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January 31, 2006

Iranians Hand Over Basic Nuclear Warhead Designs

Iran turned over a document detailing how to cast uranium into hemispheric forms and combine them to make the spherical core of a nuclear warhead. The IAEA reported in November 2005 that such a document was in Iranian possession. While this was transpiring, Ali Larijani told the press that if Iran is referred to the UN Security Council, Iran will have to “stop [start] all nuclear work that has been voluntarily suspended and stop implementation of the Additional Protocol.” Larijani presented this as an unfortunate consequence that Iran is powerless to control, as if to say, “What’s a country to do? After all, we have to follow the law.” Perhaps this was one of the minor aims of the law passed by the Iranian mejlis.

The turnover of the document is of little effective consequence, as the Iranians have surely duplicated it and far surpassed its teachings in the 19 years the document has been in its possession. Many rightly challenge this late gesture from Iran, warning that if Iran were sincere in their dealings and intentions, this document, which they claim they never asked for or wanted, would have been handed over no less than three months ago if not three years ago, when the IAEA pressure was beginning to be brought to bear. Iran has reported that the document was not asked for in 1987, when the AQ Kahn network provideded it, suggesting that Kahn provided it in the hopes that it would inspire more orders from them. It should also be noted that the nuclear hemisphere design data surely is very basic, covering only one and a half pages. But again, the specific scientific content is not the issue. It is the timing of the hand over that is the better indicator. What have the Iranians sacrificed with this gesture?

Regardless of the value of the gesture, its cause is the long-awaited determination to finally refer Iran to the UN Security Council, transferring the case file from the IAEA bureaucracy, which has had only limited access to Iranian sites and is equiped with no enforcement mechanisms aside from referal. The five permanent members of the UN Security Council (US, UK, China, Russia and France) unanimously agreed to begin the process. While much attention has been paid to whether or not the IAEA internal vote at the meeting of the Board of Governors February 1-2 would net enough votes for referral, the ‘Big Five’ essentially quashed and nullified the debate from above by now insisting that the situation be dealt with by the Security Council. However, the Council watered down the effects of the decision by declaring that the Security Council will not meet on the matter for over a month. As the Financial Times’ Daniel Dombey correctly notes, ”Over the next five weeks that agreement, reached by all five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, could be tested to extinction.” Russia and China will not be eager to impose any meaningful sanctions on Iran, a major supplier of Chinese energy and a major source of contract cash (military and nuclear construction) for Russia. The true resolve of the Security Council remains to be seen, though the decision to take on the matter is a very positive step.

The United States has been working the diplomatic channels gaining support of temporary members of the Security Council as well, to bolster the West’s position against the Iranian Nuclear Program when the full council meets. To that end, a previously wavering India says now that they will likely vote for referral when the IAEA Board meets.

Oil prices actually dropped some with the day’s news, as it included Iran saying that it would not halt oil exports/a> if referred to the United Nations Security Council. OPEC also announced that it would be holding production output at current levels.

A referral to the UNSC was the first concrete step towards removing or minimizing the Iranian nuclear threat. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she was confident of Russia and China’s support in getting there, but is less confident what real actions they will be willing to take once the Iran crisis is before the Council. The next (diplomatic) step is to persuade them that it is in their interests to approve meaningful and effective sanctions against Iran. At the end of the day, it simply may be too late for sanctions alone to stop the Iranian program, and all this concern over which sanctions will or will not meet Sino-Russian opposition may be for nought.

All things considered with all that has transpired, concerned Iran observers should not allow the best and most productive news of the day to escape them: The frustratingly inept IAEA head, Mohammed ElBaredei, has been effectively removed from the equation with the coming transfer to the Security Council.

Joining al-Qaeda, Declining al-Qaeda

The fracturing of Iraq’s insurgency has gained the attention of the media of late, and this is becoming a source of concern in some jihadi circles. ABC News provides an analysis that mirrors one written by ThreatsWatch over a week ago. ABC News quotes Fawaz Gerges, a consultant; “the Sunnis are chasing the al Zarqawi men from all over the al Anbar Province. The implications are tremendous for Iraq, the American military presence in Iraq, and the war against al Qaeda. The tide has seemed to turn against the al Zarqawi network in Iraq.”

Jihad Unspun attempts to counterbalance the news of the divide within the insurgency by promoting the announcement that Jaish Ahlu Al-Sunnah Wa Al-Jama’ah [Army of the People of the Orthodox (Sunni)], a small and relatively unknown Islamist terrorist group, has joined the newly-formed Mujahideen Shura Council. The council consists of al-Qaeda and six small Islamist terrorist groups. But buried within the flowery praise of the Mujahideen Shura Council and the nobility of jihad is an explicit call for the remaining Islamist groups to join the council:

So I call on you:

My dear “Sheikh Al-Hakeem” (commander of Al-Jaish Al-Islami)
And you “The First knight Sheikh” (commander of Jaish Ansar Al-Sunnah)
And you my brother “The Leaping Lion” (commander of Jaish Al-Mujahideen)
And you my brother, “Sheikh Al-Rashid” (commander of Jaish Al-Rashideen)
And you my brother, “Sheikh Al-Thair” (commander of The Twentieth Revolution Brigades)
And you my Mujahid brother (commander of Al-Jame’a Brigades)

And to all armies and brigades of Ahlu Al-Sunnah Wa Al-Jama’ah, I appeal to all of you, I appeal to all of you, I appeal to all of you, my people! Answer Allah’s call for unity, consolidation of efforts, and straitening of the array. I swear by the one the people of Tawhid swear by, Allah, the one, you belong to the Party of Tawhid, your status as such is well recognized and will be preserved, your opinion will be taken seriously and you will be listened to.

Well over one week after the formation of the Mujahedeen Shura Council, and the very public announcement of its existence, three of the largest insurgent groups - the Islamic Army of Iraq, Ansar al-Sunnah and the Mujahedeen Army - and three lesser known groups have ignored the call to join al-Qaeda’s ranks. At this point, their decision to remain outside the aegis of the council cannot be chalked up delays in receiving communications; they have explicitly decided to remain outside of al-Qaeda’s sphere of influence.

While these groups have rejected al-Qaeda’s call to join, this does not mean the groups are allies of the Iraqi government or Coalition forces. An example of this can be seen by the calls from the Mujahedeen Army to attack Denmark and Norway for printing editorial cartoons, which, according to a translation provided by counterterrorism expert Evan Kohlmann, are deemed “a harmful blasphemy against the blessed Prophet Mohammed.” The Mujahedeen Army declares the drawing deserve a violent response, as boycotts and other non-violent demonstrations are tepid responses; “boycotting these cowards is a position of weakness that is indicative of a feeble nation that does not stand up in defense of its Prophet and the principles that it believes in… We call upon all our brigades in the Mujahideen Army to attack whatever they possibly can in these two countries specifically, and in other countries who repeat what they have done…”

While it appears there are real differences between the foreign terrorists of al-Qaeda [and it should be remembered that Iraqis who work with al-Qaeda are often deemed foreign as they are working under a foreign flag], the Islamists do share a common ideology, as the Mujahedeen Army’s reaction to the cartoons clearly shows. al-Qaeda and its Mujahedeen Shura Council are attempting to strengthen the common ideological bonds with the outside Islamist groups.

These efforts have so far been rebuffed, which indicate there are political considerations in play. No one likes to join a loser, and the Islamic Army of Iraq, Ansar al-Sunnah and the Mujahedeen Army, while all hostile to the Shiite government and foreign troops on Iraqi soil, are likely hedging their bets.

Getting It Backwards

While the EU, embroiled in a family feud over possession of the collective moral compass, continues to send mixed signals on its future funding of a Palestinian Authority under Hamas control, no such mixed signals appear to be emanating from an America that is normally (and rightly) seen by the rest of the world as suffering from political bi-polar disorder.

In a New York Sun article aptly headlined Congress Racing to Isolate a Hamas Regime, the situation in Washington is stated clearly. Florida Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen will be presenting legislation in the House of Representatives that calls for cutting the funding of both the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority and the United Nations, presumably until Hamas, now in control of the Palestinian Authority set up to govern the Palestinian Territories, disavows terrorism and recognizes Israel’s right to exist. As Daniel Pipes notes, the prospects of this happening are of the slimmest hopes, as the vast majority of the individual Hamas candidates who won seats steadfastly refuse to recognize Israel. The Bill has strong bi-partisan support in Congress and should pass with ease in both the House and the Senate.

Referred to as ‘The Quartet’, the EU, UN, Russia and the United States seemed to speak with one voice from London, saying that any funding from them would be “reviewed by donors against that government’s commitment to the principles of non-violence, recognition of Israel and the acceptance of previous agreements and obligations.” That this much was managed in unison is notable, but it should also be recognized that absent was any direct language that stated funding will not flow, merely that it will be ‘reviewed’, which leaves plenty of room for nuance, debate and deviation once the spotlight and the momentum and velocity of widespread public opinion have abated.

The Belmont Club offers a table of funding sources also referenced similarly in a BBC report. It reflects a breakdown of the EU’s $600M contributions to the PA and America’s $400M contributions. One interesting aspect is that the UN’s UNRWA aid ($77M) is calculated as an EU contribution, while the United States contributes fully 22% of the UN’s entire operating budget. Shift the accounting for the $77M and the US and EU contributions are nearly equal.

Regardless of inconsequential accounting techniques, there is a lot of money at stake. How quickly will Hamas begin to play the Fatah game of speaking from both sides of one’s mouth? Hamas clearly prides itself on its principle and its members are definitely more devout than the (relatively) secular Fatah. Over one billion dollars each year is at stake. Surely Hamas will begin to bend so far as to provide the simple lip service that worked so well for Fatah without accountability.

With that consideration, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh responded with a passionate plea for foreign aid that is so far largely falling on deaf ears, as Hamas’ history of murdering civilians with suicide bombings on buses and in restaurants precedes it. He said, “We call on you to understand the priorities of our Palestinian people at this stage and continue the spiritual and financial support in order to push the region toward stability rather than pressure and tension. We confirm to you this income will be used to pay the salaries of (government) employees and fund daily running costs and infrastructure. You can confirm this through a mechanism that can be agreed upon.”

Israel, for its part, has refused to continue to hand over tax revenues collected as a function on behalf of the PA. Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert minced no words, saying, “We are not prepared in any way, shape or form that money which the Israeli government transfers will come under the control of murderous elements who are interested in the destruction of Israel.” As the Israeli Prime Minister refuses to fund Hamas and its terrorism, Palestinian economic minister, Mazen Sinokrot, said in response, “If these salaries do not come in, this is a message for violence.”

The cycle continues. Israel has recognized that there should be a Palestinian State. It has unilaterally withdrawn from Gaza, largely reduced its presence in the West Bank and hinted at a full withdrawal there as well. Israel even collects tax revenues for the same very incapable territories that still send a seemingly endless stream of suicidal murderers on missions to kill as many as possible, indiscriminately, primarily at restaurants and on buses.

Yet the governing body of these territories has no reservations about demanding millions of dollars from a nation it not only refuses to recognize, but has vowed to destroy and whose civilian citizens it has systematically attacked to that end. That this thinking is even rationalized and its actors considered being presented at a negotiating table, at the UN or elsewhere, defies logic.

In an attempt to rationalize why the Hamas-run PA should be both funded and recognized as governmental equals, a commenter at ThreatsWatch recently said, “When status changes people change and thinking changes.”

This writer’s response was simply, “You’ve got it backwards, my friend.”

He’s got it backwards, indeed. As do Ismail Haniyeh, Mazen Sinokrot and, potentially, three-quarters of ‘The Quartet’.

January 30, 2006

Operations and Negotiations in Iraq

The ‘maintenance’ phase of the Anbar Campaign proceeds as Iraqi Army units continue to take greater responsibility for security operations in Anbar province. Iraqi units are increasingly conducting independent operations in the region after joint Coalition and Iraqi operations over the fall placed a permanent presence in the towns and cities along the Western Euphrates River Valley. Operation Moonlight on the Syrian border was one such example. Operation Final Strike is the latest.

Final Strike is an independent counterinsurgency operation conducted by two battalions (about 1,000 troops) of the 3rd Brigade, 1st Iraqi Army Division in the eastern Jazerra desert region which lies northwest of Habbaniyah, an area which has been classified as a “known insurgent staging area for attacks against Iraqi citizens, Iraqi Security Forces and Coalition Forces.” Multinational Forces - Iraq states the “Third Brigade controls their own battle space within the 2nd BCT’s area of operation. Since the end of August, 3rd Brigade has been conducting independent counter insurgency operations in this area.” Captain Jeffrey Pool explains the operation was conceived and supported by the Iraqis all the way “down to the casualty [evacuation] plan. We did have fixed wing aircraft on station in case they met with resistance.”

Gateway Pundit provides translations of Iraqi press reports from Haider Ajina, which states the Iraqi Army preparing to assume responsibility for security in Mosul, as well as Diwaniah and Wasit provinces. Multinational Forces - Iraq confirms the Iraqi Army has indeed taken control of Diwaniah and Wasit provinces.

As the Iraqi Army assumes a greater role in security responsibilities, the Coalition has opened up talks with various insurgent groups in an attempt to co-opt them into the political process. Newsweek reports “The groups include Baathist cells and religious Islamic factions, as well as former Special Republican Guards and intelligence agents,” and “Iraq’s insurgent groups are reaching back.”

In the Newsweek report, Zedan al-Awad, an Anbar sheikh, states Iraqi and Coalition forces do not have the upper hand in Anbar; “Zarqawi is in total control of Anbar. The Americans control nothing.” The facts on the ground do not support this assertion. U.S. and Iraqi troops maintain battle positions in each town and city along the Euphrates River Valley, and the process to train and equip local police forces has already begun. The creation of local city councils continues, and reconstruction efforts are underway.

The Iraqi insurgents, particularly the local, nationalistic elements, are an opportunistic bunch, and recognize the situation on the ground in Anbar province. They are exploring their options, negotiating, and in some cases declaring war on al-Qaeda because they recognize the Coalition and Iraqi government have a tactical and strategic advantage over Zarqawi.

Will the EU Ultimately Fund Hamas?

The European Union, the Palestinian Authority’s largest single donor, sent a team to monitor last week’s Palestinian election. Now, the leader of that team hasbegun the call for the EU to remove Hamas from the EU Terrorist Organization List, suggesting that the EU change Hamas’ officially recognized status when they meet next in Brussels.

Britain’s Minister to the European Parliament Edward McMillan-Scott puts forth the prevailing logic, which hinges on three essential points.

1. Hamas is now the duly elected governing body of the Palestinian Territories.

2. Hamas has largely adhered to a cease fire with Israel for months and should be rewarded.

3. Hezbollah is not on the list, neither should Hamas be.

This approach, if it is warmly received, is troubling as well as problematic in its logic. The logic necessary should be self-evident.

Hezbollah’s absence from the EU Terror List is the error, not Hamas’ inclusion. Second, months of cease fire observation is not rehabilitation, especially short of a change in the founding charter renouncing and abolishing terrorist attacks on civilians as an accepted and practiced tactic and strategy. Further, the definition of a terrorist organization pays no mind to public popularity and, hence, makes no mention of an ‘election exemption’.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice clearly understands this, offering clarity on the issue on her way to London to meet with UN, EU and Russian leaders on the issue. On whether or not the EU and others should forgo Hamas’ terrorist foundation, she said, “The bedrock principle here is we can’t have funding for an organization that holds those views just because it is in government…It is important that Hamas will now have to confront the implications of its covenant if it wishes to govern. And so that becomes a primary consideration in everything that we [US, UN, EU, Russia participants] do.”

In the mind of Britain’s Minister to the European Parliament Edward McMillan-Scott and those who think like him, the past months of cease fire observation and an election of popular Palestinian opinion absolve Hamas of the ‘implications of its covenant’ to destroy Israel and employ terror attacks on civilians.

MEP McMillan-Scott and the EU election monitors ddo not hold a monopoly on Eurpean thinking, as several key European leaders have spoken in an opposite tone, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who said while visiting Israel, “Such a Palestinian Authority cannot be directly supported by money from the EU.

Said British Prime Minister Tony Blair, “But I think it is also important for Hamas to understand that there comes a point, and that point is now following that strong showing, where they have to decide between a path of democracy or a path of violence.”

Prime Minister Blair’s Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, offered, “Hamas has to understand that with democracy goes renunciation of violence. It is up to Hamas to choose. We will have to wait and see, the international community will want Hamas to make a proper rejection of violence and to acknowledge that Israel exists.”

While not addressing the problem of an elected Hamas government, French President Jacques Chirac displayed a resolute demeanor not seen from France in recent memory when he responded to the suggestion of a WMD attack by Iran when he said, “The leaders of states who might resort to terrorist means against us, and those who might envision using arms of mass destruction, must understand that they would be exposed to a firm and adapted response on our part.” Chirac’s reference to the use of French nuclear weapons was quite thinly veiled, as he made the statements while visiting a French nuclear base.

In July 2005, Chirac said directly that Hamas cannot be recognized as it exists today, when he said, “Hamas is a terrorist organization that cannot be an interlocutor of the international community so long as it does not renounce violence and does not recognize Israel’s right to exist. This is the unambiguous position of the EU and it will not change.”

We shall see if this is still the ‘unambiguous position of the EU’ that will not change.

January 29, 2006

The Hamas Hudna Hoodwink

Hamas’ leader in Gaza, Mahmoud al-Zahar, has declared Hamas’ demands of Israel and offered them up to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer accompanied in conjunction with ‘hudna’, or truce. Key to his demands were Israel withdrawing from ‘the occupied areas’ and returning to the pre-1967 borders. But while al-Zahar spoke Sunday of ‘hudna’ from Gaza City, Hamas’ Damascus leadership spoke of resistance and offered a differing definition of ‘occupied territory’, one in line with the actual Hamas founding charter.

Al-Zahar refused to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist, claiming that Hamas would decide that issue once they met his demands as set forth. Those demands include “to release our detainees; to stop their aggression; to make geographic link between Gaza Strip and West Bank”.

The substance of the above demands aside, the true insight into the subject offered by Hamas came with the qualifier that followed the demands, as al-Zahar concluded, “at that time, with assurance from other sides, we are going to accept to establish our independent state at that time, and give us one or two, 10, 15 years time in order to see what is the real intention of Israel after that.”

In short, if Israel releases all of its prisoners (not happening, as many are held on direct charges of acts of terrorism), pulls out of the West Bank entirely (including all settlements), ceases all operations (presumably including future operations in reaction to attacks by any other Palestinian-based terror group not recognizing a Hamas hudna), and gives them an additional swath of land from Israel proper in the Negev Desert that links Gaza and the West Bank, then Hamas will think about reconsidering their recognition of Israel.

This is not a proposal for peace. It is a non-sequitur.

With al-Zahar’s demands that Israel withdraws from ‘occupied areas’, as he defined it to meet short-term peace, it is important to note that from the Damascus headquarters of Hamas, Khaled Meshal stated that Hamas will not “submit to pressure to recognize Israel, because the occupation is illegitimate and we will not abandon our rights.” The Hamas charter states clearly that all of the land of Palestine (by Hamas definition, from the River Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea) is a waqf (devine endowment from God) to be governed by Muslims for all of time. Therefor, all of Israel is itself the occupation of which Meshal speaks. This inconsistency of definition often goes missed or misunderstood by the citizen observers in the West. It is clearly understood by the Palestinians.

From the text of the Hamas charter:

The Islamic Resistance Movement [Hamas] believes that the land of Palestine has been an Islamic Waqf throughout the generations and until the Day of Resurrection, no one can renounce it or part of it, or abandon it or part of it. No Arab country nor the aggregate of all Arab countries, and no Arab King or President nor all of them in the aggregate, have that right, nor has that right any organization or the aggregate of all organizations, be they Palestinian or Arab, because Palestine is an Islamic Waqf throughout all generations and to the Day of Resurrection.

Not even an Arab or even all of the Arabs can give this away. This is also important to note, especially recalling al-Zahar’s statement that, after Israel meets the demands he set forth today that, “at that time, with assurance from other sides, we are going to accept to establish our independent state…” Hamas is not in the business of negotiating peace with assurance from other sides, . This is also expressly stated in the Hamas charter under Article 13.
[Peace] initiatives, the so-called peaceful solutions, and the international conferences to resolve the Palestinian problem, are all contrary to the beliefs of the Islamic Resistance Movement. For renouncing any part of Palestine means renouncing part of the religion; the nationalism of the Islamic Resistance Movement is part of its faith, the movement educates its members to adhere to its principles and to raise the banner of Allah over their homeland as they fight their Jihad: “Allah is the all-powerful, but most people are not aware.”

Al-Zahar’s words are clearly at odds with the very founding charter of Hamas when he acquiesces to “assurance from other sides”.

Furthermore, with the Charter’s previous definition of Palestine (from the river to the sea), to recognize Israel is to renounce part of Palestine, which is not the right of any or even all Arab Muslims to do (including Hamas) . Therefore, in ‘one, two, ten or fifteen years’, al-Zahar and the rest of Hamas will have to ‘renounce part of the religion’ in order to recognize Israel. Al Zahar has committed Hamas and the Palestinians to nothing while demanding Israel make great concessions.

Al-Zahar’s words are empty and certain to fall on deaf Israeli ears. It will be interesting to see how strong the calls will be from certain quarters to accept this as an olive branch of sorts and a sign that Hamas is prepared for peace.

January 28, 2006

False Foreign Fighter Report

Great strides have been made to turn the native elements of the Iraqi insurgency against the al-Qaeda wing of the insurgency. Insurgent groups in Anbar province and the city of Samarra have declared war against al-Qaeda. But news the Karabilah tribe is summarly rounding up al-Qaeda without a fight should be viewed with skepticism.

Omar at Iraq The Model translates and reprints a spectacular claim by Arabic newspaper Dar al-Hayat which purports a massive operation to purge the al-Qaim region by local tribal groups is currently underway. According to Sheikh Usama Jad’aan, the leader of Karabila tribes in Qaim, “the operation will continue to eliminate terror elements according to a quality plan… 270 Arab and foreign intruders have been arrested, in addition to some Iraqis who were providing them shelter… the operation is conducted in coordination between the tribes and the minister of defense Sa’doun al-Dulaimi and since we arrested hundreds of terrorists, I don’t expect the operation to take a lot of time”.

While the news would be a positive development, it appears this story has little basis in fact. An inquiry to Lieutenant Colonel Dale Alford, the Battalion Commander of the 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines, whose unit is parked in the al-Qaim region and would be aware of such a massive operation, denies the report, “We have caught a number of foreign insurgents over the past couple of months and the tribes are providing us information and working with us, but nothing like the report [referenced]. The Marines of 3/6 and the Iraqi Army Brigade are still taking it to the bad guys, all while helping the people of this region rebuild there lives.” According to Captain Christopher O’Connor, the Operations Officer for the 3/6, the battalion captured five foreign fighters several nights ago.

The round up of such a large number of al-Qaeda could not occur without the knowledge of the U.S. and Iraqi military stationed in the region. The Marines and Iraqi Army units maintain battle positions in each of the towns and cities in the al-Qaim area, and would be watching this unfold. A roundup of al-Qaeda by ill-trained local tribal militias would not be a casual, routine affair. Coalition forces have fought tough battles in the region against the terrorists. al-Qaeda leaders have been known to wear suicide belts and detonate on the first sign of capture. al-Qaeda fighters would not timidly surrender to the tribes; there would be heavy fighting and militia and civilian casualties cannot be hidden for long. And there is the simple problem of what to do with over 270 violent prisoners, unless they have been summarily executed, which also would not go unnoticed.

The Karabilah tribe was one of several tribes which cooperated with al-Qaeda in the past, and may be attempting to ingratiate itself with the Iraqi government and working to mitigate the ill-will it accumulated while supporting with the terrorists. The word of the head of the Karabilah tribe alone should not be taken as evidence of a massive roundup in al-Qaim, as an operation of this scale would leave a wide footprint, one that could not be missed.

January 26, 2006

The Iraqi Insurgent Divide Widens

The residents of troubled Sunni city of Samarra, where the insurgency has maintained an active presence, have voiced its dismay ay al-Qaeda’s brutal tactics. One week ago, a local resident tipped off Coalition forces on the whereabouts of an insurgent bomb-making cell. A joint Iraqi-Coalition raid netted seven suspects, including two of the city’s most wanted terrorists. Two days ago, a demonstration against al-Qaeda, organized by the Iraqi Islamic Party and the Muslim Scholars’ Association, turned out over 1,000 protestors.

Kamal Ahmed, a protest organizer, spoke out against al-Qaeda; “They have to stop killing innocent people like recruits, journalists and children… If they don’t stop, we’ll fight them directly.” Abu Omar, of the Islamic Army of Iraq, spoke out against al-Qaeda propensity to kill innocent bystanders; “We work against the US occupation without hurting innocents… If al-Qaida is against the ideology behind the insurgency, it’s time to force them out of our country. We will kill the militants to show how far we will go to save the lives of innocent people.”

Maj. Gen. Richard Zahner, the deputy chief of staff for intelligence for Multinational Forces - Iraq, provides some reasons for the split between domestic insurgents and al-Qaeda. Of note:

Iraq’s complex network of tribes and family relations means some families have members on both sides of the conflict. The foreign fighters’ killing of police and government officials is beginning to trigger a response from local insurgents who are more loyal to tribe and family than to ideology… Al-Qaeda’s aim of turning Iraq into a strict Islamic caliphate has turned some Iraqi fighters against the group…

The split between the insurgents and al-Qaeda is yet another example of problems with coexisting in close proximity to al-Qaeda. While the insurgents and al-Qaeda may share a similar goal - the ejection of U.S. forces from Iraq - there is a certain limit which groups like the Islamic Army in Iraq will reach before ending cooperation with al-Qaeda. The wanton murder of their neighbors and the imposition of Taliban-like rule appears to be the limit.

Time Magazine finally addresses the issue of the split in the insurgency in an article titled A Rebel Crack-Up? U.S. Senator Jack Reed is quoted as saying “”The center of mass of the insurgency is not the foreign terrorists… They’re a small band able to create spectacular attacks. But the real long-term danger is the Sunnis continuing to fight.”

When looking at the security situation strictly in Iraq, this is true as if al-Qaeda is indeed marginalized or ejected, the Iraqi government will still need to deal with the more extensive domestic insurgency. But al-Qaeda provides the knowledge, expertise, leadership and cash for the most violent attacks, which threatens the confidence in the Iraqi government. al-Qaeda’s removal from the scene would allow for the government to negotiate and deal with the more ‘saner’ elements of the insurgency, knowing they are no longer in bed with the foreign terrorists. The insurgency will not end with the removal of al-Qaeda, but it will certainly change its nature.

When looked at from a higher level - the overall struggle against al-Qaeda in the Global War on Terror - the rejection of al-Qaeda by their Muslim brethren fighting against the forces of the West is a major strategic defeat for al-Qaeda. The premier terrorist group and self-proclaimed defenders of the faith could not maintain support in the heart of the Middle East among its most likely group of supporters: minority Sunnis subject to the rule of a Shiite-dominated government. This is part of the ideological struggle which is sorely missed in the popular reporting and analysis.

Hamas Wins, Cabinet Resigns

The outcome is, as of yet, unofficial. And as official as it’ll need to be. Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement, has claimed victory in yesterday’s Palestinian parliamentary elections - winning up to 75 out of 132 seats, according to Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman. The margin is significant enough that Fatah party officials have accepted defeat – and more significantly, Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei and the Palestinian Cabinet have resigned to make way for a Hamas led government.

It appears that Mahmoud Abbas failed to provide the leadership necessary to maintain his corrupt party’s control over the Palestinian political landscape. And in return for the potholes of principal and/or merit that he created, Hamas was able to pave broad roads of support through its adamant stance against Israel, which it will not recognize, and by its local outreach efforts. Being active in the community, while Fatah remained a distant memory, enabled Hamas to reach the disaffected who previously supported the likes of Arafat but find none of him in the vacant stuffings of todays Fatah leadership. If you want change, and the voters did, the most visible proponent of change in this election was Hamas.

The implications of this election are unknown at this stage. Yet we can expect that Islamists outside the Palestinian Territories and others, perhaps some here in the US, who oppose American efforts to bring democracy to the Middle East, will seek gains (political and otherwise) through this event. The question of how the Arab and/or Islamic world would respond to democracy, whether or not it would make decisions whose values we could understand if not support, and whether Middle Eastern citizens would choose extremist ideologies such as that of Hezbollah, Hamas or al-Qaeda over more liberal democratic ideals remains unanswered. Palestinians aren’t representative enough of the Middle East to reflect the course of elections elsewhere.

What it does tell us is that peace has not yet arrived in the hearts of yesterday’s voters.

Hezbollah Operation Leader with Ahmadinejad in Damascus?

In Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s recent visit to Damascus to form his own terrorist version of a ‘Coalition of the Willing’, The New York Sun’s Meghan Clyne reports that one of America’s most wanted terrorists, Imad Fayez Mugniyah, was among the entourage swarming around Ahmadinejad.

While this is likely, if not probable, a note of caution first. Ms. Clyne’s characterization of his presence with Ahmedinejad in Syria is decidedly more certain in tone (“One of the American government’s most wanted terrorists visited Syria late last week with Iran’s President Ahmadinejad, according to a former Reagan administration national security official…”) than the primary source she quotes, Michael Ledeen (“…nor was it surprising that among his entourage were key Iranian officials in charge of Hezbollah, probably including the operational leader, Imad Mughniyah.”) [All Emphasis Added]

Centcom and other US sources have declined to confirm Mugniyah’s presence, though one source said that European diplomatic sources noted his presence. At any rate, if he was present last week, Mugniyah is surely safely back in the friendly confines of the mullahs’ Tehran today. There is a certain safety assurance for one of the world’s most wanted terrorists when traveling with a head of state, even the head of a state sponsor of terrorism. (Those who would see Ahmadinejad meet his maker would be well advised to consider that Ahmadinejad and his unrestrained tongue, in the short term, is more valuable to the West alive than dead, as he effectively and consistently removes the veil from the Iranian regime, exposing its true nature.)

Imad MugniyahWho is Imad Fayez Mugniyah, the international operational leader of Hezbollah?

Before the attacks on 9/11 brought bin Laden to the forefront of American interest, Mugniyah was considered “the prime focus of American anti-terror efforts.” As the international operations leader of what the US intelligence community often refers to as “The A-Team of Terror”, many consider him to be even more dangerous than bin Laden.

Born in Lebanon and now 44 years old, the Shi’ite Imad Fayez Mugniyah first trained in his home country with Yassir Arafat’s al-Fatah in the PLO-run Sunni Lebanese camps. When the PLO was kicked out of Lebanon in 1982, Mugniyah joined the ranks of Hezbollah and rose quickly. Russia contends that at some point in the 1980’s, he served as one of Yassir Arafat’s body guards. What is noteworthy is that Mugniyah first joined the Sunni PLO faction and only later joined the Islamist Shi’ite Hezbollah. Religious belief may have little to do with his core convictions and motivations, but instead simply a shared ingrained hatred of Jews, Israel, America and the West. As the Iranians met in Damascus with mixed religious company in the form of the Sunni Hamas and PFLP-GC and the Shi’ite Hezbollah to form a united front for a new jihad against Israel & the US, Mugniyah’s experience in terrorism on both sectarian sides may have proven a useful mediation resource if/when needed. Still, this potential usefulness pales in comparison to the might he wields as the international operations commander of Hezbollah.

Imad Mugniyah was busy in his first years with the Hezbollah. In 1983, he masterminded the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut and the bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks, as well as the bombing of the U.S. Embassy annex in Beirut in 1984. In 1985, he was the mastermind who planned and executed the hijacking of TWA Flight 847, during which US Navy diver Robert Stetham was tortured, shot in the head and his body unceremoniously dropped from the airliner to the tarmac below. Also in 1985, he was behind both the abduction of four Soviet diplomats (during the Soviet war in Afghanistan) and the abduction and murder of former CIA Beirut chief William Buckley.

In 1993, Mugniyah organized the bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Argentina and more than a few believe his signature is also on the bombing of the US barracks at Khobar Towers in 1996.

Imad Mugniyah appears on the Federal Bureau of Investigation Most Wanted Terrorists list and has known ties to Usama bin Laden.

Considering the nature of Ahmadinejad’s visit to Bashar Assad in Damascus with the goal of creating a new united and Iranian-backed terrorist ‘Coalition of the Willing’, Imad Mugniyah’s presence there is almost certain, though unconfirmed. This new apparent ‘Coalition of the Willing’ is troubling news and a gathering storm for Israel, likely to be overhead in the very near future in all its fury. But it is also a strategic repositioning of power from a position of weakness, designed to shift focus from the Assad regime and thereby relieve the crush of international pressure, which in turn (they hope) will weaken internal opposition and keep Assad propped up. Iran needs Assad in power in Syria to keep the western window of infiltration into Iraq open. If Assad falls, as Michael Ledeen says, “the reverberations will reach Baghdad and Tehran” like a thunderclap and the already nervous mullah regime in Tehran will experience a new level of fear through an emboldened Iranian population. The fall of Assad would be the beginning of their own end.

January 25, 2006

The Pakistani Frontier

The airstrike on al-Qaeda leadership in the town of Damadola has done more than just kill up to five senior al-Qaeda commanders, including Abu Khabab, the chief of al-Qaeda’s WMD program; it has shone a light on the largely hidden war occurring on the Afghan-Pakistani border, the pervasiveness of al-Qaeda and the Taliban in the tribal belts, and Pakistan’s struggles in fighting al-Qaeda in the region.

The Jamestown Foundation’s Akram Gizabi highlights the difficult situation Pakistan faces as the Taliban has deep ties in the tribal regions and local customs that work in al-Qaeda’s favor. Faqir Mohammed, who sponsored the dinner in Bajaur, has been cooperating with the Taliban for well over a decade:

Faqir Mohammed is a leader of the Movement for the Enforcement of Islamic Sharia, a religious group that forcibly imposed Islamic religious laws in the Pashtun tribal areas of northwestern Pakistan in the 1990s… The group still has some influence and occasionally sets up temporary tribal courts to try cases such as fornication, alcohol consumption and selling narcotics. In 1996, when the Taliban came to power in Afghanistan, the group established a close working relationship with Mullah Omar’s regime. This group is also believed to have recruited thousands of ethnic Pashtuns to fight in Afghanistan alongside the Taliban when the United States attacked the country in December 2001. Many of these volunteers later died in prison camps in northern Afghanistan.

ABC’s Brian Ross reports on the resurgence of the Taliban and al-Qaeda, and Asia Times’ Syed Saleem Shahzad states Osama bin Laden’s most recent video tape “marks [al-Qaeda’s] announcement that the new strategy it has been developing is now very much in place,” which includes a reorganization of al-Qaeda’s structure and “the acquisition of various bases in the shape of small pockets” in the tribal regions “along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border areas, including Khost-North Waziristan, South Waziristan, Kunar-Chitral and Kunar-Bajur.” Strategy Page posits that the upsurge in violence is due to the “Kashmir Effect’, a glut of domestic Pakistani fighters out of a job as Pakistan and India are making peace overtures in Jammu and Kashmir.

Pakistani FrontierThe airstike in Damadola was one of several high profile missions in the region, which includes the capture of Abu Musab al-Suri and the Predator strike that killed Abu Hamza Rabia. Najam Sethi, the Editor of Pakistan’s Daily Times states the Damadola strike “was impossible for the US to have carried out the air strike in Bajaur Agency without prior information from Pakistani intelligence agencies.” The quick response of Pakistani intelligence to gather DNA evidence in Damadola lends credence to this view. ABC’s Brian Ross provides a much more interesting theory, that a sleeper cell within the Pakistani ISI called the Spider Group is feeding the United States intelligence:

Musharraf has created, inside his own intelligence agency, a minor intelligence agency. It is called “The Spider Group” made up of “trusted Pakistani intelligence agents, CIA agents, and a number of wealthy business men who have funded privately a group that is tracking bin Laden and al-Zawahiri.”…The Spider Group is spreading a lot of money around, developing relationships to try and find out the details of the comings and goings of bin Laden and al-Zawahiri.

The contradictions in statements between President Musharraf and Prime Minister Aziz about the effectiveness of the Damadola strike become clearer if the existence of “The Spider Group” is accurate.

President Musharraf recently acknowledged the presence of al-Qaeda and the need to eliminate them, “These foreigners are there and we need to eliminate these foreigners.” Prime Minister Aziz also recognizes this and states, according to Reuters, that “Pakistan is building roads and improving communications in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan in an effort to develop a round-the-clock capability to hunt militants…” But Mr. Aziz, as Andrew Cochran of The Counterterrorism Blog points out, is also trying to paper over the problems in the tribal regions; “We’ve taken over their sanctuaries. Where they were in the hundreds, now they are only in the dozens around in the mountains and we are chasing them. Which country in the world has arrested 700 Al Qaeda people, all the important ones? Only Pakistan.”

Pakistan has indeed arrested and killed hundreds of mid-level and senior al-Qaeda leaders within their borders. But until Pakistan stops refusing to crack down on domestic terrorist groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba, who work hand in hand with al-Qaeda, and addresses the problems within the tribal belt, there will continue to be problems with “foreign fighters” and “miscreants”. Pakistan, despite efforts to crack down on foreign terrorists, remains a breeding ground and base of operations for al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and threatens Musharraf’s government, the nascent democracy in Afghanistan and peace on the subcontinent and beyond.

The Palestinian Vote

As this post is published, the polling in the Palestinian Territories commences. The BBC has an excellent and concise guide to what’s at stake and the general electoral process in the Palestinian Territories. Various terrorist groups have vowed not to disrupt the election process, yet what takes place after the ballot dust settles will surely be less quiet as the losing party’s factions will react violently to the loss or denial of political control.

On Monday night, as the election began to draw near, a Nablus Fatah leader was shot in the window of his home and killed Monday night. The gunmen were shooting at campaign posters on his house when he leaned out of his window to yell at them to stop. He was shot where he stood. It is said that he was shot by gunmen from his own Fatah party, though no reports indicate how this is known. The reported killing of a Fatah leader by his own members drew crowds into the streets shouting, “Enough, enough. We want the police to protect us.”

By most reports, it appears that the current ruling Fatah Party, the legacy of Yasser Arafat, will retain power, albeit by slight margins. In an effort to ensure that the US does not have to deal with the diplomatic mess that a Hamas victory would mean, the United States has, through USAID, sent sent $2 million in funds to the Palestinian Authority that, according to the Washington Post report, was meant for pre-election projects that would assist in creating a more favorable domestic view of the PA. While the article is written with a critical tone, ensuring that a terrorist group like Hamas is not allowed to successfully ‘market’ a false softer tone is absolutely critical. Hamas hired an image consultant to put a softer public face on the terrorist group who has historically been responsible for terrorist attacks on Israel, vowing to destroy the state of Israel.

For whatever gains Hamas makes with their slightly modulated new public tone, Steven Emerson notes at The Counterterrorism Blog that they are losing badly in the courtrooms. While they have lost a multi-million dollar suit in the United States ($156M) , primarily aimed at the charity groups that support Hamas, they have just been handed a $22 million dollar judgement against them in Jerusalem for a 2002 terrorist attack that killed four Israelis.

Acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said before the polls opened that Israel’s only road to peace is a two-state solution. He went further to say that Israel would need to withdraw from the West Bank, including most settlers, and draw precise borders ‘to ensure a Jewish majority’ in the state of Israel. In an apparent signal to Palestinian voters not to ‘rock the boat’ currently on that path, Olmert added, “As Sharon said, we must not allow this new spirit to pass us by. I do not intend to miss this opportunity.” The simple implication is that Sharon was not negotiating with Hamas towards that end. It was Abbas and the PA.

No matter the high amount of violence in the run up to the elections (especially in Gaza), Election Day will likely be a day of relative calm, as the election that inspired the violence is allowed unfold peacefully. How the bitterness manifests itself after the results are tallied and announced is another story entirely.

January 24, 2006

Eight Dead in Iran Bombing

A government office in Ahvaz, the Sunni Arab-majority capital of the Khuzestan province, was bombed followed shortly by a blast in the streets in front of a nearby bank, killing eight and wounding upwards of 40 others. This tactic is reminiscent of those used in Iraq and Israel, where the second blast is coordinated to kill and maim both the victims fleeing the original blast and first responders racing toward the scene. The local government denied rumors of a third explosion at the Pars Hotel. The Iranian state-run news agency IRNA quickly reported the victims as ‘martyred’, never to let an opportunity to fuel perceived religious conflict pass by unused.

Iranian Arab separatists claimed responsibility for two bombings in Khuzestan in June and October of 2005. A video from the Moheddine Al-Nasser Martyr Brigades responsible for the June bombing shows them observing the blast from a car, then pulling through the streets admiring the carnage and mayhem they inflicted. Note that the camera has been mounted inside to the back deck of the car as it shakes once for the bomb, and then again as at least two people get into the car, first the passenger, then the driver, who were observing from outside the vehicle as the mounted camera rolled. Today’s bombing is likely the work again of Iranian Arab separatist terrorists, possibly the same group.

AhvazIranian President Ahmadinejad was scheduled to visit and speak in the city today, but canceled yesterday citing sandstorms as the cause. It appears the planned attacks were carried out regardless, and were reportedly not close to where he was expected to deliver a speech. In biting irony, President Ahmadinejad condemned the attacks as acts of terrorism, saying, “Iran has always been a victim for terrorist attacks and the sworn enemies of Iranians are continuing with their crimes and blind terrorism.” Perhaps Ahmadinejad prefers ‘terrorism with a vision’ over ‘blind terrorism’, such as that practiced by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah, who enjoy support from Iran to the tune of $110 million per year.

The Khuzestan province in Iran is home to Iran’s largest oil fields and part of the second largest known reserves in the world. It is also a Sunni Arab majority province. Only 3% of Iranians are Sunni, and most live in the Khuzestan province, the only Sunni Arab majority province in Iran. The anti-mullah groups (including terrorist groups, such as the Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization [MEK]) and their attacks on the Iranian regime present a moral dilemma for the United States. Does the United States and her allies support the anti-mullah resistance in Iran, even when they resort to terrorist tactics? The answer to the dilemma is quite simple. While democratic opposition to the Iranian regime should have been attentively fostered and materially supported by the United States decades ago, no group that carries out bombings targeting civilians in the streets should receive any degree of support from the US whatsoever.

The MEK, who has reportedly not conducted any attacks inside Iran since 2001, was placed on the State Department’s Terrorist List by President Clinton as a gesture to Iran after the ‘moderate reformist’ Mohammad Khatami was elected president. It is also worth noting that Saddam Hussein played off the sectarian and ethnic differences of the area by housing displaced Khuzestan Sunni Arabs in Iraq (including members of the MEK). This has led to altercations and increased tension between the Shi’a and Sunni in the southern region of Iraq. While the Iranian regime is criticised for its inhumane treatment of Arabs in Khuzestan (see Human Rights Watch), the development of terror organizations and tactics similar to those used by al-Qaeda in Iraq and other insurgents - perhaps related to them - remains a possibility and just as wrong a tactic, again pointing to a fundamental question of the belief system necessary to turn to such a means of combating a perceived injustice.

The current lack of palatable alternatives for the West (and specifically the United States) to employ to challenge the Mullahcracy in its undeniable quest for nuclear weapons is directly borne of the lack of support given to Iranian internal democratic opposition over the past two decades.

The price to be paid for past inaction is a choice between bad and worse. But choose we must. With alacrity.

Iran's Crude for Feud Program

The Washington Post reports that Europe and the US are still short the number of votes required to refer Iran formally to the UN Security Council, as the on-again, off-again reports of Russian ‘support’ wave freely in the wind. As The Post puts it in the article, “Russia is concerned that a referral of Iran to the Security Council would result in international sanctions against one of its major trading partners.” It should be remembered that one of the staples of that trade is the lucrative design and construction of some of the very Iranian nuclear facilities in question. This conflict of interest impedes any and all progress with respect to Russian support for the US and EU efforts to curb Iran’s nuclear apetite.

Iran, now apparently revisiting the once-rebuffed ‘Russian Solution’, has raised the UN Security Council ante in talks regarding the Russian plan. Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, Javad Vaidi, wrote a letter to EU leaders stating that Iran, yet once again, was interested in resuming talks. There were no details provided in his letter as to what the talks would entail precisely, save for one item: The demand that the Chinese be involved directly in the talks and, presumably, in any plan for an extra-Iranian uranium enrichment structure. What this does is bring Iran’s two key UN Security Council supporters closer to the vest. Any deal involving the energy-hungry Chinese would revolve around a very China-friendly exchange of enrichment for a disproportionate amount of crude oil and would effectively solidify a Chinese veto at the Security Council. For Iran, their Russian problem would be solved by marginalizing them.

Inside the UN itself, IAEA head Mohamed ElBaredei solidified his critics’ claims that he is resistant to US and European efforts to halt the Iranian nuclear weapons program and bring Iran to the UN Security Council when he refused to write a detailed report on Iran’s nuclear program in time for the special meeting of the IAEA Board of Governors February 2. ElBaredei claimed that there was ‘not enough time’ to complete a full detailed report, but offered instead an update brief to be read at the meeting. This is nonsense, as the full report is surely largely already complete, with updating occuring on a regular basis. What’s really going on is ElBaredei never wanted a special meeting of the Board of Governors next week to begin with and is refusing to offer full cooperative support to the Board. This, inexplicably, from the man who heads the agency which watched powerlessly as the Iranians defiantly removed the IAEA seals from one of their principle enrichment facilities just weeks ago.

Iran’s threats of full-scale enrichment Monday may make for sensational headlines, but it’s simply more of the same via a repeated threat to resume enrichment if they are referred to the UN Security Council. Iran will eventually resume enrichment regardless of any action taken or not taken by the Security Council, that much can be assured. It is, after all, their ‘right’ to possess nuclear technology. Those who believe this right does not extend to nuclear weapons are daydreaming at the expense of a nightmare. That is simply not an arguable point, as Iran has stated numerous times that Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons is an unfair regional power balance, all the while, Iran’s stated Foreign Policy objective is the destruction of the State of Israel.

Through the bartering of UN Security Council votes and IAEA obstinance (aforementioned unenforcable ineffectiveness notwithstanding), the United Nations is once again proving itself little more than an obstacle of delay rather than the halls of negotiating peaceful settlements. All attempts to refer Iran to the Sucurity Council simply for discussion have failed. (There is no guarantee of sanctions or even ‘strongly worded statements’ from a referal to the UNSC.) The head of the IAEA resists calls for a special meeting of the IAEA Board of Governors to discuss the most pressing current international crisis and, further, refuses to provide the special meeting with a detailed report that is readily available. This crisis will be resolved in spite of the UN and its agencies, not through them.

Iraqis vs. al-Qaeda, Continued

Al-Qaeda’s situation in Anbar province and the embattled city of Ramadi has slowly worsened since the deadly suicide strikes against police recruits. The attack did not deter Sunnis in Ramadi from volunteering for the police, and provoked a backlash against al-Qaeda’s gruesome tactics. Sunnis in Anbar, including in the cities of Samarra and Ramadi, have vowed to fight al-Qaeda, and six insurgent groups, including the Islamic Army of Iraq, declared war on the foreign terrorists.

The latest news from Ramadi indicates a “3,000-strong militia has been created in the insurgent stronghold of Ramadi, central Iraq, to protect civilians from insurgent violence.” There is no word on the actual makeup of the militia or if it is even deployed, however it is likely the group is made up of Iraqis who have fought the U.S. and Iraqi military. A similar arrangement was made in the al-Qaim region with the Desert Protection Force.

While the Iraqi government searches for solutions to splitting the insurgency and bring groups into the security and political processes, al-Qaeda is working to shore up its fighting capabilities by creating a “Mujahedeen Council.” According to the Chicago Tribune, “the council’s purpose was to ‘unite the approach of the mujahedeen … in order to dismiss all the differences and disagreements and controversies.’” Zarqawi was not appointed to lead the council, but instead an Iraqi named Abdullah Rashid al-Baghdadi was appointed the emir of the Mujahedeen Council. According to a posting on an al-Qaeda in Iraq website, “What Sheik Abu Musab did when giving up the title of Emir, this is a favor by the Emir of Slaughter to block the road to all those who say he is a foreigner.”

In other words, the council needed an Iraqi face, as Zarqawi is now a liability to the public face of al-Qaeda’s jihad in Iraq. Zarqawi’s actions shows he has taken Ayman al-Zawahiri’s advice to heart. In his letter to Zarqawi, Zawahiri implored him not to alienate the “Muslim masses” but to “strive to involve the Muslim masses in the battle, and to bring the mujahed movement to the masses and not conduct the struggle far from them.” Zawahiri is telling Zarqawi not be so ideologically blind as to reject allies based o n minor differences in faith. Zawahiri explained how the Taliban failed by excluding Islamist movements deemed unworthy due to minor ideological differences:

We don’t want to repeat the mistake of the Taliban, who restricted participation in governance to the students and the people of Qandahar alone. They did not have any representation for the Afghan people in their ruling regime, so the result was that the Afghan people disengaged themselves from them. Even devout ones took the stance of the spectator and, when the invasion came, the amirate collapsed in days, because the people were either passive or hostile. Even the students themselves had a stronger affiliation to their tribes and their villages than their affiliation to the Islamic amirate or the Taliban movement or the responsible party in charge of each one of them in his place. Each of them retreated to his village and his tribe, where his affiliation was stronger!!

Zarqawi acquiesces to Zawahiri and creates an inclusive organization with outside groups, and appoints an Iraqi to command the Mujahedeen Council. This demonstrates Zarqawi recognizes his plan to incite a Sunni-Shiites civil war, which Zawahiri condemned on practical terms, has failed. The question is, has al-Qaeda shifted its mode of operations too late to recover from its mistake? Sunnis appear to be testing the waters with the elected Iraqi government and are committing to fight al-Qaeda.

January 23, 2006

Bangladeshi Terrorist Commander Believed Captured in India

The nature of al-Qaeda and its International Islamic Front is a fount of confusion for most observers of the War on Terror. Often, al-Qaeda is seen as a small group of Arab terrorists confined to the Middle East, with the main base of operations in Afghanistan prior to the country’s invasion in the fall of 2001. But the fact is al-Qaeda is a global organization with extensive ties to regional Islamist groups in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. It is believed al-Qaeda has networks established in well over sixty nations. But their ties to the local terrorist groups are often obscured to provide cover for their actions and shield them from international scrutiny.

Bangladesh is one such nation where al-Qaeda has a extensive network of local supporters. The reported arrest of local al-Qaeda affiliate commander Abdur Rahman serves to remind us of the hooks the organization has throughout the world.

BangladeshIndia police are said to have arrested Abdur Rahman, the spiritual and ideological leader of terrorist groups Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) and Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMJB). The groups, which are often believed to be one of the same, espouse a radical Islamist ideology much like that of the Taliban of Afghanistan. They are believed to have launched the extensive bombing campaign in August of 2005, where it is said up to 400 bombs detonated across the nation. Hundreds of Bangladeshis were wounded in the attacks. JMB and JMJB are responsible for a host of attacks in Bangladesh over the past several years.

Rahman is not your run-of-the-mill local Islamist terrorist leader. Rahman is one of the select signatories to the 1998 fatwa that created the International Islamic Front, the umbrella group of Islamist terrorist groups that declared war on the West. The signatories include: Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri [amir of the Jihad Group in Egypt and second in command of al-Qaeda], Abu-Yasir Rifa’i Ahmad Taha [amir of the Egyptian Islamic Group] and Mir Hamzah [secretary of the Jamiat-ul-Ulema-e-Pakistan].

After the fall of the Taliban, al-Qaeda is believed to have shifted assets to Bangladesh, and it is believed al-Qaeda’s second in command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, as well as hundreds of al-Qaeda fighters took shelter in the county.

Al-Qaeda has had a vested interest in the troubled nation, and has provided “seed money” to Harakat ul-Jihad-I-Islami/Bangladesh (HUJI-B), a terrorist group that now plays a crucial role in training jihadists “from southern Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia and Brunei” and providing manpower for al-Qaeda’s affiliates in “Jammu and Kashmir… Afghanistan… Indonesia, the Philippines and Chechnya.”

As we stated last year, the situation in Bangladesh is much like that in Pakistan; “The rise of Islamist extremism is compounded by the problems of the government courting Islamists for political gain (much like the problem in Pakistan). Bangladesh’s government contains two Islamists ministers, and local police are reluctant to act against extremists for fear of government reprisals. Terrorist leaders such as Bangla Bhai remain on the loose despite their known affiliations with the jihadis. And, also like Pakistan, the madrassa remain an integral part of the support mechanism for Bangladeshi terrorists.”

India, a secular democracy, sits in the heart of the subcontinent, nestled between Pakistan and Bangladesh, and is fighting its own War on Terror in the province of Jammu and Kashmir. The arrest of Abdur Rahman would be clear victory for the Indian government and yet another blow against al-Qaeda’s global leadership.

January 22, 2006

Faultlines in Iraq's Islamist Insurgency

The location of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, al-Qaeda in Iraq’s commander, and the state of the Islamist insurgency have been recent topics of conversation. Late last year, ThreatsWatch stated the focal point of the insurgency has shifted from Anbar province to the regions north of Baghdad. Today, Coalition forces believe Zarqawi is currently operating “in Diyala province near Baghdad…If his presence in Diyala is confirmed, it will reinforce the belief that violence follows him around Iraq.”

The Sunday Times: reports that, according to “a leading insurgent who met [Zarqawi] two weeks ago”, Zarqawi “goes to sleep every night wearing a suicide belt packed with explosives,” and provides clues as to Zarqawi’s questionable status in relation to other insurgency groups. During a meeting designed to forge alliances with other Islamist insurgency groups, Zarqawi is reported to have “put on a show of humility at a two-day meeting to secure the co-operation of the Army of the Victorious Sect and other groups with Al-Qaeda in Iraq.”

Zarqawi is said to have personally attended to the needs of his guests, led prayer sessions and washed the insurgent leaders prior to prayer. While the acts committed by Zarqawi are not uncommon in the Muslim world, they are not the actions of a confident man secure in his position vis-a-vis the insurgent groups. Zarqawi is attempting to demonstrate his piousness in an attempt to convince the groups his commitment to Islam is sincere.

al-Qaeda in Iraq has recently issued a statement claiming to “have set up an umbrella body to coordinate their fight against U.S.-led forces and the Iraqi government.” Notably excluded from this body of insurgent groups are Ansar al-Sunnah and the Iraq Islamic Army.

Zarqawi was able to secure the commitment of a little known Islamist group called The Victorious Sect and five small organization, however he was unable to reach out to two largest groups, Ansar al-Sunnah and the Islamic Army in Iraq, two groups that have worked with al-Qaeda in the past.

Ansar al-Sunnah’s decision is curious, as its goals are nearly identical to al-Qaeda: the ejection of the “occupation Armies” and the establishment of an Islamist state. There are obviously enough differences between the groups. And Ansar al-Sunnah may be keeping its distance from al-Qaeda based on the increased unpopularity of the group, and keeping the door open for future political maneuvers. The decision of the Islamic Army in Iraq is understandable, as this is a largely nationalist organization which resents al-Qaeda’s foreign leadership and slaughter of Iraqi civilians.

But the Islamic Army in Iraq hasn’t just turned down al-Qaeda’s invitation, it has, along with five other insurgent groups, including the Anbar Martyr’s Brigade and the 1920 Revolution Brigades, openly declared war against al-Qaeda, according to Mohammed at Iraq the Model. This is a clear indication these grous have tired of al-Qaeda’s bloody tactics and recognize their goals will not be reached by opposing the government.

Mohammed wisely points out that while using militias to fight al-Qaeda is not ideal, bringing the insurgency into closer ties with the government; “Although those militant groups have a bad history of violence and terrorizing the population, the positive new changes that they are expected to coordinate their work with city councils which gives a feeling that they are not very far away from the government’s sight and that they meet with the government on the need for fighting foreign terrorists. But, this service will not be for free and the battle is going to be fierce as al-Qaeda realizes that the new enemy is very well informed this time.”

The defection of insurgent groups and Sunni support is a continuing trend which must give Zarqawi and al-Qaeda’s high command pause. The refocus of al-Qaeda efforts towards Afghanistan becomes understandable as more information on the fractionalization of Iraqi’s insurgency is released.

January 21, 2006

Developments in Damadola

The effects of Friday the 13th strike in Damadola, Pakistan, which is believed to have killed up to five senior al-Qaeda commanders, continues to reverberate in Pakistan and beyond. Terrorism and al-Qaeda expert Rohan Gunaratna describes the strike as “a very significant blow to Al Qaeda… These are very experienced leaders and to replace them in the short term will be very difficult,” a point also made at ThreatsWatch several days ago.

Pakistan’s involvement in the operation also becomes clearer as time passes. An unnamed villager in Damadola states Pakistani intelligence was on the scene in Damadola almost immediately, “Soon after the air strike, several Pakistani security agents based in Khar, Bajaur Agency’s regional headquarters, disguised themselves as visitors and visited the site to collect evidence about the presence of No 2 Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zahawri.”

Pakistan is also actively searching for “pro-Taliban clerics” Faqir Mohammed and Liaqat Ali, who hosted the dinner and surviced the attacks. Pakistani troops have also stepped up operations in North Waziristan, demolishing ten homes of “tribesmen suspected of harbouring Taleban and Al Qaeda operatives.” This is likely to prove hard work, as Syed Saleem Shahzad provides further fuel to the theory that al-Qaeda is ramping up operations in Afghanistan. Mr. Shahzad reports thousands of Islamists have trained and are now pushing towards the Afghani-Pakistan border regions.

“Hundreds of Pakistani youths, who previously belonged to Islamist groups like the banned Laskhar-i-Toiba, Jaish-i-Mohammed, Harkat-i-Jihadi-i-Islami and Harkatul Mujahadeen, have left these and headed to Waziristan. There they are given a few months of military and ideological drill before being despatched to Afghanistan. Well-informed sources say there are thousands of such youths.”

Perhaps recognizing the trend, Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz issues the obligitory diplomatic concerns over the attack while confirming joint operations along the border will continue; “Islamabad would not back out of the joint efforts in the fight against terrorism.” The jihadis flooding Pakistan are not only interested in fighting in Afghanistan; Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf and his government are also targets of al-Qaeda.

January 20, 2006

Election Results; Iraqis Fight al-Qaeda

The much anticipated results from the December 15th election are now available. Iraq the Model provides a full breakdown of the apportionment of seats in the new Iraqi parliament. The Shiite-dominated UIA has fallen ten votes short needed to independently form a government. They will now be required to reach out to an outside party to create a coalition government. The Kurdish Alliance netted 55 votes, the Sunni led Accord Front 44, Allawi’s Iraqi List 25 and al-Mutlaq’s Dialogue Front 11.

Coalition forces anticipated attacks would coincide with the release of the election results, in an attempt to hijack the news cycle. The cities of “Ramadi, Najaf, Tikrit, Samarra and Baquba were… sealed off for 48 hours .” The insurgents struck in Ramadi, and the attack was repelled by Iraqi soldiers and U.S. forces “within an hour using a combination of small arms fire, medium and heavy weapons and preplanned aviation assets.” According to Captain Jeffery Pool, “Today’s attacks in Ramadi resulted in no serious damage and only a couple of minor injuries to US Forces who have already been treated and returned to duty.” The attack was inneffective.

Gateway Pundit provides additional details on the high level meeting in Ramadi, where the future security situation was discussed. The region tribal leaders are cooperating with the government to assist with the removal of al-Qaeda. The foreign terrorists appear to have overstayed their welcome in Ramadi, Samarra and elsewhere.

This [security] agreement resulted from requests of Anbar tribal leaders (including the Dulaimi tribe) for government, monetary, political and social aid to defy and get rid of Zarqawi’s organization. These leaders said that al-Zarqwi’s organization is forcing local support with violence and most of the organization is non-Iraqis… Families and tribal leaders in the Alkhalediah, Alfelahat and Alkermeh areas (south of Fallujah) have formed local councils. Council members are Local Imams and educated individuals who will educate locals to reject violence and terror.

Sources close to armed Iraqi groups said that al-Zarqawi’s organization is trying to gain favor with Iraqi resistance groups by shooting down three U.S. helicopters. But local fighters in Ramadi have labeled Zarqawi and his organization terrorist and have had armed clashes with them. These sources also said that the local resistance in Ramadi and the tribal leaders are trying to force Zarqawi out of Iraq and are looking for any means to get rid of Zarqawi. Some local families have asked for Zarqawi and his follower’s heads, after locals were killed in bombings while enlisting at police recruiting stations. Theses bombings have lead to armed clashes against al-Zarqawi’s group, which resulted in the death a tribal leader.

Samara is not far from all the developments in Ramadi. Samara has also formed local committees to chase and keep away foreign fighters and reestablish the local council. Albubaz family of Samara was able to kill four and chase away 11 foreign fighters in joint operation with Iraqi security and other tribes. Tribes of Samarra have asked to reopen military and police recruiting centers, government offices and promised to guard the city from attacks.

al-Qaeda is not taking rejection sitting down, and is conducting a terror campaign in an attempt to intimidate the Iraqis. Since the beginning of the new year, four sheihks have been assassinated by al-Qaeda in Iraq; Dr. Hamid Al-Faysal, January 4; Sheikh ‘Abd Al-Razzaq, January 14; Sheikh Nasser Abd Al-Karim Mukhlif, January 16; and Sheikh Mohammed Sadaq Bata Al, January 18. These sheihks were working for a solution to the security situation in Ramadi and opposed al-Qaeda’s presence.

January 19, 2006

Two more al-Qaeda Commanders believed killed in Damadola

al-Qaeda’s losses in Damadola may be even worse than thought last evening. Since the death of Abu Khabab al-Masri, Khalid Habib and Abd Rahman al-Maghribi were reported, two more al-Qaeda commanders are believed to have been killed. Dan Darling provides a breakdown of the al-Qaeda leaders thought to have been killed in the nightime airstrike:

Abu Khabab al-Masri (WMD committee head) Abd Rahman al-Masri al-Maghribi (al-Zawahiri’s son-in-law, al-Qaeda commander)
Abu Ubeidah al-Masri (Kunar operations chief)
Marwan al-Suri (Waziristan operations chief)
Khalid Habib (southeastern Afghanistan commander)
Abdul Hadi al-Iraqi (southwestern Afghanistan commander)

Mr. Darling includes Abdul Hadi al-Iraqi as one of those reported killed, however Newsday states that while he was invited to the dinner, “it was not clear whether Al-Iraqi attended and there was no report that he was missing.”

Abu Ubaidah is an Egyptian, and Marwan As-Suri a Syrian. Newsday provides further details on the importance of the two al-Qaeda commanders::

Abu Ubaidah, in his mid-40s, is deputy commander of al-Qaida forces in Kunar, a ruggedly mountainous province where U.S. troops fought offensives last year to clear out militants, said the source, who asked not to be identified. Kunar is one of three or four Afghan provinces where the war in Afghanistan remains at its most intensive — and one reason is that guerrillas have been able to flee across the border into Pakistan. Marwan As-Suri, believed to be in his 30s, is a Syrian who recently had been appointed to head al-Qaida operations in part of the Pakistani areas bordering Kunar, the Afghan said.

Taliban sympathizers and local leaders of the Tehrik Nifaz-e-Sha’riah Mohammed, Maulana Faqir Mohammed and Maulana Liaqat, escaped the attack and are now on the run from Pakistani authorities. Perhaps spurred by the success in Damadola, Pakistan’s military has reported five al-Qaeda fighters were arrested in the North West Frontier Provinces today during two separate raids.

The deaths of Abu Ubeidah al-Masri and Marwan al-Suri would add further problems to al-Qaeda’s cross border operations in Kuna and Waziristan, as this region is considered a main base for the terrorists. Mr. Darling refers to the Damadole attack as “the biggest single decapitation strike on the al-Qaeda leadership since Tora Bora.” We agree.

al-Qaeda, Taliban Suicide Attacks Unpopular in Afghanistan

The Taliban and al-Qaeda have renewed their suicide campaign in Afghanistan. The recent strike on al-Qaeda leadership in Damadola is believed to have been the scene of a planning session to increase attacks in Afghanistan. The meeting was attended by senior Taliban and al-Qaeda commanders, and al-Qaeda lost three very senior operatives: the head of the WMD program and chief bomb maker, one of two al-Qaeda commanders in Afghanistan, and the commander of al-Qaeda in Pakistan.

There have been three suicide attacks in the last week alone, two in Kandahar and one in Spin Boldak. Twenty Afghanis were killed in Spin Boldak when a suicide bomber drove a motorcycle into a crown attending a wrestling match during a celebration of the Muslim festival of Eid. Strategy Page reports there have been well over two dozen such attacks in the past four months and the blame is being laid at the feet of the Pakistani government for not doing enough to stop al-Qaeda and the Taliban from attacking Afghanistan.

The attack in Spin Boldak has sparked an uncommon organized protest in Afghanistan. According to the BBC and other sources, the crowds protested with cries of “death to Pakistan, death to al-Qaeda and death to the Taliban.”

The Kuwaiti News Agency reports Taliban leader Mullah Omar was singled out at the protest by government and religious leaders; “Other speakers lashed out at Taliban and their self-styled Amirul Momineen Mullah Mohammad Omar for the attack. Religious leaders among the speakers said Islam did not allow any one to kill innocent citizens.”

Pak - Afghan Border RegionStrategy Page also reports that tribal militias are being created to patrol the border with Pakistan; “The militiamen will patrol their own tribal territory, which they know well. The payments are for the tribesmen to keep terrorists out, although the government will look the other way if the usual tribal smugglers continue to operate.” This is a similar arrangement the Iraqi government has made with tribal groups on the Syrian border, with the creation of the Desert Protection Force.

The border between Afghanistan and Pakistan is porous and poorly patroled. While many tribal groups may have been willing to look the other way or actively supported al-Qaeda and Taliban infiltrations into Afghanistan, suicide attacks on their clansmen may force a change in attitude, just as it has in western Iraq. al-Qaeda’s reliance on suicide bombs as their primary weapon may generate the desired spectacular media images; however the victims of the strikes are often the very people al-Qaeda relies on for support.

January 18, 2006

al-Qaeda Commanders al-Magrabi and Habib killed in Damadola

The final results of from the airstrike in the Pakistani border town of Damadola are now known. In addition to Abu Khabab al-Masri, who was al-Qaeda’s chief bomb maker, head of the WMD program, and former terror camp commander, two other al-Qaeda commanders were killed in the strike. ABC News confirms that Khalid Habib [or Khaled al-Harbi] and Abdul Rehman al Magrabi perished in the attack.

Khaled al-Harbi is al-Qaeda’s operational commander in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Al-Harbi splits duty in Afghanistan with Abd al Hadi Al Iraqi, and both are considered “two of [al-Qaeda’s] most able commanders”.

Abdul Rehman al Magrabi, a Moroccan, is thought to be al-Qaeda’s commander in Pakistan, and is said to have replaced Abu Hamza Rabia, who was killed in Pakistan on December 1, 2005.

According to a trusted source, the DNA tests are complete and the two other other “foreigners” killed are said to be al-Qaeda bodyguards. Ayman al-Zawahiri appears to have slipped the net. ABC News provides further important details on the meeting that took place:

Authorities tell ABC News that the terror summit was called to funnel new money into attacks against U.S. forces in Afghanistan… “Pakistani intelligence says this was a very important planning session involving the very top levels of al Qaeda as they get ready for a new spring offensive,” explained Alexis Debat, a former official in the French Defense Ministry and now an ABC News consultant.

It is clear the reports from earlier in the week that al-Qaeda is refocusing efforts in Afghanistan are accurate. With the recent capture or killing of several high-level al-Qaeda leaders, including Abu Hamza Rabia and Abu Musab al-Suri before last week’s strike, it is clear U.S. and Pakistani intelligence is gaining a clearing picture of al-Qaeda’s network and operations in along the Afghan-Pakistani border.

As al-Qaeda amasses strength in the region and grows more confident in its abilities to operate more openly, they expose themselves to intelligence operations and military strikes. The nature of the intelligence on this meeting gives clues as to the nature of intelligence operations in the region: either the U.S. has sophisticate signals intelligence able to penetrate al-Qaeda’s communications; there are one or several high value human intelligence sources within al-Qaeda and the Taliban; or a combination of the two. Whatever the answer, al-Qaeda has lost five senior leaders over the span of five weeks.

The meeting in Damadola was a high value target of opportunity which could not be passed up. U.S. intelligence took the risk, pulled the trigger and bagged three senior al-Qaeda commanders. Masri, Habib, and al-Magrabi have been removed from the chain of command, and must be replaced by junior operatives who possess neither their stature, experience or connections. Al-Qaeda has been weakened.

Abu Khabab al-Masri Killed in Pakistan Strike

The strike on the compound in Damadola, Pakistan, where Ayman al-Zawahiri. al-Qaeda’s number two in Command, was believed to be attending a dinner to celebrate a Mulslim holiday, has netted at least one high-level al-Qaeda operative. Pakistani intelligence has confirmed that Abu Khabab al-Masri, al-Qaeda’s chief bomb maker and chemical weapons expert. Counterterrism expert Dan Darling reported that Masri ran al-Qaeda’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Program, known as “Project al-Zabadi” and was likely involved in the foiled Amman WMD attack.

After the U.S. ejected the Taliban from power in Afghanistan, Masri’s training camps were discovered.Tapes were discovered and the results of Masri’s experiments were aired on CNN.

Masri had a $5 million dollar bounty on his head. The Rewards For Justice program lists Masri’s resume:

Midhat Mursi al-Sayid ‘Umar AKA Abu Khabab al-Masri, is an explosives expert and poisons trainer working on behalf of al Qaeda. He operated a terrorist training camp at Derunta, Afghanistan where he provided hundreds of mujahidin with hands on poisons and explosives training. Since 1999, he has proliferated training manuals that contain recipes for crude chemical and biological weapons. Some of these training manuals were recovered by U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

Masri also was a close associate of Nasar Mustafa Setmariam [AKA Abu Musab al-Suri]; “Nasar worked closely with Midhat Mursi al-Sayid ‘Umar (a.k.a. Abu Khabab al-Masri) to train extremists in poisons and chemical during his time in Afghanistan, and was also involved in training at the al-Ghuraba terrorist camp.” al-Suri was recently captured in Pakistan, and was chief ideologue and leader of al-Qaeda in Europe.

It is indisputable that Abu Khabab al-Masri was a high level al-Qaeda operative and leader, and a dangerous man with intimate knowledge of explosives and al-Qaeda’s WMD program. Claims the airstrike in Damadola only killed innocent villagers can now be laid to rest.

More at the Counterterrorism Blog.

[TW Note: The picture formerly included above was not Abu Khabab. It was erroneously reported as such on the Rewards for Justice site.]

Counterinsurgency Operations in Anbar

Since Coalition and Iraqi forces conducted Operations River Gate, Iron Fist and Steel Curtain on the western stretch of the Euphrates River Valley, the insurgency has been largely quiet in the region. The fruits of the year-long Anbar Campaign have allowed the joint Coalition and Iraqi forces to shift from overt offensive search & destroy and clear & hold operations to a more subtle counterinsurgency posture, which includes establishing and nurturing local governments and police forces, rebuilding civilian infrastructure and conducting security operations. This is what Colonel Stephen W. Davis, the Commander of Marine Regimental Combat Team - 2, refers to as “continuous maintenance work, which pays off over time.”

Several days ago in the city of Ramadi, the Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Ja’afari, Anbar Governor Ma’amoun Sami Rashid, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, and the Commanding General of Multi-National Forces – Iraq, Gen. George W. Casey met to discuss the future on Anbar province. “Anbar’s participation in the Iraqi Security Forces, combating terrorism throughout the province, the role of the Coalition Forces and Al Anbar’s participation in the new Iraqi government” were the topics of discussion as was the issue of reconstruction aid to the region.

Other than Ramadi, the western leg of Anbar province has seen very few large scale military operations. The latest operation, Koa Canyon, is neither of the search & destroy or clear & hold variety, as the region has been secured, but counterinsurgency operation directed at the region between Jubbah and Hit. Multinational Forces - Iraq reports the units involved are two battalions, the 1st Battalion, 2nd Brigade, 7th Iraqi Division, and the 22nd MEU’s ground combat element, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment. “The majority of the forces are conducting cordon and knock operations and searching areas of interest for weapons and insurgent activity… In addition to the Iraqi Army, Marines are also working with Iraqi Police in the Baghdadi region.” Unstated in the press release is the Iraqi Security forces completely own the battlespace in the town of Kahn Al Baghdadi.

Koa Canyon follows a large scale three day sweep that uncovered by Marines and Iraqi Army units in the city of Hit, which netted numerous weapons caches. 1st Lt. Antonio Agnone, the combat engineer platoon leader for Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment stated “This was our biggest find to date.” Insurgents went so far as to hide ammunition in a cemetery.

Downriver from Hit in the town of Barwana, where insurgents senselessly murdered children in a mortar attack the day after the historic election last month, Iraqi soldiers and the Marines of Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines, discovered eleven weapons caches consisting of “139 artillery rounds, 56 mortar rounds, 47 122mm rockets, 94 14.5mm armor piercing incendiary rounds and 19 100-pound bags of propellant.”

Staff Sergeant Charles Strong, the platoon sergeant for Weapons Platoon, Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines, which is stationed in Husaybah directly on the Syrian border, provides a succinct description of the Marines’ posture along the Euphrates River Valley. I was embedded with Lima Company and patroled with SSgt. Strong’s platoon, call sign Jackel-4, and the progress in Husaybah has proceeded rapidly since my departure. Roadside bombs are still a threat, but the situation for the people of the city improves:

We remain active and the operational tempo has picked up so has the threats from IEDs and VBIEDs, so my watchful eye stays on my flock like a shepherd as we traverse Huysayba… The Marines here continue the good fight and are making headway everyday. Seems things change rapidly like power coming on and streets being repaired, and yes I even believe they started a sanitation service, but don’t think most have caught on as the local corner looks as good as any to dump and scatter their trash. Many interesting venues have happened since your leave.

A little under two months ago, security was the main focus in Husaybah. The fact that street repairs, sanitation and other services are being restored shows a marked improvement in the security situation and in the cooperation of the local tribes and population. SSgt. Strong also provides a powerful reminder of the nature of the struggle in Iraq and its importance in the War on Terror. This is a view that is widely held by the Marines fighting in Anbar:

Our own country’s men and women are fighting for the freedom of a helpless, defenseless Iraqi People, intertwined in a struggle against Islamic Extremism and a right to their own Nation regardless of what flag or religion it prospers under.

January 17, 2006

Hunting Zawahiri and al-Qaeda on the Border

Four days after the strike in the Pakistani border village of Damadola in the province of Bajaur, the status of Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s second in command, remains unknown. Zawahiri was purportedly invited to a dinner celebration for the Muslim holiday of Eid, but it is likely he sent senior aides to attend the dinner. A statement issued by the administration of Pakistan’s semi autonomous tribal regions indicates four or five of those killed in the strike were indeed “foreign terrorists” and that “between 10 and 12 foreign extremists had been invited to the dinner.” This refutes claims all of those killed were innocents. The identity of those killed has not yet been released, but will tell the intelligence services how close they may have come to bagging Zawahiri, if he did indeed escape.

Adnkronos International provides insight on the intelligence leading up to the strike and the intimate cooperation between U.S. and Pakistani intelligence agencies; “US intelligence officials had reliable information about a gathering of senior al-Qaeda and Taliban commanders in Pakistan’s Bajour district and shared it with Islamabad before last Friday’s air strike… The catalyst for the CIA raid on Bajour Agency - news of which was supplied to Islamabad well in advance - was information gathered by a joint intelligence unit of Pakistani-US operators based in Islamabad, who exchanged hand-delivered notes, on a daily basis. The Islamabad unit provides a centralised daily monitoring report on Pakistan-Afghan border areas, based on information from Pakistani agencies nationwide. The US contributes report on al-Qaeda and Taliban activities, and the security situation in the border provinces of Afghanistan.”

Damadola, PakistanThe strike in Damadola brought the underreported developments along the Afghan-Pakistani border to the fore. Adnkronos International also states the Kunar province of Afghanistan, which borders Bajaur, has “become a centre for al-Qaeda members” and a route between Kunar and Chitral [in Pakistan] was disclosed by none other than Abu Farraj al-Libbi, who was captured in Pakistan last year. The route is believed to be “frequently used by leaders such as Osama bin Laden, al-Zawahiri and Afghan resistance leader Gulbadin Hikmatyar.” al-Libbi’s importance in al-Qaeda and his knowledge of operations in Pakistan cannot be underestimated.

The political fallout from the strike against Zawahiri is still uncertain. Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has scheduled a new conference on January 19th to address the issue, but has stated over the weekend Pakistanis cannot allow foreigners to seek refuge within the borders. Reuters reports that while there have been protests over the attack, “few have been sizable by Pakistani standards.” Secretary of State Condolezza Rice has promised the U.S. will “continue to work with the Pakistanis and we’ll try to address their concerns.”

Diplomatic and political posturing of the Pakistani government aside, U.S. and Pakistani intelligence agencies will continue the hunt for high value al-Qaeda targets in Pakistan. Secretary Rice openly states as much. The risk of ending the operations for both the United States and Pakistan, and particularly President Musharraf, who has been the target of al-Qaeda assassination attempts, is too great. Pakistan may not be the ideal ally in the War on Terror, but the problems Musharraf faces are very real, and require a sophisticate balancing act he has so far been able to manage.

January 16, 2006

Security Incidents in Iraq

al-Qaeda in Iraq has issued a statement claiming to “have set up an umbrella body to coordinate their fight against U.S.-led forces and the Iraqi government.” Notably excluded from this body of insurgent groups are Ansar al-Sunnah and the Iraq Islamic Army. A look at the reported security incidents in Iraq from the past week may give some insight as to why al-Qaeda sees the need for further consolidation and coordination of the jihadi groups in Iraq.

Reuters compiles the list of major security incidents in Iraq on a near-daily basis. The following list contains the incidents reported over the past week:

Jan 9:

BAGHDAD - At least 28 people were killed and 25 wounded when two suicide bombers dressed as senior police officers got inside the Interior Ministry compound and blew themselves up, police said. KIRKUK - Gunmen shot dead a judge in the northern city of Kirkuk, police said.

Jan 10:

SAMARRA - Two insurgents were killed on Monday in Samarra, 100 km (60 miles) north of Baghdad, when a bomb they were trying to plant at the side of a road exploded prematurely, the U.S. military said.
NEAR SAMARRA - U.S. soldiers shot dead one gunman and arrested another on Monday after they had opened fire on a U.S. patrol, the American military said.
NEAR BALAD - U.S. soldiers killed a gunman on Monday after he shot at them from a building near Balad, 80 km (50 miles) north of Baghdad, the U.S. military said. They said they found bomb-making equipment in the building.

Jan 11: (no report available)

Jan 12:

BAGHDAD - U.S. soldiers killed six insurgents and wounded one in clashes in Baghdad on Wednesday, the U.S. military said. They said two of the dead were wearing suicide vests packed with explosives. They also found bomb-making equipment, assault rifles and ammunition in a nearby shack.
NEAR TIKRIT - Iraqi soldiers freed two kidnapped Iraqis on Wednesday near Tikrit, 175 km (110 miles) north of Baghdad, the U.S. military said. The captives were found bound and gagged in the boot of a car during an Iraqi army patrol.

Jan 13:

MOSUL - Insurgents shot down a U.S. military helicopter near the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, killing its two pilots, witnesses and U.S. officials said. Witnesses reported seeing gunmen armed with heavy machine guns open fire on the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior, a two-seat, single-engine helicopter, in al-Sukar district north of Mosul, about 240 miles (390 km) north of Baghdad.
BAQUBA - Two policemen were killed and five wounded when a car bomb struck their patrol in Baquba, 65 km (40 miles) north of Baghdad, police said.
ISKANDARIYA - A police patrol found the body of a policeman blindfolded and with his hands tied behind his back near the town of Iskandariya, 40 km (25 miles) south of Baghdad. He had been shot in the head, police said.
TAL AFAR - An insurgent was blown up on Thursday evening near the town of Tal Afar, north of Baghdad, when the explosive he was planting detonated prematurely, the U.S. military said.

Jan 14:

BAGHDAD - A roadside bomb killed two policemen and injured four other people when it blew up next to a police patrol in eastern Baghdad, police said… Gunmen assassinated Hadi al-Wa’ili, a Shi’ite cleric who led prayers at the Mehdi mosque in the mixed Baghdad neighbourhood of Hurriya, police said.

Jan 15 :

BAQUBA - Gunmen shot dead a police lieutenant in Baquba, 60 km (40 miles) north of Baghdad, police said.
TUZ KHURMATU - A police brigadier was seriously wounded along with his four bodyguards when gunmen opened fire on his motorcade near Tuz Khurmatu, north of Baghdad, police said. Earlier, four policemen were seriously wounded when a makeshift bomb went off near their patrol in the town.
TAZA - Four policemen were wounded when a makeshift bomb exploded near their patrol near Taza to the south of the northern oil city of Kirkuk, police said.
ULWIYA - Gunmen shot dead a police brigadier and major after abducting them on Saturday in the village of Ulwiya near Hawija, 70 km (43 miles) southwest of Kirkuk, police said. A note found in the brigadier’s pocket said the killings had been carried out by “The Sunni Supporters”.
KIRKUK - An Iraqi engineer was found shot dead in the city, police said. A second engineer was abducted by gunmen between the town of Taza and Kirkuk, police said.
MAHAWIL - A body, gagged and bound and shot dead, was found in Mahawil, 75 km (50 miles) south of Baghdad, police said.
BALAD - An Iraqi soldier was killed and another wounded on Saturday when a roadside bomb went off near their patrol in the city of Balad, 90 km (55 miles) north of Baghdad, police said.
BAIJI - Gunmen shot dead a police colonel on Saturday in the oil refinery city of Baiji, the local authorities said.

Jan 16:

BAGHDAD - Vehicles carrying U.S. police trainers were struck by a roadside bomb. One of the passengers was killed, the U.S. embassy said in a statement.
MIQDADIA - Local police officials said gunmen killed five policemen and one child and also wounded 18 people and, in a common rebel tactic, a car bomb exploded when reinforcements arrived in the town of Miqdadia, north of Baghdad. Police had earlier said five policemen were killed when a suicide bomber rammed his car into their patrol.
RAMADI - Sheikh Nasr Abdul Kareem, a physics professor and a tribal leader, was shot dead by gunmen while he was heading to work in eastern Ramadi, 110 km (68 miles) west of Baghdad, police and his brother said.
MUSAYIB - Three civilians were wounded when a roadside bomb targeting an Iraqi police patrol exploded in Musayib, south of Baghdad, police said.
ISKANDARIYA - Iraqi police arrested three insurgents while they were planting bombs on a road near Iraqi police on Sunday in Iskandariya, 40 km (25 miles) south of Baghdad, police said.

The following chart breaks down the incidents by target type.

TargetNumber of incidents
Iraqi Army/Police12
Insurgents Killed/Captured7
Civilian Assassination5
Suicide Attacks2
U.S. Forces Attacked2
Civilian Freed1

All but three of the attacks, or 90%, occurred in Baghdad or regions to the north. Seven of these cities; Baghdad, Baquba, Kirkuk, Mosul, Ramadi, Samarra, and Tal Afar; have been slated as focal points for rebuilding the local police forces.

Within the span of a week, al-Qaeda was able to conduct two suicide offensives. One of the attacks occurred in the past week, the highly successful strike in the Interior Ministry compound on January 9. al-Qaeda alsoclaimed responsibility for the shooting down of a U.S. army helicopter in Mosul. About 40% of the attacks were conducted against Iraqi Security Forces. Almost 25% of the incidents involved the death or capture of insurgents. About another 25% were assassinations against Iraqi civilian or government employees.

If the incidents reported by Reuters over the span of the past week are accurate, al-Qaeda in Iraq may be having a problem in sustaining a mass-casualty campaign over time. Since the beginning of the year, al-Qaeda has had only two successful bombing offensives: the series of attacks on January 4 and 5, and the single attack on January 9. The New Years Day offensive, which consisted of 14 bombs throughout the country, failed, as great resources went in to achieving only twenty wounded. Either al-Qaeda is in an operational pause, or its ability to sustain large scale attacks has been hindered.

Reuters leads off each security incident update with the following statement: “U.S. and Iraqi forces are battling a Sunni Arab insurgency against the Shi’ite- and Kurdish-led government in Baghdad.” Strategy Page reports there is now a civil war in Iraq, but the real battles are being fought between Sunnis. And the trend in a downturn in al-Qaeda’s effectiveness in conducting a terror campaign is quite real.

The increasing number of gun battles going on in Sunni Arab neighborhoods indicates that the civil war among the Sunni Arabs is already underway. It’s a low key and scattered affair, but keeps getting louder and more violent. Terror attacks have been declining, as the terrorists have had to spend more time defending themselves. This is not news, because it is not a single dramatic event, but it is a trend, and it has been a trend for some time now. It’s a trend that dooms the terrorist cause, and that will eventually be big news.

As long as the Iraqi Security Forces continue to develop and the political process moves forward, with Sunni parties joining the government, al-Qaeda’s problems will only increase, and further rifts will be seen within the Sunni insurgency.

January 14, 2006

al-Qaeda Branching into Lebanon, Hezbollah Unimpressed

Following al-Qaeda in Iraq’s recent claim of responsibility for late-December rocket attacks on Israel from Lebanon, it appears that Lebanese security is taking steps with some haste to counter al-Qaeda’s ability to establish a foothold in Lebanon. It was reported Friday that Lebanese authorities had arrested 13 Al-Qaeda suspects in a sweep that netted them in different parts of the country. They were charged by a Lebanese military court with “establishing a gang to carry out terrorist acts, forging official and private documents and possessing unlicensed arms.”

Among the thirteen al-Qaeda suspects were seven Syrians, three Lebanese, a Saudi Arabian, a Jordanian and a Palestinian. Their statements under custody have been contradictory, as they appear to shift from claiming al-Qaeda membership to Jund al-Islam (the group claiming responsibility for the assassination of Rafik Hariri and twenty others in a February 2005 Beirut bombing) and vice versa. Their particular membership in one or the other group, at least in principle, should mean little, as neither of the groups issue membership badges, but rather are bonded by a shared ideology without a physical brand.

As al-Qaeda (including Zarqawi’s al-Qaeda in Iraq) has increasingly indicated an intent to directly attack Israel, the leadership has chosen to establish a foothold in Lebanon and Gaza. Beirut’s Daily Star reported of an alleged al-Qaeda statement that warned the Palestinian camps of Sabra and Shatila in Lebanon that they would face attacks from al-Qaeda if they did not conform to their ideology.

“We have been trying hard to enter the Sabra and Shatila camp, which is considered the symbol of Palestinian camps in Lebanon … Since this camp needs reform, you have to take these warnings seriously, because today we warn but tomorrow we will liquidate dozens of people…Our suicide bombings will target all the United Nations buildings inside and outside the camp, as well as agents such as [Palestinian officials] Abbas Zaki and Khaled Aref and several foreign embassies.”

The Palestinian residents of the camps seem to be summarily unimpressed with al-Qaeda’s apparent attempt to take control of reforming the camps in order to instill a Taliban-like rule. Said one Palestinian resident, “Osama bin Laden should go and fight the Zionists before coming here to reform the camps. We don’t live in an extremist Islamic country; Shatila is the camp of the martyrs, the camp of the struggle.” Regarding the direct threat to the UN buildings in the camps (clinics and schools), the man retorted, “Do they want to destroy them too?”

Hezbollah Shias also views the encroachment of Sunni al-Qaeda in Lebanon with wary eyes, quite happy to have another hand in attacking Israel, but quite displeased with the rise of militant Sunni Islam, especially on their own turf.

Sheikh Naim Qassem, Hezbollah’s deputy secretary general, warned al-Qaeda about setting up shop in Hezbollah-controlled southern Lebanon. Qassem said, “We don’t know how many [al-Qaeda are in Lebanon] and we don’t know their plans or if they intend to do operations here. It’s important to caution everyone not to make Lebanon an arena for settling scores. It will be a dangerous development if that happens.”

Meanwhile, Iraq’s Moqtada Sadr called for a settling of differences between Shi’ite and Sunni terrorist groups in an interview on Saudi Arabia’s al-Arabiya channel. He said, “The Islamic world is being subjected to a strong Western aggression that requires us to join forces…I am with any movement that is dedicated to the principles of Islam and justice and rejects oppression whether it is Hizbullah or Hamas.” Whether or not he would cede control of any territory he may hold dominance over to achieve that, as Hezbollah refuses to do, he did not say.

It is worthy of note the increasing level of Red-on-Red infighting throughout the region: In Iraq, in the West Bank and Gaza, and now, potentially, in Lebanon. As it continues to develop, al-Qaeda’s recent moves to diversify from Iraq and seek new targets appears to include direct moves on Israel, which means establishing and recruiting from areas that are already controlled by other groups, including Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades (among others) in the Palestinian Territories. Many also expect that the first move by Iran in any hot conflict with the West will be to export terrorist attacks throughout the Middle East and enflame the entire region.

With all of them, the convergence point is Israel. But as diverse Sunni and Shi’ite groups of varying flavors of jihad begin to increasingly share the same battlespace, rather than the widely expected cooperation under the unifying Sun Tzu precept of ‘The enemy of my enemy is my friend’, it is more likely that what will be quite commonly heard and seen is ‘The enemy of my enemy is cramping my style.’ Sheikh Naim Qassem revealed as much, tipping Hezbollah’s hand in advance.

al-Qaeda Attacked: Zawahiri Dead?

Unconfirmed reports from Pakistani and U.S. intelligence sources indicate a CIA airstrike was carried out against a compound in Pakistan which contained Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s number two in command, and four other unnamed senior al-Qaeda leaders. Eighteen people are believed to have been killed in the strike.

According to Reuters, “A Pakistani intelligence official said four U.S. aircraft had intruded into Pakistani airspace and fired four missiles.” The Counterterrorism Blog quotes a source which indicate ten missiles were fired. The aircraft are believed to have been predator drones, presumably armed with Hellfire missiles.

The strike is said to have occurred in the rural town of Damadola, a small village near the Afghan border in the province of Bajaur, which is about ninety miles North of North Waziristan, the scene of recent unrest in Pakistan and an area believed to be an al-Qaeda and Taliban stronghold. A Pakistani intelligence source claims, according to Reuters, “Damadola has been a stronghold of Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (Movement for the Implementation of Mohammad’s Sharia Law), a pro-Taliban group banned by Pakistan in January 2002.”

DNA testing will be required for positive identification, but reaching the site of the attack may prove difficult. Adnkronos reports “People are very angry. They are not allowing access” to the crash site. The town sits right on the border with Afghanistan in a remote location where Pakistani troops are not believed to be operating. The survivors may bury or destroy the remains before an investigative team arrives, and which may be required to fight their way to the scene of the attack.

If Zawahiri’s death is confirmed, he will be yet the latest and most senior member of al-Qaeda killed in Pakistan. The tribal regions of Pakistan have long been a haven for al-Qaeda and the Taliban since their ouster in the winter of 2002. The Taliban has recently threatened to step up attacks, and there are reports al-Qaeda is shifting focus from Iraq to Afghanistan. In Zawahiri’s letter to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, he intimates that Pakistan’s tribal belt is the main base of operations into Afghanistan for al-Qaeda and the Taliban; “the real danger [to al-Qaeda] comes from the agent Pakistani army that is carrying out operations in the tribal areas looking for mujahideen.”

The death of Zawahiri, if true, would be a devastating loss for al-Qaeda. Zawahiri is believed to be the mastermind and guiding hand of the organization, and his roots in jihad against the West extend to his early teenage years. He was arrested at the age of fifteen for being a member of the Egyptian Brotherhood, was complicit in the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, led Egyptian Islamic Jihad, and went to Afghanistan to fight the Soviets. It was in Afghanistan where he met Osama bin Laden, and forged the bonds and led to the absorption of Egyptian Islamic Jihad into al-Qaeda’s network, and his rise to power in the terrorist group.

Zawahiri is the pragmatist in al-Qaeda. His experiences during his incarceration in Egypt after the Sadat assassination taught him to respect the power of the Middle Eastern rulers, and despite his acceptance of the intolerant Salafist worldview, he understands the need for the measured application of violence. His letter to Zarqawi shows his deftness in understanding the need to only commit acts of violence which will have a beneficial result. Zawahiri recognizes Zarqawi’s indiscriminate slaughter of Shiites and Sunnis alike is alienating the Iraqi people.

The death of Zawahiri would be a major psychological victory for the United States, as he has been targeted since the attacks on 9-11. Zawahiri’s own words in his recently released video tape would provide rich irony to his death; “you have to confess that you are defeated in Iraq, and you are defeated in Afghanistan and you will soon be defeated in Palestine, with Allah’s help.” It is difficult to argue al-Qaeda is winning the war if its number two in command is killed in a nameless, meaningless town in the backwaters of Pakistan by an American missile strike.

January 13, 2006

The Iraqi Police and Continuing Operations

In the immediate wake of the double suicide attack on the police recruiting station in Ramadi, which claimed over eighty lives and injured over seventy, the Sunni police candidates lined back up to volunteer while the carnage was still fresh. The police continue to be a main target of al-Qaeda’s intimidation campaign, as a concerted effort is being made to stand up the national and local police forces in 2006, just as training the Iraq Army was the main effort in 2005.

On Thursday, one week after the horrific attack in Ramadi, another police recruitment drive was conducted. Captain Jeffrey Pool, the Public Affairs Officer for the 2nd Marine Division, which is headquartered in Ramadi, reports “the recruits returned en masse today.” Four Hundred Iraqi Police candidates transitioned to the Baghdad police academy, and “Half of the men were recruited from the Al Qa’im region in western Al Anbar and the other half from the provincial capital, Ar Ramadi.”

The Los Angles Times reports on the the recruiting in Ramadi and motivations Ali, a volunteer who made the cut during today’s police recruitment; “A few months ago, Ali saw masked gunmen shoot his cousin — a former police officer — four times in the head.” Ali refuses to be intimidated by the terror tactics of al-Qaeda and the insurgency; “We’ve been scared for a long time. We’ve had enough… I want to try to secure my city.”

While the police recruitment drive continues in Ramadi and the western run of the Euphrates River Valley remains relatively quiet, the bulk of the day-to-day fighting and operations has now moved to Baghdad and the regions north of the city. The bulk of the casualties, Coalition, Iraqi Security Forces and the insurgency are now coming from this region. Multinational Forces - Iraq press releases show the trend.

In During one raid in Baghdad, a large weapons cache is discovered, six insurgents are killed and one is detained. At least two are likely to be al-Qaeda terrorists, as they were wearing explosive laden suicide vests, a tactic used by the jihadis. Another raid resulted in a firefight where one suspect was detained and another cache was uncovered.

A U.S. Army OH-58 Kiowa Warrior scout helicopter was shot down in Mosul. Near Balad, just north of Baghdad, a failed roadside bomb attack resulted in the capture of four insurgents. A variety of incidents around Samarra, Balad and Mosul resulted in the capture of two insurgents and the death of two others. Iraqi Army and Coalition forces uncover five caches near Muqdadiyah, Kirkuk, Balad, Tal Afar and Mosul , and another insurgent dies when the roadside bomb he was planting explodes prematurely.

Iraqi Army and police units are intimately involved in the fighting in Baghdad and the north. And as more Sunnis join the police forces in these regions and along the Euphrates River Valley, the fight will only get tougher for al-Qaeda and the insurgent holdouts. Just as the Iraqi Army has yet to meet its full potential, so to are the Iraqi police forces still working to fully form up. Yet they are beginning to make their presence felt. For this reason, they will be the target of al-Qaeda’s wrath.

Iran Rattling Diplomatic Sabers

Iran has threatened to end IAEA snap inspections of its nuclear facilities as provided by the Additional Protocol agreement, signed after the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). In response to the growing clamor to have Iran referred to the United Nations Security Council, it has renewed the threat and grown increasingly belligerent in the face of international pressure to cease uranium enrichment work restarted at the underground Natanz facility. The value of having such IAEA inspection measures in place must be questioned in the shadow of recent events, as Iran defied IAEA observers by opening the Natanz IAEA seals themselves when the IAEA officials would not.

Manouchehr Mottaki, Iran’s Foreign Minister just back from a two day visit to Kazakhstan, said to the state-run Iranian media arm, IRNA, “In case Iran is referred to the UN security council … the government will be obliged to end all of its voluntary cooperation.” This diplomatic saber rattling is not a new threat, as the Iranian Mejlis (parliament) passed such measures in November and Ahmadinejad signed it into law on December 12, 2005.

Nonetheless, after yesterday’s seemingly unified and determined international response, some in Europe have renewed the quest for ambiguity and diplomatic doublespeak, potentially deconstructing the gains made possible only through unified and confident stands briefly on display Thursday.

An unnamed diplomat seemed to confirm that Russia would not block any referral to the UN Security Council, saying, “Whether or not Rice has got that promise, I think it’s politically impossible for the Russians to block a transfer (of the Iranian nuclear dossier) from the IAEA to the Security Council. Whether, when it comes to the resolution, they will vote in favor or abstain doesn’t really matter.”

China has said that it is ‘on the same page’ as Russia. However, what remains to be seen is if Russia or China would veto any sanction vote once the Iranian dossier was successfully handed from the IAEA to the Security Council. All that has been said is that Russia and (rather indirectly) China would not block a referral. Neither has said anything regarding how each would act once the Security Council convenes. This may explain the sudden hedging emerging from an EU that seemed so unified and confident yesterday, as French Foreign Ministry spokesman Jean-Baptiste Mattei said, “We, like our partners, like the British and the Germans, consider that this co-request for sanctions is premature for the moment.”

It is time to press the issue and have nations put their cards on the table. If Russia and/or China are going to block sanctions on Iran, it is time for the world to force the issue and have them make such a stand openly on the world stage. Short of that, all that is accomplished is the extension of the Iranian nuclear clock while the world guesses and wonders, and the IAEA inspectors continue their symbolic but ineffectual presence. The EU would be well advised to stand firm and stand united, matching Iran’s will with equal European will.

January 12, 2006

Iranian Paralysis Broken, Security Council Looms

The United States and the EU-3 have taken the stand that it is time to refer Iran to the United Nations Security Council for non-compliance with IAEA agreements and an emergency meeting of the IAEA Board of Governors is expected to be requested shortly. The ‘talks about talks with a secretive, adamant and belligerent Iran appear to have finally run their course. Top officials from the US, UK, France, Germany, Russia and China will meet in London Monday to confer on proceedings and options. The words are unusually strong and it appears the only way that Iran can avoid the Security Council is to immediately reverse course in Natanz and come to a rapid agreement with Russia on a nuclear fuel cycle that includes enrichment exclusively outside Iranian territory.

After breaking the IAEA seals on the Natanz enrichment facility at the protest of IAEA officials present, open discussions of referral to the Security Council immediately began among the United States and the EU-3. The initial Iranian response was one of defiance from former Iranian president and current head of the Expediency Council, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. In a sermon at Tehran university, Rafsanjani said, “Adopting harsh measures like imposing sanctions cannot bring about the desired outcome. We will stand by our right to nuclear technology. They will regret creating any problems for us.”

This latest volley of Iranian threats seems to have fallen on deaf ears this time, as the EU and the United States seem to be reducing the amount of wiggle room in their rhetoric by the hour. Even Germany seems to have tired of the repeating cycle on display over the past three years, as German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said bluntly of the situation, “Our talks with Iran have reached a dead end.”

Yet, UN Secretary General told the BBC that Iran had contacted him and told him it was still interested in talks. Iran has unceasingly insisted that its ‘right’ to uranium enrichment is non-negotiable. Since this is precisely what the EU and the United States want to prevent, further discussions would simply prove to be another fruitless endeavor, save for the additional time further talks would once again grant Iran.

There is still time for the West to reverse course once more. But it appears that the United States and the EU-3 have discovered a new resolve, possibly broken the grip of the Iranian Paralysis and chosen to engage the world’s premiere state sponsor of terrorism and it’s nuclear program within the arena of the United Nations Security Council, as a potential last diplomatic stop on the path to conflict or resolution.

al-Qaeda vs. the Iraqi Insurgency

Fighting between al-Qaeda and elements of the insurgency, and al-Qaeda and tribal groups, has been occurring i n Iraq for some time. Reports have been trickling in for well over a year in incidences of resentment, infighting and outright open warfare between the groups. In the Qaim region of Western Iraq, along the Syrian border, members of the Albu Mahal tribe rose up against al-Qaeda and their tribal ally. Further incidents of “red-on-red” fighting occurred in the cities of Husaybah and Mosul. In Ramadi, insurgents openly took up arms against al-Qaeda for threatening their Shiite neighbors.

The reasons for the infighting are varied, but often al-Qaeda oversteps its bounds with the local Iraqis. In some cases, al-Qaeda attempts to skim from the profits of criminal enterprises, sometimes well in excess of 50%. Sometimes the terrorists attempt to install its draconian form of Taliban-like rule in local communities, and murder the residents for minor offenses of the law. al-Qaeda is insensitive to the fact that civilians are often caught in the crossfire of their horrific suicide attacks; in fact civilians are often the main targets. And al-Qaeda occasionally makes the penultimate mistake of intimidating or even killing insurgent leaders or respected members of the tribes.

Today’s New York Times provides further evidence of the tensions that exist between the local insurgents and al-Qaeda. The complaints voiced by the four insurgents mentioned in the article are not new, but do highlight the level of interaction between the serious rifts between the groups, as well as the accuracy of the accounts that there is indeed a significant foreign element to al-Qaeda in Iraq’s membership.

The local insurgents and citizens possess contempt and disgust for al-Qaeda’s arrogant behavior and grissly tactics. Abu Lil, an insurgent, describes a meeting between the two factions;

“[al-Qaeda] said, ‘Jihad needs its victims… Iraqis should be willing to pay the price.’”

We said, “’It’s very expensive.’”

The meeting ended abruptly, and Abu Lil and his associates walked out, feeling powerless and angry.

“I wished I had a nuclear bomb to attack them,” he said. “We told them, ‘You are not Iraqis. Who gave you the power to do this?’”

Some insurgents have switched sides and now openly fight al-Qaeda. During the fighting in the Qaim Region, the Albu Mahal tribe was a former ally of al_Qaeda. They turned on the terrorist group after al-Qaeda demanded an excessive cut from their smuggling profits, and intimidated and assassinated tribal leaders. Over the spring and summer of 2005, the Albu Mahal fought al-Qaeda without Coalition or Iraqi government assistance,

The Albu Mahal tribe is now an ally of the Iraqi government, and provides the majority of the troops for the Desert Protection Force, which is a organization of the local tribal fighters that provide for local security and act as scouts for Iraqi Army and U.S. Marines operating in the area. Strategy Page reports the Desert Protection Force is resisting deployment out of the Qaim region because they would not be able to fight al-Qaeda; “Tribes there are willing to support the DPF, but want solid assurances that their boys will remain in the province – they see the DPF as helping them keep control of their own turf, which happens to include keeping al Qaeda out.”

As the political process slowly advances, and more Sunnis are drawn into the political realm, al-Qaeda’s attacks will increase in ferocity and lethality. The domestic Iraqi insurgency and al-Qaeda will become increasingly at odds as the local Iraqis do not desire to see their friends and families slaughtered by foreigners, no matter how much the insurgents dislike the Americans. Or, as one insurgent from the Qaim region put it; “Frankly, I don’t like the American occupation but I prefer the American occupation to occupation by Al Qaeda…”

January 11, 2006

Iran Countdown to Showdown?

Iran has removed the seals from its Natanz uranium enrichment plant and begun operations as IAEA inspectors could do nothing more than watch the Iranians do it. The war of words over Iranian Nuclear Development has heated up and taken a decided turn towards conflict as a direct result, yet there still remains measurable ambiguity beneath the surface. The EU3 have nonetheless responded with more vigor than previously seen throughout the crisis, yet the United States remains hamstrung by unclear positions offered by other players internationally (primarily Russia and China) in its efforts to bring Iran successfully before the United Nations Security Council.

The EU-3 have finally come to the conclusion that there can be no more talks without “a guarantee from Iran that it will not conduct any activities related to (uranium) enrichment.” This obvious, and long overdue, stance effectively means the end of talks, as Iran has maintained its ‘right’ to enrich uranium throughout the entire process.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad weighed in, clinging to the ‘peaceful’ nature of the Iranian program by stating, ”I am telling all the powers that the Iranian nation and government, with firmness and wisdom, will continue its path in seeking and utilizing peaceful nuclear energy.”

In a rare moment of international diplomatic clarity, Britain’s Tony Blair said bluntly, “I do not think there is any point in people, or us, hiding our deep dismay at what Iran has decided to do.”

This is where the clarity ends. Prime Minister Blair then muddied the unusually clear waters by following that statement by saying that it was “time to decide” whether or not it was time to refer Iran to the UN Security Council. That decision should have already been made and made as clearly as his initial comment. Unless it is being made with a need for a guaranteed result from all members.

China is reportedly supporting the West on the Iranian Nuclear Development issue as well. Wu Bangguo, chairman of China’s NPC said to US congressmen that China “agreed that they (Iran) should not have nuclear weapons, and agreed to working with the United States and especially the EU3.” However, closer examination of their customarily nuanced and incomplete statement leaves it largely empty. Note that his statement did not address uranium enrichment, leaving the Chinese room to wiggle with the Iranian regime. With uranium enrichment, the necessary precursor to fissile weapons-grade material, nuclear weapons production in Iran is a certainty. To not oppose Iranian enrichment expressly is to either be naïve, which the Chinese certainly are not, or be either indifferent or supportive to the Iranian aims. Counter to the view of Congressman Mark Kirk that ‘China offers to help rein in Iran’, China offers nuance at best and, potentially, duplicity in its statement.

Duplicity is a strong word. But consider this report from Iran’s state-run press arm, the Islamic Republic News Agency(IRNA):

China’s Deputy Foreign Minister for International Affairs Zhang Ye Sui said here Monday Iran had the right to pursue nuclear technology.

During a meeting with Iranian enovy [sic] Mehdi Safari, he said China believed the Iran nuclear issue should be resolved within the framework of the IAEA and was opposed to having it referred to the UN Security Council.

Russia is offering support slightly more substantive than China by offering Iran enrichment on Russian soil. But this alternative was fully expected to be rejected, which it was, and offered Russia the opportunity to be seen as supportive to the West while still protecting its current and future lucrative nuclear contracts within Iran. In a statement earlier today, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stated, “The general feeling, in the light of continuing issues relating to Iran’s nuclear program, was disappointment over Tehran’s decision to abandon the moratorium and restart research in the sphere of uranium-enrichment.” This falls short of condemnation and offers little to evidence of reliable support going forward.

The United States has offered the most direct response, as White House Spokesman Scott McClellan said that if Iran “fails to abide by its international obligations there is no other choice but to refer the matter to the Security Council.”

Iran is expected to abide by IAEA agreements and IAEA directives. The wording of this White House statement is an important detail, as Kenneth Timmerman reports on a ‘confidential’ urgent report given to the IAEA Board of Governors regarding the events surrounding the breaking of the IAEA seals at Natanz. Timmerman cites his sources, stating that, in this report, the IAEA officials refused to open the seals. The Iranian nuclear team then broke the seals themselves as the IAEA inspectors looked on powerlessly. This is a critical detail openly displaying IAEA directive and Iranian defiance. The report also said that, counter to Iranian public claims, uranium hexafluoride (UF6: processed uranium ready for enrichment) was being poured into the cascaded centrifuges. If Timmerman’s sources are correct, this should weigh heavily. Further, if this urgent report was indeed delivered to the Board of Governors and an immediate IAEA call for referral does not materialize, the international community should re-think the manner in which it relies upon the body.

The current news cycle is replete with stern sound-bites that make for magnetic headlines. However, looking beyond the highlighted text displays a world still largely reluctant to act or even take a clear and unambiguous stand. Meanwhile, time continues to slip by and Iran continues to draw nearer to becoming capable of producing their own nuclear weapons.

January 10, 2006

The Waziristan Problem

A recent upsurge in violence in Pakistan’s tribal regions (or Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province) is a cause for great concern for the United States and her allies in the War on Terror. In the past, Pakistani forces conducted several offensives in the region, with mixed results.

Pakistan Tribal BeltThe tribal area of North Waziristan has seen an increase in clashes between Pakistani forces and pro al-Qaeda and Taliban forces. A rocket attack against a Pakistani outpost in Sarbandji village near the town of Miran Shah killed seven Pakistani soldiers. Pakistan claims fourteen “terrorists were killed when our forces returned fire, and they included some foreigners and a local commander of the miscreants”, with “miscreants” being code for al-Qaeda.

Pakistani troops are said to be “continuing a siege of Hasokhel and Milagan villages in search of suspects wanted in last week’s soldier deaths.” This follows news that Pakistani tribal leaders are accusing U.S. helicopters of firing across the border, purportedly killing eight civilians. Cross border operations in Pakistan are nothing new. al-Qaeda member Haitham al-Yemeni was killed in a missile strike from a U.S. predator drone in May of 2005. And Hamza Rabia, according to counterterrorism analyst Dan Darling, was an Egyptian who “certainly was the head of al-Qaeda in Pakistan” was killed in a “CIA missile attack on an al-Qaeda safehouse in Asorai in Waziristan”

The unrest in Waziristan highlights the very trouble state of affairs in Pakistan and their fragile role in the War on Terror. On one hand, they have provide some of the most stunning successes against al-Qaeda operatives, including the capture or deaths of some of the most senior leaders, including warlord Nek Mohammed, Abu Farraj al-Libbi, al-Qaeda’s former commander in Pakistan and purported number three in command, Abu Zubaydah, the former operations chief of al-Qaeda, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Ramsi Binalshibh, senior al-Qaeda operatives and masterminds of 9-11. It is estimated up to a thousand al-Qaeda operatives have been detained or killed.

On the other hand, Pakistan has taken few lasting steps to dismantle terrorist organizations such as Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), al-Qaeda’s regional affiliate in Pakistan. Political pressures in the country, which include powerful Islamist parties and the support for LeT’s (and other domestic terrorist groups associated with al-Qaeda) actions in Kashmir make President Pervez Musharraf’s fight against al-Qaeda impossible at times. Pakistan’s security services and military is said to be riddled with sympathizers and supporters of the Islamist cause.

Complicating Pakistan’s problem is the ever present problem in Balochistan, the autonomous province in the southeastern region of the country. The Balochi people are fiercely independent and have the luxury of sitting on over one-half of Pakistan’s natural energy resources. Pakistan has fought a violent insurgency in the past, and violence is ever prevalent in the region. The Pakistani government recently accused India of fueling the Balochi insurgency, and claims to possess evidence of this.

Pakistan has succored terrorist groups as a strategic reserve against India, their mortal enemy in the subcontinent. The creation of the Taliban was predicated on the theory of creating a strategic depth to their west. This has created the conditions for al-Qaeda to make inroads into the tribal regions, as al-Qaeda ideology is very appealing to Islamist elements. Pakistan is always looking east towards its Indian enemy, yet is increasingly having to look at the enemy within. The current problems in Waziristan bear close watching, both for the future of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Ariel Sharon and The Tale of Two Elections

The health of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has dominated the atmosphere throughout the Middle East. While events surely did not stop, there seemed to be reduced activity in some quarters and unexpected respectful (and often praiseful) words from others, as the man who unilaterally handed over Gaza to the Palestinians was raced from examination to examination, and surgery to surgery. His condition is seen as improving, however, as Sharon has begun breathing on his own and had moved his right hand and his right leg to pain stimulus.

In Sharon’s absence, if not his shadow, Ehud Olmert has assumed the helm \ of both a nation in increasing conflict and a political party in its infancy. Olmert actually has an unfortunate benefit in the short term resultant from the emotional state of Israelis during the crisis surrounding Prime Minister Sharon’s sudden failing health. While he does benefit from a somewhat forgiving public for the time being, in the coming eleven weeks before the ‘snap’ Israeli election, he will have to face defining the Kadima Party founded by the ailing Sharon, and articulating its positions without the direct aid of its founder. He must also convince them that he will carry on and continue the path that Sharon has set forth.

The conflict surrounding Israel is ever increasing, despite Sharon’s efforts to achieve peace through actions like the unilateral handover of Gaza to the Palestinians. A similar but more limited move with the West Bank was not out of the question. Insofar as external influences are concerned, the rising violence is almost certainly because of Sharon’s efforts. Neither Iran nor Syria see benefit from a resolution to or an abatement of the Palestinian Crisis. Both the Iranian mullahcracy and the Assad regime seem intent on fighting and destroying Israel, right down to the last Palestinian (and Lebanese Hizbollah loyalist).

Add to that mix al-Qaeda. As was noted here that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s al-Qaeda in Iraq had laid claim to the late-December missile attacks on Israeli towns from across the Lebanese border, it is now reported that the order to attack Israel came directly from Osama bin Laden. Zarqawi said in a tape:

“The rocket firing at the ancestors of monkeys and pigs from the south of Lebanon was only the start of a blessed in-depth strike against the Zionist enemy… All that was on the instructions of the shaikh of the mujahidin, Osama bin laden, may God preserve him.”

While it remains unclear as to what degree al-Qaeda is prepared to continue this strategy, this does not bode well for the future level of violence in and around Israel in the coming months and, perhaps, longer.

The Palestinian elections coming later in January and the campaign leading up to them have proven bitterly divisive, at least among the leadership of the key factions vying for power. This is especially in Gaza with its current state of lawlessness. In the West Bank, Israel is allowing Palestinian campaigning in East Jerusalem, starting on Monday, but only for registered candidates. Israel is using a registration procedure to prevent any Hamas candidates from participating. There are those who suggest that Israel should step aside and allow the voting and campaigning, come what may (a Hamas leadership), thinking that the Palestinians will have to live eith the consequences of their choices on election day. One defense to that argument is that the Israeli government (and its citizens) would also have to live with the choice of leadership and the realities of the violent conflict a Hamas government would create. A Hamas leadership is not acceptable for them, as Hamas still defines victory as one Palestinian state, from the River to the Sea, and the destruction of Israel.

Mahmoud Abbas said publicly on Palestinian Television that he has received assurances from the US that East Jerusalem Palestinians will be able to vote in the January 25 elections. He said that he had received such assurances from US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and President Bush. What the AP article referenced fails to note is that State Department spokesman Sean McCormack denied any such assurances were given.

Two things about this are interesting. First, it is not the United States’ place to give such assurances for a region in which they have no presence, if such assurances were given. This is an Israeli-Palestinian issue where the United States may play a role, but certainly has no authority to dictate the decisions of Israel. It is possible that such a message was cautiously relayed under the context of “…look, we’re working on it”. But to outright guarantee seems not only unlikely, but rather arrogant if true. Second, it appears that Abbas is selling this to either the Palestinian public or, more likely, to the Israeli interim leadership. Regardless of the degree to which any assurances were or were not given to Abbas, it seems to be a political end around play while the Israelis are preoccupied.

What likely transpired was that the Palestinians were given encouraging words on the coming elections and East Jerusalem to some extent, but in confidence. Abbas broke that confidence and publicly overstated any assurances in an effort to one-up Olmert and force his hand in East Jerusalem.

It appears clear that the Palestinian voters in East Jerusalem are actually quite apathetic to the whole political process in the Palestinian Territories. No different than in many democratic election settings, voters tend to believe that the politicians running are not the best their people has to offer and are seeking levers of power rather than the task at hand in service to the public.

The Palestinians enter into elections with weak leadership that is sought to be replaced with weaker, as seen through the eyes of Jerusalem’s Palestinian voters. This certainly is not a sentiment limited to the edges of East Jerusalem. Israel, on the other hand, goes into the elections having lost one of the strongest leaders in its brief modern history and unsure about the prospects and strength of the man and the government that would replace him.

To what degree Israel’s outside foes will seek to leverage this remains to be seen, but should begin to take visible form in the coming weeks.

January 9, 2006

al-Qaeda Attacks the Iraqi Police

al-Qaeda has pulled off yet another successful attack on Iraq’s security forces. Two suicide bombers disguised as senior police officers penetrated the security in an Interior Ministry compound in east Baghdad. Reuters reports the bombers would have entered the actual Interior Ministry building but not for the cautious eyes of Iraqi policemen; “Once inside the checkpoint, Interior Ministry guards became suspicious of one of the attackers because of his bulk, and shot at him, detonating his explosive belt. The second bomber then blew himself up, causing more carnage.”

Over 28 were murdered and 25 wounded in the dual suicide vest bombing. The search is on to identify the culprits who provided security badges and uniforms to the terrorists. A recent Strategy Page analysis looks at the difficulties in keeping Islamists from infiltrating the police forces in Iraq and the greater Arab world. The long term solution is better vetting of police candidates and the short term solution is often keeping the local police forces out of the loop in security sweeps.

The increased effective usage of suicide vest, such as those used in last week’s devastating attacks in Baghdad, Ramadi, Najaf, Kerbala and Muqdadiyah, over car bombs may point to several trends; the Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces are increasingly becoming more proficient in identifying and disabling car bombs; car bombs are becoming increasingly more difficult to produce and employ as the ratlines to Syria have been largely severed; and al-Qaeda is adapting to the tactics of their enemy.

While al-Qaeda shifts its tactics, the Iraqi Security Forces are increasingly taking a greater role in security operations. Over the past few days, over 111 insurgent suspects have been detained by the Iraqi Security Forces in Baghdad, Abu Ghraib and Babil Province.

The Iraqi Security Forces are increasingly becoming the targets of al-Qaeda as they explicitly fear the co-opting of the Iraqi people, and specifically the Sunnis, into the Iraqi government. Zarqawi has openly stated his fear of the Iraqi people providing for their own security; “The Americans will continue to control from their bases, but the sons of this land will be the authority; This is the democracy, we will have no pretext [to fight].”

U.S. News & World Report recently highlighted the increased effectiveness of the Iraqi Security Forces in the city of Mosul. While the main focus of the article was the difficulties U.S. forces encounter when treading upon issues of Iraqi police detentions, interrogations and possible abuse of detainees, the effectiveness of the Iraqis in Mosul also comes to the fore. The Iraqi police and Army in Mosul, while often at odds and distrustful of each other, are intimately involved in the dismantling of a terror cell, from the initial contact with the cell by an Iraq police sniper team, to the arrest, interrogation, hunt for more cell members and the eventual downfall of the cell. Excerpted from the article:

A hundred feet in the air, atop a mosque’s minaret, an Iraqi police sniper hears the shots. The sniper draws a bead on one of the gunmen. He pulls the trigger, his bullet dropping the man to the ground. The gunfire alerts the police officers inside Four West, one of Mosul’s heavily fortified police stations. They race to the scene. Abu Mahmoud hustles his men back into the car, and it takes off. But the streets are jammed, and Nashwan is forced to stop. Abu Mahmoud and a man called Adel jump out of the car and vanish into the crowd. For some reason, Nashwan does not run. The man shot by the sniper is taken to Mosul’s main hospital. The police apprehend Nashwan and bring him to Four West…

Nashwan, says [Colonel Eid] al-Jabouri, has started talking to the Iraqi police. The police interrogator’s questions focus on the afternoon attack. Nashwan confesses to having driven the getaway car….

[Maj. Sabah Majeed, the Iraqi Army intelligence officer] outlines his plan. Three of the Strykers—equipped with thermal imaging gear that allows soldiers to see at night—will form an outer cordon. Then one of the Iraqi platoons will form an inner cordon, while the other searches for the suspect vehicle in a parking lot. Fox nods: The plan sounds good. Gently, he suggests that Majeed take a squad of Americans into the parking lot with him. Majeed agrees.

The Iraqis bring along Nashwan, his eyes blindfolded with blacked-out goggles and his hands bound… With Nashwan’s help, the Iraqis quickly locate a van with weapons concealed in a roof compartment—three rocket-propelled grenade launchers, two sniper rifles, an antitank rocket launcher, and a stash of ammunition, grenades, and rockets…

[Following up on the day’s raid] the Iraqis plan to raid four different buildings. The target is cell leader Abu Mahmoud, a man wanted badly by the Iraqi police and Army…The Iraqi soldiers detain two men in the second building. In two more stops, they detain two more men, rounding up all cell members but one—the leader, Abu Mahmoud…The Americans and the Iraqis part company, but for Majeed, the night isn’t quite over. A few hours later, Nashwan comes up with another possible location for Abu Mahmoud. Majeed calls Alleathe [the U.S. Army interpreter]. But after a long day and night, he sleeps through the cellphone ring. Majeed goes out with a platoon of 20 Iraqi soldiers and arrests Abu Mahmoud without American help. Triumphantly, Majeed returns with the insurgent leader to his battalion headquarters; within hours, Abu Mahmoud reveals key details of his cell’s operations.

Almost 2 years ago, police departments throughout Iraq were disintegrating under the onslaught of a concerted offensive by al-Qaeda and insurgents. Iraq police were fleeing their posts and going underground; the elements of the Iraqi Army could not be trusted and members were deserting. The infamous “Fallujah Brigade” fell apart and many of its members joined the insurgency.

Today, the Iraq Security Forces are setting up sniper positions over critical hot spots, establishing snap checkpoints, patrolling towns, responding to events on their own initiative, planning and executing their own operations, and holding their ground when attacked. Communities, such As Siniyah, are meeting to discuss ways to keep out the “foreign fighters” and are adapting tactics such as creating “security berms” to control the flow of people into the town. The checkpoints in as-Siniyah will be manned by Iraqi police and Army units.

The questions that are now presenting themselves concern the civil rights and treatment of prisoners, the role the U.S. should play in enforcing western standards on interrogation of suspected insurgents, the Iraq criminal justice process as a whole, tensions between the Iraqi police and army, and, as always, the ever present fear of civil war, which, despite heinous attacks on Iraqi Shiites, has yet to manifest. In Mosul, a very real question needs to be raised: are the U.S. efforts to strictly adhere to western methods of detention and interrogation in any way hindering the Iraqis’ fight against the insurgency?

al-Qaeda will continue to target the Iraqi Security Forces as the “Iraqification” of the war is proceeding apace. Iraqi police and Army units have yet to meet their full potential, and yet are making a noticeable difference in the fight. al-Qaeda fears this Iraqi involvement and is attempting to destroy the morale and capacity of the Iraqi Security Forces. The terror campaing has failed to derail political progress in Iraq or prevent the Iraqi people from voting, and the terror campaign is also unlkely to derail the security forces from developing and Iraqis from volunteering.

Iranian Paralysis

There is little good news coming from the swirling Iranian nuclear crisis, as Iran is now pulling the UN IAEA seals from several of its nuclear facilities as it prepares to resume its program operations. The IAEA has ‘monitoring equipment’ in place, but that did not impede the North Koreans from achieving nuclear progress, including its claim of nuclear weapons.

IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei reiterated the tired, overused and now empty phrase that “the international community is losing patience with Iran.” If that is so, it doesn’t show much beyond interviews and press conferences. Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik offered up that this is “the wrong step in the wrong direction and is a cause of very serious concern.” The question that continues to confound observers of the EU3/ IAEA efforts is, ‘Have there been any steps by Iran in the right direction to allay concern?’ The EU3 have been obsessed with ‘talks about talks’ and the US has sat idly by while Iran has been consistently deferred from referral to the UN Security Council, with the possible exception of occasional strong American words, usually centered around anti-Semitic remarks by Ahmadinejad rather than the nuclear crisis itself.

For the EU’s part, The Observer revealed that a British company trucked a shipment of over a ton of zirconium silicate straight through Europe by truck, destined for Iran. What is astonishing is that the shipment successfully a.) left Britain in the first place, b.) was not stopped at the British, German or Romanian borders before being ‘sniffed’ and halted by Bulgarians on the Turkish border, and c.) was eventually allowed to proceed on to Iran, even after an investigation.

Zirconium is used to line control rods in a reactor to minimize corrosion during nuclear plant operation. Zirconium is extracted from the sand (silicate) and refined in order to do this. For this reason, zirconium silicate is a controlled substance at a certain purity. This shipment, after analysis, did not meet those controlled levels. But two issues arise from this, regardless. First, it was apparently not known that this activity was taking place to begin with. This is a problem. Second, due to this, the purity level was a mystery and would have proceeded to Iran unchallenged but for an alert shift of Bulgarian border security agents who monitored for radioactivity. This is also a problem.

Are the Iranians not ingenious and resourceful enough to extract and refine zirconium from silicate with 1.1% hafnium levels vice the controlled level material with just 0.05% hafnium? Why would the EU astonishingly allow it to pass through to Iran anyway, as if to challenge or dare them?

Furthermore, what other purpose could Iran possibly have for a truckload of somewhat radioactive sand shipped all the way from Britain? Surely they are not manufacturing windows or computer chips with such an exotic shipment from across the entire European continent.

In an article titled Iran’s “Let’s Roll” Beginning?, ‘Alan Peters’ suggests there is far more activity afoot at the hands of the Iranians. From the recent bulldozing of the border wall with Egypt by Palestinians being designed to supply Hezbollah, to recent Iranian tank, troop and naval movements as well as unusual communications, to the apparent leaking by Ahmadinejad that Iran already has Ukrainian nuclear weapons (a view long held by some observers), and internal political machinations, he suggests that Ahmadinejad is preparing to either exploit the void left by the post-Sharon vacuum in Israel or setting up countering capabilities should the US or Israel strike its facilities.

Meanwhile, the Russians have been in Tehran over the weekend to discuss moving Iranian enrichment processes to Russian soil. Or, according to Hossein Entezami, spokesman for Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, maybe the Russian are only discussing moving some of Iran’s enrichment program to Russia. Said Entezami, “The two sides are going to discuss Russia’s proposal for joint uranium enrichment, the scale of this, and also enrichment on Iranian soil.” If this is the case, the Russian endeavor is a waste of time to be heaped upon the stacks of other endeavors by all actors involved thus far, including the EU3, the United States, the IAEA and the broader UN body.

US Secretary of State suggests that the United States has perhaps not been sitting idly by as Iran carts along its path to nuclear armaments, but rather giving it enough rope to hang itself. In stating that the US is now certain it has enough votes to clear UN Security Council muster, Dr. Condoleezza Rice sad flatly, “The Iranians are digging their own hole of isolation deeper and deeper.”

Iran also suggests that the US has not been sitting idly by. Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi, Iran’s Interior Minister, accused the US of being behind the kidnapping of nine Iranian border guards along the Pakistani border. He suggested that the US was colluding with, of all groups, al-Qaeda, in order to carry out the operation. In other level-headed Iranian concept shopping, the official state-run Islamic Republic News Agency offered wider audience to another paper’s preposterous editorial which stated that the United States and Britain are intentionally allowing terrorist bombings and carnage in order to prevent a unified government from taking hold in Iraq. The illogic of that assertion requires no expounding, but its presence in the official Iranian state media arm should be noted.

Perhaps ‘sitting idly by’ may have been what was necessary to bring along Russian and Chinese support or, at the least, abstention rather than a Security Council veto. One would certainly hope that to be the aim (and result), as it has been unspeakably frustrating to observe the process.

But if Alan Peters is even partly on target, finally gaining support (or non-obstruction) from members of the UN Security Council may be a simple matter of too little, too late.

January 6, 2006

Blowback from the Ramadi Attack

The city of Ramadi is the last bastion of the insurgency and al-Qaeda in Anbar province. Yesterday’s deadly attack on prospective police recruits waiting outside the recruiting center may go a long way to erode that support.

The Washington Post reports “at least 80 Sunni Arabs were killed and 61 wounded” by the suicide bomber, and residents of Ramadi are furious. Tribal leaders, who are very influential in the Iraqi culture, were killed during the attacks.

The responsibility for the attack is being placed directly on al-Qaeda’s shoulders. “Neither the Americans nor the Shiites have any benefit in doing this. It is Zarqawi,” said the brother of one of the wounded. According to the Washington Post, “Another group of people beat a doctor in the hospital after he told an Iraqi journalist that U.S. forces were to blame for the attacks… Others said they hoped that sympathies in the city… would turn against Zarqawi’s faction.”

Tensions between the Sunnis in Ramadi and al-Qaeda have been simmering for some time. Over the summer of 2005, members of the Dulaimi tribe in Ramadi took up arms in defense of their Shiite neighbors to protect them from al-Qaeda threats, killed five terrorists, and caused them to flee.

al-Qaeda often oversteps its bounds in Iraq, and targets sheikhs and tribal leaders, or attempts to extort local criminal enterprises (such as smuggling). This alienates the al-Qaeda from their natural base of support among the Sunnis people. The mass murder of Sunnis waiting to volunteer for the police certainly will not help al-Qaeda’s cause in Ramadi.

While in Iraq, I accompanied a joint Marine-Iraq Army raid of farming community on the Euphrates River near Husaybah. A small cache of shells and mortars were uncovered in a run-down shed, and was brought to a field that was only several hundred yards from the Syrian border. The line of concertina wire that separate Iraq and Syria was in full view. The Iraqi troops, while proud of their find, looked angrily across the border.

I asked “Icy” the interpreter about this, and he agreed to help me question the Iraqi soldiers. They stated the weapons were coming across the Syrian border and were being brought by al Qaeda to kill the Iraqi people. Their desire was to cross the border and get to the heart of the problem. No doubt there are Sunnis in Ramadi that are having similar feelings today.

Syria, Who Is Next?

Syria has frozen the assets of former Vice President Abdel-Halim Khaddam and his family in a concrete move that follows their expulsion of a man already living in exile in Paris. While it will likely have little effect on him in Paris, it will make living in Syria quite difficult for family members not with him in Paris. Such is the price to be paid for announcing to the world that no one could have pulled off the assassination of Rafik Hariri without the involvement of the upper echelons of Syrian power and that President Bashar Assad told him that he had threatened Rafik Hariri before his assassination.

Before Rafik Hariri was assassinated on February 14, 2005, there was an assassination attempt on Druze Lebanese MP Marwan Hamadeh in October 2004. Three weeks later Prime Minister Hariri resigned in protest of Syrian attempts to have the Lebanese Constitution amended to allow for the extension of pro-Syrian Lebanese President Emil Lahoud without elections, in defiance of Assad’s demands that he publicly support the move. Since his assassination four months later, there have been a string of assassinations and assassination attempts on other anti-Syrian Lebanese figures, from journalists to politicians. The Lebanese Prime Minister has asked the UN Security Council to expand the Hariri assassination investigation to include this string of terror operations.

These operations against anti-Syrian Lebanese figures, the latest barely three weeks ago, is the focus of a Flash Presentation from ThreatsWatch: Who Is Next?

In a visit to Lebanon, British Foreign Minister Jack Straw said today that “it is important and essential for Lebanon’s future to uncover the truth behind all the assassinations.” Straw also called on Syria to establish formal relations with Lebanon, exchange ambassadors and recognize it as an independent state.

‘Unveiling the truth’ (and thus largely stopping the attacks on anti-Syrian Lebanese figures) is not only the key to Lebanon’s future, but also one of the keys to the future of the Middle East region as a whole. Perhaps then no one will be ‘next’.

It should not be a lost point that Lebanon is the model democracy for the Middle East, and that Beirut is the favorite vacation spot for Middle Easterners for a reason: It is free. With the support of other free nations, Lebanon will survive the heavy and destructive hand of the Syrian regime. And one day, there just may be more than one ‘Beirut’ in the Middle East.

January 5, 2006

al-Qaeda Counteroffensive

al-Qaeda and the insurgency began the New Year with an anemic offensive of thirteen car bombs in Baghdad and northern Iraq which resulted in only twenty casualties, no deaths. The past two days have seen a dramatically increased level of effectiveness in the employment of suicide bombers and attacks on infrastructure. Over 160 Iraqis have been killed and hundreds wounded in over eight suicide and car bomb attacks in Baghdad, Ramadi, Najaf, Kerbala and Muqdadiyah. Oil production and gasoline distribution in northern has been disrupted by effective attacks.

There are three main foci to these attacks: Shiites, Sunnis willing to cooperate with the Iraqi government, and Iraq’s oil infrastructure.

Recent threats on workers and attacks on the oil infrastructure in the town of Baiji, which hosts a large refinery, have disrupted gasoline shipments throughout the country. The tanker drivers have been threatened with violence, and yesterday a large convoy of 60 tankers was ambushed on the road to Baghdad. Four people were killed and 20 tankers have been reported to have been destroyed or damaged. A gas pipeline was “damaged in a mortar attack on Wednesday night” and “on Thursday morning the same pipeline was attacked by explosives, causing a huge fire.”

al-Qaeda attacks Shiites in order to attempt to stir up sectarian violence and a civil war between the Shiite majority and Sunni Arabs. In Kerbala, a suicide bomber wearing “a vest stuffed with about 18 pounds of explosives and several hand grenades… [with] small steel balls that had been packed into the suicide vest” blew himself up just thirty yards from the shrine the Imam Hussein, the most revered site in Shia Islam. Over 50 were killed and 70 wounded. In Muqdadiyah, a suicide bomber wearing a vest killed 36 and wounded over 40 during a funeral. Several smaller bombings in Baghdad and Najaf targeted Shiites and have killed and wounded scores of Iraqis.

Sunnis cooperating with the Iraqi government are widely targeted, as their involvement with the security forces would have serious negative implications for the Sunni-led insurgency. In Baquba, the head of criminal intelligence in Diyala province was targeted for assassination, he and three of his bodyguards were seriously wounded. The latest attack in Ramadi highlights the fear of Sunnis cooperating with the Iraqi Security Forces, as a massive amount of Sunnis are now volunteering to join Ramadi’s police force. Per CENTCOM; “A suicide bomb exploded at 10:55 a.m. near the Ramadi Glass and Ceramics Works where screening for Iraqi Police Officers was taking place… The four-day Iraqi Police recruitment and screening drive in Ramadi started Jan. 2 and has produced 600 qualified applicants during the first three days of screening. At 10:30 a.m. approximately 1,000 prospective candidates were waiting in line to apply for a position for the new Iraqi Police Force currently being reconstituted in Al Anbar.”

The CENTCOM report indicates 30 were killed in the attack. A doctor at Ramadi’s main hospital indicated more than 70 were killed and 65 wounded in the attack. Despite the carnage, CENTCOM reports the Sunnis who lined up to volunteer earlier in the day “returned and continued the screening process.”

al-Qaeda and the insurgency can still dispense death and disrupt services in Iraq. These attacks increasingly come in spurts as al-Qaeda does not seem to have the capacity to maintain a long term bombing offensive. The attacks are grouped together and designed for media shock effect, and directed at the morale of the American people and government. But the terror attacks have little real effect on the Iraqi people. The terror attacks have not provoked the Shiites into a civil war, and have not intimidated the Iraqi people. The will of the Sunnis in Ramadi to return to the site of horror and join the police demonstrates this.

The secular and religious Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish parties continue to negotiate the terms for an inclusive government, despite the insurgency’s attempts to divide the Iraqi people. After negotiations in Kirkuk that included the Sunni Iraq Accordance Front, the body of negotiators are set to move to Baghdad.

January 4, 2006

Ramadi Operations Continue

Coalition and Iraqi forces continue to plug away against the insurgency in Ramadi. The latest operation, Spider Web, was directed at the Jazerra region north of Ramadi, and was designed to clear the region and establish a “permanent overwatch, in the form of a combat outpost and tactical strong points.” The operation was conducted by two battalions of Iraqi troops from the 1st and 2nd Battalions, 3rd Brigade, 1st Division.

Operation Spider Web is the latest in a series of operations that began in October with Mountaineers, and continued over the next three months with Panthers, Bruins, Lions, Tigers, Shank, Rams, and Skinner. As Major General Richard A. Huck, the Commanding General of the 2nd Marine Division indicated, the preference is to increase the security presence in Ramadi without launching a full scale assault on the city, but this option still exists.

A direct result of the operations can be seen in the successful detention of two insurgents and the uncovering of a weapons cache. The latest caches seized in Ramadi included “multiple mortars and artillery rounds ranging from 105 mm-155 mm, mortar fuses, rockets, rocket propelled grenades, several kegs of gun powder, a Draganov sniper rifle, small arms rifles and ammunition, hand grenades, anti-personal mines, blasting caps and bomb-making equipment.”

A military officer in Ramadi explains the impact of recent arrests, “Today at 11 am 3/7 Marines and Iraqi soldiers from 3/1 Public Order Battalion manning a checkpoint in Ramadi detained two men driving a grey BMW. The driver came up in the computer as a smuggler and ex convict. A thorough search of the car revealed a hidden compartment with $40,000 USD.

Maj. Gen. Huck and various other officers have stated al-Qaeda’s most effective weapon in western Iraq is cash. A military officer in Anbar province states “In my time here we’ve only found large sums of USD, no other currency.” American money is widely desired and accepted in Iraq, and the fact that large quantities of it are being found indicates the money is coming from outside the country, likely via al-Qaeda networks. This money is funneled to pay criminals and part-time jihadis to plant roadside bombs.

One effective tactic used to deter those planting roadside bombs in Ramadi is the employment of sniper teams. The Telegraph’s Toby Harnden reports on the US Army’s Shadow sniper team of Task Force 2/69, which operates in northern and eastern Ramadi, along the war torn “Route Michigan”, the central artery of the city.

The leader of the Shadow sniper team is Staff Sergeant Jim Gilliland, who has an estimated 55 to 65 kills in less than five months. His prized kill was from over 1250 meters, which exceeds the accuracy limitations of the rifle scope by 250 meters. He placed his crosshairs 12 feet above the target to adjust for windage. The Shadow sniper team as a whole has killed over 200 insurgents in Ramadi. While in Ramadi, I witnessed the results of the snipers’ handiwork, and was told the insurgent who was killed on Route Michigan was shot from over 800 meters.

The military operations in Ramadi are not the ultimate solution to the insurgency in the city; that will come when community leaders decide to step up and accept responsibility for security, and re-establish the Ramadi police department, for starters. In the mean time the Coalition and Iraqi security forces continue to chip away at the insurgency, and reduce their strength, neighborhood by neighborhood.

January 3, 2006

Global War, Global Enemy

In the current environment of politicizing the War on Terror, it is often lost that the fight against al-Qaeda and its global allies of the International Islamic Front far exceeds the scope of operations in Afghanistan or Iraq. The presentation on the major al-Qaeda attacks worldwide reinforces the global nature of the fight, but al-Qaeda’s statements must also be looked at as well to obtain a full understanding of their strategy. They provide a constant reminder of the nature of the enemy.

Two recently released statements, one from the recently captured al-Qaeda commander Abu Musab al-Suri (a.k.a. Mustafa Setmariam Nasar), and another from an anonymous author who published a presentation at “a password-protected al-Qaeda-affiliated forum” provide yet another window into how al-Qaeda views their struggle as a united Islamist movement against the entire world.

Counterterrorism expert Evan Kohlmann provides a translation and transcript of a recently released audiotape by Abu Musab al-Suri just prior to his capture in September. al-Suri views the fight as a “global conflict” and refers to the combatants as “the family of mujahideen, or Al-Qaida as we are usually named today…” He views France as a specific enemy worthy of attack due to its involvement in the Algerian civil war, as well as for their dealing in Bosnia, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, the Middle East in general, Afghanistan, involvement in NATO, support of UNSC Resolution 1559, the banning of hijabs and a host of other grievances. In his own words:

This is why I hereby call all the mujahideen—regardless of whether they are from Syria, Lebanon or any other place—to strike France immediately. The mujahideen should target French interests wherever they may be—including the French mainland itself, just as they have struck other countries—and we shall not be swayed by their worthless positions on Palestine and Iraq. Why should we [attack them]? We shall strike France for becoming involved in Syrian and Lebanese issues and for supporting the colonialist [United Nations Security Council] Resolution 1559 that is essentially a preliminary step toward future occupation of Syria and Lebanon. France has already used similar resolutions to occupy Iraq. We shall strike France for striving, along with the U.S and Britain, to impose an embargo on Syria through the United Nations. Our countries are apparently incapable of fighting France themselves, so therefore we are the ones who must stand up in their defense. This is something that every Muslim in Syria, as well as other places, must take part in. We shall strike France for seeking to disarm those in Lebanon who wish to fight Israel. We shall strike her for helping the Jews throughout the course of history and arming them with nuclear weapons. We shall strike France for treating both Hamas and the Islamic Jihad in Palestine as terrorist organizations. We shall strike her for having her soldiers in Afghanistan at this time. We shall strike France for the massacre of Muslims in Bosnia and for being an active member of NATO—the same force that occupies Afghanistan and takes part in every aspect of the war in Iraq. Last but not least, we shall strike her for her aggression on the hijabs of our sisters that live in France…

I hereby call upon the mujahideen in Europe, the mujahideen in other enemy countries—as well as all those who are able to get to these countries—to act quickly and strike Britain, Italy, Holland, Denmark, Germany, Japan, Australia, Russia, France, and all other countries that have a military presence in Iraq, Afghanistan, or the Arabian Peninsula. They must either strike the territory of these countries or targets that are outside of their borders. O’ sleeper cells, wake up now!…

We consider the battle to be against a single entity that is comprised of all the allies. As far as we are concerned, America is the same as Israel, Britain, Poland, Italy, and the others. They are an alliance, and as such, they are all accountable for their actions.

al-Suri is clear about his intentions for global war, as is an al-Qaeda planning document. The SITE Institute translates a “12-page presentation of targets for jihad operations” which was posted on a well-known al-Qaeda online forum. The targets included are “Oil pipelines, refineries, and pumping stations… in Iraq, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, and within the United States, specifically Alaska… [and including] Texas, Louisiana, California, and Oklahoma.”

The entire oil infrastructure of Caspian region and the planned pipeline through Pakistan, as well as transient oil tankers, are targets for operations. These are predominantly Muslim countries which would be negatively impacted by the economic and environmental catastrophes of the resultant destruction. But, as we have seen in Iraq, Afghanistan, Chechnya, Pakistan, Egypt, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Kashmir, Thailand, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Indonesia and a host of Muslim countries, al-Qaeda and its regional affiliates are not concerned with the safety or wellbeing of the Muslim people, but only in the subjugation of those opposed to their ideology.

Syrian Convulsions: Assad Called out

“You want to bring in a new president in Lebanon. I will not allow that. I will crush whoever attempts to overturn our decision.”

These are the words of Syrian President Bashar Assad to murdered former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, as recalled by former Syrian Vice President Halim Khaddam in an interview with al-Arabyia television on Friday, December 30, from Khaddam’s home-in-exile, Paris.

Khaddam also claimed that Hariri left the meeting so distressed that his nose was bleeding. Indeed, by Hariri’s own account noted in the Mehlis Report, Hariri stated that it was “the worst day of my life.” Hariri said that Assad threatened him for challenging the extension of (pro-Syrian) Lebanese President Amil Lahoud’s term, swearing that he would “break Lebanon over your [Mr. Hariri’s] head and Walid Jumblat’s” if he did not agree to support the extension of President Lahoud’s term. Hariri also said of the meeting, “When I finished my meeting with him, I swear to you, my bodyguard looked at me and asked why I was pale-faced.”

This is the former Vice President and Foreign Minister of Syria making these charges, not anti-Syrian Lebanese, not Detlev Mehlis and not the United States. Halim Khaddam says he has much more to tell ‘when the time is right’, and surely more bombs to sling. But the question is why?

Why would a former VP, for so long loyal to the regimes of both Bashar Assad and his father, Hafez Assad, suddenly come out so ferociously against it? What we may be seeing are the opening salvos of a power struggle for the future leadership of Syria. In a pre-emptive swift response, Syrian MP’s have decided to try former vice president Khaddam for treason and corruption.

Khaddam was a Sunni in an Alawite-dominated regime. Judith Klinghoffer notes this distinction well, as Syria itself is roughly 80% Sunni. It should also be noted that while he may have stated in his interview that he resigned because he did not see reform taking place to his liking in Syria, Khaddam was never a champion of democratic reform. To the contrary, as he was one of the staunchest opponents to any challenge to the authority of the regime while in office.

While his claims of Assad threatening Hariri before his assassination are credible and corroborated by Hariri himself in the Mehlis Report, he is not the White Horse of Reform his interview suggests. He may be offering this information up in order to groom himself in the eyes of the Americans for ‘future considerations’ in what he sees as the destined downfall of Assad and a coming vacancy in Syria. Some say he coveted this position at the time of Hafez Assad’s death, only to see the son (Bashar) get the nod. For these reasons, there is some credence in a Syrian MP’s words when he said of Khaddam, “You can go to hell because no Syrian will forgive you, who hoped to return to your country one day on an American tank.”

The UN investigation team investigating the Hariri murder now wants to interview Bashar Assad, Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa and Khaddam ‘as soon as possible’. Asharq Alawsat has an interesting interview with Mehlis, where he states plainly that Syria is behind the murder of Rafik Hariri and the Syrian ‘complete cooperation’ to date. Almost certainly, Syria will find a way to wiggle Assad out of the UN questioning.

The convulsions ahead should not be surprising from a region where one country that is majority Shi’a and Kurds (Iraq) was brutally divided and dominated by the minority Sunni (secular Saddam Hussein regime), and its very neighbor (Syria), vast majority Sunni, has been dominated since 1970 by minority Alawites (secular Assad regimes).

January 2, 2006

A Failed Offensive

The insurgency kicked off the New Year with a coordinated suicide/roadside bomb offensive in Baghdad and northern Iraq. Thirteen bombs total were detonated; nine bombs in Baghdad alone over the span of three hours; two in Kirkuk; one in Tikrit; and one in Muqdadiyah. The targets were Iraqi Security Forces and U.S. Soldiers.

Will the attacks were coordinated, they weren’t very effective. Twenty were wounded, and the majority were civilians. Two of the attacks appeared to be manned by suicide bombers, who killed themselves with very little to show. The rest of the attacks appeared to be bombs planted within vehicles parked alongside the roads.

New Year's AttacksThe coordinated effort and timing of the attacks draws suspicion that this was an al-Qaeda operation, however the utter failure to produce mass casualties is curious, as the limited number of suicide bombers. Suicide attacks are the domain of al-Qaeda and their jihadi allies and affiliates such as Ansar al-Sunnah. There is the possibility the attack was conducted by the Baathist elements of the insurgency, with some assistance of the jihadis. The targets of the attacks, U.S. And Iraqi Security Forces, indicates this is a distinct possibility.

The inability to produce mass casualties with thirteen strikes and the fact there were only two suicide bombers available for such a well coordinated attack deserves further investigation. If this attack was al-Qaeda sponsored, it was an uncharacteristically poorly executed attack.

While the New Year’s Day bombings were a bust, today’s suicide attack in Baquba was far more effective. A suicide car bomber rammed into a bus load of Iraqi police recruits, killing five and wounding thirteen, many of whom were badly burned.

As the insurgency conducts their terror offensive, joint Iraqi and Coalition forces continue small scale operations in the north. Near Udhaim, “71 suspects, including 25 of the country’s most-wanted, were detained by Iraqi soldiers in raids.” A known Baath party leader and twenty-two suspected insurgents are detained in multiple raids in around Muqdadiyah and Tal Afar. The Baath party leader was targeted based on local intelligence. Further raids in Hawija, Kirkuk and Tal Afar net two more insurgents and four large weapons caches. The Iraqi Security Forces continue to provide a more active role in the operations.

Along the western branch of the Euphrates River, Coalition and Iraqi forces continue to uncover weapons caches. Operation Red Bull in the Triad region of Haditha, Haqlaniyah and Barwana unearthed 82 caches. And during Operation Green Trident “more than 1,000 artillery and mortar rounds were unearthed along with scores of rocket propelled grenades and hand grenades” near the town of Al Latifiyah.

With the insurgency and al-Qaeda largely defeated and rendered ineffective along the western stretch of the Euphrates River Valley, al-Qaeda appears to be shifting operations northward. The suicide operations and roadside bombs, the only effective tools al-Qaeda and the insurgency has brought to bear has failed to derail the joint Coalition and Iraqi campaign out west, and is unlikely to do so up north.

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