BACKGROUND & CHARACTER
JUDGES & COURTS
At the same time the Bush administration was negotiating a still elusive agreement to keep the U.S. military in Iraq, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama tried to convince Iraqi leaders in private conversations that the president shouldn’t be allowed to enact the deal without congressional approval.
Mr. Obama’s conversations with the Iraqi leaders, confirmed to The Washington Times by his campaign aides, began just two weeks after he clinched the Democratic presidential nomination in June and stirred controversy over the appropriateness of a White House candidate’s contacts with foreign governments while the sitting president is conducting a war.
Some of the specifics of the conversations remain the subject of dispute. Iraqi leaders purported to The Times that Mr. Obama urged Baghdad to delay an agreement with Mr. Bush until next year when a new president will be in office – a charge the Democratic campaign denies.
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Mr. Obama spoke June 16 to Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari when he was in Washington, according to both the Iraqi Embassy in Washington and the Obama campaign. Both said the conversation was at Mr. Zebari’s request and took place on the phone because Mr. Obama was traveling.
However, the two sides differ over what Mr. Obama said.
“In the conversation, the senator urged Iraq to delay the [memorandum of understanding] between Iraq and the United States until the new administration was in place,” said Samir Sumaidaie, Iraq’s ambassador to the United States.
He said Mr. Zebari replied that any such agreement would not bind a new administration. “The new administration will have a free hand to opt out,” he said the foreign minister told Mr. Obama.
Mr. Sumaidaie did not participate in the call, he said, but stood next to Mr. Zebari during the conversation and was briefed by him immediately afterward.
The call was not recorded by either side, and Mr. Zebari did not respond to repeated telephone and e-mail messages requesting direct comment.
Mr. Obama has called for a phased U.S. withdrawal of all but a residual force from Iraq over 16 months, a position the Iraqi government appears to have embraced.
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U.S. and Iraqi officials have been struggling for months to finalize a deal that will allow U.S. troops to remain after Dec. 31, when a U.N. mandate sanctioning the military presence expires. Iraqi officials have said that the main impediment is agreement over a timeline for U.S. redeployment and immunity from Iraqi prosecution for U.S. troops and civilians.
Obama campaign spokeswoman Wendy Morigi said Mr. Obama does not object to a short-term status of forces agreement, or SOFA.
Mr. Obama told Mr. Zebari in June that a SOFA “should be completed before January and it must include immunity for U.S. troops,” Miss Morigi wrote in an e-mail.
However, the Democratic nominee said a broader strategic framework agreement governing a longer-term U.S. presence in Iraq “should be vetted by Congress,” she wrote.
She said Mr. Obama said the same thing when he met in July with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Mr. Zebari in Baghdad.
A recent article in the New York Post quoted Mr. Zebari as saying that Mr. Obama asked Iraqi leaders in July to delay any agreement on a reduction of U.S. troops in Iraq until the next U.S. president takes office.
Miss Morigi denied this. She said the request for Senate vetting was bipartisan and noted that the first Obama-Zebari conversation took place 12 days after four other members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – including Republican Sens. Richard G. Lugar of Indiana and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska – wrote to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates urging consultation over any agreements committing U.S. troops and civilian contractors to Iraq “for an extended period of time.”
When Mr. Obama spoke to Mr. Zebari, he was speaking in his capacity as a senator and a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Miss Morigi said. “It’s obvious that others are trying to mischaracterize Obama’s position, [but] on numerous occasions he has made it perfectly clear that the United States only has one president at a time and that the administration speaks with one voice.”
Sen. Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat who accompanied Mr. Obama in Iraq along with Mr. Hagel, said they made “no suggestion of any type of delay” in any agreements.
A congressional aide who was also present and spoke on the condition of anonymity said the senators asked for a congressional role similar to that required by the Iraqi Constitution for Iraq’s parliament.
Still, the fact that the Illinois Democrat on June 3 clinched enough delegates to be assured the Democratic presidential nomination gives his comments special force – something that also applies to the Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, a key proponent of the surge of extra U.S. forces to Iraq last year.
As a U.S. senator, Mr. Obama “has a foot in both camps,” said Ross K. Baker, a professor of political science at Rutgers University. “It’s within the jurisdiction of his committee and something he’s entitled to speak about. It doesn’t raise a red flag for me.”
White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe declined to comment on the matter.
Leslie Phillips, a press officer at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, also declined to comment even though an embassy note-taker was present during the senators’ meeting in Iraq. “The embassy’s role is purely to facilitate the meetings,” she said.
Presidential nominees traditionally have not intervened personally in foreign-policy disputes, although campaign surrogates have done so.
Historian Robert Dallek has documented meetings with South Vietnamese diplomats in 1968 by Republican vice-presidential candidate Spiro Agnew and Anna Chennault, widow of Gen. Claire Chennault, the commander of “Flying Tiger” forces in China during World War II.
Mr. Dallek, author of “Flawed Giant: Lyndon Johnson and His Times 1961-1973,” obtained tapes of the conversations from bugs the Johnson administration had placed in the South Vietnamese Embassy in Washington.
Negotiations to end the Vietnam War were taking place in Paris at the time between the Johnson administration and the North and South Vietnamese.
Mr. Agnew and Mrs. Chennault “signaled the South Vietnamese that they would get a better deal with Richard Nixon as president instead of the Democrat” Hubert Humphrey, Mr. Dallek said.
“Johnson was furious and said that Nixon was guilty of treason,” Mr. Dallek said, but neither he nor Mr. Humphrey disclosed the matter before the election, which Mr. Nixon won.
By Jacob Laksin
FrontPageMagazine.com | 5/27/2008
A fascinating scene played out in Basra, Iraq, last week. Troops from the Iraqi Army stood sentinel over the once restive city as followers of rogue cleric Muqtada al-Sadr muttered dispiritedly that they had been driven from power. In this Sadrist fiefdom, the erstwhile epicenter of a Shiite insurgency that many doubted could be contained, the Iraqi army was now law.
Credit this remarkable transformation to Operation Sawlat al-Fursan, also known as operation Charge of the Knights, which began with little fanfare and much skepticism in late March. A make-or-break test for the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the Iraqi armed forces, the operation was largely led by the Iraqi Army and Iraqi Security Forces. Their success in routing militia elements in cities like Basra would reveal much about what could realistically be expected from Iraq.
Democrats were anything but optimistic. Presumptive nominee Barack Obama allowed that the operation had “resulted in some reduction in violence” but insisted, counterintuitively, that this only strengthened the case for rushed troop withdrawals. Hillary Clinton, never one to be pinned down on policy substance when grandstanding is an option, offered her standard refrain that the “surge has failed to accomplish its goals.” More candid was Joe Biden, who back in April was prepared to call a victory … for Sadr. Of Basra, he pronounced, it “looks to me like, at least on the surface, Sadr may have come out a winner here.” In the Democrats’ dismal exegesis, the surge had failed, Iraq was doomed, and withdrawal was the only viable option.
But despair, like hope, is not a policy. Two months on, the Democrats’ fatalism on Iraq looks woefully off base. By all significant indicators, Iraqi security forces have turned the tide against Shiite insurgents. Their improbable control of Basra is only the latest sign of the shifting balance of power. On the strength of the success in Basra, the military reports that violence in Iraq has plunged to its lowest level in over four years. Even the New York Times – no instinctive friend to the Bush administration – reports of Basra that with “Islamist militias evicted from their strongholds by the Iraqi Army, few doubt that this once-lawless port is in better shape than it was just two months ago.” Basra has indeed produced a winner. But contra Joe Biden, it’s not Muqtada al-Sadr.
Just as Shiite die-hards have suffered a devastating reversal, their Sunni counterparts in al-Qaeda are also in retreat. Witness the results in Mosul. Considered by the U.S. and Iraqi forces to be the terrorists’ last urban stronghold in Iraq, Mosul less than a month ago was a soulless Shari’a state. In keeping with Islamist mores, public expressions of joy were forbidden and local cultural traditions ruthlessly suppressed. Locals couldn’t even sell tomatoes and cucumbers side by side at the market, as the juxtaposition was deemed intolerably provocative by prudish jihadists. Since the beginning of a joint U.S. Iraqi operation earlier this month, however, attacks are down by 85 percent, at least 200 al-Qaeda terrorists have been netted in sweeps, and normalcy has been reestablished. Tomatoes and cucumbers, no longer sins against Islam, are just vegetables again.
It speaks to the misdirection of the party that what is good for Iraq and coalition forces is bad for Democrats. Thus, Democrats cannot applaud the recent rollback of al-Qaeda, since doing so would discredit their assurance that Iraq is wholly disconnected from the fight against bin Laden’s network. Neither can they celebrate the Iraqi forces’ success in Basra. That would contradict the narrative that Iraq is a lost cause best surrendered to its internal chaos. To acknowledge gains in security, meanwhile, would be to concede that the American troop presence – that is, the surge that Senator Harry Reid and Speaker Nancy Pelosi were confidently declaring a “failure” last fall – is helping to pacify the country. Acknowledging that would, of course, nullify the logic of precipitous withdrawal. The only remaining option is to mouth the mantra that Iraq is a failure and hope that reality dovetails with defeatism.
Wiser and more principled is the position of John McCain. As an early proponent of the troop surge, McCain can lay claim to a prescience that not only eluded many of in his party but that continues to evade his expected Democratic opponent. Last week, for instance, Barack Obama cast a vote against the $165 billion funding bill for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. That didn’t derail the funding bill, which passed the Senate anyway, but it did place Obama squarely on the side that has given up on the surge and, by extension, on the Iraq war. Buoyed by some polls, Obama is clearly betting that military defeat in Iraq will translate into political victory at home.
McCain may yet have the better of that argument. Against the increasingly tone-deaf attacks from Democrats, he can point out that Iraqi troops have defied expectations to perform competently and sometimes impressively, even without U.S. support; that the Shiite and Sunni terrorists have been substantially repelled; and that political reconciliation is for the first time visible on the horizon. He can add, too, that all this is dependent on the surge strategy that he championed and that Obama threatens to undo.
Seen in this light, the Democrats’ tactic of calling the surge the “Cheney-Bush-McCain” strategy may well boomerang to their disadvantage. Naturally, there will be those who scoff at the notion that Iraq could be an asset for McCain in the general election. But it’s worth bearing in mind that these same prognosticators just a month ago were instructing that Iraq’s future belonged to Sadr’s brigands and al-Qaeda’s killers. Of the presidential candidates, only John McCain can credibly pledge that he won’t let that happen.
Jacob Laksin is a senior editor for FrontPage Magazine. He is a 2007 Phillips Foundation Journalism Fellow. His e-mail is email@example.com
It will be hard for Speaker Nancy Pelosi to go back to her Democratic colleagues and keep declaiming on the House floor about how the surge isn’t working in Iraq now that she has been there and seen for herself.
What she saw was buried in an AP report on her trip. Powerline’s Paul Mirengoff:
Buried deep in this AP report, between news of a crackdown on al Qaeda in Mosul and a suicide bombing in Baqouba, is Nancy Pelosi’s concession that the surge is succeeding. According to AP, the Speaker, who made a surprise visit to Iraq, “expressed confidence that expected provincial elections will promote national reconciliation.” She also “welcomed Iraq’s progress in passing a budget as well as oil legislation, and a bill paving the way for the provincial elections in the fall that are expected to more equitably redistribute power among local officials.”As Abe Greenwald points out, in February Pelosi said that “the purpose of the surge was to create a secure time for the government of Iraq to make the political change to bring reconciliation to Iraq; they have not done that.” Since she now finds the government is making the changes that will promote reconciliation, it should follow that, in her estimation, the surge is well on its way to accomplishing its purpose.Perhaps this is the prelude to Pelosi adopting Senator George Aiken’s prescription for Vietnam, “declare victory and leave.” But acknowledging this much progress is dangerous for those who advocate our withdrawal since (a) the public may be less enthusiastic about pulling out entirely if it thinks we’re succeding and (b) in the event of serious deterioration post-withdrawal, it will be clear that we snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
We caught a little of that “declare victory and leave” attitude at the Petreaus hearings last March. Barack Obama tried to pin down the General on what the “minimum conditions of security” would be for us to leave. Petreaus was having none of it but that strategy may be in the offing as we head into the fall.
Pelosi is only the latest Democrat to have reality slap them in the face after visiting Iraq. What it means for the mission there remains to be seen.
“Military and intelligence sources believe Iranians were operating at a tactical command level with the Shi’ite militias fighting Iraqi security forces; some were directing operations on the ground, they think.”
“Iran joined militias in battle for Basra,” by Sarah Baxter and Marie Colvin for The Sunday Times:
IRANIAN forces were involved in the recent battle for Basra, General David Petraeus, the US commander in Iraq, is expected to tell Congress this week.
Military and intelligence sources believe Iranians were operating at a tactical command level with the Shi’ite militias fighting Iraqi security forces; some were directing operations on the ground, they think. […]
Moqtada al-Sadr, the radical Shi’ite cleric, has called for 1m people to march on Baghdad on Wednesday – the fifth anniversary of the fall of the capital – when Petraeus and Ryan Crocker, the US ambassador to Iraq, will be briefing Congress.
A senior Iraqi official who met Petraeus last week said, “It will be difficult to show that the situation is improving.” Another Iraqi source described the US general as “furious” that al-Maliki moved against the militias into Basra without consultation and had to rely on US forces to bail him out.
Abu Ahmed, a senior military commander with the Awakening, the Sunni tribal movement cooperating with US forces, said progress was largely the result of al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army ceasefire.
“When the Mahdi Army decides to resume its activities, neither the American troops nor the Iraqi government will be able to stop it,” he said.
Iranian meddling only complicates that situation. And, lacking the political will to defang and disarm al-Sadr’s militia has so far set the stage for a campaign of half-measures, which has only made al-Sadr appear stronger. We’ll see if that situation changes in the coming days.
Iraqi Documents Show al Qaeda Ties
By Kenneth R. Timmerman
NewsMax.com | 3/21/2008
A much-publicized report released by the Pentagon last week details the extensive ties between the regime of Saddam Hussein and a wide variety of international terrorist organizations, including Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida.
“Despite their incompatible long-term goals, many terrorist movements and Saddam found a common enemy in the United States,” the report’s authors at the Institute for Defense Analysis (IDA) state.
But instead of reporting on this conclusion, most of the media accounts have focused on a single sentence that appears in the executive summary, stating that the report’s authors found “no smoking gun” or “direct connection” between Saddam’s Iraq and al-Qaida.
The United States Joint Forces Command, which commissioned the report from IDA, provided reporters late last week with a CD containing nearly 2,000 pages of supporting documents that purportedly formed the basis of the conclusions authored by Lt. Col. Kevin Woods and James Lacey in the 94-page redacted summary that initially was leaked to the press.
An analysis by Newsmax identified several documents with critical evidence of Saddam’s close ties to al-Qaida that were overlooked or ignored by the report’s authors, however.
These documents, published previously by the Foreign Military Studies Office of the Joint Reserve Intelligence Center, Fort Leavenworth, have since been taken down from U.S. government Web sites. Newsmax downloaded copies when they were still available.
“This is not a comprehensive, end-all, all-in-one study,” a source familiar with the drafting of the report told Newsmax. He spoke on background because his comments had not been cleared in advance by the U.S. military.
“This was a study very specifically for military lessons learned, to explain an environment. People shouldn’t make this report into something it’s not,” he added.
Another source involved in the report told Newsmax that one reason some documents were not included in the analysis was because of the sheer mass of material available — more than 600,000 documents, in all.
I have written about the Harmony data base of captured Iraqi military and intelligence documents in my recent book, Shadow Warriors: Traitors, Saboteurs, and the Party of Surrender.
One of the most damning documents to emerge from the Harmony data base, I wrote, was a Jan. 18, 1993 order from Saddam Hussein, transmitted to the head of Iraqi intelligence, “to hunt the Americans that are in Arab lands, especially in Somalia, by using Arab elements or Asian (Muslims) or friends.”
In response, the head of the Iraqi Intelligence Service informed Hussein that Iraq already had ties with a large number of international terrorist groups, including “the Islamist Arab elements that were fighting in Afghanistan and [currently] have no place to base and are physically present in Somalia, Sudan, and Egypt.” In other words, al-Qaida.
The authors of the IDA study note that Saddam’s Iraq “was a long-standing supporter of international terrorism,” and that these particular documents provided ‘detailed evidence of that support.’”
The study also points out that the captured documents “reveal that Saddam was training Arab fighters (non-Iraqi) in Iraqi training camps more than a decade prior” to the 2003 war.
But the study shies away from identifying them as al-Qaida terrorists, even though many of them were members of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, whose leader, Dr. Ayman al-Zawahri, became the deputy leader of al-Qaida in 1998.
Preparations for Suicide Operations Against U.S.
While the IDA study includes no information that would show operational ties between Saddam’s regime and the 9/11 hijackers, it reveals that Saddam personally gave orders on Sept. 17, 2001 to his general military intelligence directorate to recruit Iraqi officers for “suicide operations” against the United States.
The 112-page Harmony data file ISGQ-2005-00037352 contains Saddam’s order, as well as personal pledges to carry out suicide operations from more than one hundred “volunteers,” including a brigadier general.
In the order he issued just one week after the 9/11 attacks, Saddam stated that the volunteers should sign pledges “to be written in blood,” presumably their own.
Four years before this order, Saddam announced with great fanfare that he had tasked a prominent Iraqi calligrapher to produce a Quran written with his own blood. Saddam reportedly had doctors draw his blood for the task.
Several other key documents are glaringly absent from the IDA report and provide direct evidence of Saddam Hussein’s deep involvement with al-Qaida and its component organizations.
Among them is a 1999 notebook kept by an unidentified Iraqi intelligence official that detailed meetings between top Iraqi leaders and visiting Islamic terrorists. (Harmony document ISGP-2003-0001412).
One Baghdad visitor was Maulana Fazlur Rahman a signer of Osama bin Laden’s infamous 1998 fatwa calling on Muslims to “murder Americans.” Another was Afghan mujahedin leader Gulbudin Hekmatyar, who was also supported by Iran.
Roy Robison, a former U.S. government contractor who published an analysis of Saddam’s relationship to al-Qaida last year, argues that when Rahman met with Iraqi Vice president Taha Yassin Ramadan in 1999 “he did so as the father of the Taliban and as a leader of the World Islamic Front which declared war on the U.S the year before.”
Another document not included in this latest report was a review by Iraqi Intelligence Service (IIS) of their ongoing ties with Osama bin Laden and other opponents to the Saudi regime (Harmony document ISGZ-2004-009247).
This document reads like a memorandum for the record, written in early 1997, tracing the beginnings of the Iraqi regime’s relationship to Osama bin Laden.
In a letter dated Jan. 11, 1995, Saddam Hussein personally authorized the General Director of Intelligence to establish direct contact with bin Laden in Sudan, the report states.
The initial meeting with bin Laden took place just one month later, on Feb. 19, 1995, and included an offer by Iraq to provide bin Laden with broadcasting facilities and a discussion of plans “to perform joint operations against foreign forces in the land of Hijaz [ie, Saudi Arabia].
Following bin Laden’s expulsion from Sudan, in July 1996, the memo states that the Iraqi intelligence service is “working to revitalize this relationship through a new channel.”
The IDA report includes in its supporting documentation a detailed report by the Iraqi general director of intelligence in response to an “action directive” issued by Saddam on Jan. 18, 1993, ordering his intelligence service to establish relations with terrorist groups around the world and to develop the “expertise to carry out assignments.”
In addition to a variety of Palestinian groups, the document lists the Hezb Islami of Afghanistan, the Islamic Scholars Group of Pakistan, the Jam’iyat “Ulama Pakistan, all of which subsequently became affiliated with al-Qaida.
The authors of the IDA report note in the abstract accompanying their work that the captured documents provide “evidence that links the regime of Saddam Hussein to regional and global terrorism, including . . . Islamic terrorist organizations.”
While the documents “do not reveal direct coordination and assistance between the Saddam regime and the al-Qaida network, they do indicate that Saddam was willing to use, albeit cautiously, operatives affiliated with al-Qaida,” and to provide financing and training of these outside groups.
“This created both the appearance of and, in some ways, a ‘de facto’ link between the organizations,” the report’s authors stated.
Much of the polemic over Saddam’s support for al-Qaida arises from disputed claims, put forward in a Czech government intelligence report, that an Iraqi intelligence official met with 9/11 pilot Mohamed Atta in Prague in the April 2001.
No documents have surfaced that would corroborate that claim, while in press interviews well after the liberation of Iraq, the Iraqi intelligence officer who reportedly met with Atta in Prague told reporters that the meeting never took place.
All Iraqi Roads Lead to Terrorism
Contrary to the accounts that have appeared in mainstream media outlets, the Harmony documents and the IDA report show beyond any doubt that Saddam Hussein was willing to fund, train, and use Islamic terrorists, including groups affiliated with al-Qaida, to carry out his long-standing plans against the United States and U.S. allies in the region.
A 2002 annual report to the Iraq Intelligence Service M8 directorate of liberation movements shows that the IIS hosted 13 terrorist conferences during the year, and that Saddam personally received 37 congratulatory messages from international terrorist groups. The annual report also noted that the IIS had issued 699 passports to terrorists during the year.
“Saddam supported groups that either associated directly with al-Qaida [such as the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, led at one time by bin Laden’s deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri], or that generally shared al-Qaida’s stated goals and objectives,” the IDA report states.
But an element of competition also kept Saddam from too much direct involvement with al-Qaida, the IDA report states.
While both Saddam and bin Laden wanted to drive the West out of Muslim lands and to create a single powerful state that would replace America as a global superpower, “bin Laden wanted — and still wants — to restore the Islamic caliphate while Saddam, despite his later Islamic rhetoric, dreamed more narrowly of being the secular ruler of a united Arab nation,” the report’s authors state.
The relationship between Saddam Hussein and bin Laden bore some resemblance to the Cali and Medellin drug cartels.
While the seemingly rival cartels were vying for market share, “neither cartel was reluctant to cooperate with the other when it came to the pursuit of a common objective,” the report’s authors state.
“Recognizing Iraq as a second, or parallel, “terror cartel” that was simultaneously threatened by and somewhat aligned with its rival helps to explain the evidence emerging from the detritus of Saddam’s regime,” the IDA report states.
Link to First World Trade Center Attack
One terror tie apparently put to rest in this latest report are the suspicions that Saddam Hussein was involved in the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center.
Analysts such as Laurie Mylroie have argued for years that Saddam’s regime was behind the 1993 attack, and cited as evidence the fact that a key member of the plot, Abdul Rahman Yasin, fled to Iraq immediately after the bombing.
As I reported in Shadow Warriors, Saddam Hussein recorded all meetings in his presidential office, and the Harmony data base includes tapes from a series of meetings during 1993 that discussed the interrogation of Yasin.
Saddam “discusses the possibility that the attack was part of the ‘dirty games that the American intelligence would play if it had a bigger purpose,’” and expresses concern that Yasin might be an American agent, the IDA report states.
According to Saddam, Yassin was “too organized in what he is saying and [he] is playing games, playing games and influencing the scenario” during his interrogations by Iraqi intelligence. Saddam ordered that the interrogations continue but “actually warns against allowing Yasin to commit suicide or be killed in jail,” the report states.
Saddam believed that “the most important thing is not to let the Arabic public opinion [believe] we are cooperating with the US against the opposition. I mean that is why our announcement [that Yasin is being held] should include doubts . . . [about] who carried out this operation. Because it is possible that in the end we will discover — even if it is a very weak possibility — that a fanatic group who carried it organized the operation.”
Saddam and his advisors were hoping to use the interrogations of Yasin, and whatever information they could gather from him about the organizers of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, to enhance their position in world public opinion.
If handled correctly, Saddam said, Yasin’s confessions “will benefit us greatly; it will benefit us in our issue in the matter of the stance that the U.S. has taken against us.”
Kenneth R. Timmerman was nominated for the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize along with John Bolton for his work on Iran. He is Executive Director of the Foundation for Democracy in Iran, and author of Countdown to Crisis: the Coming Nuclear Showdown with Iran (Crown Forum: 2005).
By Jamie Glazov
FrontPageMagazine.com | 1/25/2008
Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Pierre Rehov, a French filmmaker who has filmed six documentaries on the Palestinian Intifada. One of his recent documentaries, Suicide Killers, explores the psychology of suicide bombers. It is based on interviews with the victims of suicide bombers, the families of suicide bombers, would-be bombers themselves, and experts on suicide killer mentality. He is currently in Iraq filming a new documentary on the psychology of suicide killing.
FP: Pierre Rehov, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
Rehov: Thank you.
FP: So let’s begin with why you decided to go to Iraq.
Rehov: After the success of Suicide Killers, and you have to remember that I invented the term by contraction of “Suicide Bombers” and “Serial Killers,” I decided to make a new film about the “proliferation” of suicide killing. After addressing this dangerous trend in “Suicide Killers,” I decided to go deeper into the psychopathology of individuals who are ready to sacrifice their lives as long as they kill others.
The question I am asking myself in making this film is: “What do kamikazes from WWII, Palestinian suicide killers, the murderers of Columbine, Cho at Virginia Tech and other suicide criminals around the world have in common?” “Proliferation” (The tentative work title for now) is a new survey of this phenomenon.
I am trying to answer another very important question: “How do we stop it?” Knowing that the US attacked Iraq in part as a response to 9/11, I wanted to see how this was handled. That’s why I went to Iraq.
But we also went to Japan to interview former Kamikazes, to Virginia Tech to understand what really happened there, to Gaza so we could follow the “making” of a suicide killer, to Bethlehem to find families and neighbours of these killers, and also to interview the family of Professor Librescu — who sacrificed his life also at Virginia Tech, not to kill others, but to save as many lives as he could.
FP: Your impressions in Iraq?
Rehov: I came to Iraq not knowing what I was going to find exactly. To report on war is not always an easy thing. Since I am here to include Iraq in my next documentary on suicide bombing (the international part of SK), I have been trying to find an angle to use the events here. The army actually found it for me.
The job that the US army is doing here is remarkable. Forget all CNN, left wing NYT and other anti-Bush critics, reports, images. The strategy that they are building here is to interact with the Iraqi population, make them understand that they care, try to solve their daily problems and, at the same time, show them that US soldiers are strong, and that they won’t let them down.
Basically, the US army is replacing a corrupt, non-efficient government, and it is trying to train the population to the idea of democracy. For a long time, I thought that you could not change things among Arab-Muslims, since their culture is so different from ours. But I was wrong to a certain extent, since I forgot one part of the deal. Yes, you can make changes by bringing hope for a better life and help the growth to grow, but on one condition: you have to take care of it yourself.
Corruption is so embedded in the Arab mentality (and accepted by the non-corrupted ones) that you cannot just “give them” things. The first thing you have to show them is strength. I would actually call any article I would write “Strength and wealth.” You cannot give anything to the leaders and let them take care of their populations. But, when those nice boys with a high ideal go, everyday, at high risk, in every single house, to talk to every single mother, father, of each family, asking questions, gathering intelligence, offering help, you can see the streets of Baghdad crowded again, and people waiving with enthusiasm when the US Humvees go down the street.
FP: So is this really an “occupation” then?
Rehov: Not at all. I have memories of my childhood, when my father was telling me about how the US army conquered Algeria, and delivered them from the Nazis and the French collaborating government. Sixty years later, the US army is acting the same. It is not an occupation army. It is an army of liberation.
When I was a kid, my father always told me about the night when the US Army delivered his city, in Algeria. Jews suffered a lot under the Vichy regime, and even in Algeria they knew how Germans treated the Jews. So, during one full night, while sounds of war could be heard in a distance, the rumor spread that the Germans had defeated the Allies and that they would arrive in the morning. French people and Arabs would go down the streets where some Jews lived, chanting : “tomorrow we’ll get you, tomorrow you’re dead.” At dawn, a first armored car arrived in the city. It was bearing an American flag. Next day, life changed for everybody.
Everybody who has been through this, remembers the US army bringing freedom and amelioration to their life. The well known image of American soldiers distributing chocolate, coffee, food rations and cigarettes to the population is vivid in my memory, like as if I had been there, in 1942, many years before I was born.
What I discovered in Iraq is very similar to these naïve but powerful symbolic images. Therefore, I believe that the impact of the US troops, in the long run, can be the same to the Iraqi population. Everywhere we go, kids are waiving at us, parents too. Every house we go in, the first word we hear is “welcome,” “thank you for being here.”
Certainly the dictators of the world don’t appreciate any kind of democratic success. But, on the field, no matter what political side I would be on, I have to admit a very simple thing: democracy is contagious, when it spreads among the people, despite all the efforts made by their leaders, whether religious or secular.
Yesterday, I saw something which could be given as a perfect example of what is going on here. A young kid, too young to talk, had been found in the street, crying, lost. Some of the volunteers working with the US army stopped our Humvee and started talking to the interpreter. They had found the kid, did not know what to do with him. They had gone to the local Imam, asking him to use the speakerphones he uses to call for the pray, to ask if any family had lost a kid. The Immam refused.
Therefore, our Captain called one of the translators and ask him to jump on a humvee and to go in every single street of our “mallaha” (neighbourhood) asking through the very loud speakerphones if any family had lost a 2 or 3 years old kid. The humvee moved. The captain said, half serious: “and now, the rumor will spread that the US army has kidnapped a kid.”This kind of anecdote is happening 10 times a day here. Families left alone, with the husband in jail for being an Al Qaada member. And, every day, the same patrol visits this family, making sure that they don’t need anything.
FP: Why do you think the Western Left despises such a promising thing that is happening? Why is it in league with the Islamists? Why does it gnash its teeth when America succeeds in bringing people freedom?
Rehov: I can talk about the European type of Left, but I believe their kind of thinking is similar to the American Left’s. The leftwing mentality in Europe is generous, but not realistic or romantic and certainly not courageous. Their system of analysis, mostly based on Karl Marx and his followers, is not updated, yet they can see the failure of most socialist systems around the world. Their “key of lecture” is economical at every level of their understanding. Since the simple 19th century black and white image of the “rich” against the “poor” has been proven to be outrageous, and no longer in service, and since poverty is not necessarily the result of exploitation of innocent populations by cynical capitalists, they have had to change their system of values and their icons of reference.
Actually, for left wing people, capitalism and liberal economy continue to be the enemy, no matter what. The “other” is always the good to protect and defend. In other words, you are not to be protected just because you are poor, humiliated, tortured, spoiled or expelled. You become of interest at the very moment you are the “victim of the capitalist system.” The same left wing “heroes” who would march in the streets each time an Israeli or American soldier fires a weapon, mostly do not protest when China invades Tibet, when Arab dictators massacre millions, or when Radical Islam expresses genocidal intentions and acts on them.
In the Left’s view, by definition, radical jihadists are not the enemy – they are the result of past accidental mistakes. Bin Laden ? He would not exist if he had not been trained by the CIA. Hamas? Well, it was created by Israel to undermine the PLO. According to this mentality, the West cannot have good intentions, only greed. How could greed succeed in an ideal world — that exists only in their imagination?
Of course, the US made a mistake when they attacked Iraq 6 years ago. The mistake was not to overthrow Saddam Hussein, who was a blood thirsty dictator. That was the right thing to do. The mistake was not to have a long-term plan to re-establish the sovereignty of Iraq, and to make it an ally of the West – in the same way Japan and Germany became allies after having been defeated. So, all leftwing intellectuals of the world could grab this mistake like a dog grabs a bone, and for 6 years it has been their main concern, while American families were losing their children on the battlefield. The U,S, government has been smart enough to understand this mistake, it took time, but I see that they are doing the right thing now. Once more, the Left has missed the train. They are still using the same arguments.
FP: What advice would you have for American policy makers toward Iraq?
Rehov: From what I see here, the worst of all mistakes would be for the US to withdraw now. They are on the right path. It will take a few more years, but the end result might be good. Iraq is a rich country, full of good people who are tired of the ancient Arab mentality and who want to see a better future for their children. This silent majority is what counts. As long as the US is here, taking care of their security, they can feel strong enough to defeat Al Qaeda and other radical groups from inside. If tomorrow the US withdraws, radical groups are still strong enough to take over power. It would be the biggest mistake the US could ever make. Iraq will plunge into darkness.
FP: Thank you Pierre Rehov for helping us see the light.
Rehov: Thank you.
Jamie Glazov is Frontpage Magazine’s managing editor. He holds a Ph.D. in History with a specialty in U.S. and Canadian foreign policy. He edited and wrote the introduction to David Horowitz’s Left Illusions. He is also the co-editor (with David Horowitz) of The Hate America Left and the author of Canadian Policy Toward Khrushchev’s Soviet Union (McGill-Queens University Press, 2002) and 15 Tips on How to be a Good Leftist. To see his previous symposiums, interviews and articles Click Here. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Lt. Col. Gordon Cucullu
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, November 05, 2007
If the old saw “no news is good news” has any truth to it, then things must be going very well indeed in the Iraq war. Increasingly obvious signs of success as a result of the “surge” under the able leadership of General David Petraeus have all but rendered the mainstream media speechless on the warfront. From the days of constant television showing video of black smoke billowing from burning car bombs in marketplaces, we have now reached a virtual blackout. When was the last time you saw a detailed listing of U.S. and Iraqi casualties in the top right column of the New York Times or Washington Post?
The media are not going to report good news, which leaves Americans with the impression that the war is going as poorly now as it was a year ago. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Friendly casualties are lower than they have been in years, across the board: U.S. and allied forces, Iraqi security forces, and Iraqi civilian losses are all at near-record lows. Contrasted to this time last year, the comparison is staggering. And for all the recent caterwauling from craven Foreign Service Officers about a tour in Iraq being a “death sentence, and you know it,” so far the State Department has not lost anyone except contractors hired at extravagant cost to protect its officers. (Can anyone say “Blackwater”?)
On the rise, however, are al-Qaeda In Iraq’s losses, although you can expect to see them falling in the near future, too — not because these foreign fighters are not being hunted down and killed, but because AQI targets populations are declining. Fewer and fewer recruits are coming through Syria into Iraq to join the fight.
Huge attrition rates have reduced AQI presence in Iraq dramatically. Partially as a result of these high losses, the brightness of the al Qaeda’s appeal among foreign fighters from Saudi Arabia, Chechnya, and other disturbed places around the region has dimmed. Yes, the terrorist training camps in Syria are still functioning and Damascus does little to impede foreign jihadists’ travel through Syrian territory. But it appears some radicals who prefer to fight the infidel face to face are either waiting for another time (like after the 2008 elections) or are seeking more accommodating ground. Hence, the recent resurgence of fighting in Chechnya and Afghanistan.
According to Rear Admiral Greg Smith, spokesman for the Multi-National Force–Iraq, this largely unreported good news is attributable to the strategy General Petraeus brought with him on this his third tour of duty in Iraq. “More than a majority in Anbar Province area have morally and physically rejected al Qaeda,” Smith reported in a conference call on October 31. “The movement called Concerned Local Citizens – often referred to as the Anbar Awakening – has now spread across the entire country.” This is decidedly good news for those who love freedom and extraordinarily bad new for Al Qaeda Iraq.
“There are more than 120 separate Concerned Local Citizens groups around the country,” Greg notes, “Many in the predominately Sunni areas that were former AQI strongholds.” By rejecting the terrorists and embracing a solution within the Iraqi government, tribal leaders and sheiks – still the key opinion formers in the new republic – have “tilted the kinetics” hard in the direction of a non-violent solution to Iraqi problems.
This kinetic shift has enabled the military to take advantage of a broader range of targets. “We continue to go after foreign fighters,” Smith said, “and have expanded our targeting to include AQI propaganda arm, money laundering and finance, and operations.” According to Smith “with the capture of the eighth AQI media cell, al-Qaeda’s ability to broadcast or make propaganda videos inside Iraq is severely degraded.”
Forces on the ground are careful not to overstate this success. “We’ve still got a long way to go,” Smith affirmed. He was cautiously optimistic about returning Iraqi provinces to the responsibility of Iraqi security forces. “Eight of 18 provinces are now under Iraqi control,” he noted. “We expect two more to transfer shortly.”
And as for the final eight provinces? “They won’t be transferred this year, although we had originally hoped to achieve that goal. However, we expect that not far into 2008 the transfers will be complete.”
How about the sectarian militias that media pundits have gloomily characterized as portending a civil war? “Muqtada al-Sadr has ordered his followers to support the Iraqi government,” Smith noted. His forces were among those considered most threatening to stability.
Jaysh al Mahdi (JAM) forces, under the titular control of Muqtada al Sadr, were described in a report to Congress in August 2006 as “increasingly linked to retaliatory violence.” According to Smith, JAM has now assumed a much diminished role. A returning British general officer described JAM activities in Basra and the south of Iraq as drifting increasingly into a criminal, mob-rule rather than one that is ideologically Shi’a based. He characterized activities as more “mafia-like” than religious or sectarian, and observed that from the “glass-half-full” perspective the various organized crime gangs were at least committed to keeping Iranian agents out of their business affairs.
The secularization movement seems to be growing rapidly within JAM and the Mahdi Army community. While controlling criminal gangs present their own set of challenges, at least for the moment the threat of civil war or partition of the country seems increasingly remote.
As Smith confirmed, “I have spoken with representatives high and low from all over Iraq, and none favor partition or breakup. They all identify themselves first as Iraq citizens and then as part of a religious affiliation or tribe.” This is, indeed, good news, at least for those other than NBC, which pompously announced last year that after “due consideration” it had decided “a civil war exists in Iraq.”
On the infrastructure side, Smith explained that more power is being generated than in pre-war Iraq — though electric power requirements still exceed supply. “Power shortages continue from time to time in Baghdad,” he elaborated, “but that is because in the old days Saddam directed that most of the power be allocated to Baghdad. Now we are spreading it across the entire country.” He is now making up for Saddam’s previous policy of discrimination.
That’s the good news from Iraq. Not violent, sexy, or especially titillating, but strongly indicative of a rising confidence level and improving security situation among a people who have lived far too long with a knife at their throats.
Lt. Col. Gordon Cucullu has been an Army Green Beret lieutenant colonel, as well as a writer, popular speaker, business executive and farmer. His most recent book is Separated at Birth, about North and South Korea.