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Iraq and the Middle East: Optimism? What Optimism?


Americans, at least, really believed for a while that the war in Iraq was being won. Polls showed Americans were less pessimistic about Iraq, and the focus began to shift from the war itself to the political situation in Iraq. The "surge" of US troops was the medicine recommended by the Bush administration, and mirabile dictu, the surge was supposed to have worked. British PM Brown is touting "progress" in Iraq as well. This surge of optimism appears to be misplaced. If we look closely, we may conclude that the problem is much worse in fact, because it is much wider than Iraq.

Today, dozens of people were killed or wounded in Iraq by car bombs set off in Maysan, Amara and Baghdad. On December 1, 35 people were abducted and 12 killed north of Baghdad in Diyala province. On December 6, eight Kurdish Peshmerga were killed in Khanaqin, Diyala province. On December 7, at least 16 were killed in Muqdadiya, where a suicide bombing targeting the Awakening group. On December 10, a rocket attack set the al Dora refinery, in the south of Baghdad on fire.

The surge was supposed to have at least brought relative security to Baghdad, buto many of these incidents have taken place in and around Baghdad, as well as in Diyala province, where insurgents are said to have fled and regrouped following the U.S. troop buildup. The surge should have given time for the Iraqi government to train police and army personnel who could take over from coalition forces and maintain order.

Instead, the only positive result seems to have been the rise of the Awakening group, yet another militia that along with Peshmerga, is fighting the insurgents. Right now, they support the government, but the proliferation of militia groups is bound to encourage further factional violence and fragmentation, if ever the Al Qaeda and other groups can be brought under control. Even if casualty statistics have improved, the organization of the terror groups is still in place, and as Americans withdraw, they will be free to resume their mayhem.

An interview on Al-Arabiyah television with Shehada Jawhar, a self proclaimed terrorist and former Al-Qaeda operative in Iraq, he drops broad hints about the sources of arms and organization in Iraq:

Jawhar: "Why should they be afraid? Most of them were not known [as Al-Qaeda members]. Only a few of them were known to be Al-Qaeda members. They protect their identity when they move about."

Interviewer: "So there are Iraqis..."

Jawhar: "There are many who are not recognized as Al-Qaeda members. They all wear ski masks."

Interviewer: "When they carry out operations?"

Jawhar: "Yes. We had with us brothers from Tunisia, from Libya, Algeria, Morocco...To be honest, I never saw anyone from Mauritania there. There were Egyptian brothers, brothers from the Arabian Peninsula...I met several brothers from Kuwait, a brother from Qatar...There were Palestinians, Syrians
of course, and Jordanians..."
Jawhar: "People from Syrian intelligence came, and asked to meet with Shiekh Abu Mus'ab. They said to him: 'Brother, what weapons do you need?' They wanted to help, but [Al-Zarqawi] said: 'No, we've got everything we need.' He wouldn't take anything from them, even though we were in dire need of weapons. We didn't want to take anything from the Syrians, so it wouldn't be said the next day that we cooperated with them. This was the position of Sheikh Abu Mus'ab. He was in need of every single bullet, and was offered whatever he wanted. He said: 'I'm fighting the Americans, with or without you. Why should I fight the Americans on your behalf'?"

Interviewer: "How could Syrian intelligence get to Abu Mus'ab Al-Zarqawi? What was their purpose? What did Syrian intelligence want?"

Jawhar: "It is not in the Syrians' interest for Iraq to remain calm even for a moment. They benefit from this. The more Iraq is destroyed, the more pleased they are, because if the Americans feel comfortable in Iraq, they will move on to many other places. For the same reasons, it is not in the Iranians' interest... I don't know if you noticed, but the Shi'ites started fighting the Americans only two years ago. It's not the Shi'ites Ė the Iranians asked them to fight, and sent them weapons, explosive devices, and so on, because if the Americans feel comfortable in Iraq, they will move on to the other areas. Have you forgotten about the New Middle East?"

If Syria is not causing the violence, they certainly want a piece of the action, and the implied involvement of Iran is at least credible. However, it seems that the terrorist, Shehada Jawhar, was not recruited by Syria or Iran, but by Al-Qaeda, and the terrorists come from all over the Arab world. Iraq is just one target, the most convenient one at present, but not the only one. A deadly blast in Algeria this week, also credited to Al-Qaeda, made it clear that Al Qaeda will not go away no matter how the problems of Iraq are resolved. And of course, there is Palestine, AKA Israel, and Lebanon. Shahada Jawhar, the terrorist who was interviewed, is a Palestinian who lives in a Lebanese refugee camp and makes his living by trading in arms. He complains that the Lebanese government makes it difficult for him to get to 'Palestine.' Today, a bombing in Baabda killed Lebanese Brigadier General Francois al-Hajj, slated to become chief of staff if Michel Suleiman becomes president.

Everyone will hasten to offer their own favorite solution. Americans will inevitably measure the setback in Iraq in terms of their own politics. The liberals will insist that the solution is to impeach President Bush and engage the Iranians and the Syrians. The neo-conservatives will tell us that the solution is to 'support our troops' in Iraq and perhaps to attack Iran and perpetrate regime change in Syria. These 'solutions' are relevant to American politics, but have little to do with Middle East realities. Syria and Iran take advantage of the problem of Al-Qaeda terrorism, and no doubt exacerbate it, but they don't cause it. The career officialdom that President Truman referred to as the "striped pants boys" in the State Department, will insist that solving the Israeli-Palestinian problem is the panacea that will solve all the ills of the Middle East. No doubt that if such a solution could be found, it would simplify matters somewhat.

But the Palestinian problem is only important in the larger Arab and Muslim scene because it was a convenient rallying point for Arab nationalists and later for Islamist radicals. A compromise solution would be attacked by Al Qaeda with even greater vigor. A peaceful state of Palestine living alongside Israel, the vision of the U.S. State Department, would attract more bombings and terror than Lebanon, Iraq and Algeria combined. That would be true even if the solution was absolutely fair to the last of the Palestinian refugees, as long as the Palestinian state was an ally of the United States and the West. The only solution Al-Qaeda would accept is wiping Israel off the map and turning the Palestinian state into a xenophobic Islamist republic. The Hamas envision Jerusalem as the capital of an Islamic Caliphate. It would be a springboard to further mayhem in Algeria, Lebanon, and perhaps Spain. After Palestine, Al Qaeda lists the loss of Al-Andalus as the second greatest tragedy of Islam.

Al-Qaeda is trouble looking for a place to happen, and creating places to happen. It is opportunistic. It will use Afghanistan, Pakistan, Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq, Algeria or any other weak point as a fulcrum for generating more instability and misery, thus creating more instability and weak points. If there are no weak points, it will create some. If there is poverty and misery, it will exploit that. If there is wealth and industrialization, it will use the wealth and industrial capacity to attack western ideas and the countries that support them.

Middle Eastern America-haters will tell us that the solution is to kick out the Americans and allow "democracy." But 'democracy', also favored by neo-conservatives, is not a panacea for the Middle East. In most Middle Eastern countries, democracy at this point can only lead either to a triumph of Al-Qaeda or a different sort of violent xenophobia, especially as long as Al-Qaeda is around to ensure anarchy. If the societies of the Middle East were capable of supporting democracy, there would not be a Lebanon or an Iraq or a Syria or an Egypt or a Saudi Arabia. Every one of these countries is either a failed despotism or a despotism waiting to fail or to turn into an extremist state.

The problem of Al-Qaeda and Islamist extremism did not begin on September 11, 2001, though that may have been the first time that Americans were really aware of it. It is not the fault of George Bush, though he and his administration are obviously incapable of solving the problem. Invading Iraq made the problem worse, and leaving Iraq will only make the problem worse as well, because Al-Qaeda can make anything into an opportunity. Packaging the problem as Iraq, or George Bush, or Palestine, or Democrats will not solve it. Pretending that the problem does not exist, or that it will go away if the US is nice to Iran and Syria, withdraws from Iraq and brings about the creation of a Palestinian state, will not cure the problem. Sending more troops to Iraq will not, in itself solve the problem, nor will attacking Iran or Syria.

Before we can began to solve the problem of Iraq, we have have to understand that it is now part of the larger problem of Islamist terrorism, and that collectively, the international community has no solution and at best only a poor understanding of roots of the problem. This will not improve as long as the Middle East is approached in terms of local politics and events in the Middle East are interpreted only in terms of supporting various irrelevant ideologies and political views. The most frightening conclusion perhaps, is that the only available coherent ideological explanation of the current Middle East mess is the one that Osama Bin Laden would certainly approve, "it is the expression of the will of Allah." We have to do better than that.

Ami Isseroff

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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000657.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

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