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

Tuesday, April 29, 2003  

Mujahideen Update
A New York Times report titled "American Forces Reach Cease-Fire With Terror Group" details the cease-fire that the US recently signed with the National Liberation Army , the armed wing of the anti-clerical Mujahideen-e-Khalq Organization (MKO). As I suggested on April the 24th, one of the objectives of the ceasefire is to counter the street power of Iraq's Shi'a militias:

One motivation for allowing the People's Mujahadeen to keep some weapons, they said, was to leave in place a balance of power between the group and the Iranian-backed fighters known as the Badr Brigade. Some of those fighters are based in Iraq and have continued to focus on the organization even since the fall of the Hussein government. If the Mujahadeen group were disarmed, American forces would have to assume the responsibility of separating the two antagonists, a task the heavily burdened American forces do not want to assume.

This is the first time the US government has reached an official agreement with an officially-designated "terrorist" group, which is interesting for several reasons. While the US has in the past supported violent groups around the world, this is the first time since September the 11th that it has done so. Where this leaves US anti-terrorist doctrine is an open question, and Iran could justifiably (and ironically) argue that the US is harboring terrorists. In fact, the State Department carries this blistering denunciation of Saddam's regime, arguing that its support of the MKO is equivalent to state-sponsored terrrorism (Prediction: That section goes down soon!)

Whether this tentative alliance with the (Iranian Shi'a) MKO will deter other Shi'a groups and Iran from challenging US authority, or whether it will provoke further resistance on their part, is yet to be seen, but I remain pessimistic. It's part of a slow drift towards internal war, which will be speeded by occasional shocks like the April 28 killing of Iraqi demonstrators in Fallujah, west of Baghdad.

posted by The Insurgent | 11:01 AM |

Monday, April 28, 2003  

Liberal Shi'a Clerics
The New York Times reminds us that not all Shi'a clerics share a theocratic vision of Iraq. This is unsurprising, since many Iranian clerics have recently moved closer to advocating a separation of church and state. Even if we go back in time, Shi'a Islam was widely considered "quietist" until Ayatollah Khomeini conceived of the doctrine of vilayet-e faqih ("rule of the jurisprudent"), thereby re-inventing Shi'ism in Iran. But Khomeini also used street power after the Iranian Revolution to intimidate influential clerics such as Ayatollah Shariatmadari, Ayatollah Taleqani and Ayatollah Montazeri, who dared to disagree with his radical vision.

The key question, then, is whether Iraq's moderate clerics have the street power to "argue" their case. It seems clear that the main indigenous Shi'a force ("indigenous" to the extend that it isn't composed mostly of exiles), the proto-fascist Sadr movement, is not pushing for a separation of church and state. Indeed, it has allied itself with Kadhem al-Husseini al-Haeri, a radical Iraqi cleric presently living in Qom, Iran.

Of the remaining two major groups, SCIRI is becoming more accommodating towards American interests, sending a low-level delegation to a US-sponsored meeting in Baghdad. Both SCIRI and al Daawa now advocate building a democratic Islamic state in Iraq (look here), but it isn't clear whether they really, really mean it (also see Dan Drezner's way more optimistic take on Shi'a politics).

P.S.: The now weakened al Daawa has an interesting past as a radical movement, and the Qom-based radical al-Haeri, who is now allied with the Sadr movement, has old ties to it:

Mr. Haeri, who was born in Iraq's holy city of Karbala, moved to Qum in 1973 as a protégé of Muhammad Baqr al-Sadr, a founder of the Iraqi Islamist Dawa Party who was executed in 1980. Mr. Haeri has long promoted the founding of an Iranian-style Islamic state in Iraq in which Shiite clerics would rule.

posted by The Insurgent | 3:15 PM |

Saturday, April 26, 2003  

Read this analysis (at The New Republic) of internecine battles over Iraq's future among different US agencies (thanks to Josh Marshall). It appears that US agencies are as fragmented as Iraq's Shi'a movement.

posted by The Insurgent | 8:49 AM |

Friday, April 25, 2003  

Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi of Iran has rejected US allegations that his country is interfering in Iraq, saying that "it is very interesting that the Americans have occupied Iraq but they accuse Iraq's neighbor of interfering into its affairs." He has also expressed concern at the ceasefire between coalition forces and the Mujahideen-e-Khalq. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has in turn rejected the prospects of Iraq developing "an Iranian-type government with a few clerics running everything in the country", saying: "That isn't going to happen."

Juan Cole of course has more on developments in southern and central Iraq, and argues that while Shi'a groups are more fragmented than many believe, they remain a potent paramilitary force on the ground. Fragmented and potent; this could get very nasty.

Added later: Did I, or did I not, predict increased US cooperation with the Mujahideen-e-Khalq? It's not yet a tight alliance, but read this.

posted by The Insurgent | 11:02 AM |

Thursday, April 24, 2003  

Re-Ba'athification vs. the Mujahideen
It occurs to me that the National Liberation Army of the Mujahideen-e-Khalq (a.k.a. the MKO) is capable of providing large numbers of anti-clerical footsoldiers if it throws in its lot with the US (see my blog about the ceasefire between the US and the MKO), easing the pressure for re-Ba'athification (view my conspiracy theory here). The MKO has thousands of highly loyal troops that continually engage in operations against Iran, although its membership has been dropping, of late. (Also, its forces are located in northern rathern than southern Iraq).

Of course, a US-MKO alliance would be incendiary from Iran's perspective, and its cultish devotion to Maryam Rajavi might make it hard to control, but nothing can be ruled out at this time. So far as emprical evidence goes, Al Hayat reports (thanks to Juan Cole) that MKO forces detained a group of fifty al Daawa-affiliated clerics returning from exile in Iran, and released them only after protracted negotiations. They've already become a player.

Declaration: I should clarify that I am not advocating one strategy over another, or even taking sides. I am just describing what I think are possible or likely scenarios. As todays New York Times tells us:

A United States government official said the Central Intelligence Agency and other arms of the government were actively involved in courting a network of supporters to extend far beyond Mr. Chalabi, a Pentagon favorite who is viewed with deep suspicion at the State Department and other government agencies. "It's sensitive, because if we talk about what we're doing, it could rebound against the people we're trying to help," the official said. "But we're not letting the vacuum go unfilled."

posted by The Insurgent | 10:14 AM |

To slightly compensate for my snide comment yesterday (that I was keen to observe "how Iraqi democracy is brewed from this mix of theocratic, fascist and ethnic militias"), I should add that the official stance of SCIRI and al Daawa is that they favor democracy in Iraq and peaceful progress towards an Islamic state (click on the link titled "Graphic: Iraq's Shiite Leaders" in the multimedia box here).

No such luck with the Sadr movement, unfortunately.

Addendum: How could I forget? Be sure to read (or, hopefully, re-read) John Lee Anderson's classic New Yorker article which describes Ayatollah Hakim's move away from a theocratic vision of Iraq, even as it makes clear his strong ties to conservative clerics in Iran.

posted by The Insurgent | 10:00 AM |

Wednesday, April 23, 2003  

The Re-Ba'athification of Iraq
"Baathism died in Iraq yesterday," wrote Kanan Makiya in his New Republic Online weblog (dated April 14). Four days later, Makiya again celebrated the success of Jay Garner's conference of Iraqi exiles and tribal leaders in Nasiriya, writing that:

The participants agreed on an excellent final statement, with a particularly good paragraph on the paramount importance of a thorough political and cultural de-Baathification program for Iraq. Only two people did not raise their hands when the crucial vote on this issue was taken: Mukhlis himself (a former schoolmate of mine at Baghdad College) and Nouri Badran, from the CIA-supported Al Wifaq organization, otherwise known as the Iraqi National Accord. Everyone else, including the tribal sheikhs picked for attendance by the CIA's representative at CENTCOM, was wildly in favor of substantive de-Baathification.

Frankly, I have no idea why Mukhlis and Bardran voted against the de-Ba'athification resolution, but the irony is that they may have been more prescient than the others. As I have repeated ad nauseum, the organization vacuum created by the death of the Ba'ath Party is rapidly being filled by religious and fascist groups. If the balance of power on the ground moves too far towards powerful anti-American organizations (viz. SCIRI, the Sadr movement and al Daawa), the US may be tempted in response to resuscitate elements of the Ba'ath Party. The Ba'ath leaders who inhabit the coalition's pack of cards are mostly beyond the pale, but there are plenty of Wernher von Brauns who would undoubtedly be eager to serve a new master. Mobilizing elements of an existing Ba'ath network would prove far less costly than relying on a motley group of exiles and tribal leaders to take on more coherent religious groups.

Much is made of the parallels between postwar France, Germany and Japan on the one hand and the present occupation of Iraq on the other. The partial rebirth of the Ba'ath Party would actually fit those models, where elements of the fascist bureaucracy were assimilated to combat communism. Much of Iraq is implicated in the "Republic of Fear", including those in the cheering crowds we saw in Baghdad and elsewhere, so such an outcome is much likelier than people think.

To be honest, given the present fluidity in Iraq, "re-Ba'athification" is less than assured. But do not be shocked if it occurs some day.

posted by The Insurgent | 3:29 PM |

The White House has once again warned Iran not to interfere in Iraq. Recall that Donald Rumsfeld did so back in March.

posted by The Insurgent | 3:17 PM |

The Emergence of Shi'a Fascism
If the Washington Post is to be believed, US officials are surprised by the strength and resilience of Shi'a organizations. Well, if only they'd been tracking The Insurgent's commentary rooted in political science and sociological analysis! I, at least, have always thought it clear that the vacuum created by the collapse of the Ba'ath Party could only be filled by pre-existing religious, tribal and community networks.

The real surprise is not the continuing infiltration of armed SCIRI personnel from Iran (look here), or the return of the radical al Daawa movement that saw combat against Western forces in Lebanon in the 1980s, or even the tug-of-war between Islamist clerics and those religious figures who prefer to separate state and church. It is the rise of the radical nativist Sadr movement led by Muqtada al-Sadr, the son of the late Shi'a leader Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, whom Uday Hussein ordered killed in 1999. This movement is both anti-American and anti-Iranian, and the article above quotes Sheikh al-Nasseri, a member of the Sadr movement, saying the following of SCIRI chief Ayatollah Muhammad Bakr al-Hakim:

"He is acting as if he is the most important leader in the Iraqi religious opposition," Mr. Nasseri ? the follower of Moqtadah al-Sadr ? said of Muhammad Bakr al-Hakim. He dismissed Mr. Hakim as a politician rather than a religious leader. "All those who claim to be opposition figures were traitors who left Iraq and left us suffering here," he said.

Recall that the footsoldiers of the Iraqi army during the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88) were predominantly Shi'a, and that religious ties with Iran never prevented them from embracing Iraqi nationalism. Even the more pliant SCIRI's relationship with Teheran has been marked by tension, partly for ethnic reasons (Iraqi Arab vs. Iranian). So we now have a potent Shi'a force that draws its strength from Iraqi working class neighborhoods, and which is opposed to foreigners of all stripes. Throw in a cultish devotion to the memory of Ayatollah al-Sadr, embodied in his son Muqtada, and you have a nascent fascist movement. (Coincidentally, the Mujahideen-e-Khalq that I blogged about this morning also features a cultish devotion to interpretations of the Qur'an by its founder Masud Rajavi.) This is a movement that did not hesitate from threatening Ayatollah al-Sistani or killing Abdul Majid al-Khoei in Najaf, so expect more bloodletting among the Shi'a.

I am keen to observe how Iraqi democracy is brewed from this mix of theocratic, fascist and ethnic militias.

P.S. So as not to neglect the Iraqi Sunni community, here's an article about the rebirth of the Iraqi Islamic Party in Mosul. Also see Juan Cole's comments (here and here) about rising tensions between US forces and the al-Sadr movement, demonstrated by the arrest of Sheikh Muhammad al-Fartusi at a US military checkpoint.

posted by The Insurgent | 10:45 AM |

Juan Cole of Informed Comment has a detailed up-to-date analysis of the power struggle in Iraq among different Shi'a groups (here). You will see that it is indeed an informed comment.

posted by The Insurgent | 10:31 AM |

A Curious Ceasefire
US forces in Iraq on Monday reached a ceasefire with the Iraq-based dissident Iranian Mujahideen-e-Khalq organization (MKO). This ceasefire occurs after US forces launched attacks (also here) on the cultish MKO towards the end of the military campaign, a likely quid pro quo to Iran for staying out of the conflict. This reversal came the same day as the head of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, Major General Yahya Rahim Safavi, said that the US ought to hand over MKO leaders to "prove its sincerity". He has since said that the US will be held responsible for any continuing MKO attacks into Iran.

The MKO is unusual in the support it has generated in the West, including within the US Congress, despite being listed as a terrorist organization by the State Department. This is partly due to its military effectiveness and to its sophistication in mobilizing anti-Iranian opinion. The fate of the MKO is likely to remain a thorny problem between Iran and the US, although Brigadier General Vincent Brooks' comments to the media implied that the MKO would be disarmed, which should assuage Iranian fears. Maybe the ceasefire isn't so curious after all.

posted by The Insurgent | 12:18 AM |

Tuesday, April 22, 2003  

Crisis in Palestine
Tensions between Prime Minister-designate Mahmoud Abbas (a.k.a. Abu Mazen) and President Yasser Arafat are coming to a head. While ostensibly a power struggle over the appointment of Mohammed Dahlan as the head of security services, the conflict is really about Abu Mazen's desire to disarm the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, the Fatah movement's militant wing, and to confront the rejectionist Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

A lot depends on the outcome of this fight, so keep watching.

posted by The Insurgent | 6:52 PM |

Khazraji "Update" III
Intelligence Online cites unnamed State Department sources to tell us that Nizar Khazraji has been killed. See Titusonenine for details (which I mostly agree with).

posted by The Insurgent | 2:23 PM |

Defense versus State
Newt Gingrich plans to make a speech at the conservative American Enterprise Institute this morning arguing for an overhaul of the State Department bureaucracy. According to the Washington Post:

At the heart of many of the disputes are complaints by conservatives inside and outside the administration that the State Department bureaucracy is thwarting President Bush from carrying out a forceful agenda to stop terrorism and confront enemy states -- a point that former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), a member of a Pentagon advisory committee who is close to Rumsfeld, plans to make in a speech this morning at the American Enterprise Institute.

Gingrich said he plans to call for major overhaul of the State Department, including hearings on Capitol Hill and an examination of the department by a task force of retired foreign service officers. He said he wanted to contrast the success of a transformed Defense Department with the "failure of State," which he described as "six months of diplomatic failure followed by one month of military success now to be returned to diplomatic failure to exploit the victory fully."

A complete re-eximination would of course consider two additional possibilities: (1) the role that the White House and Defense played in the administration's diplomatic failure, by propounding a hubristic unilateralism that was sure to antagonize much of the world, including steadfast allies like Germany, Mexico and Turkey; (2) the constant intrusion by Donald Rumsfeld and his Defense Department into areas of policymaking that rightfully belong to State.

But I suspect that this isn't what Newt Gingrich has in mind.

P.S. It might be prudent to observe Defense's performance in rebuilding Iraq before rushing to effusive judgment (or will that be State's fault again?) In this context, see Dan Drezner's discussion here.

Update: Joshua Marshall at Talking Points Memo puts it all quite well.

posted by The Insurgent | 9:04 AM |

Prediction 1 from yesterday has come true, with Donald Rumsfeld denying any plans to locate US forces permanently in Iraq. That was an easy one, I must confess, but I should add that the New York Times continues to stand by its story.

posted by The Insurgent | 8:44 AM |

Monday, April 21, 2003  

A Cooperative Institution
Arabs and Kurds around Erbil have reached a rather drastic agreement to make prevent ethnic tensions from leading to open fighting: Any trespassing Arab or Kurd is liable to be killed!

Some might say that local leaders could have devised a milder punishment, for instance beating or imprisoning transgressors. But the chief merit of this rule is that it draws an simple, unambiguous line that even the most hardened of "ethnic spoilers" should hesitate from crossing. Local Arabs and Kurds have, in this manner, developed a rudimentary but effective institution, which political scientists define as a set of rules, norms and procedures around which actors' expectations converge. This apparently harsh institution is at heart no different from the World Trade Organization or the European Union; it is attempting to attain a shared objective (ethnic peace), by laying down clear and consistent rules (trespassing is death).

The agreement is another example of the sort of local-level cooperation that is essential to prevent Iraq from sliding further into chaos.

posted by The Insurgent | 5:14 PM |

Sunday, April 20, 2003  

Local Tussles
This New York Times article describes the ongoing power struggle in Al Kut between a local SCIRI-affiliated cleric and American forces eager to take him down a peg or two. It appears that the more the Americans resist his self-proclaimed mayoralty, the more popular he becomes.

Among the throng inside the city hall compound, which has come to resemble an American campus sit-in, are members of Hezbollah and other radical Shiite parties, such as the Badr Corps and Ad Da'wa al Islamiya, or Voice of Islam, which also fought uselessly against Saddam's secret police.

American special forces who hang around the hotel lobby here drinking coffee and napping in the foyer say they had considered assassinating the sheikh but have since thought better of it. Colonel Ron Johnson, a Marine commander in the sector, said the Americans have taken a wait-and-see approach.

This is the classic dilemma of an occupying power (there are also parallels with Israeli attempts to bolster or weaken different Palestinian leaders). But all isn't lost for secular democrats. The article also says that "while Abbas dreams of an Islamic democracy, local intellectuals support an interim government led by Ahmad Chalabi, the American-backed exile". Whether or not the coffee shop is mightier than the street, of course, remains to be seen.

posted by The Insurgent | 8:04 PM |

Not a Chance
The Times of London reports that the US is seeking four locations in Iraq in which to base significant military forces once its troops have pulled out of the country:

The bases would be located at the international airport outside Baghdad; at Tallil, near al-Nasiriyah in the south; at an airstrip in the western desert, near Jordan, called H1; and at the Bashur airfield in the Kurdish-held north.

Here are two predictions: (1) the Pentagon will shortly deny this report (possibly because it is untrue, or even premature to the extent that the White House has yet to approve it); (2) this will never actually happen (with the possible exception of a presence in Iraqi Kurdistan). Given the pride and nationalism evident among the Iraqis, even the Pentagon's pet exiles would be foolish to promote a permanent American military presence in Iraq. Although things will partly depend on the shape of the interim Iraqi authority in the coming weeks, expect even a semi-representative Iraqi government to behave more like Turks or the Filipinos (w.r.t. Subic Bay in 1992) than the Saudis or the more pliant Gulf states. The domestic politics of Iraq rule out—almost by definition— major American military bases.

Update: Looks like Matthew Yglesias beat me to this analysis by a day or so, correctly pointing to the contradiction between a democratic Iraq and a pro-American Iraq.

posted by The Insurgent | 7:36 PM |

There is Another
Thanks again to Henry Farrell, I have discovered University of Michigan History Professor Juan Cole's weblog titled Informed Comment. We are both particularly interested in the future of Shi'a Iraq, and I suspect that our blogs will be complementary. Cole appears more familiar than I with the minutiae of Shi'a history and politics, while I bring more of a comparativist, political science perspective to events in Iraq (are you listening Paul MacDonald?).

Here's to a heightened obsession with the internal politics of Iraq!

P.S. I have intentionally chosen to neglect events in Iraqi Kurdistan, since the more interesting story for the moment lies in central and southern Iraq. But things could get exciting in Mosul and Kirkuk any time, and my eagle eye will travel north from time to time.

P.P.S. John Smith at the oddly-named The Lincoln Plawg presents a succinct snapshot of events in southern Iraq (look here and here).

posted by The Insurgent | 6:08 PM |

Is Anonymity Acceptable?
As an anonymous blogger, I read Henry Farrell's discussion titled "anonymity and community" with more than a little interest. Farrell disputes Amitai Etzioni's contention that anonymous participation in the public sphere produces "poorer conversations, meager relationships and impoverished communities". As someone who thinks that his anonymous blog contributes, in however small a way, to richer conversations and a more informed community, I thought that to be another instance of the unthinking generalizations that (hint: we) scholars frequently indulge in. (Though, to be honest, I would hesitate from claiming to have enriched human relationships.) In any event, Farrell's invocation of Richard Sennett's book The Fall of Public Man to defend anonymous blogging is well worth a read.

Update: Matthew Yglesias weighs in on the topic.

posted by The Insurgent | 5:26 PM |

Saturday, April 19, 2003  

The weekend's big event was, of course, the anti-American demonstration in Baghdad after prayers on Friday. Slate has a good summary of the big three newspapers' reports, unfortunately titled Shiites Hit the Fan. The demonstration appears to have involved both Shi'a and Sunni Muslims, with evidence of coordination between the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood (see this interesting Salon article; it's mostly about simmering nationalism in Tikrit) and the Shi'a clergy. As I have said before, the (welcome) collapse of the Ba'ath party has left tribal networks and religious organizations as the only networks through which Iraqis can seek security and political expression.

The level of Islamist coordination that is emerging in Iraq among Shi'a and Sunni groups is somewhat (and only somewhat) surprising, but not unprecedented. The Al-Aqsa intifada has produced coordination between Lebanon's Shi'a-dominated Hizb'allah and various radical Sunni groups in Palestine. That is partly because the political cultures of Iraq and Palestine are not particularly sectarian—at least in comparison to Pakistan and Afghanistan—and the Shi'a-Sunni faultline is no longer as pertinent as it once might have been.

In strict realist terms, Islamists from both religious denominations are balancing against a common American threat, just as Palestinian and Lebanese radicals have united against a common Israeli enemy. The difference between the two cases is that the Iraqi Islamists have agreed, partly for pragmatic reasons, to let the US clean out the Ba'athists. But then, the Shi'a in southern Lebanon (in 1982) also started out welcoming the Israelis as liberators from an oppressive Palestinian guerrilla presence. They eventually turned on the Israelis when defense minister Ariel Sharon allied his country with the Christian Maronites.

Hmm... my frequent invocations of Lebanon cry out for an explicit comparison of the two cases, don't they? (I wonder if I'm falling prey to some well-known psychological pathologies, such drawing lessons from possibly inappropriate but vivid historical analogies. Munich, anyone? Or was that a domino that I heard falling?)

posted by The Insurgent | 5:50 PM |

Wednesday, April 16, 2003  

The Other Cleric
On these pages and elsewhere, the leader of SCIRI—Ayatollah Mohammad Bakir al-Hakim—has received the greatest attention as the most influential of rejectionist Shi'a leaders. Mostly unnoticed was the dramatic arrival, at the US-organized meeting of Iraqi leaders in Ur, of Sheikh Mohammed Bakr Nasri, the spiritual leader of the Islamist al-Daawa party. Al-Daawa is more radical than SCIRI, and like its larger cousin has a strong presence in southern and central Iraq. According to a (possibly exaggerated) Newsweek magazine article dated Dacember 23, 2003:

In the long and bloody reign of Saddam Hussein, only one Iraqi opposition group has ever really scared him. For three decades the secretive underground organization Al Daawa al Islamiyah—the Islamic Call—has waged a remorseless war of terror against his regime and anyone who supported it.

Before Hizbullah existed, Al Daawa carried out suicide bombings. Before Al Qaeda was dreamed of, Daawa members staged synchronized bombings against as many as seven targets simultaneously. Even though the group itself is relatively small and its collective leadership shadowy, its exploits are legendary. "Ask any man in the street in Iraq who fights against Saddam Hussein and they'll say 'Al Daawa'", says one former member of its executive council.

All in all, just the sort of people the United States might want as allies in any overt or covert attack on the Iraqi regime. There's just one enormous problem. In the 1980s, when Washington was Saddam's friend and "Iranian-backed Shiite radicals" were the enemy, Daawa members took part in some of the worst terrorist attacks ever carried out against Americans. Suicide bombings of U.S. embassies in Beirut and Kuwait and the kidnapping of Americans in Lebanon were linked to Daawa members. "These are people with American blood on their hands," says one administration official.

Al-Daawa hasn't received much media attention, and even escaped being listed as a significant Iraqi opposition group by the Council of Foreign Relations, but it could yet become more important given the present fluidity of Iraqi politics. For the moment, though, it does appear that rejectionist groups such as SCIRI and al-Daawa have chosen to tolerate a brief American occupation. As the Washington Post reported:

"We don't need years of a transition period," the white-bearded, white-turbaned Nasri shouted into the microphone to a crowd jammed into the Al Bait mosque in Nasiriyah. "We need within one or two months a committee of people from inside the country to control the political situation."

Nasri, considered to be Dawa's philosophical guide, challenged the U.S. forces in an interview, saying: "The most dangerous thing is to prolong the occupation period of the coalition forces. We hope the period will be shorter than six months, and not longer than six months."

posted by The Insurgent | 4:23 PM |

Tuesday, April 15, 2003  

The St. Louis Post-Despatch has an amusing article on how Iraqis are sometimes confused by the fact that many US soldiers are either African American or Hispanic.

posted by The Insurgent | 1:46 PM |

Monday, April 14, 2003  

The Mullahs Return
Baghdad's eastern Shi'a-dominated neighborhood formerly known as "Saddam City" has been renamed "Sadr City" after Imam Bakr Sadr of Najaf, a respected Shi'a cleric who was murdered by the Ba'ath regime. Shi'a clergy in Baghdad and elsewhere are helping to reimpose order, according to this article in the Calcutta-based Telegraph:

Yesterday, as millions of Americans sat back complacently and watched images of rescued US prisoners of war, the leadership here was grappling with “disturbing” clips in the European media of looters in Baghdad’s Saddam City bringing back cartloads of stolen goods to the Sadjad mosque in this huge Shiite slum.

Looted goods, returned by vandals, are now piled high on the premises of Sadjad and other mosques in Saddam City. They have been surrendered following calls by Shia clerics that it is against Islam to steal or to profit from stolen goods.

European TV stations also showed black turbaned Shia religious leaders in Saddam City going round in jeeps fitted with loudspeakers preaching peace and order and asking people to keep calm.

More pertinently, the writer argues that "as Iraq descends into chaos, there are only two poles in the country to which its society can be tethered. One is religion and the other is the Baath Party or what remains of it." Of course, Iraq's "descent into chaos" may be overstated, and the looting appears to be ebbing in Baghdad, but it is entirely true that the social anchoring provided by the Shi'a clergy and mosques will prove vital in the coming weeks. Without pressing the analogy too far, we should remember that mosque networks played an important mobilizing role during the Iranian revolution, similar in some ways to that played by black churches in the US civil rights movement. Religious leaders and their support networks become especially important during periods of instability.

Update: Al-Jazeera and Radio Netherlands say that Sadr City is actually named after Ayatollah Mohammed Sadeq as-Sadr, (yet) another prominent clergyman killed in 1999 by Saddam's regime. The Radio Netherlands report adds that as-Sadr's 22-year old son leads a militia called the Jama'at as-Sadr as-Thani which recently besieged the residence of Ayatollah al-Sistani (see earlier discussion titled "Murder in Najaf") and is apparently trying to seize control of Najaf. To complicate matters further, Kuwait's top Shi'a cleric has condemned the as-Sadr group as being manipulated by the Ba'ath party, and has called for al-Sistani and other senior Najaf clergy to be permitted to remain in control. Things are, one might say, volatile.

posted by The Insurgent | 7:05 PM |

Khazraji Update II
Titusonenine reports breaking news from Al Bawaba that the pro-US Iraqi general Nizar Khazraji was assassinated today while "on his way to attend a U.S.-called meeting of opposition groups in the southern city of Nassiriya." Note that there have been a number of predictions of his death in recent days (see below), and no confirmation of this news from other sources at this time.

posted by The Insurgent | 1:02 PM |

Sunday, April 13, 2003  

Iranian Opinion
Here's a cross-section of Iranian opinion about how the country should react to the changes in Iraq (thanks to the BBC's international media monitoring service). The tone ranges from sceptical to hostile, but in general I sense the existence of a wait-and-see attitude. One insightful Iranian commentator told me that the Iraq crisis has given a greater voice to Iranian military strategists, and that these folk are more moderate than the conservative hawks who have so far run national security policy (shades of Rumsfeld vs. the Generals?). If this is correct, Iran might yet remain cautious about destabilizing a new transitional government in Iraq. Alternatively, different agencies could begin to implement contradictory policies towards Iraq, which would hardly be something new in the annals of government.

posted by The Insurgent | 2:57 PM |

Following the lead of their compatriots in London, Iraqis in Teheran stormed their embassy on Friday, tearing down photographs of Saddam Hussein as well as chanting "Death to America." Reuters reports that that:

Exiled Iraqis climbed over the walls of the Iraqi embassy, ransacked the villa and smashed windows and furniture.

After ripping and burning the embassy's portraits of Saddam, the protesters carried inside pictures of Ayatollah Mohammad Bakir Hakim, leader of the Iranian-based Supreme Council for the Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), and hung one on the embassy gates.

Hakim, whose group draws its support from Iraq's Shi'ite Muslim majority, has been in exile in Shi'ite Iran since 1979.

Chanting "Death to Saddam," "Death to America" and "We want a democratic government," the protesters, including women wearing the traditional black chador, carried banners of the Badr Brigade, SCIRI's armed wing which it says numbers tens of thousands of fighters.

Update: Also see Daily Kos' concise summary of how things are deteriorating in Iraq. Will the US do a better job there than it has in Afghanistan?

posted by The Insurgent | 2:00 AM |

Friday, April 11, 2003  

Khazraji Update
There is no confirmation that Iraqi general and CIA ally Nizar Khazraji has in fact died; it appears that the other official killed was Saddam Hussein's appointee—Haider al-Kadar—whom al-Khoei had been trying to retain as the minder of the Imam Ali Mosque. On the topic of Khazraji, I have since discovered Titusonenine, a blog that has relentlessly been pursuing the Khazraji story from before his mysterious disappearance from Denmark on March 17, where he was being investigated for his alleged role in gassing the Kurds at Halabja (more information here). Slate's Michael Young tells the fascinating story of Khazraji's alleged escape from Denmark with the CIA's help. The New Yorker's Seymour Hersh has also described the turf battles between the CIA and its candidate Khazraji on the one hand, and the Pentagon and its candidate Chalabi on the other:

Chalabi and his allies have, in recent months, endorsed what amounts to a public-relations campaign against Khazraji, alleging that he was involved in a war crime—the 1988 Iraqi gassing of a Kurdish town, a claim Khazraji denies—and suggesting that he may be a double agent. "There's a huge firestorm over Chalabi that's preventing us from reaching out to the Iraqi military," a former C.I.A. operative told me. "It's mind-boggling for an outsider to understand the impasse."

So it might well be that Khazraji was directly uninvolved in the Halabja massacre. On the other hand, the US did turn a blind eye to the Halabja gas attacks when they occurred, discovering their horror only once it became politically convenient to do so. In any event, given the background that Hersh describes, I am for the moment sceptical about the news I reported below, describing Khazraji's triumphant entry into Najaf at the head of the 1st Battalion.

posted by The Insurgent | 3:01 PM |

Murder in Najaf
The murder in Najaf's Imam Ali Mosque of the Islamic scholar Abdul Majid al-Khoei (and possibly of Iraqi general Nizar Khazraji) highlights the quiet power struggle that is presently underway in southern Iraq. The mosque is said to be the tomb of Ali, the Prophet Muhammad's son-in-law and the founder of the Shi'a sect in Islam. The killings follow a jostling for power among three contenders in this holy city (thanks to Mother Jones for the links):

Nizar Al-Khazraji, a general in Saddam's Ministry of Defense who defected in the 1990s and has been living in Denmark, is one of them. He is a native of Najaf. He is America’s number one choice. The leader of the second movement is Majid Al-Khoi'i, an Islamic scholar who, after 1991, went to the US after Saddam ordered his death.

The third group leader is Bakr Al-Hakim, who until recently was residing in Iran. He has 25,000 to 30,000 followers, and the US is said to resent his entry into Iraq as he has extremely close ties to Iran. The US has no confidence in him or his group, but as they are pushing for a new democratic system they are reluctant to bar his entry into Najaf, according to the source.

If the reports of Khazraji's death are correct, someone has dealt a severe blow to the United State's plans for southern Iraq. It was only two days ago that Khazraji made a triumphant entry into Najaf, escorted by US special forces and the INC's 1st Battalion (see my discussion below of the how the entry of the INC will heighten the conflict among the Shi'a).

The obvious beneficiary from these murders is SCIRI which has chosen to boycott an American-sponsored meeting in Nasiriyah intended to legitimize Jay Garner's transitional administration. Iraq's leading cleric, the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani, has also remained aloof -- notwithstanding his fatwa for the Shi'a to remain neutral in the fight between coalition and Iraqi forces -- and some even suspect that his followers killed the other two contenders. Ayatollah al-Sistani's predecessor, until his death in 1993, was the Grand Ayatollah Abdul al-Qassim al-Khoei, the father of the now deceased Abdul Majid al-Khoei.

posted by The Insurgent | 10:24 AM |

Wednesday, April 09, 2003  

The Pentagon Learns from Mogadishu
The spectre of Mogadishu has long haunted the allied war effort. Even as coalition forces were breaking through sundry Republican Guard divisions to the south of Baghdad, its political and military commanders were warning that the hardest urban fighting lay ahead yet. The conventional wisdom, espoused here by retired marine Colonel Randy Gangle on Jim Lehrer's NewsHour, has been as follows:

Don't expect one of these nice, clean wars that we had in Desert Storm, where, you know, hardly anybody even got hurt or even had to change their socks, for that matter. The casualty rate on the urban battlefield is about 30 percent. So, in other words, if you have an infantry battalion of a thousand men, you can expect about 300 of them to be either dead or wounded after the first day of fighting.

The war isn't quite over yet, but the US has seized control of large sections of Baghdad with far fewer casualties than predicted. Ironically -- since Saddam is reported to have urged his commanders to watch the movie Black Hawk Down -- Rowan Scarborough's Washington Times article suggests that US commanders learned the following lessons from Mogadishu:

(1) Protect your troops: Ranger forces in Mogadishu were ensconsed in thinly-armored Humvees that were very vulnerable to small arms and RPG-7 fire, which caused many of the over 100 casualties. Coalition soldiers entering urban terrain in Iraq have done so in Bradley and Warrior infantry combat vehicles protected by M1A1 Abrams and Challenger 2 tanks, not to mention Apache and Cobra helicopters, and have thus been far better protected against small arms fire. Indeed, the relative safety of superior coalition armor has helped produce stunningly disproportionate Iraqi casualties.

When dismounted infantry has taken the battle to the fedayeen -- and this has occurred selectively -- it has done so with support from armor and armed helicopters, using heavy weapons such as the Paladin howitzer and Javelin missile. (Hence Phil Carter's headline "Almost another Mogadishu in Baghdad" is, I think, a tad alarmist. Indeed, the article he cites shows exactly how effectively coalition forces have used armor and artillery in urban combat, notwithstanding the perennial problem of friendly fire).

(2) Win over the populace and improve intelligence: Unlike in Somalia, says the author, coalition forces in Iraq have used humanitarian aid to woo the average citizen, and tips from Iraqis have helped locate concentrations of Ba'ath militias and "leadership targets" like Lt. General Ali Hassan al-Majid, a.k.a. Chemical Ali. I'm not sure the analysis is correct here, because Somalia started, after all, as a humanitarian mission, and the Ranger force had good intelligence on the locations of Somali leadership targets. Besides, as Dan Drezner and Thomas Friedman have pointed out, the humanitarian effort in southern Iraq has been half-hearted and ineffective. The problem really was that the Somalis hated the American presence much more than they despised the warlords, while the Iraqis seem to hate Saddam while they tolerate the coalition presence as a necessary evil. In other words, the difference here is only partly attributable to coalition tactics.

Some of the other favorable factors for the coalition forces that the article does not discuss include the relatively poor tactical skills of the Ba'ath paramilitaries that have offset their undeniable bravery. Direct assaults by "technicals" on armored columns are almost guaranteed to fail. The paramilitaries' poor night-fighting capabilities have also reduced their effectiveness, and the allies have ruled the night. And last, but not least, instead of attempting to capture leadership targets, as they did with Aidid, coalition forces have simply sought to kill them, taking advantage of the precision of the latest generation of US stand-off weapons (such as the JDAM).

posted by The Insurgent | 3:26 PM |

Tuesday, April 08, 2003  

Not all the developments in southern Iraq augur poorly for the region's future. The British are trying to set up an indigenous civil administration in the Basra region, possibly led by a (thus far unnamed) local sheikh. Rather than relying on outsiders, the British are wisely trying to integrate local power structures into their postwar imperial administration. (I will avoid trite references to the British colonial experience here; Northern Ireland is much more relevant.) To be fair, American forces in the holy city of Najaf also appear to have gained some cooperation from the Shi'a clergy.

The British also have better relations with Iran, notwithstanding the Rushdie affair, and have rejected Donald Rumsfeld's threats to Iran and Syria (also see James Woolsey's distinctly unhelpful comments). This should reassure Iran somewhat but, as Casus Belli points out, Blair has limited leverage over the Bush administration.

posted by The Insurgent | 3:11 PM |

A fascinating report in the Washington Post highlights the relatively poor training and equipment levels of the INC's 1st battalion, which was airlifted into Umm Qasr and Nasiriyah a few days ago. The INC says that the bulk of the "troops" deployed to the south are Shi'a, which I suspect will alarm rather than reassure other Shi'a organizations that have a presence in southern Iraq.

The article suggests that many Shi'a toops of the 1st Battalion are either former soldiers in the Iraqi army who fled northwards or former members of SCIRI who are disenchanted with the hands-off attitude of their leader:

Potential recruits in that effort waited patiently on the stuffed chairs. Hamdan Hilail Saadi introduced himself as the son of a sheik powerful in Maysan province, where uprisings against Hussein's government were reported today in the city of Amarah. Saadi said that while in exile in nearby Iran, he had worked with the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a Shiite group based in Tehran. But the council has failed to encourage its followers in Iraq's south to support the U.S. campaign, and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has warned the group's militia to stay out of the fray. The lack of action frustrated Saadi, who traveled to northern Iraq three days ago to hear Chalabi's pitch to join the INC instead...

Another waiting tribal leader, Said Hussein Mossawi, threw up his hands at the mention of council's leader, Ayatollah Mohammed Bakir Hakim. "Mr. Hakim looks to be mostly a religious person. He doesn't appear to be a nationalist or a patriot," said Mossawi, a Shiite whose tribe is near Mosul in Iraq's north. "I've been working with him. I stopped."

But it appears that Hakim has decided to return to Iraq from his exile in Iran, according to the Associated Press. Nabil Moussawi, a senior INC official, also complained in the article that the US had forbidden him from bringing in Iraqi exiles based in Iran, of whom there are about 700,000. The INC's wooing of Iran-based Iraqis does threaten SCIRI's base, so unless we take the March 19 Final Statement signed by the major Iraqi groups in Ankara seriously, my conclusion in the previous post stands.

posted by The Insurgent | 11:17 AM |

Monday, April 07, 2003  

The Iraqi National Congress enters the fray
A lightly-armed force comprising hundreds of Iraqi exiles, sponsored by the Iraqi National Congress (INC), has been airlifted into southern Iraq. The INC is calling this unit the 1st Battalion, Free Iraqi Forces.Their first mission seems to have been to help distribute food and medical supplies in the port city of Umm Qasr, and to get the port and its oil industry started once again. The unit, along with INC leader Ahmad Chalabi, has also been deployed to Nasiriyah to carry out relief work. According to the New York Times:

Initial missions for these fighters, who will serve under Gen. Tommy R. Franks, the allied commander for the war, include "defeating the remaining Baathist and pro-Saddam elements in Iraq" as well as delivering food and medicine and "maintaining law, order and stability in areas already liberated," the Iraqi National Congress statement said.

While the humanitarian mission is fine, the INC visualizes combat roles for the 1st Battalion in southern Iraq and, Marine General Peter Pace, the vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also referred to it as "the beginning of the free Iraq army." Although the general denied that the US was showering favoritism on the INC, this is unlikely to make traditional Shi'a resistance groups in the south very happy even though many of the INC troops destined for the south are themselves Shi'a. The deployment comes soon after Washington's warnings to Iran and SCIRI's Badr brigade to keep off Iraq, and may mark an attempt to weaken the latter's bargaining power in a post-war Iraq. So unless SCIRI and al Daawa have already been brought on board -- something that I very much doubt -- the presence of the "Free Iraqi Forces" in southern Iraq is going to make relations with these Shi'a groups even more tense.

posted by The Insurgent | 6:05 PM |

Saturday, April 05, 2003  

Social Science and the Iraqi Resistance
As coalition forces begin to ring Baghdad, and the great siege begins, let me turn to how social science research might illuminate the expected course of the Iraqi resistance countrywide. Assume that the top Ba'ath leadership is isolated, captured or killed. Faced with the prospect of being killed or imprisoned under a policy of "de-Ba'athification", members of Saddam's Fedayeen, the Special Security Organization and the Ba'ath militia have plenty of incentives to keep fighting. This article in the Guardian even worries that Ba'ath party sleeper cells will infiltrate a new government in an effort to impede the search for members of the ancien regime.

To keep fighting, the Iraqi resistance requires the following:

(1) Organization: The Ba'ath Party has held power in Iraq since 1963, and has had ample time to build a network of supporters, resources and -- more recently -- weapons. The surprising resilience of Ba'ath paramilitaries springs from Saddam Hussain's successful transplant of loyal footsoldiers into these organizations, and on the ability of strong organizations to communicate orders to their followers. Given the alternative of death or de-Ba'athification, these networks might prefer to keep fighting even once coalition forces have occupied Baghdad. On the other hand, many Ba'ath cadres are seeking safe passage and protection (from their own people, of course) as a condition of surrender, particularly in Basra. So the strong party organization is necessary, but not sufficient, for the insurgency to continue.

(2) External Support: As demonstrated in Kashmir and South Vietnam, having a secure base (respectively in Pakistan and North Vietnam) can be invaluable for an insurgency. It is here that guerrillas can plan, recuperate and resupply. Hostile governments are usually happy to provide weapons and sanctuary, and financing from wealthy diasporas (such as the Tamil and Irish communities) is a significant predictor of civil conflict (see Collier and Hoeffler 2001). In the case of Iraq, the diaspora seems broadly supportive of the coalition rather than the Ba'athists, but neighboring states like Iran and Syria might calculate that it makes sense to aid the Ba'ath paramilitiaries since the US seems to be on a collision course with those states (I have discussed this previously at length). While the Bush administration could go after sanctuaries in those states, doing so would be enormously costly, and its political implications profound. The evidence suggests that the expectation of an intervention prolongs a civil war (for instance, see Elbadawi and Sambanis 2000).

(3) Ethnic Polarization: Some studies (viz. Collier et al. 1999) have found that countries with a middling number of ethnic groups are likelier to far longer civil wars than very homogenous or very heterogenous countries. But others like Fearon and Laitin (2002) (pdf version here) have argued, using slightly different data, that ethnicity is unrelated to the outbreak of civil strife. (Note that these are slightly different arguments: Collier et al. are talking about war duration, while Fearon and Laitin are analyzing the probability of strife breaking out.)

Iraq has three dominant ethnic groups -- Kurd, Shi'a and Sunni -- which would seem to be a recipe for prolonged conflict. But the divide in Iraq is only partly ethnic; Saddam is hated by many Sunni (there are plenty of clan and tribal divides within), and Shi'a groups like SCIRI and al-Daawa could well turn against the invaders. Oddly enough, coalition troops seem to have received a better welcome from the central Sunni regions than the Shi'a communities in the south, although this could easily be attributed to Shi'a memories of the 1991 American double-cross and to a greater fear of retribution from Ba'athist paramilitiaries. So ethnic polarization per se is unlikely to influence the course of the Iraqi resistance.

(4) Oil: If you're opposed to the war, you have no doubt sworn "No blood for oil" on several occasions. Even supporters of the war must admit that oil has something to do with the great American interest in hapless Iraq. But are the prospects of the Iraqi resistance directly connected to oil? Once again, Coller and Hoeffler (2001) argue that the outbreak of a civil war is connected to fights over natural resources like diamonds, minerals and drugs, while Fearon and Laitin (2002) disagree. Leaving academic quarrels aside, Iraqi insurgents probably aren't thinking of oil when engage coalition forces in combat. They also have little chance of seizing Iraq's oil supplies and using them to finance their activity. So even though the original war has a lot to do with oil, the sustainability of the resistance does not.

In brief, then, the prospects for the Iraqi resistance after Saddam are clouded, unless neighboring states step in to provide aid and sanctuary, and Shi'a militias link up with the hated Ba'ath party. Although a Lebanon scenario such as this is impossible to rule out, it is still early to make any firm predictions. But keep tracking the Iran-Shi'a-Syria axis.

(Postscript: The Shi'a of Iraq are Arabs, unlike those of Iran, and were shelled for a decade by their co-religionists during the Iran-Iraq war. The Iran-Shi'a alliance consequently isn't unshakeable, and divisions do exist among the Shi'a. More on this soon.)

posted by The Insurgent | 10:52 AM |

Wednesday, April 02, 2003  

Will the Iraqi Resistance Survive?
The mood in Washington is certainly upbeat, with the Republican Guard's Medina and Baghdad divisions apparently having been destroyed (from the air with zero casualties, no less), and the 3rd Infantry Division is within 15 miles of Baghdad. But things aren't quite so rosy yet. The Republican Guard divisions chose to duck rather than to fight, and US forces were surprised at how little resistance they faced in the Karbala area. This could mean either that the air assault on the two divisions was very effective, or that the two divisions have successfully dispersed into the surrounding countryside and will switch to guerrilla tactics.

Leaving aside the small matter of the seige of Baghdad, one interesting question is whether the Iraqi resistance can sustain itself without guidance from Baghdad, or will it collapse with the capture or isolation of the Ba'ath leadership? In terms of historical analogy, the evidence is decidedly mixed. Groups ranging from Turkey's Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) to Peru's Shining Path (also here) and the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) in Sierra Leone bacame mostly dormant after their leaders were captured. Yet groups like the Tanzim, People's Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and Lebanese Hizb'allah have flourished despite losing their leaders.

Coming next: How can social scientists help us understand whether or not the Iraqi resistance will survive the death of the Ba'ath Party?

posted by The Insurgent | 3:53 PM |