» 2008 » February

Faster, Please!

Monthly Archives: February 2008

More Copenhagen

February 21st, 2008 - 9:51 am

The Copenhagen Reconciliation Conference ended today a bit after noon, with the delegates scrambling to agree on a final statement. There were disagreements—how could it be otherwise?—over some of the ‘language,’ and as so often in the Middle East, there are some subtle differences between the Arabic and English versions. The main one is over sovereignty, which of course everyone is for. The disagreement came over whether the International Forces (namely us, of course) are “occupiers,” with most of the religious leaders wanting to say that, and most of the politicians in disagreement. So we’re occupiers in Arabic but not in English.

That should be Iraq’s biggest disagreement, and the “Copenagen Accord” is a fine document, insisting that “leaders…redouble their efforts toward building a civil state, to defeat sectarianism and violence, and to promote the national spirit and rule of law.” It calls for disarming the population and restricting weapons to “the hands of the state.” Such a call would have been very controversial a short time ago, when there was great distrust for government forces (above all the police), and its inclusion here is, I think, testimony to the improvement in the quality and diversity of the armed forces. In short, a tribute to the efforts of the Multinational Force in training a national army rather than sectarian units. And everyone deplored militias (there was private concern that Muqtadah al Sadr’s Mehdi Army may be taking up arms again).

The Accord highlights corruption as a major obstacle to good government, and the language on it is very strong: “The gaining of power for self interest, the monopolizing of power by one group or party, and selection for government by means of nepotism or patronage is unacceptable.” Roger that! And just a few lines later, they come back to this theme: “strong legal actions should be taken to fight the administrative and financial corruption which causes the decay of the state and is one of the biggest obstacles to peace, reconciliation and prosperity.”

They called for integrating the Awakening Movements into the national security forces, and insisted on humane treatment of displaced persons. They went on to ask the government to “ensure human rights and the dignity of all components of Iraqi society, including women, children and the disabled.” Here again, the participants shied away from the use of “minorities” in any context; they repeatedly insisted that they were working for all Iraqis. The special attention to women, children and the disabled reflected their belief that these people urgently required special attention. One of the most moving moments of the closed discussion revolved around the all-too common practices of wife- and child-beating, and the delegates wanted to underline their unhappiness with the treatment of women and children within Iraqi society.

The organizers pronounced themselves well satisfied, as well they should. The final proceedings included the Iraqi Minister for Human Rights, an impressive woman with mastery of all the questions at the conference, and, as I reported earlier, the National Security Adviser. Every major religious sect in Iraq was represented at a high level, and some of the participants were authorized to sign the Accord on behalf of their superiors, including leading Imams and Ayatollahs.

The Conference attracted considerable attention back home, and the final press conference was recorded by Iraqi television. This required the delegates to pronounce the ritual condemnations of the infamous cartoons, recently reprinted by all the major newspapers in Denmark. At the same time, the Accord is effusive in its gratitude to the Danish Government and the Bishop of Copenhagen for their great support. As usual, the journalists were the bad guys of choice. But even there, the tone of the condemnations was sadness rather than rage, and I have rarely been around a group of people more determined to fight religious extremism than these.

I had my doubts about this conference, but I’m delighted that I came. As at all such affairs, the most interesting conversations took place in private, and I am chock full of new knowledge, not least about Middle Eastern sects of which I had never heard before. I now actually know something about the Mandaeans, whose thrice-daily ritual ablutions pay tribute to the sect’s prophet, John the Baptist, and about the Yezidis, a pre-Christian faith that accepts no converts and is seemingly a descendant of Zoroastrianism. Perhaps a free Iran will some day find room for these people. In short, Canon Andrew White, the Conference’s driving force and spiritual inspiration, did something quite remarkable. He put together representatives of all the major elements of Iraqi society and politics, added some of the smaller groups for leavening, and produced a bit of pastry worthy of the place. Danish, if you get my drift…

I’m in Copenhagen, Denmark, the happiest country in the world. Because, it seems, they have low expectations. And why shouldn’t they? The climate stinks, the sky is dark or slate grey most of the year, it’s a small, out-of-the-way country that used to matter when axes were considered advanced military technology, and there are only about six million Danes to begin with, so nobody expects them to solve any of the world’s big problems. So low expectations are easy to understand. On the other hand, I don’t quite understand why you’d be happy with lousy weather and grey skies most of the time.

Anyway, here I am, not, as you might imagine, to catch up on the latest cartoon riots, which you can follow on Pajamas thanks to the great reporting of my friend Flemming Rose. And yet there is no avoiding it. I am here to participate in a “Reconciliation Conference” of Iraqi religious and political leaders, supported in part by the Danish Foreign Ministry (and full honors to them for doing it, and for carrying on with it despite the recent riots). Full honors also to the Iraqi clerics and National Security Adviser Rubayie who came, even though lots of Iraqi Muslims are quite exercised at the republication of the now-celebrated cartoons of Mohammed. Those who came to Copenhagen condemned and lamented the cartoons, lest they face angry members of their umma when they return home.

Yet the riots, as the thugs themselves have now proclaimed, had little to do with offended Islamic sensibilities. They began a few days before Danish police arrested three persons, and accused them of plotting the assassination of the creator of the most infamous cartoon, the one with a stick of dynamite burning in the Prophet’s turban. The riots came in response to other arrests in Copenhagen, of hashish smugglers and dealers. This was just too much for the kids. As they put it in a front-page statement today

“Basically the unrest is about the way we are treated by the police, who are brutal, racist and totally unacceptably insulting,” the group said in the letter. The authors called themselves “Boys of inner Noerrebro,” referring to the immigrant neighborhood in Copenhagen where the unrest started on Feb. 10.

It was also convenient that the events took place during the winter school holiday, and that they have died down as the schools reopened. Yesterday, a woman from the Danish Foreign Ministry gave the Iraqis a summary of the origins of the riots, and this morning the country’s excellent foreign minister talked about the arrests, noting to the Iraqis that “I am sure you will agree that murder is not acceptable.”
The Iraqis are in Copenhagen to try to hammer out a collective call for national reconciliation, and to recommend steps the government might take to accelerate this process. They are particularly intent on improving the treatment of some of the lesser-known religious groups in the country, who have been decimated by sectarian violence and who have yet to receive decent treatment from the government. A strong statement from the nearly two dozen leaders gathered here might help.

As so often in the past, this ecumenical effort has been driven by the Anglican Canon of Baghdad, Andrew White, who in ten years in Iraq has somehow managed to win the obvious trust and affection of an amazingly wide cross-section of national leaders. It was easy to see how he has accomplished it. Today was given over to a lively and often impassioned discussion of what we would call church and state relations, which the group put in terms of a rhetorical question: should religion play and advisory or a supervisory role in government? Much of the debate focused on the paragraphs in the Constitution that is generally translated as saying that the Iraqi Government cannot adopt any law that is in conflict with shariya law. But Rubayie was at pains to point out that the actual language does not spell it out quite so specifically, and reads that government actions must “rest on the pillars of Islam.” The implication—sometimes accepted, sometimes challenged over the course of the day—is that the Koran does not always have Constitutional standing. And the participation of Iraqi Christian clerics, and others from pre-Islamic sects, seemed to suggest that the people here are seeking broader toleration of, and greater involvement with, differing religious groups. It will be fascinating to see how it gets sorted out in the end.

One underlying theme speaks volumes about the current state of affairs inside Iraq: without exception, participants feel much better about their country. They are breathing easier about security, they all denounced al Qaeda and other “regional parties” (privately they will tell you they put Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia in the front rank) who have conducted or sponsored the mass killing, they do not want “religious extremists” included in their Reconciliation, and they even believe that Iraq may set an example for the rest of the region.

Maybe something revolutionary is under way here. Maybe not, but when I suggested to some of them that they might have a look at Tocqueville’s thoughts on separation of church and state, they wrote it down.

Don’t Preach to Us, We’re the Preachers Here

February 14th, 2008 - 6:55 pm

So say the mullahs. The Iranian ambassador to Spain unloaded on “the arrogant West” for suggesting that Iran abandon its practice of amputating hands and feet of convicted criminals. Read it all, it’s very instructive. He’s a typical post-modern phony, using “multiculturalism” to justify barbarisms on the grounds that “it’s the way we do it, you should respect our culture.”

Is there any horror that can not be defended by this argument?


February 13th, 2008 - 2:47 pm

Imad Mughniyah has reportedly gone to his virgins. I say “reportedly” because you never really know with him. He has changed his appearance in the past, even, I am told, his fingerprints, and is altogether capable of feigning his death. As Tom Jocelyn has tirelessly reported, he was in cahoots with al Qaeda, and moved between Lebanon, Syria, Iran and Iraq. I have long believed he was the key Iranian operative in Iraq, and his documented contacts with Zarqawi show that.

No surprise that he was in Damascus when destiny apparently claimed him. Hezbollah was a joint Iranian-Syrian operation in which the Iranians ran the organization and Syria provided the base, and logistical support. As I was the first to report, he flew with Iranian President Ahmadi-Nezhad to Damascus for high-level meetings with Bashar Assad and key Syrian military and intelligence officers a while back. So he had very high standing among the terror masters.

His bloody arms reached into South America, both in the creation of Hezbollah bases and in the murderous operations in Buenos Aires in the mid-nineties that led to his indictment by the Argentine Government. And I have no doubt that he was involved in setting up terror cells in the United States. Remember that he was both the operational chieftain of Hezbollah and a high-ranking officer in the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Qods Force.

His death would be a major blow to the ability of the terror masters to wage war against us; while there are always evil people eager to kill us, it will not be easy to replace Mughniyah.

There will be a lot of speculation about his killers. Hezbollah has already accused the Israelis, which is what you’d expect them to say. But there are many others who hated Mughniyah, ranging from various Lebanese and Saudi groups who held him responsible for the assassination of Rafiq Hariri, to anti-Iranian and anti-Syrian groups, especially some of the Kurds, to our very own spooks and soldiers, who have long yearned for revenge against the man who organized the brutal murder of Robert Stethem, the suicide bombings against the U.S. Marines in Beirut, similar acts against U.S. diplomats and spooks at our Embassies in the same city, and of course Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, and the dreadful death-by-torture of our top spy in Beirut in the mid-1980s.

I doubt we did it. Indeed, I rather suspect that CIA was bound and determined NOT to go after Mughniyah, even though there was a bounty on his head. I know of several instances in which CIA vetoed proposals from well-placed people who claimed to be able to kill or capture Mughniyah, and I have spoken to government officials in Washington who were astonished at the Agency’s lack of vigor. Nonetheless, I have no doubt we will hear from several “experts” that it was a CIA operation.

Israel is more likely, and has a proven ability to operate in Damascus, although Olmert has denied any Israeli involvement. On the other hand, it may have been a joint operation involving a European intelligence service (the French, who were big supporters of Hariri, come to mind) and a local group, perhaps Lebanese Druse, perhaps Syrian and/or Iranian Kurds.

And of course there is also the possibility that the Iranians did it. Their proxy war against us in Iraq–of which Mughniyah was the supreme commander–is in ruin, and they may have decided that he had either lost his touch, or had gone over to the other side. This is not so fanciful as you might imagine. Remember that the Abu Nidal Organization, for many years the most feared terrorist group in the world, tore itself apart when the leader came to believe he had been betrayed by someone inside his organization. That was one of CIA’s greatest psychological operations, run by perhaps the last great American spymaster, Duane Clarridge.

Such things do happen. To be sure, they are more often the stuff of fiction, but sometimes life does imitate art.

Marine Valentine

February 12th, 2008 - 11:31 pm

We are just back from the Marine Base at Kaneohe Bay, about 15 miles outside Honolulu, where, as I reported a few days ago, we had the rare pleasure of participating in a welcoming ceremony for an advance team of about 100 Marines returning from Camp Fallujah in Iraq. I really think that more Americans should have the chance to witness this scene. The first ten Marines off the plane raced to embrace their newborn children for the first time. The Marine band played “Pretty Little Woman.” Handmade banners along the lines of “Welcome Home Staff Sargeant Bilko, a.k.a. our dad, We Love You.” Yells of delight, tears of joy, flags, balloons…unforgettable.

All of which prompts me to pass on this cool Valentine’s Day thought, sent to me by a friend who works at Marine HQ in Washington:

The wonderful love of a beautiful maid,
The love of a staunch true man,
The love of a baby, unafraid,
Have existed since time began.

But the greatest of loves, The quintessence of loves,
Even greater than that of a mother,
Is the tender, passionate, infinite love,
Of one drunken Marine for another.

Written by a great warrior: General Louis H. Wilson, who won the Medal of Honor for his heroics in the Second World War, and went on to become the Commandant of the Marine Corps in the second half of the 1970s.

Here’s the Medal of Honor citation:

The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting the MEDAL OF HONOR to


for service as set forth in the following CITATION:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as Commanding Officer of Company F, Second Battalion, Ninth Marines, Third Marine Division, in action against enemy Japanese forces at Fonte Hill, Guam, Marianas Islands, 25 and 26 July 1944. Ordered to take that portion of the hill within his zone of action, Captain Wilson initiated his attack in midafternoon, pushed up the rugged, open terrain against terrific machine-gun and rifle fire for 300 yards and successfully captured the objective. Promptly assuming command of other disorganized units and motorized equipment in addition to his own company and one reinforcing platoon, he organized his night defenses in the face of continuous hostile fire and, although wounded three times during this five-hour period, completed his disposition of men and guns before retiring to the company command post for medical attention. Shortly thereafter, when the enemy launched the first of a series of savage counterattacks lasting all night, he voluntarily rejoined his besieged units and repeatedly exposed himself to the merciless hail of shrapnel and bullets, dashing fifty yards into the open on one occasion to rescue a wounded Marine lying helpless beyond the front lines. Fighting fiercely in hand-to-hand encounters, he led his men in furiously waged battle for approximately ten hours, tenaciously holding his line and repelling the fanatically renewed counterthrusts until he succeeded in crushing the last efforts of the hard-pressed Japanese early the following morning. Then, organizing a seventeen-man patrol, he immediately advanced upon a strategic slope essential to the security of his position and, boldly defying intense mortar, machine-gun and rifle fire which struck down thirteen of his men, drove relentlessly forward with the remnants of his patrol to seize the vital ground. By his indomitable leadership, daring combat tactics and dauntless valor in the face of overwhelming odds, Captain Wilson succeeded in capturing and holding the strategic high ground in his regimental sector, thereby contributing essentially to the success of his regimental mission and to the annihilation of 350 Japanese troops. His inspiring conduct throughout the critical periods of this decisive action enhanced and sustained the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.


He then was sent to a hospital where he spent several months recovering from his injuries. Wow.


February 8th, 2008 - 1:53 pm

When the chartered civilian plane carrying one hundred or so Marines from the 3/3 touched down in Kaneohe Bay, it was only an hour and a half late, but nobody really minded. The average age–considerably raised by me and a few other grey-haired parents–had to be below twenty-five, and everybody was bigtime excited.

The Marines had flown from Iraq to Kuwait, across Asia, refueled in Guam, and then to Oahu. The band was playing “pretty little woman,” which seemed about right for a bunch of young men who had not had social interface with a woman in more than seven months. The first dozen or so Marines off the plane ran across the red carpet to see their babies for the first time. In short order tears were as common as cheers.

It’s a scene that’s reenacted with some frequency in this country at this time, but it is not broadcast, and rarely reported. It’s quite a scene. And we owe these kids a big debt, which we are not eager to repay. Don’t you think that the G.I. Bill should guarantee four years of higher education to every returning vet? It doesn’t; it pays less than twenty thousand dollars a year for three years, if I have the numbers right. Maybe Senator McCain would like to make such repayment of our debt to our soldiers and marines part of his campaign?

They’re Rioting in Tehran Again

February 3rd, 2008 - 10:41 am

Not that it’s made any headlines on this side of the world. Here’s the report I received:

Sunday, Jan. 27, was marked by the third day of protest by Tehran University students at the Kouy-e Daneshgah – or the students dormitory. The protest began by 250 students with a basic demand for improvement of the food quality at the KOUY, but it rapidly turned into a full-fledged political protest against the government as the protest progressed. The protesting students broke the door between the KOUY and the main campus and entered the area inside the School of Technology. By this time the crowd had grown to 1,000. Clashes broke out and a number of students suffered broken arms and heads. The State Security Force and the Special Guard, in full armed gears, threw stones and the students answered.
By 9.30 p.m., the students lit a big fire in the area of the School of Technology (FANNI) and chanted, “Death to the Dictator” and “Death to Tyranny”. They used molotov cocktails to defend themselves against guards’ attack. Some 60 students were injured and 40 were arrested. The guards covered the arrested students with sacks so that they could not be identified. The protest lasted until midnight.
The state-run press were compelled to report the three-day unrest, of course to minimize its importance. For example, the official news agency, IRNA, reported that there were no clashes between the students and the security forces and the protest was simply over food quality. Some of the press said the President has advised university officials to attend to the needs of students regarding food and other accommodations of the dorms.

Participating students in Sunday’s protest said the scene resembles the scene of protests by student in July 1999, when six days of student protests were joined by ordinary people and spread to the streets of central Tehran, seriously scaring the regime.

On Friday, 1,500 TU students marched out of the KOUY over low quality food and staged an angry demonstration on Amir Abad Ave. with anti-government slogans. They clashed with the special guards and were badly beaten up. A number of students were arrested.

The protest resumed in the cold afternoon of Saturday at 4.30 p.m. The crowd gradually swelled to 1,500 by 7.30 p.m. The students hurled stones at the State Security Force who had surrounded the university and blocked all streets leading to TU.

They chanted, “We want no rule of force, we want no mercenary police” – “People, why are you sitting down? Iran has become another Palestine” – “Students die but will not succumb” – “Children of Kaveh and Siavosh will not relent until the Islamic Republic regime is overthrown.”

The SSF clubed the students, breaking the noses, arms and legs of some 20 students. The SSF also brought Fire Engines and flushed water on the students who staged their protest under heavy snow until 10 p.m.

On Saturday, Jan. 26, workers of Kiyan Tire staged a protest at 9 a.m. They started by a sit-in in the factory while all the factory departments were shut down. Kiyan Tire workers have not received their wages of seven months and have terrible living conditions. Finally, they blocked Saveh Road and set fire to tires. Smoke filled all the area of Char Dangeh where the factory is located. All 2500 workers of the factory are on strike. The protest on Saturday lasted until noon. Workers said they would continue their protests until their demands are met.

I also learned of another major protest by workers of Alborz Tire Factory on Saturday. 2000 workers work at Alborz Tire Factory. They have not received their salaries for three months and this protest has been going on at least for a week. Angry workers chanted: “So much injustice (under an Islamic regime claiming justice of Imam Ali)” — “Death to Tyranny” — “Jobs, Salaries, Justice are our inalienable right” (This contradicts the official motto of Nuclear Energy is our inalienable right) — “A decent living is our inalienable right” — etc.
So much for a busy weekend.

Remember that the people of Iran, the students and workers and women wish to be heard by the world and they need your kind and sympathetic attention to their cause and naturally a decent reporting of their anti-government protests.


They wish to be heard by the world. If only the world were listening…