Yesterday’s attack on the al-Askariya Mosque in Samarra, Iraq is potentially disastrous. Suspected al-Qaeda bombers knocked down the minarets of the revered Shia shrine that was also struck by a dramatic bombing early last year.
The tragic kidnapping and killing of ABC News employees Alaa Uldeen Aziz and Saif Laith Yousuf last week brought the number of journalists killed in Iraq since 2003 to 104. While I was at the Coalition Press Information Center in the International Zone yesterday, I sat down for dinner with a couple of courageous Iraqi journalists. They provided me with some context of the situation that journalists face here, and it isn’t a pretty picture.
While drinking my morning coffee today in a small courtyard outside the Coalition Press Information Center in the International Zone (IZ, also sometimes known as the “green zone”), an alarm rang out. An automated voice declared, “Incoming! Incoming! Incoming!” Indeed, the increase in deadly mortar attacks in the IZ has caught the media’s attention of late. Last Thursday, two people were killed and eight wounded when ten mortars hit the IZ. The two fatalities and six of the wounded were Iraqi, with the other injuries “third country nationals” who were neither Iraqi nor American. On May 3, four contractors from Asia were killed in a rocket attack on the IZ. And the U.S. embassy has “ordered its staff to wear flak jackets and helmets while outdoors or in unprotected buildings following an increase in mortar and rocket attacks against the heavily protected Green Zone.”
When I touched down in Kuwait on the morning of May 17, I was greeted by severe sandstorms. From the air, the sandstorm looked like a cloud covering — except we touched down on the runway a few seconds after the plane entered the sand. The weather conditions kept me in Kuwait for the day, mainly recovering from jet lag. But I also had the opportunity to speak with some American contractors who were working on reconstruction efforts in the Shia south. Since one of the main things Iím interested in during this trip is the effect that a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops will have on Iraq, I wanted to get the contractors’ perspective.
There were major arrests in Saudi Arabia today. Reuters reports that Saudi Arabia announced that “it foiled an al Qaeda-linked plot to attack oil facilities and military bases, arresting more than 170 suspects, including some trainee pilots preparing for suicide operations.” In connection with these arrests, the Associated Press reports that the Saudi state TV channel Al-Ekhbariah “broadcast footage of large weapons cache discovered buried in the desert. The arms included bricks of plastic explosives, ammunition cartridges, handguns and rifles wrapped in plastic sheeting.”
After nine days of intense fighting over control of Mogadishu, transitional federal government (TFG) prime minister Ali Mohamed Ghedi claims that “the worst of the fighting against Islamists and clan gunmen was now over.” The fighting has caused many citizens to flee from Mogadishu, a city of one million residents. UN relief coordinator John Holmes says that 400,000 people have fled Mogadishu, while a doctor at a Mogadishu city estimated two-thirds of the residents have left. According to human rights groups, 300 people were killed in the most recent clashes, with one thousand deaths last month. Some in Mogadishu doubt Ghedi’s assessment of victory, saying there are “still reports of heavy fighting, and artillery and machine-gun fire can be heard across the city.”
In late March Mullah Nazir, a tribal leader in South Waziristan who is aligned with the Taliban, launched attacks on foreign militants from Uzbekistan who were in the region. Predictably, the Pakistani government tried to portray this development as a victory for the failed Waziristan Accords: Pakistani interior minister Aftab Sherpao said the bloodshed was “the result of the agreements the government made with tribal people in which they pledged to expel foreigners and now they are doing it.” Just as predictably, many Western journalists echoed Islamabad’s spin, reporting that the tribes were trying to eject foreign militants from Pakistani soil.
The insurgency in Somalia continues to gain strength as attacks have increased throughout the country, and fighting has returned to Mogadishu. A Hawiye clan-brokered ceasefire collapsed on Wednesday of last week in the face of clashes between Ethiopian troops and insurgent forces aligned with the fundamentalist Islamic Courts Union (ICU). The situation has become so dire that Somali deputy prime minister Hussein Aidid has likened it to “another Iraq.”
Last week CBN News terror analyst Erick Stakelbeck and I developed a story on the Anbar Salvation Front, a group that includes a broad mix of Sunnis who are united in their goal of expelling al-Qaeda from Iraq. An excerpt:
By 1931, Al Capone was a celebrity criminal with a litany of offenses that included murder, bribery, and running illegal breweries. But the government would have had trouble proving his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt for his most notorious activities, and charged him with tax evasion. Although the mobster swore that the government couldn’t collect legal taxes from illegal money, he proved to be wrong — and entered prison on May 5, 1932. This was the most famous example of a model that law enforcement adopted to deal with the unique problem of the mob, a model that placed a higher priority on neutralizing mob leaders and their activities than on winning the heaviest sentence. Thus, mob leaders were often prosecuted for, and convicted of, lesser offenses discovered by investigators. Because of the difficulty of convicting terrorists and their supporters of their most serious offenses, the “Al Capone model” of prosecuting for applicable lesser offenses has also been used frequently in terrorism cases.
Last year I wrote extensively about the Waziristan Accords, in which Pakistan surrendered a large geographic area to forces aligned with al-Qaeda and the Taliban. (See this blog entry written just after the Accords were signed, as well as thisWeekly Standard article that I co-wrote with Bill Roggio.) The Waziristan Accords caused attacks on coalition forces in Afghanistan to rise dramatically, and provided a safe haven where terrorists could train, communicate, and plot future attacks. Recently the government of Pakistan surrendered another region, Bajaur, to terrorists and their allies. A story that Erick Stakelbeck and I developed for CBN News about the Bajaur Accords aired on Tuesday:
The situation in Somalia has grown markedly worse over the past week as the Islamic Courts Union’s (ICU) insurgency gains steam — so bad, in fact, that the Christian Science Monitorclaims that the Somalis “haven’t seen fighting this intense since the overthrow of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.” The fighting has produced mass casualties, as 381 people were killed and 565 wounded over a recent four-day period. Some of the ICU’s more sensational recent attacks include a March 30 downing of a helicopter that was bombing insurgents, a series of mortar attacks (one of which killed a Ugandan peacekeeper), and a bomb attack Monday that targeted a government car.
I spoke with a military intelligence officer this morning about the situation in Somalia. He reported that the radical Islamic Courts Union (ICU) has abandoned Kismayo and dispersed. Kismayo is one of Somalia’s strategic port cities: after abandoning Kismayo, the ICU seemingly no longer controls any strategic cities. However, the group does control a sizeable geographic area, both in the north and south of the country. The ICU primarily controls smaller towns and villages.
Saddam Hussein was executed this morning (6:00 a.m. Baghdad time), on Eid al-Adha. The timing of his execution was a mistake. I don’t expect a surge in violence in Iraq because pretty much all the remaining Ba’athists there have professed a conversion to radical Islam, and there have been no serious efforts by jihadist factions to condemn the execution. Saddam does have a following among ex-pat Ba’athists in Jordan and Syria, but they don’t have the infrastructure to carry out retaliatory attacks.
Recently two prominent left-wing bloggers, Matthew Yglesias and Spencer Ackerman, have questioned whether the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) — the radical group that Ethiopia is currently battling in Somalia — is really linked to terrorism. Yglesias writes, “What are the names of these people the Islamists are sheltering? How many of them are there? Who are they? What have they done? What diplomatic efforts has the United States made to get the Islamists to turn them over? Pardon me for being cynical, but in this day and age my suspicion is that names aren’t involved in these articles but [sic] there’s no one in particular the Bush administration is worrying about and this is mostly hype and paranoia.” And Ackerman, after a grand total of two telephone calls to public affairs officers at State and the DNI, concludes, “The administration believes three terrorists are in Somalia, with unclear or unstated connections to the ICU. Then there’s the issue of Aweys, whom the U.S. isn’t officially making an issue, for unclear reasons. Decide for yourself if this is a good reason to instigate a regional war.”
On Wednesday, I had an article at Pajamas Media that discusses the reasons for Ethiopia’s surprisingly successful military campaign against the radical Islamic Courts Union (ICU) in Somalia. (The previous conventional wisdom that I received from trusted military intelligence sources was that the ICU was likely to defeat the Ethiopian military and overrun the secular transitional federal government, which was then holed up in the south-central Somali city of Baidoa.) An excerpt:
I have been covering the situation in Somalia since early June, when Mogadishu fell to the radical Islamic Courts Union (ICU). The ICU has steadily gained control of strategic cities throughout the country since then, confining its secular rival, the transitional federal government (TFG), to the south-central Somali city of Baidoa. This morning I have a major piece of breaking news over at Pajamas Media, where I reveal that the ICU has begun its final push to take Baidoa. An excerpt:
Today I have a piece at Pajamas Media that reports on three overlooked aspects of the recent confidential report on Somalia produced by the United Nations. The three aspects that I explore are Iran’s hunt for uranium in the Galgadud region, the report’s acknowledgement of an al-Qaeda presence in the country, and its depiction of a more savvy foe than most observers realize. An excerpt:
Since early September, I’ve been sounding the alarm about the dangers of the Waziristan Accord that essentially cedes the mountainous region of Pakistan to the Taliban and al-Qaeda. I first criticized the Accord on September 7, and have written about it frequently since then, including in the pages of the Weekly Standard. There is now an important article in The New York Times (December 11 issue) acknowledging that the Accord has indeed been a major victory for the terrorists:
I spoke with a military intelligence officer yesterday about the situation in Somalia. (For background on Somalia, see the Weekly Standardarticle that I co-wrote with Bill Roggio.) He said that he expects Somalia’s transitional federal government (TFG) to fall once the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) begins its final push to overtake the TFG’s capital of Baidoa. Although Ethiopian forces are currently protecting the TFG, there have been three major engagements between the Ethiopians and the ICU to date — and the ICU emerged as the winner each time. This is noteworthy because standing armies usually beat irregular forces in open battle, but this has not been the case thus far in Somalia.
As my colleague Douglas Farah has noted, a State Department official has finally acknowledged that al-Qaeda is operating “with great comfort” in Somalia. This terrorist presence was underscored by three suicide car bombings that took place yesterday outside the transitional federal government’s (TFG) base in Baidoa. The Associated Press notes that “[t]he attack had the hallmarks of an al-Qaida operation.” Initial reports indicate that eight people died in the blasts (including two policemen, three drivers, and three accomplices), but a senior official in the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) has claimed that at least twenty-four Ethiopian soldiers were killed.
Smoke covered the sky in Baghdad yesterday as insurgents bombed a pipeline in one of the city’s southern suburbs and hit an oil distribution center in northern Iraq with mortar rounds. Both attacks caused fires, and CNN reports that the attack on the oil distribution center “halted the flow of crude oil to Iraq’s largest refinery.”
In September, I wrote an article for The Weekly Standard about Joko Anwar, an Indonesian director who is working on a movie that subtly yet directly criticizes efforts to establish sharia law in that country. Indeed, the Indonesian entertainment industry features a number of fascinating figures who have taken courageous stands against Islamic parties that are pushing for repressive laws that would drastically abridge personal freedoms. I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Indonesian rock star Ahmad Dhani, who now champions a moderate version of Islam through his music. The resulting article, “Warrior of Love,” is now posted at The Daily Standard:
Virtually all political observers expect the Democrats to win control of at least one house of Congress in the 2006 midterms; I am no exception. This blog entry will examine the national security implications if the Democrats win one or both houses.
I recently wrote that the extremist Islamic Courts Union (ICU) may be preparing for a final push into Baidoa, where Somalia’s transitional federal government (TFG) is hunkered down. There are now indications that this final push may be imminent. Mediators recently called off talks between the ICU and TFG. The talks reached an impasse because of the ICU’s demand that Ethiopian troops — which have taken up a defensive posture around Baidoa — leave the country. There are now “widespread fears that lack of dialogue could lead to an escalation of violence.” Reports indicate that ICU forces test-fired rockets today in preparation for war against the TFG.
I just spoke with a military intelligence source who confirmed that the Bajur airstrike (see Andy Cochran’s post on it) was conducted by a U.S. Predator, adding that helicopters were also involved. The strike occurred around dawn, as people in the camp were preparing for their morning prayers. My source is skeptical of speculation that Zawahiri may have been killed in the strike, saying that Zawahiri sightings are a dime a dozen. He says it’s possible that Matiur Rehman was killed, but is also skeptical of that.
In a September 18 article for the Daily Standard, “Practice Makes Terror,” (blogged about here) I argued that the “rash of false alarms” following the August 10 revelation of a foiled transatlantic air terror plot may not have been entirely false. I argued that there may be casings and dry runs occurring — and that a number of incidents that were casings may not end up being remembered as such.
My most recent article for The Weekly Standard (co-authored with Bill Roggio of The Fourth Rail) details the alarming rise of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) in Somalia. On June 5, the ICU won control of Mogadishu, and it has steadily made strategic gains throughout the country since then. The transitional federal government (TFG) is now hunkered down in the south-central Somali city of Baidoa. The situation in Baidoa has been precarious for some time, as the ICU has demonstrated its capacity to take the city. There are now signs that the ICU may be beginning its final push into Baidoa to crush the transitional government.
A new proposed ordinance in Minneapolis has been garnering considerable media attention. For some time, hundreds of Muslim cabdrivers at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport have been refusing fares that they know are carrying alcohol. These fare refusals happen frequently enough that the airport and drivers have “worked out a proposal that calls for cabdrivers who won’t carry alcohol to have a cab light that’s a different color. That way, the airport workers who hook up travelers with taxis can steer alcohol-carrying fares to cabs that will take them.”