October 17, 2005

MSNBC - Analysts agree Iraqi vote could be key to future

Analysts agree Iraqi vote could be key to future Coughlin and Francona say approval, high turnout could quell insurgency

Although it is not yet official, after this weekend's voting, it appears Iraq has adopted a new constitution.

For millions of Iraqis, it is a cause for celebration -- a victory for the political process and defeat of the insurgents. But for Sunnis, who came out in huge numbers -- many to vote against the document -- it is a stark reminder of where they stand during the post-Saddam era.

On Monday, MSNBC Analysts Con Coughlin and Rick Francona joined anchor Randy Meier to discuss the impact of the expected approval of the constitution and what may be next for the country.

Coughlin, an editor at the London Daily Telegraph and author of 'Saddam, His Rise and Fall,' told Meier that after this weekend's constitutional approval a successful election at the end of the year could spell doom for the insurgency.

"I think the next key thing really -- and it's not that far away -- is the elections in December. If the Iraqis elect a government based on the new constitution that has an international recognition and legitimacy, then there's actually no point in having an insurgency. Basically, it is people fighting their own government," Coughlin said.

"I think already, we're seeing some Sunni's drafting away from the ideological resistance and any change in how Iraq is governed," he added. "I think we will see that drift increase the longer this process continues."

Francona, a retired Air Force colonel and former officer with the Defense Intelligence Agency, noted that although the Sunnis did not support the constitution, their participation was very important, and encouraging for the fledgling democracy's future.

"I think that by all of the Sunni's that did turn out, it legitimizes the process and underscores that the Iraqis are interested in developing some sort of legitimate government on their own," he said.

"As for the document itself, there is still a lot of Sunni resistance to the provisions in there. If you look at the way the vote went in some provinces -- in the Anbar province 97 percent against -- there are a lot of problems with the document, but most of the Sunnis realize now that they have to be a part of the political process," he added.

Francona noted that although many Iraqis admitted that they didn't fully understand the document and were voting after getting direction from their Imams and tribal leaders, the vote was an encouraging start.

"This country has a long history of not making decisions -- being told what to do. It was created in the aftermath of World War I and really enjoyed no freedom at all. So the concept of people making their own decision and voting that way is very new to them," he said.

To watch the entire interview with Rick Francona, go to:

© 2005 MSNBC Interactive

October 12, 2005

Al-Qa'idah: Letter from Ayman Az-Zawahiri

A letter from Ayman Az-Zawahiri, second only to Usamah Bin Ladin in the Al-Qa'idah hierarchy, was intercepted by coalition forces in July. The letter is dated July 9, 2005.

There has been some question as the authenticity of the letter, but for argument's sake, let's assume it is real.

This is not rhetoric - this is a letter from a senior Al-Qa'idah official to the head of the Al-Qa'idah affiliate in Iraq, that being Abu Mus'ib Az-Zarqawi's Al-Qa'idah in Mesopotamia. In addition to the text of the message, there are also some interesting items that can be gleaned from a careful reading of the letter.

Here is what I got from my reading:

- Az-Zawahiri cannot travel easily.

- Az-Zawahiri does not have ready continuous access to electronic media, including Al-Jazeera satellite television. He cannot tell what of his recordings was broadcast, nor does he have a good sense of what is happening in Iraq.

- It is difficult for Al-Qa'idah to send couriered communications.

- The arrest of Abu Faraj Al-Libi (Al-Qa'idah's chief of operations, usually regarded as the number three position in the organization) had a severe impact on the organization's finances, to the point that Az-Zawahiri asked Az-Zarqawi to send him $100,000. The arrest did not, however, result in the arrest of any of the Arab members of Al-Qa'idah. He seems to value the Arab members more than other nationalities.

- Pakistan's operations in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area are problematic for the organization.

- Al-Qa'idah continues with the ultimate goal of establishing a caliphate governed by the Shari' (strict Islamic law) with its center in what is now Syria or Egypt. Israel would have to be removed.

- The plan for Iraq:
1. Expel the Americans
2. Establish Islamic governance
3. Move the struggle to the surrounding countries
4. Move against Israel

- Popular support is essential for success - unlike what happened to the Taliban who did not attempt to widen their support base. Political action is equally important as military operations.

- "The Americans will exit soon." Az-Zawahiri has studied the American experience in Vietnam and believes that if they presevere, the American will just leave.

- Az-Zawahiri makes no distinction between the Iraqi Shi'a and the Iranians. He uses the terms interchangeably. Although he despises them and considers them to be apostates, he realizes that they cannot kill all of Iraq's millions of Shi'a. According to Az-Zawahiri, many Muslims do not understand the rationale for Az-Zarqawi's attacks on the Shi'a, and the attacks on Shi'a mosques are alienating Muslims around the world. Additionally, the attacks on the Shi'a divert resources from attacks in the primary adversary - the Americans.

- The Iranians are holding at least 100 Al-Qa'idah members, some of them senior leaders.

- Recorded beheadings and slaughter are counterproductive and hurt the cause in the media. Az-Zawahiri believes that half of the battle is being fought in the media, and broadcasts of the killings is not helpful. He says that they will have to wind the battle for hearts and minds in the media because they will never be able to do it on the battlefield.

- Az-Zawahiri's favorite wife, a son and a daughter were killed in an American air strike.

Read the entire text of the letter in either English or Arabic at:

Syria: Ghazi Kan'an Commits Suicide?

The Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA), the mouthpiece of the Bashar Al-Asad regime, announced today that Syrian Minister of the Interior, Ghazi Kan'an, had committed suicide in his office in Damascus. Kan'an was more known for his previous position, that of military intelligence chief for Lebanon during Syria's occupation of that country.

There may be a connection to the suicide and the soon-to-be-released United Report on the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Al-Hariri.

I do not normally forward another analyst's views, but Pat Lang's take on this is superb. I worked for Pat for many years - he knows of what he speaks.

Read Pat Lang's The End of Gazi.