"Evil is powerless if the good are unafraid" - Ronald Reagan

New York

Al Qaeda In Iraq On Its Last Leg

The golden dome of the Askariya Mosque in Samarra, Iraq was heavily damaged by an explosion Wednesday according to the AP at Yahoo.

"The shrine contains the tombs of the 10th and 11th imams, Ali al-Hadi who died in 868 A.D. and his son Hassan al-Askari who died in 874 A.D and was the father of the hidden imam."

"The shrine contains the tombs of two revered Shiite imams, both descendants of the Prophet Muhammad. Tradition says the shrine, which draws Shiite pilgrims from throughout the Islamic world, is near the place where the last of the 12 Shiite imams, Mohammed al-Mahdi, disappeared. Al-Mahdi, known as the "hidden imam," was the son and grandson of the two imams buried in the Askariya shrine."

Gunmen apparently entered the Mosque before sunrise, planted explosives, and then left the Mosque. According to the AP,

"The Sunni Endowments, a government organization that cares for Sunni mosques and shrines, also condemned the blast and said it was sending a delegation to Samarra to investigate what happened."

With the Iraqi government being pressed to fight against sectarian influence in the government, this attack is only going to make a bad situation worse. Two possible causes of the explosion are:
  1. Al Qaeda in Iraq or other Salafis insurgent groups set the explosives to incite civil strife and punish the Iraqi government for what it sees as impure leaders controlling Iraq.

  2. Shi'ites set the explosives to blame Salfis insurgent groups to incite civil strife in the hope of aiding in the development of a sectarian government in Iraq.

While the second cause is rather remote, it is not out of the realm of possibility. It is doubtful though that Shi'ite hard-liners would destroy such a famous Mosque to forge a more sectarian government. Either way, this explosion is not going to go down well with Shi'ites in Iraq.

The only fortunate event from this catatrophy is the the Sunni Endownments has quickly and publicly condemned the attack. As Sunni religious leaders and tribal chiefs are now actively battling against Al Qaeda in Iraq, this attack does not bode well for Zarqawi's foreign insurgents. His indiscriminate attacks against Iraqi civilians has already caused fractures among moderate and even hard line Sunnis and his organization. This attack will further these divisions and may very well result in much more committed and active Iraqi Army and police force which seeks to destroy or dispel his forces.

The vast majority of Sunnis in Iraq, while smarting from being out of power in the democracy would not stoop to this new low to execute such an attack. The most probable cause of the attack is radical Sunni Salafis who believe the Shi'ites are impure and are attempting to hit the Shi'ites where it would hurt most since they have been unable to prevent democracy in Iraq.

Zarqawi's days are now numbered as is Al Qaeda in Iraq. It would not be suprising to see Zarqawi turning up dead somewhere very shortly. This attack may very well be the straw that broke the insurgency's back in Iraq. Without popular support and a base from which to conduct operations, their downfall is all but assured. We will continue to watch as this situation develops and to see reactions from both Shi'ites and Sunnis in Iraq.

Palestinian Polls Do Not Bode Well For Hamas

A recent poll by the Jerusalem Media & Communication Center shows that 66% of Palestinians believe Hamas should honor all Palestinian Authority committments to negotiate with Israel. As mentioned in an earlier post, Palestinians did not elect Hamas for its terrorist platform, but instead elected Hamas for economics and security. Palestinians voted against Fatah's corruption. The only choice against Fatah was unfortunately Hamas. While maybe not a smart decision, it was their only decision given Fatah was not representing their desires.

Fifty-eight percent of those polled stated that the solution to the Palestinian conflict should be a two-state solution. What is even more striking is that only 10% of those polled believed it should be a Palestinian state over the entire land. It appears that even Palestinians recognize that the only viable solution is a two-state solution, even if Hamas does not recognize this fact. They elected Hamas to ensure their economic stability and security.

It appears from this poll that Palestinians are tired of the intifada and just want what most people want: a stable job, earn some money, raise their children in a secure environment, and enjoy some of freedom's benefits. As stated above, they unfortunately elected a terrorist organization that at least in the short-term will cause loss of economic stability and security.

Israel is halting its $50 million a month payments to the PA and the US will most certainly cut its aid even if the UN and EU don't. This reduction in funds will undoubtedly cause the already strained PA economic situation to get worse. So what will be the outcome?

1. If Israel and the US stick by their rhetoric and withhold aid to the PA, the Palestinian economy will spiral out of control. Hamas, elected for economic stability and security will not be able to uphold their part of the bargain. They will loose support if they don't moderate and Palestinians will either go back to Fatah or a new party will form which will seek peace with Israel to ensure Palestinian economic stability and security. While there will be a period of much turmoil in Palestinian territories during this time, this situation will resolve the Israeli-Palestinian issue most quickly.

2. If Israel and the US give in, Hamas will appease the masses by giving a bit here and a bit there to the Palestinian people while still funneling monies to its terrorists groups. This will lead to further Israeli-Palestinian issues down the road. While this will appease the Palestinian people in the short run, it will not satisfy their desires in the long run and the Palestinian will over time elect them out of office for a party who can give them economic stability and security. Maybe Fatah, if it reforms.

As stated before, the election of Hamas is truly a watershed event. They are now in charge to do what a democratic government does, that is rule for the people. If they choose to abuse their newfound power, as Fatah did, they will suffer the same fate. All democratically elected governments do.

While I would not have voted for Hamas, I believe Hamas' election puts them in an untenable position. They will either have to moderate to gain economic stability and security for their people, or they will loose the next election and any support they had from the Palestinians. If they don't moderate and strike at Israel, then Israel now has a government to strike back against.

While democracies do not always elect the right people for the job, they do have the ability to force them out of power when they do not. This is the true secret of a democracy. We in the US have made bad choices during elections in the past, but we were able to vote these bad choices out in 2, 4 or 6 years for better choices.

Another secret about a democracy is the capitalism it produces. I am not talking here about science and services we enjoy in the US, but instead the competition that is produced in politics. Fatah, now a minority will either learn from its mistakes and end its corruption, or it will never see power again. Hamas will either moderate and provide the Palestinian people economic stability and security, or it will be voted out of power. These two parties, and possbly a third or more parties will begin to compete for Palestinian votes. This competition will only benefit the Palestinians in the long run.

While the short term prospects of a Hamas victory scare many, to me it is only getting the Israeli-Palestinian issue solved more quickly. If Palestinians are forced to work for their own money and not given it to them in the form of free aid, the conflict will resolve much more quickly. However, with all quick things that are good, it may very well be costly, not in terms of money, but in terms of short term Middle East security.

Given that the Middle East is now in turmoil as they transition from autocratic states to democratic states, why not let this territory be another beacon of light in the Middle East for all other states to learn from. While many may say that another war in the Middle East may very well cause an international crisis, I suggest that the Palestinians and Israeli have been at war since 1967 (or earlier) anyhow, so why not bring it to a fitting end.

Insurgents increasingly split over killing Iraqis

More nationalist-minded insurgents increasingly joining tribal leaders in opposing Al-Qaeda’s more aggressive tactics.

Paul Schemm at Middle East Online reports that Iraqi insurgents are increasingly at odds with Al Qaeda insurgents. He notes,

"The legitimacy of targeting locally recruited police and other civilians has deeply divided Iraq's insurgent groups with more nationalist-minded insurgents increasingly joining tribal leaders in opposing the more aggressive tactics of the foreign-led Islamic militants of Al-Qaeda."

Insurgents in Iraq need, at least, passive support of the populace in order to continue their terror. Over the course of the last three years, ordinary Iraqis are seeing what freedoms democracy brings them and likewise the lack of freedom Al Qaeda with it Salafis tendencies has in store for them. Al Qaeda insurgents attacking "home grown Iraqis" are having a tough time selling their strategy when they target Iraqis attempting to secure their own country.

As noted earlier, the Iraqi Army is now executing security missions on par with US-led Coalition forces in an attempt to secure their country for democracy's freedoms. US-led Coalition forces are becoming less and less visible, the Iraqi Government is becoming more and more in control of its own destiny and using the Iraqi Army to provide security.

It is a hard sell for Al Qaeda in Iraq to preach they are only in Iraq to fight and expel the "Evil Occupier" when they are now the "Evil Occupier" killing ordinary Iraqis trying to secure their country for a brighter future.

I have often talked about Iraq being a beacon of light in the Middle East. I firmly believe most Muslims, like most Americans, just want the freedom to have a job, earn a decent living, raise a family in a secure environment, and occassionaly have some extra money to enjoy life's freedoms. Democracy in Iraq is offering exactly this to ordinary Iraqis. Al Qaeda in Iraq is offering a Taliban-like government where most freedoms are oppressed. Iraqis have been under similar oppressive rule for the last 30 years under Saddam.

While they may have momentarily been misguided by Al Qaeda in Iraq regarding who is the "Evil Occupier", they are seeing ground truth for themselves. In three short years, Iraqis, who have been oppressed and lied to for 30 odd years, are now understanding the benefits of democracy. They are also understanding that Al Qaeda in Iraq is only Saddam in different clothes.

As the Iraqi democracy strengthens and begin to export its freedoms, all of the Middle East will see the beacon of light coming from Iraq and will know what a freedoms a democracy can give vice the oppression that Al Qaeda offers.

Not only is Al Qaeda not close to accomplishing it first stated objective, namely ridding the Middle East of Western influence, it is the fundamental western principle of democracy being born in Iraq, that will be Al Qaeda in Iraq's downfall. Additionally, Iraqis do not want to replace the 30 years of political oppression with the religious oppression that the global Al Qaeda network offers.

Iraq, the beacon of light in the Middle East, is starting Al Qaeda's downfall now in Iraq and shortly over the rest of the Middle East. That is why Al Qaeda in Iraq cannot stop killing ordinary Iraqis. It is ordinary Iraqis, who see democracy's freedoms firsthand, they are at war with. The US-led Coalition is just providing the conditions, the freedoms, for all people to see.

Iraqi Army Now Conducts More Security Mission than Coalition

December 2005 marked a milestone for the Iraqi Army. Since December 2005, the Iraqi Army has been conducting more independent operations than US led Coalition forces in Iraq.

According to Middle East Newsline,

The Iraq Army has surpassed the U.S.-led coalition in independent operations.

Officials said that in December 2005 the Iraq Army conducted more independent operations than the coalition. They termed this a milestone in the development of the Iraqi military.

"In December, the Iraqi armed forces had more independent operations than did the coalition forces," Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said.

Officials said the one Iraq Army battalion has been deemed completely independent. There are more than 120 Iraqi battalions.

This little reported milestone speaks volumes for the success of the Iraqi War. While the insurgency is still active, the US is beginning to be less and less needed to keep and maintain order in Iraq. 2006 should begin to see reduction in US forces as the Iraqi Army is able to control more battlespace.

Iraq's Jordanian Jihadis

Nir Rosen has written an excellent analysis of Zarqawi, other Salafis jihadis, and the current situation in Iraq for the New York Times. While focusing on Zarqawi and the insurgency in Iraq, it sheds light on the beliefs of Salafism and contrasts Bin Laden's actions with Zarqawi's. It also sheds light on how Al Qaeda has faired in reaching its overaching objectives.

Nir Rosen offers an excellent summarization of Salafism.

"Many of these rootless and unwanted believers found a spiritual and political home in a type of Islam called Salafism. Not surprisingly, perhaps, Salafism emphasizes the rootlessness of faith. It despises local saints and mystical practices (like those of Sufism) and any other departures from the most rigid Sunnism. It despises Shiites. It commonly despises all other sects or practices that Salafis might consider "bida," or "innovation." Given this intense preoccupation with purity, Salafis are constantly trying to identify and expel the impure. This is called "takfir," often translated as "excommunication": an old, disused term that has found new life in Salafism, which permits, even encourages, the killing of Muslims whom Salafis have expelled through takfir. Perhaps the most ferocious embodiment of takfiri Salafism today is Abu Musab al-Zarqawi."

Of particular note is the fact that while both Bin Laden and Zarqawi are both Salafis in practice, they fundamentally disagree with how to wage jihad against infidels.

"A critical dispute was over whom to attack: Zarqawi criticized Osama bin Laden for not calling Arab governments infidels and attacking them. For Zarqawi, the "near enemy" was the priority, while for bin Laden the "far enemy" was. This has been perhaps the most critical dispute within violent, extremist Sunni Islam."

Bin Laden felt that by focusing on the far enemy, namely the United States, Israel, Europe, and Russia, he could build a coalition among the diverse and often disagreeable jihad factions. Bin Laden believed this external focus would unite warring factions while allowing breathing room within the Middle East for the Salafis movement to grow. Zarqawi, on the other hand, wanted to focus his jihad efforts against Muslim governments in the Middle East. It is easy to understand how this seemingly minute difference in strategies would cause such a significant rift within jihadis camps. With the US invasion into Iraq, Zarqawi was now able to fight the "near enemy" he had always wanted to fight while falling inline with Al Qaeda's broader stategy of focusing on the "far enemy". Hence, the formal acceptance of Zarqawi's insurgency under the Al Qaeda umbrella, now called Al Qaeda in Iraq. Both parties now not only had a common enemy, but saw the Iraqi insurgency as the same means to the same end. Nir Rosen points out that,

"With Hussein removed from power in April 2003, Zarqawi had a new failed state to operate in. And the invasion of Iraq and the subsequent American occupation presented the perfect opportunity to heal the rift within Muslim extremism: the far enemy had made itself the near enemy as well."

While some may feel this statement vindicates their belief that the US invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq strengthed Al Qaeda by unifying these diverse jihadis groups against a now common enemy, a more detailed look will demonstrate just the opposite. Al Qaeda became a global terrorist organization able to execute global attacks by Bin Laden's ability to loosely unify diverse terrorist organization's strategies and attacks. While not in total agreement with Taliban-style rule in Afghanistan, it did give Bin Laden the "breathing room" he needed to develop, train, and export terrorists and terrorism to western democracies.

Al Qaeda had four main objectives prior to and since 11 September 2001.

  1. Expel Western influence from the Arabian Peninsula

  2. Remove secular governments within the region

  3. Eliminate Israel and purge Jewish and Christian influence

  4. Expand the Muslim empire to historical significance
Bin Laden reasoned that the US would respond as it had done in the past with attacks on the USS Cole and World Trade Center, namely more rhetoric than action. He also reasoned that if the US acted, it would retreat like it did in Beruit after the bombing of the Marine Barracks or in Somalia after "Blackhawk Down". With American influence withdrawn from the Middle East, Bin Laden could then focus on his second objective of removing secular governments within the region.

However, Bin Laden did not get the reaction he had hoped for. Instead of cowering with its tail between it legs, the US destroyed his haven in Afghanistan and forced him to hide in caves. His influence in Saudi Arabia was greatly diminished as the Wallabi could no longer openingly and actively pursue his oblectives. His funding has been significantly curtailed as visibility of terrorist charities has grown. Pakistan Salafis training, while still ongoing, is greatly reduced. Iraq is now a young democracy that is actively fighting against Salafism and its use as a future capital for the caliphate. Lebanon was able to rid itself of the Syrian military and is now actively ridding itself of Syrian influence. Jordan security forces and the population as a whole are beginning to crack down on fanatics to prevent other hotel bombings that recently rocked their country.

Bin Laden has been forced to establish ties with regimes that his Salafis tendencies would otherwise prevent him from collaborating with, namely the Shia dominated Iran and mostly secular Syria. A little over four years after his spectacular attack to achieve his first objective of ridding the Muslim world of American influence, Bin Laden is now further away from that goal and having to link up with regimes who are on his list to get rid of as he pursues his second objective. It has always been said that politics breeds strange bedfellows, but Bin Laden cannot see these two unlikely alliances as a step forward in pursuit of his final objective to expand the Muslim empire to its historical significance.

As much as several Middle East leaders fear what democracy will bring to their regimes as Iraq continues to glow and florish, they also are equally apprehensive about the US pulling out of Iraq. As Nir Rosen points out,

"Where will this quiet but constant low-grade jihadi mobilization lead? If the American invasion of Iraq called forth a jihadi response, American withdrawal might likewise lead many men to put their rifles away and go back to selling cars, nuts and mobile phones. At the same time, the withdrawal of the far enemy may leave jihadis with the feeling that they should return to battling the near enemies: their own governments and the multitude of other infidels, including Shiite infidels."

So, over four years later, we have the current situation. Al Qaeda is no closer to its first objective, in fact further away from it now than in the last decade. Al Qaeda is forming an alliance with Zarqawi, who does not agree with its stategic goals, hoping to still somehow salvage its first objective. Al Qaeda is forming alliances with regimes (Iran and Syria) against its Salafis tendencies and second objective in order to regain some influence in the Middle East and possibly regain its once global ability to act (Iran with nuclear weapons). Monies to fund terrorism is significantly reduced and under greater scutiny.

Autocratic regimes allowing (if not pursuing) unrest in Iraq to ensure the Salafis jihadis do not focus efforts on their own countries. Iraq, the beacon of light in the Middle East, is continuing to florish and grow stronger economically than other Middle Eastern countries despite the efforts of a deadly insurgency. Neighboring Muslims are now seeing firsthand what a caliphate would bring to their already limited livelihood and personal freedoms. A newly, free Lebanon is attempting to expel terrorists from their country so they too can florish like Iraq. The entire world is concerned over what a freely elected terrorist organization, Hamas, will do with new found political power. Al Qaeda will find it hard to supplement the possible monetary loss of up to $1 billion in aid to its major terrorists activity (the Palestinians) to accomplish its third objective-the desturction of Israel. The continued defiance of Hamas is causing an unwilling UN and other Middle East countries to side with Israel. One can only hope that it will continue its radical agenda. It is doing more benefit than harm.

This is just in the Middle East. Also Europe is beginning to awaken to the fact that demographics will spell their doom in the next generation as Muslims become a larger percentage, if not majority, of the population. Terrorist attacks, to include the riots in Paris, point gravely to their future. Raging Muslim radicals overreacting to rather timid cartoons of Mohammad only further distress Europeans. The fact that several large newspapers actually stood up to republish these cartoons point to the underlying uneasiness of everyday Europeans. Europeans, who thought with the fall of the Soviet Union their children would grow up without nuclear terror, now have a state sponsor of terror actively pursuing nuclear weapons. Even France, of all European nations, recently stated any attack on its soil or its sphere of influence may be met with nuclear retaliation.

For all the anti-American propaganda spewed from several countries regarding the US invasion of Iraq, America once again led the way to uphold freedom and democracy, not only in the countries that were invaded, but also in many weak democracticies in Europe and reluctant Middle Eastern countries. The Euporean democracies are now stronger from the spilled blood of American and British Soldiers, even though they could not bring themselves to spill their own blood. Soon, the Middle Eastern countries too will reap democracy's benefits even though many of them are spilling blood for the wrong side.

I am often fascinated by the old adage, "You can bring a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink." In this case, Europe and the Middle East, are like the horse that needs water to survive but are reluctantly drinking in freedom and democracy thanks to America. It is almost apocalyptic.