The full bin Laden tape on Iraq
Just a very few comments about the full version of the bin Laden tape on Iraq, since that's all I have time for before running off to teach. With the whole context in place, the tape is much less negative about Iraq than has been presented. It is also, to my surprise, far less forthcoming to the "nationalist" factions than suggested by the al-Jazeera version. I had anticipated that bin Laden would be trying to find a path to reconciliation, in order to make sure that al-Qaeda would be represented in the emerging political face of the Iraqi resistance. The recent comments by Hareth al-Dhari had seemed to offer such a path back in. But bin Laden didn't really pursue that path. Instead, his speech concentrated on placing Iraq in the context of global jihad, and presented a fairly uncompromising vision in which the burden was on the nationalist factions to repent their deviations. In the full tape, bin Laden did seem to be pushing for reconciliation among the factions and denouncing factional conflict - but his concept of reconciliation was very much on his own terms.
I would point out just four very quick things:
* the Islamic State of Iraq isn't mentioned at all, not directly or indirectly. All references are to the mujahideen in general, and there is a lot of talk about the importance of avoiding factionalism or placing loyalty to a leader or group over loyalty to the umma. While this could be an implicit critique of the ISI, that's only an inference since he does not tip his hand one way or the other. One much-trafficked discussion on the forums right now focuses on exactly this question - and nobody is really sure why he didn't mention the ISI. If they don't know, I don't think we should be all that confident that we do.
* judging by the discussion in the forums, one of the key themes here is being understood as the escalating conflict between al-Qaeda style jihadism and the Muslim Brotherhood - both within Iraq and in the wider Islamic world. Bin Laden specifically criticizes those who have chosen to participate in elections or the Iraqi government (such as Tareq al-Hashemi's MB-linked Iraqi Islamic Party) and describes participation in a "polytheistic" government or cooperation with American-backed security forces as "obvious apostacy." That should be something for MB-skeptics to think about.
* While there is certainly some self-criticism going on, as in the earlier al-Jazeera version, the context suggests that the tape is more of an invitation for "true mujahideen" to come back to the jihad, with no questions asked, than an admission of defeat. He goes on at length about how all men make mistakes, and only God can judge them. While this is likely in part an appeal for the transgressions of the Islamic State of Iraq to be forgiven, or at least submitted to the arbitration of "honest" judges, it is also an appeal for the ISI to forgive those fighters who have collaborated with the US and Iraqi security forces.
* finally, purely at the aesthetic level, this is bin Laden's strongest performance in a long time. While the first half of the tape is somewhat formulaic, during the second half of the tape he finds his rhythm, his voice deepens, and his rhetoric becomes both sharper and more poetic. In comparison to the last video, which didn't seem to have a clear intended audience or a clear message, this tape (especially in the second half) felt like vintage bin Laden. I don't know how significant this really is politically, but it's worth noting that his performance was strong and confident, not hesitant or defeated.
Hopefully I'll have time to put these points together into something more coherent, but now I have to go teach a few classes. The missing links blog has more discussion of this here, and here on Abd al-Bari Atwan's interpretation (see: Hareth al-Dhari above).
UPDATE: Abd al-Rahman al-Jabouri, the spokesman for the Political Council for the Iraqi Resistance, "welcomed bin Laden's call to unite the ranks of the resistance and to not give cover to the plans of the American occupation to frustrate the jihad in Iraq." Bin Laden's tape, he said, offered a perfect opportunity for all parties, without exception, to set aside the mistakes of the past and begin working together towards the future. Jabouri repeated the phrase "without exception" several times and specifically invited al-Qaeda in Iraq back into the fold - on the condition that they first resolve several outstanding issues between them and the other factions. One resistance faction after another is releasing statements to the forums welcoming bin Laden's message, while urging al-Qaeda in Iraq to not miss this chance. When Hareth al-Dhari said on al-Jazeera in early October that al-Qaeda in Iraq was not beyond the pale, it led some - including Juan Cole - to declare him increasingly irrelevant in Iraqi politics and "no longer a national figure". But it seems distinctly possible to me (and to Abd al-Bari Atwan) that bin Laden's tape comes in response to Dhari's intervention, and that the Political Council of the Iraqi Resistance is interested in moving beyond the conflict with al-Qaeda to refocus on the occupation (and, largely unsaid, the Shia). Whether that will lead to anything (positive or negative) remains very much to be seen.
Posted on October 24, 2007 at 10:46 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
OBL on Iraq: hold that thought...
Even though I'm extremely busy today and tomorrow, I had thought to write up something about bin Laden's latest audiotape on Iraq. There's already been quite a bit said about it, usually along the lines of bin Laden's admitting al-Qaeda's current dismal condition in Iraq. I suspected that there was more going on, given the huge amount of discussion and commentary in the forums lately about the future of the Islamic State of Iraq, Hareth al-Dhari's recent controversial statement that al-Qaeda was not beyond the pale, and the interesting reaction to the tape by the new Political Council of the Iraqi Resistance. But all I had was the al-Jazeera excerpts, like most everyone else. So I went to download the full tape, at the suggestion of a friend, and found this included in the al-Sahab release:
ملاحظة / ننشر هذه الكلمة كاملة بعد ما اعتراها من تزييف للحقائق و تحوير للمقاصد و تلبيس للأهداف من قناة الجزيرة الفضائية التي ضربت بعرض الحائط جميع أسس الشرف المهني الاعلامي .
Note: We are publishing the whole speech of Shiekh Osama Bin Laden After the tremendous amount of Counterfeiting of the facts and altering the purposes and objectives of the Speech by AL-Jazeerah Satellite channel which ignored all the pillars of honor professional media
(English and exciting colors in the original). Maybe I'll listen to the whole thing before offering any commentary.
Posted on October 23, 2007 at 03:43 PM | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)
IIP welcomes Resistance Council?
The al-Haq News Agency reported over the weekend that Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi's Iraqi Islamic Party had issued a statement welcoming the formation of the Political Council for the Iraqi Resistance.
The Iraqi Islamic Party statement as published online
If this is an authentic statement (and I haven't seen it denied) it would be significant because it would mean that Hashemi - the highest ranking Sunni in Maliki's government, and recently the driving force behind a "National Compact" which received a blessing of sorts from Ali Sistani - is attempting to bring the "nationalist-jihadist" factions of the Sunni insurgency directly in to the political arena. The document calls on Arab and Islamic countries and international agencies to "deal with the Political Council and to recognize it as an important representative of a section of Iraqi society." This comes at roughly the same time that Salah al-Mutlaq of the National Dialogue Front announced his support for the PCIR initiative on al-Jazeera and called for direct negotiations with these representatives of the Iraqi resistance.
The Political Council of the Iraqi Resistance seems to represent the most ambitious effort to date by the major factions of the Sunni insurgency to present a public political face and outline a political agenda. It includes, among others, the Jihad and Reform Front (a coalition led by the large nationalist-jihadist Islamic Army of Iraq) and Hamas Iraq (a Muslim Brotherhood-linked faction which split from the 1920 Revolution Brigade last fall). There's a fascinating debate going on right now on many of the forums about their program and their ideas about which I hope to write something soon - one of the most interesting elements of these debates being the way in which the conflict between al-Qaeda in Iraq and the PRIC PCIR factions is increasingly being framed as part of a wider, Islamic world-wide conflict between jihadists and the Muslim Brotherhood. Other Sunni factions remain wary, al-Qaeda in Iraq has been scathingly critical, and I haven't come across any comment yet from the various Awakening Councils.
If the PRIC PCIR were recognized and dealt with by the United States or others as a legitimate interlocutor, it might well offer a way to bring these important factions to the table. At the same time, it wouldn't automatically solve anything. Their own position on talks with the US does not appear to have changed: its foundational documents reject the legitimacy of the current government and all laws passed under American occupation, and leaders of its constituent factions have said repeatedly that they would only talk to the United States after it said a clear and binding timetable for withdrawal. Dealing with the PRIC PCIR would challenge the privileged position of the various Awakenings and Salvation Councils through which the US currently prefers to work. It would likely be far less forthcoming towards the US, but might be more able to deliver on its agreements given the weight of the insurgency groups within the Sunni community. Maliki's government and the other Shia factions would be even less happy with this than they are with the American deals with the Awakenings.
Still, the fact that the IIP seems interested in backing the PRIC PCIR is an intriguing development worth following.
Posted on October 22, 2007 at 11:30 AM | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)