Fouad Ajami, an Eloquent Weathervane

Ajamif "We liberated the Anbar, we defeated al Qaeda by denying it religious cover," Sheikh Abdul Sattar Abu Reisha said with a touch of pride and impatience. This was the dashing tribal leader who emerged as the face of the new Sunni accommodation with American power, and who was assassinated by al Qaeda last week. I had not been ready for his youth (born in 1971), nor for his flamboyance. Sir David Lean, the legendary director of "Lawrence of Arabia," would have savored encountering this man. There was style, and an awareness of it, in Abu Reisha: his brown abaya bordered with gold thread, a neat white dishdasha, and a matching headdress. "Our American friends had not understood us when they came, they were proud, stubborn people and so were we. They worked with the opportunists, now they have turned to the tribes, and this is as it should be. The tribes hate religious parties and religious fakers."

We were in Baghdad, and the sheikh gave me his narrative. There was both candor and evasion in the story he told. Al Qaeda and its Arab jihadists had found sanctuary and support in the Anbar; they had recruited the "criminal elements" and the "lowly," they had brought zeal and bigotry unknown to the Iraqis. Initially welcomed, they began to impose their own tyranny. They declared haram (impermissible) the normal range of social life. They banned cigarettes, they married the daughters of decent families without the permission of their elders. They violated the great code of decent society by "shedding the blood of travelers on routine voyages." The prayer leaders of mosques were bullied, then murdered.

Abu Reisha and a small group of like-minded men, he said, came together to challenge al Qaeda. "We fought with our own weapons. I myself fought al Qaeda with my own funds. The Americans were slow to understand our sahwa, our awakening. But they have come around of late. The Americans are innocent; they don’t know Iraq. But all this is in the past, and now the Americans have a wise and able military commander on the scene, and the people of the Anbar have found their way. In the Anbar, they now know that the menace comes from Iran, not from the Americans.""  Fouad Ajami


Ajami is a Lebanese Shia by birth.  He is an American by adoption and naturalization, and a great scholar.  He has "blown" hot and cold on the neocon vision for his native region of the world, seemingly, this has depended on whether or not the "temperature" of the moment favored the neocon Jacobins.  In other word he has been something of an opportunist.

Nevertheless, this is a good article.  It accurately portrays the origins of the Sahwa al Anbar.  Petraeus told the Congress that the revolt was a "political phenomenon" which the US eventually had the wit to sponsor.  This "awakening" is now spreading not only to less specifically tribal parts of Sunni Iraq but also to the Shia tribes in the southwestern deserts.  A lot of these tribes extend across the Shia/Sunni barrier.  This is a factor. Another is the simple fact that the Jeish al-Mahdi and other Shia zealot groups are acting towards the Shia tribes in much the same way that Al-Qa’ida acts toward the Sunni tribes of Anbar and other regions. 

Is Ajami’s article a valid argument for a long term American military presence in Iraq?  I think not.  For the ongoing and still somewhat tentative process of tribal and conservative Muslim elimination of extremist movements to flower and continue to a logical conclusion, there must be belief in the collective Iraqi mind that the Ajanib (us) are definitely going to leave, be gone, and not remain as neo-colonialists in their country.

If that happens then, a new balance in Iraq on some realistic basis of relative strength (armed) will emerge and there is some hope that the state of Iraq will be preserved.  Will that state be unitary or federal in fact?  It is not possible just yet to see that far into "the undiscovered country" of the future.  You must wait to know the future of Iraq.

Nevertheless, to arrive in that undiscovered country with some chance of saving the situation, a declared policy of gradual withdrawal such as on the basis of  "An Iraq Program" (below) is a pre-requisite.  pl 

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42 Responses to Fouad Ajami, an Eloquent Weathervane

  1. Arun says:

    As a counterpoint, I offer (what else,, where Al Anbar is seen as turning against Al Qaeda because Al Qaeda’s vision of an Islamic Iraq plays into “the Zionist and American plans” to partition Iraq; and not because smoking was forbidden or any such.
    Al-Qa‘idah suspected in murder of Iraqi Resistance leader, former Iraqi Army General in Ba‘qubah.
    In a dispatch posted at 9:28pm Baghdad time Saturday night, the Aswat al-‘Iraq news agency, which was set up by Reuters and the U.N. Development Agency, reported that a prominent commander in the Brigades of the 1920 Resistance organization was killed in an armed attack by gunmen that took place in the Ba‘qubah al-Jadidah section of Ba‘qubah, 65km northeast of Baghdad on Saturday.
    Aswat al-‘Iraq reported a source who asked to remain anonymous as saying that six men in an ambulance attacked Brigadier General Khalid Rashid Matar (of the Army of the Republic of Iraq prior to the US invasion) and the 1920 Brigade commander who was with him. Both men were killed in the attack.
    The source declined to identify the 1920 Brigade commander who was assassinated. He said only that the commander was “prominent” and had been one of those who took part in the counteroffensive of Resistance forces against the al-Qa‘idah organization. Iraqi Resistance groups launched a counteroffensive against al-Qa‘idah after that organization began attacking Resistance men and families who refused to pledge allegiance to al-Qa‘idah and its Sunni sectarian so-called “Islamic State of Iraq” which was facilitating the implementation of US and Zionist plans to partition Iraq along sectarian lines.
    Aswat al-‘Iraq reported that the Resistance organization known as the Brigades of the 1920 Revolution was formed in the first few months after the American invasion in the spring of 2003. Many of its members belonged to the Zawbi‘ tribe, a Sunni tribe that played a prominent role in the historic Iraqi revolt against the British colonialists in 1920 in which the Zawbi‘ tribe’s Shaykh Darri Al Mahmud ash-Shamari killed British Colonel Gerald Leachman in August that year.

  2. Mike Moscoe says:

    A very thought provoking story.
    So, how do we signal that we are not colonialists looking for a long term occupation? Better, how do we do it without looking to those still shooting at us like we are cutting and running?
    Clearly, Bush and his neocons ARE interested in that long term colonial occupation, so signaling that we aren’t isn’t his problem. Still, to the Dems, it is.
    Am I missing the point of this article. Is it possible that the Iraqi’s are willing (and able?) to put down the radicals among both the Sunnies and Shia and find a moderate way … if we’ll just get off their backs?
    I think the good colonel was right to have the last word. It is just those questions that we will not know the answers to until we commit ourselves to the future.
    Mike Moscoe

  3. Andy Mink says:

    Aren´t the Shia tribes in general much more splintered and less important as social organizations (providing protection and economic advantages) compared to the larger Sunni federations? On top of that, doesn´t the clergy carry much bigger weight among the Shia? So al Sadr´s organization might derive it´s power from a lack of competing tribal loyalties, his religious stature and his ability to distribute material goods.
    Andy Mink

  4. Jose says:

    Col, only way Iraq will stay together is if we appoint a malevolent dictator to do our bidding for us.
    We tried that once with the Shah and look were that endeavor led us.
    SAIS has always been a bastion of the Neo-Cons since Wolfie and Co took over.
    Neo-cons are beginning to have cracks appear in their Aegis, “Et tu, Greenspan?” lol

  5. J says:

    it is as you said, as long as bush is/remains the decide-n-tater, we (spelled u.s.) won’t be leaving iraq.
    so much for arriving at the ‘undiscovered country’.

  6. W. Patrick Lang says:

    Everything is relative.
    Some of you need to develop a sense of the difference between advocacy and forcasting.
    Since you start from the position that the US will not withdraw its forces from Iraq, it is not possible to have a discussion on how to arrange a withdrawal.
    Germany has a SOFA with the US. Does that mean that Germany is not sovereign? pl

  7. Mad Dogs says:

    Though I’m reluctant to give Fouad Ajami any credibility given his past non-stop cheerleading for the Flatheads, I took you up on your suggestion to read his article.
    Though I found the “style” of his piece to be too much like that of “high-level muckety-mucks” engaged in quaint philosophical musings about “the Street” while taking their tea and crumpets, I did find some reinforcing hints for the “possibility” that all is not lost in Iraq when and if the US should exit, stage left.
    Far too often has the “conclusion” been “reached” that the only likely outcome to a withdrawal of US forces from Iraq is a “certainty” of chaos, a bloody civil war, and even genocide.
    It may be that an even more likely outcome would be that of a proto-state (or states) on the way to becoming the master of its own affairs.
    Could it be that the “blood-lust” engendered by Iraq’s years of ethnic/sectarian/religious manipulation has already been satisfied?
    It may be that our presence now is merely delaying the inevitable and necessary maturation process that a proto-state undergoes on the way to stability.
    In a sense, the Bush/Cheney Administration may be their own worst enemy (again, you ask? *g*) and may be over-medicating the patient, and in fact, delaying, if not impeding the healing of the patient.
    As most “good” parents know or in time figure out, one can’t live your child’s life.
    I suppose an appeal to reason in this regard to the Bush/Cheney Administration these days is a fool’s errand.
    Now if we can just find the right fool to carry the message. *g*

  8. mt says:

    Opportunist? Good grief, he’s an acrobatic hack. Remember his description of Scooter Libby as a “fallen soldier” for his role in covering up the Bush administrations public disclosure of Valerie Wilson’s classified CIA status? I could go on and on. I wouldn’t trust this man with the trash.

  9. wwz says:

    Forgive me, but I am still of the mind that we won’t leave, and never intended to. Not entirely. By that I mean keeping a strong enough force in Iraq to provide the muscle for what we want from them, subject to the perceived political landscape at the time of appraisal, with the end game being access to petroleum wealth and an Iraq redoubt for the US.
    Sheikh Abdul Sattar Abu Reisha and with this new op-ed, Fouad Ajami, undercut the last saving-grace rationalization the Bush cohort has left to push forward for staying; al-Qaeda.
    The only real reasons for staying are to make rich men richer, and save a failed Prezit’s legacy. The cost is too high.
    Dismantle the Empire before its too late, if its not already. The Brits did it. We can as well.
    No, its not pacifism, just good sense.

  10. Charles I says:

    Re: Andy mink’s questions and Mad Dog’s question
    “It may be that an even more likely outcome would be that of a proto-state (or states) on the way to becoming the master of its own affairs. Could it be that the “blood-lust” engendered by Iraq’s years of ethnic/sectarian/religious manipulation has already been satisfied?”
    Pepe Escobar, having Interviewed Abu Risah, thinks not. Found via Jaun Cole today, PE writes over at Aisa Times of a post- withdrawal Sunni assault on the central government with a view to power.
    Intra-Sunni tribal reporting, right on point. Great article, as is JC’s squib:
    “Pepe Escobar in the Asia Times demolishes the ‘al-Anbar myth’ being promoted on the American Right. He does so on the basis of an actual interview with the late Sattar Abu Rishah, on the basis of a close analysis of tribal alliances in al-Anbar, and on the basis of recent opinion polling that shows 92 percent of Sunni Arabs support attacks on US troops and 98 percent despise the al-Maliki government. The tragedy is that Escobar is right about everything he says, but that virtually no one in the Washington power or journalism elite will probably ever read his important piece. Some nonentity who wouldn’t know the Dulaim from the Jubour will declaim some nonsense at NRO, and that will be what the Repub staffers on the Hill believe, having fed the nonentity the warped info in the first place.”

  11. Will says:

    the back & forth travel and migration b/n Jabal Amel (south lebanon) or Lebanese Shia, Irak, and Iran is intricate and convoluted. i would have wagered that Fouad Ajami is an Iraki transplant.
    wrong, darn- the name should have been a dead give away- from wiki
    “Ajami was born on September 19, 1945, in Arnoun, a rocky hamlet in the south of Lebanon. His Shiite family had come to Arnoun from Tabriz, Iran in the 1850s. In Arabic, the word “Ajam” means “non-Arab” or, more specifically, “Persian”. ”
    On the other hand the charismatic lebanese Shiite leader “Musa a Sader,” founder of Amal, who disappeared in Libya is thought to be pure Iranian and spoke Arabic with a Parsi accent but (from the wiki)
    ” He was born in Qom, Iran in 1928 to the prominent Lebanese Sadr family of theologians. His father was Ayatollah Sadr al-Din Sadr, originally from Tyre. Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr (killed by Saddam H) was a distant cousin. ”
    The Lebanese Shiites of Jabal Amel credit themselves with converting Iran to their cause. It appears that Musa a Sadr was related to Moqtadr. It’s a small world.
    Can Fouad Ajami ever set apart his Shiite preference and be fair to the Sunna?
    If I was Muslim, i would be wracking my brain for a way to re-unite the House of Islam. It appears that the Iranians are the only ones that give a shxt about this. I guess from the Sunna point of view, the path is easy, just give up the extra stuff and return to the straight and narrow path.
    The Xtians were never able to unite under pressure of the Turkish threat. The Eastern Emperor was petrified of riots in the hippodrome and a coup by his magister militium if he accepted merger w/ Rome.

  12. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Col. Lang:
    Arun is corect.
    Italy, Germany, Japan, and (South Korea) are semi-sovereign. They are still occupied countries.

  13. Fred says:

    Is it a fact that Sheikh Abdul Sattar Abu Reisha was assassinated by al Qaeda?
    I believe the Sheikh was quite eloquent in saying “… we defeated al Qaeda by denying it religious cover,” Doesn’t this point to one of the most important (and difficult) differences between parties that make up of the Iraqi Government now (and will in the near future)? Couldn’t the same intent – denying groups religious cover – be directed here domestically to the neocons and their supporters?

  14. W. Patrick Lang says:

    Babak, Arun et al
    How do you accont for the fact that there is a SOFA which allows Germany to station troops on US soil?
    Does that make the US semi-sovereign? pl

  15. Jose says:

    Will, what is your source on the Shia travels to and from?
    The Neo-cons told us that the Arab Shia despised the Persian Shia but he more I find out about the Shia, it appears that tthey are all cousins. lol
    Does anybody really expect us to be there for the next 50, 10 or even 5 years?
    In Germany and Korea we were welcomed occupiers, I don’t see the Iraqi’s wanting us to stay.
    Col, didn’t all these arguments about staying and going also happened during Vietnam?

  16. Montag says:

    Ajami is the obsequious “native informant” who tells his masters what they want to hear. I still remember when Ajami and Dan Rather watched a videotape of a an Iraqi celebration for Saddam on the CBS Evening News. Performers were piercing themselves with swords, etc. to impress the dictator with their devotion and courage. Ajami vented his disgust at such barbarity, taking it at face value. The trouble was that the performers were basically performing magic tricks with very little blood in evidence. Because what he was seeing appealed to his prejudice he swallowed it hook, line and sinker with absolutely no critical thinking involved.
    Ajami was also a big supporter/promoter of Achmed Chalabi when he was still our fair haired boy in Baghdad.

  17. Arun says:

    Dear Col. Lang,
    I can’t go much beyond Wikipedia,
    “Criminal issues vary, but the typical provision in U.S. SOFAs is that U.S. courts will have jurisdiction over crimes committed either by a servicemember against another servicemember or by a servicemember as part of his or her military duty, but the host nation retains jurisdiction over other crimes……However, most crimes by servicemembers against local civilians occur off duty, and in accordance with the local SOFA are considered subject to local jurisdiction. Details of the SOFAs can still prompt issues. In Japan, the U.S. SOFA includes the provision that servicemembers are not turned over to the local authorities until they are charged in a court. In a number of cases, local officials have complained that this impedes their ability to question suspects and investigate the crime.”
    In any case, I was not talking about members of the armed Forces, but of civilians. But if Wikipedia is correct, the difference should be clear.
    SOFAs seem to say that crimes of US service persons against US service persons, and on-duty US service persons against locals will be covered by US law; off-duty US service persons and US civilians are subject to local law.
    Bremer’s edict exempted US contractors in Iraq from Iraqi law (and they were not covered by US civilian or military law either!!!!). Just in 2006 or 2007, US contractors in Iraq have lost their exemption from US law.
    But the correct thing is (at least) for Iraqi law to apply as it does with the SOFAs described in Wikipedia.

  18. Arun says:

    Ah, Wikipedia has this too:
    “American-led Coalition forces participating in the 2003 invasion of Iraq were initially subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of their parent states. Since the handover of soverign power to an Iraqi administration, Coalition forces in Iraq are nominally subject to Iraqi jurisdiction, and operate without any Status of Forces Agreement.[1] In theory, Iraqi Courts have the right to try Coalition forces for any alleged offenses, though this right has never been exercised.”
    But that is a 2004 reference.
    A recent one is this from Juan Cole:
    Al-Hayat reports in Arabic that Shiite Vice President Adil Abdul Mahdi of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq has been working on a Status of Forces Agreement that would define the relationship between the Iraqi state and the multinational forces (mainly American). His draft is said to insist on Iraqi control of the airports and borders. US troops would require permission to kick down doors and conduct searches. These provisions were discussed by Iraqi officials and MPs with American officials. Among the parliamentarians engaging in the talks was Qusay Abdul Wahhab, a member of the Sadr Movement, which has demanded an immediate US departure. As the next item makes clear, the Sadr leadership was distressed at Abdul Wahhab’s participation in these talks and has expelled him from the party over it. Salman al-Jumayli, a leader of the Sunni Arab Iraqi Islamic Party, denied that his party had approved the draft SOFA. He said his bloc insists on provisions for a withdrawal timetable for American troops.

  19. ISL says:

    Although I remain highly sceptical about the success in Anbar, from a balance of power point of view it makes some sense – the Shia, with US contrivance (the El Salvador Option) or impotence have embarked upon highly successful ethnic cleansing, which will eventually succeed in making Iraq a Shia nation. This is intolerable to the US point of view as then there is no chance of a future Iraq not aligning with Iran.
    To stop the ethnic cleansing either requires far more US soldiers than is politically available, or a proxy force to fight on Sunni’s behalf.
    As to whether this is a good thing or the creation of another Taliban aka Afghanistan with likely blowback, I really don’t know. And perhaps it is the only way. But it seems to me to be a horrible choice where perhaps the other choices are only more horrible – particularly for an administration that is allergic to negotiations.
    Perhaps it will provide the Sunni’s enough time (2010) – if they are too marginalized the “game” is over – for organization of a concert of nations.

  20. zanzibar says:

    France warning of war with Iran
    Add this to the propaganda campaign. Unlike the invasion of Iraq where France was vehemently opposed – it looks like this time they would not only be a supporter of an attack on Iran but would likely be part of the coalition of the willing.
    What’s in it for France?

  21. Chatham says:

    Now that it has been seen that the surge has failed (it has not met the goals it set out to meet, change in the central government), we see more and more about the “unexpected success” in al Anbar. The narrative is that it succeeded in ways we hadn’t thought of, but are no less important.
    First, let me just say that I’m skeptical about the statements that it was al Qaeda, and not just Iraqi radicals, that are being fought. The US military estimates show al Qaeda at around 15% of the insurgency, and those estimates are thought by many to be exaggerations. If the US can not control Anbar with thousands of troops, advanced weaponry, and a huge budget, what chances do a few lightly armed nutcases have? I doubt any foreigner would last long on their own without Iraqi help.
    The so called revolt against the religous fanatics? Tension was building almost from the beginning (go and read reports about Fallujah), much like the alliance between the JAM and the Sunni insurgent groups fell apart soon after. Like many insurgencies, various groups have various goals, making alliances short lived. By 2005 I was reading about Americans running across battles between Sunni insurgent groups.
    Deals between the US and insurgent groups have also been ongoing. Remember our truce with Fallujah, between the fighting in the spring of 2004 and the assault on the city in fall of 2004? I’ve been reading about negotiations between the US or the UIA (“the Iraqi Government”) since 2005 as well. Sticking points for the US was apparently amnesty for those who have killed Americans, and uncertainty as to how much control any of these groups have. It appears that the US has dropped both of these demands.
    So we seem to have another Libya moment. Groups that want to negotiate with us that we refuse to negotiate with suddenly get their chance when we realize it’s useful for us, and so we drop our demands. And then the administration parades it around like a great victory.
    Again, not to say that talking to these groups is a bad thing – I think the refusal to talk to them for so long (“we don’t negotiate with terrorists”) was crazy, almost as much as our stated desire to “kill or capture” al-Sadr. But i should be seen for what it is, not for the spin put on it.
    We should also figure out what it is we are trying ot do in Iraq, and what we want our time/manpower to be put towards. Temporary alliances to buy us time to remove troops? Fine, but that means we should be getting our people out as fast as possible. Allying with insurgent groups to try to effect change in the Maliki government? Then maybe we should stop trying to destroy said groups and stop training the governments forces, or giving it money. Strengthening the central government? Funding insurgents isn’t the best way to do that.
    Juan Cole made an ineresting observation that the Iraqi army was probably dismissed to make way for the neocon plan to put Chalabi in charge, which was opposed by the State department, who was strong enough to sop it. The result was a power vacuum, probably the worst of both worlds. The current policy seems to be no less schizophrenic. Unless that changes, I see no reason why we should continue to waste money and lives there. No change in course only means prolonging the eventual meltdown.

  22. Does all this discussion of sovereignity mean that the nation-state system post Treaty of Westphalia (sic)still is the driver on international activity and relations and not global non-state organizations from al Qaeda to multi-national corporations and organizations? Just out of curiousity who are the real rivals to al Qaeda for the affections of the radical Islamic fundamentalists? And by the way PL what is your estimate of the strength of the radical fundamentalists in the Ismalist population as a whole? If not you where else could we get that info? Is it likely to be valid?

  23. China hand says:

    I am in agreement with Arun and Babak; I can’t speak for Italy and Germany, but I can personally attest that the public faces Japan, the Philippines and South Korea show the U.S. (and its military) are quite different from the attitudes that we civilians – those of us not high up in Corporate management, at least – must daily deal with.
    There is still a lot of simmering resentment in the people of Japan, rapidly increasing disgust in the people of S. Korea, and open hostility by the peoples of the Philippines. After Europe, these are three of our closest allies; so while I have no experience with what the Iraqis must feel, I am sure that only time coupled with lengthy, sincere (expensive!) good works might reverse the current antipathy.
    I think partitioning is at the center of that; I currently presume it is the foundation of U.S. government plans — not just the new-cons, but the dems and the bureaucracy as well — and that this is much more troublesome than the media or the pols are willing to acknowledge publicly. Like oil, it is the elephant in the room.
    Clinton issued her statement that there would be no permanent bases in Iraq. It was something I took careful notice of, because it was such a specific and clearly enunciated position on the Iraqi future, and quite stark relative to the other candidates (not to mention the administration).
    I’m not a fan of Clinton — and frankly am not sure whether her statement can be trusted (moreso now, since it seems to have been largely lost down the memory hole) — but I did note it as a remarkable attempt at timely statesmanship, well beyond the efforts of the other “frontrunners”.
    Arun’s article makes a lot more sense to me than Ajami’s. My experiences overseas would suggest that in any government (or other social authority; i.e. tribes) high-minded ideals are largely excuses tacked on after policy has already been set.
    The Abu Risha presented in Ajami’s article seems to me like only a half-story; Arun’s, on the other hand, seems to complete it.

  24. W. Patrick Lang says:

    I will caution you again. If discourse on this blog degenerates into a vehicle for the expression of thoughts that are merely anti-american, then those who do that will be banned. I am not interested in the outmoded anti-colonial ranting that I have been seeeing here lately.
    Germany is not forced to do any of the things you mention. The number of German armed forces people trained in the US far exceeds “a few pilots.” If you want to train them elsewhere, do so. As for the 70,000 US troops left in Germany under NATO agreements, nothing forces Germany to remain in NATO. Withdraw! I think that NATO is an outmoded alliance. I would like to see the US withdraw from it. Then we could make other arrangements with individual countries that would better serve our interests and we could treat our former NATO partners as the economic rivals that they now are. pl

  25. Arun says:

    A friend pointed this out to me:
    “Blackwater License Being Pulled in Iraq
    The Associated Press
    Monday, September 17, 2007; 7:16 AM
    BAGHDAD — The Interior Ministry said Monday that it was pulling the license of an American security firm allegedly involved in the fatal shooting of civilians during an attack on a U.S. State Department motorcade in Baghdad.
    The ministry said it would prosecute any foreign contractors found to have used excessive force in the Sunday incident.
    Iraqi Army soldiers investigate the site of a car bomb attack in the Mansour neighborhood, western Baghdad, Iraq, Sunday, Sept. 16, 2007. The blast killed at least one civilian and wounded five, police said. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)
    Iraqi Army soldiers investigate the site of a car bomb attack in the Mansour neighborhood, western Baghdad, Iraq, Sunday, Sept. 16, 2007. The blast killed at least one civilian and wounded five, police said. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban) (Hadi Mizban – AP)
    The week’s events from around the world, captured in pictures.
    Save & Share Article What’s This?
    Interior Ministry spokesman Abdul-Karim Khalaf said eight people were killed and 13 were wounded when security contractors working for Blackwater USA opened fire in a predominantly Sunni neighborhood of western Baghdad.
    “We have canceled the license of Blackwater and prevented them from working all over Iraqi territory. We will also refer those involved to Iraqi judicial authorities,” Khalaf said.”
    — Waiting to see what happens next. It will illustrate exactly how sovereign Iraq is.

  26. steve says:

    Deasr Mr. Lang,
    I have to disagree with Mr. Ajami about abu Reisha. The man was about as popular as a horse thief, and had a horrible reputation as a crook! Then again, Mr. Ajami has supported the neo-conservatives and their crazy weltanshauung for some time now. So why is anyone surprised that Mr. Ajami would crow about a drug runner?
    Mr. Lang, did you see Gary Langer’s op/ed in the NYT recently? If not, take a read…it is not pleasant. Mr Langer is the director of polling for ABC News.
    The Bushist/Neo-Con occupation of Iraq must end. The sooner the better.
    Any delaying and ho-humming is stupid, costly and ineffective. And as for that Albert Speer-esque embassy complex, I propose we give it to the Iraqis to use as the capital district.
    Debating about Ajami is pointless, and tangential. Mr. Ajami is not setting policy, not making partition more likely by having friends cut independent oil deals with the Kurds, and Mr. Ajami has demonstrated time and again that he has no special clairvoyance in either reporting or thinking about the Middle East.
    Mr. Lang, I don’t need a weathervane to know which way the wind is blowing. Iraq is a fiasco, and having lived through one such fiasco already, I am appalled that we have done such a stupid thing again.

  27. Will says:

    “What’s in it for France? ” (re saber rattling on Iran)
    Who’s in charge of France? And who speaks for it?
    Dual loyalties?

  28. Abu Sinan says:

    I am not a big fan of Ajami. There was more than hatred of AQI as a motivator for AQI.
    Did you read this one?
    Seems, like anyone else, money was one of the primary motivators. Abu Risha was known to be a rather dirty player in the tribal politics.

  29. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Col. Lang:
    The exisntence of SOFA, as you have pointed out, by itself is not an indication of sovereignity or lack-thereof.
    My statement was an opinion based on the observation of the enormous amount of leverage that US has in these states. These sates have no leverage with US.

  30. João Carlos says:

    I advice you read the article “The Turning Point” at
    US will choice be a democracy or be an empire. To have both is not possible.
    João Carlos

  31. T says:

    Col Lang said: “If that happens then, a new balance in Iraq on some realistic basis of relative strength (armed) will emerge and there is some hope that the state of Iraq will be preserved. Will that state be unitary or federal in fact?”
    My question is how can the US withdraw without upsetting the delicate balance of Sunni tribes and militia vs the Arab Shia majority in Iraq. It seems that before withdrawal the US must empower the tribes enough that they have enough living space (lebensraum?) to resist Shia/state domination, but not so much that the Shias find it necessary to find a new patron once the US is gone (i.e. the Persians). The same goes in reverse: the Sunnis must not seem so weak that the Arab states feel obliged to arm/safeguard them, which would of course provoke an equal and opposite reaction. In either scenario, the result would be an arms/patronage race, and thus add kindling to the possibility of a regional war. That seems to me to be the most immediate US interest in withdrawal – avoid a regional conflict fought in Iraq.
    The key to this seems to be Iran. I just can’t think of a way this balancing can be done without engaging Iran on some level. Am I mistaken to think that a regional war is likely not only if the US attacks Iran, but continues to refuse to deal with it in a realistic/realist way?

  32. W. Patrick Lang says:

    I am struck by the tendency some of you have in wanting people one must deal with in international relations to have the characteristics of a good clergyman or father and husband. Jimmy Carter is an admirable man. He was a terrible president. pl

  33. wsam says:

    I think the narrative in Anbar is a little more complicated than what we are being sold.
    The now-assassinated Abu Risha’s Iraq Awakening movement had the support of 200 tribal leaders. Eighty percent of these leaders belong to sub-clans of the very powerful Dulaimi tribe. Al-Qaeda’s close relationship is with another tribe: the Mashadani, who used to be very close to Saddam Hussein. Obviously there are intense inter-tribal rivalries at play here. It is quite possible that Abu Risha was assassinated by Iraqi nationalists, or members of a rival tribe, not el Qaeda.
    Also, both tribes detest the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in Baghdad.
    According to the latest BBC/ABC News poll, no less than 97% of Iraqi Sunnis want a unified, centralized Iraq, one having Baghdad as its capital. Unfortunately only 56% of Shi’ites want such a thing. Something 91% of Kurds oppose.
    98% of Sunnis are against the Maliki government, 92% of them approving attacks against occupation troops. This of course includes all those members of the Dulaimis tribe who are now supported by the Americans.
    What’s happening in Anbar is once again a replay of what happened in eastern Afghanistan in 2001. Though local tribes might profit from US largesse – and weapons – they are operating according to their own tribal and/or nationalist agenda: in this case the restoration of Sunni power. Give the Dulaimi tribe and its sub-clans a chance and they will try and topple the Maliki government in Baghdad. An attempt to restore Sunni power will, of course, inspire voracious opposition from the different Shia militias. In fact, an attempt might unify them.
    The sad fact is that Anbar is no longer relevant. For the near future there are only three relevant wars in Iraq: Baghdad (between Sunnis and Shi’ites), Basra (between Shi’ite militias, for the oil); and in Kirkuk (between Kurds and Arabs/Turkomans, for the same reason).
    Shut out of the south and increasingly, Baghdad, any Sunni tribes or groups interested in augmenting their power will have no choice but to look northwards, putting them in direct collision with the Kurds.

  34. wsam says:

    “My question is how can the US withdraw without upsetting the delicate balance of Sunni tribes and militia vs the Arab Shia majority in Iraq.”
    The answer is the balance you speak of doesn’t exist. The Sunni are being marginalized as we speak.

  35. T says:

    Col Lang, exactly. I don’t see how the US can withdraw in a way that achieves our national interests (an imperative one being avoiding a major region-wide war) without engaging Iran, even if its government is an abusive father, wife-beating husband and molesting clergyman all wrapped into one? Your Concert of the Middle East is the soundest plan my puny diplomatic mind has seen, but short of that, isn’t engaging (e.g. by taking regime change off the table, or recognizing Iran as a major regional power) with Iran necessary regardless of what ends up populating the undiscovered country of post-withdrawal Iraq?
    In other words, is a region wide war likely even if we do not attack Iran and simply do not engage with it? It seems to me that it is.

  36. Cold War Zoomie says:

    That article made my head spin. I’ll have to read it 3 or 4 more times to figure out what he’s actually saying. One thing I took away from it, however, is that he definitely *seems* to be supporting al-Maliki. Hmmm.
    As for our European SOFAs, let me speak from personal experience as an enlisted peon. We had it drilled into us that we were guests overseas. Period. We were all supposed to act like little ambassadors for the USA. (Can’t say I was always up to the part!)
    And one thing us enlisted guys enjoyed in the US military is the double whammy – if we screwed up off post, first we got punished by the locals. When the locals were done with us, then we found ourselves in even more trouble with our commander.

  37. Babak Makkinejad says:

    Col. Lang:
    Jimmy Carter advanced the cause of peace in the Middle East and lowered the temperature. He caused no harm.
    This is more than one can say about others.

  38. Montag says:

    To be fair to Carter, his Camp David Accord which made peace between Israel and Egypt is still as good today as it was then. Unlike the Middle East Peace Agreements that his successors took credit for.
    Didn’t the Warsaw Pact nations have the good sense to pull the plug on the organization in 1989 or thereabouts? Bill Buckley once said that it was perhaps unique in that the military muscle of the alliance was directed inwards towards its own members, instead of outwards towards external enemies. Come to think of it, the Polish Army actually invaded POLAND in 1981!

  39. chew2 says:

    Adjami has always been a dense writer and speaker. I have always found his views essentially incoherent. He is now an advocate for the neo con views, and I would evaluate anything he says with a grain of salt.
    Statements like “We used to be decimated and killed like locusts in Saddam’s endless wars..” are so symptomatic of Adjami’s writing style, one has to be careful when he put’s it in the mouths of others, like Abu Reisha. So much like Tom Friedman’s cab drivers.
    As to Abu Reisha, I read recently (can’t remember where sorrry) that his tribe was historically known for it’s highway banditry and smuggling. Makes them good fighters, but can you base a strategy on the coherence and organization of those types of romantic tribal criminals.
    While I applaud the USMC and others for using the tribes tactically to bring order to Anbar, I really question whether this can lead to anything strategically.

  40. taters says:

    I lived in Japan in my youth,(as a dependent)I am half Japanese by descent. (and Irish)
    I also worked there later as a civilian(my father met my mother at a USO dance in Korea, after the war.)We spent alot of time off base. I was and am still under the impression that if we (the US)weren’t wanted there, we would be gone. Let me say that physically I took more after my mom, unlike my sister and therefore could pass as Japanese – (Despite a somewhat limited vocabulary, my Nagoya accent is pretty much on it.)so perhaps I may have been privy to conversations that other Americans may not have heard.
    Well, I might as well tell you good people this – my uncle was ‘oyabun’ (godfather)of the Nagoya and Gifu yakuza, (He had 5000 men under his command.) I was his oldest nephew and the oldest grandchild. He was gunned down by an assassin at a temple, in front of a priest in the 80’s. It was an unauthorized hit and this rogue killer surrendered to the police immediately when he realized that the yakuza wanted him and there was no advancement for him. My uncle was known as a peacemaker for the warring clans. (Obviously he wasn’t without his share of criminal offenses.)
    I wasn’t aware of what my uncle did until my adult life, when I worked there. I was and am far removed from this type of criminal activity.I can say however, the movie Black Rain was a bunch of bs.
    I know I got off track but I was never under the perception that the US was an occupying force. Nor did I ever hear that from the Japanese. There were some anti US communist demonstrations in the late 50’s and early 60’s that I witnessed but as far as I could tell, they were fringers.

  41. Will says:

    While on the subject of NeoKons and Poles.
    The strategy of using ethnic tensions to destabilize a neighboring country and cause a partition is not new. Poland had an operation to implement it on neighboring Czarist Russia and then the Soviet Union.

  42. taters says:

    Dear Col. Lang,
    This article is well worth the read. Thank you. I was one (I’m pretty sure of many)who sent Dr. Ajami a strong letter stating that I was deeply offended regarding his description of Libby as a fallen soldier. I’ve yelled at him on tv. I am still learning to explore points of view that don’t jive with my ideology – you’ve helped me on that journey.
    It’s perhaps ironic that I’ve referred to others as idealogues when indeed I have been guilty of the same. Again, thanks.

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