Wednesday, November 30, 2005


Changes in US policy in Iraq?

The problem with most politicians is that they rarely declare their true objectives, particularly their ultimate objectives. This has unfortunately become a fact of life in today’s world. Smokescreens and curtains of secrecy are frequently used – allegedly to protect the interests of the State. These curtains prevent us from seeing their intentions and evaluating them objectively. We can only evaluate results – usually after it is too late.

My own personal view of this process, practicalities of life notwithstanding, is rather dismal, I’m afraid; Leaders of nations should be people of principle and honest statesmen. But I am realistic enough to know that that cannot be.


There have been many signals coming out of America lately. There is definitely a change of mood in political America. But the nagging question was: will there be a change of policy?

The US administration has suffered some setbacks and criticisms recently. Popular approval rates for the war effort in Iraq have been steadily declining since “Mission Accomplished”. The scandals of the white phosphorous and the ‘sudden’ discovery of torture houses run by US-trained Iraqi forces that so far have been the pride and joy of this administration, have raised a few eyebrows. There has been some sharp disapproval cries in Congress; there have even been some calls for immediate withdrawal; one hasty call to this effect was put to the vote in Congress recently.

Yet, there has been no official indication of a major shift in policy towards Iraq.

We have been treated to the same dull, repetitive noises about "Freedom and Democracy" and "War on Terror" again and again, regardless of realities on the ground. We have heard hints here and there from US policy makers that some troops will be withdrawn soon. Those statements were seen by some people to mean one of two things:

• Political ploys designed to appease American public opinion by obliquely addressing the anxiety of Americans concerned about their loved ones in Iraq… particularly that the original declared reasons for their presence in Iraq in the first place have been demonstrated to be less than truthful.

• Another possibility, aired by a few observers, was that the US administration was adopting a new approach of relying on air strikes to support Iraqi ground forces in crushing the insurgency.

But does that signify a change of policy?

The declared objective is to have a sufficient number of US-trained Iraqi forces to do the job. But what forces? The same forces that have been committing atrocities that are worse than those committed by those infamous bad American apples? The same forces infested and infiltrated by sectarian pro-Iran militias, crooks, thugs and criminals that have been causing havoc in the country, abducting people and arresting then killing them for a variety of known and unknown reasons?

What will that achieve? Only more sectarian strife, more lawlessness and more chaos. And in the unlikely event that they will succeed, we will only have an obnoxious police state.

That policy would be as subtle and as ‘thoughtful’ as the bygone policy of winning the hearts and minds of people while humiliating, torturing and killing them and devastating their country. It has about the same chances of success.

It doesn’t make sense… unless, of course, the objective remains to “bomb the living daylight out of them”.

Meanwhile, the administration kept making the familiar threatening noises against Iran and, more viciously, against Syria as if nothing had changed.

Furthermore, following the Cairo agreement reached recently between several factions of Iraqi politicians (who agreed, among other things, to distinguish between terrorists and nationalistic resistance) General Casey quickly responded by saying that the US forces were in Iraq at the invitation of the Iraqi government. So anybody who attacked the US forces must be a terrorist. In effect, there was no resistance – only terrorists.

So, it seemed that, after all, the administration is “staying the course”… but at lower profile.

At Last something tangible!

Today, Ambassador Khalilzad gave three clues:


“[He] is to hold the first high-level talks for decades with officials from Iran… with a narrow mandate to focus only on Iraq”

"There will be meetings, and that's also a departure and an adjustment," he said.


“The US is also seeking to open negotiations with some of the insurgent groups involved in the violence that has plagued Iraq since the invasion in 2003, Mr Khalilzad says”.

[Doesn’t Mr. Khalilzad know what General Casey said only last week?]

And, even more significantly…

"I believe you cannot win the kind of conflict we are facing by military means alone... You need to have an integrated approach that wins populations over."

I find these statements extremely significant, if they turn out not to be more smokescreens.

Is this administration finally realizing that they have been wasting American blood and treasure in an effort that is going to produce results that are exactly the opposite of their declared objectives? Or is it that they have lost hope in achieving their undeclared objectives?

When will these people admit that they were wrong on both counts? And what price will they pay when they do? We all know the price America paid. Some of us even know the price Iraq paid.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005


The Five Americans

Some of the tides are turning. A steadily increasing number of Americans seem to be aware of some the lies that they have been fed and some of the deceit they have been subjected to. It may be time to assess the new developments on the soil of the American public, and perhaps to venture into the question of what to expect from them as a result.

A Crude Analysis of American Public – An Iraq War Perspective

The crude tagging of America into ‘red’ and ‘blue’ does not do people justice. It is a ‘binary’ approach probably necessitated, among other things, by the two-party political system. But as far as the war in Iraq is concerned, that model is not sufficient to form a picture of the American people.

It is simply not possible to compartment a country the size of a continent into a few (or even a few dozen) slots accurately. But this approach is not unusual. Thanks to the media, most of the world was convinced to reduce my own complex country, which is 30 times as old as America, into three words: Kurd, Shiite and Sunni! I have come myself to form my own rough-and-ready categorization of the American public. It is perhaps not as coarse as the red-blue model, but it is still crude nevertheless. It cannot be seen as a general approach. It is an Iraqi perspective: Looking at Americans looking at the war in Iraq

I have come to put adult Americans into five categories. I call them the Five Americans. Each roughly represents a segment of the American public that is by no means uniform; each category probably has its own ‘normal distribution’; I cannot claim that they all have the same size; there are no sharp cut-off lines between them. The categorization attempted here is with regards to foreign policy and the war on Iraq in particular.

The First American: The group represented by this American covers a wide spectrum that is by no means uniform, but they were all against this war all the time. Many of these people, some 20% of Americans, have been against this war right from the start - many even before the war started. No doubt some of those people were against this particular far-right, religiously oriented Administration as a matter of principle. But many of these people knew that this was a morally wrong adventure and were dead set against it. They include Democrats, Republicans and Independents.

The Second American: This American is generally liberal, is inclined to vote Democrat, also believes in the political process in America and generally has an open mind. The group includes many of the ‘blue’ people of America. This is a mainstream-media following crowd that is significantly influenced by that media.

The Third American: This is the ‘grey’ American, suffering from a chronic case of apathy. For a variety of reasons (lack of interest, lack of time, poverty, disillusionment, cynicism, etc.) people in this group are simply not interested. Most will not vote, they will not debate politics, they will not read newspaper articles. Many do have their own views about things, but they are unlikely to do anything about them.

The Fourth American: This one is quite similar to the second American, but on the other, red, side of the mean line and the grey area occupied by the third American. Many of these people are conservative-leaning, probably with religious inclinations. Many have a firm belief that America is basically ‘good’ and have considerable faith in the present political system and traditional social values. Some of them have an open mind, but they are generally resistant to change and definitely resistant to dramatic changes of opinion. These Americans are also a mainstream-media following crowd.

The Fifth American: Personally, this particular American has been a source of fascination for me over the past two years! These Americans are dead set on supporting this administration no matter what! They will not listen; they will not consider; they will not budge; full stop. No amount of reason, debate or argument, will produce any change of position. Not even facts will incite any prospect of reconsideration. I personally have given up trying to address them. They are mainly an American problem, but they have also indirectly done much damage to the world. This group includes the super-religious, the super-patriots, the super-haters, bigots and the super-dead-set! Even today, with the lies being slowly uncovered, massacres in Iraq being exposed, torture scandals exposed for all the world to see, “war on terror” being demonstrated to have been a disaster… these people refuse to acknowledge any of these things. With ready-made excuses, some of them incredibly flimsy, they will simply attack, attack and then attack any view point that they don’t agree with.


Battle for America

More than anything else, President Bush’s legacy will be associated with the war on Iraq. Over the past two years of the conflict in Iraq, support for that unfortunate adventure has been steadily declining among the American public. Poll after poll has been confirming this trend.

I was fascinated by this Washington Post / ABC chart plotting President Bush’s approval and disapproval ratings that I found on the BBC website a few days ago. A picture may indeed paint a thousand words.

Some key points are of special significance to the present categorization:

• Soon after President Bush took office in 2001, nearly 3 Americans out of our five approved of him (two of them are definitely the 4th and 5th Americans); two Americans did not (one of them is definitely the 1st American).

• After the 9/11 tragedy, almost all 5 Americans were supportive. This is of extreme significance. Non-Americans sometimes fail to see the significance of that colossal event on the American public’s attitude. Even the 1st and 3rd Americans largely approved of President Bush. I expect it simply means people rallying around their leadership in a time of calamity.

• For more than a year after that (during which time the invasion of Afghanistan took place), President Bush steadily lost the approval of nearly 2 of those Americans – despite the ‘success’ in Afghanistan.

• The amazing feat of the media and the propaganda campaigns over the weapons of mass destruction paranoia, the link to Al Qaeda and the war frenzy… can be seen in the early months of 2003. Four out of 5 Americans (2, 3, 4 and 5) approved. This is truly impressive. Only the worst-case 1st American opposed the war, sometimes quite vocally and actively.

• Since then, in the period following the invasion, President Bush was steadily losing approval. Where did that come from?

It is noteworthy that during the critical period between April and November of 2004 during which the atrocities of Abu Ghraib, Fallujah I, Najaf and Fallujah II took place, there were cries of outrage from decent quarters; however there was no drastic drop in approval rates!! I find that extremely discouraging and disappointing. But, on the other hand, there was no rise in approval rates after the ‘brilliantly successful’ elections in Iraq either. This too is perplexing. Doesn’t what happens in Iraq in terms of the success or failure of the ‘project’ affect the American public?

It therefore appears that they are partly people who have turned against the war for a number of ‘internal American’ reasons that include: mounting losses in the US army, and grief or fear over their loved ones; the mounting expenditure of billions of dollars; the realization they are no more secure following that war; that world terrorism is still a potent and a threatening force; the realization that America is not winning this war; anger at being lied to and misled to support that war…

Reasons of self interest!

There is nothing wrong with that. It is human nature!

This is why I believe the recent dip in approval ratings is self-explanatory with Katrina and all the scandals breaking out…

At the moment it seems that 3 out of 5 Americans disapprove of President Bush’s management. Nearly 2 Americans still approve of him.

And there is no ‘absenteeism’! While early in 2001 (for a very short period after President Bush took office) nearly 20% of Americans did not have a view, now all Americans do, including the apathetic 3rd American!! It does seem to indicate that the whole American nation is now interested… or polarized.


The main point I want to make is that President Bush’s approval rating is extremely unlikely to fall below 20% no matter how badly he does in Iraq, no matter how many Iraqi and American people die, no matter how much money is squandered and no matter how badly America is viewed by the rest of the world. As far as the war in Iraq is concerned, the 5th American, I believe, is a hopeless cause barring another calamity. The fifth American will keep supporting this administration’s venture in Iraq, pursuing “Freedom and Democracy”, or whatever case the administration presents.

The other point is that the American society does seem to be largely self-centered and inward-looking. The issues that matter in their approval or disapproval, except for part of the 1st American, are largely domestically oriented. I cannot ignore the depressingly small effect all those atrocities have had on American public opinion at large. This is not a handicap in itself; many other societies are inward-looking. But for a country that wants to be heavily involved in other people’s affairs and design the New World, it is disturbing. This is probably why successive administrations have had an almost free hand in foreign policy.

The current battle in America, it seems to me, is to win over as many of these people as possible! Democrats, smelling blood, are already onto the quarry. There is no doubt that many will use the war in Iraq as a vehicle for their domestic agenda. It is sad that all the talk is about whether the present administration misled the Congress and the people or not. I have yet to see a clear vision of what they want to do with this war or with the American involvement in Iraq. In this respect, neither the politicians, nor most of the public seem interested.

Finally, it has to be remembered that this crude model does not cater for the fact that elections are usually won or lost by margins of few percentage points… a small fraction indeed of one of those 5 Americans.

Friday, November 11, 2005


The Shortest-lived Empire

Fallen Office Veterans

It must be one of the shortest-lived empires in the history of mankind.

It was an empire that was fashioned by taking hold of the reigns of an existing empire. America was taken from the inside.

The initial effort was painstakingly made; laying the foundation took several decades of hard work; but the main battle only took a decade or so to overwhelm the American political and military system to force an order based on the “Project of the New American Century”.

They took formal office in 2001. They tried to shape the world to their ambitious master plan. They were certainly quietly (but not secretly) praying for another Pearl Harbor to be able to mobilize the public’s feelings to initiate their scheme.

Providence gave them 9/11.

Large segments of the American public fell for their scheme-in-disguise, either through fear, misguided anger, blind desire for revenge, delusions of grandeur, patriotism, super-patriotism, greed, ignorance or indifference.

The wind was blowing in their direction. They went full speed ahead… and the world was never the same again; Afghanistan, Iraq, scorn for the UN, contempt for “Old Europe” and total disregard for the rest of the world…

As soon as “Mission” was “Accomplished” in May 2003, they went ahead with trying to shape Iraq to neocon design with decree after decree of “economic reform” as if designing a new country on an empty sheet of paper.

It was the height and the Golden Age of that empire.

But soon after, the idols started crumbling. This is amazing. Builders of the new American Century are falling at the peak of their adventure… one by one:

1. Richard Perle, “The Prince of Darkness”, dismissed quietly before the fun even started.

2. Paul Wolfowitz , removed from the MoD where he had so much control over the US army, quietly to the World Bank.

3. Douglas Feith, the man responsible for post-invasion planning among other things, slipped quietly from a position of great influence… into oblivion.

4. Scooter Libby… exposed in disgrace (although technically innocent so far) despite all the sugar-coating and all the smokescreens.

And now the front man himself, God’s Confidante, is seen by a majority of his own people as unethical and incompetent.

His fortunes and those of his top two lieutenants, Cheney and Rumsfeld, will unfold in the coming year or two.

Captains of the New Order falling at the peak of their ‘winning battle’; Odd isn’t it?

These people are a disgrace to empire builders! They should be called “Empire Crumblers”. Well, it was more like a palace coup really!

These people have fallen. More will fall in the coming days.

However, it is sad to reflect, on the American Veterans’ Day, that these office warriors send real soldiers to battle. When real soldiers and captains fall, they pay with their lives and fall into pools of blood. But when these office warriors and initiators of wars fall, they fall out of office into another one or, sometimes, into golf courses.


Just to think of the damage they have done to their own country, leading to the death of many of its sons and daughters and the squandering of so much of its wealth and its loss of standing in the eyes of the world… they are really getting off lightly.

But they are American. They were put in their positions of power by the American people through a democratic process. The American people have nobody else to blame.

But what about Iraq? What about all the loss of innocent life and the suffering and the destruction and the devastation of a country that is still going on for more than two years? What about the terrorism that was imported by these people into our country that is now an export business?

All this reminds me of something Michael Ledeen, the neocon guru, once wrote advising George Bush (in April, 2004 urging him to deal harshly with Fallujah, even after that first massacre):
“Remember one of the early dicta of Machiavelli: If you are victorious, everyone will judge your methods to have been appropriate. If you lose, you're a bum.”

Tonight, I watched President Bush defending his policy, attacking Syria and Iran and moving along the same track, as if nothing had happened. What will it take for this Emperor to know?


Raids and Presidents

Pre-dawn hours are the most dangerous. People, even people who are on high alert are most vulnerable during that period before dawn. With the anticipated approach of morning, people tend to succumb to sleep. All security services know that. All ‘tribal’ raiders know that. I certainly knew that but that did not save me from being caught off guard.

About an hour before dawn some time ago, we woke up to the sound of heavy pounding on our front door. I woke up with quite a start. Almost simultaneously, my wife yelled: “The boys!!!”

[My brother who lives next door was away in Jordan at the time with one of his boys. My two nephews were alone in the house. There is a side access between our two houses. And because the pounding was on the front wooden door and not the outside iron gate, my wife naturally assumed that it must have been the boys and because of the severity and urgency of the pounding, something must have happened to them.]

I rushed to the door, barefooted and, luckily, weaponless. It turned out to be a search party – a dozen armed men, mostly American with some ING soldiers, pointing their guns at me. I was relieved.

It was quite a shock that lasted only a few seconds before reality took over.

My relief was misplaced, but this is not the purpose of this post. What kept coming back to my mind was a video clip of President Bush being hurriedly told that America was under attack on the morning of September 11th, 2001 during a visit to a school.

We probably all know how he sat there in that classroom for several (seven? nine?) minutes sober and obviously thinking.

Very dignified; but is it natural?

What was he thinking about with the little data that he had? I would have thought that someone who was told of a calamity involving his family or his country would jump to find out more: What happened? What was the damage? Who was hurt? Was there more danger? Is there anything I can do? Who did it?... Hundreds of questions would flash through the mind in seconds. But the first thing most people would do is to jump to find out more… and not sit down and think about it. Thinking about such things, ‘analyzing’ them only comes after knowing the facts… not before!

Are Americans a different breed of people?
Does their President come from a different breed?


Tuesday, November 08, 2005


Sistani Politics

[Some background information on Sistani can be found in my blog “A Glimpse of Iraq”.]

Sistani’s Post-invasion Positions

Sistani’s positions on the most important issues facing this troubled country have been slightly more than ambiguous.

His first major political stand was a firm insistence on a democratic form of government. His resolute position and the impressive effect of those demonstrations that he incited, are now history.

His second major political stand was about Bremer’s Transitional Administrative Law (TAL). At the time the UN Security Council was drafting Resolution 1546 in June 2004 to lay the legal framework for the indigenous Iraq transition government, he wrote a firm letter to the UN Secretary General demanding TAL’s exclusion from that resolution. He was accommodated at the expense of infuriating the Kurds who were absolutely furious that the UN did not mention the TAL. It was hailed as a big victory for Sistani (by those always in a hurry to pass judgment).

But his greatest coup to my mind was his extremely successful mediation on the Sadr thing. Very quietly, he managed to quickly engineer what seemed to be a reasonable compromise. This was no small feat considering all the bad blood and the bombing of Najaf… everything was pointing to a bloody confrontation in which everybody stood to lose.

However, all these ‘strong’ points turned out later not to be so ‘puritan’ as they appeared to be at the time:

The Elections

Although TAL was not mentioned in that UN Resolution, in practice, Sistani was ignored. TAL remained effectively Iraq’s temporary constitution. The man not only did nothing, but actually endorsed the elections based entirely on TAL!

The Sectarian Slate

My personal disappointment with his Holiness was complete and when he endorsed the ‘Shiite’ slate during the elections of January 2005! That slate did not represent just the ‘Islamist’ religious parties and groups. It included a few ‘secular’ players, most notably the infamous Ahmed Chalabi, the neocon’s man in Iraq and a convicted felon.

There was no common program, no economic orientation, no clear vision of the country people were asked to vote for. There was even no common stance regarding the most volatile issues facing the country.

The slate was presented to the people as a ‘Shiite’ front, pure and simple! At a time when the country was facing so much sectarian stresses, that was wrong! It was part of the foul game of polarizing the elections, and therefore the country, along sectarian and ethnic lines. I believed then, and I still believe now, that that was a wicked scheme. Sistani endorsed it.

Not only that, but he allowed some of his senior associates to be included in that slate, contrary to his repeatedly declared position on this issue. Some of his ‘representatives’ became members of the National Assembly.

He has now changed his position again and decided not to allow them to take part in the coming elections, scheduled for the end of 2005. He has also declared, through a representative, not to give his blessing to any slate. However, this is too late. Those people have already entrenched and secured a powerful base.


For more than a year and a half after the invasion, Moqtada was more associated with the mostly ‘Sunni’ rejectionists of the invasion than with other religious Shiite groups. He made numerous contacts with ‘nationalist’ groups and forged alliances with some of them. He took a firm supportive stand with Fallujah during the April 2004 massacre.

His position culminated in his stand-off with the American army in Sadr City and Najaf. His newspaper was closed and a warrant for his arrest was issued. An armed conflict soon followed in the fall of 2004.

After Sistani’s intervention, the Najaf conflict was resolved. But what was surprising was that Moqtada literally turned ‘docile’ after that deal. He did not oppose the elections, as was expected of him. He grumbled about illegitimate elections being run under occupation… but he allowed his followers to participate in those elections. He was given a share of 21 seats (out of 275) in the National assembly.

Moqtada’s ambiguous stand regarding the referendum was also perplexing.

There was no more any mention of those criminal proceedings against him.

He has now formally joined the “religious Shiite” slate (now given the number 555). In effect, although undeclared yet, his new position is to be part of the political process.

What is more troubling for me is that, his Mehdi army has changed position on the ground regarding the sectarian issue. While in the early days, they were a force to combat sectarianism, they have become a ‘sectarian militia’.
This is an important development in the Sectarian Assault on Iraq. In several recent incidents in mixed areas east and south of Baghdad, the Mehdi Army has been a part in sectarian confrontations, on the side of the Badr Brigade. This is rather bewildering considering that only a few months ago there were bloody confrontations between the two.

To me all these changes indicate one thing: Sistani’s intervention in the Sadr affair was to forge a unity of the ‘Shiite’ front. Come to think of it, that shouldn’t be surprising. The man is the leader of the Shiite faith.

The Referendum on the Constitution

Friday, October 14, 2005, a day before the referendum: it was now official. During the Friday sermon, Sistani’s representative in Kerbala clearly and categorically stated the leading cleric’s position: he encourages all Iraqis to take part in the referendum. He advises them to say “yes” to the draft.

We had been hearing reports of his position for the past several days, but that somehow did not diminish my resentment: He knew that the country was deeply divided on that draft. He should not have taken that position. He could have encouraged people to vote, but should not have stated such a strong position in support of that draft, not if he wanted unity in the country.

I am afraid that, after this position, his break with large segments of the community… was final! That cannot be good for the country.

Sistani and the Political Arena

Most of Sistani’s power naturally comes from his seat, as I have outlined in other posts. Part of his ‘extra’ power stems from his declared position not to seek earthly power. He maintained categorically that the clergy should not have a say in how the government is run. He had also given his clergy followers strict orders not to meddle in government affairs. He completely rejects Khomeini's doctrine of “Wilayet al Faqeeh” – Rule of the Supreme Clergy.

This, to me at least, explains much! Many people (particularly local leaders in towns and in the countryside in the south and people who regard themselves as "secular Shiites") do not feel that their power (or prospect of power) is threatened by him. He has no militia to ‘help’ them run their lives, he does not infringe on their territory or power zone. Other religious Shiite movements such as SCIRI, Da’wa (who actually want a religious state) or Sadr's (who are seen to be simply after political and economic power) are regarded as a threat by many of these people.

I must say that those religious Shiite parties played that Sistani game rather well. They paid every possible respect to Sistani, they never crossed with him; they frequently consulted with him on some issues; and they got him to endorse every major political move they made. While safe from the American administration, having declared their total acceptance of the political process, they were able to keep their militias and they went on to control life on the ground. With money to spend, they could pay followers. In two years, those forces had almost total control of much of the south of Iraq. Seculars were left out dazed in the dust of their trail!

He remains a most important, even if slightly mysterious, player on the Iraqi political and religious arena. However, I can at the moment hear murmurs of discontent (and sometimes outright criticism) from ‘Shiite’ (including some religious) quarters; Moqtada’s people, the Mehdi army, being the most outspoken. His status in the eyes of many has been impaired. And this… is significant!

His latest positions may be seen as an effort to rectify that damage.

[An extended article about Sistani, which includes a translation of a critical poem by one of Moqtada’s followers, can be found at “Iraqi Articles”.]

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