Iraq: Strange, But True


September 21, 2005: Rumors in Iraq are that al Qaeda has been trying to put together a spectacular, and bloody, "Ramadan Offensive." Every year, al Qaeda tries to increase their number of attacks during the Moslem holy month of Ramadan (October 4-November 2). Al Qaeda is believed to have tried to assemble 150-200 suicide bombing volunteers inside Iraq. Building car bombs, and explosive belts, for this many "martyrs" is a formidable task. The big question is, has American and Iraqi intelligence and counter-terror efforts been sufficient to derail this terror spectacular? No one is saying. However, in the last two weeks, many car bomb workshops, and stockpiles of bomb making materials have been captured, or bombed. You can always tell when your bomb has hit a car bomb factory, because all the explosives stored their go up in a spectacular "secondary explosion." Analysis teams usually go over these targets later, collecting debris for analysis on what was being built their and, perhaps, who was doing the building.

The government is desperate to avoid a Ramadan Offensive. Not just because of the loss of life, but because political careers are at stake. Iraqi leaders have quickly adapted to democracy, and the way in which angry voters push big-shots who fail, out of office. As a result, many of the negotiations with Sunni Arab leaders have included horse trading for tidbits of information about where terrorists are building their bombs. Particularly worrisome is the growing use of bomb belts by al Qaeda. Increased security measures by Iraqi police has led to more car bombers being captured, or forced to detonate their bombs before they reach their intended targets. This often results in many Sunni Arab casualties, which makes it difficult for al Qaeda to find hideouts. Explosive belts contain less explosives, but its easier to sneak a pedestrian into a well guarded area. For the moment, anyway. Thus the increased use of explosive belts.

By the end of October, it will be obvious who is winning the terrorism war. So far this month, terrorist attacks are down, compared to the last few months. But this is believed to be the result of al Qaeda striving to stockpile bombs, and people to deliver them, for their Ramadan Offensive.

Why does democratic Iraq have worse relations with the Arab world than did Saddam Hussein's Iraq. First, there is a growing dispute between the new Iraqi government and the rest of the Arab world over whether or not Iraq is an "Arab" nation. As a result, Arab nations are not supporting the new Iraqi government, and are tolerating al Qaeda and Sunni Arab terrorists operating in their countries. What is causing this? For example, Iraq's Kurdish president Jalal Talabani was interviewed by Israeli journalists in the United States, and said, "there is no hostility between Iraq and Israel." This caused an uproar in the Arab world, because it's become an article of faith that Israel is evil, and no true Arab state can have contact with Israel (despite Israeli peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan).

Naturally, Arabs believe that "Kurdish influence" is widespread and real in Iraq. This is partly driven by the fact that  another Kurd, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari,  points out that Iraq has Kurds, Assyrians, and Turkomans, and cannot be considered an "Arab" state. Arabs won't say it, but they are also upset with the fact that Shia Arabs, who make up a majority of the population, practice the same version of Islam as the non-Arab Shia Iranians.

But perhaps the most important, unspoken, reason for this lack of support is democracy. This is considered an alien influence and "un-Arabic." Sunni clerics openly call democracy "un-Islamic." Arab dictators see democracy as a threat to their rule. Finally, Arabs with European allies, are made to understand that the current Iraqi government is illegitimate because it is supported by the United States and George Bush, both of whom are considered a threat to world peace by many Europeans. This is more a matter of faith (and political wishful thinking), than logic, but it is real. Add all these influences together, and you have Iraq as something of  an outcast in the Arab world. Strange, but true.


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