A note on Jaysh al-Muhammad

In a post on alphabet city, Robert brings up the idea that Jaysh al-Muhammad, which was involved in the planning of the Palestine Hotel attack on Monday, was founded by Saddam Hussein right before the war. He’s sorta right, but there are more details. As usual, it’s more complicated than just saying it’s a creation of Saddam.

In a post on alphabet city, Robert brings up the idea that Jaysh al-Muhammad, which was involved in the planning of the Palestine Hotel attack on Monday, was founded by Saddam Hussein right before the war. He’s sorta right, but there are more details. As usual, it’s more complicated than just saying it’s a creation of Saddam.
Just after the war, Saddam instructed his subordinates to “rebuild your networks.” These networks became the core of the insurgency that included Jaysh al-Muhammad. The majority of JAM’s members are former military men who, by definition, were members of the Ba’ath Party, but that does not mean they subscribe fully to the Ba’athist ideology or that they follow Saddam. They are _generally_ more nationalistic than Ba’athist, but their ideology is a complicated mishmash of Iraqi nationalism and pan-Arabism. (The latter is a plank of Ba’athist ideology, though.) The JAM also attracts money and support from former regime elements and exiles in Syria and Jordan because of a) its relative effectiveness and b) its surface Ba’athist trappings.
How do the _jihadis_ such as Zarqawi fit into this? While Zarqawi was present in Iraq prior to the war, he was confined to the Kurdish area in the north and was working with Ansar al-Islam, a group mainly made up of Kurdish salafists and some veterans of Afghanistan. It was only after the Ba’athist and nationalist insurgency began to make some gains that they were able to get into the fight. They established a great deal of momentum and have been riding it ever since, struggling for control of “the insurgency” against the Ba’athists and nationalists.
The weapons in this internecine struggle are money and appeals to religion. While the Ba’athists can command great sums of cash through old accounts in Syria, Jordan and elsewhere, the _jihadis_ can call on equal funds from the oil-rich sympathizers in the Gulf states. (I’m talking individuals, not necessarily government support — but I wouldn’t rule it out, either.)
The _jihadis_ gain influence within the insurgency by initially providing money and materiel to smaller nationalist groups, but then start lobbying for their new-found beneficiaries to starting being better Muslims. More help, more preaching follows, and soon enough, a group of nationalists have grown their beards, stopped drinking beer and smoking cigarettes and start praying five times a day. What they may have originally seen as a struggle of national resistance has become jihad, with the original leaders of the nationalist group either eliminated or pushed aside in favor of more religious-minded men.
This fight over nationalism/secularism and jihad/fundamentalism is happening all over Iraq, not just in the insurgency. It’s happening in the society at large and within the Iraqi government. It’s also happening all over the Muslim world, and in many ways is the real war on “terror.”

Constitutional Con?

I wish I could give you a good reason for that, but I don’t. After Marla’s death, I just didn’t feel like blogging for a while…. And now Iraq’s a busy place.

BAGHDAD—Hello all. We haven’t spoken in a while. I wish I could give you a good reason for that, but I can’t. After Marla’s death, I just didn’t feel like blogging for a while. It’s not like there’s been a dearth of material, however. A new government, a hell of a lot of violence, allegations of prior corruption, massive military operations… And that’s just in the last month or so. Iraq’s a busy place.

But this week, the new Iraqi government established the Constitutional Committee that will draft Iraq’s permanent constitution. It’s made up of 55 members of parliament that didn’t get tapped for Ibrahim al-Jaafari’s cabinet—which took way too long to get off the ground. Three months? I mean, c’mon. The government expires, in theory, at the end of this year anyway. These guys’ main job is supposed to be making sure all the checks get signed and the writing of a constitution. And yet, they’re acting like a permanent government, arguing over cabinet posts and putting more thought into their own political futures than the country’s. This pisses Iraqis off.

And speaking of political futures, Iyad Allawi is considering taking the chairmanship of the committee, although one of his aides told me that he’s really preparing for the next election. I told the aide that I thought being chairman of the committee might be a nice platform from which to run. True, admitted the aide, but if the process falls apart, Allawi will be blamed for that if he’s the chairman. I countered that if the process falls apart, Allawi’s going to have a lot more to worry about than his political viability—and so will Iraq.

Another name being bandied about is Houman al-Hammoudi, a political advisor to Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, head of Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). These two guys are handy symbols for where Iraq may be heading. If Allawi takes the chairmanship, the new constitution will likely have more American input and be more secular. If al-Hamoudi gets it, look for a stronger role for Islam and more influence from Tehran. (SCIRI still has significant ties to the Iranian regime.)

The chairman will be announced today, inshallah, so we’ll get to see where we’re going. [UPDATE 5/16/05 5:32:23 PM: The chairmanship wasn’t announced on Sunday because committee members can’t decide between al-Hammoudi and a Kurdish member.] But, in my opinion, it’s already off to a bad start. There are only two Sunnis on the committee. One suggestion to increase their representation is to shunt them off to a subcommittee ghetto, where they’ll filter up their recommendations to the main committee. Dr. Saleh Mutlak, a member of the National Dialogue Council, the hot, new political group for disenfranchised Sunnis, thinks things might be OK if Allawi is the chairman but if it’s al-Hammoudi, the marginalizing of the religious minority will be complete. This is a recipe for yet more disaster, considering the Sunnis are already suspicious that de-Ba’athification is really code for an anti-Sunni purge.

The new government and the Americans might be wise to listen to Mutlak and his compatriots on the Council. They have good ties to the Iraqi insurgency—the Ba’athists and nationalists, not the jihadis—and they’re looking for a deal. As TIME Magazine reported in February, members of the Ba’athist/nationalist insurgency are open to negotiating an end to their struggle with the U.S. “We are ready,” said a top insurgent negotiator, “to work with you.” The Council is their Sinn Fein.

But talks may have broken down. Mutlak declined to confirm any negotiations, but handed me a statement yesterday that reads, in part:

What we cannot forget is the responsibility for the continuation of casualties that is borne by a blind insistence on a military solution to the insurgency. That military solution, over the course of now two long years, has proven to be clearly unreachable.

The U.S. and its Coalition partners, which created the conditions that prevail in Iraq today by its ill-advised dissolution of the Army and its sweeping de-Ba’athification edicts, should drop its “hands-off”attitude toward negotiations and political solutions and join with all of us, those in the Iraqi government and those who are outside, in the common work of finding a political solution that will end the insurgency, and bring about the new democratic Iraq that we all desire.

This tells me the talks may have broken down and that they’re looking to start them up again. Probably because the Sunnis are worried about Shi’ite revenge squads. One could argue whether they have it coming or not, but that is, in effect, arguing for civil war. So I guess the choices are let the Shi’ites and the Kurds massacre the Sunnis or talk with the former Ba’athists and bring them into the government. Your pick.

And this ties in with my current obsession: how Iraq will reconcile itself with its recent bloody past and the role of the Ba’ath Party. While many Sunni leaders stayed and took part in the regime, the current Shi’ite and Kurdish leadership spent much of the Saddam years in exile—and they have long memories of the oppression of their people by a military largely commanded by Sunni officers. So it’s no surprise that many former members of Saddam’s military think this is not only a political purge, but also a sectarian one. “They do not mean Ba’athists,” said Abu Laith (a pseudonym), a captain from Fallujah in Iraq’s new 8th Mechanized Division. “They mean Sunnis.”

Abu Laith is a former captain in Iraq’s 6th Armored Division, which was based in Basra. He chose not to fight the Americans in March 2003, when they rolled north out of Kuwait. But now he’s ready to take up arms against the new government and the Americans if talks break down and hardliners in the Jaafari government push for a purge of the security forces. “We are professional men and we know how to fight,” he said.

Losing experienced officers like Abu Laith to the insurgency is not something the Americans want to see, which is why they seem to be more open to talks than the Iraqi government. The Jaafari cabinet and the Kurds are not in a forgiving mood for a lot of reasons. But the choices are going to come to down to talking or fighting. Driving the former Ba’athists away from talks and their jobs is inviting catastrophe.

“If the government has 1,000 enemies now, they will have 10,000 enemies,” said Abu Laith. “We are fighting for our lives.”

Shahwani’s interview—Finally!

A while back, I mentioned that I would post the full al-Sharq interview with General Muhammad Abdullah Shahwani, Iraq’s intelligence chief, from Jan. 4. I got snowed under by election deadlines, but here it is finally.

A while back, I mentioned that I would post the full al-Sharq interview with General Muhammad Abdullah Shahwani, Iraq’s intelligence chief, from Jan. 4. I got snowed under by election deadlines—sorry about that—but here it is finally. More information on what the official line is on the insurgency. Shahwani’s generally been a good source, and I’m inclined to believe a lot of what he says—mainly because it matches a lot of what I’ve gotten from other folks.

What is your opinion about the number of the armed fighters in Iraq?

Officially call them terrorists because they are doing terrorism against the people and they are outlaws. Their number is between 20,000, 30,000, in the whole of Iraq, distributed in the Sunni area. The people who live in this area emotionally support them, and they are about 200,000 without offering them money or logistic support. For example, they don’t give any information about their activities if they have this information.

That means those 200,000 do not fight with the fighters?

It’s impossible that the fighters’ numbers reach 200,000. These are those who live in those areas where the fighters are active—for example the right side of Mosul is completely out of control—and in this area, the terrorist are very active without any information about them from the local people, and very often they offer them shelter (hospitality).

Are those fighters from one group or many different groups?

They are from the remnants of the Ba’ath Party, from Islamic extremists and others.

The Iraqis and Americans have claimed the Jordanian extremist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is behind this terrorism, but recently they’ve started pointing to the Ba’ath party and its leaders. Is there any changes or some new facts?

There are no changes, but the Ba’ath Party has been organized for a long time. What happened is they reorganized themselves and they are getting money and support from their leaders in Syria. Their operations are well-developed because or their large number, their experience and their financing ability.

How many Ba’athists are involved in the armed operations now?

I can’t tell the exact number but we expect the Ba’athists before numbered two million and if we expect 20% of them are involved now that mean the number is very huge and all of them are well-organized and armed and some start working with them after they found themselves jobless. Most of them are from the former Iraqi army.

Who leads these organizations now?

As we know the Ba’ath Party divided into many parts, and now there are three wings, the most powerful wing, which belongs to the former regime, got a large quantity of money.

Who are those leaders?

There is Izzat al Douri, Mohammed Unis al Ahmed, who is moving between Syria and Iraq and Sabawi al Hassan and other Ba’ath leaders who live in Syria.

Do you think that there is foreigner or Arab support?

They don’t need financial support. The Ba’ath Party, as you know, was the richest party in the world, and was gaining 5% from the oil benefits since 1970 for the party budget.

Has the Iraqi government asked the Syrian government to hand them over?

There have been such attempts, but there are no results so far.

But hasn’t the Syrian government denied their existence in their territories?

No. We are sure that they are in Syria and they are moving easily between Syria and Iraq border,

Are there any other Ba’ath leaders?

There is a group that split itself from the former regime under the leadership of the Taih Abdul Karim and Naim Hadad and both working inside Iraq.

Did the American military operations in Fallujah lead to a decrease in terrorist operations?

It became less only in Fallujah.

And in the rest of Iraq?

In gangs war which acted by the terrorism groups we can’t get the results as we get in the organized army war, or the traditional war. The goal from Fallujah operation was to destroy the terrorism gangs or to capture their members but the results in Fallujah we could not capture the terrorists or kill their leaders, we did not see or hear about capturing or killing any big leader of terrorism, all the leaders of the terrorism have left Fallujah before the operations started already.

And they went working in other sites or hiding outside Fallujah in each fight there is a goal and the goal of Fallujah operation was to destroy the terrorist and their leadership but the goal was not done actually in spite of the full controlling of Fallujah.

What are the sources of the armed group?

The Ba’ath Party, extremist Islamist organization like Ansar al-Sunna, Tawhid w’al-Jihad, Ansar al-Islam, the 1920 Revolution and other from these names and its reached about 12 groups.

All these groups you mentioned are Sunnis. Are there any Shi’ite groups?

The group of Moqtada al-Sadr was fighting just like the others before, but now there is no Shi’ite group carrying weapons against the government.

The statement of the Iraqi officials pointed to Iran and Syria consider them the two sources of supporting these operations, is there any changes in this subject?

I am personally did not notice any changes in their attitudes and the problems still coming from those two countries because the borders are open and the support is still coming in.

What are the effects of the armed operations on the elections process?

For sure there is a negative effects on the elections. Some of the Iraqi people will not be able to reach voting centers, and this will affect the election process.

What is the need for the intelligence system in a democratic regime?

There is no country in the whole world that has no intelligence system to protect the country and the people and monitoring the gangs like drug gangs and all other cases to stop them including all the cases that is related to the security of the country. Usually we observe and collect information to be delivered to the security forces so security forces can do its duties to protect the country.

Do you think that the armed operation will increase or decrease?

It depends on the election. We have to wait for the result and then we will see. As a security system we expect this kind of operations will decrease within one year.

What are the most unsecured areas in Iraq now?

Mistakenly, they call it the Sunni triangle, but there are other unsecured areas like Diyala, which has 50% of its population Shi’ite and also the north of Babylon, which is extended to reach Sowera and Salman Pak. All these areas are very difficult to reach, for example the area between Hadhar and Mosul its out of control and those armed group in the streets searching the people and also the area which extend from Sharqat down to Baiji and Samara. All these areas are unsecured in addition to Ramadi, Fallujah and its surrounding areas, while inside Baghdad there is Haifa street and Adhamiya and Dora and Ghazaliya and Airport road and all these areas are unsecured and dangerous and may God give those terrorists their punishment.

200,000 in the insurgency?

There’s been a lot of talk about the number of people in the resistance, with the head of the Iraqi Intelligence Services, the new mukabarat, being quoted as putting the number at 200,000 — more than the number of U.S. troops in country. He’s been widely misinterpreted.

BAGHDAD — There’s been a lot of talk about the number of fighters in the insurgency, with General Muhammad Abdullah Shahwani, the head of the Iraqi Intelligence Services, being quoted as putting the number at 200,000 — more than the number of U.S. troops in country.

He’s been widely — and literally — misinterpreted. I have a translation of the original Jan. 4 interview in Al-Sharq newspaper and it’s clear he’s talking about the passive support of the insurgency. Here’s what he actually said, as translated by one of my fixers here in Baghdad:

What is your opinion about the number of the armed fighters in Iraq?

Officially call them ‘terrorists’ because they are doing terrorism against the people and they are outside the law, Their number is between 20,000 and 30,000, in all of Iraq, distributed in the Sunni area. [The “Sunni Triangle” — CA] And the people who live in this area and emotionally support them, are about 200,000 without offering them money or logistic support. As an example, they don’t give any information about their activities if they have this information.

That means those 200,000 do not fight with the fighters?

It’s impossible that the fighters’ numbers reach 200,000. These are those who live in the areas where the fighters are active. For example, the right side [western — CA] of Mosul is completely out of control and in this area, the terrorists are very active without any announcement [informing — CA] about them for the local people, and very often they offer them shelter (hospitality). (Emphasis mine.)

I can’t believe Juan Cole missed this. He speaks Arabic, and he reads al-Sharq, often citing it. I’m not saying that Shahwani is right. I have my own theories that I’d like to confirm before I publish them. I’m just trying to correct an erroneous notion that is being floated in the blogosphere right now.

Alas, I’m on a wicked deadline at the moment, but after that’s over, I’ll clean up the translation and post the whole interview.

Suicide bombing?!

Mosul appears to have been a suicide attack by Ansar al-Sunna. I’m stunned they were able to pull this off.

The Pentagon has admitted that it appears the Mosul attack was a suicide bomber. From a press release:

WASHINGTON, Dec. 22, 2004 — It appears that a suicide bomber was responsible for the attack on the mess hall at Forward Operating Base Marez in Mosul that killed 22 people Dec. 21, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said during a Pentagon news briefing today.
Of the 22 dead, 13 were U.S. servicemembers, five were U.S. civilian contractors, three were Iraqi security force members and one a “non-U.S. person,” Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers said. Myers briefed the press with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.
A total of 69 others were wounded: 44 U.S. servicemembers, seven U.S. contractors, five Defense Department civilians, two Iraqi civilians, 10 contractors of other nationalities and one of unknown nationality and occupation. “Twenty-five of the 69 who were wounded were returned to duty,” Myers said. Others are being transported to Landstuhl Army Medical Center in Germany.
The chairman said investigators in Mosul said that at this point it “looks like it was an improvised explosive device worn by an attacker.”

Well, looks like my “lucky shot” thesis was wrong. Really wrong. I just didn’t imagine that a suicide bomber could get on a Forward Operating Base, walk into a dining hall and blow himself up.
What the hell? How the hell does this happen? He must have had help from inside, which means the Iraqis working with U.S. forces in the bases have just had their lives changed forever. Whatever bonds of trust between Iraqis working with U.S. forces have been frayed — perhaps to the breaking point.
I’m just stunned that insurgents were able to get inside and do this. This also makes the debate over whether the still-under-construction concrete dining facility was behind schedule moot. A concrete roof wouldn’t have made a whit of difference. This was an attack from inside.
How was this allowed to happen?