A Modern Homage to Catalonia
Iraq the Model describes what Maliki is doing to attract more insurgent groups to the negotiation table -- and how the holdouts are striking back. The Iraqi Prime Minister, in a backhanded acknowledgement of where the insurgency is supported from, made a tour of neighboring capitals.
The announced objective of the tour is to garner regional support for al-Maliki's reconciliation initiative and probably al-Maliki decided to make this tour after some insurgent groups have called for giving the Arab league and certain Arab countries a role in this project, meanwhile there are other groups alluding to a possible American pressure on these countries to play a constructive role referring to Khaliazad's earlier visit to Saudi Arabia.
And to those who argue that Iraq is on the verge of civil war, perhaps the most accurate comparison is with the Spanish Civil War, in which a global conflict played itself out in miniature within a single country. It is in effect, a cockpit in which global opponents are fighting through Iraqi proxies.
We must not forget that the conflict in Iraq is in fact an indirect conflict between the neighboring countries and America and among the neighboring countries themselves (a sectarian-ethnic conflict between the Arabs and Iran, a political conflict between Iran and America and another political conflict between Arabs and America and this one originates form the difference in the visions of America and Arabs for the region. Not to mention other smaller conflicts). Unfortunately the only Iraqi elements in these conflicts are the Iraqi parties that accepted to fight this conflict on behalf of Iraq's neighbors.
Will Maliki succeed? The indicators are mixed.
Al-Sabah is even reporting that yet more insurgent groups are joining the club: "sources said these groups are considering making a joint announcement in which they will declare dropping their weapons and joining the talks with the government within 15 days; this time the sources are talking about the "largest of the militant groups" that make up the bulk of the resistant groups." ...
On the other extreme there is the anti-reconciliation camp of which the association of Muslim scholars whose spokesman al-Dhari keeps saying that "no resistance groups had accepted al-Maliki's initiative" and even said the names presented by the media as names of militant groups did not exist. ...
Another report, this time from al-Mada gives an impression that al-Maliki wants to open as many dialogue channels as possible to encourage insurgents to come forward and talk to him even if no mediators were found. The paper says that al-Maliki announced a special email address to allow anyone-especially insurgent willing to reconcile-to allow them to contact him directly over a safe line. ... By the way, I couldn't get that email address, it was displayed only once on local TV and only for a few seconds "to avoid spam mail"!!
A special email address. Who said insurgents were living in the 8th century? We are now living in a world when special email offers of sudden wealth from ex-Ministers in Nigeria may jam a negotiating channel and where the success of the negotiations themselves are less a function of battlefield victory than public perception and private terror.
This reconciliation plan continues to face serious challenges and the worst of which is today's barbaric attack that killed and wounded dozens in Baghdad, in "Sadr city" to be more accurate. I'm afraid this attack will inflict more harm in the future than it already did today because it's similar to the Samarra bombing in its goals and this one I see as a blow directed at the reconciliation plan because the type of target suggests so. The attack carries the marks of al-Qaeda and this terror organization is learning to choose their targets carefully; they did see for example that assassinating relatives and colleagues of the members of the Accord Front did not deter them from joining the political process and becoming part of the cabinet because they were determined to do so. So this time in order to avoid similar results they did not target the parties that are willing to reconcile and chose the side that openly declared its rejection for the reconciliation plan and is well known for being a violent trend.
The attack on the "Sadr city" marketplace which may have killed over 60 people is a perfect example of how terrorism works. In concept it is no different from the al-Qaeda attack on Spain that brought down the Aznar government and installed Zapatero. Or 9/11. The Philip Bobbitt quote used in the last post applies exactly in this situation.
It is precisely because the Madrid attacks reversed an election that terrorism succeeded. Terrorism is the extension of al-Qa’eda’s diplomacy ... The attacks were, very simply, about democracy. They were an attempt to impose an answer on this question: will democratically elected governments be able to pursue their policies on the basis of the judgment of their institutions or can their leaders be tempted into ransoming their population when the public is hostage to violence?
Terrorism is extortion in the service of politics. Attacks on civilian targets are whole-page advertisements taken out to flog these wares on a reluctant public. The military power of terrorists is negligable. Despite the fantasies of those who imagine Iraq to be Vietnam, with divisions of NVA sending tanks down the road to Saigon; with legions of laborers dragging artillery pieces across the mountains to pound surrounded French garrisons into submission -- it is not that. Rather, it is a development of the techniques pioneered in the Algerian conflict against the French. It is the political and media power of terror which is important, not their military strength. And in a takeoff from Omar's riff on Maliki's email anecdote, I would venture to say that terror would have won against the US and the West already despite the vast power of America were it not for the Internet, which has ironically made it possible for neutralize the propaganda power of terror. The Internet makes it possible to show terror up for the murder that it is. To strip it of supposed justification. To remind people of what is never mentioned in the papers: that Osama like all men goes and takes a shit. Made it possible to answer back. In a way, the Internet and the blogosphere is the sole remaining voice the victims; whether of terror or counter-terror.
That fact doesn't mean that Maliki will succeed. But it gives him a chance; a chance he would not have had in the golden 60s everyone hankers after. If the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has demonstrated anything, it is the power of terror to thwart peace for decades. Everything that terror has learned in Gaza and the West Bank will be thrown at the new Iraqi government. And half the battlefield is right here, on your screen.
The Combating Terrorism Center at West Point has just made a key Jihadi manual, the Management of Savagery available for download. The USMA site also provides links to commentary: Stealing al-Qaeda's Playbook. The authors of Stealing al-Qaeda's Playbook say:
Naji articulates a grand strategy for defeating the United States. First, he observes that after the rise of the two superpowers following World War II, nations allied themselves with the United States or the Soviet Union in return for financial and military support. The jihadi movement had been unsuccessful in the past because the superpowers propped up these proxy governments and convinced the masses through the media that they were invincible.
The solution, Naji says, is to provoke a superpower into invading the Middle East directly. This will result in a great propaganda victory for the jihadis because the people will 1) be impressed that the jihadis are directly fighting a superpower, 2) be outraged over the invasion of a foreign power, 3) be disabused of the notion that the superpower is invincible the longer the war goes on, and, 4) be angry at the proxy governments allied with the invading superpower. Moreover, he argues, it will bleed the superpower’s economy and military. This will lead to social unrest at home and the ultimate defeat of the superpower.
Naji does not suffer under the illusion that the jihadis can defeat the United States in a direct military confrontation; rather, the clash with the United States is more important for propaganda victories in the short term, and the political defeat of the United States in the long-term, as its society fractures and its economy is further strained. Naji observes that this strategy was used with great effect against the Soviet Union and that it will work against United States. Indeed, it may work better against the United States because it does not have the ruthlessness or resolve of the Soviet Union. Interestingly, Naji does not explicitly say that the U.S. invasion of Iraq has played into this strategy, but he does counsel his jihadi brothers in Iraq to be patient, telling them that victory can come at any time. Once the U.S. withdraws from Iraq, he forecasts, its media halo will dissipate and the regimes that supported it will be vulnerable. The jihadis should quickly take advantage of the situation by invading countries that border Iraq, where they will be welcomed as liberators.
If you read the re-read Omar's post in conjunction with the Management of Savagery and Stealing al-Qaeda's Playbook it is clear that a democratic, or even semi-democratic Iraqi government represents a direct challenge to the Jihadi Grand Strategy. An existential challenge. Omar understood that the war in Iraq, far from being the optional extra John Murtha thinks it might be, is the central theater in a global conflict. It is the Spanish Civil War of our time. The Jihadis themselves understand the centrality of politics within that war; the importance of the "media halo" and have a clear idea of what happens after they drive the US from Iraq. A better idea perhaps then many Western politicians have themselves.
The interesting thing is how Naji's playbook has and has not worked out as planned. True, the US accepted battle in the Middle East, but I think to the Jihad's surprise, the US fight in Iraq was not predominantly conventional, but largely an intelligence war fought by local, not European allies. Those tactics have largely defeated or al-Qaeda's organization to the point where the second factor now gains prominence. That second factor is the emergence of a large Shi'a component within the fight, a direct consequence of elections, through which the US can exploit the fracture lines within the enemy ranks, not just locally, but globally. Those factors underlie the negotiations now taking place in Iraq. Think of it: this has never happened to the Jihad before. Not in Algeria, Afghanistan or anywhere else. They are fighting for their political lives in a country which hates them, though the same cannot be said of Western intellectual circles. But this is where the Internet comes in.