Reidblog [The Reid Report blog]

Think at your own risk.
Thursday, June 14, 2007
Rumors of war
The second bombing of a sacred Shiite Mosque in Samarra in 15 months has only escalated the mayhem in that country. The reprisals have been swift and brutal in that ongoing civil war.

In this country, the Democrats have sent the president a letter telling him what he should already know: that the surge has failed -- more to the point, the war itself is a rank failure, with no realistic chance of turning around.

Meanwhile, there are two other wars raging in the Middle East, in Lebanon, where the Fouad Siniora government recently battled Islamic militias in a Palestinian refugee camp, and tensions are high after the murder of an anti-Syrian MP, and in Gaza, where an all out civil war is underway, with President Mahmoud Abbas moving to dissolve the Palestinian government yesterday.

The multi-headed hydra of violence reaching across the region will be the subject of an emergency Arab League meeting tomorrow. The instability is frightening, and worse, it's providing an opportunity for the warmongering neocons to try and push for even more war, against Iran, which is now inexplicably being accused of arming their sworn enemies, the Taliban.

What's needed in the Middle East is credible diplomacy on the part of the United States, which is impossible as long as this country can't bring itself to deal even-handedly with the parties there.

Update: from the AP this morning (June 15)
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip - Hamas fighters have seized Fatah's senior field commanders in the Gaza Strip, a spokesman for the Islamic group announced Friday, while Egyptian police said nearly 100 Fatah officials had crossed into Egypt.

The spokesman, Abu Obeideh, said the group's men arrested the commanders of the National Security organization and the elite Presidential Guard, along with a senior Fatah spokesman, a lawmaker and six other officials.

The men were being interrogated by Hamas, Obeideh said on Hamas TV.

Meanwhile, 97 senior members of Fatah's security and administrative apparatus arrived in the Egyptian port of El-Arish hours after fighters from the militant Hamas group took control of Gaza, an Egyptian security official in El-Arish said.

The retreating Fatah members, who fled aboard a fishing boat, were transferred to camps affiliated to Egypt's security forces, a police official in Cairo confirmed.
Meanwhile, the BBC is reporting that Hamas is now in "full control" of the Gaza strip.

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posted by JReid @ 9:20 PM  
Monday, May 21, 2007
Lebanon is burning
The Siniora government unleashes its military on a Palestinian refugee camp near Tripoli. And of coure, the U.S. media immediately claims that the group they're fighting is al-Qaida.
Fatah al-Islam, a group accused of links to al-Qaeda and Syria, has threatened to widen its campaign if troops do not stop the shelling.

A spokesman for the group, Abu Salim, told French news agency AFP: "The army is not only opening fire on us, it is shelling blindly.

"If this continues, we will carry the battle outside the city of Tripoli."
So who is Fatah al-Islam? According to Reuters:
- The faction emerged in November when it split from Fatah al-Intifada (Fatah Uprising), a Syrian-backed Palestinian group. Fatah al-Islam had some 200 fighters at the time, based in Nahr al-Bared camp. Security sources have said militants from other Palestinian camps have joined the group since then and have been trained at the camp.

- The Lebanese government links Fatah al-Islam to Syrian intelligence. Syria and Fatah al-Islam deny any links to each other. The government says four Syrian members of Fatah al-Islam confessed to bombing two buses in February in a Christian area near Beirut. Three people were killed in the attacks.

- Fatah al-Islam's leader, Shaker al-Abssi, is a veteran Palestinian guerrilla. He was sentenced to death in Jordan for killing a U.S. diplomat in 2002. The slain leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab Zarqawi, received a similar sentence for the same crime.

- Abssi says his group has no organisational links to al Qaeda but agrees with its aim of fighting infidels. Fatah al-Islam statements have appeared on Islamist Web sites known to publish al Qaeda statements.

- Abssi told Reuters in March that his group's main mission was to reform the Palestinian refugee community in Lebanon according to Islamic sharia law before confronting Israel.
So they're linked to al-Qaida in goals, and they traffic in the same websites. Does that make them an "al-Qaida linked organization"? In a sense, it doesn't matter, except that it does. The Bush administration's tactic of labeling every militant group as al-Qaida (and every arrested potential domestic terrorist or person with brown skin and criminal intent in the U.S., including American citizens) as well as the media complicity in same, is a dangerous oversimplification of reality. How can you develop good intelligence in the so-called 'war on terror' when you really don't understand who, or how many groups, you're fighting?

Let's go for a pretty trustworthy source: Janes Defence Weekly:
Fatah al-Islam, Lebanon's new jihadists

A new radical Sunni group has emerged in Lebanon. Led by the Palestinian Shakir al-Absi, Fatah al-Islam is based in the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp near Tripoli.

Shakir Absi has expressed a militant jihadist ideology with a focus on Israel. He has said his group's objective is to bring religion to the Palestinian cause and that hundreds of potential suicide bombers had prepared themselves to strike Israel.

In an interview with the New York Times on 16 March, Absi confirmed that he once worked as a pilot for Fatah leader Yasser Arafat, then staged attacks on Israel from his own base in Syria. He also admitted working with Zarqawi. He said that after his imprisonment in Syria he broadened his targets to include US citizens. He told the paper: "We have the right to do such acts, for is it not America that comes to our region and kills innocents and children?"

Fatah al-Islam's ambition to attack Israel will remain limited by the Shia group Hizbullah's pervasive control of southern Lebanon. A Sunni jihadist group would stand little chance of launching a cross-border attack into Israel without being spotted by Hizbullah's informers. They would also have little chance of staging a successful attack: after years of confrontation between Hizbullah and the Israeli military, the border zone is probably the toughest insurgent theatre in the world.
So now we see a group whose focus is not jihad against the United States, but rather, war against Israel. In other words, a much more traditional anti-Israeli militant group, comprised, surprise, surprise, of Palestinians.

For a more complex, textured, but very thorough reading of the relationship between Palestinian militants in Lebanon (and Syria) and al-Qaida, you'll want to read this. The start:
Al Jazeera ran on Sept 18 the second part of a documentary by Yusri Fouda on Al Qaeda in "Bilad al Sham". The thesis is that inherently Al-Qaeda has a forward looking plan that was to attack the US, draw America to the Middle East and then fight it (i.e. in Iraq) and then exploit that conflict to get to the Palestinian front using Damascus and Lebanon.
Hm ... part one of mission ... accomplished???
The seminal point the documentary makes is that "the youth are jaded with the corruption in the Arab world and an impotent leadership" so much so, that bright, educated people like Mohammad Atta (this is the documentary's assessment not mine) turn to religion as a means to an end.

In fact the founder of Junood Al Sham is on record saying the only way to fight Israel is to turn to religion and that when you do so as a fighter, you are fearless.

This zealous fervor invariably is the panacea to the "Zionist-American-Western" axis, several of the interviewees hold.

An interesting and worrying dimension to all this was the existing and growing Salafist movement in Lebanon, namely in mountainous areas and even places like Baalbak where one of the 19 hijackers that carried out the Sept.. 11 attacks was from.

The documentary goes on to narrate how Al Qaeda's man in Lebanon was arrested and then 'died' in detention. His supporters claim he was tortured and killed.
Complexities, complexities...

Meanwhile, the Independent's Robert Fisk gives us the up close and personal:
Only this time, of course, we have Sunni Muslim fighters in the camp, in many cases shooting at Sunni Muslim soldiers who are standing in a Sunni Muslim village. It was a Lebanese colleague who seemed to put his finger on it all. "Syria is showing that Lebanon doesn't have to be Christians versus Muslims or Shia versus Sunnis," he said. "It can be Sunnis versus Sunnis. And the Lebanese army can't storm into Nahr el-Bared. That would be a step far greater than this government can take."

And there is the rub. To get at the Sunni Fatah al-Islam, the army has to enter the camp. So the group remains, as potent as it was on Sunday when it staged its mini-revolution in Tripoli and ended up with its dead fighters burning in blazing apartment blocks and 23 dead soldiers and policemen on the streets.

And yes, it is difficult not to feel Syria's hands these days. Fouad Siniora's government, surrounded in its little "green zone" in central Beirut, is being drained of power. The army is more and more running Lebanon, ever more tested because it, too, of course, contains Lebanon's Sunnis and Shia and Maronites and Druze. What fractures, what greater strains can be put on this little country as Siniora still pleads for a UN tribunal to try those who murdered ex-prime minister Rafik Hariri in 2005?

This thing just gets uglier and uglier.

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posted by JReid @ 6:52 PM  
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