Mullah Krekar denies Baghdad-Al Qa’ida link

Mullah Krekar, the spiritual leader of the Islamic insurgent group Ansar al-Islam, operating near the Iranian border in Iraqi Kurdistan, has denied that his group is a link between Baghdad and the al Qa’ida terror group.

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Mullah Krekar, the spiritual leader of the Islamic insurgent group Ansar al-Islam, operating near the Iranian border in Iraqi Kurdistan, has denied that his group is a link between Baghdad and the al Qa’ida terror group.
“I never had links with Saddam Hussein’s family, Saddam Hussein’s government, Saddam Hussein’s party, not in the past, not now, not in the future, and not inside Iraq or outside, not directly, not indirectly,” he told the BBC in Norway after he spent four months in a Dutch jail. “As a Kurdish man, I believe that he is our enemy, and as an Orthodox Muslim also, I believe that Saddam Hussein and his group are outside of Islam’s zone.”
He also repeated past denials that Ansar has ties to al Qa’ida. This is almost assuredly a lie. The various Islamist parties are a destabilizing force in the PUK region of Iraqi Kurdistan. Used to be, there was only one party, called the Islamic Movement, with its leader, Ali Abdul Aziz. But about three years ago, a splinter group, led by Ali Baper, broke off to form the Islamic Association of Kurdistan. Now, both the Islamic Association and the Islamic Movement had their own peshmergas with the Islamic Movement having a special force of fighters called “Suran Force” under the influence of Abu Baker al Tawhed. (Al Tawhed came to Kurdistan in 1988, soon after the Halabja massacre, by way of Afghanistan.)
Thrown into all this mix was an independent group of fighters led by Krekar, a Norwegian Muslim. Krekar’s boys teamed up with al Tawhed’s Suran Force to form a group of assassins. Many officials in the Kurdish enclave believe
Suran Force, with Krekar’s fighters, killed Franso Hariri, father of Fowzi Hariri of the KDP, in February 2001. The assassination was a trigger and one week after the killing, Al Tawhed’s group split with the Islamic Movement and formed Jund al Islam (“Soldiers of Islam.”)
So you now had the Islamic Movement, led by Aziz, the Islamic Association, led by Baper and Jund al Islam, led by Tawhed. Krekar was running around as a wild card. Naturally, all these groups prepared to kill each other in the Iranian border regions around Halabja. Alarmed at the thought a miniature civil war in its territory, the PUK sent a small military force to the region to keep order. But Jund al Islam didn’t take kindly to the PUK’s interference with what they saw their region, so they claimed the PUK was un-Islamic since it was fighting fellow Muslims. In October 2001, they attacked a group of PUK soldiers in a small village called Kheli Hama outside of Halabja and captured 42 fighters. They marched them to the village center where they first shot them in the head and then decapitated them.
After a month of fighting the PUK, Jund al Islam joined formally with Krekar’s fighters to form Ansar al Islam (“Supporters of Islam.”) Krekar has the deepest ties with Osama bin Laden’s al Qa’ida group. He claims to have fought in Afghanistan, Chechnya and Kosovo, and in an interview with a Norwegian magazine, Krekar as much admitted to being a member of al Qa’ida.
All that said, the fact that an al Qa’ida cell is operating in Iraqi Kurdistan, getting backing from both bin Laden and Saddam, does not logically lead to the charge that Saddam is linked with bin Laden. The White House’s reasoning seems to go thusly: Al Qa’ida backs Ansar al-Islam. Saddam backs Ansar al-Islam. Thus, Saddam and al Qa’ida are linked and work together.
While it may be true that Iraq and al Qa’ida are linked, this is not the argument that makes the connection. I talked about this here. Think of it this way: The Soviet Union supported some mujahadin groups while they were in Afghanistan. The United States supported some of the same groups. Ergo, the United States and the Soviet Union were allies in the 1980s. See my point?
Look, I’m not saying Saddam isn’t a wicked man and that war is never justified. Sometimes it is. The American campaign in Afghanistan was a just war and I supported it. (I even — briefly — considered enlisting until I remembered I have a problem with authority.) I can imagine scenarios in which I would support an invasion of Iraq (building democracy and liberating the Kurds and Shi’ites, for example.) But the White House’s drive for war with Iraq is the wrong time and the wrong enemy. Many around the world don’t trust the motivations of the Bush Administration, which too often asks America to judge it by its intentions not by its actions. Many don’t trust Team Bush to do anything substantial to help the Kurds or other Iraqis, and I don’t think the Kurds do either. (Which is why the Kurds, while gunning for a showdown with Saddam, are deeply suspicious of American intentions.)
Look for the White House to really start playing up the Ansar angle, and remember, it might not be true.

Syrian and France coordinating on Security Council

Sorry for the delay. I was slammed by a deadline and couldn’t come up for air. Thus, I missed the State of the Union. Please see George Paine’s entry on Warblogging for a good analysis of the speech.
In other news, Stratfor is reporting that the French and Syrian presidents are planning to coordinate their efforts on the U.N. Security Council to avoid war in Iraq. Their source is the Syrian Arab News Agency. Unfortunately, there seem to be no further details. I will see what I can come up with.

Al Qa’ida in Iraq? Safire says so…

Bill Safire tries to link al Qa’ida and Baghdad by pointing to Ansar al Islam, the insurgents operating in Iraqi Kurdistan. But in the Middle East, the enemy of my enemy is my friend, and Ansar is the enemy of Saddam’s enemies, the Kurds.


Map courtesy of the Christian Science Monitor

As the world looks to the United Nations today, where Hans Blix will deliver his “no smoking gun, we need more time” report on Iraq’s weapons program, William Safire, in today’s New York Times, tries once again to link Iraq and al Qa’ida by pointing to the 600 Ansar al-Islam fighters based in the far southeast part of Iraqi Kurdistan. But what he neglects to mention is that Ansar is operating in an region under which Saddam doesn’t have control — hardly a “haven” since the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan is currently at war with the insurgents.
No doubt Saddam is providing funding to the group in an effort to destabilze Iraqi Kurdistan. But other countries are funding the group, including Iran and Turkey. The Kurds realize that their neighbors have no interest in seeing an independent Kurdistan and will support any group that might thwart those ambitions.
The Kurds, among which Safire apparently has sources, have been trying to convince anyone who will listen that Ansar is affiliated with al Qai’da. While I interviewed him last summer, Faraidoon Abdul Qisadir, the PUK Minister of the Interior, showed me a note — in Kurdish or Arabic, I’m not sure — that he said proved the group was getting funding from Baghdad. He wouldn’t let me make a copy of the note so I could get it independently translated, however, so there’s no way I could have verified its content.
(Also during the meeting, an aide brought him another note that he said a car bomb, likely headed for my hotel, exploded on a hill outside Suleimaniya. Again, I was unable to verify this, but I did see a smoke plume rising from a hill outside the city after the interview. I had been in Halabja, near Ansar territory, just the day before and Qisadir speculated that Ansar agents had seen me. Who knows?)
Safire has tried this linkage before, with his assertions — since disproved by Czech authorities — that hijacker Mohammed Atta met with Iraqi agents in Prague prior to the Sept. 11 attacks. Safire has never admitted this error.
Look, there is little doubt that Ansar has ties to al Qa’ida. And there is little doubt they are getting funding and weapons from Saddam. At the same time, however, because they are operating in an area that has been freed of Baghdad’s influence I find it hard to believe that they are operating with Saddam’s “blessing.” More likely, Tehran is helping them more than Baghdad is, and the Iraqi president is taking advantage of their presence to keep the Kurds off balance. Getting money from both Saddam and al Qa’ida does not logically lead to a linkage between Iraq and Osama bin Laden. Ansar wants to destroy the Kurdish secular government and set up an Islamic state under shar’ia, the harsh Islamic law of the Taliban. Baghdad, however, is a secular gangster regime. If Ansar were ever to gain control of Iraqi Kurdistan — an impossible dream for the insurgents — Baghdad would immediately launch a campaign to crush the Islamists, who have no intention of co-existing peacefully with Saddam. I might add, too, that if the above scenario were to come to pass, the United States would be glad to see Saddam wipe them out.
Saddam is helping Ansar because of the old Arabic saying, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Were Ansar in power in Iraqi Kurdistan, the United States would rightly see them as an enemy. And you can imagine a set of very interesting allies.

Post-WWII alliance on the skids

Is anyone else alarmed by the fact that France, Germany, Russia and China are cozying up to one another in an effort to check the American hyperpower? I’m not alarmed so much by the fact that there are countries disagreeing with the policies of the United States — hell, I disagree with most of the policies of the United States — but what’s worrisome is that the post-WWII alliance of the last 50 years seems to be on its way to fraying irrevocably.

brokennato.jpgIs anyone else alarmed by the fact that France, Germany, Russia and China are cozying up to one another in an effort to check the American hyperpower? I’m not alarmed so much by the fact that there are countries disagreeing with the policies of the United States — hell, I disagree with most of the policies of the United States — but what’s worrisome is that the post-WWII alliance of the last 50 years seems to be on its way to fraying irrevocably.
France and Germany pulled more tightly together Thursday, after a joint session of the two countries’ cabinets and a pledge by French president Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder to offer dual citizenship to French and German nationals. At the same time, the two Continental powers blocked NATO from making a decision on whether to aid in a war with Iraq.
These moves are just the first step in a true “new world order” in which the English speaking powers of the West — the United States, Britain and Australia — stand together while the rest of Europe, Russia, central Asia and China stand against this new troika. This radical realignment of the post-WWII alliances of NATO and other international bodies will be brought about because of the United States’ determination to go to war with Iraq with or without the U.N.’s blessing, and perhaps even in spite of it. The situation is not helped by President George W. Bush’s pique with the Continental allies and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld’s comments that France and Germany are “old Europe.”
“You’re thinking of Europe as Germany and France. I don’t,” Rumsfeld said. “I think that’s old Europe. If you look at the entire NATO Europe today, the center of gravity is shifting to the east. And there are a lot of new members.”
Yes, the center is shifting to the east, with the additions of Czech Republic, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria and the Baltic states. But these states are still in their infancy as NATO and European Union members. The economies (and militaries) and France and Germany still dominate the European members of the alliance. (Turkey, despite its aspirations, is not a European member of NATO.) These disagreements seem to go beyond the usual American-French tensions that have marked the last 50 years, and — with the freezing out of Shröder after he campaigned on an anti-war/anti-American platform last year — indicate that France and Germany have firmly flunked the George W. Bush loyalty test. The result could — and I emphasize this — could be the end of NATO as a credible force in the world.
Some might say this is not a tragedy, that the United States no longer needs France and Germany — or really any of Europe for that matter (Sorry, Tony Blair!) The threat from Russia is negligible, with its rusting military, its Third World economy and President Vladimir Putin’s desire to cozy up to the West. Turkey today is much more of a front-line state (literally) than Germany was, now that NATO is right up on Russia’s frontier.
But the United States doesn’t just share an alliance with Europe; it shares a basic culture, based in the Enlightenment of the 18th century, and I believe America will suffer if it turns its eyes away from “old Europe” and feels the need to align itself with … who? Turkey? The new vassel state of Iraq? If the United States turns away from Europe, we’re talking an intra-civilizational split now, in the Huntington sense, which could lead to unforseen consquences.
Here’s a scenario: France and Germany have decided to form the core of a new opposition to American power, as Russia and China — alarmed by American forces on their southern flanks — join in. Iran might want to work more closely with France and Germany as well, as it’s likely the next target in the U.S. campaign to remake the politics of the Middle East. As for the United Nations, its credibility is being chipped away, not by Iraq’s failure to disarm, but by the United States going to war in defiance of the Security Council and the organization’s very charter. With its dominant member ignoring it, can the U.N. claim to have any relevance?
The world is changing, and the war against Iraq is just the beginning. How the post-Iraq war geopolitics of the world will play out, I don’t think anyone knows.