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A blog on terrorism, democracy and international politics

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

An open letter to George Galloway 

The war in Iraq is being used as a campaign issue by some in the British election. One example is George Galloway, who has previously visited Iraq and met with Saddam Hussein, and now dismisses Iraqis who are grateful for the overthrow of Hussein for "selling out".

One Iraqi Kurd (Kurdo) has responded with an open letter to George Galloway, which begins:

I know that you are campaigning hard to win the hearts and minds of the British public, and I wish you good luck in failing. I and many other people from Iraq, just like the father of the Iraqi blogs, Salam Pax, will never forget the scenes in which you were sitting and joking with Saddam Hussein on the screens of the Iraqi television.

We were wondering what you were laughing about. Were the jokes of the dictator who filled the lands and the rivers with mass graves, who terminated birds and rivers, who did not differentiate between a killing baby and a soldier, were his jokes too funny? Or were you laughing at the Iraqi people for having a leader like Saddam Hussein?!

Kurdo concludes:
We are thankful for the forces of United States and United Kingdom and the rest of the world for getting rid of a dictator like Saddam Hussein. Many of us died and didn't live to see their long dream of a world-without Saddam, but those who are living today in that dream-come-true world, are not appreciating your works.

Kurdo also has some words for British voters who might be considering voting against Blair on behalf of Iraqis:

The decision to topple Saddam Hussein was the most courageous and beneficial decision a British Prime Minister could have ever taken for the sake of the freedom of the Iraqi people.
If you are voting against Tony Blair for the sake of the Iraqi people, then don't please, because the majority of Iraqis don't appreciate that.

When we see the anti-war protests around the world we think "Where were these people when we were entering our mass-graves alive, when our babies were being gassed, when our villages were being destroyed. Why you didn't protest against Saddam Hussein for our sake ?"

I hope some British voters will read Kurdo's messages and think twice before voting for candidates such as George Galloway.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Nerve Gas in Fallujah 

I just found this photograph and thought it was worth posting.

During the assault on Fallujah, American forces captured vials of nerve gas.

A photograph of forty tubes labelled "Sarin, Soman, V-Gas" in English, Russian and German can be seen on the USA Today web site. Where did these come from?

The photo can be found here:

The link is to a slide show, and the nerve gas photo is the second in the sequence (just click the little right arrow next to the page number).

[ From Louise at Iraqi Blog Roundup ]

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Jalal Talabani: First Kurdish President of an Arab State? 

The recent nomination of Jalal Talabani, a longtime Kurdish leader, to the position of President of Iraq has generated many newpaper headlines and TV soundbites to the effect that Talabani is "The First Kurdish Head of an Arab State" or "The First non-Arab President of Arab Iraq". This claim is doubly flawed, and has irritated many Iraqi Kurds. (See, for example, Kurdo's blog and An Iraqi's Thoughts).

An Arab State?

First, it is unfair and perhaps tasteless to report that a Kurd is President and in the same breath reiterate that Iraq is an "Arab State". Iraq is a multiethnic and multidenominational country. Although Arabs constitute a majority, the Kurds still comprise 15-20% of the population,a and therefore deserve a stake in its government. Moreover, the Kurds are not simply a minority distributed randomly across Iraq. Since its foundation, the modern state of Iraq has contained provinces that are overwhelmingly populated by Kurds. The Kurds have lived in those areas since time immemorial. In other words, parts of the Republic of Iraq are not at all 'Arab', but are part of the Kurdish homeland. Although it is tempting to use the term "Arab State" as shorthand for "Arab majority State", in the context of Talabani's presidency, the phrase is offensive to many Kurds.

The First Kurd to Lead Arabs?

Second, Kurds have ruled Arab majority states before. As Simko points out, Husni al-Zaim, the first Za'em (President) of Syria and Nuri As-Said (the last elected Iraqi premier before Qassim's coup) were Kurds, as was the legendary Muslim leader Salahuddin (Saladin). Simko lists many other Kurds who have been leaders in the Arab world. The Kurds are not a perpetually victimised people, so Talabani is not a fleeting anomoly. The Kurds have the same capacity to lead in the Middle East as anyone else - perhaps more so given Iraqi Kurdistan's recent record of successful, democratic self-administration.

The nomination of a Kurd as President of Arab-majority Iraq is of course of immeasurable importance, precisely because for so long certain people have asserted that Iraq belongs to the Arabs. The term "Arab State" was part of a policy mindset that denied the legitimacy of the Kurdish people. This was the same mindset that saw the Kurds slaughtered and gassed under Saddam Hussein. This mindset also extended to religious issues; the Sunni Arab minority was presented as the rightful ruling group, justiying the subjugation of the Shi'ite majority.

Thus, to shatter the myth of "the Arab State of Iraq" is to shatter the quasi-tribal mythologies that prop up dictatorships across the Middle East - presenting challenges to the ruling classes of Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iran among others.

A vestige of an unpleasant past

Colin Powell was the first black Secretary of State of the USA. If, hypothetically, he became the next US President, that would also be a first. But would the newspapers call him "The First Black President of White America"?

The domination of Iraq by particular ethnic groupings is (hopefully) a thing of the past - the mainstream political leaders of Iraq's ethnic and religious communities are increasingly working towards the common goal of an Iraqi state that is neither exclusively Arab nor Kurd, neither Sunni nor Shiite.

Supporting Statistics:

Ethnic GroupingReligion/Denomination
AsianAfricanOtherSunniShi'iteOther MuslimChristianOther
Kuwait80%4%9%Deleted 29/5/05 due to errors (see comments)f
Saudi Arabia90%10%85%15%
YemenNo data52%48%
Source: SBS World Guide, PWHCE. Note that each country was compiled separately, and in some cases irregularities may arise because of differences of definition. In some cases, statistics may only be available from state sources and figures may be distorted.

a Source: SBS World Guide, 9th edition, 2001, p364.
b Azerbaijani 24%, Giliki and Mazadarani 8%, Lur, Baloch and Turkmen 2% each. Other 1%
c Zoroastrian, Jewish, Christian, Baha'i
d Mostly Turks
e 30 000 Yazidis, 25 000 Sabeans, 2500 Jews
f See comments
g Other consists of Armenian, Kurdish, Assyrian, Turkish and Greek. The religious breakdown presented here is also greatly simplified and numbers are approximate.
i Alawite, Druze, other sects.
h 9.7% 'other' includes significant Kurdish minority in addition to Armenians, Turks, Circassians and Assyrians
j Represents non-Asian expatriates.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Mullah Krekar to be Extradited to Iraq 

This is not the first time Norway has told Krekar it's the end of the line, but it looks as though Ansar al-Islam's founder may be back in Iraqi Kurdistan for good soon.

A Norwegian court has stated that it will extradite Mullah Krekar to Iraq if the Iraqi authorities can give assurances that the malevolent Mullah will not face the death penalty.[1] Judging from discussion over at Kurdo's blog, Krekar might not enjoy serving out the term of his natural life amongst his countrymen...

[hat tip: Vladimir at Kurdo's Blog]

[1] Norway, like Australia, never extradites anyone if they might face the death penalty as a result of said extradition.

The baby and the bathwater 

Michael Warby has had an opinion piece, "Drug Ban's Downside" published in The Australian. In the article, Warby makes an argument in favour of heroin legalisation, using arguments related to supply and demand, and - implicitly - regulation and deregulation.

Australia is in the middle of a 'heroin drought' brought about by effective policing and border protection (as Warby acknowledges). He also acknowedges reports that show the drug drought has led to plummeting crime rates. So why change a prescription that is working?

The central point of any ideologically libertarian argument for drug legalisation is that drug laws, by distorting the market, make heroin artificially expensive and therefore drive users to crime. The high price of illicit drugs thus funds organised crime.

There are, however, countervailing economic forces (for those who believe that the legal status of drugs should be determined by economics), as Warby acknowledges: "What is striking reading two online publications on the heroin drought . . . is that heroin users do respond to the rise in the price (including more diluted [sic] strength) and cost (increased search time) of heroin. Higher prices and longer search times mean less heroin use. Which means successfully restricting the supply of heroin can genuinely reduce heroin usage. A definite plus for a zero-tolerance policy."

Good news as far as the evidence goes. But Warby's ideology tells him there must be more to this. By reducing the issue to a theoretical abstraction (supply and demand), Warby loses sight of the real point of drug laws (to stop or reduce drug use), and sooner or later these false assumptions lead to an absurd conclusion:

"The argument for banning narcotics is basically the same as St Augustine's objection to sex: something so pleasurable and attractive overturns rationality, overwhelms morality and disastrously corrodes attention to one's proper duties."

Can Warby seriously think that banning narcotics and banning sex are comparable? A society in which nobody had sex would soon be extinct. A society in which everybody took heroin would quite possibly share that fate.

Sex is a natural part of the human experience. By counterposing man to woman, sex expresses the complementary nature of humanity, uniquely binding two individuals as one. As a central element of reproduction, sex is one of the most important creative forces known to mankind.

Heroin is unnatural and entirely unnecessary. It causes listlessness, isolation and anti-social behaviour. Depressing the respiratory system, the pulse and the nervous system, heroin is one of the most destructive forces in contemporary human life.

Put simply, sex leads to new life and heroin leads to death.

By equating prohibition of sex with prohibition of heroin, Warby unwittingly exposes his libertarianism to its own internal contradictions, showing the flaws in his argument better than any critic could. Essentially, the libertarian argues that if all criminal laws were abolished, no crimes would be committed.

The criminalisation of almost anything will intensify demand by stifling supply - but the point is to reduce overall consumption, not to reduce prices. Slaves, prostitution, heroin and explosives will all increase in price on the illegal market when they are taken off the legal market. This does not mean we can not or should not ban them.

The ultimate purpose of such laws is also not to price organised crime out of markets - eliminating organised crime is the role of law enforcement agencies. The heroin drought demonstrates that they are doing that job effectively in Australia.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Iraqi Freedom and Chinese Hypocrisy 

An article by Gerald Mercer recently published on Perspectives on World History and Current Events, quotes another author as follows:

"no one can possibly deny that the election was successful and champions the freedom that democracy brings. . . the Middle East has never before held a democratic election involving other parties and political factions."

"This act of democracy is completely different from the ruthless oligarchy of former President Saddam Hussein's 36-year long rule."

"Such an earthshaking change not only matches Iraq's national condition, but also follows the historical trend of the world's political democratisation." (emphasis added)

Who was being quoted? George Bush or John Negroponte? A neo-conservative think tank? A Murdoch Press journalist? In fact, the words quoted above were taken from an opinion piece by Ma Xiaolin in the China Daily (4th February, 2005)

In his article, which originally appeared in Melbourne magazine Social Action, Gerald Mercer comments on the breathtaking hypocrisy of the Chinese Communist Party, which publishes the China Daily, publishing an article that clearly recognises the benefits of the democratic transformation we are witnessing in the Middle East and yet refuses to countenance democracy for the people it rules. It would be nice to think that this article signalled a fresh direction for China's totalitarian dictatorship, but as Mr Mercer points out, the evidence points to the opposite conclusion.

Gerald Mercer's article, The Freedom Democracy Brings also discusses the democratic impulse currently spreading through the Middle East in more detail.

Some travel overseas to relax. . . 

My recent trip to the United States was a great success. I met with a number of policy analysts and democracy and human rights activists, and came home with a lot of new ideas.

As this was my first trip to the United States, it was interesting to see first hand whether the various preconceptions and cliches would be proven true. I found Americans to be universally friendly (except for a certain obstinate truck driver in Manhattan!) and much slimmer than expected! My only regret is that I no longer possess the appetite for donuts that I enjoyed in my youth.

I was stunned by the architecture in some places (particularly Washington DC) and the absolute lack of planning in places such as Florida. Moving between states, or even between parts of the same city in some cases meant more of a change of atmosphere than one experiences moving between different countries in Europe. I suspect that anything one says about America is bound to be true, but the opposite is also the case!

Ending a holiday is never easy, but the return to Australia was made more pleasant by the fact that my recent article, The Evolution of al-Qaeda: Osama bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, appears in the April edition of The Review

This article deals with the merger between Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's organisation, At-Tawhid w'al-Jihad (Monotheism and Holy Struggle) and Osama bin Laden's Tanzim al-Qaeda in October last year. Zarqawi has often been rumoured to be part of al-Qaeda, but in fact he has kept his group formally independent for years, refusing to swear bayat (fealty) to Osama bin Laden. Nonetheless, he has worked within the ideological framework or paradigm that is associated with al-Qaeda.

In my article, I sought to explain what it meant for a group that was working within the al-Qaeda paradigm to merge with al-Qaeda. I also sought to explain why these two groups needed each other and what the merger of their organisations meant for their respective futures. The article was accepted for publication some time ago, but was delayed for a couple of months by events such as the visit of Israeli President Moshe Katsav, which the Review covered in detail.

As my article appears in The Review's hard copy edition but is not reproduced on their web page, I have uploaded a copy to the PWHCE web page. It can be found here:


I have also updated the profiles of Mullah Krekar and Muhammad Abdus Salaam Faraj, the latter being a complete rewrite.

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