The latest silly article on Iran…

Aside

Possibly one of the most ridiculous articles I’ve read in a while: Why Iran’s Top Leaders Believe That The End Of Days Has Come | Fox News.

Yeah, I know. “Fox News”, right? But one of the reasons Iran is so mysterious is because US and other western leaders don’t know what the regime’s leadership is thinking, much less that they’re obsessed with the “end times.”

Latest IraqSlogger: Chalabi’s back

My latest for IraqSlogger is up, and there’s a howler of an op-ed in today’s _Wall Street Journal_. As I wrote for the Slogger:

Melik Kaylan writes a fawning piece on Ahmad Chalabi for the _Wall Street Journal_’s op-ed page, calling him the “nearest thing Iraqis currently possess to a genuine walk-and-talk democratic politician.” For many Americans, that may be hard to stomach, as the guy has been roundly criticized for peddling false WMD information to eager listeners at the Pentagon. (He once said, “As far as we’re concerned we’ve been entirely successful. That tyrant Saddam is gone and the Americans are in Baghdad. What was said before is not important. … We are heroes in error.”) In Chalabi’s views, everything would have been hunky-dory in Baghdad if the Americans had just let the Iraqis run the show, presumably with him in charge. (Which was pretty much the plan until those meddlin’ State Department kids showed up.) Furthermore, without once mentioning that Chalabi is Shi’ite himself, Kaylan says Chalabi recognizes the realities of Iraq and its ethnic makeup, admitting that Shi’ites will be dominant. Well, other than Sunni insurgents, does anyone really dispute that? Kaylan seems to have been snookered by Chalabi, who thrills Iraqis by wandering amongst the people. Admirable yes, but Chalabi has almost zero support in Iraq and perhaps the reason he’s able to walk and talk relatively safely in public is because no one takes him seriously anymore.

The quote from Chalabi that I reference can be found here, way back from February 2004.

Escape from Iraq

A story I wrote appeared Monday in the Newark Star-Ledger, a great smaller paper that cares about foreign news. The story dealt with the plight of the Iraqi refugees in Jordan.

Lives suspended by war
AMMAN, Jordan — Rana crosses her legs on the threadbare carpet in her living room in this poor Palestinian section of town and watches as her three children light a candle. The kids are having a pretend birthday party without a cake or presents, but their faces are painted a magnificent shade of gold by the candlelight.

Across town, Hasa and his family sit in their richly-appointed apartment, with all the modern conveniences and bedrooms for everyone. The kitchen is especially bright and clean.

Rana and Hasa live in separate worlds, but have much in common.

Both families are Iraqi refugees facing an uncertain future in a foreign country. Both want to return to their shattered country. And both agreed to be interviewed and photographed for this story only if their real names would not be used because they fear deportation from Jordan and retribution in Iraq.
Driven from their homes by violence and threats of death, Rana and Hasa also provide rare portraits of the refugee life facing many Iraqis. The two families are among the 750,000 Iraqi refugees estimated to be living in Jordan, a country about the size of Pennsylvania and choking on the staggering burden of its new population. (The Iraqis account for about 15 percent of the people living in Jordan.)

Rana’s family is struggling to fit in and faces discrimination from other Iraqis, Jordanians and Palestinians. Jordanians, Rana says, complain to her that “you’re not wearing a hijab, you’re wearing tight jeans, you’re leaving the house.” Palestinians, meanwhile, say, “You killed Saddam.”
Hasa’s family, while well off, faces difficult circumstances as well. From their plush perch overlooking the local mosque, they made a comfortable life here after arriving in 2003.

Things have changed, though.

Hasa now complains government regulations make it impossible for him to run his businesses here or in Iraq, and his life savings is being bled dry.
At the same time, he rages at the U.S. government.

“We are in such a state that we who welcomed America now hate it, and hate the people as much as we hate the politics,” he says. “This isn’t the freedom we expected. This isn’t what we wanted.”

Two families in a country where they don’t want to be.

Two families in a country that really doesn’t want them.

“Please read the whole thing”:http://www.nj.com/starledger/stories/index.ssf?/base/news-11/1180932323248120.xml&coll=1. It should be noted that two days after the story appeared, the UNHCR raised the number of Iraqis who are displaced or refugees to 4.4 million — almost twice the numbers that were available to me at the time of my reporting. That’s 16 percent of the entire Iraqi population, making it the largest human catastrophe to hit the Middle East in recorded history. It dwarfs the Palestinian displacements in 1948 and 1967. If something isn’t done about this, it will further destabilize an already volatile region.

By the way, can someone recommend a good server host? Yahoo! is terrible and I keep getting 500 Server Errors preventing me from getting into the blog, rebuilding it, etc.

Two buses blown up in Christian area

BEIRUT — Bombs destroyed two commuter buses today in the small Christian community of Ain Alaq, in the mountains north of Beirut.
Reports of fatalities varied, but ranged from three (Red Cross, security forces) to 12 (LBC and other media sources.) Ten to 20 were wounded. The first bomb was apparently attached to the undercarriage of the first bus while the second was in a back seat on the second, according to my fixer, who is trying to find more info. I’ll update if this changes.
The wounded were civilians possibly traveling to work, marking a change in the “two-year campaign of bombings and assassinations”:http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/L13582123.htm that has wracked Lebanon since the killing of Rafik Hariri on Feb. 14, 2005. Before, the attacks were either targeted assassinations of well-known anti-Syrian politicians and journalists or small bombs exploded in buildings late at night so as to minimize casualties. This seems aimed at Iraq- or Israel-style terror. Random, anywhere, pitiless.
Details are still emerging, but speculation is rampant. Was this Syria? Hezbollah? CIA? (A Hezbollah spokesman said it was the latter.) Was it a warning to the March 14 coalition not to attend the big rally planned for downtown tomorrow to mark the two-year anniversary of Hariri’s death?
One intriguing connection is to Elias Murr, Lebanon’s defense minister. The buses originated in Bteghrin, the home of the Murr family — they’re the major clan there — and some have wondered if this could be a response to Murr’s “refusal last week to return a truck full of Hezbollah weapons”:http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/6345761.stm intercepted by the Lebanese Army?
Elias Murr was the target of a failed assassination in July 2005.
I’m not convinced of that, as it would be a complete turn-around for Hezbollah, who have not (yet) turned their weapons on their fellow Lebanese — a point of pride for the group.
Also, the attack happened near Bikfaya, the ancestral home of the Gemayel clan. Several of the dead were Gemayels. Lebanon’s industry minister, Pierre Gemayel “was assassinated”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/2006/11/pierre_gemayel_has_been_assass.php in November.
Michel Murr, the defense minister’s father, was at the site of the bombing and said it was a message for all Lebanese to come together and transcend politics. That’s a nice sentiment, but it’s almost assuredly _not_ the message the bombers were trying to send.
More likely, it was a warning to March 14.
“They are trying to sabotage tomorrow’s meeting,” said Ahmad Fatfat, the former interior minister. “They are trying to divide the Christians. … The people who are doing this don’t want the people to come together and it’s another link in the chain” of assassinations.
“I cannot believe any Lebanese is capable of doing such a terrible thing,” he added.
Fatfat also said the bombs were placed on the buses yesterday, although he declined to say how he knew that.
Obviously, Fatfat is not-so-subtlely pointing the finger at Syria. A Hezbollah spokesman said the same thing, but blamed the CIA instead of Syria.
I witnessed this in Iraq, too, by the way, early in the insurgency. In 2004, when the violence was much more sporadic and rare than it is now, Iraqis would often tell me, “These bombs could not come from Iraqis. No Iraqi would hurt another Iraqi. This must be the Israelis or CIA.”
There’s always a natural tendency to believe that outsiders are the ones doing the killing. Witness the immediate reaction to the Murrah Building in 1995. Everyone immediately suspected Arab terrorism, not home-grown white supremacists.
But right now, especially on the eve of the anniversary of the killing of Hariri, everyone in Lebanon — Hezbollah, March 14, etc. — is banking on national unity for their own purposes. “Hariri was for all of us,” as many say. Other parties — Syria, especially, but possibly Israel — would love to see Lebanese at each others’ throats. Syria could use any violence as an “I told you so” excuse to intervene again, and Israel probably wouldn’t mind seeing Hezbollah on the defensive in its own country.
(Mind you, I’m not accusing Israel of today’s bombing; I’m just analyzing who might stand to gain from Lebanese discord.)
*UNRELATED (?) NEWS:* The Grand Mufti of Lebanon, Sheikh Mohammad Rashid Qabbani, the highest ranking Sunni cleric in country, claims in a press release to LBC that he was heckled and threatened by the pro-Syrian, Hezbollah-led March 8 protesters as he led prayers at Hariri’s grave in Martyr’s Square downtown today. He says he was told to leave or they would burn his car.
(March 8 is a coalition of mostly Shi’ite parties and some Christians, and includes Hezbollah, Amal, the Syrian Social Nationalist Party and the Christian parties of Michel Aoun and Suleiman Franjieh. With the exception of Aoun, they are all solidly pro-Syrian. Aoun just wants to be president and will hitch his horse to whichever wagon he thinks will win.)
Also, in this morning’s _San Francisco Chronicle_, I have a story about the “rearming of the Lebanese factions.”:http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/02/13/MNG62O3F5U1.DTL&hw=allbritton&sn=001&sc=1000 It might become very relevant after today.

Beirut in flames

hard_days_work.jpg
An opposition member cradles the head of an exhausted comrade as they take a break from blocking roads in Beirut on Tuesday (c) 2007 Christopher Allbritton
BEIRUT — If there was any question whether Hezbollah was in control of the situation here following the violence of Tuesday, the fighting today should convince those that it is not, and the situation is about to be seriously out of control.
To back up a little, Tuesday’s violence seemed to shock even the leaders of Hezbollah, both because its Aounists and Amal allies behaved like hooligans, but also because the followers of Saad Hariri and Samir Geagea refused to back down and matched slogan with slogan, stick with stick, stone with stone.
At one neighborhood in Beirut, where the fighting was fiercest, the largely Sunni supporters of al-Mustaqbal chanted their support for America (in response to the chants of “Iran! Iran!” and “Bashar! Syria!” by Amal supporters across the street.) They also, bizarrely, hoisted a poster of Saddam Hussein, indicating that the Sunni-Shi’a conflict from Iraq has poisoned the atmosphere in Lebanon now, too.
This is about to be a full-on sectarian clash between Sunnis and Shi’a and within the Christian community.
That’s why Hezbollah and its allies called off their strike after a day, despite many promises by the men on the street I saw who said they would continue the strike “for days,” if necessary.
“Do you not think Hezbollah loves Lebanon?” asked Bilal, a Hezbollah supporter I spoke with as his compatriots burned a car to block the road leading the airport. “Of course we do, which is why we are prepared to stay out here for days, weeks.”
More ominously, today’s violence shows that Hezbollah no longer controls the opposition movement it created. Months of animosity over the war, the parliamentary paralysis and calls for changing the government has hardened positions among the Sunni, who increasingly see the Shi’a as responsible for last summer’s war and more loyal to Iran than to Lebanon. In short, the Shi’ite militant group has pushed its political opponents too far.
Already this has spread beyond the capital. The Lebanese Army has been deployed to Chtoura and Baalbak in the Bekaa and there are as yet unconfirmed reports that the road to old road to Sidon has been closed. By whom, we don’t know.
Four people are dead and at least 25 injured and while this flare-up might be contained, the next one appears inevitable. And next time it won’t be fought with sticks and stones.

“The blood of the Shi’ites is boiling”

Here’s the latest I filed from Lebanon. “A much shorter version”:http://www.nj.com/news/ledger/index.ssf?/base/news-10/116556152129650.xml&coll=1 appeared in the _Newark Star-Ledger_, but here’s the full account:

BEIRUT — Lebanon’s capital is once again a tinderbox, ready to blow because of political rivalries exacerbated by sectarian tensions. Increasingly, the political disputes — which are ostensibly over international tribunals, presidential terms and the legitimacy of a government — have grown into religious disputes, mirroring the sectarian tensions between Sunnis and Shi’ites across the region.
Which leader one supporters is often determined by one’s faith. Shi’ites support the Syrian-backed Hezbollah and its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, who has called for the overthrow of the current government as being too close to the United States and cutting Shi’ites out of power for too long. Sunnis, however, support the current government because it is lead by Prime Minister Fuad Siniora, who is a member of the Future Movement, a political party headed Saad Hariri, the son of the murdered ex-premier Rafik, who was killed in 2005.
“The political issues are sectarian,” explained Tariq Tarqawi, 20, who is, in order, a Palestinian, a Sunni and a car electrician. He lives in Ard Jalloul, a mainly Sunni neighborhood that abuts the mainly Shi’ite suburbs of Beirut. “They love Nasrallah, we love Hariri.”
It’s a political crisis that has come to a head in the past week, with hundreds of thousands of pro-Syrian supporters filling downtown Beirut and street clashes between Sunni and Shi’ite youths from rival neighborhoods. Nasrallah says his people will continue to demonstrate and paralyze central Beirut until the government resigns. Siniora says he’s staying. Where this ends up is anyone’s guess, but it’s already turned deadly.
Ali Ahmad Mahmoud, a 20-year-old Shi’ite from the neighborhood, was killed Sunday night in fighting between Shi’ites and Sunnis in Ard Jalloul. Details are murky, but residents say Shi’ite protesters apparently entered the neighborhood spoiling for a fight.
“If we hadn’t fought them, they would have come in here and broken everything,” said Khalid Hashem, 20, a Sunni from the neighborhood. He was, he added, a friend of Mahmoud. “The Shi’ites are known for this.”
According to others, the intruders chanted slogans and insulted Sunni religious figures.
“We could not bear it anymore,” said one woman in a pharmacy whose husband would not allow her name to be used. “I did not like Hariri and I had nothing against the Shi’ites, but now things are changing. This is not a political demonstration anymore.”
Both Shi’ite and Sunni partisans blame the other side for the shooting, but the question remains: Who killed Ali Ahmad Mahmoud?
The situation is so knife-edge balanced that the head of Lebanese army warned that his forces were being strained to the breaking point as they tried to cope with the security downtown and maintain calm through the tenser neighborhoods of the city. If the protests continued, or worse, turned more violent, the army would be unable to cope, he said.
On Monday, Mahmoud’s body was taken down to the demonstration surrounding the Grand Serail, the old Ottoman fortress that serves as the prime minister’s office and now, the sleeping quarters for a significant portion of Siniora’s cabinet.
The sight of Mahmoud’s coffin brought a fresh surge of fury at the government and protestors crowded around the ambulance carrying it. Many carried signs proclaiming Mahmoud a martyr. “Martyred at the hands of the government’s militias,” read one.
Almost gone were the initial political considerations that had brought the hundreds of thousands into downtown Beirut: the international tribunal, presidential terms and Shi’ite representation. Monday was a day of mourning and passion.
“The blood of the Shi’ites is boiling,” chanted the protestors. “Death to Siniora.”
Downtown Beirut is a tent city, with the canvas constructions lined up below the Grand Serail, like many a besieging army has done over the centuries in this part of the world. At any hour, chanting protestors crowd up against coils of concertina wire while Lebanese Army and Hezbollah discipline men keep them relatively at bay.
For Iman Fakhiya, 29, from the Shi’ite town of Taibe in the south, this protest is simply a matter of fairness for the Shi’ites, who have traditionally been the underdogs in Lebanon.
Hezbollah gained support in the south because the government in Beirut rarely provided services to the rural and impoverished South and Bekaa Valley, the homelands for the country’s Shi’ites. And over 23 years, since its formation in 1982, it has softened its Islamic rhetoric, and now provides for Shi’ites when the government doesn’t, such as schools and hospitals, and defends them when the elite of Lebanon won’t. Even today, on online forums revolving around events in Beirut, supporters of the government often talk of the Shi’ites downtown as “scum” and dirty outsiders.
“I think my parents’ generation accepted this but we won’t,” she said. “They want to keep us down. We just want our rights. Why is the presidency for the Christians and the prime ministership for the Sunnis?”
For her, it is only a matter of time, literally. She would stay for as long as it takes, she said, no matter how uncomfortable she was.
“It doesn’t matter,” she said as she pulled the blanket tighter. “We’ve been hurting for a long time. We are used to it.”

Also, I’ll be traveling for the next few weeks, so postings will be infrequent. I hope things don’t get out of control here.
IMPORTANT CHANGE: Comments have been changed to allow authenticated commenters only. This means you will have to sign up for a “TypeKey”:https://www.typekey.com/t/typekey/register?lang=en-us account to comment. This will cut down on spam and drive-by commenters. Sorry for the inconvenience, but it’s a necessary evil these days.

Misimpressions about Lebanon

BEIRUT — Well, the oafs at Little Green Footballs are at it again. Of course, they never stopped. But it gives me a chance to point out the sheer wrongness of their worldview and clear up some wrong ideas about Lebanon. At the end of the day, we all learn something, right?

Anyway, LGF is warning that Lebanon is hanging in the balance with Hezbollah’s coming putsch against the American-friendly Siniora government. Now, like a broken clock, even bloviating idiots can be right now and then assuming they talk enough, but the LGF’s commenters of course blow it:

There should be some way to get Lebanese Christians out of there before it’s too late.

I have a couple of frends, Lebanese Christians, that still have family there. I hope they get out before it’s too late.

The Christian city dwellers will rue the day they let these savages immigrate. (not sure what this means… — CA)

The Christians in Beirut have been whistling past the graveyard.

Christians are being heavily persecuted in most of the muslim countries, with the worst in the ME. Persecution.com has lots of information about it.

Lebanon

In 1968 70% Christian.

In 2006 45% Christian.

The gain was almost all for the muslims; the palestinian tsunami.

Such comments always inspire in me a Lou Reed-size world-weary sigh. Yes, it’s all so simple: evil Muslims, persecuted Christians.

Except, it’s completely wrong.

Hezbollah’s strongest ally in its push to topple the government is … Christian. It’s the Free Patriotic Movement headed by Maronite politician Michel Aoun, a man who’s so obsessed with being President that he will ally with the people who work for his old enemy: Syria.

And the Free Patriotic Movement is supported by — by some estimates — up to 70 percent of Lebanon’s Christians. The rest fall mainly into Samir Geagea’s camp, the Lebanese Forces, a party/militia that owes traces it its pedegree to the Hitler Youth of the 1930s. (No wonder the LGF ogres like it.)

This current political fight here has very little to do with Christian vs. Muslims. Instead, it’s a fight between a pro-Syrian bloc (Hezbollah, Amal, FPM and a few smaller parties) and an anti-Syrian bloc (Future Movement, Lebanese Forces and Progressive Socialist Party). And this split in the Lebanese political society mirrors the greater struggle for the Middle East: the contest for influence between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran.

There’s lot more to say about this — I’ve written about it before “here”:http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2006/07/02/INGIJJM87B1.DTL&hw=allbritton&sn=001&sc=1000 and “here”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/2006/11/lebanon_hurtles_toward_crisis.php — but I’m on deadline. More later, if possible.

Oh, and comments are still fubar’ed. Still trying to fix that.