Update from AIJAC
October 19, 2007
Number 10/07 #06
The Washington Post had a piece earlier this week reporting that not only are many in Washington saying that “Al-Qaeda in Iraq” has now been “crippled”, but, while there are debates about the detail, virtually everyone agrees that the organisation has suffered “major blows over the past three months.” While the article outlines disagreements about whether it is now possible to say al-Qaeda in Iraq has been defeated, the fact that this debate is today even possible shows how far things have progressed in the last few months. For the full article, including discussions of the other serious challenges in Iraq outside of al-Qaeda, CLICK HERE. The Post also had an editorial pointing out that the fact that the casualty numbers from Iraq show a significant improvement is now undeniable. More analysis of these numbers is here.
Analysing the import of the Washington Post report is former New York Times correspondent Clifford May, who argues that neither American politics nor the media has caught up with the significance of these latest revelations from Iraq. He also emphasises that al-Qaeda now has to make a decision – to continue its all out commitment to attempting to foment and control insurgency in Iraq, or to recognise that this effort is not succeeding and cut its losses. For May’s full argument, CLICK HERE.
Finally, on a separate topic, an American student of government visits Cairo and discusses with liberal Egyptian friends the attraction for Egyptians of Hitler’s Mein Kampf, which he finds widespread at booksellers. He finds that, contrary to what many people think, the liberals, like conservatives, are prepared to both engage in Holocaust denial and defend Hitler. For this important reminder that the problems of antisemitism and extremism in the Arab world cannot be understood in simple Western terms such as the left-right spectrum, CLICK HERE.
Many Officials, However, Warn Of Its Resilience
By Thomas E. Ricks and Karen DeYoung
Washington Post, Monday, October 15, 2007
The U.S. military believes it has dealt devastating and perhaps irreversible blows to al-Qaeda in Iraq in recent months, leading some generals to advocate a declaration of victory over the group, which the Bush administration has long described as the most lethal U.S. adversary in Iraq.
But as the White House and its military commanders plan the next phase of the war, other officials have cautioned against taking what they see as a premature step that could create strategic and political difficulties for the United States. Such a declaration could fuel criticism that the Iraq conflict has become a civil war in which U.S. combat forces should not be involved. At the same time, the intelligence community, and some in the military itself, worry about underestimating an enemy that has shown great resilience in the past.
“I think it would be premature at this point,” a senior intelligence official said of a victory declaration over AQI, as the group is known. Despite recent U.S. gains, he said, AQI retains “the ability for surprise and for catastrophic attacks.” Earlier periods of optimism, such as immediately following the June 2006 death of AQI founder Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in a U.S. air raid, not only proved unfounded but were followed by expanded operations by the militant organization.
There is widespread agreement that AQI has suffered major blows over the past three months. Among the indicators cited is a sharp drop in suicide bombings, the group’s signature attack, from more than 60 in January to around 30 a month since July. Captures and interrogations of AQI leaders over the summer had what a senior military intelligence official called a “cascade effect,” leading to other killings and captures. The flow of foreign fighters through Syria into Iraq has also diminished, although officials are unsure of the reason and are concerned that the broader al-Qaeda network may be diverting new recruits to Afghanistan and elsewhere.
The deployment of more U.S. and Iraqi forces into AQI strongholds in Anbar province and the Baghdad area, as well as the recruitment of Sunni tribal fighters to combat AQI operatives in those locations, has helped to deprive the militants of a secure base of operations, U.S. military officials said. “They are less and less coordinated, more and more fragmented,” Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the second-ranking U.S. commander in Iraq, said recently. Describing frayed support structures and supply lines, Odierno estimated that the group’s capabilities have been “degraded” by 60 to 70 percent since the beginning of the year.
Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, head of the Joint Special Operations Command’s operations in Iraq, is the chief promoter of a victory declaration and believes that AQI has been all but eliminated, the military intelligence official said. But Adm. William J. Fallon, the chief of U.S. Central Command, which oversees Iraq and the rest of the Middle East, is urging restraint, the official said. The military intelligence official, like others interviewed for this report, spoke on the condition of anonymity about Iraq assessments and strategy.
Senior U.S. commanders on the ground, including Gen. David H. Petraeus, the head of U.S. forces in Iraq, have long complained that Central Command, along with the CIA, is too negative in its analyses. On this issue, however, Petraeus agrees with Fallon, the military intelligence official said.
For each assessment of progress against AQI, there is a cautionary note that comes from long and often painful experience. Despite the increased killings and captures of AQI members, Odierno said, “it only takes three people” to construct and detonate a suicide car bomb that can “kill thousands.” The goal, he said, is to make each attack less effective and lengthen the periods between them.
Right now, said another U.S. official, who declined even to be identified by the agency he works for, the data are “insufficient and difficult to measure.”
“AQI is definitely taking some hits,” the official said. “There is definite progress, and that is undeniable good news. But what we don’t know is how long it will last . . . and whether it’s sustainable. . . . They have withstood withering pressure for a long period of time.” Three months, he said, is not long enough to consider a trend sustainable.
Views of the extent to which AQI has been vanquished also reflect differences over the extent to which it operates independently from Osama bin Laden’s central al-Qaeda organization, based in Pakistan. “Everyone has an opinion about how franchisement of al-Qaeda works,” a senior White House official said. “Is it through central control, or is it decentralized?” The answer to that question, the official said, affects “your ability to determine how successfully [AQI] has been defeated or neutralized. Is it ‘game over’?”
In Baghdad, the White House official said, the group’s “area of operations has been reduced quite a bit for a variety of reasons, some good and some bad.” Three years of sectarian fighting have eliminated many mixed Sunni-Shiite neighborhoods. Those areas had been the most fertile and accessible places for AQI, which is composed of extremist Sunnis, to attack Shiite civilians, security forces and government officials. But the death of mixed neighborhoods also has made another Bush administration priority — promoting political reconciliation — more difficult.
The expanded presence of U.S. troops in combat outposts in many parts of Baghdad has also put pressure on AQI, but a major test of gains against the organization will come when the U.S. military begins to turn security in those areas over to Iraqi forces next year.
Recent suicide bombings in northern Iraq have convinced some officials that AQI has moved its operations in that direction. But the officials said they do not know whether AQI militants have permanently decamped from Baghdad and Anbar province, or whether they are merely lying low in anticipation of a U.S. departure or the failure of Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to end the sectarian divisions that AQI fostered and now feeds upon.
While a victory declaration might have the “psychological aspect” of discouraging recruitment to a perceived lost cause, the White House official said, advantages overall would be minimal. “I recognize that there are pros to saying, ‘Hey, listen, the bad guys are on the run.’ ” But if AQI were later able to demonstrate residual capabilities with a series of bombings, “even though it was temporary,” he said, “the question becomes: How does this play out in terms of public opinion?”
Maybe the U.S. Congress will save it?
By Clifford D. May
National Review, October 18, 2007 12:00 AM
Al Qaeda is on the horns of a dilemma. Last month, some 30 of its senior leaders in Iraq were killed or captured. Now, Osama bin Laden faces a tough decision: Send reinforcements to Iraq in an attempt to regain the initiative? That risks losing those combatants, too — and that could seriously diminish his global organization. But the alternative is equally unappealing: accept defeat in Iraq, the battlefield bin Laden has called central to the struggle al Qaeda is waging against America and its allies.
Hard times for al Qaeda should be good news for America but you wouldn’t know it from the reaction of the antiwar movement and their sympathizers in Congress and the elite media. Many have been unwilling even to acknowledge that U.S. forces are fighting al Qaeda in Iraq. They claim we are merely refereeing a civil war and/or combating Iraqi “resistance” to American “occupation.”
CNN this week ran a special called “Meeting Resistance,” a documentary about what it called “ordinary Iraqis …taking up arms and fighting the Americans.” Earlier this month Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D., Va.) lamented that Congress had been unable to pass legislation to “change the mission away from deep involvement in Iraq’s civil war and toward a more narrow focus on fighting al-Qaeda.”
How startled CNN producers and the Senator must have been to see the front-page story this week in the Washington Post reporting that American troops have dealt “devastating and perhaps irreversible blows to al-Qaeda in Iraq.” If our forces have achieved this without it being their mission, and despite the “resistance” of “ordinary Iraqis,” they must be warriors unlike any the world has seen since Thermopylae.
Is it ignorance or partisanship that makes so many politicians and media moguls blind to what has been happening in Iraq over recent months? Do they really not understand the dramatic change in strategy implemented by Gen. David Petraeus, the new American commander in Iraq?
That key to that strategy, known as the “surge,” is not the number of troops deployed — though a minimum force size is necessary — but rather how they are utilized. Col. Wayne W. Grigsby, Jr., who commands a “surge” brigade based in a mixed Sunni and Shia area near Baghdad, made it simple for me in a phone conversation this week: “We do not commute to work,” he said. “We live in the towns with the people we are here to help.”
That means providing them with security — gathering intelligence from them about where the terrorists are hiding, and then eliminating them, their safe havens, their bomb factories and their weapons caches. Do that and the bloodshed begins to subside.
“The Iraqi people are fed up with the violence and with the extremists, both Sunni and Shia,” Grigsby said. Far from “resisting” the American troops in their communities, “they want to join the fight and protect their neighborhoods. They are coming to us and saying, ‘How can we help? We don’t want to live like this.’”
Volunteers do not form sectarian militias. On the contrary, Grigbsy said, “they want to be recognized as legitimate members of the Iraqi security forces.”
American troops also facilitate economic and political development — something, they say, ordinary Iraqis sincerely desire. What about reconciliation? “I see signs of Sunni and Shia getting along,” the colonel answered. And there is, increasingly, “grass-roots governance. People aren’t waiting for the central government to act.”
Despite the fact that many more American troops are now deployed “outside the wire,” the number of soldiers killed in action is down 64 percent from May, the month before the “surge in numbers” reached full strength and the “surge of operations” began against al Qaeda cells, Iranian-backed militias and other enemies of America and Iraq.
And now bin Laden has to choose: send his most capable lieutenants to try to reheat the insurgency in Iraq; or cede the battlefield to the Americans and the majority of Iraqis who have no interest either in blowing people up or embracing the al Qaeda way of life.
The first course risks losing combatants who could otherwise be promoting al Qaeda’s agenda in Hamburg or New Jersey. As for the second course, bin Laden has said that the “world war” raging in Iraq will end in “either victory and glory, or misery and humiliation.”
At this moment, al Qaeda in Iraq seems likely to suffer the latter. Confronted by America’s adaptable, agile and courageous military forces, its only hope is divine intervention — and maybe the U.S. Congress.
— Clifford D. May, a former New York Times foreign correspondent, is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on terrorism.
THE JERUSALEM POST, Oct. 13, 2007
Hitler’s Mein Kampf is on sale in Cairo, both in well-known bookstores and on the streets around Midan Tahrir, the city’s chaotic main square. The Arabic translation sits beside the reams of religious books, as well as works on Saddam Hussein, al-Qaida in Iraq mastermind Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, and Osama bin Laden (Bin Laden… America’s Bogeyman).
Originally published in Lebanon in 1963 according to the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), and reprinted in 1995, Mein Kampf, which is transliterated as Kifahi (and not jihadi as Victor Davis Hanson claims in the National Review Online), is reportedly also widely available in Jordan and the Palestinian Authority. The introduction claims that, “This national socialism did not die with the death of the man who proclaimed it: indeed its seeds grew under every star, and the promoters of radical nationalism (qawmiyya) take it up as a weapon with which to combat Third Internationalism and the principles of Karl Marx.”
MEMRI quotes part of the introduction, but omits any mention of Marx or communism, thus leaving unclear the author’s intention – a complete translation, along with the Arabic original, is available at chris mcclure.blogspot.com. Given the translator’s intense animosity toward Marx and communism and the period in which the book was written, it makes sense to see the initial translation in the context of Ba’athist ideology. (The Ba’ath retook power in Syria through a military coup in 1963.) But almost a half-century later, communism is no longer a threat and there are few Ba’athists in Egypt.
So what explains the book’s continued popularity?
ACCORDING TO Salwa Mohammad, an Egyptian journalist who works for a major news organization, it is normal to see Mein Kampf on sale, but it is not as popular as one might imagine (despite the booksellers’ assertions to the contrary). She claimed that many read it out of simple historical curiosity, others out of admiration for Hitler’s accomplishments in uniting a people and his strength as a leader. Some see it as a resource for understanding current US foreign policy.
Hitler’s popularity, according to Mohammad, had nothing to do with Hitler’s “torturing the Jews or something,” since Egyptians do not believe in the Holocaust – sure, many people were killed and tortured and assassinated in World War II, and sure there were war crimes, but that’s what happens in war, and it isn’t any different from what happened to Muslims in Sarajevo.
THIS ABSOLUTION of Nazi guilt, though, doesn’t seem to fit with another common theme in the Arab press – accusing Israel of being a “second Nazi state.” In major bookstores in Talaat Harb Square downtown, one sees books equating the Star of David with the swastika.
This accusation could not make sense if Hitler is to be excused for only doing what one can’t avoid doing in war. Similarly confusing is the fact that Hitler is revered as a great nationalist who should be emulated and whose work is a valuable resource to be used against Western propaganda, but whose political ambitions can also shed light on the imperialist goals of the United States.
I met Salwa Mohammad in Cilantro, Cairo’s answer to Starbucks. In this cafe one finds several English-language Egyptian magazines espousing a variety of progressive causes – from increasing awareness of sexual harassment and recycling, to the hardships faced by single mothers, to ads for Seneca College in Toronto and newly opened branches of Curves. Campus Magazine (www.campus-mag.net) explores the experience of homosexuals in Egypt and investigates the issue of racism – of Egyptians toward black Africans and toward themselves with regard to Westerners.
These are all positive signs for reform in Egypt, but how does this fit with the wide availability of Mein Kampf?
MOHAMMAD describes herself as “very liberal” and supports the sorts of causes espoused in the publications listed above. What is striking is how easily the exoneration of Hitler fits with these liberal concerns – so easily, in fact, that they appear complementary.
Just as the oppression of women can be countered through promoting women’s rights, so Western imperialism can be opposed through better understanding Hitler’s views on nationalism, government and race.
Understanding the political spectrum in Egypt requires more than a simple mapping of Western ideas of liberal and conservative onto their Egyptian counterparts. Holocaust denial and defending Hitler, which are the preserve of the lunatic fringe of the far-Right in the West, is much more mainstream in the Arab world for both conservatives and liberals.