HomeFeaturesDailyBriefingsRapidReconSpecial ReportsAbout Us

« January 2006 | Return to PrincipalAnalysis | March 2006 »

February 28, 2006

Iran

Iran's Encroaching Regional Hegemony

By Steve Schippert | February 28, 2006

As Iranian President Ahmadinejad was leaving Kuwait after meeting with the new emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad, IAEA director Mohamed ElBaredei’s Iran report was making the perfunctory leaked rounds among chosen members of the media ahead of the March 6 Board of Governors meetings. A virtual swarm of reporting ensued.

But there was nothing new revealed in the media reportage of ElBaredei’s words, indicating that there is likely nothing much new in the remaining filler pages of the IAEA’s 12-page Iranian nuclear assessment. Cited by ElBaredei and eventually the various news outlets were key facts already commonly known: That Iran has fed uranium gas into a 10-centrifuge cascade and begun enrichment , that the IAEA has not unearthed irrefutable evidence of weapons production and that the IAEA still doesn’t know what Iran is doing with their nuclear program. Why ElBaredei could not produce this apparently less-than-groundbreaking report when it was originally requested just weeks ago only ElBaredei himself truly knows, leaving the United States and Europe to make an educated guess.

But, typically, the nature of the Iranian nuclear program is not revealed by the UN agency tasked with investigating the crisis, but rather by the swirling events that continue to define it. And while the world remains affixed on the state of the Iranian nuclear countdown and the IAEA as it haplessly tries to get a fix on a moving target, the nature of the Iranian crisis transcends developments on the atomic front.

After reacting negatively to the scare of a nearly successful bombing attempt at the massive Saudi Arabian oil processing facilities in Abqaiq, the ever-fickle world’s oil commodities markets reacted positively to the non-story of the Iranian-peddled word of a potential agreement with Russia on the Russian Proposal for enriching Iran’s uranium on Russian soil.

The Russian Proposal is going nowhere, as Iran continues to tie demands of eventually enriching their own uranium to the heart of any deal. The development was widely reported as an Iranian agreement to a renewed moratorium on enrichment. However, a clause that allows for ‘future Iranian enrichment’ makes any such deal as voluntary, temporary and unpredictable in shelf-life as the previous voluntary moratorium. For all of the agile nuance and occasional internal contradiction that the Russian posturing has provided, and for all the interest they have in the $800 million contract to complete the Bushehr nuclear plant, Vladimir Putin is increasingly wary of the Iranians and has little interest in seeing key supporters of the Chechens engage in loose control of nuclear weapons on his southern border.

But there is far more to the Iranian developments than the nuclear issue. The Iranians are engaged in several fronts that become obscured behind the nuclear screen that draws so much attention.

The Iranians are currently engaged in a diplomatic counter-offensive by sending delegations to states - including major American allies in the Middle East - ahead of the IAEA meetings, possible Security Council sanctions and/or US military strikes. Ahmadinejad made a rare visit to Kuwait, liberated by the US in 1991, to assure them that there was no disagreement that they could not work out amicably (past conflict history notwithstanding, of course). Iran and Kuwait have had the same border disputes that Saddam Hussein attempted to resolve through invasion.

In the city that was the theater operations center for the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami is meeting with Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani while in Doha, Qatar, to speak at a `Unity among Civilizations' conference. This is ironic, considering his current president’s stated desire to ‘wipe’ one of those civilizations ‘off the map’.

Iran’s foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, addressed the European Union parliament (note the headline of the Iranian state-run media’s article) and explained that Ahmadinejad was simply misunderstood and taken out of context when he said Israel should be ‘wiped off the map’. He then jetted to Tokyo to meet with Japanese foreign minister Taro Aso to convince the Japanese of Iran’s peaceful intent and right to nuclear technology.

On the heels of Iran's pledge to fund Hamas, Henry A. Crumpton, the State Department's counterterrorism coordinator, spoke plainly when he said that Iran wants to turn Hamas into Hezbollah and transform it effectively into yet another terrorist arm of Iranian foreign policy. The more Iran funds Hamas and alleviates their financial crisis, the more beholden to Iranian direction (and coordination) Hamas will be.

Crumpton also highlighted one of the West’s greatest fears regarding any Iranian nuclear capacity when he openly referred to Lebanon’s Hezbollah as a “delivery system” for any weapons developed. Any discussion of the current state of Hezbollah and Lebanon cannot be complete without considering the Aoun-Hezbollah agreement, where Christian Lebanese presidential hopeful (and former Prime Minister) Michel Aoun has returned to Lebanon after the Syrian withdrawal.

The long time anti-Syrian leader has since aligned himself with pro-Syrian figures, including the Iranian-directed terrorist group, Hezbollah. Aoun has effectively split the Lebanese Christian vote and now enjoys the support of the broad southern Shia base through Hezbollah’s graces. If the calls to oust Lahoud are successful, imagine the implications of a Hezbollah-allied Lebanese President after all that transpired in 2005. (There are murmurs that Secretary of State Rice indicated during her visit to Beirut that the dogs could be called off Syria if Assad simply recalled Lahoud and terminated the un-elected extension, which expires in November of 2007. With the present Aoun-Hezbollah [and thus, Iran] context, this could be an ill-fated move with even more troubling consequences.)

And, any friend of Hezbollah is a friend of Syria and a friend of Iran. This brings us to Muqtada al-Sadr and Iraq, just to complete the geographic circle of Iranian influence and Iranian regional gains. Just three weeks ago, in a road trip that carried him to Assad’s Damascus, Hezbollah’s Beirut and Ahmadinejad’s Iran, al-Sadr pledged that he and his militia were 'at the service' of Syria and Iran, saying in Damascus, “I am at the service of Syria and Iran. I will defend all Muslim countries with all means.” Would those means include the precision demolition of the 9th-century al-Askariya mosque, ‘The Golden Mosque’, in Samarra, where the tomb of the 12th Imam was left undamaged by the massive destruction? It is at least curious. [Ed. Note: The 12th Imam has no tomb. The shrine of the Mahdi adjoins the al-Askariya shrine to the 10th and 11th Imams (Ali al-Hadi and Hasan al-Askari) and was left undamaged in the attack.]

While the Iranians are seemingly making little progress convincing the world of their ‘peaceful nuclear power program’ save for buying time, they are making considerable progress elsewhere throughout the region with visible, tangible gains in the Palestinian Territories, conditions inexplicably favorable in Lebanon, constant bloody tinkering in Iraq (especially through Basra) and a regional diplomatic ‘charm offensive’ ongoing.

Meanwhile, where it appears Iran is employing a short to mid-term regional strategy, the United States seems entrenched employing long-term strategies of seemingly endless UN-centered wrangling and funding supportive broadcasts into a largely immobile internal Iranian opposition.

There seem to remain no palatable alternatives to remove the threat that the Iranian regime poses, both directly to US security and indirectly through an ever more apparent regional hegemony by the world’s foremost state sponsor of terrorism.

February 21, 2006

Nigeria

Nigeria's Oil War

By Dan Darling | February 21, 2006

Recent attacks by Nigerian rebels within the Delta state have raised questions as to the identities of the groups responsible and their possible connections to international terrorism, particularly given that they have occurred in conjunction with sectarian violence in the northern part of the country. While it is not possible to rule out a common link between these incidents, the weight of the evidence would seem to be against it, as both campaigns appear to have started more or less independently of one another. Whether or not either is connected to international terrorism is another matter altogether, as this analysis of the violence in Delta state will attempt to explain.

The primary actor in the Delta state attacks is a group that operates under a variety of names, most of which are some variant of the Coalition for Militant Action in the Niger Delta (COMA) or Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), a primarily Ijaw group led by Mujahid Dokubo-Asari, who was captured by Nigerian authorities in September 2005 and is currently jail on treason charges.

Despite the nom de guerre adopted by the COMA leader, the Ijaw are a primarily Catholic ethnic group numbering roughly 14,000,000 who live in the Nigerian states of Ondo, Edo, Delta, Bayelsa, Rivers, and Akwa Ibom. They were among the first Nigerian ethnic groups to make contact with European missionaries from Spain and Portugal during the 1600s and were quickly converted to Catholicism. Because of their location along the Niger Delta (as opposed to the modern Delta state), most Ijaw lived as fishermen and organized socially into groups of boat-clans referred to as Houses, each of which elect leaders for the purposes of representing the House’s interests, protecting its trading rights, and leading them during wartime.

Following the discovery of oil in Nigeria in 1958, a number of prominent US, British, French, Dutch, and Italian companies set up agreements with successive Nigerian governments to set up oil facilities on Ijaw land. Because most Nigerian governments have been dominated by members of the nation’s northern Muslim population, many Ijaw believe that they are not receiving a fair share of the oil revenue and have formed a number of groups in order to rectify the situation through violence including the Egbesu Boys, the Ijaw National Congress (INC), the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC), the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP), Movement for Survival of Ijaw Ethnic Nationality (MOSIEN), and the Niger Delta Volunteer Force (NDVF), of which COMA is the evolutionary descendant. Despite both their names and historical Ijaw grievances, many of these groups have long since ceased to be little more than bandit gangs that rely on high-sounding political rhetoric in order to justify their activities.

Mujahid (sometimes translated as “Moujahid”) Dokubo-Asari is considered the current leader of COMA despite his conversion to Islam or current imprisonment. By maintaining the support of the most powerful House leaders, COMA and its members are able to operate amongst their base of support within the Ijaw population with little if any danger of being turned over to the federal authorities. As a result, COMA is now the largest and best-organized of the remaining Ijaw groups, fielding as many as 10,000 members and protecting those Houses that support it from their people’s traditional enemies, the neighboring Itsekiri, who are used by the Nigerian government to administer to control the oil facilities in and around Warri.

Because COMA emerged independent of either the Wahhabi sha’riah movement in northern Nigeria that has resulted in so much sectarian violence there or the Nigerian Taliban that first appeared in Yobe state in December 2003, it is unlikely for a number of reasons that it is aligned with either group. The Nigerian Taliban movement appears to have been successfully defeated, while the Wahhabi sha’riah movement seeks to use the power of the state to establish an environment favorable to Wahhabi Salafists, at least at the local level, while COMA and its Ijaw backers believe that the Nigerian government already has too much power and favor stronger local control.

This is not to say that there is no evidence of Islamist or al-Qaeda involvement in the Niger Delta conflict, but it is extremely important to recognize here where the facts and end and speculation begins. Far too much information out of Nigeria is already based on rumor and hearsay and it is exceedingly easy for the Nigerian government to exploit Western ignorance of Ijaw culture and history in order to paint them as being in league with al-Qaeda, something it has gone to great pains to avoid with respect to the leadership of the northern sha’riah movement.

Those caveats noted, there are two pieces of information that need to be aired and evaluated by the reader. The first was reported by the Israeli counterterrorism news and rumor website DEBKAfile’s counter-terror sources report that a group identifying itself as Coalition for Militant Action in the Niger Delta (COMA) has claimed the crash on Oct. 23. The plane bound for Abuja came down at Lissa village minutes after takeoff from Lagos airport. Aboard were senior Nigerian officials who have never been identified by the authorities. Before disappearing from the airport radar, the pilot sent a distress signal. COMA threatens more attacks on Nigerian agents and infrastructure until its leader Mujahid Dokubo-Asari is released from detention. The detained man has asked his followers to cease violent action, but they publicly rejected his request and threatened strikes against Nigeria’s oil pipelines. The Nigerian group claims to be linked to al Qaeda and operating under the command of Abu Musab al Zarqawi. One theory is that the plane was brought down by a missile.

As noted, this was authored in October and it is still unclear at this point as to whether COMA’s claims concerning ties to Zarqawi or having shot down a Nigerian plane were accurate or even released by the group. However, it is in the interest of the reader to have as much information available as possible when evaluating COMA and its cause.

A second, far more interesting account appeared in the Nigerian Daily Independent concerning former Bayelsa state governor Depriye Alamieyeseigha, COMA’s main backer who is currently facing extradition to the UK where he skipped bail on money laundering charges:

Meanwhile, a diplomatic source has disclosed in Abuja that the London police had expected to make a large haul of weapons when they arrested Alamieyeseigha last month.

According to the source, he was being suspected of backing terrorism and – based on intelligence reports forwarded to the British by the Nigerian authorities – of smuggling arms.

That was why the British police made the arrest with 25 police vehicles, cordoning off the British Airways plane as it touched down in London. The police searched all his suitcases, looking for the arms.

It was learnt that the Nigerian authorities had told the London police that Alamieyeseigha is not just a major sponsor of terrorism he enjoys close links with Osama Bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda.

This was the connection Abuja reportedly made between his arrest and that of South South resource control activist, Asari Dokubo, who was incarcerated soon after the governor’s travail began.

The source explained that since no arms were found on Alamieyeseigha, the Federal Government had to justify its terrorism allegation against him by arresting Dokubo who allegedly once said Osama bin Laden is his hero.

The London police had reportedly been told that the governor and his “terrorist cell” had perfected plans to destablise Nigeria by ensuring that it is not governable and by making conditions impossible for oil production in the Niger Delta – thus threatening world supply.

Dokubo’s conversion to Islam and his religious title of “Alhaji” makes him fit the Islamic terrorist bill. But those conversant with Rivers State politics have said again and again that Dokubo’s gang was sponsored by an unnamed governor for strong arm tactics during past elections.

He came to national limelight when he fought a rival militia in gangland style, which nearly exposed the governor.

It should be noted that al-Hajji (“Alhaji”) simply means that Dokubo-Asari has made a pilgrimage to Mecca and carries with it no terrorism accusation. The claim that COMA was sponsored by a local state governor who used the group to intimidate his political opponents during elections is quite plausible and it remains to be seen as to whether or not Alamieyeseigha is the cog in a sinister machine or merely yet another crooked politician who has been the unfortunate victim of Nigerian propaganda. Assuming he is extradicted to the UK, his trial should make for some interesting viewing.

February 19, 2006

Iran

Esteshadion: Ahmadinejad’s Suicide Brigade

By Dan Darling | February 19, 2006

Recent media reports concerning threats by Committee for the Glorification of Martyrs of the Global Islamic Movement or Esteshadion should be understood as one of several extremely disturbing aspects that have emerged inside Iran since the rise of the Abadgaran Movement in 2004. One unfortunate truth that has been missed by far too many Western observers since the election of President Ahmadinejad that while extreme even by the standards of many Khomeinists, he and his supporters did not emerge from a vacuum.

As EurasiaNet first noted in October 2004:

Abadgaran’s aggressive pursuit of its political vision seems to have caught not only Khatami-aligned reformists off guard, it also has surprised Old-Guard conservatives – namely the actual participants in the 1979 Islamic revolution whose idealism has faded over subsequent decades. The young neo-cons still tenaciously believe in the earlier utopian notions of the revolution; a theocratic and authoritarian state structure; an egalitarian and state-owned economic system; and a messianic foreign policy.

… Abadgaran adherents, many of whom have served as commanders in Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, believe that generation change is needed to safeguard the Islamic revolution. Most are relatively unknown politicians, with little or no public record. This, they hope, can help them gain public approval, or at least a large enough share of it so that they can effectively govern.

Two trends in recent years played key roles in the creation of Abadgaran: the rise of reformists under Khatami at home, and the ascendancy of the Bush administration in Washington harboring notions of "regime change" in Tehran. The twin threats to conservatives’ political power in Iran forced a tactical change: Old Guard leaders gave the young neo-cons an opening, hoping to harness the youngsters’ energy in efforts to neutralize reformists, blunt Bush administration pressure and reinvigorate the stagnant economy.

The rise of Abadgaran certainly helped conservatives outmaneuver reformists in the domestic political arena. Now, with the reformists in retreat, Abadgaran members clearly want to develop into the dominant faction within the conservative camp. In striving to do so, the movement has attracted the backing of the Revolutionary Guards and many hardliners within the political and security establishments, as well as a significant number of religiously-inclined members of Iran’s lower and middle classes.

As of February 2006, a sizeable majority of the domestic agenda of the Abadgaran movement has already been achieved. As Mahan Abedin explains in the Asia Times:

Lack of progress on the economic and social-justice front notwithstanding, Ahmadinejad has introduced massive changes to the face and operations of the executive branch. Virtually all provincial governors have been replaced by Ahmadinejad loyalists, who tend to be young and hail from the Islamic Republic's security establishment, in particular the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC - or the Sepah-e-Pasdaran).
Moreover, Ahmadinejad has replaced most senior bankers and other important figures in charge of the country's finances. Furthermore, many of the country's most experienced diplomats have been recalled from abroad and replaced by less experienced figures, with backgrounds in the Sepah-e-Pasdaran and other security outfits.

At a superficial level it appears that the Ahmadinejad government is preparing for conflict and is reordering the entire machinery of government accordingly. But the changes introduced since August have a deeper meaning; they signify the coming of age of so-called "second-generation" revolutionaries who were propelled into a position of leadership by Ahmadinejad's surprise election victory last June.

The most important feature of the second-generation revolutionaries is that they developed their political consciousness in the battlefields of the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s, and not in the revolutionary struggle against the Pahlavi regime. While they are intensely loyal to the memory of the late ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (the leader of the Iranian revolution and founder of the Islamic Republic), the second-generation revolutionaries have tenuous ties (at best) to the conservative clerical establishment that controls the key centers of political and economic power.

As a result of these initiatives, Iran today is looking less and less like a theocracy and more and more like a traditional military junta, with current and former IRGC officers dominating most aspects of government. Such an identification is deceptive, however, as much of the old clerical elite such as former president Ali Akbar Rafsanjani and his allies governed Iran in a reasonably cynical authoritarian fashion indistinguishable from that of many twentieth century tyrants.

Abadgaran and its followers, however, are not traditional tyrants but are instead true believers who still believe in the original ideals of Khomeinism and the near-apocalyptic domestic and foreign policies that characterized his reign. As such, it should not be terribly surprising to see the formation of new Shi’ite terrorist groups inside Iran like Esteshadion for the duration of Abadgaran’s tenure – if nothing else, their existence serves a certain perverse nostalgic value for the IRGC leadership by recalling the thousands of Iranian teenagers who voluntarily sacrificed themselves in “human wave” attacks during the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s. And as AFP notes, Esteshadion’s mission far from merely defensive: members of the organization are also preparing themselves to carry out suicide bombings against Israel and execute the judgement of Khomeini’s infamous fatwa by assassinating Salman Rushdie.

Finally, those who would seek to characterize either Esteshadion or Abadgaran as fringe political movements inside Iran need only look at the main speaker at the Esteshadion gathering. Hassan Abbasi, described in one of the press accounts as a “university professor” is a well-known Iranian political scientist specializing in North American affairs, the head of the National Security and Strategic Research Center, and is the chief theoretician to Ali Khamenei. Far from being a fringe figure, he is one of the pillars of the reigning IRGC establishment and his willingness to address an Esteshadion gathering should be viewed as a demonstration of the continued prestigue within which the group and the ideology that drives it are held by the Tehran regime.

February 18, 2006

West Bank

Russia Rocks the Boat with Hamas

By Steve Schippert | February 18, 2006

With what began as a largely unified reaction to the prospects of a Hamas-led Palestinian Authority, the waters have muddied substantially in the past week. The Washington Post nails it with the following portion of an editorial, Confused on Hamas, provided below for its significance:

The United States and its allies in the so-called Quartet for Middle East policy -- the United Nations, the European Union and Russia -- got off to a good start by spelling out three conditions for Hamas to meet in exchange for recognition: the renunciation of violence, acceptance of Israel and agreement to existing Palestinian-Israeli accords. The Bush administration and Israel have gone a step further, ruling out any aid or financial transfers to a Hamas government, though not necessarily independent aid groups working with the Palestinian population, if the political conditions are not met.

Had the Quartet remained united in this approach, Hamas might have been forced to choose between transforming itself into a peaceful political movement or failing in its goal of establishing an effective Palestinian government. But before the international pressure could even begin to build, Russian President Vladimir Putin opened a safety valve by inviting Hamas to send a delegation to Moscow. His initiative was quickly backed by France -- the other nation in the Quartet with a history of trying to play Middle East politics to its own advantage. Having broken the diplomatic embargo, Hamas now needs only money: If it can squeeze enough from Gulf states, Iran or, eventually, Europe, it will establish the principle that Islamic fundamentalists openly committed to suicide bombing and the destruction of Israel need not alter their policies to rule. That means a triumph for Osama bin Laden and Iran's extremist president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Russia is attempting to reassert itself in the region as a heavy hitter, with no small amount of regional influence and contacts lost with the fall of Saddam Hussein, the continuing problem that Chechnya portrays to Muslims and the region and the historical baggage of the war in Afghanistan. Gambling that the world will largely cave and eventually accept and fund a Hamas-led Palestinian Authority, Moscow has invited Hamas leadership to Moscow for talks in March, in defiance of the spirit of the Quartet’s unified stance that Hamas recognize Israel’s right to exist, renounce violence (meaning against Israeli civilians) and to honor existing agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Hamas has refused calls for the recognition of Israel and calls to honor existing agreements and has not renounced violence.

Further upsetting the perceived unity of the Quartet, if the meeting in March goes well in the eyes of the Russians, they may go forward with planned sales of 50 armored personnel carriers and two helicopters to the Hamas-led PA. This will amount to not only a terrorist organization in governance, but a terrorist organization being openly armed by another state, with governance as the alibi. Russia, no stranger to Islamic terror, has never recognized Hamas as a terrorist organization.

The United States has remained steadfast in its insistence that Hamas will receive no aid funding from the American government. The EU has been much less stalwart, and an indication of this is the French support of the Russian invitation of Hamas leaders. Next week, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will tour the Middle East to persuade the Arab states not to fund Hamas and make up for the potential loss of up to $1 billion in aid gifts from the EU and the United States. Rice’s trip will come on the tail of a Hamas tour of the region during this past week in attempts to persuade regional Arab states that they do precisely that.

Israel itself is planning sanctions, many of which may take effect the moment the Hamas MP’s are officially sworn into office. Israel is considering:

• Ending $55 million monthly taxation transfers to the PA.
• Sealing Gaza and preventing Palestinians from entering Israel and severely restricting the travel of MP’s to and from the West Bank.
• Closing the Rafah crossing with Egypt

The split among the Quartet will only get deeper. Hamas will keep their name off any attacks on Israel, allowing al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade and Islamic Jihad to do the heavy lifting for them, allowing for a more ‘stately’ outward appearance for Hamas and lending credibility of the Russian inclusion of Hamas. The EU will likely eventually allow most of its traditional funding to find its way to Hamas, especially if Russia praises its meetings with Hamas leadership. The UN cannot be far behind the curve once France and Russia begin to see eye to eye.

The Quartet is beginning to look far more like two pair than four of a kind, and may rapidly resemble three of a kind, leaving the American-Israeli stance the familiar odd card out.

(Interview Audio Files of Abu Nasser, Deputy Commander of al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, Courtesy of The John Batchelor Show)

February 14, 2006

Lebanon

Lebanon: The Hit List, Past & Present

By Steve Schippert | February 14, 2006

Syria already feared surging and increasingly vocal Lebanese resentment.

For this reason, in 2004, the largely Syrian-controlled parliament was directed to pass legislation that extended the term of pro-Syrian Lebanese President Emil Lahoud rather than face the prospects of having the Lebanese people vote him, and therefore Syria, out of office and out of control of the government.

In August 2004, the measure was passed and Emil Lahoud’s term was extended through law passage rather than election.

Lebanon’s Prime Minister, Rafik Hariri, was loudly opposed to such a blatant circumvention of democracy in his country. Syria and its dictator, Bashar Assad, took note and summoned him to Damascus. Hariri emerged from that meeting pale faced and shaken, recounting later that Assad threatened him by stating that he would “break Lebanon over your [Hariri’s] head and Walid Jumblatt’s” if he did not support the move as prime minister.

On October 1, 2004, the car of Lebanese MP Marwan Hamadeh, a member of the parliamentary opposition to Lahoud, was bombed. Seriously injured, Hamadeh survived, but two members of his security were killed.

In protest of both Lahoud’s extension without election and now the attempt at Hamadeh’s life, as well as in the face of Assad’s words, Rafik Hariri resigned his post as Prime Minister on October 20, 2004. He took with him an ever-growing segment of Lebanese public opinion and support.

On February 14, 2005, Rafik Hariri’s motorcade was bombed with a Mitsubishi truck loaded with at least 600 lbs. of explosives, ripping through surrounding vehicles and buildings. Hariri was killed, as well as twenty others, including the former Lebanese Minister of Finance, Bassel Fleihan.

To all but the most ardent supporters of Syria and Assad, the responsible party was clear. Under both Lebanese public pressure and that from the international community, Syria began to pull its troops back from western Lebanon, redeploying to the Bekaa Valley along the eastern border with Syria.

The pressure on Syria continued to build, and on March 14, 2005, the Cedar Revolution officially began, sweeping through Lebanon like an irresistible force. It was estimated that one million gathered in Martyrs’ Square in Beirut, and they stayed in a scene reminiscent of that in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989. This time, however, it was the army that backed down, as Syria officially withdrew its troops to behind Syrian borders. It is suspected, however, that their intelligence apparatus remained largely intact.

On June 2, 2005, the first attack in a coming wave of attacks hits Beirut, as anti-Syrian journalist Samir Kassir is assassinated in yet another car bombing. The wave of silencing the critics not silenced by the horror of the Hariri assassination commences, targeting specifically the public opinion-influencing voices of anti-Syrian political leaders and journalists.

Less than three weeks later, the son of the murdered Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, Saad Hariri, leads an anti-Syrian electoral ticket to a parliamentary majority in Lebanese elections.

Two days later, on June 21, a message. Former communist party leader George Hawi is assassinated with another car bomb.

On July 12, Defense Minister Elias Murr survived the first assassination attempt on anyone with any history of Syrian support. Murr survives, but two of his security detail are murdered. It was widely speculated that Syria feared Murr’s potential testimony to the UN commission investigating the assassination of Rafik Hariri, now in its third month of operation in Beirut.

On September 25, another anti-Syrian journalist, television host May Chidiac, is the target of an assassination attempt, again via car bomb. She survives, but is seriously wounded and maimed, requiring the amputation of limbs destroyed by the force of the blast.

On October 12, barely two weeks before the UN Commission submits a report to the UN Secretary General on the findings of the investigation, Syrian interior minister Ghazi Kanaan is found dead in his office. Officially labeled a suicide by the Syrian regime, Kanaan was the long-time strong arm for Assad in Lebanon and was arrested and questioned by the UN’s Mehlis investigation. He knew everything there was to know about the level of Syrian involvement in the assassination of Rafik Hariri and subsequent others. It has long been suspected that Kanaan had ‘assistance’ with his suicide.

On December 12, 2005, Gibran Tueni was assassinated in a massive car bomb the day after he returned form Paris, where he stayed in fear for his life. Tueni was not only a popularly elected anti-Syrian Minister of Parliament, but he was a journalist who also owned and ran one of the most widely read newspapers in Lebanon.

Lebanon’s Prime Minister, Fauod Siniora, asked the UN to expand their investigation of the Rafik Hariri assassination to include the subsequent wave of assassinations and attacks on anti-Syrian figures in Lebanon.

Fearing the collective voice of the long-dominated Lebanese people, Syria trusted that they could once again terrorize them into submission. But the strong-armed extension of President Lahoud’s term and the brutal assassination of one of Lebanon’s most beloved, Rafik Hariri, served only to harden the Lebanese resolve.

The Lebanese people asked openly, “Syria, who is next?”

That is a question many have speculated on. ‘The List’, as it is known, following a pattern recorded into the history of 2004 and 2005, consists of various additional anti-Syrian Lebanese politicians and journalists, including Saad Hariri, who has just returned from a self-imposed exile for the same reasons as the late Gabril Tueni: Fear for his life.

One version of ‘The List’, as suggested by the US Department of State:

  • Walid Jumblatt
  • Saad Hariri
  • Marwan Hamadeh
  • Nayla Mouawad
  • Wael Abu Faour
  • Samir Franjieh
  • Elias Atallah
  • Farid Makari
  • Marcel Ghanem
  • Ali Hamadeh
  • Fares Khashan

So, as Lebanon marks the first anniversary of the Valentines Day murder of Rafik Hariri, the Lebanese people walk nervously yet defiantly forward, determined to address the differences that still divide them without the interference of the heavy hand of Syrian violence and control.

February 13, 2006

Pakistan

Building on Battlefied Success

By Marvin Hutchens | February 13, 2006

Our response to the attacks of 9.11 has known many names. Some more apt than others. No matter what we call the war, our victories on its battlefields have presented the citizens of Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan (along with other nations) with an opportunity to build nations worthy of their ideals, hopes and history. For some, the rebuilding is just beginning. For others, the process awaits the next stage of advancing security and opportunity. And for others still, the grasp of religious tyrants has yet to be released.

Newly elected Shi'a parliament members have selected Ibrahim al-Jaafari to lead the new government of Iraq. Prime Minister al-Jaafari received 64 votes from the UIA caucus, one more than current Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi. As noted by Omar, at Iraq the Model, the vote reflects that the UIA is not entirely united. However, it is the result of extensive efforts within the UIA to form a government capable managing Iraq's reconstruction and preventing further fractioning among the various sectarian and political groups.

The challenges before Prime Minister al-Jaafari are significant. While Iraqis are increasingly standing against al-Qaeda in Iraq and more Sunni elements previously fighting the US and the Iraqi government are shifting their support to the government, the task of building the central elements of a democratic nation and setting policy that provides for economic and social opportunities to all Iraqis is a daunting one. The body of the parliament that will be charged with determining the appropriate means and ends for Iraq is likely to see further splintering on occasions where the oil industry, federalism and foreign policy are involved. From our far away seats we can only hope that the interests of those elected to this body are truly Iraq's interests rather than their own.

In the first nation to be faced with rebuilding as a result of the war against Islamic terror, Afghanistan, the efforts continue and international support increases.

British Royal Marines have embarked for Afghanistan. These first 150 men from 42 Commando are the earliest element of an expected 3,300 British troops to join the expanding NATO presence in Afghanistan. The resolution and first implementation of that increased NATO presence should be seen as a welcome – if not overdue – extension of European support in the war. It also coincides with an increased effort by Afghanistan's al-Qaeda and Taliban supporters to stir further terror among the Afghan provinces.

Additionally, Afghanistan has recently had its debt cleared by the US. More significantly comes news of Russia's willingness to cancel a reported Soviet era debt of $10 billion, and hopes that Germany ($44 million) and other Paris Club members will follow suit.

On a roadway in the Southern province of Uruzgan, a US Humvee was hit by a roadside IED, and following the explosion insurgents are reported to have opened fire on the other elements of the convoy. The loss of four soldiers in the attack, in the words of Brig. Gen. John Sterling, "increases our resolve to continue their efforts to ultimate success."

Afghanistan continues to work to build a national identity from, and often at odds with, the diverse sectarian and ethnic groups within its borders. For the US and NATO, as well as for its neighbors, that effort should continue with renewed vigor. But the fundamental driver behind this effort should remain the Afghan people in need of a hope lost for decades of tyranny and terror.

In Pakistan, the provinces of Waziristan and North Waziristan has been referred to as an 'Islamic State' under the control of the Taliban. The statement comes from a dubious source – the Taliban. That said, there is likely some truth to the issue as the Pakistan military has been engaged in the region – to one degree or another – since the beginning of the US led war.

As with elsewhere in this great struggle, the enemy wears no uniform and attacks not with an organized military effort focused on tactical and strategic battlefield victories, but instead he usurps the guise of his neighbors and attacks with stealth and maliciousness. The fight against him becomes threefold. One, deny him the space to operate. Two, deny him support, funding and arms. Three, stand against his ideology and those who spread it. In these areas, particularly in areas of Pakistan that were only marginally controlled prior to the war, the challenge for the Pakistani government and military is significant.

It is understandable that President Musharraf would not welcome a large scale US military incursion into his nation. Even in pursuit of a mutual enemy. Likewise, we recognize that his own forces, military and otherwise, are suited more adroitly to the rooting out of those whose only identifying marks are those held in their hearts and in their association with the ideals of radical Islamists. Yet there is a point at which the Pakistan people must expect their President to either prosecute the war with a firmer hand or expect that his own nation runs the risk of being seen as harboring terrorist.

In the video which announced the 'Islamic State', footage of large bases of operations for Taliban supporters are shown. The footage also includes an attack on a US base in Afghanistan. Clearly, if authentic, the makers of this video are more brazen and confident of their control of the region than can be allowed. That control must be wrested from them. To those ends, the means of US forces in Afghanistan should be made available – and moreover, the Pakistani government should assure its people that their interest and security are in Islamabad and Musharraf, not in the repression of the Taliban redux.

Progress in the war has largely been measured by our military victories against the lesser military capabilities of our enemies. These impressive and honor-worthy efforts will continue for some time. Yet this is also a time for the broadening of our interests to the construction of an Iraqi nation, the strengthening of the Afghan nation and the freeing of Pakistan's troubled provinces. As we broaden our view from afar, Muslim men and women around the world are sure to find greater cause for supporting an end to terror in Islam's name.

February 9, 2006

Gaza Strip

Hamas and Hudna: Caveat Emptor

By Steve Schippert | February 9, 2006

Hamas’ political head, Khaled Mashal, is playing to the international thirst for an end to violence between the Palestinians and Israel by offering words incongruous with Hamas’ absolute refusal to recognize Israel or her right to exist. With so many in the international community willing to accept duplicity and long-term failure in exchange for a false sense of relief today, Mashal knows he has a captive and receptive audience in many circles outside the region.

In what amounts essentially to a repeat offer of hudna, the Hamas political leader warmed to the wanting international audience Wednesday by saying that, after Israel’s own March elections, Hamas would be willing to offer a long-term truce (hudna) if Israel would simply withdraw to the pre-1967 borders.

Said Hamas’ Mashal, "Such a peaceful move by Israel could create conditions for the international community to find a solution for all of the region's problems. Otherwise, Hamas is capable of leading the Palestinians in a long fight that they would be better able to bear than Israel."

Such overtures are put forth for international consumption and lauded by headlines such as as ‘Hamas Ready to Talk with Israel’. These should always be viewed in context with Hamas’ rhetoric offered elsewhere and their stated purpose and objective.

What is a long-term truce to Hamas? They have stated that the ultimate recognition of Israel is wholly out of the question and repeatedly reasserted without question their belief that Palestine is a Muslim land that stretches from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. Just yesterday from Cairo, the words of Khaled Mashal’s own deputy, Moussa Abu Marzouk, should have removed any doubt when he said, “When historic Palestine is reinstated, they can come and live among us. They will have a Palestinian nationality.”

Perhaps Hamas could offer ‘such a peaceful move’ themselves by renouncing terrorism and disarming its terrorist factions. Surely even they can recognize that the international community they so look to for ‘a solution for all of the region's problems’ would embrace them with such affection, generosity and support that the quality of the lives of Palestinians would increase exponentially almost immediately. That, of course, assumes that Hamas’ aim is indeed peace and not the conquering and elimination of the state of Israel.

Much is made of Hamas’ observance of the informal truce with Israel. However, it is important to note that, while claiming no responsibility for attacks under their own name, their members comprise a significant membership in the Popular Resistance Committees, which in the past and even today claimed responsibility for numerous attacks since the informal truce between Hamas and Israel. Does Hamas bear no burden of responsibility for these attacks carried out under the banner of a terrorist cooperative? Does the cooperative serve Hamas’ need for the perception of non-aggression while simply maintaining aggression under another name?

Consider that Hamas’ short-term objectives are to secure the international funds, exceeding $1 billion annually, now in question. While they work their public image and perception, they are on a regional tour of Muslim nations seeking new donors to replace the Western funds. Consider also the very real possibility that the West acquiesces and permits funding Hamas while they also receive (long overdue) support from within their own region. This would result in a terrorist windfall for Hamas, and every extra dollar netted proportionally shortens the amount of time they must observe a hudna they detest.

So, while overtures for public consumption by Hamas are made and others assert to varying degrees for them that Hamas is prepared to discuss peace with Israel, it should be consumed in context with Hamas’ fervent belief that Palestine stretches ‘from the River to the Sea’ and that the Israeli people will one day have ‘a Palestinian nationality’.

With regards to Hamas and their public hints of hudna, the absence of war is not peace.

  • AudioFebruary 2, 2010
    [Listen Here]
    What on Earth can Usama bin Laden, the mystical calculus of climate change and US Homeland Security have in common? Does bin Laden really agree with the President of the United States on matters weather? How is it that the...

Special Reports

Recent Features