Abu Aardvark

The battle's done, and we kind of won, so we sound our victory cheer - where do we go from here?

As seen in the Washington Post!
And The Connection!
and the Pioneer Press!

mail the aardvark!

Why shouldn't (America) be exempt from some wacky international treaty on women or aardvarks? - Jonah Goldberg, July 26, 2002

The aardvark appears to be the ancestor of all mammals, including humans. - the BBC

I discovered your blog after you attacked me in it, and I enjoy it. Don't agree with hardly any of it, but it's well-written and witty- Martin Kramer

Aardvarks are solitary, industrious, sarcastic, eat termites, graduated from Duke, and watch Buffy obsessively - Encyclopedia Brittanica

My vacation totally sucked, until I met the cutest aardvark. Man, I wish I knew who that aardvark really was! - Eliza Dushku

Nobody likes a wise-guy aardvark. Why do you have to be such an annoying, objectively pro-statue, aardvark? - anonymous reader who sounds a lot like Dave Sim

Stand Down



Talking Points Memo

Dear Raed/Salam Pax


Counterspin Central

Daily Kos

Brian Leiter


Max Speak

Neal Pollack


Public Opinion

New Left Blogs

The Political Junkie

Unqualified Offerings


Crooked Timber

Back to Iraq 2.0

War in Context


The Rittenhouse Review

Juan Cole


Suburban Guerrilla




Best of the Blogs

Brian's Study Break

Rodger Payne

Brad Delong

Body and Soul




Busy Busy Busy

Rational Enquirer

MERIP Online


Recent Aardvark Comments On MEMRI
On Iraqi censorship
On Satloff
On Ferber the neocon
On Iraqi TV
A new cub, or why we blog

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours? Site Meter
Friday, August 22, 2003
America is losing the battle for Arab public opinion. Thus sayeth the International Herald Tribune. For those of you who can't be bothered with reading an entire Foreign Affairs article, here's the short version of the piece I talked about a couple of days ago.

General Glut is upset about liberals talking trash about Christianity, which for him seems to evoke the same indigestion as the aardvark experiences when Republicans give Democrats advice about electoral strategy. That's fine - it's a thoughtful and interesting position. But one part struck me as worthy of some followup, since it falls more into my area of interest:

"Kristof is typical of those liberal atheists who want to imagine religion in a way which [1] makes it completely consonant to their own world view and [2] subsequently drains it of all meaning and power. In this article, Kristof does to Christianity what Tom Friedmann does every day to Islam. Friedmann want desperately to find the elusive "liberal Muslims." He routinely scours the Islamic world for them, champions the two or three he runs across and prescribes their amazingly unpopular and insincere religion for the millions who actually hold to the tenets of Islam -- all while Freidmann himself is not Muslim."

While the Good General is right about Friedman, I think he is on shakier ground with his dismissal of liberal Islam. There really is a strong intellectual trend of liberal Islam, and a strong popular trend of Islamists who hold views far, far from the rigid Salafi extremities of an Osama bin Laden. For a start, the General might check out the work of Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who is probably the single most popular and influential Islamist public intellectual today, in part due to his regular appearances on al-Jazeera. Al-Qaradawi is an Islamist who came out of the Muslim Brotherhood milieu, but has written and preached extensively for the values of tolerance and against extremism. Where Friedman goes wrong - and GG is right about this - is to assume that these liberal Islamists share the same beliefs and preferences as Western liberals. They don't. Many of the goals of a Qaradawi, or a Tariq al-Bishri, or an Abdelkarim Soroush, or many other luminaries I could name, are firmly grounded in a religious worldview and absolutely aim to propagate the faith and to improve the religious practice of Muslims. But they are also sympathetic to democratic political forms and have fought vigorously for a range of civil and political freedoms, preach tolerance and co-existence, and represent a centrist, moderate, and popular stream within societies otherwise trapped between intolerant Islamist radicals and repressive, authoritarian secular states.

As I expected (I started to write about it yesterday but just didn't have time), the US is using the UN blast to try and get the Security Council to sign on to essentially the same resolution that it couldn't get approved a few weeks ago. How did that go? Here's the Times: "His appeal was not rejected out of hand by any Council members, but it met with a wary response from Germany and Russia and an icy rebuke from France.... France's deputy ambassador, Michel Duclos, told a Security Council meeting that the economic and political reconstruction of Iraq will not succeed if Washington insists on maintaining sole control of the process. "Sharing the burden and responsibility in a world of equal and sovereign nations also means sharing information and authority," Mr. Duclos said. While condemning the terrorist attack, he asked a rhetorical question: "Would we be in this state if there had been set up at the outset a genuine international partnership?" He also called for the return of United Nations weapons inspectors, noting that the failure of allied forces to find unconventional weapons was especially troubling, since it might mean that they were available to terrorists."

And here's former UN ambassador Richard Holbrooke, courtesy of Josh Marshall: "What Colin Powell did today at the U.N. was come to New York and offer the same resolution, essentially, that we'd offered two weeks ago and portray it as a tribute to the fallen and great and brave Sergio Vieira de Mello and the other U.N. people. This created a very, very unfortunate attitude at the U.N. among other nation states.... Including many countries that want to help us.... Well, they were offended by it."

The Bush administration seems to want the world to just come around to its point of view, to retroactively legitimize its illegitimate war, and - to be blunt - to pluck its chickens out of the fire. The rest of the world seems to find what is happening to be largely confirming their reasons for opposing the war, and is not in any hurry to rescue said chickens. Who suffers? The Iraqi people, of course (and the professional American military) - but that's par for the last decade. At some point, Team Bush is going to have to bite its collective bullet and accept an increased UN role, because the US simply does not have enough resources to occupy Iraq alone. And, as I've argued for the last year, the US simply has to give other states a stake in Iraq's success - something which it seems extraordinarily reluctant to do, for reasons best known to itself.

At any rate, that's probably it for today. I'm giving two lectures and then heading to the airport, neither of which is quite as glamorous as it sounds.

Thursday, August 21, 2003
"Okay, boys, great job letting them run the opening kickoff back for a touchdown. Our potent offense works much better in a shootout, so by giving them a big lead, we have them right where we want them!"

"Good thing I flunked that exam. Now the professor will have low expectations, and I'll have a much easier time getting an A in the class!"

"Our plan to let Iraq descend into a chaotic, hostile occupied territory plagued by terrorists is working. We will draw the terrorists in and then fight them on our terms!"

Any more suggestions for great moments in rationalization and self-delusion?

Helena Cobban lets us know that Ghassan Salame, a Lebanese political scientist who was serving as the UN's political adviser in Baghdad, survived the blast. One small piece of good news amidst the tragedy.

An interesting commentary on the American plans for the Iraqi media from an unlikely source - Stephen Schwartz in the Weekly Standard. Schwartz points out that the new appointee, Simon Haselock, had a similar portfolio in both Bosnia and Kosovo, and his policies didn't work very well. "Put simply, this means that a governmental body will supervise media. It has already been reported that Haselock has written a proposal for control of broadcast and print media, including the establishment of state electronic media and the appointment of a board that will handle "complaints about media excesses" and levy fines for misconduct. These are exactly, down to the boilerplate vocabulary, the policies that were tried in Sarajevo and Prishtina. They failed miserably, and sometimes grotesquely."

After reviewing Bosnia and Kosovo experiences, Schwartz concludes: "In both cases, Simon Haselock's job was, put bluntly, to cram these policies down the throats of local journalists, who remained resentful and reduced in their professional effectiveness in Sarajevo, and recalcitrant and rhetorically excitable (more about the foreigners than the Serbs) in Kosovo. To repeat these failed experiments in Iraq is a recipe for failure. In Iraq, by contrast to the Balkan countries, we in the coalition countries have a larger responsibility--not only to the local inhabitants, but to our troops who gave their lives for the liberation of the Iraqi people. Iraqi media deserves a chance to function freely and entrepreneurially, in the spirit of our own First Amendment, with expression curbed only in cases of direct incitement of violence and libel. The first problem can be handled by good public security, and the second by the courts. In such a context, there is no need for special commissions, elaborate training, or worst of all, state-run media."

Now Schwartz is not the most reliable witness. I don't know much about Haselock, and I don't know how accurately Schwartz is describing his record - if anyone out there wants to comment, I'd love to hear from you. In general, Schwartz tends to get really squirrely when Kosovo comes up - look at how much time his book about Saudi Arabia spends on Kosovo - and his little cheap shots about the "Baghdad Broadcasting Corporation" tend to undermine his credibility even more. But I think that it's important that we think seriously about what kind of media the United States should be encouraging in Iraq, and Schwartz has something to contribute to that conversation.

An August 20 interview with Hans von Sponek, former director of the UN's humanitarian program in Iraq who resigned in protest. There are few people better placed to have perspective on the impact of the sanctions on the Iraqi infrastructure. American officials absolutely despise him for the way that he resigned and some of the things that he has said since then. I still remember talking to one high-ranking person who I can't identify any more than that who actually turned bright red and started spluttering when the subject of Von Sponek came up. It's mutual.

Van Sponek is obviously shaken by the loss of his friends, still furious at the US and especially Richard Butler for the way events played out back in December 1998, and scathing on the current occupation. He levels some serious charges against Butler in the interview, and claims that the attack on the UN should not be seen as a surprise. And he calls for a greatly expanded UN role, but not subordinate to the US.

Van Sponeck insists that "I do not mean that the international community should pick up the cost of damages that were created by two ill directed governments that decided to go to war against Iraq, But to help in the reconstruction efforts, rehabilitating the infrastructure trying to redevelop the education system, the water system and so on. All that that had nothing to do with the war damages. The war damages, I’m sorry, must be the responsibilities of those who fought this illegal war. But the other many challenging aspects of the reconstruction Iraq, the international community must help the Americans as the leading occupying power headed by Mr. Bremer must become much more sensitive to lead giving the United Nations and the other a role of equals not the role of a sub agency of the Defense Department of the United States or of the State dept."

Von Sponeck also has an interesting perspective on the reasons that the UN complex was only lightly guarded, something that some of the UN's critics are now using to, in effect, blame it for its own victimization: "I do know that the UN for good reasons always was reluctant to be guarded. Even during my days we had the Iraqi army surrounding the Canal hotel compound. We accepted that, but we were not comfortable with that. And I take it that the same applied to the current situation United Nations being heavily guarded by troops of a country that fought a war that many Iraqis didn’t want wasn’t seen as very wise. So the UN was one of the softer targets in Baghdad and on top of it and I think that’s a security lesson for the United Nations and maybe for the CPA, the provisional authority is that one shouldn’t just guard the entrance to the United Nations compound, the back was relatively unprotected, so were the
sides. So one had a very close security look at the main entrance to the UN compound, and I think that those who planned the attack today of course
exploited that and avoided placing the truck near the better-guarded part of that Canal hotel compound."

For a really interesting, even-handed report on developments on the ground in Iraq right now, you could do a lot worse than this report delivered on July 30 to the Senate Foreign Relations committee: S. Prt. 108-31 -- Iraq: Meeting the Challenge, Sharing the Burden, Staying the Course. Written by two young Senate staffers, Puneet Talwar and Andrew Parasaliti (father of the immortal line on Ahmad Chalabi: "he has more influence on the banks of the Potomac than the banks of the Euphrates"), it lays things out in a nonpartisan and straightforward way. Among the key findings, Parasaliti and Talwar warn that the occupation "will require significant resources - human and financial - and sustained US involvement for years. The United States cannot and should not bear this burden alone. Instead, we must more actively seek international assistance and participation from our allies, the UN, and NATO in rebuilding Iraq."

Based on several weeks in Iraq, the authors report: "We found a precarious situation on the ground" - for all the reasons you might expect. They warn against over-optimism about a transition to democracy, primarily because of the heavy hand of history: "35 years of brutal dictatorship, 3 wars, and over a decade of international sanctions." They agree that creating a stable and representative Iraq is vital to US interests, but urge "clear-eyed realism about the risks and costs."

There's a lot in the report and I don't have time to summarize it here. I don't agree with everything in it, but it's well worth reading and pondering.

I haven't said much about the UN bombing in Baghdad because, frankly, it was just too depressing. Friends of mine lost friends, and I'm still trying to find out about some of my own acquaintances. The hawks who are trying to spin this as a good thing - a sign of desperation, terrorists running out of targets - are just seriously stretching. But I don't feel much like analyzing it more right now. The hawks who openly crowed over an attack on the UN - getting its wake-up call, proving that Iraqis hate the UN - should be ashamed of themselves. If this spurs the US to finally agree to work more closely with the UN, then it will have a silver lining. But that won't make it a good thing.

Wednesday, August 20, 2003
There is a must read article on the aardvark's favorite topic, the Arab media, in the new issue of Foreign Affairs. For once, the aardvark doesn't have anything snippy to say about it - believe it or not, I think this one is really good! It takes on the hawks and the neocons for systematically misunderstanding Arab politics, and offers some really new ideas about how the US might approach the region.

It begins with this: "For the hawks in the Bush administration, one of the keys to understanding the Middle East is Osama bin Laden's observation that people flock to the "strong horse." Bush officials think U.S. problems in the region stem in part from "weak" responses offered by previous administrations to terrorist attacks in the 1980s and 1990s, and they came into office determined to reestablish respect for U.S. power abroad. After nearly two years of aggressive military actions, however, the United States' regional standing has never been lower. As the recent Pew Global Attitudes survey put it, "the bottom has fallen out of Arab and Muslim support for the United States.

"Because of the speed with which intense anti-Americanism has recently emerged across all social groups in the region -- including educated, Westernized Arab liberals -- the problem cannot be attributed to enduring cultural differences, nor to long-standing U.S. policies such as support for Israel or local authoritarian leaders. Arabs themselves clearly and nearly unanimously blame specific Bush administration moves, such as the invasion of Iraq and what they see as a desultory and one-sided approach to Israeli-Palestinian relations. But perhaps even more important than the substance of the administration's policies is the crude, tone-deaf style in which those policies have been pursued. The first step toward improving the United States' image, therefore, must be figuring out how to address Arabs and Muslims effectively.

"Ironically, for this administration above all others, taking Arab public opinion seriously cannot be considered either a luxury or a concession to "Arabists" lurking in the bureaucracy. It is instead crucial to the success of the administration's own strategy, which links U.S. security to a democratic and liberal transformation of the region. The Bush team's practice, however, has worked against its stated goals, largely because it has been based on misguided assumptions about the Arab world.

"One such assumption is that Arabs respect power and scorn attempts at reason as signs of weakness -- and so the way to impress them is to cow them into submission. Another assumption is that Arab public opinion does not really matter, because authoritarian states can either control or ignore any discontent. Still another is that anger at the United States can and should be disregarded because it is intrinsic to Islamic or Arab culture, represents the envy of the successful by the weak and failed, or is simply cooked up by unpopular leaders to deflect attention from their own shortcomings. And a final, increasingly common notion is that anti-Americanism results from a simple misunderstanding of U.S. policy. Together, these concepts have produced an approach that combines vigorous military interventions with a dismissal of local opposition to them, offset by occasional patronizing attempts to "get the American message out" (through well-intentioned but ineffective initiatives involving public diplomacy, advertising, and the promotion of radio stations featuring popular music). Not surprisingly, the result has been to alienate the very people whose support the United States needs in order to succeed."

The article describes the emergence and development of a new Arab public sphere centered around transnational satellite television broadcasting and a press primarily published in Europe, and argues that this media has facilitated a real, ongoing Arab debate unlike anything seen before.

It goes on: "The Bush administration seemed to recognize this necessity after September 11, 2001, sending numerous representatives on al Jazeera programs, but early enthusiasm gave way to frustration and fury over the network's sympathetic coverage of al Qaeda and hostile coverage of American policies toward Afghanistan and Iraq. The administration's pressure on al Jazeera to censor tapes of bin Laden made a mockery of its free-speech rhetoric in Arab eyes, and Arab journalists were disinclined to take advice on objectivity from the United States, where broadcasters wear American flags on their lapels. But ignoring al Jazeera and its counterparts will not make them go away. Rather than shun them out of pique, the United States should try to change the terms of debate in the Arab world by working through them and opening a genuine dialogue."

The author goes on to describe how the Arab media covered the Iraq war, and argues against the idea that Arab hostility to the United States is immutable. It then offers a bunch of recommendations for a meaningful, serious dialogue with the new Arab intellectual elite - one which treats them as equals rather than as objects to be manipulated. It dismisses the idea of a new American satellite television station, and instead urges the US to work with the existing Arabic stations which already have an audience and credibility.

There's a lot more there - the full text is free online, so I strongly recommend that you go read it. Oh, and it may be the first article in the history of Foreign Affairs that somehow manages to reference both Jurgen Habermas and Buffy the Vampire Slayer - no, really! An article after the aardvark's heart.

I don't have this in front of me so I can't check up on it, but it comes from an unimpeachable source and it's really funny, so here you go, without further aardvark comment:

"Hey aardvark,
How is the little aardvark?

Check your latest Economist, job openings. If you don't laugh out loud I'll be surprised. There is a CIA vacancy, Director of Clandestine Ops. No shit. The most secret job in the US is in the Economist? I thought I was reading the Onion. My best read on it (assuming Bush hasn't gone insane in addition to his stupidity) is that it is a secret posting to Osama that all is well, Saudi Arabia is clear of US troops and his family will share in the oil booty.

What a hoot. It is just like the old stories of secret postings in the London Times that Sherlock Holmes used to do."

Tuesday, August 19, 2003
Cole also links to this piece by Ahmed Hashim. Hashim, a professor at the Naval War College and an occasional commenter here at Abu Aardvark, provides an extremely useful overview of the various components of the anti-occupation insurgency. Hashim describes the conflict as a "low-level, localized and decentralized insurgency" - a situation wherein a myriad number of political groups have engaged in widespread acts of violence in order to disrupt and remove the U.S. presence in Iraq. He points out that "the insurgents have a series of goals that can be described as 'negative' ones that are defined by what they do not want – i.e. the U.S. presence; 'reactionary' ones that seek the return of the old order; or gut and nationalist reaction to humiliation and domination by the Other. There is no 'positive' goal(s) that is either an articulation of what they do want or a vision of the future." This kind of negative consensus allows disparate groups to cooperate functionally, without really worrying about their intense disagreements about what should replace Saddam and the US. Hashim also provides a detailed description of some of the various groups which have appeared in the insurgency, their inter-relations, and their prospects. All in all, worth checking out.

Juan Cole has more on the Sistani interview: "Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani gave an interview on Monday to al-Zaman newspaper on Monday. Asked his position on the forthcoming Iraqi constitution and issues in pluralism, he said that the constitution must be based on the religious principles of the Iraqi people. (This is a stealth way of saying that he thinks it must be based on shariah or Islamic canon law). He did not actually use the word "pluralism" in his reply, I now see--that was part of al-Zaman's question. Asked about the role of the Object of Emulation or highest religious leadership, he replied that the leading Shiite jurisprudent should write religious rulings (fatwas) for people, and encourage them to an ethical life by his own moral example, and forbid them from infringing against the rights of others. This is a more traditionalist role than that of the political Supreme Jurisprudent (Ali Khamenei) in Iran. But note that the upshot of Sistani's replies is that Iraq must be ruled by Islamic law and he will interpret it. That isn't pluralism or even really democracy. He doesn't come right out and say it, but he is against the separation of religion and state. That is one reason he insists that the constitutional convention be elected. If it is, there may be enough Islamists among the delegates to put in shariah. If the delegates are appointed by Paul Bremer, then the constitution might separate religion and state. Shariah can be interpreted and implemented in all kinds of ways, including progressive ones. But I fear that Sistani's interpretation of it would make women second-class citizens, and it is not clear that the rights of Christians and other minorities as equal citizens can really be preserved in such a system. I personally think that only a separation of religion and state can hope to provide tranquillity to a diverse country like Iraq (even the Sunnis will not want the Shiite version of Islamic law imposed on them). But I am pessimistic about Iraq getting a First Amendment, since Islamism is so obviously strong and the American position has turned out to be relatively weak."

Interesting stuff. I would only respond that Sistani's preferences are likely to be tempered by political reality, in ways that water down the anti-democratic implications of his position. I didn't read Sistani's discussion of his role (or the faqih's role, more generally) as necessarily leading to an Iran-style rule of the faqih, but at this point it remains hypothetical. As Cole says, Sharia can be read in more or less progressive ways, and Sistani - as far as I can tell - has always inclined towards a more conservative reading. But a more interesting question might be how adaptable Sistani will be to the balance of political forces, and to what is necessary to defend his position within the Shia community against the Sadr-istas. What interests me is the various positions being staked out within the Shia community, with different actors adopting conservative and more progressive positions in ways which are not necessarily internally consistent. Sadr's populism and Sistani's general conservatism, for example, don't necessarily map on to their positions towards constitutionalism or pluralism.

More on the aardvark's pet subject, the Arab media. The Washington Post reports that "U.S. authorities have appointed a media commissioner to govern broadcasters and the press, establish training programs for journalists and plan for the establishment of a state-run radio and television network -- part of an effort to regulate Iraq's burgeoning news media while dodging allegations of heavy-handed control."

There are at least two problematic aspects here. The first is the ongoing question of censorship, the establishment of 'red lines' entirely reminiscent of traditional Arab regimes: using strictures against ethnic or other violent incitement as an excuse to intimidate or shut down controversial political speech. Arguments here can go either way. I can sympathize with the need to keep the emerging Iraqi media reasonably honest, and to minimize the amount of violent incitement - the lessons of Rwandan hate radio, or Serbian, can't be forgotten. But this slides all too easily into the criminalization of dissent. As I've said before, the Bremer regime should err on the side of tolerance here, to set an example for the Arab world and for the Iraqi people of the meaning of constitutional protections of free speech. But the temptation will generally be to err on the side of restrictions - a temptation which should be resisted.

The second, even more, problematic aspect is the idea of the creation of an American-backed state media. This is an idea which has been advanced by Reuel Gerecht and several other Weekly Standard writers. This could be done effectively, and the Post's report suggests that at least some of the people involved know what it would take for it to work - it would have to be genuinely objective and editorially independent of the administration. But it does not seem likely that it will be, for the same reasons as the censorship problem above.

Here's the Post's rather disturbing take on the current efforts at a state media: "Setting up a state-run network is almost sure to create a minefield of controversy. The U.S.-funded Iraqi Media Network (IMN), the embryo for the future state system, has AM and FM radio outlets and a television network capable of reaching about two-thirds of Iraqi homes.... U.S.-appointed administrators in charge of the network say they want to model it on the BBC or American public broadcasting organizations, which receive public money but strive to maintain independence. If it follows this model, IMN would break with tradition not only in Iraq, but throughout the Arab world, where state-funded broadcasting is tightly controlled. IMN employees stand in the crossfire of competing demands. Authorities here labor to present the positive side of a military occupation that is beset by problems in restoring utilities and economic activity to Iraq, as well as by persistent attacks on U.S. forces. Iraqis are keenly attuned to the issue of government media control and appear to view IMN as an occupation mouthpiece. To some, extensive coverage of Bremer's inspection tours of Iraq and his public statements recall the rigid broadcast style of deposed president Saddam Hussein's government. "I look at it like this is what the authority wants us to know. It belongs to them, so I don't really expect anything different," said Moustafa Salman, a truck driver who was shopping for a satellite TV antenna last week. "When I see Bremer walking around shaking people's hands on the television, I think of Saddam," said Rima Kadri, a homemaker. "What has changed?""

This is exactly what the United States should be desperate to avoid: the perception that the US really is no different from the Arab regimes, that all its talk about democracy and freedom is just hypocrisy. This is exactly what most Arabs think anyway, and is a major contributing factor to their resentment of American policy and discourse. The US needs to prove them wrong, which means taking some short term costs - allowing criticism of the Council of Bremer, tolerating critical radio and TV stations and newspapers. But its policies and tendencies to this point have been largely to prove the doubters right, usually out of pragmatic, day by day decisions that seem justifiable, even necessary, at the time, but which cumulatively undermine the foundations of the American/CoB claim to legitimacy. And that matters, both in Iraq and in the wider Arab and Muslim world.

The Financial Times reports an increasing number of Saudi jihadists crossing into Iraq to fight the American occupation: "A statement purportedly from al-Qaeda was broadcast on Monday by the Arab satellite television channel al-Arabiya. It claimed the al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and the leader of the Afghanistan's ousted Taliban regime Mullah Mohammed Omar were still alive. But it also asserted that recent attacks on US forces in Iraq were the work of jihadis." The article attributes the movement of jihadist fighters into Iraq in part to the opportunity presented by the American presence, and in part to the growing pressure being exerted by the Saudi security forces. It quotes Saad al-Faguih, a London-based Saudi dissident (and always keep in mind the need to be wary of such interested sources), claiming that some 3000 Saudis may have slipped over the border: "Part of this movement of people has been individual, but it is getting more organised now," Saad al-Faguih said, adding that the loose organisation of Saudi Islamists did not have a clear link to al-Qaeda. "Al-Qaeda is there and not there. But its umbrella is huge, which is what has given it its ability to survive." Finally the article notes that these fighters are linking up to sympathetic tribes and groupings. All of this seems to fit with a general picture of a guerrilla war against the occupation which is both indigenous and a growing cause for external Islamist radicals; it makes little sense to insist on one or the other - indigenous Iraqi resistance OR external al-Qaeda subversion - when the truth seems to be a combination, an interaction of forces and opportunities. It also fits with my general sense that al-Qaeda had little to no relations with Saddam Hussein, but that the new post-Saddam situation has invited an al-Qaeda (and other radical Islamist) presence that hadn't previously existed. Self-fulfilling prophecies, redux.

Monday, August 18, 2003
Al-Zaman today publishes an interesting 'interview' with Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the leading Shi'a model of emulation in Iraq. Sistani responded in writing to a series of questions; his answers may surprise you. He says that he calls for the principle of shura (consultation) and pluralism and respect of the majority for the opinion of minorities, declares that dialogue is the best method for resolving conflicts, and insists on a constitution which respects those principles. To the extent that he is sincere - and as a starting point, it certainly makes sense to take it a face value - this does offer a good foundation for a constitutional agreement amenable both to the United States and to the mainstream of the Shia community. I wouldn't get too excited - this shouldn't be overinterpreted into some kind of endorsement of the occupation - but it should put into perspective the diversity of Shia views. In particular, it should be weighed against the Moqtada Sadr faction, which in some ways strikes me as an insurgency against traditional authority. I would defer to Juan Cole on interpretations of intra-Shia politics; I'm curious to hear what he makes of this. He refers today to a spokesman of Sistani's saying: "America does not want to acknowledge it is incapable of controlling the situation and rebuilding Iraq. Every day, we receive dozens of complaints from Iraqis asking us to declare a fatwa against the Americans and we say no. But this 'no' will not last forever." Cole says: "Apparently the Najaf establishment was very upset about the incident on Weds. Aug. 13 in East Baghdad when US troops fired on Shiite protesters unhappy that their banner had been removed from a telecom tower. (Or, the 4 more staid, elderly clerics, are being forced to compete with firebrand Muqtada al-Sadr in moral outrage). Sistani's apparent conviction that the US cannot run Iraq, and the very mention that his patience with the Americans isn't infinite, is extremely significant. Sistani does not believe in the clergy getting involved in politics, so if he is saying this sort of thing he is really upset."

UPDATE: Juan Cole kindly responds: "Sistani, along with Muhammad Bahr al-`Ulum, has all along been talking about pluralism and tolerance. His discourse is usually that of an Iraqi nationalist. Even his famous fatwa on the need to elect the constitutional convention was phrased in terms of Iraqi popular sovereignty! Rousseau has won. But Sistani also wants Shiite Shariah to be the law of the land, so the "pluralism" doesn't go too far . . .

Dentist this morning. Ugh. Will write later, hopefully.