UNSC says maalesh, no WMDs in Iraq

Monumental balls:

UNITED NATIONS, June 29 — The U.N. Security Council voted 14 to 0 Friday to immediately shut down the U.N. weapons-inspection unit for Iraq, drawing to a close 16 years of international scrutiny of Iraq’s nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs.

The action ended more than four years of political deadlock between the United States and Russia over the fate of the inspection effort. Russia abstained, citing U.S. and British refusal to permit the inspectors to provide a final report confirming Iraq’s disarmament.

The resolution — sponsored by the United States and Britain — offers no formal judgment on the status of Iraq’s weapons program. Instead, it refers to the findings of a CIA inspection team that concluded in 2004 that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

“These efforts have demonstrated that the current government of Iraq does not possess weapons of mass destruction or delivery systems,” Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said after the vote. Khalilzad, the former U.S. ambassador to Iraq, had made a personal pledge to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki before leaving Baghdad to shutter the U.N. weapons programs.

Iraq’s U.N. ambassador, Hamid al-Bayati, hailed the decision, saying an “appalling chapter in Iraq’s modern history” has been closed. He said he welcomed the council’s decision to return about $63 million in Iraqi oil proceeds — which have been used to fund the inspections program — to Iraq.

It’s not like I’m advocating Chapter VII action against the United States for invading Iraq on false pretexts, but how about at least letting the UN admit there were no WMDs in Iraq?

‘The Source’ found dead

Ashraf Marwan, maybe the most colorful person of London’s Arab community, has died under unclear circumstances. Some believe him to be ‘The Source’ which tipped off Mossad prior to the 1973 war – others say he acted as a double agent misleading the Israelis.

From The Times:

Mr Marwan’s death will send shockwaves across the Middle East and among some of Britain’s wealthiest people. His associates included Adnan Khashoggi, the arms dealer, Ken Bates, the football club chairman, the Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi and the late Tiny Rowland.

If found to be murder, his death will carry echoes of last year’s assassination of Alexander Litvinenko, the former KGB agent.

In any case, he was close to Nasser and Sadat and must have made his fortune thanks to the connections he developed during that time, in particular when he overlooked the businesses of the Egyptian military in the 1970.

Plug: “With/Without”

Withwithout Cover 2

A little over a month ago, With/Without: Spatial products, Practices and Politics in the Middle East, a collection of essays about contemporary Arab urban issues, was released at the Dubai International Design Forum. Published by Middle Eastern cultural magazine Bidoun and the Forum’s organizer, Moutamarat, it has contributions from writers across the Arab world, including two writers who contribute to Arabist.net: Issandr El Amrani on Cairo’s al-Azhar Park and Ursula Lindsey on The Yacoubian Building.

And tons of other fine people too, such as the great Moroccan photographer Yto Barrada, Director of the Iraqi National Archive Saad Bashir Eskander, renowned Dutch po-mo architect Rem Koolhaas and Lebanese historian Fawwaz Trabulsi to list only a few of the contributors who wrote the 14 essays on themes such as suburbia, shopping malls, public parks, street life, universities, or skycrapers.

I’ve just received my copy (which had been intercepted by the Egyptian Postal Service and inspected at length for subversive material, apparently) and it’s a handsomely designed volume, printed on archival paper with lovely photography.

Where can I acquire this gem of a book, I hear you say? Well, although distribution deals are still underway, you can start by visiting the Bidoun site for ordering info or read the press release after the jump.

Continue reading Plug: “With/Without”

Bush Plans Envoy To Islamic Nations

Bush Plans Envoy To Islamic Nations:

President Bush announced plans yesterday to appoint an envoy to an organization of Islamic nations with the intention of improving the battered image of the United States in the Muslim world.

Speaking at the rededication of the half-century-old Islamic Center in Washington, Bush said the new U.S. representative to the 57-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference “will listen to and learn from the representatives from Muslim states and will share with them America’s views and values.”

“This is an opportunity for Americans to demonstrate to Muslim communities our interest in respectful dialogue and continued friendship,” said Bush, who has not yet named anyone to the job.

Appoint Irshad Manji. I doubledare you.

A request

If any reader would have the time and kindness to scan and send me (issandr -AT – arabist.net) Christopher Hitchens’ essay on Tunisia in the latest issue of Vanity Fair, I would be eternally grateful. The column was discussed briefly here:

Hitchens makes a case for the Tunisian dictatorship. The country is, after all, a relatively healthy place for women and an inhospitable place for Islamists. On a weak base, it features a relatively thriving economy. It has the great merit, Hitchens points out, of not being Algeria, let alone Libya. Points taken, if not being the rest of Africa is a compliment.

I’m not competent to know all of what Hitchens fails to observe, but the following lines of his caught me up short: “you can say for Tunisia that people do not lower their voices or look over their shoulders (another thing that has made me nervous in my timne) before discussing” the dictator, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

It sounds outrageous, but I would like to see it before commenting myself.

Guardian, others: Blair to be UN envoy to ME

It’s nearly confirmed:

Tony Blair has landed a major diplomatic job as the international Middle East peace envoy, responsible for preparing the Palestinians for negotiations with Israel. His role, to be announced today, will be largely to work with the Palestinians over security, economy and governance.

Working from an office in Jerusalem, and possibly another in the West Bank, Mr Blair will become the special representative for the Middle East quartet of UN, EU, US and Russia. The announcement comes on the eve of his departure from Downing Street tomorrow and is privately welcomed by Gordon Brown.

The arrangement, which has been under preparation for weeks, is due to be agreed at a meeting of the quartet today.

His job is to “prepare” the Palestinians? Further details:

It was being stressed last night that Mr Blair’s role – in the short term at least – would not be to act as a mediator between the Palestinians and the Israelis, or to become a negotiator for the road map to peace. He might, however, be responsible for trying to persuade the Palestinians to accept the conditions for ending the international boycott of Hamas.

I like this conceit in the piece that he would have more success and be in a less antagonistic position with the Bush administration than previous envoys — such as James Wolfensohn or Alvaro de Soto. Because it would be an illusion that Blair or anyone else would be able to go against the White House, and what it really means is that he sees more eye-to-eye with the Bushies than his predecessors. Which is not A Good Thing.

Algeria attacks Mother of the World

How dare they?

Amine Azaoui outrages Egypt
on Monday, June 25 @ 13:40:53 CDT

The head of the National library , M Amine Zaoui sparked a wave of controversy after his statement to one the Egyptian daily newspapers “Al Watani al yaoum” in which he reconsidered the idea of “Egypt, mother of the world” and the wagon of the Arab world.

M Zaoui went on, in his critics by declaring that the Egyptian cultural week in the event “Algiers , capital of Arab cultures” was the worst one so far. He added that “Egypt was no longer the hub of the Arab culture and that the Egyptian men of culture have no cause to defend, besides, the Arab language in Egypt is clumsy”.

These declarations, outraged many Egyptian literary men , among them the poet, Mohamed Ibrahim Aboussena , who replied to Amine Azaoui in these words” Egypt is still the mainstream , and Amine Azaoui has just to look at the reality”.

As to the Egyptian philosopher, Mahmoud Amine Al Alam, this one declared in response to Azaoui’s statement” Egypt is leading the Arab world in terms of plurality, and the fact of belittling this reality is a lie.”

So troublesome, these Algerians… when they’re not complaining about Egypt’s stranglehold over the Arab League (they are the only other country that seems to take the Arab League seriously) they try to belittle it. La h’shouma.

Let’s not forget Lebanon

Two essential pieces on Lebanon appeared in the last few weeks. The first, a review piece by Max Rodenbeck in the NYRB, looks at the last two-three years and draws a convincing portrait of what happened. Considering how confusing Lebanon’s politics are, that’s quite a feat. Plus Max gets the way I react to Lebanese food (esp. when consumed with copious amounts of arak, as it must be) exactly right:

Yet it is true that while Lebanon whets appetites with its gorgeous landscapes, clement weather, energetic people, and wonderful food, trying to consume too much of it tends to bring on heartburn. Just ask the Ottoman Turks, the imperialist French, the US Marine Corps, the Palestinians, the Israelis, the Syrians, or any number of Lebanese would-be overlords. The country’s infernally complex ingredients seem chemically incapable of melding into a digestible dish.

The second piece, by Jim Quilty for MERIP, focuses on the recent confrontation between the Lebanese army and an Islamist group operating out of the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp near Tripoli:

If Lebanese politicians on both sides of the government-opposition divide have emphasized support for the army over empathy for human suffering in the camps, their rhetoric betrays the marginality of the refugee community. It also reflects the centrality of the Lebanese army in the ongoing contest over the future direction of state policy. At the end of the day, it is entirely likely that the Palestinians in Lebanon will be three-time losers in this bloody episode: enduring the humanitarian crisis that grows out of it, shouldering the burden of containing it and suffering a backlash in Lebanese political opinion for being seen as somehow responsible for it. The anti-Palestinian feeling in Lebanon is all the more bitterly ironic since so few of the radical Sunni Islamists battling the Lebanese army in Nahr al-Barid are themselves Palestinian.

Another key paragraph, on whether March 14 is financing Salafist-Jihadists groups (as famously but unconvincingly alleged by Seymour Hersh), is this one:

Whether or not the Hariris and their Saudi supporters have a soft spot for salafis is not the point. Rather, it is the culture of cooptation that has marked the Lebanese government’s approach to the challenges confronting the country since the Syrian withdrawal. Rafiq al-Hariri deployed his financial resources to great effect during his political career, but his purchase of loyalties was embedded in the Syrian occupation’s security regime. With the Syrians gone, and with Sunnis set against their Shi‘i countrymen — and with them the specter of Hizballah, the militants who stopped the Israeli army, Lebanese find the line between purchased loyalties and militant outsourcing a fuzzy one.

Although Quilty, like Rodenbeck, highlights the fact that some Syrian support for Fatah al-Islam operatives was probably necessary, he does not satisfactorily answer the various conspiracy theories about its origin — except to say that whatever help they may have secured, the members of the group appear to be genuinely nasty Jihadists, not just hired guns.

Read it all for the nitty-gritty detail of Palestinian camp politics.

Azimi on US democracy-promotion in Iran

Negar Azimi has a long piece on US democracy promotion efforts in Iran called Hard Realities of Soft Power. It includes reference to US policymaking, the misguided attacks on VOA Persian (widely considered to be an excellent service, both as a radio station and a program that increases esteem for the US in Iranian eyes) — something similar happened with VOA Arabic as discussed several times in this blog), the arrests of activists who have links to the US, the debate over the “kiss of death” theory of American democracy-promotion, and more.

Many Iranians have grown paranoid about anything vaguely linked to the West. Conference and workshop attendance, travel and even e-mail and phone contact with foreign entities is suspect. In the last three months, at least three prominent NGOs have been shut down indefinitely. Kayhan, the semiofficial newspaper, editorializes almost daily about an elaborate network conspiring to topple the regime. Called “khaneh ankaboot,” or “the spider nest,” the network is reportedly bankrolled by the $75 million and includes everyone from George Soros to George W. Bush to Francis Fukuyama to dissident Iranians of all shades. In this vision, the network gets its “orders” from the Americans.

It is particularly telling, perhaps, that some of the most outspoken critics of the Iranian government have been among the most outspoken critics of the democracy fund. Activists from the journalist Emadeddin Baghi to the Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi to the former political prisoner Akbar Ganji have all said thanks but no thanks. Ganji has refused three personal invitations to meet with Bush. A member of a U.S.-based institution that has received State Department financing and who works with Iranians told me that the Iranians had expressly asked not to have their cause mentioned in presidential speeches. “The propaganda campaign surrounding the launch of this campaign has meant that many of our partners are simply too afraid to work with us anymore,” she told me on condition of anonymity. “It’s had a chilling effect.”

One thing that strikes me among the many issues raised in Negar’s piece is that one does not get the impression that the “believers” among the democracy promotion crowd have really done a “lessons learned” from policy Iraq. Or that there is much of plan beyond providing $75 million to whoever will take it.

Anyway, the debate over democracy promotion apparently continues — for more lofty-minded types, here is Francis Fukuyama’s latest position on the issue. Read it quick before he changes his mind.

The “Fatah never fought” theory

Some interesting discussions of the “Fatah never thought” theory, in preparation for a later post:

Conflict Blotter:

Fatah never fought. Gaza was essentially handed over to Hamas. Soldier after soldier said they felt betrayed and abandoned by their leadership. There was a seemingly willful lack of decision making by the senior most political leadership. Up and down the Gaza Strip from the first moments of fighting, the military leadership disintegrated while the political leadership remained eerily silent.

Ousted Fatah loyalists in Gaza widely suspect a political decision was made early on in Ramallah to surrender the Gaza Strip to Hamas in order to extricate Abbas, Israel and the US from the seeming intractable pickle they were facing as infighting spiraled, living conditions worsened, and the peace process seemed hopelessly stuck. With the Palestinian territories now split, the US, Israel and Abbas suddenly have way forward, without compromising to Hamas.

The Economist:

Why did Hamas go for broke this time? And why was its victory so quick and total? Mouin Rabbani, a Jordan-based analyst with the International Crisis Group, a lobby in Brussels, thinks the combination of economic boycott, domestic discontent, criticism from radical groups abroad, the growing threat from Fatah and splits within Hamas itself meant that people who used to think time was on their side began to think it was working against them.

Fatah, meanwhile, seemed unprepared. Some of its top people in Gaza were away, Mr Dahlan among them. Mr Abbas, sitting in the West Bank, did not declare a state of emergency until Hamas militants were ransacking his Gaza home. Mid-level Fatah officers complained bitterly about lack of leadership. “We had orders not to fire except in self-defence,” says one, whom Israel allowed to flee to the West Bank. Now he sits in the lobby of Ramallah’s smartest hotel, nervously smoking with his fellow fugitives and endlessly repeating stories of Hamas’s brutality.

Indeed, some Fatah officers suspect their leaders’ apathy was deliberate. Letting Hamas win Gaza has a certain logic to Fatah. No sooner had Mr Abbas sworn in a new government under Salam Fayyad, a former World Bank official well-liked in the West, than America, the European Union and Canada lifted their 15-month-old boycott, and Israel said it would consider releasing frozen PA tax revenues, removing some of the internal checkpoints that stifle the West Bank’s economy, and holding more meaningful talks with Mr Abbas. Thus, runs the theory, Mr Abbas will reap the praise for a better life in the West Bank, while Gazans’ well-being will be at the mercy of a now-isolated Hamas.

So it was all planned, was it? Qaddoura Fares, one of Fatah’s younger leaders in Ramallah, lets out a short, dry laugh. “If only!” More likely, agrees Diana Buttu, a former adviser to Mr Abbas, the famously diffident Palestinian president wanted to avoid a showdown, and simply did not expect Hamas to go so far.

The Observer, in an interview with Hamas military commander Abu Obieda:

Despite his months of planning for such a war, Abu Obieda was surprised by the speed of the victory: ‘I expected it to take one month. That is what we planned for and trained for. But then at the beginning, all the Fatah commanders escaped their compounds in ambulances and left for Egypt. They left their men to die. Who could do that?’

At one battle, for a security compound – where his men later found weapons, ammunition and food that would survive a three-month siege – he listened on a radio to Fatah fighters on nearby rooftops begging their commanders for more ammunition that never came. ‘They all had left,’ Abu Obieda said. ‘The Fatah fighters are brave but would you fight for a commander who left you alone to die for his war?’


In five days of fighting, Fatah never put up a real fight. The question is why not.

In interviews with McClatchy Newspapers during and after the fighting, Fatah foot soldiers said they felt abandoned as they realized that there’d be no counterattack, not even a last-ditch defense.

Some of them thought incompetent political leaders had done them in. But this land has long been fertile soil for conspiracy theories, and others wondered whether Abbas had deliberately ceded the Gaza Strip to Hamas in an attempt to isolate the radical Islamic group and consolidate his power in the much larger West Bank.

“There was total frustration and disappointment,” said one Abbas security officer who was among the last to abandon the presidential compound on Thursday night, June 14, and asked to be identified only as A.R. because of fear of retaliation. “We felt like there was a conspiracy to hand over Gaza to Hamas.”

Whether it was conspiracy or collapse, Fatah’s downfall in Gaza has created an unexpected opportunity for Israel, the United States and others to re-establish full relations with Abbas and the pro-Western emergency cabinet he’s installed to replace the elected, Hamas-dominated Palestinian government.

Got any more?