distracted from taking the Syrian dictator, Bashar Asad, to task over his misrule at home and his disruptive meddling in Lebanon.

Without Syria acting as a bridge, the jihadists in Iraq would deprive themselves of much needed extra manpower and funds, especially at such a critical time when the insurgency seems to be on the defensive against an American troop surge. Wouldn't that be self-defeating?

Public opinion in America and editorial opinion among most American news agencies suggest that they see the Iraqi insurgency on an upswing trajectory in an unwinnable war. That is a load of nonsense.

The insurgents, and most notably the ones who support Al Qaeda's agenda for a caliphate, have concluded that Iraq is a dead end for their cause — an end that they are rapidly approaching. It is time for them to immigrate to "greener" pastures — green in the sense of the symbolic color of Islam.

The place that is most fertile for jihad and the caliphate is Syria specifically because the Baathist, dictatorial, and Alawite nature of the hated regime there gives the jihadists that little extra push that could make their bid successful.

Since October of last year, I have been describing the trends that I believe will eventually defeat the jihadist insurgency in Iraq. The most important factors have little to do with the counterinsurgency efforts of the Americans and the Iraqis. We are winning because the enemy is defeating itself.

Al Qaeda made a fatal error when it hastily rushed into the caliphate project through its vehicle of the Islamic state of Iraq without the consensus of the other jihadist groups that are active on the ground. To compound matters, Al Qaeda's leadership in Iraq began forcing those holdouts to bow to its will, resulting in jihadist-on-jihadist strife. All this gave the jihad in Iraq a bad odor, and once-eager volunteers and financiers outside of Iraq turned hesitant over its long-term prospects.

Things have gotten so bad that one popular discussion theme on jihadist-friendly Internet forums is the alleged fickle and treacherous nature of the Iraqi people. The enthusiasts of this genre are mining history books and poetical anthologies to find all the bad things that have been said about Iraqis for over a millennia.

The mirror image of this debate is the rediscovery of all the good things that have been said about the allegedly blessed and upright character of the people of Syria and their foretold role, as attributed to a saying of the Prophet Muhammad's, in restoring the glory of Islam.

But developments are not confined to touchy feely sentiments about how things are going in Iraq or the sanctity of Syria's soil. Syrian-oriented jihadist groups are emerging out of the woodworks and making themselves known — in both Syria and Lebanon.

The trigger for this deluge is the recent fighting in the Nahr al-Barid camp between the Lebanese Army and a jihadist group, Fatih al-Islam. This group seems to have an agenda that encompasses the geographic entity of the modern states of Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Israel.

These jihadist groups seem to be leaving behind the preparation phase and entering into the realm of active jihad, and they wouldn't want a rival organization like Fatih al-Islam to monopolize the limelight of the press.

The most interesting of these groups delivered its jihadist calling card on May 27 — the Monotheism and Jihad Group in Bilad al-Sham. Their talking points, delivered by the leader of the group who calls himself by the pseudonym, Abu Jandal, highlight the dictatorial, secular, and sectarian nature of the Asad regime.

Abu Jandal counsels nothing short of the physical annihilation of the Alawites; he derogatively calls them the Nusayris, which is the historical moniker often employed by their theological opponents. To justify his outlook, all he needs to do is to refer to a much-hallowed radical Damascene cleric of the 13th century, Ahmad Ibn Taymiyya, who is the ideological fount of all the hardline Islamic sects such as Wahhabism.

Ibn Taymiyya issued three religious edicts in his time that castigated the Alawites as non-Muslims. He made it clear that as Alawite villages were put to the sword, Muslim soldiers were not allowed to eat any of the food that was prepared in an Alawite home, and they were not to rape their women — Alawite men, women, and children must be stamped out from the face of the earth.

Sunni and Shiite antagonism is a red hot issue in the Middle East today, partly stoked by Al Qaeda's murderous campaign in Iraq. Syria is a country where a "heretical" group, the Alawites, which is nominally closer to the Shiites and politically aligned with the Shiites of Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon, is lording over a predominately Sunni population — and not any Sunni population, but the proud inheritors of ultra-Sunni symbols such the Umayyad dynasty, Saladin, and Ibn Taymiyya, all of whom are buried in Damascus.

The situation is not boiling yet, but the temperature is certainly rising. While recently touring many Alawite shrines and villages, there wasn't a marked sense of trepidation among the people there, nor are Sunni areas experiencing any early signs of a nascent insurgency.

In fact, regime officials, dissidents, and regular folk in Syria are uniformly dismissive of such hard-line fundamentalist ideas taking hold in Syria once again as they did in the 1970s and the 1980s, but were subsequently crushed.

On the surface, the regime seems to be in total control: Asad won another seven-year term as president after garnering 97% of the "yes" vote in a staged referendum last week.

Even diplomatic setbacks at the United Nations, such as the Security Council's vote on Wednesday to establish an international tribunal to look into the assassination of the former prime minister of Lebanon, Rafiq Hariri, which many have speculated was Syria's doing, is unlikely to faze the regime any time soon.

Yet this jihadist enemy is different and far smarter than its previous incarnation. Two decades ago, dictatorial regimes monitored every single typewriter within its borders. Now, there's no way to stem jihadist dissemination through the many channels afforded by modern technology.

How many Syrian youths downloaded Abu Jandal's speech? And how many were swayed by his vitriol against the "Perfect Enemy" — the Asad regime? I bet the numbers would be enough to keep such a regime on its toes, and we will know soon enough if there's any bite to that bark.

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

June 1, 2007 Edition > Section: Opinion >