Al-Qaeda in Yemen

Understanding Al-Qaeda in Yemen is alot more difficult than say, understanding Al-Qaeda in Egypt or Lebanon.  The simple reason is that its alot easier to get around in these relatively open countries.  And due to strong scholarly interest over the years, far more has been written about these countries, thus its fairly easy to get a pretty good grasp of “what’s going on.”   Much harder to gain a similar level of comprehension of Yemen, due to its isolation and conservatism and I haven’t seen a lot of great literature on its Jihadist or Al-Qaeda movements.  However, in the last week IslamOnline has published two very good pieces.  Here’s the   first which was published shortly after last week’s Embassy attack.  I highly recommend the second (9/27) by Yusuf Al-Dini  which looks at  conflict and tension between the old generation (those who fought in Afghanistan)  and new (those who fought in Iraq) .

The Qaradawi Case: Mr Egypt Looks at Why?

I highly recommend readers check out Mr Egypt’s post  on Qaradawi.  I write an introduction here because we have major copy and paste issues with Mr Egypt’s computer and I didn’t want to risk making  it worse. 

One of the things I wanted more of when reading about the Qaradawi case was the Islamic background and motives, meaning serious religious context from someone who is a Sunni Muslim.    I saw very little of this in the English or Arabic press,  So MediaShack turns to Mr. Egypt for some explanation.  Mark my words, in a decade or so, Mr Egypt will be as well known to MediaShack readers as Fahmy Huwedi or Dia Rashwan.   The coverage in the Arabic press focused on whether Qaradawi should have made these comments or whether they will create disunity between Shias and Sunnis.  Noone seemed interested in explaining “why did he do it?” The second to last paragraph is the best analysis of what is driving  Qaradawi’s comments that I’ve seen written in English or Arabic.

Al-Qaradawi and the Shiite invasion

Al-Qaradawi’s statements, concerning the “Shiite invasion” to the Sunni societies, still arouses a huge controversy. Understanding his statements necessitates putting them in a bigger picture, where we can situate the importance of this issue with regard to the Arab and Muslim world.


First, let’s take a brief look on the Sunni-Shiite split. This split is 1,400 years old, and started with a fight over who should lead the faithful after the Prophet’s death in s632. However, this fight did not transform into a fragmentation between the Muslims until the death of Ali ibn abi Taleb, the prophet’s cousin and son-in-law. After the death of Ali, one side believed that the direct descendants of the prophet should take up the role of the caliph, and they were known as the “Shiat Ali”, or the Partisans of Ali. As for the Sunnis they believed that no one is worthy of taking up the role, regardless of lineage, and this matter is resolved by “Shura” (consultation). Up until this moment we are talking about a conflict or a sectarianism that’s taking place inside the Islamic state, something more like an intellectual difference, and the Islamic state preserved its political unity despite that. This status remained till 1502 when Ismail safawi, the founder of the Safavid dynasty, started his campaign till he unified Iran by 1509. Ismail was a Shia Muslim, and after seizing power in Iran he declared Schism as the official doctrine for Iran, before that Iran was a Sunni state. The importance of this glimpse was to point out that Schism was a political movement basically, and not a religious one, that started to intertwine with the spiritual or the religious aspect later on.


At this stage there was a new conception to the post of the caliph, according to the Sunni theory, it sought to rationalize the post of the caliph, he was elected and

Shura” was the main principle of ruling the Muslim states. The Shiite theory, on the other hand, theologized the conception of the caliph, and the post is confined to Ahl el-Bayt (the people of the house) who are the descendants of the prophet’s family and they are called Imams, note here that the Shia maintain that Ali was the first DIVINELY sanctioned Imam. Consequently, the Imam is immune to error since it is a religious position, further; the Imam is equated to the Prophet he does the same role, the only difference is that the sacred texts were revealed to the Prophet by God (Allah) other than that, they perform the same task.

The Shia’s believe in the religious authority of the Imams erupted the necessity of religiously re-interpreting the sacred texts, in order to determine who should lead the Muslims. The Shiites started to refer that the problem actually existed in the Islamic revelation itself, and that there was an exoteric and esoteric interpretations from the very beginning, and they went further by saying that only the Imam who could possibly posses these two aspects, they are basically united in him. Now, the debate has shifted, its not about who should be the successor of the Prophet, rather what’s the function of the Imam and his qualifications. Note here something, according to the Sunni vision only the Prophet is the infallible person, as for the Shiites the Imam is as infallible as the Prophet. The issue is significantly sensitive for the Sunnis because their teachings and obligations are derived directly from Sunnah (the sayings and the actions that were instituted by the Prophet), but in the Shiite envision Sunnah – and according to some Shiite schools but not all the Quran also – is incomplete, and here comes the role of the Imam who the two aspects of authority are united in him. Anyway, in the day-to-day practices Sunni and Shiites share similar understanding of basic Islamic beliefs and exhibit no difference in performing their obligatory prayers.


Basically the main issue here was re-interpreting the sacred texts; Sunnis consider the sacred texts complete and tight, and thus the attempts of revamping or re-interpreting done by the Shiites were not accepted and the Sunnis considered them heretics however, they never judged them as infidels. On the other hand, Shiites considered those who don’t believe in the Imam‘s rule are infidels, however, they throwback this judgment later on in order to create some sort of convergence with the Sunnis.


Now let’s shift to Iran. Iran is imposing itself as the Shiite sponsor, and in the same time, it’s developing its role regionally. The main force that is directing Iran is its Shiite belief, therefore, it’s logical and normal that the Arab world represents the domain of its extension; in the region lives the majority of the Shiites in the world, historically it was part of the Persian Empire, it controls massive resources that are lumped and controlling these capacities promises not only a regional role, but an international one as well, but most important of all spreading the tenets of the Islamic revolution. Iran is aware of the Political vacuum that attributes the Arab world, its political and regional influence is remarkable through supporting and backing specific groups and parties, the thing that would be more inveterate when sharing a common understating and here comes the role of Schism, anyway, it’s working on 3 fronts: firstly, Its engaging in cooperative relationship with the Gulf countries, nevertheless, tainted with a parade of strength showing who’s the dominator. Secondly, Sponsoring and supporting the line of resistance in Palestine, Syria, Lebanon. This point is conspicuously interesting, since, in my opinion, Israel isn’t the main threat facing Iran, unlike the Kurdish case; for instance, about 8% of Iranian population is Kurds, they inhabit the areas bordering Iraq and Turkey, and they represent a problem to the government especially with the Kurdish autonomy in Iraq. Thirdly, Adopting an obscure strategy towards Egypt. From one side, trying neutralizing its role, basically by replacing its role as the main support for the line of resistance and inherently criticizing it, and from the other side presenting itself as paragon in the region, especially by challenging the US and Israel, while Egypt maintains its alliance with them.


Inside the region, there are two trends. Those who advocate cooperation with Iran, as it offers a crucial depth and a broader space for maneuver in dealing with the US and Israel, especially, over critical issues like Palestine, Lebanon…Fahmy Huwaidi represents one of the leaders of this trend. The other trend is composed of those who are suspicious of the Iranian intents and believe that its aspiring regional ambitions and not just simply defending the Arab causes, adherents of this trend are Arab governments mainly Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and secular and leftist intellectuals.


So, how did Al-Qaradawi get into the middle of all that? Actually, he did not. The problem with Al-Qaradawi’s statements did not erupt because of him, but, because the statements were exposed to different interpretations; for those who are pro the cooperation with Iran, Al-Qaradawi’s statement were deemed disastrous for the attempts of unifying the efforts. For those who are suspecting the Iranian intentions, his statements represented an assurance to their fears. What fueled the situation even more was the interference of Islamic scholars, not only defending Al-Qaradawi, but attacking the Shiites fiercely. Nevertheless, the Iranian response to Al-Qaradawi was very harsh and offensive, remarkably, most of the responses focused on tainting the man’s reputation without real trail to refute what he said, in addition, there was no real study for this response in the Arabic media, the main concentration was on taking sides in the dispute, without really explaining what does his statements mean or what’s really referring to?


Let’s use Al-Qaradawi’s viewpoint to correctly answer that question. Al-Qaradawi is considered as a moderate Sunni scholar, however, he’s aware that his major role, not just interpretations of Quran and offering Fatwa (religious edicts), rather it is defending the sanctity of the sacred texts, and fortifying the society from any attempts of distorting its understanding of the religion.


According to Al-Qaradawi defending religion is priority, and cannot be subjected to any negotiations or bargains, thus he declares that he advocates the cooperation and alliance with Iran, yet he’s aware of the Iranian/Shiite aspirations and believes that they are not in the best interest of the society, for him, Iran is utilizing the religion for achieving political interests. Those who interpreted Al-Qaradawi’s statements feared that it could lead to a rupture with Iran, and then the Arabs would lose a substantial ally that not only share their concerns, but also, their beliefs, history and partially their culture. Al-Qaradawi, on the other hand, witnesses a severe weakness in the Arab societies, politically, economically and even socially, this situation would foreshadow a crisis for the religious convictions. For instance, Egypt is corrupted politically, in the citizens’ eye it is subject to the US foreign policy, and tightening its grip inside, the economy is in turmoil and the way its functioning is increasing the gap between the rich and the poor, as a result, the levels of corruption within the society increases in order to face the stance they are living in. On the other hand, Iran is representing itself as a successful paragon to this society, and most importantly, it’s a successful religious state, the thing that becomes attractive especially to the youth. So, Al-Qaradawi is calling for fortifying the Sunni societies, and his call was not intending to provoke or offend the Shiites, rather to act as a wake up call for the Sunnis, who, in his eyes, are impressed with the Iranian role and convinced that it represents a chance to balance their position in the region. He understands that the calls for unity cannot lead to anything except turning a blind eye towards the Iranian intentions, unity comes only between equals and he is aware that this is not the case between the Arabs and Iran, and that’s the point that most of his interpreters, and it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say, his adherents missed to understand.



Notwithstanding, the people would support and back Al-Qaradawi, although I cannot claim that they are totally aware of the meanings, but it is the position that the religion holds in their lives, moreover, Al-Qaradawi’s credibility is unquestionable in the Sunni/Arab world. Thus his calls were met with sentimental and strong support. This issue is directly related to the Arab character, religion holds priority, it’s a stable elements and its sanctity should defended by all means and at all costs.   

New Blogs on North Africa and Egypt

Adrian’s posts on North Africa opened me up to a good_blog on Western Sahara and North African politics called Western Sahara Info.  I especially liked his most recent post Preaching_Pointless_Ultraviolence_to_the_Choir,  which looks at militant complaints about the presence of an Israeli embassy in Mauritania:

Especially potent here, of course, is the charge about the Mauritanian government having political connections with Israel — it being true and all. This is not the place and time to whine about how Washington has shoved a profoundly pointless Israeli embassy down the collective Mauritanian throat as a prerequisite for its aid and support, but, let us just note in passing that it is counterproductive idiocy. It doesn’t advance the Israeli-Palestinian conflict one iota, but it does hand Islamist loons the silver bullet of Mauritanian politics.

On the other hand, chopping up surrendered Muslim soldiers during Ramadan is most emphatically not how you win hearts and minds — not in Mauritania, not elsewhere — and it will be hard to convince anyone otherwise, no matter how many times you remind them that Mossad rules the world. AQIM, being the bastard child of the GIA, has a long and proud tradition of alienating its own base by senseless violence, and it seems they’re still not quite done with it.

I would agree that there is nothing to be gained for the US by enticing/coercing Mauritania into opening up an Israeli embassy.  Its not as if relations between the two states are signifigant, politically or economically.  But opening up an embassy just gives conservatives more fodder. Maybe its a victory for Israel, but it does not advance US interests.

Also, another new blog I recomend is Friday_in_Cairo.  The author is a Cairo-based journalist whose posts offer some uniqe insight into Egyptian politics and society.

More Interviews with Sheikh Qaradawi

 AL-Masri Al-Youm today has a new interview with Sheikh Qaradawi,  plus extensive interviews with experts such as Dia Rashwan and Amr Showbaky.  For some reason the new stuff doesn’t seem to be available on the website.  Here is the original interview and here are the parts related to what he had to say about Shia:

 أما الشيعة فهم مسلمون، ولكنهم مبتدعون وخطرهم يكمن في محاولتهم غزو المجتمع السني وهم مهيئون لذلك بما لديم من ثروات بالمليارات وكوادر مدربة علي التبشير بالمنهج الشيعي في البلاد السنية خصوصاً أن المجتمع السني ليست لديه حصانة ثقافية ضد الغزو الشيعي فنحن العلماء لم نحصن السنة ضد الغزو المذهبي الشيعي لأننا دائماً نعمل القول «ابعد عن الفتنة لنوحد المسلمين» وتركنا علماء السنة خاوين.

للأسف وجدت مؤخراً مصريين شيعة، فقد حاول الشيعة قبل ذلك عشرات السنوات أن يكسبوا مصرياً واحداً ولم ينجحوا، من عهد صلاح الدين الأيوبي حتي ٢٠ عاماً مضت ما كان يوجد شيعي واحد في مصر، الآن موجودون في الصحف وعلي الشاشات ويجهرون بتشيعهم وبأفكارهم. الشيعة يعملون مبدأ التقية وإظهار غير ما بطن وهو ما يجب أن نحذر منه، وما يجب أن نقف ضده في هذه الفترة أن نحمي المجتمعات السنية من الغزو الشيعي، وأدعو علماء السنة للتكاتف ومواجهة هذا الغزو لأني وجدت أن كل البلاد العربية هزمت من الشيعة: مصر، السودان، المغرب، الجزائر وغيرها فضلاً عن ماليزيا وأندونسيا ونيجيريا.

* هل الخلافات الدينية بيننا وبين الشيعة بسيطة أم أنها في أصل الدين؟

ـ الخلاف في الأفرع ليس مهما لكن الخلافات في العقيدة هي المهمة. فكثير منهم يقول إن القرآن الموجود هو كلام الله ولكن ينقصه بعض الأشياء مثل سورة الولاية، نحن نقول إن السنة سنة محمد أما هم فلديهم سنة المعصومين محمد والأئمة الأحد عشر، ويعتبرون سنتهم مثل سنة محمد.. نحن نقول أبوبكر رضي الله عنه وعمرو رضي الله عنه وعمر رضي الله عنه وعائشة رضي الله عنها وهم يقولون لعنهم الله.. فهم يرون أن الرسول قبل أن يموت أوصي علي ابن أبي طالب أن يكون الخليفة من بعده.. ويعتبرون الصحابة خانوا الرسول ووصيته واختاروا آخرين.

* كيف يكون هناك خلاف في العقيدة وهي أصل الدين ومع ذلك يكونون مسلمين؟

ـ هم يؤمنون بالله والقرآن والرسول.

* إذا كان الشيعة ينكرون أصولاً في العقيدة ومع ذلك تعتبرهم مسلين فلماذا لا نفعل الأمر نفسه مع القرآنيين بدلاً من تكفيرهم؟

ـ من قال إنه لا يؤمن بالسنة كافر، لأن معني هذا أنه لا يؤمن أن الصلوات خمس وصلاة الظهر أربع ركعات، والصبح ركعتان وإلا كيف عرف فهي تفاصيل لم تذكر في القرآن بل في السنة.. من ينكر السنة فهو كافر.

Salafis in Lebanon

Nick Blanford has a good  great  article  on the Lebanese Salafi movement in the CSM.  See a recent MediaShack post on this topic.     Are these groups peaceful like they say or are they merely in a formative period, waiting to build up their strength?  That’s the million dollar question. 

Although the feuding factions in Tripoli formally reconciled two weeks ago, Rifaat Eid, son of the leading Alawite politician in Lebanon, says that, as a member of a pro-Syrian minority in Lebanon, he fears the potential of the Salafis.  “The Salafis are like kittens when they are weak, but when they are strong they become like tigers,” he says.

Egypt’s Nabin Ad-Deen says “hell no these groups aren’t peaceful.”   Last week, he had a piece in an Egyptian paper arguing  that the Egyptian Salafi movement is going to eventually reveal its true character- Al-Qaeda style fanaticism, so the Government should stop cultivating them as a tool against the Muslim Brotherhood before its too late.

Turkey Joining the Sunni anti-Iran axis?

This is what  Fahmy Huwedi, a major Egyptian commentator,  says in a   September20th op-ed  in Al-Dostor newspaper.   He points to specific economic and security coordination agreements  that Turkey has recently  signed with the GCC (I had not heard about this in the English press).   And says that Turkey “has now became a player in Gulf security, a development welcomed by the Americans.”  He then sarcastically criticizes the Egyptian foreign minister for trying to deny that Egypt is a member of the same front when, in fact,  it actually slavishly follows along. 

This is a major and often-repeated theme of Huwedi’s  5-6 weekly op-eds:   Rather then defend Egyptian and Arab interests, the government is more concerned with making the US and Israel happy.

Guess Who’s Back? Adrian on Algeria

Adrian has another post today as part of the MediaShack 9/11 series.   Its a follow up to last week’s superb superb look at CT in the South Sahara.  Given his numerous guest posts, frequent commenting and passing along of articles, I think its time to give him full membership at AMS, so I sent him an official neo-green Arabic Media Shack t-shirt.  It really looks good.  He’ll get so many numbers wearing this baby around town, and I know he will because he has a habit of wearing t-shirt to literally every bar he goes to (even if that means getting kicked out)!!! Anyway, the floor goes to Adrian (I lost his password, thats why the post is under my name). 


 The Economist this week has  a decent article on North African terror networks.  Some comments:

AQIM says it has also carried out attacks in Mauritania. It claims responsibility for the killing of four French tourists, which forced the cancellation of this year’s Paris-Dakar car rally;”;”

There is no actual iron-clad confirmation that that was AQIM and not some random robbery/homicide, although a recent blog post has done more to convince me that it was in fact terrorism-related.  The Moor Next Door has just posted some extremely interesting observations based on the notes on interrogations of some AQIM members he received from his “well placed Mauritanian friend’ (sketchy/awesome!) where the local AQIM/Mauritania “emir” states they killed the tourists to steal their passports.  This might explain why there was no triumphant declaration of responsibility.  This should be taken with a grain of salt, as it IS the Mauritanians interrogating him, so while before I thought it was 50/50 as to whether its AQIM related, now it’s probably 80/20.  People interested in AQIM should watch The Moor Next Door’s blog, as he says he’ll be posting more notes from the interrogations.

and an attack on Israel’s embassy in the capital, Nouakchott.”

At 2am some dudes shot up a nightclub next door to the embassy that was full of alcohol and prostitutes.  Not exactly Carlos the Jackal at work.

Tunisia is yet another apparent target of AQIM. The group has boasted that it kidnapped two Austrian tourists there earlier this year.”

The kidnapping occured across the border in Algeria because the tourists got lost.  It looks more like a crime of opportunity designed to get some quick cash than any serious terrorist Nicholas Berg-like event.  There hasn’t been much news about the hostages in the last couple months but I haven’t heard that they were killed – they were still alive on Sept 9.

North African groups tied to al-Qaeda have yet to carry out attacks in Europe.”

In fact some of the GIA-era cells from the 1990s have been turned by French intelligence and as far as we know AQIM has no assets in Europe even with all the Algerians in France.  (Sorry no source available.)

The Moor Next Door reports that the Algerian wing (i.e. the main wing) has been sending the Mauritanians some money to do terrorism, and so the Mauritanian wing is dependent on the Algerians for cash.  But how much money do you need to do nothing?  While there was a recent big event with 12 Mauritanian soldiers beheaded, it looks like Algerians were responsible for that (similar to the raid they launched in Mauritania just before Operation Flintlock 2005).  Compared to the Algeria’s two major guerrilla operations in Mauritania in 3 years, the Mauritanians themselves have been able to murder some tourists and shoot up a disco.

The last sentence of the article I think is the right idea: “But governments in the Maghreb are certainly trying to stir Western anxieties in order to get more American and European cash and support.”  Aid money may be hard to come by when you are a corrupt dictatorship with a rule-of-law problem, but it becomes much easier when you suddenly (through no fault of your own!) find yourself fighting terrorists.

Qaradawi and Zawahiri United Against the Shia

Jordanian journalist Mohamed Abu Rumman has a very interesting op-ed analyzing the latest Al-Qaeda tape in the September 21st edition of Al-Ghad newspaper.  Abu Ramen always has good analysis so I have translated the key points.

Key Analysis Points (The Bolded words are added by me)

  NEW EMPHASIS ON IRAN AND ITS ALLIES: The tape’s heavy focus on Iran and its allies (Hezbollah) represents a new pattern in Al-Qaeda rhetoric.  In the years following 9/11, AQ took great care to avoid conflict with Iran, for many reasons, but the most prominent being a sense that there were common interests that could be built upon, such as confrontation with the US and Israel.  In addition, Iran formed a critical crossing point for AQ leaders fleeing the Afghan war to different locations, although Iran did extradite several AQ figures back to their home countries and key figures, such as Sayf al-Adel and Bin Laden’s son are still imprisoned there.

Then as the Iraq war started, there was a dispute between  the pragmatic rhetoric of the AQ central leadership (especially Zawahiri)  and AQ in Iraq (especially Zarqawi and Abu Omar Al-Baghdadi).  Initially, AQC wanted to avoid confrontation with Iran,  whereas the AQ in Iraq were fighting an open war with Iran.  But now the AQC position vis a vis Iran has changed dramatically and this is most evident in Zawahiri’s response to close to 90 questions posed to him a few months ago.  

THE HEZBOLLAH PROBLEM:  And now Zawahiri is focused on Iran, but the basis of his criticism is political and not religious or sectarian.  His big issue with Iran is their inconsistent positions towards  Arab and Islamic causes.  On one hand, Iran basically legitimizes the US occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, even calling Resistance there Harem (religously illegitimate)  or terrorism.  At the same time it turns around and supports the Resistance in Palestine and Lebanon.  Zawahiri points to Iran’s political opportunism as one reason that it can’t be considered a reliable partner against the US.  But there is another reason that explains AQ’s strategic change and this is the rise of Hezbollah since 2006, whose performance against Israel has given it widespread popularity in the media and on the Arab street- something very worrying to AQ.   AQ sees the rise of sectarian tensions in the region as something the Salafi Jihadist movement can exploit to tap recruits.  But this is all complicated by Hezbollah’s widespread popularity.

 WHO’S WHO ON THE TAPE: Abu Ramen’s  second point is related to the appearance of several leaders of AQC, especially AZ who truly is the AQ “main man.”
But the big surprise is the presence of two big name characters: Atih Allah who has gained popularity amongst the followers of AQ and plays a big role on the internet, especially as relates to the Iraqi file.  The second person is Abu Yaha Al-Libie, who is most prominently in charge of issuing fatwas.  As for the appearance of Abu Yazid al-Masri, Amir of AQ in Afghanistan, the big value here is to dispel rumors that he died.   Noticeably absent is Abu Hamza Al-Muhajer, Abu Amr Al-Baghdadi (leader of AQ in Iraq), and Mohamed Khalil Al-Hakemiya  which most prominently reflects AQ’s retreat in Iraq as compared to previous years and their inability to undertake operations in Egypt, despite their announced presence there, which confirms the significance/strength of the Revisions process which reached its climax with the announcement of Dr. Fadl’s anti-violence initiative.

OPEN SEASON IN AFGHANISTAN:  On the other hand, the presence of the three key personalities of AQC on the tape, which comes after another tape which announced AQ’s responsibility for the explosion of the Danish embassy in Pakistan, reflects their free conditions in Afg/Pak, as a result of the alliance with the Taliban and the local Islamic groups.  If only temporarily, for a number of reasons….

The prominent political message of the tape is that the key AQ leaders are confirming that they will stick to the fight and that they are still alive, despite the passage of 7 years of these Wars of the Cross (Crusades), this being the name AQ uses in the hope of gaining sympathy on the Arab street….Perhaps AQ has failed since 9/11 in executing the same kind of spectacular attacks and has switched to attacking soft-targets, but there is consensus amongst people who study AQ that it has become more dangerous as a “political message”  accepted by groups here or there, and whose ideology might be incentive for certain Arab and Muslim youth, considering the failures/ Fowda that is ripping through most of these societies. ….AQ plays a directional role through setting the general path, whereas their followers on the ground have the responsibility of carrying out the battle.


1) Is there any doubt that Ayman Zawahiri is the top guy in AQ?  Literally, everything I read in the Arabic press suggests that he and not Bin Laden is the primary mover and shaker. 

2)  Solidity of the Egyptians revisions process:  Ramen sees the lack of any Egyptians as a sign that they are holding.  Bringing these Egyptians on the tape would probably be an embarrassment for Zawahiri as it would highlight how badly the militant groups lost in Egypt.   What’s truly remarkable is how in the homeland of radical Islam, Egypt, the  radical Islamist groups that existed between the 1970s and 1990s have essentially disappeared.   

3)  Conservative Sunnis are faced with a serious dilemma with the widespread popularity of Hezbollah.  Both Zawahiri and Yusuf Qaradawi have a HEZBOLLAH PROBLEM.    Attracting surprisingly little attention in the  Western press, last week Yusuf Al-Qaradawi went on a long anti-Shia rant in an interview  with Al-Masr Al-Youm, saying they were clearly trying to invade Sunni society with their ideas.  Asked by his Egyptian interview “which is the greater danger- Shias or Wahabis?”  Qaradawi said Wahabis don’t respect the opinions of anyone but themselves, then railed against the Shia:

   “unfortunately there are Shia in Egypt.  They tried for dozens of years unsuccessfully to recruit one Shia, from the time of Salah Ad Deen until recently….”

للأسف وجدت مؤخراً مصريين شيعة، فقد حاول الشيعة قبل ذلك عشرات السنوات أن يكسبوا مصرياً واحداً ولم ينجحوا، من عهد صلاح الدين الأيوبي حتي ٢٠ عاماً مضت ما كان يوجد شيعي واحد في مصر،

But notice his explanation for why this might be occurring: 

:  ( فنحن العلماء لم نحصن السنة ضد الغزو المذهبي الشيعي لأننا دائماً نعمل القول «ابعد عن الفتنة لنوحد المسلمين»)  He says “we the Ulema didn’t immunize (or left our society vulnerable to the penetration) because we always said avoid fitna in order to keep the Muslims united.” 

   Basically what  he is saying here by this last quote:  “we the noble Sunni clerics took the higher road and said to the rank and file, “lets stay united to avoid fitna.”  As a result our people let their gaurds down, and the sneaky Shias took advantage to recruit/ spread their ideas.”  

 Deep down inside Qaradawi has to view the post-2006 war Hezbollah love-fest in the Arabic_press and street ( see here and here)  as especially aggravating.   It would not be an exaggeration that Hassan Nasrallah has Brad Pitt status amongst many Middle Eastern women.  One thing I’ve noticed in Egypt recently is a trend amongst young veiled, lower or middle class women, audaciously wearing the colors of Hezbollah.   For average people on the street, Hezbollah’s victory is something to take pride on- they deserve mad respect for their stand against Israel.  However, for Qaradawi such displays of unity merely give those “sneaky Shias” another back-door into Sunni society to spread their ideas.  Of course, he could not say that explicity- how uncool would that make him look. 

Zawahiri and Al-Qaeda also have a Hezbollah problem.  It largely stems from the fact that Hezbollah gets all the glory.  While they get feted and treated like rock-stars for confronting Israel, Al-Qaeda is standing in the background, unable logistically to strike at Israel.

Angry Arab on Bob Woodward

The Angry_Arab has a good review of Bob Woodward’s new book on the Iraq war.  Two points that need to be clarified:

And you really have to read Secretary Rice analyzing Arab public opinion. I mean, who can you blame such people: her chief adviser on Arab affairs is Elliott Abrams, for potato’s sake. She insists that “Many of the Arabs see Iran now as more dangerous problem than Israel.” (p. 220) Such is the quality of Middle East expertise at the White House. I remember that chief Middle East hand at Clinton’s White House, Bruce Reidel telling Middle East Quarterly that Arab public opinion is not displeased with the sanctions that were imposed on Iraq in the 1990s.  (He now advises Obama on the Middle East, I heard). You read how Gen. Petraeus orders another US puppet, Iyad `Allawi: “Get in the game.” (p. 332). And Bush summs up his views of Iranians: “These are assholes.” (p. 334

On multiple occasions and usually more explicitly, the Angry Arab has called out Bruce Reidel’s knowledge of the Middle East based on this one statement he made in the early 1990s.  He says the same thing in his book.  Assad is correct to question the credentials of many of those in Washington who claim expertise on the Middle East, but Bruce Reidel is clearly a Middle East expert, and I say this from personal experience.   One statement which may or may not be correct does not make a break a person’s credibility as an expert.

Secondly, Assad takes issue with Rice’s statement that “many of the Arabs now see Iran as a dangerous problem than Israel,” saying that this shows a lack of knowledge of the Middle East in the White House.   But just last week, Yusuf Al-Qaradawi gave an interview with Al-Masri Al-Youm where, prompted by his Egyptian interviewer’s question “Which is the greater danger the Wahabis or the Shias,” he went on a long anti-Shia rant about their assault on Sunni societies.   I don’t believe that Israel was mentioned once in his long two-part_interview.  Signifigantly, Qaradawi prides himself (and is) genuinely independent of any regime or group, so his views are seen as more credible and genuine.  He is considered a moderate and certainly can not be dismissed as_some_kind_of_government_lackey,  That he felt the need to say all these negative things about Shias suggests that the fear actually exists and is not some made up concoction by Condaleeze Rice.

New Blog

For anyone who is interested in Egypt,  a couple of my good friends just started up a new blog with the Foreign Policy Association.  Check it out here or on the Blogroll.

Understanding Have vs Have-Not Terrorism

One of the points I argue in the MediaShack Al-Qaeda series is that  a distinction should be made between Have vs Have-Not violence in the name of Jihad and purely theologically inspired Jihad.  When this distinction is made (which it never is in the US), it becomes clearer that the Al-Qaeda movement is weaker than they are often portrayed.  There is a link between economics and “terrorism” as that phrase is understood in the US.  Perhaps this becomes clearer if we rephrase this to “there is a link between economics and participation in radical islamist groups that use violence. ” 

Its true that the economic link is not at play with Al-Qaeda, whose violence is theologically inspired and all of its key members came from comfortable middle or upper class backgrounds.   Nothing was materially wrong with their lives.  But for most of the terrorism that occured in the Arab world between the 1970s and the 1990s there is a strong economic relationship.  To understand this point, I highly recommend the following Arabic films (available with subtitles):

1)  The_Closed_Doors, Egypt, 1999.  

2) Yacoubian_Building, Egypt 2006

Both of these films show the path of radicalization taken by two young Egyptian men.  At the root of their radiclization was socioeconomics- or conflict over resources.   Their path is representative of most of the violence that occured in Egypt between the 1970s and 1990s.  Note how in both cases they joined Islamic Group and not Jihad. 

3) Star_of_Algiers, Algeria. 

An outstanding novel about a young man in the early 1990s and is a must-read for anyone who is interested in radical Islamist terrorism.  The book higlights how much of the violence in Algeria needs to be seen as a conflict between Have-nots versus the Haves (ie economics).   Interestingly, the prevailing idea in the US CT community is that economics is not a critical factor in Jihadist terrorism.  Yes, this is true when dealing with Theologically inspired groups such as Al-Qaeda (at least at the leadership level).  But its not the case with most of the groups that used violence during the 1970s-1990s.  However, whenever Arab film takes up the topic of terrorism the economic dimension is always paramount.  Arabs make the link between economics and terrorism far more than do US scholars.

Adrian’s Take on the War on Terror in The Sahara

Making another guest appearance today at MediaShack is Adrian.  Read his previous post on Al-Qaeda_ and Deterance and check out his blog Politics_and_Soccer. 

As promised by Rob, here is my  assessment of the ‘war on terror’ in the southern Sahara.  While I dislike the term ‘war on terror’, nothing better exists so I’ll use it in this essay.  First I’ll give a brief overview of the various groups, then I’ll evaluate the Trans Saharan Counter Terrorism Partnership, a US Department of State and Defense operation in northern Africa.  One theme you might notice throughout the essay is “X happened, or possibly the opposite happened instead.”  It’s extremely difficult (perhaps impossible) to really know what is going on in this area of the world.  A couple observers blame this on the nature of local media, but whatever the cause, the facts are frequently up in the air.

The Groups  


AQIM stands for Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.  It was formerly known as the GSPC, or Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat.  The GSPC started in 1998 when Hassan Hattab, a member of the GIA (an anti-government insurgency started in 1993), created a splinter group and called it the GSPC.  Hattab thought that the GIA’s practice of massacring entire villages that they decided had betrayed Islam by siding with the Algerian government was counterproductive.  (In fact some former Algerian mukhabarat members claimed they infiltrated the GIA to push them towards more extreme killings in order to alienate the population).  After Hattab started the GSPC, the Algerian government offered an amnesty to GIA members who wanted to stop fighting, and so by 2000 most GIA members had surrendered and the GSPC was the only group left fighting the Algerian government, numbering approximately 300 members (although who really knows, and it’s difficult to define a “member” of an insurgency/terrorist group anyway), most of them in the north of Algeria in Kabylie. The GIA, founded in 1993, only paid attention to southern Algeria starting in 1996 when it declared that foreign oil companies and their employees in the Sahara were fair game as their revenue supported the government.  The resulting civilian deaths helped cause the schism between the GIA and Hassan Hattab.

Since this essay concentrates on the southern Sahara, most of the history of the GIA or GSPC is not relevant.  The most relevant GSPC people in the southern Sahara are El Para (aka Aberrezak Lamari OR Amari Saifi) and Mokhtar Belmokhtar (real name probably Khalid Abu al-Abbas).  El Para allegedly took hostages and moved them throughout the entire Sahara desert, while Mokhtar Belmokhtar was (and possibly still is) the leader of a group loosely affiliated with the GSPC, which funds the northern groups via smuggling.

El Para’s nom de guerre comes from his background in the Algerian special forces as a parachutist.  His “terrorist act” was in reality an act of kidnapping and extortion rather than terrorism.  He took 32 European (mostly German) tourists hostage in March 2003 and demanded ransom from Germany.  He kept them in two groups, one of which was freed by an Algerian military operation.  The other was freed when Germany paid a ransom of 5 million euro.  Then American, Algerian, Malian and Nigerien military forces chased El Para across the Sahara from Mali to Chad, where he was captured for ransom by the MDJT (the group that drove to Khartoum recently).  Libya’s Qaddafi then stepped in and over the course of months helped negotiate with Algeria to get El Para sent back to Algeria where he was either imprisoned or repatriated back into Algerian special forces.  The second possibility is because there is an alternative theory that states that El Para never left the Algerian special forces, which is why he was able to evade capture for so long – he was being aided by the Algerian mukhabarrat so that the Algerian government can say “look America, we have a terrorist problem, give us military goodies.”  There is a further theory that the United States was in on it in order to further its militarization of Africa policy with the goal of obtaining oil (currently there is a lot of oil prospecting going on in Saharan Niger and Mali).  While I doubt the US could keep anything like that secret very well, it is quite possible that El Para was controlled by the DRS especially as it fits with what the DRS did in the 1990s with the GIA.

Mokhtar Belmokhtar is an “Afghan Arab” – he fought in Afghanistan against the USSR and then came back in the 1990s.  His claim to fame was controlling a lot of the smuggling in northern Mali, southern Algeria, and northern Niger, mainly in South American cocaine and ciggarettes.  He also is allegedly responsible for an attack  killing 17 Mauritanian soldiers under the noses of their American trainers.  He’s also been killed numerous times (this past February, in September 2006, etc.) and reportedly surrendered for good earlier this year.  His gang was frequently described as the “southern wing” of GSPC (now AQIM) but in reality it’s difficult to know how tight he ever was with the GSPC – his smuggling operations raised money for the terrorist activities in northern Algeria but its unlikely he did anything else, and he made a pretty penny for himself in those operations as well.  The GSPC alliance with al Qaeda announced in September 2006 (a decision Belmokhtar was totally cut out of) probably alienated Belmokhtar for good.  There are reports now that he is living large in Benin, safe from Algerian intelligence in exchange for dishing the goods on the main AQIM.  It remains to be seen who will fill the void left by his absence to control smuggling in that corner of the Sahara.  It will probably be Yahia Djouadiformerly head of AQIM’s military committee, or local Tuareg smugglers such as Ibrahim Bahanga.

The Tuareg groups in northern Mali and Niger were the focus of my thesis, finished in May and available online here.  Generally Tuareg rebels say they are fighting because they are marginalized socially and economically, shut out of the national life of Mali and Niger, which are both countries dominated by sub-Saharan ethnic groups like Hausa and Bambara (Tuareg are Berbers).  It doesn’t hurt that fighting the government is both easy and profitable; easy, because the militaries of Mali and Niger are very small and don’t have the necessary air power to control such a vast space, and profitable because the lawlessness that accompanies guerrilla warfare encourages drug smuggling.  On top of this, Libya almost definitely played a role in instigating the violence in 2006 and 2007 by providing arms to the rebels, although lately has changed tack and is helping negotiations to end the fighting.

Tuareg armed groups are fluid and frequently splinter.  Ibrahim Bahanga is a Tuareg (Berber nomads) from Mali who has been fighting the Malian government on a part-time basis for about twenty years.  The May 23rd Democratic Alliance for Change is a more mainstream Tuareg that started the current rebellion on May 23rd 2006, demanding more government aid and autonomy for the Kidal region.  After initial rebel success, the Malian government immediately negotiated a truce and an agreement with the help of Algeria.  Bahanga kept fighting, but just recently (on Sept. 10) Mali and Bahanga exchanged all their prisoners and it looks like Bahanga might finally lay down his arms.  The Movement of Nigeriens for Justice (MNJ) is still fighting even after a recent split, profiting off the drug trade through the Sahara.  They have avoided defeat because of the lack of resources of Niger’s military, because of resupply from Libya, and because of the difficult terrain; however they’ve failed to gain much popular support (my impression from afar is that most locals dislike both sides and want the conflict to stop so they can get their tourism businesses running again).


There are also the low-level smugglers running around the sahara. one reason Bahanga has been able to keep fighting is that a lot of young men join his crew to fight for a little while and get to know the smuggling routes that Bahanga uses, and then they leave Bahanga’s group and go solo, hiring themselves out as guides to other smugglers.  The important smuggling routes seem to be three: the first, South American cocaine lands on the West African coast and goes up to the tri-border area of Mauritania, Algeria and Mali, then east skirting Algeria’s border, and then north to the coast in either Libya or Egypt where security officials take over the goods and they are shipped up to Eastern Europe and then into the EU.  The second is from illicit cigarette factories in northern Nigeria that make fake Marlboros, north up to Algeria and Libya and into Europe, avoiding the high EU tariffs.  The third is people buying groceries and gasoline in Algeria at subsidized prices and a fixed exchange rate and selling them in Niger and Mali – as far as I know, this third route is just low-level stuff, not profitable enough to be worth Belmokhtar, Bahanga or the MNJ’s time.


American military assistance has primarily taken the form of small-unit training and technical assistance, for instance providing GPS navigation units, and radios at border crossings so the Malian and Algerian (for example) units can more easily talk to each other and coordinate their activities.  USAID has also been active in the area and one military attache I spoke with said people refer to all US government assistance in the region as falling under the Trans Saharan Counter Terrorism Partnership, a 500 million dollar Pentagon nation-building project that grew out of the much more modest Pan Sahel Initiative, which was just aimed at helping nations control their borders.  Obviously military assistance will be under the Pentagon, but even traditional development aid (such as helping set up local radio stations) is part of DoD’s Phase Zero philosophy in which any non-military aid can be viewed as resolving conditions that lead to conflict (and hence under DoD’s scope even though State is supposedly the lead agency).  In addition to American aid, the French provide signals intelligence on local rebels, and the Chinese have been giving assistance in the form of helicopters to Niger and Chad (in exchange for oil exploration rights).
The counter-insurgent philosophies of Mali and Niger provide a good contrast to each other.  Both countries have very few resources to spend on their militaries.  They are patrolling areas the size of France with the equivalent of a few motorized infantry companies each.  Mali has gone the political route, negotiating with any rebel or insurgent group that agrees to not seek outright independence (which is all of them).  Niger on the other hand has chosen to go the direct military route, refusing to acknowledge any political dimension of the conflict and using search and destroy missions that don’t always end well.  Both approaches have their problems.  In negotiations, Mali ends up making promises of aid it can’t keep simply because the country is so poor.  Nigerien military forces are so far unable to achieve a decision, and so the conflict drags on there too.
The Algerian military is much better equipped due to Algeria’s oil money.  With helicopters and better reconnaissance, they are in a better position to control their borders.  They also pay Algerian Tuaregs to act as something like national park keepers – this is a joke, everyone knows it is in order to give Tuaregs money so they aren’t forced into aiding smugglers or AQIM and can instead work on their tourism businesses which otherwise wouldn’t be sustainable.  Thus southern Algeria isn’t a good environment for transnational drug smuggling, and smugglers try to skirt the Algerian border.  It is also not a good environment for terrorism – the Tuareg in Algeria hate terrorism because it kills the tourism that they depend on, there is nowhere to hide in a landscape that looks like this when your opponent has aerial reconnaissance, and there aren’t many good terrorist targets in the south anyway other than well-protected oil infrastructure and military bases (AQIM prefers mountainous ambushes and urban bombings).







So has the Trans Saharan Counter Terrorism Partnership been effective for the United States, in denying terrorists sanctuary in the Sahara desert?  American involvement began in 2002 with the Pan Sahel Initiative, during a time of relative peace in the region (the GSPC’s violence was only in northern Algeria).  After 6 years of American involvement, the GSPC has spread south, aligned with Al Qaeda, and insurgencies have started in both Mali and Niger.  While these events were definitely not caused by American involvement, the US could not stop them either.  However it is pretty undeniable that there has been no actual terrorist (as opposed to insurgent) attacks in the Sahara or coming out of the Sahara since the start of TSCTP – it has not become, as was feared, “the next Afghanistan“.  But that is probably because there was very little terrorism in the Sahara before TSCTP either (a fact well documented by the ICG, by area expert Jeremy Keenan, and plenty of others).  In fact a recent American GAO study criticizes TSCTP for measuring inputs (soldiers trained, etc.) instead of results (decrease in terrorism), but this is largely because it is difficult to decrease something that is already zero.  The entire rationale of TSCTP was that in the future maybe something bad might happen, so we better get in there now, which frankly can be used to justify intervention in 95% of the globe.  So why was there a TSCTP in the first place?  While Keenan believes it is because of America’s thirst for oil, I think there is a better explanation: bureaucracy.

 The bureaucratic argument goes like this: with the collapse of any Soviet/Russian military threat, the Pentagon’s European Command (which included Africa before AFRICOM was created in 2007) was “a hammer looking for a nail“.  Since “9/11 changed everything” in the American defense/intelligence world, EUCOM needed a counter terrorism project.  Their first one was in Georgia from 2002 to 2004.  However EUCOM also looked at the Sahara and thought “Afghanistan“, and started the Pan Sahel Initiative, which grew via bureaucratic momentum into the Trans Sahara Counter Terrorism Initiative – the Pentagon asked for $125 million and received $500 million over 5 years for the TSCTI (now it is a Partnership – the TSCTP).

David Gutelius, like Jeremy Keenan, is an academic with lots of experience in the region and argues that American policy can end up alienating locals and making them more likely to allow anti-American groups to live in their areas.  This is true given the nature of how information travels in the Sahara, a point mentioned in the beginning of this piece.  The region is too big for newspapers to be distributed easily, too poor for widespread internet/computers, and TVs are hard for nomads to carry around on camels, so a lot of information is spread by word of mouth/rumors on satellite phones.  There is one rumor that an American Special Forces soldier in Gao, Mali, made a scissors cutting motion to a local Muslim guy, joking that he would cut off his beard.  Maybe the soldier found it amusing or maybe it never even happened at all, but the story spread at the detriment of the United States.  Direct US involvement carries the risk of more stories like this, especially with culturally ignorant soldiers (no fault of their own, they should be trained  on this stuff).

I would say the TSCTP has been a waste of money for the United States in the sense that it wasn’t necessary in terms of the American national interest, but the program still has accomplished good things and has been pretty well implemented.  It tackled a problem that didn’t exist on the rationale that it might exist in the future, but it did a great job of it.  Even if the ability of Mali or Niger to control their borders, to create economic opportunities for their people, and to protect against frequent war and conflict doesn’t directly impact American national security, these are still good things for most of the region (unless you are a nomad or smuggler depending on weak national borders).  Under the umbrella of TSCTP, USAID has helped create community radio stations in Mali, State has funded educational exchange programs, and Malian and Nigerien military units receive training not only in tactical skills but also in professionalism (critically that training is done by uniformed American soldiers, not by contractors like some farcical  training operations).

The danger is that these short-term benefits may be canceled out by long-term blowback, caused by incidents like the beard-cutting one mentioned above or by a shift from a hands-off strategy to a hands-on strategy like Somalia in which the US isn’t just assisting with intel but is actively killing people.  Blowback could take the form of small numbers of locals deciding their government is an American puppet and attacking it, or attacking Western tourists which would harm the economy.

Since this series has been on evaluating America’s response to the 9/11 attacks, my editor has informed me that a grade is called for.  I would say “B” for the design of a project (unnecessary, risk of blowback, but a hands-off approach minimizes the risks and costs) and an A for implementation (by government/military efficiency standards of course).  Of course if Professor Keenan is correct about cooperation with Algeria and El Para, that grade might drop just as if a student is caught cheating on a test…




Another Assasination in Syria?

This according to the Syrian Reform Party website:

“September 15, 2008 //RPS Staff
Some 4 days ago, Hisham al-Labadani, the secretary of Khalid Mashaal of Hamas who takes Damascus as his home, was dragged from his car and shot dead in daylight in the city of Homs.

Operatives close to the event told RPS that al-Labadani’s murder is a signal some in the Assad regime were sending to Hamas continued cooperation with the IRGC of Iran. The group, led by Mohammad Nassif Kheir Bek, has been promoting rapprochement with the west against the entrenched supporters of the Iranian influence in Syria who have gained key positions lately (See this link).

Although the killing took place some four days ago, both the Syrian regime and Hamas have kept silent about the incident for fear of unleashing the Iranian camp inside the Assad regime against the pro-west camp.”Hmmm.  Not much to say here. 

Abdel Bari Atwan’s 9/11 Report

……. Abdel Bari Atwan, editor of London based Al-Quds Al-Qarabi,  wrote a long analytical piece analyzing the success or failure of the US war on terror.  Atwan’s views are very worth listening to for several reasons. 
1) As editor of Al-Quds he has major connections to people who are very close to the events, both from the sides that are favorable to the US and those that are opposed.  What I am saying is that he has acccess to the views/analysis of people from the Taliban/  that no Americans are going to get or even try to get.  So his analysis needs to be paid special attention.
2) He has major connections with the Islamist movements and has interviewed Bin Laden.  He also  wrote a very good book on Al-Qaeda.  
3) His paper is considered independent and is more intellectually consistent than bigger papers such as Al-Hayat and Asharq al-Awsat. 

4) Also,  a couple weeks ago I had a  post  asking the question Why is the Taliban the enemy?  Some disagreed with my argument that the Taliban is not a natural enemy of the US so it could be manipulated into turning against Al-Qaeda.   Atwan’s  analysis supports my point.  For all of these reasons, I have translated the article.  I am not a translator, but the following can be considered a reliable (in the sense of capturing all the ideas)  chronological translation of the article:

Bootleg Translation of Atwan’s Article

Two years ago, Bush, and his ally Blair announced they they had discovered an Al-Qaeda plot to blow up a number of American airplanes using liquid bombs.  The British government led by Tony Blair, ally of Bush in the war against terror, arrested about 30 Britains from Muslim backgrounds, and took measures to stop liquids from going on planes, causing unprecedented confusion, as this came at the peak of summer travel season in Europe. 

At that same time, we at Al-Quds doubted or were speptical of this alleged conspiracy,  which should be seen in the framework of  US and European Islamophobia ,  and is used to justify Blair and Bush’s bloody wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  We also said that these two men, who are known for their religious fervor and hostility to Islam employed a politics of fear, with this airplane conspiracy being only the most prominent example.  Just yesterday an independent trial court rejected this conspiracy and acquited the accused in a trial that lasted for two years, costing the tax payers upwards of 50 million British pounds.

The trial revealed that these accused had never bought a ticket even gotten near a British airport… But journalistic reports confirmed that President Bush and his VP wanted some kind of victor to use in order to help Republican candidates in the 2006 Congressional Elections, and they found in this alleged/claimed conspiracy a priceless opportunity. 

Fabricating evidence is not something unusual for Bush or Blair.  Weren’t they the ones who fabricated evidence of a relationship between Saddam and Al-Qaeda? Or of Iraq’s relationship to uranium in Niger in order to justify their aggression against it?  Isn’t Tony Blair, now the Middle East peace envoy, the one who went before Parliament in dramatic form with the dossier that said they had reliable information that Saddam Hussein had WMD that he was capable of using against British and US forces in less than 45 minutes?

Noone denies the presence of Islamist extremist organizations which use terrorism and violence as a measure to fight against the West, reacting to its wars in Iraq and as revenge for its victims, like what happened in the London attacks three years ago. But perhaps we can also say that the threat from these groups is exaggerated by Security forces and popular newspapers to justify security measures and strong laws against Muslim communities in the West, portraying them as the source of all evil.

Thursday is the seventh anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, which were the beginning of the war against terrorism and the occupation of Muslim countries, Iraq and Afghanistan, and the death of 1.5 million Muslims and Arabs, as well as the death of 4k American soldiers, and the loss of as much as 5 trillion dollars.  Perhaps the best way to measure its succes or failure is to look at what President Bush himself were the original goals:  the arrest or capture of the two leaders Mullah Omar and Bin Laden and the complete destruction of their two organizations, and to make the world safer and more peaceful.

The war on terror toppled the regimes of the Taliban and after the Saddam and the occupation of the two countries.  But it did not succeed in capturing either leader and did not make the world safer, but actually made it worse. Furthermore, the two movements have returned to Afghanistan and Pakistan and now have  control over most of the first and half of the second, and run training camps for new volunteers who numbers in the thousands.

The Al-Qaeda organization might have been exposed to a major setback in Iraq because of the Awakening Forces ( paid off by the Americans) and because of their takfir politics and emphasis on setting up an Islamic state, but perhaps this setback is just temporary, because the vast majority of its members of Iraqi, we have to consider how Tanzim Al-Qaeda was able to return  to Afghanistan five years after the destruction of its base at Tora Bora.   The theory of those who participated in the Awakening was at its roots, based on distinction between the Far Enemy (the US) and the Near Enemy (Iran) and the necessity of focusing on fighting the near enemy , considering it the greater danger, even if that means allying with the Far Enemy.  But this theory began to crumble after the Malaki government forced the US to stop funding the Awakening forces, and brought them under its influence and control.   This means that the 100k who fought with Al-Qaeda, then turned against them, now finds themselves as Pariahs and outcasts after they were used to establish the Occupation, but then were thrown in the trash like a used napkin

President Bush wants to use the Iraq Awakening model in Aghanisan, but despite its partial and temporary success there, it is difficult to see it succeed in Afg. not because the time is late but because the Taliban has imposed its control over Afghanistan and the American defeat has become certain.   US forces commit massacres and heavy handed actions on a daily basis, knowing that their program has failed and the the Taliban-Al-Qaeda victory is inevitable.  They resort to heavy handed aerial attacks but the leadership forgets that airborne bombardment can not settle the issue on the ground.  On the other hand, increasing the number of land forces (now at 37k) will only give the Taliban more targets to attack

America’s problem is bigger than Afghanistan, which is an unwinnable war.  The bigger problem is in Pakistianwhich is becoming quickly a failed state, which will inevitably fall in the hands of radical Islamistgroups or a military dictatorship with little popularity.  Notice how  71% of Pakistanis are opposed to cooperation with the US war on terror and 51% oppose the war against the Taliban according to a poll done last July by Gallup.   The Taliban in Pakistan constitute a greater threat than the Taliban in Afghanistan because it posses 80k fighters ready to due in suicide operations against Western forces.  American attacks against Pakistani tribal regions will only increase the popularity of extremist groups in Pakistan as these attacks are considered a violation of Pakistani national dignity and increase extremism.   And these suicide operations were unknown in Pak and Afg before 9/11 but now they are something normal thanks to the presence of AQ experts who first learned the trade in Iraq.

The first leader the new President Zardari met was  Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, which he did to confirm to Washington that he will stay a close ally in the war against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.  But this man, who has spent 11 of the last 20 years in in jail on corruption charges is not going to stay in power long, and US support for him will only increase the power of the Taliban and AQ. It  certainly  will not weaken it.   The US administration might find cooperation from the high level officers in the Pakistani army, but the big problem is that the vast majority of lower level officers and soldiers have sheltered hostility, and this is what explains Al-Qaeda and Taliban penetration in the Presidential Security and the three attempted assassination attempts against Musharaf.

Perhaps the failure of the war on terror will be seen in upcoming months for several reasons:  One has to do with the reemergence of Russia and a new Cold War after the Georgia fighting and Moscow’s desire to return to Afghanistan to get revenge against the Americans for kicking them out previously, and Al-Qaeda’s success in making a return to Afghanistan, and rejuvenated Mujaheed from around the world, and maybe see a return of them going to Europe and maybe even America, as Afghanistan is surrounded by countries who are hostile with America which is not the case with Iraq.

Al-Qaeda has returned to Aghanistan in light of its alliance with the Taliban, “after the the West became a mutal enemy of both movements. But the Taliban was not an enemy of America and the West before the events of 9/11.  There was a wing, and it was the dominant wing requesting that Al-Qaedabe kicked out of Afghanistan. Now all the wings are united behind Al-Qaeda  against Washington and the West.”  Here is the exact quote: 

 وعادت الى افغانستان بيئتها وحاضنتها الطبيعية، وفي ظل تحالف اقوى مع طالبان، بعد ان اصبح الغرب عدوا مشتركا للطرفين، فطالبان لم تكن تعادي امريكا والغرب قبل احداث الحادي عشر من ايلول (سبتمبر)، وكان هناك جناح وهو الغالب فيها يطالب بطرد القاعدة من البلاد، الآن توحدت الأجنحة خلف ‘القاعدة’ وضد واشنطن والغرب

The upcoming days for America are going ot be tough, it had a golden opportunity to win over Muslim hearts and minds who sympathized with them following 9/11. It could have used this to try and settle the Isr-Pal conflict and support democracy and human rights but unfortunately it did the opposite of this completely.  By doing what it did, it just provided more havens for terrorism.

There are a number of points worth commenting on.  But for now I will simply return to my original argument- there is no reason that Taliban should be considered a natural enemy of the US.  They were not.  Lumping them together, when they could have sided with the US in kicking the  Al-Qaeda movement which was a threat to their local rule, was a major mistake.   The US had a golden opp that was blown, but I still see no reason why it couldn’t work.  Yes, it would entail admitting that seven years of effort was a complete waste, but it would probaly be more practical than staying and fighting the Taliban.

Control Your Citizens Please

There are several factors  behind the sudden arrest of Egyptian real-estate magnate  and MP Talat Mustafa, but make no mistake about it, international diplomacy was one of them.   The Egyptian newspaper Al Masry Al Youm reported that it had obtained recordings of five phone calls between Moustafa and Sokari in the months before the murder:

In one call, Moustafa is said to be assuring Sokari that he had finalised all that was necessary for his mission, revealing that the initial plan was to carry out the murder in London, where Tamim lived for 18 months before moving to Dubai just days before she was murdered.

During the call, Moustafa could be heard telling Sokari: “Everything is ready and the amount agreed on is ready. The flight is tomorrow, she is in London. You figure it out, you are a security man, come on, you know what to do,” the newspaper reported.

In another conversation, the newspaper said, Sokari told Moustafa that he did not get a chance to “do it” in London and that he would kill Tamim in Dubai. Moustafa replied: “It will be difficult there, though.”

But Sokari assured him: “Don’t worry boss, this is mine,” Al Masry Al Youm reported.

Several Arabic newspapers emphasized the diplomatic dimension in this case.  There  was signifigant behind the scenes pressure by the British and Dubain governments on the Egyptian governments.  “Dude, you can’t just have your citizens come to our country and commit murder and not do anything about”-  something like that, but  probaly in more diplomatic terms, was expressed to the highest levels of the Egyptian government.

Jilted Lover Goes to Jail

Too big of a story not to mention here at MediaShack.   About a month ago, Susan Tamim, a Lebanese pop singer, was brutally murdered in Dubia.  From Asharq Al-Awsat:

The indictment says former police officer Muhsen el-Sukkari killed singer Suzanne Tamim on July 28 after tricking her into opening the door of her apartment by posing as a representative of the building owners and bringing her a letter and present.   “He then laid into her with the knife … cutting her main arteries and her trachea,” it said. “This was on the instigation of the second defendant (Moustafa) in return for obtaining from him the sum of $2 million for committing this crime.”

But the guy who ordered the murder was Hisham Talat Mustafa,  a big time Egyptian construction tycoon, and a member of Parliament.  Why?  Grandmasta read someone saying that it was over money and supposedly, she stole a million dollars or something like that.  He doubts that that would be sufficient motive here.  Whats a million bucks when your a billionare?  Grandmasta suspects here that she probaly told him to get lost    She was not by any means a big-time singer, Grandmasta had never heard of her before the news of her killing broke.  He’s no specialist in Arabic pop music, but if she was big, he would have heard of her.  She defintely wasn’t in the same league as  Ruby.… In a super apathetic region, interest in Tamim’s death far outstrips interest in, say, the Democratic or Republican convention.

Al-Itijah Al-Muakis 8/26: Performance is Everything

 This is a bit late, but the 8/26 episode the Al-Jazeera talk show Al-Itijah Al-Muakis on “The Relationships between Military Institutions and the Governing Regimes” was another good one.   The basic debate question was whether Arab military institutions have a positive role to play in Arab governance/ society?    Anyone who can should read or listen to the transcript because there were so many interesting points, but I only have time to mention the basics:

1)  Yes.  Backbone of the Modern State.  Mohamed Ahmed, a Mauritanian journalist,  argued the military institutions play a vital role in  safeguarding the Umma, pointing to their critical role in the development of the modern Arab state over the last 50 years.  His views are heavily influenced by his postive perspective of the recent coup in Mauritania.  He see’s the Arab military regimes having a vital role in stepping in to “correct” (  التصحيح  ) when the government strays away from democracy.

 2)   No.  Bunch of corrupt bums who lose every time they fight.   Anwar Malak, an Algerian journalist and former Algerian army officer residing in Paris (and frequent guest on the show) argued that Arab military regimes do nothing but loot and plunder countries wealth.  They certainly don’t do anything on the battlefield to justify their power. Syria hasn’t shot one bullet towards the Jolan in 30 years and the Iraq army evaporated in minutes in 2003.  Even in Algeria, he points out, the army couldn’t beat the rebel militias in the 1990s.  It had to resort to three things: 1) penetrating the rebels 2) drafting local self-defense militias to do the fighting and 3) letting the militias self-destruct through internal fighting.   Or they help put down the Arab people- isn’t the Egyptian army participating in the blockade of Gaza?   According to Malak, the only people who are actually fighting in the interest of the people are the resistance groups such as Hamas or Hezbollah. 

There is a tendecy in the US counter-terrorism community to try and get inside the “enemy’s head” and ask “what does Al-Qaeda want?, usually by reading speeches of Bin Laden and Zawahiri.    Of course, this is absolutely a good thing.   But there is also a tendency to take it too far and forget how radical their views are in comparison to the rest of Arab societies.  When Bin Laden and Zawahiri rail on about  military regimes being inherently un-Islamic, yes, there are people who agree with that, but they are a minority.  Notice how the debate here is between Malakwhose criticism is based on the regimes alleged corruption/ and bad military performance, not inherent structure and Ahmed who has no problem with them.    Not once was the point raised that they are fundamentally un-Islamic.  In Egypt for example, the Military  (as an institution, not as something you’d want to serve in) has alot of respect and prestige.  To the extent people don’t like the government is because its seen as corrupt and not doing a good job.  If performance improved, very quickly so would the Government’s popularity.    Gamal Abdel Nasser was a military dictator and is the most popular Arab leader of the 20thcentury, both in and outside of Egypt. Why? Because he was seen as performing.   

The Banned-Not Banned Article

Last week Michele Dunne wrote a piece for the National Interest on the  political future of Egypt after President Mubarak entitled “A Post-Pharonic Egypt.”  Apparently, according to Egypt’s opposition Al-Dostor newspaper, the latest issue has been banned/blocked in Egypt because of the article.   So what does Al-Dostor do?  They go ahead and translate the article into Arabic and print in their newspaper.  I can’t find the exact link (here’s the website)  but its on page 4 of the print editition.  Not really sure why it would be blocked because you can probaly count the number of people on one hand in Egypt who would have read the print version of the magazine.

UDPATE: The article was not banned in Egypt.  Grandmasta misread the language- The Al-Dostor article said, using sarcastic language,  that the Security forces may find certain things said in the article  as an excuse/justification to block/prevents its physical distribution in Egypt.

The Iraq Corner – September 2, 2008

Iraq’s Ministry of Interior is feeling pretty confident.  The general manager of operations told A-sharq al-Awsat that intelligence information gathered during recent arrests of suicide bombers (most famously the Iraqi teenager Rania) will enable MOI to permanently disrupt the network of suicide bombers in Diyala province.  He notes that AQ has turned to exploiting women and children and accuses AQI members of marrying teenage girls to gain control over them and force them to execute suicide attacks. 

After tensions between the Iraqi Army and its Kurdish population last week, ASAA reports that things have settled down in the mixed town of Khaniqin.   The Kurds have reached a peaceful agreement with Baghdad, things have returned to normal, and ASAA quotes individuals from Khaniqin’s various ethnicities as saying, at the most, that they support the inclusion of Khaniqin in the region of Kurdistan, and, at the least, that they do not oppose the inclusion of Khaniqin in the region of Kurdistan.  So it seems as though the most potentially destabilizing move would be for Baghdad to declare that Khaniqin was NOT part of Kurdistan. 

But while the situation on the ground has temporarily cleared up, the strategic picture remains muddled.  Comments made to ASAA by both Kurdish and Baghdadi parties demonstrate that the Kurds and Baghdad still have to come to terms on several major issues, such as 1)the legal rights of the Peshmerga* (ie what parts of Iraq they can deploy to) 2)the oil law and revenue sharing and 3)the status of Mosul (is it in Kurdistan or not?).  Granted, these issues will require lots of time to hash out, but the fact that the Iraqi government is not setting a timetable to settle these issues is discouraging.

On September 1, U.S. forces handed over security responsibilities in Anbar Province to the Iraqis.  Al Hayat reports a tense environment there.  Although AQ poses less of a threat then it once did, tensions exist between the Awakening Councils and the central government.  The Sunni political parties resent the Awakening Councils because AC members have started to engage in politics as well as security operations, a development that threatens the Sunni political parties.  The rest of Baghdad worries about the Awakening Councils because they are armed groups which exist outside the structure of the Iraqi government.  Members of the central government oppose absorbing the ACs into the Iraqi Security Forces because a)doing so would dilute the influence of factions currently holding power and 2)elements of the ACs have ties to Saddam’s regime. 

Ultimately, the central government won’t be able to stabilize Anbar without accomodating the Awakening Councils.  It would be near impossible.  The sooner Baghdad realizes this, the better the prospects are for sustainable calm in Anbar province. 

Last, while receiving The People’s Republic of China’s new ambassador, vice president Tariq Hashemi praised China’s decision to write off Iraq’s debt and called for stronger relations between the two countries.  According to as-Sabaah, Iraq is looking to attract investement in exploring and developing oil fields.