December 30, 2004

Iraq: Elections and Violence

Elections in Iraq are set for January 30, 2005. It appears that date is virtually set in stone. As that date approaches, the level of violence has increased. If you follow the media, you could get the impression that the country is awash in violence. That is not the case - the violence is limited primarily to the area defined in the press as the "Sunni triangle," the area between Baghdad, Mosul and western Anbar province. This are includes the trouble spots of Fallujah, Ramadi, Samarra' and Ba'qubah.

Some media pundits have posited the theory that the violence is tied to the elections and that successful elections will result in a lower level of violence. I agree that the violence is tied to the elections, however, I do not believe that the magic date of January 30 had any influence on the level of violence. The perpetrators of the violence fall into two categories: Iraqis from the former regime or sympathizers, and a group of fundamentalist Muslims, some Iraqi and some foreign, under the leadership of Al-Qa'idah affiliate Abu Musa'ib Az-Zarqawi.

Neither of these groups want the elections to occur. They have increased the level of violence, primarily in the Sunni triangle, but also including attacks in the Shi'a holy city of An-Najaf. These attacks are aimed at intimidating the Sunnis from voting, and in the case of the attack in An-Najaf, to spark sectarian divisions among the diverse groups that make up Iraq to prevent a new government from being effective.

Regardless of the outcome of the elections in January - and by all accounts it appears that they will take place on schedule - the violence will not decrease. The targets of the violence may shift to those newly elected representatives, but the reasons for the insurgents to attack will remain. They do not want the establishment of a representative government in the country. For the secular Ba'this, it formalizes and institutionalizes their fall from power that began with the American invasion in March 2003. For the Al-Qa'idah sympathizers, it creates a secular state that flies in the face of their dream of a fundamentalist Sunni Islamic state.

The elections will exacerbate the violence, not lessen it. The only thing that will lessen the violence is the eradication of those perpetrating it. Appeals for inclusion of offers of amnesty are a waste of time. The insurgents have to be hunted down and killed.


December 20, 2004

Saudi Arabia – The Next Target for Al-Qa’idah?

Al-Qa’idah leader Usamah Bin Ladin released another audiotape that appeared on an Islamic fundamentalist website on December 16. Much of the threats on the tape were leveled at the Saudi royal family, as well as Americans in the kingdom and oil facilities.

Saudi Arabia does not need threats from Usamah Bin Ladin – it has plenty of problems already. There are several external organizations calling for the overthrow of the royal family and the institution of a representative government. Although the United States is calling for more representative governments in the region – such as in Afghanistan and Iraq – they back the Saudi rulers.

The situation is almost reminiscent of Iran in the mid-1970’s. Many of the same factors that resulted in the fall of Shah Reza Pahlavi in 1979 exist or are developing in Saudi Arabia today. If you look at the Saudi population – the Saudis, not the vast numbers of foreigners working in the kingdom – you find a host of well educated (many in the finest American and European universities) young men with limited job opportunities. The wealth of the country rests with and is controlled by the royal family.

These same youth, having been exposed to Western democracies, see that they have no input to their political system. Educated, underemployed and with no political voice, they are ripe for recruitment by organizations that call for change. Many turn to their religion for a solution. This is ready made for a fundamentalist charismatic leader to arise. Enter Usamah Bin Ladin.

If the Saudi royal family does not address these pressures, they likely will find increased internal opposition that might lead to their overthrow. In the last year, since the attack on a housing compound in Riyadh, they have begun to track down Al-Qa’idah affiliated terrorists. This represents a change in Saudi attitude – they were willing to turn a blind eye as long as there were no attacks in the kingdom. Closely linked to this crackdown is an effort to change the traditional madrasah system in which young boys are indoctrinated into a fanatical, intolerant brand of Islam. The U.S. State Department had a program where American educators were working with Saudi Ministry of Education to review the curriculum. Although the Saudi government (read: royal family) buys into it, the people don't. The program was made public and the American administrators identities published on the internet on an Al-Qa'idah website - they had to be withdrawn for their own safety.


What effect will the threats from Bin Ladin have on the Saudis? It might cause them to work closer with the United States against the Al-Qa’idah organization.

December 15, 2004

The Arabic Language – Making Things Difficult

The Arabic language is difficult – ask anyone who has tried to learn it. The United States government categorizes languages on the degree of difficulty for a native speaker of English to gain practical fluency. Category four is the most difficult; there are four of them. They are Arabic, Chinese, Korean and Japanese.

Al-lawghat al-‘arabiyah

Arabic is a Semitic language, as is Hebrew and Maltese. These languages are derived from the Aramaic language, believed to be the language spoken by Jesus Christ. Arabic is spoken by almost 250 million people and is the (or one) official language of Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Sudan, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.

That said, the local dialects of Arabic can be quite different from place to place, country to country. The Arabic spoken in Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia – the Maghrebi dialect – is heavily influenced by French and Berber. Egyptian dialect is quite distinct, but is widely understood since Cairo is home to the major Arabic film and television studios. Syrians, Palestinians and Lebanese speak the Levantine dialect, which is markedly softer than the guttural sounds of the Gulf Arabic. Unless people from one end of the Arab speaking world converse in Modern Standard Arabic (the written language), they run the risk of being either misunderstood or not understood at all.

Arabic is also the language of Islam. The Islamic holy book, the Quran, is written in Arabic and is believed to be only fully understood in that language. As such, the Quran is usually not translated into other languages – explanations in other languages are common, but the text is always rendered in Arabic. For that reason, classical Arabic is widely understood by many of the world’s almost one billion Muslims.

The Arabic alphabet – another problem

In addition to being a difficult language, the Arabic alphabet creates its own set of problems. The writing system consists of 28 consonants; the three vowels are not normally written. As with Hebrew and the other languages that use the basic Arabic alphabet (Persian, Urdu, Malay, etc.), the script is written from right to left.

The problem is how to properly transliterate the Arabic script. Although there is only one correct spelling in Arabic, converting it to something readable in Latin letters can be confusing. For example, is it Saddam Hussein or Saddam Husayn? Technically, neither can be incorrect since the actual spelling is the Arabic letters Hah Sin Yah Nun. Most media are using the transliteration Hussein, although Husayn is closer to the Arabic script.

The United States intelligence community is required to use a standardized system, especially in the era of computerized databases that require specific letters. That system is the Board on Geographic Names (BGN) transliteration system developed jointly with the government of the United Kingdom.

An example of the consequences of not adhering to the system is the U.S. Army destruction of an Iraq munitions storage depot in the days immediately following the end of the Gulf War in 1991. Operating under orders to destroy all Iraqi military facilities in the area under coalition control, Army officers checked the databases to determine if the Al-Khamisiyah depot was used to store chemical weapons. Unfortunately, the records indicating that artillery shells filled with the nerve agent Sarin were stored at Al-Khamisiyah were filed under a different – and non-BGN – transliteration. When the facility was blown up, American forces were exposed to low levels of the nerve agent.

Arabic language expertise will continue to be a problem. It is not widely taught in the United States, but there is an increasing need. Immediately following the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon, the Federal Bureau of Investigation issued an urgent appeal for American citizens with Arabic language ability.

It will continue to be a major problem in the war on terrorism since the majority of the terrorists speak Arabic.

December 13, 2004

Iraq - Thoughts on the Insurgency

I would like to see the mission in Iraq better defined. The administration has always claimed Operation Iraqi Freedom to be part of the global war on terrorism. I am in the camp that they were two separate things. I had no problem with the invasion of Iraq and the removal of Saddam Husayn (I have a personal interest in that) - he was a menace and a potential threat, not necessarily to the United States proper, but a threat to American interests in the region. I would have like to have waited a bit longer before committing troops, but that option was fast fading as the United Nations would have lifted sanctions on Iraq in the near future. Iraq without sanctions, Saddam with $23 billion in illegal oil revenue from one UN program in addition to what the Iraqis were making elsewhere, dormant but revivable weapons programs - I maintain he was a threat, about to be let out of his box.

As long as we are dependent on fossil fuels and the Middle East is the major producer of this fungible commodity (where we buy our oil day to day is meaningless), anyone with the ability to threaten Saudi Arabia is a threat to American interests. Jimmy Carter, in his 1980 State of the Union address said, "Let our position be absolutely clear: an attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America. And such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force." So, the bottom line is that I am in the camp that believes our interest in Iraq ultimately is oil - the Carter Doctrine. I believe that when Carter said "Persian Gulf region" he really meant Saudi Arabia. In the 1980s when I worked for the DIO for the Middle East, all of the planning was about Saudi Arabia. Imagine our surprise in 1990 when President Bush said we were going to liberate Kuwait....


So what was the mission? Bring democracy to Iraq? We should have stuck with the original plan that had been government policy since 1995 covertly and since 1998 overtly - remove Saddam and turn the country over to someone we could deal with. Was that person a Jeffersonian democrat? Just like those we support in other Arab states - let's just use Saudi Arabia for one, and the 'Amir of Kuwait that we reinstalled in the palace there for another.

Does the insurgency in Iraq have the potential to exacerbate the threat of terrorism? Excellent question, one that I do not have an answer for - and wish I did, because it comes up all the time, and I have to tap dance my way out of it. It certainly has brought more of the terrorists into proximity of US forces. There is a bounty being paid to Syrians, Egyptians, Moroccans, Tunisians, even Chechens to go to Iraq to kill Americans for as little as $50. One could argue that as long as they are going to Iraq, they are not coming here. I would tend to dismiss that argument. I think the people that will mount operations in the United States and the people that will volunteer to go to Iraq are probably from different pools. It has to be a diversion for Al-Qa'idah, but I am unsure as to the extent. I wonder most about the funding. As I always say in my presentations, successful insurgencies - yes, including the ones I tried to mount - require three things: weapons, training and MONEY. Who is funding the insurgency operations in Iraq? If it is Saddam loyalists with access to the unaccounted for Saddam money (including the $23 billion oil for food money) rather than coming from the main Al-Qa'idah coffers, then it will have little to no effect on Al-Qa'idah's ability to mount an attack in the United States. If money from Saudi patrons - and anyone who thinks that source has dried up I think is delusional or actually believes 'Adil Al-Jabir when he moves his lips - is being used in Iraq, then it is diverting resources from the larger Al-Qa'idah.

I would assess the insurgency in Iraq as moderately successful, but only in the Sunni triangle. I believe that for most Sunnis, and I go back to my Iraqi contact there who believes that 90 percent of the people favor - but that does not mean overtly support - the coalition's and interim government's efforts to establish a representative government.

I believe what is happening more often than not in the Sunni triangle is what some call acquiescence of the local population. I agree, but I might define it as the "intimidation" of the local population. The local population is afraid that overt support for the efforts of the coalition or interim government will lead to reprisals against them or their families. This is good reason to be afraid - the security situation in the triangle is tenuous at best. Most of the violence we see now is directed at Iraqis.

The insurgents have learned the hard way that you cannot engage the Americans in a fight. Guerrilla tactics are the only effective way to deal with these forces. The insurgents believe that constant low-level attacks will eventually be effective if they can continue to isolate the coalition from the population and outlast American resolve - I do not mean the resolve of the American military, but of American public opinion. Most Iraqis are not sure we are going to stick this out - they do not want to be holding the bag of we leave. I call them "fence-sitters." They are waiting to see who is going to be the apparent winner before giving their support.

Now, let's contrast the situation in the Sunni area with that in the north and south, where the insurgency has not been effective. In the south, there was the aberration of the Muqtada Al-Sadr uprising, but note that this was effectively ended by Grand Ayatollah 'Ali Al-Sistani's intervention. That intervention via his moral authority ended any support for the insurgency. At one point, we saw local militias engaging Muqtada Al-Sadr's Jaysh Al-Mahdi (Mahdi Army). No local population support, no successful insurgency.


In the north, there is no local support in the Kurdish areas. In fact, the security situation there has been fairly good for over 12 years. The only successful insurgent attacks in the Kurdish area occur in Mosul (Al-Mawsil), which is not really a Kurdish city - it's about half Sunni Arab; Kirkuk, which is made up of Kurds, Turkomen and Sunni Arabs (but the Kurds believe it to be their capital); and at times in Irbil/Arbil. The violence in Irbil is normally directed at the Kurdish autonomous government offices - part of the interim government. These three cities are on the dividing line between Sunni Arab and Kurdish areas and are easy venues to conduct operations. You don't see insurgents operating in Sulaymaniyah, attacking the electrical grid at Darbandikhan, or any other cities up there. I doubt that you will. The Kurds, unlike the Sunni Arabs, overtly support the efforts of the interim government - after all, that interim government has committed to their de facto autonomy. Also, Arabs stick out like sore thumbs up north. If you can't speak Kurdish, you better have a good reason to be there.

Speaking of the Kurds, I would be integrating more of the peshmerga into counterinsurgency operations. They are capable, excellent guerrilla fighters, and can tell good guys from bad guys. Of course, to them, Arabs in general are bad guys....


December 11, 2004

Iraq - January 2005 Elections Update

This is copy of an interview I gave recently:

Q. Iraq’s elections are scheduled to take place on January 30, 2005. Given the level of violence in the country, is that realistic?

A. Security is indeed the major issue at this time. There is no doubt that the security situation has deteriorated since the announcement of the elections, and the current situation appears to limit Sunni participation in the vote. Most of the violence in the country is in the so-called “Sunni Triangle.” Limited Sunni participation will result in overwhelming Shi’a majority (the Shi’a will have a majority in any case by virtue of their numbers) and a substantial Kurdish presence in the new national assembly. An election under these circumstances will probably be regarded as illegitimate, both inside and outside the country.

The reality of a potential limited Sunni voice spurred representatives of as many as 17 political parties, including the two major Kurdish parties, to meet with highly-respected Iraqi statesman 'Adnan Pachachi (Al-Bajah Ji) and sign a petition calling for a six-month postponement of the elections. Interestingly, there were at least three sitting ministers of the interim Iraqi government present, as well as members of interim prime minister Iyad ‘Alawi’s party, the Iraq National Accord.

The Sunnis have reason to be concerned. There are two factors at work here: the boycott of the electoral process demanded by many Sunni clerics, and the deteriorating security situation in the Sunni areas of the country. The concern is that the Sunni population will either comply with the clerics’ demands for a boycott and not exercise their right to vote, or will be unable or unwilling to vote because of the precarious security situation. In either case, they will be handing the Shi’a an overwhelming majority.

To bolster security for the elections, the United States will increase its troop strength in Iraq to 150,000. How the Defense Department is going to do this raises some eyebrows. In addition to extending the rotation date of some troops already in Iraq, the Pentagon will deploy two battalions of the 82nd Airborne Division’s “ready brigade” at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The ready brigade is maintained on standby for immediate deployment anywhere in the world if necessary. Use of this resource indicates two things: the United States believes the security situation requires deployment of emergency forces, and that there are few if any other troops available for deployment to Iraq.

Q. Why doesn’t the Iraqi government want to postpone the elections?
A. Several reasons, not the least of which is legal. The interim Iraqi constitution and the United Nations resolution that approved that document both call for elections to be held no later than January 2005. There is no provision for postponing them beyond that date. Beyond the legal reasons, however, there is a practical reason – the Shi’a majority opposes it. This is a major consideration.

The moral leader of the Iraqi Shi'a, Grand Ayatollah 'Ali Al-Sistani, agreed to the elections, in fact, wanted them earlier than January. He believes – and I think rightly – that that the Shi'a will dominate the resulting government, given their over 60 percent majority of the population. The Shi’a have been aggressively registering voters – including a real effort to register women voters - in anticipation of a vote that validates their majority status and turns it into true political power. The Shi’a have always been the “poor stepchildren” in Iraqi politics. That is about to change.

Additionally, interim prime minister Iyad ‘Alawi is reluctant to postpone the elections, as he believes doing so will provide a victory of sorts to the insurgents. He is joined in that opinion by interim Iraqi president Shaykh Ghazi Al-Yawar and American president George W. Bush. For that reason, the elections will likely be held on schedule regardless of the security situation.

Q. If legally possible, should the elections be postponed?

A. In my opinion, postponing the elections sounds like a prudent course of action. It would give coalition forces more time to battle the insurgents and improve the security situation, and the government will be able to put more trained security forces on the street to insure protection of polling places. If a postponement leads to increased participation in the elections, the resulting government will be more representative and likely more accepted. Perceived legitimacy of the new government will be critical.

Combined with the participation of ‘Adnan Pachachi, the agreement of the Kurdish parties in calling for a postponement is significant. The Kurds, staunch allies of the U.S. administration, represent a bit over 20 percent of the population. They too are wary of Shi'a domination and may be entering a tactical alliance with the Sunni Arabs to create a counterbalance to the Shi’a. In possibly related incidents, two Sunni clerics that support a boycott of the elections have been murdered in the northern city of Mosul (Al-Mawsil). This may signify an increasing divide in the Sunni community. Reality may be setting in - senior Sunnis are beginning to realize that there will be elections, elections which will determine the shape of the new government. Failure to participate in the process means marginalization and virtual abdication to the Shi'a majority.
Q. The Shi’a seem to be the inevitable winners in the elections. What does that mean for the country?

A. It is estimated that as many as 14 million Iraqis will be eligible to vote on January 30. The elections will determine 275 seats in the new Iraqi assembly. These seats are not allocated by geographic region, religious affiliation, political party, etc. Iraqi buy-in for the electoral process, particularly in the Shi’a and Kurdish communities is interesting.

There are 233 political “entities” that have put forth candidates for election. These entities have put forth over 600 candidates for the 275 seats. The Kurds have put forth a unified candidate list, and the Shi’a have a proposed list of candidates from a coalition backed by Ayatollah Al-Sistani, the United Iraqi Alliance. This alliance includes candidates from the Iran-backed Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution, the Islamic Dawa’ (Call) Party, the Iraqi National Congress (the party of Ahmad Chalabi) and followers of cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr.

The ascendance of Shi’a political power is not without concern on the part of the United States. Will the Shi’a strive to form a government akin to the Islamic republic in neighboring Iraq? Although Ayatollah Al-Sistani has stated he does not favor the establishment of such a religious based government, there will definitely be a Muslim character.

Q. Will the level of violence decrease after the elections?

A. The level of violence will decrease when the insurgency is defeated. It will be defeated when the majority of the Iraqi people begin to participate in their own security. Right now, they are not sure if the interim government, or the government to be elected in January, is going to survive. Once they are convinced of that – and successful elections will help, they will stop tolerating the insurgents in their midst.

Until then, the level of violence will likely remain the same.


November 26, 2004

Iraq: January Elections - Or Not?

Representatives of as many as 17 political parties, including the two major Kurdish parties, met today at the home a highly-respected Iraqi statesman 'Adnan Pachachi (Al-Bajah Ji), and signed a petition calling for a six-month postponement of the national elections scheduled for January 30, 2005. In addition, at least three ministers of the interim Iraqi government were present.

The participants were the Sunnis, concerned that if elections take place in January, they will not be adequately represented in the resultant government. There are two factors at work here: the boycott demanded by many Sunni clerics, and the deteriorating security situation in the Sunni areas of the country. The concern is that the Sunnis will either comply with the demands for a boycott, or will be unable or unwilling to vote because of inadequate security.

On the surface, postponing the elections sounds like a prudent course of action. It gives coalition forces more time to battle the insurgents and improve the security situation, and the government will be able to put more trained security forces on the street to insure protection of polling places. If a postponement leads to increased participation in the elections, the resulting government will be more representative and likely more accepted. Perceived legitimacy of the new government will be critical.

That said, there will almost certainly be objections to a postponement - objections from the Shi'a majority. The Shi'a are aggressively registering voters in anticipation of a vote that validates their majority status. The moral leader of the Iraqi Shi'a, Grand Ayatollah 'Ali Al-Sistani, agreed to the elections, in fact, wanted them earlier than January. He believes that the Shi'a will dominate the resulting government, given their over 60 percent majority of the population.

In possibly related incidents, two Sunni clerics that support a boycott of the elections have been murdered in Mosul (Al-Mawsil). This may signify a divide in the Sunni community. Reality may be setting in - senior Sunnis are beginning to realize that there will be elections. The elections will determine the shape of the new government. Failure to participate in the process means marginalization and virtual abdication to the Shi'a majority.

Combined with the participation of Pachachi, the agreement of the Kurdish parties in calling for a postponement is significant. The Kurds, staunch allies of the U.S. administration, represent a bit over 20 percent of the population. They too are wary of Shi'a domination and may be entering a tacit alliance with the Sunni Arabs to create a counterbalance. The petition for postponement will certainly have to be considered by the Iraqi Elections Commission.


November 24, 2004

Iraq: After Al-Fallujah, Before the Elections….


The U.S.-Iraqi operation (Operation Fajr) in Al-Fallujah has eliminated one – arguably the major – insurgent stronghold, but there are other trouble spots that must be pacified prior to the run-up to elections scheduled for January 30, 2005. The operation in Al-Fallujah comes on the heels of the October operation to clear insurgents from Samarra’, another trouble spot in the Sunni Triangle. Immediately after the major fighting in the city subsided, American and Iraqi forces had to be dispatched to the northern city of Al-Mawsil (Mosul) to retake a number of police stations that had fallen to insurgents.

In late November, American, British and Iraqi forces began operations (Operation Plymouth Rock) in several cities in what has been named the “Triangle of Death,” the area southwest of Baghdad that borders on the Shi’a-dominated southern section of the country. Other trouble spots exist, most located in the Sunni Triangle. The two most likely venues for future coalition operations are in the two cities of Ar-Ramadi and Ba’qubah.

The immediate concern is the security situation as the country prepares for the upcoming elections. An even more immediate concern is the process by which the Iraqi electorate is defined. Once the locations of the voter registration polls are announced, they will likely become targets for insurgent attacks, just as police stations and other government offices have been. For that reason, the security situation must be dealt with now to allow voters to register.

The major issue is the availability of sufficient numbers of troops to provide that security. For each area that is secured, troops must remain there to prevent the resurgence of violence. Almost immediately after American forces seized the city of Al-Fallujah, insurgents began attempts to re-enter the city. Following each operation, fewer troops are available for future operations. While training Iraqi forces has been suggested as the answer, these forces will not be trained in time. The burden for security will fall primarily on the shoulders of the already stretched American units in the country.

After the elections, the new Iraqi leadership will have to determine how the country will be constituted. Given the long-standing and intense animosities that exist between the three major factions in the country – the Sunni Arabs, the Shi’a Arabs and the Kurds – the best solution might be a confederation of the three regions with a strong central government. That central government will be essential to maintaining the integrity of the country.

October 30, 2004

Usamah Bin Ladin - Alive and Well


A new Usamah Bin Ladin tape hit the media on October 29. The speaker on the tape is without doubt Bin Ladin, although he appears in normal clothing (as opposed to military garb) and without weapons. He appears to be in good health - whatever ailments may have plagued him, such as the weak left side noted in a tape of almost three years ago, no longer are evident. His voice was clear and calm.

In his remarks, Bin Ladin attempted to rationalize the September 11, 2001 attacks as retaliation for the US-supported Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982. This is an attempt to include the larger Arab world, the Arab-Israeli issue, as well as the Muslim world as part of the Al-Qa'idah struggle against the United States. Further, he stated that the conditions in the United States that resulted in the 9/11 attacks of had not changed. Unless these conditions change, he vows to continue to mount 9/11-type operations.

He complains about both Presidents Bush, saying they both supported corrupt regimes in the region, learning from these kings and generals how to oppress their populations, even to the point of creating legislation to do so, specifically citing the Patriot Act. He further belittled President Bush's reaction to the attacks on the World Trade Center, stating that the commander in chief of US forces preferred to listen to children read stories about animals while 50,000 Americans in the towers were at risk.

In the end, he claims that neither Kerry, Bush nor Al-Qa'idah can protect American security; only the American people can do that. As long as the current policies continue, America will be subject to more 9/11-type attacks.

He's still there....

October 28, 2004

Al-Qa'qa' Explosives - Some Perspectives


Over the past few days, there has been almost non-stop reporting on the "missing" 377 tons of RDX and HMX from the Al-Qa'qa' facility south of Baghdad. It has been the topic of attacks and counterattacks for the two presidential candidates. Some perspective on the facts might be in order.

First of all, what are RDX and HMX?

RDX (Rapid Detonation Explosive) and HMX (High Melting Explosive) are military "high-speed" high explosive materials. The term "high-speed" refers to the extremely short time between ignition and full combustion of the material - the shorter the time, the more powerful the blast.

RDX has been around since the late 19th century. It was used in World War II, and today is probably the most common component of blast weapons. I have some personal experience with RDX - a improvised explosive device (IED) composed of about 175 pounds of RDX was detonated 90 meters from a house I was using in northern Iraq. Thanks to the fact that I happened to be in the only sandbagged room in the house, I am writing this.

More on RDX:


  • also called hexogen
  • white crystalline solid
  • powerful high-speed military high explosive
  • forms the base for a number of common military explosives, including plastic
  • very stable in storage/transport
  • only detonates with a detonator, unaffected by small arms fire
  • used with TNT in Iraqi-produced landmines (good for IEDs)
  • used by the Iraqis in artillery shell, mine and Scud warhead production
HMX, also known as octogen, is a further development of RDX. The molecular weight is heavier, making it even more high-speed than RDX - it is the most powerful non-nuclear explosive material yet developed. Because of its power, it has applications in nuclear weapons design. HMX can be used to initiate a nuclear blast. It is also used in the manufacture of solid rocket fuel. For these reasons, the 214 tons of HMX were of greater interest to the IAEA.

As best I can piece the limited information together, here is what happened:

January 2003: International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) gathers 377 tons of Iraqi RDX and HMX at the Al-Qa'qa' facility. At that time, 32 tons of known stocks of HMX were still unaccounted for; Iraq claimed the HMX had been used for industrial purposes. The HMX was placed under seal; the RDX was not.

March 2003: Prior to their departure, IAEA inspectors noted that there was RDX present at Al-Qa'qa', but that they did not note the presence of the HMX. It is unclear if or why they did not search for the HMX.

April 4, 2003: A battalion of the 3rd Infantry Division moved in to the area to secure a bridge over the Euphrates River. The Al-Qa'qa' facility was defended by Fida'in Saddam, Special Republican Guard and Iraqi Army units. After engaging the defenders, the battalion secured the bridge and made a quick search of the area for immediate chemical weapons threats.

April 6, 2003: The battalion departed the area, rejoining the main body of the 3rd Division for the push to Baghdad.

April 10, 2004: A brigade of the 101st Airborne Division overnighted in the area on their way to Baghdad. Again, the unit made a quick search of the area for immediate chemical weapons threats, did note the presence of conventional munitions, as they had encountered all the way north from Kuwait. The brigade departed the next morning.

April 18, 2004: A news crew embedded with the 101st accompanies some soldiers into a bunker . The soldiers broke an IAEA seal, indicating that on that date, at least some of the HMX was there.

May 8, 11 and 27, 2003: The 75th Exploitation Task Force (the unit charges with locating WMD) inspected the Al-Qa'qa' facility. No materials (HMX) under IAEA seal were found, and the facility appeared to be vandalized.

Where is the RDX and HMX?

There is no definitive answer, despite claims and counter-claims. After the battalion of the 3rd Infantry Division moved into the area on April 4, 2003, all roads in the area were under the control (or surveillance) of coalition forces. The undetected, unauthorized movement of 377 tons of material, requiring approximately 40 heavy transport vehicles, on roads literally choked with Army and Marine vehicles, would be virtually impossible.

Although theft by Iraqi insurgents has been listed as a possibility, RDX and HMX are raw materials used to construct weapons. Insurgents would first likely take existing weapons, such as mortar rounds, artillery shells, RPG's, mines - all of which were plentiful all over the country, including at Al-Qa'qa'.

Recently released DOD satellite imagery shows some truck activity at the facility prior to the coalition invasion of the country. Footage obtained by a news crew embedded with the 101st Airborne Division shows at least one IAEA seal on a bunker door when elements of the division passed through the facility in April. However, the IAEA admits that there were other entrances to the bunkers that would allow the material to be removed without breaking the seals. Also, any decent intelligence service, including Iraq's Mukhabarat (Intelligence Service) and Directorate of Military Intelligence, can replicate IAEA seals.

In perspective, the 377 tons of high explosives represent less than 1/10th of one percent of the 400,000 tons of munitions coalition forces have destroyed or have gathered to be destroyed. The real issue is not 377 tons of explosives - it's the thousands of insurgents.

October 24, 2004

Secret Agreements - The Legacy of the Middle East, Part Three


The Balfour Declaration

The British entered into a series of three secret – and conflicting – agreements concerning the eventual disposition of the Ottoman Empire during the fighting of World War I, assuming that they would be victorious over the Turks. The first of these agreements was between Great Britain and Sharif Husayn bin ‘Ali of Mecca, leader of the Hashimites, then the rulers of the Hijaz. The second, the Sykes-Picot Agreement, was made between Great Britain and France (and for a short time Russia). The Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916 committed Great Britain to share administration of the soon-to-be former Ottoman territories with the French.

By 1917, the British began to rethink their obligation to jointly administer the region with the French. As a method of gaining French acquiescence, the British sought French approval of the nascent Zionist movement, hoping that French support for a Jewish homeland would replace its designs to share power in the area with the British. The French responded in June 1917 to the British overtures by stating its support for the “renaissance of the Jewish nationality in that land from which the people of Israel were exiled so many years ago.”

After securing French support for the Zionist cause, the British sought further support from other countries with sizeable Jewish and Zionist populations, particularly the United States and Russia. This support was detailed in what is now known as the Balfour Declaration.

The Balfour Declaration

There was an exchange of drafts for the British declaration between the Anglo-Jewish community, under the leadership of Lord Rothschild, and the British government, represented by Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour. The differences between the first Zionist draft and the final declaration are subtle but significant.

First Zionist proposal:

1. His Majesty's Government accepts the principle that Palestine should be reconstituted as the national home of the Jewish people.

2. His Majesty's Government will use its best endeavors to secure the achievement of this object and will discuss the necessary methods and means with the Zionist Organization.

The final text, in a letter from Secretary Balfour to Lord Rothschild:

November 2nd, 1917

Dear Lord Rothschild,

I have much pleasure in conveying to you, on behalf of His Majesty's Government, the following declaration of sympathy with Jewish Zionist aspirations which has been submitted to, and approved by, the Cabinet.

"His Majesty's Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country."

I should be grateful if you would bring this declaration to the knowledge of the Zionist Federation.

Yours sincerely,
Arthur James Balfour

The Reaction

To this day, Arabs cite the Balfour Declaration with contempt. At the time, the British press widely publicized the declaration and American President Woodrow Wilson’s statements in support of it. However, news of the declaration was censored in those newly liberated parts of Palestine under the control of British forces led by General Sir Edmund Allenby.

Following the end of the war, the British were now faced with living up to their agreements with the Hashimite Arabs, the Saudi Arabs, the French, and the Jewish groups. Needless to say, they could not honor all of them. The resulting partitions of the former Ottoman territories into Palestine (what is now Israel and the areas under the Palestinian Authority), Jordan, Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar and parts of Saudi Arabia, Syria and Lebanon created the political instability that remains today.


October 23, 2004

Secret Agreements - The Legacy of the Middle East, Part Two


The Sykes-Picot Agreement

The British entered into a series of three secret – and conflicting – agreements concerning the eventual disposition of the Ottoman Empire during the fighting of World War I, assuming that they would be victorious over the Turks. The first of these agreements was between Great Britain and Sharif Husayn bin ‘Ali of Mecca, leader of the Hashimites -- then the rulers of the Hijaz. The second was made between Great Britain and France (and for a short time Russia).

The Sykes-Picot Agreement

Sir Mark Sykes of Britain and Georges Picot of France negotiated this second agreement. They met several times in late 1915 and early 1916; both parties and Russia (then under the Czar) signed the resulting document on May 9, 1916. The agreement led to the division of Ottoman territories outside Turkey proper, including the areas that are now Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, Kuwait, and portions of Saudi Arabia. The area was divided into “sphere of influence” between Britain and France, with Russia gaining guaranteed access to the Mediterranean Sea from its ports on the Black Sea via the Turkish Straits.

There can be little doubt that Sykes knew that he was negotiating points in contradiction of existing British foreign policy. At this time, Sykes was serving as the Under-Secretary of the War Cabinet, a position that certainly would have allowed him access to the Husayn-McMahon Correspondence of 1915. The provisions were in direct conflict with pledges already given by the British to Sharif Husayn.

The major provisions of Sykes-Picot Agreement were:

  • Russia should acquire the Armenian provinces of Erzurum, Trebizond (Trabzon), Van, and Bitlis, with some Kurdish territory to the southeast;
  • France should acquire Lebanon and the Syrian littoral, Adana, Cilicia, and the hinterland adjacent to Russia's share, that hinterland including Aintab, Urfa, Mardin, Diyarbakir, and Mosul;
  • Great Britain should acquire southern Mesopotamia, including Baghdad, and also the Mediterranean ports of Haifa and Akka (Acre);
  • Between the French and the British acquisitions there should be a confederation of Arab states or a single independent Arab state, divided into French and British spheres of influence;
  • Alexandretta (Iskenderun) should be a free port; and
  • Palestine, because of the holy places, should be under an international regime.
Following the successful overthrow of the Czar in 1917, the Russians withdrew from the Sykes-Picot Agreement. The Arabs, including Sharif Husayn and his sons ‘Abdullah and Faysal – the two leader who preceded British troops into Damascus and Aleppo – learned of the Sykes-Picot Agreement after the Russians publicized it to embarrass the Western governments, were justifiably angered.

Although the provisions were somewhat modified by the San Remo Conference of 1920-1922, the Arabs never fully received what they were promised. Many observers attribute much of the political instability in the Middle East today to the series of conflicting promises made by the British and resultant compromises.

October 22, 2004

Secret Agreements - The Legacy of the Middle East, Part One


The Husayn - McMahon Correspondence

While World War I raged in Europe, British forces fought the Turks in the Middle East. At this time, the Ottoman Empire extended all the way south to encompass the Hijaz – including the Muslim holy cities of Mecca (Al-Makkah Al-Mukaramah) and Medina (Al-Madinah Al-Munawirah) – and what what is now Israel (including Jerusalem), Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Kuwait and parts of Saudi Arabia.

The British entered into a series of three secret – and conflicting – agreements concerning the eventual disposition of the Ottoman Empire, assuming that they would be victorious over the Turks. The first of these agreements was between Great Britain and Sharif Husayn bin ‘Ali of Mecca, leader of the Hashemites, then the rulers of the Hijaz. The second was made between Great Britain and France (and for a short time Russia), and the third was between Great Britain and a group of influential Jewish nationalists.


British forces, with commonwealth troops from Australia and New Zealand, were making only marginal progress against the Ottomans. The bulk of British military power was concentrated on the Germans in Europe. They sought help from the local Arab population who had suffered under harsh Turkish rule for over four hundred years. In return for this help, the British promised the Arabs their independence once the Turks had been defeated and the war ended.

The Husayn – McMahon Correspondence

A series of ten letters between British High Commissioner in Egypt Sir Henry McMahon and Sharif Husayn seem to spell out an agreement between the two parties. Two of these letters are regarded as significant. Key portions are excerpted here.


Sharif Husayn to Sir Henry McMahon, July 14, 1915:

The Arab nation is asking the Government of Great Britain to acknowledge the independence of the Arab countries, bounded on the north by Mersina and Adana up to the 37th degree of latitude, to the border of Persia; on the east by the borders of Persia up to the Gulf of Basra; on the south by the Indian Ocean, with the exception of the position of Aden to remain as it is; on the west by the Red Sea, the Mediterranean Sea up to Mersina. Both parties will offer mutual assistance to face any foreign Power which may attack either party.

From Sir Henry McMahon to Sharif Husayn, October 24, 1915:

The Government of Great Britain statement:

The two districts of Mersina and Alexandretta and portions of Syria lying to the west of the districts of Damascus, Homs, Hama and Aleppo cannot be said to be purely Arab, and should be excluded from the limits demanded. With the above modification, and without prejudice of our existing treaties with Arab chiefs, we accept those limits.

As for those regions lying within those frontiers wherein Great Britain is free to act without detriment to the interest of her ally, France, I am empowered in the name of the Government of Great Britain to give the following assurances and make the following reply to your letter: Subject to the above modifications, Great Britain is prepared to recognize and support the independence of the Arabs in all the regions within the limits demanded by the Sherif of Mecca.

Great Britain will guarantee the Holy Places against all external aggression and will recognise their inviolability. When the situation admits, Great Britain will give to the Arabs her advice and will assist them to establish what may appear to be the most suitable forms of government in those various territories.

On the other hand, it is understood that the Arabs have decided to seek the advice and guidance of Great Britain only, and that such European advisers and officials as may be required for the formation of a sound form of administration will be British.

With regard to the vilayets of Bagdad and Basra, the Arabs will recognize that the established position and interests of Great Britain necessitate special administrative arrangements in order to secure these territories from foreign aggression, to promote the welfare of the local populations and to safeguard our mutual economic interests.


The Husayn – McMahon Correspondence laid the groundwork for one of the most famous special military operations of all time and the creation of a legend – Lawrence of Arabia. Lawrence, an accomplished archeologist and Arabist with years of experience in the region, was serving as an army officer on staff in Cairo. He was dispatched to work with and lead the Arab revolutionary armies under Husayn’s sons ‘Abdullah and Faysal. It was these Arab armies that preceded British forces into Damascus and Aleppo.

The Reality

The British also entered into other secret agreements, both of which conflicted with the terms agreed to in the Husayn-McMahon correspondence. Later, Britain would try to extricate herself from the commitments made to Sharif Husayn, claiming that these letters merely represented on-going negotiations and not a final agreement.

In the end, the Saudis under ‘Abd Al-’Aziz, who was also supported by the British, forced the Sharif from Mecca. The Sharif’s sons were put on thrones in kingdoms created by the British almost as consolation prizes. ‘Abdullah became King of Transjordan (now Jordan) and Faysal became King of Iraq. The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan survives to this day; the Kingdom of Iraq was overthrown in 1958.


October 1, 2004

Offensive in Samarra' - A Better Plan?

On October 1, American forces (elements of the 1st Infantry Division) and at least three battalions of Iraqi forces (army and national guard) began operations in Samarra' today, and it appears that operations in Ramadi and Fallujah may be starting as well.

Samarra' is in the Sunni triangle and a center of insurgent activity, but is a holy city for Shi'a Islam. The Golden Mosque is also known as the Imam 'Ali al-Hadi and Imam Hasan Al-'Askari mosque. They are the 10th and 11th imams of Shi'a Islam and two of the "14 Infallibles."

Samarra' is also the birthplace of the twelfth imam, Imam Muhammad Al-Mahdi (and son of Hasan Al-'Askari). His shrine, not his tomb, is adjacent to the Golden Mosque. It is not his tomb, because in Twelver Shi'a, so named for the 12th imam, it is believed that he is still alive but in hiding and will return prior to the day of judgement to establish justice on earth. Twelver Shi'a are dominant in Iraq, Iran, and Lebanon - it is the main sect of Shi'a Islam.

Samarra' is also the site of a historic Sunni mosque with the famed spiral minaret - the "Malwiya" - (165 feet high), dating from the 9th century.

When the troops went into the city, this time they appeared to have done it smartly. Iraqi troops immediately seized and secured the Golden Mosque, averting any claims that the "infidels" were desecrating a holy site.

The Iraqis and US have to clear out the five major insurgent strongholds: Fallujah, Samarra', Ramadi, Sadr City and Haifa Street (Baghdad). They have to do this not only before the elections scheduled for January, but in time for the Iraqis to open voter registration sites. These are sure to be targets for the insurgents.

September 27, 2004

Israeli Assassination of Hamas Leader in Syria

The Israeli killing of 'Iz Al-Din Subhi Shaykh Khalil in Damascus is noteworthy and is not getting the attention in the media I would have given it. Israel has in the past only very infrequently conducted anti-Palestinian operations inside Syria's borders.

In October 2003, the Israelis conducted an airstrike against a Palestinian camp northwest of Damascus, called 'Ayn Sahab. When I was stationed at the American embassy in Syria, 'Ayn Sahab was thought to be a Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC, led by Ahmad Jibril) facility. We were told to avoid it as they had detained the Defense attache a few years earlier. After about twelve tense hours, the Syrians ordered his release.

The Israelis claimed that the camp was used by the PIJ, Palestinian Islamic Jihad. That attack was in response to a female suicide bomber operation at a restaurant in Haifa. Over the years, we have seen aggressive anti-Palestinian operations (assassinations) in the Occupied Territories, Lebanon and even in Jordan, but Syria has generally been off limits. Following the double suicide bombings in Beersheba a few weeks ago claimed by Hamas, the Israelis said they might retaliate against Syria for allowing Hamas to maintain offices in Damascus. This caused many of the Hamas leaders resident in Damascus to take trips to other countries, fearing another airstrike. The Israelis bobby-trapped Khalil's car outside his residence in the Musakin Al-Zahra' section of Damascus. I used to drive through this area all the time - it is on the way to the airport, and immediately adjacent to the sprawling Al-Yarmuk Palestinian refugee camp - "camp" is merely a word here - it is really now a built-up city. The ability of the Israelis to mount an operation in this rather up-scale Palestinian leadership enclave is impressive. Not only did they have the intelligence - although Khalil was not exactly hiding where he lived, they were able to either move people in or recruit someone in country to rig the car.

Not bad. That said, what will the Syrians do? Probably nothing - they would like the Palestinian issue to go away. What they really want is the Golan Heights back and the ability to influence events in Lebanon. What will Hamas do? More violence. They have threatened to retaliate against Israeli targets anywhere in the world, but they really have limited capabilities outside the territories and possibly inside Israel.

September 4, 2004

Afghanistan - Define the U.S. National Interest

As we approach the election in Afghanistan, it is instructive to remember some history. Afghanistan is a tribal society traditionally ruled by local warlords, each with his own militia. The British attempted to expand their empire into this region in the 19th century - they never really were able to subdue the Afghans. The edge of the empire never really extended past the Khyber Pass on the present border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The Soviets attempted to quell the country between 1979 and 1989. Although they were able to impose a government, politics of the Cold War prevailed and American support for the mujahidin led to the withdrawal of Soviet forces from the country. Once again the country returned to its traditional tribal/warloard structure.

The Taliban takeover of the country was an anomaly. Created by the Pakistani Interservice Intelligence Directorate (ISID) from Afghan refugees in Pakistan initially to protect Pakistani commercial convoys through Afghanistan, they became popular in Afghanistan as a counterbalance to the perceived corruption of the warlords. Eventually, the Taliban grew and were able to seize power. The Taliban's support of Usamah bin Ladin and his Al-Qa'idah organization - originally a group of Arabs who had fought alongside the Afghan mujahidin against the Soviets (sometimes referred to as the "Afghan Arabs") - eventually led to its demise. Afghanistan had become the main training and staging area for Al-Qa'idah operations, including the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

Faced with American demands to hand over Usamah bin Ladin, the Taliban refused. The subsequent American and Northern Alliance (a group of anti-Taliban Afghans - many say merely displaced warlord militias) removed the Taliban and destroyed much of Al-Qa'idah's leadership in the country

My position on Afghanistan: Go in (done), remove the Taliban from power (done), destroy Al-Qa'idah (in progress), warn whoever picked up the pieces that we won't tolerate resurgence of Al-Qa'idah, and get out.

Anyone who reads the British experience in the 19th century and the Soviet experience in the 1980s should conclude, as I have, that it is truly the no-win capital of the world. I mean, anyplace whose national sport is fighting over a calf or goat carcass. Here is a passage on buzkashi:

Traditionally, a calf is beheaded, the legs are cut off at the knee and its entrails are removed. The carcass of the calf is then soaked in cold water for 24 hours before the game so that it may be tough enough to withstand the tugging that takes place. When there is no calf available, a goat is used instead. Winners are awarded prizes of turbans, cash or rifles. According to unwritten rules of the game, nobody can tie the carcass to his saddle or hit his opponent on the hand to snatch the calf. Likewise, tripping an opponent by using the rope is forbidden. Buzkashi continues until a team is announced the winner.

Back to the point:

If there is no Al-Qa'idah in Afghanistan - even if there is the Taliban but no Al-Qa'idah - please define the U.S. national interest in involvement there. I can't.

August 20, 2004

It's not "a" mosque – it's "the" mosque

Imam 'Ali Mosque
Imam 'Ali Mosque, An-Najaf, Iraq

The Imam ‘Ali mosque in An-Najaf, Iraq, is the holiest site in Shi’a Islam. It is named for the man whose tomb it houses – ‘Ali bin Abu Talib.

Why is ‘Ali significant?

‘Ali gained prominence following the death of the Prophet Muhammad, who left no male heirs, throwing the adherents to the new faith into disarray. Who would follow Muhammad as the leader of the faithful? The Arabic word for “one who follows or succeeds,” - khalifah (Caliph) - was adopted as the title.

Many believed that the successor to Muhammad should be a family member, someone in the bloodline of the Prophet. The people who favored the selection of ‘Ali as the caliph were called the Shi’at ‘Ali, the “partisans of ‘Ali,” and hence the name Shi’a.

The other school of thought, held by many prominent Muslims of the day, was that the caliph should be drawn from one of the senior and learned members of the faith, the ummah or “community.” These were the Sunnis, the traditionalists. The Sunni position prevailed and the first three caliphs were not of Muhammad’s bloodline.

The Shi’a declared ‘Ali as their first imam, in what would become known as the Twelver* school of Shi’a Islam. It was not until the deaths of the first three Sunni caliphs that ‘Ali was named to be the fourth caliph in 656. However, hopes for reconciliation between the Sunni and Shi’a were short-lived.

A power struggle for the caliphate ensued between ‘Ali, who had set up his office in Kufah (near An-Najaf, Iraq) and the Damascus-based ‘Umayyad dynasty. Although there was some fighting between supporters of the two factions, ‘Ali was assassinated in Kufah in 661. The shrine in An-Najaf was constructed to house his tomb.

The Shi’a named ‘Ali’s son Hasan to be next caliph (or the second imam), however, Hasan chose to abdicate his position in favor of the ‘Umayyads, the very people responsible for his father’s murder.

Hasan’s brother Husayn assumed the Shi’a imamate, becoming the third imam. This action sparked a civil war that created the major divide in Islamic history. In 680, Husayn was killed in battle against superior ‘Umayyad forces in Karbala’, Iraq on the tenth day of the month of Muharram. This day is commemorated by all Shi’a as ‘Ashura (literally, “the tenth”) as a day of mourning and perfidy on the part of the Sunnis. Husayn’s body is buried in the shrine at Karbala’, also a holy site for the Shi’a.

It’s not "a mosque" – it’s "the mosque."

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* These Shi’a believe that there were 12 imams. The Twelfth Imam is also known as the "hidden imam" who did not die, but entered a period of occultation. The imam, also called the mahdi, will return at the end of time.

August 18, 2004

Sudan/Darfur: Clearing Up Some Misconceptions

The situation in the Darfur region of Sudan has attracted worldwide attention. Due to misreporting or under-reporting, most people have been left with the impression that the crisis in the Darfur is a case of Arab Muslims versus black Christians and animists. While there is a north-south civil war, it is primarily between Arab Muslims backed by the Khartoum government (under Lieutenant General 'Umar Hasan Ahmad Al-Bashir, who came to power in a coup in 1989) versus black Christians and animists, that civil war is a separate issue from the crisis in Darfur.

Darfur, literally two Arabic words, dar and fur meaning "home/house of the Fur," comprises three provinces in western Sudan - Shamal (North) Darfur, Gharb (West) Darfur, and Janub (South) Darfur. The inhabitants of the area are predominantly Muslims who are of black African ethnicity rather than Arab. The major groups are the Fur, the Zaghawah and the Masalit. There are also some Arab tribes in the area, the Bani Halbah and Al-Mahiriyah, with internal conflicts as well.

The primary Arab tribal group in the Darfur is the Baqqarah, derived from the Arabic word for cattle. The Baqqarah are nomadic herdsmen constantly seeking new pastured for their cattle. This search has placed them at odds with the agrarian Fur, Zaghawah and Masalit. The economic struggle between the two escalated into armed conflict, resulting in the creation of the Janjawid militia on the Arab/Baqqarah side, and two groups on the non-Arab side, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and the Sudan Liberation Army/Movement (SLA/M). The fact that the two groups have taken up arms to back up there demands for equal treatment from the Arab government in Khartoum has allowed the Bashir government to label them as rebels and use the Sudanese army and air force to support Janjawid attacks. The Janjawid have primarily focused their attacks on the civilian populations of the Fur, Zaghawah and Masalit rather than on the armed groups.

The attacks on civilians have resulted in a massive refugee problem, with almost one million seeking assistance in neighboring countries and creating a humanitarian crisis.
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For more information, see the Human Rights Watch report on Darfur at http://hrw.org/reports/2004/sudan0504/.

August 15, 2004

An-Najaf: Another Lost Opportunity in the Making?


An Najaf, Iraq

The current fighting between the forces loyal to Iraqi Shi'a presumptive cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr and the United States (which includes some nominal Iraqi participation) offers real opportunity to right much of the wrong-headed policy of the past. If current thinking of how to handle the situation in An-Najaf - and the Shi'a areas of Iraq that have seen sympathetic uprisings (Al-Kut, Al-'Amarah, Al-Basrah, Diwaniyah, An-Nasiriyah and Baghdad/Al-Sadr City) - anyway resembles the "solution" a few months ago in Al-Fallujah, the overall situation in Iraq will continue on its downward spiral to civil war.


Muqtada Al-Sadr, first, has very tenuous credentials as a cleric. The clerical levels in Shi'a Islam are hojjat-al-islam, then ayatollah, and then grand ayatollah (there are only five grand ayatollahs; Al-Saystani [Al-Sistani] is one of them). Also, there is the term Al-Sayyid, which Muqtada claims, with some legitimacy. The term refers to a direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad, and entitles them to wear the black turban. That said, he has a following. That following is comprises his Mahdi Army, which I liken to a gang of thugs, but also to genuine religious followers that revere the family name.

The campaign to either destroy or discredit Al-Sadr goes back months. The initial confrontation occurred in Sadr City (renamed for his father; it was formerly Saddam City) when US forces attempted to serve an arrest warrant on Al-Sadr. That led to a stand-off in Baghdad, then later in Kufah, and then to An-Najaf. As in Al-Fallujah, the US engaged in a confrontation-negotiation-confrontation-stalemate sequence. It appears we are entering that same thing again in An-Najaf.

It won't work. Despite the uprisings in other cities, Al-Sadr has to be dealt with; actually, he has to be eliminated as both a political and military force. Anything else hands yet another perceived victory to the insurgents.

August 9, 2004

Pakistan and Musharraf: America's Ironic Allies






General Pervez Musharraf must lead a charmed life. He has survived at least five attempts on his life in the last two years. The last attempts were quite sophisticated; I believe they are not the work of some mere gang from Karachi. More likely, they are from Al-Qa'idah itself, the Taliban, or some heretofore undiscovered rogue element inside the Interservices Intelligence Directorate (ISID), the Pakistani intelligence service. Note that the ISID is not a civilian organization, but military. The ISID created the Taliban, were the funnel for all US aid to the Afghan Mujahidin, and had a pretty close relationship with Al-Qa'idah in the 1980s and 1990s.

The level of training required to mount the last attempt on Musharraf was far above that of self-learners; it smacked of state-level training. As I recall, there were multiple explosive devices timed to detonate sequentially across a bridge span. The only people with that ability are people trained by the ISID or the ISID itself. Note also that the CIA trained only Afghan mujahidin. The Arabs who came to fight in Afghanistan, what we called the "Afghan Arabs," were either trained by the ISID or by the cadre of CIA-trained mujahidin.

Why would anyone in (or formerly in) the ISID be involved in a assassination plot against Musharraf? Remember, up until September 11, Pakistan was not particularly friendly to the United States. Our facilities there had been attacked and American diplomats had been killed. Ever since the imposition of sanctions under the Pressler Amendment (required a nation to be certified as nuclear weapons free to buy US equipment) on Pakistan because of their nuclear weapons program and failure to deliver their paid-for F-16s in 1988-1989, relations had been strained. The F-16 issue really angered the Pakistanis, because for all the concern over the Pakistani ballistic missile program, the F-16 was the initial delivery system for nuclear weapons, and remains part of the strategic nuclear force along with the missile systems.

Many ISID and military officers resent Musharraf's friendliness to the West. Many of these officers are devout Muslims. Fundamentalist Islam is strong here. Pakistan is home to some of the most virulent madrasa's in the world, preaching hatred and intolerance. Graduates can be found in the Pakistan Army and its ISID. I met the then-head of the ISID in 1989. Not someone I would want interrogating me, but to the point, he did not appreciate Western secularism at all. Remember, despite cooperation with the United States in the war against Al-Qa'idah, Pakistan is officially the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

I am not sure what the catalyst for change was, but after September 11, Pervez Musharraf decided to overtly support the United States in Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF). There was some contact prior to that, but of a much lower level and very low-profile. One analyst told me that Musharraf is supporting us against Al-Qa'idah and the Taliban because they tried to kill him. I think it is the other way around - the sophisticated assassination attempts were mounted post OEF. I am only speculating here, but I would bet you even money, maybe even give you some odds, that Pervez has made some arrangement for resettlement in the United States or Great Britain should he be deposed. For my part, I have no problem with it.

Pakistan has gone after Al-Qa'idah (and the remnants of the Taliban) with a vengeance.* While initially, Musharraf only allowed the United States use of its airspace and some low-key basing, eventually the Pakistanis mounted some serious military operations in the Waziristan tribal area along the Afghan border. In deference to the analysts I mentioned earlier, this in fact did come after some assassinations attempts on Musharraf. In retaliation, Al-Qa'idah operatives in June 2004, tried to kill a Pakistan Army corps commander responsible for the Waziristan operation. The investigation into the attack has led to the biggest intelligence gains against Al-Qa'idah to date. One arrest lead to another, including a nephew of September 11 mastermind Khalid Shaykh Muhammad. That led to the arrest of who I consider the biggest catch - computer expert Muhammad Na'im Nur Khan. Khan himself was a find, after all, he functioned as the "communications center" for senior Al-Qa'idah leadership. More important than the man, however, were the computers and data discs detailing Al-Qa'idah planning. As a result of this treasure trove of intelligence, operatives were arrested in Great Britain and Dubai, and terror threat alerts were issued in the United States.

This is surprising when one considers the makeup of Pakistan. Like countries in other areas, what is now Pakistan was created by the British out of the Punjab, Kashmir and Baluchistan (we will forego the West Pakistan and East Pakistan/Bangladesh split). English is the unifying language; it and Urdu (Urdu is spoken by less than 10 percent of the population) are the official languages. As an aside - since the casing notes found on Khan's computer were in non-native English, I believe the reconnaissance was likely done by Pakistanis.

Ironically, Pakistan may be the best ally we have in the fight against Al-Qa'idah. That future of that alliance is likely directly dependent on the survival of Pervez Musharraf.


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* The only divergence from this policy of going after the terrorists is Pakistani support for Azad Kashmir, guerrilla operations (some call it terrorism) by the Taliban and Al-Qa'idah against India in the region of the Siachen Glacier. I still haven't figured out how this still happens.


August 3, 2004

National Intelligence Director - Addendum

I am concerned that in the "rush to reorganize," the new DNI will focus too much on the Beltway's highest priorities and forget about the myriad other consumers. That perceived lack of focus is what has prompted the Defense Department, the armed services and other executive departments to keep their own intelligence agencies or staffs. It will very tempting to satisfy only national requirements - after all, the person will be a Presidential appointee with Senate advice and consent, just as the DCI is now. However, the new DNI cannot neglect to provide intelligence support to such mundane things as Air Force systems development - what the threats coming down the road are, etc. Those diverse requirements are the reasons we have such a decentralized community now - DOD was (is?) not about to rely on an independent agency to satisfy its requirements. It will certainly be a challenge. I will be curious to see how NSA fares in all this.

I am not sure I would revamp the entire community all at once. I would separate the DCI from the director, CIA and see how that goes. Make CIA act like an equal agency, not the dominant organization. As far as budget authority, that is all overblown. The monies are fenced almost to the line item when they come out of the Congressional committees, so I don't see much change happening there - nor should there be.

What the President proposed today is unsatisfactory. The DNI, or NID, will have no direct control over anything. He/she will "coordinate" on budgets, and funnel the President's requests for information to the proper agency for action. As far as I can tell, CIA will still have all the operational approval and authority, and will still control the NIE process. I suspect that Rumsfeld is behind this - no one wants to give up their own intelligence empire.

The irony: Rumsfeld would be better off if the DNI had real authority. His DOD intelligence agencies would be equal to or greater than the boys and girls in McLean.

The existent dominant position and power of the CIA is the problem, not a real DNI.

August 2, 2004

Iraq: "Arabization" Fallout

Today, Human Rights Watch criticized the US-led coalition for not resolving the problems of the Saddam-era "Arabization" program (ta'rib / T"RIB).

There are numerous comments one could make about this, so I'll take the cheap shot first - there is no US-led coalition anymore....

I agree wholeheartedly that the Arabization project was ethnic cleansing. It was targeted against the Kurds, as well as the Assyrians and Turkomans. Saddam, true B'athi that he was, had no use for ethnic divisions in Iraq. He truly believed that Iraq should be Iraqi - not Arab and Kurd, not Muslim and Christian, not Sunni and Shi'a, not Assyrian and Arab, etc. In an attempt to rid the country of its largest (and most troublesome) ethnic group, Saddam began the Arabization program with them. In the 1970s, entire Kurdish villages in the north were exchanged with entire Arab (mostly Shi'a - coincidence?) villages in the south. So, you take Arabs used to living in the arid southern deserts or marshes and forcibly move them to the Colorado-like climate of the north. Conversely, you take Kurds from their traditional mountain villages and move them to the south.

Many Kurds (as well as Assyrians and Turkomans) were forced to move from the cities of Mosul (Al-Mawsil) and Kirkuk, while Arabs were moved into their homes. After the fall of Saddam, the Arabs were not anxious to return to the volatile south. On the other hand, the Kurds could not return fast enough. You know the problem - Kurdish family shows up and wants its family home back. Arab family, through no fault of its own, is living there, has lived there for maybe 30 years, and does not want to leave. There is no real legal system in place, and most of these Arab and Kurdish families fall into that gray zone between a Saddam-ruled Iraq and now.

This is a tricky problem for the new government. As early as 1995-1996 while running around northern Iraq, I saw many abandoned villages and asked why no one lived in these serviceable buildings. The answer was usually a derisive snort and the guttural spitting, "ta'rib." No Kurd would live there. I replied that these were usable buildings, decent facilities, but it fell on deaf ears. Hatred often supercedes reason.

Human Rights Watch (and I usually have no problems with them - they liked my book; see http://www.francona.com/hrw.html), has blamed the now-defunct coalition for not addressing this problem.

They wrote:

"If these property disputes are not addressed as a matter of urgency, rising tensions between returning Kurds and Arab settlers could soon explode into open violence," said Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of Human Rights Watch's Middle East and North Africa division.

Okay, we all know where I stand when it comes to the Kurds, but I do not want to over-romanticize them. Many of the villages in the Kurdish area could use some cleaning, some paint, some hygiene, etc. That said, while they may have their problems among themselves - the PUK and KDP divide, for example - they are cohesive when dealing with the Arabs (except for that 1996 KDP-Iraqi lash-up against the PUK). If the Arabs trying to move back into Mosul and Kirkuk want to get violent, I will give you fair odds on who comes out on top. I have rarely seen quiet courage like that of the Kurds; no complaints, just commitment to their cause, which over the years has usually been a losing one. No bragging, no excuses, no apologies - they have a fatalistic dignity that you cannot help respect. On more than one occasion, I have had a Kurd peshmerga move in front of me to try to shield me from hostile fire. I am not alone - all of us who served with the Kurds feel this way about them. (Getting on soapbox now: They are the third largest ethnic group in the Middle East; they are the largest ethnic group in the world without a homeland. I doubt they will ever have a homeland; geopolitical realities are against them. Falling off soapbox now.)

The Assyrians - Christians composed of both Syriacs, Chaldeans and Nestorians - have their own hurdles to face. They have come under attack, including this week's coordinated five bombings in Baghdad and Mosul, by the Az-Zarqawi faction of Al-Qa'idah. When I was in northern Iraq, we would often visit the nearby Assyrian (Christian) village of Shaqlawah - they had a church and decent wine. The elders there were always concerned that a post-Saddam Iraqi government would be anti-Christian. Having spent time in the mixed societies of Syria, Jordan and Lebanon, I tended to dismiss their concerns - I may have been a bit naive. I am surprised at the level of Islamic sentiment that is manifesting itself in Iraq. During all of my time in Saddam-controlled Iraq and the Kurdish area, I never felt any Islamic sentiment. Bars and nightclubs were in full swing - the Iraqis have a reputation for being hard-drinking party-goers. Perhaps this is a backlash; time will tell.

The resettlement issue is a real problem, created by years of Saddam Husayn's attempts to eliminate Kurdish influence and attempts at autonomy. It is a problem that needs addressed - I just am not sure we are the best adjudicators here.

July 29, 2004

Israel: The Arrow-2 Missile and the Iranian Threat

The Israelis have considered Iran to be their primary threat ever since the end of the first Gulf War. Since that time, the Iraqis have had no real weaponry to pose a serious threat to Israel. Iran then emerged as Israel's primary concern - it was known as early as 1992 that the Iranians had embarked on a long-term, measured program to acquire nuclear technology, followed by the establishment of a nuclear weapons program.

Although neighboring Syria has chemical weapons and the ballistic missiles to deliver them, Israel does not consider it likely that Syria would launch an attack on Israel. They (and I) believe that the Syrians regard their chemical warhead equipped missiles as a counterbalance to the Israeli nuclear threat. (It also gives the Turks, Jordanians and Iraqis something to think about.) I think the Syrians realize that a first strike on Israel using chemical weapons would elicit what I call a "Biblical, Old Testament" response. When the Defense Department did the computer modeling in 1990, we determined that a Sarin warhead detonated in an air burst at 1,000 feet over Tel Aviv could, in perfect conditions, kill as many as 8,000 people.

The Iranian Shihab-3 and -4 series of missiles are derivations of North Korean Nodong missiles. Neither of them are useful to carry conventional warheads, as they are inaccurate that hitting a target at range would be problematic - sort of like the Iraqi modified Scuds (Al-Husayn, Al-Hijarah, Al-'Abbas). Therefore, one must assume that Iran is developing a WMD-type warhead.

Would the Iranians use a nuclear weapon against Israel just because they could? I doubt it - but if someone else in the region has them, the prevailing wisdom is that you better get them too. It is the old Mutual Assured Destruction, Cold War theory. Going one better, if that fails, the anti-ballistic missile capability is the fall back, possibly even the only guarantor of your national survival.

I won't get into the technology involved; eventually, it will be feasible.

Personally, I tend to think the existence of a credible ABM system in the hands of the Israelis might be destabilizing. If I had nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, a long-range capable air force, and possibly in the near future a credible ABM capability, I would be tempted to take out the Iranian program, just as the Israelis did to the Iraqi program in 1981. I assess that Israel has all of the required capability, and has demonstrated the political will to use their long range strike capability to attack targets as far away as Iraq and Tunisia.

This will be the 12th test of the Arrow. Although planned over three years ago, it comes at a time when Israel is renewing its warning of Iran's nuclear possessions and intentions.

On Tuesday, the Islamic Republic vowed to "wipe Israel off the earth" if any strike is made against their nuclear installations.
I assess Israel's warning as one that could be backed up if; the Iranian threat cannot (at least at this time). Statements like the Iranian threat might push Israel into action. Also, factor in to their thinking the fact that Iran is the major supporter of Hizballah in Lebanon, as well as Hamas and the Islamic Jihad in the Occupied Territories. If you lived in Tel Aviv, would you want Tehran to have nuclear weapons?

July 28, 2004

A Director of National Intelligence?

Should we create the position of a national intelligence director, in other words, separate the position of Director, Central Intelligence from the position of the head of the Central Intelligence Agency?

Yes.

The National Security Act of 1947 created both the Central Intelligence Agency and the position of Director, Central Intelligence (DCI). The DCI, the senior intelligence official in the United States government, also serves as the director of the Central Intelligence Agency (DCI). This arrangement created the environment that has manifested itself in the intelligence failures of the last decade. No one person can effectively serve as the senior intelligence advisor to the President, manage the intelligence community and direct the diverse operations of the CIA.

Although on paper there is a separation between the DCI and the CIA, in practice the line blurs to the point of extinction and CIA the agency takes on the trappings of the DCI staff. CIA has come to regard itself as the action arm of the DCI – a phenomenon referred to as “mission creep.” The blame rests with the DCI as well as the bureaucrats at CIA who often attempt to wear the more senior DCI mantle.

For example, each major combatant military command has a DCI Representative, invariably an officer from the CIA. That officer is accredited to the Commander of the military organization. The command has an intelligence director – the DCI Representative should be accredited to the command’s Director of Intelligence (J-2).

I can attest from personal experience that the DCI Representative often refuses to deal with the J-2. A case in point: during operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, the DCI staff in Washington forwarded the National Intelligence Daily, the “NID,” to the DCI Representative. The NID is the consensus of the entire intelligence community, cleared by CIA, NSA and DIA, and the military services if applicable. The DCI Representative would allow the Commander to read the NID, but not share that same intelligence report with the command J-2. Then the Commander would attend the morning intelligence briefing prepared by the command intelligence staff (without benefit of the DC-area analysis contained in the NID). Invariably, the Commander would blindside the command director of intelligence with things like, “Well, Washington doesn’t agree with that assessment, General….” This is inexcusable.

On the human intelligence (HUMINT) operational side, the DCI is supposed to control the national source registry, but in reality, CIA controls it. The national source registry is the mechanism by which potential intelligence assets are registered, vetted and exploited. Since the CIA controls the registry, they can (and do) determine which organization controls which assets. While CIA sees all source registrations, other agencies do not. Specifically, when the Defense Department spots and attempts to develop a potentially valuable asset, CIA has the final decision on the disposition of the asset. Conversely, when a CIA station spots a potential asset, DOD never even knows of the asset. There are documented cases, and again I speak from personal experience, when CIA surprisingly declares “prior interest” in someone you have attempted to register, or after registration, arbitrarily assumes control of the asset – in the name of the DCI. Again, inexcusable.

The DCI is charged to approve all clandestine and covert operations in the community. In reality, again, this is done at CIA. So no matter what the Defense Department organizations want or need to do, CIA has to approve it. This is way too much disapproval power for an organization that has no responsibility to the Secretary of Defense, combatant commands, or deployed American forces. Many times, DOD has had reasonable proposals that CIA claimed would interfere with ongoing CIA operations. CIA is not obligated to coordinate, explain or even acknowledge their operations with DOD, although DOD is obligated to coordinate all intelligence proposals with CIA (not the DCI, the CIA). Hopefully, with a real national director, the entire community would all be on the same playing field. Operations, assets, coordination between agencies would be transparent, and likely more effective.

National HUMINT Collection Plans are developed by the DCI. Having participated in the development of these plans, it is easy to see the dominant role of the CIA. The community has a meeting to determine collection strategies for HUMINT collectors. Although many agencies provide input, the draft that is circulated for review is always that authored by CIA. Rather than have your input considered on its face, you have to disprove the CIA position to get yours in. CIA, as one agency, should have its input considered equally with the DOD agencies.

On the analysis side, CIA assumes a dominant role, again taking on the mantle of the DCI. The DCI organization responsible for the National Intelligence Estimates (NIE) is the National Intelligence Council, the NIC. With very few exceptions, these are CIA officers, working in CIA offices, using CIA databases and CIA staffs. For all practical purposes, they are nothing more than a branch of the CIA. However, the NIE is a “national” intelligence estimate, not a “central” intelligence estimate. Opinions other than those of CIA area rarely considered.

That brings us to a major problem – information sharing inside the intelligence community. Too often, CIA compartments information so that other appropriately cleared analysts never see the information. As a result, only CIA analysts have access to some of the best information available, although they may not be the most qualified on the subject, or have the greatest interest in the subject. For example, the Air Force-run National Air Intelligence Center analysis of Iraqi unmanned aerial vehicles was hindered because CIA did not share all available information. There was no reason the Air Force analysts, all possessing the required security clearances, were not provided the information. Not only is this inexcusable on the surface, but when dealing with military capabilities, this potentially puts American forces more at risk.

Creation of national centers is a good idea, but they should not replicate the existent DCI centers. The DCI centers are nothing more than thinly disguised CIA-lead analytical or coordination centers, fraught with the same compartmentation problems in the community. The new centers need to be true community-wide centers, with operational tasking authority over all intelligence community assets and responsibility to the national intelligence director, not the CIA.