Sometimes I wonder how many times I can restate essentially the same points about Iraq. I’ve been doing it for over four years now. I suppose I should derive some satisfaction from the fact that the majority of Americans are now against the war. Unfortunately, that’s like the majority of Americans being against the Big Bang—which they are. It’s way, way too late. All we can do now is try for a strategic withdrawal and hope the last helicopter out of Baghdad gets out safely.
Since I’ve started this Vietnam analogy, let’s keep going, shall we? And all the while, we must ask: does Bush really see the “War on Terror” as the new Cold War?
The Reverse Domino Effect
The second law of thermodynamics tell us that chaos spreads more easily than order. During the Cold War, we were afraid that relatively disordered states would reorganize under Communism because of influence by their neighbors, the so-called Domino theory.
We all know, however, that disorder and destabilization, or in other words, societal breakdowns, are easier to export than political reorganizations, or construction. Consider the problem of refugee camps—millions of people living in poverty, much of it somewhat abruptly imposed. Refugee camps are natural hotbeds of foment, be it criminal, political, or both.
Damascus now has an Iraqi quarter, and Iraqi refugees have also started taking up residence in the Palestinian refugee camps. Why is this important? Because in May, a harbinger event occurred in the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp near Tripoli. A new terrorist group calling itself Fatah-al-Islam (variously spelled ‘Fateh-el-Islam”) or “Army of Islam,” got into a major firefight with Lebanese military forces, after police tried to apprehend a gang of bank robbers who turned out to be ‘terrorists’ retreated to the Palestinian refugee camps, where Lebanese armed forces are prohibited from entering.
Now, what’s significant about Fatah-al-Islam isn’t that they’ve turned to bank robbing; terrorist groups have been financing their activities by robbing banks for a very long time. What’s significant is that Fatah-al-Islam is robbing Lebanese banks in 2007. I predict that this is the beginning of a bold new age of free-for-all terrorism reminiscent of the 1970s, when you had what Wallerstein would call “anti-systemic” gangs—Baader-Meinhof, the Red Brigades, the Symbionese Liberation Army, the Palestine Liberation Organization. The days when someone like Carlos the Jackal might have had contacts with Euzkadi Ta Askatasuna and the Front de Libération du Québec and the Irish Republican Army. Back when people thought terrorism was sexy. (By the way, is anyone else upset those Matt Damon adaptations of Robert Ludlum’s Bourne series have nothing to do with Carlos or Vietnam?)
If you haven’t seen the amazing documentary The Weather Underground, you never got to hear actual former members explain why white middle-class kids turned to terrorism in the 1960s (the same way middle-class Arabs turned to terrorism in the last few years). Brian Flanagan, former Weatherman, said something like (I’m quoting from memory) “The only way I can explain it is that the Vietnam war made us crazy… When you feel you have right on your side, you can do some horrific things.”
What Bush II has done, as I have been warning since the invasion of Afghanistan, is to reboot the cycle of displacement, violence and frustration which transformed the Mekhtab-e-Khidamat (a support organization for mujahideen from around the world who wanted to fight in Afghanistan) into Al-Qaeda.
I’ve written before about the tragic stupidity of the ‘flypaper’ theory, where war-mongers informed us that the war in Iraq was actually making America safer by drawing the world’s jihadists to Iraq instead of the United States. I countered that we were running the world’s largest, most advanced terrorist training camp, the way the Soviets had ‘trained’ the ‘Afghan Arabs’ like Bin Laden and Al-Zawahiri who would eventually become the first generation of global jihadists.
Al-Qaeda started with the private contributions of middle- and upper-class Muslims, buttressed by what was essentially protection money from the Saudi royal family. But as all terrorist groups did, they migrated to more conventional crime (drug smuggling, kidnapping, and financial fraud).
But bank robbery just isn’t Al-Qaeda’s modus operandi; outright armed theft is a bit harder to reconcile with sharia than declaring it OK to sell intoxicants (like heroin) exclusively to infidels, which is how they managed the opium problem in Afghanistan. Bin Laden may be a lot of things, but he used to carry himself a bit differently.
The ranks of terrorist organizations are more likely full of ordinary street criminals than ideologues. At this point, though, there’s a more serious problem: Gangs of criminals are being given ideological ‘cover’ by the rising sentiment of ‘al-Qaedaism,’ or at least that incredible decrease in America’s standing across the globe.
And how lucky for these glorified thugs that the Bush administration is now tarring all opposition to our armed forces as ‘al-Qaeda,’ because now a whole new class of criminals have been given a political agenda, at least in public. Now there is a whole new generation of ‘Afghan Arabs,’ young men who feel like now is the time to take up arms in defense of Islam and/or to do some killing, looting, raping, what-have-you.
Lately I’ve been thinking about how the U.S. occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan are ‘force multipliers’ for terrorists in a literal, rather than figurative sense. The flypaper theory turned out to have caught more flies with vinegar than with honey—and they’re breeding.
So, who is behind this new wave of terrorism? Let’s look at the history of Fatah al-Islam. From a profile in a Turkish paper:
Fatah al-Islam announced its creation last November after breaking away from Fatah Al-Intifada, a splinter group of the mainstream Fatah movement. In its foundation statement, it introduced itself as an Islamic group seeking to liberate Palestine and restore Muslim sanctities captured by Israel. …Experts believe the group is ideologically but not operationally linked to Al-Qaeda and is played by Lebanese and Arab parties to achieve political gains.
Its leader Shaker Abssi, a Palestinian born in Areha in 1955, is a former colonel pilot.
Syrian authorities arrested Abssi in 2000 and sentenced him to three years in prison on charges of smuggling weapons, ammunition to Jordan and vice versa. No sooner had he been released than he went to Iraq following the US-led invasion. In Iraq, Abssi fought along with groups loyal to Al-Qaeda and made friends with a number of Al-Qaeda leaders there.
…Abssi went to Lebanon in 2005 with a group of youths he met in Iraq and stayed there around a year before getting into trouble with the Lebanese army in May 2006.
There is speculation that various governments (Lebanon, syria, Iran, Israel, the United States) are supporting or otherwise manipulating Fatah al-Islam because it represents a counter-balance to the now more mainstream groups like Hamas and Hezbollah. (Hamas itself was started with support from Golda Meir’s Israeli government who thought that its radical Islamism would be a good counterbalance to the secular PLO.)
Hamastan and Fatahstan
Divide and conquer—it’s the foundation of many a colonial empire. It isn’t even 20th-century thinking, it’s more like 19th-century thinking. The British were masters of this craft; consider Iraq, which is a fairly good (if late) example. By using the minority Sunnis the brokers between the two larger ethnic groups (Kurdish and Shiite) and forcing Iraq to accept the Hashemite (a Sunni) as its new King, they were able to ‘balance out’ factional movements.
I’ve been writing here that Americans really need to wise up about he fact that we’ve been trying to provoke a Sunni-Shia civil war in Iraq since the invasion of Kuwait, and that we really have to stop acting so surprised that it finally happened.
Well, not only have we achieved our goal, but our cup runneth over; the huge Iraqi refugee population and our strengthening of Iran have paid off in spades, recently in a set of violent incidents around the Middle East.
Now we have Hamastan and Fatahstan, Hamas taking over the Gaza strip and the successor to the PLO, Fatah, taking the West Bank. The civil wars we have been trying to provoke for decades are just getting started. Sunni vs. Shia, Religious vs. Secular, Old Guard vs. Young Turks.
Now, even for those who are s cynical as to belive that the inevitable deaths of civilians in the crossfire is a good thing, why don’t we rework the equation in our favor by depriving these groups of a common enemy to unite against? when Israel bombed Hezbollah-controlled southern Lebanon, they got even the Sunni and Christian Arabs, their traditional enemies, to start chanting ‘we are all Hezbollah” in the streets all over the world.
Again, what America needs is strategic withdrawal. we are way , way overcommitted here, and our obnoxious presence is just about the only bargaining chip we have left. (Elephant once said we’re just going to end up trading Israel for Taiwan as part of a global retreat over the next century.)
The Dark Side of the Net
I was looking through my stats today, and I noticed that someone had come here from the United Kingdom looking for the phrase “fuck the soldiers.” Now, I knew I’d never written those words in that sequence, so I was curious enough to do the same search myself. It turned out I had written “fuck with the soldiers” at some point, which got me in the top ten results.
The other results had to do mostly with the petition by MySpace users to have the group “Fuck the soldiers” removed from the social networking site.
But there was one item which caught my eye, entitled “SOLDIER IN IRAQ FINDS POT PLANT, GRACES COVER OF HIGH TIMES’ GROW AMERICA.
JUNE 2, 2004 – Specialist Carlos Arellano was on patrol in Baghdad’s Green Zone on April 23 when he discovered a pot plant growing innocently on the street. He asked one of his fellow soldiers to snap a photo of him kneeling next to the plant. The photo was forwarded to High Times’ Grow America by a friend of Arellano’s via email. … Bloom quickly learned that Arellano was not only a soldier, but he was also a rapper named “Singe,” who’s first CD, The Epidemic, was released on StashBox Records several months before Arellano, in the Army Reserves, was called up to active duty and sent to Iraq. “Coded in the photo was a message that we couldn’t ignore,” Bloom says. “While Carlos is a hero defending his country in Iraq, when he comes home and smokes a joint, he’ll be a criminal.”
Whenever I see a story about a soldier that’s more than a month old, I immediately check to see if that soldier had been killed in action.
Robert Arellano said Wednesday his brother Carlos may have known he wouldn’t return home from Iraq. Carlos Arellano, a Marine corporal, had survived two previous tours of duty in Iraq, although he was wounded on the second. But Carlos seemed different before he left his family’s Rosemead home for his third tour, his brother said. “I think Carlos knew he was going to die this time,” said Robert Arellano, 27, a Marine of nine years.
Cpl. Carlos Arellano died Friday when a suicide bomber in a car set off a blast in Haqlaniyah, Iraq, according to the U.S. Department of Defense. Also killed in the blast was Lance Cpl. Brandon Dewey, 20, of San Joaquin.
Sometimes it’s easy to forget that the people dying on both sides are my generation, and that people in the military aren’t politically or ideologically or culturally homogeneous. If you get a chance to see Soundtrack To War, the 2005 documentary about the music soldiers listen to in Iraq, you should. they run it on VH1 every once in a while.
Anyway, while I was searching for Carlos Arellano, I found his MySpace page. Someday, it will be in a museum, and I don’t mean that facetiously at all. It’s a perfectly preserved artifact, a life frozen in time.
A $282 million bank heist in Baghdad carried out by the bank’s guards:
Guards staged one of the largest bank robberies in Iraqi history, making off with a stunning $282 million dollars in cash from a private bank in central Baghdad, Aswat al-Iraq reports in Arabic. Speaking on condition of anonymity, an Interior Ministry source told Aswat al-Iraq that, “Three guards working for the Dar al-Salam Bank located on Sa’adoun Street in central Baghdad were able to attack the bank . . . stealing a sum of up to $282 million dollars, and fled in an unknown direction after implementing the operation.”
…The New York Times confirms that the stolen money was denomiated in US dollars, not Iraqi dinars.
…and speculated that the perpetrators of the robbery may have been linked to militias, citing the ease of the getaway in a city thick with checkpoints.
While the sum of $282 million is massive, especially by Iraqi standards, it would fund less than one day of US expenses for operations in Iraq.
And it looks like the fighting between the Lebanese military and Fatah al-Islam has just started up again:
Four Lebanese soldiers have been killed after the army resumed heavy shelling of a Palestinian refugee camp near Tripoli where fighters from the Fatah al-Islam group have been holed up for weeks. The bombardment on Thursday came a day after more than 150 people left the Nahr al-Bared camp amid fears that the army was preparing an assault.
“Today’s bombardment is a first step in the final battle against the terrorist group whose fighters have refused to surrender to the army,” an army officer told the AFP news agency.
But a military statement denied that the bombardment was part of a final assault on the camp.