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

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Bahrain To Open Embassy In Iraq


Bahraini Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmad bin Muhammad Al-Khalifa announced that Bahrain has decided to open an embassy in Iraq, and that it will appoint an ambassador to Baghdad.


Operation Cavalry Charge - Maliki's Show of Force in Basra

From Talisman Gate.

Today, the Iraqi Army launched its first major military operation to fully control Basra, the second largest city in Iraq, without any—ANY—Coalition assistance. One source tells me that during the preparation phase of this campaign the Americans offered to position some U.S. Special Forces and air-cover near the Basra battle theater to act as back-up if needed but their Iraqi counterparts planning this operation politely turned down the offer....

Its chief objective is to flush out the organized crime cartels that control the port of Basra and the oil pipelines of the province. One major criminal force in the Basrawi scene are groups that affiliate themselves with the Sadrist movement and its Mahdi Army. Many of these criminal rings are also associated with certain factions of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard that operate in Basra both for intelligence/sabotage purposes as well as enriching themselves. By knocking out these egregious manifestations of lawlessness, Operation Cavalry Charge will have the accrued benefit of mashing up the more subtle patterns of Iran’s malignant influence in Iraqi Shiism’s foremost economic prize, the oil fields and port of Basra.

The question always becomes, why now?

Maliki has sent 50,000 Iraqi soldiers to deal with about a dozen criminal cartels. Militarily, this will be an easy fight. Those counseling caution and delay stressed that smashing Sadrist-related criminal cartels would spark a large-scale Sadrist reaction across Iraq at a time when the Bush administration wants to keep Iraq quiet especially with the ‘4000’ milestone that was being approached and got passed a couple of days ago. Another argument against action counseled that the Iranians are angling for a fire-fight to sully any talk of progress that Gen. Petraeus may give in a couple of weeks when he appears before Congress, and that the Democrats and their allies in the US media would take these images out of Basra and elsewhere and package the news as a “security meltdown” (…which they would and have done so, irrespective of reality).

Talisman Gate believes Maliki does not care about US politics, but instead is concerned about Iraqi politics and its relations with it neighbors.

Maliki decided that he doesn’t give a damn about US presidential elections and that the only timeline that concern him are Iraq’s own upcoming elections. Maliki also concluded, from intensive intelligence reporting, that the Sadrists are weak and that Iran doesn’t really have much punch to its supposed influence in Iraq. That’s why he decided to go for it.Muqtada al-Sadr knows fully well that should a third all-out confrontation erupt between forces associated with him on the one hand and U.S. and Iraqi government troops on the other, then it can only end with his death, arrest or the much more unlikely prospect of escape to Iran from which he won’t return to Iraq for a very, very long time—Muqtada really doesn’t like being in Tehran from what I’ve heard.

What does Sadr think about the attack on his forces?

One well-placed source claims that al-Sadr is lashing out at his inner circle and crying out “You’re going to get me killed! You’re going to get me killed!” I cannot gauge the veracity of this account, but this source had in the past accurately corroborated accounts from al-Sadr’s inner sanctum given to me by a fully trustworthy source (now deceased).

This is the weakest that the Sadrist movement has ever been: they are divided, their leader is absent, some answer to Iran, and affluence has made them slothful and soft.

Finally, what about ordinary Iraqis?

Politically, too, the Shia middle class no longer sees a need to tolerate Sadrist hoodlums as the shock troops of the Shia sect in case a civil war breaks out with the Sunnis because that threat has long receded and is essentially forgotten, by both sides.

These are the changed circumstances of the Sadrists; they no longer have the appetite for a bruising fight as they did in the spring and autumn of 2004. It has become much more difficult as the Iraqi state is now associated with Shia power (…and wealth transfer) and the vast majority of Shias, who’ve grown wiser about these things, don’t want to see this historic achievement imperiled in any way.

Oil is the wealth of the Iraqi nation. As long as crime cartels and militants control sections of the country's wealth, it can never be truly free and self-sustaining. Maliki is ridding the country of it last main non-government militia (the Mahdi Army) and a entrenched criminal organizations, controlled mostly by Special Groups. He is seeking to limit Iranian influence in his country.

In addition, this operation officially ends his ties with Sadr, who's 30 parliamentary seats, put Maliki into power and has up to this time prevented the government from embracing reconcilitation to a greater extent.

Early in December, a "memorandum of understanding" was signed between the Kurds, the Sunnis, and the Dawa Party. Maliki also needed to enlist the support of Hakim's Badr Organization to seal his control of the country. Most military units in Southern Iraq are heavily Badr. Given that these forces are now listening to Maliki and attacking the Mahdi Army and Special Groups, it is obvious that Maliki is telling Iran to get out of Iraq and quit meddling in Iraqi politics by directly attacking those forces Iran supports. In turn, he intends to fully establish his government legitimacy over the country's oil wealth.

I concur with Talisman Gate. Far from this action being a flare up of violence, it is truly a consolidation of nationalistic power across the country and an indirect attack on Iranian influence in the region. The absence of US forces in the mix are a way for Maliki to show other countries his forces are now strong enough to stop defend his country. The presence of US troops in his country will prevent any overt attack. This operation is designed to stop subversive attacks within his country.

Kurdish forces have always been strong in the North and have continued to secure this region. Coalition forces in the center are busy defeating Al Qaeda in Iraq wholesale. The southern fight is Maliki's and he aims to show all Iraqis he can protect his country.

For a full read, click here.

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10,000 Syrian troops deploy in Kurdish region

From the Jerusalem Post.

The Syrian army has moved some 10,000 soldiers into five cities in the country's northern, Kurdish-dominated region, following violence over the weekend, which left three people dead. The killing occurred during celebration of the Kurdish New Year - Nowruz - in the city Qameshli close to the border with Turkey, according to several local news sources.

This situation is worth watching closely.

For a full read, click here.

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Saudi Monarch Calls On Three Religions To Safeguard Humanity


In a speech at a Riyadh symposium on intercultural dialogue between the Islamic world and Japan, Saudi King Abdallah said that he had received agreement from Saudi Arabia's ulamaa to call on the three religions to hold conferences in which agreement will be reached to safeguard humanity from denigration of moral values and to preserve the institution of the family, and also to restore the values of loyalty to humanity.

The International Herald Tribune has more on the proposed dialogue.

"The idea is to ask representatives of all monotheistic religions to sit together with their brothers in faith and sincerity to all religions as we all believe in the same God," the king told delegates Monday night at a seminar on "Culture and the Respect of Religions."

Abdullah's call is significant and could add weight to sporadic efforts at dialogue among religious leaders in recent years. The Saudi monarch is the custodian of Islam's two holiest shrines in Mecca and Medina, a position that lends his words special importance and influence among many Muslims. He said Saudi Arabia's top clerics have given him the green light to the idea — crucial backing in a society which expects decisions taken by its rulers to adhere to Islam's tenets.

Wondering if Saudi officials will meet with Israeli officials, prominent Saudi cleric, Sheik Muhammad al-Nujaimi, said,

He saw no reason why any Saudi official, including Abdullah, cannot meet with Jewish religious leaders. "The only condition is for the rabbi not to be supportive of the massacres against the Palestinian people,"

Muhammad al-Zulfa, a member of the Saudi Consultative Council, an appointed body that acts like a parliament, said,

Abdullah's conciliatory was "a message to all extremists: Stop using religion."

It will be interesting to see where these talk lead. The significance of these talks could be tremendous with the leaders of the three major religions sitting down and talking about extremism in their religions and how to lessen extremist influence. Also significant is the fact that prominent Muslim clerics in Saudi are supporting the effort.

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Anbar: U.S. trophy for Iraq security losing its shine

From Reuters via Yahoo.

I find this article extremely interesting in its slant towards Anbar security losing ground, as first suggested by the title and reading its first sentence.

Tensions are simmering again in once bloody Anbar province, Washington's prize good news story for security in Iraq.

But when reading the quotes from Anbar residents, one gets a different perspective.

"We thought that when security was established in Anbar, then the situation would turn to development and reconstruction, but we're surprised to see neglect from the government," said Kamal Nouri, a member of Anbar's tribal council.

Anbaris want jobs because,

The city desperately needs potable water, but a plan to stop sewage contamination has been stalled for months. The province was also once a major manufacturing centre, but little has been done to re-open the factories that at one time employed thousands.

Falluja councilors and the U.S. military have said job creation is crucial to lasting security. The unemployment figure in Falluja alone is 20,000, said city council leader Sheikh Hameed al-Alwani.

"We're worried that the unemployed will deviate to bad ways to make a living. Al Qaeda has great financing, so we're afraid for our youth," Alwani said. [Emphasis Added]

It does not appear that Anbaris will go back to being militants. Instead, they want job growth to prevent Al Qaeda from enticing former militants back to their old ways. They way out of this predicament is not a return to militancy, but through elections.

Most Sunnis boycotted 2005 local polls and blame local councilors for failing to represent their interests and for delays in jobs and services. The councilors blame the central Shi'ite-led government in Baghdad....

Meanwhile, the Sahwa leadership has formed a political party and is, like others in Anbar, pinning its hopes for progress on the provincial polls, due by October 1.

"I expect great competition and voting for the provincial polls, the opposite of the past, when people's wisdom was weak and ruled by the misconception that voting ... meant supporting the occupation," bank worker Ahmed Latif said.

"People will not accept the bad management of the past." [Emphasis added]

When reading this article one does not get the sense that Awakening groups will go back to being militants as the author points out in his title and first sentence. Instead one gets a sense of frustration with the national government and local counselors who were elected when Sunnis boycotted the last elections. Now they have made political parties and are pinning their hopes on 01 October provincial elections. And unlike last elections where parties were voted for, this election people will be voted for.

Yes, Anbaris are growing more and more frustrated each day, but they plan to take their frustration out on current politicians in the upcoming 01 October provincial elections and not through the use of force. It sounds like this young democracy in Iraq is headed in precisely the right, and not wrong, direction.

Just like in Pakistan where extremists parties suffered a resounding defeat, expect Iraqi extremists (on both the Sunni and Shia side) to suffer a resounding defeat in upcoming provincial elections paving the way for secular businessmen (and women) to lead Iraq towards a vibrant democracy in the heart of the Middle East, the original war goal of the invasion.

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New Pakistani lawmakers flashier, more secular

From Lauren Frayer, AP writer, in the Deseret Morning News.

Parliament's parking lot was crowded Wednesday with new Mercedes and Toyota sports utility vehicles festooned with flashy tire rims and hood ornaments. Women in bright colors clogged past in heels and huge designer sunglasses. Bodyguards fanned out.

The Feb. 18 elections saw a hard-line coalition of religious groups lose control of the country's northwest along the Afghan border, and only six Islamists win seats in parliament, compared to 68 in the previous legislature. Many conservative-minded allies of Musharraf also lost their seats.

In the last parliament, about a dozen female lawmakers from the religious alliance wore body-shrouding black veils that concealed everything except their eyes.

But as parliament elected its first female speaker Wednesday, just a single lawmaker — one of 74 women in the 342-seat house — covered her face with a light beige wrap. Others wore traditional flowing gowns, some with bare heads and others with their hair only partially covered by loose scarves.

Al Qaeda and the Taliban cannot be taking this display as a good sign for their future. One thing this article points out is wealthy businessmen, possibly connected to previous regimes, have taken over the country. One thing is for sure, businessmen do not like turmoil and militancy in their own backyard. Its bad for business.

It will be interesting to see how the cards fall. But given the flashy dress of the females in parliament, I do not believe the newly elected business people will side with Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Instead, if anything, they will continue with Musharraf's economic reforms he emplaced just before the recent elections to bring industry to the tribal regions. That's good for business.

In addition to these economic reforms, he instilled Regional Coordinating Offiers, District Coordinating Officers, and Tribal Agents in the tribal regions to administer the new economic reforms. That's good for government coffers, which these folks are now administering.

While Musharraf is not well liked by the PPP nor the PML-N, he is a great military leader and may just be kept in position to fight the militancy in the tribal regions. If Al Qaeda/Taliban militancy is reduced in the region, all the better for business. If the coming war devastates certain areas, Musharraf can always be used as a scapegoat. In many respects, the current status quo with Musharraf as president (with reduced powers) and the PPP and PML-N ruling parliament is a marriage made in heaven. Given the coalition between the PPP and PML-N has a majority of PPP members in it who are anti-militant, they may just keep the current situation in effect, as long as it is good for business.

Reinstatement of deposed judges who only look forward and not backward to Musharraf's emergency rule could do a lot to increase popularity of the ruling PPP and PML-N while keeping Musharraf in power, as long as he keeps miltancy in check.

For a full read, click here.

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Dozens of NATO oil tankers destroyed on Pakistani-Afghan border

From Monsters and Critics.

Dozens of tankers carrying oil for NATO forces were destroyed Sunday in a bomb blast targeting a Pakistani border crossing where they awaited clearance to enter Afghanistan, officials said.

'The explosion took place this evening when the oil tankers were parked in the parking lot of Torkham border in the tribal town of Landi Kotal. More than 60 tankers caught fire and 35 of these were completely destroyed,' a government official Bismillah Khan told Deutsche Presse-Agentur DPA.

This attack is part of Al Qaeda's ongoing strategy this year. It seeks to disrupt NATO forces where it hurts most, logistics coming through Pakistan. Al Qaeda suspects supplies through the Khyber Pass is NATO's "Achilles' heel".

The US is paying a hefty price to tribes in the Khyber Pass region to protect these fuel shipments. As such, these tribes have generally been loyal to the US and Pakistani effort in the region.

Three possible scenarios exists here:

1. The tribes have turned against American forces and are no longer protecting fuel shipments. If this situation is the case, Americans will have to seek different (and possibly much more costly and potentially less abundant) methods to bring supplies into Afghanistan. While possible, this situation does not seem probable as fuel shipments through the Khyber Pass have gone unimpeded for many years now.

2. The tribes have not turned against American forces and Al Qaeda infiltrators managed to execute this attack despite tribal protection. If this situation is the case, then Al Qaeda has alienated another set of tribes. In doing so, this attack may show the desperation of Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda's recent attack on a tribal jirga which was being held to gather support against Al Qaeda militants in the region is another desperate attack. While this attack is definitely dramatic, US and Pakistani forces will ensure the fuel shipments are better protected in the future.

3. Given that Afghan National Army had to dispatch two fire brigades to the attack, the attack may have occurred on a seam between Pakistani tribal protection and Afghan National Army protection on the Afghani side of the border. If this is the case, this seam will be closed rapidly and we should not see anymore dramatic attacks such as this one. While attacks will persist, they should include tens of tankers being destroyed. Rather we should see one here, one there.

While the loss of 60 plus tankers is definitely significant, it should not significantly disrupt NATO's future missions if NATO can stop further dramatic attacks. This situation is worth watching to see how NATO, Pakistan, and Afghanistan respond to this potential "Achilles' Heel" to the NATO mission in Afghanistan. NATO and Afghanistan must protect the shipments to continue their mission. Pakistan must protect the shipments to continue its aid from America.

This attack may force the new Pakistani government's hand against the militants as they were recently seeking peace talks with Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Again, we will have to wait and see reactions on both sides of the border.

For a full read, click here.

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Where is Pakistan Heading?

From Farhana Ali writing for the Counterterrorism Blog.

Last month, I traveled from Islamabad to Peshawar and then headed north to Kashmir. To understand where Pakistan is today and where it is heading, I presented the following briefing to the U.S. Congress.

Today, there is cautious level of enthusiasm and hope in the country, made evident by the February 18th election results which confirmed the popularity of the country's two main centrist parties. It would be an understatement to say that the Pakistani public desires change, and hope that the new civilian government, which convened in Parliament this month, will be able to mitigate the rising threat of suicide attacks. The new government has a great burden and responsibility to counter the threats from the Pakistani Taliban, local emirs / commanders in the northwest province, and the terrorists' claim to Pakistan's settled territories, such as Swat.

Pakistanis have selected and been granted a democracy. They hope the democracy will be able to tame the militants in their country. Most importantly, Farhana Ali points out a changing attitude among Pakistanis.

Based on my recent trip, it seems to me that an issue of great importance revolves around perceptions of the war on terrorism. How is the war perceived by the general public and established elites? With militants' largely striking Pakistanis, as opposed to Westerners in the country, the Pakistani public is now beginning to view the U.S.-led war on terror as "their" war; there is general acceptance that this battle that can only be won in the long-run with support from the local population to root out criminal and terrorists from within their families, neighborhoods, and communities. According to a prominent editor of the Daily Times, winning the war on terrorism in Pakistan will required the support of "the people a a whole." [Emphasis Added]

This is an important shift in thinking from the immediate years following 9/11, when any military operation or counter-terrorism cooperation between the U.S. and Pakistan was regarded as being driven by the United States for American strategic interests.

The key change in attitude which is happening in Pakistan is a result of Al Qaeda's heavy handedness in the region. Originally, Pakistani thought the war against terrorism was something which was thrust upon them due to neighboring Afghanistan's support for Al Qaeda. Now with Al Qaeda routed out of Afghanistan (for the most part), Al Qaeda is attempting to turn the tribal areas into a sanctuary. In doing so, they are alienating the population which while extremely religious, are not extremists. People in the region listen to western music and watch western movies. They go to barber shops. Women are actively engaged in the tribal family. Al Qaeda seeks to destroy these freedoms.

As such, people in the region are beginning to realize Al Qaeda and the Taliban are against them. Al Qaeda, once again, is wearing out its welcome by imposing its strict interpretation of Islam. Farhana Ali notes how the US can assist Pakistan in its war on terror. His analysis is interesting indeed and coincides with Musharraf's multi-pronged strategy to deal with militancy in his country.

As stated before, whether or not Musharraf survives as president, he has set into motion the instruments of national power to deal with militancy in his country.

1. He has established a democracy which militants abhor.

2. He has established Regional Coordinating Officers, District Coordinating Officers, and Tribal Agents in the tribal areas to give representation to tribes within the governmental structure.

3. He has established an economic package to enhance the quality of life in the tribal regions. He plans to bring in industry and economic activity into this region.

4. Finally, he is battling militancy within his country using the military.

All these factors, taken together, will isolate and reduce the influence of extremists in the region.

For a full read, click here.

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