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Catfish and Cod
Friday, October 31, 2003
Same song, second verse.
(Link path: CNN)

Psst! I've got a secret for you. Want to know how to evade international weapons inspectors? It's easy! First, claim that you're a perfectly legitimate country with a perfectly legal and peaceful set of programs. When details pop up to the contrary, throw the weapons inspectors out. Then you can negotiate to have them return, along with your declaration of a "full and complete accounting" of your program. This should give you the few more months you need to complete your program, at which point you can ignore the inspectors and threaten your neighbors.

Saddam did it over the winter of 2002-2003, and only the lightening intervention of the United States stopped his intention to use chemical weapons against an invading army. (Other programs, such as the rumored Iraqi nuclear program, turned out not to exist at all.) North Korea pulled the same trick over the same period of time, and now they have a full nuclear program and at least two bombs. Now Iran is trying the exact same trick.

I'd be happy as a clam if international inspections could prevent WMD proliferation. But the enemies of a stable planet have discovered the trick to evading inspectors: delay just long enough, and keep feeding them small victories. If you stonewall, they'll complain to the Security Council and the U.S. government, and that will be all she wrote. But if you give in to them just an inch at a time, they'll accept the small victories and patiently wait for you to cave. Except that by the time you do cave, you'll have your weapons and they can't stop you from doing whatever you want.

The inspection agencies must find a way out of the trap that their own policies have placed them in, or they will soon be as irrelevant as the Bush Administration makes them out to be.
NGO's turn tail and run.
(Link path: MSNBC)

It's easy to scare away European aid workers. All you have to do is send in one or two little car bombs, or do anything else that causes a few Europeans to die. Then you can sit back and watch them scurry away, leaving you to take over, terrorize, rape, and pillage as you see fit. The NGO's and Europeans will even help you -- they will insist on flimsy security to "avoid appearing too military" or "keep from frightening away those they want to help."

We've seen this pattern again and again. The UN compound insisted on having no military presence, US or otherwise. They were hit by a car bomb, and the near-immediate response was to pull out workers. This pullout has gone on sequentially, to the point at which there are virtually no non-Iraqi UN employees left in Iraq. (Good thing we didn't try to hand the occupation over to them, isn't it?)

The same pattern played itself out last week with the Red Cross. In exactly the same way, the Red Cross intentionally set up security barriers less effective than those employed at other sites around Baghdad, to "keep from becoming too inaccessible". A ambulance/car bomb was used, to great effectiveness, to slaughter innocent civilians. And what was the response of the Red Cross, an organization supposedly devoted to treating battlefield casualties? Why, to pull out, of course. While it's the Red Cross' job to be the guardians of fair play and humanitarian assistance, the ICRC's operations director Pierre Kraehenbuehl said that the staff’s “security has priority" and that the only reason the Red Cross is still in Iraq at all is that it "was required by the Geneva Conventions on the conduct of warfare to remain in Iraq because it is an occupied country."

Doctors without Borders, another organization that supposedly sticks its head into the lion's mouth for the good of the afflicted of the world, isn't even sticking around to have its people attacked. They're executing a pre-emptive pullout. A spokesman said that "it's a balance between the security of the staff and the needs of the population on the ground." Yes, and which of the two goals does your action demonstrate is more important to you?

All these groups, of course, insist that they're not really leaving, that they have plenty of Iraqi personnel on-site, and they "remain committed to helping the people of Iraq." But what message does it send to the Iraqi personnel working for these NGO's, and to the Iraqi people in general," to see the supposed representatives of the "international community" scurry away in fear at the first sign of trouble? What signal does it send to their attackers, that they can't even comprehend being attacked -- they were "shocked by the recent bombing because [the Red Cross] maintains strict neutrality" -- because their own sense of humanity, justice, and fair play is the target of the attack?

Read the current discussions of the situation in the Middle Eastern press, and you'll discover that the Arab people are caught up by the perception of weakness -- be it their own perceived weakness in world and current affairs, or a perceived weakness in the ability of the Americans to acheive their goals in the region. Some columnists in the West think that we project an image of weakness by being "too nice" to the Iraqis in an arena that only respects strength. While Americans prefer to be nice people even in war, we can be as hard as we have to be if the situation calls for it. But I don't think that the UN or the European-left-dominated NGO's can harden in response to events -- and that's why (even though I'd prefer otherwise) they can't be entrusted with even a share of the responsibilities for rebuilding Iraq.

UPDATE: The UN Secretariat at least realizes the danger. Kofi Annan has called for a panel to suggest security upgrades for the UN worldwide. This is a good idea but I am still worried. The UN likes to discuss things fully and completely before doing anything; it's a tradition that arises from their diplomatic origins. The UN may move to improve their security, but if the terrorists innovate new attack methods faster than the UN changes its security profile, then the security improvements are worse than useless.
Al-Sadr's making trouble: VII.
(Link path: Washington Post)

Reader Jan Goodrich points us to a major story in today's Washington Post on the supporters of al-Sadr. I see three take-home points from this story:

(1) Thanks to bus transportation links, the communities previously identified as Sadr strongholds -- Sadr City, al-Hillah district, Karbala, and Najaf -- are not isolated, as the maps indicate, but a single, linked community where people and ideas can freely interact.

(2) As expected, Sadr is mainly drawing support from young, unemployed Iraqis with little else to do but follow a man who promises security, stability, order -- and jobs.

(3) Most critically -- Sadr's followers are those who disagree with the very concept of the seperation of religion and state:

Ali Hussein, another passenger, disagreed. Hussein, 27, said Sistani had defied the U.S. authority over the constitution, insisting that it could be written only by a democratically elected body. "The Americans thought they could impose a constitution, and he refused them," he said.

Abed shook his head. "It's the truth what I'm saying," he said. "Sayyid Sistani doesn't believe in politics, but Sayyid Sadr is different -- politics are religion and religion is politics to Sadr. You can't differentiate between a political and a religious leader."

Tuama, sitting behind him, nodded his head. "I don't disagree," he said.

And finally, if we arrest al-Sadr directly, as rumors indicate we will, there will be trouble:

The prayers ended, and dozens gathered near the mosque's door to wait for Sadr's departure. One man asked excitedly: "Has he come yet? Has he come yet?" Others chanted their fealty, kaffiyehs, towels and posters thrust in the air: "We sacrifice our souls for Sadr and his son Moqtada." Then they broke into another chant: "Whoever touches you, Moqtada, we'll cut them to pieces."

It makes you wonder, doesn't it, how people who were forced to chant "We sacrifice our souls for Saddam" just a few months ago can now voluntarily cheer the same thing for another man?

The Christian Science Monitor has done some detailed investigation into the violent back-and-forth takeovers of the Sadr City neighborhood council. No council sits now; the original council is too frightened of assassination (and with good reason) to return. Neither council has real legitimacy with the people, for the simple reason that neither council was chosen through a full set of elections:

Sadr City has been the most troubling of the nine districts in Baghdad. But it would be an oversimplification to suggest the younger Sadr is the whole problem. Two days spent there speaking to dozens of local residents yielded this simple fact: Most didn't participate in the selection of either council.

That's not surprising. More than 30 years of single-party rule has left Iraq with no democratic infrastructure: Electoral rolls and democratic procedures simply don't exist.

The American military did the best they could, of course:

After the fall of Hussein, the US military tried to make the council process inclusive. Using loudspeakers mounted on armored cars, it invited residents to attend meetings to select representatives to 88 Baghdad neighborhood councils, which in turn selected district level councils and one for the city.

But the method of getting the word out was far from perfect. "No one told me anything about an election - I defy anyone to say they voted,'' says Amir Hashim, an unemployed laborer waiting for a bus on a pitted roadside, the air pungent from an open sewer.

But until electoral procedures are set up, nobody can really have the proper legitimacy in Iraq -- not even the Hawza. (And what are the limits of the Hawza's authority? Over all Iraqis, or just Shi'ites? What percentage of Shi'ites must be in a district for the Hawza to take control? It's just these sorts of thorny issues -- and their repercussions with the Americans -- that have led the Hawza to not get deeply involved in politics at this time.)

As we noted before, the coalition is probably waiting for another provocation from al-Sadr to arrest him. They'd better watch out. Previous moves against Sadr's al-Madhi army have made him paranoid, and he has probably already taken steps against the possibility of an Iraqi Police / US Special Forces raid on his house.

Somebody wants to make more trouble in Iraq, with multiple notes to the Iraqi Police and the coalition warning of more attacks this weekend. These notes might be from Sadr, but it's more likely to be the Ba'athists or the "foreign fighters", i.e., al-Qaeda/Ansar al-Islam. If al-Sadr's going to try anything this week, he'll announce it at Friday prayers. Watch your televisions and cross your fingers.

Meanwhile, the backfiring continues.

Paul Wolfowitz:
And we saw brave Iraqis and heard about many others in the police, and the civil defense corps, and the facilities protection service who are fighting along side us for a new Iraq, putting their lives on the line. And again, very proud of it. That police deputy superintendent we met at the police station -- I don’t know if you heard me say, but he was shot in the leg a few days after I saw him in July. He showed me an Arabic newspaper, I guess put out by the Sadr people, that targets him in an ugly and vicious way. And he said, I’m proud of this. It’s just a wonderful spirit.

At a hospital in Baghdad:
``These are terrorist operations against the police stations,'' Kadhim said at Yarmouk Hospital, where he lay in bed with wounds from the bombing. ``They think they will be martyred during Ramadan because they are attacking us for working with the Americans, but there is nothing that will stop us from doing our duty. This is only the beginning, and we are expecting it to get worse.''

One floor up, Maj. Ahmed Saleh Ibrahim, 41, an engineer with the Civil Defense Force, lay on his back while his four tearful children, ages 4 to 13, rushed to his side and kissed his cheek. His injuries were the result of flying glass and weren't life-threatening.

``I don't have any idea what the next target will be. I was frightened at the beginning, but right now I want to complete my job,'' Ibrahim said...

However, sometimes the coalition does make stupid mistakes sometimes:
Iraqi police often complain that the Americans don't understand them, don't listen and fail to provide crucial equipment, such as guns, radios and body armor. Police in Sadr City, a Shiite slum in Baghdad, have had to use taxis to transport suspects after their cars were requisitioned by another department.

Sadr City is the worst slum in Baghdad, the local equivalent of Roxbury. Conditions there demand a heavy police presence. And we took away their squad cars? Sheesh. Sounds like a problem that a local commander could easily fix with money from the CERP program. Except that the coalition is shutting that down, too. Double sheesh.

And here we go...

UPDATE: Those explosions were indeed booby-trap removals, as the story suggested. But two soldiers were killed with an "IED" yesterday. And here's another column on American plans to zap al-Sadr. Note that it is AEI, the conservative think tank associated with Vice-President Cheney, that is at least privy to (and perhaps calling the shots on?) the high-level strategic decisions on Iraqi policy. On the other hand, apparently a number of moderate Shi'a leadership voices (read: several marji' of the Hawza and/or SCIRI) want the Americans, with Iraqi Police at the tip of the spear, to take on al-Sadr. That might mean that, at the right time, the Hawza will act to still Shi'a discontent when the al-Sadr arrest is made.

Previous episodes: Other episodes: I. II. III. IV. V. VI.

Monday, October 27, 2003
Al-Sadr's making trouble: VI.
(Link path: Command Post / Nikita Demosthenes, Defend America)

The paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division, attached to the 1st Division in Baghdad, provided the backup and intelligence services for operations against "religious extremists in al-Rashid district, south Baghdad", says this Defend America article. These were likely the operations from Sept. 29 through Oct. 6 involving Sheik Moayed Khazraji and the Ali Bayaa mosque (see timeline):

"[Capt. Tyson] Voelkel, who recently worked with Iraqi Police Service officers in Baghdad Oct. 6 to detain a local religious leader responsible for anti-coalition violence..."

Thanks, Capt. Voelkel. As we'd say around my home: "He needed putting in jail."

On a more disturbing note, confirmation that outside elements are aiding the al-Sadr movement:

“We have defeated the (former regime loyalists), and they are really no longer a major threat,” Fuller said. “Now, a new enemy has emerged.”...
“The guys we’re working against now, they’re better trained,” Voelkel said. He said some extremists may be coming in from neighboring countries. These foreign instigators are “trying to persuade younger Iraqis to turn against the coalition.”

But who? Given al-Sadr's connections to Iran, the involvement of Iranian Intelligence must be suspected; but could al-Qaeda elements be giving aid and succor as well?

Previous episodes: I. II. III. IV. V.
A stupid move by the New Holy Roman Empire.
(Link path: CNN)

The French and Germans are still laboring under the delusion that a New World Order can be arranged uniting the world in opposition to American hegemony. Unfortunately, they are far freer with the stick and with the carrot. The east Europeans noticed this when Chirac publicly invited them to "keep quiet". Now Iraq has noticed as well.

Ayad Allawi, the current head of Iraq's U.S.-appointed governing council, said he hoped German and French officials would reconsider their decision not to boost their contributions beyond funds already pledged through the European Union.

"As far as Germany and France are concerned, really, this was a regrettable position they had," Allawi said. "I don't think the Iraqis are going to forget easily that in the hour of need, those countries wanted to neglect Iraq."

The shortsightedness of Franco-German (or "old European", or New Holy Roman Imperial) opposition to the U.S. is really quite astounding. It might have still made logical sense to oppose U.S. multilateral efforts as long as we were still working outside the UN framework -- the ostensible reason for Franco-German denouncements of the war on Iraq. But this is a UN donor conference, with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in attendance and full participation, and supported by a UN Security Council resolution that France and Germany both voted for. What is to be gained by being spiteful now?

Oh, yes. The maintenance of French pride. They cannot be seen as agreeing with the US on anything, because otherwise people might start noticing France's second-tier status and the ridiculous nature of her pretentions to being a World Power (TM).

UPDATE: The flow of money usually betrays where your real affections lie. The Arab nations aren't particularly interested in helping their Iraqi 'brethren', either. (Link path: Best of the Web, Washington Post)
Al-Sadr's making trouble: V.
(Link path: San Jose Mercury News/Knight Ridder)

Despite everyone's efforts to the contrary, the US occupation is trying to make life better. More food will be distrubuted during Ramadan to aid with everyone's fasting. The July 14 bridge in Baghdad is open again, and the curfew there is lifted.

Muqty, of course, wants the Americans gone ASAP. But the Iraqi people know that, for the moment at least, that would mean things would get worse, not better. Which means that Muqty's little revolution backfired:

Karbala police Lt. Col. Sabih Abdulrahim predicts a calm Ramadan here.

"The things that happened a week ago are between the tribes, tribal things, not between the people of Karbala and the coalition," he said. "Some kind of sedition happened."

He said that Sadr's and Hassani's apparent power grab misfired, and they lost, rather than gained, support.

"The people in Karbala don't like the problems," Abdulrahim said. "The people of Karbala now hate those people, especially Hassani. Religious people should be better behaved, should not have guns and be killing people. I know my duty. Religious people should know their duty, talking about God and faith, not having guns."

There are also reports that al-Sadr claimed he was raiding the mosques to initiate distribution of the donations from pilgrims to the poor. (Donations used to be administered by Saddam's Religious Affairs Ministry according to a fixed-ratio budget, but since the fall of the Ba'athists, the donations have been piling up in the mosques. The shrines of Imam Hussein and Imam Ali pull in millions of dinars every month.) Of course, it was evident to everyone that al-Sadr really wanted cash to fund his army and his insurrection.

I wanted to take a moment and relfect on how the rest of the Arab world is spinning al-Sadr's movements:

Islam-Online.net bills their analysis "Sadr Shadow Cabinet 'Positive' For Iraqis: Expert", though the expert (from the al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies) spoke in terms of Sadr's use as a foil to cause the US to make 'concessions' to the Governing Council.

al-Ahram Weekly wants to pass the Sadr/Governing Council conflict off as a 'split between returning exiles and those who weathered Saddam's tyranny at home'. Thanks, I think there's a bit more to it than that.

Lebanon's Daily Star would support him being captured and put on trial.

And Dar al-Hayat in Saudi Arabia points out that al-Sadr's entire push is based on the memory of his assassinated father, and that's not enough to gain him national provenance.

And here's a report I missed before, indicating that the al-Mukayam standoff (which lasted from Oct 13 to Oct 21) began when al-Sadr's thugs tried to subvert a coalition-funded radio station into a "holy Islamic station" (with pro-Sadr and anti-coalition commentary, no doubt). Note how al-Sadr's people don't want you to know what they're doing:

A mob of angry men near al Mukhaym mosque threatened a Knight Ridder reporter and photographer, who managed to get near the site before the city was sealed.

"Go away! There is nothing to see here!" shouted one young man, shaking a fist in the air. "We are all brothers in Islam."

Several blocks away, another man explained the hostility.

"They're all Sadr's people," said Raad Mohammed, 35. "So they don't want you to see the bad things they've done."

Not much more to say, is there?

Other episodes: I. II. III. IV. V. VI.

How do we improve Iraqi security?: II.
(Link path: {Slate, The Gray Lady [free and pointless registration required]}; Chief Wiggles)

Things are looking awful in Baghdad this morning. A car bomb disguised as an ambulance took out Red Cross HQ, Baghdad. Five police stations were similarly attacked in a two-hour time frame; one was foiled, and the Syrian suicide bomber was apprehended. Thirty-four are dead; two hundred plus are injured. Muy carnage.

From the scene:
Zayed reports that a high school is next door, and a lot of teenagers are among the injured.
Riverbend states that the Red Cross is planning to run away and hide in the face of opposition. It's not quite that bad -- the ICRC will keep going, but without non-Iraqis. I'm sure there are plenty of competent Iraqi members of the ICRC, but don't they need all the help they can get? Is it really wise to send the message to terrorists that you can drive off infidel aid workers with one well-placed bomb? Does it really help the Iraqi people to know that the international ICRC won't stick with you through thick and thin, but only when there is no danger? I thought the Red Cross was supposed to be a battlefield organization.

Everyone from al-Jazeera to the Beeb would like you to believe that it's all America's fault, but it's not that simple. Like the UN before them, the Red Cross refused to improve security around their facilities, arguing that it would inhibit their work. Maybe it did and maybe it didn't, but I assure you that being blown up inhibits your work far more than extra security does.

Everyone seems to put attacks against Americans into one big basket labeled "Iraqi resistance", as if the different attackers were organized, or even primarily indigenous. There seem to be three major blocs of resistance right now, with three fairly seperate areas of operation. First, there's our old friend "Muqty", Muqtada al-Sadr. There are strong suspicions that this is an Iranian attempt to cause a Shi'ite insurrection and install a puppet regime, or groundwork to that effect. They cause trouble in the south, especially Najaf and Karbala, and in Shi'ite neighborhoods of Baghdad. Second, there are the "dead-ender" Ba'athists, including Saddam and his Republican Guard, who are behind the basal level of attacks that keep American deaths constantly in the paper. This is a primarily locally fueled guerilla campaign, although Syria may be providing low-level support. Their range is in the "Sunni Triangle" of Tikrit, Fallujah, and Baghdad, with occassional forays to Kirkuk and Mosul. Yesterday's attack on the al-Rashid Hotel was probably done by the Ba'athists. Finally, there's al-Qaeda and their local affiliate, Ansar al-Islam. They've been concentrating on big attacks, and it's virtually certain that today's coordinated car bombing (occurring right after a new Osama bin Laden message, and timed for the first day of Ramadan) was their handiwork. They receive support from recruits all over (the captured suicide bomber was Syrian), but of course most of their financial support is Saudi in origin. This is probably an incomplete picture, and of course these groups may have some contact. I'm sure an expert close to the action, like Chief Wiggles, could describe the situation more accurately. Unfortunately, he can't for security reasons, i.e., to keep the bad guys from realizing what they should do to evade us.

Of course, it's important to note that for all the sound and fury, only two Americans were killed in the last 48 hours. Yes, that's right, two. Rocket attacks and car bombings get lots of press, but they aren't very effective as straight military tactics. The overwhelming majority of casualties are Iraqi civilians, who have no business being attacked by terrorist scum. While some Iraqis think that all their problems will be solved by the disappearance of the Americans (as did one imam interviewed in the Times article), the truth is that the target of the terrorists is the Iraqi people's desire for an open, free, democractic society living in peace and prosperity -- and friendship with the West. Even if the American GIs were all magically replaced with European or even Indonesian troops tommorrow, the attacks would continue until Iraq was once again part of the Arab System of repressive dictatorships and monarchies that keep the press quiet, squelch democracy, conspire to steal oil revenues from Westerners and Arabs alike, and shunt all blame for all problems onto the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

A much better idea is to allow the Iraqis to directly oppose those who wish to deny them freedom and the fruits thereof, which are peace, prosperity, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That's why we need more Iraqi Police, and we need a real constitution and government for Iraq, and we need a reconstituted Iraqi Army. Fortunately, Chief Wiggles has been working on that too. Several non-Ba'athist generals from the old Iraqi armed forces have been released from POW camps after thorough vetting, and are now starting the process of reconstituting the armed forces. It'll be a long hard process, but I have great hopes.

Meanwhile, we must also demonstrate that America and the West can be good allies, by standing firm, by making friends in Iraq, and by showing compassion and tolerance. You know who's been been making a huge effort in that regard? By golly, if it isn't Chief Wiggles and his merry elves at Operation Give, the grassroots nonprofit that's working to bring toys to Iraqi children (especially those harmed in the conflict).

Americans are not just aggressive imperialists; we have a caring side and a healthy regard for humanity, too. It's time for us to show both sides: aggressive against our enemies, but caring for everyone else. People lately have been seeing too much of our ability to dole death and destruction, and not enough of the positive side of our strength. Time to change that. Bop over to these fine folks, and buy a toy for peace. It's much better fare than anything that al-Sadr, Osama, or Saddam can offer.
Corporate assimilation.
(Link path: Boston Globe/Reuters)

Maybe this deal makes financial sense. Bank of America gets a New England presence, and Fleet gets a bunch of moolah and national prominence. The $47 billion buyout of Fleet by BoA creates the nation's second largest bank, and in a dog-eat-dog world, you're a heavyweight or a chump.

But why must we lose even a semblance of regional allegiance?

Apparently all our Fleet signs and banners will be torn down to make way for the broad pennant of Bank of America. Why must we lose our last major New England bank? Why must we be assimilated into a national chain that cares nothing for our character or our passions?

When Fleet advertises, it shows the backroads of New Hampshire and the skyscrapers of Boston. It puts on promotions to "Reverse the Curse." (And if you don't know what that means, shame on you.) Our hockey/basketball stadium is sometimes called New Boston Garden, but its official name is the FleetCenter. There's a FleetBoston Pavilion out in the Seaport District as well. Fleet sponsors cultural and community efforts all over New England, including a favorite of mine, the summer performances of Shakespeare on the Common.

Now, maybe Bank of America will keep funding these events, and maybe they'll keep the Fleet name on some of the buildings. But I don't have the confidence that a national company, with interests everywhere, will care for their host cities in quite the way a regional company would. There's a tendency in these sorts of deals for the larger company to feel it must 'assure loyalty' or 'exert centralized control' or some such, and to gut the absorbed company's personnel by shipping them off to other locations and destroying any semblance of local character. I hope that doesn't happen, but I'm not holding my breath.

I believe that decentralization and adaptation to local concerns is the wave of the future. In the Information Age, there is simply no need for the kind of centralized control that the technology of the Industrial Age required. An organization can be both flexible and united if communications are good enough, and now they are. There's no need to make all our bank branches, for instance, be cookie-cutter outlets of a giant national collective.

I'll happily bank at 'Fleet, by Bank of America'. But I'll hate being forced to become a Bank of America drone.

UPDATE: Mayah Menino shares my concerns.
Rumsfeld memo: II.
(Link path: On the Third Hand, Citizen Smash)

And it was at the low point of the madness that Kathy did speak, and spake she thus: "Despair not, for there are those who have harkened to the call of Rumsfeld."

And she pointed to those who had pondered the questions, and considered how we are doing. And many of them were wise men of the blogosphere, and among them were Lileks, of the silver tongue, and Carter, of the situation briefing, and foremostly the Master of Deception, he who is known by many names, and among these are Smash, Scott, Citizen, LT, Indepundit, Lieutenant Commander (select), United States Navy Reserve.

And your author read these posts, and was heartened, for there were those present who took their nation's interest to heart.

Yet was he still troubled, for millions more had heard only the spin of the pundits, those who said 'yea' or 'nay' without contemplation. And these had many outlets, and spake through the huge bullhorn of Media, whereby many heard their message; whereas the blogosphere, though tightly bound, were yet few in number.

And he thought on all the good ideas that would come from the people, were they to hear these questions without their spin, and were they to ponder them in their heart.