The Insurgent's Log
politics, insurgency and violence in the contemporary world

Tuesday, May 20, 2003  

But meanwhile, for some morning cheer, try reading Beirut Redux in the New Republic. It's about the proliferation of militias in Iraq (from Hizb'allah to the Communist Party).

"Iraq as Lebanon" is of course a favorite, if so far unsubstantiated, theme of mine.

posted by The Insurgent | 12:08 AM |

Monday, May 19, 2003  

The Insurgent is presently traveling, and will begin to share his insights once again from June the 7th.

posted by The Insurgent | 11:48 PM |

Tuesday, May 13, 2003  

Meanwhile, Indonesia's restive Aceh province is set to re-ignite into a vicious civil war. Indonesian forces spent thirty years brutalizing East Timor, and a renewed Aceh civil war will bring disaster to its people.

Human Rights Watch last month wrote an open letter to Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri and Teungku Hasan di Tiro, the president of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM), which summarizes recent developments.

posted by The Insurgent | 12:40 PM |

Sunday, May 11, 2003  

Where are the WMD?
The Washington Post reports that US arms teams, frustrated at their inability to find any "weapons of mass destruction", are to leave Iraq next month:

The group directing all known U.S. search efforts for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq is winding down operations without finding proof that President Saddam Hussein kept clandestine stocks of outlawed arms, according to participants.

The 75th Exploitation Task Force, as the group is formally known, has been described from the start as the principal component of the U.S. plan to discover and display forbidden Iraqi weapons. The group's departure, expected next month, marks a milestone in frustration for a major declared objective of the war.

This is huge. The threat from Iraq's "weapons of mass destruction" was the prime reason for the US to invade Iraq. Remember what George W. Bush grandly declared in Prague last November:

"However, should he choose not to disarm, the United States will lead a coalition of the willing to disarm him..."

Notwithstanding what the war's defenders are bound to argue about freeing Iraq, the war was always about WMD. We were supposed to bear with Colin Powell's vague and unconvincing Security Council presentation and Tony Blair's sham of an "Iraq dossier" on faith. The irony is that two of the more sensible members of the "coalition of the willing" might have to pay the price of (I might add utterly transparent) misjudgments and ideological leaps of faith made by their ultra-conservative allies.

Perhaps this is premature hand-wringing, but I do hear the pealing of electoral bells.

P.S. See this Times article for a summary of the recriminations over the WMD issue.

posted by The Insurgent | 8:26 PM |

Mujahideen Update III
The Mujahideen-e-Khalq has agreed to abide by American terms and to disarm (that is, hand over its weapons to US forces). This puts into abeyance for the moment my theory (also see here) that the US will use Mujahideen forces to counter Shi'a militias like the Badr Brigade.

posted by The Insurgent | 8:09 PM |

Bye Bye Ba'ath?
General Tommy Franks has announced the dissolution of Iraq's Ba'ath party. But only the 55 most senior Ba'ath officials are to be barred from participating in a new government. This has caused protests in Baghdad and elsewhere, with many Iraqis outraged that "hundreds" of Ba'athists may be re-assimilated into a new Iraqi government. The appointment of Ali al-Janabi as minister of health caused hundreds of doctors, nurses and health workers to protest, and the reinstatement of Baghdad University's Ba'athist president has in turn inflamed faculty members and others who suffered under Saddam Hussein's regime (see a detailed and related discussion see Casus Belli). The Washington Post's Rajiv Chandrasekaran writes that:

For U.S. administrators here, it is easier in many ways to interact with Baathist officials than with the Shiite Muslim clerics and tribal sheiks who have sought to establish themselves as power brokers in postwar Iraq. The party's founding ideology promoted secular, modern Arabism. Many of Iraq's best-educated people were members. Many members speak English, dress in business suits and possess diplomas from Western universities.

This is only partly the reason for these moves. As I have written previously, the political motivation (as distinct from the cultural argument above) for "re-Ba'athification" to counter populist Shi'a movements is very strong, and the quick reinstatement of an Iraqi government will allow it to displace Islamic charities and neighborhood associations that have sprung up in the wake of regime collapse.

Since exile groups have been advocating a program of "de-Ba'athification" patterned after Germany's post-WW2 "de-Nazification", this provides them with the opportunity to carve out a distinct political space. Ahmad Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress have already taken the lead in trying to root out Baghdad University's Ba'ath-tainted administrators; they could gain a lot of support by making this the centerpiece of a political campaign. And thus establish their credentials as a political force willing to resist American policy.

posted by The Insurgent | 7:35 PM |

Has the White House been reading The Nation? This article argues that despite SCIRI's ambivalence about theocracy in Iraq, the US shouldn't try to isolate it:

Even in the face of mounting protests against a US occupation, especially visible during the Shiite pilgrimage to Karbala, US officials have done far too little to assuage Iraqis' concerns or to bring groups like SCIRI, who voice these concerns, back to the table. Instead, Administration officials have supported hand-picked figureheads like Chalabi, who according to Smyth "has more support in Washington numerically than he'll ever have in Iraq."

This strategy of sidelining Shiites who oppose US dominance of an interim government may strengthen the influence of SCIRI's more extremist members. "If SCIRI is integrated peacefully into Iraqi politics," Gerges predicts, "it will likely play by the rules of the political game and serve as a stabilizing force. Its inclusion, not its exclusion, disarms and pre-empts the religious hard-liners within its ranks."

Wisely, engaging SCIRI is current US policy. SCIRI leader Ayatollah al-Hakim for his part has called for a democratic Islamic state where women's and minority rights are protected (read excerpts from his speech in Basra yesterday).

posted by The Insurgent | 9:28 AM |

Saturday, May 10, 2003  

Mujahideen Update II
In an apparent reversal of an earlier decision (read this Washington Post story for details), the US has decided to compel the Mujahideen-e-Khalq to surrender its weapons. As I predicted on April the 24th, the Defense Department wanted to use the MKO as a counterweight to armed Shi'a militias. Yet the State Department was concerned that doing so would unnecessarily antagonize Iran and even violate an explicit promise made to that country prior to the war in Iraq. Permitting the MKO to retain its weapons also left Washington vulnerable to the charge that it was cooperating with terrorists while simultaneously using the excuse of state-sponsored terrorism to invade Iraq. Iran seems to have responded favorably to this change in policy.

Meanwhile, SCIRI leader Ayatollah Bakr al-Hakim has arrived in Basra, and has been welcomed by cheering crowds. The competition for Shi'a hearts and minds between SCIRI and the Sadr movement has begun. SCIRI's participation in a US-sponsored interim government also marks a rapprochement between pro-Iran forces and the United States. Taken together, the change in the US attitude towards the MKO and SCIRI's growing cooperation with the US is encouraging for the stability of Iraq, at least in the short run. Funnily enough, the radicalism of the indigenous Sadr movement could well have contributed to this apparent rapprochement!

posted by The Insurgent | 12:08 AM |

Wednesday, May 07, 2003  

Time magazine has a fascinating profile of Muqtada al-Sadr, the youthful leader of the Sadr movement, who is challenging both pro-Iran and moderate (or "quietist") clerics for leadership of the Shi'a in Iraq. Some extracts:

Not that he'll accept the top job in a new government in the (rather unlikely) event its offered to him by the Americans: "The U.S. will ignore the opinion of the Iraqi people and it will compose the new government according to its own desires," Muqtada told a press conference this week. For that reason, he says, he will decline any offer to rule the new Iraq. "I don't want the chair of the government because it will be controlled by the U.S. and I don't want to be controlled by the U.S." When asked if that meant he would want to attack the Americans, he snorted and replied with the colloquial Arabic equivalent of "Why would I want to f**k myself?" He declined further comment, implying that it would only get him into trouble.

Unlike his father, Muqtada has no formal religious standing to interpret the Koran, and relies for religious authority on an Iran-based Iraqi exiled cleric, Ayatollah Kazem al-Haeri. But he clearly believes he will himself assume the rank of marjah — the highest authority on religion and law in Shiism, in American pop-cultural terms a knight on the highest Jedi council.

Even before he attains such status, he does not hide his contempt many of the others who have. "I deny all marjah, except for Haeri, and I represent the second martyr (meaning his father) and not the Hawza (the supreme religious academy of Iraqi Shi'ism, located in Najaf)." Of the other marjah, he says, "some of them have no followers." He downplays the importance, both political and military, of one of the most senior marjah, Ayatollah Mohammed Sayeed al-Hakim, leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and its military wing, the Badr corps. "The Badr corps have ten or twelve thousand supporters while three quarters of Iraq are soldiers of Sadr. The Iraqi people don't follow any marjah but my father. And Haeri is important now, because my father deputized him."

posted by The Insurgent | 1:43 PM |

Tuesday, May 06, 2003  

Palestine Update
Ha'aretz reports that--according to a poll conducted in the Gaza Strip--60 percent of Palestinians support a halt to suicide bombings against Israel. This is not so surprising. Many Palestinians distinguish between armed attacks on settlers and troops in the occupied territories, and attacks on innocent civilians within Israel, and Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement has faced divisions over this issue.

But more importantly (assuming, of course, that the poll is genuine) this gives Palestinian Prime Minister Abu Mazen a boost in his efforts to get Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade to cease attacking civilians in Israel.

posted by The Insurgent | 3:39 PM |

The Council of the Exiles
In an encouraging development, the US has appointed five influential Iraqi exiles to form a provisional government in Iraq. These include the two Kurdish leaders, Massoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani, who rule the autonomous Kurdish areas in the north. The Pentagon's candidate--Ahmad Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress (INC)--and the CIA's favorite--Ayad Allawi of the Iraqi National Accord (INA) are also on board. The big surprise is the fact that Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the military commander of SCIRI and its leader's brother, has accepted a position in the provisional government after having previously refused to cooperate with a transitional government crafted by the US. SCIRI's decision to cooperate is likely the product of some skilful American diplomacy as well as enlightened thinking on the part of SCIRI's leadership.

Juan Cole seems to think that SCIRI's inclusion is a mistake, because the populist Sadr movement is more powerful and representative of the Shi'a in Iraq, and that giving SCIRI a platform will help exclude moderate clergy such as the Ayatollah al-Sistani from a voice in the government. But this is exactly why SCIRI must be included. Moqtada al-Sadr's people have a far more formidable rival in SCIRI (remember the Badr Brigade), and any cautionary behavior induced by SCIRI-US cooperation can only benefit the moderates, who have faced a relentless attack from the Sadr movement. The need of the hour is to stabilize the political balance-of-power, and to reduce the incentive of any one actor to overturn the status quo. The Sadr movement is indeed the wild card of the pack, but SCIRI's inclusion is likelier to tame than to incite it. I doubt that Moqtada al-Sadr is ready to take on SCIRI militarily, or that his supporters even want to (for a contrary view, see my post on the fascism of the Sadr movement!).

posted by The Insurgent | 2:39 PM |

Friday, May 02, 2003  

Iran's supreme religious leader Ayatollah Khamenei has denounced the United States' cease-fire with the Mujahideen-e-Khalq, as has Iran's foreign ministry. Iran has reason to be upset because, apart from the MKO's usefulness as an anti-clerical Iranian Shi'a organization, the US now has a new weapon in its efforts to pressure Iran to cease helping Hizb'allah, Hamas and other radical Middle Eastern groups. The Bush administration is using the conquest of Iraq to try and reshape the Middle East (as the neocons promised us), and this would be one way to do so.

posted by The Insurgent | 2:19 PM |