Category Archives: West Asia

American Forces Attack al Qaeda Cell in Syria

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United States Special Operations Forces crossed the Syrian border in an operation targeting the home of Abu Ghadiyah, leader of an al-Qaeda-linked Syrian network that smuggled jihadists, arms and money into Iraq. In February (2008) the U.S. Treasury Department identified Abu Ghadiyah as head of al Qaeda in Iraq’s (AQI’s) facilitation network:

which controls the flow of money, weapons, terrorists, and other resources through Syria into Iraq. Former AQI leader Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi appointed Badran as AQI’s Syrian commander for logistics in 2004. After Zarqawi’s death, Badran began working for the new AQI leader, Abu Ayyub Al-Masri. As of late-September 2006, Badran took orders directly from Masri, or through a deputy.

The attack was conducted by four helicopters with accounts varying whether ground forces were involved. The NYT cites an unnamed source claiming “two dozen American commandos in specially equipped Black Hawk helicopters…fought a brief gun battle with Abu Ghadiya and several members of his cell.” Syrian witnesses describe two Arab men taken aboard helicopters and flown out of the area. The Associated Press notes:

U.S. authorities have said Abu Ghadiyah’s real name is Badran Turki al-Mazidih, an Iraqi in his early 30s who served as al-Qaida in Iraq’s head of logistics in Syria since 2004. His job included providing foreign fighters with passports, weapons, guides and safe houses as they slipped into Iraq and made their way to Baghdad and other major cities where the Sunni insurgency was raging.

In the past weeks, U.S. forces in western Iraq have been stepping up their efforts to control the flow of foreign fighters over the Syrian border. Stuart Levey, Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, describes Syria as “a transit station for al Qaeda foreign terrorists on their way to Iraq.” While the numbers of foreign fighters caught and killed in Iraq has been on the decline since the advent of the surge and the Sunni Awakening, the region where the operation occurred has remained a primary route for money, weapons and men supporting the Sunni insurgency. As long as he stayed in Syria, Abu Ghadiyah remained out of reach of U.S. and coalition forces. That is, until Sunday.

Syrian officials condemned the attack as an act of “serious aggression” and government controlled newspapers claimed the U.S. had committed “war crimes.” The Russian government, set to sell new missile systems to Syria, has accused the United States of “fuelling dangerous tension in the Middle East”. This attack sends a clear message to the Syrian government: If you are providing safe passage for terrorists, the U.S. will take unilateral action.

Good News from Basra

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[This is from the Times Online (UK)]

Barney White-Spunner writes:

There is an interesting piece of graffiti on a bridge near Basra. A fleeing militiaman has scrawled “We’ll be back”; underneath an Iraqi soldier has scribbled in reply “And we’ll be waiting for you”.

The Shia militias, the Jaish al- Mahdi, who controlled large parts of Basra until March this year, has now gone and instead the city is firmly under the grip of Iraq’s new security forces, in whom the coalition has invested so much training. They re-established control in April, in an operation romantically named “The Charge of the Knights”, systematically clearing the city with British and American support, confiscating illegal weapons and arresting the violent gangs whose combination of criminality and vicious extremism was making life a misery for so many of Basra’s people.

Around the city the posters of religious leaders are being replaced with billboards advertising cars and mobile phones and photographs of Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi Prime Minister, who is rightly credited with being the driving force behind the army’s crackdown. You see the symbol of The Charge of the Knights everywhere, a black horse carrying the flag of Iraq trampling the gangsters underfoot.

This improvement in security has made Basrawis more confident of their future than at any time since 2003. A recent poll showed that only 8 per cent now regard security as their main concern; 80 per cent have confidence in the Iraqi security forces to protect them. Women are free to walk the streets uncovered and to wear Western dress should they so choose.

Yet what also makes people here so confident is that they know that they live in what is potentially one of the richest cities in the Middle East…

[read it all]

Raymond Ibrahim: In Their Own Words, Understanding Al-Qaeda

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I first became familiar with the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI) after reading George Nash’s excellent The Conservative Movement in America: Since 1945 which they published. In addition to publishing they have posted a wide variety of lectures online (in audio and video format).

Here is Raymond Ibrahim, “In Their Own Words: Understanding Al-Qaeda.” (audio)

Iran’s Provocations Continue

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With the recent missile launchings yesterday and today, Iran is making their belligerence clear. The signs are pointing in two directions, appeasement or confrontation. The liberal punditocracy claim these moves are strictly defensive, a response to moves by the United States and Israel. In the minds of these observers Iran only reacts to the actions of its adversaries. Iran possesses no agency of its own.

This is a major mistake. The United States has enemies. Enemies who will do whatever is in their power to make us suffer defeat. When these enemies speak, when they articulate their policy preferences and political goals, we should listen very intently. When they threaten us and our allies, we should take those threats very seriously.

Military action should always be the last option. But it must remain an option and we are rapidly approaching a point where it may be the only option. As the Israelis realized in 1981 with Iraq’s Osirak nuclear facility, destroying Iran’s nuclear sites before they reach the capacity to produce weapons is the only choice unless the world wants to see a nuclear armed Iran.

Iranian government officials claim the Shahab-3 missile has a range of 1,250 miles and are equipped with “special capabilities”. The officials did not specify what they meant by this oblique statement but chemical or biological warheads would not be out of the question. The tests also included launches from sea, torpedoes and surface-to-surface missiles.

On the positive side, the range of the Shahab-3 is not confirmed by any reliable outside source. Described by military experts as a modified North Korean Nodong missile and by some as a “glorified Scud” the tests may not have gone as well as the Iranian government reported:

A Ynet inquiry has revealed that the Iranian Revolutionary Guards have doctored at least one photo of a missile test it conducted in the Persian Gulf on Wednesday and “added” at least one missile launching that never took place.

The photos were sent to the news agencies by the Revolutionary Guards and were published by media outlets worldwide, including Israel. In a videotape of the Iranian missile testing, which was shot from a slightly different angle, three missiles can be seen launched, while a fourth remains on the ground.

However, in the still photo all four missiles are seen fired into the air almost simultaneously. Some of the details in the images of the launched missiles are suspiciously similar; the tail of the fourth seems to be an exact copy of the missile on the far left.

Several internet sites also claimed that the missile photos were manipulated by the Iranians in an attempt to cover up possible technical difficulties that arose during the test.

Surprisingly, even the PRC has expressed dismay at the tests. Xinhua reports:

China was concerned over Iran’s missile tests and hoped relevant parties would take measures “conducive” to the situation in the Middle East, the Foreign Ministry said on Thursday.

“We are concerned with what is going on in the region. As the situation in the Middle East is complicated and sensitive, we hope all parties concerned will take measures that are conducive to safeguarding peace and stability in the region,” said ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao at a regular press conference.

As tensions escalate in the region, the French energy company Total has announced it will not invest in Iran. The IHT notes:

“The conditions are not present for investing in Iran today,” said Total spokeswoman Lisa Wiler. “We hope that the political relations will improve so that we can invest.”

“Today we would be taking too much political risk to invest in Iran because people will say, ‘Total will do anything for money,’” CEO Christophe de Margerie was quoted by the Financial Times as saying Thursday.

Neither the company spokeswoman nor the CEO would say whether Total was pulling out of South Pars or overall investment in Iran.

“Iran remains a priority country in the strategy of Total,” Wiler said. “We are still in contact” with Iranian partners, she said.

De Margerie expressed frustration at U.S. pressure on European energy investors in the countries.

Readers will recall France was one of the main opponents of the liberation of Iraq due to French investments in the energy sector. Whether the West has learned from the past, that appeasement does not work with dictatorial regimes, remains to be seen. I hope the U.S. and Israel retain the resolve for action, even if the rest of the democratic world is sticking their heads in the sand.

Lebanon and the Issue of Force in Democratic Societies

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After widespread Hezbollah violence in West Beirut earlier this month, things seem to have settled down. Bu the political problem at the core of this conflict remains, the legitimacy and weakness of the Lebanese state. David Schenker (WINEP) provides some background:

In early May, the Lebanese government, led by the “March 14″ ruling coalition, objected to Hizballah’s telecommunications network and its control over Lebanon’s international airport. The cabinet subsequently decided to remove the network and install an airport officer that was not sympathetic to the Shiite organization. In reaction, Hizballah cried foul and demanded that the government back down.

When the coalition stood its ground, Hizballah forces temporarily occupied Beirut. Nearly one hundred Lebanese were killed and 250 were wounded in the worst fighting since the country’s fifteen-year civil war that ended in 1991. After three days of fighting — which included Hizballah’s failed attempt to storm the Shouf mountain preserve of March 14 Druze leader Walid Jumblatt — the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) stepped in and enforced a de-escalation. However, in the face of Hizballah’s overwhelming military might, and the LAF’s unwillingness to protect national institutions, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and his coalition capitulated to Hizballah’s demands on May 14, and revoked the cabinet decisions.

[Video of Hezbollah rolling through West Beirut]

Michael J. Totten (Contentions) opines:

A year and a half of mostly non-violent resistance yielded Hezbollah bupkis. After one week of murder and mayhem, the Lebanese government caved. The lesson for Hezbollah is clear: when things don’t go your way, take the rifles out of the garage, hit the streets, and start shooting people and burning down buildings.

In the comments thread, OAO notes:

[A]n even bigger problem is that the lesson that totten says nasrallah learned was also learned by all jihadis and terrorists in the ME: violence not only works, but works fast and easy. there is nobody with the guts to stand up to it.

I agree there is certainly potential for this to happen and it is incredibly worrying. But what is the likelihood of a similar form of political instability being replicated in other Islamic countries? Is the weakness of Lebanon’s national state unique?

Put another way, “guts” or will is part of the equation in defeating terrorists. So is capacity. Any state that allows (or is unable to stop) citizens, residents, or other civilians within its borders to use force to resolve conflicts is clearly weak. Such a state fails to meet the minimum definition of a state: a monopoly on the use of force and violence to solve disputes. The police fulfill this function internally and the army and other armed forces externally.

The state, including the police and army, is incredibly weak in Lebanon. The places where radical terrorists have been able to gain large footholds (if not control) are in these sorts of failed and weak states. I’m thinking of Afghanistan and Somalia in the extreme cases but even places like northern Sri Lanka where the Tamil Tigers operate or southern Thailand and parts of the Philipines where Islamist separatists and groups affiliated with Al Qaeda operate. These are lawless places where the state is largely absent, either through neglect, lack of resources, graft, corruption, or some combination of these.

Rather than focusing on the lesson that Sheik Hassan Nasrallah and Hezbollah learned or taught the Jihadis, we should examine the lessons that Hezbollah taught democratic states this week.

First, when terrorist organizations say they are ready, willing and able to use violence to achieve their aims we should be ready, willing and able to use “disproportionate” violence against them. Moshe Arens makes this point in his recent Haaretz op-ed (“A cease-fire with terrorism?”)

How to fight terror became the subject of endless discussions during that difficult time. As long as Israel seemed unable to find an effective answer to Palestinian terror, the defeatists in our ranks claimed that terror could not be defeated by force, while the more cautious argued that terror could not be defeated by the use of force alone. The implication was that Israel had no choice but to concede to at least some of the terrorists’ demands – that they must be given a “political horizon.”

But once the Israel Defense Forces and the security services began to seriously tackle Palestinian terror, following the massacre at the Park Hotel in Netanya in the spring of 2002, it quickly became clear that terror could be defeated by force. As a matter of fact, it could be defeated only by the use of force. The terrorists view any hints of Israeli willingness to give in to a portion of their essentially limitless demands as a sign of weakness, which only serves to encourage further acts of terror.

But Israel’s victory over Palestinian terror, which put an end to the daily bouts of suicide bombings, also induced amnesia in the minds of some of Israel’s leaders. The lesson was quickly forgotten. The shameful unilateral withdrawal from the security zone in southern Lebanon, which served to trigger the second intifada, was acclaimed by them as a great success that brought peace to northern Israel – until the wake-up call came with the Second Lebanon War. At that point, twisted logic took over the minds of members of the Olmert government, and they acclaimed the first defeat Israel had suffered in its entire history as a defeat of Hezbollah. Maybe they will finally get some sense into their heads when they see what Hezbollah, which they claim to have defeated, is doing in Lebanon these days. What a missed opportunity!

Second, we need to not only maintain the political will to defeat this enemy but also the capacity. When a state is able to mobilize the two (will and capacity) it can be capable of victory against terrorism. This the case even for a weak state like Lebanon, as the national government made clear when it defeated the Fatah al-Islam terrorists.

Third, we need to understand how an organization like Hezbollah was allowed to develop to the extent that it has. I’m not talking about poverty breeding terrorism. It should be clear to every democratic government that allowing armed organizations dedicated to your violent overthrow to operate openly, allowing them to solicit funds from foreign governments, and allowing them to essentially create a state within a state is absolutely unacceptable.

Read More:

Eric Trager: Contentions

Michael Young: Daily Star

Solidarity with the Cuban People (Not the Government)

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[h/t Solidaridad Cuba]

This May 21 get involved in the global effort to demonstrate support for freedom and human rights in Cuba! Champions of Freedom from all over the world are organizing events and listing them on our global solidarity map.

How can I take action on Cuba Solidarity Day?

  • ORGANIZE a peaceful march or vigil in a public place! Use white t-shirts, candles, and posters and pass out information on Cuban political prisoners and on human rights violations in Cuba to members of your local community!
  • ENCOURAGE at least 10 other friends, colleagues, family members and neighbors to do the same!
  • MOBILIZE your community leaders – teachers, church ministers, political leaders, human rights organizations, and activists!
  • REACH OUT to local and international media and let them know why you are taking action!
  • SHOW your support for Cuba Solidarity Day through Facebook and MySpace!

Let’s demonstrate our support for Cuba’s political prisoners, respect for the Inter-American Democratic Charter, and the right of the Cuban people to choose their own destiny and live freely and peacefully! Join us as we call out in one voice to demand peace, freedom, and democracy on the island!

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Judith Apter Klinghoffer: In India, as in Israel, Peace Process Means Terror

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[I was linked in an article by Judith Apter Klinghoffer at the History News Network (HNN). I have no idea if she reads this blog regularly or if she simply came across a link coincidentally. In either case, it made my day.]

Here we go again. 8 bombs exploded in a crowded ancient city populated by Hindus and Muslims during the height of shopping and praying hours. 80 men, women and children are confirmed dead. 150 were wounded. The hospitals are overflowing with the injured, their loved ones and blood donors. “Since both communities were targeted, it is clearly an attack on India,” an eyewitness said. Replace Hindus with Jews. Jaipur with Haifa and it all seems so very familiar. Both cities are also known for their beauty.

Familiar is also the immediate reason for the terrorist attack. Later this month the Indian foreign minister is about to embark on a visit to Pakistan as part of the ongoing peace process between the two nuclear armed neighbors. In India, as in Israel, Islamists opposed to the process, demonstrate their displeasure by murdering innocent civilians.

President Bush’s visit to the Middle East has already been preceded by Hezbollah muscle flexing in Lebanon and rockets from Gaza killing a 70 year old woman only a couple of days ago. I am sure the Israeli security forces are holding their breath as past experience does not offer much consolation. As I am writing I get the dreaded news – Missile hits Ashkelon Mall: Babies, children among wounded.

The world may more familiar with Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad or the Al Aktza brigade, but there is little difference between them and the terrorist groups operating in India. Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HuJI) was founded in 1992. It is a Talibanlike group inspired by Bin Laden headquartered in Bangladesh but with links to Pakistan. It is held responsible for terrorist attacks in Ajmer and Hydrabad.

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