Sunday, January 28, 2007

Ominous Predictions for the future of Iraq: Burns and Baker

John Burn’s prediction, in an interview with Charlie Rose, for what to expect if/when the Americans leave Iraq, is frightening. Compare it with James A. Baker III’s explanation for why the first Bush administration did not try to capture Saddam Hussein in the Gulf War of 1991. Here is John Burns to Charlie Rose: “… a civil war on a scale with bloodshed that will absolutely dwarf what we’re seeing with all kinds of implications for the world’s flow of oil, for the state Israel. What happens to King Abdullah in Jordan if there’s complete chaos in the region?” Here is James A. Baker III, on the reasons the first Bush administration did not try to find Saddam Hussein in the First Gulf War: “… If Saddam were captured and his regime toppled, American forces would still have been confronted with the specter of a military occupation of indefinite duration to pacify a country and sustain a government in power. The ensuring urban warfare would surely have resulted in more casualties to American GIs than the war itself, thus creating a political firestorm at home. And as much as Saddam’s neighbors wanted to see him gone, they feared Iraq would fragment in unpredictable ways that would play into the hands of the mullahs in Iran, who could export their brand of Islamic fundamentalism with the help of Iraq’s Shiites and quickly transform themselves into a dominant regional power. Finally the Security Council resolution under which we were operating authorized us to use force only to kick Iraq out of Kuwait, nothing more. As events have amply demonstrated, these concerns were valid. I am no longer asked why we did not remove Saddam in 1991!”

What Constitutes a "World War"?

What constitutes a “world war”? Just glance at affairs from South Asia to North Africa: A bomb blast in Islamabad, rising activity of the Taliban along the eastern and southern borders of Afghanistan, Iran effectively declaring war against Israel and installing equipment to produce enriched uranium, violence in Beirut between pro-government mobs and Hizballah loyalists, quarrelling between Russians and Georgians over a Russian scientist’s attempt to peddle enriched uranium in Georgia, anti-Russian rebellion still simmering after a crushing defeat in Chechnya, Americans trying to bring order in an ever more bitter clash between ethnic factions in Iraq, Sunni and Shi'a militia's fighting in the streets of Baghdad, Hamas and Fatah shooting each other in Gaza, Ethiopians invading Somalia, American air strikes against "Islamist" groups in Somalia, atrocities in Darfur that exceed the imagination, the Darfur war spilling into Chad. From Chad to Pakistan war and more war, from civil war to civil war. This is a span far greater than all of Europe: If all those countries were engulfed in conflict would they call it a World War? If this is not a world war, what is it?

Canada to Pay $9.75 Million to Man Tortured in Syria

Canadian government has apologized to Mahar Arar for its part in the abuse Mr. Arar suffered, mainly by Americans, for unsubstantiated accusations of being somehow connected to Al Qaeda. He was captured by American officials while passing through New York, shipped off to Syria, a country already criticized by the Americans for torturing its prisoner, and, of course, tortured. When it was determined, finally, that he had nothing to give, he was returned and even then defamed by anonymous police officials trying to protect their own behinds. Eventually the Canadian court adjudged that Arar had been unjustly treated. Prime Minister Harper has apologized, and the Canadian government has agreed to a settlement of 11.5 million Canadian dollars. Mr Arar still suffers emotional problems but is of course elated. Now it is the turn of the American government, who in fact was the main abuser.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Further evidence of Pakistani support for the Taliban: The beating of Carlotta Gall and Akhtar Soomro of the New York Times

The Times printed an article by her on January 21, more than a month after the event. It not only told the details of the beating and intimidation but also provided more details about the involvement of the Pakistanis – the ISI as well as in particular Hamed Gul and other un-named officials – in the Taliban movement. It is becoming ever more clear that the Taliban movement is by no means spontaneous or even locally inspired but a deliberate creation of at lease some official Pakistanis. Given the way the government is constituted it becomes ever more clear that Musharraf cannot be totally unaware of what is going on in, as in this case, Quetta.

On December 19, after about “two weeks of reporting” along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, interviewing more than two dozen folks on both sides of the border, Ms. Gall and her photographer, Akhtar Soomro, were attacked in their respective hotels. They seized Mr Soomro’s computer and equipment, held him for five hours. The intruders into Ms Gall’s hotel room twice punched her in the face, knocking her to the floor. The men did not reveal their identity but directed her to the Special Branch of the Interior Ministry to obtain the items they had confiscated. Several hours later their goods appeared but it was clear that all of their notes had been compromised: intelligent agents went around and interviewed the various folks she had interviewed. Intimidation was clearly the intent: They warned Mr. Soomro not to work for the New York Times and told Ms. Gall that she could not visit a certain part of Quetta, Pushtunistan, or interview Taliban; what they said to her contacts was unreported. Mr. Soomro has indeed, for the moment, stepped out of reach.

To strike a woman, to intimidate a reporter and photographer for a newspaper with world-wide readership – this has to be a blunder of colossal proportions. There is no way the event would have been hushed. Why would the Pakistan intelligence service in Quetta have acted so crudely? Perhaps like Daniel Pearle Ms. Gall was getting too close. Was she penetrating the clandestine workings of a powerful intelligence network? Could the rising intensity of criticism for Pakistan’s handling of the Taliban in the frontier areas begun to impinge on their operations? Could this have been merely the behavior of a few rogue officers?

Whatever the reason for their attack, it could hardly improve the situation for Pakistan. In fact, Ms. Gall’s report in the January 21 article revealed more about the connections between the Taliban and Pakistan’s intelligence service. Here are some details she provides:

>> Jamiya Islamiya is a religious school in Quetta that openly sympathizes with the Taliban. A sign in the courtyard exclaims, “Long live Mulla Omar,” head of the Taliban, and “Long live Fazlur Rehman,” leader of the Jamiat ul Uluma-y Islami, a political party that supports the Taliban, and a member of Parliament. “We only provide moral support,” says their official representative. Members of this party frequently visit the school and “people on motorbikes with green government license plates visit at night.”

>> Some of the students in this school have, with “the blessings” of their teachers, gone into Afghanistan as suicide bombers.

>> But contrary to what has been reported about the families in the Arab world, the families of these boys have not rejoiced at their loss. They are afraid to talk owing to fear of the officials. Dozens of families have lost sons in Afghanistan.

>> A former Taliban commander had been jailed by Pakistan intelligence officials because he refused to go fight in Afghanistan. In fact, his incarceration was claimed to be evidence of a crackdown on Taliban.

>> Former Taliban who refused to fight in Afghanistan were arrested, even killed.

>> The intelligence services rigged votes for the militant religious parties because the activities of the parties gave the intelligence services “deniability.” They are fully aware of the training camps of the militant parties where young Taliban recruits are trained.

>> In Pushtunabad, the neighborhood of Quetta Gall had been warned against, Taliban commanders have close contact with members of the intelligence services. Also there is a madrassah where suicide bombers have been trained. Only recently three students were sent into Afghanistan.

>> Afghanistan’s intelligence has arrested two Afghan generals and a Pakistani and charged them with spying for Pakistan.

>> General Hamed Gul, former director of the ISI, publicly supports the Taliban insurgency. He visits the madrassahs producing Taliban fighters, and even speaks in support of jehad at their graduation ceremonies. He has an office in Nowshera from which he “facilitates” the training and logistic support for the Taliban.

>> A number of young men from the district of Pishin, NW of Quetta, have been killed in fighting in Afghanistan.

>> The small town of Karbala in this district is a center of the Taliban jehad: it is notably more prosperous than any of its neighbors, with “lavish houses, mosques, and madrasas”.

>> A family in the Pishin area lost one of their sons. They were searching for information about him when they discovered a Taliban propaganda CD showing their son taking an oath before the Taliban commander Mullah Dadullah. The family blames the Pakistan ISI for the recruitment of their son for suicide.

Indeed, one of them believes all of the Taliban are creations of the ISI. “All Taliban are ISI Taliban. It is not possible to go into Afghanistan without the help of the ISI.”

Pakistan’s fingerprints seem to be all over the Taliban.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Lament for Hrant Dink, and for journalism

Yesterday I was talking to a student writing an honors thesis on the media coverage of last summer’s war in Lebanon. I was so impressed with what she was doing that I blurted out, “This is going to be great. You would make a great journalist,” adding as an after thought, “Only you would probably get killed.” Little did we know that only a few hours earlier a famous journalist had just been gunned down in Istanbul.

Hrant Dink, editor of the Armenian and Turkish language weekly, Agos, had been in trouble with the Turkish government because of an article in the Armenian Diaspora in which he referred to the genocide of Armenians by the Ottoman Turks in 1915-1917, an event that the Turkish government insists was part of a war in which killing took place on both sides, and in any case, they say, an attempt at genocide of Armenians never took place. [] Dink had been in court several times, his appearances often disrupted by hecklers supporting the government position. Even though his sentence of six-months in prison (on October 7, 2005) was suspended and he has been able to work, he received many death threats. Today’s New York Times says he recently wrote of the toll that those threats were taking on him: “I do not know how real these threats are, but what is really unbearable is the psychological torture that I’m living in, like a pigeon, turning my head up and down, left and right, my head quickly rotating.”

One of the problems with this murder is that besides the government, and presumably many people in the wider Turkish community, he has enemies in the Armenian community. They believed he should have insisted that Turkey acknowledge the genocide as a condition of entry into the European Union, whereas he argued for Turkey’s entrance into the European Union as a means of strengthening democracy in Turkey. It is fair to say that for the government the event was truly unfortunate: Prime Minister Recep Tyyip Erdogan expressed it well: “A bullet was fired at freedom of thought and democratic life in Turkey.” [NYTimes]

The problem for journalists – and anthropologists and other social scientists – is that they are supposed to represent the world as they find it, not as politicians want it or as the public imagines it. So there are risks, especially for journalists, because they are the individuals on the streets and in homes trying to report on events as they take place. (Anthropologists have a similar problem, but usually they take too long to get anything written; by the time they publish their results the world is no longer interested in the topic. When I first went to Afghanistan to do field work, the individual in the Foreign Ministry who was supposed to authorize my research stated the problem elegantly in one sentence: “We don’t like anthropologists because of the questions they ask, mainly about religion and politics.”) Governments don’t like folks who ask questions that reveal embarrassing details. It is journalists who are most of at risk these days because, as it happens (at least in the Middle East and Central Asia) asking questions, mainly about religion and politics, can be dangerous.

In the present world journalists are getting mauled because of their quest for specific and accurate information. For all the talk about a free press in the West, it is no less resented by those in power. The Bush administration has spent most of its time in office dismissing most reports on what was going on in the Middle East and Central Asia by claiming they were merely biased reports of a liberal press. Finally, in 2006, George W. Bush joined the “liberal press” in recognizing that the war that he had started was out of control. As is often said, those in power would prefer that journalists never remember what they said and did in the past: reporters should be stenographers with amnesia. We’ll see next summer how eager General George W. Casey Jr. is to be reminded of yesterday’s statement that, with the help of the additional troops President Bush will be sending him, the people in Baghdad “will feel safe in their neighborhoods” by late summer. Many such statements by American officials in the past have been made, and we would all so very much like to believe them, but even though we live in a world we have created, as Marx said, it is not the world that we would like it to be. Are such promises fabrications of reality to justify actions in the present? Always the question is, how well do our images of the world correspond with the world as it is? Often, it turns out, we get it wrong. The world as it is has its own properties and its own dynamics, whatever we presume it to be, and (as the anthropologist Marshall Sahlins has famously put it) it need not correspond to our image of it.

That’s the problem for journalists. Often good journalists get in trouble with everyone, because they want to talk about the world as they find it, not as those in power would like to represent it and most of us would like to imagine it. And as it turns out, the closer to the ground folks are the more difficult it is to be sure of what is going on. Last year Dexter Filkins wrote a piece in the New York Times about how difficult it was to actually find out what happened in a specific situation. He had just gone to the location of an intense fire-fight, but when he began to ask what happened he got four different stories. The reporter on the ground could not be sure what actually had taken place, whereas in the mean time, there were folks in Washington quite certain about what was going on in Iraq. Politicians and radio talk show hosts (to name a few such folks) never lack certainty.

So the journalists that seek to expose the truth as they best can find it – knowing of course that certainty will elude them – are in danger of rejection by a public already sure of "the truth" and by officials who need to make sure the public gets only a certain view of it. We lament the loss of a courageous man who, doing a service of desperate importance to his world, could not be borne by those who regarded his reports as threatening. And because they took brutal means to silence him, concealing their identity, they again fulfilled the ancient judgement of the wicked: “Men loved darkness because their deeds were evil; they would not come into the light lest their deeds be exposed.”

In some places it is still dangerous to expose the world as it is.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Mullah Omar 'Hiding in Pakistan'

Interesting news. Some of us have suspected that Pakistan officials have been dodging the truth when they have insisted that Mullah Muhammad Omar, Osama Bin Laden and Ayman Zawahiri are not really in Pakistan. It turns out that a former spokesman for Mullah Muhammad Omar has claimed that the Taliban leader is in Pakistan, in fact living pretty much openly in Quetta. BBC News reports that he is being protected by Pakistan's intelligence directorate, the ISI, in particular by its former director, Hamed Gul. In the face of this, however, Pakistan's Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao continues to assert that "We have no information on the whereabouts of Mullah Omar. He is not living in Pakistan."
Misrepresentation of the truth is not limited to Pakistan officials, however, as we well know. This is the way of governments: They have to distort the truth in order to maintain the fiction of rectitude, to retain their legitimacy. The Bush administration has misrepresented the truth many times ("Saddam Hussein was involved in the 9/11 attack"; "Saddam has weapons of mass destruction"; "The CIA does not "remand" prisoners to other countries to be tortured"; "We do not torture prisoners", etc. [See my note on December 17.]).

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Professors in Iraq Have Been Killed

I have just heard about a number of professors in Iraq who have been assassinated or otherwise intimidated. This is what was sent to me:

Among the more than 250 college professors who have been killed since 30 April 2003 in Iraq are the following historians:

**Khalid M. al-Janabi, PhD. in Islamic history, faculty member at the College of Art, Babylon University. Date of assassination unknown.

**Essam Sharif Mohammed (also spelled Hissam Sharif), Ph.D in History, assistant professor at the College of Art, Baghdad University. Date of assassination: 25 October 2003.

**Mahfoudh al-Qazzaz, PhD. in Islamic history; faculty member at the College of Art, Mosul University. Killed by a death squad in front of his family at his home in Mosul on 20 December 2004.

**Jamhour Karim Kammas Al Zargani, PhD. in History; department head at the College of Education at Al- Basrah University. Abducted for two days, tortured, and killed. His family found the dead body with broken arms and legs in a nearby street in Basra on 19 August 2005.

**Kemal Nassir, professor of history, lecturer in Mustansiriya and Kufa. Date of assassination: 1 October 2006.

**In addition, Abd-Asalam Ali Hussein, PhD. in Islamic History, was arrested on 22 May 2005.


Encouraging and Dispiriting

The behavior of the Democrats now is both encouraging and dispiriting. They are so indignant, so outraged, so bold in their criticisms of the Bush policy in the Middle East. It's about time that someone began to ask the obvious questions. So in that sense there is reason for being encouraged.

But where were these folks four years ago, the time when the boondoggle of the Bush administration policy could have been exposed. There was so much to be questioned. Shifting attention from Afghanistan before Osama and his people had been caught and punished: what did they say then? Preemptive war: what did they say then? Phony claims that Saddam was involved in the attack on 911: what did they say then? Removing General Shenseki, who said they would need 200,000 troops to manage Iraq after they had taken over the country: what did they say then? Sending in too few troops, with scarcely any meaningful plan, and with insufficient armament: What did they say then?

One of the most costly features of the Bush decision to invade Iraq was the abandonment of the war in Afghanistan. They had not caught either Osama Bin Laden head of Al Qaeda or Mullah Muhammad Omar, head of the Taliban. And in 2002 the best American military assets were being redeployed elsewhere to prepare for the assault on Iraq. The failure -no, refusal - to catch and try the key figures who had killed nearly 3000 people on American soil was simply a betrayal of the American people and even of the administration's stated goals. And since then the preoccupation has continued to be elsewhere, Iraq. What that means is that, for all the expense of human life and wealth now wasted in Iraq, the group that attacked the United States in September, 2001, are still at large. They are still heroes to some militants. And their eminence has swelled in the last five and a half years. The original project was abandoned and, even when the fiasco in Iraq is resolved - very likely in humiliation for proud Americans - it still has to be resumed. The Reagan administration requited no cost on those who killed 241 Marines in Lebanon; the Clinton administration reacted ineffectually to the dual bombings of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania; now, the Bush administration has embarrassed itself in Iraq rather than confronting the aggressive elements that attacked our country in 2001. This is a record that the militants elsewhere have taken careful note of. This is the legacy of the Bush administration.

Some of the experts have already noted that the Bush administration's new accusations against Iran and Syria will provide the administration with an excuse for failing in Iraq. Let us watch how they deflect attention elsewhere, apparently in hope they won't be blamed for their unfathomable folly.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

The gathering of insurgent groups in Iraq in 2006

The following are the sites from which the New York Times obtained an important report on the formation of the insurgency in Iraq [1/7/07]: However, it seems totally unrecoverable on the NYTimes web site; the web version doesn't admit to the existence of the page in front of me [Week in Review, p 5].
In fact, the information comes from Evan F. Kohlmann’s website [above] which describes the several militant organizations that joined the Al Qaeda network in 2006. It seems ever more clear that the core of Al Qaeda is a mere small group but the organization has grown in influence and numbers by the accretion of other groups, presumably because of a desire to gain legitimacy or perhaps to get help and money, and to gain collective strength by becoming part of a single larger organization. In any case the web sites indicated above reveal that a group formed in January 2006 calling itself the “Mujahedeen Shura Council” and became a core of a larger movement that is allied with Al Qaeda. on March 23 an organization calling itself the “Society of the True Believers” joined them. On Oct 12 two other groups merged with this group, “Supporters of Monotheism” and “Our Creed.” Only 3 days later they were joined by two other groups, the “Army of the Prophet’s Companions” and the “Army of the Conquerors”. The new organization now called itself “The Islamic State of Iraq” and claimed responsibility for managing eight largely Sunni provinces bordering on Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Syria. On November 29 two other groups joined them, “The Knights of Monotheism” and the “Army of the Abrahamic Tradition.” There are other groups said to be loosely allied with Al Qaeda: “Mujahedin Army,” “Ansar Al-Sunnah Army,” which is said to be Kurdish (all the others are Arab). Virtually all of these organizations are described as “brutal.” The commander of Al Qaeda’s Islamic State claims that scores of fighters have sworn allegiance to his group, including members of another group calling itself “1920 Revolution Brigades.”

The zeal to join together in a common organization indicates that there is a broad social movement afoot. Militant Islamism is a social movement in the sense that there are large, broad social conditions at work, setting a context that favors this kind of behavior. What those social conditions are, and the contexts in which individuals find a way to join a radical organization are matters that still need to be better specified. [Sageman, Understanding Terrorist Networks, is very good on this; other good sources can be found on my “Terrorism” site (Go to and click on AN4243 “Terrorism…”)]. Perhaps the militant Islamism of our times is driven by similar forces as those of the Ghost Dance of the Great Plains, a movement that took form as some Native Americans sought a way to recover the world of social relationships and opportunity that they had lost because of the overwhelming advance of the whites. Al Qaeda, at least, claims that the state of Muslims is indeed desperate. Islam is at risk, they say. Such claims have an influence on how some radical Muslims (not all, however) are reacting to the dramatic changes in their world as well as to the abuses of the local autocratic regimes that most of them have to deal with.