Category Archives: Iraq

Syria Divided: Arab Spring, Arab Toothpaste………….

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      BFF
On one of the city’s main streets, families have still gathered every night on the sidewalks and in the medians for nighttime picnics. Vendors crowd around selling hookahs, popcorn, sandwiches and coffee. Traffic moves slowly as people park cars by the sidewalk and open doors and windows to let music stream out to entertain the crowds……. But Aleppo’s reluctance to join the revolution goes beyond any alleged cowardice. As a financially stable city, Aleppo was already less likely to revolt, and since the nationwide unrest erupted in mid-March, residents have by turns been made complacent by government enticements and scared by the overwhelming presence of security agents and spies. Whereas Damascus is the capital and administrative hub of Syria, Aleppo is the economic center where much of the money flows, said Ammar Abdulhamid, a Syrian opposition activist and dissident in the United States. Many of the country’s factories, textile plants and pharmaceutical companies are in the city………….

The regime in Syria, just like those in Libya and Yemen, just like all Arab regimes whether dictatorships or monarchies, clings to power. As a Ba’ath Party regime, it is more willing to kill its own people than say, even the Mubarak regime in Egypt. The Ba’ath Party has had a specially dark and bloody history, in both Iraq and Syria. It started as an imitator of Europe’s Fascist “Nationalist” parties, but later acquired socialists pretensions after the expansion of Soviet power. Yet it soon descended, especially in Iraq, to a basically tribal power center (tribal in the literal sense and in the broader sense of a clan or a sect). In that, the Ba’ath rule became no different from any dictatorship or absolute monarchy; only it was bloodier than both other cases because of the mutual mistrust with the people. Neither Nasser nor Sadat or Mubarak in Egypt were ever nearly as repressive as the Ba’ath, nor were most Arab monarchies with one exception (some would say two exceptions).
No doubt the Syrian toothpaste is out of the tube. Yet the shape of the future is unknown. Arab despots are very creative in bargaining with their people and clinging to their power under different, new, guises. And the outside world (especially the West) does not like any change not of its own making. That is why the overall verdict on the so-called Arab Spring is undecided, yet.
Cheers
mhg




m.h.ghuloum@gmail.com

On Iraq Sanctions, Iran Sanctions, Cuba Sanctions, Smart Sanctions, Asinine Sanctions, ………….

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      BFF
Economic sanctions rarely hurt a disfavored regime or its powerful supporters, at least in the short run. They hurt those at the bottom of the ladder. This is a point that we Westerners, with our addiction to the imposition of sanctions to punish bad behavior, should take more seriously than we do………..  This has always been the problem with the West’s sanction addiction. Sanctions nip at those whose lives are already marginal…….. Dictators everywhere try to control the economy, to funnel resources to their friends……… In the case of Iran, the sanctions are manifestly failing, unless their point was to force the government to redistribute the wealth. The regime is proceeding with its nuclear weapons development, and may even be picking up the pace. Western experts differ on how close the regime is to completing its research. The head of Israeli military intelligence recently estimated that Iran may have the capacity to build at least one nuclear explosive device by next year. Things may change. The Iranian regime may give up its nuclear dreams, making the world that much safer, and, incidentally, handing the Obama administration a much-needed foreign-policy victory. But no matter the result in Iran, let us remember, the next time we debate the imposition of sanctions on a rogue state, exactly whom we are really punishing…………

It is highly unlikely that the ruling Iranian mullahs (or any replacement regime) will suddenly give up their nuclear program anytime soon.
As for the forces behind economic sanctions: they are more complex than the writer notes. The famous sanctions against Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath regime in Iraq did not harm the dictatorship or its elites: it hurt the ordinary people. But these were broad wartime sanctions, not as selective or nuanced as what Iran “supposedly” faces currently. Then there are so-called smart sanctions that are as almost dumb as other sanctions, but maybe not as dumb as asinine sanctions. One reasonable definition of asinine sanctions is that they are the kind that neoconservatives usually prefer. A good example of asinine sanctions are those no one believes in but they are kept in place out of political fear or expediency, like the sanctions against Cuba. In fact, the American sanctions against Cuba are some of the most asinine in history.
Take the sanctions against Iran: they are only partly driven by IAEA requirements, but their depth and scope also reflect the influence of domestic American political pressure groups. These groups include the Israeli lobby (AIPAC, etc), as well as defense hawks on the right (and some on the left). These sanctions are also partly driven by a regional rivalry for domination between the United States (directly and/or through its proxy allies) and Iran. In summary, the scope of the sanctions is the result of domestic American politics as much as Iranian “infractions”. Then there is the ego of some regional allies that the U.S. administration needs to massage, in this case the Israelis, the Saudis and possibly the UAE potentates (there is oil and huge contracts at stake). Then there is the need of some in both Israel and the USA to inflate the Iranian threat and its urgency in order to divert attention away from the urgent need to resolve the issue of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Among other things………
(Personally, I believe the only “smart” sanctions are those that target weapons and individuals, not institutions. Targeting large institutions almost always tends to harm many ordinary people).

Cheers
mhg




m.h.ghuloum@gmail.com

Mystery of the Missing Iraq Money: do I hear 6, do I Hear 18……..

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In 2004, the Bush administration flew twenty billion dollars of shrink-wrapped cash into Iraq on pallets. Now the bulk of that money has disappeared. The funds flown into the war zone were made up of surplus from the UN’s oil-for-food program, as well as money from sales of Iraqi oil and seized Iraqi assets. Recent estimates had the amount of missing money at about $6.6 billion, but according to Al Jazeera, Iraqi Parliament Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi says the figure is closer to three times that amount. Officials were supposed to distribute the money to Iraqi government ministries and U.S. contractors tasked with the reconstruction of Iraq, but it now appears that the bulk of the cash was stolen in what may be one of the largest heists in history. The Iraqi government argues that U.S. forces were supposed to safeguard the cash under a 2004 agreement, making Washington responsible for the money’s disappearance. Pentagon officials claim that given time to track down the records they can account for all of the money, but the U.S. has already audited the money three times and no trace of what happened to it can be found……….

I would rather accept the US$ 6 billion figure and forget the US $ 18 billion. I wouldn’t take the word of Osama al-Nujaifi. Exaggeration as an ‘art’ was probably invented in the Middle East, most likely in Iraq, especially in Mosul which Mr. al-Nujaifi controls with his clan. Still, $ 6 billion is a lot of money. As to who took it all, I would say all of the above: Iraqis and Americans, possibly contractors from other countries as well. Many American officials and contractors probably got a good education in the Middle eastern ways of lining the pocket, some of them got very rich in the process.
Cheers
mhg




m.h.ghuloum@gmail.com

On Iran, Egypt, Arab Revolutions, and Military Power……….

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Iran’s Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi told the media that restoring relations between his country and Egypt has been going slow because Iran “understands” the immense pressures being put on Egypt. He said Egyptians seem to need more time because of those external pressures. Relations were expected to resume quickly but seem to have been delayed after an intense campaign both private and public by Saudi (and UAE) authorities on Egypt. It is possible that the U.S administration also has had a hand through its close ties with Egypt’s ruling military junta. Egypt has been trying to walk a fine line between a desire to resume relations with Tehran and a natural inclination of its military rulers to maintain close ties with the Saudis. Saudi Arabia announced a US$ 4 billion aid package for Egypt a few weeks ago, and the country aspires to attract much investment from the Gulf GCC states.
Clearly Egyptian authorities are worried about the economy as tourism took a hit during the early stages of the revolution. The revolution itself may not be over in Egypt, depending on how much power the military junta decides to keep. It is wise for the young and others who flocked to Tahrir Square to remain alert: a revolution needs its owners to speak up and assert control of it, otherwise others, like the fundamentalist Islamists or the military or a combination of the two, will take over. In the case of Iran (1979) the mullahs were clever enough to liquidate the Shah’s military officer corps before turning their attention to their political rivals. They paid a price for liquidating the Shah’s military during the first year of the Iraqi invasion.
In the Middle East, especially in Arab states, the military has traditionally been aggressive in usurping political power during pre-revolutionary times. Even the bloodthirsty Ba’athists came to power on top of tanks in both Iraq (1963, 1968) and Syria (1963). Even though the Communist Party of Iraq traditionally had much more support, the Ba’ath managed to take power because it had so many Ba’athists from Takrit and points west in the military. Actually, the Shi’a Hawza in Iraq inadvertently helped the Ba’ath gain power through attacks on the communists whom it saw as the real threat in Iraq. As it turned out, the real threat were the Ba’athists who clung to power for 35 years, provoked two major wars, and were dislodged by American (and British) forces in 2003.
Cheers
mhg




m.h.ghuloum@gmail.com

GCC Expansion: Jordan, Morocco, Pakistan, Malaysia……….

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Pakistan today stressed the importance of re-enforcing trade and defense relations with Bahrain, as well as in labor and work fields. The Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari held talks with the commander of the national guard in Bahrain Shaikh Mohammed Bin Issa Bin Salman Al Khalifa in which they discussed regional developments and cooperation in defense and regional matters…….…

Pakistan is effectively a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council, GCC. The Pakistani military, retired or on active duty, have for years operated the armed forces of some Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. Pakistani military and police personnel have been important in the repression of the people of Bahrain. Bahraini officials fly regularly to Pakistan to hire more ‘security’ agents even as they deny security jobs to most Bahraini citizens. Top Saudi princes like Bandar Bin Sultan Bin al-Yamama Bin BAE Systems Bin Commission is reported to have flown to Pakistan to make deals on stationing or preparing Pakistani forces to defend the regime if and when needed. Reports also indicate the same can be said of Malaysia: its government officials recently expressed willingness to send forces to defend the regime in Bahrain.
Now on the Arab side, the GCC has sought to form alliances with the monarchies of Jordan and Morocco. The last GCC summit made a surprise announcement of welcoming membership for Jordan and Morocco. Now we have the nucleus of a new group of states: the GCC, Jordan, Morocco, Malaysia, and Pakistan. That means the rich GCC states and three or four poor relations that are far away enough (Morocco, Malaysia, Pakistan) or small enough (Jordan) to be manageable. Clearly the potentates of Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and others, are looking for cheap bodies, impoverished mercenaries willing to do what it takes. The UAE is ahead of the game: the al-Nahayan are forming foreign legion of Latin Americans, Australians, disgruntled white Africans and others to keep the people at bay.
I was going to suggest that the GCC look at closer countries, like Iraq which is a Gulf country, and perhaps Yemen which is close enough ad has had deeper cultural, ethnic, and other ties (as does Iraq). Then there are Turkey and Iran, both closer than Malaysia and Pakistan and Burma or WTF. What about Egypt? Then I remembered: with none of these excluded countries can the al-Saud rule the roost. They would be dominated rather than dominate.
Cheers
mhg




m.h.ghuloum@gmail.com

Arab Revolutions: the Midterm Grades……….

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It is midterm time for Arab revolutions, which started right after Tunisian Mohammed Bu’azizi torched himself in protest last December. In Egypt, the beating death of Khaled Said had already shocked the country and planted the seeds of January 25. I grade them here according to performance:

Egypt  B: Mubarak is gone but too soon for an A or A- (I never gave above A-).

Tunisia   B: Still a struggle, and too soon for an A-.

Libya   C+: So much to go. We don’t even know who will emerge among the rebel leaders. Some of them were with Qaddafi until recently.

Yemen  C+: Ali Abdullah Saleh agreed to leave, but is backtracking

Bahrain  C: The regime had to import foreign occupation forces to suppress its people. Too early to tell. The al-Khalifa clan (some Bahrainis consider the treasonous for importing foreign forces), Saudi occupation forces, and imported mercenaries from Pakistan and Jordan and other places are ruthless.

Syria  C: Still ongoing, although analysts bet the regime will survive (they also mostly thought Bin Ali and Mubrak would survive at the beginning of their revolutions). It is not clear to me who is leading the Syrian uprising, who will dominate. They are against the regime, but what do they stand for? Syrians are traditionally a tolerant secular people, but it is hard to assess how 50 years of Ba’ath dictatorship has affected that (since 1963, before the Assads). There seem to be several factions: various secularists (including exiled Ba’athists), various Muslim Brothers, Salafis. It is not clear how much commitment any of these groups has for democracy. You can scratch the Salafis out as far as democracy is concerned: they believe in it even less than the Ba’ath Party does. We are talking Taliban here. Yet the ruling Ba’ath dictatorship, like other despots in Egypt and Tunisia and Algeria and Bahrain, are chiefly responsible for the growth of fundamentalism.

Saudi Arabia  F- (get my point?): Pathetic: only one guy was brave enough to come out into the street of Riyadh and talk to foreign media and protest the heavy security. Khaled al-Jehany said his country was like a big prison. Now he has been in a small cell in a smaller prison ever since. Regime and its palace Salafi shaikhs have most people terrified of prison and torture in this world and hell in the other world. Yet there are many brave men and women in the Arabian Peninsula, for many are in prison and in exile.

UAE   F:   (a few guys thrown in prison by the al-Nahayan was enough to shut everybody up in this new police state).
 
Oman C:  (for trying).
Algeria:  D.      Jordan: C-.    Morocco: C
Qatar: “WTF is an uprising?”

(Lebanon and Iraq: is it just an illusion, or do Iraq and Lebanon seem like the most stable, most democratic, most free Arab countries now)?
Cheers
mhg




m.h.ghuloum@gmail.com

Al-Qaeda Finances: Have Money, Will Travel………

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This puts people like Abd al-Hamid al-Mujil in an uncomfortable position. Described by fellow jihadists as the “million-dollar man” for his successful fundraising on behalf of al Qaeda and other jihadi groups, Mujil directed the office of the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO), a charity in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. Both he and the IIRO office he headed were designated as terrorist entities by the U.S. Treasury Department in 2006. But even if being “named and shamed” forced Mujil out of the terror-finance business, there are many others just like him. Just this week, David Cohen, the head of the Treasury Department’s Terrorism and Financial Intelligence branch told CNN that major donors from the Gulf states remain the key sources of funding for the al Qaeda core. There are no doubt dozens of radical funders now worrying that their names, bank accounts, or addresses will comes up in bin Laden’s spreadsheets — or “pocket litter” — and for good reason.……..

I have always argued that all these terrorist operations from Iraq to Pakistan must cost a lot of money. More money than the locals could provide. I have always written here that following the money trail from Iraq or Pakistan or Yemen will lead so a huge field of petroleum, an oil well. This is part of someone’s ‘foreign policy’, at least the Iraq part is. Bring pressure on Iraq by sending suicide terrorists across the border and finance them (the money is peanuts for the deep pocketed princes). Bring pressure on Pakistan and others the same way. Meanwhile, the money and the Salafi fatwas will keep the bombers away from the home front. As for the Western allies, and the other Arabs who fall victim? Oh, well, there is such a thing as collateral damage.
Cheers
mhg




m.h.ghuloum@gmail.com

Israeli Warplanes in Iraq: Iranian Paranoia? Iraqi Rumors? Saudi Hopes?………

     
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Iranian media report that Israeli jet fighters have conducted drills at an American military base in Iraq in preparation for an attack on Iran. Press TV quotes a source close to prominent Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sader’s group that a considerable number of Israeli warplanes were seen at the al-Asad base in Iraq. The aircraft reportedly included F-15, F-16, F-18, F-22, and KC-10 jet fighters. The warplanes allegedly carried out their week-long exercises at night. The drills were reportedly aimed at preparing to strike Iran’s air defense systems, disrupt Iran’s radars and attack targets deep inside Iran. Iraqi officials had not been notified of the exercises, which were conducted in collaboration with the US military. The United States operates several bases in Iraq whose future status is not clear yet and the Baghdad government is not involved in any of the military deployments taking place there.

I personally doubt all this: not only will it be futile, but it may divert attention back to the Palestine-Israeli issue and those ever expanding settlements. Yet it is tempting to dismiss all this as Iraqi rumors feeding Iranian paranoia. But one must remember: it is often at times when all seem to be quite that such attacks occur. From Operation Barbarossa to Pearl Harbor to the Ozirak attack to September 11, this has been the pattern (not always, but often).
Meanwhile, the Israelis are being their characteristic selves about this issue, the Iranians worry, and the rulers of Saudi Arabia are probably praying again (for such an attack to happen). I was going to add the shaikhs of UAE and Bahrain, but then I remembered that they don’t count anymore.
Cheers
mhg

m.h.ghuloum@gmail.com

Is the New Arab Dawn an Illusion?………….

     
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The Arab Summit in Baghdad was canceled by the Saudis. The Arab League, the Club of Despots, claimed that unrest in the region requires a postponement. The truth is that the Saudis said that either the venue be moved from Baghdad or it be postponed. They did not want to be presided over by a Kurd (Iraqi president Talibani) and an Arab Shi’a (Iraqi prime minister al-Maliki). They got their wish.
The odd thing is that in this age of Arab revolutions against despotism and in favor of freedom the most despotic Arabs decide Arab League policy. A couple of absolute monarchs, actually one, have decided that the summit be moved or postponed. Saudi Arabia had to give the nod for NATO to intervene in Libya and to keep out in Yemen and to not say a word about the repression and its invasion of Bahrain. It may have a hand in what happens next in Yemen and Libya, and maybe even Syria, and it sure is trying to influence the course of the yet-unfinished Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions. The most undemocratic Arab regime is still calling the shots for the Arab world.
A new Arab dawn? It sure doesn’t look like it from where I am sitting at the window, watching my best friend obey a call of nature on the side of my rain-soaked lawn.
And that is when I decided to stop typing before I stepped deeper into it.
Cheers
mhg

m.h.ghuloum@gmail.com