October 13, 2010
Number 10/10 #02
Today’s Update features some new material on the situation in Iraq, as well as a worrying new development in the broader war with the violent Islamist movement.
First up is noted Middle East scholar Fouad Ajami who looks at the new alignment in Iraq following the withdrawal of US combat forces, and ongoing struggle to form a new governing coalition there. He points out that the post-electoral chaos is actually a sign of how different Iraqi democratic politics today are from the typical authoritarian pattern prevalent across the Middle East. He also makes a case that Iraq needs and Iraqis want a place in a regional “Pax Americana” once American troops finally pack up completely. For his complete analysis, CLICK HERE.
Next up is a look inside the often forgotten enclave of Iraq, the Kurdish north, as described by Dr. Jonathan Spyer, who just visited there. In an interview with Barry Rubin, he notes the apparent political and economic success of the region, and has some interesting things to say about the attitude of the Kurds to regional neighbours, including Baghdad, Turkey and Israel. He also makes it clear that the overwhelming view among those he met was that the US withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq was premature. For the rest of his insights from Iraqi Kurdistan, CLICK HERE.
Finally, Barry Rubin, who interviewed Spyer in the previous entry, calls attention to a potentially very important development almost no-one has noted. He points out that the newly elected supreme head of the Muslim Brotherhood, the most important Islamist organisation in the world, has just called for violent jihad against the US and essentially endorsed most of the program of al-Qaeda. He stresses that this is a major development that means that hundreds of thousands of followers of the Brotherhood across the Middle East and the world have now been given a call to arms which is likely to result in both more terrorism and re-doubled efforts to take over the moderate regimes of the Middle East. For Rubin’s exploration of all the implications of this potentially very frightening development, CLICK HERE. The sermon on which Rubin bases his warning is translated here.
Readers may also be interested in:
- More on the reported al-Qaeda plot to send EU passport holders to carry our Mumbai-style attacks in Europe here and here. Plus, an analysis of the latest English-language propaganda efforts – apparently designed to recruit “lone wolf” terrorists in the West – from al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
- With Iranian President Ahmadinejad scheduled to visit Lebanon today, some good background on the significance of this trip are here, here and here. Meanwhile, Lebanese are reportedly arming themselves and leaving the country out of fear of a new civil war in the near future.
- Interestingly, al-Qaeda is also not happy about Ahmadinejad visiting Lebanon.
- A revelation that Hezbollah is training at Syrian missile bases.
- A Turkish journalist who witnessed the clashes aboard the Mavi Marmara ship seeking to break the blockade of Gaza in May confirms that Israeli soldiers only began shooting after their lives were placed at risk.
- Official television of the Palestinian Authority states in a program that all of Israel is “occupied”. On the other hand, PA-TV did provide good coverage of a recent gift by Jewish settler rabbis of Korans to a mosque recently vandalised, allegedly by Jewish extremists.
- Iran media celebrates the anniversary of the assassination of Egyptian President Sadat.
- Some differing views in Israel with respect to the recently passed cabinet decision to seek to amend the oath taken by those accepting naturalisation as Israeli citizens to include a pledge to “respect the laws of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state” – see here, here, here, here, here and here.
Iraq’s Shiites, especially, have a healthy fear of Iran and a desire to keep Persian power at bay.
By FOUAD AJAMI
Wall Street Journal, OCTOBER 6, 2010
The chronicles now assign Iraq a distinction all its own. It holds the world record for the longest period of time spent without a government in the aftermath of a contested election. Seven months on, the Baghdad political bazaar is still open. (Consolation to the Iraqis: Holland had held the distinction of longest without a government.)
This is a far cry from the ways of the Arab autocracies and despotisms in Iraq’s neighborhood. The pharaonic state in Egypt would have dispensed overnight with the formation of a cabinet. In the monarchies next door to Iraq, the palace makes ministers and sends them packing. There is mayhem in Iraq to be sure, but there are the growing pains of a new democracy as well. Those who see this frustrating interlude in Iraq as evidence of the waste and the futility of the American project in Iraq give voice to a traditional hostility to the idea of democracy taking root in a distant, non-Western setting.
Incumbency appears to have paid dividends in Iraq as it does in many political contests. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is now all but sure to form and lead the new government. Dogged and taciturn, he hunkered down, cut political bargains, and promised greater patronage in the days ahead—all to cobble together a broad coalition.
The elections last March yielded no clear winner. Four big slates divided and claimed the electorate. There was the Sunni vote, and it went to a Shiite standard-bearer, former prime minister and CIA favorite Ayad Allawi—91 seats in a parliament of 325 members. There was the slate of Prime Minister Maliki, overwhelmingly Shiite, which claimed 89 seats. Another broad Shiite coalition, the National Alliance, came third, with 70 parliamentary seats. The Kurds got roughly their share of the population, a total of 57 seats. All four blocks were far from united movements. They were ramshackle structures, riven by personal ambitions, made up of splinter groups, in quest of what could be had and gotten in a free-for-all scramble.
“Politics has no heart,” said the radical firebrand, Muqtada al-Sadr, from his Iranian exile, in response to a follower puzzled by his decision to cease his veto of Mr. Maliki and back his coalition. “Be informed,” Mr. Sadr continued, “politics is giving and taking.”
For Mr. Sadr this is a remarkable transformation. His hatred of Mr. Maliki ran deep. It was Mr. Maliki who in early 2008 launched a decisive military campaign against Mr. Sadr’s Shiite militia, the Mahdi Army. Mr. Maliki had made this decision alone, as the American military command had been dubious about his chances of success. Having won the war for Baghdad against the Sunnis, the Mahdi Army had grown brazen, it had become an instrument of outright pillage and mayhem. The Shiites themselves had grown weary of it, and Mr. Maliki would show its brigades and petty warlords no mercy.
By then Mr. Sadr had quit Iraq for his Iranian exile. He was afraid for his safety, afraid of the Americans, afraid of potential assassins. Above all, there was the sword of Damocles hanging over his head: an arrest warrant for the brutal murder in the spring of 2003 of a scion of one of the most illustrious Shiite clerical families, Abdul Majid al-Khoei.
For Mr. Sadr, his Iranian exile is a gilded cage—no one takes seriously his claim that he is there for religious studies. He chose Iran because no other place was safe for him, and he was largely able to hold his movement together by remote control. On his coattails 40 members made it to the new parliament.
Has Mr. Sadr bent to the will of Iran by backing Mr. Maliki? Conceivably so. Much of the recent commentary takes that as evidence of Iran’s power in the making of a new government. But there is a simpler explanation. A political man with 12% of the parliamentary seats wanted access to state treasure and resources, opportunities for patronage and government employment for his brigades. Baghdad is not Chicago, but it has shades of it as the struggle for the oil bounty plays out.
So we can now see the broad outlines of a post-American order in Iraq. The withdrawal of the Americans is already “baked into the cake,” a senior Iraqi politician recently told me. This is “the East,” and in the East people have an unerring instinct for the intentions and the staying power of strangers. Iraqis needn’t rush to the pages of Bob Woodward’s “Obama’s Wars” to know of the disinterest of the president in the affairs of Iraq. There’s little doubt that he’ll carry out his promise to withdraw U.S. troops by Dec. 31, 2011. But it would make a great difference to Iraqis were he to signal that Washington has a strategic doctrine for the region, and for Iraq’s place in it, that goes beyond that date.
The Iraqis have a fetish about their sovereignty, but they also understand their dependence. They will need American help, cover for their air space, protection for their oil commerce in the sea lanes of the Persian Gulf. This Iraqi government will remain, for the foreseeable future, a Shiite-led government anxious about the intentions of the Sunni Arab states; about the Turks now pushing deeper into Iraq’s affairs, armed with Neo-Ottomanist ideas about Turkey as a patron of the Sunnis of Iraq. And there will always play upon Iraqis—Shiites in particular—a healthy fear of Iran and a desire to keep the Persian power at bay. There will be plenty of room for America in Iraq even after our soldiers have packed up their gear and left.
The question posed in the phase to come will be about the willingness of Pax Americana to craft a workable order in the Persian Gulf, and to make room for this new Iraq. It is a peculiarity of the American presence in the Arab- Islamic world, as contrasted to our work in East Asia, that we have always harbored deep reservations about democracy’s viability there and have cast our lot with the autocracies. For a fleeting moment, George W. Bush broke with that history. But that older history, the resigned acceptance of autocracies, is the order of the day in Washington again.
It isn’t perfect, this Iraqi polity midwifed by American power. But were we to acknowledge and accept that Iraqis and Americans have prevailed in that difficult land, in the face of such forbidding odds, we and the Iraqis shall be better for it. We have not labored in vain.
Mr. Ajami is a professor at The Johns Hopkins School of Advance International Studies and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution.
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By Barry Rubin
GLORIA, October 3, 2010
Dr. Jonathan Spyer, senior fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, has just returned from a visit to northern Iraq. He is the first Israeli analyst to meet leaders of the Kurdish-ruled region there, and to interview the leader of the radical Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). He is interviewed here by Professor Barry Rubin, director of the GLORIA Center.
Rubin: What were your impressions of Kurdish-ruled northern Iraq?
Spyer: The most important impression is of stability and rapid economic development. It is far safer than central and southern Iraq, where there is a lot of violence and kidnapping for ransom. There is an enormous amount of construction. New hotels, malls, and private housing projects are springing up. The Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) has successfully attracted U.S. investment. The Erbil airport, opened in September, is ultra-modern and looks like the airport of an independent state.
The second main impression is that northern Iraq in many ways resembles a quasi-state. Kurdish flags line the airport road, but there’s just one Iraqi flag. The first language on all signs is Kurdish, followed by English, and only then Arabic. Kurdish is also spoken by almost everyone. Arabic is rare. Northern Iraq has its own military and security forces — the Peshmerga — and KRG officials are particularly proud that they have kept Islamist terrorism out of their region even at the height of the insurgency.
Rubin: How do Iraqi Kurdish leaders view Israel and their own role in the Middle East?
Spyer: They are cautious, expressing a general hope for peace between Israelis and Arabs, and a general sympathy for both sides. Clearly, KRG leaders don’t want to be drawn into the conflict. They know they occupy a precarious space both geographically and politically. They also know their enemies routinely dismiss them as U.S. and Israeli stooges. Thus, their obvious natural sympathy and empathy with Jews and Israel is understandably overlaid by a desire to protect their interests.
Rubin: How do they rank various threats or allies, including Iraq’s central government and Turkey?
Spyer: Their most immediate concerns are with the Baghdad government and Turkey. They know they must walk a narrow line, asserting their interests while not antagonizing unduly either of these powerful neighbors. This relates to such issues as the disputed, oil-rich city of Kirkuk, other Kurdish-speaking areas of Iraq that haven’t been included in the KRG’s region, the presence of anti-Turkish PKK guerrillas in the north, and Turkish fears of Kurdish sovereignty.
Rubin: What do they say about U.S. withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq?
Spyer: There was an absolute consensus among everyone I spoke to that withdrawal was premature.
Yet they have a pragmatic, problem-solving mentality. So I didn’t hear resentment but rather gratitude to the United State for freeing Iraqi Kurds from the rule of Saddam Hussein.
Rubin: You spoke to the head of the Turkish Kurdish PKK group, which historically was allied with Syria and Iran. What is the current status of those links?
Spyer: Syria was once the PKK’s key state ally, providing bases and safe haven for its leader, Abdullah Ocalan. This changed with Syria’s reorientation toward alliance with Turkey after the near-war between them in 1997. Ocalan was captured after Syria made him leave. Thus, Syria-PKK links appear broken.
As for Iran, the PKK’s sister organization among the Iranian Kurds, PJAK, maintains a presence alongside the PKK in the Qandil mountains area where Iraqi, Iranian and Turkish borders meet. As a result, that stronghold is subject not only to Turkish aerial attack, but also to Iranian bombardment. The PKK is thus diplomatically isolated, having lost its links to Syria and Iran without finding alternative alliances. Nevertheless, the PKK has a powerful infrastructure and guerrilla force on the Qandil mountains and shows no indications of facing crisis.
Rubin: How does the PKK assess current politics in Turkey and set its strategy?
Spyer: The PKK considers that the early hopes that Prime Minister Erdogan’s regime would make reforms benefiting Turkish Kurds has proven empty. It hopes to capitalize on their disappointment and anger. The PKK asked Kurds to boycott the recent referendum on constitutional reform in Turkey, arguing the changes brought Kurds no benefit. This succeeded, with large numbers of Turkish Kurds boycotting the referendum, reaching over 90% in some areas of southeast Turkey.
I interviewed PKK leader Murat Karayilan, and he stressed the growing strategic alliance between Iran and Turkey, which he says is also directed against the Kurds. Karayilan considers that Turkey has plans for a major all-out, “Sri Lanka” style operation into the Qandil mountains and is trying to create a diplomatic situation to make this possible.
The PKK seems aware that it has nothing to gain from all-out, open confrontation with the Turks, but wants enough fighting to keep the Kurdish issue alive in Turkey. Thus, it is alternating unilateral ceasefires with attacks on infrastructure such as the recent mining of the Kirkuk-Ceyhan oil pipeline. The goal is to pressure Ankara to grant greater autonomy to Turkish Kurds.
Rubin: What was it like as an Israeli to be in northern Iraq, and how did people there react to you?
Spyer: In the Kurdish zone the atmosphere and prevailing attitudes are very different from the rest of Iraq. In meetings, the general sense was one of obvious core sympathy with Israel, combined with a desire for caution in expressing opinions on Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians and with the broader Arab world.
Yet there is a sense of normality in the attitude toward Israel. Israel is seen as simply another player in the region. That’s to say that the shrillness, paranoia, and strangeness so obviously and depressingly present in so much Arab (and pro-Arab) discussion of Israel is simply, and very refreshingly, absent.
Rubin: In your new book about your personal experiences and fighting in the 2006 war, you focus on the transformation of the conflict into one of revolutionary Islamism versus Israel. Please explain about that.
Spyer: The book, The Transforming Fire: The Rise of the Israel-Islamist Conflict, focuses on the development of an Iran-led alliance, including Hamas and Hizballah, seeking to destroy Israel. This has transformed the challenges facing Israel in a way that hasn’t received sufficient attention. So the “international community” busies itself with reviving the 1990s “peace process” and so on, remaining unaware that the region’s transformed strategic situation renders all such attempts worthless.
The Iran-led bloc will prevent progress towards peace. The Palestinian national movement is not ready for historical compromise with the Jewish national project. It is also split, with the more powerful element aligned with Iran. The book discusses these issues, but also contains accounts of my own experiences, including participation in the 2006 Lebanon war, subsequent travels to Lebanon, and Israel at the time of the Second Intifada.
All of these things interweave to affect not only the political situation in the region but also the lives of those who live here.
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By Barry Rubin
Rubin Report, Thursday, October 7, 2010.
This is one of those obscure Middle East events of the utmost significance that is ignored by the Western mass media, especially because they happen in Arabic, not English; by Western governments, because they don’t fit their policies; and by experts, because they don’t mesh with their preconceptions.
This explicit formulation of a revolutionary program makes it a game-changer. It should be read by every Western decisionmaker and have a direct effect on policy because this development may affect people’s lives in every Western country.
OK, enough of a build-up? Well, it isn’t exaggerated. So don’t think the next sentence is an anticlimax. Here we go: The leader of the Muslim Brotherhood has endorsed (Arabic) (English translation by MEMRI) anti-American Jihad and pretty much every element in the al-Qaida ideology book. Since the Brotherhood is the main opposition force in Egypt and Jordan as well as the most powerful group, both politically and religiously, in the Muslim communities of Europe and North America this is pretty serious stuff.
By the way, no one can argue that he merely represents old, tired policies of the distant past because the supreme guide who said these things was elected just a few months ago. His position reflects current thinking.
Does that mean the Egyptian, Jordanian, and all the camouflaged Muslim Brotherhood fronts in Europe and North America are going to launch terrorism as one of their affiliates, Hamas, has long done? No.
But it does mean that something awaited for decades has happened: the Muslim Brotherhood is ready to move from the era of propaganda and base-building to one of revolutionary action. At least, its hundreds of thousands of followers are being given that signal. Some of them will engage in terrorist violence as individuals or forming splinter groups; others will redouble their efforts to seize control of their countries and turn them into safe areas for terrorists and instruments for war on the West.
When the extreme and arguably marginal British Muslim cleric Anjem Choudary says that Islam will conquer the West and raise its flag over the White House, that can be treated as wild rhetoric. His remark is getting lots of attention because he said it in English in an interview with CNN. Who cares what he says?
But when the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood says the same thing in Arabic, that’s a program for action, a call to arms for hundreds of thousands of people, and a national security threat to every Western country.
The Brotherhood is the group that often dominates Muslim communities in the West and runs mosques. Its cadre control front groups that are often recognized by Western democratic governments and media as authoritative. Government officials in many countries meet with these groups, ask them to be advisers for counter-terrorist strategies and national policies, and even fund them.
President Barack Obama speaks about a conflict limited solely to al-Qaida. And if one is talking about the current military battle in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Yemen that point makes sense. Yet there is a far bigger and wider battle going on in which revolutionary Islamists seek to overthrow their own rulers and wage long-term, full-scale struggle against the West. If it doesn’t involve violence right now it will when they get strong enough or gain power.
More than three years ago, I warned about this development, in a detailed analysis explaining, “The banner of the Islamist revolution in the Middle East today has largely passed to groups sponsored by or derived from the Muslim Brotherhood.” I pointed out the differences—especially of tactical importance—between the Brotherhood groups and al-Qaida or Hizballah, but also discussed the similarities. This exposure so upset the Brotherhood that it put a detailed response on its official website to deny my analysis.
Yet now here is the Brotherhood’s new supreme guide, Muhammad Badi giving a sermon entitled, “How Islam Confronts the Oppression and Tyranny,” translated by MEMRI. Incidentally, everything Badi says is in tune with the stances and holy books of normative Islam. It is not the only possible interpretation but it is a completely legitimate interpretation. Every Muslim knows, even if he disagrees with the Brotherhood’s position, that this isn’t heresy or hijacking or misunderstanding.
Finally, this is the group that many in the West, some in high positions, are urging to be engaged as a negotiating partner because it is supposedly moderate.
What does he say?
- Arab and Muslim regimes are betraying their people by failing to confront the Muslim’s real enemies, not only Israel but also the United States. Waging jihad against both of these infidels is a commandment of Allah that cannot be disregarded. Governments have no right to stop their people from fighting the United States. “They are disregarding Allah’s commandment to wage jihad for His sake with [their] money and [their] lives, so that Allah’s word will reign supreme” over all non-Muslims.
- All Muslims are required by their religion to fight: “They crucially need to understand that the improvement and change that the [Muslim] nation seeks can only be attained through jihad and sacrifice and by raising a jihadi generation that pursues death just as the enemies pursue life.” Notice that jihad here is not interpreted as so often happens by liars, apologists, and the merely ignorant in the West as spiritual striving. The clear meaning is one of armed struggle.
- The United States is immoral, doomed to collapse, and “experiencing the beginning of its end and is heading towards its demise.”
- Palestinians should back Hamas in overthrowing the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and unite in waging war on Israel.
Incidentally, what Melanie Philips has written on this issue fits perfectly here:
Rational calculations of the kind applied by the West to its adversaries, mirror-imaging, assuming that Muslims won’t act in a revolutionary and even suicidal manner want a better future for their children, etc., do not apply to the Islamist movement:
“Allah said: ‘The hosts will all be routed and will turn and flee [Koran 54:45].’ This verse is a promise to the believers that they shall defeat their enemies, and [that the enemies] shall withdraw. The Companions of the Prophet received this Koranic promise in Mecca, when they were weak… and a little more than nine years [later], Allah fulfilled his promise in the Battle of Badr….Can we compare that to what happened in Gaza?….Allah is the best of schemers, and that though Him you shall triumph. Islam is capable of confronting oppression and tyranny, and that the outcome of the confrontation has been predetermined by Allah.”
This says: It doesn’t matter how long the battle goes on, how many die, how much destruction is unleashed, how low your living standards fall, how unfavorable the odds appear to be, none of that is important or should deter you.
In the real world, of course, the Islamists are unlikely to win over the long run of, say, 50 or100 years. But those views do mean that these 50 or 100 years are going to be filled with instability and bloodshed.
Equally, Badi’s claims do not mean all Muslims must agree, much less actively take up arms. They can have a different interpretation, simply disregard the arguments, and be too intimidated or materialistic or opportunistic to agree or to act. Yet hundreds of thousands will do so and millions will cheer them on. And by the same token, neither the radical nor the passive will assist in moving toward more moderation or peace or compromise.
Well, will the problem go away if people in the West condemn “Islamophobia” or make concessions or apologize or produce a just peace? No.
His words provide some important points for people in the West to consider:
“Resistance is the only solution…. The United States cannot impose an agreement upon the Palestinians, despite all the means and power at its disposal. [Today] it is withdrawing from Iraq, defeated and wounded, and it is also on the verge of withdrawing from Afghanistan. [All] its warplanes, missiles and modern military technology were defeated by the will of the peoples, as long as [these peoples] insisted on resistance – and the wars of Lebanon and Gaza, which were not so long ago, [are proof of this].”
First, the more the likelihood that U.S. policy might obtains a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, the more anti-American violent activity will be sparked among the Islamists and their very large base of support, the more Iran and Syria will sponsor terrorism. Desirable as peace or even progress toward peace might be, the West should have no illusions about those things providing regional stability, and they will produce more instability.
Second, U.S. actions of apology, concessions, and withdrawals—whether or not any of the specific steps are useful or desirable—they are interpreted by the Islamists and by many in the Middle East as signs of weakness which should spark further aggression and violence. There are hundreds of examples of this reaction every month. Here’s a leading moderate Saudi journalist explaining how many Iraqis and other Arabs are viewing the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq means that it is turning the country over to Iran. Wrong but an accurate show of that very common Middle East way of thinking.
Indeed, this last factor explains the Brotherhood’s timing. Note that he says nothing about fighting Egypt’s government, which won’t hesitate to throw the Brotherhood leaders into prison and even to torture them. Still, the coming leadership transition in Egypt, with the death or retirement of President Husni Mubarak, seems to offer opportunities.
The new harder line coincides with the Brotherhood’s announcement that it will run candidates in the November elections, another sign of its confidence and increased militancy. The Brotherhood is not a legal group but the government lets members run in other parties. Its candidates won about 20 percent of the vote in the last elections, especially impressive given the regime’s repressive measures. If the Brotherhood intends to defy Egyptian law now there will be confrontations, mass arrests, and perhaps violence.
Most important of all, however, Badi and many others sense weakness on the part of the West, especially the U.S. leaders, and victory for the Islamists.
Even former British Prime Minister Tony Blair is warning about such things. Blair comes from the British Labour Party. Many conservatives understand these issues. But the West can never respond successfully without a broader consensus about the nature of the threat and the need for a strong response. Where are Blair’s counterparts in the left-of-center forces in North America, the kind of people who played such a critical role in confronting and defeating the previous wave of anti-democratic extremism, Communism?
This new hardline signals
1. Increased internal conflict in Egypt, the start of a decade-long struggle for power in the Arabic-speaking world’s most important country.
2. The likelihood that more Brotherhood supporters in the West will turn to violence and fund-raising for terrorism.
3. The true nature of the radical indoctrination–preparing people for future extremism and terrorism–in the mosques and groups they control.
4. A probable upturn in anti-American terrorist attacks in the Middle East and Europe.
In August 1996, al-Qaida declared war on America, the West, Christians and Jews. Nobody important paid much attention to this. Almost exactly five years later, September 11 forced them to notice. Let it be said that in September 2010 the Muslim Brotherhood, a group with one hundred times more activists than al-Qaida, issued its declaration of war. What remains is the history of the future.
Update: A well-informed friend in Egypt just said that while he’s been expecting this move by the Brotherhood for some time that I have been the only one who’s noticed it outside the country. This is the kind of service I’m trying to give my readers.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is at http://www.gloria-center.org and of his blog, Rubin Reports, http://www.rubinreports.blogspot.com.