MENA Blog

Still under construction, sorry

The creation of Hamastan?

In the wake of an all out civil war in the Gaza Strip, Hamas forces have beat the forces of Fatah (at times brutally) and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas (aka Abu Mazen) out of Gaza. Immediately this was seen as a failure of the Bush administrations vision for the ME and an end to the prospect of peace between Israelis and Palestinians and a Palestinian two-state solution. Well, at least for the time being.

Without skipping a beat, many are now saying that this may isolate Hamas in Gaza and open up an avenue for progress in the West Bank where Fatah is still viable. Israel has requested that the new landscape in Palestine view the Gaza Strip and the West Bank as two separate entities. I’m sure someone has suggested sending aid to the West Bank Palestinians and not those in Gaza. Of course we heard similar claims after Hamas won the Palestinian election. The claim then was that they wouldn’t be able to govern and they would become unpopular and weaken culminating in another round of elections where Fatah would resume control. That never happened and Hamas is not weakened and not out of power (although the government they were part of no longer stands according the Abbas) and they currently have full control of a significant territory.

15 June 2007 Posted by | Civil War, Fatah, Hamas, Israel, Palestine | Leave a comment

Iraq “Surge”

The US “surge” into Baghdad and western Iraq is complete, 28,500 additional troops are now in Iraq. An early Pentagon assessment concluded:

Three months into the new U.S. military strategy that has sent tens of thousands of additional troops into Iraq, overall levels of violence in the country have not decreased, as attacks have shifted away from Baghdad and Anbar, where American forces are concentrated, only to rise in most other provinces, according to a Pentagon report released yesterday.

Iraq’s government, for its part, has proven “uneven” in delivering on its commitments under the strategy, the report said, stating that public pledges by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki have in many cases produced no concrete results.

Iraqi leaders have made “little progress” on the overarching political goals that the stepped-up security operations are intended to help advance, the report said, calling reconciliation between Shiite, Kurdish and Sunni factions “a serious unfulfilled objective.” Indeed, “some analysts see a growing fragmentation of Iraq,” it said, noting that 36 percent of Iraqis believe “the Iraqi people would be better off if the country were divided into three or more separate countries.”

Unfortunately the Bush administration will not be able to claim the the “surge” is still surging and that the full “surge” is not present. That didn’t stop Press Secretary Tony Snow from using this excuse one last time in yesterdays press conference:

So what the President does is he looks at the 90-10, and you look at it in terms of what’s going on not merely throughout the nation, but keep in mind that the Baghdad security plan understands that the first thing you’ve got to do is secure the capital. There have been some encouraging signs, but, again, we will reiterate, the surge is not complete, forces are just now, this next couple of weeks flowing in so that you’ve have the full complement of forces, and it’s going to be another month or two before they’re completely up and running at full speed.

Next, I’m sure will be the line, they just got there and they are just now getting started. I expect this line to last till September. Hopefully Sept. will bring a marked improvement but I’m not optomistic and don’t believe the case will be made that the strategy is effective enough. Now is not the time for baby steps in Iraq. The time for that was in 2003-04.

Menwhile, 4th generation warfare guru William Lind lambastes the tactics used in this urban guerrilla war as indicative of the failure of US foreign policy (check out a coming post on the Gaza situation for more claims of US FP failure). Particularity the use of US air power on Iraqi ground targets such as a railroad station. Lind writes:

It turns out the bombed railroad station was no fluke. According to other reports, U.S. aircraft have dropped more than 200 bombs or missiles on Iraqi ground targets this year in support of U.S. ground forces at a rate double that of last year.

Nothing could testify more powerfully to the failure of U.S. efforts on the ground in Iraq than a ramp-up in airstrikes. Calling in air is the last, desperate, and usually futile action of an army that is losing. If anyone still wonders whether the “surge” is working, the increase in air strikes offers a definitive answer: It isn’t.

Worse, the growing number of air strikes shows that, despite what the Marines have accomplished in Anbar province and Gen. David Petraeus’s best efforts, our high command remains as incapable as ever of grasping Fourth Generation war.

To put it bluntly, there is no surer or faster way to lose in 4GW than by calling in airstrikes. It is a disaster on every level. Physically, it inevitably kills far more civilians than enemies, enraging the population against us and driving them into the arms of our opponents. Mentally, it tells the insurgents we are cowards who only dare fight them from 20,000 feet in the air. Morally, it turns us into Goliath, a monster every real man has to fight. So negative are the results of air strikes in this kind of war that there is only one possible good number of them: zero, unless we are employing the “Hama model” of seeking total destruction, which we are not.

Continue reading

15 June 2007 Posted by | Arab Nationalists, Civil War, failed state, government, insurgency, Iraq, reform, Shi'a, Sunni, terrorism | 1 Comment

Lebanon Violence, Pakistan Violence

Four more Lebanese troops were killed in continued violence in Palestinian refugee camps. This is a continuation of a confrontation at the Nahr al-Bared camp and elsewhere earlier this month. This is all happening while the Lebanese consociational government is facing targeted assaniations of anti-Syria member. It is still unknown who is ordering these killings. Is it internal or external? But one can easily opine that “…Lebanon has become a ravaged battlefield where regional and global warriors are facing off in an increasingly brutal contest that shows no signs of abating.”

US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher was given a going away present during a visit to Pakistan in the form of an ambushed military vehicle and around 9 killed, mostly soldiers. This attack came hours after Boucher left the Balochistan region. Motive is still foggy. Was it a local call for autonomy which is typical in this region or a response to the blowing up of the minarets at the al-Askariya Shrine in Samarra, which is being blamed on the US, among others. This blame is sticking. More fiery sermons and protests are to take place in Pakistan and the greater Shi’a ME.

15 June 2007 Posted by | anti-Americanism, Hezbollah, insurgency, Iran, Lebanon, Pakistan, Shi'a, Sunni, terrorism | Leave a comment

I’m Back

I’m going to gradually get back into this thing. Look for a ‘manifesto’ soon. It will outline the way forward. It is obvious that the initial idea bit off a bit much, therefore I’ll isolate interest areas and change them as the sands shift. This will likely be on the RHS and called ‘focus’ or something like that.

For now just periodic updates on current events, starting today

15 June 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

status

This blog will resume operation upon my graduation.

Sorry, I fear we’re going to miss a lot.

Geoff

14 February 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Saddam Hussein Executed

Perhaps the biggest story from the past few days was the hanging of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. It took place on Friday and during the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Adha (The Festival of Sacrifice), and therefore is full of symbolism for many Muslims. However, the execution quickly became controversial with respect to the handling of the event. A conclusive video was taken by an Iraqi official and leaked out into the media, the video captured actions that have offended some and made the new Iraqi government look foolish and un-unified. This leaked video incident is now under official Iraqi review by the Interior Ministry (so that will probably be the last we hear of it…)

Iraq’s Shiite-led government said Tuesday that it had ordered an investigation into the abusive behavior at the execution of Saddam Hussein, who was subjected to a battery of taunts by official Shiite witnesses and guards as he awaited his hanging.

Continue reading

4 January 2007 Posted by | government, Iraq, Shi'a, Sunni | Leave a comment

Holiday Roundup

As you may have noticed, I spent the holiday’s blog free. Therefore, I will now brief some of the main stories that I missed from both the media and blogs. In the likely case that I’ve missed something, please leave a comment. (note: I’m saving a separate post on Saddam Hussein’s hanging for later.)

Continue reading

3 January 2007 Posted by | al Qaeda, Ethiopia, Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran, Israel, Lebanon, nuke, Palestine, Shi'a, Somalia, Syria, Tunisia, Yemen | Leave a comment

Iraq: al-Sistani and al-Sadr are inseparable

Less than a week ago the NY Times reported that some indications were given by a leading Shi’a figure in Iraq (and the greater MENA), Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, that he favored a new governing coalition in Iraq. In particular it hinted at a willingness to sideline radical Cleric Moktada al-Sadr and other extremist factions. This made a hopeful few days for those interested in the stability of Iraq. Unfortunately, the LA Times reveals that this report was “just a rumor.”

One of Iraq’s most influential Shiite clerics rejected a U.S.-backed proposal to isolate Shiite extremists in the national government, saying the country should govern itself with the help of anti-U.S. firebrand Muqtada Sadr, according to politicians who spoke with the cleric Saturday.

Shiite politicians met with Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani in this Shiite holy city, and then said they had thrown their support behind Sadr, who demands a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq rather than the temporary increase under consideration in Washington.

“The Sadr movement is part of Iraqi affairs,” said Haider Abadi, a leader of Shiite Prime Minister Nouri Maliki’s Islamic Dawa Party. “We won’t allow others to interfere to weaken any Iraqi political movement.”

Ali Adeeb, another member of the Dawa Party, said Shiite leaders, including the prime minister, would resist U.S. efforts to sideline Sadr and his Al Mahdi army.

25 December 2006 Posted by | government, insurgency, Iraq, Shi'a, terrorism | Comments Off

The Somali War

As mentioned before, the horn of Africa has seen renewed fighting between the Union of Islamic Court (UIC) and the weak Transitional National Government (TNG). Before the TNG was only aided by neighboring Ethiopia. More recently, Ethiopia has increased it’s operations to include air attacks on UIC targets such as UIC controlled towns and villages and the main airports in Somalia.

25 December 2006 Posted by | Civil War, Ethiopia, Somalia | Leave a comment

MENA Blog Roundup (12/20/2006)

The bloggers at Foreign Policy’s passport highlight a different take on the recent elections in Iran.

Friday’s elections for Iran’s local councils and Assembly of Experts were widely reported as a “setback” for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. And they were. But a more appropriate way to view them, says blogger Jonathan Edelstein, is as a crisis averted for Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei.

As Edelstein, a lawyer in New York with a knack for analyzing Middle East politics, explains, Ahmadinejad’s faction was hoping to take control of the Assembly in order to install Ayatollah Mohammed Taghi Mesbah-Yazdi as the new Supreme Leader. With Yazdi in charge, Ahmadinejad would be free from the shackles Khamenei has placed on him in the realm of foreign policy.

The passport also points out this (via Bloomberg)

In the Tehran municipal election the president’s sister, Parvin Ahmadinejad, who is running on a list titled “the Pleasant Scent of Service,” ranks 11th from 15th candidates, state television said. She could fail to win a seat.

:::

Marc Lynch of Abu Aardvark looks at a new, post Baker-Hamilton study released by the International Crisis Group entitled “After Baker-Hamilton: What to do in Iraq“.

After the disappointing showing of the Iraq Study Group, the ICG makes for bracing reading – and offers a much more serious attempt to find some kind of solution. It eviscerates Washington fantasies in ways far deeper than Baker-Hamilton’s simple admission that things aren’t going well, by going straight to the heart of the political structures which have emerged from the American occupation.

Here’s more on the report.

Continue reading

20 December 2006 Posted by | al Qaeda, elections, insurgency, Iran, Iraq, Somalia | Leave a comment

The Fighting Begins in Somalia

A deadline imposed by Islamic forces under the command of the Union of Islamic Court (UIC) demanding the eviction of Ethiopian forces from Somali passed Tuesday. The “heavy fighting” was reported in and around the Transitional National Government (TNG) bases in Baidoa.

somalia_flashpoint
(BBC)

20 December 2006 Posted by | al Qaeda, Civil War, Ethiopia, failed state, Somalia | 1 Comment

Top Iraqi Cleric Favors A New Coalition for Iraq

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani reportedly has approved favors a new coalition that aims at isolating extremists and perhaps most importantly, Moktada al-Sadr. Al-Sistani had been relativly quite as of late and taken second stage to Sadr. However, he is perhaps the most important figure to millions of Iraqi Shi’a; not to mention the larger Shi’a Umma.

Juan Cole sums the coalition and ads his $0.02

The coalition that the Americans hope for would look like this:

Iraqi Accord Front (Sunni Fundamentalist): 44 seats
Kurdistan Alliance and allies: 58 seats
SCIRI [Shiite fundamentalist] and allies: 63 seats
National Iraqi List of Allawi: 25 seats

That would be 190, more than enough to form a government and appoint a prime minister. It would potentially leave the Sadrists (32 seats) and the Da`wa Party of Iyad Allawi in the opposition, along with Salih Mutlak of the secular Sunni National Dialogue Front (11 seats).

The problem is that not all of the Iraqi Accord Front may be willing to join the coalition, and perhaps not all of the National Iraqi list will come in. Moreover, the idea that the Iraqi Islamic Party, the Kurds, and the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq are going to hold together as a united coalition very long strikes me as daft.
This plan of cutting the Sadrists out of parliamentary power and then launching a military attack on their paramilitary, the Mahdi Army, seems to me unlikely actually to reduce Muqtada’s power and influence.

It would also be possible for Muqtada and allies to put together a significant bloc:

Da`wa: 22
Sadrists: 32
Fadila: 15
Salih Mutlak’s list: 11
Mishaan Juburi list: 3
Part of the Iraqi Accord Front?: 10?

Sadr could find enough deputies to block the formation of a new government.

The real problem is that Parliament isn’t very powerful. Although the NYT blames Sadr’s boycott for the failure of parliament to reach a quorum the last couple of times it tried to meet, in fact it is because many of the parliamentarians virtually live abroad (they like London) and just aren’t around in Baghdad to take part in a vote.

The idea of the Bush administration is that you cut Sadr loose in parliament, so that the prime minister doesn’t depend on him, and then you have him call in the Iraqi Army against the Mahdi Army militiamen and defeat them. The Sunnis would thereby be reassured, the thinking goes, that the Sadrist death squads have been dealt with, and the Sunni Arabs would gradually become more willing to rein in their paramilitary. I don’t think it is plausible that the US military can defeat a widespread and entrenched social movement like the Sadrists at this late date, so we are in for a lot of trouble.

I tend to agree. Perhaps ‘too little, too late’ is an appropriate phrase here with emphasis on the too late part. However, a more stable government would have a minor ripple effect in Iraq. At this point in time we should happily accept that.

20 December 2006 Posted by | government, Iraq, Shi'a | 1 Comment

The Palestinian Conflict

Fatah and Hamas reach agreement

A top Palestinian security official said Tuesday that Hamas and Fatah officials had agreed to pull their armed men off the streets of Gaza City after more than a week of rampant street violence.

The two sides also agreed to form a joint operations room with the Fatah-led security forces to respond quickly to any outbreaks of violence, the official said.

The agreement was reached after intense mediation by Egypt, the official said. A tenuous truce signed Sunday broke down within 24 hours, as violence continued on both sides.

Under the current deal, only Palestinian police would be allowed to patrol the streets with weapons, the official said. The withdrawal will begin within hours, he added.

A similar deal was announced earlier this week and lasted a matter of hours. I’ll update when this one collapses.

In related news, Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh has again called for “…an independent Palestinian state is established in territories captured by Israel in the 1967 Six Day War.”

…Haniyeh said the truce could last as long as 20 years, after an independent Palestinian state is established in territories captured by Israel in the 1967 Six Day War.

During his speech, the Palestinian prime minister also called on the warring Palestinian factions to desist infighting and unite together against Israel.

Who says Hamas refuses to acknowledge Israel… (/snark)

[2006-12-20 9:24 PM] As expected, within hours of the new truce continuing violence has threatened the relative calm in Gaza.

19 December 2006 Posted by | Civil War, Egypt, Hamas, Israel, Palestine | 1 Comment

Israeli Settlements, Palestinan Land

One salient point in the ongoing land dispute between the Israelis and Palestinians was solidified a month, or so, ago by Peace Now (.pdf). [What is peace now?] This point being that the state of Israel never formally annexed the West Bank and that area remains a spoil of war. Therefore, international law requires Israel – as an occupying power – to protect the property rights of those people residing in the area in question. This report concludes that the rights of many Palestinians have been violated. This is confirmed using information provided by the Israeli government and it appears that the effort to settle the occupied areas was and is a violation of “the landmark Elon More decision of the High Court of Justice in 1979” (p.3- 4).

This is the first time this data has been analyzed and made public. The analysis indicates a direct violation of Israeli law, carried out by the state at the command of the so-called “architects and leaders of the settlement movement” (p. 3). From this conclusion you can say that the state of Israel has failed to ensure the rights of thousands of Palestinians. This study is a comment on the settlement enterprise and the states role in that procedure. In addition, this act was and is a violation of international laws such as the 4th Geneva Accords and the Hague Agreement; not just established laws in Israel pertaining to its occupation of the West Bank. In conclusion this study finds that a large amount of private Palestinian land was settled by Israel.

Key findings:

  • Palestinians privately own nearly 40% of the land on which Israeli settlements were built.
  • Palestinians privately own more than 40% of the land located in Israeli “settlement blocs.”
  • More than 3400 buildings were contracted on private Palestinian land.
  • (view the full report here)

    More coverage:

    The Washington Post

    The Independent Online

    The BBC

    19 December 2006 Posted by | Israel, Palestine, refugee, settlements | Leave a comment

    The Iraqi Insurgency

    Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) released a report (.pdf) last week on the current sectarian or civil war occurring in the middle portion of Iraq. The results of his studies paint an expected picture of the state as one that is anything but encouraging. Most coverage of his report was concentrated on his analysis of the insurgency, concluding that “[s]ectarian fighting, led by the growth of some 23 militias around Baghdad, formed the foundation of the civil war.” Baghdad was “…the center of the sectarian conflict, but violence spread to surrounding towns — particularly Baquba, Balad, and Amara — as the civil war threatened to engulf the entire country.” The first paragraph sets the mood of this report

    The insurgency in Iraq has become a “war after the war” that threatens to divide the country and create a full-scale civil conflict. It has triggered sectarian and ethnic violence that dominates the struggle to reshape Iraq as a modern state, has emerged as a growing threat to the Gulf region, and has become linked to the broader struggle between Sunni and Shi’ite Islamist extremism, and moderation and reform, throughout the Islamic world. (p. 2)

    Some of the emerging trends noted by Cordesman adding to the troubles in Iraq are listed below (p. 2-3)

  • Sectarian fighting, led by the growth of some 23 militias around Baghdad, formed the foundation of the civil war. Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army developed rogue components that acted outside of his command. Sunnis formed loosely organized neighborhood death squads in the urban areas, some with ties to al-Qai’da or ex-Ba’athist groups. Two large scale attacks formed the foundation of reprisal killings in the fall: On 14 November Shi’ite militias were accused of abduction 150 people from the Ministry of Higher Education and on 23 November Sunni militants were accused of killing over 200 in bombings in Sadr City.
  • Baghdad and other major cities – such as Basra and Baquba – were almost completely divided into sectarian strongholds as both Sunnis and Shi’a fled neighborhoods in which they were a minority. Soft ethnic cleansing forced upwards of 400,000 Iraqis to relocate within Iraq since the February Samarra mosque bombing.
  • The Sunni Arab insurgency remained focused in the western Anbar Province and benefited from the relocation of US troops to quell sectarian violence in Baghdad.
  • Attack patterns continued to focus on civilians with the average deaths per day rising to almost 100 in October. According to Iraq Coalition Casualty count, 3,539 Iraqi civilians died in September, 1,315 died in October, and 1,740 died in November. The US also saw an increase in attacks in the capital and IED attacks reached an all time high. 104 US troops died in October, the highest since January 2005. One-third of the deaths were in the capital, but the majority of US troops were killed in Anbar Province. An additional 68 US troops died in November.
  • The Shi’ite community was internally divided, increasingly along militia-support lines. The Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) was the most powerful political bloc, but al-Sadr’s militia and its rogue components found widespread support from the Shi’ite population. An incident in Amara in October underscored the tensions between SCIRI and al-Sadr.
  • US military attention focused on curbing the heightened concentration of violence in Baghdad, while violence outside of the capital continued to intensify, particularly in key areas such as Baquba, Basra, Mosul, and Falluja.
  • Turkey pledged their support for the minority Turkoman population in Iraq and urged Iraq to take action against PKK rebel activity in the Kurdish north. Kurds continued to conflict with Arabs in key cities such as Kirkuk and Mosul.
  • Regional players, particularly Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iran, and Turkey were increasingly concerned about the spread of civil war across the region.
  • Politically, Cordesman finds that the reconciliation process is failing, and the fragile government is often in deadlock and on the verge of collapse. The Iraqi government was also unable to quell the violence and create order; even with the aid of the MNF, additional US troops, and the 300,000 US trained Iraqi Security Forces.

    Economically, Iraq is — again — deteriorating rapidly. The average Iraqi potentially faced a “severe fuel crisis, joblessness, high inflation rates, and a burgeoning black market” in recent months. Oil production remains low and the average hours of electricity per day in Baghdad was 6.8 hours (see fig below). Additionally, education and healthcare also began to feel the effects of the conflict. An estimated 400,000 people have fled Iraq since the war began.

    iraq_elec

    (h/t the Passport)

    [2006-12-20 1:47 PM] UPIs coverage.

    19 December 2006 Posted by | Civil War, failed state, insurgency, Iraq, Shi'a, Sunni | Leave a comment

    Follow

    Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.