The International Reporting (and Life) Adventures of Vivian Salama

Archive for the ‘Insurgency’ Category

What Every American Needs to Know About Iraq’s Election

Posted by vmsalama on April 30, 2014

 By Vivian Salama


In some ways, it was not unlike many local elections in the United States. For weeks, Iraqis have been inundated by campaign posters, commercials, political talk shows and more.

In some cities, it was hard to look anywhere without seeing the face of a parliamentary hopeful — some whose names will soon disappear, while others will linger. But war-weary Iraqis also face the daily nightmare of suicide and car bombings, where the mere proximity to political offices or police barracks puts them at grave risk.

This is Iraq in 2014.

Two years after the U.S. government withdrew combat troops, citizens went to the polls Wednesday to select a new parliament. Observers in Washington are watching the action with bated breath amid accusations that the United States made a mess of Iraq, then left it to its own demise.

Voters braved extreme violence to cast their ballots and, ultimately, to play some role in determining their future this week amid increasing sectarian strife and growing tensions between political rivals. Will it make a difference? Most observers believe Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki will clinch a third term in office but not without months of political wrangling and uncertainty. He has fallen out of favor with many across this vast nation, and a deteriorating security situation has left many fearful that al-Maliki has all but lost control.

Has America forgotten its role in getting Iraq to where it is — for better or for worse?  Iraq may, arguably, need the help of its allies now more than ever. Have we turned our back on it for good?

Regardless of the turnout of this week’s vote, it is an important milestone since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. And yet, much of the mainstream U.S. television media has turned a blind eye. As Iraqi-American journalist Yasmeen Sami Alamiri tweets: “Good God. CNN has covered everything under the sun (w/ non-stop coverage of the Sterling “scandal”), but no decent Iraq election coverage.” (click here to read more)

Posted in American, Arab, Arab League, Arab Spring, Arabic, dictatorship, Economy, Education, Elections, Employment, Foreign Policy, Freedom of Speech, Insurgency, Iran, Iraq, Islam, Jihad, Maliki, Middle East, military, United States, Washington | Leave a Comment »

How American Drone Strikes are Devastating Yemen

Posted by vmsalama on April 14, 2014

Anyone who knows me, knows Yemen holds a special place in my heart. Its diverse landscape is breathtaking and its rich history is virtually untouched after centuries. But what I love most about Yemen is, hands down, its people (its food comes in a distant second!) They smile from inside, even though they face a great deal of adversity, militants roam freely by land and foreign drones hover above them. This report, from my latest visit to Yemen, explores that latter phenomenon — U.S. drones — and argues that the their existence alone is causing profound psychological detriment to a nation. (photos in the piece are also by me)

How American Drone Strikes are Devastating Yemen

On the ground in a country where unmanned missile attacks are a terrifyingly regular occurrence

By Vivian Salama
April 14, 2014


….As the sun began to set on that fateful winter day, the line of SUVs and pick-ups, decorated with simple ribbons and bows for the [wedding], set off for its 22-mile trip. But as the procession came to a standstill to wait on some lagging vehicles, some of the tribesmen claim the faint humming sound they typically heard from planes overhead fell silent.The emptiness was soon filled with the unthinkable. “Missiles showered on our heads,” Abdullah says, moving his hands frenetically. “I started to scream and shout for my cousins. Anyone who was still alive jumped out of their cars.”

Four hellfires, striking seconds apart, pierced the sky, tearing through the fourth vehicle in the procession. When it was over, 12 men were dead, Saleh among them. At least 15 others were wounded according to survivors and activists, including Warda, whose eye was grazed by shrapnel and whose wedding dress was torn to shreds.

The blast was so intense that it reverberated all the way to al-Abusereema, where the groom’s brother Aziz waited for the guests. “I called some people to ask what was that explosion and somebody told me it was the drone,” Aziz recalls. “It was the most awful feeling.”

“As we were driving to the site,” he continues, “I felt myself going deeper and deeper into darkness. That is the feeling of a person who sees his brothers, cousins, relatives and friends dead by one strike, without reason.”

“We are just poor Bedouins,” says Abdullah, now pounding his hands against his chest. “We know nothing about Al Qaeda. But the people are so scared now. Whenever they hear a car or truck, they think of the drones and the strike. They feel awful whenever they see a plane.”…. (Click here to read more)

The wedding of Abdullah Mabkhut al-Amri to Warda last December made headlines around the world after it ended in tragedy./By Vivian Salama

The wedding of Abdullah Mabkhut al-Amri to Warda last December made headlines around the world after it ended in tragedy./By Vivian Salama

Oum Salim sits in her home majlis in Khawlan holding a photo of her late son Salim Hussein Ahmed Jamil, her daughter Asmaa, 7, by her side. /By Vivian Salama

Oum Salim sits in her home majlis in Khawlan holding a photo of her late son Salim Hussein Ahmed Jamil, her daughter Asmaa, 7, by her side. /By Vivian Salama

Posted in Afghanistan, Al-Qaeda, American, Arab, Arab Spring, Awlaki, C.I.A., dictatorship, Drones, Economy, Education, Elections, Employment, Environment, Foreign Policy, Freedom of Speech, Human Rights, Insurgency, Intervention, Islam, Jihad, Middle East, military, niqab, Obama, Pakistan, Politics, Poverty, PTSD, Religion, Saudi Arabia, Signature Strikes, Social Media, Somalia, South Yemen, Terrorism, Warda, Yemen | 8 Comments »

What’s Behind the Wave of Terror in the Sinai

Posted by vmsalama on November 22, 2013

In just five months, Egypt has suffered more than 200 attacks.
By Vivian Salama

Writing to a network of followers and potential followers around the world, the Mauritanian-born cleric Sheikh Abu al-Mundhir al-Shinqiti, one of the world’s most prominent jihadi ideologues, described a religious obligation for Muslims to take up arms against the Egyptian army. “The goal of the security campaign that the tyrannical army in Egypt is directing in the Sinai is to protect Israel and its borders after jihadi groups in the Sinai became a real threat to it,” the letter, dated October 17, said. “Jihad in the Sinai is a great opportunity for you to gather and unite under a pure flag, unsullied by ignorant slogans.”

Hundreds of miles from Tahrir Square, the epicenter of Egypt’s tumultuous revolution, the long-neglected Sinai Peninsula has become the frontline for the military’s fight against extremism. Having operated in a quasi-lawless state there for decades, jihadi groups are now finding an opportunity to ride on the coattails of discontent following the July 3 military-backed coup that ousted President Mohammed Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the interim government’s subsequent neutering of the organization.

Many militant groups see the Islamists’ fall from grace as justification for their claims that the creation of an Islamic state can only be achieved through violence, and not through the moderate political campaign waged by the Muslim Brotherhood following the fall of former President Hosni Mubarak in 2011. In response, the military has launched an unapologetic crackdown in the Sinai in an effort to crush any group or individual that might challenge its authority or uphold the legitimacy of the now-defunct Morsi regime.

While the military declared an end to a three-month state of emergency earlier this month, a strictly enforced curfew remains in effect in Sinai from 6 P.M. to 4 A.M., with military checkpoints commonplace across the peninsula. And while Egyptian tanks were barred from certain areas of the Sinai following the 1978 Camp David Accords, Israel authorized Egypt to deploy two additional infantry battalions to the region after Morsi’s ouster to counter terrorist threats. It did not end there. In September, the military stepped up its campaign to rid northern Sinai of militants, with Army Spokesman Ahmed Ali saying it would be “taking action against terrorists, instead of merely reacting to terrorist attacks.” That same month, dozens of homes were bulldozed and trees removed along the roads from the northern town of Al-Arish to Rafah, the border city with Gaza, according to witnesses and media reports, as the military prepared to create a 1,640-foot-wide, six-mile-long buffer zone around the Rafah border crossing. Schools in northern Sinai began the 2013-14 academic year five weeks later than scheduled amid fears that children would be at risk.

The military’s “heavy-handedness is more out of lack of experience than anything,” said Mokhtar Awad, an Egypt researcher at the Center for American Progress. “If the [militants’] goal is to make the military look weak then they can do that. I always compared [militancy] to a virus—that if it does spread to [the Nile] Delta and Upper Egypt, they won’t be able to control it.” (more…)


Israeli Search and Rescue Crews on the scene after an attack on the Taba Hilton in Sinai, Egypt (2004)//Photo by Vivian Salama

Israeli Search and Rescue Crews on the scene after an attack on the Taba Hilton in Sinai, Egypt (2004)//Photo by Vivian Salama

Israeli Search and Rescue Crews on the scene after an attack on the Taba Hilton in Sinai, Egypt (2004)//Photo by Vivian Salama

Israeli Search and Rescue Crews on the scene after an attack on the Taba Hilton in Sinai, Egypt (2004)//Photo by Vivian Salama

Posted in Africa, Al-Qaeda, al-Sisi, Algeria, Arab, Arab Spring, Arabic, Coup, dictatorship, discrimination, Economy, Education, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Environment, Foreign Policy, Freedom of Speech, Gaza, Hamas, Hosni Mubarak, Human Rights, Insurgency, Intervention, Islam, Israel, Jihad, Journalism, Libya, Media, Middle East, military, Mohamed Morsi, Mubarak, Muslim Brotherhood, Palestinians, Politics, Protests, Sahara Desert, Sinai, State of Emergency, Suez, Terrorism | Leave a Comment »

Living in Terror Under a Drone-Filled Sky in Yemen

Posted by vmsalama on April 29, 2013

Children fear “planes that shoot” as communities grieve lost loved ones.
APR 29 2013

A small house, once made of large cement blocks, is reduced to rubble in a sea of untouched homes and shops in Jaar, a town in South Yemen’s Abyaan governorate. There are no signs of life where that house once stood — no photos, furniture, and certainly no people left behind. In May 2011, the house was struck by a drone — American, the locals say. Some believe the sole occupant, a man named Anwar Al-Arshani, may have been linked to Al Qaeda, although he kept to himself, so no one knows for sure. As Al-Arshani’s house smoldered from the powerful blow, townspeople frantically rushed to inspect the damage and look for survivors. And then, just as the crowd swelled, a second missile fired. Locals say 24 people were killed that day, all of them allegedly innocent civilians.

Eighteen-year-old Muneer Al-Asy was among them. His mother Loul says she knows nothing about America — not of its democracy or politics or people or values. All she knows is that it killed her son. She cannot read and does not own a television. Like many in her village, she says Al-Qaeda is “very bad,” but the thought of her youngest son being killed by an American missile haunts her dreams at night. She screams in fury at the people who took her son: “criminals!” She rocks anxiously back and forth on her sole piece of furniture — a long cushion in her single-room home — recalling the day her son was “martyred” by a U.S. drone. “I am like a blind person now,” says Loul. “Muneer was my eyes.”

Anwar Al-Arshani's home/Photo by Vivian Salama

Anwar Al-Arshani’s home/Photo by Vivian Salama

Thousands of miles from Washington, where the debate rages on over the moral and legal implications of using unmanned aerial vehicles for lethal targeting, the names and faces of many of the victims paints a somber picture. Some are fathers who can no longer buy food and medicine for their children. Some are kids whose only crime in life was skipping out on studies to play soccer with friends. Some are expectant mothers who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. As the U.S. focuses attention on the successful targeting of names on the notorious “kill list,” the number of innocent civilians killed by U.S. drones on the rise — threatening to destroy families, spark resentment, and fuel Al-Qaeda recruitment.

While strikes in Pakistan have been recorded since at least June 2004, drones have become more common in Yemen in recent years, used to weed out and eliminate members of Al Qaeda’s notorious Arabian Peninsula network (AQAP). AQAP has been linked to recent schemes including the foiled 2012 underwear bomb plot, as well as for parcel bombs intercepted before reaching synagogues in Chicago in 2010. The drone program has seen some successes, including strikes on high-profile targets like Saeed al-Shihri, a Saudi citizen who co-founded AQAP, and senior operatives Samir Khan and Anwar al-Awlaki. The latter was a preacher who often delivered his provocative sermons in English and, like Khan, was at one time an American citizen.

However, with the growing use of so-called “signature strikes” — attacks against suspected but unidentified targets — there have been increasingly troubling signs that many victims are deemed guilty by association. Having committed no crime, their names not part of any list and in some cases, not even known. (click here to read more….)

Posted in Abyaan, Al-Qaeda, American, Arab, Arab Spring, Arabic, Awlaki, C.I.A., corruption, Drones, Economy, Elections, Foreign Policy, Freedom of Speech, Guantanamo Bay, Human Rights, Insurgency, Islam, Jihad, Ma'rib, Middle East, military, Politics, PTSD, Religion, Saudi Arabia, Signature Strikes, South Yemen, Terrorism, United States, Yemen | Leave a Comment »

Americans Kidnapped as Islamist Violence in Mali Spills Into Algeria

Posted by vmsalama on January 16, 2013

Jan 16, 2013

By Vivian Salama

The Daily Beast (click here for original link)

An offshoot of al Qaeda in the Islamist Maghreb is claiming responsibility for the kidnapping of 41 foreign nationals at a gas field Wednesday, as the violence in northern Mali spread across the border. Vivian Salama reports.

As French troops step up their air campaign against Islamist rebels in Mali, a new kidnapping is intensifying fears that jihadists affiliated with al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb have already penetrated parts of the vast Sahara Desert.

algeria hostageAt least seven Americans were among the 41 foreign nationals taken hostage Wednesday at the In Amenas gas field in the remote province of Illizi, Algerian state media reported, citing unnamed rebel leaders. A group known as Katibat Moulathamine—or the Masked Brigade, an offshoot of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb—reportedly contacted the Mauritanian news outlet ANI and claimed responsibility for the attack.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland confirmed on Wednesday that Americans are among the captives but declined to give further details in an effort to protect their lives. “By all indications, this is a terrorist act,” said Defense Secretary Leon Panetta at a meeting with Italian government officials in Rome.

Algerian officials said the attackers threatened to blow up the site and kill the foreigners if their demands were not met. Japanese, British, Norwegian, and French nationals were among the kidnapped, and at least one Briton has been killed, according to state media. Some 300 Algerian workers also were captured but have since been released, according to the state-run Algérie Presse Service.

Algeria “will not meet the demands of terrorists and refuses any negotiation,” Interior Minister Daho Ould Kablia said in a nationally televised address.

Just over Algeria’s southern border, French and Malian troops have been targeting Islamist positions in northern Mali since Jan. 11, attempting to win back territory seized by rebels in April. Turmoil in Mali has intensified in recent years, after a handful of militant groups linking themselves to the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, an ethnic nationalist group linked to the Tuareg tribe, made considerable gains against the government following a short-lived coup. Amid the confusion and chaos, the MNLA declared the independence of three of Mali’s northern regions, considered the Tuareg homeland, and declared sharia the official law of the land.

According to local reports, the militants have sent child soldiers to reinforce their positions in northern Mali, as well as using the local population as human shields from the French-Malian raids.

“The situation in Mali is in part driven by poverty and extremism, but also by weapons flows from Libya,” said Paul Sullivan, a North Africa expert and professor at the National Defense University. “The Tuareg and others who fought in Libya and then moved back to Mali are a hardened bunch and fairly well-trained. The Algerian government warned the French that it may spill over. It has.”

While Algeria has refused to take part in military action against Mali or any other foreign nation, it has taken precautions to protect its vast border with Mali, sending troops to guard against any cross-border incursions. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the North African affiliate of the terrorist network, initially emerged as a radical opposition group in the days of the Algerian civil war of the 1990s but has since expanded its foothold in Mali’s vast ungoverned northern region. Its initial goal was to overthrow Algeria’s government and establish an Islamic state, but experts say its regional ambitions have since expanded to target much of North Africa, as well as Europe and the United States.

“AQIM exists in Algeria and in Libya,” said Sullivan. “They are looking for a safe zone. Mali looks most likely. Libya is pretty much the Wild West in the desert regions. Huge swaths of Algeria are open desert. The borders are porous.”

“The Obama administration needs to have a clear and focused policy on eliminating the threats that diverse, al Qaeda-affiliated groups pose to the United States and to Americans working abroad off of the usual battlefields,” said Rep. Mike Rogers, the Republican chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

The report in Mauritania’s ANI links Wednesday’s attack to Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the Algerian-born radical jihadist who has been linked to some of the most dramatic and high-profile kidnappings of the past decade. In 2002, French intelligence called him “uncatchable.” In 2008, Algerian media reported that Belmokhtar and 15 of his men had surrendered to authorities, a claim later disputed by the group. Belmokhtar, who lost an eye in combat, also has been reported dead on more than one occasion. Experts on jihad note that Belmokhtar maintains allies in the Malian government and has won the support of various extremist elements in the region.

Mokhtar Belmokhtar

“Algeria is also home to Tuaregs, and any fire erupting in one corner of the Sahara involving a Tuareg tribe could ignite a reaction elsewhere,” said Arezki Daoud, an Algerian political analyst and editor of the North Africa Journal. “This is dream come true for al Qaeda. They want that regional instability.”

The In Amenas field is a joint venture of the Algerian national oil company Sonatrach, BP, and Statoil. In a statement on its website Wednesday, BP said that “contact with the site is extremely difficult, but we understand that armed individuals are still occupying the In Amenas operations site,” adding that there is no confirmed information available on the status of the workers.

—With reporting from Eli Lake


Posted in Al-Qaeda, Algeria, Egypt, Foreign Policy, France, Insurgency, Intervention, Islam, Jihad, Mali, Middle East, Negotiation, North Africa, Politics, Terrorism, United Kingdom, United States | Leave a Comment »

Al Qaeda Offers Gold for Ambassador’s Murder

Posted by vmsalama on December 30, 2012

Dec 30, 2012

By Vivian Salama

The Daily Beast (Click here for original link)

The cell’s Arabian branch is offering $160,000 in gold for anyone who kills the U.S. ambassador to Yemen. Vivian Salama on what’s feeding the region’s extremism.

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has offered a bounty to anyone who kills America’s ambassador to Yemen, calling it a move to “inspire and encourage our Muslim nation for jihad.” It’s the first such threat made publicly against an American diplomat since assailants killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Benghazi consulate employees in September.

FeiersteinThe reward, announced in an audio message via Al-Malahem Foundation, the group’s media arm, and circulated on extremist Web forums, would be paid in the form of three kilograms of gold—worth about $160,000—the message said, without providing details on where and how the payment would be delivered. The recording included mention of a 5 million Yemeni riyal ($23,000) reward to anyone who kills an American soldier on Yemeni soil.

Gerald Feierstein has served as ambassador to Yemen since September 2010, according to the embassy website. Prior to his appointment, he served as deputy chief of mission in Islamabad. A Yemeni government official who spoke to The Daily Beast on the condition of anonymity said Ambassador Feierstein is “very well protected” and added that the “threats are taken seriously, and he is the most secured diplomat in Yemen.”

Yemen, the ancestral home of the late Osama bin Laden, was the site of an attack on the USS Cole in 2000 that killed 17 American sailors. It was also the home of the late Anwar al-Awlaki, the U.S.-born Islamic cleric who plotted the attempted bombing of a Detroit-bound airplane in 2009, now notorious for using an underwear bomb.

Yemeni protesters, inspired by popular uprisings across the Arab world, successfully ousted their president of 33 years, Ali Abdullah Saleh, in February. However, like many other countries in the region, security forces were stretched thin during the yearlong revolution, and law and order and political and economic stability have since declined. Yemen ranked eighth on Foreign Policy’s 2012 Failed States Index, scoring almost on par with Haiti. (click here to read more…)

Posted in Al-Qaeda, Arab, Arab Spring, Arabic, Drones, Foreign Policy, Insurgency, Libya, Middle East, Salafi, Terrorism, United States, Yemen | Leave a Comment »

Riot After Anti-Islam Film: U.S. Ambassador to Libya Killed

Posted by vmsalama on September 12, 2012

Only two months ago, Chris Stevens wrote about how the atmosphere in Libya had changed for the better. People were smiling. Vivian Salama reports on the career diplomat killed in Benghazi.

by Vivian Salama  | September 12, 2012

The Daily Beast (click here for original link)

America’s ambassador to Libya, a career diplomat who dedicated much of his life to the Middle East, has died in a rocket attack on the embassy amid violent protests over a U.S.-produced film deemed insulting to Islam. President Obama confirmed the “outrageous” deaths.

United States ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, and three other consulate personnel were killed in an attack on the U.S. consulate in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012.

Chris Stevens, who was appointed ambassador to Libya in May this year, was killed in a rocket-propelled grenade attack near the consulate in the eastern city of Benghazi late Tuesday night, as were three of his State Department colleagues, according to witnesses and various news reports. In one account, Libya security forces allegedly attacked protesters gathered outside the consulate Tuesday, causing them to clash violently.

Stevens, 52, was a native of Northern California, graduate of the University of California in Berkley, served in the Peace Corps, and taught English for two years in Morocco before joining the State Department. Prior to his tour in Libya, he was the director of the Office of Multilateral Nuclear and Security Affairs. From 2007 to 2009 he served as deputy chief of mission in Tripoli, Libya. He also served as special representative to the Libyan Transitional National Council from March 2011 to November 2011. As a member of the Foreign Service, he served in Jerusalem, Damascus, and Riyadh.

The New York Times reports a letter from Stevens to his friends, written only two months ago, after a reception in Tripoli. “Somehow our clever staff located a Libyan band that specializes in 1980s soft rock,” he wrote, “so I felt very much at home.”

He also wrote that the atmosphere in Libya had changed for the better. “People smile more and are much more open with foreigners,” he wrote in a later email. “Let’s hope it lasts!”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called it “vicious behavior,” in a statement.  “We are heartbroken by this terrible loss,” Clinton said. A number of Libyans were also reportedly killed in the attacks.

Thousands of protesters took to the streets in Benghazi and Cairo Tuesday, the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, enraged over a little-known film reportedly produced by Israeli-American Sam Bacile. It is allegedly backed by a handful of ultraconservative Egyptian Christians and Florida Pastor Terry Jones, the controversial preacher whose threats to burn the Quran in 2010 sparked deadly riots in Afghanistan. The film’s trailer, available on YouTube in English and Arabic-dubbed versions, depicts a deranged, womanizing Prophet Muhammad facing a hypothetical trial. Any depiction of the prophet is a violation of Islamic beliefs. The Associated Press reported Wednesday that Bacile is in hiding following the backlash to his film, but remained defiant that Islam is a “cancer.” (click here for more…)

Posted in Algeria, Arab, Arab Spring, Bahrain, dictatorship, Economy, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Film, Foreign Policy, Hosni Mubarak, Insurgency, Islam, Jihad, Libya, Media, Middle East, military, Mohamed Morsi, Mubarak, Muslim Brotherhood, Politics, Protests, Terrorism, United States | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Egyptians Return to Cairo’s Tahrir Square to Underline Protests

Posted by vmsalama on February 18, 2011

By Vivian Salama and Maram Mazen

Bloomberg (Click here for original story)

CAIRO — Tens of thousands of Egyptians gathered in central Cairo today to reassert demands for change, one week after street protests led to the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak, fueling similar demonstrations throughout the Middle East.

Salesmen offered souvenir t-shirts commemorating the protests that started on Jan. 25 to the crowds who packed into Tahrir square. Some carried photographs of people killed during the unrest and others followed regular Friday religious ceremonies with prayers for the dead.

Photo by Vivian Salama

Photo by Vivian Salama

The Health Ministry said yesterday that 365 people were killed during the demonstrations. The Egyptian army on Feb. 13 dissolved parliament and suspended the constitution, meeting demands made by the opposition movement that forced Mubarak from office two days earlier, and said it will rule Egypt until elections are held.

“I’m sure our demands will be met, but it’s better that we all come together again to show them that we’re serious,” said Mahmoud el Hady, a 23-year-old commerce student at Benha University, north of Cairo, who was wrapped in a red, white and black Egyptian flag. “Some people need to go from the old regime. We need to dismantle the national security forces.”

Demonstrations continued today in Bahrain, where people called for democracy and the fall of the government during a funeral procession for two men killed by security forces.

The dissent in Bahrain, home to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, follows the toppling of autocratic rulers by popular movements in Egypt and Tunisia and marks the spread of dissent into thePersian Gulf, where most of the Middle East’s oil is produced.

Libya, Yemen

The past week has also seen anti-government protests and clashes in Libya, Africa’s biggest holder of crude oil reserves, and Yemen, a producer of liquefied natural gas. Brent crude futures this week rose to the highest level since 2008.

The Egyptian Exchange has been closed since Jan. 27 after the biggest stock selloff in more than two years.

“We want the army to rule temporarily and then never to rule us again,” said Ali Bassam, 45, a physical education teacher. “We want anyone chosen by Hosni Mubarak to leave his position. This country has been a big prison for 30 years.”

Posted in Arab, Arab Spring, Economy, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Foreign Policy, Inflation, Insurgency, Islam, Labor, military, Mubarak, Muslim Brotherhood, Politics, Religion, Tunisia | 1 Comment »

Egyptians Defy Curfew to Battle Police in Challenge to Mubarak

Posted by vmsalama on January 28, 2011

crazy days!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! so honored to be witnessing history in a country that is so close to my heart.


By Vivian Salama, Ola Galal and Caroline Alexander

Bloomberg (Click here for original story)

Jan. 28 (Bloomberg) — Egyptian protesters clashed with police throughout the country and into the night, defying a curfew and setting fire to some buildings, in the biggest challenge to President Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule.

Mubarak, in his role as military leader, ordered the army to help police implement a curfew from 6 p.m. to 7 a.m. in Cairo, Alexandria and Suez, state television said. The restrictions were later applied nationwide with armored vehicles and tanks in the streets.

Tens of thousands of marchers in the capital chanted “liberty” and “change” at demonstration points across the city of 17 million, many of them intending to rally in Tahrir Square. Smoke rose from downtown as Al Jazeera said the ruling party’s offices were on fire. Egypt’s benchmark EGX30 stock index plunged 11 percent on Jan. 27, the most since October 2008.

After nightfall, police and demonstrators fought running battles along the Corniche, the road on the east bank of the River Nile. Fires burned along the route, including a blaze in a restaurant in front of the Conrad Hotel.

Photo by Vivian Salama

Photo by Vivian Salama

“If they fail to clear the streets today, the momentum for political transition and the prospects for it will be greatly enhanced,” J. Scott Carpenter, a fellow at the Washington Institute and a former U.S. State Department official, said in a phone interview. “Protests will not go away. There will have to be some sort of accommodation to the demands.”

Rubber Bullets

The protesters want an end to corruption, repression and an improvement in living standards in the nation that relies on tourism, revenue from the Suez Canal and overseas investors for foreign currency. The demonstrations started on Jan. 25, when thousands took to the streets, inspired by an uprising that ousted Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali on Jan. 14.

Crude surged the most since September 2009, rising 4.8 percent, as unrest in Egypt raised concern that protests would spread to major oil-producing parts of the Middle East.

Anger has also erupted in recent months in Algeria and Yemen, which all face spiraling food prices. Nine people died in the Egyptian unrest, Human Rights Watch said.

“They used water cannons and rubber bullets against us,” said Serif Amin, 31, an information technology consultant. “I saw people getting rubber bullets in their heads and faces.”

The government restricted Internet and mobile-phone access and detained senior leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, the main opposition group. The four main Internet service providers in Egypt were cut off, Renesys, an Internet-analysis company based in Manchester, New Hampshire, said on its website.

Fitch Revision

Fitch Ratings today revised the rating outlook on Egypt to “negative” from “stable.”

Photo by Vivian Salama

Photo by Vivian Salama

Mubarak hasn’t publicly said whether he’ll run for re- election. The 82-year-old, a U.S. ally, has been in power since 1981. Opposition campaigner Mohamed ElBaradei, 68, former head of the United Nations nuclear agency, returned to Egypt and said he would take part in the protest.

ElBaradei was put under house arrest today, the Associated Press said, citing security officials. There was no connection to the mobile phone of his spokeswoman, who traveled with him.

ElBaradei helped set up the National Association for Change in 2010 to campaign for democracy and against corruption. He said in February he would run for president if the government removed constitutional restrictions on independents. The Muslim Brotherhood is barred from entering elections as a party, though some of its candidates have been allowed to run as independents.

‘Very Quickly’

Mubarak has no vice president or designated successor. The Brotherhood is among groups that say he is grooming his son Gamal to succeed him, a claim both men deny.

Mubarak could be forced to relinquish his rule “very quickly,” ElBaradei, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005, told Vienna’s Profil magazine. “Nobody thought that in Tunisia things would change overnight,” he said in the interview.

Ayman Nour, a former candidate for the presidency who was jailed by authorities, was injured during the protests in Cairo, Al Jazeera reported.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on the Egyptian government “to do everything in its power” to refrain from violence against demonstrators. Protesters should avoid using violence, she said.

The protests “underscore there are deep grievances” among the population, she said. “Violence will not make these grievances go away.”

U.S. Interests

The country’s bourse, where companies including Orascom Construction Industries, Talaat Moustafa Group Holding and Orascom Telecom are listed, is the biggest in North Africa by market capitalization.

Trading didn’t take place yesterday and further losses are likely when it resumes, said Win Thin, global head of emerging- markets strategy at Brown Brothers Harriman.

It is in the U.S.’s interest to see a negotiated solution, Thin said, citing Egypt’s geopolitical importance. The country is only one of two Arab countries that have signed peace treaties with Israel and controls the Suez Canal, through which an estimated 8 percent of global sea trade travels.

“Mubarak hanging on to power by force would be the worst outcome, as tensions and protests would likely continue and risks seeing more extremist elements in Egypt gain support,” Thin said.

About 1 million barrels a day of oil and refined products flowed northbound through the canal in 2009, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. The canal and an adjacent pipeline carry more than 4 million barrels a day of crude, or 4.7 percent of global output, according to New York-based McQuilling Services LLC.

Oil Watch

The U.S. will watch “very closely” for oil disruptions from Egypt, said Energy Secretary Steven Chu.

“Any disruptions in the Middle East means a partial disruption of the oil we import,” Chu said on a Jan. 28 conference call with reporters. “More importantly, any serious disruptions in the Middle East will mean that, even though we don’t get a lot of our oil, it’s a world market and that could actually bring real harm.”

The Egyptian government’s dollar bonds due April 2020 fell, sending yields to a record high. Yields on the debt rose 47 basis points to 6.78 percent at 5:19 p.m. in London, extending this week’s increase to 106 basis points, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

The cost to insure the country’s debt against default for five years rose 15 basis points from yesterday, to 391, CMA prices showed. Egypt is rated the highest non-investment grade level at Moody’s Investors Service, Standard & Poor’s and Fitch Ratings. The Egyptian pound weakened, losing 0.4 percent to trade at 5.858 per pounds per dollar on Jan. 27.

Phones Down

Vodafone Group Plc is among the phone networks cut off in Egypt, where some landlines also were down. The company said in an e-mailed statement that its operators in Egypt have been told to suspend services “in selected areas” in compliance with local laws. France Telecom said its Egyptian Mobinil service was blocked.

Clashes in cities including Suez and Ismailia continued. Riot police have been deployed in central Cairo and other urban areas since the Jan. 25 demonstrations.

Low wages and rising prices have sparked protests in Egypt since 2004. About 1.7 million workers engaged in 1,900 strikes and other forms of protest between 2004 and 2008, the Solidarity Center, a U.S. labor-rights group, said in a study last year.

‘No Hope’

Egypt, the world’s biggest wheat importer, announced additional spending of as much as 3.5 billion pounds in October to cover the country’s rising food bill, increasing the strain on a budget deficit that widened to 8.1 percent of gross domestic product in the fiscal year that ended in June. Wheat futures in Chicago, the global benchmark, have surged 74 percent in the past 12 months.

The economy in the country of 80 million people, the most populous in the Arab region, probably grew 6.2 percent in the last quarter of 2010, compared with 5.5 percent in the previous three months, according to official estimates. The government says it needs growth of about 7 percent to create enough jobs every year for a growing working-age population.

Delta Air Lines Inc. today canceled its flight tonight to Cairo from New York’s Kennedy airport. The return leg also has been scrubbed, said spokesman Anthony Black.

Among the Egyptians on the streets of Cairo was Mona Abdelaziz, 30, who holds a journalism degree and works selling tissues by the roadside. “The country has gone to ruin,” she said in an interview. “Everything is expensive. How will my son marry, get an education, set up a household? There are no jobs, only for a select few. We have no hope.”

–With assistance from Mahmoud Kassem, Digby Lidstone and Ahmed A Namatalla in Cairo, Alaa Shahine in Dubai, Jonathan Browning, Stephen Voss and Michael Patterson in London, Massoud A. Derhally in Beirut, Dahlia Kholaif in Kuwait, Flavia Krause- Jackson and Roger Runningen in Washington, Jonathan Tirone in Vienna, Margot Habiby in Dallas and Rudy Ruitenberg in Paris. Editors: Heather Langan, Andrew J. Barden, Paul Badertscher

Posted in Arab, Arab Spring, dictatorship, Economy, Education, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Foreign Policy, Hosni Mubarak, Insurgency, Middle East | Leave a Comment »

The Iraq insurgency for beginners

Posted by vmsalama on March 2, 2007



Sunni insurgent groups (top row): Jihad Factions of Iraq, Al-Qassas Brigade, Al-Rashedeen Army, Islamic State of Iraq, Mujahideen Army; (bottom row) Islamic Army in Iraq (IAI), 1920 Revolution Brigades, IAI.

A leading expert on the insurgency clarifies who is shooting whom in Iraq, the growing power of al-Qaida, the influence of Iran, and the only thing left for the U.S. to do.

By Kevin Berger

Mar. 02, 2007 | For somebody in America, Evan Kohlmann has a remarkably intimate view of the Iraq insurgency. In 2004, he founded GlobalTerrorAlert.com, a clearinghouse of virtually every communiqué — video, audio, Internet, printed — issued by insurgent groups in Iraq. For three years, Kohlmann has pored through every one of them, with the help of Arabic translators, and emerged with a clear-eyed view of who is fighting whom in Iraq and why. Given his insights, Kohlmann has been put to work as a consultant by the U.S. Department of Defense, the Department of Justice, the FBI and the CIA.

Spending time in Kohlmann’s archives is an extraordinary experience. It strips away the cloudy myths of the insurgency steamed up by U.S. politicians and pundits and leaves you with a bracing portrait of roving insurgent groups, more like neighborhood gangs, with their own identities and insignias, progressively growing more violent. I wanted to talk to Kohlmann for the simple reason that as much as I follow the news about the Iraq war, I have always felt slightly frustrated at not knowing who the enemy really is. Kohlmann says I’m far from alone. And he’s talking about people way over my head. “I find it tragic that people in Washington, D.C., who are the heads of major congressional committees, and deciding things about Iraq, don’t know the difference between Sunnis and Shiites,” he says. Kohlmann insists he is nonpartisan. He spoke from his office in New York.

Every day you look at Iraq through the lens of insurgent videos and Internet postings. What do you see?

A picture of fundamentalism. Shiite fundamentalism clashing with Sunni fundamentalism clashing with American fundamentalism. We have tried imposing things upon Iraq that are totally foreign to it. Now each side is unwilling to acknowledge the right of the other to have a voice in what’s going on. It’s a disaster.

Describe the insurgency.

You have to be careful when you say “insurgency.” You have to distinguish between the Shiite militias and the actual insurgency, which is the Sunni groups. Most of the Shiite militia activity is not directed at the U.S., it’s directed at the Sunnis. The Sunni insurgency, meanwhile, is directed at everyone — the U.S., the Iraqi government, the militias.

The best way to divide it up is into three camps. You have Sunni nationalists, initially a large portion of the insurgency; the moderate Sunni Islamists, who use Islamic terminology and talk about establishing a government based on Sharia law; and you have the Salafists, like the group Al-Qaida in Iraq. To them, the fight is not about preserving the borders of Iraq, it’s about revolution, about rebuilding something completely new on the basis of some kind of idyllic Muslim empire.

What drives people to join the insurgency?

I’ve called up families of fighters and when I ask that question, the response is always the same: Wouldn’t you? They are extremely upset about what’s going on in Iraq. Some of them have a burning hatred for the U.S. They see the U.S. as imposing its will on their countries. Some of them have a burning desire to be a missionary and martyr for Islam. You have people who have broken out of prison and gone to fight in Iraq. It’s now a vacuum sucking in every disaffected voice in the region.

How has the insurgency evolved?

When the U.S. invasion began in 2003, it was mainly Baathists, ex-Iraqi military, and Saddam loyalists. They were Iraqi nationalists, opposed to foreign occupation, who saw Iraq as a competitor with Egypt for the control of the Arab world. It was an issue of national pride. Video recordings and communiqués were coming out from everybody who had an AK-47. But as the war dragged on, some of these groups started coalescing; others were destroyed. Only the strongest, the most hardcore, the best financed, the people with the most training, survived, despite airstrikes and the arrest of their senior leaders by the U.S. military.

Do you call the insurgents “terrorists”?

No. The nationalist insurgents have done a lot of really brutal things. But in general they are people opposed to foreign occupation. If foreign occupation were removed, they wouldn’t necessarily sit down and shake hands with Shiites. But at the end of the day, they would like to see a peaceful Iraq where Sunnis and Shiites can at least coexist with each other. Terrorists are people who set off bombs in marketplaces and deliberately kill innocent civilians for no good reason. Any suicide bombing is a terrorist act. It’s not an insurgent act. There is no military objective in it. The vast majority of suicide bombings that take place in Iraq are either the work of al-Qaida or al-Qaida-linked groups. Al-Qaida are the terrorists.

Who constitutes al-Qaida in Iraq now?

It includes everyone from past conflicts in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Chechnya to people from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, North Africa, Syria and Jordan. A growing number of Iraqis continue to join its ranks every day. The people in the nationalist groups feel intensely hurt to see Iraq being torn apart. This is their homeland. And now their groups are taking on an Islamic tinge or else becoming straight-up jihadist groups controlled by al-Qaida. A lot of people joining the jihadist groups are now convinced there is no future left for Iraq, that the only future left is with al-Qaida, the only people who can protect them is al-Qaida.

David Kilcullen, an astute counterinsurgency expert, told George Packer in the New Yorker that what drives a lot of young men to become jihadists is a “sense of adventure, wanting to be in the big movement of history that’s happening right now.” Do you agree?

Oh, yeah. For some of these guys, it’s like a safari. They see themselves as knights of the round table. In fact, that’s how al-Qaida now sells the insurgency to them: Are you a chivalrous knight or a coward?

Has the U.S. invasion, in fact, strengthened al-Qaida?

Definitely. And this is the depressing thing. The hardcore true believers of al-Qaida at one time were probably 10 percent of the insurgent groups. Now they’re 50 percent. Al-Qaida is growing in places it shouldn’t. You have groups like the Islamic Army of Iraq that have transitioned from being traditional insurgents to extremist ones. Or take a popular insurgent group called the 1920 Revolution Brigades. The very name of the group has a nationalist, not Islamist meaning. And yet very recently, the head of al-Qaida’s Islamic State in Iraq issued a statement in which he said that people from the 1920 Revolution Brigade were now fighting alongside al-Qaida. The U.S. is failing miserably at containing the spread of al-Qaida.

Why are the more moderate Muslim groups siding with al-Qaida?

They have no choice. There’s a group called the Iraqi Islamic Resistance Front. They are far from angels. They recently released a video of supposedly a chemical rocket attack on a U.S. base in Samarra. But they were also the subject of a flier that was being posted around in Ramadi. The flier was signed by al-Qaida and said the Front was working with the Iraqi Islamic Party, the Iraqi government, and so is no longer a legitimate group. The Front was furious. They issued a statement saying, “We’re not working with the government, we’re with you guys, so don’t issue these kinds of accusations.” So there’s a lot of pressure to work with al-Qaida or be targeted by it.

Does that message go out to people on the streets too?

Yeah, sure. That’s the sad thing. If you work with the U.S. or the Iraqi government, you are targeted by al-Qaida. If you work with anyone else, you are targeted by the Shiites. It’s a lose-lose situation. And what’s amazing is this slide has all happened over the past 12 months. It’s pegged to one singular event, the spark, which is the 2006 bombing of the Askariya Mosque in Samarra. Al-Qaida never claimed direct responsibility for it but they did call the mosque the heretical idol and mocked the fact that the Shiites were upset about it. Afterward, it was saying, “We’ve been fighting Shiite militias all along.” To broaden its appeal, it said, “We’re declaring the formation of an Islamic state in Iraq. This is no longer just an insurgent movement. We now have a state that we’re fighting for, so come and join our cause. You’re either with us or against us.” Sure enough, we started seeing more groups edging toward al-Qaida’s jihadists umbrella network.

Would al-Qaida have blown up the mosque if the U.S. wasn’t in Iraq?

There wouldn’t be an al-Qaida in Iraq if the U.S. wasn’t there. The story of al-Qaida in Iraq begins in 2003. We handed al-Qaida exactly what it was looking for, a real war in the Middle East where it could lead the way. Al-Qaida is like a virus. It goes for weak victims and it uses conflicts to breed. Iraq gives al-Qaida a training ground, a place to put recruits in combat. If they come back from battle, you have people who have fought together, trained together, you have a military unit. As Richard Clarke has said, it was almost like Osama bin Laden was trying to vibe into George Bush the idea: “Invade Iraq, invade Iraq.” This was an opportunity they seized with amazing alacrity. As brutal and terrifying as what they’ve done is, you have to acknowledge they capitalized on an opportunity that we handed them.

What happened to the U.S. message of democracy?

It totally failed. The idea of Western-style democracy in Iraq doesn’t appeal to anyone. It was our own myth. We thought that if we get rid of Saddam Hussein, people would come together and celebrate and democracy would reign throughout the Middle East. The people who thought that up are people who think Iraq is like Texas. Iraq is not Texas. To Iraqis, tribal affiliations, religion and family mean a lot more than saying, “I’m from Iraq.” You know we’re doing a bad job of communicating our own message when we’re losing the propaganda war to people who cut other people’s heads off on camera. Think about it: People in one of the most Westernized countries in the Middle East would rather trust al-Qaida than the United States. That’s a terrible sign of things to come.

How many total insurgents are there?

Somewhere in the tens of thousands. I would say al-Qaida, including the various groups in its alliance, has about 15,000 people, probably more. To give you an idea of its strength, consider that it has sacrificed 800 of its own members in suicide bombings. We know that through direct evidence because al-Qaida has videotaped and recorded many of the bombings. And remember, those 15,000 are just on the Sunni side, and constitute just one group out 10 or more.

The U.S. is fighting both the insurgency and Shiite militias, right?

Right. But the Shiites aren’t a simple group either. They have divided themselves into two factions: the pro-Arab Shiites who are Iraqi nationalists and the pro-Iranian Shiites. There have been some incidences involving the Shiite Mahdi Army and the U.S. and British military. But the scope of activity between the Mahdi Army and the U.S. military is minute. The militias pose less of a day-to-day insurgent problem and more of a problem in the way they have infiltrated the Iraqi police force and other Iraqi government services, particularly the Interior Ministry, and how they arranging the murder of Sunnis through those agencies. They are creating instability, and that’s the main reason we’re going after them. It’s also the No. 1 reason why Sunnis fight and are upset: The Shiite militias have essentially taken over the law enforcement and are using it to murder Sunnis.

We invaded Iraq to rectify crimes by Saddam Hussein against the Shiites, right? We wanted to bring him to justice. What the Sunni groups are saying is, “How come there’s no justice to people who are drilling holes in people heads right now? Never mind 20 years ago.” They have a point. Dozens of bodies turn up every day in Baghdad but nobody is paying heed to them. So the Sunnis are saying to the U.S., “If you guys are not going to prosecute the people responsible for this, then we’re going to take matters into our own hands.” And the Shiites are saying the same thing. They’re saying, “You can’t protect us from al-Qaida’s suicide bombers. Your idea of strengthening security is to crack down on the Mahdi Army, who are the only ones preventing suicide bombers from coming into Sadr City. Why should we trust you? We should rely on ourselves. You can’t trust anyone but your own people.” It’s an arms race. It just builds up and up.

How do the militias stack up against the insurgents in number of fighters?

There are probably fairly equal numbers of militiamen to Sunni insurgents, if not more. Given that they’re waging open war with each other, and neither one seems to be winning outright, the answer is that one doesn’t outnumber the other to create an imbalance.

Is a surge of 21,000 new U.S. troops going to help?

I don’t think any number of new troops is going to help unless we’re going to station troops on every single corner of every single street in every single city in Iraq. The problem is the insurgents are not just a foreign force. You’re talking about such a diverse organization and network, where even major groups, when their leaders are killed or captured, still persist. They’re self-sustaining operations.

Look at Fallujah. In late 2004, we pumped that place full of overwhelming military force. We went block by block, street by street, and liquidated the place. We got rid of all the insurgents. We chased al-Qaida out of there. That was undoubtedly a military victory. But was that the end of al-Qaida? No, it moved to other cities, established bases in Ramadi, Samarra and Mosul. And Fallujah itself? It was relatively stable but in the past year has started to fall apart. And once again, insurgents are attacking Fallujah.

What do you make of the recent furor over the New Yorker that the U.S. is taking part in clandestine operations aimed at Iran and Syria and that a “by-product of these activities has been the bolstering of Sunni extremist groups”?

The idea that the U.S. is bolstering Sunni extremist groups in Iraq deliberately is pretty ridiculous and sounds awfully conspiratorial to me. Most of the Sunni groups consider themselves to be antithetical to the very idea of the United States. Even if we were to offer to help them for some strange reason, they would never knowingly work with us. But I can’t say the same for Saudi Arabia and other supposed U.S. allies in the Gulf region, who don’t have any soldiers in Iraq at risk from Sunni insurgents, and who would do just about anything to curb the expansion of Iran.

Contrary to what U.S. leaders are always saying, do you think the insurgency, and militias, have, ultimately, won the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people?

Unfortunately, I do. But I tell you this: Between August and December of 2005, there was a dramatic loss of influence of al-Qaida in Iraq. People associated with groups like the Islamic Army in Iraq, mainstream Sunni insurgent groups, were not so sure about killing people at a polling station. Al-Qaida was threatening to kill anyone, Sunni or Shiite, who tried voting. But the Sunni insurgents were saying, “No, we’re not going to let the Shiites take power willingly. We’re going to try and beat them anyway we can.” At the time, I could see the various Iraq tribes saying, “Forget this, al-Qaida, maybe we can achieve reconciliation with the Shiites.” The U.S. could have capitalized on that friction. But it didn’t. A month went by, there was bickering about the makeup of the government and the results of the election, and we weren’t hands-on enough in trying to broker out some kind of truce. Then came the bombing of the mosque in Samarra and it was too late.

What should the U.S. have done to capitalize on the friction at the time after the elections?

We needed to make sure that the Shiite militias were kept in check. And that’s exactly what we didn’t do. Following the bombing of the mosque, there should have been a serious clampdown. It was a matter of trying to stop the cycle of reprisals. But we did nothing while the Shiites went on a rampage.

Do you think the U.S. should withdraw from Iraq?

I’m afraid not. If we withdraw from Iraq right now, there’s no doubt what will happen. First there’s going to be a war for control of Baghdad and then once Baghdad is ripped to the ground, the battle is going to spread across Iraq. It could potentially be like Rwanda. Right now, hundreds of people are being killed each month, which is awful and horrifying in itself. Imagine if that figure was 100 times bigger. Also, if we withdraw, a widespread war is going to be entirely our responsibility. It’s easy to say it’s Iraqis killing Iraqis. But nobody else is going to see it that way. Everyone is going to affix blame to us. We will ultimately cause a situation that forces us to reinvade Iraq and create even more casualties. It’s an awful Catch 22.

I take it you have little faith in the Iraqi government.

The Iraqi government is a joke. A very sad joke. It’s beset on all sides. It’s been thoroughly infiltrated by militia groups and has no sway whatsover among Sunnis, even moderate Sunnis. It is completely incapable of defending itself, despite whatever bizarre claims Prime Minister Maliki may make. If we were to withdraw, it would collapse. An Iraqi government would only work if it included both Shiites and Sunnis, and there are precious few Sunnis who are working in Iraqi government, and even the ones who do are under constant threat.

So what’s the solution?

We have to give people a reason to stop supporting al-Qaida. And the only way to do that is to punish the people who are harming them. We have to show that democratic forces can also hold up justice. Right now, democracy for Iraqis amounts to Shiites in control of the police force and running everything. The things that might convince Sunnis to move back in the other direction would be a real step at trying to reform the Iraqi police force, the Interior Ministry, and try and bring some of the individuals in those places, which have committed gross crimes, including crimes on the scale of Saddam Hussein, to justice.

Does the Bush administration have the smarts to figure that out?

I’m not sure they do. I thought perhaps, in invading Iraq, they had some long-term view that nobody else could see. But that hope faded very quickly. The Bush administration didn’t reach out to anyone credible when they were asking about, for instance, the connections between al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein. Anybody with any real knowledge of the region would have told them there are no connections between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida. The only people who believed that nonsense were lunatics.

If I was going to invade Iraq, the first thing I would do is commission the top history experts, top geographical experts, top cultural experts, and sit them down at a table and say, “This is what I’m thinking about doing. Is this feasible?” That was never done. Nobody in their right mind would have taken a look at Bush’s plan and said, “Oh, yeah, that’s going to work.” It’s not possible that it could work. Every historic precedent works directly against Bush’s plan. I know it’s easy to say, but the best solution is not to have invaded at all.

— By Kevin Berger

Posted in Insurgency, Iraq, Terrorism | Leave a Comment »