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Date: Tuesday, 03 May 2011 09:41
Here a link to it: Handing Jihadis Cause

"gj" you need to remind me what the prize was all about.
Author: "Nibras Kazimi نبراس الكاظمي (noreply@blogger.com)"
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Date: Friday, 25 Mar 2011 14:30
My new Arabic-language blog, Imara wa Tijara, is up and running (...still requiring a little tweaking that will come with time)...

www.imarawatijara.com
Author: "Nibras Kazimi نبراس الكاظمي (noreply@blogger.com)"
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Date: Friday, 21 Jan 2011 07:18
I just returned from Iraq, where I was privileged to hear the whole story of the Sunni insurgency, from beginning to end; everything from the name on the ID card Abu Musa’ab al-Zarqawi was carrying when he first came to Baghdad in November 2002, to who paid how much for what. I cannot share the details of all this stuff, of which I took copious notes, since it is not my story to tell. That will be the task of those who told me, when the time is right. At least one is in negotiation to sell the material to an important U.S. paper. But rest assured, the right people in the Iraqi government, and the U.S. government, now know the narrative and are acting on it.

A lot of the details, in terms of who’s who, that I had written down here along the years were inaccurate. However, I was gratified to learn that the over-arching analysis culled from open sources, such as the speeches and communiqués of the jihadists and insurgents, in terms of the anti-Shia and caliphalist trends, I got right. Other matters, like how the insurgents deliberately infiltrated foreign and Arab news bureaus to feed the news cycle strategic disinformation, and how this disinformation filtered back into Western intelligence reports and analyses, I also managed to nail.

Operationally, I went wrong by trying to understand the network of the non-Al-Qaeda actors as having their origins in the Saddam regime, as former officers, security officials and Ba’athists. What I missed was that there was a supra-network of young Salafists and other assortment of young Sunni Islamists who came to age during the 1990s—many of whom spent time in Saddam’s prisons and who all know each other—whose alumnae went on to become Al-Qaeda, the Islamic Army, the Ansar al-Sunna, the Army of the Mujaheddin and the 1920 Revolt Brigades. This supra-network led the insurgency, and recruited the ex-regime officers and Ba’athists as sub-contractors of the jihad; the Saddamists worked for the Salafists from the very beginning, not the other way around.

(Note: It is interesting that their first violent act, the opening salvo of the Sunni Salafist insurgency, occurred on January 1, 2000, targeting Ba'athists congregating at a liquor store in the Waziriyeh neighborhood of Baghdad, way before any American soldiers appeared on the scene.)

Other current schools of thought among insurgency-watchers, especially on matters such as the Awakenings and the role of the tribes, are very, very off mark.

Another blind spot for me was how much involvement regional actors had in the jihad, and how much their money mattered. America’s allies are directly implicated, as financiers, ideologues, orchestrators and managers, in the deaths of American soldiers. I hope this is not glossed over by those now privy to this information. Without this money, it seems to me, the insurgency would have been crippled early on, even with Sunni resentment at fever-pitch. The money made the nightmare of the last eight years possible. It was also eye-opening for me to realize that squabbles over money, as it began to peter out, had a very big deal to do why the insurgency could never coalesce into a whole.

Again, I was privileged to hear this fascinating story, and it kills me, being the pamphleteer that I am, not to be able to publish all this for you. But I gave my word. As it is, this information rests with a very limited number of people who may have an interest in making it public. If one dies, then the material is lost. I was told this story so that I would safeguard its eventual release, if the others don’t make it to tell the tale.

I am conflicted about those who shared this with me. They are, after all, my enemies, on every level. They seem sincere is their efforts to undo some of the wrongs they have wrought on our country, and on our friends. Is it enough to redeem them? I don’t know. I simply don’t know. But the many successes Iraq has had recently in rolling up the bad guys are coming from sources such as these. The ethics of whether the prevention of future misery outweighs the crimes of the past is something too heavy for me to consider at this stage. I suspect that it doesn’t, which makes it all that much more tragic.


PS: I at least got permission to say that the post below is not correct: the current leader of the Islamic State of Iraq, Abu Bakr al-Husseini al-Baghdadi, is Sheikh (______________redacted) al-Mashhadani, while Al-Nassir li Din Allah Suleiman, the Minister of War, is (_______________redacted), "Abu Jihad", a Palestinian, and formerly one of Osama bin Laden's bodyguards in the Al-Farouq Camp in Afghanistan.
Author: "Nibras Kazimi نبراس الكاظمي (noreply@blogger.com)"
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Date: Wednesday, 01 Dec 2010 08:03

The Talisman Gate, Baghdad, Iraq, circa 1907
"Kazimi, whose Talisman Gate blog is widely read by Iraq experts and commentators in the United States..." The Washington Post, July 19, 2007

Welcome to my blog. This is the place where I explore issues like whether Nostradamus had predicted the whole Zarqawi phenomena, and is Walid Junbulatt the real Hariri killer? In other words, this space is devoted to all the stuff that would peg me a crank should I try to put it out in print. But what the hell, journalistic credibility is way too over-regarded. Plus, blogging is an exercise in vanity; it is the joy-ride of ego-trips. So, excuse my pompous self-righteousness, and try to enjoy your stay.
Author: "Nibras Kazimi نبراس الكاظمي (noreply@blogger.com)"
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Date: Wednesday, 01 Dec 2010 08:02
For those still following the news of the Islamic State of Iraq: a recent detainee (Hazim Abdel-Razzak al-Zawi, self-styled 'Minister of Security' in the ISI, cousin of former ISI leader Abu Omar al-Baghdadi) who was arrested in Anbar ten days ago has revealed to Iraqi security services the real identities of the current leadership of the ISI, according to the spokesman of the Ministry of Interior.

So the ISI's current proto-caliph, Abu Bakr al-Husseini al-Qureishi al-Baghdadi, is allegedly Dr. Ibrahim Awad Ibrahim al-Samara'i ("Abu Du'a'"), while the 'Minister of War' who goes by the pseudonym Al-Nassir Li Din Allah Suleiman is allegedly Nu'man Salman Mansour al-Zaidi ("Abu Ibrahim", formerly the ISI's "vali" for Anbar).

Al-Zawi also revealed that, just like Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, al-Samara'i and al-Zaidi were formerly detained by the Americans, specifically in Bucca Camp, and then released. There is a very significant pattern of how many active and captured terrorists in Iraq are former detainees that were released in the past two years without being transfered to Iraqi jurisdiction. One needs to ask, why were they released? Who was responsible for such decisions? Why were such decisions taken? But who are we kidding, when was the last time anyone was held accountable for their major blunders in Iraq?

It should be noted that most of this recent tranche of info on the ISI seems to be coming from the break-up by the Ministry of Interior of an important terrorist cell active in Baghdad, which was responsible for planning many of the major terrorist operations of recent memory, including last month's church attack. One should take note that while these terror acts got plenty of ink in US papers, the arrest of this cell was hardly reported: two short paragraphs in the New York Times, one paragraph in the Washington Post.

Now I know that I've been away for a while from this blog, but it's not like I didn't give you a head's up that it would wind down as I busy myself with other things. There are instances when I wanted to write again; for example, I wanted to remind you folks of the British-led intelligence cell that was negotiating with Iraqi insurgents that I used to write about; this is relevant when measured against the British blunder of believing an Afghan shopkeeper's scam of being a major figure in Taliban, revealed last month.

But frankly, these things don't rile me up as much as they used to, and hence my indifference to this blog: Iraq is fine. It is prospering. Anyone who goes there can see it. There's no more debate as far as I'm concerned. The foreign bureaus can BS all they want--it makes absolutely no difference.

I will begin to write anew, as promised, as other places in the Middle East begin to tremor and come apart.
Author: "Nibras Kazimi نبراس الكاظمي (noreply@blogger.com)"
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Date: Friday, 30 Jul 2010 14:17
I've been in Baghdad for a couple of weeks now, with a brief sojourn to Basra, and I can report that no one has the faintest idea of how the political situation is going to play itself out.

In a week's time, five months would have passed since the election.

It's summer. It is hot. Very hot. And there's less electricity than last summer. As one can imagine, that fact that it is hot (...50-55 C, 122-131 F), and that there is little electricity to alleviate the heat, eats up at least 20 percent of any conversation.
Author: "Nibras Kazimi نبراس الكاظمي (noreply@blogger.com)"
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Date: Friday, 07 May 2010 08:22
Some folks make way too much of Iraqi political hot air, not realizing that it is the same brand of political hot air found the world over. Every caustic, grandstanding statement is a harbinger of "a return to violence and civil strife", as far as the Western press and analysts are concerned. I wonder what they would make of these pictures taken at a dinner hosted by Adel Abdul-Mahdi last night. All the same people who've been accusing each other of all sorts of nasty things are sitting around, amiably chatting, and waiting for the food to be served. They don't look as if they are about to come to blows, even though they've been doing plenty of trash talking beforehand, words of zeal and fire assiduously jotted down and quoted by the nihilist half wits of the foreign bureaus.

Iraqi politics today is merely an extention of Iraqi opposition politics. To understand one is to understand the other. And as someone who has lived through it, I must say that I do find it very hard to explain to the uninitiated. But maybe these pics will help:


From left to right: Sharif Ali bin al-Hussein (INA, pretender to the Iraqi throne), Izzeddin al-Dawla (Iraqiyya, Nineveh), Muwaffaq al-Ruba'i (INA), Nasseer al-Chadirchi (INA, National Democratic Party), Ammar al-Hakim (INA, ISCI), Tareq al-Hashemi (Iraqiyya, Vice President).



From left: Ahmad Chalabi (INA), Ayad Allawi (Iraqiyya), Adel Abdul-Mahdi (INA, Vice President), ?, Hassan al-Shimmeri (INA, Fadhila), Rafi' al-'Isawi (Iraqiyya, Deputy Prime Minister), ?, ?.

And oh, Iraqi forces, acting in concert with Kurdish intelligence and the U.S. military, have arrested Abu Abdullah al-Shafi'i (Ja'afar Hassan, a.k.a. Wuriya Hawleri), head of the Kurdish jihadist group Ansar al-Islam, in Baghdad a few days ago. This, again, is a huge debilitating strike against an influential jihadist network that's been active for at least eight years, with direct ties to Bin Laden's Al-Qaeda HQ, and with the distinction of facilitating the entry of jihadists like Abu Musaab al-Zarqawi into Iraq early on.


Abu Abdullah al-Shafi'i, in custody
Author: "Nibras Kazimi نبراس الكاظمي (noreply@blogger.com)"
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Date: Saturday, 24 Apr 2010 19:12
Had the Iraqi authorities announced that only Hamid al-Zawi was killed, there would have been wiggle room to believe that he wasn’t Abu Omar al-Baghdadi.

And had the authorities announced that only Abu Ayyub al-Masri was killed, there would have been wiggle room to believe that he wasn’t Abu Hamza al-Muhajir.

But since both were killed together, at the same location, confirms beyond a doubt, at least to me, a longtime skeptic, that both are indeed al-Baghdadi and al-Muhajir respectively.

This is a marvelous achievement. It will be very difficult for the Islamic State of Iraq to tell its underlings that al-Baghdadi and al-Muhajir are still alive, even if it manages to reproduce the voices associated with their past broadcasts. It would be too easy to denounce the speakers as imposters. The circumstances of their death together, plus their earlier identification, makes this story extremely hard to refute. Commentators on the Al-Faloja jihadist discussion boards are in disbelief. There's really no way for the jihadists to do damage control here, especially at a time when all they wanted to demonstrate by their recent waves of bombings was their own survivability.

The fact of the matter is that al-Zawi was one of the names that had been suggested as the real identity of Abu Omar al-Baghdadi. Just remember that the claim was first made in July 2007 (with all the relevant details) on a random posting on a discussion board, and that it was only in May 2008 that the name and picture linking al-Zawi to al-Baghdadi was made by the police chief of Haditha. It’s all here at this link from this blog back in 2008.

I had always thought it was Abu Zaid al-Mashhadani, but I am ready to concede that I was mistaken.

I was also always hesitant to identify al-Masri as al-Muhajir (who sometimes would reveal his real name as Abdul-Mun’im al-Badawi; the last time he did so was in September 2009 was he was promoted from Minister of War of the ISI to the position of First Vizier (Prime Minister), in addition to keeping his Minister of War portfolio) (see link here, with loads of background).

Over the years, it became clearer to me that al-Muhajir was speaking with a trace of a North African accent, probably even Egyptian. Al-Masri has also been identified by Egyptian terrorism experts in the past as Abdul-Mun’im Izzedin Ali Ismail (born 1969).

Now I am willing to fully concede that al-Masri is indeed al-Muhajir.

It is odd that while it seemed that both their real identities were in the public domain since at least 2007, neither took the step of addressing their supporters in a video message, showing their faces. It is one thing to follow an amorphous ‘leader’ hiding behind a pseudonym, and quite another to pledge allegiance to a man who’s biography and pedigree is known. They did not take advantage of what a media stunt such as that would have afforded them.

It should also be noted that al-Baghdadi was the jihadist candidate for caliph, and all the pertinent details of that effort can be viewed at this link. Killing him is a big, big deal in terms of leaving behind an ideological vacuum for the Zarqawist wing of jihad.

Maliki’s most incredible assertion at his press conference today was that al-Zawi/Baghdadi had been detained at some point by the Americans, who later released him. This is the same situation with Muharib al-Juburi, the ISI’s former spokesman (killed in July 2007) who had also been detained by the Americans and then released. That means at a certain juncture, U.S. troops were picking up the right culprits, but had to release them for lack of evidence. These episodes with Zawi and Juburi make the case that evidence or lack thereof does not always trump suspicion, especially when it comes to terrorism cases.

Remember, al-Baghdadi and al-Muhajir are directly responsible (…often openly boastful) for tens of thousands of murdered Iraqis, tens of thousands of injured Iraqis, tens of thousands of displaced Iraqis, and hundreds of US and Coalition casualties.

Those in the Western and Arab media who have lamented the loss of life in Iraq, and often blame the Americans for it, should be joyous today that these two mass-murderers have been held to account for their reign of savagery. But I doubt that will happen.

Several have already tried to spin this story as another round of BS from the Iraqi government. While it is true that Iraqi and US authorities have made many egregious mistakes in the past by claiming to have killed and arrested either al-Muhajir or al-Baghdadi, this time they are correct. And I say this as someone who has long argued that they had their identities mixed up, and I have consistently criticized both the Americans and the Iraqi government for failing to clearly identify the leadership of the ISI.

The last case of mistaken identity involved Ahmad al-Majma’i as al-Baghdadi. I refuted those claims here, here, here and here (this last link has a lists of al-Baghdadi’s speeches and a summary about him).

For the longest time, US authorities believed that al-Baghdadi was a fictitious person, a claim I also refuted over the years (here and here; in the last link I identify where I believe Baghdadi was hiding in 2007, in al-Niba’i, which is very close to the Tharthar area were al-Zawi and al-Masri were killed according to Maliki).

So there you have it, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi and Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, the two most significant leaders of al-Qaeda in Iraq after Zarqawi, are no more. This is a massive blow to the jihadists, and a sign that U.S.-Iraqi intelligence and operational cooperation has reached a very mature stage.

Congratulations to all those who made it happen, and congratulations to the hundreds of thousands of victims of terrorism in Iraq; they have been avenged.

When Zarqawi was killed in June 2006, that day marked a turning point towards the waning influence of the jihadists. Today’s ‘miracle’ (...killing both, and dispelling doubts does make it a miracle) will spell the eventual extermination of their few remaining cells. It may take years, but today is certainly an important landmark on that road.

Here a link to the pictures of the corpses as released by Maliki's office, caution: gruesome.

UPDATE: Al-Jazeera Satellite Channel (Arabic) had me on to comment on the story for their Daily Harvest program. They ran a piece before I spoke seemingly casting doubts on the government's version, and they even went as far as suggesting that the jihadists were not responsible for targeting civilians. When it was my turn to speak I said that I am fully convinced that the two men who were killed were Abu Omar al-Baghdadi and Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, and that for millions of Iraqis today was a day of retribution and reckoning.

I would like to add one thing: the honorable thing for the Iraqi government to do is to name a main thoroughfare in Baghdad after the American soldier who died in this operation. There have been bad and tense days between Americans and Iraqis, mostly stemming from outside meddling as well as unnecessary misunderstandings, but destroying the jihadist leadership yesterday should be remembered as a day of triumph and gratitude in the long term relationship between the U.S. and Iraq. Many thousands of U.S. citizens died in this worthy fight, but nothing is more poignant and clear as to who the bad guys were, and who the good guys are, than killing off al-Baghdadi and al-Muhajir in a combined U.S.-Iraqi operation. One would hope that Iraqi politicians have the guts to lead, and to tell the Iraqi public that we have a moral debt towards the Americans, rather than cowtow to the noisy anti-America mob. Today would be a good day to show Iraq's gratitude towards America. Maliki mentioned the US role in his press conference, but did not express any thanks.
Author: "Nibras Kazimi نبراس الكاظمي (noreply@blogger.com)"
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Date: Saturday, 24 Apr 2010 19:03
The Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) posted a statement a little over half an hour ago on Al-Faloja and other jihadist forums corroborating the news that the leader of the ISI, and the jihadist candidate for Islam's new Caliph, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi (Hamid al-Zawi) as well as the 'Prime Minister' of the ISI, Abu Hamza al-Muhajir (Abdul-Mun'im al-Badawi), were both killed a few days ago.

The statement can be found here (Arabic text). It was signed by 'Abul-Walid' Abdel Wahab al-Mashhadani, the Minister of Shari'ah Commissions for the ISI, who was appointed to this position in the last reshuffle of the ISI's 'cabinet' in September 2009. He claims that a new leadership had already been named in al-Baghdadi's lifetime to take over in the eventuality of his death.

This is a huge victory. It has been underplayed in the Western press and by DC-analysts as just another decapitation strike, but it is much more than that: taking out al-Baghdadi put an end to the boldest ideological undertaking of the new generation of Al-Qaeda-supporting jihadists; their attempt to resurrect the Islamic Caliphate in all its imperial glory.

The fact that they chose al-Zawi, a retired policeman, who moonlighted as a oil heater repairman, as the new caliph, based on his dubious claims of genealogy, is really fascinating. I wish I had access to that trove of info the Iraqi forces found at the strike site!
Author: "Nibras Kazimi نبراس الكاظمي (noreply@blogger.com)"
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Date: Friday, 09 Apr 2010 13:21
Yup, it's as simple as that.
Author: "Nibras Kazimi نبراس الكاظمي (noreply@blogger.com)"
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Date: Wednesday, 07 Apr 2010 11:59
The Sadrists announced today the results of their referendum on who should be Iraq's next prime minister.

The Sadrists claim that 1,428,000 voters participated across Iraq, which is over double the number of votes their candidates tallied in the national elections. Needless to say, these 'elections' were conducted without oversight and did not adhere to any accepted standards for polling, and hence the numbers are very suspect.

The value of the referendum, however, is that it exposes the politics of the Sadrist movement.

The results were:

Ibrahim al-Ja'afari (former PM from the Da'awa Party): 24 percent

Ja'afar al-Sadr (son of the chief ideologue of the Da'awa Party who was executed by Saddam in April 1979): 23 percent

Qusay al-Suheil (top member of the Sadrist 'politburo'): 17 percent

Nouri al-Maliki (PM incumbent): 10 percent

Ayad Allawi (former PM): 9 percent

Baha' al-'Araji (Sadrist MP from Nassiriya and highest independent Sadrist voter earner in the national election): 5 percent

Ahmad Chalabi (courter of the Sadrist vote): 3 percent

Adil Abdul-Mahdi (current Vice President from ISCI): 2 percent

Rafi' al-'Isawi (Sunni from Anbar, ran on Allawi list, current Vice President): 2 percent

Other: 5 percent

What the Sadrists wanted from this 'referendum' was to shoot down Maliki's prospects for a second term by claiming that their 'base' had rejected him. The Sadrists form the majority bloc within the Iraqi National Alliance (INA) which Maliki's State of Law bloc needs to ally with in order to form a cabinet. They also demonstrated that almost the same number of 'voters' had chosen Allawi (9 percent) to Maliki's 10 percent, so the Sadrists are as free to negotiate with Allawi as they would with Maliki. This is a bargaining tool meant to show that they could easily break with the INA and crown Allawi as the next premier.

The Sadrists already know that they can't have one of their own (Qusay al-Suheil or Baha' al-Araji) as PM since they are an overall minority (10 percent) among the Shia vote. Al-Suheil, a 45 year-old agricultural hydraulic engineer (PhD) from Basra, got 17 percent of the vote, but he only managed to scrape together 8,415 votes in the general election (in Baghdad, where he ran). Plus, al-Suheil is unknown to the wider Iraqi public while al-'Araji, a prominent Sadrist MP and head of the Legal Committee of parliament with dual Irish and Iraqi citizenship who recently blurted out some caustic sectarian remarks, has a multitude of corruption cases against him waiting to break, according to sources in the Integrity Commission.

And they also know that even though Ja'afari is popular among Sadrists, he cannot become PM again as most Iraqis, irrespective of whether this is fair or not, attribute the 'sectarian' outbreak to Ja'afari's tenure as PM in 2005.

Ja'afar al-Sadr is an unknown quantity for the Iraqi political elite. Almost all he has to go on is genealogy: he's the only son of Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr, one of modern Shi'ism most important thinkers. Not only that, but the Sadr family had historically played an important role in Shi'a and Iraqi history over the last two hundred years, which would make Ja'afar the equivalent of Shi'a royalty; he was 10 years-old when his father was executed. He is Muqtada's second cousin, as well as his brother-in-law (Muqtada is married to his sister). During the opposition days, the only time we heard about Ja'afar was in 1999 or 2000 when he managed to escape to Iran. The story at the time was that the Hakims and the Iranians suspected that he was a Saddam spy, and the man who smuggled him out of Iraq (all I remember was that he was from the town of Shatra) was interrogated and tortured by either the Badr Corp or by Iranian security. Since then, Ja'afar studied by correspondence with the Islamic University of London, and had a brief stint as a student with Sheikh Kadhim al-Haeri, a top Iraqi-born cleric in Iran who is close to the Revolutionary Guard. At one point, Ja'afar made his way to Beirut, where another line of the Sadr family resides. His participation in the election last month as no. 5 on Maliki's slate for Baghdad was his first foray into politics. He was the second top vote earner with 28,779 votes, after Maliki.

Ja'afar had been marketing himself as a secular candidate. It should be noted that the first time his name was mentioned as a PM candidate was by Ibrahim al-Sumaida'i, a political analyst and gadfly, during an Al-Arabiya talk show before (I think) the election.

So are the Sadrists really supporting Ja'afar for the PM slot? Why would Muqtada create a rival to himself from within the Sadr family? If Ja'afar gets the job, then he would slowly yet ultimately eclipse Muqtada as the representative of the Sadr family, and he would only increase in stature among wider Iraqi constituencies at Muqtada's expense. So why would the Sadrists throw their lot behind him? Is this a message from the Sadrist midlevel leadership to Muqtada, along the lines of 'You are replaceable'?

The emergence of Rafi' al-'Isawi, at least in Shi'a eyes, as the least provocative Sunni partner within Allawi's list is a significant point. Tariq al-Hashemi, Usama al-Nujaifi, and Salah al-Mutlag are all rejected as too extreme. But 'Isawi, a former leader of the Islamic Army that was cultivated by the Americans who propelled him upwards to the position of Vice-President (...after Salam al-Zoba'i resigned), is seen as a moderate, and he could very well displace Allawi as the face of the Iraqiyya bloc, or at least lead a breakaway faction that forms a cabinet with whoever is chosen by dominant Shia and Kurdish slates as prime minister.

The simple act of placing his name on the ballot (...and getting as many votes as Adil Abdul-Mahdi, whom the Sadrists hate as the acolyte of the Hakims, and who is popularly rejected due to the Ziwiyya bank incident) is a poignant message in and of itself.

Furthermore, I thought Bayan Jabr's name was on the ballot, but his name was not announced among the results. Jabr, the Finance Minister and Hakim ally, received almost 69,000 votes in the general election in Baghdad, which was a surprise to most.

So it is clear what the Sadrists don't want: no more Maliki. But it isn't clear who the Sadrists think should replace Maliki. Overall, this gambit serves to constrict the Sadrists in the ongoing political negotiations, rather than help shape them. It could very well be that the Sadrists, in their instransigence and vetoing certain candidates, may play themselves out of the game.

UPDATE: I feel I need to further clarify my opinion about this referendum as Western reports begin reporting on them and taking them seriously: these are cooked up numbers. There was no vote. There was a show for the cameras that people were voting, but whatever results those ballots added-up to were most likely ignored. The results were readied beforehand. This media stunt was a naked and brazen attempt by the Sadrist politburo to shape Iraq’s ongoing political negotiations for the formation of a government. How else can one explain how a Sunni write-in candidate like Rafi’ al-‘Isawi was picked by 2 percent, that is 30,000 voters of the alleged tally? How did a secondary Sunni figurehead factor so prominently among the Sadrist constituency in the preceding weeks to the point that thousands of them remembered his name and jotted it down on the ballot? Could it be that it’s because he’s about to embark on an official trip to Iran as a representative of the Iraqiyya slate?

How did Qusay al-Suhail, another write-in candidate, jump from 8,500 votes to 250,000 votes (17 percent) in the span of a month since the national elections?

Please do not take these numbers seriously. The Sadrists are having fun with mathematics, and trying to shape the debate. They think they are disqualifying candidates, while inserting new names into the mix. Iraq had a real election last month. Those numbers are real and are an accurate reflection of what the Iraqi voter wants. The Sadrists numbers reflect what a handful of members on the Sadrist politburo want, or even maybe, and this is just a maybe, what some Iranian power centers want. It is an exercise in political make-belief. Remember, the Sadrists are but one component among many that can go into the formation of a government.
Author: "Nibras Kazimi نبراس الكاظمي (noreply@blogger.com)"
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Date: Tuesday, 06 Apr 2010 19:27
Baghdad experienced another wave of attacks today. These are more of the same: "thematic" terrorism, that is the newest mark, and boast, of the Al-Qaeda's Islamic State of Iraq (ISI). Today's attack was all about blowing up residential buildings. The randomness, as well as the target choice, are meant to create a sense of enduring unease: ISI terrorist cells, which could be as few as 5-7 in the capital, still have the wherewithal to pull off such acts, so what will they hit next?

They've already hit ministries and government institutions (the August 19, October 25, and December 8, 2009 attacks), hotels (January 25, 2010), embassies (April 5, 2010), as well as today's attacks. The ISI has consistently claimed responsibility for these attacks. The attacks are part of the ISI's 'Raid of the Prisoner-of-War' offensive, which so far have had six waves.

A week ago, the media arm of the ISI, the Al-Furqan, released a 35 minute video (can be viewed directly here), which shows the first wave of attacks, against the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, on Aug. 19, 2009. Lending credence to these claims is new footage from three seperate angles of the attacks on the Finance Ministry, which were clearly shot by ISI operatives. It is harder to do so in the area of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs since there are many government departments in that busy area and anyone trying to film anything would have been noticed by security personel as well as bystanders.

About 100 Iraqis died in that first round. The combined total deaths of all six attacks could be around 400, as well as hundreds, if not thousands, of injured. Since then, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been back to work, and its building is undergoing a face-lift to fix the damages. The apartment blocks around the ministry have all been fixed (...my neighborhood), and repainted. The school across from the ministry is being refurbished. Life goes on, despite the mayhem and fear the terrorists unleashed that day. I don't know whether this is a testimony to the resilience of Iraqis, or of humanity as a whole, but the world should take note. It is easy to be paralyzed with fear. That is what the ISI is going for. But somehow, life goes on. Iraq goes on. Iraqis don't lose heart, they don't seem to fall apart. I wish more news outlets would report on that weird, and life-affirming, phenomenon. The terrorists, as their video shows, get a high from the media exposure given to their attacks. But what if the media begins reporting on the other reality, that Iraqis seemingly get back on their feet after every violent news cycle? Wouldn't that demoralize the terrorists?
Author: "Nibras Kazimi نبراس الكاظمي (noreply@blogger.com)"
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Date: Thursday, 01 Apr 2010 20:09
Sixty-eight candidates from the Iraqi National Alliance made it to parliament, 38 of whom are Sadrist (alternatively called Tayyar Al-Ahrar) candidates. (Two ‘compensation’ seats were also awarded to the INA, but I don’t know who got them.)

That means that Sadrists got 55.8 percent of the seat allocation of the INA. However, an examination of the numbers reveals that the total tally received by Sadrist candidates was only 32.4 percent of the INA total.

By now it is clear to most how the Sadrists did it: they spread out their votes among multiple candidates, propelling them to the top of the INA slate as the number ordering got reshuffled according to the highest vote earners. Then, the candidates highest on the reshuffled list got topped off from the total slate tally until they reached the threshold number of votes in each province, calculated as the total number of voters divided by the number of seats in parliament assigned to each province.

The way the Sadrists did that was to mobilize their ground operation for individual candidates based on locality. For example, they would ask their voters in certain sectors of Sadr City to vote for one candidate, while voters in other sectors would vote for some other Sadrist candidate.

Here’s a summary of how they performed in 11 of Iraq’s 18 provinces (I only considered the provinces were Sadrist candidates were competitive):

Wasit: Sadrist candidates (3) received a total of 44,746 votes out of an INA total of 129,188 (34.6 percent). 3 of the INA’s 4 MPs are Sadrists (11 MPs represent this province in parliament). Sadrists received 11.8 percent of the overall vote in Wasit.

Diwaniyya (Qadisiyya): Sadrist candidates (3) received a total of 32,755 votes out of an INA total of 133,821 (24.5 percent). 2 of the INA’s 5 MPs are Sadrists (11 MPs represent this province in parliament). Sadrists received 8.7 percent of the overall vote in Diwaniya.

Nassiriyya (Dhi Qar): Sadrist candidates (4) received a total of 78,994 votes out of an INA total of 244,818 (32.3 percent). 4 of the INA’s 9 MPs are Sadrists (18 MPs represent this province in parliament). Sadrists received 13.8 percent of the overall vote in Nassiriyya.

Maysan (Amara): Sadrist candidates (3) received a total of 51,511 votes out of an INA total of 135,319 (38 percent). 3 of the INA’s 6 MPs are Sadrists (10 MPs represent this province in parliament). Sadrists received 18.8 percent of the overall vote in Maysan.

Diyala: Sadrist candidates (2) received a total of 19,046 votes out of an INA total of 85,821 (22.2 percent). 2 of the INA’s 3 MPs are Sadrists (13 MPs represent this province in parliament). Sadrists received 3.8 percent of the overall vote in Diyala.

Muthana (Samawa): Sadrist candidates (2) received a total of 15,490 votes out of an INA total of 71,699 (21.6 percent). 1 of the INA’s 3 MPs is a Sadrist (7 MPs represent this province in parliament). Sadrists received 6.7 percent of the overall vote in Muthana.

Karbala: Sadrist candidates (2) received a total of 27,688 votes out of an INA total of 81,794 (33.9 percent). 2 of the INA’s 3 MPs are Sadrists (10 MPs represent this province in parliament). Sadrists received 8.3 percent of the overall vote in Karbala.

Najaf: Sadrist candidates (3) received a total of 49,736 votes out of an INA total of 152,698 (32.6 percent). 3 of the INA’s 5 MPs are Sadrists (12 MPs represent this province in parliament). Sadrists received 12 percent of the overall vote in Najaf.

Basra: Sadrist candidates (3) received a total of 65,039 votes out of an INA total of 237,010 (27.4 percent). 3 of the INA’s 7 MPs are Sadrists (24 MPs represent this province in parliament). Sadrists received 8 percent of the overall vote in Basra.

Baghdad: Sadrist candidates (16) received a total of 221,533 votes out of an INA total of 561,659 (39.4 percent). 12 of the INA’s 17 MPs are Sadrists (68 MPs represent this province in parliament). Sadrists received 8.7 percent of the overall vote in Baghdad.

Babil (Hilla): Sadrist candidates (4) received a total of 46,633 votes out of an INA total of 180,193 (26 percent). 3 of the INA’s 5 MPs are Sadrists (16 MPs represent this province in parliament). Sadrists received 8 percent of the overall vote in Babil.

The total number of votes received by the 45 candidates that the Sadrists fielded in the provinces above was 653,171 out of an INA total of 2,014,020 (32.4 percent). The total number of votes cast in these provinces was 7,015,008. So the Sadrist percentage of the overall vote in the Shia ‘heartland’ plus Baghdad and Diyala is 9.3 percent.

Those 653,171 votes Sadrists got from all the 11 provinces should be compared to the 622,961 votes Nouri al-Maliki got for himself in Baghdad province; so almost the same number of voters ticked off Maliki’s name in a single province as the number of Sadrist voters from all over. The proportionality doesn't seem quite fair: the Sadrists get 12 seats in Baghdad with 221,533 votes, while Maliki's Baghdad slate has 903,360 votes (four times as many) but only gets 26 seats in the province. That’s something to mull over.

Theoretically, the predominately Shi’a, pseudo-slummy districts of Sadr City, Shu’la, Hurriya, Washash, Baya’, Seydiyya, Ur, Sha’ab, and Husseiniya, where Sadrists claim their ‘stronghold’, should account for over 50 percent of Baghdad’s population. But the Sadrists only pulled off 8.7 percent of the vote in Baghdad.

Same goes for Basra (8 percent). And even Maysan (19 percent), which the Sadrists liked to portray as ‘their’ province.

It seems that some Western journalists (…and some strategists in Tehran) would like to think of the Sadrists as a Hezbollah-like organization, tailor made for Iraq; they seem to view the Sadrists as a dynamic, revolutionary movement that is supported by millions of poor, destitute Shi’as, or so the narrative goes. One even detects the same type of romanticizing of Hezbollah among some analysts and media people writing in English being applied to the Mahdi Army. ‘Armed freedom fighters against America, now savvy politicians’ and that all that noise. It is true that the Sadrists pulled off a neat political trick by turning minority numbers of votes within the INA into a majority seating. But their real appeal among Shi’a Iraqis has also been revealed: the Sadrists are a small minority of the Shi’a population (10 percent isn’t much, so who speaks for the other 90 percent of Shi’as?), and they can’t even claim to represent the Shi’a slums anymore.

I hope more journalists and analysts will pay attention to these numbers before they speak of a Sadrist ‘groundswell’.
Author: "Nibras Kazimi نبراس الكاظمي (noreply@blogger.com)"
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Date: Monday, 29 Mar 2010 17:54
I just watched Nouri al-Maliki's interview with Al-Sumaria TV's Dalia al-Aqidi, which aired yesterday. Maliki seemed to be breaking some news: He kept referring to the 'National Coalition' to describe a soon-to-be-announced parliamentary bloc consisting of his own slate(89), the INA (70), the Kurdistani (43) and Tawafuq (6). Oddly though, I haven't heard anyone from those other slates describing an imminent coalition.

He's also betting on denying Allawi a number of seats by enacting a second round of de-Ba'athification, activating arrest warrants against some of Allawi's candidates (three in Diyala, one of whom is already in custody from before the election), and disqualifying candidates who had forged their educational certificates (...one needs the equivalent of high school--I think--to run for parliament). If this does go through, Allawi stands to lose 6-8 seats; the votes those disqualified candidates got would be nullified completely.
Author: "Nibras Kazimi نبراس الكاظمي (noreply@blogger.com)"
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Date: Saturday, 27 Mar 2010 16:25
I wrote a piece on the PM prospects of Allawi and Maliki for the Long War Journal. You can read it here.

I'll have more to say later.
Author: "Nibras Kazimi نبراس الكاظمي (noreply@blogger.com)"
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Date: Sunday, 07 Mar 2010 12:48
I voted. It felt great, but the greatest thing about it was how normal it felt; elections have become a ho-hum, commonplace occurance. That's quite a feat for a country with Iraq's past and current challenges. The voting procedure itself was very well organized and speedy. The election site had seven polling stations, with about 400 registered voters allowed to vote there. Everyone's name was posted outside, along with information about what polling station they were supposed to use. Once inside, IDs were checked against name lists, and one had to sign next one's name to indicate that this name has voted. All in all, there are reasonable mechanisms in place to contain incidents of fraud. Most complaints are the fault of voters, who should have checked their registration status and followed the Electoral Commission's instructions that were amply circulated beforehand in the run-up to the ballot.

The Western media is hyperventilating about mortars and katyushas, but what I found interesting is that the Islamic State of Iraq failed to carry out its threats of disrupting the elections in any discernible fashion. This was a logistical failure for the jihadists; hardly any successful suicide bombers or sniper attacks near the polling stations. Lobbing mortars indiscriminately around Baghdad is BS intimidation. It certainly didn't deter voters.

The fact that the security authorities allowed vehicular traffic around 11 AM was both surprising and bold. It showed confidence in their security precautions, and the fact that there were no car bombs shows that they were right.

As for the initial results, what I'm hearing from my own sources and what I'm seeing on TV point out, to me at least, that my predictions a few days ago (scroll down) were reasonably accurate. Maliki on top, followed by Allawi, and Iraqi National Alliance a distant third. Maliki has beaten the Sadrists in their own bastions in Baghdad. That says a lot.
Author: "Nibras Kazimi نبراس الكاظمي (noreply@blogger.com)"
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Date: Saturday, 06 Mar 2010 00:39
I just appeared on Aljazeera (Arabic) versus Muthana Harith al-Dhari, of the Commission of Scholars of the Muslims, who spoke from Doha, Qatar. The Commission had been leading the call to boycott the elections, but I found it interesting that al-Dhari backtracked and denied that they are calling for a boycott. Which de facto means that they are calling for participation in the elections, a point that I clarified on the air. They must have sensed that Sunni participation and turnout will be huge, hence they didn't want to seem weak and irrelevant by standing by a boycott that Sunnis are ignoring. So at it stands, only the Islamic State of Iraq (Al-Qaeda) is calling for non-participation. This is a big development. So much for Western analysts who claim that the elections are marred by an alleged Sunni rejection.
Author: "Nibras Kazimi نبراس الكاظمي (noreply@blogger.com)"
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Date: Friday, 05 Mar 2010 00:36
It is very difficult to make predictions about these elections. The unknowns are too many to factor in. A more prudent approach would be to keep my head down until all this passes over, but when have you known me to do that?

None of the following is scientific, but it is my foggy assessment, primarily based on Baghdad Province, of where people’s sentiments are. The limitations of such an assessment should be clear, so take it all with a grain of salt.

The top vote earner will be current PM Nouri al-Maliki, followed by Ayad Allawi’s slate. Maliki will get 10-15 more seats than Allawi. Maliki is still deriving his stature from his move against the Sadrists; Shia Iraqis of all classes remember him as someone who put an end to the Mahdi Army’s reign of terror and chaos. The Da’awa Party’s Islamist ideology—the vast majority of Maliki’s slate are Da’awa apparatchiks—does not matter to voters. If anything, they see Maliki, oddly, as an anti-Islamist. The charges of corruption, soft on Ba’athism, and general ineptitude did not stick to him, even though voters are cognizant that most executive positions throughout the state are filled with incompetent Da’awa guys.

Allawi has locked up the Sunni vote for the most part. Specifically, the Mutlag faction and Tareq al-Hashemi (current VP) have sold their constituency on the idea that their slate is the Sunnis’ sole protector. This Sunni coalescence around Allawi has strengthened him, leading to an after-effect of secular Shias lining up with him against the Islamists as the strongest candidate who can check their power. Well-financed campaigns also give an impression of strength, and that played a factor in brandishing Allawi as a strong comeback candidate.

The Iraqi National Alliance (Hakim, Ja’afari, Sadrists, Chalabi) will get less than half of Maliki’s seats. Even though they boast many prominent candidates, there seems to be a slide in their support. Their biggest vote earner is anti-Ba’athism, but it’s not enough to put them over the top. Their loss may be the biggest surprise of the elections. That said, what they are saying according to their own polling is that they will get at least twice as many votes as Maliki. The INA is counting on the Sadrists in Baghdad and Basra, but it seems to me that even Maliki is stronger in supposed Sadrist bastions like Sadr City.

Bolani’s slate looks strong on paper, but there has been an erosion of support over the past couple of weeks. Their principal Sunni voices, such as Ahmed Abu Risha and Ahmed al-Samara’i, are not running, and their bases of support gave way to Allawi’s momentum. Bolani has personally failed to be persuasive as a leader in his TV appearances, even though he has publicly put himself forward as a contender for the PM post. At one point he seemed as if he’ll get 22-25 seats, but now has dwindled to 10-12, maybe even less than that.

The Kurds will get around 62 seats, with 4/5 going to Barzani/Talabani and 1/5 going to the Goran slate and the Islamists.

The Commies, Mithal al-Alusi and Ayad Jamal-Eddin will each get less than a handful. Even though they matter in conversations and debates, they are seen as weak adversaries to the Islamists.

The Sunni Islamic Party is in serious trouble, walking away on a good day with about 5 seats.

What remains to be known is how many individual candidates in the provinces may make surprise wins based on their personal reputations, irrespective of slates. If 20-25 unknowns win on such a premise, then the parliament would be further divided even though they may have been candidates on big slates. They will see themselves as a group apart, having won on their own credentials.

The Iraqi voter is emerging from a trauma. The elements that would usually influence voters—corruption, reputations, efficiency, platforms, ideology—don’t sway the vote. Sunnis want someone who can save them from the fate of becoming second-class citizens, and Shias just want peace and quiet. Allawi’s slate satisfies the former, and Maliki reassures the latter. I don’t think either of these guys will become PM, but that’s a different post altogether. I think it will be very difficult to form a government around any of the characters now seen as potential PMs. The next PM needs to come from outside the political process: a male, a gray-haired gent, Shia, background as an administrator in the Iraqi state, secular, and supported by Najaf and the Kurds. This man will head a weak cabinet of technocrats, pending early elections at a time in the future when the political players resolve for a rematch. Day-to-day government will devolve unto local councils. There are only three or four persons who fit this bill.
Author: "Nibras Kazimi نبراس الكاظمي (noreply@blogger.com)"
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Date: Tuesday, 02 Mar 2010 08:36
Rumor has it that Sadiq al-Rikabi, Da'awa Party apparatchik and current advisor to PM Nouri al-Maliki will be the next Iraqi ambassador to Washington DC, replacing Samir al-Sumaida'i. This would fortify Maliki's position, given of course that he remains PM post-election.
Author: "Nibras Kazimi نبراس الكاظمي (noreply@blogger.com)"
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Date: Monday, 01 Mar 2010 02:44
Former Iraqi Intelligence chief—a favorite of the Central Intelligence Agency and certain Washington Post columnists—Muhammad Abdullah al-Shahwani is running as a candidate for parliament (Baghdad Province) on his own slate, called Al-Neshoor Party.

Back in August 2009, at the time when Shahwani was forcibly retired (…the guy is 72), the CIA media mill went into overdrive warning that Iraq would become a colony of Iran’s in five years, and that the only man who was holding down the fort in the face of an Iranian attack was Shahwani. He was sold as Iraq’s truest patriot. Many journalists and columnists, as they usually do, swallowed the Agency’s story without questioning any component parts of it. It was also revealed on this blog that it was the Agency itself which took the initiative, on its own volition, of dismantling the anti-Iran shop it had set up within the newly formed Iraqi Intelligence Service.

So let’s get back to Shahwani’s new gig. His party is running in the provinces of Baghdad, Nineveh, Salahuddin, Anbar, Diyala and Kirkuk. Which means Al-Neshoor is only making a bid for seats in provinces with predominant or significant Sunni Arab constituencies. Shahwani is fielding 59 candidates in these provinces, and by my count, only one is a Shia. So at a time when most slates are scrambling to portray themselves as inter-ethnic and cross-sectarian, Shahwani, Mr. ‘Patriot’, is selling himself as Mr. Sunni Arab.

Another interesting touch is that his campaign materials showcase the old Iraqi flag, the one with three stars on it. Yeah, Shahwani is definitely reconciled with the reality of a New Iraq. Or maybe not.

Is it a wonder that the Iraqi executive branch was worried about Shahwani’s loyalties?

So this is the candidate who is supposed to be Iraq’s savior, if David Ignatius’ sources are to be believed.

It is unfortunate that the American message in Iraq has been reduced to being pro-Ba’ath, and consequently is easily interpreted by America’s detractors as anti-Shia. The Kurds can’t be encouraged either by that. One can’t really build a partnership between the US and the New Iraq on such a premise. Who is responsible for this policy failure? Is anyone asking?

And what use is it to publicly bemoan Iran's alleged influence in Iraq without doing anything about it, and not only that, but dismantling the anti-Iran arm that was in place? Doesn't that serve to only expose the Agency's weakness?
Author: "Nibras Kazimi نبراس الكاظمي (noreply@blogger.com)"
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